Friday, October 30, 2009

Liverpool Boss Benitez Disappointed With Defeat But Impressed With Aquilani

Liverpool were eliminated from the League Cup due to a 2-1 loss sustained at Arsenal's Ashburton Grove home, but Rafael Benitez has insisted that the defeat will not dilute the feel-good factor that engulfed Anfield following the Manchester United win at the weekend.

Pass-master Fran Merida opened the scoring in the first-half with a long-range effort, but the visitors levelled the game with an equally impressive shot from Emiliano Insua. Nicklas Bendtner, though, struck the winner five minutes into the second half.

Benitez's side could have perhaps had a penalty toward the game's conclusion, as substitute Alberto Aquilani - who made his first appearance in Liverpool colours after his recovery from injury - was perceived to have won a penalty when his bicycle kick struck Bendtner's hands.

"I haven't seen the replay but I've been told it was a penalty, you cannot change things now though," Benitez said post-game. "We saw some quality, though.

"We lost, but played well. Both teams were attacking and creating chances, so it was good for the fans, but bad for us because we lost."

He continued: "We don't lose the feel-good factor. We changed players - they showed energy and passion."

Regarding the debut of Aquilani, a £20 million summer signing from Serie A side Roma, Benitez said: "I think he showed quality.

"Match fitness is only something he can improve by playing. We can see the signs today, two or three good passes. Every day will be a little bit better."

Alberto Aquilani Says Reds Were Robbed At Arsenal

Alberto Aquilani last night claimed Liverpool were robbed of a dramatic stoppage time penalty after Arsenal's kids stormed into the Carling Cup quarter finals for the seventh year running.

Liverpool's £20m signing says his spectacular overhead kick was handled by Arsenal defender Philippe Senderos and insisted referee Alan Wiley denied him a clear spot kick on his debut as a 77th minute substitute.

Kop boss Rafa Benitez said: "Aquilani said it was a penalty and they did on TV. But you can't change the situation so we have to carry on.

"The worst thing was the defeat and the result but here were positives - passion, character, quality and Aquilani was one of these players.

"He needs to improve the fitness but he can pass in the final third and make a difference to us."

Benitez also revealed that captain Steven Gerrard has suffered a setback in his battle to be fit after a groin injury and may now miss Saturday's trip to Fulham.

Aquilani Wants To Be Anfield Ace

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani has plans to become a Premier League ace after easing himself into English football by playing cards with his new team-mates.

After recovering from his long-term knee injury, Italy international Aquilani made his Liverpool debut this week in the Carling Cup defeat at Arsenal following a trip south that included his introduction to the tradition of the card school.

"He's tried to be involved, not only in the training sessions but off the pitch too," said forward Dirk Kuyt.

"He played cards with us before the Arsenal match and tried to pick up the language. He's learning very quickly for an Italian!"

Aquilani, the 25-year-old Italy international, showed glimpses of his potential during a 14-minute cameo and had a shout for a penalty turned down when his scissor-kick was blocked by Philippe Senderos' arm.

Kuyt, who was stand-in skipper for the evening, believes Aquilani will establish his own style at Anfield, rather than attempt to follow in the footsteps of Xabi Alonso following the Spain midfielder's departure in the summer to Real Madrid.

"Every player who comes to Liverpool is his own personality," Kuyt added.

"He has to do it by himself with the rest of us giving him all the support. We will help him on his way.

"We've known Alberto already for a while. This was his first game and I'm very happy for him that he made his debut for Liverpool and hopefully there is a lot more to see from him.

"He is a nice lad, on and off the pitch, and told us he couldn't wait to start. I'm glad for him and us that he can finally play.

"He's desperate to play and wants to show England how good he is."

Aquilani could make another appearance in the trip to Fulham on Saturday when Rafael Benitez's men look to build on last weekend's win over Manchester United.

"We still go with a lot of confidence to Fulham because everyone knows this is a big week for the club and a few big games are coming up," Kuyt said.

"If we can win this game hopefully we will be back in it.

"We didn't win against Arsenal but that won't stop us being ready for the weekend and the games coming up. We believe if we win the next couple of games and go on a good run, you never know what will happen."

Liverpool's goalscorer at the Emirates Stadium, Emiliano Insua, echoed Kuyt's sentiments.

"Now we have to try and win at Fulham and then in the Champions League," he said.

"We had a big win against Manchester United and we have always had belief in ourselves. We have a very good team and we need to keep going."

Emiliano Insua Looking To Continue Hot Form With Liverpool

Liverpool full-back, Emiliano Insua, 20, is looking to add to his midweek goal - a sensational long-range volley struck against Arsenal in the fourth round of the League Cup at Ashburton Grove.

The burgeoning Argentinean, who has one international cap, was delighted to ripple the net in the first half, despite his side going on to lose 2-1 due to a second half Nicklas Bendtner effort.

He told the club's official website: "It was a really nice moment for me. I chested the ball down and just decided to hit it. I couldn't believe it went in but it was nice and hopefully I can score more goals for the team in the future."

Despite the defeat, Liverpool are still on a high in the league after they rectified their poor run of form with a weekend win over Manchester United.

"We have to try and win at Fulham and then in the Champions League.

"We had a big win against United and we have always had belief in ourselves. We know we can do good things as a team. We have a very good team and we need to keep going."

He continued: "It has been a really good season for me, for my club and country, but I have to keep it going.

"I know I can keep on improving and I have a lot of confidence."

Liverpool Plan £16.5m Swoop For Valencia Winger Juan Mata

Liverpool have been linked with a £16.5 million move for Valencia winger Juan Mata in January, as ongoing concerns over the finances of the Spanish club may result in them being forced to sell the player.

Although the club's two main stars – the two Davids, Silva and Villa – have remained at Valencia, despite serious interest from many of Europe's biggest clubs, their sporting director Fernando Gomez hinted that lesser players may be sold to ease the financial burden.

Reds' manager Rafael Benitez is reportedly keen to raid his former club and is willing to splash as much as £16.5m to acquire the services of the 21-year-old Spain international.

Mata has a contract at the Mestalla until 2012 but is reported to be on £10,000-a-week wages – relatively low for a player of his stature.

The player's father, also his agent, told The Sun: "We want Valencia to recognise the kid's true quality, and it's not only a matter of money."

The youngster decided to play down the link with the Anfield outfit, explaining that football is the only thing on his mind at the moment.

"This matter is all down to the club and my agent," he said.

"Benitez is a big coach but I just want to concentrate on my game without any distractions."

Liverpool Hope To Tie José Reina With Lucrative Long-Term Deal

Liverpool intend to reflect José Reina's status as one of the finest goalkeepers in the game with a lucrative new contract that will secure his long-term future at Anfield.

The 27-year-old still has three years remaining on a five-year contract extension he was awarded in 2007. However, in keeping with club policy not to allow key players to enter the final two years of their contracts, and having tied such players as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun to new long-term deals over the summer, Reina is next in line for a contract offer.

Talks between Liverpool and Reina's representatives are expected to begin in the coming weeks with an agreement anticipated early next year. The Spain international has proven an outstanding purchase since he arrived from Villarreal for £6m in 2005, comfortably eclipsing both Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelaar's record of clean sheets for Liverpool (79 in his first 150 league games compared to 69 for both predecessors), and was linked with a return to his former club Barcelona this summer.

Rafael Benítez is keen to end any uncertainty over his compatriot's future and the Liverpool manager may also consider a contract offer for Fábio Aurélio, the Brazil defender who was this week included in his national squad for the forthcoming friendly with England and who is out of contract at the end of this season.

Reina, meanwhile, believes Sunday's 2-0 win over Manchester United could mark a watershed for Liverpool this season, with their prospects also helped by the most open title race he has encountered in five seasons in England.

"Against United we were the better team and we deserved that win so hopefully it can be a turning point for us and give us the confidence that we need to do better," the Liverpool keeper said. "We are a team with character. Sometimes we do not play well but the character is always there, mainly because of our fantastic supporters who are with us during every single second. We have been in a difficult situation and this meant that we had to show our character, which we did on Sunday.

"We are six points behind the leaders and it will be a long, long race. It will be tough for everybody. There aren't just four teams involved in the title race, there are at least six or seven in it, which is good for the competition."

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez In Frame To Replace Manuel Pellegrini At Real Madrid

Real Madrid are lining up Rafa Benitez as their next manager after giving Manuel Pellegrini two games to save his job.

The Spanish giants have won just one of their last five games and suffered the humiliation of a 4-0 defeat by third division Alcorcon in the Cup on Tuesday night.

Madrid considered sacking Pellegrini straight after the latest debacle, but will give him a chance to turn things around against Getafe on Saturday and at AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The decision gives Madrid time to probe possible successors and Liverpool boss Benitez is said to be on the short list.

A host of out-of-work coaches are also being considered, but Madrid want to know if Benitez's commitment to Liverpool has been shaken by the ongoing boardroom dispute between the club's American owners.

Benitez, who held several coaching roles at Madrid in the Eighties and Nineties, was considered by Madrid in the summer, but he was way down the list of president Florentino Perez's favourites.

Carlo Ancelotti turned down the job in favour of going to Chelsea, while Arsene Wenger preferred to stay at Arsenal, but Benitez may now be the strongest available candidate.

Former Bernabeu star Michael Laudrup and Holland legend Marco van Basten are options, while 71-year-old former Spain manager Luis Aragones would be an experienced option.

Perez had a plan for sporting director Jorge Valdano, the former Argentina striker, to take over in the event of Pellegrini's sacking.

However, 54-year-old Valdano has made it clear he does not want to coach the side and has instead been charge with finding the potential replacement.

It will cost Madrid about £10million in compensation if they part with former Villarreal boss Pellegrini.

Perez says his team needs time to gel after a £225m summer spending spree, but it is understood he will not remain patient if Madrid are embarrassed by city rivals Getafe at the Bernabeu.

'I would like to send a message to calm the fans,' he said. 'We have to remember that a lot of new players arrived before the start of the season and this requires a period of adaptation.
'The season is only two months old and we are still trying to create a team.'