Monday, May 12, 2008

Tottenham 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres wrapped up victory at Tottenham to set a record for goals scored by a foreigner in his first season in the Premier League.

Torres' goal was his 24th since arriving from Atletico Madrid, taking him past Ruud van Nistelrooy's total when he arrived at Manchester United.

Andriy Voronin had opened the scoring at White Hart Lane as Liverpool ended their season on a high, while Spurs' fizzled out as it has done since winning the Carling Cup.

Should this be a farewell to Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov, it was a subdued one, although perhaps not the game to bring the best out of him. Aside from Torres needing his goal, there was nothing significant to play for.

Spurs had a chance of moving up a place to 10th - earning an extra £720,000 in merit payment from the league - while Liverpool had already secured fourth.

Rafael Benitez's season has appeared overshadowed by the power struggle behind the scenes at Anfield and a reminder of their problems was the sight of co-owner George Gillett in the directors' box next to chief executive Rick Parry.

A tier below them was Benitez and Juande Ramos, two Spaniards looking to improve their respective teams.

Ramos wants to gatecrash the top four with Spurs, while Benitez wants a title challenge rather than playing in end-of-season sideshows when the main events of the day are elsewhere.

Benitez's team selection appeared to point towards the players he wants to keep next season when Liverpool will try again for their first title since 1990.

Peter Crouch and Jermaine Pennant were left out of the matchday squad, fuelling uncertainty over the future of the pair in the summer.

There was little to choose from the two teams in the early stages, with Radek Cerny saving comfortably from Voronin, then getting stretched a little more when Ryan Babel found a yard on the edge of the area.

Berbatov produced an impish flick for the hosts in the penalty box, after Jermaine Jenas had cut in from the right, but no Spurs player was on the end of the move.

It was Berbatov who almost opened the scoring, in the 26th minute, jumping with Jonathan Woodgate and beating his team-mate to O'Hara's corner. Jose Reina palmed the effort away at full stretch.

Steven Gerrard attempted to up the tempo from the centre-midfield, and the intensity was raised when Javier Mascherano clattered into Alan Hutton.

Uriah Rennie chose not to book the Liverpool midfielder, then Hutton escaped a caution shortly afterwards when he brought down Babel at the byline.

Torres almost broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half. Gerrard surged towards the penalty area and was brought down by Didier Zokora as he released Torres.

Play was allowed to continue and the Liverpool striker sent Cerny the wrong way with his finish, but the Spurs goalkeeper managed to save with his feet.

Cerny was called into action again in the 58th minute when the ball broke to Voronin on the edge of the area but the low shot lacked direction.

Gerrard was guilty of losing his radar with his passes and one error gifted the ball to Steed Malbranque in a dangerous position. The Frenchman fed Robbie Keane but the finish was dragged wide.

Reina then flicked a Tom Huddlestone cross off Berbatov's head, while Gerrard had a couple of efforts, one straight at Cerny and the other dipping over the crossbar.

The deadlock was broken 21 minutes from time when Alvaro Arbeloa angled a long ball from right to left towards the penalty area. Torres flicked on with his head and Voronin poked past Cerny.

Berbatov almost replied immediately but Reina tipped over his powerful volley.

Then came Torres' goal in the 74th minute, twisting and turning past Michael Dawson and slotting past Cerny. It could have got worse for Spurs but Cerny saved Hutton from an embarrassing own goal. Torres also grazed the crossbar with a chip.

Madrid Ready For Alonso Swoop

Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso could be the first Real Madrid signing this summer according to reports in Spain.

Marca has claimed that Rafa Benitez has given the move the go-ahead and Alonso could be a Merengues player by the time he leaves for the European Championships.

It seems as if Real are acting quickly as they do not want to lose out to other clubs who are also interested in the Liverpool midfielder.

The Reds are asking for €28 million but it seems that Real will be able to complete the operation with €24 million.

Reports have also suggested that Los Blancos may throw in Ruben de la Red in order to try and pay a lower transfer fee for their target.

Juventus have also been after the midfielder but it seems likely that Real will land their man as Alonso is not keen on a move to Italy and instead he wants to return to his native Spain.

Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster’s side will be hoping they can continue their La Liga triumph with a win against Real Zaragoza on Sunday.

Babel Keen To Make Euro 2008 Impact

For Ryan Babel, the youngster Marco van Basten once claimed could emulate Thierry Henry, this season has been one long learning curve.

But while senior Liverpool colleagues Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch will be watching Euro 2008 on television, Babel will be showcasing his skills at the finals in Austria and Switzerland as a mainstay of the Holland squad.

And having started the campaign as a raw, high-speed flyer who did not complete 90 minutes in a match until March, Babel is ending it being compared to Liverpool legend John Barnes.

Babel, 21, was raised in a tough migrant high-rise estate in Amsterdam.

De Bijlmer is an infamous housing project in Holland, and he says: "I think 'ghetto' is the wrong word for it, but it wasn't a very good neighbourhood in the '90s. There was a lot of crime."

But while many of his peers were slipping into a life of petty and more serious misdemeanours, Babel was getting noticed for his amazing talent.

He progressed through the Ajax ranks, and started benefiting from the guidance of the great Van Basten, reserve team coach at the time but now in charge of the national team.

Babel said: "He taught me a lot of things, the smart little things that a striker should know."

In Holland, the youngster became an instant superstar, scoring on his full international debut and ending last summer with a winners' medal from the European Under-21 Championships.

That form brought him to Liverpool's attention, and an £11.5million fee secured his arrival at Anfield.

But while consistently retaining his place in the full Holland squad, Babel's education really started under Rafael Benitez's watchful eye at Liverpool.

The initial impression was of a headless chicken, all raging pace but no final product. He specialised in losing possession after the fourth tackle, or running into blind alleys.

But slowly Benitez has knocked off those rougher edges, and he has figured prominently in Liverpool's European run while reaching double figures for goals.

Benitez initially used him as an impact player, coming off the bench to murder tiring defenders. Now he is usually on from the start.

Babel said: "Under Rafa's guidance my level of performance has definitely improved since I left Ajax. I feel stronger and am more direct with my actions on the pitch.

"The boss knows what he wants from players and I know what he wants from me. He confirms that all the time. He makes sure that I know my job.

"I have always liked to play from a standing position, with the ball played to my feet when I can then take off on a run.

"But Rafa has already coached more movement into me. I am learning these things all the time, and it is improving my development."

Babel was concerned by the 'impact' tag, and said: "I was realistic. I knew at the beginning of the season that I could not last a full match at this better level in the Premier League.

"It's much quicker. And the manager also knew what I could and couldn't do which is why I have been brought into the side slowly.

"I have heard people say I am an impact player, coming off the bench. But I prefer not to let it worry me, I just prefer to focus on my game as and when I do play.

"It was similar when I first started as a 17-year-old at Ajax. I would come on in the second-halves of matches and I often had that same impact with lots of late goals.

"But like at Liverpool, which was just at the beginning of my career at the club. Soon I was starting matches and I am now pleased to have graduated to something like that situation at Liverpool.

"It was just a matter of time until I started to make an impact from the start of matches.

"In Holland you only have to play to your maximum level in four games. With Ajax, you can play to 70% and still win against the others.

"I've found here, though, that every game is massive. Even against the bottom teams you have to be at your best to win."

Babel can be more than happy with his first season in England, and now he heads for the European finals intent on another chapter in am emerging career that will benefit club and country.

Stadium Will Open On Time Despite Rift, Promises Hicks

Liverpool owner Tom Hicks has promised work on the club's new 60,000- seat stadium at Stanley Park will start in September and be open for matches in 2011.

Hicks made his vow after Liverpool City Council last week granted planning permission for the new ground.

There are fears among Liverpool fans that the current impasse at board level between co-owners Hicks and George Gillett will cause a delay in the stadium being built.

But Hicks allayed those worries by saying: "Site work will start in September and actual construction in late October/early November, with completion in time for the season starting in August 2011."

Manager Rafa Benitez believes a new stadium is essential to Liverpool staying in the Big Four in the long term.

"I am concentrating on my team right now but it's clear it will be a massive help to Liverpool to have a bigger stadium," said the Spaniard. "To get larger crowds will help bring in money to sign top players."

Benitez is under pressure to sell this summer before he can bring in the three players he needs — including top targets Gareth Barry from Aston Villa and Barcelona's Eric Abidal.

He is desperate for Peter Crouch to join Villa as part of a swap deal with Barry and is annoyed that Crouch's agents are trying to get a £75,000-a-week offer from Portsmouth.

Martin O'Neill has been offered Scott Carson, John Arne Riise and Crouch for Barry but Liverpool wanted cash as well — something O'Neill is reluctant to pay as he regards Barry as more valuable than Crouch, who only has one year left on his contract.

Crouch is interested in a return to Villa Park but he also has a strong loyalty to Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp, while a move to Manchester City would allow him to keep his north-west home.

Benitez expects to land Borussia Dortmund fullback Philipp Deggen on a free transfer.

Rafa: New Signings Will Be 'Hungry'

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez says that a winning mentality will be a main determinant in whether he signs a player this summer.

After another trophyless season for Liverpool,Rafa Benitez is once again looking to strengthen his squad and he knows exactly what type of characteristics he is looking for in a player.

"We need players who are hungry, people who want to win trophies," he told the club's official website.

"We are only interested in signing the players that we need. For example if we need a right-back, we'll try and sign one. Why do we need to sign the best striker in the world, when we have one of the best here already? We just need to do the right things in the right moment."

"This season we could see the reaction of everyone under pressure," he added.

"That was important information for the future. We saw how people reacted during a difficult time."

According to media reports, areas that may be strengthened are the the wings and full-backs, Gareth Barry, David Bentley and Schalke's Rafinha and Eric Abidal are just some of the names recently linked with the Reds.

Barry Ready To Quit Villa - Report

Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry is ready to quit the club and move to Liverpool, according to reports.

The England midfielder has been heavily linked with a ₤10 million move to Merseyside in recent weeks, where he would link up with friend and national-team colleague Steven Gerrard.

New of the World have reported that the 27-year-old will hand in his transfer request this week, thus ending his 10-year career at Villa Park.

"Gareth feels it's time to move on," said an inside source. "He's given his all to Villa but feels he now needs the new challenge and the opportunity to compete at the very top of the Premier League."

Arsenal and Chelsea have also been linked with a move for Barry, but Liverpool remain the favourites due to the fact they can offer him regular football in a number of positions across midfield and defence.

Villa boss Martin O’Neill has slammed the manner in which the Reds have handled the situation and will not let his skipper leave cheaply.

But the former Celtic manager understands he cannot stop Barry from leaving if he so desires, and may push for a part player-swap deal involving Liverpool striker Peter Crouch.

Liverpool FC's Pepe Reina Claims Premier League's Golden Gloves Award

Liverpool’s Spanish goalkeeper Jose Reina has claimed the Barclays Premier League’s golden gloves award for the third season in succession ahead of today's final game of the season at Tottenham.

Reina has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the top flight, and is assured of the title this season with closest rival David James out injured in Portsmouth’s final game of the campaign.

But Reina is more concerned with Liverpool’s overall progress following a campaign that has seen them trophyless for the second season on the trot, while already being assured of fourth spot in the table and Champions League qualification for next term.

Reina said: “We are growing up as a team, year in and year out. We need to keep improving all the time because if you do that it gives you an even better chance of winning trophies.

“But we also need to bring in some more good players like Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano.

“The most important thing is to keep on making progress so that we can get closer and closer to the sides at the top.

“We will work hard to make this happen, though, and I am sure the manager is already thinking of bringing in some players to help us to do that.

“It is a collective thing. There is no point in three or four players doing well if we do not all do well.

“You win as a team and you lose as a team, so it is all about making progress as a team.

“We are still a young side. We have a couple of centre-backs in their early 20s, Mascherano is 23 and Torres is 24 - we can only get better and better.”

And Reina is looking for improvement in his own performances next term.

He added: “Of course I can get better. Every player can improve and no-one should ever think they can no longer get any better.

“You have to keep on working hard every day in training and in matches and if you do that then you have a chance to become the very best player you possibly can.

“That is the same for everyone in football and I am no different. I know there are things I can improve upon and I will continue to work hard so I can try to become better.”

With 17 clean sheets from 37 Premier League games this term, Reina is one ahead of James, who has been ruled out of this weekend’s fixtures with a calf injury.

Reina said: “I will be looking to keep another clean sheet at Spurs because that would mean we will get at least a draw.

“That is always important. If you do not concede a goal then it gives you a better chance of winning games, so if the defence and the goalkeeper can do their jobs it makes it easier for the attacking players to do theirs.

“But for me the job is now done. We have managed to secure fourth place and from a personal point of view I am happy to get the golden gloves.”

Departing Miller Praises Benitez

Departed Liverpool first team coach Alex Miller has heaped praise on club manager Rafael Benitez after being allowed to leave Anfield in order to become a manager in his own right.

Miller, 58, spent four years at Liverpool before exiting this week to try his hand at management, with Japanese outfit JEF United Chiba. Benitez appointed Miller to the senior Anfield coaching role, and the Scot has said he is thankful for the opportunity to coach at Liverpool and for being allowed to leave to enhance his career.

"Rafa understood that I wanted to manage a club again. The players understand fully why I've left and they were very supportive on Thursday, my last day," Miller told Sky Sports.

"I've really enjoyed working with Rafa. He's a very good coach and we had great success in the last four years, when you look at what we've achieved.

"[First team coach at Liverpool] was a fantastic position to be in at such a top club. I worked exceptionally hard for years with numerous clubs to try to get to the top and he gave me that chance.

"I will always be indebted to him."

Liverpool face Tottenham at White Hart Lane tomorrow knowing that they will finish the Premier League season in fourth place, whatever the outcome, to conclude another season without winning any major silverware.

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Almost Signed Dimitar Berbatov

Fernando Torres aims to write himself into the Premier League record books on Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur.

But if the Champions League draw had been just a little different three years ago, it may have been a different Kop idol firing in the goals for Liverpool.

Torres lines up against Tottenham's Dimitar Berbatov on Sunday amid inevitable comparisons between the talented strikers.

Yet it is a little known fact that Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez came agonisingly close to signing the Bulgarian striker when he first arrived on Merseyside.

Berbatov was then leading the line for Bayern Leverkusen, and Benitez entered into extensive negotiations with the German club to sign the striker in the January transfer window of his first season in 2005.

But then Liverpool were paired with Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Champions League and negotiations were abruptly ended, with the Spanish coach instead forced to turn to Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes.

"We knew about Berbatov before we played them in 2005, I'd been aware of him since I was in Valencia. He was a player were were looking at closely," Benitez explained.

"Everybody can see the quality he has and we wanted him, but then the draw with Leverkusen came along and we couldn't get him. It is shame but we had to move on."

Benitez had to wait for three years to get a striker of Berbatov's quality but his patience has been spectacularly repaid this season, with club record £21.5million signing Torres offering a spectacular return of 32 goals.

And 23 of those have come in the Premier League. If Torres scores against Spurs on Sunday, he will break the record for a foreign striker in his first Premiership season, currently held by Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

Benitez said: "We knew he was a good player but to score more than 30 goals in a first season in England is a fantastic achievement," he said. "To do what he has is incredible."