Sunday, March 09, 2008

Benitez Praises Liverpool's 'Perfect' Victory

Rafa Benitez hailed a "perfect" victory over Newcastle which sees Liverpool travel to Inter Milan in the Champions League highly confident of finishing the job they started at Anfield three weeks ago.

Another inspirational Fernando Torres performance propelled Benitez's side to a comfortable 3-0 win over relegation-threatened Newcastle at Anfield on Saturday.

The Spain striker scored one and was involved in the other two as Liverpool clocked up a fifth successive wins. They are now just two points behind third-placed Chelsea in the Premier League, although the London club does have two games in hand.

More importantly they head for Milan to defend a 2-0 first leg lead playing their best football of the season.

"We needed to win against Newcastle," said Benitez. "We scored three goals, conceded none and I was able to rest some players ahead of our Champions League game. Everything was perfect."

Torres now has 25 goals since joining from Atletico Madrid for 26.5 million pounds in pre-season. And his understanding with captain Steven Gerrard is beginning to prove fruitful for Benitez.

The duo have scored 29 of Liverpool's 53 league goals between them this season and Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan, an Anfield legend in his playing days, believes the duo can bring the glory days back to the club.

"I think Gerrard and Torres is a combination that can only get better. I think they will get even better," said Keegan.

"If you're spending 20 million pounds on a striker then I don't think it's a gamble. It's not like my situation when they spent 30,000-pounds to bring me from Scunthorpe."

Newcastle remain three points above the relegation zone but they have now played a game more than third-from-bottom Bolton. Defeat in their next game against fellow strugglers Birmingham could see them slip into the bottom three.

"I've told my players that I didn't think our performance was quite good enough," added Keegan.

"It's important we get to 40 points but we're still four wins away from that with nine games remaining."

Newcastle can feel hard done by after falling behind to a bizarre goal. But they can have no complaints about the other two goals and they were thoroughly defeated in the end.

There had been little to choose between the two sides before a huge slice of luck allowed Jermaine Pennant to give Liverpool a 43rd minute lead.

There appeared little danger when Jose Enrique cut out Torres' ball into the Newcastle penalty area, but the Spanish defender's attempted clearance cannoned off Pennant before looping over keeper Steve Harper into the net.

Liverpool fans were still celebrating when Torres made it 2-0. A defence-splitting pass by the impressive Gerrard found Torres with time and space to fire home his seventh goal in three Anfield appearances.

Newcastle were completely deflated and within six minutes of the second half they were 3-0 behind.

Torres was once again involved but this time he turned provider as he teed-up Gerrard to hammer home his 19th of the season and kill the game.

To their credit, the visitors continued to plug away and they were unfortunate not to score a consolation in the 70th minute through substitute Obafemi Martins.

The powerful striker showed great initiative with a stunning shot-on-the-turn from 30-yards which cannoned off Jose Reina's crossbar and away to safety.

Carragher Would Rather Win Champions League Than Premier

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher claims that their Champions League conquest in 2005 was worth more than any Premiership title could ever mean.

The Reds were crowned kings of Europe for the first time since the glory days of the 80's courtesy of an epic comeback victory against Milan, which Carragher reckons earned the 04/05 squad a place in Liverpool folklore.

"I'm desperate to win the league but the European Cup is bigger," he said. "I wouldn't swap Istanbul for a league title. People will talk about that match in 50 years' time, like they talk about Real Madrid beating Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3.

"Whatever has happened in the league, winning the Champions League again would make it an unbelievable season."

Liverpool, who only have fourth place to play for domestically, are in good stead to at least make it into the last eight of the competition, as they travel to Milan next week holding a two goal advantage over Inter.

Anfield In Dirty Tricks Uproar: Liverpool Owner Accuses Dubai As £500m Takeover Turns Nasty

The £500million battle for Liverpool descended into a bitter war of words last night as American co-owner Tom Hicks accused Dubai International Capital of resorting to dirty tricks in their bid to buy the club.

Despite a 3-0 victory over Newcastle delighting Anfield yesterday as Liverpool battled for the final Champions League place, the famous club's future was mired in controversy behind the scenes.

The woman at the centre of the row is Prince Andrew's former girlfriend, Amanda Staveley, who has been negotiating the deal on behalf of DIC.

A furious Hicks accused her of leaking a private email from the head of his sports company and warned that her allegedly aggressive tactics risked scuppering the Arabs' hope of buying into Liverpool.

"DIC is one of several potential minority investors we are or will be talking to," said the 61-year-old Texan multimillionaire.

"As for Amanda Staveley, who has a reputation for being pretty smart, she should know better than to publicly put words in my mouth, particularly words that she knows or should know perfectly well aren't true. She should also know better than to release actual copies of my private correspondence to the Press. If she thinks that is an appropriate way to acquire a stake in Liverpool FC, she'd better think again."

DIC and 34-year-old Staveley, who works for PCP Capital Partners, deny leaking the email and were bemused last night by the latest outburst from Hicks.

They remain confident there is nothing he can do to stop co-owner George Gillett selling his share of the club to them and are determined that they will have a significant say in how Liverpool is run, rather than be sleeping partners — the only situation Hicks says he will accept.

One or two DIC representatives, perhaps including Staveley, are set for seats on the board if Gillett Jnr completes the sale of his stake which was agreed late last week — 49 per cent of the club to the Arabs and one per cent to Hicks.

There will be a DIC presence among the travelling Liverpool fans at Tuesday's Champions League match against Internazionale.

The provisional deal struck with Gillett values Liverpool at £500m, including £350m of debts, leaving Gillett to walk away with a profit of £75m.

Assuming Hicks and DIC can strike an uneasy truce, the new partnership should not only guarantee a generous summer transfer kitty but also lead to the long-awaited start on a new stadium.

The recent refinancing of debts the Americans ran up in buying and running Liverpool left the club facing a £30m annual interest bill, which would have crippled manager Rafa Benitez in the transfer market even if the team succeeded in qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Yet even though Hicks would retain control by holding 51 per cent to DIC's 49 per cent, the involvement of the investment arm of the Middle East state all but ensures a healthy warchest.

Match Review: LiverpooL 3 - 0 Newcastle United

Kevin Keegan's Newcastle misery deepened on the ground where he is rightly still remembered as a playing legend in the heady days under Bill Shankly.

As a manager, Keegan has inherited a feeble, spineless Newcastle outfit who have now gone 12 Barclays Premier League games without a victory.

Liverpool cruised to their fourth successive league win, the first time they have achieved that measure of consistency for 13 months, and they will head off to their Champions League night of destiny against Inter Milan next week high on confidence.

This was Liverpool's 300th Premier League victory, and they now have a firm grip on that elusive fourth spot.

It was again their scoring double act of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres who put victory beyond doubt before the captain was withdrawn on the hour to protect him for Tuesday's date in the San Siro.

Ten minutes later Torres was also withdrawn, the Spaniard - now with 25 goals in 34 games, 13 in his last 12 - certainly could not be risked any longer with Inter next up.

Jermaine Pennant, very fortunately, deflected in the first goal while Torres and Gerrard created goals for each other.

Michael Owen, on his 250th Premier League appearance, was a pale shadow of the player who once electrified Anfield. Now Torres has taken that mantle.

Liverpool were without injured pair Javier Mascherano and Steve Finnan, while Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel started on the bench - with Yossi Benayoun, Pennant and Lucas coming into the side.

Newcastle were without Joey Barton, with Charles N'Zogbia the only change from the side which lost at home to Blackburn last weekend.

There was a show of strength from the Americans, with Liverpool moving towards shared ownership if Dubai International Capital complete their buy out of George Gillett next week,

A clutch of them were in the directors' box, including another of Tom Hicks' sons, Mike.

But Liverpool fans paid more attention to Kevin Keegan, a Kop legend, who spent 20 minutes before the game signing countless autographs as his team warmed up.

The Newcastle manager did not look like he had a care in the world - and his team started confidently, with Alan Smith seeing a seventh-minute header from a corner deflected wide from a corner.

At the other end Fernando Torres - the Barclays player of the month - took on Abdoulaye Faye on the right and fired in a cross-shot which Steve Harper turned away.

John Arne Riise was booked for a high challenge on James Milner but Newcastle were still more than holding their own - until the freak 43rd-minute incident which took the game away from them.

Jose Enrique's attempted clearance cannoned back off Pennant and into the net, giving Liverpool the lead and Pennant only his second goal in 71 games for the club.

Seconds before the break Torres rubbed salt into visiting wounds when he rounded Harper and coolly netted following an outstanding ball from Gerrard.

Newcastle, who had replaced Milner with Geremi just before the break, fell three goals behind in the 51st minute, with Enrique again the man to suffer.

The Magpies defender failed to confront Torres, opting to back away as the Spaniard took possession. That invited Liverpool forward, and Torres sent Gerrard away down the middle to neatly chip Harper for the third.

Newcastle were now a shambles at the back, with Torres and Gerrard combining with ease before the latter saw a shot saved excellently by Harper.

Keegan sent on Obafemi Martins for the ineffective Damien Duff, before Liverpool replaced Gerrard on the hour.

Martins hit the bar with a fierce left-footed effort in the 68th minutes, before Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch formed the home strike partnership.

Sami Hyypia came on after 78 minutes - replacing Pennant - as Liverpool utilised a three-man central defence which could operate against Inter on Tuesday.

Harper saved well from a Kuyt flick and then got down to block a Riise drive, before Benayoun saw a diving header deflected just wide. as the Reds finished in confident fashion against a team who are heading in the wrong direction.

Le Tallec Reveals Reds Regret

Anthony Le Tallec believes he made his 'biggest mistake' by handing in a loan request at Liverpool.

Le Tallec was brought to Anfield from Le Havre in 2002 by former Reds manager Gerard Houllier.

The 23-year-old made a number of appearances under Houllier, however he has barely featured since Rafa Benitez took over as manager in 2004.

Le Tallec has had loan spells at St Etienne, Sunderland and Sochaux before joining Le Mans last summer on a season-long loan.

And the former France Under 21 international has explained that he regrets asking Benitez for a loan move so soon after the Spaniard arrived on Merseyside.

"I left France when I was 18-years-old," he told L'Equipe. "There were 10 big clubs following me, but I preferred Liverpool.

"Gerard Houllier, with his French players - I believed it would be easier for me to adapt.

"I signed a five-year contract with an option to extend it for a further year. I am still under contract with Liverpool.

"My first season was very good, and I started to make a name for myself when Houllier left.

"The only regret I have is when I met with Benitez and asked to be loaned out.

"In my mind, I thought he was going to bring in Spanish players, and I was afraid I would not play anymore.

"It is my biggest mistake."

DIC And Hicks Reach Power Sharing Deal For Liverpool

Liverpool were last night preparing to enter an uncertain period of coalition ownership after Dubai International Capital (DIC) agreed a deal to buy 49 per cent of the club, with Tom Hicks securing the additional 1 per cent that he needs to earn majority control.

George Gillett Jr, who bought Liverpool with Hicks just 13 months ago, has agreed to sell his 50 per cent share in the club, but, rather than sell the entire stake to DIC, he will sell 1 per cent of the company to Hicks. The deal allows Hicks to assume majority control, although DIC, the private-equity investment arm of the Dubai Government, remains confident that it will ultimately buy him out.

The compromise agreement, which will be finalised at a meeting in Dubai next week, was accepted by DIC last night after talks between Amanda Staveley, its representative in London, and lawyers for both Hicks and Gillett. In a statement last night Staveley said: “Subject to renegotiation of a partnership agreement and subject to the stringent minority shareholder protection rights we would be prepared to accept a 49 per cent shareholding in Liverpool FC. This arrangement provides the best possible solution to the situation and would be in the best interests of the club and their loyal fans.”

Liverpool’s supporters are likely to have mixed feelings about the partnership, which some Anfield officials had described as a “nightmare scenario”. In theory it means that Hicks will call the shots in the boardroom, but DIC is determined to exert its influence, having indicated that it will conduct a review of all aspects of the club. Staveley, a senior partner of the PCP private equity firm, and Sameer al-Ansari, the chief executive, are expected to be among those joining the board, with Gillett and his son, Foster, likely to depart.

Liverpool attempt to focus on on-field matters this afternoon against Newcastle United in the Barclays Premier League and, with Michael Owen returning to Anfield as captain of the visiting side, it is hard to say which he will find most unsettling: the admission from Rafael Benítez yesterday that he was on a list of potential signings last summer or the uncomfortable knowledge that the Liverpool manager was right to go with his instincts and opt for Fernando Torres instead.

“We know that Michael is a brilliant finisher, but we were looking for a player with the conditions of Torres, a player with pace and power,” Benítez said. “We had a list of ten strikers and he [Owen] was one of the names we had. Afterwards we decided that Torres was the No 1 priority. It is obvious we are happy with Torres.”

Dalglish: Torres Is The Buy Of The Season

Fernando Torres will lead Liverpool into their European night of destiny at the San Siro with the ringing endorsement of Kenny Dalglish.

The Spanish striker, with 24 goals in 33 matches since his £20million-plus move from Atletico Madrid last summer, will strike fear into the hearts of Inter Milan as Liverpool seek to clinch a Champions League quarter final place.

The 23-year-old has embarked on a scoring spree featuring two hat-tricks since the club's met in the first leg at Anfield three weeks ago when Liverpool built a 2-0 lead.

Dalglish, voted recently as Liverpool's greatest-ever player, said of Torres: "Torres just oozes class in attack. For me the kid is the best buy anywhere in Europe this season.

"The worrying thing for everyone else is the fact that I can only see him getting better and better as the season continues."

Liverpool are 2-0 ahead from the first leg of their Champions League showdown and on the brink of being the fourth English side to reach the quarter-finals -following Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea's progress this week.

Dalglish was hugely impressed with Liverpool's display in the first leg and they will go to the San Siro with confidence high.

Dalglish said: "In the first leg, Liverpool showed what they are truly capable of. We all felt they had it in them, but we have only seen it in flashes this season.

"To a man Liverpool were excellent, but I was expecting more from Inter.

"They put out a team that lacked pace of any description. They looked like they had come for a clean sheet and maybe hit Liverpool on the break to nick something.

"They will say that we benefited from them having Marco Materazzi sent-off, but they had been made to look ordinary long before his second yellow card.

"Having 10 men did not mean they had to change their game plan much, and they have plenty of practice playing with a man down over in Italy.

"They looked stunned and shell-shocked by the way Liverpool played and they couldn't do the simple things like keeping possession. Those are basics for Italian teams."

For Inter Milan this second-leg comes at a key moment in their history as they celebrate their centenary this weekend.

Up until they played Liverpool, Inter had been a massive, dominant force in Serie A this season, unbeaten and miles ahead at the top of the table.

But things have changed since then, and Inter have lost their unbeaten league record, going down to defeat away to Napoli last weekend.

Second-placed Roma have closed the gap at the top and are six points behind with 12 games remaining.

Inter have been boosted by the return to training of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has been out with a knee problem. Also close to a return is another striker, Julio Cruz, who has been struggling with a muscle problem.

Materazzi is suspended for the return leg, but club president Massimo Moratti said: "I would have never imagined that we would lose our first league game of the season just before our celebrations.

"Nor that we would face such a perilous position in the Champions League days later.

"The best present we could give would be to beat Liverpool. I have great confidence in the players that coach Roberto Mancini will choose, because they have the quality to play a game showing the heroic character that we will need to progress."