More Crouch speculation and Mascherano deal likely

With Christmas lights being switched on in shopping centres around the country, it’s a sure sign the transfer window is looming. It’s also an international break, so a good opportunity for speculation to begin. That’s when stories are written based on working out who might be unhappy at a club, and which clubs have gaps in those positions.

From Liverpool there is always going to be lots of material whilst Rafael Benitez is in charge. His rotation policy has upset some players in the past, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future. Players arrive either happy with the idea of the rotation system, or thinking that they’ll be somehow able to stop Rafa from using it. The latter usually sees that player moving on.

Benitez wasn’t given anything like the budget he had expected in the summer after first speaking to the new owners after they had taken over the club. He did however have some money left over, which he was going to use on buying Gabriel Heinze for a fee Manchester United had agreed they’d sell him for. But they didn’t want to sell to Liverpool, and some familiar faces on the panel deciding if United’s fax agreeing for him to be sold at a set price decided United may have said one thing but meant another and so let them get out of their agreement. Heinze went to Real Madrid, Liverpool were accused of tapping up by United, who said they were going to do an investigation into Liverpool. We’re still waiting for that investigation to reveal its findings.

Liverpool have managed without Heinze so far this season, but injuries to Jamie Carragher and a longer one to Daniel Agger mean that Sami Hyypia has played more games than expected. Sami has done a good job, as he always has for the Reds, but is clearly coming to the end of his Liverpool days. Jack Hobbs is next in line to step into the position, but despite high hopes for him for the future, Rafa would rather not have to rely on him as cover just yet. This has seen Liverpool linked with 21-year-old Santander centre-half Ezequiel Garay, who is said to be available for £10m thanks to one of those good-old buy-out clauses. Liverpool Echo write Tony Barrett insisted last week that despite Liverpool having had the Argentinean player scouted, the club were not about to make a bid for him.

One signing Liverpool really must ensure they make is Javier Mascherano. Liverpool acquired his services on a loan initially, as a way of getting round the mess that West Ham had made of his signing in the first place. That loan runs out at the end of the season so Liverpool must make a deal with his owners, MSI, who are reported consistently as wanting £17m for the player. Liverpool actually signed him before the takeover by the Americans, and so were not in a position to agree a transfer fee for him to be paid at the end of the loan deal. If they had there is no doubt the fee would have been much lower. Mascherano made it clear that he would only stay in England if it was to play for Liverpool, but did not rule out a move abroad if the Reds couldn’t agree a figure with MSI. Reports that Manchester City were about to hijack the move seem to be fictitious, and in fact it’s now believed that a fee has been agreed between Liverpool and MSI.

Scott Carson’s move to Aston Villa on a permanent basis looks like going through in the transfer window. He started for England on Friday in their friendly with Austria, something that wouldn’t have happened had he stayed at Anfield as Pepe Reina’s understudy instead of going to Villa on loan. Part of that loan deal included an option for Villa to make it permanent for £10m, which represents quite a profit on the amount Liverpool paid for him from Leeds, just £750,000.

One report today claims Aston Villa won’t just be writing out a cheque for £10m, instead that they’ll double that to include Peter Crouch. Villa may well be interested in the forward, but Rafa Benitez will not sell Crouch unless he’s happy that he’s got enough cover for him. Benitez likes to have four strikers to choose from, generally using three in his matchday squad with the fourth one sitting the game out. Then he’ll rotate, bringing the fourth one into the squad and letting one of the others rest. He does this both to allow the right player to be used for the right game, and for the fact he feels it gives him as fit a team as possible on the pitch at any one time. And this brings him a lot of criticism.

Rafa continually praises Crouch in public, and used him in Liverpool’s last two games prior to the international break. Without a replacement for him Rafa is highly unlikely to let him go in January, unless he really does feel he needs the cash for other departments in the squad. If he does let Crouch go without a replacement, it would be because he felt Ryan Babel was able to be used as a striker when required. The Dutch youngster was signed for the wide positions, but Rafa now has hopefully got Harry Kewell fit again, and has been impressed with Sebastian Leto. With Fabio Aurelio back in the squad he can also use John Arne Riise further forward.

Another player linked with Liverpool is yet another midfielder – Spanish youngster Javi Martinez. The Athletic Bilbao player is believed to be being chased by Italian outfit Fiorentina, but is quoted as saying he likes the English game: “I watch the Premier League games on TV, and the atmosphere is magnificent. I don’t yet know anything of Liverpool’s interest.” Whether the player’s agent has been told of interest, or is just trying to get a better deal for the player from his current club remains to be seen, but Athletic claim they’ve heard nothing: “We haven’t received an official offer. For the moment we are calm.” At a quoted £18m value, it’s unlikely that they’ll receive an offer anytime soon from Anfield, Rafa simply does not have that kind of money at his disposal, certainly not under the current policy of Hicks and Gillett.*(Rafa denies Martinez interest)

Other reports claim Momo Sissoko is on his way out of Anfield after becoming tired of waiting for his chance to play. The reports were almost certainly written by someone who’d failed to realise that some of Momo’s most recent absences were due to his own sickness. John Arne Riise is another name linked with a move away from the club, and this is more likely given the fact his contract is now entering its last 18 months.

* Rafa later told the official LFC website that the Reds weren’t going to be buying Martinez. He said: “He is a young player who we know about because Bilbao paid good money for him, but we are not watching the player and are not thinking about signing him, as I have read in the Spanish press.”

Reds international round-up

Many of Liverpool’s players were on international duty this weekend as the last international break devoted to Euro 2008 qualifiers took place.

In England the focus was on a game not actually involving Steve McClaren’s men. Israel managed to endear themselves to England fans by beating Russia 2-1, without their injured captain, Reds star Yossi Benayoun. With fellow group members Croatia losing their game against Macedonia 2-0, England can now qualify for Euro 2008 if they get a draw on Wednesday at home to Croatia. Steven Gerrard will be captain for that game, and with Michael Owen once again succumbing to injury to join Wayne Rooney on the sidelines, Peter Crouch should be given a chance to start upfront in that game. He scored on Friday as he and Gerrard took part in England’s 1-0 friendly win against Austria.

Daniel Agger was missing for Denmark last night due to his metatarsal injury, and after they lost in Northern Ireland last night he now knows he won’t be going to Euro 2008. Fellow Scandinavian John Arne Riise played 90 minutes of Norway’s 2-1 defeat at home to Turkey. A win for Norway would have seen them qualify, but now it goes down to the last game.

Pepe Reina was an unused sub as Spain beat Sweden 3-0. This means Spain have now qualified for the finals, news which will of course have delighted Pepe’s Red teammates Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres who stayed at home after suffering injuries.

Steve Finnan played the full game for Ireland in their 2-2 draw with Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Both sides went into the game unable to qualify for the finals. Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin played 69 minutes of his country’s 2-0 loss in Lithuania.

Finland still have a chance of qualification, Sami Hyypia playing the whole of their 2-1 win over Azerbaijan. Meanwhile Ryan Babel came on after 84 minutes of Holland’s 1-0 win over Luxembourg, a win that ensured they would be taking part in the finals next summer.

Gerrard explains “England bigger” comments

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was clearly worried his comments about England games being “bigger” than Liverpool games had upset a lot of Liverpool fans. Speaking at an England press conference earlier in the week, Gerrard said: “When I join up for England, these games are bigger than the Champions League or Premier League games. You’re representing your country. If you go to a major tournament and achieve something as a team it’s going to be a lot bigger than doing it at your club.”

Speaking to the local press in Liverpool, Gerrard backtracked a little, claiming he’d not meant that to sound quite the way he did. He told the Liverpool Echo: “All I was trying to say was when I am with England, England are most important but when I am with Liverpool, Liverpool are most important, and I would like to think my performances back this up. I am desperate for success with both Liverpool and England.” Continue reading Gerrard explains “England bigger” comments

Gerrard says England glory would be bigger

Steven Gerrard’s latest interview whilst on England duty will no doubt lead to criticism of him from Liverpool supporters. One headline above one story containing his quotes claims: “Country more important than club, says midfielder.”

Gerrard had been asked by the assembled media at the England press conference if he thought club football, with the riches and glamour of the Champions League, had overtaken the International game.  “I’d say no. When I join up for England, these games are bigger than the Champions League or Premier League games. You’re representing your country. If you go to a major tournament and achieve something as a team it’s going to be a lot bigger than doing it at your club.” Continue reading Gerrard says England glory would be bigger

Carra relaxes in a difficult week for Gerrard

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has now switched his focus from Liverpool’s Premiership challenge and Champions League recovery to trying to bale England out of trouble in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. England are going to play Austria in a friendly on Friday in preparation for their qualifier against Croatia next week – but that will be a nothing game unless Israel can beat Russia on Saturday.
This makes preparation for the players difficult according to Gerrard, who’ll be captain in the absence of John Terry. Speaking to The Mirror, Gerrard said: “It’s going to be a difficult week because we’re all waiting for the Israel game. It’s been difficult being an England player since the Russia result. We could all be going into one of the most meaningless internationals of our career, or one of the most important.” Continue reading Carra relaxes in a difficult week for Gerrard

Parry denies rift, but there’s no smoke without fire

In an unusual move yesterday, Liverpool’s Chief Executive Rick Parry spoke out about a newspaper story over the weekend claiming that Liverpool’s co-owners had fallen out and no longer shared the same ideas about how to deal with their ownership of the club.

The story in the News of the World was by Chris Bascombe who recently joined the tabloid after having worked for ten years for the Liverpool Echo. He spoke of disagreements between the two owners over how each sees the best way to fund their takeover of the club. He also reported that moves to bring Javier Mascherano to the club on a permanent basis may still fail due to the fee required for the Argentinean. Continue reading Parry denies rift, but there’s no smoke without fire

Praise for Reina’s contribution to win

After Liverpool’s 8-0 win over Besiktas in midweek, and another relatively quiet game on Saturday as Liverpool beat Fulham 2-0, Pepe Reina might have been feeling a little left out from all the praise being handed out. But he set Liverpool’s first goal up on Saturday, and it was this kind of quick thinking and skill that Rafael Benitez said showed Reina is a “top class” goalkeeper.
Reina played an excellent long ball – and not of the “hoofing” variety used so often used by Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez’s team-mates during his Wimbledon playing days – allowing Torres to use his pace and open the scoring, right in the last ten minutes of the game. Continue reading Praise for Reina’s contribution to win

Injury blow to Yossi – out for three weeks

If it’s not metatarsals it’s adductors as another Liverpool player suffers an injury in a season riddled with misfortune on that front.

Fernandon Torres has suffered two separate adductor tears in recent weeks and now Yossi Benayoun has too, meaning he’ll be out for the next three weeks. Liverpool FC’s head of press, Ian Cotton, said: “A scan has confirmed Benayoun sustained a tear against Fulham.”

Thankfully for Liverpool the injury coincided with yet another international break, meaning that most of Benayoun’s absence will be when Liverpool aren’t actually playing. The Reds have no game for two weeks.

Yossi had just hit a rich vein of form, scoring a hat-trick in the 8-0 win over Besiktas on Tuesday and performing well in every game he’s been selected for of late. Fans of the England national team were hoping he’d take that with him into his international game with Israel against Russia next weekend, to help England out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. England are relying on Israel to do them a favour and beat the Russians if they are to have any chance of qualifying for Euro 2008. Now they’ve got to do it without their captain.

This could be great news for PFA chief Gordon Taylor, as England’s stars, including Reds captain Steven Gerrard, could now get a summer off. Taylor recently commented that England’s players were “on crutches” by the summer after playing for their clubs.

Hopefully Yossi’s recovery will be faster than expected and he’ll be available for the next Liverpool game, away to Newcastle on the 24th. Once again, this game is a lunchtime kick-off on the Saturday immediately after the international break.

Result and reaction: Reds 2 Fulham 0

Barclays Premier League – November 10th 2007. Result.

Liverpool 2 Fulham 0

Liverpool left it late to beat Fulham at Anfield and turn what was heading for a draw into three points. As a result they moved into fourth place in the table, temporarily using up their game in hand on most teams around them in the league. Arsenal actually had a game in hand at that point, and were three points ahead of the Reds, but second-placed Manchester United were also only three points ahead, without a game in hand. However all that would be set to change the following day as fixtures delayed either for live coverage or due to UEFA cup ties meant most of the other teams still had a game to play.

Rafa Benitez had chosen an unchanged side, trusting the eleven that had beaten Besiktas 8-0 in midweek. It seemed as though Anfield expected the result to be unchanged too, but that wasn’t to be. A well-organised Fulham side didn’t want to be beaten, and almost succeeded. Liverpool created plenty of chances, but couldn’t put them away, sometimes seeming to panic. Eventually it was the introduction of Fernando Torres that saw the deadlock broken, the Spaniard having the composure to calmly slot his goal past Niemi on 81 minutes. Just four minutes later Peter Crouch was brought down, landing inside the box, and a penalty was awarded. He was clipped right on the edge of box, and even with replays it wasn’t quickly obvious whether contact was inside or outside the box. Referee Steve Tanner chose to award the penalty, which was put away by captain Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez:
“It was good to see Fernando come back and score a really good goal. The idea was to keep him on the bench and if we needed something we knew he was there and the supporters would always be behind him. Fernando’s goal was very good, real quality. But when we signed him we knew he could do things like this.
Continue reading Result and reaction: Reds 2 Fulham 0

Reds v Fulham: Rafa names an unchanged side

Despite the fact they beat Besiktas 8-0 on Tuesday, it’s still a surprise to see Rafa name an unchanged side for the visit of Fulham tonight.

This means Voronin and Crouch start up front again, with their service from out wide coming from Riise and hat-trick scorer Benayoun. Mascherano and Gerrard start in the centre of midfield, in front of Carragher and Hyypia at centre-back. Arbeloa and Aurelio will be hoping to get forward as much as possible from full-back. Pepe Reina will be hoping for another quiet night in goal.

One notable player in the Fulham side is scorer of many a goal for the Reds, Danny Murphy. Continue reading Reds v Fulham: Rafa names an unchanged side