Sunday, December 23, 2007

Liverpool’s Benitez Upbeat Over Title Challenge

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is confident that his side can go on a winning run and mount a title challenge.

The Reds scored a 4-1 home win over Portsmouth, who have been best on the road in the Premiership this season and had arrived at Anfield with six consecutive away league wins under their belt, to get back to winning ways domestically.

Benitez’s side are however 10 points behind the leaders Arsenal, who earlier on Saturday defeated their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. However, the Merseysiders have a game in hand.

"They showed today that we can do it and that we can win some games in a row," Benitez told Sky Sports News.

"They showed the character they need to at least try to compete for a title.

"We are really pleased. The team was playing well and scored four goals against the best team away.

"It is really important to see the confidence around the players and everything is happy now.

"Today we had a lot of chances and the team was playing with passion and also intelligence."

On the hectic schedule over the Christmas period, the Spaniard commented: "Everybody needs to win every game in this period at least because it is three games in 10 days and we will see what happens with Chelsea and Arsenal or United."

Liverpool Looking For New Signings In January

Liverpool are looking to bring in reinforcement when the transfer market opens next month, according to chief executive Rick Parry.

There was a speculation that the Reds have been told there was no fund to bring in new players in January as American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, had not come out clear on the transfer window strategy when they had a meeting with manager Rafa Benitez recently.

However, all such rumours have been dismissed and Parry said in the Liverpool Daily Post: "We will be active in the transfer market next month, as we always are.

"There has never been any suggestion of a ban, I don't know where that has come from.

"Our priority is to do as well as we can on the field, and, as always, we will be active."

Liverpool Money Crisis Deepens As American Owners Miss Deadline Over £220m Debt

Fernando Torres, starting to pay back his £21million transfer fee, scored twice yesterday as Rafa Benitez's Liverpool trounced Portsmouth 4-1 at Anfield to stay in touch with the Premier League pacesetters.

But off the field, the failure so far of efforts by American owners George Gillett jnr and Tom Hicks to refinance the £220million they borrowed from the Royal Bank of Scotland to fund their takeover of the club 10 months ago is pushing Liverpool towards an unprecedented period of uncertainty.

The American owners have missed a selfimposed deadline to strike a deal with RBS before Christmas.

The bank will not allow the club to go under but the problems facing Gillett and Hicks could hasten their departure — and see Dubai International Capital, the state-backed investment firm who were in pole position to buy Liverpool before the arrival of the Americans, back in the market as potential new owners.

Adding to the intrigue over the club's future, it is understood that former Germany World Cup coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been sounded out as a replacement for Benitez.

It is believed that contact between Klinsmann and the club has taken place at a high level and the German is thought to be interested in taking over at Anfield.

Despite assurances that there is money to spend in the January window, Benitez's public rift with Hicks and Gillett over the club's transfer policy may be beyond repair.

Boardroom backing for Benitez has been lukewarm in the wake of reports linking Klinsmann with the job.

Sources close to the ex- Tottenham striker and former Footballer of the Year believe he is eager to end his self-imposed exile from football and take a top manager's job.

A move for Klinsmann could proceed regardless of whether Hicks and Gillett remain the owners of Liverpool, but the crisis in their refinancing plans threatens to undermine the club both on and off the pitch.

Despite revelations last week that talks with RBS and American bank Wachovia over a new £350m loan had stalled, Kekst, the American owners' New York-based PR firm, continued to brief that a deal would be done before Christmas.

But Friday, the last day for business before the festive break, passed without announcement and although it is understood that negotiations will continue, banking sources on this side of Atlantic believe an impasse has been reached.

Hicks and Gillett have until February to refinance the £220m they borrowed from RBS to fund their takeover, plus the interest which has accrued in the past year, the credit notes used to buy Torres and Ryan Babel, and £60m to cover initial work on a new stadium.

If they are unable to strike a deal before the deadline and unable to persuade RBS to take up the option of extending the existing loan for another year, the bank stand to become the de facto owners of the club.

Benitez Laughs Off Transfer Reports

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has dismissed reports that restrictions have been placed on him in regard to strengthening his squad in January.

The Spaniard had a much-publicised disagreement over transfer-window plans with American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks last month, but that was all cleared up at a meeting last weekend following the defeat against Manchester United.

"In our meeting we talked about how to go forward, but we did not talk about the need to sell before we could buy," said the Liverpool boss.

"We don't know exactly (what money will be spent). We need to find the players who can be good for us - I think we will be okay."

On his own future, Benitez admits he would like to extend his stay beyond the end of his current contract - which is due to expire in 2010 - but he has not raised the issue with the Americans.

"I have two-and-a-half years left on my contract, and I will be really pleased if they offered me another. I would say 'yes' - but I'm not expecting one."

Captain Steven Gerrard and striker Fernando Torres are expected to return against Portsmouth, having missed the Carling Cup match with stomach upsets.

Midfielder Xabi Alonso is back in contention after a 60-minute run-out at Stamford Bridge, having recovered from a broken foot, but England forward Peter Crouch is suspended after his sending-off against the Blues.

Mancini Glad To Face Liverpool

Roberto Mancini insists he is happy to have drawn Liverpool in the Champions League. “It’s the weaker sides on paper who are more dangerous.”

Inter were paired with the 2005 winners and 2007 Finalists for the first knockout round and will face off at Anfield Road on Tuesday February 19 before the San Siro decider on March 12.

“It is a good draw,” assured Mancio. “There are no weak sides in the competition now and history teaches us that when you pick those who are weaker on paper, they are the ones where you most risk tripping up.

“It is better to take on the strongest of the lot, as if you want to lift the trophy then you have to beat them all. I think this will be a battle of two great teams.”

Liverpool have only met Inter once before, in the 1964-65 semi-final. The Italians lost 3-1 away, but won the second leg 3-0 and went on to lift the European Cup.

“Liverpool are a strong side, very solid with great players. They have the English mentality, but also the tactical nous of a Coach who studies and prepares for games very carefully,” added Mancini.

“They are very good on home turf and have eliminated Chelsea twice as well as Juventus in recent years.”

LiverpooL 4 - 1 Portsmouth

Rafael Benitez has good reason to go into Christmas in a positive frame of mind after Liverpool returned to winning ways.

Defeats by Manchester United and Reading following a long unbeaten run had raised doubts about their title credentials.

With Portsmouth arriving at Anfield on the back of six away wins this had the makings of being a severe test for Liverpool.

But despite a brief scare they won comfortably, thanks to two goals from Fernando Torres, and will now face struggling Derby on Boxing Day with confidence renewed.

Javier Mascherano, Harry Kewell and Torres all had half chances before Liverpool's pressure paid off in the 13th minute.

Midfielder Yossi Benayoun gave David James no chance with a superb volley from 20 yards after being set up by Kewell.

It was Benayoun's second league goal following his summer move from West Ham.

Liverpool took confidence from making the breakthrough and extended their lead three minutes later.

Dirk Kuyt and Torres linked up with the Spanish striker trying to set up his team-mate.

Sylvain Distin, though, got his bearings wrong and the ball came off his leg and past his own goalkeeper James.

Portsmouth were struggling to get into the match and Steven Gerrard, who had recovered from a bout of sickness, rifled a shot wide of the post in the 21st minute.

Distin and Sol Campbell were having their work cut out at the back as the first half drew to a close.

Portsmouth defender Hermann Hreidarsson's frustration boiled over in the 34th minute and he was booked for holding back Benayoun as he tried to burst forward.

Benayoun then raced away down the right in the 37th minute. He cut inside and tried his luck on goal only for his effort to find the side netting.

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina had not been tested in the first half.

Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes sent a shot in from distance on the stroke of the half but saw it go wide of the post.

Papa Bouba Diop almost pulled a goal back a minute into the second half but his effort went marginally over the bar.

Hreidarsson then sent a header wide following a free-kick on the right from Lauren after 53 minutes.

Liverpool responded and Gerrard tried to release Torres two minutes later.

Torres could not get decent touch but the ball broke to Kewell who rattled a shot wide.

Portsmouth pulled a goal back in the 57th minute with Benjani Mwaruwari's ninth of the season.

He steered his effort wide of Reina from the edge of the area after being set up by Kanu to stun Liverpool.

There was a scare though for Portsmouth in the 60th minute when James fumbled a header from Sami Hyypia after a free-kick from Gerrard. However they were able to scramble the ball away.

Kewell then showed some inspiration to race forward in the 67th minute to send a dipping shot from distance over the top.

Liverpool regained their two-goal advantage a minute later following a glorious pass from Mascherano to substitute Ryan Babel.

Babel's effort was parried by James only for Torres to find the corner from the rebound.

Torres added to his tally in the 84th minute and made it 4-1 to Liverpool with his 14th goal of the season, a clinical finish after he had been set up by Gerrard.

It was tough luck on Portsmouth but they had been carved apart in the second half.