Friday, March 28, 2008

Inter Rule Out Benitez Approach

Massimo Moratti has rubbished reports linking Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez and former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho with the Inter Milan job.

Speculation remains rife about Inter manager Roberto Mancini's future after he announced in the aftermath of the Champions League defeat to Liverpool that he would step down at the end of the season.

He later made a made a U-turn and decided to stay after holding talks with Inter president Moratti, but speculation has continued about a possible change.

The future of Liverpool boss Benitez has also been the subject of conjecture for some time, while Mourinho has been linked with several jobs since leaving Chelsea.

Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli is another name reportedly in the frame to come to come in for Mancini, but Moratti insists there is no truth in any of the rumours.

"These are all baloney," Moratti said. "Despite what you are saying and writing, there has been nothing.

"These would all be things to deny, but we have not got the patience to do it.

"I hope these rumours do not have an influence on Saturday's performance because we have a big game against Lazio."

Torres Fit For Derby Clash

Fernando Torres has overcome any fears that his fitness would be in doubt for Sunday’s 207th Merseyside derby with Everton at Anfield.

Top scorer Torres needed precautionary scans on back and ankle knocks after the controversial defeat at Manchester United last weekend. The Spaniard only played 50 minutes of his country’s win over Italy in midweek, an agreement that boss Rafael Benitez had struck with Spain boss Luis Aragones.

Torres looked sharp in the international and will play against Everton. Javier Mascherano will be suspended, while Steve Finnan is close to a return after a groin problem. Yossi Benayoun scored in Israel’s midweek 1-0 win over Chile to stake his claim for a place in the side, while John Arne Riise is also in contention, having been on the bench for the past three games.

Provisional squad: Reina, Arbeloa, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Riise, Arbeloa, Babel, Benayoun, Gerrard, Alonso, Lucas, Torres, Kuyt, Voronin, Crouch, Pennant, Itandje.

Gerrard Out To Make England Striker Role His Own

Steven Gerrard will need more time to fully adapt to being the second striker for England - but the Liverpool captain is confident he can 'make things happen' in the role behind Wayne Rooney.

Gerrard played just behind Wayne Rooney in Wednesday night's 1-0 defeat against France in Paris and looked dangerous in the first half when Fabio Capello's side dominated possession, before falling behind to a Franck Ribery penalty.

He has enjoyed success in the position in partnership with Fernando Torres at club level but concedes he is still learning what is required if he is to become fully effective.

Gerrard said: 'I've been playing that role for Liverpool. I've been enjoying it. To play with players like Torres and Rooney is always a pleasure, and I'm involved and I can get forward.

'I don't know if it's my best position. I'm a central midfielder; I've played there all my life but I do feel as if I can cause problems in there and I can adapt to the role - but I'll need more time.

'I am still learning that position. I think I've played it 10 to 15 times but I am confident I can make it happen in there.'

Gerrard believes Rooney, who has sparkled himself in the past in the second striker role, will have to adapt his game and play further forward.

He said: 'I think Wayne slightly has to adapt his game as well - because, for me to get space in there and for it to work, he has to play a lot higher and stretch the defence.

'I think that is why I and Torres are having a lot of joy, because he is so direct and plays high up.

'With two holding midfielders behind us, the team are a lot more secure when they lose the ball. Wayne will have to adapt his game - but if anyone can do it, it is him.

'I've seen him do it with Manchester United. He destroyed us at the weekend with his direct running and making it difficult for defenders. I am sure both of us can make it work.

'It is going to take time. We've had two games together, four or five training sessions - and it is a brand new set-up, not just the manager but the whole coaching side.

'It will take time for us to adapt to each other, but I think there were signs of improvement there against France.'

Gerrard can see positive indications from the two games Capello has been in charge - but has called for patience in giving time for things to gel.

He said: 'You don't want to lose a football match. But you look at the game as a whole, and there was a slight improvement on the performance against Switzerland.

'It is all about patience and getting used to what the manager wants. I think there were signs of that in Paris, certainly in the first half.

'We were happy, controlling the game. But we conceded a stupid goal - which we will have to eradicate in the future.

'The message is that everyone has to be patient. We need time to work on different formations and tactics.'

The intention is that England are ready to start the World Cup qualifying campaign as a well-organised team.

'The important thing is we peak in September,' said Gerrard.

'We all know when the important games are in the World Cup qualifiers, but it is important now to start getting it right before we go into those games.

'The manager wants us to be a lot more aggressive without the ball and pass it a lot more - and we controlled the game first half.

'Without the ball, France couldn't play. Up until the goal, which was a stupid goal to concede, we were comfortable and in charge.'

Arbeloa Admits 'Inhumane' Start

Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa has described his first few weeks under manager Rafa Benitez as 'inhumane'.

Arbeloa joined the Reds for £2.5million from Deportivo La Coruna in January 2007 and the Spanish international admits he was shocked by his first few weeks.

But the right-back - who made his debut for Spain in Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Italy - insists he is now settled on Merseyside ahead of Sunday's crucial derby with Everton at Anfield, which can be seen live on Sky Sports 1.

Arbeloa has made 35 appearances for Liverpool this season after taking advantage of the injury and inconsistent form of Steve Finnan, but he admits he struggled to settle in his early days in England.

"I didn't know where I was in my first week with Liverpool," Arbeloa told the Daily Mail.

"It went badly, and the image I remember from those early days is of the manager (Benitez) criticising everything I did, from the way I did some basketball practice to how I played my football.

"My first fortnight at the club was inhumane, but I am grateful to him now for filling me in on how the team works. It is a well-run club and I found it easy to adapt to their way of working.

"People say the manager is grumpy but I have only seen that once. He is serious-minded, though, and I can assure you nobody enjoys themselves during the training sessions."

Arbeloa has also described Jamie Carragher as Liverpool's 'boss' in the dressing room, but insists Steven Gerrard is the team's on-field leader.

"Jamie is the true boss in the changing room," Arbeloa added. "He orders everyone around and yells a lot but, to be fair, he has a CV equal to Fernando Hierro's for Real Madrid and the Spain national team. He sees and hears everything and keeps us informed about what is happening.

"Gerrard is also important. He is like Zinedine Zidane - a genius who doesn't like to be the centre of attention. He is the first to make runs, to lend a hand or to get stuck in when necessary."

Transfer Talk

Xabi Alonso has handed Liverpool a major boost ahead of Sunday's Merseyside deby by insisting he wants to stay at Anfield.

Real Madrid are among the club in Spain interested in the Reds midfielder but he has no intention of leaving the Premier League outfit.

There have been fears on the Kop that influential Alonso would be lured to la Liga but he is adamant he is happy to play under the command of Rafael Benitez as he sees a bright future ahead under the Spanish boss.

Liverpool are preparing a major spending offensive in the summer and David Bentley, the heir apparent to David Beckham in the England side, is at the top of their list.

But Blackburn are determined to keep a firm grip on their prize asset and manager Mark Hughes will not let him leave Ewood Park unless the fee is exorbitant.

Ipswich are favourites to sign Northern Ireland crackerjack David Healy as he will be allowed to leave Fulham at the end of the season but Crystal Palace and Derby could also be interested.

West Ham defender John Pantsil will also be looking for new employers in the summer as he is determined to leave Upton Park for regular first-team football.

But Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is happy to stay at Sunderland on a permanent transfer after enjoying his loan spell at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats could move for Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson, who wants to leave the Riverside Stadium for first-team football.

And Andreas Isaksson and Kasper Schmeichel are both edgy at Eastlands as they cannot see a way part first-choice Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Deadline Extended For Mascherano

The Football Association will allow Javier Mascherano an extra 24 hours to respond to his improper conduct charge.

The Liverpool midfielder will now have until 6pm on Friday to answer the charge as he has been on international duty with Argentina.

Mascherano was charged by the FA for his reaction towards referee Steve Bennett following his sending-off against Manchester United on Sunday.

He will serve a one-match ban and could miss two more games if found guilty.

The date for the case - scheduled to be heard by a regulatory commission - has been brought forward to Thursday 3 April.

Mascherano, 23, appeared to question Bennett's decision to caution Fernando Torres, and was then shown a second yellow card himself.

The Argentine will definitely miss Sunday's Merseyside derby at Anfield.

If the charge is upheld then he will also miss Premier League games against Arsenal on 5 April and Blackburn eight days later.

Liverpool 'Too Reliant' On Stars

Former Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz says the Reds are too reliant on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to challenge for the Premier League.

The 33-year-old, now at Blackburn, won three trophies with Liverpool in 2001 but was one of the first to leave the club when Rafa Benitez joined in 2004.

"If Gerrard and Torres are not playing at their best, you hardly see where the goals are coming from," Henchoz said.

"They probably need two or three very good players if they want to compete."

Gerrard and Torres have scored 30 of Liverpool's 55 league goals this season.

Their title hopes were effectively dashed against Manchester United last Sunday when a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford put them 14 points behind the reigning champions with seven games left.

Henchoz left Anfield in January 2005 - just seven months after Benitez took over - and the defender made no secret of his anger at the way he had been treated by the Spaniard.

The 33-year-old has not been impressed by Benitez's squad rotation policy this season.

"The rotation system sometimes in the league was not the best," said the Swiss speaking at the Liverpool leg of BBC Your Game.

"They drew too many times and if they kept their best XI, they would have won a few more games."

On a personal level, Henchoz is on the verge of a comeback from a disrupted season at Ewood Park where he has had two operations on an injured knee.

But with his contract up at the end of the season, he has already begun planning for the future.

"I've been injured since September, (I've had) two operations and it did not go well at all," he said.

"I'm hoping to be back in first-team training next week, and then it's nearly the end of the season so I will try to get back and play a few reserve games in April and then see what happens.

"But I'm starting a coaching badge next week with some lads at Blackburn, but that takes a couple of years to do that. Then maybe, if the opportunity comes, why not try management?"

Stephane Henchoz attended Your Game in Liverpool as a guest of the Swiss Embassy in London. The Swiss Embassy are supporting Your Game by taking the 2008 Your Game All Stars to Switzerland during the European Championship.