Monday, December 31, 2007

Liverpool Boss Benitez Desperate To Splash The Cash

Rafael Benitez is ready to plunge into the January transfer market in an attempt to solve Liverpool's central-defensive crisis.

With Sami Hyypia sidelined by an ankle injury and Daniel Agger still to recover from a broken foot, Benitez was forced to pick Alvaro Arbeloa alongside Jamie Carragher for yesterday's 0-0 draw with Manchester City at Eastlands.

Although a clean sheet suggests the decision worked, Benitez knows the situation is unsustainable over the long term and with youngster Jack Hobbs likely to be restricted to games such as next weekend's FA Cup tie at Luton, the Merseyside giants need reinforcements.

Benitez has been heavily linked with Fiorentina's Czech Republic international Tomas Ujfalusi, as well as AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze and Racing Santander's £8million-rated Ezequiel Garay.

The Liverpool boss is understandably not naming names. But, despite reports owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett would be offering a very restricted budget, Benitez is getting ready to spend.

'We are working to try to find some solutions and we are close to getting some players,' said Benitez.

'Until they actually put pen to paper we will keep working with the players we have but we are confident we can get the right players at the right price and that would be good for us.'

Benitez Lines Up Transfer Targets

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez says he will be active in the January transfer window to help revive the team's Premier League title challenge.

Benitez has refused to give up on the title despite seeing his side fall 10 points behind leaders Arsenal after being held 0-0 by Manchester City.

And he has revealed that new faces will be on their way to Anfield.

"We have some players, have some targets and we will try to sign the players we need," he said.

Earlier in the season, Benitez had a high-profile falling out with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over his plans for the transfer window, but this was later blamed on trans-Atlantic communication difficulties and seems to have calmed down.

"Maybe we will bring in one, maybe two, if everyone is fit you never know. We are working hard and are very close," Benitez added.

Benitez was frustrated that his side could not break down a resilient City defence, but took pride in the display of his side who now sit in fourth place behind Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.

"We knew they were playing really well at home, but we had our chances and could have won," he said.

"In the last 15 minutes, we were on top of them. For me, we deserved to win."

And despite the 10-point gap between his side and Premier league leaders Arsenal, the Spaniard is confident they can go on and life the title.

"We are 10 points behind the top with a game in hand, but if we play like we did on Sunday we will win a lot of games," said Benitez.

"I don't look at the table too much because I am busy analysing every game. We have one more point and can beat anyone."

Liverpool's next Premier League game is at home to Wigan on 2 January.

Manchester City 0 - 0 LiverpooL

Richard Dunne's heroic defensive display saw Manchester City thwart Liverpool's attempts to make up ground in the Premier League title race.

Dunne stood like an unshakeable tower as Rafael Benitez's men controlled a one-sided north-west derby without getting the breakthrough they deserved.

Fernando Torres was barely in the game such was Dunne's dominance of the Spaniard, with Harry Kewell, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun wasting the Reds' best opportunities before Joe Hart denied Dirk Kuyt late on.

Even then, the young City keeper needed Dunne to come to his aid with a goalline clearance from the rebound, ensuring a result which leaves Liverpool 10 points adrift of new leaders Arsenal.

Indeed, on this evidence, the Blues, just a point adrift of the fourth-placed Merseysiders, may take some shaking off as the battle for Champions League spots hots up in the new year.

When the host broadcaster describes a contest as "a thinking man's game", the chances are it is a cover for one lacking goalmouth incident, which, in this instance, for the first half at least, was certainly the case.

Given the prize for victory was fourth spot in the table heading into 2008, it would have been nice if Sven-Goran Eriksson had taken the fight to Liverpool right from the start.

Yet the pragmatic Swede has not got City into such a lofty position with free-flowing, attack-at-all-costs tactics.

Eriksson's philosophy has been to keep it tight at the back and in central midfield, then look to Elano, Martin Petrov, Stephen Ireland or Michael Johnson to conjure something up.

Given the latter man is nursing an abdominal injury, City's hopes were reduced by 25 per cent and Benitez is too astute a coach himself to give the other three free rein to exhibit their skills.

By half-time, Elano in particular must have been sick of seeing Jamie Carragher in his face.

The Liverpool defender, partnered by Alvaro Arbeloa as Sami Hyypia was ruled out with an ankle problem, was on hand to make a tackle or a block every time the South American came close to threatening.

As a result, City did not manage one single effort on goal during the opening period, although skipper Dunne should have done with a glancing header from Petrov's corner which ended up bouncing out for a throw-in.

But, to Liverpool's frustration, it was the same story at the other end, where Dunne and Richards were even more impressive than Carragher in their joint handling Torres.

Fortunate to escape wrestling the 15-goal forward to the floor in one early skirmish, Richards used his strength and speed to blunt Liverpool's star striker, with Dunne taking up the baton when necessary in equally formidable fashion.

In fact, the only offensive player to get the better of his marker on anything like a regular basis was Harry Kewell, who skipped past Nedum Onuoha on a couple of occasions.

England Under-21 keeper Hart needed a couple of attempts to smother the Australian's angled drive midway through the half while it was Kewell's cross that led to Fabio Aurelio lashing a speculative effort narrowly wide on the half-hour.

The suspicion remained Liverpool would eventually find a way through and within five minutes of the restart they had nearly done so three times.

After prodding one shot straight at Hart, Torres then found himself charging onto a Gerrard pass.

The young City keeper advanced quickly but was powerless to prevent Torres nudging the ball past.

For one awful moment, it looked as though Richards and Richard Dunne would get in each other's way as they raced back to clear before they both realised the effort was not going in and ushered it wide.

Then, Gerrard curled a free-kick narrowly beyond Hart's left-hand post after Richards had fouled Torres.

Hart tipped over from Yossi Benayoun and Gerrard fired wide as Liverpool maintained their early offensive, with City barely able to get out of their own half.

The introduction of Rolando Bianchi, still a popular figure among the City support despite his wide-ranging attack on the English game, was designed to relieve some of the pressure.

It did not really work as Benayoun and Gerrard peppered the City goal after the £8.8million Italian's arrival.

But the Blues, and Dunne in particular, would not yield.

The Irishman booted clear after Hart had denied Kuyt and when he slid in to block Benayoun's goalbound effort at the death, few would deny the defender deserved a share of the spoils.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rafa Benitez Pins Hopes On Gerrard & Torres

Rafael Benitez prefers to call it "changing" rather than "rotating", but he now accepts that two of his players need to be deployed almost without break if Liverpool are to challenge for the Premier League title. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are simply indispensable.

Torres's glorious solo goal and Gerrard's swashbuckling winner at Derby on Boxing Day encapsulated the strengths and weaknesses of Liverpool's struggle to become English champions for the first time in 18 years. Even Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea must covet the Spanish striker and the Anfield captain, yet few of their colleagues would merit a regular place with the other three members of the Big Four.

Liverpool go to Manchester City today clinging to the coattails of the familiar front-runners and Benitez, though still an advocate of the squad system, acknowledged that Gerrard, 27, and Torres were fundamental to his club's ambitions.

"If Torres is not injured and Gerrard is not injured, you can maybe do a fantastic season," Benitez said. "You need some luck and also to change players at the right moment. The first year I was here Gerrard was injured for three months. The second year he scored 23 goals and we finished with 82 points.

"When you have three or four days between matches and you are a 23-year-old like Torres, it is easy to keep playing. For Gerrard, too."

Benitez was fortunate to inherit Gerrard's phenomenal capabilities, but takes the credit for signing Torres when other leading clubs, notably United, prevaricated. They knew he had good control and pace, but questioned whether he would score enough goals to justify the investment. Fifteen so far this season seems an emphatic response.

Benitez never doubted Torres had the attributes and application to succeed where others, including his countryman, Fernando Morientes, failed. "Maybe Torres has surprised other clubs because they were saying he would be signing for them," Benitez said. "But the first time I talked to him about coming here he was very clear - he wanted to come right away.

"He is a Spanish player who has come to a team with a Spanish manager and some Spanish speaking team-mates. It can be difficult for a manager to explain what he wants, but I tell him in Spanish and can explain things that maybe others couldn't. It is not the same to go through a translator.

"Torres will get better because he wants to improve. His mentality is good. If you tell him he needs to work hard, he works harder. If you need him to stay and practice after training, he stays and practices.

"When we signed Morientes his mentality was really good. I was looking for a player good in the air and a target man. But Morientes couldn't handle it physically. Torres can. He is quick and strong. And he's younger."

Agger Set For Liverpool Recall In Clash With Manchester City

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is set to recall Daniel Agger if Sami Hyypia fails to recover in time to feature at Manchester City on Sunday.

Denmark international Agger, who started the season in central defence alongside Jamie Carragher, has been sidelined since September with a foot problem.

But with veteran Hyypia struggling with an ankle injury sustained in the 2-1 win at Derby on Boxing Day, the 23-year-old could start at Eastlands.

Benitez said: "It will be difficult for Sami. He is working hard with the physios and we are waiting to see whether he will be available. We will have to wait and see.

"If Sami doesn't play then we can think about using Daniel. He is training and is very close now."

Liverpool go into this match 11 points behind leaders Arsenal but with two games in hand.

Although they will have two games in hand over Sir Alex Ferguson's side, Benitez admits his side can afford no slip-ups.

He added: "It will be a really difficult game because they have a fantastic record at home.

"They have a manager with experience and good players who work really hard.

"As always though we have confidence. Our away form has been good this season and we are looking for that to continue on Sunday.

"It's important for us to just keep winning. Other teams around us have been dropping points and if we win matches then at the end of this period we can have a look at the league table and see how things stand.

"Our season has not been bad, but it could be better. We are in a good position. It could be better, but the best of us is still to come."

City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson admits the game will hinge on whether his team can stop Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard.

Eriksson's side dropped Premiership points for the first time at home this season with a 2-2 draw with Blackburn on Thursday night but they could move above the Reds with a victory over Benitez's men.

But Eriksson knows all about the threat of Gerrard after the two of them worked together closely during his spell in charge of England.

The Swede said: "Steven is one of the best players you can find. He has everything.

"He can defend. He can tackle incredibly well. He has vision, he is an extremely good passer. He can shoot, score goals and has the energy to get up and down the pitch.

"It is very difficult to say who is the best player in the country but Steven is certainly one of them - and has been for a long time now.

"As long as I was England manager, he was extremely important to me. He was important to England last year after I left and he will be very important in the future as well.

"Of course it will be difficult, we know that. It can't be easy to beat Liverpool. We will do our best and we will fight. Who knows what will happen after that."

Ujfalusi Rejects Liverpool Offer

Fiorentina defender Tomas Ujfalusi has rejected an offer from Liverpool and could be set for a new deal with the Viola.

Ujfalusi’s agent Pavel Paska is in the process of negotiating an extension to the Czech ace’s current contract which expires at the end of the campaign.

However, the player has been linked with Juventus recently and could join the Bianconeri at the end of the season.

“I have to respect his decisions, but I was really surprised when he said no to the Reds,” noted Paska. “Liverpool rarely offer a player a second chance.”

The Czech international is in his fourth season with the Viola after his £5m move from Hamburg in 2003.

He has made 10 appearances in Serie A this season and has already confirmed he wishes to stay in Italy.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

EPL Match Preview: Manchester City vs LiverpooL:

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is facing a defensive crisis with Sami Hyypia almost certainly unavailable for Sunday's trip to Manchester City.

Hyypia suffered a twisted ankle in the Boxing Day win at Derby, and although Benitez is awaiting reports from his medical team, he has virtually ruled the Finn out of the Premier League clash.

It means Benitez must decide whether to risk Daniel Agger in the match at Eastlands, the young Dane having not played for three months as he recovers from a broken metatarsal.

He has been training for a fortnight and is using specially built-up boots, but his lack of match practice is a concern.

Liverpool have full-back Alvaro Arbeloa fit again after a bout of flu, and he could be switched to partner Jamie Carragher while youngster Jack Hobbs is also on stand-by. Peter Crouch is still suspended.

Meanwhile Elano and Dietmar Hamann will earn immediate recalls as Manchester City look to regain a top four place by beating Liverpool at Eastlands.

City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson left the pair out of Thursday night's 2-2 draw with Blackburn as he attempts to keep his squad fresh over the festive period.

With Michael Johnson (groin) again set to miss out, Eriksson will turn to Elano to provide the inspiration for victory and former Reds star Hamann to subdue his old team-mate Steven Gerrard.


City (from): Hart, Isaksson, Onuoha, Corluka, Sun, Dunne, Richards, Garrido, Ball, Ireland, Hamann, Elano, Fernandes, Geovanni, Petrov, Mpenza, Vassell, Bianchi, Samaras.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Arbeloa, Finnan, Carragher, Hobbs, Riise, Aurelio, Benayoun, Babel, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Kewell, Voronin, Torres, Kuyt, Lucas, Agger, Itandje.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Reina: I'm Happy In England, But I'm An Atletico Fan

Liverpool and Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina admitted that one day he'd love to wear the red and white of Atletico Madrid, but for now he's more than happy at Anfield.

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina told Spanish sports daily As of his respect both for his current club and Atletico Madrid.

While he's made little secret of his desire to one day play for Atleti, though, he's absolutely delighted to be at Liverpool for now.

"I'm in my third season here and I'm very happy, and I'm an important figure in the locker room," he began.

"That makes you identify a lot with the side, your commitment is greater to the rest of the squad and to the team as well. I'm very comfortable here.

"People who read this don't know how it is to play for Liverpool in this league. Here we battle for so many titles, and are one of the best clubs in Europe.

"Atletico? I love this team, of course, for family reasons and many others. It's flattering for me to be linked with them, but I'm not looking for change.

"It's a club for which I have a special love - I can't deny it. My father played for them and I have a lot of friends there. Plus, Madrid is a great city.

"I like Atletico, but I have a contract with Liverpool and I'm happy here. Right now there's no reason to switch."

On the subject of a player who made a move in the opposite direction, the ex-Villarreal man had this to say:

"Fernando Torres? He's been received very well. He's very important for the club and has fitted in well. So far everything is going swimmingly.

"The crowd love him. They're very affectionate with him and constantly show their respect."

The 25-year-old then discussed his prospects with the international side.

"Football is full of surprises," he mused. "Iker [Casillas] is a great goalkeeper, a good teammate and a rival for the position of goalkeeper with the Selección, and he'll be tough to topple from his post.

"It takes many years to be elite in a team like Real Madrid, playing well every week, but one must be prepared when the time comes to play. I'm keen to play myself."

Liverpool’s Agger Could Return If Hyypia Fails Test

Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia might make way for Daniel Agger if the veteran fails the fitness test ahead of Sunday’s Premiership clash at Manchester City.

Hyypia limped off the field on Boxing Day with an ankle injury and Reds boss Rafa Benitez feels it will be difficult for the Finland international to recover in time for the City game.

Denmark defender Agger meanwhile had been out with metatarsal injury since September and could provide a timely boost.

"It will be difficult for Sami," Benitez said on the club’s official website.

"He is working hard with the physios and we are waiting to see whether he will be available. We will have to wait and see.

"If Sami doesn't play then we can think about using Daniel. He is training and is very close now."

Liverpool Sign Starlet Cooper

Liverpool will complete the signing of 16-year-old Ross County prospect Alex Cooper when the transfer window opens.

Liverpool have signed Alex Cooper from Ross County - a Scottish Second Division club in the Highlands.

16-year-old winger Cooper will move from Victoria Park to Anfield after the clubs agreed a £100,000 fee.

A winger capped by Scotland Under-16s, he was reportedly tracked by Jose Mourinho when the Portuguese was Chelsea boss.

But Liverpool wowed the youngster and Cooper has signed with the Premiership giants until 2011. His father Neale, a former Aberdeen star, expressed his enthusiasm after seeing his son agree a dream move.

"All his family are delighted Alex has been given the opportunity to sign for Liverpool.

"He could have gone to one or two other clubs but he just loved the way he was treated by Liverpool when he was there."

Gerrard Hailed By Sven Goran Eriksson

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson believes Steven Gerrard is the perfect player and is unsure how to stop him at Eastlands on Sunday.

After spending so long in the England camp together, the pair find themselves in opposition for the first time on Sunday when Eriksson's side look for a home win which would lift them over Liverpool into a Champions League spot.

Despite losing their 100% home record to Blackburn on Thursday night, City have every reason to be confident, particularly as Liverpool struggled badly against bottom club Derby on Boxing Day.

It would have been no surprise to Eriksson that Gerrard should be the man to rescue the Reds with his late winner at Pride Park.

While the Swede is reluctant to single out one individual as the Premier League's best player just now, there are not many who would be afforded such lavish praise as he heaps on Gerrard.

"Steven is one of the best players you can find. He has everything," said Eriksson.

"He can defend. He can tackle incredibly well. He has vision, he is an extremely good passer. He can shoot, score goals and has the energy to get up and down the pitch.

"It is very difficult to say who is the best player in the country but Steven is certainly one of them - and has been for a long time now.

"As long as I was England manager, he was extremely important to me. He was important to England last year after I left and he will be very important in the future as well."

Eriksson admits stopping Gerrard will be no easy task for his progressive team.

With youngster Michael Johnson missing, City will probably rely on the experience of Gerrard's former Liverpool team-mate Dietmar Hamann, who was rested for the Blackburn game.

"I am not sure how to stop Steven," said Eriksson.

"We shall have to find a way but I do know if you give him space and time and the chance to run forward with or without the ball, he is incredible."

With Manchester United among their nine previous home victims this term, City have already claimed one major scalp at Eastlands.

Yet it is a measure of where the Blues have come from that Eriksson still regards it as 'a dream' to beat the club he supported as a child in Sweden.

"Of course it will be difficult, we know that. It can't be easy to beat Liverpool. We will do our best and we will fight. Who knows what will happen after that," he added.

If City are to triumph, they require big performances from their key men.

The form of Brazilian playmaker Elano has dipped in recent weeks and, like Hamann, he was left out of Eriksson's starting line-up yesterday.

However, Martin Petrov's sensational performance against Rovers has given Elano a standard to reach, as well as providing an injury-hit Liverpool side with a major defensive headache.

Courted extensively by Tottenham, Petrov's move to City from Atletico Madrid last summer is proof of Eriksson's pulling power in the transfer market.

As he looks to build a squad capable of challenging for a top six spot consistently, Eriksson will hope the attraction will bring in more players, although he is not keen to play up his reputation too much.

"I have never asked Petrov why he ended up here," said Eriksson.

"I don't think we were the first team but maybe he heard about the new owner and the big project he has. It is a big challenge, which is the same reason why I am here.

"I don't know if Martin is here because of me, although I have been lucky to work at big clubs in Italy and Portugal and, whether you want it or not, it is a fact that when you have been England manager, you do become a little bit more famous because the job is so big."

Benitez Confident On Mascherano

Rafa Benitez says he has no fears that Javier Mascherano will join another club.

The Argentina midfielder is currently on loan at Anfield and Liverpool will reportedly have to pay in the region of £17m in the summer to secure his services on a permanent basis.

And while that leaves open the possibility the player could leave the club in six months' time, Benitez believes there is no need to rush into agreeing a deal.

"We were not talking too much about this because I have a lot of confidence that he will stay with us," he told Sky Sports News.

"He's just training, being ready, trying to enjoy now and being with his family. We will talk again, but he's happy here, so I think we can have some confidence."

Asked if he had any fears another club could get him, he responded: "No. Not in this moment, for sure."

Jewell And Rafa In Bust Up

Derby boss Paul Jewell last night accused Liverpool star Andriy Voronin of play-acting after Rams defender Jay McEveley got booked in a controversial challenge with the Ukranian striker.

Jewell and Reds chief Rafa Benitez had to be separated at Pride Park yesterday by the fourth official as the two rival managers squared up to each other over the second-half flashpoint.

With the scores locked at 1-1, Voronin went down theatrically after McEveley was late closing down the forward and Derby's Scottish defender was cautioned in the incident.

"I didn't think he touched him," insisted Jewell. "If he had touched him Voronin wouldn't have got up."

Benitez played down the episode, concentrating instead on Steven Gerrard's superb form in front of goal.

The Liverpool skipper made it eight goals in 10 games with his late winner.

Benitez says the midfielder is thriving in his favoured central role where he has more responsibility to score.

"We know Gerrard is the type of player who can go from box to box and it is important for us to keep him going forward," he said.

"Gerrard is a key player for us and is the captain and a top-class player. These type of players must be there when you need them and he has been great for us recently."

Jewell added: "We could have nicked it ourselves."

Benitez: We Kept Title Dream Alive

Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool kept their Premier League title ambitions alive with the last-gasp victory over Derby on Boxing Day.

Benitez is unmoved by the good fortune that saw captain Steven Gerrard claim a winner in the last few seconds to secure a victory at Pride Park that had not looked like coming.

With Arsenal and Chelsea both drawing, Benitez knows his team have inched closer to their own unlikely dream as they are now nine points behind leaders Manchester United with a match in hand.

It is still only a slim chance but after Liverpool's second victory in five days Benitez is clearly not bothered about how the wins arrive in packed schedule.

Fernando Torres scored an impressive opener, his 15th in 18 games, before Liverpool-born Evertonian Jay McEveley gave Derby a second-half lifeline with an equaliser.

Gerrard's heroics with his 11th in 14 matches eventually ended the Rams' hopes of a miracle victory.

But Benitez said: "I cannot be disappointed with another three points, I am really pleased. People forget in football the days when you play really well and get nothing.

"We were the best team in the first half, we were the best team at the end. In three months' time nobody will remember, nobody will talk of how we got those points, they will just see the result.

"We have been unfortunate against Chelsea at home, and Arsenal, and did not win. These points are won now and we are a little bit closer.

"When people ask if we have a realistic chance of the title they are really trying to tell me something.

"Let's wait and see. We have Manchester City next and that is very important for us.

"We have two more games over the holiday period. The most important thing for me is that we stay close.

"The question for me is to be as close as possible and we still have one game in hand. You never know what can happen."

Benitez must now cope with the likely loss of defender Sami Hyypia for a spell with a twisted ankle, the one position he does not have sufficient cover for.

"The second half was not the best for us but for me the key was winning three points and we were controlling the game for long spells," he added.

"If we had scored a second it would have been impossible for them. We lost Sami Hyypia and had players returning from injury who were not 100 per cent fit, those are some of the reasons for what happened in the second period.

"But we put ourselves under pressure by giving the ball away too often."

Benitez now has to drill into his team the need to find a killer instinct to avoid such embarrassments as Derby almost achieved and midfielder Xabi Alonso believes he and his team-mates must learn from their narrow escape.

Alonso, who made his first league start for two months, said: "We should have scored and killed the game.

"We should have kept the ball better and not let them have so many chances.

"We were in control in the first half, then we had a few injured players and we were struggling and we were not in control of the situation.

"We must not allow ourselves to be in that position again because we had chances to win the game. We have to learn and not repeat what happened at Derby again."

Alonso has made just eight appearances this season after a double metatarsal blow, and admits it has been a frustrating few months.

"When you are on the sidelines and injured, just watching, it is frustrating, but I am back now and looking forward to the next games.

"The problem is getting the match fitness that you need but I am getting there after almost three months out of the game."

For McEveley, scoring against Liverpool was not enough to make up for the shattering blow of losing a game Derby could have won.

He said: "It was nice to score against the Reds as an Evertonian but it is irrelevant now because they won - a real kick in the teeth.

"It is the way it is going for us at the moment. We were ahead twice at Newcastle and only drew, and it shows we must concentrate to the end.

"But we have shown in these last two games that we can compete in this division. It gives us confidence to go into our next game with Blackburn."

Derby 1 - 2 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard's unrelenting determination earned Liverpool all three points against a Derby side with every right to feel hard done by at Pride Park.

Liverpool had been comfortably the better side in the first half and Fernando Torres scored his 15th goal in 18 games.

But following on from their outstanding efforts to force a draw at Newcastle at the weekend, injury-ravaged Derby showed magnificent spirit to force their way back into the game with a second-half equaliser from Jay McEveley.

They battered away at Liverpool for much of the second period, with rookie goalkeeper Lewis Price outstanding even if his side finished with 10 fit men - Robert Earnshaw was by then a limping passenger.

Liverpool at times were dreadful, but captain Gerrard showed how to fight by instigating an 80-yard move, finishing it off by bundling the ball past Price in the dying minutes.

Derby believed they had good shouts for two late penalties, but they ended with nothing.

Derby's cause was not helped when they were hit by the late loss of goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, who suffered a shoulder injury in the draw at Newcastle at the weekend.

Liverpool made five changes from the side that beat Portsmouth on Saturday, with Steve Finnan, Andriy Voronin, Fabio Aurelio, Ryan Babel and Xabi Alonso coming into the side, but it was still awesome opposition for young Price.

A string of free-kicks, planted into the box by McEveley, caused some concern for the visitors.

And when Gary Teale fired in a left-wing cross on seven minutes, Steve Howard's aerial pressure created a chance for Kenny Miller to fire over from an acute angle.

But one flash of genius after 12 minutes saw Liverpool go ahead.

Torres took a pass from Babel, pushed the ball through Darren Moore's legs before side-stepping Dean Leacock and blasting a 15-yard strike past the helpless Price.

But Derby's injury woes soon got worse. Two home players collided on 24 minutes, leaving Stephen Pearson hurt. Liverpool stormed away and Babel should have scored when John Arne Riise's cross reached him at the far post. But the effort finished in the crowd.

Pearson eventually received treatment was led away with a damaged right arm, Michael Johnson coming on as substitute, slotting in as centre-back with Leacock moving into midfield.

Derby replaced Moore with American midfielder Benny Feilhaber at the break, another injury problem for Jewell.

But after 53 minutes Liverpool lost Sami Hyypia, the big defender limping away, Yossi Benayoun coming on. Riise moved into the centre of defence, and with Daniel Agger still not fit, Liverpool now could have serious problems in central defence.

Jamie Carragher was then felled by a poor Howard challenge, and Jewell almost immediately sent on striker Earnshaw to try to exploit the problems now at the heart of Liverpool's back line with his pace.

Derby had dominated the opening exchanges of the second half with Giles Barnes coming into the game.

Price saved well to his left from an Alonso effort, but Derby still came forward with belief and a ferocity in the challenge that forced Liverpool back.

And from a 67th-minute free-kick, Derby were level to send Pride Park wild. Eddie Lewis lifted a free-kick into the box from the right and it was allowed to bounce around before McEveley fired past Jose Reina.

McEveley was then booked for a foul on Voronin before Liverpool sent on Dirk Kuyt for Babel. Gerrard fired wide from the edge of the box, before more injury problems hit Derby with Earnshaw's injury.

Price made a stunning save to turn away an Alonso 30-yard strike after 82 minutes, and then Torres fired high over as Liverpool continued to come forward.

Barnes missed with a close-range diving header, the game now on a knife-edge as Liverpool came forward in desperation.

Gerrard hit the bar from 20 yards before he put Liverpool ahead in the 89th minute.

Price made another fine save from Torres, but the ball bounced out for the Liverpool skipper to force home, having started the move 80 yards away in his own half.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

EPL Match Preview: Derby County vs. LiverpooL

The last time these two sides met, at Anfield on the first of September, the Rams lost 6-0 in an abject display that proved to be only Premiership appearance for Bob Malcolm this season.

Malcolm, to the relief of most sane Derby fans, is now on loan at Queen’s Park Rangers, and the manager that brought him to Pride Park, Billy Davies, is now four games gone and gradually, like Malcolm, being forgotten as Paul Jewell begins to build a side to his own blueprint.

On Saturday evening, after Liverpool had imperiously swept aside a strong Portsmouth side seeking for their seventh consecutive away win at Anfield, you’d have said that Derby would have no chance in this game.

Especially if you’d taken the time to compare the fortunes of the two club’s record signings.

Fernando Torres scored twice on Saturday, and showed once again why Benitez was willing to invest (allegedly) £26.5 million in his magical feet and fresh-faced looks. Dispatching his chances on Saturday with lethal ease, he looked simply unplayable.

Contrast this with Derby’s record signing, Robert Earnshaw, who simply hasn’t played. The diminutive Welshman has been a perennial bench warmer this season, making limited and ineffectual appearances.

A good job then that Derby signed Kenny Miller. The driven Scotsman clinically converted one of Derby’s chances at Newcastle on Sunday, and his liveliness brought a genuine edge of threat to a much more focused and confident performance from Derby, who managed to pick up only their second away point of the campaign.

Significantly, they also managed to score two goals in a game for the first time since the opening day draw with Portsmouth at Pride Park.

Jewell had been forced into tweaking his line-up once more on Tyneside, due to Claude Davis managing to injure himself in the warm-up for the second time this season. With Leacock moving in to the back four, and Pearson and Barnes operating together in central midfield, the Rams looked defensively frail.

But they managed to produce a performance of confidence and verve, exemplified by Barnes’s clinical first-half goal. Their competitive spirit helped them to push Newcastle all the way, and there are genuine reasons for optimism coming into this fixture.

However, Newcastle, even at hom, do not represent the same level of challenge as Liverpool. Derby dithered too often in their own box on Sunday, a failing that has proved their downfall too often this season, and Torres, Kuyt, Gerrard and the rest may not prove as impotent in front of goal as Newcastle if presented with the same opportunities.

Derby played Newcastle as though it was a cup-tie, and recreating a ‘cup-tie’ atmosphere at a full (yet again) Pride Park may represent their best way of helping to upset the odds. However committed and aggressive they are though, their defenders will have to raise their game another two or three levels to cope with Liverpool’s potency in attack.

The Reds will be in no mood for mercy as they look for a Christmas charge. Anything less, and the title race could be officially over in ten days.

FORM GUIDE (last 5 League Games, most recent first)


Newcastle United (away) drew 2-2

Middlesborough (home) lost 0-1

Manchester United (away) lost 1-4

Sunderland (away) lost 0-1

Chelsea (home) lost 0-2


Portsmouth (home) won 4-1

Manchester United (home) lost 0-1

Reading (away) lost 3-1

Bolton Wanderers (home) won 4-0

Newcastle United(away) won 3-0


Derby County

Derby are down to the bare bones, with only sixteen fit first teamers to choose from on Sunday. They will wait to assess the fitness of Claude Davis and Stephen Bywater, who damaged a shoulder at Newcastle. Bywater’s absence would be a real blow, as, despite the number of goals conceded, he’s been Derby’s most consistent performer this season.


With Rafa’s endless rotation, who know what line-up he’ll pick for what he’ll regard as one of Liverpool’s lesser challenges this season. However, with the side beginning to look settled and strong on Saturday, he’d be ill-advised to tinker too much.


Giles Barnes (Derby County)

The youngster is beginning to show signs of the talent that so illuminated the Rams’ successful promotion push last season. The way in which he converted his chance on Sunday shows his growing capabilities at this level .Expect flashes of brilliance tempered by lackadaisical naivety.

Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

The young man from Madrid looks unstoppable at the moment. Expect Derby’s dithering defenders to be embarrassed at least once by him.

Gerrard A Future Liverpool Manager?

Steven Gerrard says he would jump at the chance to coach Liverpool one day, though conceded that his team-mate Jamie Carragher would be the most likely to actually do so amongst the current batch of Anfield stars.

Gerrard, 27, has been with the Red since his teenage days, so coaching his boyhood club would be the continuation of what has already been a glorious dream.

“If I was qualified to do it, there’s no way I could turn it down because of my bond with the club and the supporters,” he said.

“But I think Jamie’s got more chance than me. He maybe loves the game more than me. He studies the game more than me so maybe he might be a bit more prepared than me.”

Gerrard was first noticed by Liverpool's scouts at the tender age of 8, and joined the Reds as a schoolboy in 1987.

At the age of 14, the Whiston born boy had trials with various clubs, including the sworn enemy Manchester United, which Gerrard later said was only with the intent of pressuring Liverpool to give him a contract.

He then went on to sign his first professional contract with the club on 5 November 1997 and the rest is history as they say.

Benitez Warns Troops Off Derby Complacency

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has warned his team not to take their Boxing Day encounter with Derby County lightly.

Basement boys Derby County welcome Liverpool to Pride Park on December 26th, and although the Reds are hot favourites, Rafael Benitez (pictured) has characteristically warned his team off complacency.

The Spaniard told the Daily Mail, "Everyone is expecting us to beat Derby but we have had experience of Reading so we will have a lot of respect for Derby and will try to win this game.

"When you play away against a team which is battling relegation it is always very difficult."

Indeed, Benitez is clearly haunted by that Reading encounter, where his team fell to a shock 3-1 defeat to lose ground on league leaders Arsenal.

However, he believes that maintaining his rotation policy will ultimately lead to success.

"Sometimes you can use the same player, sometimes you use the squad," he continued.

"I like to use the squad because this is the key if you want to reduce the gap - it is using the right players at the right moment.

"When you play four games in 12 days it is such a short time you can change players and they can understand.

"Sometimes when you play one game a week and you leave six players out of the squad it is more difficult to explain but this situation is easier."

Carragher Calls For Consistency

With Liverpool falling out of the top four - albeit with a game in hand - many have begun ruling the Reds out as title challengers. Vice captain Jamie Carragher feels it's just a matter of keeping the leaders in sight.

Liverpool thrashed a powerful Portsmouth side 4-1 this weekend, but nonetheless find themselves a daunting 10 off leaders Arsenal.

Fan favourite Jamie Carragher, however, insists such details are irrelevant at the moment.

"It does not really matter who the leaders are, as long as we keep them in sight," he said. "At the moment it is Arsenal up there, so we just need to make sure that we keep hold of them for now."

Whether 10 points can be realistically considered 'in sight' or not in light of recent Premiership seasons is another matter, but the Merseyside stopper seems optimistic.

"I'm sure a time will come this season when they start to find it difficult, especially with all the young players they have in their side," he stated.

"There is no secret they are a great side, but I'm sure they will be tested at some point. We just have to make sure we are there to capitalize when it happens.

"I'm sure Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea will keep winning, so it's up to us to prove we can stay with them. It would be really exciting if it's a four-horse race with ten games to go."

With the bizarrely congested fixture list around this time of year, it often becomes the making of breaking of many sides, whether fighting for survival or for the title.

Liverpool face Derby, Manchester City and Wigan in the next week. Derby and Wigan are playing with a new lease of life under new management, and Sven's men have proven a stern test for the 'big four' so far this season, and indeed occupy the place above Liverpool in the table.

"Christmas is always a crucial time of the season," noted Carragher.

"You can look at this period almost as a separate group of games in that sense. From these three games we would always say that seven points would be fine, but nine would be excellent.

"That would make a massive difference heading into the New Year, hopefully we can them be a lot closer to Arsenal by then."

Liverpool lie fifth in the league table, with 33 points from 17 games.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rafa - Kaladze Chance Gone

Rafael Benitez feels Liverpool have missed out on the chance to sign Milan defender Kakha Kaladze.

The Reds boss is expected to strengthen his defence in the New Year and Kaladze had been a top target.

But Benitez has suggested that he will no longer be able to bring the Georgian to Anfield when the transfer window reopens.

"I don't think we will be able to sign Kaladze now," said Benitez in the News of the World. "That opportunity has passed."

Instead, reports claim Benitez will look to push through the signing of Czech Republic international Tomas Ujfalusi from Fiorentina.

Ujfalusi is out of contract at the end of the season and his agent has admitted it is '50-50' regarding his chances of staying in Serie A.

Liverpool's interest in the centre-half has been confirmed and he could head to the Premier League in a cut-price deal in the New Year.

LiverpooL For Sale? Again???

The problems at Liverpool just won't go away. On a weekend when the team hit the headlines for the right reasons with a 4-1 win over Portsmouth, they were back in the news for off-field reasons.

Following a public 'argument' last month between manager Rafael Benitez and American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the story this month, in the News of the World, is that Liverpool could be up for sale again, less than a year after the pair bought a controlling stake.

The Sunday Supplement picked up the debate this week and Shaun Custis wondered whether this 'club in turmoil' could really be up for sale.

He said: "There have been suggestions for a while that either both Americans, or one of them, wants to sell up and some of it is to do with the exchange rate apparently.

"There is talk of building a new ground. Can they afford that? And meanwhile Rafa Benitez is saying, 'can I have £17m to sign Javier Mascherano properly?'.

"Now they are not going to do all that, it's simple."

The end result of all this, according to Custis, is that something has got to give, and he believe someone will be walking out of Liverpool forever and sooner rather than later.

He said: "Also in the background there are people like Jurgen Klinsmann lurking around, possibly to be the new manager, you never know.

"At the end of all this, I cannot believe that we will get to the end of the season without something happening, either the owners leaving, the manager leaving or players leaving.

"There is too many things coming out, too often and Liverpool is in turmoil."

Rafa Benitez To Bide His Time On Javier Mascherano Move

Rafael Benitez is confident he can find the funds to make Javier Mascherano’s move permanent – but might have to wait until the end of the season to complete the deal.

The Argentinian midfielder signed on loan from West Ham last January, and when that expires at the end of this season Liverpool will still have first option to buy him permanently.

But while Benitez and the player himself would sooner tie up the loose ends when the next transfer window opens again next week, the Liverpool manager is prepared to wait.

He wants to make an extra centre-half his priority in January and with the Mascherano deal set to be worth £17million, Liverpool could need the extra six months to the end of the loan agreement to come up with the money.

The 23-year-old was also hesitant to commit his future to Liverpool until after Benitez had smoothed things over with American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett following their public fall-out last month.

But after the two parties called a truce following the meeting they had after last Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, Benitez hopes that Mascherano will be closer to deciding on his future.

“We’re just waiting. I have confidence he will stay with us,” said Benitez

“I really don’t know (if he will sign in January). The situation is we are working together on a lot of issues, and we just have to wait.

“But it’s always better to get it done as soon as possible.”

Benitez’s desire to keep Mascherano will only have been strengthened his performance in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Portsmouth at Anfield.

The win took Liverpool three points clear of both their opponents and Everton, which is how it stayed yesterday when their Merseyside rivals lost 2-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

It was the way Mascherano nullified the physical presence of Portsmouth’s midfield that laid the foundation for Liverpool to go clear in fifth place, thanks to goals from Yossi Benayoun, a Sylvain Distin own goal and two late strikes from Fernando Torres.

Benitez said: “Mascherano can give us the balance and allow the other players to play their own game.

“When you have a midfielder who is in a good position and can play the ball properly and always supporting the centre-backs and also the attack, it’s really important for players like Torres that they can go forward and sometimes forget they need to defend.

“We have a lot of very good players now with that mentality. Javier has a very good mentality, he’s very professional.

“If you don’t use him he never complains, he’s always ready for the next game. He trains really hard.

“He’s the kind of player you want as a holding midfielder. He doesn’t need to score a lot of goals, just keep the balance of the rest of the team.”

Manchester United’s victory over Everton, coupled with Arsenal’s 2-1 win in the north London derby over Tottenham earlier on Saturday, mean Liverpool remain 10 points behind Arsenal Wenger’s leaders with a game in hand and six off United.

And Benitez insists the complexion of the title race still has time to change, even during the remainder of the congested Christmas period.

“The title race is open,” the Spaniard added. “You never know what can happen over Christmas with three more games.

“We need to keep going. We know we have one game in hand so we need to keep going and try to play well and win, if possible play well and score goals.

“And then maybe it can be closer.”

Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp revealed that his team couldn’t train in the two days before the game because their training pitches were frozen.

And that proved fatal for his defence against Torres, whose direct running and pace also played a part in the opening two goals, before he added his brace to round off the victory.

“When he gets down the channels, and he got up their left four or five times in the first half, he is very difficult to deal with,” said Redknapp.

“You don’t want to be left one-on-one with him as Sol Campbell was a few times. The lad has got pace, terrific skill.

“He has that trick where he looks at you then drags it past you and goes outside, which we looked at an awful lot on the video.

“But then for £26m he should be half decent. He is very good player.”

Gerrard: I Tried To Snag Us Henry

Steven Gerrard has revealed that he tried to convince Thierry Henry to join him at Liverpool during the time that it became increasingly obvious that he was set to leave the Emirates Stadium.

The Reds skipper claims a special bond with Henry due to a mutual respect that developed as a result all the times that they’ve played against each other in the league and internationally, but that was not enough to convince the French superstar to opt for Barcelona.

"I sent him a few text messages seeing if he fancied it," said Gerrard.

"I would have loved to have seen him in a Liverpool shirt, just like the supporters would have.

"But he wanted to play in Spain and for Barcelona, so you had to respect that decision.

"However he's got a lot of respect for Liverpool. He speaks really well about us."

In the interview with Liverpool’s official website, Gerrard also shed light on how he and Henry got to be friends.

"Just through the respect from playing against each other,” he explained.

"One day we swapped numbers and ever since we've been sending each other text messages, had phone calls, we support each other and stuff.

"It is really flattering when a player at that level comes out and gives you a bit of praise.

"He is just settling in at Barcelona now and I'm sure he'll prove again he's one of the best players in the world."

Dirk Kuyt: We Must Win Our Next Three Games

Dirk Kuyt emphasised the importance of avoiding a third consecutive Premiership defeat with the win over Portsmouth on Saturday.

The last time Liverpool suffered such a run was when Portsmouth beat them 1-0 in October 2003, but after recent losses to Reading and Manchester United, Liverpool ensured there was no repeat as they completed a comfortable 4-1 victory.

And Dutch striker Kuyt hopes it will kick off a run of three-pointers over the Christmas and New Year period.

He said: “Every defeat in the league is big one for us because you just want to win and compete with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea so we can’t afford to lose any more.

“We just have to look at the next games and look forward.

“We have to win our next three now at Derby, Manchester City and at home to Wigan and if we can get nine points from those games I think we will get closer to the other teams.

“We want to go on a run and win a lot of games.”

Kuyt was Liverpool’s top scorer in the Premier League last season with 12 in his debut season in English football, with all of them coming from open play.

But two of his three league goals this season came from the penalty spot in the derby victory over Everton as he has taken a back-seat to 14-goal Fernando Torres in the scoring stakes.

Kuyt, however, admits that the extra firepower the Spanish record signing, who scored twice against Portsmouth, was necessary to bring in in order to improve the side’s title challenge during this campaign.

“Fernando is unbelievably quick and it’s what the team needs,” added Kuyt. “Quick players and clever players.

“We have got everything in our squad now and we can do something really good so we’ll see how far we can go this season.”

Yossi Benayoun, who opened the scoring, also outlined how vital the victory over Portsmouth was after the first home league defeat of the season to United last Sunday.

“We played a great game against a strong rival in Portsmouth and it was an important win for us after we lost to Man United,” Benayoun said.

“It was good to get back to winning ways and to prove that we can still go to the end of the season. So overall I think it was a good performance for us.

“It was nice to score and the goal was a bonus,” he added. “But it’s not the main thing for me. The main thing is to keep playing and try to do my best for the team so that we keep winning.

“I enjoyed the goal and I caught it well but I’d have to give credit to Harry Kewell because he delivered a great cross from the left to pick me out.

“It gave us the start we needed and we went on from there.”

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Liverpool’s Benitez Upbeat Over Title Challenge

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is confident that his side can go on a winning run and mount a title challenge.

The Reds scored a 4-1 home win over Portsmouth, who have been best on the road in the Premiership this season and had arrived at Anfield with six consecutive away league wins under their belt, to get back to winning ways domestically.

Benitez’s side are however 10 points behind the leaders Arsenal, who earlier on Saturday defeated their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. However, the Merseysiders have a game in hand.

"They showed today that we can do it and that we can win some games in a row," Benitez told Sky Sports News.

"They showed the character they need to at least try to compete for a title.

"We are really pleased. The team was playing well and scored four goals against the best team away.

"It is really important to see the confidence around the players and everything is happy now.

"Today we had a lot of chances and the team was playing with passion and also intelligence."

On the hectic schedule over the Christmas period, the Spaniard commented: "Everybody needs to win every game in this period at least because it is three games in 10 days and we will see what happens with Chelsea and Arsenal or United."

Liverpool Looking For New Signings In January

Liverpool are looking to bring in reinforcement when the transfer market opens next month, according to chief executive Rick Parry.

There was a speculation that the Reds have been told there was no fund to bring in new players in January as American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, had not come out clear on the transfer window strategy when they had a meeting with manager Rafa Benitez recently.

However, all such rumours have been dismissed and Parry said in the Liverpool Daily Post: "We will be active in the transfer market next month, as we always are.

"There has never been any suggestion of a ban, I don't know where that has come from.

"Our priority is to do as well as we can on the field, and, as always, we will be active."

Liverpool Money Crisis Deepens As American Owners Miss Deadline Over £220m Debt

Fernando Torres, starting to pay back his £21million transfer fee, scored twice yesterday as Rafa Benitez's Liverpool trounced Portsmouth 4-1 at Anfield to stay in touch with the Premier League pacesetters.

But off the field, the failure so far of efforts by American owners George Gillett jnr and Tom Hicks to refinance the £220million they borrowed from the Royal Bank of Scotland to fund their takeover of the club 10 months ago is pushing Liverpool towards an unprecedented period of uncertainty.

The American owners have missed a selfimposed deadline to strike a deal with RBS before Christmas.

The bank will not allow the club to go under but the problems facing Gillett and Hicks could hasten their departure — and see Dubai International Capital, the state-backed investment firm who were in pole position to buy Liverpool before the arrival of the Americans, back in the market as potential new owners.

Adding to the intrigue over the club's future, it is understood that former Germany World Cup coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been sounded out as a replacement for Benitez.

It is believed that contact between Klinsmann and the club has taken place at a high level and the German is thought to be interested in taking over at Anfield.

Despite assurances that there is money to spend in the January window, Benitez's public rift with Hicks and Gillett over the club's transfer policy may be beyond repair.

Boardroom backing for Benitez has been lukewarm in the wake of reports linking Klinsmann with the job.

Sources close to the ex- Tottenham striker and former Footballer of the Year believe he is eager to end his self-imposed exile from football and take a top manager's job.

A move for Klinsmann could proceed regardless of whether Hicks and Gillett remain the owners of Liverpool, but the crisis in their refinancing plans threatens to undermine the club both on and off the pitch.

Despite revelations last week that talks with RBS and American bank Wachovia over a new £350m loan had stalled, Kekst, the American owners' New York-based PR firm, continued to brief that a deal would be done before Christmas.

But Friday, the last day for business before the festive break, passed without announcement and although it is understood that negotiations will continue, banking sources on this side of Atlantic believe an impasse has been reached.

Hicks and Gillett have until February to refinance the £220m they borrowed from RBS to fund their takeover, plus the interest which has accrued in the past year, the credit notes used to buy Torres and Ryan Babel, and £60m to cover initial work on a new stadium.

If they are unable to strike a deal before the deadline and unable to persuade RBS to take up the option of extending the existing loan for another year, the bank stand to become the de facto owners of the club.

Benitez Laughs Off Transfer Reports

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has dismissed reports that restrictions have been placed on him in regard to strengthening his squad in January.

The Spaniard had a much-publicised disagreement over transfer-window plans with American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks last month, but that was all cleared up at a meeting last weekend following the defeat against Manchester United.

"In our meeting we talked about how to go forward, but we did not talk about the need to sell before we could buy," said the Liverpool boss.

"We don't know exactly (what money will be spent). We need to find the players who can be good for us - I think we will be okay."

On his own future, Benitez admits he would like to extend his stay beyond the end of his current contract - which is due to expire in 2010 - but he has not raised the issue with the Americans.

"I have two-and-a-half years left on my contract, and I will be really pleased if they offered me another. I would say 'yes' - but I'm not expecting one."

Captain Steven Gerrard and striker Fernando Torres are expected to return against Portsmouth, having missed the Carling Cup match with stomach upsets.

Midfielder Xabi Alonso is back in contention after a 60-minute run-out at Stamford Bridge, having recovered from a broken foot, but England forward Peter Crouch is suspended after his sending-off against the Blues.

Mancini Glad To Face Liverpool

Roberto Mancini insists he is happy to have drawn Liverpool in the Champions League. “It’s the weaker sides on paper who are more dangerous.”

Inter were paired with the 2005 winners and 2007 Finalists for the first knockout round and will face off at Anfield Road on Tuesday February 19 before the San Siro decider on March 12.

“It is a good draw,” assured Mancio. “There are no weak sides in the competition now and history teaches us that when you pick those who are weaker on paper, they are the ones where you most risk tripping up.

“It is better to take on the strongest of the lot, as if you want to lift the trophy then you have to beat them all. I think this will be a battle of two great teams.”

Liverpool have only met Inter once before, in the 1964-65 semi-final. The Italians lost 3-1 away, but won the second leg 3-0 and went on to lift the European Cup.

“Liverpool are a strong side, very solid with great players. They have the English mentality, but also the tactical nous of a Coach who studies and prepares for games very carefully,” added Mancini.

“They are very good on home turf and have eliminated Chelsea twice as well as Juventus in recent years.”

LiverpooL 4 - 1 Portsmouth

Rafael Benitez has good reason to go into Christmas in a positive frame of mind after Liverpool returned to winning ways.

Defeats by Manchester United and Reading following a long unbeaten run had raised doubts about their title credentials.

With Portsmouth arriving at Anfield on the back of six away wins this had the makings of being a severe test for Liverpool.

But despite a brief scare they won comfortably, thanks to two goals from Fernando Torres, and will now face struggling Derby on Boxing Day with confidence renewed.

Javier Mascherano, Harry Kewell and Torres all had half chances before Liverpool's pressure paid off in the 13th minute.

Midfielder Yossi Benayoun gave David James no chance with a superb volley from 20 yards after being set up by Kewell.

It was Benayoun's second league goal following his summer move from West Ham.

Liverpool took confidence from making the breakthrough and extended their lead three minutes later.

Dirk Kuyt and Torres linked up with the Spanish striker trying to set up his team-mate.

Sylvain Distin, though, got his bearings wrong and the ball came off his leg and past his own goalkeeper James.

Portsmouth were struggling to get into the match and Steven Gerrard, who had recovered from a bout of sickness, rifled a shot wide of the post in the 21st minute.

Distin and Sol Campbell were having their work cut out at the back as the first half drew to a close.

Portsmouth defender Hermann Hreidarsson's frustration boiled over in the 34th minute and he was booked for holding back Benayoun as he tried to burst forward.

Benayoun then raced away down the right in the 37th minute. He cut inside and tried his luck on goal only for his effort to find the side netting.

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina had not been tested in the first half.

Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes sent a shot in from distance on the stroke of the half but saw it go wide of the post.

Papa Bouba Diop almost pulled a goal back a minute into the second half but his effort went marginally over the bar.

Hreidarsson then sent a header wide following a free-kick on the right from Lauren after 53 minutes.

Liverpool responded and Gerrard tried to release Torres two minutes later.

Torres could not get decent touch but the ball broke to Kewell who rattled a shot wide.

Portsmouth pulled a goal back in the 57th minute with Benjani Mwaruwari's ninth of the season.

He steered his effort wide of Reina from the edge of the area after being set up by Kanu to stun Liverpool.

There was a scare though for Portsmouth in the 60th minute when James fumbled a header from Sami Hyypia after a free-kick from Gerrard. However they were able to scramble the ball away.

Kewell then showed some inspiration to race forward in the 67th minute to send a dipping shot from distance over the top.

Liverpool regained their two-goal advantage a minute later following a glorious pass from Mascherano to substitute Ryan Babel.

Babel's effort was parried by James only for Torres to find the corner from the rebound.

Torres added to his tally in the 84th minute and made it 4-1 to Liverpool with his 14th goal of the season, a clinical finish after he had been set up by Gerrard.

It was tough luck on Portsmouth but they had been carved apart in the second half.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Klinsmann Waiting In The Wings To Replace Benitez At Liverpool

Rafa Benitez wants his Liverpool deal extended — as Jurgen Klinsmann waits in the wings for his job.

The Kop boss insists he can still deliver the title to American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Benitez' future was up in the air after a public fall-out with the pair — reminiscent of a Carry On film.

But, after Sunday's peace talks, Rafa wants to stay.

His deal runs for another four years but Benitez said: “I'd like to fulfil my contract and extend it, if possible.

"We are already very close to winning the Premier League. We are now eight points ahead of what we had last year.”

But SunSport has revealed Hicks and Gillett are keen admirers of German legend Klinsmann.

The ex-Spurs star is set to move from California.

And the feeling on Merseyside is that Benitez will probably go in the summer — possibly to Real Madrid.

A source close to Klinsmann told SunSport: “It appears Jurgen will be moving back to Europe and the word is Liverpool are favourites to get him.”

Valencia Set Their Sights On £4m Liverpool Defender Riise

Valencia boss Ronaldo Koeman has launched a £4m bid to prise John Arne Riise away from Liverpool.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is determined to keep 27-year-old Riise but Koeman told the Daily Mirror: "He is a player with experience and would offer options to our game."

Valencia sporting director Miguel Angel Ruiz added: "We want to improve our squad."

Valencia are already out of the Champions League and are rebuilding.

They see Riise as a vital part of that and will not be put off an initial rejection from Anfield.

Inter Visit Anfield On Opening Night

Liverpool FC, AS Roma, FC Schalke 04 and Olympiacos CFP will all look to take a significant step towards the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals by exploiting home advantage in the first leg of their first knockout round ties on 19 February.

That quartet will face tricky away trips in the return matches, with Liverpool travelling to FC Internazionale Milano – although that second leg will be played on Tuesday 11 March due to a stadium clash with Inter's city rivals and UEFA Champions League holders AC Milan. Roma meet Real Madrid CF, Schalke play FC Porto and Olympiacos take on Chelsea FC, with the second legs of those three ties to take place on Wednesday 5 March.

The remaining four first knockout round fixtures kick off on Wednesday 20 February, with Milan visiting Arsenal FC and their predecessors as European champions, FC Barcelona, also heading for Britain to tackle Celtic FC. Fenerbahçe SK welcome two-time UEFA Cup winners Sevilla FC to Istanbul, while Ligue 1 champions Olympique Lyonnais host English counterparts Manchester United FC. The second legs will be held on 4 March.

Rick Parry: Liverpool Will Be Active In Transfer Market

Rick Parry has pledged that Liverpool WILL be active when the transfer window opens next month.

The club's chief executive has quashed speculation that Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez would not have any money to spend to new players in January.

Parry said: "We will be active in the transfer market next month, as we always are.

"There has never been any suggestion of a ban, I don't know where that has come from.

"Our priority is to do as well as we can on the field, and, as always, we will be active."

Speculation has been rife about Liverpool's transfer policy for the past few weeks, ever since Benitez fell out with the club's owners over their refusal to plan in advance for next month's window.

Interest Grows In Ujfalusi

Tomas Ujfalusi's agent claims Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have shown an interest in the Fiorentina defender.

The Czech Republic international's contract with the Viola expires at the end of the season and a clutch of clubs are chasing the 29-year-old.

Ujfalusi is considering his future with the Serie A club and has previously intimated at a move to Spain next summer.

Sevilla, when coached by current Spurs boss Juande Ramos, had been long-time admirers of the former Hamburg centre-half.

According to Ujfalusi's agent Dalibor Lacina, the Uefa Cup holders are still keen, along with Premier League duo Liverpool and Spurs.

"Tomas is right, it is 50-50," Lacina told Sport when asked if the player would leave Fiorentina or sign a new contract.

"A lot of clubs are interested in him, we will decide in the summer.

"The clubs which have been questioning us about him are Internazionale, Juventus, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg, Tottenham and Sevilla."
But Lacina did not rule out Ujfalusi making a late decision to extend his time at Fiorentina, who he joined in 2004.

Lacina added: "Their captain Dario Dainelli extended his contract two weeks before its expiry and the same may happen in Tomas' case."

John Obi Mikel Went Down Like He Was Shot - Crouch

Peter Crouch, the Liverpool forward, has admitted he deserved to be sent off against Chelsea last night, but has criticised the role of John Obi Mikel in his dismissal.

Crouch was shown the red card for a two-footed challenge on Mikel during the second half of Liverpool’s 2-0 Carling Cup quarter-final defeat at Stamford Bridge.
The England striker verbally retorted to crowd abuse as he left the field and he admits he was frustrated. “Mikel came in with his studs up and that was in the back of my mind,” he said. “Then I thought there was another foul in there and obviously I’ve lost my head.

"There are no excuses for the tackle I made but if the referee had pulled the foul up when he should have done it wouldn’t have happened. A lot was going their way and I think frustration got the better of me.”

Crouch admits his challenge looked dangerous but says that he made only minimal contact with Mikel and he was unimpressed with the midfield player’s reaction. “What I’m thinking is if you go in on Frank Lampard or John Terry would they roll around like Obi Mikel did?” Crouch said. “I don’t think they would have done. Would someone like Carra [Jamie Carragher] have gone down like that? I think it’s safe to say that he wouldn’t.

“Foreign players have brought a lot to our game but that’s something you don’t want to see. I didn’t catch him but he’s gone down like he’s been shot.”

Liverpool were trailing to a deflected Lampard goal at the time of Crouch’s sending off in the 60th minute and the incident all but ended their hopes of getting back into the game.

Crouch concedes it was probably the defining moment of the game. “It’s frustrating because I thought we played OK as a team and obviously it was always going to be difficult from the moment I was sent off,” Crouch said.

Benitez Keen On New Deal

Rafa Benitez has revealed he would be open to extending his Liverpool contract following talks with owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

The Liverpool boss met the American duo on Sunday, following the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, to discuss the recent stand-off.

Benitez had been critical of the owners' lack of understanding of the transfer window, but is confident any problems have now been resolved.

And, having won the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League during his Anfield tenure, the Spaniard aims to win the Premier League and prolong his reign.

"I am quite at ease," Benitez told Sport newspaper. "I would like to fulfil my contract and extend it, if possible.

"My family has settled very well and, to me, the respect and appreciation of the public in England is incredible.

"We are already very close to winning the Premier League. We are now eight points ahead of what we had last year and we have made progress in the Champions League.

"We are in a good position, but others also invest, progress and evolve."

Benitez also played down his row with Gillett and Hicks, and revealed the level of support he had received from Liverpool fans across the globe.

He added: "It has been a little exaggerated. The Americans want the best for the club and so do I.

"The only thing they want is that we sit down and talk because there is a difference in language and a significant distance. I think there must be better lines of communication.

"I am calm. I am confident that things are going to settle and we will succeed.

"40,000 signatures on the internet supported me to continue at the Liverpool helm. The signatures came from Australia or from Asia. Many supporters of Liverpool around the world are supporting a coach who has won major titles for the club."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fernando Torrres Hopes To Emulate Ian Rush And Kenny Dalglish

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres hopes to emulate Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish and become a Kop idol.

The 23-year-old Spaniard has made an excellent start to life in England following his £20million-plus move from Atletico Madrid in the summer, scoring 12 goals in 20 games so far.

Reds fans have dedicated a chant once reserved for Dalglish and another Liverpool great Robbie Fowler to Torres, and he hopes by the time his career at Anfield is over he will be held in similar high regard.

“To be linked with players like that gives me pride and great satisfaction,” he said.

“They were some of the greatest players in the history of Liverpool Football Club. I have just arrived and still have a long way to go, but I am proud of the association.

“These players, Rush and Dalglish, they defined an era for Liverpool by scoring so many goals.

“It’s not just for their sake that I shy away from these comparisons, it’s for me too. I have only just arrived here. Many years down the line when I eventually leave Liverpool I would like to be held in the same affection as these players but I’ve got a long way to go, so I’ll leave them on their pedestal at the moment.”

Torres again gave his backing to Reds boss Rafael Benitez, who appears to have patched up his differences with the club’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

“It was Rafa who called me to join Liverpool, and that showed his trust in me,” the Spain forward told

“He wanted me to join a team of champions and I saw that as a vote of confidence. This confidence was a serious factor in me joining.

“In Spain he has been at many clubs. He was at Tenerife and led the league, and won La Liga and the UEFA Cup with Valencia. At Liverpool he won the Champions League. He is a recognised winner in Spain both with small clubs and massive clubs like ours.

“He is known throughout Spain as someone who brings success and he is a treasure for all Spaniards.”

Liverpool Face Funding Crisis

Liverpool's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, have postponed until 2009 plans to borrow £300 million from banks to pay for the club's new home at Stanley Park, plunging the project into fresh uncertainty.

Hicks and Gillett are confident of clinching a separate interim deal before Christmas with the Royal Bank of Scotland and American bank Wachovia to borrow £350 million to refinance a loan used to fund their £220 million takeover last February and pay for initial building work.

However, The Daily Telegraph has learned that there are now serious question marks over the rest of the money required to complete the move from Anfield. A combination of the global credit crunch and nervousness over the level of debt which will be placed on to Liverpool's balance sheet has forced Hicks and Gillett to abandon plans to raise all the money in one go.

Instead they are now looking to borrow £350 million to pay off a two-year loan with RBS worth approaching £270 million, inject £60 million of working capital for the new ground and cover £25 million of credit notes used to finance the summer purchases of Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, again provided by RBS.

It is understood that while the £60 million of stadium financing will get Hicks and Gillett through the first 18 months of work on the Stanley Park project there are serious concerns over how they will raise the remaining £300 million needed to complete the stadium, which has been scaled back after the designs came in £50 million over budget.

Sources close to Hicks and Gillett maintain the Americans are confident of raising the money for the stadium in 2009 when it will be two years from completion and easier to secure contracts with future sponsors for naming rights and to predict income from the sale of club seats and executive boxes.

But contrary to promises made at the time of their takeover earlier this year, the owners are now preparing to load at least half of the new £350 million debt on to the club.

Banking sources said that, while Hicks and Gillett had now agreed to pump in £20 million each of their own cash to secure the new £350 million loan, one of the main sticking points previously has been the American pair's reluctance or inability to put up their own money. In addition to the £40 million in cash, the pair are also underwriting £75 million in letters of credit and £60 million in personal guarantees. The refinancing of the club's debts means that from next season Liverpool will have to shoulder about £30 million in annual interest repayments.

According to financial predictions for 2008, that will swallow up much of the club's spare cash, making it harder to provide funds for manager Rafa Benitez to invest in his squad. And although Benitez called a truce with Hicks and Gillett following a meeting on Sunday, tensions with the owners are likely to resurface if he is forced to sell players to fund new acquisitions in January.

Chelsea 2 - 0 LiverpooL

Liverpool and England striker Peter Crouch saw red as Chelsea progressed to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup thanks to second-half strikes from Frank Lampard and Andriy Shevchenko.

Lampard's deflected 59th minute opener was followed, seconds later, by a moment of madness from Crouch who was red-carded for a disgraceful two-footed lunge on Mikel John Obi.

Referee Martin Atkinson immediately dismissed the England striker who unleashed a four-letter tirade at Chelsea fans before disappearing down the tunnel.

Crouch will now miss Liverpool's home clash with Portsmouth and the visits to Derby and Manchester City over the festive period.

The Carling Cup has never been high on Rafael Benitez's hit-list and he underlined that by putting out a side which did not contain England midfielder Steven Gerrard and Spanish striker Fernando Torres.

Gerrard, laid low with a stomach complaint, was certainly missed by the Merseysiders - who showed little drive in a goalless opening half largely controlled by the home side.

But Chelsea's failure to break the deadlock was largely due to the agility of Liverpool's reserve goalkeeper Charles Itandje.

In the 11th minute he denied Ivory Coast striker Salomon Kalou when Andriy Shevchenko's low cross had invited him to try his luck from just inside the penalty area.

However, the Liverpool goalkeeper had to rely on his shoulder to prevent Lampard scoring in the 24th minute.

Alvaro Arbeloa's attempted clearance fell to Lampard's feet on the edge of the penalty area but the England man could not finish the job.

A minute later Chelsea had to rely on Petr Cech, playing his first game in the competition this season, when a move involving Andriy Voronin and Crouch set up Lucas.

The Czech international keeper, at fault for Arsenal's winner in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday, produced a fine diving save to deny the Liverpool midfielder.

But they were the only real highlights in a first half littered with poor passes and choked by a packed midfield.

Chelsea continued to look the more likely to score but Lampard was still finding his range when he sent a 20-yard shot high into the crowd in the 52nd minute.

Less than 60 seconds later, Itandje denied Michael Essien, back from his three-match suspension, with a flying one-handed save as the Ghanaian's 18-yard effort looked destined for the corner.

Liverpool's attacks were sporadic at best but they were almost gifted a goal in the 55th minute when Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho, playing his first game since breaking a small bone in his back against Everton in early November, failed to reach Cech with a back-header.

The ball fell straight into the path of Crouch but the lanky striker could not lift the ball over the advancing Chelsea keeper.

But four minutes later, Chelsea were in front. Mikel found Shevchenko with a clever pass and the Ukraine striker put Lampard in the clear thanks to a neat first touch.

The England midfielder's shot was half-stopped by Jamie Carragher but the ball ballooned up and over the stranded Itandje to register Lampard's 99th goal for the club.

But the game erupted in the worst possible way within a minute when Crouch inexplicably decided to launch himself at Mikel right in front of the home dugout.

The two-footed lunge was high and dangerous and Atkinson had no hesitation in dismissing the England striker - to the fury of Benitez and the player himself.

Mikel was later replaced by Michael Ballack, who was returning to action for the first time since April.

In the intervening period, the Germany captain underwent two ankle operations - but he showed no ill-effects as Chelsea went in search of a second goal.

Indeed, it was Ballack's header down to Shevchenko in the final minute of normal time which allowed the Ukrainian to drill an angled shot past Itandje to put Chelsea into the last four of the competition.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jamie Carragher Snubs Fabio Capello

Fabio Capello last night suffered the first setback of his reign as England manager when Liverpool's Jamie Carragher insisted he would not come out of international retirement.

Named as Steve McClaren's successor last Friday, Capello has already talked of his desire for Carragher to rescind his decision to step down from the international arena. Carragher's performances in the Champions League, particularly against Capello's old Juventus side, had impressed the new England manager.

But Carragher wants to concentrate on Liverpool and will refuse any plea from Capello to return for England. "I don't think so," said Carragher. "I am happy with the way things are now and I get to have a break with the family as well. I cannot see that changing."

Asked if Capello travelling to the North-West and knocking on his door would influence matters, Carragher responded: "I don't think so."

Carragher had grown frustrated at being shifted around England's back-line by Sven-Goran Eriksson, who used him at left-back and also as a holding midfielder. Capello, who sees his England spine involving John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, wanted to add Carragher to his central-defensive options.

Italy's World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, meanwhile, believes that Capello may have to axe an "important player" for the overall good of the England team.

Lippi, who was among the candidates considered for the England job, was not afraid to drop star players during his successful reign with the Italian national team and predicted that his compatriot would also face difficult decisions.

"Capello's most difficult task will be to make a team become a team, something which in recent years it hasn't felt like," he said. "That will be the most difficult challenge. The national team is not the selection of the best players of the country, but in order to make a team you may also need to have to drop an important player that perhaps is not on the same wavelength as the others." Capello plans to study English intensively over the next month and Lippi agrees that mastering the language will be fundamental to his success.

"I have always said that a coach must transmit to his players everything that goes through his heart and head and in order to do so, he can't be talking and then asking the interpreter to translate, it's impossible," he said.

"The fact that I don't speak English is one of the reasons why I have turned down three or four proposals that have arrived from the English Premiership."

Liverpool Want To Sign Kaladze

Reds' boss Rafa Benitez is desperate to add a central defender to his squad as he currently has just Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and the ageing Sami Hyypia among his ranks.

Benitez is a huge admirer of Kaladze, 29, who comes with the added bonus of being able to play at left back, or even as an emergency midfielder.

However the Spanish tactician has been told that he will not be given any extra transfer funds in January, and will only be allowed to spend the money that he makes through player sales.

Benitez is willing to sell giant striker Peter Crouch, who could move to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City.

Mali midfielder Momo Sissoko will also be permitted to leave after hitting out at his boss last week over his lack of playing time. Juventus are said to be very interested.

Whether or not Milan will be willing to sell Kaladze is highly debatable, as the Georgian has formed a fine centre-back partnership alongside Alessandro Nesta.

Reds Transfer Cash Pledge

Liverpool's American owners have insisted Rafa Benitez is the manager they want to take them into the future.

But George Gillett and Tom Hicks have stopped short of an unequivocal backing of the Spanish coach, which leaves his long-term position in doubt. Benitez is safe until the end of the season at least after a summit meeting between the two parties on Sunday night thrashed out their immediate differences.

And both the Liverpool boss and the Americans have agreed to use the next six months to help repair the damage to their relationship, and see where the new-found peace agreement takes them. Both sides have also agreed not to air their disputes in public again, and Benitez has been offered some appeasement with the promise of a new signing in the January transfer window.

Gillett spoke about the problems he and Hicks have endured in their relationship with the manager, and insisted both sides will now try to work together.

"This situation wasn't supposed to happen, but it has happened, and now the focus has to be on finding a common platform to continue our co-operation," Gillett said.

"I've been married over 40 years and have first-hand knowledge about how to solve an argument. Rafa is the one we want as a manager further on, and we have faith in him.

"We concentrated on getting an overview over the situation, and I felt we accomplished that."

While that assures Benitez about his immediate position, it is clear that there is merely an uneasy truce in place, with the potential still for a parting of the ways.

Insiders suggest that both the manager and the Americans want to go on until the summer, and then decide if the relationship is working.

Benitez is still unhappy with the way the club drags its feet over potential deals, and he has been given no assurance that it will change.

He has also been told that chief executive Rick Parry will still conduct all financial negotiations, with the manager expected to take a secondary role in deals. There is further confusion over the sort of transfer budget the Spaniard can expect, both in January and, importantly, next summer.

Parry yesterday revealed the club simply cannot afford the planned new stadium to replace Anfield, and will now have to draw up yet more designs to try to cut projected costs.

It is a massive blow to the Merseyside club, because the hi-tech new stadium was a central platform in their blueprint to generate income.

Parry said: "We are now considering two schemes but the stadium will be a 70,000- seater.

"The new stadium will be a significant improvement on the original plans (from 2001) and a slightly downgraded version of the new ones (which were submitted two months ago)."

These plans will again have to go before Liverpool City Council and then the government for final approval, but it appears there will be less of an emphasis given to areas which generate significant match-day income.

And with the new owners clearly looking to cut costs, Benitez fears that there will be little or no money in the short to medium term for transfers, with all profits set against the interest on massive loans required to pay for the purchase of the club and their new home.

If Benitez feels that he is not getting sufficient backing by the summer, then he has made it clear to his closest associates that he will consider some of the other offers from top European clubs he is bound to receive by then.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Liverpool Revise Stadium Plan

Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr insist their plan to raise at least £500 million to re-finance the takeover of the club and move from Anfield remains on track despite last night's announcement that the new 70,000- seater stadium was being scaled back.

The club's chief executive Rick Parry issued a statement yesterday revealing that the futuristic £350m project at Stanley Park, first made public in the summer, had been replaced by a less "dramatic" design.

He explained two schemes were now being considered but emphasised that the capacity would stay at 70,000 and plans for a single-tier Kop were not being scrapped.

The announcement followed weekend reports that Hicks and Gillett were encountering major problems in attracting banks to finance their scheme.

The Americans, who bought the club from David Moores last January in a £174 million deal, want to re-finance the £298m they borrowed from Royal Bank of Scotland to pay for the deal and give them working capital for players and the stadium.

That two-year loan expires in 2009 and Hicks and Gillett want to roll the deal into a long-term package to help them to pay for the new stadium.

Last month Liverpool were thought to be close to agreeing a deal with RBS and American bank Wachovia, but reports at the weekend suggested Wachovia had walked away.

Last night sources close to the American owners described the reports as "false" and, while they admitted the re-financing was taking longer than they expected, said they were confident it would be in place by January at the latest.

But Liverpool fans will be within their rights to question the owners' confidence given how long the re-financing has been dragging on for. Back in September Goldman Sachs pulled out of a deal with Liverpool after Hicks and Gillett refused to pump in £100m of their own money.

Last night's announcement that the stadium's plans were changing again will only add to the uncertainty around the club, even if manager Rafa Benitez has been given the Americans' backing despite Sunday's home defeat by fierce rivals Manchester United.

"The new stadium will be a significant improvement on the original plans," Parry insisted in a statement released on the club's website.

"It will be a massive improvement on where we were 12 months ago, if not quite as dramatic as the plans unveiled in the summer.

"The single-tier Kop remains fundamental to the design and we are not expecting any delays, it should be on schedule for 2011."