Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jamie Carragher Confident Reds Can Progress Past Benfica In Europa League Quarter-Final

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is confident his side can overturn a 2-1 quarter-final loss to Benfica in the Europa League.

The Reds were beaten by the Portuguese giants on Thursday at Estadio Da Luz, but Carragher insists the away goal scored by Daniel Agger will prove crucial to the tie.

"It's good to get the away goal in the first leg, but we have to capitalise on that in the home leg to make it count," Carragher was quoted as saying in the Daily Express.

"At the moment we're behind, but a 1-0 win is enough for us at home and if we can get that, then the away goal will have proved crucial."

Liverpool will have to be wary, however, as they have already lost to Fiorentina and Lyon at Anfield in European fixtures this season - while Benfica have failed to register only once in their last 13 European outings.

However, Carragher believes the sending off of Ryan Babel was an important factor in their first leg loss.

"We're disappointed, but there's still all to play for – it's only half-time," explained the 32-year-old.

"The plan was to keep it tight and nick a goal and we got that goal early on, but obviously then the sending off had a big part to play in the game.

"To play an hour with ten men was always going to be difficult, so although it's still disappointing, a 2-1 result away in Europe is not too bad."

Benayoun Eyes Benfica Boost

Yossi Benayoun admits Liverpool must turn their attention to Benfica after Sunday's disappointing result against Birmingham.

The Reds let a one-goal lead slip at St Andrews to come away with a 1-1 draw which adds to the weight of their tough task of finishing fourth in the Premier League.

Liverpool are now four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, having played a game extra, and their only chance of salvaging some silverware this season comes in the form of the Europa League.

The Reds must overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Benfica if they are to make the last four of the competition, and Benayoun admits Thursday's return leg needs be their focus following the disappointing result at Birmingham.

"We are very disappointed with the draw, especially as we went 1-0 up and conceded a bad goal," Benayoun told the club's official website.

"We missed a few good chances and on another day we could have scored three or four, but all we can do now is think about the next game which is a very important one against Benfica.

"We have to play much better and have the belief we can do it. We are only 2-1 down and we have the away goal which could be crucial. I'm sure we can beat them.

"European nights are always great at Anfield in front of our supporters and we hope to give them another special night."

With just five games left to play in the Premier League, the Israel international is aware the result leaves the Reds with an uphill struggle to preserve their top-four status, but he insists they will fight to the wire.

"We have made it harder for ourselves now but all we can do is win the five games and hopefully the other teams will drop points," Benayoun said.

"Birmingham are a hard team to play against and they work very hard. They are having a good season. We knew we needed to win but we have to keep going.

"We won't give up and we will keep trying to make the top four."

Liverpool Lead Chase For Rangers Defender Danny Wilson

Liverpool have stepped up their interest in signing Rangers' young defender, Danny Wilson.

The English Premier League side have followed up their initial enquiry, with the 18-year-old yet to sign the new contract on offer to him at Ibrox.

Tottenham Hotspur have a long-standing interest in the player, while both Manchester City and Aston Villa are keeping an eye on his situation.

But Liverpool's interest has been most keenly expressed so far.

And, with just over a year left on Wilson's contract, Rangers may soon have a big decision to make.

It would take somewhere in the region of £3m plus add-ons linked to future appearances or transfers to prise the player away this summer.

However, if he stays until the end of his contract, Rangers could expect to get only about £500,000 in compensation.

Rangers remain hopeful, though, that Wilson will sign the contract they have offered.

The day after the defender scored his first goal for Rangers, in a 4-1 win over Hearts on 27 March, manager Walter Smith said he expected Wilson to follow the example of fellow teenager John Fleck by signing a contract extension in the following days.

However, that did not come to fruition and chief executive Martin Bain last week admitted that the two sides had yet to reach agreement and that Liverpool had made an enquiry.

Wilson has become a first-team regular at Ibrox this season and has made 24 appearances for the Scottish Premier League leaders.

Lazio Full-Back In Liverpool Sights

Lazio defender Aleksandar Kolarov is being tracked by Liverpool.

The People says Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is eyeing the Serbia international defender.

Benitez already has a deal in place for Kolarov's Serbia teammate, Milan Jovanovic, the Standard Liege striker.

And he also fancies free-scoring Kolarov as he seeks a new left-back signing for next season.

Liverpool Ponder Move For Feyenoord Winger Georginio Wijnaldum

Liverpool are considering a summer move for Feyenoord winger Georginio Wijnaldum, according to reports in the Dutch media.

Voetbal Centraal reports that the £8 million-rated player has been watched by the Reds for the last 18 months and may well be keen to follow compatriots Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel to Merseyside.

"Dirk Kuyt is my role model. He left Feyenoord when he was the best, I am not that far," Wijnaldum is reported as saying.

It is likely that Reds boss Rafael Benitez will be forced to sell before making any move for the wide man, though with Albert Riera set to leave there may well be some space freed up in the budget.

Wigan Athletic Striker Hugo Rodallega A Target For Liverpool And Arsenal

Liverpool and Arsenal are planning summer swoops for Wigan Athletic star Hugo Rodallega, according to Click Liverpool.

The 24-year-old Colombian has scored nine league goals for the Latics this season and could follow the path of former Wigan star Antonio Valencia, who moved on from the unfancied DW stadium outfit to join one of the league's giants, Manchester United, last summer.

Rodallega refused to be drawn on the speculation surrounding him until the summer market opens, but did hint that a large "established club" is after his services.

"Right now, my head is focused on playing with Wigan, to finish the season well and keep us in the division," Rodallega said, as reported by Click Liverpool.

“There are many rumours about several teams but nothing is concrete until the market opens for players in June.

"It is something that is rumoured and I cannot take it to heart. We're talking about a very large, very established top club that is practically historical in England.

"You have to take it easy and keep things going smoothly while you can accomplish something."

Liverpool would hope to fund the capture of the striker through the sale of Albert Riera to CSKA Moscow, while Arsenal are looking to bolster their attack after injuries to Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner this season exposed their lack of depth in the position.

Celtic Eyeing Loan Move For LFC Starlet

Celtic boss Neil Lennon is chasing Liverpool’s young Spanish striker Danny Pacheco as he lines up players for next season.

Caretaker Lennon is hoping to get the job full-time and sent his spies to watch the talented attacker in action for the Reds' reserves.

Pacheco has yet to make the breakthrough at Anfield and could be farmed out for a season of SPL action.

Lennon will also try to tempt coach Alan Thompson to leave Newcastle and join his set-up.

Dirk Kuyt Believes Maxi Rodriguez Will Get Even Better At Liverpool

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt believes that Maxi Rodriguez is starting to show that he is a "top player" who is improving all the time.

The Argentine, a January arrival from Atletico Madrid, has shown signs that he is settling in England in recent performances and Kuyt feels that he has provided some useful competition for places at Anfield.

"I think he's doing better and better," the Dutchman told the Reds' official website.

"For me, Maxi is a quality player and one of the best things is that's he's adapted so quickly.

"He's come from another country and he speaks another language, and still he wants to do his best for the team.

"He's been really important in the games he's played. And him joining us means the squad is a little bit bigger and has definitely improved.

"It means everyone has to challenge even more for his place, and that's always a good thing."

Rodriguez is fortunate to have so many fellow Spanish speakers around him on Merseyside to help him settle in, but Kuyt believes it is the Argentine's quality that is making his adaptation to the Premier League relatively smooth.

He added: "I know the Spanish lads are helping him lots, but you can see the way he's playing he's adapting very quickly and that he's a top player."

Yossi Benayoun Baffled By Liverpool's Decline

The midfielder admits the Reds hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are now out of their own hands after being held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham which left them four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City - having played a game more - with just five matches remaining.

The former West Ham player said: "It is hard to explain. There is a big difference between last season. Performances were much better then and we had more confidence. This season we started badly in the very first game."

He added: "Yes, there was a moment when we thought we were coming back but then we disappointed ourselves with a few bad games.

"It is very difficult when you are not close to the top and you do not feel as if you have the chance to win something. It is disappointing but we will keep going.

"We are fighting for fourth place. I know it is important but it just isn't the same. We have made it harder but all we can do is play the last five games and see what happens.

"We are now depending on other results and this makes it more difficult. It was a big chance at Birmingham. They are a good team but we had to win, especially after Tottenham lost at Sunderland.

"We have to keep believing but it is very disappointing. All we can do now is think about the next game. We know we need to win and we have to play much better."

Striker Fernando Torres looked unhappy at being substituted midway through the second half shortly after Liam Ridgewell's goal had cancelled out Reds skipper Steven Gerrard's opener.

But Benayoun said: "Substitutions are part of the game and it is the job of the manager to do what he thinks is best for the team."

Liverpool Are Not Good Enough To Finish Fourth - Steve Nicol

The term 'cult-hero' in football is usually reserved for those who find favour amongst supporters despite a lack of obvious ability or achievement. At Liverpool, for example, the tag has been reserved for the likes of Igor Biscan, Djimi Traore and Pegguy Arphexad, who offered more comedy than quality.

Steve Nicol, however, is the exception to that rule. Adored by Reds fans as much for his antics off the pitch - shenanigans which form the staple of most ex-players' after-dinner speeches - his CV, nevertheless, speaks for itself. That he made more than 450 appearances and won nine major honours, is impressive enough. Throw in his 1989 PFA Player of the Year award - achieved from the unfashionable position of full-back - and you have a true Liverpool legend.

Nicol, 48, now coaches MLS side New England Revolution, having made the trek across the Atlantic 11 years ago, but keeps a close eye on events back in England, thanks to numerous cable TV channels. And the Scotsman told Goal.com UK that it still hurts to see his former club lose, even 15 years on from his departure.

"Oh it kills me to see Liverpool lose," he said. "Absolutely. Of course it does. As a Liverpool supporter, all you want is for them to be successful. It absolutely kills you to see them lose, and this season has been especially tough."

Rafael Benitez's men are currently struggling to achieve the top-four finish which will guarantee Champions League football at Anfield next season, sitting four points behind an upwardly-mobile Manchester City. And Nicol believes that Roberto Mancini's side have the capacity to deny Liverpool their place at the top table next season.

"I don't think Liverpool will get fourth now," he revealed. "Manchester City were looking a bit shaky, and I think if it wasn’t for [Carlos] Tevez they would have no chance. But if he stays healthy then they have a great chance, and they are in the best position right now.

"Tottenham? They have a tough run-in of course, but they are a side that will always score goals and create chances. With Liverpool, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. There is a real inconsistency there."

The Reds' latest set-back, a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City on Sunday, means that Benitez's side are relying on both City and Spurs slipping up if they are to sneak into the top four, and Nicol is in no doubt as to the reason for Liverpool's struggles this season.

"The bottom line is that, compared with the teams above them, their squad of players isn’t good enough," he said. "I mean, take Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres out of the equation, and how many players would be in Chelsea’s team? Or Manchester United’s? It’s not many.

"From halfway on last season, it seemed that the shackles came off and they were going after teams and playing their football with enjoyment. Then when this season started it seemed that all that had gone."

And it is not just on the field that the club is suffering. Liverpool's problems off-the-field are well-publicised - a reported club debt of £237 million has led to numerous cut-backs in terms of budget and further delays to the building of a new stadium - and Nicol believes that those within the club need to accept more responsibility for the problems, on and off the pitch.

“Of course we do not know what is going on within the club, we can only speculate," he said. "But the fact that Liverpool are not challenging for the title shows that something, somewhere, is not right. The league table alone can tell you that.

"Which part? Well hopefully someone within the club knows. They certainly should do, because that is what they there for. And hopefully they can fix it."

Of course, it is not all bad news for Liverpool supporters. The form of Fernando Torres has illuminated an otherwise gloomy campaign, with the former Atletico Madrid man netting 20 goals already this season. And Nicol believes the Spanish striker already deserves to be mentioned among the kind of Anfield greats with which he himself shared a pitch in the 1980s.

"I was lucky enough to see two really great sides, if you like," he said. "When I first joined we had people like Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Ray Kennedy, and Terry McDermott in the side, and then later under Kenny we had John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Ian Rush. It would be impossible to pick just one player as being the best.

“As for Torres, I think he can already be safely mentioned amongst those players. His record is phenomenal and he still has time on his side, he is one of the best around already that’s for sure."