Thursday, June 25, 2009

Season Shape-Up - Liverpool


Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has found himself in the position of fending off interest in his stars rather than bring in new players. Benitez has seen a number of his top names linked with moves away from Anfield with the Spaniard fighting to keep hold of midfield pair Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

Alonso, who was arguably Liverpool's player of the season last term, has again found his future on Merseyside the subject of conjecture for a second successive summer with big-spending Real Madrid hoping to lure the Spanish schemer back to his homeland.

Real and Barcelona have both been linked with Mascherano leaving Benitez facing the horror of losing his first-choice midfield.

Benitez is determined to keep the pair having already seen long-term target Gareth Barry slip through his fingers with the England international heading to cash-rich Manchester City.

Fernando Torres has been linked with a shock move to Manchester United in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo's impending departure from Old Trafford, but it is certain any approach for the Spanish hit-man would be given short shrift.

Liverpool have enjoyed success in the transfer market already this summer beating title rivals Chelsea to the signing of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth.

Both clubs agreed fees with Portsmouth for Johnson, but Benitez got one over Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti by persuading him to make the move to Merseyside rather than Stamford Bridge.

Johnson has agreed a £17.5million switch to Anfield and although Benitez admits he has paid over the odds for the England international the full-back will add to Liverpool's defensive strength.

Benitez has claimed Liverpool have funds available for one more big signing without selling and Valencia winger David Silva is thought to be his top target.


Not much. There are not too many changes needed to the Liverpool squad with just a little tinkering required to transform Benitez's side into champions.

The spine of the team is strong with just a couple of additions needed to provide cover in case of injuries.

Liverpool led the way in the title race for much of last season, losing only twice all campaign, but they still saw arch-rivals Manchester United match their record of 18 league titles.

Their biggest problem last term was that they ended up drawing more than Rolf Harris and these dropped points ultimately cost them the championship.

Benitez has addressed the need to enhance the right-side of the team with Johnson adding to the defensive and attacking options of the starting XI.

The full-back was one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League last term and his buccaneering runs down the right will provide a major outlet for the Reds' midfield.

A striker to provide cover for Torres is a must, with the Spaniard sorely missed when injured last term.

A move for Robbie Keane failed to work with the Irishman cutting a hasty return to Tottenham after less than six months at Liverpool.

David Ngog is still too raw to be seen as a replacement for Torres and Benitez must add to his attacking options to take the goalscoring burden off the shoulders of Torres and Reds skipper Steven Gerrard.

With sides defending in numbers against the Reds at Anfield, Benitez needs that someone who can produce that little something different to open sides up.

A new left-sided winger could be brought in as Albert Riera went off the boil in the second half of the season after a bright start to his Liverpool career.

Valencia winger Silva has been continually linked with a move to Liverpool, with Benitez not hiding his admiration for the Spanish international.

Silva is expected to leave cash-strapped Valencia this summer, but Liverpool could find themselves priced out of a move for the talented wide-man.


Benitez has already got one of his top targets in the shape of Johnson and who else he gets will depend on how much money is left for him to deal with. Cash is believed to be in shortage in the Anfield coffers, with Benitez maybe being forced to raise his own funds by offloading some of his fringe members.

The likes of Andrea Dossena, Ryan Babel, Andriy Voronin, Sebastien Leto, and Philipp Degen could all be offloaded to try and boost Benitez's transfer kitty.

If money can be raised then a move for long-term target Silva could be made as Benitez looks to bring in the winger to provide the ammunition for Torres and co.

Middlesbrough forward Tuncay Sanli has been mooted as a possible target with the Turkish ace providing a cheaper option to his other striking targets.

Benitez's targets could change depending on the futures of Alonso and Mascherano. Should either pair move on Benitez could have substantial funds given to him to bring in a replacement.

Athletic Bilbao starlet Javi Martinez could be an ideal replacement for Alonso if Real Madrid get their way and tempt Liverpool into selling the midfielder.

A new defender may be drafted in as a replacement for Sami Hyypia, but with Daniel Agger agreeing a new contract this is not a major priority.

Liverpool Hold Out For Real Madrid To Increase Bid For Alvaro Arbeloa

Liverpool have rejected a €5m (£4.23m) bid from Real Madrid for Alvaro Arbeloa, but will allow the defender to return to the Bernabéu providing they recoup £5m for the Spain international.

Real, who have also lined up a €30m offer for Xabi Alonso, made their first official move for the Liverpool right-back following talks with the player's agent, Manuel García Quillón. The bid was instantly rejected by Rafael Benítez, who is also represented by Quillón, but Liverpool are likely to settle for a marginal increase with Arbeloa approaching the final 12 months of his Anfield contract.

The 26-year-old has also made no secret of his desire to sign for Real, where he failed to make an impact on the first team before leaving for Deportivo La Coruña in 2006. "I am especially proud of what the club is doing," Arbeloa reiterated. "It is a big project with the return of Florentino [Pérez, as president] and obviously if Madrid is fixed on you it makes you proud."

Arbeloa has proven an astute ­purchase since joining Liverpool for £2.6m in January 2007 but will be usurped as the club's first-choice right-back by Glen Johnson. Benítez is looking to offset the £17m cost of the England international, who has passed a medical at Liverpool and will sign a four-year contract on his return from holiday, by selling the likes of Arbeloa and Andrea Dossena, while Portsmouth will write off the £7m they owe for Peter Crouch as part of the Johnson deal.

The Spain defender is currently in South Africa for the Confederations Cup and admits his future will be resolved after the tournament ends on Sunday. Arbeloa added: "I would be lying if I said I was sure to start the season with Liverpool. I'll be able to think about all this by next Monday."

Pepe Reina: Don't Compare Me With Liverpool Legend Ray Clemence

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has asserted that comparisons between him and the great Ray Clemence are a little premature, despite the clutch of records the Spaniard has broken over the last year, and added that he would rather develop his own reputation, rather than live in the shadow of legends.

"You will hear people talking about different eras and likening successful sides of the past to successful teams of the present," he told LFC Magazine.

"I'm not sure it's fair to do that. I'm not even sure what system Liverpool used when Clemence played or whether teams were attacking more or less than they do today.

"There are so many things that you have to consider.

"What I do know is that Clemence was probably the best goalkeeper in Liverpool's history. Of course, my aim is to achieve just half of what Clemence did with Liverpool. If I manage that it will be a successful time for the club."

Reina became the quickest goalkeeper in the Reds' history to reach 100 clean sheets, taking just 197 games to reach a milestone that took Clemence 200 matches. The Spanish international modestly shrugs off the plaudits that have been directed his way in recent times though, and prefers to highlight the contributions of his team-mates to that extraordinary shut-out record.

"I appreciate all the nice things people have said about me," he added.

"I feel I have improved many things in my game during the four years I have been at Liverpool. But I still have plenty of things to clear and am still young in terms of being a goalkeeper.

"I am only 26 so still have a pretty long way to go. Hopefully that will be with Liverpool.

"I'm pleased to go into the history books alongside someone like Clemence. You have to be pleased with that. But it's not all down to Pepe Reina. It has to be shared with my team-mates and especially the defenders.

"It's down to all the lads and the people who play in front of me. They make my job a lot easier so full credit to them.

"Where a striker is always looking to score, defenders and goalkeepers are always wishing to keep a clean sheet. It is better to win 1-0 than 2-1."

Reds Explore Options In Setanta Demise

Liverpool have stressed they remain committed to the club's television channel despite the collapse of Setanta, the platform on which it was broadcast.

The Irish company went off the air just before 6pm having gone into administration earlier.

Liverpool will continue to broadcast via their website and are hopeful of getting the channel back on television screens as soon as possible.

"LFC TV is currently broadcasting as normal and will continue to do so until further notice," said a club statement.

"However, following the announcement that Setanta GB is no longer trading, there may be some disruption to our service for UK television viewers.

"While we continue to produce live and pre-recorded content for the channel as normal, we are urgently investigating all possibilities available to us in returning to broadcasting in the British Isles as quickly as possible.

"We're continuing to monitor developments but wish to point out that our online and international viewers should remain unaffected and that Liverpool Football Club remains committed to the future of LFC TV."

Lionel Messi Asks Liverpool FC's Javier Mascherano To Join Barcelona

Barcelona star Lionel Messi has maintained the pressure in the tug-of-war for Javier Mascherano by reiterating his desire for the Liverpool man to join him.

Argentina captain Mascherano is a major target for Barcelona and even though manager Rafael Benitez is insisting the player is happy at Anfield and that he does not want to sell him.

Messi has spoken in the past of his wish to link up with his international team-mate at club level and he repeated that sentiment yesterday.

“Of course I would like him to join, who would not want to play with great players like Javier,” Messi said. “I hope he can come here.”

There has been speculation suggesting Mascherano wants to become one of Liverpool’s highest earners and that his wife has not settled on Merseyside.

But the player himself spoke in glowing terms about Benitez and the relationship he has with the manager who rescued him from a miserable spell in West Ham’s reserves just over two years ago.

Benitez is determined to keep the combative Argentinian but it appears Barcelona are not yet ready to give up their pursuit of the 25-year-old.

The Liverpool boss is facing attacks on all sides from Spanish clubs with Real Madrid stepping up their bid to sign Xabi Alonso.

Rumours of a £30m bid have been circulating as returning Real president Florentino Perez continues to try to spend his way to success.

Sean McGuire: Liverpool FC Must Wake Up To Financial Reality

George Gillett’s sale of his 80% stake in an ice hockey franchise in order to raise enough cash to support Liverpool’s banking requirements should be a huge wake-up call for the club.

And it is a problem that cannot be answered simply by buying more players or extending Rafa’s contract or doing any of the other easy things that clubs do as a kind of sporting default.

The club’s auditors, KPMG, recently expressed grave concerns over the financial viability of the business, and it is that aspect of the life of the club – not what happens on the pitch – that needs immediate attention.

It is crazy that a club like Liverpool cannot generate much bigger global revenues to support the football operation and grow the value of the whole business.

The mad cash merry-go-round of the Premier League is fine when the money is in the bank, but when costs start to exceed revenues there is a much bigger problem than just scoring goals or winning matches.

Liverpool need to act on this with a sense of urgency and a credible plan for sustained revenue growth, and perhaps, a wee bit of sensible cost control thrown in.

This includes avoiding too many more transfer dealings that see £17m spent on a player who is only marginally, if at all, better than the player leaving for around £5m.

United Legend Envious Of Liverpool’s New Signing

Manchester United legend Paul Parker, a man replaced by Gary Neville at Old Trafford, believes Liverpool have signed one of the best right-backs in world football Glen Johnson.

The former West Ham and Portsmouth defender is rated by Parker as potentially the best in his position in the world.

Parker told The News: “Glen Johnson is not only the best right back for England – he's also the best in the league.”

“In fact, I'd go so far as to say he could be the best in the world. I really think that. Some people rave about Ashley Cole being one of the best in the world but Johnson on the other side has all the attributes to be even better than him.”

“People also go on about European and South American full backs, but Glen beats them all for me.”

“As a former right-back, I watch him and I can tell you he is one of the very, very best there is and the lad can only keep on improving.”

“I'm trying to think of a Premier League right-back who comes close.”

“Sir Alex Ferguson raves about Rafael De Silva but he is nothing more than a prospect at the moment. Then there's Joe Bosingwa, who is an excellent player but not the same standard as Glen.”

“As for English rivals, I thought Micah Richards was going to go on but he's really gone off the boil.”

“Then there's Wes Brown, but he is not going to give you enough going forwards and is always a better centre half.”

“For me, Glen is comfortably ahead of all of them.”