Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool can end title drought, says Carragher

Defender Jamie Carragher insists last season's Premier League campaign has given Liverpool the belief that they are now within touching distance of ending their 19-year domestic title drought.

Perennially tipped as genuine challengers, the Reds have often flattered to deceive in the past.

But last season's 86-point haul - their highest total in the Premier League era which included a double over eventual champions Manchester United - has injected a real sense of optimism around Merseyside that Rafa Benitez's men can finish top of the pile for the first time since 1990.

"We had a very good season in the league last year but we realise that if we can improve that by one or two per cent that may be enough and that's what we're trying to do," Carragher said.

"We took Manchester United very close last year and we realise them and also Chelsea will come back and maybe Manchester City as well so there's a lot of competition

"Hopefully the pre-season games we can improve and get better and make sure we're ready for Tottenham (first game of the new season) and go one step further than we did last year."

In order to accomplish that, Benitez will need to keep his squad largely intact but his resolve has already been tested by Real Madrid's pursuit of key midfielder Xabi Alonso.

The player himself was quoted in the Spanish press as indicating he would be open to a return to his homeland and Madrid are reportedly keen to reach a swift conclusion to a deal thought to be in the region of the £30million mark.

While a sizeable fee would no doubt increase the Reds' spending power this summer, Benitez refused to be drawn on Alonso's long-term future, only confirming the 27-year-old is part of the squad that will face Thailand in Bangkok on Wednesday before moving on to Singapore on July 26.

"Xabi Alonso is here with us so he will be available," he stressed.

"One thing that you need to understand is the Spanish press. The future of Xabi Alonso is to enjoy here with the people of Thailand and the weather and the game. The next week he will be here."

Benitez also has no plans to discuss the situation with the player, who signed a new five-year deal in June 2007 and proved one of Liverpool's key performers last term.

"We'll talk about tactics and the game and try to enjoy our football," he added.

One player who will not be arriving at Anfield, however, is David Villa.

The prolific Valencia striker had been periodically linked with the Merseyside club and the prospect of recreating his partnership with countryman Fernando Torres in the Premier League was one to savour.

But Benitez emphatically ruled out any approach for the 27-year-old.

"David Villa, he is not our target," he said.

Defender Glen Johnson from Portsmouth is the only significant piece of business to have been completed so far this summer. However Benitez hinted there could be further big-name arrivals ahead of the August 31 transfer deadline.

"We have already signed Johnson, an international for England. He is a good signing and (Andriy) Voronin is coming back, he was one of the best players in the German league, so we have two good additions. You never know in football, we still have some time and we need to keep working on other names," he added.

"We have fantastic players and hopefully we can keep the level of last year and see with one or two additions we could improve a little bit. At the moment we are very pleased.

"The owners are really pleased in the way the club is going on now, we are working hard trying to improve everything, we are happy with the situation and we have to keep going."

Belfast Telegraph


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