Monday, June 16, 2008

Henry Gushes Over Anfield Atmosphere

Barcelona striker Thierry Henry has confessed his favourite place to play is not Camp Nou, but rather a famous little location in north-west England.

Henry established himself as one of the world’s greatest forwards during time at Arsenal, getting his name on scoreboards all over the country as he notched up 174 goals in eight seasons.

The Frenchman developed a notorious habit of scoring against Liverpool, and netted some of the most memorable goals in Premier League history against the Reds.

But that is not the only reason Henry is fond of the Merseyside giants, as the 31-year-old has named Anfield as his very favourite venue, praising the stadium’s legendary atmosphere.

"For my first few years at Arsenal we didn't do well there, but we improved," he said.
"It's the atmosphere I love. It's unbelievable.

"I've played in a lot of stadiums but for me there is nothing like playing at Liverpool."

Henry’s revelation will no doubt be interpreted as a rescue plea, after his decidedly indifferent debut season with Barca.

The former Monaco man moved to Catalunya for ₤16million but has failed to recapture the heights of his Gunners pomp, having spent most of the season out of position on the left wing.

Liverpool are in the market for a striker given Dirk Kuyt’s conversion to the right side of attack and Peter Crouch’s impending departure, and could be keen on a cut-price deal for an established Premier League goalscorer.

The Reds have been linked with the ex-Juventus forward on and off for several years, as he is on very friendly terms with club captain Steven Gerrard.

Rafa Benitez has already attempted to bring in Gerrard’s friend and England colleague Gareth Barry, but with Aston Villa demanding up to ₤20million, the former Valencia boss may look elsewhere to appease his skipper.

And while Henry insisted he has fond memories of his time in North London, he confessed his longing for the kind of support Liverpool players receive from their fans.

"Nothing can beat Highbury, of course, but playing at Anfield was great," he said.

"The fans always sing and hold up their scarves before and after the game - whether they have won or lost.

"It must be amazing if you are a Liverpool player."

Reds On Alert After Bentley Decision

Blackburn Rovers winger David Bentley has admitted that he will be leaving the club this summer in a move that will be of interest to Rafa Benitez, a self-confessed admirer of the Londoner.

The 23 year old has been at Blackburn for three seasons, and insists his decision to leave is based on career progression and not the fact that manager Mark Hughes has recently left.

Some sources have suggested that the player would prefer to return to the capital, with Tottenham Hotspur rumored to be interested, but they can’t offer the £12 million rated winger Champions League football like Liverpool can.

The player himself said:

“I made it clear to the club what I wanted to do.

“My situation is I want to move on, I want to be playing Champions League football, I want to be playing in Europe.

“I have been there for three years, I love the club and I love playing for them, but I feel like I’ve done everything I can and I want to move on and try and push up the ladder and be as successful as I can

“And I believe that lies elsewhere. I want a new challenge and I feel I want to push on somewhere else.

“I hope I have repaid them with the way I have played but I need to be moving on somewhere else.

“We’ll see what the summer brings and hopefully in this transfer window something can be sorted out.”

“I discussed things with the manager then (Hughes) and the chairman.

“Their situation has changed but mine hasn’t. I need to be pushing on and that’s what I’ll be looking to do.

“I’ve got ambitions to play for England and I want to be playing in the biggest games I can, and I believe that lies playing somewhere else.

“My decision is not money, it is purely based on football. I just want to be playing at the highest level.

“There are clubs interested but it lies in Blackburn’s hands. Managers that come in want to keep their best players but my decision has been made and nobody could persuade me to change my mind.

Liverpool Face Opening Day Trip To Sunderland

Liverpool will start their Premier League season away from Anfield for the fifth year in succession with a trip to Wearside to face Sunderland.

After Middlesbrough herald the start of the Anfield league season, the Reds’ second away fixture curiously is at Aston Villa, a reversal of last season’s opening two aways which saw victories at Villa Park and the Stadium of Light.

Liverpool entertain European champions Manchester United on September 13th with Rafa Benitez still looking for a first league win over his North-West rivals, with newly-promoted Stoke City due at Anfield a week later, before September ends with a trip across Stanley Park to face Everton at Goodison Park on September 27th.

The run of fixtures against regional rivals continues a week later with a trip to Manchester City before Wigan Athletic are at Anfield a fortnight later, due to an international break, on October 18.

Chelsea and new manager Luis Felipe Scolari host Liverpool on the last weekend of October before Portsmouth conclude the month with a midweek trip to Anfield on the 29th.

November sees away trips to Spurs on the 1st and Bolton on the 15th with home matches against West Brom (8th), Fulham (22nd) and West Ham (29th).

Ewood Park is the first port of call in the Reds’ December programme on the 6th before Nick Barmby returns to Anfield with newly-promoted Hull City on the 13th.

The festive programme produces a pre-Christmas cracker with Reds travelling to London to take on Arsenal five days before Christmas and Bolton Wanderers provide the Boxing Day opposition at Anfield with 2008 concluding at St James Park, Newcastle on the 28th December.

There is no scheduled New Years’ Day programme and the first league action of 2009 will take place at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium on January 10 before the return Merseyside derby at Anfield a week later.

The Reds face a midweek trip to the JJB Stadium to face Wigan on January 27th before Chelsea are at Anfield on the final day of the month.

February sees two long-distance away jaunts to Portsmouth (7th) and Middlesbrough (27th) which sandwich a home fixture with Manchester City (21st) whereas March’s only away game is Old Trafford (13th), Sunderland (4th) and Aston Villa (21st) being the Anfield visitors that month.

The crucial Spring run-in begins at Fulham on April 4 with Blackburn (11th) and Arsenal (18th) visiting Anfield before a trip to Hull City on April 25.

Newcastle visit Anfield on May 2nd, before the final two away matches at West Ham (9th) and West Brom (16th) before the final league fixture of the season, on the unseasonably late date of May 24th, against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield.

Juve To Announce Xabi Alonso Signing Today?

According to reports coming from Italy, Juventus are set to announce the capture of Xabi Alonso from Liverpool later on today, even though there are still some minor details which need to be ironed out between the two clubs.

Italian daily 'La Stampa' revealed how the Bianconeri will announce the signing of Xabi Alonso later today as he completes his move from Liverpool for a sum of around 18 million Euros.

Juventus have been particularly busy in the transfer market and after being linked to various midfielders, Xabi Alonso seems the high profile player who the Old Lady need to increase their Scudetto and Champions League aspirations.

Serie A will be hoping that this is one of the first main transfers coming from abroad as in the last few years the Italian top flight has been in decline in terms of big players coming over to play, and this was highlighted by Deliotte's annual report of the profits made by the different football leagues.

Serie A in fact finished 4th, behind the Premier League, Bundesliga and Liga respectively, with the English league having a profit double that of Italy.

Crouch To Pompey: Almost Done?

According to English tabloid The Mirror, Portsmouth will seal the signature of England striker Peter Crouch within the next 48 hours.

Pompey boss Harry Redknapp has never made secret his admiration for the Liverpool forward, but at the same time has always baulked at Rafa Benitez's £15 million asking price.

The Mirror made no mention of proposed fees, but did claim that Crouch has already agreed to a four-year-deal worth £60,000 a month.

Redknapp's last public statement regarding Crouch was last week when he said "Crouchy is a brilliant lad and I do like him a great deal. I suppose if Peter Storrie was negotiating with Liverpool though, he wouldn't want me throwing figures around.

“We might feel Liverpool want a little too much for him even at £10million. We might want to pay a bit less, so it wouldn't be right for me to say a price."

According to the same report in today's Mirror, Redknapp will also offer a contract to Nolberto Solano as soon as the Crouch capture is completed.

Solano, 33, became a free agent last week, after just one season at Upton Park.

Fernando Torres Looks To An Anfield Silver Lining

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has reiterated his desire to remain at Anfield as he wants to win silverware with the club.

It has been suggested that manager Rafael Benitez would be prepared to sacrifice his leading goalscorer as he attempts to juggle his summer departures and arrivals.

However Liverpool have insisted the Spanish striker is not for sale, and the player himself has declared that he is not in the transfer market.

Instead Torres, on the mark as Spain booked their place in the last eight at Euro 2008 with a 2-1 win over Sweden, declared: “I came to the club to win trophies.”

Benitez is still haggling with Aston Villa over a price for unsettled captain Gareth Barry and, contrary to reports in Italy, Juventus are still to make a formal offer for Xabi Alonso, which has fuelled speculation in the London-based media that the Liverpool manager could be tempted to sacrifice Torres, should Chelsea come in with a world record bid, in order to push ahead with his rebuilding plans at Anfield.

However, Liverpool have always maintained that they have no desire to cash-in on a player who netted 24 goals in his debut season in the Premier League, eclipsing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record, just 12 months after his arrival at Anfield for a club record £20million fee.

As well as the strong Spanish connection at Anfield, a desire to win silverware played a large part in Torres’s decision to join English football’s most successful club last summer, after failing to lift a major honour during his six seasons in the Atletico Madrid first team. It is the pursuit of trophies with Liverpool that is spurring the 24-year-old on.

He said: “I want to say very clearly that I’m not on the market and that it’s my desire to continue at Liverpool.

“I’m very happy there and I want to carry on. I came to the club to win trophies. I have many years left on my contract and I expect to win some silverware there.”

Performing on a big European stage is also important for Torres.

Torres never managed to qualify for the Champions League while with Atletico but is determined to go one better with Liverpool next season after playing in the Anfield club’s third Champions League semi-final in four seasons this year – ironically all of which have been against reported suitors Chelsea.

Atletico, who are set to come to Anfield for a pre-season friendly on Friday, August 8, have qualified for the Champions League in their first year without Torres but the Spaniard has no regrets about his move because of the big European nights with Benitez’s side.

He said: “I have gone through things I have never experienced before, like playing in a Champions League semi-final.”

David Villa, Torres’s strike partner in the Spain side who leads the scoring charts at Euro 2008 with four goals in two games, has revealed how he would love to link up with the player in Liverpool’s forward line.

Valencia maintain publicly that Villa is not for sale but with the player’s stock rising, financial constraints could force their hand.

Villa said: “Liverpool and Chelsea are both big clubs with a lot of attraction.

“Liverpool have a Spanish coach and I also have a lot of friends there. When Rafa (Benitez) was coach at Valencia and I was at Zaragoza there was contact about me joining Valencia but I couldn’t arrive until the year after he left there.”

Valencia are remaining bullish in public over their star striker. The Spaniard’s stunning form in La Liga last season, where he scored 18 goals in a campaign to forget for Los Che, had already reportedly attracted the attention of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Chelsea among others.

But Valencia technical secretary Juan Sanchez told Spanish newspaper Marca: “He’s our player, he’s under contract, and the coach is counting on him. We’re very calm and we’ve received no offer for him.”

Valencia president Agustin Morera added that rather than being worried by Villa’s eye-catching performances with Spain, the club should be proud of their player’s achievements.

He said: “He’s an icon who so far has managed to score four goals in the European Championship, something which very few players in the history of football have managed.

“We should be proud that he plays for Valencia, enjoy it, and when we read the newspapers from Barcelona, Madrid and the rest of the world remember that he’s our player.”

He also brushed off speculation linking Villa with a move away from the Mestalla after Euro 2008, saying: “There are offers for Villa every season.”

Meanwhile Barry, another player who sees his future at Anfield, is set to attempt to push through his desired move to Liverpool by handing in a transfer request at Aston Villa.

The England international midfielder, who has been at Villa Park for 11 years, is willing to wave a loyalty bonus of more than £1million in any potential deal to try and move proceedings along.

Despite Villa manager Martin O’Neill admitting that the player wants to move, the two clubs remain deadlocked over a fee and Liverpool’s next offer of up to £18million, which includes add-ons if Barry wins the Premier League title at Anfield and a further 30 England caps, is still unlikely to break the Midlanders’ resolve with Villa demanding £20million.