Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wigan's Bruce Won't Rule Out A Bid For Liverpool's Pennant

Wigan Atletic manager Steve Bruce remains coy about the prospect of a bid for Liverpool's out of favour winger, Jermaine Pennant.

The Latics have been credited with interest in the 26-year-old, who has been deemed surplus to requirements at Anfield.

Pennant has emerged as an in-demand commodity ahead of the winter transfer window, with Celtic also rumoured to be interested.

More outlandish speculation saw Pennant linked with Real Madrid in today's batch of rumours, a side that have also run the rule over Wigan's own highly rated winger, Antonio Valencia.

Steve Bruce was reluctant to discuss the fate of a player at a rival club, but admitted that he admires Pennant from their time together at Birmingham City.

He told a press conference: “He’s going to Wigan yesterday and Real Madrid today.

“With speculation you’re never going to get me to comment on other people’s players, that’s for sure.

“I had Jermaine before so I know what he’s all about, he’s a very good player but that’s the way it is at the moment.”

Bruce also addressed the issue of his own players being seen as rich pickings for some of the league's bigger clubs, with Valencia and the likes of Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios seemingly ready to leave the JJB.

He explained: “The biggest challenge I’ve got is keeping hold of the squad I’ve got.

“For a calendar year we’ve taken something like 54, 55 points which is an incredible achievement for a club like ours. That proves to me over a year that we’ve got some good players here.

“The last thing we want to be doing is trying to sell them but also I am a realist. I know that the big clubs are circulating because we have got some really good players.

“I want to try and keep them all together and if I can add one or two then of course I will.”

Carlsberg: Liverpool Are For Sale

Carlsberg bigwig says "it is a badly kept secret" that Liverpool Football Club is up for sale.

The international marketing director of Liverpool's main sponsor, Keld Strudahl, has welcomed any takeover by DIC and bemoaned the decision to postpone plans for a new stadium.

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

"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."

Strudahl clearly suggests that Liverpool are standing still with Tom Hicks and George Gillett as owners, saying: "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."

Insua Determined To Succeed At Liverpool

Liverpool's young Argentine left-back has spoken of his desire to succeed in England, after recently signing a new contract that will keep him at Anfield for another three years.

Emiliano Insua is determined that he will be a success in the English Premier League with Liverpool. The 19-year-old defender staked a claim to be the Reds' permanent left-back during the weekend's 1-1 draw with Arsenal, and today told The Liverpool Echo of his will to suceed where other young South Americans have failed.

"I got my chance at Arsenal after playing well in training and I really enjoyed the game," he said.

"It was a difficult match to play in because Arsenal are a very good side. It was amazing when I walked out there and saw 60,000 people. I had never played in a game as big as that before and I think I played well.

"I tried to do the simple things well and to get forward as much as I could to help the attack. Now I hope to keep going in this way and stay in the first team. I want to play every game.

"Always in training I am working hard and I will continue to try to do my best. The boss gave me an opportunity to show what I can do and hopefully I’ll get another chance against Bolton on Boxing Day. Anfield is always a very special place to play."

Insua made his debut for the Reds in the 2006/07 season, making two first-team appearances. He followed that up with three more last season, as well as playing a key role in the reserves' capturing of the Premier Reserve League crown.

He was recently rewarded with a new contract which will keep him on Merseyside until the summer of 2011, and the young Argentinian appears delighted with his situation.

"Signing for Liverpool was a fantastic moment and one I didn’t expect at such a young age," he added.

"Every Argentinian footballer sets out to play in Europe and I just want to make the most of the opportunity. I know how fortunate I am to be at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"This year, I have played in the Carling Cup and got my chance against Blackburn and Arsenal in the Premier League. The manager has given me a lot of confidence. There is a lot of competition for places at Liverpool but that is a good thing.

"There are a lot of great players here but my job is to show that I can play with them. We have a chance to win the title this season and this squad of players will fight until the end."

Arsenal Go Back In For Liverpool's Xabi Alonso

Arsene Wenger will revive his interest in Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso after losing captain Cesc Fabregas for four months with knee ligament damage.

London's Evening Standard - the Daily Mail's sister paper - understands that Arsenal made a £14million deadline day bid for the Spaniard in August but Wenger refused to meet the Anfield club's valuation of £17m.

The Gunners manager is notoriously reluctant to spend big money but the fact an offer was made at all reveals that, privately at least, there is an admission that the midfield needs to be strengthened.

That feeling will only be exacerbated by Fabregas's absence, the result of a tackle with Alonso during Sunday's 1-1 draw with Premier League leaders Liverpool.

New chief executive Ivan Gazidis will formally join Arsenal on January 1 and brings with him great experience in player contract negotiations from America.

A source close to the board blamed the club's failure to land Alonso in August on the delay in naming a successor to David Dein, who departed as chief executive last year.

The source said: 'Hopefully Gazidis can come in and recognise that Wenger needs someone like Dein in his ear to reassure him that the money is there to spend.'

Alonso is close friends with Spain team-mate Fabregas, who said in the summer that Alonso's possible arrival in London 'would be perfect - I'd love it'.

Inaki Ibanez, Alonso's agent, had previously insisted his client would leave Liverpool in the summer after becoming frustrated with a lack of first-team football, having only a year earlier signed a deal to stay until 2012.

Subsequently, Alonso has become a key part of Rafa Benitez's side but Ibanez left the door open to a move by stating ambiguously: 'We will see what happens in January.'

Should Liverpool wish to do business, the asking price may be lowered as Alonso would be cup-tied in Europe.

Other Arsenal targets include Yaya Toure, the Barcelona midfielder, Juventus youngster Sebastian Giovinco and Stephane Mbia of Rennes, who claims to have been the subject of a failed 11th-hour bid from Arsenal in August.

Liverpool Determined To Stay Top

The Premier League reaches the halfway mark on Boxing Day with Liverpool holding a narrow lead at the top.

Liverpool, who face Bolton at Anfield, have not won the title since 1990 but are one point ahead of Chelsea.

Rafael Benitez's team might have had a more substantial lead but have drawn their last three home games.

"It has been so long since Liverpool won the title, I was a 12-year-old Everton fan the last time it happened," said Reds defender Jamie Carragher.

"We have had a few draws and we have to start turning those into wins but we are still top."

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee is adamant that the Reds can maintain their title charge.

"I know that at the start of the season no-one else thought we could be top of the table, but we did," Lee told the club's website.

"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're in."

Chelsea would have moved to the top of the table had they defeated Everton on Monday - a game that finished goalless and saw John Terry dismissed.

Terry will now miss the Blues fixture at home to bottom side West Brom, as well as Sunday's game against Fulham and the FA Cup tie against Southend.

The draw against the Toffees also ended Chelsea's sequence of 11 successive away victories.

But manager Luiz Felipe Scolari is boosted by the news that central defender Ricardo Carvalho is close to a return from a knee injury.

"It's the first time Ricardo has trained with us normally and I think after seven days - 10 days maximum - he'll start to play," said Scolari.

Surprise package Aston Villa are five points behind Liverpool in third - and Martin O'Neill's team take on fifth-placed Arsenal in what could be Boxing Day's most significant fixture.

The Gunners can move level on points with Villa if they win, but Arsene Wenger's team go into the fixture without injured skipper Cesc Fabregas, who is out for several months after damaging his medial knee ligaments.

Wenger's team are also without striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who is suspended, while Theo Walcott (shoulder), Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring tendon) remain sidelined.

Despite the injury problems at Arsenal, O'Neill expects the current generation of players at the club to grow into a great team.

"Arsenal have been able to produce some very fine sides," said the Villa boss.

"I just think that this side they have at the moment has the potential to be a great team."

O'Neill has injury worries over Martin Laursen and Carlos Cuellar.

Manchester United have played 16 fixtures - two less than their title rivals - and return to Premier League action after their trip to Japan, where Sir Alex Ferguson's team won the Club World Cup.

Title rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all failed to win while United were in Japan.

And boss Sir Alex Ferguson said: "A similar thing happened when we went to Brazil for the world championship in 2000.

"While we were away, our title rivals Arsenal and Leeds both failed to get a win.

"I would obviously rather be top on Christmas Day, but I always wanted to be close to the leaders going into the New Year and we have managed that."

United, who are seven points behind Liverpool, travel to a Stoke side looking for their first win since 22 November.

The last time United travelled to Stoke for a league fixture was on Boxing Day 1984 - a match that the Potters won 2-1.

"Manchester United was always a massive game for the Stoke fans 20-odd years back, and I'm just delighted it is the fixture we can all look forward to on Boxing Day," said Stoke boss Tony Pulis.

"No disrespect to Barnsley and Plymouth, but we were playing those clubs away last Christmas and this year we've got United at home and then go to West Ham."

Hull are in sixth place in the table - and just eight points separate the Tigers and the 11 teams below them.

Phil Brown's side play at troubled Manchester City on Boxing Day, with Mark Hughes side spending Christmas in the relegation zone.

City have won one of their last nine Premier League games.

"It is difficult for everybody at the moment. We need to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible because this run has gone on for too long," said Hughes.

But Hull boss Brown is looking to pile on the misery when they meet.

"There is a lot of pressure on Mark Hughes and hopefully we can compound that situation with a good performance," said Brown.

"It is going to be a difficult game, a toughie - Man City were expected to be in the top six at the start of the season."

Blackburn are second from bottom in the table but go into their match with Sunderland buoyed by their victory over Stoke last weekend - their first match under new manager Sam Allardyce.

The future of Rovers striker Roque Santa Cruz is the subject of recent speculation and the Paraguayan misses the match with a calf injury.

Ricky Sbragia is currently in charge of the Black Cats following the departure of Roy Keane - and Allardyce is backing the man who was a member of his coaching staff at Bolton to land the job permanently.

"He keeps saying he doesn't want the job but I think with the experience he has gained over many years at many clubs he is more capable than he thinks of having a dabble," said Allardyce.

"He has always been a very good coach but if that job comes along I would seriously consider it if I were him, I wouldn't dismiss it."

West Ham are one place above the relegation zone and ahead of their match with Portsmouth manager Gianfranco Zola has denied that he could be forced to sell players during the transfer window.

Players such as Craig Bellamy have been linked with other clubs, but Zola said: "As far as I'm concerned, no, they won't be going. The club have told me I won't be selling those players.

"I would be very annoyed if we did."

The other Boxing Day fixtures in the Premier League see Newcastle travel to Wigan, Everton visit Middlesbrough and Tottenham entertain Fulham at White Hart Lane on a rare day when all 20 sides are in action.

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate has warned his players to forget all about Christmas.

"Christmas in terms of enjoyment of food and drink is out of the window, as far as I am concerned," said the Boro boss.

Sammy Lee Warns: Liverpool Are Getting Stronger Every Week

Leaders Liverpool have a powerful warning for the chasing pack as the Barclays Premier League title race hots up - “we are getting stronger”.

The claim comes from assistant manager Sammy Lee, who knows a thing or two about winning titles with four to his credit as a Liverpool player.

Now he is bringing his experience to the club’s best chance of lifting the crown in 19 years.

Currently Lee is standing in for boss Rafael Benitez, who is still recovering from a kidney stones operation.

The Spaniard, who has had a second minor operation this week, is still expected to be back on the bench for the Boxing Day home game with Bolton, when Liverpool will be bidding to complete a calendar year without losing a home league game.

Lee and the rest of the Anfield staff have witnessed Chelsea twice in successive games, failing to take advantage of Liverpool draws to steal top spot from them.

So Liverpool go into Christmas top at this stage for the first time since 1996.

And Lee believes the Anfield squad have improved vastly on last season, and says: “There have been an awful lot of improvements from last season, the way we are playing. The points tally show there is an improvement.

“People ask and expect more, and they are entitled to want that. That is the esteem that Liverpool are held in that people do want more from us all the time. We are stronger, getting stronger.”

Liverpool, who were 10 points behind the leaders last term at this stage, have a strong backroom staff with title-winning experience.

Benitez has won two titles with Valencia, Lee four with Liverpool, while coach Mauricio Pellegrino also won the Spanish crown under Benitez.

Liverpool Transfer Tips

Liverpool have made their best start to a Premier League season under Rafa Benitez and Peter O'Rourke assesses what Benitez needs to do in the transfer window if the Reds are to finally win the Premier League title.

Rafa Benitez was again busy in the transfer market in the summer as he tries to transform his troops from pretenders to contenders and he could be tempted to make more forays in January to enhance their title challenge.

The Spaniard brought in six new faces in the last transfer window with varying degrees of success.

Robbie Keane was his biggest outlay from Tottenham and the Irishman has failed to hit the heights expected of him.

The striker arrived amidst a fanfare that he could be the missing piece in the jigsaw, but Keane has struggled to establish himself as a regular in Benitez's side.

Keane has scored only five goals in all competitions, but his case has not been helped by the fact that Benitez has shown a tendency to substitute the player early on in the second half of games.

The signing of Albert Riera from Espanyol raised many eyebrows following a far from convincing loan spell at Manchester City in 2006, but he has been a success for Benitez who moved for his fellow Spaniard after failing to land Gareth Barry.

Riera has given Liverpool much-needed width and he has provided an extra attacking dimension to Benitez's side.

Italian defender Andrea Dossena arrived with a big reputation from Udinese, but he has struggled to impress.

The full-back has shown signs that he is finding it hard to cope with the pace of English football and the jury is definitely still out on the Italian international.

Diego Cavalieri arrived from Brazilian club Palmeiras, but it has been hard to judge the goalkeeper as he been brought in very much as an understudy to Pepe Reina.

Philipp Degen has endured a nightmare time since his move on a free transfer with the Swiss full-back spending most of his time in the treatment room and we have yet to see the player get a run in the side.

David Ngog was something of a surprise signing and he is seen as someone very much for the future with the 19-year-old seeing his chances few and far between.

The whole right side of the Liverpool team is where Benitez will look to strengthen in the New Year as it has been a problem area for the Spaniard.

Alvaro Arbeloa has almost been an ever-present at right-back and Benitez would like to bring in cover and competition for the Spanish international.

A right-sided winger will be Benitez's top priority as it is a position where Liverpool look short.

Jermaine Pennant looks to be on his way out of Anfield and Yossi Benayoun has struggled to establish himself as a regular.

Dirk Kuyt has done a commendable job out on the right, but it is very much a case of square peg in round hole as the Dutchman is not a traditional winger and has been moved out to the right from his preferred striking role.

A new central defender could be an option for Benitez if Daniel Agger, who is continually linked with a move away from Liverpool, leaves for pastures new in January.

Benitez has a wealth of talent in central midfield so the only area he could look to bolster could be in attack.

Fernando Torres has been sorely missed through injury for a large proportion of this season and Benitez could decide to look for someone with pace to add to his forward options.

Well, that all depends on what money is made available to Benitez by American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. If rumours are believed Benitez may have to wheel and deal in the transfer market as substantial funds are unlikely to be made available to him despite currently sitting at the summit of the Premier League table.

Benitez could decide to sell some fringe players to raise funds with reports suggesting he is keen on doing a swap deal with Tottenham by offering Pennant in part-exchange for Aaron Lennon.

Another alternative for the right winger spot could be Croatian Darijo Srna who is attracting envious glances from a number of Premier League clubs.

Portsmouth defender Glen Johnson is thought to be a target after impressing at Fratton Park this season, but the price-tag on the England international could put Liverpool off.

A couple of old boys have also been linked with returns to Anfield with Emile Heskey and Michael Owen believed to be on the transfer radar.

The signing of Owen from Newcastle would be popular among Liverpool fans, but Benitez has always played down talk linking them with a move for the striker.

Heskey, who is coming to the end of his contract at Wigan, has admitted he is flattered to be linked with a move back to Anfield and Benitez could see the big striker as someone who could help take the burden off Torres when the Spaniard returns to fitness.

There is more likely to be more outgoings than new faces at Anfield in the New Year as Benitez looks to trim his squad.

The likes of Pennant, Benayoun, and Andrei Voronin, who is currently on loan at Hertha Berlin, could leave permanently.

It has also been mooted that Benitez could dispense with the services of Keane and Dossena after less than six months at the club, but it is expected the Reds boss will give them more time to prove themselves.

Dutchman Ryan Babel has cut a frustrated figure this season after being tipped to have a major impact this term.

Babel has tried to engineer a move back to Ajax without success and it is unlikely Benitez will listen to offers for the attacker as he looks to keep their championship push on track.

Meanwhile, Liverpool fan David Aston thinks that Liverpool should really splash the cash this transfer window if they are serious about winning the Premier League. Rafa Benitez should bring back Michael Owen for £3million as he would be the bargain of the season.

A right winger would be a good signing someone like Aaron Lennon and a young defender, maybe Gareth Bale.

He should think of getting rid of Andrea Dossena, Phillip Degen, Jermaine Pennant and Yossi Benayoun.

Reds Consider Pennant Bid

Sky Sports News sources understand Liverpool are considering a bid from Real Madrid for Jermaine Pennant.

As revealed by, Pennant was attracting interest from La Liga and now Real have made a bid for Liverpool man as they look to bring in a new winger in the January transfer window.

New Real coach Juande Ramos has made a new right-sided winger one of his top priorites and they have been linked with a host of players including Ashley Young, Aaron Lennon and CSKA Moscow's Milos Krasic.

Real have been priced out of the move for the trio and now they have turned their attentions to forgotten Liverpool man Pennant.

Pennant has made just four appearances for Liverpool this season and it appears he does not figure in Rafa Benitez's long-term plans.

The former Birmingham and Arsenal ace is out of contract in the summer and he could agree a pre-contract with any interested continental sides next month.

Real are now hoping to do a deal with Liverpool to bring Pennant to El Santiago Bernabeu when the transfer window reopens.

Liverpool could be willing to cash-in on Pennant next month rather than risk losing the 25-year-old for nothing at the end of the season.