Monday, February 08, 2010

Carra's Arsenal Mission

Jamie Carragher believes normal service has been resumed in Liverpool's defensive ranks - but warned the Reds will face a tough task in keeping Arsenal at bay on Wednesday evening.

Saturday's 1-0 victory over Everton moved Rafael Benitez's side into fourth place in the table and means they have now kept six clean sheets in their last seven Barclays Premier League outings.

Carragher admits the derby triumph has increased the 'feelgood factor' within the camp, and the vice-captain is eager for Liverpool to continue their defensive defiance at the Emirates.

"It is not just three points, it has a massive impact and everyone is buzzing," he said.

"But that can change if the result doesn't go our way at Arsenal.

"We beat Manchester United (in the league) and then played Arsenal in the Carling Cup and lost.

"It is important we keep that feelgood factor after the Arsenal game and that will be by making sure we get a good result.

"We are going into the game in a great frame of mind but Arsenal away is always difficult.

"We have been to the Emirates for a couple of years now and I don't think we've won there yet so it is something we are going to have to do sooner or later and hopefully Wednesday will be the time.

"For the last four or five years we have been good defensively under Rafa and we are just getting back to our normal selves.

"If you keep clean sheets you are going to win games."

Mourinho Reveals Exit Options

Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho has revealed the details in his contract which allow him a premature exit from the San Siro. The self-styled ‘Special One’ who has garnered success in each of his coaching positions at Porto, Chelsea and Inter has regularly hinted that he could return to the Premier League in the near future with Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City all tipped as possible destinations.

With Rafael Benitez heavily linked with an exit from Liverpool, it is the Merseyside giants that appear to be leading the chase for Mourinho’s signature although such is the profile of the Portuguese tactician that competition is sure to be fierce to snap him up.

Speaking to the Portuguese press about his future, Mourinho revealed:

"The club [Inter] and I signed a very objective contract until 2012, because we want to work together.

"But there is a cancellation clause that Inter will pay me if they want my departure and another that I will pay Inter if I want to leave.

"It's all simple and very objective. There will never be a never-ending story with us as has happened in the past with other people. We are honest people with honest contracts and objectivity."

Movement between Italy and England has become an increasingly regular phenomenon in recent seasons with Claudio Ranieri leaving Chelsea for his homeland, Carlo Ancelotti quitting AC Milan for the Blues, Roberto Mancini taking up the reigns at Manchester City, Gianfranco Zola returning to London with West Ham United and the aforementioned Mourinho making his switch to Inter.

It is yet to be seen whether Rafael Benitez will be the next boss to move to Serie A, although with the Spaniard happily revealing contact from Juventus it appears that the Reds are at risk of losing their under-fire, but talented coach.

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez Confident Of Bringing Standard Liege's Milan Jovanovic To Anfield

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists that he is certain Standard Liege striker Milan Jovanovic will be headed in the direction of Merseyside.

There was some talk of the Serbia international having signed a pre-contract agreement with the Reds, but a source recently told UK that the 28-year-old was still unsure of a move to Anfield due to the speculation surrounding Benitez's future.

However, the former Valencia coach is certain that the two parties will come to an agreement in due course.

"Nothing is sorted yet, but I’m confident it will be," said Benitez, according to the Daily Mail.

Jovanovic will be available on a free transfer from Liege in the summer, with Fiorentina, Milan and Valencia also believed to be interested in securing the player's signature.

Manchester United, Liverpool And Tottenham Hotspur Ready As Manchester City Look To Sell Stephen Ireland

The Daily Mail claims that Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, is planning to sell Stephen Ireland this summer as he sets about revamping his midfield.

Questions over the Irish playmaker's future at Eastlands have arisen following the Sky Blues' January pursuit of Parma star McDonald Mariga, who ended up joining Inter instead.

And with Real Madrid schemer Fernando Gago still on Mancini's radar, a number of big clubs are said to be queueing up in anticipation of Ireland being made available at season's end.

Manchester United head a group of long-term admirers that also includes Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, with Sir Alex Ferguson a particularly big fan of the 23-year-old.

Ireland's value has skyrocketed since last season, when he shook off a series of prior controversies to establish himself as City's main man with 13 goals in all competitions.

Juventus Plan Summer Swoop For Liverpool Defender Martin Skrtel

Juventus have singled out Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel as the man to shore up their defence next season, according to the News of the World.

The struggling Serie A giants are looking to freshen up their rearguard, with Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro now in his autumn years and star stopper Giorgio Chiellini tipped for a big-money transfer.

And with her eyes still lingering on Anfield after her pursuit of Reds manager Rafael Benitez, it is claimed that the Old Lady will put up £8 million for Skrtel in the summer.

The Slovakian defender's stocks have fallen somewhat this season, as Daniel Agger and even Sotirios Kyrgiakos have pushed ahead of him in the pecking order.

However, Juve reportedly see the former Zenit St. Petersburg hardman as exactly the type of player they need to add some much-needed grunt and grit to their back line.

Skrtel has made 74 appearances in all competitions during his three seasons at Liverpool, netting one goal.

Liverpool, Everton And Spurs To Battle It Out For Hull Starlet

Hull are facing a fight to hang on to wonder kid Tom Cairney.

The teenage sensation is already being tracked by Premier League big guns - after just five senior starts for the Tigers.

Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton are monitoring Cairney’s progress and are ready to slug it out for his signature in the summer.

City boss Phil Brown is determined to hang on to the 19-year-old midfielder but the financially fragile Humberside outfit may have no option but to cash in on their top young talent if they are relegated.

Brown gave Nottingham-born Cairney his first-team chance in cup ties this season and he made his Premier League debut at home to Wolves eight days ago.

He was so impressive that he kept his place for Tuesday’s draw with Chelsea, when he put in another accomplished performance.

Winger Reveals Reds Targets

Nabil El Zhar admits injuries have scuppered the targets he set himself in pre-season - but the fit-again winger is now determined to make up for lost time.

The Moroccan sustained a knee ligament injury during Liverpool's Far East tour in July, meaning he spent the opening four months of 2009-10 on the sidelines.

El Zhar's return to action as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers in December proved to be a brief one as an ankle problem reunited the 23-year-old with Melwood's treatment table once more.

However, the former Saint Etienne forward recently resumed full-training and is now eager to re-establish himself in the plans of Rafael Benitez after making 19 senior appearances last term.

He told LFC Weekly: "I know some fans still see my name on the programme and think, 'Nabil El Zhar - he's one of our younger players.' That's not true. If I was 18 or 19, they would have been right.

"But I'm 23 and approaching an important stage of my career.

"I have two main hopes when each season starts. The first is to play more games than the season before, The second is to improve as a player and a person.

"Last season was a good one for me. I played a reasonable number of games and felt a big improvement in my overall game.

"So far this year, injuries have meant that I haven't been able to even begin to reach those basic targets."

He added: "The Blackburn game was tough but it felt really good to be back playing again. I tried my best to give the team some width and pace and was content with my performance.

"I was looking forward to playing some part in the squad but then I suffered another setback. It has been one of the most frustrating periods of my career.

"I still have a lot to achieve. There is still time for me to become a regular first-team player - although I need to have a period of time without being injured to do that."

Rafael Benítez's Belief In Champions League 'Guarantee' Grows

Rafael Benítez praised his Liverpool side for delivering a "massive" performance against Everton at Anfield today. The hosts won a tetchy and often violent Merseyside derby 1-0 having had to play for the majority of the encounter with 10 men after their Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos was sent off on 34 minutes for a two-footed lunge on Marouane Fellaini.

The victory, secured through Dirk Kuyt's 55th minute header, was Liverpool's fifth in seven league games and saw them climb into fourth place, at least briefly. But for Benítez, it was the nature of how his men triumphed in the 213th meeting between these sides that stood out the most, fuelling him as it did with further belief in his "guarantee" that the club will end the season in one of the Champions League qualifying places.

"To win in the derby is always important but to do it with 10 players is more important," said the Spaniard. "I am pleased for all the players and for all the fans. Everyone worked so hard.

"It's a long race [for fourth place] but if we keep working hard and sticking together like we did today then I feel even more sure that we can do it."

Benítez refused to comment on referee Martin Atkinson's decision to dismiss Kyrgiakos, although the way he reacted to the decision at the time indicated that he felt it was harsh.

Kyrgiakos charged into Fellaini with both feet off the ground and while he did get the ball, he also got the man with Fellaini having to be carried off the pitch and eventually replaced by Mikel Arteta. An x-ray carried out on the Belgian's ankle has revealed no serious damage caused by the tackle and he should be fit enough to feature in the visit of Chelsea on Wednesday.

In all, there was seven bookings with two shown to Steven Pienaar to take the tally of red cards handed out in this fixture since the formation to the Premier League to 19 – more than any other.

David Moyes, the Everton manager, felt both dismissals were correct and instead reserved his angst for his side's failure to capitalise on their one-man advantage.

"We kept the ball well but didn't create enough chances with the extra man," he said. "Saying that, we did not deserve to lose as Liverpool didn't create many chances either."

That was not an assessment shared by Benítez, whose side next faces Arsenal on Wednesday. "From the beginning we were doing well and we definitely deserved to win," he said. "We must now keep winning games."

Moyes Wanted Derby Point

Everton manager David Moyes felt his side deserved to take something from the 213th Merseyside derby with Liverpool at Anfield.

The Reds took all three points in a fiery encounter as Dirk Kuyt nodded home early in the second half from Steven Gerrard's precise corner.

Rafa Benitez's men played the vast majority of the match with only 10 men after defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos saw red following an X-rated challenge with Marouane Fellaini.

The Toffees midfielder escaped punishment - strangely as he went into the tackle over the top of the ball - but could not continue as he limped out of the action.

Steven Pienaar, who earlier escaped with only a booking following a nasty foul on Javier Mascherano, did not make it to the final whistle either following a second booking in the closing seconds for jumping into Steven Gerrard.

Moyes felt both red cards were fully justified and bemoaned his side's lack of creativity, although felt they were worthy of a point.

He said: "I think there have been lots of derbies very similar; quite feisty and that's why fans like them because they sometimes have a little bit extra in them.

"The first sending-off (Kyrgiakos) was a two-footed tackle, both feet off the ground. Fellaini has been for an X-ray but we think it is clear, which is good news.

"I've no complaints about Steven's sending-off as there was a tackle earlier in the game where he might have been fortunate to stay on.

"I thought we certainly didn't deserve to lose the game. We might not have deserved to win it but we shouldn't have lost it.

"We didn't create enough chances with the extra man but, saying that, Liverpool didn't either and their goal came from one set-piece - which in the past would have been us that might have done that but it was Liverpool on Saturday."