Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rafa Benitez To Be Given £12m Transfer Budget To Rescue Fading Title Dreams

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez will be handed a £12million New Year transfer budget after all, but that is still well short of what he would need to attract top players as he bids to salvage the club's fading Premier League title dream.

The Liverpool manager’s spending power has been a contentious issue since the arrival of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but Anfield’s American owners will back him with more funds when the window reopens in January.

With three defeats from their first eight league games leaving little scope for more slip-ups, Benitez will welcome the chance to bolster his squad and is already scouring the market for potential recruits.

Several emerging Spanish players are under review, as well as Lazio striker Goran Pandev, as he looks to strengthen on the flanks and up front.

For all the owners’ support, though, he could face further frustration. Macedonia front-runner Pandev was rated at £17m when Arsenal and Tottenham were linked with him in the summer.

Inter Milan are favourites to sign him in January.

Even so, Benitez still views the funds as an encouraging step forward after playing down the defeats by Tottenham, Aston Villa and Chelsea.

Gillett is believed to be unhappy that a supposedly private conversation between him and a member of a supporters’ group, which found its way on to a fans’ website, portrayed his thoughts as being anti-Benitez when he also referred to his ‘genius’.

Gillett responded to a question about Liverpool’s start to this season by saying: ‘In the last 18 months, we have invested £128m, on top of what has come in. That means it should be getting better. If it is not getting better, it’s not Gillett and Hicks. It’s the manager, it’s the scouting.’

Benitez, who prides himself on his coaching network, is thought to be not unduly perturbed by the comments and is more concerned about proving his theory that the League is open enough this season for a side to absorb three early defeats.

O'Shea - Reds Still In Race

Manchester United defender John O'Shea has not ruled Liverpool out of the title race despite losing their third game of the season at Chelsea on Sunday.

The Reds fell to a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge leaving Rafa Benitez's side collecting more reverses from their first eight Premier League games than their entire 2008/2009 campaign.

But Red Devils defender believes United's bitter rivals are more than capable of turning things around.

When asked if Liverpool were no longer title contenders, O'Shea told Sky Sports News: "No, it's still too early.

"Liverpool are, as you could see from last season, able to put a run together and it wouldn't surprise me if they get on a huge run of unbeaten games and get back into contention."

O'Shea, whose side now trail Chelsea by two points at the top of the table after their weekend success, expects both Carlo Ancelotti's Blues and Arsenal to challenge for the top honour this term.

"Chelsea are going to be there and Arsenal with the way they are playing - we were quite fortunate against them when we played at home," he added.

"They dominated the game quite a bit but to be fair we were more clinical and I think they will be there or there-about as well."

O'Shea believes United's form has been excellent since their shock defeat at Burnley in August and the Republic of Ireland international reckons Saturday's draw with Sunderland is a point gained rather than two dropped.

"We've had a lot of tough games, especially after the Burnley result and we went on a very good run of winning games," he said.

"We had two tough games in Europe to start the Champions League campaign and we've had two wins there.

"(It's) disappointing, obviously, against Sunderland but to be fair it looked as if we were going to get beat, but we pulled something out of it. We got a point and that point could be crucial at the end of the season."

Alberto Aquilani: Medical Treatment At Liverpool Is Better Than Roma

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani has given a stinging assessment of Roma's medical staff, accusing his former club of failing to meet his needs in the treatment room.

The Italian is on the verge of making his debut for Liverpool. He may feature in their next game, which is against Sunderland, after recovering from a long-term ankle injury.

"I changed many doctors at Roma and there was never any consistency in the treatment to cure me," Aquilani is quoted as saying in Il Corriere Dello Sport.

"I have noted a big difference here [at Liverpool]. From the first moment I was told I would not be rushed back into action to avoid further problems.

"Now I cannot wait to put all my physical problems behind me."

Aquilani joined Liverpool in the summer following Xabi Alonso's departure to Real Madrid.

Liverpool FC Deny Interest In Werder Bremen Star Aaron Hunt

Liverpool today distanced themselves from reports linking them with Werder Bremen hot-shot Aaron Hunt.

It had been claimed in the German media the Reds are planning a January swoop for the 23-year-old, who has scored three goals in his last three Bundesliga appearances.

Hunt – who is a German Under-21 international – is out of contract at the end of the current campaign and has caught the eye of a number of clubs across Europe.

The same reports also suggested Rafa Benitez was preparing to tempt Bremen into doing business early by using Ryan Babel as part of a swop deal.

However, he is not on Benitez’s January shopping list and the club does not anticipate conducting any major business when the transfer window opens in the new year.

Benitez was expected back at Melwood today following the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea but the next week will be quiet for the manager, given that so many of his squad are on international duty.

However, he will be keeping a close eye on Alberto Aquilani, as the £20m midfielder continues to edge closer to making his first team debut.

Aquilani had major ankle surgery earlier in the summer but he has revealed the level of care he has received on Merseyside is light years ahead of the attention he was given in Roma.

“I changed many doctors at Roma and there was never any consistency in the treatment to cure me,” Aquilani said.

“I have noted a big difference here (at Liverpool). From the first moment I was told I would not be rushed back into action to avoid further problems.

“Now I cannot wait to put all my physical problems behind me, so I can finally get my career started with Liverpool.”

Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, has made it clear he is being driven by the motivation of winning medals as he closes in on another major milestone.

The Liverpool captain could make his 500th appearance for the club against Birmingham on November 9 and would join exalted company.

But though it would a massive achievement to reach 500, he is desperate to add to his medal haul – sooner rather than later.

“When the people above you on the list of appearances are people like Kenny Dalglish then it's special to be in that kind of company.

“Kenny is a legend, one of the greatest footballers of all time so to have played for this club as many times as he has is extra special.

“But Kenny won league titles, European Cups and every other kind of honour in his career and that’s what I want for myself and for the team.”

Tommy Smith: Javier Mascherano Is No Scapegoat!

Nobody is happy with losing at Chelsea. But some of the doom and gloom and rubbish being spouted in Liverpool’s direction is well over the top.

If you’re asking me whether I think we can still win the league, the answer is simple.

Yes. Of course we can. We definitely can.

And as for people blaming Javier Mascherano for their first and decisive goal – well I just don’t buy it.

Okay, he lost possession but the little fella is a really good player and had a smashing game otherwise.

Chelsea still had 60 yards to go to get that ball into our net from the moment they began moving forward from their own half, and while it was a good ball in from Drogba, we should have defended better than we did.

So making the Argentinian the scapegoat is way out of order.

As is writing off Liverpool’s title chances long before the leaves have finished falling.

Chelsea themselves have been turned over by Wigan, while Manchester United struggled on Saturday to get a point at home to Sunderland.

It’s clearly a much more open race this season and there’ll be more shocks to come across the board, I’m sure.

I’m not saying losing three games in the first eight is good news. There’s no disguising the fact we’ve slipped up early on this season.

But at Chelsea we could well have had a draw or even sneaked a win. It was a far better performance all round than against Fiorentina – I just thought they looked a little bit stronger in defence and in attack than us – and that was what edged it.

But if Liverpool can keep beating sides – and we have won our other five league games very well don’t forget - then anything is possible.

Remember – no one at Liverpool ever gives up. Let alone in October!

NOW I’m not one to defend referees too readily. Far from it.

But Alex Ferguson’s attack on Alan Wiley after the Sunderland game was personal and way over the top.

The United boss was ranting and raving at fourth official Mike Dean on the touchline like a spoiled child. It was embarrassing.

And what he said afterwards about Wiley was simply beneath the belt. I’m glad the FA are looking into it and I hope for once they’ve got the bottle to stand up to Ferguson and deal with him the way they would with any other manager.

Ferguson claimed Wiley was not fit enough to officiate - but at the same time stats showed he ran further than the players!

Ex-ref Graham Poll has accused him of a cheap shot and this time he’s dead right.

Essentially calling people fat so and so’s at football matches normally comes from the stands - not from club managers.

So Ferguson owes Wiley an apology and he should give him one. He should have been taking his anger out on his players, instead of picking on someone who wasn’t there to defend himself.

It’s one thing criticising referees over bad decisions - they deserve the flak when they get them wrong.

But Ferguson has stepped over the line and must be dealt with.

Fernando Torres Is Top Class But Liverpool Must Get Him Some Help

Fernando Torres has now scored 33 goals in 34 games at Anfield for Liverpool.

It is a quite astonishing statistic and he walked off with the match ball after Liverpool trashed Hull 6-1.

But sadly I do believe Liverpool are becoming a two-man show, with Steven Gerrard and Torres running things for Rafa Benitez's side.

I had a few callers at the weekend saying Liverpool play a better, faster attacking style of football without Xabi Alonso.

But I disagree, as apart from Gerrard and Torres, Alonso was arguably Liverpool's only other world class performer before he quit for Real Madrid.

Now he has gone, Liverpool's squad looks weaker and more reliant than ever on Torres and Gerrard.

In the past Liverpool always used to buy from a position of strength, but they have not done so this summer.

They still have Alberto Aquilani to come back from injury in the next few weeks following his £20million move from Roma.

But Liverpool badly need to buy some more players to do the business for them away from home.

We know Anfield is a fortress but they need another striker to supplement Torres and take the burden off the forward.

Once Rock-Solid Jamie Carragher Is Starting To Dip

As much as I respect Jamie Carragher and everything he's done for Liverpool, I do think he's starting to dip.

Him and Martin Skrtel have had a shaky start to the season and again at West Ham he didn't have the best of games.

Once again Liverpool conceded goals from set-pieces and Carragher does not look as solid as he did.

It makes me wonder if Rafa Benitez shouldn't take whatever transfer budget he will have in January and spend it all on a top-quality centre-half.

I'm not saying he should replace Carragher now or that he is finished - far from it.

But I do think you should strengthen your team from a position of strength so if Benitez brought the new Jamie Carragher in now, he would have time to bed him in over the next season or two.

Every player - no matter how good they are - dips at some point and it would make sense to have Carra's replacement groomed and ready to take over for when he finally has to go.

Carragher is 31 and can't go on forever, so it's better to think about these things in advance.

George Gillett's Words Will Ring Alarm Bells At Old Trafford

In a series of exchanges with a supporters' representative, Liverpool co-owner George Gillett Jr gave more credence to something that has been worrying Manchester United followers.

Bullish about Liverpool's financial situation, he pointed out the £30m from the sale of Xabi Alonso was made available to Rafa Benitez.

"We didn't do like Man U did," Gillett said. "They took all the money they got from player sales and they owed so much money, they had to use it to pay down the debt."

Maybe you would expect one of the men in charge of Liverpool to level that kind of allegation at the Glazer brothers who run the club.

But until Sir Alex Ferguson is allowed to spend at least some of the £80m United got from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gillett's words will ring alarm bells at Old Trafford.