Sunday, August 23, 2009

Premier League Title Race Is Wide Open - Jamie Carragher

Veteran centre-back Jamie Carragher believes the Premier League will go right down to the wire this season.

"The title race will be open. Manchester United have lost Cristiano Ronaldo and, hopefully, Fernando Torres will be fit all season for us," Carragher told the Daily Express.

"You never write off someone as good as Arsene Wenger. Cesc Fabregas was injured a bit last season, but Andrey Arshavin looks a top player and Theo Walcott will benefit from another year's experience," he added.

The Liverpool defender said his side are at a disadvantage in the transfer market, but despite this, he thinks the Reds have some high quality players.

"There are a few clubs who have got more money than us. Real Madrid, United, Chelsea and, obviously, Manchester City have come on the scene.

"I still think City would like a lot more of our players," said Carragher.

Even though he has been a mainstay in the Liverpool defence for a considerable time, the Liverpudlian refuses to rest on his laurels and admits the fear of being dropped drives him forward.

"The reason I am that type of player is fear really. It's fear of losing my place," he explained.

"I know it sounds stupid to some people but I never feel like I have cemented my place, that it can all be taken away from me very quickly.

"I always try to do something different each summer to try to get that extra couple of per cent. I went boxing, I've always eaten well and now I eat to the absolute maximum," said the 32-year-old.

"We are all getting older, but another way of looking at it is Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are getting more experienced, which is going to help them.

"They are coming into the prime of their careers. I am not stupid. I am 32 in January. It will happen one day."

Rafa Issues Babel Warning

Rafa Benitez has warned Ryan Babel he is fighting for his Liverpool future following his failure to make an impression at Anfield.

The Dutch forward has shown only glimpses of his true talent following a big-money move from Ajax in 2007.

Benitez has shown patience with his £11.5million capture but now feels the 22-year-old is underperforming having had time to adapt to English football.

While admitting he will give the Amsterdam-born wide man further opportunities to impress, Benitez has issued a blunt message with regards what he expects this season.

"Ryan has to give something to us this time and he knows it," said Benitez.

"He will have opportunities to prove himself with so many games coming up, but it is important he has the right mentality.

"Maybe there were some problems adapting to a new style when he arrived as a young player.

"He knows what is going on here now and hopefully can perform better. He accepts he has to perform at a different level this year."

John Aldridge: Massive Year Ahead For Liverpool FC's Fringe Players

The performance against Stoke was the perfect response to last Sunday’s setback at Tottenham.

What happened at White Hart Lane was hugely disappointing.

It looked to me as though a lot of players needed to get 90 minutes under their belts.

Pre-season wasn’t the best with players coming back late and other things happening plus the injuries.

I don’t think the team that started at Spurs had played enough minutes together. Tottenham’s preparations were better and it showed as they were a yard quicker than us in the first half.

It took until the second half for us to get going but the lack of options on the bench underlined the problems.

Our second string players just aren’t quite up to it. It’s a massive season for the fringe players and when they get a chance they have to take it.

Ryan Babel has had so many chances but for me he doesn’t seem to want it badly enough. Babel seemed to let the game pass him by and if he’s not careful his Liverpool career will pass him by as well.

Yossi Benayoun made a big difference when he came on and showed he wants to make that position his own.

Everyone was looking for a reaction against Stoke and we got it.

Glen Johnson has really impressed and given us a new dimension going forward. Teams have been doubling up on him and that creates space in other areas for the likes of Steven Gerrard to exploit.

Rafa has clearly told his full-backs to get forward whenever they get the chance and their contribution is going to be pivotal.

It was a baptism of fire for young Daniel Ayala against a team who play percentage football but he did well. He showed he has got talent and those 90 minutes will do him the world of good.

A lot has been said about Lucas.

In the last couple of years he hasn’t really warranted a place in the team but with Xabi Alonso gone he now has an opportunity to show what he can do.

Give the lad some credit, he has done OK in the two games so far and now he needs to build on that.

Rafa has clearly seen something in him that fans and ex-players haven’t.

We only say or write what we see and give our opinion. The fact is I would love nothing more than Lucas to succeed at Liverpool.

Aston Villa come to Anfield on Monday and we must take the game to them in the same way we did last March. That 5-0 win was fantastic and they will be worried about a repeat.

Cobblers Seal Threlfall Capture

Northampton Town have signed Liverpool youngster Robbie Threlfall on an initial one-month lean deal.

The 20-year-old full-back is a regular for the Reds' reserve side, while he has twice tasted FA Youth Cup success during his time at Anfield.

He spent much of the 2007/08 season on loan at Hereford, while he took in similar spells with the Bulls and Stockport County last term.

"Robbie is a good young player with a good pedigree," Cobblers boss Stuart Gray told the club's official website.

"He is a natural left-back and with the injuries to Liam Davis and Danny Jackman we have been a bit short in that area.

"He already has some Football League experience and hopefully he can add to that while he is here.

"He is a young player who is keen to play first team football and make an impact, and I am sure he will do well for us."

Liverpool's Fabio Aurelio Back In Training

After all the defensive set-backs to Liverpool squad in recent times, the Reds finally have something to cheer about, as full-back Fabio Aurelio has resumed training at Melwood.

The former Valencia defender suffered a knee injury during the summer, which meant that he was unable to wear a red shirt for the start of the Merseyside club's 2009-10 campaign.

But manager Rafael Benitez has revealed that the 29-year-old is now back in training and is edging towards a return to the first team.

"Aurelio was training yesterday," Benitez revealed on the club's official website.

"I was watching him and he did well."

The manager confirmed that Aurelio is on a different training regime in order to ease his way into the rigours of first team football, but maintained that he is close to making a comeback for the Reds.

"He is not training with the team," the Spaniard stated.

"But he is working with the fitness coach and is very close. We will have to see if he has any other problems, but he is very close."

Reds Complete Kyrgiakos Transfer

Greece international Sotirios Kyrgiakos has completed his transfer to Liverpool and signed a two-year contract.

The 30-year-old has passed a medical to finalise his switch from AEK Athens, and will go straight into the squad for Monday's Barclays Premier League home match against Aston Villa at Anfield.

He is likely to partner Jamie Carragher in the heart of defence, taking the place of teenager Daniel Ayala who made his full debut in Wednesday's 4-0 win over Stoke.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is without two key defenders through injury. Danish centre-back Daniel Agger will have an operation on his back in Germany on Tuesday, and will be out for six weeks.

Martin Skrtel is still struggling with a damaged jaw, sustained at Tottenham last weekend, and is not expected to be fit to face Villa.

Benitez has been searching for defensive cover for weeks, having tried to sign Ryan Shawcross and Michael Turner. He was also linked this week with West Ham's Matthew Upson.

But Liverpool's owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are believed to have put the block on any further major signings, meaning that Benitez has had to search for the cheaper options.

He has snapped up Kyrgiakos for £2million, and said of his latest signing: "He has had experience in Scotland with Rangers, and in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt as well as with the Greek national side.

"He is strong and good in the air, and we were looking for experience and he is the perfect answer."

Kyrgiakos, who has been capped 50 times by Greece and will be unveiled to the media tomorrow, described his decision to move to England as "the biggest challenge of my career".

The tough-tackling defender moved back to Greece in 2008 after one season at Rangers and two with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Benitez maintains that Kyrgiakos will be an excellent signing for the Reds, saying: "He is a tough defender who is strong and good in the air.

"He has a strong character and we were looking for these things.

"He can score goals and will be a threat from corners and free-kicks. He is very strong in defence but he will need time as always to settle into the Premier League. He will be a very good signing for us.

"We knew the player when he was with Rangers and we've been watching videos of him at Frankfurt and the national team. Our scout department had a lot of information.

"We have talked about the things he has done before and the things he will have to do for us. It was good. He knows what we want and he's ready to work."

Benitez claims the acquisition of Kyrgiakos will be of benefit to young defenders such as Martin Kelly and Ayala.

He said: "It will be positive. I was talking with Ayala about this. When the young players see someone with experience it is positive because they can learn from them.

"It also means they have more time. If they have to play some games they can but they are not under pressure."

Kyrgiakos' arrival will alleviate Benitez's injury problems in defence.

Benitez is still hopeful that Agger could return before too long.

He said: "If everything goes well it won't take too much time, maybe a few weeks."

Benitez confirmed he will make a late decision on the fitness of Skrtel ahead of Monday's match against Villa.

The Slovakian is still recovering following a clash of heads with Jamie Carragher against Tottenham, and missed the midweek game with Stoke.

Benitez said: "He is training. We had to decide on Wednesday about him, but it was too soon to take any risks. Okay, we'll see on Monday."

One player who will be fit despite requiring stitches to his eyebrow after a collision in the win over Stoke is striker Fernando Torres.

Benitez added: "He has some stitches but he is okay. He is training with his team-mates and I think he will be okay for Monday."

Benitez: No Need For Ref Alert

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists Sotirios Kyrgiakos will not fall foul of Premier League referees despite his reputation as a footballing hardman.

Greece international Kyrgiakos has signed for £2million from AEK Athens, and the 6ft 5in centre-back will be embarking on his second spell in British football.

The 30-year-old brings an aggressive presence, and in his 18-month spell with Rangers which ended three years ago he picked up three red cards.

But Benitez is confident his latest recruit has matured since those days in the SPL.

Benitez said: "Ever since Sami Hyypia left the club we have been looking for a player with this amount of experience and skill.

"He is the kind of player we needed. Strong in the air, he is physical and can give us something different in defence.

"He did have a few problems in Scotland with red cards, but I am not concerned. He is matured a lot since then and can channel the physical side of his game properly.

"Kyrgiakos is a very strong player. Everyone will remember him at Rangers and with Frankfurt, and also the Greek national side.

"He is aggressive, very strong and a physical presence in both areas. We were looking for a player who could compete and tackle."

Benitez has yet to decide whether to bring Kyrgiakos straight into the side for Monday's home clash with Aston Villa.

Martin Skrtel, despite a broken jaw, may still have a chance of playing while teenager Daniel Ayala is again standing by.

Benitez said: "We certainly needed a new defender. Daniel Agger will have an operation next week on his back, and he may well be out for a few weeks.

"He has had problems with his back before, but this is different and not the old injury. That is why I feel he will not be out as long as people think, four or five weeks maximum.

"Skrtel has a broken jaw, and although he can train and has been today, we have to decide whether we can take the risk with him.

"Ayala did well in the Stoke match, but he is young and was a little nervous at the beginning. He improved as the game went on and we were pleased with him.

"But having signed Kyrgiakos, we have that cover now and a player with experience that Dani can learn from.

"I feel Kyrgiakos can compete with Agger, Skrtel and Carragher. He gives us a different option as well as a massive physical presence.

"We needed someone like this to compete and be aggressive. He has done that in Scotland so well feel he can be good here.

"I am not worried about any previous disciplinary problems, he has more experience now and knows how to manage situations.

"I do not think he will be worried about the physical aspect of the game in England.

"He also knows that there is a lot of competition already here. This is a top side and he will have to fight for his place and also be supportive of his colleagues."

Kyrgiakos was unlucky to miss Greece's Euro 2004 success through injury, and had to sit and watch his countrymen lift the title in Portugal.

Unveiled today at the club's Melwood training ground, Kyrgiakos admitted the chance to join Liverpool was an offer he just could not refuse.

He said: "I am very happy to have this chance even though I had just signed a new contract with AEK.

"But although it was a good contract, you never stop having ambitions in life, and that is why I am here.

"When you are approached by a club like Liverpool, it is an offer you just cannot refuse.

"I hope that I can bring my strength to this squad, I am good in the air and I have a lot of experience now, so I hope I an be of benefit to Liverpool.

"I have played for Rangers in Scotland and Frankfurt in Germany, that has given me a lot of experience of competitive leagues so I believe I will adapt quickly."

He added: "I know that there have not been many Greek players who have been successful in the English game, so I feel that I have something to prove for my country, that we can play at this level.

"For me it is a chance to have success at the very top. I was injured when Greece were European champions in 2004, these things happen in football.

"So I have plenty of motivation to do well in the Premier League and help Liverpool to be successful.

"I had a few disciplinary problems in Scotland, but not too much. I feel I have learned now how to be physical in this style of football."