Monday, April 20, 2009

Liverpool Midfielder Javier Mascherano Optimistic Ahead Of Arsenal Game

Javier Mascherano is still confident that Liverpool can win the Premier League this season, provided they claim maximum points from their final six matches.

The Reds host an Arsenal side who have not lost in their last 18 league games on Tuesday evening, but the 24-year-old Argentina international has insisted that they are only focussed on attaining a positive result.

"We know it is the only competition we have to play for now and we are fighting for the title," Mascherano told the club's official website.

"We have to keep going and maybe if Manchester United can drop some points we will be there.

"We have to look forward, try to win our next six games and we will see what happens.

"I think all the games we have left will be difficult, but the most important thing is to only think about the next one, which is Arsenal.

"Arsenal have some good players, such as [Emmanuel] Adebayor, [Cesc] Fabregas and [Robin] van Persie. They also have players coming back from injury who will be fresh for the final part of the season.

"Arsenal will want the points because they are fighting for fourth place, so I think it will be a very good match for the supporters to watch.

"I don't know if it's a bad time to be playing them, but we are playing well and have confidence. If we play to our level then we will have a chance."

Kenny Dalglish Return To Anfield Ideal For Liverpool

First it was Rafa Benitez's new contract, then Steven Gerrard agreeing an extension to his deal, and now the prospect of Kenny Dalglish, Anfield's greatest ever player, returning to the club in an advisory role. There's a lot of good news around Liverpool at the moment.

this is an idea Rafa has come up with and he's happy with, then it's perfect for Liverpool and for Kenny. I was captain in 1986 when Bob Paisley was fulfilling that role in Kenny's first season as manager, and he was there for advice whenever Kenny wanted to tap into the vast reservoir of experience he had. It worked brilliantly.

Kenny may have been out of the game as a manager for eight years but he still watches more football than anyone I know. He can tell you about players at all levels, all over the world. Would he want to be a manager again? Maybe, if it was Liverpool, but this is an ideal role, where he will have a lot of involvement with youth development and be on hand to offer Rafa advice as and when he feels he needs it. It will provide a huge boost for everyone at the club, the senior pros as well as the young kids.

There's no doubt that Liverpool will start next season in a much better position than they started this one, and that's progress. They are getting closer and closer to challenging at the top and everyone knows that, whatever happens this year, they will have even more chance of winning the Premier League next season.

They may still win it this time, of course, and if they are to do so then this is yet another hugely significant week, facing Arsenal at Anfield tomorrow and then Hull, fighting for survival, on Saturday. They look hard matches on paper, but the managers of all top three sides will be pointing out no games are easy at this stage of the season.

It's often said that mid-table sides are easier to play against but they have no pressure on them and, against the big teams with nothing to lose, they regularly put in their best performances of the campaign. Similarly, Arsenal seem safe in fourth now and, after losing the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, their priority will be the Champions League.

But this is where the top managers earn their corn. Arsenal play Chelsea at home and travel to Manchester United, too, and while there's no doubt Arsene Wenger will want to rest players to keep them fresh for Europe, he will also be aware that he cannot afford to concede the momentum which his side have built up over recent weeks.

Prior to Saturday, they were unbeaten in 18 games, and he will know how important it is to finish the season strongly. Wenger will be thinking about Europe, obviously, because if Arsenal fail to win the Champions League then that will make it a fifth year without a trophy, a poor return for a club of such stature. But taking too many risks with his side's league performances could affect their European ambitions.

You cannot turn good form on and off like a tap, as Manchester United have found, and you can go from feeling invincible to wondering where your next win will come from in the space of one game, almost. Reacting to their bad run of form with hard-fought wins over Aston Villa and Sunderland in the Premier League, as well as Porto in Europe, is testament to United's determination and resources, but they still look a shadow of the side they were even 10 weeks ago.

Sir Alex Ferguson showed where his priorities lie with his FA Cup semi-final selection yesterday and it cost them the dream of the quintuple, but they remain in pole position in the league and they have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, all without playing well. The danger is that sooner or later, you are going to play poorly and lose.

Liverpool FC Boss Wants Insua To Shine

Rafael Benitez has urged Emiliano Insua to give him a selection headache for the remainder of the campaign.

Insua was impressive on his 10th appearance of the campaign last week to help Liverpool maintain their title challenge by thrashing Blackburn Rovers 4-0.

The Argentine youngster had won a regular place in the side before Christmas before being called away on international duty at the South American under-20 Championships.

In his absence, Insua saw both Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena regain form and fitness to battle it out for the left-back spot.

But after he made his second successive league start against Blackburn, Benitez is urging the 20-year-old to continue staking his claim in the final six games of the season.

“Insua is improving and the competition for the left back position is very high with Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena,” said the Liverpool manager.

“Insua is doing well and the team is doing well. Hopefully we can see Emiliano fighting for his position until the end of the season with Fabio and Dossena.”

Real Madrid Continue To Track Liverpool Midfielder Xabi Alonso

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez last week issued a hands-off warning to any potential suitors looking to snap up Xabi Alonso, declaring that the Spanish international is no longer on the market.

But according to The Daily Telegraph, Real Madrid, and in particular their potential future president, Florentino Perez, have continued to pursue the 27-year-old, as the English broadsheet is adamant that the ex-supremo, should he return to power, will be eager to see the Reds midfielder link up with Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas.

The Telegraph is also unconvinced that Benitez will turn down an offer if a substantial bid comes along, as he has been handed limited transfer funds for this summer. It has been reported that Liverpool's American owners, George Gillet and Tom Hicks, will only free up €35 million for squad reinforcements and the Madrid-born gaffer would have to sell if he requires more to spend.

It is believed that Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Charles Itandje and Phillip Degen will all be offloaded, but the only way for Rafa to inject a massive cash-boost to the transfer kitty is to part with the in-form Alonso.

Last summer, Liverpool shot down an approach from Juventus for the Basque midfielder after the Italians failed to meet the Merseysiders’ near-€20 million asking price. A similar bid, if not higher, is expected of Madrid if they wish to acquire the ex-Real Sociedad man.

Marco van Basten: Ryan Babel Is Wasting Away At Liverpool

Former Holland manager Marco van Basten gave voice to very strong feelings concerning Ryan Babel, specifically pertaining to his continued inability to force himself into Liverpool's starting lineup.

Van Basten suggested the 22-year-old, who made a £11.5 million switch from Ajax in 2007, is wasting away at Anfield as a consequence of leaving his homeland too early

“If you look at Ryan Babel it is a mortal sin he now sits on the bench at Liverpool,” van Basten told the Daily Star Sunday. “He went too soon.

“He was playing well in Holland and for the Under-21s but now he has taken a step backwards.”

Babel recently suggested that he may look elsewhere for regular first-team football after admitting to becoming frustrated over his lack of playing time. The jet-heeled winger has made only six Premier League starts this season for the title hopefuls this season, supplemented by 17 appearances from the bench.

Govt Offer Hillsborough Help

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith insists the Government is "committed" to helping families who lost loved ones in the Hillsborough disaster.

Last Wednesday was the 20th anniversary since 96 Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on 15th April 1989 where their team was to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

A number of high level discussions have taken place over hundreds of official documents about the tragedy and Ms Smith revealed it could result in those documents being made public for the first time.

In a statement, the Home Secretary said: "The Government is committed to helping those who lost loved ones in the Hillsborough tragedy.

"That is why I will be working with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Attorney General's Office to put out any information that exists that could shed light on the disaster and its aftermath in the public domain as soon as possible."

Trevor Hicks, of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, was relieved to hear the news.

He said: "We have heard that a request has been made about the documents and we are expecting confirmation this week.

"I am pleased, it's better late than never.

"This will enable us to see the full picture of events in a way that we have been denied for 20 years.

"It is vital that these files are released in full and not sanitised in any way."

The documents covered by the 30-year-rule could include police files and the records of other emergency services, government departments and the local authorities.

But a statement by South Yorkshire Police said: "The Chief Constable has not met the Home Secretary on the subject of Hillsborough, nor been asked by anyone to release files early.

"The Chief Constable, prior to the anniversary, independently offered to review all material held by South Yorkshire Police to establish what could lawfully be released, given that the force has already made public so much of its archived information."

Itandje Plays Down Incident

Liverpool reserve-team goalkeeper Charles Itandje has played down the furore surrounding his behaviour at the Hillsborough memorial service.

The service took place on Wednesday and fans flocked to Anfield to pay their respects for the 96 supporters who lost their lives during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Itandje was caught by television cameras nudging and laughing at unsuspecting team-mate Damian Plessis during the service and has been suspended for 14 days while the club investigate the incident.

The shot-stopper, who has made just seven first-team appearances since signing from Lens in 2007, has apologised for his behaviour and insists that the incident has been blown out of all proportion.

"It is a 30-second clip about which people are going overboard," he told Aujourd'hui Sport newspaper.

"You need to see an hour of the video if you want to judge my behaviour, but you know the papers over there (England). They make a big deal of things."

When asked to explain what he was doing on the clip, Itandje said: "No idea. I haven't even seen it. I don't know at what moment it was being filmed."

The Frenchman also added that it had not been explained what would happen during his suspension.

"I have had no explanation," he highlighted.

"I have not even had the opportunity to explain myself to the club. Sammy Lee, the assistant manager, called me on Friday morning to tell me not to turn up at training.

"It does not change a great deal, as I am already on the transfer list. I should be leaving this summer. I am not used in the team.

"I don't want to seem paranoid, but I hope this is not linked with my situation at the club.

"It's not the club I need to explain myself to; it's the families (of the Hillsborough victims).

"I sympathise with them and I would like to tell them that."