Monday, December 17, 2007

Liverpool Eyeing Muntari

Liverpool are reported to be weighing up a January move for Portsmouth's Sulley Muntari if they are priced out of a move for Javier Mascherano.

Muntari has impressed at Fratton Park since his summer arrival from Udinese and his performances are thought to have alerted Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

Benitez is drawing up his list of targets in the January transfer window and could make a move for Muntari if he is priced out of a deal for Mascherano.

The Ghana international has quickly adapted to life in England and he is a big fans' favourite at Pompey.

The 23-year-old has admitted he would be interested in a move to a bigger club if the chance became available.

"I want to end up at one of the biggest clubs - that is every player's dream," Muntari is quoted as saying in The Mirror.

"Of course I will try my best here and help Portsmouth win many things, and maybe qualify for Europe, but eventually I would like to play for a bigger club."

Reds Report 'Positive' Talks

Liverpool have issued a statement describing clear-the-air talks between manager Rafael Benitez and the club's American owners as "positive".

The meeting was arranged following a dispute between the Spaniard and Tom Hicks and George Gillett over the club's approach to the January transfer window.

Benitez was frustrated at what he saw as an unnecessary delay over the pursuit of new players and claimed the American duo did not understand the European transfer market.

But a statement on the Liverpool website said: "A meeting was held this evening involving Tom Hicks, George Gillett, Foster Gillett, Rick Parry and Rafa Benitez which was wide-ranging and positive.

"The discussions were amicable and constructive. All those present are united in their desire to bring further success to the club."

Earlier in the day, the Reds had lost 1-0 at home to Manchester United, a result which seriously dents their Premier League title hopes.

Carlos Tevez scored the game's only goal, but Benitez said: "It is too soon to talk about the title.

"Clearly, it will be harder. If we are going to get closer we need to start winning some games in a row.

"Every team can lose points, so I have the same confidence to keep going and try and keep winning.

"We are a team that has a lot of positives but this defeat is frustrating because we are very close to Manchester United. We just made one mistake and paid for it, just as we did last season."

Liverpool 0 - 1 Man Utd

For the second season running, a close-range goal in front of the Kop proved enough to give Manchester United victory over Liverpool at Anfield.

Whereas John O'Shea's goal in the corresponding fixture came in stoppage time and spurred United on to the title, this time the first half was nearing its end when Carlos Tevez struck.

And while the Argentina forward's effort will not prove decisive in the championship race at this early stage, it has left United nine points in front of their fierce north-west rivals, who, after suffering their first defeat at Reading last week, have now lost their unbeaten home record too.

It is not the ideal backdrop to Rafael Benitez's crunch meeting with co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, although United, unbeaten in Premier League combat on this ground for six years now, will not care much about that.

Twelve months ago, Liverpool did everything but beat United, virtually battering their north-west rivals into submission before O'Shea popped up in the final minute to snatch victory.

The home fans must have endured an uneasy feeling of deja vu as they watched the opening period unfold.

What incisive football was played amid a frenzied atmosphere was all theirs. The chances fell the way of the men in red too. Unfortunately, the shots were either off target or failed to beat a United defender stood on the line.

Liverpool's efforts were assisted by a rare faltering performance from Edwin van der Sar, who twice had his attempts to take what looked like routine catches hindered by his own players.

On the first occasion, the veteran Dutchman ran into a crowd of United defenders as he tried to collect a Steven Gerrard free-kick that had been deflected high into the air.

Harry Kewell was on to the loose ball first but drove his volley straight at Anderson, who was still marshalling a post.

Fernando Torres, a man Ferguson tried to buy from Atletico Madrid on three separate occasions, should have finished off the rebound but, from six yards, nodded disappointingly wide.

Then, when Van der Sar came off worst in a collision with Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand's back header seemed destined to bounce into his own net until Patrice Evra raced back to clear.

Torres was off-target with a couple of efforts, as was Sami Hyypia.

Yet, for all the pressure, it was United who took the lead two minutes before the break as the Liverpool defence fell apart following a Ryan Giggs corner.

After failing to pick up Wayne Rooney on the edge of the area, Alvaro Arbeloa then remained rooted to the goalline as Liverpool pushed up hoping for an offside as the ball fizzed into the box.

Tevez was actually behind Pepe Reina as he scooped home his eighth goal of the season but with Arbeloa behind him, it did not matter and the Argentina forward wheeled away in celebration, the ball hitting virtually the same spot O'Shea had found in March.

For a very brief moment, it appeared Torres would level within a minute of the re-start as the United defence opened up in front of the Spain international.

The ball seemed to get stuck under his feet and before he could regain any momentum, Torres had been robbed.

It was the prelude for more sustained Liverpool pressure, which United countered by throwing their bodies in the way of anything vaguely threatening.

Ferdinand and Vidic were immense figures at the heart of the rearguard action, their efforts only made slightly easier by Dirk Kuyt's poor performance.

The Dutchman was totally ineffective, his contribution paling in comparison to Torres, even though he was not having one of his better days.

Crouch's introduction gave the Red Devils' overworked defence another problem to counter and another substitute, Ryan Babel, almost took advantage of the extra space when he skimmed a shot agonisingly wide of Van der Sar's left post.

Babel injected more life into the Liverpool attack but it was Rooney who would have saved the visiting fans an anxious final 10 minutes if he had not turned Ronaldo's low cross wide from eight yards.