Friday, March 26, 2010

Rafa Wary Of Bent Threat

Rafa Benitez is wary of the threat 20-goal Darren Bent will pose when Sunderland visit Anfield on Sunday.

The striker has fired 20 times in 31 Premier League appearances so far this term and Benitez knows his defenders will have to be at their best if Liverpool are to avenge October's 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light.

"Bent is a good player," the boss told "He's always thinking about scoring and it could be a problem for us. Twenty goals in the Premier League is a fantastic achievement.

"They have some other good players and they showed good team spirit in the game in October. I think they're improving a little bit now so it will be dangerous.

"They will be working hard, they'll try to be organised and push and press and play counter-attack. But playing at Anfield makes a big difference for us and we'll have to play well in front of our fans."

It was Bent who scored the winner back in October with a little help from a beach ball which had strayed on to the pitch.

Benitez added: "It was a pity. It was a difficult situation, a big mistake that cost us the rest of the game. We have had some problems this season but to change your luck you need to work hard."

Javier Mascherano Insists He Wants To Stay At Liverpool

Javier Mascherano is confident that he will sign a new contract at Liverpool soon, after manager Rafael Benitez revealed earlier this week that negotiations were ongoing with the Argentine.

Although nothing has been concluded as yet, Mascherano is sure that he will ink his new contract shortly, as the club are well aware that he wants to stay.

"The club are talking with my agents. I don't like to be involved in the contract meetings so I leave that to my agents and the people at the club," he told the Reds' official website.

"Liverpool know I want to stay. I don't think it will be difficult to arrive at a deal and we will see what happens in the next few weeks."

The player has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona on several occasions during the past 12 months. However, he insists that much of the speculation was media-driven and he was never unhappy at Anfield.

"I have never said I was not happy at Liverpool," he explained.

"That was the press. I am happy here and the only way I can show that is with my performances on the pitch.

"I always try to do everything I can to help my team-mates and manager. Sometimes I can do well and sometimes I can't, but I always look to give 100 per cent in training and in games."

Has Cooling Interest From Barcelona Prompted Javier Mascherano's Contract U-Turn?

If Albert Riera is to believed, Rafael Benitez's Liverpool ship is sinking, and there will be a mad rush at the end of the season as players seek to abandon it.

Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have, predictably, been linked with mega-money moves away from Anfield, but perhaps the most drawn-out saga has surrounded Javier Mascherano, whose protracted switch to Barcelona has dominated the gossip columns since the middle of last season.

It is a story which looks set to come to an end soon, however. Benitez revealed this week that the Argentine midfielder is close to signing a new, long-term contract which would keep him at Anfield until 2014. The Spaniard described Mascherano as "a player every manager would like to have in their team", praising his "commitment, desire and passion".

And while news of Mascherano's commitment represents a rare positive for Liverpool supporters at a time when good news has been in short supply, it also represents a significant U-turn on the player's part, given that a move to Spain had seemed a certainty as recently as last summer.

Then, Mascherano's agent - Walter Tamer - spoke candidly about the prospect of his client joining Pep Guardiola's side, saying; "If a club like Barcelona want you after winning everything, obviously a player will say he wants to play there.

"It would make Javier proud to play for them after they've had such an incredible year.

"I believe a transfer can be done. I've spoken to [Barcelona technical director] Txiki Beguiristain about this, although we've not been in contact for some time."

And at the time, the constant speculation about his future seemed to unsettle Mascherano. His performances at the start of the season were sluggish and lacking their usual dynamism. Observers reasoned that the Argentinean's head, already loaded with worry at his country's faltering World Cup qualification campaign, had been turned by Barcelona's advances.

But now, with a new contract in the offing, what has changed?

Tommy Smith, who made over 500 appearances for the Reds in the 1960s and '70s, believes Mascherano's new contract is a sign of his dedication to the Liverpool cause.

"I'm delighted Mascherano is close to committing his future," he told The Liverpool Echo, "He is passionate, driven and talented. He clearly feels hurt by any set-back - and he does his talking on the pitch."

Yet while Smith's sentiments are hard to argue with - Mascherano has excelled since serving a four-game ban at the turn of the year, even filling in at right-back with distinction - there is a feeling that there may be more complex motives behind his apparent change of heart.

Ashish Sharma,'s Spain correspondent, believes that Mascherano has been left with little choice but to commit his future to Liverpool. Barcelona's presidential elections are set to take place this summer, and Sharma does not believe that Mascherano will be top of most candidates' shopping lists, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and David Villa more likely targets for the Blaugrana.

"There is nothing in Spain being said about Mascherano at the moment," he said, "The thing with Barca is that they have presidential elections coming up, so it is nigh-on impossible to know which players the candidates will use for their campaign - but without a doubt it won't be a holding midfielder.

"It will all be about a David Villa, a Franck Ribery, a Cesc Fabregas or a Wayne Rooney. They are the kind of players Barca will talk about first - exciting players that will get you elected basically. If Barcelona sign one of those, there will be little budget left for someone like Mascherano."

Tim Stannard, Spanish correspondent for FourFourTwo magazine, agrees. "I don't think Mascherano will be moving to Spain any time soon, neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid have an urgent need for him. Barcelona are well stocked with Yaya Toure and Sergio Busquets, whilst Real have a glut of midfielders

"The three players those clubs will be squabbling over this summer will be Ribery, Fabregas and David Silva."

And with Mascherano himself having dismissed a switch to one side who might be able to afford him - Manchester City - the options open to the 25-year-old appear limited.

Argentine football journalist Marcelo Gantman believes Mascherano is still keen on a move to Barcelona, where he would follow in the footsteps of national team manager Diego Maradona, but says that the midfielder is waiting for a sizeable offer before leaving, and doubts whether one will be forthcoming - this summer at least.

"Mascherano is waiting for a big offer from Barcelona, I'm sure," he said, "Txiki Beguiristain wants him at Barca, there is no doubt about that. It might not be this summer, because of the elections, but the vision is for Mascherano to play at the Nou Camp."

Despite this, Sharma believes that Mascherano would be better served staying in the Premier League, which offers a style of play tailor-made to his battling qualities and passionate approach. His national team coach Maradona knows all about the perils of a switch to Catalonia, having suffered a miserable spell there in the 1980s.

"Is a move to Spain the best thing for his career? No, without a doubt, no!" says Sharma, "La Liga lacks the depth of the Premier League. Yes it's more technical, but Mascherano's game is chase and harry and win the ball, so going to Spain won't improve him as a player."

For Liverpool, Barcelona's perceived lack of interest is most welcome. After seeing Xabi Alonso whisked away by the Real Madrid revolution last summer, the last thing Benitez would have wanted was constant speculation about another of his prized assets. Whatever Mascherano's motives, the fact that Liverpool have secured his long term future is excellent news for the club.

And with Pepe Reina, surely the Reds' player of the season, also set to sign a new deal in the next few weeks, there could be more good news in store for the beleaguered Benitez. And he hasn't been able to say that too many times this season.

CSKA Deny Interest In Albert Riera

CSKA Moscow have denied holding an interest in Albert Riera, but the Liverpool winger is still expected to move to the Russian Premier League.

Riera was suspended by Liverpool following his outspoken criticism of Rafael Benitez on a Spanish radio station and the midfielder also revealed in the same interview that a move to Russia was a possibility.

It has since been reported that CSKA Moscow were close to completing a £6 million transfer for Riera, who is hoping that a move away from Anfield will increase his chances of featuring at the World Cup finals for Spain.

But CSKA, who can sign players as the Russian transfer window is currently open, have denied any interest in Riera.

"We know that the CSKA brand is very attractive for any player who is searching for a new challenge but Albert Riera is not in our plans," said a club spokesman. "It has come as a surprise to us that we are interested in this player."

Riera's wife is from Russia and it is reported that Spartak Moscow are now hoping to arrange a loan deal for the 27-year-old.

One player unlikely to leave Anfield is Javier Mascherano, though, as the Argentinean midfielder, who has been linked with Barcelona in recent seasons, is ready to sign a contract extension at Anfield.

"The club are talking with my agents," Mascherano said. "I don't like to be involved in the contract meetings so I leave that to my agents and the people at the club. Liverpool know I want to stay. I don't think it will be difficult to arrive at a deal and we will see what happens in the next few weeks.

"I have never said I was not happy at Liverpool. That was the press. "I am happy here and the only way I can show that is with my performances on the pitch. I always try to do everything I can to help my team-mates and manager. Sometimes I can do well and sometimes I can't, but I always look to give 100% in training and in games."

Spartak Moscow Eye Move For Liverpool Riera As Neighbours CSKA Rule Out Move For Spanish Winger

Spartak Moscow are ready to make Liverpool an offer to sign Albert Riera on loan – after their rivals CSKA ruled out a move for the winger.

It has been reported that Riera – who was suspended by Liverpool last week after launching an outspoken attack on boss Rafa Benitez – was on the verge of joining CSKA in a £6m deal.

However, CSKA have issued an abrupt statement to the contrary and made it quite clear they will not be doing any significant transfer business before the Russian window closes on April 8.

“We know that the CSKA brand is very attractive for any player who is searching for a new challenge but Albert Riera is not in our plans,” the club said last night.

“It has come as a surprise to us that we are interested in this player.”

But sources in the Russian capital have revealed that Spartak are interested in taking Riera on loan until June 30 with a view to signing him permanently in the summer.

Spartak would be able to offer Riera first team football, as they have a dearth of left-sided midfielders, while to increase their appeal, they are also guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions League.

Liverpool are eager to offload Riera as quickly as possible after his declaration ahead of last week’s Europa League tie against Lille that the club is “a sinking ship”.

That he also hit a young member of Liverpool’s squad recently has merely hastened the Reds’ intentions to offload him as quickly as possible.

Moving to Russia would also appeal on personal level - his wife, Yulia, is from Omsk in Siberia - and he told Spanish newspaper Marca that he wants the deal to go through.

“This proposition seems very attractive to me,” Riera said. “Firstly because it is the only prestigious league in Europe that can buy players.

“Secondly, I could have regular first team football and that would help me secure a ticket to the World Cup finals.”

Liverpool officials confirmed today that contact has been made between them and the Russian and discussions are ongoing but the chances of moving happening in the next 48 hours are slim.

Aside from the clubs having to agree a suitable arrangement, Riera would also have to agree personal terms before his departure is rubberstamped.

Meanwhile, David Ngog believes he has blossomed into a more complete striker this season and the young Frenchman feels he is learning to cope with the physical aspects of the Premier League.

“The more experience you have of playing like that the more confident you become,” said Ngog “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.”

Phil Thompson Demands That Hicks & Gillett Sell Liverpool As Soon As Possible

Former Liverpool defender Phil Thompson believes that the time has come for Tom Hicks and George Gillett to sell the Anfield club - and he is demanding that the co-owners do so as quickly as possible.

The man who lifted the European Cup with the Reds in 1981 feels that the two Americans has reneged on promises made to the Liverpool supporters when they took over at Anfield, in particular the pledges made about a new stadium being built.

"We wanted our new stadium well before Arsenal, but they've now got a 60,000-seater stadium that they’re filling every week and are taking in vast amounts of money every week compared to what we are," Thompson told Click Liverpool.

"The club, the stadium and what's happening on the field just seems to be secondary in the Americans’ minds. They're all about money and getting the debt down which shouldn't have been there in the first place.

"When they came in I was one of those who thought that they were saying the right things but they didn't keep to their word of having a spade in the ground after 60 days and not heaping debt on the football club.

"They've been offered decent money [to sell]. If they can't see the future and if they're not going to invest in the team, whether it's Rafa Benitez or somebody else, they're not magicians and you can't work [like that] at the top of the Premiership."

Thompson, assistant manager to Gerard Houllier at Liverpool from 1999 to 2004, also feels that Rafael Benitez has not been backed with enough funds in the transfer market by the Americans.

"I can remember myself and GĂ©rard Houllier being given a budget in the summer of £12 million," he added.

"That’s not a lot of money but we did it, we got by. We bought some decent players, and some bad ones as well, but I think Rafa's not had any money to spend last summer and no money to spend in January.

"We're a team who finished second last year and that was a chance to consolidate our position.

"People say that we’ve spent £40 million but we’ve also recouped that £40 million so [effectively] Rafa's spent nothing and that's wrong. There should have been money in the kitty for the manager to spend.

“The only thing we as fans can see [is] that they're paying off the debt while we as a football club and a team suffer, and that is wrong. It should be all about the football team.

"They have to have a serious look at what they have been doing and if they haven't got the commitment to invest in the team as Rafa and the supporters see fit, they've got completely different views."

Thompson also feels that the time has come for some of the Liverpool players to start making their views known to the owners at the club.

"Fernando Torres said he didn't want to be fighting for fourth place every year and he is absolutely bang on. He's a player, a foreign player, who has come to the club. They have to listen to him," he asserted.

“He and Stevie Gerrard should be saying 'If you're not going to invest, why would we want to remain here?' They need to give them some ultimatums."

John Barnes Backs Liverpool To Claim Fourth Place

Former Liverpool and England midfielder John Barnes has backed the Reds to claim fourth place in the Premier League.

Liverpool have suffered dips in form and injuries to key players including captain Steven Gerrard and striker Fernando Torres this season and currently sit sixth in the table behind Tottenham and Manchester City.

As a result of their league standing and their early exit from the Champions League, there has been growing uncertainty over the long-term future of manager Rafa Benitez and his position could be in danger if fourth place is not achieved.

But Barnes, who played 407 times for the Anfield side and gained 79 caps for England, says the Reds have enough quality in the squad to finish fourth.

"That is why Liverpool have finished in the top four," Barnes told BBC Radio Merseyside. "Not just because of the expectation but because of the quality they have.

"They do have that quality and they haven't lost that quality from finishing second last season. Things aren't going well at this particular moment in time.

"Tottenham and Aston Villa are a little bit different now because they have improved their squads. If you look at the bench, for example, when Liverpool played Tottenham in the first game of the season, arguably they had a stronger bench than Liverpool.

"So that's a little bit different, but they haven't got the experience of going all the way which Liverpool have, in terms of finishing in the top four.

"I think Liverpool have the expectations, and rightly so, because they've done it in the past and they've proven it. They have the quality and hopefully that will carry them to the finish line."

Barnes says the battle for the final Champions League place has added extra spice to what he believes has been an interesting league campaign.

"It is really exciting because of the battle for fourth place, because we've always had the battle for first, second, third and fourth," Barnes continued.

"Had it been Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea battling for first, the battle for fourth would be non-existent. Although, Everton did get in a couple of years ago.

"So the pleasing thing from my perspective, although it's not going in Liverpool's favour at this moment, you can possibly even go down as far as Everton.

"Then you can say, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth are making it interesting."

Barnes was relieved of his duties as Tranmere manager in October but is still keen to have an active role in football.

"I waited 10 years for Tranmere," he said. "You cross your fingers and hope you're given an opportunity and hope things work out. I'm not going to say beggars can't be choosers, but if you want to get involved in football, you have to look at any opportunity."

Benitez: Tough To Keep Morale Up

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted a tough season has made it difficult to change the mindset within the squad on occasions when his side have lost.

The 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday was their 10th in the Barclays Premier League - eight more than in the whole of the previous campaign.

Although United deserved to win there have been numerous occasions in the current campaign when Liverpool have let slip advantageous situations, with a run of late goals costing them dearly.

That was no more evident than in their early exit from the Champions League after they twice conceded in the last minute to Lyon, one in France costing them a victory and the other at home resulting in a defeat.

Those four dropped points were the difference in qualifying for the knockout stage.

But their late lapses have not been restricted to Europe, although they did also allow Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino to net the winner in their final dead group game.

A 90th-minute penalty equaliser allowed Reading to go on and win their FA Cup fourth round replay while Robert Huth's effort earned Stoke a last-minute draw.

Those results have had a draining effect on the players' morale.

"We were not doing well at the beginning [of the season] and we lost a bit of confidence because we couldn't be contenders but you cannot change what has happened in the past," said Benitez.

"If you analyse some games we were so close to winning and we lost and in the head of everyone it is not easy to manage.

"That small difference often means you lose three points or win three points."

Losing two of their opening three league matches sowed the seeds of doubt early on in the campaign and incidents such as the "beach ball goal" at Sunderland - and all those late concessions - have only added to the sense of foreboding.

And after running United a close second last season with a club-record points haul of 86 the players have been struggling under the weight of pressure to deliver.

"In two or three games you concede the gap is too big and then you cannot [change this] and you lose your confidence and that has been the situation this year," added Benitez, who has had to deal with injuries to influential trio Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun.

"This season has been very difficult because expectation was too high and once we lost one or two games it was more difficult mentally for everyone.

"We have had too many injuries to important players but if you put all these players together and are fully fit we play much better.

"We have to keep our confidence and energy and try to do our best until the end."

Wednesday night's results at least provided a crumb of comfort for Benitez with Manchester City losing and Aston Villa drawing.

Although his side are still sixth, four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham having played a match more, on paper Liverpool have the easiest-looking run-in of all the Champions League hopefuls.

That starts at home to Sunderland on Sunday when they will face the in-form Darren Bent, scorer of the infamous winner at the Stadium of Light with the help of that beach ball.

The Black Cats striker has 20 goals in 31 Premier League appearances and Benitez is wary of his threat.

"Bent is a good player. He's always thinking about scoring and it could be a problem for us," said the Spaniard.

"Twenty goals in the Premier League is a fantastic achievement.

"They have some other good players and they showed good team spirit in the game in October.

"I think they're improving a little bit now so it will be dangerous.

"They will be working hard, they'll try to be organised and push and press and play counter-attack.

"But playing at Anfield makes a big difference for us and we'll have to play well in front of our fans.

"We have to get three points and then think about the next one."

Liverpool FC Football Museum On Winning Streak With Visitors

Ever since winning the European Cup in 1977, Liverpool Football Club has deliberately courted supporters worldwide.

As the most successful English club ever, Liverpool FC was the first to create a museum in 1997, knowing its support base was big enough to back the attraction.

This is coupled with a stadium tour around Anfield, which was updated earlier this year.

"We'll always be looking at refreshing the tour and making it better,” said Tom Cassidy, LFC commercial tourism manager.

“So, if you come back in again, you'll notice tweaks and improvements.”

The museum was such a success, it was soon copied by Manchester United and Arsenal.

It was the first club to launch an International Supporters Club, after winning two UEFA Cups in 1973 and 1976, and then the European Cup in 1977.

“Our profile across the world was sky-high and LFC made an intelligent decision to get people abroad to support and see the team play,” said Stephen Done, Museum & Stadium Tour curator.

In August, 2006, The Mersey Partnership gave a very special chairman’s award to LFC for an outstanding contribution to the visitor economy.

Pre-Capital of Culture data showed LFC’s visitor draw and spend in the city was so extraordinary it outranked all other attractions combined.

The museum and stadium tour gives an insight into who visits the city.

“There’s a significant increase in overseas visitors. We seem to be swimming in Spaniards, a race previously not known to travel,” said Mr Done.

In 2001, LFC won five trophies, and this brought a huge interest in the museum, followed by the Champions League Final in Istanbul, in 2005, which doubled visitor numbers.

“Capital of Culture was astonishingly good for us. There are no signs of it tailing off,” said Mr Done.

In 2008, the Museum and Stadium Tour had 156,000 visitors, and last year 1,320,000 people attended games at Anfield.