Saturday, August 09, 2008

Trio Handed First-Team Squad Numbers

Three of Rafa Benitez's young pretenders have been given first-team squad numbers for 2008-09.

Damien Plessis, Krisztian Nemeth and Martin Kelly have all been allocated numbers for the first time.

Central midfielder Plessis, who borrowed the number 47 for his debut at the Emirates last term, will wear 28 on a permanent basis.

Nemeth, who top-scored for Gary Ablett's title-winning reserves in 2007-08, has been handed the number 29.

Defender Kelly will have 34 on his back should he make his first-team debut in the forthcoming campaign.

Meanwhile, three youngsters have swapped shirts: Emiliano Insua has moved from 48 to 22; Jay Spearing from 34 to 26; and Nabil El Zhar from 42 to 31.

Rafa Hails Youngsters After Lazio Win

Rafael Benitez hailed the performance of Liverpool's young guns after they concluded their pre-season schedule with a 1-0 win over Lazio at Anfield.

The Reds boss admitted he was pleased with his side's overall display after Andriy Voronin stoppage time winner sealed a deserved victory against the Italians and Benitez felt the impact of the likes of Jay Spearing - who created the winning goal - was the main highlight of the night.

"I think it was a very good game against a good team," he said.

"You could see they were pretty sharp, comfortable on the ball and played well on the counter attack. We had two or three really good chances to score and win the game so overall it was very positive, particularly as we had a lot of young players in the side.

"The young players were good too. We know all about the senior players but they all played well. Nabil El Zhar, Jay Spearing, Damien Plessis, and Nemeth - they were all good."

Benitez also had words of praise for Xabi Alonso, who enjoyed a superb display at the heart of the Reds' midfield.

"He was playing well," he said.

"That was positive for us. He is a good player and hopefully we will have another good player coming in soon. We can improve so we will try to improve."

With a Champions League qualifier away to Standard Liege and a Premier League encounter with Sunderland just around the corner, Benitez is now focused on putting the final touches to his squad and admitted a left-sided player was still a priority.

"Clearly we have problems on the left," he said. "We have sold Riise and Kewell and Fabio Aurelio is injured. Leto doesn't have a work permit and Babel is at the Olympic Games, so I think we can improve in this area."

Utrecht Strike Brouwer Deal

Utrecht have struck a deal with Liverpool to take promising striker Jordy Brouwer on a season-long loan.

The 20-year-old is yet to break through into the Reds' first team after joining from Ajax's academy in January 2007.

Brouwer is a regular in Liverpool's reserve side, although he is now set to garner experience in the Eredivisie.

Utrecht are reportedly keen to have the option of buying Brouwer permanently in the deal, but the Reds are against selling.

Brouwer could well have the option of a second destination with ADO Den Haag also enquiring about his availability.

In what could turn into a double deal for Utrecht, the club have also agreed a deal with Real Sociedad for Morten Skoubo.

"He wants to come here," said technical director Piet Buter. "He is looking forward to playing for an attack-minded team."

New Liverpool Power Struggle Could Split The Club

With the Gareth Barry deal hanging in the balance, Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, must have known when he sat down on Thursday afternoon and expressed hope in an interview with this newspaper that the new season would be free of the turbulence that blighted the previous campaign, he was asking for the impossible.

As it turns out, the season has yet to begin and already Benítez appears to be on another collision course with Liverpool's controversial American co-owners, the outcome of which is probably too difficult to predict at this early stage.

Ignoring for a moment the ins and outs of the Barry saga and where the responsibility lies for the collapse of the summer's most protracted and farcical transfer, it is first worth asking how Benítez will respond to being undermined for a second time by Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.

Benítez had to grin and bear it the first time after it had emerged that Hicks and Gillett had met Jürgen Klinsmann not once but twice with a view to the former Germany coach, now in charge at Bayern Munich, taking over the reins at Anfield. Whether he is prepared to stomach the ignominy of being embarrassed so publicly yet again, however, is an altogether different question.

Benítez may have handled the prospective Barry transfer poorly and, in doing so, irked the owners, but that Hicks and Gillett let it drag on for so long, only to pull the plug at the eleventh hour after questioning the manager's judgment opens up a whole new can of worms.

The Spaniard has insisted that he wants to see through what he started at Anfield in 2004, but whether the manager now views his position to be untenable after being defied in public once again remains to be seen.

The Barry deal could certainly have been handled better on Benítez's part. The Americans were initially led to believe that the Aston Villa midfield player would cost considerably less than £18million, hence Liverpool's opening offer of £10 million, and that a deal was all but in place to sell Xabi Alonso to Juventus for £16million. But, when a formal offer for Alonso from Juventus - or from any other club for that matter - failed to materialise and the cost of signing Barry soared, Hicks and Gillett began to ask questions.

In addition to concerns about Barry's price and resale value, the owners believed that, with Alonso still on the books and a host of other central midfield players to pick from in Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Leiva and Damien Plessis, Benítez had more than enough cover in that department.

Contrary to widespread belief, Hicks and Gillett are understood to have had the money to sign Barry, but the fact that they even rejected a £12million interest-free loan from a wealthy Liverpool supporter underlines just how opposed they were to paying through the nose for a 27-year-old. Having already spent a projected £20.3million this summer on a 28-year-old in Robbie Keane, the former Tottenham Hotspur striker, they felt that a comparable outlay on a player of a similar age made no sense.

In some respects, it is a fair point, but even accounting for the way in which they feel they have been misled, the Americans could have informed their manager much earlier than they did that there was little appetite for the deal at that price and while Alonso was still at the club. By failing to do so, though, they have dealt a potentially fatal blow to Benítez's pride.

Furthermore, where all this leaves Barry has almost been forgotten. Having made no secret of his desire to join Liverpool, the England midfield player has incurred the wrath of both sets of supporters and Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, and, unless Arsenal come to his rescue, he will have a lot of bridges to rebuild. Whether Benítez and Liverpool's owners can do the same, however, is unclear.

Liverpool Edge Lazio As Keane & Dossena Make Anfield Debuts

Andriy Voronin scored at the death to give Liverpool a 1-0 win over SS Lazio at Anfield in their last pre-season friendly.

The kick-off of Liverpool’s pre-season friendly against Lazio tonight was delayed until 20:15 because of ticketing problems.

New signings Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena were making their Anfield debuts against Lazio, with Pepe Reina and Damien Plessis returning to the starting XI in place of Diego Cavalieri and injured captain Steven Gerrard.

But Andriy Voronin, only just on as a late substitute, kept his composure to fire a shot that dipped over keeper Juan Pablo Carrizo to give Liverpool a victory they deserved.

The win puts leaves them in good shape ahead of next week's Champions League and Barclays Premier League games against Standard Liege and Sunderland, respectively.

After just nine minutes, Fernando Torres fired narrowly over from 25 yards.

Italian full-back Andrea Dossena impressed on the left, particularly when charging forward, while fellow Anfield debutant shot wide after a good link-up with Dirk Kuyt.

At the other end, Stefan Mauri glanced a free header wide, before Yossi Benayoun gave Dirk Kuyt a chance just before the break but the Dutchman failed to make contact with the empty net yawning.

In the second-half Kuyt was foiled by Carrizo after good play from Benayoun and Alvaro Arbeloa, then Keane fired narrowly wide after another fine one-two with Kuyt.

On the counter, Stephen Ayodele Makinwa headed just over for Lazio, while Xabi Alonso saw a 25-yard free-kick deflected just wide and Daniel Agger forced Carrizo save well from the resulting corner.

Lazio substitutes Pasquale Foggia and Mauro Zarate both brought saves from Reina, but Voronin settled things in stoppage time.


Liverpool: Reina, Dossena, Carragher (captain), Agger, Arbeloa, Benayoun, Alonso, Plessis, Kuyt, Torres, Keane. Subs - Hyypia, Ngog, Cavalieri, El Zhar, Voronin, Darby, Pennant, Insua, Finnan, Spearing, Nemeth.

Lazio: Sorin, Radu, Siviglia (captain), Rozenhal, Lichsteiner, Matuzalem, Dabo, Mauri, Ledesma, Pandev, Makinwa. Subs - Zarate, Diakite, Tuia, Mendicino, Cinelli, Faraoni, Manfredini, Meghni, Foggia, Muslera.

Rafael Benitez On Warpath As Gareth Barry Deal Falls Through

Rafael BenÍtez’s relationship with Liverpool’s owners reached crisis point last night when it emerged that not only had Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr vetoed the manager’s bid to buy Gareth Barry but that the American duo had turned down an offer of a £12 million interest-free loan to help to buy the Aston Villa midfield player.

The loan - which The Times understands was proposed by a millionaire Liverpool fan concerned about the ramifications for the club if the deal fell through - was offered this week and rejected by the owners. The £12 million would have financed the initial installments demanded by Villa.

Hicks and Gillett agreed to provide the £18 million to buy Barry a week ago after Martin O’Neill, the Villa manager, conceded defeat in his battle to keep his captain. However, the owners have made a U-turn and told BenÍtez on Thursday that Barry is too expensive and, at 27, lacks resale value. The club last month paid Tottenham Hotspur £20.3 million for Robbie Keane, who is 28.

The owners had failed to express their reservations about Barry during the protracted transfer saga and their misgivings this week drew suspicions that they could not find the cash to pay for him.

Hicks and Gillett have strenuously denied rumours that they are in financial trouble. Sources close to the owners suggested last night that they had refused the loan because they had enough money to seal the deal themselves.

Either way, the news that money was available will infuriate BenÍtez, because it appears that Hicks and Gillett are questioning his judgment. The Americans have also raised questions about the number of central midfield players in the squad and suggested that BenÍtez has enough talent to work with in that area.

Spokesmen for both Gillett and Hicks refused to comment last night.