Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Liverpool Will Return To Top Four At Arsenal's Expense - Mark Lawrenson

Club legend Mark Lawrenson believes that this season could be the one where Liverpool reclaims their place in the top four of the Premier League, with Champions League qualification likely to be at the expense of Arsenal.

After Roy Hodgson presided over a dismal start to last season, things picked up at Anfield with the appointment of Kenny Dalglish and the club finished the season with a flourish.

The team’s renaissance was in-part aided by large investment in the likes of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, and Lawrenson believes that the additions of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam this summer will help push the club back into the top four.

“Liverpool has got a great chance,” said the former centre-back.

“The business they’ve done since January has been absolutely massive. Dalglish has brought in top quality players like Carroll, Suarez, Adam, Downing and Henderson and with the sales of Torres and Babel, the whole thing has only cost them £40 million.

“Five players for £40m? That’s great business in anybody’s eyes. With Suarez having such a great Copa America, bringing him in for the price they got him at and selling Torres was massive.

“However, I think some of the supporters may have got carried away – I can’t see Liverpool winning the league. They will probably be nearer fourth than first."

With the level of investment at Anfield providing a stark contrast to limited goings-on at Eastlands, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates, Lawrenson believes that Liverpool may have made up a lot of ground on their rivals.

Arsenal, in particular, has had a turbulent transfer window, with much emphasis on retaining the services of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri rather than recruiting new names.

Lawrenson believes that it is this lack of depth to the squad, as well as the added pressures of European football, that could allow Liverpool to sneak in ahead of Arsenal to qualify for the 2012-13 Champions League.

“I think Manchester United will win it, then City, Chelsea and then I’m going to say Liverpool in fourth,” said the BBC pundit.

“I think with Arsenal there’s too much predictability around the likes of Nasri and Fabregas.

“In terms of experience, they have also got no centre halves or a goalkeeper and other than Fabregas, no leader. That’s why they fell apart last season.

“Most crucial will be their involvement in Europe, which Liverpool doesn’t have. This will be big for Dalglish’s team at the business end of the season, with no travelling all over the continent or playing on Thursday nights.

“From that point of view, I think Liverpool might just do Arsenal."

Despite the club’s heavy investment in players, some detractors have claimed that Dalglish is now inundated with attacking options, while the defensive needs of the side have been largely ignored.

Lawrenson does not believe that the abundance of talented midfielders now at the club is problematic at all, though agrees that Liverpool could do with defensive cover in order to sustain their push for as high a Premier League finish as possible.

“You can always sell midfielders, the Jay Spearings of this world, for example, you can always make money from," he said.

“Kenny won’t be worried about having so [much] to choose from in midfield. He’ll have a selection headache, which is the last of his worries.

“Fergie doesn’t worry about what team he’s going to pick, he just picks it. Kenny will be thinking ‘horses for courses’ and he’ll have all sorts of options that he didn’t have last season.”

With the start of the season a little under two weeks away, the former Liverpool man believes that should defensive cover be targeted, it should be players who would be quick to adapt to their surroundings.

Liverpool has been linked with a number of Premier League defenders, a few of which Lawrenson believes would be smart purchases, perhaps partly financed by cash-plus-players deals.

"In an ideal world Liverpool would get someone who has played in the Premier League before and someone who speaks English. I say that because they would settle in quicker,” he said.

“Everyone says [Jose] Enrique is in his last year at Newcastle – you’d definitely take him.

“Stephen Warnock gets linked every single time. He’s been at the club, is a local boy and knows what it’s all about but maybe Alex McLeish taking over at Villa has changed the situation, as he was frozen out under Gerard Houllier.

“Centre half-wise Kenny wanted Phil Jones but obviously couldn’t get him.

“The money wanted for Gary Cahill would probably stop that happening. Unless you could do a deal involving a couple makeweights – that’s a possibility. One of the things that Kenny will be thinking is that he can now offload fringe players in such deals.”

Liverpool Joined By Lazio In Race For £12m Lyon Star

Liverpool is facing a battle with Serie A club Lazio for the signature of Lyon star Miralem Pjanic.

TalkSPORT have claimed Anfield boss Kenny Dalglish made an approach to Lyon earlier this month regarding the availability of Pjanic but so far little progress has been made.

Dalglish is still thought to be interested in the 21-year-old Bosnia & Herzegovina international but he will now have to move quickly with Lazio now registering their interest.

Tottenham were also reported to be interested in Pjanic and they reportedly viewed him as the ideal replacement for wantaway star Luka Modric.

However, the Croatian midfielder is expected to remain at White Hart Lane for at least another season which means Spurs' interest in Pjanic has been shelved.

Lyon have slapped a £12m asking price on their star midfielder while Liverpool will currently not budge on their £10m valuation.

Lazio are also believed to value Pjanic at £10m and although Lyon are refusing to budge on their price, the option of a cash-plus-player deal could suit the French club.

However, Lyon are in no rush to sell as Pjanic is contracted to the club until 2013, putting them in a strong position when negotiating a transfer fee.

Striker Linked With Reds Switch

Liverpool is the latest club to take a look at Reading striker Shane Long with a view to making a possible move for the striker.

The Reds had scouts watching the Republic of Ireland international bag a brace during Reading's pre-season win over Northampton last weekend and they are the latest in a long line of reported interested parties.

Neighbours Everton have also been linked with the player and their need for a striker looks to be greater than Liverpool's.

West Brom has also been linked with the 24-year-old, but so far only relegated West Ham has made a bid.

Their offer of £6m was dismissed by the Royals who want to keep Long to spearhead an assault on the Premier League next season.

It remains to be seen whether Kenny Dalglish would make a move for the striker or whether Long himself would consider coming to a club where he would be third choice front man behind Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.

Liverpool FC To Snap Up Centre-Back As Arsenal And Chelsea Pull Out

Liverpool FC are ready to step up in their efforts to land Bolton Wanderers centre-back Gary Cahill by offering Owen Coyle’s side at least £12m up front plus numerous calculated add-ons should Liverpool reach the top four next season.

The current Bolton valuation for Cahill is around the £17m mark which has put the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea off. Arsenal feel the price is too high and have turned their attentions to 28 year old Phil Jagielka of Everton, whilst Chelsea still consider Cahill to be a back-up defender and do not want to pay £17m for a squad player whilst John Terry could still have a few seasons left in him.

With Cahill having not played in the Champions League before, it is not something that he will miss for one more season, meaning he will be able to focus on getting the Anfield side into the top four before embarking on a European campaign should the Merseyside outfit proves good enough.

Bolton are yet to receive any offers however will consider a shorter price with lucrative add-ons believing Liverpool to be within the top four within at least the next two season.

Liverpool’s Hansen Switches To City

The Bantams have signed Liverpool goalkeeper Martin Hansen on a month’s loan as Peter Jackson continues his attempts to freshen up his squad.

The Danish-born 21-year-old has been on the staff at Anfield since joining from Brondby in the summer of 2006 and he was part of the Reds’ FA Youth Cup winning side a year later.

Hansen is yet to play for Liverpool, though he was on the bench in last season’s Carling Cup defeat to Northampton Town and was named in six match-day squads under Roy Hodgson.

Since Kenny Dalglish’s arrival, however, his chances have been limited with Peter Gualacsi having been preferred as back-up to Pepe Reina.

City chairman Mark Lawn said: “He is coming in for Peter to have a look at him. The plan is for him to play in a friendly and see how he does.”

Liverpool's Interest In Newcastle's Jose Enrique Wanes

Liverpool’s interest in Newcastle United defender Jose Enrique has “cooled” according to sources on Merseyside, despite the Spaniard’s attempts to hasten his departure from St James’s Park this week.

Enrique trained with his Newcastle United teammates in America yesterday, despite using the social networking site Twitter to criticize owner Mike Ashley for a lack of ambition, accusing the board of selling their best players and lying about making an improved contract offer to keep him.

That brought a stern response from manager Alan Pardew, as well as managing director Derek Llambias, who have fined the player, while pointing out they have not received a single bid for him all summer.

Liverpool did take a close look at the 25-year-old last season, but appear to have decided the asking price, along with the player’s likely wage demands – he already earns £46,000-a-week at Newcastle – and misgivings about his defensive capability mean he is a risky transfer.

Enrique’s tirade has divided opinion on Tyneside, with some turning on the left-back for the attack on the club given the transfer window is still open, while others have backed him in his criticism of Ashley’s lack of investment.

Newcastle is hoping the £7m signing of Mevlut Erdinc from Paris Saint Germain will appease the disgruntled among their ranks.

Aquilani Yet To Agree Personal Terms

Fiorentina are still some way off finding an agreement over personal terms with Alberto Aquilani, his agent Franco Zavaglia has said.

Despite impressing for Liverpool in pre-season, the player's representative confirmed talks over a move back to Serie A for his client have been taking place.

Aquilani, 27, is seen by Fiorentina as an alternative to Riccardo Montolivo, who has been tipped to leave the club this summer, possibly for AC Milan.

Zavaglia has now said there is an agreement between the two sides for the transfer, but it seems the player's wage demands are holding up the move.

"The accord between Alberto and Fiorentina has not been reached yet," the agent told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"If we speak about an agreement, then one has only been reached between the two teams.

"However, with us, Fiorentina have still not made a decision."

It seems the negotiations between all parties are set to continue until an agreement is found.

When contacted about the deal, Liverpool refused to provide a comment on the latest developments.

Aquilani has made no secret of his desire to return to Serie A and play regularly ahead of next year's Euro 2012.

The latest reports from Italy suggest the agreement between the clubs is over a loan with Fiorentina having the option to buy for around £9.7 million next year.

Henderson Finding His Feet

Jordan Henderson has admitted he is still getting used to Liverpool after his big-money move to Anfield.

The 21-year-old was signed earlier this summer by the Reds as Kenny Dalglish continues his rebuilding process in his second stint as manager.

Henderson joined his team-mates for pre-season training late after featuring in the Under-21 European Championship for England.

However, he is now trying to adapt to his new club and revealed the enormity of the switch has yet to dawn on him.

He told the Liverpool official website: "It probably hasn't sunk in properly yet, but I'll keep working hard, keep doing the things I was doing at Sunderland and hopefully I can achieve.

"I'm settling in fine. The lads have been brilliant in welcoming me to the club."

Irony and fate so often play a hand in football and in Henderson's case, it has again proved so.

Sunderland will arrive at Anfield for the first game of the new Premier League season on August 13th - pitting the England international immediately against his former club.

But he is not daunted by that prospect or by the increased pressure that accompanies playing for the five-time European champions.

"I was with the U21s at the time (the fixtures were announced) and some of the lads had a bit of banter about it," he added.

"But that happens in football. It's a massive game - the best of the season. Obviously it's against Sunderland, which is even more exciting for me. I'm looking forward to it.

"There are big expectations and demands (here), but that comes with football - you're going to get that wherever you go and it's about how you deal with it.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge. I'll just keep working as hard as I possibly can and hopefully I can put some good performances in for Liverpool."

Hillsborough Papers To Be Published

The Government has been ordered to publish documents revealing the discussions held by Margaret Thatcher about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham ruled that the information was in the public interest.

In a decision notice, he said: "Support for disclosure of information relating to the Hillsborough disaster was expressed by the previous government and has been reconfirmed by the current Government, and the commissioner also believes that the specific content of the information in question would add to public knowledge and understanding about the reaction of various parties to that event, including the government of the day, in the early aftermath."

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the crush at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on April 15, 1989, where the club was playing an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. An inquiry found that the main reason for overcrowding was the failure of police control.

The commissioner's judgment may still be subject to an appeal, which would need to be lodged with the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) within 28 days. If there is no appeal, the Cabinet Office has 35 days to comply with the order.

Graham's judgment relates to a Freedom of Information request from the BBC more than two years ago, which was refused by the Cabinet Office.

This was followed by an internal review which upheld the refusal, prompting the complainant to ask the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to review the request in September last year.

In his judgment, the commissioner hit out at the Cabinet Office for "unjustified and excessive" delays.

He ordered the Government to publish information relating to the Hillsborough disaster provided to Mrs. Thatcher, then prime minister, and the minutes of meetings she attended on the matter.

The Commissioner said it was right to publish the record of a Cabinet meeting on April 20 1989 in which Mrs. Thatcher and her ministers spoke of the disaster.

The Cabinet Office had argued that disclosure would impact negatively on the freedom with which ministers can engage in "free and frank discussions", and on the convention of collective responsibility.

But Mr. Graham said: "In this case there had been multiple changes in government between the time that the information was recorded and the date of the request.

"Also, the subject matter of the discussions recorded within the information in question centered on a very particular set of circumstances that were no longer current at the time of the request.

"As a result the view of the Commissioner is that the argument in favour of maintenance of the exemption relating to convention of collective Cabinet responsibility is not a factor of significant weight in favour of maintenance of the exemption."

He also said the passage of time since the information was recorded was a key factor.

"This information was 20 years old at the time of the request and, as the complainant has noted, the current Government is implementing a reduction of the current 30-year period before Government papers are released to 20 years," he said.

He therefore recognized "that there is a diminishing case for withholding information over 20 years old".

In December 2009, the Labour government set up an independent panel to review the documents surrounding the tragedy to assess what should be made public. The Cabinet Office said no material should be disclosed before the panel finishes its work, planned for the end of this year.

But the Commissioner said he did "not agree that the existence of this panel is a relevant factor here, as it did not exist at the time of the request".