Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rush Backs Reds To Pip United

Ian Rush still believes Liverpool can win their 19th English league title, 19 years to the day since he scored a goal which helped clinch championship number 18.

Bitter rivals Manchester United will join the Reds on 18 titles if they finish top of the Barclays Premier League this season, but Rush is adamant the race is far from over yet, with Sir Alex Ferguson's side still having to play Arsenal and Manchester City in their remaining five games.

Rush, whose goal against QPR on April 28, 1990 secured that year's First Division championship, wrote in his Liverpool Echo column: "I genuinely do not believe this title race is over. United have to face a derby match still.

"If Liverpool were ahead in the title race, the last thing they would want is a derby against Everton.

But United have to face Manchester City plus an Arsenal side on a 20-match unbeaten run.

"All Liverpool can do is keep taking points and not worry about United.

"Liverpool are back at Anfield this weekend with a good chance of another three points (against Newcastle).

"Everyone remembers earlier this season when Liverpool did a demolition job on Newcastle at St James' Park when a 5-1 win could have been 10.

"I do not want Newcastle to go down having played for them, but like every Liverpool fan I want them beaten on Sunday.

"Because if Liverpool can keep winning there will be twists and turns in this race yet, believe me."

On this day 19 years ago, Roy Wegerle put QPR ahead but Rush equalised before the break and the newly-crowned Footballer of the Year, John Barnes, netted the penalty winner.

Few there that day would have believed that Liverpool would go almost two decades without winning the title again, and in that time the best they have managed is two runners-up spots in 1990-91 and 2001-02.

For Liverpool to catch United now, who are three points clear with a game in hand, they must pray for Sir Alex Ferguson's side to slip up in a minimum of two of their final five matches.

Rush would like to see Liverpool rediscover their defensive qualities to make sure they at least win their last four league games this term.

He said: "There is no such thing as a bad victory, so the three points at Hull were very welcome after those draws against Chelsea and Arsenal.

"But rest assured there will still be concern at Anfield at some elements of the defending just now.

"The goal Geovanni scored when Hull were down to 10 men on Saturday will have raised eyebrows. It wasn't a good one from Liverpool's viewpoint and followed a few recently which have been partly down to individual errors.

"The Reds will be desperate to put this right. Restoring the clean sheets is a priority and they have been renowned for defensive solidity under Rafa Benitez.

"For me it is all about getting back to basics. That means players not losing concentration and the back four focusing simply on stopping the opposition.

"Everyone likes to see good football being played from the back but sometimes you have to accept that if a ball belongs in Row Z, then that is where it must go."

There is also still confidence at Anfield as they prepare to face a Newcastle side on Sunday who are stuck in the bottom three under temporary boss Alan Shearer.

If United win at Middlesbrough, another side in relegation trouble, on Saturday, the lead will be a formidable six points.

Lucas Still Defiantly Hopeful Regarding Liverpool's Title Challenge

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has not given up on his side's push for the Premier League crown, even though the Reds are three points behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand, with only four games left to play.

The Brazilian though is maintaining a positive outlook until all possibility is extinguished, telling The Liverpool Echo, "Of course we will continue to fight because this is a quality which we have shown on many occasions this season.

"We know it won’t be easy because United have more points than us and there are not now many games left.

"But we will continue to give everything we can in every single game and we will see what this will bring us."

Liverpool's next test comes at Anfield against Newcastle United on Sunday, kick-off 13:30 BST.

With the Toon also desperate for the points, as their bid for Premier League survival stalled badly on Monday night with a goalless draw at home to Portsmouth, the Reds' powerful attack may have a few more holes than usual to try and exploit.

Babel Out To Impress

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel hopes to show next season that he is ready to fulfil his potential.

The Dutchman was regarded as an exciting prospect for the future when he arrived at Anfield from Ajax in 2007.

He has shown glimpses of his ability but has struggled to hold down a regular starting spot and realises it is now time to deliver.

The 22-year-old accepts that he can no longer hide behind his youth and he is determined to establish himself as a key player with the Reds.

"You are a talent until you are 23," Babel told the Dutch Football Association's official website.

"At that moment you can't say 'Sorry I am just a young player'. At that moment you have gained enough experience to play a major role.

"Coaches say 'You are still young, you have time'. But they won't say that about Lionel Messi. He is young and he is good, so he will play."

Babel's future has been the subject of speculation but he maintains that he is happy at the club.

"I am very proud to be a part of this team," he explained.

"Before I made the transfer to Liverpool, of course I knew the club and the Beatles but apart from that not a lot about the city.

"It has completely changed. If you are there, you appreciate Liverpool. Then you can see how big this club is."

Babel accepts that he found it difficult to adjust to the training methods used at Liverpool when he first joined the club.

He said: "At Ajax there was time to do some individual exercises at the end of the training. I really enjoyed that.

"Nowadays it isn't possible, unfortunately. At Liverpool we had to leave the pitch to move on inside.

"The next game could not be far away. They won't take any risks that you will get injured.

"In the first season I had problems with that as I didn't play a lot. I am now used to it. To take some moments of rest are important."

Agent Hints At New Alonso Bid

Italian football agent Ernesto Bronzetti has claimed that Juventus could reignite their interest in Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Spain international Alonso was strongly linked with a move away from Anfield last summer as Reds boss Benitez eyed Aston Villa's Gareth Barry as his replacement.

Juve were mooted as potential suitors for Alonso but a transfer failed to materialise, and the 27-year-old has since shone for the title contenders this campaign.

Benitez recently insisted he plans to keep Alonso in the summer but his revelation that the club will need to sell players to help fund targets has seen speculation resurface.

And agent Bronzetti, who is said to advise many of Serie A's top clubs on transfers, has hinted that Juve could again attempt to lure Alonso to Turin.

Bronzetti said: "I would try to bring in Alonso. There was a long chase last summer for his signature, of course, so it is a road we know.

"Pairing him with (former Liverpool midfielder Mohamed) Sissoko would be a title-winning midfield.

"The problem is that it would be very hard and expensive to take such an important player away from Liverpool."

Aston Villa Captain Barry Hints At Another Summer Tug Of War

Gareth Barry will assess his Aston Villa future at the end of the season, but has admitted he should have dealt with last summer's transfer saga differently.

The Villa and England midfielder was stripped of the captaincy and fined for trying to engineer to Liverpool, but insists he has learned from that chastening experience.

'I've learned a lot from what happened and last season I learned a lot off the pitch,' Barry told the Birmingham Mail. 'I'm looking for a completely opposite scale of things and I'm confident it won't be one of those sagas again.

'There are things I'll do differently. I'm not dreading it at all, I know what's coming. It's not something you dread, its part of the game. From the experience of last year I'm hoping to deal with it better.

'It would be disrespectful to the fans and the club if I'm thinking about anything else rather than trying to get maximum points from the last four games - that's where my head is at this moment.

'It will definitely be a difficult decision, but we'll see where we are at the end of the season before making any decision. It's always going to be a tough one, no matter what happens.'

Even Benitez Wouldn't Try And Replace Alonso With Barry A Second Time

Gareth Barry says he knows what to expect this summer and has learned his lesson from last year's transfer fiasco.

So presumably the Aston Villa midfielder is still hell bent on leaving the club but is aware it will not be for Liverpool.

Rafael Benitez would be mad to jettison Xabi Alonso and replace him with Barry, as he planned to do last time around.

Unimaginatively, the same game of musical chairs is being suggested again but losing Alonso would weaken Liverpool's creativity.

Barry would not be able to compensate and while he may do the dirty work of a midfielder better than the Spaniard, he doesn't have the same passing skills.

Hammill Attracting Interest

A plethora of clubs are tracking Barnsley's on-loan winger Adam Hammill, understands.

Hammill, who is on loan at Barnsley from Liverpool, has impressed at Oakwell since his arrival in January.

The skilful attacker has been a shining light for Barnsley as they fight to avoid relegation and he has been earning rave reviews in South Yorkshire.

Hammill's form has alerted the England Under 21 coaching staff, with the player a possible contender for a call-up for this summer's European Championship in Sweden.

Hammill's long-term future at Liverpool is uncertain with Reds boss Rafa Benitez expected to bring in new faces in the summer to further increase competition for places at Anfield.

The 21-year-old is highly-regarded at Liverpool, but he could be tempted to move on in search of regular first-team football if the right club comes along.

A number of sides are thought to be monitoring Hammill's situation with representatives from Bolton, West Brom and Wolves all believed to have cast an eye over the player in recent weeks.

Premier Interest In Astrit?

Astrit Ajdarevic doesn't have a long term future with Liverpool but the young midfielder claims that there is interest in him from a Premier League club.

Ajdarevic is currently on loan with Leicester, who are interested in keeping him next season, but the Swede is keeping his options open, as he explained to Fotbollskanalen:

'There is a chance for that (staying at Leicester) and the clubs are in negotiations. Leicester are negotiating with both Liverpool and my agent.

'It is Leicester and another club that have shown concrete interest. The other club is not a big club, like Liverpool or Manchester United, but it is a Premier League club.'

The 19 year old, who has already been aware that he doesn't have a future at Anfield, has only made four appearances for Leicester (all as a substitute) but he has enjoyed his time at the Walkers Stadium and says he's learned from it, so if Nigel Pearson gets his way he could follow Jack Hobbs in staying with them following their promotion back to the Championship.