Monday, January 05, 2009

Liverpool Join The Hunt For Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing

Liverpool have reportedly joined the race to sign Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing, who it was today revealed, is ready to hand in a written transfer request to Boro manager Gareth Southgate tomorrow.

Reds manager Rafael Benitez is reportedly ready to offer Boro £12 million for the services of the talented left winger.

Tottenham Hotspur are also interested in acquiring the 24-year-old's services, and have had several bids for the player turned down by Boro, but Downing is now apparently ready to move on from the Riverside, and the list of clubs interested in him is growing by the day.

Spurs have already failed with bids during this transfer window and have now seen Downing's transfer request as their opportunity to pounce for the England international.

Liverpool bought Albert Riera during the summer transfer window and already have Ryan Babel in their squad, but Benitez seemingly wants Downing as a squad player, which he will inevitably be should he move there.

Downing has been playing for Boro for his entire professional career, only playing seven games for another team, at Sunderland during a loan spell in 2003.

Since he was promoted from the infamous Middlesbrough youth team, the 24-year-old has made a total of 154 Premier League appearances and scored 17 times in the process.

Liverpool-Everton Cup Clash Has 'Extra Significance' - Carragher

The Liverpool versus Everton FA Cup 4th round tie has been given some extra significance in a year that commemorates the 20th anniversary of some of the most dreadful events in English football's long history.

When Everton make the short trip across Stanley Park to Anfield later this month to take on city rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round, memories of more than just local pride will be mournfully rekindled.

The two clubs met in the FA Cup final of 1989, and events that led up to that game cast a grim shadow over English football to this day. Although Liverpool won a dramtic final, beating the Toffees 3-2, the real story of that season had occurred in Sheffield the previous month.

During Liverpool's semi-final with Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium 96 supporters were killed in a terrace crush that represents probably English football's biggest tragedy.

Events that day led to the Taylor Report, to all-seater stadia, to stands without fences, indeed, to the Premier League itself, but what was more important in 1989 was that Liverpool won the Cup for the fans who'd died. That they beat the other great club from their city in doing so just made it more appropriate.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of that dark day, both clubs are aware of the significance of today's draw. Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher summed up what this year's competition really means to the Reds players.

"Hillsborough is something we are all obviously aware of," Carragher said.

"Extra significance will be attached to the competition for us. Going on to win it would be the perfect tribute to those who died."

The Liverpool FC badge now features flames at its sides as a memorial to those supporters who lost their lives at Hillsborough.

Hobbs Focused On Foxes

Jack Hobbs is not worrying about his long-term future at Liverpool during his loan spell at Leicester City.

The promising defender has made 26 appearances for the Foxes after joining the League One club on a season-long loan.

He is tipped as a bright prospect for the future and has played five first-team games for Liverpool since his 2005 move from Lincoln City.

The 20-year-old is unsure how he fits into Rafa Benitez's long-term plans at Anfield, but will wait until the end of the season before discussing the situation.

"I'm here until the end of the season and I'm in a winning side," said Hobbs in the Daily Star. "I'm developing well as a player.

"My main aim is to do well for Leicester and then I will go back to Liverpool in the summer.

"I can't tell you what will happen in the future, but I'm just focused on this season.

"I've got another year at Liverpool and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Fernando Torres: I Will Win Premier League Title For Liverpool Fans

Fernando Torres claims he is desperate to win the Premier League for Liverpool's fans. Torres is hoping his injury troubles are over after marking his comeback with a goal.

Torres had been sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring complaint, but came on as a substitute in Saturday's FA Cup tie at Preston North End.

He tapped in Steven Gerrard's pass in injury-time to seal a 2-0 win in the third round and is happy to be back on the pitch.

With Liverpool leading the Premier League, Torres is now eager to play a full role in the club's bid to win the title for the first time since 1990.

"The relationship I have with the fans is special," he said. "I know that. When I was injured, to hear them still singing their song about me was special.

"I could hear it on the TV when I was at home. That's fantastic.

They seem to love me and I want to win the title for this club.

"You want to be out there helping your team-mates and working hard, but the injury is in the past now.

"I have forgotten about it and I am only looking forward.

"I hope all my hamstring injuries are over and that I can keep playing and scoring for Liverpool.

"The team has shown they can win without Stevie and without me. That is very important. It shows that we play as a team."

Carragher Buoyed By The Return Of Torres

Jamie Carragher believes the return of Fernando Torres can fire Liverpool to glory this season.

The Spain international, who netted 33 times in all competitions last season, returned to action as a goal scoring substitute in the 2-0 FA Cup third round win over Preston on Saturday following five weeks out with a hamstring injury.

Liverpool's season could be defined by back-to-back meetings with Merseyside rivals Everton in the FA Cup and Premier League later this month.

And Carragher says that having Torres back has provided a massive lift to a squad who have performed admirably in his absence, opening up a three point gap at the top of the table.

"Having Torres back has given everyone a big lift," he said. "It is great when you see a player of that calibre coming back for the second half of the season.

"Hopefully, the time he has been out will refresh him because he had a long season with the Euros.

"A lot of players have played a lot of games this season because the manager hasn't changed it around so much and it will be good to have someone like him to come back in.

"It has been a feather in the cap for everyone concerned with the club that we have reached the top of the table without having the best striker in the world over the last 12 months for periods.

"You miss a player of that quality, but it will give us a lift to have him out there."

Liverpool Wait On Alonso Injury

Liverpool are waiting on news of the injury to Xabi Alonso, who needed seven stitches in his foot during Saturday's 2-0 FA Cup victory against Preston.

The midfielder was taken off at the end of the first half and he was later seen on the bench wearing a protective boot.

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee said: "We do not know the full extent of the injury, apart from the fact he will be very sore.

"Hopefully there will be no damage but we won't know for 24 to 48 hours."

Alonso, 27, suffered the injury when his attempted shot was blocked by the Preston defence after a well-placed Robbie Keane laid the ball to him on the edge of the box.

The Spaniard was then treated as the players walked off for half-time but he did not appear for the second half of the third-round tie and was replaced by Lucas Leiva.

Alonso has enjoyed a fine first half of the season for Liverpool after he was on the verge of joining Juventus in the summer when Liverpool attempted to sign Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.

He also said as recently as October that he was still interested in a move to the Turin club.

Liverpool's next game is against Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday followed by Everton in the Merseyside derby on 19 January. They also face Chelsea on 1 February.

Liverpool FC Aim To Win Every Match, Says Sammy Lee

Liverpool signalled their intent to fight it out on all fronts with the line-up they named at Preston at Saturday – but Sammy Lee has banished talk about going for a treble.

The assistant manager again led operations from the bench for the third-round tie, although Rafael Benitez was sat just a row behind him as he closes in on a full recovery from his kidney stones operations.

With Benitez all but back in full charge, choosing a weakened side would perhaps have been more forgivable than it has been in past years, given Liverpool’s strong position at the top of the Premier League and a Champions League campaign to resume next month.

However, Diego Cavalieri replacing Pepe Reina in goal was the only obvious delve into the second string, although Dirk Kuyt was also rested.

With Steven Gerrard captaining the side in a bid to banish the troubles of the past week and Fernando Torres also sent on for his first action since November, there seems to be no sign of Liverpool sacrificing their FA Cup ambitions in favour of arguably more pressing concerns in the second half of the campaign.

“We’ve got nothing but respect for the competition and the opposition,” said Lee. “We feel we showed that with the team we put out.

“We never think we’re comfortable anywhere – we’re never in a comfort zone and we’re working very hard to make sure we improve on a daily basis.

“We’ve never made any rash promises at this football club. We’re just working hard to improve and hopefully that will manifest itself in results.

“Every side we put out we feel is our strongest side to go and win in any given scenario. I have nothing but credit for these group of players and they are working tirelessly on a daily basis to improve.

“At this football club anything is possible, but I have to be careful and I don’t want people to think that’s me saying we’re going to do this and that.

“We’ve never talk about titles, trebles or make rash promises at Liverpool.”

Lee has, however, promised to keep working with Robbie Keane to help boost his goal tally.

The £20m man spurned a host of chances at Deepdale as his struggle to hit his stride since joining from Spurs last summer continued into the new year.

Lee said after Saturday’s game: “Robbie shouldn’t be down because I thought he got in some great positions.

“The main thing is that we continue to keep creating those chances. Robbie’s worked very, very hard for this football club.

“People talk about this and about that, but we know the quality Robbie’s got and you’ve seen that today in abundance where he’s made some great runs.

“There’s no need to press the panic button – far from it.

“We know his quality and what Robbie Keane brings to this football club. There’s no problem with him – none whatsoever.

Preston North End Keeper Hails Gerrard After Defeat

Andrew Lonergan hailed Steven Gerrard as 'the best player in the world' after keeping him off the scoresheet at Deepdale.

The Preston keeper saved everything the Liverpool skipper threw at him and then revealed: "It was a privilege to be on the same field."

Lonergan kept out half a dozen efforts from Gerrard – one an acrobatic fingertip stop which earned a respectful nod from the England star himself.

He also frustrated a wasteful Robbie Keane on a night when North End gave the Premier League leaders a few frights of their own.

In the end class told. But Lonergan and his team-mates were able to walk away with the heads held high after pushing English football's top side all the way.

"To be honest I thought two-nil probably flattered them a little bit," said Lonergan, who needed a painkilling injection in his thigh to play.

"One-nil would have been about right – that second one was a bit harsh on us.

"I am proud of the way we stood up to a team with so many great players, especially in the second half.

"In the first half, we couldn't believe just how good they were.

"We had seen them against Newcastle last weekend and they were awesome that day.

"But face-to-face, the quality they have got is even more frightening.

"We managed to keep them to just the one goal by half-time and the gaffer said to keep our shape and we would do all right. And we did."

Preston pushed Liverpool back in the second half and even had the ball in the net after 64 minutes.

But referee Martin Atkinson chalked off Sean St Ledger's header because Jon Parkin was wrestling on the ground with Jamie Carragher in the goalmouth.

Throwing bodies forward late on in a bid to snatch a replay at Anfield cost North End a second goal, with Gerrard racing clear to gift Fernando Torres a simple tap in.

But Irvine's team were still given an appreciative ovation at the end as they claimed some big name shirts as souvenirs – Paul McKenna getting Gerrard's and Sean St Ledger bagging Torres'.

Lonergan said: "I can't speak highly enough about Liverpool, they are unbelievable.

"I feel privileged to play on the same pitch as Stevie Gerrard and Robbie Keane.

"I know Keane missed some chances. But their movement is just outstanding.

"That is the thing we can learn from. We can also learn a lot from how good, how fit, how fast and how strong you have got to be to play in the Premier League.

"In the first half I was thinking, 'I don't know if I'm cut out for this Premier League business'.

"But we were better second half and we gave a decent account of ourselves.

"I only made one or two saves really, but I thought they were good saves.

"I'm glad I did because I wouldn't have liked to be beaten by four or five – that wouldn't have been nice.

"The save from the Gerrard shot which was going into the top corner was a good one. I was happy with that one, especially being against a player who in my mind is the best in the world.

"I'm not totally over the moon because we got beaten. But at the end of the day it could have been worse, much worse.

"That second goal was when we were pushing everyone forward and we were down to just one defender – and it was probably a foul on him anyway."

Liverpool rolled out their big guns to face Preston after coming unstuck in the FA Cup with a weakened team against Barnsley last season.

Rafa Benitez granted skipper Gerrard's wish and put him in the starting line-up despite the traumatic week he had gone through off the field.

PNE fans taunted the 28-year-old, although the chants were never going to have a significant effect on a player assistant manager Sammy Lee described later as 'a terrific professional'.

Capello: Don't Be Like Gerrard!

Fabio Capello aimed a sideswipe at Steven Gerrard’s lack of discipline when giving advice to Fiorentina’s Riccardo Montolivo.

The Liverpool midfielder was recently charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray after an alleged nightclub brawl.

Gerrard has often been held up as a positive example for young Italian players to follow, while Montolivo has singled him out as an idol.

“Let’s hope he doesn’t want to imitate Gerrard in every way, especially with regards to recent behaviour,” said England manager Capello on

It is still unclear whether Capello will exclude Gerrard from internationals until the legal situation is sorted out, but Liverpool have rushed to defend their star player.

Capello was speaking to Montolivo when he visited Fiorentina’s winter training camp in Marbella yesterday afternoon.

“I was happy to be here and I always have fun chatting with [Cesare] Prandelli about football. Fiorentina are a great squad.

“I won’t talk about tactics because it doesn’t seem appropriate for me to do so, but I can only say that what I saw here was really very interesting.”

Capello also had a special word for Adrian Mutu, who had worked with the Coach when they were both at Juventus.

“He is doing extremely well and represents a crucial figure for this team.”

Milan Set To Make Move For Liverpool Star Agger

AC Milan are set to make a move to sign Liverpool defender Dan Agger, according to reports in Italy.

Agger is waiting to be offered a new deal by Liverpool and Milan hope to take advantage by snapping up the player for around £7million, reports today's Gazzetta dello Sport.

Milan have also targeted Arsenal defender William Gallas but Agger is their first choice.

Rafa Benitez is believed to be reluctant to sell because the club are still in three competitions but should they sign Glen Johnson from Portsmouth, may allow Agger to leave.

Liverpool And Everton To Clash In FA Cup

A Merseyside derby was the pick of the ties following the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup.

A third-round draw that largely failed to hit the heights was outdone by the very first match as Liverpool and Everton were pulled out of the hat.

To add further spice to an already legendary fixture, the tie comes in the same week as a league game between the teams at Anfield while Reds captain Steven Gerrard is due in court on charges of assault and affray.

The match also comes in the year of the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, following which Liverpool beat Everton in the FA Cup final.

A second heavyweight Premier League clash sees Manchester United hosting Tottenham.

Non-league Kettering were drawn at home to Fulham, while Arsenal travel to last year's beaten finalists, Cardiff.

Nottingham Forest's reward for beating Manchester City is a trip to bitter rivals Derby - a huge game for former Rams boss Billy Davies, who takes over as Forest's manager today.

Birmingham/Wolves v Middlesbrough
Cardiff v Arsenal
Chelsea/Southend v Ipswich
Cheltenham/Doncaster v Aston Villa
Derby v Nottm Forest
Hartlepool v West Ham
Hull/Newcastle v Millwall/Crewe
Kettering v Fulham
Leyton Orient/Sheff Utd v Charlton/Norwich
Liverpool v Everton
Man Utd v Tottenham
Portsmouth/Bristol City v Histon/Swansea
Sunderland v Blyth/Blackburn
Torquay v Coventry
Watford v Leicester/Crystal Palace
West Brom/Peterborough v QPR/Burnley

Matches to be played over the weekend of January 24 and 25.