Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rafa Benitez Targets A “Perfect” Premier League Season

Rafa Benitez’s preparations for the 2009/10 campaign kick-off in earnest tonight – with the Reds boss targeting a “near-perfect” season.

Liverpool have closed the gap on champions Manchester United in recent seasons, from 11 points in 2007/08 to just four points last term.

But in order to make that final transition from nearly-men to champions, Benitez believes his side will have to enjoy a perfect campaign – which is why the pre-season preparations are so vital this summer.

“You have to do everything almost perfectly because in the Premier League you cannot lose many games,” said Benitez from the Reds’ training camp in Switzerland. “You need a good atmosphere, and we have a good squad now.

“The understanding is really good now between the players. The main thing for me is to be contenders.

“We have to be there in the top four and close, then see what happens.

“Chelsea, United and Arsenal are very strong, and this year you’ll have Tottenham, Aston Villa and City. It’s clearly the most difficult league.

“We are strong enough to beat anyone and we need to be consistent. We got 86 points – a record for the club in the Premier League – but we still need to improve. But we have a lot of confidence.”

Meanwhile, Benitez has a mix of senior players and youngsters for their pre-season friendlies in Switzerland.

The Spanish contingent and Argentina captain Javier Mascherano are enjoying an extended break, but record defensive signing Glen Johnson will get his first run-out in a red jersey, while skipper Steven Gerrard will also figure.

There will also be a rare appearance for Philipp Degen in his home country, after his debut season at Anfield was largely wrecked by injury.

“I think he’s the happiest man in the squad now – he can understand everyone!” joked Benitez. “He’s training very, very well and if he’s fit he’ll be a very good addition for us.

“We will try to use all the players. Our idea is to use one team in the first half and change it at half-time. The players have to compete for their positions. Philipp’s doing well, training hard and if he has no injuries maybe we will see the best of him.”

Rafa Benitez Wants Playing Time For Entire Liverpool Squad In Swiss Friendly

The highly anticipated debut of Glen Johnson at Liverpool is sure to be hampered by Rafa Benitez's admission that he wants to afford game time to all 24 of his named squad members on Wednesday night in Switzerland.

The Reds take on second-tier Swiss team FC St.Gallen at the AFG Arena as they kick off their pre-season friendly fixtures.

The Spanish tactician has focused on the youth element at the club of late, and looks to continue that theme as he opts to allow several of his fringe youngsters a chance to shine this week.

"We will try to use all the players," said Benitez on the club's official site. "Our idea is to use one team in the first half and change it at half-time.

"We have the video of their game against Basel and they were well organised - the manager knows what to do. The main thing for us is to get the match fitness - the result isn't too important even though we want to win every single game - but it will be interesting.

"The important thing is to see how the team is on the pitch and see the understanding between the players."

Liverpool: Rumours - Xabi Out Silva In

The latest rumour, not that it's a new latest rumour, is that Xabi Alonso will complete his move to Real Madrid at the end of this week and then David Silva will be brought in by Rafa.

Real are signing Xabi one minute but not the next, with them coming in with a higher offer, before lower it or losing interest all together the next, all of which is (or has) unsettled the Spanish international.

Rumour has it that Xabi will finally complete a move to Real for more than £30m at the end of this week, after our asking price was reached?

This is despite the fact that the Spanish club are believed to be unhappy at having to pay so much, which is tough!

If Real want Xabi then they have to pay what is asked, and if Xabi does want to leave then it's best that he does.

Plenty of players have been linked with moves to Anfield but should Xabi finally leave, as is now looking increasingly likely, then Valencia's David Silva, and a long term target of Rafa, is expected to arrive.

Once and for all it's time to end this saga, as it's dragged on far too long! If we can also conclude our pursuit of Silva successful that's even better.

Liverpool Turn To Young As Real Close On Alonso

Liverpool will be installed as the favourites to sign Aston Villa winger Ashley Young if Xabi Alonso is sold to Real Madrid.

That move is looking increasingly likely as the Spain international is keen on a switch to the Bernabeu and a £27million deal could be concluded by the end of the week.

Any cash being deposited in the Anfield coffers will not stay there long, however, as Rafa Benitez will make a move for England international Young before seeking a direct replacement for Alonso.

Liverpool are keen on Stewart Downing but consider Young to be an upgrade of the Middlesbrough winger.

Xabi Alonso Sets Weekend Deadline For Real Madrid Move

Xabi Alonso wants his future sorted out before the weekend but faces the dilemma of whether to go public on his desire to leave Liverpool for Real Madrid.

The Spain midfielder has reportedly already told Anfield boss Rafa Benitez that he wants to be part of the Bernabeu revolution and is said to be frustrated by the lack of progress on a deal.

Benitez has been determined to hold on to the 27-year-old all summer, privately quoting a prohibitive £40million price-tag, and will not back down unless Alonso forces a move with a transfer request or public declaration.

The midfielder does not want to follow the risky strategy but is keen for talks to re-open.

Bernabeu icon Raul has stepped up the pressure by enthusiastically welcoming the prospect of playing alongside Alonso.

'I would like him to come because Xabi Alonso is a great player,' said the Madrid captain.

'The decision is made by other people at the club and the technical body, who see what the team need.'

Liverpool are due to fly out for their Asian tour on Saturday and it is unclear whether Alonso will be on the flight.

Madrid have used various tactics in their pursuit of Alonso since Florentino Perez took over as president at the start of June and made a public pitch to bring him to Spain.

In recent days they have publicly said the deal looks unlikely without closing the door, though alternatives that have been lined up have proved either as difficult to sign or mere smokescreens.

They were knocked back immediately when going for Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi while signing Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal was seen as fraught with difficulty.

Coach Manuel Pellegrini would like to raid his former club Villarreal for Santi Cazorla, but the 24-year-old is seen as more of an attacking midfielder rather than an alternative to Alonso.

There is also a suggestion that Madrid have been in talks for several weeks with Javier Mascherano with the thinking that if one of Liverpool's midfielders leaves, it must be to them rather than rivals Barcelona.

Udinese's D'Agostino would be relatively easy to recruit, but it is thought Madrid are using their interest in the Italy international primarily to put pressure on Liverpool to lower their asking price.

The Spanish giants similarly tried to show the Reds they would not be ripped off by actually lowering their bid for Alonso to £20m earlier this week.

A compromise around £32m may well get their man, but there is still some distance between the clubs' respective valuation and Madrid are desperate to sell at least five players in the next few days to fund further spending.

Benitez has lined up Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani as a replacement for either Alonso or Mascherano, according to reports in Italy.

Dudek Wants Alonso Reunion

Jerzy Dudek is hopeful that his former team-mate Xabi Alonso can join him at Real Madrid this summer.

Real president Florentino Perez has made the Liverpool midfielder his next big transfer target but talks seem to have broken down.

The Reds are thought to value the Spaniard at around £30million while Real are said to only be prepared to part with £20million.

However Dudek, who played with Alonso for three seasons at Anfield, is hoping that the two clubs can come to an agreement.

"I don't know (what's happening) let's hope so," he told Sky Sports News.

"This club needs good players and Xabi is a good player."

Dudek also confirmed that pre-season at their training camp in Ireland was going well with world record signing Cristiano Ronaldo settling in quickly.

"I think we are happy with what is going to happen on this trip ahead of the new season," he added.

"Cristiano is a nice guy and he wants to help us and we are happy with this.

"We are on the stage where we have little contact with the ball but next week we have some games and we will see how he compares."

The former Feyenoord shot-stopper also pointed out that failure was not an option this term following their extravagant spending this summer.

"I don't think we have another possibility because at this stage we always think about winning La Liga and the Champions League," he added.

"We need to win the trophies, that is a clear message to us."

Daniel Agger Out With Back Injury

Rafa Benitez’s pre-season preparations have been hampered after Daniel Agger was ruled out of Liverpool’s first warm up match against St Gallen in Switzerland tonight.

The Danish defender has been forced to remain behind on Merseyside after suffering a recurrence of the back problem which ruled him out of action for more than a month of the last campaign.

Agger first picked up the injury while on international duty with Denmark last February and though he recovered to win his place back in Benitez’s starting line up towards the end of the season the problem flared up again at the weekend and the Reds boss has opted to take no chances on his fitness.

The 24-year-old is currently undergoing treatment at Melwood and will also miss Liverpool’s second friendly away to Rapid Vienna on Sunday.

But Benitez is hopeful that Agger will have recovered in time to take his place on the club’s trip to Thailand and Singapore although the Reds boss will take into account the effects that a gruelling long haul flight to the Far East could have on the centre back before making a final decision.

Agger’s absence has handed an opportunity for young Spanish defender Danny Ayala to show what he can do.

The 18-year-old does not yet have a squad number and was not initially included in Liverpool’s travelling party to take part in the Swiss training camp but with Agger ruled out Benitez drafted Ayala in and could even give him a run out against St Gallen.

Andrea Dossena's Agent Rubbishes Liverpool To Napoli Rumours

Andrea Dossena's agent Federico Pastorello has played down rumours linking the Liverpool defender with a move to Napoli.

Reports in the Italian media intensified this week when Pastorello was seen meeting with Napoli sporting director Pierpaolo Marino.

The papers were quick to jump to conclusions, claiming both men had met to discuss the possibilities of Dossena moving to the San Paolo.

However, the agent has denied those claims, insisting he met Marino for very different reasons.

"Dossena to Napoli? It was all a misunderstanding," Pastorello told

"I was in Milan and so was Dossena. I met with Marino to discusss Morgan De Sanctis with him, and then I met Dossena afterwards in order to deal with some fiscal issues.

"The papers were quick to make a case, but there is nothing true in it. Dossena is a Liverpool player."

The Italian international was linked with Juventus in the past, but that trail went cold.