Friday, January 09, 2009

Liverpool Want Cut-Price £1.5m Deal For Emile Heskey

Emile Heskey wants to go back to Liverpool - and Rafa Benitez is trying to sign him in a bargain-basement move this month.

Wigan's England striker has told close friends he is keen to go back to the Kop and be part of their trophy-chasing squad.

Aston Villa and Tottenham are interested, but Heskey, 30, has his heart set on a return to Anfield - the club he regretted leaving just before Rafa Benitez arrived.

Insiders claim Heskey will definitely join Liverpool in the summer for nothing - and that gives the Merseysiders the chance to broker a cut-price deal now.

Benitez wants Heskey for as low as £1.5m, with Wigan valuing him in the region of £4m.

Fernando Torres Will Have To Fight For Liverpool Place, Warns Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez has warned the critics expecting Liverpool to implode that they are going to be disappointed.

Liverpool hold a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League, but Manchester United are the bookies favourites to win the title in May.

Benitez believes his side will be stronger in the second half of the season having endured injuries to key players Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel, plus the return from a long-term lay-off of star striker Fernando Torres.

All that, according to Benitez, points to a major improvement from his club on the run-in. "We will have more options in the second half of the season and more competition for each position," he said.

"I believe we can improve. We have Torres to come back, Skrtel has not been playing, Javier Mascherano in the last few games has been playing much better but before he was not at the level we know. Gerrard now is improving.

"This will all make us stronger. Clearly we are in a much better position than in past seasons."

Indeed, Benitez believes that his biggest problem may be finding space for Torres in the side.

Liverpool desperately want their top scorer back in action but the Anfield boss knows he must be clever to ensure that it is a seamless transition.

"Torres just needs minutes on the pitch, but that is a problem because the team is doing well," he said.

"Some players you have to keep their momentum. But Aurelio, Skrtel and Torres need to play too. So to keep the balance will be difficult.

"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, so you have to consider everything."

Benitez is so confident his side will improve in 2009 that he refuses to rush headlong into the January transfer market.

He has been linked with a host of top players but it is likely, if he makes any purchases at all, it will be a modest one with former Anfield star Emile Heskey still top of his list.

And the Spanish coach insisted he does not want to upset his squad with big-name arrivals.

"Always it is difficult to buy in January. If you bring in new players then they need to settle down and they need time," he said.

"If you sell players then maybe you will lose something. We don't have any clubs asking for our players.

"It is important to keep the squad together - you cannot guarantee that you won't sell anyone or sign anyone - we have to see how things are as we go on."

Liverpool revealed that Xabi Alonso could have recovered from the foot injury which required seven stitches after the weekend FA Cup victory at Preston for Saturday's trip to Stoke.

Torres: Barcelona Are Liverpool FC's Biggest Euro Rivals

Fernando Torres believes Barcelona and not Real Madrid pose the biggest threat to Liverpool’s Champions League dream.

And the striker admits that Rafael Benitez’s current squad will “never be forgotten” if they manage to end the club’s 19-year wait for the championship this season.

The Anfield outfit have been drawn to face Spanish giants Real in the Champions League first knockout round next month.

Between them, the two clubs have won the European Cup 14 times, Real with a record nine triumphs and Liverpool with five.

It gives Torres another chance to return to his home city after injury ruled him out of both Champions League group games against former club Atletico Madrid earlier in the campaign.

And while the 24-year-old expects a tough encounter against the Bernabeu outfit, Torres has pinpointed Real’s bitter rivals Barcelona as favourites to lift the trophy in Rome in May.

“We will have to see how we are in February in the build-up to the game and what sort of form Real are in coming into,” says Torres.

“On the face of things, Real Madrid are a huge team. They are always in contention in European competition and there in 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.

“But Barcelona are the best team in Europe without a doubt. I think that when you look at the way they approach each game and set out to win along with the amount of chances that they are creating they are in great form.

“The thing about this Barcelona is that they do not settle for what they have they are always looking for more. They just don’t seem to be capable of having a dip in form, in fact they look as if they are going to keep on improving.”

Torres has described 2008 as “a year to remember” after ending his record-breaking debut season at Liverpool by scoring the winner for Spain in the Euro 2008 final against Germany.

But the 24-year-old has lamented the failure to land any honours at Anfield.

“It has been a year to remember,” says Torres. “For the Spanish players here at Liverpool, the win at Euro 2008 did not compensate for the fact that 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.”

As well as reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, Liverpool have an FA Cup fourth round derby against Everton on the horizon and are three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

And Torres reckons the current squad will etch their names into Anfield folklore if they claim the club’s first league title since 1990.

“We have a real chance of winning things this season,” says the Spaniard. “A Benitez team is never just about one player but about the group. We have a solid unit that knows how to win games playing our way.

“We have beaten the big teams without me and on occasion without Gerrard, like the game against Manchester United. I think that was a positive for the team as a whole, it illustrated that importance of every player in the squad.

“Everyone is important here, we are working towards the same goal of ensuring that Liverpool win the Premier League. If we are able to achieve this it will have been a joint effort no one player will take the most credit. It is a group effort.”

Torres adds: “Having won the European Championships with Spain I have experienced what it is like to be part of a generation of players that will never be forgotten.

“I think that the same could be said of this Liverpool team if we can win the League. If we can do it we will be remembered for many years in the hearts of Liverpool fans.”

Alan Hansen Urges Liverpool To Spend In Transfer Window

Alan Hansen is urging Rafa Benitez to strengthen Liverpool's squad before the end of January.

Hansen, who played more than 600 games for the Merseyside club, believes the Liverpool boss needs to add more depth to his squad if they are to win the Premier League.

Hansen, a pundit for the New Football Pools, said: "Liverpool have made a great start to the season but, like anyone, they can always strengthen.

"That was the great thing about the Liverpool sides who were winning everything. If somebody comes along you think is better than what you've got you go and buy them.

"For Liverpool, the question about whether they can win the league isn't about the first 11 or 13 players, it's about the rest of the squad. You need tremendous strength in depth.

"So Benitez isn't looking to buy someone for £20m, he'll be looking to improve the strength of his squad."

Lucas - Reds Ready For Revenge

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva and his Anfield team-mates are eager to forget 'frustrating' memories against Stoke City in the Premier League.

The table-topping Reds travel to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday hoping to preserve their three-point lead at the summit.

However, Rafa Benitez's side make the trip with a note of caution after a goalless stalemate with the Potters - who sit in 18th position - on Merseyside in September, which earned the Reds criticism for their inability to break opponents down.

Lucas did not play in the home encounter but he is expected to feature on Saturday due to Xabi Alonso's foot injury and the Brazilian is eager to help Liverpool forget previous disappointment against Tony Pulis' men.

"We had a difficult game against them at Anfield when we could only draw which was very frustrating," said Lucas.

"Hopefully we will have more space on Saturday to pass the ball well and create more chances and put them away.

"In the game at Anfield we had about 70 per cent of the possession but it was really difficult to break them down because they were really narrow.

"They are near the bottom of the table so they will be trying to get the points but we will be ready for the game and we know what we have to do."

Liverpool FC Offer Jermaine Pennant New Deal

Liverpool are set to offer Jermaine Pennant a new one-year extension to his contract – to prevent him leaving on a free transfer in the summer.

The move would safeguard Liverpool against a clause in the winger’s contract – that entitles him to an automatic 12-month extension if he plays 15 games this season – not being activated.

Pennant has only made four appearances during this campaign and hasn’t featured since the home league game with Portsmouth on October 29.

With Liverpool leading the Premier League there is little prospect of the 25-year-old making up the remaining quota of games towards the end of the season and Saturday’s third round win over Preston displayed Rafael Benitez’s intention to field strong sides in the FA Cup.

Although Pennant is clearly out of his manager’s plans, Liverpool are keen to recoup a fee for a player they signed for £6.7m in the summer of 2006, particularly as there is no shortage of interest in him.

Although AC Milan’s recent desire to sign him was on a free, Real Madrid were prepared to pay £3m for him before the deal collapsed over personal terms.

And there are a clutch of Premier League clubs willing to take a chance on the erratic Pennant, including Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur.

However, they are aware that Pennant’s lack of action means he is certain to be a free agent at the end of the season, which has prompted Liverpool to draw up new terms for him.

Benitez, meanwhile, is preparing his team for the trip to Stoke City tomorrow, with Xabi Alonso the main injury concern following the foot injury he sustained at Preston.

Fernando Torres and Martin Sktrel will be pushing for places in the starting line-up after substitute appearances in the past two weeks.

However, in the case of centre-back Skrtel, Benitez has suggested he is no rush to press him back into action because of the faith he has in his defence, and Sami Hyypia in particular.

If the Finn is picked for the trip to the Britannia Stadium, it will be his sixth start in seven Premier League games and his 700th senior appearance.

“I have a lot of confidence in Sami,” said Benitez. “He is a fantastic professional so I knew he would play really well.

“Clearly, when you talk about Sami you are talking about a player who has been here for a long time.

“We have very good centre-backs here and it is good to see all of them competing for a place.

“That can only be good for the team.”

Liverpool Are Put Off By Portsmouth's £10m Demand For Glen Johnson

Portsmouth's Glen Johnson is expected to sign a new contract on Friday after a proposed move to Liverpool fell through.

England international Johnson, 24, was interested in the deal but Portsmouth value him at around £10million and Liverpool could not afford it.

Johnson will instead sign improved terms with Portsmouth executive chairman Peter Storrie, who said: 'Let's make it clear, there will be no more players sold. We are concentrating on bringing others in.' Defender Hermann Hreidarsson, however, is considering an offer from Reading.

Liverpool are now trying to persuade out-of-favour winger Jermaine Pennant to sign a contract extension so that they can get money for him when he leaves.

But they know the player, who has attracted AC Milan and Real Madrid as well as Stoke, Hull and Wigan, can drive a hard bargain as he can sign a pre-contract agreement this month to join a foreign club in the summer on a Bosman free transfer.

Benitez Set To Pounce For Renato

Rafa Benitez has made an official enquiry for Brazilian right midfielder Renato Augusto according to a selection of reports from the German press.

The Bayer Leverkusen star has been tracked by Benitez for the last month, and the young starlet, thought of by some as one of the best products to come out of the Flamengo youth academy in the last decade, is said to be keen to move to Anfield.

With Jermaine Pennant set to move on, with a number of clubs interested including A.C Milan and Real Madrid, Benitez sees Renato as the ideal replacement as the tricky winger would be eligible to play in the Champions League.

Renato is valued between £10 and £15 million, and would join a Liverpool squad which already includes compatriots Lucas, Fabio Aurelio and Diego Cavalleri.

Liverpool Swoop For Anderson

Rafa Benitez looks set to strengthen his defensive options by swooping for highly-rated Brazilian centre-back Anderson.

Reports in Brazil claim that the Liverpool manager sent club scouts to watch the 21-year-old in Fluminense’s final fixture against Cruzeiro before the Campeonato Brasiliero wound down for their annual Christmas break.

The 6ft 1” tall defender is thought to be versatile and quick enough to function across the backline and already has experience of winning silverware having taken part in his side’s Brazilian Cup victory in 2007. With doubts surrounding the future of Daniel Agger and Sami Hyppia's long-term sustainability in doubt, Benitez appears to have acted early to ensure his side have enough cover at the back.

Reports in Germany and the British media have also suggested that the Anfield outfit could move for another samba star by sealing a deal for Bayer Leverkusen’s Renato Augusto. The right midfielder is valued between £10-15m and if joined by Anderson could bring the Brazilian contingent at Liverpool to five alongside Lucas, Fabio Aurelio and Diego Cavalleri.