Friday, January 22, 2010

Guus Hiddink Has Not Been Approached By Liverpool - Agent

Liverpool have not approached Guus Hiddink about taking over at Anfield, although the former Chelsea manager would be interested in taking the reigns at the club in the summer, according to his agent.

The Reds' poor form has lead to speculation that Rafael Benitez could lose his job, and Hiddink has been consistently mentioned as a potential successor.

But his agent, Cees van Nieuwenhuizen, has played down speculation that he has already been approached.

"That's absolutely not right," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"Each day I'm surprised when I read comments in the newspapers in Russia, or in Italy with Juventus, or in England with Manchester City before and now Liverpool.

"It would be fair to say because it's one of the big names in global football. But if Liverpool have a problem today or tomorrow then Guus is not available.

"Guus is not available for any club until August 1."

The Dutchman's close connections with Stamford Bridge - where he won the FA Cup last season - could play a role in deciding which job he takes up next.

Van Nieuwenhuizen said: "As Guus said after he left Chelsea, he enjoyed every second of being in the Premier League with Chelsea.

"He still has a very strong relationship with Mr. Abramovich from Chelsea.

"If he would consider a return to the Premier League I think one of the first things he would do is give a call to his friend Abramovich and say, 'I hope you don't mind if I join club A, B, C or whatever'.

"In a way it's a funny situation but on the other hand Guus is also very close with some of the people on the technical staff at Chelsea like Ancelotti, who he knows very, very well, and also Frank Arnesen, with whom he worked for a couple of years at PSV Eindhoven.

"So Guus doesn't want to interfere with the current success story that Chelsea has picked up again under Ancelotti."

Liverpool And Sunderland Agree Tax Swerve As Kenwyne Jones Talks Progress

Despite recent developments indicating that negotiations had broken down, The Mirror reports that Liverpool are close to agreeing a tax-thrifty deal for Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones.

Black Cats boss Steve Bruce recently vented his spleen over the rumours surrounding Jones, insisting that it was "disrespectful" to suggest that he would send his star striker out on loan.

However, it is now claims that an initial temporary switch to Anfield will be the key in Rafael Benitez's £12 million move for the West Indian hitman.

By delaying the permanent part of the deal until the end of the season, both clubs can claim the transfer on their accounts for the next tax year beginning April.

Reds boss Benitez has made it known that he intends to bring in further reinforcements this winter despite a lack of funds.

Thus, such an arrangement for Jones would give the struggling Merseyside giants time to raise enough cash through sales - both this month and in the summer - to meet Sunderland's price.

Babel Considers Birmingham Offer

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel's agent claims his client could yet seal a move to Birmingham City.

The Blues lodged a big-money bid with their Premier League rivals for the Dutch international earlier this month.

However, the £9million offer was rejected amid claims that Babel himself had shunned the approach.

But now it seems the 23-year-old, who has attracted attention from a number of clubs on the continent, is now ready to consider a switch to St Andrews after yet another spat with manager Rafa Benietz.

His agent Winnie Haatrecht confirmed that Babel is now thinking over Birmingham's offer.

"Birmingham is still a possibility," he told The Sun.

"It would be simpler for Ryan to continue in the Premier League, a competition he knows well.

"We're actually studying an offer."

Lucas - Reds No Two-Man Team

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva insists the Reds are capable of coping in the absence of key men.

The Merseyside outfit has endured a disappointing 2009/10 campaign, with criticism regularly levelled in their direction.

Untimely injuries to talismanic duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have only served to add further weight to the jibes, with the opinion that Liverpool will struggle to cope without the duo.

Lucas, though, insists that Rafa Benitez's squad is about much more than two players and has backed the Reds to silence their critics over the coming weeks.

A hard-fought 2-0 victory over top-four rivals Tottenham on Wednesday has gone some way to backing up his claims, and the Brazilian feels the battling qualities on show against Spurs prove how united the players have become.

"Now it is time for other players to show we have quality," said Lucas.

"We have heard a lot that Liverpool are a two-player team and of course we will miss Stevie, Fernando, Yossi (Benayoun) and Glen (Johnson) because they are brilliant players.

"But we cannot have them so we have to play with our squad - and yesterday (against Spurs) we worked really hard."

The midweek win leaves Liverpool just a point adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham and Lucas is adamant the club can still save their season by securing UEFA Champions League qualification.

He added: "It is normal when you don't get results that you get criticism. The Reading defeat (last week) was a catastrophe because we wanted to stay in the FA Cup.

"To be honest I cannot stop it. I have to keep going. If I listened to the criticism I wouldn't play here anymore.

"I just have to keep going and work really hard. The critics will be less if we keep doing well.

"Our record in the last four games is 10 points so that is positive.

"We know this season has been not so good but we have to keep this momentum and attitude.

"February will be a massive month for us so hopefully we will keep the same attitude.

"We will be there for sure, fighting for the top four."

Benitez Eyes Turning Point

Rafa Benitez hopes the victory over Tottenham will act as a springboard for Liverpool to go on a winning run.

The Reds have received fierce criticism for a disappointing sequence of results this season, while their cause has not been helped by injuries to key players such as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson.

However, Liverpool have become more consistent in the Premier League over recent weeks and produced an impressive performance to prevail 2-0 against Spurs on Wednesday.

Benitez has been delighted with the attitude of his players and would like to be able to look back on Wednesday's match as a pivotal moment in their campaign.

"We showed the level of football we can play and that we are working," said the Spaniard.

"After one or two good performances people have more belief and confidence and hopefully we will play a little bit better.

"We have won the last three league games and drew against Stoke so it is not that bad a situation and we can carry on with this confidence and team spirit.

"If we can keep winning games in a row then I will say that the [Tottenham] result was a turning point.

"You have to believe, you have to think your players will do it. For me it is always a question of time; I had confidence we could win and now we keep going."

Right-back Philipp Degen, who has been a makeshift midfielder in the last two matches, caught the eye with an energetic performance against Tottenham.

The Switzerland international had his first season at Anfield ruined by injury and only now does he believe he is starting to feel at home.

"It was a sad year last year because I was injured but I kept my focus," said the 26-year-old.

"I have only played at around 60 per cent of my potential and hope I can show much, much more.

"I am a footballer with heart. I live for football and I always keep fighting.

"We have not played well this season and the pressure was a lot for the team but everyone has worked harder for success and you saw yesterday a team that fought for Liverpool.

"It is important to keep going and keep our heads up and show that we are ready to fight for fourth place, which is most important."

Jamie Carragher Praises Liverpool Attitude

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes the Reds are showing the right attitude in their bid for a Champions League place after the win over Spurs.

The Reds rose one place to sixth with Wednesday's 2-0 win and are now one point behind fourth place.

Carragher told BBC Radio Merseyside: "We realised we had to come together and show everyone what we're about.

"It's important to show when you don't play well we're still fighting for the club to get the right result."

And the Reds vice-captain expects plenty more points to be dropped in the battle for the top four.

He said: "Last year we were going for the title and our rivals were winning every week.

"With the little league we're in at the moment, it's not like last year where we had to win every game. There will be a lot of points dropped.

"You never know what's going to happen and how the other teams are going to react.

"The Europa League may play a part, as some of the other sides are not in Europe. That may come in to it as well.

"I'm just going to enjoy that we've had a good result. Hopefully that will give everybody a bit of confidence and we can move on."

The Night Liverpool FC And Its Fans Got Fed Up Of Feeling Miserable

Smiles abounded at Anfield last night for the first time in what seemed like forever and they weren't just about the Kop's light-hearted advice to the visiting manager about his well-documented fiscal activities.

There have been several so-called 'turning points' in this most excruciating of seasons and it would be foolhardy in the extreme to begin making rash predictions as to what the hard-fought but ultimately fully-deserved win over Tottenham might mean in the overall context of Liverpool's season.

It was mooted before the double-header either side of New Year against fellow Champions League-place contenders Aston Villa and Spurs that a minimum of four points was required to give a realistic chance of attaining a top four finish but results across the division in this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons should ensure that no-one at Anfield will be taking anything for granted.

Perhaps the most important factor to emerge from the Reds' first league win of the new decade (read match report) was a sense of Liverpudlians falling back in love with their team again.

From the frenzied welcome dished out by hundreds of die-hards to the team bus as it edged up Anfield Road an hour and half before kick off to the trademark 'big European night' style atmosphere inside the ground, capped with a heartfelt and defiant 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at the end, the famed synergy between team and supporters, which many feels defines Liverpool Football Club, seemed to be back in fully working order.

There is no easy answer to that but there was a real sense amongst virtually every Red who passed through the turnstiles last night that their side of the equation would not be found wanting.

Other factors can of course come into play - the old visitors' tradition of turning the teams round and making Liverpool attack the Kop first half can be counter-productive if the old terrace can suck in an early goal and ignite the Anfield atmosphere, and like the Chelsea semi-final in 2005, that's what happened against Spurs, kicking things up a notch and lifting everyone in Red.

Combine that with hard running, tough tackling and sheer will to win - as exemplified by Jamie Carragher's storming burst down the right-hand touchline to salvage a seemingly hopeless cause on the stroke of half time - and even the most morose of cynics will tap into something approaching enthusiasm.

Maybe it was the sight of so many second-stringers out there - Scousers have always been suckers for an against-all-odds scenario - combined with the many gleeful obituaries penned about the club's fate, but the kind of defiance shown last night, in the crowd and on the pitch, is the only thing that can save Liverpool's season from the depths so many have envisaged it sinking in to.

The overall picture regarding the club and it's ownership remains very serious while anyone expecting a smooth run-in from now until May will be in for a rude awakening but as long as there's passion and belief from those wearing Red like we saw last night, Liverpudlians can still walk on with some hope in their hearts.

Forgotten Men Come Good For Rafa Benitez As Race For Fourth Place Intensifies

It has been an unfamiliar feeling for Liverpool fans to wake up this winter with optimism coarsing through their veins. The Reds' Christmas was pretty much cancelled by their travails at home and in Europe, with their early exit from the Champions League and FA Cup supplemented by a miserable start to the Premier League campaign.

But now, three weeks into the year that was supposed to be Liverpool's, the promise has returned. Amazing what a difference 90 minutes can make.

Wednesday night's 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield hasn't fixed all the problems at Liverpool - the club's debt issue still refuses to go away, as does speculation over the future of manager Rafa Benitez, with Guus Hiddink the latest name to be thrown into the ring as a potential replacement.

But it certainly went a long way to mending the confidence shredded by last week's cup humiliation at the hands of Championship strugglers Reading.

The jokes had been doing the rounds on Merseyside all week - Rafa had admitted his grasp of English was poor: he was fine with speaking and listening, it was just Reading he was having trouble with, and so on - but Saturday's draw at Stoke, ugly and disappointing though it may have been, was a big moment for the Spaniard and his troops, and against Spurs they banished plenty, if not all, of their demons.

For Benitez, the victory was also a personal triumph. Surely no manager has had his transfer record examined with such ferocity as he has. Every disappointing result, or substandard performance, drew further rays of criticism from all quarters. His persona and his tactical acumen are often questioned, but his transfer-market prowess is the favoured stick with which to beat him.

How refreshing then to see some of the players who were supposed to ensure his departure from Anfield doing their utmost to guarantee his stay. The likes of Philipp Degen, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, David Ngog and even last-night's match-winner Dirk Kuyt have been held up as beacons of mediocrity, sub-par purchases in an era which demands instant perfection.

Even Alberto Aquilani, ten games into his Anfield career, was being written off. Some reports even suggested the Italian may be set for a return to Serie A in the form of Juventus, with Liverpool prepared to write off a sizeable portion of the £17 million they paid to Roma in June for the 25-year-old.

Benitez has long defended the capture of Aquilani. When Liverpool started sluggishly without the Italian, he said "we have signed the player for five years, not for five months". When fans grew frustrated at his lack of game-time during the Reds' torrid December run, Benitez urged patience. He was getting fitter and fitter, said the Spaniard, and then Liverpool would see the best of him. And on last night's showing, he was right.

Aquilani started the match as a traditional trequartista, playing in behind the lone striker, Kuyt. With both Mascherano and Lucas providing the insurance behind him, here was the Italian's chance to shine in the role he has always said is his favourite.
Six minutes in, he did just that. Collecting an astute chest pass from Kuyt, the Italian took a sublime first touch to evade Jermaine Jenas, before slipping the ball smartly back to Kuyt to steer the Reds in front. It was his first noticeable contribution to his new club, the first installment in paying back that £17 million fee.

His partner-in-crime Kuyt is another whose presence has been questioned this season. The forward is very much a mainstay of Benitez's team, but a string of haphazard performances have provoked serious debate on whether the £10m Dutchman merits his place amongst Liverpool's prized assets.

It is true that Kuyt, perhaps more than any other player, embodies the 'typical' Benitez style. Versatile, conscientious, yet largely unspectacular, the Dutchman is Benitez's unassuming lapdog on the pitch. Yet such a description overlooks the immense contribution Kuyt can make to the team.

Last season's tally of 15 goals was remarkable for what was essentially a right-sided midfield player, and the former Feyenoord man has now struck 8 times in this campaign, and often at the most important of times. His last minute, twice-taken spot-kick last night was as much a test of his character as it was his technique. He passed it.

And he wasn't alone. Degen's inclusion on team-sheets has, until this point, been met by gasps of shock and disappointment by Reds supporters. The 27-year-old has been plagued by injuries since his free transfer arrival from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2008, and has hardly looked the part in his brief appearances in the red shirt.

Yet those who have written off the Swiss, who has 29 caps for his country, may now be forced to adjust their opinions a touch. Degen was the pick of an admittedly bad bunch in the defeat to Reading, and has impressed with his energy and incision as an auxiliary right winger in the past two fixtures. Had he put a finish to a sweeping second-half counter-attack last night, it would have been ample reward for his endeavour.

Meanwhile Kyrgiakos, the towering Greek defender, has polarised opinion on Merseyside since his low-key £1.5m switch from AEK Athens in August. There are those who bemoan his agricultural style, and wonder how any ex-Rangers player can be considered good enough for Liverpool, whilst others simply use his transfer as an example of how Benitez has been denied funds with which to strengthen his squad sufficiently.

But in amongst that conjecture lies a footballer. Kyrgiakos may look ungainly, ragged even, but in the last two games he has been a rock at the back. He snuffed out Stoke's aerial threat at the weekend, and followed that up by sticking 6ft 7in Peter Crouch neatly in his back pocket last night.

His aerial presence even seemed to take the pressure off defensive partner Martin Skrtel, who had his best game for some time. Suddenly, the £1.5m fee looks a smart piece of business.

It was for the same fee that Benitez snared Ngog from Paris Saint-Germain eighteen months ago. But the waifish, flaky teenager who began his Anfield career is no more. The 20-year-old is developing fast. Indeed he has had little choice given the injuries to Fernando Torres and the ineptitude of Andriy Voronin and Ryan Babel. Last night's fifteen minute cameo proved his effectiveness as a substitute. In his short spell on the pitch he forced a fine save from Heruelho Gomes before winning the penalty from which Kuyt sealed the points.

Of course there are those who doubt the wiry Frenchman, many a complaint has centred around Benitez's refusal to consider a deal for Michael Owen last summer. The former Reds star joined Manchester United instead, and to Liverpool's detriment it was said. But Ngog's goals-per-minutes ratio (one goal every 125 minutes) far surpasses that of Owen's (one every 250 minutes), and in a struggling side too. Perhaps Benitez is entitled to a bit more credit where the Frenchman is concerned.

Yet one result and a battling draw does not change everything, and Liverpool were still at least two levels below their best even in victory last night. But with arguably their four most valuable players - Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Yossi Benayoun - all to return to action in the next month or so, and new-signing Maxi Rodriguez to be bedded into the side, who would bet against Benitez rediscovering the blend which made the Reds such a potent force at the back-end of last season?

And if the likes of Aquilani, Degen, Kyrgiakos and Ngog continue to confound the critics as they have been recently, maybe the Spaniard's transfer record will soon be a weapon in his armoury, rather than a signal of his incompetence.

Victory over Spurs, who failed to live up to their own expectations, leaves the Reds well-placed in the battle for fourth-place. They are now just a point behind Harry Redknapp's men, jammed between Manchester City and Aston Villa - who have a game in hand.

Indeed, the three points gathered last night means Benitez's men are just eleven points off the Premier League's summit, though it will take more than a couple of results to even begin setting any other target than fourth.

It’s Easy To Spot The Difference At Anfield

Injury time, Anfield Road end, penalty kick. But while seven days ago it nudged Rafael Benitez and Liverpool towards the precipice, last night the same scenario gave confirmation they are not willing to surrender their campaign without a fight.

Last week’s FA Cup exit to Reading, followed by the dramatic but damaging draw with Stoke City, had prompted the Anfield manager to admit their clash with Tottenham Hotspur represented a make-or-break encounter in his team’s season.

Given the increased pressure under which the beleaguered Spaniard has found himself lately, he could easily have been referring to his own position.

So the relief was tangible throughout Anfield when Dirk Kuyt rammed home from the spot at the second time of asking to put the seal on a deserved victory on a compelling evening.

Kuyt had earlier given Liverpool the platform of a sixth-minute goal before Benitez’s side dug deep to withstand a Tottenham revival to move within a point of their fourth-placed visitors and a Champions League qualification berth.

Games between these teams have often been a delight for the purists, but this was not a night for free-flowing, fancy football.

Even in January, both teams knew the significance of the encounter. As at Stoke City on Saturday, Liverpool, missing so many first-team regulars, showed themselves ready for a fight.

And quite simply, they wanted it more.

From the moment stand-in captain Jamie Carragher called for a pre-match huddle, the sense of defiance was evident both on the pitch and the stands. It was a stark contrast to seven days previous.

Tottenham were harried and harassed into submission.

Kuyt, as well as his two goals, didn’t give the visiting defenders a moment’s rest while Javier Mascherano revelled in the midfield scrap.

Players such as Philipp Degen and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, cited by Benitez’s critics as beacons of Liverpool’s mediocrity, put in a shift, the latter outstanding alongside centre-back partner Martin Skrtel in negating the threat of Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and later Robbie Keane.

All, though, were eclipsed by Carragher who, leading by example, put his heart and soul into every challenge while cajoling and urging his team-mates into action.

True, Tottenham could reflect on the decision to disallow what would have been an equaliser for Defoe shortly after half-time. But Liverpool’s approach meant they deserved any fortune on the evening.

Benitez’s side have now won four of their last six Premier League games and are the form team in the battle for fourth place. Manchester City and Aston Villa will have duly noted this result and Liverpool’s renewed appetite.

Of course, it was defeat at White Hart Lane on the opening weekend of the season that set the tone for a difficult campaign for Liverpool, and one of greater encouragement for the Londoners.

Yet history favoured the home side last night. Tottenham now haven’t won at Anfield in the league since 1993, which was also their last win at a ‘big four’ ground – a startling run of 66 games. On top of that, Harry Redknapp has now failed to win here in 13 attempts as manager.

Having been accused of defensive team selection at Stoke, Benitez brought both Alberto Aquilani and the fit-again Albert Riera into the starting line-up, and was duly rewarded.

Riera, making his first appearance since the goalless draw at Blackburn Rovers six weeks earlier, had become something of a forgotten man among all the high-profile absentees, but last night provided a genuine outlet and wing play that Liverpool have been lacking in recent weeks.

Benitez’s protective stance on Aquilani may polarise opinion, but the manager will not be swayed from gradually working the Italian back to full fitness, no matter how pressing Liverpool’s circumstance. And it took only six minutes for his decision to start with the £20million man to pay dividends, with Aquilani playing a significant role in a surprisingly straightforward opening goal.

It was real route-one stuff. Pepe Reina, having grabbed a dangerous Gareth Bale cross at the third attempt, swiftly pumped the ball upfield to the edge of the visiting penalty area towards Aquilani. The Italian then rolled a short pass into the path of Kuyt to finish first time into the bottom corner beyond Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

The first half was a real war of attrition that, while low on quality, was high on incident and tension. Carragher’s trademark tenacity won a corner in first-half injury time from which Benitez’s side should have doubled their advantage. After Gomes flapped at Reina’s delivery, Kuyt’s diving header was cleared off the line by Bale before Skrtel blasted the rebound wastefully over.

Moments later, Reina was pressed into his first real save of the match, diving low to his left to beat out a Luka Modric shot after a Wilson Palacios pass had given the Croatian rare space inside the Liverpool penalty area.

Tottenham thought they had equalised shortly when Defoe dispossessed Reina before firing into the empty net, only for referee Howard Webb and his assistants to decide the striker had been offside in an earlier passage of play.

Liverpool came close again on 51 minutes when Carragher sent over a deep cross from the right and Riera, rising above Vedran Corluka, smacked a header against the bar.

With the game opening up, Defoe should have passed to the unmarked Crouch in the penalty area, while Reina produced a resourceful stop to paw behind a swerving Jermaine Jenas drive.

As Tottenham cranked up the pressure, Liverpool could ill afford Degen and Kuyt refusing to pull the trigger between them after a break sparked by determined play from Riera.

Kuyt then blazed over on the volley at the far post after Degen flicked on Aquilani’s free-kick, and Riera shot narrowly over from 25 yards.

The final five minutes were frantic. Substitute David Ngog brought a fine save from Gomes before Kuyt missed another glorious opportunity, firing over from four yards after being found by Ngog’s cushioned header.

Still the chances came, Kyrgiakos beating the Tottenham offside trap to latch on to Skrtel’s hooked pass but thrashed straight at Gomes.

But Kuyt finally made the game safe when he netted a twice-taken penalty in injury time after Ngog was felled by Tottenham substitute Sebastian Bassong. The battle is now on.

Phillipp Degen Hopes Spurs Win Will Kick-Start Season

Philipp Degen believes last night’s win over Tottenham can act as the spur to kick start Liverpool’s season.

The Reds have struggled to build any momentum throughout a disappointing campaign but the Liverpool defender is confident the team can now claim a Champions League spot after moving to within a point of fourth placed Tottenham.

"It was a really important result for the team and everyone involved with the club," said Degen.

"The whole team showed great togetherness and we fought for the victory for the whole 90 minutes.

"We've had a difficult time recently, but I am really pleased after this win.

"Everyone is happy and we are now just one point off fourth place. We must now make this victory over one of our rivals count and make sure we get the three points at Wolves next week."

A succession of injuries since joining Liverpool from Borussia Dortmund 18 months ago have limited Degen’s involvement for the Anfield club.

Three starts in the last week however, suggest the Swiss international has overcome his problems.

With Dirk Kuyt spearheading the attack against Tottenham, Degen did well on the right of midfield in the 2-0 win.

He says there is plenty more to come from him and is ready to fight for a permanent starting place in Rafa Benitez’s team.

He said: “I didn't play for three months but now I've played three games in seven days and feel I have done okay.

“I have waited for a chance and I must now keep fighting and try to impress.

"I think I can improve a lot. I haven't had the best of luck with injuries during my time with Liverpool and I know there is still more to come from me.

“I have only played at around 60 per cent of my potential and hope I can show much, much more."