Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rafa - Wolves Win Is A Must

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has admitted the Boxing Day clash with Wolves is a must-win encounter for his side.

The Reds currently find themselves in eighth spot in the table and eight points off the pace in the battle to finish in the top four.

Liverpool welcome Wolves to Anfield aiming to bounce back from their shock 2-0 defeat to Portsmouth last weekend and Benitez accepts three points is a must if they are to keep alive their hopes of a top four finish.

"We have to win," said Benitez. "We must approach every game looking to win. You never know what will happen. This year all the teams are losing more games.

"We have confidence because in the past - for two or three seasons - we have done well in the second half of the league season. We have won a lot of games in a row and have confidence that, if we have players fit, we will do that again.

"We have to be ready for the first game. Hopefully we can win and if we do it will be easier, but it will be a tough game at Villa.

"City, Tottenham and Villa are doing well. We have to compete with them. Last year Villa did well but lost some games. Now they have spent some money and have good players, so it will be difficult to fight for this position."

Fernando Torres has spoken out in support of under-fire Benitez saying the players should take more responsibility for Liverpool's poor form this season.

Benitez insists everybody at the club is working hard to try and turn things around at Anfield.

Asked about Torres' claims, Benitez said: "I don't know if he said it. You can read things in the press but when you talk with the player, sometimes it is not the same. I have spoken with him and some of the other players. We know we have to improve on the pitch.

"As a manager you have some experience. Sometimes you will have good moments and other times, bad moments. But because we are a top side we will have to improve.

"We are preparing a lot of things that we were doing well. We are trying to correct mistakes. But after, we have gone on to the pitch - like against Arsenal - and done well, you need to score goals and finish the game. We didn't do that, so we look to the next one and it will be easier if we win.

"The players are working hard in every training session and I can guarantee they are working 100 per cent and trying to win every game."

Liverpool To Replace Rafael Benitez With Aston Villa Manager Martin O'Neill

Liverpool are considering bringing in Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill to replace Rafael Benitez at the forefront of the team's affairs, according to The Guardian.

The former Valencia boss has come under intense pressure following a dreary start to the season, which has seen the Reds flushed from the Champions League at the group stage.

Consistently inconsistent displays have given rise to many false dawns, and the recent slump of one win in their last five outings in all competitions has drawn further criticism towards the Spaniard.

It is believed that the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are now pondering the possibility of bringing in O'Neill to do the job that Benitez has failed to accomplish.

The Villans are on fire at the moment, having lost only one game in their last 14, with five consecutive victories in all competitions.

Despite heavy speculation surrounding his future, Benitez has always maintained his loyalty to Liverpool, claiming that he intends to honour his contract with the Merseyside club.

Rafa Benitez Wants Emile Heskey Back At Liverpool

Rafa Benitez will be allowed to buy two players next month – and he wants Emile Heskey back at Anfield as one of them.

The Liverpool boss has come under sustained pressure following a dreadful first half of the season.

But Benitez will be offered backing by the board, proof he still has a future at the club.

Star striker Fernando Torres last night admitted the situation was bleak, as he said: “I think it is really difficult because I think we don’t have money to bring in the best players – and obviously we need players.

“But if we can bring in quality players, it should be really positive for us.”

Heskey scored 60 goals in four years at Liverpool before being sold in the summer of 2004 – a month before Benitez took over.

With the World Cup looming and his starting position at Aston Villa far from guaranteed, the England striker could be attracted back to the club.

Benitez admires Heskey’s unselfish approach and feels he could provide the perfect foil for Torres.

Benitez has also looked at Ruud van Nistelrooy and Italy international Luca Toni as alternatives.

He wants a wide player, and is considering a move for Celtic’s Aiden McGeady, available for about £8million. Also on the radar is Holland winger Eljero Elia, who could be prised away from Hamburg for £10m and Turkish flyer Arda Turan.

Benitez may have up to £15m to spend as he allows up to four players to leave in the transfer window, with Ryan Babel chief among his saleable assets.

He can also try to raise funds by selling Italy defender Andrea Dossena, Ukraine striker Andriy Voronin and Swiss full-back Philipp Degen.

Torres Bemoans Lack Of Funds But Backs Benitez

Fernando Torres has admitted he is concerned at the lack of funds available to Rafael Benitez to turn the club's season around - but is fully behind his manager.

Liverpool have already lost seven games this season - compared to just two in 2008-09 - and have been knocked out of the Champions League. It is a widely held belief that the Reds do not have enough quality running through the club to seriously challenge for the title, especially with the summer departure of Xabi Alonso.

However, with Liverpool's finances causing serious concern - the debt is around £240 million - it is unclear if Benitez will have anything to spend in the January window, a situation which could place their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season - and even the Europa League - in some doubt.

Torres, speaking in Zurich after being named part of FIFA's world XI, said: "Obviously we need players. If we can bring quality players it should be really positive for us, but I think the situation is really difficult because I think we don't have money to bring in the best players.

"It's a difficult situation but every top team in the world goes sometimes through a bad situation like Liverpool now. Like every top team in the world, Liverpool will get over the situation.

"I have confidence in myself and my team. I know we are good enough. We were playing really well last season with the same team. We have to just recover the mentality and the confidence in ourselves and everything will be different.

"I think sacking the manager is not a solution. The manager is not playing so we have to be positive with him, try to work with him. We are the main reason, the players are the people that have to find a solution to the situation. The manager is not playing, so we have to play much better.''

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, also named in the world XI, called on the team to pull together.

Gerrard said: "I don't think it's right to pick out individual players. We're a team, we're a group and we are responsible for where we're lying in the league at the moment. All of us have got to stick together and try and pull through and turn it around.''

Ian Rush: Fernando Torres Won't Abandon Liverpool

Liverpool's legendary goalscorer Ian Rush has told ESPN Soccernet that, even if the struggling club fail to secure a top-four finish this season, he fully expects the man now donning the famous number nine shirt, Fernando Torres, to remain loyal to the Reds.

The past three months have been a disaster for Rafael Benitez, with the club exiting the Champions League at the group stage and Saturday's disappointing 2-0 defeat at the hands of Portsmouth meaning they have won just four of their past 17 games in all competitions.

With the turn of the year fast approaching, Liverpool sit in eighth place, one behind promoted Birmingham City, and are already eight points shy of Aston Villa, who currently occupy the all-important fourth place and the potential for Champions League qualification it brings with it.

The financial ramifications of missing out on European football would be damaging indeed for the Reds but, from a sporting perspective, it has also been suggested that star players like Torres and Steven Gerrard could be tempted away from a club that had lost the lustre of elite continental football.

But Rush, who scored 346 goals in 660 appearances for the club, feels that Torres has developed a genuine rapport with the club's fans thanks to his glut of goals in the past two and a half years and would remain faithful to Benitez and the Reds even if Champions League football was snatched away.

"He is a fantastic player," Rush told ESPN Soccernet. "He is one of the best strikers in the world and the way he adjusted to the English game was fantastic. He is one of a few players that, if he becomes available, every top club in the world would want him.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all if teams were in for him in January, but he does have genuine affection for the supporters because he knows the supporters love him. Him and Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher - the fans love them because of the effort they put in and the skill they have.

"I think that if they didn't finish in the top four, the likes of Torres and Gerrard would still be at Liverpool because they have a feel for the club. I think they will think, 'Let's give it one more go here. I owe it to the fans to give it one more go to get back into the Champions League'."

However, with financial pressures proving a constant theme at Anfield, Rush is concerned about which course of action owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks would take should the club finish outside the top four and huge bids be received for Gerrard and Torres.

"I think those two would [want to] stay," Rush said. "But the temptation that will be offered to both of them, if clubs offer ridiculous amounts of money, is a temptation for the owners as well. What do they do then?"

Ian Rush: Reds Must Retain Faith In Rafa Benitez

These are dark days for Liverpool. A club so accustomed to success are out of the Champions League before Christmas, have just four wins in 17 games in all competitions and sit eight points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa. There is no doubt that this is the most crucial juncture of Rafael Benitez's career at Anfield.

Even amongst the staunchly loyal cabal that is ex-Liverpool players, cracks have appeared. Graeme Souness recently angered Benitez by voicing fears about a potential "meltdown" while Ronnie Whelan delivered a very personal attack on the Spaniard, culminating in the declaration that "his days have got to be numbered".

But while certain pundits grumble and the media feverishly speculates on how long Benitez has left in the post, a man who played with both Souness and Whelan in the great Liverpool teams of the 1980s remains adamant that the club must keep faith with the manager who has won the Champions League and FA Cup since arriving from Valencia in 2004, but failed to claim the Holy Grail of the league title.

Ian Rush, scorer of a club-record 346 goals in 660 games for Liverpool, has questioned the wisdom of changing managers halfway through the season and has urged owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to withhold judgement until the club's fate is known for sure at the conclusion of the campaign.

"I think you have got to get behind the manager rather than go against him," Rush told ESPN Soccnernet. "It is easy to criticise when you lose and it is easy to be behind managers when they are winning. This is a time to stick together.

"I think when you are winning, then you ask questions, but at the moment you have got to stay united, group together and look at the situation at the end of the season or when we are guaranteed fourth or not finishing in fourth. Halfway through you have to get behind the manager. He says we will finish fourth and I still believe we will finish fourth.

"I don't think [a bad Christmas] will spell the end of him. You have to think long and hard and think if you replace him, who will you replace him with and are they going to do any better? Who is available? There is a lot to be asked there. Will they get any money in January to strengthen the squad? Only the owners and manager know that and we have to rely on them and what they are doing is right."

Despite such a poor run of form, Liverpool fans have still demonstrated their support for Benitez on numerous occasions and some have preferred to paint the American owners of the club as the villains of the piece.

Having presided over a number of PR disasters since arriving on Merseyside in February 2007, including admitting they had sounded out Jurgen Klinsmann as a possible replacement for Benitez, Hicks and Gillett also stand accused by some supporters of denying their manager the funds he requires to turn Liverpool into a title-winning side.

But Rush feels that the pair make a convenient scapegoat and that it is too simplistic to conclude that the club's current malaise stems from their off-field issues and high levels of debt that Benitez has made clear he is trying to ease. The Liverpool legend is also hopeful that additional finance will be freed up to allow the Spaniard to reinforce his squad when the transfer window opens.

"Of course there is [bad feeling towards Hicks and Gillett]," Rush said. "But if you put money into the club you have to know what is going on. The talk is that they may get money in January for Rafa Benitez.

"There are a lot of anti-feelings but I am one of those people who says 'give them a chance, none of us know the full story about the club'. I think it is hard for me to comment if I don't know the full facts. It is easy to blame the owners but they have put a lot of money in already and they may put more money in so give the owners a chance to see what they can or can't do.

"If they can do it, then fair enough. If they can't then maybe someone else is prepared to take over the club. From what I've read, the owners' interest seems to be with Liverpool Football Club. They haven't really had the desire to get out and from what I have read they appear prepared to back Liverpool Football Club."

If Benitez is undergoing a real test of his credentials and the American owners remain unpopular amongst the support, then at least one man continues to offer hope. In Fernando Torres, Rush feels Liverpool have a world-class player who must be kept at all costs. Indeed, he expects that the Spain international will remain at the club even if Champions League football is not forthcoming for next season.

"He is a fantastic player," Rush said of the striker who has scored 11 goals in 13 Premier League games despite Liverpool's struggles this season. "He is one of the best strikers in the world and the way he adjusted to the English game was fantastic. He is one of a few players that if he becomes available, every top club in the world would want him.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all if teams were in for him in January, but he does have genuine affection for the supporters because he knows the supporters love him. Him and Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher - the fans love them because of the effort they put in and the skill they have.

"I think that if they didn't finish in the top four, the likes of Torres and Gerrard would still be at Liverpool because they have a feel for the club. I think they will think 'let's give it one more go here. I owe it to the fans to give it one more go to get back into the Champions League'. I think those two would stay. But the temptation that will be offered to both of them, if clubs offer ridiculous amounts of money, that is a temptation for the owners as well. What do they do then?"

Another expensive foreign import with a big reputation is Alberto Aquilani who swapped Roma for Liverpool for £20 million over the summer. But so far the Italian has been something of an enigma having failed to start a single game after arriving injured and then struggling with his fitness.

His reluctance to use Aquilani has been a favourite stick with which the media have beaten Benitez, but Rush feels the manager has to be trusted to deploy the midfielder when he sees fit. And even if Liverpool are lacking creativity in the centre of midfield following the departure of Xabi Alonso last summer, Rush is urging caution over rushing Aquilani into action.

"I don't think any of us know if he is fit," Rush said. "I think he had a calf injury against Portsmouth but if he is there, you have got to play him and we haven't seen enough of him to judge. For £20 million you expect him to be a good player. He looks like a creative player so I think we are looking for people like that to come in and adjust to the English game and gel with the likes of Torres and Gerrard.

"You have got to rely on the manager and in a way the manager is trying to protect him. He doesn't want him to be out for another two months. The manager is trying to protect him and Benitez has been very good because there has been a lot of pressure to play him.

"The media don't know if he is 100% fit. If he had been then I am sure that Benitez would have been looking to play him more often, so you have to rely on the manager on that to say: 'I want him back 100% fit so he can show what he has done in Italy'."

Aquilani or no Aquilani, Liverpool are still facing up to the very real fear that they will fail to qualify for the Champions League this season, but who is to blame? A failing manager beset by the media and unable to coax the best out of his team? Owners who have saddled the club with debt and angered the fans? Players who have underperformed?

Liverpool's problems are myriad but Rush feels the solution is simple: belief must return to the side, and quick.

"I think it is confidence. You cannot become a bad team overnight. It is only a couple of months ago that we completely outplayed Manchester United. They won 2-0 but it could have been more. It is just the confidence and belief. They have to start believing.

"I think with the pressure of being at Liverpool, it is not always physical strength that is needed but mental. It is easy when you are winning but when you are not winning is when you find out the true player who is prepared to roll up his sleeves and fight. Sometimes it doesn't go for you, but you need to be mentally strong enough to overcome that and concentrate on trying that little bit harder and you will overcome it and you will turn it round."

Arda Admits He Wants To Play For Liverpool

Turkey international Arda Turan has expressed a long-held desire to play for Liverpool - and not just because they wear red shirts!

The highly-rated Galatasaray winger has been linked with a string of top clubs since shining at the last European Championship but the Istanbul outfit has resisted all attempts to cash in on his talents.

After being mentioned in connection with Rafa Benitez's side last summer and again this week, the 22-year-old has now admitted his aim is to one day represent the Merseysiders.

"When I've finished my business at Galatasaray, I will be happy to play in Europe and represent my country there," said Arda.

"I most want to play at Liverpool because of the culture of the club and the fans - and the fact that they have red shirts attracts me."

Newcastle failed with a £9million bid in the past for Arda so it is unlikely Benitez would have the funds to finance any transfer in January without selling first, but there could be the prospect of a move to Anfield in the future.

Galatasaray will bid to hang onto their outstanding captain, who has taken on the No10 jersey and playmaking duties this term.

Nevertheless, after he was linked with Arsenal last month, any firm bid from Benitez is sure to appeal to the player.

Footballer Steven Gerrard Shocked After Baby Had Heart Attack Nearby

Footballer Steven Gerrard was left visibly shocked during a hospital visit when a three-week-old baby had a heart attack on the ward he was in.

It happened as the Liverpool captain gave out Christmas presents at the city's Alder Hey Hospital with his Reds teammates, including striker Fernando Torres.

The baby survived but Gerrard said: "It was very upsetting for us all. We are professional football players and were completely helpless in that situation.

"It was not nice to see a little baby in that condition but the doctors and nurses, like always, were magnificent."

An onlooker added: "Steven was really upset, as were the other players who were with him. Fortunately they were later told the child was going to be okay.

"It was just a tiny little baby and it was hard to believe that it could have a heart attack so young. The players were in the ward and all of a sudden there were doctors and nurses rushing round like mad trying to save the baby.

"Steven and the lads went and stood in the corridor while everything was sorted out. It was worse for Steven as two years ago his three-year-old daughter Lexie was in hospital with suspected meningitis and he knows that feeling of helplessness."

The Reds players and boss Rafa Benitez visited 23 wards between them giving gifts and cards to seriously ill youngsters who will spend Christmas at the hospital.

Santa Cruz Hits Out At Rafa

Roque Santa Cruz has told Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez not to make promises he cannot keep.

Benitez stated last week that he could 'guarantee' Liverpool would finish in the top four of the Premier League this season.

The Reds are currently eighth after a disappointing start and must improve considerably over the second half of the campaign to ensure UEFA Champions League qualification.

Manchester City striker Santa Cruz does not believe it was wise of Benitez to come out with such a bold statement.

"I don't think you can guarantee anything," the Paraguay international said in the Daily Express.

"It is hard to guarantee things, especially when things are not going in the right direction, like for Liverpool.

"Things are not going the way they would want them to and to guarantee things in that situation is hard."

Saudi Prince Plans To Buy George Gillett's Stake In Liverpool

Troubled Liverpool face a Christmas of uncertainty with fresh claims that a Saudi prince is ready to buy the 50 per cent stake of co-owner George Gillett.

Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdullah announced on television that he was flying to England to attend the Barclays Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on Boxing Day as a guest of Gillett.

Sources in Saudi Arabia immediately insisted that the wealthy prince was serious in his intent to acquire the holding and that Gillett was now ready to sell. They also understood that Gillett’s partner Tom Hicks would no longer block the sale.

This will be the second visit this season to Anfield of Prince Faisal, who watched the 6-1 hammering of Hull City in September.

Christian Purslow, who was appointed managing director by Gillett and Hicks earlier this year, has been leading talks with a number of parties about a share issue.

There has been particular interest from the Far East and there remains hope that a deal to raise at least £120m could be concluded in the new year.