Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Betting Recommendations: West Ham United vs LiverpooL

Here are some betting recommendations for the West Ham United vs. Liverpool match:

From: Bettingzone UK

It's a little hard to understand why the bookies are siding so strongly with Liverpool in this.

Just four places and seven points separate the pair (both have played the same number of games) and while it's West Ham who are trailing, they undoubtedly come into this in better form and with home advantage in their favour too.

The Hammers have collected three wins and been beaten just once in their last six - decent enough by anyone's standards and all the more so given a hugely tricky fixture list which included games against top two Manchester United and Arsenal and a trip to a Manchester City side who are unbeaten on home turf.

In contrast, Liverpool have drawn their last four in the Premier League and even made hard work of seeing off Havant and Waterlooville and Luton in the FA Cup.

So while all the off-field comments suggest the pressure is easing on boss Rafa Benitez, the bottom line is that results need to pick up - and quickly.

In their favour is an excellent record against the Hammers as they've won the last six league games but we'd still argue that they should be bigger than evens for this latest trip to Upton Park.

The Hammers have already beaten Manchester United at theBoleyn Ground this season and are getting better all the time as their injury list continues to shorten.

The home win is tempting at 3/1 but we'll give ourselves a bit of insurance and go for West Ham at 2/1 in the 'draw no bet' market.

Verdict: West Ham 2 Liverpool 1

From: Mark Lawrenson, BBC Sport UK

Interesting. West Ham's home form is not great as they lack confidence at Upton Park. They are helped by the fact that their injured players are slowly coming back.

I don't know what to expect with Liverpool because no-one ever knows the team manager Rafael Benitez will pick. But he needs to start picking his strongest side as they need results.

Prediction: West Ham United 1 – 2 LiverpooL

From: Mathew Burt,

Liverpool should finally get their first win of the year and finally give Rafa Benitez something to smile about after a tough couple of weeks. If Gerrard and Torres can perform to their abilities, and show that the recent rest has benefited them, then the West Ham defence could be in for a tough time. Then again who would bet against a draw?

Final Score: West Ham 1 - 2 Liverpool

From: Chris,

West Ham vs. Liverpool 4.10 - 2.00

When West Ham drew their last match with Man City both D Ashton and M Etherington were missing. They will be available tomorrow but J Faubert is an injury doubt.

Liverpool have practically a fully fit squad with only D. Agger on their injury list.

Why they have been so lack lustre for weeks I cannot say. It seems like they constantly put themselves in trouble regardless which opponents they face.

Luton, Wigan even Havant became major obstacles for Liverpool. There is something about Benitez and low profile matches.

He is not happy playing these midweek fixtures but in Britain there are no easy wins and this should be obvious by now. Lots of character in the present West Ham side and they could earn a draw from this game.

The draw then (3.25).

Babel: Superstars Brought Me To Anfield

Liverpool star Ryan Babel has spoken of his admiration for Steven Gerrard And Fernando Torres, both of whom played a large part in bringing him to the Premier League in the summer.

Dutch international Ryan Babel admitted that the lure of playing with superstars like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard at Anfield brought him to Merseyside from Ajax last summer.

The starlet revealed that he didn’t realise how “great” the Reds were until the club made a return to the business end of European competition, having rejected the chance to move there previously.

"Liverpool had expressed an interest two years ago, but at that time I didn't have a good feeling," Babel told Liverpool's official matchday programme.

"I didn't know anything about Liverpool and the club meant hardly anything to me, which was due to sheer ignorance on my part.

"This time it was different. Liverpool had reached the Champions League final twice and I was very much impressed by the performances that Steven Gerrard had put in.

"It would be wonderful to play in the same team with such a star, I thought.

"My agent also told me Liverpool had signed Fernando Torres and I got really interested. I want to win silverware. That's why I have joined this great club."

The jet-heeled 21-year-old respects gaffer Rafa Benitez’s much maligned squad rotation, but concedes that he would like to see more playing time in an ideal world.

Babel has scored seven goals in 31 appearances for the club. The fast paced Premiership action is, however, causing him some concern as Liverpool continue to toil in the league.

"I would obviously relish more playing time," he continued.

"I am ambitious and want to play. I am sometimes a bit disappointed not to play but I appreciate Benitez's ideas.

"He adopts a rotation policy, I knew that beforehand. He has his own special ideas. He announces his starting XI one hour before kick-off. He will never give a hint at training whether you start or not.

"But I don't think it is awkward for me not be on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.

"I can't physically cope with the terrific pace of the Premier League. I invariably face a tall task, even also against the so-called small teams.

"We play compact as a team and must be on the move constantly, closing down opponents all over the park. I must provide cover for the left-back but I never shirk my duties anymore and nobody will ever catch me napping."

Match Preview: West Ham United vs LiverpooL

West Ham host Liverpool in the Premier League on Wednesday hoping to increase the pressure on Rafa Benitez.

The Liverpool boss has endured a torrid season as the Reds - who were tipped to be major title contenders after heavy summer investment - have stuttered on the field, while uncertainty continues behind the scenes.

Reds owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks appear to be growing increasingly unwelcome on Merseyside amidst ongoing rumours that the Americans are keen to sell the club.

And West Ham will hope to make the most of the Reds' woes by collecting three points at Upton Park.

Hammers boss Alan Curbishley has spoken of his side's need to focus on a place in the top six this season and three points against Liverpool would certainly help this cause, while also severely denting their visitor's UEFA Champions League aspirations.

If Portsmouth slip up away to Manchester United, a victory for Curbishley would see his side quietly move to within one point of Pompey in ninth place.

And the Hammers will welcome back Dean Ashton and winger Matthew Etherington as they go in search of a rare victory against the Reds.

West Ham are on a run of 11 games without success against Liverpool, but Curbishley will hope star striker Ashton can produce a performance to mirror that of the 2006 FA Cup final when the forward terrorised the Reds backline in a narrow defeat in Cardiff.

Etherington will also return to the Hammers starting line-up after joining Ashton on the sidelines for the 1-1 draw with Manchester City, while former Red Craig Bellamy and Nolberto Solano have also regained match fitness.

However, summer signing Julien Faubert is set to miss out as the midfielder is struggling with a calf problem.

Benitez is expected to name a strong XI after watching his second string side flirt with the romance of the FA Cup and narrowly avoid a humiliating defeat to Havant & Waterlooville on Saturday.

The Reds were twice forced to come from behind in a hard-fought 5-2 victory against their non-league opponents and Benitez, who has yet to see his side record a league win in 2008, will be demanding improvements.

Andrei Voronin, Daniel Agger and Alvaro Arbeloa are all absent through injury, but Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Jose Reina and Jamie Carragher should return as Liverpool seek a victory which could see them reclaim fourth spot - should Everton fail to beat Tottenham.

Kraft Hints At Reds Bid

American businessman Robert Kraft admits he has not ruled out a possible takeover of Liverpool.

Kraft owns American football side New England Patriots and Major League Soccer outfit New England Revolution.

And Kraft - who is founder, chairman and chief executive of the Kraft Group - was strongly linked with a bid to buy the Reds before the Merseyside club was taken over by fellow Americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks for £470million in 2007.

However, Gillett and Hicks are rumoured to be unsettled on Merseyside following Liverpool's lacklustre form and a much publicised bust-up with manager Rafa Benitez regarding the club's January transfer policy.

Dubai International Capital are thought to remain interested in a bid to buy out Gillett and Hicks, after withdrawing from the race to own the Reds last year, and Kraft has now hinted that he could also consider a takeover at Anfield.

"We haven't ruled it out completely," Kraft told Sky Sports News.

"But I'm worried a little bit. I want to be able to win whatever we do. But there are no rules in terms of spending on players.

"We would never want to be in a business where we couldn't compete and right now some of the structure doesn't allow you to compete on a level playing field."

And Kraft admits he has met with David Moores, who was Liverpool chairman before selling his stake to Gillett and Hicks and is now a director at Anfield, in the past.

"I spent a lot of time with Mr. Moores and his group in Liverpool and we know something about building an opportunity," Kraft added.

"The fan base in Liverpool is a lot like the fan base of the Patriots when we bought them.

"They are dedicated fans if you give them a quality product and they know you are doing their best to win."

Fourth Spot Is Ours, Says Liverpool Coach

Not so long ago Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was insisting his side could still mount a challenge for the Premier League title.

How times have changed.

Now having gone four league games without a win, Benitez has reassessed his team's credentials and believes his side can outmuscle their rivals to claim fourth spot instead.

The battle looks set to be a four-way tussle with Merseyside rivals Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

Liverpool can reclaim fourth spot from Everton's grasp tonight with victory at West Ham - if other results go their way - and Benitez feels his squad are best prepared to finish in the final Champions League spot.

"We still believe we are best placed to finish fourth," he said.

"We are not happy that it has become difficult. But we have one game in hand and we must get back to fourth and then try to catch the third-placed team.

"I think we are the best equipped to be fourth, at least. Martin O'Neill at Villa and Sven (Goran Eriksson) at City may say different and Everton too, but I have confidence in my team.

"We feel we can do it and we must start winning again, which will take us higher again.

"We have enough quality and the experience of playing at this level. That could be crucial because we have been here before."

Returning to winning ways is easiest said than done given that Liverpool have drawn their last four league outings.

And aside from a 2-1 league win at Derby on Boxing Day they have not won on the road since a 3-0 success at Newcastle in November.

"The key is to focus on every game and not think about the rest. West Ham will be tough opposition, they have beaten Manchester United and have improved," Benitez said.

"Obviously away games are always more difficult, but we must win this one and beat Sunderland on Saturday ahead of going to Chelsea the following week.

"It is difficult to explain why we have not been getting the results, but we have been creating the chances. We just need to be more precise in our finishing and things will be okay."

New LiverpooL FC Shirts & Kits

The following have not yet been confirmed by Liverpool or adidas and as such may still be early prototypes.

The new LFC Home Shirt 2008/10

The new LFC Away Shirt 2008/09

The new LFC 3rd Shirt 2008/09

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mark Lawrenson: Results Must Ensure The Laughter Is Put To Bed

Mark Lawrenson got a depressing snapshot of the turmoil Liverpool are in at the JJB Stadium on Saturday. Lawrenson was in the Press room before the Wigan v Chelsea tie and the half-time score flashed up from Anfield – Liverpool 2 Havant & Waterlooville 2. Cue uproarious laughter.

He can’t ever remember Liverpool being a laughing stock, certainly not to the extent they are at the moment. It encapsulates just how much events off the field have made the club look and how much they need to be sorted out and quickly.

But more importantly, things on the field have to become the priority now, if only to avoid more embarrassing scorelines than we saw after the first 45 minutes of that FA Cup tie on Saturday. And it’s now down to Rafael Benitez to ensure that happens.

Benitez is probably no more convinced than Lawrenson is about what Tom Hicks said over the weekend. It’s all very well the American giving his backing but after the Jurgen Klinsmann episode, Benitez knows he can take that with a pinch of salt.

As for saying he wants him there for another two years, well who’s to say Hicks will still be there? No matter what he or George Gillett says (not that the latter is saying much of anything at the moment!) the Dubai group aren’t going to go away. And Lawrenson think it’s safe to say who the supporters will want in charge of their club when push comes to shove and concrete offers start appearing on the table.

So Lawrenson think the off-field uncertainly will rumble on for some time yet. But the difference this time is, Benitez and his players can’t let it affect them. They just have to accept it and get on with the business of getting the results back on track once again. The manager has to get his head down, pick his best team and really get this season back on the rails before Liverpool fall off them completely.

No wins in the league since Boxing Day isn’t good enough and things in the boardroom will hardly settle down if Champions League money isn’t guaranteed for next season. That fight for the top four is suddenly looking far more interesting than Liverpool ever wanted it to. It all needs to be put right and fast, starting tomorrow night at West Ham. Three points there will be the ideal confidence boost, especially with Sunderland to come to Anfield on Saturday.

And the FA Cup has also thrown up a genuine chance of a trophy. The draw on Monday has given Liverpool another home game against lower-league opposition and a great opportunity to get to the quarter-finals. Take into account the fact that one of Arsenal and Manchester United has to go in the next round and it’s suddenly opening up nicely.

If it all pans out successfully then Liverpool will be making headlines for the football they are playing – that’s the way it’s always been and it doesn’t seem right that they are in the news for anything else. That’s why a good run of results is now the immediate priority. Achieve this, and people will soon be laughing on the other side of their faces.

John Arne Riise Stays At Liverpool

John Arne Riise will not be joining the Kevin Keegan revolution at Newcastle.

The Liverpool defender has been linked with both Newcastle and Aston Villa during the January transfer window but the Norweigan's agent Jan Kvalheim insists his client will not move.

"There has been a lot of speculation, but Riise is not leaving Anfield," he said.

"He still has one-and-a-half years left on his contract."

Riise, 27, is in his seventh year on Merseyside but has increasingly found himself on the sidelines this season.

Lucas: Rafa Rant Turned Things Around

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has explained that Rafa Benitez read the riot act to his players during half-time of their FA Cup clash with Havant and Waterlooville on Saturday, and that it worked.

The Reds went in at the break being held 2-2 by the Conference South side at Anfield, with the home fans and manager hardly believing what they were seeing.

The Premiership giants eventually fought their way to a 5-2 victory, but all the plaudits went to the non-league side.

Brazilian midfielder Lucas began the Reds fight back in the first half with a well taken equaliser. But the 2006 signing from Gremio revealed that Rafa Benitez gave the players a rocket at the interval back in the dressing room.

"Rafa said a lot of hard things to us at half-time and told us clearly that we had to improve, because we had conceded goals too easily" Lucas told the Daily Mirror.

"We knew we had to win the game because we are in the top division and they are five divisions below us. We didn't play well enough in the first half.

"The manager told us that. He told us some hard words to make us understand we had to improve and not make any more mistakes.

"We know the first half wasn't good enough, but at least in the second we played much better and we won, so now we must prepare for the next one."

That next test is another home tie in the fifth round against Barnsley.

Juve To Go For Mascherano In The Summer

Juventus are considering trying to sign Javier Mascherano in the summer, according to Tuttosport.

The 23-year-old is undoubtedly one of the best defensive midfielders in world football, however it seems very likely that he will be leaving current club Liverpool at the end of the season.

Mascherano's contract is owned by the international fund of investors, Media Sports Investments (M.S.I), who are demanding a reported €27m for their client to stay at Liverpool permanently.

The Anfield club's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet are refusing to pay such a sum, thus making it inevitable that the player will leave the club.

Tuttosport claims that Juve are weighing up their options, and may present an offer ahead of this summer.

Head of M.S.I, Kia Joorabchian, has put a starting price on offers at €20m, however the dynamics of the market will determine how high the eventual transfer fee will be.

Juventus have identified their midfield department as the area that most needs strengthening.

The signing of Momo Sissoko, also of Liverpool, is set to be announced any hour soon. The Malian international was in Turin on Sunday and Monday, and there are just a few minor details that need to be concluded before the deal becomes official.

A drawback to the Sissoko move for Juventus is that there are some reports that suggest that Liverpool may in fact use the €13m transfer fee they receive in order to meet M.S.I’s demands to sign Mascherano permanently.

Torres Reveals Rafa Relief

Spanish striker Fernando Torres has revealed that he and the rest of the Liverpool players are relieved that boss Rafa Benitez will be staying with the club following a period of uncertainty.

The summer signing from Atletico Madrid also admitted that he may have considered his own position had Benitez left the club.

Weeks of uncertainty reigned at Anfield following an alleged disagreement over philosophy between Benitez and the club’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette.

With the problems now reportedly in the past, Torres has revealed his personal relief that the situation has been cleared up satisfactorily.

"I could not imagine a Liverpool without Rafael Benitez” Torres said.

“I do not know what would happen if he left.

"It is not just the Spanish players who were worried for Rafa.

"The manager has signed many players and has stood by them all. We hoped that everything would be resolved in the best way possible for him and the club - that is what we all wanted."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tom Hicks Unable To Quell Whispers

Tom Hicks suggested yesterday that he intended to adopt a lower profile and to start winning over Liverpool’s supporters with actions rather than words, but there are whispers from within Anfield about the significance of the continuing silence from his co-chairman, George Gillett Jr.

Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise, was the catalyst for the American duo’s takeover of Liverpool last February, but Hicks, who was widely regarded as the silent partner when he came on board late in the bidding process, has had a far more visible public presence during the club’s troubles of the past two months. Gillett’s name was absent from separate statements about the club’s £350 million refinancing deal and its proposed new stadium on Friday and, with Hicks admitting yesterday that “sometimes we don’t agree”, there are growing indications that the pair’s partnership is on borrowed time.

It emerged this month that Gillett has spoken to Dubai International Capital (DIC), the private-equity investment arm of the Dubai Government, about a partnership that would either lead to them buying out Hicks’s 50 per cent stake or the entire club. Hicks maintains that this is not on the agenda, despite confirming yesterday that he and Gillett held talks in October about a deal that would have led to the group becoming 15 per cent investors in the club, but while Friday’s refinancing deal appeared to have stabilised their regime for the immediate future, Anfield sources believe that the Hicks-Gillett partnership cannot survive in its present form. It remains possible that DIC will look to take over the club, either in a joint venture with Gillett or by buying out the two Americans, with the Arab group unconvinced by Hicks’s claim that he will not sell his stake at any price.

Doubts persist about the long-term future of Rafael BenÍtez for as long as Hicks is in place, but, after their very public fallout in November, the Texan is now at least offering the manager his backing in public. “We had a lot of consternation about Rafa,” Hicks said, “but after our meeting on December 16, where he really showed his strong intent to do the right things with us and by the club, we’ve had much better communication. He’s got our total backing. I’ve made that very clear.

We’ve funded transfer requests in January and we are talking about things for the summer. Rafa’s got a contract here for two more years and hopefully longer than that.”

BenÍtez will be allowed to pursue the signing of Javier Mascherano on a long-term deal once Mohamed Sissoko has completed his expected £9 million move to Juventus, while the Liverpool manager also hopes to proceed with a bid to sign Pablo Aimar, the former Valencia playmaker, from Real Zaragoza.

Celtic Interested in Hyypia

According to the Daily Mail, Celtic have made an enquiry about Liverpool's veteran centre-back Sami Hyypia.

The 34-year-old Finland international is out of contract at the end of the season and has not been offered a new deal by the Anfield club.

The defender is said to be frustrated by Liverpool's reluctance to give him another year at the club he has served for nine seasons as he was hoping to celebrate a decade in a red shirt in 2008/9.

This is not the first time Hyypia has been the subject of interest from other clubs.

At the start of this season, he admitted that he turned down big money offers from Newcastle and Wigan because he wanted to have one last tilt at winning the Premier League title with Liverpool.

He has since been linked with Kevin Keegan's Newcastle, Fulham and now the Scottish Champions.

Hyypia's chances of starting every game with Liverpool are diminishing, following Rafa Benitez signing of Slovakian international Martin Skrtel for £7 million and the, temporarily postponed, return from injury of Daniel Agger.

It now appears almost certain that the player will move on in the summer and the news of Gordon Strachan has made an enquiry will give him another possible destination when he considers his options.

Benitez Backed By Reds Co-Owner

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks insists manager Rafael Benitez's job is safe for the remaining two years of his contract at the very least.

The Spaniard's position has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks after Hicks admitted he and fellow American co-owner George Gillett had held discussions with former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann as an "insurance policy" after their relationship became strained.

Performances on the pitch have been lacklustre in recent weeks, with the Reds lying sixth in the Premier League, two points behind fourth-placed Merseyside rivals Everton in the race for Champions League qualification.

Hicks, however, is building bridges with Benitez after talks with the Spanish coach last month.

"Rafa has a contract for two more years. He will be here for at least the length of it and hopefully longer than that," said Hicks.

"He has our full support. Rafa has shown his strong intent to do the right thing with us about the club.

"He has been a gentleman and we have had much better communication. He has my total backing. I have made that very clear."

Benitez also seemed to be struggling at one stage to reach agreement with the owners over the club's transfer strategy in the January window, but Hicks insists the manager has the board's full support to pursue whomever he sees fit.

Asked if he would endorse a proposal from Benitez to sign Argentinian midfielder Javier Mascherano, Hicks told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme: "Absolutely. We have never turned down Rafa's request for money for any player he has asked for.

"We have funded his transfer request in January and are already having conversations about things in the summer."

On reports of a fall-out with Gillett, Hicks added: "George and I get along fine. Sometimes we do not agree but that is what business partners are all about."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Torres Reveals Rafa's English Rule

Liverpool's Fernando Torres has revealed that manager Rafael Benitez does not let players communicate in any language other than English, despite a large Spanish contingent at the club.

Torres and Benitez - Spaniards themselves - communicate in English at all times, as does everyone else in the Liverpool dressing room.

It is most likely a tactic employed not only to help foreigners learn the language, but to also create an environment where nobody feels alienated.

"There are 12 Spanish speakers but we try not to talk in Spanish because if he catches us, Rafa fines us," revealed Torres.

"He always speaks in English to the Spanish, except when there's something you don't understand. At the start it was difficult. But with every day, I'm getting to know the language and the city better."

Torres signed for Liverpool from Atletico Madrid on July 4, 2007 in a deal breaking the £20 million barrier.

Tom Hicks Admits To Holding Talks With DIC Over Liverpool FC

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has revealed he held talks with Dubai International Capital - but only about the company becoming a “minor investor” in the club.

DIC rejected the opportunity and Hicks insists that is the end of the matter.

Hicks, and fellow co-owner George Gillett, are now focusing on taking Liverpool forward after completing their £350 million refinancing package.

Of that, £105million will be debt tied to the club - £60million to kick-start the building of a new stadium and £45million for future transfers.

While Hicks said that there was never any intention to sell the club to DIC, he told Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme: “I did talk to them about a 10-15% participation but that was months ago.

“We gave them a valuation as a minority investor but they thought the price was too high. We have had no conversations since then.

“We would have used that capital towards the new stadium but we will find other ways.

“We have the capital. I have put in a lot of money and we will put in more in if need be. I am very excited about the future of the club.

“This will be the finest football stadium in the world. People should be very proud of it and I want to win the support of Liverpool fans with my actions.”

DIC 'Still Intent' On Liverpool Takeover

Dubai International Capital remain intent on a takeover of Liverpool, regardless of their disappointment with the nature of the £350million refinancing deal with which the club's American owners have secured their immediate tenure there.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. announced the new 18-month 'market-rate' loan on Friday, the former describing it as 'a strong vote of confidence in the club's financial strength'. DIC, however, regard it as an expensive holding measure that will cost the club around £28m a year in interest, yet fail to solve Liverpool's requirement for significant new capital.

Underwritten by the Royal Bank of Scotland and US bank Wachovia, the loan provides limited additional resources for a club in need of significant investment in the playing staff and a new stadium expected to cost a further £300m. As Liverpool's total debt stood at £297m before the refinancing package was agreed, it delivers a maximum of £53m of new money. Around £20m is thought to have been used up by the arrangement fee on the new loan.

While concerned club officials insisted that £245m of the debt was placed against Hicks and Gillett's holding company Kop Football Limited, it is understood that interest payments will be made entirely from club income. As such these will swallow up almost all of Liverpool's projected profits for the 2007-08 financial year.

Though the banks required Hicks and Gillett to increase their personal guarantees on the debt to £225m, it is understood that the Americans have not spent any of their own money on the club with the £20m equity each had to inject into the new deal coming in the form of personal loans, repayable by the club to them in the event of a further takeover.

The new 71,000-capacity stadium at Stanley Park will not be realised without another large tranche of debt. Though the stadium design announced on Friday has been downgraded from architects HKS' original proposal, it is still expected to cost a total of £350m. A spokesman for Hicks said that £50m of that sum has already been spent on consultancy and design. Further planning permission is required on the new structure.

DIC consider the refinancing a waste of club money that could have been spent on the team or the stadium and attempted to prevent it by offering to buy the club for £500m last week. Sources at the Arab investment group insist that Hicks and Gillett indicated their intention to sell during takeover talks, but only after the new loan had gone through.

Led by Liverpool supporter Sameer Al Ansari, DIC thought it had agreed a deal to buy Liverpool in late 2006, only for majority shareholder David Moores to sell to Hicks and Gillett. The Americans paid £174.1m for the shares, taking on outstanding debts of £44.8m and undertaking not to borrow any money against the club. On Friday, Kop Football Limited restated that debt at £60m.

Hicks also moved to reassure Rafa Benítez of his 'continuing and enthusiastic support' as manager, after earlier admitting that he had talked with Jurgen Klinsmann about replacing the Spaniard. Benitez has said little about the refinancing, though he suggested his desired £17m full transfer of Javier Mascherano would have to be partially funded by Mohamed Sissoko's proposed sale to Juventus.

Asked last night if Hicks now intended to sell Liverpool, his spokesman said: 'Tom Hicks is not a seller of Liverpool Football Club and he is certainly in it for the long term.' He declined to comment on how interest payments on the £350m would be funded, how much new money would be available to Liverpool, or whether the owners had invested any of their own cash in the club. Gillett, unhappy with some of his partner's recent actions, has yet to comment publicly on the revised plans.

Liverpool 5 - 2 Havant & Waterlooville

Yossi Benayoun scored a 15-minute hat-trick to break the hearts of a remarkable Havant and Waterlooville side who produced a sensational display at Anfield.

Twice the Hampshire non-leaguers were ahead against a shell-shocked Liverpool in this FA Cup fourth round tie.

Richard Pacquette and a Martin Skrtel own goal had Havant fans in dreamland. Lucas and Benayoun clawed Liverpool level before the break, with two more from Benayoun and a last-minute Peter Crouch effort seeing Liverpool home.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez took some of the glamour out of the tie by leaving Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher on the bench.

But the visitors still had to contend with Peter Crouch, Javier Mascherano and Jermaine Pennant, while while new boy Martin Skrtel made his full debut in central defence.

Havant boss Shaun Gale left assistant manager Charlie Oatway on the bench, while Tom Jordan - son of Portsmouth coach and former Manchester United striker Joe - started in front of a crowd which included around 6,000 fans from Hampshire.

Liverpool's fans applauded every single Havant player's name when they were announced, and the non-league club's fans sung happily along with 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Havant were undaunted early on - captain James Collins clattered Mascherano, Rocky Baptiste knocked over Sami Hyypia and Alfie Potter - Harry to his mates - saw a shot deflected wide.

Yossi Benayoun headed Pennant's cross wide, but Havant were intent on making their mark - and in the eighth minute they scored.

Richard Pacquette harassed Skrtel into conceding a corner, and when Mo Harkin planted it into the six-yard box, former QPR player Pacquette headed it powerfully past goalkeeper Charles Itandje.

Liverpool were stunned and while the Kop applauded loudly, the fans of the non-league club erupted.

For a while it was amusing for the home fans to see Liverpool embarrassed, but as the half wore on the Scousers started to lose patience.

John Arne Riise had two efforts blocked, Benayoun shot wide, but the anxiety grew as did Havant's confidence. Their set pieces constantly troubled Liverpool, goalkeeper Itandje was a bag of nerves and the tackles continued to thud in.

And Havant should have scored again after 23 minutes. Itandje twice fumbled as Harkin's free-kick flew wildly around the box and when the French goalkeeper fell over, Shaun Wilkinson hooked over an open goal from 10 yards.

Havant held their lead for 16 minutes of growing panic in Liverpool ranks. After 24 minutes, Ryan Babel laid the ball back to Lucas, and the Brazilian curled a fine goal into the top corner from 25 yards.

But incredibly, Havant were ahead again after half-an-hour. Steve Finnan stumbled over the ball on the right of the box and Potter, on loan from Peterborough, tore onto the ball and fired in a shot that Skrtel deflected wide of his own 'keeper.

Liverpool were a frightened shambles in defence, losing possession in midfield and seemingly incapable of passing the ball effectively.

Havant were magnificent. Organised at the back, they fought for every inch and outperformed their illustrious opponents. Carragher and Torres were soon warming up on the line.

Havant lost Phil Warner with a leg injury after 40 minutes they send on Tony Taggart, exchanging a binman for a plumber at the back.

A minute before the break Liverpool managed to claw themselves level. Pennant's pass set-up Benayoun, who created a yard of space to fire in a right-footer that gave Kevin Scriven no chance.

Havant started the second period deep in defence and they were giving Liverpool too much space.

And on 55 minutes they were punished. Mascherano surged through midfield before freeing Pennant on the right.

When his cross arrived in the box, Benayoun had time to turn and fire into the roof of the net.

Rocky Baptiste, the taxi-driving Liverpool fan, was withdrawn by Havant two minutes later, former Spurs youngster Jamie Slabber taking over.

Two minutes later Benayoun struck again to complete a hat-trick. Babel's shot came back off keeper Scriven and the Israeli was there to fire in the rebound.

After 72 minutes Dirk Kuyt replaced Benayoun and two minutes later Wilkinson went off, with Charlie Oatway taking over.

But the dream was over now for Havant.

Carragher eventually came on in place of Hyypia after 84 minutes, Gerrard following in place of Mascherano two minutes later.

There was still time for Neil Sharp to force a fine save from Itandje, but with a minute left Gerrard set-up Peter Crouch for a tap-in.

LiverpooL FC: Club Face Fresh Battle For Planning Permission

The revised stadium plan announced yesterday by Liverpool FC will require new planning applications, it was confirmed last night.

The club already has permission for HKS’s original 60,000-seater ground on Stanley Park, which was granted in November 2007.

That original stadium design envisaged 60,000 seats, with the option to later expand to 76,000 at a later date.

In January the Government decided not to “call in” those designs for further scrutiny.

However, because of changes to the stadium design – moving the underground car park, shrinking the concourses, and capacity rising to 71,000 – new permissions are needed.

It is understood the club will at first submit a variation to the existing permission, which could allow the work to start on the project within three months.

It would then submit a new application to get consent for the 71,000 seats, requiring an environmental impact study and transport plan.

Voronin Injury Means Liverpool FC Won't Sell Peter Crouch

Peter Crouch’s future at Liverpool seems secure – for now at least – due to Andriy Voronin’s injury.

The England international had been widely tipped to be heading for the Anfield exit door in the near future after slipping down Rafael Benitez’s pecking order.

Crouch has netted 35 times for Liverpool since his £7million move from Southampton two-and-a-half years ago but has started just four Premier League games all season despite Voronin not scoring in his last 11 matches and Dirk Kuyt failing to register in nine games.

However, with Voronin expected to be out for six weeks following confirmation that he needs an ankle operation to repair ligament damage, Benitez will not be prepared to let Crouch go despite the likes of Manchester City and Newcastle United believed to be monitoring his availability.

Ukrainian Voronin, a Bosman free transfer acquisition from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, will certainly miss the first leg of Liverpool’s Champions League clash with Internazionale next month.

Spanish full-back Alvaro Arbeloa is also expected to be out for the next three weeks with an abdominal injury while centre-back Daniel Agger is at least another two weeks away from a possible first team return.

Meanwhile, the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield has been put back from 3pm on Saturday, March 29 to 4pm on Sunday, March 30 to accommodate Sky TV coverage.

However, the game will revert back to Saturday (kick-off to be confirmed) in the event that Liverpool are involved in the Champions League on Tuesday, April 1.

Rafa Benitez Looking To Go All he Way In The FA Cup

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez wants to try to win the FA Cup after admitting that a Premier League title challenge may now be beyond his team.

Blue Square South team Havant & Waterlooville travel up to Anfield for today’s fourth round tie which will be the ultimate David versus Goliath clash.

However, Benitez, who yesterday received the full backing of the club’s US owners, insists that his side will not underestimate their opponents, particularly now that the FA Cup looks like Liverpool’s best chance for silverware this season.

The Spaniard, who will hand new signing Martin Skrtel his first start today, was accused of not taking football’s oldest competition seriously in his first season in England when a weakened Liverpool team crashed out in the third round but he went on to lift the trophy the following year.

With Liverpool now seemingly out of the title race, Benitez has earmarked the FA Cup as a major target.

He said: “For us it’s really important. We want to progress, we want to win this competition if possible.

“We must treat the other team with a lot of respect.

“I think it is very difficult (for Liverpool to win the Premier League this season), you must be realistic.

“I can say things for people who don’t want to lose their hope but I think it is important to know what there are two good teams (Manchester United and Arsenal) at the top of the table now with a lot of points and one behind them (Chelsea) and another one (Everton).

“So we must be realistic and try and win every game and see what the situation is every week, concentrating on all the games but one game at a time.”

Benitez added: “We have three competitions and I don’t want to say that we’re in a bad situation.

“We are in the Champions League, we are in the FA Cup and we are fifth in the table now.

“In the cup competitions you have to progress, in the league it’s simple – try to win the next game, try to be in the top four and after this try to be closer to the third position, then the second position.

“I’ve said before that if you want to score a lot of goals you need to score the first goal.

“If you want to talk about more things you need to be in the top four.

“I think the pressure (to finish in the top four) is more or less the same, every year with a top side you want to win trophies and finish as high possible in the league and progress in all the competitions.”

Liverpool’s title chances were written off earlier this week by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson but Benitez, received some unexpected backing from his opposite number at Old Trafford.

But while the Spaniard was grateful for the support of the Scot who has won the Premier League nine times, he does not go along with his comments that Liverpool will struggle to attract top class players.

He said: “I must say thank you to Sir Alex Ferguson for his support, it’s not normal (you hear these things) so I’m really pleased.

“My personal relationship with him is good.

“In terms of the club I always want to win so to bring top class players here is our target so I think we can do it.”

Argentinian international Javier Mascherano would probably fit into that bracket and Benitez remains confident that he will sign a permanent deal with Liverpool after his loan spell at Anfield expires at the end of the season.

Speculation had mounted that the midfielder could leave the club at the end of the season if the US owners did not fund his transfer but Benitez believes that a deal will be struck with the impending sale of Momo Sissoko helping with the finances.

He said: “The contact I have with the owners has been positive and that means we are progressing with the situations of Sissoko and Mascherano have been positive.

“That’s a normal thing in this period of January.

“The player (Mascherano) wants to stay. When you talk with him it’s the same situation as me. You can feel the support of the fans.

“I think he is really happy here as he feels that support.”

Meanwhile, Benitez confirmed that Charles Itandje will play in goal and Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are all in the squad although the influential trio are expected to start on the bench.

Liverpool Weigh Up Swoop For Pablo Aimar

Rafa Benitez is weighing up a swoop for Argentinian playmaker Pablo Aimar.

The Liverpool boss is looking into the possibility of signing Aimar from Real Zaragoza after being alerted to his availability.

Benitez has managed Aimar previously when the pair worked together at Valencia – a time which Aimar openly admits was his most productive as a player.

Since then he has gone on to star for Zaragoza in La Liga after a £8.5m move from Valencia in July 2006.

Though a hugely popular figure among the Zaragoza fans, Aimar is believed to be ready to test himself in the Premiership and new Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan has already registered an interest in taking him to the north east.

But Benitez is monitoring the situation and could be prepared to make a move for Aimar – whom Diego Maradona once described as his "legitimate successor as the world's best player" – if the price is right.

With the transfer window set to close next Thursday, Liverpool would have to move fast if they are to secure a deal for the attacking midfielder. But with the club set to receive a fee in the region of £9m for Momo Sissoko, and Benitez having received the backing of co-owner Tom Hicks, there is nothing to stand in the way of them making an offer.

The 28-year-old has been linked with Liverpool before, shortly after Benitez quit Valencia to take over at Anfield, but no move transpired.

At the time Aimar said: "Rafa Benitez is an excellent coach who knows me very well and Liverpool would be an ideal place to go if I cannot sort out my future here.

"From what I can see, English football is the best in Europe next to Spain and I do not think I would have a problem adapting to the Premiership."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mascherano: I Want To Leave Liverpool For Juventus

Javier Mascherano has declared that he wants to leave Liverpool, and has spoken about the possibility of a move to Juventus.

The Argentine is undoubtedly one of the best defensive midfielders in world football, however his future at Liverpool is clouded in uncertainty.

Mascherano's contract is owned by the international fund of investors, Media Sports Investments (M.S.I), who are demanding €24m for their client to stay at Liverpool permanently.

The Anfield club's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet are refusing to pay such a sum, thus making it inevitable that the player will leave the club.

However Mascherano has now admitted himself that he is keen to depart England.

"At Liverpool I have found my home. I am committed and I cannot complain about how the city has accepted me since I came here,” the 23-year-old told an Argentinean radio station.

“However I feel that now the time has come to move on. I would like to leave the Premiership. A move to Juventus? Well I like to travel.”

Mascherano’s agent Walter Tamer fuelled speculation yesterday when he admitted that his client was likely to be playing in Italy next season.

“Liverpool have not made any offer at all to buy Javier and it is likely that he will go to Italy next season," Tamer stated.

Juventus will complete the transfer of Momo Sissoko this Sunday for €13m, and it now seems possible that Mascherano could join him in Turin.

The Bianconeri fans have been bitterly opposed to Sissoko’s transfer, however they are likely to be much more open to the possibility of Mascherano moving.

It remains to be seen if Juve’s sports director Alessio Secco will listen to Mascherano’s hint of a come-and-get-me plea.

Liverpool To Loan Leto Out To River Plate

According to reports from the Argentine press River Plate are on the verge of signing young left sided midfielder Sebastian Leto from Liverpool.

River Plate have announced that Liverpool midfielder Sebastian Leto is just a step away from joining the Buenos Aires club.

The Argentine giants have come to an agreement with the midfielder, and all they now need for the transfer to be complete is Liverpool's approval.

Leto is unable to play in England at the moment, because of a problem with his passport, and he thought that a loan deal with River Plate would be the best option.

Director's from the Argentine club told Telam that they came to an agreement with Leto and his agent, Ricardo Cosentino, for the young left sided midfielder to return to Argentine football.

Leto, who was formerly of Lanus, will be River's fourth new signing of the season, after Sebastian Abreu, Rodrigo Archubi, and Gustavo Cabral.

Reds Unveil New Stadium Plans

Liverpool have unveiled the latest plans for their new stadium on the day that an announcement is expected that co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have completed the £350million refinancing deal which will secure their futures at Anfield.

The under-fire American duo have agreed the financial package which will help repay the near £220million they borrowed to take over the club last March and allow development on the proposed new stadium at Stanley Park to begin.

The club plan to build the 71,000-seat venue close to Anfield in time for the 2011-12 season and unveiled new plans for the stadium today. Hicks said: "HKS has developed a more efficient design that, at the same time, is just as stunning as the original one.

"Liverpool supporters should have high expectations for the future - a premier sporting experience at their new stadium and a winning club on the pitch for years to come."

However, the news of the refinancing deal is likely to be unpopular among fans who demonstrated against the Hicks and Gillett during Monday's Premier League clash with Aston Villa at Anfield.

Hicks in particular is unpopular on Merseyside after making it public knowledge that he sounded out Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of replacing current Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

But news of the refinancing deal could effectively end the interest in the club of the investment arm of the Dubai government, Dubai International Capital (DIC).

DIC came close to taking over at Anfield before Hicks and Gillett succeeded last year, but were reportedly set to launch a fresh bid should the Americans wish to put the club back on the market.

Meanwhile, on the field Benitez is hoping his players can use Saturday's FA Cup fourth round tie with Havant & Waterlooville to build some confidence.

Four successive draws has seen the Reds drop off the pace in the title race and the Spaniard is hoping for goals against the non-league side.

"Now we have a cup tie with a non-league team, it will be a great occasion for everyone but maybe we can score some goals to give us confidence," he said.

Arsenal Reject Liverpool Move For Theo Walcott

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has turned down Liverpool's request to take Theo Walcott on loan.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, who has been put under growing pressure by a series of disappointing results and a highly publicised fall-out with the club's owners, wanted to bring the striker to Anfield for the remainder of the season.

However, Wenger is unwilling to let the England international leave the Emirates Stadium, even on a temporary basis.

The Frenchman said that he would not be releasing any players on loan during the transfer window because Arsenal were "very short [of players]".

"We have 17 players at the moment, and you could see with the players who were on the bench at Tottenham that they should not have been on the bench there," he said.

Many Premier League managers thought that Arsenal's exit from the Carling Cup at the hands of Tottenham would a prompt an exodus of Arsenal's promising youngsters on loan deals, since Wenger primarily used the competition to blood his less experienced players.

As well as Benitez's interest, Sven-Goran Eriksson was keen to bring Walcott to Manchester City, while Blackburn manager Mark Hughes was also reportedly monitoring the forward's situation.

And outside of the Premier League, Championship club Stoke City were poised to launch an ambitious bid to secure Walcott's services.

Wenger paid a world record fee for a 16-year-old in the 2006 January transfer window when he signed Walcott - a deal that could rise to £12 million.

However, Walcott has so far failed to shine for Arsenal, making just 25 first-team starts over the past two years.

Reds Owners To Go Public Soon

Liverpool's American owners have again delayed an announcement of a successful refinancing deal but an agreement should be made public soon.

Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are on the verge of sealing a £350million package and had been expected to announce today that it had gone through.

There are no serious hitches however and it is understood the deal is all but signed off, and the announcement will include details of the chosen design for a new stadium at Stanley Park.

Of the £350million, more than £160million will be debt tied to Liverpool and around £190million covered by Hicks and Gillett's guarantees.

The £160million figure includes £105million new cash for the club - £65million to kick-start work on the new stadium, and a further sum of £45million of working capital including money for player acquisitions. The remainder is the existing debt the Americans inherited when they took over the club a year ago.

Hicks and Gillett are insisting however that the other £190million in the refinancing package - to cover their initial cost of buying the club - will not be loaded onto Liverpool.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry and former chairman David Moores, who is still a board member, have made it clear they oppose any of the takeover debt being loaded onto the club.

Now that doubts over the refinancing deal have evaporated, the Americans - particularly Hicks - face a struggle to win back the fans, not to mention manager Rafael Benitez.

Supporters staged protests against the owners at Anfield on Monday night, sparked by Hicks' revelation that he had sounded out Jurgen Klinsmann towards the end of last year as a possible successor for Benitez.

The supporters will also be watching carefully to see what happens to any profits Liverpool make - will they be used to service the club's debt or will a dividend be paid to the Americans' company Kop Holdings to service their debt?

Meanwhile, chances of Dubai Investment Capital (DIC) taking over Liverpool in the near future seem dead in the water.

It is understood Hicks spoke at length to DIC about selling up to them but they were unwilling to match his asking price.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sissoko Deal Done, Official Confirmation On Sunday

Juventus have agreed a deal to sign Momo Sissoko from Liverpool for €13m and the transfer will become official this Sunday, according to the Gazzetta dello Sport.

The 23-year-old midfielder has been strongly associated with the Bianconeri for several weeks now, with the only question seemingly being whether he would arrive in Turin this month or in June.

Sissoko will touch down in Turin on Sunday, where he will complete a routine medical, complete the final signature, before flying back to Ghana for the African Cup of Nations, where he is representing his country Mali.

Theoretically Sissoko is already a Juventus player after an agreement was reached yesterday over both a transfer fee and wages.

Juve will pay Liverpool €13m, with €11m being paid immediately, and another €2m after a set number of league and cup appearances.

Sissoko has agreed a four-and-a-half-year contract, with an option of an extra year after this. The player will receive a healthy €2.5m a year, which works out at just under €50,000 a week.

Juventus have been desperate to sign a centre midfielder this month following the disastrous performances of Tiago Mendes and Sergio Almiron, who were signed for a combined €22m last summer.

Sissoko had the chance to join the Old Lady last summer but he rejected the transfer in favour of signing a new contract at Liverpool.

This season he has barely featured for the Merseyside-based club, and it seems he has had a change of heart over a move to Italy’s most successful club.

Javier Mascherano Nears Liverpool Exit

Javier Mascherano looks set to leave Liverpool for Italy this summer, according to the player's agent.

Liverpool need to pay £17 million to sign the Argentina international on a permanent deal after the 23-year-old joined on a long-term loan from West Ham last season.

The club's American owners have as yet failed to agree to the deal with the current furore surrounding their own futures at Anfield taking centre stage.

The fee for Mascherano could be paid in installments, but with the January transfer window door nearing a close, the midfielder is edging closer to the exit door.

"Liverpool have not made any offer at all to buy Javier and it is likely that he will go to Italy next season," Mascherano's agent, Walter Tamer said.

Mascherano is eager to stay at Liverpool but if a deal cannot be finalised this month he is likely to become a summer target for Juventus and AC Milan.

His exit would also add to Liverpool's turbulent season which has been hampered by the uncertainty concerning manager Rafa Benitez's future.

The club's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have been caught up in a transfer row with Benitez and suggested that the Spaniard needs to sell some of his squad players before adding to it.

Benitez has made two signings this month, the £6.5m recruit of defender Martin Skrtel from Zenit St Petersburg, while 16-year-old Alex Cooper has joined from Ross County for £100,000.

Hicks Secures £350m Funds For Liverpool

Tom Hicks will strike a blow for his troubled Liverpool reign by announcing a £350million refinancing deal and unveiling detailed plans for a new stadium at nearby Stanley Park.

After weeks of uncertainty over whether the new funds could be secured and with the deadline for repaying an initial loan for the purchase of the club only a fortnight away, Hicks is convinced he is in a position to confirm a key breakthrough for himself and co-owner George Gillett.

Under the deal, around £190m will be taken on by Kop Investment, the holding company set up by Hicks and Gillett immediately after last year's takeover, rather than the whole amount being added to Liverpool's debt.

The Americans agreed to the split after being lobbied by former chairman David Moores and chief executive Rick Parry, who were anxious to prevent such a burden being placed on club finances.

Their stance was a key reason for completion of the restructuring arrangement taking so long, but the go-ahead from the Royal Bank of Scotland and U.S. investment bank Wachovia is imminent.

While Hicks and Gillett hope the latest development will underline their determination to retain control, there was a further setback for Rafa Benitez ahead of Saturday's FA Cup fourth round tie with Havant and Waterlooville.

Already reeling from a fourth Barclays Premier League draw in a row, the Liverpool manager has had to add striker Andriy Voronin and defender Alvaro Arbeloa to a lengthening injury list.

Voronin twisted an ankle in training on Wednesday while Arbeloa is facing three weeks on the sidelines after suffering an abdominal strain in Monday's2-2drawwith Aston Villa.

There are also fears that centre back Daniel Agger may not play again this season after heading to Spain for treatment on a persistent metatarsal problem.

Xabi Alonso Falls In Love With Magic Of The FA Cup

Xabi Alonso is fascinated by the fact that a club like Liverpool can face a non-league side in the FA Cup.

Back home in Spain, he says, Havant and Waterlooville would never have their moment in the sun.

“You can only play teams up to two divisions below you,” said the midfielder as the Blue Square South side prepared to visit Anfield in the fourth round on Saturday.

“But this is all part of the glamour and the prestige that the FA Cup has. This is why it is so interesting.

“It is the oldest football competition in history and it means so much to the supporters in this country.

“Every supporter, whether they follow a big or a small club, knows their team will be in it and that is important.”

Liverpool needed a replay before they were able to overcome League One Luton and Alonso insists Havant will be treated with respect.

He told “Hopefully we’ll see some goals but before you score you have to take it step by step.

“You saw against Luton that it took a while to get the first goal. It was longer than expected.

“By reaching this round they deserve as much respect as we gave Aston Villa.

“It’s going to be a dream come true for some of them and it will be interesting.”

Alonso added: “Rafa Benitez always tells us about the opposition players and he won’t change that this time.

“He will briefly show us about the way they play and the players they have.”

Luis Fabiano Linked With Move To Liverpool FC

Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano could be on his way to the Premier League with the Brazil international claiming negotiations with an English club are at an “advanced” stage.

Although he did not name which club he is in talks with, Spanish media have been reporting that Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton are among those interested in signing the in-form hitman.

Luis Fabiano, who is the joint-leading goalscorer in La Liga this season with 13, reportedly told the Brazilian media that the possibility of moving to England was a “great opportunity” for him.

“It is very difficult for me to remain in Sevilla. The negotiations for me to go to England are very advanced. It is my great opportunity,” said the 27-year-old, who joined Sevilla from Porto in 2005.

“I am very happy at Sevilla and in Seville, who are a club and a city which I like very much. But it is my great opportunity and I will do what I think is most appropriate for me.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Crouch: Just Finishing Fourth Is Going To Be A Fight For Liverpool

Peter Crouch underlined the extent of Liverpool's disarray yesterday by admitting they had a fight on their hands to qualify for next season's Champions League — let alone the Barclays Premier League title.

Liverpool's recent decline may not have been as pronounced as the nosedive on the world's financial markets that appeared to leave a question mark over Tom Hicks and George Gillett's hopes of pulling off a £350million refinancing deal.

Despite misgivings over another credit squeeze in America, though, the American owners remain confident of securing the rescue package in time to meet the early-February deadline for repaying loans.

Crouch, however, is more concerned with falling returns on the pitch that have forced Rafa Benitez's players to lower their sights and concentrate on salvaging fourth place.

Four successive draws in the League have left them 14 points behind leaders Manchester United and Jamie Carragher has already accepted that top spot has eluded them for another year.

But Crouch paints an even bleaker picture. The England striker said: 'First and foremost, we have to cement a Champions League spot. That is the minimum we have to strive for, but it is clear we are going to have to do better after the disappointments of the past few weeks.

'For a club like ours, with the sort of squad we've got, it is nothing like good enough. At the start of the season, we all felt we could mount a serious bid for the title, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen now.'

Milan Giants For Javier Duel?

Inter and Milan could do battle for Argentine ace Javier Mascherano after his agent revealed that Liverpool haven’t made a bid to keep him.

Mascherano joined the Reds on a long-term loan from West Ham last summer but Liverpool have been told they will need to pay around £17m to keep him.

While a deal in instalments could be arranged, the club’s owners seem to have other issues to deal with and have no agreement in place, leaving Mascherano looking for a new team.

“Liverpool haven’t made any offer at all for Javier and it is likely that he will move to Italy next season,” agent Walter Tamer stated.

Juventus had been favourites to table a summer bid for Mascherano, but the Old Lady have turned their attentions to Mohamed Sissoko, who is expected to join the Bianconeri within the next week.

Inter and Milan are reportedly watching the situation with interest and there may be some kind of bidding war between the two rivals.

While neither side will be keen to shell out £17m, Mascherano could become an alternative to Ronaldinho, should the Brazilian star decide to remain at Barcelona.

Reds Refinancing Deal 'Close'

Liverpool's co-owners are still hoping to finally seal a refinancing deal on Thursday, according to the Liverpool Echo.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett are attempting to restructure the loan agreement with the banks that helped them buy the club last March.

And after reports surfaced that the refinancing deal had hit the buffers, sources close to Hicks have told the paper: "Tom is in no doubt that the going through and he is looking forward to revealing the new stadium design which is every bit as spectacular as promised.

"There are a few minor glitches to be ironed out but nothing major - it's pretty much just standard procedure for a deal on this scale."

The Echo reports the deal will see the club take on £105million of debt with Kop Investment, the holding company set up by Hicks and Gillett in the immediate aftermath of last year's takeover, taking on £190million and the American duo putting up £55million of their own money.

Sissoko Hopes To Seal Juventus Move

Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko hopes his move to Juventus will be sealed by the end of this week.

The Serie A outfit hope to acquire the 23-year-old, who was signed by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez from Valencia in the summer of 2005 for a reported 8million euros (£6million).

"It's a matter of a few days," Sissoko told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Three days, a maximum of four, and then everything will be decided. I know there has been some movement but we have to wait."

The Mali international is currently with his national team at the African Nations Cup.

"I confess that wearing the Juventus shirt would be the maximum for me," he said.

"I have been a Juve fan since I was a child because when I was young I was fixated with (Zinedine) Zidane. Then, having followed this team, I have become a fan of (Juve captain Alessandro) Del Piero, a great player."

Sissoko would also like to work again under coach Claudio Ranieri, his boss in Spain.

"I've known Ranieri since my time at Valencia," said Sissoko. "I did really well with him."

Sissoko has struggled to keep a regular starting place at Anfield and wants to have more playing time.

"My reason is a very simple one, I am young and I want to play," he said.

"In Liverpool, I'm not playing.

"But I will also be grateful to Benitez for what he has given me. But in football, things change."

Terry: Carragher World's Best Defender

John Terry has shocked Chelsea fans by admitting that Liverpool's Jamie Carragher is the best defender in the world.

Asked who he thought was the best defender in world football, Chelsea captain John Terry produced a surprising answer: Liverpool's Jamie Carragher.

The pair have often been viewed as very similar players, both showing a willingness to be brave and throw themselves into last ditch tackles.

Both defensive rocks for their clubs, Terry has gone on to take the captain's armband for England while Carragher was overlooked by Steve McClaren in favour of the likes of Wes Brown, Ledley King and Sol Campbell.

The Anfield favourite decided to call it quits at international level, but Terry thinks it's a shame that Carragher was never given a real chance to make his mark as an England centre-back.

"I personally think that over the last four or five years he has been the best defender in the world,” said the Chelsea skipper.

"He has everything you need to be a world class defender and you also have to look at what he's achieved in the Champions League with Liverpool.

He's been consistent in The Premier League, he's never injured, he always gives one hundred per cent, he's a good reader of the game, he's quick and is good in the air,” Terry continued.

"For a centre half he's also great on the ground as well. He knows when to get the ball away, when to clear his lines. He also never stops talking to his team-mates and that's a great thing to have. Even when you watch games on the television it's always his voice you can hear."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alan Hansen's View

The next two or three weeks will be critical in the history of Liverpool Football Club.

Speculation over whether owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are committed to Liverpool or will sell the club to Dubai International Capital has reached fever pitch.

But whether the owners are Hicks and Gillett or DIC, it is vital that Liverpool are able to build a new stadium and still have funds to go into the transfer market.

Otherwise they will not be able to compete with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

And that is exactly what is concerning the supporters, the players, the ex-players and anyone connected with Liverpool.

Should Liverpool stall now, it would be so counter-productive for the future of the club.

It is essential that a new stadium is built in the near future. At the moment Liverpool have attendances of about 44,000 at Anfield and they cannot compete with Manchester United, who pack in about 76,000 at Old Trafford.

However, the worrying thing is, if Liverpool's new stadium is going to be financed by debt, which could mean cash flow is stifled and new players cannot be brought in.

Liverpool fans want to know that is not going to happen.

The club did really well in the 1970s and 80s because they were successful on the pitch, the punters turned up en masse, the club made money and invested in better players.

That in turn brought more success... and so the cycle went on.

Although there has not been a Liverpool manager since then who has not had any money to spend, perhaps they have not had quite enough.

You have to put total faith in your manager, if you feel he is the man to take you forward, and back him with money. And to be successful in the modern game requires lots and lots of money. It is a simple as that.

Gillett and Hicks could defend themselves by saying they have given Rafael Benitez money to spend on new players.

Fernando Torres came in at the start of the season at a cost of £23m, and Benitez laid out £45-50m in total during the close season - although some money was recouped through players leaving.

But at the moment, the fact remains that Liverpool are a bit short of where they want to be.

I have met Gillett and he is a very, very affable character. I had dinner with him in July and he was so enthusiastic about Liverpool that I was really impressed.

But after all that has gone on, with the approach to Jurgen Klinsmann to replace Benitez and doubts about the American owners' long-term commitment to Liverpool, he and Hicks need to clear the air and be seen at Anfield.

They must make it absolutely clear that they are in it for the long term, if that is the case. If they are not in it for the long term, and they receive a reasonable offer from DIC, then they should sell up.

Especially if DIC can guarantee that it can make funds available for a new stadium and also provide funds for new players.

The vast of majority of people will want what is best for Liverpool - whether that is Gillett and Hicks or DIC remains to be seen.

But it is imperative that the ownership situation is sorted out quickly, one way or another. It must not be allowed to drag on.

Juventus Still Interested In Sissoko

Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri is hoping to resurrect a move for Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko.

Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli revealed last week the club would not make any signings in the January transfer window - negating Sissoko's statement that he was "very close" to securing a move to the Bianconeri.

But Ranieri still hopes to be reunited with the Mali international after working with him at Valencia, saying on radio programme Anch'io lo Sport: "Sissoko could arrive. He is another piece of the jigsaw to add to my team."

Sissoko joined Liverpool in the summer of 2005 but has struggled to hold down a starting place and Rafael Benitez has confirmed the 22-year-old can leave if the right offer comes in.

One player who could make way for Sissoko is Tiago - who Ranieri shelled out £10million for in the summer.

The Portugal midfielder has started just four games for Juve since moving from Lyon, and Ranieri admits he is at a loss as to why the 26-year-old has failed to make an impact at the Stadio Olimpico.

"Certainly, people were expecting something more from certain players - that's undeniable," added Ranieri.

"But being unable to fulfil expectations is something that can happen when you pull on the Juventus shirt.

"Tiago? He is my biggest worry, he has class and he doesn't lack anything to do well. I'm very concerned by it."

Benitez Under Pressure Now

Liverpool's 2-2 home draw with Aston Villa has put manager Rafa Benitez's future with the club in further jeopardy and William Hill now offer 11/10 that he will be gone before the end of the season.

The Spaniard watched his side blow a lead at home once again and it could have been even worse if Peter Crouch had not struck with two minutes to go for a share of the spoils.

Hills make Benitez 4/6 to keep his job at least until the end of the current campaign.

The firm now offer 1/ 2 that Liverpool will finish in the top four at the end of the season and 6/4 that they will not while they are now 50/1 chances to claim the Premier League title.

Manchester United are the current 8/15 favourites with Arsenal 5/2 and Chelsea 11/2.

Gerrard: Off-field Drama Affecting Us

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard made it abundantly clear after Monday's game against Aston Villa that the uncertainty at the club is affecting players.

Liverpool were held to their sixth draw in eleven home games in a game they could well have lost as Aston Villa came from behind to surge ahead 2-1.

In the end, it took a late goal from Peter Crouch to save face at Anfield, and skipper Steven Gerrard vented his frustration at the off field antics following the final whistle.

Asked if the uncertainty surrounding the future of Rafa Benitez, and indeed the club's owners, was affecting the team, he said: "Of course it is affecting us."

“It’s not just this week, it’s been going on for some time now,” he rapped.

“It’s certainly not helping the players, I’ve got to be careful about what I say on the situation.

"We know what the situation is, what is going on. Yes we try to get onto the pitch and play, and not let is affect us, but it is at the back of our minds."

“But it’s certainly not helping the team.

“We know what’s going on; as players you try to do your job on the pitch and put it to the back of your mind but sometimes it’s impossible when it’s every day.”

Most certainly words that will grab the headlines of Tuesday's newspapers!

Speaking of the game itself, he said: “Credit to Villa. They deserve their point today.

“We should have won but we should be winning every game at Anfield, particularly with the players and the squad we’ve got, we should be winning all our home games.

“It’s certainly not good enough. We’ll keep going, it’s not over until it’s over, but it’s certainly not good enough.”

LiverpooL 2 - 2 Aston Villa

Peter Crouch rescued a Barclays Premier League point for Liverpool with a late goal at Anfield on Monday.

Crouch hooked in right footed from 10 yards in the the 88th minute to avert a disastrous result for under-fire manager Rafael Benitez.

Yossi Benayoun gave the Reds a first-half lead but Marlon Harewood and a Fabio Aurelio own goal threatened to win it for Villa.

Although Crouch levelled - against his former team - Liverpool are now 14 points behind Manchester United and Arsenal.

Benitez fielded arguably his strongest side against Aston Villa - one of the club's main contenders for fourth spot - in a match which had plenty at stake.

There were six changes from the side that beat Luton in the FA Cup last week. Javier Mascherano was back in central midfield, Jose Reina returned in goal and new signing Martin Skrtel was on the bench.

Aston Villa were without the influential Gareth Barry - the England man missed out with a pelvic injury.

Olof Mellberg returned, while Scott Carson was ineligible under the terms of his loan from Liverpool. Stuart Taylor took his place.

As expected there was a high-profile display of support for Benitez from the Kop.

The fans were struggling to focus on the match itself. But they needed too, and fast.

Villa were quick on the break, attacking down the right, and with Gabriel Agbonlahor a constant threat.

Dirk Kuyt's cross presented Benayoun with a volleyed chance that flew over, and Craig Gardner charged down a Harry Kewell drive.

And Liverpool took the lead after 19 minutes. Steven Gerrard and Kuyt set up the close-range chance for Benayoun to net at the second attempt from six yards.

Villa hit back with accurate, long balls for Agbonlahor and Ashley Young - but Liverpool almost snatched a second goal in the 31st minute.

Again it was the impressive Gerrard, aided by Kuyt, who set up Fernando Torres from 15 yards - but the striker put his effort wide.

John Carew, playing deep, caused plenty of problems with his flick-ons, but Liverpool were defending well, and the ball was quickly shifted to Gerrard, who was dominating the midfield.

Watching Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini, who will face Liverpool in the Champions League in March, will have seen plenty to concern him in Gerrard's overall play.

Curtis Davies sliced wide of his own goal soon into the second half, before Kuyt wasted a great chance to put Liverpool further ahead.

Mascherano and Gerrard surged up field, exchanging passes, before the ball was laid into Kuyt's path, invitingly, on the right. But the Dutch striker skewed his effort into the Kop.

Torres almost got clear, Taylor saving at his feet, before the Spaniard turned on the edge of the box to fire inches over.

Liverpool were now producing their best spell of the game. Strong in the tackle, supporting and attacking with pace. Alvaro Arbeloa saw one clever chip clear the bar after more impressive play by Mascherano and Gerrard.

To their credit, Villa withstood this pressure and with 24 minutes left sent on striker Harewood for Gardner. His first involvement was a run and cross to set up Carew for an effort saved by Reina.

Arbeloa was booked for a foul on Stiliyan Petrov after 68 minutes, and from the free-kick, Villa were level. Martin Laursen headed the ball back across goal for Harewood to flick into the net.

Liverpool sent on Skrtel for Arbeloa, before Mascherano was booked for a foul on Young.

Villa launched another attack and were ahead when Mellberg's effort from the right was deflected into goal by Fabio Aurelio.

But Crouch averted a disastrous result for Benitez when he hooked in right footed from 10 yards after Laursen had failed to clear.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs Aston Villa

Liverpool have been more miss than hit in front of their own fans this season but when they do win at Anfield it is usually in style.

It begs the question which Liverpool will turn up against Aston Villa on Monday night?

Looking at their home form in the Premier League Liverpool have won four out of 10 games - a dreadful win ratio for a team that won 14 out of 19 last campaign.

In those four victories they have won 6-0, 4-0, 4-1 and 2-0, suggesting that if they do get some breathing space they go on to put the result beyond doubt.

The trouble with Liverpool hasn't been getting the breakthrough. Only twice have they failed to score at home - in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United and the 0-0 draw with Birmingham.

Their problem has been getting the killer second goal. Rafa Benitez's team led 1-0 against Arsenal, Chelsea and Wigan but all three games ended 1-1.

With Villa in town, there are plenty of reasons to think Liverpool will struggle to get the win again.

The obvious statistic to take note of is that Liverpool have drawn five out of 10 at home while Villa have drawn five out of 10 away.

Liverpool's inability to finish off games will also hearten an Aston Villa side who haven't done too badly at Anfield in recent years.

Okay they have lost on their last four visits, but between 2000-2003 Villa won twice and drew twice in league visits to Anfield.

Confidence increases in Villa when you consider they have lost just once on the road this season - and that was a 1-0 reverse at Manchester City who remain unbeaten at Eastlands.

On top of this Villa are also no strangers at coming from behind to get a result on their travels.

Villa fell a goal behind at Bolton, Sunderland, Chelsea and Wigan but managed to get results and though they were 4-1 up in the 4-4 draw at Tottenham they were originally 1-0 down.

Obviously losing a goal doesn't dent their confidence.

11/4 about a draw in the outright market is big enough for us to get involved while it is hard to resist a spectaculative punt on Liverpool-draw in the half-time/full-time market given Coral offer 18/1.

Verdict: Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 1

Match preview courtesy of By Ben Linfoot of

Rafa Aiming To Cut Gap

Rafa Benitez has urged his Liverpool side to focus on catching the top three in the Premier League.

Liverpool have slipped out of the top four and appear to be in a race with Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester City for the final UEFA Champions League place.

The Reds face Villa on Monday evening and Benitez believes it is time for his team to prove they are still a force to be reckoned with.

"Villa are closer to us now, as are Everton and Manchester City, so we know we cannot make any mistakes," said the Spaniard.

"The next target is to beat Aston Villa, then to beat West Ham and then the same against Sunderland. These are our next three league games.

"Then we go to Chelsea. That game will be the key; our targets must be short-term ones to win these games before we go to Stamford Bridge.

"Three wins and a cup win also on Saturday against Havant and Waterlooville, that is our immediate aim.

"The real key now is that if we want to reduce the gap at the top we must win the away games at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

"Normally our performances in such games are not the best but if we really want to change something, the way the season is going, we must go into these away games with the teams above us knowing we still have a chance.

Liverpool's cause was not helped by victories for the top three on Saturday, with leaders Manchester United now 15 points clear and third-placed Chelsea 11 ahead.

Benitez said: "We are not thinking about the gap, we can see it. To change it we must win games in a row rather than to keep looking at the table and worrying.

"The problem for us this season has been the expectation. We were told we were spending big money and can be contenders but if you look at the last 10 years, the difference between Liverpool and the top has frequently been around 20 points.

"We need to gain some points now and see what situation we are in when we go to Chelsea next month."

Relief for Rafael Benitez

Speculation continued on Sunday morning in the newspapers about the future of Liverpool Football Club amid rumours that a Dubai-based group was prepared to launch another bid to the buy the club from American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

Dubai Investment Capital (DIC), the company beaten to the purchase of Liverpool by Hicks and Gillett are reported to be back in town with a £500m bid for the club.

Not only might this bid appeal to the Americans, rumoured to be increasingly concerned about their needs to refinance the debt they took on to buy the club in order to continue plans to build a new stadium, it might also appeal to the manager, Rafael Benitez.

The relationship between the Americans and the Spaniard have been publicly shown to be strained but if the Gillett and Hicks are leaving Liverpool, the Benitez's long term future at the club could be secure once again, with the Arabs keen to keep Benitez on board.

That was the argument Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star on Sunday made on the Sunday Supplement this week that Sunday morning's headlines will have pleased Benitez.

"It has got to be good news for him," said Hetherington, "because his relationship with the American owners is fraught to say the least.

"Gillett and Hicks don't understand the way that football works and the Jurgen Klinsmann situation was an example of that. I am not saying that clubs don't go around tapping up managers to replace the guy that they have got if they don't want him but they don't come out and admit it publicly.

"You can admire their honesty, they haven't told a lie, they haven't ducked. They have done it the American way, they Americans like being up front and bold about things. That's obviously the way they see things being done and should be done but it is not the way things are done in English football.

"It is good news for Benitez and I am certain that he will be delighted. DIC looked like taking control of the club before the Americans seemed to come from nowhere to pip them, and it has to be good news for Benitez if there is a changed of ownership.

"He is aware of what they (Gillett and Hicks) have been doing, they have been playing games and he has wanted to get his message across."

Liverpool Fans Crave Dubai Ending To Nightmare

Liverpool fans planning what is likely to be the first in a series of anti-American protests at Anfield tonight are in no doubt. Having seen their bid dramatically trumped by Tom Hicks and George Gillett last year, Dubai International Capital are the only solution to a crisis distinctly out of keeping with the club's dignified and illustrious history.

At the same time as angry supporters were bombarding Hicks's New York-based public relations advisers, Kekst, with abusive emails last week, desperate electronic missives were being sent to DIC's Dubai offices urging the country's fabulously rich ruling al-Maktoum family to launch a rescue bid for Liverpool.

That bid, which could be worth around £350 million, remains on hold today following a refusal from Hicks to allow DIC access to talk to his bankers, Royal Bank of Scotland.

Hicks wants to wait until after a £350 million refinancing is concluded in the next few days, believing that he will then be able to ask DIC for more money.

But DIC are anxious to strike immediately, fearing the financial position of the club will only worsen if the refinancing goes through. In addition to around £25 million of 'rolled up' interest, the refinancing is set to cost £15 million in fees to the banks, RBS and Wachovia. DIC are likely to reduce the value of their offer to Hicks and Gillett in order to ensure that no more money is wasted. Another £20 million is thought to have been spent on fees to architects for the delayed new £400 million stadium at Stanley Park.

Despite threats that they will walk away if the refinancing goes through, DIC remain committed to buying Liverpool. That will be welcomed by supporters who, according to one online poll last week, overwhelmingly want to see Hicks and Gillett replaced by DIC. Just one per cent want to see the Americans remain in charge while 83 per cent want to see DIC take over.

But would DIC necessarily be the answer? In terms of financial muscle there can be no question that they are far more powerful.Although DIC chief executive Samir Al Ansari, a lifelong Liverpool supporter, will want to run the club along proper commercial lines, he is backed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and will be able to call on tens of billions of pounds. Crucially, with the stadium plans on hold, DIC will be able to dodge the global credit crunch by borrowing from Dubai state funds at lower interest rates.

Gillett, the owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, was never likely to be the sort of super-rich chairman Liverpool needed. That is why, as DIC stalled over the deal last December, he brought in Hicks to help him secure the club. Hicks, one of the pioneers of leveraged takeovers in the United States, has a wealth estimated at $1.3 billion (£665 million), according to last year's Forbes magazine 'Rich List'. But the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers owner has been hit hard by the credit crunch.

There is also a question of will. Hicks and Gillett only put up £7.5 million each to secure the costly loans taken out with RBS last year to buy the club in a £220 million deal. And the new refinancing deal has stalled largely because of the Americans' attempt to load that debt on to the club's books and their reluctance to put up more of their own cash.

DIC sources, on the other hand, insist they have a true and long-term commitment to Liverpool - despite leaks of a sensitive City document last year which set out how they could reap a 25 per cent profit if they sold out by 2012. DIC sources insist there was never any intention to sell the club on so quickly.

In the absence of any serious rival bidder, DIC are seen as the only way of ending what has turned from an American dream into a nightmare.