Friday, February 05, 2010

Rafael Benítez Bullish About Liverpool's Prospects In The Second Half Of The Season

Rafael Benítez insists Liverpool can rediscover the fearsome form they showed in the second half of last season as they bid to see off Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa to claim the coveted fourth Champions League slot.

Benitez’s side have enjoyed a run of six Premier League games undefeated since their loss to Portsmouth before Christmas, beating Harry Redknapp’s and Martin O’Neill’s teams in the process, but confidence at Anfield remains fragile after a disastrous autumn.

But despite looking a shadow of the side which ran Manchester United close to the title last season and produced a series of stunning displays to sweep the champions, Villa and Real Madrid aside, Benítez is adamant no major surgery is required for Liverpool to reach that level again.

“I think we can do it if we fix two or three things,” said the Spaniard. “We have some clean sheets and we are moving in the right direction. Last season, we did not do anything especially different. It was just that the team was doing well and had some confidence.

“If you analyse the team we have been playing, we know that we were doing well in defence but we have not been good enough in attack.

"If you analyse the team, you can understand why. Some of the players in attack were coming back from injury, like Steven Gerrard and Albert Riera, while it was Maxi Rodriguez’s first game.

“Gerrard is available, but he is not ready. He has to improve his match fitness. If Gerrard is fitter I am sure he will play better and this will make a massive difference for us in attack.”

Liverpool Winger Albert Riera Relishing Derby With Everton

Liverpool winger Albert Riera, 27, is looking forward to the Merseyside derby with Everton on Saturday.

The Spaniard, signed by Rafael Benitez on transfer deadline day in the summer of 2008 for an £8 million fee, has featured in derbies against David Moyes' side before, but has revealed his excitement ahead of this weekend's showdown - an excitement sparked during the build-up by fans in the streets pressing for a win.

Riera, who is friends with the Toffees' midfield playmaker Mikel Arteta, will temporarily sideline that friendship with his compatriot.

He said to the club's official website: "For me Mikel has been their most important player for a long time and as my friend it's good to see him back.

"He needs time to get back to his best because he had a bad knee injury. We speak a lot and I have been talking with him this week about Saturday's game."

The winger began the derby earlier in the season from the bench, making a cameo appearance, but recalls the tie vividly.

"I remember the first goal from Mascherano, which touched a defender on the way into the net. After that it was close, but Dirk scored and we deserved to win after our second-half performance."

He continued: "You can feel how special this is for the supporters. When you are out on the streets and even in the supermarket people come up to you excited and talking about the game.

"I like the atmosphere of a derby," Riera said. "It's different to games I have played in before and we know our fans can help us win this game.

"The thing that makes this game different to other ones is the intensity of it and the atmosphere is special."

Benitez Offers Babel Backing

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez believes Ryan Babel can shine at Anfield now the transfer window is closed.

Babel's future at Liverpool was the subject of intense speculation during the January transfer window with Birmingham having a couple of bids rejected for the Dutchman.

Benitez believes Babel's form was affected by the speculation and he now feels the former Ajax man can show his true ability for the rest of the campaign.

"If we play without the speculation surrounding Ryan Babel then I am sure it will be easier for him to focus and for me to play him," explained Benitez.

"So I think we will be better in attack and the team will be better."

Benitez also revealed that Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson are not expected to return to action until March at the earliest.

"Glen is still progressing," added Benitez. "It's looking like he will be back in another three or four weeks. When he was first ruled out, it looked like he would be out for two months and it has been a month so far.

"Fernando is progressing too. Hopefully he will be back in the same time, while Yossi [Benayoun] could return in two weeks."

Riera: Torres And Reina Are Staying At Liverpool For Long Term

Liverpool winger Albert Riera has claimed that he and fellow Spaniards Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina are committed to Anfield for the long term.

Given Liverpool's problems this season and the constant speculation over manager Rafa Benitez, there has been speculation that there would be a mass exodus from Anfield should the Reds fail to qualify for the Champions League.

Talking about the club's Spanish contingent, Riera has emphatically dismissed the rumours of discontent.

He said, "It isn't in the character of any of us to turn our backs and run somewhere else when times are tough.

"All of us would like to look back on our Liverpool career and say it was a success. It is clear how happy Pepe and Fernando are at the club and I have no doubt they will both be here for a very long time no matter what happens.

"They have both said to me that they want to make history with Liverpool and I share that ambition"

Talking about his own desire to stay, Riera added, "For me, if the club offered a five, six or seven year contract right now, I'd sign it with my eyes closed. Where else is there to go? Being anywhere else would be a step down. I have everything I need in Liverpool."

Jovanovic Has Signed Nothing

The agent of Milan Jovanovic claims his client is not on the verge of signing a pre-contract agreement with Liverpool.

Reports earlier in the week had suggested that the Serbian playmaker was close to committing his future to the Reds and was expected to form part of Rafa Benitez's squad in 2010/11.

However, it has now emerged that such a deal has not been put in place, with the Standard Liege forward yet to decide where his next move will take him.

Jovanovic has plenty of avenues to explore, with numerous clubs monitoring his situation.

Liverpool had hoped to beat the rush for his signature by reaching an agreement in January, but could be about to see those efforts come to nothing.

"There are many possibilities," Jovanovic's agent Zoran Stojadinovic told Superdeporte.

"The situation will be resolved soon, but he has not signed for any club as yet."

Milan Jovanovic In Advanced Talks With Valencia, Not Liverpool

Liverpool are not close to signing Standard Liege's Serbian hotshot Milan Jovanovic, and the striker - his agent, Zoran Stojadinovic states - is instead in advanced talks with Spanish side Valencia about a transfer to the Mestalla.

The 28-year-old is fast approaching the expiration of his current contract at Liege, and a multitude of sides are interested in capitalising on the player's situation.

Stojadinovic, who stated that he has been in "very advanced" talks with Valencia, also added to Superdeporte that: "There are many possibilities.

"The situation will be resolved soon, but he has not signed for any club as yet.

"There is plenty of interest from Spain, but there are also a number of clubs from across Europe that remain keen."

Twente Sign Nikolai Mihaylov From Liverpool

According to a report in Voetbal International, Eredivisie joint leaders Twente have completed the transfer of Bulgarian goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov from Liverpool on a free transfer.

The young shot stopper is currently owned by the Premier League outfit, but Mihaylov never made in into the first team at Liverpool. He had already been farmed out on loan to Twente for the past three seasons.

Mihaylov's Liverpool contract was due to expire at the end of the season and the glovesman has now made his stay in Enschede a permanent one by signing a contract until the summer of 2012.

Current first choice goalie Sander Boschker is widely expected to retire in the near future and Twente coach Steve McClaren sees Mihaylov as the perfect long-term replacement for Boschker. The shot stopper has made seven Eredivisie appearances for Twente so far.

Liverpool FC Hillsborough Tragedy Inquiry Panel Starts task of looking for truth

The Hillsborough inquiry panel was today starting the painstaking task of sifting through nearly two million official papers relating to the tragedy.

Headed by Bishop James Jones the panel is expected to spend up to two years overseeing the public disclosure of secret documents.

Their first priority will be to inform the families of the 96 victims of their contents.

Bishop James said: "I’m pleased that today the Hillsborough Independent Panel can start with the challenge we face. Today is first and foremost about listening, listening to the voices of those affected by the tragedy."

The panel is made up of information expert Christine Gifford; TV producer Katy Jones; ex-Northern Ireland deputy chief constable Paul Leighton; criminologist Professor Phil Scraton; ex-associate Department of Health medical director Dr Bill Kirkup; archivist Sarah Tyacke and broadcaster Peter Sissons.

Hillsborough Family Support Group chair Margaret Aspinall said: "We welcome the panel."