Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Martin Skrtel And Fabio Aurelio Could Return Next Month

Liverpool FC's injured defenders Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio could make a return to action early next month.

Aurelio strained his right thigh in Liverpool FC's 2-1 win over Blackburn on February 28 and his absence has caused problems for manager Rafa Benitez as it has left him with only Emiliano Insua at left-back.

The 21-year-old has been exposed in recent weeks, notably by Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia and Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, but Benitez has had no option but to continue playing the Argentinian.

Aurelio’s return cannot come quick enough to give Insua a break as a difficult season looks like it has taken its toll.

Centre-back Skrtel’s absence has not been noticed as much as Benitez has been able to call on a combination of Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

The Slovakian has been out since breaking a metatarsal in his right foot in the Europa League tie against Unirea Urziceni in Romania on February 25.

"Both are still injured and will need some time, but it’s only a question of a couple of weeks. It depends for each one," said Benitez.

Liverpool Accept £6m Offer From CSKA Moscow For Albert Riera

Liverpool have accepted an offer of around £6m from CSKA Moscow for their outspoken midfielder Albert Riera and hope to conclude the sale of Rafael Benítez's critic by the end of this week.

The Spain international is due to return to training at Melwood today having served a club suspension for last week's public criticism of Benítez's management style. Whether the 27-year-old gets as far as the training pitch is debatable, however, with Liverpool now willing to cash in on the marginalised winger and to allow Riera to discuss personal terms with CSKA.

Liverpool are hopeful of a swift deal for Riera, who has cut an increasingly frustrated figure in a season where he has been restricted to 16 appearances and whose desire for first-team football ahead of the World Cup arguably prompted his outburst on Radio Marca. The winger, signed for £8m from Espanyol in 2008, described Liverpool as a "sinking ship" in the interview and was scathing in the assessment of Benítez, who he claimed held a personal grudge against him and had zero dialogue with players.

Russia's transfer window is open until 8 April and Benítez will have made a profit of approximately £12m through sales this season should Riera follow Andrea Dossena and Andrei Voronin out of Anfield. Even that surplus is not guaranteed to be reinvested in the Liverpool squad this summer, however, with Champions League qualification, or the lack of, determining how much can be spent.

The Rhône Group has made provisions for a transfer budget as part of its £100m offer for a 40% stake in Liverpool, with a decision yet to be made by the owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, although Benítez's spending power will be reduced should they fail to secure a top-four finish.

Despite the financial uncertainty at Anfield, Benítez insists he has been encouraged by recent contract talks with Javier Mascherano and is confident the Argentina captain will be the latest component of Liverpool's first-team to commit his long-term future to the club.

"We were talking, progressing and we're closer now. Still we need to talk a little bit but we are closer," the manager said. "It would be very important for the club. We have some important players with some years left on their contracts and this could be another one. It's very important that we're keeping the spine of the team."

Spearing Seals Switch

Nigel Pearson has moved to bolster his promotion-chasing squad with the capture of Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing.

The 21-year-old joins the Foxes on loan until the end of the season to gain some much-needed first team experience at the Walkers Stadium.

Spearing is held in high regard at Anfield, making his debut in Liverpool's Champions League victory at PSV Eindhoven back in late 2008.

He also captained the Merseyside club's FA Youth Cup winning side in 2007, putting him on the fringes of Rafa Benitez's first team this year.

But with just the one start in the Reds' defeat at Sunderland and five appearances in total, the youngster has joined up with Nigel Pearson's squad to help secure their current play-off position.

Chairman Milan Mandaric believes Spearing can have a healthy impact on his manager's squad, saying: 'Jay is a great signing for the team, a player that should bea big help to us between now and the end of the season.

'We have been trying to do everything we can to ensure that we have the best chance possible of succeeding in this division.'

Spearing has been given the number 34 shirt, and joins up with the Foxes ahead of their crucial home clash with Reading tomorrow evening.

Liverpool Lead Chase To Land Cole As Suitors Circle

Liverpool FC are leading the race to sign Chelsea star Joe Cole after talks between the England star and the West London club broke down. Cole has admitted that talks between himself and Chelsea have stalled, and now Liverpool are being tipped as the favourites to land the playmaker, with Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur the other Premier League clubs in the running for the former West Ham United youngster.

Cole, who moved to Chelsea in 2003 from West Ham United for a fee believed to be in the region of £6.6 million, is struggling to get first team opportunities since returning from injury under Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti with the classy playmaker now expected to leave the Stamford Bridge club. According to SKYBET Liverpool are now the favourites to land the player after their odds were slashed to 8/1, while Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are all at 10/1 to land the 28 year-old midfielder.

Liverpool are set for a summer of re-structuring at the football club and whether or not manager Rafa Benitez is at the football club, the Liverpool heirachy will look to strengthen the squad with Joe Cole a cost-effective way of adding an international to the Reds squad. The likes of Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp is a confirmed admirer of Cole, while SKY BET have also tipped Manchester City and Arsenal to enter the race for the England winger.

Rafael Benitez: Fernando Torres Must Concentrate More In Big Games

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has asked Fernando Torres to ensure he does not get frustrated or distracted in the biggest games.

Torres scored in the Reds' clash with Manchester United at the weekend, but was also caught kicking the penalty spot in frustration after referee Howard Webb awarded a penalty against his side, and was unable to prevent the visitors failing to a disappointing 2-1 defeat.

Benitez was not upset by the striker's display of petulance, but believes he needs to try to channel his energy more positively.

"Fernando knows he has to focus a little bit more," Benitez told the Press Association.

"We were talking about this at half-time [against United] so that is something that will be better for him and better for the team.

"He can score more goals by concentrating on football.

"All strikers, especially top-class strikers, they are marked a little bit more closely than others and that is normal.

"It is not easy every game. People don't understand when you are a player on the pitch and you are fighting and sometimes you cannot understand these things."

Torres has scored 17 goals in a season that has been ravaged by injuries and, despite his problems against United, Benitez believes that the former Atletico Madrid captain has contributed greatly to his side when he has been fit.

"Sometimes when you talk about big names, top-class players, you are expecting something from them when the team is not doing well," he said.

"You expect them to say: 'It's okay, follow me'."

"We have had this conversation with Fernando and the rest of the team.

"It was something we were expecting from Torres and he was really good the other day [scoring twice against both Portsmouth and Lille]."

Fully fit for much of last season, Torres led Liverpool to a title challenge on the back of his 33 goals. Benitez can only wonder how differently the Red's disappointing season might have progressed, had he been fit for its entirety.

"It was a pity because it was a very good season [last year] and if we were doing more or less the same we would be up there," he said.

"We have seen some games where we couldn't score and we conceded and after we didn't have the same reaction as last year."

Ryan Babel Hopeful Liverpool Form Can Take Him To South Africa

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel is optimistic that his improving club form could yet win him a call-up to the Netherlands squad which travels to South Africa for the World Cup this summer.

The player had looked out of favour at Anfield earlier this season, but a recent run of first-team appearances has shown that he still has plenty to offer.

He looked set for a January exit, but talks with manager Rafael Benitez have cleared the air and he has featured in the Reds' last 12 games.

And that run of steady form might just now enable him to catch Oranje coach Bert van Marwjik's eye in the run-up to this summer's showpiece occasion.

"Every player wants to get a run of games to show what he can do. I hope I can continue to show more – If I can then I will be happy," Babel told The Liverpool Echo.

"Hopefully I can give something back to the squad. I’m slowly feeling more confident.

"I’m playing games now and want to show what I can do.

"The fans expect me always to dribble and take men on.

"It’s not always possible but I try to do it as much as I can.

"I like to take men on and hopefully I’ll show more of that in the future. I know if I play a lot of games then I’ll have a good chance of going to the World Cup."

Benitez: Reds Are Relying On Others

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez remains confident his side can secure Champions League qualification but accepts he is relying on their rivals making mistakes.

Sunday's 2-1 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford - their 10th in the league this season - saw the Reds drop to sixth, four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham.

With Manchester City, in fifth, and seventh-placed Aston Villa both having two matches in hand Liverpool's task is becoming increasingly difficult.

They have seven matches to save their season and Benitez knows they realistically have to win them all.

If they were to do that they would finish the season with 72 points, which was more than enough for Arsenal to clinch fourth last season as they finished nine points clear of Everton.

Of those remaining games, Birmingham away and Chelsea at home present the most difficult challenges.

Tottenham, by contrast, have to play Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in successive matches with a trip to Manchester City on the penultimate weekend of the season.

City also have to face United and Arsenal in successive weeks, while Villa - currently a point behind Liverpool - have Chelsea, City, Everton and a derby against Birmingham among their fixtures.

"We knew the game against United would be very tough. The question is now about the other teams," said Benitez.

"Tottenham won at the weekend but we have to keep going. We know they have to make mistakes and we have to keep winning games to reduce the gap and be there.

"There are still a lot of points to be played for so we have to keep going. If we can win our games we will be there at the end.

"As a manager you have to believe. It will be more difficult but we have to keep pushing and I think we can do it.

"This year is a difficult year with too many things against but still we have to keep fighting and I am confident the team will be ready for the next game against Sunderland (on Sunday)."

The defeat at Old Trafford came at the end of a week in which Liverpool had beaten Portsmouth 4-1 and then seen off Lille 3-0 in the Europa League.

And although losing to their arch-rivals was disappointing, Benitez insisted it was not as damaging as some were making out.

"The team was doing well last week, playing well and scoring a lot of goals," he said.

"You could see they started well against United. If you go there and don't perform or don't show character or are not strong enough that is not good.

"But we showed we can beat anyone if we play well and if we have some chances we have to take them and it could have been totally different.

"The team was not fantastic but it was not worse than United. You couldn't see the difference in the table out on the pitch.

"I don't think it is a set-back."

Despite the need to put together an unbroken winning run between now and the end of the season the inherently cautious Benitez is not prepared to go for all-out attack.

The form - and demeanour - of captain Steven Gerrard is a concern but it would be unthinkable that the England international would be dropped at a time when confidence is so fragile.

That means £17million midfielder Alberto Aquilani, in spite of his man-of-the-match display against Portsmouth, is destined to only play a bit-part role as the campaign nears its conclusion.

"Sometimes you have to attack but sometimes you have to be careful and defend," said Benitez.

"I don't think we were defending too much [at Old Trafford]. I think we were doing a good job and we were trying to go forward.

"But you have to create more if you want to be sure [of victory].

"Some games you have one chance and you score and in this case we were disappointed because how many chances did they have? How many saves did Pepe (Reina) make? One or two?

"We were trying to get the second goal against United and if you analyse the people we had on the pitch Kuyt is a striker, Maxi Rodriguez can keep the ball well, and we had Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

"After that we put on Ryan, Yossi and Aquilani, who are offensive players, but we were playing against a good team."

Jamie Carragher: Liverpool Will Fight On Following Loss To Manchester United

Following Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Manchester United yesterday, Jamie Carragher vows his side will beat competition from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the Premier League's final Champions League spot.

"We have just got to recover from this [defeat to United] as quickly as possible and get on a run of victories," the centre-back told reporters.

"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.

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

"You didn’t see too many chances being created but we have lost and you have got to move on."

The 32-year-old predicts Liverpool will close the gap on Tottenham and Manchester City and eventually take fourth place by the end of the season.

He added: "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."

Liverpool's take on Sunderland this Sunday at Anfield. Carragher has started each of his 42 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool this season.