Saturday, March 13, 2010

Real Madrid Make Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Their Top Target To Replace Manuel Pellegrini Following Champions League Exit

Real Madrid have made Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez the prime candidate to take over the reins of the club during the summer, according to The Sun.

The Spanish giants bowed out of the Champions League in the first knockout round for the sixth consecutive season, and the lack of success on the European stage will reportedly see current coach Manuel Pellegrini forced out of the club when the curtain comes down on this term.

The president of the White House, Florentino Perez, is consequently believed to have made Benitez the first-choice target for the summer, with Inter boss Jose Mourinho and Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti also believed to be among the names being discussed if the Spaniard decides not to join the Madrid-based club.

An unnamed Real source is quoted as saying: "Rafa is the preferred choice. He is a Madrid man and his agent, Manuel Garcia Quillon, has an excellent relationship with the club.

"Above all, though, his record in Europe is exceptional. The club want to return where they believe they belong - to be the No.1 team in Europe again. They believe Rafa is the man to make that happen."

Benitez used to be a coach at Real's academy, and has in the past indicated that he would like to return to Madrid someday.

Maxi Rodriguez: Settling In At Liverpool Has Been 'Easy'

Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez has revealed that he is enjoying his life on Merseyside following his January move from Atletico Madrid.

The Argentine is beginning to acclimatise to life in England now and finds that the city of Liverpool reminds him very much of his hometown of Rosario.

"I'm settling into life here very well," the 29-year-old told LFC Weekly.

"It has been a lot easier than I thought. Argentina and Spain are very similar - the language, the lifestyle - and for my whole life it is all I have known.

"I have spent a lot of time walking round the city getting lost. What I realised quite quickly is that Liverpool is quite similar to my home town Rosario.

"There is a lot of focus in Argentina on Buenos Aires because it is the capital, like there is with London in England. But like Liverpool, Rosario is a big city - an important football city - with two clubs and it is a place which has strong working class roots. That has made it easier for me to settle."

Rodriguez also finds the kind of passion which fuels footballing rivalries on Merseyside to be similar to what he has experienced back home.

"The derbies here and Argentina are very similar because there are more fans from both clubs in the stadium and the supporters are more vocal," he added.

"In Spain, there might only be a few hundred tickets available for away supporters, which means there doesn't seem to be as much passion inside the stadium. The derby between Liverpool and Everton last month was one of the best experiences of my career."

The winger is also helped by the fact that there are two fellow Argentines in Benitez's squad in Javier Mascherano and Emiliano Insua.

"Every player in the squad - not just the Argentinians - gets on really well," Rodriguez explained.

"Each player from Argentina is from a different place in the country and we are different but good friends as well. Emiliano is from Buenos Aires, I am from Rosario and Javier is from San Lorenzo, which is only very small. You could probably fit its entire population inside this room.

"Javier also played for River Plate, and Newell's Old Boys are big rivals with them, so we have a bit of banter."

Liverpool Keeper David Martin Joins Derby County

Derby County have signed goalkeeper David Martin on a month's loan from Premier League side Liverpool.

The 24-year-old will go straight into the side for Saturday's game at Doncaster, with Stephen Bywater injured and Saul Deeney suspended.

Martin told BBC Radio Derby: "You have always got to expect the unexpected.

"I was training and I came into the training room and there was a phonecall saying Derby were interested, and I jumped at the chance."

Martin originally came through the youth ranks at MK Dons but signed for Liverpool in 2006, after impressive displays both for his club and various England youth sides.

He has been on loan at a number of clubs including Leicester, Leeds, Tranmere and Accrington Stanley.

"This season has been quite frustrating for me personally," added Martin.

"I have had a few loan clubs here and there but not really had many games. I am 24 now and I want to play."

Benitez Believes In Torres

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is backing striker Fernando Torres to end his European goal drought and fire his side into the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

The Spain international drew another blank in the 1-0 defeat in Lille on Thursday night, although that was partly due to the brilliance of goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.

He produced a superb low save from Torres' six-yard header just before half-time to keep the clean sheet which meant Eden Hazard's 85th-minute free-kick was enough to secure victory.

Torres' record in European competition is nowhere close to matching his domestic form, as in 30 appearances in the Champions and Europa League he has scored just 10 times.

He has not found the net in Europe since the 3-1 Champions League quarter-final defeat by Chelsea at Anfield on April 8.

And you have to go back to his debut season with Liverpool for his last goal on foreign soil - which was the Champions League last-16 second-leg winner against Inter Milan in the San Siro on March 11 2008.

That compares unfavourably with his incredible Barclays Premier League haul of 51 goals in 75 matches.

A knee operation in January sidelined him for six weeks and the 25-year-old is still not fully-match fit.

However, Benitez was pleased with Torres' performance in Lille and believes could well prove to be the key figure as they attempt to overturn a one-goal deficit when the French club visit Anfield next Thursday.

"It was really important to see Fernando fighting from the beginning because it sent a very good message to the other players," said the Liverpool manager.

"He was trying to win balls in the air, running and chasing defenders and for the rest of the team that was a good message and maybe he can be an inspiration too.

"The main thing is the attitude. Any player in our team has attitude and they are good players and they can play well like Fernando.

"He is a top-class player, he has a good attitude and he can score and be a problem for all defenders.

"At home normally you are attacking more and have more options and opportunities so for a striker it is easier.

"Statistically you have more chances. Away it is more difficult because sometimes you have to play on your own and your team-mates have to go and support you so it is different.

"He was doing well in Lille but it was difficult for him because they have pace, are comfortable in possession and going forward are a threat - so we had to defend.

"You cannot defend against a team with this pace too high because they will get men behind but you cannot defend too deep because they have ability.

"So for our defenders to defend and then go and support Fernando was not easy.

"Ryan was doing well, Kuyt was doing well, Gerrard was doing well, Lucas and Javier had to work very hard in defence."

Benitez also defended his star striker after yet another 90 minutes of frustration eventually resulted in him being booked for complaining once too often to referee Claus Bo Larsen.

"It is not easy for him. There were too many fouls and too many decisions," said the Spaniard.

"I don't want to talk too much about this because it wasn't the difference but with so many referees (the Europa League have two additional assistants at either end of the pitch) I think they should do better sometimes.

"We have plenty of them but they still make mistakes."

Benitez expects his team to have to do all the running in the return leg at Anfield as he believes Lille will be less offensively-minded with a 1-0 lead to protect.

"I think they will wait, try to play counter-attack because they know they have pace," he said.

"We know a clean sheet will be important for us but to score one, two or three goals will be necessary."

Eden Hazard: Lille Deserved To Beat Liverpool In The Europa League

Hazard believes that a similarly strong performance from LOSC in England could be enough to see them through, but he knows that the club from northern France cannot allow their level to drop.

Effervescent teenager Eden Hazard played a central role in Lille’s 1-0 Europa League success over Liverpool on Thursday evening, and the Belgian is of the opinion that les Dogues merited their victory.

Mickael Landreau had to be on good form in the home goal to repel a number of threatening moments from Rafael Benitez’s Reds, though LOSC had a number of opportunities themselves before Hazard’s late free-kick was missed by everyone, ending up in the net.

“We played our game, and we need to do the same thing in the return leg,” Hazard chirped after the game, according to Ligue 1’s official website. “Honestly, given what we showed in this match, we deserved to win. No matter what happens now, we pulled off something huge here tonight.”

LOSC have been bullish about their chances of scoring at Anfield, which would leave Liverpool requiring at least three goals to reach the last eight of the event.

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Confident Of Europa League Comeback After Lille Defeat

Rafael Benitez is confident of his Liverpool side's ability to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their Europa Leauge tie against Lille.

Eden Hazard grabbed the crucial goal for the French side, although despite the loss, the Reds' boss was pleased with the way his side reacted after Monday night's disappointing loss to Wigan Athletic.

"I think it was an improvement," he said.

"The reaction has been very positive. I am disappointed with the result, but really pleased with the effort of the players.

"I have confidence we can beat anyone on a good day at Anfield. I would be worried today if the players hadn't worked as hard as they have. The fans will play a part, they will push and will be behind the team.

"Lille are a good side, with good players and they are dangerous. We will play a difficult game at Anfield but have confidence we can beat them."

Benitez did admit that the result in France could have been better, commenting on the importance of getting an away goal in European competitions.

"When you play away in these knockout competitions, you have to score when you have chances," he added.

"In any competition it is important to try and score away, particularly in this one. It is a great advantage if you do. If not you have to be strong, but I think we were strong enough today.

"We had two or three situations, so that was a pity, but the reaction was good and we still have 90 minutes to play.

"Sometimes you play well and score an early goal - then you can manage the game. If we work as hard as we did today, we can beat anyone.

"The attitude of the players was fantastic. We were talking about not letting the fans down in terms of team effort and I think we did this.

"Every game is important for us now. We have to be ready to play Portsmouth and try to win. Then we have to look to the Europa League game, that is how it is when you are a top side playing in different competitions."

Asked about Fernando Torres' form, Benitez added: "He was working hard today. You can see he has his pace coming back. But the main thing was the team and the players played at the level you expect of them."

Why Kuyt Remains Confident

Dirk Kuyt remains confident Liverpool will reach the Europa League last eight despite a 1-0 first leg defeat in Lille on Thursday.

The Reds put in a much-improved display in France following the loss at Wigan before falling to a late goal from Eden Hazard.

Kuyt believes he and his teammates can now get the required result when Lille travel to Anfield next Thursday.

"Obviously 1-0 is not a great score for us but this is what has happened," said the Dutch international.

"We have got to look forward. We can't think how difficult it will be. We know what happened to Real Madrid. We all watched that game and we have to be focused.

"I'm sure it will be a good night at Anfield and I think we've got a good chance to go through. We are disappointed but we are capable of turning it around.

"It's really disappointing that we let them score with only five minutes to go but I am glad that this round is not decided in one game. We have a chance to put it right."

While Kuyt accepts the Wigan display was disappointing, he insists there is still plenty of confidence within the squad after a good start to 2010.

"Before Wigan, we had done well and kept many clean sheets," said the 29-year-old. "The only defeat we had suffered in the league was at Arsenal and it was getting better and better.

"Monday was just an off day. We were all very disappointed, most of all with ourselves. We have got to change that. We put a lot of effort in against Lille and created some chances.

"It wasn't the best game that we have played but I thought we put a lot more effort in.

"We controlled it defensively and until the goal, Lille didn't have many chances.

"We had the best chances and we should have scored with the ones that came our way. But we have got to try and keep pushing harder."

Liverpool Co-Owner Tom Hicks Loses Billionaire Status

Liverpool's co-owner Tom Hicks has lost his billionaire status, according to Forbes magazine's latest rich list. However, the Texan businessman was still ranked the 701st richest man in the world, with an estimated fortune of around $950m (£620m).

The American, who also owns the Dallas Stars ice hockey franchise, has already agreed a deal to sell the Texas Rangers baseball team for £310m. However, he appears in no hurry to offload his 50% share in Liverpool, despite increasing pressure from disillusioned supporter against the way he and his co-owner George Gillett have run the club.

"We all know about his problems with his sports clubs here in the US and over there in England," the Forbes senior editor, Matthew Miller, told the Liverpool Echo. "He has had some debt problems. He has only just missed the cut [to be classed as a billionaire]. We think he is a $900m-950m guy."

Hicks and Gillett owe Royal Bank of Scotland £237m and have been unable to raise the money needed to build the club's proposed stadium at Stanley Park. They looking to raise £100m through outside investment by the summer as RBS have requested they slash the amount of their debt.