Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steven Gerrard Confident Ahead Of Liverpool's Europa League Showdown With Atletico Madrid

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard is bullish ahead of Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg with Atletico Madrid.

Los Colchoneros hold a 1-0 lead after the first leg, but Gerrard believes the Reds can easily overcome that deficit in front of their home fans. After Sunday's 4-0 Premier League demolition of relegated Burnley, the club captain — who scored twice — believes the whole squad is up for the challenge of progressing to a European final.

"We need to be positive from the start of the game and get the fans behind us and believe that we can achieve the victory," Gerrard told the club's official website.

"We've done it before so we are going to give it everything we have got on Thursday night.

"The players are positive about Thursday night, I can guarantee that. We are up for it and we need to give every bit of sweat and blood out on that pitch.

"Let's hope we can win it with two goals but if they score we have to get a third. We have to adapt during the game and do whatever it takes to win.

"There have been many occasions where we have had our backs to the wall and people have doubted us, but as players we never doubt ourselves."

Already without Fernando Torres for the game, manager Rafael Benitez might also be unable to select Dirk Kuyt, who picked up a calf injury in the game at Turf Moor. But he is delighted to see his talisman in goalscoring form.

"We'll have to see how Kuyt is," Benitez said after the game.

"But it's good news that Gerrard is scoring goals - and hopefully he can do the same on Thursday.”

Dirk Doubtful For Atletico

Dirk Kuyt picked up an injury on Sunday, which leaves him doubtful in his bid to be fit for the Europa League Semi Final second leg against Atletico Madrid.

The Dutchman picked up a calf injury however Rafa isn't ruling him Dirk out just yet, as he explained:

'Kuyt is working with the physio's as he has a small problem with his calf but we will have to wait.'

It would be a blow for us to be without the Dutch international for the Europa League match as we'll need everyone we can to overturn the 1-0 first leg defeat but if we have to do without Dirk we'll have to, it'll be better if we don't though.

In my honest opinion I'm not sure that a calf injury, even if it's only a small problem, will be recovered from in time for Thursday?

Further damage could be caused if any risks are taken and I'm not sure we'll do that with Chelsea to follow on Sunday and a World Cup coming up, which the forward could miss if a chance was taken.

Fernando Torres Contemplating AC Milan, Barcelona Or Juventus Move After Admitting Premier League Doubts

Fernando Torres could be set to leave Liverpool for AC Milan, Juventus, or Barcelona before the end of the 2010/11 season because he fears for his career in England.

Torres told the News Of The World yesterday that he blames the physical nature of the Premier League for the recurring fitness problems he has suffered over the past two seasons.

And he has raised doubts over how long he may stay at Anfield by admitting the English league 'really wears down a player'.

'I just can't imagine what state I'll be in within five or six years if I continue to play here - it could easily give me problems when I stop playing,' Torres said.

'The physical level is superior to all other countries.'

Torres has been known to drift in and out of games, although at full fitness the Spain international can terrorise defences at all levels.

However, the need to play at a constant high tempo in England means Torres has enjoyed comparatively less success at the Reds than he did in La Liga with former club Atletico Madrid.

And the striker admitted he is surprised at the ability of several English players to play at the highest level for more than three or four years.

'The Premier League is such a tough competition and I have always admired this championship and the players who are here,' Torres continued.

'This is my third season and I'm still amazed to see (Steven) Gerrard, (Wayne) Rooney and (Frank) Lampard, players who have been here a long time, still playing at such a high level and with such impressive rhythm.'

With Liverpool's failure to compete for the Premier League title this term, Torres' future has come under severe scrutiny with several tabloids linking him with a switch to Spain or Italy.

Speculation is growing over Rafael Benitez moving to Italy with Juventus, which would see him trying to entice Torres to move as well.

However, Barcelona and AC Milan are also said to be keeping tabs on the highly-rated forward's availability - despite reports his value is currently around £50million.

Jonjo Shelvey Keen On Liverpool Move After Rejecting Arsenal, Chelsea And Spurs

Jonjo Shelvey could be on his way to Liverpool in the summer after interest in the Charlton youngster from Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs sparked a bidding war.

The Anfield side looks to be leading the chase for Shelvey - who, at 18, is one of England's top-rated young players.

Believed to be valued at around £3 million already, Shelvey has made more than 40 appearances for the Addicks since his debut just two months after his 16th birthday.

As a versatile and talented English youngster, the teenager has attracted the interest of London's top three Premier League clubs.

However, it seems the Merseysiders are leading the race for his signature after impressing him with their set-up and plans to fast-track him into the first-team squad.

Shelvey is capable of playing in a variety of positions - including as a support striker, a winger or an attacking midfielder - and this versatility is thought to have piqued the interest of Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

The Spanish manager is keen to add to a growing youth presence in his squad, which currently includes Spain's Daniel Pacheco, Argentina's Gerardo Bruna, and Sweden's Alexander Kacaniklic.

However, Benitez wants to increase the proportion of home-grown talent by combining his foreign starlets with some English players - with Shelvey fitting the bill.

Loss Of Fernando Torres 'Damaged Belief' Says Steven Gerrard

The Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, has admitted the recent absence of Fernando Torres damaged belief within the squad but says the team has overcome that obstacle in recent weeks, inspired by the prospect of a Europa League final.

"I won't lie. Sometimes when you lose your top striker, it can damage belief and affect your confidence," said Gerrard. "But this was much better," he said, following Liverpool's 4-0 win over Burnley in the Premier League. "It was important we scored a few goals against Burnley and won convincingly." Gerrard scored twice in a match for the first time this season as Liverpool condemned Burnley to relegation. He then looked forward to the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atlético Madrid at Anfield. The Spanish take a one-goal advantage into the match.

"We are now going to pile everything into Thursday's game, which can't come quickly enough," said Gerrard. "The players are up for it and we have to leave every bit of sweat and blood out on that pitch on Thursday. Let's hope we don't have to score a lot of goals and we can win it with two. But if they score we have to score three; we'll have to adapt during the game and do whatever it takes to win.

"There have been many occasions when we've had our backs to the wall and people have doubted us but we go into every game believing we can win and do anything possible to win on the night. But we have done it before and we hope to do it again."

Gerrard has struck up a good understanding with the January signing Maxi Rodríguez in recent weeks but the Argentinian will be ineligible for Thursday's match, having played for Atlético earlier in the season. The Liverpool captain believes it is another big loss for them.

"Maxi has been terrific for the last five or six weeks," said Gerrard. "It would have been great to have him on Thursday because he's an intelligent player who can unlock defences. He is on the same wavelength and, as a footballer, it is a pleasure to play with good players and that is what Maxi is, a fantastic player."

Gerrard also had one eye on wrenching fourth place in the Premier League from the other three contenders for the final Champions League place, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

"We've got a couple of games left and the idea is to take maximum points to sneak into fourth via the back door," said the England midfielder. "We know it is going to be difficult but, who knows, the clubs above us might slip up.

"We won't give up but it would be stupid of me to say this or that is going to happen. It's important to be realistic. We are underdogs to sneak this fourth position but our fans know that we have also got Everton breathing down our necks and we certainly don't want them finishing above us."

Liverpool's manager is more optimistic about the club's chances of finishing in fourth place, and called on his captain to lead by example in the final matches of the season.

"We need the captain to be a leader and he was a leader," said Rafael Benítez. "We scored four goals against Burnley so that shows we can score goals in any game. It is always important to score goals and to see different players, including Gerrard, also scoring is also very good news for us. If we finish with 68 points and we have this chance [of fourth place] it will be because we have better goal difference."

David Ngog missed the Burnley game with a back problem and Dirk Kuyt hobbled off with a calf injury, and should neither be fit for Thursday it would leave the Merseysiders without a recognised first-team striker to face the Spanish side, with Ryan Babel likely to be asked to fill the void.

Benítez remains optimistic that, despite their injury worries, Liverpool can turn things around at Anfield. "Atlético will be tough but we have the belief," he said.

Rafael Benitez Still Thinks Liverpool Can Pull Off Fourth Place and Europa League Double

Rafael Benitez believes that Liverpool still have a chance to end their on a spectacular note by finishing fourth on the Premier League and winning the Europa League.

The Reds scored four times in the second half against Burnley at Turf Moor to move to within two points of fourth-place Tottenham, who hold a game in hand on Liverpool.

Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa all sit within two points of the fourth and final Champions League spot in the Premier League.

Benitez believes that his team can beat Atletico Madrid and make it to the Europa League final and despite the amount of teams in contention for fourth place; Benitez believes that the Reds can beat them all and make it into the Champions League

“After four goals away and a clean sheet, you have to have confidence,” Benitez told The Mirror.

“I think we can beat Atletico and be in the final and I think we can get three points in our last two games and have a chance to be in the top four.”

Liverpool will host league leaders Chelsea next Sunday in a massive clash that could decide whether the Blues win the Premier League as three time defending champions Manchester United sit just one point behind the Stamford Bridge side with two games to play.

Rush Re-Signs For Reds

Ian Rush has re-signed for Liverpool, with the Reds legend becoming the Club's new Soccer Schools Ambassador.

Rush, still Liverpool's record goalscorer with 346 strikes in 660 games and now a qualified UEFA pro licence holder, will also work with the Club's commercial team to help develop and support partnerships with other global sponsors and brands.

Ian Ayre, Liverpool FC Commercial Director, said: "Rushie is one of the best known names in world football and I'm delighted he's agreed to work with us. We've invested heavily in the redevelopment of our Soccer Schools business and with his help intend to roll out a global franchising opportunity within the next 12 months.

"We are already in discussion with a number of interested organisations around the world and Ian will work closely with our dedicated team of executives in developing these Soccer Schools opportunities."

Rush said: "I'm thrilled to be involved with the club again and hope the contacts I already have in the football and coaching community will allow us to move forward quickly.

"My role is to provide the technical input into the development of the Soccer Schools program and just as importantly help our business team to assess the quality of the franchised operations and the standard of the courses being offered under the Liverpool badge to kids around the world."

Huang Plays Down Reds Talk

Kenneth Huang has denied speaking to a newspaper about a proposed takeover of Liverpool.

A report in the Sunday Mirror suggested Huang, described as a former Wall Street stockbroker, was leading a consortium who was in advanced negotiations to buy the Merseysiders for £500million.

Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett officially put the club up for sale just over a week ago, having admitted someone else needed to take it to the next level.

However, a statement released on behalf of Huang has distanced the China-based businessman from the claims.

"Mr. Huang would like to clarify that he did not speak with the newspaper and did not make the statements attributed to him," said the statement.

"Mr. Huang would not make any comment in relation to Liverpool FC."

Just over a week ago Benitez's agent Manuel Garcia Quilon claimed an unnamed Chinese investor was interested in taking over the club and had already spoken to the manager about keeping him on next season.

Benitez subsequently denied Quilon's claims.