Thursday, January 15, 2009

Liverpool Boosted By Alonso Return

The Sun reports that Xabi Alonso will be available when Liverpool host bitter rivals Everton in the first of their back-to-back derby dates.

The Spanish midfielder was forced off at half-time in the Reds' FA Cup third round win over Preston North End, having sustained a nasty cut to his foot.

The gash required seven stitches but it was the severe swelling and bruising which most concerned the Anfield medical staff, especially after Alonso missed much of last season with a metatarsal problem.

While scans taken last week ruled out any serious damage and the 27-year-old returned to training, he missed last weekend's 0-0 draw with Stoke City because his injury prevented him from wearing football boots.

But now the EURO 2008 winner has donned his Adidas again in training and will be ready for the Toffees' visit to Anfield next Monday night.

Alonso's return is a huge bonus for Liverpool, as many - not least the fans - believe he has been Rafa Benitez's most valuable performer in the first half of the season.

Wayne Rooney's Brother-In-Law Arrested Over Steven Gerrard 'Bar Brawl'

Wayne Rooney's brother-in-law has been arrested over the alleged bar brawl which led to Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool and England footballer, being charged with assault.

Anthony McLoughlin, the brother of Rooney's wife Coleen, was questioned on suspicion of assault on Tuesday in connection with the fight in Southport.

Gerrard, 28, was charged with two other men after the incident at the Lounge Inn, in Southport, Merseyside, in the early hours of Dec 29.

Marcus McGee, 34, a businessman and part-time DJ, lost a tooth and needed stitches to the head after the fight which is said to have flared after Gerrard was refused a swipe card to use the music system at the venue.

Gerrard, of Formby, Merseyside, was arrested with five other men and questioned for most of the following day.

The Liverpool captain was later charged with causing assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray alongside Ian Smith, 19, and 29-year-old John Doran, both from Huyton, Liverpool.

They have been released on bail to appear in court on Jan 23 while three other men arrested at the time have been bailed pending further inquiries.

McLoughlin, 19, was questioned on Tuesday before also being bailed pending further inquiries.

His father, Tony, 49, said that his son had "not done anything".

"Everything is all right, he is out, he is all right," he told the Daily Mirror.

Merseyside Police said: "The 19-year-old male from Huyton who was earlier arrested on suspicion of assault following the incident at the Lounge Inn, Southport in the early hours of Dec 29 has been released on police bail pending further inquiries."

Ian Rush Urges Positive Liverpool Response To Benitez Rant

As the row generated by the Liverpool boss's anti-Manchester United rant rumbles on, the Liverpool striking legend thinks that the players should use it to their advantage.

Liverpool striking legend Ian Rush has reacted to the ongoing row begun by Rafael Benitez (pictured) last week when he accused the Football Association of giving preferential treatment to Manchester United.

Benitez added to those remarks at the beginning of the week, when he claimed that United chief executive David Gill's role on the board at the FA created a conflict of interest with his role at Manchester United.

Gill dismissed Benitez's further remarks out of hand with a statement today claiming that the Spaniard had "missed the boat", but Rush wants the Reds players to concentrate on what happens on the pitch, not the 'mind games' going on off it.

"Like everyone else I was surprised when Rafa Benitez came out as strongly as he did against Alex Ferguson," Rush states, in his column in the The Liverpool Echo.

"Only in the fullness of time will we know whether or not it was the right thing to do but at least now everyone’s cards are on the table we can let battle commence at the top of the table."

Rush went on to assert that the great Liverpool teams of the past always answered criticism by playing well and winning things, and the current squad would do well to emulate their renowned predecessors.

"For me it is always better to do your talking on the pitch, that was a motto we were brought up on at Anfield and I think it is as true today as it was back in the days when I was a player," he continued.

"Nothing puts pressure on rival managers like winning games and had Liverpool beaten Stoke on Saturday I’m sure it would have made life more difficult for Man United against Chelsea than it eventually was.

"In the event, Liverpool had a disappointing draw with Stoke and that meant United went into their own game knowing that a win would cut the gap Benitez’s side had built up over them.

"That’s what happened of course – United were given an even greater incentive to win and they took it."

And the man who formed such a lethal strike partnership with Kenny Dalglish in the glory days of the 1980's thinks that a positive reaction is essential as the margins for error at the top are so slim.

Now Liverpool must look at the way they have reacted and learn from it because when you are going head to head with the reigning champions you have to try and take the advantage whenever you can and the best way of doing that is by winning the games you are expected to win," he added, by way of conclusion.

Fresh Doubts Over Agger Anfield Future

Fresh doubts have emerged over Daniel Agger’s Liverpool future after his agent met with AC Milan representatives.

The Serie A side have been persistently linked with a move for the Denmark international during the transfer window, with talks having stalled over a new contract at Anfield.

Milan are desperate to inject fresh blood into an ageing defence and are believed to be preparing an £8.5million bid for Agger.

And the news the player’s agent, Per Steffensen, has been spotted in discussions with officials from the Italian giants will alarm Liverpool.

Steffensen met in a city centre restaurant, Giannino, with Milan’s general sporting director Ariedo Braida and the agent Rino Foschi.

Liverpool could take action over what may be construed as an illegal approach, but are more likely to be worried by the events.

Rafael Benitez has previously stated he does not want the 24-year-old to leave, having declared an intention to keep his squad intact with the Anfield outfit leading the Premier League and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Agger, who was signed for £5.8m from Brondby three years ago, was sidelined for almost a year after breaking a metatarsal in September 2007, and struggled to regain his first-team place immediately after a return to fitness.

It was during that time the centre-back, who has less than 18 months remaining on his current deal, hinted he could buy out the remainder of his contract at the end of the season under the landmark Webster agreement.

Liverpool subsequently opened negotiations over a new deal, but Agger has since revealed his concern that talks have been held up despite the player expressing a desire to remain at Anfield.

Agger was not part of the 18-man squad for last Saturday’s goalless draw at Stoke City, although his absence was because of a slight calf problem.

The Denmark international will be hoping to regain his place for Monday’s Merseyside derby at home to Everton after seeing Martin Skrtel make his first start in three months at the weekend.

Skrtel had been sidelined for almost three months with a knee ligament injury suffered against Manchester City in October, and admitted he was “exhausted” after his 90-minute outing at the Britannia Stadium.

“I felt fine in my first full game after recovery,” said the Slovakia international. “I must admit though that in the last five minutes I was exhausted.

“Overall though, I am positive about my performance. It was a very difficult game. We played against a good team that played well. 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 Premier League side.”

Reds To Loan Out Winger

Liverpool are planning to loan out young winger Adam Hammill before the close of the transfer window, understands.

Hammill is currently back at Anfield after a successful loan spell at Blackpool earlier this season.

The 20-year-old is highly regarded by the Liverpool coaching staff and was rewarded with a new three-year deal prior to his move to Blackpool.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez has been impressed by Hammill's development since his return to Liverpool and he is now ready to loan him out again so that he can gain valuable first-team experience.

Hammill has enjoyed productive loan spells at Dunfermline, Southampton and Blackpool and he could now be on the move again to continue his development as Benitez wants him to be ready to challenge for a place in his first-team next season.

A number of clubs are believed to have made enquiries about Hammill's availability, with sides from the Championship, SPL and some European teams all thought to have sounded out moves for the skilful wide-man.

Rafa Benitez Plots Herita Ilunga Swoop

Rafael Benitez is ready to make a cheeky move for West Ham left-back Herita Ilunga.

Congo international Ilunga, 26, is on a season-long loan at Upton Park with a view to a permanent £3million move from French club Toulouse.

But Liverpool have made enquiries over the terms of his contract and whether they could sign him from under West Ham's noses.

Benitez has not been impressed by £7m summer signing Andrea Dossena and the former Udinese left-back could return to Italy during the transfer window.

The Hammers' bid to offload flop Luis Boa Morte stumbled last night after the winger failed to agree personal terms with Hull who had struck a £1.5m deal with the Londoners.

Benitez Back In Hospital For Third Operation On Kidney Stones

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez returned to hospital yesterday for a third operation on kidney stones.

The Premier League leaders play Everton on Monday in the Merseyside derby, and the team is hopeful that the Spaniard will be back in time to oversee preparations for the match.

"It's a difficult time for him because, you know Rafael Benitez, all he wants to do is be out there on the training pitch," assistant manager Sammy Lee said.

"That's his forte, but he's still buoyant. He's going for the third operation, but we're hoping it won't keep him out for too long – hopefully just a couple of days."

Benitez returned to hospital in the midst of negotiations over a new contract. The length and salary have already been agreed upon with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., but now Benitez's power to sign new players is under discussion.

United’s Gill Hits Back Over Benitez Comments

Manchester United chief executive David Gill has hit back at Rafael Benitez following the Liverpool manager’s recent verbal tirade against the club.

Benitez criticised United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of last weekend’s Premier League fixtures, claiming he has been allowed to go unpunished when criticising referees.

The Spaniard then later questioned the influence Gill has on the Football Association due to his position on the board at the governing body of football in England.

But Gill has defended his position, insisting there is no conflict of interest between his role at Manchester United and with the FA.

“With respect to his comments on my position they are totally inaccurate,” said Gill.

“The reality of it is that on the FA board sit three representatives of the Premier League in Premier League chairman Dave Richards, Bolton chairman Phil Gartside and myself.

“They are elected every year by every club in the Premier League and when we are on the board we are there representing the Premier League and I am not there representing Manchester United.

“The reality is that when you look at the decisions and issues I think anyone would understand that we don’t get special treatment because of that.

“Therefore I was surprised (by Benitez’s comments) and I think they are totally inaccurate.”

Liverpool Look To Set Up Chelsea Youth Cup Clash

Starting as they mean to go on will be what Liverpool Youth will aim for in Bristol this evening.

Hugh McAuley’s side look to continue on the FA Youth Cup trail when they take the long trip down south to take on Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Ground in the fourth round (kick-off 7.30pm).

After a decent 2-1 win to see off Leeds United in the third round, Liverpool will be looking for a similar performance against another Coca-Cola League side. And after a break in fixtures Liverpool’s youngsters will be eager to get back into action as the club seeks to lift the Youth Cup for the third time in the last four seasons.

McAuley said: “We have been back since early last week and we are raring to go. We were due to play a friendly against Wolves on Saturday, but we had to call it off because the pitch was too hard at the Academy.

“But the lads have been working well. You would like a game of some description, but because of the break that hasn’t been possible. But we have prepared as well as we can and it is the same for other teams in the competition.”

He added: “When you play these games in the Youth Cup it is a one-off on the night. And the best team on the night wins. Bristol will relish playing Liverpool on their own ground. It is their ‘cup final’ playing a big team on their own ground, so it is very important the lads go down with the right attitude and set their stall out to compete, then get the ball down and play our football as best we can.”

German striker Marvin Pourie has left the club, but reserve team striker Nathan Eccleston is fit again after injury and returns to the squad. And it is the fire-power of Liverpool’s front players, that McAuley hopes will be key to progress.

He said: “The attacking area is the main part of the team, the most prolific part of the team. We like to think we have goalscorers and we have creative players, who can create opportunities for others to score goals. And given the right opportunities we hope they can do that on Thursday night. But it is obviously important the players realise it will be a game that all 11 players will have to work on both an attacking point of view and defensively as well.”

The way the Youth Cup works, the draw for the fifth round has already been made and Liverpool know they will welcome Chelsea, who beat Walsall 5-1 last night, to Anfield next.

LIVERPOOL YOUTH (from): Bouzanis, Wisdom, Ayala, Kennedy, Buchtmann, Amoo, Ellison, Irwin, Pepper, Kacaniklic, Dalla Valle, Ince, Chamberlain, Roberts, Metcalf, Eccleston.

We’re Not Looking Over Our Shoulder, Insists Lee

Sammy Lee is confident Premier League leaders Liverpool will not start looking anxiously over their shoulders at Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are beginning to close ominously on their North West rivals following their impressive 3-0 dismantling of Chelsea at the weekend.

United’s fine form has led some pundits to predict the title is already destined to remain at Old Trafford for a third successive season.

But Liverpool assistant manager Lee insists the Anfield outfit must just focus on their own performances rather than worry about what may happen or is being claimed elsewhere.

“A lot of pundits have said there’s only one team that can win the league – but I don’t buy into that, either,” said Lee. “You can’t rule teams out in January.

“We can’t keep looking over our shoulders. We have got to do what we have got to do.”

There was, though, little hiding the disappointment following Liverpool’s goalless draw on Stoke, which has allowed United to close the gap.

Lee said: “That is the measure of this team at the moment – that we go away from home and get a point in the Premier League and we are disappointed.

“We go for all three points, but we have to take the positives. The game did not transpire how we would have liked – we had control and we lost it.

“But the positives, for me, were that we got a point and we did not concede from the many, many set pieces that they had.”

Rafael Benitez underwent a third operation on his troublesome kidney stone complaint yesterday, but is expected to be able to attend this weekend’s Merseyside derby.

Benitez has mainly watched Liverpool from the directors’ box since his last operation in December.

And Lee reckons the Spaniard is eager to return to his hands-on role as soon as possible.

“It is a difficult time for him because all he wants to do is be out there on the training pitch with his players, but he is still buoyant,” said Lee.

“He has gone for the third operation, but we are hoping it won’t keep him out for too long – hopefully just a couple of days.”

Lee added: “All credit to Rafa for what he’s put in place. His attention to detail and organisation means that, if any one of us is missing, there won’t be a blip.”

Striker Fernando Torres, meanwhile, is eager to get the chance to sink Merseyside rivals Everton twice in a week.

Liverpool are next in Premier League action on Monday night, before their neighbours make the short journey across Stanley Park again in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Torres has hit three goals in two games against Everton, and after coming off the bench in recent matches as he regains full match fitness, the Spaniard has set his sights firmly on inflicting more derby misery.

“You can feel the excitement of the fans the day before the game,” he said. “Before the last one I had people coming up to me telling me ‘you have to win, you have to win’ and ‘you have to score’.

“I had never scored a goal in a derby game before I came to this country so to get three in two games against Everton and to win both of them is fantastic.

“I hope to play against Everton again this time and I hope to be able to score again.”