Friday, October 26, 2007

Liverpool Tell Benítez League Title Is A Must

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benítez, will have to guide his team to the Premier League title to justify the £40m the club invested in new players in the summer, according to the club's co-owner Tom Hicks.

Speaking 24 hours after Liverpool's prospects of qualifying for the knock-out stage of the Champions League were severely dented by a 2-1 defeat by Besiktas in Turkey, Hicks said the domestic trophy remained the club's priority. Benítez based his pre-season approach to the American owners of the club on a challenge for the Premier League title, impressing on them the need for more strength in depth if he were to mount a credible challenge to Manchester United and Chelsea.

Hicks and George Gillett acceded to his wishes, investing £26.5m in Fernando Torres and £11.5m on the Ajax winger Ryan Babel. Hicks pledged his support for a coach who has often seemed more at home in European competition than the domestic fray. But in comments that will increase the pressure on Benítez to deliver a title the club have not won for 17 years Hicks implied he and Gillett are expecting a swift return on their investment.

"One of the reasons we made the signings we did in the summer was to create the depth we now have. Rafa explained to George and me that is how you win the Prem, because you have to play every team twice," Hicks said. "We totally support Rafa, nobody wants to win more than Rafa. But I know when we committed the resources for signings in the summer the whole idea was to have a team that could compete for the Premier League. We've not had the depth previously to do that.

"This squad is good enough to win things. It should be winning things. If it doesn't we'll have to look at the circumstances and have a meeting at the end of the year to understand what happened. I don't want to predict failure, I want to predict success."

Benítez demanded extensive investment from Liverpool's new owners after May's defeat by Milan in the European Cup final, a second final appearance in three seasons that he claimed represented an over-achievement for the squad at his disposal. The Liverpool manager said dithering in the transfer market had cost the club major targets in recent seasons - including Daniel Alves at Seville, the former Benfica captain Simão Sabrosa and Florent Malouda this summer - and it was against this backdrop, plus an implied threat from the Spaniard that he would consider his future if finances were not forthcoming, that the Americans eventually acted.

Liverpool's struggles in Europe this season contrast with their success in winning the tournament in 2005 and reaching last year's final but Hicks acknowledged that the supporters crave the Premier League title.

"Our fans, I can tell from just talking to them, want to win the Premier League. They haven't won the top title in 17 years and I know their passions really are that they want to win the Premier League.

Hicks remains confident that Liverpool can qualify for the Champions League knockout round but said failure would not impact on current attempts to refinance the club. The Americans personally guaranteed a loan of £298m from the Royal Bank of Scotland to buy the club but a recent attempt to refinance the loan collapsed. Hicks said he was close to agreeing a deal and Champions League failure would not impact on negotiations.

"The package will be completed within 30 days, but I don't want to comment any further on the details," he said. "In terms of budgeting we've got it covered either way, and we've got our work cut out [to qualify]. If we didn't qualify, it would be terribly disappointing but I'm an optimist and I think we're going to win our next two at home and then we have a big match in Marseille. I think we can get out of the group," he said.

In Focus: Liverpool vs Arsenal

The cloak of caution usually hovers over Liverpool under Benitez but they'll throw the kitchen sink at Arsenal in the opening 20 minutes, allowing the visitors to hit them on the counter-attack.

The pace and interplay of Arsenal's front five will put Liverpool's once iron defence to the test and goals are to be expected. There were 18 in three matches in this fixture at Anfield last season; Arsenal winning twice, Liverpool just the once.

Liverpool's other strikers are slightly one-dimensional but 'El Nino' offers the complete package. Quick, dynamic and two-footed, his £26million transfer fee has been justified with seven goals in 11 games, though even he has not been immune to Rafael Benitez's rotating.

Torres missed the last two games with a thigh injury but should return here in what will be a huge test for William Gallas and Kolo Toure.


Cesc Fabregas v Xabi Alonso

One of Fabregas's great assets is his ability to find pockets of space in congested midfields and deliver instant killer passes.

Alonso has more defensive responsibilities than his fellow Spaniard and will be expected to shield Liverpool's back four.

Alexander Hleb v Alvaro Arbeloa

No player epitomises Arsenal's progress better than Hleb. The Belarusian can go into his shell but when they are on song, he is at the heart of it, drifting inside to instigate clever moves with Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky. Arbeloa could be recalled to shadow him for the day.

Theo Walcott v Jamie Carragher

Super quick versus not-so-quick. Only one winner? Certainly not.

Walcott came of age on Tuesday but he is still very raw and Carragher has the nous and expertise to keep him in his cage. However, if Walcott manages to get one-on-one with Liverpool's defensive leader, there could be fireworks.


Robin van Persie (knee) and Philippe Senderos (back) are missing for Arsenal. For Liverpool, Fernando Torres is set to return from injury and Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger and Alvaro Arbeloa could also be back after lay-offs.

Reds Reveal New Stadium Cost

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has admitted that the projected cost of building a new stadium for the club has increased by at least £150million.

Hicks and fellow American George Gillett took over the club in March and have since revamped plans for a stadium to replace Anfield by August 2011.

Liverpool are hoping to receive the City Council's seal of approval for the new plans at a meeting on 5th November.

However, Hicks has revealed that the new stadium will now cost the Merseyside outfit "at least £400m" - a considerable increase on the initial estimate of £250m.

The stadium is planned to hold 60,000 supporters and will be designed to accommodate an additional 10,000 fans when permission is secured.

"Our fans are wonderful and over time we'll be able to give them the amenities, comfort and ease of getting tickets they have never had before," said Hicks.

Hicks, though, insists he and co-owner Gillett did not invest in Liverpool in order to gain financial profit.

"People get involved in sport mainly because they have a passion rather than for the money," Hicks added.

"There are far better investments I could make than buying a football team."

Benitez Feeling No Pressure

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has brushed off talk he is under pressure at Anfield.

There have been growing murmurs of discontent on Merseyside with the Reds having taken only one point from their opening three Champions League group games.

But speaking ahead of this weekend's visit of Arsenal, the Spaniard was unflustered.

When asked if he felt under pressure, Benitez said: "I don't think so, it's part of the job as a manager.

"Every week if you lose you will be under pressure, if you win then you are the best manager in the world. We just need to keep going."

Benitez is confident his side will bounce back to form against Arsenal at Anfield following Wednesday's shock defeat to Besiktas.

"When we played against Everton I said a derby would be a different game and it could be the same against a top side like Arsenal," added Benitez.

"They are top of the table now, but our team has confidence.

"The players are ready and for me they are playing better than before and we have a lot of positive news."