Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Benitez To Take Torres And Mascherano To Juventus

Juventus have stepped up their interest in Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, who will look to take Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano with him to Turin, according to Italian daily Corriere dello Sport.

Roberto Mancini was spotted at last week's Europa League match between Fulham and Juventus and although likely preparing for Manchester City's fixture at Craven Cottage, was subsequently linked with the Juve job.

However, Corriere dello Sport claims that while in London, Juventus deputy director general Roberto Bettega renewed contact with those close to Benitez, with a view to the Liverpool boss taking over during the summer.

Juventus are enduring a difficult season and although the appointment of short-term coach Alberto Zaccheroni led to a brief revival, they are struggling to finish in the top four in Serie A which would guarantee Champions League qualification. Zaccheroni himself has admitted that a league finish outside of the top four would be a failure on his part.

Liverpool find themselves in a similar situation, scrapping for Champions League football next season and speculation has been rife over Benitez's future for some months. Corriere dello Sport also claim that should Benitez leave Anfield for Turin, he would look to take star striker Fernando Torres and midfielder Javier Mascherano with him. Torres himself recently questioned Liverpool's ambition to attract top players and challenge for honours.

Rafa Reveals Fourth Fears

Rafa Benitez has admitted it will be difficult for Liverpool to claim a UEFA Champions League berth after their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.

The Reds slipped to their 10th defeat of a disappointing Premier League season after goals from Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-Sung cancelled out Fernando Torres' early opener at Old Trafford.

Earlier in the campaign, the Spaniard issued a guarantee that the Anfield outfit would be dining at European football's top table, but he is now aware that the pressure is mounting.

Sunday's setback leaves Liverpool four points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham having played a game more than the North London club, with Manchester City and Aston Villa also strongly in contention.

Benitez remains confident in the abilities of his side and has vowed not to look to far ahead as the season enters its final furlong.

He told Sky Sports: "It will be difficult, but still we have to fight. There are a lot of points to play for so we have to keep going and see what happens in the next game.

"I think they (the fans) can see that the team today was solid again. It is not like we are not doing well, not creating chances or are too weak.

"It depends on the other teams too. We have to win the first one, see what the position is in the table and think about the next one. We have to take one game at a time."

Benitez had no complaints about United's equaliser, with Rooney scoring on the rebound after his initial penalty had been superbly saved by Jose Reina.

Howard Webb pointed to the spot after Javier Mascherano pulled down Antonio Valencia, although initial contact was made outside the box, with the Argentina international booked.

The Liverpool boss added: "It appears that it was inside so it was a penalty, and Carra was there so it was a yellow card."

After a blistering opening with Torres on target after just five minutes and Rooney levelling soon after, there were few clear-cut openings until Park's winner on the hour mark.

Benitez felt his side deserved to take a point from their trip to Old Trafford, but paid tribute to an impressive United display.

He said: "I think it was very tight. They didn't have too many chances, we didn't have too many.

"Between two top sides the difference is always little things and they were better at these things.

"It was a great goal (from Torres), a great header. But we conceded too early and in the second half you could see they are a good team, no doubt about this, but they didn't have too many options and it could have been a draw, with a little bit of luck."

Bantams Keep Hold Of Threlfall

Bradford have extended the loan of Liverpool youngster Robbie Threlfall until the end of the season.

Threlfall joined Bradford last month on loan after impressing in the Liverpool reserves side and he has been a revelation since his move to Valley Parade.

The 21-year-old has made seven appearances for the Bantams since arriving at the end of February and has scored two spectacular free-kicks during his time at the club.

A number of clubs higher up the football pyramid are believed to have sounded out a loan move for Threlfall before the close of the loan window on Thursday, but Bradford have managed to keep hold of the left-back.

Threlfall's initial loan deal was due to expire on Monday, but Bantams boss Peter Taylor moved quickly to keep him for the last two months of the campaign.

Aquilani Exit talk Rubbished

Alberto Aquilani's agent has dismissed rumours linking the Italian with a summer exit from Liverpool.

Reports have suggested the Anfield club could offload Aquilani after just one season to raise funds for their summer rebuilding plans.

Aquilani, who missed the first few months of the season because of injury, has struggled to hold down a regular place in Rafa Benitez's starting XI.

The former Roma man has been linked with a quick return to Serie A, but Aquilani's representative, Franco Zavaglia, insists the rumours are wrong.

"False news has been circulated around," Zavaglia told Tuttomercatoweb.com.

"The player is happy in England and he will stay there with no problems.

"There is absolutely nothing that concerns him."

Liverpool's Future Imperfect As Cracks Show

Fast forward to early October 2010. Rafa Benitez, having lost at Eastlands and drawn home games against Birmingham and Fulham, arrives at Old Trafford for a showdown with bitter rivals that already appears key to a season’s ambitions.

Wayne Rooney profits from a late slip by Martin Skrtel, controversially now ahead of Jamie Carragher in the pecking order, to plunder the only goal which carries Manchester United back to the Premier League summit and leaves Liverpool nine points adrift in fifth.

The title is just a distant dream. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, who were persuaded to stay at Anfield just a few months earlier by the promise of new signings, cut disillusioned figures.

The camera pans to a dejected David Silva, who remained in his tracksuit throughout having failed to impress since an £18million move from Valencia.

Afterwards, Benitez berates the Rhone Group, already at loggerheads with Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and whose £20m injection of capital pales into insignificance compared to the £80m spree that Roman Abramovich sanctioned at Chelsea in the summer. Liverpool supporters are mutinous. Again.

If something like that particular scenario is not to come to pass, then monumental decisions need to be taken at Anfield at the end of the season. And in that sense, yesterday’s defeat in the self-styled Theatre of Dreams might even be a blessing.

It will be difficult for the Liverpool supporters, who headed back along the M62 smarting from their first reversal at the hands of their most bitter rivals in four games, to accept as much as the horrible memory of Torres’ fluffed chance in the final seconds of normal time lingered.

Yet that is the stark reality that not even salvaging fourth place, a distant dream today, will cure.

Liverpool’s season is at the point where any glorious highs like the one they briefly imagined here, before Javier Mascherano brainlessly decided to offer Sir Alex Ferguson’s side a helping hand, can be seen as papering over cracks and should not be confused with mending them.

Anfield needs a fresh start because this club is stuck in a cycle, a vicious circle that will continue to whirl until major changes take hold.

Whether it is Benitez who leaves – expensive for a club so paranoid about finances – remains to be seen. Whether it is Gerrard or maybe even Torres – whose departures would raise funds unlikely to be plentiful by other means – is an alternative.

That all three at various times, and probably on the coach ride back to Melwood yesterday, will have given the possibility serious thought speaks volumes. Something needs to give and that the club’s hierarchy has been steadfast that star names will not be sold points to where ties will be severed when a disappointing campaign runs its course.

Make no mistake, this was another damaging setback for Benitez.

Liverpool showed on Sunday they can compete with the champions on any given day, but their best results have been the freak ones. Tottenham and United at home, Aston Villa and Everton away. Otherwise, the under-achievement has been unrelenting.

Benitez may yet welcome the chance to escape a job that has undoubtedly lost some of its appeal because of the weighty expectations that he feels are out of kilter with the resources.

Gerrard has struggled to exert himself, stymied by the shortcomings of Lucas and Mascherano, who seemed to take it as a personal affront that Nemanja Vidic had been sent off three times in succession in this fixture and not him.

There was no doubting that he started tugging at Antonio Valencia way outside the box, but loosening his grip only as the tussle reached the area allowed Howard Webb to indulge in a favourite pastime because this was the fifth penalty he has given United over his past eight games at Old Trafford.

It was not the sight of Carragher and Gary Neville coming nose to nose like two proud tribal chiefs that screamed loudest, nor even Ferguson and Benitez jousting on the touchline.

Rather, it was Carragher’s angry shove on Mascherano as the ramifications of his team -mate’s mindless actions sunk in.

There has been too much blaming of one another. The changes must not stop there.

Liverpool Can Still Finish Fourth, Says Jamie Carragher

Jamie Carragher today insisted Liverpool possesses the strength of character to shrug off their disappointment at Old Trafford and get their push for the top four back on track.

The Reds squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to make a statement against Manchester United on Sunday as they lost 2-1 despite Fernando Torres giving them an early lead.

With Manchester City and Tottenham – their rivals for the last Champions League spot – both winning at the weekend, the task facing Liverpool on the run in is hugely difficult. Carragher, though, has warned anybody who thinks Liverpool is out of the reckoning now that they have dropped down to sixth place to think again.

He is adamant there will still be plenty of twists and turns in the coming weeks and, having studied the fixture list, is confident Liverpool can still make their presence felt.

“We have just got to recover from this as quickly as possible and get on a run of victories,” said the Reds’ vice-captain.

“We were playing against a top side yesterday and have run them close. It’s really disappointing to lose, as there wasn’t much between the sides in the game.

“You didn’t see too many chances being created but we have lost and you have got to move on, as this was the most difficult fixture we had before the season end.

“Of course we believe we can still close the gap. They will both have difficult spells and we have got to make sure we take maximum points when they do.

“Maybe there will be more criticism of us now and at a club like Liverpool, the pressure is never off. Things are a bit more difficult but we have still got lots of points to play for.”

Once Ji-Sung Park headed in front after Wayne Rooney’s first-half leveller, Liverpool only threatened to score once in the final 30 minutes but Torres took an air shot.

“We did well to a certain point but we played last Monday, then again on Thursday and then had to come into this match,” Carragher pointed out.

“The squad hasn’t been strong enough for one reason or another this season but it was still a big ask to come here after that run, particularly as United had all week to prepare.”

There is little doubt the game changed after referee Howard Webb awarded United a penalty when Javier Mascherano tangled with Antonio Valencia.

Television replays showed the incident took place initially outside the area, while Rafa Benitez claimed Valencia made the most of the incident.

Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, countered by saying Mascherano should have received a red card as Valencia would have been “too quick” for Carragher, who was the last man.

“It was never a sending-off,” Carragher said. “It took place outside the box and I think I would have got there! Pepe (Reina) was unlucky when he saved (Rooney’s) penalty but it bounced back to him.”

Former Liverpool Hero Ronnie Whelan Believes Players Have Given Up On Boss Rafael Benitez

Former Liverpool player Ronnie Whelan believes that after Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in the Premier League, key members of the Reds' squad have given up on manager Rafael Benitez.

Having watched proceedings unfold at Old Trafford over the weekend, Whelan believes the attitudes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres throughout the game underline the fact that the Spaniard's time at Anfield must be coming to an end.

"We saw Torres at his brilliant best for the opening goal but turn into a petulant child as the game slipped away," Whelan wrote in his column for Irish newspaper The Herald.

"We saw Gerrard ghosting around the pitch without much purpose, occasionally bursting into activity but mostly ineffective.

"Players usually know when a manager's time is up and if they're smart, a long time before anyone else realises it. It's now plain to see from their performances against Manchester United that they've had enough.

"Rafa Benitez has nowhere to go now. His best players can no longer muster the belief needed to go to Old Trafford and win against the odds.

"They did it for him last season and many times before when his reputation was on the line but not any more."

Whelan also admitted his belief that the club's star assets — particularly Gerrard and Torres — will undoubtedly be having doubts as whether they should stay with the underachieving club.

"They must be having a hard look now at the future and I'm sure there are clubs all over Europe that would be happy to fork out huge amounts of cash for either or both players — even in these recessionary times," the 48-year-old noted.

The former Irish international is also disappointed that the Reds' academy is no longer producing the sort of players that could help the club through its current crisis.

"It wouldn't be so bad if there was a half dozen young lads pushing up from the Academy ranks and filling in the gaps created by poor work in the transfer market over many years," he added.

"Home-grown talent served Liverpool well for many years but Jamie Carragher and Gerrard are the last to come from that source and they've been in the senior team for over a decade."

Rafael Benitez Believes That Manchester United's Antonio Valencia Dove For Penalty

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has accused Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia of diving to earn the penalty that canceled out an early Fernando Torres strike in United’s 2-1 victory on Sunday to vault them to the top of the Premier League.

Valencia fell awkwardly under a Javier Mascherano challenge to earn the penalty after 12 minutes. Wayne Rooney’s shot was saved but he was able to net the rebound to tie the game at one.

Benitez was clear when asked if the Ecuadorian international dove for United’s penalty.

"Yes I think so, Benitez told The Sun.

“There is maybe a contact but the way he fell down was strange.

"I've seen three replays and the last one was very suspicious.

"See the replay and how he fell to the ground.

"The penalty made a big, big difference. One situation changed everything."

The decision to award United with the spot-kick led to an argument between Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson, who thought that Mascherano should have been given a red card for being the last man on path to a scoring chance.

"I thought for the penalty kick it was a red card,” Ferguson said.

"There was no way Carragher could have got across to stop Valencia from shooting, absolutely no way. He's too quick for Carragher to get across.

"It was a penalty but you have seen it time and time again - the law of the game is that if you stop a player from a goalscoring opportunity, it's a red card. But not today it wasn't.”

The loss leaves Liverpool in sixth place, four points adrift of Tottenham for the last Champions League spot, and two points behind Manchester City, who also have two games in hand on the Reds, for fifth.