Friday, July 17, 2009

Match Report: St Gallen 0 - 0 Liverpool

Glen Johnson had an impressive debut for Liverpool, but could not conjure up a victory in the Anfield club's first pre-season game in Switzerland.

Johnson, newly signed at £17million, came on as a second-half substitute in an unfamiliar left-back position, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez having limited options on that flank following the knee injury to Fabio Aurelio.

But Johnson almost scored within minutes of coming on, racing up on the left to fire across goal. And then he appeared on the right flank to create a great chance, spurned by Lucas.

Benitez played two entirely different sides in each half, and Yossi Benayoun also impressed, almost winning the game with a swerving shot beaten away by keeper Reto Bolli in the final seconds.

Youngster Dani Pacheco had twice wasted good opportunities, but St Gallen had the best openings.

Mario Caceres hit a post in the first half, while veteran striker Mario Frick planted an unopposed header wide from eight yards out in the second period.

Liverpool were without their Spanish contingent, as well as Javier Mascherano.

The build-up to this warm-up tour has been dominated by the possible transfer of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid.

The Spanish club will try to complete a deal before the weekend, but they are still believed to be unwilling to pay the £30m asking price.

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, now at Real, summed up his club's desire earlier in the day at the club's Dublin training camp by saying: "Of course we want good players, and Xabi is a very good player. I hope he joins us, we certainly all want that."

Benitez was confronted with "Don't let Xabi go" banners from Liverpool fans during this match, and he is clearly not prepared to be bullied over the issue by the Spaniards.

His immediate concern was getting pre-season off to a good start.

Liverpool began this friendly in the AFG Arena with just skipper Steven Gerrard and defender Jamie Carragher in the starting line-up who would expect to be on the pitch for the Premier League opener next month.

But it gave the chance for long-term injury victim Phillip Degen to make his comeback in his homeland, while striker Andriy Voronin started up front.

The Ukrainian had a successful loan spell with Hertha Berlin last season and has returned to the squad intent on proving he can salvage his Anfield career.

And he started well, linking with Gerrard and working constantly behind Hungarian youngster Krisztian Nemeth.

The 20-year-old saw a first-half shot scrambled away by keeper Bolli, while Gerrard went close from long range.

Liverpool used three goalkeepers during the game - Diego Cavalieri, David Martin and Peter Galacsi - and none of them had a shot to save.

But at the other end the Reds were unable to turn their greater possession into goals.

They are next in action on Sunday against Rapid Vienna in the Austrian capital, by which time the future of Alonso should be much clearer.

Aquilani Not Anfield Bound - Agent

The agent of Alberto Aquilani has brushed aside reports suggesting the Italy playmaker will leave Roma for Liverpool this summer.

Speculation in Italy claimed a delegation from the Barclays Premier League outfit had arrived in Rome to offer 16million euros for the player.

The highly-rated 25-year-old is considered a candidate to replace Xabi Alonso, who has been linked with a move to Real Madrid.

But Aquilani's agent Franco Zabaglia told "Alberto to Liverpool? Let's not say silly things.

"There's no point in even talking about this subject because there is no truth in this.

"The player recently extended his contract with Roma and is working towards recovering and giving his best to Roma."

Aquilani is under contract with the Eternal City outfit until June 2013.

A right ankle injury limited the player to just 14 league appearances for the Giallorossi last season.

Liverpool's £15m Aquilani Swoop

Liverpool have sent emissaries to Rome in order to complete a £15m swoop for Alberto Aquilani, according to several Italian newspapers.

The Reds have shown an interest in the Roma midfielder as a potential replacement for Xabi Alonso, who is heading to Real Madrid.

Now it’s claimed the club has taken the firm step of sending two emissaries to Italy for crunch talks. The Gazzetta dello Sport says they are FIFA agent Frank Trimboli and an unnamed assistant to Rafa Benitez.

Initially the offer for Aquilani was said to be £13m, but that has been increased to £15m with a five-year contract for the player worth almost £3m per season.

The Italian international only recently extended his contract with Roma until 2013, putting pen to paper in May, after links with Inter, Juventus and Milan.

He is still recovering from ankle surgery and will undergo another check-up in Amsterdam next week.

Roma have made no secret of the fact they need to raise funds in order to strengthen the squad amid a financial crisis.

Coach Luciano Spalletti also declared this week that “we have an abundance of midfielders and probably one player too many in that position.”

Matteo Brighi was thought to be the one sacrificed to Fiorentina or Napoli, but Aquilani would certainly bring in a lot more money.

Aquilani would also balance the books more effectively, as he is a homegrown player and therefore the £15m qualifies as a total profit.

Real Madrid Postpone Final Assault On Liverpool For Xabi Alonso

Real Madrid are still holding out hope of snapping up Xabi Alonso from Liverpool this summer.

The Merseysiders seemed resigned to losing the midfielder, who is reportedly eager to join the Spanish titans, and at the moment, the extravagant price tag is the only thing keeping the 27-year-old at Anfield.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez and his managing director, Christian Purslow, have placed a valuation of around €35 million on the Basque-born player, but Madrid have so far only tabled a bid of €27m.

The ‘White House’, however, are still optimistic of finding a middle ground, but according to AS, they will delay any further negotiations for at least 10 days to focus on ‘Operation Exit’: the club’s bid to offload at least five players from the squad.

Madrid currently have a 30-man unit, but with only 25 players allowed to be registered, director-general Jorge Valdano has been instructed to clear out the surplus before making any further purchases.

The sports daily also believes that the next proposal that the Merengues will make for Alonso will be the final offer.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have reportedly already made plans in preparation of the playmaker’s exit, with some rumours suggesting Roma’s Alberto Aquilani will be signed as a replacement, while others indicate Benitez will use the money to recruit Valencia’s David Silva.

Benitez Promises Voronin Chance

Rafa Benitez has told striker Andriy Voronin that he will be given the chance to fight for his Liverpool future.

The 29-year-old Ukraine international moved to England two years ago but had a difficult start to life at Anfield, leading to a loan spell at Hertha Berlin last season.

However, he regained his form in the Bundesliga with 11 goals in 21 league games and, while it is believed that Benitez would still be willing to cash in on the player, he has vowed to give Voronin the chance to prove himself.

"He did really well in Germany last season, scoring plenty of goals, and he has told me that he wants to stay at the club and fight for his position," he said.

"I have told him that will be difficult with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard as our first-choice strikers, but he realises this and the players we have in the squad.

"But he also knows that this club always plays more than 60 games a season and that means there are opportunities.

"He will fight for his place."

He added: "At this moment, he is a Liverpool player, but it depends on him.

"He is continuing to work hard and is playing well, so he will have a chance.

"It is good to have him back.

"When we signed him, we were looking for a player who could play between the lines as a second striker with quality.

"He has game intelligence, which is something we are always looking for."

Voronin featured for Liverpool in their pre-season friendly against St Gallen on Wednesday, which finished 0-0.

Agent: Lavezzi Turned Down Move To Liverpool

Argentine international and Napoli forward Ezequiel Lavezzi, nicknamed 'El Pocho' which means the chubby one, has turned down the opportunity to join Liverpool.

Talking exclusively to Lavezzi's agent Frederic Guerra revealed that Rafa Benitez was keen on the international, but admitted that the 24 year-old was only interested in staying in Italy with Napoli.

Talking to Editor Nigel Brown, Guerra said: “Liverpool, well I know many people in Liverpool but i'm afraid he doesn't want to change club. He is happy at Napoli. They are interested but he doesn't want change.”

Lavezzi scored seven goals in thirty appearances for Napoli last season.

Glen Johnson Lives Reds Dream

Glen Johnson has spoken of his pride after pulling on a red shirt for the first time.

The most expensive defender in Liverpool’s history fulfilled a childhood dream when he took to the field for Rafa Benitez’s side in the second half of last night’s goalless draw with St Gallen.

Johnson was happy with the way his run out went in Liverpool’s first pre-season friendly and thanked his team-mates for helping him to settle in quickly.

“Pulling that shirt on for the first time definitely lived up to my expectations,” said Liverpool’s £16m right-back.

“I know it was only a friendly game but it was my chance to finally get that shirt on my back so I’m really pleased about that.

“But obviously the big thing for me now is the thought of playing for Liverpool at Anfield – I can’t wait for that.

“The lads have been brilliant to me since I got here. It isn’t easy when you move to a new club and when I first arrived I think there were about 50 professionals there.

“Obviously it’s hard to remember all of their names straight away but the lads have been fantastic from the start.

“It’s nice when you know a couple before you start, as was the case for me.

“But, like I said, absolutely everyone has been great to me.”

Johnson played the entire second half in an unfamiliar left-back role, a position he has also been filling in during sessions at Liverpool’s pre-season training camp in Badra Gaz.

Benitez told the ECHO the temporary positional switch is designed to bring the best out of the 24-year old defensively.

“Johnson did well,” said the Reds boss. “I was using him on the left because he has to think more about his defending there.

“We know that he is really good going forward and in this game he played well in defence and well in attack so it was good.

“If he is playing left-back it means he cannot go in attack in the same way because he is not quite as comfortable with his left foot as he is with his right so this means he will think more about defending.”

Ever the perfectionist, Benitez may have been delighted to see his team create chances in their first friendly but he was unimpressed with the two or three opportunities they allowed the Swiss side.

“The team was good in attack and we created some chances which is always good,” he added. “I am a little disappointed because we gifted them three chances but then it is pre-season, we have a lot of new players so the understanding is not where it needs to be yet and neither is the fitness.”

English Angle: Ten Things Rafa Benitez Should Do Before Selling Xabi Alonso

Liverpool fans, it’s time to be honest – Xabi Alonso is all but on his way to Real Madrid. You didn’t want it to happen, he (initially) didn’t want it to happen, and perhaps even Rafael Benitez didn’t want it to happen, despite his previous attempts to sell off his fellow Spaniard.

Considering that the boy from the Basque Country has just come off a season in which he displayed the sort of composure, consistency and class that even Steven Gerrard never could in a central playmaking role, it would be sheer madness to even consider selling him... right?

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of suggestions that will hopefully keep Benitez so busy – and satisfy his financial, squad-balancing and Madrid-pleasing needs – that he simply won’t have time to ditch one of his most valuable players.

So, without further ado...

Ten Things Rafa Benitez Should Do Before Selling Xabi Alonso:

10. Shave the goatee. C’mon now, Raf – it’s had a good run, but it’s time to move on. You need a fresh look. Maybe a Mohawk.

9. Throw away that heart-shaped pendant with a picture of Gareth Barry inside. The moment’s gone. He’s run off with Sparky Hughes and there’s nothing you can do about it – his bank balance is bigger.

8. Buy back Robbie Keane. With Xabi gone, someone will have to step into the first team – thus leaving a space open on the bench for the impish (and very, very expensive) Irishman.

7. Sell Fernando Torres and bring back Emile Heskey. Offloading your most influential players is all the rage, apparently. ‘El Nino’ suffered through injury last term, so he’s in danger of being traded in for an inferior, English equivalent (as per Xabi-Barry last summer).

6. Make David N’Gog captain. He is the future, of course, and will be an ‘Untouchable’ once Torres’ move to Tranmere Rovers is completed. The most talented Frenchman ever to grace Anfield, Bruno Cheyrou notwithstanding...

5. Quadruple Lucas’ wages. It’s about time his salary matched his contribution to the team. I mean, he’s Brazilian – so surely he deserves it?

4. Give Alvaro Arbeloa to Real Madrid for free – and promise never to humiliate them by a record margin again. Does what it says on the tin. Five-goal drubbings begone!

3. Sell his stake in Pukka Pies. Not only would this provide an instant revenue boost, but the lack of freebie pastries would save millions in cash that would usually be spent on ever-roomier suits.

2. Flog all the club’s league titles and European Cups to Manchester City. They need history, Rafa needs money. It’s a win-win situation.

1. Rename the Kop the ‘Michael Owen Stand’. It’d be every bit as popular with the fans as selling one of the best midfielders in Europe.