Friday, March 07, 2008

Torres Is So Good He's Frightening - Gerrard

Fernando Torres has put the fear factor back into Liverpool, says Steven Gerrard.

The Spanish striker scored a hat-trick for the second successive home match in midweek, and now has an unprecedented treble in his sights against Newcastle tomorrow.

It was his third hat-trick of the season – the last Reds star to achieve that feat was Michael Owen in 2002/03, who will line up against Torres – and now he is aiming to become the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush in November 1982 to score a hat-trick in successive games.

Gerrard declared: “Fernando is frightening. From the opening home game of the season against Chelsea when he scored a cracker, he has been consistent all the way.

“He got off to a good start then and now he has hit 18 Premier League goals, the first person to do that here since Michael Owen. So hopefully he can continue like this to the end of the season.

“He has pace, power and is very direct but the most important thing for us is his work rate. He hasn’t come here as a star, he is chipping in with his work as well and when you get that from a player as well you cannot ask for much more.”

Gerrard, who took his own tally for the season to 18 in all competitions against West Ham, was delighted to see the Reds move back above Everton in the table.

“I know I called for an improvement recently and the way the performances have gone I am obviously pleased,” he added.

“We were all disappointed with the inconsistency at home but against West Ham we started to put that right.

“It was a good team performance, I said well done to all of them. But we have another big game tomorrow and must keep doing this to the end of the season.

“There is still a lot of pressure on us to get fourth place. This is now a massive month for us, it will be tough all the way.

“We have won the last three and if we can beat Newcastle on Saturday we will be able to focus on a huge game away to Inter Milan on Tuesday. That’s so important for us now.”

Liverpool Boss Benitez Finds An Unlikely Ally In United Striker Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney has come out in support of the rotation of players, the same system Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has been criticised for using.

The Liverpool boss has been pilloried for most of the season for his rotation policy, but now former Everton striker Rooney has admitted that United boss Sir Alex Ferguson does exactly the same and it works.

Benitez will be forgiven a wry smile at that, because he has long insisted in the face of fierce opposition that all top clubs rotate their players.

Benitez said on the subject: "When I change players it is rotation, when other managers do it, they call it resting people."

And now Rooney has come out in support of rotation, as it is revealed that Fergie has not named the same side for successive matches since August.

Despite an injury to Ryan Giggs, Ferguson was able to name Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez among the substitutes in midweek in the 2-1 aggregate victory over Lyon in the Champions League, with Cristiano Ronaldo's 30th goal of the season winning the second leg 1-0.

Rooney said in an interview on "Last season we had a lot of injuries and we had a few players who played a lot of games and they were tired.

"Now we have a big squad so hopefully the rotation policy will help us. I think we are a lot fresher.

"A lot of players have not played so many games this season. We brought players in, the squad is bigger and we have not really got any serious injuries at the moment."

After brushing aside Roma 7-1 in the Champions League last eight at Old Trafford last year, United ran out of steam against AC Milan in the semi-finals, a combination of fatigue and injuries taking their toll.

It is a situation Ferguson is clearly determined to avoid in a bid to keep his squad fresh.

While the defence is largely settled he rotates his midfield and attack, with summer arrivals Nani, Anderson and Tevez giving him plenty of options.

Ronaldo, now the Champions League's joint leading scorer with six goals, believes the side is "more mature" than last year and Ferguson's ability to keep a harmonious squad while ringing the changes backs that up.

For the record, Benitez is approaching 300 changes to his side, match by match, from the first day of the season.

He is now on 298 and will almost certainly top that on Saturday against Newcastle.

DIC Confident Of Closing Deal For Liverpool

Tom Hicks is expected in London early next week to discuss the future of Liverpool with Dubai International Capital, with indications that that American's stance has softened somewhat and that a deal to sell the club could be imminent.

The club’s co-owner has been in a stand-off with DIC all week over their attempts to buy Liverpool for £400 million. However, he is now believed to have assured Amanda Staveley, DIC’s chief negotiator in the UK, which he will be prepared to talk business at the same time as Liverpool will be in Italy preparing for their Champions League match with Inter Milan.

By the time Liverpool return from the San Siro, the future ownership of the club could be known - and a DIC source appeared confident that a deal could be in the offing, saying: “We are in the end zone.”

DIC is the financial arm of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and Staveley reports directly to him and chief executive Sameer al-Ansari - a lifelong Liverpool fan who has been the driving force behind two attempts to buy the club.

DIC have been encouraged today by claims that Hicks has agreed not to block the sale of his co-owner George Gillett’s 50 per cent holding.

Hicks has also intimated he is still not prepared to sell any of his stake - but DIC appear prepared to go with that suggestion, for now at least.

The source said: “To accommodate a deal, DIC, within reason, would accept certain agreements. It looks as if we are in the home straight. A deal involving both parties could be imminent.”

After a week of constant cross-Atlantic negotiations through Staveley, lawyers and accountants, DIC are confident they will eventually control Liverpool.

It is also believed that Gillett, who has wanted ’out’ for some while, is not willing to sell a small percentage of his stake to Hicks.

DIC dispatched a representative to Anfield last night to watch the Barclays Premier League match against West Ham from the Kop - where he was able to judge the mood of fans and hold general discussions with members of the ‘Spirit of Shankly’ group who have been campaigning for the end of the Americans’ rule at Anfield.

Fans chanted against the Americans before the game and at half-time, but not during the match or at the end.

Hicks Denies Gillett Talk

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has refuted claims he is open to George Gillett selling his stake in the club.

Reports had suggested Hicks would not stand in the way of Gillett selling his 50 per cent stake in the Anfield outfit.

Gillett is understood to be in negotiations with Dubai International Capital (DIC) concerning the potential sale of his shares, but required the backing of Hicks in order to complete any deal.

The two Americans entered into an agreement at the time of their purchase of the club that stipulated that if either of them should decide to walk away from Anfield then the other would have first refusal on buying their partner out.

Hicks' camp have now denied the suggestions that they have given Gillett the green light to sell his 50 per cent stake in Liverpool to DIC.

Hicks is believed to be sticking to his plan to try and obtain complete control of the Reds rather than parting with his stake in the club to DIC.

Liverpool Sweat On Mascherano But Voronin Back In Training

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano is reportedly doubtful to take part in tomorrow’s home game against Newcastle.

The Argentina international, who has been a key player for Rafa Benitez’s side, is said to have picked a muscle injury from the Reds’ 4-0 win over West Ham United on Wednesday night.

And with the Reds slated to play Inter Milan away in the Champions League last-16 second leg on Tuesday, Benitez is unlikely to risk the defensive midfielder.

Meanwhile forward Andriy Voronin is reportedly back in training after an ankle problem, but the Toon clash is too soon for the Ukrainian to make a comeback.