Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rafa Eyes Attacking Force

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has called on his team to improve their attacking form having tightened things up at the back.

The Reds have kept three clean sheets in their last three Premier League games against Bolton, Wolves and Tottenham, but they have been far from free-scoring in front of goal.

Liverpool have only netted 42 goals in 24 games so far this season - the fewest of any side in the top six - with Fernando Torres currently sidelined with injury.

Benitez insists there has been an upturn in his side's performances and hopes the increased confidence at Anfield will produce a glut of goals in upcoming matches.

"You have to keep analysing the big picture," he told the Liverpool Echo.

"If every week you think it is one step forward then one step back, you will become very nervous.

"So it is important to keep a perspective and giving confidence to the players. We have just had another win (against Bolton) and another clean sheet. That is a positive.

"Okay, it wasn't as good in attack as we want it to be but we have to keep pushing and we know can improve. We need more positives than negatives.

"The players know that we are improving. We are doing much better in defence and that is a big difference but we have to improve in attack, that is clear."

Liverpool take on Merseyside rivals Everton in the league on Saturday, with the Toffees also in a good run of form themselves.

The Reds have not conceded in 270 minutes of top-fight football although Benitez admits Jamie Carragher may be forced to play at right-back, with Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly sidelined.

"We know playing Carra on the right is more demanding than in the centre but he will always work hard for the team and is playing really well," he added.

"The priority at the minute is to fix the position at right-back.

"We have got (Martin) Kelly coming back, (Philipp) Degen is improving and (Stephen) Darby has been with us.

"We are trying to manage. But the player with most experience is Carra. He, at this moment in time, is the best for the team."

Tommy Smith: Liverpool FC's Sotirios Kyrgiakos Has Key Role To Play In Mersey Derby

I think Sotirios Kyrgiakos will have a key role to play in Saturday’s derby.

I’ll be honest; when I first saw the big Greek defender play I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t think he was good enough for a club of Liverpool’s stature but he’s made me reassess.

Over the past four games he has been excellent. He gets stuck in and is very strong in the air.

I know Daniel Agger is fit again now but I’d keep faith with Kyrgiakos. In fact if I was Rafa Benitez I’d give him the job of keeping a close eye on Tim Cahill, who showed how dangerous he is in the air with the Blues’ winner at Wigan.

He is a real threat from set-pieces and I’d stick Kyrgiakos on him.

It’s going to be a real battle and it’s difficult to pick a winner.

Everton are in good form and will fancy their chances.

A lot will depend on how we start the game.

If we play like we did in the second half against Bolton I fancy us to win.

But if we repeat our first half performance we’re in trouble.

We were poor in the opening 45 minutes last Saturday. Our passing was awful.

We didn’t stamp our authority on the game and we were lucky to be ahead at the break.

I’m sure the manager had some strong words for them at half-time and rightly so.

The second half was a lot better and Steven Gerrard looked more like his usual self which was great to see.

Javier Mascherano was my man of the match. The only thing he has to curb is throwing himself into tackles he doesn’t need to make as he picked up another silly yellow card.

Alberto Aquilani hasn’t impressed me so far but he did set up the first goal so hopefully he will get confidence from that.

I know Lucas came on and made a difference, giving us a bit of extra strength in the middle. But Aquilani is more likely to create a chance and I’d keep faith with him.

Jamie Carragher: So Important That Liverpool FC Stick Together

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher insists speculation over the future of manager Rafael Benitez and some of the club’s players come with the territory at Anfield.

On Sunday Benitez issued a strongly-worded statement in an attempt to quash rumours about a summer departure to Juventus, but it has done little to stop the whispering campaign in the Italian media.

Carragher said the squad had to ignore outside influences and just concentrate on extending their six-match unbeaten run, beginning with the Merseyside derby at home to Everton on Saturday.

“Liverpool has always had speculation about managers, players, players coming, players going and it’s the same as managers,” said the defender.

“That’s part of being part of a big club; you always have that type of thing.

“People always want to talk about the club, whether it is positively or negatively, and if you play for Liverpool you have got to get used to that as part of the job.”

The Liverpool vice-captain accepts this season has been difficult, having failed to live up to expectations with early exits from the Champions League and FA Cup and a disappointing Barclays Premier League campaign.

But he said everyone at the club was committed to their remaining targets of securing Champions League football next season and trying to win the Europa League and that the dressing room was fully behind Benitez.

“It has been a difficult season for everyone really, on and off the pitch,” he added.

“The only way we can change that between now and the end of the season is by rallying together, getting together and focusing on what’s important – which is the club – and on the pitch getting the results we need to try and get in the top four and also having a good run in the Europa League.

“So at the moment now I think it is about everyone sticking together.”

Aurelio In Line For Return

Sammy Lee has revealed that Fabio Aurelio could be in contention for Saturday's Merseyside derby.

The Brazilian has been out since suffering a calf injury in the clash at Stoke City just over a fortnight ago but has now returned to training and could yet be involved against the Blues.

"Fabio is back in training which is good news," Lee told "Whether he will be ready for Saturday, well we will have to assess that in the next few days.

"But the positive thing is that we have Nabil, Martin Kelly and Fabio back in training."

Real Madrid To Make Move For Liverpool's Rafael Benitez

The future of Rafa Benitez at Liverpool appears to be in doubt following the club's disappointing results this term. Benitez is continually being linked with a move away from Anfield and initially appeared to be on his way to Juventus.

However, La Vecchia Signora eventually decided to go for Alberto Zaccheroni instead. This doesn't mean the speculation about Benitez have come to an end though, as Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu now appears to be his next destination.

A report from England claims that Real president Florentino Perez isn't too happy with the results under current head coach Manuel Pellegrini. Therefore, Pellegrini could be replaced by Benitez at the end of the season.

However, it appears to be very unlikely that Real will go for the Liverpool boss if they indeed decide to part company with Pellegrini.

Benitez not only has a bad relationship with technical director Jorge Valdano, but the former Valencia chief is not exactly known for his attracting style of football either. The Real Madrid fans are likely to be unhappy with an appointment of the 49-year-old Benitez should it arise.

Inter Still Keen On Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard

Jose Mourinho has told Massimo Moratti he needs Liverpool's Steven Gerrard for next season.

According to, the 'Special One' is eager to polish his squad with some stellar signings in the summer, the most notable target being the Reds captain.

Rafael Benitez could be forced to sell his star man should Champions League qualification evade Liverpool. The club has endured a tough season, and it could become even harder if Moratti grants Mourinho the cash he needs for Gerrard.

But Inter are not alone in the race for the England international. Real Madrid and Manchester City could come out of the shadows and make a bid for him, which is why Mourinho is planning early in a bid to not miss out.

Milan Jovanovic Agrees Pre-Contract Deal With Liverpool

Liverpool have agreed a pre-contract deal with Milan Jovanovic after convincing the Standard Liège striker he will be given the opportunity to impress at Anfield next season.

The Serbia international, 28, is out of contract at the end of the season and is understood to have accepted a three-year deal with Liverpool, having initially harboured reservations that he would become part of the supporting cast for Fernando Torres should he move to Merseyside.

Rafael Benítez had hoped to sign a new striker during the recent transfer window but the agreement for Jovanovic, who is expected to earn around £10m over the course of his Anfield contract, will encourage the Liverpool manager that he retains the support of the club's board for long-term planning despite a poor season on the pitch.

Liverpool Fans Publish Rival Minutes Of Meeting With Managing Director

The Liverpool managing director, Christian Purslow, has become embroiled in a dispute with a supporters' group over allegations that he accused Tom Hicks and George Gillett of making "unforgiveable" promises and having no money to invest in the club, despite being ordered by the Royal Bank of Scotland to reduce Anfield's debt by £100m before July.

Purslow denies the comments are representative of a meeting on 21 January with members of the Spirit of Shankly Supporters Union (SOS), which has led the protests against Liverpool's co-owners. Purslow met 12 members of the group and although written notes, but no recordings, were permitted at the exchange the two parties have been unable to reach agreement on the minutes. The stand-off prompted SOS to publish its own and Purslow's contrasting versions of the meeting today, with ­supporters invited to make their judgment on another embarrassing affair for the Anfield hierarchy.

Both sides record a frank admission from Purslow that the RBS want him to reduce Liverpool's debt from £237m to £137m before the co-­owners' refinancing deal comes up for renewal in July. But the Anfield official admits he "cannot guarantee" a time-frame for investment that would prevent Hicks and Gillett being forced to put the entire club up for sale.

Purslow confirmed in his version: "One of our key priorities is to reduce the debt by £100m. This is a requirement from our bankers and will allow us to look at a more flexible and longer-term refinancing with our bankers when this investment is brought in. Ideally we would like a three- or four-year refinancing deal rather than the shorter ones we have had recently. The targeted reduction in borrowings was agreed by the bank, CP [Purslow himself] and the owners when I was appointed. The £100m investment will be made by the issuance of new shares, and will not go towards anything else other than paying down the debt, reducing it to £137m. This new investment will also mean a dilution of the current ownership."

Interpretations of the Americans' and the RBS's long-term positions differ wildly, however. Minutes recorded by SOS but not Purslow include an alleged admission that Hicks' and Gillett's £100m asking price for a 25% stake of Liverpool is deterring potential investors. "No one would invest at the level they want," Purslow is alleged to have said. There was also a statement that, in terms of Rafael Benítez's transfer budget: "We will only have what we make and generate. The budget will only change if we get a sugar daddy."

Further claims in the SOS minutes include a bleak assessment of the capital available to Hicks and Gillett, despite their sale of sporting franchises in the US and Canada, allegedly given by Purslow while he attempts to convince the meeting that Liverpool will find investors.

"LFC is for sale. It will be sold," record SOS. "The owners have to sell, they are out of money. The bank want it sold, the fans want it sold and people want to buy it. The problems on the pitch at the minute aren't the fault of the owners. It is not simple enough to say that new owners will guarantee results on the pitch."

Purslow also allegedly blamed the former majority owner David Moores and the ex-chief executive Rick Parry for Liverpool's present predicament. The minutes record: "Those who sold the club are responsible too. The promises of Hicks and Gillett are unforgivable. Hicks and Gillett cannot hang on to the club."

SOS defended its decision to release both transcripts of the meeting. A spokesperson said: "We recognise that this step may put our relationship with the senior management of the club at risk, but the risk is worth it when balanced with putting out a version of a meeting that in good conscience we could not accept as a fair representation of what was said."