Sunday, March 13, 2011

Liverpool Revival Under Kenny Dalglish Puts The Heat On Alex Ferguson

This time 12 months ago the nation was wearily, queasily familiar with the exact nature of the personal relationships within the Chelsea dressing room, so presumably Fernando Torres knows what he is saying when he claims the camaraderie and professionalism of his new employers compares favourably with the "chaos" he left behind at Liverpool.

Anfield fans would appreciate a period of silence from their former favourite now. Torres made his point eloquently enough when he indicated he wanted to leave, yet he continues to disparage his previous club in public as if seeking to reassure himself that he made the right decision. "There are more personal relationships and jokes between the players at Chelsea than there were at Liverpool," Torres has said. "Everything was much more serious there. Here you don't have to prove you are a professional; it is assumed."

Torres has a talent for comedy if he can say this stuff with a straight face and not even mention the Chelsea dressing room being relaxed enough to permit the occasional air rifle, though his allegation that Liverpool have no sense of humour does not ring true. Scousers generally do and, while there may not be enough of them in the first team at the moment to play up to the regional stereotype, Liverpool always seem a happy squad to the journalists who work in the room next door and can hear the singing that accompanies a win.

Hurtful as his comments may be, at least Torres has a point of view and is not afraid to express it. In fact, he seems to be on a one-man crusade to promote plain speaking in football. "People aren't honest in the world of football," he said. "You can't say the truth or be clear with people. It's a business and nobody is anyone's friend."

These top players do lead sheltered lives. Try to think of another type of business that works differently, or any other walk of life apart from football where a man of 26 can complain that nobody is his friend. That is what the world is like, Fernando, and most people are not paid £170,000 a week to help them deal with it. Perhaps Torres is trying to assuage doubts about whether he joined the right team or when he may start scoring again, unless he simply watched Luis Su├írez taking Manchester United to pieces last week and felt a pang at seeing himself so adequately replaced. "I knew I was an idol for the fans but it wasn't the same any more," he said, as if trying to convince himself. "Liverpool needed time. I don't have that."

Fair enough, though estimates of the amount of time Liverpool may need are falling with every performance under the only manager in the Premier League who looks happy in his work. The unmistakable Anfield resurgence has come too late to claim any of this season's domestic prizes but with a couple more signings over the summer and a permanent deal for their new/old manager – why delay the inevitable? – Liverpool could clearly be back among the contenders next time round.

Coupled with United's recent stumbles to let Arsenal climb back into the title race and give even Chelsea hope that all may not be lost, that raises an interesting question. What happens if United do not win their 19th title this season? Sir Alex Ferguson is bound to retire or step aside at some point in the nearest future and for a long time it has been supposed that his final ambition is to complete his perch-clearing operation by taking his side past Liverpool's 18 titles, a monumental achievement considering the score was 16-7 to Merseyside when he arrived in Manchester.

For most of the season United have appeared on course, even if they were taking a somewhat pedestrian route to the most glittering prize of all, but should they fall away again this year, what certainty is there of a 19th title next season or the season after that? By that stage Ferguson will be into his seventies and Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will not be far behind him.

Suppose Liverpool were to win the 19th title. The possibility may appear remote, given that Anfield has not seen a table-topping finish in over 20 years, yet if United and Chelsea are not what they were, you would have to give Liverpool a chance. Even now you would back Dalglish's Liverpool against Manchester City.

Dalglish, of course, was the Liverpool manager when Ferguson came down from Aberdeen and, as his return has gone better than anyone could possibly have imagined, this already far-fetched story could still turn full circle. Put simply, if Fergie does not win the 19th title this year, he lets his oldest rival in with a chance of stealing his thunder. Just a chance, no more than that, but it is one more worry a 69-year-old does not need. Ferguson has even less time than Torres. He needs his players to put this season to bed.

Kenny Dalglish Offered Two-Year Managerial Deal

Liverpool is believed to have offered Kenny Dalglish a two-year contract to become their manager on a permanent basis, although the Scot was hoping for a contract twice that length.

Dalglish was brought in after the departure of Roy Hodgson, who was asked to leave after a poor set of results coupled with a difficult relationship with the fans.

The appointment of the former Celtic boss has since breathed new life into the club, with the Merseysiders still in the Europa League and now, flushed with the success of a recent 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Manchester United, targeting at least another Europa League campaign next season.

The Express reports that the club's owners have been impressed enough to offer Dalglish a two-year deal to prolong his tenure as boss - though it is also reported that the 60-year-old wanted a four-year contract instead, and is now looking for a solid financial package to compensate for the shorter contract length.

Marveaux 'Close' To Reds Deal

Rennes midfielder Sylvain Marveaux claims he is 'very close' to agreeing a deal to join Liverpool next season.

Marveaux is out of contract in the summer and has been heavily linked with a free transfer switch to Liverpool in recent months.

Reports claimed the 24-year-old had been a guest of the club for the home game against Wolves earlier in the season and he has also attracted interest from Newcastle United.

It now appears Liverpool are close to tying up a deal to add the former France Under 21 international to their squad for the 2011/12 campaign.

"I am very close to reaching agreement with Liverpool about joining them next season," Marveaux is quoted in The People.

Marveaux has spent his entire career with Rennes and the Ligue 1 title hopefuls are resigned to his departure in the summer.

The left-sided midfielder is currently recovering from a groin operation he underwent last month and is not expected to play again this term.

Dalglish Convinced Kayal Can Be Premier League Star

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is a huge fan of Celtic midfielder Beram Kayal.

The Observer says Dalglish arrived at a recent Old Firm game with thoughts of Emilio Izaguirre.

But he left raving about the impact of Kayal, whom Liverpool's manager and many others believe would have no problems adapting to England's top flight.

Manchester United have also been linked with the Israeli midfielder.

Rai Backs Lucas At Liverpool

FIFA World Cup™ winner Rai has backed fellow Brazilian Lucas to win over his critics at Liverpool. Midfielder Lucas has been a regular for the Reds since 2007 but often finds his ability questioned by fans and the media.

However, Liverpool managers Rafael Benitez, Roy Hodgson and now Kenny Dalglish all have shown enough faith in the former Gremio man to give him regular starts, and 1994 FIFA World Cup captain Rai believes he will eventually convince others of his ability.

"Lucas was so young when he first got into the Brazilian national team after making such a good start with his club [Gremio] and in my opinion, his ability is at a level that justifies him being in the group of the national team," Lucas said to Press Association Sport. "He has the quality to play in Liverpool's side.

"I don't follow the Premier League extremely closely but I think he can change people's opinion of him because he's got the qualities to do it, in my opinion. Maybe the national team is the place to give him more confidence, and to then show it in Liverpool too."

Brazil is in the fledgling stage of a new era under coach Mano Menezes, who replaced Dunga after last year's FIFA World Cup disappointment. Menezes' difficult challenge sees him trying to change both the Selecao's footballing philosophy and attitudes away from the pitch.

"He's experienced enough for this challenge," said Rai. "He's given me a good impression in his first six months, he has tried to restructure the team and to bring in some new, young players. It was very important to get the respect of the players because these days players are big stars and the leader, the coach, has to be strong with the group.

"I think he's made a good start. It's a very difficult job. I once said to my friends, other players, `if one day you see me as a national team coach, take me to the jail because I'm crazy!' It's a very difficult job, of course, not only because of the work on the pitch but the atmosphere, and in Brazil we don't have many very good coaches for this kind of opportunity."

Sir Alex Ferguson Blasts Jamie Carragher For Nani Tackle

Sir Alex Ferguson has pulled no punches in an attack on Jamie Carragher, following his controversial tackle on Nani in Manchester United's 3-1 defeat to Liverpool last weekend.

Ferguson recently revealed that Nani would probably not return until early April after sustaining an injury during his squad's defeat at Anfield on last Sunday.

Carragher escaped with a booking from referee Phil Dowd, though attempts by the defender to apologize to Nani after the game saw him turned away from the United’s dressing room.

Commenting on the issue, Fergie said: 'Obviously it was a disgraceful tackle, we know that, but you just move on.'

'We sent him to hospital to see what they could do and our own doctor and the surgeon there managed to get it stitched up, which was fantastic, the best news we could have got.'

Sir Alex was quick to stress that infection of the wound remains the biggest worry for the team, as Nani has to have his leg examined every day to ensure there is no moisture in it so that it can dry up with ease.

No Option But To Operate On Steven Gerrard

Liverpool medical chief Dr Peter Brukner insists surgery was the only solution to Steven Gerrard’s troublesome groin injury.

The Reds skipper went under the knife on Thursday and will be sidelined for up to four weeks.

Brukner and his team had tried to nurse Gerrard back to fitness after he suffered the problem in the win over Chelsea on February 6.

Gerrard sat out three games before returning to face West Ham and Manchester United but it flared up again and he missed Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League defeat to Braga.

“Steven had a minor operation on Thursday and will be out for around three to four weeks,” Brukner said.

“We tried to manage it for a few weeks and he had a short break but he still wasn’t able to play at his best because of it. In the end we decided to go down this route. It’s nothing too serious but he needed to get it done.

“He has had a lot of problems in that area and they never completely go away. We needed to get on top of things. But it wasn’t a major problem and we’re hoping he will get back playing quickly.”

Gerrard will be sidelined for next Thursday’s second leg against Braga at Anfield and the league trip to Sunderland three days later.

He will also miss England’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales on March 26 and the following friendly against Ghana at Wembley.

Liverpool’s trip to West Brom on April 2 is likely to come too soon for him but he could return for the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final on April 7 if the Reds get past Braga.

The club’s head of sports medicine and sports science is confident Gerrard will be back play a key role in the final month of the campaign.

“Steven will be fine,” Brukner added. “He will make a good recovery and we will see the best of him again next month.”

Losing Gerrard is a major blow for boss Kenny Dalglish who is also currently without Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Martin Kelly and Jonjo Shelvey.

The skipper missed six games towards the end of 2010 after tearing his hamstring playing for England against France.

Dalglish and his squad have remained in Portugal following Thursday’s defeat to Braga for a weekend training camp.

Alan Kennedy: Pepe Reina Is Irreplaceable At Liverpool

Former Liverpool defender Alan Kennedy insists that keeping Pepe Reina on Merseyside should be the top priority for the club.

The Reds missed out on the Champions League last season and remain likely to face a similar situation this time around as well.

And with the Spaniard having recently been coy about his future, Kennedy believes that the former Villarreal shot-stopper is "irreplaceable".

"It has been suggested to me that Pepe Reina is unsettled because of the direction the club has been heading in over the last couple of years," said the ex-Red, according to The Mirror.

"But I’d be amazed if [manager] Kenny [Dalglish] thought it would be a good idea to cash in on him like he did with [Fernando] Torres because, for me, Pepe is irreplaceable.

"After spending the last five or six years at Liverpool, his talent and experience make him the best goalkeeper in the world.

"He may be feeling a bit disillusioned about things at the moment, but I think he is crucial to Liverpool being a successful club in the next few years.”

He added: "It hasn’t taken long to see that getting rid of Torres was a masterstroke.

"Fernando was a terrific player for Liverpool, but he has had a difficult few seasons and when strikers suffer a long-term loss of form like he has you wonder whether their time is up. It was a great piece of business generating £50million because Kenny was able to bring in two strikers for the price of one in Luiz Suarez and Andy Carroll.

"It’s a totally different scenario with Pepe because, for me, any replacement is going to be a step down."

Reds Crash Out After Cup Thriller

Liverpool crashed out of the FA Youth Cup after Manchester United came from two goals down to win 3-2 at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.

The Reds looked to be cruising into a semi-final showdown with Chelsea after a brace either side of half-time from the in-form Adam Morgan gave them a two-goal cushion.

However, a bizarre penalty incident on 58 minutes changed the whole complexion of the game when both Stephen Sama and Paul Pogba were given their marching orders.

Larnel Cole eventually reduced the arrears with a re-taken spot-kick before Ravel Morrison stunned a packed Kop with a composed finish to level matters just three minutes later.

With extra-time beckoning both sides pushed for a winner but sadly for Rodolfo Borrell's charges it was the visitors who got it when Morrison unleashed a stunning volley four minutes from time.

In the dying seconds Conor Coady and Tyler Blackett were also shown straight red cards following an altercation as both teams ended the match with nine men.

Ahead of the clash a crowd of over 10,000 had turned up at Anfield to provide their backing for one of the Reds' best Youth teams in years and they were almost celebrating a goal for the hosts inside two minutes.

Pogba brought Sterling's marauding run to an abrupt halt and from the resulting free-kick Suso forced a smart save out of Sam Johnstone in the visitors' goal.

The Spaniard certainly seemed up for the occasion and fizzed in another low effort just seconds later but the United stopper was once again equal to it.

The Reds had the bit between their teeth in the early exchanges and Andre Wisdom came within a whisker of marking his first appearance in this season's competition with a goal but his near post header dropped inches over the crossbar.

Next, the lively Morgan let fly from distance but his shot was deflected, allowing Johnstone to gather with relative ease.

The away side had barely threatened but gave a warning of their threat on the counter attack just shy of the quarter of an hour mark when Morrison exchanged a one-two before curling a delightful effort just past the upright.

It was developing into the entertaining spectacle many had predicted and on 22 minutes Liverpool carved out the best opportunity of the half.

Sterling broke dangerously down the left and showed good awareness to pick out Suso with a low centre. The diminutive attacker caught his first-time effort sweetly but was denied by a magnificent stop from Johnstone who kept the ball out via an outstretched leg.

Few could have argued that the hosts had looked the more dangerous without truly hitting top gear and just when it looked like the first period would peter out they broke the deadlock on 33 minutes.

A clever pass from Krisztian Adorjan found Sterling in space 30 yards from goal. The jet-paced winger dropped a shoulder before feeding it back into the path of Morgan who raced through to steer a shot into the far corner of the Kop end net.

It was the frontman's 13th of what is proving to be a prolific campaign and his 10th in his last eight outings.

The goal seemed to settle the Liverpool players' nerves and they began to play with the freedom that has been a feature of their season so far.

On 41 minutes they split United's defence with another incisive piece of play but when Sterling cut in from the right he saw his low drive brilliantly beaten away by Johnstone.

Being the perfectionist that he is, Borrell would have no doubt demanded more from his troops during the break and within eight minutes of the restart they had doubled their advantage.

The ever-creative Adorjan released a sublime ball in behind the full-back for Brad Smith to overlap and drill in a low cross that Morgan bundled home from close range.

On most afternoon's that would have been game over but just moments later Sama received a straight red card after he was harshly adjudged to have felled Ryan Tunnicliffe in the area.

Pogba duly converted from the spot but his exaggerated run-up was deemed poor sportsmanship by the referee who then gave him his marching orders by showing him a second yellow card for dissent.

The bizarre incident had everyone scratching their heads and when the game finally got back underway Cole reduced the arrears when he sent Tyrell Belford the wrong way with a composed kick.

With 10 against 10 Liverpool would have fancied their chances of re-establishing their dominance but just three minutes later the visitors stunned Anfield by pulling level.

Cole danced down the right and muscled his way beyond Smith before crossing low for Morrison to gleefully steer home at the far post.

It was a huge blow for the home side and their approach play suffered in the aftermath of such a crazy opening to the second period.

Gradually they began to dictate the pattern of the proceedings again as Borrell shuffled his pack by replacing Craig Roddan with Matty McGiveron and goal-hero Morgan with the enigmatic, Toni Silva.

However, with normal time ebbing to a close the nearest the Reds went to restoring their lead was on 76 minutes when Sterling burst free of the defence, only to underhit his through ball for Silva.

United had grown in confidence as the match had developed and with four minutes remaining they broke forward to clinch an unlikely victory courtesy of Morrison's acrobatic volley.