Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Liverpool Unlikely To Swoop For Heskey, Johnson

Premier League leaders Liverpool may not be adding any reinforcements to their squad in January after all, according to a report in the British broadsheet the Independent.

Apparently, Reds manager Rafaael Benitez has revealed that they must sell before they buy, but the chances of Jermaine Pennant leaving the club during this transfer window are looking more and more faint.

The former Birmingham City winger failed to negotiate a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid recently, rejecting their contract offer, and has turned down offers from the likes of Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers.

Wigan Athletic and Hull City are thought to be interested in the €3.8 million-rated midfielder, as well as Italian club AC Milan, so a deal could yet go through.

However, Liverpool are believed to have told the Rossoneri to forget about making an offer of €9.2 m for Danish centre-back Daniel Agger.

It appears that Italian full-back Andrea Dossena will not be moving to the San Siro either, with Benitez quoted in the Guardian as saying: "I have not considered selling Andrea Dossena, I think it is important to keep people together now."

It is claimed, therefore, that the Reds will not be making a move for Portsmouth's England international right-back Glen Johnson, who is apparently set to agree a new contract at Fratton Park.

Wigan's England international forward Emile Heskey had been linked with a return to Anfield, but it is thought that Benitez has no plans to move for the player whose contract will expire in the summer, paving the way for Aston Villa to capture the 30-year-old.

Liverpool Owners Granted Extra Time To Repay £350m Loan

Tom Hicks and George Gillett have been granted a six-month period of grace to repay £350.5m to Liverpool's lenders. Those funds, provided last January as "working capital" to run Liverpool and including £60m towards constructing a new stadium, were due to be repaid or refinanced by 25 January. But the banks – the government-owned Royal Bank of Scotland and the US investment bank Wachovia – have deferred the deadline.

That came following a written request from Liverpool's American co-owners and their holding company, Kop Football, with the new deadline now set at 24 July. "The loan does not mature on 24 January," said an insider involved in the deal.

The Anfield club are currently the Premier League leaders but with £30m in annual interest repayments required, the supplementary income from Champions League participation is critical to their business. By July, Liverpool hope, those revenues will be guaranteed.

Although this provides breathing space in the short term, it is unclear how RBS-Wachovia will deal with the loan in the summer. The loan currently earns little more than 5% a year in interest, despite the risk involved with football clubs. City sources expect that even if RBS-Wachovia agree to renegotiate the debt in July they are likely to demand a very large fee, which will further increase Liverpool's indebtedness.

Another imponderable is the financial health of George Gillett's portfolio. Reports in the US say his Nascar team has been scaling back its activities after a drop in sponsorship. His Booth Creek Management Corp is exposed to the ailing automobile industry as the owner of dealerships. Although both Hicks and Gillett regularly stress their continued commitment to Liverpool, one route out of repaying the debt has now closed. Takeover interest from Dubai has been withdrawn following the collapse in the world economy.

Benitez: FA Cup Derby Clash Won’t Distract Liverpool FC From Title Bid

RAFAEL BENITEZ is confident Liverpool will not be detracted from their quest for the Premier League crown by the forthcoming FA Cup derby against Everton.

The Merseyside rivals will meet in the competition for the first time in 18 years after being paired together in the fourth round.

The game, which is due to take place on either January 24 or 25 at Anfield, comes in the middle of a critical run of league games for the Premier League leaders.

Liverpool are already hosting Everton in the league on Monday, January 19, before which they visit struggling Stoke City on Saturday.

They follow the Cup showdown with a trip to Wigan Athletic in midweek before the Reds entertain title rivals Chelsea.

And Benitez has moved to quell the growing excitement at the prospect of the FA Cup tie with their neighbours by insisting Liverpool are looking no further forward than the weekend clash at the Britannia Stadium.

“It is a draw which will excite everyone in the city because everyone knows about the great rivalry that exists between the two clubs,” said the Liverpool manager.

“But we must remember that we have some big games coming up in the league before the cup tie and we will be taking one game at a time.

“Only when the cup game comes around will it become our focus and before then we play Stoke and Everton in the league so we must keep our focus on those matches.

“But it is good to have so many important matches because it shows that your team is doing well.”

Everton defender Tony Hibbert believes the atmosphere for the Cup game will be “electric”, with the Goodison outfit expected to be handed their largest official ticket allocation at Anfield since the FA Cup fifth-round clash there in February 1991.

“To be first out of the hat was unbelievable,” said Hibbert. “It’s a great draw for the city but probably not one that either team would have wanted at this stage of the competition.

“The atmosphere in derby games is electric at the best of times but this will be something else again and we are all looking forward to it.

“The FA Cup is something we have grown up with and all the lads here would love to get into a final but there is a long, long way to go yet before we can think about that.”

Everton earned progress to the fourth round for the first time in three years with a 1-0 win at League Two outfit Macclesfield Town.

And Hibbert added: “It’s never easy going to those places. The pitch in places was very icy and hard, which made it even more difficult, but I thought the lads did a brilliant job coping with it.

“The performance was good but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves by missing a few chances and that’s something we will have to improve on.

“But the main thing was getting the win and getting through to the next round. We really wanted to put a show on for the fans and we should have done that with the chances we created.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s assistant boss Sammy Lee hailed skipper Steven Gerrard as a “top professional”.

Gerrard, who was charged with assault and affray after an incident at a bar in Southport, fully justified Benitez’s decision to play him against Preston on Saturday with a commanding performance in the 2-0 win, which set up the clash with Everton.

Lee said: “Steven is a great footballer and he produced a terrific performance. Things have been written about him, but we know that he is a top professional.”

Albert Riera’s first-half strike put the Reds in the driving seat before Gerrard unselfishly squared for substitute Fernando Torres to make it 2-0 late on.

“That second goal sums up this football club,” Lee said.

“Whoever scores is not important. It’s all about the team and that goal epitomised our team spirit.”

Mark Lawrenson: Nuisance FA Cup Tie Is Last Thing Everton Or Liverpool Would Want

MY first reaction when I heard the first tie out of the bag in the FA Cup fourth round draw was “Oh no – surely not!” And I bet that was how Liverpool and Everton reacted to it as well.

It’s a nuisance tie and the last one either side needed.

The sort that make you want to turn the clock back a few seconds and start the whole draw again.

For Liverpool, when they heard their name come out of the bag first and they knew had a home tie they must have been hoping for Kettering or Hartlepool to be next out.

Okay so they lost at home to Barnsley last year, but the odds of something like that happening again are remote and getting a similar draw is far more preferable than being paired with Everton, or anyone else from the top 10 of the Premier League for that matter.

You’d take awkward over tough any day.

As for David Moyes, well he has had some shockers but he’s also had some stinkers in his time in terms of draws.

Yes, you do have to knock out the best to win a cup but you also need luck as well so getting the top of the league away from home, whoever that might be, suggests that’s not on your side this year.

While the managers and players won’t like the draw, I’m not convinced the supporters will be too keen on it either.

I do think it is great that some of them have recognised the significance of a repeat of the 1989 final and are making the most of this opportunity to commemorate the 20th anniversary Hillsborough disaster.

But that is the closest I think anyone will come to creating any kind of a sense of occasion.

After all, the game will come just a few days after they have met in the league at Anfield.

These games are rarely spectacles anyway and I don’t see that changing just because they happen to be playing in the FA Cup.

It’s still a Merseyside derby and nobody wants to lose. Expect it to be cagey. In fact, expect a draw.

Which is the last thing Liverpool need when you’ve got a title to go for and a Champions League campaign ready to start up again.

Everton? Well, that won’t concern them. But it does all make me think that they could actually do quite well out of this draw.

Moyes is more than capable, as he has proved in the past, of going to Anfield and coming away with a draw.

On this occasion, he could still be suffering a severe shortage of players but when his tactics have been dictated to him because of availability, its usually worked out quite well.

There’s no reason to think he won’t go there with a 4-5-1 and maybe hedge his bets on giving his rivals that pesky extra fixture on their list.

There’s no doubt that, considering how many teams were still left in that bag when Liverpool came out first, that Moyes will be cursing his luck at being handed such a tough trip.

But aside from that, there are no problems with fixture pile-ups for them so they have no reason to be fearful of the tie.

They need to turn it in their favour and make the best of what at first seemed a bad situation. And it’s their ability to do that over and over again that has got them into such a strong position at this stage of the season.

Whatever happens, there is no denying that this is the tie of the round.

But a derby is a derby and the players will all be treating the tie the same way. In fact it’s the same way I treated the Cup final of 1986.

Just get through it and make sure you win it.

Liverpool Left-Back Emiliano Insua To Miss Five Games After Argentina Call-Up

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is fuming after Argentina called up Emiliano Insua for an Under-20 tournament that will put him out of five matches.

Insua has made a name for himself as the first-choice left-back at Anfield in the past few games, but he has been named in his country's squad for the mini Copa America in Venezuela.

The gifted youngster, who will turn 20 tomorrow, will miss Liverpool's double header with Everton then the games against Wigan, Chelsea and Portsmouth.

Insua will face Stoke on Saturday before jetting off for the tournament which ends on February 8.

Penannt Set For Sun And Sangria

Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant is set for talks with Spanish giants Sevilla according to sources in Spain. A bid in the region of £3 milllion is rumoured to have been accepted by Rafa Benitez and Pennant is rumoured to favour a move to the warm climate of Seville.

Wigan, Real Madrid, Hull City and Stoke City have been linked with a move for the winger, however despite increased speculation no concrete offers were received by Liverpool.

Pennant has struggled to gain a starting berth in Benitez's first team and Liverpool would be keen to cash in on a player whose contract expires in the summer.

AC Milan Target Liverpool FC Stars During Transfer Window

AC Milan look set to fail in their attempts to sign Daniel Agger during the transfer window – but are giving Anfield outcast Jermaine Pennant a chance to kick-start his career.

Pennant, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has been offered a pre-contract agreement by the Italian giants to sign on a free transfer in the summer.

The winger is no longer part of Rafael Benitez’s plans with Liverpool keen to off-load the 25-year-old for a fee this month.

Real Madrid had a bid in the region of £3m accepted a fortnight ago but the deal is believed to have floundered over the player’s personal terms.

Pennant, also a target for Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur, has previously expressed a desire to play in Spain.

But he may now opt to sit tight and walk away for nothing at the end of the campaign and join Milan, against whom he was the star performer in Liverpool’s 2-1 Champions League final defeat in 2007.

However, the Italians will not be able to prise Pennant’s team-mate Agger away from Anfield this month.

Milan have been tracking the Denmark international since it emerged talks have stalled over a fresh deal for the centre-back, who has less than 18 months remaining on his current contract.

With no agreement yet in sight, the Italian giants are preparing to take advantage by lodging an £8.5m bid for the 24-year-old.

But Benitez has no intention of losing any key squad members as his team press for silverware both home and abroad.

Rafa Rules Out Dossena Exit

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has insisted that he wants to keep hold of Andrea Dossena.

The Italian arrived at Anfield from Udinese over the summer for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £7million.

He was given the opportunity to establish himself at left-back but failed to impress and lost his place to Fabio Aurelio.

Aurelio suffered an injury at the end of November but Benitez turned to Argentine youngster Emiliano Insua rather than Dossena.

Dossena has been linked with a January move away from Liverpool but Benitez has ruled out a departure.

He does not want to lose any of his players as the Reds continue to mount a challenge for the Premier League title.

"I am not considering selling Dossena," Benitez said in the Daily Star.

"I think it is important to keep the squad together."