Friday, January 01, 2010

Liverpool Defender Glen Johnson Out For At Least A Month

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson has been ruled out for at least a month with a medial ligament tear of his right knee.

The England international sustained the injury in Tuesday's 1-0 victory over Aston Villa.

Johnson will have to see a specialist again before a specific timescale will be put on how long he will be out of action for.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez told "Johnson has a problem, so he'll see a specialist and then we'll talk but we know he'll be out for at least one month.

"But we are waiting for another opinion and then we'll know how long."

The Reds are lacking cover for Johnson in the right-back berth, as Martin Kelly is also out for the next couple of weeks so centre-back Jamie Carragher may be forced to play out of position once again.

Fernando Torres Will Never Sign For Real Madrid, Insists Bernabeu Defender Alvaro Arbeloa

Alvaro Arbeloa believes Real Madrid have no chance of prising Fernando Torres from Liverpool.

Europe's top clubs are monitoring Spain striker Torres as Liverpool struggle to hold on to their Big Four status.

But Arbeloa, the defender who quit Anfield for Real Madrid in the summer, believes he won't be welcoming his compatriot to the Bernabeu any time soon.

'I think he is happy there and he just extended his contract. The Premier League suits him, he has adjusted well and he is scoring a lot of goals, so I doubt that he will come back. If he does I assume it would be to play for Atletico Madrid.'

Torres has often ruled out a move to the Bernabeu because of his ties to city rivals Atletico, where he came through the ranks before Liverpool signed him in a £21million deal in 2007.

But Real and Barcelona would both be interested if Torres's commitment to Liverpool shows any sign of wavering.

There is no suggestion the 25-year-old wants to leave Anfield and his goal in the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa on Tuesday night made him the fastest player in Liverpool history to score 50 League goals.

Arbeloa, who signed for Real in a £3.5m summer move, congratulated his former team-mate.

'What can I say? He speaks for himself,' said the full-back. 'Congratulations because it wasn't an easy feat at an historic club like Liverpool.'

Rafa Benitez Eyes Spending Spree As Liverpool Boss Prepares For The January Transfer Window

Rafa Benitez has revealed he is looking to boost his squad in the January transfer window.

The Liverpool boss is under serious pressure to finish in the top four and reclaim their place in the lucrative Champions League.

Aside from his star players Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, the Reds have been short on attacking power this season and they are likely to pursue reinforcements up front.

'We are working hard and trying to do our jobs, and we'll see if we can do something,' said Benitez.

'We are looking in the market but it's not easy to find good players available because the majority of them are playing in top sides. But we are trying to find solutions if we can.

'We have some good players who people are interested in because they're not playing too many games, but we have to manage carefully.'

Benitez is interested in signing former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy on a six-month loan deal.

It would be a controversial move to bring the Real Madrid veteran to Anfield but his huge wages could prove to be a stumbling block.

Another target is Tottenham outcast Roman Pavlyuchenko, who has been told he can leave White Hart Lane. A swap deal involving Liverpool misfit Ryan Babel is one possibility.

Meanwhile, Benitez has highlighted the importance of the FA Cup following Liverpool's shock exit from the Champions League group stages last month.

They travel to Championship strugglers Reading on Saturday desperate to land a piece of silverware this season.

'It's always been important but you know that when you're out of the Champions League, the people think about silverware and the FA Cup is very, very important for us,' Benitez added.

'We want to progress, we want to go as far as we can. We'll have to analyse and consider what to do and we still have another training session. We'll see how the players are but maybe we won't change too many.

'We know we're playing against Tottenham eight days later, so we'll have time. We can put a strong team out. Always in the FA Cup it's really important to do things right. Everyone wants to win and it's a massive competition, so we have to be ready.'

Why Rafa Benitez Most Certainly Does Know His Enemy

American rockers Green Day recently asked 'Do you know your enemy?' In Rafael Benitez's case, it is the media and their anti-Liverpool agenda.

Anyone who has been present at Melwood when the Spaniard holds court for pre-match press conferences knows the level of irritation the manager feels when asked lazy journalism questions, cleverly disguised as sensationalist probes.

Having been the subject of idle paper talk linking him with resigning from the Anfield hot seat should the Reds fail to secure Champions League qualification, a vindicated Benitez hit back on Tuesday night in his post-match interview at Villa Park.

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."

Benitez has every reason to be upset.

The critics have been quick to attack Alberto Aquilani, just as they were Jamie Carragher earlier in the season, but the Italian has to be given time to find his feet in the Premier League and the signs have been there in the last two games that he is doing that.

Some sections of the press have also included Benitez in lists of the worst managers of the year, despite him steering Liverpool to a second-place finish in the Premier League last season, and anyone hoping that the media tide against Liverpool will finally turn in 2010 shouldn’t hold their breath if the previous 12 months are anything to go by.

With all the adversity flying in the face of the club, the manner in which the Reds snatched all three points was made all the sweeter. An equally pleasurable sight was seeing Villa boss Martin O’Neill looking inconsolable as Fernando Torres hit his 50th league goal, scored in a record 72 appearances, proving that form is temporary and class is still permanent.

The old adage of playing to the whistle was also given real meaning with several players looking strong against the top four pretenders, notably Carragher, Emiliano Insua and Lucas Leiva. Glen Johnson and Dirk Kuyt are still lacking in confidence but as we saw with Yossi Benayoun at the turn of the year, players of their ability will find that form.

Yesterday it was revealed that the club are planning to begin work on the proposed new stadium before the end of the first quarter of 2010 after George Gillett’s pledge of having “a shovel in the ground” within 60 days of the Americans’ takeover in 2007 failed to come to fruition. There will be a shovel in the ground on Stanley Park before the end of April but it is more likely to be that of Anfield Comprehensive students as part of an archaeological experiment rather than builders performing excavation work.

So what does the future hold for Liverpool Football Club at the dawn of a new decade? Crippling debts, non-existent transfer budgets and a lack of overall progress under the current ownership. This is the storm that Gerry Marsden once referenced and it looks set to be a lengthy one with Gillett and Hicks at the helm.

Benitez Must Take Gamble - Expert

Liverpool may have to spend heavily in the January transfer window if they are to protect their future income.

That is the view of Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business at Coventry University, who believes the financial implications of the club's failure to reach the knockout stage of this season's Champions League could minor compared to those of finishing the current Premier League campaign outside the top four.

The Reds ended 2009 off the pace with Tottenham providing the closest challenge to the remaining three members of the usual suspects at the top of the division, and with manager Rafael Benitez repeatedly finding himself under pressure.

And if they cannot improve upon that situation over the second half of the season, Prof Chadwick fears for their longer-term future.

He said: "They are faltering.

"For clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, the business model is very much founded on qualification for the knockout phase of the Champions League.

"Liverpool have failed at that first hurdle - they didn't progress to the knockout phase - but potentially, they could fail at the second hurdle too, which means they don't qualify for next season's Champions League either.

"If Liverpool do not qualify for the Champions League next season, they are on a little bit of a slippery slope and it starts to impinge upon their business model.

"They have to qualify for the Champions League next season and as a consequence of that, they have to spend some money.

"But is the money there to spend? They are either going to have to sell people to find it, or there is talk of prospective investors coming in.

"Whether those prospective investors might potentially be in place by January, which would enable Liverpool to buy, we will have to wait and see.

"But they have got to spend and they haven't got the money to spend, so they will have to sell or bring in new investors."

Prof Chadwick expects few clubs to invest heavily next month, although it tipping Manchester United to spend some of the £80million they raked in, but did not spend, by selling Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid during the summer, while neighbours City have seemingly limitless funds upon which to call.

Instead, he is forecasting a rash of short-term deals as clubs jockey for position without over-committing themselves in the current economic climate.

He said: "I think by and large, the transfer window will be relatively quiet, and that comes out of concerns about money and continuing concerns about the downturn.

"In the main, I think it will be relatively quiet and if anything, the window will be characterised more by loan deals than transfers."

Liverpool And Benfica Chase Teenaged Slovenian Goalkeeper Jan Oblak

Liverpool, Benfica, and Aston Villa are locked in a battle to sign highly-rated Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

The 16-year-old, who is first choice for Slovenian club Olimpija and a member of his country's U-21 side, is valued at around 2 million euros.

Oblak visited Anfield to watch the Reds 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in December and he was due to attend a trial with the club but he couldn’t train after picking up a slight muscle strain.

Olimpija's director of football Simon Seslar told Zurnal24: "Yes, we have numerous offers for Jan, there are clubs that are prepared to enter concrete talks with us. If we are satisfied and the player is satisfied as well, we can strike a deal.

"Some people have invited us to Anfield, where we watched the game, Liverpool versus Arsenal. But that's it. We flew home the following day."

Oblak has also been linked with moves to Aston Villa and Portuguese outfit Benfica but he refused to say where he is heading.

He said: "Yes, there is something going on, but I am not allowed to talk about it. If my transfer will help the club financially, I am willing to say yes to a transfer."

The Olimpija keeper has already featured for Slovenia Under-21s and he even captained his club side in their last match before the winter break against Maribor.

Mancini: I’ll Raid The Reds

Roberto Mancini will make a move for Fernando Torres and Co - if Liverpool finish outside the top four.

The Merseysiders face a cash crisis should they miss out on Champions League football next season.

And Manchester City chief Mancini has the mega-money to bag the Kop's crown jewels.

He said: "If they put Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres on the market, City will be interested.

"We at City will do everything possible to prevent Liverpool from finishing fourth."

Funds are already tight at Anfield and failure to make Europe's elite competition could force the club to sell their prized assets. There ]are worries striker Torres and talismanic skipper Gerrard may quit without the Champions League to play for.

While midfielder Javier Mascherano had looked to leave last summer to join Barcelona.

City would have to shell out more than £100million for Liverpool's biggest names.

But that would not be a problem for the club's billionaire Arab owners.

Mancini admits he needs to bolster his backline in the January window.

He said: "In defence I have so many out injured that there will be some coming and the same in midfield. In attack we don't have problems."

Mancini knows it will be easier to tempt the world's best stars to Eastlands if they qualify for the Champions League.

And he admitted he would love to have Inter Milan full-back Maicon and Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his ranks after working with them at the San Siro.

Mancini told Italian website "If City finish in the top four we will look for players of the highest level.

"I would like to have Maicon. With Ibra there's always been a rapport of great loyalty.

"He's world class. Which manager in the world wouldn't like Ibrahimovic?"

He added: "City is the best club in the world for an ambitious manager.

"There are very, very good players there but we must improve as it won't be easy to get to the top four."

Banega The Man To Fill The Boots Of Xabi Alonso?

He is one of the rising stars in La Liga – but who is Ever Banega? In my view he is the ideal replacement for the departed Xabi Alonso and just the man to bring that creative edge to Liverpool’s midfield.

Aged just 18, Banega came through the Boca Juniors ranks in early 2007, after the departure of Fernando Gago. After impressive displays it only took Valencia twenty-eight games of first team football to pay Boca Juniors some 18m euros for his services in January 2008.

Banega didn’t hit the ground running in Spain as perhaps the move was a little too soon and after failing to win over Ronald Koeman, Valencia’s new boss Unai Emery sent him out on loan to Atletico Madrid where he was an absolute revelation.

It remains to be seen as to whether Valencia would be so keen to offload him as they were prepared to do last summer, however, if they do, then I personally couldn’t think of a better player for Rafa to look to as a replacement for Xabi Alonso.

With an eclectic range of passing, two footed, silky skilled and excellence at one touch football, he is very reminiscent of a certain Xabi Alonso. Banega, like a lot of Argentines, is strong as a bull, possesses a low centre of gravity and is extremely difficult to knock off the ball when in possession.

His performances at Atletico saw Banega starting to fulfil the potential that first convinced Valencia to spend big to bring him to La Liga and although Emery may want to keep him at the Mestalla long term, their current financial plight is likely to see them having to cash in. My own view is that he’ll be a revelation at Anfield and would certainly provide a better foil for Mascherano in the middle, as opposed to Lucas and Alberto Aquilani; who for me is suited to Steven Gerrard role behind Torres anyway.