Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Benitez To Hiddink - No Mind Games Ahead of Champions League Bout

It was somewhat inevitable that Liverpool and Chelsea were going to be pitted against one another in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The Reds and the Blues face-off for the fifth consecutive season in Europe's premier club competition but, unlike the grapples Rafa Benitez shared with Blues bosses of the past, he expects no war of words with current Chelsea interim manager, Guus Hiddink.

"Some managers want to play too many mind games. With Hiddink, it will just be about football," he told the People newspaper.

The first-leg will be competed on Wednesday, when Liverpool have home advantage. The return date will be staged at Stamford Bridge six days later.

Benitez most famously shared a battle of the minds with the charismatic Jose Mourinho.

The former Chelsea icon was livid, and reportedly still is to this day, that his Blues were forced out of the tournament in 2005 due to a Luis Garcia phantom goal.

Liverpool Will Gain Champions League Revenge On Chelsea, Vows Pepe Reina

Pepe Reina believes that even football's "biggest pain in the ass" can't deny Liverpool Champions League glory this season.

The Anfield side face Chelsea tomorrow in the first leg of their quarter-final tie, with Didier Drogba standing once more in the way of a route to the final.

Last season the Blues striker was the difference between the two sides in the competition, in an epic semifinal showdown.

But even though Reina admires Drogba as his toughest opponent, he feels Liverpool will get their revenge after hitting top form at just the right time, and go on to lift the trophy.

The Liverpool keeper cheerfully admits to everyone who asks that the African forward is his most feared opponent, but he insisted: "It's going to be tough of course, they have so many good players including Drogba, who is one of my favourite players. But we feel we can win it. When people ask me about who was the most dangerous striker or who was a real pain in the ass, I always say Didier Drogba.

"In a way he's becoming stronger and stronger. He's been having some injury problems in the last months but now he's scoring goals, he's scored four or five in the last six games or something like that and we know it will be difficult to stop him.

"But really, we think we can do it. We know what Drogba did in the semi-final last time and they beat us, but we feel we can beat them at any time."

Liverpool have emerged as the form team in Europe at the perfect time, with everyone from Barcelona and Bayern Munich praying they can avoid them in the draw for the Champions League.

Even Chelsea skipper John Terry has admitted he fears facing Steven Gerrard at the moment, and Reina believes the confidence inspired by their current form can take the Merseyside club all the win to another stirring European triumph.

And he reckons the inspiration provided by their two star players Gerrard and Fernando Torres can take Liverpool all the way to Rome and their sixth European Cup.

"It will not be easy, when you play Chelsea they are always such a tough opponent, but the way we are playing we have probably the best momentum of the season, which is important," Reina explained.

"The small things as always will make the difference in this competition. But we are confident, we have form and we have some top-class players.

"Torres is sheer magic, he is one of the best, if not the best, strikers in the world and he's a key player, really important for us at the moment.

"Gerrard is the best midfielder in the world, there is no doubt about that.

This is probably the best season of his career.

"I feel proud and really lucky to play alongside him, and he gives us the inspiration to do anything." Tomorrow night, Liverpool will meet Chelsea in the Champions League for the ninth time, and many people believe familiarity is breeding contempt, not just for the players but for the fans too.

Reina though, views the tie differently. He sees these games as the pinnacle of the sport, and he wants Liverpool to enjoy the quarter-final for the great occasion he believes it to be.

"You can't be bored with these games - it is one of the biggest games you can play, and most of all we have to enjoy it as players," he said.

"Even though we have played each other many times and it will be extremely close and tight, it will be a fantastic atmosphere and a great occasion.

"But we feel we can win, and we think we have the important momentum in our season."

Liverpool Star Mascherano Knocks Back Chance To Join Up With Kaka At Real Madrid

Javier Mascherano has told Real Madrid he has no intention of leaving Liverpool for the Spanish giants.

The Argentina midfielder is reported to be in the sights of Florentino Perez, who hopes to return as president at the Bernabeu in the summer.

Former West Ham player Mascherano, 24, is seen as the perfect holding midfielder to build a solid foundation alongside Lassana Diarra as Madrid look to remodel the rest of their side around a raft of new attacking players.

Sportsmail understands the La Liga champions are growing increasingly confident they will be able to sign Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo for £75million in the summer, while reports in Spain suggest a deal is done with AC Milan for the £55m capture of Kaka.

It is unlikely the club would sign both and Chelsea and Manchester City would rival them for the signature of the 26-year-old Brazilian.

But Mascherano appears unmoved by the project and his mentor Kia Joorabchian says that the Argentina captain is going nowhere, according to Spanish newspaper Sport.

Madrid are also understood to have been knocked back with a quiet approach for Steven Gerrard, who signed a new deal with Liverpool last week.

But they are determined to strengthen the midfield and have Spain internationals Xabi Alonso, also from Liverpool, and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas on a short list of targets.

Meanwhile, Perez is said to have gone cold on the idea of appointing Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti as the next boss at the Bernabeu, even if it would help to sign Kaka.

Former Spurs coach Juande Ramos is likely to be replaced in the summer, but Perez is said to prefer either Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini or Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.

Rafa Benitez Denies Liverpool Interest in Palermo Starlet Kjaer

Recent rumours have circulated that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has expressed interest in Palermo youngster Simon Kjaer following news that Daniel Agger is unsettled due to a lack of first team action.

Coupled with the additional hearsay linking the Danish centre-back to teams such as Real Madrid and AC Milan, Agger has been reported as being reluctant to sign a new contract at Anfield because he is no longer guaranteed a spot in the Reds' first team.

With this in mind, the implications that Kjaer was on Benitez's radar had seemed perfectly viable, but the ex-Valencia boss had other things to say.

"I can only say that Simon Kjaer is not on our agenda at the moment," Benitez told Stadionews24.

"I can say that if Daniel Agger were to leave, we are not planning to bring him as a replacement."

At the other end of the spectrum, Kjaer's agent, Mikkel Bekk revealed that he has not received a single phone call from Juventus, despite the link being made between the club and player just last week.

"Juventus? I don't think so. I have read this news. I think that they are only rumours, I haven't received any calls from Juventus," said Bekk.

Juventus Join Hunt For Liverpool Defender Daniel Agger

According to reports in the Corriere dello Sport, Juventus directors have added Liverpool central defender Daniel Agger to their summer hit-list. The Old Lady will have to beat competition from Serie A rivals Milan, who have been frequently linked with a move for the 24-year-old in recent weeks.

Agger is under contract with the Reds until 2010, however, he has been on the fringes of Rafael Benitez’s side this term and there were rumours back in February that he had already undergone a medical with Milan.

However, Juve now seem to have entered the frame and have identified Agger as the ideal man to bolster their shaky rearguard for next season.

Should their bid to snatch the stopper from under Milan’s noses fail, the Bianconeri have already drawn up a short-list of alternatives that includes Borussia Dortmund’s Neven Subotic, Palermo’s rising star Simon Kjaer and Udinese man Cristian Zapata.

David Silva Not Eyeing Liverpool Move

Reported Liverpool target David Silva has vowed to remain at Valencia for ‘many years to come’.

The Spain international has been linked to a host of clubs since winning the European Championship with La Roja, with The Reds, as well as Juventus, believed to be massive admirers of his game.

But the flying winger is apparently determined to continue with Los Che and aid the Mestalla outfit in the Champions League race.

Valencia have been mired in financial trouble for some time, but the players have finally been paid after a long spell without receiving any salary.

“I am under contract with Valencia for many years to come,” Silva told As.

“What I desire is complete my contract with the club.

“I am delighted to be a Valencia player.”

Liverpool's Youth Players Show Promise For The Future

Liverpool have handed young striker Nathan Eccleston a new, two-year contract to stave off interest in one of Anfield's brightest prospects from a number of their Premier League rivals, with Blackburn and Everton thought to be among those tracking his progress.

The club's youth system has come under fire in recent weeks for not producing a single first-team player since Stephen Warnock, now at Blackburn, despite millions of pounds of investment.

Eccleston, an 18-year-old England youth international, though, is just one player whose promise suggests that might be about to change.

Krisztian Nemeth - Hungarian international striker likely to be the first of Rafa Benitez's imported youngsters to make the breakthrough at first-team level. Picked up from Liverpool's feeder club MTK, Nemeth is a ruthless finisher, although doubts remain over his lack of pace. A broken cheekbone on his debut put an end to a January loan spell at Blackpool, but that Benitez name checked him as a reason for selling Robbie Keane two weeks later suggests his future is bright.

Dani Pacheco - Rafa Benitez plucked the Spanish prodigy from Barcelona two years ago and Liverpool's staff retains high hopes they may have unearthed a gem. His displays for the first team in pre-season hinted at what was to come, full of clever touches and excellent control, and the 18-year-old is expected to be promoted from reserve level next season.

Adam Pepper - A 17-year-old attacking midfielder in just his first year at Liverpool's Academy, Pepper is already regarded as the brightest prospect on Merseyside since Wayne Rooney. After a string of excellent performances for the under-18s, Pepper gave a glimpse of his potential when he scored from the half-way line against Blackburn last month. Xabi Alonso would be proud.

Lauri Dalla Valle - Another beneficiary of Benitez's global scouting network, Dalla Valle is a Finnish youth international boasting a clinical ruthlessness in front of goal. Hughie McAuley, the under-18s manager, regards him as a "real asset" while his countryman Sami Hyypia regards him as "one of the names for the future."

Thomas Ince - Despite his father, former Liverpool captain Paul Ince, making his name as a snarling midfield enforcer, the younger Ince is a quick, exciting left winger who has made a big impression in his first year at the club's Academy. Only 17, his physical presence has improved and, along with Pepper, he is seen as the home grown youngster most likely to make it to the first team in the coming years.

Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka: I Was At My Best While With Liverpool

Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka has opined that he enjoyed his best spell of football while on loan at Liverpool during the latter part of the 2001-02 campaign.

Ahead of the Blues' Champions League quarter-final clash with the Reds, the French international feels that it is assumed he is an out-and-out striker, but the Merseyside outfit did not make that mistake and duly profited.

"I played my best football at Liverpool because I played in my best position," Anelka is quoted as saying in The Sun.

"There was Michael Owen, who’s a natural goal scorer, and Emile Heskey, who sets lots of things up for you. The three of us complemented each other.

"I played as a centre-forward at Arsenal and scored lots of goals so everyone thinks that’s my best position but I don’t.

"My main aim is to play well and that’s where I differ from real strikers.”

The 30-year-old is well travelled having played for eight different football clubs in four countries, but he says that England is where he feels most at home.

"My relationship with English football is a love story,” he said. “England is a wonderful country.

"I’ve lived in France, Spain and Turkey, but England is the place where I’m happiest."