Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joining Liverpool Would Be My Pinnacle, Says Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones

Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones has dropped a huge hint that he would jump at the chance of joining Liverpool.

Jones was linked with a move to Anfield last month and although he remains committed to the Sunderland cause the speculation has pricked his interest in swapping Wearside for Merseyside.

"If one of the world's big clubs comes in for you it's understandable a player might have the desire to go to that next level," said the Trinidad & Tobago international.

"Until you sign a contract with a new club it's all just talk. January was a crazy time and now I have to focus on the games ahead.

"The manager spoke to me. The reassuring speech came out to let me know the club still wanted me. That is always nice to hear.

"But sometimes a big situation like the transfer story can make it hard for the manager to say anything. But as far as I am concerned, we are all needed."

Liverpool are understood to have mooted a loan deal for Jones during the January transfer window, a suggestion that drew an angry response from Sunderland manager Steve Bruce and left the former Southampton player feeling uneasy.

"I didn't have any part to play in that whole situation," Jones said ahead of struggling Sunderland's visit to Premier League title hopefuls Arsenal on Saturday.

"There were stories going back and forth that were disturbing, there is no possible way that you can avoid reading anything in the papers but you try and lock yourself away from it as much as possible.

"If you noticed during all of this stuff I never came out and gave any indication that I wanted to leave, that I was unhappy or anything like that.

"For me, that assumption is a bit far-fetched. There was a lot of stuff being said by whoever and you can't stop that.

"All I can do to prove I am committed to Sunderland by showing it in games - and hopefully people can then see it with their own eyes now."

Jones, 25, also paid tribute to the club's supporters who have warmed to the player recently following a series of impressive performances.

"It's nice to hear the fans signing my name in the last two or three games but I think they have been doing it most of the season," Jones said.

"It's great to know that they recognise that when I wear a Sunderland shirt I give it 100 per cent.

"I don't think the fans had any reason to believe that I was behind these rumours, or that I wanted to leave."

Europa League Preview: Liverpool vs. Unirea Urziceni

Liverpool recommence their European campaign this week with a home clash against fellow Champions League dropouts Unirea Urziceni.

The Reds failed to make their way out of a group containing Fiorentina, Olympique Lyonnais and Hungarian underdogs Debrecen in the continent's blue-ribbon competition.

Thus, they now find themselves competing in the inaugural edition of the Europa League, although it remains to be seen exactly how much of a fight the men from Merseyside will put up.

Liverpool won the UEFA Cup three times, their last triumph coming in their treble-winning season of 2001-02, while manager Rafael Benitez claimed the trophy during his highly successful reign at Valencia.

However, with his side locked in a tight tussle for a top-four finish in the Premier League, it is expected that the Spanish tactician will prioritise domestic duties over Europe's second-tier tournament.

Nevertheless, the Anfield giants will head into this encounter as clear favourites, although Unirea proved in the Champions League that they are no easy beats.

The Romanian outfit were just a point shy of Stuttgart in Group G, and their victories over Rangers (2008 UEFA Cup finalists) and Sevilla (2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup winners) showed that they know how to handle themselves against seasoned opposition.

Unirea return from the winter break with Roni Levy at the helm, Dan Petrescu having quit the club to take up a post in Russia. The new gaffer has met both Liverpool and Benitez in European play as boss of Maccabi Haifa.



Feb 10: Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Feb 6: Liverpool 1-0 Everton (Premier League)
Jan 30: Liverpool 2-0 Bolton Wanderers (Premier League)
Jan 26: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Jan 20: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)

Unirea Urziceni

Dec 12: Unirea 2-0 Iasi (Romanian League)
Dec 9: Stuttgart 3-1 Unirea (Champions League)
Dec 4: Ceahlaul 2-3 Unirea (Romanian League)
Nov 30: Unirea 2-0 Gloria (Romanian League)
Nov 24: Unirea 1-0 Sevilla (Champions League)



Key attackers Fernando Torres (knee) and Yossi Benayoun (broken rib) are back in training but will not make the squad, while Jamie Carragher has been passed fit after limping out of last week's loss to Arsenal with a groin complaint. Star full-back Glen Johnson remains sidelined with knee trouble.

Last starting XI (vs. Arsenal): Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Maxi, Ngog.

Unirea Urziceni

Levy's main concern is keeping his team intact for the return leg, as Iulian Apostol, Marius Bolasco, Pablo Brandan, George Galamaz and Ricardo Vilana are all one booking away from suspension.

Last starting XI (vs. Iasi): Arlauskis, Nicu, Maftei, Fernandes, Brandan, Semedo, Paduretu, Paraschiv, Frunza, Rusescu, Bilasco.


Liverpool - Dani Pacheco

The Barcelona youth product is one of many fringe dwellers expected to get a run throughout the course of this tie. Regarded by some as the most technically gifted player in the entire Liverpool squad, this is a kid all Kopites should keep an eye on.

Unirea Urziceni - Marius Bilasco

The 28-year-old was Unirea's star man in the Champions League group stage, putting in fine displays against Rangers and Stuttgart. Capable of playing both up top and on the flank, he is the sort of player who can exploit any lapses from a Liverpool side who may be more worried about this weekend's clash with Manchester City.

Liverpool FC Must Make A Statement Against Unirea Urziceni, Says Emilano Insua

Liverpool FC defender Emiliano Insua believes the Reds have to tackle the Europa League with the same mentality as the Champions League if they are to succeed.

Having failed to make it through the group stage for the first time in manager Rafa Benitez’s reign of almost six years, the Reds are facing up to the reality of UEFA’s second-tier competition.

Romanian opponents Unirea Urziceni also dropped out of the Champions League this season but their expectations on their first appearance among Europe’s elite will have been a lot lower than Liverpool FC’s.

But Insua insists Liverpool FC have to call on their vast European experience to get them through what will be an unfamiliar challenge for many of the squad.

"It is a bit strange to see Liverpool in the Europa League but we have to approach the game like we’re playing in the Champions League," said the Argentinian left-back.

"We want to win a trophy this season and the only one we can win is the Europa League because we are a bit far behind in the Premier League.

"It would be very nice for us. We have to leave the disappointment (of a Champions League exit) behind us and play the next game as best we can.

"I think Liverpool always has pressure in all competitions so we have to think we can win it and the first step will be on Thursday, which is a massive game we have to win."

The 21-year-old defender, who has emerged as Liverpool FC’s first-choice left-back this season, admits they have to make a statement against Unirea on Thursday.

"We have to go into the game with confidence and push them at Anfield and go for the win while also keeping them quiet," he said.

"It is a very important home game and we need to score some goals and not concede because away goals are very important."

Carragher Boost For Reds

Jamie Carragher has handed Liverpool an injury boost after being declared fit for Thursday's Europa League clash with Unirea Urziceni.

The Reds defender was expected Liverpool's Europa League clash after being forced off against Arsenal last week with a groin problem.

However, Carragher has recovered from the problem and has been able to take part in training this week.

Yossi Benayoun is also back in training after a month out with a rib injury and Reds boss Rafa Benitez will make a late decision on whether or not to use the Israeli against Unirea.

"Carra is training again and he will be available, which is very good news for us as he is an important player for us," said Benitez.

"Yossi is training with the team. He still has a problem with his rib but at least he is training. We will decide about him on Thursday."

Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson are both making progress on their returns to fitness from knee problems, but they are still a few weeks away from being available.

"Torres and Johnson are progressing and working with the fitness coach," added Benitez.

"They are very close but not available yet."

Benayoun To Be Held Back

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun is unlikely to be risked for the visit of Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League.

The Israeli has not played since breaking a rib more than a month ago in the FA Cup defeat by Reading and, although he has been training with the squad, he may be held back for Sunday's match at Manchester City.

January signing Maxi Rodriguez is ineligible having already played in Europe for Atletico Madrid but defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, currently serving a domestic suspension that rules him out of the trip to Eastlands, is available.

Midfielder Alberto Aquilani is back after missing last Wednesday's defeat at Arsenal through illness and, although striker Fernando Torres is recovering well from a knee operation, he is not yet close to a comeback.

Maxi Enjoying Reds Life

Liverpool new boy Maxi Rodriguez insists he is enjoying life at Anfield following his arrival last month.

Argentine ace Rodriguez joined Liverpool during the January transfer window on a free transfer after leaving Atletico Madrid.

Maxi has started Liverpool's last two matches and he believes he is getting used to the style of English football.

"It's going fantastic so far and I couldn't have hoped for better," Rodriguez told the club's official website. "It's so different to daily life in Madrid, but I think I am settling in and it's even better here than I expected it to be.

"Gradually as the weeks have gone by, I've been getting used to daily life in the city. I think it will be even better when I'm more settled.

"It's totally different here to the football in La Liga. Certainly you are aware of the fact it is a lot more physical, tougher and aggressive - they are the big differences.

"But wherever you play football in the world, you still play with a round ball, so you get used to it.

"What's more, I really like the competitive, physical aspect of the game. I think it suits my style and I'm enjoying it."

Rafael Benitez Dismisses Play-Off Idea

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has ridiculed the idea of a play-off for the final Champions League place, claiming clubs "will be playing until the end of the century".

Reports this week claimed the Premier League were looking into the prospect of having the sides from fourth to seventh face each other post-season to decide the remaining spot for Europe's elite club competition.

It is a scenario which could work both ways for Liverpool, who have consistently finished in the top four but have seen their stranglehold threatened by Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa this season.

But Benitez is keen for the team which deserves to finish fourth to get the final spot and not complicate the season even further.

"I have to agree with (Everton manager) David Moyes," said the Liverpool manager.

"He said what would it mean for a team like Tottenham if they finish fourth and, after a fantastic season, have to play a team who finishes seventh maybe 20 points behind just to keep the competition alive?

"To play three, maybe four fixtures, when you don't have time with international football - when will you play, how can you play these games and what does it mean for the team that finishes fourth?"

Benitez added: "Maybe we can do the same with the teams at the bottom of the table. If you finish fourth maybe you could play with the team who finished third from the bottom.

"Then during the whole season we can play 50 games and we don't have to rest so that will be fantastic.

"We can be in the office analysing the fixtures and creating different schedules and different things and the players will be injured.

"If we continue playing games we will end up playing three games a week - which is fantastic for the television companies.

"We are playing too much now. They were talking about the 39th game being played in Asia so if we now play the play-offs we will be playing until the end of the century."

The Champions League has been brought into more focus at Anfield this week as Liverpool conceded fourth spot to City last night and, having failed to qualify for the knock-out stages, face Unirea Urziceni in the much-maligned Europa League at Anfield tomorrow.

It is not an environment the five-time European champions are accustomed to but Benitez stressed as it was their only chance of winning silverware this season Uefas second-tier competition had to be taken seriously.

Liverpool have been installed as one of the favourites to win the cup but their Spanish manager said that did not put any extra pressure on his side.

But after a campaign which has already seen early exits from the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League title race Benitez rejected suggestions failure to win a trophy would be seen as another crisis by critics.

"There are a lot of clubs in a worse position than us. They don't play European competition ever and it is not the end of the world for these clubs," he said.

"When you talk about Liverpool people talk about the history of the club but the history is not [currently] winning trophies.

"Since the Premier League the money has had a massive influence. You can see in the last years the teams which have won trophies are Chelsea and [Manchester] United - the teams with more wages than anyone.

"There is a relationship between this.

"We are a strong club and a top side who are famous in Europe but we need to keep competing and do our best against clubs who sometimes have more money available.

"When you talk about the Uefa Cup or Europa League now it is a massive competition and we have do our best and progress until the end.

"If we cannot it means maybe the teams are at this moment better than us and then we have to prepare the team for next year and be ready.

"That is life - you cannot win trophies every single year and especially with the economic conditions we have against the teams we have to compete against."

Marouane Fellaini Out For Six Months After Sotirios Kyrgiakos Tackle

Everton have been dealt a major injury setback after their influential midfielder Marouane Fellaini was ruled out for six months with ankle ligament damage.

The Belgium international, who has been in superb form of late, visited a specialist in London yesterday to assess the extent of the injury inflicted by Sotirios Kyrgiakos's two-footed challenge in the recent Merseyside derby.

Fellaini was carried off as a result of the foul that brought a straight red card for the Liverpool defender and had to delay his appointment with the specialist due to inflammation around the ankle.

His scheduled absence means the £15m club record signing will miss the remainder of this campaign, pre-season training, and will not be available until the start of next season.

The Everton manager, David Moyes, said: "He's not good. He's going to have an operation. He's got a similar injury to Robin van Persie and it's probably going to keep him out for six months."