Thursday, December 31, 2009

Church Praying For Strong Reds

Reading striker Simon Church is hoping Liverpool play their strongest team in this weekend's FA Cup tie at the Madejski Stadium.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez may use the Saturday evening clash to rest some of his star names, but Church is desperate to take on the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

"This type of game is what you want as a player," he told the Royals' official website.

"Hopefully they will have a strong team and personally I would love to play on the same pitch as Torres.

"He is one of the best in the world and it would be an amazing experience to be on the same pitch as him."

Fernando Torres Worth The £25m Liverpool Spent - Jamie Carragher

Fernando Torres struck his 50th League goal in Liverpool colours in the third minute of added time on Tuesday evening, when Rafael Benitez's Reds sealed a much-needed win against top-four rivals Aston Villa.

The swiftness with which Torres accumulated the half ton has impressed team-mate Jamie Carragher, who claimed the Spain international has already paid back the transfer fee that Benitez paid Atletico Madrid in order to secure his services.

"Fernando is a great player, a world-class striker, and to beat people like Ian Rush, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Roger Hunt to 50 league goals says it all about him really," said Carragher to British tabloid The Daily Mail.

"To be top of that list shows what a great player he is and that's why we paid the money for him."

Despite struggling with injury this season, Torres, 25, has already established himself as one of the Premier League's top strikers. 'El Nino' has returned 12 goals in England's top-flight so far this term, and is in fifth place in the goalscoring charts.

Gerrard Up For Top-Four Fight

Steven Gerrard accepts Liverpool have a real battle on their hands to finish in the top four this season.

Liverpool boosted their hopes of claiming a top-four finish with a late win over rivals Aston Villa on Tuesday, thanks to Fernando Torres' last-gasp effort.

The win reduced the gap between the Reds and fourth-placed Tottenham to four points.

But Gerrard knows there is still a major fight ahead if Liverpool are to secure Champions League football in May.

"We've got to try and win as many games as we can. This means nothing. It all depends where you are at the end of the season," Gerrard told Sky Sports 1.

"We know Villa, Spurs and Man City are going to keep fighting all the way and we need to do the same.

"But it is important to keep the momentum going and build on this victory. I am sure we will gain a lot of confidence from this, like we did against Wolves.

"We've virtually got everyone back fit now so there are no excuses now. We need to go on a run of winning games.

"Can we secure a top-four spot? It is going to be difficult. There are a lot of fantastic teams about. I am sure teams will spend in January.

"It will be a race to the very end and we've got to make sure we are in it."

Liverpool Sweating On Johnson Knee Injury Scan

Liverpool’s dramatic 1-0 injury-time win over Aston Villa was overshadowed by an injury scare involving England defender Glen Johnson.

The right-back, 25, came off with two minutes left after suffering a suspected knee injury.

“We don't know, we have to do a scan – maybe he has a problem with his knee,” said manager Rafa Benitez afterwards.

Johnson has already missed three games with a calf problem as Liverpool have had an injury-plagued season – and the full-back left Villa Park on crutches last night.

That was a precaution, but Liverpool will still be sweating until the results of the scan are known.

Distraught Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill, meanwhile, was left ruing Fernando Torres and the Premier League fixture list after Aston Villa’s top four hopes were hit.

It is a real blow to us,” said O’Neill, whose fifth-placed side lost 3-0 at Arsenal on Sunday.

“We have lost both games but tonight we should have won.

“It is hard to take as we restricted Liverpool but we will come again.

“Unfortunately we have played two games in three days and those extra hours Liverpool had might have made a difference.”

Carragher Hails Reds Statement

Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool's last gasp win over Aston Villa was a statement of intent to their rivals that they are still a major force in the battle for a Champions League spot.

The Reds closed the gap on fourth placed Tottenham to four points, and are now only two behind Villa, after Fernando Torres scored his 50th Premier League goal for the club in the third minute of injury-time.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez reiterated his "guarantee" of finishing in the top four in the aftermath of the Villa Park encounter.

And Carragher is confident they can now put together a decisive run of results in the New Year.

He said: "It was a big result. That brings us a lot closer to Aston Villa. If they had beaten us, it would have been a big points difference so the one game can make a difference.

"We realise what would have happened if we had lost. People would have said we were miles away and 'that was it' for the top four so we have given ourselves a fighting chance.

"I haven't looked at the table for a while so I am not sure how far or how close we are. When it's not going well, there is no point.

"But if we can win the next game against Tottenham as well, that can put us right in the mix. We've had a lot of ups and downs this season and hopefully we can go on a good run now."

Carragher added: "We've been up there for a long time. There are always people wanting to shoot you down, other teams.

"Over the last few years Villa have been one of those teams around the top six alongside Everton.

"But this time around Manchester City have really come on and Tottenham have done really well and I think they are all looking at us as the team they can take the place of.

"So it was more than just the three points at Villa. It was a statement to everyone that we are still fighting for that place."

The only worry for the Reds was a knee injury to defender Glen Johnson, with the Reds anxiously awaiting the result of a scan on the England player.

Villa were left to reflect on a dismal festive period which had also seen them beaten at another of their top four rivals in Arsenal.

But defender Luke Young is confident Villa will not suffer a long term hangover from their double setback ahead of FA Cup third round and Carling Cup semi-final meetings with Blackburn in the next week.

He said: "Everyone was disappointed in the dressing room but we can't let the last two results ruin the great run we've had.

"It's time to regroup now and look forward to the tough month we've got coming up. Let's get over this one and look forward to the weekend.

"We've got to look forward. If you start dwelling on results like the Liverpool one, it's the worst thing you can do. You can start beating yourself up.

"We've seen in the league this season that teams are taking points off each other left right and centre.

It's going to go all the way down to the end for this final Champions League spot and we hope to be right in among them. We want this to make us stronger."

Villa will be hoping striker Emile Heskey has recovered from illness in time for the first meeting with Sam Allardyce's side on Saturday.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill said: "Emile was ill on Sunday at Arsenal and he came off in the game and still wasn't feeling so bright so we didn't include him. We will see how he is."

Juventus Set Sights On Rafael Benitez & Javier Mascherano Of Liverpool

Juventus are following Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez, and midfielder Javier Mascherano with plans to entice both men into swapping Anfield for the Olimpico in Turin.

Il Corriere Dello Sport claims the Old Lady is ready to rekindle an interest in the currently injured Mascherano, and will hope to sign him in the summer.

They are planning early to avoid disappointment after having missed out on the Argentinian last summer. The report suggests Mascherano, whose contract expires in 2012 and entitles him to €1.6 million per season, is eager to quit the club.

His will to leave will be strengthened even further if the Reds continue to endure a troubled season and fail to qualify for next year's Champions League.

Juve, who are reportedly searching for a coach to replace the under-fire Ciro Ferrara, have also been linked with Benitez. Should the Spaniard arrive in Turin, a move for Masherano would be easier to execute.

Enthusiastic market rumours suggest the coach may even arrive as soon as January, but planned moves for both men for next summer seems more likely.

Despite the report, Juventus have recently made it clear on a number of occasions that they are not looking to replace Ferrara, despite their recent slump in form and exit from the Champions League.

Benitez Shock At Reaction

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez angrily explained his surprise at the reaction to his guarantee of a place in the top four of the Premier League this season.

The Reds boss saw his side grab a dramatically late victory at Aston Villa on Tuesday as Fernando Torres added another twist to the race for UEFA Champions League football with his 50th English league goal coming deep into stoppage time.

A narrow 1-0 win moved Liverpool to seventh position in the table and the Merseysiders now sit just two points behind Villa and four points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham, who travel to Anfield on 10th January.

The win came as a major feather in the cap for Benitez, who has maintained throughout the campaign that his under-performing side will qualify for 2010/11's European Cup, and so he was shocked when his promise was questioned post-match.

His reaction was not on a par to last season's infamous 'Rafa rant', but it was almost as cold as a snowy night in the Midlands, as he told Sky Sports 1: "The manager has to have confidence in his team so he has to say that we will finish in the top four.
"I have to be the first one to believe so they (the players) will believe.

"I was really pleased because we couldn't give something to our fans when we played against Portsmouth so I am really pleased for them because it was bad weather and I think that they will come back to Liverpool and enjoy today."

When pushed further on his guarantee of a place in the top four, he said: "What do you have to do? As a manager of the team you have to believe in the players.

"I was really surprised a lot of people are talking about it like, 'oh Rafa is taking the pressure off his players'. You have to do it like this because I am the manager."

When asked about suggestions he would resign if Liverpool do not qualify for the Champions League, he said: "I don't see any journalist making a mistake and resigning, so every time that you ask me the same, I will ask you the same."

Torres still did not appear to be at full fitness following his long-standing groin injury, but Benitez was in no doubt regarding the predatory brilliance of his record signing.

The Liverpool boss said: "He is a very, very good player, a key player for us. His record is amazing so I am very pleased for him and very pleased for the team."

Rafa Benitez In Bid To Sign Ruud van Nistelrooy On Loan From Real Madrid

Liverpool are trying to thrash out a deal with Real Madrid to land Ruud van Nistelrooy on a six-month loan next week.

Rafael Benitez’s side, who beat Aston Villa in a snowstorm at Villa Park on Tuesday night, are keen to bring in an experienced striker after seeing their season crumble during Fernando Torres’s frequent stints in the treatment room.

Van Nistelrooy, 33, is keen to head to Anfield to prove his fitness for Holland ahead of next summer’s World Cup. But boss Benitez is worried about the Dutchman’s troubling injury record and has already ruled out paying £3m to take him on a permanent basis.

He is also refusing to agree to Real Madrid’s demands to pay the striker’s £100,000-a-week wages for the rest of the season if he joins on loan.

Benitez has limited funds available as a result of his inability to find takers for Dutchman Ryan Babel, Ukraine forward Andriy Voronin, Swiss right back Philipp Degen and Italian left back Andrea Dossena in the transfer window.

Instead, Benitez has asked the Spanish side to pay the majority of Van Nistelrooy’s wages during his time at Anfield.

But Madrid are holding out in the hope that another Premier League club make contact and force an auction for the ex-Manchester United forward.

Babel’s agent, meanwhile, says Liverpool are only interested in straight cash deals for the Dutch winger. Tottenham, Birmingham, Sunderland and Besiktas have all expressed interest but Benitez will not allow him to simply go out on loan.

Babel’s agent Winnie Haatrecht said: ‘It will be difficult for him to focus and remain focused. He will not be loaned.

‘I don’t know if he will be sold, I have had no contact about that. The only thing I know - no loan. There has been no talk about a sale.’

Dossena, meanwhile, is holding talks over a possible switch to Atletico Madrid.

Agent Slams Tabloid ‘Lies’ About Liverpool Star Alberto Aquilani

The representative of Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani has rushed to stop the rumour mill after English tabloids alleged the 25-year-old had flown to Belgrade to receive treatment from ‘placenta doctor’ Marijana Kovacevic in a bid to put an end to his seemingly endless series of injury setbacks.

“So many lies have been told of late and the last one was the story about the sorceress…” agent Franco Zavaglia told

“I stayed in England for ten days and travelled between Liverpool and Manchester. Alberto is on the right path to a full recovery.

“He endured eight troubled months because of his ankle injury. But we are not discovering Aquilani’s value today. He is a quality player with great potential.

“He just wants to play regularly now so that he will realize his dream, which is to go to the World Cup.

“If Alberto will be fit, it’s unlikely the Nazionale boss will do without him.”

Aquilani underwent ankle surgery last May before joining Liverpool from Roma and was only handed his first Premier League start last week as the Reds defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Anfield. Last night he featured in the Reds' 1-0 win at Aston Villa.

'April Start' For New Liverpool Stadium, Says Council

Work on Liverpool's new stadium in Stanley Park could begin as early as April 2010, the leader of Liverpool City Council has told the BBC.

Warren Bradley said Liverpool have told the council they are "very close now to securing the finances".

He added it would be "in April that hopefully, fingers crossed, we'll see some activity on Stanley Park".

Bradley also revealed the council would hold talks with Everton about their plans for a new stadium on 11 January.

The government rejected Everton's plans for a 50,000-seater stadium in Kirkby, with Liverpool City Council one of the opponents of the plan.

Development of Liverpool Football Club's proposed new ground has been a casualty of the unstable global financial situation.

Construction on the new site in Stanley Park, which is next to the Reds' current Anfield Stadium and has a planned 60,000 capacity, was frozen in August 2008 after preliminary work because of the financial conditions.

But in September Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks insisted it would go ahead once the financial situation improved, and Liverpool City Council leader Bradley says the club is now confident of securing the required cash in the first three months of 2010.

"What they've said is they'll secure the finances in the first quarter, so that's between January and March," he told BBC Radio Liverpool.

He added that work on Liverpool's new stadium, which is part of England's proposed 2018 World Cup bid, could then begin in April.

"We've been pressing Liverpool Football Club to ensure that they deliver the stadium and if they're not going to deliver it, to come clean with the council so we can look at other options," said Bradley.

"Liverpool Football Club have come back to us and said they're very close now to securing the finances and they want to move on as quickly as possible, not only for the World Cup bid but also for Liverpool Football Club, who see a new stadium as being the heart of the business plan."

Everton To Meet Liverpool City Council To Discuss New Stadium Plans

Everton will enter into new talks with Liverpool City Council over a new stadium. A date of 11 January has been set aside for the two sides to meet following the rejection of a planning application for a new stadium in Kirkby.

That proposed £400m development of a 50,000-seater stadium, in partnership with Tesco, collapsed last month. Liverpool City Council was opposed to the project. It will send a high-ranking delegation to the 11 January meeting, which was promised after the Kirkby decision. It is considered that redeveloping Goodison Park is too expensive.

Everton's head of public relations, Ian Ross, said: "Throughout the Destination Kirkby process, Liverpool City Council always made it clear that if the project was to fail they would step forward and seek to help us. As a consequence, a working group is to be formed and meetings held to actively explore all the options and possibilities which are open to Everton.

"Despite the disappointment of seeing our proposed move to Kirkby collapse we as a club remain convinced that a move to a new home is not only the right way forward but the only way forward.

"Of course, it does remain to be seen if the City Council can provide us with the level of help and assistance which we will require if we are to [re]locate to any new stadium within the Liverpool boundaries but we will enter these preliminary talks with a measure of optimism."

The City Council leader, Warren Bradley – who is an Everton fan – said: "We have got a meeting with Everton where we will put all our cards on the table.

"I will be there as will be council chief executive Colin Hilton and executive director of regeneration John Kelly. We want to make sure that we can facilitate things for Everton."