Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Liverpool's Poor Pre-Season Form Doesn't Matter – Albert Riera

Liverpool have picked up a series of poor results in their pre-season, the latest being their 3-0 reverse to Espanyol in Barcelona yesterday, but winger Albert Riera has downplayed the significance of this result.

“I think this kind of match is all about being ready for the start of the season," the Spaniard told the club's official website.

“It was a fantastic game for them [Espanyol] and they played better than us. They have trained for around 10 days more than us and I think you saw this clearly. When you are in pre-season, 10 days is a lot.”

Riera pointed out that Liverpool's Spanish contingent returned to training later due to their involvement in the Confederates Cup, saying, “Some of us came back from our national teams a little bit later and have only had 10 or 12 days' training. We need a little bit more before the start of the season, but we will be ready.

"Of course we are disappointed because we lost. Even if it's a friendly match, you always want to win, but as I said, it is all about being ready for the very first game."

Reflecting on his time at his former club, Riera said, “I spent three very good years at Espanyol, but of course fans want players to stay at their club and are not happy about it when they leave.”

“But now I am playing for Liverpool. I am very happy here and the fans are supporting me. This is the most important thing.”

Irish Minnows Await Liverpool

Ireland has already hosted one of the unlikeliest pre-season pairings of the summer - Shamrock Rovers and Real Madrid - but that match-up is about to be surpassed in the David versus Goliath stakes.

Tiny Dunmanway Town from the southern Irish county of Cork are preparing to host the might of Liverpool - or at least a Liverpool XI, which they are assured will feature some of the club's big-name stars.

The amateur side, who play in the West Cork Soccer League, landed one of the coups of the summer when they optimistically invited last season's English Premier League runners-up to visit, only for the Reds to accept their offer.

They have since spent the summer readying the town, which has a population of around 2,500, for the arrival of one of the world's most famous club sides on Thursday.

The team has borrowed a local school's Gaelic Games pitch for the day and has drafted in just over 7,000 seats - from the same temporary stands used in Shamrock Rovers' narrow 1-0 defeat by Real Madrid in July.

"We normally play in a farmer's field in front of around 20 people," manager John Buckley told BBC Sport.

"Someone might normally bring a deckchair or something to sit on, so our capacity will go from one to 7,000 for this game."

Buckley is a lifelong Liverpool fan himself and says the one-off game has created massive excitement in the area and nationally.

"The town has been painted red to welcome Liverpool and it's just given a huge boost to the area," he said.

"There will be fans coming from all over Ireland, as well as from England and beyond."

Club treasurer Andrew Healy says the local anticipation is akin to Nick Hornby's book Fever Pitch.

The team have recent signing David Hall, a local doctor, to thank for Liverpool's visit as he used a number of football contacts and perseverance to persuade the Reds to take them up on their offer.

Hall has been made captain for the day for his efforts, but it is not the only highlight of his week as his wife is also due to give birth to their first baby on the day of the match.

"I don't think there's any chance of me missing this match," he said.

"But don't be surprised if you see me bolting from the pitch mid-way through."

The hosts have also been given permission by the Football Association of Ireland to draft in five players from teams in the League of Ireland - the country's professional and semi-professional divisions.

As for the team they will face, Liverpool say that it is likely to be made up mainly of reserves, but that there should be some big names travelling.

The Dunmanway manager, unsurprisingly, is hoping to see one name in particular on the opposing team-sheet.

"We're hoping that because Steven Gerrard didn't make the pre-season trip to Asia that he'll need the match practice," Buckley said.

"To see him here would be a dream come true.

"But I'm not bothered - even to be playing the reserves is a massive deal for us."

The tie was briefly threatened by an invasion of local rabbits, who dug holes in the pitch but have since been scared away by the construction of the temporary stands.

Hall - a Manchester United fan - is hoping his own charges will not display any "rabbit in headlights" symptoms and is confident of keeping the scores down for at least the first half.

"I'm a bit worried for my players to be honest, but we should be all right, we'll try and hold them out until half time," he said.

Buckley, meanwhile, is expecting many in the crowd to be cheering for the visitors, but is ready to put aside his Liverpool loyalties for the day and concentrate on his own team's efforts.

"We'll give it a good go and hopefully we'll outshine Shamrock Rovers' efforts against Madrid," he said.

Liverpool Told To Forget Move For Priceless' Villa

Valencia boss Unai Emery insists the club will not sell their 'priceless' striker David Villa to Liverpool.

Villa has already turned down moves to Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid this summer, while Manchester United are also interested.

Anfield chief Rafa Benitez wants to pair Villa with Fernando Torres, with Liverpool reckoning their Spanish hitman can persuade his international strike partner to head to Merseyside.

Villa is expected to play his first pre- season game in a friendly against Manchester United on Wednesday night.

But Emery insists anyone preparing to launch a bid for the 26-year-old will be wasting their time.

Emery said: 'We don't want to sell him because he is priceless. Barcelona and Real Madrid have already shown an interest in him but David decided to come back to us.

'That was an unbelievable feeling for the club and we don't believe he will change.

'He is willing to play for us and everything else is just speculation.'

Real Madrid Line Up Belgium Starlet Steven Defour As Talks To Sign Liverpool Midfielder Xabi Alonso Drag On

Real Madrid will make a move for Standard Liege midfielder Steven Defour if there is no progress in talks to sign Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso.

The Spanish giants had hoped to reach an agreement by the end of Monday to sign 27-year-old Alonso after taking part in face-to-face talks with Anfield officials in Barcelona on Sunday.

Madrid director Jose Angel Sanchez met Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow as the Reds were losing 3-0 at Espanyol.

Purslow is holding out for £30m with reports in Spain suggesting they want another £4m in performance-related add-ons.

Madrid's last formal bid was for a maximum £25m - including add-ons - though it is thought they will rise at least another £3m.

Alonso, 27, has made his intentions to move to Spain clear and Madrid are reluctant to be pushed around by Liverpool.

It is with that in mind that they have moved for Defour, though it is unclear whether they are using the interest to put pressure on Liverpool.

The highly rated 21-year-old Belgium international has coincidentally been linked to Liverpool as a potential replacement for Alonso and his club are thought to want £17m.

Defour has also been tracked by Everton, Aston Villa and Arsenal.

Liverpool's Xabi Alonso Relieved As Real Madrid Transfer Nears Completion

Xabi Alonso has admitted his “relief” that Real Madrid and Liverpool are in negotiations over his future as the long-running saga over the Spanish international’s possible £30 million move to the Bernabeu draws closer to a conclusion.

Christian Purslow, the Liverpool managing director, met Jose Angel Sanchez, his Real Madrid counterpart, before the Premier League side’s 3-0 defeat to Espanyol in Barcelona last night to discuss the move after Real requested face-to-face talks.

“It is a relief Madrid and Liverpool are speaking seriously,” said the player. “I decided a long time ago to keep on the fringes of everything that’s happened, and I’ve made that clear to everyone.

"I am a professional and I am just waiting to see if they come to an agreement. I hope, though, that it is resolved soon, for better or worse.”

The two parties remain at stalemate at present, with Liverpool refusing to budge on their asking price of £30 million, plus £3 million dependent on Real’s success in the first two years of Alonso’s contract, while the Spanish side have previously been unwilling to pay more than a total of £26 million. No bid was lodged as a result of yesterday’s meeting.

Sanchez, though, is believed to have intimated to Purslow that Real will increase their offer to break the deadlock.

A new bid, worth a total of around £30 million, is likely to be lodged this week, and it is believed Liverpool are prepared to accept the compromise figure.

Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president, has come under increasing pressure from Manuel Pellegrini, his manager, and Jorge Valdano, his technical director, to seal a transfer for a player seen as vital in giving Real’s side some much-needed balance, although Perez is unhappy at being forced into a corner.

His briefings to the Spanish media have increasingly caricatured Benitez as being unrealistic in his valuation of the Basque midfielder as Real’s frustration has grown.

Benitez is determined to receive enough money from the sale of a player he would like to keep to enable him to make two signings to replace Alonso.

He remains keen to sign David Silva, the Valencia winger, while the Liverpool manager has also inquired about Alberto Aquilani of Roma and could move for Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao.

Benitez Wants Xabi Alonso To Stay At Liverpool As Real Madrid Intensify Talks

Xabi Alonso’s future is expected to be sorted out in the coming hours as Liverpool’s deadline demand for Real Madrid to conclude the transaction draws nearer.

And Los Blancos have indeed intensified negotiations after AS reported that the club’s executive director, Jose Angel Sanchez met up with the Merseysiders’ managing director, Christian Purslow at the Juan Carlos I hotel in Barcelona on Sunday morning.

Liverpool were in Catalunya to contest a friendly against Espanyol to help the Spanish side inaugurate their new stadium, Cornelia-El Prat, and Madrid decided to send their top executive to ensure that talks remain ongoing, although it is believed that both clubs are still locked in a stalemate.

According to the capital-based paper, the strain of the transfer saga appears to be showing on Alonso’s face when he arrived in Barcelona with a serious look and refused to say anything to reporters for fear of exacerbating the situation.

The latest reports indicate that Liverpool are holding out for a €40 million transfer fee (€35m plus €5m) while Madrid supremo, Florentino Perez has given the nod for the club to raise the offer up to €30m.

The Merengues have allegedly targeted promising young Belgian, Steven Defour as a back-up should the Alonso deal collapse completely.

Meanwhile, Marca quoted 'Pool manager, Rafa Benitez saying after the 3-0 loss to Espanyol: "Alonso still has three years left on his contract with Liverpool and we would like for him to continue with us."

Goal.com Italy Slams Liverpool Target Aquilani As 'The New Dossena'

Xabi Alonso's potential move to Real Madrid could pave the way for AS Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani to join Rafael Benitez's Liverpool ranks, but Goal.com Italy's Sergio Stanco has warned Anfield fans that they could be chasing "another Andrea Dossena".

Stanco has reservations about the Liverpool target, as he feels that it is high time that the 25-year-old has converted his much-publicised potential into top-level performances.

He told Goal.com International, "In Italy, we said that Aquilani has a great potential and each year should be the one where he explodes, but we are still waiting."

He was swift to add, though, that, "No one is so stupid to say that he can not become a great player, but at the moment he still is not."

Stanco also pointed to the differences in England and Italy about fielding young players. A case in point is the way players such as Wayne Rooney and now more recently Jack Wilshere are brought through into the first-team at 16 or 17-years-of-age, while in Serie A, players such as Sebastian Giovinco and Riccardo Montolivo are still considered young.

The reason for this, Stanco suggests, is to alleviate the risk of "burn-out", so while there is still time for Aquilani to raise his game further, which Stanco hopes as "everybody knows how Italy needs a good midfielder", but the onus has instead turned to the nation's younger crop.

Goal.com Italy had further criticisms about an Aquilani switch. "He does not have the personality to conquest the Premier League. I think he will be a new Dossena who wants to come back to Italy after one year because he doesn't feature enough."

Jamie Carragher Wants Xabi Alonso & Javier Mascherano To Commit To Liverpool

Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, a defender who has shown loyalty to the Reds throughout his playing career, believes that after a strong season last campaign, in which the Anfield outfit fought with rivals Manchester United for the Premier League crown, it is especially imperative that the current squad remain together.

The 31-year-old was speaking about the speculation surrounding the respective futures of Real Madrid target Xabi Alonso and wantaway Argentinean leader Javier Mascherano.

"When you have gone as close as we did last season you don't want to lose anyone from your squad," he told The People. "All I would say is that I don't want any of our influential players to leave.

"I'm not naming names, but there have been stories that certain players could leave the club and it's important that those things are settled sooner rather than later.

"The last thing we want is to be going into the new season not knowing whether someone is going to leave before the transfer window closes.

"So the quicker these things are sorted the better, because then we can concentrate on the business of winning football matches."