Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mascherano Issues Call To Reds

Javier Mascherano wants Liverpool to start next season in the fine form they have shown towards the end of the current campaign.

The Reds have beaten Arsenal and Internazionale in the UEFA Champions League and won eight, drawn two and lost one of their last 11 Premier League games, including a derby victory over Everton.

Rafa Benitez's men have secured a spot in the Champions League next season, but despite their recent good run, poor league results in the early part of the campaign mean they are still 11 points adrift of the top spot.

And their most recent blow came as they were beaten in the Champions League semi-final by Chelsea midweek.

Midfielder Mascherano, however, is already looking ahead to next year and believes if they continue to play in the same way they will be in with a chance of winning silverware.

"Over the last two months we have gone very well in the Premier League and Europe," he told the Daily Star.

"We need to make sure we repeat it from the start of the season next time.

"We have the quality and the players who want to win and we will do everything we can to make it happen.

"Right now it is just so painful because we know we had a great chance to go all the way to the final again. We were up against a very good side.

"You have to take the positives from things and now that is all we can do."

He added: "At the moment I am very sad because we were so close to the final.

"We know we made some mistakes when it came to the Premier League earlier in the season.

"We need to lift ourselves and play to the end of the season, but what is very important is we make sure we start the next one in the right way.

"We need to make sure we play the way we have been doing for the past two or three months.

"If we can manage that, we will make the breakthrough and be fighting to win trophies."

Injury Boost For Liverpool's Benitez Ahead Of Sunday’s Clash v Manchester City As Torres, Kewell & Skrtel Train

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has received a major boost just before going into Sunday’s home match against Manchester City, with defender Martin Skrtel as well as striker Fernando Torres returning to training today.

Skrtel had to be replaced in the first-half itself during Wednesday's Champions League Semi Final loss to Chelsea after a clash with Didier Drogba.

Torres also made his way back to the bench during extra time after he started experiencing pain in his hamstring.

Australian winger Harry Kewell also made it to training after he recovered from a groin strain which he picked up during international duty last month.

"Kewell was training today, which is positive," said Benitez.

"Fernando was also training, Skrtel part of the training session and as you already knew, Agger and Fabio Aurelio are injured, so there is no bad news."

Plessis Eyes Anfield Debut

Liverpool midfielder Damien Plessis has revealed it would be a dream come true if he were to make his Anfield debut this weekend against Manchester City.

The Frenchman, in his first season at the club, has impressed hugely under Gary Ablett in the Reserves, helping them to the Premier Reserve League title for the northern division and a showdown with southern champions Aston Villa.

The 20-year-old was magnificent during his first-team debut away to Arsenal, and put in another promising performance against Birmingham City last week.

And Plessis is hungry to play in front of the Liverpool faithful at Anfield, and hopes he gets his chance before the end of the season.

"It would be a dream come true to get a chance to play in front of the Kop in a kind of mythical, famous stadium known all over the world," Plessis told

"Since I first saw the Stadium when I signed for the club, I've always harboured a desire to play in front of that crowd. It's something I'm preparing for.

"I'm hoping I get the chance. It would be great to play in the game against Manchester City or the final match of the season away to Tottenham, but I've got to be patient and wait and see.

"I've got the reserve final against Aston Villa coming up next week, so I'm also looking forward to that."

Plessis was a surprise starter at the Emirates last month, so much so that viewers and pundits alike failed to recognise him when the television cameras caught sight of him in the tunnel.

Perhaps even more surprising was the quality of his performance, although avid followers of Liverpool’s seconds will have been quietly expectant of seeing the level of maturity, discipline, awareness, technique and passing skill he has displayed in the Reserves all season.

Plessis was both thrilled and shocked at his inclusion against the Gunners, and admits it was a great learning experience.

"It was fantastic news and obviously I was very, very happy to start," he said.

"I suppose it was the culmination of all the hard work that we put into a season and coming towards the end of it was great to see the fruit of all your efforts really and fantastic to have a chance to play in the first-team.

"I learned a lot from playing alongside the likes of Jamie Carragher, Lucas Leiva and Peter Crouch.

"You don't realise how fast the game is at that level and you can't miss a pass because there is no margin for error in the first-team.

"You've got to be concentrated for the whole 90 minutes and you see how hard they work, so it was good for me to learn from them."

The young Frenchman has already been likened to compatriot Patrick Vieira, and while Plessis is flattered by the comparison, he insists it is premature.

"I'm flattered obviously," said Plessis.

"He's had a long, fantastic career and I'm just starting out in the game - my career is short in comparison.

"But he's Patrick and I'm Damien and at the end of the day, I've got to make my own path in football and hopefully that's what I'll do and be known for my own ability."

Riise: I Have Nothing To Prove

John Arne Riise has revealed his annoyance that Liverpool have yet to offer him a new contract, insisting he has nothing to prove to Rafa Benitez.

The Norwegian left-back has a year remaining on his current deal at Anfield, but his future at the club decidedly uncertain after an indifferent season.

And the 27-year-old, a key contributor in Liverpool’s 2005 UEFA Champions League and 2006 FA Cup triumphs, has vented his frustration at being left in the dark after seven years of loyal service.

"I don't feel that I have been treated badly, but I think that the club should have said something since I've been here seven years," Riise told Dagbladet.

"I've won everything that we have won and I've played everything that's worth playing. It's up to the boss to decide.

"It's disappointing that everything is so tight, with one year left on my contract and I haven't heard anything."

Riise has been strongly linked with a move away from Merseyside, rumours which have only intensified following his horror own-goal against Chelsea that proved decisive in knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League.

Aston Villa and Newcastle United have declared interest in the former Monaco man, who admits he would be open to a move if Reds boss Rafa Benitez fails to clarify his position at the end of the season.

"I don't know what the manager thinks, no-one does," Riise said. "I don't think about moving on but something has to happen this summer.

"It's hard to say anything for sure but I will consider a switch to another club this summer.

"There's two games left of the season, and I can get my 350th game for Liverpool. That's 50 games a season almost, I have nothing to prove."

Liverpool Bid For Barry Gives O'Neill A Headache

Martin O'Neill faces a major test of his powers of persuasion after he confirmed that Liverpool have made an offer for Gareth Barry, the England international he has sought to build a team around. Liverpool's interest has been mooted for some time but the Villa manager is deeply upset that details of the bid, which values Barry at around £10m, have been leaked on Merseyside. More worrying for O'Neill, however, is that Barry is likely to be attracted to the prospect of moving to Anfield.

O'Neill, who has aspirations of breaking the big-four stranglehold, insisted that Villa are "not a feeder club" although he will also be aware that, at the moment, he cannot offer Barry the Champions League football he craves. Two years ago the Villa manager was able to persuade Barry to stay at the club, when the 27-year-old was on the verge of joining Portsmouth after becoming disillusioned with the previous regime but this time, with Liverpool in pursuit, the task appears more difficult.

Liverpool have offered cash plus players for Barry, although it highly unlikely that Peter Crouch's name, a Villa target, is among those made available. Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, would not comment on the offer for Barry yesterday but he did confirm that Crouch has been offered a new contract. The makeweights in the deal are more likely to include Scott Carson, who has been on loan at Villa this season, and John Arne Riise, who will leave Liverpool in the summer.

Neither player would be of great interest to O'Neill who, even if Crouch became available, would be reluctant to sacrifice Barry for the England striker. "Liverpool haven't made a straight cash offer," explained O'Neill. "They have made an offer involving a mishmash of nameless player exchanges. I'm particularly disappointed to hear that business is being conducted in public and I just want to be clear on this in that we're trying to build a side here and we're not a feeder club."

"We want to be trying to challenge," continued the Villa manager, whose side could move up to fifth with a victory over Wigan at Villa Park this afternoon. "At some stage we want to get to the position that this football club once held. That will demand an awful lot of effort. It will take a supreme effort and it will take very, very good players. I don't want to be in a position of letting really good players go. Gareth Barry is a really good player who still has two years left on his contract."

Villa will seek to improve Barry's current deal, something that was planned before Liverpool tabled their interest, although the talks will now need to focus on much more than a pay rise. Barry is expected to seek assurances that the club will recruit players capable of propelling the club into the top four and, even then, there can be no guarantee that he would reject the chance to join Liverpool.

"A couple of weeks ago Gareth said he would prefer to wait until the end of the season before we start discussing things and I think that would be the right thing to do," Villa's manager said. "It's particularly disappointing to find out that Liverpool have carried the story in their local paper. It's certainly not the way that the Liverpool of old conducted business. I prefer to do things with a bit or privacy and a bit of confidentiality. That's particularly disappointing, especially at this time."

O'Neill has played a key role in resurrecting Barry's career. The player's return to form coincided with O'Neill's arrival at the club, with Barry since going on to regain his England place and be touted as a future captain of his country.

Liverpool's Potential Line-up For 2008/9 Season

Liverpool's season is now over, the Premier League finish will be fourth (on a few more points than was needed to secure third last season) and there will be no consolations in the cups. A simple explanation of Liverpool's poor league showing (in a four horse race finishing fourth is poor) is that the first team can compete with anyone - but the back-up is inadequate.

Rafa Benitez has built a big squad at Anfield in his four years, but it is not quantity that is now needed but quality. If Liverpool move on ten fringe players in order to bring in four first-teamers a title challenge would have significantly more depth. The players that need to be moved on are easy to spot.

In goal Charles-Hubert Itandje has been given seven domestic cup games and has conceded goals against the likes of Cardiff, Luton, Havant and Barnsley; at 25 years-old he simply doesn't look good enough. In defence Sami Hyypia, like Didi Hamman before him, is now struggling, John Arne Riise is increasingly error prone and Steve Finnan's previously impeccable consistency has been undermined by niggling injuries. In midfield Harry Kewell will clearly be off this summer, with Sebastian Leto likely to join him. Up front Andriy Voronin is short of the required quality.

But those seven players are unlikely to generate much more than a nominal transfer pot; so players that are unsettled but plainly good enough may have to be considered. Peter Crouch is unhappy on the bench and is not pressuring Torres and doesn't really fit either of the two flanking roles - so is probably superfluous, the £10m he would generate is therefore great value. There must be a better right-sided midfielder available than Dirk Kuyt, who is willing but limited - but would still probably be worth £6m. Jermaine Pennant has not burst through at Anfield but would still yield a promising £7m. Scott Carson's value is probably somewhere around the £5m mark - but Liverpool need a decent understudy to Pepe Reina and there would be little value in selling and replacing.

The big potential sale is of course Xabi Alonso, who is regularly linked with a move to Spain; the continental sides don't tend to overpay for defensive midfielders (which was why Chelsea were able to buy Claude Makelele at his peak for barely £16m) so £15m would probably be the top price available - about the same that Gareth Barry could be acquired for.

So selling Alonso, Pennant, Kuyt, Crouch and six or seven fringe players would probably yield around £45m which if added to by £20m from the owners would give a transfer pot sufficient to land reinforcements in every major position: Daniel Alves to make a much needed progressive full-back, David Bentley and Gareth Barry would improve the midfield energy and creativity, a left-winger/striker like Roma's Mancini would encourage Babel and probably a young fourth striker could be bought and allowed to be brought through gradually.

The article is courtesy from SquareFootball.


Personally, I would prefer these players as Liverpool’s next season first eleven (should Benitez managed to buy them of course):

Formation: 4-3-3

GK – Reina
LB/LWB – Gareth Bale/Philip Lahm
RB/RWB – Dani Alves/Sergio Ramos
CB(left) – Agger/Skrtel
CB(right) – Carragher/Woodgate
CM(left) – Barry/Karim Benzema
DM – Mascherano/Yahya Toure
CM(right) – Gerrard/Alonso
LW – Babel/Downing
RW – Bentley/Lennon
ST – Torres/Bojan

Your views on this is highly appreciated. Thanks.