Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Skrtel Happy With Liverpool Return

Martin Skrtel is delighted to be back in the Liverpool side following his recovery from a serious knee injury that kept him sidelined for several weeks.

The centre-back started the goalless draw against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday after emerging from the bench to make his comeback in the 5-1 dismantling of Newcastle United at St James' Park. He was obviously pleased to be back in the team, but acknowledged that he still has some work to do on his match fitness.

"I felt fine in my first full game after recovery," he told TASR. "I must admit though that in the last five minutes I was exhausted.

"Overall though, I am positive about my performance."

Skrtel was also upbeat about the draw at Stoke, even though Liverpool have now dropped four points to the Potters this season with two draws. Skrtel feels that Tony Pulis's men are genuinely difficult opponents.

"It was a very difficult game. We played against a good team that played well," he continued.

"Stoke have a lot of tall and strong players in their squad, so it was difficult for us. They played rather aggressively and pushed up front. This style of football will cause problems for any Premiership side.

"We were not lucky. We had some chances there, but Stoke also had some, so the result was fair in the end."

Next up for Liverpool are two Mersey derbies with Everton, a league game next Monday closely followed by the FA Cup fourth round tie six days later. Both games are at Anfield.

Jermain Pennant's Agent Dismisses Hull City Lin

Liverpool winger Jermain Pennant has been linked with a host of clubs during this transfer window, ranging from Wigan Athletic to Real Madrid.

Hull City also recently stepped into the ring as reported potential suitors for the player, as manager Phil Brown tries to find reinforcements to prevent the Tigers being dragged into a relegation battle.

Pennant will not be moving to Humberside though, the player's agent, Sky Andrew confirmed today.

Mr. Andrew also stated that Pennant was not looking to play for another club in the Premier League, which may cause those overseas clubs reportedly on the player's trail to prick up their ears.

"Jermaine is still talking to Liverpool," Mr. Andrew confirmed to The Hull Daily Mail.

"He does not want to play for another club in the Premier League and wants to stay with Liverpool."

Wage demands had apparently caused Pennant's reported move to Real Madrid to stall, but the 25-year-old looks like remaining at Anfield for the moment.

One More Year For Hyypia If Agger Leaves Liverpool

According to The Daily Mail, Liverpool are set to offer Sami Hyypia a 12-month extension to his current contract as a safeguard against the possible departure of Daniel Agger.

The 35-year-old has been used extensively this season in Martin Skrtel's absence and has shown that, while not quite the player he was at his peak, he is still a valuable asset at the heart of the Reds' defence.

May will mark the 10th anniversary of the Finnish international's arrival at Anfield, and the Kopites would be overjoyed at the decision to extend his stay.

Agger, meanwhile, has impressed since returning to the first team after spending the first few months of the campaign on the bench, but his future at Anfield is in doubt due to contract issues.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is eager to tie down the 24-year-old with a new deal, but the player's wage demands of £60,000 per week are proving something of a sticking point.

Negotiations have stalled for the time being, and that has only increased speculation that AC Milan could sign the elegant centre-half, even though their recent €8.5 million bid was rejected.

Pennant Determined To Stay And Fight At Anfield

Just weeks after shunning interest from Real Madrid, winger Jermaine Pennant looks set to turn his back on a proposed move to Hull City to battle for a future at Liverpool.

The 25-year-old has found himself out of favour this season and has started only two Premier League games, with a further appearance from the bench. Last month it was reported he had priced himself out of a move to the Bernabeu due to his wage demands and now he does not seem to be attracted by first team football at the KC Stadium.

Pennant's agent Sky Andrew has insisted he has no interest in swapping Premier League clubs.

"Jermaine is still talking to Liverpool," Andrew told the Hull Daily Mail. "He does not want to play for another club in the Premier League and wants to stay with Liverpool."

Stoke City and Wigan Athletic were also said to be tracking the former Arsenal wide man but were scared off by Liverpool's £4 million valuation.

With Pennant's contract up in the summer he is free to sign a pre-contract agreement on a free transfer to any club in the summer but favours staying at the Merseyside giants. It is rumoured that boss Rafael Benitez is considering offering him a 12 month extension.

It has also been speculation that AC Milan may make a move in the summer should he be a free agent.

Benitez Chat Boosts Liverpool's Ryan Babel

Ryan Babel has struggled for first-team opportunities at Liverpool this season, with Spanish left-winger Albert Riera occupying the berth on the flank that the Dutchman could have expected to call his own this campaign.

There were rumours emanating from Anfield that Babel was unhappy with life on Merseyside and was thinking about seeking pastures new in an effort to find first-team football.

After a man-to-man talk with Reds' manager Rafael Benitez, the Holland international now feels much better and is ready to contribute fully to his club's Premier League title challenge.

"My career has had a lot of ups and a few downs until this point. But I am confident it will be okay," said Babel earlier. "When I was young I didn't get picked by Ajax after three trial games. After the third game, I thought I didn't want to play for them any more. But when I returned to my club I did well and eventually Ajax came back for me again. I took a lot of strength and belief from that."

Babel was also not letting his lack of starts in the Liverpool side affect his confidence, as he acknowledged that the whole squad must play their part and work hard to be ready when called upon by the manager.

"I'm always confident. I know I have potential," he explained, "It's up to me to work hard. Nothing good ever comes for free and I believe in my ability.

"But unfortunately only 11 players can start each week, and it's up to those who don't play as much to work even harder."

The wide player was also optimistic about his team's title chances, but knows that a lot of hard work still lay ahead of the Reds, who have not claimed an English league title since 1990.

"Somebody said recently that if the second half of the season goes the same way as the first, we'll be champions. Let's hope so," he added. "Right now we are top of the table and doing well. I want to do my bit for the team as we challenge for the title."

Rafa Benitez Edges Closer To New Liverpool Contract

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is close to signing a new contract after reaching an agreement on his salary.

Benitez still has 18 months remaining on his existing contract, but announced in November that negotiations had begun on new terms and that he wanted a deal signed by the end of the month. He denied reports that he is at odds with the club’s American owners over controlling transfers.

The Spanish manager expressed frustration last week about the lack of progress, but insists there is no conflict with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.

My agent only received the draft document of my contract yesterday evening," Benitez said Tuesday. "We have agreed the length of contract and we have agreed the salary. Now we have to discuss my role and my responsibilities as manager of the club."

Benitez has enjoyed success in Europe, winning the 2005 Champions League at the end of his first season and returning to the final two years later. His priority is to secure Liverpool’s first league title since 1990. The Reds top the standings, but Manchester United is five points back with two games in hand.

Benitez was thrown into the middle of a power battle between Hicks and Gillett, with the former publicly offering him a one-year extension in April despite sounding out Juergen Klinsmann as a replacement months earlier.

Torres: I Can’t Cope With 90 Minutes Yet

Fernando Torres is taking a cautious approach towards proving his fitness for Monday’s Merseyside derby.

The league meeting at Anfield is the first of two in a week against neighbours Everton with the FA Cup fourth round tie following on the Sunday.

But Torres is hesitant to commit himself to starting in either of those games, despite his encouraging return from the hamstring injury that ruled him out for the whole of December.

The Spaniard, who was voted third in the FIFA world player of the year awards on Monday, made a goalscoring return during a 15-minute sub appearance against Preston in the FA Cup and he also came on in the later stages of the 0-0 draw at Stoke on Saturday.

Torres insists he is itching to get back into the starting line-up, but is doubtful that he can complete a full game.

“Of course I want to be in the first XI,” he said.

“I don’t know if I can play 90 minutes yet but for sure I can be in the squad.

“I feel much better, and I hope to come back to play in the first XI as soon as possible. Then I can forget the injuries and start to play again for Liverpool who are in a very good position this year.

“I didn’t do pre-season properly after the Euros, the season started too soon and you are trying to keep the best physical stamina but it’s difficult when you have to play three games a week. Now I want to stay a perfect 100%, and not get injured again.”

Torres has scored three times in his two previous Merseyside derby appearances, including both goals in the 2-0 victory at Goodison in September.

On that occasion he partnered Robbie Keane up front and it was the Irishman’s cross that teed up the opening goal.

Torres felt that game proved they could function together as a partnership although they haven’t had chance to strike up any kind of understanding due to his injury problems and the fact that Keane has struggled to guarantee himself a starting place.

But it doesn’t stop him expressing confidence that they can both make a impact when selected in the same side.

Torres said: “Yes, sure we can play together – but the boss decides, he’s the manager and he’s a fantastic manager.

“Sometimes not all the players can play together in the same team.

“But I have played with Robbie a lot of times and we’ve scored goals when we’ve played together.

“I think we are going to play together, but it will be depending on the game,” he added.

Torres Opts Out Of United Row

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres insists he does not share manager Rafael Benitez's belief that Manchester United get an easy ride from referees and Football Association officials.

Benitez stoked controversy by claiming United boss Sir Alex Ferguson showed no respect to referees and that they benefited from having chief executive David Gill on the FA board.

Torres backed his manager's right to speak out but said he did not believe United had gained any particular advantage.

The 24-year-old said: "I think when you win a tournament like the Premier League you deserve to win. I don't think you win the league because of a referee or some decision.

"He [Benitez] has been here six years and he feels these things but I don't feel it.

"He thinks that he has to say those things about Ferguson because he thinks that, I don't know why, but he has all our support.

"We are with our manager if he thinks we are not in the same position as Man U with some things."

Torres believes Benitez's success as a manager with Valencia, where he broke the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, stands Liverpool in good stead for this title race.

He added: "He can compete with anyone, he won the Spanish league with Valencia after 15 years when it was just Real Madrid and Barcelona fighting for the title.

"Now he's enjoying it in Liverpool at a massive club and trying to do the same here as he did at Valencia.

"But I think Rafa Benitez is more English now than a Spanish manager, he learns a lot every day from the players like Stevie [Gerrard] and Carra [Jamie Carragher] and we are learning too."

Torres said he knew that most Liverpool fans would choose victory in the league over another Champions League title.

"From the first day I arrived in Liverpool I knew how important it is to win the Premier League for Liverpool fans," he said.

"You never know when you will have another opportunity and we are in a good position.

"Maybe for players who have played for Liverpool a long time it's pressure, but not for us. This is just my second season and I want to win a trophy for Liverpool, that's why I came here, and I want to be in the team that won the league after 20 years and be part of Liverpool's history.

"We have players who will have won all the trophies apart from the Premier League - they will have won the Champions League, the FA Cup, the Carling Cup and the UEFA Cup and not too many players can say that.

"We want to win the Premier League even more for people like Stevie, Carra and Sammy Lee."

Benitez Denies Deal Row

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has confirmed he has agreed the length of a potential new contract at Anfield as well as the salary on offer.

However, he is baffled by reports that he is at odds with the club's American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over the remaining terms of the deal.

Benitez insisted he had not had time to fully digest the contract details as they only arrived on Monday.

It was reported that Benitez had demanded complete control over transfers and more say in the running of the club's academy.

However, he said: "I don't have any problems at all with the American owners. My agent only received the draft document yesterday evening.

So my surprise is that some journalists can talk about there being problems before I have even read it properly and discussed it.

"We have agreed the length of contract and we have agreed the salary.

Now we have to discuss my role and my responsibilities.

But we haven't had the opportunity to do that.

Someone clearly wants to create a mess, but I haven't discussed anything yet."