Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Reina - Reds Ready To Scrap

Jose Reina has warned Liverpool's rivals that they are prepared to fight tooth and nail to secure UEFA Champions League football next season.

The Reds have endured a miserable campaign so far and they face strong competition from Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa for a top-four finish in what has been the worst season of Rafa Benitez's reign on Merseyside.

But the 18-time league champions have built up a head of steam since the Christmas period and are six games unbeaten after Saturday's scrappy 2-0 win over Bolton.

If their latest success - which puts them just one point off fourth-placed Spurs - was unconvincing, Reina has made no apologies for Liverpool's gritty attempt to salvage a seat in Europe's top table.

"We know that proper teams build from the back and base their success on good defending," the Reds shot-stopper said in the Daily Mail.

"Steven Gerrard said the other day that we are more difficult to beat now and that is how it should be.

"We are better defensively and we are showing that we have the right mentality in tough moments. It is important to keep a settled back line and you can see the understanding developing.

"You can talk about improving and this and that, but at the end of the day you have to win. It doesn't matter about how you play, it is all about winning.

"We cannot think any further ahead than Everton next week, because we are not in the same situation as last season when we were fighting for the title.

"At least we are gaining confidence from this run and that is why the result is all-important. That has to be the message.

"There will be more tough moments, but our pride is at stake and, if we stick together, we can come through it."

German Teenager Christopher Buchtmann Moves To Fulham

Liverpool have agreed a deal to sell young left-back Christopher Buchtmann to Fulham for £100,000.

The 17-year-old German joined the Reds’ Academy in 2008 after making the switch from Borussia Dortmund.

Buchtmann was part of the Reds team who reached last season’s FA Youth Cup final and last summer he played a starring role in Germany’s European Under-17 Championship triumph. He was named among UEFA’s top 10 stars of the future.

However, after being promoted to Melwood he has struggled to impress this season and has been off-loaded to the Cottagers.

Leeds United Extend David Martin's Loan Deal

Leeds United have extended the loan of Liverpool goalkeeper David Martin until 10 February.

The 24-year-old's original loan deal expired after Saturday's victory over Colchester United.

Martin has made just one appearance for United, in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy win over Accrington Stanley, and has been a sub on another 10 occasions.

He will remain back up to Casper Ankergren as Shane Higgs remains sidelined with a leg injury.

Meanwhile, Leeds have cancelled David Prutton's contract by mutual consent so he can join Colchester.

The 29-year old signed for Leeds in 2007 and went on to make 76 appearances and scoring four goals.

However the midfielder only managed two starts since Simon Grayson took over as manager in December 2008 and joined the U's on loan last week.

Greek Defender Set For Switch

Reports in Greece suggest that Olympiakos defender Vasilis Torosidis is on his way to Merseyside to finalise a move to join Liverpool.

The 24-year-old was a much sought after target last summer with the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus expressing interest and it is claimed that Torosidis is good friends with international team mate and Reds' defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who joined from AEK Athens in August 2009.

With Glen Johnson still injured, Jamie Carragher has been forced to deputise at right-back but manager Rafael Benitez has been tracking Torosidis with intent ahead of the close of the transfer window at 5.00 pm.

In addition to the departures of Andriy Voronin and Andrea Dossena, Liverpool are set to bid farewell to promising youngsters Christopher Buchtmann and Vincent Weijl, who are on the verge of completing moves to Fulham and Dutch outfit Helmond Sport respectively.

Reserve goalkeeper David Martin will to return from his loan spell with high-flying Leeds United on February 10 whilst youth stopper Dean Bouzanis has extended his stay with League Two club Accrington Stanley until the end of May.

Damien Plessis, however, remains at Anfield despite links with a move to Serie A giants Lazio. The French youngster has been named in John McMahon's reserve team that faces Bolton Wanderers in tonight's Lancashire FA Senior Cup quarter-final clash.

Also in the squad are Martin Kelly and Nabil El Zhar, who both hope to signal their return from injury in the game at Lancashire FA's Leyland headquarters this evening.

Fans Will Be Proud Of Juventus Interest, Says Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez says Liverpool’s fans should share his pride that Juventus want to make him their new manager.

On Friday the Spaniard spoke of being flattered by the apparent approaches from the Turin club, increasing speculation the Anfield manager will leave at the end of the season.

Speaking after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League, Benitez praised the Liverpool supporters who sang his name and believes they should take the advances from Juve as a compliment.

Despite a lethargic first half display, Liverpool rallied to record the win over Owen Coyle’s Wanderers and move themselves within one point of fourth place, currently occupied by Tottenham Hotspur.

Benitez said: “I don’t think I said anything strange because if a top side is watching your manager you have to be really proud and I also said I am really proud to be here.

“The fans they know we have to fight and improve and talk about things they want; the stadium, we talk about investment, things they want. We are together in these aims. If you have a top side watching your manager then you have to be proud.

“We did not play too well, that is clear and I was really disappointed but in the second half you could see everything had changed. In terms of the effort and commitment you could not say anything but we were not playing well, but the second half was much better.

“The confidence was there. Clearly we need to improve but we are going forward doing the right things.

“We have been talking about clean sheets as something we needed to improve. We now have 10, similar to Chelsea so that is very positive. If we carry on and stay at the same level in defence and then improve in attack then that is the way to win games.”

The activity of Liverpool in the January transfer window has been one of the most closely scrutinised and with the deadline for player movement 5pm on Monday, Benitez admits he still has targets.

Benitez confirmed there was money at his disposal following the sale of three players but conceded it was always difficult to find players of the required quality at the right price.

“We have sold Voronin, Dossena and Mihaylov so we have some money but the question is whether the players are available or not,” added Benitez.

“It is more difficult because you have to spend big money if you want to sign a fantastic player or maybe you have the money but they will not be available.

“We have some names who we are trying to see if we can do something but it is not easy.

“We have two or three positions we are looking at but it will be more difficult than easy.

“To bring in Maxi was good because he understands the game and can play good football if you can bring someone who can add something then that will be positive but if you cannot we have to manage with the players we have. We have some players coming back from injuries.”

Light Finally Begins To Flicker For Alberto Aquilani

Alberto Aquilani has been forced to endure a tumultuous start to his Anfield career. The young Italian international looks some way off living up to his £20million price-tag right now, with stop-start appearances and constant changes in position further unsettling his progress.

And so, hopefully, Saturday's far post header assist, which teed up Dirk Kuyt for the Reds’ opener and ultimately set Rafa Benitez's side on the road to maximum points against Bolton, will act like a shot in the arm for the young Roman.

The moment when confidence kicks in and Reds fans, hungry for excitement and positives in this car crash of a campaign, will get to see the very best of the young Italian with the big reputation.

Since he arrived on Merseyside Aquilani has had to fight his way into contention from first surgery, then a slow rehabilitation and then a three-month battle for match fitness.

His own situation, coupled with the Reds' alarming change in form and fortune, has already led to some critics jumping on the Italian's back – even before he's had the chance to string two appearances together.

I've already heard Aquilani being described as Rafa's guilty secret by some sections of the media.

That he's nothing more than a shiny new, bright red Ferrari with the registration plate 'RAFA 1'.

He's that luxury purchase one might make when money is burning a hole in your pocket. A bit of an impulse buy that you take one good look at before thinking; 'Yeah, that's for me. That will turn heads. That'll do the business’.

But then you get it home and one day all too soon you open up your garage doors only to realise that your star buy jut is not practical. You've got a two-seater sports car when what you really needed was a people carrier.

So it becomes something of a guilty secret. You polish it with the hope that one day the sun will shine brightly high in the sky and can pull the roof down and take it for a spin around town, turning heads and making waves.

But, with the dark clouds that have made their home over Anfield this season, opportunities for Rafa to show off his Italian Stallion have been in short supply.

But that’s not Aquilani’s fault. Put him in a confident free-flowing team – a team like the one which called Anfield home last season, which pushed all the way for the title – and perhaps then fans will witness the kind of form which once stood the Italian out as one of Europe’s brightest young stars.

Tom Hicks Forced To Leave Via Side Exit After Supporters' Protest

Liverpool FC supporters' union Spirit of Shankly has again hit out at Tom Hicks after an impromptu protest following Saturday's win over Bolton forced the Reds' co-owner to leave Anfield via a side exit.

Hicks, whose takeover with George Gillett has seen the club saddled with debts of up to £240m, arrived at Anfield shortly after 1pm on Saturday, and word soon spread of his presence at the ground, with over 200 supporters gathering by the Main Stand car park after the match in freezing conditions to voice their disgust at the Americans' turbulent reign.

Club stewards and Merseyside police's match day patrol team tried to limit the extent of the protest by locking gates at either end of the car park.

Spirit of Shankly's James McKenna said, "Tom Hicks' presence on Saturday did nothing but fuel the flames rather than dampen them.

"If he is staying over for the Everton game next week, at our expense, it doesn't seem to be for the greater good that either Tom Hicks or George Gillett fly over to see Liverpool play.

"The fans protesting asked Tom Hicks to come outside and respond to their concerns about the club.

"We actually made a request to the police officers and stewards on duty to pass on the message and were told that they wouldn't be passing the message on.

"Fans will continue to question how much of a custodian of this football club Tom Hicks really is as it seem as though he's only interested on coming over here on an all expenses paid holiday, rather than to improve things at the football club, which just angers people even more."

Rick Parry Calls For Sports Gambling Unit To Be Set Up

Former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has recommended a new unit be set up to investigate corruption in betting across all sports.

Parry also called for tougher sanctions on cheats in a report commissioned by sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe.

The proposed team - called the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit - would be housed within the Gambling Commission.

"The report must be taken seriously by sports, police and the gambling industry," said Sutcliffe.

Last year, 48 suspicious betting cases were referred to the Gambling Commission in the 18 months to 31 March, while a high-profile case involving a match between Accrington Stanley and Bury led to five professional footballers being banned for up to a year and fined.

The five players - Jay Harris, David Mannix, Robert Williams and Peter Cavanagh - who were on Accrington's books and Andrew Mangan - then a Bury player - were all charged with betting on a victory for Bury in the game, which was Accrington's last of the 2007-2008 season.

"The report that I've delivered to the minister presents a clear way forward in tackling the growing threat of corruption to the integrity of sport," said Parry.

"We have to take the toughest possible approach if we want to stamp out cheating - and that's why it's so vitally important that the recommendations are taken on board and followed through.

"This should be a no-compromise approach - the panel has identified a number of areas that need work and we now need the full sign-up of the Government, the gambling industry, sports governing bodies, the police and the Gambling Commission to put them into practice."

Parry's other proposals included, a comprehensive education programme for competitors, a new code of conduct on sports betting integrity for all sports governing bodies, and for every sport to have a system for capturing intelligence and reporting to the new unit.

Sutcliffe said he would now consider the recommendations before announcing the next steps.

"I am very keen to keep up the momentum on this vitally important work," he added.

"There is no place in sport for cheating of any kind and we must make sure we're doing all we can to protect its integrity.

"We must all work together towards one common goal - an effective, watertight intelligence-led system that means cheats have nowhere to hide."

Parry who believes the unit could be set up almost immediately, added in a interview to BBC Sport: "The integrity of sport is at stake here and there can never any room for complacency with this issue as the public has to believe that sport is clean.

"The threat is always there and there is always a need for vigilance. We have to be aware that the temptation and opportunity is also always there.

"I think the threat and the impact of it is potentially as great as doping so there is absolutely a need for everyone to be on their toes and vigilant."