Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Cats Revive Interest In Babel

Sunderland are set to step up attempts to sign Ryan Babel. Steve Bruce is keen to seal the deal before the close of the transfer window for the Liverpool miss-fit.

Babel is desperate to leave Anfield in search of regular playing time and revive his bid for a place in the Dutch squad for this summer's World Cup.

The stumbling block for Bruce could be the player's reluctance to move to the North East. Having already turned down approaches from Birmingham and Galatasaray he is believed to prefer a move to Tottenham or Arsenal.

The 23-year old, who has represented his country at all levels, had expressed a desire to stay at Liverpool but, having been left out of the squad on a number of occasions, is keen to look elsewhere in search of first team action.

Having joined Liverpool for nearly £12million the Dutchman was seen as one of the hottest young prospects in football world. There is no doubting his potential however his form at Anfield has been mixed.

Bruce is well aware of what Babel could bring to his side who have stuttered of late. Rafa Benitez is keen to add an extra striker as cover for Fernando Torres and has signalled an interest in Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones.

Despite Bruce's refusal to involve the Trinidadian international in a swap deal, with only four days left until the transfer window closes, it could prove the only option if he wishes to sign Babel.

Plessis Set For Lazio Loan Switch

Liverpool midfielder Damien Plessis could be set for a loan switch to Serie A strugglers Lazio, UK understands.

The 21-year-old midfielder has been on the fringes of the Reds' first team for the past three seasons, making eight appearances in that time, and manager Rafael Benitez revealed yesterday that an Italian club had made an enquiry about signing Plessis on loan. UK understands that the Rome giants are heading the chase for the former Lyon-trainee, as they seek to arrest an alarming slide down the Serie A table.

Davide Ballardini's men currently lie 15th in Italy's top-flight, just two points above the relegation zone, and Italian football expert Susy Campanale says Plessis' physical presence would interest the Biancocelesti.

"Physical strength is prized in Serie A because it is so rare," said Campanale, who writes for the Football Italia magazine and website. "Inter have cornered the market in big, strong midfielders, so any of the top clubs would be intrigued by Plessis as a loan target. The Italian rumour mill suggests Lazio are the ones looking at him right now, and that sounds about right.

"Lazio are a club in serious trouble. It is not clear how much longer Ballardini can hang on, as they're sliding perilously close to the relegation zone."

Plessis was heralded as a potential star at Anfield after making an impressive debut against Arsenal in 2007, but the presence of the likes of Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Alberto Aquilani, plus the emergence of Lucas Leiva, has meant the Frenchman has found opportunities limited.

Benitez yesterday revealed that he would be prepared to sanction the release of Plessis on loan, telling reporters; "Plessis is a young player who isn't playing games. We were considering a loan but we're talking to the player and his agent.

"We had an Italian team asking about him and we'll see if we can find a solution that is best for him and for us."

Benitez is believed to be in the market for at least one more player before the transfer window closes next Monday, with Sunderland's £12 million-rated striker Kenwyne Jones his top target.

The Reds are also rumoured to have offered contracts to Bordeaux's Marouane Chamakh, and Milan Jovanovic of Standard Liege. Both are out of contract this summer.

Kuyt Oblivious To Juve Link

Dirk Kuyt knows nothing about a possible move to Juventus, his agent Robert Jansen has claimed.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has recently been tipped to take over at Juve with current boss Ciro Ferrera severely under pressure after a number of lacklustre displays.

The reports have sparked rumours over which players could join the Spaniard if he moves to Italy and Kuyt has seen his name linked with the Old Lady.

However the forward, who Benitez bought for £9million from Feyenoord in summer 2006, is happy at Anfield, according to Jansen.

"I know nothing of Juventus' interest," he told

"No-one has contacted us at the moment. He is now happy at Liverpool where he has two more years of his contract left."

With Benitez refusing to rule out a switch to Serie A after his side's 0-0 draw with Wolves on Tuesday, Jansen took a similar stance with Kuyt.

"The relationship with Benitez is excellent," he added.

"If Dirk could follow Rafa when he becomes the next coach of Juventus? I don't know. I cannot answer these questions now."

Terriers Line Up Reds Starlet

Huddersfield Town are set to strengthen their attacking options with the loan addition of Liverpool starlet Nathan Eccleston, understands.

The talented 19-year-old striker recently committed his future to the Reds by signing a long-term deal that keeps him at Anfield until 2013.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, who is happy for the teenager to bolster his experience at League One level, is tipping Eccleston as one for the future.

The Manchester-born youngster has already made two Reds first-team appearances after featuring off the bench in Carling Cup action at Arsenal and in the Premier League against Fulham.

Eccleston will link up with Lee Clark's Terriers once the paperwork is finalised and could now be in line to make his debut for the West Yorkshire outfit against Yeovil at Huish Park on Saturday.

Dynamo Moscow Agree Terms With Liverpool Midfielder Yossi Benayoun - Reports

According to several reports from Russia, ambitious Russian Premier League outfit Dynamo Moscow have agreed personal terms with versatile Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun.

Liverpool are being plagued by financial trouble and are keen to offload some players in order to raise funds for the purchase of a new attacker. Benayoun now appears to be the first player set to leave Anfield.

The Israeli international was previously linked with Champions League hopefuls Olympiacos, but the transfer never materialised after the Greek giants failed to agree terms with Liverpool.

Dinamo have yet to reach an agreement with the Premier League side too, but they appear to be ready to match Liverpool's €8 million asking price.

Dinamo director Konstantin Sarsania confirmed that the Russians have already agreed terms with Benayoun and expect the transfer to be completed by the end of the week.

Why Rafa Could Find It 'Arda' To Resist

The relationship between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray is widely recognised as one of the fiercest rivalries in World football.

A simply audacious attempt by Fenerbahce chairman, Aziz Yildirim, to lure Galatasaray golden boy, Arda Turan, fuelled months of debate among pundits and fans.

Having already signed Emre Belozoglu, previously seen as a product of the Galatasaray youth system, it may be that this was simply an attempt by Yildirim to rub salt in to an already open wound at the Ali Sami Yen. Galatasaray responded by giving Arda the captains arm band and, under the guidance of Frank Rijkaard, he has flourished once again in the Red and Yellow of 'CimBom'.

Arda is widely regarded as the hottest product of the Galatasaray youth system for the past decade. Technically excellent with both feet, strong in possession and the ability to play on either flank, or as a second striker, has helped his rapid progression at both club and international level.

Turan was one of the stars of Euro 2008. His last gasp-winner against Switzerland sent the hosts crashing out and was followed by a goal against Croatia to help Turkey into the knock-out stages.

Liverpool fans will undoubtedly have been scouring the internet for videos of their latest transfer target and few will have been disappointed in watching a player whose mazy runs and numerous assists have put him on Europe's radar once again.

With reported interest from Manchester City, claims that he wishes to play for a club who play in red will have been music to Liverpool fans ears, and with Liverpool desperately in need of some added flair, he could be an ideal signing.

Should he continue to produce the quality that has provided 15 assists and two goals this season, it would be 'Ard' to see him resisting the calls of Europe for much longer.

Rafa Benitez Agent Has Had No Juventus Contact

Rafa Benitez’s agent has dismissed rumours linking the Reds boss with Juventus.

Speculation surfaced this week that the Italian club are set to make Benitez an offer to replace current Juve boss Ciro Ferrara.

However, the Spaniard’s agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, says he has had no contact with the Serie A club and that Benitez is focused on Liverpool.

“I’ve had no contact with Juventus or with any other Italian club regarding an interest on Rafa Benitez,” said Qulion.

“There have been rumours linking Rafa to Juve just as there have been reports linking (Guus) Hiddink to Juve. But they are all media speculation and there is no truth in it.

“Rafa has a four-year contract with Liverpool. He feels he has the strength to continue with the team and he is fully focused on guiding them up the table.”

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez Left Frustrated After Draw At Wolverhampton Wanderers

ael Benitez admitted his Liverpool side missed an opportunity to close the gap on the top four after a frustrating goalless draw against Wolves.

The Reds failed to break down a stubborn Wolves defence at Molineux, leaving them three points behind Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place.

Benitez felt it was a case of two points dropped against the Midlands club.

"If you analyse our position in the table, then maybe [it was two points dropped]," he told the club's official website. "If you analyse the game then it was fair enough.

"In the first half we were in control, we didn't create clear chances and the final pass in the final third was the difference.

"In the second half they were pushing harder and we had to defend, but we still had some good counterattacks. Again the final pass was the difference. If you analyse the game, then the result is fair."

On a frustrating night at Molineux, the Liverpool boss was keen to look for positives and was encouraged by the return of skipper Steven Gerrard and new signing Maxi Rodriguez playing his first full game for the club.

"We know that Steve is a key player for us and clearly he has to work on his match fitness because you can see the difference when he is fully fit," Benitez said.

"Maxi was good in possession. He played the 90 minutes and could see the difference between the Spanish league and this one."

Liverpool Deflate Like A Balloon When Missing Gerrard And Torres

Steven Gerrard was the Footballer of the Year last season, not because he was particularly outstanding but because Liverpool were generally impressive and over the course of his career their captain had been generally excellent.

In a season without an obvious, stand-out candidate, in other words, the award went to someone who deserved to win something. It would have been somewhat anomalous, it was felt, for one of the best English players of his generation to be overlooked when the opportunity presented itself to acknowledge his overall contribution.

All of which goes to show that football writers (who vote for the Footballer of the Year) at least have foresight. Gerrard, and indeed Liverpool, have disappeared from the reckoning this season in a manner quite unimaginable when they finished second last time after losing only two games and inflicting two significant defeats on Manchester United. It may be some time before Gerrard is back to bestriding the game like a colossus, to judge from his anaemic display on returning from injury at Wolves, and if he does ever return to the heights of old it may be under a new manager and without Liverpool's other bona fide superstar, Fernando Torres.

That may be an unduly pessimistic view. Gerrard is entitled to come back gingerly after injury and anyone who expected to see him instantly back in the captain fantastic routine at Molineux was probably expecting too much, something that his occasionally superhuman performances have encouraged over the years. Rafa Benítez might not go to Juventus, though it seems idle to pretend that such a semi-honourable way out would not provide the neatest solution for all concerned in what has become a messy in-house argument at Anfield. And Torres, who knows, might even stay on Merseyside, though unless he makes a rapid recovery from his dreadful succession of injuries even he may not make much difference.

This time last year the Gerrard-Torres attacking partnership was being talked up as one of the most lethal in the land. This season it has simply not happened. It was being said last season that Liverpool could have won the title had they only managed to play their two best players in harness more often. Little did people realise that their joint appearances were about to become even more infrequent. Liverpool's decline this season is easily explained. They are a collection of ordinary players (with respect to the consistently above average performances of Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher) with two world class matchwinners. If the two WCMs play to their full potential the rest of the team comes up to match them. If they do not reach that level, or if they do not play at all, the rest of the team deflates like a balloon with a leak and eventually ends up flat.

Considering Torres is widely regarded to be the most complete centre forward in Europe at the moment, certainly one of the top three, his frustrating absence for much of the season has been a severe loss to English football, as well as to Liverpool. You just watch, though. He'll be full of goals and running in the World Cup with Spain. Whether England will be able to say the same about Gerrard is a cause for concern for Fabio Capello. Even when fit the midfielder has not been at his best this season, and Gerrard is no fresh-faced teenager any more, able to bounce back from injury as soon as he is allowed. Gerrard turns 30 just before the World Cup, and while it is possible to argue his time on the sidelines will allow him to reach South Africa well-rested, the disruption to his season has seen the player's form suffer and possibly his confidence too.

Perspiration Trumps Inspiration For Rafael Benitez's Men

If you could condense 90 minutes of 'action' into one split-second, then tonight's game could be neatly summed up when, in the 90th minute of a pallid scoreless draw, Liverpool's auxiliary right-back Jamie Carragher galloped on to a loose ball 30 yards from the Wolverhampton Wanderers goal, screaming at Steven Gerrard to vacate its path.

Considering Carragher, 603 games into his illustrious career, has troubled the scorers - at the right end of the pitch at least - just four times, the odds of him thrashing a half-volley past an underworked Marcus Hahnemann to clinch three points for the Reds were slim. And, predictably, he didn't. His shot was hit well, but at least ten yards wide of the American's right-hand post.

But such was Liverpool's night. A glance at Rafael Benitez's team selection before kick-off at Molineux suggested that an attacking game might be in the offing. Argentine Maxi Rodriguez was selected for a full Reds debut, whilst skipper Gerrard returned after a fortnight's rest with a hamstring strain. Albert Riera sought to continue his fine form from last week's victory over Tottenham.

Yet, for some reason, Benitez's men were devoid of conviction, bereft of ideas. Hahnemann's only real scare throughout came when Riera's audaciously looped volley threatened to catch him out early in the second half.

Indeed, it was the home side - with lone striker Kevin Doyle and wide-man Matthew Jarvis especially lively - who looked the more likely to open the game up. Mick McCarthy rested six of his line-up from Saturday's FA Cup clash with Sheffield United; he might regret his reluctance to name a partner for Doyle here.

Possession stats showed that Liverpool had 61 per cent of the ball in the opening 20 minutes, but to watch the first half was an exercise in endurance for both sets of supporters. One cross from Carragher, angled neatly into a deserted penalty area, was indicative of the malaise which affected both sides. When the fourth official, Kevin Friend, held up a board announcing two additional minutes before half-time, the groans were audible.

Not that it got much better; Liverpool's bench had an attractive look to it, with £17 million Italian Alberto Aquilani joined by three forwards in David Ngog, Ryan Babel and Dani Pacheco. But only Ngog joined the fray, and his introduction deprived the Reds of arguably their best attacking player in Riera.

It was easy to see why Benitez opted not to make further substitutions, Wolves' three-man central midfield of Karl Henry, Nenad Milijas and Michael Mancienne may have suffered the same lack of conviction as Liverpool's, but it was helping the home side turn over possession regularly. Disrupting the balance of the side could well have made things worse for the Spaniard.

Benitez will, quite rightly, point out that the draw means his side are now unbeaten in five league games, and have conceded just once in that spell - a testament to the form of the previously much-maligned Sotirios Kyrgiakos as much as anything.

But with Tottenham picking up a routine home win over Fulham, and both Manchester City and Aston Villa boasting games in hand, this result must surely register as two points dropped.