Monday, September 15, 2008

Clubs Queue Up For Heskey

Speculation surrounding Emile Heskey’s future refuses to go away with Aston Villa and Liverpool the latest clubs to be linked with the Wigan striker.

Heskey had been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur during the summer transfer window however a move failed to materialise and the striker remains at the JJB Stadium.

The striker has made a successful return to the international scene, coming on as a substitute against Andorra and playing a full part in England’s demolition of Croatia in midweek, which appears to have raised speculation about his future once again.

Wigan have already expressed their desire to keep hold of Heskey but they may have a battle on their hands to keep the England striker should the offers start to arrive for the seemingly in-demand front man.

According to the News of the World, both Aston Villa and Liverpool are interested in signing the striker with a fee of £3 million being considered.

Martin O’Neill has managed the striker before when they were both at Leicester and even sold the striker to Liverpool for £11 million in March 2000.

The striker spent four years at Liverpool winning two league cups, an FA Cup and the UEFA Cup with the Reds before being sold to Birmingham City in 2004.

Rafael Benitez is reportedly keen to bring Heskey back to Anfield as he seeks to bolster his attacking options, despite having already spent £20 million on Robbie Keane this summer.

Heskey, meanwhile, may be tempted to move as having regained his place in Fabio Capello’s England side, he is reportedly determined to keep it.

Liverpool Captain Gerrard Hails Alonso For Man-Of-The Match Performance Against Man United

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has words of praise for midfielder Xabi Alonso for his inspired performance in the 2-1 victory over defending champions Manchester United at Anfield on Saturday.

Alonso’s future was surrounded by speculation all summer where the Spain international was linked with a move out of Anfield even as the 26-year-old central midfielder was away doing national duty at the successful Euro 2008 finals.

He had however, maintained that he was happy with the Merseyside club all along but the speculation persisted until the transfer window deadline.

Gerrard, who started on the bench after recovering from a groin operation and made a late appearance, said: “I would also like to say a word for Xabi, this has been a very difficult time for him right up to the transfer window shutting.

“He didn’t know whether he was coming or going, but he got man of the match against United and that says a lot about him.”

Steven Gerrard: United Victory Can Be Liverpool's Platform For Season

Liverpool believe they have exorcised their Manchester United demons and proved that they can be genuine title candidates.

One win does not turn under-achievers into world-beaters overnight. But when that win is a 2-1 success over the champions of Europe and England, Liverpool can be forgiven for feeling on top of the world as they head into their Champions League group opener in Marseille on Tuesday.

Such has been their catalogue of horrors against United in recent years, it is no surprise that the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard believe yesterday’s effective, deserved Anfield victory can set the club up for the season.

The local heroes in Liverpool’s multi-national squad understand more than most the pain at Anfield from Manchester United’s march to within just one the club’s record number of title triumphs.

Carragher has voiced cutting views into all aspects of the club’s problems in his newly-published autobiography.

He has criticised the owners for being ruthless and boss Rafael Benitez for risking all in taking on the Americans, while also questioning the foreign invasion and the impact on the club’s academy.

It would be incendiary stuff from anyone, but Carragher is probably the only player who could seemingly get away with criticism of his bosses in public with impunity.

But dare anyone doubt his loyalty and passion.

On Liverpool’s current unbeaten run this term, he said: “The win over United puts us near the top of the league and it proves to the supporters that we can challenge for the title.

“I hope that is the message that people feel we are sending out. You can feel the belief and the confidence amongst the players that we can do it.

“It is a long season, but this will give us confidence that we can keep it going.

“United have world-class players and beforehand they were favourites. But we have risen to the challenge and credit should go to all the players.

“We showed character. United were great at the back last season, so for us to recover from going a goal behind and win like that is very pleasing.”

United were ahead early on through Carlos Tevez, and had Liverpool on the rack for the first half-hour.

But a calamitous own goal from Wes Brown put them back into the game and the second period was only going to produce one deserved winner.

United were poor after the break. Pinned back, they defended, claims boss Sir Alex Ferguson, “like a Conference side”.

Eventually substitute Ryan Babel grabbed a winner 23 minutes from time and there was only the red card for Nemanja Vidic for United to reflect on after that.

Steven Gerrard got into the action late on and said: “It was a great win but the most pleasing thing was the performance.

“They got an early goal and that was a blow, but the reaction from our side, the character shown and workrate, produced a lot of positives. We got even stronger.

“When you get a win against the best side in the league you know it will put you in good stead for the future. We realise it is only early days and of course it does not mean we will go on and win the league.

“Now the belief will be there when we go away to the other top sides like United and Chelsea because they know we are capable of beating them.

“We are only a few games in, but we believe we can be in the hunt come March and April. It means so much to the supporters, we want it really bad and the fans can see that.

“I would also like to say a word for Xabi (Alonso), this has been a very difficult time for him right up to the transfer window shutting.

“He didn’t know whether he was coming or going, but he got man of the match against United and that says a lot about him.”

Ferguson was scathing of United’s disappointing display, having won the previous five league games against Liverpool.

And captain Rio Ferdinand also did not mince words.

He said: “We never really got started. For the opening spell, we looked decent and passed the ball about well.

“But after that we did not get close to them and they managed to get two goals. They were fortunate on both occasions but I am sure they will be happy enough with that.

“All over the park they were first to the ball and you do not deserve to win if teams are doing that to you.”

Ferguson will not forget this one in a hurry.

He said: “Our defending was poor, we had a bad day, but their equaliser was a scabby goal. However, overall they were far the better team.

“We started well, we scored a wonderful goal and (Dimitar) Berbatov could have had one even earlier.

“But that is the time when you should establish yourself. But Liverpool made us make mistakes with their effort and tackling, and we did not cope with that at all well.”

Thousands Of LFC Fans In Tom Hicks Protest

THOUSANDS of Reds fans took part in a protest march against the club’s owners ahead of yesterday's big match at Anfield.

The march was organised by the Spirit of Shankly group with several thousand fans turning out to take part ahead of the clash with Manchester United.

The crowd marched from the Liverpool Supporters’ Club, Lower Breck Road, up to Anfield, in a show of strength against owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Hicks, who has outraged fans consistently ever since he tried to line up a replacement for boss Rafa Benitez, was in the crowd for the game - the first time he has been at a match at Anfield this season.

And a Spirit of Shankly statement added: "What we need on Saturday is two resounding victories. Firstly, a march on a massive scale that tells the world that Liverpool has had enough of Gillett and Hicks.

"A march of passion, a march of anger, a march of Red solidarity that roars its message loud and proud: 'enough is enough, go now.'

"This is the biggest club game in football and the world will be watching. Our second victory on Saturday comes when we take all that passion and pride inside the ground."

Liverpool won the game against United 2-1, with substitute Ryan Babel scoring the winner in the second half.

Benitez Lifted For Euro Campaign

Liverpool gave themselves the perfect confidence boost ahead of the Champions League campaign by beating the title-holders.

The Anfield men start their group matches on Tuesday away to Marseille on a ground that has seen them suffer UEFA Cup heartache and - last season - Champions League survival.

Boss Rafael Benitez may well have skipper Steven Gerrard and top striker Fernando Torres ready to play from the start against the French side.

Both players were on the bench for the excellent 2-1 home Premier League victory over champions Manchester United, and only Gerrard - who has recovered well from a groin operation - got into the action for the final 22 minutes.

Now Benitez said: "We could not have asked for a better boost to our confidence than a victory over the best team in England, and the European champions.

"Now we will go to Marseille in a good frame of mind. That was our best performance of the season and we now feel we can go into a Champions League game in good heart and spirit."

And Benitez was delighted with the general form ahead of a tough away tie in Europe.

He said: "We are still unbeaten, but we had not been at our best. The victory against Manchester United has changed all that.

"We have made a statement about our form in domestic competition, and the victory will not go unnoticed in Europe.

"We did it without Torres and Gerrard, and we will have to wait and see how they are for Europe.

"We have a few training sessions now before the game in France, and both of them have been improving all the time."

Torres has been out with a hamstring injury, while Gerrard has made rapid improvement following a groin operation.

The trip to Marseille will rekindle memories of Liverpool's roller-coaster ride to the Champions League semi-finals last season.

Marseille became the first French side to win a European tie at Anfield with a shock 1-0 success 11 months ago.

That set in motion a shattering few weeks when Liverpool's form collapsed in Europe and they were under severe threat of not surviving the group stages.

Three weeks after the Marseille defeat, Liverpool lost 2-1 in Istanbul against Besiktas in another disastrous group A match.

From then on they needed to divert all their energies to reaching the knock-out stages. Failure would have cost millions and threatened Benitez's job.

They started the comeback with a stunning 8-0 win over Besiktas in the Anfield return, then thumped Porto 4-1 later in November.

Then came the winner-takes-all trip to the south of France to confront Marseille in their own backyard. Victory would have sent either side through at the other's expense.

But Liverpool stormed to a brilliant 4-0 victory at the beginning of December, with fine goals from Gerrard, Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel.

That win secured a trip to Inter Milan in the last 16, and memorable victories in both legs. Arsenal in the quarter-finals were the next side to suffer at Liverpool's hands to set-up that tense semi-final with Chelsea.

Liverpool lost that, only really because of a John Arne Riise own-goal in the first leg.

Now Liverpool want a good start to this season's group campaign. Benitez added: "It was not a good start last season, it will be a lot better this time."

Liverpool Striker Dirk Kuyt Fighting To Regain Holland Place

Dirk Kuyt accepts he's had to fight for recognition in football. And he knows another sterling Champions League campaign will not only enhance his status at Liverpool, it will help him reclaim his place in the Holland team.

In the countdown to Tuesday's trip to Marseille Kuyt said: "Training and playing with players like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres has made me much stronger.

"Before the European Championship people wrote me off completely for the national team. But who was back in the starting line-up for the first two big matches against Italy and France?

"Of course that felt like a big victory for me. I fought my way back in the team and I will do so now.

With my willpower and spirit I always come back at the top of the mountain.

"It has been like that in my whole career. I have enough belief in my own qualities."

Kuyt now hopes he can clinch a new contract at Anfield. His current deal expires in 2010 and he wants to stay in England for the rest of his career.

"I hope we can reach an agreement soon," said Kuyt. "I'm really happy here and I want to stay for a long, long time."

Kuyt actually feels that Liverpool rate him more highly than the Dutch national team. In his home country he has lost his place to Klaas Jan Huntelaar of Ajax. He's frustrated that he is degraded to the substitutes' bench on international duty.