Friday, December 19, 2008

Reds To Face Real Madrid In Last 16

Liverpool will face Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League following today's draw in Nyon, Switzerland.

The first leg will be played in Spain on February 24 or 25, with the return at Anfield on March 10 or 11.

Real Madrid might have lost five times and be in sixth place in the Primera Liga but they are currently in pursuit of a 10th European title and will be bolstered by the appointment of new coach, Juande Ramos. So, expect them to be a whole different proposition come February.

Galacticos are thing of the past these days, but los Blancos are still strong in almost every area. Local hero Raul is still a threat at 31-years-old and has found the net 12 times already this season, while Aregntine starlet Gonzalo Higuain could be a danger if he can maintain his recent breathtaking form.

You have to go back to the 1981 European Cup final for the last - and only - time we played Real in a competitive match. Things have changed a lot since then, but you can be sure this tie will be just as tight as that 1-0 victory.

The full draw is:

Chelsea v Juventus

Villarreal v Panathinaikos

Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich

Atletico Madrid v Porto

Lyon v Barcelona

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Arsenal v Roma

Inter Milan v Man Utd

Liverpool FC Eye £100m Champion's League Prize

LIVERPOOL await their last 16 Champions League opponents today eyeing a cash prize of almost £100m.

The five-time winners have reached the semi-finals in three of the last four seasons, getting to the final in 2005 and 2007.

And if they repeat their feat of three years ago in Istanbul and lift the trophy in Rome in May, they are set to pocket up to £98.69m.

Europe’s top clubs have already made an average of £34.39m for reaching the knockout stage, according to new research.

This figure rises to beyond £40m in extra revenue for sides with the largest fan bases.

These financial injections include a Uefa participation payment, Uefa prize money, a share of Uefa commercial revenues from the tournament (market pool payment) and ticket sales.

One of the world’s leading sport business experts, Professor Simon Chadwick, who conducted the research for Champions League sponsor MasterCard, said: “In uncertain economic times, sport is still one of the most lucrative industries.

“The competition continues to be an important source of revenue and commercial activity for clubs, especially for those that qualify for the knockout phase of the competition.

“This inevitably makes a significant contribution to the annual turnover of the clubs involved. Revenues earned from Champions League football will be especially important at the moment, given difficult conditions across the world.”

Uefa awards £2.68m to each team that qualifies for the Champions League, plus £2.15m for participating in the group stage. A Group stage win was worth over £530,000 per game, or £268,000 for a draw. Reaching the first knockout phase has netted an instant £1.9m prize payment. A side qualifying for the knockout phase will have secured an average £8.4m in prize money alone.

Uefa will make additional payments to Group stage teams dependent on the commercial success of the tournament, which the MasterCard report suggests could amount to approximately £8.4m per club.

The study also suggests ticket revenues have generated an average of £7.64m in income from the Group stage, with commercial and marketing revenues accounting for a further £5.36m on average and squad values increasing by an average of £4.47m on the back of qualification for the knockout phase.

This means that as an average across the sides in the Champions League, the economic boost derived from qualifying through the Group stage can be split up as 24.7% due to the Uefa market pool payment, 24.4% due to Uefa prize money, 22.3% due to ticket revenues, 15.6% due to commercial and marketing revenues, and 13.0 %due to increases in player value.

Uefa prize money adds £2.2m for each quarter-finalist, £2.68m for each semi-finalist, £3.57m for the runners-up and £6.26m for the winners.

According to the study, the side that lifts the trophy in Rome next May could earn a total of £19.5m in prize money, an expected £8.4m market pool payment, £17.84m in ticket revenues, £12.5m in commercial and marketing revenues, £13.4m in increased squad value, and up to £26.8m in other premiums for progression to the final and victory, including bonus payments linked to sponsorship.

Xabi Wants Real Challenge

Xabi Alonso admits he would relish facing Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Real are the current Spanish champions but finished second in Group H behind Juventus - and are thus one of five teams Liverpool could be paired with in Friday's draw.

Ties against Villarreal, Lyon, Inter Milan and Sporting Lisbon are also possibilities - but Alonso is quietly hoping for a trip to the Bernabeu.

The 27-year-old told "Of course, we always want to go to new stadiums. For example, we haven't played at the Bernabeu with Liverpool and it would be a good venue to play at.

"We have been back to Spain four times since I have been here. We won at Deportivo La Coruna and Real Betis, as well as Barcelona, and drew with Atletico.

"Hopefully if we go to Spain we can do the same again.

"Whoever we get it will be welcome, but if we get Real it will probably be more welcome."

Liverpool's training schedule ahead of Sunday's game against Arsenal means Alonso won't watch the draw live.

He added: "We will be training at Melwood - someone from the staff will come out and tell us the news when the draw has been made.

"The ones we could face are all good teams."

Martin Skrtel Targets Boxing Day Return To Liverpool FC

MARTIN SKRTEL has refused to rule out the possibility of being involved in Liverpool’s Christmas programme next week.

The defender sustained cruciate ligament damage in the 3-2 win at Manchester City in early October and was initially set to be sidelined until the end of the year.

But Skrtel, who is back in full training after making good progress with his recovery, reckons a return to the squad for the Boxing Day clash with Bolton or trip to Newcastle United two days later is still in his sights.

“There is no date set for my comeback but I would be very glad to make it in this year,” said Skrtel.

“So far I have been through only two training sessions. We will see how I am doing after one or two weeks of training, then we can speak about my return.

“The knee is alright but I don’t have the fitness I had before I got injured. My strength has been good but speed and acceleration has been worse after almost three months of rehabilitation. That will return with time.

“A three-month break is rather long and I must try hard now to get back to action as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Pepe Reina insists Liverpool are capable of securing a first ever victory at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

“We don’t have that many great memories from our other visits to the Emirates,” Reina admitted.

“They have played very well, and we haven’t been in our best moment.

“This time I think it is different, because we are top of the table and I think it is easier to play when you are up there. We’ve never won there before, so maybe it’s the right time to do it.

“It is possible for us to win on any ground. But we have to respect them a lot and play to win, like we always do.

“We have already won at Stamford Bridge, which we’d not done, so we’re confident we can now go to the Emirates and win there too.”

The Gunners have slipped away in the title race after suffering five defeats including losses to Stoke, Hull and Fulham.

But Reina said: “They probably do save their best for the big teams.

“The way they play their football probably makes it easier for them to take on the top sides, because they allow them to play their brand of football.”

Liverpool To Offer Fernando Torres £6m Deal

Liverpool are reportedly ready to offer Fernando Torres a £6 million annual contract to fight off the advances of Manchester City.

Torres was a target for City in the summer. And though he is happy at Liverpool, a new contract worth £120,000 a week is likely to be offered to the Spaniard to secure his future at the club, according to the Star.

Torres' agent, Jose Antonio Martini admits the striker is widely admired but is committed to winning trophies with Liverpool.

"Big European clubs are always asking about Torres, but he loves it at Liverpool and is keen to get fit to fight for the title and Champions League," said Martini.

The Anfied future of Robbie Keane, however, appears less settled. Mark Lawreson's candid admission that Steven Gerrard expects Keane to leave has only stoked rumours that the Irishman could be sold in January.

And now Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has admitted he could seek to take Keane back to White Hart Lane.

“I like Robbie Keane. He’s a fantastic footballer,” Redknapp said. “There’s no doubt about that. Everyone’s got a value and, at £20 million, it was a lot of money.

“I thought it was good business. The chairman did good business getting that type of money for him. But, if they don’t want to sell him, that’s their business.

“He’s a Liverpool player. Until the day when they say he’s for sale, he’s part of their club.”

Tottenham are looking to sign a forward in the transfer window to complement Roman Pavlyuchenko, Darren Bent and Frazier Campbell.

Rafa Poised To Score An Owen Goal

Seven years ago yesterday Michael Owen was crowned European Footballer of the Year. Today, with his career at a crossroads, Paul Joyce asks if Rafa Benitez should let bygones be bygones.

IT was designed to nip in the bud any further enquiries, but Rafa Benitez’s blunt insistence at the start of this month that he was not interested in signing Michael Owen succeeded only in raising one more question: Why?

Why, when missed chances have been a recurring lament this season, would Liverpool not consider pepping up their title charge with a player whose happy knack of scoring goals remains undimmed?

Why, when money is tight, would the prospect of bringing a proven talent back to the club at a knockdown price not be worth further investigation?

Owen’s prevarication over a contract at Newcastle has become an issue for debate between managers and chairmen at Everton, Manchester City and numerous other Premier League clubs.

Yet at Anfield the striker’s name is almost taboo – it is that of another old boy, Wigan’s Emile Heskey, which continues to keep the rumour mill busy.

“It is clear that we will not be signing Michael Owen,” said Benitez in the aftermath of the game with West Ham on December 1 when asked about the 29-year-old’s situation.

If there was one match during Liverpool’s recent patchy run of form that screamed out for a forward capable of dispatching just one of several chances, it was that goalless stalemate.

Perceived wisdom in the red half of Merseyside has it that the only thing preventing Liverpool from pulling clear of their rivals has been the absence of Fernando Torres.

Should that belief hold true, then a move for Owen would provide the perfect substitute in more ways than one if the Spaniard’s hamstrings suffer further pulls, tears and strains once he completes his recovery from his third such injury of the campaign.

Without Torres in the side, Liverpool do not boast the same threat largely because they do not possess anyone else who can stretch defences with his jet-heeled pace.

Owen would remedy that, while a record of nine goals in 10 starts this season for Newcastle suggests Sir Alex Ferguson and Luiz Felipe Scolari would shrink at the thought of that sort of firepower suddenly being added to Benitez’s armoury.

The last time that the championship was deposited in the Anfield trophy cabinet in 1990, it took an inspirational signing by Kenny Dalglish to keep the chasing pack at bay.

Ronnie Rosenthal may be for ever remembered for a glaring miss at Villa Park, but seven goals in the final eight matches of the season ensured his name in Mersey folklore for very different reasons.

For all Newcastle boss Joe Kinnear’s protestations that Owen will see out the final months of his contract at St James’ Park, Benitez has an opportunity to pull off a similar masterstroke – or, at the very least, explore doing so.

There is, of course, history between Owen and Liverpool that stretches beyond the 158 goals he plundered in 297 games and, in particular, with Benitez.

The Spaniard’s first pre-season tour in charge in the summer of 2004 was scarred by constant questions about the future of Owen, who had been allowed to run his contract down towards its final year.

Owen repeatedly intimated he would sign a new deal, but merely omitted to say who it would be with. A move to Real Madrid on the very eve of the season has not been forgotten by Benitez, or forgiven.

Even then, had Owen held his nerve after a miserable season in Spain, he might already be wearing a Liverpool shirt.

Yet, so desperate was the forward for first-team football in order to ensure his place with England at the World Cup in 2006, he was prepared to indulge Newcastle.

A £16 million bid from them was far beyond what Liverpool were prepared to pay, especially given they had received just £8m and Antonio Nunez in the first place.

With his side top of the table and eyeing a first title success in almost two decades, Benitez should not necessarily let past events cloud his judgments.

Clearly, the cons of bringing Owen back relate to his financial demands, his fitness and how he would cope with not being first choice.

On the latter, his unflinching self-belief means that he would no doubt back himself to make such an impact as a substitute that the clamour for a starting role would be hard to ignore.

Money need not become an issue. Benitez can test just how much Owen would want to come back by offering him a £65,000-a-week, take-it-or-leave-it deal, for example. A fair wage given the player’s age and recent fitness levels.

He could even give Owen a taste of his own medicine by signing him and getting rid of him again in six months.

But maybe Benitez would do so with the Premier League title the latest shimmering addition to his impressive CV.

Liverpool To Snare Glen Johnson From Portsmouth?

The Reds have reportedly turned their gaze southwards as they seek a solution to their much-discussed lack of width.

As January draws ever nearer, the Daily Mail claims that Liverpool are hatching a plan to sign highly rated wing-back Glen Johnson from Portsmouth.

The Reds sit top of the Premier League table heading into the festive period, and yet there are concerns over the depth of quality they possess - particularly where the flanks are concerned.

Andrea Dossena, the left-back who arrived from Udinese in the summer, has been heavily linked with an immediate return to Italy after a very disappointing start to his Anfield career.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch, Alvaro Arbeloa has gone unchallenged as Rafael Benitez's first choice. Nevertheless, pundits have begun to ask questions about the Spanish international's attacking prowess.

Johnson would certainly go some way towards invigorating the Merseysiders' right side, should Benitez and co succeed in luring the 24-year-old away from Fratton Park.

The England star, who left Chelsea in 2007 after an indifferent four-year stay, is finally delivering on the immense promise he showed as a teenager at West Ham United.

Tottenham Hotspur have been regularly linked with Johnson since Harry Redknapp departed Pompey to take the reins at White Hart Lane. However, it seems 'Arry has now set his sights on Espanyol's Steve Finnan - an ex-Red, interestingly enough.

'Business As Usual' At Liverpool As Benítez Recovers From Kidney Operation

Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez's absence from the club will not hamper their preparations for the Premier League match against Arsenal on Sunday, according to assistant manager Sammy Lee.

Lee has taken on first-team responsibilities while Benítez recovers from a minor operation to remove kidney stones. "We have already planned what we are going to do so we will just be sticking to that," Lee told the club's official website.

"Everyone knows exactly what we will be doing and the important thing is that we all muck in together and keep things running as normal while we are without the boss. It will be all hands to the pump but one of the good things about this club is the way everyone pulls together when it matters. The main man may not be here but we have to keep things going so he can just pick up from where he left off when he comes back."

Lee added ahead of the league leader's game at the Emirates: "Everyone is hoping the boss recovers quickly because Rafa's health and wellbeing is the most important thing. He is a massive presence at the club, so we all want to see him back here as soon as he is well enough. But in the meantime it's business as usual."

Benítez is expected to return to work in the next two days after being taken ill on Sunday.