Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rodgers Unfazed By Benitez Return Talk

Brendan Rodgers is not threatened by talk of a potential return to Liverpool for former Anfield manager Rafa Benitez.

The interim Chelsea boss is expected to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season and has suggested he will one day take charge of the Merseyside outfit again.

But Rodgers is confident that, having elected not to pursue Benitez in the summer, he has the full backing of the Liverpool board.

"I haven't seen the statements but I've heard plenty of people talk about it," Rodgers told reporters.

"Rafa had a successful time here in the period he was here and I think he will join a list of probably many managers throughout the world who would love to manage a great club - especially having been here before.

"Obviously that opportunity was there in the summer if the owners wanted to go down that route as Rafa was unemployed and not working.

"But they felt it best to go in a different direction and develop the club in a different way, and from that the board, players, myself and the club have all become one in looking to move forward and build success for the future.

"It is understandable any manager wanting to manage the club because it is truly a world-class football club.

"It is not a hindrance to me. Before I came here I had seen comments about Rafa wanting to be manager and I've seen comments while I've been here, but it doesn't affect me in my work or my job. My relationship is very strong with the players, we work very closely together on improving our football.

"We are very stable in terms of our board and the manager connection and we have some of the best fans in the world.

"It is a pleasure for me to be here at a truly remarkable club that many managers would want to manage, not just Rafael Benitez."

Liverpool Could Go Dutch In Search For A New Goalkeeper

At the beginning of the season, Pepe Reina seemed to be a ‘shoe in’ as Liverpool’s first choice ‘keeper, but as the season wore on, Brad Jones broke into the first eleven and has played far more games than he surely thought likely. Although Reina is now once more in possession of the gloves, and Rodgers is speaking positively about Reina being at Anfield next season, rumours persist that all may not be well between manager and ‘keeper, and that Liverpool may opt to move Reina on in the summer.

Should this happen, there’s likely to be a few interested clubs. Not least among them will be Arsenal, who have a goalkeeper ‘crisis of confidence’ of their own, although they are currently linked with a different Spanish goalkeeper, the apparently unsettled Iker Casillas of Real Madrid. A further Spanish club could also enter the equation. Barcelona, Reina’s first club, where Victor Valdes appears likely to be leaving a vacancy as he strangely appears keen to pursue a new challenge away from the Camp Nou. If Reina does leave, it seems unlikely that Rodgers will be happy to rely on Jones, so a new ‘keeper arriving would seem to be likely. If so, where is Liverpool casting their eyes?

Rodgers has revealed a penchant for signing players that he knows are both tuned-in to his ethos of the game and known quantities. The Northern Irishman has already returned to former club Swansea City for Joe Allen, and has also re-secured the services of Fabio Borini, albeit via a detour to the Italian capital with AS Roma. Talk is, as well, that Swansea centre back Ashley Williams is on Liverpool’s radar for a summer bid. It’ll probably come as no surprise therefore that rumour has it that Rodgers number one option, should a goalkeeper be required, is Dutchman Michel Vorm, currently plying his trade in south Wales at the Liberty Stadium.

Vorm was secured in 2001 from Utrecht for the princely sum of £1.5million, and safe to say that should the deal go through, the fee required from Liverpool will be substantially more than that, leaving the Welsh team with a handsome profit. Swansea are a well-run club however, and probably have no financial imperative driving them to sell. That said, they also have a policy of allowing people to move on to progress their careers, witness Rodgers and Allen for example, and before that, it was also true of managers such as Roberto Martinez. A bid of some £8million therefore, may well be enough to secure the deal.

The club will have faith in both the ability of current number two Gerhard Tremmel, at least in the short term, but also in manager Michael Laudrup’s financial acumen to pluck another rabbit from the hat in the transfer market to rank alongside Michu, de Guzman and Chico. The Dane’s knowledge of the European market has been, and continues to be a strong suit for the Welsh club.

Although the Liverpool hierarchy will have no desire to see Rodgers recreate his old Swansea team en masse, the manager’s stock will surely be high enough for them to support his judgement should a new goalkeeper be required. So as the changes continue to be rung around Anfield as the Rodgers regime takes shape, it may well be a summer move out for Pepe Reina, and one in for Michel Vorm.

Liverpool Set To Revive Interest In Lazio Star

Liverpool could revive their interest in Lazio's Modibo Diakite amid reports the centre-back's negotiations with Napoli have broken down.

The Reds were believed to have lost the race to sign the Frenchman last month as talkSPORT revealed his agent was poised to meet with representatives from Napoli.

But Diakite, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has failed to reach an agreement with the Naples-based side - and this could now open the door for other clubs to signal their interest.

Liverpool, who is in desperate need of a new centre-back, has trailed the 26-year-old for the past year.

But sources in Italy claim they are not the only club keen to capitalize on Napoli's failure to agree a deal, with Tottenham, AC Milan and Fiorentina all considering whether to make a move.

Juventus Ready To Bide Time For Luis Suarez

Juventus is willing to bide their time for Liverpool marksman Luis Suarez.

The Uruguayan's future has been the subject of frenzied speculation, with incoming Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola believed to be readying a £50m bid for him.

Suarez has been indispensable for Liverpool this season, who are seventh, seven points adrift of Arsenal in fifth.

Juventus chased Suarez last summer, however the forward pledged his future to stay at Anfield.

And now it seems they will re-ignite their interest in the close season, with Italian paper TuttoSport suggesting that they could make a swoop for Suarez, as their main target Zlatan Ibrahimovic appears reluctant to leave affluent French side PSG.

Suarez currently heads the Premier League scoring charts, having plundered 22 goals so far this term.

He is also a candidate for the PFA Player of the Year award.

Chedjou Set To Snub Liverpool Move

Lille star Aurelien Chedjou is set to snub a move to Liverpool and the Premier League in the summer and instead head to Spain, according to TalkSport.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is looking to add at least two centre-backs in the summer and the Cameroon international, who recently announced he was ready to end a six-year spell Lille, had been high on his wanted list. Chedjou has been capped 16 times for Cameroon since his debut in 2009.

According to reports in France, the 27-year-old has decided that he wants to move to Spain, with Valencia the new favourites to land him. Rodgers will have to explore other avenues as he looks for a replacement for Jamie Carragher who is retiring at the end of the campaign.

Carragher recently told the Liverpool matchday program “I’m very confident that [Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly] could play centre-back for Liverpool once they have the experience.” Brendan Rodgers doesn’t feel they are ready, however, and will now turn his attention to Swansea’s Ashley Williams.

Chedrou isn’t the only Cameroonian defender reportedly being watched by Rogers. Marseilles’ Nicolas N’Koulou is a versatile left-sided player who fits into the style of football Rogers is growing at Liverpool. His signing could see Jose Enrique or Stewart Downing move to the bench or be sold in the summer.

Liverpool Star Pens New Long-Term Deal

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has penned a new long-term contract with the club.

The Brazilian arrived at Anfield from Gremio in 2007 and has since made over 200 appearances, scoring six goals in the process.

"It's another long-term contract that I have signed - but it was the same feeling as when I first came here," the 26-year-old said after putting pen to paper.

"I am really delighted to have the opportunity to play for this club. It's where I think I belong and where I wanted to stay, so I am very happy and looking forward to a few more years here.

"It was an easy decision because after the long period of my career I have had here, I would like to give the best of my time to this club. It was not a difficult decision to make and I am really looking forward to what will hopefully be a few more years with a lot of success."

Lucas has become central figure in the Liverpool team under new boss Brendan Rodgers, but injury has hampered his progress in recent seasons.

A knee injury picked up against Chelsea in November 2011 ended his campaign early while this term a thigh injury kept him sidelined for three months.

Despite his problems the combative midfielder remains a fan favourite, and Ian Ayre said he was delighted to have tied Lucas down with a long-term deal.

"It's fantastic. He has been such a great servant to the club and I think during the period he went through with his two injuries, he put so much work into it and the club supported him through it.

"He just goes from strength to strength. We said throughout last summer and January, we wanted to keep our best, experienced players, and this is another great example of that.

"The manager has said several times that as well as having a great, young squad, it's important we have experience and it's important we have characters. People like Lucas fit that.

"He'll tell you he's still very young, but in footballing terms he's experienced and a big part of the team."

Gerrard Fears World Cup Failure

England captain Steven Gerrard admits the prospect of failing to qualify for next year's World Cup is "daunting".

England sit two points behind Group H leaders Montenegro after drawing in Podgorica last month and face the prospect of a two-legged play-off should they not overhaul that deficit before the end of the campaign.

With the Football Association celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and the 2014 World Cup taking place in one of football's great heartlands, Brazil, Gerrard accepts there is a hint of added pressure.

The Liverpool midfielder, speaking at the Soccerex Euro Forum in Manchester, told reporters: "It's daunting if you fear the challenge and start worrying and concern yourself with not qualifying; it is daunting, there's no getting away from it.

"It is a huge year for the FA, the 150-year anniversary and what they're doing for the game and putting back in.

"But in amongst that we've got a really big challenge ahead of us, and that's to qualify for probably the biggest World Cup that there's going to be.

"There's no bigger place than Brazil to have a World Cup except England for us players, so we want to be there and we're desperate to be there and we'll keep fighting all the way to the end."

Despite that admission, Gerrard remains confident England can qualify as group winners and believes the reaction to his side's 1-1 result in Montenegro was somewhat unfair.

"When we look back on the campaign, hopefully when we become group winners, we can look back and say this was a very good point," he said.

"I was a bit surprised by the reaction to that game because it was built up as a very tough away game. The bit of stick we've had since that result surprised me a bit.

"It was slightly harsh because of the build up, all the questions I answered were 'this team's tough, they've got world-class players, the atmosphere is going to be you realize how tough this game is going to be?'."

Downing And Sterling Fitness Update

Reds winger Stewart Downing is available again for this weekend's trip to Reading following a bout of sickness, but Raheem Sterling has been ruled out of Saturday's clash by manager Brendan Rodgers.

Downing was withdrawn after 25 minutes against West Ham last Sunday, having attempted to feature at Anfield despite suffering illness before the match.

At his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, the boss revealed that the 28-year-old has returned to fitness - although Sterling will not make the squad.

"Young Raheem won't be involved. Stewart Downing had a bout of sickness last weekend just before the game, hence the reason for him having to come off," Rodgers told reporters.

"He's fine now. Apart from that, we're fit and strong - the players are looking very good."

Asked to expand on Sterling's fitness, the Northern Irishman explained that the club's medical team is focusing on the 18-year-old's long-term availability.

He added: "The medics wanted to take him out for a few weeks just to see where he was at with injuries. It has been an ongoing one.

"He's a very young player so we don't want to risk any long-term injury when there's no need. Of course you would rather have him in the squad to develop him, but this is a part of making sure we have a duty of care for him as a young player.

"When he shows signs of fatigue and a little bit of injury, we have to look at that and treat it in the best way we think possible. At the moment, that's to take him out."