Monday, January 12, 2009

Liverpool FC's Fernando Torres Shortlisted For Fifa World Player Of The Year

Liverpool’s Fernando Torres will find out today if his impact on the Premier League has earned him the title of Fifa World Player of the Year.

Torres is one of five players on the list, which will be announced today, after helping Spain to Euro 2008 glory and scoring an incredible 24 goals in his debut Premier League season.

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo is the favourite to walk away with the award, having already collected the FIFPro and Ballon d’Or awards this season.

Also on the list is Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and current holder Kaka.

After scoring 42 goals en route to Champions League and Premier League titles last season Ronaldo seems set to improve on his third place last year.

The closest challenger appears to be Barcelona’s Messi, who despite an average season with his club last season has been in blistering form since winning gold at the Beijing Olympics, helping Barca storm to a 10-point lead at the top of the Primera Liga before the winter break.

Spain’s Xavi features after playing a key role in his country’s success at Euro 2008, while Kaka is among the candidates again despite an under-par season last year with AC Milan.

The award will be made at Fifa’s world player gala in Zurich, the first time the award has been held in January.

It is also the first time five finalists have been chosen, as opposed to three.

Each national team manager and player is given a vote for their player of the year from a shortlist released by Fifa.

The women’s award has also been extended to five candidates, and this year features an English player for the first time. Kelly Smith will be up against 2007 and 2008 winner Marta and her Brazilian compatriot Cristiane, as well as Germany’s Nadine Angerer and three-time winner Birgit Prinz.

Ferguson Must Stop Talking About Liverpool, Warns Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has continued his war of words with Sir Alex Ferguson by insisting that the Manchester United boss stops talking about his side.

Benitez hit out at Ferguson on Friday, criticising the Scot’s conduct towards referees and insisting he regularly escapes punishment for his behaviour.

The Spaniard has now followed this up by stating that the United manager should stop talking about Liverpool.

Speaking to the club’s official website, he said, “If Mr. Ferguson would stop talking about Liverpool maybe it would be good. He is clearly nervous about Liverpool.”

Benitez was speaking after watching his side slump to a goalless draw against strugglers Stoke City, and the Spaniard insisted he had received a lot of his support following his press conference on Friday.

“I can tell you that a lot of people have sent a lot of messages - not to me but to my staff and a lot of people at the club - to say, 'At least one person has said something everybody wanted to say,’” he explained.

“Maybe because in 20 years nobody could say these things and maybe a lot of people were thinking the same but didn't want to say.”

Yet despite his current stance towards Ferguson, the Liverpool boss revealed he has plenty of respect for Sir Alex.

He said, “I have a lot of respect for him. He is a great manager but he was talking too much about Liverpool, so clearly he has to stop.

"My concern now is to prepare the team for the next game against Everton and that's it. I always say we take things one game at a time - that is my philosophy and my idea.”

Heskey Pens Pre-Contract With Liverpool

On Saturday, reports emerged that Liverpool were hoping to snap up Emile Heskey from Wigan Athletic on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Now, The Daily Mail claims that the England striker has effectively sealed his return to Anfield by penning a pre-contract with the Premier League leaders.

Heskey has been tracked by a host of clubs since starring in the Three Lions' impressive opening to their World Cup qualifying campaign, during which he established a dynamic partnership with Wayne Rooney.

Liverpool have always been near the head of the queue, a scenario which seemed altogether impossible when the former Leicester City ace left Merseyside in 2004.

Heskey spent four seasons with the 18-time English champions, but he failed to win the hearts of the Kopites and was shipped out around the same time Rafael Benitez took charge.

And yet now the Spanish tactician wants the 31-year-old back at Anfield, presumably to provide a strong aerial option and cover for the somewhat injury-prone Fernando Torres.

There is no official word from either Wigan or Liverpool, however, so for the time being this report goes in the 'definitely maybe' pile.

Rafa Benitez Launches New Attack On Manchester United Exec David Gill

Rafael Benitez kept up his campaign against Manchester United by claiming they have an "unusual" influence at the FA.

The Liverpool boss did not hold back at the weekend as he turned the heat up even further on his title rivals by questioning the role Old Trafford chief executive David Gill plays at the Football Association.

Benitez made clear his frustration and anger that Gill holds a senior position within English football's ruling body, which he believes is a conflict of interest with his role at United, and he described the situation as "very strange". And in yet another controversial outburst aimed at the champions, the Anfield manager said: "They were saying we are not a threat.

Now they know we are, they are starting mind games.

"But I don't think it's a mind game when you have control over everything; it's a mind game when you have the same level as the other people, then you can show you are cleverer than the others.

"But when you have control of everything and your chief executive is powerful in the FA and things like this, then that is not mind games.

"Is there a conflict of interest with David Gill at the FA?

"That is another fact. It is a fact that one person has a lot of power and control, and is on a lot of the committees in the FA. To me that is very strange."

Gill is one of the most influential voices at the FA, holding a position on the management board of the game's governing body, and is widely tipped to become their next chief executive.

Benitez's remarks are sure to cause uproar because his implications are clear - United get favourable treatment because a senior figure at their club is on the inside at the FA.

That could bring him charges from the governing body, but the disciplinary committee is already set to investigate his remarks made on Friday.

Yet Benitez was in bullish mood, adding: "A lot of people think the same as me.

"I need to change my mobile phone because it is blocked with so many messages of support, and I am not surprised by that."

Ferguson and Benitez Lock Horns Over Anderson

Sir Alex Ferguson is reportedly ready to ruffle Rafa Benitez’s feathers for the second time in quick succession, but this time in the transfer market. Both managers are thought to be locking horns as they attempt to attract the highly-rated 21-year-old Fluminense centre-back Anderson to the Premier League.

Reports in Brazil claim that the Liverpool manager sent scouts to watch the player in his side’s defeat against Cruzeiro before the Campeonato Brasiliero wound down for their annual Christmas break. At the time it looked as though a deal would be a formality for the Anfield club, however, with Ferguson now interested it looks as though the player’s value could be subject to an intense bidding war.

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.

The Premier League title rivals are both apparently keen to strengthen their backlines with a dedicated centre-back as injuries and ageing limbs take their toll on their respective squads.

While Manchester United have a number of players including Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Gary Neville who could potentially fill in at the heart of their defence, they only have Nemandja Vidic, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand as specialists. Having seen the progress made by Rafael da Silva and with expectations high for the improvement of his twin brother Fabio it is now thought that Ferguson could further flavour the United squad with samba spice.

With doubts surrounding the future of Daniel Agger and Sami Hyppia's long-term sustainability in doubt, Rafa Benitez is also desperate to add defensive cover. Liverpool already have a number of Brazilians in their squad and the Spaniard is hoping that Anderson will be swayed by an opportunity to settle on Merseyside with his compatriots.

Pitch Is Where Rafa Benitez Should Go On Offensive

If only Rafael Benitez was as attack minded in the technical area as he is in the Press room.

After overseeing Liverpool’s worst – and perhaps most negative – performance of the season at relegation-threatened Stoke City, Benitez resumed his offensive against Sir Alex Ferguson, suggesting the Manchester United manager is “scared” of the Anfield outfit.

This, however, was certainly not a display that will have struck fear into Liverpool’s title rivals. Or anyone else in the division, for that matter.

Benitez’s bravado off the pitch was in stark contrast to the caution he continues to display on it.

While the towering Sami Hyypia and Martin Skrtel were both astute choices at centre-back, given the aerial bombardment Tony Pullis’ men subject sides to, the decision to play just one up front at the Britannia Stadium was less inspired.

The 4-2-3-1 system has been Benitez’s formation of choice ever since his La Liga-winning days at Valencia, but his devotion to it is far too dogmatic.

Its merits are clear, allowing the Spanish manager to field all of his outstanding performers along the spine of the side, while giving Steven Gerrard the licence to roam.

Like any system, however, its success is dependant on the suitability of candidates available for the different roles.

And when the spearhead of the formation is Dirk Kuyt rather than Fernando Torres, who has perfected the position, it’s time to think again.

Kuyt, for all his qualities, simply can not function in this role – there are few strikers in Europe who can. He has neither the touch, strength, pace nor aerial ability to lead the line and bring others into play.

The result is that Gerrard struggles to exert his influence on the game, as attack after attack breaks down at the feet or head of the former Feyenoord favourite.

Against teams like Stoke City, Kuyt is always at his worst, the kind of contest in which a moment of inspiration rather than 90 minutes of perspiration is required. The Dutchman’s industry may unnerve the very finest defences in European football but rugged stoppers like Abdoulay Faye and Ryan Shawcross would happily face such a limited forward each week.

The manager is right to be patient with Torres’s reintroduction to action following his spate of hamstring injuries, but the bench also contained two other strikers with a combined value of over £31m in Ryan Babel and Robbie Keane.

Both men have proved to be questionable signings, not because they lack talent, rather because of how Benitez has chosen to utilise them. Or not, as the case may be.

In the absence of both Xabi Alonso and Torres, Benitez should have played to the strength of his personnel, dropping Gerrard back into his favoured role alongside Javier Mascherano in a 4-4-2 line-up. What was it about the Potters’ midfield that troubled Benitez enough to play two anchormen? Salif Diao, maybe? The Senegalese flop was only denied a reunion with his former side by an injury in the warm-up.

In the centre, Liverpool badly missed the inspiration of Alonso, for whom the wretched Lucas is no replacement.

An encouraging performance against PSV and a delightful assist against Newcastle United led to some observers believing the young Brazilian had begun to realise his potential.

This woeful showing, however, was far more familiar.

Lucas, however, was not alone in the paucity of his performance. Alongside him Mascherano continued to fall short of his own high standards in front of his watching national manager Diego Maradona, while even Liverpool’s most consistent performer, Pepe Reina, was uncharacteristically flustered by Stoke’s direct approach.

Rather than concern himself with combating Ferguson’s mind games, Benitez should concentrate on outwitting opponents where it matters – on the field, where Stoke manager Pulis for the second time this season got the better of the Liverpool manager.

The greatest damage Benitez could have inflicted on Ferguson’s Premier League hopes would have been to claim a victory – something that, until Gerrard struck the bar, they never looked capable of.

True, the same system with largely the same group of players beat Newcastle 5-1 in the club’s previous league outing. The difference was, however, unlike the St James’ Park outfit, Stoke never allowed Liverpool time in possession.

Ultimately, it is not how a team lines up that determines their attacking intent, rather the mentality of the manager and the players he selects.

Yet, while Benitez favours a patient approach to football, he will soon discover that the tolerance of the club’s supporters will be severely tested should his side produce many more performances like this.

Riera: We're Scared Of Rafa

Albert Riera says Liverpool are destined for glory this season - because they don't want to make Rafael Benitez angry!

The Reds are top of the Premier League, and are also through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and the fourth round of the FA Cup.

But Riera says he can't forget Benitez's rage after Liverpool were knocked out of the Carling Cup at Tottenham.

And the 26-year-old, an £8m summer signing from Espanyol says his manager cannot stand losing because football is his life.

"I remember when Tottenham eliminated us from the Carling Cup, and Benitez got so angry," Riera revealed.

"As he lives for football, it's very difficult for him when things go badly. But it works well with Sammy Lee as his assistant - he's the gunpowder in the dressing room!

"We are in really good shape as we have an excellent squad. We have two players for every position and we're all really ambitious.

"We've got a great team and a manager who infects us all with the desire to work and the desire to win."