Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rafael Benitez: Limited Spending Power Makes Premier League Tough For Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has suggested that it is more difficult for his team to win the Premier League than rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United because they can't match their spending power.

The Spanish tactician believes that even if the Reds do not win the title this season, they have demonstrated that they have a squad capable of doing so by mounting a serious challenge during the 2008-09 campaign.

However, a recent report suggested that the Merseyside outfit will offload 11 players, including key men such as Xabi Alonso, to fund new acquisitions this summer.

While Benitez has neither confirmed nor denied the claim, he has hinted that a lack of financial backing could make it extremely difficult to compete for England's top prize in the future.

"We are getting closer and closer to winning the league every year," Benitez is quoted as saying by Setanta.

"Everyone knows we are now genuine contenders. We’ve shown this year that we have enough quality in the squad.

"Look at the squad we have now compared to when I arrived here. We have better players with a winning mentality.

"But it is still very difficult when you analyse the financial power of Chelsea, United and Arsenal with the money they can spend."

Mascherano Maintains Loyalty To Liverpool

Battling midfielder Javier Mascherano will remain with Liverpool at Anfield for the foreseeable future as a season of challenging Manchester United for the Premier League title has given the Argentine captain added confidence of going all the way in forthcoming campaigns.

"My future is here," Mascherano affirmed on the club's official website. "I am here and I will continue to give 100 per cent. It will always be like this. I think we have taken a big step this season, a really big step.

"In the past three or four seasons Liverpool have lost the league maybe in December or January but this time we are there right at the very end of the season and we still have a chance. This is very important.

"Our job now is to continue to work hard and to improve because we have shown that we can win against the biggest teams."

There are just two fixtures remaining in the season run-in for Liverpool, who remain three points adrift of league leaders Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson's men also have a cushion of a game in hand, but Mascherano will not give up the chase until it is mathematically impossible.

"We know that we still have a chance so we will be supporting the teams who play against United, but the main thing is that we are doing our own job," he added.

"This has been a fantastic season for Liverpool and we are on target to get more points than we have ever had in the Premier League."

Liverpool Again Linked With Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mail, Liverpool have yet again turned their attentions to Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing.

The left-sided winger has been linked with a move away from the Riverside Stadium for some time, with the Reds and Tottenham Hotspur said to be most interested in acquiring his services.

Apparently, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is keen to add more width to his squad, despite signing Spain international Albert Riera last summer, and will offer Boro £12 million for the 24-year-old.

Downing has won 23 caps for England to date and has scored 22 goals in 233 appearances for the Teesside outfit.

It is claimed that Benitez was also eyeing Spurs' Aaron Lennon to play on the right, but has put that idea on hold having been impressed with Dirk Kuyt's performances as a makeshift winger.

Juventus Add Liverpool’s Dossena To Summer Wish List

Juventus have been one of the most disappointing Italian clubs in 2009, especially recently, as they have failed to record a league win in their past six attempts.

In fact, the Bianconeri have not tasted victory for almost two months now, when they easily accounted for Roma 4-1 at the Stadio Olimpico.

As a result, they have set their sights on a number of key players to bring in this summer, with Real Madrid’s Fabio Cannavaro and Werder Bremen’s Diego heading that list.

According to the latest reports from Sportsmediaset, Liverpool’s Andrea Dossena is the latest addition to their list of desired players, as he would add some much needed depth to a struggling defensive unit.

The former Udinese man is currently struggling to hold down a first-team spot with the Premier League outfit, so a return to a top club in the Serie A may be welcomed by the player himself.

Neither club are yet to officially comment on the reports.

Manchester United's Carlos Tevez Keen On Move To Liverpool

According to a report in the British tabloid The Sun, Carlos Tevez would like to join Liverpool at the end of the season.

The Argentina international is currently on loan at Manchester United, where his two-year spell comes to an end at the close of this season.

The Red Devils are thought to have first option to purchase 'El Apache' on a permanent basis, but it seems that they are unwilling to pay the £26-30 million it is claimed his owners are holding out for.

Should United decide they do not want to buy him this summer, the 25-year-old forward will be free to negotiate a deal with any other club.

While it is said that the likes of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Italian outfit Milan are interested in adding the former Boca Juniors and Corinthians star to their squads, the player has revealed he would like to remain in England.

Joining Liverpool would allow Tevez's family to stay in Cheshire, where they currently reside and say they are firmly settled.

Apparently, the Merseyside-based outfit have contacted the former three-time South American Player of the Year's owner, Kia Joorabchian, to notify him of their interest.

United have been staunchly against selling players to Liverpool in the past, and manager Alex Ferguson recently blocked Gabriel Heinze's proposed move to Anfield.

However, the Scot will have little say on whether Tevez can join the Reds, while the striker is apparently unconcerned about what United fans might think of the move as he has always made clear his desire to remain at Old Trafford.

Liverpool FC Striker Kuyt Is Mr Duracell

Rafael Benitez has hailed Dirk Kuyt as Liverpool’s “Mr. Duracell” and believes the Dutchman is enjoying the finest season of his Anfield career.

Kuyt has already equalled his best-ever tally of 14 goals for a campaign despite having been transformed from a striker into an attacking right-winger.

The 28-year-old, who arrived from Feyenoord in August 2006, has long been a favourite of both Benitez and supporters for his tireless non-stop effort no matter where he is selected to play.

And the Anfield manager believes that work ethic and versatility have made Kuyt an integral part of Liverpool’s prolonged championship challenge.

“Mr. Duracell is a good description for him because of the way he plays, he is always running and always on the go,” said Benitez.

“But when we signed him we knew he was this type of player – he had been doing that for years.

“This year maybe he is doing so much better because the team has been doing well too.

“He’s done really well creating things, but also scoring a lot of goals as well.

“Over my career I have had some very good players in terms of the running they do and the difference now is we have a squad with lots of those types.

“But it’s always good when you have someone like Dirk, who has the mentality to realise how important that is for the team.”

Kuyt has appeared in all but four of Liverpool’s 53 games this season with Benitez revealing the Dutchman is often one of the first names on his teamsheet.

“I was talking with one of his former team-mates in Holland and he said that Dirk had actually started as a right-back, before moving forward as a winger with Feyenoord and the national team,” said the Spaniard.

“So we have always known that he can play in a lot of different positions – either wing, as a second striker, up front. And he’s done well in all of them too.

“And because you can use him in so many different ways, you can pretty much guarantee he will be in the starting line-up.”

Kuyt has also provided a number of assists from the right flank, the latest of which created Ryan Babel’s late strike in the 3-0 win at West Ham United on Saturday.

And the Dutchman is refusing to give up on Liverpool’s quest for the Premier League title, despite Manchester United needing only four points from three games to regain the crown.

“The spirit and strength of the squad are really important because we know we have a lot of quality in this team,” said Kuyt.

“I thought it was a great performance against West Ham and it’s always more easy when you score an early goal. We know our target, which is just to win our games and then let’s see what happens.

“It was really nice for Ryan to come off the bench and score a goal. He has had to be patient but I was very happy for him.”

Meanwhile, West Ham’s Mark Noble hopes Steven Gerrard ends his career with a title winners’ medal -– because ‘he sets an example to every midfielder in the country’.

The 21-year-old asked Gerrard for his shirt after Liverpool’s 3-0 victory at Upton Park on Saturday – and also collected Jamie Carragher’s jersey for pal Craig Bellamy.

Noble said: “He’s the best, isn’t he? Let’s put that straight. In my eyes, with the praise he does get, I still don’t think he gets enough. He’s obviously labelled one of the best in Europe but with the goals he scores, how he is for Liverpool, I’d say he is the best.

“He has stayed at his own club all these years. The really big teams are all interested in him but he pledged his future to Liverpool. For his sake, I hope one day he wins the title. For him and for Liverpool.”

And Noble says he is eager to one day get close to Gerrard’s high standards.

“Everyone wants to aspire to being that good,” he said. “He’s got a fantastic brain but he is also an athlete – he’s strong, powerful and quick. He’s got everything. If I can be nearly as good as Stevie Gerrard I’d be pleased.”

Nottingham Forest are in talks with Liverpool over signing Paul Anderson on a permanent basis.

The 20-year-old right-winger spent a successful season on loan at the Coca-Cola Championship outfit despite missing almost half of the season through injury.

Liverpool reserve Jack Hobbs joined Leicester City last month.

Mark Lawrenson: Liverpool FC Ready To Become The Best

When you’re desperate to win the league title after what is about to become a 20-year wait, there’s not much consolation in finishing runners-up.

But if that is the scenario at the end of this season, then Liverpool should take quite a lot of it.

If you are destined to finish second, then the best you can do is make a challenge while you’re doing it. Even if Manchester United get the four points needed to secure the title before Liverpool go to West Brom on Sunday, then we’re still in the middle of May.

And to keep the title race alive that long into the season is something that Liverpool should take great confidence from going into next season.

They are now looking and playing like champions and if that momentum can be bottled then unleashed again in August, it will provide a great platform for another challenge.

But whatever happens in the last couple of weeks of this campaign, at least United now know Liverpool are capable of giving them a challenge.

And that alone signifies a year of great progress.

LFC Academy: Liverpool Lose Out To Sunderland

Liverpool under-18s went down to a 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on Saturday.

With so many players away with the reserves in Holland on Friday, on international duty or recovering from injury Liverpool agreed to play the FA Premier Academy League contest as an under-16s fixture. Coach Hugh McAuley handed over the reigns to his U16s colleague Dave Shannon.

Despite a slow start, Liverpool played well in the second half and were slightly unlucky not to grab a point.

They went behind just a minute before half-time when a shot looped in off full-back John Flanagan.

The defender made amends in the second half when heading home the equaliser from Adam Dawson’s corner.

But with 15 minutes left goalkeeper Chris Oldfield was deceived by a free-kick and allowed it to slip in for the winner.

With only a handful of players with any experience in the U18s side, Shannon was reasonably happy with side’s efforts. He said: “The game was played in really strong winds, blowing from side to side and it made it really difficult for both sides.

“It looked like it might be heading for a draw, until our keeper Chris Oldfield, due in part to the wind, let a free-kick slip through his hands, which was unfortunate because before that he had made some excellent saves.

“It was a scrappy game because of the conditions. We were very poor in the first half. We were under the cosh for the first 15 minutes. We weathered that and Chris made a couple of good saves during that period. We came more into the game and second half was a much better performance. We were disappointed not to come away with the draw, but Sunderland had a few more chances than us.”

He added: “It was a great experience for the lads. Normally they don’t play for points, which was different for them. It is just a shame we didn’t get any. The U16s will be the new scholars coming in next season so it was valuable experience.”

Liverpool complete their Academy League fixtures this week, looking for the four points to guarantee a third-placed finish in the North West section.

McAuley’s side play their final home match of the season against Sheffield United at the Kirkby Academy this afternoon (kick-off 2pm).

Then on Saturday they travel to Bolton Wanderers for their last match before the two-legged FA Youth Cup final with Arsenal.

McAuley said: “Dave (Shannon) was quite pleased with the overall performance at Sunderland, who are a very good side at this level. Obviously we are looking for the points to finish third and it is a shame we couldn’t pick up any. But against Sheffield we will have a stronger team out with mostly the U18s. We will still have a couple of schoolboys playing because Christopher Buchtmann and Lauri Dalla Valle are away on international duty. Tom Ince and Nathan Eccleston are in the squad but won’t start.

“We have a chance to pick up some points and then hopefully we can finish off well against Bolton.”

Liverpool full-back Buchtmann has been playing a key role in Germany’s march to the semi-finals of the UEFA U17s European Championships.

The youngster scored in the German side’s 3-1 win over Turkey in their opening match. He then set up three of Germany’s goals in the 4-0 crushing of England.

Buchtmann is ruled out of the final group match with Holland this evening after picking up a second yellow card against England.

Striker Dalla Valle has been away on international duty with Finland ahead of their participation in next month’s UEFA U21 European Championship.

Key Youth Cup players David Amoo, Steve Irwin, Dean Bouzanis and Daniel Ayala all played a part for the reserves in their 1-0 friendly defeat at Ajax on Friday.