Saturday, December 25, 2010

Roy Hodgson Insists Champions League Qualification Is Still Achievable

Roy Hodgson believes Liverpool still has a chance of qualifying for the Champions League this season.

Despite getting off to their worst start to a campaign for 57 years, the Reds now sit ninth in the table and are nine points off fourth-placed Chelsea.

And although Hodgson admits a challenge for a place in the top four will be difficult, he says he is working on closing the gap on their rivals.

"We are in a position to strike for the top four but we are a good few points off," he told reporters.

"Some people would say it is pie in the sky to suggest we can do it but I don't think there is such a thing as pie in the sky in terms of football.

"I have seen so many times in the past teams who have been doomed to relegation not get relegated and teams like Leeds United many years ago who were so obviously going to win the First Division and didn't do so.

"Everything is possible and while things are possible we will play for them but we are realistic and we are not making any vain promises.

"We know we have given ourselves a severe handicap but we will work to bring in that handicap."

However, Hodgson believes he will need backing in the transfer market if he is to steer Liverpool up the table.

"If the players are available that we have targeted and think could make us a better team then it would help us shape the team a lot quicker than maybe will be the case otherwise," he added.

"We are anxious any players we bring in are the right ones and the right ones for the long-term future.

"It is important they are better than the players we have got, because I think the players we have got are better than they have shown on occasions.

"But I fear the type of player we feel we need to improve our team will not be available in January, even if money was available."

Blackpool Pitch Set For Inspection

Blackpool will hold a pitch inspection three hours before their scheduled 3pm kick-off against Liverpool on Boxing Day to see if the match can go ahead.

The Seasiders do not have undersoil heating at Bloomfield Road and despite covering the pitch there is still some doubt over whether the surface will be playable.

"Ground staff at Bloomfield Road have been working throughout the night and will continue to work round the clock to try to ensure that the fixture takes place," said a statement on

"While it has been well documented that the club does not have undersoil heating, several industrial hot air blowers have been sourced along with additional frost protection covers.

"The timing of the pitch inspection has been made in consultation with the Barclays Premier League, match referee Mike Oliver and officials from Liverpool.

"Club officials remain in regular contact with all parties and will continue to monitor the weather forecasts over the next 48 hours."

Liverpool Step Up Chase For Napoli Midfielder

Liverpool have stepped up their pursuit of Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik, according to reports in his native Slovakia.

Former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was keen on signing the 23-year-old playmaker during his time at the club. But it is thought his summer departure has done nothing to dampen Liverpool's interest.

Damien Comolli, the club's new director of football strategy, has reportedly identified Hamsik - often compared to Czech Republic legend Pavel Nedved - as a key transfer target.

Liverpool are not the only team considering an offer for the £12m-rated star, but Napoli insist no decision will be made on his sale until the end of the season.

Premier League Big Guns On Alert As Benfica Stars Set For Exit

Benfica manager Jorge Jesus admits he is resigned to losing his star players in the summer if not January.

Three of Benfica's first-team have been targeted by Premier League clubs and it is thought the Portuguese champions are bracing themselves for New Year bids.

Chelsea and Manchester City have both been linked with moves for defenders David Luiz and Fabio Coentrao while Liverpool are thought to be in the hunt for Benfica's Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo.

Last summer, Benfica lost key players Ramires to Chelsea and Angel Di Maria to Real Madrid and Jesus is expecting a re-run.

"It is inevitable that players will leave this team in January, or at the end of the season," he told the Portuguese press.

"None of the three big clubs in Portugal have the capacity to ensure their best men stay.

"Last year we lost Ramires and Di Maria and this season will be the same."

Roy Cools Jovanovic Exit Talk

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has played down talk that he is prepared to sell Milan Jovanovic in next month's transfer window.

Reports over the weekend claimed Jovanovic had been placed on the transfer list as Liverpool look to offload the Serbian just six months after his arrival on Merseyside.

Jovanovic has failed to impress since joining on a free transfer from Standard Liege and has found himself playing a bit-part role at Anfield.

A number of clubs in Germany and Turkey are thought to be monitoring Jovanovic's situation, but Hodgson insists the versatile forward will only leave if they receive a suitable offer.

"Jovanovic, as far as I am concerned, is a Liverpool player and will be until such time as he decides to leave or someone comes in and makes us an offer we can't refuse," noted Hodgson.

Aurelio Aims To Stake Claim

Liverpool full-back Fabio Aurelio is determined to stay injury-free during 2011.

The Brazilian's time at Anfield has been hampered by injury and this season he has been restricted to just four starts due to some further niggling injuries since re-signing for the club back in the summer.

But the 31-year-old, who initially signed for the Reds from Valencia in 2006, hopes his fitness issues are now behind him and is hoping to play a major role over the coming weeks.

"Looking at the past, staying injury-free could be a good target for me," he told the club's official website.

"But in the last few months I've grown stronger and I'm playing more minutes, so maybe I can have other targets too.

"I feel good and want to play more minutes and games. My confidence is improving as well as my match fitness, so maybe that's my target in the New Year."

Aurelio was set to leave Liverpool in the summer after rejecting a pay-as-you-play deal but he was offered a lifeline after Roy Hodgson replaced Rafa Benitez as manager.

The full-back signed a new two-year contract and although he admits it has been tough to keep battling back from injury, he believes it is a fresh start for him at Anfield.

"It would be easy to give up, especially with all the problems I've been having," he added.

"Now I feel I'm starting again. I signed the new contract in the summer and it is like starting again. I'm hoping this new phase at Liverpool can be better than the last one."

Hodgson will have to call on his fringe players as Liverpool face a busy schedule of five games in 15 days heading into the New Year and Aurelio is eager for a chance to impress.

"We have a lot of games to come because people like me are looking for opportunities and maybe this is the time of year to get it," he said.

"It's difficult for all the players to be involved in all of the games. Hopefully I can be involved and the team can get the points to push on.

"We have three or four games in 10 days more or less, so if we get the results, we can start the New Year in a much better situation."

Roy Hodgson Has Faith In Fernando Torres

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson believes that his star striker Fernando Torres will soon rediscover the form that made him one of the best goalscorers in the world.

Even last season, despite struggling with injuries, Torres managed 22 goals and finished as the club's top scorer. The 26-year-old seems to have lost his touch in recent times, scoring only five goals so far in the current season of the Premier League.

Hodgson however denies that the striker is struggling and insists it is only a matter of time until Torres becomes one of the Premier League's greatest goal threats.

"The case all through the season is we have not been very lucky in front of goal. I don't think our goal return is not a fair measure of what we have created." The manager told

"We have had our chances, we have created the danger but we have not converted as many of those occasions as we should have done and it is something we have worked on.

"The players are very aware of it because we do have goalscorers in the team and have one of Europe's best in Fernando Torres.

"He does not need reminding of when he misses a goal chance because I bet he can remember every chance he has missed over the last three to four months because they stay with people.

"The important thing is your players keep getting in the right positions and if we can keep getting Fernando into areas where he can score goals he will score goals."

Carragher Seeks Early Return

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is pushing hard for a swift return after surgery on a dislocated shoulder but the club's medical team is having to rein in his expectations.

Carragher, the club's vice-captain, has been out of action since sustaining the injury in the defeat to Tottenham in late November and undergoing an operation to rectify the problem.

He was told he would be out for three months but Carragher, 33 in January, is determined to return sooner.

"Jamie is still nine weeks away from coming back, if we are to believe the doctors, but knowing Jamie it would not surprise me if those nine weeks became less than that," Roy Hodgson said earlier this week.

Head of sports science and medicine Dr Peter Brukner says Carragher is working hard to come back earlier.

"Jamie is making good progress and as you can imagine he is pushing things to the limit to get back but we are still on target for a February return," he said.

"It still takes time for the surgery to heal and for him to get strong enough around the shoulder, but he's already working on his fitness and when he does come back he should be able to slot straight back in.

"Jamie is desperate to play and if it was up to him he would throw the sling away and get out there, but we are pushing as hard as we can to help Jamie but it does take time for these tissues to heal."