Thursday, July 17, 2008

Injured Barry Sees Hope Of Liverpool Move Fade

Gareth Barry was last night facing up to the sobering possibility of starting the season as an Aston Villa player, after it emerged that Rafael Benítez was beginning to explore other options in the transfer market. The Liverpool manager has become exasperated with Villa's refusal to negotiate over their £18m valuation of Barry, leaving the midfielder, who picked up an injury on his return to training yesterday, increasingly unsure of his future.

The 27-year-old was expected to hold talks with Martin O'Neill on his first day back at the club - he was banned from reporting for pre-season training for two weeks after giving an unauthorised interview - but those discussions are now likely to take place today after the Villa manager spent yesterday in meetings. Barry is keen to push through a move to Liverpool, although there is no sense that O'Neill or Villa's owner, Randy Lerner, will drop their asking price.

The impasse has left Benítez deeply frustrated and prompted him to concentrate his efforts on making other signings before considering another move for Barry. Even then it is doubtful if Liverpool will offer £18m, increasing the likelihood that the England international will still be at Villa when the Premier League season starts in little more than four weeks' time. He will certainly play no part against Odense in the Intertoto Cup on Saturday after picking up a foot injury.

Liverpool FC Ready To Launch Robbie Keane Bid

Tottenham Hotspur are bracing themselves for a substantial bid from Liverpool for Robbie Keane.

Rafael Benitez has earmarked the Republic of Ireland international as he attempts to bolster his strike-force following the departure of Peter Crouch to Portsmouth.

And Liverpool are expected to make an official offer in the next few days as Benitez’s transfer priority shifts away from Gareth Barry.

Tottenham are keen to keep Keane, particularly as speculation increases over Dimitar Berbatov joining Manchester United, and will ask for £20million.

Liverpool consider that valuation exorbitant. But Keane is a lifelong Liverpool fan and is desperate for a move to Anfield to become a reality.

The development comes after Benitez opted to put a proposed move for Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry on ice, following the collapse of Xabi Alonso’s transfer to Juventus.

The Liverpool manager, working within specific financial constraints, still wants to bring Barry to the club, but will only move if Villa lower their asking price.

Benitez saw his players continue their pre-season preparations with a 2-1 victory over FC Lucerne in the Swiss town of Grenchen last night.

Lucas Leiva gave Liverpool the lead in the 10th minute following a fine pass from impressive youngster Dani Pacheco and although Mario Gavranovic equalised three minutes later, Andriy Voronin netted the winner with an exquisite chip eight minutes before the break.

“I think it was a good workout tonight,” said Benitez. “The idea was to continue improving the fitness level of the players, I thought it was a good game with many opportunities so it was positive.

“This was another game where their goalkeeper was man of the match.

“We scored two good goals and the understanding between Voronin and Pacheco was good. The team worked really hard, and that was main idea.”

The game was notable for the appearance of Sebastian Leto who, because of work permit problems, last played a competitive match for the reserves against Middlesbrough in December.

The Argentine caught the eye on the left wing, and Benitez revealed Liverpool hope his situation will be resolved in the next fortnight.

“Leto is a good player and he showed tonight the quality that he has,” said the Anfield manager.

“He has had some problems with his work permit but hopefully that will be okay because has a lot of quality.

“We are waiting to hear when that permit will come through and we should find that out in the next 10 days.”

Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt made their first appearances of pre-season as late substitutes.

Babel – who Benitez last night confirmed will go to the Olympics with Holland – was making his comeback after missing the recent Euro 2008 finals through injury. And Benitez said: “Ryan did well in his time on the pitch, and Dirk Kuyt also played at the end despite only arriving earlier in the day.

“We needed to use them both at the end as the rest of the team was tired.”

Steven Gerrard missed the game as a precaution after complaining of feeling tired, while Jermaine Pennant was also absent after receiving a knock against Tranmere Rovers at the weekend.

New signing Andrea Dossena is still waiting on international clearance, with Benitez hopeful the Italian can make his debut against Wisla Krakow on Saturday.

Steve Finnan, meanwhile, returned to Merseyside yesterday for treatment on an ankle injury suffered earlier in the week and will miss the rest of the training camp.

Promise Of Pacheco Has Fringe Benefits

Twelve months ago in Grenchen, a Spanish forward took the first step towards making his name at Liverpool.

But, with Euro 2008 hero Fernando Torres on a richly-deserved vacation, last night it was the turn of a younger striking compatriot to command the headlines.

Daniel Pacheco has been earmarked as one to watch ever since Liverpool persuaded him to leave Barcelona.

And in the sleepy Swiss town of Grenchen at the foot of the Jura mountains, Pacheco gave further compelling evidence of his huge promise as Rafael Benitez’s side continued their pre-season preparations with victory over FC Lucerne.

Pacheco created Lucas Leiva’s opener with a sublime pass and his overall display richly-merited the warm ovation he received on being substituted 12 minutes from time.

With Torres, who made his Liverpool debut in Grenchen last year, still on extended leave, Dirk Kuyt having only arrived in Switzerland earlier in the day and Krisztian Nemeth on international duty, Pacheco was again given his chance last night.

And, as at Prenton Park on Saturday, the Spanish youngster indicated why there has been much gnashing of teeth at the Nou Camp over his departure.

Pacheco possesses great pace and composure and it’s easy to see why the senior players have been impressed by his impact while training with the first team.

The 17-year-old’s potential was perfectly showcased in the 10th minute, turning away from his marker on the edge of the area and slipping a reverse pass for the incoming Lucas to finish confidently past Lucerne goalkeeper David Zibung.

Pacheco’s exuberance was evident throughout. Although guilty of over-elaboration later in the half when allowing Zibung to smother his effort after Yossi Benayoun had dummied Andriy Voronin’s pass, the Spaniard remained confident enough to assume set-piece duties, his right-wing corner headed wastefully over by an unmarked Daniel Agger.

The second half saw more of the same. However, Pacheco’s failure to turn many of his chances, often self-made, into goals underlines his potential role more as playmaker than clinical marksman.

It is a minor quibble. Even since his impressive cameo appearance as substitute in the reserves’ final against Aston Villa in May, Pacheco appears to have grown a few inches.

Continue this progress over the next 12 months and the youngster could easily be pushing for a regular place in the matchday squad at the very least.

Opponents Lucerne, who finished sixth in the Swiss Super League last time out, are much further down the line in their pre-season preparations, with their new campaign beginning at the weekend.

It was therefore a genuine work-out for Benitez’s side, with a surprisingly entertaining encounter helping further shake off the inevitable ring-rustiness.

Besides Pacheco, other fringe players also made the most of their opportunity. The lesser-spotted Sebastian Leto, his Liverpool career stalled by eligibility issues, was lively down the left and should have capped his 55-minute performance with a goal, instead dragging a presentable opening wide before the break.

With so few options available to Benitez on the left flank, an available Leto would be a definite asset on this showing.

Of course, pre-season can be notoriously deceiving. Voronin, for example, suggested goals aplenty following his exploits during last season’s summer warm-up programme but faded horribly once the serious stuff started.

The Ukrainian was at it again last night, sending a sumptuous chip over Zibung from 25 yards for Liverpool ’s second goal eight minutes before half-time.

But with the likes of Pacheco waiting in the wings, Voronin will most likely need a lot more where that came from over the next 10 months.

There were some warning signs for Benitez, however. When Philipp Degen was officially unveiled to media at Melwood last week, he cited pace and attacking ability as his main attributes.

By inference, even the right-back himself accepts defending is not his strong suit. And Lucerne’s 13th-minute equaliser was a case in point, Degen beaten in the air to a deep far-post cross by Djamel Mesbah, who nodded across goal for Mario Gavranovic to head in.

Early days admittedly, but such strengths and weaknesses do not bode well and are so similar to that of a foreign import of Anfield past that the Swiss may soon earn the tag Vegard Degen.

Yossi Benayoun, having netted a fantastic goal against Tranmere at the weekend, was far less effective last night, although young Damien Plessis’s stock continues to rise after another mature display.

Ryan Babel made his first outing after missing Euro 2008 through injury, while Daniel Agger continued down his long road to full fitness with another 45 minutes.

Diego Cavalieri enjoyed a full debut in goal, and Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano returned to the fold in the closing moments.

However, as last year, it was the sight of Spanish forward that lingered most in the minds of the sell-out crowd.

Rafa Revels In Leto & Babel Returns

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has revealed his delight at the return of young guns Sebastian Leto and Ryan Babel to his side for their friendly win against Lucerne last night.

Leto joined the Reds last summer from Argentine outfit Lanus for just under ₤2million. He arrived on Merseyside alongside the better-known Lucas Leiva but expectations were nonetheless high.

An unorthodox-looking winger given his height (188cm), the 21-year-old starred for the reserves early in the season and impressed in training – so much so that he earned a start against Olympique Marseille in a crucial Champions League clash.

Liverpool lost that game and much of the blame was laid at Benitez’s feet for picking Leto, who has not played for the first-team since. Many thought this was because he had fallen down the pecking order, but it has since been revealed that bureaucratic red tape is the culprit.

Hence, Benitez was thrilled to see Leto play 55 minutes in Switzerland last night and hopes his permit problems will be sorted by the start of the competitive season.

"Leto is a good player and he showed tonight the quality that he has," he told the club’s official website. "He has had some problems with his work permit but hopefully that will be okay because has a lot of quality.

"We are waiting to hear when that permit will come through and we should find that out in the next 10 days."

Also featuring in the Reds’ 2-1 victory was Ryan Babel, who is on his way back to fitness after suffering an ankle injury that ruled him out of EURO 2008.

The Dutchman will miss the start of the season due to Olympic commitments, as will Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano, who also featured against the Swiss side. Dirk Kuyt also played, while Steven Gerrard and Steve Finnan sat out through fatigue and injury respectively.

"It was good to give Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano their first games," said the Spaniard on the club’s official website. "Kuyt has only just joined us for training and wanted to play tonight.

"Steven Gerrard was a little bit tired so we didn't want to take any risks. Jermaine Pennant has a knock so like Gerrard we didn't want to take any risk.

"Steve Finnan has a problem with his thigh and he is back in Liverpool receiving treatment."

Liverpool To Snub Greek Offer For Lucas?

A reported approach to Liverpool by Greek side Olympiakos about the possibility of signing Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva is expected to be politely rebuffed.

Olympiakos have reportedly enquired about Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva, who is expected to feature for Brazil at this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.

However, the Reds are expected to be distinctly cool about any sale, given their frustrating time so far this summer with midfielders.

One of manager Rafa Benitez’s prime targets, Gareth Barry, remains an Aston Villa player, and the prospect of his moving to Anfield remains up in the air. Meanwhile Xabi Alonso, who had earlier looked likely to join Juventus, bringing in cash to help fund a bid for Barry, is in limbo after Juve signed Christian Poulsen from Sevilla instead.

So with no Barry deal agreed, and Alonso's future uncertain, Benitez may be reluctant to let Lucas to leave the club - assuming the player was prepared to swap Anfield for Piraeus.

Benitez is thought to rate Lucas, 21, having bought him from Gremio a year ago for some £6million. And he is unlikely to want to see him leave so quickly - unless Olympiakos are ready top make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Lucerne 1-2 Liverpool

Goals from Lucas Leiva and Andriy Voronin saw Liverpool claim a 2-1 win over Swiss Super League outfit FC Lucerne in their second pre-season friendly.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez handed new goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri the gloves for his debut, while fellow newcomer Philipp Degen was also in a first XI which included Spaniard Danny Pacheco but not Steven Gerrard, who was left on the bench.

Pacheco was the architect of the 10th-minute opener, combining well with Brazil midfielder Lucas before the latter slotted home coolly to round off the move.

Benitez's men were pegged back soon after when Degen failed to win a far-post header, allowing the ball to break to Gavranovic who converted an uncontested header.

Pacheco and Yossi Benayoun both shone in the first half and the visitors soon moved back into the lead through the equally impressive Voronin.

The Ukraine forward took control of the ball 16 yards from goal before producing a sweetly-hit lob to make it 2-1.

Voronin, a constant thorn for the Lucerne defence in the second half, went close to grabbing a second but there were no further goals.

There was, though, one further plus for Benitez who gave Dutch winger Ryan Babel his first 45 minutes since sustaining an ankle injury in his country's Euro 2008 preparations.