Thursday, April 30, 2009

Steven Gerrard To Return For Liverpool Against Newcastle

Newcastle boss Alan Shearer has told his side they can save themselves with a win at Anfield - despite the return of Steven Gerrard.

Ominously for relegation haunted Magpies, the Liverpool skipper has recovered from a groin injury that has kept him sidelined for almost a month.

He should start in the game on Sunday, and Newcastle's former Anfield hero Michael Owen has conceded the fixture is unlikely to yield any points in the battle for survival. But Shearer has other ideas, and has banned any talk of writing off the visit to Liverpool.

"Obviously we go to Anfield as underdogs but we must believe we can get something there," Shearer said.

"There certainly can be no despondency and no one will be giving up the fight. We can't let our heads down.

"We will go to Anfield in good spirits and see what we get. There's still a lot of work to be done and we're still in there fighting."

With only four matches remaining, Newcastle are three points from safety, and have daunting visits to Anfield and Aston Villa to contend with. Shearer has yet to win a match since being appointed as interim boss following Joe Kinnear's heart problems, taking just two points from four matches.

Owen has already admitted that it is Newcastle's home games against fellow strugglers Middlesbrough and then Fulham that will decide their fate.

The striker has gone nine matches without a goal and missed a glorious chance to give his side victory against Portsmouth last Monday.

But despite accepting the visit to Anfield could be fruitless, he still believes he can steer the Geordies to safety.

Owen said: "I wake up and know where I stand in terms of performances, my standing in the game, the goals I will score given the opportunities and everything else.

"I've been around a long time and everyone knows if I get chances I will score goals. We understand the criticism we have received for where we are in the table, but we also know we are a better team than we are showing on a regular basis.

"We go to Liverpool and Aston Villa, and if we can get some points from those games we'll grasp them. But it's the next home games against Boro and Fulham that are the major focus."

Goal-Hungry Liverpool FC Can Win Title, Says Steve McManaman

Goal-hungry Liverpool are on course for their most prolific season since they were last crowned champions in 1990.

And former Anfield hero Steve McManaman believes that if this season’s title push falls short, the new, adventurous attitude can push Liverpool all the way to the Premier League crown next season.

Rafael Benitez’s side have already scored 66 times in Premier League action this season, just one short of last season’s total with four games still to play.

Their highest goals output since the title-winning days was 72 in 1996, when McManaman was still an Anfield regular.

And McManaman said: “They are by far the best team around at present. They are certainly playing the best football. They may not be getting the best results, but they are certainly the best team around. Normally you say it’s United who are the most creative team around, but it’s not, it’s Liverpool at the minute. It’s just unfortunate they’ve let in a few goals.

“I fancied them to win the title this year but certain things didn’t go their way.

“They finished last season strongly as well, but this year they look a different team.

“The so-called lesser players, the Benayouns the Rieras, something has happened over the past four or five games and they seem to have clicked.

“They are all closing the ball down, they are all aggressive and they are not giving anybody space to pass the ball.

“I think that’s what’s really clicked this year and if they can take that through to next season – and of course add that little bit of quality to their squad – they can certainly challenge strongly for the title.

“Rafa knows what players he can let go and what positions he needs to strengthen.

“But I am really impressed with the way they’re playing at the moment. I really am.

“I think they’re playing really, really well. It’s the best I’ve seen them play in a while, regardless of the results.”

The only occasions Liverpool have topped 70 league goals for a season since their title winning days of the early 90s was 2001 and 1996, when they scored 71 and 72 respectively.

But with fixtures remaining against Newcastle, West Ham, West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham – and a staggering 30 goals in their last nine matches – the Anfield outfit are well placed to top that figure.

“I just think the way they have set about games has really impressed me,” added McManaman. “They set about games more so than we did in those 4-3 games with Newcastle.

“They have started games really, really quickly and been very aggressive. They are closing people down like I have never seen all year.

“They steam-rollered Arsenal the way they set about them – I know Arshavin scored four great goals but they were largely due to Liverpool mistakes – and I thought Liverpool were excellent again.”

Kuyt Excited By Future After New Deal

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt believes the future is bright at Anfield as skipper Steven Gerrard prepares to return to the side on Sunday against Newcastle.

Kuyt recently followed Gerrard and manager Rafael Benitez by committing his long-term future to the club.

He said: "I think it's important for Stevie and the manager to have extended their contracts because they are vital to the club.

"I'm really happy with my own deal and I think there will be a few more players to follow us.

"That is good because we have a great team and I hope we can win a lot of trophies together.

"There are not many better clubs than Liverpool. I've been here for almost three years and I've had a great time, playing with the best players in the world.

"Once you sign for Liverpool, you want to stay here as long as possible."

Gerrard has returned to training after recovering from a groin injury. It is a welcome boost for Liverpool ahead of the match, especially as they could be six points adrift of leaders Manchester United come kick-off as their rivals face Middlesbrough on Saturday.

"Steven is doing well and is training with the rest of the team. I think he will be fit and available for Sunday," Benitez told

"It is good news for the team and for him because he can be a key player for us over the remaining games. "Without Steven the squad has been playing well and scoring goals, so that is positive."

Benitez insists his thoughts are only with continuing their title bid and not potential business in the transfer market after Xabi Alonso was linked with a move to Juventus.

"I was reading the press and they are talking about different players," said Benitez.

"I can guarantee today that we are not thinking about selling anyone. All we are thinking about is to do our job and to try and win the Premier League title, if possible.

"After that you never know what can happen in the market. Clearly, at this moment, we are just preparing for winning games."

Kuyt believes a settled squad has been a key factor in their title challenge.

He said: "This team is getting better and better and I think the most important thing is we have spent a long period playing with each other.

"Most of the players have played with each for a few years now and that is really positive.

"We have made a lot of progress this season. We've shown we can beat the best, even in the most difficult of situations. We've proved we can compete with the other top teams. "We all know it is going to be difficult, especially if United win their game in hand, but as long as we have a chance we will fight for it."

Danijel Pranjic: Liverpool Lead Chase for Free Scoring Croatian Wing Raider

The Croatians impressed everyone at Euro 2008 with their victories over Austria, Germany and Poland last summer. Most of the plaudits fell firmly at the feet of Tottenham’s summer signing Luka Modric.

However, there are a number of players who caught the eye including Croatia’s left-sided flying wing raider Danijel Pranjic.

Reports today in the Dutch and Croatian media suggest Rafa Benitez is targeting Pranjic in a summer swoop.

His agent Soren Lerby confirmed that his client is a wanted man when he told Foot Mercato, “I can confirm to you that a host of clubs are following him, mainly English and Spanish teams such as Real Betis and Sevilla”.

The other English clubs reported to be interested are Newcastle and West Ham but if Liverpool do step up their interest then expect Pranjic to be plying his trade at Anfield next season.

The 27-year-old currently plies his trade with Dutch outfit Heerenveen in the Eredivisie where he has been playing for the past 4 seasons.

He is able to perform any left-sided role and enjoyed a superb campaign in Holland last season after scoring an impressive 9 goals in 33 League appearances.

Pranjic has bettered that total this season with 16 goals in 28 League appearances which suggests he is at the top of his game at the moment.

His overall League record for the club reads 32 goals in 127 (all starts) games and he’d be reportedly available at a bargain figure of around £5M.

He played every minute of all 4 Euro 2008 games playing a part in 2 goals. Pranjic has played 21 times for his country and would be a useful signing for Liverpool as he would not only provide competition for Albert Riera on the left wing but also for Fabio Aurelio at left-back.

Rafael Benitez Looks To Lorik Cana As Xabi Alonso Set For Liverpool Exit

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is eyeing Lorik Cana, Marseille's highly-rated captain, as a replacement for Xabi Alonso.

It follows news earlier this week that Juventus are believed to be considering returning to Liverpool for the second successive summer in an effort to tempt midfield playmaker Alonso to swap the Premier League for Serie A.

According to reports, Benitez has been in contact with former Liverpool player Boudewijn Zenden over Cana's credentials and the Dutchman's signs have been positive.

Albanian international Cana would cost in the region of £10 million - Benitez has been told that Liverpool need to sell before buying - and has won plaudits in France this season as Marseille look to secure the title.

Cana certainly has grit. Last week he escaped with a one-match ban after being sent off following an ugly skirmish with Lorient's Arnaud Le Lan in last weekend's Ligue 1 match between the two sides.

The two players fought on the ground after disputing a throw-in in the 88th minute of the game and Cana was seen clenching his fist, giving the impression he was going to punch Le Lan.

Liverpool Owners Deny Talks Over Indian Investment

Sources close to Tom Hicks insist Liverpool are not in discussions with the Indian billionaire Grandhi Mallikarjun Rao’s GMR group over either investing in the club or buying out the Texan and his co-owner, George Gillett.

A representative of the group, which owns the Delhi Daredevils IPL franchise, was present in the directors’ box for last Tuesday’s 4-4 draw with Arsenal but it is believed no talks have been held over possible investment in Liverpool.

Hicks and Gillett are due to repay a £350 million loan from RBS and the US bank Wachovia in July and are thought to have been in constant dialogue with both banks since January over ways to manage the debt, which include putting more personal equity into the club or paying off a slice of the loan.

Both men are looking for minority investors in their sports franchises, but have struggled to raise interest in the current climate, while City sources suggest any party able to finance a takeover at Anfield is likely to wait until the July deadline is imminent to ensure the best possible price.

Hicks,, who has said he is looking for new partners to invest in Liverpool from the Middle East, and Gillett have been assessing their personal financial situations amid the global economic crisis.

Both men were at Anfield last week to watch the 4-4 draw with Arsenal, a game also attended by Amanda Staveley, who was the chief negotiator for last year's failed takeover bid by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Staveley negotiated the Abu Dhabi United Group's buyout of Manchester City in September.

Liverpool Ace Xabi Alonso’s Agent Rubbishes Juventus Link

Reports in The Daily Mirror claim that Juventus might launch a fresh bid for Liverpool midfield star Xabi Alonso this summer after failing to land the 27-year-old last year.

The Bianconeri seemed on the verge of securing the services of the former Real Sociedad man last summer, but the transfer eventually fell through and they plumped for Danish international Christian Poulsen, amid protests from the fans who had set their sights on the classy Spanish international.

However, the player’s agent has quickly moved to quash the rumours that his client is on his way out of Anfield.

“I don’t know anything about these reports,” agent Ignacio Ibanez insisted on

“It is true that we negotiated his possible move to Juve last year, but we are talking about last summer. I have not spoken with Juve directors since.”

AZ Alkmaar’s Mounir El Hamdaoui Interests Arsenal & Liverpool

AZ striker Mounir El Hamdaoui’s fine season has not gone unnoticed by the English Premier League’s top clubs. According to, he is a possible transfer target for both Arsenal and Liverpool.

The Moroccan international helped lead his team to the title with 22 league goals. The player is still at the top of the Dutch scoring charts, despite being suspended for the weekend tie against Ajax. The match featured a goal from Luis Suarez, who is now tied with El Hamdaoui as the Eredivisie’s top scorer.

The Atlas Lion will also miss the upcoming match before returning on the final day of the season, on which he will hope to add to his tally, especially as Suarez will have had one extra game to overtake him.

El Hamdaoui was one of the few bright spots for the Moroccan national team during their 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss to Gabon in Casablanca on March 28. He scored the lone goal for his country but was also denied by the post and crossbar on two separate occasions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rush Backs Reds To Pip United

Ian Rush still believes Liverpool can win their 19th English league title, 19 years to the day since he scored a goal which helped clinch championship number 18.

Bitter rivals Manchester United will join the Reds on 18 titles if they finish top of the Barclays Premier League this season, but Rush is adamant the race is far from over yet, with Sir Alex Ferguson's side still having to play Arsenal and Manchester City in their remaining five games.

Rush, whose goal against QPR on April 28, 1990 secured that year's First Division championship, wrote in his Liverpool Echo column: "I genuinely do not believe this title race is over. United have to face a derby match still.

"If Liverpool were ahead in the title race, the last thing they would want is a derby against Everton.

But United have to face Manchester City plus an Arsenal side on a 20-match unbeaten run.

"All Liverpool can do is keep taking points and not worry about United.

"Liverpool are back at Anfield this weekend with a good chance of another three points (against Newcastle).

"Everyone remembers earlier this season when Liverpool did a demolition job on Newcastle at St James' Park when a 5-1 win could have been 10.

"I do not want Newcastle to go down having played for them, but like every Liverpool fan I want them beaten on Sunday.

"Because if Liverpool can keep winning there will be twists and turns in this race yet, believe me."

On this day 19 years ago, Roy Wegerle put QPR ahead but Rush equalised before the break and the newly-crowned Footballer of the Year, John Barnes, netted the penalty winner.

Few there that day would have believed that Liverpool would go almost two decades without winning the title again, and in that time the best they have managed is two runners-up spots in 1990-91 and 2001-02.

For Liverpool to catch United now, who are three points clear with a game in hand, they must pray for Sir Alex Ferguson's side to slip up in a minimum of two of their final five matches.

Rush would like to see Liverpool rediscover their defensive qualities to make sure they at least win their last four league games this term.

He said: "There is no such thing as a bad victory, so the three points at Hull were very welcome after those draws against Chelsea and Arsenal.

"But rest assured there will still be concern at Anfield at some elements of the defending just now.

"The goal Geovanni scored when Hull were down to 10 men on Saturday will have raised eyebrows. It wasn't a good one from Liverpool's viewpoint and followed a few recently which have been partly down to individual errors.

"The Reds will be desperate to put this right. Restoring the clean sheets is a priority and they have been renowned for defensive solidity under Rafa Benitez.

"For me it is all about getting back to basics. That means players not losing concentration and the back four focusing simply on stopping the opposition.

"Everyone likes to see good football being played from the back but sometimes you have to accept that if a ball belongs in Row Z, then that is where it must go."

There is also still confidence at Anfield as they prepare to face a Newcastle side on Sunday who are stuck in the bottom three under temporary boss Alan Shearer.

If United win at Middlesbrough, another side in relegation trouble, on Saturday, the lead will be a formidable six points.

Lucas Still Defiantly Hopeful Regarding Liverpool's Title Challenge

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has not given up on his side's push for the Premier League crown, even though the Reds are three points behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand, with only four games left to play.

The Brazilian though is maintaining a positive outlook until all possibility is extinguished, telling The Liverpool Echo, "Of course we will continue to fight because this is a quality which we have shown on many occasions this season.

"We know it won’t be easy because United have more points than us and there are not now many games left.

"But we will continue to give everything we can in every single game and we will see what this will bring us."

Liverpool's next test comes at Anfield against Newcastle United on Sunday, kick-off 13:30 BST.

With the Toon also desperate for the points, as their bid for Premier League survival stalled badly on Monday night with a goalless draw at home to Portsmouth, the Reds' powerful attack may have a few more holes than usual to try and exploit.

Babel Out To Impress

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel hopes to show next season that he is ready to fulfil his potential.

The Dutchman was regarded as an exciting prospect for the future when he arrived at Anfield from Ajax in 2007.

He has shown glimpses of his ability but has struggled to hold down a regular starting spot and realises it is now time to deliver.

The 22-year-old accepts that he can no longer hide behind his youth and he is determined to establish himself as a key player with the Reds.

"You are a talent until you are 23," Babel told the Dutch Football Association's official website.

"At that moment you can't say 'Sorry I am just a young player'. At that moment you have gained enough experience to play a major role.

"Coaches say 'You are still young, you have time'. But they won't say that about Lionel Messi. He is young and he is good, so he will play."

Babel's future has been the subject of speculation but he maintains that he is happy at the club.

"I am very proud to be a part of this team," he explained.

"Before I made the transfer to Liverpool, of course I knew the club and the Beatles but apart from that not a lot about the city.

"It has completely changed. If you are there, you appreciate Liverpool. Then you can see how big this club is."

Babel accepts that he found it difficult to adjust to the training methods used at Liverpool when he first joined the club.

He said: "At Ajax there was time to do some individual exercises at the end of the training. I really enjoyed that.

"Nowadays it isn't possible, unfortunately. At Liverpool we had to leave the pitch to move on inside.

"The next game could not be far away. They won't take any risks that you will get injured.

"In the first season I had problems with that as I didn't play a lot. I am now used to it. To take some moments of rest are important."

Agent Hints At New Alonso Bid

Italian football agent Ernesto Bronzetti has claimed that Juventus could reignite their interest in Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Spain international Alonso was strongly linked with a move away from Anfield last summer as Reds boss Benitez eyed Aston Villa's Gareth Barry as his replacement.

Juve were mooted as potential suitors for Alonso but a transfer failed to materialise, and the 27-year-old has since shone for the title contenders this campaign.

Benitez recently insisted he plans to keep Alonso in the summer but his revelation that the club will need to sell players to help fund targets has seen speculation resurface.

And agent Bronzetti, who is said to advise many of Serie A's top clubs on transfers, has hinted that Juve could again attempt to lure Alonso to Turin.

Bronzetti said: "I would try to bring in Alonso. There was a long chase last summer for his signature, of course, so it is a road we know.

"Pairing him with (former Liverpool midfielder Mohamed) Sissoko would be a title-winning midfield.

"The problem is that it would be very hard and expensive to take such an important player away from Liverpool."

Aston Villa Captain Barry Hints At Another Summer Tug Of War

Gareth Barry will assess his Aston Villa future at the end of the season, but has admitted he should have dealt with last summer's transfer saga differently.

The Villa and England midfielder was stripped of the captaincy and fined for trying to engineer to Liverpool, but insists he has learned from that chastening experience.

'I've learned a lot from what happened and last season I learned a lot off the pitch,' Barry told the Birmingham Mail. 'I'm looking for a completely opposite scale of things and I'm confident it won't be one of those sagas again.

'There are things I'll do differently. I'm not dreading it at all, I know what's coming. It's not something you dread, its part of the game. From the experience of last year I'm hoping to deal with it better.

'It would be disrespectful to the fans and the club if I'm thinking about anything else rather than trying to get maximum points from the last four games - that's where my head is at this moment.

'It will definitely be a difficult decision, but we'll see where we are at the end of the season before making any decision. It's always going to be a tough one, no matter what happens.'

Even Benitez Wouldn't Try And Replace Alonso With Barry A Second Time

Gareth Barry says he knows what to expect this summer and has learned his lesson from last year's transfer fiasco.

So presumably the Aston Villa midfielder is still hell bent on leaving the club but is aware it will not be for Liverpool.

Rafael Benitez would be mad to jettison Xabi Alonso and replace him with Barry, as he planned to do last time around.

Unimaginatively, the same game of musical chairs is being suggested again but losing Alonso would weaken Liverpool's creativity.

Barry would not be able to compensate and while he may do the dirty work of a midfielder better than the Spaniard, he doesn't have the same passing skills.

Hammill Attracting Interest

A plethora of clubs are tracking Barnsley's on-loan winger Adam Hammill, understands.

Hammill, who is on loan at Barnsley from Liverpool, has impressed at Oakwell since his arrival in January.

The skilful attacker has been a shining light for Barnsley as they fight to avoid relegation and he has been earning rave reviews in South Yorkshire.

Hammill's form has alerted the England Under 21 coaching staff, with the player a possible contender for a call-up for this summer's European Championship in Sweden.

Hammill's long-term future at Liverpool is uncertain with Reds boss Rafa Benitez expected to bring in new faces in the summer to further increase competition for places at Anfield.

The 21-year-old is highly-regarded at Liverpool, but he could be tempted to move on in search of regular first-team football if the right club comes along.

A number of sides are thought to be monitoring Hammill's situation with representatives from Bolton, West Brom and Wolves all believed to have cast an eye over the player in recent weeks.

Premier Interest In Astrit?

Astrit Ajdarevic doesn't have a long term future with Liverpool but the young midfielder claims that there is interest in him from a Premier League club.

Ajdarevic is currently on loan with Leicester, who are interested in keeping him next season, but the Swede is keeping his options open, as he explained to Fotbollskanalen:

'There is a chance for that (staying at Leicester) and the clubs are in negotiations. Leicester are negotiating with both Liverpool and my agent.

'It is Leicester and another club that have shown concrete interest. The other club is not a big club, like Liverpool or Manchester United, but it is a Premier League club.'

The 19 year old, who has already been aware that he doesn't have a future at Anfield, has only made four appearances for Leicester (all as a substitute) but he has enjoyed his time at the Walkers Stadium and says he's learned from it, so if Nigel Pearson gets his way he could follow Jack Hobbs in staying with them following their promotion back to the Championship.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rafa Benítez Keeps Feud With Alex Ferguson Simmering

Rafa Benítez could not resist a dig at Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday.Asked about criticism he received from both Manchester United's manager and Sam Allardyce following Liverpool's recent win against Blackburn, the Spaniard retorted. "Maybe people have nothing to do."

Ferguson claimed that when Liverpool assumed an early 2–0 lead Benitez made a hand motion indicating the game was over but his Anfield counterpart insists it was merely a self deprecatory gesture intended for Xabi Alonso who had ignored his instructions and created a goal.

"With 30 minutes in the first half gone, how can you say that the game is over? Impossible," said Benítez.

"I was saying, 'Alonso, play short' but Alonso crossed and Torres scored. So I was saying, 'OK, good'. Simple.

To create something around this means that maybe somebody has nothing to do. Maybe people have nothing to do."

Meanwhile Dirk Kuyt appeared to mimic Benítez's reaction to that Torres strike when he celebrated scoring his second and Liverpool's third goal at Hull. The Dutchman denied this but added: "Rafa makes signals with his hands like that all the time in games."

Liverpool's Jamie Carragher Hopes Premier League Will Be Decided On Final Day

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes the club will have a good chance of winning the Premier League title if it goes down to the final game of the season.

The Reds host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, May 24, while table toppers Manchester United will travel to the KC Stadium to take on Hull City.

The Merseyside outfit beat the Tigers 3-1 away on Saturday, however, the 31-year-old has insisted that it was such a difficult game that he would not be surprised if the Red Devils fail to win there.

"We have been on a great run of form recently and that was probably the worst we've played in a long time to be honest," Carragher told the club's official website.

"Credit to them though, they competed really well and caused us quite a few problems and we were just delighted to get the result in the end.

"Good luck to them, we just hope they do the same when they play Man United at the end of the season.

"They weren't really the kind of conditions you want to be playing in when it's warm because the pitch was really sticky and the grass was long so we couldn’t really get our passing going.

"But obviously they did that because it gives them more chance of making a game of it and, like I said, good luck to them.

"If they keep going like that I'm sure they will do well and hopefully we can take the title race to the last game because it won't be easy for United to go there, just as it wasn’t for us on Saturday."

Yossi In Line For New Deal

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has revealed he plans to offer Yossi Benayoun a new contract at Anfield.

Benayoun has impressed in recent weeks in the absence of Steven Gerrard, with the diminutive Israeli popping up with a number of key goals.

The skilful attacker has voiced his frustration at not being able to hold down a regular place in Benitez's plans since his arrival in 2007, but this season has arguably been his most consistent in a red shirt.

Benayoun's former club West Ham have been credited with an interest in luring him back to Upton Park, but Benitez insists there has been no approaches for the player and that he wants to tie down the 28-year-old to a long-term deal.

"I think if he is happy, then he will be okay here," Benitez is quoted as saying in The Independent.

"Yossi now is playing, so I'm sure he is happy.

"We've had no real approaches for him.

"Now he is playing more games, has more confidence and you can see the quality that he has.

"I have to talk to him [about a new contract] but he is contracted for another two years."

Benitez is also confident Daniel Agger will agree a new deal to stay on Merseyside.

Agger's future has been the subject of intense speculation for some time as contract talks have been dragging on.

Reports over the weekend suggested the Danish international had rejected Liverpool's latest offer, but Benitez claims talks are progressing well and he remains hopeful the centre back will sign a new contract.

"I think that we are closer," said Benitez of Agger's contract talks.

Rafa Prepares For Busy Summer At Anfield

Liverpool are set for a busy summer in the transfer market as Rafa Benitez stamps his authority on the Anfield club.

Aston Villa and England midfielder Gareth Barry is the main target during the close season and there is interest in Carlos Tevez as Manchester United are reluctant to fork out for the Argentinian's services.

The trouble is a move for the former West Ham marksman may impact on their chances of beating Tottenham in the chase for Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing as there is only a certain amount of cash swilling around in their transfer warchest.

And the Reds may also need to replace defender Daniel Agger as he has rejected a new four-year contract worth £10million.

The Dane could be headed to Italy where Milan, Inter and Juventus are all interested in his services.

Downing, meanwhile, will be joined in a Riverside exodus by a large chunk of the first-team squad if Boro are relegated.

Gary O'Neil is wanted by his old club Portsmouth and also interests Fulham while Tuncay could end up at Everton, Bolton or Blackburn with Julio Arca heading to Hull if he does not return to Sunderland.

Spurs have been linked with an £8m summer move for Marseille striker Djibril Cisse, who is currently on loan at Sunderland, but are likely to chase a more potent finisher to replace Darren Bent, who appears to heading for the White Hart Lane exit despite scoring 17 times this season.

They remain keen on Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz while Portsmouth want Rovers defender Christopher Samba to replace Sol Campbell, who will not be offered a new contract in a cost-cutting measure at Fratton Park.

Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko will return to Stamford Bridge at the end of the season because Milan will not pay the £9m fee to make his loan deal permanent and the Blues are willing to listen to offers for striker Nicolas Anelka at the end of the season and hope to recoup most of the £15m they spent to sign him from Bolton.

Arsenal may make a surprise bid if their London neighbours are prepared to lower their asking price but would prefer to spend their cash on strengthening their defence.

Fulham defender Brede Hangeland is on their shortlist after impressing at Craven Cottage this season.

The Norway international could be available as he has rejected improved contract terms along with Aaron Hughes, who could interest newly-promoted Wolves.

Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o maintains he has no interest in leaving Barcelona for the Premier League, Serie A or anywhere else for that matter as he is already at 'the best club in the world'.

Chelsea defender Michael Mancienne, meanwhile, has emerged as a shock target for Real Madrid.

Benitez Eyes United Target Suarez

Ajax striker Luis Suarez looks set to be one of the summer’s hottest transfer targets with news emanating from Holland that scouts from a host of top European clubs have been monitoring his progress. Manchester United are known to be confirmed admirers of the 22-year-old and it now appears that Liverpool have joined their close rivals and AC Milan in sending representatives to the Amsterdam Arena.

Rafael Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson have each been linked in recent months with big money bids for Valencia's David Villa and Lyon's Karim Benzema respectively but it has now been suggested that Suarez’s credentials and cheaper price tag could see his name added to the list.

The Uruguayan hitman has been in deadly form this season admirably filling the gap left by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar following the Dutchman’s January move to Real Madrid. With 22 goals and 14 assists in 29 Eredivisie appearances Suarez drew level this weekend with AZ Alkmaar’s Mounir El Hamdaoui at the top of the scoring charts – a feat all the more impressive given his side’s poor form.

The striker, who is similar in style and stature to Arsenal’s Eduardo, has also impressed on the international stage netting an impressive nine goals in eighteen appearances since making his debut for Uruguay in 2007.

Despite recently claiming that he is content with life in Holland, Suarez has openly admitted to being frustrated by Ajax’s failure to contend for the league title and at the subsequent lack of Champions League action. It is thought that having cost the Amsterdam Arena outfit €9.5m from Groningen his price has valuation has now risen above the €15m mark.

Liverpool Must Sell To Buy Transfer Targets

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted he will have to sell players to help fund summer transfer targets.

Benitez will look to strengthen his squad in close season to keep pace with Manchester United and Chelsea and make another push for the Premier League title next term.

The Reds have been linked with a second attempt to sign Aston Villa's Gareth Barry, as well as Valencia striker David Villa and Portsmouth right-back Glen Johnson, but in order to bring in that calibre of player he will have to trim his squad.

Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena have been unconvincing and could be sacrificed, and Sami Hyypia is reported to have been offered a deal to join the coaching staff.

"More or less I will have an idea of how much we will have to spend," said Benitez.

"I think we'd have to sell players to increase the money we'll need, but at the moment we're not talking about names and money.

"We are working on targets and we will try to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible.

"Every year it is important to sign good players, the right players. We know we have better players than before and it will be difficult to find better players than we have now.

"But we are working very hard during the season, looking for and watching players. We will be ready."

Krisztian Nemeth’s Late Strike Wins Liverpool Senior Cup Final

Kristianz Nemeth hit the winning goal 14 minutes from time as Liverpool Reserves scored a 1-0 victory in the Liverpool Senior Cup final to end Waterloo Dock’s hopes of glory at Marine FC last night.

The Hungarian striker fired home from close range on 76 minutes to give Liverpool the trophy.

But Gary Ablett’s team, who have had a difficult season in the FA Premier Reserve League Northern section, were made to work hard for the victory as Jim Davies’ Liverpool County Premier League champions put up an excellent fight.

It is the 33rd time that Liverpool have won the trophy outright, while they have also shared it on five other occasions.

Ablett’s side started well and almost went ahead after five minutes but Nemeth was off target with his effort.

Four minutes later Waterloo’s Leighton McGivern was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Mikel San Jose.

Both sides had chances throughout.

Liverpool’s Vincent Weijl set up Nemeth and the Hungarian forward saw his shot from 25 yards saved by Dock keeper Ryan Brookfield.

At the other end McGivern was denied by Liverpool’s Australian keeper Dean Bouzanis, fresh from helping the club’s youth team reach the FA Youth Cup final.

Dock could have went in front soon after but captain Anthony Battle guided a free header from six yards wide of the target.

Then right at the end of the first half Liverpool forward Dani Pacheco curled a free-kick just past the post.

Five minutes after the break Gerardo Bruna saw another shot deflected wide.

The Argentine striker almost set up Nemeth, but after the Hungarian went around Dock’s keeper Brookfield, Garry Riley got back to deny him with a well-timed challenge.

Liverpool continued to press for the winner, but Waterloo also went close and Godwin Antwi has to be alert to block efforts from Craig Sutherland and Joe Roberts. With time running out Nemeth was denied again when Brookfield superbly saved another shot.

But the Hungarian striker wouldn’t be denied and he broke the deadlock on 76 minutes.

San Jose and Bruna started a good passing move and after Weijl’s cross into the area, Nemeth was on hand to stab home from six yards what turned out to be the winning goal.

Ajdarevic Open To Foxes Stay

Astrit Ajdarevic admits he could stay at Leicester City, but revealed he is wanted by a Premier League club.

The Swedish teenager is on loan at the Walkers Stadium from Liverpool and has made four substitute appearances for the League One champions.

Leicester boss Nigel Pearson is keen to have the midfielder in his squad next season and Ajdarevic is open to staying with the Foxes.

However, Ajdarevic also confirmed that there has been interest from a team in the top flight as he weighs up leaving Anfield again.

"There is a chance for that (staying at Leicester) and the clubs are in negotiations," Ajdarevic told Fotbollskanalen. "Leicester are negotiating with both Liverpool and my agent.

"It is Leicester and another club that have shown concrete interest. The other club is not a big club, like Liverpool or Manchester United, but it is a Premier League club."

Though Ajdarevic has yet to start a game for Leicester, the 19-year-old has enjoyed his time with Pearson's side.

He added: "It was hard to get into the team since they were on top of the division and everything was moving smoothly.

"I was more of a helping hand, but I have gained their trust and been able to play in big games for the club.

"It feels a lot better now than before as I have been able to play for the first team.

"He (Pearson) is pleased and has said that he wants me next season in the Championship and then you can just take him for his word, if I end up staying."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rafa - United Can Still Crack

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez insists that Manchester United can still crack under the pressure in the title run-in.

The Reds went to the top of the Premier League on Saturday as they put Hull City to the sword at the KC Stadium.

But the Merseysiders' time at the summit was brief as United came from 2-0 down at half-time to crush Tottenham with five second half goals at Old Trafford.

The champions' result means they now sit three points ahead of Benitez's men with a game in hand but the Spaniard still believes the title race is not over.

"We have to keep on winning," he said.

"This football is always difficult and United are a good team, but if we keep winning I think maybe they will feel the pressure.

"You never know in football."

The former Valencia boss praised his team's 3-1 win at the struggling Tigers in what he described as difficult conditions.

"It was a terrible, terrible pitch, really difficult to play," he added.

"The ball was like a rabbit and it is difficult to catch a rabbit. It was a dry and long, terrible.

"If you lose you can say that is an excuse but we won, so I can explain it was difficult to play on.

"Pepe Reina was under pressure every time he tried to play the ball. We needed to be patient and try and pass the ball. We were a little bit under pressure.

"Credit to them, they played with 10 players and they were still pushing."

Kuyt Believes In Miracles

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has warned Manchester United the title race is not over yet.

Kuyt, who marked his 100th Premier League appearance for the club with two goals against Hull on Saturday, remains hopeful Liverpool can beat United to the title.

United are overwhelming favourites to clinch the championship as they are currently three points clear of their arch-rivals with a game in hand.

Time is running out for Liverpool to catch United with just four games left, but Kuyt is refusing to concede defeat and has vowed to push the leaders all the way.

"I believe in miracles in football," insisted Kuyt. "I have certainly seen stranger things happen in football.

"We'll just keep fighting for it - all we can do is keep winning our games.

"We have got a great team and will fight until the end and we shall see what happens on the last day of the season.

"I think they will need to slip up to make things interesting and as soon as they have dropped some points the pressure will be on them again.

"We will just have to wait and see and focus on ourselves.

"If we don't win anything, that's football. We just have to give everything we can as a team."

Kuyt appeared to mimic Rafa Benitez's infamous crossed hands salute when he scored his second and Liverpool's third goal at the KC Stadium, but the Dutchman insists there was nothing behind his celebration.

"It was not about Rafa's signals last week - he makes signals like that all the time in games," added Kuyt.

"It was just spontaneous. I was just happy because we were struggling in the game to be fair.

"That was game over but it is not game over in the league. We will keep chasing them until the end."

Rafa Benitez Takes Valuable Lesson From Liverpool FC Campaign

Rafael Benitez believes his players will learn from their experience of their title scrap with Manchester United while reiterating Liverpool have no intention of throwing in the towel on this season’s challenge.

The Anfield outfit kept up the pressure on their bitter North West rivals with a nervy 3-1 win at Hull City on Saturday.

United remain three points clear with a game in hand after their controversial 5-2 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur later in the evening.

For the first time since 1991, Liverpool remain in the hunt for the championship going into May.

And Benitez reckons the lessons learned from this season’s title tilt will hold his squad in good stead for future Premier League campaigns.

“The team, the squad, has shown that it’s better and this is a fantastic experience for the next years because we are in a position now that we were not before, for me that is the positive thing,” said the Liverpool manager.

“Always you can talk about trophies but in England there are so many strong sides, it’s not easy. At least you have to be there, you have to be contending – then you see what happens.

“We have four games now to finish the season and we’re still in the title race so I think it’s very positive.

“Normally when you play this level you know that at the end of the season you will play for trophies and can lose but if you analyse the whole season I think the team’s done very well, especially without Gerrard and Torres for a lot of games.

“I have confidence that we can fight until the end. After that, it’s very good experience because we have been in a position we were not before, not for a long time.”

United need to drop at least six points in their five remaining games for Liverpool to have any chance of lifting the championship for the first time in 19 years and prevent the Old Trafford outfit drawing level with their record 18 titles.

And Benitez added: “I have confidence United will drop points. So we need to keep going, keep doing our job, put them under pressure and then we will see.”

A goal from Xabi Alonso put Liverpool ahead on the stroke of half-time at the KC Stadium on Saturday, before Hull striker Caleb Folan was sent off on 58 minutes after kicking out at Martin Skrtel.

Dirk Kuyt doubled the visitors’ advantage shortly afterwards and although Geovanni pulled one back for Hull, another Kuyt strike in the closing moments sealed the win.

Of the game, Benitez said: “We were talking with the players about these kinds of games that could be the difference. This year we’ve won against the top sides, so these kind of games, which we’ve been drawing, have to be the difference in the future.

“We assessed the game and I thought we could control it, but it was difficult because they were pushing. We were making mistakes, and we need to improve.”

Hull’s defeat means they remain deep in the relegation mire having won just two of their last 25 league games.

But Benitez added: “I think Hull can be safe. It’ll be difficult for all the teams near the bottom because they’ll play now with more nerves, more anxiety, but I think it will be a good battle – if you’re not in it. But Hull have the potential to stay up.”

Benitez also revealed that Steven Gerrard, who has missed Liverpool’s last three games with an adductor problem, trained over the weekend and should be available for the visit of Newcastle United on Sunday.

Steven Gerrard Backs Kenny Dalglish's Potential Return To Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has reacted to the recent speculation linking Kenny Dalglish with a return to Anfield by saying it would be the best signing Rafael Benitez could make for the team in the summer.

The Reds manager has hinted in the last week that Dalglish could return to the club in an advisory role to help the Spaniard.

Talks are reportedly at an advanced stage, and confirmation of the deal may come as early as next week after Dalglish is said to have been relishing the chance to return to Anfield.

The club captain has now given his opinions on the speculation, believing it could greatly benefit the club.

Speaking to The Mirror, Gerrard said, "My first response to the news was, 'Great, get him in now' because the man is a legend.

"It's a great idea to get Kenny in because it would give the club a massive lift.

"Put it this way, if I was a young player again and a number of clubs wanted to sign me, if Kenny Dalglish came to me and asked me to sign for Liverpool then there is only one place I would go."

The Reds are closer than ever before to winning their first Premier League trophy, but still have some catching up to do as they sit in second place, three points behind Manchester United, who have a game in hand over the Reds.

Liverpool FC Youngsters Must Use Youth Cup Final As Stepping Stone

Hugh McAuley is hoping his players use the FA Youth Cup final as a platform for success further up the football ladder.

The Liverpool coach was delighted his side secured the club’s third appearance in the final in the past four seasons with Friday night’s 3-1 second leg victory over Birmingham City.

Two goals from top scorer Lauri Dalla Valle and another from Swedish left-winger Alex Kacaniklic sealed a 6-1 aggregate success over the Midlanders to set up another two-legged tie with Arsenal at the end of next month.

McAuley, who coached Liverpool to their first-ever success in the competition in 1996 with a team which included Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and David Thompson, knows that the competition can be used as a springboard for progress through the ranks.

He is hoping some of the current crop of young talent can follow in the footsteps of the class of 96 eventually into Rafael Benitez’s first team.

McAuley said: “It was very pleasing. It is a very long Youth Cup campaign, but I think everyone can see we deserve the right to play in the final. We have had some excellent games and I think the team has improved as we have gone on in the competition and we have seen the emergence of some excellent youth players.

“I think that is the highlight and the feature of the Youth Cup. History tells you that the top players do come through that way. Although Steven Gerrard didn’t play a major part in the Youth Cup early doors, at the same time other players have at this club and at the other clubs.

“The Youth Cup provides that stage for young players to develop in high-profile games. It is a fantastic development programme and we have enjoyed that this year and hopefully we can go on and do that in the final.”

He added: “It is three out of the last four years we have been involved in the Youth Cup final. It is fantastic for the boys and for the football club.

“It gives us that high-profile situation where our boys can be on show and do well and I think big clubs like Liverpool Football Club will benefit ultimately from being in the finals of this type of competition.”

McAuley is happy to have played a part in the latest run to the final, and he is already preparing for a tough clash with Arsenal, who beat last season’s winners Manchester City 6-2 on aggregate to book their place in the final.

The first clash is expected to be at the Emirates on May 22 with the return at Anfield pencilled in for the following Tuesday.

McAuley said: “For me personally it is fantastic. I was lucky enough to be the manager in 1996 when we had Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Davie Thompson in the team that was successful against West Ham on that occasion.

“Then a long-time on, a good few years on it is good to manage a team in the final again. It is good that over the last few years the youth team have done particularly well in getting to these finals and we are looking forward to the games against Arsenal. Hopefully we can good account of ourselves and produce some good games of football and some good individual footballers as a result of it.

“Having watched Arsenal they are a very good team and I am sure the games we play against Arsenal will be very good football games.

“We played them in the Youth Cup here last year and were fortunate to beat them 1-0 on the night. We were very good on the night and gave a good account of ourselves and played some excellent football. I am anticipating two very good games.

“There are some excellent footballers on show. Arsenal have some excellent players. Hopefully we can get our homework right and do some good preparation work and I am sure by time we play the games in May we will be ready for that.”

Key to the run to the final has been top scorer Dalla Valle with the Finn firing in seven in the competition so far.

Owen was top scorer back in 1996 and the 17-year-old Dalla Valle’s striking ability plus the fact he has blond hair and wears the Liverpool number nine shirt comparisons to current star Fernando Torres and past strikers are inevitable.

McAuley knows he has a long way to go to match those illustrious Anfield stars, but the Liverpool coach said: “He is typically like a Michael Owen or Fernando Torres in that he is goalscorer.

“He is instinctive, he is always looking to get on the end of passes. He is always looking to run in the box and cause problems for the opposing defence. He is very quick and very sharp in the penalty area. There are a lot of similarities with Michael in that he is a goalscorer and he loves scoring goals. Half chances and loose balls into the penalty area he latches onto very quickly.

“He knows he has a lot to do, a lot to work on like all young players. But he has a touch and an instinct that gets him goals and he has done that all season. The boy is getting stronger, his game understanding is improving a lot more and his hold-up play is improving.

“There are parts of his game he needs to work at and he is working at, but he continues to score goals at youth team level and it is important he gets the right development and the Youth Cup is giving him that development to push on and improve his game.

“But he is an excellent prospect for the future.”

Dalla Valle went off against Birmingham with a thigh strain, but more as a precaution and he will be available for the final.

Midfielder Adam Pepper, though, faces a race against time to be fit. The Liverpool-born youngster suffered a groin problem and left the stadium on crutches. Liverpool, though, are hopeful the injury is not as bad a first feared and he can make the first leg of the final in four weeks.

Liverpool's Finnish Forward Lauri Dalla Valle Has Feet On Ground

Lauri Dalla Valle is not getting carried away after spearheading Liverpool Youth team’s charge to the FA Youth Cup final.

The Finnish forward has played a key part in the run to the final, having scored seven times so far in the competition.

The 17-year-old scored twice against Birmingham in Friday night’s 3-1 semi-final second leg win. They added to the double he hit in the first leg as Liverpool triumphed 6-1 on aggregate to set up another two-legged tie with Arsenal.

The Kontiolahti-born youngster said: “To score two in the first leg and two in the second leg I am pleased. I am a striker, I try to score and I am scoring, so I am happy.

“I try to get in good positions to score goals, and it is going well. I will always try to do my best. It is easy for me to keep my feet on the ground. I am always like that. I always think I am Lauri.

“It was very easy to settle into the country because I have had many people to help me. It took a couple of months to settle down in the English game because it is much faster and more physical but it is going better now.

“I am waiting for the final now. It would mean a lot to win it because it would be my first trophy in England.”

The Importance Of Alonso

This time last year it looked as though Xabi Alonso was on the brink of a move to Juventus with Gareth Barry being lined up as his replacement. Barry, of Aston Villa, was reportedly valued at £18 million which Rafa was not prepared to cough up. The move seemed to hinge only on Xabi Alonso continuing his career in Italy. I think the majority of Liverpool fans out there would certainly agree with me when i say, ' Alonso made the right choice to stay!'

Rafa has elected to play the majority of the season with two holding midfielders, primarily being Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano and it is definitely clear to see that the whole team are reaping the benefits. The facts are clear to see, the new formation is certainly working, and in my opinion the secret to the success is the partnership of Alonso and Mascherano. I also beg to differ that Gareth Barry would have had the same impact on the team, should his move actually have been completed.

It's fair to say that judging by last year’s performances the Spaniard seemed to be losing his touch a little, maybe that was the reason Rafa seemed keen to offload the Spanish international, but this season it's almost as if Alonso has transformed into a totally different player. Pin point passes, an eye for goal and a good report with 'Masc', as well as some incredibly vital goals against Chelsea most notably.

The plaudits will obviously go to the ever present Stevie G as well as Fernando but i thought it only seemed fair to build the praise up of Xabi Alonso as he's almost become an unsung hero. Before the goal against Hull City for example, on the weekend the team looked shaky to say the least, who knows what could have happened if Alonso hadn't have rattled that goal in on the stroke of half time. One thing is for sure, that goal brought some stability to the side and okay we looked a bit complacent when Caleb Folan was sent off for a kick out at Martin Skrtel, but we then ended up killing the game off and subsequently winning 3-1.

In my opinion if there was to be a player of the season Xabi Alonso would certainly be a contender due to the importance he plays within the team, thank god he didn't switch Anfield for the Stadio Olimpico di Torino in the summer, eh?

Sami Hyypia To Spurn Liverpool's Coaching Contract Offer

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror, Sami Hyypia will decline the opportunity to become a member of Liverpool's coaching staff in order to prolong his playing career.

Apparently, the 35-year-old has been offered a new one-year deal to remain at Anfield as a player-coach.

However, the 97-time capped Finland international believes his chances of playing regular first-team football with the Reds will be few and far between, so he will seek a move away from the club in the summer.

It is thought that manager Rafael Benitez convinced the 6ft 4in centre-back to reject overtures from the likes of Fulham, Newcastle United and Stoke City during the January transfer window to remain with the Merseyside outfit.

However, Cottagers boss Roy Hodgson is expected to make yet another offer for the former MyPa and Willem II star at the end of the season.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Match Report: Hull City 1 - 3 LiverpooL

Dirk Kuyt struck twice as title-chasing Liverpool ground out a crucial Barclays Premier League victory at Hull on Saturday afternoon.

The Reds were given a rigorous test by the relegation-threatened Tigers, who were reduced to 10 men, but held on to keep the pressure on Manchester United at the top of the table.

Kuyt put Liverpool 2-0 up after a controversial Xabi Alonso strike in the first half but Hull battled hard and pulled one back through Geovanni after Caleb Folan was sent off.

But Kuyt sealed the win in the closing minutes from close range.

Liverpool, perhaps feeling the pace after Tuesday's pulsating 4-4 draw with Arsenal, were second best for large periods.

Hull sensed they had nothing to lose but their performance should at least offer encouragement for their remaining four games.

Yossi Benayoun created the first opening with a weaving run into the box but his shot was blocked and Fernando Torres lifted the rebound over the bar.

Benayoun, who has emerged as a strong creative force in the continued absence of the inspirational Steven Gerrard, then curled another shot over soon after.

Yet Hull, anxious for points after just one win in 17, showed an energy that belied their position and Folan spurned a chance when he failed to control in the area.

Jose Reina also needed to deal with a dipping cross from Craig Fagan and Dean Marney scuffed a 20-yard shot after being put clear by Geovanni on halfway.

Geovanni went closer himself with a ferocious shot after a clearance fell to him 30 yards out, his half-volley flashing just wide of target.

Hull also tested the Liverpool defence with a corner and a couple of long Sam Ricketts throws during a prolonged spell on the front foot but a final touch was lacking.

Geovanni then seized on a poor Reina throw only to slip as he looked to deliver a cross and Lucas almost caught the hosts on the counter-attack when he screwed a shot wide.

Kuyt then tried his luck with a fizzing a shot from the edge of the box but Boaz Myhill was not tested.

Liverpool finally made the breakthrough in the last minute of the first half, although Hull were far from happy when Javier Mascherano was ruled to have been fouled on the edge of the area.

Alonso fired the resulting free-kick into the wall but the rebound fell kindly and the Spaniard lashed home from 25 yards.

Hull continued their protests after the half-time whistle and Barmby was booked for dissent by referee Martin Atkinson.

The second half began tamely with Torres firing one half-chance too high and clipping another just over.

But the atmosphere changed markedly just before the hour as Folan was sent off for kicking out at the recalled Martin Skrtel and Atkinson threatened to lose control.

There could be no debate about the red card after Folan tussled with the defender trying to intercept a Jamie Carragher pass and then lashed out as the Slovakian went to ground.

Hull were furious at a perceived injustice and Fagan was booked moments later for clashing with Skrtel.

The hosts then switched off after Kamil Zayatte conceded a corner and a weak clearance allowed Skrtel to shoot and Kuyt to turn in the misdirected effort.

Hull still felt aggrieved and Atkinson was under intense pressure as the tackles flew in and the crowd scrutinised his every decision.

Tigers boss Phil Brown had attempted to shake things up just before Kuyt's goal by introducing Daniel Cousin and Bernard Mendy and the pair combined for Geovanni to score after 73 minutes.

Mendy found Cousin with a long ball and the Gabon striker raced into the area before pulling back for an unmarked Geovanni to turn in.

It was the least Hull deserved but Torres almost finished them off on 80 minutes when he headed against the bar from a Kuyt cross.

Kuyt wrapped up the points two minutes from time from in front of goal after Alvaro Arbeloa's deflected shot was pushed out by Myhill.

Hull City's Phil Brown Blames Poor Refereeing After Liverpool Loss

Hull City manager Phil Brown feels his side could have got something from their match against Liverpool, had it not been for the poor refereeing of Martin Atkinson.

The away side opened the scoring when Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso's thunderous strike found the net on 45 minutes.

The home side were then reduced to ten men after Caleb Folan was giving his marching orders for kicking out at Martin Skrtel.

Things then got worse for the Tigers when Skrtel's mis-timed shot was headed in from close range by Dirk Kuyt.

Brazilian midfielder Geovanni gave the Tigers slim hopes of a revival when he found the back of the net but all hope died when Alvaro Arbeloa's shot fell to Kuyt, who scored his second of the game to give the Reds all three points.

After the game, Brown stated his side needed a lot of picking up at half-time, after what he saw as some poor refereeing decisions.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Brown said, "We were having to pick players up at half time after an injustice was done.

"We knew it was going to be tough and somebody has let them off the hook. I cannot see a free-kick there."

The Tigers boss however, felt the sending off was justified.

"I have no excuses for the sending off. I feel it was justified and it will be dealt with in-house. That killed us, 10 against 11, and Caleb made it a little bit easier for them."

The result leaves Hull perilously close to the drop zone, sitting in 17th place and just three points above Middlesbrough.

Rafael Benitez Plays Down Steven Gerrard Absence

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has stated that his side are able to cope in the absence of captain Steven Gerrard.

The Reds have come under criticism for their results of late and the overwhelming conclusion to the dip in form has been the absence of influential captain Gerrard.

The 28-year-old has been struggling with an injury for the past couple of weeks, meaning he has missed key games in the club's season. Liverpool have crashed out of the Champions League and lost ground in the Premier League title race and many have suggested this is due to Gerrard's absence.

The England international will again miss out on the Reds trip to the KC Stadium this afternoon, as they face Hull City looking to regain lost ground in the title race.

Benitez argues that, although Gerrard is a special player for the Reds, he does not carry the team and said he has confidence in his squad to be able to get a result against the Tigers.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Benitez said, "Gerrard is a key player for us, especially attacking, but the team is doing well.

"The team know they have to attack and they have to win and it doesn't matter Gerrard is not there. All of them try to push and try to help."

Liverpool sit in second place in the Premier League table, just three points behind Manchester United, but the Red Devils have a game in hand over their rivals.

Rafael Benitez Wants Yossi Benayoun To Stay At Liverpool

Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun has reportedly been informed by manager Rafael Benitez that he has a long-term future at Anfield.

The Israeli’s future has been the subject of much debate this season, after he admitted he was unhappy to be starting so many games from the bench.

Benayoun arrived at Liverpool on a four-year-deal in 2007 for a fee in the region of £5 million but has struggled to nail down a place in the starting XI during his time at Anfield.

However, he has been in stunning form in recent weeks and appears to have won over his manager after producing several match-winning performances for the Reds.

The News of the World reports that Benitez now sees the Israeli international as a vital member of his squad and has informed him that he does have a future at the club.

The 28-year-old has been crucial to Liverpool’s title hopes in recent weeks, scoring a last-gasp winner at Fulham and hitting a brace in Wednesday’s thrilling 4-4 draw with Arsenal.

Benayoun also hit the winner for Liverpool in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League and appears to be in the form of his life at the moment.

The former West Ham United man's presence in the team has also meant that skipper Steven Gerrard’s absence has been lessened.

Benayoun was in action again yesterday and, once again, he played a pivotal role in Liverpool's 3-1 win over Hull City, which temporarily took the Reds to the top of the Premier League.

Liverpool Linked With Indian Takeover

Liverpool have reportedly entered negotiations about a possible takeover with the owners of an Indian Premier League cricket side.

According to a report in the News of the World, representatives of the billionaire owners of the Delhi Daredevils met with Anfield officials last week.

The paper claims that officials from the GMR group were also present at Anfield in midweek, as Rafael Benitez’s men drew 4-4 with Arsenal.

The British tabloid quotes a 'Kop source' as revealing that members of the GMR group had been invited to the game by Tom Hicks.

The report also goes on to suggest that GMR view Liverpool as a perfect investment opportunity and that they are keen to move into English football.

“The GMR group were invited by Hicks, and their representative watched the Arsenal match in the directors' box with Hicks' son Tommy,” claims the paper’s source.

“It was quite clear the representative was a fan.

“When you look at the company's commitment to sport, they're exactly the type of partner Tom would be looking for.”

The News of the World also claims that Hicks originally made contact with GMR with a view to discussing a sponsorship deal, but that this could now lead to a buy-out.

Daniel Agger Snubs New Liverpool Deal

According to The Sun, Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger has knocked back a four-year deal with the Anfield outfit.

Owing to the Reds' poor financial situation at the moment, it is understood that the board at the Merseyside club are holding back on big-money deals until the club's debt has been discussed at length with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

And with reported interest from Italian clubs AC Milan and Juventus, the 24-year-old defender may be swayed towards an exit from Liverpool if a better offer is not tabled soon - the original figure supposedly reaching heights of £10 million.

Alvaro Arbeloa is in a similar position as Agger, due to Rafa Benitez being made to wait before any monetary commitments are made, at least until the club has been advised on how to manage their £350 million debt.

Financial Cloud On The Anfield Horizon

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's summer spending plans - and even the future of star players such as Fernando Torres - will not be made any more certain by new doubts over the finances of co-owner Tom Hicks's American sporting empire.

Hicks played down the significance of his Hicks Sports Group failing to make an interest payment on £350million of loans at the end of last month, but reports in the United States claim the crisis dates back many months to when US regulators made a damning assessment of HSG's ability to meet its obligations.

The Hicks camp insist what is happening in the US has no bearing on his stake in Liverpool, but it is inconceivable that the news will have made the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia any more willing to refinance the £350m loan facility they set up with Hicks and cochairman George Gillett to help them buy and run the club.

The American owners attended Liverpool's 4-4 draw with Arsenal last week, but the primary purpose of their visit is believed to have been further talks with RBS about extending the agreement beyond July.

The ongoing uncertainty off the pitch could lead to RBS and Wachovia taking financial control of the club in a bid to claw back as much of their money as possible.

Rafa Explains Gesture Row

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has explained the reason behind his arm-waving gesture which outraged Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce accused Benitez of showing a lack of respect as a result of gestures made by the Spaniard following Liverpool's second goal in the 4-0 win at Anfield.

Manchester United chief Sir Alex Ferguson also accused Benitez of showing contempt to Allardyce with the gesture, but Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee defended Benitez claiming the Reds boss was communicating with his own players.

Benitez has now revealed he made the gesture in reaction to Xabi Alonso not agreeing to his orders when taking a setpiece.

"Xabi Alonso and Emiliano Insua were standing over a free-kick and I was shouting orders to them in Spanish," Benitez told the Daily Mail.

"I kept saying, "Play it short" because I thought there could be a surprise element. But Xabi just whipped it straight into the area and when Fernando Torres headed it in, he turned round and gave me a big grin.

"I had to laugh and I just made a sign to say, 'OK, don't listen to me'."

Fernando Torres Burn Out Fear As He Faces Another Busy Summer

Liverpool star Fernando Torres faces another summer without rest, amid fears he risks burn-out.

Torres will be forced to travel with Spain to the Confederations Cup, and that will mean him playing on until the end of June.

Worse still, Liverpool are committed to a preseason trip to Thailand and Singapore less than a month later.

The host countries have inserted clauses in the contract that Torres MUST play.

The Spaniard will get barely a fortnight off, as the first game against Thailand is on July 22.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez said: "The Spanish players have to go to the Confederations Cup, so we will see how we manage.

"We can't change the situation, we have to accept it, but it's always us that has to adapt."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Liverpool

At the turn of the year, who would have thought that Hull City would find themselves entangled in the relegation scrap? Once touted as the best newly promoted side ever to grace the Premier League, they now sit just three points above the danger zone in 16th place as we enter the final five rounds of the season.

Having opened their maiden top-flight season with a nine-game unbeaten streak, Phil Brown's men have won just once in their last 17 league outings. In the last two weeks they have lost to Sunderland and Middlesbrough, both direct rivals in the fight for survival.

So, safe to say, it is not in the best circumstances that they come up against a side who are pushing for top honours and simply cannot stop scoring. Nevertheless, the manager believes there could hardly be a better time for his struggling Tigers - who drew at Anfield in December - to come up against such a formidable opponent.

"We're in a vein of form where we need to arrest the situation as soon as possible and what better time than at a packed KC Stadium against one of the best teams in the world," Brown said earlier this week.

"We've had situations thrown at us in the last two years that would suggest Hull City versus Liverpool will be a one-sided affair. But we have our own thoughts about that.

"I've always said if we bring our best to the table and we are as organised as we can be, we can give anyone a game at this level."

While Hull are clinging on for dear life, Liverpool are similarly desperate to keep touch with those ahead of them - 'those' meaning league leaders Manchester United.

The Reds' incredible 4-4 feast against Arsenal on Tuesday night allowed Sir Alex Ferguson's mob to skip three points clear at the top of the table the following day, and with a game still in hand. Thus, with just five rounds left, victory on Humberside this weekend is the only option.

The curious thing is that, whilst they are now in danger of letting United off the leash, the Merseysiders are perhaps the form team in England. They've racked up an astonishing 20 goals in six league games, but questions are now being asked of their defence after conceding eight in their last two outings - a stat that does not please Pepe Reina.

The goalkeeper said on Thursday, "We are scoring a lot of goals but we have to try and improve in defence. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football but now we must sort some of the problems we're having in defence.

"We've always had the balance between attack and defence. That's why we're always there in the Champions League and cup competitions, because we are a team with balance. We have to get back to this way."

This call for a more measured approach is perhaps at odds with Liverpool's need to win every remaining game to have a realistic shot at a first Premier League crown - or any silverware at all, for that matter. Thus, it will be interesting to see what line Rafael Benitez's troops take at the KC Stadium this Saturday.


Hull City

Apr 18 Sunderland 1-0 Hull City (Premier League)
Apr 11 Middlesbrough 3-1 Hull City (Premier League)
Apr 04 Hull City 0-0 Portsmouth (Premier League)
Mar 22 Wigan Athletic 1-0 Hull City (Premier League)
Mar 17 Arsenal 2-1 Hull City (FA Cup)


Apr 22 Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal (Premier League)
Apr 14 Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool (Champions League)
Apr 11 Liverpool 4-0 Blackburn Rovers (Premier League)
Apr 08 Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea (Champions League)
Apr 04 Fulham 0-1 Liverpool (Premier League)


Hull City

Anthony Gardner is expected to miss the rest of the season with a back injury, while Jimmy Bullard won't return from a knee problem until the summer.

Captain Ian Ashbee is suspended, but Bernard Mendy - who starred in the reverse fixture - and Daniel Cousin are in contention after sitting out the loss to Sunderland through injury.

Probable XI: Myhill - Ricketts, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson - Fagan, Boateng, Marney, Kilbane - Geovanni - Manucho


Steven Gerrard is expected to miss out once again as he continues to battle back from a groin injury, meaning the job of supporting Fernando Torres will likely be shared between Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun.

Sami Hyypia is still carrying a knee knock, so either Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger will partner Jamie Carragher in central defence.

Probable XI: Reina - Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio - Alonso, Mascherano - Benayoun, Kuyt, Riera - Torres


Hull City

When the Tigers were flying early in the season, Michael Turner's ultra-solid defending grabbed many a headline. The young centre-back leads the league in clearances, and he will be a busy man if 'Pool carry their recent form into this clash.


He has been a bit-part player since arriving at Anfield in 2007, but Yossi Benayoun has proved a valuable commodity throughout the back half of the season. The Israeli playmaker put on a scintillating display against Arsenal in midweek, and his invention could prove pivotal in Gerrard's absence.

Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard To Miss Hull Clash With Groin Injury

Rafa Benitez has confirmed Steven Gerrard will miss Liverpool’s Premier League trip to Hull after his captain failed to recover from his adductor strain in time to be fit for the game.

Gerrard suffered the injury in the Champions League quarter final, first leg defeat to Chelsea, missing Liverpool’s last three games as a result, and the Spaniard today admitted the visit to the KC Stadium will come too soon for the England international.

But Benitez is confident Gerrard will return to the side for the remaining four games of the campaign, starting with Newcastle’s match at Anfield in eight days’ time, all of which Liverpool must win if they are to overhaul Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.

Benitez’s side currently lie three points behind their Old Trafford rivals, who also boast the added cushion of a game in hand, and he again insisted they “must be perfect” between now and the end of the season to stand any chance at all of ending the club’s 19-year wait for a league championship.

As he prepares to face Phil Brown’s relegation battlers, Benitez will no doubt be boosted by the confidence imbued by scoring four goals in each of their previous three games, although he does admit a degree of concern that, in two of those, they have conceded the same amount.

He said: “Chelsea and Arsenal are really good teams and we know they can score against anyone. We must be worried to concede four in two games, but if we can go back to the defensive level we had before and keep the attacking threat we have, then we will be fine.

"United have difficult games and while they are in the driving seat, we have to keep our confidence we can catch them.”

Hull Fear Liverpool FC Striker Torres

Hull manager Phil Brown believes the only way to stop Fernando Torres is to keep him off the Liverpool team sheet.

The in-form Spanish striker is Brown’s main worry as he prepares his side to face the Reds at the KC Stadium today in a match which could have a major say in outcomes at either end of the Premier League table.

Brown reckons he has the game plan to frustrate Rafael Benitez’s men, but asked how he will stifle Torres, who was absent for the 2-2 reverse fixture in December, he admitted: “I don’t know.

“Every manager in the country has to deal with him at some stage and the best way to deal with him at Anfield was him not playing.

“He picked up a knock in the first 15 minutes (against Arsenal on Tuesday) and obviously I was watching him closely because I’m the next manager to face him.

“He’s a fantastic player.

“You talk about Torres and Stevie Gerrard as the combination but it’s a potent strike force whatever comes out of Liverpool’s dressing room.”

Gerrard has been ruled out of today’s game with a groin injury much to the relief of Brown, who, when asked if that was what he had been hoping for, replied: “Absolutely. One million per cent. And hopefully one or two of his comrades won’t play either.”

In contrast to Liverpool, Hull have found goals hard to come by of late and they have gone nine games without scoring more than a solitary goal. Striker Daniel Cousin could return to the side after recovering from a back problem but Brown admits defence is his main priority.

“We’ll try and frustrate them. We know we’re not going to have much of the ball,” he said.

“They’ll have a lot of possession, a lot of chances, a lot of corners, so we’ve got to defend properly. It’s as simple as that.

“In the main I’m looking for our best defensive heads.”

Arsenal Point So Crucial To Liverpool FC Title Bid

UPBEAT Rafael Benitez believes the dramatic draw with Arsenal could prove a crucial point as he reiterated Liverpool would not surrender their title ambitions.

Benitez’s side missed a chance to crank up the pressure on leaders Manchester United when they were held 4-4 at home by the Gunners on Tuesday night.

United’s straightforward 2-0 win against Portsmouth 24 hours later means the Old Trafford side lead their North West rivals by three points with a game in hand.

With the champions entertaining Tottenham Hotspur in today’s evening kick-off, Liverpool can temporarily go back to the top of the table with victory at struggling Hull City this afternoon.

And experience of past title run-ins means Benitez is convinced Yossi Benayoun’s injury-time equaliser in midweek could yet prove “crucial” as the race for the championship enters the final month.

“As a manager, when you have experience you know that each point is very, very important,” said the Liverpool manager.

“For me, 3-3 with five minutes to go, with the belief we could score again was the key. To concede again was a big shock for us.

“So to come back again and make it 4-4 was massive in terms of the confidence and what that can do for us. The point could still be crucial at this point of the season.

“After the game everyone was really disappointed. But now the message is clear; to keep going, to keep the belief because you never know what might happen in football. We cannot give up.

“We have to keep going until the end.

“Three points in the next game is the most important thing now, then we can see what happens. That’s the only way.”

Liverpool FC Reach Third FA Youth Cup Final In Four Years

Anfield has been marvelling at a fair-haired number nine for the past two seasons, but another continued his emergence lower down the club.

Lauri Dalla Valle has a long way to go before he can call Anfield his home, and any comparisons with Fernando Torres or another Liverpool Youth Cup Michael Owen at this stage of his career would certainly be unfair. But the 17-year-old Finnish forward is getting noticed by the Anfield faithful for more than his striking blond hair.

He added to his goals tally with a double to help Liverpool into the final of the FA Youth Cup last night. He now has 20 in goals this season, seven of those in the run to the Youth Cup final.

Ably assisted by David Amoo, Tom Ince and Alex Kacaniklic, Dalla Valle spearheaded the Liverpool attack and scored from two clinical strikes as Hugh McAuleys side booked their place in the clubs third final in the past four seasons with a routine 3-1 victory over Birmingham to complete a 6-1 aggregate success.

They will now face Arsenal in another two-legged tie with first leg at the Emirates. It will be a tough challenge as the Gunners defeated Manchester City who are on course to win the North West section of the FA Premier Academy League again 6-2 on aggregate in the other semi-final.

But as if often the case in the Youth Cup, McAuleys side have grown into the competition. With their attacking ability and defensive strength they will feel they are capable of becoming the fourth crop of the clubs youngsters to lift the prestigious trophy next month.

Despite holding a three-goal advantage from the first leg Liverpool started on the offensive, trying to put the tie completely beyond the visitors early on. Ince saw one effort saved, while Steve Irwins wicked cross from the right was cleared and Andre Wisdom fired over from the edge of the area inside the first five minutes.

Soon after Amoos cross was headed back across goal by Kacaniklic, but Birmingham keeper Dean Lyness punched clear as Dalla Valle tried to apply the finishing touch.

Right-winger Amoo, as he had done in the first leg, was causing plenty of problems and from another cross Dalla Valle hooked over on 10 minutes.

Seven minutes Finnish striker Dalla Valle showed his predatory skills as he fired Liverpool into the lead on the night. From his cross Adam Pepper saw his shot palmed away by Lyness. And although Dalla Valle initially missed his kick on the follow-up he kept his composure to slot home from six yards.

Birmingham had hardly been seen as an attacking force but they almost levelled after 23 minutes. Liverpool captain Joe Kennedy had to hook off the line following hesitancy in the home defence after keeper Dean Bouzanis had dropped a cross under pressure.

Five minutes later Amoos fine run saw him play in Ince, who in turn set up Dalla Valle, but his effort was smothered by Lyness.

Amoo and Dalla Valle in particular never gave the visitors defence a minutes peace and the two combined soon after, as the Finnish forward looped a header from the right-wingers cross onto the top of the Kop goal.

As half-time approached Birmingham drew level with a stunning strike. Captain Ashley Sammons was allowed to run from the centre circle before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the top corner from 30 yards to give the visitors a slim hope of a comeback.

But seven minutes after the restart that was gone as Liverpool regained their lead with a lightning-fast break. A superb cross-field ball by German full-back Christopher Buchtmann found Ince, who advanced towards the box to slip in Kacaniklic, and despite keeper Lyness getting a hand to the Swedish wingers shot it looped into the net.

On 58 minutes Dalla Valle grabbed his second of the night. Latching onto a long ball out of defence from Spaniard Daniel Ayala he ran from the half-way line before slipping the ball home under Lyness.

Ince went close twice soon after. First he fired on the volley after a good interchange of passing between Buchtmann and Kacaniklic, then Lyness superbly saved another shot.

Subsititute Alex Cooper almost put the seal on a fine evening for Liverpool with three minutes left, but his shot on the turn clipped the outside of the post.

Dalla Valle, who came to the sidelines complaining of a thigh problem, had to be replaced with 12 minutes left by Karl Clair. Liverpool are hopeful the injury is not too serious and that their chief supply of goals is able to take his place in the final against Arsenal.

Midfielder Pepper also limped off with a groin problem and faces a race against time to be fit for the first leg of the final which is provisionally scheduled for Friday, May 22 at the Emirates with the Anfield return expected to be on the following Tuesday.