Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Liverpool’s Hobbs Hopeful Of Premiership Start At Reading As Carragher One Yellow Card Away From Suspension

Young Liverpool defender Jack Hobbs is hoping for a Premiership start in Saturday’s game at Reading.

The 19-year-old, who had joined the Reds from Lincoln City in 2005, had come on as a substitute in his Premiership debut in the second half in Sunday’s win over Bolton Wanderers at Anfield as Jamie Carragher was injured with a blow to his ribs.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez has however expressed his confidence that Carragher will be fit for the Madjeski Stadium trip. But the England international is only a yellow card away from making it five for the season if he enters the book against the Royals, which would then see Carragher miss the big clash against Manchester United the following weekend.

"Carra has a week to recover to the Reading game, but if I can fill in and help out I will do," Hobbs said on the club’s official website.

"I'd look forward to it and feel I am ready. I was a little bit nervous when the manager told me to strip off on Sunday. When he called me over I didn't know that Carra was injured, but when I got told I was on I was excited and nervous. I just wanted to get out there and do it.

"It's another step in my career. It's a bit more experience for me and it will make the time easier. I'm glad to have come through it without any mistakes.

"Fingers crossed I can get another chance at Reading. Steve Finnan's injury isn't that bad but I'll keep training this week and see what happens. It depends on injuries how often I play this season, but I will keep training hard and see what happens and if I get a chance, I know I must take it."

He added: "I'm relieved and quite pleased to have finally made my Premier League debut. I'm just glad to have got a run out, really happy.

"I've been on the bench a few times but haven't been part of it in the league, but I was glad to just get out and do my bit for the team.”

Manchester City After Javier Mascherano?

Manchester City are reportedly set to make a £17million move for Javier Mascherano.

The Liverpool midfielder's long-term future remains uncertain as the Reds continue to stall over making his deal permanent and according to Wednesday's papers, City are now in the picture.

Rafa Benitez is reportedly urging Liverpool's American owners to make funds available to keep the Argentina international but with no offer on the table, the door is now open for the Eastlands outfit to make a bold approach.

The Daily Star claims a meeting took place between one of Mascherano's advisors and a close associate of City owner Thaksin Shinawatra last week.

Mascherano is owned by a consortium headed by Kia Joorabchian and the deal which took him from West Ham to Liverpool is due to run out at the end of the season - at which point the Daily Star claims Liverpool would have to cough up £17m to keep him at the club.

But City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson has pinpointed the 23-year-old as one of his primary targets and the Eastlands outfit could even attempt to conclude a deal which would see him complete his move in the January transfer window.

According to The Independent Mascherano is also wanted in Italy, although he is thought to prefer a switch to Barcelona in Spain if he does leave the Premier League.

Liverpool Capello Link Is 'Nonsense'

Liverpool were quick to distance themselves from rumours linking Fabio Capello to Anfield.

Fabio Capello, having already expressed an interest in succeeding Steve McLaren as England boss, has been linked with Liverpool this week.

Current boss Rafa Benitez’s public row with Reds co-owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks over the availability of transfer funds was cause for concern at the club. The Americans were said to be aware of Capello’s availability.

However, Benitez has apparently shown remorse after the spat, with the situation unlikely to go any further. The club has acted quickly to quell the rumours.

Spokesman Ian Cotton said: "This story is complete nonsense."

61-year-old Capello is currently out of work since being sacked by Real Madrid after winning the Spanish title last season. Chief Executive Rick Parry was adamant that no talks had taken place.

"It is absolutely, completely and utterly untrue. Capello has not contacted us and we have not contacted him."

Liverpool Unite Around Torres´s Goals

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has become a beacon of light amid a public dispute between Reds manager Rafael Benitez and the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, over transfer policy.

The Spain striker's goal in the 4-0 win over Bolton last weekend was his 11th in 17 matches and left the Reds six points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal in third place.

Liverpool haven't been champions of England since winning the last of their record 18 titles in 1990 but hopes are growing at the north-west side that they may be getting themselves into position to mount a sustained challenge.

Meanwhile keeper Jose Reina is just glad to be in the same team as Torres after playing against his compatriot in Spain.

"I was Fernando's favourite goalkeeper back in Spain, he put so many goals past me," Reina said.

"Fernando has been getting better and better over the last few weeks. He has become a very important player for us, he has pace, and he can now finish.

"He has the qualities to play consistently at a very high level, and now he is at that level in England. He is quick, strong and clever. He has great movement and can be aggressive to cope with playing against big defenders.

"He is so important. He can be a target player, but he can play other roles. Let's see how much more he can progress, I believe he will do that."

Torres, who joined Liverpool for more than 20 million pounds (40 million dollars) from Atletico Madrid, has scored four goals in five games.

Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain who himself has scored eight in nine, said of the forward: "Getting into double figures before Christmas is great for him and the team. We know if we get him chances, he will score."

However, Benitez added there was plenty of work left for Liverpool to do if they were to be crowned English champions for the first time since the creation of the Premier League.

"We haven't hit the high standards that we are capable of, not just yet. We can improve a lot, we have injuries at the moment and when they are all fit we will have even more players with quality.

"It will mean we can change players during the game and for different matches to give us fresh legs to be able to maintain the level we require.

"We need to play every game with a very high tempo, and with more players fit and available we will be able to sustain that," the Spanish boss added.

"To win a title it is not just about winning games and staying close.

"It is all about the small details and they can make a big difference. We can play better but we are in a very good position."

Brazilian Star Raves About Liverpool Duo Gerrard & Torres While Barca & Juve Wait On Mascherano

Liverpool's young Brazilian star Lucas Leiva is relishing the chance to play alongside two colleagues he rates among the best in the world.

Lucas has been drafted into Liverpool's midfield in recent games late alongside skipper Steven Gerrard, and with record signing Fernando Torres in front of him.

The 20 year-old, who signed in the summer for £5million from Gremio, is rated in South America as the best Brazilian of his age group and he has adapted to the English game remarkably quickly.

And having Gerrard and Torres around to help him has been a key factor, he claims.

Lucas said: "It is fantastic playing alongside Steven Gerrard, he is among the best in the world. And to have Fernando up front - he too is one of the best in the game - as well is a dream for me."

Lucas has impressed in Liverpool's last two Barclays Premier League games against Newcastle and Bolton.

He said: "Stevie and I are obviously different players. I am younger and I am still learning and he is helping me a lot.

"When I play in midfield with him I have to play more of a holding role because he can go forward, create chances and score goals himself. Hopefully, when I have played more games and got more confidence I can go forward more myself.

"But I am happy just to be playing because I can learn from players like Steven.

"It is fantastic to play alongside him because he is one of the best players in the world.

"Hopefully, one day, I will be as good as he is but that is a long way away."

And Lucas is revelling in the fact that Torres, with 11 goals in 17 games, is proving already to be a success at Anfield.

Lucas added: "Fernando is a fantastic player and he can score a lot of goals. He is a very good striker and he can be the best striker in the world."

Lucas has proved to be a more than adequate understudy for Javier Mascherano, and has recently been given the chance to shine.

Liverpool are still trying desperately to tie down the Argentinian on a permanent contract, but if that proves to be too difficult Lucas could comfortably step into the role.

With that deal on hold until the club's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have their much heralded meeting with boss Rafael Benitez later this month, there are concerns that Mascherano could slip through the net.

Both Barcelona and Juventus are monitoring the situation, and Liverpool know they must come up with £17million to make the loan deal permanent.

Whether the Americans will sanction that deal remains to be seen, and has been one of the main fears for Benitez as he has expressed his concerns about the club's transfer policy.

Lucas could end up as the beneficiary of any delays in that move, or even the loss of the player altogether.

For now he is just happy to be making his mark at his new club.

He said: "We are scoring a lot of goals at the moment and we have to keep that going.

"It is hard to say why it is happening at this time but the team is playing really well and we are creating plenty of chances.

"We have played really well in the last five or six games and the confidence is much better because we are scoring goals and winning but now we have to look forward to the next game."

Results Serve To Further Strengthen Rafa Benitez's Hand

It seems Tom Hicks was right after all. Rafael Benitez should focus on coaching and training his team – because he seems to be doing a pretty good job of it at the moment.

And all in all, this approach will only help Benitez if his simmering confrontation with the Americans boils to the surface again.

The best thing he can do now is to keep quiet and concentrate on getting Liverpool another three points at Reading on Saturday and taking them through to the Champions League knockout stages with victory in Marseille in a week’s time.

All of which would give him not only more points and more progress, but more bargaining tools when Hicks and Gillett make their way over the pond in two weeks’ time.

With the small matter of re-financing the stadium, you can hardly blame the duo for not exactly waving open cheques at Benitez even as January gets ever closer.

But the manager shouldn’t be worrying about this. He needs to put all his energies into getting his side into a position whereby it will be impossible for him not to be backed financially.

Imagine how the conversation will go if Liverpool beat Manchester United at Anfield in a fortnight and really prove how serious they are as title challengers this term.

Would you like to look Benitez in the face and tell him he can’t have what he wants to put the finishing touches to the squad he will need to see out the second half of the season?

No, and neither will Tom Hicks. He will if he has to and he was right to do so when this feud was made public.

But he will be wary that anyone who isn’t fully behind Benitez at Anfield these days is in a pretty lonely place – last week’s march to Anfield before the Porto game proved that. Benitez doesn’t need petty press conferences to make that point. At the moment, the only point he needs to make is through his players and they are doing a fine job of that.

Especially when he picks the right ones, and that was exactly what happened against Bolton on Sunday.

Peter Crouch up front with Fernando Torres works a treat because they are the two Liverpool strikers who give defenders the most problems.

Crouch is one of those forwards that you just have to watch. You can’t afford to take your eyes off him and the way he occupies opponents is perfect for Torres.

The Spaniard likes to roam free and into slightly wider areas and someone like Crouch up there enables him to do it.

He scored on Sunday and he hit a hat-trick when he played up front with Crouch a Reading in the Carling Cup. No coincidence.

It’s back to the Madejski Stadium again on Saturday and, while Benitez might want to have someone a bit deeper like Kuyt or Voronin away from home, I’d like to see him go for it a bit more.

With two out-and-out centre-forwards like Crouch and Torres you might leave yourself wide open, especially in a 4-4-2. But I think Reading are worth taking the risk against.

Liverpool are safe enough at the back these days and if you are a bit vulnerable the answer is simple. Just outscore them.

It will mean another victory on the pitch and perhaps, more significantly long-term, victory for Benitez in the boardroom.

After all if Liverpool keep winning this week it will only strengthen his hand.