Friday, January 02, 2009

Steven Gerrard In Line For FA Cup Outing For Liverpool

Steven Gerrard is to be handed the opportunity to put a difficult week to one side and return to matters on the pitch as Rafael Benitez includes him in Liverpool’s side to face Preston North End in the third round of the FA Cup.

Benitez had planned to rest his captain for the tricky tie, though after Gerrard was arrested and charged with assault and affray resulting from an incident in a Southport nightclub, the Spaniard has changed his thinking, according to a report in the Sun.

Gerrard faces a court case later this month and a possible jail sentence if found guilty.

The player himself has been eager to return to the day-to-day business of playing for his home town club and Benitez has come round to the idea that time spent on the field will help Gerrard more than shielding him from public scrutiny.

Manager and player held a long meeting earlier in the week in which Benitez repeated his public backing for Gerrard and promised to do everything in his power to help him through the difficulties.

Liverpool may also see the welcome return of striker Fernando Torres for the trip to Deepdale.

The Spaniard has been out of action for over a month with hamstring problems but after narrowly missing out on a place on the bench for Liverpool’s 5-1 humbling of Newcastle he is set to play some part against the Championship play-off hopefuls.

Preston are in decent form in their division and with home support are likely to test the Premier League leaders, with Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina all too aware of the pitfalls ahead.

“It is always difficult to go and face a lower-division side on their own ground,” said Reina, “because they will be fighting with passion and honour.

“They want to beat us and produce a shock. But we must match that and have the same mentality to win.”

Benitez Admits Liverpool May Not Act In Transfer Market

The Liverpool manager has conceded the fact that he may not add to his squad during the winter window.

Liverpool currently top the Premier League table, are three points clear, and have achieved that lofty height without clinical striker Fernando Torres.

Manager Rafa Benitez has today told the BBC that he will be loath to add to his squad, deeming a January acquisition as both expensive, and unnecessary.

"It will be difficult to bring anyone in January because we have a good squad.

"To bring in anyone better than what we’ve got isn’t easy and could be expensive," he said.

There have been rumours in the press about a return to Merseyside for former Liverpool player and England international Emile Heskey; who has gone from pantomime villain to cult hero in the past few years.

Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon has also been linked with a Liverpool switch.

The exit door may be in use too, as Jermaine Pennant and Andrea Dossena may both be deemed surplus to requirements.

Pennant Will Battle For His Anfield Future - But Only If The Move To Madrid Falls Flat

Liverpool striker Jermaine Pennant has said he will stay and fight for a place at the Anfield club if a move to Real Madrid falls through.

The mercurial winger, 25, will be a free agent in the summer and and the Spanish giants are keen to bring him to the Bernabeu for £3million in the transfer window.

The ex-Arsenal hitman insists the Bernebeu switch would be the only thing that could lure him away from Liverpool.

He said: 'Real Madrid are a great club, so are Liverpool. I am not sure of the situation now.

'I am flattered that a club as huge as Real have shown interest in me, so we will have to see.

'I haven't spoken to anybody all these weeks because I wanted to focus on my game, on training hard to convince the manager he can count on me.

'I cannot imagine playing for another Premier League team after Liverpool.'

Rafael Benitez Says Liverpool Can Go Distance

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, is hopeful that this will be the year when the club end their long wait for the league championship.

Liverpool are three points clear of Chelsea at the top of the Barclays Premier League and Benítez is daring to believe that the title could return to Anfield for the first time since 1990 if the team maintain the form they have shown during the first half of the season.

After being held to successive draws at Anfield by Fulham, West Ham United and Hull City, Liverpool returned to form with resounding victories at home to Bolton Wanderers and away to Newcastle United over the Christmas period, while wins against Manchester United and Chelsea this season — the latter ending an 86-match unbeaten home league run by the West London club — have also convinced Benítez that his team have what it takes to be champions.

“We have had a good first half to the season, but that’s all it is,” Benítez said. “If we can do the same over the rest of the campaign then we will have a chance, but there are still lots of games to play and lots of points up for grabs before we can start talking about what the end of the season may bring.

“We have had a few disappointing setbacks this season, particularly at Anfield, but we have also shown we can compete with and beat the best in the country, so there’s every reason to be confident as we look forward to 2009.”

Liverpool were the only Premier League team to remain unbeaten at home throughout 2008 and Daniel Agger says it is feasible that the club could go without dropping another point at Anfield this season.

“If we play like we did against Bolton on Boxing Day then I believe we can win every game [at Anfield],” the Denmark defender said.

Hull Join Chase For Liverpool Winger Pennant

Hull have joined the chase for Liverpool's out-of-favour winger Jermaine Pennant.

In one of the most surprising developments of the January transfer window, Pennant has been heavily linked with a move to Spanish champions Real Madrid.

Yet with that transfer still seeming unlikely, other clubs have been alerted to the former Arsenal player's potential availability.

Wigan, Tottenham and Stoke have all been linked to the 25-year-old, who has failed to impress in two-and-a-half years at Anfield, and now Hull have revealed their interest.

Manager Phil Brown said: 'I would be very interested in Jermaine Pennant if he was available at the right price. We will be making enquiries.'

A move for Pennant this month would come 10 years after Arsenal made headlines by paying Notts County £2million for the then 15-year-old.

He failed to fulfil his potential with the Gunners and later joined Birmingham before his £6.7million switch to Liverpool.

Hull are looking to strengthen during the transfer window to consolidate their position in the top half of the Barclays Premier League.

The Tigers have also been linked with Wigan midfielder Michael Brown but Phil Brown has denied making an approach.

He said: 'We have got a number of irons in the fire, but just because the transfer window opens, doesn't mean to say everyone jumps into business straight away.

'A lot of these windows start with the big boys, and once they start to do their dealings everyone else follows suit. We have got certain targets earmarked.'

One piece of business that looks certain to go through is the signing of defender Kamil Zayatte on a permanent deal from Swiss side Young Boys. The Guinea international, 23, has made a big impression since joining the club on loan in August.

'We are very close,' said Brown.

'We are sitting down with his advisors and people at Young Boys of Berne.

'Hopefully we will have something to announce very soon.'

Pepe Reina Says Liverpool Risk FA Cup Humiliation

Pepe Reina has warned his Liverpool team-mates they risk another FA Cup humiliation if they don't match Preston's passion.

The Reds have struggled against lower league opposition in the Cup and last season they were given scares by Luton and non-league Havant and Waterlooville.

They ignored those warnings and were embarrassed by Barnsley at Anfield when Brian Howard scored a late winner in front of a stunned Kop.

Boss Rafa Benitez has also lost to Burnley in the Cup and Reina claims Liverpool's attitude must be spot on at Deepdale tomorrow evening.

The Spaniard knows Alan Irvine's side will be fired up by their biggest crowd for 30 years of 24,000 and has told his teammates they must be prepared.

"It's always difficult to go and face a lower division side on their own ground," said the Reds keeper. "We know it will be difficult to play against them because they will be fighting with passion and honour.

"They want to beat us and produce a shock, but we must have the same mentality to win.

"I would love to play at the new Wembley. It's a great stadium and I want to play in a final there. I have great memories of winning the Cup in 2006."

Benitez could play into Preston's hands by fielding an understrength side, but Steven Gerrard is expected to start.

Reina is also likely to have the night off to give his Brazilian understudy Diego Cavalieri a rare outing. "I never want a rest," said the Spaniard. "But I understand Diego deserves a chance as well."

Liverpool make the short trip up the A59 as league leaders and Benitez insists no one is using the 'T' word at Anfield.

He was keen to quell any title talk and says the Reds still have much to do. "To be going into a new year at the top of the Premier League table is a just reward for all the hard work the players and staff have put in this season," said the Liverpool manager.

"It's great for the confidence of the players and for the supporters to see us at the top, but we know there is still a long way to go and that's why you won't hear anybody at Liverpool talking about winning the title.

"We've had a good first half to the season but that's all it is. If we can do the same over the rest of the campaign then we'll have a chance. But there are still lots of games to play and lots of points up for grabs before we can start talking about what the end of the season may bring."

Sean St Ledger has been taking tips from best mate Luke Steele on how to dump Liverpool out of the Cup.

Keeper Steele was the key man as Barnsley pulled off that amazing upset at Anfield last season.

And North End centre-back St Ledger has taken advice from his old Peterborough team-mate ahead of tomorrow's clash.

He said: "Luke's my best mate and last week he was telling me about what it was like at Anfield when they beat Liverpool last year.

"He said it was fantastic - when they started singing You'll Never Walk Alone he even found himself singing along to it!

"He was saying how good they are, even if it is basically a second string Liverpool put out. I don't want that to happen - I want them to play their best side."

But St Ledger admits they could be in for a busy afternoon if Liverpool repeat the form they showed in thrashing Newcastle 5-1 last weekend.

He said: "We were watching it on the bus to Barnsley, and when they got their third or fourth goal there was a stampede to get the remote control and switch it off.

"Their first-half performance was the best I've seen from anyone, ever. It was breathtaking."

Spaniard Pepe Reina Dreaming Of Wembley FA Cup Showpiece With Liverpool

Pepe Reina is unlikely to be involved when Liverpool begin on the FA Cup trail at Preston North End tomorrow, but he is keen to be there at the end.

In keeping with Rafael Benitez’s policy of giving his second-choice keeper playing time in the early rounds of the domestic cup competitions, Brazilian Diego Cavalieri is expected to line-up at Deepdale in tomorrow’s third round tie.

But Reina is hoping his team-mates can see off Alan Irvine’s Coca-Cola Championship side and keep his dream of playing at the New Wembley alive.

The Spanish shot-stopper, who is closing in on a century of clean sheets during his time at Anfield, was the hero the last time Benitez’s side lifted the FA Cup three years ago. Reina’s heroics in extra-time and in the penalty shoot-out enabled Liverpool to beat West Ham at the Millennium Stadium in 2006.

The 26-year-old is hoping Liverpool can go all the way again this time and give him the chance to recreate that day on May 30 at the new Wembley.

“I can’t wait to play at the new Wembley,” he said. “It is a great stadium and I want to play a final there as soon as possible. Let’s hope we can do it in this season’s FA Cup. It’s always difficult to go and face a lower division side on their own ground.

“We know it is difficult to play against them because they will be fighting with passion and honour.

“They want to beat us and produce a shock but we must match that and have the same mentality to win.

“Our target at the start of the season was to try and win any competition we are in and the FA Cup is one of them. I have good memories from it and it would be nice to win it again.”

While Reina would love to play at Preston tomorrow he understands Benitez’s rotation policy, adding: “I never want a rest. Obviously I want to be involved in every minute of every game, but I understand Diego Cavalieri deserves a chance as well. He has played in the League Cup and it is a good opportunity for him to show what he can do.

“He’s a great signing. He’s a young, good goalkeeper and works hard.

“He is a good team-mate and good back-up and in time he will fight for the number one spot.”

Liverpool FC Boss Rafa Benitez Hails Pepe Reina As Best Keeper In League

Rafael Benitez has hailed Pepe Reina as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League as his fellow Spaniard closes in on another Liverpool landmark.

Reina is only seven shy of recording a century of clean sheets having already taken less time to reach 50 shut-outs than any keeper in the Anfield outfit’s history.

The 26-year-old has won the Premier League Golden Gloves award for the most clean sheets in all three previous seasons since his £6million arrival from Villarreal in 2005.

Reina and Chelsea’s Petr Cech have both kept 11 clean sheets this season, the highest figure in the top flight.

And Liverpool manager Benitez believes Reina has now surpassed Cech as the number one number one in English football.

“In the first year we signed him we had 82 points, with a lot of clean sheets, and that made a difference and gave the defenders massive confidence,” said Benitez. “He’s getting better each season.

“He has a very, very good mentality and is very positive.

“Diego Cavalieri is a good keeper, but Reina has a lot of confidence because he’s been here a long time.

His style of football is very good for any league, but especially the Premier League because you need to be physical.

“The ball’s in the air a lot. He’s good in his six-yard box but also outside it.

“I’d say he is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and also in Spain.

“He’s very, very important for us, not just because he’s a good goalkeeper but also because of his mentality.”

Reina is likely to be handed a well-earned rest tomorrow when Liverpool begin their FA Cup campaign with a visit to Preston North End.

Cavalieri, who has appeared twice in the Carling Cup this season, is lined up to deputise against the Coca-Cola Championship outfit in the third round tie.