Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Xabi Alonso Cleared For Liverpool's Derby Double

Xabi Alonso has returned to training for Liverpool after sustaining a foot injury in last weekend's FA Cup tie against Preston North End, The Daily Mail reports.

The Spanish midfielder's fine display at Deepdale was cut short when he was stamped on in a challenge with a Lilywhites defender. He hobbled to the sidelines for treatment late in the first half and did not reappear after the interval.

A nasty cut on the Basque star's instep required seven stitches, but it was the severe swelling and bruising which most concerned the Liverpool medical staff and manager Rafael Benitez.

Alonso has been hampered by a number of foot and ankle problems through his Anfield career, and it was initially feared he had suffered a reoccurrence of the metatarsal fracture which ruined his 2007-08 campaign.

However, scans taken yesterday have cleared the 27-year-old of any breaks or structural damage, and he is even a slim chance to feature this Saturday when the Reds take on Stoke City.

But most important for Benitez and his side is the fact Alonso will be available for the back-to-back derby dates with Everton. The Merseyside rivals will clash in the Premier League on January 19, before meeting in the FA Cup fourth round the following week.

Rafael Benitez Rules Out Dossena Sale

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has refuted claims that full back Andrea Dossena will be sold in the transfer window.

The Italian, who was a £7 million summer signing from Udinese, has struggled to make an impact at Anfield this season and is behind Fabio Aurelio in the pecking order for the left back slot in the Reds’ defence.

Speculation had linked him with a return to Serie A but Benitez has moved to dispel these rumours.

With Liverpool top of the Premier League as 2009 starts, the Liverpool boss is keen on keeping his squad intact as they look to clinch their first title since 1990.

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

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

Liverpool Reject Milan Bid For Agger

Milan may have to turn their attention to a different defender, as Liverpool have reportedly rejected the Rossoneri's bid for Daniel Agger.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti is looking for a new recruit to solve his club's defensive woes this season, but it appears the 24-year-old will not be the one to join the Italian club.

The Reds have rejected Milan's €8.5 million bid, according to the Daily Star, as Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez considers the Danish stopper a key memeber of his squad and does not want to let him go.

Agger arrived at Liverpool in 2006 and has been in and out of the line-up since that time, often taking the place of the injured Martin Skrtel this season.

Milan have been linked with a number of defenders, including French internationals Philippe Mexes and William Gallas, so they may now go after one of those players before the winter transfer window ends.

Liverpool's Torres Dedicates Goal To Gerrard

Fernando Torres made his long-awaited comeback from hamstring injury in Saturday's FA Cup third round tie with Preston North End, coming on as a second-half substitute and sealing a 2-0 win with a late goal.

Torres was grateful to Steven Gerrard for setting up his strike and dedicated the goal to his captain, currently under police investigation for his alleged part in a nightclub brawl last week.

"I was pleased to score for the team and for the fans because it guaranteed the result and took us into the next round," Torres told The Liverpool Echo.

"I might have scored the goal but it was created by Stevie and I would like to dedicate my goal to him. He is our captain and he is also a great guy and he has helped me ever since I came to the club and moved to this area.

"Everyone at Liverpool is behind him."

The striker hadn't featured for the Reds since the Champions League tie with Marseille back in November, and made his return after undergoing an intensive rehabilitation programme in recent weeks.

He also revealed that the backing of the Liverpool fans provided him with timely boosts to his morale as he worked to return to full fitness.

"I am very pleased to be back in the team," the Spaniard continued. "I have been very frustrated at not being able to play but the lads have been in great form and the results they have achieved have kept my spirits up.

"The relationship I have with the fans is special. I know that.

"When I was injured to hear them still singing their song was special. I could hear it on the TV when I was at home. It’s fantastic."

Milan Set To Announce Pennant Move

The Corriere dello Sport reports this morning that Milan have completed an incredible swoop for Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant and have reached an agreement to sign him next July when his contract with the Reds will run out and the 25-year-old will become a free-agent.

The newspaper considers the move a done deal and reveals that the Rossoneri will soon make it official.

Arsenal snapped up the midfielder from Notts County in 1999 and he was handed his Premier League debut at the age of 16.

He has been with Liverpool since 2006 and turned down moves to Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers over the summer, but the Premier League leaders have decided not to take up the option to invoke a one-year-extension on his current deal and he will be free to walk away in the summer.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Beckham has shaken off his muscular problem and will make his debut in a Diavoli jersey in the game with Hamburg.

FA Play Down Capello's Off The Cuff' Criticism Of Liverpool Midfielder Gerrard

The FA have been forced to defend Fabio Capello over remarks that the England manager made about Steven Gerrard's 'recent behaviour'.

Capello appeared to criticise the Liverpool captain in Italian press reports - with Gerrard to appear in court on January 23 after being charged with assault and affray over an incident in a Southport nightclub.

The coach's comments came in response to an interview by Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who said he modelled himself on Gerrard.

Capello replied by saying: 'Let's hope he doesn't want to imitate Gerrard in every way, especially his recent behaviour.'

However, an FA spokesman told the Daily Telegraph that the remark was merely 'off the cuff' and not intended as criticism.

Gerrard is expected to feature in England's squad for the friendly against Spain on February 11.

Rafa Happy With Reds Squad

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has given a strong indication he has no plans to sign any new faces in the January transfer window.

Benitez insists he is happy with the squad at his disposal as he looks to maintain Liverpool's lead at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds have been linked with the likes of Emile Heskey and Glen Johnson, but Benitez has played down the rumours, saying he is happy to stick with the players already at Anfield.

Benitez believes the return to fitness of key quartet Fernando Torres, Martin Skrtel, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio has boosted his options and no new signings are required.

"We finished 2008 very well, we played with style and have scored a lot of goals," said Benitez. "I am very pleased and happy with the situation and hope it will be the same in the new year.

"We have other players apart from Torres coming back from injury. There is Skrtel, Aurelio and Arbeloa all fit now. It will be like signing three new players.

"We do not need to go into the transfer market, we are certainly not desperate to do so.

"If we find we need something we will try, but it is always hard in this window and very expensive.

"But we are in a good position and I am happy to use the players we have now plus the ones returning from injury."

Trying Week For Stevie

Liverpool will face neighbours Everton twice inside a week – with Steven Gerrard’s court case sandwiched in between – after the recent FA Cup draw.

The Merseyside rivals were the first names out of the hat for the fourth round and meet in the competition for the first time since a trilogy of games in 1991, during which Kenny Dalglish resigned as Liverpool boss.

Everton make the short trip to Anfield in two weeks time for a Premier League match, with Gerrard due to appear at North Sefton Magistrates court to answer charges of assault and affray the following Friday.

The FA Cup tie will be televised, with Sunday, January 25 the likeliest date.

“It’s a terrific draw for everyone, especially the fans,” said Phil Jagielka, who was on the receiving end when Liverpool won at Goodison Park in the league in September.

There will be a special atmosphere I’m sure and the fact that we play them just a few days earlier in the league makes it even more interesting. We didn’t do ourselves justice at Goodison Park earlier in the season but we’ve got two chances to put that right now.

“Derby games are always fantastic occasions and so to meet each other in the FA Cup is great for the supporters.”

The clash will trigger memories of the end of Dalglish’s reign. The first game was a goalless stalemate and Dalglish quit when a replay ended 4-4. Everton won a second replay 1-0 with caretaker-boss Ronnie Moran in charge of Liverpool.

Ian Rush: Premier League The Priority But FA Cup Win Would Be Massive Boost

One thing which can safely be said about the FA Cup draw is I’m sure both Liverpool and Everton would have preferred to have avoided one another.

It is an absolutely massive tie and the players, staff and fans at both Merseyside clubs will be really looking forward to it, particularly as it will be the second derby of the week with the league meeting taking place just a matter of days beforehand.

But the fourth round draw could have been an awful lot kinder because everyone knows just how fiercely contested this game will be and just how much will be at stake.

Merseyside derbies do not need any extra spice and neither do FA Cup games, so combining the two is an explosive concoction and I’m sure everyone in the country will be keeping an eye on the match at Anfield.

The big disappointment is that only one Merseyside team will be in the draw for the fifth round because it is always good when both clubs are doing well and making progress. But the only way for the players to approach it is to give absolutely everything for the cause in both the league and cup games.

People will talk about fatigue but I played in enough Merseyside derbies to know that you don’t feel tired in games like these.

You get through on adrenaline and on the energy that the crowd gives you – you just keep on going, it is as simple as that.

For me, Liverpool have the advantage because they are at home and also because they have a stronger squad.

When you play two games of such massive importance in the space of a week you are going to need to dip into your squad and Liverpool definitely have more strength in depth.

But there is also no doubt that the league derby is Liverpool’s most important of their two games and they cannot be deflected from that, even by an FA Cup tie.

Rafa Benitez and his team are in the perfect position to challenge for the title. and doing that has to be their priority.

It’s probably the other way around for Everton because realistically the FA Cup is the only trophy they can challenge for this season. So it will be interesting to see how both teams approach the two games.

But should Liverpool win both it would be a massive boost at a key time in the season.

Hyypia Is Still The Hero 10 Years On

From Sunderland to Serie A, Blackburn to the Bundesliga, Tottenham to Turkey, the glut of enquiries for Liverpool’s evergreen centre-half are persistent enough for a small call centre to be housed in one of the offices at Anfield.

Manager Rafa Benitez remains adamant the defender is too valuable to let go, yet it is testament to Hyypia’s enduring appeal that Liverpool could still almost double the £2.5million fee they paid to Dutch side Willem II for the player a decade ago.

Hyypia is in line to make his 700th career appearance on Saturday at Stoke – just another of the clubs who would pay a king’s ransom to recruit the veteran – and his importance to the cause in recent weeks has merely highlighted why he still retains such a fanatical following.

It was former Liverpool chief executive and Vice-Chairman Peter Robinson who first received a tip-off about Hyypia in 1998, with then manager Gerard Houllier and assistant Phil Thompson quick to act on the information.

Thompson, a central-defender who won seven league titles and two European Cups among other honours in 477 first-team appearances for the club, is better placed than most to pass judgment on Hyypia’s longevity.

“It doesn’t surprise me that so many teams would want Sami,” said Thompson. “He has been, and still is, brilliant for Liverpool.

“When you consider how much he cost then pound-for-pound he is up there with the £440,000 the club paid for Kenny Dalglish.

“I remember going to watch him playing for Finland against Oliver Bierhoff and Germany in Nuremberg. Bierhoff’s strength was in the air and Sami never let him win a header.

“We signed Stephane Henchoz at the same time as Sami and he was the better known of the two and people probably expected more from him.

“But after a couple of days on the training pitch with Sami, I was thinking we’ve signed a central midfielder here because he was that authoritative and comfortable on the ball.

“It always makes me laugh when people started saying a few years ago his pace had gone. Sami Hyypia never had any pace to lose! What he has got is an incredible ability to read the game and that has been his biggest asset. More often than not he is in position.

“I’d be lying if I said that when we signed him I thought he’d still be going strong 10 years later. That’s incredibly difficult to do, especially for a foreign player in the Premier League.

“He’s a legend and, for me, Sami is in Alan Hansen’s ilk.”

If Hyypia’s immediate future remains at Anfield, then Liverpool still have two major decisions to make over his prospects in the coming weeks.

The first is whether to hand him another one-year extension to his present deal which expires in the summer.

Given the uncertainty remaining over Daniel Agger’s long-term prospects, Benitez must wonder where he would find someone as reliable and also as willing to adopt Liverpool’s team-first ethos as Hyypia.

Secondly, and more pressing, Benitez must decide whether to find room in his Champions League squad for 35-year-old Hyypia, having controversially omitted him at the start of the season.

Hyypia is likely to push for clarification over where he now stands, with Liverpool having to resubmit their squad to UEFA for the knockout stages by midnight on February 1.

The perennially-injured Philipp Degen is taking up a place in the squad, although the emergence of Argentine left-back Emiliano Insua, who is also not presently on the list, complicates what is a sensitive issue.

Pourie Seals Germany Return

Striker Marvin Pourie is back in his native Germany after joining Schalke from Liverpool for an undisclosed fee.

The teenager joined The Reds' academy in the summer of 2007 and had been a consistent scorer for Hughie McAuley's Under-18s side.

However, after failing to make the breakthrough at the Premier League giants the former Borussia Dortmund youngster has been allowed to leave.

Pourie has signed a four-a-half-year contract with Schalke that ties him to the Veltins-Arena outfit until the summer of 2013.

The 17-year-old, who won his first youth international cap for his country while at Anfield, will train with Schalke's first team but is expected to play in their Under-19s side for now.