Sunday, May 31, 2009

Steven Gerrard Confident That Liverpool Will Fight For Trophies Next Season

Liverpool's talismanic captain Steven Gerrard is convinced that his side will be a much improved unit next season that will be competing for silverware, and points to their league record this campaign as evidence that they are a fine team that only requires minor tweaking in order to collect some tangible rewards.

"You look at the points tally," he stated to Sky Sports News. "We finished the season with 86 points. Usually that's enough to be crowned champions.

"But Manchester United have played at a terrific standard this year and unfortunately we've finished runners-up. But we're very close.

"I'm sure the manager will want to strengthen the team and the squad over the summer.

"I don't think there's many changes that need making, but we need to freshen things up like all the other teams do, and I feel as if we can fight for all the big trophies next year."

The England international refused to be drawn on which areas that the Reds need to improve, preferring to trust his manager's judgement, although he didn't think that too much change was required.

"I think that's for Rafa to answer," he affirmed. "I'm sure he's already working on what part of the squad needs strengthening. I think if you look at Manchester United's squad and Chelsea's squad and you look at how strong their benches are, and even how strong the players are that aren't even making their eighteens, then we're off that at moment.

"We're maybe two or three players away from having a squad on a level par with them two. I feel that's how close we are."

Liverpool Players Tell Rafael Benitez To Sign Michael Owen

Michael Owen could be set for a shock return to Anfield, according to a report in the Sunday People.

The British tabloid claims that senior Liverpool players have urged manager Rafael Benitez to sign the Newcastle United striker who is out of contract at St James’ Park.

The players reportedly believe that Owen is worth a gamble, particularly as he is available on a free transfer, and that he would be warmly welcomed back to the club by the fans.

Owen spent eight years on Merseyside, winning an FA Cup, two League Cups and the UEFA Cup before moving to Real Madrid in 2004.

However, since returning to England with Newcastle, he has been plagued by injury and has struggled for his best form this season as the Magpies dropped out of the Premier League.

The striker looks certain to walk away from Tyneside this summer and make an instant return to the top-flight, with both Everton and Tottenham Hotspur both linked with the player.

Whilst Owen would no doubt welcome a return to Anfield, Benitez has previously insisted he is not interested in signing the Newcastle man.

However, the Sunday People insists that Owen could still return to Liverpool with the players seeing him as a perfect back up for striker Fernando Torres.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard: I Am Still Improving As A Player

After receiving the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award at a gala dinner in London on Friday, Steven Gerrard suggested that he is yet to reach his peak.

Indeed, the Liverpool captain hinted that he will only continue to become a better player, insisting that he is still improving in training as he strives to realise his potential.

"The coaches are always driving me on, trying to improve me as a player. I’m 29 now and I still feel I can get better," Gerrard, who celebrates his birthday on Saturday, was quoted as saying by The Guardian on Friday.

"I am still learning every single day in training, working on parts of my game, am still very hungry and ambitious.

"There is still a lot to achieve for me personally, for Liverpool and England, so hopefully next year is going to be a lot bigger for me trophy wise."

Meanwhile, England head coach Fabio Capello urged the attacking midfielder to take his club form into the World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra in June.

"Steve, you have played a fantastic season, and scored a lot of goals. Now, please, just two more to help us towards South Africa," Capello remarked.

Fernando Torres: Liverpool Should Sign Valencia's Villa & Silva

Fernando Torres has urged Liverpool to sign Valencia duo David Silva and David Villa during the close-season.

It is thought that Los Che may have to cash-in on a number of their most prised assets this summer in order to help ease some of the huge debts they have reportedly accrued.

The 25-year-old is confident that his team-mates at international level would provide the Reds with that extra bit of quality required to mount a serious challenge for silverware on more than one front next season.

"Villa and Silva would complement Liverpool greatly," Torres told Spanish sports newspaper Marca.

Following Barcelona's victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final on Wednesday, the debate has continued over which league is stronger; the Premier League or Primera Division.

"It is difficult to say which league is better, but The Premiership (sic) is more competitive because the British are becoming stronger and players are coming to England," Torres remarked.

The 6ft 1in striker also insisted that should Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez ever move to Real Madrid, there is no chance that he will follow.

Torres says he is happy to continue playing for the Merseyside outfit before returning to Los Blancos' local rivals Atletico Madrid, who he represented between 2001 and 2007 after rising through their youth ranks.

"I would not follow in his [Benitez's] footsteps, It would be important to end my career where it started [at Atletico]," Torres added.

"I have improved a lot [at Liverpool]. I managed to score more goals than any other foreigner in his first year in The Premiership and was third in the Golden Ball."

Real Madrid & Liverpool Reach Xabi Alonso Agreement

Liverpool and Real Madrid have reached an agreement over Xabi Alonso, and the player will be presented next week, according to reports.

According to Sport, the two clubs have settled on terms and all the remains is the player's signature. The initial transfer fee is €25 million, but the fee could increase depending on whether or not Liverpool can come to an agreement with Gabriel Heinze, who could be part of the deal.

Alonso is expected to sign a five-year contract and will be presented next week, when he will be in Madrid for the Spanish training camp ahead of the Confederations Cup.

It is believed that Liverpool also tried to involve Alvaro Negredo in the discussions, but that was not a viable option, since Madrid would have had to pay €15 million just to exercise their buy-out clause with Almeria.

Rumours are also suggesting that Florentino Perez will present his new coach next Monday, with Manuel Pellegrini the overwhelming favourite.

Alonso is likely to be the first of many signings over the summer, with Perez expected to spend in excess of €300 million.

Pierpaolo Marino: Napoli Not Interested In Liverpool Bids For Lavezzi

Napoli sporting director Pierpaolo Marino insists he has have never received an offer from Liverpool for Lavezzi, and he has no intention of selling the hitman.

The Argentinean has been hotly tipped to make the move to the Premier League this summer and, according to reports, Liverpool are keen to land him.

Lavezzi's agent Alejandro Mazzoni claimed his client could be leaving the San Paolo for Anfield, but Marino has other ideas, contrary to opinions which have been expressed so far.

"I have never received offers from Liverpool, and we are not interested in receiving any," Marino told Il Corriere Dello Sport.

"I know the rules of the game, and I will not fall into the trap of commenting on something which doesn't exist.

"We have never thought about parting company with Lavezzi or [Marek] Hamsik."

Reports suggested Liverpool had made a bid for Lavezzi, only to have it turned down, but Marino's words imply that the Italian side have not been tempted by the Reds.

Lavezzi's Napoli future seems safe for now, but the speculation is likely to continue.

Liverpool Have Not Signed Juventude's Zezinho

Liverpool have not signed Brazilian starlet Zezinho from Juventude, according to the South American club's president, Sergio Florian.

Reds manager Rafa Benitez has reportedly been keeping tabs on the player, but a deal has not yet materialised, it seems.

"They [Liverpool] have already put money in the bank? I don't know anything about this," Florian is reported as saying by Sky Sports.

"In truth, nothing has happened, no type of business. I can't say anything more about this because they're nothing but enquiries."

Rumours had circulated that the move was a done deal, though it is clear that the switch has not yet taken place. The attacker has represented his country at Under-17 level.

Rafa Benitez Set For Transfer Boost With Liverpool Set To Seal £350m Refinancing Deal

Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are set to issue a statement of intent about their long-term commitment to the club by landing a £350million refinancing deal.

Sunday Mirror Sport can reveal that accountants from the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wells Fargo are currently examining Liverpool's financial figures with a view to agreeing a loan package that will ease the pressure on the two Americans.

The move could also bring an improved summer transfer budget for manager Rafa Benitez, who has made Carlos Tevez his No.1 target, but is unable to meet the £25.5m price being asked by the Argentine's owners.

The deal will hinge on Hicks and Gillett pouring more of their own personal finance into Anfield - and the pair are looking to raise funds by selling off some of their other sporting interests in the United States.

Hicks is ready to sell his majority stake in baseball club Texas Rangers while Gillett is searching for a buyer for the ice hockey outfit Montreal Canadiens to gen-eratcash. But with Liverpool set to announce record turnover and increased profits of almost £40m this week, there is increased confidence that the club can easily service a new loan agreement.

An insider said: "Despite claims to the contrary, both owners have spent about £80m of their own money on Liverpool over the past two years.

"They have done so because they are committed to the club and because they always believed a new refinancing package would be agreed.

"The new deal is now very close to happening." The existing loan taken out to finance the initial purchase of the club is set to expire in July - and there were worries that the credit crunch would force Hicks and Gillett to sell.

But both men have healed the personal rift which saw Gillett trying to find a buyer for his 50 per cent stake in the club. And there was a growing confidence inside Anfield that they could win an extension of the loan facility anyway thanks to the club's profitability.

But now they are on the verge of agreeing a deal that will give them the scope to press ahead with their ambitious plans.

Top of the agenda will be to find investors to fund a new stadium at Stanley Park.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Liverpool Legend Delighted With Torres' Dedication To Anfield

The reactions of delighted fans and pundits alike have begun to circulate as Fernando Torres committed his footballing prowess to Liverpool FC until the summer of 2014.

One such fan included in the swarms of those thrilled by the news is former Reds striker David Fairclough. Playing his football for the Anfield outfit during the late seventies, Fairclough has achieved something of a legendary status at the club, and the star was quick to voice his opinion on the re-signing of 'Pool's Spanish diamond.

"I'm absolutely delighted, as I think all Liverpool fans will be," Fairclough told Setanta Sports.

"It’s fantastic for Liverpool as a club, and it shows they’re going in the right place. Big players of the likes of Steven Gerrard and now Fernando Torres are willing to commit their futures to Liverpool.

"I think it can only be a good sign to other players who perhaps look at Liverpool as maybe a team that they might be interested in joining."

Following in footsteps of Steven Gerrard, Fairclough feels that Torres' commitment to the club has sent out a message to opposing teams and potential future signings alike that Liverpool are getting stronger, and that a lot should be expected from the club in the near future.

"[Torres'] first year was incredible and we all thought he was going to emulate that in his second season. The fact he was so involved in the European Championships with Spain maybe worked against him slightly, and he’s had a stop-start second season," the retired star went on.

"But we’re all hoping he’ll get the necessary rest that he needs to recharge the batteries, and come back as good as ever.

"He has that pace, drive, and is the type of player that can get the fans out of their seats. He can pull off the spectacular and Liverpool fans took him to their hearts almost immediately.

"He’s exactly the type of player Liverpool were looking for."

Torres Signs New Contract At Liverpool FC

Fernando Torres has committed his future to Liverpool by signing a new contract at Anfield.

The Spanish striker, who penned a six-year deal on his arrival in 2007, has agreed improved terms and an extended deal which ties him to the club for a further year until 2014.

Torres’ fresh package is a reward for the impressive start he has made to his time in England, having netted 50 goals in his first two seasons for Liverpool.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said: “Fernando is one of the best strikers in the game today and, at his age, can only get better.

“Every major side would want him in their team, but he has shown how much he wants to achieve success at Liverpool by committing his future to the club.

“He’s a special talent, but still has the hunger to improve his game.”

Torres joins Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard and Benitez in agreeing new deals at Anfield over the past two months.

Benitez added: “We’ve made huge progress this season and now we need to take the next step. We are building something special here and securing such important players on long-term deals means we can move forward with confidence.

“This sends out a very positive message to everyone connected with the club.”

Meanwhile, Benitez has revealed how Sami Hyypia’s departure this summer could open the first-team door for one of the club’s young defenders.

England youth international Martin Kelly and Spanish-U21 Mikel San Jose are among a clutch of budding centre-backs.

While Benitez is refusing to rule out adding to his defensive ranks this summer, the Spaniard is set to include several youngsters in his pre-season plans.

He said: “We will see the young players in pre-season and we can work on different scenarios. We will see all of them and after decide. They are young players with a great future here.”

Liverpool Target Villa Could Stay At Valencia

Valencia striker David Villa says he could snub a big-money move even though his team failed to reach the Champions League.

The Spain striker has been tipped to join Liverpool or Real Madrid and had previously indicated he was desperate to play in the Champions League next campaign.

But the £25million-rated hitman said: 'I believe it lacks respect to discredit the Europa League.

'One of the things that made this club great was winning the UEFA Cup,'

'The offers that will arrive are going to arrive at the club, not to me,' he added.

'I am contracted for five years with Valencia and even if they choose to sell me, it is still my decision whether or not to leave.'

Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martinez Welcomes Liverpool Interest

Javi Martinez has welcomed Liverpool's interest in his services but is refusing to let the rumours and speculation affect him as he focuses on Athletic Club's last game of the season.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez is reported to be lining up a move for the 20-year-old midfielder as he aims to bolster his squad in a bid to go one better next term and lift the Premier League title.

Liverpool have yet to make any formal move for Martinez and he is not allowing himself to consider a transfer. He has, however, admitted that any player would have to consider joining the English outfit.

"I am absolutely calm, the rumours do not disturb me," he told reporters in Bilbao.

"If I receive an offer, I will deal with it with the club.

"Liverpool are a great team with a great history and any player would like to go there."

Martinez has been touted as a possible replacement for Xabi Alonso, but he could also be a player signed to bolster the midfield’s depth if the Spanish international remains at Anfield.

Ryan Babel Not Ready To Leave Liverpool

The agent of Ryan Babel has moved to quash recent reports claiming that he could be on his way out of Liverpool during the close-season.

It was alleged on Wednesday that the 22-year-old had been informed by Reds manager Rafa Benitez that he can move on this summer as he cannot guarantee him regular football in the starting eleven next season.

It was claimed earlier on Thursday that the 30-time capped Netherlands international could complete a switch to either the Primera Division or Serie A in time for the start of the 2009/10 campaign, while Tottenham Hotspur were mentioned as a possible destination should he wish to stay in England.

However, the former Ajax star's representative Winnie Haatrecht inists that the versatile forward has no plans to head for the exit doors at Anfield until he has left his mark on the club.

"We'll get around the table with Mr. Benitez soon to evaluate the season," Haatrecht told Sportwereld.

"He has not had the time to establish himself.

"Ryan left Ajax for Liverpool because he wanted to win trophies and, so far, he hasn't succeeded.

"Ryan wants to leave Liverpool as a first-team player with a prize in his pocket. He is not ready to go."

Juventus Pushing For Liverpool Stopper Andrea Dossena

Juventus are pushing ahead with plans to strengthen their defence and they are looking at Liverpool's Andrea Dossena for the left flank, according to Il Corriere Dello Sport.

The report suggests directors at Vinovo have highlighted the Italian international as their next priority. Dossena has not enjoyed the best of seasons at Anfield after moving there from Udinese last year. His appearances have been limited under Rafael Benitez, leading to speculation that his future there is in doubt.

Juve are monitoring the situation carefully as they plan to strengthen their back line further. Having already signed Fabio Cannavaro, Juve would like to add some muscle on the left. Paolo De Ceglie's lack of experience and Cristian Molinaro's inconsistency has led to a decision being made in Turin that a hardened, more experienced stopper is needed.

If the Old Lady fail to land Dossena, they have Lyon's Fabio Grosso and Lazio's Aleksandar Kolarov in mind. The latter two could be hard to sign. Grosso has claimed he is happy in France, while the Aquilotti are likely to play hard ball over Kolarov.

Liverpool's Fernando Torres Marries Childhood Sweetheart In Front Of Just Two Guests

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror, Liverpool' striker Fernando Torres has married his childhood sweetheart, Olalla Dominguez.

Apparently, the 24-year-old Spain international and 23-year-old Olalla, who is seven months pregnant, travelled to a small town called El Escorial north of Madrid last Wednesday where the low-key wedding was played out.

So secret was the ceremony that the couple, who have been together for eight years, wed in front of only two guests.

"It was hardly a ceremony fit for a superstar. It was small and romantic, but there was nothing glam about the day at all," an inside source is quoted as saying.

Olalla, who studies the equivalent of an Open University course, last year described Torres as, "[a] very shy and a very good person. He is the man of my life."

It is claimed that the pair may throw a much larger celebration at a later date.

"Fans expect something lavish from a local hero. They may be planning a bigger public do," the inside source added.

It was announce on Thursday that Torres had agreed a new four-year deal with Liverpool, keeping him at Anfield until 2013 with an option to extend the contract by a further year.

Danijel Pranjic Confirms Interest In Potential Liverpool Move

Danijel Pranjic, the Hereenveen winger who scored 16 goals for the Eredivisie club this season, helping them win the Dutch Cup in the process, has reacted favourably to the rumours linking him with with a potential move to join up with Rafa Benitez at Liverpool.

Despite his keenness on swapping the Netherlands for England, Pranjic claims that he would prefer a move to Spain, because of the slower pace of the game and the sunshine. Still, should Benitez get in touch, he could not turn a club like the Merseyside giants down.

"For me it is really, really incredible if I imagine I can play for Liverpool," Pranjic told Sky Sports News.

"It is a dream for every player; it is the biggest club in England.

"I am very fast - I can run a lot and I think that is what you need in England.

"If I can choose between England, or maybe Spain, I would choose Spain because I like that kind of football, that kind of life.

"I like good weather and in England it is always raining, which is what I don't like about England.

"But if Liverpool come for me, of course, I could not say no."

Liverpool Midfielder Javier Mascherano Denies Barcelona Link

Liverpool's midfield monster, Javier Mascherano, has once again reaffirmed his intent to stay at Anfield, brushing off any claims that a move to Barcelona was a strong possibility.

Honouring his five-year contract with the Reds, the Argentine claims that he only has eyes for Liverpool - especially since becoming an integral part of Rafa Benitez's well-drilled midfield.

Reports stating that Mascherano is leaving Anfield has the 24-year-old slightly miffed after making it obvious on several occasions that his heart lies with Liverpool - even if the link is with the reigning Champions League title holders.

"I still have three years on my contract with Liverpool and I am happy there," the Argentina captain told TyC Sports.

"I am comfortable and thinking only of Liverpool. I don't know anything about an approach from Barcelona or any other club."

The beginning of May brought some uncertainty regarding Mascherano's future, but it is clear at this point - by his own admissions - that he is happy where he is.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liverpool FC Boss Rafa Benitez Cutting His Cloth For The Premier League Title

Radio City News reported last week that Rafa Benitez will have £15-£20M to spend this summer plus whatever he can bring in through sales.

It’s not a fortune in terms of the competition we face from Man United, Chelsea & Arsenal so if its cloth-cutting time, how are we going to strengthen the squad and also bring in that world class player who will turn draws into extra wins?

I reckon we should sell Andrea Dossena and Philipp Deggen while they still have international reputations to help fund a swoop for Stewart Downing, depending on how that injury is.

He's not a world-beater but could definitely do a consistent job in the Premier League. We need serious competition on the left for the dangerous if inconsistent Albert Riera and if Ryan Babel is staying then that's not his best position.

Hopefully that would leave cash available for somebody else exciting up front or maybe on the right wing, giving Dirk Kuyt more chance to compete for his place through the middle (when we play 4-4-2?).

Martin Kelly has just been chosen to play for England under 19s so I wonder if he's ready to be our 4th choice centre-back. It would also be a real bonus if Stephen Darby is now up to giving the dependable Alvaro Arbeloa genuine competition at right-back.

Maybe Deggen is the competition that we need in that position but we haven't seen enough of him and can we trust him to stay injury-free?

Sometimes you just have to cut your losses when something doesn't work out (I'm not sure if Robbie Keane would agree though).

Lucas Leiva has improved lately but we should move him on particularly if Jay Spearing can take over his job as back-up in centre-midfield.

Maybe the sale of both of these players could finance a deal for the versatile Gareth Barry who'd be much cheaper than he was when we came so close to signing him last season.

The classy Xabi Alonso should definitely stay, he's earned his plaudits but we need extra strength in depth to be able to make this next step.

We'd know exactly what we'd be getting from the two players I've suggested and they would add some of that depth to the quality of our squad while hopefully only costing around the same as what we're able to recoup from the sale of some of our current squad who cover similar positions.

Don't get me wrong I'd much sooner be talking about bringing in Lionel Messi but that's not going to happen.

We've also got to start thinking about UEFA's restriction on the number of non-English players in the longer term.

Remember, we were forced to leave Sami Hyypia and Emiliano Insua out of our Champions League squad this season.

Naturally the Premier League comes first in the list of our priorities but it wouldn't be good for continuity if we had to chop and change squads, particularly towards the end of the season when we're hopefully in the hunt for both of the two biggest prizes.

The three local young squad players I've mentioned featured only briefly this season, being given substitute appearances as we qualified in the Champions League.

Using them more regularly as cover might be a gamble we're forced to take if we want to spend really big money on buying just one attacking player to help fire us to next season's Premier League title.

While it'd be unfair to say Damien Plessis or David Ngog have let us down, it'd also be right to say that we're looking for a bit more from our fringe players.

The rest of the squad has proven this season that they are up to the standard required.

We're probably going to have to sell Babel who I think has had his chance (but would still command a sizeable fee) and possibly even a very unlucky Yossi Benayoun to help pay for the likes of David Villa but now is the time to go for it.

He's the type of quality we need and we don't want this summer to turn into another missed opportunity like 2002 when serious errors were made with our transfer budget following a very promising runners-up finish.

It’s taken a long time for us to recover from that.

One thing's for sure, our main rivals will be spending big money in the search for class to strengthen themselves this summer and while we can take pride and confidence from what we've achieved in the Premier League this season, now is not the time for complacency.

The next couple of signings will be a massive factor in determining whether we can finally regain what we all really want most.

The two strongest transfer rumours have been for Villa and Carlos Tevez. I'm hardly giving any secrets away there, am I?

At least the talk is of attacking players of proven international standard and not the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou.

Rafa has said he has to be almost perfect in the transfer market this summer - cute and clever - and as usual he's right because we'll surely have to beat this season's excellent points total if we are to be 19 times Champions this time next year.

My own feeling is that this season has been a necessary learning curve on the way to the title (like what Man United themselves went through in 1991/2) and that we really are on the brink now.

Tottenham Hotspur Linked With Liverpool's Ryan Babel

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mail, Tottenham Hotspur could be willing to take Ryan Babel off Liverpool's hands during the close-season.

It was claimed on Tuesday that Reds manager Rafael Benitez told the 22-year-old's agent that the player is free to leave Anfield this summer.

Apparently, the 30-time capped Netherlands international is unhappy at starting just six Premier League games and 13 times in total during the 2008-09 campaign, especially as he had begun 29 matches the previous year.

Benitez has made it clear that he cannot guarantee the versatile 6ft forward, who can play on the wing or through the middle, will be a regular in the starting XI next year.

It is suggested that the former Ajax star is most likely to end up in either the Primera Division or Serie A should he decide to leave the Merseyside outfit.

However, if he chooses to remain in England, a switch to Spurs could be on the cards as manager Harry Redknapp is reported to be up for the challenge of helping Babel realise his potential.

Liverpool paid £11.5 million to land Babel in 2007, but it is thought they will accept a bid in the region of £8m.

Rafael Benitez Reassesses Set-Up With Gary Ablett Leading Out Four Staff

Four of Liverpool’s backroom staff will be released as part of the ongoing review of the club’s Academy.

Reserve team manager Gary Ablett is the most prominent name of the quartet with Rafael Benitez reassessing the set-up beneath the first team.

Under-18s manager Hugh McAuley, under-16 coach Dave Shannon and under-14s coach Paul Lever are also set leave, with their departures expected next week.

Although Liverpool reached the FA Youth Cup final, where they were this week beaten by Arsenal 6-2 on aggregate, the reserve and youth levels have underwhelmed in their respective leagues.

Meanwhile, Martin Skrtel has vowed to break his goalscoring duck for Liverpool next season.

The Slovakia international has scored five goals for his country but has yet to find the net in 50 Liverpool appearances.

“I haven’t scored but I hope to change this,” said Skrtel.

“For me the first job is to protect our own goal.

“Any goals I score is something extra. But I hope next season I can get some goals.”

Skrtel has become the latest Anfield player to express his sadness at the departure of Sami Hyypia while also admitting he owes the Finn a debt of gratitude.

“For me, I’ll miss Sami because he is a big person and a big player,” added Skrtel. “He has helped me a lot. Whenever I’ve needed something I could go to Sami and ask him. He’d always help me.

“But now he’s finished here after 10 years – he’ll be missed.

“He is a very good player. To play here for 10 years is incredible. Before I came here I could see on television how good he was. I already knew he was a really good player with quality. He still is now. I wish him all the best at his next club.”

Liverpool's Summer Shopping List - Llorente?

We’ve diagnosed the problems, identified the targets and given our recommendations... now it’s your turn.

There’s nothing every football fans loves more than to speculate on where their team needs to strengthen, how much to spend and who to buy. Our team-by-team analysis of what needs to be done is the perfect chance for just that.

We have pinpointed the weak spots and given our suggestion for who should be the number one priority as well as a handful of alternatives.

Will Rafa Benitez heed our advice? Have we missed a trick? Is our budget unrealistic? Who would YOU sign? Don’t be shy in letting us know by dropping us a comment at the foot of the page. Let the debate commence.....

Right Back - Glen Johnson (Portsmouth): This one will happen. Benitez needs a right back desperately, and those who have been privy to Rafa's press conferences know that he is desperate to sign English. Johnson is one of only two or three English players Benitez deems good enough for his squad, prepare to see him bid high to get his man.

Altenatives: Dario Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Miguel (Valencia)

Centre Midfield - Fernando (Porto): Rafa Benitez has formed arguably the best central spine in the country with the triumvirate of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard. The problem is: What happens when one cannot play? Lucas is young and developing, but right now he clearly is not good enough for a title challenge. Fernando of Porto is one of the best holding midfielders in Europe, he is superb at breaking attacks down and filling the holes like Dietmar Hamann used to do. Can also pick a pass, making him a good partner to either Alonso or Mascherano.

Alternative: Antonio Apono (Malaga), Jurado (Atletico Madrid)

Wide Midfield - Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli): This guy is good. Sometimes you see bandwagon reporting when journalists recommend a player purely because his agent has admitted the club have made an approach. This is not the case here. Previously the wearer of the number seven jersey for Argentina Under-21s, Lavezzi has all the traits of the previous greats to have donned the same number. Can play anywhere along the attack, allowing Benitez to rotate Riera, Kuyt and Benayoun. Put it this way, if Napoli lose him, there will be a public outcry from the fans.

Alternative: David Silva (Valencia), Arjen Robben (Real Madrid), Cristian Rodriguez (Porto), Giovinco (Juventus), Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk), Juan Mata (Valencia)

Striker – Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao): Liverpool do not need a first choice striker. When everybody is fit Gerrard will play behind Torres - hence spending £20+ million on Carlos Tevez is a ludicrous idea. What Liverpool do need is a back-up option to Torres, a man capable of leading the line if El Nino is injured, and a man who can change Liverpool's attack if they need a goal. Fernando Llorente is big, strong, superb in the air, has a good touch, and has the mobility that Peter Crouch lacked. His goal record for Bilbao in La Liga this season is 13 in 33, which is a very similar to Torres's 14-goal tally in the year before he moved to Anfield.

Alternatives: Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid), Lisandro Lopez (Porto)

Liverpool FC's Xabi Alonso Not Happy With Second Place

Good season or bad season? If you’re a blind devotee of the Shankly school, where ‘first is first, second is nowhere’, then you’re probably firmly in the Xabi Alonso camp, our midfield maestro having declared himself unsatisfied that we have finished the season trophy-less for the third successive time.

And if you want to look on the dark side, there’s plenty of stuff to get you frothing at the mouth looking back over this campaign. The Robbie Keane episode still leaves a sour taste in the mouth, even if the liqueurs served up in the second half of the season did much to cleanse our collective palates.

At various stages Rafa has taken on not just the 19 other Premier League sides, but their managers, our owners, the chief executive and the Hull groundsman to boot; losing some battles, but emerging stronger overall. However, as that great philosopher Ben Parker (Spider-man’s uncle) once said: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

So if you don’t deliver the title soon Rafa, we know where to come...

For those seeking to pinpoint the reasons why we didn’t win the title, the collective wisdom is that the seven home draws cost us dearly.

Stoke may have been spared by an early refereeing blunder, but in the majority of the other matches we just weren’t good enough to break the opposition down, and didn’t deserve to; not the stuff of champions.

And if you want to play the game of pinpointing league-losing results, look no further than Wigan away and Everton at home, when we surrendered leads late on in games with schoolboy errors; a bit more discipline in those key moments, and we’d still be nursing headaches this morning from Sunday’s celebration.

But enough of this introspection and doom-mongering; let’s call up yet another arch-philosopher, Ian Dury, and find reasons to be cheerful. Who will ever forget that week in March, when Real Madrid and Manchester United were destroyed in quick succession, the latter humiliated on their own ground?

A week later, the rout of Aston Villa brought our goals tally to 13 in three games, against some of the best sides in Europe.

Doubles over the Red Babies and churlish Chelsea provided conclusive proof that we can live with the best, and even our failures were glorious: the rest of the country marvelled at our resilience as we threatened to overturn Chelsea’s first-leg lead from the Champions League quarter-final and traded goals with Arshavin at Anfield.

Newcastle United were lucky to concede just five at St James’; and late comebacks became commonplace both home and away, with injury-time winners at Manchester City and Portsmouth among the most memorable.

Throw in Benayoun’s last-gasp effort at Fulham, when we really started to believe, and we’ve had our fair share of matches this season which will live in our memories long after the upset of seeing United equal our titles haul.

The mess of statistics you’ll by now be familiar with brook no argument: the number of defeats, the unbeaten home record, the goals scored; they all point to a highly-successful season. The painful reality however, is that the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea have not so much raised the bar, but strapped it to the head of a giraffe.

Excellence is not enough; you have to strive for perfection. Which means that Rafa can afford no more mistakes in recruiting the high-quality additions we need to take that final step towards turning potential into achievement.

Liverpool Plan Double Raid On Relegated Boro

Liverpool’s interest in Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing is well known, however the Daily Telegraph suggest Rafa Benitez may also have his eye on another of their home-grown talents.

In addition to Downing, the newspaper alleges that Liverpool are considering bidding for the England Under 21 centre-back David Wheater.

The 6ft 5in defender has impressed in a struggling Teesside outfit, and has previously been linked with a move to Arsenal and Birmingham City.

The Telegraph suggests Gareth Southgate may cash in on the star, despite Wheater recently committing his long-term future to the club after their relegation was confirmed.

While Downing may have to bide his time to leave the club due to his ankle injury picked up against Aston Villa, the relegated club have slapped a £9 million asking price on the towering Wheater.

The lofty price may prove a stumbling block for Benitez due to his limited transfer kitty this summer, but should Middlesbrough be willing to budge, a deal may be brokered.

Southgate recently admitted he was hopeful of holding onto the vast majority of his squad, but suggested Downing would probably leave in January after his rehabilitation from injury.

Liverpool Legend Ian Rush: Hyypia Was Houllier's Greatest Signing

Sami Hyypia called the curtain down on an illustrious decade of service at Liverpool recently, and will embark on one last footballing voyage - to Bundesliga giants Bayer Leverkusen.

It is a move that has brought with it countless tributes, and club legend Ian Rush believes the Finn is deserving of any accolade.

"[He] deserves all the tributes that have come his way because he's been a fantastic servant for the club," he explained to The Liverpool Echo. "Sami will go down as probably the greatest signing of Gerard Houllier's reign as manager.

"When you consider what the club paid for him and what he has achieved over the past decade it really is remarkable. He has given 10 years of exceptional service and the tears at the end of Sunday's game proved just what the club means to him."

Rush continued, "I know from experience that leaving a club like Liverpool takes a lot of getting used to. You don't realise until it's over what a massive part of your life the club is and Sami will need time to adjust.

"If you are talking about dedication and passion for Liverpool I'd put him right up there alongside Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher."

Liverpool Identify Javi Martinez As Xabi Alonso Replacement

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror, Liverpool are lining-up Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez as a replacement for Xabi Alonso.

Reds manager Rafael Benitez has repeatedly denied that Alonso will be sold this summer, but the midfielder has continually been linked with an exit from Anfield in the forthcoming transfer window.

It is thought that should the Spanish international leave the Merseyside outfit, he will make way for Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.

However, recent reports have indicated that Liverpool, who tried to sign Barry last summer, have not expressed an interest in signing the Villans captain of late.

It seems, therefore, that Benitez may have targeted Martinez instead.

Apparently, the Premier League giants attempted to sign the Spain Under-21 international two years ago.

It is claimed that los Leones will want at least €11.5 million (£10m) in exchange for the midfielder, who’s contracted at San Mames until 2012.

Since joining Athletic Bilbao from Osasuna for €6m (£5.2m) in 2006, Javi Martinez has scored eight goals in 94 appearances.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rafa Wants To Deal Quickly

Rafa Benitez has insisted he intends to conduct his transfer business during the early weeks of the summer.

The dust has barely settled on the Premier League season, but thoughts are already turning to next term.

Benitez is likely to be an active player in the transfer market as he embarks on building a side capable of landing the title.

The Spaniard feels the key to mounting a title challenge will be to bed in any recruits as quickly as posslble.

“Clearly we want to sign players but we know that it will be difficult to find players who are better than what we already have,” Benitez told the Liverpool Echo.

“It is not easy to find this kind of player in the current market and if we do then maybe they will be too expensive or not available.

“But we have to sign the right players and make the right decisions during the summer.

“We have some targets but right now it is too soon because some clubs do not know what the future holds for them but we will wait and see.

“But our idea is to have players signed before pre-season begins because this would be perfect.

“It means you can start working with them and training with them with the ideas that you want to get across to them so that they can start putting them into practice on the pitch.”

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool Must Hold On To Xabi Alonso

Javier Mascherano has warned that the consequences could be dire for Liverpool if they let Xabi Alonso go.

The Spanish midfield-orchestrator has arguably been the Reds' most bankable performer this season, yet Rafa Bentiez has failed to do enough to convince the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus that they have no real chance of prising him away.

The Liverpool boss recently reiterated that he had no intention at all of selling Alonso, but the Basque-born player has reportedly been made to feel under-appreciated at times over the past couple seasons.

Thus, it is hard to imagine that Alonso - who came close to joining Juventus last year - wouldn't be prone to having his head turned this summer, but Mascherano believes it is imperative that the Reds keep hold of their No. 14.

"Xabi is so influential. Hopefully the great players at Liverpool can stay and we can bring another player in to improve the team," the former West Ham United man told Sky Sports.

"It is important when you have the team in good form you keep the key players, and Xabi is one of them."

Mascherano then stressed his faith in Benitez's abilities, as he reckons a good pre-season should see them compete for silverware on all fronts next term.

"For sure Rafa will work really hard to improve the squad and maybe next season we will be stronger," the Argentine said.

"If we can keep this squad and improve it, things will be really good for the future. We will be fighting in all the competitions, not just league."

Ian Rush: Liverpool Need Carlos Tevez & Xabi Alonso For Next Season

There’s no doubt Liverpool need two or three new signings this summer to strengthen the squad.

I don't think anyone has made either of the positions on the left hand side their own.

We also need a different option up front as we've relied on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard too much.

Ryan Babel and David Ngog haven't proved they are capable of producing the goods on a regular basis so Rafa Benitez needs to bring someone else in.

I would love to see Carlos Tevez at Anfield next season and I think he would fit in really well.

There is also talk of David Silva or David Villa being up for sale as Valencia have got financial problems.

Securing the services of any one of those three players would be a massive boost.

Xabi Alonso's future has been the subject of much speculation but I really hope he stays at Anfield.

I know the club is very close to his heart and he would be a big loss if he left.

I've heard some people suggest we might need to sell Alonso to raise cash for signings but that makes no sense.

If you are going to replace Alonso with a better player, then you would have to spend a lot more money than Liverpool would be able to raise by selling him.

We might get £14m or £15m for him but who could we buy for that money who would do a better job?

How Good Is Fernando Torres?

Last weekend Fernando Torres opened the scoring against Tottenham with a header John Toshack would have been proud of, and with it, scored his 50th goal for the club on only his 84th appearance; reaching that landmark in less games than the like of Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen managed. The great Roger Hunt netting his first 50 goals in 79 games being the only Liverpool player to reach that landmark before him. So much for "foreigners" needing time to bed in and adapt to the pace of the English game.

But just how good is Fernando Torres?

Can strikers be measured only by goals scored, or is their influence on the shape of the side, assists provided or off the ball work as crucial when considering their importance to a side, or deciding their ranking among the world's best?

While Torres weighs in with more than his fair share of goals, his mere presence in the side proves just as crucial at times. Defenders are scared of him. They're scared of his pace. Sides "double up" on him time and time again, sometimes even 3 men pressing each time he's in possession. So while that makes life difficult for our number 9, it draws defenders towards him and creates more and more space for others to exploit. Just by being on the pitch he creates problems. His contribution cannot be measured purely through goals scored.

Having him leading the line changes the way we approach a game, and changes the way sides set up against us. His presence forces the opposition to sit 5 to 10 yards deeper and creates space for Gerrard bursting through as he pulls defenders with him, also creating the space that Yossi Benayoun has exploited brilliantly in the past few months of this season. His role in the side is vital to the way we play, no matter how many goals he contributes. The shadow he casts is priceless.

This season he's started only 20 games in the league and made 4 appearances from the bench. For a lot of those games he's been below peak fitness and returning from injury, and hasn't really once had a chance to build up full match fitness and get into his stride as he did last year. Yet he's still managed to score league 14 goals; only 5 less than the golden boot winner, Anelka. 14 goals in 20 starts make for pretty impressive reading in the circumstances.

The one statistic never mentioned when discussing the goal scoring record of Torres, is that all his goals come from open play; every single one of them. He doesn't take penalties, nor does he take free kicks. The fact that all his goals come from open play shows his goal scoring record in a completely different light, as pretty much all of the great goal scorers I can remember notched their fair share of goals from the spot or dead balls. It's frightening to think how many Torres would score in a season if he took all our penalties.

The partnership he's struck up with Steven Gerrard was one of the finds of last season. The captain has finally found his best position after years of wasted attacking instinct being stifled in central midfield, and his link up play with Torres is an absolute joy to watch. Two world class players that would walk into any side in the world at the forefront of our attack; yet it's a partnership that has featured together only 14 times this season due to injuries. More than anything else, that statistic highlights why we've just fallen short in this season's title race.

Some will point to our victory at Anfield over Man United without either of them in the side, or the victory at Stamford Bridge without Torres, or the numerous draws at Anfield; but I don't think there's any hiding from the fact that if they'd have played together more than 14 times this season then we'd have picked up a few more points along the way. A massive case of what might have been. More than any summer signings or changes at the club before next season, the one difference in next season's title challenge will be keeping Gerrard and Torres fit and playing together more they've managed this year. We haven't got the money to sign a player of similar quality to step in when either are sidelined, nor will any player of that quality be happy to play second fiddle when they are fit. It's vital they play together in the majority of games if we want to become Champions come May.

One of the reasons why he hit the ground running in The Premiership is that he deals with the physical nature of the game brilliantly. Only once in his two seasons in a red shirt can I recall him becoming frustrated with heavy handed treatment dished out during a game and letting it affect his performance. That was in the FA Cup tie at Goodison when he was kicked all over the place, and he began to show signs of it getting to him. Other than that game, he's just got on with it; shrugging off the challenges and letting his football do the talking. His strength on the ball is immense and his desire immeasurable.

The Confederations Cup takes centre stage this summer, for those that even know what it is, and will therefore prevent Fernando Torres from having a few months with his feet up to recharge those batteries for August. But the tournament is nowhere near as intense as a World Cup or the European Championships in which Torres played in all last summer. He'll get far more of a rest this time around, and will return to Melwood refreshed and reenergised for the new season.

If he can stay fit for the majority of next season, then what odds on him finishing top scorer? Considering he was only 5 off the pace this time around with how things panned out over the season, I'd make him a pretty hot favourite to be taking home that golden boot next May.

Keep him and Gerrard fit and he might just be taking home the Premiership trophy as well.

Liverpool FC's Xabi Alonso Targetted By Incoming Chelsea Manager Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti has already considered a future with Chelsea, according to revelations made by the AC Milan coach in his autobiography.

In ’Preferisco La Coppa’ (I Prefer The Cup), which was launched in Italy yesterday, the 49-year-old describes two meetings he claims to have held with Blues owner Roman Abramovich last year in Geneva and Paris.

Ancelotti admits he found himself plotting the best way forward for the Stamford Bridge club.

“I confess that at certain points in 2008-09 I watched my DVDs of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba,” said the Italian, who won two European Cups with AC Milan.

“I was already the coach of the boys on paper.”

Ancelotti also proffered the names of two players - Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso and Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery - who he thought could help to turn Chelsea into the attractive, winning side the Russian craves.

“President, your team is very physical, you have to put more quality in the middle of the pitch,” Ancelotti claims to have told Abramovich.

“I gave him two names, Franck Ribery and Xabi Alonso.

“He thought of a third name, that of Andriy Shevchenko, who was close to his heart. (Abramovich said:) ’I can’t understand why he’s not playing, because since we brought him to England he’s not the real Sheva.”’

Abramovich is said by Ancelotti to have added: “Chelsea don’t have a personality. I have the ambition of winning every competition in which my team takes part, a team that at the moment I don’t recognise.”

Rafael Benitez Keen To Sign David Wheater

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is hoping to revive his interest in Middlesbrough defender David Wheater after the Riverside club were relegated from the Premier League.

Benitez tried to sign the England under-21 international last summer and enquired about his availability in January but his Middlesbrough counterpart Gareth Southgate was unwilling to part with one of the key players in his side’s battle for survival.

Now, though, Southgate knows he needs to trim his squad to cope with the financial impact of demotion and, with Stewart Downing injured, Wheater is one of his most saleable assets.

The only sticking point for Liverpool would be the defender’s asking price. Birmingham were last week quoted £9 million for the player, a fee Benitez would be unwilling to pay for a back-up central defender with funds at Anfield at a premium.

Sources close to full-back Andrea Dossena have insisted the Italian international is happy at Anfield despite struggling to make impact following his £7 million move from Udinese last summer. Reports in Italy suggest Dossena is a target for Napoli and Sampdoria but he is believed to be willing to remain in England to fight for his place.

Ryan Babel Told He Can Depart Liverpool

According to a report in the British tabloid The Sun, Liverpool have made it known that Ryan Babel can move on during the close-season.

Apparently, the 30-time capped Netherlands international has been frustrated at his lack of playing time since joining the Reds in 2007.

While the 6ft versatile forward, who can play on the wing or as a striker, started 29 games and made a further 20 substitute appearances in the 2007-08 season, he began only 13 times in the 2008-09 season and came off the bench on 29 occasions.

It is thought that his agent, Winnie Haatrecht, met with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez last week to discuss the situation.

However, it is claimed the Spaniard failed to guarantee that the 22-year-old will start more games next year and will allow him to leave the club this summer.

Babel has three years remaining on his current contract. He was linked with a loan move back to Ajax, whom he left for £11.5 million to join the Merseyside outfit, although his £60,000-a-week wages are thought to be a potential stumbling block in his return to the Amsterdam ArenA.

Pepe Reina Would Rejoin Barcelona

Pepe Reina has revealed that he would like to rejoin Barcelona if the chance arose but admits that the Catalan club are not actively looking to sign a goalkeeper at the moment.

The 26-year-old custodian rose through the ranks at Camp Nou before leaving to join Villarreal in 2002 after making just 30 appearances for the Blaugrana.

With Barcelona preparing for the Champions League final and with two domestic trophies already secured, Reina admitted that any player would like to be a part of that.

“Every footballer would be delighted to play for Barca,” he is quoted as saying by Sport.

“Regarding the fact that I know the club pretty well, it would please me, but I am a Liverpool player and feel great there.

"Besides, Barcelona are not after a new keeper. Barca have a great keeper in Victor Valdes, who has achieved a top season and hugely contributed to their Champions League campaign.”

Reina still believes that he has a challenge to overcome at Anfield after the club had a superb season only to be held off by Manchester United in the title race.

“This year we did fight until the end of the Premier League season, but at the end of the day we could not win it," he added.

"We claimed the most points in our history, 86, but still finished second. The team have progressed.”

Tommy Smith - Liverpool FC Have A Ruthless Streak Now

The last game of the season might have been a bit of a low key affair – but it was important Liverpool finished with that win.

Three more goals saw us keep up a fine run of form and although it’s not been quite enough to take us to where we wanted, it’s signalled to the rest of the Premier League that we mean business now.

There’s a ruthlessness developing in this Liverpool side that I like.

We’ve developed a bit of devil about our play and you sense that sides like Spurs, when they face us, are now dreading the prospect.

If you want to be at the very top you have to put fear into the opposition before a ball is kicked.

And I’m seeing more of that in a Reds team which can go into the close season full of belief about the future.

Unfortunately, United turned some of their scrappy performances this season into wins, whereas our below par performances ended in draws.

So that has ultimately proved the difference.

Obviously we need some players in and some out and I’m pleased Rafa Benitez has said he wants it all done quickly this time.

But the one player I am sad to see go is big Sami Hyypia.

I'm not surprised he ended up in tears after the fantastic reception he got in his last game.

Sami’s a true Liverpool legend but I just feel he could have stayed on another season and been a valuable squad member.

We saw that at Old Trafford this season when he played at a moment’s notice and turned in one hell of a performance.

But now he’s gone after 10 great years of top class service I of course wish him nothing but the best.

The fans have left him in no doubt that he will always be a hero to them – and welcome back at Anfield at any time in future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Liverpool Collect Records But No Trophy

Liverpool completed their first unbeaten home programme for 21 years in a season that has been statistically remarkable if lacking in silverware. Their points tally is their highest in the Premier League, likewise their total of away wins. No team since the top flight was rebranded has lost only two matches in a full season and not finished as champions.

The irony in this, of course, is that it is their home form that has cost them the title. Those two defeats – at Tottenham and, incongruously, Middlesbrough – may have hurt. But far more damaging were the home draws against Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and Hull, not to mention Manchester City, even Arsenal, given that Liverpool scored against them four times.

It is a failing to which Rafa Benitez did not refer in his programme notes, preferring to focus on positive facts, although he did confess that ''it is not easy to win this league'', which is something of an understatement. Then again, it could be argued that squandering cheap points at home is a shortcoming that ought not to be too difficult to put right.

Liverpool FC Star Javier Mascherano Urges Club To Buy Tevez

Javier Mascherano has urged Liverpool not to sell Xabi Alonso – while expressing his desire to see compatriot Carlos Tevez at Anfield next season.

Speculation continues to rage over Alonso’s future, despite Rafael Benitez repeatedly stating he does not want the Spanish midfielder to leave.

Real Madrid presidential candidate Florentino Perez is keen to sign Alonso and will reportedly make a £23m bid for the player should he as expected be elected into the Bernabeu hotseat next month.

But Mascherano believes Liverpool should resist any overtures from Madrid.

“Hopefully the great players in Liverpool can stay and we can bring another player to improve the team,” said the Argentine.

“It’s important when you have the team in good form to keep the key players and Xabi is one of them.”

Another player Argentina captain Mascherano wants at Anfield next season is Tevez, his international colleague and briefly his West Ham United team-mate when they both arrived in the Premier League in August 2006.

Tevez is likely to leave United in the summer and Mascherano is convinced Benitez should make a move.

“I don’t know what the situation is but it would be great if Carlos could come here because I know how good he is,” said the midfielder. “But maybe it’s a difficult situation.

“I don’t know exactly what is happening. The only thing I can say is that he is a great player and a great person.

“I don’t speak to him about football situations, just about his family. But everyone knows that Tevez is a great player.”

Rafa Benitez Hopes Steven Gerrard And Fernando Torres Avoid Injury

Rafael Benitez is already praying Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres will have an injury-free season next time around.

The Liverpool manager knows any improvement on this term’s runners-up spot in the Barclays Premier League will depend on Gerrard and Torres staying fit.

Benitez believes the pair are a frightening prospect for any opposition when they are in the side together.

But the Anfield outfit’s goal-scoring double act only started 21 games together all season because of injury troubles and that cost them the title, according to the manager.

Torres will be playing in the Confederation Cup this summer in South Africa, while Gerrard has England’s World Cup campaign to consider, something which has further frustrated Benitez.

The Spaniard said: “Fernando will be away with Spain, Steven also has international duty. It is not something we can stop so there’s no point complaining.

“Top players are needed by their countries. But you don’t have to ask me what I would prefer.

“Let’s hope the two of them can then have a relaxing summer and be fully fit when we start again in August, and stay that way through the season.”

Gerrard finished the campaign with 16 league goals, the third highest scorer in the top flight after Cristiano Ronaldo and Nicholas Anelka, and hit 24 in all competitions. Both tallies are career bests for the club captain.

Torres took his season’s tally to 17 with the opening goal in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Spurs, his 50th for the club and a total per games played that is quicker than Kenny Dalglish or Ian Rush achieved for their half-centuries.

The value of Torres and Gerrard to Benitez’s aims is only too obvious.

And as Benitez surveys a season which has seen Liverpool set a Premier League club record of 86 points, remain unbeaten at home in the league and finished the division’s leading scorer, he underlines how difficult it is to win the title.

He said: “We have missed Gerrard and Torres too much, they do make a big difference when they play in the side together which hasn’t happened as much as we would have liked.

“Let’s hope they can have a good rest this summer and be back for what I believe will be a better season.

“We have to maintain the levels of this season, the consistency and quality, to improve next time around.

“But the transfer market will be difficult. There will be many clubs trying to get the very best prices for their players and things may not happen quickly.

“We know players we want to sign but that depends on money and other clubs.

“This is now a challenge for all of us, to make that next step, to get closer to the title.

“We made some mistakes this season, the home draws. Next time we must avoid those mistakes.”

He added: “To get 86 points is a massive achievement, it would have won the league on seven previous Premier League seasons.

“But we have to improve, we have to be almost perfect to win the title with it now being so competitive and with such top sides involved. We have improved a lot this season, if we keep going the same way then we will be closer to the title next season.

“You just need to look at the statistics, we have only lost two games in the league all season and been undefeated at home. In fact we have lost only five of 55 games all season.

“But the Premier League is very difficult, winning trophies in England is very difficult.

“The quality we are facing is in effect the best sides in Europe, all the top four get to the final stages of the Champions League, three to the semi-finals this season.

“There is not just one top side, Manchester United. There’s Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham, they are all able to challenge along with us.”

Liverpool FC's Young Stars Bid To Turn Tables On Gunners

Exactly 20 years ago to the day Arsenal achieved a seemingly impossible result at Anfield to give their season a silver lining.

This evening Liverpool Youth team will look to do the same and turn the tables on their London visitors in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final.

Few Liverpool supporters will want reminding that on May 26 two decades ago Michael Thomas grabbed the title for the Gunners in the most dramatic of conclusions to a league championship race.

Trailing 4-1 from last Friday’s first leg at Emirates, and with no away goals rule in the Youth Cup, Hugh McAuley’s young Liverpool side must defeat their Arsenal counterparts by twice as much as George Graham’s team to take the trophy.

The Liverpool coach said: “We have got to hope that we can get a good start, get at them and make things happen. We will try and get an early goal and give it our best shot.

“We have to stay positive and believe that we can get a result. That is the talk we will have with the boys.

“Our club has shown that you can pull games back if the attitude is right, the commitment is right and you get the breaks.”

Hertha Pass On Voronin

Andriy Voronin has confirmed that he will not be staying at Hertha Berlin next season.

The Ukraine international joined the German outfit on a season-long loan from Liverpool last summer.

Having struggled to adapt to life in England, the former Bayer Leverkusen forward rediscovered his goalscoring touch once back in the familiar surroundings of the Bundesliga.

He found the target on 11 occasions for Hertha as they challenged for a UEFA Champions League spot.

Their efforts ultimately proved to be in vain, as they finished fourth, and Voronin was informed that he would not be required in the 2009/10 campaign.

"(The match against Karlsruhe on Saturday) was my last match as a Hertha Berlin player," Voronin told Die Welt.

"I want to wish the club and their fans all the best in the future."

Silva Coy On Liverpool And Madrid Reports

David Silva has refused to comment on speculation that he will either join Liverpool or Real Madrid this summer.

Silva is one of the most coveted left wingers in world football, but he will not be playing Champions League football at Valencia next season after Los Ches were beaten by Villarreal on Saturday.

The 23-year-old has always remained loyal to Valencia, but reports in the Spanish press have long linked his name to former manager Rafa Benitez at Liverpool.

Monday reports in Spain are now suggesting Silva would be Florentino Perez’s top target should he win Madrid’s presidential vote, but the Spain international insists his current intention is to stay at La Mestalla.

"I have to be focused first on recovering [from a thigh problem] to be able to help my team and I'm not thinking of anything else,” said Silva, as Valencia prepare to face Athletic Bilbao for a place in the Europa League.

"I don't know anything about the rumours and I insist that I have a contract with Valencia that I wish to fulfil."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Match Report: Liverpool 3 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool claimed runners-up spot in the Barclays Premier League and denied Tottenham European football after a season that produced an unbeaten home league record for the first time in 21 years.

Their unbeaten home stretch was extended to 30 games as Sami Hyypia bid a tearful farewell to Anfield after 10 years at the club.

The ovations were for the veteran Finn and a Liverpool side who had pushed Manchester United close in the title race.

Their goals came from Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and an own goal from Alan Hutton, with Robbie Keane scoring for Spurs on his return to Anfield.

Spurs, even though Fulham lost at home, could not take advantage and will not be in the Europa League next season.

Boss Rafael Benitez left out two defenders who had played in the win at West Brom last week but veteran Hyypia was not in the starting line-up.

A packed Anfield, who sung the Finn's name at every opportunity, would no doubt have liked to see the 35 year-old on from the start before he leaves to join Bayer Leverkusen but it was not to be that romantic a day.

Out went Alvaro Arbeloa, Lucas Leiva and Emiliano Insua, with Fabio Aurelio, Xabi Alonso and Martin Skrtel back in the starting XI.

Spurs were without defender Jonathan Woodgate (groin) and Tom Huddlestone (knee), while Roman Pavlyuchenko was back on the bench. Alan Hutton, Gareth Bale and Didier Zokora returned.

Hyypia's name echoed around the stadium beforehand and there was a new, giant flag in his honour on the Kop.

But, ever the perfectionist, Benitez used both Daniel Agger and Skrtel in central defence with Jamie Carragher at right-back, as Liverpool tried to pin down the one point needed to be certain of runners-up spot.

They started at great pace, with Steven Gerrard firing over with a hooked shot from 25 yards, while Benayoun fired over from close in after Dirk Kuyt's header down.

Spurs were organised and controlled. Ledley King at the back even out-paced Torres on one run, while Jermain Defoe searched for the gaps at the other end.

Torres sparked into life when he surged through from midfield, got himself clear in the box but saw his attempt to steer a shot wide of Heurelho Gomes thwarted by a defiant challenge by Jermaine Jenas.

But he did not have to wait long for the breakthrough. Kuyt's cross from the left sailed towards the far post where Hutton was patently the wrong side of Torres.

The Spaniard rose to head in off the underside of the bar - his 50th goal for the club - with Gomes not even getting off the ground.

Spurs then lost Jenas - David Bentley coming on as a 39th-minute substitute - with the midfielder still suffering from the injury he had sustained in stopping Torres earlier.

Defoe then beat the offside trap to race clear but Jose Reina managed to block the chipped shot with his body, just outside the area.

King was felled by a fierce Skrtel drive in the box and Alonso tried to beat Gomes from the half-way line - a trick shot he has succeeded within the past but not this time.

Spurs responded with a curling Bale free-kick that was pulled down by Reina. Then another Skrtel drive following a corner deflected inches wide.

But Liverpool finally got their second when Benayoun's cute pass set up Kuyt for a shot from just inside the box. It looked to be going just wide but Hutton's outstretched foot turned the effort past Gomes.

The calls for Hyypia's involvement increased from the Kop but it was Albert Riera who was the first Liverpool substitute, in place of Kuyt after 66 minutes.

Gerrard then hit the far post from an acute angle. Hyypia at last came off the bench for a warm-up.

There is still plenty of speculation about Alonso's future but he had been outstanding throughout and forced Gomes into a flying save to his left.

Pavlyuchenko then replaced Defoe after 70 minutes for Spurs but Liverpool were in full flow now and Gerrard was next to go close with a curler from the edge of the box.

The Kop were now baying for Hyypia but, after 77 minutes, Robbie Keane - on his return to Anfield - was put clear by Luka Modric to calmly slot in only his fifth goal for Spurs since returning to White Hart Lane from Anfield in January.

Spurs then brought on another striker, Darren Bent, for Bale while Liverpool replaced Torres with David Ngog.

But Liverpool's worries were ended when Gerrard slipped the ball to Benayoun, who eased his way into the box to clip the third past Gomes.

The "we want Sami" barrage was booming again. Surely Benitez could risk it now. Vedran Corluka was booked for a foul on Gerrard and at last Hyypia was allowed to take off his training top for one last cameo appearance.

There was seven minutes to go, Gerrard was the man taken off and he made sure he put his captain's armband onto the giant defender as he came off.

Hyypia almost scored with a typical flying header from Aurelio's corner and at the end he was carried off by his team-mates at the end of a career that makes him a Liverpool favourite.

Rafael Benitez Wants Near Perfection For Next Season

Rafael Benitez admitted there were mixed feelings as Liverpool ended their season on a winning note.

The Anfield outfit secured a 3-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur yesterday to finish the campaign on 86 points, their highest tally in the Premier League era.

However, despite losing only two league games, remaining unbeaten at home and being the top-flight’s leading scorers, Liverpool’s efforts weren’t enough to overhaul champions Manchester United.

And Benitez said: “There is both pride and disappointment. We have to be proud because when you talk about 86 points, it’s massive.

“But still it’s not enough to win the title. Clearly we have to improve and be almost perfect if we want to win the title.

“It’s not just United. You see Chelsea, you see Arsenal, and I’m sure Aston Villa, City and Tottenham will be better in the future.

“We have only lost two games in the Premier League and five in all competitions.

“It’s not easy ending the season without a trophy with these numbers but the Premier League and England is very difficult. We still have to improve, but clearly we have improved a lot.

“We have to now keep the same level as this season, the consistency. You can talk about the draws but also we’ve won a lot of games at the end. We need to be more ruthless from the beginning.

“It’s a challenge for us now to sign the right players, start the season like we did this one and not make mistakes.”

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp saw his club’s chance of European football ended, despite seventh-placed Fulham’s home defeat by Everton.

A win would have seen Tottenham leapfrog their London rivals to claim a UEFA Europa League spot.

Redknapp said: “We were short of several players, and lost Jonathan Woodgate the day before the match.

“We tried our hardest, European football would have been a real achievement considering the position Spurs were in when I arrived at the club.

“We almost did it in the end. But to have climbed from bottom to eighth is something to be proud of.

“We were just not able to hurt Liverpool. Some of our defending was poor, the goals we gave away could have been averted.”

The game saw Sami Hyypia’s final appearance for Liverpool and Redknapp added: “It was nice to see Sami Hyypia come on. He got an unbelievable ovation from a fantastic club.”

Liverpool Should Chase David Silva

If Liverpool are to improve on their runners-up spot in the Premier League, they will need to sign at least one player of proven quality this summer.

Valencia's David Silva could be a player that makes a big difference for The Reds, if they were to splash out on the 23-year-old.

The Spain international is able to play anywhere in attack, which means that Rafa Benitez could slot him into either the wide right, wide left, or the second striker position.

He does favour cutting in from the left and this is why he would be a great signing for Liverpool as that is a position that they have yet to really fill. Albert Riera started the season well there, Ryan Babel played decent in some substitution appearances, while Yossi Benayoun finished the campaign in great form - often playing there. But none have made the position their own.

The arrival of Silva would give Riera competition for the place, while Benayoun can then challenge Dirk Kuyt for the wide right spot as he prefers to drift in from that side or from the centre.

Riera will surely be a lot stronger next season, but it wouldn't do him any harm to have to fight for his place. Babel could then be used more as a striker, unless Silva was tasked with playing elsewhere on the pitch.

Benitez will more than likely receive the same warning that the other top flight managers will this summer, in that they have to sell players before they bring anyone new in. This shouldn't be too much of a problem though as there are a few ready to be ushered towards the exit door.

It will be very surprising if the likes of Jermaine Pennant, Charles Itandje, and Andriy Voronin turn up to Melwood for pre-season training. Then there are other players, like Nabil El Zhar or Sebastian Leto, who might move on due to limited opportunities in the first-team.

The bulk of the transfer speculation will surround Aston Villa's Gareth Barry (until his future is decided), but bringing in someone like Silva, who can add so much to their attack, would allow them to not rely so heavily on Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso as their creative forces in midfield.

Silva has the ability to take on defenders and set chances up for his team-mates, to produce a defence-splitting pass or piece of skill that opens things up, to score crucial goals, and to have an impact on games when nothing is going Liverpool's way.

With a player like Silva in their squad, The Reds would surely be able to go that next step and end their hunt for a league title.

Gerrard Tells Benitez: Please Keep Lucas

Steven Gerrard has urged Rafael Benitez to keep faith with midfielder Lucas and give the Brazilian the chance to become a Liverpool legend.

Reds skipper Gerrard is a big fan of Lucas, who has come under-fire this season following a number of poor performances.

Benitez is already planning an overhaul of his squad with Lucas one of the players that looks set to be offloaded.

But Gerrard reckons Benitez should persist with the 22-year-old and says his team-mate can become a huge hit on Merseyside.

"Lucas has had criticism and for me it's been unfair," said Gerrard.

"He's a young lad learning his trade and he's certainly got a bright future.

"He does a lot of work that goes unnoticed in this team. He's come into some big games when the manager has said 'sink or swim'.

"He swam, very well, and he's done really well for us."

Rafa Benitez's Five-Year Plan For Liverpool FC Is Dependent On Next Five Weeks

It has taken Rafael Benitez five years to close the gap at the top of the Premier League. At the end of his first full Anfield season the Reds were a cavernous 37 points behind runaway champions Chelsea.

Now they’re the equivalent of turning a couple of home draws into victories behind Manchester United.

Whether Benitez can close the most difficult gap of all, however, could depend on the next five weeks.

After the competitive action came to a predictably uncompetitive end at Anfield yesterday, attention instantly switched to the identity of the men the Liverpool manager seeks to bring in this summer.

And perhaps even more importantly, who he lets go.

“No names, today, please” he grinned, as soon as the first transfer related query was directed his way after the 3-1 defeat of Tottenham.

But evidence that Benitez was thinking of the future had already been presented in his extended look at the Martin Skrtel-Daniel Agger central defensive axis.

Touted as the club’s future central defensive partnership, the pair have not started a match together before.

But with Alvaro Arbeloa injured, Benitez ignored the sentimental claims of Sami Hyypia – and the increasingly insistent demands of The Kop – to scrutinise the young duo for almost the entire afternoon.

It was the 83rd minute before Big Sami was called for his emotional swansong.

Even then, it was Steven Gerrard who was asked to make way, with Agger and Skrtel remaining in situ until the final whistle.

But it was difficult to form too much of an opinion of their future prospects against a demotivated Tottenham.

“Liverpool were a bit end-of-seasonish,” said Harry Redknapp. “If we’d have upped the tempo there’s a chance we could have gotten something here today.

“I told them at half-time, listen we’ve got to raise our game here. Fulham are getting beat. But we were a little bit short.”

That certainly applied to their forward line.

Spurs turned to all four international strikers during the course of an afternoon that started slowly and picked up pace as the match wore on.

But Pepe Reina only had a couple of long range shots to field before, ironically, it was Robbie Keane who found a way past him for the first time this month.

Keane had taken 17 minutes before he even touched the ball, and his most meaningful moment of the first 45 minutes was an embarassingly miscued volley.

But he finished clinically enough when he found himself clean through in the 76th minute – and after being ignored by the home fans all afternoon – a fate perhaps even more cutting than being booed – his respectfully muted celebrations brought appreciative applause from The Kop.

The most insistent calls from the home fans, however, came in the demands for Sami Hyypia to be introduced.

Rafa’s reluctance stressed that his thinking was focused very much on the future rather than the past.

“I was waiting for the last minute,” he explained somewhat puzzingly afterwards. “I thought that was best for the fans. I thought the last minute would be perfect, but the fans were pushing, pushing . . . so we brought him on for Gerrard so he could have the armband.”

Sami Hyypia most certainly will not be at Anfield next season.

Whether Xabi Alonso follows him out of the Anfield exit door remains to be seen.

The Spaniard had a quiet game yesterday, and his influence on the Liverpool squad is worthy of an article all of its own.

But, for now at any rate, Benitez was adamant that the 27-year-old is not for sale.

There has been plenty to admire in this second half of the season.

An unbeaten home league record for the first time in 21 years was secured; a more adventurous, ambitious attacking policy which saw the season end with 77 goals and the best goal difference in the country – in all four divisions – was completed.

And there were no unecessary injuries to worry about – with fingers crossed now that the pointless Confederations Cup brings no unwanted surprises this summer.

Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are clearly pivotal to Liverpool’s future prospects.

Yesterday was only the 14th time this season the pair have started together.

And Torres’ headed finish from a Dirk Kuyt cross was pivotal.

But, so, too could be the next few weeks.

Manchester United have won the last three Premier League titles, but the margin of victory has been progressively smaller.

It was 21 points in 2007, down to 11 last season – now just four points remain between the North-West rivals.

This could be a very interesting summer.

Napoli Awaiting Formal Liverpool Offer For Ezequiel Lavezzi

Ezequiel Lavezzi’s representative, Alejandro Mazzoni was in Catania yesterday and met with Napoli director of sport Pierpaolo Marino ahead of the Serie A match between the Etnei and the Azzurri.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Mazzoni has insisted that Premier League giants Liverpool have approached him with a €22 million offer to take the 24-year-old to Anfield, and that if the Partenopei are prepared to turn it down, it means they have the finances to grant his client a pay rise.

Lavezzi currently earns wages of €1.1m per year at the San Paolo and the agent is allegedly seeking a pay rise to €3m, which is the same amount of cash the Merseyside club have apparently put on the table for him.

However, Marino is said to be suspicious of Mazzoni’s claims and has demanded an official document proving Liverpool’s offer, before deciding whether to open talks with the Reds.

‘El Pocho’ has also been strongly linked with a move to Juventus in recent weeks, but the Old Lady have denied making a bid for the Argentine, who has netted seven goals in all competitions this term.

Sami Hyypia: Istanbul Is My Liverpool Career Highlight

Sami Hyypia has described the 2005 Champions League victory against Milan as the greatest moment of his ten year career with Premier League giants Liverpool.

The 35-year-old played his final game for the Reds against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday since signing from Willem II for £2.6 million in 1999.

Ten years, 454 appearances and 33 goals later, the 97-time capped Finland international defender has named the 2005 Champions League final when Liverpool came from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties as his finest moment.

"I think every player dreams of winning the Champions League at some time in their career or even just to be in the final and I have managed to play in the final and win it," Hyypia told The Liverpool Echo.

"So Istanbul is definitely a highlight of my life and I think from a fan point of view the way the game went made it even more special.

"Even the neutral fans of football will remember this game for ever because to come back from 3-0 down against AC Milan and then go on to win it is an incredible result.

"Even in a normal game this would be special so for it to happen in the Champions League final makes it even more so and it will stay in the memories of the players and the fans for the rest of our lives."

The 6ft 4in centre-back has won two FA Cups, two League cups, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League and two UEFA Super Cups with the Merseyside based club, much to his delight especially as he never expected to become a first team regular.

"I didn’t think I would be here for ten years. When I first came I thought that I would be on the bench sometimes and would play sometimes but would maybe have to get used to not playing all the time," Hyypia added.

"But then before the season started I realised that I really had a chance to be in the first eleven all the time and this encouraged me to work even harder.

"I’m not saying that I didn’t work hard from day one because it’s my nature always to work hard and then see what happens.

"But I didn’t have a lot of expectation for the first season. I just thought that I would do my best and show everybody that I could play football.

"It was also a good situation for me to start here because nobody knew me and nobody really had any big expectations of me."

While Hyypia admits that Sunday will be an emotional occasion, he is not getting too carried away because, as he puts it, he is not retiring just yet, just moving on.

"I remember a few games when I wasn’t happy with how I had played," Hyypia remarked.

"But there are so many good things to remember that it means the bad things stay in the background.

"I think Sunday will be a sad day but it’s not like I am retiring or anything. I just have a new challenge."