Saturday, October 10, 2009

Juve Line Up Masch Raid

Juventus are preparing to deepen Liverpool's misery with a January raid for Javier Mascherano.

Rafa Benitez's side are already six points behind Chelsea following their third defeat of the season at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Now Italians Juve are planning a fresh bid for Argentine midfielder Mascherano, 24, who they tried to sign from West Ham before he moved to Anfield in January 2007.

The Turin giants are ready to offer £23million as they seek to grab the Serie A title away from Inter Milan.

And club officials plan to open talks with their Anfield opposite numbers in the coming weeks.

Mascherano is already a target for Barcelona, with Liverpool rejecting an ]approach for him from the European champions during the summer.

Mascherano, who possesses an Italian passport, is tempted to move away from Merseyside even though he is under contract until 2012.

He is believed to be unhappy at the break-up of his partnership with Xabi Alonso, who joined Real Madrid in the summer.

And he was dismayed at criticism for his performance in the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea.

The Kop have got their own back on Chelsea by stealing Benfica wonderkid Toni Brito Sa from under their noses.

Benfica have accepted Liverpool's offer of £290,000 for one of the most highly-rated youngsters in Portugal.

Guinea-born Brito, 16, had a trial at Chelsea when Phil Scolari was boss and was ready to sign a six-year deal.

Keisuke Honda Not Ruling Out Move To Liverpool Or Everton

Keisuke Honda's agent has admitted the player would be interested in a move to the Premier League.

Both Liverpool and Everton are reported to be interested in the Japanese international, who has set the Eredivisie alight with his scintillating displays for VVV Venlo, scoring seven goals from nine appearances so far this season.

The Settsu-born star was instrumental in winning Venlo promotion to the Eredivisie last season and has also reportedly drawn interest from Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven.

"There are a lot of clubs following him, but there is nothing concrete at the moment," the 23-year-old's agent, Kees Ploegsma, told Sky Sports.

"I don't know anything about Liverpool and Everton and we will wait and see what happens in January.

"Of course Keisuke would be interested in playing in England. England is a very good country for playing football.

"If a club makes an offer and Keisuke likes that club something could happen, but we will wait and see."

Honda has been capped seven times by Japan and is estimated to be worth £3 million.

Phil Thompson Urges George Gillett To Sell Up At Liverpool

Phil Thompson believes that Liverpool co-owner George Gillett should sell his stake in the Anfield outfit to Prince Faisal bin Fahed, the Saudi Arabian prince whose company F6 are believed to be in talks with the American.

Thompson, a former Reds defender who captained the club and won a host of honours in the 1970s and '80s, thinks that should Gillett sell then it would trigger his co-owner Tom Hicks into selling his stake in the club as well.

"The two guys bought the club, I'd like to think they bought it with all great faith and everything, but they've realised that 'soccer' as they call it is a little bit tougher than what they think," he told Sky Sports News.

"We're very patriotic towards our own, we're very tribal in this country. We love our football club and we believe we are different.

"They've not got to grips with that bond between fans and their ownership.

"I think it would be absolutely ideal if George Gillett can find a buyer. That'll maybe then trigger the motion from Tom Hicks to relinquish his fifty per cent.

"Because you can see by George doing that Tom is probably thinking 'this is the beginning of the end for us'.

"I think that would be best for all concerned. I wouldn't like to be in a position like that.

"So do the honourable thing."

Benitez Calm Over Dutch Duo

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez does not believe Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel's trip to Australia with Holland will hamper their preparations for facing Sunderland.

The Dutch duo have made the long trip to Sydney with their country for Saturday's friendly with the Socceroos.

Benitez would rather Kuyt and Babel did not have to travel, but he is confident the pair will have ample time to recover ahead of the game at Sunderland on 17th October.

"We tried to talk with the Dutch Federation about Dirk and Ryan having to travel so far but they have the right to call the players up for these games," the Reds boss told the club's official website.

"We tried to find some kind of solution but it was impossible and it is not an ideal situation for them to travel to Australia for a friendly.

"But it is not so bad. They only have to play the one game, there is another seven days until we play Sunderland and we will see them again early next week.

"Both Dirk and Ryan know that I do not see a problem with them travelling and it is not going to be a bad situation.

"They will be back at least two or three days before the players who have gone to South America and I'm sure they will be okay for Sunderland."

The South American players to which Benitez refers are Lucas Leiva, Javier Mascherano and Emiliano Insua, who are involved with Argentina.

They are a part of Diego Maradona's squad for the must-win World Cup qualifier with Peru on Saturday, which can be seen live on Sky Sports 1.

Benitez said: "We know Lucas, Mascherano and Insua will not be back until Friday afternoon and we will have to manage them carefully."

Carragher Backs Liverpool FC To Get Tough

Jamie Carragher has held his hands up over a poor start to the season – but vowed to help Liverpool toughen up their soft centre.

Having gained a reputation for their defensive mean streak in recent years, Rafael Benitez’s side have kept just four clean sheets in 11 games this season. Only two shut-outs have come in eight Premier League games, with Liverpool shipping 12 goals in that period.

Carragher himself has attracted some fierce criticism following a series of below-par performances.

But the 31-year-old is adamant he and the defence as a whole will improve over the coming weeks.

He said: “We aren’t playing well as a back four and I’m not playing well personally.

“I need to hit better form and hopefully that will come in the next few games. Over the last five or six years we have been renowned as a team who have kept a lot of clean sheets and for keeping it tight. I think that’s why we get a bit more criticism because people don’t expect it of Liverpool – and rightly so.

“We take the plaudits when things are going well so you have to take the criticism when it’s not going well.

“I know I need to improve myself and we also need to improve as a team.”

Benitez believes he saw signs during Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea that Carragher and centre-back partner Martin Skrtel are close to recapturing their form.

“If you analyse the performance of the centre-backs, it was clear to see they were much better at Chelsea and that was the positive thing to take from the game,” said Benitez. “Skrtel is a really good player and Carra was doing better again. Maybe you could say something about the second goal but the signs, for me, were much better.

“It was a difficult game for the central defenders to play and you know that when you come up against the top sides you must keep it tight.

“We paid for one mistake (in midfield) but, in the main, I was very pleased with the performances of Skrtel and Carra and they were doing the right things.”

Liverpool resume after this week’s international break with a trip to Sunderland on Saturday week, with Benitez keeping his fingers crossed his players return back from their national teams without injury.

Rafa Benitez Pleads With Denmark To Go Easy On Returning Liverpool Crock Daniel Agger

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has warned Denmark coach Morten Olsen he needs to be 'sensible' with defender Daniel Agger.

The 24-year-old centre-back has only just recovered from a back operation and has yet to feature for the first team, although he played 68 minutes for the reserves last week and made the bench for Sunday's defeat at Chelsea.

He is in Denmark's squad for World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Hungary, but Benitez has warned Olsen against over-using the defender.

'It was a difficult decision to bring Agger back into the squad, because he wasn't fit enough to start against Chelsea,' said the Liverpool boss.

'He is now with Denmark, and I hope they will be careful with him. They have to be sensible. It's good for him, because he needs to play, but he knows it will be tough for him to play both games in a row.'

Benitez admits he has mixed feelings about players going away for the current international break.

The Spaniard is delighted young left-back Emiliano Insua's form for the club this season has been recognised with a first call-up for Argentina.

But he is less enamoured with the prospect of Holland internationals Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel having to travel halfway around the world for a friendly against Australia in Sydney.

insua has been first choice at left-back this season, starting every Barclays Premier League and Champions League match.

Having started to fulfil the promise which persuaded Benitez to sign him permanently from Boca Juniors in August 2007 - he was previously on loan as a 17-year-old - he has now attracted the attention of Argentina boss Diego Maradona.

'It is very good news for him and for us,' said Benitez on Insua's selection for crucial World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Peru.

'He is a young player who is doing well for us. When you talk about young players, the idea is to try to promote them. Emiliano was a very good signing by our scouting department - a young player with potential and quality - and it was very good business because the price was good.

'Last year we had three or four clubs asking about him. But we said 'no', because we want to keep him.'

Benitez would have liked to keep Kuyt and Babel on Merseyside, and Liverpool even approached the Dutch Football Association about the situation.

'We tried to talk with the Dutch Federation about Dirk and Ryan having to travel so far, but they have the right to call the players up for these games,' said the Reds boss.

'We tried to find some kind of solution. But it was impossible and it is not an ideal situation for them to travel to Australia for a friendly.'

On the plus side, the pair will return to Melwood early next week - while the likes of Insua and compatriot Javier Mascherano and Brazil midfielder Lucas do not arrive back from South America until Friday - just 24 hours before the trip to Sunderland.

Rafa Has Four Games To Save Liverpool Career

If under-fire Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez had been hoping for a break in the form of a return to match fitness for his big summer signing Alberto Aquilani, he was sadly mistaken if he thought that fate would throw him a six.

The Spaniard gave an optimistic report on the 25-year-old Italian midfielder's status, saying that the £19m signing from Roma could make it on to the subs bench for the Merseysiders within the fortnight, although a full debut was still some way off.

"Two to three weeks", Benitez estimated. "I have been speaking to the doctors and things are going well with him. Alberto is progressing all the time. It could be two to three weeks before he is back. But we need to use caution." Aquilani has not played a competitive game for more than half a year, having been signed by Liverpool while injured.

"If it is two weeks everyone will say 'that is fantastic' but if it is three, everyone will say it is not a problem," Benitez continued. "We will take it one step at a time and we have the international break to look forward to now. That will be good for him, as he will have some more time."

How Benitez could do with the boost though of being able to field the visionary Italian for the crucial eleven days of football that face Liverpool after the international break and which could decide the manager's future at the club.

Saturday 17th sees a visit to the Stadium of Light to take on Steve Bruce's confident Sunderland, fresh from hold Manchester United at Old Trafford and enjoying one of their best starts to a season for years.

Then French champions Lyon visit Anfield just three days later in the Champions League. Lyon top Group E with six points from two games, and a defeat would leave Liverpool facing a make-or-break return trip to France in early November where they would have to win to stay in Europe.

The next visitors to Anfield on Sunday 25th are Manchester United in the Premier League, and while last season saw Benitez break a seven-year winless sequence against Alex Ferguson's team, the context of their position (unbeaten last season, not so this year) will make for a tense time on the bench.

Finally the club travel to the Emirates for the fourth round game in the Carling Cup against Arsenal. Arsene Wenger may field teams of youngsters in this competition, but a defeat by the second string would surely herald the end of the Benitez era at Anfield.

Rafa Deserves Better Treatment By Liverpool

On May 17, 1990, Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the FA Cup Final replay to win the first silverware of Sir Alex Ferguson's 22-year reign at Old Trafford. It had taken the Scot three-and-a-half years to achieve it, but 32 trophies later the adoring Mancunian fans have no qualms about the bedding-down period Ferguson was granted.

Admittedly we live in different times, but consider Rafa Benitez's statistics for a second. From joining the club in June 2004 to Boxing Day 2007 - about the same time it took Fergie to win his single FA Cup - Liverpool won three trophies: the European Cup in 2005 was followed by the Uefa Super Cup in the same year, and an FA Cup in 2006, when the Reds dramatically beat West Ham on penalties after one of the greatest finals ever.

Add to this a further Champions League final appearance, in 2007, and the runners-up spot in the Premier League last year - one of the most competitive seasons since the inception of the league - and you'd be questioning the sanity of those fans and sports writers now calling for Benitez's head because Liverpool can only manage sixth place in the league.

But the reality of the Spaniard's predicament is that he has yet to realise the one, burning ambition that drives everyone in the club: to break the 19-year drought since Kenny Dalglish's team lifted the old Football League trophy in 1990. That triumph was the club's 18th league title - a record they held alone until last season when arch-rivals Manchester United joined them on that mark.

Despite coming closer last season than any of the intervening permanent managers (Graeme Souness, Roy Jones and Gerard Houllier), missing out by just four points in a season when they were beaten only twice, Benitez will remain a prisoner of the club's illustrious history until that hoodoo is broken.

Benitez's position has been further undermined by the boardroom battle between the club's two American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

The pair bought into Liverpool together in February 2007, paying £229m to former chairman David Moores to take on the club and its debt. Since then they have alienated the fanbase with their perceived unwillingness to invest in the club - allowing the move to a 60,000-seater stadium in Stanley Park to stagnate, for example - and have publicly squabbled.

They have also actively unsettled their own manager. Just this week, Gillett gave an interview to a fans' group in which he blamed the Spaniard for the lacklustre start to the season, and in November 2007 the Americans offered Benitez's job to the former German manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

After trying to hawk the club around the Middle East, with Dubai International Capital being a rumoured buyer, Gillett now looks likely to sell his 50 per cent stake to Saudi Prince Faisal, at least removing one obstacle from the manager's path.

Ultimately, though, it will be Benitez's relationship with the Kop that seals his future. Liverpool supporters will never forget the magical night in Istanbul in May 2005 when the team came back from a three-goal deficit at half-time to beat AC Milan to win the club's fifth European Cup, bragging rights they hold supreme in English football.

The wellspring of support generated by his early success at the club has not evaporated. "We love Rafa, although it's slightly tempered by dismay at some of his decisons," an Anfield regular told The First Post, citing his decision this summer to sell Xabi Alonso, a firm favourite of the fans.

"We loved Houllier [Benitez's immediate predecessor] too, but it's more intense for Rafa. The starting point for supporters has always been to offer unconditional love to the team and the manager to spur them on."

With four games in eleven days coming up after the international break - the results of which hold the key to Liverpool's chances of silverware this season - Benitez will need all the support he can get.