Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Rafa Benitez Optimistic Liverpool FC Will Find Form

Rafa Benitez remains optimistic for the New Year despite seeing Liverpool FC held to an FA Cup draw at Reading.

The Spaniard’s side must replay their third round tie at Anfield on Wednesday week after a 1-1 draw on Saturday at the Championship strugglers.

Wales international Simon Church gave Reading a 24th-minute lead only for Steven Gerrard to equalise 12 minutes later.

But with Liverpool having won their previous two Premier League games, Benitez is confident his team are showing signs of improvement.

“If you see the training sessions they are training really well, they are very positive, their commitment in every training situation is very good,” said Benitez.

“We have been improving in the last three or four weeks and against Aston Villa we were in control. Reading had one or two chances at set-pieces but we had control of the game and then hopefully it will be the same in the next games. I remain optimistic for 2010, yes.”

Benitez admits Liverpool are still attempting to coax Gerrard back to full fitness while asking the skipper to play.

Gerrard has responded with two goals in his last three games, and Benitez said: “I’m not surprised Steven has the desire to win every game. He was injured before but we were trying to give him some match fitness so he has to play games and you know that Gerrard, Torres, they can make the difference. We are trying just to take care of him and if he has to play, he has to play.

“But I will talk about all of the players, I don’t like to talk just about one. You could see my players were working very hard against a team that was tough and difficult to beat, so Steven was doing well, especially in the second half. And for me, Lucas Leiva has been amazing the last two or three games.

“The style of football is different in the FA Cup, you can see the passion of everyone, the fans and the players, so it is more competitive and I think it is a nice competition to win.”

Benitez sidestepped another tiresome debate over zonal marking after Liverpool conceded another goal from a set-piece.

“It was very difficult to defend,” he added. “It was a long ball and then the ball goes to the back post. It is always difficult to defend in these situations because I think the players think the ball is going out then you are having to be surprised.

“Every single week I can see a lot of highlights and you see man-to-man marking and then conceding goals.

“The last four or five games we didn’t concede so I think we are much better now and we have also to keep working high at set-pieces, but I don’t feel that we are worse than other teams.”

Before the replay, Liverpool entertain Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday knowing victory could move them to within two points of the fourth-placed Londoners.

And Benitez added: “Every game will be very, very important and difficult for us and Tottenham will be one of these games because they are in a good position in the table, and we know that we have to try our best and beat them. More or less every game for us has to be a must-win game.”

I'll Take A Pay Cut: Argentina Ace Maxi Rodriguez Desperate For Liverpool Switch

Maxi Rodriguez is willing to take a pay cut to seal a move to Liverpool.

The Atletico Madrid midfielder wants to play regular first-team football to cement his place in Argentina's World Cup squad.

The 29-year-old, who has also been linked with Boca Juniors and Juventus, is out of contract at the end of the season but, according to Spanish newspaper AS, will lower his £4.4million-a-year wage demands to secure a short-term move.

Rodruiguez is close friends with Reds midfielder and countryman Javier Mascherano but manager Rafa Benitez needs to sell before he can splash out with Andrea Dossena or Andriy Voronin the most likely to head for the Anfield exit.

Carragher Heaps Praise On Darby

Liverpool's Jamie Carragher has praised Stephen Darby's character after his fellow defender played in Saturday's 1-1 FA Cup draw with Reading.

Darby, 21, made an error in his previous start in the Champions League - a 2-1 defeat by Fiorentina.

"I think everyone was pleased for him because of what happened in the last game," former England international Carragher told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"I didn't want him to not play again and maybe it would have been his last."

He continued: "His first and only time playing for Liverpool and making a mistake at the end, but he played very well in that game and it was unfortunate at the end.

"I thought he was superb and not only in his performance [against Reading] but showing the character to come back after what happened in his last game - he has a very strong character.

"Credit to him and everyone is delighted for him as he is such a nice lad."

Darby believes he is gaining in confidence following his selection against Reading and he hopes run in the team will continue.

But it is the praise from manager Rafa Benitez and big names in the squad which have helped his progress.

"It gives you that confidence boost and it shows the manager has got faith in you," said Darby. "I have got to try and repay that faith and put in a good performance.

"Its a real confidence boost when you hear the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard saying good things about you.

"But at the same time you've got to be level headed and you've got to keep your feet on the ground.

"You've got to realise the hard work has just begun."

Darby Thanks Reds Team-Mates

Liverpool youngster Stephen Darby has expressed his thanks after returning to the Reds team against Reading.

The 21-year-old defender played 90 minutes as Liverpool drew 1-1 in the FA Cup at the Madejski Stadium, earning the Royals a replay at Anfield next Wednesday.

Darby made his Reds debut in the UEFA Champions League against Fiorentina in December, but what should have been a day to remember turned to disaster when he gifted Viola forward Alberto Gilardino a goal which sealed the win for the away side, ending Liverpool's European campaign on a sour note.

Darby admits he was at a low ebb after the error, but has thanked his team-mates for picking him up and giving him the confidence to bounce back.

"It's something I've got to learn from and I couldn't dwell on it too much," he told the Liverpool Echo.

"I tried to put it behind me quickly and use the experience to make me a better player.

"It was a night of mixed emotions; obviously it was amazing to make my debut at Anfield but to concede a goal like I did in the last minute was very disappointing.

"It really hurt for a couple of days after, I can safely say that. But the lads got behind me and gave me great advice and encouragement."

Darby was delighted to make manager Rafa Benitez's starting XI for the cup match against Reading, and hopes he has done enough to deserve another shot in the first-team with Glen Johnson out injured.

"Hopefully there will be a couple of more chances in the next couple of weeks," he added. "You've got to be level-headed and realise the hard work is only just beginning.

"It was important to get another game. Now it's just a question of continuing to work hard and hopefully showing enough to impress the coaching staff.

"There are a number of possibilities for the manager and he can change things around; the competition for places is massive but all I can do is keep working hard."

Liverpool were not on their best form for the trip to Berkshire, but although Darby admitted the team were disappointed with the performance, he expects them to prove their worth in the replay.

"We were disappointed to go a goal down but I thought we fought back well but, at the end, we were disappointed not to win the game," he remarked.

"They put us under a bit of pressure and we had a couple of chances but, unfortunately, we didn't take them; as a team I thought we battled well after going a goal down.

"It's only half-time, we've got the replay to come and hopefully we'll put it right.

"We were really compact and defended well; it was just a big confidence boost to start and shows that the manager has faith in me. Now I have got to try and repay it."

Jan Molby Blames 'Sulking' Steven Gerrard For Liverpool Woes

Liverpool legend Jan Molby has launched a scathing attack on the club's underperforming stars, stating that big-name players, such as Steven Gerrard and new signing Alberto Aquilani, need to step up their game if the Reds are to achieve the top-four Premier League finish promised by their manager Rafael Benitez.

Speaking through the Liverpool Supporters Club New York and their MP Red podcast, the Dane - who made nearly 500 appearances for the club between 1984 and 1996 - asked questions over skipper Gerrard's form, accusing the 29-year-old of "sulking" during the Reds' tumultuous start to the season.

"Gerrard has not been 100 per cent this season with his injury," said Molby.

"And it begs the question: 'what are we looking to achieve with him?'

"Yes he has been restricted by his injury, but to me it seems he has also had a bit of a sulk on this season. He looks heavy legged, there isn't really that spring in his step this season so far and the team has suffered."

Yet despite Gerrard's lack-of-form this term, and mischievous reports linking him away from Liverpool, Molby believes that the 29-year-old will remain a Red for the rest of his career.

"Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool player, there is nowhere else for him to play," he added.

"I'm not sure what it would mean for him to lift the [Premier League] title with another club. He wants to win the title with Liverpool but, if not, I have a feeling he could live without it."

As one of Liverpool's first foreign imports, signed from Ajax in 1984, Molby knows a thing or two about settling into a new football culture, and says that if the Reds' latest midfield maestro - injury-hit midfielder Aquilani - is to have an impact at the club, then next season may be his best bet.

"Being brutally honest, we are halfway through the season and his [Aquilani's] contribution has been zero," Molby continued.

"That is not all his fault, with the injury etc, but it is still a fact.

"I actually spoke to Rafa Benitez about him a few weeks back and said that, from my experience, if Aquilani is to make a big impact at the club, then it will probably be next season at the earliest."

Yet despite admitting to some misgivings about the Italian's ability to adapt to English football, Molby says Aquilani has the attributes to establish himself as a good signing for the Reds.

"It is a totally different style of play [to Serie A] and you have to learn to look after yourself quickly," he added.

"You have to face the Blackburns and the Sunderlands - with players like Lee Cattermole biting in - and you have to compete. If you don't fancy it, you can get snowed under very quickly.

"But if it comes down to talent, then Aquilani certainly has what it takes to be a success. He has ability, no question."

Molby is the latest ex-Red to stick the boot into Benitez’s embattled side, who welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield on Sunday knowing that a defeat would leave them seven points adrift of the top-four.

In December, former manager Graeme Souness declared that the club was on the verge of “meltdown” after their exit from the Champions League, whilst Ronnie Whelan and Jamie Redknapp have been highly critical of Benitez’s methods throughout Liverpool’s below-par start to the season.

Saturday’s FA Cup draw at Championship strugglers Reading represented another below par display in a season dominated by false dawns and disappointment for Reds fans.

One player who Molby reserves special praise for, however, is goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who the Dane believes can go on to become Liverpool's best-ever stopper.

"I said a few years ago that Reina has all the tools to become the greatest keeper in Liverpool's history, and I stick by that, he has been fantastic this season," said Molby.

"People say he doesn't come and catch enough balls, but I think he is a truly exceptional keeper, and deserves to be mentioned up there with the best."

And in a season of minimal promise for Liverpool supporters, Molby reveals his excitement at the prospect of young Spaniard Daniel Pacheco, who has shone in two first-team cameo appearances this season.

Molby concedes that the 18-year-old's lack of physical presence may prove a hindrance, but says Reds fans have reason to get excited about Pacheco's progress.

"I like the kid because he has great ability," added Molby.

"He has a great first touch - schooled in Barcelona of course - can spot a pass, and has fantastic set-piece delivery. If we talk about Steven Gerrard's ability from set-pieces, well this kid is something special.

"My only worry about him is his lack of strength, he is very slight. That probably means he is unlikely to dominate games, but he certainly has the ability to be a match-winner for Liverpool.

"He is confident, he always wants the ball, wants to play - that's down to his upbringing - and I think he is a very exciting kid for Liverpool fans to get excited about."

Napoli Director Riccardo Bigon Flies To Liverpool For Andrea Dossena Talks

Napoli sporting director Riccardo Bigon has flown to Liverpool in an attempt to reel in Andrea Dossena.

Sky Sport Italia claim the Partenopei are still keen on landing the stopper who has been tipped to leave Anfield. Dossena has endured a tough time in Merseyside since joining them from Udinese, and Napoli are ready to offer him a quick exit.

The report suggests Bigon will speak with the player, who has been linked with Roma and a number of Spanish clubs, and offer him a deal. It's no secret Dossena wants to return to Italy. He also wants regular action, something which has been limited under Rafael Benitez.

Napoli had already spoken with the Italian in the summer, but talks broke down after the two sides were unable to agree on terms.

Stalemate For Dossena

Andrea Dossena's agent has reiterated that his client's future remains a subject of much uncertainty.

The Liverpool defender is reported to be a January transfer target for a number of Serie A clubs keen to take him back to his homeland.

However, the Reds appear reluctant to do business, despite Dossena being regarded as little more than a squad player at Anfield.

Speculation continues to suggest that it is only a matter of time before a deal is struck, but for now stalemate has been allowed to set in.

"There is no news about Andrea," Dossena's agent, Roberto La Florio, told calciomercato.it.

"At the moment everything is blocked. It all depends on Liverpool who, until now, seem to have no intention of altering their strategy."

La Florio has also ruled out the possibility of Dossena being allowed to leave on loan, with any potential deal needing to see Liverpool recoup the majority of the £7million they paid Udinese for the Italy international in July 2008.

He added: "A loan with the possibility of being signed at the end of the season? At the moment I don't think Liverpool would consider this option."

Napoli, Roma and Juventus have all been linked with the versatile 28-year-old in recent weeks.

Liverpool’s Anfield Crowd Means Balance Sheet Makes Good Reading

Steven Gerrard's equaliser against Reading may have prevented the Championship club from recording a famous FA Cup victory over Liverpool, but the trip to Liverpool's famous Anfield stadium will be a boost to the Championship club's coffers.

The Royals had taken the lead through Simon Church, but were pegged back by Gerrard's equaliser. Neither team could find a winner, taking the tie to a replay in Liverpool next week. Gate receipts are split for FA Cup ties, meaning Reading's balance sheet will receive a significant six-figure boost as a result of the trip to Anfield.

Rafa Benitez, Liverpool's manager, bemoaned the addition of an extra game to the club's schedule as it chases a place in the top four of the Premier League, but paid tribute to Reading's performance. Fixture congestion presented no problem for Liverpool over the festive period, with Benitez's side recording a comfortable victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day before beating Aston Villa thanks to a late Fernando Torres strike three days later.

Reading, meanwhile, whose parachute payments of more than £10 million per season after their relegation from the Premier League will end this summer, are battling the drop into the third tier, and may well welcome the distraction from the league campaign.

Elsewhere, the biggest shock of the third round came at old Trafford, where Leeds United beat Manchester United 1-0 on Sunday. Ten years ago Leeds were top of the Premier League going into the New Year, but have since sunk to the third tier, though the Yorkshire club currently tops the division and is expected to seal promotion back to the Championship by the end of the season.

Couple Find Signatures Of Mersey Football Legends Bill Shankly & Ray Wilson In Living Room

Merseyside footballing legends Bill Shankly and Ray Wilson really did leave their mark – scribbling their cheeky signatures on the wall of a home.

Everton FA Cup hero Wilson, 75, was handed the same football club-owned house in Huddersfield Shanks vacated when his managerial career moved on in the 1950s.

Wilson moved everything into his new home only to find the beloved Liverpool FC icon had scrawled “Bill Shankly was here” above the dining room door.

Wilson, then just 18, couldn’t resist adding: “And so was Ray Wilson” in biro underneath.

Remarkably, both signatures still exist on the wall of the family home in Huddersfield.

Retired couple Antony and Sandra Greenwood have lived there since 1964 after paying just £2,000 to buy the house from Huddersfield Town FC.

It was Shankly’s home when he managed the club – famously signing a teenage Denis Law to the West Yorkshire side before he moved on to manage Liverpool in 1959.

The club handed the house to Wilson who played for Huddersfield for 12 years before following Shanks across the M62 to play for Everton in 1964.

Two years later he would play in the Blues celebrated 3-2 comeback win over Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup and lift the World Cup with England.

Former garage owner Mr. Greenwood, 73, was stunned to find both men’s signatures when he stripped the walls and 45 years later they still remain.

He said: “My sister lived three doors away and told me the house was going on the market. It was our first house when we got married,

“We knew Ray Wilson lived there after Shankly. Soon after we moved in we stripped the walls and there above the door it was written in ballpoint in his handwriting, with Ray adding his comment as well.

“They didn’t leave anything else in the house – there were lots of beer bottles in the old garage but I don’t know if they were Ray’s or Bill’s.”

Mrs. Greenwood, 69, said: “They hadn’t really changed the place that much because they would have been tenants of the club.

“Maybe the club sold the house because it was going to cost too much to modernise or the footballers were getting paid enough to buy their own.

“We’ve changed it of course, there’s now an extension across the back of the kitchen and the kitchen and dining room are open plan now.”

Mildred Wadsworth, 86, has been the couple’s neighbour since they moved in.

She has lived in the road for 64 years and remembers the Shankly family well.

She said: “Bill would play football with the local boys and of course it was a great opportunity for them.

“His wife Nessie was in the Huddersfield Flower Arranging Club and they had two girls Barbara and Jeannette. They were a lovely family.

“But I didn’t get to know Bill as well, of course. He was all about football. He wasn’t interested in anything else.”