Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sissoko Now Ranieri’s Number One Target

Momo Sissoko is now Juventus boss Claudio Ranieri’s number one January transfer target, following the likely failure to sign Boca Juniors’ Ever Banega.

The Bianconeri are widely known to be in the market for a top-class centre midfielder and their bid to sign Banega seems to have failed, with Spanish giants Valencia set to tie up a deal over the next week or so.

Mali midfielder Sissoko is unhappy at his lack of playing time at Liverpool, as he currently finds himself behind Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in the centre-midfield pecking order.

Ranieri is a huge admirer of the player, having worked with him at Valencia in 2004/05, and sees him as the “new Patrick Vieira”.

According to the Corriere dello Sport, Ranieri will now do everything in his power to bring Sissoko to the club when the transfer window re-opens at midnight.

He may even be prepared to include defender Jonathan Zebina in a player exchange deal, an offer that Liverpool are likely to consider, given their previous interest in the Frenchman.

Ranieri and Zebina are not on the best of terms following the 29-year-old’s sending off against Cagliari in week two, when he received a long suspension for then slapping a cameraman as he walked off the pitch.

Liverpool Boss Rafa Heads Race For Reinforcements As Window Opens

Rafael Benitez is plotting a transfer splash when the January window opens tonight after Liverpool slipped 10 points off the Barclays Premier League title pace.

Experts predict that spending will top the record £70million January outlay by Premiership clubs in 2006 - and Benitez cannot afford to be left standing with Manchester United planning a £10m raid for FC Porto's right back Jose Bosingwa.

Sunday's goalless draw at Manchester City left Liverpool trailing leaders Arsenal by 10 points and Benitez will risk his uneasy relationship with the club's American owners by asking them to bankroll his attempts to revive their faltering title challenge.

But he will not be the only one chasing new blood. United are being linked with two full backs while neighbours City will also spend heavily.

United's defensive targets are Bosingwa and Lokomotiv Moscow left back Branislav Ivanovic, who is also wanted by Chelsea.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are facing a battle to hang on to Dimitar Berbatov, even though chairman Daniel Levy insisted yesterday that they would fight to hang on to their top players.

The main target is Bulgaria striker Berbatov, who scored four goals in Saturday's 6-4 win over Reading.

Levy said: "Once again for the record, we are not a selling club. We're building for the future."

But Berbatov's agent Emile Dantchev confirmed interest from one Premier League club - thought to be Manchester United - and two others abroad, warning: "Fans must understand that Dimitar is 27 next month and time is running out for him to play for a club that can match his ambition. I would like to stress this is not about money.

"This is about sporting ambition. Dimitar is perfectly happy with Juande Ramos and the way he is working. But after Tottenham's bad start, it is unlikely they'll have a chance to do something big this season.

"It is a long-term plan for them. Dimitar wants to fulfil his potential and win trophies now. He would definitely consider a move outside of England. That is not the issue. What matters is it is a club that matches his ambition and level and there are only five or six around Europe.

"Two clubs outside of England and one in the Premier League are interested in him."

At Anfield, while Benitez may have fallen out with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over transfer strategy, there was no doubting the Spaniard's intent as he looked forward to the window opening.

"We are working very hard on some things and we are doing our best," said the Spaniard after the 0-0 draw at Eastlands. "We are speaking to people and I am trying to make things better for now and also for the future. We are confident that we can sign the right players at the right price."

United have stepped up their search for Gary Neville's long-term replacement by targeting Bosingwa, Portugal's first-choice right back.

Ivanovic is favourite to fill the other problem position at left back, while United may also move for Porto centre back Bruno Alves.

Kewell Puts Off Thoughts Of New Contract

Harry Kewell is not even thinking about a new contract as he tries to claim a regular place in the Liverpool side.

The Australian midfielder, whose contract runs out in the summer, has suffered four years of injury problems at Anfield. From the new year he would be free to discuss his future with other clubs.

But after figuring in 11 of Liverpool's last 14 matches, it is clear that boss Rafael Benitez is giving Kewell every chance to prove his worth and win a new deal.

Benitez is currently trying to bolster his defence, and after Sunday's 0-0 draw at Manchester City he made it clear he was trying to bring in a young centre-back due to the injury problems of Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger.

Chief executive Rick Parry insists there is money to spend, despite the very public fall-out between Benitez and the club's American owners, but it is unlikely the Spanish manager will have anything but a limited amount to spend in this transfer window.

Parry said: "Money is always available if we need it. We are not going to give our plans away, but if we need to do something, we will do it."

Alvaro Arbeloa is expected to continue in central defence against Wigan on Wednesday, with Hyypia (ankle) and Agger (broken metatarsal) still unlikely to be fit, while youngster Jack Hobbs is unlikely to be risked against the potential return of Emile Heskey.

And Kewell will also hope to get a further run in the side for Anfield's first game of 2008.

Kewell, in a Liverpool FC magazine interview, explained his attitude to the next few months.

He said: "The last four years have been hellish with one injury after another.

"But I can't even think about a new contract. That is what people have been talking about and saying about me, but I will tell the truth so the fans know the truth.

"And that is why I haven't honestly thought about it. I can't think about it at the moment.

"With my injury history and my record over the last two seasons, games and goals wise, I can look no further than the next match.

"That is all I am prepared to do. Take one training session at a time and do my best and give my all every time."

Kewell, who has been hit by a succession of groin problems, added: "Given my Liverpool career, and the way it has gone, all I want to do is take the chance that the manager is giving me.

"I want to repay him for that, and the boys who have helped me through, for sticking with me and not giving up.

"You don't want to know what I have been through in four years, with injury after injury. The places I've been mentally during all those times, it has been pretty dark."

Liverpool will have Peter Crouch back from his three-match suspension to be in contention against Wigan, the side he broke his goalless run against last year.

Sven Targets Crouch In January Sales

Liverpool’s out-of-sorts striker Peter Crouch is widely touted to become the first man to be bought in by Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in the January transfer window.

The Swede has overseen a complete overhaul of City’s on-field fortunes, leading them to fourth in the league and raising expectations to previously unthinkable levels.

And now the former England manager wants to maintain the club’s hike up the football ladder by persuading billionaire owner Dr Thaksin Shinawatra to part with some more of his cash.

After his team’s hard-fought draw against Liverpool Eriksson admitted that he was definitely on the hunt for new faces, but refused to reveal any names.

However, intense speculation from all corners suggests Crouch has already been approached by City representative after being given the green-light by Reds manager Rafael Benitez.

Eriksson has already paid-up around £3m for a loan-deal with a view to buy on Nery Castillo, and is thought to see Crouch as the ideal partner for the quick Mexican international.

"Castillo has happened and there will be something more", said Eriksson.

"The players we are talking about are big ones and cost a lot of money."

A deal for Crouch hasn’t not been officially ruled out by Benitez, who needs the extra money to buy his intended targets after a misunderstanding with his American bosses on the amount of money available to him for January transfers.