Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Champions League Preview: Atletico Madrid vs. LiverpooL

One man was supposed to dominate the build-up to this fixture; Liverpool's Fernando Torres, Atlético through and through, had spoken of his delight at the prospect of returning to the banks of the Manzanares for the first time since his 2007 switch to English football.

However, a hamstring injury, his second of the season, incurred during the opening stages of Spain's World Cup qualifier against Belgium has taken the 24 year-old's dream reunion from him.

Instead, focus was shifted elsewhere, onto UEFA sanctions levelled against Atlético due to the despicable behaviour of their supporters last time out

After a promising domestic start, the Atlético Madrid La Liga challenge has been derailed somewhat. Three successive losses have left los Colchoneros in disarray and Mexican coach Javier Aguirre is allegedy one game from the sack as the side flounders in eighth place.

The coach will not be allowed to take his place on the home bench tomorrow evening as a result of UEFA sanctions levelled against the club in the wake of their tumultuous Champions League encounter against Marseille. Although Aguirre will watch from the stands, at least he will be watching from the stands of the Vicente Calderón.

European football's governing body has decided to rescind the stadium ban imposed for the behaviour of the Atlético supporters against Eric Gerets' side in light of the logistic difficulties likely to be encounter by fans travelling to a game more than 300 kilometres from the Spanish capital.

Playing at home will certainly provide a crumb of comfort for a side on a low ebb as will their Champions League form in this campaign so far.

They sit atop of Group D, one goal clear of Liverpool, and impressed in the competition's opening two fixtures, albeit before thier current domestic woes.

PSV and Marseille were brushed aside as the rojiblancos made a devastating return to the Champions League for the first time in more than a decade. However, they come into the match against the backdrop of uncertainty. Injuries and tiredness are likely to exacerbate the worries that Aguirre has about the side, as he contemplates leaving Argentinean hot-shot Sergio Kun Aguero out of his starting XI.

Aguero did feature in the weekend Madrid derby, which Atletico hosted. Los Colchoneros was usurped at their own party by a Gonzalo Higuaín penalty in stoppage time. The fixture also saw Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi limp away with a thigh problem, giving Atléti more selection difficulty at the back.

The spirit of Istanbul has well and truly been invoked at Anfield; the 2005 Champions League final saw the Reds recover from three goals down against AC Milan to snatch victory from the Italians, and this season has seen Liverpool once again specialise in rallying from behind.

Four times in the Premier League this season, Rafael Benitez's men have turned over deficits to record wins, and seven of their 13 league goals have come in the last 15 minutes of matches.

Wigan Athletic were the latest victims of the comeback kings, despite the best effort of Amr Zaki on Saturday.

In Europe also, the Reds have made a friend of adversity, claiming a win against Marseille after falling behind as well as eliminating Standard Liege deep into extra-time of their qualification clash.

In the absence of Fernando Torres too, the Reds have found a new means to the goal. Dutchman Dirk Kuyt has been derided as a workhorse throughout his time at Anfield but has provided the side with goals in three consecutive matches for the first time since his move from Feyenoord.

Rafa Benitez's men have a mental robustness, masquerading as 'character', throughout the side and a 'we'll score more' attitude to boot.

Steven Gerrard has called for the side to start imposing themselves on matches from the get-go and wants his troops to command a lead instead of chasing results in the latter stages.


Atlético Madrid

Oct 18 v Real Madrid (Primera División) (H) LOST 2-1

Oct 4 v Barcelona (Primera División) (A) LOST 6-1

Oct 1 v Marseille (Champions League) (H) WON 2-1

Sept 28 v Sevilla (Primera División) (H) LOST 1-0

24 Sept v Getafe (Primera División) (A) WON 2-1


Oct 18 v Wigan Athletic (Premier League) (H) WON 3-2

Oct 5 v Manchester City (Premier League (A) WON 3-2

Oct 1 v PSV Eindhoven (Champions League) (H) WON 3-1

Sept 27 v Everton (Premier League) (A) WON 2-0

Sept 23 v Crewe (Carling Cup) (H) WON 2-1


Atlético Madrid

Tomas Ujfalusi's absence will likely mean that John Heitinga will start alongside Luis Perea at the heart of the Atlético back-line although Pablo Ibanez is nearing a return to fitness. Maxi Rodriguez is still sidelined, so there could be a place for Luis Garcia in the starting line-up. Another Liverpool old-boy Florent Sinama Pongolle may start up-front if Aguirre decided to rest Kun. Goalkeeping duties have been rolling among Leo Franco and Gregory Coupet, although Franco has got the nod so far in the Champions League.

Probable Starting XI: Leo Franco - Seitaridis, Ujfalusi, Perea, Pernía - Maniche, Banega, Raul Garcia, Simao - Sinama Pongolle, Forlan


Torres is obviously the most notable absentee but the Reds have been coping well without him. Rafa Benitez admitted concerns over Yossi Benayoun, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane although all are expected to play. Fabio Aurelio, Martin Skrtel, Philipp Degen and Ryan Babel are all ruled out. Jermaine Pennent excelled in the weekend win over Wigan Athletic and like Albert Riera will be expecting to start.

Probable Starting XI: Reina - Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena - Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard - Kuyt, Keane, Reira


Luis Garcia made a habit of netting important strikes for Liverpool throughout his time at Anfield and is fondly remembered on Merseyside. He forever endeared himself to the locals with key goals en-route to the final in 2005 against Juventus and Chelsea and played the full duration of the final against Milan. Although the diminutive playmaker is not a guaranteed starter for Atlético, expect him to have a say against his old paymasters.

Pepe Reina has claimed the Premier League's 'Golden Gloves' award on the last three occasions and has provided a huge barrier for opposition teams in this competition so far this term. Exquisite saves against Standard Liege and Marseille kept the Reds in matches at difficult times and he will be relishing the prospect of playing against the club represented by his father Miguel for seven seasons.

Atletico Agony For Torres

Fernando Torres admits it is a 'huge disappointment' that he has to sit out Liverpool's trip to former club Atletico Madrid.

The Spanish striker suffered a hamstring injury on international duty last week and will miss Wednesday's UEFA Champions League tie.

Torres was eagerly anticipating his return to the Vicente Calderon, having left Atletico for Liverpool in the summer of 2007.

He is expecting Atletico to pose a big threat to Liverpool, but hopes his current team can move a step nearer the knockout phase by claiming three points.

"To not be in the Calderon on Wednesday is a huge disappointment," said Torres.

"It was very special for me to be able to play this game, but unfortunately it is not to be.

"It will be a difficult game. Atletico have started the Champions League phenomenally well and they will try to move closer to qualifying in front of their fans.

"For us it is the same. If we claim these three points we will take a very big step towards the last 16."

He added: "As I have already said, my wish is that we both qualify and after the first few rounds of matches we are both on track. Now all that remains is to finish it off."

Torres had received an invitation from Atletico to watch the match at the Vicente Calderon as their VIP guest, but has stayed in England due to his injury.

"I want to thank Atletico Madrid for their invitation," he continued. "I'm sorry for the fans, but after meeting with the coach, the medical staff and the physiotherapists we have decided that it was best for me to remain in Liverpool because I would have lost virtually two days of recuperation.

"At this phase we cannot afford ourselves this luxury."

Regarding his recovery from his injury, Torres said on his personal website, "I'm improving. With this type if injury you need to be very patient.

"It is a shame because I have had another break in the same place as happened last August. But there is nothing else to do but work and complete the daily sessions that have been created for me by the Liverpool medical staff."

Rafa - Chelsea Game Is Key

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez admits the game against Chelsea this weekend will show whether they will be title challengers this season.

Manchester United and Chelsea were left to battle it out for the Premier League last season after Arsenal dropped away, but Liverpool were barely in the reckoning.

Now after another summer of rebuilding, Benitez is hopeful he has finally fine-tuned his squad ready for a title assault and the early evidence is good with Liverpool currently second - behind early leaders Chelsea only on goal difference.

Liverpool's biggest issue has been their failure to beat their biggest rivals and Benitez admits he needs to get results against United, Arsenal and Chelsea this season if they want to be involved in the title run-in.

"A Premier League season is very long and we now have a tough game coming up at Chelsea, which will show where we are headed," said the Spanish tactician.

"To win the title you have to do well against your direct rivals - we failed to do that last year."

Despite their impressive start to the new season, Liverpool have been forced to come from behind to seal last-gasp victories on three different occasions already and Benitez admits that cannot continue.

"It goes without saying that it will be difficult against Chelsea if they take the lead," he said.

"But we will take the right conclusions from the games against Manchester City and Wigan.

"It would be nice for our fans if we could lead by two or three goals at the break and they could enjoy the match.

"If it continues like this I will have to seek a neurologist," he quipped. "I don't like these late comebacks.

"Yet we demonstrated the will to win. The will makes us strong!"

With his leading striker Fernando Torres sidelined, Dutchman Dirk Kuyt has taken his chance to replace the Spaniard with both hands after scoring three goals in their last two games.

And Benitez is delighted with how the former Feyenoord man is developing.

"Dirk played superbly against Man City and Wigan," he added.

"It is often said that he scored too little in the Premier League - but he scored twice in the game against Wigan, so I cannot share this criticism.

"Dirk has proved he can play in every position on offence and that he is very determined.

"The loss of defender Martin Skrtel has been the worst thing that has happened this season.

"Although with Dan Agger and Sami Hyypia fit again, we are in a much better position than we were at the same time last season."

Pepe Reina's Family Expecting Nervous Madrid Reunion

HIS father may believe it’s safe to come from behind the sofa, but Pepe Reina is expecting anything but an easy time this evening.

Sentiment has no doubt played its part in swaying Miguel Reina, famously too nervous to usually watch his son play, to attend Liverpool’s latest Champions League encounter.

Reina senior was a member of the Atletico Madrid team that came within seconds of lifting the European Cup in 1974 before being steamrollered by Bayern Munich in the replay.

He will break with tradition tonight when father and son are reunited in their home-town in a Group D clash in which victory would move Liverpool to the brink of qualification for the knockout stages.

“It’s in the right place and a welcome place for him, it’s in Madrid and is quite near to where I am from,” says Reina. “It’s a big game and he will enjoy it.

“But he’s getting worse with the nerves. He was a keeper and it’s not easy for him with me being a keeper as well. He can see the same problems and same kind of pressure on his son.

“Usually, if he can avoid watching the big games and stay calm at home, it’s better for him!

“Coming to Atletico is always a big test against a big club that is doing the right things at the moment, especially in the Champions League. I don’t think we are favourites. It’s always a difficult place to come to.

“It’s going to be a great game, and we’re both in a great situation. If we can win then we are almost done the first job and can be more focused on the league.”

Despite Atletico’s 100% start ensuring they lead Group D on goal difference ahead of Liverpool, coach Javier Aguirre is under pressure after three successive league defeats.

Rumours sweeping Madrid yesterday were that Sergio Aguero, the Argentine wonderkid, would be rested after a series of below-par performances, hampered by niggling injury.

But Reina says: “Aguero is a fantastic player but Atletico Madrid are not just him. They also have good players like Simao and Forlan, who I know personally. But Aguero is one of the best.”

Liverpool have made life difficult for themselves this season, coming from behind to secure victory for a fifth time in 12 games with a 3-2 win over Wigan Athletic on Saturday.

They performed a similar feat in their opening group game in Marseille but Reina admits Benitez’s side cannot afford another slow start this evening.

“The team has great character and we’re showing we never give up on a result, but we have to improve to make sure we don’t keep on falling behind all the time,” he says.

Although Fernando Torres’s hamstring complaint has denied the striker an emotional return to his former stamping ground, there will still be some attacking players hoping to prosper against their former club.

Luis Garcia passed Torres on his way to the Spanish capital while Florent Sinama-Pongolle travelled a more circuitous route, arriving at Atletico this summer after impressing in La Liga with Recreativo.

The latter in particular has caught the eye already at the Vicente Calderon as deputy for the injured Diego Forlan earlier in the campaign.

“It may surprise some people here, after he struggled to establish himself in the Liverpool team, but he was only a young boy then,” says Albert Riera. “He needed more time to develop, and people are beginning to see what he is capable of. He is playing in a really good team, and Liverpool fans will see a far better player than the one who was at Anfield.”

It’s Torres, though, who remains revered in these parts. One fan outside the stadium where the teams trained last night pointed to the club badge on his Atletico shirt, and said: “That is what Torres means. He is Atletico.

“He was with us from a young child. Forgetting him would be like Liverpool fans forgetting Ian Rush. We are happy with Aguero, but we still miss Torres.”

Benitez, like Reina, will enjoy a sort of homecoming this evening in his birthplace.

Although his late father was a staunch Atletico fan, the Liverpool manager became a Real supporter from an early age and went on to cut his teeth as a coach at youth levels at the Bernabeu.

However, Benitez doesn’t believe that upbringing will give him extra motivation to win this evening.

“My town now is Liverpool but I’m from Madrid and I’m always pleased to be here,” he says. “I always have a very good feeling about Atletico and their supporters so I will enjoy it and hope to win.

“My dad was an Atletico Madrid supporter. When I was playing for Real Madrid youth team he wondered why I was there as Atletico needed players more! But I’m sure he would be proud of me on Wednesday.

“But I am not worried about my own personal support, we just want to win for our own fans.

“It doesn’t matter that Atletico have lost to Madrid and Barcelona recently. They are big teams. We are playing in the Vicente Calderon and we know it will be difficult.

“Their fans are very good. If they begin playing well and the fans get behind them, it can be dangerous for us.”

Meanwhile, Dirk Kuyt believes Liverpool can post a “huge statement” with victory this evening.

“Fatigue can be a problem when you are playing every three or four days, but we prepare so thoroughly, I know it won’t hold us back,” he says.

“The club is run so professionally, and, since the Wigan game on Saturday, it has been the usual routine of recovery drinks, ice baths, the right food and plenty of rest.

“It has been a gruelling few weeks, but we will all be up for it by the time kick-off arrives on Wednesday.

“If we can win, it will send out a huge statement. It is going to be a big challenge, but all we are thinking about is taking another decisive step towards the knockout stages.”

Rafa Benitez Makes A Point By Putting Brakes On Rotation

FIRST UP, a postscript to Saturday’s dramatic victory over Wigan; though if drama implies the unexpected, then perhaps we could call this win mundane, so common are such comebacks becoming.

I’m used to managers blaming referees for every shortcoming in their own performance, deflecting attention from their own inadequacies and presenting the press with easy headlines which will ease the pressure on their own positions; although on Saturday Steve Bruce’s post-match diatribe can at least be said to be borne of genuine frustration at the lack of any reward for a display which undoubtedly deserved more.

While he was correct to identify the sending-off of Valencia as the turning-point of the match, his ire would have been better directed at the Ecuadorian winger rather than referee Alan Wiley. Although the TV pictures seemed to support Bruce’s claim that Valencia had moved only after Alonso had tapped the ball to Gerrard, this ignored the fact that he and others in the Wigan ‘wall’ had spent about two minutes stubbornly refusing to retreat the full 10 yards, which was clearly indicated by the position of the free-kick on the ‘D’ of the penalty area. If Wiley was to blame, it was for not booking Valencia and others as they held their ground in the first place. Hard therefore to claim an injustice when he was subsequently cautioned for encroaching.

And the tackle which felled Alonso minutes later, who might consider an alternative career as a clay pigeon so often is he targeted these days, was worthy of a red card in itself, if only for ‘stupid behaviour’. So no great injustice perpetrated by the referee; just another dopey footballer losing his head in the heat of battle.

The focus on Bruce’s outburst also denied Rafa Benitez his rightful acclaim for the effective manner in which he responded to the depletion of Wigan’s numbers. By sacrificing both full-backs and sending on Benayoun and El Zhar to stretch the Wigan defence to breaking point, he effectively exploited the gaps which opened up much as he had done against Man City a fortnight earlier, when Benayoun targeted the right-back area vacated by the departing Zabaleta. Such positive moves are perhaps an indication that Rafa has finally realised that gambling one point against three is a no-brainer given the consistency of Chelsea and Man United; it’s no secret that draws cost us a title challenge last season, and we must take risks to improve our position.

Rafa also appears to have applied the brakes to the rotation roundabout for the time being at least; and his selection for tonight’s game at Atletico will be a good indicator of his relative priorities ahead of Sunday’s game at Chelsea. The game in Madrid is undoubtedly important; yet a draw would suffice, and even a defeat would be retrievable. The visit to Stamford Bridge, however, offers a real opportunity not just to announce our arrival as a serious contender for the Premier League, but to dent Chelsea’s confidence borne of their excellent start to the season and their impressive home record.

Wouldn’t it be great to end our sequence of poor results at Stamford Bridge by breaking their unbeaten home run? Despite their undoubted proficiency, runs like theirs are usually put together in intimidating surroundings, not the soulless salad bowl on the Fulham Road, and as such I’m afraid it cannot be allowed to continue.

If the FA won’t act, then we must take it upon ourselves to curtail this most-quoted statistic, and replace it with our own as the team with the longest current unbeaten run in the Premier League. But we’ll need to score first this time.

Madrid Is Not A Racist City, Insists Rafa Benitez

RAFAEL BENITEZ and Pepe Reina have dismissed the notion that Madrid is a racist city – after UEFA issued another warning to Atletico Madrid.

Liverpool play their latest Champions League group game at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon stadium tonight. UEFA have told referee Claus Bo Hansen they would support a decision to take the teams from the field if there is a repeat of the trouble that marred the Spanish team’s last home European match against Marseille earlier this month.

Atletico were fined £120,000 and ordered to play their next two home European games 200 miles from Madrid, a punishment ultimately deferred until after tonight’s game.

But both Liverpool manager Benitez and goalkeeper Reina, who were both born in Madrid, are confident the match will pass off without incident.

“We don’t want any problems and I don’t think we will see any problems during the game,” said Benitez. “It’s clear it’s not a problem here. Here is more or less the same as all around the world.”

Reina added: “Racism isn’t a problem and has never been one. Its strange people, mainly in England, are talking about it.

“But I can guarantee that Spain is not a racist country and Madrid is not a racist city.”

Albert Riera Confident Of Glory At Liverpool This Season

Albert Riera last night backed Liverpool's incredible team ethic to bring the club glory this season.

The Anfield winger offered a contrast yesterday between the style of his club and that of tonight's Champions League opponents Atletico Madrid.

Riera has seen at close quarters the individual brilliance of stars like Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Maxi Rodriguez and Simao, who make Atletico such unpredictable opponents.

He believes Liverpool have even greater genius in the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, but argued that a heavy emphasis on team spirit and a one-for-all mentality is what will bring them success this season.

"Where they differ from us is that they rely more on individuals than the overall team pattern.

"They are beginning to shape into an effective unit, but it is individual brilliance that has contributed most to their success," Riera explained.

"Atletico are a real threat going forward because they have probably the two best strikers in La Liga in Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan.

"We have outstanding individuals but, first and foremost, we are a team. You can't underestimate the importance of that. There is a great belief that we can match anyone because we are together."

Riera knows much about Atletico's mentality because he played for Espanyol, the second team in Barcelona, just as Atletico are the second team in Madrid. But he fears that tonight's opponents are emerging from the shadow of neighbours Real Madrid.

"I know what it is like after playing for Espanyol in a city that was really all about Barcelona.

People don't take much notice of you, but they a repaying attention to Atletico now," he said.

Liverpool are without Torres tonight and will give late checks to Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio.

Referee Can Halt Liverpool Match In Event Of Racism

Uefa, European football's governing body, has told Claus Bo Larsen that it will offer him its full support if the Danish referee decides to halt Liverpool's Champions League tie against Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón Stadium this evening, should the match be marred by racist abuse.

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, and José Manuel Reina, the club's goalkeeper, both of whom were born in Madrid, rejected claims last night that either the city or Spain had a problem with racism, but that has not prevented Uefa from encouraging Larsen to withdraw the teams, should there be a recurrence of the crowd trouble that blighted Atlético's previous European game against Marseilles this month.

Atlético were fined £120,000 by Uefa and banned from playing their next two Champions League matches at the Vicente Calderón or within 300 kilometres (about 186 miles) of Madrid, although it was allegations that the Spanish club's supporters had directed monkey chants at the black players in the Marseilles team that caused the most concern and invited widespread condemnation.

The suspension was temporarily lifted to allow Liverpool to play at the ground after Uefa accepted that it was in the interests of supporters who had booked their flights to and accommodation in the Spanish capital, but the race row that has engulfed Spain has refused to go away, even if Benítez and Reina were quick to rush to their country's defence.

England do not want to play another friendly against Spain at the Bernabéu, the home of Real Madrid, after their black players were subjected to racist abuse there in 2004, but Reina, whose father, Miguel, was a goalkeeper for Atlético and played in the club's 1974 European Cup final defeat on penalties by Bayern Munich, does not believe there is a problem and predicted that the game would pass without incident.

“There is no problem with racism here and there has never been a problem,” the Liverpool goalkeeper said. “It's because some people are talking about that now, mainly from England, but I can say that Spain is not a racist country and Madrid is not a racist city. The Vicente Calderón is always a difficult stadium to play in but there is always a nice atmosphere.”

Reina's sentiments were echoed by Benítez. “One hundred per cent, there is not a problem [with racism in Madrid or Spain],” the Liverpool manager said. “It's more or less the same as it is around the world. We don't want any problems and I don't think we will see any.”

Although trouble seems unlikely - Atlético's supporters have considerable respect for Liverpool, particularly because of the Spanish influence at the club - the episode has served to overshadow what should otherwise be an intriguing spectacle between the favourites to qualify from group D.

Both teams have recorded wins in their opening two matches and victory for either side tonight would go a long way towards guaranteeing qualification for the first knockout round. In Atlético's case, it would also ease the pressure that has mounted on Javier Aguirre, their coach, in the wake of a 6-1 loss to Barcelona and 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid on Saturday.

Although Liverpool have demonstrated remarkable resilience this season, coming from behind on five occasions to win, Xabi Alonso, the midfield player, spoke of the need to “get in front in matches because we're not always going to have the luck to come from behind” and Dirk Kuyt, who will be hoping to add to his record of ten goals in 17 Champions League appearances in the absence of Fernando Torres, believes that this is a “vital” week for the club, with Chelsea to play in the Barclays Premier League at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Torres spurned an invitation to attend the Atlético game so that he could stay in Liverpool in an effort to get fit for the Chelsea match, but while the former Atlético striker's absence has taken the gloss off the tie for some, there will be at least one in-form striker trying to put one over his former club. Florent Sinama-Pongolle has been a revelation in Spain since leaving Anfield in May last year, and with another Liverpool old boy, Luis García, in their ranks, Reina believes that Liverpool will have to be “at our best” to overcome Atlético.

Owners Launch Bid To Find Buyer For Liverpool

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, the Liverpool owners, have signalled that they are ready to sell their stake at Anfield after engaging Merrill Lynch, the investment bank, to find a buyer for the club.

The Americans need to restructure their £350million loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which expires on January 25. However, the bank, at present under public ownership because of the credit crunch, has adopted a policy of restructuring loans only in extremely favourable conditions. While discussions with Gillett and Hicks have not yet opened, their circumstances are not believed to fall into this category. The owners have always denied that the club were available for sale but the latest move signals an acceptance that the American duo's future control is unsustainable.

Although the Liverpool owners denied yesterday that Merrill Lynch has been engaged, The Times understands that auditors looked at Liverpool's books last week with a view to finding a buyer. So far, the search appears to be unsuccessful.

Sheikh Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, has maintained a longstanding interest in acquiring Liverpool but has balked at the price tag set by the American pair, which is upwards of £550 million.

The owners admitted last month that plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park have been put on hold indefinitely. RBS is bracing itself for a campaign of protest by the Spirit of Shankly, a Liverpool supporters' union.

An offer from Dubai of £500million has been on the table for many months, but there has been minimal contact between the Sheikh's representative, Amanda Staveley, and the American camp over the past few months.

Rumours of interest from Robert Kraft have swirled around Anfield in the past few weeks but it is not believed that the owner of the New England Patriots American football team is a viable bidder for Liverpool.

Liverpool Owners Tom Hicks And George Gillett To Raid Profits To Pay Interest On Loans

The revelation that Tom Hicks and George Gillett will rely on Liverpool's profits to pay the interest on loans with which they bought the club will come as no surprise to those inside Anfield and beyond who have long suspected the worst of the Americans.

In the on-going debate over football's finances no club better capture the concerns of regulators and supporters than Liverpool under the stewardship of the dysfunctional duo.

The issues of ownership, financial transparency and debt raised by Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Football Association chairman Lord Triesman in recent weeks all coalesce at Anfield, once home to the most dominant team in Europe but now symbolic of the uncertainty stalking the game.

On Wednesday night in Spain Rafael Benitez's side will attempt to extend their unbeaten start to the season against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, a run that has temporarily stilled some of the dissenting voices on the Kop disturbed at the conduct of Gillett and Hicks, who borrowed almost £300 million to buy the club 18 months ago.

For all the current success, questions remain over the sustainability of the club's finances, and Telegraph Sport's revelations will heighten the suspicion that with plans for a new stadium on hold, Hicks and Gillett have no chance of paying off any of the capital on their loans from the club's revenue streams, leaving Liverpool carrying a millstone into an uncertain future.

When it comes to financial transparency, Liverpool fail most of the tests set out by Burnham and Triesman. The football club and their immediate holding company are registered in the UK and subject to normal reporting requirements, but the ultimate ownership is concealed behind brass-plates. Starting with a holding company in the American state of Delaware, and passing through a Cayman Islands tax haven en route to L4, the ownership structure is opaque at best.

Neither has the Americans' tenure been harmonious, with regular rows between Hicks and his partner destabilising Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry, as well as alienating supporters initially impressed by the grand promises from owners who promised to respect the club's grand traditions.

The Americans financed their purchase with a £298 million loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia, £174 million of which was used to buy the club from existing shareholders, a deal that brought David Moores, last of the family line to run the club, close to £90 million.

That initial loan was replaced in January by a £350.5 million facility with the same banks. At the time Hicks and Gillett were determined to formally load the entire debt on to the football club, but were prevented from doing so by chief executive Parry and Moores, now honorary life president, who invoked a "whitewash clause" that required all board members to agree on debt issues.

The American's compromise was to forward £105 million to the football club, much of which has been used to buy players, with the remaining £245 million sitting with holding company Kop Football. Combined, those loans, secured at rates estimated at around nine per cent, will cost the club £25 million a year.

That is broadly equivalent to the revenue raised by last season's run to the Champions League semi-final. With European performance generally representing the difference between breaking even and turning a profit at Anfield, the owners' decision to suck money out of the club to cover their interest payments leaves Liverpool running to stand still.

It also makes a mockery of Gillett's boast on the day he and Hicks took control of the club in March 2007, that "we have purchased the club with no debt on the club".

The concern for supporters taking the long view is that the requirement to service debt will inhibit transfer spending, and could eventually prove impossible to sustain from current revenue.

Share Liverpool, the supporters group with aspirations to buy the club on behalf of the fans, have used financial modelling software in use at several football clubs to forecast the club's financial performance and predict annual losses of between £30 million and £70 million over the next five years as player costs increase.

They argue that on their figures, the club do not have a large enough stadium or commercial income to support their player and debt costs. In such circumstances even servicing the interest on the acquisition loans may prove difficult.

Hicks and Gillett dispute these projections and point to recent commercial deals with Paddy Power and Thomas Cook worth £10 million as evidence that they are enhancing the club's commercial appeal.

Impressive though these deals may be, ultimately Liverpool's ability to compete with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will depend on moving to a new stadium, a project that poses the biggest question of all about Hicks and Gillett's stewardship.

They insist that plans for a 75,000-seat stadium are on hold only while the worst of the banking crisis has eased, and that next year they will retender for contractors and suppliers on the project.

What they do not say, however, is how the £300-400 million project will be financed. They already face the prospect of refinancing their loans in July next year, and it is difficult to see how they will be able to secure double the debt against the club without providing fresh capital.

Until they do, the suspicion will linger that they are caught in a Catch-22 of their own design, unable to clear their acquisition debt without a new stadium, but unable to build one because of their inability to raise fresh finance.