Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fernando Torres: I'm Not Another Liverpool Crock

When Fernando Torres pulled up sore after Liverpool's Champions League clash with Olympique Marseille in November, there was just a hint of panic in the club's reaction.

It was the third time in the space of three months that the Spanish superstar had been laid up with a hamstring injury: the first came against Aston Villa in August; the second, on duty with la Furia Roja in October.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez declared that Torres would not return to action until the problem was properly diagnosed and corrected, and that to speculation that the 24-year-old's dodgy hammy might dog the rest of his playing days.

But the former Atletico Madrid captain has insisted he won't be the next Harry Kewell or Michael Owen, putting his injury troubles down to misfortune more than anything else.

"When you come back from injury, the first week is always a risky time. I was just unlucky and ended up spending more time out," The Sun quoted Torres as saying.

"In theory we did everything right the first time round and followed the treatment schedule required in order for me to return. But sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to."

Torres returned to action in Liverpool's FA Cup third round win over Preston North End, scoring the second-half sealer after coming on as a substitute.

Schalke Deny Voronin Rumours

Schalke 04 sporting director Andreas Müller has moved to pour cold water on reports linking them to Ukrainian striker Andrey Voronin.

The 29-year-old is currently only on loan at Hertha Berlin and reports originating from the English press suggest that Liverpool are in talks to sell him outright to Schalke.

"He is a good player, but there is definitely nothing to this report," insisted Müller on S04's official website. "Someone is simply trying to make him even more appealing by attaching our name to his."

Voronin recently went on record as saying that he would be perfectly happy to stay in the German capital, though it should be pointed out he was responding to a question about whether he was craving a return to Liverpool.

"I'm getting along fine at Hertha," he told the newspaper Bild last month. "I've been well received by the players and there are no problems with the coaching staff and the manager. Things are also going well with the football.

"The most important thing is what Hertha want. If the club really are interested in me staying, I'm sure we'll be able to find a way."

Liverpool's Arbeloa to Miss Stoke City Trip

It is looking increasingly unlikely that Liverpool's Alvaro Arbeloa will be fit to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

The 25-year-old right-back injured a hamstring in training during the run-up to the Boxing Day victory over Bolton Wanderers, and, although he has returned to full training, his fitness is not quite sharp enough just yet to return to action.

Jamie Carragher has moved from centre-back to fill in on the right side of the Reds' defence in Arbeloa's absence, and that looks set to continue against the Potters.

Arebloa is enjoying this season at Anfield though, despite the injury, and remains convinced that Liverpool possess all the necessary qualities to be very successful this season.

"We have everything you need to win trophies," he told The Liverpool Echo today.

"A good manager, great supporters and a belief in our ability. We have proved that with the way we have rescued so many games already this season. Everyone is willing to fight and go the distance for one another.

"We have a really good team and I don’t think we have yet shown the world our best form this season.

"We are playing well but we are playing to 80% of our potential. Soon we will hit top gear."

Benitez, Torres And Kuyt Return To Bolster Liverpool Title Challenge

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will be back in the Barclays Premier League front-line at the weekend armed with an array of riches.

Benitez, whose side are unbeaten in 11 matches, will take charge at Stoke on Saturday evening and relieve assistant Sammy Lee of his touchline responsibility for the team.

The Reds boss, who has recovered from recent kidney stone surgery, will have star striker Fernando Torres ready to return to the starting line-up for the first time since being struck down with another hamstring injury in November.

Hard-working forward Dirk Kuyt will also be back after being rested at Preston for last weekend's FA Cup win, while Argentina captain Javier Mascherano has been declared fit following an ankle injury.

There is even an outside chance that Xabi Alonso could have recovered from the foot injury which required seven stitches after the Preston victory, however he is more likely to return on January 19 for the first of the two upcoming derby clashes with Everton.

Benitez said: 'Xabi trained yesterday but the problem is he had seven stitches so clearly it depends if he can put boots on and kick the ball.

'For running and training he is okay but we have to decide at the end of the week about his boots.

'If he can kick a ball he could be available for Stoke but we will have to wait and see.'

Benitez does have a worry over right-back Alvaro Arbeloa who is expected to again miss out with a hamstring problem.

The Liverpool boss said: 'Arbeloa is improving but I think he will need another week. Hopefully next week he can train normally again.'

Arbeloa's continued absence means Jamie Carragher is likely to continue at right-back, with Benitez having the choice of Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Sami Hyypia in central defence.

Liverpool could even use all three at the Britannia Stadium to combat Stoke's physical approach.

Striker Robbie Keane may only feature on the bench, but Kuyt's return is almost certain as Liverpool look to make amends for their goalless draw against Stoke at Anfield back in September.

Kuyt says: 'The important thing for us this season is that we have had a better start than in previous seasons.

'We've had some new players in the squad who have made us better but the other players have all been together for a few years now and because of that we are only going to get better and better.'

Speaking to, Kuyt underlined how the players want to erase the memory of the dropped points against Stoke earlier in the season.

He added: 'That was a really frustrating afternoon for us. Sometimes you cannot explain football. We had so many chances to kill the game but just could not do it.

'I do not think their crowd will let them be as defensive this weekend as they were at Anfield and so maybe there will be more space for us to play in.

'They have done well at home though so we know it will be a difficult game. They are a strong team who can cause problems from long throws, but we are Liverpool and if we focus 100 per cent on the game then we should win.'

Rafa's Challenge For Fabio and Andrea

Rafael Benitez today challenged both Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena to win the battle for the left back berth in his team following Emiliano Insua's departure for international duty.

Insua today left for the Under-20 South American Championships in Venezuela and is expected to be away until February 8, ruling him out of a number of high profile matches over the next month.

Having started the Reds' last four matches, Insua was beginning to make the left back position his own - but his absence has now opened the way for both Aurelio and Dossena to stake their claim for a place the defence.

He said: "Emiliano has been really good for us and has been doing well and I know people are saying we are losing something with him going away.

"But we have a lot of confidence in Fabio and Andrea and both players can now compete for the position."

Premier League Is Fernando Torres' Priority After Great 2008

Fernando Torres has described 2008 as “a year to remember” but bemoaned the fact he has yet to win any honours for Liverpool.

The Spanish striker is hopeful the injury problems that plagued him in the back end of last year are now behind him and is looking forward to Liverpool’s mouthwatering meeting with Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League.

In an interview on Sky TV’s Revista La Liga, Torres also told of his regret at missing out on a reunion with former club Atletico Madrid when he was kept out of Liverpool’s Champions League meetings with the Spanish side by a hamstring strain.

“It has been a year to remember,” said the 24-year-old. “I think that there have been more positives than negatives.

“For the Spanish players here at Liverpool the win at Euro 2008 did not compensate for the fact we did not win any trophies with Liverpool.

“But for our country, and for us as players representing our country, it was something truly unforgettable that is going to stay with me forever.

“It is an honour to represent a club like Liverpool in Europe and we reached the semi final of the Champions League and lost in extra time.

“I have been able to play every weekend and Wednesday at the highest level and have been able to score goals and get global recognition.

“The year has ended with my injury over the last couple of months, but that has been just a blip in a great year.

“I have never played against Atletico – it would have been a great opportunity to play against them so soon after leaving.

“When I left Atletico one of the things that I wanted to happen was that one day I would face my old team in the Champions League, go to the Calderon and acknowledge those fans again and receive them here in England.

“In the end all of those things happened, except I was not able to play, which was a great shame.

“I would have liked to have played in Madrid and at Anfield and to have experienced the game from the inside.

“I suppose you could say that, along with the injury, that was the other negative of the year but maybe we will face them again later in the competition.”

First on the Champions League agenda for Liverpool, though, is that two-legged tie with Real Madrid, and Torres believes the match-up between two of Europe’s most successful clubs will produce a thrilling spectacle.

He added: “We will have to see how we are in February in the build-up to the game and what sort of form they are in coming into the game.

“On the face of things Real Madrid are a huge team. They are always in contention in European competition and there is no reason why this year should be any different.

“But over the last few years in Europe we have proven to be a tough ask for any rival. No-one likes to come up against us because of the way we are able to control games.

“When you consider the fact that the second leg is at Anfield it is a great draw for the spectators and should produce two great games.

“There are other interesting draws, but I think Real Madrid versus Liverpool takes top billing.”

Aston Villa Desperate To Land Liverpool Target As Villa Forward Set For Stoke?

According to reports, Aston Villa are aiming to sign Emile Heskey from Wigan Athletic as manager Martin O’Neill is said to be planning to sell Marlon Harewood to Stoke City this month.

Villa face competition from Liverpool while Spurs have also been linked with the powerful England forward Heskey, who is out of contract at Wigan at the end of the season.

O’Neill wants Heskey to bolster the attack at Villa Park this month as the Premiership outfit chasing a Champions League place, are short of strikers with John Carew having an injury-troubled season, while 17-year-old Nathan Delfouneso is inexperienced.

Former West Ham United striker Harewood has not found favour with O’Neill and is reportedly set to be sold to the Potters in a deal reported to be in the region of £2m.

Former Leicester boss O’Neill wants to reunite with former Foxes ace Heskey and according to the Daily Mirror, could offer the Latics £4million for the 30-year-old former Liverpool ace.

Race On For Liverpool Forward

Andriy Voronin could be on his way out of Liverpool on a permanent basis as Bundesliga clubs are showing interest in the Ukraine international forward.

The 29-year-old is currently on loan at Hertha Berlin, who could get him for keeps as suggested by the player’s advisor, after he was deemed surplus by Reds boss Rafa Benitez at Anfield and sent out to Germany in the summer.

Former Mainz and Bayer Leverkusen star, Voronin had moved to Liverpool in 2007 summer and made 19 Premiership appearances scoring five goals.

“There are offers from other clubs already,” Voronin’s advisor, Andrey Golowasch said in Bild.

”We are also aware of the interest of Schalke 04, but Berlin is the priority."

Rafa: We're No Chokers

Rafa Benitez last night hit back at Sir Alex Ferguson for branding Liverpool chokers, saying: We will only get stronger.

Manchester United boss Fergie started the mind games this week by claiming the Premier League leaders will collapse under the pressure.

But Benitez reckons Liverpool will last the pace – because he has players like Fernando Torres coming back from injury.

He said: “I believe we can improve.

“I think we will have more options in the second-half of the season and more competition for each position – which can be important. Clearly we are in a much better position than in the past seasons.

“We are doing what we did before and analysing all the same details.

“The difference is now that you know if you make a mistake it can be massive.

“That is why we have to consider everything.

“Martin Skrtel has not been playing due to injury, Javier Mascherano, in the last few games, has been playing much better, Gerrard is improving and we have Torres to come back.”

Dirk Kuyt, 28, also echoed the words of his manager, saying: “We have had some new players in the squad who have made us better.

“But the other players have all been together for a few years now and because of that we are only going to get better.”

Liverpool have a chance to extend their three-point lead at the top of the table by beating Stoke this Saturday, because United and Chelsea do not square off at Old Trafford until the next day.

And midfielder Xabi Alonso could be fit for the trip to the Britannia Stadium after having seven stitches on the foot injury he suffered at Preston.

Gerrard Wins PFA Award Again

It's been an eventful week or so for Steven Gerrard - in more ways than one - but he can take both comfort and pride from the fact he has been named the PFA Fans' Player of the Month for December.

Liverpool's 5-1 victory at Newcastle on December 28 ensured the Reds went into the New Year as Premier League leaders and Gerrard, who was on target twice against the Magpies, continues to have a major influence on the side.

Gerrard reckons this season represents Liverpool's best chance of claiming the league title since the club last won it in 1990. "We have big players here and we will have a lot of tests and challenges to come," said the inspirational captain. "But if we keep playing like this then we will be there."

He added: "This is the best team I have played in. You look around the dressing room and, from the keeper to the forwards, we have some fantastic players. There is a confidence that we can get over the big hurdles."