Monday, July 07, 2008

Liverpool Boss Benitez On Missing Agger, Hails Skrtel

Liverpool missed Daniel Agger during his injury problem, according to boss Rafa Benitez, who feels had the defender been fit the Reds would have had a chance of mounting the Premier League title challenge.

The Danish aided the side to have a brilliant start to last season’s campaign which saw them concede just two goals in their first seven matches. However, his season was marred with a broken foot which resulted in an early end to his season.

In the Liverpool Daily Post, Benitez is quoted as saying: “I think it cost us early in the season. We conceded goals at the end of games which finished as draws because Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher were playing too many games in a row.

“We were using Jack Hobbs in some games and Alvaro Arbeloa as a centre-back and clearly we missed Daniel Agger.

“He is a centre-back but good on the ball and a threat for the other team too.

“We missed Agger.”

The Spanish tactician reinforced the defence in January transfer window bringing in Martin Skrtel from Zenit St Petersburg.

Benitez added: “We knew this player (Skrtel) when he was 18. It was funny because some people were going to see Everton against Zenit and were saying this player really has ability.

"But we already had four or five videos of him which we liked. We had already sent our people over there and we knew he was the player for us.

“It can be difficult to settle down in this country but Martin has been really good.

“We know the players we want whenever the window opens and we try to sign the players we want at the right price.”

Star Names On Merseyside Trains

Four trains are being named after legends from Liverpool’s sport and music scenes after being chosen by ECHO readers.

Blues’ star Dixie Dean and former Liverpool Football Club manager Bob Paisley will now both be immortalised on Merseyrail units.

The Beatles will also be recognised.

The first train officially named following the competition organised by the ECHO and Merseytravel pays tribute to three times Grand National winner Red Rum.

The nameplate is expected to be unveiled in a ceremony at Southport station on July 14.

“Rummy” used to train on the sands at nearby Ainsdale beach.

Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd said: “These four trains have been named by the people of Merseyside and that’s what Capital of Culture is all about – getting people involved and leaving a lasting legacy of a special year.

“All four trains have been named after true icons of this great region and as a lifelong Blue I'm obviously delighted Dixie Dean has made the final four.

“I'd like to thank everyone who took time to make their choice. They should be able to spot these trains across the network very soon.”

Rail Service chairman Chris Blakeley said: “These trains will forever be linked to these great icons. They are your trains, named after people – or horses – you’ve chosen.

“It's nice to see both football clubs represented too. Dixie Dean and Bob Paisley are two famous sporting personalities who have forever left their mark on this region.

“As for the Beatles, well their mark is indelible.

“The first train being launched will be Red Rum, a local horse, but famous across the world.”

Thousands of votes were cast in the online competition organised as part of Capital of Culture year.

Readers were asked to choose from a list of 20 leading men and women from the region in the fields of sport, music, politics, acting, comedy, business, health, invention, religion and war heroes.

Among those on the list were Harold Wilson, war heroes Noel Chavasse and Captain Johnnie Walker, Sir Simon Rattle, John Peel, Frank Hornby and Arthur Askey.

Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun: “No Way I'll Leave Liverpool”

Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun has rubbished all reports claiming that he is heading for an exit from the club.

The Israeli insisted that leaving the club is not at all part of his plans as he loves the club and the manager Rafael Benitez simply “loves” him.

Benayoun has been linked with a move to a number of clubs over the summer but the midfielder has been quick do deny any such linkups claiming he was delighted to be a part of the Reds side and also went on to reveal his relationship with boss Benitez.

"It seems the media in Israel and England are in a contest to see who's more bored during the slow summer months," he told Ha'aretz.

"The media in England published a story [on] Friday that Rafael Benitez told me finally that I'm staying at Liverpool. These reports are the work of the writer's imagination because, even before the season ended, we determined that I would be staying.

"Benitez told me unequivocably [unequivocally] that he brought me here, that I had a very good season, that he's depending on me and that there's no way I'll leave Liverpool.

"I have very good chemistry with Benitez. He loves me. He bought me. I really enjoy being with him, moreover, I had an excellent season. I even surprised myself.

"Benitez didn't want to hear and isn't prepared to hear about any possibility of letting me go at any price.

"Liverpool is good for me and it was always clear I want to stay and Liverpool wants me. I got better offers financially but these tempting offers don't change my mind.

"If Liverpool wouldn't want me, I'd leave there in seconds. Even if I had a contract but I understood they didn't want me, I'd get up right away and leave.

"But I'm not leaving Liverpool."

Stoke City Linked With Liverpool’s Carson As Aston Villa Focus On Signing Tottenham’s Robinson

Newly-promoted Premiership outfit Stoke City is reportedly interested in Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson, who had spent the last season on loan at Aston Villa.

The England international returned to the Merseyside at the end of the last season as Villa did not take the option of a permanent move.

The 22-year-old has been apparently valued at £10million that has forced Villa boss Martin O’Neill to look elsewhere with Tottenham’s £5m-rated Paul Robinson said to be the prime target.

Neverthless, the Potters manager Tony Pulis is looking to bring in an experienced custodian and could jump at the chance to sign Carson, who is looking to leave Anfield for regular football.

Keane Told He Will Not Join Liverpool

Just like every other Tottenham striker, Robbie Keane has been linked with a move away from White Hart Lane this summer. Berbatov is reportedly chased by Manchester United and Arsenal while Darrent Bent is wanted by a host of mid-table clubs.

Robbie Keane is wanted by Liverpool, but he has been told to forget about those rumours because he will not be allowed to leave.

“My first task at pre-season last week was to pin Robbie to the wall and tell him: ‘You’re staying!’” Said Gus Poyet, according to The People.

“I was shocked when I heard him being linked with Liverpool - he’s a very important player for us.”

Robbie Keane was thought to be interested in a move to Anfield where he could give himself a shot at the big club. But Tottenham have done everything they could do to ensure that Keane stays put.

According to the report, the 27 year old would cost potential buyers about £20 million and it is thought that Liverpool do not have that kind of money to spend on a striker who is on the wrong side of his 27th birthday.

Torres Is A Revelation - Thomas

Former Liverpool midfielder Michael Thomas has described current Liverpool hero Fernando Torres as a “revelation”, believing that the striker and Steven Gerrard’s partnership could see the club end their Premiership title drought.

The 24-year old moved to Anfield from Atletico Madrid in a £22 million deal last summer, and despite doubts from several leading pundits, went on to score 33 times for The Reds in his debut campaign.

‘El NiƱo’s’ link-up with Gerrard, who manager Rafa Benitez used in a withdrawn role behind the striker, was a rewarding one, with the pair scoring a combined total of 55 goals.

And Thomas believes that the Spain international, who also scored his nation’s winning goal in the Euro 2008 final against Germany, will only improve over the coming years.

"I've been to watch a lot of Liverpool games recently and Torres has been a revelation," Thomas told LFC magazine.

"The Newcastle match - where he scored the second and made the third - showed exactly how good he is. They couldn't stop him that day.

"I'd heard some people say he wasn't a natural striker and they were surprised by his goalscoring ability. I'm not.

"I already knew a bit about him before he moved to England and he's got everything; pace, power, technique, touch, vision. He really is the perfect centre forward.

"His partnership with Steven Gerrard has been devastating and if they continue to play together like that then the team should get better and better."

Another of Benitez’s recruits, Ryan Babel, struggled to make as much of a mark as Torres, though Thomas saw enough in the young Holland forward to believe that he too could prove to be a major hit on Merseyside.

"I really like the look of him," he said.

"It's probably fair to say he had a slow start in the Premier League when he was obviously adjusting to a different style of football in a new country.

"But as the campaign progressed he started to do really well, especially when coming off the bench.

"I honestly believe he's got everything you need to be a top attacking player.

"And if he continues to develop and improve I can see him eventually moving out of a wide position to play as a centre-forward, maybe even alongside Fernando Torres. That would be a great combination."

Juve Set To End Alonso Chase

According to reports in Italy, Juventus are set to drop their interest in Xabi Alonso after growing frustrated at the lack of progress during negotiations with Liverpool.

The Bianconeri are well known to be in the market for a top class centre midfielder, and they have been heavily linked over the past several weeks with Roma’s Alberto Aquilani, Napoli’s Marek Hamisk, Inter’s Dejan Stankovic, as well as Sevilla midfielder Christian Poulsen.

With deals for Aquilani and Hamsik impossible, and Stankovic also unlikely due to fan protests, Alonso had emerged as Juve’s new first choice signing.

The Old Lady have been attempting to negotiate a transfer fee with Liverpool for the player, but have grown increasingly frustrated at the failure to reach a compromise, with the Merseysiders said to be demanding €20m and Juve only prepared to pay €15m.

Over the weekend Ranieri stated that Alonso was not the only centre midfielder that Juve were interested in, and according to latest reports in Italy, the club have become so fed up with proceedings that they are ready to end their chase for Alonso.

Alonso signed for Liverpool in 2004 from Basque Country-based Spanish side Real Sociedad.