Sunday, August 03, 2008

Looking Fan-tastic

Liverpool is famous for many things: The Beatles, its historic docks, and now... the best-looking football fans in the country!

A study by Sky HD has revealed when it comes to well-chiselled features and luscious locks, Liverpool tops the table as having the most attractive set of supporters in the Premier League.

High definition television means that it's not just the action on the football pitch which can be scrutinised by viewers - with a picture four times clearer, fans are now finding themselves on show during televised matches.

Sky HD worked with top model agency D1 Model Management to study high definition footage of crowds from every Premier League match last season, and name the top 10 best-looking clubs as:

1. Liverpool
2. Fulham
3. Tottenham Hotspur
4. Sunderland
5. Chelsea
6. Newcastle United
7. Arsenal
8. Bolton Wanderers
9. West Ham United
10. Manchester United

Dean Cleary-Patterson, from D1 Model Management said: "We're used to scouting the cream of British modelling talent in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, but football crowds are certainly a new concept for us!

"We typically take into account a whole range of aspects of a person's appearance, from the symmetry of their features to the glossiness of their hair. It's interesting to know we might need to start scouring the stands of Anfield to find our next big name!"

Sky's Christian Cull explains: "High definition really changes the way you watch TV, so you end up noticing lots more than you normally would.

"With images so detailed, you can see faces in the crowd much more clearly, so we had a bit of fun by teaming up with D1 Model Management to create a league table of the best looking fans.

"I'm a Chelsea fan, so I'm not used to languishing in mid-table."

Gerrard Must Adapt, Says Benitez

Rafael Benitez has reportedly admitted he will continue to play captain Steven Gerrard in a variety of positions ahead of the start of the new season.

The subject of the Liverpool skipper’s best position is one of much debate especially as Benitez played Gerrard in a number of different positions last season, a move which is unlikely to have impressed his skipper.

Yet despite this, the Liverpool manager has admitted that he will continue to play Gerrard where he thinks is best and that his captain must learn to adapt.

According to the Mirror, Benitez said: “I think Steven is clever enough to do that. If he needs to adapt then he will adapt because he is a player of quality who can play in different positions.”

Whilst Gerrard is thought to favour a central midfield role, he spent much of last season playing just behind Fernando Torres. However, that may now change with the arrival of Robbie Keane. Benitez confirmed as much by revealing: “If we play a 4-4-2 formation then Gerrard can play as a midfielder. If we play with Torres on his own up front, then Gerrard and Keane can play either side of him.”

Although the continual swapping of positions is unlikely to please Gerrard, his manager suggested it shouldn’t bother the player. He said: “I don't think that Steven will be frustrated by that.”

Benitez also went on to say that he believes Gerrard now understands the importance of flexibility for players and that he appreciates that this is something he needs to add to his game. Benitez revealed: “I was reading an interview recently about Gerrard's role in the England team and he is now very clear about his role in the football world - that you need to adapt, think about the team, and play in different positions when it is required.”

The arrival of Robbie Keane at the club will certainly bring Benitez more attacking options and should he sign Gareth Barry, this may also cause him to rethink his midfield formation.

Yet with the Barry deal yet to be concluded, the Liverpool manager was keen to reveal some of the many reasons why he had signed Robbie Keane and what he thought he could bring to the club.

“He can play in maybe four positions in the team. I see him as a player who understands the game and who will always work hard,” said Benitez before concluding, “Robbie has a good mentality - a winning mentality. As a manager, you look for these qualities in every signing you make, but I am sure that Keane is this type of player.”

Rangers 0 -4 LiverpooL

Rangers manager Walter Smith wanted a stern test ahead of Tuesday's make-or-break Champions League qualifier against FBK Kaunas - and Liverpool were happy to oblige by handing out a 4-0 thrashing in Saturday's friendly at Ibrox.

David Ngog opened his goalscoring account for the Reds after Fernando Torres claimed the only goal of the first half.

Yossi Benayoun then found the back of the net, before Xabi Alonso completed the rout from the penalty spot.

Rangers failed to score once again after Wednesday's Ibrox stalemate and know an improvement will be needed when they travel to Lithuania for the crucial second leg, as they bid to keep their European hopes alive.

New signing Madjid Bougherra was named on the bench but failed to make his Rangers debut, while Kyle Lafferty made his first home start.

New goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri started between the sticks for the Reds while, at the other end, Rangers faced the daunting prospect of trying to halt a strikeforce worth a combined total of £40million in the shape of new signing Robbie Keane and Torres.

Rangers had the best of the early chances. Lee McCulloch's ferocious long-range shot whistled inches past Cavalieri's right-hand post, before Kenny Miller hooked over after pouncing on a Nacho Novo lay-off.

Torres then came close for Liverpool when he threw himself in front of a cross from the left from Andrea Dossena, only to send his header screaming over the crossbar.

The breakthrough came with 23 minutes on the clock when a powerful Damien Plessis shot was blocked by Allan McGregor - but the goalkeeper could not hold the effort and Torres was on hand to rifle home the rebound.

Steven Gerrard then embarked on a decent run before unleashing a 20-yard drive that McGregor did well to parry but, this time, the danger was cleared with Keane loitering with intent in front of goal.

Then it was Rangers' turn to threaten when Sasa Papac's audacious attempt at lobbing into the top left corner was only just touched out of play by a full-stretch Cavalieri.

A flurry of activity from Rangers followed but the home side failed to restore parity before the half-time whistle.

The best chance came when Miller released Novo into the box, who rounded Cavalieri at the near post, only to somehow be denied from about a yard out by a sliding block from Dossena.

The good news for Rangers was that Torres was one of several players withdrawn at the interval, with both sides making five changes each.

The bad news was the arrival of Ngog, who helped himself to a goal of his own after 57 minutes. The French striker pounced on a loose pass from Kirk Broadfoot and left McGregor with no chance from 12 yards.

Liverpool added to their lead further three minutes later. McGregor managed to swipe at a Christian Nemeth effort only for Benayoun to come racing in at the back post and bury the rebound from close range.

Cavalieri made way for Jose Reina, while McGregor was swapped for Neil Alexander - and he was plucking the ball out of the net with 20 minutes to go.

Broadfoot was deemed to have tripped Nemeth in the box and Alonso stepped up to convert from 12 yards, with Alexander well beaten.

Rafa Impressed With 'Pool's Dynamic Duo

Rafael Benitez was happy with the bustling shift put in by new-look strikeforce Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane as his Liverpool side put Rangers to the sword in Saturday's friendly.

Against Rangers on Saturday, Liverpool gaffer Rafa Benitez started with the partnership that has had Liverpool fans talking this week: Fernando Torres and big-money signing Robbie Keane.

Benitez has wasted no time in pairing Euro 2008 star Torres and former Spurs skipper Keane and liked what he saw as the duo both put in busy shifts en route to a 4-0 victory against SPL side Rangers.

Also delighted with playmaker Steven Gerrard, Rafa told Setanta after the game: "Both players showed good movement and so did Gerrard. The three were key to keeping possession.

"Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun were coming inside so I felt we had five offensive players - very clever and with quality - so we were a threat all the time.

"Keane is very clever and he worked hard; hopefully we will see a lot of good movement and also goals from him."

The Ibrox faithful ironically played a part in the Gers' second half mauling, according to Benitez, who claimed the Reds were able to expoit their eager hosts as they surged forward in search of a leveller, having been a goal down at the break.

He continued: "The first half was okay, but in the second half they needed to go forward in front of their supporters. We had more space and we scored the second goal on the counter-attack.

"In the second half, with the game more open, it was easier for us to keep the high tempo.

"However, from the start of the game we wanted to impress and we wanted to win."

Hungarian Coach Says Nemeth Must Leave Liverpool To Progress

Hungarian National coach Erwin Koeman has claimed that Liverpool youngster Krizstian Nemeth must look for a loan deal in the Championship rather than play another season in the Anfield reserves if he wants to improve.

19-year-old Krizstian Nemeth is amongst a group of young players on the fringes of the first-team at the Reds, along with Paris St Germain Signing David Ngog and Daniel Pacheco.

However, Koeman believes it would be better for Nemeth to progress on loan in the Championship if he can’t make the step into Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez’s plans. Rather than spend another season in the reserves where he impressed last term.

“I think Krisztian Nemeth is an exceptional talent,” Koeman told the press.

“But I think he can't improve enough in the Liverpool reserve team.

“He should play in the first division week by week.

“Of course, it's not a problem if he plays in the reserve team for one or two years, but doing it for a longer period is just not good for his development.

“I don't think that, at Liverpool, he has a real chance to play besides Torres, Keane, Voronin or Kuyt.

“If he could get into the senior team then it would be a fantastic success, but I think it's more likely that he'd be loaned to another team or - it's worse - he may stay with the reserves.”

Nemeth had been linked with a move to League 1 team Leeds United, but if Benitez was to make him available on loan there would be a host of clubs willing to take a chance on the prolific striker.

Robbie's Keane To Join Liverpool's Magnificent No. 7 Club

Liverpool's roll-call of magnificent number sevens includes legends like Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Peter Beardsley - and Robbie Keane is determined to add his name to that list.

Ever since Keegan arrived at Anfield in the 1970s, Liverpool have enjoyed their most successful periods when the number seven shirt has been filled by a dynamic playmaker capable of raising the team's play to a higher level.

When Dalglish, arguably the club's finest player, became manager in the late 1980s he recognised Beardsley as a kindred spirit and paid a then British record transfer fee to make the forward a fulcrum of his attack.

Beardsley was a member of the last Reds team to win the English title back in 1990 and his sublime skills, together with those of team-mates John Barnes and John Aldridge, enthralled one teenage Liverpool fanatic.

Keane, watching at home in Ireland, fell in love with Liverpool's brand of the beautiful game and never lost the feeling.

So when Rafa Benitez offered the 28-year-old the chance to move to Anfield, he couldn't get to Merseyside quickly enough.

During his official unveiling as a Liverpool player after his 20 million pounds (25 million euro) move last month, Keane's face was wreathed in the kind of joyfully dazed grin that suggested all his dreams had come true at once.

Not only had Keane joined his boyhood idols but he would run out in front of the Kop wearing the iconic number seven jersey after the club granted his wish to step into the shoes of Dalglish and company.

"When the interest came in from Liverpool it was the only thing that could have ever taken me away from Tottenham and that's the reason why I'm here," Keane said.

"I couldn't have left Tottenham for any other club. I think that if I didn't come to Liverpool, I'd probably have regretted it for the rest of my life."

Keane's ability to decorate matches with moments of brilliance has made him one the game's most expensive players throughout a career which has included spells at Inter Milan, Leeds and now Liverpool.

But Keane has never been able to turn that talent into trophies on a regular basis.

Now he has the opportunity at one of the game's blue-chip clubs and Benitez expects his partnership with Fernando Torres to help Liverpool end their 18-year wait for the title.

Despite Torres's phenomenal form, Liverpool still drew 13 matches last season as a lack of cutting edge when the Spaniard was out of form or out of the team came back to haunt them.

Keane believes he can take the pressure off Torres, as well as supplying his prolific team-mate with a regular supply of chances.

"I'm a striker and the manager sees my playing up there," he said. "We haven't spoken specifically about what he wants me to do but I have to earn that right.

"It's kind of like the way it worked with (Dimitar) Berbatov and myself at Tottenham with a big lad and a smaller lad alongside him. Fernando is really good in the air and I try to come off and drop into the hole so we'll complement each other.

"You look at the players who are already here, world class players, and to be playing alongside them can only improve me."

Roma Now Linked With Benayoun

The speculation surrounding Yossi Benayoun’s Liverpool future refuses to go away with Roma the latest club reported to be interested in the Israeli.

The news comes despite the fact that the midfielder’s agent hit out earlier in the week after reports that both Manchester City and former club West Ham were interested in a move for Benayoun.

However, that doesn’t appear to have stopped the speculation mounting, with Roma the latest club reportedly in the hunt for former West Ham man.

The latest speculation suggests that the Serie A club are preparing a bid for the Israeli with claiming that manager Luciano Spalletti is a big fan. With Amantino Mancini having left the club in the summer for Inter Milan, it is claimed that Roma see Benayoun as the perfect replacement. are also suggesting that Benayoun might shortly be heading for the Italian capital. Spalletti has reportedly described the sort of player who he is looking for and admitted a wide man is very much in his mind. He said: “We are looking for someone very physical who can play as a wide striker.”

Whilst Benayoun is clearly not their first choice he may be the most practical as Spalletti himself acknowledged when revealing the other options the club had discussed.

“Everyone likes David Silva, but he is too expensive. Lukas Podolski is an excellent player, but would not fit into our style of play,” said Spalletti before adding, “Florent Malouda and Julio Baptista would be good choices, but their future depends on how other transfer deals go.”

Should Benayoun decide to swap Liverpool for Rome he will join former team mate John Arne Riise who joined Roma last month in a deal thought to be worth £4 million.

The Nick Townsend Column: Benitez Keen To Finally Make It A Red-letter Season

Robbie and Barry can be final pieces in the Liverpool jigsaw as the mad, mad world of the Premier League kicks off again.

Not long now. It'slike listening outfor the first cuckoo of spring. When Harry Redknapp starts to curse that he can't possibly contemplate Europe and the League with such slender resources and Alan Curbishley complains about injuries and – God help us – "burn-out" beforea ball is kicked in anger, you know the Premier League is nearly upon us. It is confirmed when the players, too, begin pledging undying allegiances, with the former Arsenal man David Bentley declaring, without apparent irony, that his heart is at Tottenham. Meanwhile Spurs fans will be relieved to know Robbie Keane still has a place in his for them, though he would much rather be at Anfield, where he has arrived to discover Rafa Benitez stating: "This is the best squad I've had since I arrived." The strikermay well discover that this is no false optimism.

In the mad mad, mad, mad world of the Premier League, no fewer than 73 players have already been conscripted by clubs this summer, for fees, on frees and on loan, and there remains nearly a month of trafficking yet before the window closes. There has been more trying on of new shirts than at a discount Gant outlet, more professing of faith (to a new club badge) than an evening spent at an evangelical church.

Who knows, Gareth Barry, a man who had set his heart on the Champions' League challenge offered by Liverpool and was virtually out the Villa door, may yet join the jubilant Keane, such is the nature of football brinkmanship. And, if so, of all the deals currently enriching players and their agents – but not necessarily clubs – there is just a suspicion that these two would be the most significant, and herald a change in the great order of things.

Benitez, just about to begin his fourth season at Anfield, has been talking up Liverpool's chances of claiming a first title since 1990, and for once it could be no idle boast. Taking it a stage further, it could be said that the Spaniard needs his team at least to make an authentic challenge for the title. Memories of Istanbul remain firm foundations for the reputation he created with Valenciabut yield little succour to the club's followers when Manchester United and also Chelsea begin to sprint away in the title race, as habitually they have done.

Yes, Keane, at 28, is almost certainly overpriced at £20 million. But there is a premium on strikers, at both ends of the table (on that same subject, is Andy Johnson really worth the £13m that Fulham have paid for him?).

Keane is a clever, intuitive player, and if the new No 7 can contribute what two of the previous occupants of that shirt have over the years at Liverpool it may just turn out to be an astute acquisition. Indeed, as Benitez put it: "If he can give us 80 per cent of what Dalglish and Keegan gave to the club he will be a fantastic player. I think he has enough experience and qual-ity and he will be OK. When you have qualities like he has, you have confidence."

Crucial will be the Irishman's partnership with Fernando Torres. "If you play 4-2-3-1, he can play in four positions," Benitez said of Keane's versatility. "If you play 4-4-2, it doesn't matter. He can play as a winger or as a striker. When he is on the pitch you always know he is someone who will work hard and will understand the game and will understand what the manager wants. So I think he is good and can fit into different styles during the games. He has a very good mentality, a winning mentality. I think all managers are looking for this with every signing."

Benitez revealed he had also sought, and been rewarded with, positive reports on Keane from Italy, where the Irish international moved as a 20-year-old to play for Internazionale.

If Keane achieves a harmony with Torres, it could be the most potent Premier League strikeforce, evoking Liverpool duos of old. "At Tottenham, playing with [Dimitar] Berbatov for a few seasons, our understanding was great and we understood each other on the pitch and the training pitch. Now hopefully I can carry on that with Torres," said Keane. "The way he plays, I'll play in the hole. He plays on the shoulder of the defender and I think that will suit me and that we'll complement each other. I don't think I'll have to change." The only question mark now lingers over Xabi Alonso. Benitez admits: "If we have a good price for Xabi, maybe we could do business. But also if Xabi does not go I will be really pleased, because Xabi is a good player and we don't have any problems." Not exactly a heartfelt declaration of intent by his manager. But then we all know thatXabi needs to move on, to help facilitate Barry's move.

At a time when a host of other managers get their mitigation in first by insisting there are "pieces of the jigsaw still missing" – not least at Spurs, who, never mind Bentley's signing, will see their striking options reduced even further if Berbatov heads to Old Trafford – the midfielder's signature appears all that remains of this annual puzzle for Benitez, who has also signed Philipp Degen and Andrea Dossena, from Borussia Dortmund and Udinese respectively. They are both attacking full-backs and will add width.

It enables Benitez to claim: "We know we need to work on new signings and we need to keep the balance, but I think we are very, very close now."

And that is tantamount to the voice of a satisfied manager. A rare event in recent years at Anfield. And certainly an unusual occurrence in thePremier League of 2008.

Less dirty secrets, more the BBC going over old ground

Google the words "racing" and "corruption" and you get about 2,030,000 results. The two have been synonymous virtually since wagers were first struck on the outcome of the Sport of Kings. Like dirty restaurants and cowboy tradesmen ripping off householders, the subject is a ready target for TV investigators. The nature of the sport means it would be surprising if lights shone in its murkier recesses did not illuminate unscrupulous, possibly illegal, dealings. With at least 12 races a day, seven days a week, often with large fields, and its participants possessing much so-called insider knowledge, the capacity for wrongdoing is limitless.

Perhaps that is why one expected something fresh from the Panorama special Racing's Dirty Secrets. Instead it was a return to familiar territory that formed the backdrop to last year's race-fixing Old Bailey trial, involving the six-times champion jockey Kieren Fallon, which ended when the judge directed the jury to find the defendants not guilty.

Of course there should be close scrutiny of racing and its participants, by the authorities, police, and the media. A sport's integrityis essential to its wellbeing. Yet the programme contained a curious remark from Commander Patrick Rice of the City of London police, who investigatedthe race-fixing allegations: "The public expect a level playing field when they go betting; that no one has an advantage above them, ie they don't have inside information about the form, about how good the horse is."

On the contrary. Most people would expect owners and trainers to have that knowledge. And, in many cases, use it. What the betting public do not expect is a horse being "stopped" by a jockey. However, despite the negative tone of the programme, the fact is the rules governing the passing of information by jockeys have never been more strict, races are analysed in minute detail and betting exchanges report irregular betting patterns. Racing is policed more rigorously than ever. Panorama didn't dwell on that. It would have spoilt the story.

Barry Could Still Join Liverpool

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill has conceded Gareth Barry's proposed move to Liverpool could yet go ahead.

On Wednesday it appeared the England midfielder would be staying in the Midlands after Liverpool failed to meet Villa's deadline for a 'suitable' bid.

But after speaking to Barry, 27, and his agent, O'Neill says it is "the best way forward" to leave the door open.

"If Liverpool at the end of it do not come up with the money, that's no-one's fault but their own," he said.

"I'd be delighted if that was the case and Gareth stayed but I doubt it very much. The ball is very much in their court.

"There will be no deadline and Liverpool will have all the time in the world to sign him. They've got to the end of the transfer window at the end of the month.

"I've got a football club to run and I really do want people who want to play for me."

Barry was barracked by Villa fans when he played in a friendly against Walsall in July but featured in the Intertoto Cup match against Odense a few days later and was an unused substitute in Saturday's friendly against Reading.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has said he needs to sell players before he can meet Villa's valuation for the England international, which is believed to be £18m.

Villa have already rejected a number of bids from Liverpool that fell short of their valuation for Barry.

O'Neill has made no secret of his displeasure at Liverpool's conduct in trying to sign Barry and the player himself was ordered not to report for pre-season training after criticising his manager in a newspaper interview.

Villa's ire will have been increased by the fact that Liverpool splashed out £19m for Tottenham striker Robbie Keane - with the fee possibly reaching £20.3m with add-ons - yet have seemingly been unwilling to match an £18m valuation for Barry.