Monday, March 28, 2011

Gerrard Eyes Reds Return

Steven Gerrard is hoping to make his return from a groin injury in Liverpool's next game against West Bromwich Albion.

The midfielder underwent a groin operation earlier in March and was initially expected to be sidelined for a month.

The injury forced Gerrard to miss England's Euro 2012 qualifying win over Wales on Saturday, but he is ahead of schedule in his recovery.

He expects to return to full training during the week and is aiming to be involved in next Saturday's trip to The Hawthorns to face former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson's West Brom.

"It's good," Gerrard told Goals on Sunday. "I'm probably three or four days away from full training, so hopefully I'll be involved against West Brom.

"It depends on how the next three or four days go.

"Being injured is the worst part of being a footballer. It's frustrating not to be involved in a game like England v Wales at the Millennium Stadium. It's a fantastic game.

"Hopefully I'll be available for the next qualifier in the summer which is Switzerland.

"There are big games still left to play this season. It's frustrating missing games being on the treatment table so you do everything you can in your rehab and away from football to get back as quickly as possible."

Reds To Land Wigan Youngster

It's believed that Liverpool is poised to beat Chelsea to the signing of James McCarthy this summer.

The Reds tried to sign the midfielder a few years ago but Rafa Benitez's attempts to land the then 16 year old failed as he decided to stay with Hamilton at the time.

McCarthy eventually left the Scottish side to sign for Wigan and has made such an impact in his short time with the Premier League strugglers that Chelsea are believed to have failed with a £7m offer in January however they'll return with an improved offer in the summer.

With Liverpool braced to strengthen this summer the Scot, who now plays international football for the Republic of Ireland, is one of those that Kenny Dalglish has targeted and it's believed that McCarthy would come to Anfield because it's closer to his Scottish roots and he'd have a much better chance of playing first team football sooner.

Skrtel - We Can Finish Fifth

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel believes they can pip Tottenham in the race for fifth in the Premier League.

The combative central defender has seen his hopes inflated after the Reds were able to claim a 2-0 win Sunderland last week, having seen Spurs held to a draw by West Ham.

Yet Kenny Dalglish's team is still four points adrift of fifth, while Spurs have the added advantage of having a game in hand on their rivals.

Despite the obvious difficulty of the task at hand, Skrtel is drawing strength from the arduous run of games Tottenham face in order to complete their fixture list.

They are still to travel to Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, and will host Arsenal in what will be a customary competitive North London derby.

Liverpool received a huge slice of luck last week when they were awarded a fortuitous penalty when Jay Spearing was felled outside the area, however, Skrtel insists they more than deserved the win against Sunderland.

"I guess we fully deserved this result. We were the better team and we were dominant," he told the club's official website.

"It was a controversial penalty for some but this is football. They didn't have a clear chance so it is a fair result.

"Tottenham dropped two precious points and I am happy that we are closing the gap on them."

Alberto Aquilani: I Don't Know Whether I Will Remain At Juventus

Italy midfielder Alberto Aquilani has admitted that he is uncertain about his club future, revealing there are no concrete signs that he will remain at Juventus once his loan from Liverpool ends.

The 26-year-old's future is up for discussion, with reports suggesting Juve won't bow to the €16m fee being demanded from Anfield, and from the Azzurri camp in Florence, the former Roma star made it clear he doesn't yet know where he will end up next season.

"I have not had any contact with Liverpool or Juventus directors," he told the press.

"There is an agreement, and I was aware it was a loan and that things would be dealt with in May. So, I am tranquil over my future now."

Aquilani has endured a struggle this term, but feels his side is ready to salvage what they can from the campaign.

"We have many strong players and a great coach, we just need some time, and we must play the last eight games like they are finals," he said.

Steven Gerrard Says Andy Carroll And Luis Suarez Make Liverpool A Stronger Force

Club captain Steven Gerrard believes the arrivals of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez puts Liverpool in a stronger position than they were with Fernando Torres.

Admitting that he enjoyed playing with the departed Spaniard, Gerrard told Sky Sports that simply having two quality forward options means the Reds are now better equipped heading into the future.

And the Anfield hero has also been impressed with how Uruguayan Suarez has taken to his new role.

“Suarez has only played a few games but we know he will be a top player,” said Gerrard.

“Training and playing with him in his first few games he has been strong and technically good, but Fernando in his first year with us was frightening as well.

“But I think Liverpool is in a better position having two top forwards instead of one. I enjoyed playing behind Fernando but if you said I could have Fernando on form or Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez on form, I would take the two over one.”

Torres’ deadline day move to Stamford Bridge sparked a flurry of activity as the Reds were left to fill the void of the World Cup winner's departure, and Gerrard admitted the players felt disappointed by the striker’s decision to move to the capital.

He added: “We felt slightly let down, like the supporters we wanted him to stay as he is a top player. But he made his decision and we have to respect that."

Currently sidelined from club and international duty with a groin injury, the Reds skipper also believes his club was right to respond to fan’s demands for the removal of Roy Hodgson in January.

“When the Liverpool fans turn against you, you have to listen,” added Gerrard. “They are Liverpool Football Club.”

Carra Kops The Blame

Jamie Carragher believes the Liverpool players were responsible for Roy Hodgson getting the sack.

The longest-serving player at Anfield insists poor performances were the reason the club had to end the manager's reign after just six months.

Hodgson never really won over the club's supporters and won just 13 of his 31 games in charge but Carragher says the players should shoulder the blame for his sacking.

He pointed to the fact that things had not gone well the season before and the uncertainty under former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but ultimately believes the buck stops with him and his team-mates.

"We'd finished seventh the year before which is obviously why Rafa went in the end and obviously we felt we were better than seventh and the squad was better than finishing seventh, but we were thinking with a new manager it might change," he told Goals on Sunday.

"So at that moment we were looking to build something, new players were getting involved, but you could say that Rafa had been there a long time and it was still his team really.

"But if you have not done that well for two years, it's not the manager's fault. You've got to look at the squad and ask, as a group of players, are we doing enough or are we good enough?

"Sometimes as a group you're not good enough and I think that's why new players have been brought in, in January."

Carragher believes that the sale of Javier Mascherano to Barcelona was another big factor that worked against Hodgson.

Liverpool have since sold Fernando Torres to Chelsea but with Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez coming in and the long-standing ownership issues now a thing of the past, he says Kenny Dalglish already has more of a chance than his predecessor.

"It looks good now, with Andy Carroll and Suarez and the new owners coming in," he said. "Don't forget Roy had to deal with, as did Rafa, the last owners we had.

"I think it's fair to say everyone is a lot happier now and I am sure that will make it a lot easier for Kenny."

Rams To Weigh Up Fresh Loan Inquiry For Ayala

Derby County is keen to take Liverpool defender Daniel Ayala on loan again next season.

The Rams plan to ask Liverpool about the possibility of the Spaniard making a return to Pride Park in the 2011-12 campaign.

Ayala's current loan runs to the end of the season and he has impressed since he joined Derby in February.

He has made nine appearances, including eight consecutive starts in a partnership with Shaun Barker at centre back. His composure in possession for a 20-year-old defender has caught the eye and last week he made his debut for the Spanish Under-21 side in a friendly against France in Reims.

Derby have been pleased with the way he has settled in and with his contribution in helping the team pick up valuable points.

The Rams had won only once in a dozen matches before Ayala arrived but, in the last eight games, they have won twice and drawn three.

"Is there a possibility we could see him back on loan next season? We are going to make that inquiry, certainly," said manager Nigel Clough.

"We will be speaking to Liverpool to see if there is any possibility of that happening. The only thing is that they (Liverpool) don't usually make those decisions until August.

"We need some players in before that, and we certainly need another centre half in.

"Daniel has shown us enough during his time here and we would like to take him as a loan as well next season."

Ayala will not play for Spain's under-21 team against Belarus tonight as an entirely different squad has been selected from the one which faced France last week.

End Is Not In Sight, Says Carragher As He Approaches New Appearance Achievement

Saturday, May 7 promises to be a special occasion for Jamie Carragher.

Barring injury between now and then, Liverpool’s trip to Fulham will be the day that the inspirational defender climbs into second place in the club’s all-time appearance list.

Currently level with Ian Rush (660), six more games will enable him to leapfrog another two Anfield legends in Emlyn Hughes (665) and Ray Clemence (665).

In a career packed full of heroic triumphs it will be another proud landmark.

Catching Ian Callaghan (857) maybe beyond him but the 33-year-old centre-back still has plenty more to give.

“I just want to keep playing for as long as I can,” he said. “If I’m breaking appearance records then great because it means I’m still in the side and making a contribution.

“I know Cally well and he’s a great man. That record won’t ever be broken and deservedly so.

“I’m delighted to have been at Liverpool for so long and I’m sure I’ll finish my career there. I feel privileged to do that for such a great club.

“I’ve been fortunate the managers have always taken to me. Hopefully I’ve got a couple of years to go.

“I’m always looking forward and trying to do as much as I can for the club. When my career finishes in the next two or three years then I’ll look back with pride.

“At the moment I’m still looking forward. I want to play more games and win more trophies.”

Leaving the club he first played for against Middlesbrough back in January 1997 has never entered his thoughts.

He said: “My secret is that no-one has ever come in for me!

“Why would you ever want to leave? You are playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. I’m a local lad with my family around me and I’m playing every week.

“For Steven Gerrard and I, winning things with the club you came through at means a lot more than doing it somewhere else. When you feel your family and friends are part of winning it, it means so much more.”

Carragher has lifted two FA Cups, two League Cups, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League but the trophies have dried up in recent years.

When Liverpool finished second in the Premier League in May 2009 there were high hopes it would be a springboard to success.

It didn’t happen. Rafa Benitez’s reign ended in bitter disappointment at the end of last season and then the Reds slipped further during the shortlived tenure of Roy Hodgson.

“I’ve got to give Rafa Benitez massive credit because he put me back to my position in the middle and that took me on to the next level,” Carragher said.

“But everyone knows last season didn’t go well. We had finished second the season before with 86 points and only lost twice. Subconsciously, maybe you think ‘can we do any better than that’?

“The big build up was ‘we’re going to win the league this year’. When you lose two of your first three games you know it’s not going to happen.

“We lost Xabi Alonso which was disappointing and brought in Aquilani who was injured.

A team which hadn’t quite been good enough was made weaker because we lost Alonso and his replacement wasn’t ready.

“Knowing we weren’t going to win the league affected the squad.”

Hodgson oversaw Liverpool’s worst start to a season for half a century and failed miserably to win over supporters.

However, Carragher insists the players should shoulder the blame for his departure after just six months.

“We’d finished seventh the year before which is obviously why Rafa went in the end and obviously we felt we were better than seventh,” he said.

“We were thinking with a new manager it might change. But Javier Mascherano played a few games and then we lost him. A side which had finished seventh had one of its best players taken out of it.

“At that moment we were looking to build something, new players were getting involved, but you could say that Rafa had been there a long time and it was still his team really.

“If you have not done that well for two years, it’s not the manager’s fault. You’ve got to look at the squad and ask, as a group of players, are we doing enough or are we good enough?

“Sometimes as a group you’re not good enough and I think that’s why new players have been brought in this January.

“Don’t forget Roy had to deal with, as did Rafa, the last owners we had. Everyone is a lot happier with the owners we have now and that make things easier for the manager.”

Carragher admits the appointment of Kenny Dalglish in place of Hodgson in January helped transform the mood around the club.

The defender believes the supporters’ backing for the Kop legend has contributed to the impressive return of 20 points out of 30 since he took over.

“I think with Kenny being there all of a sudden you have the fans back on-side and unfortunately Roy didn’t have that,” he said.

“At Anfield even if you go a goal down or lose the odd game you’ve still got them. They are a massive part of Liverpool - as important as the players.

“When everyone’s together we can be unstoppable. You’ve seen that in some of the cup finals. Maybe we should have lost them but we didn’t because the players and the fans were together. The fans love Kenny and respect him. If we get beat now they will probably blame us rather than the manager!”

With eight games to go, Liverpool are sixth and find themselves four points adrift of Tottenham who have a game in hand. The Reds need to force their way into the top five to qualify for Europe and Carragher is desperate to achieve that goal.

“Anfield comes alive on European nights and I’ve been fortunate to be involved in many of them,” he said. “It’s touch and go whether we get into Europe this season. I’m desperate for us to do it because they are great nights to remember when your career is finished.”

Carragher has long since been touted as a manager in the making but he’s keeping his options open.

“If I went down that road of course managing this club would be the pinnacle,” he said.

“But it’s not 100% I’m going to become a manager. I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had to move my family anywhere else and I wouldn’t want to uproot them.

“If something came up I would look at it but the older I get the less I think about doing it.”

Kenny Dalglish Does Not Want Terraces To Return

Kenny Dalglish has backed the Premier League’s refusal to support a Football Fans Federation bid to reintroduce standing areas at football grounds.

The FSF launched a petition for safe standing last week.

The Federation, which represents more than 180,000 and affiliates, are presenting the petition to Government and football authorities.

“We do think fans in the Premier League or Championship should be allowed to stand in safety as those in any other division can,” they said.

“We are not suggesting that clubs should be forced to provide safe standing areas – only that they should be allowed the choice.

“Issues around cost and feasibility should be a matter for individual clubs, not for Government.

“Many opponents to safe standing mistakenly cite Hillsborough as a reason not to allow its introduction, however the disaster was not caused by standing; the Taylor Report primarily blamed overcrowding, stadium layout and poor policing.

“It did not ban standing nor claim it was inherently unsafe.”

Liverpool manager Dalglish, however, who was Liverpool boss at Hillsborough, used his Sunday newspaper column yesterday to counter the move.

He wrote: “It is 21 years since Lord Justice Taylor’s report recommended that terracing at football grounds should be outlawed. The move was a direct response to the tragedy at Hillsborough, where 96 people went to a football match and never returned home.

“The passing of time should not be allowed to diminish the reasons behind the introduction of all-seater stadiums, which is why I’m instinctively and deeply opposed to the reintroduction of standing areas at grounds.

“I’m more in line with the Premier League stance that the benefits of all-seater stadiums far outweigh the advantages of having supporters standing in big crowds.

“From where I’m looking, the introduction of all-seater stadiums has worked. To change it, even now, is an unnecessary risk, a view only strengthened when I remember what happened at Hillsborough and what the families of the bereaved have had to endure in the months and years since then.”

Dalglish added: “Football has become a far safer sport for supporters since both terracing and fencing around the pitch were banished. There are fewer injuries and there is less hooliganism, too.

“It can’t be wrong.

“I’ve heard it argued that people are denied the right to make a choice between sitting and standing but if you asked people what the safer option would be, they would say sitting.

“And safety is not something you should take for granted. If we are safer now, it is because the recommendations of the Taylor Report were acted upon.

“The other point I’ve heard mentioned is that all-seater stadiums are bad for atmosphere. Even if that were true, would it not be right to sacrifice a little bit of atmosphere for safety?

“I don’t think the argument about atmosphere is correct anyway. You can’t deny that there have been some absolutely fantastic nights at Anfield since the stadium went all-seater.

“Yes, the famous Saint Etienne European Cup game in 1977 when you could squeeze 26,000 into the old Kop was played in a marvellous atmosphere. But it was also extremely good against Olympiakos in 2004 when Steven Gerrard rattled one in to take Liverpool through against the odds.

“People talk with some reverence about the 2005 semi-final against Chelsea when the noise and passion were incredible and sucked Luis Garcia’s shot over the line. Remember, that was in an all-seater stadium.

“Maybe some other grounds don’t have that old-fashioned atmosphere any more but if the reward is that mothers and fathers can take their children there in safety, that’s surely not a bad thing. I’d certainly be more inclined to take my son or daughter – or grandchildren nowadays! – to a match where you sit rather than stand.

“I know fans still stand in countries like Germany. But you can’t compare their situation with ours. If Germany had endured a tragedy like Hillsborough, of innocent supporters dying because they went to a football match, they would have banned standing and they would not now be talking of reversing that decision.”