Friday, January 08, 2010

Fernando Torres: Liverpool FC Can Gain Champions League Boost Against Spurs

Fired-up, focused and fully fit – Fernando Torres is ready to ignite Liverpool’s push for the top four by repeating his Aston Villa heroics in another must win game this weekend.

Having spent much of the last three months being the centre of constant medical bulletins, normal service has been resumed for Liverpool’s number nine following his last-gasp strike at Villa Park eight days ago.

That goal – his 50th in just 72 Premier League appearances for the Reds – was notable not just for the fact that it enabled him to smash a record but the way he dispatched a shot of such unerring accuracy beyond Brad Friedel.

While some strikers would have tried to go around the keeper or, more likely, had a rush of blood to the head and thrashed at the ball as soon as it arrived at their feet, Torres appeared to have ice running through his veins as he weighed up the situation.

Dispatched almost with nonchalance, it proved that Torres – who has been working “three, four or five hours extra” every day to overcome that groin problem – is back in business and was celebrated as if it had just transformed Liverpool’s stuttering campaign.

He is aware, though, that the knives of their critics will begin to sharpen again should Liverpool fail to follow up their victory in the West Midlands when another Champions League chasing side – Tottenham Hotspur – come to Anfield on Sunday.

Quite simply, Torres feels only victory will do for to Rafa Benitez’s men in the televised, sell-out clash yet that, of course, is easier said than done, given the way Tottenham have played for much of the campaign.

Torres, however, is feeling positive going into the fixture; when Liverpool have needed to win this season – like against Villa, Manchester United and Everton, for example – they have done so and the Spaniard sees no reason why they can’t repeat the trick.

“It’s similar to Aston Villa,” Torres pointed out. “We need to win and we have got to win.

“A draw would be a bad result for us because we need to win to get close to the top four again. But I am sure we can do it.

“The performance of the team is always much better against the top sides in England and I’m sure that we can get three points. We have confidence, even though we know it will be a really difficult game.

“We have to improve and we also know that the other teams (challenging for the top four) will have to play not as well as they have been doing. Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City have all been playing at a good level.

“We know we need to improve but we can do it. This is almost the same squad as last year. We have the confidence that we will finish in the top four and maybe even higher. We have got two targets for the rest of the season – the FA Cup and the Europa League.

“If we can keep progressing, we will see what happens. But of course, the main thing is to finish in the top four again and make sure that we can play in the Champions League next season.”

Why Liverpool find themselves in this situation, rather than challenging for the title, has mystified supporters and critics in equal measure but, reflecting on a ruinous autumn when injuries and results took a heavy toll, Torres believes there is a simple answer.

“The main thing is confidence,” said Torres, who is determined to smash more records to keep, in his words, ‘making the people happy’. “We have not had the same confidence; last year we were winning games when we were not playing so well – we got 20 points from winning games in the last 20 minutes.

“When you are winning games, you go out and you know that you are going to go into your next game and win that as well. We have not been able to win three or four games in a row this year. If we can beat Tottenham, we will be up at that level.”

Liverpool Full-Back Glen Johnson Sidelined Until March

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson could be out of action until March, according to The Telegraph.

The full-back has reportedly undergone surgery to repair medial ligament damage sustained during the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in December.

Following the injury at Villa Park, the initial reaction was that the former Chelsea man would be out for an extended period of time. But the club quelled such fears, explaining that Johnson would be out for about a month.

Now, however, the 25-year-old is expected to be sidelined for up to two months.

Apart from missing a busy list of fixtures at club level, Johnson is also expected to be absent for an international friendly between England and Egypt on March 3.

Meanwhile, Reds manager Rafael Benitez will be posed with a defensive conundrum with regard to the right-back position, as youngster Martin Kelly has struggled to shake off an ankle injury.

It is expected that the Spaniard will now turn to Stephen Darby to fill in, while tentatively postponing plans to dispose of Philipp Degen.

Galatasaray In The Hunt For Liverpool Forward Ryan Babel

Galatasary are ready to enter the race to sign Liverpool striker Ryan Babel, according to a report from The Times.

The Dutchman is understood to be keen on a move to mainland Europe rather than elsewhere in England, with a clutch of clubs ready to pounce after the Reds turned down a reported £9 million bid from Birmingham City for the player.

The Turkish outfit is managed by Babel's fellow countryman Frank Rijkaard, which could increase their appeal to a man whose Anfield career appears to be over.

The Dutchman has endured an unfortunate spell at Liverpool, whom he joined in 2007 from Ajax.

He is understood to be keen on a move to a club with Champions League prospects, though some sources claim that Birmingham may return with an improved bid soon.

Torres: Reina's The Best

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres rates club and country team-mate Jose Reina as the best goalkeeper in the world.

With players in virtually every position under-achieving this season, Reina has been the only one to consistently produce high standards for the Reds.

In the recent victory at Aston Villa the Spain international made some instinctive, crucial saves - and that is why Torres rates him so highly.

"Like always he's having a really good season. For me he's now the best keeper in the world," said the 25-year-old.

"In Spain everyone knows he's a very good keeper and in England there is no doubt he is the best.

"He's played at a top level since he signed here and won many Golden Gloves (for the most clean sheets) - and hopefully he'll win one more this season.

"He's having a massive season and at Villa we won the game thanks to him.

"We must be really happy to have him in the team and hopefully he'll be here for a long time."

Torres has also hailed Reina's influence off the pitch and believes the experienced 27-year-old is a vital member of the squad.

"Pepe is one of the most important players in the dressing room," he said.

"After Stevie (Gerrard) and Carra (Jamie Carragher), I think he's the most important. He's always happy round the place, not just on the pitch but in the dressing room.

"He is always trying to be positive and is a really good professional."

It’s More Difficult For Stephen Darby Than It Was For Me, Says Liverpool FC Graduate Jamie Carragher

Jamie Carragher has praised the character of Stephen Darby for bouncing back from his bittersweet debut – but believes the influx of foreign youngsters into the Premier League makes it more difficult than ever for homegrown talent to break through.

Darby was man-of-the-match on only his second senior start for Liverpool in their 1-1 FA Cup third round draw at Reading at the weekend.

The 21-year-old made his full debut last month in the Champions League dead rubber with Fiorentina at Anfield, after three previous substitute appearances.

However, an encouraging display against the Italians ended on a low note with a mistake that let in Alberto Gilardino to net an injury-time winner for the visitors.

But Carragher believes right-back Darby made the most of his opportunity after being given another first-team chance on Saturday.

“I thought Stephen was outstanding, not just in terms of his performance but his character too,” said the 31-year-old. “He got a little bit of criticism in his last game against Fiorentina, he made a mistake at the very end but he had played very well.

“It’s not just about playing the game, it’s also about showing character when you play for Liverpool. And the character he showed on Saturday was superb and I’m made up for the lad. He’s a great professional, a good lad and the type of lad you want to do well.

“I’m pleased he got another chance. I didn’t want him to not get another game after what happened against Fiorentina, but I told him that if he took what happened at the end away, then he was one of our best players on the night. He didn’t have a bad game, he made a bad mistake, and there is a difference there.

“He showed real character to come out and do well in a tough game where as a team we didn’t play particularly well.”

Like Darby, Carragher is a product of Liverpool’s youth system, but reckons the global pull of the Premier League and the demands of instant success in the first team are considerable obstacles for local hopefuls to overcome.

“I think it’s more difficult to come through the ranks now than when I was a youngster,” said the centre-back. “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.”

Darby, the current reserve team captain who won the FA Youth Cup in 2006 and 2007 and the national reserves league trophy in 2008, admits his mistake against Fiorentina played on his mind in the days after the game.

But he says the support of Carragher and the rest of the Liverpool squad has helped him relaunch his career.

“It was a big confidence booster to be selected for the game and it shows the manager has faith in me,” said Maghull-born Darby. “I tried to repay that faith by putting in a good performance.

“It hurt for a couple of days after the Fiorentina game, but that’s where you’ve got to be mentally tough and overcome it in training sessions. The lads got behind me and gave me great advice and encouragement.

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

“It gives you a lift to hear the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher saying good things about you, but at the same time you have to remain level headed and keep your feet on the ground. It’s important to realise the hard work has only just begun.”

Ryan Babel’s Agent Claims Liverpool FC Have Not Rejected Birmingham City’s Offer For The Player

Ryan Babel could still become a Birmingham player during the transfer window.

The player’s agent, Winnie Haatrecht, has denied claims that Liverpool have rejected a £9million offer from the Midlands club for Babel and suggests the Dutch international is open to a move away from Anfield.

With the likes of Galatasaray, Juventus and former club Ajax all linked with the out-of-favour Reds winger, it was thought Babel would prefer a move abroad as he looks for regular, and preferably European, football to increase his chances of joining the Netherlands at next summer’s World Cup.

But Haatrecht has revealed the player would seriously consider a move to St Andrew’s if Liverpool and Birmingham can thrash out a deal.

Alex McLeish, is set to be handed a £40 million transfer war-chest by new club owner Carson Yeung and has Babel on a shortlist of possible marquee signings this month.

McLeish had also set his sights on Celtic’s Aiden McGeady but, after being told the £10million rated winger is not for sale, could now step up his pursuit of Babel

And after failing to hold down a regular place at Liverpool since joining from Ajax in 2007 his agent concedes that a switch to a club that can match the 22-year-old’s ambitions could be the best option.

“Birmingham’s offer has not been rejected yet,” said Haatrecht.

“But I can say, in general terms, Ryan would still like to be successful with Liverpool. If the people at Anfield feel it is better for him to leave, though, then we have to think about starting a new chapter in his career.

“I have sent details of all the interested clubs to Liverpool, and there are five or six of them. We know Liverpool are thinking seriously about the amount Birmingham have offered, but we only start thinking about it in the same way when an agreement has been reached between the clubs.

“Even then, we need to look at how Birmingham’s squad is being built up, how the prospects for future success appear and perhaps listen to what the manager has to say.

“It is about doing what is right for Ryan’s career as a whole, rather than taking a short-term view.

“We are not thinking about the World Cup. We are thinking about the next 10 years, and that is why we have to consider things carefully.”

Despite handing Babel just five starts in all competitions this season, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has insisted the player is not for sale.

However, with Benitez having to raise cash from player sales to fund any new signings – and Babel his most valuable asset from those who are apparently surplus to requirements at Anfield – Liverpool are likely to do business if they get closer to recouping their £11.5m outlay for the youngster two-and-a-half years ago.

Albert Riera Is Not Leaving Liverpool For Olympiacos

Liverpool winger Albert Riera is not about to depart Anfield and join Olympiacos, according to his agent Angel Castell.

The Greek outfit were reported on Wednesday to be lining up a bid for the wide player after their £5 million offer for Yossi Benayoun was apparently rejected by the Reds.

But Castell insists that his client remains focused on recovering full match fitness after problems with hamstring injuries this season, and is keen to reclaim a place in Rafa Benitez's starting line-up.

"I have not heard from Olympiacos at all," the agent told Sky Sports.

"Albert has this year and two more years to go on his contract and he wants to stay at Liverpool.

"Albert is just thinking about recovering from injury and getting back into the team."

Liverpool Defender Andrea Dossena Has Napoli Medical

Liverpool defender Andrea Dossena is just hours away from signing a deal with Napoli after landing in the city this afternoon.

Il Corriere Dello Sport reports the player arrived at Naples Capodichino international airport after boarding a flight from England this morning.

Dossena was with his wife, but he did not make any comment as he sidestepped the gathered press pack who were waiting for him.

The report claims he has headed straight over to Napoli's Castelvolturno training ground in Caserta for a medical, after which he will be presented with his new contract.

An official announcement from the club is expected within the next few hours. The Italian returns to club football on the peninsula for the first time since 2008 when he left Udinese to join Liverpool. He has made little impact at Anfield though, playing just 13 games.

Liverpool's Financial Straits May Keep Ryan Babel At Anfield

Ryan Babel may be forced to slug out at least another six months at Liverpool due to Rafa Benitez's concerns about selling a player he might not be able to replace immediately, The Times reports.

Along with Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena and Andriy Voronin, Babel completes a quartet of flops who could be shown the door at Anfield this month as the club attempts to raise transfer funds.

However, with Maxi Rodriguez expected to join from Atletico Madrid this week, it is claimed that Reds boss Benitez will be allowed to bring in only one more player - most likely on loan - even if he does clear out the flotsam and jetsam.

Interest in Babel is high, both in England and abroad, and the young Dutchman is eager to secure regular playing time in order to push his claim for a World Cup place.

The 23-year-old's agent, Winnie Haatrecht, revealed recently that Liverpool had seriously considered a £9 million bid from Birmingham City, while Turkish duo Galatasaray and Besiktas are also said to be in the mix.

“It is about doing what is right for Ryan’s career as a whole, rather than taking a short-term view,” Haatrecht insisted. “We are not thinking about the World Cup. We are thinking about the next ten years.”

Luis Suarez To Finally Join Liverpool Once Babel, Voronin & Dossena Depart

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is continuing to monitor the form of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez in regards to a January move. The Ajax star has been in superb form in Holland with reports from the Dutch press suggesting that once funds have been raised by the sale of Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena and Andrey Voronin we will see the creative star move to Anfield.

Suarez has been playing in Holland for the past three and a bit seasons and has consistently scored goals whether playing on the flanks or just behind the main striker. Last season was his best tally so far after scoring 22 goals in 31 league appearances (30 starts). Eight of those 22 goals came via the penalty spot as Suarez finished joint 2nd in the Dutch scoring charts. Despite the Uruguayan’s best efforts, Ajax finished 12 points behind champions AZ and one point behind 2nd placed FC Twente meaning they failed to qualify for the Champions League.

Ajax’s failure to qualify led Suarez to urge the club to bring in new recruits. He told Sportsweek in the summer, “It would definitely be useful for Ajax to sign some quality players. It’s up to the coach to decide on which position we need to strengthen the squad. However, we could use some physically strong players in my opinion.”

“I’m extremely disappointed that we failed to qualify for the Champions League once again. I need to play at top level in order to keep improving as a player.

“Nevertheless, missing out on Champions League football is not just bad for me, but also disastrous for the club. Ajax have to wait yet another year to play at the highest level.”

Liverpool were one of the clubs who were interested in providing the Uruguayan with the ‘highest level’ of football required as Rafa Benitez is a keen admirer. The player’s versatility also interested the Spaniard who was and still is looking to strengthen his squad significantly. However, Barcelona and Manchester United are also reported to be keen and no wonder as Suarez has started the season under new manager Martin Jol incredibly.

Ajax are currently 3rd in the Dutch top division, 9 points behind leaders FC Twente but there’s no disputing who is top of the scoring charts. Suarez has scored 18 goals in just 17 league appearances, five goals ahead of his nearest competitor. Only four of the eighteen strikes have arrived via the penalty spot. Not only has Suarez been his sensational form domestically but also in Europe and for his country. The Uruguayan has scored 6 goals in the Europa League with 4 coming in one match v Slovan Bratislava. He has also scored in two of his last five international appearances.

The 22-year-old began his career in his homeland with club Nacional where he won a Uruguayan title before moving to Groningen in the summer of 2006 for €800,000. In his only season for the club he scored 10 goals in 29 league appearances (26 starts) before Ajax made their move for a fee of €9.5M. He has been monitored by Rafa Benitez for a number of seasons but he has really caught his attention since he moved to Amsterdam.

Suarez has been a big hit since his move to Amsterdam after scoring 57 goals in just 81 league appearances (76 starts). His present contract expires in 2012 but with Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona still interested this may well be his last season in Holland. That is if he does not secure a move to Anfield in January. The deal depends on Liverpool’s ability to raise funds with Napoli eyeing Dossena, Birmingham chasing Babel and a number of Ukrainian sides chasing Voronin.

The Uruguayan with 9 goals in 28 appearances for his country does have a reputation for ill-discipline which is perfectly illustrated by the 25 yellow cards he has received in 3 and a half seasons in Holland. He was also sent-off on his international debut against Colombia in February 2007. However, for what he lacks in discipline, he certainly makes up for in talent. Not only does he score goals but he is also very creative and Liverpool fans will be rueing the fact they missed out on him in the summer. However, the press claim if a deal can be done that could change in January. Quotes from Ajax certainly back these reports up.

“It’s up to the technical staff to decide whether Luis will be allowed to leave the club. Nevertheless, we’re ready to talk about a transfer if an extremely good offer comes in,” club director Rik van den Boog was quoted as saying in Algemeen Dagblad.

“We still expect Luis to stay in Amsterdam until the end of the running season, but we are ready to listen to other clubs if a transfer is in the club’s or the player’s best interest.”

Ryan Babel has failed to make a big impression on Merseyside but is still highly regarded in Amsterdam and his homeland which suggests he may well be a make-weight in the deal. He has grown tired of his bit-part role at Anfield and would relish the chance to star in Martin Jol’s team. In nearly two and a half seasons in England, Babel has made 67 league appearances while scoring 9 goals. However, he has only made 24 Premier League starts and has become disillusioned with both his position within the squad and his position in the team when selected.