Thursday, January 17, 2008

Riise Firmly Behind Rafa

Liverpool star John Arne Riise has expressed his disappointment at the treatment being dished out on Rafa Benitez by the club's increasingly unpopular American owners.

The Spanish manager’s already tenuous relationship with his bosses was further fractured by the curious decision by Reds co-owner Tom Hicks to reveal that he had lined up Jürgen Klinsmann as a replacement back in November. Whatever the motivation behind the admission, it has only served to undermine Benitez publicly, as well as to rally the fans and players even more strongly behind their manager.

"It is sad that he (Benitez) has to experience what he has right now." said Riise. "The only way we can help him is by getting good results, to give him more confidence (from the owners)."

Benitez also would have been pleased and proud to receive the vociferous backing of an Anfield full house during the FA Cup third-round replay on Tuesday, as his name rang out before during and even a few minutes after the 5-0 demolition job.

The former Valencia coach's position at Liverpool has been the focal point of intense speculation over the last few months after his much-publicised row with the American owners over the club's transfer policy. It is now increasingly evident that clear-the-air talks held in December only resulted in temporarily sweeping the problem under the carpet.

Carragher Doubts Pool's Title Chances

Liverpool thrashed lowly Luton 5-0 in their FA Cup third round replay to seal their first win in five. Nevertheless, captain on the night Jamie Carragher has admitted that his side are out of this season's league title race.

Liverpool are way off the pace in the league after a succession of draws and many of the Anfield faithful are disillusioned following manager Rafael Benitez's heavy spending in the summer transfer window and the club's subsequent failure to progress.

Benitez's future has been cast in doubt in the past few weeks for various reasons, and matters on the field are equally unpredictable.

Carragher, who was made captain for the Luton game in honour of his 500th appearance for the club, was honest in his assessment of the Reds' title chances.

He said: "Only time will tell. I haven't got a clue."

Though behind his manager, there was a subtle jibe that he, like many of the fans, would prefer domestic success in the league to cup runs in Europe, as has been Benitez's priority during his Anfield tenure.

"It doesn't look like it is going to be this season," he admitted. "He [Benitez] has done very well but the league is the one we want."

"[It] would be lovely [to win the title] before I finish of course."

Carragher refused to excuse Liverpool's ability to keep pace due to lack of transfer funds.

"It makes it more difficult, the spending power of other clubs, but you only have to look at Arsenal – they don't spend the big money and they have won a lot under Arsène Wenger," he mused.

As is his style on the pitch, he remained defiant and determined that the side would fight in all competitions until the last day of the season.

"We are not stupid, you never throw the towel in but for us to get back into contention for the title we would have to have an unbelievable second half to the season and the rest would have to have an unbelievably bad second half," he declared. "We realise our best chance of silverware is the cup competitions. That's why they are so important."

Liverpool are fourth in the Barclays Premier League, 12 points off leaders Manchester United.

Prandelli Lined Up As Benitez’s Successor?

Cesare Prandelli has sparked speculation that he could be set to succeed Rafa Benitez as manager of Liverpool.

It is widely expected that Benitez will not be on the Liverpool bench at the start of next season due to his frosty relationship with the club’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Hicks recently revealed that they had approached Jurgen Klinsmann about possibly replacing Benitez if the Spaniard left.

"We attempted to negotiate an option as an insurance policy to have him [Klinsmann] become manager if Rafael left for Real Madrid or other clubs that were rumoured in the press - or in case our communication spiralled out of control for some reason," Hicks said.

Fiorentina boss Cesare Prandelli, who is one of Italy’s best coaches, was asked about the possibility of him taking over at Liverpool, to which he replied: "In football never say never."

Prandelli is preparing his side for this evening’s Coppa Italia second leg tie against Ascoli in Florence. The scores are 1-1 from the first leg.

“We want to win tonight against Ascoli and get through first of all,” Prandelli explained to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“We can go far in this competition. I will play players who haven’t had much of a run recently and hope that they will make my future selections tough for me. Anyone who is picked will demonstrate what it means to be a Fiorentina player.”

Havant Heading To Anfield

Non-league Havant & Waterlooville booked a dream trip to Anfield after shocking League One leaders Swansea in their FA Cup third-round replay.

In an action packed game, the Blue Square South side stormed into a three-goal lead through Garry Monk's own goal and strikes from Jamie Collins and Rocky Baptiste.

Swansea hit back through Guillem Bauza and Jason Scotland but it was Tom Jordan who sealed a fourth-round clash with Liverpool on 65 minutes.

The Hawks were ahead after just four minutes when Mo Harkin's curling cross was headed past his own goalkeeper by Monk.

And Havant grabbed a second on 25 minutes when an unmarked Collins poked home Brett Poate's corner.

Incredibly on 37 minutes Baptiste made it three after tapping in from Richard Pacquette's cross-shot.

Bauza pulled one back straight away with a brilliant 25-yard strike before Leon Britton saw his penalty saved by Kevin Scriven after Bauza had been brought down in the area.

The drama did not let up in the second half with Scotland tapping in after Bauza hit the post.

But despite Swansea piling on the pressure, Jordan grabbed the decisive fourth when he headed in Poate's cross.

Roberto Martinez's side struck the woodwork through Thomas Butler and Britton but it was Havant's night.