Thursday, March 27, 2008

Torres Injury Worry For Liverpool After Materazzi Clash

Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of star striker Fernando Torres after he was replaced at half-time during the Spain clash with Italy following a challenge from Azzurri defender Marco Materazzi.

The Spaniard had scans on rib and ankle injuries following Liverpool's match against Manchester United at the weekend and, following a session with the national team's physio on Monday, only returned to training on Tuesday.

The Italian defender's lunge looked to connect with Torres' right ankle - the same one that had concerned the striker following the game at Old Trafford.

Torres had been at the centre of a row during the incident-packed United match with Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez saying after the match that the forward was substituted for his own protection following some hefty challenges from the United defenders.

Liverpool will now have to wait for the 24-year-old to return from international duty so that he can be assessed by club doctors.

An injury to the striker, who has spearheaded the Reds attack with 27 goals so far this season, would be a serious blow to Liverpool at this key stage of the season.

Their next four games are Sunday's Merseyside derby before three matches against Arsenal including the Champions League quarter-final ties.

David Villa hit a spectacular volley to earn Spain a 1-0 win over world champions Italy.

The Valencia striker, who replaced Torres at half-time, fired the ball into the top corner past Gianluigi Buffon 13 minutes from time after Fabio Cannavaro had failed to get enough distance with his headed clearance.

Three Spanish Clubs Now Chasing Benítez

A report in this morning's Times has added Atlético Madrid and former club Valencia to the list of potential suitors for Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez. The boss himself wants to stay at Anfield, however, and is already making plans for the summer.

Several Italian clubs and Barcelona have already been linked with the Reds manager, whose future at Anfield is less than clear after another poor domestic campaign and tense relations with the club's owners.

The Times say that Benítez' priority is to remain where he is since his family are settled on Merseyside, but such is the situation at Liverpool that he cannot rule out a move elsewhere this summer even if Dubai International Capital do eventually succeed with their takeover bid.

Manuel García Quillon, Benítez' agent, has been approached by Valencia, Atlético and Barcelona, with the latter thought to favour the Liverpool boss ahead of José Mourinho in the likely event that current boss Frank Rijkaard steps down at the end of this season. Michael Laudrup, currently boss of Getafe, is also in the running for the Barça hotseat.

Should Benítez remain at Anfield, it is understood he will ask for considerable backing in the transfer market Liverpool seek to close the gap to the league's leading sides, which - as evidenced in Sunday's 3-0 defeat to Manchester United and the points difference in the table - is still considerable.

David Bentley of Blackburn Rovers is among those purchases being considered in the summer. Meanwhile, the Spaniard is intent on clearing out some of the Anfield deadwood, with Harry Kewell almost certain to leave and John Arne Riise likely to follow. Benítez would also be prepared to part with Peter Crouch and Xabi Alonso should the right offers come along.

Hyypia Poised To Extend Anfield Stay

Liverpool veteran Sami Hyypia looks set to stay on at Anfield and sign a new contract.

The 34-year-old Finn, who has been at Liverpool since 1999, is out of contract at the end of the season. But Reds boss Rafa Benítez is keen to extend the defender's stay to complete a decade of service at Anfield.

"(Chief executive) Rick Parry is due to talk to Sami's agent this weekend and hopefully everything will then be finished," said Benítez, who has called extensively on the centre-back this season following the almost season-long injury to Daniel Agger.

Hyypia himself commented earlier this year: "It would be very nice to get to ten years at the club but I'm just concentrating on playing well.

"Whether I stay wouldn't depend on how many games I play," he continued. "I'm not like that. I'm not interested in somebody promising me something. If we have four centre-backs then everyone fights for their place and performances should determine who plays. If I keep playing well then it'll be difficult for the manager to change things."

Real Target Xabi Swoop

Real Madrid are ready to offer midfield star Ruben de la Red plus £8million for Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso.

Kop boss Rafa Benitez wanted to nab De La Red last season but Madrid decided to do a deal with Getafe instead.

De La Red, 22, was sold for £2m but Real inserted a clause allowing them to buy him back this summer for £3.5m.

And now the Madrid giants are planning to use De La Red as bait to land Spanish international midfielder Alonso, 26.

A Real insider told SunSport: “It is a case of the club deciding whether to keep De La Red or to try and get Alonso. The Liverpool player is the one they have wanted to sign for a long time.”

De La Red has impressed this term and earned his first call-up to the Spain squad for today’s friendly with Italy.

Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise will consider quitting Anfield this summer if he keeps warming the bench.

Riise, 27, has struggled to force his way into the team this season as Benitez continues to pick Fabio Aurelio.

The Norwegian said: “I am not happy. I’m used to playing 80 per cent of games. If I don’t play as much as I want, I must decide if I should stay.”

Torres Boost For Liverpool As He Trains With Spain

Fernando Torres has helped ease Liverpool's concerns over his fitness by coming through an hour-long training session with the Spanish national side.

Rafa Benitez had sent Torres for a scans on injuries to his ribs and ankle and the manager complained he needed to substitute the striker against Manchester United for his own protection after some hefty challenges from the United defenders.

Torres sat out Monday's first training session with physiotherapy work performed on his sore ankle and ribs.

But he was declared fit to take part in training yesterday.

He took a knock on the right ankle that was believed to be injured but continued to exercise and completed his training.

The 24-year-old striker has scored 27 goals since leaving Spanish club Atletico Madrid for England last year and Spain is expecting a lot from Torres at this year's European Championship.

He has scored only twice in the last 18 months to take his overall tally for the Spanish team to 15 goals in 46 matches.

"He's matured impressively to this point. Spain will benefit the most from this great moment he is living," goalkeeper Iker Casillas was quoted as saying by Marca newspaper on Tuesday.

Javier Mascherano To Ask For Hearing Over Red Card Ban

Javier Mascherano is likely to request a personal hearing in response to his charge for improper conduct.

Liverpool have until 6pm tonight to answer the charge, which the Football Association issued in response to Mascherano’s reaction to his dismissal from Sunday’s 3-0 defeat by Manchester United.

The club could seek an extension to that deadline as they attempt to contact the player, who was in Egypt last night playing for Argentina.

But as the case is scheduled to be heard by a regulatory commission on Friday, April 4, Liverpool will almost certainly have to plan for their Premier League game at Arsenal at 12.45pm the following day without the midfielder.

Mascherano will miss the game if the charge of improper conduct is upheld and he could also miss the Premier League game against Blackburn eight days later if his ban is extended by more than one game.

But pleading his case and escaping further punishment is a scenario manager Rafael Benitez can’t risk allowing for as he prepares his squad for the second of three crucial meetings with Arsenal in a week.

Mascherano is currently serving a one-match suspension for the dismissal, ruling him out of Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield.

But any ban further would exclude the Champions League quarter-final first and second legs against Arsenal on April 2 and 9. A statement released by the FA yesterday said: “Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano has today been charged with improper conduct.

“The charge relates to his reaction towards referee Steve Bennett after being sent off against Manchester United on Sunday 23 March.”