Rafa makes room for Owen’s return

As we revealed late last night, Liverpool striker Anthony Le Tallec has gone North to Sunderland on a 12-month-loan. Rafa Benitez is cutting down on his current strikers at the club, with Le Tallec’s loan move coinciding with the imminent departure of Milan Baros.

The 20-year-old Frenchman was sent out on loan at the start of last season under a cloud after complaining to Benitez about his position in the squad. He came back in the new year with a new attitude, and played an important part in Liverpool Champions League victory over Juventus at Anfield last season.

He’s had some Champions League involvement already this season, but after a chat with Benitez has decided to go to Sunderland to gain some more playing time. Speaking to Sunderland’s official website, safc.com, Le Tallec said: "I chose to come to Sunderland because I need to play games. At Liverpool it is very difficult to play every week, the coach told me that."

Le Tallec admitted that his knowledge of the North East team was limited but said he’s excited about the move: "I don’t know too much about Sunderland but I see it as a big club and a big challenge. I spoke to Mick McCarthy about the club and had a good feeling straight away. I’m a competitor and want to play games. I’m looking forward to
playing in the Premiership with Sunderland."

According to the Press Association, Milan Baros has made it known that he’d have no qualms about a move to Everton. After speaking to his advisors Baros is believed to be prepared for the stick he would receive if he changed his colours. Although Everton fans chanted "Die Die" to Nick Barmby when he moved in the opposite direction during the Houllier era, Liverpool fans would probably just wish the Czech international well and move on.

Everton’s Chief Executive Keith Wyness had earlier confirmed that the blues were looking at a possible move for Baros, telling the Liverpool Echo: "We are looking at a number of different striking options and we are currently reviewing them all. Baros is one of the names on the list." Everton sources say that the blues are confident that they could have the player signed in time for a Champions League appearance in their tie against Villarreal. Baros was at Anfield tonight, watching from the stands with Spanish right-back Josemi.

Before tonight’s game Rafa Benitez was asked by ITV2 if he was looking just for a centre-back and a right-sided midfielder, not a centre-forward such as Michael Owen. His answer: "At this moment we have a lot of strikers". The interviewer continued, "So Michael Owen is not an option?" to which Rafa replied, smiling, "we are looking for a centre-back and a right-winger".

Behind the scenes Liverpool are looking at the possibility of bringing Owen back to Anfield, whether on loan or on a permanent deal, and Benitez will not deny the interest in the player until the situation is resolved one way or the other. With Real Madrid just back in training today after their world tour, the two clubs will be able to resume talks over both Owen and Luis Figo.
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Xabi says blues have tough task

Liverpool’s Spanish midfield genius Xabi Alonso today said that Everton will have a really difficult job to get past Villareal in the Champions League qualifiers, and that he feels sorry for the blue side of the city.

Xabi AlonsoXabi reckons that Villareal are possibly one of the most difficult teams Everton could have been drawn against. He said: "I actually feel sorry for Everton in drawing Villarreal. It is going to be very difficult for them to go through now because they are a very strong Spanish team, with a lot of experience."

Villarreal finished third in last season’s Spanish League, with only the two giants of Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of them. Xabi says Villarreal are upbeat in preparation for the match: "I know that Villarreal’s players are very confident that they will do great work in the Champions League this season. The best team will prevail in that tie, but from Everton’s point of view I think they need to take close care of Juan Roman Riquelme. If he is allowed to play with freedom, Villarreal will create many opportunities to score."

Alonso warned Everton of another couple of players they need to watch out for: "With players like Diego Forlan and Jose Mari in their side, you can’t afford to give them chances. Stopping Riquelme is going to be the key to success for Everton."

Liverpool need to beat the champions of Lithuania tonight to get through to their own third-round qualifier. Liverpool would play CSKA Sofia or KF Tirana if they got through.

Liverpool are already ahead 3-1 from the first leg, meaning that Kaunas have to score three times to knock Liverpool out. Alonso feels confident of a victory, although he’s still full of respect for their opponents: "I hope that Kaunas aren’t capable of scoring twice at Anfield but you must never take matters for granted in football. That’s why we have to be serious from the first kick, keep the ball and try to grab an early goal. If we manage to do that, we shouldn’t have too many problems."

He continued: "We are playing at home with a two-goal advantage, so I am totally confident that we’ll beat them – but we have to be prudent. From the start we must take the match seriously and take control of things and if we play to our potential, I’m confident we will win the second leg handsomely."
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Cisse – fitter, stronger, faster

Everton became the latest club to be linked to a move for Liverpool striker Milan Baros, who still looks set to leave the Anfield club before the end of the transfer window. He’s not in the squad for tonight’s Champions League qualifier at Anfield so that he doesn’t become cup-tied. The latest reports claim that Everton can match Liverpool’s asking price of £6million, and can also afford his wages. Whether the Czech star fancies a move across the park to a club of that type remains to be seen.

One player that is definitely staying at Anfield is striker Djibril Cisse. Cisse’s first season at Anfield was interrupted by a horrific broken leg and he only returned to action right at the end of the season. It was an amazing recovery, well ahead of schedule, and fitting that he scored a penalty in the Champions League Final shootout in May as Liverpool became European Champions.

Cisse is pleased with his pre-season form and fitness levels, and says that he’s doing even better now than he was before he was injured. One of the routines the players work through during the pre-season conditioning is sprinting tests, of which the French star said: "I did even better than last year, which just goes to show what great work we did with the doctors who helped me recover. It was so important to me to do so well because after the injury that was one of the things I worried about most, getting back that acceleration. But in the tests I was the one who jumped the highest and ran the fastest. No one at Liverpool can beat me! Djibril is back!"
Cisse is fast becoming a hero of the fans at Anfield with his attitude to the club. He even got married this summer in a red suit. Now the Lord of Frodsham wants to get things right on the pitch, making up for the difficulties he faced last season. He says: "At first, I admit it was difficult. Most foreign players need a bit of time to adapt when they arrive in England. I had never played with Milan Baros before, so it’s only normal that it takes a bit of time to settle in and get to know each other’s game. But I felt that I just as I was getting into my stride and getting used to things on the field, the injury came along and struck me down."

The player was signed by Liverpool before Rafa Benitez became manager, in a deal brokered by Gerard Houllier a year before the player actually joined. He is not the type of player to just turn up and earn his money. He wants to win. He tries to explain: "I can take criticism, all the time it’s fair. People pay their money to come to the stadium and they expect you to give your best. The thing is, I have to put my talents to the best use. I have to use my pace at the right time. Yes, sometimes I wave my arms around and complain I didn’t get the ball when and where I wanted it but that’s just my way of dealing with things. Thierry Henry does the same, showing his frustration. Sometimes people confuse that with some kind of superiority complex, when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just always wound up when I’m out there on the field. I live for my football and I’m desperate to do my best. That’s just the way I am and the way I express myself but people who’ve played alongside me over the years will vouch for the fact that I’ve always been a team man."

Echoing a lot of what has been said by Rafa Benitez in light of the numerous summer signings, Djibs promises that he’ll be a new and improved player in a new and improved team: "This season, you’re going to see another Liverpool and people will see another Djibril Cisse. I’m ready now. This is going to be my season. After all I went through last season, it’s only normal for me to want to pay everyone back. I owe so much. The club was always behind me, always believed in me, even when I was seriously injured. I owe it to all my friends and to all the fans who were there for me."
Rafa Benitez is looking for goals from all around his squad, but it’s no secret that the strikers need to be scoring more. Cisse has responded by setting himself a massive target of 20 Premiership goals next season. He says: "I have made a lot of progress since my Auxerre days, but there’s still plenty to come. I think my left foot is better now and I’m better in the air too but I’ve still got some way to go – I’m not yet at Thierry Henry’s level. I’ve set myself a target. I’ve got to score at least 20 goals in the Premier League this season. That’s achievable. I needed that first year to adjust and the team needed it too. From here on in, things are going to get better and better. I see only happiness ahead."

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Du The Dudek hits seven in indie chart

Indie ChartLiverpool fans the Trophy Boyz narrowly missed out on hitting the Top 40 when the UK singles chart was announced on Sunday. We listened anxiously to JK and Joel reading out the countdown on Radio 1, but alas no mention of the catchy tribute to Liverpool’s success in Istanbul.

Du the Dudek commemorates all the memorable events of the night Liverpool became European Champions, especially the antics of Reds goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek. The single did make the Top 50 though, entering at number 49. The majority of the sales of the record were through outlets that aren’t registered for chart purposes, meaning that the true position of the record should have been much higher.

There is good news though for the single – it went straight into the Indie chart at number 7. This is a great achievement for the band.

The band announced last week that all profits from the single would be donated to help Michael Shields. Michael is in prison in Bulgaria at the moment, wrongfully imprisoned for a crime that somebody else admits. The costs of legal fees, travel, accomodation and so on are high, and the band felt compelled to help. The single is still available of course, and if you’ve not yet bought a copy now is a good time to order one, or even to download a copy.

For more information on where to get the single from, go to the www.duthedudek.net website.
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Le Tallec loan could make room for Owen

Liverpool striker Anthony Le Tallec is reported to be about to join Sunderland on a season-long loan. This news comes after Red’s boss Rafael Benitez insisted he wasn’t thinking about a move for former Reds hero Michael Owen.

Rafa’s been busy this summer, but has still not managed to bolster his defence, which he says is now his priority: “I am only thinking about my strikers and not about the ideas of Real Madrid and Michael Owen,” he said. “Everybody knows my squad and that I have a clear idea of what the future holds. We have a lot of strikers now and I am not thinking about another centre forward now, only trying to find a new central defender. The most important thing is for me to protect Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher because they cannot be expected to play 60 games each season. We need a centre half. I need a defender and a right winger. We have some ideas and we are making progress.”

Arsene Wenger has already confirmed he isn’t planning to make a move for Owen, Chelsea have shown no interest, and Manchester United aren’t actually in a position to bid for the player if reports are to be believed. The only club that does seem to be willing is Newcastle United – but a fourteenth placed team is not really what Owen has in mind if he’s to return to the Premiership.

With Benitez claiming that Liverpool have a lot of strikers, it certainly does look at first like he’s no room for Michael Owen in his plans. The two striking heroes of Liverpool’s Champions League comeback against Olympiakos will be available for selection again soon – Florent Sinama-Pongolle is back training again now after his injury, and Neil Mellor is close to a return too. New signing Peter Crouch, French international Djibril Cisse and Spanish star Fernando Morientes are the main three strikers at Rafa’s disposal.

Milan Baros is almost certain to leave soon – Schalke were soon put straight about Liverpool’s lack of interest in sending the Czech international out on loan, but another club is reportedly in advanced talks with Liverpool about the player. With Le Tallec possibly heading to the North East, subject to a medical, maybe Benitez will have room for Owen after all.

Owen will return to pre-season training with Real tomorrow after his club’s friendly tour of the USA and the Far East.
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Schalke: Baros loan deal agreed with Reds

According to Sky Sports, Schalke 04 were claiming today that they had been given the green light from Liverpool over a loan move for Milan Baros.

The Czech Republic striker has been unhappy at Anfield for some time, and after being omitted from all of Liverpool’s early Champions League games this season it was obvious Liverpool were ready to move him out.

The Reds reportedly wanted £7million for the forward, top scorer in the last European Championships, but Schalke claimed over the weekend that the asking price was out of their reach – for now.

Baros had reportedly agreed terms with the German side already, who were due to speak to Anfield officials about the loan idea. Their general manager, Rudi Assauer, said: “We have not yet spoken about all the figures yet but we want Baros for a year on loan and at the same time an option to buy for 2006.”

For Liverpool to agree to this there must be caution involved. Baros will be down to the last year of his deal by the time a year has passed, and his valuation will drop substantially. If the reports are true then Ralf Rangnick, the Schalke coach, will have seen his dreams come true. He said: "We have agreed everything with Baros and his agent. He’s top of my wish list. He’s fast and a goal threat.”

The speculation surrounding Michael Owen has increased further today, with Manchester United’s chief executive claiming that Alex Ferguson will be given money to spend if he asks for it. Journalists based in Spain are claiming that Owen is ready to move to Old Trafford. For Owen to move to Old Trafford would, as we said yesterday, prove his desperation at escaping from Real Madrid.

Paul Ince announced his retirement from football today, and he knows full well what it’s like to play for the two North West rivals. Ince is despised nowadays by the Old Trafford faithfull, and certainly can’t class himself as a popular figure on Merseyside – many fans were never happy with him during his Liverpool days and every mistake was blown out of proportion. All of this because he was an "ex-Manc". Owen would face a similar situation if he decided to get in bed with the devils.

Arsene Wenger claims that Arsenal like the player, but have no intention of making a move for him.

Rafa Benitez is hoping to tie up two more deals this week – for a central defender and a right-winger.

Luis Figo’s move to Anfield seems to be Rafa’s first choice, but this move is being held up by Real’s reluctance to pay him a severance fee. Benitez doesn’t want to hang around, and in light of this a move for Bolton’s Stelios Giannakopoulos has been back into the rumour mill.

The Greek international, now aged 30, is in talks with Bolton but admits that Liverpool have been showing interest. He now just wants the whole situation to be resolved. Stelios told the Manchester Evening News: "I hope it will have a happy end so that I can relax. The earlier you finish these situations the better it is for the player and for the fans. They keep asking ’Is Stelios staying or going?’ and I don’t know the answer. I am very happy here. You can see that from the football I play. I expect things will get rolling again and the gaffer or the chairman will speak about the situation and bring an end to the story. The stories about Liverpool were not speculation. It was a true situation. Liverpool wanted me and maybe they still want me. I have to know."

Continue reading Schalke: Baros loan deal agreed with Reds