Monday, March 09, 2009

Kuwaiti Investors To Hold Further Liverpool Talks

A Kuwaiti investment group is continuing negotiations to invest in Liverpool, with representatives set to meet the co-owner Tom Hicks "within the next two weeks".

Hicks and George Gillett purchased Liverpool in February 2007 but their relationship has since deteriorated and, with a £350m bank loan needing to be repaid or refinanced in the next four months, an investor or outright buyer is being sought.

Abdulla Al-Sager, who is representing his family in the talks, said talks with Hicks in Texas are imminent after last week insisting the Americans were asking for "too much" to invest in the Anfield club.

"They are willing to negotiate and we are negotiating and will continue to do so in the weeks to come," Al-Sager told Bloomberg. "We are serious and things can change."

Al-Sager, who was at Liverpool's 2–0 win over Chelsea on 1 February along with Rafed Al-Kharafi, a member of one of Kuwait's richest families, did not reveal the size of the stake to be discussed, but hinted the group would be prepared to work with Hicks.
"Hicks and his team are nice people and unbelievably humble," he said. "We are huge supporters and we definitely want something to happen."

Al-Sager is hopeful of galvanising the club. "We want to build the new stadium in Stanley Park [work on which has stalled] and make the team do really well," he added.

Euro Success Magnifies Liverpool Dilemma

Steve McManaman helped Real Madrid win two European Cups during his time at the Bernabeu and strutted his stuff with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Raul and Fernando Hierro.

They are great names for a club with a great past but the present, as McManaman tells BBC Sport, is a different story, with Real arriving on Merseyside to try to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie against Liverpool.

Although they are record nine-time winners of the European Cup, Real have not progressed beyond the last 16 in the competition in four seasons and McManaman thinks that run will continue after Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.

"Real are a different team now with different individuals and I can't see them turning around the tie," said the 37-year-old, who won the competition with the Spaniards in 2000 and 2002.

"Liverpool are favourites to go through," predicted McManaman, who left the Reds for Real in 1999 and became a cult Los Blancos hero compared to the Galactico status of his more revered team-mates.

"If anything there might be a slightly different task now for Liverpool as a 0-0 result will see them through but they have to be positive rather than trying to play out for the draw because when you start doing that people get nervous.

"Real will have to go out and try to outgun Liverpool and that will play right into their hands.

There will be acres of space for Liverpool and they will create chances and, at set-pieces, Real are certainly vulnerable."

He added: "Liverpool will still have to be wary of Arjen Robben, Raul and Gonzalo Higuain.

"Guti is also back. He picks out a good pass up front and can thread balls through.

"You have to be aware of Real's attacking prowess but on a special European night the atmosphere will be incredible and I can't see anything but a Liverpool victory."

The confidence McManaman has in Liverpool achieving further European success does not apply to the club's challenge for a first Premier League title since 1989-1990.

"In knockout games home and away, Liverpool know how to get results but it's sustaining that and getting them over 38 games in the Premier League where they have faltered," he said.

"Manchester United might be big favourites to win almost everything this season but you wouldn't relish playing Liverpool in a knockout situation.

"They know how to grind teams down and stifle them and make it a battle.

"It's the tactical nous of manager Rafael Benitez. He sets the team up in a particular way and it gets results.

"It's not as creative as Manchester United but defensively they have a certain way of playing and they can get results. They mean business in Europe."

But what helps Liverpool in Europe appears to be their downfall in the top flight as they have struggled to break down defensive-minded opponents and drawn six out of 14 league games at home this season.

"Domestically, it's a long season and when teams come to Anfield and just sit and stifle Liverpool, then they need the creativity to break them down," explained McManaman.

"You can win by the odd goal home and away in Europe, whereas in the Premier League you have to go out and beat teams, especially at home, when sometimes it's hardest.

"At the minute, Manchester United have that edge. They have that little bit more creativity.

"Liverpool may have two or three players who can open up defences where Manchester United have three, four, five and then some on the bench just in case.

"Liverpool need a proper right midfielder, another creative left winger and to clear out a few people.

"But they also need to bring in a few quality creative players.

"Unfortunately, the rest of Europe is looking for these players as well and they cost an arm and a leg, so it's easier said than done."

Striker Robbie Keane was supposed to add some flair to the Anfield attack when he signed last summer but he returned to Tottenham in the January transfer window after failing to impress Benitez.

"I would rather have had him in my squad than not," said McManaman. "If Liverpool had sold him and brought in another player I could have understood it.

"For three or four months I would have kept him, seen what happens and sold him at the end of the season if that was the way it was going to go."

The ongoing boardroom politics also seem to be blocking the club's progress and, until that is solved, doubts will remain over the ability of the Reds to break Manchester United's stranglehold and compete on and off the pitch.

McManaman concluded: "The sooner Liverpool are sorted out with a new stadium and going forward in that direction there will always be question marks about them."

Fabio Cannavaro Certain Liverpool Will Be Defensive Against Real Madrid Again

Los Blancos’ Italian centre-back has no doubts that the Reds will rely on their defensive strategy again when the two sides collide in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 encounter.

Real Madrid were stung 1-0 by Liverpool at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg Champions League clash two weeks ago. The Merseysiders’ ultra-defensive, counterattacking approach earned them the vital away win.

Los Blancos are expecting the same kind of treatment in the return clash at Anfield on Tuesday and defender Fabio Cannavaro is convinced that Rafael Benitez's side will station every man behind the ball again.

“At the Bernabeu, Liverpool did not make any effort to win the game,” ‘Canna’ said in an interview with AS. “Throughout the match, their goalkeeper [Pepe Reina] kept sending long balls to Dirk Kuyt over and over again.

“I know for certain they will do the same at Anfield. I am sure of it. We must play our best football and must also have a lot of patience and eliminate any mistakes at the back. If we can score against them, we will force them to come out and play.”

The veteran defender believes he knows what the secret is to unlock Liverpool’s stubborn backline.

“We do not have to go all out attack for 90 minutes,” he said. “The key is to open the field by looking for our wingers so that they can take on their players one-on-one.

“We also have to take advantage of any mistakes their centre-backs might make because there’s always a chance they will slip-up.

“But we can’t just rely on Arjen Robben or Marcelo or Wesley Sneijder. If we want to win at Anfield, we have to play as a team because we do not have individuals like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. This Madrid side needs to unite as one, and that includes players on the bench, the coaches and the physios.

“Liverpool are by no means a better team than Madrid. They are a very organised and solid team and they know exactly how to play. They are very compact because they have been playing more or less with the same team for the last six years.

“For me, they are most dangerous on the counter and when it comes to set-pieces. They will allow you to play and they will even give you the ball, however, once they find a gap at the back, they will score.”

Finally, when asked what he will do if Madrid were to overcome the Reds and advance to the quarter-finals, he replied, “If we beat Liverpool, I will let my hair grown long again. I promise.”

Michel Salgado: Anfield Atmosphere Can Help Real Madrid Win In Liverpool

Real Madrid can use the atmosphere inside Anfield to help boost their own morale and performance level when they play against Liverpool in midweek, according to Michel Salgado.

Michel Salgado believes that the atmosphere inside Anfield on Tuesday may actually help Real Madrid to raise their game and turn around their first leg deficit to oust Liverpool from the Champions League.

Los Merengues' full-back has played against the Reds at the famous venue before, helping Celta Vigo eliminate the Premier League team in the UEFA Cup 11 years ago.

He thinks that the hot reception Madrid are bound to receive will actually inspire the visitors to play well.

"[Valery] Karpin, [Claude] Makelele, Mazinho, [Aleksandr] Mostovoi, [Haim] Revivo, Juan Sanchez - they all played for Celta back then,” the defender explained to Real Madrid’s official television channel. “We had a great team but it was still a shock to win at Anfield.

"It is a very special stadium, different to all the rest. Its atmosphere makes you do your best, which is why I’ve been saying it’s possible to win there, especially if you are Real Madrid. We will enjoy the atmosphere at the stadium.

"Everyone knows the [atmosphere] pretty well now because the team has many Spanish players, but I was impressed when I [first] saw the crowd and how the players touched their club’s crest as they took the pitch.

“I think their crowd plays an important role. The team is dangerous from set pieces and the fans cheer for a corner kick as loud as for a goal.

"Their support in the last five minutes is also significant. The team makes excellent use of their supporters."

Fitness Test For Fernando Torres But Yossi Benayoun Out

Fernando Torres faces a make-or-break fitness test today for the match that will define the remainder of Liverpool’s season.

But Bernabeu match-winner Yossi Benayoun has handed a fresh injury headache to Anfield manager Rafael Benitez.

Torres has been sidelined since suffering an ankle injury that forced him off during the 1-0 win over Real Madrid in their Champions League first knockout round first leg a fortnight ago.

Both the player and his manager expressed their confidence last week that the striker, who has undergone an intense rehabilitation programme, will line up against Real in tomorrow night’s Anfield return match.

But Benitez will only make a decision later today after putting Torres through his paces at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground.

The situation is similar to that of Steven Gerrard before the first leg in Madrid, with the skipper eventually only fit enough to appear for the closing moments of Liverpool’s win.

With Liverpool having fallen seven points behind Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester United, the Champions League once again seems the more likely route to silverware this season.

But one player definitely absent tomorrow is Benayoun, who is facing at least a fortnight on the sidelines after a training ground accident.

The Israeli international headed a famous winner at the Bernabeu but suffered what Liverpool fear is a hamstring tear after colliding with a team-mate during training.

Benayoun will undergo a scan on the damage today, and if the initial diagnosis is correct he will also miss Saturday’s visit to Old Trafford – a game that Liverpool must win to keep alive their faint title hopes – and could be a major doubt for the following weekend’s home game with Aston Villa.

The injury is a major blow to Benayoun, who has become an influential player for Benitez in recent weeks and was also on the scoresheet in last Wednesday’s 2-0 Premier League win over Sunderland.

Benitez is also sweating on the fitness of right-back Alvaro Arbeloa, who has also not played since appearing at the Bernabeu.

The Spanish defender returned to light training yesterday and has an outside chance of being available.

However, fellow defender Daniel Agger is unlikely to be fit as he recovers from a back problem.

Liverpool Must Build On Advantage, Says Benitez

A crunch week for Liverpool starts with the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid at Anfield on Tuesday.

The match is the first of a double-header that can make or break Liverpool's season -- and possibly go some way towards deciding whether manager Rafa Benitez remains at the club.

After playing Real, Liverpool make the short trip to Old Trafford on Saturday where anything other than a victory over leaders Manchester United will effectively end their already faint hopes of winning the Premier League.

"It is very important to approach this (Real) game thinking we have to win it and not think about any other result," said Benitez, whose side holds a 1-0 lead from the first leg in Madrid.

"What you must not do is think we are already there and it will be easy," the Spaniard told reporters.

"Clearly, Real Madrid are a very good team. They are doing well in the Spanish league. We won in the Bernabeu, which was very pleasing, but it's important we finish the job at Anfield."

Liverpool's inconsistency and poor home form has been their downfall since Christmas when they led the Premier League and seemed to be on course for their first championship since 1990.

While a draw against Real would be enough to see them through to the quarter-finals, Benitez also knows that Real are unlikely to be as sluggish as they were in Madrid.

With Steven Gerrard not yet back to his best after injury, and Fernando Torres also struggling for full fitness, Benitez will be relying on Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun, the scorer in Madrid, and Dirk Kuyt for some impressive performances.

Real must put the disappointment behind them of having their 10-match Primera Liga winning streak ended in a 1-1 draw at home against city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

"The match against Liverpool will be like a final," coach Juande Ramos said after Saturday's clash at the Bernabeu.

"It's going to be a difficult and passionate encounter and the players are massively fired up so they can give the fans something to cheer about."

Real were missing suspended central defender Pepe against Atletico and the champions looked shaky at the back without him as the visitors created a host of chances.

The Portuguese international's defensive partner, Fabio Cannavaro, said Real were lucky to come away with a point and called for immediate improvement.

"We have to get our shape back and quickly as we cannot fail against Liverpool," the Italian World Cup-winning captain told reporters. "We have to play as a team and quickly forget the Atletico match."

Liverpool Hoping For Another European Favour From De Bleeckere

Frank de Bleeckere returns to Anfield on Tuesday 13 months after what most considered a very harsh red card shown to former Everton defender Marco Materazzi helped Liverpool beat Inter Milan 2-0.

The Belgian official will referee the Champions League tie against Real Madrid and if Liverpool enjoy the benefit of another generous decision by De Bleeckere, the Spanish champions' task of pulling back a 1-0 first-leg deficit will surely be mission impossible.

Materazzi was shown his first yellow card for an innocuous looking clip of Fernando Torres’ heels as the Spaniard ran across his path down the right wing.

On the half-hour De Bleeckere showed the Italy international a second yellow card for another minimal-contact foul on Torres.

While a former Everton player who has left his mark, literally, on forwards around Europe would not normally expect sympathy from Liverpool fans, Anfield was stunned at his red card for two offences that many believed did not even warrant free-kicks.

Rafa Expects Ngog To Shine

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has backed teenage striker David Ngog to be a success at Anfield for years to come.

The 19-year-old marked his first league start for the club since joining from PSG last summer with a goal in Tuesday's 2-0 win at home to Sunderland.

The French ace put in an assured display and had the confidence to entertain the home crowd with his trickery at certain parts in the win.

With Robbie Keane returning to Tottenham in the transfer window, and fellow striker Fernando Torres sidelined with an ankle injury, Ngog could find more opportunities present themselves in the second half of the season.

"I am really pleased because he is training very well, working really hard and showing his quality," Benitez told the club's official website.

"To see him playing in this game and scoring his first league goal is good for him and good for the team.

"All the players, especially the strikers, need to play well and score goals for the confidence, so I think the goal will be important for his future.

"He showed the fans that he can do really good things.

"He worked very hard and did good things in attack, good passes and tricks. I'm very pleased for him.

"The first year in the Premier League is always difficult, but even more so for a young player coming from France because it is more physical here.

"But he's learning and improving every day. He has got the potential to be a very good player for us.

"If he keeps working and improving as he is now, he can be an important player for Liverpool."

Arbeloa: Liverpool Have Gifted The Title To United

Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa fears his team have handed the Premier League title on a plate to arch rivals Manchester United.

United have gone seven points clear at the top of the table and are in pole position to retain their Premier League crown.

Injuries to key players such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have affected Liverpool and they have failed to show any consistency in recent months.

The Merseysiders suffered a massive blow last weekend when they crashed to a 2-0 defeat against Middlesbrough and Arbeloa feels it will be an uphill task for them to win the league.

Arbeloa said: "The challenge to win the league is not lost, but every time it is getting more difficult for us. To give so many points to Manchester United and we still have to play at Old Trafford is very dangerous.

"We are not going to give in and will continue to challenge until the very last moment.

"It is not true that we are focusing all our attentions on the Champions League. In the dressing room we have a great desire to win the Premier League and we have just had some bad results in the last month that has damaged us.

"Manchester United are not showing any weaknesses and we all thought there would come a time where they would slip up, but that has not happened.

"And our injuries have damaged us a lot since January."

The Crunchy Nut Gossip

The Daily Mirror reports that Rafa Benitez is looking to further make his mark on how things are done at Anfield by shaking up the Liverpool management team.

The paper claims that he wants to bring back Frank McParland, who left Anfield back in 2007 to join Sammy Lee at Bolton, and install him in a director of football style position.

According to The Daily Mirror, McParland would take over some of Rick Parry's duties when the current chief executive clears out his desk in the summer, such as negotiating signings and new contracts, etc and so on.

McParland is currently out of work after leaving a similar post at Watford last year.