Friday, August 21, 2009

Glen Johnson Looking To Build On Flying Start To Life At Liverpool

Glen Johnson admits he could hardly have expected a better start to his Anfield career after the England full-back put in an impressive performance during the 4-0 win over Stoke on Wednesday night.

The £18m summer signing scored a sublime finish on his home debut and helped to create two more in a devastating display of attacking full-back play down the right.

And Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and skipper Steven Gerrard were lining up to praise Johnson, who turns 25 on Saturday.

Even in defeat at Spurs last weekend Johnson was the Liverpool star turn, winning a penalty with a battling run into the box and attacking on the flank whenever the chance came along, much to his delight.

'It has been absolutely brilliant for me so far at Liverpool,' said Johnson. 'The lads and everyone at the club have been fantastic.

'It was great to run out at Anfield, and to get the three points and keep a clean sheet made it a perfect night for me.

'To score a goal made it even better. Obviously it was brilliant to score my first for Liverpool and to do it on my home debut was amazing, but the win was more important to get us out of the starting blocks.

'It was great to be part of the home side here for a change. As an opponent the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when the fans at Anfield sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone,' so to hear them singing it for you is very special.

'At a club like Liverpool you don't want to lose any match, so to lose the first game of the season was disappointing.

'But the lads showed great character to put that behind us and hopefully we can go on a good run now.'

Captain Steven Gerrard praised his international team-mate, saying: 'We saw what Glen will offer this team with the run that won the penalty at Spurs.

'He cut inside and left people for dead. He showed similar form against Stoke and was outstanding on the right for us.'

Rafa Benitez's decision to add an attacking full-back to his squad who could make an impact in tough home games where teams defend in depth was vindicated.

'We were looking for a player with quality going forward, to produce more chances from the wide areas.' the Spaniard said.

'We knew Johnson could score goals. From set-pieces he is dangerous, we initially worked with (Javier) Mascherano in that close-in position by the keeper at corners, but decided to change because Johnson was proving to be good in that role.

'His goal was proof of that. He can give us something more on the right, he can play almost as a winger with good distribution when he goes forward.

'And that allows Kuyt to move inside also to support Torres. Last season we had too many home draws, and that cost us.

'I felt that an attacking full-back like Johnson would give us something extra, and his display underlined that view.'

Liverpool Need To Ease The Burden On Torres

Rafael Benitez seems to be pleading poverty over Liverpool’s transfer budget but I don’t want to hear it. It’s not a lack of money that might de-rail the club’s hopes of winning the title, it’s the way the manager has chosen to spend what funds he had at his disposal.

Only £1.5 million left to buy a centre back? Then why splash out £18.5m on Glen Johnson earlier in the summer? Add in the £20m for Alberto Aquilani and Benitez has spent nearly £40m on an injured midfield player and a right back. I find it strange.

Johnson looked good against Stoke City but his defensive shortcomings will be exposed by stronger opponents. My two problems with his signing is that he is overpriced (Portsmouth have had to sell to survive during the summer) and right back should not have been Liverpool’s priority.

It wasn’t a strength but it wasn’t a problem area either. Jamie Carragher can do a decent job there if need be. Alvaro Arbeloa, sold to Real Madrid for £3.5m, is actually a more solid defender than Johnson. Portsmouth must have thought they had Manchester City on the telephone making the offer, not Liverpool.

There’s nothing wrong with buying big as long as you’re buying in the right areas and it is obvious that Liverpool were and are in dire need of an experienced striker to ease the burden on Fernando Torres. Both Andriy Voronin and David Ngog are not the solution. Voronin showed in his first season that he’s the poor man’s Diego Forlan, not good enough for the Barclays Premier League; and Ngog might be a player one day, but he’s not going to help you win the title this year.

The pressure on Torres will be so great that I wonder whether he’ll have as prolific a year as he should. Liverpool will rely on Steven Gerrard to link up with the Spaniard or he’ll become isolated. If Torres isn’t getting involved, the temptation will be for Liverpool to pump the ball long out of desperation but that doesn’t suit his game and defenders will clatter a player who we know is prone to niggling injuries.

Liverpool’s best XI is a very good side but there isn’t the depth in attack that Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or even Tottenham Hotspur have. If United only had Wayne Rooney up front, how many people would tip them for the title?

Benitez has done great things at Anfield but he does seem to have blind spots. It’s almost as if the failure of Robbie Keane at Liverpool has put him off buying another striker - as if the manager is worried about a second high-priced forward proving a flop. He didn’t give Keane much of a chance to prove himself. Yet it’s so clear that a centre forward to take the heat off Torres is no less vital now than a year ago when Keane joined.

Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t stop signing passing midfield players just because Juan Sebastian Veron was a flop. He decided that was the kind of player he needed, so he went for Michael Carrick, who worked out. That’s a far more logical transfer strategy than the one we’re seeing at Liverpool.

Liverpool On The Verge Of €11.5m Bid For Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart

Liverpool are reportedly set to launch a €11.5 million bid to bring in Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur target Rafael van der Vaart to Anfield.

According to a report in Sport, Rafael Benitez is on the verge of offering Real Madrid €11.5m for the highly-rated midfielder, although many reports have claimed that he has little or no money left to spend over the next two weeks.

The Dutchman has been constantly linked to a host of clubs throughout Europe this summer as a second Galactico era rises in the Spanish capital.

The recent comments by the 26-year-old, stating that he would not be joining another Spanish club, led to him being linked with a move to the Premier League, and a chance to play in the Champions League under the Reds' banner may be difficult to pass up.

This suggestion remains in stark contrast to earlier reports from England, which seemed to point towards 'Rafa' having little more than scraps to play with in the transfer market.

Benitez Rubbishes Rumours Of Liverpool Exit

Rafael Benitez pledged his 100 per cent commitment to Liverpool after rumours that he was set to quit Anfield.

Benitez, whose side cruised to a 4-0 victory over Stoke at Anfield, was speaking after pre-match whispers swept Merseyside claiming that the Spaniard was ready to quit over lack of transfer funds given to him by the club's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

"I am 100 per cent committed to the club," Benitez said. "I was told about the rumours before the game. Maybe it's something that can happen here. But I am staying here for the fans, the staff and the players."

After watching his side coast to their first victory of the campaign, Benitez also said he was on the brink of signing Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos from AEK Athens for two million pounds.

The former Rangers player is due to undergo a medical in the next 24 hours with a view to joining the club ahead of next Monday's home game with Aston Villa.

"We've nearly done a deal," added Benitez.

The arrival of Kyrgiakos will ease a defensive crisis which robbed Benitez of Daniel Agger (back) and Martin Skrtel (jaw) because of injury.

Benitez gave 18-year-old Daniel Ayala his senior debut alongside Jamie Carragher at the heart of the defence against Stoke.

Yet the 6ft 3in Spanish teenager, a former Seville youth player, did not let his side down as he produced a mature performance which encouraged his manager.

"Daniel was a bit nervous to start with but in the end he had a very good game," said Benitez.

"We will see what happens with him but he has got to keep working."

Liverpool's first win of the season was inspired by Fernando Torres. Having been slated for his sluggish performance three days earlier during a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham, the Spain forward scored one and made another as Benitez's side made easy work of sweeping aside Stoke.

Liverpool failed to score against Stoke in 180 minutes of Premier League action last season but once Torres opened the scoring in the fourth minute, it was straight forward for last season's runners-up.

Glen Johnson, an 18 million pounds signing from Portsmouth, marked his home debut by doubling the lead before half time before late goals by Dirk Kuyt and substitute David Ngog sealed an emphatic victory.

Benitez was particularly pleased for Johnson.

"I was looking for a player with quality going forward. That's why I signed him," he said.

"He created a lot of chances and was a threat in attack.

"I was also pleased with Lucas Leiva, he has taken a lot of unfair criticism from the pundits which is not fair. He is a fine professional and a very good player, our best in pre-season."

Liverpool Recruit Sotiris Kyrgiakos Reveals Reasoning Behind AEK Athens Exit

Rafael Benitez's steady recruitment policy, that has already seen him bring in the high-profile coups of in-demand full back.

Glen Johnson and Xabi Alonso's replacement Alberto Aquilani, continued with AEK Athens star Sotiris Kyrgiakos, and the Greek international explained the switch to his fans on his official website.

"Last week I said I was an AEK player for the next four years and meant that.

"But then I received the biggest challenge of my career.

"I fully understand it came at the worst possible moment for the team, but the fact that I had the chance to play for Liverpool is a huge challenge."

The centre-back will rival Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel for a first team spot.

Liverpool have also been linked with a move for Stoke City's burgeoning talent Ryan Shawcross.

Liverpool Coach Lee Charged For Spurs Outburst

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee has been charged with improper conduct over an incident in the 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, the Football Association confirmed on Thursday.

Lee was sent from the dug-out for yelling at fourth official Stuart Attwell when referee Phil Dowd refused to award Liverpool a penalty late in Sunday's Premier League game.

He has until Wednesday to respond to the charge under new fast-track regulations relating to technical area offences, aimed at getting a resolution within a month of the relevant incidents taking place.

The FA also charged two lower-division managers with improper conduct - Peterborough United's Darren Ferguson, the son of Manchester United's Alex, and Paul Lambert who took charge of League One (third division) Norwich City on Tuesday.

Ferguson was charged with using abusive language towards the referee after Tuesday's 3-2 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion in the Championship (second division).

Lambert was charged after being dismissed from the dugout in his last match in charge of League One Colchester United against Yeovil Town on Saturday.

Hungarian Youngsters Krisztian Nemeth & Peter Gulacsi Sign New Deals At Liverpool

Liverpool's pair of young Hungarians, Krisztian Nemeth and Peter Gulacsi have today signed new contracts that will keep them at Anfield until 2012 and 2013 respectively, according to the club's official website.

Nemeth, 20, a striker, has impressed in pre-season for the Reds, bagging a brace in the club's friendly victory over Singapore. He was also a key member of the Reds' treble-winning reserve side last season.

Goalkeeper Gulacsi, 19, spent last season on loan at Hereford United, where he turned in a string of impressive displays.

Both players joined Liverpool from MTK Hungaria in 2007.

Meanwhile, the Reds' 20-year-old reserve defender, Mikel San Jose, has sealed a season-long loan switch to La Liga outfit Athletic Bilbao. The centre-back is a key member of the Spain Under-21 side.

'Crazy' To Write Off Liverpool FC Title Chances, Says Pulis

Tony Pulis said it would be "crazy" to write off Liverpool FC as potential champions as he saw his brave Stoke side beaten 4-0 at Anfield on Wednesday night.

The Stoke manager admitted his team were outclassed at Anfield despite a defiant display. For Liverpool FC, it was the best way to wipe away the memory of their 2-1 defeat at new leaders Tottenham on Saturday.

Pulis, who saw his side achieve a notable 0-0 draw in the corresponding fixture last season, said: "I hold my hands up, we were beaten by a better team and better players."

Fernando Torres put them ahead early on and impressive new-boy Glen Johnson made it two just before the break. Dirk Kuyt and substitute David Ngog completed the scoring in the second half.

He added: "I can't say they will win the title, but they will be right up there fighting for it. Anyone who says anything else is crazy.

"Liverpool created more chances against us here last season, but just did not take them.

"This time they were excellent. They do not only have Torres and Gerrard, who are world class. They have great players right through their team, and they showed that quality against us.

Liverpool FC boss Rafa Benitez was delighted with Johnson on his home debut, saying: "We wanted a player with quality who could score and create goals.

"He attacks very well and had a fine game. Against teams who defend deep against us, he can change games."