Rafa linked with approach for Eto’o

Are Liverpool looking to bring Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o to Anfield in the summer? According to many reports this morning they are.

It seems Spanish television broke the news yesterday that Rafa had made an approach to Barcelona for the striker, who’s recently been involved in public rows with manager Frank Rijkaard. Benitez looked after Eto’o in his days in charge of Real Madrid’s academy, and he was still a Real player at the start of Rafa’s reign. When Michael Owen went to Real Madrid Rafa is also said to have tried to get Eto’o to come to Anfield as part of the deal. Eto’o chose to stay in Spain though instead, and went to Barcelona, for a fee of £16million.

With Liverpool having been taken over by Gillet and Hicks, and their promises they want to see the club succeed on the field, it’s inevitable that the Reds will be linked with big names signings. It remains to be seen just what Rafa’s transfer budget will be – bearing in mind there’s a big new chunk of TV money on its way too – but we can expect a summer full of alleged approaches for players. And not every approach will be successful – Liverpool are likely to have competition from Chelsea and Arsenal for Eto’o’s signature. And Liverpool have also strongly been linked with David Villa, another striker from the Spanish league.

Eto’o’s recent arguments have been related to his feeling he was being rushed back too soon after being out for four months with a serious knee injury. He was left out of the Champions League clash with Liverpool last week, but was back again on Sunday, scoring a goal as he started against Athletic Bilbao in Barca’s 3-0 win.

With Liverpool set for the second leg against Barcelona next week, it’s no surprise that this link has surfaced. We’re playing Manchester United next and it’s traditional for the papers to link our own players with moves to other clubs ahead of that fixture!

Continue reading Rafa linked with approach for Eto’o

Fowler: Few years left in me yet

Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler says he wants to stay a Red beyond the end of this season, and with Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez refusing to rule out an extension to his current contract there are strong hopes that the legend will be wearing our number nine shirt again next season.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo’s Chris Bascombe, Robbie said that no discussions have yet been held on his future, but he doesn’t think it’s the right time to have those talks yet anyway: “I know it’s all a bit up in the air at the moment. I’ve not spoken to anyone about the future and to be honest I’m still just focusing on enjoying every minute I’m at Liverpool. I’ll sit down with people and think about next season when the time’s right.”

Robbie has had less chances to impress this season than he’d have liked, kept out of the squad by both injury and the good form of the other three Reds strikers. His influence on the squad off the field has been important though, and many Reds fans would love to see him offered a coaching role. However Robbie is fitter now than when he arrived at the club, thanks to the training plan put together for him from the beginning by Pako Ayesteran, and feels that his playing days are far from over: “Although I’m not the youngest player at the club, I’m not that old either. I still feel I’ve a few years left in me yet and I’ll be carrying on for longer. Some people have mentioned moving into coaching and I even saw a move to the USA mentioned, but I honestly haven’t even thought about anything like that yet. I still think I’ve a lot to contribute as a player and I’m just focused on playing as much as I can between now and the end of this season. There’s a lot to play for.”

Fowler’s lengthy absence from the team with only short spells on the field meant he was always going to be rusty when he did get an opportunity to start. He played well- scoring the two penalties and setting up Liverpool’s fourth goal – but recognises that some parts of his game could have been better: “Obviously it’s not easy to come back into the team when you’ve not played for a while, and I think that showed in some parts of my game. I’d prefer to score goals from open play rather than penalties, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take any opportunity which comes along to score. It was pleasing to play a part in the goal for Stevie at the end too. He’d made the penalties for me, so it was good to repay the compliment.”

One game Robbie would love to play in is the North West derby with runaway league-leaders Manchester United. United would have to throw the league away now to miss out on their first title in a few years, but Liverpool of course want to make the formality of them picking up that title one game later by beating them. The games between the two sides are arguably as big to Liverpool fans as the more traditional derbies with the more local and much smaller club Everton. Fowler has been a thorn in United’s side in the past, so does he fancy his chances of getting a game against them? “I’m not going to be kidding myself,” he says, “I wouldn’t expect to be starting that game next weekend, but obviously to be involved in any way would be great. That’s up to the manager, but I’m not under any illusions about the situation and know there are other players who’ll come back.”

Peter Crouch’s broken nose and stitches mean he’s not guaranteed to be involved next weekend next weekend, which would at least afford Fowler the chance of playing a part from the bench.

Continue reading Fowler: Few years left in me yet

Koeman wants Zenden for PSV

Liverpool midfielder Bolo Zenden has been publicly identified as a target by PSV Eindhoven boss Ronald Koeman.

PSV were Zenden’s first professional club and he won a league title amongst other honours before he joined Barcelona. After Barcelona he moved to the Premiership, spending time at Chelsea and then Middlesbrough before becoming a Red in summer 2005.

Koeman said of Bolo: “Zenden is a good player with a lot of experience and we want to increase the amount of Dutch players. He has a warm feeling for PSV. We are really looking for these types of guys.”

Zenden’s return to Holland would be a big boost to the club he made his name at, but he feels it’s perhaps a little too soon for him to go back again: “I had a fantastic time at PSV, but I am not sure I have finished my job abroad to return to the Netherlands.”

Zenden’s future at Anfield remains open. Able to play either centrally or on the left of midfield, Bolo is certainly a useful player to have available in the squad. He knows he’s not a first-choice at the club, but then very few players are under Rafa’s way of selecting appropriate players for appropriate games. This season Rafa expected he would be using Zenden predominately as a central midfielder, and that was part of the reason Didi Hamann was allowed to join Manchester City in the summer.

With new signing Javier Mascherano making his debut in central midfield at the weekend, and Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko and Steven Gerrard also fighting for those two places, Bolo’s worth in that position may be diminished. However Rafa expected more in their first seasons from Mark González and Fabio Aurelio on that left flank. Through injury and poor form neither player has yet hit the levels hoped for from them, meaning Bolo is still important to have available in that position. Harry Kewell’s many injuries mean he’s looking less and less likely to ever play for the club again, with his contract due to end in the summer and no signs that he’s ready to negotiate a new one.

Koeman may have to wait at least one more season to get his man.

Continue reading Koeman wants Zenden for PSV

Rafa: Robbie may stay

Rafael Benítez paid tribute to Robbie Fowler, and said there were “possibilities” he’d be retained next season too. On Saturday Robbie scored two penalties, taking his season total to seven, as Liverpool beat Sheffield United 4-0.

With Liverpool agreeing a Bosman deal with Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin to join the club in the summer, it does seem on the face of it that Fowler second spell at Anfield is coming to an end – but Rafa refused to say that was the case. He said of Fowler: “If he can score goals every game, we will see, you never know. You know that we have good strikers and good possibilities. Now we have a lot of games to play so it’s better to be focused on those games. We can talk about his future later.”

Rafa likes to have options in his squad, “possibilities” as he calls them. Fowler may be coming to the end of his career, but he’s a fitter player than when he arrived and his natural abilities are unmatched at the club according to the boss: “He’s a really good finisher, the best we have. Finishing, he’s really good. If he’s not with us next season, we’ll need to look for another one like him.”

It was Fowler who set Steven Gerrard up for the fourth goal on Saturday. Fowler has had some injury troubles this season which have kept him out of contention, married to the fact that Rafa will only name three strikers in his squad of 16 for league games. Fowler’s start on Saturday was just his third league start of the season, the last one being in September at Goodison. Benitez explained why he felt Fowler was right for Saturday’s match, as opposed to the other strikers at his disposal: “If we can create chances for him, we know that he’s a very good finisher. The question now is we have four very good strikers with different skills and qualities. In the air you can use Crouch, Kuyt will work hard between the lines, and running behind the defence will be Bellamy. We thought they would play deep on Saturday, so I wanted Crouch to win balls in the air and Robbie could operate in and around the box to take the chances.”

Crouch suffered a broken nose after being kicked in the head on Saturday so Rafa’s plans had to change half-way through the first half. Brought on for Crouch was Dirk Kuyt, who hailed Robbie as a legend: “I think Robbie has shown us yet again that he’s a legend. It’s hard when you’re not in the squad all the time and not always playing, and yet he scored twice and also played really well. He’s very important for the team, even when he’s not on the pitch with us. It’s unbelievable the way he finishes his penalties. He’s still got a very cool head and is a very good player.”

Kuyt would like to see Robbie stay – impressed also with the way he influences the squad off the field: “I think Robbie is, like I said, just very important for the team. Even off the pitch he tries to help the younger people, like me when I first came here. That’s really important, but the final decision isn’t up to me.”

The striker who sat out Saturday’s game was Craig Bellamy. Subject of allegations claiming he had attacked team mate John Arne Riise with a golf club, Bellamy was rested after his excellent performance midweek in the win over Barcelona. Some felt that Bellamy would be getting shipped out this summer as a result of the incident, but it does seem that the stories were exaggerated. Now John Arne himself has said he hopes Bellamy will be staying: “Craig is a great player and we all want great players at this club. He always works very hard for the team. It is not up to me to decide what the future is for Craig at Liverpool. My job is to focus on what I am doing for the team, but I would like to see him stay here. It was destiny that it should be me and Bellamy who scored the goals.”

Riise says that he and Bellamy agreed that they would bury the hatchet and leave the incident in the past: “We both had a tough week after Portugal but we had the courage to put all the problems behind us. Craig and I are men, we are mature, we are team players. We spoke about what happened but the important thing was we agreed we could put it behind us and we are happy. To score against Barcelona was great but we did it for the team not for ourselves. The spirit is strong between us. We knew everyone would expect us to fail after what happened in Portugal. But it wasn’t about John Arne Riise or Craig Bellamy. It was a victory for Liverpool.”

It will be an interesting summer with regards Liverpool’s strikers. If Robbie Fowler is offered a new deal he’ll almost certainly take it, but with Voronin on his way in that would leave Rafa with five first-team strikers available to choose from. Is that one too many, and is Rafa also looking at bringing in a big-name striker too? Expect a long summer of speculation once again.

Continue reading Rafa: Robbie may stay

Martin loan spell over in five minutes

Just days after arriving at Accrington Stanley on an emergency loan it looks like Liverpool goalkeeper David Martin is on his way home – after playing for just five minutes.

The Reds youngster suffered an ankle injury in Stanley’s 2-2 home draw with Lincoln, and it looks like it will keep him out at least until the one-month loan spell is over.

He’s reportedly damaged ligaments in his ankle and will almost certainly return to Melwood this week for treatment. Accrington replaced him with another on-loan goalkeeper, Bolton’s Przemyslaw Kazimierczak.

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Reds confirm Voronin signature

Liverpool FC have officially confirmed this afternoon that Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin will be coming to Anfield this summer. The 27-year-old Bayer Leverkusen player is coming to the end of his contract and so he was able to discuss a move as a free agent.

Figures vary on his appearance and goals record – for example the German language version of Wikipedia has him down as having scored 4 goals in 36 appearances for his country, and 24 goals in 67 appearances for his current club. This differs on the English language version of Wikipedia, where he is down as having played 40 games, scoring 5 times for his country and having scored 27 goals in 69 appearances for his country. Prior to joining Bayer Leverkusen he has played for Chernomorets Odessa of the Ukraine and in Germany for FC Cologne, Mainz and Borussia Moenchengladbach.

He played in the Ukraine’s defeat of Scotland earlier this season, not getting on the scoresheet himself, and has also appeared for his club against both Spurs and Blackburn in the UEFA Cup this season.

He made four appearances in the last World Cup, starting each time, and wore number 10. Perhaps this is where he first came to the attention of Rafael Benitez, the BBC reporting for example on the Ukraine win over Tunisia: “Voronin caused Tunisia problems with his thrusting runs,” and “Voronin twice went close to extending Ukraine’s lead, with a late shot which forced Boumnijel to parry, and then firing wide from close-range.” A game where Rafa Benitez certainly would have seen him play in that tournament was Spain’s 4-0 demolition of Ukraine, although that’s obviously not a game Voronin will want to remember.

In Germany his name is usually written as Andrej Woronin. According to the official Bundesliga website he has played 21 games this season, scoring 6 times. Overall in the German league they say he has played 108 times, scoring 33 goals. He’s 5’10” tall.

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Rafa delighted with great week; Warnock wants game laws ignored

One week ago the Sunday papers were full of stories about alleged anarchy from the Liverpool squad at the end of their Portuguese training camp break. Today the club are celebrating two great victories on the field, and mention of golf clubs has subsided almost completely. Wednesday’s 2-1 away first-leg win in the Champions League was followed by yesterday’s 4-0 win over Sheffield United in the league and Reds Rafael Benítez was of course delighted, as he explained: “It has been a great week for the club and for the supporters and we are really happy. Playing in a match like this is always difficult on the back of a Champions League match but my players did very well and the understanding was good between them.”

One point that really added to the pleasure of yesterday’s victory was that Kop hero Robbie Fowler got to score – twice – at the Kop end, both from the spot: We knew we would have to be patient today and pass the ball quickly, and I said to them that it might take a set piece or a penalty for us to open the scoring. Robbie Fowler did well and for me he is one of the best penalty takers around.”
As soon as Rafa’s team for yesterday had been announced the vultures must have been circulating hoping for a major slip-up, because Rafa had made seven changes to his line-up. One was forced – Jerzy Dudek was between the sticks because Pepe Reina had spent the night in hospital with his wife in labour. Javier Mascherano was handed his debut in midfield, alongside Steven Gerrard who was moved back inside again after playing in a wide role in midweek. Rafa accepted that making so many changes could be taking a chance, but it’s unlikely that there wouldn’t have been a certain amount of preparation for this game carried out during that Portugal trip: “Sometimes making seven changes is a risk but the players were tired after Barcelona and I had to give them a rest. Mascherano was really good and after having some problems at the start he showed his qualities and everyone could see his commitment when the game opened up.”

Continue reading Rafa delighted with great week; Warnock wants game laws ignored

Rafa on Barca, Blades and Mascherano debut

Rafael Benítez is still forced to field questions which have been asked with the alleged bust-up between John Arne Riise and Craig Bellamy in mind. Both players have said that it’s all behind them now, with Bellamy hinting that it was blown out of proportion. Rafa told Spanish radio that he was also happy to see the incidents put to rest, saying that some players even offered to pay higher fines than he’d recommended. If the players are happy it’s over, and Rafa’s happy it’s over – well it’s over.

Speaking to the British media ahead of today’s visit of Sheffield United, Rafa explained how short-lived the impact of “that problem” actually was: “During the training, the atmosphere between the players was perfect. We had that problem, but afterwards the players said they knew they had made a mistake and wanted to put it right. They knew they had to go forward before during and after the game. They were all so good – Craig Bellamy, all of them.”

Bellamy’s form was so good in the Nou Camp that perhaps he should have a bust-up every week. Rafa said that there were no lingering problems with Bellamy though: “I do not like to talk only about him; all of them were good and wanted to forget what had happened and show people that the atmosphere inside the club was good. Watching the replays, when Bellamy passed to Riise and he scored, everyone was enjoying it together; they were not leaving some out.”

Continue reading Rafa on Barca, Blades and Mascherano debut

Martin joins Stanley on one month loan

Liverpool have allowed young reserve goalkeeper David Martin to join Accrington Stanley on a month-long emergency loan.

Martin will be with the League Two side until March 22nd.

Martin has been at the club for just over a year and has played most of Liverpool's reserve games this season. One game he missed was the mini-derby because Jerzy Dudek was selected instead – but Dudek didn't see the game out after being sent off for fighting. That resulted in a suspension for Dudek, meaning Martin was sub goalkeeper for a number of first-team matches. Now Martin will miss the next mini-derby too – next Wednesday when it looks like on-loan Italian under-21 goalkeeper Daniele Padelli could be handed his debut for the club.

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Manager reaction: Barca 1 Liverpool 2

Liverpool’s historic 2-1 win over Barcelona came about thanks to some very good performances from across the team, but the headlines went to the two players who’ve been in the headlines since the weekend. This time though the headlines were for better reasons than those we’d seen in recent days, because Craig Bellamy scored and also set up the winner for his fellow headline subject, John Arne Riise.

Now the Reds go into the second leg at Anfield knowing that Barcelona must score twice to progress. Manager Rafael Benítez was asked how he felt about the goalscorers in the context of the storm that had blown up before the game: “I am really pleased for both Bellamy and Riise for scoring the winning goals,” he said. Rafa won’t give details of the “problems”, and last night proves the club made the right decision in limiting their comments on the incidents. He says that the Portuguese trip wasn’t a mistake: “The training camp in Portugal was helpful; the commitment of the players was good before and after the problems. The atmosphere in the team is very good.”

Liverpool fans will remember 1989’s title chase when Liverpool had to prevent Arsenal from scoring two unanswered goals to win the league. Instead of playing their normal game, the Reds chose to defend that night but still conceded those two goals, and the title, to the Gunners. Maybe Rafa remembers this, because he isn’t going to allow complacency: “The job is not done. We have a good chance now of going through but as I said before we need to be careful. Barca are good on the counter-attack and have good attacking players.”

Liverpool’s fans clearly out-sung the home fans for much of the game, and Rafa saluted them as he often does: “It's always important to win away because you have a lot of supporters who have come here. I could hear the supporters during the game and it was a real positive for us. I have to thank them.”

His opposite number, Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, sounded very downbeat after seeing his troubled side beaten: “We must always be positive, but we have to be realistic. It will be difficult to make a comeback. There are still 90 minutes left, but Liverpool can go out knowing they just have to keep the ball. We have to be confident. We have to have trust in ourselves.”

Continue reading Manager reaction: Barca 1 Liverpool 2