Dudek and Baros missing from TNS return squad

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has picked a pretty strong squad for the Reds’ second-leg match against TNS in the Champions League first qualifying round.

The game takes place tomorrow night and is being played at Liverpool’s other "home" ground – the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham. Liverpool’s reserve games are played at the North Wales venue, which also hosted Liverpool’s first friendly of the season, which saw the Reds beat Wrexham 4-3.

Rafa has chosen 18 players in total, and conspiracy theorists and the press will be delighted to hear that Jerzy Dudek and Milan Baros are missing from the squad. Both players appeared in Saturday’s friendly against Leverkusen, but were omitted from the party to travel back for the game from the training base in Switzerland. Neither player appeared in the first leg, which means they aren’t cup-tied should they move club this season.

Liverpool go into the game with a 3-0 lead, but Benitez is not going to take any chances of a slip-up. The game will also help with the physical conditioning of the players in advance of the Premiership season which is now less than a month away.

Steven Warnock has been included, after being stretchered off in Liverpool’s friendly on Saturday.

The game will be shown live in the UK on ITV2.

Full Squad

Goalkeepers: Jose Reina, Scott Carson

Defenders: Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Stephen Warnock, Zak Whitbread, Josemi, John Arne Riise

Midfielders: Steven Gerrard, Darren Potter, Bolo Zenden, Luis Garcia, Dietmar Hamann, Xabi Alonso

Forwards: Djibril Cisse, Fernando Morientes, Anthony Le Tallec
Continue reading Dudek and Baros missing from TNS return squad

Owen claims he’s happy with Madrid

Late last week the local press in Liverpool reported on stories that have been gaining momentum "off the record" in recent weeks – namely that Michael Owen wants to come back home to Liverpool.

According to the stories, Owen is unhappy with life in Spain and is missing his home life in North Wales. It’s not really a footballing decision – he’s happy enough with his minutes on the field for Real Madrid – it’s more the fact he’s not enjoying being away from his family and friends.

For Owen to come back to England there’s only one club he wants to play for – and that’s Liverpool. He doesn’t want to be unpopular, and knows that Manchester United would not be the club to go to. Any other clubs are just too far away from the family and friends he’s missing so much. National newspapers have picked up on the story, and in some cases have added Manchester United as a likely destination for the England star.

The talk from inside Anfield is that Liverpool’s Rick Parry and David Moores would love to welcome Owen back at the right price, or even on loan. Rafa Benitez is said to be less keen – not that he doesn’t want Owen, just that he’s already decided how he wants to spend his budget. Peter Crouch is on his shopping list, although the longer Southampton hold out, the more chance there is that Benitez will look elsewhere. Now this weekend there are flimsy reports that Milan Baros is wanted by West Ham – for £5.5million. Maybe the sale of Baros would be the key to a Liverpool move for Owen.

Owen himself is with his Real Madrid team mates on their club’s World Tour. At the moment they are in the States, where Owen spoke to the LA Daily News to deny the stories about him wanting to go back to England.

Just under a year ago Owen made his move to Madrid, only days after saying he expected to sign a new deal at Anfield. Differing stories emerge about the circumstances of his move, but Owen claims he wasn’t desperate to leave the club he’d been with since being a schoolboy: "I didn’t have great desire to leave Liverpool, but once Real Madrid comes knocking, it’s one of only a few clubs in the world everyone wants to play for." It’s the same story that Owen told when he did move – there’s nothing wrong with Liverpool, he still loves the club, but how could he pass up the opportunity to play alongside Ronaldo and Zidane? "That’s the primary reason I came here from Liverpool. One of the big things was trying to improve my game and playing with all the top players in the world. This is the pinnacle of everyone’s career, and I wanted to come and give it a try."

In his first season in Spain he made 36 appearances – only 20 of which he started. He scored 13 goals in those games though, some vital, as Real Madrid ultimately missed out on winning La Liga by a much smaller margin than many had feared.

We’ve already pointed out that Owen’s unhappiness is off the field, not on it. So when the US press asked if he was unhappy he carefully worded his denial: "I’m not unhappy at all. When I joined the club, I don’t think people expected me to play as much as I did last year, score as much as I did. I can’t understand why a lot of this speculation comes about. You get this every year at Real Madrid. It’s such a big team, it’s always who’s the next star coming, who’s the next star leaving. … If the manager says something about a couple players, and my name is mentioned, the press is quite quick to spin it around. I haven’t done an interview in two months when all this came out. It was strange to see my name with this."

Owen’s attempts at a move back home need to be finalised soon though – Rafa Benitez needs to know what cards he’s got to play with. Owen’s second game on US soil last night saw his Madrid side beat Gaudalajara 3-1 in Chicago. His debut in the States was at the end of last season when he scored a hat-trick for England in their 3-2 friendly win over Colombia in New Jersey.

Despite many rumours to the contrary, Luis Figo is in the USA with the rest of his team mates, and he did make an appearance for Madrid in last night’s match. The future of the Portugese star does look set to be tied up in the early part of this week though. Figo has negotiated his settlement fee with Madrid, and they have dropped their demands for a transfer fee. All that is left now is for the player to choose Italy or England as his destination. If what he said about Liverpool being a dream move for him is true, he’ll probably be pictured in the Reds number 11 shirt early in the week.
Continue reading Owen claims he’s happy with Madrid

Reds on the box: Leverkusen v LFC

UK-based Reds fans will be able to see Liverpool in action tomorrow night on TV.

Liverpool take on German side Bayer Leverkusen in Austria in a friendly, and Channel Five (or "five" as they prefer to be known nowadays) will be showing the whole game live.

The kick off is at 6:30pm UK time (7:30pm CET) and the TV programme starts at 6:20pm.

There are of course no restrictions for Rafa Benitez to worry about in terms of who plays. In the Champions League qualifier second leg on Tuesday he may choose to keep the likes of Jerzy Dudek and Milan Baros off the field in order to avoid them being cup-tied, and he’s also unable to play new signing Momo Sissoko due to the player not being registered in time for the competition.

Liverpool fans will recall Liverpool’s two victories against Leverkusen last season en route to the Champions League final, both of which finished 3-1 in favour of the Reds.

Continue reading Reds on the box: Leverkusen v LFC

Cult-hero Igor finds his new club

Former Liverpool star Igor Biscan has found himself a new club after being released by Liverpool in the summer.
The Croatian has joined Greek side Panathinaikos, turning down a late offer from Spartak Moscow. Biscan had also been linked with a move to Turkey, but has settled on a three-year deal in Greece.

Igor was signed by Gerard Houllier, and found himself rarely used by the Frenchman, and towards the end of the Houllier reign being used out of position in central defence. After the arrival of Rafa Benitez the player got to make some appearances in his favoured midfield role, where he certainly impressed people with the improvement he’d made.

Despite his good showing though the Reds cult hero could not get himself a suitable contract extension and his four and a half year Anfield career came to an end. With the signing of Zenden and Sissoko to join Gerrard, Alonso and Hamman as Reds midfielders, Biscan may well have found his first team chances more limited than ever.

Should Igor return to Anfield again in the future to play against the Reds he can be sure of a warm reception from the fans.

We wish Igor luck on his Greek adventure.

Continue reading Cult-hero Igor finds his new club

Reports: Owen fancies homecoming

Reports coming from Merseyside suggest that former Reds hero Michael Owen wants to move back home to England and to Anfield. The Liverpool Echo has reported the story as an exclusive this afternoon, but the story does reflect other stories we have heard in recent weeks.

Owen moved to Real Madrid for £8million last summer and after a tough start to his Spanish career he became a first-choice member of the team by the end of the season. According to the reports though Owen is desperately unhappy at Madrid – not just with the football but with being so far away from his family.

It’s no secret that Owen has always had a very close-knit family – he bought his parents and siblings practically every house in a little close in his home village of Hawarden in North Wales, and at the time his own house was in the same village. Owen now has a mansion in another village in North Wales, just down the road from Hawarden, and would like to spend more time there with his new wife Louise and their daughter.

Many rumours since Owen joined Madrid say that Liverpool have a deal to be given first refusal on the player should he leave Madrid. This has never been confirmed officially, and with Real’s recent decision to go back on a verbal agreement with Figo over a free transfer, there’s no saying they would stick to it.

The problem for Owen is that he reportedly only wants to move back to Anfield – no other English club interests him. Chelsea and Arsenal would still be too far away for Michael and Louise from their long-time home. The only other club that would be able to afford Owen and still be in driving distance from his North Wales roots would be Manchester United – and Owen just won’t consider a move to a team he’s always considered the enemy. If Liverpool is the only club he wants to play for, he needs to persuade Rick Parry and Rafa Benitez that they should take him back.

Rafa Benitez has been carefully planning with Rick Parry how to spend the transfer budget. Money has already been spent on the likes of Jose Reina and Momo Sissoko, and Benitez has admitted that he is interested in bringing Peter Crouch in from Southampton.

The reports claim that Liverpool are talking about the idea of bringing Owen back to Anfield in a twelve-month loan deal. The reports also claim that this is not necessarily something that Real are offering.

Owen flew to America yesterday along with another Liverpool target Luis Figo as Real started their summer tour.  Further to what we reported earlier, it now seems that the only stumbling block left for Figo’s move to Anfield is how much he gets in a contract settlement from Real. Inter Milan are still interested.

Continue reading Reports: Owen fancies homecoming

Figo deal looks set to be sorted

Reports this morning suggest that Rafael Benitez and Rick Parry have won the battle of wills with Real Madrid over Luis Figo. Figo was told by Real Madrid that he could leave on a free if he could find a new club. The Portugese international spoke to Liverpool and reportedly agreed terms on a deal to join the Reds. Reports vary as to the length of the deal, but Figo would be taking a pay cut to play for the European Champions.

Just as the deal was set to go through Real Madrid did a u-turn and demanded a fee for the player. They reportedly wanted £2million for the player. Liverpool refused to budge, leaving Madrid having to consider their next move. Inter Milan were interested in the player, but the player wasn’t keen on moving to Italy – he’d already said that a move to Liverpool would be his dream move. By January he would be able to negotiate a deal with Liverpool and then leave Madrid on a free transfer the following summer. That would leave Madrid having to pay a player who may spend a large part of the season on the bench £5million in wages.

Hints from the Real vice-president earlier in the week showed that Real may be softening in their demands for this money, as they seemed to be moving towards cutting their losses. Emilio Butragueno said of the Figo situation:

"We hope that we reach an agreement that satisfies both sides. Luis is an extraordinary professional and we have a very good relationship with him."

Figo travelled to the USA with the rest of the team for their pre-season tour, but could arrange a flight back to Europe very quickly if he got the green light from the Spanish side.

Continue reading Figo deal looks set to be sorted

Welsh told he can leave for right price

The Liverpool Way Summer 2005According to a well-respected Liverpool fanzine, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has told John Welsh that he’s welcome to leave Liverpool on a permanent deal should the right offer be made for him.

Welsh has been an extremely promising player for Liverpool but now looks to be way out of line for a place in Liverpool’s midfield. Welsh captained the England under-21s last season and was rated very highly.

Today’s unveiling of Momo Sissoko by Rafael Benitez means that Welsh is going to have to compete for a place in centre midfield with Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Dietmar Hamann and Bolo Zenden.

The fanzine, The Liverpool Way, claims that Welsh met with Benitez to talk about a possible loan move in order to gain experience, and in that meeting Benitez suggested that he could move on permanently if the right bid was made.

There’s no indication that Benitez is telling the player he wants him to leave, it could be literally that Benitez feels that Welsh needs to move in order to fulfill his potential. The article suggests that the player is still more likely to leave on loan, but that if he were to be sold then a fee of £1 million would be required.

Another player that could be about to leave on loan is right-back David Raven, in a move across the water to Tranmere. The Prenton Park club sold last season’s main right-back Ryan Taylor to newly-promoted Wigan Athletic, and Raven is now being linked as a replacement. Raven was on Tranmere’s books before moving to the Liverpool academy aged 14. Raven could be second choice right-back at Anfield this season – rumours of Josemi moving on continue to circulate, and Benitez won’t be keen on playing Carragher back out at full-back again as his centre-back performances have been too important for the Reds.

Jamie Carragher and Neil Mellor have given interviews to the fanzine for its special Summer 2005 issue, which has just come out. In it Carragher talks about the European Cup final, and gives the full insight into what he said to Jerzy Dudek prior to the penalty shootout. As a friend of the fanzine’s editor, Carragher reveals more than he perhaps would to the national newspapers or the official site.

This issue of the fanzine is a special edtion – they don’t normally bring one out at this time of the year, and it’s not normally got as many pages in it. In many ways this edition of the fanzine is well worth buying – not a bad price for a souvenir of Liverpool’s glory in Turkey.  For more information check out the Liverpool Way website.

Continue reading Welsh told he can leave for right price

Momo: “I am a Red man”

Liverpool unveiled their latest signing officially today – Mohamed Sissoko. Momo, as he prefers to be known, reportedly cost Liverpool £5.5 million and was ripped from under the noses of local rivals Everton.

Momo played for Rafa Benitez the season before last at Valencia, and the Mali international said that it was Rafa that persuaded him to snub the blues. Speaking at Melwood, Momo said: “The motivation for me was the manager. He was the manager who got me into the first division in Spain and I have great respect for him. The motivation to join Liverpool came from him. I appreciate the way he works, the motivation he has and the ambition he has.”

Sissoko revealed that Liverpool’s decision to make a bid for him almost came too late after he’d so nearly agreed to join Everton. He said: “It was close, but I opted to sign for Liverpool. It was a decision I made on my own and I believe it was the right decision.” Sissoko knows that Evertonians will be bitter to see the player who turned them down wearing the Red of Liverpool, but doesn’t see it as a problem: “I am sure it’s going to be tricky, but for me that’s not really a problem. I am a Red man and I am happy.”

Sissoko knows that he’s got to fight against some excellent players for a place in the team, but at 20 years of age is looking forward to working with those players: “I am here to learn from the players who are already here, like Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. I was at the match last night and I was pleased with what I saw. The team played well, passed the ball well – and as for Steven Gerrard, he’s a great player.”

That performance from Steven Gerrard included a hat-trick, and as we said last night it’s his first one for Liverpool. Liverpool’s captain said: “It’s probably my first and last hat-trick for Liverpool. I should have scored a hat-trick against Graz last year. I think I was seven or eight the last time I got one.” Gerrard says the hat-trick had extra meaning in the wake of his near departure from the club: “It was special for me after everything which has gone on. It was great to get the reaction I did from the fans. That made it even more special.”

Continue reading Momo: “I am a Red man”

Teams: Liverpool v TNS – CL 1st Rnd Qual 1st leg

The two teams have been announced for tonight’s Champions League clash between Liverpool and Total Network Solutions of Wales at Anfield. Rafa Benitez has chosen to give a competitive debut to Pepe Reina. Another new boy is selected as a substitute – Bolo Zenden.

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock, Potter, Alonso, Gerrard, Riise, Morientes, Le Tallec. Subs: Carson, Baros, Cisse, Hamann, Josemi, Zenden, Whitbread.
TNS: Doherty, Baker, Jackson, Evans, King, Wood, Ruscoe, Holmes, Naylor, Ward, Wilde. Subs: Acton, Lloyd-Williams, Beck, Lawless, Toner, Hogan, Leah.
Referee: Joeri Van Der Velde (Belgium)
Continue reading Teams: Liverpool v TNS – CL 1st Rnd Qual 1st leg

Redknapp sets Crouch deadline, Reds bid for Milito

Liverpool’s attempts to sign Southampton striker Peter Crouch must come to a conclusion by the end of the week according to Saints boss Harry Redknapp.

Redknapp doesn’t want to lose the striker, and if he does he wants his full valuation for the player. Liverpool are refusing to go as high as that in their attempts to sign the player, but haven’t given up hope of signing him yet. Rafael Benitez wants him to be signed in time for Liverpool’s trip to a training camp in Switzerland later this week. Redknapp says it’s simple – pay the fee and take the player, by the end of the week, or forget about the deal: "If they want him they have got to pay the money. They said they wanted to go on tour with him so they need to buy him this week or forget all about him. Then we can all get on with our lives."

Due to Crouch making his England debut at the end of May, Southampton feel the player is worth £8million. Redknapp wants to keep the player, but admits that every player has a price: "We don’t want to sell him but obviously if the money is right then we would have to look at it, but the offer they have made is not good enough. They offered £6m for him, West Ham did too, but we decided it wasn’t enough."

Redknapp wouldn’t confirm the fee the club require for the player, but said the Reds hadn’t yet matched it: "I don’t want to say how much we want for him but they are not there at the moment, that’s for sure. I want to keep him anyway. We have got to try to get back out of this league and I have already lost some good players. If we sold him I’m sure I wouldn’t see all of it but although I would be able to bring in two or three players I would rather have Crouchy."

Benitez is hoping to have Crouch in his squad as soon as possible so that the player is being coached in the new Liverpool way. Speaking earlier in the week, Rafa said: "Crouch is a player I like and I would hope that the final talking will be over as soon as possible. I would like to see him working with us, at this stage of our season you want players sooner rather than later."

Whether Benitez and Rick Parry are playing poker with Southampton remains to be seen, but Crouch will be bitterly disappointed should the deal fall through. Another player that looks set to be disappointed is Luis Figo. Liverpool are refusing to pay the £2million suddenly demanded by Real Madrid, which means the move described by Figo as a dream move could be off. Liverpool have agreed terms with the players based on the original agreement with Real that the player would be allowed to leave on a free transfer. Now to confuse matters there is interest in the Portugese star from the disgraced Italian side Inter Milan.

Inter played their city rivals AC Milan in the Champions League last season, in a game that had to be abandoned after missiles were thrown onto the pitch by Inter supporters. The owner of Internazionale, Massimo Moratti, claimed that newspaper reports linking Inter with Figo were true. He said on the club’s official website: "It’s true what the newspapers have said this week. Figo is a player that everyone likes but it depends on how he can fit into the mechanism of the squad and how much space he can get."

Inter are reported to be trying to offload 10 players before the new season kicks off, and Moratti claims that this will have an impact on whether they sign Figo: "I think that Real and the player’s wishes are evident, but everything is linked to our transfer market departures."

The Reds are reported by various sources as being short on funds at the moment, stories that seem to be being disproven every day. Liverpool have paid significant transfer fees for Pepe Reina and Momo Sissoko. Although Bolo Zenden arrived on a free transfer, Liverpool still had to commit to his new contract, as they have done with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Didi Hamman and Djimi Traore. Now the Reds are reported to have put in a bid of £7.5million for Real Zaragoza defender Gabriel Milito.

Milito was asked last month if he fancied a move to Anfield when rumours about the Liverpool interest first surfaced. The Argentinian international said at the time: "If Liverpool make a concrete offer it would be very difficult to say no. I am happy at Real but it is not every day that the champions of Europe make you an offer."

For Liverpool to continue to be able to persuade players to join them, their status as Champions of Europe needs to be complimented with the club actually defending their title as long as possible. That defence starts tonight with a visit to Anfield for Welsh champions TNS. Benitez was asked how he felt about Liverpool having to start their defence so early in the summer, but was philosophical about it: "All of us have the same opinion on us being in the first round but we cannot change anything. I was surprised when I found out we needed to play three rounds but we’ll just have to do our best. We don’t have the pace yet but we do have the quality."

Benitez warned his players against complacency, but is hoping to get the tie over with in the first leg. The club are taking the opposition seriously, having been trying hard to secure footage of the Welsh team: "We have enough information about them but it is not easy to find the videos of TNS. The four tapes we have are not the same quality as, say, the videos we have for Milan."
Continue reading Redknapp sets Crouch deadline, Reds bid for Milito