Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tommy Smith: Liverpool Must Forget Manchester United Pain

Losing to Manchester United was hardly a good end to what had otherwise been a good week for Liverpool.

It’s always desperately disappointing to go down at Old Trafford – particularly after what we did there last season. But there’s just too much at stake now for Liverpool’s players and fans to dwell on it.

Okay, we started well and on Sunday with a terrific Torres goal should have done better to protect that lead.

Emiliano Insua is taking a fair bit of flak and, while he has clearly got lots still to learn, some of it has been a bit harsh. I was impressed with him last season but he just needs to sharpen up and get back to basics well. By that I mean defending.

But you can’t just point the finger at him. All in all we just sat off United and played too deep for me. Undoubtedly playing twice in the week when United had no game favoured them. And if Rafa Benitez had brought Babel on earlier to have a go at Gary Neville it might have made a difference.

But it’s done now so let’s move on. There are seven crucial league games left and while Spurs will be favourites to get fourth, we are still in the hunt.

Quite simply, Liverpool have to keep going. This is a club with a history of defying the odds and proving its critics wrong. And if we can reproduce the form we showed in midweek, we’ve still got every chance of making a late run at it and finishing above Tottenham, City and Villa.

Everton can do us a favour by beating City on Wednesday – but our destiny is still to a degree in our own hands.

Fourth place feels lousy I know. But it is important to make it as we know.

No one can afford to let a painful defeat effect the determination to make it.

Liverpool Winger Albert Riera Confirms He Wants To Move To Russia Within A Week

Liverpool winger Albert Riera has admitted that a move to the Russian Premier League presents itself as an "interesting option", while hoping that a deal is concluded before the turn of the week.

The Spaniard fell afoul of Reds boss Rafael Benitez after calling the Merseyside club a "sinking ship" while alluding to the manager as one who lives in an ivory tower with little or no contact with his charges.

The midfielder was subsequently frozen out of the squad, while reports pointed towards a fine owing to the derogatory comments that culminated in an alleged bust-up with a reserve player.

Presently, the former Espanyol player insists that he is keen on securing a move to Russia in the hope that regular football will earn him a ticket to the World Cup with his national side.

"Russia presents a very interesting option for me," Riera is quoted as saying in Russian newspaper Sport Express.

"For one, it's the only prestigious league in Europe where the transfer window is open.

"And secondly, if I play there regularly, I may be able to earn my ticket to the World Cup in South Africa."

The 27-year-old hopes that the deal will be chiselled out before the end of the week.

"I hope that the question of my transfer will be resolved by this week," he said.

It was initially believed that CSKA Moscow was to be the destination, with their arch-rivals Spartak also in the chase to secure the player's signature. But the former have since ruled themselves out of the race.

"The 'Army Club' are surprised to learn [from the media] that they are [a] candidate for the signing of Liverpool's Spanish midfielder Albert Riera," reads a statement from CSKA.

"We know of similar cases where CSKA is additionally recommended for a football player seeking a new place of work.

"However, to those who are trying to bring extra interest to the player, we can give advice: to specify an interested party, we would say Barcelona or Manchester United.

"By the way, this will be more interesting to lovers of rumours."

It is consequently believed that Spartak will sign Riera on loan for the season.

Aquilani Progress Pleases Benitez

Rafael Benitez is convinced Alberto Aquilani will prove to be a good signing for Liverpool.

The Reds splashed out £20million on the Italian midfielder last summer, keen to find an able replacement for the Real Madrid-bound Xabi Alonso.

Unfortunately, the Anfield faithful have seen little of their big-money signing this season, with injury and illness keeping him sidelined for long periods.

There have, however, been signs on the rare outings he has managed that there is plenty more to come from him in the future.

Aquilani is still only 25-years-old and Benitez is adamant that the former Roma man can be a resounding success in England.

"You can see he wants to improve and it is important for us to have another player pushing," Benitez told the club's official website.

"We need players with quality to help us improve until the end of the season. Alberto has got desire and he is working very hard. When we have him available, he can give us a different approach on the pitch in different games.

"It is a question of time. It is disappointing that he was ill and missed out against Lille but we are hopeful he will continue to improve and play more games before the end of the season."

David Ngog: Premier League Has Toughened Me Up

Liverpool striker David Ngog believes that he is improving as a Premier League player all the time.

The 20-year-old has featured more frequently for Rafael Benitez's team this season and feels that playing against the rugged defences in the English top flight has toughened him up.

"No game in the Premier League is ever simple, but especially away from home," he told LFC Weekly.

"A lot of the teams are very physical and make you fight for everything.

"You have to be strong and really battle to get possession and keep it until your team-mates can get forward in support. It wasn't something I found easy at first.

"Now I think I am getting stronger in those situations. The more experience you have of playing like that the more confident you become.

"I think I'm becoming a better player and know I need to do that. If I can I will be happy.

"I've managed to score some goals which is pleasing. But that's what people expect of strikers, it's our job. Hopefully I can get more in the future."

Ngog's recent appearances have been restricted by the return to fitness of Fernando Torres. Nevertheless, the Frenchman is delighted that the Spaniard is back in the team as the business end of the season nears.

"It's great to have Fernando back in the team again. He obviously helps us all to play better because he is so good," he added.

"Also, for a young striker like me it's great to have someone like that here. He's one of the best in the world. All I can do is be ready and take an opportunity to play when I get it."

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Believes Rivals Will Slip Up In The Race For Final Champions League Spot

Rafael Benitez has suggested his Liverpool side can still qualify for the Champions League after a weekend which saw the Merseyside club lose further ground to the Premier League’s fourth place challengers as the Reds were defeated 2-1 by league leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford.

"It's difficult but there [are] still seven games to play. We have to keep going because still it's a long race," Benitez told the club’s official website.

"We know we have to perform and win our games, and it's clear that the other teams will drop some points and lose some games. How many they drop is the key."

Benitez was quick to reiterate the belief that his side could overcome the challenge for that final Champions League spot from rivals Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Aston Villa.

"We have the belief we can finish in the top four but we have to keep going. Every game is important for us," he concluded.

Liverpool are four points behind fourth placed Tottenham although have played a game more than Harry Redknapp's side.

The Reds take on Steve Bruce's Sunderland on Sunday at Anfield.

Liverpool FC And City Council Face £8m Bill If Stanley Park Stadium Does Not Go Ahead

The city council could be forced to pay back up to £8.2m in European funding if Liverpool FC’s new stadium in Stanley Park does not go ahead, the Daily Post can reveal.

A report by the Audit Commission describes the way the council managed European and government grants during the Capital of Culture year, as a “significant issue”.

A total of £8.2m was given to the council to pay for improvements to Stanley Park that would allow the stadium development to begin.

But, according to the report to go before the council’s audit and accounts committee today, “the grant offer was made on the condition that the new Liverpool Football Club stadium will be built in Stanley Park. In the event that this does not occur, then the European Regional Development Fund grant of £8.2m will be repayable.” The council says it is in talks with the club regarding the issue, and has come to an agreement so it is not burdened with the bill itself.

But last night opposition leaders said the council should not be in a position where there is even the possibility it could end up liable for money linked to a commercial venture.

Cllr Joe Anderson said: “A robust arrangement should have been put in place to protect the council, not just on this scheme but on others as well.

“European funding was allocated on the premise that things would happen, and clearly if they’re not happening then there is the risk of the clawback.

“The council’s strategy just seems to be ‘let’s not worry about tomorrow, let’s grab what we can today’ and that approach is not good enough.

“People need answers: where is the money, what is it being used for and who is ultimately going to be responsible for paying it back? These risks should have been carefully considered when looking for funding in the first place.”

The Commission’s Certification of Claims and Returns audit for the year 2008/09 also highlights that the council was left with a bill of around £2.5m to cover a third share of a £7.5m funding shortfall for the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC). It hopes to get the money back from a revised bid put to European funders.

Earlier this year, the Post revealed how the council faced a £2m “clawback” of funding for the ACC, which includes the Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre, because the European Council of Auditors declared the contract arrangements “anti-competitive”.

Another issue identified by the auditors was the award of a contract for a construction project at Broadgreen school.

The report reads: “Our testing identified that the contract for the alteration and new extension of Broadgreen Primary School was not tendered in accordance with the council’s standing orders.

“Council officers have informed us that the work was awarded to a contractor following advice from the architects supervising the project on the grounds that the contractor had proved competitive on other projects, had demonstrated value for money and had a demonstrable track record.”

The report made a number of recommendations including ensuring the quality of documents relating to grant funding were improved.

Last night, council leader Cllr Warren Bradley and finance executive member Cllr Flo Clucas could not be reached for comment.

But a council spokesman insisted that, in its view, the Audit Commission report shows “effective management of public investment”.

On the Stanley Park project, the spokesman said: “This was money that was received for ancillary works linked to the stadium scheme. If the scheme does not go ahead, we can then go back to the club and the agreement is there will be no cost to the taxpayer for the scheme. We are unable to comment any further because it is a commercial agreement with the club.”

On the report’s other findings, the spokesman added: “We have already taken action to implement the recommendations in the report.

“A comprehensive review of grant claims from the current financial year carried out recently by our own internal audit team found no significant problems. In our view, the report demonstrates that public investment is managed properly and effectively by the city council.”

A spokesman for Liverpool FC said: “We continue to work in close partnership with Liverpool City Council and the local community on the regeneration of Anfield Breckfield and North Liverpool and remain committed to the building of the new LFC Stadium in Stanley Park.”

Fernando Torres Is The New Cristiano Ronaldo For All The Wrong Reasons

Fernando Torres is perhaps one of only three players who could fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo as the golden boy of the Premier League, the superstar face of the self-styled best league in the world.

Ronaldo was the undisputed poster boy of the Premier League prior to his £80m move from Manchester United to Real Madrid last summer. He was head and shoulders above the rest.

Without him, only Torres, Wayne Rooney and, possibly, Cesc Fabregas could genuinely claim to possess the star quality to grasp Ronaldo’s glittering mantle.

Rooney, having scored 33 goals for United this season, has emphatically beaten Torres and Fabregas to assume Ronaldo’s status as the Premier League’s number one box office star.

But while Fabregas might yet have the last laugh by inspiring Arsenal to a Premier League and Champions League double, what about Torres?

Ironically, despite Liverpool’s miserable season on and off the pitch, the Spaniard is beginning to show more Ronaldo characteristics than either Rooney or Fabregas.

But unfortunately for Liverpool, Torres seems to be adopting the negative aspects of Ronaldo’s game rather than the positive.

By admitting that he has urged Torres to show more ‘focus’ and ‘concentrate on football,’ Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is adopting a high-risk strategy in his attempts to quell the bad angels in the 26-year-old’s character.

Even when Ronaldo was at his toddler-like worst last season, Sir Alex Ferguson steered clear of publicly admonishing his star player.

Would any other United star have got away with the strop produced by Ronaldo when he flung his tracksuit top to the floor last season after being substituted during the derby victory against Manchester City?

Ronaldo also played the four-year-old when he practically substituted himself in the 1-0 win against Sunderland in Dec 2008 by walking off the pitch with an injury before the Ferguson had even been able to arrange a replacement.

Torres has yet to come close to that level of petulance, but the warning signs were there during Liverpool’s defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday.

After putting Liverpool ahead with a stunning headed goal, Torres then proceeded to ruin his display by choosing to launch into a childish stream of complaints in the direction of referee Howard Webb.

Whenever the TV camera focused on Torres, he was usually in the midst of a sour-faced rant at England’s number one referee.

And then, of course, there was the bizarre incident when Torres kicked the penalty spot, taking a sizeable chunk of turf with him as a result, following Webb’s decision to award the home side a soft spot-kick following Javier Mascherano’s tussle with Antonio Valencia.

Torres escaped a booking, but Webb later confirmed to the FA that he would have issued a yellow card had he seen the incident at the time.

Liverpool believe that Torres was on the receiving end of some physical treatment from the United defenders, but as Benitez acknowledged, such tactics are the price paid by all of the world’s top strikers.

Torres, despite his angelic appearance, can look after himself as well as any centre-forward, but the frustrations are creeping into his game and it should be a worry for Liverpool and Benitez.

He has now collected five bookings in seven games and, by giving an interview in Spain earlier this month when he called for Liverpool to make ‘four or five’ signings this summer, he directly challenged the club to match his ambition.

It is hardly the Liverpool way, but then there is also a school of thought that Torres is at least showing how much he cares by venting his frustration in a manner that Steven Gerrard would never dream of.

But whichever way his temperament is perceived, Torres is not focusing purely on football as Benitez wants him to.

He is wasting too much energy on arguing with officials and telling the owners how to run the club.

Both he and Ronaldo are undoubted world-class players, megastars of the game who will dominate the headlines in South Africa this summer.

But Torres needs to drop the petulance that marred Ronaldo’s final two years at Old Trafford.

He only started smiling again once he left Manchester for Madrid. Liverpool supporters will dearly hope that it does not require a similar change of scenery for Torres to put his demons to bed.

McMahon: The Best Yet

John McMahon hailed his players after the Reserves beat Hull City 1-0 on Tuesday night and claimed it was their best display of the season.

Jordy Brouwer's stunning 25-yard strike gave the Reds all three points as they battled in difficult conditions at North Ferriby United FC.

The win meant the unbeaten run now stretches to 14 games, including 13 wins and five straight clean sheets kept in the process.

Two of Rodolfo Borrell's Under-18 Academy squad John Flanagan and Alex Cooper made their Reserve team debuts in the full-back areas and both gave outstanding displays.

"It was a tremendous performance and I'm really pleased with the boys," McMahon told

"For me that was our best performance of the season. Ayala and Palsson were terrific at the back aided by good performances from the two Academy lads making their debuts.

"John made some really good tackles and I thought his decision making was excellent.

"Alex is not a regular in the Under-18s side and that was his first game for several months but he did ever so well. He is an intelligent lad with a fantastic attitude and he works really hard in training. He and John did a fantastic job for the team."

Reflecting on Brouwer's memorable strike, McMahon joked: "It was a good mis-kick! He usually puts them over the bar. I'm sure he will be down my ear now talking about that goal."

Francisco Duran made his first start, playing for just over an hour after spending over 15 months on the sidelines as he recovered from three cruciate knee ligament operations.

"You wouldn't have thought Francis had been out for so long with that display," he added.

"He was comfortable in possession. He was clever with his passing and his movement and always made himself available. We are delighted to see him back."