Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steven Gerrard PFA Player Of The Year Award, Says Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, believes Steven Gerrard should be named PFA player of the year. The team captain is has scored 21 goals this season to play a major part in the revival of Liverpool's title ambitions.

"For me Stevie is one of the best players in the world," Benitez said. "To say one is the best above anyone else is difficult because there are a lot of quality players about, but he is one of the best."

Benitez has also praised Gerrard, who is currently with the England squad for the forthcoming games with Slovakia and Ukraine, for his attitude to the game. "He has quality and always tries to improve in every training session," the Spaniard said. "That is very positive. You know when he is on the pitch you have more options to win."

Gerrard has claimed this week he would like to play for England in the 'second striker' role he has at Liverpool and Benitez argues that playing just behind Fernando Torres has seen his performances rise to even greater heights.

"He scored 23 goals one year and now he has 21 and can score more before the end of this season, so that is very positive for the team and also for him," Benitez said. "When Gerrard and Torres are together for us, the rest of the team has more confidence."

Gerrard Loyalty Impresses Liverpool FC Legend Rush

Liverpool legend Ian Rush has praised Steven Gerrard’s loyalty after the midfielder expressed his desire to stay at Anfield for the rest of his career.

Gerrard, 28, has two years left on his contract and revealed he would welcome the chance to sign a four-year extension.

Rush, Liverpool’s all-time leading goalscorer with 346 goals in 660 appearances, said: “It’s great for Liverpool and the supporters. Stevie is a fantastic player and the fact he wants to commit to the club is great news.

“He’s loyal and loyalty doesn’t seem to be in the game that much these days. He and Jamie Carragher are both loyal to Liverpool and it’s nice to see that. The supporters appreciate that as well.

“I’m not surprised because it’s a good time for Liverpool. If Gerrard commits long term it will give even more of a buzz to the place.”

Meanwhile, defender Alvaro Arbeloa would love nothing more than to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals in order to “take them down a peg or two”.

Rafa Benitez’s men will meet Barca if they overcome Chelsea in the last eight and the Catalans beat Bayern Munich and that would be a dream encounter for Arbeloa who graduated from Real Madrid’s youth academy.

“We’re not doing badly in the Premier League, we’re there waiting to see if Manchester United fall,” said the Spain defender.

“And in the Champions League we’re waiting to see if we meet Barca, to see if we take them down a peg or two.

“Barca are favourites in the competition as they are playing a marvellous game.

“It’s not going to be easy. First we have to beat Chelsea. Barca are a strong rival, but Chelsea will be a difficult obstacle and we have to be prepared.”

Liverpool Full Of Title Belief - Albert Riera

The Spaniard is convinced that the Reds can sneak the title but knows they'll virtually have to win every game from now on to do so.

Liverpool crushed Aston Villa 5-0 at Anfield last Sunday to move within striking distance of Manchester United. And with the pressure mounting on Sir Alex Ferguson's men, Reds winger Albert Riera says his side have renewed confidence in overhauling their bitter rivals by the time all is said and done this season.

"The feelings on the pitch are really well and we are in a great situation to fight, and when you are behind somebody I think the pressure is for the other team," boomed Riera on Sky Sports News.

"Of course we have to wait as they are still in front of us, but we have a lot of confidence in ourselves and really good feelings.

"They are one point in front of us and have to play one match more than us as well, but the next two months we have a lot of important matches in the Premier League and Champions League, matches with a lot of pressure and we will be there waiting that they will not win every single match.

"We have to win every single match and I promised a long time ago we would fight for the title and this is the promise we can do because to fight is compulsory and we will see at the end.

"We have a lot of confidence, a lot of good feelings and we will see what happens at the end of the season.

"Liverpool are playing really, really well in this moment," he added for emphasis, referring to the fact that their last three outings have resulted in staggering scorelines against Real Madrid, United and Villa.

"The season is really, really complicated and you have to play well. The reality is you have to play ten months at the highest level and sometimes it is very, very difficult.

"For example we started really well, we were on the top of the table. After December and January we had some problems making a lot of draws at home but not losing.

"I think we were just not playing really well and the other teams wanted to beat who was top of the table that we were before.

"Now we are in a different position, but in a great position to fight for the title.

"We are one point behind Manchester United and we are really confident that this is the most important time."

Boro Bait Taken As Rafa Benitez Back On Road To Glory

It may have fooled you, but of course I saw all this coming.

It was very obvious to me that, while succumbing to a desperately poor Middlesbrough side, we were just playing possum.

We might have laid it on a bit thick, St John’s Ambulance men being tempted to rush onto the pitch at times to resuscitate apparently lifeless players, but it worked: United put aside their steely ambition, opened up the picnic basket marked ‘complacency’, and gorged themselves on their own invincibility.

Now was the time for Rafa’s master plan.

Away went the straightjacket, the draft selections and the bits of paper carrying the life and times of Alex Ferguson.

Out came the mortar board, the first team and carefully-crafted dossiers on how to humble the alleged best teams in England and Europe.

A gentle warm-up against Sunderland, just to loosen the limbs and get into our stride.

And then the hounds were unleashed, led by Gerrard and Torres, to lay waste to opponents paralysed by fear and eventually slaughtered by ruthless execution. Obvious really.

It must be said we have been aided, according to certain sections of the press, by outrageous fortune. Real Madrid, despite coming off a domestic run of 10 wins in 11 games, were derided as the worst Real team in living memory. A worthless 4-0 victory then.

Next come Manchester United – champions of England, champions of Europe – their fans keep telling us, and on course for a quintuple of trophies according to the papers (every day).

But we catch them on a ‘bad day at the office’, several of their players who are apparently candidates for Footballer of the Year mysteriously suffering a catastrophic loss of form.

A 4-1 mauling this time. On then to Aston Villa, admittedly struggling for form but still with as many away wins as anybody in the league. They too are very poor, and so five more goals go in. It should be about now that even the dimmest journalist starts to spot a pattern emerging here.

Could it be that these teams perform badly because, perish the thought, they are being made to look poor?

Maybe Benitez is not cracking up after all; maybe this is a decent side, when key players are fit and rested? Nope, because that would spoil the easiest story to write on a quiet day. And if he was to sign a new contract.

Rafa could be forgiven a wry smile or two after the events of the last two weeks. Widely doubted and ridiculed, he’s emerged from his most trying period with his hand as strong as ever, his reputation as a master tactician enhanced and the apparent source of much of his ire, Rick Parry, vanquished.

Houdini-like, he’s wriggled free from his restraints and smuggled them onto Old Red Nose, who has now taken to issuing delusional statements from a secret bunker in Hogwarts: celebrating 4-1 defeats, claiming Wayne Rooney is a calm young man anxious to see free-kicks taken quickly, and setting his staff ludicrous tasks researching meaningless transfer information.

He’ll be talking to the TV broadcasters through a dummy next. Still, no doubt he’ll re-emerge when his team start winning again, proclaiming them as the greatest of all time, despite their petulant and childish reactions when they don’t get their own way, despite their lack of humility, despite their lack of graciousness in defeat.

But maybe, just maybe, they’ll be celebrating only two second-rate trophies at the end of the season, and the real double will be heading towards the Reds from Anfield. Obvious all along.

Skrtel - United Can Slip Up

Martin Skrtel believes Manchester United could crumble under the pressure as his Liverpool side gain momentum going into the title run-in.

When the two sides clashed at Old Trafford nearly two weeks ago Liverpool faced the prospect of falling ten points behind their rivals having played a game more.

But a 4-1 win for Rafa Benitez's side put them firmly back in the title race and after United dropped more points away at Fulham on Saturday, coupled with Liverpool's 5-0 win over Aston Villa, the gap at the top is now down to a point.

The Red Devils still have their game in hand but the 24-year-old defender, who will play against England in the friendly with Slovakia on Saturday, is confident that the league leaders can slip up again.

"I think yes, because there are eight games left or so," he told

"They are also in the UEFA Champions League. A lot of points are still up for grabs, and although they have a match against Portsmouth in hand, they will not have it easy against them.

"I just hope that we will stay in-form, they will slip-up and we will jump over them in the table."

Despite thumping Villa at Anfield on Sunday, Skrtel insists Martin O'Neill's top four hopefuls can spring a surprise when they visit United after the international break.

"It will not be an easy game for them. Aston Villa are still aiming for a Champions League spot and will not give them anything easy," he added.

"We will see. It would be great if they could play better than against us and steal a point or three from United."

The Slovakian international also expressed his delight that Benitez had finally signed a new contract, after expressing his view that he had improved as a player under the Spaniard.

"It is good for us players as well as for the fans and the whole club, because Benitez has done a great piece of work during his time at Liverpool," he explained.

"He is enormously popular here and I think that he is a coach of great qualities. He has also helped me personally.

"He has taught me a lot. Thanks to him we work a lot on tactics and game discipline. I have improved in both aspects."

Agger - Reds Need Help

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger accepts that the Premier League title is still Manchester United's to lose.

The Reds have closed to within one point of the Red Devils at the top of the table, but Sir Alex Ferguson's men still have a game in hand on their North West rivals.

A recent wobble by United has helped to rekindle interest in the battle for top-flight supremacy, with the race now expected to go down to the wire.

Many are now tipping Liverpool's momentum to carry them to glory, but Agger knows that their fate is the hands of others as they hope to take full advantage of any more slip-ups from the leaders.

"It will be hard, because we are still behind United," the Danish centre-half told Sporten.

"But as long as there are points to play for, we will be going for the trophy.

"It was good that we beat United recently (4-1 at Old Trafford), but it was almost just as important that they lost to Fulham (2-0) in their next game.

"That's what we needed, but we need more help from other teams if we are to win the title."

Benayoun Risks Rafa's Wrath

Yossi Benayoun will defy Liverpool's wishes by turning out for Israel in their 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

The midfielder has been out of action for the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, ruling him out of domestic duties.

However, the 28-year-old is desperate to skipper his country in their crucial clash with Greece on Saturday.

He admits that he is running the risk of further inflaming his current problem, but insists the opportunity to help Israel take another step on the road to South Africa justifies his decisions.

"I had a little problem with Liverpool," said Benayoun.

"They didn't really want me to come to Israel.

"But as long as I know I will be able to give 100 per cent I will play, even if it means risking my health.

"I've been going through intensive treatment in the last couple of weeks and I'm almost fully fit, but sometimes it's still painful.

"Missing out on Saturday's match would be the biggest disappointment of my career.

"I'm feeling much better now and I hope that in a day or two I will be able to train with the team.

"If that happens, I will be able to play. Two weeks' absence isn't that significant."

David Silva Is Liverpool FC Transfer Target

Rafa Benitez is weighing up a summer swoop for Spanish star David Silva.

The Reds boss has identified the Valencia man as one of his top transfer targets – but will only do business if the price is right.

Valencia have hit massive financial difficulties in recent months and are set to sell crown jewels Silva, David Villa and Raul Albiol in an effort to bring their debt of 450m Euros under control.

It is Silva who has caught Benitez’s eye though, with the Liverpool manager on the lookout for a versatile attacking player who can figure in a number of positions behind Fernando Torres as he looks to add strength in depth to his squad.

The 23-year-old certainly fits that bill and Liverpool have already made tentative enquiries about his availability.

They will only follow up their initial interest if Valencia are realistic about their valuation of a player who has won 21 caps for Spain.

Reports in Spain suggest the La Liga outfit are holding out for a fee in the region of £25m for Silva and with Barcelona and Juventus also both believed to be interested in snapping him up the battle for his services could be hard fought.

Liverpool are unlikely to be willing to pay that kind of asking price but Benitez will move fast it a compromise deal can be struck.

Reds chief scout Eduardo Macia – who took Silva to Valencia when the attacking midfielder was a teenager – was recently dispatched to Spain to check on Silva’s availability and was not discouraged by what he learned.

Silva was one of the stars of Spain’s victory at Euro 2008, operating in a left sided attacking role which allowed him to support Torres and Villa at every opportunity.

An ankle injury has stopped him from making as many appearances as would have been expected for Valencia this season.

But the midfielder returned to action in January and is currently training with the Spanish national squad ahead of this weekend’s World Cup qualifier against Turkey in Madrid.

Meanwhile, Javier Mascherano believes he is getting back to his best after struggling to reach top form earlier in the season. He said: “I think in the last two months I have been getting better and should be back to my best soon.”

Liverpool FC Boss Mulls Over Move For Raul Albiol

Rafael Benitez is contemplating a summer move for Valencia defender Raul Albiol – should Daniel Agger refuse to sign a new contract at Liverpool.

The Anfield manager has been assessing his centre-back options with Agger yet to commit his long-term future at the club.

And Spain international Albiol has emerged as a leading alternative, despite Valencia having slapped a prohibitive £18m price tag on the 23-year-old.

However, with his former employers a reported £400m in debt and desperate to raise funds, Benitez is confident the player could be captured for half the asking price.

While Valencia are desperate to hold on to crowd favourites David Villa and David Silva, the departure of Albiol would not cause a furore among the Mestalla faithful.

The defender was at Valencia while Benitez was in charge and climbed through the youth ranks under the guidance of Eduardo Macia, who is now chief scout at Anfield.

Benitez remains keen to keep Agger, but the longer the Dane’s new contract remains unsigned the less likely it is he will remain at Anfield beyond the summer, with his current deal expiring at the end of next season.

The Liverpool manager ended speculation over his own future by signing a new five-year deal, but Agger admits that will not affect his own decision.

“I’ll sign with the club, not with Benitez,” said Agger. “That’s something I must keep in mind.”

Italian duo AC Milan and Juventus are among several clubs tracking the Denmark international, who cost £5.6m from Brondby in January 2006.

Benitez continues to shape his squad for next season and is poised to offer Sami Hyypia a new 12-month deal in the summer after another impressive season from the 35-year-old.

And Jamie Carragher has hailed the Finland international veteran, who has proven an inspired signing since arriving from Willem II for £3m in May 1999.

“Sami’s been here nearly 10 years now and has always played a large portion of the season, hardly ever missing a game,” said Carragher.

“He rarely has a bad one either – and even on the times when he does, he never allows it to affect his form.

“He’s had his critics on a couple of occasions, but has always had the character to come through those periods.

“Top players always bounce back when they have suffered a knock – and Sami is one of those players.”

Hicks Plans Rangers Sale

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has confirmed that he is ready to sell part of his share in baseball team Texas Rangers.

Hicks, who holds a 95 per cent stake in the Rangers, co-owns the Anfield giants with George Gillett and has further sporting interests in NHL outfit Dallas Stars.

Hicks revealed his plans at Rangers' spring training camp and admitted he was also looking to sell minority shares in the Stars.

"I've been quietly looking for minority investors to come back into the ownership of the Rangers as a way to be prudent in a bad economy," he told Major League Baseball's official website.

"I'm doing the same thing with the Stars. At the end of the day, I'll still have 51-to-60 per cent of the ballclub and have new partners. That doesn't change anything.

"I own 95 per cent of the Rangers. I started out owning 55 per cent and over the past 10 years I've been slowly buying out partners that wanted to sell. There's no reason to own 95 per cent. There aren't many owners who own 95 per cent."

Earlier this week it was reported Gillett was considering selling some of his sporting assets, which also include the Montreal Canadiens NHL franchise.

Gillett later made it clear that despite assessing his assets, he had no plans to sell his stake in Liverpool.