Sunday, August 09, 2009

Liverpool's Latest Addition Aquilani Sidelined For Two Months

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will have to wait to see his latest recruit Alberto Aquilani in action, as the Italian international is continuing his recuperation from surgery he had in May.

Aquilani joined from Roma this week for a fee believed to be in the region of £20m. The 25-year-old passed a medical and signed a 5-year deal with the Reds and is believed to be earning around £80,000-a-week, but the midfielder will have to spend a considerable amount of time with the physio before he can don the famous Liverpool shirt.

Recovering from his ankle surgery, Aquilani is said to be out "four to eight weeks," leaving Benitez to rely on the likes of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva to deputise in midfield.

Aquilani has an infamous reputation for injuries, and at Roma he was cruelly labelled by fans as 'Swarovski' due to his constant physical problems. In the last three seasons Aquilani has made just 13, 21 and 14 league appearances respectively due mainly to injuries.

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 2 Atletico Madrid

Liverpool's patchy pre-season form continued with another defeat, despite a late flurry and a rare Lucas Leiva strike.

Atletico Madrid were two ahead at the break and deserved their win, as Liverpool's injury worries worsened.

Their preparations for the new season were not helped by the sight of Jamie Carragher limping out of this sell-out friendly.

Anfield's most experienced defender lasted just 12 minutes against the Spanish club as he suffered an ankle injury. A touchline conversation with club doctor Mark Waller was followed by the 31 year-old disappearing down the tunnel for treatment.

Considering boss Rafael Benitez's injury crisis in defence, losing the vice-captain and defensive leader was the last thing he wanted.

Initial diagnosis was a "turned" ankle, and his departure was precautionary. Certainly in the current situation, his recovery for next week will be a priority as he will be needed at Tottenham for the Premier League opener next weekend.

Benitez has seen Sami Hyypia depart, while Martin Skrtel (hamstring) and Daniel Agger (back) are major doubts for the trip to White Hart Lane.

Alvaro Arbeloa has also gone, while Fabio Aurelio will not play until nearer Christmas with a knee injury, leaving Liverpool's defensive numbers diminished.

Liverpool spent the rest of the match with untried Spanish youngsters Danny Ayala and Mikel San Jose, fresh faced from the reserves, confronting the outstanding Argentina star Sergio Aguero, one of the best strikers in Europe.

Aguero soon started to take advantage. He dived to head home a cross from Simao, and then produced the back-heel that set-up former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan for a second before the break.

Lucas was given the unenviable job of replacing Xabi Alonso, £30million worth of midfield artistry now at Real Madrid, while England full-back Glen Johnson made his home debut.

While all this disruption was going on behind them, Fernando Torres, against his old club, and Steven Gerrard started where they finished last term.

The pair were in full flow and Torres could have had a couple before hitting the post from 20-yards as he played against his former club.

Referee Phil Dowd refused Liverpool three penalties, one when Torres looked to be tripped and then when Juanito handled as Gerrard charged through, before Lucas was knocked over.

Atletico were certainly taking this seriously. Paulo Assuncao and Johnny Heitinga were both booked for fouls on Yossi Benayoun and Gerrard. Liverpool, too, picked up a booking when Johnson was cautioned for cutting down Simao.

Ryan Babel replaced Dirk Kuyt and another young defender, Martin Kelly, took over from Johnson, but Liverpool could not fashion much of a comeback.

Fourth in La Liga last term, and facing a Champions League play-off tie with Panathinaikos for a chance to join Liverpool in the group stages, Atletico looked more than a decent outfit.

They introduced former Liverpool forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle with 15 minutes left to a rousing reception from the Kop.

Liverpool responded with Jay Spearing and Andriy Voronin coming on for Javier Mascherano and Benayoun, with David Ngog replacing Torres soon after.

Lucas finally pulled one back for Liverpool after 81 minutes, side-footing home from a Gerrard through ball.

Rafa Plays Down Carra Concern

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is hopeful Jamie Carragher will be fit for next week's Premier League opener at Tottenham after suffering an injury scare.

Carragher was forced to limp off after just 15 minutes of Saturday's pre-season defeat to Atletico Madrid with an ankle problem.

However, Benitez has played down the extent of the injury and revealed Carragher was only withdrawn as a precaution.

"He's okay," said Benitez when asked about Carragher's fitness.

"He twisted his ankle and it was just a precaution to bring him off because we have had problems with the other centre-backs and we wanted to protect him."

Carragher's defensive colleagues Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger are both facing a race to be fit for the trip to White Hart Lane, but Benitez is confident all three could be available for the big kick-off, live on Sky Sports 1.

"We will have to wait now, the three players are injured, but improving so I think they will be fit for the next game," added Benitez.

Rafa Reveals Turner Interest

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has confirmed his interest in signing Hull defender Michael Turner.

Benitez is in the market for a new central defender following the departure of Sami Hyypia and he has targeted a move for Turner.

Turner enjoyed a fine season with Hull last term and Benitez is believed to have been impressed by the former Brentford man.

Reports have suggested Hull have rejected a bid from Liverpool as they hold out for £12million for the towering defender.

Benitez has admitted he has talked with Tigers counterpart Phil Brown about Turner, but refused to divulge any more information on a possible transfer.

"I was talking with (Hull manager) Phil Brown, but I will not talk about figures. But maybe I was just talking to Phil about the weather," said Benitez.

Benitez may step up his interest in Turner after Jamie Carragher joined Daniel Agger (back) and Martin Skrtel (hamstring) as injury concerns for next weekend's season opener at Tottenham with an ankle knock picked up against Atletico Madrid.

"We have two options. One is to bring in someone at the back and the other option is to keep working with the young players we have," added Benitez.

"We have three centre-backs to get fit and will need one more as a fourth. We have to decide what to do, but the one solution we can achieve is to work with the youngsters."

Brown Stands Firm On Turner

Phil Brown has insisted he will only part with Michael Turner for a fair price after receiving a verbal offer from a Premier League club.

Hull City centre-back Turner has attracted attention after an impressive first season in the Premier League last term.

Liverpool are understood to be interested in the 25-year-old as Rafa Benitez seeks to bolster his defensive options.

However, Brown maintains there have been no official bids and the only club to have made contact is a long way from reaching their valuation.

"We've had a verbal offer from a club in the Premier League but there's been no firm offer through communications at boardroom level. That was nowhere near our expectations," Brown said in the Daily Mail.

Liverpool are reported to have made an enquiry that amounted to £6million, while Brown is holding out for about £12million.

"I'm still adamant that it would take a big offer to prise Michael away, no matter who the club is," explained the Tigers manager.

"We've got a prized asset there and I will guarantee that no player will leave the club on the cheap."

Martin Kelly Has The Potential To Be Glen Johnson’s Understudy At Liverpool FC

With Philipp Degen continuing to challenge Istvan Kozma and Sean Dundee for the dubious honour of being Liverpool’s worst ever foreign signing the position of back-up to Glen Johnson is certainly up for grabs.

The one player who has staked the most impressive claim for this understudy’s role is teenage defender Martin Kelly who has been one of the Reds stand out performers during pre-season.

Big, strong, mobile and clearly keen to do well, the 19-year-old could not have done any more to put his name in the frame for membership of Rafa Benitez’s squad when the real action gets under way.

Like Steven Gerrard, Kelly was born in Whiston and also like the Liverpool skipper he has that muscular, long-legged ability to win tackles he really has no right to.

His progress will undoubtedly have been noted by the coaching staff and should he continue to improve at his current rate then the Reds may just have stumbled upon a valuable addition to their ranks.

Liverpool FC And Xabi Alonso Parting Of Ways Was On Good Terms

IT was quite apt that Xabi Alonso sat right next to the emergency exit on flight 7208 from Barcelona to Liverpool on Monday night.

It was, after all, that very door which he had been searching for at Anfield for some time previous.

Given the way the relationship between Alonso had Rafa Benitez had deteriorated many had expected a few barbed comments to be fired back and forth from Madrid and Merseyside once the midfielder’s much-longed for moved to Real was completed a couple of days later.

Alonso, though, chose to be professional and passed up the chance to engage in what would have been an unnecessary and unseemly bout of blood letting, choosing to say all the right things about his former club and even talking of the respect he has for his former manager.

For his part, Benitez simply turned his attentions to the future by extolling the virtues of Alberto Aquilani in a football style “the king is dead, long live the king” speech.

With such decency being maintained – in public at least – it is hard to imagine that the pair have been as remote from one another over the past 12 months as it is possible for a manager and player to be.

So it is to their great credit that they have kept their problems with one another in house because at a club where there has been so much in-fighting it is a wonder the staff aren’t issued with gum shields it would have been disastrous if the fall-out between two of its most important employees had extended beyond the Melwood walls.

The low point in their relationship came in Belgium last summer when Alonso’s anger at Benitez’s decision to put him up for sale almost led to him refusing to play in the Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege.

Alonso told his manager that he should pick either Jay Spearing or Damien Plessis so that if he did leave and sign for another club he would not be cup tied in that competition.

When you consider the fright Liege gave Liverpool – who were already without Javier Mascherano – that night then it hardly bears thinking about what might have happened had Alonso also not played.

From that point on though there was to be no way back.

Even though Alonso regained his composure and went on to play a crucial role as Liverpool enjoyed their best league season for almost two decades, the relationship between player and manager was broken and it would not be repaired.

Which is why when it came a parting of the ways was in the best interests of everyone.

Alonso got to return to his native Spain with his young family and what’s more he got a move to a club whose ambition can be smelled in the hundreds of millions of Euros they have splashed out this summer.

At a club where the cash does not flow anything like as freely, Benitez was able to boost his transfer fund to the kind of level which will allow him to bring in the targets he feels will allow Liverpool to make that all important last step from challengers to champions.

It remains to be seen who has got the better end of the deal though.

Benitez will know that unless he spends the money wisely then the joust he had with Real to squeeze every remaining cent out of the Bernabeu coffers will have provided him with nothing more than a pyrrhic victory.

While Alonso must have a nagging doubt at the back of his mind that his new role will be as ring master to the ongoing circus that is Real Madrid.

The midfield stylist may finally have located the emergency exit but whether he will find the professional contentment he so craved is open to question.

Lucas Keen To Prove Worth To Liverpool FC Following Xabi Alonso's Move To Real Madrid

The departure of Xabi Alonso may be tough to take but for one man the Spaniard’s exit represents the ideal opportunity to finally prove he’s good enough to make the grade at Anfield.

Lucas has struggled to endear himself to supporters since he arrived from Gremio two years ago.

Limited first team chances and indifferent form meant many wrote him off as a £6million mistake.

He was booed by his own fans at Anfield last season and a dismissal in the FA Cup defeat at Goodison left him at rock bottom.

But Rafa Benitez never lost faith in the 22-year-old and after finishing last season strongly Lucas has carried on where he left off.

Liverpool have hardly set the world alight during their pre-season travels.

In half their six matches they’ve failed to find the net and only Singapore and Norwegian whipping boys FC Lyn have been defeated.

However, a feature of their build up has been Lucas’ consistent and commanding midfield performances.

Benitez may have lined up £20million man Alberto Aquilani as Alonso’s replacement but the Italian is some way off full fitness.

The manager needs someone to star alongside Javier Mascherano when their Premier League campaign starts at Spurs next Sunday and Lucas is up for the challenge.

“I am always ready and now Xabi is gone I hope there will be more opportunities for me,” he said.

“I am just working hard in training to try to earn a position in the team.

“I’ve played a lot of minutes in pre-season and that has given me more confidence.

“I’m feeling better and hopefully it will be a good season for me.

“I want to play every week but I know Liverpool have a strong squad.

“I just have to wait and respect whatever decisions Rafa makes.”

Lucas admits the loss of Alonso to Real Madrid after five years at Anfield has affected the squad but he insists the Reds can still mount a title challenge without the classy midfielder.

“Everyone was really sad to see Xabi go because he had been here a long time,” Lucas said.

“Last season he was one of the club’s best players but he has a plan for himself and his career. We have to respect that.

“We will continue to support him because he is a friend of ours. I hope he does well at Real and I’m sure he hopes we continue to do well here.

“We will miss him of course but I think we can cope without him.

“We didn’t play all the games last season with Xabi.

“He’s a really good player but we also have a lot of other quality players here.”

Lucas, who has scored four goals in 71 appearances for the Reds, believes he has reaped the rewards of his first full pre-season.

When he joined the Reds in 2007 he didn’t arrive until late July because of Gremio’s Copa Libertadores commitments.

And then last summer he missed the start of the Premier League campaign due to the Olympic Games in Beijing. He returned to Anfield with a bronze medal but looked jaded and struggled to impress.

Now he is refreshed and ready to showcase the kind of talent which in 2006 earned him the Bola de Ouro (Golden Ball), which is given to the best player in the Brazilian league.

Lucas was the youngest player to ever receive the award and it was an honour previously won by the likes of Zico, Romario, Kaka and Tevez.

“I have really enjoyed pre-season,” he said.

“It’s the first full one I’ve had since I signed for Liverpool and it has been great for me.

“Now I am feeling much more confident and fitter.

“I think I am a better player than I was last season.

“I’m looking to impress and we must see what happens.”

Six Involved In Steven Gerrard Brawl Given Suspended Sentences

Six men involved in a bar room brawl with England footballer Steven Gerrard walked free from court today after being given suspended prison sentences.

Five of the men admitted affray and one admitted threatening behaviour in a fight with businessman Marcus McGee, 34, at the Lounge Inn in Southport last year.

Today, at Liverpool crown court, Recorder of Liverpool Henry Globe QC handed down sentences of 18 weeks' imprisonment but suspended them for 12 months. The defendants were also ordered to perform 150 hours of unpaid work.

The fight broke out in the early hours of 29 December as the Liverpool captain and his friends were celebrating the club's 5-1 destruction of Newcastle United.

The six initially denied the offence but changed their pleas on the first day of the trial in which Gerrard, 29, was acquitted.

McGee, who lost a front crown and suffered facial cuts in the fight, "unwisely" refused to let Gerrard pick a song on the stereo he was controlling, said the judge. "Equally unwisely" Gerrard returned to argue with Mr McGee.

It was at this point that the player's friend, John Doran, 30, of Huyton, appeared behind Gerrard and elbowed McGee in the face. A skirmish followed, with the midfielder punching McGee three times in self-defence.

He left the fight spot and returned to his friends, who later punched and kicked McGee, of Southport, on the dance floor.

Judge Globe told the men: "I am satisfied, from the evidence in the trial and movements of arms and legs on CCTV, that more violence occurred off-camera.

"It is the conduct of you taken together and the consequences which have followed the fighting which are important.

"It was unnecessary, unruly, ugly and unlawful group violence in public which caused injury to the victim, was a disturbing and frightening experience for onlookers and caused embarrassment and unwanted attention to the occupiers of the premises."

Doran's barrister, Nigel Power, said he displayed "poor judgment in drink and misguided loyalty which was wholly out of character".

Accrington Stanley footballer Robert Grant, 19, of Litherland, admitted punching the victim in the head from behind. His barrister, Trevor Parry-Jones, said he acted angrily, perceiving a threat to Gerrard who was "as much his hero as his friend".

Ian Smith, 19, of Huyton, kicked McGee on the floor "in a momentary loss of temper".

Accrington Stanley goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin, 28, of Southport, threw two punches at the victim, for which he expressed "remorse and shame", said his barrister Keith Sutton.

Paul McGrattan, 31, of Huyton, admitted affray on the grounds of pushing over a table and chair, throwing a punch and smashing a glass door when he left. He was shown on CCTV shouting and gesticulating as the manager tried to calm him down. The judge said there was an argument to be made that he was the most aggressive.

His barrister, Simon Killeen, said: "He has known Steven Gerrard since they were young teenagers and always shown an unswerving loyalty to him, which has been demonstrated on many occasions in the past. But on this occasion his behaviour was wholly inappropriate."

McGrattan's brother John, 34, of Huyton, denied affray but admitted threatening behaviour. He ran over to the trouble on the dance floor and threw a number of punches. His involvement was the same as the others, said the judge.