Barca, Man City & Chelsea sniff around £70m Torres, as Liverpool target Joe Cole & Spurs ready to splash £5m on teenager Wickham

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “A club like Liverpool must do everything they can to keep players like Stevie [Gerrard] and Fernando but a lot of things can change and in a few weeks we will know better. It is difficult to speak about next season, as we don’t know what changes there will be with the players and the staff. It is too early. Personally I don’t know whether I will be here or if I won’t. A lot of things can happen. If it depended on me, I would stay here and retire in Liverpool. The fans are the best in the world but it depends on a lot of things. It will be very clear soon. When you are at a big club and things go bad, it is normal for the pressure to be put on the manager. Rafa has done a great job and we are trying not to look at what has happened in the past. We have tried to do our best but it hasn’t been good enough. Rafa has proven himself. He is a big manager. The people above will make the right decisions.” – Yossi Benayoun.

Runner-up: “Steve is an idol here in Holland. He is every inch a gentleman and he always compliments the opposition. Everyone likes him. He is a wise man. [To other clubs seeking to poach McClaren] Stay away please! You have bus drivers in England and now Steve is the bus driver and we are sitting on the bus and waiting to see what the driver is doing. We hope like [the managers] at Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool he will stay for a long time. Everyone in Holland wants him to stay because of the job he did in Enschede. We expected him to do it because we saw at Middlesbrough he worked with a young team. Of course, the national team of England was a difficult job – but it is always a difficult job.” – FC Twente chairman Joop Munsterman.

Today’s overview: Another day, another set of ills for Liverpool fans.

Merseyside Misery: Spelling out the news which every Scouser will have already internalised after their season of woe, Andy Hunter fears that Liverpool’s best assets are set to jump ship. “Anfield officials say they have no intention of selling the club’s prized asset but they would have little option but to allow Torres to leave should he demand a move. The club’s record signing, along with Benítez and other players who committed their futures to Liverpool last year, have yet to see the promises of new investment materialise and, until Hicks and Gillett sell, Liverpool will struggle to provide reassurances over their future.”

Spinning the same sentiment from another angle, Ian Herbert talks up the Benitez-to-Juventus story. “Rafael Benitez was coming under renewed pressure from Juventus to take or leave their job offer last night, and, with the Spaniard growing increasingly fearful of Fernando Torres’ departure this summer, he wants assurances from the club’s executive chairman that money generated from star players leaving will be his to invest.”

With the knife plunged deep into Anfield, Paul Hayward goes about twisting it by barking “there has not been instability on this scale since before Bill Shankly’s time… For a growing swathe of Kopites there is no need to cast Benítez’s probable leave‑taking as a tragedy. As Everton make relentless progress across Stanley Park and Fernando Torres doubtless questions his willingness to dirty his knees in the Europa League again there is an unmistakable sense that the end of a cycle has been reached.”

James Lawton stomps into the debate to shovel a crapload of blame squarely on Rafa Benitez’s shoulders. “If there is anything more forlorn at the end of this season than the plight of Liverpool Football Club it is surely the failure of Rafa Benitez to face reality. The reality, this is, of his own contribution to what even the most romantic of Anfield dreamers must now have a hard time seeing as anything other than an unvarnished disaster… The real indictment is that in the years that followed victory in Istanbul he never provided convincing evidence that he had developed anything more than a formal, master-pupil relationship with his players. He seemed unwilling to give them his trust… You can’t be the genius coach one day and the victim of players’ deficiencies the next, which seems to be the latest Benitez proposition.”

Des Kelly joins in the Benitez-basing claiming the Spaniard mush be forced out of Anfield. “It’s time for Benitez and Liverpool  to go their separate ways. It’s time for everyone to make a fresh start… Debt or not, the manager has still spent £236m on 48 signings. But too many of those have been sub-standard and there is a distinct lack of homegrown players breaking through… The arrival of a wily old campaigner like Roy Hodgson or Guus Hiddink could break the cycle and transform the atmosphere.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Ian Herbert, under the headline “A crisis that will haunt Liverpool for a generation,” forecasts a horrible future for the Scousers in the next few years. “If City win what is effectively a Champions League eliminator against Tottenham tomorrow, it will pave the way for a summer of spending that should render their place in the elite tournament a certainty for some years to come. Liverpool, meanwhile, face the risk of four, five seasons – a generation – without a place at the continent’s top table. It is why the pursuit of a new owner this summer is an issue of far greater significance than the career intentions of Rafael Benitez.”

The silver lining for the Reds arrives from Tom Dart, who claims “Rafael Benítez will tell Liverpool that only a cast-iron commitment allowing him to invest all of the proceeds from player sales this summer will tempt him to remain at Anfield… Should Martin Broughton, the Liverpool chairman, offer the manager a guarantee that revenue from player sales will not be diverted to service the club’s £237 million debt, Benítez could be swayed from bringing his six-year tenure at Anfield to an end… This summer, Benítez’s transfer pot would not exceed £15 million unless it is enhanced by the proceeds of outgoing transfers.”

Champions-elect Chelsea: The sense that the title is heading to Stamford Bridge is palpable this Tuesday, as the fourth estate gears up for the Blues to beat Wigan this weekend.

Dominic Fifield explains why the Latics have little chance of upsetting the Blues on the final day of the season. “On Sunday Wigan will be without Chris Kirkland, Titus Bramble and Marcelo Moreno and possibly Charles N’Zogbia. They have not won in London in 19 attempts since December 2006. This season they have conceded nine goals at White Hart Lane and four at the Emirates Stadium.”

For Kevin McCarra, who delightfully ignores all the millions spent by the Pensioners since the arrival of Abramovich, Chelsea’s impending championship is a credit to the changing financial landscape of Premier League football. “If Chelsea beat Wigan Athletic on Sunday they will reclaim the Premier League title and no Stamford Bridge fan would care a jot that they would have done so with 86 points, the lowest total for any champions since 2003. The statistic, indeed, is highly encouraging for the sport at large in its hint that the top flight is on the verge of change. As economics shift, so too does the hierarchy of the game. It has already been a while since brute wealth reduced opponents to a state of helplessness before the game even started. Should Carlo Ancelotti prevail in this campaign it will be because he has influenced the Chelsea squad rather than rebuilt it.”

May the Fourth be With You: Loudmouth Ian Wright is the only pundit willing to put his neck on the line over whether Tottenham or Manchester City will end the season in fourth. Can you guess which side he plumps for???

Wright: “If Tottenham win, they will secure fourth spot and finally be able to get that lasagne-eating monkey off their backs and hold their heads up high in the company of Arsenal fans, who have taunted their north London rivals about their European inadequacies for so long. But if City win, they will be in the box seat for Sunday’s final day of the season when they play at West Ham and Spurs go to Burnley. I do fancy City to win and finish fourth… and before you start screaming Spurs fans, it is not because of my Arsenal heritage. Nor is it because my boy Shaun plays for City. I just think Tottenham, despite having an incredible season under Harry Redknapp, are not always the best on the road.”

England & The Cut: So who’ll be on the plane to South Africa?

Matt Hughes speculates that “Wes Brown and Joleon Lescott are likely to be the most high-profile omissions when Fabio Capello names his provisional World Cup finals squad next week… Lescott’s place is likely to go to one of Michael Dawson or Ledley King, although both Tottenham defenders will be named in the provisional squad and could make the final 23 if Ferdinand breaks down before the squad travel to South Africa… The choice of a wildcard striker is likely to come down to Bobby Zamora, the Fulham forward, and Darren Bent, of Sunderland, with the former’s greater ability at holding up the ball giving him the edge.”

Schteeve, Success & Looking Abroad: Steve McClaren’s success at leading FC Twente to the Dutch title this season continues to focus minds this Tuesday, with looking for the lessons learned by whole episode. And his conclusion? Maybe the Premier League isn’t everything.

: “McClaren is a champion and that is one of the factors that must now come into his decision-making; where can he win again? Probably not at any of the English options likely to come available imminently. As Joop Munsterman, the Twente chairman, said: ‘What’s he going to do at West Ham? Finish sixteenth?’ It was a point that might have cut to the quick of a few Premier League managers, even the very good ones, who bang their head against the glass ceiling of the top four. David Moyes is a superb manager at a big club and yet he has not touched a trophy in eight seasons at Everton, not been carried off the pitch on the shoulders of his players, not brought a town to a standstill like McClaren at Enschede.”

Looking at McClaren’s future, Sam Wallace suggests that despite offers from Germany, the former England manager could stay at Twente. “With clubs such as Hamburg, Wolfsburg, Sporting Lisbon and West Ham all interested, McClaren is prepared to listen to Twente first… Should the club’s ambitious owner be able to guarantee that key players will not be sold and transfer funds will be available, McClaren will be tempted to stay.”

Deals & Lies: David Hytner kicks off the transfer talk by reporting how Bolton wish to keep Jack Wilshere at the Reebok next season. “Owen Coyle will ask Arsène Wenger to return Jack Wilshere on loan to Bolton Wanderers for the first half of next season, arguing that if the 18-year-old midfielder is not to play regularly at Arsenal, then the Reebok Stadium would be the best place for his continued development.”

From the reasonable to the speculative, as Simon Jones splashes in the Daily Mail with news that “Liverpool want England and Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole to spearhead an Anfield revival… Even if Benitez leaves, the club will look to sign at least two more English players over the next month as they pursue a policy of signing more homegrown players to prepare for new UEFA guidelines.” Staying in the DM, Mel Henderson coughs “Tottenham have launched a bold £5million bid to sign Ipswich starlet Connor Wickham.”

Lastly in the Daily Mail we learn “West Brom want Anderlecht’s £2.5million midfielder Jelle van Damme for their Barclays Premier League return — but could face competition from Stoke  and Fulham.”

The Daily Express headline with news that “Manchester City and Chelsea will lead the £70million chase for Torres, who is understood to have grown concerned at Liverpool’s inability to compete for honours.” David Maddock widens the suitors for Torres in the Daily Mirror adding “Barcelona have been monitoring his situation, and would be prepared to offer huge sums for his services, as they look to make a splash under a new president to be appointed this summer. Manchester City and Chelsea have also made discreet enquiries that have not yet been rebuffed by the player’s advisors as he waits for reassurance from the Anfield board.”

According to James Nursey, “Birmingham have stepped up their interest in Ben Foster as they prepare to lose the services of on loan keeper Joe Hart.” John Cross bleats “Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce is tracking Sporting Gijon defender Roberto Canella.” And John Percy scribbles “Tony Pulis is ready to bring controversial winger Jermaine Pennant back to the Premier League.”

North of the boarder Neil Lennon’s continued quest to be installed as Celtic’s permanent manager has been overshadowed by claims in the Netherlands that Ronald Koeman has been offered the chance to take over at Celtic Park.”

Staying with managers on the move, the Telegraph reveal that “Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc has been offered the chance to replace France coach Raymond Domenech after the World Cup.”