Friday, May 23, 2008

Juve Step Up Alonso Bid

Juventus are believed to have stepped up their interest in Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso by flying to England to hold talks over the transfer.

Reports emanating from Italy claim Juventus director general Jean-Claude Blanc has flown to Liverpool to discuss a deal for Alonso.

Juve have been linked with the classy Spaniard for some time, and now the Turin giants are ready to make an increased effort to lure him away from Anfield.

Alonso has suggested he was happy to stay at Liverpool, but he could be forced to rethink his position if Reds boss Rafa Benitez decides to listen to offers for the player.

It is believed the two clubs are in advanced talks about the move, but they have so far failed to agree a price with Liverpool holding out for £14million for the former Real Sociedad man.

However, Juventus are confident they can reach a compromise with Liverpool to see Alonso link up again with former Reds team-mate Mohammed Sissoko in Turin.

Blanc is also believed to have used the trip to England to hold talks with Chelsea over a move for Wayne Bridge.

Juve boss Claudio Ranieri is thought to be keen on signing on Bridge as he prepares for next season's Champions League campaign.

Ranieri is a big fan of Bridge having signed him during his time in charge at Stamford Bridge and with the full-back struggling to hold down a regular place in the side, Ranieri hopes the prospect of regular action at Juve could tempt him to leave England.

Rafa Sticks To Carson Stance

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has no plans to lower the club's asking price for goalkeeper Scott Carson.

The England international has spent the season on loan at Aston Villa and is keen to leave Liverpool on a permanent basis.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill is hoping to hang on to Carson, but is understood to be reluctant to meet the £10million fee thought to be demanded by the Reds.

However, Benitez says the figure was agreed last summer when Carson originally moved to Villa Park on loan.

And the Liverpool boss sees no reason why that sum should now change as Carson looks for first-team football on a regular basis.

"It is a matter between the clubs," said Benitez. "We agreed the fee with Aston Villa last year.

"The fee has been there for one season, so to talk about the fee now is not correct.

"We agreed with Martin O'Neill and that was the situation."

Liverpool To Meet Villareal And Rangers In Pre-season Friendlies

Liverpool have announced a prestigious pre-season friendly with La Liga runners-up Villarreal.

And the Anfield club are also expected to confirm soon another warm-up game against Rangers at Ibrox.

So far the only date confirmed is the July 30 visit to Villarreal, a side Liverpool could end up facing in the Champions League next term.

The match is part of the deal that took Spain international goalkeeper Jose Reina to Anfield in the summer of 2005.

Liverpool are also almost certain to be facing a trip to Ibrox to face the beaten UEFA Cup finalists. That date could be July 26, but there has been no official confirmation yet.

Liverpool will travel to Switzerland in early July for their usual pre-season training camp, where a couple of games against local opposition will be organised.

Liverpool also hope to have a friendly on the weekend prior to the start of the new Premier League season.

There are no plans for a pre-season tour to the USA or the Far East, as Liverpool have staged in previous years.

Liverpool enter the Champions League at the third qualifying round stage next season, and the draw will be made on August 3.

The Premier League starts on August 9, with the third qualifying round first leg on August 12/13 with the second leg on August 26/27, with the group stages starting on September 16-17.

Reds Up Barry Bid

Liverpool have reportedly stepped up their pursuit of Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry, raising their bid to ₤12 million.

Villa boss Martin O’Neill immediately rejected the Reds’ initial ₤10 million offer for Barry, and is desperate to hold onto the England midfielder.

But according to The Sun, the Merseyside giants are prepared to fork out at least ₤12 million to capture their main transfer target.

O’Neill and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez have been at loggerheads in press recently regarding the latter’s decidedly open approach for the 27-year-old.

O’Neill claims the former Valencia boss has been excessively aggressive in his pursuit of Barry, while Benitez feels the former Celtic manager should resign himself to the fact the player may have to leave Villa Park to achieve his European ambitions.

Villa have offered Barry wages of ₤70,000-per-week — a ₤30,000 raise — to stay, but the lure of Champions League football and the possibility of linking up with close friend Steven Gerrard could prove too difficult to refuse.

It is understood Barry has been targeted to replace Reds playmaker Xabi Alonso, who has reportedly become unsettled at Anfield after an injured-ravaged season.

Juventus director Jean-Claude Blanc travelled to Liverpool this week to negotiate a fee for the Spain star, who will represent his country at EURO 2008 this summer.

Juve reportedly offered in €14 million (₤12 million) for the 26-year-old, but Benitez is demanding in excess of ₤16 million for the man he bought from Real Sociedad for ₤10.5 million in 2004.

And it is believed that if the Barry deal does not go through, Liverpool will call off negotiations altogether.

Spain Hope Torres Can Show His Liverpool Form

If Spain finally manage to end their hoodoo of underachievement at major championships it is likely to have a lot to do with striker Fernando Torres.

The 24-year-old former Atletico Madrid player has had a spectacular first season with Liverpool in the Premier League, scoring 33 goals in all competitions.

Unlike many of his compatriots, the gangly centre-forward took little time to adapt to the high-tempo, rough and tumble of English football and there are already hopes he could go on to become an Anfield idol like Ian Rush or Robbie Fowler.

His pace, athleticism and skill have been used to full effect by Rafa Benitez's side and few would argue he has been one of the league's outstanding players this season.

The problem for Spain is that Torres has not yet shown the same form for the national side.

At Liverpool, Torres relies on quick service so that he has room to run at defences. Spain spend so much time elaborating their attacks that he is invariably closed down almost as soon as he receives a pass.

Torres has found the net just twice in the last year and a half for Spain and his total of 15 goals in 47 games is a relatively modest one for an international striker.

However, Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro believes Torres has become a far better player since moving to England.

"Fernando Torres has made an incredible improvement," said the Real Madrid defender.

"Last year I saw him as a bit of a softie, someone who hid, but then he went to the Premier League, where you can't be a softie and he exploded."

Spain will now have to exploit that talent if they are rise to the challenge of defeating likely quarter-final opponents of the quality of Italy, France or the Netherlands.

"El nino" (the kid) is certainly used to carrying the weight of expectation on his young shoulders.

He made his debut for Atletico Madrid at 17, was their youngest captain at the age of 19 and almost single-handedly led their attack for five seasons in the top flight.

Almost as soon as he made his international debut he was seen as the heir to Raul's crown as the national team's golden boy. Euro 2008 will provide him the chance to live up to that billing.

Liverpool FC Target Albert Riera Asks For Transfer

Liverpool have been placed on alert after target Albert Riera yesterday underlined his desperation to leave Espanyol.

Riera wants to exit the La Liga outfit after growing tired of criticism from supporters after the team’s poor ending to the season.

Espanyol sporting director Paco Herrera, a former coach and chief scout at Anfield, maintains Riera will only be allowed to leave should a club trigger the £16million release clause in the player’s contract.

Riera is one of several players Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has under consideration.

And the Anfield outfit are hopeful they could capitalise on Riera’s desire to depart to help significantly lower the asking price, with Argentinian winger Sebastian Leto a possible makeweight going the other way.

“I want to leave Espanyol,” said Riera, who is also interesting Blackburn Rovers. “I do not want to be part of a club that does not take care of or protect its players.

“I do not know if I will go to Liverpool or some other team. I am staying hopeful and I would really like everything sorted out within the next two weeks.

“It would be best for everyone concerned because I know that my transfer would clearly be beneficial. I do not want to cause any problems.

“I don’t want to be at a club where the supporters have no love for the players, or where it depends on whether the team qualifies for Europe or not.”

But Espanyol sporting director Herrera said: “If he says he is going to go then he has more information than his club – he must know that there is an interested club who will pay the amount of money needed.”

Sections of the Espanyol support held up large banners at their final game of the season against Almeria questioning the commitment of the players after they failed to win any of their last 10 games.

The sight dismayed Riera, who added: “The things with those banners last Sunday against Almeria was intolerable. All that about the European Championships and going on holiday was very unpleasant and should not have been allowed.

“There are some things that should not be allowed and we all know that in certain sections of the ground and with certain sets of fans the board allows almost anything to happen. That is not normal and cannot go on.

“I have had enough of all these stories about in-fighting, bad feelings between players and things causing problems. Every time we do not win this comes up. This does not help at all.”

Riera, who believes Espanyol’s poor form cost him a place in the Spain squad for next month’s European Championships, was on loan at Manchester City towards the end of the 2005-06 season.

The agent of Catania defender Juan Vargas has claimed Liverpool are also interested in the highly-rated Peru international left-back.

Gustavo Ghezzi said: “To know the future of Vargas will take some time, since there are so many teams chasing the player: in any case, I’m confident that Catania will sell him. They want £11 million cash.

“The teams? AC Milan, Inter, Napoli, Fiorentina, Roma, Palermo, Sevilla, Tottenham, Liverpool, Real Madrid. There is a queue.”

However, the 24-year-old is expected to join either Real Madrid or Fiorentina, with Liverpool having made Udinese’s £8million-rated Andrea Dossena their priority at left-back.

Meanwhile, Benitez has told Scott Carson that his transfer fee will only be determined by the club.

Carson this week called for a reasonable valuation despite Liverpool having agreed a price believed to be around £10m with Villa when the 22-year-old joined moved to the Midlanders on loan last August.

Villa must now decide whether to exercise their option to sign Carson on a permanent basis and Benitez is not prepared to reduce the fee.

“It is a matter between the clubs,” he said.

“We agreed the fee with Aston Villa last year.

“The fee has been there for one season so to talk about the fee now is not correct.

“We agreed with Martin O’Neill and that was the situation.”

Liverpool have confirmed their pre-season friendly in Villarreal will take place on Wednesday, July 30.

Rafa To Swoop For Garcia?

Liverpool are leading the race to sign Real Zaragoza forward Sergio Garcia, according to reports.

The 24-year-old has established himself as one of La Liga’s most promising attackers over the past few seasons, earning interest from several clubs across Europe.

Tottenham boss Juande Ramos is known to be a keen admirer of the former Barcelona trainee, and has long been linked with a move for the former Barcelona trainee.

But according to AS, the Reds are preparing to swoop for the ex-Levante striker, who was recently called up to Luis Aragones’ Spain squad for EURO 2008.

Rafa Benitez will be looking to strengthen his attacking options for next season, as Peter Crouch and Andriy Voronin are near-certainties to leave Anfield this summer.

Zaragoza’s relegation means Garcia will almost definitely be moving on, and although his contract contains a release clause of around ₤12 million, compatriots Ramos and Benitez could be forced into a bidding war for their fellow Spaniard.

With the Blanquillos preparing for a mass exodus, Benitez may be doing quite a portion of his shopping at La Romareda during the off-season.

Argentine attackers Diego Milito, Andres d’Alessandro and Pablo Aimar could well find their way onto Rafa’s wish-list, and the latter could be keen to link up with the man who coached him to two La Liga titles with Valencia.