Benitez pleads poverty at Liverpool, Manchester United look to consolidate while party-boy Colin Kazim-Richards is up for sale

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Between 78 and 83 points will be enough. If Arsenal, or anybody else, gets to 83 points, they will win the league. This season, more than ever, it looks to be a very open Premier League campaign. It is more open and because everybody has slipped up — us at Sunderland, Man United at Burnley — and nobody can really predict what will happen. I don’t know why it should be a two-horse race. Man United are two points behind Chelsea and we have a game in hand on both of them. That means normally, if we win our game in hand, we’re three points behind Man United. How can you say with 25 games to go it’s a two-horse race? I said after our game that Chelsea will drop points, and everybody looked at me thinking, ‘This guy has completely lost the plot.’ One week later they lost at Man City and it’s as simple as that. They have lost three games and they will lose more games, don’t worry. Only Arsenal went a season unbeaten, never forget that.” – Arsene Wenger.

Runner-up: “We are really far out from the Premier League, so we now change our targets. We have to think the Europa League and FA Cup are the two competitions we can win this season and obviously trying to stay in the top four. Staying together is the main thing now. If we can stay together manager, players, staff, everyone at the club we have quality enough to stay in the top four and win trophies… If we win one trophy, it will have been a nice season, so we are on target.” – Fernando Torres.

Today’s overview: Although not until Sunday, the fortunes of Liverpool and Arsenal take centre-stage across the backpages this Saturday.

It’s open warfare on Merseyside this Saturday as Andy Hunter thumbs over Rafa Benitez’s latest excuses for the Reds’ failures this season. “Benitez has conceded that Liverpool’s title prospects were undermined this summer due to pressure to reduce the debt loaded on to the club by the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett… the Liverpool manager also suggested the club are burdened by unrealistic expectation given a transfer budget that is unlikely to improve without new investment.”

Reflecting on Benitez’s comments, David Conn applauds the Spanish waiter for having stated “the bleedin’ obvious.” “Benitez says Liverpool are in debt: shock, astonishment, clear the back page. The manager says Liverpool must reduce this debt and so do not have millions of pounds to spend buying players: astonishing and extraordinary. Benitez has shocked us, in truth, with a statement of the bleedin’ obvious but it is noteworthy somebody in his position has finally come out and said it. Being taken over by two businessmen, who loaded on to the club the £174m they borrowed for their takeover, was not, after all, the most glorious event in the history of a great club.”

Tony Barrett notices how Benitez has shifted the focus in the Anfield blame-game. “Benítez, clearly tired of shouldering all the blame for Liverpool’s season of woe, offered a rare insight into the financial restrictions he is working under at the debt-laden club… If either of the owners turns up at Anfield tomorrow they are likely to have to run the gauntlet of fans angry at the way the club have been run since being taken over by the Americans in February 2007.”

Moving onto the football side of things, Kevin Gardside warns readers not the write off Liverpool with Arsenal on their way to Merseyside. “After losing at home to Lyon in the Champions League, the world was Manchester United. Remember what happened then. Liverpool were about to disappear into the abyss, a place to which serial winners are dispatched by the ‘experts’ when they hit a losing streak, in their case a fourth successive defeat. Instead United were the team who fell over the cliff, launched by the smoking heels of Torres.” Going one step further is Ian Herbert, who is Saturday’s most optimistic Liverpool scribe. “It is not quite the ‘meltdown’ Souness spoke about on Wednesday when he compared Liverpool with Leeds United. Nothing like it, in fact. Win tomorrow, overcome Wigan and Portsmouth next week, and Liverpool’s desperate autumn will start to look like an aberration and Champions League elimination might be forgotten.”

In assessing Liverpool’s match with Arsenal on Sunday, Dominic Fifield investigates why both teams have struggled this season. “Liverpool and Arsenal’s alternatives are all too similar, their game-plans rather too rigid as injuries deprive their squad of key players… For all that Benítez and Wenger passionately believe that, at full strength, their teams could win the Premier League, the reality remains that their squads do not have the variety or depth of experience of the top two.”

Almost purposefully rubbing Liverpool and Arsenal’s faces in it, Chelsea are able to boast extraordinary quality in depth.” “If you want to understand the power of Chelsea, answer this trivia question. Who is the only present Barclays Premier League player with a World Cup winner’s medal? The answer is Juliano Belletti, the all-purpose Chelsea defender… Even a man employed, as Belletti is, mostly as a backstop when others get injured comes with amazing qualifications.”

Moving onto Old Trafford, Barney Roney adopts some twisted logic to make the case that United’s injury crisis makes the Red Devils more likeable. “Best of all is the spectacle of international midfielders playing as defenders, in particular the elegantly cosseted Michael Carrick, a stroller and a coaster, being forced to grapple and tangle in the sweatbox of central defence… The Manchester United Defensive Injury Crisis at least feels potent with giddy possibility. Even better, to the neutral it has the effect of making even a club of such burnished corporate perfection seem also somehow homemade and strangely likeable.”

With United struggling with there squad, James Ducker notes that Fergie has no intention of splashing out on new recruits. “Ferguson said yesterday that he is unlikely to buy next month because he still does not see ‘any value’ in the transfer market, a situation that he fears could persist until after the summer because of the World Cup finals in South Africa, when prices for players may remain ‘inflated.'” Amazingly though the Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman takes a complete opposite position when assessing United’s spending ambitions, the hack bleating “Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his rivals that he has a £60million transfer fund at his disposal … and he’s willing to spend it.”

That said, consolidation is a buzz word today at Old Trafford as Jeremy Cross announces “Manchester United are to offer Paul Scholes a new 12-month contract to extend his career at the club beyond next summer, despite the midfielder hinting last week that he was ready to leave Old Trafford.” Mark Ogden then continues the theme by saying “Ryan Giggs will be offered a new contract at Manchester United to keep him at the club until 2011 after Sir Alex Ferguson said that the 36 year-old was playing the best football of his career.”

In a standout article by sour-faced James Lawton, the Independent’s scribe argues against the worst characteristics of the Premier League. “Being part of the Premier League was, we were being constantly told, to inherit the best of the world’s football possibilities. Upholstered by vast amounts of TV money, invested in by two or three of the world’s richest men, with players like Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Fernando Torres flocking to the banner, what could go wrong? Well, take your pick from over-reaching greed, a business plan from hell and the insane belief that it was feasible to maintain even the most mediocre of players on incomes in excess of a million pounds a year.”

From the standout to the nonsense, as Terry Venables continues to bang-on about Michael Owen as a striker for England with cliched lines including “Think of the possible damage an on-song Owen could do against the likes of America, Slovenia and Algeria next summer.”

Straight-shooting Tony Cascarino pens his negative thoughts on the rumour going around that Spurs and Liverpool could be about to make a swap deal. “I read a report that Liverpool were considering a swap deal with Tottenham Hotspur for Roman Pavlyuchenko, with Ryan Babel going to White Hart Lane. Hilarious. What a comical idea: sign a striker who can’t get in the Spurs team ahead of two Anfield rejects, Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane. What a damning indictment of Liverpool’s transfer strategy that would be.” Staying with the Lilywhites, Alan Nixon probably is lying when he announces “Redknapp is in the race to snap up Lazio rebel striker Goran Pandev in a cut-price deal when the window opens.”

Chelsea’s latest transfer links are noted by Tom Dart, writing the Blues “have been linked with Luis Suárez, of Ajax, and Darijo Srna, the Shakhtar Donetsk defender, but Ancelotti played down talk of new signings.”

Everton are battling to hold onto Luis Saha with Rory Smith noting “Roma and Bordeaux are believed to be considering approaching the 31 year-old after the most prolific start to a season in his career,” while Ian Herbert throws Atletico Madrid’s name in the hat too.

Finally, The Sun reveal that “Colin Kazim-Richards is on the transfer list at Fenerbahce after a sex scandal. Sunderland, Blackburn and Hull are all on red alert after the English-born Turkey ace was one of four players put up for sale after reports they organised sex marathons at an Istanbul hotel.”