Friday, December 28, 2007

Reina: I'm Happy In England, But I'm An Atletico Fan

Liverpool and Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina admitted that one day he'd love to wear the red and white of Atletico Madrid, but for now he's more than happy at Anfield.

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina told Spanish sports daily As of his respect both for his current club and Atletico Madrid.

While he's made little secret of his desire to one day play for Atleti, though, he's absolutely delighted to be at Liverpool for now.

"I'm in my third season here and I'm very happy, and I'm an important figure in the locker room," he began.

"That makes you identify a lot with the side, your commitment is greater to the rest of the squad and to the team as well. I'm very comfortable here.

"People who read this don't know how it is to play for Liverpool in this league. Here we battle for so many titles, and are one of the best clubs in Europe.

"Atletico? I love this team, of course, for family reasons and many others. It's flattering for me to be linked with them, but I'm not looking for change.

"It's a club for which I have a special love - I can't deny it. My father played for them and I have a lot of friends there. Plus, Madrid is a great city.

"I like Atletico, but I have a contract with Liverpool and I'm happy here. Right now there's no reason to switch."

On the subject of a player who made a move in the opposite direction, the ex-Villarreal man had this to say:

"Fernando Torres? He's been received very well. He's very important for the club and has fitted in well. So far everything is going swimmingly.

"The crowd love him. They're very affectionate with him and constantly show their respect."

The 25-year-old then discussed his prospects with the international side.

"Football is full of surprises," he mused. "Iker [Casillas] is a great goalkeeper, a good teammate and a rival for the position of goalkeeper with the Selección, and he'll be tough to topple from his post.

"It takes many years to be elite in a team like Real Madrid, playing well every week, but one must be prepared when the time comes to play. I'm keen to play myself."

Liverpool’s Agger Could Return If Hyypia Fails Test

Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia might make way for Daniel Agger if the veteran fails the fitness test ahead of Sunday’s Premiership clash at Manchester City.

Hyypia limped off the field on Boxing Day with an ankle injury and Reds boss Rafa Benitez feels it will be difficult for the Finland international to recover in time for the City game.

Denmark defender Agger meanwhile had been out with metatarsal injury since September and could provide a timely boost.

"It will be difficult for Sami," Benitez said on the club’s official website.

"He is working hard with the physios and we are waiting to see whether he will be available. We will have to wait and see.

"If Sami doesn't play then we can think about using Daniel. He is training and is very close now."

Liverpool Sign Starlet Cooper

Liverpool will complete the signing of 16-year-old Ross County prospect Alex Cooper when the transfer window opens.

Liverpool have signed Alex Cooper from Ross County - a Scottish Second Division club in the Highlands.

16-year-old winger Cooper will move from Victoria Park to Anfield after the clubs agreed a £100,000 fee.

A winger capped by Scotland Under-16s, he was reportedly tracked by Jose Mourinho when the Portuguese was Chelsea boss.

But Liverpool wowed the youngster and Cooper has signed with the Premiership giants until 2011. His father Neale, a former Aberdeen star, expressed his enthusiasm after seeing his son agree a dream move.

"All his family are delighted Alex has been given the opportunity to sign for Liverpool.

"He could have gone to one or two other clubs but he just loved the way he was treated by Liverpool when he was there."

Gerrard Hailed By Sven Goran Eriksson

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson believes Steven Gerrard is the perfect player and is unsure how to stop him at Eastlands on Sunday.

After spending so long in the England camp together, the pair find themselves in opposition for the first time on Sunday when Eriksson's side look for a home win which would lift them over Liverpool into a Champions League spot.

Despite losing their 100% home record to Blackburn on Thursday night, City have every reason to be confident, particularly as Liverpool struggled badly against bottom club Derby on Boxing Day.

It would have been no surprise to Eriksson that Gerrard should be the man to rescue the Reds with his late winner at Pride Park.

While the Swede is reluctant to single out one individual as the Premier League's best player just now, there are not many who would be afforded such lavish praise as he heaps on Gerrard.

"Steven is one of the best players you can find. He has everything," said Eriksson.

"He can defend. He can tackle incredibly well. He has vision, he is an extremely good passer. He can shoot, score goals and has the energy to get up and down the pitch.

"It is very difficult to say who is the best player in the country but Steven is certainly one of them - and has been for a long time now.

"As long as I was England manager, he was extremely important to me. He was important to England last year after I left and he will be very important in the future as well."

Eriksson admits stopping Gerrard will be no easy task for his progressive team.

With youngster Michael Johnson missing, City will probably rely on the experience of Gerrard's former Liverpool team-mate Dietmar Hamann, who was rested for the Blackburn game.

"I am not sure how to stop Steven," said Eriksson.

"We shall have to find a way but I do know if you give him space and time and the chance to run forward with or without the ball, he is incredible."

With Manchester United among their nine previous home victims this term, City have already claimed one major scalp at Eastlands.

Yet it is a measure of where the Blues have come from that Eriksson still regards it as 'a dream' to beat the club he supported as a child in Sweden.

"Of course it will be difficult, we know that. It can't be easy to beat Liverpool. We will do our best and we will fight. Who knows what will happen after that," he added.

If City are to triumph, they require big performances from their key men.

The form of Brazilian playmaker Elano has dipped in recent weeks and, like Hamann, he was left out of Eriksson's starting line-up yesterday.

However, Martin Petrov's sensational performance against Rovers has given Elano a standard to reach, as well as providing an injury-hit Liverpool side with a major defensive headache.

Courted extensively by Tottenham, Petrov's move to City from Atletico Madrid last summer is proof of Eriksson's pulling power in the transfer market.

As he looks to build a squad capable of challenging for a top six spot consistently, Eriksson will hope the attraction will bring in more players, although he is not keen to play up his reputation too much.

"I have never asked Petrov why he ended up here," said Eriksson.

"I don't think we were the first team but maybe he heard about the new owner and the big project he has. It is a big challenge, which is the same reason why I am here.

"I don't know if Martin is here because of me, although I have been lucky to work at big clubs in Italy and Portugal and, whether you want it or not, it is a fact that when you have been England manager, you do become a little bit more famous because the job is so big."

Benitez Confident On Mascherano

Rafa Benitez says he has no fears that Javier Mascherano will join another club.

The Argentina midfielder is currently on loan at Anfield and Liverpool will reportedly have to pay in the region of £17m in the summer to secure his services on a permanent basis.

And while that leaves open the possibility the player could leave the club in six months' time, Benitez believes there is no need to rush into agreeing a deal.

"We were not talking too much about this because I have a lot of confidence that he will stay with us," he told Sky Sports News.

"He's just training, being ready, trying to enjoy now and being with his family. We will talk again, but he's happy here, so I think we can have some confidence."

Asked if he had any fears another club could get him, he responded: "No. Not in this moment, for sure."

Jewell And Rafa In Bust Up

Derby boss Paul Jewell last night accused Liverpool star Andriy Voronin of play-acting after Rams defender Jay McEveley got booked in a controversial challenge with the Ukranian striker.

Jewell and Reds chief Rafa Benitez had to be separated at Pride Park yesterday by the fourth official as the two rival managers squared up to each other over the second-half flashpoint.

With the scores locked at 1-1, Voronin went down theatrically after McEveley was late closing down the forward and Derby's Scottish defender was cautioned in the incident.

"I didn't think he touched him," insisted Jewell. "If he had touched him Voronin wouldn't have got up."

Benitez played down the episode, concentrating instead on Steven Gerrard's superb form in front of goal.

The Liverpool skipper made it eight goals in 10 games with his late winner.

Benitez says the midfielder is thriving in his favoured central role where he has more responsibility to score.

"We know Gerrard is the type of player who can go from box to box and it is important for us to keep him going forward," he said.

"Gerrard is a key player for us and is the captain and a top-class player. These type of players must be there when you need them and he has been great for us recently."

Jewell added: "We could have nicked it ourselves."

Benitez: We Kept Title Dream Alive

Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool kept their Premier League title ambitions alive with the last-gasp victory over Derby on Boxing Day.

Benitez is unmoved by the good fortune that saw captain Steven Gerrard claim a winner in the last few seconds to secure a victory at Pride Park that had not looked like coming.

With Arsenal and Chelsea both drawing, Benitez knows his team have inched closer to their own unlikely dream as they are now nine points behind leaders Manchester United with a match in hand.

It is still only a slim chance but after Liverpool's second victory in five days Benitez is clearly not bothered about how the wins arrive in packed schedule.

Fernando Torres scored an impressive opener, his 15th in 18 games, before Liverpool-born Evertonian Jay McEveley gave Derby a second-half lifeline with an equaliser.

Gerrard's heroics with his 11th in 14 matches eventually ended the Rams' hopes of a miracle victory.

But Benitez said: "I cannot be disappointed with another three points, I am really pleased. People forget in football the days when you play really well and get nothing.

"We were the best team in the first half, we were the best team at the end. In three months' time nobody will remember, nobody will talk of how we got those points, they will just see the result.

"We have been unfortunate against Chelsea at home, and Arsenal, and did not win. These points are won now and we are a little bit closer.

"When people ask if we have a realistic chance of the title they are really trying to tell me something.

"Let's wait and see. We have Manchester City next and that is very important for us.

"We have two more games over the holiday period. The most important thing for me is that we stay close.

"The question for me is to be as close as possible and we still have one game in hand. You never know what can happen."

Benitez must now cope with the likely loss of defender Sami Hyypia for a spell with a twisted ankle, the one position he does not have sufficient cover for.

"The second half was not the best for us but for me the key was winning three points and we were controlling the game for long spells," he added.

"If we had scored a second it would have been impossible for them. We lost Sami Hyypia and had players returning from injury who were not 100 per cent fit, those are some of the reasons for what happened in the second period.

"But we put ourselves under pressure by giving the ball away too often."

Benitez now has to drill into his team the need to find a killer instinct to avoid such embarrassments as Derby almost achieved and midfielder Xabi Alonso believes he and his team-mates must learn from their narrow escape.

Alonso, who made his first league start for two months, said: "We should have scored and killed the game.

"We should have kept the ball better and not let them have so many chances.

"We were in control in the first half, then we had a few injured players and we were struggling and we were not in control of the situation.

"We must not allow ourselves to be in that position again because we had chances to win the game. We have to learn and not repeat what happened at Derby again."

Alonso has made just eight appearances this season after a double metatarsal blow, and admits it has been a frustrating few months.

"When you are on the sidelines and injured, just watching, it is frustrating, but I am back now and looking forward to the next games.

"The problem is getting the match fitness that you need but I am getting there after almost three months out of the game."

For McEveley, scoring against Liverpool was not enough to make up for the shattering blow of losing a game Derby could have won.

He said: "It was nice to score against the Reds as an Evertonian but it is irrelevant now because they won - a real kick in the teeth.

"It is the way it is going for us at the moment. We were ahead twice at Newcastle and only drew, and it shows we must concentrate to the end.

"But we have shown in these last two games that we can compete in this division. It gives us confidence to go into our next game with Blackburn."

Derby 1 - 2 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard's unrelenting determination earned Liverpool all three points against a Derby side with every right to feel hard done by at Pride Park.

Liverpool had been comfortably the better side in the first half and Fernando Torres scored his 15th goal in 18 games.

But following on from their outstanding efforts to force a draw at Newcastle at the weekend, injury-ravaged Derby showed magnificent spirit to force their way back into the game with a second-half equaliser from Jay McEveley.

They battered away at Liverpool for much of the second period, with rookie goalkeeper Lewis Price outstanding even if his side finished with 10 fit men - Robert Earnshaw was by then a limping passenger.

Liverpool at times were dreadful, but captain Gerrard showed how to fight by instigating an 80-yard move, finishing it off by bundling the ball past Price in the dying minutes.

Derby believed they had good shouts for two late penalties, but they ended with nothing.

Derby's cause was not helped when they were hit by the late loss of goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, who suffered a shoulder injury in the draw at Newcastle at the weekend.

Liverpool made five changes from the side that beat Portsmouth on Saturday, with Steve Finnan, Andriy Voronin, Fabio Aurelio, Ryan Babel and Xabi Alonso coming into the side, but it was still awesome opposition for young Price.

A string of free-kicks, planted into the box by McEveley, caused some concern for the visitors.

And when Gary Teale fired in a left-wing cross on seven minutes, Steve Howard's aerial pressure created a chance for Kenny Miller to fire over from an acute angle.

But one flash of genius after 12 minutes saw Liverpool go ahead.

Torres took a pass from Babel, pushed the ball through Darren Moore's legs before side-stepping Dean Leacock and blasting a 15-yard strike past the helpless Price.

But Derby's injury woes soon got worse. Two home players collided on 24 minutes, leaving Stephen Pearson hurt. Liverpool stormed away and Babel should have scored when John Arne Riise's cross reached him at the far post. But the effort finished in the crowd.

Pearson eventually received treatment was led away with a damaged right arm, Michael Johnson coming on as substitute, slotting in as centre-back with Leacock moving into midfield.

Derby replaced Moore with American midfielder Benny Feilhaber at the break, another injury problem for Jewell.

But after 53 minutes Liverpool lost Sami Hyypia, the big defender limping away, Yossi Benayoun coming on. Riise moved into the centre of defence, and with Daniel Agger still not fit, Liverpool now could have serious problems in central defence.

Jamie Carragher was then felled by a poor Howard challenge, and Jewell almost immediately sent on striker Earnshaw to try to exploit the problems now at the heart of Liverpool's back line with his pace.

Derby had dominated the opening exchanges of the second half with Giles Barnes coming into the game.

Price saved well to his left from an Alonso effort, but Derby still came forward with belief and a ferocity in the challenge that forced Liverpool back.

And from a 67th-minute free-kick, Derby were level to send Pride Park wild. Eddie Lewis lifted a free-kick into the box from the right and it was allowed to bounce around before McEveley fired past Jose Reina.

McEveley was then booked for a foul on Voronin before Liverpool sent on Dirk Kuyt for Babel. Gerrard fired wide from the edge of the box, before more injury problems hit Derby with Earnshaw's injury.

Price made a stunning save to turn away an Alonso 30-yard strike after 82 minutes, and then Torres fired high over as Liverpool continued to come forward.

Barnes missed with a close-range diving header, the game now on a knife-edge as Liverpool came forward in desperation.

Gerrard hit the bar from 20 yards before he put Liverpool ahead in the 89th minute.

Price made another fine save from Torres, but the ball bounced out for the Liverpool skipper to force home, having started the move 80 yards away in his own half.