Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We Can Dump Liverpool Out Of Europe, Says Unirea Chief

Liverpool have been warned they are not invincible in Thursday’s Europa League tie visit of Romania’s Unirea Urziceni.

Unirea boss Roni Levy came close to pulling off a miraculous victory last time he managed a side at Anfield back in 2006.

Liverpool needed an 87th-minute goal from Mark Gonzalez to see off Levy’s Maccabi Haifa to secure a 1-1 draw in the second leg of a Champions League qualifier and go through.

Like Liverpool, Unirea dropped into the competition after failing to progress through to the next round of the Champions League.

Israeli coach Levy, who recently replaced Dan Petrescu at the helm, reckons his side can give the Reds a rude awakening.

Levy said: “I know Liverpool well. As manager of Maccabi Haifa we nearly beat them – they can be beaten.”

Unirea president Mihai Stoica also believes his club can produce a shock.

He said: “I am confident that we can compete and achieve the success that we had earlier in the season.”

Rafa - City Game Not Decisive

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez claims the clash with Manchester City will not decide who finishes in the top four.

The Reds currently hold fourth spot, but City are level on points and have two games in hands on their Merseyside rivals.

Liverpool travel to Eastlands on Sunday and Benitez admits it is a massive game for his side, but the Spaniard is not looking too far forward.

"City have two games in hand, and that's important - but they have to win them," Benitez told the club's official website. "We just need to concentrate on the next game, which is against them and will be a massive game.

"Still I have the same idea - it will be a long race and we have to keep going.

"It's a very important game but even if we win we'll have to keep winning games."

Benitez added: "I was analysing (the fixture list) a little bit but not too much," he added. "With the experience we have we know to take one game at a time. You cannot waste too much time because you can't control other games.

"We have two or three very difficult games on paper but every game is tough in the Premier League.

"It's important to have all the squad available, not just because players like Torres and Yossi and Johnson are important - but also for the competition in each position."

Tevez Set To Miss Crunch Liverpool Clash After Partner's Pregnancy Hits Problems

Carlos Tevez is a doubt for next Sunday's Champions League crunch with Liverpool after making a trans-Atlantic mercy dash to Argentina to be by the side of his expecting partner.

Her pregnancy has run into problems just weeks before she is due to give birth and Manchester City have granted Tevez indefinite compassionate leave to be with her.

The Argentina striker jetted off from Manchester on Saturday and is not expected back for tomorrow's crunch league clash with Stoke at the Britannia.

Tevez could also miss City's showdown with Champions League rivals Liverpool at Eastlands on Sunday and the Blues have told him to take as much time as he needs.

City sorely missed their 19-goal top scorer in their disappointing 1-1 FA Cup draw against Stoke and boss Roberto Mancini said: "There is a family problem and I don't know how long he will stay.

"I don't think Carlos can come back for Tuesday. I don't think he can play. I hope he can recover some time. I hope so, but it's difficult."

Liverpool Given Champions League Lifeline

The Premier League is considering a proposal to introduce a play-off for the fourth Champions League place.

The top four currently enter the tournament but the new idea would mean the teams from fourth to seventh playing in a mini-knockout competition.

BBC sports news correspondent Gordon Farquhar said the Premier League has been presented with "a number of ideas for altering the competition's format".

But there will be no changes for three years as the next TV deal is in place.

Farquhar added: "Any changes would need the agreement of 14 of the 20 clubs. But the League says there are many options and nothing has been decided."

The move is widely thought to be seen as a way of increasing competition in the Premier League because Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have filled the top four positions in five out of the past six seasons.

The proposal was raised at a meeting of all 20 clubs on 4 February and will be considered again when they next meet in April.

The top four in the Premier League is the same so far this season, although Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa are putting concerted pressure on Liverpool, who are fourth.

Two years ago the Premier League was widely condemned for a proposal to play a 39th game of the domestic season in Asia.

The Football Association, the sport's world governing body Fifa and European body Uefa all rejected the idea and the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) condemned the proposal as being motivated by money, dubbing it Game 39.

A similar system to the idea of play-offs was introduced by the Dutch Eredivise in 2005-06, with teams finishing from second to ninth competing for a place in both the Champions League and what was then the Uefa Cup.

That idea was scrapped in 2008 for the Champions League, with teams finishing fifth to eighth now vying for a place in the rebranded Europa League.

Rafa Benitez Hails Javier Mascherano's Inspirational Qualities At Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is delighted to have Javier Mascherano in his team, as he believes that the midfielder is an inspirational presence in the dressing-room.

Benitez feels that the Argentine is a born leader who can exert massive influence during games, driving on those around him.

"He is someone who has a very good character, he is very positive and can inspire those around him," Benitez told his club's official website.

"He is setting an example to the rest of the team. I am really pleased with the way all of them are playing at the minute but Javier Mascherano is a player who is doing really well for us.

"Look at the [Merseyside] derby. He played in a different position (right-back) but he still managed to have a massive impact and everyone can see there is a big difference in what he is doing now.

"At the beginning of the season it was very difficult for him. But now things have settled down and he is working very hard for the team.

"He is back to the Javier Mascherano that we signed. His commitment to the club is 100 per cent."

The Reds' gaffer is also hopeful that his side will be boosted soon by the return from injury of winger Albert Riera, who is looking good in training after shaking off a hamstring injury he sustained in December.

"Albert is an option on the left. It is important for us to have competition for each place," he added.

"He will improve. He needed to train some weeks in a row but he has come on again in the last month and you can see that in his training."

Reds Missed Out On England Forward

West Ham forward Carlton Cole has revealed that he rejected a number of advances from admiring clubs in the January transfer window.

Sport.co.uk understands that the clubs in question are believed to be Liverpool and Arsenal.

Although a number of reports suggest Arsenal's North London rivals Tottenham Hotpsur were considering making an offer for the West Ham and England striker.

Reports suggest both leading Premier League clubs made bids in the region of £10 million for the front-man. The cash-strapped Hammers reportedly rejected the offers as they value the England star at £20 million, confirming they will only cash in on their talisman for big money.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was looking for a front-man in the January transfer window but decided not to pursue Carlton Cole after the club slapped a £20 million price tag on the player, and Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner made a rapid recovery from injury.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has also tracked the forward in the last year, and was eager to provide competition for Fernando Torres, and French youngster David Ngog. Benitez is understood to have made an enquiry regarding Cole, as well as looking closely at Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones.

However despite speculation, West Ham forward Carlton Cole has revealed he always wanted to stay and help the Upton Park club beat relegation:

Carlton Cole told SkySports.com: "My only priority is to get back to full fitness and do my best on the pitch. I wasn't in the least bit interested in entertaining offers, my only focus was and still is to do the best I can for West Ham for the rest of the season in the situation we are in.

"My only priority is to get back to full fitness and do my best on the pitch.

"There has been speculation about my future; however, I am not one to shirk my responsibility.

"I am looking forward to enjoying a good end to the season by producing some good performances to repay the Upton Park faithful."

Steve Morgan Reveals Liverpool FC Debt-Free Plan

Wolverhampton Wanderers owner Steve Morgan has claimed that Liverpool would have been debt-free if he had taken over the club.

The business magnate owned a 5% stake in the Reds before chairman David Moores agreed a leveraged buyout with George Gillett and Tom Hicks in 2007.

As a result of the Americans' reign, Liverpool have debts of £237 million with interest payments believed to currently stand at £30 million per annum - something which Redrow owner Morgan claims would never have happened if his 2004 takeover bid had been accepted by the Anfield board.

"I was going to put at the time up to £70 million investment into the club," he told Bloomberg.

"It would have been cash into the club. It would have pretty much reduced the debt and got the debt down to nil."

"If I'd have been there, there wouldn't have been that interest bill."

Under Morgan's stewardship, Wolves strolled to the Championship last year and are currently 15th in this season's Barclays Premier League and the 57-year-old is now targeting long-term stability for the Molineux outfit in the top flight.

He added: "Our plan this year and hopefully next is to establish ourselves in the Premier League and to build.

"But again, it's a step at a time. This year is about trying to establish ourselves and then to take the club forward."

Laudrup On LFC Talks

In an exclusive chat with Liverpoolfc.tv, Danish icon Michael Laudrup talks all things LFC, from the limitless potential of Daniel Agger through to his thoughts on where Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard rank amongst the best footballers on the planet.

The Barcelona and Real Madrid legend is regarded as one of the finest playmakers of his generation and could well have found himself amongst the top five players to have shook the Kop - had things turned out differently.

Here he explains why Agger is the key to Denmark's World Cup hopes, which Liverpool player he idolised as a youngster and whether the Reds can end the season on a high and secure that top four finish.

First of all, Michael, thank you for taking the time to talk to Liverpoolfc.tv.

No problem, it's a pleasure.

I suppose the best place to start would be with Daniel Agger, a player you know well...

Well I coached him at Brondby when I was manager a few years ago. He came directly from the youth team and you could see right from the beginning that he had great potential. He is very calm, very good with the ball and direct in the way he defends. We knew he would not be in the Danish league for too long, such was his undoubted quality. With that in mind, I wasn't surprised when he went to Liverpool and I think he did very well at first. I remember he scored the winner in the Champions League semi-final with Chelsea back in 2007. In the last year and a half he has been really unlucky with injuries and I think that is the only reason why he has not made an even greater impact in England.

You won the title with Brondby back in 2004-05. How big was Daniel's contribution?

Well, it was massive. Even though he was only very young, he played with great maturity. There was no doubt he had a big influence on our side. What surprised us was that he would tell his teammates where to go and help them through games. That was quite special at such a young age.

Just how good do you think he can become? Is he one of the best defenders in the world already?

If he can stay fit then I think he can definitely be one of the best central defenders in the game.

He's obviously a key player for Denmark? How important is it that he plays for your country in South Africa this summer?

He's hugely important, there's no question about that. He will be a key man that's for sure. The main players are people like Thomas Sorensen, Agger and Christian Poulsen. If they are fit then Denmark will have a good chance of progressing to the latter stages.

When Agger first arrived at Anfield, many supporters were quick to make comparisons with Alan Hansen? Do you think he has similar qualities?

I don't think it's worth me making comparisons. You are probably better placed than me to talk about that. What I do know is that Liverpool have had many great defenders in the past. Daniel is a very good player and if he can put his injury problems behind him and play at a high level in the next few years, then maybe you will be talking about him in the same breath. At the moment you are blessed with some very good central defenders. I think Carragher and Skrtel are very strong, so you have three very competitive players fighting for the two places.

Agger is closing in on his 100th appearance for Liverpool. It's a special landmark, but one that he maybe feels he could have reached sooner. Would you agree?

Yes, I think to play 100 times for a top club like Liverpool is something to be proud of. But I do agree, he will be frustrated that the injuries have restricted his appearances. Like I said before, it's important that he now goes on to enjoy a spell free from injury. He's only 25 and there is still much more to come from him. Ask any player in the world, even the greats - you can't hit top form if you have niggling injuries.

Do you still keep in touch with Daniel?

No, not really. I do see him from time to time and it's always nice to have a chat. He's a nice kid and the kind of person I like because he always keeps his feet on the ground. No matter what he achieves, he will always be the same.

So if he invited you to his pub in Denmark would you go along?

Ha, ha. Well, I've yet to receive the invitation! But seriously, it would be difficult because I live in Madrid now. Having said that, I'm coming to Liverpool in April for a legends tournament, so maybe he can invite me for a beer then!

Another Dane with Liverpool connections is of course Jan Molby. How good was he in his pomp?

Jan was a great player. He had fantastic technical ability and was very strong, with a good eye for a pass. He was a very important player but I think he would like to have played even more during his time at Liverpool. I saw him recently in Denmark and it is always great to see him because we grew up at the same time. We played together in the '84 European Championships and in the World Cup in Mexico two years later. We share some great memories.

Your careers were very different at club level, but you actually came close to signing for Liverpool at first, didn't you?

Yes, in 1983 I had the opportunity to sign for Liverpool. We actually agreed a deal and I came over with my father to talk to Liverpool's representatives. We agreed a three-year contract and went away thinking it was all done. But two weeks later they came back saying they wanted to offer me the same package, but for four years because I was still young and needed time to develop. I was disappointed because although nothing had been signed, we had an agreement. I decided not to join them and people thought I was crazy. This 19-year-old was turning down the great Liverpool. It wasn't really like that though. I just felt an agreement is an agreement and people should stick to what they decide. After that, I had other offers and went on to join Juventus. That's football for you.

You went on to play for the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but never got to play at Anfield. Was that disappointing given the reputation it has for its famous atmosphere?

You know, it is really strange that I had such a long career and played in so many stadiums around the world - but never Anfield. I have been there though. I was there for the Champions League match against Barcelona about three years ago. You won 2-1 in the Camp Nou and then lost 1-0 at home. It was such an amazing atmosphere that night. I think the word special can be used too often to describe things, but there's no doubt, that is the only word I can think of for Anfield.

It's a shame that the incredible Barcelona side that you played in during the late 80s-early 90s didn't go head-to-head with Kenny Dalglish's team of the same era. Who do you think would have won?

Ha ha, I've never thought about it. It was a great team with fantastic players though. The likes of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley were at their peak back then. But that was how I always remember Liverpool. You have had so many great teams over the years. Growing up in Denmark as a kid, they were the games we saw on TV. Some of my favourites were Ray Kennedy, John Toshack and Kevin Keegan; but do you know who I really liked watching?

Kenny Dalglish?

No, he was a great player too - but I always enjoyed seeing Steve Heighway in action. He was very effective down the wing.

We have had some great players down the years and there are a few in the current team too. How highly do you rate Fernando Torres? Is he THE best striker in the world?

Well he's right up there. I think there are a lot of great strikers in Europe. In the Premier League you have Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba as well. Then you have the likes of David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sameul Eto'o. I don't know if you can identify one player as the best but he's definitely in that bracket with those guys. He's had some injuries recently but when he's on form he can be unplayable. Hopefully he will return soon and hit form for you at just the right time. He would then be ready for the World Cup too, which is the biggest stage of all.

Nando recently became the fastest player in LFC history to score 50 league goals. When you consider some of the great forwards we have had, how big an achievement is that?

It's a great record. Like you say, Liverpool have had some fantastic strikers in the past and so to be the quickest to that total is very impressive and shows what a great player he is.

And what about the skipper, Steven Gerrard? Do you like him as a player?

Of course. He has been the symbol of Liverpool for many years now. I don't think people can imagine a Liverpool team without Gerrard. It is like Raul at Real Madrid and Puyol at Barcelona. They are a rare breed, these types of players. He had the possibility to leave and couldn't - the club is in his blood.

We can't let you go without asking you about our current situation and the race for a top four finish. Do you expect the Reds to claim that final Champions League berth?

Up until Christmas it was a very difficult season for Liverpool. It was quite a big blow for you to go out of the Champions League so early. Fiorentina are a good team but not of the level of Liverpool. In the last few weeks results have been better. Okay, you lost at Arsenal in a close match but I think it is still possible for you to get fourth. For a club the size of Liverpool that is probably the minimum target and I think you will hope for better next year. With Torres coming back from injury I think you have a good chance.