Friday, April 30, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 1 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan scored against Liverpool for the second time in a week to end the Merseysiders' dreams of a third European final in five years.

The former Manchester United forward, who hit the only goal in the first leg, scored the crucial extra-time away goal which booked their place in May's Europa League final despite a 2-1 defeat at Anfield.

Alberto Aquilani's 44th-minute strike had ensured the game went into the additional 30 minutes and despite Yossi Benayoun putting his side ahead, Forlan - much derided during his time in English football - had the last word.

Twice previously in this competition Liverpool had come back from first leg deficits - against Lille and Benfica - but on this occasion even a win was not enough.

How they missed injured striker Fernando Torres, watching his former club take on his current employers from the stands, after dominating most of the game but failing to finish off their opponents in normal time.

But it was not the lack of goals which did for them in the end, but the one they let in at the Kop end to a familiar foe.

Liverpool had needed an early boost and they almost got it after just nine seconds.

Daniel Agger's long ball picked out Benayoun in the penalty area and his low shot from a narrow angle was turned behind by goalkeeper David de Gea, who had an easier save when Aquilani shot straight at him in the 11th minute.

It was a sign of things to come as Atletico's gameplan of sitting back and counter-attacking was restricted to just the former.

But the Spanish side, driven by the knowledge an away goal would strengthen their position considerably, still posed an occasional threat and Jose Reina dived low to his right to turn Raul Garcia's long-range effort around the post midway through the half.

Still Liverpool pushed forward and Dirk Kuyt, who recovered from a calf injury to lead the line, was only inches over as he slid into the six-yard area to deflect Javier Mascherano's cross.

The game was becoming more open but when Sergio Aguero went round Reina from Jose Antonio Reyes' perfect through-ball he opted to cross rather than shoot from a narrow angle and Forlan could not make up the ground.

Liverpool thought they had scored the goal they desperately wanted when Steven Gerrard curled in a 32nd-minute free-kick and Agger headed into the bottom corner only to be flagged offside.

Gerrard was booked for a needless foul on Aguero as the half drew to a close and frustration levels began to rise at Anfield.

But a minute before the interval the breakthrough finally came with the simplest of moves and the most exact of finishes.

Stand-in right-back Mascherano's throw down the wing was picked up by Benayoun whose cross was missed by Kuyt but found Aquilani who curled a low shot just inside De Gea's left-hand post.

With honours even Liverpool's approach play was more patient and measured as the second half began.

But the optimism around Anfield which was tangible before the break had been replaced by a growing sense of anxiety and the players could feel it, with Benayoun shooting well over from 25 yards.

Urged on by the Kop, Liverpool found an extra gear and when left-back Glen Johnson cut in and whipped in a right-footed shot De Gea could only parry it over the crossbar, but the goalkeeper was able to claim Gerrard's corner unchallenged.

The last 10 minutes saw Atletico have probably their best spell of the game but Forlan crucially mis-controlled the last chance of regulation time having sprung the offside trap.

Five minutes into the added period Liverpool went ahead for the first time.

A Gerrard free-kick was only half-cleared and Lucas lobbed the ball over the inside-left channel where Benayoun, played onside by Antonio Lopez, drilled home left-footed with De Gea getting a hand to the shot but failing to keep it out.

Substitute Jose Manuel Jurado's 20-yard effort inches wide of the post was a warning Liverpool failed to heed as in the 102nd minute Atletico scored a the vital away goal when Reyes beat Johnson to cross for the unmarked Forlan to stab home.

The second period was notable only for Simao Sabrosa firing just over as Liverpool's European dreams - and their hopes of a successful conclusion to their season - were extinguished.

Benitez: Reds Board Won't Back Me

Rafa Benitez last night threw his future as Liverpool manager into fresh doubt by revealing he has NEVER received assurances over his job.

But, with Juventus waiting in the wings to capture Benitez, it could well be the last big night of his six-year reign.

When asked if anyone from the Anfield boardroom had sat down with him and given assurances over his future, he replied pointedly: “No.”

He added: “For one year I have been listening to stories about Martin O’Neill taking my job or Klinsmann, Mourinho, Rijkaard or Hiddink.

“But I have to keep doing my job. All I can do is focus on the next game.

“The opportunity to be in a European final is massive for any club. We have some problems with injuries, but we will be ready for the game.

“I have read in the Spanish press Atletico players saying there is not much difference between the atmosphere at the Calderon and Anfield, but there is a massive difference and hopefully we will see that.”

Despite the doubt over his future, Benitez continued to build for the future when he completed the signing of Charlton youngster Jonjo Shelvey for £1.7m.

The 18-year-old midfielder has passed medical and agreed personal terms, and will complete his move to Anfield on May 10.

Ryan Babel Blames Outside Influences For His Mistakes At Liverpool

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel admits he allowed himself to be affected by influences which ruined his game and almost forced him out of the club.

The Holland international was a bit-part player midway through the season and found an outlet for his frustrations through his personal Twitter page.

That prompted a personal rebuke from manager Rafael Benítez and with Birmingham reportedly having a £9 million bid turned down, it appeared the Dutchman was heading for a January exit.

However, a meeting between Benítez, Babel and his agent straightened things out and since then the player has started to show glimpses of the form which persuaded Liverpool to pay £11 million for him in July 2007.

"I think the turning point was that I could focus on the football and not rumours and different sayings of people and the media.

"For every young player it is difficult to focus 100% when you know you are the subject of something that can influence your game.

"During that period people were telling me negative and positive things and that made me think about different things and you cannot concentrate on football.

"When you read in one paper that Liverpool want to get rid of you – even though you know it is not true – it is those little things which confuse you.

"I was not close to leaving but it was one of those things that did not make me concentrate 100%.''

Of Benítez's pep talk he added: "It is a situation where both sides have to work with each other. It has given me confidence recently and I'm now trying to give something back.

"Liverpool have confidence in me and I have confidence in Liverpool."

Babel lays some of his self-doubt and insecurity at the feet of his father, a hard taskmaster by all accounts.

"I am very self-critical, that is how I have been raised," he added. "I have a very difficult father who is always looking at points where I can improve.

"Sometimes that is annoying because you come off the pitch with a good feeling and he still comes with points that could be better.

"I only want to improve more. I think it is clear how my career has been so far but I'm confident for the future so, as long as I can concentrate on football, the best will definitely come."

Liverpool Target Danny Wilson Refuses New Rangers Deal

The chances of Danny Wilson leaving Rangers this summer appear to have increased following reports that the highly-rated young defender will not sign a new deal at Ibrox.

Liverpool have emerged as favourites to sign Wilson in recent weeks with his current Rangers deal expiring at the end of 2010/2011.

A report in the Scottish Sun today claims Rangers have given up hope of holding on to Wilson beyond his current deal which makes it likely he will leave this summer.

Rangers have reportedly held talks with Liverpool over a deal but the Merseyside giants face competition for the youngster from the likes of Aston Villa, Spurs and Manchester City.

The desire to sign Wilson is in line with the current transfer policy of Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez who recently signed Raheem Sterling and is close to a deal for Jonjo Shelvey, two of the hottest prospects in England.

Liverpool Line-Up Rangers' £5m Defender Madjid Bougherra

Rangers’ defender Madjid Bougherra could be a summer target for Liverpool - if Rafa Benitez keeps his job.

The Anfield boss is thought to be keen on bringing the Algeria international back to the Premier League ahead of next season.

But with Benitez's future on Merseyside uncertain, any hopes Bougherra may have of a summer move to Liverpool will hinge on the Spaniard staying at the club.

Bougherra's agent Farid Raayad said: 'There’s serious interest from three clubs and Liverpool’s is the strongest, but it depends on the future of Benitez.

'Panathinaikos are also interested as are Fenerbahce.'

Bougherra, who is rated at around £5m, could be joined at Anfield by teenage team-mate Danny Wilson.

Liverpool have been linked with a move for the 18-year-old as he refuses to sign a new deal at Ibrox after bursting on to the scene this season.

Mauro Zarate Attracts Attention From Liverpool & Manchester City

Mauro Zarate has been tipped to leave Lazio and head back to the Premier League, according to Leggo.

Zarate, who has experience in England having played for Birmingham City in 2008, is close to an exit following a less than perfect season.

He has scored just three goals in 30 appearances and is ready to pack his bags. He will ask to meet President Claudio Lotito at the end of term to ask for guarantees in relation to the challenge for objectives, such as qualification for Europe.

This season the focus has been on dodging relegation, something that has not gone down well with Zarate.

Leggo's report comes just weeks after Zarate's brother and agent issued a quit threat.

"If we are in the way of Lazio then we will leave," Sergio Zarate said.

Liverpool and Manchester City are both said to have made enquiries with the club.

Ngoo And Ince Strike In Under-18s Triumph

Liverpool Under-18s stretched their unbeaten run to nine matches with a superb 4-0 victory over Leeds United at the Academy on Thursday afternoon.

The Reds dominated for long spells against the Yorkshire outfit and deservedly earned the three points thanks to goals from Michael Ngoo, Tom Ince (2) and Conor Coady (pen).

It means Rodolfo Borrell's men have not lost a match since their FA Youth Cup defeat at home to Watford back in February and can complete an impressive finish to the season by avoiding defeat in their final game at Huddersfield on May 8.

Following a scrappy opening devoid of any real clear-cut chances, it was Liverpool who came closest when Toni Brito E Silva set up Ngoo on nine minutes.

The former Southend striker looked all set to fire in a shot at goal from just inside the penalty area but instead opted to turn back into trouble, allowing Leeds the chance to clear.

The opportunity merely served as a catalyst for Liverpool to step it up a gear, however, and on 18 minutes they grabbed the breakthrough courtesy of their in-form forward.

John Flanagan picked out Silva on the right side of midfield. The Portuguese winger cut inside his man and fired in a low shot that Ryan Jones could only parry into the path of Ngoo, who gleefully swept in the rebound.

Craig Roddan was then unlucky to see a long range drive flash just past the post shortly after as Liverpool began to get at the Leeds rearguard.

The Reds were well in control of the proceedings and it came as no surprise when they added a second, with Andre Wisdom setting up Ince to fire past Jones on the half hour mark.

The visitors had enjoyed very few forays forward and Adam Watson's speculative free-kick was the best they could muster in as one-sided a first 45 as you are likely to see.

Indeed, Leeds were lucky to go in just two goals behind at the break after Silva latched onto Ngoo's flick, rounded the 'keeper and fired in a shot that was hacked off the line.

The pattern continued after the interval and on 55 minutes the Reds ensured there would be no doubt over the result as Coady picked himself up to drill home the third from the spot after he was hauled down in the area.

As if the away side hadn't suffered enough, Borrell took this as the cue to unleash Raheem Sterling and the substitute almost added a stunning fourth when he skipped past two and arrowed a shot just beyond the far upright.

Liverpool pressed throughout the remainder of the encounter and after another substitute, Kristjan Gauti Emilsson twice went close, Ince wrapped up victory with a magnificent strike on 86 minutes.

McLeish Plans Birmingham Stay

Alex McLeish has spelt out his desire to remain as Birmingham manager for "at least" the next two seasons.

McLeish insists he is in no great rush to put pen to paper on a new deal. The former Scotland boss has been linked with a move to Liverpool should Rafael Benitez end his term at Anfield in the summer.

But he is happy with life at St Andrew's where he has guided Blues to promotion and a top-10 position in the Premier League in successive seasons.

"We haven't really sat down and got into (the contract) as such," he said. "There has been no real hurry for it. There are still two games to go. We are not into May yet.

"There is plenty of time. People outside seem to be more anxious about getting it done. The club and I are relaxed about it.

"I don't see any reason why I've got to leave. If you are talking about me being linked with big clubs, it is nice that my name is mentioned, but these clubs will be going for names of maybe people who have been a little bit more successful than me in the game.

"I've had some success but maybe they are looking at a different kind of level, European success, English titles, things like that. At the moment I am concentrating on Birmingham, certainly for this season and the next couple of years at least."

Phil Parkinson: Jonjo Shelvey Sale Is Good Value For Charlton And Liverpool

Charlton Athletic manager Phil Parkinson believes the £1.7 million sale of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to Liverpool is a good deal for the south London club.

The teenager's transfer fee will rise depending on how he fares at Anfield, and Parkinson believes Rafael Benitez has a great young talent on his hands. But he also believes the time was right for the Addicks to cash in on one of their most promising assets.

"No manager likes to lose their best players, but this deal represents very good value for the club going forward, and is a fantastic opportunity for Jonjo," Parkinson told reporters.

"It's very difficult to stand in the way of any young player joining a club the stature of Liverpool."

With Charlton seemingly destined to be in the League One play-offs at the end of the season Parkinson is only disappointed that they will not be able to call upon their prodigy for the remainder of the campaign, as they look to claw their way back into the Championship at the first attempt.

"I've spoken to a number of fans and I know they are puzzled about the timing of the transfer," he said, as Shelvey will join the Reds at the conclusion of the final league game.

"The timing isn't ideal but unfortunately that was taken out of our hands once Liverpool approached, and the board and I agreed it was best to get everything out in the open.

"We can now move on and concentrate on the next few weeks as we enter a crucial stage of the season, and indeed, the club's history."

Shelvey became Charlton's youngest player when he made his first-team bow in April 2008, aged just 16 years and 59 days. He has 48 appearances and scored eight times for the Addicks.

Liverpool And Carlsberg Set Sights On Lucrative Chinese Market

Carlsberg will appear on the shirts of Liverpool FC at Anfield for the final time this weekend when the Reds take on Chelsea, and use the opportunity of the biggest game of the Premier League weekend to target the Chinese market.

Liverpool's sponsor will display its logo on the famous red shirts worn by Steven Gerrard and his teammates in Chinese.

'Carslberg officials came up with the idea as a way of interacting with the club's huge support in Asia and as acknowledgement of Liverpool being the only UK city to be exhibiting at the World Expo in Shanghai later this year,' reports the Liverpool Daily Post.

'Chinese messages will be displayed on the perimeter advertising boardings during the match and a Chinese competition winner will present a trophy to the 'Man of the Match' in the Carlsberg Lounge after the final whistle,' the newspaper adds.

The match is vital for both Liverpool and Chelsea. The London team are hoping to stay ahead of Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title, while Liverpool are desperate for three points as they chase qualification to the Uefa Champions League.

Rafa Benitez's side currently sits in seventh, with Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City in the race.

However, Liverpool are hoping that the fact that Manchester City and Aston Villa meet on Saturday and Tottenham and City play on Wednesday will open up a chance for the Reds to leapfrog their rivals.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Europa League Preview: Liverpool vs. Atletico Madrid

Liverpool's 4-0 victory over Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon propelled them to seventh in the table with 62 points from 36 matches, just two points off the fourth and final Champions League place. The Reds are five points clear of Everton, who are eighth, meaning that next season the former European champions will more than likely feature in Europe.

However, this season has largely been a disaster for the Premier League giants and the Europa League remains their only hope of salvation. Dumped out of the Champions League in the group stage, Rafael Benitez's side have done well to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League, but Liverpool need to do something special against Atletico Madrid on Thursday night if they want to reach the final of what is essentially Europe's second most prestigious club competition.

Liverpool's win at Burnley will certainly have boosted their confidence and Benitez will fire up his men for another special night at Anfield.

Atletico Madrid are already in the Copa del Rey final, and progress to the final of the Europa League will mean that between now and the end of the season the Mattress-Makers will have the chance to win two cup competitions.

This is indeed a great occasion for the 'other club' from Madrid, who have won no major trophies since 1996, when they did the league and cup double in Spain. Like Liverpool, Atletico were relegated from the Champions League to the Europa League at the end of the group stage, but before their victory over the English giants at home last week, the former European Cup finalists had won just once in Europe since their Champions League qualifiers against Panathinaikos back in August.

Atletico are struggling in the Primera Division at the moment, but they did win 3-1 against Tenerife at home at the weekend. Atleti have no hope of getting a Champions League spot, but they would certainly like to remain in the hunt for European silverware after the match against Liverpool at Anfield.



April 25 v Burnley (A) - WON 4-0 (Premier League)

April 22 v Atletico Madrid (A) - LOST 1-0 (Europa League)

April 19 v West Ham United (H) - WON 3-0 (Premier League)

April 11 v Fulham (H) - DREW 0-0 (Premier League)

April 8 v Benfica (H) - WON 4-1 (Europa League)

Atletico Madrid

April 25 v Tenerife (H) - WON 3-1 (La Liga)

April 22 v Liverpool (H) - WON 1-0 (Europa League)

April 17 v Villarreal (A) - LOST 2-1 (La Liga)

April 14 v Xerez (H) - LOST 2-1 (La Liga)

April 11 v Espanyol (A) - LOST 3-0 (La Liga)



Fernando Torres will be out of the second leg just as he missed the first. Midfielder Maxi Rodriguez is ineligible and while Alberto Aquilani started against Burnley in the Premier League at the weekend, it is likely that he will be on the bench on Thursday night. David Ngog, who complained of a back problem after the game at the Calderon, should be fit for Thursday night's fixture.

Probable Line-up (4-2-3-1): Reina, Agger, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Johnson; Mascherano, Lucas; Gerrard, Benayoun, Kuyt; Ngog

Atletico Madrid

Tiago and Ibrahima are ineligible for the Europa League. Tomas Ujfalusi has recovered from a groin strain and will start at Anfield. Sergio Aguero returns from suspension and will partner Diego Forlan upfront. Mariano Pernia and Pablo Ibanez have not been selected for the trip to Anfield by Atleti coach Quique Sanchez Flores.

Probable Line-up (4-4-2): De Gea, Ujfalusi, Perea, Antonio Lopez, Alvaro Dominguez; Simao, Paulo Assuncao, Raul Garcia, Reyes; Forlan, Aguero


Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Thursday night will be one of those nights when Liverpool need inspiration, and who better than 'Captain Fantastic' Stevie G to provide them with that. The England international midfielder had one of the few clear chances for the Reds last week at the Vicente Calderon and with Liverpool missing striker Fernando Torres yet again, Gerrard, placed 91st in the Castrol Rankings, will be the Reds' main hope.

Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid)

Although Atleti looked the better side in the attacking department at the Calderon last week, there was something missing, and that something was Sergio Aguero. The Argentina international returns for the second leg of this mouth-watering semi-final clash and his presence upfront will be a headache for the Liverpool defenders. The 21-year-old, placed 64th in the Castrol Rankings, has struck 12 times in the league this campaign and his partnership with Diego Forlan is likely to breach the Liverpool citadel at Anfield.

Ryan Babel Happy To Play The Lone Front Man For Liverpool Against Atletico Madrid

Liverpool's forward Ryan Babel is ready lead the club's frontline in the Europa League showdown with Atletico Madrid on Thursday, if called upon by manager Rafael Benitez.

The mantle could fall to the Holland international to reprise the role he fulfilled during his Ajax days, with Fernando Torres sidelined for the rest of the season and both David Ngog and Dirk Kuyt still major doubts for the semi-final clash.

The 23 year-old has played in all six of Liverpool's European adventures this year and is anticipating another famous Anfield European night to fire his team into next month's final in Hamburg.

"Playing as a striker is a nice role because I spent all my youth there so that’s why I like it," he told reporters.

"It’s a very big game and another chance to win something and to make a success of this season, which is definitely important for the club and also for the players.

"It’s a good thing that the second leg is at Anfield also as we have come from behind before so I have confidence that we can do it again.

"For everybody, I think it’s clear that we have the fans behind us and an atmosphere that can make a very big difference."

Rumours spread in January about whether Babel would stay at Anfield much longer, after his omission from the squad that traveled to face Stoke City prompted an outburst at manager Rafael Benitez on Twitter.

However he has since had clear the air talks with his Spanish boss and now he is clear of his role within the squad, he is focused on the rest of the season and Liverpool's European ambitions.

He said: "I am happy because we have discussed everything and I have great things to look forward to. This is a big club and I am aware that I am a part of this.

"It makes it easier now I know what the club expects from me."

Babel remained coy on his World Cup prospects with Holland, refusing to comment on his chances of making the Dutch squad.

"To be honest, I am just focused now on Liverpool so the World Cup will be something I will think about at the end of the season."

Liverpool New Boy Jonjo Shelvey Will Be 'Ideal Replacement' For Steven Gerrard: Former Coach

Liverpool's latest signing Jonjo Shelvey can grow into the perfect long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard, according to the 18-year-old's former physical education teacher.

The Reds confirmed on Wednesday that the England Under-17 midfielder will join the club from Charlton Athletic on May 10, after undergoing a successful medical at Melwood earlier this week. The fee is believed to be an initial £1.7 million, rising to £3m depending on appearances.

Ackred Atkinson coached Shelvey at school, district and county level, and told UK in an exclusive interview that he feels the Romford-born starlet can be moulded into the ideal successor to Liverpool skipper Gerrard, and even has the potential to emulate his illustrious new team-mate.

"I would say Jonjo is in that exact mould," said Atkinson. "He would be the perfect replacement for a player like Gerrard. If you are talking about how far Jonjo can go in the game, I would say all the way; he is a fantastic player."

Atkinson added that Shelvey was always highly rated at Brentwood County High School, and revealed that the youngster possessed outstanding physical and technical attributes.

"For sure, he was always head and shoulders ahead of the other boys," he said. "We had a few lads of similar ability - a couple have gone to Leyton Orient and to West Ham United - but he was on another level.

"He had a real intimidating presence, being tall and strong, and he certainly used to stand out in every game he played.

"He began by playing as a centre-back, but his ability on the ball and with free-kicks - which he would smash in left, right and centre - meant he was quickly moved forward into midfield, where he has of course made his career so far."

Shelvey is said to have rejected a move to Chelsea upon signing professional terms at Charlton on his 17th birthday, and is known to be a huge West Ham supporter, so does his decision to leave London and join Liverpool surprise Atkinson?

"It does surprise me in a way," he said. "I think when he signed for Charlton, he wanted to show his loyalty to a lesser club. Of course he is a West Ham boy deep down, and it was always expected that he would end up there, but you never know whether they will be a yo-yo club.

"I think Liverpool, in the best possible way, still has that 'English-ness' that may have attracted Jonjo. Compared to the likes of Arsenal or Chelsea perhaps, Liverpool might seem a more appealing destination. Especially with someone like Gerrard there as the ideal role-model."

Atkinson also revealed that Shelvey keeps in touch with his old school, and supports the P.E. department on open days. He even texted his old school team manager to let him know of his move to Anfield, an indication of his growing maturity.

"He did have temperament issues as a younger player," says Atkinson. "But I think as he has grown and been immersed in a professional environment, they have been ironed out.

"He was always totally dedicated to his football, that was always clear, and it is always nice to see him when he pops back into the school. He often helps out with open days and things like that, and he sent me a message to say he was on his way to Liverpool on Monday.

"We are all delighted for him, and hopefully we will be hearing a lot more about him in the coming years!"

Jonjo Shelvey Agrees To Join Liverpool FC

Liverpool FC have sealed the signing of England under-17 international Jonjo Shelvey for an initial fee of £1.7m.

Shelvey has passed a medical and agreed personal terms and will complete his move to Anfield from current club Charlton Athletic on May 10.

Liverpool FC managing director Christian Purslow said: "Jonjo is an exciting young England international. His signing is part of our long-term strategic recruitment plan and we all look forward to welcoming him to Melwood (training ground)."

The fee also contains a number of potential add-ons, relating to domestic and international appearances.

Shelvey has made 48 appearances for Charlton since becoming their youngest ever player when he made his debut aged 16 years and 59 days in April 2008.

He is also their youngest goalscorer in both the league and FA Cup and established himself as an important part of the League One side’s first team this season, scoring four goals in 27 appearances in all competitions.

Charlton chairman Richard Murray said: "It’s with the greatest reluctance that we have accepted an offer for Jonjo from Liverpool.

"No club likes to lose such a talented prospect, but the overall package is one we couldn’t refuse, and one which was very attractive to Jonjo.

"As a club, we have never stood in the way of any of our young players moving to ’bigger’ clubs, and this also applies to Jonjo.

"Liverpool are going to develop him over the next few years to be a top player, and I can’t think of a better place for him to go."

The two clubs also revealed that they are in talks over "a strategic partnership involving the development of players in both directions" following Shelvey’s move to the Barclays Premier League.

Liverpool Readying Sensational Bid For Man City Hit Man

Rumours have been circulating over the last few days that Carlos Tevez is far from happy at Man City and that he is on the verge of demanding a transfer with Liverpool seen as a likely destination.

At first the story was seen as pure gossip but now both the Spanish and Italian media are also running with the story and in fact the Italians are fairly confident that Tevez will be at Anfield next season partnering up with his old mate Javier Mascherano and forming a world class partnership with Fernando Torres.

The story goes that Liverpool can afford to pay up to £18 Million and that Man City may well be interested in accepting the bid rather than keep a player that is unhappy in the dressing room, they may even use Tevez has bait to tempt Liverpool to sell Anfield captain Steven Gerrard to City.

With other rumours linking Benitez with the manager’s job at City next season and repeated speculation linking both Gerrard and Torres with moves to City also one can expect that there will be a lot of communicating going on between Man City and Liverpool in the close season.

Chelsea Wants Thomas Ince To Shape Future

Chelsea want to poach Paul Ince’s teenage son Thomas from Liverpool as part of their drive for youth this summer.

Talented winger Thomas, 18, has been at Liverpool’s academy since he was 16 and is one of their most highly rated prospects. He is expected to make it into the first-team soon, at the club where his father spent two years.

Thomas has a year left on his Anfield contract and Chelsea scouts, under orders to bring bright young talent to Stamford Bridge, have watched him regularly. The club are trying to put together a deal to persuade Ince to come to London for the start of next season, but Liverpool are desperate to hang on to him.

Chelsea have also targeted two of Spain’s brightest starlets. Under-17 winger Pablo Sarabia, who plays for Real Madrid’s B team Castilla, has been watched extensively and could be signed for nothing at the end of the season, as he is currently involved in a contract dispute.

Sarabia is also on Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger’s wish list and the Gunners have already made inquiries, while Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola is also keen.

The £16million-rated Under-21 midfielder Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao, linked with a move to Liverpool last summer, is also a Chelsea target, with Blues owner Roman Abramovich wanting to place the emphasis on younger, cheaper talent.

Rafael Benitez Growing Frustrated With Juventus Link

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is growing tired of the rumours surrounding his future at the club, with constant speculation the Spaniard will jump ship to Juventus in the summer.

Benitez has been forced to prepare for Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid amid the constant distraction of rumours and admits the speculation is starting to frustrate him.

"I don't like [the rumours]," Benitez told reporters ahead of the game at Anfield.

"I would like to see news in the press about trophies, or goals or fantastic performances about players but you cannot control everything.

"My future is Atletico Madrid. We have to concentrate on this game and try to win because it is the best for the club."

With the club having signed 15-year-old Raheem Sterling from QPR earlier in the season, Benitez expects further English additions in the near future as he follows a carefully prepared transfer plan.

"We have been working for years; I was trying to sign Gareth Barry before and Glen Johnson was the same idea - we were trying to bring in British players with passion," he said. "Players who could feel what it means to be a Liverpool player."

Benitez Free To Pursue Potential Juve Move

The attitude of the Liverpool hierarchy towards Rafael Benitez is that they will not stand in his way if the well-trailed offer from Juventus is finally put to their Spanish manager, but both parties regard that situation as still a long way off.

The pressure has been building this week, with more leaks from Italy suggesting that Benitez, who has four years left to run on his Liverpool contract, will be the subject of a £16m, four-year deal from the Italian club. While the Italians are not yet near to putting a formal request to Liverpool there is the sense that the move will speed up over the next few weeks.

Senior figures at Liverpool have indicated that – unlike in the past when Benitez has parlayed his popularity with the fans into improved contracts and greater influence at the club – this will not be the case should Juventus’ offer turn out to be genuine.

Benitez was in a much stronger position in March last year when he signed his existing deal at Liverpool – a four-year extension to 2014. With the club's American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks desperate to keep some semblance of stability to attract potential buyers, Benitez was regarded as untouchable 11 months ago.

His agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, is considered by the club as a prime mover in the attempts to broker an agreement with Juventus, although not everyone in English football is really convinced that they have the resources to complete the deal. It is likely that there will be some interest from Real Madrid in Benitez this summer, although the Juventus president, Jean-Claude Blanc, would push for a quick answer should the club put together an acceptable deal.

Rafael Benitez: Daniel Ayala Can Be A Great Defender For Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes his young Spanish centre-back Daniel Ayala has the potential to become a "great defender" over the coming years.

The teenager impressed during his second league start of the season in the 4-0 win over Burnley on Sunday.

His first-team call up during a defensive injury crisis at Anfield follows an impressive season at the back for the reserves.

"Daniel has been really good for the reserves through the whole season and now he has had his opportunity in the first-team," Benitez told the club website.

"He is good in the air, he is focused all the time and he has the potential to be a great defender."

Benitez is seemingly thrilled with the 19 year-old's development and was quick to emphasise his contribution against Burnley

"We are really pleased with the progress he has made. Steven Fletcher is a good player and you could see that he had targeted Daniel and he tried to challenge him.

"But he got on with it and you could see that in the second half Daniel's game improved."

Daniel Ayala arrived on Merseyside from Sevilla at the start of the 2007/08 Premier League campaign and has made four league appearances this season.

Rafael Benitez Pleased With Steven Gerrard's Reaction To Recent Off-Field Gossip

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is impressed with the way Steven Gerrard has handled himself in the wake of recent rumours surrounding his personal life.

The midfielder's marriage has been the subject of much speculation in the past week, with some outlets reporting he had split from his wife Alex Curran, and moved into a Liverpool hotel.

After denying any truth to the reports, Gerrard showed his performances on the pitch would be unaffected by the distractions, scoring two goals in his side's 4-0 Premier League win against Burnley at the weekend.

After that display, Benitez is confident his captain will continue to be on top form for the club's remaining challenges of the season — starting with Thursday's Europa League semi-final clash with Atletico Madrid.

"It was important for him to score with all the rumours and he was playing well," Benitez said in his pre-match press conference.

"I think it has been very good for the team. Now we can concentrate on our game and try to do the best, like Gerrard the other day scoring two goals.

"We have a lot of belief and everyone is ready so we have to show this on the pitch.

"If he is a leader on the pitch the rest of the players will follow him."

The Reds are currently 1-0 down after the first leg against Los Colchoneros, but are hoping victory at Anfield will see them progress to the final in Hamburg.

Benitez is even hoping to channel the memory of a past Anfield success to ensure his side get the right result.

"I was talking with the laundry man before I left Melwood and he told me 'I think about the game against Olympiacos','' Benitez revealed, referring to Gerrard's stunning late strike which secured a 3-1 win and the two-goal cushion needed to progress out of the Champions League group stage in 2004. The Reds went on to win the competition.

"We will take this, 3-1. The people believe so the staff have to believe and the players have to have belief too. It will be massive to be in another final so I think everyone will be pushing.

"These games are easy for me in terms of preparing the team talk. It is just to give two or three ideas about the game plan and then leave them to it as they are so focused to succeed.

"We have some players with experience in very important games. The main thing will be to push from the pitch and the players have to go there and show character, commitment and quality.''

Steven Gerrard’s Wife Alex Curran Dismisses Rumours Of Split

The wife of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has dismissed “ridiculous” suggestions that her marriage to the England player is on the rocks.

Alex Curran, 27, hit out at gossip which was fuelled by pictures of her out and about without her wedding ring. The Liverpool-born Wag told OK! magazine she was now keen to “set the record straight” and insisted the couple “don’t even argue”.

“There have been loads of rumours going around Liverpool saying that me and Steven have split up, that he’s moved into a hotel and ridiculous things like that. This always comes up every couple of years,” she said.

“It’s funny because we were saying the other day that we’ve never been happier.”

The model and fashion columnist insisted suggestions that her marriage was in trouble were completely unfounded, adding: “It doesn’t bother me too much as long as our close friends and family know the truth – that’s all that matters.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Juventus Reach Agreement With Liverpool Coach Rafael Benitez - Report

Juventus are on the verge of landing Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez after the Italian club reached an agreement with him via his agent Manuel Quillon Garcia, accoring to Tuttosport.

Director Roberto Bettega met with the agent in Monte Carlo on Monday night, where the two men spoke about bringing the Spaniard to Turin.

A verbal agreement has now been reached over a three-year deal, and all that remains is to set him free from the contract he is under at Liverpool.

Bianconeri president Jean-Claude Blanc will fly to Merseyside at the end of the week in an attempt to convince Liverpool into yielding their man.

Despite the report, Juventus have said Bettega was in Turin until 16:00CET on Monday, and neither the agent nor the director has confirmed talks had taken place.

Meanwhile, La Stampa reports that a Benitez arrival in Turin could spark off a squad overhaul at Vinovo.

They claim Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Dirk Kuyt and Martin Skrtel would all follow the coach.

However, reports suggest Liverpool would accept no less than €70million for the Spanish striker.

Rafael Benitez's Agent Denies Deal Done With Juventus

Rafael Benitez's agent has told BBC Sport reports the Liverpool boss has agreed a deal to take over Serie A giants Juventus are "absolutely false".

According to reports in Italy, the Turin side are poised to secure the Spaniard on a four-year contract.

But Manuel Quillon Garcia denied that was the case, insisting: "There is no agreement with anyone."

He also denied meeting Juve director Roberto Bettega in Monte Carlo this week to discuss Benitez's future.

BBC Sport understands Benitez is one of several possible candidates Juventus want to succeed Alberto Zaccheroni at the Stadio Olimpico this summer.

However, Benitez's pay demands, and the fact he would want to bring several of his backroom staff with him, could cause difficulties.

There has been no contact between Liverpool and Juventus, with the Reds privately sceptical the Italian club could afford to buy the manager out of his lucrative contract, which still has four years to run.

Juventus have refused to comment on speculation their president Jean-Claude Blanc will fly to Liverpool this week in an attempt to lure Benitez away from Anfield after six years in charge.

Benitez is preparing Liverpool for the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid at Anfield on Thursday.

He wants to stay at Anfield but is yet to meet the club's new chairman, Martin Broughton.

Talks are planned for this week, when Benitez's future and the club's summer transfer plans will be discussed.

How those discussions go will depend on whether Liverpool have clinched another season in Champions League football.

They currently lie seventh in the Premier League, two points adrift of Tottenham in fourth but having played a game more.

The Reds entertain Chelsea on Sunday before finishing their league campaign with an away match at Hull on 9 May.

Rafael Benitez Could Hand Alberto Aquilani A Free Role Against Atletico Madrid

Rafael Benitez is contemplating playing Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani in a free role behind the forwards in the future, and could deploy the playmaker there when Atletico Madrid come to town on Thursday.

The Italian has endured a tough time since moving to Anfield from Roma in a £20 million deal last summer, with injuries derailing his progress in the first-team.

But after laying on three assists while operating in that position during 4-0 Premier League win against Burnley last weekend, Benitez believes Aquilani's creativity can be exploited to the club's advantage.

And with the Reds keen to turn around a 1-0 deficit in the Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday, Benitez is keeping his options open.

"It is an option. He can play in both positions," the Reds gaffer told the club's official website.

"In the first year, especially because he has been injured for a long time, to manage him and find the right position for him was not easy because the Premier League is very strong and physical."

Steven Gerrard scored two goals playing from a deeper position in the game at Turf Moor, and Benitez admits playing the system more regularly might be an option for him.

"In this position he [Aquilani] has freedom and with Gerrard behind him they can pass to each other," he said.

"Aquilani can pass the ball and when the game is open like in the second half (against Burney) he can move and give good assists."

Sotirios Kyrgiakos Keen To Claim Europa League Trophy For Liverpool

Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos has revealed that it is his aim to ensure the Reds win the Europa League this season.

The centre-back, who moved to Merseyside in August from AEK Athens, wants to claim some silverware whilst he is at Anfield and is keen to make sure that Rafael Benitez's men beat Atletico Madrid on Thursday evening and reach the final in Hamburg.

The Greek international has been happy with his personal displays over the course of the season, but he insists that now is not the time to start looking back with satisfaction, especially with the World Cup ahead of him in the summer.

"I have been pleased with my form. I have a good relationship with the fans and I can see that they like me because I give everything for the club when I play," Kyrgiakos told LFC Weekly.

"Some of my team-mates have told me that I have become a favourite amongst the fans and I am proud of that because it is important for a footballer to be remembered in a positive way once he has gone.

"But this isn't the time to reflect. You have to keep going then in the summer, look back and analyse the season. That might not be possible until July because I have the World Cup with Greece and providing I am fit, I should be in the squad.

"At the moment, my mind is focused on Liverpool and if we finished the season with a trophy, that would mark a satisfying season for me because last pre-season, I never thought I'd even be at Liverpool."

Pepe Reina Should Have Been In PFA Team Of The Year - Ian Rush

The PFA Team of the Year selection always creates debate and former Liverpool star Ian Rush is not best pleased that Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina was omitted.

Manchester City's Joe Hart, who was enjoyed a superb season on loan at Birmingham City, was named at No.1, but Rush feels Reina would have been a more worthy selection.

"Without doubt Pepe should have been in the team. Hart's had a good season but when you watch Pepe Reina play you can see that he is an incredible stopper," the former Welsh international told reporters.

"I can't understand how he doesn't get a game for Spain. [Real Madrid's Iker] Casillas must be one hell of a goalkeeper to keep Reina out. He has been fantastic and has really grown in confidence over the years.

"He must have had three or four assists for some of our goals this season and that's one of the main things I like about him. His distribution on the counter attack; it's like having another outfield player."

Much of the focus this season at Anfield has been on how Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres influence the Reds, but Rush believes Reina is every bit as crucial to Rafa Benitez's team.

"There are probably games where Liverpool have gone on to win and Torres or Gerrard have taken the credit, but there are five or six occasions that I can think of where he has made an important save to change a game in our favour," he added.

"I can't understand how he isn't in the PFA team. When you look at Liverpool's player of the year, he's definitely in the top three, if not a worthy winner."

Addicks Confirm Talks

Charlton Athletic have confirmed that they are in talks about teenager Jonjo Shelvey's departure.

Reports have claimed that Liverpool have won the race to sign the Academy graduate, who is closing on 50 appearances for the Addicks.

It is believed Shelvey will undergo a medical on Merseyside this week, ahead of a move to Anfield in the summer.

However, League One club Charlton have refused to confirm that the player was in talks with Liverpool and insisted a deal was not yet done.

Addicks chairman Richard Murray told the South London Press: "There has been some interest shown in the player but we're some way off doing a deal."

Nicolas Otamendi: Liverpool Move For £9M New ‘Roberto Ayala’

One of last season’s Argentinian Clausura Championship stars was Velez Sarsfield’s young centre-half Nicolas Hernan Otamendi. The 22-year-old’s impact in the Clausura title race was such that the likes Real Madrid were named as interested suitors and the player himself has now cemented himself into Diego Maradona’s international set-up and is expected to go to the World Cup finals. He has been just as impressive this season and that form has alerted Rafa Benitez who is looking to strengthen his defence this summer with some younger players and the player dubbed the ‘new Roberto Ayala’ certainly fits the bill.

Otamendi only made his Velez debut in May 2008 as a late substitute in a 2-1 home win v Rosario Central. However, it was the 2009 Apertura Championship where the youngster proved his worth. He made a total on 17 league appearances (all starts) as Velez finished as champions, two points clear of Huracan. Unsurprisingly the Velez defence had an outstanding record with Otamendi in the side conceding just 13 goals in 19 league games. The form Otamendi showed brought him to the attention of Liverpool with Rafa Benitez’ scouting network strong in Argentina and the increasing stature of his performances has led the Argentine press to claim he will be on his way to Anfield to join compatriots Maxi Rodriguez, Emiliano Insua and Javier Mascherano.

Of the 17 matches he started in the Clausura Championship, the team kept 9 clean-sheets. These statistics and the dominant nature of Otamendi’s performances led to his quick rise from youth team player to highly-rated International. This season has not been quite as good for Velez who find themselves 7th which has increased speculation that Otamendi will leave either before or after the World Cup.

The 5 ft 10 central defender was called up by Maradona for a friendly match with Panama in May which was made up from home-based Argentinian players which was won 3-1. Otamendi played the full 90 minutes and such was his performance that he again played the full 90 minutes of the 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Ecuador in June. He has since maintained his place in the side winning 6 caps and played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 win in Uruguay that sealed World cup qualification. The fact that he was picked for such an important match shows the faith Maradona has in him and will have impressed Benitez who is looking to add more youth into his Liverpool defence this summer after a pretty poor domestic season. Otamendi also played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 friendly win over Germany in March where he excelled. The defender has received glowing reports from the player’s international team-mates Mascherano and Rodriguez, so a summer move is likely.

Due to Otamendi’s lack of height and playing style he has been likened to the former Valencia legendary defender Roberto Ayala. It’s of no surprise that a number of Serie A clubs have already begun to track the player including Inter, AC Milan and Lazio. However, Liverpool are leading the chase with fellow South Americans in their squad including Argentina star Javier Mascherano who has reportedly suggested the defender as the perfect new addition to Benitez. Unlike some South American youngsters who are catapulted to fame, Otamendi seems to be very level-headed. He still lives in his humble family home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and takes a bus to training every day.

The player’s main attributes include his physical strength which is conditioned from his love for boxing. Like Ayala and Fabio Cannavaro, the Argentine reads the game well and uses his speed to anticipate opposition moves. He is renowned for his excellent tackling ability and has become the star of the Velez team in a short time. His manager Ricardo Gareca was glowing in his tribute to him, “He plays like a veteran. In centre-backs, cases like this are very rare.”

The Velez Football Director Christian Bassedas also praised him, “You watch him on the pitch and he gives you the idea that will eat up the opponent striker in every ball.”

Liverpool may have to move quickly this summer although they may need to sell before they can buy with Ryan Babel likely to depart. An early bid of £9m is expected to be enough if Liverpool do make their move before the various other big European clubs make their bid for the next big Argentinian defensive star. They are likely to push a move through a move to Anfield before the World Cup as a good showing from Otamendi may push the player’s price tag up too high and out of Liverpool’s range. If Benitez can capture his man, the Reds may have signed the heir to Jamie Carragher as both have similar no-nonsense playing styles.

AEK Athens Request Season Loans For Four Liverpool Players

Greek giants AEK Athens have asked Liverpool for four fringe players on loan for next season, according to the Liverpool Echo.

Top of the wish list for AEK Athens is 21 year-old Hungarian striker Krisztian Nemeth, who is already on a successful loan spell at the club.

He has scored three goals and contributed three assists in just fourteen appearances.

In addition, new AEK president Stavros Adamidis will ask for French midfielder Damien Plessis who has made a handful of Liverpool first team appearances over the last two seasons.

The Greek side would also like to add 23 year-old Moroccan winger Nabil El Zhar, who has had limited opportunities at Anfield this season, following a series of substitute appearances last term.

Finally, young French left-back Chris Mavinga is also wanted. Signed from Paris St Germain last summer, Mayinga has yet to make his Liverpool debut.

According to the Liverpool Echo, Rafa Benitez will make a decision over AEK Athens' requests at the end of the season.

Man City Want Benitez To Replace Mancini

Italian newspaper La Stampa is reporting that Manchester City owner Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is interested in Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez. By all accounts City are preparing to thwart efforts by Juventus to poach the Liverpool boss and will offer the Spaniard a huge transfer kitty and long term contract to leave Anfield for Eastlands.

Juventus have been viewed as front runners to tempt Benitez to leave Anfield but with City now apparently interested in Benitez it does shake things up somewhat, for starters it would mean that the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard would become serious targets for City, they have the money to splash and Benitez would not be afraid to spend it.

It may well not be the end of the world for Juventus and Mancini though, they are thought to be interested in each other and if Juventus do not manage to attract Benitez then the chances are it would be Mancini they would turn to.

For Liverpool fans this is not welcome news, it is one thing losing Benitez to Juventus but a whole new ball game if they lose him to Man City, with the money City have it will make Liverpool fans very nervous about the club being able to hang on to its best players.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steven Gerrard Confident Ahead Of Liverpool's Europa League Showdown With Atletico Madrid

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard is bullish ahead of Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg with Atletico Madrid.

Los Colchoneros hold a 1-0 lead after the first leg, but Gerrard believes the Reds can easily overcome that deficit in front of their home fans. After Sunday's 4-0 Premier League demolition of relegated Burnley, the club captain — who scored twice — believes the whole squad is up for the challenge of progressing to a European final.

"We need to be positive from the start of the game and get the fans behind us and believe that we can achieve the victory," Gerrard told the club's official website.

"We've done it before so we are going to give it everything we have got on Thursday night.

"The players are positive about Thursday night, I can guarantee that. We are up for it and we need to give every bit of sweat and blood out on that pitch.

"Let's hope we can win it with two goals but if they score we have to get a third. We have to adapt during the game and do whatever it takes to win.

"There have been many occasions where we have had our backs to the wall and people have doubted us, but as players we never doubt ourselves."

Already without Fernando Torres for the game, manager Rafael Benitez might also be unable to select Dirk Kuyt, who picked up a calf injury in the game at Turf Moor. But he is delighted to see his talisman in goalscoring form.

"We'll have to see how Kuyt is," Benitez said after the game.

"But it's good news that Gerrard is scoring goals - and hopefully he can do the same on Thursday.”

Dirk Doubtful For Atletico

Dirk Kuyt picked up an injury on Sunday, which leaves him doubtful in his bid to be fit for the Europa League Semi Final second leg against Atletico Madrid.

The Dutchman picked up a calf injury however Rafa isn't ruling him Dirk out just yet, as he explained:

'Kuyt is working with the physio's as he has a small problem with his calf but we will have to wait.'

It would be a blow for us to be without the Dutch international for the Europa League match as we'll need everyone we can to overturn the 1-0 first leg defeat but if we have to do without Dirk we'll have to, it'll be better if we don't though.

In my honest opinion I'm not sure that a calf injury, even if it's only a small problem, will be recovered from in time for Thursday?

Further damage could be caused if any risks are taken and I'm not sure we'll do that with Chelsea to follow on Sunday and a World Cup coming up, which the forward could miss if a chance was taken.

Fernando Torres Contemplating AC Milan, Barcelona Or Juventus Move After Admitting Premier League Doubts

Fernando Torres could be set to leave Liverpool for AC Milan, Juventus, or Barcelona before the end of the 2010/11 season because he fears for his career in England.

Torres told the News Of The World yesterday that he blames the physical nature of the Premier League for the recurring fitness problems he has suffered over the past two seasons.

And he has raised doubts over how long he may stay at Anfield by admitting the English league 'really wears down a player'.

'I just can't imagine what state I'll be in within five or six years if I continue to play here - it could easily give me problems when I stop playing,' Torres said.

'The physical level is superior to all other countries.'

Torres has been known to drift in and out of games, although at full fitness the Spain international can terrorise defences at all levels.

However, the need to play at a constant high tempo in England means Torres has enjoyed comparatively less success at the Reds than he did in La Liga with former club Atletico Madrid.

And the striker admitted he is surprised at the ability of several English players to play at the highest level for more than three or four years.

'The Premier League is such a tough competition and I have always admired this championship and the players who are here,' Torres continued.

'This is my third season and I'm still amazed to see (Steven) Gerrard, (Wayne) Rooney and (Frank) Lampard, players who have been here a long time, still playing at such a high level and with such impressive rhythm.'

With Liverpool's failure to compete for the Premier League title this term, Torres' future has come under severe scrutiny with several tabloids linking him with a switch to Spain or Italy.

Speculation is growing over Rafael Benitez moving to Italy with Juventus, which would see him trying to entice Torres to move as well.

However, Barcelona and AC Milan are also said to be keeping tabs on the highly-rated forward's availability - despite reports his value is currently around £50million.

Jonjo Shelvey Keen On Liverpool Move After Rejecting Arsenal, Chelsea And Spurs

Jonjo Shelvey could be on his way to Liverpool in the summer after interest in the Charlton youngster from Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs sparked a bidding war.

The Anfield side looks to be leading the chase for Shelvey - who, at 18, is one of England's top-rated young players.

Believed to be valued at around £3 million already, Shelvey has made more than 40 appearances for the Addicks since his debut just two months after his 16th birthday.

As a versatile and talented English youngster, the teenager has attracted the interest of London's top three Premier League clubs.

However, it seems the Merseysiders are leading the race for his signature after impressing him with their set-up and plans to fast-track him into the first-team squad.

Shelvey is capable of playing in a variety of positions - including as a support striker, a winger or an attacking midfielder - and this versatility is thought to have piqued the interest of Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

The Spanish manager is keen to add to a growing youth presence in his squad, which currently includes Spain's Daniel Pacheco, Argentina's Gerardo Bruna, and Sweden's Alexander Kacaniklic.

However, Benitez wants to increase the proportion of home-grown talent by combining his foreign starlets with some English players - with Shelvey fitting the bill.

Loss Of Fernando Torres 'Damaged Belief' Says Steven Gerrard

The Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, has admitted the recent absence of Fernando Torres damaged belief within the squad but says the team has overcome that obstacle in recent weeks, inspired by the prospect of a Europa League final.

"I won't lie. Sometimes when you lose your top striker, it can damage belief and affect your confidence," said Gerrard. "But this was much better," he said, following Liverpool's 4-0 win over Burnley in the Premier League. "It was important we scored a few goals against Burnley and won convincingly." Gerrard scored twice in a match for the first time this season as Liverpool condemned Burnley to relegation. He then looked forward to the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atlético Madrid at Anfield. The Spanish take a one-goal advantage into the match.

"We are now going to pile everything into Thursday's game, which can't come quickly enough," said Gerrard. "The players are up for it and we have to leave every bit of sweat and blood out on that pitch on Thursday. Let's hope we don't have to score a lot of goals and we can win it with two. But if they score we have to score three; we'll have to adapt during the game and do whatever it takes to win.

"There have been many occasions when we've had our backs to the wall and people have doubted us but we go into every game believing we can win and do anything possible to win on the night. But we have done it before and we hope to do it again."

Gerrard has struck up a good understanding with the January signing Maxi Rodríguez in recent weeks but the Argentinian will be ineligible for Thursday's match, having played for Atlético earlier in the season. The Liverpool captain believes it is another big loss for them.

"Maxi has been terrific for the last five or six weeks," said Gerrard. "It would have been great to have him on Thursday because he's an intelligent player who can unlock defences. He is on the same wavelength and, as a footballer, it is a pleasure to play with good players and that is what Maxi is, a fantastic player."

Gerrard also had one eye on wrenching fourth place in the Premier League from the other three contenders for the final Champions League place, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

"We've got a couple of games left and the idea is to take maximum points to sneak into fourth via the back door," said the England midfielder. "We know it is going to be difficult but, who knows, the clubs above us might slip up.

"We won't give up but it would be stupid of me to say this or that is going to happen. It's important to be realistic. We are underdogs to sneak this fourth position but our fans know that we have also got Everton breathing down our necks and we certainly don't want them finishing above us."

Liverpool's manager is more optimistic about the club's chances of finishing in fourth place, and called on his captain to lead by example in the final matches of the season.

"We need the captain to be a leader and he was a leader," said Rafael Benítez. "We scored four goals against Burnley so that shows we can score goals in any game. It is always important to score goals and to see different players, including Gerrard, also scoring is also very good news for us. If we finish with 68 points and we have this chance [of fourth place] it will be because we have better goal difference."

David Ngog missed the Burnley game with a back problem and Dirk Kuyt hobbled off with a calf injury, and should neither be fit for Thursday it would leave the Merseysiders without a recognised first-team striker to face the Spanish side, with Ryan Babel likely to be asked to fill the void.

Benítez remains optimistic that, despite their injury worries, Liverpool can turn things around at Anfield. "Atlético will be tough but we have the belief," he said.

Rafael Benitez Still Thinks Liverpool Can Pull Off Fourth Place and Europa League Double

Rafael Benitez believes that Liverpool still have a chance to end their on a spectacular note by finishing fourth on the Premier League and winning the Europa League.

The Reds scored four times in the second half against Burnley at Turf Moor to move to within two points of fourth-place Tottenham, who hold a game in hand on Liverpool.

Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa all sit within two points of the fourth and final Champions League spot in the Premier League.

Benitez believes that his team can beat Atletico Madrid and make it to the Europa League final and despite the amount of teams in contention for fourth place; Benitez believes that the Reds can beat them all and make it into the Champions League

“After four goals away and a clean sheet, you have to have confidence,” Benitez told The Mirror.

“I think we can beat Atletico and be in the final and I think we can get three points in our last two games and have a chance to be in the top four.”

Liverpool will host league leaders Chelsea next Sunday in a massive clash that could decide whether the Blues win the Premier League as three time defending champions Manchester United sit just one point behind the Stamford Bridge side with two games to play.

Rush Re-Signs For Reds

Ian Rush has re-signed for Liverpool, with the Reds legend becoming the Club's new Soccer Schools Ambassador.

Rush, still Liverpool's record goalscorer with 346 strikes in 660 games and now a qualified UEFA pro licence holder, will also work with the Club's commercial team to help develop and support partnerships with other global sponsors and brands.

Ian Ayre, Liverpool FC Commercial Director, said: "Rushie is one of the best known names in world football and I'm delighted he's agreed to work with us. We've invested heavily in the redevelopment of our Soccer Schools business and with his help intend to roll out a global franchising opportunity within the next 12 months.

"We are already in discussion with a number of interested organisations around the world and Ian will work closely with our dedicated team of executives in developing these Soccer Schools opportunities."

Rush said: "I'm thrilled to be involved with the club again and hope the contacts I already have in the football and coaching community will allow us to move forward quickly.

"My role is to provide the technical input into the development of the Soccer Schools program and just as importantly help our business team to assess the quality of the franchised operations and the standard of the courses being offered under the Liverpool badge to kids around the world."

Huang Plays Down Reds Talk

Kenneth Huang has denied speaking to a newspaper about a proposed takeover of Liverpool.

A report in the Sunday Mirror suggested Huang, described as a former Wall Street stockbroker, was leading a consortium who was in advanced negotiations to buy the Merseysiders for £500million.

Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett officially put the club up for sale just over a week ago, having admitted someone else needed to take it to the next level.

However, a statement released on behalf of Huang has distanced the China-based businessman from the claims.

"Mr. Huang would like to clarify that he did not speak with the newspaper and did not make the statements attributed to him," said the statement.

"Mr. Huang would not make any comment in relation to Liverpool FC."

Just over a week ago Benitez's agent Manuel Garcia Quilon claimed an unnamed Chinese investor was interested in taking over the club and had already spoken to the manager about keeping him on next season.

Benitez subsequently denied Quilon's claims.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Match Report: Burnley 0 - 4 Liverpool

Steven Gerrard's second-half brace and further goals from Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel relegated Burnley and kept Liverpool's top-four hopes alive.

Gerrard's first deflected off Burnley defender Leon Cort past Brian Jensen but his second was a fine first-time curling strike from 25-yards out.

Steven Fletcher later hit the post for Burnley with a left-footed half-volley.

Rodriguez fired home from 12-yards after Alberto Aquilani's pass and Ryan Babel beat Jensen when one on one.

The win left Burnley on 27 points, seven points behind West Ham with two matches left to play, while Liverpool remain in seventh but close the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham to two points, though having played a game more.

The victory was Liverpool's first away from Anfield in the league this year and could yet help them seal Champions League football for next season.

With Tottenham losing to Manchester United and Manchester City drawing with Arsenal on Saturday, Liverpool knew they had a great opportunity to close the gap on the teams above them.

Burnley's task was more simple, anything other than a victory would consign them to relegation after just one season in the Premier League.

Liverpool enjoyed the majority of the early possession, but despite a string of Gerrard corners they failed to create one decent chance, with Babel's screwed shot from 20-yards the only real effort of note.

Too often they gave the ball away, more through their own carelessness than Burnley pressure, leading to a disjointed and scrappy game which suited the Clarets.

It took half an hour for the first shot on target and it came from Liverpool's talisman, Gerrard.

Having burst into the box the ball found his path but after a neat swivel and strike from 12-yards, his half half-volley was comfortably saved by Jensen.

Burnley were full of endeavour with Fletcher heading Martin Paterson's right-wing cross from close range over the bar.

More home pressure followed and just before the break an unmarked Jack Cork, on-loan from Chelsea, should have done better when heading Tyrone Mears' right-wing cross straight at Pepe Reina who made a low save.

At the other end, Babel side footed tamely at Jensen when he found himself unmarked at the back post having broken the offside trap.

Liverpool were forced into an early change just after the break with striker Dirk Kuyt, who had been a solitary figure up front, was replaced by Yossi Benayoun.

Soon after, Mears' 20-yard free-kick was well saved by Reina as Burnley's attempts to break the deadlock gained momentum.

But it was Liverpool who got the first goal of the game and, unsurprisingly, it came from Gerrard.

Liverpool's captain played a neat one-two with Benayoun and having cut inside his man he unleashed a right-footed strike from 20-yards which took a huge deflection off Cort before flying past the wrong-footed Jensen and into the corner of the net.

Moments later Gerrard doubled Liverpool's lead with a sublime strike as Burnley's task became that much harder.

Gerrard latched on to Aquilani's knockdown and unleashed a fierce first-time right-footed curling shot from 25-yards which flew into the left-hand corner of Jensen's goal.

Soon after, Nugent tested Reina but his low shot was too tame to beat the Liverpool keeper.

Fletcher's neat turn and shot from the edge of the area was well saved by Reina while at the other end Rodriguez forced a decent stop from Jensen at the foot of his near post.

Fletcher was back in the action again and after controlling a long ball on his chest he was unlucky to see his 12-yard half-volley fly past Reina but bounce back off the post.

Burnley continued to press but Liverpool were that much more clinical and Aquilani's pass superbly opened up the Burnley defence for Maxi to fire right-footed across Jensen into the far corner of the net from 12-yards for 3-0.

And late on there was time for one more with substitute Lucas playing in Babel who beat the offside trap and found himself one on one with Jensen and the Dutchman made no mistake in firing past the Burnley keeper to seal the victory and Burnley's relegation.

Liverpool Willing To Sell Alberto Aquilani For €20m

A report in the News of the World today says Liverpool are willing to sell Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani if they receive an offer similar to the money they paid Roma last summer.

Aquilani has reportedly become increasingly frustrated at his lack of first team opportunities at Liverpool.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez failed to use Aquilani from the bench in recent games against West Ham and Atletico Madrid.

Chris Bascombe in the News of the World predicts that Aquilani will wait to see how developments play out at Anfield this summer with Rafa Benitez heavily tipped to leave Liverpool.

In 2009/2010, Alberto Aquilani has played 19 games for Liverpool scoring once and providing three assists.

The Merseyside giants paid 20 million euros for Aquilani last summer and is contracted to Liverpool until the end of season 2013/2014.

Liverpool In Talks For Real Madrid Striker Benzema

Liverpool are moving to trump Manchester United for troubled Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema.

The former Lyon star has failed to settle in Madrid this and been engulfed by troubles off the pitch in his native France.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is a big admirer of Benzema, but Reds rival Rafa Benitez has stolen a march on him by opening serious transfer talks with Real Madrid this week.

Benitez is taking interest in an imminent clear-out at the Bernabeu that will include Rafael Van der Vaart, Lassana Diarra, Benzema, Christoph Metzelder and Royston Drenthe.

Liverpool took the opportunity of travelling to Madrid to hold talks with Real officials about available players and Benitez is believed to have singled out Van der Vaart and Benzema as potential targets.

Liverpool Turn Attentions To Man City Youngster

Rafa Benitez will this summer attempt to nab Manchester City youngster Michael Johnson.

Liverpool hope to persuade the former Everton trainee to leave Eastlands for Anfield in an attempt to resurrect his faltering career.

Injury problems, off field antics and a number of high profile new arrivals have limited the 22 year old to just 36 Premier League starts in four seasons and just three appearances in the last two seasons. Rafa Benitez has been linked with a move for the former England Under 21 star but will apparently make a concerted effort to snap up the talented central midfielder in the summer.

The Anfield boss is hoping that whomever takes over ownership from Tom Hicks and George Gillett will give him money to invest in his playing squad and Benitez is looking to increase his British contingent ahead of incoming Premier League 'homegrown' guidelines.

Johnson is valued at around £12m and Rafa is looking to offload some of his squad members to help fund new additions. Albert Riera,Charles Itandje and Philipp Degen are among those set to leave the club in the summer.

Liverpool Set To Lose Utility Man To AC Milan

AC Milan will attempt to snap up Liverpool's Fabio Aurelio this summer.

The 30 year old Brazilian has been a bit part player since his arrival at Anfield in July 2006 and is ready to run out his deal at the club and listen to offers for his services.

It is unknown whether Rafa Benitez is likely to offer the former Valencia a new deal but even if he does Aurelio is keen on a new challenge and is ready to join the plethora of fellow countrymen at the San Siro.

Injuries, poor form and superior squad alternatives have restricted the left sided player to just 50 Premier League starts in almost four years at the club.

Aurelio's agent has stated that whilst a new deal may be offered to his client he is still very much open to incoming offers and especially ones from clubs who could offer regular first team football.

Valiant Kid Jonjo's Kop Calling

Liverpool are ready to snap up Charlton superkid Jonjo Shelvey in a £2 million-plus move.

The Anfield club hope to tie up a quick deal for the attacking midfielder who has made almost 50 first team appearances for the Valiants, despite being just 18.

Shelvey has been linked with Chelsea and Arsenal since making his big breakthrough and also emerging through the international youth ranks.

However Liverpool - whose moves for top talent is being masterminded by Kenny Dalglish - expect to seal the transfer within weeks.

The gifted Essex boy would follow QPR kid Raheem Sterling to the Kop with the England babe already part of the emerging new-look at Liverpool.

The Merseysiders are also tracking Manchester United's young striker John Cofie as they look to bring in young British talent.

Arsenal Plan Raid For Liverpool Goalkeeper Pepe Reina

According to a report in the Sunday Express, the much-lauded shot-stopper is viewed as an ideal replacement for Manual Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, after both have failed to impress this season.

Reina has established himself as one of the top keepers in the Premier League since joining Liverpool in 2005, and Reds' chief Rafael Benitez would be fuming if he was forced to offload one of his major assets.

The 27-year-old 'keeper recently penned a long-term deal at Anfield, but the prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season will truly test his commitment.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been linked with a number of glovemen this summer and Bayer Leverkusen's Rene Adler and Lyon’s Hugo Lloris may prove likelier options.

Reds Suitor Wants Rafa Stay

Chinese businessman Kenneth Huang has revealed he is in talks to buy Liverpool and wants manager Rafa Benitez to remain at Anfield.

Huang is at the head of a consortium interested in ending the ownership deadlock at Anfield and has claimed he has been granted access to the club's accounts by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

And the former Wall Street broker, who has a huge portfolio of investment interests in Hong Kong and the United States, expects a deal to be in place within the next two months.

Huang, who is working alongside business partner Adrian Cheng on the deal, insists Benitez is at the heart of his £500million master plan and has already contacted the Spaniard to give him assurances about the future in a bid to keep him out of the clutches of Italian giants Juventus.

"Negotiations have taken place over the last few months and we are at a crucial stage," he said in the Sunday Mirror.

"I really hope it turns out to be a successful bid. Right now my audit team is examining the books and my legal team is in close contact with theirs.

"We have a fierce competitor in the Middle East, but it could be finalised in June."

He added: "I was first approached (to buy Liverpool) in 2008 when I was in Singapore attending a Formula One Grand Prix, but the asking price was 1billion US dollars.

"It was totally unreasonable so I turned it down. The asking price has dropped significantly and we are talking again.

"I want Liverpool to win the Champions League and Premier League and I think Benitez is a very good coach."

Fernando Torres: I Fear Long-Term Injury If I Remain In The Premier League

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is fearful that he will sustain long-term injuries if he keeps playing in the Premier League.

The Spanish international has endured an injury-ridden season and his status for the World Cup this summer could be in doubt as he needs surgery to make certrain he is fit for South Africa.

Torres has scored 18 goals in 22 Premier League games during 2009-10, but injuries have prematurely ended his campaign and he is worried he will suffer frequent stints on the sidelines if he keeps playing in England.

"The Premier League is such a tough competition and I have always admired this championship and the players who are here,” Torres told The News of the World.

"This is my third season and I'm still amazed to see [Steven] Gerrard, [Wayne] Rooney and [Frank] Lampard, players who have been here a long time, still playing at such a high level and with such impressive rhythm because the English league really wears down a player.

"I just can't imagine what state I'll be in within five or six years if I continue to play here - it could easily give me problems when I stop playing. The physical level is superior to all other countries."

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has been linked with a move to Juventus in the summer, but Torres insists his fellow Spaniard is the reason why he came to Anfield.

"The difference between him and my other managers is that when I was at Atletico [Madrid] I was always over-protected," he added.

"Here, Rafa [Benitez] demands a lot and I have to live up to expectations. Some players need to be spoilt and other players like me need to always be pushed, and to have more asked of us.

"If Rafa had not been here I would never have come. He has taught me a lot and he has helped me go beyond my limits and to be the player I am today."

John Toshack Slams Rafael Benitez's Transfer Policy

Liverpool legend John Toshack has criticised Rafael Benitez's dealings in the transfer market and has warned the Spaniard the fans are losing faith in his ability to guide the club to success.

The Wales boss believes the Liverpool boss has squandered huge sums of money on a host of forgettable faces, and has warned him that the Anfield faithful's confidence in him is diminishing.

Despite finishing as runners-up in the Premier League last season, the Reds have been constantly under-performing this term, currently languishing in seventh spot in the league.

“[Rafael] Benitez has maintained his reputation with the fans after winning the Champions League. But they are running out of patience," Toshak told the Daily Mirror.

“His transfer policy leaves a lot to be desired.

“[Xabi] Alonso was a success. It is the same for [Pepe] Reina and [Fernando] Torres, but that’s it. He must have spent more than 300 million euros on players!”

However, Benitez can still bring some silverware to the Merseyside club this season with Liverpool currently in the semi-finals of the Europa League.

Juventus Offer Rafael Benitez £15m A Year

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has reportedly been offered £15 million a year to take over at Juventus, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The newspaper claims that Benitez will be given unlimited funds to attract the world's best players to Turin.

The report also states that the offer also allows him to bring in his own coaching staff as Juventus aim to re-establish themselves as a European and global force.

Such an offer may tempt Benitez who has admitted his frustration at a lack of funds to improve his Liverpool squad this season and has reportedly fallen out with the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

However, recent rumours have suggested that Benitez will stay at Anfield provided the club can find new investors.

It has been a disappointing campaign for Liverpool and Benitez as the club look set to miss out on a top four finish, and with it, the prospect of Champions League football next season.

Yet the Reds could still end the season with some silverware, courtesy of the Europa League. Benitez's men welcome Atletico Madrid to Anfield for the second leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday, needing to overturn a first leg 1-0 deficit