Monday, October 19, 2009

Under-Pressure Rafa Benitez To Play Strongest Possible Liverpool Lineup Against Lyon

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted that he must play his strongest lineup against Lyon, despite what is shaping up to be a must-win game against Manchester United next weekend.

The early-season optimism at Anfield is fading fast, with the Reds having already lost four of their nine Premier League matches this season, as well as suffering a surprise loss to Fiorentina in the Champions League.

That reversal to La Viola means that Benitez cannot afford to rest his key players in their next European outing against French club Lyon - who are sitting comfortably on top of their group with a maximum six points.

United, on the other hand, have the luxury of rotating their squad for the long midweek trip to play CSKA Moscow, ahead of their mouthwatering visit to Anfield.

Benitez said in The Daily Mirror: “We can’t do what United are doing. We have to take one at a time. We have to use the best players for each game."

Losing both games against Lyon and United would be disastrous for Liverpool - but the Spaniard is not entertaining such thoughts.

The Reds boss had no illusions over how important Tuesday's match was, however, and conceded he had no qualms over rushing Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres back from injury if required.

“People ask what happens if we lose against Lyon and United, but what about if we win both games? We feel we can win and everything can change in a positive way," he said.

“Our priority now is Lyon because we hopefully have players coming back from injury.

“I think Gerrard and Torres will be available. If they are, I don’t see any problem playing them before the United game because that will be five days later. If we win the first of these games it will be easier for the next one.

“We know the first half against Fiorentina wasn’t good enough. But the second half was really good. I think we had 12 attempts on goal to their one.

“We have enough quality, confidence and experience in the squad, so it’s a case of approaching every game thinking we have to win. We have had difficult games and difficult moments in the past and shown our character.

“Lyon are a good team, they play quality, attacking football and have experience of playing in the Champions League for many years. So they know what they are doing.

“But to play against Liverpool is not easy for anyone. You can lose, draw, but always any team in the world would say Liverpool is difficult to beat and, hopefully, it will be the same this time.

“Our fans know the Champions League is a special competition and for us it has been amazing.

“The atmosphere in the Champions League has always been good for our team, especially when we are under pressure.

“Anfield will be a key factor for us. We need the fans behind us. They are the best in the world.”

Carra gher Seeks Reds Response

Jamie Carragher has vowed Liverpool will stick together as they prepare for a crucial period that could decide their season.

The Reds saw their title hopes suffer a further blow on Saturday after going down 1-0 to Sunderland, thanks to a fortuitous goal from Darren Bent.

It was Liverpool's fourth defeat in the Premier League and their third in a row in all competitions as they prepare to tackle Lyon in the UEFA Champions League before league leaders Manchester United make the trip to Anfield next weekend.

Carragher, who captained Liverpool at the Stadium of Light, is confident Rafa Benitez's men can bounce back from their latest setback against Lyon.

"It was frustrating for us but Chelsea also lost so there is still a long way to go," said Carragher.

"Now is not the time to talk about the title. We are looking to the next game.

"We now have the Champions League tie against Lyon which will be in front of our own supporters at Anfield to restore some confidence before we take on Manchester United next Sunday.

"We will stick together and work hard on the training ground to put things right. We know we've got a good team, good players and a good manager so we've got to have belief in ourselves and keep going.

"We have the quality and the belief we will get back to winning ways soon, hopefully starting on Tuesday against Lyon."

Carragher also refused to blame the absence of star duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres for the insipid display at Sunderland.

"It's easy to say we missed Stevie and Fernando and yes they are world-class players, but we have a big squad and we have won without them before.

"Sunderland played well. We weren't at our best but we can bounce back and restore some confidence."

Former Ref Jeff Winter Blasts Goal Against Liverpool FC

Former Premier League referee Jeff Winter branded the decision to allow Sunderland’s winner against Liverpool FC on Saturday as "absolutely amazing".

Darren Bent’s strike beat Liverpool FC goalkeeper Jose Reina with the help of a sizeable deflection off a beach ball which had been thrown onto the Stadium of Light pitch by an away fan.

Referee Mike Jones conferred with his assistant but decided the goal should stand, helping Sunderland to a 1-0 win.

Winter said: "I’m absolutely amazed. It is basic law in football. The goal should just not have stood.

"The laws of the game state that if there’s an outside interference the game has to be stopped.

"Talk about an outside influence - the ball went in off the beach ball and completely deceived the Liverpool goalkeeper.

"I am absolutely amazed that for a referee at that level of football, that between him, his assistant, the fourth official, they didn’t see what had happened and give the correct decision."

Winter added he was surprised more focus had not been put on Jones.

He said: "I try to defend referees wherever possible having been there and knowing the problems they face but, on this particular occasion, everybody’s having a laugh and a joke about it, but this is far more serious in terms of the laws of the game than when the referee doesn’t see the ball go over the goal line.

"That is understandable with the pace of the modern game and being unsighted, but this is just basic law.

"An outside influence is any outside influence. It is anything other than the 22 maximum players on the field and the referee.

"If it hits the referee and goes in, he’s part of the game. If a spectator comes on the pitch and kicks the ball, the game must be stopped.

"It’s a basic law of the game - one that fortunately doesn’t come into practice too much - but it’s a basic law of the game that a referee would learn on his initial refereeing cause, not when you’re an established Premiership referee.

"The fact that the referee conferred with his assistant, they knew something was wrong, it’s just absolutely amazing the goal was allowed to stand."

Debt Could Force Sale Of Gerrard And Torres

A document actually nicknamed The Doomsday Book was prepared as Tom Hicks and George Gillett flirted with catastrophe last season.

It spelled out the consequences if the owners' failed to secure their £290million refinance deal.

And it was only because the Royal Bank of Scotland feared a massive backlash if they allowed one of the world's biggest clubs to go into administration that Liverpool were able to reject a £70m bid from Manchester City for Fernando Torres.

Unless the Americans sort out their differences and find investment before their next deadline, the threats will resurface.

Club officials have consistently dismissed criticism of the Americans' reign as "scaremongering".

But today Sport of the World can reveal it's scaremongering based on Liverpool going through the unprecedented, humiliating step of being forced to convince UEFA they qualified for a licence to play in the Champions League.

In the aftermath of last year's qualified audit report by KPMG which cast doubt on the parent company's "ability to continue as a growing concern" Liverpool were summoned to the Premier League to guarantee they would resolve their financial difficulties.

Both Liverpool and the Premier League agree it was a formality the Merseysiders' application would be successful, but the fact any questions were raised at all will shock the Kop.

Liverpool face the genuine prospect of having to offer similar reassurances ahead of next year's UEFA competitions, something they'll be unable to do without the promise of a massive injection of cash.

That explains why the club has been working overtime to present a healthier financial picture over the last few months, citing the £80m shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered as a major step forward.

It also explains the increased urgency to find investors.

Privately, the club is adamant they will have new partners on board within six months. If they fail to do so, the consequences will be dire.

It's likely the Premier League underestimated exactly how fraught the last refinance negotiations were.

American bank Wachovia, now owned by Wells Fargo, was hesitant about agreeing its share of the loan, which amounted to around £62m. It needed a series of transatlantic flights ahead of the July 25 deadline to plead for an extension. RBS, the more enthusiastic of the lenders at the time, was initially only prepared to offer a six-month extension for the rest of the owners' loan.

That would not have been enough to satisfy UEFA guidelines, as the Premier League needed assurance funds would be in place to keep the club afloat for the whole season.

RBS made sure Liverpool dodged a bullet, but the gun is continually being reloaded.

The bank is understood to be increasingly twitchy about their ongoing relationship with the Merseysiders.

Hicks and Gillett maintained a united front to reassure their banks, but that has been exposed as a sham, with open hostilities resumed as the pair differ on the direction of the club. The Americans' accountants are trying to raise £100m for a 25 per cent stake in Anfield.

Rothschilds and Merill Lynch want to issue new shares which would reduce Hicks and Gillett's holding to 37.5 per cent each.

That injection would allow the owners to reduce debt levels and plough more funds towards one of the two Stanley Park plans or redeveloping Anfield.

But the Americans can't even agree on this.

Hicks is standing by a revised scheme which could lead to a 70,000-seater stadium.

Gillett is still open to the idea of extending the existing Anfield site.

Neither is likely at the moment.

The prospect of taking a back seat while the main shareholders fight on is hardly enticing to potential investors.

Recent interest from Saudi Prince Faisal exposed the massive rift.

Hicks has made it known he won't veto his partner selling his 50 per cent stake to the Saudi, but that has never been on the agenda as far as Gillett is concerned and Hicks' stance does nothing to mend divisions.

Gillett has often claimed he is not prepared to sell up unless it leads to both co-owners leaving Anfield.

There have been farcical scenes in the Middle East with each owner pursuing the same investors but presenting alternate visions for the future of Liverpool.

One City source said the owners were "virtually racing each other to get through the Saudi equivalent of Yellow Pages" in a desperate attempt to bring money into the club.

A year ago, Merrill Lynch even approached Birmingham's outgoing owner David Sullivan to see if he was interested in Liverpool.

An option explored by investors is to buy the debt directly off RBS.

If the Americans' couldn't pay it back, the club would pass into the hands of those who own the debt.

Liverpool have no shortage of suitors, but only at the right price.

Gillett and Hicks paid £5,000 a share for Liverpool in 2007.

Including £44.8m debts, this valued the club at £218.9m.

Even in 2007, the deal raised eyebrows given the value of previous offers.

The failed bid of Dubai International Capital (DIC) a month earlier valued Liverpool at £4,000 a share. In the summer of 2004, Wolves owner Steve Morgan valued Liverpool at £2,700 a share, equating to around £100m, and had shaken hands on a deal pending the outcome of due diligence.

When that revealed the true extent of the club's debts he revised his offer, which was turned down by then chairman David Moores.

Club officials insist comparisons between the club's value in 2004, 2007 and now are ridiculous, arguing Liverpool have vastly improved their revenue streams and value of their playing assets since then.

They say securing top names on long-term deals has enhanced the club's value.

Given the level of debt, convincing investors about this is proving a problem.

Amid all this, Rafa Benitez's side face a crucial period.

Euro progress and cash has been the key to Liverpool retaining their place as an elite club, making Tuesday's must-win clash with Lyon far more significant off the field than the clash with Manchester United next Sunday.

Hicks and Gillett know they're running out of time.

They're dreaming of a minority investor who's willing to pay off some of their debt and take a backseat while they continue to bicker on the way forward.

But as the pressure mounts from their banks, conceding majority shareholding remains the easiest and quickest way to safeguard Liverpool's future - and avoid their 'Doomsday' scenario.

Sunderland Boss Steve Bruce Dismisses Touchline Row With Liverpool's Rafael Benitez

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has brushed off his furious touchline clash with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, following his side's 1-0 victory at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats further dented the Reds' fast-fading title hopes, thanks to a controversial Darren Bent goal, his eighth of the season flying past goalkeeper Pepe Reina after taking a wicked deflection off a beach ball that had been thrown on to the pitch by a Liverpool fan.

Things got heated in the second half when Benitez complained about the length of time for which Kenwyne Jones was receiving treatment on the field, drawing a furious response from Bruce, with the two managers embroiled in a heated debate on the touchline. Both Jones and Lee Cattermole were carried off injured in a robust second half.

Bruce did not think much of the incident, but conceded, with the benefit of hindsight, he probably should not have confronted his rival manager.

"It was handbags. It's all over, it's done," Bruce said, according to The Daily Mirror.

"You do things in the heat of the moment which, when you look back at it, you think, 'Maybe I shouldn't have done that', but there you go."

Benitez suggested that the Sunderland boss had inflamed the situation.

The Spaniard said: "I didn't have any argument with him [Bruce]. I was just asking for time because three or four times they were on the ground - in 10 minutes, three or four times, the game was stopped.

"I was talking with the fourth official and he [Bruce] was coming and he wanted to argue with me.

"I was surprised because I was talking with the fourth official about the time."

Bruce insisted that the curious nature of Bent's goal should not overshadow his team's impressive performance. Sunderland outplayed Liverpool for the majority of the match, and striker Bent could easily have picked up a hat-trick on another day.

Bruce said: "I thought we deserved it, I hope that's not just going to be the headline [the goal].

"In the second half, we had three one-on-ones - Darren [Bent] went round the goalkeeper twice, he hit the post and Reina got back and made a great save, Steed [Malbranque] had a wonderful chance and I was just thinking, 'We need to take the second one'.

"But my goalkeeper [Craig Gordon] only had one save to make - it was a good one - and overall, I thought we thoroughly deserved the victory."

Bruce said of the goal: "Listen, I thought it was a deflection off a player. I have to say when I have just seen it there, if anybody knew that rule - that it is supposed to be a drop ball - then you are a saddo.

"They have got it on telly with the guy who threw it on and it's got Liverpool crests all over it. What a shame."

Husen: Carragher Crucial To Reds Success

Former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen has paid tribute to Jamie Carragher as the Reds stalwart hones in on his 600th appearance for the club.

The vice-captain featured for the 589th time at Sunderland on Saturday and the Swede reckons the impending landmark is proof that he will go down as one of the club's finest defenders ever.

"I love watching Jamie play," Hysen told "He is such a fighter.

"Maybe he hasn't been at his very best this season, but he's so important to Liverpool and he'll be crucial in any success they have this season.

"Skrtel and Agger are both good players, but I see it as Carragher plus one of them. They are both young and have time to progress, but I still think Jamie is number one.

"I'd love to see him cap his Liverpool career with the title. It would be a disaster if both he and Gerrard don't win the league with Liverpool. They are both such good players.

"If you look at it now, Liverpool have got a good squad and I think they will be up there at the top come May - but I've been saying that for 19 years. We'll just have to wait and see."

Hysen also had words of praise for summer recruit, Glen Johnson who he regards as one the finest full-backs on the continent.

"For me he's one of the best in Europe," he said. "He's got everything.

"He's good with the ball and offers you so much both going forward and in defence. He's the perfect signing for Liverpool and will add a lot in the wide areas."

Manchester United's Michael Owen Expecting Hostile Anfield Reception

Michael Owen has accepted that he will get a hostile reception when he returns to Liverpool as a Manchester United player this weekend but insisted that he does not believe he let down his first club by joining their fiercest rivals.

Owen is acutely aware that many supporters at Anfield cannot forgive him for switching allegiances to United, but the striker considers it unfair for him to be accused of disloyalty. To illustrate the point, he said he planned to celebrate as normal if he scored in Sunday's game.

"I'm human," said Owen. "I'd prefer people to sit down and recognise what you did for them and for the team in years gone past but I'm pretty realistic as well. Now that I'm playing for their local rivals – I'm not holding my breath, put it that way.

"People talk about loyalty in football, and for a football supporter it's easy to preach about that. As a father and a brother and a son there's no one more loyal than me. But when you're a player, you're not a fan. I've got to earn a living, provide for my family. I supported Everton as a kid. I never supported Real Madrid, but I played for them. It's a job opportunity, just like anyone else's work.

"The longer you're at a team, if the fans make you feel welcome and the players take to you, then you build an affinity. So now obviously I look for Real Madrid results and Newcastle results, but it doesn't make me any less loyal to Manchester United."

Owen is still hopeful that his move to Old Trafford will lead to him going to the World Cup next summer and he pointed to his past international record as justification to be included in Fabio Capello's squad.

"I'm hopeful but the last thing I want is to be campaigning," he said. "Everyone can see how many games I've played, how many goals I've scored, how many World Cups I've been in, my record against strong opponents in big games.

"Everyone can see everything with their own eyes. There are no secrets with me – I've played 89 games, I've scored 40 goals. Everyone knows if I play I'm likely to score every other game. Playing in a World Cup wouldn't bother me. In fact, I'd raise my game, as has happened before in big games. I like big games. For some reason I find an extra certain percentage. Everyone knows these things."

Saudis Deny Reds Deal

Saudi sports investor F6 claim George Gillett's talks with them were not about buying his stake in Liverpool.

Liverpool co-owner Gillett visited Riyadh this week to discuss possible investment opportunities with reports suggesting Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah could buy Gillett's 50 per cent stake in the English giants.

Gillett was in Riyadh mainly to discuss a project regarding the creation of Liverpool soccer academies around the region

And F6 deputy managing director Gassim Hamidaddin insists buying Gillett's share in the club was not on the agenda.

"That was the main purpose, and that's what happened during the visit. There were no talks on buying Liverpool," Hamidaddin told AFP.

Hamdaddin insisted Gillett's visit was aimed at building on the two sides' agreement to create the Liverpool academies in Saudi Arabia and northern Africa.

"Gillett visited three Saudi football clubs, and examined local facilities with Prince Faisal," added Hamdaddin.