Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Match Preview: Fiorentina vs Liverpol

Liverpool will be without midfielders Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun for Tuesday's Champions League Group E clash with Fiorentina.

Mascherano is sick and Benayoun picked up a leg injury against Hull in the 6-1 thrashing of Hull on Saturday.

Mascherano's absence means winger Albert Riera is likely to start.

The hosts are without suspended top-scorer Alberto Gilardino, meaning Stevan Jovetic and Adrian Mutu could start up front together.

Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli admitted Liverpool's free-scoring form, with 18 goals in their last six matches, has him worried.

Striker Fernando Torres in particular is in rampant form, having scored a hat-trick in Saturday's 6-1 victory over Hull, and Prandelli is well aware his side face a tough task in trying to stop the Spaniard.

"We're not going to start already beaten, but all those goals are starting to make me a little anxious," said Prandelli, who played in the Juventus side that beat Liverpool in the 1985 European Cup final.

"How do you stop Torres? You must concentrate all the time, and be very lucky because he is so good.

"We have watched the last three Liverpool games on DVD and we know what a difficult task we face."

The Italian side took only two points from a possible nine at home in last season's group stage, and the team will hope to do better against a Liverpool side unbeaten on their travels in last season's competition, with three wins and three draws.

To that end, the absence of Gilardino, who begins a two-match ban for elbowing Jeremy Toulalan in Fiorentina's defeat by Lyon two weeks ago, is a significant blow.

Five-time European Cup winners Liverpool are level on points with Lyon in Group E, having opened with a 1-0 win over Hungarian champions Debrecen.

And Rafael Benitez's side posted a 1-0 victory at Inter Milan on their last visit to Italy in 2008.

"It was a great night in the San Siro. I enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully we can do the same against Fiorentina," said forward Dirk Kuyt, who scored the only goal against Debrecen.

"It will be great if we can win in Florence and get six points from the first two games. It would give us more confidence ahead of the other group games."

Match Facts & Stats:

The Reds last six matches:

Liverpool 6-1 Hull
Leeds 0-1 Liverpool
West Ham 2-3 Liverpool
Liverpool 1-0 Debrecen
Liverpool 4-0 Burnley
Bolton 2-3 Liverpool

Fiorentina's last six matches:

Livorno 0-1 Fiorentina
Fiorentina 2-0 Sampdoria
Roma 3-1Fiorentina
Lyon 1-0 Fiorentina
Fiorentina 1-0 Cagliari
Fiorentina 1-0 Palermo

Dirk Kuyt: Liverpool Will Use Italian Experience Against Fiorentina

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt feels that the Reds' previous experience of beating Italian teams will stand them in good stead when they face Fiorentina in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The Merseysiders beat Inter in the San Siro on their last visit to Italy in 2008, and Kuyt feels sure that they can manage a repeat in Florence in midweek.

"It was a great night in the San Siro. I enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully we can do the same against Fiorentina," the Dutchman told Liverpool's official website.

"All the teams in our group are good but Italian teams are normally very strong in defence and it can be difficult to go there. Having said that, it will be the same with the trips to Lyon and Debrecen.

"It will be great if we can win in Florence and get six points from the first two games. It would give us more confidence ahead of the other group games."

Kuyt became the Reds' third highest goalscorer in Europe with the winning goal at Anfield against Debrecen in their first group match, and the versatile front man is targeting many more.

"It's great to be important to the club and score important goals in Europe," he added. "Hopefully there will be more in the future and I can go higher in the list.

"It's not the most important thing for me though, doing well for Liverpool is what matters most of all."

Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva Silencing The Critics

A month ago Liverpool were a club in crisis: outplayed at Spurs and out-muscled at home to Villa, last year’s Premier League runners-up slumped to two early defeats.

For a club that suffered only two losses in 38 games last campaign it was a stuttering start which saw many critics write off any possibility of Liverpool winning an elusive 19th League title.

A young 22-year-old in the heart of the Reds midfield bore the brunt of the blame. Lucas Leiva was the easy victim. He’d been given the daunting task of replacing the fulcrum of the Liverpool side: Xabi Alonso.

The problem at White Harte Lane was clear. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were isolated from the rest of the team. Neither Mascherano nor Lucas could provide the link between defence and attack.

They aren’t renowned for their distribution or creativity. They are destroyers. The absent Xabi Alonso was sorely missed. Over a week later against Villa, Lucas wilted under the pressure, the bating breath of the Kop sent shivers done his spine, leaving him paralysed in midfield.

However the Brazilian has shown a wealth of improvement in the past few weeks.

The player deserves credit for the unerring mental toughness that he has shown. He has defied critics and has produced mature performances against Burnley, West Ham United and Hull City.

Why has he been targeted?

The loss of Xabi Alonso has of course had a huge impact on the team. He was the cog in the engine room and vital to the system Liverpool had used to such great effect.

Mascherano would sweep up any attacks playing the short, simple pass to Alonso. The Spaniard maestro would unleash memorising passes to thrust Liverpool’s attackers into action. That system was disrupted when Alonso was sold to Real Madrid.

Lucas was never going to be a suitable replacement for Alonso. He is the same breed of player as Mascherano. Therefore Liverpool were always going to miss that creative flair in midfield and inevitably as the new worker in the Anfield engine room, blame was assigned to the Brazilian.

The owners failed to provide reasonable funds for further investment in players. Rafa Benitez was forced to sell in order to generate revenue for new acquisitions. It is another example of broken promises from Gillett and Hicks.

Arguably Lucas suffers from the Brazilian stereotype. When you think of great Brazilian players names like Pele, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka all spring to mind.

A defensive, holding midfielder isn’t exactly a ‘Brazilian’ position. Ironically Brazil’s current manager Dunga was a great defensive-minded player in his day and was a hero for Lucas.

Benitez too must shoulder some of the blame for his side’s shortcomings. He purchased a midfielder who was crocked and wasn’t due to return before October. Alberto Aquilani has the talent to prove a hit on Merseyside but with his prolonged absence, the first few weeks were always going to be ropey for the Reds.

Benitez stuck with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation despite the loss of Alonso. The losses to Spurs and Villa encouraged Benitez to tinker with that tactic. In recent weeks, Gerrard has dropped back to central midfield and the results of this switch have been evident.

Gerrard has revelled in the central midfield role. He has the license to room while Lucas provides that vital insurance defensively. The Brazilian sits in front of the back four breaking up any sparse attacks from the opposition.

Meanwhile Gerrard is able to expend his boundless energy making explosive runs from midfield. In addition he has the ability to spot the intelligent runs of team-mates and if required is able to defend too.

The tactical switch has sparked a revival in Liverpool’s form. Since the loss to Martin O’Neill’s men, Fernando Torres et al have scored 16 times, only conceding five.

Lucas was particularly impressive against Burnley, West Ham and Hull. He cut out the rash challenges, didn’t over complicate matters and released the ball early.

While he partnered Gerrard in midfield, there was no pressure on the 22-year-old to produce blockbuster passes or unlock resolute defences.

The talismanic Liverpool captain has been quick to defend the Brazilian. When questions were asked over the future of Lucas at the beginning of the summer, Gerrard was quick to jump to his defence.

“Lucas has had criticism and for me it’s been unfair,” said Gerrard, in an interview last May.

“He’s a young lad learning his trade and he’s certainly got a bright future. He does a lot of work that goes unnoticed in this team. He’s come into some big games when the manager has said ’sink or swim.’

“He swam, very well, and he’s done really well for us.”

It is a fair evaluation of Lucas’ contribution. Reflecting upon past seasons he has enjoyed success in some of Liverpool’s biggest games, even asked to deputise for the missing Alonso at the 4-1 Old Trafford success.

Gerrard has been quick to pipe up in defence of his midfield partner this season too, especially in the wake of the out-pouring of discontent from many Liverpool fans.

He had lavish praise for the “mental toughness” Lucas showed after the demoralising early season losses.

The Brazilian could take heart from Darren Fletcher. He is another midfielder player who suffered from a lot of criticism at the start of his career but has now firmly established himself as a regular fixture in the United side.

Rafa - Torres Is Priceless

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has described Fernando Torres as priceless following his demolition of Hull City at the weekend.

Torres terrorised the Hull defence during Liverpool's thumping 6-1 win at Anfield helping himself to a clinical hat-trick.

It brought Torres' tally to eight goals in seven Premier League games this season and it was fourth treble in his Reds career since his arrival from Atletico Madrid.

Benitez has revealed a couple of English clubs, believed to be Manchester City and Chelsea, sounded out Liverpool about the Spanish hit-man in the summer, but Benitez has warned any potential suitors they would be wasting their time in trying to prise Torres away from Anfield.

"How much is he worth?" said Benitez. "Well at least £70million, you would say.

"I'm not saying he's the best in the world because he is young and can get better, but of course he is one of the best, and he can still improve if he wants to.

"This year we had some agents acting for other English clubs who were coming to us asking about the price of Torres, with big, big figures, but we said that he's not for sale.

"I would say at this moment in time he is not for sale at any price."

Liverpool Preparing €49m Bid For Valencia Forward David Villa

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has urged the club's owners to make funds available in order to secure the transfer of David Villa from Spanish Primera Division side Valencia.

Villa was courted by both Barcelona and Real Madrid during the summer but while the Blaugrana eventually opted to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan, Los Blancos signed Karim Benzema from Lyon.

The Spanish international was thought to be devastated at failing to secure a move away from the Mestalla but now it seems that a move to the Premier League could be an option.

Former Valencia coach Rafael Benitez has earmarked Villa as the type of player who can take Liverpool to the next level and has approached George Gillett and Tom Hicks to provide him with a suitable transfer budget to secure a deal for the striker.

The Sunday People suggests that a fee in the region of €49m would be enough to persuade Valencia to part with their prized asset, who scored 28 goals in La Liga last season.

If the move were to go through, then it would unite the strikeforce of the Spanish national team as Fernando Torres currently plays in the Premier League for the Reds.

Saudi Interest Comes As A Surprise To Liverpool

Neither George Gillett Jr. nor Tom Hicks, the co-owners of Liverpool, is expecting imminent investment in the club from Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Royal Family, despite reports to the contrary over the weekend.

Hicks and Gillett are in ongoing talks with a number of potential third-party investors as they seek first to reduce Liverpool’s £250 million debt and second to bring in the kind of sizeable cash injection needed to finance the club’s move from Anfield to a long-planned new stadium on nearby Stanley Park.

Prince Faisal, who visited the club’s academy in Kirkby on Saturday before attending Liverpool’s home match against Hull City, is the latest potential investor to express an interest in taking a stake in the club and his public admission to this effect has come as a surprise to Hicks in particular, but also to Gillett.

According to a report in Saudi Al-Riyadh, the newspaper, Prince Faisal, who chairs Fama Group, the Saudi holding company, and the F6 Sports Investment Firm, is willing to take a stake in Liverpool of up to 50 per cent for a fee in the region of £200-350 million.

The high-profile nature of his reported interest, which began on Friday night with a news item on television in Saudi Arabia, has taken the Liverpool hierarchy aback, particularly Gillett who invited Prince Faisal to Merseyside as his guest to open negotiations about proposed Nascar and Liverpool academy initiatives in the Middle East. Gillett is holding talks with a number of interested parties at present and, as yet, there is still to be an official approach from Prince Faisal or any other members of the Saudi Royal Family.

In the past two years, Hicks and Gillett have entertained a number of potential investors at Anfield, but a deal is yet to materialise and The Times understands that Gillett held talks with another interested party in London last night.

Gillett’s visit to Merseyside was not without controversy as members of the Spirit Of Shankly (SOS) fans group, which has long been opposed to his and Hicks’s regime, protested against the American ownership of Liverpool at the club’s Melwood training ground.

An attempt to stage a similar protest at Anfield during the Hull game was stifled when flags and banners criticising Hicks and Gillett were seized by Merseyside Police shortly after they were unfurled in the Kop stand.

Saudi Arabian Investment Company Reaches Agreement On Liverpool Academies

F6, the Saudi Arabian sports investment company, has confirmed that it has reached an agreement with Liverpool to establish a number of football academies in the region.

The deal was signed with George Gillett Jr., the Liverpool co-owner, and will seek to set up two exclusive academies in Saudi Arabia and two in North Africa while also extending the interests of the American’s NASCAR franchise, Richard Petty Motorsports.

“The memorandum of understanding will establish an exclusive partnership between F6 group, Liverpool FC and Richard Petty Motorsports team,” a statement released by the company read.

“His Highness Prince Faisal [the F6 chairman] stated that the partnership with George Gillett’s group will be a good addition to F6. This partnership will provide a lot of investments in football, racing and sports media in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

Prince Faisal confirmed that the deals were done following Liverpool’s 6-1 defeat of Hull City at Anfield on Saturday, a game he attended as a guest of the club. “We have signed several contracts with Liverpool after visiting the club and attending the match with Hull City in the Premier League,” he told Al Riyadh daily newspaper. “The contracts are basically sports investments, which also include establishing football academies that will definitely help the future of Saudi sports in the future.”

Prince Faisal has claimed that he is closing in on purchasing a 50 per cent share of Liverpool, for a price of between £200 and £350 million, but Gillett views the reports as premature and is holding talks with a number of interested parties.

No Liverpool Takeover Bid Imminent – Top Football Broker

Liverpool are unlikely to receive a takeover bid any time soon, according to leading football broker David Bick, who has handled a number of high-profile takeovers, including those of Aston Villa, Manchester City, Manchester United and Leeds United.

Bick told Goal.com UK exclusively that he does not expect Saudi Arabian Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah to make any concrete bid for control at Anfield, despite reports emanating from the Middle East over the weekend that the Prince was close to securing a £350 million deal for a 50 per cent stake in the club.

Only today there were reports that Saudi sports investment company F6 had confirmed that talks to buy a major share in the club are ongoing – but Bick is sceptical of any such reports.

"As far as I'm aware, all talk has been pretty much squashed by the majority of papers this morning," said Bick, "And judging by the way it has been reported, with figures of between £200 million and £350 million suggested, it just seems a bit vague to me.

"There is a huge difference between those two figures. If serious investment was imminent, I would expect a much more specific figure to be given."

Prince Faisal was sat alongside Liverpool co-owner George Gillett at Anfield on Saturday to see the Reds thrash Hull City 6-1, but Bick, a trusted adviser of American billionaire Randy Lerner, believes this is not necessarily evidence of any proposed takeover bid.

"My understanding is that the reason this gentleman was at the game on Saturday was to do with the setting up of Liverpool FC academies in the Middle East," said Bick. "As far as any suggestion of a takeover goes, I would be say there is very little chance of any such deal occuring in the near future."

Liverpool's long time suitors, Dubai International Capital (DIC), have also distanced themselves from the story, claiming to know nothing of any such deal.

Amanda Staveley of PCP Capital Partners – DIC's financial advisory firm during their failed takeover bid at Anfield last year – told Goal.com UK exclusively that she was completely in the dark over the story.

"I'm afraid I have no comment to make whatsoever, as I know nothing of this story," said Staveley, who led negotiations with Reds' co-owner Tom Hicks during DIC's attempt to buy into Liverpool in late 2007.

Liverpool fans unfurled a huge banner at Anfield on Saturday in protest against their American owners, continuing what has been a long run of vociferous opposition against the way the club is being run financially, an opposition that looks set to continue for the foreseeable near future.

Fernando Torres And Steven Gerrard Seek More Goals

Liverpool's dynamic duo of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are fast being accepted as the world's best goal-scoring double act.

Liverpool have recorded six successive victories in all competitions ahead of Tuesday's clash with Fiorentina in the Champions League.

Fiorentina moved into fourth spot in Serie A on Saturday with a 1-0 win at Livorno, while Liverpool thrashed Hull 6-1 with a hat-trick from Torres and one from Gerrard.

The pair arrived in Tuscany on Monday with their own mutual admiration in full flow, both claiming the other is "the best in the world."

And the statistics seem to bear them out.

Torres has scored 58 goals in 92 Liverpool games since his debut in August 2007, while Gerrard has 123 in 492.

But the true mark of their quality and chemistry comes from the 77 games the pair have played together, when they have plundered 86 goals between them - Gerrard with 39 and Torres 47.

Gerrard said: "I wouldn't swap Fernando for any other striker in the world, he's the best."

And Torres added: "If you play alongside someone like Stevie, who is the best in the world, it can only help you. He is a great passer and can score goals."

Fiorentina will also be aware the pair have a pretty impressive Champions League record.

In the 15 Champions League games they have played together, they have scored 15 goals.

Torres arrives in Tuscany as the Premier League's top scorer with eight in eight games, while Gerrard has three.

Manager Rafael Benitez had suggested earlier in the campaign that both players had been below their best, but he still claims Torres is "priceless" and Gerrard the best in Europe.

Their response has been emphatic. Since Benitez uttered those words calculated to arouse a response, Torres has hit five in two games, while Gerrard has been outstanding.

Benitez said: "The main thing is that these (two) are good players with quality and intelligence. Gerrard is very quick passing the ball and Torres is very quick to run into space.

"If you analyse the goals they have scored together over the past couple of seasons, you would be amazed.

"The understanding between the pair, with Torres up front and Gerrard in space behind him, has been the real difference for us.

"Playing Steven further forward means he can link well and be a real partner for Torres, he still has to help in midfield but he does not have to go back 40 metres, only 15 metres now, no more.

"But I believe they can both improve, both get better. They can always produce more."

Torres has taken that to heart and readily admits that Benitez has made him a better player.

He said: "From the first day I arrived here I have always been improving, and Rafa has helped in that.

"I am a better player now than when I was at Atletico Madrid. I hope to continue to keep improving with the manager and my team-mates who can all help me get better and better.

"Under Rafa I've started to play much more in the middle. I've scored a lot of goals from this position, rather than playing further out towards the wings.

"I like to play between the centre-backs and keep them busy and leave some space for the midfielders. That can make it easier for me to receive a pass when we attack.

"You have to play to your strengths. I don't know how to play in another position. Striker is the right position for me.

"Maybe I don't have the same qualities as Stevie to play between the lines. I guess it is the same for players like Emmanuel Adebayor or Didier Drogba.

"If they were to play on the wing or in between or behind the lines, they may not be the same players as when they play as a striker."