Saturday, August 02, 2008

Benitez’s Relief At CL Draw

Rafael Benitez last night expressed his relief as the draw for the final Champions League qualifying round paired his side with Belgians Standard Liege.

The Liverpool manager feared a long away trip would disrupt his preparations for the new season with the opening Premier League game against Sunderland coming potentially just three days after the first leg.

But Liege is only about 500 miles from Liverpool and one of the shortest trips they could have received in yesterday’s draw.

Benitez has already taken his side to three different countries during this pre-season programme, with Rangers next on the agenda at Ibrox today and a friendly still to come in Oslo with Valarenga on Tuesday.

But avoiding a trek to Eastern Europe has given the Spaniard a major boost ahead of the new Premier League season.

He said: “I think there are two very important things about this draw. Firstly, the second game is at home which is really, really important. Clearly that makes a massive difference to play the deciding game in front of our own fans.

“I’m also pleased because the travelling isn’t a problem. We don’t have to go too far which is good news, especially when you look at some of the teams we could have drawn.”

Although Benitez is satisfied with the location, he won’t be as laid back about the opposition, who won their first Belgian league title for 25 years last season.

“People may say it’s a kind draw for us but we will treat them with respect,” said Benitez. “We know some things about their team already but we will now watch more videos and get reports from our scouts before the first game.

“Of course we know about Oguchi Onyewu because he spent some time with Newcastle. Axel Witsel is a good young player and Wilfried Dalmat is probably the best player in their team.

“Alexandre Da Silva is a good defender as well, so we know they won’t be easy opposition for us.

“Overall though it is a good draw and we are happy.”

Onyewu had a short spell at Newcastle in the 2006-07 season and although it was largely unsuccessful, he was impressive in their 2-1 victory over Liverpool at St James’s Park.

8 Things You Need To Know About Liverpool's Champions League Opponents Standard Liege

This morning's Champions League third qualifying round draw paired Liverpool with Belgians Standard Liege. Here's your essential guide:

1) Like Liverpool, Standard Liege are known as ‘The Reds’ because of their home strip.

2) The club was formed in 1900 by a group of the College of Saint-Servais in Liege. The prefix ‘Standard’ came about because French side Standard de Paris was popular at the time.

3) Standard Liege reached the final of the 1982 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup where they played Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Barca won 2-1

4) Ahead of that final, other teams in Standard’s league were allegedly urged take it easy while playing them so they would be fit and rested for the Cup Winners’ Cup final.

5) In 2007/08 they won their first Belgian League title in 25 years with three games left. They had a unbeaten run of 31 matches on their way to the title.

6) The only English footballer ever to have played for Standard Liege is Mike Small, who turned out for Luton Town and Peterborough in the early 1980s before joining Liege, then West Ham and Charlton later in his career.

7) Standard Liege met Liverpool in the second round of the Cup Winners Cup in the 1965/66 season. Liverpool won the tie 5-2 on aggregate.

8) Back in 1978 Liege met Manchester City in the Uefa Cup. City humped them 5-0.

Yanks Cough Up To Keep Alonso?

The likelihood of Xabi Alonso leaving Liverpool this summer continues to decrease, with reports emerging that the club's American owners are preparing to top up the transfer kitty themselves.

Prior to EURO 2008 it seemed a foregone conclusion that Alonso would end his four-year spell on Merseyside to join Juventus.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez made no secret of his designs on Aston Villa's Gareth Barry, nor of the fact his transfer funds would be limited - two and two equalled the Basque playmaker leaving Anfield.

But things have taken a turn following Spain's triumph in Austria and Switzerland. Juve opted instead for the cheaper Christian Poulsen to fill out their midfield, while Villa knocked back bid after bid for Barry and refused to budge from their £18million quote.

Fenerbahce, Internazionale and Arsenal are reported to be interested in Alonso, but the 26-year-old has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay with the side he helped to Champions League glory in 2005.

Meanwhile, Benitez has spent the £20million he raised from selling John Arne Riise, Danny Guthrie, Scott Carson and Peter Crouch on Robbie Keane, leaving him short of cash for Barry.

The Spanish tactician recently proclaimed that he would have to offload more players to fulfil his summer transfer plans, raising further doubts over Alonso's future, while it was also reported that the ex-Real Sociedad player sought crunch talks with his manager.

But everyone - except Villa, perhaps - could be about to get exactly what they want, as The Daily Mail claims that Reds co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have decided to take out further loans to secure Barry's signature without having to sell Alonso.

Such a move would allow the Premier League giants to comfortably accommodate for the early-season absence of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva, who will compete at the Beijing Olympics.

However, the Americans' plans - if these are indeed their plans - could meet with opposition from certain sectors of the Reds' support, given the club's unpaid debts and the fact they must raise £300million for a new stadium in Stanley Park.

Fernando Torres Sets Higher Strike Target For Liverpool FC

Fernando Torres is ready to shrug off fears of a ‘second season syndrome’ – by continuing to be a winner.

The 24-year-old came back to pre-season training with Liverpool this week as a European champion following Spain’s triumph in Austria and Switzerland earlier in the summer.

Torres – who could be paired with his old club Atletico Madrid in today’s Champions League third qualifying round draw – is confident that experience will help him carry on the good work of his debut season in England.

His 24 Premier League goals made him the foreign player with the most strikes in a first season in England’s top flight, beating Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 2002 mark of 23. But he has no qualms about living up to the expectation, saying: “My aim is to score more than last season, which is what I am working towards.

“I, at least, have to aim to equal last year’s figure because it is very important to bring goals to the team.

“Getting my mind back on Liverpool after the European Championships will not be a problem. All of us Spaniards came back happy, full of confidence, and with a real desire to stay at the top and keep on winning. We want people to continue talking about us. We now have another chance to leave a mark with the Premier League and the Champ-ions League. I am coming into this season with all the desire and hope in the world.”

Torres started all of his country’s Euro 2008 games apart from the dead rubber group match with Greece and his winner in the final against Germany brought Spain their first major trophy for 44 years.

An equally agonising wait for the Premier League continues to hang over his club side as Liverpool go into the campaign making their 19th attempt to win their 19th title.

“Like every season the expectation is huge,” added Torres, who made a 20-minute return to action as a substitute in Wednesday night’s friendly in Villarreal.

“People are talking about us winning the Premier League again because we have been some way off for the last few years. It has been 19 years since we won it. We also have to be among the best teams in the Champions League again. We are a very competitive side over two legs and I’m certain that we can go a long way.”

Torres has also welcomed the £20million capture of Robbie Keane from Tottenham, who he feels has the experience to help Liverpool make that double assault on the domestic and European front. But he admits he isn’t sure if he is saying hello to a new strike partner.

“Robbie Keane really wanted to come to us and I think he is going to bring us an enormous amount – hard work, goals and experience,” Torres said. “He will bring the level of the team up a notch and I’m sure he is going to be very important this season.

“But the tactical lay-out of the team and whether or not we are going to play two up-front is down to Rafa.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool are prepared to wait for the outcome of talks between Gareth Barry and Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill.

O’Neill followed up the club statement that their captain would be staying by declaring his delight that Barry will remain a Villa player after Liverpool missed the deadline they imposed to complete his signing.

But both Barry and Benitez are keen to push the deal through after the Midlands club accepted Liverpool’s £18million bid – which has always the main stumbling block during this elongated saga.

The structure of the deal couldn’t be agreed in time during Wednesday’s intense negotiations, but Barry and his agent plan to meet O’Neill to reiterate their desire to compete his Anfield switch.

Benitez also wants the deal finalised quickly. After tomorrow’s friendly with Rangers at Ibrox, his side only has two more warm-up games left before the start of the new season, against Valarenga in Oslo and at home to Lazio.

The first competitive game is the first leg of the Champions League third qualifying round on August 12 or 13. The second leg is on August 26 or 27. The draw is being made in Nyon at 11am today.

Fernando Torres And Robbie Keane Set To Pair Up For The First Time

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is set to field his £40million strike force of Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane for the first time in tomorrow’s friendly against Rangers at Ibrox and expects his side’s goal drought to come to an end.

Torres and Keane are expected to start in Glasgow as Liverpool start a run of three games in a week before their Champions League third qualifying round tie first leg away to Standard Liege.

Liverpool follow the Rangers trip with a game in Norway against Valerenga on Tuesday and then a home match with Lazio on the following Friday.

So far this summer Liverpool are unbeaten in five pre-season friendlies, but they have only scored four goals and managed goalless draws in the last two games.

But Benitez reckons all that will change once Torres and Keane start to hit it off.

“When they have more sharpness they will score more goals. At this stage it is all about preparing for the start of the season and I know that when the season begins my players will be ready.

“Last season Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun and Peter Crouch all got double figures for us, so I know we have the players to score goals.

“Crouch has left but we have brought in Robbie Keane, who also got double figures for Tottenham, so I am not concerned.”

Benitez: We'll Score And Score Freely

Rafa Benitez is unconcerned by his striking pool's far-from-stellar hit-rate during pre-season, insisting that a multitude of goals will come from all around his side.

Only fringe-man Andriy Voronin, of all people, has found the net amongst Liverpool's strikers in five pre-season outings.

In fact, the Reds haven't found the net at all in 180 minutes, drawing a blank against Hertha Berlin and Villarreal.

Perhaps buoyed by the recent capture of striker Robbie Keane, though, Rafa Benitez is refusing to panic.

Preparing his troops for the Ibrox test against Rangers, he insists that goals will come from both midfield and the front-line given time.

He told the club's official website: "In the last two games we have created several chances but either the opposition keeper has played really well to stop us from scoring or we have just missed the target.

"There is no problem. I am sure the goals will come and the important thing is that the players are creating chances.

"When they have more sharpness they will score more goals. At this stage it is all about preparing for the start of the season and I know that when the season begins my players will be ready."

Benitez has mumbled his first concerns since letting beanpole forward Peter Crouch leave for Portsmouth, but insists that there are goal threats throughout his side.

He continued: "I know we have the players to score goals. Last season, Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun and Peter Crouch all got double figures for us.

"Crouch has left but we have brought in Robbie Keane, who also got double figures for Tottenham, so I am not concerned."

Keane pulled on the Red shirt, or the grey change jersey more specifically, for the first time in the goalless El Madrigal draw with Villarreal.

Keane, though, will be wary of the trip to Glasgow. The striker was badly injured there during a summer friendly in 2004 as Spurs lost 2-0 to the Gers.

Liverpool Waiting For Response To Bid For David Silva

Valencia's David Silva and David Villa have been the subject of speculation ever since the Euro2008 tournament, and with the financial crisis at their club Valencia, it was only a matter of time before a big offer came in to test the waters.

If the response is favourable it could start an avalanche of offers for the two stars. It seems that Roma have put the first offer into Valencia, bidding a rumoured €25million for David Silva.

Silva's agent Julio Llorente told reporters: “I haven’t had any contact with Roma but I know that the Italian club has made an offer to Valencia for the player,”

“I do not know in what terms or circumstances this offer was made but I can confirm that Roma did offer a certain amount for Silva.”

Liverpool have been known to be interested in a winger of that class for some time, and Silva himself has been specifically linked to Rafael Benitez's team as a perfect player to supply the crosses for his Spanish team mate, Fernando Torres.

Now Rafael Benitez is waiting with bated breath to see what Valencia's response will be.