Sunday, September 06, 2009

Jamie Carragher: Liverpool Focus Is On Title, Not Fourth Spot

The impressive start of Tottenham Hotspur, the riches of Manchester City, and the grit and resilience of neighbours Everton, are of no interest to Jamie Carragher, who is focused solely on Liverpool's title push and not on any potential top four usurper.

"There are other teams who could get into the top four this year - but hopefully not at our expense," the former England international informed the club's official website.

"We're not thinking about that, though, we're just thinking about the title and not about fourth place.

"A couple of teams have jumped out so far," noted Carragher.

"We've already played Tottenham and Aston Villa and of course Manchester City are the side a lot of people are talking about, but if we start playing the way we can then I'm sure we'll be right up there.

"We've only played four games and if we go on to have a successful season then we'll play more than 60 matches, so it's a long season and there's still a long way to go."

The sturdy defender also offered words of warning to his team-mates about Premier League new-boys Burnley, who he feels are capable of further upsets.

"We've not had the best of starts but hopefully we'll soon start coming into our own," the 31-year-old added.

"We've got Burnley up next and they've been a great story so far, beating two of last year's top five in Manchester United and Everton. Owen Coyle has done a great job with them so we know it's going to be a difficult game."

I Will Prove My Worth To Liverpool - Alberto Aquilani

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani has proclaimed that he will prove his worth to the club with stellar performances once he is fully fit.

The former Roma player is currently recovering from a surgery on his ankle.

"I know Liverpool have spent millions on signing me but I'm here to prove I'm worth it," Aquilani told the club's official website.

The ex-Giallorossi discussed the Premier League and the attacking style of play that is employed in the English top-flight, but stopped short of calling it the best league in the world.

"It's very good fun watching it, mostly because the matches are never over, and even if you are leading by two or three goals, you still keep attacking," he said.

"I can't say if it is the best football in Europe, but for sure it's the most spectacular, dynamic and challenging.

"And the stadiums, every time I played there, they are beautiful and all have a terrific atmosphere."

The 25-year-old hailed club captain Steven Gerrard and striker Fernando Torres, believing that they will have a positive impact on his game.

"There are champions at this club, such as Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, who can make the difference at any moment and inspire the team," he remarked.

"I'm thrilled to play alongside them also because I'm sure they will be able to improve my game."

When quizzed as to whether playing in England would affect his chances of being selected to represent Italy in the World Cup, the player explained that where he plies his trade is not what Azzurri boss Marcello Lippi will be looking at when considering his options.

"I don't think I have more or less chance in the Premier League than in Serie A," he elaborated.

"I'm confident I can deliver and then it's all up to me. All the rest will follow, because only on the pitch can you give a good account of yourself."

Riera Plays Down Rafa Row

Liverpool winger Albert Riera has dismissed rumours that his future at Anfield is in doubt by playing down a bust-up with boss Rafa Benitez.

Summer speculation had linked the Spain international with a move to Barcelona, and he has since struggled to earn a regular place in the Reds' first team.

Riera held talks with Benitez regarding his role at Liverpool after only being named a substitute in the defeat at Tottenham at the start of the Premier League season.

The former Espanyol star admits he is unhappy at being left out of the starting XI and that he rowed with his boss, but he insists the incident is nothing personal.

"I didn't play the first game because I started training late after the Confederations Cup, like Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres," said Riera.

"I was angry and had a flare-up at Benitez, but the day I don't get angry for being a substitute I will retire."

Despite the bust-up, Riera insists he has nothing but respect for his manager.

"Benitez is a special coach who defends his own. I know he is with me, because he said so," he added.

John Aldridge: International Break Helps Liverpool FC Regroup

Six points out of 12 certainly isn’t the start we were hoping for and there is plenty of room for improvement.

We’re going to have to be exceptional against the top teams if we’re going to put ourselves in the frame for the title.

Sometimes you want the matches to keep coming but I think the international break will be a big help.

I know players are off playing for their countries but it gives everyone a couple of weeks respite and the chance to regroup.

It also gives some of the injured players a chance to get themselves right. By the time we play Burnley next weekend Fabio Aurelio should be back available, Martin Skrtel will hopefully be 100% and Daniel Agger won’t be too far away.

When those three are back plus Alberto Aquilani the squad will be looking stronger.

The Day Liverpool FC Cash Register Was Slammed Shut

September 1 2009 should be a date all Liverpool fans remember. Transfer deadline day was the time when it became abundantly clear that cash really is in short supply at Anfield.

Rafa Benitez had of course hinted as much in recent weeks as he played down the chances of making any more acquisitions before the window slammed shut.

However, there was always the hope that the American owners would relent and loosen their grip on the Anfield purse strings.

After all, the opening weeks of the season have highlighted concerns about the lack of depth in Benitez’s squad, but any call for extra funds clearly fell on deaf ears.

Even the speculation about possible new recruits this time lacked any sense of credibility.

The Sky Sports News crew got very excited about a possible loan switch for Spurs’ David Bentley on deadline day but that was never on the cards.

Some optimistic fans clung to the belief that a deal had been done with Valencia for David Villa and that was why the number seven shirt had been left vacant all summer.

The stories linking Benitez with a swoop for Real Madrid’s Arjen Robben could swiftly be consigned to the bin as soon as it became known he had a £20million tag.

Striker David Trezeguet was another ‘on the verge’ of making the move to Anfield after nine years with Juventus. He was apparently available for ‘just’ £5million.

It wasn’t difficult separating the fact from the fiction because Benitez had nothing to spend.

He was told there was £1.5million left in his pot after Alberto Aquilani was snapped up and all that went on signing Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Keen to avoid another bust-up with Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the Spaniard has opted to keep his thoughts about his transfer kitty to himself.

But one look at his summer dealings makes a mockery of claims that Benitez is operating on a level playing field to his rivals.

The Liverpool manager has traditionally been given £20million each year to spend on new recruits plus whatever he could raise from moving players on.

However, this summer he has had to balance the books.

The sale of Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sebastian Leto and youngsters Adam Hammill, Jack Hobbs and Paul Anderson generated around £38million.

Aquilani and Glen Johnson were brought in at a cost of around £36million with centre-back Kyrgiakos following after the price of Ryan Shawcross and Michael Turner forced the manager to look at cheaper options.

Of course, strictly speaking Benitez has returned a profit as the amount the Reds actually had to hand over for Johnson was greatly reduced because Portsmouth still owed most of the £10million they agreed to pay for Peter Crouch.

And although the Aquilani deal could rise to £20million, only £4.3million was paid up front with further payments to follow in January and next June.

Benitez has been told that a big chunk of available funds was taken up by the new contracts given to the likes of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger and Dirk Kuyt.

There are also fears that cash has been redirected to fund the owners’ recent refinancing deal and crippling interest payments.

Only time will tell if the lack of financial backing will wreck hopes of going one better than last season. If it does a great opportunity will have been missed.

The result is that Benitez must battle on with what he’s got and hope those on the fringes finally rise to the challenge.

Ryan Babel is one of those who have consistently failed to live up to expectations since he arrived for £11million two years ago.

His comments this week that Benitez has ‘broken promises’ about playing him more often this season beggar belief.

Babel was gifted a big chance to impress at Spurs on the opening weekend but he blew it and was equally wretched when he came off the bench against Aston Villa.

The manager has shown remarkable patience with the under-performing winger but it must be wearing thin.

It’s just a shame the Dutchman waited until after the window closed before revealing he wants to return to his homeland.

If Babel had been sold then Benitez might have been able to use the money to bring in someone who truly appreciates what it means to pull on a red shirt.

John McMahon Couldn't Resist Chance To Join Liverpool FC

John McMahon leapt at the chance to return to Merseyside this summer and three months on he hasn’t looked back.

The Liverpool-born 45-year-old left behind life as assistant manager at League Two outfit Shrewsbury Town to succeed Gary Ablett as the Reds’ reserve team boss.

McMahon is charged with developing the group of youngsters assembled from around the world who make up the second string squad.

The primary objective is to try to provide Rafa Benitez with a steady stream of talent and results are of secondary importance.

McMahon, who works alongside new reserves coach Antonio Gomez Perez, boasts a wealth of experience having spent eight years on the coaching staff at Tranmere Rovers during which he had two spells as caretaker manager. He moved on to Shrewsbury in 2006 and is now relishing a very different challenge.

“This was a job I just couldn’t refuse,” he said.

“I’m really enjoying it and every day is different.

“I’m working with new faces and trying to get the lads organised and working as a team rather than as individuals.

“To work with a manager of the quality of Rafa Benitez and an assistant manager like Sammy Lee is brilliant.

“We’re in regular contact with staff meetings every day to sort out what we are doing and to decide what players are going where.

“The great thing is we are all one team. From Rafa, Sammy and Mauricio (Pellegrino) to myself and Antonio.

“We are all singing from the same hymn sheet and we all know what the others are doing.”

The days of reserve team matches packed with first team players on the fringes are long gone.

The second string is now full of teenagers looking to make the grade rather than experienced players hoping to take the step back up.

For Wednesday night’s first home match in the Premier Reserve League North at Prenton Park, 20-year-old right-back Stephen Darby was the elder statesman.

The rest of the starting line up for the 3-1 win over Bolton were teenagers with seven different nationalities on show.

McMahon’s job is to help ensure they realise their potential.

“Rafa wants to see improvement in the young players that are here,” he said.

“My task is to help get them ready both physically and mentally for our first team.

“Ultimately the goal in this job is all about getting players in the first team. Not just getting players in there for cameo roles, but to stay there. I would like to think we’ve got a number of lads in the squad capable of making that step up but there is a lot of hard work ahead.

“This is Liverpool Football Club and there are high expectations. It’s easy for lads to get delusions of grandeur and we need to keep their feet on the ground.

“Part of the hard work is actually getting them to realise it’s going to be difficult but that if they put the effort in it’s possible to progress.”

Spanish defender Daniel Ayala has already made that step up this season with a substitute appearance at White Hart Lane followed by his full debut in the 4-0 win at home to Stoke.

McMahon, the brother of former Reds midfielder Steve, is hoping Ayala will inspire some of his team-mates.

“Danny has shown a great attitude to work,” he said.

“He listens and he wants to do well. He’s only 18 himself but the other lads have to look at him as an example.

“They know that it can be done. If you are working hard and you have enough quality then the opportunities at this club are there for you.”

The squad is a real mixture with home grown talent like Darby and Steven Irwin, alongside Spanish prodigy Daniel Pacheco and new boy Chris Mavinga.

The Reds beat off competition from Arsenal to sign France Under-18 international defender Mavinga from Paris St Germain this summer.

Then there are youngsters like David Amoo and Nathan Eccleston who have only recently graduated from the Kirkby Academy.

“Chris is a young lad who has a lot of settling in to do but he has clearly got ability,” McMahon said.

“He’s having English lessons which is helping him a lot and he’s getting used to English football coaching and what it expected of him.

“Young Dani looked fantastic against Bolton this week.

“He wanted the ball, was really lively and caused them a lot of problems.

“This season is a big learning curve for everyone, including the staff.

“There are lads like David and Nathan who have only just stepped up to reserve team level and others who have been around for a while.

“They are all still learning how Antonio and myself want things to work and what we expect of them on a daily basis.”

Work to put in undersoil heating at Melwood this summer has led to the reserves spending more time at the Academy but McMahon believes it’s good for them to split their time between the two venues.

“There is no us and them situation,” he said.

“We are all Liverpool Football Club and it’s great to have some sessions at the Academy. The facilities there are fantastic and the first team have also trained there.

“I would like to think the academy lads will see the pros in the reserves training there and think ‘that could be me one day’. It’s always nice for the pros to be around the academy lads so they can see what could be on the horizon.”

Wednesday’s win over Bolton after an opening defeat at Blackburn ensured McMahon is off and running.

“It was nice to get the win and three points should settle everyone down but we still want more from the boys and there are things we can do better so we will keep working,” he added.

“If you cannot get up every morning and look forward to going into work then you are in the wrong job. I’m lucky to be doing something I love.”

John Aldridge: Ryan Babel Lacks Fighting Spirit At Liverpool FC

Ryan Babel’s comments just proved what I always suspected – he is not a fighter.

Babel said he was made promises about playing more often this season but he can have no complaints about being left out recently.

He was awful against Spurs and has had so many opportunities but he has failed to deliver.

The fact is he doesn’t want it enough. When I speak to Liverpool fans I feel like a counsellor. I haven’t heard one fan backing him up and that tells you everything.

There are a number of players at the club who haven’t delivered and he’s at the top of the list. Rafa has given him more than enough chances but that faith hasn’t been repaid.

You have to play well to keep your place but Babel just goes through the motions.

He’s very lucky to have played as many times as he has.

The frustrating thing is that he clearly has potential. But the only person who thinks he’s a good player at the moment is himself.

He has said he wants to go back to Holland and if the money is right I think Rafa might give him his wish in January.

The problem is the squad is so thin that Rafa is probably still going to need him at times. But Babel needs a boot up the backside to make him realise just how lucky he is.

Last weekend’s game at Bolton highlighted our defensive problems.

Injuries to Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel haven’t helped but only one clean sheet is a concern.

The manager knows conceding seven goals in four games isn’t acceptable.

Bolton were one of the worst teams I’ve seen for a long time but we gifted them two goals and nearly paid the price.

You have to give the lads credit for getting themselves back into it. We showed a lot of character and in the end we got what we deserved.

Before we went down to 10 men Steven Gerrard was quiet but the sending off gave him the room he needed to change the game.

It was a vital win but we can’t keep defending like that.

For their goal from a corner four attacking players stood in between the zonal markers and the goalkeeper.

That’s a flaw in the zonal system and it made life very difficult for Pepe Reina. Things have to change and there’s work to be done at Melwood.

David Prentice: Why Liverpool FC's Ryan Babel Only Has Himself To Blame

Ryan Babel feels let down by his manager at Anfield over a series of “broken promises.”

So let me just remind you of the words Babel himself uttered on the day he was unveiled at Liverpool two summers ago.

“It’s a great feeling to be compared to Thierry Henry and a goal for me to work hard every day to get to that level or to be even better.

“Henry was a big hero for me. I think I can have the same in England he had, but we will see in the years to come.

“I see myself as a fast player who likes to dribble and play beautiful football. I like combination football and I like to score goals.”

Babel’s Anfield career has been an exercise in frustration.

He is powerful, pacy, can shoot fiercely and accurately and is decent in the air as well.

The perfect striking package almost. Yet he’s spent more time in a dug-out than Stig of the Dump.

A whopping 63 per cent of Babel’s meagre 59 Liverpool appearances since he arrived have come from the subs’ bench.

And there’s only one person to blame for that.

If it’s Rafael Benitez, I’m the Dutchman, not Ryan Babel.