Friday, January 16, 2009

Former Real Madrid Midfielder McManaman Believes Liverpool Can Win League Title

Two time Champions League winner Steve McManaman believes Liverpool boast the credentials necessary to win the Premier League for the first time in 19 years.

Steve McManaman played for two of the most successful clubs in Europe: Liverpool and Real Madrid, and therefore has an expansive knowledge of what it takes to lift a trophy.

The Bootle-born winger won the FA Cup and the League Cup as a Red, and won La Liga twice and the Champions League twice as a Merengue.

The 36-year-old believes he has seen enough from Liverpool this season to convince him that they have an "outstanding" chance of lifting the Premier League crown in May.

"Put it this way," he told the club's official website. "I will be over the moon if Stevie [Gerrard] and Carra [Carragher] have got their hands on that trophy in May and I honestly believe they have an outstanding chance of doing it.

"People go on about them being ready to collapse but I just don't see it. Over the last three months, they have looked incredibly strong and have played the best football out of the top three. All Chelsea seem to be doing is be chugging along."

He continued: "Prior to last weekend, Manchester United had been poor in a number of games and hadn't been scoring too many goals. Can you say the same about Liverpool? No. Never mind what happened against Stoke.

"They've got the best player in the country in Gerrard and the best centre-forward in the country in Fernando Torres. He has been missing and if he comes back firing on all cylinders, what's stopping them?

"Pressure? That's nonsense," he claimed. "There's no pressure for Stevie – he's played in two European Cup finals.

"Is there any pressure for the Spanish lads who played in the Euro 2008 final? The games they have got coming up are like getting out of bed in the morning."

Steve McManaman is the most decorated Englishman in terms of medals won outside of England.

While playing for Liverpool, he was regarded as one of the finest dribblers of the football, and provided a century of assists for his team-mates.

Liverpool & Everton Fans Warned About Mersey Derby Chants

Fans of the two Merseyside clubs were warned today that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated at the two forthcoming Scouse derbies.

Police in Liverpool are asking both Everton and Liverpool fans to enjoy the upcoming Merseyside derbies in the right way and cut out any abusive chanting.

One song in particular is said to be of concern to police, who are anxious that the inappropriate chants heard from both sets of supporters at previous recent derbies will flare up again.

Anyone caught chanting anything deemed offensive faces ejection from the ground and the chance of receiving a Football Banning Order which would prevent them attending matches. Police are taking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service and are drawing up a dossier of unacceptable chants.

"We will speak to the CPS to see if what is sung is viewed as abusive," Football commander for Merseyside police Chief Supt Dave Lewis said earlier.

"We could arrest people and charge them. We won’t be arresting hundreds as we haven’t got the resources to do so and could prompt a mêlée.

"Some of the singing can be abhorrent and we have to draw a line under it."

The action follows the recent investigation by Hampshire police in to the alleged racist and homophobic chanting suffered by Portsmouth's Sol Campbell during his team's fixture with Tottenham Hotspur recently.

"We always urge our fans to behave appropriately, not just at derby games, but at every match," Ian Ross, a spokesman for Everton FC asserted.

"At a previous derby at Anfield there was some pretty unpleasant chanting from both sets of supporters, although it was not racist or homophobic."

The first of the two highly anticipated derbies takes place in the Premier League on Monday evening, and is followed by an FA Cup fourth round tie six days later. Both games take place at Anfield.

Portsmouth Join Queue For Jermaine Pennant

British tabloid The Daily Mail reports that Portsmouth are lining up a £2 million bid for Jermaine Pennant, the out-of-favour Liverpool midfielder.

Pompey boss Tony Adams is eager to add some high quality, cut-price options to his squad this winter, especially after losing Lassana Diarra and Jermaine Defoe.

But the FA Cup holders face stiff competition for Pennant, who has been courting interest from all over Europe in the past few weeks.

Real Madrid came close to sealing a deal for the former Arsenal player at the end of December, but their interest has faded after failing to agree personal terms.

Sevilla are now tracking the 26-year-old, who is interested in a switch to Spain, while AC Milan are hoping to wrap up a pre-contract which would see him move to Italy when his contract expires in the summer.

Thus, Portsmouth may have to up their offer considerably if they wish to land Pennant, and their current financial position means they may struggle to meet the Nottingham native's wage demands.

Hull City, Stoke City and Wigan Athletic have also been linked with the former Birmingham City star.

Lucas Inspired By Local Heroes

Liverpool midfielder Lucas claims the Reds players will draw inspiration from Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher ahead of Monday night's crucial Merseyside derby at Anfield.

Rafael Benitez's men know they will lose their position at the top of the Barclays Premier League on Saturday if Manchester United beat Bolton.

Whatever happens at the Reebok Stadium, however, the Red Devils' scintillating form has added extra spice to the already hotly-anticipated Everton match - which will be repeated six days later in a FA Cup fourth-round tie.

But Brazilian Lucas insists that regardless of the circumstances surrounding the game, one look at the Reds' Scouse leaders will be enough to get the whole team buzzing.

"It is always a massive game against Everton," Lucas told the club's official website.

"The preparation for a derby game is always different, especially with Stevie and Carra around. We can see in their faces how much they want to win this game and that inspires us.

"We know how important these games are for the club and the supporters as well. We want to stay at the top of the Premier League and we want to progress in the FA Cup so we don't need any motivation.

"It is good we can play them both at Anfield with our supporters behind us and it gives us a lot of confidence, so we have to try to make sure we win.

"Always the derby is a difficult game and it is also a different game. We had a good win at Everton earlier this season so we know what we need to do.

"These are two massive games and we have to be ready."

Despite his obvious relish for the occasion, Lucas may find himself omitted on Monday after Xabi Alonso declared himself fit for consideration.

The Spaniard suffered a badly-gashed foot during the cup win at Preston earlier this month but he said: "I am back training. I had the stitches taken out on Monday.

"I'm still a little bit sore in that area. Right now I am able to play with the inside of my foot but my instep will be okay for Monday."

Real Madrid Want Jermaine Pennant On Loan Until Cristiano Ronaldo Arrives In June

Real Madrid have made a fresh move to sign Jermaine Pennant - as a stopgap before landing Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer.

The Spanish giants believe they have clinched a deal sign the newly-crowned World Player of the Year the end of the season.

Real sporting director Predrag Mijatovic is so sure his club will get Manchester United Ronaldo that he wants to plans to make a big signing of a right-winger in January.

Real have agreed a £3.5million permanent deal for Pennant but are making a fresh bid to sign him on a six-month loan.

Pennant is a free agent in the summer and Liverpool are unlikely to allow him to go on loan unless he agrees to a 12-month contract extension at Anfield.

Pennant has also been offered a pre-contract with AC Milan.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson insists Ronaldo is not for sale - even in a deal which could be just as big as Manchester City's £100m offer to sign Kaka from AC Milan.

But Real have never given up on the Portuguese star who last summer only pledged his future to United for another year.

His promise to stay at Old Trafford after picking up his award in Zurich this week was less than convincing.

Privately, Real have already begun negotiations with Ronaldo's advisers.

A club insider said: "Everyone at the club sees Ronaldo as a done deal for next season."

Torres And Keane Hold Key - Rush

Liverpool legend Ian Rush says Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane must be played together up front if the Reds are to win a first League title since 1990.

The duo have started just nine games in tandem since Keane joined for £20m in July and have scored only four goals between them while both on the pitch.

Rush told BBC Sport: "They've not had a chance to get a partnership going yet.

"Torres has not been fit but given time together they can take the team to the level that is needed to win the title."

Rafa Benitez's side are two points clear of second-placed Manchester United at the top of the Premier League but their recent form, particularly at Anfield, has been unconvincing.

And Rush, who formed a prolific pairing with Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool in the 1980s on his way to becoming the club's record scorer with 346 goals, feels Torres and Keane would prove a timely boost to the Reds' season if they belatedly spark together.

"Without a doubt, the key for me to Liverpool winning the League is if they get their partnership going," he explained.

"Robbie has not had the opportunity to prove he can play with Fernando yet but, from now on, I think if Torres plays, then Keane will too.

"They are a partnership that can win games - and I think Keane can play a major part in Liverpool winning the title.

"You'd think that with Torres not playing, then Keane would be but he hasn't played a lot of games and he's also been taken off in a lot, too.

"A big reason for that is that Robbie is not a lone striker, he likes to play off a frontman - look at how well he and Dimitar Berbatov did last year for Tottenham.

"He does so well in that role - he works really hard for the team. I was happy when Liverpool signed him because, when he is in form, he will get you goals and also make goals as well."

Defending champions United could leapfrog Liverpool at the top of the table if they beat Bolton on Saturday, ahead of the Merseyside derby on Monday.

Earlier this week, Torres said he believes United are now the title favourites, but Rush is confident Liverpool can maintain their challenge and end their long wait for their 19th league success.

"Will Liverpool win the title? I'd like to think so," Rush added.

"And if they are still in contention in the final month of the season then I think they will do it.

"The title is there for the taking this year. United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all dropped points but so have Liverpool, and they are top of the table.

"I don't think anybody has taken the initiative to go and win the league this year but the team to beat and the standard to match is United - whoever ends up above them will be champions.

"They set the standard and, even though they have dropped off slightly this season, nobody else has been able to raise their game.

"Chelsea are still in with a shout too but Liverpool are in a position where they have got to take advantage and move up to a new level themselves.

"Back in August, if you had said to Liverpool fans that they would be top of the league now, they would have taken that. The only thing they have got to do now is stay there."

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has questioned whether Liverpool have the mental toughness to come out on top in this season's title battle given their failure to sustain a challenge in recent seasons.

But Rush, who played 469 games for Liverpool in two spells spanning 15 years, is confident that the Reds' squad contains enough quality and know-how to see them through.

"Your mentality does play a part in winning things - because at the end of the season it can come down to experience," Rush stated.

"You only get experience by being in that position all the time. Good players take it in their stride and that is the difference between winning the league and finishing second.

"But when you are playing for Liverpool the expectations and demands are a lot higher than anywhere else so you have those sort of demands on you all the time.

"I don't think Rafa will buy anyone in the January transfer window, and not just for financial reasons.

"If you are going to buy now, then they have to be better than what you have already got so you are talking about paying £20m for somebody.

"Liverpool have got a strong enough squad to win the league - the players are already there.

"If you look at the backbone of the side - Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Torres - then that is already in place.

"There are only a couple of positions, like the full-backs, where Rafa seems unsure as to who is his best option. Nobody has made those places their own but whoever comes in can do a job on the day."

Xabi Alonso & Alvaro Arbeloa Set For Liverpool Returns

Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa have returned to training and are ready to give their Liverpool team-mates a real boost by returning to the starting XI for the much-anticipated Merseyside derbies.

Alonso missed Liverpool's disappointing draw at Stoke City last weekend due to a deep cut in his instep that required seven stitiches and left him unable to train. The injury had been sustained in the previous week's FA Cup third round victory over Preston North End, meaning Lucas had to cover for him against Stoke.

Arbeloa had missed the Reds' last four games because of a troublesome hamstring strain, but is now set to reclaim his spot at right-back for the upcoming visits of Everton to Anfield, with Jamie Carragher having shuffled across the back four to cover for his absence.

"I am back training. I had the stitches taken out on Monday," Alonso told The Liverpool Echo today.

"I’m still a little bit sore in that area but right now I am able to play with the inside of my foot but my instep will be okay for Monday."

Should Daniel Agger recover in time from the calf problem which saw him sidelined for the Stoke game, then the only first-teamer unavailable when manager Rafa Benitez selects his side to take on the Toffees on Monday will be left-back Emiliano Insua, who is on duty with Argentina at the South American Under-20 Championships.

Benitez himself is expected to be fit enough to oversee the game from the bench after undergoing a third operation for kidney stones this week in hospital.