Saturday, November 17, 2007

Liverpool Hot On The Trail Of Bilbao Prospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benitez Looking For More From Leto, Leiva And Babel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garay Fancies English Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crouch Can Leave Liverpool For £10m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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