Sunday, October 07, 2007

Barca Eye Paco Ayestaran

Barcelona are interested in securing the services of former Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayestaran, according to reports in Spain.

Spanish radio station 'Putno Radio' claimed Barca initially made contact with Ayestaran in an attempt to lure him to the Camp Nou during the summer, but Liverpool rejected the move.

However, Spanish press now claims Barca will renew their attempts to attract Ayestaran following his recent departure from Liverpool.

Ayestaran is credited with masterminding Liverpool's UEFA Champions League success in 2005 alongside manager Rafa Benitez.

The 44-year-old, who joined Liverpool in 2004 with Benitez, was a popular figure among the Reds squad with a number of players admitting their disappointment at his departure earlier this season.

Babel Embraces Change At Anfield

New boy Ryan Babel insists Rafael Benitez's rotation policy at Liverpool is "not an issue" as far as he is concerned.

The Dutch youngster could well find himself the beneficiary of the ever-changing Benitez team selection tomorrow when he is expected to get a starting place against Tottenham at Anfield.

It is fair to say that being openly critical of your manager over such a touchy subject is not good for your health, but Babel insists he is more than satisfied with the way he is being treated by Benitez, who he describes as "a really nice guy".

On reflection though, more is made of Benitez's selection ideas outside the Liverpool camp than inside, where the likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Fernando Torres and even Peter Crouch - the main man to suffer - have all backed their manager in recent weeks.

Crouch, despite some murmuring of complaint via his advisors earlier in the season, now says: "If you play for a big club you have to accept it."

Babel, the £11.5million winger from Ajax, has only started five matches this season but he said: "It's something different for me but it is not an issue.

"Everyone knows the boss likes to change line-ups and tactics depending on who we are playing. But I understand why he does it.

"You cannot play the same way in every match and you can't use the same players all the time. Flexibility is vital.

"It is an important part of the game and even more so here in England where teams play in four competitions. It is unrealistic to expect every player to play week in week out.

"It is similar to when the boss switches the wingers in games. Sometimes I play on the left and it doesn't work, so making changes can help both wingers.

"It gives the team an unpredictability and that has to be good. It means the opposition are not quite sure about what you are going to do and that gives them problems because they're left guessing."

Now the 20 year-old aims to make his mark in Benitez's plans, while insisting he knows he can do better.

Babel said: "I know I am capable of better. I know I still have not reached my real level, I can produce a lot more and hopefully the fans will see that as the season progresses.

"I am still learning how to play alongside my team-mates, and that will take time. I am still working out how to fit into the new formations the boss uses, and the way he wants me to play.

"It is very different from Ajax, I knew this move would not be easy but generally I am pleased with how my first season in England has started.

"But it is different. In the Eredivisie the ball spends a lot more time on the grass so that is also something I'm still adapting to.

He added: "Over here you come up against more teams that do not play that way, they prefer the ball in the air. That is new to me but again is something I must get used to."

Babel stands a good chance of starting on the left flank against Spurs following the patchy display of Sebastian Leto against Marseille in midweek, while Benitez will have to do without full-back Fabio Aurelio due to a calf injury.

But it is likely that he will recall Javier Mascherano, John Arne Riise, Alvaro Arbeloa and Andriy Voronin for this game where three points are vital for Liverpool if they are to get the critics off their backs.

Crouch Heading For Exit Soon?

Rafa Benitez is heading for a major fall-out with Peter Crouch as he tries to force the England striker out of Anfield in the January transfer window.

The Liverpool manager has decided to cash in on Crouch as soon as possible after confirming that he has a £20 million budget to spend on new players in the new year.

But the player, who has 18 months left on his contract, is determined to stay put until the summer unless he gets the right move for his future.

Benitez's patience with his centre-forward has finally snapped after Crouch's lacklustre performance in the 1-0 midweek defeat by Marseille and he is unlikely to play against Tottenham today.

The manager is irritated by the player's attitude towards his rotation system and his refusal to sign a new deal which would boost his resale value to the club.

Not only that, Crouch is looking for his first goal of the season after netting 24 times for club and country last season. Juventus,Real Madrid, Manchester City and Portsmouth are all interested in the 6ft 7in striker but he is prepared to wait until the summer to weigh up his options, particularly as he would be ineligible to play in the Champions League for another team this season.

Benitez, who has seen his side score just once in five Premier and Champions League games since hammering Derby 6-0, is ready to bring in new blood and Jon Arne Riise is also on the for-sale list.

The Anfield manager said: "We've been working on buying new players since the beginning of September. We do not have problems in the financial area because we have sold a lot of players.We have around 35m euros (£20.7m)."

Liverpool would get back the £7m they paid for Crouch if they sold him in January but the fee would drop as his contract started to run down.

Benitez admitted he was on the warpath following the Marseille debacle.

"We were really bad as a team so the staff and I and the players had to be together. I was really disappointed. And I was angry. But you cannot change anything by being angry.You need to analyse."