Friday, August 15, 2008

Aurelio Fit For Opening Day

Fabio Aurelio hopes to give Rafael Benitez a selection headache by declaring himself available for Saturday's Barclays Premier League opener in Sunderland.

The Brazilian left-back has been on the sidelines for most of pre-season with a shin injury but he is now back in training and determined to be fit for the big kick-off.

"I'm back in training and feel 100 per cent so I'll be ready for the start of the season at Sunderland," Aurelio told

"It was really important for me to be involved in the pre-season training camp in Switzerland and I worked hard. Unfortunately another small problem kept me out when I got a kick on my shin which caused some inflammation, but I'm now looking forward to the start of the season.

"It will be the manager's decision whether I will be involved against Sunderland. I hope to do a good job and help the team make a good start to the season."

Aurelio believes it is imperative Liverpool get off to a winning start against a side many fancy to go from strength to strength in their second top flight season.

Roy Keane has brought in the likes of El-Hadji Diouf and Tottenham trio Pascal Chimbonda, Steed Malbranque and Teemu Tainio, and Aurelio knows he and his teammates face a tough time.

"Now is the time when the results have to come and we are ready for the start of the season," he said. "We know that Sunderland has improved their squad a lot during the summer and they are a strong team now.

"We have also improved by bringing in some quality players so we know that even the team isn't 100 per cent yet we hope to start well and get the three points. We have a strong squad and we want to fight for the title this year."

The summer has seen the arrival at Melwood of Italian left-back Andrea Dossena, while young pretender Emiliano Insua has impressed when given the first-team call.

Not that Aurelio is flustered at the prospect of fighting for his place.

"It's really good to have competition and I think the boss is really pleased about that," he added. "He has a very good opportunity to change the system and use different players, so everyone will be fighting for their place. I think that is very good for the team.

"In every position we have two or three players so I think it's very important during every training session that we all keep working hard and keep up our level."

Kuyt: Liverpool Need Liege Kick Start

Dirk Kuyt believes Liverpool’s Belgian battering has given them “the kick we needed” – and warned Sunderland to beware a backlash tomorrow.

The Anfield outfit were fortunate to escape with a goalless draw from their Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege on Wednesday night.

It was an alarming start to the new campaign for Rafael Benitez’s side, who were indebted to a sparkling performance from goalkeeper Pepe Reina that included a penalty save.

And Kuyt, one of several players under-par on the evening, admits it was a wake-up call for a Liverpool team that were unbeaten throughout pre-season.

“I think we have to look on it as the kick we needed,” he said. “We are still in the game and we will have a good chance at Anfield. We all know we have to perform better – and we will.

“The only good thing about that game for us was the 0-0 scoreline. We were all very disappointed by the performance we gave, as players and as a team. We tried to do our best and it was not good enough.

“They could certainly have had one or two goals, and Reina was definitely man of the match. He made some wonderful saves and also stopped a penalty.

“If you don’t play well, but still draw your worst games, then you can actually look on that as a good thing. We didn’t concede a goal so you also have to take the positives, and that is one.”

Liverpool have an immediate chance to atone for their poor display when they begin their Premier League title quest at Sunderland tomorrow.

And Kuyt added: “We are looking forward to Saturday even more, to show who we are and what we can do.”

One of either Mascherano or Babel will definitely return in time for the Premier League home game against Middlesbrough next weekend, with Argentina and Holland competing a quarter-final tomorrow.

Pepe Dreaming Of Title Glory

On the eve of the new Barclays Premier League campaign Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina has spoken of his belief that Rafael Benitez has assembled a squad capable of winning 'the most difficult competition in the world'.

With hopes and expectations high ahead of the big kick-off Reina - Liverpool's penalty saving hero against Standard Liege on Wednesday night - insists the Reds have never been better equipped to end their 18-year wait for the title to return to Anfield.

"We have to trust ourselves and believe we can do it," he told "The squad has improved season after season and we have to believe this can be our year.

"I hope that in ten months we can be celebrating. I would like to win the Premier League firstly for our supporters, but also because it's the most difficult competition in the world.

"We just want to be involved in every competition this season. That has to be our aim. We want to get closer to the top two and also have a good run in the Champions League again.

"The new players who have come in will help us. I think Robbie Keane will be a great partner for Fernando. He has had some brilliant years at Tottenham, he's a world class player and he will score a lot of goals for Liverpool."

The Reds kick-off the new campaign with an away trip to Sunderland on Saturday evening at a ground where they recorded a 2-0 victory last season.

"It will be a tough test for us," added Reina. "The first league game is always difficult and it will be for us at Sunderland.

"We won there last season but I remember it wasn't easy. They are a difficult side to play against and they will be going for it against us. We have to be strong defensively and then wait for our moment.

Liverpool's Persuit Of Gareth Barry Looks Set To Collapse

Gareth Barry’S proposed move to Liverpool edged nearer to collapse after the midfielder appeared for Aston Villa in the Uefa Cup last night.

Barry started and scored in his team’s win in their qualifying first leg tie against FH Hafnarfjordur in Iceland.

The England international’s selection means he will be cup tied and unable to play for another side in Europe until the knockout stages in February.

However, Villa manager Martin O’Neill insists the latest development does not necessarily rule out a move to Liverpool for Barry.

"I wouldn’t be particularly sure until the transfer deadline passes what might materialise, so we’ll see," he said.

"But he’s our player, and he wanted to play in the game, and we think he’s mentally tuned into it, so that’s all that matters."

Barry has been a target for Liverpool all summer and lost the captaincy for criticising Villa manager O’Neill’s handling of the move.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez had previously made no secret of his desire to sign the 27-year-old.

But chief executive Rick Parry revealed over the weekend that the club’s hierarchy regard Villa’s £18m valuation as "too high".

Barry has been desperate for a move to Anfield, with Liverpool having first lodged a bid back in May.

However, increasingly strained dealings between the clubs have cast doubt over the transfer, with last night’s developments further threatening Liverpool’s current interest in the player.

Dirk Kuyt Promises Liverpool Will Make Premier League Title Challenge

Dirk Kuyt has vowed that Liverpool's Premier League campaign will not be over by the end of September this time around.

The Anfield striker knows that for the past few seasons they have blown their title hopes with an abysmal start that has left them too far off the pace.

There are already fears that Liverpool will follow a familiar pattern as this year's race gets underway after a shocking Champions League performance in Liege on Wednesday.

Liverpool looked well short of the level required to put pressure on Manchester United and Chelsea as they struggled against the Belgian champions.

But Kuyt is adamant that even though the European performance was not good enough, it will be a different story at Sunderland tomorrow night.

"It sometimes happens you don't play your best game as a team, but we will not play like that at the Stadium of Light," insisted the Dutchman.

"The start of the season is big for us. We know how important it will be against Sunderland. We have to do better and we know we will."

Barry Aware Of Consequences

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill insists Gareth Barry "knew the consequences" of his decision to play in the UEFA Cup on Thursday night.

Barry scored the opening goal as Villa cruised to a 4-1 victory over FH Hafnarfjordur in Iceland in the second qualifying round match, a result which home boss Heimir Gudjonsson admitted has killed the tie off at the halfway stage.

But by playing, Barry may have damaged his chances of a move to Liverpool before the transfer window closes at the end of August - if he still wants to go to Anfield.

Liverpool's pursuit of the England midfielder has been a summer-long saga, however by making a European appearance for Villa, Barry has made himself ineligible for the Champions League group stages, which may make him a less attractive target for Rafael Benitez.

O'Neill said: "He was in the right frame of mind and wanted to play. Nothing would have stopped him so that is pleasing.

"I have no idea what will happen between now and the end of August.

"He knew the consequences of playing tonight so the decision was very much his."

O'Neill's side, being watched by England boss Fabio Capello, went into an early 3-0 lead with goals from Barry, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor, before Matthias Gudmundsson pulled one back just before half-time.

Martin Laursen restored Villa's three-goal advantage after the break.

Villa have a comfortable advantage for the second leg, and they should ease into the first round proper of the competition when their Icelandic opponents visit Villa Park in a fortnight's time.

Villa face Manchester City in their Premier League opener on Sunday, but O'Neill said: "I could not think at all about the game on Sunday until we had played tonight, but I was very pleased with some of the football we played.

"We obviously need to tighten up our defence if we could, but I was very pleased to win."

Hafnarfjordur manager Gudjonsson conceded his team's European campaign was effectively over.

"Since it is obvious we don't have any chance in the second leg we will concentrate on the league," said Gudjonsson.

"I don't think this game will break us down, I doubt we'll play against a team as good as this again this summer."

He added: "The game was over before it began. We let in two goals in six minutes when there was a total lack of concentration.

"I do not know if players showed Aston Villa too much respect, which was not necessary.

"If you go two goals behind against such a team at home, obviously it will be difficult but we tried and showed sometimes that we are a good attacking team.

"But in football you must also play defence and that we did not.

"Of course I am disappointed. We planned to get more out of this game and were hoping to get a good result - by that I mean a draw or losing by one goal which meant we would be going out there to possibly put pressure on them."

Milan In For Alonso?

Another name has been added to the list of suitors for Xabi Alonso, as AC Milan have now been linked with the Liverpool midfielder.

Alonso's future has been up in the air all summer long, as the Reds' pursuit of Gareth Barry was expected to signal the end of the Spaniard's stay at Anfield.

Indeed, the Basque playmaker seemed certain to make the switch to Juventus before joining up with la Seleccion for their successful EURO 2008 campaign, but that move collapsed after the clubs failed to agree a fee.

And reports from England suggest that Juve's rivals, Milan, are now set to make a move for the 26-year-old.

The Rossoneri know Alonso's qualities all too well, having come up against the former Real Sociedad man in two Champions League finals.

Carlo Ancelotti's squad already boasts an abundance of midfield talent with the likes of Mathieu Flamini, Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo - the latter of whom is stylistically quite similar to Alonso.

Furthermore, the Merseyside club are now very unlikely to sell the crafty centre-man after calling off their pursuit of Barry, whose £18million price-tag proved too steep.

Hence, this link can perhaps be attributed to the fact Alonso is cup-tied after playing in Liverpool's Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege, thus diminishing his value in the eyes of Arsenal, Internazionale and Milan.

Milan, however, are in the UEFA Cup, meaning the player would still be able to feature in European competition if he move to il Diavolo.

But the switch remains a very remote possibility, and the San Siro club would have to fork out at least £15million to land their man.