Friday, March 20, 2009

Liverpool Meet Chelsea In Champions League Quarter-Finals

Liverpool and Chelsea will renew their Champions League rivalry after being drawn together in the quarter-finals today.

The Premier League sides have played each other five times in the past five seasons of the competition, most recently in the semi-finals last year when Chelsea won 4-3 on aggregate.

Manchester United, the holders, are likely to be happy with their draw against FC Porto, the Portuguese champions. Arsenal will play Villarreal, the Spanish club who finished fourth in La Liga.

The other tie pitches Barcelona, the joint favourites with United, against Bayern Munich. The draw took place in Nyon, Switzerland.

Quarter-final draw

Villarreal v Arsenal

Manchester United v Porto

Liverpool v Chelsea

Barcelona v Bayern Munich

Ties to be played on 7/8 April and 14/15 April.

Semi-final draw

Manchester United or Porto v Villarreal or Arsenal

Barcelona or Bayern Munich v Liverpool or Chelsea

Ties to be played on 28-29 April and 5-6 May.

Liverpool's Transfer Targets And Sales Now Rafa Benitez Has Signed On

After Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez ended speculation over his future in signing a four-year contract extension worth around £20 million that will keep him at Anfield until 2014. Telegraph Sport looks at five possible transfer targets and players on the way out.


Jermaine Pennant (Free)

The former Arsenal and Birmingham winger, currently on loan at Portsmouth, will not have his contract renewed after falling out with Benitez, with the manager concerned by his attitude in training.

Andriy Voronin (£2-3 million)

A flop in the Premier League, the Ukrainian has been in sparkling form since joining Hertha Berlin on loan. The Bundesliga remains his most likely destination, and Hertha his preferred move, should the Germans be able to find the cash.

Andrea Dossena (£4 million)

After early struggles at Anfield, Dossena’s two goals in two games suggest he is starting to find his feet, albeit as a left-winger and not a left-back. Benitez may be tempted to cash in, though, if a suitable offer from Italy arrives, with Juventus and Roma interested.

Philipp Degen (£1 million)

The Swiss full-back has featured just twice since his move from Borussia Dortmund after a succession of injuries. Benitez will surely move him on if he can find a buyer willing to take the risk.

Sami Hyypia (Free)

Benitez would be loathe to lose the former club captain, who proved at Old Trafford that he is more than capable of filling the breach when required. But the Finn, whose contract expires at the end of the season, may decide he wants one more year of playing regularly before hanging up his boots.


Glen Johnson (Portsmouth, £8 million)

Liverpool’s most obvious weakness is at right back, where there is no natural cover for Alvaro Arbeloa. Johnson, an England international, would provide a more attacking alternative and is likely to be available as Portsmouth look to ease their financial concerns.

David Wheater (Middlesbrough, £5 million)

Should the ever-reliable Sami Hyypia leave, Benitez is likely to look at the Middlesbrough man as a young, English replacement. The Spaniard knows he has to boost his English contingent to meet UEFA regulations and, should Boro be relegated, Wheater would be an economic option.

Aaron Lennon (Tottenham, £10 million)

Benitez tried to include the wide man as part of the Robbie Keane deal but Harry Redknapp was unwilling to budge. There are suggestions that Liverpool may go back in the summer as Benitez tries to add natural width to a team which struggles to break down compact opponents.

Michael Mancienne (Chelsea, £4 million)

The England under-21 international has struggled to break in to Chelsea’s side and Benitez, on the lookout for English players, would be tempted to bring in a defender equally comfortable at centre back or full back.

Gareth Barry (Aston Villa, £15 million)

If Aston Villa fail to reach the Champions League, Barry may decide that he has to make the move he was dissuaded from last season. Benitez may choose to go back for the man who, ultimately, cost Rick Parry his job and is still keen on his dynamism and versatility.

Rafa Benitez: Pepe Reina Is The 'Complete Goalkeeper'

RAFA Benitez today hailed the “complete” Pepe Reina as he looks to break one of the club’s longest standing goalkeeping records.

Reina needs just one clean sheet to clock up a century of shut-outs and should he reach the landmark in his next three games he will eclipse a record set by the great Ray Clemence more than three decades ago.

Reds legend Clemence reached his century of clean sheets after 200 games, while Reina’s current total is 99 after 196.

Benitez is hoping that the keeper he brought to Anfield almost four years ago in a £6m deal with Villarreal can make another mark in Liverpool’s history books by getting the clean sheet he needs – perhaps even in Sunday’s home game with Aston Villa.

Though the Reds boss admits that Reina has needed the help of his team mates to be in with a shout of breaking Clemence’s record he insists the individual standards the Spanish international has set himself are the main factor behind his ongoing success.

“Clearly the team is defending well as a team,” said Benitez.

“I can remember a lot of situations when Pepe was one versus one with a striker and he has made some fantastic saves so I think that he deserves this record if he can break it because he is a very good goalkeeper.

“Hopefully it will happen this weekend because if it does it will mean that we have a better chance of winning.”

Reina’s shot stopping abilities and command of his own area have put him within touching distance of Clemence’s milestone, and Benitez is equally impressed by his ability to make things happen at the other end of the pitch.

Last week at Old Trafford, Reina’s distribution with his feet was one of the key factors behind Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Man United and his manager is keen to underline his knack of launching swift counter attacks once he takes possession of the ball – qualities which he believes make him a complete goalkeeper.

“I think that Pepe is a fantastic goalkeeper with a great character,” he added.

“He is very positive and he is very offensive in his play and that is very important when you talk about a goalkeeper because it means he is always looking to launch a counter attack.

“He also makes great saves and remains calm at the most important moments.

“For me he is a very good goalkeeper and he is very complete.”

Rafa To Shift Focus To Title Race

Rafa Benitez is pleased his contract dispute is now a thing of the past so his Liverpool team can concentrate on the title race.

Their first opportunity to build on last weekend's outstanding victory at Manchester United will be when Aston Villa, who are still fighting for a Champions League spot, visit Anfield on Sunday.

Liverpool are unlikely to have midfielder Xabi Alonso back after the Spain international missed the Old Trafford triumph with an ankle injury.

Full-back Alvaro Arbeloa, who injured his hamstring in the warm-up for that match, should play, but midfielder Yossi Benayoun is unlikely to be involved because of a knee problem. Fernando Torres, who battled through the Manchester United match with an ankle injury, will be fit.

Benitez believes everyone can now concentrate on the challenge of catching United at the top of the table.

He said: "I am really, really pleased. We have been talking about things for a long time, so it is good that it's been finalised and we can finish with the talks. Now we can start working with everything sorted."

He added: "It was a distraction in every single press conference because I was asked the same question. I was trying to concentrate on football and I think we were doing well."

Rafa Benitez Walking In Footsteps Of Anfield Giant Bill Shankly

For a player whose reputation was made as a title-winning rottweiler with Everton, Johnny Morrissey holds a significant place in Liverpool Football Club’s emergence as a footballing super power.

It was as a result of his controversial transfer in 1962 that Bill Shankly became the Anfield autocrat who founded a footballing empire.

And that experience has a relevance with what’s gone on at Anfield this week.

But first, a history lesson. In 1962 Morrissey was sold to deadly rivals Everton, without Bill Shankly’s knowledge.

Shankly was incandescent with rage.

So outraged was he by the slight to his authority that he hastily typed out his resignation.

If it was the moment Liverpool came closest to losing their trophy winning creator, it was also the moment he gained full control of Liverpool Football Club.

Historically, the buying and selling of footballers at Liverpool had been carried out by directors.

And that rankled with a man who was, perhaps, the original footballing control freak.

A dog-eared copy of Shankly’s autobiography sits on my bookshelf at home.

His philosophy is always refreshingly simple and direct.

And the battles he endured with the hierarchy at Anfield are illuminating.

“I used to fight and argue and fight and argue and fight and argue until I thought ‘Is it all worthwhile, all this fighting and arguing?” he wrote.

“It is bad enough fighting against the opposition to win points, but the internal fights to make people realise what we were working for took me close to leaving many times.”

Then he added his own managerial philosophy which – short of the words ‘this is my idea’ – might have come from Rafael Benitez himself.

“The manager is his own man,” he declared. “When he goes to a club he takes charge of the players and it is up to him to recommend the players to be bought and the players to be sold.

“If a manager is weak and makes mistakes then he will lose his authority and be kicked out.

“But even good managers have difficulties when they come up against businessmen with set ideas about how a club should be run.”

For Shankly, the Morrissey transfer was clearly a turning point.

After bashing out his resignation on the battered old typewriter which sat on his Melwood desk, he stormed out – and bumped into coaches Bob Paisley and Tom Bush.

Tom Bush’s son, Alan, recalled: “Bill told them he had resigned and they were shocked.

“They made him go back into the club and they persuaded him not to resign. My father removed the letter and destroyed it.

“They then spoke to the club secretary the following day, and TV Williams effectively relinquished his power. He never bought or sold another player.

“That was the moment that managers began really to manage, and it was because of the stand that Bill took.”

Shankly’s intentions that day were undoubtedly sincere.

But, maybe, just maybe, the master manipulator also spotted a way to gain the control of the club he felt was necessary to mould it in the way he saw fit.

Fast forward 47 years – and for Johnny Morrissey, read Gareth Barry.

Rafa Benitez wanted the Aston Villa skipper almost as badly as Shankly wanted Morrissey.

But behind the scenes machinations meant he ended up with Robbie Keane.

The Liverpool manager now has a computer screen rather than a typewriter on his Melwood desk, but while Benitez didn’t rush and rattle out an e-mail offering his instant resignation, he did the next best thing. He had a contract offer on his table. But he stalled, and stalled, then stalled some more – whilst demanding the control he feels is necessary to mould the club into a trophy winning vehicle.

Signing his contract this week suggests he now has the control of the club he desires.

He will control who is bought, he will dictate to the youth academy and he will decide who is sold – and that is how it should be with any successful football club.

Can he achieve the success of the deified Bill Shankly?

That’s highly unlikely, but there can be no excuses any more, and that’s just how Rafa Benitez wants it.

If Gareth Barry never kicks a ball for Liverpool Football Club, he might still have played a major part in their future.

Rafa Benitez: I Signed New Liverpool Deal For My Family & The Fans

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez signed a new five year contract with the club recently and revealed that his family life was a key factor in him deciding to remain on Merseyside.

"I am really pleased for me, for my family and hopefully for the fans," Benitez told The Liverpool Echo.

"It was a very easy decision for me to take because I only ever wanted to stay at this football club."

He went on to state that he was now hoping the saga of his new contract could be put behind the club, and that thoughts could now turn to the future with fresh optimism.

"We want to improve in all departments – the squad, the mentality – everything that we possibly can," he explained.

"For me and for my family it has been a fantastic week. My idea is always to win trophies, not just games.

"But to beat Real Madrid and Manchester United and then sign the contract makes this a perfect week. But now we must look ahead, not back.

"We must look to continue the work we have done and keep on trying to improve, because maybe then we can have even better weeks. My message to the fans is very clear – it is because of them that I am signing this contract. This is a fantastic club with fantastic fans – it is as simple as that."

And those fans were another compelling reason to stay, the Spaniard asserted, continuing, "Last week I met with a supporter who carries a flag to every game. The flag has a picture of me on it and the Spanish phrase ‘siempre es possible’ and it is flown at all our home games.

"I saw it at the Bernabeu also when we played Real Madrid and I met the supporter who owns the flag at Melwood last week.

"It was really funny because he was telling me ‘you must sign’ and saying ‘I hope it is for ten years' but then he was changing his mind ‘no, no twenty years’.

"It was really funny but it also showed the incredible passion of the Liverpool fans and the support that they give to their manager. I also remember the Porto game last season when the fans demonstrated for me. That is something I will never forget."

As for whether there had ever been any realistic chance of his departing Merseyside, Benitez insisted that it had only been very slight, even though he found the situation frustrating at times.

He added, "Because of the uncertainty it was a difficult time. The conversations went on for a long time and because of that I was a bit worried. But I never thought of leaving and in the end it has all been sorted out thanks to the hard work of everyone involved.

"From the very beginning everyone knew that I wanted to stay here. But it took a bit longer for everything to be concluded because there were certain issues that we needed clarified."

Now that his contract has been inked, the manager concluded by stating his next immediate intention, he said, "My priority now is to do the deals for my staff and for the players who will be important for this club in the future."

Diego Simeone Advises Inter To Sign Javier Mascherano

Former Inter star Diego Simeone travelled to Milan this week to take a closer look at Jose Mourinho’s coaching methods. He believes that, if the Milan club were to bolster their midfield, they should look no further than Liverpool man Javier Mascherano.

“I think Inter should keep hold of the midfielders they already have in the squad because they are excellent,” Simeone said to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But if they really have to get one, I would pour all my efforts into capturing Mascherano. He can do everything and he is world-class.

“Moreover, I want to advise all the Serie A clubs not to miss out on [Carlos] Tevez. He is a complete striker, has a great personality and is a true professional.”

Inter are in the driving seat to retain the Serie A title this term but have once again flopped in Europe, crashing out of the competition at the hands of Manchester United.

“I adore this club because it was the most important in my footballing career,” enthused the ex-River Plate boss.

“They have won the Scudetto for three years on the trot and are firmly top of the table this season.

“As for the Champions League, they were not knocked out by a small team. It is very tough to overcome English sides at the moment because they have improved a great deal thanks to foreign players and coaches.”

Soccer-Assault Charge Against Gerrard Dropped

Prosecutors dropped accusations of assault against England and Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard on Friday but the player will still face a charge of affray over a bar brawl.

The Liverpool captain was arrested in the early hours of Dec. 29 after police were called to the Lounge Bar nightclub in Southport, north of Liverpool in northwest England.

Company director Marcus McGee, 34, required hospital treatment after receiving facial injuries in the incident.

At North Sefton magistrates’ court on Friday, Gerrard, 28, was told he would no longer face a charge of assault occasioning bodily harm, the Press Association reported.

Prosecutor Nick Evans said after a review of the evidence it had been decided that Gerrard and the other six men accused of involvement in the brawl would only face lesser charges of affray.

The case was committed to Liverpool Crown Court for a hearing on April 3. Gerrard has not yet formally entered a plea but has said he intends to deny wrongdoing.

The incident occurred following Gerrard's man-of-the-match performance in a 5-1 win over Newcastle United in which he had scored twice.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has said the club are fully behind Gerrard whose court appearance comes the day before a Premier League game against Aston Villa.

Swedes Confirm Reds Starlet Move

Djurgardens have confirmed Liverpool starlet Robbie Threlfall is poised to join the club on loan.

As exclusively revealed by earlier this week talented defender Threlfall is set to join the Swedes on loan as he searches for regular first-team action.

The 20-year-old has been given permission by Liverpool to fly out to the club's Portuguese training camp as the Swedes continue preparations for their new season.

Threlfall is regarded as one of the brightest prospects to come through the ranks at Liverpool having helped the club win the FA Youth Cup twice in recent seasons.

The left-back has yet to make his first-team debut for Liverpool, but Reds boss Rafa Benitez is keen to loan him out so that he can pick up some much-needed first-team experience.

"We hope to have him down as quickly as possible to train in Portugal," DIF's chief of communications Jonas Riedel told

Steven Gerrard Selling His Car On Auto Trader Website

Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool and England footballer, is selling his car on the Auto Trader website.

His decision to steer clear of glitzy showrooms and instead place an advertisement on the internet means any "ordinary" fan with £52,990 to spare could snap up a celebrity bargain.

Gerrard's 3.6 litre Range Rover Vogue boasts a host of extras and the number eight - the player's shirt number - hand-stitched into each of the leather armrests.

The 28-year-old Liverpool captain is thought to have paid £61,000 for the V8 diesel just over a year ago.

But he then spent another £22,000 on such extras as alloy wheels, a £1,880 DVD system and £700 wool rugs.

He and his wife, Alex Curran, 26, have clocked up nearly 20,000 miles in the car.

A club source said: "This is the dream car for any Liverpool fan. It's a collector's item."

The source added: "It's a snip compared to what he paid. I can't see it being on the market for too long."

Assuming he gets a buyer this will be the second Range Rover Gerrard has sold through Auto Trader.

Last year he posted his old Sport HST on the site, with an asking price of £46,490.

His previous cars have included a Bentley Continental GT, an Aston Martin Vanquish and a Ferrari.