Friday, January 15, 2010

Torres: Reds Must Win Europa League

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres believes the Reds must win the Europa League and secure a top four finish if they are to salvage their season – and has challenged the club’s owners to splash the cash or get left behind.

A shock defeat to Championship strugglers Reading in the FA Cup on Wednesday added to a succession of disappointments this term for the Anfield outfit, who have already been eliminated from both the League Cup and Champions League and lie 12 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea.

But more importantly, Rafael Benitez’s side trail Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur in the fight for fourth place, with failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League the primary concern on Merseyside.

And talisman Torres insists that finishing fourth and triumphing in Europe’s secondary competition is the only way the ailing Reds can save their struggling season.

"We didn’t want to win the Europa League at the start of the season but it’s a reality now," he told FourFourTwo.

"Now we have to win it. Anything less than winning the tournament would be terrible.

“If we do not win it then we have to say it’s been a very, very, very bad season in Europe.

"We need to improve, we need to take responsibility and we need to get into the top four and win something. We have virtually no chance of winning the title now.

“Now we need to make the best of this situation."

Torres has seen his own season hampered by a thigh injury in recent months, and he was withdrawn after just 29 minutes against Reading with a knee problem that will keep him out until March.

But it's the team's stumbling progress that is causing Torres the most pain.

“It’s frustrating. We finished second last season; this season should have been a turning point for us – the chance for us to do something great.

"Manchester United sold Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, while Chelsea didn’t sign anyone. But it hasn’t been."

Now Liverpool's No.9, who saw former Atletico Madrid mate Maxi Rodriguez join the Reds on a free transfer on Wednesday, has called on the club’s owners to dig deep and back Benitez to ensure Liverpool are back challenging on all fronts next season.

“It’s now the owners’ turn,” Torres insisted.

“They have to sign players so that this does not happen again. If we want to compete with United and Chelsea we need a much, much more complete squad. We need more genuinely first class players and we can’t let our best players leave.”

Liverpool Closing In On £100m Investment, Says Christian Purslow

Christian Purslow, the Liverpool managing director, is hopeful that the club can secure £100 million of investment in the “foreseeable future”.

However, he admits there are “no guarantees” the club will be able to find the cash necessary for work on a new stadium to resume and fulfil co-owner Tom Hicks’s promise of a “big summer” in the transfer market.

He has tried to allay supporters’ fears, however, by denying that players, including Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, could be sold to cover repayments on the club’s £237 million debt.

Purslow has been tasked with finding an investor, or several smaller-scale investors, to take a 25 per cent stake of the club and is believed to be hopeful of presenting a proposal to Liverpool’s revamped board by the end of March.

Sources at Liverpool have confirmed a deal has been “very close” for several weeks but Purslow, who has not ruled out the prospect of a complete buy-out of Hicks and George Gillett, admits there is a long process to be undertaken before any investment is finalised.

“Provided all goes well, there is a serious possibility of new fresh investment within the foreseeable future,” he said. “There are no guarantees, but because of the quality of the club, we haven’t had problems in attracting interest.

"However, the devil is always in the detail and in the coming months our job is to get somebody over the line that makes sense for all concerned. That could be part-ownership or it could be complete ownership.

“The suggestion in any way that we would sell players in order to pay down debt or pay money to our owners is preposterous. Neither is true. Neither is possible. Any proceeds we generate from the sale of players can only go into our player account for the recruitment of new players.”

Hicks told fans in an email this week that a new stadium would be a “game-changer” ahead of a summer in which he expects to bolster the transfer budget, but without an equity injection, neither is likely to come to fruition.

Liverpool Forward Ryan Babel To Reject Any Offer From Birmingham City

Any pursuit of Liverpool forward Ryan Babel by Birmingham City may be redundant as the Netherlands international has reportedly refused to join the recently promoted outfit, according to The Mirror.

Blues boss Alex McLeish has built a formidable side capable of grinding out positive results, but is believed to be recruiting a goal-scorer.

Recent reports suggested he had a £9 million bid for Babel turned down, but should he raise that fee to the requested £10m-11m, and enter personal negotiations with the player, he will likely be rejected.

McLeish has a larger warchest to play with during the winter window than he had during the summer, as Hong Kong entrepreneur Carson Yeung has completed his protracted takeover of the St Andrews outfit, and the indications were there that a "marquee" signing could be made mid-season.

Liverpool Sign Maxi Rodriguez From Atletico Madrid On Three And A Half Year Deal

Liverpool have completed the signing of Atletico Madrid midfielder Maxi Rodriguez on a free transfer, the club has confirmed on their official website.

The 29-year-old Argentine winger has signed a three-and-a-half year contract at the club after completing a medical on Merseyside today, and the move will be confirmed subject to international clearance.

Rodriguez, who was at Anfield to watch the Reds' FA Cup Third Round replay with Reading on Wednesday night, will wear the number 17 shirt at Anfield, and could be available to make his debut against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium this weekend.

The move will please Reds boss Rafa Benitez, as the Spaniard looks to strengthen his squad following a stuttering start to the season.

Rodriguez, who can play on either wing or through the middle, will add competition to the right-wing position usually occupied by Dirk Kuyt, and is known to enjoy a strong relationship with both Javier Mascherano - his international captain with Argentina - and Fernando Torres - an ex-teammate at Atleti.

Diego Cavalieri Sets Two Targets For Liverpool

Liverpool goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri has targeted a top-four finish and victory in the Europa League as the Reds recover from their FA Cup exit at the hands of Reading.

The Brazilian is already looking ahead to the weekend's game against Stoke City and insists that it is vital Rafa Benitez's men win at the Britannia Stadium.

"We still have two more targets. The first one is the top four in the Premier League," the 27-year-old told the Reds' official website.

"Stoke will be a difficult game this weekend, but we need to go there and try to get the three points.

"There is also the Europa League, and we will do everything to try and win that trophy."

Cavalieri admitted that defeat after extra-time to Brian McDermott's Royals was very hard to stomach.

"It was a difficult game. I think we had more possession and control and we were unlucky at the end," he said.

"We had a chance to progress, but we conceded a penalty in the last minute.

"These things can happen in football and we are really frustrated because we wanted to win this trophy.

"It is also difficult for me because when I have a chance, I need to play well."

Cavalieri is hopeful that new signing Maxi Rodriguez can give the Reds a much needed boost, however.

"He is a good player," he added.

"He has played well in Madrid and also for Argentina and I think he can help us. It is a good signing."

Jamie Carragher Apologises To Liverpool Fans After FA Cup Exit

Jamie Carragher has apologised to Liverpool fans after the Reds' ignominious FA Cup exit at the hands of Reading on Wednesday.

The former England international could offer no explanation as to how his side had managed to throw away a 1-0 lead going into injury time at the end of the game.

Instead, he branded the display "unacceptable" and insisted that the players would be doing their best to turn round what has been a pretty disastrous season for the Anfield men so far.

"It was a very bad night for Liverpool and we can't disguise that - we had to do more against a side from a lower league," Carragher told The Liverpool Echo.

"We have to apologise for the way we performed. We have to give credit to Reading, hold our hands up. We all like to win but when you don't, you have to be a good loser.

"We have to accept they deserved it. But, at the same time, we have got to look at ourselves and the way we performed was not acceptable.

"We've got a massive game coming up against Stoke now. It will be very tough, as we played extra time and we have got to show enormous character to come back.

"But that's what we have got to do. We have got to move on but, at the same time, we have to say sorry to the fans who came to Anfield and all those watching on TV."

Liverpool Expected To Be Without Fernando Torres For Six Weeks Due To Injury

Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup by lower league opposition on Wednesday evening, but their problems have worsened by the sight of Fernando Torres being substituted after 26 minutes of play. The prolific marksmen, it has since been confirmed, damaged cartilage in his right knee, and will be out of action for a six week period.

The Reds' talisman Steven Gerrard, who was also withdrawn during the 2-1 loss to Reading, will be sidelined for two weeks, while Israeli midfield schemer Yossi Benayoun could face a four-week absence.

A spokesperson confirmed on the club's official website: "Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both underwent scans earlier today.

"Steven has a hamstring strain and will be out for a fortnight, while Fernando has torn a cartilage in his right knee.

"The injury will require surgery and he is expected to be sidelined for six weeks.

"Yossi Benayoun also suffered a fractured rib in the game and will be unavailable for between three and four weeks."

The FA Cup elimination ensures the sole competition left for Liverpool to fight for is the inaugural edition of the Europa League. They are currently in 7th place in the Premier League, five points behind Manchester City - who are in fourth.

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 2 Reading

An extra-time goal from Shane Long capped a stunning comeback from Championship strugglers Reading as they knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

Liverpool fortuitously took the lead when Ryan Bertrand deflected Steven Gerrard's cross into his own net.

In second-half injury time Reading were rewarded for their endeavour throughout when Gylfi Sigurdsson levelled from the spot after a foul on substitute Long.

Long's extra-time header proved the decisive blow to send Reading through.

This was Reading's first victory at Anfield and it was fully deserved as they out-worked their under-par Premier League opponents to book a fourth-round tie at home to Burnley.

The result places even more pressure on under-fire Reds boss Rafael Benitez who will also be concerned that star duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard failed to finish the match due to injury.

Neither side had played since the original third-round tie, with Reading's home game against Newcastle and Liverpool's match with Tottenham both falling foul of the weather.

The team line-ups for the replay reflected the level of satisfaction each had taken from the game at the Madejski.

Reading caretaker manager Brian McDermott named an unchanged side from what was arguably their best performance of what has been a lacklustre season so far and he was rewarded with a similarly committed display from his side.

They looked anything but a team that has failed to win any of their last five league matches and have spent all season in the bottom eight of the Championship.

In contrast, Liverpool made five changes in an attempt to improve upon what was a blunted, mediocre showing in the 1-1 draw.

They started well and were only denied what could have been the game's opening goal when Ivar Ingimarsson's outstretched boot intercepted Gerrard's cross with Yossi Benayoun lurking.

But once the initial storm from the home side was weathered, Reading's confidence and assurance grew as Liverpool's wilted.

With a platform built, the visitors twice could have taken the lead either side of the 20-minute mark.

Firstly, Reds defender Jamie Carragher opted to leave Simon Church's right-wing cross, unaware that Grzegor Rasiak was lurking behind him, but the striker miscued his effort over the bar.

Then, Jobi McAnuff broke away down the right before delivering into the box from deep but the cross was inches ahead of the diving Church who failed to make contact.

Reading were further buoyed on the half-hour when Torres was substituted after falling awkwardly and replaced by David Ngog.

Despite the loss of the prolific Spanish marksman and the deficiencies that have hampered their season thus far, Liverpool have the quality to exploit the slightest of lapses from an opponent.

On the stroke of half time they did just that.

Gerrard's initial corner was headed clear but it was returned to the England midfielder, who played a one-two with Ngog before directing a ball into the six-yard box which deflected off Bertrand and in.

Liverpool's joy was tempered by the withdrawal of Gerrard at half-time with a twinge in his hamstring.

However, despite the loss of their influential captain, Liverpool began the second half well and pinned the visitors into their own half for large spells.

But despite their dominance of possession they crafted relatively few clear goalscoring chances.

Daniel Agger flashed a 25-yard shot well wide after Alberto Aquilani's free-kick had deflected to him off the Reading wall and the Italian headed a good chance wide from a Benayoun cross.

In contrast, Reading created a number of good opportunities during the half.

Substitute Brian Howard swung over a superb cross to the edge of the six-yard box but somehow Ingimarsson failed to make contact with the goal at his mercy.

Not long after, McAnuff picked up the ball on the halfway line and drove at the Liverpool defence, evading a string of challenges to find himself clear on goal but with the hard work done and keeper Diego Cavalieri committed to ground early, he shot wide of the upright.

Reading's final chance appeared to have gone when Cavalieri palmed away a shot from Sigurdsson in the 90th minute but there was still time for another twist.

A long ball forward broke fortuitously to substitute Long in the Liverpool box and whilst Benayoun's tackle on the forward was mistimed more than malicious, no contact was made with the ball and referee Philip Dowd pointed to the spot.

Sigurdsson showed an admirable lack of nerves to side-foot the penalty in, with Cavalieri diving the wrong way.

Having rescued themselves at the death, a buoyed Reading stunned Anfield by taking the lead 10 minutes into extra-time.

Brynjar Gunnarsson nutmegged Emiliano Insua on the right before sending over a pinpoint cross that Long glanced into the Liverpool net from six yards.

Inevitably, the rest of extra-time was played largely in the Reading half but despite their best efforts Liverpool were unable to force an equaliser.

Benayoun spurned a glorious chance to equalise when through on goal but he dwelt on the ball and Federici was able to save his shot and Ngog fluffed a good shooting opportunity after finding space in the box.