Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lucas Thanks Benitez For Showing Faith In Him

Liverpool midfielder Lucas has thanked Rafael Benitez for the faith he has shown in him and has backed the Reds to win the Premier League this season.

The Brazil international was targeted by the Anfield boo-boys earlier this season following some sub-standard performances.

But Benitez has stuck by the versatile 21-year-old and his faith has been rewarded by a series of commanding displays, particularly in Sunday's 5-1 mauling of Newcastle.

The former Gremio star has been encouraged by his form and is confident Liverpool can sustain their assault on the Premier League title.

He said: "I'm pleased with my performances this season. I'm getting more minutes on the pitch and I'm making good use of it. But I have to thank the confidence my manager has in me for that.

"The team is in an optimistic mood at the moment as we have fulfilled all of our goals. We are not taking anything for granted though because we are up against some tough rivals.

"It is my dream to win the league title with Liverpool and I can see it happening. I don't see Chelsea or Manchester United having the same potential as us this year."

Accrington Stanley Player Arrested In Gerrard Assault Probe

Two Accrington Stanley players were caught up in the nightclub disturbance that saw footballer Steven Gerrard charged with assault, it has emerged.

Winger Bobby Grant, 18, and goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin, 28, were in the Lounge Inn, Southport, on Sunday with Gerrard’s party when the incident happened, Reds manager John Coleman said.

Grant, who lives in Litherland, Merseyside, was arrested alongside Gerrard and four others but has now been released on bail pending further inquiries, Mr Coleman said.

Dunbavin, a pal of Gerrard’s from their days together in the Liverpool FC youth team, was not arrested, according to the manager.

Gerrard, the 28-year-old Liverpool FC captain, was out with friends, including the Stanley players, celebrating Liverpool’s 5-1 defeat of Newcastle.

Stanley boss John Coleman said neither of his players would face any disciplinary action after the incident.

He said: “I have spoken to them both about the incident and as far as I am concerned they did nothing wrong.

“I understand it is very unlikely that Bobby will be charged.

“They were out having a quite drink six days before their next match. They have broken no club rules.

“Bobby and Ian will be offered the same sort of support by Accrington Stanley that Liverpool are offering Gerrard.”

An incident at around 2.30am on Monday in the Lounge Inn saw local businessman Marcus McGee, 34, lose a tooth and he needed stitches for cuts to his face.

Gerrard has been charged with assault and affray.

John Doran, 29, of Woodlands Road, and Ian Gerard Smith, 19, of Hilary Avenue, both Huyton, also face assault and affray charges.

They will appear at North Sefton Magistrates’ Court on January 23.

The spokesman said Gerrard and the two other men had been bailed.

Forest Green's FA Cup Preparations Upset By Steven Gerrard's Arrest

Forest Green's Andrew Mangan says his FA Cup preparations have been thrown into turmoil by Steven Gerrard's arrest.

Mangan, 22, knows Gerrard and they have a mutual friend in Accrington keeper Ian Dunbavin.

The Liverpool and England star has been charged with assault and affray following a brawl at a Southport nightclub.

And Mangan, preparing to face Derby in the third round on Saturday, is concerned for Gerrard and his favourite club.

"I'm from Huyton and a massive Liverpool fan," said Mangan, who joined Conference side Forest Green in the summer.

"It is great seeing Liverpool top of the league.

But I am gutted for Gerrard because he is a hero and from Huyton as well.

"I had a drink with him at Ian Dunbavin's engagement party in September.

"I think it's just a case of wrong place, wrong time, as Steve would not have got involved in anything stupid." Mangan wants a fourthround trip to Anfield if Forest Green beat Derby.

He added: "Derby have just gone down from the Premier League and are having a bad time so hopefully we can nick a result."

Sami Hyypia Hails Liverpool Confidence As Key To Success

The Liverpool centre-back has admitted there is no real secret to the Reds' recent run of good form, which has taken them to the top of the Premier League.

Liverpool find themselves at the top of the table going into 2009 after an impressive festive period that has seen them hit eight goals in their last two games.

The Reds thrashed Newcastle United 5-1 on Sunday, but experienced defender Hyypia says there is no big secret behind their recent success.

"We are doing the same things in training and we are trying to play the same way as we did at the start of the season," he told the club’s website.

"But confidence is a big thing and if you are high on confidence then you can play better because everyone wants the ball more and I think that showed against Newcastle.

"We had a good result and a good performance against Bolton [Wanderers] two days earlier and we took our form from that into the Newcastle game.

"Overall it was a very good performance except for conceding a goal right before half-time, which we shouldn't have done. But that's football and it was probably a bit unjustified that they got a goal back when they did, because we could have been six or seven up.

"The important thing was we didn't let it affect us and we responded in the right way by getting another goal at the start of the second half.

"We are top of the league, so confidence is high and hopefully that will continue."

Liverpool Boosted In Their Quest For Pompey Full-Back Johnson

Liverpool have been handed a major boost in their pursuit of Portsmouth and England defender Glen Johnson.

Anfield boss Rafa Benitez is eager to add a right-back to his defensive ranks next month with Alvaro Arbeloa looking unconvincing and summer signing from Borussia Dortmund Philipp Degen yet to make a Barclays Premier League start.

The Spaniard has kept close tabs on the former West Ham and Chelsea defender, who has had an impressive opening half to the season.

Liverpool are preparing a £9million bid for the Fratton Park man - and their hopes of landing Johnson have been dealt a major fillip after Portsmouth executive chairman Peter Storrie admitted the club would listen to offers for the full-back.

He said: 'As with any of our players, obviously if an exceptional offer came in, such as the £20m for Lassana Diarra, we would consider it.'

Pompey boss Tony Adams will be desperate to hold onto Johnson, but could yet be forced to part with one of his prized-assets to boost the club's ailing coffers.

Dalglish: I Was With Stevie On Sunday Night

Kenny Dalglish has revealed he shared part of Sunday night with Steven Gerrard, and he labelled the Liverpool skipper’s behaviour ‘as good as gold’.

Gerrard later ended up arrested and charged for assault and affray, allegedly in an act of self-defence, and he now faces a court appearance on January 23.

Club legend Dalglish revealed he and his wife Marina had met Gerrard on Sunday night to discuss charity matters with the Liverpool captain and wife Alex.

Dalglish admits there were no signs of the events that were to follow, insisting he was shocked by the news that unravelled on Monday morning.

“Marina and I were talking to them about meeting up to help Marina’s charity,” Dalglish explained in The Daily Mail. “They’ve already helped anyway but they wanted to do more.

“When I heard the news the next morning I was really surprised. He was out with his mates and they were enjoying themselves.

“They were as good as gold.

“Now is the time for the people around Steven to support him, and there is no better football club to be at for that.”

Liverpool Must Not Rest Steven Gerrard In FA Cup

Before every kick-off, the Kop launch into celebrated song about the support system operating within the four walls of their famous old ground. So it is little surprise to observe the Anfield family wrapping their arms tenderly around Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool's captain is being reminded how highly he is regarded by all at Anfield. The supportive call from his manager, Rafael Benitez, came through on Tuesday morning followed by an emphatic statement of support from the club. On Wednesday it will be the squad's turn to express their admiration for their team-mate, leader, inspiration and friend.

When Gerrard arrives at training at Melwood, the likes of Jamie Carragher will show the No 8 how much he is held in their esteem. Benitez's back-room staff will also rally round, Sammy Lee doubtless delivering a few crisp words of encouragement. At Preston North End on Saturday, Liverpool fans will get their chance to voice their love for the team's heartbeat.

Everyone associated with Liverpool will give their backing to Gerrard as the judicial process unfolds over his assault charge. Amid all the chants from Liverpool fans and sympathetic comments from colleagues, what Gerrard needs to hear most now is a referee's whistle, signalling the start of a match, the chance to prove a point and remind the world of his ability.

Early in his career, when distracted by events off the field, a Merseysider given to introspection would retreat into his shell on the pitch, most notably during England's epic draw with Greece at Old Trafford.

Now 28, Gerrard possesses the mental strength to sprint out of the tunnel and continue to impose his phenomenal game on proceedings.

So if Benitez is tempted to rest his captain at Deepdale this weekend, arguing that it is only the FA Cup, that more important challenges lie ahead in the Premier League and Champions League, then Liverpool's manager should think again.

The Cup offers Gerrard real respite, not just this Saturday, but, if Liverpool defeat Preston, over the weekend immediately following his appearance before North Sefton Magistrates' Court on Friday, Jan 23.

His main aim is to guide Liverpool to a first title in 19 years but the Cup comes at a very important time. Gerrard has been playing so well this season and he needs to maintain this run of prodigious form.

The Cup has provided sweet solace before, notably during the 2001 treble and particularly the 2006 final when Gerrard broke West Ham United hearts at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

So he must slip on that No 8 kit at Deepdale on Saturday evening, tie up his laces, glance momentarily at the names of his two beloved daughters woven into his boots and take on Preston.

Benitez has rotated his many squad options before when the Cup comes around. He must desist this time. Gerrard must be allowed to parade his determination as well as his talent in front of a packed stadium, a watching nation and a substantial global television audience.

Football is Gerrard's stage and to keep him in the wings would frustrate one of the game's hungriest performers. And why deny the fans the sight of Gerrard?

Walking into St James' Park on Sunday, I fell into conversation with a Newcastle United supporter heading towards the Gallowgate with his son.

They were there to cheer on the Toon, more out of love-is-blind loyalty than expectation of black-and-white success, but the father was also keen to show his son one of the greats of the modern game in action. After two goals in a typically dynamic display, Gerrard left the field to a lengthy standing ovation from home fans as well as visiting ones.

Liverpool's captain is widely admired across the country, barring obvious pockets of hostility such as Old Trafford, and the desire to see one of England's premier stars has been intensified by the Football Association's decision to tether the national team to Wembley after the popular travelling roadshow.

As he heads to Melwood on Wednesday morning, Gerrard should remember the acclaim of the Newcastle fans, reminding himself of his qualities, and inform Benitez that he is ready for duty against Preston. This is no time to let Gerrard walk alone.

Liverpool Captain Gerrard Faces Five Years In Jail Over Charge He Assaulted DJ In Bar Brawl

Liverpool and England star Steven Gerrard could face up to five years in jail after being charged with assault and affray today following a nightclub brawl.

The 28-year-old Liverpool captain was arrested along with five other men near the Lounge Inn in Southport in the early hours of Monday.

He was charged this morning along with two other men who had also been arrested after the altercation.

The venue's DJ, 34-year-old Marcus McGee, required hospital treatment after suffering facial injuries.

Gerrard, 28, was released from Southport police station early this morning.

He was at the restaurant and bar - which turns into a nightclub - with friends to celebrate Liverpool's 5-1 destruction of Newcastle United.

In a statement, a Merseyside Police spokesman said: 'Merseyside Police has charged Steven Gerrard, 28 years, of Formby, Sefton, John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19 years, both from Huyton, Liverpool, with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray following an incident at Bold Street in Southport in the early hours of Monday, December 29.

'The three men will be appearing at North Sefton Magistrates' Court on January 23.'

The spokesman said Gerrard and the two other men had been bailed and three other men, aged 18, 31 and 33, who were arrested in connection with the incident were bailed pending further inquiries.

After the game on Sunday the Reds' captain, who scored twice, hailed his table-topping side as the best he has played in.

But several hours later he was apparently caught up in a brawl outside the Lounge Inn in Bold Street.

Police were called and arrested six men on suspicion of assault in nearby Lord Street.
The town centre business remained shut yesterday but evidence of a fight inside could be seen through the windows.

Earlier in the night, the 28-year-old father of two looked happy and relaxed as he posed for photographs with fans. Yet soon afterwards he was in a cell accused of taking part in a violent assault.

Mr. McGee, 34, lost a tooth and suffered cuts and bruises when he was allegedly set upon by the footballer and his friends after refusing to play Gerrard's favourite song while acting as a DJ in a bar in Southport, Merseyside.

Witnesses of the alleged attack said Mr. McGee, a Manchester United fan, was in charge of a card which allowed the music to be changed.

They claimed Gerrard asked for a particular tune but was told that it was not club policy to play requests.

At that point the footballer allegedly pushed past Mr McGee, catching him with an elbow.

A police source said: 'Mr. McGee retaliated and swore at Gerrard, which was when Gerrard's mates turned violent and assaulted him.'

Friends of the England star insisted he had been reacting to provocation and had thrown no punches himself. Mr. McGee, a father of two who runs a double glazing firm, was taken to hospital where he received four stitches to his forehead and treatment on a cut nose, swollen eye and a dislodged tooth.

A witness told the Sun newspaper there had been bad feeling in the bar earlier. He said: 'Marcus came into the bar with two friends and some time later Gerrard walked in. One of Gerrard's mates had had a dispute with one of Marcus's pals and they eyeballed each other.

'Marcus stepped in a peacemaker and it calmed down for a while. Everyone was drinking and having a good time, but when Marcus's mates left, he was on his own and that's when he and Gerrard started rowing by the dance floor.'

The bar was closed for much of yesterday while damage from the 2am brawl was cleared up. Spots of blood were clearly visible on the floor.

Gerrard and five friends - all but one from the tough working class Huyton area where he grew up - were arrested on suspicion of assault and ordered to spend the night in the cells at the town's police station.

It is understood that questioning did not begin until Monday afternoon.

Gerrard's glamorous wife, model Alex Curran, 26, arrived during the afternoon wearing grey jeans, black boots and a black fur-trimmed leather jacket.

She was herself questioned by police following a fight in the Shangri-La restaurant in Liverpool in August 2006, but no charges were brought.

After leaving a coffee shop near the police station she refused to answer questions before driving off in her Bentley.

Another Bentley with a personalised number plate which was parked outside the Lounge Inn with a parking ticket on the windscreen was later picked up by a friend of Gerrard.

Neither the player's agent nor his club released any statement about the incident yesterday as they waited to find out whether he would be charged.

Gerrard used to have a flat in Southport but his rising profile made him a target on nights out and he moved into a £ 3million gated mansion in nearby Formby.

He returned to his old haunts, however, following Sunday's victory, after which he gave interviews about the need to 'remain humble, keep our feet on the ground'.

It is not known if he had been given permission by his manager, although Liverpool's next match is not until Saturday, against Preston in the FA Cup.

The supporter who had his picture taken with Gerrard shortly before the fight broke out said the footballer was 'in a good mood'.

The fan, who did not give his name, told ITV news: 'He seemed buoyant. I'm shocked that anything would have happened. I had a chat with him in the toilet and he was chuffed with the victory and it all seemed very nice.'

The fan added that he left the bar before the fight broke out.

Merseyside police said six arrests had been made on suspicion of a 'section 20 assault', which carries a maximum sentence of five years. Those in custody apart from Gerrard were four men from Huyton aged 33, 31, 29 and 19, and an 18-year-old from Litherland.

Gerrard is the latest in a long line of footballers to become involved in unsavoury incidents off the pitch.

Almost exactly a year ago, Joey Barton, who also grew up in Huyton, attacked a passerby after a night out in Liverpool, knocking him to the ground and punching him up to 20 times.

The 25-year-old, who plays for Newcastle United, was given a six-month jail sentence but served less than half - even though at the time of the attack he was on bail for attacking former team-mate Ousmane Dabo during training. He later received a suspended sentence for that offence as well as a 12-game ban.

In 2002, Chelsea's John Terry stood trial along with teammate Jody Morris accused of attacking a nightclub bouncer. Both were cleared.

The same year another current England international, Jonathan Woodgate, now of Spurs, was found guilty of affray but cleared of causing grievous bodily harm with intent over a brutal street attack on Asian student Sarfraz Najeib in Leeds.

His team-mate Lee Bowyer was cleared of causing GBH with intent and affray.

Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant To Snub Spurs As He Holds Out For Spain Move

Tottenham Hotspur’s planned January move for Jermaine Pennant could flounder with the Liverpool winger holding out for a move to Spain.

Pennant, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is surplus to requirements at Anfield with Rafael Benitez keen to sell the player during the forthcoming transfer window.

Real Madrid had agreed a fee in the region of £3million for the 25-year-old only for talks to stall over the player’s personal demands.

The deal has since been revived, although Atletico Madrid are also said to have been offered Pennant’s services.

And the winger’s desire for a move to La Liga could scupper Tottenham’s hopes of taking the former Arsenal man back to London with a £2m bid.

“I cannot imagine playing for another Premier League team after Liverpool,” said Pennant, who is also attracting interest from Wigan Athletic and Stoke City.

“I know Real Madrid made an offer for me. Real Madrid is a great club, so is Liverpool. I am not sure of the situation now; I am flattered that a club as huge as Real has shown interest in me, so we will have to see.

“I just want to play regular football and one of my dreams is to be able to do it in Spain one day. I love the way teams like Sevilla, Barcelona, Valencia or Real play. They keep the ball, they use wingers. The technical ability of the players is huge.”

Pennant’s last appearance came in the home victory over Portsmouth in late October, with the winger watching from the sidelines as Liverpool have opened up a three-point lead at the top of the table.

Benitez Assures Gerrard Of Support

Steven Gerrard is expected to return to training with Liverpool later today after being personally assured by Rafa Benitez that his position at the club was unaffected by his arrest for assault and affray on Tuesday.

The Reds captain was charged on Tuesday morning along with two other men who had also been arrested after a "disturbance" outside a late-night bar in Southport, Merseyside in the early hours of Monday morning.

It is understood that Benitez has since telephoned Gerrard to pledge his skipper his full support and confirm that his status as club captain was not under review. The Times reports that 'Gerrard is said to have felt dejected after spending much of the previous day in police custody, but he was grateful for the call from Benitez.'

The newspaper also reports that, following the 5-1 defeat of Newcastle on Sunday, Gerrard was given a two-day break. As a result, he will not be punished for being at a nightclub until the early hours of Monday morning and no internal disciplinary action is being considered. Instead, Gerrard will report back to training today and may yet feature in this weekend's FA Cup tie at Preston.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Riera Can’t Wait For Torres’ Liverpool Return

Liverpool winger Albert Riera believes the table-topping Merseyside club will push on in the New Year and confirm their position as the best with the return of Fernando Torres from injury.

The Reds go into 2009 as Premier League leaders after demolishing Newcastle 5-1 on Sunday. That victory, coupled with a win and draw against Arsenal and Bolton over the Christmas period, were achieved without talismanic striker Fernando Torres, to the surprise of some.

But fellow Spaniard Albert Riera is convinced the club can perform even better with the Spanish goal-getter returns from injury.

"All wingers, in fact all players, would want to play with Fernando because he is such a good player," Riera told the club’s official magazine.

"He's so important for our team - scoring 33 goals last season. It's not easy to score that many goals at this level. It will be great news for us when he's fit again and I'm sure we'll play a lot of times together and form a good understanding.

"I know Fernando well from playing with him some years ago at U18 level with Spain. We know each other from back then and we can now help each other again here at Liverpool.

"It's no excuse for us when we don't have Fernando - we have to use our other strikers. We have good attacking players at the club who can come in," he said.

"It is up to us to read their games and adapt to suit each other, whether that be playing balls into their feet, to their head or into space. All strikers have different characteristics and movements. You have to read each moment in the game."

Wigan Open Door For Emile Heskey Departure

Wigan Athletic striker Emile Heskey has been told he can leave the club in January if he wishes to do so, according to a report in the British tabloid the Sun.

The England international forward has been linked with a return to former club Liverpool, who he played for between 2000-2004, with Reds manager Rafa Benitez reportedly willing to offer £4 million for his services in the new year.

While the 30-year-old's contract is set to expire at the end of the season, it had been claimed that Wigan would not let him leave for less than £10 million in January, and subsequently that the former Birmingham City
striker wanted to stay at the JJB stadium for the rest of the campaign.

However, with Colombian international Hugo Rodallega expected to join the Latics as early as next week, Wigan are now ready to cash in, although it appears no formal offers have been lodged as yet.

"Everybody knows Emile Heskey’s future is hanging in the balance ahead of the coming transfer window," Whelan is quoted as saying in the Sun.

"He is out of contract at the end of the season but so far, there have been no approaches for him. We totally respect Emile and it all depends on what he wants to do.

"I honestly feel this could be his last career move. But, obviously, we’d love to see him stay at Wigan."

Gerrard Arrested In Assault Probe

England and Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard is under arrest following an assault at a nightclub.

Police were called to the Lounge Inn in Southport, Merseyside after reports of a disturbance at 0230 GMT. Six men were detained later in a nearby street.

The men, four from Huyton, one from Formby and one from Litherland, remain in police custody.

A 34-year-old man from Southport was taken to hospital with facial injuries, not thought to be life-threatening.

The incident is alleged to have taken place at the restaurant and bar - which turns into a nightclub - on Bold Street.

Four men aged 33, 31, 29 and 19, all from Huyton, a 28-year-old from Formby and an 18-year-old from Litherland were arrested a short time later on nearby Lord Street.

The Lounge Inn remained closed on Monday.

Midfielder Gerrard, 28, is Liverpool captain and scored twice in his team's 5-1 victory over Newcastle on Sunday.

A police spokesman said: "Merseyside Police is investigating an assault that took place in the early hours of Monday December 29 on Bold Street in Southport.

"At around 2.30am this morning officers attended a disturbance at a licensed premises on Bold Street.

"Six men were arrested on suspicion of section 20 assault, on Lord Street."

The spokesman added all six currently remained in custody. It is believed no other Liverpool footballers are among those being held.

Gerrard was born and grew up on Huyton's Bluebell Estate.

Last month the Premier League star was given the freedom of his home borough of Knowsley in recognition of his contribution to football.

Liverpool FC said it would not be commenting.

Gerrard's England Future Safe - For Now

Liverpool star Steven Gerrard has been told his England future is safe for now after he was charged with assault following an alleged nightclub brawl.

However, should the Reds captain be charged with a serious criminal assault he could be dumped from Fabio Capello's squad.

Gerrard was charged this morning along with two other men who had also been arrested after a 'disturbance' outside a late-night bar in Southport, Merseyside in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The venue's DJ, a 34-year-old local man, required hospital treatment after suffering facial injuries.

Gerrard, 28, was released from Southport police station early this morning.

He was at the restaurant and bar - which turns into a nightclub - with friends to celebrate Liverpool's 5-1 win over Newcastle.

But an FA spokesman insisted: 'No one knows the full facts so we are not even discussing this matter.

'No player is banned from representing England while they are the subject of a police inquiry.

'That position would only change in the case of a conviction for a serious criminal offence. Then the case would be considered on its individual merits.'

Gerrard has been capped by England 70 times and has captained his country on four occasions.

He was made an MBE last year and received an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

However, unless he is found guilt of a serious criminal offence the incident is unlikely to affect Liverpool's title pursuit.

Gerrard is not due back to training until tomorrow morning and was unlikely to play this weekend anyway – boss Rafa Benitez was already considering resting his skipper for the FA Cup clash with Preston.

Liverpool Must Not Let Steven Gerrard Arrest Upset Title Quest

Steven Gerrard won't let his night in the cells arrest Liverpool's title charge.

Gerrard endured a crazy 24 hours - after inspiring Liverpool to a 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle on Sunday with a brilliant performance, he woke up yesterday in a police cell on Merseyside.

The Reds skipper was arrested along with five other men on suspicion of assault and spent most of the day in custody as he was quizzed by detectives before being released late last night.

Gerrard, 28, was due back at Melwood this morning after what was officially a day off for the players yesterday and team-mate Dirk Kuyt has come out in support of him.

Kuyt claims Gerrard is a great captain and is backing him to keep spearheading their title challenge.

"Stevie was great against Newcastle, but then he always is," said the Dutch international.

"He scored two goals and got two assists for us. He's a great captain and showed once again how he likes to lead by example. Like I said, it's not just this game that he does it, he does it every game. He's very important to us."

Gerrard's brush with the law came as he unwound with a few mates on a night out in Southport after the Newcastle win and, ironically, he claims the secret behind Liverpool's great form is because they are relaxed.

The midfielder felt they let the pressure of being league leaders get to them in recent games at Anfield where they dropped points to Hull and West Ham.

"I think we've got to enjoy it," he said, speaking before his arrest.

"We'll play our best football if we are relaxed and composed.

"There have probably been times when we've been a bit anxious, particularly at home, because we're top and we're trying to win games in the first 15 or 20 minutes. But I think the win against Bolton on Boxing Day showed the importance of being relaxed because we got our rewards for a composed passing display.

"The message to all of us is to relax, to keep working hard and to enjoy it. We're top of the league so confidence should be high. The table doesn't lie so we've got to be very pleased.

"Our performance against Newcastle illustrates how good our away form is at the moment. It's first class and if we continue that and improve slightly at home, then it could be an interesting end of season."

Liverpool's thrashing of Newcastle gives them a three point lead at the top of the Premier League, but the perfectionist Gerrard cannot help but reflect on those dropped points at home.

"Our points tally is decent, but I'm still disappointed because it could have been better still," he said.

"We've had a few slip-ups at home against Hull, Stoke and Fulham. They were games we had expected to win and should have won.

"It was a good team performance against Newcastle with a lot of goals. We could have scored even more if you're going to be picky and fussy.

"You have got to look at the work we do on the training ground. We work on passing and possession day in and day out, so much so that you almost become sick of it.

"You are seeing the fruits of the work we are doing out on the pitch.

"We are keeping the ball very well, defensively we look solid and we're scoring a lot of goals."

Liverpool fans are beginning to believe that Rafa Benitez can bring them their first title since 1990 - but Gerrard, who was only 10 then, urged caution.

"I think it's important for us to remain humble, keep our feet on the ground and keep working hard," he said.

"We know that if we keep performing to this level, we will come very close.

"But it's still early and there are a lot of big challenges still ahead, so we certainly won't be getting carried away."

Revealed: Alleged Victim Of Brawl Which Triggered Liverpool Captain's Arrest

The alleged victim of a nightclub brawl for which footballer Steven Gerrard was arrested is a DJ there, police sources confirmed today.

The Liverpool FC and England star remains in police custody after the 34-year-old Southport man was taken to hospital with facial injuries.

Sources confirmed the man was an employee of the Lounge Inn, in Southport, Merseyside, where the midfielder and five other men were arrested on suspicion of assault in the early hours of today.

Gerrard, 28, was at the restaurant and bar - which turns into a nightclub - with friends to celebrate Liverpool's 5-1 destruction of Newcastle United.

But trouble began and an altercation took place outside the premises in Bold Street.

The town centre premises remained shut today but evidence of a fight inside could be seen through the windows.

Spots of blood were clearly visible on the floor, and shards of broken glass.

A Bentley car, which is believed to have been parked overnight, remained outside the club with a parking ticket attached.

Today Gerrard’s wife Alex Curran, 26, left a coffee shop close to the police station where the father of her two children was being questioned.

She refused to answer reporters’ questions as she walked to her Bentley car and drove off in the opposite direction from the police station, heading towards Liverpool.

The sister of the Lounge Inn co-owner, Dario Curcillo, said the footballer was in the club to celebrate his team’s win over Newcastle United earlier in the day.

She said: “As far as I know he comes here regularly and it was just a normal night at the bar.

“I don’t know anything about what happened last night.”

She added that her brother was unavailable for comment.

A Liverpool FC spokesman said the club would not be commenting on their captain’s arrest.

A police spokesman said: “Merseyside Police are investigating an assault that took place in the early hours of Monday December 29 on Bold Street in Southport.

“At around 2.30am this morning officers attended a disturbance at a licensed premises on Bold Street.

“Six men were arrested on suspicion of section 20 assault on Lord Street.

“The men, four aged 33, 31, 29 and 19, who all come from the Huyton area, a 28-year-old man from Formby and an 18-year-old man from Litherland remain in police custody.

“A 34-year-old man from Southport was taken to hospital with facial injuries which are not believed to be life-threatening.

A man, who said he was a friend of Gerrard, later drove off in the Bentley parked outside the bar in Bold Street.

He said the car did not belong to the footballer and added he did not want to comment on last night’s incident.

Alan Hansen - Liverpool FC Can Win Title

Liverpool legend Alan Hansen is starting to believe his former club are serious title contenders.

The Reds have not been domestic champions since 1990 but top the Premier League at the halfway stage with a three-point lead over second-placed Chelsea.

And former centre-back Hansen said: “I have been tipping Chelsea for the championship all along, but the longer the season goes on the better chance that I think Liverpool have got.”

Liverpool looked in championship form as they beat Newcastle 5-1 on Sunday, while Chelsea struggled to a 2-2 draw with Fulham.

The Cottagers also took a point from Liverpool recently, as did West Ham and Hull, but Hansen reckons it is the ability to recover from such setbacks which shows Rafael Benitez’s men have improved from previous seasons.

“Certainly Liverpool have a better chance of winning than they had last season,” he said.

“They are more resilient than at the same time last season, they have more strength in depth and, crucially, they are able to create impetus and momentum.

“In the last month they have had three draws against lesser teams and it has not affected them.

“The most important thing is that they are not getting beaten.

“Mentally, the difference between drawing and losing is massive, even if the gap in points between winning and drawing is greater.

“As a title contender a defeat places unbelievable pressure on you, so it is when you lose two games in four or five that you find out what you are made of.

“This is where Manchester United and Chelsea have become brilliant; it is the aptitude test of a championship-winning side.”

Daniel Agger Keen To Stay At Anfield

Daniel Agger has reiterated his desire to stay at Liverpool – but admits there remains a possibility he may move away from Anfield.

Talks are still continuing over a new contract for the Denmark international, whose present deal has 18 months remaining.

Agger was sidelined for almost 12 months with a metatarsal problem and, after returning to full fitness in the summer, struggled to regain his place in the starting line-up before Martin Skrtel suffered a knee injury in October.

Agger had expressed his frustration at being on the sidelines, with reports in his homeland hinting the 24-year-old was considering buying out his contract.

It led to speculation both Real Madrid and AC Milan are considering making a bid for the centre-back in the forthcoming January transfer window.

And when asked if he will stay at Anfield, Agger said: “I hope so. I don’t know what the hold-up is. I let the club do the talking and I will try and do mine on the pitch.

“I am trying to improve. I feel it is getting better and better in every game. I am feeling more comfortable and trying to improve in every game.

“Of course I want to stay if it is possible.

“As I say, the club is dealing with my contract talks and we will take it from there.”

Hammill Returns To Reds

Adam Hammill has been recalled by Liverpool following his successful loan spell at Blackpool.

The 20-year-old is now waiting to see if he will remain at Liverpool for the second half of the season or go out on loan again.

The skilful winger is highly regarded by the Liverpool coaching staff and he was rewarded with a new three-year deal before he was sent out on loan to Blackpool last August.

Hammill impressed during his time at Bloomfield Road with a number of eye-catching performances, including a stunning strike in the local derby with Preston.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez has been keeping tabs on Hammill's progress and the Spaniard will now cast an eye over him in training in the next few weeks before deciding whether to keep him in the Liverpool squad or allow him to go out on loan again for regular first-team action.

Benitez could decide to give Hammill his chance in the side as he has shown he is prepared to give young members of his squad a chance to impress this term after using Nabil El Zhar and David Ngog as impact players off the bench in a number of games.

Blackpool were believed to be interested in extending Hammill's loan deal until the end of the season, but the uncertain management situation at Bloomfield Road following Simon Grayson's departure to Leeds has put that move up in the air.

Hammill has revealed he enjoyed his time at Blackpool and will now wait and see what Liverpool decide is the best option for him in the next few weeks.

"I would like to thank everyone at Blackpool and the fans for their support during my loan spell," Hammill told

"It's a great club with a good group of players and I really enjoyed my time there.

"I signed a new contract with Liverpool in the summer and I will see what they want to do next with me.

"If they wanted to loan me out again I would always be interested in a return to Bloomfield Road in the future."

Jermaine Pennant Chooses Wigan Over Real Madrid

Jermaine Pennant, having turned his back on the opportunity to join Real Madrid, is being lined up instead for a move to Wigan Athletic to fill the void left by Luis Antonio Valencia, who is poised to join the Spanish champions.

Juande Ramos, the Real coach, has been weighing up a number of Barclays Premier League players in his search for a new right winger, but having been priced out of a move for Ashley Young, of Aston Villa, and been put off by Pennant’s wage demands, it emerged last night that he is on course to complete a £14 million deal to bring Valencia to the Bernabéu shortly after the transfer window opens on Thursday.

Pennant, the Liverpool winger, has been accused in some quarters of blowing the opportunity of a lifetime, but as well as being unhappy at the personal terms on offer in Madrid, he was not convinced that he would play regularly for Real or that Ramos truly wanted him. Despite being restricted to only three Premier League appearances for Liverpool this season after falling out with Rafael Benítez, the manager, he is in no rush to leave, but Wigan hope to persuade him to move to the JJB Stadium for £2.5 million.

A complication is Liverpool’s determination to re-sign Emile Heskey, the Wigan forward, another player about to enter the final six months of his contract. Liverpool are confident that a deal for Heskey can be done, and whether the forward departs in January or in the summer, Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, is already working on a deal to replace him with Hugo Rodallega, the Colombia striker who plays in Mexico for Necaxa.

Meanwhile, Mike Ashley faces an immediate examination of his credibility as Newcastle United’s owner after renewing his commitment to the club, with Joe Kinnear warning that his first-team squad requires an overhaul in January. Kinnear was already searching for cover in both full-back positions, at centre half and in central midfield before the names of Habib Beye (knee) and Mark Viduka (groin) were added to a lengthy injury list, but Ashley has previously shown a marked reluctance to invest heavily in new players. While Shay Given and Michael Owen are attracting interest from elsewhere, losing such experience in return for a fee would surely be counter-productive.

As far as Kinnear is concerned, there is a pressing need for reinforcements. “We need to address that situation immediately,” the manager said. “If we want to go forward, we must strengthen.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Match Report: Newcastle 1 - 5 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard claimed a fine double as Liverpool tightened their grip at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a superb display at Newcastle.

The England midfielder got the ball rolling with a 31st-minute opener and then after Sami Hyypia and Ryan Babel had struck either side of David Edgar's header, he completed the job with a 66th-minute second.

There was still time for substitute Xabi Alonso to convert a 76th-minute penalty after fellow newcomer David Ngog had been tripped by Edgar to complete a miserable afternoon for Joe Kinnear's injury-ravaged side, for whom goalkeeper Shay Given made seven remarkable saves.

Rafael Benitez, sitting in the stands at St James' Park, was even able to leave striker Robbie Keane on the bench and withdraw Gerrard to warm applause from both sets of fans as a crowd of 52,114, the biggest of the season, gained an insight into the Reds' title credentials.

The win sent them four points clear at the top, for a few hours at least, and left the Magpies in some disarray on the day owner Mike Ashley announced he would not be selling the club after all and is ready to press ahead with his masterplan once again.

On a day earmarked by the Newcastle supporters to pay tribute to former manager Sir Bobby Robson, the gulf between the side he created and the one on show here could hardly have been wider.

Writing in the match program, Ashley said: "With the January transfer window approaching, we will be working closely with Joe to see what can be done to strengthen the squad."

Kinnear's list of potential targets will have grown significantly by half-time after his side were torn apart by the visitors in a breathtaking first 45 minutes which demonstrated once again just how important Given is to the club.

The Irishman was one of three Magpies, along with Steven Taylor and Charles N'Zogbia, to be linked with a January move to Arsenal by one newspaper, but had it not been for him, his side could have conceded at least eight by the time they headed back into the dressing room.

In the space of four minutes, he parried Dirk Kuyt's drive at the near post, blocked Gerrard's audacious flick and then pulled off a stunning one-handed save to deny the Reds skipper.

But his work was not done and he had twice thwarted Lucas by the time the clock ticked around to the 20-minute mark before keeping out Hyypia's 42nd-minute header with the help of N'Zogbia on the line.

However, by that point, he had been beaten twice as the rampant visitors finally made the pressure tell, Gerrard sweeping the ball home from Yossi Benayoun's 31st-minute cut-back before Hyypia headed home his captain's corner five minutes later.

Liverpool were simply irresistible, and a rout seemed on the cards.

But the Magpies rallied and after Taylor had headed a Danny Guthrie corner wide, Edgar proved the man for the big occasion once again.

Just short of two years ago, the Canadian marked his home debut with a stunning equaliser against Manchester United, and when he headed another Guthrie set-piece home in injury time his side at least had hope.

Jose Enrique, who had passed a fitness test on a calf injury just before kick-off, failed to re-appear after the break and Shola Ameobi's arrival prompted a reshuffle which saw N'Zogbia drop into the back four and Damien Duff move into midfield.

Ameobi almost made an immediate impact when Michael Owen only just failed to meet his 48th-minute cross with a diving header, but Liverpool's advantage was restored within two minutes.

Referee Mark Halsey was simply not interested in the home side's appeals for handball after Hyypia and then Lucas had helped on Gerrard's corner, and Babel stabbed the loose ball home to make it 3-1.

Kinnear's resources were stretched further with 56 minutes gone when Nicky Butt limped off to be replaced by Geremi, although the Cameroon international almost dragged his side back into the game on the hour.

After Owen had been cynically tripped by Javier Mascherano, he drove the resulting free-kick against the bar with goalkeeper Jose Reina beaten.

But if the game was not already over, the result was put beyond doubt with 24 minutes remaining when Gerrard ran on to Lucas' pass and lifted the ball nonchalantly over Given to make it 4-1.

Alonso made it five from the penalty spot after Edgar had tripped Ngog with 76 minutes gone, and although Guthrie and Taylor both went close, Given had to make a superb double stop to deny Lucas and then Babel at the death.

Juande Ramos Steps In To Stop Mijatovic Signing Liverpool's Pennant For Real Madrid

The Spanish champions' quest for a new winger has seen Juande Ramos challenge Predrag Mijatovic for the first time in a bid to stop the club wrapping up a deal to sign Jermaine Pennant, a report claims.

Juande Ramos has confronted Predrag Mijatovic and told him that he does not want Real Madrid to sign Jermaine Pennant from Liverpool and would rather focus on prising Antonio Valencia away from Wigan Athletic, according to Sport.

Los Merengues' new coach has opted to step in to prevent the club's sporting director continuing the chase for a player that he does not believe would fit in at the Bernabéu.

Mijatovic is believed to have not realised if the UEFA rules that mean that both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarrà cannot be registered for the Champions League and Ramos does not want another mistake to be made.

The two winter arrivals have played for their previous clubs in the UEFA Cup and only one can play for Madrid in Europe and now the Spanish giants are weighing up whether to contest the law.

Ramos has made it clear that he wants to add a new right winger to his ranks, but he does not agree with Mijatovic's choice and has now said his piece in order to prevent a transfer going through.

Pennant is seen as a cheap option by Mijatovic and talks over a €3 million transfer have already taken place, with Reds' manager Rafa Benítez keen to see the back of a player he has used only three times this term.

Madrid's coach, though, is said to have concerns about the player's goalscoring record as well as matters concerning his life off the field that have seen him have several brushes with the police.

The report concludes that Antonio Valencia is Ramos' preferred option after Ashley Young was ruled out of the equation - having already played for Aston Villa in Europe - and he will ask the board to press ahead with an offer to Wigan instead.

Milan Shift Up A Gear In Race To Sign Agger From Liverpool

Milan are keeping their eyes on Anfield as they follow Liverpool defender Daniel Agger.

The Danish stopper is currently awaiting a contract extension at the club, but if that is not forthcoming, then Milan are thought to be in pole position to prise him away from Anfield.

Earlier this month, exclusively revealed the player was at a crossroads when his agent Per Steffensen said he was unsure as to whether Agger would remain on Merseyside.

Reports in Italy have been rife with speculation and now Sportmediaset has jumped on the rumour bandwagon by claiming Agger could arrive at San Siro in January.

The Italians are currently on the hunt for a solid defender to cover for a number of injuries at the back. The Rossoneri cannot risk relying heavily on the injured Alessandro Nesta and thus Vice-president Adriano Galliani could take a gamble in the winter market.

Reports suggest Milan are ready to make an offer and this could see Agger's agents hold out in an attempt to procure competition for whichever club offers more cash.

Despite the stopper's current deal not expiring until 2010, Liverpool appear to have a fight on to convince him to remain a Red.

Galliani has already stated that he will be scouring the market for a defender in January and many sources are insistant that Agger is most likely to join Milan next month.

Carragher Ready For Mind Games

Jamie Carragher is hoping that Liverpool will still be in contention for the title when the mind games start in the spring.

Liverpool currently lead the table after the club put together their best start to a Premier League season.

However, the Reds have yet to sustain a challenge for the title under Rafa Benitez as the club look for a first top-flight crown since 1990.

Carragher is disappointed to have never been involved in a title race in the past, but is optimistic Liverpool will be in the mix this season.

"In my career, we've never been in contention around March or April," said Carragher on the club's official website. "The best teams pace themselves and get into the right position by then.

"When the mind games start, I want us to be in everyone's thoughts. It will tell us that we've been doing something right, and that we're in with a good shout of winning the Premier League.

"I love all that and it's always been disappointing that it's other teams that have been involved rather than us. We've always been outside the race watching and reading about it, but now we've a great chance to be in the thick of it.

"I've always felt the time to really get into the mix is when there are 10 games to go."

Long-serving defender Carragher also believes it is a testament to the strength of the squad at Anfield that Liverpool are top, despite playing much of the season without Fernando Torres.

He added: "To have done as well as we have without Fernando Torres has also been a fantastic achievement. If you'd have said at the start of the season we'd be top on Christmas Day and Fernando would have missed so many games, no one would have believed that possible.

"It's a tribute to the players and to the manager for coping so well without him.

"When you take a player like Torres out of our side, or Cristiano Ronaldo out of United's, it inevitably has an impact. He's our most outstanding attacking player and if he'd been fit he'd have been worth possibly 10 more goals to us.

"I hope it turns out to be blessing because he probably needed a rest after Euro 2008. If he's fit and fresh for the rest of the season he'll add an extra dimension to our team."

Joe Kinnear Insists Liverpool Are The Premier League’s Best Side

Newcastle United manager Joe Kinnear believes Liverpool will end their long wait for the championship after watching his team torn apart by the Anfield outfit yesterday.

Liverpool romped to a 5-1 win at St James’ Park to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League.

The Anfield outfit go into 2009 three points clear of Chelsea having taken 45 points from 20 games.

And as well as backing Rafael Benitez’s side for the title, Kinnear hailed a “magnificent” individual performance from Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who scored twice and had a hand in two other goals.

“I think we have just seen the title winners,” said the Magpies manager. “And I think we’ve seen the best performance I’ve seen from a single player for a long time in Gerrard, he was magnificent.

“Without a shadow of doubt they are the best team we’ve played this season. They were head and shoulders above us. They are an exceptionally good side.”

Kinnear believes Newcastle would have put up a better fight had their squad not been decimated by injury, particularly in defence where three first-team regulars were absent.

“With all the injuries we have had and three of the regular back four out, whatever problems we had Liverpool took full advantage,” he said.

“Had we had half of the players missing available, then maybe the result could have been different.

“But it was such a one-sided game because they are a world-class team. You have to take your hat off to Liverpool.

“Without Shay it would have been even worse. The only positive from the game is that he has proven he is the best goalkeeper in the league by a mile.”

Kinnear added: “We had a lot of players missing. We had no Joey Barton, no Habib Beye, no Oba Martins, no Mark Viduka.

“We had no Sebastien Bassong, and without his height at centre-back we couldn’t deal with Hyypia at set-plays.”

Before the game, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley had announced he was no longer seeking a buyer and had withdrawn the club from the market.

Kuyt Calls For Repeat Displays From Liverpool

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt says the table-toppers need reproduce their superb Sunday performance every week if they are serious about finally winning the Premier League title.

Rafael Benitez's side crushed Newcastle 5-1 away at the weekend to stretch their lead over Chelsea to three points.Liverpool turned on the style as two strikes from captain Steven Gerrard - along with goals from Sami Hyypia, Ryan Babel and Xabi Alonso - helped stun the Magpies at St James' Park.

But Kuyt says the real hard work starts now as Liverpool head into 2009 looking to end their 19-year wait to be crowned champions.

"It's great to be top at the end of the year. But it's just the beginning for us. We need to step up every week and in every game and try to perform as well as that in the next match," the Dutchman said.

"I really enjoyed the game and it caps a good Christmas period in which we have picked up six very important points and scored eight goals along the way."

Gerrard Backs Liverpool To Win The Title

Club captain Steven Gerrard has hailed the current Liverpool side as the he has played in and is backing them to clinch a first Premier League title.

Rafael Benitez's side will start 2009 three points clear of the chasing pack following Sunday's 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle United and are well placed to win their first top-flight title since 1990.

Captain Gerrard, who scored twice at St James' Park, said: ''We have given ourselves a great chance. We have to remain consistent, that is the key.

''If we want to stay at the top and be involved in this title race, we have got to deal with the pressure.

''We have big players here and we will have a lot of tests and challenges to come, but if we keep playing like this then we will be there.

''This is the best team I have played with,'' said England midfielder Gerrard. ''You look around the dressing room and, from the keeper to the forwards, we have some fantastic players. There is a confidence that we can get over the big hurdles.''

Liverpool have won 18 League titles in their illustrious history but the last time the Reds were top of the Premier League at New Year they finished the season in fourth.

Meanwhile, Liverpool legend Alan Hansen is starting to believe his former club are serious title contenders.

''I have been tipping Chelsea for the championship all along, but the longer the season goes on the better chance that I think Liverpool have got,'' said Hansen.

''Certainly Liverpool have a better chance of winning than they had least season,'' he wrote in his column in The Daily Telegraph. ''They are more resilient than at the same time last season, they have more strength in depth and, crucially, they are able to create impetus and momentum.

''In the last month they have had three draws against lesser teams and it has not affected them. The most important thing is that they are not getting beaten.

''Mentally, the difference between drawing and losing is massive, even if the gap in points between winning and drawing is greater. As a title contender a defeat places unbelievable pressure on you, so it is when you lose two games in four or five that you find out what you are made of.

''This is where Manchester United and Chelsea have become brilliant; it is the aptitude test of a championship-winning side.''

Danny Guthrie Quit Liverpool Due To Steven Gerrard's Brilliance

Steven Gerrard is among the best Premier League midfielders of this or any other campaign, according to former colleague Danny Guthrie.

And Magpies midfielder Guthrie has revealed that Gerrard's brilliance was the reason he decided his future lay away from Liverpool.

A £2.5million summer move to Newcastle followed the realisation that, with Gerrard commanding the engine-room, Guthrie was never going to be anything more than a bit-part player at Anfield.

Guthrie, 21, who made only a handful of first-team appearances for Liverpool, goes head-to-head with the England star today determined to show that he has become an accomplished Premier League star.

Guthrie said: "Steven Gerrard is the top man. He came through the youth system the same way I did.

"Liverpool are very strong in midfield and it's difficult to get a game for a young lad so I made the decision to move on and play games. When Newcastle came in I saw that as a great opportunity.

"It kills me not to play.

Even though Liverpool was my club I couldn't stay there playing 10 games a season and still playing in the reserves at 21.

"From my youth team not one single player is still there now.

That is how difficult it is to make it at Liverpool.

"I have no regrets.

I learned a lot from Steven Gerrard. I was only 18 when I went with the first team so it was a massive step up.

They've got top-class players all over the team and I learned my trade there.

"I think Stevie G is up there with Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira as the best ever Premier League midfielder.

He could be THE best, because he gets goals as well. For a midfielder to score as many goals as he does is incredible."

Guthrie, on target for Newcastle in Friday's defeat at Wigan, insists there was no rift with Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

He added: "Rafa said he thought it would be a good move for me because I wasn't going to play as much as I wanted at Liverpool.

He wished me all the best and he was great. I have total respect for him.

I took his advice, but I'd already made my decision.

"It's always disappointing when you've been at a club for years but every young player knows it might not work out. Going to Newcastle helped soften the blow."

Guthrie (below) believes a win over the title-chasing Reds would confirm their revival under Joe Kinnear.

But he believes dropped home points could come back to haunt his old club.

He said: "A good result against Liverpool will underline our improvement.

We've turned the corner in terms of putting some decent results together.

"I still think Liverpool can win the league. But they've let themselves down with dropped home points.

"After Christmas Manchester United and Chelsea will up the pace. I hope Liverpool can stay with them because this is the best chance they've had to win it for years."

Liverpool In £9 Million Bid For Glen Johnson

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is reported to have successfully lured Glen Johnson away from Portsmouth with a £9 million offer.

Benitez has been eager to bring the 24-year-old to Anfield for some time in a bid to bolster his back four, and according to the People, the 24-year-old was given a tour of the club's Melwood training complex in the build-up to Christmas.

His rumoured presence at the club's facility has added fuel to speculation that the real reason he missed Portsmouth's Boxing Day thrashing by West Ham is because a deal is done - contrary to the official line claiming he was injured.

And if the rumours prove true it may be tough for Portsmouth to hold on to Johnson due to their ever increasing debts. Manager Tony Adams already faces losing key players to other big clubs.

A return to a big four club would signify a milestone in Johnson's career.

During his time with Chelsea he failed to live up to the promise he had shown at West Ham and was soon spending a lot of time on the bench before being sold to Portsmouth.

Having revitalised his career at Fratton Park under former manager Harry Redknapp, Johnson was finally granted a return to the England squad.

Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon has also caught the attention of Benitez this season, and he is reported to be willing to offer a cash-plus-player deal involving Jermain Pennant to see it go through.

Xabi Alonso is being linked with a move to Arsenal and Pennant has also been linked with a move to Real Madrid.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Match Preview: Newcastle United vs. LiverpooL

Liverpool and Newcastle United will face-off this weekend in their final fixture of 2008. While the away side are sitting pretty at the top of the Barclays Premier League table, their hosts are in decent, if not dazzling, touch themselves.

When Joe Kinnear took the reins at Newcastle in September, it appeared they were headed for an embarrassing relegation battle. In the period between Kevin Keegan’s controversial departure and the arrival of his interim successor, the Toon had sunk well into the drop zone. Indeed, only Tottenham Hotspur endured a more disastrous start to the season, when one considers that both sides were aiming for European football at season’s start.

Under Kinnear’s guidance, however, the Magpies have slowly regained confidence to the point where they might actually be called a Premier League-standard club once more. They have ground out results against dangerous and in-form teams – most notably Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, just over a month ago – and have shown that, despite adopting a more workman-like approach than in previous years, they are still well capable of entertaining the Toon Army.

Newcastle’s Boxing Day defeat to Wigan Athletic was just their second loss in their last nine outings, and they currently sit 12th in the standings. However, they are still just two points above the relegation places, and some seven points shy of a potential UEFA Cup spot. Failure against the league leaders on Sunday could leave them brushing against the bottom three heading into the New Year, and frankly that’s a distinct possibility given both the quality of their opposition and the results of their last few encounters.

Liverpool’s recent record against the sleeping giants of Tyneside reads pretty darn well. Their last visit to St James’ Park culminated in a 3-0 win, but that scoreline doesn’t show just how comprehensively the Merseysiders beat their beleaguered and bedraggled hosts on a day that marked the beginning of the end of Sam Allardyce’s tenure. In all honesty, it could so easily have been 8-0 if Fernando Torres had brought his shooting boots.

And that was when Rafael Benitez’s job was in jeopardy amid a boardroom crisis that threatened to ruin the Anfield club. Now, circling at the summit of the standings, the Kop is rocking as they edge ever closer to what would be their very first Premier League crown, and their first English championship since 1990. They are refusing to get ahead of themselves, though, as the more seasoned Reds have seen more than their fair share of false dawns.

Nevertheless, Liverpool have a golden opportunity to claim pole position heading into 2009. They have been let off the hook by fellow front-runners Chelsea in recent weeks, as draws against Hull City and a 10-man Arsenal went unpunished. But after an impressive return to form against Bolton Wanderers on Friday, they will be pumped up and hoping to round out in style what has been their best start to a campaign in many a moon.


Newcastle United

Nov 29 Middlesbrough 0-0 Newcastle United (Premier League)
Dec 06 Newcastle United 2-2 Stoke City (Premier League)
Dec 14 Portsmouth 0-3 Newcastle United (Premier League)
Dec 21 Newcastle United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)
Dec 26 Wigan Athletic 2-1 Newcastle United (Premier League)


Dec 06 Blackburn Rovers 1-3 Liverpool (Premier League)
Dec 09 PSV Eindhoven 1-3 Liverpool (Champions League)
Dec 13 Hull City 2-2 Liverpool (Premier League)
Dec 21 Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Dec 26 Liverpool 3-0 Bolton Wanderers (Premier League)


Newcastle United

Jose Enrique injured his calf during the warm-up at Wigan and will sit out. The Spanish defender will be joined on the sidelines by fellow full-back Habib Beye (leg) and Australian striker Mark Viduka (groin).

Sebastien Bassong is suspended, meaning midfielders David Edgar and Charles N’Zogbia are likely to line up at the back.

Newcastle squad: Given, Coloccini, Gutierrez, Butt, Guthrie, N'Zogbia, Duff, Owen, Harper, Taylor, Geremi, Edgar, Xisco, Carroll, Ameobi, LuaLua, Gonzalez.


Alvaro Arbeloa will miss out again due to a hamstring injury, but Javier Mascherano is expected to slot back into midfield after suffering a bout of the flu – the Argentine battler was an unused substitute against Bolton.

The big news, however, is that Torres has been named in the travelling party and could make the bench. The EURO 2008-winning striker has been undergoing extensive treatment for a recurring hamstring problem.

Liverpool squad: Reina, Carragher, Agger, Hyypia, Insua, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard, Keane, Cavalieri, Darby, Babel, Benayoun, Lucas, Ngog, El Zhar, Torres.


Michael Owen (Newcastle United)

Even if he wasn’t facing the club with whom he rose to fame as a teenager, there’s no denying that the England exile would draw more attention than anyone else on the home team. He has netted seven times this season, although he will need to put on a fine display if injury-hit Toon are to hold off the table-toppers.

Robbie Keane (Liverpool)

Is the impish Irishman finally finding his feet with the Reds? Keane followed up his superb strike against Arsenal by bagging a Boxing Day brace against Bolton, and it would be far from surprising if he continued that scoring run on his trip to the North East.

Leader Liverpool Halfway To19th English Title

Liverpool is halfway toward ending the 19-year wait for its 19th English title. The Premier League leader just needs to stave off Chelsea and Manchester United for another 19 games.

The Reds began to look like credible champions again Friday by comprehensively beating Bolton 3-0 to end a run of three draws at Anfield that had elicited jeers from the home fans.

Cheers returned as the freezing supporters were warmed by the continued resurgence of offseason recruit Robbie Keane, who's two goals helped put Liverpool in pole position at the season's midpoint for the first time since 1996.

The Ireland striker's double came five days after he secured a point at Arsenal that helped quiet suggestions he would be sold by Liverpool in January after poor form led to him being benched by manager Rafa Benitez.

"It was a convincing win and I was pleased with the manner in which we played, moved the ball quickly and went forward," Keane said after taking his goal tally to seven since joining from Tottenham. "Now it's important we keep going. We've got a tough game against Newcastle. We'll go there with a lot of confidence after this win and hopefully we can come back with the three points.

"Newcastle are a good side and they've been on the up lately."

Liverpool will be hoping Keane maintains his form Sunday at Newcastle as Fernando Torres is still absent with a hamstring injury and Chelsea remains just a point behind in the standings.

"We know that at the halfway stage the hard work's still to come," Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. "We're ready for that and we believe we can make significant improvements where they need to be made.

"We know we have to do it all again in the second half of the season and we have to improve against the other teams in the divisions."

While the Reds have been dropping points recently, they have been aided by Chelsea matching their inconsistency. Likewise, Chelsea beat bottom-placed West Bromwich Albion ahead of a two-mile trip across west London to face Fulham.

Striker Didier Drogba is expected to recover despite being removed with a thigh complaint after scoring in the 2-0 victory over West Brom, but Frank Lampard is prepared for a testing encounter against the league's third tightest defense Sunday.

"The fact they are not conceding many has got to be testament to their manager," Lampard said. "Roy Hodgson is very experienced, he has been all over the world, and he has got them organized not to concede but they have got threats up front as well."

Arsenal's fading title aspirations seem far-fetched after throwing away a 2-0 lead in stoppage time to draw at Aston Villa, which has a three-point lead over Arsene Wenger's side in fourth place.

The Gunners must bounce back against Portsmouth to remain ahead of Everton in the UEFA Cup qualification spot.

Everton hosts Sunderland after makeshift striker Tim Cahill scored again at Sunderland to produce a second win in three matches.

Also Sunday, West Brom could close the gap on Tottenham to just two points by upsetting the London club, Mark Hughes returns to Blackburn with a Manchester City side buoyed by thrashing Hull 5-1, Bolton faces Wigan in a Lancashire derby, and Stoke is at West Ham.

Manchester United, which is seven points off the pace with two games in hand, hosts Middlesbrough in Monday's only match. TV schedulers have given Aston Villa and Hull the longest time to recover from Friday's full program of matches by selecting their fixture for Tuesday night.

Rafael Benitez Goes Cool On Idea Of Bringing In Michael Owen To Boost Strike Force

Rafael Benitez maintains that new contracts for himself and his players come before possible January arrivals in his thinking but it appears that any funds that are made available in the new year will not be spent on bringing Michael Owen back to Anfield.

Owen's Newcastle contract expires in the summer, when he will be available on a free transfer, and one area where Benitez clearly needs extra options is attack, an issue that has been brought into sharp focus by Fernando Torres' injury problems.

Benitez now prefers to use Dirk Kuyt on the right flank, while Robbie Keane has struggled for goals and looked uncomfortable at the top of a 4-2-3-1 since arriving for £20.3 million from Tottenham in the summer and French youngster David Ngog is not ready to start in the Premier League on a regular basis.

The Spaniard attempted to sign Owen, who has fallen out of favour with England coach Fabio Capello, when he returned from Real Madrid in the summer of 2005 but was only able to offer around half of the £16 million Newcastle were prepared to pay.

Given his contractual situation, Owen, 28, would be available at a fraction of that fee - possibly even £2 million - but he will have to look elsewhere to kick-start his career as Benitez has no interest in taking him to Liverpool in the new year.

New strikers remain a strong possibility but Andrea Dossena remains determined to prove that Benitez does not need another to bring in another left-back.

That has been an area that Benitez has always struggled to fill and he had hoped that finally dedicating significant money would solve the problem when he paid Udinese £7 million for the Italian Dossena, 27, in the summer.

Dossena, however, has failed to convince and had lost his place to Fabio Aurelio before the Brazilian suffered a hamstring problem in last week's 1-0 Champions League victory over Marseille. But Dossena is adamant he can adapt to the English game and prove a success at Liverpool.

He said: "I am very happy at Liverpool. At the start of the season I found it very difficult because never before had I played so many games in such a short space of time. But now I talk regularly with the boss and with the physios and I am doing some things differently to try and improve my level.

"There are different demands on me here than I have ever had anywhere else. At Udinese, my place in the team was secure but at Liverpool there is so much quality in the squad that this cannot be the case. But I remain happy here and I will fight for my place."

Torres Confident Of Real Victory

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is confident his side will overcome Real Madrid in their Champions League last 16 clash.

Torres faced European heartbreak last season as Liverpool were knocked out in the semi-finals by Chelsea.

The Reds are unbeaten in this year's competition but now face a tricky test against the reigning La Liga champions.

However, Torres believes his team will book their place in the quarter-finals.

"We all realise that it is going to be a tough tie against Real Madrid," he wrote on his personal site.

"I don't like talking about a possible favourite, but I am sure that we are going to qualify for the next round."

However, the former Atletico Madrid player admitted he has not had much luck against the Spanish giants previously.

He said: "When I was playing my football in Spain, I used to score a lot against Barcelona, but found it harder when playing versus Real Madrid."

Torres also looked back on a fantastic first season for Liverpool and is hoping for more of the same in the new year.

It has been a mixed start to this campaign for the 24-year-old who has been blighted by injury.

However, Torres will have been buoyed to see his team sitting pretty at the top of the table and the Euro 2008 winner admits that the Premier League remains Liverpool's priority.

"I'm a bit sad to be coming to the end of this year," he wrote.

"The first nine months were unbelievable and at the end, even though I could not play regularly because of injury, there was recognition in the form of awards and nominations, like the PFA's, L'Equipe and being a finalist in the FIFA World Player award.

"I have said before that this has been my best year as a professional footballer.

"I adapted to Liverpool far quicker than expected, and to end the 2007-08 season winning Euro 2008 was a perfect finish.

"I hope that at the end of 2009 we can say the same celebrating another title.

"I hope to avoid injuries and that we win the Premier League title; it is the dream of every 'Red' - fans, coaching staff and players.

"And it would be great to sign off the season lifting the Confederations Cup with Spain in South Africa."

Michael Owen Desperate To Entice Rafael Benitez

For any club after a proven goalscorer, slightly shop-soiled, runs reliably if well-looked after, St James' Park today is the perfect place to pick up a bargain.

With just hours left until the chaos of football's January transfer bazaar, Michael Owen could not have hoped for a better pitch from which to hawk his wares.

On television, he has a captive market to prove why England should remember its forgotten man. No doubt the eagle-eyed scouts and battle-hardened hagglers of a host of Premier League clubs will be in attendance, too.

Manchester City are ready with a £6 million bid. Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal are all in need of added firepower. But the one man Owen would dearly love to entice will likely greet any evidence of his undimmed predatory instincts with fury – visiting Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.

It was Benitez who was forced, against his will, to kowtow to Owen's demand to move to Real Madrid when he first arrived in the summer of 2004. It was Benitez who refused to stump up the £16 million Newcastle offered when, his Spanish adventure failed, Owen returned to England, desperate to join the then-European champions.

Now it is Benitez who offers Owen hope for the future. He has just six months left on his contract at St James's Park. Newcastle will cash in should they receive an offer tempting enough, rather than lose him for nothing but a host of what-ifs in June.

It is thought Owen's representatives will use Liverpool's visit to St James's to try to engineer a meeting with both Benitez and Rick Parry, who controls the comings and goings at Anfield, although already there are those within the Liverpool camp who need no persuading as to Owen's merits.

"Michael Owen is still a terrific goalscorer and he will be a terrible threat to us," said assistant coach Sammy Lee. "He's someone we'll have to keep our eyes on when we play them. We know exactly what qualities Michael Owen has got."

Those qualities may not be enough to ensure the return of the prodigal. Owen's refusal to sign an extension have been interpreted as a stalling tactic to smoke out interest from clubs with better prospects.

The quality of Liverpool's prospects is not in question. The Reds were top of the tree at Christmas for the first time since 1996, arguably the last time they looked anything like title challengers.

But Steven Gerrard, Owen's close friend and no doubt a powerful ally should he want to bend Benitez's ear, knows the hard work is just beginning.

He said: "We know that, at the halfway stage, the hard work is still to come.

"A lot has been said about this Liverpool side in the past, about how we perform against the top sides in the league. Well after three games, and two of those were away from home, we are unbeaten against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

"That should have silenced some of our critics, but we know we have to do it again in the second half of the season. And we know we have to improve against the other teams in the division as well."

The Liverpool line, in the absence of Fernando Torres, will be led by Robbie Keane, finally starting to find his feet, and his shooting boots, after a difficult start to his time at the club he supported as a boy.

He said: "I enjoyed the position I played against Bolton, up front on my own. That's my best position and where I have played for the last 10 years, I enjoy it. But wherever the boss wants me to play, I will do it for the team, that's the most important thing."

Such positivity contrasts starkly with the black mood which has shrouded Newcastle for much of the season.

After a fillip in form which saw Joe Kinnear lead his side to six games unbeaten, defeat at Wigan and an ever-growing injury list have presented the much-maligned caretaker with a headache ahead of today's clash.

He said: "We've got about eight injured, so it's not looking good. We've got to get back on track even though a million and one things went against us in the Wigan game.

"We've been on a great run and we'll pick ourselves up. There's no doubt that whatever team I put out we'll give it our best shot."

Robbie Keane Hails Reds’ Spirit

Two-goal hero Robbie Keane today praised the "outstanding" team effort which helped table toppers Liverpool end their seven week wait for a league win at Anfield.

Having drawn consecutive home games against Fulham, West Ham and Hull, the Reds went into yesterday's clash with Bolton knowing that they needed to take all three points if they were to retain top spot.

After Albert Riera had given them a first half lead, Keane scored a superb second half double as Liverpool recorded their second 3-0 home win of the season.

Despite having produced arguably his finest performance in a red shirt since moving to Anfield in a £20m summer move from Spurs, the Irish striker refused to take the credit, preferring to spread the praise throughout the ranks.

And he also acknowledged the importance of Liverpool getting back to winning ways in front of their own fans.

"It was a good performance by the team from start to finish," he said. "It was important that we took all three points, especially after the last few games at home when we haven't got the results we have been looking for.

"But the best thing about it was that it wasn't just a win, it was a convincing win and it sets us up nicely for the Newcastle game later today."

Keane hailed Riera's opener as the catalyst to Liverpool's dominant display and believes grabbing a goal in the first half made life easier for them in the rest of the game.

With title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea both winning as well, the battle at the top of the Premier League is becoming increasingly fierce, but Keane remains adamant Liverpool should focus only on their own form and no one else's.

"We can't afford to concentrate on what anyone else is doing," he said. "All we can do is focus on our own games and I thought we were outstanding from start to finish against Bolton.

"They've been on a decent run of late but I can't remember them having a shot on goal and that shows how well we did.

"It was important for our confidence.

"We've been drawing games that we should have been winning but sometimes games aren't always as easy as people might think.

"Because of that it was really important that we got the first goal. That helped open Bolton up a bit and from that point on we were attacking them more and more."

Liverpool have no new injury worries ahead of today's game at Newcastle and having watched the victory over Bolton from the directors’ box, Rafa Benitez is hopeful of being back in the dugout.

John Aldridge: I’d Love To See Michael Owen Returning To Anfield

There’s been a lot of speculation about Michael Owen’s future recently and I must admit I would love to see him back at Anfield.

There’s no doubt we need another striker and I think he would be ideal for us.

He’s had a frustrating few years with injury setbacks but we’ve seen recently that he is getting back to his old self.

Owen has been around for years but he’s only just turned 29 and still has a great deal more to offer.

The Reds have done remarkably well to cope without Fernando Torres for so long this season but we are lacking goals.

We’ve missed Peter Crouch and if we had kept hold of him I believe our points tally at this stage of the season would have been better.

When you look at Manchester United’s trio of Tevez, Rooney and Berbatov, they’ve got better striking options than us.

There aren’t enough match-winners in our squad and that’s why we’ve drawn so many home games. Someone of Owen’s calibre would fit the bill and give us another option to Torres and Robbie Keane.

Owen is obviously in no rush to sort out his future and I don’t blame him for that. There’s an offer on the table from Newcastle and he obviously wants to see who else is interested as he is out of contract next summer.

Making a move for him would make sense but unfortunately I don’t believe it will happen.

I think there’s some previous between Owen and Rafa Benitez going back to when he left to join Real Madrid in 2004. But whether it’s Owen or not we need another option up front.

Rafa should get a close look at Owen at St James’ Park tomorrow and we’ve got to be wary of him.

He gets into good areas and has grabbed some real poacher’s goals recently.

He’s got nothing to prove against Liverpool because he did fantastically well for the club but I know the striker is desperate to get his England place back and will want to show Fabio Capello what he’s capable of.

We’ve done really well at St James’ in recent years but Newcastle are a different proposition now compared to a few months back.

Joe Kinnear has given them a bit of belief and the Reds will need to be at their best to get maximum points.

Robbie Keane Happy To Fit In Around Fernando Torres

Robbie Keane’s three fine goals in the last two Liverpool games have swept away the doubts over the Irishman’s qualities.

But the 28-year-old will step out at Newcastle tomorrow aware that Fernando Torres is hovering in the wings.

Torres, who wore all-white furs, hat and scarf in the Anfield directors’ box on Boxing Day to watch the Keane-inspired 3-0 demolition of Bolton, is not far from his comeback from a hamstring injury.

He could even be involved at St James’ Park and, when the Spaniard does return to Liverpool’s title chase, Keane’s problems could start all over again.

Fitting into a system with Torres up front and Keane in a deeper, support role, caused the Irishman immense difficulties earlier in the campaign.

His equaliser at Arsenal and two fine strikes to sink Bolton, have come with Keane in the roving, lone striking role he loves. And that is the position Torres will take up when he is fit again.

For now, Keane is just happy to have started to score regularly, but the fact that only one of his seven this season have come while Torres has been on the pitch, suggests a problem for boss Rafael Benitez when he returns to the dug-out after his kidney stones operation.

That too could be later today on Tyneside, the manager having also watched from the directors’ box on Boxing Day.

Keane diplomatically says: “I enjoyed the position I played against Bolton, up front on my own. That’s my best position and where I have played for the last 10 years, I enjoy it.

“But wherever the boss wants me to play, I will do it for the team, that’s the most important thing.”

Keane at last looked comfortable and confident in his role as Bolton were swept aside, Albert Riera grabbing the first with Keane’s double coming in four blistering second-half minutes.

He said: “I have always said that I know I will score goals, for me it has not been a problem.

“But it was good to see my first one go in. But even before that we had not been playing badly, we’d had them under a lot of pressure.”

Liverpool go into the Newcastle game top at this stage for the first time since 1996, and with a growing belief in their play.

Assistant boss Sammy Lee said: “It is good to still be top, and we hope to still be there going into the new year.

“It will be tough against Newcastle, a very difficult task, but on this form we are looking forward to it.

“What was pleasing was the quality of our play, and the patience we showed in possession.

“Robbie Keane scored twice, that’s terrific, but I just like seeing any Liverpool player scoring goals.”

But he warned: “It is only December, nobody should be getting carried away. But being top of the table shows the improvement this season.

“The players have never lacked belief, and we could hear the fans signing about being top, but there is still a long way to go.

“We have got 42 points from 19 games, it is still only half-way, and we must just keep working to get the maximum from every game.

“But the boys are enjoying their football, the desire and commitment has always been there, and we aim to keep it going.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 3 - 0 Bolton Wanderers

Liverpool went back to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a comprehensive victory over Bolton at Anfield.

Chelsea's victory earlier in the day put the London side in pole position until Robbie Keane's double and a goal from Albert Riera ensured the Reds went back to the head of the pack.

The win meant Liverpool have completed all of 2008 unbeaten at home in the league.

Missing Alvaro Arbeloa with a hamstring injury, manager Rafael Benitez re-jigged his back line, moving Jamie Carragher to right-back with Sami Hyypia slotting into the centre of defence.

Liverpool also restored Yossi Benayoun to midfield at the expense of Lucas, who was joined on the bench by fit-again Javier Mascherano, now recovered from an illness which meant he missed last weekend's game against Arsenal.

In-form Bolton - who have won three of their last five games - made one change from the side that beat Portsmouth last weekend, bringing in battling midfielder Fabrice Muamba for Kevin Davies, who was on the bench.

Benitez today sat in the directors' box after missing the game at the Emirates Stadium while recovering at home from a kidney stone operation. And he looked to have second-guessed Bolton boss Gary Megson.

In Liverpool's win at the Reebok earlier in the season, Steven Gerrard was man-marked by Muamba.

But Gerrard was playing much deeper in an orthodox 4-4-2, away from the attentions of Muamba.

Bolton had the first chance when Kevin Nolan almost chipped Jose Reina in the opening minute, but Liverpool were soon having plenty of possession, with Riera and Hyypia both going close.

Then youngster Emiliano Insua forced a fine save from Jussi Jaaskelainen with a low drive from the edge of the box.

Riera opened the scoring when he poked in a Gerrard corner after 26 minutes.

Trailing by that single goal at half time, Bolton sent on Davies for Jlloyd Samuel and Gretar Steinsson was cautioned within a minute of the break for a foul on Xabi Alonso.

The defender then flattened Riera seconds later, and referee Alan Wiley dished out a long lecture.

But all Megson's half-time words were wasted after 53 minutes when Keane grabbed the second. Gerrard fed a fine pass into his stride and the Irishman moved on to score past Jaaskelainen.

Agger was booked for a foul on Johan Elmander after 57 minutes, and 60 seconds later Keane hit his second and Liverpool's third.

Alonso broke from his own half, fed Benayoun on the right, with the wide man playing the ball straight into Keane's path to sidefoot home.

Bolton sent on Mustapha Riga and Ebi Smolarek for Matthew Taylor and Elmander after 66 minutes.

Liverpool were able to make a number of changes thanks to their comfortable lead - Riera, Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt all taken off with Sunday's trip to Newcastle in mind.