Friday, March 05, 2010

Fourth Place Is Between Liverpool And Manchester City - John Aldridge

Former Liverpool hero John Aldridge believes the race for fourth place in the Premier League is a straight fight between the Reds and Manchester City, and has tipped Rafael Benitez's men to come out on top.

Speaking exclusively to UK Aldridge, who scored 63 goals in 104 games for the Reds between 1987 and 1989, said he expected the race for a Champions League spot to be fiercely contested, but said Liverpool's more favourable run of fixtures gives them the advantage over their rivals.

"I personally think it's between Liverpool and Manchester City," said Aldridge, "It is obviously very tight, and I think it could go right down to the wire. We could be looking at the last day of the season being decisive.

"Manchester City are, at the moment anyway, playing the more attractive football, and scoring goals, but you look at Liverpool's run-in, and that to me gives them a slight edge."

Liverpool's desperation to secure Champions League football at Anfield next season has been heightened by the release this week of Deloitte's Football Money League, which shows the Reds to be trailing behind the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal in terms of revenue generation, and Aldridge knows the importance of a top-four finish for Benitez and his side.

"For the future of the club, it is vitally important that they get fourth this season," he said, "I really hope that they do of course, but I think that they will in the end."

And, as one of the best goalscorers in the club's history, the former Republic of Ireland frontman is in no doubt as to who holds the key to Liverpool's success this season - Spanish striker Fernando Torres.

"It goes without saying that Fernando Torres is absolutely vital for Liverpool, if they are to get fourth place," he says, "Liverpool have to do everything to make sure he is available along with Steven Gerrard, because when he is in the team, they are a different side."

Torres in December became the fastest player in Liverpool history to reach 50 league goals for the club, achieving that remarkable feat in just 72 games. And Aldridge believes that the Spaniard is already well on the way to establishing himself as one of Anfield's all-time greats, alongside the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Roger Hunt.

"Absolutely, Torres can be one of the very best," he said, "Of course he needs to stay at the club for a number of years and have that longevity before he can be mentioned alongside the true greats, but he is definitely going the right way, his goalscoring record is phenomenal."

One of the key reasons for Torres' efficiency, Aldridge believes, is the role of skipper Steven Gerrard. The 29-year-old has recently rediscovered some of his best form after a patchy start to the campaign, and Aldridge believes a fit and in-form Gerrard could well be the catalyst for an upturn in Liverpool's performances.

"I think he has looked sharp in the last couple of matches in the centre of midfield," he said, "And when Steven Gerrard is in the side and firing, he brings a bit of bounce to the side, makes people click and gets people around him playing - Torres included.

"If Liverpool are to get themselves going then they need Steven Gerrard on song, make no mistake."

One area where Aldridge, who now works as a summariser for local radio station Radio City, thinks Benitez could improve Liverpool's chances is on the left hand side of midfield.

The form of Albert Riera has been indifferent all season, and though Dutch attacker Ryan Babel has shown glimpses of his undoubted talent of late, prompting some to call for the former Ajax man to be given a prolonged stint in the team, Aldridge believes the 23-year-old has wasted too many chances already at the club.

"I think with [Dirk] Kuyt on the right, Liverpool get a nice balance," he said, "He scores important goals and puts in some great work, but on the left we perhaps need some balance.

"We don't have a left-sided player who can go past a man and create things, like a left-sided version of Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips.

"Babel has had so many chances at Liverpool, and so far he has failed to take any of them. How many chances does he need?"

Insua: It's Taken Me Three Years To Settle

Liverpool defender Emiliano Insua believes it has taken him three years to finally settle in English football.

The 21-year-old Argentina international initially joined on loan from Boca Juniors in January 2007 and did not make his first-team debut for three months.

He made 13 appearances the following season, competing against Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena for the left-back spot.

But injuries to the former and the January departure of the latter has meant the South American has played in all but two of Liverpool's 28 Barclays Premier League fixtures.

And with Aurelio now ruled out for up to three weeks with a thigh strain Insua is set to continue his spell in the first team.

"For me this has been a special season because I've played many games in a row so I'm really happy," said Insua, who scored his first Liverpool goal in the Carling Cup defeat at Arsenal in October - just a fortnight after making his Argentina debut.

"It has given me a lot of confidence that I can do the job so I have to keep working hard and doing the same on the pitch.

"If you are playing so many games in a row you get experience if you are a young player.

"I think this season will help me for the future and give me experience."

Insua has been involved in 2,360 minutes of Premier League action this season, with only tireless forward Dirk Kuyt, midfielder Lucas Leiva and defender Jamie Carragher having had more on-pitch time of the out-field players.

Manager Rafael Benitez was keen to rest the 23-year-old by rotating him with Aurelio over the coming weeks but injury to the Brazilian has ruled out that option for now.

Aurelio has not had much luck with injuries, having missed the start of the season after sustaining a freak knee problem in a kickabout with his children during the summer and been troubled with few niggling injuries since.

"It's not good news and we think he is going to be out for maybe another two or three weeks - Fabio has had really bad luck," said Benitez of his sidelined left-back.

"It all began at the start of the season, when he suffered the injury during the summer with his family, and it's like there has been something every month since then.

"It is a shame because he is a top footballer and a really nice person but him being out leaves us with a problem because we wanted to play him, so we could give Insua a rest.

"Emiliano is a good young player and has benefited from being involved in so many games but he has been laying a lot recently.

"We needed Fabio so he could help the team and also help Insua. His injury is bad news for both of them."

Insua admitted playing alongside national-team captain Javier Mascherano and compatriot Maxi Rodriguez, a January signing from Atletico Madrid, had made his life easier on and off the pitch.

"The Argentinian people are really together for each other and it is such a different culture [in England]," added Insua. "In the first year I couldn't speak much English so to have Javier and now Maxi means it is very special for all three of us.

"Javier is the captain of the national team so I respect him and I listen to him and maybe he can help me for the future."

Lucas Out To Prove Himself

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva believes his side's mixed fortunes this season have helped his progression into a first-team player.

The 23-year-old is one of just three Reds players to have figured in every Premier League game so far this season alongside Pepe Reina and Dirk Kuyt.

The Brazilian, who was in the squad for his country's 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland on Tuesday at the Emirates Stadium and will hope to be in their World Cup squad this summer, has often been a much-maligned figure at Anfield since his transfer from Gremio in 2007.

However, Reds boss Rafa Benitez's persistence in using him alongside Javier Mascherano in a five-man midfield has seen the club's form pick up of late, with Lucas' determination to prove he can handle the pressure of playing for the club a key factor in his improvement.

"I've learned a lot more about myself and become a stronger person and player. It made me desperate to prove people wrong," he told LFC Weekly.

"There have been times (in the past) when I thought I may have made the wrong decision but now I am sure that I have made the right one.

"My game has changed a lot since leaving Brazil. I was able to attack more at Gremio because I played with two defensive midfielders. In England you have more responsibility.

"I still think I have some work to do if all the fans are going to believe in me. I'm happy and feel I'm improving. But it isn't about me, it's about the club doing well."

Lucas' comments were backed up by Benitez, who still feels he made the right decision signing a player who at the time was very highly thought of by a number of top clubs.

"I know he can improve so much more," said Benitez.

"When I was talking about him before he signed, I was telling people we were signing the captain of Gremio - and he was only 19.

"That means something. You do not captain teams in Brazil at such a level at that age if you are not a strong character with a good mentality. Hopefully he will continue to grow with us."

Kjaer Courts Liverpool Move

Palermo want to keep hold of star defender Simon Kjaer, despite the player admitting he would like to leave the club at the end of the season.

Kjaer has conceded he wants a move to one of the bigger clubs in European football - highlighting Premier League giants Liverpool as his preferred choice.

The 20-year-old - who joined Palermo just over two years ago - says he is seeking a new challenge in his career, but insisted any switch would have to be to an 'attractive club'.

The central defender still has over two-and-a-half years left on his current deal at the Stadio Renzo Barbera, however the Dane is eager to finalise a transfer before he turns his attention to World Cup duties with his national side.

Kjaer said: "I will take a step towards the dream or I will stay in Palermo. I would prefer to have it sorted out before the World Cup. I am ready for a new challenge, but is has to be an attractive club.

"(The) Premier League is the best league in the world and then there is Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain.

"England and the physical playing style would probably suit me better. In case the right offers come, it would be exciting to form a partnership with (Daniel) Agger (at Liverpool)."

Officials at the club are not as keen to let their prize stopper exit, though, with Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini saying he does not want coach Delio Rossi to lose key players in the close-season.

Palermo currently sit fourth in Serie A and are well positioned to secure a UEFA Champions League berth, a feat which Zamparini believes could persuade the likes of Kjaer to remain in Italy.

He said: "I hope that all can remain in Palermo and maybe if we go into the Champions League, (the) boys are more encouraged to stay.

"I want (Edinson) Cavani, Javier Pastore and Kjaer to remain here. Kjaer is much too an important player for us - I'd buy him again just to not make him go away."

Turan Eyes Liverpool Move

Turkey international Arda Turan would be interested in a move to Liverpool.

The Galatasaray midfielder has spoken of his desire to experience football overseas and Anfield would be one of his preferred destinations.

"Of course I want to play abroad but it is our board's decision," said the 23-year-old, who has previously been linked with Rafael Benitez's side.

"As I always mention, Liverpool attracts me because of their tradition.

"In Europe, I am a Liverpool supporter, so if I go to play in Europe, I would like to play for them."

Turan added on "My dream has always been to play for one of the top European clubs, but you shouldn't make concrete plans in your life because sometimes these plans cannot be achieved.

"This is my dream, but for now I'm just working on my football."

Liverpool Winger Albert Riera Could Be Sold In The Summer

Albert Riera's continued omission from Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's match-day squads has prompted regional press to link the Spanish winger with a summer exit.

Riera has struggled with a hamstring problem this season, and was absent from the first-team for a six-week period.

During January, Benitez recruited Maxi Rodriguez, and with Dutch forward Ryan Babel's improvement in form, chances for Riera to edge his way back into contention appear limited.

The Liverpool Daily Post believes time is not on Riera's side, and speculates that, in order to free up funds for a period of overhaul when the season concludes, Benitez now regards Riera as a saleable commodity.

Spain international Riera has also been omitted from the national line-up, and was not included in his country's squad for Wednesday night’s friendly with France.

Peter Kilfoyle Says Liverpool FC Must Play Key Role In Anfield’s Regeneration

For Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle, the problems of Anfield – in terms of health, housing and employment – are considerable.

He met Gordon Brown while he was still chancellor of the exchequer to see if there was funding available to tackle Anfield’s deprivation and housing issues with a unique programme.

But a positive answer was not forthcoming.

Mr Kilfoyle said: “We had a meeting where I was trying to get him to agree a special purpose vehicle to look at issues in north Liverpool.

“But it is the nature of these things that they pass them down the line.

“It needs a total sweep through, that area, to get it all done, particularly Rockfield Road. We have a lot of people coming here from overseas and what must they think about the area? It must give a very bad impression.”

Mr Kilfoyle said the club – as the major attraction in the area – needs to be definitive about its plans, which still have a bearing on regeneration, as “the only organisation of any size and credibility”.

He is in two minds about whether he feels the club appreciates the importance of its role in economic regeneration.

He said: “Christian Purslow, the managing director, is a banker – he is not a regeneration person.

“I do not think, in all honesty, he would see a football club as having a community dimension in perhaps the way we expect in Liverpool.”

But club officials insist they do sees themselves closely involved in the renewal of the area.

Regeneration director Andrea Titterington said: “It is true the pace of housing improvements has slowed, largely due to the wider economic situation coupled with the availability of mortgages.

“But the housing providers are still committed to the original plans.

“Although significant improvements have been achieved, there is still more to be done.

“We remain as committed as we always have to assist in the implementation of the strategy for the regeneration of the Anfield and Breckfield areas.”

Dirk Kuyt Leads Way As Liverpool Stars Shine On International Duty

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt was on target as Holland beat USA 2-1 in last night’s international friendly in Amsterdam.

The Reds frontman netted a 40th minute penalty to put the Dutch on their way to victory.

Clubmate Ryan Babel came off the bench 10 minutes from time as the hosts defeated England’s World Cup opponents.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar made it 2-0 before Carlos Bocanegra bagged a consolation.

Fernando Torres played the second half as Spain enjoyed a 2-0 victory over France in a glamour friendly in Paris.

Torres replaced David Villa at the break but it was Sergio Ramos who grabbed both goals for the European champions.

Villa was full of praise for Torres, who came through the contest unscathed.

The Valencia man: “Strikers live for goals, we have to score goals, it is what measures our performance.

"At the moment Torres is not having luck in front of goal (for Spain) but his work has been good for the team and we have to be happy with his work-rate.

"A striker with so much quality, such magic and so much experience, despite not having a good year, he is always dangerous and never do you want to face him.

“The power he has in the last few metres is unique. I've never seen another player with that much power and that is what we as other strikers want."

Javier Mascherano played the full 90 minutes as Argentina secured an impressive 1-0 win over Germany in Munich.

Israel failed to qualify for the World Cup but Yossi Benayoun helped to lift spirits as he scored in their 2-0 victory in Romania. Sotirios Kyrgiakos couldn’t prevent Greece from going down 2-0 to Senegal.

Liverpool Fans Outflanked By Manchester United's Green And Gold

Liverpool have become accustomed to living in Manchester United’s shadow during the two decades that have passed since the league champions’ flag fluttered over Anfield.

United have won the trophies, cashed in on the explosion of the Premier League across the globe and they could even erase Liverpool from the record books by winning a 19th league title this season.

The miracle of Istanbul aside, the red half of Merseyside has had little to throw back in the face of their foes from the other end of the East Lancs Road over the past 20 years.

And as the green-and-gold masses at Old Trafford now find themselves earning global publicity, and the apparent financial support of the Red Knights, in their battle to remove the Glazer family, those Liverpool fans attempting to overthrow their own despised American owners have been outflanked once again by their Mancunian rivals.

Whatever their prospects of success – and the smart money is on the Glazers riding the storm and banking a handsome profit many years down the road – the United supporters have won the publicity battle.

IMUSA and Must, the two groups fronting the campaign, have claimed the front pages, sports pages and news bulletins as a result of their clever campaign.

The Liverpool fans? Apart from the odd march and a couple of posters criticising Tom Hicks and George Gillett, they have slipped beneath the radar.

When Tom Hicks Jnr. was forced out on the back of an email row with a supporter earlier this year, Liverpool’s fans had the perfect opportunity to accelerate their campaign.

But since then, the focus has shifted firmly to Old Trafford and the movement aimed at overthrowing the Glazers.

The irony, though, is that Liverpool’s supporters have much more reason than the United fans to mount a visible campaign against the club’s owners.

Under the Glazers, whether the United fans like it or not, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team has enjoyed a period of incredible success.

Three Premier League titles, one European Cup, a World Club Championship and three League Cups.

Meanwhile, under the stewardship of Hicks and Gillett, Liverpool have won precisely nothing.

Rafael Benitez has seen numerous transfer targets slip through his grasp and, although he was able to lure Fernando Torres to Anfield, others have gone elsewhere.

So if any group of fans has reason to be disillusioned it is the Liverpool supporters. They are the ones desperate for a return to the glory days that United are presently enjoying.

United’s followers have gorged on success while Liverpool have starved.

Yet it is the United supporters that appear more determined to enforce regime change when it could be argued that they have never had it so good.

With the success of the green-and-gold campaign, there have been noises emanating from Manchester and Merseyside talking up the prospect of an unholy alliance between Liverpool and United fans aimed at showing their joint opposition to their respective American owners.

That proposal only has the support of a small minority on both sides.

Regardless of their shared ownership issues, United fans would enjoy nothing more than seeing Liverpool run into the ground by Hicks and Gillett.

Equally, the Kop would rejoice if United sank without a trace under the Glazers.

But while the United hordes milk the publicity generated by the green-and-gold campaign, Liverpool’s supporter campaign risks falling behind.

They need to find a trick of their own, a gimmick that will steal the thunder of the green-and-gold masses.

But maybe the moment has passed. Perhaps United have done them again.

Hicks And Gillett Left Smiling Despite Fan Discontent After Liverpool’s Revenues Soar By Millions

Despite continuing fan discontent and concerns over the financing of the club's debt, Liverpool FC's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett were given a boost this week when it was revealed that the club's revenues have been boosted by almost €10 million.

Liverpool have moved up to seventh place in Deloitte's Football Money League, after the Reds' annual revenues climbed from €207.4 million to €217 million. Liverpool still trailed Premier League rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, but United's revenues only improved by €2.2 million, and both chelsea and Arsenal recorded lower revenues than in previous years.

'Broadcasting revenue of £74.6m (€87.6m) has risen by £3.8m (5%) since 2007/08,' reports Deloitte. 'The increase reflected a second place Premier League finish in 2008/09, which provided £50.3m of revenue (a £4.3m (9%) uplift). Reaching the quarter-final of the Uefa Champions League in 2008/09 earned Liverpool €23.2m (£19.7m) which was €3.6m lower than the amount received from Uefa for reaching the semi-final in the previous season. Having failed to reach the last 16 of the Champions League in 2009/10, Liverpool will be looking for a very strong Uefa Europa League performance to minimise the shortfall against the level of European revenues they usually generate.

'Despite the challenging sponsorship market, Liverpool achieved a £13.5m (25%) increase in commercial revenues to £67.7m (€79.5m), which accounts for 37% of the club’s total revenue, following the commencement of four new partnerships, reportedly worth a combined £10m (€12m).'

Deloitte also noted that Liverpool's performance is likely to improve in coming seasons, when, amongst other things, its £20 million per year shirt sponsorship agreement with Standard Chartered begins. That deal more than double what Liverpool currently receive annually from Carlsberg. However, the report also noted that, to move up the Football Money League, Liverpool are likely to need to move to their proposed new stadium.

Failure to do so has been a key part of fan discontent at Anfield. A poster campaign in Liverpool has seen billboards throughout the city carry the message: 'Tom and George, Debt, Lies, Cowboys. Not welcome here.'