Friday, November 27, 2009

Rafa Benitez Looks For Return Of Liverpool's 'Winning Mentality'

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez claims that his side's early exit from the Champions League has not placed any extra pressure on him.

But he does admit that his team needs to rediscover a "winning mentality" soon, especially with a view to Sunday's trip to Goodison Park to face local rivals Everton.

"I do not feel under any greater pressure, Liverpool are under pressure in every single game, anyway, whatever the competition. This is nothing new for me," Benitez said, according to Press Association Sport.

"My aim is just to help the players, working and preparing the team.

"The players know we are better than our results suggest, they can see that we could have won in every game, even if not playing well.

"We have played better than many of our opponents in this run, we have had plenty of opportunities to score. They know the situation.

"We have ideas, we have solutions to problems, and plans for matches. The players know we have been a lot better than people are saying.

"We need a winning mentality to return, but we have not planned any differently for matches, just the same organisation.

"Things are still positive, we have players coming back from injuries. We have been positive in recent league games against Birmingham and Manchester City, things have been improving."

Benitez has indicated injuries to key men, in particular Fernando Torres, played a major part in the Reds' Champions League failure.

He does expect to see captain Steven Gerrard back in action on Sunday though.

"Steven Gerrard has started to play 90 minutes again, so there are a lot of things that give us confidence that we are improving," he added.

"Some players are fitter now. So we can manage the team and matches in a different way. If you do not have a strong bench, it is difficult to change games.

"Now with more options it can be easier for us in such circumstances.

"When you have injuries it is always difficult. But it has been worse recently when we have had to contend with two or three injuries during a game."

Liverpool FC Boss Rafa Benitez Says He Feels No Added Pressure

Rafael Benitez insists he does not feel under added pressure following Liverpool's Champions League exit and claims his side are "better than their results".

The Merseysiders had to settle for a place in the Europa League despite their 1-0 win against Debrecen on Tuesday night - Fiorentina's defeat of Lyon meaning they advanced instead from Group E.

"We have not been able to go through to the last 16 of the Champions League, so we must make sure we double our efforts in the league and always do our very best in future matches," said Benitez.

"Then the confidence of the team will be much better, we will be able to approach league matches in a better frame of mind."

Reds chief executive Christian Purslow again backed Benitez to improve the club's fortunes this week - they have won just two of their last 11 games to fall well behind in the Premier League title race - and the former Valencia chief is adamant he does not fear the sack.

He added: "I do not feel under any greater pressure, Liverpool are under pressure in every single game, anyway, whatever the competition. This is nothing new for me.

"My aim is just to help the players, working and preparing the team.

"The players know we are better than our results suggest, they can see that we could have won in every game even if not playing well.

"We have played better than many of our opponents in this run, we have had plenty of opportunities to score. They know the situation.

"We have ideas, we have solutions to problems, and plans for matches. The players know we have been a lot better than people are saying."

Ruud van Nistelrooy Will Snub Arsenal To Sign For Liverpool

Ruud van Nistelrooy is ready reject a move to Arsenal to rescue Liverpool's season.

The Real Madrid striker needs to play regular football to secure his place in Holland's World Cup squad and is expected to be allowed to leave the Bernebau at Christmas.

Rafa Benitez will not be allowed to spend his way out of Liverpool's current crisis, so must raise any funds he wants to splash in the January transfer window - or make loan signings.

Benitez was told his job at the club is completely safe, even after his team crashed out of the Champions League - with a game still left to play - on Tuesday night.

He has also been told that former Manchester United star Van Nistelrooy is ready to turn down interest from the Gunners in a bid to secure a move to Liverpool.

Liverpool's budget planning means they will not make funds available until next summer, when Benitez will have at least £20million to spend on squad strengthening.

The Anfield boss has, however, identified a pressing need to enhance a strike force that has managed just four goals in their five Champions League games so far, a meagre total rendered even less impressive by the fact they have twice played Debrecen, the worst team in the competition.

Van Nistelrooy has already fielded some discreet enquiries from the Emirates Stadium, but he has told his advisors that he would prefer a move back to the north west of England and a switch to Anfield, if - as seems likely - he is allowed to leave Real Madrid at Christmas.

The Dutch striker knows he must play more football if he is to feature in next summer's World Cup finals, and has little chance of doing that at the Bernabeu, where he is behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Kaka, Gonzalo Higuain and Raul in the Real pecking order.

As back-up to injury stricken Fernando Torres at Liverpool, he would get more opportunities to play, and Benitez is now weighing up his options as he creates a blueprint to sort out his impoverished attacking options.

No money will be available for a high profile signing, but he can raise funds by selling the likes of Andrei Voronin - who has been axed from the squad completely despite the lack of cover for Torres - Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena.

The flaw in that plan, of course, is that the trio of Anfield fringe players are hardly in demand across Europe, and it may be difficult to offload big money-earners with such a patchy recent playing record.

Instead, Benitez may be tempted to let the three misfits go out on loan, at least creating a gap in the Anfield wage bill to bring in a loan player until the end of the season when he can turn the deal into a permanent signing.

Madrid may be prepared to accept that sort of deal for Van Nistelrooy or Rafael van der Vaart, and Tottenham will consider a similar plan for their out of favour Russian centre =-forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, providing a fee is agreed for the summer.

In the short-term, Benitez is praying he has Torres back for the visit to Everton on Sunday, a game he knows he dare not lose if he is to keep a sceptical Anfield support behind him.

The Spanish coach is aware that, even though he has received complete backing from Liverpool's owners and MD Christian Purslow, if he loses the fans, then that support could quickly change.

And defeat at Goodison is unthinkable now, after crashing out of the Champions League in such embarrassing style, because losing to the Old Enemy would put the current crisis into stark context for the silent majority who are beginning to waver in their backing for the current regime.

There have been few murmurings of discontent so far, but Benitez has already twice been booed by his home support this season, and nothing is designed to create unrest more than defeat to Everton, especially at such a sensitive time.

Torres though, has made real progress in his recovery from an abdominal injury, and has trained for much of this week while his team-mates have been away in Hungary, and Benitez is now quietly confident he will have his main striking option back for the absolutely crucial showdown on Sunday.

Rafa Wants Babel Answers

Rafa Benitez has revealed that he will demand an explanation from Ryan Babel when he talks to the forward about his recent comments.

The Dutch international admitted that he could leave Liverpool in January if he fails to win a regular place in the starting XI.

The timing of the outburst will not have pleased the Reds boss having come on the morning of the vital UEFA Champions League clash with Debrecen.

Since signing for £11.5million from Ajax in summer 2007 Babel, who arrived with a weight of expectation, has made just 24 Premier League starts - 15 coming in his first season and only six last term.

The winger has failed to force his way into Benitez's plans this campaign with just three starts to his name despite injuries to fellow wideman Albert Riera.

Babel has stated his unhappiness at the situation in the past but has always insisted that the quotes have been taken out of contest.

Benitez remained guarded on the issue, only stating to the Liverpool Echo: "I have got to talk to the player and I will see what his explanation is."

Liverpool FC Striker Fernando Torres Nets 10 Goal Landmark Award

Liverpool FC striker Fernando Torres has won another honour - and by doing so can support a charitable cause close to his heart.

The Spanish marksman has been presented with a '10 Goal Landmark Award' from Premier League sponsors Barclays.

The award is in recognition of him being the first player this season to reach double figures in Premier League goals.

Despite a stop-start campaign due to niggling injuries, Torres has found the net on 12 occasions so far for the Reds, 10 in the Premier League and two in the Champions League.

Torres will now receive £10,000 to donate to a charity of his choice.

Eintracht Frankfurt After Liverpool Striker Andriy Voronin

According to a report in The Daily Post, Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt have joined the race to secure the services of Liverpool attacker Andriy Voronin in the January transfer window.

Eintracht are eager to add an extra attacker to their squad in the winter due to the predicted lengthy injury absence of Ioannis Amanatidis, and head coach Michael Skibbe has made Voronin one of his main candidates.

The 30-year-old Ukrainian international is finding regular first team action hard to come by at Anfield and is thought to desire regular first team football.

Liverpool are believed to be ready to let go of the striker on a temporary basis.

Bargain Buys May Yet Prove The Worth Of Rafael Benítez

The Liverpool manager has still to be repaid by young signings but they could come of age in the chase for a top-four finish.

The remainder of the season must have been viewed with glazed eyes by Liverpool supporters on Tuesday night even if they did put on a show of boisterousness for 15 minutes. It came while they were held in the Puskas Stadion following the 1-0 win over Debrecen that did not avert elimination from the Champions League.

That was a show of defiance while the cameras and microphones were switched on in Budapest. There is no rebellion but it would still have been dismaying for fans to think of the dullness to come now that the side's interest in the Champions League is at an end. The remainder of the campaign, however, will be absorbing for Rafael Benítez.

The Liverpool managing director, Christian Purslow, claimed after the match with Debrecen that the financial harm need not be severe. He will, all the same, be speaking in wholly different terms if the club does not make up the present five-point gap to clinch its usual top-four finish in the Premier League. There is work ahead for Benítez and it had better be effective.

He himself has a security of sorts. The Spaniard is in the early days of a five-year contract that would make his dismissal breathtakingly expensive. The owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, will feel all the more attached to him when they think of the sums a new manager of the customary high profile would demand as he insisted on reshaping the squad.

The usual verdict on Benítez is that he buys well when spending heavily but flounders when hunting for bargains. Beware the footballer whose fee in millions was not in double figures. At this stage in the accusation it is obligatory to mention the £7m Andrea Dossena, where the argument may have substance.

On the other hand Daniel Agger, for instance, was a bargain at £5.8m and all that is wrong with him is an injury record for which Benítez is not to blame. If fans have not yet taken the £5m Lucas to their bosom, the reasons for taking exception to him are diminishing. Of late, David Ngog, bought for £1.5m from Paris St-Germain, has begun to assume some significance.

His claims were, of course, enhanced when he added the second goal in a 2-0 win over Manchester United this month but there is also a general improvement. In Budapest Ngog showed more confidence and caught the eye with persistent contributions.

He is no prodigy but there are merits. Ngog, 20, regularly turns down interview requests from the French media with the disarming comment that he will speak when he has done something worth talking about. Should the progress of a fairly strong and quick attacker continue, he may soon face the microphones.

Note has been taken of the young striker and Paul Le Guen, once the manager of PSG, has begun to argue that an under-used Ngog should have been more patient when at the club. Comments like that will make Benítez feel satisfied with his scouting system.

Ngog may not be on the rampage in the Premier League but he epitomises the sort of option Liverpool crave. Their squad, as it is, lacks the depth of those at Manchester United, Chelsea and conceivably Arsenal. Injuries have trained a harsh light on that fact.

Still, a slow process of evolution at Liverpool might have been applauded if players had not been hurt. Benítez shies away from suggestions that he has been trying to add adventure to the ranks but it is hard to interpret the arrival of, say, Glen Johnson in any other way.

There has been a desire to alter the characteristics of the squad, even if the wish has been thwarted for much of the time. He has been eager, for instance, to stick with the Argentinian Emiliano Insúa, even if the 20-year-old's lack of positional sense led to Lyon's equaliser at the beginning of this month.

The mistake ought to have been covered by Sotirios Kyrgiakos but the Greek centre-back looked exactly like one of those cheap squad players who turn out to be costly indeed. It is in having to resort to such stopgap recruits that Benítez's predicament is apparent.

The easing of Liverpool's load will be to his distaste, with the Europa League campaign unlikely to drain players as the Champions League would, but it could be a help on the domestic scene. Steven Gerrard should regain full match fitness, Fernando Torres will return and one day the £20m Alberto Aquilani could start a match.

Leeds Bring In Trio On Loan Deals

Leeds United have signed Queens Park Ranger winger Hogan Ephraim, Cardiff defender Tony Capaldi and Liverpool goalkeeper David Martin on loan.

Ephraim, 21, will stay at Elland Road until 1 January, Capaldi is due to remain up until 4 January and 23-year-old Martin goes back on 28 December.

Northern Ireland international Capaldi, 28, can play either left-back or left midfield and will not be cup-tied.

Martin provides added cover for injured keeper Shane Higgs.

Ephraim has scored twice in seven games for QPR this season, both in the Carling Cup.

"Hogan is quick and direct," Leeds manager Simon Grayson told the club's website. "He'll give us options and competition for places."

Ephraim started his career at West Ham before making his first competitive start while on loan at Colchester.

He then moved on loan to QPR before making the move to Loftus Road a permanent one in January 2008.

Capaldi began his career at Birmingham City and enjoyed a loan period with Hereford United.

But he moved from Blues in April 2003 to Plymouth Argyle, where he won most of his 22 international caps.

Since joining Cardiff in 2007, he has made 68 appearances for the Bluebirds, including nine this season, but had his opportunities restricted last term with a knee injury.

Martin has not played a competitive match for Liverpool but played 25 times as a teenager for MK Dons before his move to Anfield in 2006.

Since then he has enjoyed loans at Accrington Stanley and Leicester City. And he was again out on loan at Tranmere Rovers earlier this month prior to his latest move.

Duo Complete Accrington Loan Move

Accrington have signed Blackburn's Johnny Flynn and Liverpool goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis on loan until January.

Northern Ireland under-21 defender Flynn, 20, who joined Blackburn from Ballymena in January 2008, has also been on loan at Chester this season.

He is unavailable for Accrington's FA Cup Second Round tie against Barnet on Saturday because he is cup-tied.

Sydney-born Bouzanis, 19, helped Liverpool reach last season's FA Youth Cup Final against Manchester City.

Meanwhile defender Chris King has left the club after his contract was cancelled by mutual consent.

The 29-year-old joined Accrington at the start of last season, going on to make over 30 appearances.

He has been hampered by injury during the current campaign.

Everton FC Look To Convince Liverpool FC On Groundshare

Everton FC face a much bigger battle than Sunday's 212th Merseyside derby, if they are to convince rivals Liverpool FC to ground-share.

Everton FC's plans for a new £400million 50,000-seater stadium and shopping complex in Kirkby, in association with Tesco, are in tatters after being rejected by Communities and Local Government Secretary John Denham on Thursday.

Chief executive Robert Elstone admits Everton FC will now consider all possibilities, including teaming-up with their neighbours across Stanley Park.

On the face of it a ground-share would seem the obvious option with Liverpool FC having put their more advanced plans for a replacement to Anfield on hold due to the current global recession.

However, the Reds’ American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are opposed to the suggestion as it would severely impact the anticipated revenue streams which come from sole ownership of a 61,000-capacity stadium.

Rivals fans would also not welcome a ground share but Elstone admits, with a club debt of upwards of £36million, they have to explore every alternative.

"It’s certainly one of the options that we will need to cover," he said.

"We are going to look forward and look forward positively. A shared stadium is perhaps an option if it’s affordable.

"We have to look at where we can raise money, because potentially Liverpool will have to obviously contribute to that, and Liverpool City Council perhaps might need to find some money.

"If we are the first major English club to look at sharing then we’re not scared of making those decisions.

"So we’re going to have to start to have those conversations, we’re going to have to be open-minded about solutions."

However, Liverpool FC’s deputy executive director Peter Shaw played down the possibility of the city’s two clubs sharing a stadium.

"It’s not on our agenda at the moment. Liverpool are progressing forward with our own stadium. That is the position we are still in," he said.

"The LFC stadium is quite far progressed and once the financial markets reopen for business the LFC stadium will progress further."

When asked whether the idea of a groundshare with Everton FC could be a possibility, he said: "That’s not for me to answer."

Finance is at the heart of Everton FC’s problems - as it has been for Liverpool, whose new Stanley Park stadium was scheduled to be open in 2011 but now has no completion date.

Part of the attraction of the Kirkby plan was the tie-in with Tesco, and Elstone admits they need to search out new ways of bringing in the funding.

"The solution is not about finding land - this is a solution that is about finding money; it’s about affordability," he said.

"That was the big attraction to Kirkby, that it was affordable.

"Then it’s about reviewing alternatives and sitting down with partners, all the stakeholders in this region and anybody who can help Everton deliver what it needs - which is a world-class stadium that’s going to secure our future for years to come.

"Anything that we have to do going forward has to be clearly affordable and clearly make commercial sense. So that’s the big challenge."

The knock-on effect of not having a bigger ground generating more income than Goodison Park will be felt in the club’s longer-term planning.

Everton FC hoped the Kirkby project would provide the boost to revenue to help manager David Moyes with necessary funds to invest in the squad and push for a lucrative place in the Champions League.

Elstone accepts those plans will need to be re-thought.

"The motivations were about driving Everton forward and ultimately giving David Moyes a fairer crack of the whip in the transfer market," he said.

"That challenge hasn’t gone away and it’s a challenge now that we’re going to have to pick up and run with and perhaps find another solution."

Liverpool City Council leader Warren Bradley refused to discuss the possibility of the two clubs sharing a stadium.

Speaking at Wembley, where Liverpool was submitting its bid to be part of England’s 2018 World Cup bid, Bradley said: "I’m not going to even go there on that. I don’t think it’s the time and place to talk about ground-sharing.

"We haven’t had any discussions, real hard discussions, around the future of Everton and Liverpool football clubs, and I think it’s up to the clubs first and foremost to lead those discussions."

However Bradley and Elstone have had a short conversation since the stadium plan was rejected.

Bradley said: "We haven’t resolved everything, in fact we’ve resolved very little at the moment, but it’s about agreeing to come forward and talk about Everton Football Club in the future."

He explained: "As a lifelong Evertonian it’s been very, very difficult through this period but we are where we are and we’ve got to work with them now."

The Kirkby plans could still be revised and resubmitted.

Detailing what must happen next, Bradley stressed: "We need to make sure there’s a lot of trust there.

"There’s got to be trust built between Liverpool City Council, between all the other partners, and Everton Football Club to move forward. Once we’ve established that trust I do believe we can move this forward quite quickly."

Merseyside Could Face World Cup Woe

The possibility of hosting a World Cup in England without a match in Liverpool came into sharp focus as 15 cities put forward their cases to stage games if the 2018 bid succeeds.

Neither Anfield nor Goodison Park would fit FIFA criteria for the tournament, according to 2018 vice-president John Barnes, with Everton's move to Kirkby rejected by the Government and Liverpool's Stanley Park plans hit by a number of delays.

Barnes, the former Liverpool player, said: "They need a new stadium, we always knew that. When the bid was submitted it was on the grounds of new grounds being in place, not Anfield hosting the World Cup in nine years' time.

"I'm sure that would have been the case anyway because neither Anfield nor Goodison would fit the criteria for hosting a World Cup. They would have had to have built a new stadium anyway."

Everton chief executive Robert Elstone was at Wembley for Liverpool's submission to the selection panel of Lord Mawhinney, 2018 chief executive Andy Anson and chief operating officer Simon Johnson.

Elstone afterwards admitted the club would consider a ground-sharing arrangement with Liverpool.

He said: "It's certainly one of the options that we will need to cover. A shared stadium is perhaps an option if it's affordable.

"We have to look at where we can raise money, because potentially Liverpool will have to obviously contribute to that, and Liverpool City Council perhaps might need to find some money.

"Our history is one of creativity and innovation and if we are the first major English club to look at sharing then we're not scared of making those decisions."

Liverpool deputy executive director Peter Shaw, however, added on Sky Sports News: "It's not on our agenda at the moment. Liverpool are progressing forward with our own stadium. That is the position we are still in."

The 15 host cities put forward their cases to Mawhinney, Anson and Johnson, with the panel selecting due to announce between 12 and 18 stadiums on December 16.

The 2018 team itself has previously received negative publicity for in-fighting, being warned by FIFA vice-president Jack Warner for not being aggressive enough - and this week the shock resignation of Sir Dave Richards from the bid board.

Barnes added: "I'm not on the board and not party to the political wranglings or shenanigans going on. It's unfortunate but I'm hoping it will not hamper the bid because the most important thing is the ability to deliver a top-quality product.

"While this is not necessarily helpful, it should not detract from the ability of England to host one of the best World Cup's ever."

Aston Villa chief financial officer Robin Russell, representing Birmingham's bid, feels there is unity in the public wanting the tournament, despite the publicity.

Russell said: "It's slightly depressing to hear that because that is not what is happening on the ground, where everyone is working in the same direction in securing the bid for England and Birmingham."

MK Dons chairman Peter Winkelman added: "The in-fighting that goes on is about the bid being in the best position it can be to help the country win it next year.

"I think it's a positive sign, not a negative sign, which people are working so hard to make sure the situation is right. You have to go through those processes because it is important and people are prepared to fight about it."

Winkelman represented Milton Keynes' bid along with his manager Paul Ince, while Olympic diver Tom Daley showed his support for Plymouth.

Daley, 15, said: "It's a beautiful city and it will be amazing for the west country to see a sporting event so prestigious.

"Everything is normally based in London or the north and I think it's a good opportunity to have it in the west country."

In London, Wembley will host the opening match and final, with Arsenal, Tottenham and the Olympic Stadium their other possible venues.

Newcastle and Sunderland both put in bids. Alan Shearer is hoping the ridicule after Newcastle renamed their ground James' Park Stadium will not be affect the decision.

Shearer said: "We don't think there will be negativity. We know it's St James' Park and that's how it will stay."

Paul Gascoigne added: "There were odds of 500-1 on it being called The Paul Gascoigne Stadium, you heard it might go to Tesco or a settee company. It will be called St James' for life, it doesn't matter what it's officially named."

Chelsea's Stamford Bridge is not one of London's stadiums, although London United chairman Simon Greenberg said: "We are included as a showcase training venue, as is the Cobham training complex, so Chelsea will play a full role in the World Cup but won't be hosting matches.

"Unfortunately the stadium is not quite big enough and the nature of the site is not technically correct for hosting World Cup matches."