Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rafael Benitez To Offer Aston Villa's Emile Heskey Liverpool Return

The Daily Star claims that Rafael Benitez is set to offer Emile Heskey a return to Liverpool in the January transfer window, providing the England striker with a World Cup lifeline in the process.

Heskey has admitted that he will consider leaving Aston Villa if he continues to warm the bench, worried that his lack of first-team football at club level will affect his chances of leading the line for the Three Lions in South Africa.

And while Fabio Capello clearly prefers Heskey as Wayne Rooney's partner in crime, the former Wigan Athletic striker has only started one league match all season for Martin O'Neill.

It is claimed that Benitez is considering a cut-price £1.5 million bid to bring Heskey back to Anfield. The Spanish tactician is short of options up-front, relying largely on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard for goals.

However, Heskey is likely to require some guarantee over the amount of starts he will get, before agreeing to rejoin the Reds.

Villa, meanwhile, are unlikely to sell cheaply, as the striker - for whom they shelled out £3.5m just last winter - is contracted to the West Midlands club until July 2012.

Torres Undergoes Scan

Fernando Torres trained with the Spain squad on Monday evening after a scan revealed no evidence of muscle damage.

The 25-year-old's own official website confirmed El Nino completed several laps of the pitch before having treatment with La Furia Roja's physiotherapists as Vicente Del Bosque's side continue to prepare for Wednesday evening's World Cup qualifier with Bosnia.

Torres was substituted during the early stages of the second-half in Saturday's clash with Armenia after reporting groin pain.

However, having undergone physio at the squad hotel on Sunday, an MRI scan gave Liverpool's No.9 the all-clear to join his teammates in last night's light training session.

Liverpool Are Much More Than Kust Gerrard And Torres

I'm a literal sort of person, and it annoys me when things are so stupidly wrong, and yet people still fall for it blindly, and repeat it as though it is a fundamental truth. Like the idea that Liverpool are a two man team, which is a theory so widespread, it's become gospel.

For a start, how can any side be a two man team? You need at least seven to constitute a game under FA rules. And you wouldn't get very far with only two players would you? It'd be a bit one-sided, even if the opponents were as bad as my local pub team.

Getting away from the literal for a second though, it is misleading, and indeed, downright insulting, not to say palpable nonsense to suggest that the only two players Liverpool have are Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

Yep, the pair of them are world class, and any team would rather have them in their line up than not. And it's not exactly rocket science to work out that if you took two of the best players in the world out of the line-up, then it would be diminished somewhat. That though, is a truism that applies to every single other team in the world.

But even a cursory look at the rest of Rafael Benitez's first choice side tells you that they are hardly a two man outfit. For a start, Liverpool have the captain of Argentina, one of the most powerful footballing nations in the world, at the heart of their midfield.

Javier Mascherano has played for his country since he was 19 years old, and already has 55 caps, so he's hardly a duffer. He has been the one constant in the maelstrom of Diego Maradona's regime, and has shown world-class leadership for his nation at a crucial time, taking them into a World Cup spot in qualifying, against the odds.

Then there is Pepe Reina. As a goalkeeper, there is no doubt he is amongst the top three or four in the world, and arguably on his day - even set against the competing claims of his countryman Iker Casillas - is the best. Put it this way, he would walk into the England team right now.

Jamie Carragher has been the most consistent defender in the Premier League over the past five years, and that includes John Terry. Even Jose Mourinho once said he sometimes wished he could have a team of Carraghers.

Ok, he's had his difficulties this season, but that is as much because of the different tactical emphasis Liverpool have employed so far, as any failings on his part. Ask any manager in England, and he would be on their team-sheet. Still.

Dirk Kuyt has 56 caps for Holland, again one of the finest footballing nations on the planet, and anyone watching them play will see just how important he is to their line up.

When Kuyt went off at half time during the European Championship quarter final against Russia, his country's chances of reaching the semis went with him. His energy and positional intelligence is almost unmatched in the Premier League, which makes him a unique player.

Glen Johnson is the best right back in England, and one of the most exciting players in that position the Premier League has seen. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are regarded as two of the most promising young centre halves in Europe. Even young left back Emiliano Insua has just won his first Argentina cap.

Don't forget too, that last season, Liverpool won at Chelsea without Torres, drew at Arsenal without him, and beat Manchester United at Anfield with him and Gerrard on the bench. In the Champions' League, they managed a 4-4 draw at Chelsea without their skipper, too.

It is just lazy to say that Liverpool are a two man team, because the reality is, they have a perfectly respectable first XI, with many of their players coveted by other top sides. They have a team capable of challenging the best, evidence of which came last season, when they beat Chelsea and United home and away in the league.

But the problem at Anfield isn't the quality of the side, rather it is the depth of the squad. They are not a two-man team, but they are not far short of being a one-team club, which these days is a fatal flaw for any side harboring genuine title aspirations.

Liverpool don't really have any quality cover at goalkeeper, right back, right wing or left wing, and little depth to their forward line or in even central defence, given Agger's tendency towards injury. Presently, they don't have any back up in central midfield either, with summer signing Alberto Aquilani still to recover from the injury he arrived with.

That is their weakness, and it is a fundamental one. If they don't win the league this season - and from the first kick, I have suggested they will need a fair bit of luck with injuries to do so - it will be because they don't have the depth of cover in their squad to compete over the grueling length of a Premier League campaign.

It is not for the want of trying. If you include the many youngsters he has brought in to bolster the youth structure, in his five and a half years at Anfield, Rafa Benitez has signed close on 100 players for Liverpool, at a net outlay (that is, money spent minus money raised) of figures quoted variously between £90m and £125m, with perhaps the most accurate assessment being offered in The Times recently, of £111.39million.

You might have to rub your eyes at this point, but these figures really are correct. The Spanish coach has tried incredibly hard to wheel and deal to generate the funds to increase quality, and if you look at the team he inherited in 2005, there is no doubt he has done that. There is no comparison between the squad he took over and the one he has produced now. Just take a look at the pictures of the celebrations after the Champions' League final to confirm that.

The money he has spent sounds a lot, but actually, it amounts to an outlay of less than £20million a season, which buys you one decent player a year...unless that player happens to be a Kaka or Cristiano Ronaldo, of course.

When you consider there are just two players left at Anfield now from the day the manager walked in the door back in 2005, that isn't a great deal of money to bring in close on 30 players capable of hacking it at the top level. Especially when the squad he was left by Gerard Houllier generated very little in terms of revenue.

It has been a tricky situation, not made any easier by the debt problems at Anfield which required the manager to effectively sell before he could buy in the summer, destroying in the process the his hopes of again adding more depth to the squad he has so carefully been constructing over the past five years.

It is these circumstances which prompt Benitez, in more reflective moments, to quietly admit that he feels he still doesn't have the depth to his squad he would like, even if he's not exactly about to broadcast that fact on the nine o'clock news.

Any sustained period of Injuries will devastate Liverpool's campaign this season, and that doesn't mean just to Gerrard and Torres, either. Both those players were on the pitch in Florence, when the absence of Mascherano meant Benitez was forced to give full back Fabio Aurelio only his second start of the central midfield.

That sums up the headache Benitez has to face in juggling his resources to try and mount a convincing title campaign. When you consider, both United and Chelsea can comfortably field two teams that would challenge in the top four of the Premier League, then he's going to have to be pretty good at keeping the balls in the air.

But let's get this straight, it's not because Liverpool are a two-man team. That is just lazy, join the dots thinking. And it is annoying. Just like those bloody meerkats.

Alberto Aquilani Dreams Of Being The King Of The Kop As Liverpool Debut Edges Nearer

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani is desperate to score at Anfield to put his injury nightmare behind him.

The Italian has yet to play for the Reds after arriving from Roma in the summer during his recovery from surgery on his ankle.

The 25-year-old, bought for £20million as a replacement for Xabi Alonso as the Spaniard joined Real Madrid, told LFC Weekly Magazine: 'It's not been easy for me.

I moved to a new club in a different country and have been unable to play or train properly. When you are not involved with the team it is not a good feeling.

'It is my ambition to score at the Kop end though. I've thought about it a lot during my rehab here. Anfield is a great stadium with a superb atmosphere. I can't wait to play in front of that crowd.'

Rafael Benítez Escapes Sanction For Spectacles Gesture After Liverpool Defeat

The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benítez, has been cleared of two charges brought by the Football Association following comments he made regarding the referee Phil Dowd after Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Tottenham on the opening day of the season.

Benítez had criticised Dowd for failing to give Liverpool a penalty after Andriy Voronin was levered off the ball in the Tottenham penalty area.

"I think everyone could see there was a penalty, especially to Voronin, it was so clear," said Benítez after the game. "[The penalty appeal] was so clear, it was unbelievable. Can you get two penalties at an away ground? No. With this referee [Phil Dowd], I knew that this was impossible."

The third charge relates to a gesture made in a post-match interview in which the Spaniard responded to a question about the incident by remaining tight-lipped, but took off his glasses theatrically as if presenting them for inspection.

This was deemed offensive by the FA and Benítez was warned about his future behaviour as a consequence.

Steven Gerrard Ruled Out Of England Qualifier Against Belarus After Training Injury

Steven Gerrard will miss England’s final World Cup qualifying match against Belarus at Wembley tomorrow after limping out of training this morning.

Fabio Capello, the England manager, confirmed the Liverpool captain had been sent back to his club to have his troublesome groin injury assessed. "He didn't finish training because the pain was the same as yesterday," Capello said. "He's going back to Liverpool."

David James, the England goalkeeper, also missed training as he continues to struggle with the knee injury that kept him out earlier in the season. With Robert Green suspended Capello may be forced to recall Ben Foster despite his recent poor form.

"[James] had some problems with his knee," Capello said. "He's getting better, he'll stay with us and tomorrow we'll decide. I will speak with him tomorrow. The other players are fit. There are some little problems but not so big to be a problem."

Gerrard was already rated doubtful for the game against Belarus, having been substituted with a groin injury at half-time during the 1-0 defeat by Ukraine on Saturday, but his failure to complete this morning’s training session at London Colney ruled him out of tomorrow’s game.

It means that James Milner, who replaced him in Dnepropetrovsk, looks likely to start a senior international game for the first time on the left wing, with Gabriel Agbonlahor, his Aston Villa team-mate, favourite to replace the injured Wayne Rooney.

With qualification already assured, Capello is unlikely to be too perturbed about the injury to Gerrard, but Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, may be more worried, having also seen Fernando Torres pick up a knock during Spain’ s victory over Armenia on Saturday.

Although Benitez would not have wanted Gerrard to play tomorrow, Liverpool have a series of big matches coming up – away to Sunderland, at home to Lyons in the Champions League and at home to Manchester United – and their captain’s fitness will suddenly be a prime concern.

Rafa Benitez Has Every Reason To Cry Foul Over FA's Manchester United Favouritism

It is a little known fact that Charles n Eddie, that legendary duo who were widely regarded as the Lennon and McCartney of the 90s, were Crewe Alexandra fans. Now c'mon, would I lie to you baby?

Which is probably what the spokesman from the Football Association was nervously humming to himself, even as he was dialling the number for Anfield to inform Rafael Benitez that his skipper Steven Gerrard was, in fact, injured after all, and would be allowed to return to Merseyside.

You can probably guess that Rafa wasn't exactly thrilled on Monday morning when he discovered that Gerrard would be forced to stay with the England squad, despite picking up an injury that saw him limp out of the game against the Ukraine at half time.

And I'm sure you don't require a fevered imagination to realise that his mood darkened somewhat when he discovered that Wayne Rooney was allowed to leave the squad on Monday morning, despite playing the entire game in Kiev. That would be Wayne Rooney of Manchester United, by the way.

Now, I'm not one to induce paranoia, (though can anyone tell me how the internet knows your name?!), but maybe the Liverpool manager has a point when he suggests that a certain club not a million miles down the M62 seems to get preferential treatment from a certain governing body.

Benitez was up against the beak on Tuesday, answering a disciplinary charge because he happened to take off his glasses and clean then when asked about the performance of a referee. He didn't speak, mind, just cleaned his specks.

A certain rival manager, on the other hand, who operates not a million miles down the M62, has yet to be charged even after suggesting that the entire refereeing body in England is unfit to officiate matches. It is 10 days and counting without charge, by the way.

If Gerrard misses the weekend league programme, I think there might just be a certain anger down L4 way. And if Rooney happens to play this weekend, then I think the FA might just have a few more "facts" to contend with.

And when they answer, I think Mr Benitez may be entitled to quote another line from those gifted lyricists, Charles and Eddie. "Look into my eyes, can't you see they're open wide" they sang, like the sweet-voiced angels they were.

As Gerrard hobbles back to Merseyside, perhaps the FA might realise that all our eyes are open just a little bit wide at the moment, incredulous at their apparent favoritism towards a certain club at the eastern end of the M62.