Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Ian Rush: Liverpool FC Must Become Champions League Heart Breakers

After breaking the hearts of one of our Champions League rivals last Tuesday evening, the time is fast approaching for Liverpool to repeat the trick.

You could tell from the way Martin O’Neill reacted to Fernando Torres’s late, late strike at Villa Park that his side had suffered an enormous blow – and you have to wonder whether they will be able to recover from it.

He knew Villa had a terrific chance to effectively put us out of the running for the Champions League – the gap between the side had the potential to be 11 points – but now it is looking like the odds are on Liverpool overhauling them.

Yes, there is an awful long way to go until the end of the season but sometimes incidents such as that can be impossible to get over and it’s entirely possible that Martin might go all guns blazing to win a Cup; after all, they have a real chance in the Carling Cup.

If that is the case, that leaves Manchester City and Sunday’s visitors to Anfield, Tottenham Hotspur, as the teams we are going to be vying with for fourth spot.

Tottenham have had a great season and are playing some good stuff but do they have the consistency – Wolves, for instance, beat them at White Hart Lane – to stay in the race for the long run?

Liverpool have been in this kind of battle before and will know what to expect but, equally, Rafa Benitez and his players will know the time has come to really make a statement.

Beating Villa was a start but they are going to have to up the ante again for Tottenham’s visit; should they do that, a Liverpool victory will put them in the driving seat, as it would really send confidence surging.

This is, without doubt, the most demanding run of fixtures Liverpool will face this season as in the next month Everton, Arsenal and City must all be played to go alongside a tricky Europa League test, as well as potential FA Cup fixtures.

It is impossible to escape the fact we have been too inconsistent this season but the win at Villa Park, certainly in terms of the Premier League, has given us a real platform to launch an attack in the second half.

The Reds have shown in flashes they are a talented side – once it clicks together, the situation will be saved.

Gerrard Blames Players For Flop

Steven Gerrard has delivered a hard-hitting assessment of Liverpool's disappointing season, insisting he and his team-mates must take responsibility.

The Reds' campaign can already be described as a failure following their exit from the UEFA Champions League at the group stages.

Rafa Benitez's team are also in a fierce battle to qualify for next season's European Cup as ahead of Sunday's crucial meeting with fourth-placed Tottenham they trail Spurs by four points.

A number of poor displays have led to suggestions that Benitez, who guided Liverpool to second in the Premier League in 2008/09, could be facing the sack, but captain Gerrard is in no doubt as to where the blame should lie.

"People have said our position is puzzling after last season's success. It's not puzzling at all. The table never lies, we haven't been good enough," he told Zoo magazine.

"We are in this position for a reason and it tells us that we really haven't been good enough, and the players have to take responsibility for that.

"All us Liverpool players have got to look at our league position, roll our sleeves up and get this football club back where it belongs, as far up the table as possible."

He added: "It has been hard to take this season, yes. We're all very disappointed with the way things have gone, especially after finishing second last campaign.

"There was a big belief we could go all the way. But now is not the time for hiding. We have to look at ourselves and put it right.

"We must aim for the top four, and that is something big to play for still. It's a priority now, as it always is at this club, for financial reasons and because all top players want to play in the Champions League, me included.

"I still think we can turn the corner. As captain, I've got to make sure that happens. It's fine looking at why it's happening, but we need to put it right on the pitch."

Liverpool Stalwart Jamie Carragher Concerned At Lack Of English Youth

The influx of foreign footballers in the Premier League may have enriched the overall quality and competitiveness of the division, but has limited the opportunities of English youth graduating from the respective academies of club's in the top flight, according to Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher.

Carragher, 32, regarded as one of the last bastions of "one-club-men", broke through the Anfield ranks and has amassed over 600 first-team appearances for the Reds.

However, the Bootle-born ex-England international believes it is harder for the nation's youth to establish themselves today, than when he was an eager teen.

"I think it's more difficult to come through the ranks now than when I was a youngster," he stated in the Liverpool Daily Post.

"There are a lot more foreign players at the club, and now with the level the team is at, basically if they want to come through then they have to be ready to play Champions League football.

"That shows how difficult it is."

Alberto Aquilani Is Just Like Xabi Alonso, Claims Liverpool Skipper Steven Gerrard

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard claims £20 million Alberto Aquilani is just like departed midfield lynchpin Xabi Alonso.

The Italy international has failed to hit the heights manager Rafa Benitez had hoped since his arrival from Roma - but the opening months of the midfielder's tenure at Anfield has been blighted by an ankle injury.

Aquilani was hailed as Alonso's replacement after the Spaniard completed a summer switch to Real Madrid.

And despite the 25-year-old's slow start to his Anfield career, Gerrard says he has already seen enough from Aquilani to suggest he can replace Alonso.

He said: 'It’s going to take Alberto a while to get up to speed, with his injury problems, but the boy is a player, there’s no two ways about it.

'He sees a pass, he’s on the same wavelength and he can dictate the tempo of a game. I don’t want to tempt fate, but he’s very similar to Xabi.'

Aquilani needs to find his feet as quickly as possible with Liverpool facing an almighty battle to ensure they make a top-four spot this season.

The Reds have endured a disastrous campaign to date after their early exit from the Champions League and their below par Premier League performances that have killed their title hopes for another season.

Maxi Rodriguez To Leave Atletico Madrid For Liverpool Within 48 Hours

The Mirror reports that Liverpool are on track to wrap up the signing of Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid by Thursday.

The Argentine wide-man's future at the Vicente Calderon has been a source of speculation since Antonio Lopez succeeded him as club captain last year.

The former Espanyol star has made nine league starts this season out of a possible 16, and it is understood that he is eager to move elsewhere in order to push his claim for a spot at the World Cup.

Anfield has long been considered a potential destination for Maxi, due the Reds' perceived lack of wide options and Rafael Benitez's preference for hard-working players.

As the 29-year-old's contract expires in the summer and he looks unlikely to extend his stay in the Spanish capital, Atleti are eager to secure a permanent transfer as soon as possible.

However, Liverpool are reportedly set on a short-term loan deal, with a view to signing 'La Fiera' on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Furthermore, it is claimed that Rodriguez will take a cut on his current wages - alleged to be in the region of £85,000 per week - in order to help the move go through.

Birmingham In £8 Million Bid For Liverpool's Ryan Babel

Birmingham have made their first move in the January transfer window by offering Liverpool £8 million for the services of Ryan Babel.

The move for the Dutch winger is the first sign that Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung is serious about backing manager Alex McLeish with the finances needed to continue the club's run of impressive form this season.

Having won seven and drawn four in their last 11 fixtures, McLeish has made no secret of the club's intentions to go for a place in Europe, and a player of Babel's calibre is what his squad is lacking.

According to the Independent however, a deal is far from being completed as Liverpool value the 23 year-old at £12m and in light of their financial woes the Merseyside club are likely to hold out for as much as possible.

With Charles N'Zogbia, Miguel Michel and Kevin Kuranyi also believed to be on Birmingham's wish list, McLeish has made no secret of the fact that come the end of the month the club hope to have made "a marquee signing".

"We won't rule out a marquee signing if there is someone out there who I think can make a huge difference to this team," he said. "We would try if we could but, again, there has got to be a cut-off point.

"I still don't think we have to spend £20m or £40m or whatever was quoted at the time. I don't think there's any point in bringing who are not as good as what we have - you don't progress doing that."

Liverpool In Hunt For Bordeaux Striker Marouane Chamakh

Liverpool have joined the race to sign Girondins de Bordeaux's highly-rated striker Marouane Chamakh, according to a report from The Times.

The Moroccan international has frequently been identified in the media as a long-term target for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and was said to have been the subject of an offer from the Gunners last summer.

The 25-year-old's current contract at Bordeaux expires in the summer, and he is free now to discuss potential pre-contract agreements to move to other clubs. Arsenal are also expected to continue their pursuit of the player

Liverpool have also been linked with Aston Villa duo Emile Heskey and John Carew as well as Real Madrid's Ruud van Nistelrooy as Rafa Benitez looks to reinforce his striking options.

Andriy Voronin, Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena are expected to depart Anfield over the next month.

Stopper Extends Stanley Loan Stay

Accrington Stanley boss John Coleman has extended the loan of Liverpool's highly-rated goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis until January 30.

The Australian born stopper joined the League Two side in November as an emergency signing following a knee injury to regular number one Ian Dunbavin.

Bouzanis has appeared in five games for the Reds and is sure to be handed a starting berth by Coleman when he takes his side to Lincoln on Saturday.

Liverpool Defender Andrea Dossena To Sign For Napoli For €5m

Liverpool's Andrea Dossena will shortly sign for Napoli in a €5 million deal, according to various reports in the Italian press.

Napoli's sporting director, Riccardo Bigon, arrived in Merseyside on Monday for talks that have apparently borne fruit.

Dossena, 28, arrived at Anfield in the summer of 2008 but has failed to settle into the rhythm of the English game.

With Fabio Aurelio dominating the left-back position, and other places in the squad also being unavailable, Dossena in fact made fewer than 20 first team appearances in two and a half season.

However, Liverpool held out on a sale until they were able to recoup some of their original outlay, which was in the region of €8.75m at contemporary prices.

Jan Molby - Liverpool FC Are No Longer An Attractive Destination For Stars

Former Liverpool star Jan Molby said today that the club's on and off-the-pitch problems was putting off top stars from joining Rafael Benitez's team.

Speaking to the Liverpool FC Supporters' Club New York through their MP Red Podcast, the 46-year-old - who played 281 times for the Reds between 1984 and 1996 - said that fans could no longer expect the world's star players to want to play for Liverpool.

"Liverpool right now is not something that anyone would want to get involved in," said Molby, "So what we [as fans] have to do is to concentrate on what we have got now. We have a manager in Rafael Benitez, we have a group of players, and we have to get on with it, to get the best out of that group of players.

"We can't keep turning up lists and hopes of what we can and can't do, we have to focus on what we have got. Other teams have had to do it for years, and Liverpool have to do that now."

Molby is one of a host of ex Liverpool stars to express concerns over the running of the club and the team's poor first half of the season, which has seen them crash out of the Champions League and lose seven Premier League games.

Last year Benitez admitted that the club's debt burden was affecting his side's title aspirations and co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are continuing to face a growing backlash from Liverpool fans.

In an interview published by UK yesterday Molby accused Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard of having a 'sulk on' this season whilst he labeled the contribution of new £20 million signing Alberto Aquilani as 'zero'.

Molby also believes that 23 year-old Dutch forward Ryan Babel - reportedly the target of an £8 million bid from Birmingham City - has underperformed at Anfield and would be no great loss to the club should he leave this month.

"Babel seems to not want to do what he has to, to get his head down and work hard, and to grab the opportunities he is given.

"He doesn't seem interested in that, and he seems to want everything in life a little easy."

Molby said Liverpool had conceded far too many goals this season from set pieces and blamed Benitez’s much maligned zonal-marking system.

"Personally I am not a fan [of zonal-marking]" he said, "I would like to pick our four best headers of the ball and say to them 'mark their [the opposition's] four most dangerous players', then let everyone else deal with the space

"As a player, you like something to hold on to, to say 'that's my man'. I'm sure the likes of [Martin] Skrtel, [Daniel] Agger and [Fernando] Torres would prefer to say 'that's my man, that's my responsibility'.

"It almost comes back to the blame game if you like, and with a man-marking system you know who is doing their job and who isn't."

And with the transfer window opening, giving Benitez a month in which to bolster his squad, Molby believes the Spaniard will be looking to bring in at least one new face to Anfield.

The Reds have been linked with a host of players including West Ham midfielder Scott Parker, whom Molby believes could flourish at Anfield.

"Parker probably went to Chelsea at the wrong time in his career," said Molby, "but I think he would do a good job at Liverpool with the way Rafa sets his side up.

But Molby is sceptical over whether out-of-favour Real Madrid striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy would be a shrewd signing.

"With Van Nistelrooy, I'm not sure Liverpool can give him enough games to get him back to the level he was once at. He is very much a penalty-box player, and the way Liverpool set up perhaps wouldn't suit his style."