Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Alonso: Reds Have 'Best Chance'' For Title

Xabi Alonso insists he sees no reason why Liverpool cannot end their 19-year title drought this season following Sunday's 2-0 win over Chelsea.

The Reds, who have been crowned champions of England a record 18 times, last won the top-flight crown in the 1989/90 campaign.

While Rafa Benitez's side have drawn far too many games for their liking this season, the 2-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday sees them just two points behind pacesetters Manchester United.

Former Real Sociedad midfielder Alonso, who has been at Anfield since the summer of 2004, believes Liverpool can pip Sir Alex Ferguson's troops and become Premier League champions for the first time.

"I am sure this is the best chance we'll have of winning the league since I arrived," explained Alonso.

"When I first came to the club I saw what the project was and now it's finally beginning to happen.

"At the moment it's looking good and we know Manchester United are the team we need to catch."

Beating Title Rivals Is Key For Liverpool Boss Benitez

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez believes his team's unbeaten record against their title rivals this season could be critical.

Including Aston Villa, Benitez's side have not lost in five games so far against their rivals in the top five.

That run consists of a double over Chelsea, the first time they have done that since they last won the title in 1990, plus a win over Manchester United and draws at Villa and Arsenal.

Benitez, whose side face a potentially decisive trip to Manchester United on March 14, said: 'What is important is we have not lost this season to any of the teams who are at the top with us. If you want to be contenders, if you want to be closer to the title, that is the key point.'

Liverpool's two-goal hero against Chelsea Fernando Torres said: 'It is a very long title race. We know United are at the top but we have time and are going to fight until the end. We still have a chance.'

Torres Improving Every Day

Fernando Torres believes his fitness is improving every day after suffering an injury-hit campaign with Liverpool.

The former Atletico Madrid ace had a blistering debut season in England, but this time around his progress has been consistently disrupted.

Torres showed his class with a late brace against Chelsea on Sunday after recently returning to action following his third injury of the season.

The 24-year-old has admitted he has struggled mentally in battling to overcome his knocks after being injury-free throughout his career to date.

"It's been a strange season for me because I have never really had injuries before and I have had three on the run," he explained.

"This has meant I have not always felt 100 per cent - but now I am feeling very good and every day I am feeling better.

"Now I just want to look ahead because there is still a lot to play for this season and hopefully I can play my part.

"Beating Chelsea was a great confidence-booster for us."

The Reds' win over Luiz Felipe Scolari's side ensured they stay hot on Manchester United's heels and Torres says all is not lost despite drawing three of their last four league outings.

"It's a very long title race," he continued. "We know that United are at the top of the table at the moment, but we have time and are going to fight until the end."

Benitez Dismisses Chelsea's Red Card Claims

Rafael Benitez dismissed Chelsea claims that Frank Lampard’s controversial sending-off handed Liverpool victory.

But Stamford Bridge counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari has demanded the FA rescind his red card.

The game’s main talking point came on the hour when referee Mike Riley harshly dismissed Lampard after a challenge with Xabi Alonso.

“I am really pleased because I thought we deserved to win,” said Benitez. “When we were 11 against 11 we were the better team, and when it went to 11 against 10 we had more control and more opportunities.

“Sure, it could have been a draw but we scored two goals and we could have had more.

“But I don’t think the sending-off changed in the game in terms we had control and we were playing better, but we had more control after the red card and were already playing better than them.”

Lampard was deeply unhappy afterwards, and said: “I had no intention of injuring the player. I obviously touched the ball and there is no way that it was a red card.”

His manager Scolari said: “I do not want to criticise the referee, all I ask is that he looks at the video with the men from the FA.

“If they agree that Lampard did not commit a foul for his red card, maybe they will change the decision.”

But Scolari conceded that Jose Bosingwa could be in trouble after he put his foot into the back of Yossi Benayoun and pushed the Liverpool man off the pitch.

The incident was not punished by Riley and Scolari added: “What Bosingwa did was not correct. But if he is punished when the FA look at the video, maybe they will change the decision over Lampard.”

George Gillett 'Open' To Selling Stake In Liverpool

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett has admitted for the first time he would be "open" to selling his stake in the club despite insisting the side's finances are on a sounder footing than their Premier League rivals and denying there is a July deadline for a £350 million loan to be repaid.

Gillett agreed to speak with a representative from supporters' union Spirit of Shankly after being confronted by a group of fans in his Liverpool hotel before Sunday's 2-0 win over Chelsea, courtesy of two goals from Fernando Torres that reignited the club's title challenge.

In the meeting, the group's Jay McKenna outlined fans' grievances with Gillett and his co-owner Tom Hicks, which the American duo witnessed first hand when hundreds stayed behind at Anfield to demonstrate against their regime.

A Spirit of Shankly statement said Gillett expressed surprise to learn of the supporters' antipathy but admitted several parties are interested in relieving him of his stake in the club.

And Gillett, according to McKenna, also seemed to blame Rafael Benitez's outburst at Sir Alex Ferguson for Manchester United deposing Liverpool at the top of the Premier League. "Gillett said to me that, a few weeks ago, Liverpool were in first position and then a certain individual from the club attacked another individual from another club and since then we have lost form and slid down the league," said McKenna. "I was stunned and asked if he was blaming Benitez and in saying that was not backing the manager. Rather than confirm or deny, he said that was my implication."

Gillett's comments on the state of the club's finances have also further enraged supporters already unimpressed by the Americans. McKenna said: "I asked would he, Hicks or both be selling their stakes. He told me he could not speak for Hicks, but said there have been expressions of interest and some negotiation. He could not say who with but admitted he was open to selling, but could not speak for Hicks.

"I asked why he could not speak for Hicks, his partner, and he said husband and wife can say different things but one does not get the blame. He said he and Hicks had worked together well for six years in business but this was different because of the media."

McKenna explained to Gillett three areas of unhappiness among the fans concerning their ownership, although the Colorado-based businessman insisted he and Hicks had done their best to uphold Liverpool's traditions.

McKenna said: "Gillett told me he had tried to be a true custodian as he promised, saying it had been difficult but they had done what they could.

"I told him the fans see that he and Hicks have made three promises and broken them. The first was the debt on the club. I told him his partner Hicks promised it would not be like the Glazer takeover at Manchester United and to fans that meant no debt on the club. He claimed this was at the request of the banks and they were in a sound financial position with revenue in ratio to the debt better than any other club.

"When I asked about the extension of the £350 million loan with RBS and Wachovia to July, he claimed that was false and no one else knew the true details because they were confidential.

"The second was failing to back the manager. I asked him why they had approached Jurgen Klinsmann, and he claimed they had met with Benitez, who had told them he was to have talks with three other teams about joining them. They approached Klinsmann to work as a consultant if Rafa had left.

"The third was the new stadium, because Gillett himself had promised a spade in the ground in 60 days. He denied making this claim. He claimed they had spent £100 million on the stadium and were still working with designers, architects and planners. He claimed this money was coming from himself and Tom Hicks, not from the club. He then claimed all transfer fees to date had been met by him and Tom."

Hicks and Gillett met Benitez before Sunday’s game and sources close to both camps described the mood as “positive” but insisted there was some way to go before the finishing touches were put to Benitez’s new contract.

The Spaniard is holding out for a four year deal which gives him complete control over transfers and recruitment to the club’s academy. Hicks is said to understand his concerns but, as yet, has not buckled to his demands.

Reports the club’s powerbrokers were due to meet again on Monday were wide of the mark, with Hicks returning to the United States almost as soon as the Chelsea game finished.

Keane Leaves Liverpool For Spurs

There was mixed news for Tottenham yesterday after Robbie Keane's return was followed by the news that Jermain Defoe will be ruled out for up to 10 weeks.

Keane completed his sensational return to White Hart Lane after six months at Liverpool, the 28-year-old agreeing a four-year deal, with the fee starting at £12million before rising with add-ons.

It meant there was no significant outlay for Spurs to re-sign the striker due to the money still owed by Liverpool.

Keane, following Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda as players rejoining Spurs, left for Anfield in the summer but has paid the price for failing to fit into the plans of boss Rafael Benitez.

The Republic of Ireland striker travelled to London yesterday to agree personal terms and complete a medical.

'It was a difficult decision to make to leave Tottenham in the summer,' Keane said.

'It proved not to be the right move for me.

'I know some Spurs fans will feel I let them down by leaving but I can assure them I shall be giving my all for this club - this club has terrific fans and I want to repay them for all their support. We've got to get on and fight our way up that league table.'

Spurs boss Redknapp had stated his admiration for Keane, setting the wheels in motion for one of the most dramatic and swift returns.

Liverpool were unhappy with Redknapp's comments, while Spurs chairman Daniel Levy had been upset by Keane demanding a transfer last summer - but a deal was pushed through to get the Republic of Ireland captain back.

Levy added: 'We never wanted Robbie to leave in the summer, we acknowledged the six years dedicated service he gave this club and reluctantly let him go.

'I am delighted that he has chosen to return to us. We can all recall the passion and fight he displayed during his previous seasons with us. I know he is determined to give us his full commitment.'

Keane's debut is expected to be this weekend in the derby against neighbours Arsenal, although he is cup-tied for the Carling Cup final against Manchester United next month.

Fellow striker Defoe, however, will endure more Wembley misery after being ruled out for up to 10 weeks with a stress fracture to his right foot.

The 26-year-old England international, who missed two trophy victories last season, will undergo surgery to repair the problem, meaning he will miss the Carling Cup final.

'Following further scans and examination, Jermain Defoe will undergo surgery after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot,' read a statement from Spurs.

'Early detection has allowed the club to opt for the best long-term treatment.'

Defoe picked up the injury, to his fifth metatarsal, during an indoor training session shortly after rejoining Spurs after almost a year at Portsmouth.

During that time, the former West Ham striker missed out on Spurs' Carling Cup victory as he had just moved to Fratton Park, and then missed Pompey's FA Cup win as he was cup-tied.

Barry Has No Regrets Over Failed Reds Move

Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry has insisted he is happy at the club and no longer thinks about last summer's transfer saga when he seemed set to join Liverpool.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez was keen to sign the midfielder before the start of the season but Martin O'Neill refused to sell, with Liverpool unwilling to match his £18m valuation.

Barry was fined, stripped of the Villa captaincy and suspended for two weeks by O'Neill following comments he made about the situation; but the 27-year-old has nevertheless played a key role in Villa's successful campaign to date and maintains that he has no problem with O'Neill and is committed to the club.

"The Liverpool thing seems a few years ago now," Barry said in the Daily Mirror.

"Me and the manager are both professional people who want the best for Villa and my relationship with the manager is very good.

"It can go through your head what others have done to get away from a club, but that was just not the reputation I would have wanted."

Barry has temporarily been made captain again in the absence of the injured Martin Laursen and he is delighted to have been given the responsibility.

"Now I have got the armband back and everyone knows I enjoy captaining Villa," he said.

"It can raise your game but I know Martin Laursen is still the club captain and if we win a trophy this season, which will be more than enough for me."

Bosingwa Sorry For Anfield Kick

Jose Bosingwa has apologised for his actions after the Football Association confirmed no action will be taken over his kick at Liverpool substitute Yossi Benayoun during Chelsea's 2-0 defeat at Anfield on Sunday.

Referee Mike Riley, who had earlier sent off Frank Lampard in controversial circumstances, admitted that, while he had not seen Bosingwa's challenge, it had been spotted by assistant Mo Matadar.

The officials did not punish Bosingwa and, under FIFA law, the FA are prohibited from taking disciplinary action when incidents are seen at the time by the match officials.

"I apologise for what I did and it was never my intention to hurt him," said Bosingwa. "I know it was wrong and I apologise.

"It's always frustrating to lose big games and especially in this way. It was important to get points and not let Manchester United go. That didn't happen, so we are upset, but now we have to think about the next game."

Meanwhile, Chelsea should receive another welcome slice of good news today if Lampard, as expected, has his red card overturned at a FA regulatory commission hearing.

Chelsea appealed against Riley's decision to dismiss the midfielder following a challenge between him and Xabi Alonso in the 60th minute.

TV replays appeared to show Lampard won the ball fairly before being kicked by Alonso.

The England midfielder is scheduled to miss the home game against Hull along with away trips to Watford and Aston Villa if the appeal is unsuccessful.

Chelsea coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will understandably be delighted if Lampard's card is rescinded.

But the Chelsea camp still feel they are being victimised by officials this season.

Scolari's pre-match criticism that referees were too quick to dish out red cards to his players was echoed by England left-back Ashley Cole.

He pointed to Manchester City's game at Stoke on Saturday as an example of their suffering.

Rory Delap was sent off after clashing with City's Shaun Wright-Phillips, but the winger escaped punishment even though he kicked out at the Stoke player while on the ground.

"All the players watched what happened with Shaun Wright-Phillips (at Stoke) and no-one gets booked or questioned about it," he said.

"We do one little tackle and we seem to be getting yellow and red cards."

Chelsea are now level on points with Aston Villa, three behind Liverpool and five behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand.