Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Liverpool Are Closing The Gap On Manchester United - Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes the club are closing the gap between themselves and Manchester United in the Premier League.

The Merseyside-based club pushed United in the title race last year before eventually finishing runners-up, despite achieving more points than in any other season since the elite League's inception.

Benitez is optimistic that such advancements will lead to a prolonged period of success at Anfield.

"We are going forward, we are progressing. For the future this is good news and hopefully this is the beginning of something important." he told Liverpoolfc.tv.

Speaking about last season's title rivals, Benitez added that the strength in depth at Old Trafford was the difference between the two sides over the course of 38 games.

He continued: "We won against them (United) twice this year.

"We've shown we can beat anyone. Clearly we have enough quality in the team. The squad is good but against us United had Giggs, Scholes and Berbatov on the bench.

"Each year is different but we are closer, we have more confidence, and the experience of this year will be good for next season. You never know but it seems like we are reducing the gap."

Benitez celebrates five years in charge of Liverpool on Tuesday.

Liverpool FC £17million Glen Johnson Bid Accepted By Portsmouth

Liverpool last night had a £17m bid accepted by Portsmouth for Glen Johnson.

And the England full-back has told Anfield officials that he wants to join the Reds.

Chelsea and Manchester City have both been chasing the 24-year-old, but the player has told Pompey officials that Liverpool is his preferred destination.

The Reds are wary about making any official statement after their experience with Gareth Barry last month.

They believed they had finally secured a player they first targeted 12-months earlier, only for the England midfielder to have a last minute change of heart and join Manchester City instead.

But this time the Reds are confident the deal will go through.

The fee handed over, however, will be significantly less than £17m, with money still owed for last summer's transfer of Peter Crouch.

Reports today suggested that Liverpool would seek to make up the remainder by offloading Alvaro Arbeloa to Real Madrid for £8m and returning Andrea Dossena to Italy.

But no bids have been received for either player.

With Pompey's managerial and ownership situation still unclear, the Reds have been negotiating with Fratton Park chief executive Peter Storrie

"It is very hard to try and hold people back when they have a chance to play in the Champions League. I accept that," Storrie said.

"Glen has obviously had a fantastic season for us and has established himself as one of the best right-backs in the league. He’s cemented his place in the England team and obviously the World Cup’s coming up now.

"I’ve known Glen for a long time since his West Ham days so when I re-signed him we talked it over and he asked if one of the big four clubs, who were in the Champions League, came in for him would we stand in his way of a move.

"I said that I couldn’t do that provided the deal is good for Portsmouth and for Glen."

It appears that Portsmouth have now received a deal which is good for all parties.

Johnson started his career at West Ham before joining Chelsea for £6m in 2003.

However, his opportunities were limited at Stamford Bridge and he joined Portsmouth on a season-long loan in the summer of 2006.

In August 2007 Pompey secured his services on a permanent basis for £4million and over the past two years he has established himself as England’s first choice right back.

Torres Wants Reds To Sign David Villa

Fernando Torres believes Liverpool should do all they can this summer to sign Valencia striker David Villa.

The Spain international feels his international team-mate would be an ideal acquisition for the ambitious Reds.

The financial troubles which have hit the headlines of late could make a move impossible, with uncertainty surrounding how much funding will be made available to Rafa Benitez during the transfer window.

With Primera Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona also believed to be in the market for Villa, Liverpool would face a tough task to bring the highly-rated striker to England.

However, Torres refuses to accept that a deal would be impossible and has urged Benitez to snap up Villa should the opportunity present itself.

"Rafa Benitez makes the signings and I'm sure those who come will improve us," Torres said in the Daily Star.

"If it was me I would bring David Villa. But that may not be possible."

Torres has struck up a great understanding with Villa at international level, with the duo now considered by many to be the world's most lethal strike force.

That tag may be slightly exaggerated, but Torres admits the pair are among the best in the business.

"We play well together and link up so well," he added.

"It's a pleasure to play with him.

"I don't know if we are the best partnership in the world but we are European champions and that is almost the same."

Liverpool Boss Benitez Sets Dossena Price For Juventus

After a disappointing campaign with Liverpool, it seems that coach Rafa Benitez no longer considers defender Andrea Dossena a necessary component of the squad. The Spanish boss has revealed the price the left-back will cost any interested suitors, notably Juventus.

"Dossena is worth £6 million," which would convert to about approximately €7 million, according to Tuttosport.

Bianconeri sporting director Alessio Secco has already confirmed that the club are looking for a full-back and claims that "the name of Dossena is not a risk."

Dossena himself has already expressed that he is flattered by the consideration of the Turin giants.

"The interest of a great team like Juventus can only make me happy, this affair seems to be a good starting point. I've explained to my agent, Federico Pastorello, that I hope a deal can be realised, but all three parties must be in agreement," he concluded.

The Italian left-back is currently on international duty in South Africa at the Confederations Cup.

Steven Gerrard Has ‘Something Extra’ Over Barcelona Star Xavi – Fernando Torres

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard should be mentioned in the same breath as the best players in the world, according to Fernando Torres, who even deems the Reds' talisman to be better than Barcelona's Xavi.

Torres is currently on international duty with Spain, aiding his country's chances of progression through the Confederations Cup semi-finals with a hat-trick against New Zealand. The former Atletico Madrid striker has also been surprisingly linked with a move to Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, but he may be unhappy to leave his "friend" Gerrard at Anfield.

Torres is quoted by Sport as saying, "When people talk about the best footballers in Europe, they always single out [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but [Gerrard] is just as strong.

"I’m spoilt having a team-mate like him as I can count on him supplying me with perfect passes. You make the run into the space and however tightly marked he is, he finds a way to get the ball through. The highest compliment I can pay him is that he’s as creative as Xavi at Barcelona, with something extra as well.

"When you add his energy, toughness, leadership and goal scoring ability, the result is a fantastic all-round player. Maybe I am biased because he is my team-mate and friend, but Stevie does not get the credit he deserves either in England or with European fans.

"This can change in 2010, when he has a chance to confirm his class with Liverpool and in the World Cup."

Liverpool's Fernando Torres Denies Any Chance Of A Move To Manchester United

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has said he will never join Manchester United, following reports at the weekend that Sir Alex Ferguson was preparing a bid for the Spaniard.

It was claimed that United were to table a £45 million offer for Torres, but the 25-year-old says he has no intention of leaving Merseyside, least of all for a club considered Liverpool's biggest rivals.

Ferguson and Rafael Benitez were involved in a season-long war of words last campaign, and Torres, who has only recently signed a new contract, intends to stay with a manager he claims brings out the best in him.

"I don't know anything about United, just that it has been in the newspapers," he told the Star. "Listen, my team is Liverpool and this is very clear to me.

"This club has it all - the history, the prestige, the organisation. Liverpool Football Club is a phenomenon, with millions of fans who totally identify with everything the club stands for.

"It's a big responsibility to give the fans here the success they desire, but the challenge is always exhilarating and this is why I was delighted to sign a new contract."

With his future seemingly set in stone, Torres said his main focus for the upcoming season is ensuring Liverpool win trophies - and he knows just what they need to do it.

"We need to win the big trophies and we can trust Rafa Benitez to keep the momentum going for us," he continued. "[He] makes the signings and I’m sure those who coming will improve us - if it were me I would bring David Villa but that may not be possible.

"We play well together [for Spain] and link up so well - it's a pleasure to play with him."

Excited about the prospect of beating United to the Premier League title next campaign, Torres, who has scored 50 goals for Liverpool in 84 games, hit back at critics who claim foreign players in Britain are not as motivated to win titles.

"The rivalry with Manchester United is intense and the roof will come off at Anfield if we beat them to next year's title.

"Obviously the Champions League means a lot to Liverpool, but the English title is the one everyone wants in our dressing room.

"They say foreign players don't care as much as the home-grown, but we are very much aware that Liverpool haven't won the Premier League for 19 years and understand the supporters are desperate for us to put that right."

Steven Defour: Liverpool To Beat Aston Villa To £15M Belgian Playmaking Star

Aston Villa were expected to lead a host of Premier League clubs this summer in the race to sign Standard Liege’s Belgian starlet Steven Defour. However, with the impending rumours of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano’s likely exits, Liverpool have jumped to the head of the queue. There’s likely there’ll be a bidding war waged for the young playmaker due to the player being linked to at least 7 Premier League clubs.

The 21-year-old youngster certainly put himself in the shop window with his European displays against Merseyside giants Liverpool and Everton in Europe earlier in the season. He is also fiercely ambitious and declared in January he was ready to leave Standard.The Belgian international admitted, “I have achieved what I wanted to achieve with Standard.”

Before adding, “Maybe it is best for my career to make an upward step. I feel the time is right for me to move on.”

This will encourage the reported interested Premier League sides which consist of not only Liverpool and Aston Villa but also the likes of Arsenal, Everton, Portsmouth, Blackburn and Sunderland who have all had the midfielder watched.

It’s of little surprise as the 5 ft 8 playmaker’s career has gone from strength to strength. Defour is now a permanent member of the Belgian national side with 20 caps and 1 goal to his name despite his tender years. He also captains the Belgian champions Standard (two successive titles) as well as won the 2007 Golden Shoe Award as most outstanding player in the Jupiler League.

Defour began his career at Racing Genk where he made 30 League appearances (25 starts) and scored once. Despite breaking into the side at just 16-years-old the playmaker was soon one of the integral members of the side and his ambition led to a move to Standard. His departure caused such a commotion at Genk that the Chairman at the time Jos Vaessen stood down from his post.

Defour had this to say at the time, “At Genk things became too easy for me. At Standard I may not play in every match at this stage, but I would rather have 20 good matches and start on the bench 14 times, than play 34 moderate matches. Even in training I’ve become a better player by working with players like Conceição and Rapaić. They give me advice, but they also listen to me. I’ve already criticised Conceição. Sérgio accepts my criticism as he realises I am a good player.”

This comment provides an example of the ambition of the youngster and explains why he’s been such a success at Standard Liege. He led the club to the Belgian championship for the first time in 25 years in the 2007/08 season and has now made 84 League appearances for the club (79 starts) and scored 9 goals. His form has attracted the attention of a number of European clubs and is reported to be available for £15m which may rule out a move to Villa with Martin O’Neill quoted as saying he won’t be paying over the odds for players this summer. O’Neill had this to say, “I don’t mind paying over the odds for some people if you think that player will develop and become an asset for the team and be money well spent.”

“I did that with Ashley Young, but if I was told that a player I value at £7m was for sale at £15m, then I would not be able to do that.”

Defour’s former team-mate Marouane Fellaini was sold to Everton for £15m last summer and if anything Defour is rated as the better prospect. Standard also possess another exciting youngster Alex Witzel who is only 20 but being heavily tracked by both Manchester United and Man City. Defour is contracted to Standard till 2013 which will enable the Belgian side to maintain their stance that he won’t be leaving on the cheap.

He would be ideal for Villa who perhaps lack the guile of a playmaker in their midfield to unleash the pace and power of the likes of Young, Agbonlahor and Carew whilst he could be an excellent alternative to Xabi Alonso at Liverpool if the Spaniard were to depart to La Liga. Sunderland have reportedly got the funds to spend big and if Everton continue to slowly improve their squad after the success of Fellaini at Goodison, Moyes may fancy reuniting the pair. Defour was expected to cost in excess of the £15m that Fellaini left for. However, the current financial climate may lead to a reduction in the fee.

Whichever club he moves to, England is looking the likely destination for Defour with so many clubs currently watching him, so expect him to join his former team-mate Fellaini in the Premier League this summer.

The £3M Croatian ‘New Boban’ Chased By Liverpool, Celtic & Villa

The latest Croat star to be linked with a move to the Premier League is 22-year-old NK Rijeka midfield star Anas Sharbini. Celtic reportedly made a tentative enquiry in January month but Liverpool and Aston Villa are strongly linked in the Croatian press. The player should also be available at a knock-down £3m as his contract expires at the end of the 2009/10 season.

Sharbini’s talent was brought to public attention in the 2007/08 season after a superb campaign in which the attacking midfielder scored 11 goals in 28 League appearances (27 starts). This superb form led to a call up to the Croatian national squad as a reserve in case of injuries for Euro 2008. He’s yet to play for his country at full international level but recently earned a call-up after impressing in the U21 side.

The young star has enjoyed another excellent season this time out with 14 League goals in 27 League appearances but is reported to be desperate to leave the club. Sharbini’s goal tally is only bettered by two other players this season. Dinamo Zagreb are said to be keen but offers from the Bundesliga, Premier League and the SPL may sway a summer move with the player available for nothing at the end of next season.

Sharbini is a technically gifted, quick, two-footed playmaker and could prove a bargain buy for a number of clubs needing to add creativity to their ranks for a knock-down price. Rafa Benitez is looking to strengthen his midfield options with bargain buys and the fact the youngster can also play in Steven Gerrard’s 2nd striker position is an added bonus. Then there’s Villa who are looking to build on their performance this season as well as provide a replacement for Gareth Barry at a knockdown price.

The Croatian star’s father was born in Damascus but moved to Rijeka in the 1980’s, therefore Sharbini could have opted for Syria at international level but instead chose the country of his and his mother’s birth. At 5 ft 11 he is not as lightweight as Luka Modric so may settle quicker in terms of the physical nature of British football. He is also renowned for his set-piece capabilities and has been tagged the ‘new Boban’ by the Croatian press which is high praise indeed.

Gerrard Could Quit In 2013

Steven Gerrard has admitted that he could retire at the end of his current contract, which runs until 2013.

The Liverpool skipper will be 33-years-old by then and accepts that he may decide to hang up his boots.

The England international claims he will take great pride from the fact that, should he call time on his illustrious career at that juncture, he will have spent his entire career at Anfield.

Gerrard was a boyhood Liverpool fan and has become the heartbeat of the Merseyside outfit over the years.

He has revealed that he came close to leaving the club when Chelsea came calling in 2005, but is delighted to have remained loyal to his roots.

"I will be 33 at the end of my contract in 2013 and I don't know if I will go any further," Gerrard told France Football.

"If I do retire, then I will know that from the start to the end of my career I only had one club. And I don't want to think about wearing any other shirt in the future.

"I was close to leaving in the past, maybe twice, most notably in 2005. That year we (Liverpool) were a long way off the Premier League title and Chelsea's interest turned my head.

"It was a difficult moment for me. However, now when I look back I am very happy that I chose to stay here. It has given me real pride."

Liverpool fell narrowly short in their efforts to land the Premier League crown last term and were pipped at the post by North West rivals Manchester United.

However, Gerrard believes the club are heading in the right direction and is backing the Reds to be a stronger force in the 2009/10 campaign.

"I believe the experience of defeat that we felt last season will be useful to us next term," he added.

"The team has greatly improved over the last year or so. Today we are much closer to winning the title than we have been in the past.

"Manchester United's squad is deeper than ours, we know that, and we have to be realistic.

"But if we can add two or three quality players to what we already have, we will be at their level. The summer reinforcements will be essential."