Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rafa Wants To Deal Quickly

Rafa Benitez has insisted he intends to conduct his transfer business during the early weeks of the summer.

The dust has barely settled on the Premier League season, but thoughts are already turning to next term.

Benitez is likely to be an active player in the transfer market as he embarks on building a side capable of landing the title.

The Spaniard feels the key to mounting a title challenge will be to bed in any recruits as quickly as posslble.

“Clearly we want to sign players but we know that it will be difficult to find players who are better than what we already have,” Benitez told the Liverpool Echo.

“It is not easy to find this kind of player in the current market and if we do then maybe they will be too expensive or not available.

“But we have to sign the right players and make the right decisions during the summer.

“We have some targets but right now it is too soon because some clubs do not know what the future holds for them but we will wait and see.

“But our idea is to have players signed before pre-season begins because this would be perfect.

“It means you can start working with them and training with them with the ideas that you want to get across to them so that they can start putting them into practice on the pitch.”

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool Must Hold On To Xabi Alonso

Javier Mascherano has warned that the consequences could be dire for Liverpool if they let Xabi Alonso go.

The Spanish midfield-orchestrator has arguably been the Reds' most bankable performer this season, yet Rafa Bentiez has failed to do enough to convince the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus that they have no real chance of prising him away.

The Liverpool boss recently reiterated that he had no intention at all of selling Alonso, but the Basque-born player has reportedly been made to feel under-appreciated at times over the past couple seasons.

Thus, it is hard to imagine that Alonso - who came close to joining Juventus last year - wouldn't be prone to having his head turned this summer, but Mascherano believes it is imperative that the Reds keep hold of their No. 14.

"Xabi is so influential. Hopefully the great players at Liverpool can stay and we can bring another player in to improve the team," the former West Ham United man told Sky Sports.

"It is important when you have the team in good form you keep the key players, and Xabi is one of them."

Mascherano then stressed his faith in Benitez's abilities, as he reckons a good pre-season should see them compete for silverware on all fronts next term.

"For sure Rafa will work really hard to improve the squad and maybe next season we will be stronger," the Argentine said.

"If we can keep this squad and improve it, things will be really good for the future. We will be fighting in all the competitions, not just league."

Ian Rush: Liverpool Need Carlos Tevez & Xabi Alonso For Next Season

There’s no doubt Liverpool need two or three new signings this summer to strengthen the squad.

I don't think anyone has made either of the positions on the left hand side their own.

We also need a different option up front as we've relied on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard too much.

Ryan Babel and David Ngog haven't proved they are capable of producing the goods on a regular basis so Rafa Benitez needs to bring someone else in.

I would love to see Carlos Tevez at Anfield next season and I think he would fit in really well.

There is also talk of David Silva or David Villa being up for sale as Valencia have got financial problems.

Securing the services of any one of those three players would be a massive boost.

Xabi Alonso's future has been the subject of much speculation but I really hope he stays at Anfield.

I know the club is very close to his heart and he would be a big loss if he left.

I've heard some people suggest we might need to sell Alonso to raise cash for signings but that makes no sense.

If you are going to replace Alonso with a better player, then you would have to spend a lot more money than Liverpool would be able to raise by selling him.

We might get £14m or £15m for him but who could we buy for that money who would do a better job?

How Good Is Fernando Torres?

Last weekend Fernando Torres opened the scoring against Tottenham with a header John Toshack would have been proud of, and with it, scored his 50th goal for the club on only his 84th appearance; reaching that landmark in less games than the like of Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen managed. The great Roger Hunt netting his first 50 goals in 79 games being the only Liverpool player to reach that landmark before him. So much for "foreigners" needing time to bed in and adapt to the pace of the English game.

But just how good is Fernando Torres?

Can strikers be measured only by goals scored, or is their influence on the shape of the side, assists provided or off the ball work as crucial when considering their importance to a side, or deciding their ranking among the world's best?

While Torres weighs in with more than his fair share of goals, his mere presence in the side proves just as crucial at times. Defenders are scared of him. They're scared of his pace. Sides "double up" on him time and time again, sometimes even 3 men pressing each time he's in possession. So while that makes life difficult for our number 9, it draws defenders towards him and creates more and more space for others to exploit. Just by being on the pitch he creates problems. His contribution cannot be measured purely through goals scored.

Having him leading the line changes the way we approach a game, and changes the way sides set up against us. His presence forces the opposition to sit 5 to 10 yards deeper and creates space for Gerrard bursting through as he pulls defenders with him, also creating the space that Yossi Benayoun has exploited brilliantly in the past few months of this season. His role in the side is vital to the way we play, no matter how many goals he contributes. The shadow he casts is priceless.

This season he's started only 20 games in the league and made 4 appearances from the bench. For a lot of those games he's been below peak fitness and returning from injury, and hasn't really once had a chance to build up full match fitness and get into his stride as he did last year. Yet he's still managed to score league 14 goals; only 5 less than the golden boot winner, Anelka. 14 goals in 20 starts make for pretty impressive reading in the circumstances.

The one statistic never mentioned when discussing the goal scoring record of Torres, is that all his goals come from open play; every single one of them. He doesn't take penalties, nor does he take free kicks. The fact that all his goals come from open play shows his goal scoring record in a completely different light, as pretty much all of the great goal scorers I can remember notched their fair share of goals from the spot or dead balls. It's frightening to think how many Torres would score in a season if he took all our penalties.

The partnership he's struck up with Steven Gerrard was one of the finds of last season. The captain has finally found his best position after years of wasted attacking instinct being stifled in central midfield, and his link up play with Torres is an absolute joy to watch. Two world class players that would walk into any side in the world at the forefront of our attack; yet it's a partnership that has featured together only 14 times this season due to injuries. More than anything else, that statistic highlights why we've just fallen short in this season's title race.

Some will point to our victory at Anfield over Man United without either of them in the side, or the victory at Stamford Bridge without Torres, or the numerous draws at Anfield; but I don't think there's any hiding from the fact that if they'd have played together more than 14 times this season then we'd have picked up a few more points along the way. A massive case of what might have been. More than any summer signings or changes at the club before next season, the one difference in next season's title challenge will be keeping Gerrard and Torres fit and playing together more they've managed this year. We haven't got the money to sign a player of similar quality to step in when either are sidelined, nor will any player of that quality be happy to play second fiddle when they are fit. It's vital they play together in the majority of games if we want to become Champions come May.

One of the reasons why he hit the ground running in The Premiership is that he deals with the physical nature of the game brilliantly. Only once in his two seasons in a red shirt can I recall him becoming frustrated with heavy handed treatment dished out during a game and letting it affect his performance. That was in the FA Cup tie at Goodison when he was kicked all over the place, and he began to show signs of it getting to him. Other than that game, he's just got on with it; shrugging off the challenges and letting his football do the talking. His strength on the ball is immense and his desire immeasurable.

The Confederations Cup takes centre stage this summer, for those that even know what it is, and will therefore prevent Fernando Torres from having a few months with his feet up to recharge those batteries for August. But the tournament is nowhere near as intense as a World Cup or the European Championships in which Torres played in all last summer. He'll get far more of a rest this time around, and will return to Melwood refreshed and reenergised for the new season.

If he can stay fit for the majority of next season, then what odds on him finishing top scorer? Considering he was only 5 off the pace this time around with how things panned out over the season, I'd make him a pretty hot favourite to be taking home that golden boot next May.

Keep him and Gerrard fit and he might just be taking home the Premiership trophy as well.

Liverpool FC's Xabi Alonso Targetted By Incoming Chelsea Manager Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti has already considered a future with Chelsea, according to revelations made by the AC Milan coach in his autobiography.

In ’Preferisco La Coppa’ (I Prefer The Cup), which was launched in Italy yesterday, the 49-year-old describes two meetings he claims to have held with Blues owner Roman Abramovich last year in Geneva and Paris.

Ancelotti admits he found himself plotting the best way forward for the Stamford Bridge club.

“I confess that at certain points in 2008-09 I watched my DVDs of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba,” said the Italian, who won two European Cups with AC Milan.

“I was already the coach of the boys on paper.”

Ancelotti also proffered the names of two players - Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso and Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery - who he thought could help to turn Chelsea into the attractive, winning side the Russian craves.

“President, your team is very physical, you have to put more quality in the middle of the pitch,” Ancelotti claims to have told Abramovich.

“I gave him two names, Franck Ribery and Xabi Alonso.

“He thought of a third name, that of Andriy Shevchenko, who was close to his heart. (Abramovich said:) ’I can’t understand why he’s not playing, because since we brought him to England he’s not the real Sheva.”’

Abramovich is said by Ancelotti to have added: “Chelsea don’t have a personality. I have the ambition of winning every competition in which my team takes part, a team that at the moment I don’t recognise.”

Rafael Benitez Keen To Sign David Wheater

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is hoping to revive his interest in Middlesbrough defender David Wheater after the Riverside club were relegated from the Premier League.

Benitez tried to sign the England under-21 international last summer and enquired about his availability in January but his Middlesbrough counterpart Gareth Southgate was unwilling to part with one of the key players in his side’s battle for survival.

Now, though, Southgate knows he needs to trim his squad to cope with the financial impact of demotion and, with Stewart Downing injured, Wheater is one of his most saleable assets.

The only sticking point for Liverpool would be the defender’s asking price. Birmingham were last week quoted £9 million for the player, a fee Benitez would be unwilling to pay for a back-up central defender with funds at Anfield at a premium.

Sources close to full-back Andrea Dossena have insisted the Italian international is happy at Anfield despite struggling to make impact following his £7 million move from Udinese last summer. Reports in Italy suggest Dossena is a target for Napoli and Sampdoria but he is believed to be willing to remain in England to fight for his place.

Ryan Babel Told He Can Depart Liverpool

According to a report in the British tabloid The Sun, Liverpool have made it known that Ryan Babel can move on during the close-season.

Apparently, the 30-time capped Netherlands international has been frustrated at his lack of playing time since joining the Reds in 2007.

While the 6ft versatile forward, who can play on the wing or as a striker, started 29 games and made a further 20 substitute appearances in the 2007-08 season, he began only 13 times in the 2008-09 season and came off the bench on 29 occasions.

It is thought that his agent, Winnie Haatrecht, met with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez last week to discuss the situation.

However, it is claimed the Spaniard failed to guarantee that the 22-year-old will start more games next year and will allow him to leave the club this summer.

Babel has three years remaining on his current contract. He was linked with a loan move back to Ajax, whom he left for £11.5 million to join the Merseyside outfit, although his £60,000-a-week wages are thought to be a potential stumbling block in his return to the Amsterdam ArenA.

Pepe Reina Would Rejoin Barcelona

Pepe Reina has revealed that he would like to rejoin Barcelona if the chance arose but admits that the Catalan club are not actively looking to sign a goalkeeper at the moment.

The 26-year-old custodian rose through the ranks at Camp Nou before leaving to join Villarreal in 2002 after making just 30 appearances for the Blaugrana.

With Barcelona preparing for the Champions League final and with two domestic trophies already secured, Reina admitted that any player would like to be a part of that.

“Every footballer would be delighted to play for Barca,” he is quoted as saying by Sport.

“Regarding the fact that I know the club pretty well, it would please me, but I am a Liverpool player and feel great there.

"Besides, Barcelona are not after a new keeper. Barca have a great keeper in Victor Valdes, who has achieved a top season and hugely contributed to their Champions League campaign.”

Reina still believes that he has a challenge to overcome at Anfield after the club had a superb season only to be held off by Manchester United in the title race.

“This year we did fight until the end of the Premier League season, but at the end of the day we could not win it," he added.

"We claimed the most points in our history, 86, but still finished second. The team have progressed.”

Tommy Smith - Liverpool FC Have A Ruthless Streak Now

The last game of the season might have been a bit of a low key affair – but it was important Liverpool finished with that win.

Three more goals saw us keep up a fine run of form and although it’s not been quite enough to take us to where we wanted, it’s signalled to the rest of the Premier League that we mean business now.

There’s a ruthlessness developing in this Liverpool side that I like.

We’ve developed a bit of devil about our play and you sense that sides like Spurs, when they face us, are now dreading the prospect.

If you want to be at the very top you have to put fear into the opposition before a ball is kicked.

And I’m seeing more of that in a Reds team which can go into the close season full of belief about the future.

Unfortunately, United turned some of their scrappy performances this season into wins, whereas our below par performances ended in draws.

So that has ultimately proved the difference.

Obviously we need some players in and some out and I’m pleased Rafa Benitez has said he wants it all done quickly this time.

But the one player I am sad to see go is big Sami Hyypia.

I'm not surprised he ended up in tears after the fantastic reception he got in his last game.

Sami’s a true Liverpool legend but I just feel he could have stayed on another season and been a valuable squad member.

We saw that at Old Trafford this season when he played at a moment’s notice and turned in one hell of a performance.

But now he’s gone after 10 great years of top class service I of course wish him nothing but the best.

The fans have left him in no doubt that he will always be a hero to them – and welcome back at Anfield at any time in future.