Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rafa Benitez: Give Me Money To Strengthen Squad

Rafael Benitez will deliver a plea to Liverpool’s owners to release more transfer funds – as he allayed fears of an injury crisis in defence.

The Anfield manager has seen his efforts at squad strengthening hampered by the financial restraints currently placed upon him by American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

While spending £37million to sign Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani, Benitez has effectively recouped that outlay with the sales of Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and reserve players such as Sebastian Leto, Jack Hobbs and Paul Anderson.

Benitez is determined to bring more players before the transfer window closes at the end of the month, with a centre-back the priority.

Liverpool have offered £6m for Hull City’s Michael Turner, but Tigers manager Phil Brown wants twice that amount.

Sylvain Distin of Portsmouth would be a cheaper alternative, while Benitez is also running the rule over Stoke City's 21-year-old defender Ryan Shawcross. And of the subject of how much money there is available, Benitez said: “It is something I have to talk with the club about. We have some ideas and we have to discuss these ideas. We will see what will happen. We are talking about these things.

“We are working always. We try to be ready just in case (we can sign someone), but you never know. It depends on the prices.

“We know that with the Premier League and three other competitions it is really tough to manage and compete in. We are analysing the young players we have and we will see if we can improve and if we need something we will talk with the owners. We have to work with the players we have at this moment and keep working with the scouting department. The main thing for me is we have one week to work and prepare the players.”

It was expected that Benitez would be handed a transfer kitty of at least £20m this summer after Liverpool’s owners agreed a new refinancing package with the banks.

The Anfield manager was reluctant to go into details, but it was evident he believes his squad needs further investment to improve their chances of a first championship since 1990.

“We had some money but I will not talk about figures,” said Benitez. “On the record or off the record when you talk about figures I think it is clear. I will not say anything. I don’t have the answer.

“We are working hard with the players we have and the money we have. Always it is difficult to compete in the Premier League with clubs who have more money.”

A new centre-back has become even more pressing after Carragher handed Liverpool another injury scare at the weekend.

The defender suffered a twisted left ankle early on during the 2-1 friendly defeat at home to Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

With Martin Skrtel struggling with a hamstring injury and Daniel Agger’s back an ongoing concern, Liverpool were without any senior centre-backs for the majority of the game, with Danny Ayala partnered by another young Spaniard, Mikel San Jose, once Carragher hobbled off on 16 minutes.

Atletico won thanks to first-half goals from Kun Aguero and Diego Forlan with Lucas netting a late consolation for Liverpool.

Carragher underwent a scan yesterday with neither the player nor Benitez expecting the damage to be serious.

And Benitez is confident at least two of Skrtel, Agger and Carragher will be available come Sunday’s Premier League opener at Tottenham Hotspur.

“I am 80% sure,” said the manager. “The game against Atletico was very difficult for the young players. We conceded the first goal with 10 men and then they were playing against two strikers who are one of the best partnerships in Spain.

“If you have one or two senior players around them at Spurs, I think it could be different.”

Fernando Torres suffered a slight ankle injury at the weekend, but was substituted only as a precaution.

Both Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard are in England’s squad for Wednesday’s friendly in Holland, while Martin Kelly has been called up for England’s under-20 game with Montenegro tomorrow night.

Kuyt - Reds Have Title Belief

Dirk Kuyt insists Liverpool have the belief they can end their 20-year wait for the league title.

The Anfield outfit have not been crowned champions since 1990 and again finished second best to Manchester United last term despite leading the way for long periods.

Rafa Benitez's men were victorious home and away against the eventual Premier League winners, while also taking six points from their two meetings with third-placed Chelsea.

But seven draws on home turf contributed heavily to the Reds finishing four points off the pace in second place as Sir Alex Ferguson's side equalled their record haul of 18 league titles.

Dutch international Kuyt feels their results against the other top teams will give them added confidence ahead of the new campaign, which begins with a trip to Tottenham, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1, on Sunday.

He told LFC magazine: "This team can be proud of itself and the way we played last season. We can hold our heads high.

"Last season we beat the biggest teams, Manchester United and Chelsea, twice each in the league.

"We can say that there were too many draws in the home games, but you have to learn from it because we are a young team.

"We have a sense now, a really strong belief, that we can go on and achieve what we want because the quality is there and the progress is there."

Kuyt joined the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Daniel Agger and Yossi Benayoun in penning an extension to his Anfield contract over the summer.

And he insists the commitment of so many key players, coupled with the competition for places in Benitez's squad, will aid their title bid.

He added: "The team is getting more experience, and importantly, the players are now in it for the long term.

"Important players have agreed new contracts and they all believe they are part of something big. The belief is there.

"Liverpool is a famous club, one of the biggest in the world, and to be part of it with such a great history is something you want to be around as long as possible.

"Every year I am here I am proud. Every year you have to fight for your place and every year there are better and better players coming here to take your place, so I am proud to still be here and to have a new contract.

"Throughout my career I have always had another dream and have achieved it. I will not stop dreaming until we get what we want with Liverpool, and that is the title."

Johnson Comes Of Age

England full-back Glen Johnson is ready to show his maturity in a massive year for club and country.

The 24-year-old, who signed for Liverpool from Portsmouth in the summer, suffered a disastrous debut against Denmark in 2003 and then struggled for regular football at Chelsea.

His reputation was not helped by headlines off the pitch - for an alleged theft of a toilet seat from a shop - but he turned his career around at Fratton Park.

England boss Fabio Capello has started him regularly and the defender is set to play a role in the Barclays Premier League title race during the coming campaign.

Johnson feels he is a different player to when he was last at a top-four club.

"I'd say I'm more mature," he said. "There were a couple of incidents that got blown out of proportion and were totally wrong.

"That's not for me to worry about. I've put it behind me and it's not important.

"I've aged. I'm improving all the time and that has been a key factor. Before I didn't play, so it's impossible to put in performances if you don't play."

Johnson is using the World Cup next year as motivation - and it is down to his move to Pompey that he has the chance to play in South Africa.

"Joining Portsmouth was fantastic for me because I was playing week-in week-out, and working hard in training," he said.

"The most important thing for any player is consistency in playing games. That is when you learn from your mistakes.

"That is the one thing I can put my finger on.

"Liverpool are one of the big four so they will be in the spotlight a lot of more. It could be a big year. We have high hopes within the Liverpool camp. With the World Cup coming up it's a big year for everyone."

Capello's men are on the brink of qualifying for the tournament, but warm up for the season with a friendly against Holland in Amsterdam this week, with Johnson wanting to build on their progress in the last year.

"It was nice in the last few games with the results and we want to continue that," he said.

"I was happy to play last season and put in decent performances. The longer that continues the better."

Reds Track Honda

Liverpool are reportedly keeping a close eye on Japan international Keisuke Honda.

According to Dutch reports, VVV Venlo chairman Hai Berden revealed several top European clubs have expressed their interest in signing the free-scoring midfielder.

Honda, who was Eerste Divisie's Most Valuable Player last year, has started life in the Eredivisie in style with three goals in his first two games.

In the season opener against PSV Eindhoven, his impressive display won him plaudits from opposing manager Fred Rutten.

"A number of top clubs are interested in Honda. Some of them are participating in the Champions League this year," Berden told Algemeen Dagblad.

Liverpool scouts have been watching Honda this term and the 23-year-old admitted he would not hesitate to move to England if the opportunity arose.

"Playing in a league as prestige as the Premiership would be a dream," he said earlier in the year.

"I would seriously consider any offers that come my way."

Jamie Carragher Injury Strikes Fear In Heart Of Kopites

The sight of Jamie Carragher limping off the Anfield turf after just 10 minutes of the Reds’ final pre-season friendly on Saturday struck fear into the hearts of Kopites dreaming of ending the club’s 20-year wait for the championship.

With Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger both also racing against time to prove their availability ahead of the big kick-off this weekend, losing the heart of the Reds defence could have disastrous consequences.

Carragher and Rafa Benitez were both quick to allay fears about the seriousness of his injury, but the true damage to his twisted left ankle is unlikely to be diagnosed until he returns to training.

“Jamie’s injury is not serious, just a twisted ankle,” offered Benitez after the final whistle. “But with our injury problems which include Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, we felt we needed to take him off as a precaution, just in case.

“We will keep an eye on him for two or three days to see how he reacts, but I feel he will be OK. Hopefully, Agger or Skrtel will be fit too.

“Agger has a back problem, and that should be OK in a couple of days. Skrtel is nearly over his hamstring injury, he’s nearly there.

“He is training again and I believe that at the end of this week both of them will be fit to play.”

Privately everyone at the club will be praying those words ring true as the alternatives were handed a tough lesson here.

Danny Ayala looked assured and confident alongside Carragher early on but once the vice captain was replaced by Mikel San Jose the pace and power of the visiting forward line exposed the two young Reds.

Uruguay’s Diego Forlan and Argentina hitman Sergio Aguero would be a handful for any defence in the world – never mind a partnership with a combined age of 38 – and helped themselves to a goal apiece inside the opening 45 minutes.

Lucas Leiva restored a little parity with his late, albeit much deserved, clinical finish but Carragher’s early bath took the shine off an entertaining friendly in front of a packed Anfield, that featured plenty of positives.

Both sides enjoyed a glut of chances and this one could easily have finished 6-6.

Especially if portly Premier League referee Phil Dowd had given even one of the four legitimate penalties on offer, three of which were deserving of the home side.

In Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua, Rafa Benitez has two of the most talented full-backs in the Premier League at his disposal. Both were up and down the flanks all afternoon while their deliveries into the box were often an embarrassment of riches.

Fernando Torres came close on more than a handful of occasions, hitting the inside of the post and dropping no less than four headers into the relieved hands of visiting keeper Sergio Asenjo.

And marksman Lucas continued his summer of progress with another eye-catching display, which was just as well as Javier Mascherano was stuck in third gear.

The young Brazilian clearly views Xabi Alonso’s departure as his opportunity to secure a regular starting place and he was full of energy and desire once again, breaking late into the box and working simple but effective one-twos all over the park.

With the colourful 44,000 crowd still debating the consequences of Carragher limping from the touchline, Atletico took the lead.

One-time Anfield target Simao broke down the left flank and whipped in a testing ball behind Ayala and stand-in centre-half Mascherano which Aguero snapped up, deflecting a diving header inside Pepe Reina’s left hand post.

And Forlan doubled the tally when Lucas was caught napping on the edge of his own box, allowing the former Manchester United striker to pick his spot in the top left hand corner after ghosting onto a return back-heel from Simao.

Lucas made up for his error with his own super finish in front of the Kop in the second half with 10 minutes left on the clock.

But that was only after Andriy Voronin’s arrival led to Steven Gerrard dropping into a more traditional centre midfield role alongside Jay Spearing.

The Reds skipper seemed to revel in the extra space afforded further back and for the final 10 minutes orchestrated a bombardment of forays forward which resulted in chance after chance.

Lucas, who beat the offside trap by slipping in under the nose of Atletico centre-half Tomas Ujfalusi, found himself all alone with the ball at his feet, bearing down on the Kop goal.

But he showed an impressive level of maturity to calmly stroke the ball home under Asenjo’s and inside his right hand post.

Lucas’ form at least allays initial concerns that new Italian playmaker Alberto Aquilani will not be available for at least six weeks.

But it is the injury-ravaged Reds backline which will ensure Benitez suffers from a bout of insomnia over the next six days.

The question now is whether he can get two of his starting three centre-halves fit enough to start at White Hart Lane or whether it is the cheque book or the fragile Academy kids who shoulder responsibility in the Reds’ first game of the season.

Benitez Challenge To Up-And-Coming Liverpool FC Stars

Rafa Benitez has urged his young generation at Liverpool FC to start realising their potential this season.

The Anfield manager has given an opportunity to many of his reserve and fringe players throughout the summer warm-up campaign.

Teenage centre-back Danny Ayala started Saturday’s 2-1 home friendly defeat against Atletico Madrid and was joined by young substitutes Mikel San Jose, Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing.

Now Benitez wants such fledglings, along with more established youngsters David Ngog, Ryan Babel and Lucas, to step up their career progress.

“I think we have some young players who need to improve,” said the Liverpool manager yesterday.

“Players like San Jose and Ayala, but also Ngog, El Zhar, Babel and Lucas. These are young players with quality.

“If the young players want more experience they have to be here, play and train with the senior players.

“The priority over the summer was to extend the contracts of the senior players to make sure we kept the spine of the team.

“Andriy Voronin has come back and he has game intelligence and he was very good last year with Hertha Berlin.

“Maybe we will miss Sami Hyypia in terms of his aerial threat but we are working with the younger players on this.

“To sign better players than we have now is not easy. If you analyse it, you have to spend big, big money to sign these players.

“We have to manage with the players we have and I am pleased with them and hopefully with the experience of last season they will be better.”

Alberto Aquilani completed his £20m transfer from Roma over the weekend, but is expected to be sidelined for the next two months as he continues his rehabilitation from an ankle operation in May.

Despite Aquilani’s lack of fitness and concerns over his recent injury record, Benitez does not accept he has taken a gamble in signing the 25-year-old Italy international.

“We couldn't change the situation of Alonso,” he said. “He decided to go, we had to progress. You have to manage in the best way you can.

“If Aquilani was in a normal market he could cost £25-30m but because of the operation he was a bit cheaper. We have to wait but he is a player we are signing for five years not for five matches.

“He had a bad tackle and an operation and that's normal he missed matches. It would be the same with Torres or Gerrard. I was talking with a lot of people in Italy and people are saying it is a fantastic signing.

“He is now under the control of our medical staff because he had been going to different people. I think it will be easier and he has the quality to settle down.”

Adam Hammill Swaps Liverpool For Barnsley In 'Significant Six-Figure Deal' For Oakwell

Barnsley have completed the permanent signing of winger Adam Hammill after agreeing 'a significant six-figure deal' with Liverpool.

Hammill became a firm favourite at Oakwell after spending the final three months on loan last season and Tykes manager Simon Davey was keen to bring the 21-year-old back to South Yorkshire.

Davey said: 'Adam is a fantastic prospect and one we're delighted to bring to Oakwell on a permanent basis.

'There was a lot of competition for his signature but Adam loved his time working with us last season and believes this is the right place for him to develop as a player. He is young, talented and enthusiastic and a great addition to our squad.

'He was loved by our supporters during his spell with the club last season and I'm sure they will be delighted to see him back in a Barnsley shirt on a permanent basis. It's a great coup to bring him to Oakwell.'

Liverpool-born Hammill has progressed through the ranks at Anfield and has spent loan spells at Dunfermline, Southampton and Blackpool before arriving at Oakwell last February where he made 14 appearances.