Friday, May 16, 2008

Xabi Welcomes Competition From Barry

After recently confirming he's staying at Anfield, Liverpool's Xabi Alonso has gone one better, insisting he would welcome the competition from transfer target and his mooted replacement, Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.

Alonso, 26, has not enjoyed his best season with the Reds. Injuries have played their part in ruling him out during the season and he has failed to hit top form, with new signing Lucas Leiva beating him to a first team place at one point in the season.

He has been strongly linked with a move away from Anfield this summer - most speculating it would be abroad, back to Spain - but he has insisted he is staying at Anfield.

Speaking to the club's official website, he revealed he feels very at home and could remain at the club for "many years" yet.

Strong speculation linking with the club with Gareth Barry - another central midfielder - does not perturb the Spanish international either; he insists he would welcome even more competition. Though he, like his manager, stressed that Barry can play different positions, which suggests that the 27-year-old, who has gotten so used to being given the freedom of the park at Aston Villa, may well be tied down to a more specific role under Rafael Benitez - whether he sees this as a 'demotion' of sorts remains to be seen.

"I think I will be here next season even if Barry comes," revealed Xabi.

"He would bring good competition and he would be more than welcome. He can play different positions and if he plays in midfield then I could play with him. I have no problem with that.

"At the moment I feel I could stay here for many years. I have been here for four seasons already; why not seven or eight?

"As long as I am performing well and the club wants me to stay then I will."

Alonso also moved to clarify that there are no problems between he and Benitez, with rumours persisting that a rift between the compatriots was partially responsible for Xabi's impending departure.

"There is no problem between me and the manager and I would like to clarify that," added Xabi.

"I have read that we have had an argument but our relationship is the same as it has been since I joined Liverpool.

"I spoke to the manager only the other day. He has never said that he wants me to leave."

Rafa: Reina Better Than You Think

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has once again sung the praises of his goalkeeper Jose Reina, who won the Golden Gloves award again this year.

The Spanish tactician believes that because Reina plays for a top side, he is not called into action as much and therefore unable to show just how capable he is in goal.

The former Barça boy has won the Golden Gloves award for the third time for keeping an impressive 18 clean sheets this season.

"Pepe is a 'keeper in a top side, so he has less to do," explained Benitez. "If he played for a lesser team he would be fantastic because he'd be involved all the time. He is a very good goalkeeper."

Reina has won the award three out of the four years it has been in existence, with Chelsea's Petr Cech picking up a solitary award.

Benitez continued, claiming such a record did not surprise him, and even hailing Pepe as the best in Spain - at least when he signed him - though Real Madrid and Spain's No. 1 Iker Casillas may have something to say about that.

"I am not surprised," said Rafa of Reina's hat-trick of awards. "When you see the performance of Pepe in every game, and also the team in defence, you can understand why he normally doesn't concede too many goals. I am really pleased to be here again.

"When you talk about three seasons in a row, it means he is doing a good job. Always I say the same: for me, when we signed him he was the best 'keeper in Spain. He's really good, a good worker, he wants to learn – everything is positive now and for the future.

"Everyone likes to see strikers scoring goals but your 'keeper is always a key part of the team. When you don't concede many goals you always know you can win because you always create chances."

Rafa also blasted critics for highlighting defensive errors and not commending enough good work done by his team.

"It's something that you know is normal in football," he sighed. "People just talk about one or two mistakes and not the performance of the team during the year."

Liverpool End Of Season Player Review

Despite not winning a trophy again this season I think Rafa is moving the team foreword and we will be in the title race come March next year. We registered the least number of losses under him in the league (4) and there used to be an old adage that if you avoided losing more than 4 games a season you would win the title, so one has to put it down to too many draws which could easily have swung our way on many occasions.

In my head I can think of where the title chase was lost, 8 minutes from time at Anfield against Arsenal, the ridiculously one sided 0-0 at Man City etc etc. And in all honesty although we lost to Chelsea this year in the Champions League, it was the first time we actually competed with them. We registered wins more easily towards the end of the season when the pressure was off so perhaps we need to enjoy our football more instead of talking about our title desperation around the players week in week out.

So here is my player review for the season. Marks out of 10 in Football Manager style and whether I think they should leave or stay.

Steve Finnan (6/10)
One of the best right backs in the Premiership, Finnan's only negative for this season was his injury problems. Clearly one to stay. As long as he gets back to full fitness for next season there is no reason why he won't be crossing frequent dangerous balls from the right all game. Perhaps we need move cover from an attack minded youngster.

Sami Hyypia (7/10)
After Agger's superb season last year Hyypia clearly began has our 3rd choice centre back. Many said due to his age and therefore pace he had lost it. Going on to make 44 appearances and storming back in the New Year after an average Autumn period. The goal against Arsenal in the Champions League was one to remember and he again will provide vital experience next season

Daniel Agger (6/10)
Unfair to comment really. 6 appearances due to injury. One hope's it isn't a chronic problem. If back to full fitness next season our centre back choices are looking superb.

John Arne Risse (6/10)
Struggled to hit top form this year and ignoring his own goal (which ironically was his only one of the season) perhaps it is time for him to move on. A great buy for £3m but is questionable if he is ever to hit top form again. Never been a great full back in my view defensively and always played better at Left Midfield. Though with the new formation 4-2-1-2-1 there isn't much space for him anymore in the attacking positions. Can see him going to Villa.

Harry Kewell (4/10)
What can I say? I was shocked to see he made 15 appearances this year. Felt more like 5. No goals once more and is clearly not worth the wages. Time to let him move on I'd say and count our losses. Like many Aussies will probably end up in Putney so Fulham looks like a good destination!

Steven Gerrard (8/10)
Linked up superbly with Torres for their first season together and contributed 21 goals of his own. A lot of bottle for the pen against Arsenal as he has missed a few over the years. Consistently driving the team forward as per usual. Legend!

Fernando Torres (9/10)
Breaks Van Nistolroy's record in his first season for most goals in the Premiership for a debut season from a foreign player. Finally we have a top class striker scoring 30+ a season! I love how unlike other strikers who demand the red carpet treatment and have all the arrogance he just gets on with the job with humility. Amazing season.

Andriy Voronin (5/10)
In some ways, your ideal fourth striker. I like the fact he hasn't moaned despite being benched on a regular basis. Started off the season being our best player in pre-season and the first 6 weeks well too. We almost got the feeling we had a bargain on our hands. Wastes too many chances however for the rest of the year and a return of 6 goals from 28 appearances just didn't cut it. Could be our fourth striker again but only because he doesn't complain.

Yossi Benyoun (6/10)
His goal rate was respectable and times was very useful off the bench. Though far too many times his inability to keep the ball has been frustrating. Was painful to watch against Chelsea in the second leg despite the run which did create our goal. Will be in the side again next year but more effective against the smaller teams than the top half ones. Dquad player at best.

Fabio Aurelio (7/10)
Sporadic appearances, but his form in the New Year was the best we have seen. Does not score from free kicks so I wish he would stop taking them but has been a decent full back for when Risse hasn't been up to scratch. I feel we need another full back in the left position but Aurelio has proven that a run in the team proves dividends.

Xabi Alonso (5/10)
For his standards, Xabi has had a shocker this year. We now play with 2 players in the DM positions and Alonso has too often been the weak link when on the pitch. His passing has been off, especially his decision making. Very often gets his tackling off the pace and too add to all that he has had growing injury problems. Rumour has it Spanish clubs will offer £10-£15 million. At that price we should definitely sell and Barry would be an ideal replacement.

Peter Crouch (7/10)
When called upon Crouch has done very well. Consistent when starting and effective from the bench, he showed his abilities with 11 goals from 36 games and one can`t help he could have been utilised to break the number of deadlocks we were in. I would like him to stay but he has to cope with the rotation policy and I'm not sure whether he wants to.

Jermaine Pennant (6/10)
Actually been a good squad player this year. Can get MOM performances against his former clubs Birmingham and even played well against Arsenal too at the Emirates. Too often ineffective against the other big teams. Strong enough to stay in the team on rotation.

Alvaro Arbeloa (7/10)
Able to play in both full back roles Arbeloa has been strong on many occasions this year. Tries to get foreword and is consistent defensively. Very useful to the defence.

Dirk Kuyt (7/10)
With all that hard work and constant running it just frustrates me he doesn't cross well and take his chances often enough in front of goal. Was in top form toward the end of the year after a poor patch in the middle. You can't fault him for effort and next year will be a great utility player.

Ryan Babel (7/10)
Brilliant debut season, would have got an 8 from me if he performed when he starts. It always seems that he is better off the bench as he proved against Arsenal. Okay starting against the lower table sides but needs to build up his stamina over the summer. Great potential.

Javier Mascherano (8/10)
Despite his moment of madness, it epitomised his die hard style. Fantasitc tackling and is so important in front of the back four. Gerrard would never be able to get foreword and support Torres for all their goals so Javier could easily be given an assist for each one. Why West Ham let him rot in the reserves is a complete mystery!?

Lucas Leiva (7/10)
Good debut season. He is young, from abroad and learing the ropes so therefore his 32 appearances were a sign of success in itself. Replaced Gerrard against Everton and had Phil Neville decided not to play in goal for a moment would have had the winner. Incidentally was the cause of 3 points though! Seems settled and come out of his shell a bit more next season.

Jamie Carragher (9/10)
Pure class. Made more appearances than Reina. 55 games of last ditch tackles and vital headers. Will lead the defence again next year and with another season of few goals conceded and most clean sheets in the Premiership you need look no further. Versatile playing at right back effectively too.

Pepe Reina (9/10)
Clean sheet trophy 3 years running and always reliable. Rarely makes a mistake and when he does you know he can recover mentally

Martin Skrtel (8/10)
Skrtel has filled in amazingly well following his January move. Considering he was bought as cover at a time when Agger was set to come back in February he has adapted very quickly. Many say it takes 12-18 months to settle into the Premiership though it took him about 4 weeks! 20 appearances, always tries his best and scary as hell to play against. Him an Agger will form an effective partnership in years to come I'm sure!

So Risse, Kewell, Alonso and Crouch set to go over the summer. Would be interesting to see our replacements!?

In my view we now have a winning formation, a good nucleus in the squad, we just need 3 to 4 world class additions and I'm confident next season will be a good one!

New Doubt Over Reds Stadium Move

Fresh doubts have been raised over Tom Hicks' ability to fund Liverpool's ground move after he delayed the building of a stadium in Texas.

Hicks has admitted he has been unable to secure financing for the Glorypark mixed-use development in Arlington, Texas that was scheduled to open in March 2010.

The $500million venture has been put on hold because of the credit squeeze and troubled retail market.

Hicks said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News: "We are in the most difficult credit crunch I have seen the last 20 years."

That revelation will give more hope to prospective buyers of Liverpool, Dubai International Capital, who have long believed Hicks - and his estranged co-owner George Gillett - have found it virtually impossible to raise further loans to facilitate the move from Anfield.

It is believed Hicks must find funding over the next few months to build the club's new £350million stadium in Stanley Park.

But if his Hicks Holdings group have been unable to find the cash in the current market for their Arlington plans, critics in the UK will wonder how the money for the move will be raised in the current financial climate.

Hicks' announcement over the Arlington stadium comes a week after a Dallas hotel project in which he is also involved was delayed.

Construction was scheduled to start this spring on the Glorypark project adjacent to the Texas Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and close to the Dallas Cowboys new 1.1 billion dollar stadium.

Hicks owns the Rangers baseball club as well as the Dallas Stars ice hockey team.

The completion of Glorypark, which would have included restaurants, retail, residential and office space, had been delayed at least twice previously.

Last week, Liverpool gained their third planning permission for the revised Stanley Park scheme.

Hicks said at the weekend: "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."

Some money, around £60million, was set aside from the January re-financing of Hicks and Gillett's loans to buy Liverpool, to allow the stadium work to start.

But it is believed Hicks has been unsuccessful in raising further loans from the London and US financial markets in recent weeks.

DIC believe the financial pressures on Hicks will eventually lead to his return to the negotiating table after he pulled the plug on a planned buyout earlier in the year.

The impasse with Gillett is no nearer a solution.

But Gillett, having made it clear he will not sell his 50% stake in the club to his partner, significantly flew to London last week for informal talks with DIC.

It has emerged that are unlikely to test the validity in court of Hicks' veto over any move by Gillett to sell his stake. Problems over certain clauses in the original contracts have arisen which make such a move difficult.

However, few observers now expect the troubled ownership of Liverpool to be resolved this summer, with the saga likely to drag on into the autumn.

Under the current proposals, the stadium work should have started by then.

Carson Calls For Realistic Price Tag

Scott Carson has called for Liverpool to place a realistic price tag on his head as he revealed his desire to sort out his long-term future.

Carson spent the 2007-2008 campaign on loan to Aston Villa in a £1.5million deal after having previously experienced similar spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton.

Villa manager Martin O'Neill is considering his goalkeeping options for next season with Thomas Sorensen poised to leave now that his contract has come to an end.

But, wherever his future lies, 22-year-old Carson wants a fair price to be asked by the Reds for his services.

There has been speculation that Rafael Benitez will be asking around £10million for Carson.

The England keeper said: "It's too much (Liverpool's valuation). It's stupid money really. You pay £10million for a goalkeeper who is 27, 28 and the finished article.

"To be honest, I'm far from the finished article. I have got another five years of learning.

"I don't think Liverpool are stupid. They know what I'm worth. They would have recouped what they paid for me in loan fees over the last couple of years.

"So hopefully, they can help me out and if there is a sniff of going somewhere, then hopefully they will respect my wishes and help me that way."

Carson added: "I would like to get settled but it's not up to me. Whether it's Villa or anyone else, it's up to them to try to sort it out.

"I haven't got a clue what's happening. I haven't even spoken to Liverpool.

"But I want to play football. I have played football for the last two seasons and I don't think I will be content with sitting on the bench.

"I still don't know what's around the corner. I have got a couple of weeks now to think about what's going to happen.

"As it stands, I go back to Liverpool but I want to be playing first-team football. Liverpool have got a great keeper in Pepe Reina and he's going to take a lot of shifting.

"It might be the time for me to move on but I don't know Rafa's thoughts and I don't know if anyone is going to agree a fee with Liverpool. It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks."

Liverpool Set To Snap Up Malouda From Chelsea For £10m

Liverpool have made a shock move to sign Chelsea winger Florent Malouda for around £10million.

Preliminary talks with Malouda's people have been positive enough to convince Kop boss Rafa Benitez the player will leave.

The France international almost joined the Reds last summer before Chelsea outbid them and offered £60,000 a week wages.

But reports in The Sun suggest Benitez plans to move Ryan Babel to a more natural position on the right or behind Fernando Torres to free up the left attacking-midfield slot.

But the move is very much dependent on a takeover by DIC.

Meanwhile, Anfield flop Andriy Voronin is wanted by German side Stuttgart.

Voronin, 28, signed on a free last summer from Bayer Leverkusen and scored six goals.

The pony-tailed Ukraine striker is under contract until 2011 but Liverpool are prepared to let him leave on the cheap.

Liverpool To Swap Leto For Riera - Report

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is said to be eyeing up the possibility of bringing Espanyol's Albert Riera to Anfield this summer.

DiarioSport reports that the Reds are after sealing a swap deal for Espanyol's tall winger.

Benitez is considering the possibility of a cash-plus-loan deal, where they would pay up front for the 26-year-old and also loan promising youngster Sebastian Leto out to los Periquitos so he may gain some vital experience, as well as buying time to clear up alleged passport problems.

Leto had been linked with a loan move to Argentine giants River Plate, only for Benitez to opt out of the move, and Spanish side Racing Santander also expressed interest in the player, but soon gave up their pursuit.

This new deal would be a win-win move for Liverpool, and with Riera reportedly keen on a move to England, it could materialise sooner rather than later.

Tottenham Hotspur had been linked with the player earlier in the season, who of course enjoyed a fairly unsuccessful loan spell at Manchester City in 2006.