Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Liverpool Plan To Unwrap Fernando Torres And Wrap Up The Title

Liverpool have warned their rivals the return of Fernando Torres can bring them a first title since 1990.

Rafa Benitez's men lead the table going into the Christmas program despite Torres being sidelined for a month and are ready for an even stronger second half to their campaign.

The Spain striker could be on the bench for the visit of Bolton on Boxing Day, and assistant boss Sammy Lee was confident that would fire up his team-mates.

With centre-back Martin Skrtel also ready to return Lee said: "When you have a world-class performer ready to come in, then of course it makes you better, and gives everyone a lift.

"The class of Torres would obviously be missed by any team, and when he's available for us he'll be a massive addition.

"I know that at the start of the season no one else thought we could be top of the table...but we did. We don't prepare for failure, we believed we could be top, and we believe we can stay there.

"We're not surprised at the position we are in. I don't want to sound conceited, but we're in a position we expected to be in."

Boss Benitez is still not back at his desk after having further treatment for kidney stones, but is likely to return for training on Christmas Day and be in the dugout for the clash with Wanderers.

Liverpool will have an almost full-strength squad to choose from with Javier Mascherano recovered from illness, and Benitez will leave it late to see if Torres is fit enough after his torn hamstring to be named as a substitute.

Rafa Benitez May Make Boxing Day Touchline Return For Liverpool

Rafa 'the gaffer' Benitez is in line to make a return to the dugout in time for Liverpool's Boxing Day date with Bolton Wanderers.

Liverpool visited Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on Sunday without key forward Fernando Torres.

The silky, skilful striker's absence though was not the main talking point, because assistant coach Sammy Lee had to oversee affairs as key tactician Rafa Benitez never made the north London journey.

The Spanish manager is still recovering from an operation to cure him of his troublesome kidney stones, and even though he was not at Ashburton Grove, he was still in communication with the Liverpool bench so that they could alter the line-up as he watched on from television.

The Reds now face Bolton Wanderers on Boxing Day and Liverpool are confident that Benitez will return in time for the Anfield clash in three day's time.

A statement on the club's official website said: "Rafa has undergone a second minor operation which went well.

"He's feeling a little better and is hoping to be back for the game against Bolton Wanderers on Boxing Day."

The procedure was Benitez's second kidney stone operation.

Jermaine Pennant To Replace Aiden McGeady At Celtic - Report

According to a report in the British tabloid the Daily Mirror, Scottish giants Celtic have made an offer for Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant.

It is thought that Celtic manager Gordan Strachan has bid £3 million for the 25-year-old, who has been told he can leave Anfield in the January transfer window.

The former England under-21 international looked likely to leave the Reds last summer, but opted to stay and fight for a place in the side after rejecting moves to Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers.

However, the former Arsenal winger, whom Liverpool paid around £6.5m to sign from Birmingham City in 2006, finally looks set to be on his way out of the club.

Talk of Pennant arriving at Celtic has sparked rumours that Irish winger Aiden McGeady is set to leave the Bhoys after falling out of favour with Strachan recently.

While the likes of Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen of Germany are thought to be interested, it is thought that the 22-year-old could be on his way to the Premier League, with local rivals Sunderland and Newcastle United heading the queue for his signature.

Agent Denies Andrea Dossena's Milan Link

The agent of Liverpool defender Andrea Dossena insists that his client will not be making a January transfer from England to AC Milan.

The Italian international has experienced a tough start to his Anfield career, with inconsistency and errors littering his opening few months in the Premier League.

The 27-year-old has failed to dislodge Fabio Aurelio as the club's first choice left-back, and has had to be content with a role on the bench.

As such, the former Udinese man was strongly linked with a transfer back to Serie A, with Uefa Cup contenders AC Milan thought to be leading the chase for his signature.

However, the player's representative: Roberto La Florio, has confirmed that no contact has been made with a view to a January switch, and also revealed that Dossena is happy with life on Merseyside despite his indifferent displays on the field since his £7 million switch from the Friuli.

La Florio told tuttomercatoweb: "I do not know of an approach at this time from the Rossonero club.

"Andrea is good at Liverpool and Mr. Benitez keeps him under consideration.

"There was talk of Milan in the summer, along with Juventus, but in the end it was Liverpool that won his services and gave the required figure to Udinese."

Liverpool Can Win The Title - Venables

Liverpool sit top of the table heading into the hectic holiday period, and the club's fans are buzzing after what has been perhaps their most impressive start to a Premier League campaign.

There are questions as to whether the Merseysiders can sustain their title tilt, however, as some pundits believe their inexperience as pace-setters will show come May.

But others have noticed a change in mentality in Rafael Benitez's men, as they have demonstrated an uncanny ability for picking up points when under the pump.

Terry Venables is of the latter persuasion, although he added that Liverpool might struggle to keep up if their Spanish superstar remains on the sidelines much longer.

"Of course they CAN win it. Whether they WILL win it is another matter," the former England manager told The Sun.

"There has been a definite improvement at Anfield this season and they are much more difficult to beat than in recent years.

"But they haven’t looked the same team since Fernando Torres got injured."

Torres is expected to return to action sometime next month, after embarking on an in-depth diagnosis and treatment of his problem hamstring.

Carlsberg Chief Blasts Team America For Delay In New Liverpool Stadium

Liverpool shirt sponsors Carlsberg has blasted the club's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, for their part in delays to the building of their new 60,000 seater stadium.

And in a stinging attack on the controversial pair, the Danish brewery insists it is an open secret that the Anfield club is up for sale.

Work on the club's new stadium, which began in June, has been delayed due to the increasing cost of finance.

The Barclays Premier League leaders have denied claims they are considering redeveloping Anfield or even sharing a new ground with neighbours Everton to quell rumours that the plans for a new stadium could be in long-term jeopardy.

But speaking to The Guardian, Keld Strudahl, Carlsberg's international marketing director, said: "While we have a good relationship with Tom Hicks, we are naturally unhappy that the planned new stadium has been postponed.

"That cannot be good for Liverpool as a long-term business."

And the lager giants, whose relationship with Liverpool stretches back 16 years, have risked the wrath of Hicks and Gillett after admitting it would be happy doing business with Dubai International Capital (DIC) — who have longed been linked with an Anfield takeover.

"We want the owners to say whether they intend to keep the club," Strudahl said.

"If DIC become the new owners, I cannot foresee any problems working with them.

"We had a good dialogue with them before Hicks and Gillett. As the main sponsor, we saw their business plan and it looked good.

"As far as I understand, DIC is as big a player in a potential Liverpool takeover as previously believed. You shouldn't underestimate the impact the credit crunch has had on clubs.

"At the moment there are not a whole lot of investors interested in buying Premier League clubs."

DIC's previous attempts to take control at Liverpool have been unsuccessful due to Hicks' unwillingness to sell his half of the club - though Gillett is willing to surrender his 50 per cent stake.

But Strudahl fells Hicks and Gillett might be interested in selling if they received the right offer.

He said: "That Liverpool is for sale is a badly kept secret but nobody has the money to invest right now. The only people who can invest are those not interested in making a profit."

Ian Rush: Don’t Go And Draw The Wrong Conclusions Now

The fact there was a sense of frustration after leaving Arsenal only with a point shows how far Liverpool have come this season.

It was disappointing that we didn’t create more chances after Emmanuel Adebayor had been sent off but what happened was that Arsenal’s players started to work twice as hard.

It isn’t always easy playing a side down to 10 men and so it proved as Arsenal got men behind the ball and made it difficult for Liverpool to get through.

In the end I thought a draw was a fair result and there were a lot of positives to come out of the game for the Reds.

Arsenal had to win more than Liverpool and the onus was on Arsene Wenger’s side to go for it.

That’s the difference with this season compared to last. Last year, we went into games like Sunday’s having to win to stay in contention. Now it’s the other way around and others have to beat us to make up ground.

If we had won then it would have been the end of Arsenal’s title hopes and it would have been down to a three-horse race.

A draw means Arsenal are still hanging on in there but it was a much better result for us than for them. The team showed a lot of character to come back from a goal behind again and it was a fantastic strike from Robbie Keane.

I was so made up for Robbie because he was in a position he doesn’t usual play in. He normally likes to play off Fernando Torres in the same way as he played behind Dimitar Berbatov at Spurs.

But at the Emirates he was asked to play the lone striker role and I thought he was fantastic.

He worked so hard for the team and will take a lot of confidence from that goal.

It was also a great reaction after the comments made by Mark Lawrenson last week about Keane’s future.

To come out and say what he did about Keane moving on in January was absolutely stupid – it didn’t help the club or player.

I was also impressed by the professionalism the players showed in the absence of Rafa Benitez.

It would have been strange not having the boss around and it would have been easy for people to switch off, but everyone stuck to their task.

Possibly Liverpool could have been more attacking in the closing stages but Arsenal actually played better with 10 men and a point is a decent return.

Having won at Chelsea, beaten Manchester United at home and now drawn at Arsenal it just shows it’s not the big teams that seem to worry us.

It’s against mediocre sides at home that we really need to raise our game – starting with Bolton on Boxing Day.

Bolton aren’t an easy side to play against and they’ve been in good form recently but having drawn the last three home games against Fulham, West Ham and Hull, we can’t afford another slip-up.

With the Bolton game followed by a trip to Newcastle, we’ve got to be looking to get six points.

We’ve got a good record at Newcastle and I think the fact they like to attack at home will play into our hands.

It’s vital Liverpool see off the likes of Bolton and Newcastle so that when they come around to playing against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal again they are in control of their own destiny. We want to be in a position where those sides have to really go for it against us.

If we can start 2009 in top spot then history shows we’ll have a fantastic chance of going on to clinch the title.

Sami Hyypia Praise For Emiliano Insua And Nabil El Zhar

Sami Hyypia is backing young guns Emiliano Insua and Nabil El Zhar to continue making an impact on Liverpool's first team.

The reserve team regulars have featured increasingly in Rafa Benitez's side in recent weeks, with Insua starting against Blackburn and Arsenal and El Zhar coming off the bench in four of Liverpool's last five league fixtures.

Insua, in particular, has staked a claim for a more regular place in the side and did his chances of making the Reds problematic left back position his own with a man of the match display against Arsenal on Sunday.

Hyypia, now the senior figure in Benitez's squad, has been impressed by the way both players have adapted to life in the first team squad and believes they will benefit from the experience gained.

"Both of them have done well and they are both good players," said Hyypia.

"It is good for them to get time in the first team because this will help them to improve even more.

"For young lads like Nabil and Emiliano there is nothing quite like getting experience in the first team and in the Premier League.

"Hopefully this will give them the motivation to work even harder and get even better because they have tasted life in the Premier League with Liverpool and I am sure that now they will want even more."

Ian Rush: Insua's Show Of Strength

I was really impressed by Emiliano Insua’s performance at the Emirates.

I’ve heard people say he’s too short but the young Argentine did nothing wrong against Arsenal.

He was very solid defensively and got forward well to support our attacks.

Left-back is one of those positions that nobody has really nailed down this season.

It’s up for grabs and it was great to see someone come into the side and show they are determined to hang on to their spot.

I believe Insua did enough to keep his place for the game against Bolton on Boxing Day.

He took his chance and now he has to prove he can perform like that on a regular basis.

Jamie Carragher: Liverpool Fans Deserve To See Us Win The Title

Jamie Carragher is desperate to secure title glory for the club’s younger generation of supporters – but is bracing himself for the most competitive race in Premier League history.

Domestic football’s biggest prize is the only piece of silverware missing from Carragher’s CV and he is determined to ensure the club’s 19-year wait for a 19th league crown is ended next May.

“A lot of the supporters probably have not seen us win the title, especially the young ones, because it has been that long,” he said.

“They grew up on stories from their fathers and grandfathers. That is why winning the Champions League a few years ago and the treble was great for the younger generation so they could see what it means to people.

“But it has been too long since Liverpool won the title – the last time they did I was an Everton fan!

“It’s been too long and hopefully we can change that this season.”

The Reds’ heroics over the first half of the campaign have put them firmly in contention but the 30-year-old insists nobody is getting carried away ahead of the festive programme.

“We are not talking about the title in the dressing room,” he insisted.

“People keep talking about us being up there but we are not a small club, we are Liverpool Football Club. We are where we should be so it’s no big deal.

“This season a lot of teams seem to be taking points off each other.

“The last few years, teams have been winning the league with over 90 points, which makes them look a great side, but I don’t think it says a lot about the league to be honest.

“It’s a lot more competitive when teams take points off each other. It creates a better league and I think we have seen that this season.

“We have done all right so far but there’s still a long way to go and we will see what happens.

“There is no secret ingredient. It is just the best team which wins the league in the end and hopefully that will be us.”

Carragher admits Liverpool were frustrated not to take maximum points from Sunday’s clash with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. However, he was impressed by the way they responded to falling behind to Robin van Persie’s goal midway through the first half.
“We were a bit disappointed not to have won the game because of the fact Arsenal went down to 10 men,” he said.

“When it was 11 against 11 I thought we were going to go on and get the three points. But the sending off seemed to galvanise them and the crowd’s reaction gave them a big lift.

“They looked a little bit more dangerous when they went down to 10 men and we looked a bit less dangerous.

“For the last 18 months we have probably been one of the hardest teams to beat in this league. We do not lose too many games but now we have to try and turn those draws into wins.

“Both ourselves and Arsenal have got a decent record against the other big teams. But like us, Arsenal could probably improve against the other sides now.”

Xabi Alonso Offers Support As Cesc Fabregas Faces Lay-Off

Xabi Alonso has wished compatriot Cesc Fabregas a speedy recovery after the Arsenal midfielder was ruled out for four months with a serious knee injury.

Fabregas suffered a partial rupture to his medial ligament when he was tackled by Liverpool midfielder Alonso during Sunday’s 1-1 draw at the Emirates.

The Arsenal midfielder is now only likely to be back for the final month of the season, dealing a damaging blow to the Gunners’ fading title hopes. And Alonso, who alongside Fabregas was a member of Spain’s Euro 2008-winning squad this summer, said: “I’m hoping for a rapid recovery for Cesc. Now comes the most tedious bit, the recuperation, but I will be there encouraging him.

“If anything, I’m even more upset than Fabregas is. It always affects me to see a companion injured, but especially if it is a friend and a national team-mate like Cesc.

“I already went to see him after the game, and from what he told me we both expected it was something serious. But I spoke with him on Monday and, bearing in mind the situation, he was in quite good spirits.”

On the challenge that caused the injury, Alonso added: “It was just another incident of the game and, of course, there was no malicious intent.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “The news is not good. It will take three to four months, we count four. He will be working hard to come back earlier but I count four months.”

Lucas Reveals 'Bad Times'

Lucas concedes that he has not always covered himself in glory during his time in a Liverpool shirt.

The Brazilian midfielder arrived from Gremio with a lofty reputation having captained his country at Under-20 level but has often struggled to stamp his mark on the side.

Although the likes of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano remain ahead of him in Rafa Benitez's pecking order, Lucas has become a frequent fixture in The Reds' midfield.

"I have had some bad times, especially the last time I started at Anfield against Fulham but you just have to keep your head up and keep working hard," he told the club's official website.

"I'm trying to improve in every game and hopefully I can show my quality every time I play."

Lucas was handed a starting berth in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Sunday and admits the side were disappointed not to capitalise on the sending off of Emmanuel Adebayor.

"We had a chance to win at Arsenal, especially because we had one more player than them for most of the second half so we have to be disappointed with a draw," he added.

"We tried to do everything we could to get the second goal but unfortunately we couldn't get the three points.

"We must now focus on our next game and try to get the three points at Anfield against Bolton. We have had three draws in a row at home so it's important we win this game. We need to win our home games.

"Our supporters are always behind us and we want to send them home happy with a win.

"We are at the top of the league and we have to keep going. We have to be confident and just do our job. Everybody at this club wants to win the league and we will trying our best to make that happen."

Liverpool Winger In Loan Move To JJB Stadium

Jermaine Pennant could be an addition in January after Real Madrid failed to agree terms with the former Arsenal player.

Former Arsenal and Birmingham winger Jermaine Pennant has missed out on a shock move to Real Madrid due to his high wage demands which might result in Wigan bringing in the winger on a loan deal until the end of the season.

A £3.5m deal was rumoured to be agreed between Liverpool and Madrid but Pennant was asking for £60,000 week which scared of the admirers of the team who seem to be linked with more Premier League players every day.

This rejection has led to speculation that Stoke and Wigan are lining up deals in January with the Latics being favourites to land Pennant due to Steve Bruce taking Pennant from Arsenal to St Andrews whilst at Birmingham.

If Pennant did arrive it would add healthy competition to an already competitive midfield with Antonio Valencia and Daniel De Ridder battling it out for a starting berth on the right hand side.

Pennant's Demands Scupper Real Madrid Move

Jermaine Pennant has reportedly priced himself out of a move to Real Madrid.

The Daily Mail reports that the Liverpool winger was expected to be unveiled in the Spanish capital on Christmas Eve, but the move fell through after Pennant demanded a wage of £60,000 a week - almost double what Real were offering.

The paper reports that the deal was on as late as 6pm on Tuesday, but Pennant's unrealistic demands scuppered the move.

Despite spending more than £40million on Lassana Diarra and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar already this season, Real were unwilling to increase their salary offer of £1.5million.

Juande Ramos made his move for the former Birmingham and Arsenal winger after he was priced out of a deal for Aaron Lennon. The Mail claims Ramos could not guarantee Pennant a starting place, but planned to use him as an 'impact sub' at the Bernabeu.

Pennant must now reportedly choose between a loan move to either Wigan or Stoke.

Pennant Holds Reds Hope

Jermaine Pennant is refusing to give up hope of winning his place back in the side and staying at Liverpool.

The winger's future has been the subject of constant speculation with Pennant finding himself well down the pecking order at Anfield.

Pennant's current contract expires at the end of the season and it is understood he is a target for a number of Spanish sides, including Real Madrid, who are considering signing him on a pre-contract in January.

Under Uefa regulations Pennant is able to talk to interested continental sides from 1st January and is able to sign a pre-contract with them.

The former Arsenal and Birmingham man has found himself marginalised at Liverpool this season and his situation is believed to have alerted a number of clubs to his possible availability.

Despite his lack of first-team action Pennant admits he would love to stay at Liverpool and he has not given up hope that he can regain his place back in the side.

"I would love to stay here for longer, I am a Liverpool fan and it was always my dream to play here," Pennant told

"At this moment, I can't imagine playing for another club in the Premiership.

"I just want to try my hardest to get in the team and then see what happens."

Skrtel Back In The Fold For The Reds

Liverpool have received a shot in the arm on the brink of the second half of the season with the news that defender Martin Skrtel has returned to full training.

Skrtel was a frequent fixture alongside Jamie Carragher in Rafa Benitez’s defence until he sustained a knee ligament injury in October’s 3-2 victory over Manchester City.

That particular game saw The Reds come from two behind to claim a victory which maintained an unbeaten start to the campaign that owed no small part to the solidity of a defence which, at the time, could only be bettered by that of Chelsea.

Benitez is still indisposed with the kidney stones he had removed last week so it was left to assistant manager Sammy Lee to extol the virtues of having Skrtel back.

"Martin is back training with us which is a great boost for us," he told the club’s official website.

"He actually joined in the training session with us on Saturday and trained today.

"Everybody is so pleased to see him back on the pitch because he has worked ever so hard in his rehabilitation, and it's great to see him back.

"It's like signing a new player and he will be needed."