Friday, November 30, 2007

Liverpool Owner Tom Hicks To Sell Anfield Stake

Liverpool may be entering a period of upheaval after it emerged co-owner Tom Hicks is looking for a way out of the club.

City sources have confirmed that Hicks, who has been at the forefront of a dispute with manager Rafa Benitez over signings, is preparing to sell his shares.

Hicks took control at Anfield, alongside fellow American George Gillett, following a £219 million takeover.

Both men initially rang the praises of Benitez, calling the manager a genius, with many supporters predicting Liverpool would lift the Premier League title this season after a £40m summer spending spree.

However, results have been inconsistent, sparking criticism of Benitez's rotation policy and prompting the Spaniard to demand more funds in January.

Hicks and Gillett have so far been reluctant to release more money for players, prompting a very public breakdown in relations.

Now it seems developments have reached a head with Hicks hoping to cash in on his investment, as reported in the Mirror.

The businessman has reportedly put a £1 billion guide valuation on the club, and while City analysts have dismissed this as ridiculous, it was revealed last night that Dubai International Capital, the investment group headed by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, are ready to make a new bid having previously attempted a takeover.

Thaksin Confirms City Interest In Crouch Deal

Manchester City could be set to move for Peter Crouch after the club's chairman, Thaksin Shinawatra, revealed that manager Sven-Goran Eriksson was a big fan of the striker.

The Swede is a known admirer of the Liverpool and England striker, and it is no secret that City are in the hunt to bolster their attack in the forthcoming January transfer window, when Eriksson will be given about £30m to spend.

"Sven is looking for one striker and one or two midfielders," admitted Thaksin today. "Sven does like Peter Crouch, very much. But he has yet to decide [whether to make an offer]."

Crouch has been regularly linked with a move away from Anfield this season following the high-profile arrivals of Fernando Torres, Andriy Voronin and Ryan Babel.

Having started just eight matches in all competitions for Liverpool this season, Crouch could look favourably upon the opportunity of regular first-team football with his former international coach.

Thaksin, however, is adamant that City, who are also interested in resigning the Bolton striker Nicolas Anelka, will not be held for ransom over any player.

"We are looking for good players that are good money, not too expensive," he said. "I am not in the position to buy everything at any cost. Sven will pick the right person at the right price."

Riise Confident Of Winning Over Fans


Liverpool’s John-Arne Riise is aiming to win back the affections of the Anfield crowd, after suffering a recent dip in form.

The Norwegian international still feels he has a lot more to give and he has been heartened by Liverpool’s impressive recent form, resulting in 17 goals in just four games.

He told Liverpool’s official television station, “We struggled with scoring goals but in the last few games we've shown we're back in business. We're also very tight at the back right now, so it's good.”

”I think we've played well all season but have had the problem of not scoring enough goals. As soon as we got a couple then lots have come, like in the Besiktas game. Every time we went forward we scored. Of course, the new players have had more time to settle in, but really I think we're just proving how good we actually are.”

Riise knows there is still room for improvement though, as Liverpool face an uphill struggle to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.

”Of course the way we're playing and the amount of goals we're scoring is good, but you can always improve. We know this and, yes, I think we can get better.”

Liverpool face Bolton this weekend and Riise is relishing the physicality of a game against Gary Megson’s side.

“I look forward to it because it's part of my game. I don't like the games where you don't do anything. I like going off the pitch feeling pain and being tired because you've made a lot of tackles. That's what football is about. It's a great feeling to come away from a game knowing you have fought and won. Bolton will be this kind of game.”

Having missed out on the last two games, because of competition for places, Riise is keen to win the hearts of the Kop again, who have become increasingly frustrated with his lacklustre performances.

“I think I started the season in not my best form. I didn't feel confident and at my best, but the last six or seven games before the internationals I felt very good. I felt like I was getting my strength and my aggression back, and I'm ready to go.”

“I know some fans have been a little bit frustrated with me, that's the way it goes. I have to turn that round, hopefully starting on Sunday. The fans know I try to give 110 per cent when I go on the pitch, even if it doesn't always look like it. I have given them joy before and hopefully I can do it again.”

Liverpool Still Without Alonso, Agger & Aurelio

Liverpool are still without Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio as Rafa Benitez’s unbeaten side in the Premiership host 15th-placed Bolton Wanderers on Sunday.

Reds midfielder Alonso and centre-back Agger are on the sidelines with metatarsal problem while left-back Aurelio is only now back in training and expected to be fit for Champions League trip to Marseille on December 11.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez said: "Because of the type of injury Xabi and Daniel have – metatarsal – we have to be really careful."
Alonso had made a return from the injury against Arsenal at the end of last month but could not last the whole duration and has been out since, after initially along with Agger last featuring against Portsmouth on September 15 before picking the setback on international duty

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thousands March In Support Of Rafa Benitez


Thousands of Liverpool fans thronged the streets ahead of their team’s impressive Champions League win over FC Porto to voice their support for manager Rafael Benitez.

Amid chants of “Rafa is a Scouser” and “Rafa’s going nowhere”, the short march before kick-off was organised to show solidarity for the popular manager who is currently in dispute with the club’s new owners, leading to speculation he could be forced out.

Professionally-made banners and rudimentary homemade signs illustrated the strong sense of feeling towards the Spaniard.

“Rafa is God’s gift 2 Liverpool”, read one, while another likened a portrait of Benitez to Che Guevara.

The “Rafatollah” – a large framed picture of Benitez which supporters treat with reverence – also appeared.

Organiser John Mackin said: “We did this to display to Rafa, and to anyone else, that getting rid of him would be disastrous.

“The man is held in such high esteem by supporters.

“We were hoping for a couple of thousand people to turn up, obviously if it had been a Saturday afternoon we could have expected much more.”

Benitez has been involved in middle of a public row with LFC’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over the club’s transfer policy.

There have been reports that his days as manager could be numbered.

However, the large crowds on Walton Breck Road outside the Kop stand last night were united in their admiration.

Holding a giant banner declaring “humility makes a great man twice honoured”, Norwegian supporter Howard Andresson said: “We made the banner because Benitez is Mr Humility and we don’t want him to go anywhere, we need him.”

Fan Paul Smart of Fairfield said: “Rafa’s got an unbelievable record and we just want to let the Americans know he can’t be sacked.”

Friend Mike Morris from Woolton added: “Benitez deserves our support for what he’s done.

“For Gillett and Hicks to get involved in Liverpool is great, but I think this should bring them to realise football in Liverpool has a whole different attitude to what they’re used to, and it’s not just about them negotiating with Rafa, but also about negotiating with us.”

Sean Taggart from Omagh said: “He has to stay.”

A banner unfurled inside the stadium at half-time read: “As always, we are focusing on supporting our manager”, a reference to comments recently made by Hicks declaring that Benitez should “quit talking” and focus on coaching the team – which prompted the Span- iard to repeat “as always, I am focused on training and coaching my team” at a recent press conference.

Liverpool’s dreams of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League were back on track last night after a spectacular 4-1 victory over FC Porto.

Benitez had said beforehand that Liverpool “must not lose” the vital group match.

Benitez: I Don't Have Any Personal Problems With Hicks And Gillett

Belated recoveries were not limited to Liverpool's Champions League campaign last night as Rafael Benítez took his first genuine steps towards repairing relations with the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

A fractious week inside Anfield ended with Benítez savouring the most emotional night of his Liverpool reign as supporters marched in support of the manager before kick-off and his players produced an ultimately impressive victory over Porto.

From a renewed position of strength it would not have been difficult for the Spaniard to reinforce his opposition to the transfer restrictions which had cast serious doubt on his future at the club. Instead, he made his clearest peace offering to the Americans, reluctantly accepting their revised work structure and insisting their relationship has not been irrevocably destroyed by his previous outbursts.

"I want to make it clear that I don't have any personal problems with the owners," said Benítez. "We were talking about some issues but it was nothing personal. I was not angry with them, just surprised. I was surprised with the situation in the end because I was trying to improve my club.

"OK, now I know I may have to wait but it was a strange situation. I was just trying to do my best for my club but I don't have any personal problems with Tom Hicks or George Gillett."

The Liverpool manager had suggested a thawing in the damaging dispute on the eve of the game but that merely extended to not aggravating his American employers any further.

He had previously infuriated the pair, and courted the sack, with two petulant public displays after their instructions to freeze his January transfer plans - an order that Benítez took as a lack of faith in his ability to bring the Premier League title to Anfield.

But last night he continued: "We need to talk in the future and we will see what happens then about transfers. This has never been about my ego, but it is my responsibility. I need to take care of my team, my squad and my club.

"It would be a lot easier for me to stay and do nothing, just pick up my wages at the end of each month but I want to be involved. We all want what is best for the club and I think the owners understand that."

Benítez's conciliatory tone was in marked contrast to his stinging criticism of the Americans following Liverpool's win at Newcastle last Saturday, and his insistence that he wants to remain involved in transfer policy, a requirement now handed over to the chief executive, Rick Parry, may yet prove a problem when the manager meets his employers on December 16.

Foster Gillett, George's son and appointed representative on the Liverpool board, was at Anfield last night to witness a fervent show of support for Benítez and his report home will certainly ease tensions with the co-chairmen. "This is not about me being in a stronger position at the club," added Benítez. "I think I am in the same position as before and we need to talk about the future and our ideas."

The possibility of qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League with victory over Marseille in France on December 11 will aid Benítez's reconciliation process as much as his post-match words. And the Liverpool manager was also keen to show his appreciation for those supporters who marched in his support before kick-off.

Benítez said: "I think this was the most emotional night I have had here because it is important to get through in the Champions League and because of what has happened in the last few days.

"It was not the most difficult time I have ever experienced, but it was strange. I was just trying to do my job properly and, at the end of the game, I enjoyed it a little bit. I want to say thank you to the supporters."

LiverpooL 4 - 1 FC Porto


Fernando Torres' double kept Liverpool's hopes of Champions League progress alive with a hard-fought 4-1 victory over FC Porto at Anfield.

The Spanish hitman struck in the 19th and 78th minutes, while Steven Gerrard netted a third from the penalty spot in the 84th minute and Peter Crouch nodded a 86th-minute fourth to set up a winner-takes-all clash in Marseille in a fortnight's time.

The Reds made a bright start and were unfortunate not to win an early penalty when Yossi Benyaoun tricked his way past two defenders and saw his shot strike the arm of Bruno Alves.

But Porto were soon on the front foot with Ricardo Queresma dragging a shot wide with the Liverpool defence backing off.

However, the Reds took the lead when Gerrard's right-wing corner finds an unmarked Torres and his downward header beats Helton from 10 yards.

But the visitors were level after 33 minutes when Przemyslaw Kazmiercak's cross from left picked out Lisandro Lopez and his header from 10 yards looped over Jose Reina to make it 1-1.

Torres had an immediate chance to make it 2-1 but he delayed too long in front of goal and the chance was gone. And as play switched down the other end, Lucho spurned a golden chance after racing through on goal, with his flicked effort trickling inches wide. There was another scare for Liverpool when Marek Cech's fierce left-footed strike is deflected onto the roof of the goal with Reina beaten.

After a more guarded start to the second period, Liverpool created the first meaningful chance when Torres cut in from the left and paid the ball off to Benayoun, but his first-time effort was sliced harmlessly wide of goal.

Liverpool continued to look lively with Ryan Babel causing problems down the right flank. Gerrard then flashed a shot just over the bar, Crouch saw penalty claims waved away, while Babel saw an effort hacked off the line as the Reds stepped up the pressure.

And their pressure finally told in the 78th minute when Harry Kewell's mazy run picked out Torres, who turned his man and curled a delightful effort into the far corner from just inside the area.

The Reds then wrapped up the win six minutes from time when Gerrard's free-kick into the box was handled by Igor Stepanovs and the Liverpool captain confidentally stroked home the penalty.

Crouch then nodded a fourth from two yards out with three minutes left on the clock to seal another great European night at Anfield.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

UEFA CL Preview: LiverpooL vs FC Porto

Matchday 5 in the Champions League sees the return game to the opening fixtures with Porto needing just a point at Anfield to seal their place in the next stage of the competition. The Reds on the other hand know that anything less than a win will spell the end of the road for them in this season’s tournament.

It’s safe to say that this past week has been an unusual one at Anfield and perhaps not the ideal preparation for a vital midweek Champions League game. Manager Rafa Benitez has become embroiled in a face-off with club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over their apparent unwillingness to sanction transfer activity before they arrive on Merseyside for the clash with fierce rivals Manchester United on December 16.

After hinting at the row in his pre-match press conferences last week, Benitez confirmed that he was upset at the situation after Saturday's 3-0 win at Newcastle when he claimed the Americans “don't understand” the need for quick action to avoid disappointment in the January transfer window.

In response, Hicks and Gillett issued a statement last night when they reiterated their determination to stand firm. With the Premier League the stated aim of the Reds manager this season, it remains to be seen whether an early exit from the money-spinning Champions League will be tolerated by the club’s American owners.

However, despite the pressure Benitez remains upbeat over the club’s chances against Porto. “The team has confidence” said Benitez. “We know it will be a difficult game because we know Porto are a team with quality so we have to do our job and see if it is possible to play as well as we did against Besiktas.

“And I am confident we can do it. We are team that can play under strain and stress. We have proved that. People will be looking for another result like the Besiktas one but it is important that they are patient.

“We don't need a lot of goals. We just need to win because if we do that we can go to Marseille and have a real opportunity.” The damage was done to the Reds campaign with their loss at Anfield to Marseille and the away defeat to Besiktas in Istanbul.

Liverpool know exactly what is required, the fans will do their bit, the question is- can Rafa inspire the players to produce another glorious night at Anfield?

Unbeaten in Group A, Porto need just a point to guarantee their progression into the knock-out stages of this season’s competition. However, they know defeat at Anfield an a win for Marseille against Besiktas would see the group go down to the wire on the last matchday.

In the first game between the two sides Porto took the lead through a Lucho Gonzalez penalty, only for Dirk Kuyt to equalise with a header midway through the first half. Porto were unable to take advantage of Jermaine Pennant’s second half sending off and the game ended 1-1.

The opening day point, was followed up with a last-gasp win away at Besiktas. A draw and a win over Marseille has seen the Dragons jump to the top of Group A.

Porto arrive at Anfield top of their domestic league and with a weekend victory behind them to keep up their unbeaten start to the Bwin Liga season. A goal five minutes into the match and another five minutes from full time saw FC Porto to a comfortable 2-0 win against Setubal. Lisandro Lopez continued his hot goalscoring streak with the opener, and a spectacular Quaresma strike near the end ensured the leaders maintained their four-point lead at the top of the table.

FORM GUIDE

Liverpool

Newcastle - Liverpool 0 - 3 24/11/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Fulham 2 - 0 10/11/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Besiktas 8 - 0 06/11/2007 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Blackburn - Liverpool 0 - 0 03/11/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Cardiff City 2 - 1 31/10/2007 CARLING CUP
Liverpool - Arsenal 1 - 1 28/10/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE


Porto

Porto - Vit. Setubal 2 - 0 25/11/2007 BWIN LIGA
E. Amadora- Porto 2 - 2 11/11/2007 BWIN LIGA
Porto - Marseille 2 - 1 06/11/2007 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Porto - Belenenses 1 - 1 02/11/2007 BWIN LIGA
Porto - Leixoes 2 - 1 29/10/2007 BWIN LIGA
Marseille - Porto 1 - 1 24/10/2007 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE


TEAM NEWS

Liverpool

Rafael Benitez could be tempted to name an unchanged line-up from the side that impressively swept aside Newcaslte 3-0 at St James’ Park on Saturday, although Peter Crouch could return due to his recent form for club and country.


FC Porto

Stepanov and Bolatti are the new faces among Jesualdo Ferreira’s choices for the trip to Liverpool. The two players were called to the Portuguese champions squad, from where João Paulo will be the only notable absentee.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Liverpool- Steven Gerrard

Following the disappointment of England’s Euro 2008 exit, Gerrard was on the end of some booing from the Newcastle fans at the weekend. He responded in the perfect way with a match-winning display, scoring one and having a hand in the other two. Liverpool will need their inspirational skipper to reproduce that form against Porto on Wednesday in order for them to have any chance of progressing into the round of this season’s competition.

FC Porto- Ricardo Quaresma

The Portuguse winger caused Pennant and Finnan all sorts of problems in the first leg at the Estadio do Dragão. With the Reds needing to go all out for the win, Quaresma will look to exploit any gaps left in the home side’s defence and provide the crosses or even the goals to send Porto through to the next round.

Reina Desperate For Reviving Win


Pepe Reina denies that speculation surrounding the future of Liverpool FC manager Rafael Benítez could distract his team-mates as they chase a vital victory to salvage their UEFA Champions League hopes against FC Porto at Anfield.

Precariously placed in Group A, Liverpool know that six points from their two remaining games is their only possible route to the last 16. The pressure has been building on last season's runners-up in recent days following a well-publicised dispute between Benítez and the club's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. However, Liverpool goalkeeper Reina insists the players' focus is purely on facing Porto on Wednesday. "It is not affecting us at all. It's not easy and it's not nice but all we can do is play football and show how good or bad we are on the pitch," said the Spanish international.

Pressed about the significance of beating Porto, Reina said: "It's not a question of keeping the manager in his job – we want to keep going in the Champions League for a long time, so obviously we need that win and the three points so we can play Olympique [de] Marseille [on Matchday 6] and make it like a final. Our commitment to the manager is there and he has been quite successful in the last four years, reaching seven finals and winning four trophies. The players and the supporters are with Rafa, but that's not new. We all know how important he is for Liverpool. We will hopefully show that the manager and the players are all together and stronger than ever. It's a must-win game and we have to show our character."

Although they sit three points behind Marseille and four adrift of Porto, a competition-record 8-0 victory over Beşiktaş JK on Matchday 4 has strengthened Liverpool's conviction. Nonetheless, they simply have to carry on winning. "We will get more respect from people because it was a great win, but it was just one win and one good night," the 25-year-old said. "We must keep winning and it doesn't matter what happened in the past. This game will probably be more difficult. We are on a good run with three wins in a row and now the target is the Champions League and it's all depending on us. We know that if we win it will help us qualify."

Rafa Refuses To Discuss Bust-up

Rafael Benitez refused to discuss his war with Liverpool's owners as he concentrated on making sure the Reds stay in the Champions League.

A week of astonishing acrimony between the Liverpool boss and American club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will be put aside when the Merseysiders fight for their European lives against Porto on Wednesday.

And Benitez will go into the Anfield clash with the Portuguese champions after clear-the-air talks with chief executive Rick Parry.

Hicks and Gillett have been enraged by Benitez's insubordination in a clear breakdown in their relationship with the Spaniard over transfer policy.

Benitez has been at odds with Parry too, so to be told that the club's administrative head was in charge of transfers was probably the last straw for the Spaniard.

But with speculation rife that Benitez's outbursts, first in an astonishing media conference last week and then after the win at Newcastle on Saturday, would cost him his job, there have been concerted efforts to cool down the crisis.

Benitez said: "As manager of Liverpool I know that the match against Porto is the most important thing, so I do not want to talk about anything else.

"I am sure we will win and play well, then I will be thinking about the next game, beating Bolton on Sunday.

"You can ask about the meeting with Rick Parry, but I will only talk about Porto, that is the only thing I am concerned about.

"We were thinking about Porto, were talking, but we talk a lot. We were talking about different things, but the most important thing for my club and our supporters is the game."

Privately Benitez has made it clear he wants to stay at the club. Whether this latest charm offensive will work with the Americans only time will tell.

There are even suggestions that the pair's own relationship is not good, but that they are united in a desire to eventually end Benitez's reign at the club.

This stance has angered Liverpool fans, who have always backed the man who has taken them to two European Cup finals. A fans' march to the ground is believed to be planned ahead of the Porto game, plus a chanting of the manager's name throughout the game.
Benitez would not even be drawn on whether he is pleased with such a public outpouring of support.

He added: "The fans are the most important thing, always. Their support is fantastic, you could hear that in the semi-finals with Chelsea, it was the same against Besiktas.

"And if they are behind the team again then I will be very pleased.

"The most important thing is the club and the supporters, the game is more important.

"We know we must win, but we must not think that is the only way. We must not make mistakes and lose the game.

"If we draw and then win in Marseille, it is still possible to qualify for the last 16, we must not forget that and end up making mistakes that mean we lose.

"As for the fans, I want to hear the same noise that we had against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, that will please me.

"We have enough confidence and experience to win this one. We have been here before, we have played huge games against Olympiacos, Juventus and Chelsea.

"We know what must be done, we must approach the game with confidence and the right mentality. We are in good form so we must continue to play in that manner."

Earlier in the day, Benitez had overseen a light-hearted training session at the club's Melwood HQ, with the emphasis on humour and a clear underlining of unity with his players.

Skipper Steven Gerrard and goalkeeper Jose Reina both insisted that the players will not allow the crisis to affect them against Porto.

Benitez deflected any questioning of his relationship with the club's owners, pointedly looking ahead to the Porto game.

He said: "Our form is much better now, we are playing some very good football, and we must maintain our momentum.

"We must do better against Porto than we did in Portugal when we drew our first match. The difference this time is that we will have our fans behind us, and we are playing better. We are in a better position than before.

"For the future? I have my plans ready...for winning the next game."

Rafael Benitez Focused Only On Porto

Rafael Benitez has attempted to calm the speculation surrounding his future ahead of Liverpool's key Champions League game against Porto tomorrow.

The Liverpool manager used a press conference last week to make a point about transfer policy to Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the club's American owners, who then said the Spaniard should concentrate on on-pitch matters until next month

The row was revived again over the weekend after Liverpool's 3-0 win over Newcastle United when Benitez suggested his bosses did not understand the importance of the January transfer window, which prompted reports that he will soon be sacked.

Sources close to the Liverpool manager say he took the first steps towards a reconciliation on Monday and Benitez would talk only about matters regarding Porto in today's pre-match press conference at Anfield.

In order to pre-empt questions on his future, Benitez began by insisting: "As the manager of Liverpool Football Club, I know that the most important thing is the club and the supporters so I will keep talking about the game against Porto."

Questions about the importance of reaching the knock-out stage of the competition were met with a similar straight bat.

Benitez is hoping to dampen talk of a split between himself and Hicks and Gillett but Liverpool's fans, who are staunchly behind the manager, are set to make their feelings known in very public fashion.

A march is planned before the game in support of the Spaniard and it has even been suggested the Kop may sing his name for the entire 90 minutes. "If they sing or chant for our goals it will be much better," Benitez said.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Liverpool FC Owners React To 'Rafa To Be Sacked' Claims

Liverpool owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have reacted to reports suggesting manager Rafael Benitez is facing the sack.

The Americans insist they expect to hold a scheduled meeting in mid-December with the present manager to discuss potential transfer deals for the January window.

However the statement stops short of categorically dismissing the speculation, which has been prompoted by a series of disagreements between the owners and Benitez over future transfers.

Benitez has been critical of the new owners' understanding of the workings of the European transfer market.

The statement, released last night, reads:

"Despite speculation in today's newspapers, there is nothing new to say.

"We had a good win yesterday and have got some very important games coming up starting with Porto on Wednesday, followed by Bolton and Reading, before Marseille and Manchester United in a few weeks.

"Both of us, together with Chief Executive Rick Parry, plan to meet with Rafa when we come over mid December to make decisions on the team's requirements at that time."

The behind the scenes disputes were brought sharply into the public domain when Benitez held a bizarre press conference ahead of the Newcastle match in which he repeatedly answered that he was concentrating on coaching the team in reply to a succession of questions.

Benitez showed no sign of backing down after the 3-0 win over Newcastle.

He said: "It's clear Mr Hicks wants the best for the club. So do I,"

"We have been here for a long time and we know what the passion of football means and what the transfer market in Europe means.

"It's not a draft system. We have free players available now. I'm not talking about players that cost money.

"We need to talk to the agents now, if not we will lose targets. In the summer, the players will be more expensive. I have not been talking about spending but doing the opposite. We have brought money back. We brought in £26m this year and you can see the value of the squad.

"We had a meeting on the day of the Arsenal game which was really positive. After this, something changed.

"They told me to be focused on coaching and training because Rick Parry will be looking after signing players."

Benitez is determined to stay put, and added: "I have passion for this club. The fans who were with me in Istanbul know what it means to me."

Benitez Bidding To Save Reds Job

Rafa Benitez "hopes to stay" at Liverpool but reportedly may still lose his job despite trying to make peace with Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The Liverpool Echo reports that Benitez is willing to make peace with Liverpool's American owners after repeatedly criticising their transfer policy over the weekend.

Benitez claimed that Hicks and Gillett didn't understand the European transfer system as he looks to add to his squad.

The owners refused to back Benitez in a statement issued on Sunday evening, leading to widespread reports that the Spaniard's sacking was a case of 'when' rather than 'if' on Monday morning.

However, the Echo reports that Benitez is 'ready to hold out an olive branch' to his superiors, but that may come too late to save his job.

The paper quotes a 'source close to Benitez' as saying: "Rafa loves it at Liverpool. He loves the people of the city, he loves the fans and he loves the club. All he wants is what's best for the fans - he gets frustrated when he feels he's not able to do that.

"But he is happy with Tom and George owning the club and he has enjoyed working with them since he came and he has no problem working with Rick (Parry) - all he wants is to be able to continue the job that he's started so he can continue improving the squad in a bid to deliver the title he knows Tom, George and Rick want just as badly as he does."

The source goes on to claim that the perceived reluctance of Liverpool to move on transfer targets has already cost the club at least one signing:

"The manager has got a few transfers that he wants to get done, one in January and two Bosmans in the summer but it looks like he is going to miss out on the first one now.

"That frustrated him because the first one was a centre half, a position he feels we really need back-up in. The frustration stems from the fact that communication has been so difficult with everyone being so far apart and in different time zones. But the fans should be reassured Rafa has no plans of walking away. He loves it here and his family are settled on Merseyside."

Reina: LiverpooL Will Progress


Jose Reina is convinced Liverpool can progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Rafael Benitez's side need to beat Porto at Anfield on Wednesday and Marseille in France in a fortnight if they are to keep their hopes alive.

But Spain goalkeeper Reina is confident they can succeed in those demanding games.

"We are third in the group now and need to register two more wins," he told www.liverpoolfc.tv.

"That will not be easy but if we play our real game then we know it will be enough.

"We must win in Marseille but we must deal with Porto first. There is no point in looking further ahead than that."

Reina recalls that Liverpool struggled early on before winning the trophy in 2005.

"They managed to get to 10 points in the group stages and that was enough," he said.

"We must aim for that total again and that will also be enough.

"That run to the final should be a mirror for us. We can look at it as an example of how the situation can be resolved."

Reina was still at Villarreal when Liverpool defeated AC Milan in Turkey.

But he was around to share in the disappointment of last season against the same opposition in Athens.

It is an experience he does not want again.

"I have not really looked at that DVD, it is in the past, we lost it and we must forget it and keep going," he said.

"People say we were unlucky in Athens, but in the end Milan won. If we get to the final again we must make sure we do not finish with that same feeling.

"But before we can even think about things like that we must make sure we win these last two group games.

"We must reach the knockout rounds before thinking ahead to any more finals."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rafa Plays Down Anfield Rift

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has reassured supporters that his row with the club's co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks is not serious.

The Spaniard's frustration at the American duo's unwillingness to release funds for new players in the January transfer window bubbled to the surface in a tense press conference earlier in the week.

However Benitez was in more conciliatory mood in the wake of his side's 3-0 win over Newcastle earlier today.

"I think they don't understand what the transfer window means in Europe," he told Sky Sports.

"When you sign a player he needs to settle down. They don't understand how difficult it is to sign players. When you have the possibility now that you are free, you must do it or lose players. I'm trying to explain it, so it's OK.

"We will keep calm and I will try to keep focused on winning games for my supporters. I think it's not serious. If they understand what the market means for football here in Europe, they will understand I am trying to do my best for the club."

Hicks had reacted to Benitez's first set of comments with a terse warning to "quit talking about new players and to coach the players we have".

It is also believed that discussions over a permanent deal for midfielder Javier Mascherano and a possible swoop for Racing Santander defender Ezequiel Marcelo Garay have been put on hold until the Reds' precarious Champions League position is decided.

Newcastle 0 - 3 Liverpool


Sam Allardyce was plunged deeper into crisis as sorry Newcastle were humiliated at home by Liverpool.

For the second game on the trot at St James' Park, the Magpies were taken apart by the visitors, and only Shay Given and good fortune prevented Rafael Benitez's men from bettering Portsmouth's 4-1 scoreline three weeks earlier.

Steven Gerrard, who was booed by the home fans for his part in England's Euro 2008 failure in midweek, opened the scoring with a 28th-minute piledriver and after the hugely impressive Fernando Torres hit the post on the stroke of half-time, Dirk Kuyt made it 2-0 within 60 seconds of the restart.

Substitute Ryan Babel capitalised on the mayhem in Newcastle's defence to make it 3-0 with 24 minutes remaining as the home fans chanted "You don't know what you are doing" and "Big Sam for England".

Allardyce's team were simply woeful and the fury with which the final whistle was greeted by a crowd of 52,307 after they failed to muster a single shot on target will not have gone unnoticed by grim-faced owner Mike Ashley.

By contrast Benitez, who has found himself at odds with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, was able to wear the satisfied smile of a man who had seen his team do all he had asked of them.

Allardyce rose this morning to read of apparent unrest in his dressing room, but that was nothing compared to the boos which greeted his players as they left the field after a desperately poor opening 45 minutes.

In truth, it could have been much worse with Torres having squandered the chance to double the Reds' lead in the final minute of the half after Kuyt had turned Charles N'Zogbia's kamikaze header into his path.

Given looked to have misjudged his sprint towards the ball, but managed to make a vital block, and he got his reward when the Spaniard picked up the loose ball and fired against the foot of the post with the goal at his mercy.

Newcastle were able to offer next to nothing in reply with Alan Smith's dipping 38th-minute volley, which dropped just wide, their only effort of any note.

More worryingly, the 3-5-2 system adopted by Allardyce in the face of a defensive injury crisis looked alien to his players, who found themselves repeatedly out-numbered as Liverpool simply passed the ball around them.

Strikers Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins were painfully isolated with nominal wide men Geremi and N'Zogbia struggling to make anything of the sporadic possession they received.

Indeed, the biggest cheer of the afternoon to that point came when the first contestant in the half-time hit-the-crossbar challenge produced the most accurate ball of the day from a man in a black and white shirt to connect with the woodwork at the first attempt.

If the Magpies had escaped at the end of the first half, they were not to be so fortunate at the beginning of the second after Habib Beye was forced to concede a 46th-minute corner.

Sami Hyypia managed to get a flick on Gerrard's ball in at the near post and Kuyt bundled it home from close range to make it 2-0.

Allardyce did little to improve the mood at St James' when he replaced Emre with Joey Barton after 51 minutes with his side labouring.

Beye had to get in a block to deny Harry Kewell after 54 minutes after Torres had found space on the right and, although Smith volleyed high over at the end of a rare Magpies attack a minute later, there were cheers when James Milner emerged from the dug-out to warm up.

Milner duly arrived with 59 minutes gone, but Allardyce's decision to replace N'Zogbia was greeted with incredulity.

Newcastle were in complete disarray and after Torres had twice gone close, substitute Babel finally made them pay when he exchanged passes with Gerrard to fire home a third goal after 66 minutes.

Torres was tormenting the home defence and should really have added his name to the scoresheet, firing wide after 68 minutes with just the helpless Given to beat and then seeing another effort blocked by the Irishman seconds later.

Babel sent a stinging shot across Given's goal after 73 minutes and then laid a fourth on a plate for Kuyt, only to see the Dutchman scuff his effort straight at the goalkeeper, and the final whistle came as a merciful release.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reds Owners To Meet Benitez


Liverpool owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks say talks with Rafa Benitez regarding squad improvement will take place in December.

Benitez invested heavily in his Anfield squad during the summer in a bid to turn the Reds into serious Premier League title contenders.

But there have been reports that the Liverpool boss is unhappy with the delay in finalising a permanent deal for on-loan midfielder Javier Mascherano.

Gillett and Hicks have now released a statement in an attempt to put the focus on the club's upcoming fixtures, starting with the weekend's game against Newcastle United.

"We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed," read the co-chairmen's statement on the club's official website.

"There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have at the club.

"We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the manager then."

Benitez spent a club record fee to bring Fernando Torres to Liverpool in the summer, and also splashed out on Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel.

Is LiverpooL In Crisis?

The civil war that has suddenly gripped Liverpool could determine whether they can ever rejoin the elite of English football, or be condemned to yet more years in the Premier League wilderness.

Manager Rafa Benitez launched an extraordinary offensive yesterday with what he sees as a ultimatum to the club's American owners that they can only interpret as back me or sack me.

In response, George Gillett and Tom Hicks offered a considered and cutting response, apparently designed to call the bluff of the manager who often reacts in an impulsive way to any perceived problems.

Benitez has become increasingly angry in recent weeks over what he believed was a complete lack of communication from the Americans.

He argued that since buying the club they had put their energies into other projects, left Liverpool on a back burner, and wondered whether the pair were working together as a team.

Both men have each been to only one game this season, and Benitez claims he has spoken to them just once in three months, while also exchanging the odd email.

Gillett's son Foster, installed at Anfield as a go-between, has flown back to the States for an extended period.

In particular, Benitez wants the £17million deal for Javier Mascherano wrapped up, after agreeing terms over both contract and fee. The Americans though, have delayed, insisting they have first option on the Argentina midfielder and that there is no need to rush.

Benitez also tried to negotiate deals to bring in two highly-rated young Brazilians, and wants funds to back a major offensive to sign £15m Argentina defender Ezequiel Garay.

All three proposals were met with indifference by a board increasingly sceptical about his constant pursuit of untried South Americans, believing it to be a high-risk strategy that could cost the club millions.

Benitez wants to move quickly, with Juventus interested in Mascherano, and Manchester United in Garay, who, along with the Brazilians, is also wanted by Real Madrid.

His frustration has grown to such a level Bayern Munich and Fenerbache made inquiries after word leaked out at Anfield of his discomfort.

That did nothing for relations between the manager and owners sides, with the Americans beginning to believe they may be better off without someone prone to such emotional outbursts.

There is still anger within the boardroom over Benitez's personal attack on Gillett, Hicks and chief executive Rick Parry over a lack of support after the Champions League Final.

Gillett and Hicks responded by making £50m available for transfers, and believe the manager now has a squad strong enough for a serious assault on the title.

However, the situation came to head yesterday when Benitez was told by the Americans to wait until they arrive in England on December 16, and until then to concentrate on getting the best out of a squad that has cost so much.

That enraged the Spanish, who immediately marched into a press conference conducted in a remarkable manner.

Virtually every question was answered with the same response: "As always, I am focused on coaching and training my team." He repeated the sentence - clearly meant as a response to the demands of the Americans and probably borrowing from a phrase they used - more than 25 times.

Their reaction was swift and significant. They issued a statement that robustly defended their position and also explained what had been happening behind the scenes.

"We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed," it read. "There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have.

"We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the manager then."

The question for Benitez is whether he can remain in charge until then. The owners have called his bluff, and he must mull over his position after being so publicly chastised.

He would receive a huge payoff - thought to be up to £6m - if sacked, even if he finds another job, but will forfeit that amount if he quits.

He has been bluntly told he has had significant backing and will have to earn further support through results on the field, which have been less than impressive despite major investment.

The ball in now in his court, but the US tycoons are hard-nosed businessmen and Benitez has suddenly found himself on extremely treacherous ground, that could conceivably lead to his departure.

Rafa Benitez has spent £122.7million in transfer fees on 17 players (not counting free transfers) since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2004. Here are his biggest buys.

F Torres (A Madrid) £26.5m

R Babel (Ajax) £11.5m

X Alonso (Valencia) £10.5m

D Kuyt (Feyenoord) £9m

P Crouch (S'pton) £7m

J Pennant (Arsenal) £6.7m

F Morientes (R Madrid) £6.3m

Benitez Fancies England Job


Rafael Benitez has sensationally declared his interest in the England job, fuelling rumours of an apparent rift with Liverpool's American owners.

The Spaniard has reportedly clashed with Tom Hicks and George Gillett over transfer budgets and says he is seriously considering going for the England job.

'Maybe I could be Steve McClaren's replacement if I improve my English,' said the 47-year-old.

'I was being serious. You never know what can happen in the future,' he added.

At a press conference on Thursday Benitez was unusually quiet, describing his week as 'not the best' amid rumours Hicks and Gillett had vetoed his plan to sign on-loan Javier Mascherano on a permanent basis.

The former Valencia boss responded to questions on a variety of issues with the stock answer: 'I am focused on training and coaching my team.'

Gillett and Hicks responded by saying transfer business would be discussed when they visit the club next month.

Football Association chief exeutive Bian Barwick will begin the search for a England new coach today following the sacking of Steve McClaren.

And with leading candidates already making themselves unavailable, calling Benitez may be high on his list of priorities.

Martin O'Neill and Sam Allardyce have both distanced themselves from the post while fans' favourite Jose Mourinho is also reported to have ruled himself out.

Benitez Distracted By Other Issues


Off-the-field issues have overtaken Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's preparations for Saturday's early kick-off at Newcastle after the club's co-chairmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett laid down a marker on transfers.

After a fortnight without action because of the international break the Spaniard has had little time to get his players ready for the trip to Tyneside.

And his mood was not helped by an apparent disagreement with the club's American owners over how much money - if any - will be forthcoming in January.

Benitez patently had issues when he spoke to the press to preview the match and a few hours later the reason for his mood became clearer.

"We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed," said a statement from Hicks and Gillett.

"There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have at the club.

"We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the manager then."

It was a distraction Benitez did not need considering the limited amount of time he will have with his full squad once they all returned from international duty on Wednesday.

However, those players that were not involved with their countries have boosted the Spaniard's plans for Newcastle.

Daniel Agger, Harry Kewell and Fernando Torres are all in line for a return to the starting line-up with the latter the most significant of the trio.

Liverpool's record signing remained at Melwood this week, working on his match fitness, and has not been involved for Spain.

It seems Torres will regain his place in the starting line-up and will keep the shirt for next week's crucial Champions League crunch at home to Porto, a match Liverpool must win to stay in contention to qualify for the group stages.

Torres made his initial comeback a fortnight ago when he scored a fine goal as substitute against Fulham - and is likely to get the nod from Benitez at St James' Park.

Agger is close to full recovery from a broken metatarsal, while Kewell could also be in contention after a succession of groin-related problems.

He played a full 90 minutes for Australia last weekend, and Benitez described his return as like "having signed a new player".

It will be Torres, though, who will be in the spotlight.

"We have a confidence and a focus which will make us a very dangerous opponent for everyone who has to face us," he predicted.

"We have maybe not played as well as we are all capable of all the time this season - but look at how close we are to the teams at the top of the table.

"That is highly encouraging for us.

"From what I have seen so far in England, we do not have anything to fear from any of our opponents for the title. They are all great teams with a lot of experience and many very, very good players - but so are we."

Torres sees the title as a straight battle between the established top four clubs in this country.

"I am sure that as the season progresses it will come down to a fight between Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea - and we will be in there too.

"There is a winning mentality at Liverpool. I look around in the dressing room before a game, and in the face of ever player and every coach you see the winning expectation.

"They do not go out on to the pitch, either hoping they will or praying they will win - they expect it. They have such a belief in their ability that another outcome is just not something they consider.

"It is very new to me, but I enjoy that mentality very much and I am thinking this way too now."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Portsmouth Interested In Crouch


Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp has admitted he would be interested in signing Liverpool striker Peter Crouch.

Redknapp is a big fan of Crouch having worked with the England striker during his time in charge of Portsmouth and Southampton.

Crouch's long-term future at Liverpool looks uncertain with reports suggesting Rafa Benitez could be willing to cash in on the forward.

And should Crouch become available, Redknapp has indicated he would be at the front of the queue to sign the 26-year-old.

"You will always be interested in someone like him," Redknapp told The Mirror.

"He is a great player and can be unplayable at times. He is a great lad and great to work with.

"He was fantastic in that year he had at Portsmouth. The club owe him a massive debt for what he did.

"We bought him for £1million and sold him for £5million. He scored 19 goals and without those goals they would probably have gone down.

"He kept the club going and for me he has been one of the main players for the last six or seven years."

Rafa: We Will Come Good

Rafael Benitez believes that Liverpool's young lions will savage their title rivals in the second half of the season.

The Anfield boss is backing the likes of Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Lucas Leiva to show exactly why he spent so much money on them by inspiring an historic Premier League triumph.

Liverpool have secured a menacing position just behind the league pacesetters, and Benitez believes his meticulous planning over rest and recuperation through player rotation will give them the strength to become champions.

"Our squad is really good and hopefully the strength of the squad will become more clear as the season goes on - you will see how strong we can become," Benitez explained.

"Some young players, especially the likes of Leiva, Torres, Babel and Sebastian Leto, will play better and get stronger as the season progresses.

"I am not disappointed with them but I think they do have the potential to play better.

"We have more points than this time last season. I cannot be 100 per cent happy because I know we could have won the games against Birmingham, Chelsea and Tottenham. So there is plenty of room for improvement."

Reina Not Attracted By Atletico Madrid


Jose Reina claims he would not be interested in leaving Liverpool after reports linked him with a move to Atletico Madrid next summer.

The Spain international goalkeeper is said to be a target for Los Colchoneros next summer, who apparently thought he may fancy a move there.

Although no official contact has been made, Reina has spoken out to prevent any more stories as rumours continue to circulate.

"I am flattered," he said. "But at this moment it would not be good for me to move as my family is comfortable.

"I am feeling happy and valued. I have no reason to move."

Reina's father, Miguel, played for Atletico in the 1970's and was a member of the side that was beaten by Bayern Munich in Belgium.

Despite being born in Madrid, Reina junior rose through the ranks at Barcelona before moving to Villarreal in 2002.

After three seasons at El Madrigal, Rafa Benitez swooped to sign him for Liverpool and he replaced Jerzy Dudek as the club's number one.

Torres Unfazed By Rest Of ‘The Big Four’


Liverpool striker Fernando Torres declared the Reds have nothing to fear from their Premier League title rivals this season.

Rafael Benitez's side have made an inconsistent start to the season, with glorious 8-0 hammerings in Europe standing alongside disappointing 0-0 draws at home against ‘smaller’ clubs.

This patchy form has placed Liverpool six points behind leaders Arsenal, but Torres feels the fact that the Reds are still within touching distance with their rival’s in-spite of their inconsistency is a positive sign.

The £23m hitman insists Liverpool shall be firmly in the mix with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United at the end of the season in the race for the title.

Speaking to the club's website, the Spaniard said: "We have a confidence and a focus which will make us a very dangerous opponent for everyone who has to face us.

"We have maybe not played as well as we are all capable of all the time this season but look at how close we are to the teams at the top of the table. That is highly encouraging for us.

"From what I have seen so far in England we do not have anything to fear from any of our opponents for the title. They are all great teams with a lot of experience and many very, very good players but so are we.

"I am sure that as the season progresses it will come down to a fight between Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea - and we will be in there too.

"There is a winning mentality at Liverpool," he said.

"I look around in the dressing room before a game and in the face of every player and every coach you see the winning expectation.

"They do not go out on to the pitch either hoping they will or praying they will win. They expect it. They have such a belief in their ability that another outcome is just not something they consider.

"It is very new to me but I enjoy that mentality very much and I am thinking this way too now.

"Hopefully we have had all the injuries that we are going to have and for the next few months we can really start to build a momentum that makes us very hard to stop.

"Any team that concedes as few goals as we concede is going to be tough to play against. If we begin to take the chances that we are creating in our games then I am sure those teams above us will start to fear us."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reds Pursue Permanent Moves For Mascherano And Garay

January could be a busy month for Rafael Benitez, as the Liverpool manager attempts to secure the long-term services of Javier Mascherano and Racing Santander’s Ezequiel Garay.

Argentine Mascherano is currently entering his eleven month of a loan deal at Liverpool and his consistent performances in midfield have quickly gained him an army of admires on Merseyside.

Benitez is reported to be keen on making the ball-winner a permanent squad member in January rather than wait till the summer.

To this end, it is rumoured that the Spaniard has made a major breakthrough in his negotiations with MSI, the company that own Mascherano’s playing rights.

MSI, who also control Carlos Tevez's involvement with Manchester United, initially wanted a reported £17 million fee for the Argentinean international.

However, it is believed Liverpool have agreed for that £17 million fee to include the player’s wages over a five-year spell – beating off interest from Barcelona.

Clearly the confirmation of the player’s stay would please his team-mates, as goalkeeper Jose Reina stated: “It is quite important because Mascherano has been one of our best players so far.

“It was a loan, a clever loan, and we have to take the next step which is to get him for a few years.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool have been boosted in their pursuit of 21-year-old centre back Garay after he revealed he would love to play in England.

Benitez has been in the market for a young, capable defender who can operate at fullback as comfortably as in the centre, since losing out on Gabriel Heinze.

Garay was named in La Liga’s team of the season last year, and he currently has a £14.2 million buy-out clause at Racing Santander.

“To play in England is a dream,” he was quoted as saying in The News of the World.

“My head is in Racing but I would like to progress.”

But Liverpool may face stiff competition for the highly-rated stopper as Manchester United are also thought to be monitoring the defender.

Torres Set For LiverpooL Start

Fernando Torres looks set to make a return to the Liverpool starting line-up to face Newcastle at the weekend.

Liverpool's record signing has not started a game since breaking down in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the end of October, after picking up an abductor muscle injury with Spain.

Torres has remained in Liverpool over the international break to work on his fitness while the rest of Rafa Benitez's strikers have been away with their national sides.

Therefore, the Liverpool Echo claims that Torres is in pole position to make the starting line-up at St James' Park.

Harry Kewell is also in the running for a place in the Liverpool side after coming through 90 minutes of Australia's friendly with Nigeria on Saturday.

Benitez told the Echo: "It was good to see Harry get 90 minutes. I was talking with him and he said it wasn't a high tempo game so he was able to get through it.

"Physically he probably still needs to improve his pace and stamina but he is getting there.

"When you talk about Harry then you talk about a player of quality and ability who can make a big difference to our team. He can give different things to us, especially against teams who play deep and compact."

Liverpool’s Benitez Upbeat As Torres & Kewell Make Good Use Of International Break

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is upbeat as the international break has served to be timely for various reasons and has helped the likes of Fernando Torres, Daniel Agger, Yossi Benayoun and Harry Kewell.

Benitez is particularly happy that Kewell completed full 90 minutes with Australia in a friendly against Nigeria in London, which was the injury-troubled Reds winger’s first full match in more than a year.

The break came at the right time for Torres to recover fully from his thigh problem, and the Spain ace should be ready to start against Newcastle United at the weekend; but Daniel Agger and Yossi Benayoun may not be fully fit in time for the trip to St James’ Park.

Benitez said in the Liverpool Daily Post: “It was good to see Harry get 90 minutes. I was talking with him and he said it wasn't a high tempo game so he was able to get through it.

“Physically he probably still needs to improve his pace and stamina but he is getting there.

“When you talk about Harry then you talk about a player of quality and ability who can make a big difference to our team. He can give different things to us, especially against teams who play deep and compact.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Double Boost For Benitez


Liverpool defender Daniel Agger could make his comeback at Newcastle in the club's first match after the international break.

The 22-year-old centre-back has been out since early September and has missed 13 matches with a broken metatarsal.

Agger was ruled out of the Denmark squad this week and said: "I'm not going off with my country but I would hope to be ready to play for Liverpool after the international break."

Manager Rafael Benitez is confident the defender is ready for a return at St James's Park in the lunch-time kick-off on November 24.

"Agger is improving a lot, and he has started running now," said the Spaniard.

Yossi Benayoun, who has been ruled out of Israel's clash with Russia on Saturday with a groin problem, also has a chance of facing Newcastle.

"Yossi is working with the physios now. We will have to see if he is fit for Newcastle, it's still too early to say," added the manager.

"He and Agger are maybes but perhaps it will be easier for Agger than for Benayoun."

However, Xabi Alonso, also out with a metatarsal problem, has already been ruled out of the visit to Newcastle.

Benitez added: "Xabi should start running in the next week but he is a 'no' for Newcastle, for sure."

Bayern Target Benitez Reaffirms Commitment To Liverpool


Manager Rafa Benitez has reaffirmed his commitment to Liverpool amid reports he has been sounded out by Bayern Munich about replacing under-pressure Ottmar Hitzfeld as manager.

The Spaniard has been made the No1 target for the German giants after it became clear that, despite topping the Bundesliga, Hitzfeld was unlikely to be offered a new contract, following growing tension behind the scenes.

But Benitez told CNN International's 'World Sport' he was committed to working with the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, and revealed his future plans.

"When we started talking about the future, we were very clear, we needed to have a plan," he said.

"We have this plan and we are progressing. The situation is positive in terms of things we wanted to do and what we are doing.

"When I signed the team wasn't winning much. They said to me try to win trophies in the future.

"To play seven finals and win four trophies I think is not bad in three years. So we need to see what happens this year, but we have confidence we can do it.

"We know that we are a top side, we play against a lot of teams that have power, money, and experience.

"Our vision is to be successful, have a new stadium, and trying to improve a little bit the structure of the club. We are going in the right direction."

Juventus To Bid For Peter Crouch?

Juventus are set to make a £10m bid for Liverpool striker Peter Crouch, according to the Daily Mail.

The giant marksman, who scored England’s winner in the 1-0 friendly win against Austria last night, has featured sparingly for Liverpool this season.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez is ready to let Crouch go during the January transfer window, providing interested parties meet the 26-year-old’s £10m price tag.

Juventus Coach Claudio Ranieri is a huge admirer of Crouch from his time spent managing Premiership club Chelsea.

The Bianconeri already have a good blend of strikers in their first-team squad in the form of David Trezeguet, Alessandro Del Piero, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Raffaele Palladino. However Ranieri believes that Crouch’s huge frame will offer them more of an aerial threat.

In other transfer news, Argentine midfielder Sergio Almiron could make a January move to AEK Athens.

Almiron has been hugely disappointing since signing from Empoli in the summer and currently finds himself behind Cristiano Zanetti, Antonio Nocerino and even Tiago Mendes in the centre-midfield pecking order.

AEK are prepared to spend €8m to bring the 27-year-old to Greece.

Bayern Interested In Benitez?


Bayern Munich have reportedly 'sounded Rafa Benitez out' about becoming their manager at the end of the season.

Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is unlikely to remain in the job beyond the summer, despite some heavy spending on the likes of Luca Toni, Miroslav Klose and Franck Ribery, players that have taken Munich to the top of the Bundesliga.

The Daily Mail claims that tensions behind the scenes in Bavaria will mean Hitzfeld - in his second spell in charge of Bayern - will not have his contract renewed beyond the end of this season.

Indeed, Hitzfeld has reportedly told friends he will take over as coach of the Switzerland national side after Euro 2008.

The Mail reports that Bayern have already approached Benitez about taking over in Germany, but that the Liverpool manager is likely to rebuff the approach.

English Appeal For Reds Target


Liverpool target Javi Martinez admitted to skysports.com that he is attracted to the prospect of playing in England.

The 19-year-old Athletic Bilbao ace is one of the most highly-rated midfielders in Spain and he is being closely monitored by Rafa Benitez.

Martinez has risen to prominence over the last 18 months following his move from Osasuna's second string last year.

Now he is attracting interest from some of Europe's big hitters and, as skysports.com revealed earlier this week, Liverpool are one of those hot on Martinez's trail.

"I see Premier League matches on the television and the atmosphere is wonderful," he told skysports.com.

"But I don't really know anything [about the interest] as I haven't spoken with anyone.

"My sole mission at the moment is to work hard for Athletic and help the team.

"If an offer does arrive I would look at what is best for two parts, myself and Athletic."

Bilbao have admitted that they are aware of the interest in their prized asset - although they would appear to have few intentions of selling.

"We have not received any formal offers yet," a spokesman told skysports.com.

"We are calm about the situation."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Liverpool Hot On The Trail Of Bilbao Prospect


Rafael Benitez is reported to be tracking the progress of Athletic Bilbao's sensational young midfielder Javi Martinez, with a view to make a January transfer bid.

The Basque playmaker has been outstanding this term at San Mames, carrying on from his successful campaign last season - which was his first in La Liga.

Athletic raised a number of eyebrows in Spain when they splashed out 6 million euros (£4.2million) for him as an untested 18-year-old playing with Osasuna's second string.

But 18 months on, some of Europe's biggest hitters are now tracking the 19-year-old who is also a regular in Spain Under 21 side.

Liverpool are rumoured to heading the queue for the youngster’s services, however they face stiff competition from Fiorentina who have also sent scouts to assess Martinez during recent games.

Although the Basque player operates in midfield, an area that the Reds have an abundance of talent in, he nonetheless offers a distinct different type of quality.

Martinez prefers to roam free in midfield and operates best in the last third as a schemer and creator of goals, a player that perhaps Yossi Benayoun comes closest in comparison.

With whispers abound that the under-performing Momo Sissoko may be leaving Anfield, room may be freed-up soon for the arrival of Martinez.

But Benitez also knows he is not the only man looking to land Martinez - whose current get-out clause stands at 24 million euros (£17.1million) as he has more than four years remaining on his contract.

Fiorentina boss Cesare Prandelli was hugely impressed by Martinez in pre-season after the two sides met in a friendly and he has been following him closely ever since.

Now a battle could ensue, although Benitez would always be seen as favourite given his continued close links with his homeland.

Liverpool are also known to have been impressed by Martinez's team-mate Fernando Amorebieta and a double bid could yet be a possibility.

Benitez Looking For More From Leto, Leiva And Babel

With a hectic schedule of fixtures around the corner, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has urged the younger players in his squad to hit top form sooner rather than later.

Benitez is well-aware of the packed period of football than comes at Christmas in the English calendar, and understands the demand for rotation in places on squads.

Therefore Benitez wants his fringe players to step their game up as they are more likely to be making appearances in the first team over the coming weeks.

Although the Spaniard is happy with the way the likes of Ryan Babel, Lucas Leiva and Sebastian Leto have adapted to the English game, he nonetheless is demanding more from them.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Benitez said: “Our squad is really good and hopefully the strength of the squad will become more clear as the season goes on.

“Some young players, especially the likes of Sebastian Leto, Lucas Leiva and Ryan Babel, will grow and progress during the season and I am sure they will play better.

“I am not disappointed with them but I think they do have the potential to play better.”

The Reds, who are looking to win their first Premiership title for 18 years, are currently six points behind the leaders Arsenal.

He said: “I feel that we are in a much better position than we were at this time last season.

“We have more points but if you think about the games and analyse the matches against Birmingham City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, they were three games that we could have won, so maybe we could be top of the table .

“You cannot be 100% happy because I know that we could have won these games, so there is plenty of room for improvement.”

Garay Fancies English Move




Ezequiel Garay has admitted that he would like to play in England after Manchester United and Liverpool were reported to be watching his progress at Racing Santander.

The Argentinian defender has attracted attention with some powerful display at the heart of the Cantabrian rearguard and would fancy trying his luck in the Premiership.

Racing admitted recently that they may have to let him leave next summer after Real Madrid were rumoured to be preparing an offer that would be difficult to turn down.

Now Garay has revealed that he would be open to a transfer, but admitted that he has heard nothing concrete about interest from any clubs.

"To play in England is a dream," he told Sky Sports. "But I insist that I do not want to talk about the hypothesis. I do not have any preferences about any clubs.

"My head is in Racing but like all professionals I would like to progress.

"But I have spoken with the directors of Racing only this week and there is no real news about me."

Crouch Can Leave Liverpool For £10m

Liverpool will spark a £10million transfer auction after deciding to sell Peter Crouch to the highest bidder in January.

Crouch's future has been the subject of intense speculation this season but now manager Rafa Benitez has finally lost patience after seeing a change in the striker's attitude.

The Liverpool manager believes Crouch's status as an England player has turned his head, to the detriment of the work ethic that made him such a valuable team player when he arrived from Southampton for £7m in 2005.

Benitez has instructed Anfield chiefs to secure the best possible price for 26-yearold Crouch. There will be no shortage of offers, with early signs of interest from Newcastle, Portsmouth and Aston Villa, one of his former clubs.

A move abroad is believed to appeal to Crouch, with Juventus in the market for a front-runner.

Casting an eye towards the Premier League, Liverpool's initial valuation could prove a stumbling block. Manchester City dropped out after being quoted £15m.

Sportsmail understands that Crouch is prepared to dig his heels in and see out the remaining 18 months of his contract if Liverpool insist on £15m. It seems likely the club will have to lower their sights to around £10m for a New Year deal to go through.
Crouch's expected departure may not be the only one after Momo Sissoko demanded showdown talks over his lack of opportunities this season.

The 22-year-old Mali midfielder has made only four Premier League starts and sees little hope of forcing his way back after slipping behind Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso for a place alongside Steven Gerrard.

He wants to grill Benitez over his standing and is ready to demand a move in January if the manager cannot convince him he will have a more active role in the second half of the season.

Liverpool only just pipped Everton to the former Valencia player's signature and there is certain to be strong interest from the Premier League as well as a host of foreign clubs, headed by Juventus, jostling for the chance to offer him a fresh start.

Daniel Agger has set his sights on a return to action against Newcastle a week tomorrow, following a 13-game absence with a broken metatarsal.

'I have had to miss out on Denmark's game in Northern Ireland, but I hope to be ready to play for Liverpool after the international break,' said the 22-year old centre-back.

Benitez, who will give Sami Hyypia an overdue rest if Agger is passed fit, says Yossi Benayoun has only an outside chance of making the lunchtime kick-off at St James' Park. He has been forced to rule out Alonso, who has suffered another foot injury.

Benitez said: 'Yossi is working with the physios now. We will have to see if he is fit for Newcastle; it's still too early to say.

'He and Agger are “maybes” but perhaps it will be easier for Agger than for Benayoun. Xabi should start running in the next week but he is a “no” for Newcastle, for sure.'

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Benitez: I Like Having Selection Problems Because All My Strikers Are Fit

Rafael Benitez hailed Fernando Torres' stunning goal against Fulham and admitted he was looking forward to more selection posers.

Following Liverpool's 8-0 win over Besiktas, manager Benitez named an unchanged side for the first time this season as the Cottagers visited Anfield on Saturday.

But the Londoners proved a stubborn outfit and it was not until the introduction of injury-hit Torres that the Reds finally made the breakthrough after 81 minutes. Steven Gerrard then clinched a 2-0 win with a late penalty after Peter Crouch was tripped.
Benitez said: "It is good he is back fit, now I have the sort of problems I like with several fit strikers to choose from.

"It was important for Torres to be back and important that he can score goals like that.

"At the end I said well done to them all, not just Torres, his job is to score goals."

Reina: Benitez Driven On By Desperation To Win Premier League


Pepe Reina has revealed Rafa Benitez's desperation to end Liverpool's title drought as he admitted the Reds boss will do everything to bring the championship back to Anfield.

Despite an early-season wobble and a raft of injuries, Liverpool are just six points adrift of top spot with a game in hand over Manchester United.

And while the Spain keeper knows how much it would mean to the Kop to hail the best team in England for the first time in nearly two decades, he maintains Benitez wants it even more.

Reina, who has kept 10 clean sheets in 17 starts this season, told the Daily Mirror: "I know Rafa well and he will break his own head to find a solution to get the title for Liverpool.

"He has the experience of three seasons in England now and knows more of what is required.

"We are all aware of how desperate the fans are to win the championship.

After 18 years without doing so, for a club like Liverpool, that's only normal.

"We all wish to give them that chance to celebrate the title after so long. It's our biggest target for the season.

"Rafa has been successful in the last few years and shown at Liverpool how he can pick teams, change formations and win knock-out games.

"Look at how we've done in the Champions League, winning the FA Cup and getting to the Carling Cup Final as well. It's not easy to win a European Cup in your first season at a club and Rafa did that.

"That will serve him well in the future. He is someone who will always keep learning how English football is and learn from his 'mistakes' - if that's what you want to call them.

"But I wouldn't call them mistakes, because he doesn't make many at all. He is a really seasoned manager, who is always looking for the right solutions, and he will find them."

Reina, 25, insisted he is part of a Liverpool squad that has got what it takes to overhaul United, Arsenal and Chelsea and see Merseyside football back in control.

"People talk about prioritising, about maybe giving up the Champions League for the Premier League, and that's always difficult for a club like Liverpool to do," he added at the Paris launch of the new adidas Predator PowerSwerve boot.

"But if you were to say to me today - 'if you give up the Champions League you WILL win the title', then I'd say 'all right, let's do it now!'"

Gerrard: It's Been Difficult


Steven Gerrard admits it has been 'difficult' being an England player since the defeat in Russia, but is staying positive for the national team's Euro 2008 qualification hopes.

Last month's 2-1 loss in Moscow means England are relying on Israel to secure a result against Russia on Saturday to ensure Steve McClaren's men still have a chance to reach next summer's finals.

England face tournament co-hosts Austria in a friendly on Friday, but midfielder Gerrard intimated that the players' minds are on Israel's game with Russia 24 hours later.

"It's going to be a difficult week because we're all waiting for the Israel game," Gerrard told the Daily Mirror. "It's been difficult being an England player since the Russia result.

"We could all be going into one of the most meaningless internationals of our career, or one of the most important.

"But if we join up this week thinking it's all over and we've got no chance, it will make it impossible to prepare right for Wednesday if it suddenly becomes a massive game for us."

Gerrard also insists the players want to represent England and the stand-in skipper remains determined to be successful with the national team.

He added: "It's not aggravation to go out and play for your country. I still believe and have a dream of winning something with England, and that's worth any aggravation.

"If you look around the squad and see the players we've got, they should be capable of winning something. If we have to suffer this summer to have a successful World Cup in 2010, then that really would be worth the aggravation, if you want to call it that.

"Can you imagine this country if we have a successful tournament? And that's what I want to be part of.

"I have the same dream I had when I was a kid. Any young English player who doesn't have that dream shouldn't be playing for England.

"I can assure everyone on the outside that the players are frustrated and disappointed at the position we're in and are desperate to put it right."

Voronin Tips Kuyt To Find Best Form


Andriy Voronin has backed Dirk Kuyt to rediscover his best form "in the next few weeks" and win his place back in the Liverpool side.

Kuyt was left out of the side which faced Fulham at the weekend as Voronin, Peter Crouch and substitute Fernando Torres all featured, but the Ukraine frontman insists Kuyt will bounce back.

He said: "I have a very good relationship with the other strikers and it is up to the manager to decide who plays in any particular game.

"It's not about individuals, it's about the team, but Dirk is a very good striker. Sometimes strikers make mistakes, sometimes defenders do the same.

"But Dirk is a very good player and I am sure we'll see him back to his best in the next few weeks."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mascherano Says He Will Only Play For Liverpool


Javier Mascherano will quit English football if he fails to agree a permanent move to Liverpool, the Argentina midfielder said on Sunday.

"I only want to play for Liverpool," Mascherano told newspapers. "I hope the situation will be sorted in the next month.

"If I cannot play for Liverpool I will not play for another club in England. Not even Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United."

Mascherano signed an 18-month loan deal with the Anfield club when he left Premier League rivals West Ham United in January.

Sissoko Rotation Frustration


Mohamed Sissoko has revealed his frustration at Rafa Benitez's rotation policy at Liverpool.

The Mali born midfielder has started just six games this season after some disappointing performances.

He failed to feature again in Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Fulham on Saturday and he admits he finds it difficult to not play a part in the action.

"It can be frustrating," Sissoko told the Daily Star Sunday.

"I played a lot in my first season and then again at the start of last season before I got injured.

"I am more relaxed when I'm in the starting line-up. That's only natural."

Liverpool Fearing Split As Gillett And Hicks Tussle


A tussle between owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks is threatening to derail Liverpool's development plans.

According to the News of the World, the difference in opinion seems to have stemmed from plans for the club's new stadium.

Tom Hicks wants to go for a grander and bigger new stadium at Stanley Park, shelving the existing plan which has already been approved.

That, in turn, will burden the club with a debt in excess of £500m, which is where George Gillett is concerned, having promised fans that the takeover would not mirror that of the Glazers, who heaped a lot of debt on Manchester United to finance their buy-out.

The loan would be secured against the club's assets, and any failure on the pitch could leave the club at the mercy of the banks.

While Gillett - the realist - is concerned, Hicks - thinking big, literally - has gone ahead and started securing money from investors in the US.

Insiders at Liverpool are uncertain over how this will be resolved, and wary that a power struggle could cast a huge shadow over the club's development.

One option is to go ahead with the existing plans for the stadium, which would keep the debt at manageable levels.

However, there is more to the situation. There is also some resentment in the Gillett camp that Hicks has increasingly become the public face, leaving the former in the background, and is becoming autocratic in pulling the strings at Anfield.

A crisis looms at Anfield, unless the two top men can sort it out and present a unified vision.

Benitez Welcomes Torres Omission

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admits he is grateful striker Fernando Torres has not been called up by Spain for their Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Instead the club's record buy will work on his fitness during the international break.
Torres marked his return to action after a groin injury by scoring in the victory against Fulham at the weekend.

However the striker is not required by Spain for the qualifiers against Sweden and Northern Ireland.

"I'm not surprised he isn't in the squad because he has been injured," Benitez told the club's website.

"I'm pleased with the decision because it means he can stay with us and train and be ready for the next game. After a month without playing it's important he can work with us."

Liverpool’s Benitez & Gerrard Hail Pepe Reina

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez and skipper Steven Gerrard have hailed goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

The 25-year-old, who is an understudy to first-choice Iker Casillas in Spain side, played an important role in the Reds’ first goal that came from Fernando Torres in the hard-fought 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday.

Benitez said on the club’s official website: "Reina is a goalkeeper with real game intelligence. He can read the game and play the kind of balls he delivered to Torres. He can play these passes to strikers if strikers move for the ball.

"A modern goalkeeper needs to be able to read the game like this. That is the difference.

"You can save 100 balls, but if you don't do something more you will be a good goalkeeper – not a top class goalkeeper."

Gerrard added: "He doesn't just kick it upfield and give us 50-50 balls. He passes it out from the back. He's a quality goalie."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Benayoun Doubtful For Israel


Yossi Benayoun is doubtful for Israel's Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia next Saturday.

The Liverpool midfielder suffered a groin problem during Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Fulham and Rafa Benitez does not expect him to be recover in time.

"Yossi has picked up an injury and it is very, very doubtful that he will join up with his country," said the Reds manager.

Benayoun is not required by Liverpool until the Premier League clash against Newcastle in a fortnight.

But he has cancelled the flight to link up with his international team-mates and will instead undergo a scan on Sunday.

If Benayoun is ruled out it will be a blow to not only Israel but also England, whose hopes of reaching Euro 2008 depend on Israel avoiding defeat against Russia.

If Russia beat Israel it is almost certain that England will miss out on a place in the finals, even if they beat Croatia the following Wednesday.

Israel cannot qualify for next summer's tournament in Austria and Switzerland.