Monday, February 01, 2010

Tomkins Interesting Liverpool

West Ham United defender James Tomkins is interesting Liverpool.

The Mirror says Reds boss Rafa Benitez in particular has been monitoring the progress of the highly-rated 20-year-old, who was drafted into the Hammers youth academy after being spotted playing for his local Sunday League side.

The 6ft 3in central defender made his debut two years ago in the club's 1-1 draw with Everton. Although his mistake in that game allowed Yakubu to score, injuries in the team allowed him to get a run in the side and Tomkins eventually claimed the Young Hammer of the Year award.

He was recalled from a loan spell last season at Derby and handed a long-term contract extension after managing to claim a regular first-team place in the West Ham side.

Yossi Benayoun Furious After Liverpool Block Dinamo Moscow Move

The Israeli was recently touted for a £7 million move to Dinamo Moscow, with some sources even claiming that a deal had been agreed.

The Reds have denied that there was ever any chance of Benayoun leaving, but it is now being claimed that the playmaker was indeed keen on a move to Russia.

The former West Ham United man is said to have become frustrated with Rafael Benitez's refusal to field him in the big games.

Benayoun has been one of Liverpool's top performers over the past year or so, transforming himself from terrace target to Kop favourite.

It was because of that form that the Anfield club pulled the pin on a deal with Dinamo last season, after terms had already been agreed.

Sunderland To Swoop For Keane - And Let Jones Leave For Liverpool

Tottenham captain Robbie Keane is to join Sunderland in a £10million deal that will spark a transfer merry go-round in the final 36 hours of the window.

Keane has been allowed to move to his third club in a year after falling behind Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe in the pecking order at White Hart Lane.

Ironically, he rejoined Spurs on the final day of the January window a year ago when he was sold back to the north London club, where he has been team captain, by Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez at a £5m loss.

Keane's departure, which takes the total spent on him in seven major moves in his career to £80m, will breathe new life into what has been a quiet window.

The 29-year-old's arrival will allow Sunderland boss Steve Bruce to sell Kenwyne Jones to Birmingham or Liverpool. If Jones ends up at Anfield, Holland winger Ryan Babel will move to St Andrew's.

Keane came on as a late sub as Spurs drew 1-1 at Birmingham yesterday but they have signed his replacement, Eidur Gudjohnsen, on loan from Monaco.

Some of the money received for the Republic of Ireland striker was immediately spent to strengthen Harry Redknapp's defence. Frenchman Younes Kaboul returned for his second spell at the club from cash-strapped Portsmouth for £5m.

Benayoun Disillusioned At Anfield

Yossi Benayoun is set to quit Liverpool after becoming disillusioned with life at Anfield.

The Israeli international had a £7million move to Dynamo Moscow blocked in midweek.

But he will seek a summer transfer unless there are changes at the club before the end of the season.

Benayoun signed a new contract extension in July, tying him to the Reds until 2013.

But his relationship with manager Rafa Benitez has become increasingly strained after he was left out of several high-profile fixtures. The midfielder, 29, is currently recovering from a broken rib.

He was given permission to find a new club last season when Dynamo first declared an interest.

But after an agreement was reached, Liverpool changed their mind and said the midfielder was no longer for sale.

That coincided with Benayoun showing sparkling form as the Reds challenged for the title.

Dynamo's renewed bid is a sign Benayoun is still open to offers, although the Anfield outfit insists he is not up for grabs.

Kuyt - Rafa Will Stay

Dirk Kuyt fully expects Rafael Benitez to remain as Liverpool manager next season, despite being linked with the Juventus job.

Juve have made the Reds boss their number one target to take over the helm in the summer after sacking Ciro Ferrara on Friday and installing Alberto Zaccheroni on an interim basis until the end of the season.

Benitez, who previously shunned approaches from Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, was less than convincing in his dismissal of the Serie-A giants' approach after admitting he was "proud" of the Turin club's interest.

But Kuyt, who has been tipped to follow his tactician should he join the Old Lady, has seen no sign that the Spaniard's future lies away from Anfield and insists the camp are focused solely on securing a top-four finish.

"To be honest we just focus on football and not other things outside the pitch," said the Holland international, who scored Liverpool's first in Saturday's 2-0 win at home to Bolton.

"As far as I know there is no doubt. I've not heard there is any trouble or indication the manager could leave so if that is not happening we just want to play football."

Kuyt accepted that while the 18-time English champions were still outside a UEFA Champions League position, they would have to deal with a lot of negative headlines.

"When the results are no good everyone in the team gets stick," he added.

"Because you play for Liverpool you should always play for trophies and be challenging for the league.

"When things aren't going the way you want these kind of things come up in the press and people talk about other things than football."

The numbers are beginning to add up for the Merseyside giants after moving within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham at the weekend.

Saturday's success over Bolton was their sixth league match unbeaten, providing a fifth clean sheet in that time and their fourth successive home victory.

"It is getting better and better," said Kuyt, who has scored three goals in his last three games.

"We knew at the start of the season we had lots of quality in the team but things didn't happen the way we wanted them to but that is behind us now.

"Confidence is really important and it is something we didn't have a couple of months ago.

"But you can see as soon as the goals are coming the confidence is coming back as well."

Juventus And Liverpool Officials To Meet Today Over Benitez Future

Officials from Juventus will travel to Liverpool on Monday to meet with Anfield representatives in order to discuss the future of Rafa Benitez, according to Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport.

Liverpool boss Benitez has remained tight lipped over speculation linking him with Juventus. However, among the Juventus delegation will be their legal advisor Michele Briamonte, who deals with the club's contractual issues.

The Turin club will hope to thrash out a gentleman's agreement with Liverpool to let Benitez leave in the summer for minimal compensation.

According to the Italian media, Juventus will hope that the prospect of removing Benitez's large salary from the wage bill will be incentive enough to work out a deal for the Spaniard.

Corriere dello Sport predicts that Monday's meeting will be the first of a long series of talks between Liverpool and Juventus to resolve Benitez's future.

Benitez Will Take Kuyt, Skrtel & Babel When He Leaves Liverpool For Juventus

Turin based newspaper Tuttosport reports today that if Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez moves to Juventus in the summer, he will try and sign Dirk Kuyt, Martin Skrtel and Ryan Babel for "The Old Lady."

Reports this morning suggest that officials from Juventus are set to travel to Liverpool tomorrow to discuss the future of Rafa Benitez.

The meeting tomorrow is expected to be the first of many discussions between Benitez and the Serie A giants, the Spanish manager is eager to be given assurances that he will have money to spend and is expected to raid Liverpool in the summer.

Dirk Kuyt will be Benitez’s main target. The Dutch forward has been in impressive form in recent weeks, scoring three goals in his last three games and his contract at Liverpool expires at the end of season 2011/2012.

Benitez will also return for Martin Skrtel, who has been solid in defence this season and Ryan Babel who Tuttosport claim would be a "bargain." No mention is made in the Italian paper of the reported bust-ups between the Liverpool boss and the former Ajax winger in recent weeks.

Benitez Coy Over Hicks Visit

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is too intelligent not to have drawn his own conclusions over the significance of the surprise visit of co-owner Tom Hicks to Anfield on Sunday but he side-stepped questions over what implications it had for himself.

Reports in Italy suggest Juventus are set to send a delegation to Merseyside on Monday to thrash out an agreement with Liverpool to release Benitez from his contract at the end of the season.

Whether Hicks' presence was coincidence or part of the preliminary stages of an exit strategy for the manager only the Texan knows, but Benitez said: "If he is around I will see him. It is good to see him here. It is always positive."

The Liverpool manager stressed that Hicks was not involved in the club's transfers in any way and his input was not required nor welcome.

"For us we are working hard on a daily basis with the managing director so it is not a big difference," added Benitez.

"We have a managing director and a chief scout and we are working together.

"We don't need more people deciding about any player."

A group of a hundred or so supporters staged a noisy protest against Hicks and Gillett's running of the club outside the ground after the match.

Reports on Sunday suggested the co-owners' search for outside investment will see them drop their asking price to around £100million for up to a 50% share.

Should they be successful that could see the beginning of the end of the Americans' tumultuous and controversial tenure at the club but, at the moment, that is still a long way off.

Liverpool FC 'Improving', Says Rafa Benitez After Win Over Bolton

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez had mixed feelings about his team’s performance in the 2-0 victory over Bolton at Anfield but saw plenty of positives.

Dirk Kuyt’s close-range effort in the first half put Liverpool FC ahead, and an unlucky own goal from Kevin Davies - he deflected Emiliano Insua’s wild shot into the net - saw off a visiting side who had their best chances in the first half but struggled once they fell behind.

"I am pleased with the result and the second half but not too happy with the first half - but at the end of the day we needed to win and we won," said Benitez.

"We are unbeaten in six games and have another clean sheet so that is good.

"In the first half they had two chances and we were a little bit lucky but in the second half it was totally different and we could have scored more goals.

"I think we are improving. Clearly you can see the team is working hard."

In the week when Benitez was strongly linked with Juventus, Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks was in the directors’ box to watch, and after the match a group of a hundred or so fans staged a demonstration outside the ground.

Benitez was asked if he had a meeting scheduled with the American.

"I was on the pitch concentrating. I knew he could come so if he is around I will see him, no problem," said the Spaniard.

Benitez also confirmed forward Ryan Babel, subject of at least one bid from Birmingham City, would be staying at the club.

This time last year the Liverpool FC boss said he did not want to sell Robbie Keane just days before off-loading him back to Tottenham but Babel’s situation is different.

"It is not easy to find better players than you have at this moment but we are watching players and trying to find someone who can be good for the team," said Benitez regarding his continuing search to bring in one more signing before the window closes.

"Last year we knew Tottenham were interested so we had to play a game.

"This year we are not playing any games. He will stay."

Bolton boss Owen Coyle believed his side should have done better with the early chances they had.

He felt Tamir Cohen could have had a penalty in the first five minutes when he was bumped by Jamie Carragher as he bore down on goalkeeper Jose Reina while Lee Chung-Yong also had a shot cleared off the line by Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Coyle was also unhappy the South Korean was booked for diving in the penalty area just before the interval.

"I felt in the first half in particular we had some very good opportunities to get in front and we never took them," he said.

"I felt very comfortable in the game at 0-0 but with some of the quality players Liverpool have they can hit you at any given moment.

"Cohen on another day might have resulted in a penalty and Chung-Yong had a terrific run (when his shot was cleared off the line).

"And the booking on Chung-Yong ... I don’t think it was a penalty but there was minimal contact but sometimes just because things aren’t penalties it doesn’t mean someone dived.

"I’m disappointed with the first goal we conceded because it should have been cleared.

"The second goal was a foul as Lucas (Leiva) has dragged Johan Elmander at the back post for the header and wherever the shot was going it wasn’t going in.

"Rafa will be delighted he’s had the breaks today."

Rafael Benitez Expects More Ups And Downs In Liverpool's Chase For Fourth

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says he believes there will be many twists and turns in the remainder of the season for all the sides attempting to crack the top four and claim a Champions League place.

Benitez's men moved to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham following a 2-0 win over Bolton at Anfield, combined with Spurs' 1-1 draw at Birmingham City.

The Spaniard is keen for his side to retain their focus, though, citing the 0-0 draw with Wolves last midweek as symptomatic of the type of rollercoaster of results that awaits Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa in their pursuit of fourth place.

"I think it’s important to know that each week will be different," Benitez told Sky Sports.

"Last week we drew against Wolves and everybody was saying ‘oh, you have missed an opportunity’ but now we have won. So we will see how it turns out.

"It was another clean sheet, it was really positive. And hopefully it will be better for the confidence and for the next game against Everton. We have to win games and this is one of them."

Dirk Kuyt struck in the first half to put Liverpool ahead, but it was a fortunate deflection of a Emiliano Insua shot by Bolton's Kevin Davies that contributed the second midway through the second period.

Benitez felt his side were more than worthy of their win, though.

He added: "First half they had a couple of chances but in the second half we had more control and chances.

"In football you have to take your chances. In the second half we were pushing and created much pressure, which was a big difference.

"[David] Ngog had a very, very good chance. Afterwards we were a bit lucky but overall in the second half I would say we had three or four chances and it could have been even better."

Steven Gerrard Silences Doubters Amongst Anfield Support

The pre-match phone-in on Liverpool's local radio station may not be home to the most eloquent football observers, nor the most perceptive. But listening to one caller prior to this routine 2-0 win over a shot-shy Bolton Wanderers at Anfield, it was hard not to be surprised.

"[Steven] Gerrard and [Alberto Aquilani] clearly cannot play together," the caller mused. "And if we're dropping one of them, on current form it has to be Gerrard."

Of course a solitary caller to a phone-in does not represent the views of every Liverpool supporter, one would hope at least, but the message was clear. Even the captain is not beyond reproach at Anfield this season.

Gerrard's form until now has been average at best, injuries and insecurities have combined to deprive the Reds' talisman of his superhuman energy levels, and dimmed his ferocious will to win. At Wolves on Tuesday, Liverpool's captain was a shadow of a figure, caught in the mediocrity which laced the Reds' performance.

Lucky then, that Rafa Benitez does not listen to radio phone-ins, or over-reacting fans. After confirming that the Wolves game, an atritional midfield slog played in sub-zero conditions, was friendly enough for only one of his two best attacking midfield players, here he opted for both in an attacking line-up which contained both Dirk Kuyt and David Ngog.

And it paid off, eventually. Aquilani started slowly in the deeper role usually occupied by Lucas Leiva. Passes from the Italian were well-meant, but often misplaced. More than once the Anfield crowd groaned at his over-eagerness to play the perfect ball.
Gerrard, meanwhile, flickered. Shadowed as ever by Bolton's dogmatic midfielder Fabrice Muamba, the England man drifted from a right-midfield station to a central one, and looked a whole lot livelier than he had at Molineux. One burst midway through the first half might have created a chance for Ngog had it not been for Zat Knight's telescopic leg intervening.

Liverpool were far from fluent; they haven't been all season in truth. But with so many attack-minded players in the line-up chances would undoubtedly come, and how satisfying for Benitez to see Aquilani at the heart of the game's opening goal.

The Italian created the first goal for Kuyt against Spurs here 10 days ago, and he repeated the trick with a brave far-post climb, and well-directed header to the feet of the Dutchman, who steered past Jussi Jaaskelainen from six yards.

Credit in the build-up must also go to another pair of maligned performers; Albert Riera's crossfield pass was exquisite, whilst Emiliano Insua's cross was perfectly arced - not the first time in the game. Two assists in two games for Aquilani, and the first instalment of his £17 million transfer fee is being paid.

Meanwhile Gerrard was growing into the game with every passing minute. His driving runs - stymied so far this season - were soon back in evidence, he stung Jaaskelainen's palms twice at the start of the second half, and delivered two wonderful crosses from wide on the right. The Kop raised its voice, those who had doubted him lowered theirs. Even a shocker of a miss from Ngog couldn't spoil the Reds' day.

Aquilani was taken off 63 minutes in, and given a great ovation by the crowd, but Gerrard played on. At one point he almost danced with a shell-shocked Knight, twisting the Bolton man more ways than one can care to remember. Knight responded with a crude challenge, earning himself a booking. It was a compliment to the Liverpool skipper's performance.

He wasn't alone either. Insua has been derided with regularity this season, but was arguably the Reds' best performer. His raids from left-back caused Gretar Steinsson problem after problem, and the smart play of Riera meant Liverpool's left-hand side was a great outlet.

And alongside the Argentine, the Reds' defence was as solid as it has been all season. Bolton may have offered only a sporadic threat - with Matt Taylor and Tamir Cohen especially quiet - but the impressive Sotirios Kyrgiakos handled Kevin Davies with ease - and cleared off the line brilliantly from Lee Chung-Yong - and was ably assisted by both Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher. That Pepe Reina did not have to make a save of note in the second half is a credit to his defence.

A large cheer went up when Birmingham City's late equaliser against Tottenham was confirmed on the Anfield PA system, and rightly so. The Reds have closed to within a point of Harry Redknapp's men in fourth place (though both sides will be looking over their shoulders at Manchester City and Aston Villa, who possess games in hand), and have extended their unbeaten league run to six games for the first time this season. They have conceded just once in that spell.

They may not be at their fluent best, and the problems may still exist higher up the club - post-match saw a 300-strong protest aimed at co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett (the former of whom was present at the game today) - but, on the pitch at least, the only way is up. The FA Cup humiliation at the hands of Reading may well have been a new low for the current side, but the response since has been solid.

And with Everton to visit Anfield next weekend, Benitez will know that extending the unbeaten run to seven could be the most significant challenge of his season so far.