Saturday, March 06, 2010

Liverpool Have Little Room For Error In The Premier League - Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted that his side cannot afford to slip up any more than they have already this season, if they are to achieve a run in the Champions League next season.

The Reds' top-four credentials have been called into question this term, with evidence in the form of a tight race for fourth place along with Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

Despite having lost just once in their last 10 games in all competitions, the scrappy goalless draw at Eastlands followed by a less than dominating performance against Blackburn Rovers at Anfield has induced Rafa to bellow a rallying cry.

"Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa will be very dangerous so we cannot make many mistakes," said Benitez, according to The Daily Mail.

"We know last year was really good in terms of points in the league [as Liverpool collected 86] and now we are in a different and more difficult situation because the expectations were very high.

"It is really difficult because we have three or four teams really close."

Performances apart, the Reds have been getting the right results after a dreary start to the season that saw them bow out of the Champions League and both domestic Cup competitions at an early stage.

"We have to keep this momentum and prove, show everyone else, we are good enough," he added. "I prefer to be positive and we will play well and continue to win."

McLeish Linked With Replacing Rafa At Liverpool

Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish is the shock name being mentioned within boardrooms of the Premier League as a potential candidate for the Liverpool manager's job, should Rafa Benitez be lured away from Anfield by Juventus in the summer.

McLeish has built a formidable reputation for his achievements in solidifying the Premier League status of the Midlands club and word is that he can be prised away for a relatively cheap compensation because of his contract terms at St Andrew's.

While a move for Jose Mourinho has been mooted, it's thought the Portuguese coach's huge personal price tag would be difficult for Liverpool to be match, with McLeish's wage demands likely to better fit Liverpool's budget.

In addition, any move for the Inter Milan boss, presently earmarked for Manchester City if they change managers in the summer, would require a massive transfer budget.

McLeish is one of Sir Alex Ferguson's apprentices, and the pair struck up a perfect manager-captain relationship at Aberdeen, when Sir Alex was making a big impression at the beginning of his managerial career.

A Premier League chairman told Soccernet: "There has been mention of McLeish and Liverpool, but who knows how strong it might be. I would put it no more than 50-50, you never know.

"It is easy to see why a club like Liverpool would be interested [in McLesih] if Rafa Benitez did leave in the summer, as its common knowledge that Juventus have been showing interest in him."

Javier Mascherano To Seek Liverpool Assurances Before Signing Deal

Javier Mascherano will seek reassurances over Liverpool’s plans to strengthen manager Rafael Benitez’s squad before agreeing to turn his back on a potential move to Barcelona and extend his contract at Anfield for a further two years.

Liverpool have approached Mascherano’s representatives with a view to offering the Argentine international captain improved terms on his current deal, which expires in 2012, and the two parties are expected to meet on Merseyside early next week.

Barcelona were widely expected to return with a firm bid for the player this summer after initial enquiries from the European champions’ sporting director Txiki Begiristain were rejected outright by the Anfield club last year, but Liverpool are confident a deal worth around £100,000-a-week will be enough to retain the midfielder’s services.

The club will have to convince him, though, that owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have the resources to equip Benitez with a side capable of maintaining their Champions League status and challenging for the Premier League title after a campaign tinged with desperate disappointment.

“Liverpool have approached us to discuss a new contract and my agent will have a meeting in the next few days,” said Mascherano. “The reality is that I am very happy at Liverpool. I want to know what the club’s plans are and then we will see if, at this moment in time, I can renew my contract.

“It is not that I felt unsettled [by the rumours of Barcelona’s interest] in the summer or that I am more at home now. I have always been very happy at Liverpool. Everyone at the club has always treated me very well. That is all there is to say at this stage.”

Liverpool are also thought to be close on sealing a new, five-year contract for the Spanish international goalkeeper Pepe Reina as Benitez looks to secure the futures of all of his most valuable assets.

Dani Pacheco Wants To Muscle In On Liverpool First Team Scene

DANI PACHECO is aiming to muscle in on a first team place at Liverpool this season.

The talented, but tiny Spanish starlet has been spending extra time in the Melwood gym in a bid to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League.

And even though the five feet six inch striker has already made a significant impact in the first team this season – notably with his goal creating contribution against Unirea Urziceni last month and a lively Champions League cameo against Fiorentina back in December, the 19-year-old is looking further ahead to the future.

Still to make his first competitive start, the former Barcelona youngster hopes an intensive weight training regimen will help him realise that ambition sooner rather than later.

“I am working hard in the gym to improve my physical side and try to be stronger in the next few years,” said Pacheco.

“I have to be patient and keep working hard. It's not easy to play in the first team at this great club. You have to learn different things every day and listen to what the staff are telling you, then do that on the pitch.

“You have to be focused every day in training and then when the chance comes I have to be ready.”

With two games in four days next week – the Premeir League trip to Wigan on Monday followed by the trip to Lille for the Europa League last 16 first-leg, Pacheco is hoping he may get further opportunities to impress.

“We have a very important week coming up,” he declared.

“It’s important we beat Wigan on Monday because we need to keep up our fight for fourth place. We then have the Europa League when we play Lille which will be another tough game, so I have to be ready if the manager needs me.”

The last time his manager needed him, Pacheco rose to the occasion – literally as well as metaphorically – climbing to head Ryan Babel’s cross into David Ngog’s path and give Liverpool a crucial one goal advantage from the first leg of their last 32 Europa League clash with Unirea.

“That was my best moment so far at Liverpool and it was really special for me,” he added.

“To play for the first team and be involved in the winning goal in front of The Kop was special for me and all of my family.

“It has been a really good season for me so far and it has given me a lot of confidence. I know I have a long way to go if I want to play for the first team every week, so I will keep working hard and hopefully I'll play more games in the future.

“I always say you will improve every day as a player training with the first team. I train every day with players like Fernando and Stevie and they are always talking to me, giving me advice and helping me a lot.”

Pacheco himself turned helper and advisor this week when he was the guest of honour at Liverpool FC’s Young Person of the Year awards at Anfield.

Honouring the outstanding achievements of young people in the city, the event was in its ninth year – and presents awards based on commitment and compassion displayed in the community, and courage shown in overcoming affliction.

“Of course it was a real privilege to hand out the awards to all the youngsters and I will be happy to come back any time they want me.

“We players are people and were young once too, so for us it is very important to come here and help out.

“It's a special night for everyone involved, including myself.”

Liverpool FC Regeneration Director, Andrea Titterington, said: “This is a huge celebration for young people.

“So many times, all you hear in the press are negative things about young people, but actually the majority of young people are terrific.

“This is an opportunity for people in the community to nominate young people who have made a huge contribution, who have tremendous courage and have overcome all sorts of issues. It's just the greatest night ever - it's better than the Oscars!”

She added: “It's important for the club to be involved in events like this because it underlines everything else we do in the community, not just the regeneration projects we're doing in Anfield, but also all the community projects that Bill Bygroves' team does, the education projects, the coaching and physical activity projects, and the health programmes we run as well.

“The commitment to the local community here is immense and this is a great opportunity to celebrate that.

“It's absolutely essential for first-team players to lend their support. It really is a life changing experience for young people to meet their heroes, even if they happen to be Evertonians!!

Awards given out included Schools Special achievement awards, the Sweeper Zone awards, Kickz, Goals for Girls, Reading 4 Families and the Jack Carley award for amazing courage.

Community Manager Bill Bygroves added: “I think it's vitally important for the club to hold events like this because it's a connection between the young people of our district and community with the football club.”

The event is backed by Liverpool City Council, who have been involved since the awards' inception in 2002.

Alan Hansen Backs Pepe Reina To Be Liverpool's Player Of The Season

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina is the clear contender to be the Reds' player of the season, according to former Anfield defender Alan Hansen.

The ex-Reds skipper feels that few of Rafael Benitez's men have demonstrated such consistency and commitment as the Spanish keeper, who has been second to none at Anfield over the course of what has been a tricky campaign.

"Reina has been brilliant all season and is without a shadow of a doubt Liverpool's player of the year," Hansen told LFC Weekly.

"The great thing about him is his total and utter reliability. If you asked me what I'd want in a goalkeeper playing behind me at Liverpool, which would be what I'm looking for - total and utter reliability.

"Having a goalkeeper like Reina behind you gives the central defenders a huge amount of confidence.

"The ironic thing is that England haven't got a goalkeeper to take to the World Cup but Liverpool have got the best keeper in the Premier League and he can't get in the Spanish side. It's crazy."

Hansen has been impressed with the recent improvement in the defensive solidity of Benitez's team and now wants to see them begin to threaten more in attack.

"To have a goalkeeper of Reina's stature playing so well is absolutely fantastic for Liverpool and what we need now is to get it right at the other end of the pitch," the Scot added.

"It's all very well having a run where we are not conceding many goals, but we need to start scoring more if we are to get fourth place and qualify for the Champions League, starting at Wigan on Monday night."

Liverpool Denies Reports Of New Deal

Liverpool have denied reports that the Abu Dhabi royal family are considering adding to their Premier League portfolio by buying the Anfield club.

Manchester City are owned by one member of the wealthy Al Nahyan dynasty, Sheikh Mansour, but Liverpool insist they have had no contact from the family.

And even if they did they would have to have any potential deal sanctioned by the Premier League, convincing them in the process that competition between City and Liverpool would in no way be affected.

Premier League chiefs do not believe that would pose a problem, however, with the suggestion being that family rivalry might even add an extra edge.

Three or four parties are said to be interested in acquiring a stake in the Merseysiders that will raise around £100m and help reduce the club’s current debts of £237m.

The Royal Bank of Scotland are demanding the cash before they will sanction a new refi nancing package.

New investment is crucial to dispel fears that the club can’t compete for major honours from the likes of Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

Manchester City Owner's Family 'Eyes Up Takeover Bid For Liverpool'

The Abu Dhabi royal family which owns Manchester City is believed to be weighing up a bid to buy Liverpool.

City is owned by one member of the Al Nahyan dynasty, Sheikh Mansour, but reliable sources claim the family are pursuing an interest in the Reds.

In order for such a deal to be sanctioned by the Premier League the family would have to prove the competition between City and Liverpool would in no way be affected.

But Premier League chiefs do not believe that would pose a problem, with one saying: ‘Sibling rivalry can be the strongest of competitive instincts.’

Liverpool’s current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett would want around £400million to sell the club but their price may drop if the club fails to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The family’s interest at Anfield was first reported in December but, according to one source, the purchase of City has been viewed as a great success in terms of raising the profile of Sheikh Mansour, and this has intensified interest in Liverpool.

The source said: ‘City is viewed as having been a good move and now the family are interested in Liverpool.

'In the Far East, it is Manchester United that are the big club but in the Arab world it is Liverpool most people are mad about.’