Friday, April 18, 2008

Crouch Insists There Will Be No Let-Up

Peter Crouch assured former Liverpool-now Fulham ace Danny Murphy that the Reds will be going full throttle, with or without key duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, to take the visitors down this upcoming weekend.

Still a firm favourite with the Kop, Murphy cheekily suggested on Monday that his long-term friends Jamie Carragher and Gerrard may be rested, along with Torres, with a view to Tuesday's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, but Crouch insisted there will be no complacency from anyone in a Red shirt against the West Londoners.

"I know Stevie and Carra are in contact with Danny a lot and I'm sure they will be speaking to him before the game," Crouch told

"Fulham are desperate to stay in the league but I can assure you neither Stevie or Carra will be taking their foot off the gas.

"The manager hasn't talked about the Chelsea game with us this week and we are fully focused on Fulham.

“It will be a tough game away from home against a team that really needs the three points but we will be focused.

"Fulham is very a very important game for us. They are scrapping for every point to guarantee their survival but we we want the win as well.

"Fourth place is still not cemented and we need to make sure we get the three points and get the confidence to take into Tuesday's massive Champions League game.

"We are in good form so hopefully we can continue that on Saturday."

Tom Hicks Set To Offer Rafael Benitez New Deal

As one prominent former Liverpool player expressed last night the belief that Rafael Benítez would not be at Anfield next season, Tom Hicks, the club's controversial American co-owner, is expected to reiterate his desire to offer the manager a contract extension today as the knives are sharpened in the bitter boardroom battle.

Hicks has made repeated attempts to emphasise his support for Benítez after claiming to have resolved his differences with the Liverpool manager in the wake of revelations that he and George Gillett Jr, his fellow owner, held talks with Jürgen Klinsmann last year about the former Germany coach taking charge at Anfield.

Having indicated over the weekend that he would extend Benítez's contract, which has two years to run, Hicks is expected to offer further explanations as to why in an interview with Sky Sports this morning, although the sceptics believe that such declarations are little more than an attempt to curry favour from supporters as he seeks to drive Rick Parry, the chief executive, out of the club.

Benítez retains the backing of the fans and, by siding with the manager, Hicks believes that he will strengthen his chances of removing Parry, who has resisted the Texan's calls to resign amid support from the majority of the board, including Gillett. Whether Benítez would sign a new deal, if the offer of one is forthcoming, is another matter. Dismayed by the civil war that has engulfed the club and aware that there may be no shortage of suitors at the end of the season, especially if he can guide Liverpool to a second Champions League triumph in four seasons, Benítez may opt to walk away.

Gillett would be unlikely to support Hicks's offer of a new contract, given that he was the one who instigated the talks with Klinsmann, and that Dubai International Capital (DIC), the Arab investment consortium that is confident of taking control at the club, may favour the appointment of its own manager.

What is certain, however, is that Benítez and Parry cannot continue to work together. The pair have not seen eye to eye for a long time and the revelation over the weekend that the chief executive was present at one of the two meetings with Klinsmann served only to undermine their relationship further. Unless DIC wins control soon, or Benítez or Parry steps down, it is difficult to see how the crisis can be resolved before the end of May, when the “first refusal” agreement between Hicks and Gillett, which dictates that one must offer the other his 50 per cent share before doing so to a third party and vice versa, comes to an end.

With that in mind, Mark Lawrenson, the former Liverpool defender, believes that Benítez may decide that enough is enough. “The problems off the pitch could give him an excuse to leave,” he said. “If they win the Champions League there would be no shortage of takers and he probably thinks, 'Why should I turn up and flog my guts out for this lot when I don't know what is going to happen next week?'”

Of more immediate concern is the Barclays Premier League match away to Fulham on Saturday. Benítez invited fierce criticism by playing a weakened team in the corresponding fixture last season, which Fulham won 1-0, a result that helped to seal Sheffield United's relegation.

But amid calls from Gary Megson, the Bolton Wanderers manager, for his Liverpool counterpart to “retain the integrity” of the league, Benítez intimated that he would not play a weakened team as he seeks to all but secure fourth place before the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield on Tuesday. “We will think about Chelsea, but for us to be in the top four is really important and we will have enough energy to play against Chelsea,” Benítez said.

Gerrard Approves Barry Move

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is fully behind Rafa Benitez’s plans to bring Gareth Barry to Anfield.

Benitez has consulted his skipper about the possibility of a summer move for the Aston Villa midfielder, and Gerrard has backed the plan all the way.

It is no secret that Gerrard and Barry are good friends off the pitch, and they seem to have formed a very useful midfield partnership at international level for England.

British tabloids this week reported that the Villa skipper was at the top of Benitez’s wish list, despite the abundance of talent Liverpool currently possess in central midfield.

It could be that the Liverpool boss is seeking a replacement for Xabi Alonso, as there have been rumours of a rift developing between the Spanish playmaker and Benitez.

Villa boss Martin O’Neill has been offered right of first refusal on Peter Crouch and John Arne Riise, both of whom the former Celtic manager has expressed interest in, in the hopes of reaching a player-exchange agreement.

However, with both Portsmouth and Manchester City keen on Crouch and Newcastle interested in Riise, Benitez may be willing to shell out the £12 million Villa are reportedly asking for Barry.

Liverpool have also been linked with Manchester City youngster Michael Johnson this week for the same amount.

Reds Forced To Release Final Plans

UEFA have instructed Liverpool to release ticket details for the Champions League final even before the semi-final has taken place.

Due to concerns over the processing of visa applications, European football's governing body have told all four semi-finalists to seek ticket requests from fans for the final in Moscow on May 21.

Manchester United have already made their ticket information available to their supporters and both Chelsea and Barcelona are expected to announce their plans over the coming days.

"The tickets have got to go on sale now because of UEFA visa requirements," said Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry.

"UEFA has insisted that we provide them with details the day after the second leg of the semi-final in order to process visas.

"There is no alternative for us but to start now, however uncomfortable we might feel.

"This is not the way we would prefer to do it because we do feel uncomfortable about it but we have no choice."

Liverpool have been advised they will be allocated 21,000 tickets if they progress to the final and requests for an increased number have already been rejected by UEFA.

Having been heavily criticised for the way tickets were distributed ahead of the Athens final last season, Liverpool have taken on board fans' concerns this time around.

Parry added: "All season ticket and fan card holders who have been to six Champions League games will definitely qualify for a ticket.

"And all season ticket holders who have been to five games are invited to apply for a ticket."

Supporters should note the qualifier against Toulouse and the forthcoming semi-final against Chelsea do not count as qualifying games for the final.

Parry said: "If there is a 100% take up, which there very rarely is, season ticket holders who have been to five games will have an 80% chance of getting a ticket, which is a massive improvement on last year.

"The two things that distinguish this time around from last year after taking into account the concerns of fans are that we have given priority to season ticket holders who have been to five games and we have introduced the extra step of seeking applications from fans because of the extra time that this situation has afforded us.

"Once we have received the applications they will not be taken first come first served because that would be unfair. Instead, we will have a random process.

"Having weighed up all the options and the concerns that fans had last year we feel that the system we have come up with is the best and fairest way of distributing tickets.

"But, as ever, it is unlikely that we will be able to satisfy everyone because of the allocation of tickets from UEFA."

Liverpool’s Torres Gets Kuyt’s Backing To Break Record

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has rendered support to his star team mate Fernando Torres to break Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of 23 goals in the Premier League as a debutant.

The Spanish international has hit 22 Premiership goals and could possibly equal or even break the record, if he features against Fulham at the weekend.

Kuyt feels that the 24-year old scoring machine deserves to have the record to his credit as he has been exceptional all through the season.

"Yes, I think he deserves that," said Kuyt. "He has scored many goals already and is playing really well for us.

"We still have a few games to go and with Fernando on fire as he has been I see no reason why he won't reach that target and beat the record.

"We will have to wait and see but he definitely has the quality to score more than 23 league goals this season. Like I say, it seems like he can score in every game.

"To take the record from someone like Van Nistelrooy would be a great achievement. He was absolutely fabulous for Manchester United in that first season and most of the years to follow. Van Nistelrooy is a great striker but Fernando is only going to get better and better. I can only see him scoring more goals.”

"He is always a threat for opposing defenders. It is unbelievable just how well he has adapted to the Premier League and settled in so easily at Liverpool.”

"Speaking from my own experience I know how difficult it is to come to a big club from a new country.”

"For Dutch people, who often speak English already, it is probably much easier than for a Spanish player who may not know the language right away, as was the case with Fernando.”

"We've seen over the years that many players who don't know the language need a little more time to adapt. For example, someone like Lucas Leiva has needed a few more months than Fernando to get used to things here but that is a testament to just how quickly Fernando has taken to everything.”

"He is scoring in almost every game now, which is a pleasure for everyone else in the team. It means we are confident of scoring every time we play. If we get it right defensively this means we have a good chance of winning every game."

Liverpool’s Pepe Reina Tells Team Mates Not To Loose Focus In The Premier League

Liverpool’s first choice keeper Pepe Reina has asked his team mates not to take the task of securing the fourth place in the Premier League lightly, even though they are now five points clear of Everton after the 3-1 victory over Blackburn on Sunday.

The Reds are preparing for their Champions League semi final clash against Chelsea but the keeper feels that they should not loose focus in the Premier League which is equally important.

Rafael Benitez’s side will now face Fulham at the weekend and the Spanish is hoping to collect full points from the encounter.

Reina feels that the champions league quarter final victory over Arsenal has given must boost to the sides confidence.

"It was a fantastic win against Arsenal," he told LFC's Official Matchday programme.

"I'll never forget an amazing night in front of such passionate supporters that proved once again that they are the best in the game. When we needed a lift after they scored their goals they obliged.

"It has set us up for another interesting meeting with Chelsea in the semi-finals next week and although we are desperate for silverware and would love to play this tomorrow, we will have to concentrate on the business of the league.

"I said before our game with Inter Milan that we could not think about the final in Moscow until the final whistle sounded at the end of the second-leg of the semi-final. Until then we can only take one game at a time and one day at a time.

"It is important all of us - the players, the manager, the board and the supporters - remember always the important job we still have to do in the Premier League.

"In life, if you become complacent then you are already beaten before the fight begins. If we approach a league game with our focus on Europe we will lose.

"If we were to approach those Chelsea games thinking of who we can play in the final in Moscow then we will not be there either."