Thursday, April 16, 2009

Liverpool Free To Focus On League Title

Only Sir Alex Ferguson knows whether he was indulging in his love of amateur psychology when he suggested that Liverpool's best chance of winning the Barclays Premier League title was by fighting their way past Chelsea in the Champions League. Now, though, the Manchester United manager is about to discover whether elimination from European competition will leave his rivals deflated or galvanised.

Liverpool, eliminated from all the cup competitions, have a simple task between now and the end of the season: to win their six remaining Premier League games and hope that United, who have a match in hand as well as a one-point lead, drop enough points to ensure that the league title goes to Anfield for the first time since 1990.

In one sense their field is now clear to focus on six Premier League matches in 39 days, but Liverpool's players struggled to put such a brave face on matters after their performance in the stunning 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday yielded a 7-5 aggregate defeat.

“You never know what the effect will be,” Xabi Alonso, the midfield player, said when asked about the impact of Champions League elimination on Liverpool's title challenge. “Logically, we should have more time to rest, but sometimes you prefer to keep playing games. We are not happy because we are out. It is very difficult [to win the league], but we have to go and try to win all our games.”

Even before the first leg against Chelsea, Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, had taken issue with Ferguson's appraisal of the tie's potential repercussions, suggesting that the United manager would prefer the Merseyside club to progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League because it might affect their title challenge adversely.

“If we are not in this competition [the Champions League], then he knows we will be a bigger threat in the Premier League,” Benítez said on April 7, the day before his team were beaten 3-1 by Chelsea at Anfield.

What is certain is that Liverpool now have time to relax between matches and to focus firmly on their Premier League matches. They will have had a seven-day break by the time they return to action against Arsenal at Anfield on Tuesday evening and, although they have another game away to Hull City four days later, their final four matches are spaced at least six days apart, meaning that Benítez, a big believer in recovery times, will have every hope that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres will regain full fitness during the run-in.

Gerrard watched the game at Stamford Bridge from the directors' box on Tuesday night after expressing concern about a possible recurrence of his groin strain during the day. Torres was substituted with ten minutes of the match remaining as Benítez appeared to concede that his team were out of the tie, with the aggregate score 6-3, even though they scored twice in quick succession thereafter, briefly raising their prospects of victory.

Speaking before Tuesday's game, in an interview broadcast on Sky Sports last night, Benítez suggested that his team were fit enough to maintain the pressure on United between now and the end of the season. “I think we are strong enough,” Benítez said. “Some players may be a little bit tired because this week we are playing three games in a few days, but still we have fresh legs and people who can play every single game at a high level. It's one game at a time, keep winning and put Manchester United under pressure.”

Gerrard and Torres are expected to be fit to face Arsenal on Tuesday, the London club's third game in six days after last night's Champions League tie against Villarreal and the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

Xabi Alonso: Chelsea Showing Proof Liverpool Can Push For Title

Xabi Alonso believes Liverpool’s dramatic European elimination is proof they will fight Manchester United all the way for the Premier League crown.

Rafael Benitez’s side came agonisingly close to producing one the greatest comebacks in Champions League history in their quarter-final tie at Chelsea on Tuesday.

Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Liverpool twice came within a goal of reaching the semi-finals before having to settle for an astonishing 4-4 draw.

Now the focus for the Anfield outfit in their final six games turns to surpassing league leaders United, who lead by a point and have a potentially decisive game in hand.

And echoing the sentiments of his manager, Alonso reckons Liverpool retain the belief they can end their 19-year wait for the championship.

“We are now thinking about the Premier League,” said the Spain international. “We are in a good moment and we have to try and keep that moment.

“It will be very difficult to win the league but we have to have a go and try to win all our games.

“Logically we should have more time to rest but sometimes you prefer to keep playing games. We are not happy because we are out.

“We showed that character is an important part of this team; we keep fighting when in difficult situations.”

Alonso was among the scorers on an extraordinary evening at Stamford Bridge.

And the midfielder added: “It’s hard to take that we are out. We had chances after the very bad result at Anfield, so we are disappointed we have not gone through.

“We feel as though we have restored some pride. Everyone has kept fighting to the end, at certain moments things were difficult, such as going 3-2 behind, but we scored two more goals and with 10 minutes left had a good chance to go through.

“We didn’t stop believing. And after the great first half we played, we had reasons to believe.

“We didn’t feel we had anything to prove to people, we want to prove something to ourselves because we wanted to keep alive and have chances.

“It is good that we are scoring goals, but on Tuesday we conceded a lot as well. We were trying to get over a difficult situation but probably we lost the tie at Anfield.”

Fabio Aurelio: Spirit Can Win Liverpool FC The Title

Fabio Aurelio today called on Liverpool to take the magnificent character they displayed against Chelsea into their remaining league games as the Reds look to end a 19-year wait for the title.

Rafa Benitez’s side gave everything in an unsuccessful bid to overturn Chelsea’s first leg lead in Tuesday night’s second leg at Stamford Bridge, earning heaps of praise for their efforts in the process.

Their departure from the Champions League means the Premier League title is now their sole remaining target for the season and Aurelio insists Liverpool can still take the crown if they keep showing the same spirit and togetherness.

“I think we showed the character and team spirit which makes this team what it is,” said the Brazilian.

“We have played this way on many times this season, coming back in games when we have been behind.

“But unfortunately this time it wasn’t to be and we were not able to get the result which we really wanted.

“I think every one of us did what we could to try and take the tie but Chelsea showed as well that they are a great side.

“They work really hard as a team and they did this particularly after going two goals down.

“It became really difficult for us to keep them under pressure in the second half but we kept trying and we must take this kind of character into the games to come.

“Now we have only one competition to focus on and we know it will be difficult to win it but even though we were not able to beat Chelsea we did show that everything is possible in football and we will keep on believing and showing the same spirit.”

Kaka Wants Liverpool Skipper Gerrard At Milan

Milan star player Kaka has recently returned from an injury and is hoping to be a major player for his side in the final stages of the season as they look to secure Champions League qualification.

The Rossoneri have struggled to find consistency over the past two seasons and the former Ballon d'Or winner has suggested it is the end of an era at the club.

"One cycle is ending and soon another will begin," the Brazilian maestro told Sky on Wednesday.

"It's time to renew the whole group, there are many players whose contracts are expiring. The ideal team should be a mixture of experienced and young players, who have a stubborn hunger for victory."

Meanwhile, the player was keen to praise Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard as he has done already in the past, insisting he would like the English international to join him in Serie A.

"I like modern football, which is made up of versatile players, who can attack and defend.

"I would say the best example is Gerrard from Liverpool. He is complete and at Milan would do well. He can play in many positions. I have seen him as a trequartista, but also in deep midfield or off to the right."

Kaka has struggled with various injuries this season, but still managed to find the back of the net 11 times for the Rossoneri in Serie A. Rumours continue to circulate the the former Sao Paulo midfielder could join Real Madrid this summer.

Liverpool To Sell Ryan Babel & Andrea Dossena To Fund Summer Buys

According to a report in the British broadsheet The Times, Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena could be heading for the exit doors at Liverpool at the end of the season.

Netherlands international winger Babel recently suggested that he may look elsewhere for regular first-team football after admitting to becoming frustrated at frequently being names on the bench.

Italy international full-back Dossena, meanwhile, has also struggled to convince manager Rafael Benitez to name him in the starting XI on a regular basis since arriving from Udinese last summer.

Apparently, with Benitez hoping to sign a new full-back, a winger and a striker, any offers for the aforementioned duo will be seriously considered as funds are needed for incoming transfers.

Danish centre-back Daniel Agger might also leave the Merseyside-based outfit, even though Benitez appears to be keen to hold on to him. He is uncertain about signing a contract extension after losing his place in defence to Martin Skrtel.

The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Milan are all thought to be keeping tabs on the 24-year-old defender.

With regards to who might be on Liverpool's wish-list, Aston Villa's Gareth Barry has cropped up once more, as has Valencia's David Silva.

However, while the Reds are likely to move for the former, it appears that they have ruled themselves out of the running for the latter.

"Our chief scout, Eduardo [Macia], was in Valencia and was talking with different people from the club, but someone was talking too much," Benitez is quoted as saying.

"So, at this moment, Silva is not a target. He is a good player, but not our target."

Ryan Babel Unhappy At Continuing Liverpool Bench Role

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel has revealed that he is not at all happy with being used purely as a substitute by Reds boss Rafa Benitez, and feels a little bitter about the situation as he feels he has worked hard to improve those aspects of his game that were perhaps hindering his starting opportunities.

Babel has made only six Premier League starts this season for the Anfield outfit, supplemented by 17 appearances from the bench. The forward, hailed for his pace and the potential threat he poses to opposition defences but often decried for his poor defensive work, feels that this is just not adequate.

The Dutchman claims he has worked hard on his tracking back, after discussions with Benitez, but still faces frustration on the sidelines.

"I have had three good talks with the trainer this season in which he indicated that I could not lose sight of the defensive aspect," he told Four-Four-Two magazine.

"It is my feeling that I have strongly improved, but still I get no real chance. With this supporting role, I am not happy."

Babel has made 87 appearances for 'Pool, since making a £11.5 million switch from Ajax in 2007, scoring 13 goals.

Javi Martinez Will Cost Liverpool And Fiorentina €30m

The English and Italian giants have been told that if they want the young midfielder then Athletic Club will not listen to any offers below the amount specified in his buy-out clause.

Javi Martinez is not for sale and the only way that Liverpool or Fiorentina are going to prise him away from Athletic Bilbao is if they meet his huge buy-out clause, the player's agent has stated.

The 20-year-old midfielder has been the subject of interest from England and Italy after another good season for Los Leones and stories suggested that bids could be made in the summer.

That will not see Athletic change their mind, however, as Martinez' agent, Antonio Sanz, told that there have been no offers and if there were they would be rejected.

Martinez has a buy-out clause of €30 million and Athletic will tell all interested parties that they can speak to the player when that amount has been met.

"There has been no concrete offers," the representative, who works for the Bahia Internacional agency, said.

"They are not willing to negotiate. The only way will be if a club pays the amount stated in his buy-out clause.

"Athletic have told us what they think about the player and he is not just another squad member after the effort that they made to sign him from Osasuna, to renew his contract and to improve his salary."

Liverpool To Beat Lazio To Mauro Zarate Deal

Liverpool are ready to approach Al-Sadd for Mauro Zarate as Lazio squander time in sealing a permanent move for him.

The Argentinean striker is only on loan at the Roman club, but president Claudio Lotito has not moved to sign him on a permanent deal from the Qatar-based club. Al-Sadd have already warned the Aquile that they would listen to other offers if the Serie A side failed to act swiftly.

The Sun claims Liverpool are ready to trade with the Arabs in an attempt to lure Zarate to Anfield, and leave Lotito red-faced and empty-handed. Reports from England suggest Reds' manager Rafael Benitez is keen on 'The Zarate Kid', who is seen as an ideal partner for Fernando Torres up front.

The striker has already had a spell in the Premier League when he was on loan at Birmingham City. Zarate has bagged 11 goals in 30 games in Serie A this season. Liverpool will have to wait further though as Lazio have first rights to sign him on a permanent deal.

The Anfield club are likely to continue monitoring the situation between Lazio and the Arabs as the transfer market approaches.

Lazio Have Until End Of April To Sort Mauro Zarate’s Future

The Argentina striker's representative has warned the Biancocelesti that he will be able to negotiate a transfer elsewhere if they do not secure his services before May.

The agent of striker Mauro Zarate has warned Lazio that they must secure a permanent transfer for the striker before April 30 or risk losing him.

The Argentina international is currently on loan at the Stadio Olimpico from Qatar club Al-Sadd and has impressed, scoring 11 goals.

The Biancocelesti appear to be extremely keen to keep hold of the 22-year-old and it seems that he is also eager to stay put with the Serie A outfit.

However, his representative, brother Sergio Zarate, has warned the Aquile that Mauro does have other options and will take them up if his future is not secured by the set deadline.

"Mauro wants to continue his Lazio adventure," Zarate the agent told Calciomercato.

"We will wait for an answer from Lazio until April 30. The president should have struck a deal with Al-Sadd before that date.

"If this does not happen, we will be free to talk with other sides."

It has been claimed that Premier League giants Liverpool are preparing to swoop for the former Velez Sarsfield star, who enjoyed a successful loan spell in England with Birmingham City in 2008. Manchester City are also rumoured to be interested in his services.

Pepe Reina Blames Himself For Champions League Defeat

Pepe Reina has shouldered the blame for Liverpool's exit from the Champions League.

But the usually faultless Spanish keeper insists that he will bounce straight back, thanks in part to his desire to honour the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Reina held his hands up yesterday to accept the total responsibility for Chelsea's first goal, which offered the London club a route back into the quarter-final tie when all had seemed lost for them.

But the Spain star believes that Liverpool's passion and spirit will be enough to see them come good in the league.

And after yesterday's memorial service to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, he admitted that it is the thought of the 96 fans who died that is helping drive the team on.

Reina said: "We were lifted by the 96 souls at Chelsea - we were getting pushed by them.

"We tried everything to turn it around but in the end it was a pity.

"We are disappointed because we didn't get through, but the lads are proud of themselves.

"We have to be because we gave it our all but we just couldn't manage to do it. Whoever plays for Liverpool always plays with heart and soul. All we could give was passion with commitment and effort. We tried to do our best for the 96, and we almost did it."

Liverpool now have six games left to mount a title challenge, and Reina believes that the same spirit and desire will push leaders Manchester United to the limit.

He knows that the mistake early in the second half at Stamford Bridge was costly, but has received nothing but support from team-mates and fans after a magnificent season.

He said: "It was my mistake. I was too in the middle of the goal. I should have been closer to near post. I have to recognise it - that's the life of a goalkeeper.

"But we are still positive for the Premier League. We will never give up. We are Liverpool. That's our character and the way we all are. We will fight until the end. There are six games left and we have to win them all.

"It's in United's hands. We must try to win them and wait."