Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Samuel Eto'o Linked With Liverpool Move

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is weighing up a move for Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o in a bid to ensure his side do not rely so heavily on Fernando Torres next season, according to reports in Spain.

The sale of Robbie Keane to his former club Tottenham in January has left Benitez with just youngster David N’Gog as cover for Torres, a situation the Spaniard knows he must remedy if Liverpool are to keep pace with Manchester United and Chelsea.

Eto’o has insisted he would like to stay a Camp Nou until his contract runs out in the summer of 2010 and while Benitez would be prepared to wait to land one of Europe’s best strikers on a free transfer, it is thought he may try to exploit the uncertainty surrounding his future to land his man sooner.

After coming close to leaving Barcelona last summer, after manager Pep Guardiola revealed the Cameroon international did not feature in his plans, Eto’o has won his place back in emphatic fashion. He tops the Spanish goalscoring charts and has played a key role as Barcelona have threatened to run away with the La Liga title.

But Guardiola could still be convinced to cash in on a player unlikely to sign a new deal if a suitable offer arrived as he looks to supplement Europe’s best attacking line with the likes of Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery and Brazilian striker Keirrison.

Despite landing two La Liga titles since joining the Catalan side from Real Madrid, as well as playing a key role in winning the 2006 Champions League, Eto’o’s time at Barcelona has been chequered. He is widely considered a source of dressing room discontent and Guardiola had wanted to sell him, along with Deco and Ronaldinho, last summer, but could not find a buyer.

Benitez has been promised a transfer kitty of at least £30 million by Liverpool’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, plus whatever he can raise by selling off any of his squad he no longer requires.

A striker, as well as cover on the right wing and at right back, are likely to be his priorities, while a second move for Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry is likely.

Hertha Berlin To Buy Voronin From Liverpool If They Seal Champions League Spot

Hertha Berlin have let it be known that an agreement is in place that will see Liverpool loanee Andriy Voronin join them on a permanent basis - but only if Champions League football is assured for next term.

The Ukrainian striker's red-hot form since joining on loan from Liverpool is a primary reason why Hertha currently top the Bundesliga going into the final stretch of the season.

Nevertheless, with no less than five teams in with a realistic shot of winning the title, a Champions League place is by no means guaranteed to the German capital club.

Hertha president Werner Gegenbauer told SID, "We cannot go through with a transfer unless we have extra funds from the Champions League, so it depends on whether or not we qualify.

"We can give and receive no promise, but we have to wait and see what happens at the end of the season."

Liverpool have yet to officially confirm whether they are willing to sell the 29-year-old outright, but his short spell at Anfield was so underwhelming that it is hard to imagine them turning down a reasonable offer.

Liverpool FC Duo Jay Spearing And Stephen Darby Set For New Contracts

Liverpool are ready to reward Jay Spearing for his progress at Anfield by offering the young midfielder a new contract.

And the club have already opened talks with fellow youngster Stephen Darby as Rafael Benitez continues planning for the future.

Spearing, who won the FA Youth Cup in 2006, captained the team that retained the trophy in 2007 and also won the FA Premier Reserve League last year, finally made his long-awaited breakthrough into the first-team squad this season.

The 20-year-old midfielder was handed a debut as substitute in the Champions’ League group win at PSV Eindhoven in December.

Spearing, who is expected to be loaned out to a leading Coca-Cola Championship club next season, then enjoyed an impressive cameo from the bench in his Anfield bow against Real Madrid last month, with his performance earning praise from Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard.

“I was delighted for Jay because I think a few people will have been surprised by the way he performed after coming on against Real Madrid but I wasn’t one of them,” said Gerrard.

“First of all, you have to give credit to the manager for giving a young player a chance in such a big game and Jay certainly did not let him down.

“I see him in training all the time and he’s got a good touch, he passes the ball well and he keeps thing simple and it was good to see him show what he is all about in a game like this.

“He certainly won’t let anyone down if he is given more chances in the future.”

Both Spearing and Darby, also 20, have just more than 12 months to run on their contracts.

Darby also played in the FA Youth Cup-winning sides of 2006 and 2007 and was the skipper of the reserve team that beat Aston Villa 3-0 to win the national title last season.

The right-back – and England under-19 international – made his debut in the Carling Cup defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in November and appeared at PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League the following month.

Sami Hyypia In Knee Injury Scare

Rafa Benitez was today sweating on the fitness of Sami Hyypia after the long serving Reds defender returned early from international duty with a knee injury.

Hyypia picked the knock up during Finland’s 2-0 win over Wales in a World Cup qualifier in Cardiff at the weekend and was today due to undergo a scan at Melwood as Liverpool’s medical staff attempt to discover the extent of the damage.

The initial suspicion is that the 35-year-old has suffered a knee ligament injury and if that is confirmed Hyypia would almost certainly be ruled out of Liverpool’s forthcoming matches against Fulham in the Premier League and Chelsea in the Champions League.

With Yossi Benayoun having picked up a calf problem during Israel’s qualifying clash with Greece, the current international break is already looking likely to turn out to be a costly one for Benitez.

A further worry for the Reds boss is that Javier Mascherano will not return to Merseyside from international duty with Argentina until 24 hours before Liverpool take on Fulham at Craven Cottage.

The midfield general is set to captain Diego Maradona’s side as Argentina take on Bolivia in La Paz and afterwards will face a 14-hour flight back to the UK.

With several other senior members of his squad also involved in international matches tomorrow night, Benitez will not get the majority of his players back until Thursday afternoon.

Gerrard Houllier - Bring Jamie Carragher Back For England

Gerard Houllier has urged Fabio Capello to persuade Jamie Carragher to come out of international retirement – and hailed the Liverpool man as the answer to England’s problematic right-back position.

Carragher, who has won 34 caps, has asked not to be considered for selection for his country since 2007 having grown tired at his treatment from a succession of national team managers.

The 31-year-old was in particular aggrieved that he was rarely utilized in his preferred centre-back role despite regularly being hailed as one of the best defenders in Europe by his peers.

With Manchester United pair Gary Neville and Wes Brown hampered by injuries in recent years and Portsmouth’s Glen Johnson yet to fully convince Capello, the right-back slot remains up for grabs ahead of next summer’s World Cup.

And former Liverpool manager Houllier believes Carragher’s versatility and experience would prove invaluable for England in South Africa.

“It’s not my place to offer advice to Fabio Capello,” said Houllier. “But I’d go to Jamie Carragher and say ‘We need you’.

“I’d ask him to come back at the start of next season. In my mind I’d have him pencilled in for the right-back position, where England have no obvious solution at the moment, but the great thing about Carra is he can play right-back, left-back and, of course, centre-back – and do a job in defensive midfield, too.

“All that experience would be valuable in a World Cup. On top of everything else, he’s a great lad to have in the dressing room.”

Capello declared last month that the door was open for Carragher and Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes, who retired from the international scene almost five years ago.

However, Capello’s plea is likely to fall on deaf ears with Carragher having shown little sign of being tempted back into the international fold, particularly when any possible recall would not be in his preferred position in central defence.

England can move a step closer to next summer’s World Cup with victory in their qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley tomorrow.

Mark Lawrenson: Internationals A Bad Break For Liverpool FC Momentum

Last week all the talk was about the title momentum being with Liverpool. Well not any more, it’s not. Because this international break could not have come at a worse time.

After scoring 13 goals in three wins against Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa, you want your team to get back out there as soon as possible while you’re still in the groove.

You don’t want the situation Rafael Benitez now finds himself in, just sitting there and waiting for his players to come back.

He’ll be like a cat on a hot tin roof towards the end of the week, anxiously hoping his phone doesn’t ring with more injury news from the continent.

The situation with Yossi Benayoun won’t have done anything to reassure him over the risks of this particular round of games.

Instead of basking in the satisfaction of what Liverpool have achieved in getting back into the title race, he’s deprived of building on that and working with his key players ahead of a massive – and very difficult – game at Fulham on Saturday.

That’s the problem with the expanded number of sides in the World Cup qualifiers.

You never used to have the nuisance of a fortnight’s break from your club. You’d go off after a weekend game and play in midweek, then you’d be back straight away for another club game the next weekend.

The break didn’t need to be that long, maybe only four or five days compared to the 10 or 11 days that you’re needed on duty in the modern era.

That time must feel like an eternity for Benitez, stuck back at Melwood with just Jamie Carragher for company on the training ground. Hardly the ideal way to stoke up your squad for an impending title run-in and all the intensity that goes with it.

But my big worry is not how it will affect Liverpool. It is how it will affect Manchester United.

They’re in the exact opposite camp to Liverpool – they needed the break.

They needed the time away to recharge the batteries after two terrible results and they needed to get away from the pressure that went with them.

Pressure that would have been building up nicely now ahead of the Aston Villa game, which they could go into in second place in the table.

But the psychological doubts that creep in at this time will have been erased by this two-week break.

Yes, Alex Ferguson will have been short of players and unable to prepare them just like Benitez, but at least nobody has been talking about the Aston Villa game.

Normally, the papers and media would be full of stuff about the title race, like it was last week.

But by the time the aftermath of the World Cup qualifiers has died down it will be Friday before anyone even mentions the Premier League programme.

The scrutiny has been taken off United and the problems they had. And that’s why the timing of this break will suit them far more than Liverpool.

Trophy Delight For AFC Liverpool’s Under-16s

AFC Liverpool’s Under-16s team claimed the Adam Bell Trophy with a 3-0 triumph over Arriva Youth.

With first team manager Derek Goulding and reserve team boss John Moran in attendance, AFC Liverpool’s Under-16’s secured the silverware in a largely one-sided final held at Burscough’s Victoria Park ground.

The Reds were in the ascendancy right from the off and took the lead after five minutes when a David McElnay cross looped over the opposition goalkeeper.

The Reds didn’t need such luck with James Rushton-Woods, son of former chairman Mark Woods, and Daniel Currie controlling the midfield to ensure that from an early stage the result was never in doubt.

The Reds continued to press for a second goal without success until right on the stroke of half-time Tom O’Sullivan nodded home a right wing cross to double AFC Liverpool’s advantage.

In the second half AFC Liverpool made a number of substitutions without losing control of the game showing the strength in depth of the squad.

A nasty looking injury to Steven Grey which resulted in a red card for the Arriva offender marred the second half which ended with Lewis Hogg scoring the third for a well-deserved victory for the Reds.

It was a great night for the Under-16s with a good turnout from AFC Liverpool fans and the support of the first team and reserve team manager.

Ian Rush: No Chance Of Resting Liverpool FC Stars As Euro Clash Looms

In recent seasons, Rafa Benitez has been able to rest key players in league games ahead of big European ties but he won’t be able to do that this weekend.

The Champions League quarter final clash with Chelsea comes just a few days after Saturday’s meeting with Fulham and I’m sure the Liverpool manager would love to be able to give one or two of his stars a bit of a rest at the weekend.

But with a Premier League challenge now well and truly on Benitez will have to pick his best available side for the league game.

The problem is that so many Liverpool players have been away on international duty and the Reds boss will have to factor this into his planning.

Tiredness could be a problem, particularly for the likes of Javier Mascherano who will only return from South America 24 hours before the Fulham game.

There are also likely to be a few players carrying knocks and if they aren’t 100% then Benitez will have some big decisions to make.

But there is no doubt that these are exactly the kind of problems that Benitez would have wanted when the season started because they mean that Liverpool have a chance in two of football’s biggest competitions.

Benayoun Injury Adds To Liverpool Insult

Yossi Benayoun has risked the wrath of Rafael Benítez by defying the Liverpool manager's wishes not to travel on international duty and then suffering an injury during Israel's World Cup qualifier with Greece.

The Israel captain, who missed three games for Liverpool with a hamstring strain prior to Saturday's Group 2 fixture, was carried off in the 71st minute of the 1-1 draw with what appeared to be a calf injury. Liverpool are still awaiting confirmation of the damage to the midfielder and a decision on whether he can be considered for Israel's return game with Greece on Wednesday or their own Premier League trip to Fulham on Saturday.

Benayoun, however, is unrepentant at starting the World Cup qualifier. "I made the right decision, and that's it," he said. "We hope we'll win in Greece, but a draw isn't that bad either. Still, our aim is to win in Crete."

Prior to the first encounter with Greece the 28-year-old admitted he had defied Liverpool's instructions not to play given his recent hamstring problems. He said: "I had a little problem with Liverpool. They didn't really want me to come to Israel. But as long as I know I will be able to give 100% I will play, even if it means risking my health."

Steven Gerrard Lauds Liverpool Goalkeeper Pepe Reina

Liverpool's guardian Pepe Reina is often overlooked by both Premier League and Spanish fans due to Edwin van der Sar's excellence at Old Trafford and Iker Casillas' continued exemplary form with Real Madrid and the national team.

Steven Gerrard, though, has today lauded Reina as one of the best in the business. The praise arrives in the wake of the 'keeper’s ability to reach 100 shut-outs in club-record time.

"We're really happy with the keeper that we've got at Liverpool and, as far as I'm concerned, Pepe is probably the best in the world in his position right now," Gerrard explained to the club's official website.

"If you look at the games we've won of late, Pepe has played a really important part in those victories by making important saves at vital moments and he's even created a couple of goals as well.

"So we know just how good he is and he is definitely one of the world's best.”

Gerrard is currently away on international duty with England. He is currently preparing for a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday evening against Ukraine.