Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Liverpool Owner Tom Hicks: I'm Not Selling - I Want A New Partner Instead

Tom Hicks has confirmed that he is looking for a new partner to invest in Liverpool.

The Mirror revealed at the weekend that Anfield's American owner was desperately searching for fresh investment in the club, to allow him to buy out current partner George Gillett.

Hicks has approached six potential investors with a proposal to form a fresh business alliance to run Liverpool.

Reports had suggested that Kuwaiti billionaire Nasser al Kharafi had been looking to buy the club, but these were wildly inaccurate, and as our report stated, Hicks is refusing to sell his stake.

Instead, he said at a banquet in his native Dallas on Sunday night: "Don't believe everything you read. I'm not selling. I'm bringing in a new partner to buy out my current partner."

Meanwhile, Sunday's fourth-round FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Everton drew a record-breaking television audience to Setanta. The 1-1 draw audience peaked at 1,462,000.

Liverpool's Reina Makes Everton Favourites For Mersey Cup Replay

The Reds' goalkeeper is ruing a missed opportunity at Anfield, and fears that the Toffees may now have the edge in the FA Cup fourth round replay at Goodison Park next week.

Liverpool's Spanish goalkeeper feels that his side may now have handed the initiative to their opponents in their FA Cup fourth round tie with Everton.

The Reds' city rivals managed to come away from Anfield yesterday with their second 1-1 draw in a week at the venue, forcing a replay at their own home ground on February 4, and now Pepe Reina feels that Liverpool will have to be at their best to beat an indomitable Everton outfit on their own patch.

"The tie is still wide open and we trust ourselves to get through at their stadium," the Spaniard told today's Liverpool Echo.

"I suppose now the advantage is with them because next time they will play as the home team. But this will also mean that at least they will have to play a bit more forward than they did yesterday."

Despite Everton's alleged 'negative tactics', highlighted by manager Rafa Benitez yesterday in a display of what less charitable observers have termed 'sour grapes', the Toffees still managed to expose the Reds' ongoing deficiency at defending set-pieces, with Liverpool once again conceding from a dead-ball situation. Joleon Lescott headed home from close range for Everton's opening goal of the game after Tim Cahill had been given the freedom of the far post by Liverpool's markers.

"It is disappointing to concede another goal like this and it is clear that we do have to improve from set-pieces," Reina admitted.

"That is the main thing for us and the good thing for us is that we will have plenty of training sessions in which we can improve on these kind of things."

Martin Skrtel Happy to Stay At Liverpool And Fight For The Title

The Reds' Slovak defender has insisted that he's happy in England, and wants to help Liverpool to the title.

Martin Skrtel feels that Liverpool, despite their recent stuttering form that has seen them surrender their lead at the top of the table to Manchester United, still have all the ingredients in place to claim the Premier League crown.

The defender has also insisted that he is happy at Liverpool, despite rumours linking him with a return to Russian outfit Zenit St-Petersburg.

"The team has played nearly long enough as one and with one coach,” he told Sport Express.

"Beginners like me are rare there. However, in the past, Liverpool have sometimes been very good but, after the New Year, something has happened – injuries or some other problem.

"I think that this time everything will be different. We will fight for the title and win it.

"That is because of the fact that we play as a team, and because we have Gerrard and Torres. Last season was Fernando’s first in England, and he scored so many goals!!"

As for whether Reds skipper Steven Gerrard's recent arrest had affected the England midfielder, Skrtel asserted that it had not, and that the squad was focusing on football.

"No. Outwardly, at least, he has been quiet about it. It is not really discussed within the team," Skrtel added.

"A lot of things have been written on this subject, but we pay no attention."

As for a possible return to Russian football, Skrtel was fairly equivocal in ruling it out, claiming that he had never expressed dissatisfaction with life in Liverpool.

"I said that I have many friends at Zenit and that I was happy there, but that I'm now here, and I did not say I wanted to return," he explained.

"I never said that I hate Liverpool. That is a lie. He asked if I would say that I hated the city and I said, ‘Of course not’. I am happy here. Negative things are written about a lot of players here, mainly in the tabloids.”

"I have a contract for four years, but I like this team and would like to stay here for as long as possible and to win many trophies.

"I always wanted to play in England, but I never thought that I would come to a team as great as Liverpool. To go to Anfield is the dream of any player."

A key factor in his staying at Anfield would seem to be manager Rafa Benitez, with whom he draws a favourable comparison to his manager at Zenit, Dutchman Dick Advocaat.

"He loves football," the player continued. "He thinks about it 24 hours a day. When we leave, Rafa is still at the club, watching videos of our rivals’ games – in doing that, he reminds me of Dick.

"He is always wondering if we are happy and would like to do different things. In all aspects of the game, Rafa is open to suggestions and ideas. I like that."

Gerrard-Torres Double Act Is Ready To Inspire Liverpool Again, Says Benítez

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, is banking on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to pull his side out of their worrying slide. The pair scored 53 goals between them last term but this season they have frequently been kept apart by the Spaniard's persistent injury problems.

However, Benítez believes his fellow Spaniard "is almost back to his best" and there was a glimpse of his talent in their FA Cup fourth-round draw with Everton to prove it. Torres's juggling act and backheel to send Gerrard through for the equaliser in the 1–1 draw was the high point of the 210th Merseyside derby.

Benítez knows he needs both his best players firing on all cylinders with Liverpool's season threatening to come off the rails. Liverpool have lost only two of 34 games this season and are unbeaten in their last 14, 11 of them in the Premier League. But six of those 11 have been draws and they have lost top spot to Manchester United.

"We know the understanding between both was crucial last season, it will be again this season now they are back together again," Benítez said. "In some games they can kill defenders with their skills. The goal they created was excellent against Everton in the Cup.

"The piece of skill from Torres to create the goal shows that he is getting very close to his best again. He showed that the understanding between him and Gerrard will be crucial for us for the rest of the season. What he did to send Gerrard away is something you do not see from many players. He certainly needed a good runner to get on the end of it.

"Fernando also needed to be aware of where Gerrard was, to see him and to find him with the ball. It was certainly something very special."

So far this term Gerrard has led the way in the scoring charts – his equaliser yesterday was his 15th of the campaign – while Torres has been restricted to six goals so far because of his injury problems.

Benítez also credited Gerrard for his focus after a recent court appearance. Another hearing is scheduled for 20 March. "Steven is such an important player. People have been asking a lot about him and how he is handling things, but on the pitch he is showing that he is focused only on showing how good he is."

Gerrard played down his own contribution in difficult circumstances – his two derby goals were separated by his court appearance on Friday to answer charges of assault and affray, which he denies.

He said: "It is not just my goals, I am pleased with my performances this week. I am a footballer and will focus on that, I will continue to show that."

Of his equaliser, Gerrard said: "The key was that piece of skill from Fernando Torres, which is what he is all about. He is not just a goalscorer, he has fantastic awareness. We can do without the replay, both sides probably feel the same, but if we play as well as we did in this game in the replay at Goodison Park, we will win."

Agger: The Ball Is In Liverpool's Court

Daniel Agger's long-term future at Liverpool has been under a cloud for quite some time.

Firstly, the emergence of Martin Skrtel has brought immense competition in central defence, combined with the apparent indestructibility of veteran stoppers Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia.

But the main source of the 24-year-old's unrest at Anfield is the confusion surrounding his contract, which expires in the summer of 2010.

Agger entered discussions with the Reds last year, but no progress has been made in nearly three months and a move to AC Milan is looking likelier by the day.

"The ball is in Liverpool's court. I've not heard from them about this since the beginning of November," the Danish star told members of the press last night.

"There is no reason to have high expectations and to be honest, I have no idea if they want to sign a new deal."

Agger isn't the only one upset by this, as manager Rafael Benitez recently expressed his frustration at Liverpool's delay in offering a contract extension to the talented centre-half.

Mark Lawrenson: Rafa Benitez Frustrated? Now He Knows How That Feels

Rafael Benitez expressed his disappointment that the opposition didn’t do enough to win game – well, at least now he knows how it feels.

It’s a similar frustration that most Liverpool fans have felt this season when they have seen their team struggle to yet another draw.

So it’s a bit rich Benitez criticising someone for not going for it, as it’s not as if it’s something he has done a regular basis this season, is it?

Seriously, what did he expect Everton to do? Stick Anichebe and Cahill in a 4-4-2 and go for it? Everton were always going to sit back and soak up Liverpool’s pressure because that’s always going to be their best chance of staying in the tie.

And, let’s face it, after the success other teams have had at Anfield in applying that tactic this season, why would you play any other way?

Stoke, West Ham, Hull, Fulham. All came away with points because they put the onus on Liverpool to go at the and find a way through.

And the fact is, Liverpool weren’t good enough to do it.

So it concerns me that Benitez takes it so badly when a team comes to primarily defend (although to be fair, I don’t actually think Everton were too negative overall and at least, like Hull, they gave themselves a lead to sit on).

But what Benitez has to get used to is sides playing that way against him. It will be that way for the rest of the season and it’s not going to change.

So what does have to change is the lack of cutting edge in trying to finish these teams off.

It’s no good letting yourself get frustrated because you have way more possession but then fail to make it count. Just like Everton on Sunday, teams who come away form Anfield without getting beaten will see it as an excellent result and offer no apologies.

But the problem is that once again you come away from a game, as we did after the league meeting on the Monday, saying the same thing.

Everton get the praise for making the most of their shortage of players and for Liverpool you still dread the prospect of them being without Torres and Gerrard for any sustained amount of time.

Their link-up for the goal only confirms just how much their team need them and how much they would be missed if they had to go without them.

As outstanding as Lescott and Jagielka were in dealing with everything thrown at them, even they couldn’t cope with having to defend on the turn. Torres and Gerrard were too quick for them.

And those players also had the bravery to take a chance and make a decisive move to break a stubborn defence down.

That’s the kind of action Benitez needs to encourage more of and he’ll only do that by focusing on his own team’s shortcomings rather than what he sees as the opposition’s.

Liverpool's FA Cup Equaliser Adds To Man Utd's Injury Worries

Steven Gerrard’s FA Cup derby leveller for Liverpool on Monday may have unwittingly handed Manchester United a problem.

United are without 12 senior players for tonight’s Barclays Premier League trip to West Brom, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson to pick through his squad for a team of fit players.

Ferguson was hoping the situation might have eased in time United’s next league game against Everton – with both Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown tipped to be available after long-standing back and ankle problems respectively and Park Ji-sung on the brink of a comeback from a minor hamstring complaint.

But the Old Trafford encounter with David Moyes’s men will now be played 48 hours ahead of schedule – moving forward to Saturday January 31 from Monday February 2 to clear the way for Everton’s FA Cup replay with Liverpool on February 4.

It robs Ferdinand, Brown and Park, or anyone else among United’s walking wounded who might have had a chance of returning against Everton, of two extra days’ preparation.

The late change is part of a confusing February fixture list for United.

Their remaining outstanding game against Fulham - originally postponed in August because of the Red Devils’ presence in the European Super Cup - has been pencilled in for February 17. But that will be dependent on neither side requiring a fifth-round replay.

In addition, the Red Devils’ home match against Portsmouth on February 28 has been postponed because of their appearance in the Carling Cup Final the following day.

Liverpool Must Do Better, Insists Xabi Alonso

Xabi Alonso admits Liverpool will have to improve if they are to challenge for honours at the end of the season.

Monday’s 1-1 draw at home to Merseyside rivals Everton in the fourth round of the FA Cup was the club’s third successive share of the spoils.

The first two of those, against Stoke and then Everton last Monday, cost Rafael Benitez’s side top spot in the Barclays Premier League.

However, Alonso believes the players can work through their problems and get their campaign back on track.

“We have to keep going, that is the way we have to carry on if we are to have success this season,” he said. “Being critical of ourselves we need to improve in certain areas.

“The performance (against Everton) was better than Monday. We controlled the game much better.

“Of course we are not happy with the mistake we made (conceding the goal) but it was better.

“It was a good ball (from Fernando Torres for the goal) but we had a few more chances to score a second goal and it is something we have to work on and correct.”

Liverpool were undone by Tim Cahill at a set-piece for the second successive match as he escaped his marker to head Steven Pienaar’s corner into the path of Joleon Lescott who had only to divert it past Pepe Reina with his head from close range.

Cahill has been operating as a makeshift striker because of Everton’s injury crisis and Alonso knows he will remain a threat in the replay at Goodison Park a week on Wednesday.

“We are disappointed. We always expect to win home games but after they scored it was a difficult situation,” added the Spain midfielder.

“The team kept playing the same way and trying to score and we were unlucky.

“We know he (Cahill) is good in those situations and for the future we will have to get that right.

“We are confident we can go to Goodison and win. We don’t have to fear anyone. We respect them but you can’t fear anyone.”

Dirk Kuyt also reflected the mood of disappointment, coupled with determination to put it right and ensure a meeting with the winners of the Aston Villa v Doncaster Rovers replay.

He said: “We’re disappointed we haven’t won. We really wanted to win after what happened on Monday, and I thought we had the chances to kill the game but it didn’t happen for us. But we’ve got another chance in the replay.

“We don’t have fear, we’ve shown we can win at Goodison earlier this season, and we know that sometimes it’s easier for us to play away from home as it can give us much more space.

“You saw that Everton were playing very defensively. They are very tough to play against because they defend very well and had a lot of people behind the ball. Hopefully we can get more space in the replay.

“We don’t look at it as though the pressure is now off us a little going into the replay. The good thing from the game on Sunday is that we have another chance. We believe we can beat them.”

Coach Serves Up A Tactical Masterclass

It's not every day that a bunch of amateur players plying their trade in the Ormskirk and District Sunday League get a one-to-one session with a coach schooled in the 'Liverpool Way'.

But that's exactly what Maghull Community Association FC were treated to when Lucozade Sport provided them with a dream chance to be put through their paces by the Reds' Academy coach Stuart Gelling recently.

The non-league outfit won a competition to become one of 80 amateur side's across the country to take part in the Lucozade Sport Performance League and win a Barclays Premier League club-style sponsorship package for the season. And after being crowned the LSPL's team of the month, they were sent to Liverpool's youth base in Kirkby for a lesson in tactics.

"It was important that they enjoyed it and I think they did," said Gelling after a two hour session in which he instilled some added tactical nous into the Maghull players.

"It was nice to be able to share my experience with these lads, particularly as we all start out at amateur level somewhere along the line."

So what exactly did Gelling do to try and inspire improvement from a side already currently lying 25h in LSPL standings?

"Well, first of all I worked on defensive shape with them. This involved showing them where they should be in relation to the ball. We then developed it from there to their attacking play and how to play through a back four.

"I think it was great that they had the opportunity to come here. The Lucozade Sport Performance League is important because people who come to support Liverpool and other Premier League teams should feel part of the bigger picture.

"It's a pleasure to be involved with the project and be able to give something back to the supporters."

Maghull's bid to gain promotion to the Ormskirk and District League's Premier Division still remains on track despite a number of frustrating defeats over the past few games.

The Macca lie second in the table and with Gelling's advice now in their armoury, boss Neil Marten is confident the players can go on to reach new heights.

"We won a talkSport radio competition in the summer to play in the Lucozade Sport Performance League and receive all this top-flight support," he said when we asked him to explain his side's special appearance at the Academy.

"Fitness-wise the lads are already in good shape and they conduct themselves very well on and off the pitch. But I think the tactical pointers we have picked up from Stuart will give us a good idea of what to do and what not to do.

"The lads were dying to get up here and show what they can do. We've been doing okay in the league so far this year and hopefully this will give us the boost to go on and do even better in the second-half of the season."

Sami: Every Game Is A Must-Win Now

Sami Hyypia believes Liverpool can settle for nothing less than a win as they try to keep pace with the league leaders at the JJB on Wednesday night.

The Reds sit joint top with Manchester United with 16 fixtures remaining, though Alex Ferguson's men have a superior goal difference and a game in hand.

Both sides face tricky away trips this week, with United travelling to West Brom tonight before Liverpool meet Wigan.

All of the top teams have suffered shock results this season, but Hyypia believes it is getting to the stage where nothing less than a victory will do.

The 35-year-old told Liverpoolfc.tv: "If you want to be a champion you have to try to win every game. We are in second place, which makes it even more important."

Hyypia was on the bench when the Reds came from behind to beat Wigan 3-2 at Anfield earlier in the season.

He added: "Wigan played well that day. They passed the ball well and were very aggressive in the way they closed us down. That made it more difficult for us to play. But we showed character.

"You make your own luck - if you play well, you'll have luck on your side. And I think it evens itself out over the season."

Hyypia has made 16 appearances in all competitions this term, most of which in recent months.

The veteran admits it was hard watching from the sidelines at the start of the campaign before a combination of hard work and injuries got him back in the first XI.

"It was frustrating at the start of the season when I wasn't playing so much. Sometimes I was watching the games at home. Sometimes I wasn't in the squad," he said.

"Every player wants to play. Even at my age I enjoy playing each game.

"But I kept working hard, and when I got my chances on the pitch I tried to do the best I could. That's the only thing you can do.

"I'm happy now because I've played quite a lot recently. I am enjoying playing at the moment."

Another man fighting for one of two centre-back slots is Slovakian international Martin Skrtel.

The pair may be rivals, but the big Finn has nothing but respect for his young counterpart.

He said: "Martin showed when he came here a year ago that he was a quality player. He's aggressive, quick and comfortable on the ball as well. He is very easy to play alongside.

"I always try to talk to anyone playing in my position and help them improve their game if I can. Before every game we talk about a few things that might be important in the game and if that helps him then I am happy."

Liverpool's Crunch Week As Tom Hicks Arrives In Town

It is do-or-die time at Anfield, both on and off the pitch. After a month of contractual stalemates, boardroom wrangles, mooted sales, set-piece goals and dropped points, Liverpool now face one of the most critical weeks of their season.

The importance of the week is underlined by the expected presence of the club's co-owner, Tom Hicks, who will arrive on Merseyside ahead of Sunday's Premier League match with Chelsea.

Hicks is saddling up to ride to the rescue of manager Rafael Benitez, bearing promises to sort out a new long-term contract to tie him to the club until 2013 which would underline the American's own commitment to Liverpool.

That commitment was seemingly strengthened yesterday when sources at the Royal Bank of Scotland, with whom Hicks and his business partner George Gillett have a £350 million loan due for repayment or refinance in July, suggested the bank were not expecting any movement on the club's ownership until July.

Reports in Texas suggest that Hicks has reaffirmed his desire to remain involved with Liverpool, telling friends in Dallas they "shouldn't believe what they read" about his desire to sell up and that he was instead seeking investors who could buy out Gillett.

Such a deal is unlikely, with sources in the Gulf suggesting that any Arab buyer would want full control. Any hope of a deal with the Kuwaiti Al-Kharafi family seemingly ended when details of talks became public. Gillett, meanwhile, is unwilling to sell up unless Hicks does the same.

No doubt these issues will all be on the agenda when Hicks and Benitez meet, as well as the Spaniard's demand for full control over transfers, the sticking point in his contract talks. So too, possibly, will be Liverpool's stuttering form.

Benitez's side have beaten only Preston this month and face a daunting run of fixtures, taking in tomorrow's game at Wigan, the visit of Chelsea and the journey to Goodison Park for an FA Cup replay on Wednesday.

That this is a key week in shaping the nature of Liverpool's season is not lost on the players. Two derby draws with Everton have added to the doubts about their ability to compete on three fronts, but midfielder Xabi Alonso is confident the best is yet to come.

He said: "We had enough chances to score the second goal and that is something we have to correct. We have to keep on going as we have been this season but it is important to be critical of ourselves.

"We played better in the second game against Everton than in the first. We controlled the game on Sunday but we're not happy with the mistake we made for their goal. We never fear anyone, but we know we can improve in certain areas."

Reds Loan Out Strike Duo

Liverpool have allowed young duo Krisztian Nemeth and Craig Lindfield to leave the club on loan.

Hungarian striker Nemeth has joined Championship side Blackpool on loan for a month, while Lindfield has linked up with Accrington Stanley on loan until the end of the season.

Nemeth is highly rated at Anfield and helped the club's reserves win the title last season.

Lindfield, who has come through Liverpool's youth ranks, has enjoyed spells out on loan at Notts County, Chester and Bournemouth in the last few seasons.

Both players are well down the pecking order at Anfield and Reds boss Rafa Benitez is willing to loan them out so that they can get some valuable first-team experience under their belts.

Clubs To Offer Exit Route For Liverpool's Robbie Keane

Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are considering offering Robbie Keane an escape route from Anfield – but Liverpool will not sanction a move across Stanley Park for the player.

With Everton in the market for a striker and Keane out of favour, speculation has been growing that David Moyes could be planning an audacious loan swoop for the Irish international whom he targeted during his time at White Hart Lane.

But Anfield chiefs would not allow such a high profile recent signing to join their rivals – and the Goodison Park outfit would also have to break their pay structure to afford any move.

A more likely destination for Keane remains Eastlands or a return to his former employers in north London.

Manchester City have yet to make a formal approach for Keane but club officials insist their interest is genuine.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp arrived at White Hart Lane after Keane’s £20million departure to Anfield and while he publicly claimed yesterday that he sees any move for the player as being unrealistic, he is likely to move if City make a bid.

Redknapp said: “I wouldn’t sit here and say I wouldn’t like to have Robbie Keane at my football club, I’d be a liar, but he belongs to Liverpool so it is not an option unfortunately.

“As a player and a person I have a lot of time for Robbie Keane. I think he’s fantastic.”

Boyhood Liverpool fan Keane’s dream move to Anfield has become something of a nightmare as he has completed 90 minutes in just five of his 27 appearances to date.

A lacklustre display in the Premier League derby encounter at Anfield eight days ago ended prematurely for the much-travelled frontman as he was hauled off by Rafael Benitez midway through the second half – the 18th time he has been substituted in 23 starts for the club.

Keane was not even included in Benitez’s 18-man squad for Sunday’s FA Cup clash against Everton with young French striker David Ngog preferred to him on the substitutes’ bench but speculation that he had stormed off following the decision is not true.

Benitez admitted in the post-match press conference that he had not spoken to Keane since he dropped him but this was because all players not included in the squad were given the day off and the 28-year-old was back in training with his team-mates yesterday.

Harry Redknapp Signals Interest In Robbie Keane

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp has signed Carlo Cudicini and Pascal Chimbonda - and has put the ball in Liverpool’s court over Robbie Keane.

Cudicini has been given a free transfer from Chelsea and could make his debut against Stoke tomorrow evening as first-choice goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes has a thigh strain.

Chimbonda was not registered in time to face Tony Pulis’ men in the Barclays Premier League clash at White Hart Lane, but he will be available at the weekend after following Jermain Defoe as the second player to rejoin Spurs this month.

Another who left Spurs in the last year was Robbie Keane, who has struggled to make an impact at Anfield and was not in the squad for the FA Cup clash against Everton at the weekend.

"I wouldn’t sit here and say I wouldn’t like to have Robbie Keane at my football club, I’d be a liar, but he belongs to Liverpool so it is not an option unfortunately," Redknapp said.

"As a player and a person I have a lot of time for Robbie Keane. I think he’s fantastic."

Keane’s omission fuelled concerns about his future, although Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has previously stated there will be no departures in the current transfer window.

Redknapp is in the market for another striker and has pursued Sunderland’s Kenwyne Jones and is monitoring Fred’s situation at French side Lyon.