Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rafa Benitez Set To Sign New Liverpool Deal

Various press sources claim that Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is finally ready to pen a new contract following months of staggered negotiations.

The Spaniard had hoped to seal a deal by the end of November last year, but the infrequency of the discussions scuppered any chance of that deadline being met.

When Benitez was eventually offered a contract last month, he turned it down as there was no specification as to how much control he would have over transfers.

The former Valencia coach is determined to take sole charge of player sales and purchases, especially after the debacle concerning Gareth Barry and Xabi Alonso last summer.

But now, after several rejected drafts, Benitez and the Anfield club's co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have settled on terms that suit both parties.

According to The Daily Mail, the Reds boss will still have to discuss transfers with the board but will no longer report to chief executive Rick Parry, the thorn in so many of his proposals.

It is understood that Hicks and Gillett bowed to this stipulation only after meeting with Randy Lerner, Aston Villa's American owner, and discovering that Martin O'Neill is granted similar freedom.

The News of the World claims that Benitez's new contract will run until 2013 and see him rake in €18 million.

Steven Gerrard Expected Back For Liverpool-Real Madrid Tie

Steven Gerrard should be available for the first leg of Liverpool's blockbuster Champions League tie against Real Madrid, according to the News of the World.

The English superstar was expected to miss the Spanish leg through injury after he tore his hamstring in the Reds' defeat to Everton in the FA Cup recently.

Furthermore, the relative thinness of Rafael Benitez's attack - thanks to Robbie Keane's return to Tottenham Hotspur - means the Anfield boss is wary of rushing back his captain too early and risking a long-term absence.

But the 28-year-old is progressing well in his recovery sessions, and now he is a genuine chance to make it back in time to face the mighty Merengues.

Gerrard will, however, remain sidelined for next weekend's Premier League clash against Manchester City.

Liverpool Eye Espanyol Youngster Sielva

Oscar Sielva, one the Blanquiblaus' promising prospects, could be playing at Anfield before long.

Liverpool have another Spanish youngster in their sights, with Espanyol starlet Oscar Sielva the latest player to crop up on Rafa Benitez's radar.

According to AS, the Reds have the first option to secure the services of Sielva, a deal secured while they were concluding the transfer of Albert Riera last summer.

The 17-year-old is injured at the moment, having suffered his second shoulder injury of the season, but Liverpool are understood to be tracking his progress clearly, with a view to securing his services in the near future.

Both sides are refusing to comment on the speculation for the time being; however, should the Merseysiders confirm their interest, Espanyol will be highly tempted to sell, especially given their precarious position in the top flight.

Hansen: How Reds Can Push For Glory

Alan Hansen has urged Liverpool to turn up the pressure on leaders Man United by putting together a winning streak.

The Anfield legend believes the last-gasp win over Portsmouth was a welcome boost for the Reds' title challenge and insists they must keep picking up three points if they are to take advantage of any slip-up.

"It's all about putting pressure on Manchester United now," he told LFC Magazine.

"They responded to Liverpool's win over Portsmouth by winning at West Ham the following day, but it was a very tight game and could have ended in a draw.

"Liverpool have just got to keep winning and winning because that will keep the pressure right on them.

"We've seen time and time again that things can change dramatically on one bad result, so Liverpool have got to keep putting the pressure on."

Hansen also had words of praise for full-back Fabio Aurelio, who produced a solid display in a central midfield role in the 3-2 win at Fratton Park last week.

"Aurelio was asked to play in central midfield, a position Rafa utilised him in at Valencia, and I thought he played well," he said.

"He was good in possession, played the ball well and in the first half he was probably Liverpool's best player.

"That tells its own story and speaks volumes for Aurelio that he can go into a big Premier League game and play so well in central midfield.

"It gives us another option in midfield and perhaps more so in a wide midfield role."

Starlet Targets Return To Form

Damien Plessis has set his sights on recapturing the form that saw him make the breakthrough into Rafael Benitez's first-team.

The French midfielder caught the eye after making his debut against Arsenal last season and has now made seven appearances for the club in total.

He admits he has seen a huge improvement in his game since swapping Lyon for Liverpool and is determined to continue his development and force his way back into the manager's plans on a more regular basis.

"Playing for the first team is always a proud experience for me and for all the young boys," he told LFC Magazine. "But just because you have had a small taste does not mean that there are any guarantees that the chance will come along again.

"I was last involved with the team against Tottenham and it was a very difficult evening. None of us can say honestly that we have done our chances any good in that game.

"So for me it is important that I get back to my best form in the reserve team, consistently, and demonstrate in training every day that I am playing at a high level. Then, hopefully, I can get involved again in the team."

He added: "I think I have improved a lot with the coaching here at Liverpool. I arrived here with experience of France and nothing else and now I have improved.

"In England, where the game is so much quicker, you have to get better. You have less time on the ball before you are tackled, so your touch has to be precise- not just some of the time, but all of the time.

"For the same reasons you have to make faster and better decisions with your passes. I have also become stronger physically than I was when I arrived. I am young, and I still have a lot of things to learn but I am improving every day and hopefully if I listen to what the coaches tell me and use the examples of the experienced players then I can do it."

Liverpool's American Owners Set Benitez Deadline On Third Offer

Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are set to make Rafa Benitez a third contract offer this week - and they want it signed before next Sunday's game against Manchester City.

Having won major concessions about control over transfers, Benitez has sent back a second offer to the Americans, this time querying his role with the club's academy.

Now the owners are trying to rush through further amendments, believing any additional delay will hurt Liverpool as they battle for the Premier League title.

A senior source said last night: 'The major points have been agreed and we hope things will be finalised soon.' Benitez, who has been offered a four-and-a-half-year deal which will earn him £15million, has twice looked in detail at the offer.

Although his primary concern that he would have to report to chief executive Rick Parry on transfer targets has been satisfied, he wants it to be clear that he has overall responsibility for the club's youth policy, too.

He is now waiting for a response, although the owners know they will try to do that quickly.

Benitez originally set a deadline of November 30 to get a new contract offer but later turned down the deal. He has always said he wants full control of which players are bought and sold at Liverpool, although he understands he will be given a budget.

It follows a contentious summer at Anfield, when £20m striker Robbie Keane was signed but Benitez's No1 target Gareth Barry was not, because of Aston Villa's £18m asking price.

Hicks and Gillett met Benitez two weeks ago and agreed he would report to the board, rather than Parry, on transfers.

They also held informal talks with Aston Villa owner and fellow American Randy Lerner, finding out that Benitez is only after the powers that Martin O'Neill has at Villa Park.

IInter Milan Move For Daniel Agger

Inter Milan will make a summer move for unhappy Liverpool star Daniel Agger.

The Italian giants have already held preliminary talks with the defender’s agent Per Steffensen.

And they want to cash in on his frustration over losing his place to Martin Skrtel and Liverpool’s refusal to extend his current deal, which ends in 2010.

Inter want a move for Agger, 24, wrapped up before that point to ensure he is not lured away to one of their Serie A rivals.

Agger said: “If I don’t play, it’s untenable. My situation is that Rafa Benitez doesn’t want to let me play — it irritates me when I don’t play.’’

Youngsters Crash To Heavy Defeat

Liverpool's youngsters were on the wrong end of a 4-0 thumping by West Bromwich Albion in the Midlands on Saturday afternoon.

Hughie McAuley's men were second best throughout the 90 minutes and conceded two goals in each half to crash to a heavy defeat.

"It's unlike us to be as poor as we were today, but we paid the price for making too many mistakes," McAuley told

"Defensively we gave silly goals away and never really looked a threat at the other end. West Brom were brighter and more up for the game than we were, so full credit to them. It was a bit of a hiding for our lads and we can't say it wasn't deserved.

"There wasn't too much to shout about for us really. Joe Kennedy and Thomas Ince did okay, but really we struggled for any spark.

"We were without Dalle Valle and Ellison through injury and Ecclestone was suspended, so that was three of our players ruled out. But that's what we have a squad for and unfortunately the boys just didn't get going at all in the game.

"We just have to pick ourselves up now and learn from the mistakes we made. We gave away bad goals and that's something we're going to have to look at before our next game with Crewe next weekend."

Liverpool: Hansen, Metcalfe, Kennedy, Wisdom, Buchtmann, Kacaniklic, Cooper (Scott), Pepper, Roberts, Ince, Amoo.

John Aldridge: Liverpool Must Sort Daniel Agger's Contract

I just can’t make sense of Daniel Agger’s contract situation at Liverpool.

Why isn’t it sorted yet? Why are the club allowing the contract of such a high quality player to run down?

We’ve been speaking about it for months now and I don’t know what the problem is.

It could be that his agent is delaying things but if that’s the case I wish the club would come out and put the record straight.

The fact is it needs to be sorted and fast because we need Agger tied down to an extended deal.

Centre-back is a position where we are very strong and if we’re going to progress over the next few years then Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Agger are going to be crucial to that.

With his current contract finishing at the end of next season it’s no surprise that clubs like AC Milan and Real Madrid have been sniffing around.

Agger is a classy defender who is solid defensively and very good on the ball. Players like him are hard to find. It’s difficult as a manager to keep everyone happy but Rafa needs Agger in his squad.

Agger has come out this week saying he’s unhappy with his lack of action in recent months.

I can understand his frustration but he’s got to remember that while he was out injured Skrtel and Carragher forged a strong partnership, while Sami Hyypia has also performed well when called upon.

He’s got to be patient, buckle down and ensure when an opportunity comes along he grabs it with both hands.

You need strength in depth and with the Champions League starting up again in a few weeks I’m sure he will get plenty of action.

The defence is probably the one area where Rafa can rotate without really weakening the side as we’ve got four top centre-halves.

Maybe Rafa changed his formation last weekend just to accommodate Agger. In some games three at the back might work but I can’t see him playing that way on a permanent basis.

One thing is definite. Agger is the key to our hopes of success in the coming years and it’s time his new contract was finally sorted.