Saturday, November 28, 2009

Alberto Aquilani Set To Play Mersyside Derby Role For Liverpool

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is likely to miss Sunday's match at near-neighbours Everton but midfielder Alberto Aquilani will be given his first taste of a Merseyside derby.

The Spain striker has sat out the last three matches with a groin problem and is probably still a week away from rejoining the squad.

Torres scored both goals in the 2-0 victory at Goodison Park last season to take his tally of goals to three in five derbies but David Ngog, with five this season, is in line to deputise again.

However, Aquilani will be hopeful of getting on the field after just three substitute appearances totalling just 22 minutes since returning to fitness after his £20 million summer move from Roma.

Manager Rafael Benitez will not throw the Italian in from the start in what is likely to be another tempestuous clash between the two near-neighbours, but the 25-year-old should play some part.

Former academy graduate Jay Spearing faces competition from Aquilani for a place in midfield but accepts the former Roma star will, in time, have a central part to play.

"You can tell he's a world class player," said Wirral-born Spearing.

"For him, I think it's just a matter of fitness and sharpness really.

"He's doing more and more each day in training and you can see that he's very clever with some of the passes that he plays. Hopefully he can bring that out into our first team."

Spearing added: "The boss has given him 15 minutes here and there and I think that will do him good just to try to get used to the pace of the Premier League, because it will be completely different than in Italy."

The 212th Merseyside derby finds both teams in poor form but provides the opportunity for a much-needed morale-boosting win.

Liverpool have won just twice in 11 games, although at least they travel to Goodison on the back of a win in Hungary against Debrecen - even if that also coincided with their failure to qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages.

Everton have won one in the last 10 and slipped to a 3-2 defeat to Hull in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Liverpool Striker Fernando Torres Faces Late Fitness Test For Everton Clash

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez could be handed a timely injury boost ahead of his side's clash with local rivals Everton, as Fernando Torres faces a late fitness test in order to gauge his availability.

Liverpool have slid down the Premier League table in the past two months due to a series of poor results. Injury-hit Everton have also been struggling, and Benitez is hopeful that if the Reds play to their potential then they could leave Goodison Park with three points.

"He's training with the fitness coach and we will test him tomorrow and then we will see if he is fit for the weekend," Benitez said of Torres at his press conference today. "If he is okay it means we think he can play. It is a massive game, he is keen to do it.

"It's always important to win, especially if its a derby," he added. "The position in the table is the first thing we have to improve. It will be a lift for everyone, for us.

"We have confidence, we think we can win."

When asked what Liverpool will have to do in order to beat David Moyes' men, Benitez joked: "To play better than them!

"It will be a physical game, everybody will be working hard, we will play to our qualities, and do our job."

Gerrard Calls For Unity

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes his side can get their form back on track but insists the club must "stick together".

The Reds beat Romanian side Debrecen on Wednesday night yet suffered an early UEFA Champions League exit after Lyon were beaten by Fiorentina.

The setback has plunged Rafa Benitez' side into the Europa League, but Liverpool's domestic problems leave them struggling to finish the Premier League season in the top four.

With their title credentials already looking quashed, Gerrard insists the players must get over their European heartache and focus on returning to winning ways as they prepare to face local rivals Everton on Sunday.

"We are all aware the season is not going the way we would want it to and we are really disappointed to have gone out of the Champions League," Gerrard told the club's official website.

"We are far from happy with our form in the Premier League as well but the only way to turn things around is by sticking together.

"We have shown in the past what we can achieve when we stick together and if there is one positive about the difficult time we have been having, it is that we have all pulled together."

Lying seventh in the table, Liverpool have Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City ahead of them with each club signalling their intent to grab a Champions League spot.

Gerrard admits that their start to the league campaign, in which they have lost five of their first 13 games, has handed them a huge task, but he believes they have what it takes to rescue their season.

He added: "The manager, the staff and the players are all working as hard as we can to try and get the improvement we have been looking for.

"It will not be easy, as we have given ourselves plenty to do, but we still have the confidence and belief that we can finish in the top four."

Mascherano's Lucas Aid

Lucas Leiva has hailed the impact that fellow midfielder Javier Mascherano has had on his emergence in the Liverpool first XI and has called on his team-mates to end their three-year wait for silverware this season.

Lucas has been an ever-present in Reds' engine room this term after the summer sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, while the Spaniard's replacement - Alberto Aquilani - has yet to start a game following his recovery from an ankle injury.

The Anfield faithful have signalled their approval of the 22-year-old in recent weeks, with the 2007 signing beginning to show the pedigree which heralded him as the Brazilian league's best player prior to his move to Merseyside.

Lucas has had his doubters during his time at Liverpool, but the Brazil international insists they will never faze him and has praised his fellow South American ball-winner for helping him grow into the Reds shirt.

"I'm trying to improve all the time but I'm feeling good on the pitch," he told the club's official website. "I think I've improved a lot since last season and hopefully I'll keep going.

"I think things might always be more difficult for me at Liverpool, to be honest, but I'm trying to prove I can do well for myself and my team-mates. The real supporters of Liverpool know this and support me a lot.

"When I came to Liverpool I came with a challenge of winning titles and making history for the club. Hopefully I can do that.

"I'm playing almost every game now. I have a good link with Javier Mascherano. I understand the way he plays and he helps me a lot. I think it's good for the team that we can keep the balance."

Lucas has targeted his first trophy in Liverpool colours by the end of the 2009/2010 campaign, identifying the Europa League as an attainable honour after the Reds' untimely exit out of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

He added: "We have to move on. We didn't do enough to get to the next stage and so now we have to concentrate on the Europa League and getting into a better position domestically.

"We'll try to win the Europa League because it's still an important competition. Some good teams play in it and we'll try to get a title for ourselves."

Reds Duo Support Benitez

Liverpool duo Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina have moved to offer their support to under-fire boss Rafa Benitez.

Benitez has seen his position at Anfield come under further scrutiny following their elimination from the UEFA Champions League in midweek.

Liverpool have won just two of their past 11 competitive matches and go into this weekend's Merseyside derby needing to get back on track in the Premier League if they are to finish in the top four and clinch a spot in next season's Champions League.

Torres, who is battling to be fit for the showdown with Everton as he struggles with a groin problem, believes Benitez is the man to turn things round at Anfield and has called on everyone at the club to stick together.

"Benitez has shown that he is the right man to take Liverpool forward," Torres said.

"When the club has needed to be strong it always has been. Now is the time for everybody to stick together from the manager right down to the lowliest member of staff because above all else we want to make our wonderful fans happy with our performances and results.

"We must be united to finish as high as possible in the Premier League. I am convinced that we will end up in the top four. We also have high hopes for the FA Cup and the Europa League. At this time, this tournament has become a goal for the club.

"Nobody expected it [to be knocked out] because this team has shown itself over recent seasons to be very reliable.

"This is a competition that we won in 2005 and on another occasion [2007] we got to the final. Since I have been with the club we have got to a semi-final and a quarter-final."

Reina also dismissed suggestions that Benitez has lost the support of the players at Liverpool.

"Benitez has 100 per cent credibility and support among the players," said Reina. "He is a great coach and he knows how to get the best out of his players.

"He has done important things for Liverpool and will continue to do so. When he is under pressure, that's when he brings out the best in himself. He is perfectly capable of turning the situation around at Liverpool.

"The fans know that, for a number of reasons, results are not good now but they will be again. We need a bit of good luck for things to get back to normal: we have had so many players injured - like Torres, Benayoun and Riera."

Reina also pointed to the absence of Torres through injury as a major reason for Liverpool's struggles.

"We all know that Torres at 70 per cent fit is still better than lots of strikers on the planet at 100 per cent," added Reina.

"It's important for us that he recovers and recovers fully. Liverpool are one team with Torres and another, different team without him.

"It's not that we depend on him but he is very important because he inspires respect in the opposition."

Liverpool Tracking Inter Midfielder Patrick Vieira

Liverpool are the latest club to show interest in Inter midfielder Patrick Vieira, according to The Irish Independent.

The 1998 World Cup winner has fallen down the pecking order at the Nerazzurri and has constantly found himself starting matches on the bench this season under coach Jose Mourinho.

The Frenchman recently announced his intention to stay with the Nerazzurri until the end of the season and fight for his chances, but with his place at the World Cup 2010 in jeopardy he may change his mind if the right offer comes along.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez reportedly believes Vieira's experience and leadership would be useful for the Reds after they crashed out of the Champions League and currently sit seventh in the Premier League.

The 33-year-old is well aware of what it takes to compete in England, having spent nine years with Arsenal earlier in his career.

Tottenham, Lyon and Barcelona have also been linked with the tough tackling midfielder over the last few months.

Kendall: Groundshare Could Happen

Everton great Howard Kendall is against the idea of a groundshare with Liverpool, but admits it may be the only solution if both clubs want to play at a new stadium.

Everton's plans for building a 50,000 seater stadium in Kirkby were rejected by the government yesterday, but the idea of sharing a new ground with their Merseyside rivals has since been floated by Everton chief executive Robert Elstone.

Former manager Kendall, who guided the Toffees to two league championships, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners' Cup during the 1980s, is against the proposal.

"A groundshare? I don't think it's a good idea," Kendall said.

"I don't think any supporter in Liverpool will like it, I bet they don't like it in Milan and Rome either."

Kendall was not in favour of Everton's proposed move out of Liverpool either.

"I think its good Everton aren't moving to Kirkby," he added.

"I wanted them to move to the docks, because at least the docks are in Liverpool. It's there and it would be the right move."

Liverpool are in the midst of their own ground troubles, having been granted permission to move from Anfield to a new stadium in Stanley Park in a project currently on hold due to financial troubles.

While the status of both Liverpool and Everton's potential stadiums are up in the air, there is a real fear the city's bid to host matches as part of the 2018 World Cup could disappear.

Kendall admits the financial climate means the Merseyside rivals - who meet on Sunday in the Premier League - may be forced into a compromise.

"You can't suddenly pick up millions of pounds to build two new stadiums," he added.

"Liverpool have permission to build in Stanley Park, but it seems they can't afford it because they're in financial problems.

"I think it's too late to do a Newcastle and improve one section of their current ground at a time.

"Maybe a groundshare may have to be done."

Liverpool And Arsenal Face Dilemma Of Whether To Let Javier Mascherano And Cesc Fabregas Play In Christmas International

Liverpool must decide whether to take on Argentina after Diego Maradona called up Javier Mascherano for a showpiece friendly next month.

The South Americans face Catalonia in the Nou Camp on December 22, while injury-hit Liverpool will be preparing for the busy Christmas period.

The match is not on a date set aside by FIFA for internationals, meaning clubs are under no obligation to release players, but Argentina captain Mascherano will no doubt want to play.

The midfielder is the only England-based player called up to the squad, while the other 18 players are all at clubs who will have started a winter break.

His Liverpool team-mate Emiliano Insua, Manchester City's Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta, plus Newcastle United's Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini were all left out of the group.

Argentina are taking on a Catalonia side picked by Johan Cruyff, which should feature Barcelona stars such as Xavi and Gerard Pique. Arsenal face a similar dilemma to Liverpool after Fabregas was called up to the friendly, which sits between the Gunners taking on Hull City and Aston Villa.

Liverpool play Portsmouth three days before the friendly, before hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day.

Both Liverpool and Arsenal have suffered injury crises in recent weeks and maybe reluctant to risk their midfield linchpins before a busy period of matches.

I'll Make Liverpool Great Again, Says Rafa Benitez

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has vowed to restore the club's reputation in the Premier League and in Europe.

Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League this week and are seventh in the Barclays Premier League, 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.

But Rafa Benitez has made it clear that he wants to steer the club back on track, starting with Sunday's clash with Everton.

He said: “When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season. I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to.

“Look, I was a Real Madrid fan. I knew off by heart the names of the Real Madrid team that played Liverpool in the European Cup final of 1981.

“I was a fan, and also a Madrid player at that time. Now, considering that, I decided to stay in Liverpool because I liked the city, I liked the fans, I liked the life here and the passion in the Premier League.

“Why am I telling you this? Because when I decided to stay here, I wanted to fight for this club.

“I had signed a new five-year contract because I wanted to fight for Liverpool.

“Sometimes it is good, sometimes there are bad moments. But still I will fight.

“So we will play in the Europa League, which will be a target. We will play against Everton on Sunday and that will be our target.

“Every single week we will fight and try to win. If we can, we will be happier. If we cannot, we will still have to fight.”

Calls for Benitez to be axed, along with suggestions he may even jump ship, provoked the Spaniard into an impassioned speech that followed a string of supportive words from key players.

Skipper Steven Gerrard has called for unity, while Fernando Torres and Jose Reina have insisted that Benitez is the right man to lead Liverpool back to the top of Europe.

Torres, who has been struggling with a groin problem, will have a fitness test tomorrow to see whether he can be involved at Goodison Park, while only Ryan Babel (ankle) is ruled out as the side’s fitness problems finally clear.

Benitez added: “When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money, and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team.

“We will prove this during the rest of the season. It is long race and we know we are not playing at the level we can, but we will improve, we will be back in Europe.

“It doesn’t matter what people are saying, maybe trying to take advantage of the situation. We will win games, we will improve and things will change.”

Liverpool need to quickly address a situation that sees them seventh in the Premier League and with their top four place seriously threatened by Aston Villa, Manchester City and Spurs.

Benitez said: “If you have seen the players since the Champions League disappointment, you will know they want to fight too.

“I have seen the reaction of Torres and Pepe Reina with their words of support. Now Steven Gerrard has called for us to fight together.

“All the players know that we have to improve, we have to push harder, we have to start right now.

“I have talked to them about belief and trust. And of course I am pleased that they have come out and said I am the right man for the job.

“We are together, we are working hard together, and that is the main thing for me.”

Benitez 'Faces Exodus Of Unhappy Reds'

A host of Liverpool players will seek to leave the club in the January transfer window, an agent has claimed.

ESPN Soccernet quotes an unnamed agent of one of Liverpool's 'stars' as saying Rafa Benitez is in danger of losing the dressing room.

"The atmosphere is really bad," the agent said following the club's midweek exit from the Champions League. "There are a lot of unhappy players around."

When asked if some of the aggrieved players would seek moves out of Anfield, despite the difficulties associated with January transfers, the agent said: "I am sure that there will be some players who would like to move on now, that's for sure."

Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League this week despite beating Debrecen 1-0 in Hungary.

Their fate was sealed as Fiorentina beat Lyon; consigning Liverpool to the Europa League as the Reds failed to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since Benitez joined the club.

The Spaniard has been backed by the club's owners and is just five months into a five-year contract.

Defeat against Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park this Sunday will raise more doubts about his long-term future at the club, however.

Liverpool are currently in seventh place in the league and in danger of missing out on qualification for the Champions League next season given the ominous form of Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City above them.