Friday, July 27, 2012

Gerrard Eyes Top Four Finish

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard has backed new boss Brendan Rodgers to lead the club back into the UEFA Champions League next season.

The Reds have missed out on Europe's premier competition for the last three seasons after finishing outside the top four.

Former Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish paid the price for the club's by being sacked earlier this summer, although Liverpool owners John W Henry and Tom Werner insist Rodgers is under no pressure to deliver the Champions League in his first season in charge.

Gerrard has been impressed by the early impact Rodgers has made and feels if they are a bit more clinical in the forthcoming season they can achieve their goals.

"I do think we will get in the top four," said Gerrard. "I think we will get it. I am confident we will get it.

"I am not being unrealistic. If we can play like we did in a lot of games last season, be clinical and take our chances, I think we will be high up in the table. I do.

"It has got to come. We are Liverpool. We can't finish eighth. We have got to put that right. We have got to take the criticism for underperforming last year. We can't be doing post-match interviews saying 'we should have got the points or we were not clinical enough'. We have got to be clinical. We have got to get the points we should get.

"I don't think it's ever happened that a team has gone from eighth to first, but there are still other big targets for us to achieve short term. Getting in that top four again is certainly the priority.

"I thought we were brilliant at times in the league, it's just that we never got out of games what we deserved. Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. There were times when we murdered teams. We just hadn't come off with what we deserved.

"But there were other times you would come off thinking no wonder we are sixth, seventh and eighth in the league. We hadn't played well enough. It was frustrating but if you look at the season as a whole, you can't use an excuse for finishing eighth. It wasn't good enough."

Gerrard admits he was sad to see Dalglish leave, but not surprised by the club's decision to replace the Reds icon after a disappointing eighth place finish in the Premier League

"Kenny knows himself that when Liverpool finish eighth, the owners and supporters are going to ask questions," added Gerrard.

"Everyone knows that. While there was shock and disappointment at the time, you understood the decision. You move on with what the club wanted to do and they wanted Brendan Rodgers in. They wanted a young manager with a vision for the long-term. They want him to bring stability and that is hopefully what will happen.

"I think we'll definitely see a much bolder Liverpool team and more exciting too, but with a quick transition when we lose the ball.

"Over the years sometimes Liverpool have come up against certain type of opposition and we have shown them too much respect. Maybe we had to because of the style we've been asked to play.

"There were times under previous managers when we did that, but I think this manager is the opposite and wants us to play like a big team.

"There is a lot of hard work and a lot of learning to be done sharpish if we want to implement that straight away.

"In my second session we were already doing team shape and he is telling players what he expects movement wise, how he wants the team to do the transition when we lose the ball to win it back.

"The manager has made me aware of where he's at and what he's trying to do - I've been really impressed with him."

Rodgers Open To Aquilani Return

Brendan Rodgers has left the door open for a return to the Liverpool first team for forgotten man Alberto Aquilani.

The Italian arrived in a blaze of publicity in 2009 for a fee of £20m while still recovering from surgery on an ankle injury.

But the 28-year-old failed to settle on Merseyside, making just 18 appearances in total for Liverpool - half of which were as a substitute.

As a result the talented midfielder has spent the last two seasons on-loan in his homeland of Italy with Juventus and the AC Milan.

But Rodgers is willing to wipe the slate clean after he featured in Liverpool's friendly defeat to former club Roma and offer the injury-jinxed midfielder a fresh start at the club.

"I need to have a close look at Alberto," said Rodgers. "It's been difficult for him during his time in England, and this is probably the first period where he's felt happy, according to him, and he's working.

"I need to assess, and that's what I'm doing at the moment. Come the beginning of the season I hope to have a group that I'd like to go forward with on our journey this season.

"I'm assessing all the players, young and senior, at the moment."

Hammers Offer £17m For Carroll

Sky Sports sources understand West Ham United have made a £17million bid to sign Liverpool striker Andy Carroll.

The Premier League new-boys have ambitiously offered to pay an initial £2m loan fee before making a permanent deal next summer.

Liverpool are thought to be willing to listen to offers for the permanent sale of Carroll, who they signed from Newcastle in a record £35m deal under Kenny Dalglish in January 2011.

Brendan Rodgers has succeeded Dalglish this summer and is ready to sell in order to raise money for new signings, including his £15m-rated former Swansea colleague Joe Allen.

Carroll has endured a difficult time at Anfield since becoming the most expensive British footballer in history and he now appears to be surplus to requirements.

Sam Allardyce's West Ham failed in an original approach to sign the England international solely on loan earlier this summer but have returned with a permanent option.

Liverpool want closer to £20m as they aim to recoup as much as possible on Carroll and his wages, which are reportedly close to £80,000-a-week, but the fee would represent a record deal for West Ham.

The most the Upton Park club, who won last season's Championship play-offs, has paid for a player in the past has been £9m for Savio Nsereko in January 2009.

And West Ham co-owner David Sullivan's son, Jack Sullivan, has added to the rumours by saying on Twitter: "Dad is working on the biggest signing in the history of the club - twice as big as anything the club has done before!"

West Ham are also reportedly hoping the friendship between former Newcastle team-mates Kevin Nolan, now West Ham captain, and Carroll can help influence any potential move.

Liverpool Striker Interests Sunderland Boss

Liverpool striker Andy Carroll could be set for a sensational switch to Sunderland, after Black Cats boss Martin O'Neill hinted that he would like to bring him to the Stadium of Light.

Carroll, who cost Liverpool £35 million 18 months ago, looks to be leaving Anfield this summer, after new head coach Brendan Rodgers indicated that the 23 year-old didn't feature in his plans for the forthcoming season.

Newcastle appears to be the front-runners for his signature, after it was reported that they made a £12 million bid for their former star.

However, as reported by The Sun, the Magpies could face competition from their local rivals for the England international, with O'Neill looking to bring in a striker this summer, following the conclusion of Nicklas Bendtner's loan deal.

When asked about his interest in Carroll, O'Neill remained coy, saying: “Andy Carroll is a really good player, a really good player. Would he come to Sunderland?

“He is a very fine player.”

Carroll is believed to be keen on a return to the north-east after struggling to adjust to life on Merseyside. However, the powerful striker recent spoke of his desire to remain at Liverpool and prove himself.

However, with Rodger's style of football means that Carroll would find first-team opportunities extremely limited.

Ramirez's Agent Arrives In England For Liverpool Talks

Liverpool has moved a step closer to landing Bologna winger Gaston Ramirez after his agent arrived in England for talks.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is desperate to add some much needed width to his new-look team next season, and has turned to Ramirez after baulking at Fulham's £10 million asking price for Clint Dempsey.

A fast, agile and elegant left winger who can play up front, Ramirez is rated as one of the finest players in Italy, and has been tracked by Barcelona, AC Milan and the two Manchester clubs in the last six months.

However, it appears that Liverpool, who held initial talks over a deal with Bologna last month, have jumped the queue, with the players agent arriving in England this week to sort out a transfer to the Premier League:

'Gaston is ready to leave Italy - so much so I am in England for talks with a Premier League club,' agent Pablo Betancourt told Mercato.

'He is one of the most important players in Uruguray, so there are no shortage of offers.'

Inter Milan and Tottenham are two other clubs believed to have significant interest in Ramirez, but neither is willing to stump up the £15 million Bologna want for the 21-year-old.

That clears the way for Liverpool to get their man, and they are hopeful they land the player in the next fortnight, despite the transfer being complicated, as Ramirez will be on duty for Uruguay during the London Olympics.

The former Penarol ace, who is contracted to Bologna until 2016, has already set his heart on a move to Anfield.

Liverpool Interested In Venezuelan International Centre Back

According to reports in Spain’s most read newspaper, Marca, Liverpool have approached Fernando Amorebieta’s representatives to express “a serious interest” in signing the Athletic Bilbao centre back.

The Venezuelan international is currently under contract with the Basque club until June 2013, so they will now have to decide whether to renew his contract this summer or risk him leaving for free in a year’s time.

Sources close to the 27-year-old are suggesting that his preference would be to remain at Bilbao, but only if the club can offer him an extension on his contract with a considerably better pay package, which could prove difficult with his club teammate, the recently-crowned European champion Fernando Llorente, also insisting on a significant pay rise.

The biggest obstacle for Liverpool may prove to be the €35million (£27.4M) buy-out clause in Amorebieta’s contract, but Athletic Bilbao have not issued a flat-out refusal to negotiate that clause, which they did almost immediately after being informed of the interest in Javi Martinez from Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Speculation in the Spanish press suggests that the Athletic Bilbao president, Jose Urrutia, may be willing to accept an offer around £10million for Amorebieta.

Spurs To Rival Liverpool For Team GB Star

Tottenham Hotspur have reportedly joined Liverpool in the race to sign Swansea City’s Joe Allen.

The Anfield club was the only side reported to have a serious interest in the Team GB midfielder, but now a report in The Sun claims Spurs have joined the race.

Allen was impressive for the newly-promoted Swans last season and, when boss Brendan Rodgers made the switch to Merseyside earlier this summer, it was quickly being reported that he wanted his former charge to make the same move.

The report claims Liverpool offered £12.5million plus Jonjo Shelvey on a season long loan for the 22-year-old, but the bid was quickly knocked back and the Swans are understood to be content to wait for something much closer to their £15million valuation.
Spurs' reported interest will please the Welsh club, as it increases the likelihood of their estimation of Allen’s worth being met.

This interest has created a rift between Swansea and Liverpool, with the former releasing a statement expressing their anger at the Reds approach, as it contravened a written agreement signed when Rodgers left, and certain details of his contract being made public.

Aquilani Aiming To Prove Worth

Liverpool misfit Alberto Aquilani is desperate for a chance to prove his worth at the club after being dismissed by previous managers.

The £20 million signing has spent the last two seasons on loan in his native Italy with Juventus and AC Milan after being jettisoned by Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish.

Aquilani, 28, was signed by Rafa Benitez but arrived at the club injured and never got an opportunity to display his range of skills, but he is puzzled at the treatment he has received from the Spaniard's successors.

"How can you pay £20m for a player and this player is never taken into consideration?" he said.

"I never asked to leave but I was always pushed by the club. I am here and I would like to play for Liverpool but it doesn't depend only on me."

It remains unclear how prominently the Italy international will feature under new boss Brendan Rodgers.

He played in the first half of Liverpool's defeat against his old club Roma in Boston on Monday and is upbeat about his prospects of playing under Rodgers after their initial conversations.

"I had a very good talk with Brendan where we were able to share our thoughts and it was a very positive chat," he added.

"I like his footballing philosophy and I like the mentality he has because it matches my own skills."

Liverpool fans have rightly wondered why a player acquired for such a handsome sum in 2010 has not been able to stake a claim for a first-team place.

But the playmaker remains determined to show Liverpool fans he can make the grade at Anfield.

"The situation changed after Benitez left," Aquilani added.

"In past years, I felt forced out. I never asked to go on loan but they made it clear it was better for me to go.

"I think Liverpool people have to know that I have never said I wanted to leave the city because my family and I were not happy here. This is not true.

"I cannot say I have unfinished business in English football because I really never played but, the little I did, I believe I was able to show to Liverpool fans that I have quality and that I could have helped the team."

Cup Wouldn't Have Saved Kenny

Liverpool owner John W Henry says he would still have sacked Kenny Dalglish even if the manager had led the Reds to FA Cup success.

Anfield legend Dalglish was shown the door by the club four days after the Reds came in eighth in the Premier League - their worst finish since 1994.

Suggestions have been raised that the manager might have survived the axe had he followed up Liverpool's Carling Cup success with another Wembley triumph in the FA Cup, where they lost out to Chelsea in the final.

But Henry, frontman of Reds owners Fenway Sports Group, says the trophy would not have saved the 61-year-old Scot.

He said: "The FA Cup would not have made any difference had he won it, no, no.

"For us we were 17th over the second half of the season and Liverpool should not be in that position.

"I don't place the blame on Kenny and assistant Steve Clarke but I think it was obvious to every fan that something was wrong and something needed to be done."

Henry admits Dalglish, who was in the role for 18 months after replacing England boss Roy Hodgson at the helm and has been succeeded by Brendan Rodgers, was only ever going to be a short-term solution.

He added: "When I first discussed making a change before he took the job, we danced around it and discussed what role he would take at some point.

"He did say that if it was the manager's job, he would only do it until we had the right young man to come in for the long term. We spoke two or three times before he actually took the job.

"Kenny was always saying no one man is bigger than the club. Everyone knows what it meant when he came back, how he did right the ship and brought all the disparate elements back together.

"There were a lot of different directions and he unified the club internally and externally - he did an incredible job of getting us all on the same page."