Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel comes back into contention for a place in the squad to face Tottenham after apologising to manager Rafael Benitez.

The Holland international accepted his mistake over remarks made on Twitter and Benitez has now deemed the matter closed.

Striker Fernando Torres (knee) and midfielders Steven Gerrard (hamstring) and Yossi Benayoun (rib) are all out.

Midfielders Alberto Aquilani and new signing Maxi Rodriguez could feature from the start if the Liverpool boss opts for a more attacking line-up at home.

Babel has been restored to the squad by Benitez after apologising to the manager.

The Holland international found himself in trouble at the club after revealing on his Twitter page last Friday that he had not been included in the party for the match at Stoke the following day.

However, the frustrated Dutchman has accepted his error and will now fight for a place in the squad to face Spurs.

"He came to my office and apologised,'' said Benitez.

"He knows he has made a mistake and for me that is enough and I don't need to talk too much about this.

"Ryan will be in the squad because we have 20 players ready for the training session tomorrow so it (selection) is between these 20 players.''

Jamie O'Hara has been included in the Tottenham squad.

O'Hara has returned from a loan spell at Portsmouth and is likely to start on the bench.

Spurs are without Tom Huddlestone (knee) while Ledley King will have a late fitness test on his long running knee problem.

Boss Harry Redknapp wants his side to be the big beneficiaries of the recent cold snap when they travel to Anfield to face a Liverpool side without Torres or Gerrard.

Spurs were due to face their rivals for a Champions League place earlier in the month but the match was postponed due to snow, with Gerrard and Torres then suffering injuries in the FA Cup defeat to Reading.

Redknapp's own options have been bolstered by the return of O'Hara as the Premier League's transfer embargo for Portsmouth meant the midfielder could not re-register on loan at Fratton Park.

"I'd be lying if I stood here and said that the absence of Gerrard and Torres won't matter,'' said Redknapp.

"Of course, they are two world-class players, and they will miss them.

"But they have a strong squad. I have never been there and had an easy game. It is a difficult place to go.''

Ryan Babel Back In Liverpool FC Squad After Apologising To Rafa Benitez

Ryan Babel has been restored to the Liverpool FC squad after apologising to Rafa Benitez.

The Holland international found himself in trouble at the club after revealing on his Twitter page last Friday that he had not been included in the party for the match at Stoke City the following day.

However, the frustrated Dutchman has accepted his error and will now fight for a place in the squad to face Tottenham Hotspur at home on Wednesday.

"He came to my office and apologised," said Benitez of Babel.

"He knows he has made a mistake and for me that is enough and I don’t need to talk too much about this.

"Ryan will be in the squad because we have 20 players ready for the training session tomorrow so it (selection) is between these 20 players."

Liverpool Striker Fernando Torres: Rafael Benitez Should Buy Either David Villa Or David Silva From Valencia

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres believes that manager Rafael Benitez should bring in either David Villa or David Silva from Valencia to partner him in the attacking third of the pitch.

After failing to land Sunderland hitman Kenwyne Jones on loan following Ryan Babel's decision not to move the other way, the Kop boss is believed to be keen to add to his strike force - particularly given the fact that Torres is currently sidelined following surgery on a cartilage injury - by offering the Black Cats £12 million for the Trinidad & Tobago international.

However, 'El Nino' insists that he would prefer the manager to bring either of his two Spain team-mates to Anfield.

"If I could, I would take David Villa or David Silva to Liverpool as a partner in attack," Torres said, according to The Sun.

"I wish they could come. It would be a great asset for our team."

"We need match-winners like [Wayne] Rooney or [Carlos] Tevez. We need footballers who break the deadlock in matches. Liverpool is losing the Premier League in home games against average teams."

It has been speculated in the past that Los Che may be willing to part with their stars owing to debts the size of Mount Everest that hang over the club.

Birmingham City Launch Fresh Bid For Liverpool's Ryan Babel As Tottenham Hotspur Enter The Frame

The Mirror reports that Birmingham City are preparing a third bid for Ryan Babel, just as Tottenham Hotspur lock their sights on the unsettled Liverpool forward.

The St Andrew's outfit have already had two offers knocked back, the second of which was said to be in the vicinity of £10 million.

Babel's reluctance to hold talks with the Blues allegedly stems from a fear that he will end up playing out of position on the left flank - a fate he has had to endure almost the entirety of his Anfield career.

However, it is believed that Birmingham's latest bid promises not only bigger wages, but also that the Dutchman will get first-team football in his preferred role as a central striker.

This may provide a perfect escape for Babel as he looks to boost his claim for a place in the Netherlands' World Cup squad - and to put a safe distance between he and Reds boss Rafael Benitez, after their alleged falling out.

Spurs are also willing to give the 23-year-old a new home, according to fresh reports, as Harry Redknapp looks to replace Roman Pavlyuchenko with an entirely different style of forward.

But it is understood that the former Ajax man - who has also been linked with Besiktas, Galatasaray, Olympique Marseille and Sunderland - has no desire to become the fourth prong in Tottenham's star-studded attack.

Liverpool are expected to use the money from Babel's sale (should it occur) to fund a move for Kenwyne Jones.

Aquilani Agent Quells Juve Link

Alberto Aquilani's agent has laughed off claims the Liverpool midfielder could return to Seria A with Juventus this January.

The Italian arrived as a £20million replacement for Xabi Alonso, who left for Real Madrid, from Roma last summer but has failed to live up to expectations at Anfield.

Aquilani has made just six Premier League appearances after struggling for fitness and form, and was singled out for criticism after the Reds' shock FA Cup exit to Reading this month.

Last January, manager Rafa Benitez sold Robbie Keane back to Tottenham at a heavy loss after just half a season at the club, prompting many to suggest he is ready to give Aquilani the same treatment.

However, the player's agent Franco Zavaglia is baffled by the speculation, despite reported interest from the Turin giants.

"There aren't possibilities that Aquilani will go back to Italy in January," Zavaglia told

"The boy has started playing with some continuity only in recent weeks. So that hypothesis is really far from reality."

The 25-year-old has his work cut out if he is to make Marcello Lippi's Italy World Cup squad should he fail to up his game at Liverpool, fuelling further speculation of a possible loan deal back to Serie A.

Zavaglia again dismissed such claims: "On loan? This is fantasy football. Aquilani is happy at Liverpool and the adventure has not the slightest possibility of changing."

Sunderland Put Block On Liverpool FC's Move For Kenwyne Jones

Liverpool’s hopes of signing Kenwyne Jones were effectively dead today after Sunderland refused any attempt to do business.

As was reported in later editions of last night’s ECHO, the Reds spent the weekend trying to thrash out a deal to bring the Trinidad & Tobago international to Anfield on loan until the end of the season and were hopeful of doing so.

With Fernando Torres facing a spell on the sidelines due to a knee injury, boss Rafa Benitez wanted to bring Jones to Anfield to give his strike force a physical presence and increase competition for places.

Yet despite the player wanting to switch Wearside for Merseyside, Sunderland would not entertain any thoughts of a loan and insisted the only way the Jones would leave the Stadium of Light during this window was in a cash deal.

The Reds, of course, are not flush with cash at present and had no intentions of meeting Sunderland’s asking price of well in excess of £10m for Jones, who has scored 25 times in 85 appearances for the Black Cats.

Benitez, who is also in the race to sign Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh, is unlikely to give up his search to bring another forward in before the window closes and has vowed to keep “working hard” to find the right man.

“We will see if we can do something more in this window,” he added. “If we cannot we will stick together for the next challenge. We have a good team, a good squad and are not as bad as people think.”

A more immediate priority, though, is tomorrow night’s Anfield showdown with Tottenham Hotspur and the Reds’ boss wants to see his team show the same attitude and resilience as they did at Stoke on Saturday.

But, more importantly, he has urged them to develop a ruthless streak in order to prevent more precious points slipping away.

“We are in a position where we have to kill off games,” he said today. “Even in the last two games when we haven’t played well, we could still have won them.

“If we can do what we did against Wolves and Aston Villa, the confidence will be there. We might not have been doing well but still we can be close to where we want to be.

“That has to be the message to the players. We are still in there. We have to approach every game thinking that we need to get three points.

“The main thing is to be strong, be solid and if we can score, let’s try to kill the games. We haven’t been doing this enough. Against Reading, we started the second half really well but couldn't get the last pass right or find the player.

“Had we done that, we’d be talking about a totally different situation. We know that we have to improve but we have a game soon to do that.”

Rafael Benitez: Liverpool Just Laugh At Steven Gerrard Exit Rumours

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has brushed off rumours of dressing room unrest at Anfield by claiming that he and his players have been joking about tabloid reports linking skipper Steven Gerrard with a move away from Merseyside.

"We have been joking about the rumours in the media that there was a fight. There was nothing. We have been laughing about it," the Spaniard told his club's official website.

Gerrard will be missing from the Reds team which welcomes Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield on Wednesday evening. The England midfielder is recovering from a hamstring strain.

Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun are also out, whilst the Reds will wait to assess defender Daniel Agger.

"Fernando is feeling better after his operation," Benitez explained.

"He will be out for more or less the six weeks we were expecting, but it's always better to be cautious.

"Yossi has a broken rib and so just needs time and Glen Johnson is improving. He is in the swimming pool working and doing well.

"We have to check on Agger because he had a groin problem. We'll have to see if he's available for Tottenham. We have a session today and then again tomorrow before we can decide."

Benitez: Reds Have Made Progress

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has launched a staunch defence of his record at the club as speculation about his future refuses to die down.

The Spaniard insists there have been huge improvements since he took over in the summer of 2004 and that has restored pride among the staff and fans.

However, this season Liverpool have already suffered early exits from the Champions League and the FA Cup and are only seventh in the Barclays Premier League, 14 points behind leaders Chelsea.

Should the club not qualify for the Champions League his position would become increasingly fragile and the names of potential candidates for his job are already cropping up.

Along with the likes of Russia coach Guus Hiddink and Inter Milan's former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, there appears to be a growing campaign for Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish to be involved in a more hands-on role to help Benitez out of their current difficulties.

The Scot, a former Reds playing hero and the last Liverpool manager to win the title back in 1990, is currently occupied with overseeing the club's academy.

Benitez has spoken to Dalglish about the fortunes of the club but it was in relation to a long-term strategy and not in regard to their recent troubles.

"The difference between the club before (Benitez's arrival) and now is massive in terms of money, the value of the squad and the pride of the fans," said the Liverpool boss.

"When I arrived here the club needed to win and the people had been talking about [winning] the championship for 19 years.

"We won the Champions League (in Benitez's first season) after 21 years and we are the only club in England that has the trophy [to keep] for five wins.

"As a club we have pride again and that is important."

Benitez has a good working relationship with Dalglish and the pair often speak, but not necessarily about the specifics of day-to-day life at the club.

"We talk sometimes but he is with the academy so we talk about how the players are doing there but the other day was just a short conversation," said the Spaniard.

"But we were talking the other day and it was interesting because we were talking about football and how the club was improving and the difficulty of going one step forward at this level.

"We were speaking about taking short steps. That is the difference between being at the level we are now and being a little bit better.

"This shorter step is the most difficult. It is true we have improved from a six (out of 10) to an eight or nine. To go to nine/10 that is very difficult."

Despite the pervading air of gloom which seems to be associated with them, Liverpool are unbeaten in their last three league matches and only a last-minute equaliser at Stoke on Saturday prevented their tally being nine points in that time.

A victory over Tottenham at Anfield on Wednesday would put them just a point behind their fourth-placed visitors and firmly back in Champions League qualification contention.

In a season which has seen numerous last-minute goals, opponents being assisted by a beach ball and his team denied by the woodwork, Benitez knows there are only fine margins involved.

Although he accepts Liverpool are not playing well, he is aware of the power a victory over Harry Redknapp's side would have.

"If we can win against Tottenham the fans will be happier and the race for fourth place will maybe be easier," Benitez said.

"The main thing now is to improve and have more confidence and the only way to do that is by winning games.

"I was really pleased with the team-work and character the team showed the other day [at Stoke]. We needed to show this character.

"We want to win and if we can we will try to play well but when you don't have confidence it is important to get the result each time."

The Liverpool manager revealed Fernando Torres' operation on a knee injury last weekend went well but the striker was still likely to be sidelined for six weeks.

"Fernando and the doctor say it was much better than expected but it is still looking like five to six weeks," he added.

Blame Liverpool's Players, Not Rafael Benítez, Says Javier Mascherano

Javier Mascherano has said it is unfair that Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benítez, is shouldering the burden of criticism when the players are not performing.

After the FA Cup replay defeat by Reading and with the club seventh in the Premier League – 14 points behind the leaders, Chelsea – the pressure on Benítez is mounting.

But Mascherano came to his defence. "It's easier for them to criticise one manager than 20 players," said the Argentina captain. "When the team is not playing well, the press criticises the manager and not the players, but we don't have to pay too much attention.

"You have to realise that when we are playing like this, people will criticise Rafa, but we are a top side. We need to think about football and try not to worry too much.

"We have to work, continue training hard and show all our things on the pitch. The mentality among all of us is really good and we want to take Liverpool to the place it deserves to be."