Saturday, January 02, 2010

Match Preview: Reading vs. Liverpool (FA Cup)

Reading have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the FA Cup tie with Liverpool.

Brian McDermott saw his side hammered 4-1 at fellow Championship strugglers Plymouth on Monday and may choose to make changes.

Defender Matthew Mills is expected to be handed a recall as McDermott looks for a response to a damaging defeat at Home Park which left the Royals just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Midfielder Brian Howard has been an unused substitute for the last two games after a swift return from a broken jaw and may be back in the starting line-up and be given a chance to emulate his famous FA Cup goal at Anfield while a Barnsley player in 2008.

Jay Tabb is still struggling with a calf strain while striker Noel Hunt is likely to be out until the end of the season as he recovers from a knee injury.

New signing Gunnar Thorvaldsson is not available to play until next week`s clash with Newcastle.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will resist the temptation to make wholesale changes to his side.

Benitez is already without Glen Johnson because of a knee injury sustained in the win at Aston Villa on Tuesday, while midfielder Javier Mascherano is still serving a suspension.

Liverpool need to do well in the FA Cup considering their poor season, so Benitez will mix his side with experienced and fringe players.

Winger Albert Riera, back in training after a calf injury, is unlikely to be involved.

Liverpool FC FA Cup Hero Michael Thomas Urges Reds To Wembley Glory

Up and down the country on Saturday Premier League managers will ring the changes. Key players will be given the weekend off and rookies handed a chance to shine.

The FA Cup is now viewed by many as an unwelcome distraction from the riches on offer in the top flight.

An early exit will be greeted by a casual shrug of the shoulders amid talk of how they don’t have the strength in depth to compete on both fronts.

However, one former Wembley winner is hoping the oldest club cup competition in the world has leapt up Rafa Benitez’s list of priorities.

With their Champions League and title dreams in tatters, Michael Thomas believes the

FA Cup now represents Liverpool’s best chance of securing a first trophy since that unforgettable final against West Ham in 2006.

All the talk ahead of tomorrow’s third round clash at Championship strugglers Reading has been about the race for fourth place, but Thomas insists silverware should still be the major goal.

“The FA Cup is very special and when Premier League teams put out weakened teams I think it’s a disgrace,” he said.

“It’s a very prestigious competition watched by people across the world and it should be treated with respect.

“These days it’s all about the Champions League. If you want to get in that because you think you’ve got a genuine chance of winning it then fair enough, but when your sole target is qualifying just for the money that’s very sad.

“Nobody gets remembered for finishing fourth. At the end of your career you might be rich but you make your mark on the game by winning trophies.

“Medals are what every player wants and the FA Cup would do nicely for Liverpool this season.”

Maximum points against Wolves and Aston Villa over Christmas have lifted spirits at Anfield and breathed new life into their Champions League qualification hopes.

Thomas, who scored 12 goals in 163 appearances for the Reds between 1991 and 1998 and who has since made Merseyside his home, believes it’s crucial that momentum is maintained at the Madejski Stadium.

“Hopefully the win over Villa will really kick-start things and a victory in the Cup would breed more confidence,” he added.

“The team is just getting used to winning again so I hope Rafa plays his strongest team.

“I’m sure Liverpool will finish in the top four. When they hit top gear they will put together a long unbeaten run.

“The season has been disappointing so far and they’ve really missed Xabi Alonso. He was the one who got everything going. The defence released the ball to him and he always knew what to do with it. But there have been some promising signs from Alberto Aquilani. He needs more games under his belt but he’s going to be crucial.

“Going well in the FA Cup isn’t going to harm the league form. Winning trophies just makes you hungry for more.”

The 42-year-old got his hands on the FA Cup back in May 1992 at the end of a roller-coaster first season with the club.

The midfielder, who broke Kopites’ hearts with his dramatic late winner for Arsenal to clinch the league title at Anfield in 1989, was snapped up from the Gunners in December 1991 for £1.5million.

He joined a squad with high hopes of clinching the championship but injuries dogged their season and Graeme Souness’ side could only finish sixth.

The Cup run provided some welcome relief and Thomas was crucial to the Reds’ progress.

Having thrashed Crewe 4-0, they needed replays to see off Bristol Rovers and Ipswich before Thomas’ sweet strike settled a quarter-final tie with Aston Villa at Anfield.

The semi-final with Portsmouth also went to a replay and the Reds held their nerve to win on penalties and book a Wembley showdown with Sunderland.

Thomas said: “It was a strange season because we believed we could have won the league that year. We backed ourselves to beat anyone and we were close to the top early on but injuries to players like John Barnes, Jan Molby, Barry Venison and Ronnie Whelan really did us in.

“We couldn’t get into a rhythm and it was so stop-start. As we weren’t doing well in the league, we were under pressure to deliver in the Cup.

“We had some nervy moments but we kept progressing and the goal against Villa, my first in front of the Kop, is a special memory.”

The final surpassed that as Thomas broke the deadlock early in the second half with a stunning right-footed volley into the top corner of the net.

The midfielder also provided the pass for Ian Rush to settle the contest as he famously scored for the fifth time in three Cup finals to eclipse the long-standing record of Stan Mortensen.

Thomas’ Wembley heroics secured his place in Liverpool folklore and now he’s hoping to see the current crop write another chapter in the club’s illustrious FA Cup history.

“It had been a dream of mine since I was a kid to play at Wembley and score in the Cup final,” he said.

“Growing up, you don’t think about scoring a winning goal to secure the title, it was always the FA Cup. And to fulfil my dream that day was very special.

“The moment the ball left my boot I knew I had caught it perfectly. I hit it just right and to see it fly into the top corner was amazing.

“It was a real highlight of my career and to be able to say I scored in a winning Cup final side is something I’m very proud of.

Hopefully this is the year Liverpool bring the trophy back to Merseyside again. Going to the Cup final used to be almost an annual trip for Liverpool fans. It’s about time those supporters had their first day out at the new Wembley.”

Benitez Targeting Cup Success

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has outlined the FA Cup as being a main priority in their disappointing campaign.

Seven defeats in the Premier League sees the Reds lie seventh in the table and they face an uphill battle to maintain their top four status.

However, after back-to-back wins against Wolves and UEFA Champions League rivals Aston Villa over Christmas, Liverpool have fresh hopes of salvaging their season.

Benitez takes his side to Reading on Saturday bidding for three wins in a row and he admits that after their early Champions League exit, the FA Cup is now high on his agenda.

"The FA Cup is always important, but when you are out of the Champions League it becomes a major trophy," he said.

"The feeling after the win at Aston Villa this week was really good, it can only improve confidence.

"After the way things had been going, we needed to start winning some games in a row. We have now won twice on the trot in the league against Wolves and Villa over Christmas and are aiming to add to that run against Reading.

"We had been very close to some good form, but the confidence is now really high so hopefully we can continue in this way with the same mentality."

The Reds boss is reluctant to get carried away by the recent success over Villa, and maintains his side must use their renewed confidence to gain momentum.

"It will be very difficult for us to finish in the top four: Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa are all pushing very hard for fourth place.

"We have to keep working and keep going right to the end. We know there will be difficulties, but we must keep our confidence and add to the two wins in two games we achieved over Christmas.

"Now it is the perfect time to go on a winning run, and a victory and good performance at Reading will add to our growing confidence.

"We had to win one, then two and now we want three. If we do that before we face Spurs at Anfield in our next league game, it will be a real boost to our confidence.

"Our fans are still thinking of winning silverware this season, so that means the FA Cup. It is a very important competition for us now.

"We must look at our squad and decide what we are going to do at Reading. We have more training sessions to see how they are, but because the competition has added importance now maybe we will not change too many players.

"We know we are facing Spurs eight days later, but that does give us more time to get players fit so we can field a strong team at Reading.

"We cannot underestimate Reading. It is something you must be very careful about in the FA Cup.

"They are at a difficult time, having changed their manager. They are looking to improve and they will be difficult for us.

"They have players with Premier League experience, and they are working hard as a team."

Liverpool Weighing Up Bid For Greek Right Back As Cover For Glen Johnson

Liverpool are considering a move for Greek international right-back Vasilis Torosidis as a replacement for crocked Glen Johnson.

England full-back Johnson, 25, faces three months out after tearing medial ligaments in Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa.

And Reds boss Rafa Benitez is now deciding whether to bring in a cheap replacement.

Olympiakos Torosidis, 24, fits the bill as he has 25 caps for his country.

He is available for a knock-down fee and already has Juventus clamouring for his services.

Liverpool Close To Sealing Deal For Atletico Madrid Star

Liverpool will kick start the January sales with a loan move for Argentina star Maxi Rodriguez.

And boss Rafa Benitez is hoping that cut price deal will give him the room to wheel and deal in the transfer market to spend decent money on the striker he is desperate to sign.

Rodriguez is a full Argie international who is a former team mate of Fernando Torres, and his contract is up with Atletico Madrid in the summer, making him a cheap option in the window.

Benitez wants to take the winger on loan, with a view to a permanent deal in the summer if the move proves a success, and he is likely to make it happen after the weekend's cup games.

The midfielder will be 29 today, and has vast experience after claiming 35 caps and 10 goals for his country, and Benitez sees him as a good option to help provide cover on the flanks and even in central midfield.

His appearances with Madrid have been limited this season, and he is keen to move in the window as the World Cup approaches.

Boca Juniors have already made an approach, but Benitez is confident he can do business in the next few days to secure the capture of the player.

And that will give him options in the transfer window, as he attempts to raise in the region of £15million through the sale of fringe players such as Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Andreiy Voronin and Philipp Degen.

The Reds boss is struggling to find buyers for the quartet at present, with his most salable asset Babel dragging his heels over a potential move to Fiorentina.

But if he can offload his unwanted players, then he will offer decent money for a striker, with Kenwyne Jones, Emile Heskey, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Ruud van Nistelrooy all on his radar.

Rodriguez has been linked with a host of clubs in previous season, and Benitez sees his fast, direct style and his ability to cross as an attractive option as he looks for more width in his team.

Glen Johnson Injury May Force Liverpool To Re-think January Transfer Plans

Rafael Benítez may have to rethink his plans for the transfer window after learning that Glen Johnson's medial knee ligament damage will sideline the England international until the middle of next month.

Johnson saw a specialist on Thursday to establish the extent of the injury, sustained in Tuesday's 1-0 Premier League win against Aston Villa, and Benítez has confirmed that the £18 million right-back will be out for "at least one month", though reports that Johnson could miss the World Cup are wide of the mark.

"He has a problem, so he'll see [another] specialist and then we will talk," said the Liverpool manager. "We know he'll be out for at least one month. But we're waiting for another opinion and then we'll know how long."

Johnson's understudy, Martin Kelly, has struggled with an ankle injured in the Champions League tie against Lyon in October and is not expected to be fully fit until the end of the month. Benítez had planned to sell Philipp Degen, the injury-plagued Swiss international, but the manager is now considering retaining Degen, who has made just seven appearances in 18 months at Anfield, for the rest of the season.

Should Degen indeed leave, Benítez would have just the rookie Stephen Darby and a reluctant Jamie Carragher – who has made it clear he would rather not switch from his usual central role – to cover for Johnson.

Benítez may still look to bolster his resources at full-back should Degen stay, though Liverpool's financial strictures are such that he would, most likely, be able only to bring in a temporary replacement on loan or a free transfer.

Until Johnson limped off in the 89th minute at Villa Park, Benítez's priority was to secure experienced attacking cover for Fernando Torres, with Ruud van Nistelrooy, the former Manchester United striker, and Emile Heskey believed to be potential targets.

Van Nistelrooy's wages at Real Madrid, though, remain an obstacle to a loan deal – the Spanish side would have to pay a significant proportion of his £150,000-a-week salary to bring him into Liverpool's price range – while Martin O'Neill would be reluctant to allow Heskey to leave Aston Villa for a direct Premier League rival.

Benítez knows that he must trim his squad to allow him even the luxury of securing the long-term futures of Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano before he considers boosting his numbers. Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena and Andriy Voronin are believed to be available for transfer.

Fiorentina Interested In Liverpool's Ryan Babel

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel is attracting the attention of Italian outfit Fiorentina.

The 23-year-old is being lined up as a possible replacement for Adrian Mutu, who is said to want a move away from Florence.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is looking to sell his fringe players as he seeks to raise money to spend on new players in the January transfer window.

Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport claims Liverpool are set to offload Babel in the new year and they report that Fiorentina are preparing to table a bid for the Holland international.

Babel revealed earlier on this season that he was hoping to secure a loan move away from Anfield in January to earn a place in the Holland squad for the World Cup finals next summer.

The Dutchman has never cemented his place in the Liverpool side since his £11 million move from Ajax in 2007.

Babel has scored nine goals in 67 league appearances for Liverpool but has failed to become a regular starter for Benitez's side.

Milan Chase Liverpool Hitman Fernando Torres

According to a report in Corriere dello Sport, Italian titans Milan are considering making a move for highly rated Liverpool hitman Fernando Torres.

The Rossoneri are eager to strengthen their attacking department and had initially set their sights on signing Wolfsburg's Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko. However, they appear to be reluctant to meet the forward's €40 million buy-out clause.

Therefore, they have turned their attention to Fernando Torres. The Liverpool star won't come to Italy on the cheap either, but Milan are more willing to splash the cash on the Spaniard following his experience in one of Europe's biggest three leagues.

Torres recently expressed his worries about Liverpool's performances so far this term and the prolific striker made it clear that he might leave Anfield Road if the Reds fail to qualify for next year's Champions League.

Milan reportedly face stiff competition in the race for Torres' signature though, as Chelsea and Manchester City are closely monitoring the striker's situation too.

Reds Eye Hammers Ace

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is in a three way fight with Spurs and Aston Villa to sign West Ham midfielder Scott Parker for £8m.

The Hammers would be very reluctant to allow the all action midfielder to leave Upton Park but an offer in the region of £8m would be difficult to turn down.

Aston Villa are also in the race to land the holding midfielder as are Spurs and it may well be that Reds boss Benitez spends any money he has on landing a striker to play alongside Fernando Torres.

But, if he can generate the cash, then a move for Parker could be on the cards.