Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rafael Benítez Forced To Scrimp And Scrape For Reinforcements

Rafael Benítez is facing another financial balancing act in the January transfer window as he attempts to revive Liverpool's floundering season with a budget unlikely to stretch beyond loan signings and player exchanges.

The Liverpool manager is desperate for additions to improve the depth and morale of a squad languishing in eighth place in the Premier League and relegated from the Champions League to the Europa League. He is particularly keen to increase Liverpool's striking options in a campaign where injury to Fernando Torres has brought an over-reliance on David Ngog, but his spending will again be restricted to what he can raise through sales. Offloading unwanted players in January, when managers are often reluctant to spend, increases the complications for the Spaniard.

Benítez spent only what he brought into Anfield from transfers in the summer, albeit with Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Daniel Agger and Yossi Benayoun signing new long-term contracts, as Liverpool began to reduce the £310m debt loaded on to the club by the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

With their search for new investment yet to come to fruition, the manager will be in an identical predicament in the next transfer window unless the owners – who have either sold or are in the process of selling sporting franchises in the United States – respond to the threat of failing to qualify for next season's Champions League by reinvesting in the squad.

The Liverpool manager has received no indication that is the case and therefore plans to raise funds for a forward by finding a buyer or an exchange for Ryan Babel, Andriy Voronin, Andrea Dossena and/or Philipp Degen. All four are deemed surplus to requirements at Anfield, despite Dossena starting Saturday's abysmal defeat at Portsmouth in place of Benayoun, and will be sold should the opportunity arise. Benítez could be restricted to loan deals if the four remain in situ.

Voronin was reluctantly retained by the Liverpool manager in the summer only when it became apparent he did not have the resources to invest in a new striker. The Ukraine international enjoyed a successful loan spell at Hertha Berlin last season and several Bundesliga clubs remain interested in his services, although the 30-year-old's agent has ruled out a return to Hertha despite Voronin being ostracised by Benítez since the Champions League draw at Lyon. Napoli are among the clubs keen to take Dossena, a £7m flop, back to Italy, although they balked at Liverpool's asking price in the summer. Babel represents the most saleable asset of the four.

Javier Mascherano will spend his suspension recovering from the knee ligament injury sustained while collecting his red card against Portsmouth's Tal Ben Haim. has been banned for four matches for his second suspension of the season – and will miss league games against Wolves, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur plus the FA Cup third-round tie at Reading as a result – but faces three weeks out with injury. "The player had a scan which confirmed the medical team's initial diagnosis that he suffered a medial ligament sprain in his left knee," a Liverpool spokesperson confirmed. "He is expected to be sidelined for two to three weeks."

Another injury victim, Alberto Aquilani, is reported to have visited the doctor in Belgrade who came to prominence for treating Arsenal's Robin van Persie with fluid from a placenta. The midfielder has been hampered by injuries since a summer move from Roma, the latest problem being with a calf.

Lucas Demands Winning Run

Midfielder Lucas admits Liverpool will have to win 'almost every game' if they are to stand any chance of Champions League qualification.

The Reds trail fourth-placed Aston Villa by eight points in the Premier League table and will be looking to make it back-to-back home victories when they face Wolves on Boxing Day.

Fans of the club have been short on Christmas cheer after last weekend's 2-0 defeat at bottom club Portsmouth and Lucas is expecting no favours from Mick McCarthy's side.

He told the club's official website: "It would be good and really important to finish the year (at Anfield) with a victory.

"I think we need to win almost every game now, so our target is to take each game as it comes and end the year well. Then, if we can also start the New Year with a win it will be important.

"But Wolves have quality. We have to respect them and try to show our own quality and play well for the fans.

"All games are tough in the Premier League, so we have to prepare well, work hard and have confidence. We have quality and if we can play well we can beat anyone."

The Brazilian admits it will be strange turning up for training on Christmas Day morning but is prepared to do all he can to make sure he is fully prepared ahead of the clash.

He said: "We will train in the morning on Christmas Day. It's strange because in Brazil the season finishes in November, so you are on holiday for Christmas, while in Spain and Italy they have a break.

"Here it is different, but you have to prepare for the games. Hopefully we can do well and get as many points as possible.

"For the fans, Boxing Day games are really good. I think it is good for them to be able to take their family to a match and enjoy it, so I hope we can give them a victory."

Steven Gerrard Cannot Take Much More Of Liverpool Crisis

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres took a private jet to Zurich yesterday for the FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a brief respite from the crisis engulfing Anfield.

It was an opportunity to rub shoulders with football's elite at a time when Liverpool's awful form has made a mockery of their claims to be among the world's leading clubs and Rafael Benitez's bold prediction that his side will finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League once more.

A seventh league defeat of the season, at Portsmouth on Saturday, again exposed their frailties, leaving Benitez under more pressure than he has ever faced in his time as Liverpool manager.

Most worryingly for the Spaniard, it is no longer a problem with the weakness of his squad but issues at the heart of Liverpool that have proved most damaging this season.

Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen said cracks are starting to appear in the spine of Benitez's team, and nobody is suffering more than Gerrard.

The England midfielder has been having pain-killing injections in his troublesome groin injury just to get him on the pitch but it is clear he is operating at half speed as Liverpool have crashed out of the Champions League and fallen well behind in the title race.

Gerrard's driving runs are not what they were, the bursts of pace severely hampered by his condition. The goals have dried up too - just four for Liverpool this season and none in the last eight games.

The fact that he remains one of his side's most potent weapons is a sad reflection on his team-mates, who have, in the words of Hansen, failed to 'step up to the plate'.

Benitez admits the groin problem could affect Gerrard for the rest of his career, which is a terrifying thought for Liverpool fans who have grown accustomed to seeing their captain shoulder the burden of responsibility.

As fragile as Gerrard's body has become, questions are again being asked about his state of mind. He headed for Switzerland yesterday to stand alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Kaka - players he would consider his equals but who are destined to finish their careers with a collection of medals to match their ability.

As he approaches his 30th birthday in May, how much longer can Gerrard afford to pursue his dream of winning the title with Liverpool? How many more seasons must be consigned to the dustbin?

The same could be asked of Torres. He too has been severely restricted by a hernia problem that will require surgery if he is overplayed. Much has been made of the absence of Gerrard and Torres this season, but both played at Fratton Park and neither caused Portsmouth too many problems.

There is little doubt Javier Mascherano, sent off for the second time this season on Saturday, has suffered through the sale of midfield partner Xabi Alonso, a decision that looks worse by the day as the club wait for his supposed successor Alberto Aquilani to make an impression.

Another key player, Jamie Carragher, has also fallen short of his high standards. Carragher was slow to react when Frederic Piquionne scored Pompey's second goal on Saturday, although keeper Pepe Reina will look at both goals and wonder whether he could have done better.

Hansen said: 'Last season Liverpool had players right down the spine - the keeper, Reina, Carragher was playing well, Mascherano was brilliant, Alonso, Gerrard, Torres, and the bits round the side were just filling in. They were playing with confidence and we thought they were half-decent players.

'The minute those six started to struggle - or, in Alonso's case, left the club - then the bits round the side had to step up to the plate and, unfortunately, they haven't been able to do it. Liverpool's results have been abysmal.'

Defender Daniel Agger admitted as much yesterday as he reflected on the latest setback and looked forward to what has become a huge Boxing Day game against Wolves.

'We are extremely disappointed and we know that it simply isn't good enough for this club,' said Agger. 'Why is this happening? It's a bit of everything, but we have to get some confidence from somewhere soon.'

Liverpool Defender Glen Johnson Faces Police Probe After Nightclub Incident

Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson could be investigated by police after allegations of an assault outside a west London nightclub at the weekend.

The Liverpool Daily Post reports that a man made the allegation against the Reds' star in a police station in the capital on Sunday, apparently claiming that Johnson had assaulted him outside the Movida club in Argyll Street at around 4am that day.

The victim claimed to have been punched. He apparently suffered very minor injuries to his arm, chest and face.

Police have reportedly confirmed that they will be looking closely into the incident before deciding whether there are sufficient grounds for charges to be brought.

"There have been no arrests," a Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed.

Johnson had been in the south of England following the Reds' disappointing defeat at Portsmouth on Saturday.

Ian Rush: Too Many Liverpool FC Players Are Wilting Under The Pressure

I still believe in Rafa Benitez and I'm convinced he will secure a top four finish for Liverpool this season.

However, a number of his players have got to have a long, hard look at themselves.

When I saw Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher walking off at Portsmouth on Saturday they looked upset and annoyed.

After a defeat like that I want to see that in all 11 of them because it should hurt them all, not just a few.

Some players have got to be mentally stronger.

Big expectations come with playing for Liverpool Football Club and that goes back to the standards set years ago by Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.

We aren’t reaching those standards at the moment and too many are struggling to handle the pressure.

I thought Carragher was fantastic on Saturday. The effort he put in on his 600th appearance was immense. If only everyone was like him.

The manager said the sending off of Javier Mascherano changed the game but I don’t think it made a big difference to the outcome.

What concerned me most was the lack of creativity. We only had two shots on target and when you are playing against a club like Portsmouth that’s just not good enough.

I really felt for the fans on Saturday because it was a bitterly cold day and most had left Merseyside in the middle of the night to get to the south coast for lunchtime.

It’s been a really tough few months but as ever the supporters have been fantastic and remained behind the team.

That’s all we can do because there is nothing to be gained from slagging people off. The end of the season is the time to ask whether we’ve progressed and if not why not?

The critics are having a field day at the moment but Liverpool are right to keep faith with Benitez.

Everyone is dropping points in a very open league this season and if we can put a run of wins together well soon climb the table.

With Aston Villa and Spurs to come in the league after the visit of Wolves on Boxing Day, we’ve got the ideal chance to force our way back into contention in the race for fourth spot.

Reds Handed €35 Million Cash Boost Despite Underachievement

Such is the financial importance of the Uefa Champions League to Europe's elite soccer clubs that even underachievement in the competition is richly rewarded, according to a study commissioned by MasterCard.

Liverpool, the English soccer club that won just two games in the competition this season before being eliminated, secured €9.1 million in prize money alone. The team, managed by Rafa Benitez, beat Debrecen both at Anfield and away from home, but managed just one point from four games against Lyon and Fiorentina. Liverpool failed to score more than one goal in a single game, with talismanic stars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres not recording a single goal in the competition.

Despite that, the boost to Liverpool's bank balance from the competition is considerable. Uefa awards €3.8 million to each team that qualifies for the Champions League, plus €3.3 million for participating in the group stage. A group stage win was worth €800,000 per game, or €400,000 for a draw. Should Liverpool have qualified for the knock-out stages, the club would have netted an instant €3 million prize payment.

The team, which has also struggled in the Premier League, has benefited to far more than the tune of €9.1 million. Uefa will make additional payments to group stage teams dependent on the commercial success of the tournament, which the MasterCard-commissioned report suggests could amount to approximately €12 million per club. The study reports that ticket revenues have generated an average of €8.55 million in income from the group stage, with commercial and marketing revenues accounting for a further €6 million on average.

All in all, it would be a surprise if Liverpool failed to collect €35 million from participation in this season's competition - an amount that underlines the genuine financial threat facing the club if it fails to qualify for the competition next year. Liverpool must finish in the top four of the Premier League to qualify; the Reds currently sit eighth, eight points behind fourth-place Aston Villa and 14 points away from league leaders Chelsea.

Mark Lawrenson: Liverpool FC Running Scared Of Bottom Club Represents A New Low

There are many reasons why Liverpool’s defeat to Portsmouth on Saturday was the lowest point of a season with, let’s face it, quite a few contenders.

But the one that sticks out for me came before the game even kicked off – it was the way the team was set up.

I find it really worrying that we go to the team at the bottom of the table and turn up with seven defensive outfield players.

It’s almost as if Rafael Benitez needs to get some psychotherapy sessions booked in to change his mindset. This is a team struggling to score goals at the wrong end of the table and the manager makes his first priority to stop them from playing.

Given that we finished runners-up last year with 86 points and scored more goals in the Premier League than any other side, are we really not at the stage where we can go to somewhere like Fratton Park and take the game to the home team?

We should be going for the win and then, if we are winning, shore it up later on. Get the lead and then play it defensive. That’s fine.

Don’t take anything away form Portsmouth. They played well and scored two very good goals.

But they must have got a boost from the fact that the Liverpool side facing them had so few players capable of causing them problems in their own half.

With a back four, goalkeeper, two defensive midfielders and Dossena on the left of midfield, that’s three players you’re asking to go and win you the game.

And I don’t care how good Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are, that’s putting too much pressure on them

Those two and Dirk Kuyt must have been looking round the changing room before the game wondering who was going to help them in their efforts to create the chances and score the goals to win the match.

When confidence is low you need to pick an attacking team and tell them to go for it, and that’s how you get the best out of your top players.

That’s what some of the lower sides have done to the big boys and it’s made this season’s Premier League a completely open book.

Maybe that has played on Benitez’s mind and he is being extra cautious against teams like Portsmouth as a result.

Either that or he just doesn’t trust his back four.

But if that’s the case then keep the ball away from them by picking an attacking, threatening line-up.

The current slump is the type that would cost many managers their job – but it’s easy to sack a manager, much harder to replace him with a good one.

So it’s not the manager I would like to see change – it’s Benitez and his selection policy.

Liverpool Midfielder Alberto Aquilani Undergoes 'Placenta Treatment'

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani is the latest Premier League star to fly to the Balkans for treatment on his injury using horse placenta.

The Italian, a £20 million summer switch from Roma who has barely featured for the Reds after undergoing ankle surgery in the summer, travelled to Belgrade on Sunday with reserve striker Nabil El Zhar for the treatment, according to The Daily Mail.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez seems to have great faith in this controversial procedure, having also sent Glen Johnson, Fabio Aurelio, Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera to undergo the treatment from Marijana Kovacevic.

With Javier Mascherano injured and suspended for four games, and Steven Gerrard struggling to shake off a groin injury, Benitez needs Aquilani fit for the festive period.

The Italian was prevented from making his full Premier League debut against Wigan Athletic last week when he pulled out due to a calf injury.

He did not travel to Fratton Park for the weekend defeat by Portsmouth. He lasted for 76 minutes of the one game he has started, a Champions League game against Fiorentina, before being substituted.

Liverpool FC Deny Move For Standard Liege's Serb Star Milan Jovanovic

Liverpool have no interest in Standard Lieges Milan Jovanovic despite reports in Belgium suggesting they have made an approach for the striker.

The 28-year-old Serbian international, who is out of contract next June, is set to be sold during the January transfer window and is available for around two million euros.

Sources close to the player have claimed he is currently weighing up the chance to make the switch to Liverpool, AC Milan or Stuttgart with Anfield his favoured destination.

However, Liverpool won’t be submitting a bid for the Belgrade-born former Shakhtar Donetsk and Locomotiv Moscow frontman.

Jovanovic was crowned Belgiums player of the year in 2008 and in January this year he claimed he had turned down the chance to move to Everton.

Liverpool Join List Of Luca Toni Suitors

Liverpool are the latest club to express interest in Bayern Munich outcast Luca Toni, according to The Sun.

The player has made no secret of his desire to leave the Bavarians after not featuring regularly for coach Louis van Gaal. The former Fiorentina striker hopes to work his way back into the Italy national team mix before the World Cup in South Africa next year.

The relationship between Toni and the club has become so strained, that president Uli Hoeness is willing to let the 32-year-old leave for free.

Liverpool have endured a difficult start to the season, as they were eliminated from the Champions League and sit in seventh place in the domestic table.

With the Reds in financial difficulty, Toni being available will allow them to add more firepower without breaking the bank. Fernando Torres' frequent injury troubles have left the outfit short of strikers on occasion.

Other clubs rumoured to be tracking the 2006 World Cup winning hitman are Roma, Dynamo Kiev, Inter, and Benfica.