Fears that Mascherano & Torres will quit Liverpool, as Chelsea target £18m Hamsik

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We’ll definitely need the crowd’s help. They’re not stupid, they’ve seen Liverpool teams before going through bad runs and we all need to stick together. There’ll be a lot of stick flying round as there always is when Liverpool aren’t doing well so we’ve just got to come together and try to get three points. No one will be expecting much of us. We’ll be written off before the game, which is normal, and it’s up to us to show the character and fight. We’re Liverpool and we’ve got to go for it.” – Jamie Carragher.

Runner-up: “Our plan is to stay for a period of not less than six months, until the club stands again. This is based on the fact that purchasing the club was purely an investment … It’s not a secret to hide: we are investors and we have no relation to sports.” – Portsmouth’s new owner, Ali al-Faraj.

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Today’s overview: Liverpool versus Manchester United. The tension is palpable.

Hyping up the banter between the rivals, Chris Bascombe announces how the Anfield stewards have been issued with safety pins in order to pop beach balls which the Manchester United are set to smuggle in the ground.

Beginning with Manchester United’s pre-match concerns, could Wayne Rooney be left on the sidelines? Bob Cass claims that “sources close to the United dressing room warned that Rooney is not guaranteed a place in the starting line-up because of doubts over his temperament in games against Liverpool.”

The tabloids go into overdrive this Sunday to flag up every aspect of discontent on Meseryside.

Over in the Star, Steve Millar delivers the news that Mascherano has turned down a new contract at Anfield. “Benitez is willing to shower Mascherano with riches in line with Liverpool’s other superstars. Mascherano, currently on around £60,000 a week, will be guaranteed a £30,000-a-week increase if he signs a new deal. But Mascherano says the cash is of no interest to him, leaving Benitez and the fans deeply concerned that the Argentinian could be the next big name exiting Anfield, following Xabi Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid.” Steve Bates also reports the story in The People scribbling “Javier Mascherano is on the verge of quitting Liverpool after the Argentina captain admitted he has no interest in a new contract.”

The Sunday Mirror’s Simon Mullock gossips that “Liverpool insiders fear Fernando Torres may quit Anfield… There is mounting concern that another barren campaign will prompt the striker’s advisers to start pressing for a move to a more successful club.”

Assessing Benitez’s Liverpool future, Andy Dunn manages to seemingly contradict himself in the space of two paragraphs in the NOTW. “Rafa Benitez will become a lame duck Kop boss if Liverpool lose to Manchester United. There is no immediate appetite at Anfield to sack Benitez but he WILL be fired if Liverpool miss out on next season’s Champions League.”

Paul Hayward also gazes into his crystal ball to predict the consequences of a defeat for the Reds. “For once hyperbole is absent from the declaration that today’s derby could be an epochal contest. It could sour the love between Benítez and the Kop, hasten the team’s descent towards the Europa League and spark a full rebellion against the Stadler and Waldorf pair who borrowed to buy a community treasure without understanding its role as extended family.”

Spitting feathers at Liverpool’s current plight, Michael Calvin leads the assault on Messrs Hicks and Gillett. And the hack is unafraid to sink low by adopting name-calling tactics. “They’re a pair of ugly Americans, linked by mutual loathing and a lust for a fast buck. They’ve betrayed a legend, hawked a sporting and social heritage around the bazaars like a sullen slave. They don’t understand football as a communal crusade. They couldn’t care less about its glorious irrationality. It is a corporate asset to be traded like so many pork bellies.” The Americans continue to get it in the neck form across the paper-divide, Rob Draper tooting “for all Benitez’s failures, it is universally acknowledged he has to work under the most dysfunctional management of any leading club.”

Others, including Jonathan Northcroft, are able to see errors in Rafa’s dealings which have contributed to Liverpool’s present problems. “Fans blame George Gillett and Tom Hicks, Liverpool’s co-owners, for the volume of mid-price footballers bought but Benitez, he of squad rotation and 14 backroom appointments since 2007, seems to like personnel changes in bulk.”

Following on, Gary Lineker calls out Benitez for making a mistake in the transfer market. “It puzzles me why Barry did not end up at Anfield and I can only assume Benitez had the finances to sign either Glen Johnson or Barry and chose the wrong option.” And adding salt to the wounds, Paul Hayward speaks with Gareth Barry in today’s Observer with the Manchester City midfielder all-too-happy with his move to Eastlands. Barry: “The start’s been a very positive one and that’s helped me settle a lot quicker. I want to look back two or three years down the line and say I really made the right choice. As we stand here today it’s been a fantastic start.”

Looking to draw a line under an assessment of Liverpool’s transfers under Rafa Benitez, n analysis of the spending habits of the ‘Big Four’ since his appointment in June 2004 shows that the Spaniard has outspent Sir Alex Ferguson by £80m. Furthermore, when money raised through player sales is taken into account, Benitez’ net spending dwarves Ferguson’s by £95m and only Chelsea have spent more on player recruitment during the same five-year period.”

Also sticking the boot into Benitez is Hugh Mcllvanney, who draws parallels between Rafa and Gerrard Houllier. “Houllier’s management was undoubtedly discredited before he departed but Benitez can scarcely be said to have built impressively on the miracle of Istanbul, not when injuries to a couple of outstanding players, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, can reduce Liverpool to mediocrity.”

Moving on to Arsenal, and self-confessed supporter Piers Morgan believes that the Gunners are finally poised to win silverware this season. “This Arsenal team suddenly resemble a proper one that can win things. They’re physically bigger, for a start. Players like Song, Diaby, Clichy and Walcott looked like boys last season. Now they’ve bulked up physically and matured mentally. Up front, Van Persie is emerging as a world-class striker, combining the technical genius of Bergkamp with the deadly finishing of Henry.”

Keeping with the North Londoners, piss-taker Rod Liddle makes the case for John Barnes as the new Arsenal boss. “Given that Arsenal enjoy perhaps the most commendably multi-racial following of any British club it is entirely fitting that they should set an example and appoint a manager who is black, given the poor record of British clubs in this regard. In fact, so terribly sensitive is everybody about this sort of issue that I think we could probably persuade the Arsenal board that it would be racist not to appoint John Barnes.”

Henry Winter believes the days of the Big Four are over. “The Big Four is dead. Long live the Famous Five, possibly the Super Six, even the Magnificent Seven. Today is the day when Manchester City could fully embed themselves among the elite, when Liverpool’s VIP membership comes under significant scrutiny.”

Looking north of the boarder, Glenn Gibbons details that the Old Firm are so bad that neither club has the energy to make fun of their rival. “In the course of a few weeks, Rangers and Celtic have confounded 120 years of tradition by suffering humiliations so complete that they have rendered the capture of the SPL title – at least for the time being – meaningless, and even taken the heat out of their supporters’ mutual hostility.”

Lies. Lies. And more lies.

The Sunday transfer toss kicks off with Aidan Magee writing “West Ham face stiff competition in their efforts to bring France Under-21 star Franck Tabanou to Upton Park.” Keeping with the Hammers, Steve Stammers spews “West Ham will consider a move for Patrick Vieira during the January transfer window.”

In a rarity, the Sunday Times’ are considering an £18m move for Napoli’s attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik as they prepare for a spending spree that could top £30m in the January transfer window… Chelsea have been offered Dutch international Rafael van der Vaart.”

The NOTW spout the rumour that “Everton have joined the race for Middlesbrough’s highly-rated winger Adam Johnson.” Jeremy Butler coughs “Arsene Wenger wants to sign Zhano Ananidze – the teenager hailed as the new Georgi Kinkladze. The 17-year-old Georgian midfielder is on Spartak Moscow’s books but is already being talked about as one of Europe’s biggest talents.” And Alan Nixon claims “Mark Hughes is ready to snatch Slovenian superstar Rene Krhin from Inter Milan in the transfer window – and beat crisis-hit Liverpool to his £7million signature.”

In the managerial merry-go-round, Paul Smith bleats “Notts County have drawn up a four-man short-list for the vacant managerial post at Meadow Lane. The new contender for their vacancy is ex-Crystal Palace boss Iain Dowie, whose last job was as assistant-manager to Alan Shearer at Newcastle last season. Italian Robert Mancini and former England Under-21 managers Peter Taylor and David Platt are also vying for the post.” Elsewhere, the Sunday Mirror claim that “sacked Tranmere manager John Barnes is bidding to return to football as manager of minnows Rwanda.”