Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Everton And Liverpool Meet For Stadium Talks

Liverpool FC and Everton FC were sitting down for a top-level stadium summit with city council leaders on Monday.

Representatives from Liverpool University and the North West Development Agency (NWDA) were also expected to attend.

LFC chief executive Christian Purslow and his Everton counterpart Robert Elstone are trying to find a solution to their outdated grounds. Both were due at the meeting.

It is understood the clubs will be urged to let the university carry out a feasibility study into options.

NWDA chief executive Steve Broomhead said: "We welcome the meeting. People are beginning to look at the opportunities again. Both clubs need solutions, either singly or jointly."

Both Everton and Liverpool declined to comment on the meeting.

One option that may be examined during the meeting is the "football quarter" put forward by fans' group Keep Everton in Our City (KEIOC).

The KEIOC idea would see Goodison Park rebuilt - with a hotel and other developments around Stanley Park helping pay for it.

In a separate development Liverpool Labour leader Joe Anderson is writing to EFC and LFC to suggest they enter into a feasibility study with the council about the possibility of a shared stadium. He said the option needed ruling in or out once and for all, and that above all clarity was needed.

City council leader Warren Bradley has said he thinks the idea of a football quarter based around Stanley Park is a "cracking idea".

In the past any talk of a shared stadium has always been ruled out by Liverpool FC.

The club maintains it remains committed to building a new £400m, 60,000 seater ground in Stanley Park. It is understood the club is looking for £100m to get work started - but has so far struggled to raise the cash.

Building a new stadium is Purslow's number one priority. The lack of progress is a prime source of discontent among fans fed up with US owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Everton fans are equally desperate for a new home.

The club was forced back to the drawing board after the government rejected the £400m Tesco/Kirkby project.

It is understood the club is now studying the possibility of re-developing Goodison - although this has always been ruled out as unaffordable.

The club is also understood to be carrying out a new search for sites with the city council. But in the past none of the sites identified by the council proved affordable because of the need for "enabling" development to help off-set the cost of the stadium.

Fernando Torres Wants As Much Playing Time As Possible For Spain

Fernando Torres is keen for as much international playing time as possible despite the Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez's concerns over the striker, who has recently returned from a lengthy lay-off after knee surgery. Benítez will hope Torres returns from Spain without picking up any new knocks in the European champions' friendly against France on Wednesday.

Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque has denied falling out with the Liverpool manager after naming Torres in his squad, and insists he will monitor the amount of time the forward is on the pitch.

But Torres claims Benítez's worries are of little concern to him. "Rafa has enough to deal with what he's got," he told reporters as he arrived at Spain's training camp. "It's normal that he's thinking about his interests but he knows that all the players want to go to the national team. For us it is an honour to be here, to play as much as possible and to return as fit as possible to our teams.

"Luckily, I recovered in time. To be in the national squad is a prize for me. I have the good fortune that the coach called me up after playing just two games since I recovered [from the knee surgery].

"I'm tired after playing nearly 90 minutes after two months of not doing so, but I'm ready for as much as the coach thinks is right. These games are always special for Spain. We can't wait to play against [France], especially after they knocked us out of the last World Cup. We always have it in for them."

Carragher Reveals Torres Fears

Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher is desperate for Fernando Torres to come back from international duty unscathed.

Torres, in the Spain squad to face France in a midweek friendly, marked his first start since January 13 with the winning goal in the bruising 2-1 victory over Blackburn at Anfield.

The striker has now scored 13 goals in 17 Barclays Premier League appearances and despite having missed nearly six weeks after a knee operation he is still the club's top scorer.

Liverpool remain sixth, a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham, but Carragher believes a fit Torres will give them an extra dimension in their final 10 Barclays Premier League matches.

"Fernando has come back in and it goes without saying how much we have missed him," said the defender.

"He is still our top scorer, the kind of special player who will make a difference.

"He's a big, powerful lad, who is right up for the fight, and he's ideally suited to English football. That's why he's done so well.

"It would be wrong to rely on just one man. After all, you never know, he could come back injured off international duty.

"Please God, that doesn't happen, but he makes a big difference and you can see we are a much better team when he is with us."

Just when it seemed Liverpool's injury problems were over they have had three defenders injured in the last four days.

Martin Skrtel has been ruled out for several weeks after breaking a metatarsal in his right foot against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday while Fabio Aurelio limped off with a thigh injury against Blackburn and Daniel Agger's knee problem meant he left Anfield on crutches yesterday.

The good news is that right-back Glen Johnson's recovery from a knee injury could see him make his first appearance since December 29 at Wigan this weekend.

"Glen will be back soon, maybe in time for Wigan, and things are looking a bit rosier," Carragher told the Liverpool Echo.

"You talk about having a squad but we've got our big players back."

Liverpool Land Wonderkid With Stunning £300,000 Contract Offer

Liverpool are giving 15-year-old sensation Raheem Sterling a stunning contract worth £300,000 to join them from QPR.

The Kop outfit have pushed out the boat for the England youth star who is already rated the 'next big thing' after his appearances for club and country.

Attacking midfielder Sterling chose to go to Anfield for football reasons, but his financial package is a stunner for a player of his age.

As a schoolboy Sterling will only be able to earn the basic low wage, but part of the Kop contract includes a three-year 'pro' contract when he turns 17.

And Sterling's 'camp' will be given a giant signing on fee, worth around £200,000 and spread over the length of his deal at Liverpool until 2014. He is going into their academy in a major coup.

Liverpool are paying QPR a guaranteed £500,000 with further installments based on the time Sterling spends with them - and his eventual breakthrough to the first team.

The deal is potentially the biggest for a player of his age and was decided without going to a tribunal. Sterling told Rangers he wanted to leave and would not sign any long contract with them.

Sterling's decision left both Manchester cubs, Arsenal and Fulham upset. All of them had tried to do a deal but found it hard to agree fees and terms with all of the parties involved.

City are fuming at the result. Their offer of £1 million was higher than any rival bidder but the youngster fancied Liverpool instead.

Steven Gerrard Must Assume Centre Stage For Remainder Of The Season

There was a familiar feel to Liverpool's victory over Blackburn Rovers at Anfield on Sunday.

Not the final minute nerves, which have become almost as common as anti-American banners and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' this season, nor the post-match verbal sparring between Rafael Benitez and Sam Allardyce, two peas from distinctly different pods, who share a common dislike - each other.

The familiarity came from a quick glance at Liverpool's team. Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have played precious few games together at the spine of Benitez's side this season, but yesterday the quartets were in tandem for the first time since December, and the benefits were clear for all to see.

In truth, Carragher would probably have started the game at full-back were it not for Martin Skrtel's metatarsal injury, and that would have meant Javier Mascherano, not Gerrard, would have partnered the ever-improving Lucas Leiva in the centre of the Liverpool midfield. So, as ever, circumstances played their part.

But as it was, Mascherano performed admirably as an auxiliary right-back, and Gerrard's display in the position in which he made his name will give Benitez plenty to ponder as he plots his assault on the Premier League's top four.

Liverpool's skipper has been some way below his very best form this term, having struggled with a niggling groin strain and suffered from the club's general poor form. But against Blackburn he was back in familiar territory, and produced a familiar performance.

His first burst forward from deep brought the opening goal - his eighth of the season, and second in as many games - and the 29-year-old was at the heart of just about everything good about Liverpool's first-half performance. Just as against Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League last Thursday, Gerrard was the dominant figure in a testing midfield battle.

It should come as little surprise. This is, after all, where Gerrard matured from a shy, skinny teenager to the awe-inspiring powerhouse he has become. He thrives when at the centre of the action, bossing the game and influencing proceedings.

Liverpool fans have noted tell-tale signs of discontent in their captain's body language at times this season, with some even suggesting a lack of faith in his struggling team-mates. But there was nothing negative about the way he hunted down Keith Andrews with relish early on, clipped his side ahead on 20 minutes, or waded eagerly into a verbal bout with the ever-loveable El-Hadji Diouf shortly after.

And with Fernando Torres marking his return to the starting line-up with his 13th goal of a stop-start campaign, Gerrard should now have the perfect ally as he bids to steer his team to the top-four finish that was guaranteed by his manager earlier this year. Both players were together on the scoresheet for the first time since September, and their mutual appreciation is as plainly obvious as Benitez's disdain for Allardyce's tactics.

Torres and Gerrard are a match made in heaven, but despite the pair striking up a phenomenal understanding as a virtual two-man strike-force, Liverpool could be best served using Gerrard in a deeper role, utilising the likes of Dirk Kuyt or Ryan Babel as a partner for the Spaniard.

Such a move would of course mean that one of Lucas or Mascherano would need to make way, and in truth Benitez would be harsh to drop either from his starting line-up. But Liverpool can ill afford to be held back by sentiment at a time like this, as Champions League football next season is imperative. The sight of Alberto Aquilani - £17 million-worth of midfielder - sitting out yet another game on the bench on Sunday is proof of that particular fact.

The Italian has started just one of the Reds' last six league games, and whilst it is unfair and premature to say the former Roma man is out of favour at Anfield, the fact remains that Benitez has some big decisions to make as he seeks to guide his side to a position that most would have considered failure at the season's outset. Aquilani's style - classy yet perhaps a touch flaky - needs a more fluent side in which to shine at the moment.

Lucas and Mascherano have their many merits - and both have been in very good form of late - but with Liverpool's fixture list dominated by opponents whom it is likely to require plenty of craft and patience to break down, the time may come where one needs to be sacrificed in favour of Gerrard's dynamism and sheer quality from midfield.

And with the captain approaching his 30th birthday, and seemingly taking longer to recover from muscular strains and tears, it may be a long-term idea to utilise his long-range passing and inspirational qualities in a more conventional role than the 'trequartista' position in which he has spent most of the past three years.

Benitez is not one to be swayed by public opinion - demoting Ryan Babel to the bench yesterday following a trio of impressive displays is testament to that - but knows as well as anyone that his side are at their best when Gerrard and Torres are fit and firing.

And having seen Gerrard produce arguably his best form of the season in the past few days, the time may well have come for Liverpool's captain to assume centre stage once again.

Benitez Hopes For Torres Edge

Rafa Benitez hopes that Fernando Torres' return from injury will fire Liverpool into next season's UEFA Champions League.

The star striker started against Blackburn on Sunday and marked his return to the first XI after knee surgery with the winning goal in a 2-1 Premier League victory.

Benitez admits that Torres is not at full fitness, but he hopes that the Spain international will provide an edge over Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa in the race for fourth spot.

"It was really important for us and really important for him as he will have more confidence," said the Liverpool manager of his forward's goal.

"It was clear he was not fully fit and his match fitness is not the best but he can make the difference and he scored an important goal.

"If he can improve his fitness he will be a very good addition for us and he can be a threat for all the defenders.

"He can create space for Steven Gerrard and the other players and, if you are under pressure, he can score goals on his own."

Benitez added: "The main thing now is to manage him properly and keep him fit and he can make the difference.

"We have Yossi Benayoun coming back, now Fernando and maybe next week Glen Johnson will be fit and available so it will be good news."

Torres has joined the Spain squad for this week's World Cup warm-up against France and there have been suggestions that Liverpool are far from happy with the 25-year-old's call-up.

Benitez has spoken to the Spanish coaching staff about his striker's current physical condition, but just has to hope that there is no injury setback.

"I was talking with the Spanish staff and we know they will take care of him," he added.

"He is an important player for us and hopefully he can keep scoring goals now and help us end the season with a winning run."

Pepe Reina Believes Fernando Torres Can Fire Liverpool To Fourth Place In Premier League

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina believes that Fernando Torres can fire the Reds to a top-four Premier League finish now that he's fit again.

The striker netted his 13th goal of the season at Anfield on Sunday to clinch a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers, and Reina was delighted to see his compatriot in action again after a season blighted yet again by injury.

"It was great to see Fernando score because he is a key player for us," the keeper told the Reds' official website.

"We have 10 league games left now and it can make a big difference with him back in the team. He is an important player for us and hopefully he can keep scoring goals now and help us end the season with a winning run."

Sunday's clash at Anfield was an ill-tempered affair marked by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's acerbic criticism of Blackburn's style and the behaviour of their manager Sam Allardyce.

Reina acknowledges that sealing a crucial three points was no easy task.

"It was an important game and really tough," he added.

"They put us under pressure in the final moments but we held on for a huge win. It's a great victory against a tough opponent, especially after City and Spurs won.

"It was important that we kept our good run going and we will now look to build on that in our next match."

Agger Undergoes Scan

Daniel Agger underwent a scan on an injured knee today after leaving Anfield on crutches following the 2-1 win over Blackburn.

Doctors discovered severe bruising to the Dane's right knee, and he will now undergo treatment at Melwood.

A club spokesman said: "Daniel underwent a scan this morning which has shown severe bruising to the bone in his right knee. The knee is still very swollen and he will continue to receive treatment at Melwood this week."

Agger was one of several Liverpool players to pick up knocks during a physical encounter.

Fabio Aurelio suffered a strain in his quadriceps, while Maxi Rodriguez was left with stud marks just below his chest.

Rafael Benitez Mocks Blackburn's Style

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez sarcastically compared Blackburn's style to European champions Barcelona after his team beat Rovers on Sunday.

Benitez saw his team win a physical encounter and then stoked up his feud with Rovers boss Sam Allardyce.

"I think it is a model for all the managers around the world, their style of football, his behaviour," he said of Rovers tactics and their manager.

"The style of football, I think, Barcelona are thinking of copying."

Benitez suffered his first defeat in the Premier League in a match against a Bolton side managed by Allardyce in 2004.

Former Reds defender Sami Hyppia suffered a broken nose early in that contest and the relationship between the two managers has been fractious ever since.

Allardyce accused Benitez of showing a lack of respect after a gesture during Liverpool's 4-0 win against Rovers last season.

And the Blackburn boss said in the build-up to Sunday's game that Liverpool had been reduced to a team scrapping for points as the battle to finish fourth in the Premier League hots up.

Asked about Allardyce's comments, Benitez added: "It doesn't matter - we won.

"We try to do our talking on the pitch. If they are pleased with the way they play under this manager it is their decision.

"They have a style and they are a team that plays this way under this manager.

"Some people have to talk before the press conference or after because it is more difficult for them to do a football job."

Benitez was unhappy with the physical approach of Blackburn on Sunday.

Steven Nzonzi was yellow carded after pushing Lucas in the face at Anfield and Benitez clearly thought the Blackburn player should have been sent off.

"See the replay of the incident, it was very clear," added the Reds boss.

"We have had four of five players with problems, bleeding, and Maxi with stud (marks) in his abdomen. Interesting - but we won."

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres scored as Liverpool won for the first time in three attempts in the Premier League.

But it was a match that occasionally threatened to boil over, with Gerrard and El-Hadji Diouf exchanging angry words before half-time and the duo had to be separated as they walked off at the interval.

"It is an unfortunate reflection on our performance that we had about 25 fouls and five cards against us," added Allardyce.

"But unfortunately when we come to places like this they are very good at swaying things their way."

And Allardyce mounted a stern defence of his pre-match comments about Liverpool.

"It was only because Liverpool have a go at me and because I am entitled to respond when I get criticised by Rafa Benitez," said the Rovers boss.

"If you don't understand that over the last few years you must be deluded.

"Not this time but many other times I have been criticised personally by the manager - all I said was they got six bookings at Manchester City away so they are digging games out now rather than the flowing football they played last year."

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina sustained a shoulder injury after the break challenging for the ball but was able to carry on.

"We knew it would be a tough game and nothing surprised us," he said.

"They play that way and to be honest I felt a little under-protected, but the most important thing was that we won."

The win lifted Liverpool to within one point of Tottenham as they continue the battle for fourth spot - and saw Torres start a game for the first time since 13 January.

"We know it will be tough until the end but we have to keep going," added Benitez.

"But it is always important to have players back and feeling fresh."

Rovers have won once away from home in the Premier League this season - and Allardyce pointed to a lack of composure in front of goal when explaining his team's failure to take something from Anfield.

"Our problem is that we did not have a goalscorer to finish off our good work and chances," he said. "If we did we would have had a draw at least.

"That has been our downfall away from home all season. It was disappointing we did not convert at least one of our openings before Gerrard opened the scoring.

"In the second half we again did more than them but our failure in front of goal cost us."