Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rafa Points To Agger Loss

Liverpool gaffer Rafael Benitez admits that failing to sign Gabriel Heinze, losing Daniel Agger through injury and the need to spent huge sums of money have all hampered the Reds this term.

Rafa Benitez has pointed to the loss of stopper Daniel Agger as an early blow to Liverpool's push for silverware this season.

The Dane provided both an aerial presence and a goal threat, with the Reds boss concerned about the amount of goals conceded from set-pieces in his absence.

Now, he admits that the defender comes back in good shape, but insists that only minor squad surgery is needed at Anfield this summer.

"The squad is better [than one year ago] and we have a better team," Benitez told LFC TV.

"Especially in the last three months, the understanding between the players was really good. We were winning games and scoring goals and we nearly got to the final of the Champions League.

"This year we have improved a lot. We signed two or three really good players, and also players who've been good for the squad.

"Every year you must improve a lot because the other teams are doing the same. I think Chelsea have just spent £16million on a right full back even though they got to the final."

In addition to the loss of Agger, Rafa admits that failing to sign Gabriel Heinze, who eventually signed for Madrid from Man Utd, was a blow. Asked if Heinze would have provided more defensive cover, the boss said: "Yes, I think so.

"We conceded goals at the end of games and drew. The centre backs - Carra [Jamie Carragher] and Sami [Hyypia] - were playing too many games.

"Sometimes Jack Hobbs or Alvaro Arbeloa played, but we clearly missed Agger. Agger is a centre back who can play the ball, he is a threat to the opposition.

"We have a lot of good players and we also have some really good young players; this is important. I think we have the spine of the team next season and now we need to add players in certain positions.

"We have analysed a lot of things this year. For example, we have conceded a lot of goals from set pieces. We need to understand why because last season we conceded six, now it's 16, yet we're doing more or less the same things.

"We can improve in this area. We also need to keep the team scoring in open play while at the same time improving a little bit in defence. We have been really good in defence for three of four years, but I think we need to improve a little bit if we want to be at the top of the table."

Benitez continued to say the money spent in the Premiership is daunting, particularly at the top end, before observing: "Clearly it's more difficult than in Spain because the top sides spend big, big money.

Riise - I Could Move On

Liverpool star John Arne Riise has admitted that his future at Anfield is far from certain.

The 27-year-old Norwegian has in the past expressed a desire to stay on Merseyside but it has been speculated his Liverpool career is drawing to a close.

Riise has endured an indifferent past campaign and with Liverpool closing on the signing of Udinese left-back Andrea Dossena it does looks as though Riise could be made surplus to requirements.

"I am uncertain. If I don't hear anything before the summer, I will have to consider my situation," Riise told Nettavisen.

"We have got to hope that we reach an agreement with the club about what will happen."

While an ideal scenario would see Riise remain at Liverpool, he concedes it is flattering to be linked with a number of high-profile clubs.

"A club change is not impossible," he added.

"I have said that I want to stay where I am, but there have been many rumours in the newspapers about many big clubs.

"It's fantastic to be linked with such clubs. At the same time, I am playing in a position which many clubs are trying to fill.

"I am truly enjoying myself where I am, but the situation is very uncertain at the moment.

"The most important thing is that I get to play regularly."

Gerrard Demands Summer Signings

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has reiterated the need for heavy summer spending in order to end an 18-year wait for the league title.

The Reds had been strongly tipped to secure 2007/08 Premier League glory, but Rafa Benitez's side ended the campaign in fourth position and 11 points adrift of champions Manchester United.

Swiss defender Philipp Degen is already set to make a free transfer move to Anfield on 1st July from Borussia Dortmund and Gerrard is keen to see more new faces over the coming months to end almost two decades of waiting for a league title.

Gerrard has previously called on Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks to splash the cash in order to keep pace with the league's top three and Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry is a £12million target, but the midfielder has now reiterated his demand.

"We say it every season, but it's massive," Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo. "Other teams are going to strengthen and become better sides so it's important we do the same.

"A lot of sides spend every summer, teams and squads become stronger and it's important we don't fall away.

"We want to stay up there with the best and for us to challenge and win the league and to keep doing well in Europe we need to buy players, there's no doubt about it."

Gerrard, though, admits he is in the dark over Benitez's close-season targets.

"I know as much as the other players and you guys outside about Rafa's plans," Gerrard added.

"He doesn't call me in and tell me names, but obviously he assures me and the rest of the boys that if any players become available that will strengthen the team he will go and buy them, but it's important that Rafa gets the right backing.

"It (a title tilt) is getting down to the small details again so if we can make the team that little bit stronger, have a few more options and a few more match-winners and be a tiny bit better defensively as a team then we can do it."

Benitez Is United In Mission For Title

Rafael Benitez has warned his Liverpool side they can never be title contenders until they start beating Manchester United.

The Anfield boss is convinced that after what he sees as a season of progress, his young squad can develop into a side capable of challenging for the Premier League.

But first, he insists, they must break the vice-like psychological hold the champions enjoy over Liverpool.

"If you analyse our campaign this season closely, then you can realise that our position comes down to just one or two results that make all the difference," he said.

"We lost both matches in the Premier League to Manchester United, and that can explain why we finished fourth instead of being up there challenging.

"It is a simple equation. If you beat United once it results in a six-point swing either way and that can be the difference. That one win would have put us much closer.

"We have not enjoyed a good sequence against them in recent years, and we realise that must change if we are to get closer to our ambitions.

"We know what this club is about - winning things. So, we are terribly disappointed not to have won a trophy for the second year. That has to change."

Title Harder To Win In England - Rafa

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez remains hopeful of guiding the Reds to their first ever Premier League title, but insists that league glory is a taller order than it was when he won in Spain with Valencia.

Despite a Champions League and FA Cup triumph - and indeed a generally admirable record in cups, European in particular - Rafa Benitez has been unable to drastically change Liverpool's league fortunes in his four years at Anfield.

Many have heavily criticised the manager for an inability to mastermind consistent performances and instead relying on squeezing past opponents in incredibly unpredictable cup ties.

He has always remained defiant despite criticism of his squad rotation and transfer policies and insisted that it is a long-term plan that is still in progress.

Liverpool hold the record for most league titles with 18, but Manchester United have come to within one title of them, having won 10 of the 16 Premier League's since its inception, with Liverpool not having won competition as of yet.

Many feel that, unless Rafa can add the Premier League to his trophy haul within the next season or two, he may well be sacked by the club, whose boardroom situation is still far from clear, though albeit a lot less dramatic and embarrassing than it was earlier in the season.

Benitez won the league title with Valencia in Spain while giants Real Madrid were chasing European glory and Barcelona were in a slump. Consistency was the name of the game with Los Che, but Benitez has insisted that it is not as easy in England, an excuse that not many people find acceptable.

"Yes, clearly it's more difficult [to win the league] here than in Spain because the top sides spend big, big money," said Benitez.

"We will try to do our best and the key for me is to not talk about the title. The key is to be near the top, to be contenders. If we stay close then I think we are capable of doing it.

"It is an option, for sure. We know our weaknesses and our strengths. We know where we need to improve, so we'll try to build a new team looking at these things."

He continued, emphasising the positives to take from this year's campaign: "[This season] we showed character at the end and that's really important. We showed that in difficult times we can be good and win games.

"As a manager, it was also important for me to see how the people around the team reacted to everything.

"When you talk about a winning mentality and winning trophies, you need to see the character of your people. The season was very good in terms of knowing the people.

"We have analysed a lot of things this year. For example, we have conceded a lot of goals from set pieces. We need to understand why because the season before we conceded six, now it's 16, yet we're doing more or less the same things. We can improve in this area.

"We also need to keep the team scoring in open play while at the same time improving a little bit in defence. We have been really good in defence for three of four years, but I think we need to improve a little bit if we want to be at the top of the table."

After another disappointing league season, Benitez has again called for more transfer funds in order to compete with the likes off Manchester United and Chelsea at the top of the table, and expects to busy in the transfer market once more.

Full-back Philipp Degen has been signed for free from Borussia Dortmund, while Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry remains a primary transfer target.

"It's always the same: during the season you must do your job with the players you have and afterwards, in the summer, you need to do your job with the staff," explained Rafa.

"It's really important to sign the right players with the right mentality – a winning mentality. You want players who are desperate to come here and win trophies.

"We started last season well and when we had Agger we were playing well. But, after all the draws, it was important to regain the confidence. In the end we were playing really well, winning games in a row and producing good football.

"You could see the understanding between Gerrard and Torres, but other players were also scoring goals. As I've said, we have the spine for next season and now we need to add players in certain positions."

Dossena To Sign For Liverpool – Marino

Udinese coach Pasquale Marino has admitted that Andrea Dossena is on the verge of completing his move to Liverpool.

Dossena has had an excellent season for the Zebrette, playing 34 games, scoring two goals, and helping the club qualify for the UEFA Cup.

The left back has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool for a while now, and earlier this week it was reported in the Italian press that a transfer was on the horizon.

Bianconeri boss Marino has now confirmed that these stories are true.

“I think that a deal with Liverpool for Dossena is on the way,” told Radio Kiss Kiss.

“Everything is going smoothly. The requirements are in place and the player has given his consent because he wants to test himself at an important club after the season he has had.

“Our director general was in England partly because of that just two days ago.”

Dossena, who has won one cap for Italy, was also said to be attracting the interest of Juventus, however the Old Lady were apparently unwilling to match Udinese's asking price.