Friday, April 24, 2009

John Barnes Hails Rafa Benitez For Closing Man United Gap

Liverpool legend John Barnes has hailed the progress of Rafael Benitez’s side this season even if they fail to win the Barclays Premier League title.

Liverpool’s recent quarter- final elimination from the Champions League by Chelsea left them focusing solely on overhauling leaders Manchester United.

The 4-4 draw with Arsenal allowed Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to stretch their lead to three points with a game in hand after their 2-0 win over Portsmouth last night.

But former England winger Barnes insists even pushing United close represents real progress. "They can now throw all their eggs into one basket, the league," Barnes said. "They have had a fantastic season even if they don’t win the league. To be pushing United this close after being 20 points behind them in recent years shows they have come a long way.

"For me, if they won the Champions League but were 20-25 points off Manchester United as they have been, I’m not interested in that.

"I’m interested in them winning the league or pushing them (United) close to show they are the best or, if not the best, very close to being the best team in the country."

Pepe Reina Calls For Liverpool To Tighten Up Defensively

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has suggested that their recent defensive frailties could cost them the chance of winning the Premier League title this season.

The Reds have received plenty of plaudits for their attacking play of late after scoring a magnificent 27 goals in their last eight fixtures.

However, at the other end of the pitch they have not been so spectacular, shipping 11 goals in their previous four outings.

The 13-time capped Spanish international admits he has been pleased to see his team-mates do so well when going forward, but has warned them not to neglect their defensive duties.

"We have never had a run like this - conceding 11 goals in four games," Reina told the club's official website.

"We are scoring a lot of goals but we have to try and improve in defence. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football but now we must sort some of the problems we're having in defence.

"We've always had the balance between attack and defence. That's why we're always there in the Champions League and cup competitions, because we are a team with balance. We have to get back to this way."

The former Barcelona and Villarreal man has also refused to rule out the possibility of winning the Premier League despite falling three points behind leaders Manchester United in the table.

"We knew it would be difficult for United to drop points in two games, and now it's even harder because they have to lose those games. But we have to still believe and keep going until the end," he explained.

"It's not worth looking at the fixture list. All we can do is win our games, so we don't look at United's fixtures. We just have to do our job and win our five remaining games.

"This club has been many, many years without being in this position going into the last five games. To be involved at this stage is beautiful, but to win the league would be massive, so we have to give our all."

Ryan Babel: I Must Start Regularly For Liverpool Next Season

Ryan Babel has hinted that he may well be considered as an expensive flop should he fail to become a regular name in the Liverpool starting XI from next season onwards.

The 30-time capped Netherlands international has made 88 appearances for the Reds since signing from Dutch giants Ajax for around €12.7 million (£11.5m) in 2007, however, 46 of those have come from the substitutes bench.

The versatile forward has said that he does not regret his move to Anfield, insisting he has developed as a player during his time with the Merseyside outfit, but he knows that the time has come for him to start proving that.

"In December I’ll be 23. When you reach that you aren’t a potential talent anymore," Babel is quoted as saying by The Sun.

"Next season age isn’t an excuse any more.

"My goal this season was to be in the starting line-up but they brought in another left forward. But I have patience, I work hard and I have to show I’ve earned the right to be picked.

"What I have learned in 18 months at Liverpool would have taken four years at Ajax. There are times when it isn’t going as well as I hoped but I see it as a test and it can only make me stronger."

Liverpool Enter Race For Manchester United's Carlos Tevez

According to a report in the British broadsheet The Times, Liverpool are preparing a bid for Carlos Tevez, whose loan deal at Manchester United is set to expire at the end of the season.

It seems that the Argentina international striker has resigned himself to departing Old Trafford this summer, after he revealed that he was frustrated by the lack of playing time he had been afforded this season.

Furthermore, the Red Devils appear to have shown reluctance to take up the offer put forward to them to acquire the economic rights of 'El Apache' from his owners.

However, it is claimed that United manager Alex Ferguson does want to keep hold of the 25-year-old and may urge the club to pay the alleged €24.5 million (£22m) they have been quoted.

Tevez has stated that he has several options should he decide to leave the European champions, and it is thought that as well as Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Inter are all keen to add him to their squads.

However, should the former Boca Juniors and Corinthians star opt to pursue a career away from Old Trafford, it is said that the club looking to land him will have to pay more than the figure Man United would.

Hughie McAuley Wants His Young Reds To Keep Blues Out Of Cup-Tie

Liverpool Academy coach Hughie McAuley says his side still have it all to do if they are to reach the final of the FA Youth Cup.

Holding a 3-0 lead over Birmingham City from the first leg, McAuley’s Under-18 side go into tomorrow evening’s deciding tie with a clear advantage but the boss is dismissing their ‘favourites’ tag.

Instead McAuley is demanding his young stars continue to practice the simple side of football as they look to secure a place in the final against Arsenal who beat Manchester City this week.

The Reds’ cause was helped in last week’s convincing win at St Andrews with a double strike from Finnish ace Lauri Dalla Valle and one from David Amoo, a player who has already featured in Gary Ablett’s reserve team set-up.

McAuley said: “The first half display was very, very good. It was 3-0 by half-time but in the second half it was not quite at the same tempo.

“That is certainly a normal reaction for many teams, including the top sides, but at the same time it is still not good enough, though we have got to be happy with the final scoreline.

“We have just got to repeat the scoreline on Friday and do the right things, that is the message to the players – basically it is only half-time in the game and we have to play again, keep the ball down and make Birmingham work.

“We have to put them under pressure because I am sure they will do the same to us.

“Hopefully we can create chances to score goals as well as keeping our shape to defend well – we have just got to play our normal game, that is the simple message.

“In the first leg it was a great all round team effort from everybody but naturally the stand out players included Joe Kennedy and David Amoo but more importantly we have the same squad available for tomorrow night which is pleasing.”

As much as cup success would delight McAuley, he continues to insist he true goal at Liverpool’s Academy is to help his fledgling stars move into the reserve and first team set-ups at Melwood.

He added: “My main objective, long term, is always to try and get these players to Melwood. We always try and create a winning mentality at the club but we also aware we are trying to build the experience of these young lads and accept that we have to take results as they come.”

Kenny Dalglish To Stage Anfield Game In Memory Of Hillsborough Victims

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish is to take the lead in staging a charity match at Anfield next month to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.

The game – involving legends from the Reds' illustrious past and an all-star celebrity team – will be played on the night of Thursday, May 14.

It is being staged by Dalglish and Liverpool FC in aid of the Marina Dalglish appeal, raising funds for a new radiotherapy unit at University Hospital, Aintree, while also remembering the Hillsborough 96.

The plan announced today includes a permanent memorial to the Leppings Lane victims at the Fazakerley hospital.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group has supported Marina Dalglish’s charity for the past few years, raising money through golf days with the support of her husband.

Details of the line ups will be announced at a press conference at Anfield next week. Tickets go on sale from Tuesday, April 28.

Dalglish, who is wanted back at Anfield by Reds boss Rafa Benitez as the ECHO revealed last week, said today: "This is a match we have been talking about staging for a while and it's brilliant we can now confirm it."

"The players who will be involved are all really keen to come together again and play for the fans who offered such support through the time of the Hillsborough disaster. I am sure it will be a great occasion with all of the money going towards the building of a badly-needed Radiotherapy facility on this side of the water."

Marina, who launched her charity after being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, said: "We are looking to raise money for the Radiotherapy Unit.

“But we are also looking at different ideas for the setting up a memorial for the Hillsborough families somewhere in the hospital.

"The Hillsborough Family Support Group has been really helpful to us over the years.

“So it's nice for us to be able to stage this game in memory of those who lost their lives 20 years ago."

Calum Woods Profits From Leaving Liverpool

It was the summer of 2006 when Calum Woods decided his career needed a new direction. For a boy who had grown up in the shadow of Anfield, leaving Liverpool the city was almost as hard as leaving Liverpool FC.

At one point, the Melwood training ground rivalled John Lennon Airport for departures. Players left daily, as Rafael Benítez offloaded 24 in a frenetic pre-season. Blink and you would almost have missed Woods. He had plenty of prestigious company, with Djibril Cisse, Fernando Morientes, Scott Carson and Dietmar Hamman among those making an exit.

Rather than stay in his comfort zone of the north-west of England, Woods opted for a fresh start in Scotland. The young defender convinced Dunfermline Athletic that his football education at Liverpool's youth academy would make him a potential first-team player far quicker than if he had remained at Anfield.

Now, aged 22, he is on the verge of an appearance in the Homecoming Scottish Cup final if Dunfermline can overcome Falkirk in Sunday's semi-final at Hampden Park and Coca-Cola Championship clubs are tracking the pacy right-back. Woods was named the man of the match in Dunfermline's quarter-final replay triumph over Aberdeen by the Sky Television analyst, Davie Provan, which is quite an endorsement from a man who was a winger for Celtic and Scotland.

Many of the players who accompanied Woods though Liverpool's youth academy have dropped off the football radar in the three years that the young Scouser has been at East End Park. “Not many from my age group are still playing professionally,” Woods said. “There are only a couple. Lee Peltier is at Yeovil Town and Danny Guthrie is now at Newcastle United. The others packed it in.”

Woods's problem was not unique. Liverpool currently have 16 players out on loan, including Andrei Voronin, one of the top scorers in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin. “Liverpool are such a big club now that they can buy any top-class player they want, so it is harder for the players from the youth set-up to get noticed,” Woods said. “It's hard to even get a game for the reserve team.

“I saw the youth team on television last week and they had Tom Ince, whose dad, Paul, played for Liverpool when I was a kid. Even the youth academy attracts the best players from all round Europe now. It is an unbelievable set-up. I signed for Liverpool when I was ten and left when I was 19 and it was really special. It made my dad proud because he's a Liverpool fan.

“We lived in Anfield, close to the ground. Every kid from round there wants to play for Liverpool and I don't think the fact that the first team, or even the reserves, is full of foreign stars will put local youngsters off. They will still believe they can make it and come through the ranks like Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have done. Michael Owen was my hero when I was a kid and he came through the Liverpool system.”

Woods has made more than 70 first-team appearances for Dunfermline and one of those would have included the 2007 Scottish Cup final if he had not been dropped from the squad by Stephen Kenny, the then-manager. “I did not discover I was out until the manager named the side and the substitutes in the hotel on the morning that we played Celtic,” Woods said.

“I did not think I would be in the starting line-up but I had played a few games in the cup run, including the round where we knocked out Rangers, and I was hoping to get on the bench. It was not a good experience but hopefully we can get to the final again and this time I will play.” Jim McIntyre, the Dunfermline manager, was so impressed with Woods's progress that he gave the right-back a new two-year contract earlier in the season.

He has lived in the Fife town for three years and if the accent is still more Stanley Park than East End Park, Woods understands how much another appearance in the final would mean to the club and its supporters after another season's exile in the Irn-Bru first division.

“We've missed out on promotion, so it would help the club's finances if we got to the final,” he said. “This is a great club to learn your trade. I really enjoy being here and I have been given the sort of first-team experience I would not get at Liverpool.”

A return to England would save Woods senior from clocking up the sort of mileage on the M6 that would put a trucker to shame. “My dad drives up to all my games,” Woods said. “Even though he has a Liverpool season ticket, he will be at Hampden with my mum. If he had to choose between coming to see me or Liverpool win the league, it would be me.”

Liverpool Should Sign Lionel Messi - Jan Molby

Jan Molby would sign Lionel Messi for Liverpool if the Reds were able to bring in any players in the world and would also take Samuel Eto'o from Barcelona while he was at it.

The great Dane, who made 218 appearances for the club in a 12-stay at Anfield, believes that the two Blaugrana stars are the best in the world at the moment.

Messi would be Molby's first choice if he could capture anyone to bolster the Liverpool ranks, while he feels that Eto'o up front with Fernando Torres would be incredible.

"I would start with Lionel Messi from Barcelona," he told the Merseyside club's official website. “He is simply sensational and the nearest thing we've seen to Diego Maradona. The way he plays, his awareness, first touch and ability to score goals is fantastic.

"The other one would be a team-mate of his and someone I've always been a fan of - Samuel Eto'o. I think he's a brilliant player who's back on song now, scoring goals for fun.

"Can you imagine Eto'o and Torres together upfront? It would be a defender's nightmare!"

While promoting the two Barca stars, Molby stated that he feels the club already have the best striker in the Premier League in the form of Torres.

"He's probably the best striker in the league,” he enthused. “The likes of [Arsenal’s] Emmanuel Adebayor and [Chelsea’s] Didier Drogba spring to mind as well, but they can sulk from time to time and Torres doesn't appear to have that in his make-up.

"He's a worker and just gets on with job. I think that's what puts him top of the pile.

"We knew how good he was from last season and it's fantastic to see him continue that form this campaign. Although his season has been a bit stop-start, the fact he has still been able to get goals is remarkable.

"There's no doubt in my mind he should be looking to get somewhere between 25-30 goals every season."

Why Sky Sports Needs Pundits Like Steven Gerrard Every Week

During Liverpool's eight goal thriller with Arsenal the Sky Sports commentator came out with something that made my ears prick up as I struggled to stay on the edge of my seat.

"I don't care what anybody says, you don't get games like this anywhere else in the world. That's why the world's broadcasters come to us."

I think Martin means that English football is so entertaining that every TV network in the world wants to buy rights from the Premier League.

They do, too. I remember waking up in Peru, switching on the telly and watching Southampton against Arsenal a few years ago.

I love South America and every time I go I end up watching some Premier League game or other on ESPN. My name's John and I'm a football-aholic.

Another time I went to Argentina, I went to see Boca Juniors play and it was a sensational experience. The game was a bit slow-quick-slow and it even made Juan Sebastian Veron look good in the match that I saw.

I've been fortunate enough to have seen games all over Europe. And I admit it. I'd love to be a purist and go on about the virtues of continental football, but English football is my number one.

It's fast, physical, there's goals and amazing drama like we saw in Liverpool's 4-4 draw with Arsenal - which takes me back to Martin Tyler.

My first thought when I heard Tyler say "us" was that the world's broadcasters come to Sky to buy their rights. I'm still not convinced that's what he didn't mean to say, either.

It should be the dog wagging the tail. But, in reality, it's the other way round. Sky pulls the Premier League's lead and Richard Scudamore comes running.

I'll declare an interest here. I do a lot of work for Setanta. But I think their presence has been healthy and has given Sky a kick up the backside.

Their coverage is excellent. Jon Champion and Craig Burley are a very good double act. They have also had some good pundits this season, Harry Redknapp for one.

Redknapp slaughtering England and Fabio Capello after the Czech game last August made for great television, whatever you think of his views.

Match of the Day has played a blinder getting rid of Alan Shearer for a few months. Give me Lee Dixon any day. At least he says it how he sees it without fear of upsetting old mates or anyone in the game.

No wonder he hasn't got the balls to drop a misfiring Michael Owen. He never even had the guts to put his head above the parapet to slag anyone off when he was a pundit.

But Sky have this habit of choosing their studio pundits to sit alongside the ultra smooth Richard Keys and excellent Jamie Redknapp based on a tenuous link with one of the two clubs he used to play for.

On Tuesday night, they surpassed themselves by having injured Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in the studio.

Gerrard was excellent, eloquent and unmissable. He gave good insight from the heart and was honest.

But what is the point of having Dion Dublin in for Manchester United games? I just don't get it.

At the risk of sounding like Sam Allardyce when it comes to Rafa Benitez and foreign managers and being a little Englander, I will also never understand why you have pundits who don't make sense.

Peter Schmeichel was so bad that the BBC had no option but to get rid of him and his bizarre version of Denglish.

The same goes for Ruud Gullit. In a discussion after the Liverpool v Chelsea game and a debate over whether Benitez should have been more cautious, Gullit had Keys completely bemused with the following statement.

"Because he didn't get his most important players on the ball so what do you want then you have to take one a little bit more back, and he did, but by then it was already too late." My thoughts exactly, Ruud.

Sadly we don't get enough Clive Tyldesley on the telly as, in my humble opinion, he's the best commentator with Champion best newcomer, even though he's been around for years.

Sky does rule the roost because they can show amazing games like Liverpool v Arsenal.

But we also need better pundits and studio analysis. Gerrard was a breath of fresh air and brilliant. Sky needs his ilk on a regular basis.