Tuesday, December 25, 2007

EPL Match Preview: Derby County vs. LiverpooL

The last time these two sides met, at Anfield on the first of September, the Rams lost 6-0 in an abject display that proved to be only Premiership appearance for Bob Malcolm this season.

Malcolm, to the relief of most sane Derby fans, is now on loan at Queen’s Park Rangers, and the manager that brought him to Pride Park, Billy Davies, is now four games gone and gradually, like Malcolm, being forgotten as Paul Jewell begins to build a side to his own blueprint.

On Saturday evening, after Liverpool had imperiously swept aside a strong Portsmouth side seeking for their seventh consecutive away win at Anfield, you’d have said that Derby would have no chance in this game.

Especially if you’d taken the time to compare the fortunes of the two club’s record signings.

Fernando Torres scored twice on Saturday, and showed once again why Benitez was willing to invest (allegedly) £26.5 million in his magical feet and fresh-faced looks. Dispatching his chances on Saturday with lethal ease, he looked simply unplayable.

Contrast this with Derby’s record signing, Robert Earnshaw, who simply hasn’t played. The diminutive Welshman has been a perennial bench warmer this season, making limited and ineffectual appearances.

A good job then that Derby signed Kenny Miller. The driven Scotsman clinically converted one of Derby’s chances at Newcastle on Sunday, and his liveliness brought a genuine edge of threat to a much more focused and confident performance from Derby, who managed to pick up only their second away point of the campaign.

Significantly, they also managed to score two goals in a game for the first time since the opening day draw with Portsmouth at Pride Park.

Jewell had been forced into tweaking his line-up once more on Tyneside, due to Claude Davis managing to injure himself in the warm-up for the second time this season. With Leacock moving in to the back four, and Pearson and Barnes operating together in central midfield, the Rams looked defensively frail.

But they managed to produce a performance of confidence and verve, exemplified by Barnes’s clinical first-half goal. Their competitive spirit helped them to push Newcastle all the way, and there are genuine reasons for optimism coming into this fixture.

However, Newcastle, even at hom, do not represent the same level of challenge as Liverpool. Derby dithered too often in their own box on Sunday, a failing that has proved their downfall too often this season, and Torres, Kuyt, Gerrard and the rest may not prove as impotent in front of goal as Newcastle if presented with the same opportunities.

Derby played Newcastle as though it was a cup-tie, and recreating a ‘cup-tie’ atmosphere at a full (yet again) Pride Park may represent their best way of helping to upset the odds. However committed and aggressive they are though, their defenders will have to raise their game another two or three levels to cope with Liverpool’s potency in attack.

The Reds will be in no mood for mercy as they look for a Christmas charge. Anything less, and the title race could be officially over in ten days.

FORM GUIDE (last 5 League Games, most recent first)


Newcastle United (away) drew 2-2

Middlesborough (home) lost 0-1

Manchester United (away) lost 1-4

Sunderland (away) lost 0-1

Chelsea (home) lost 0-2


Portsmouth (home) won 4-1

Manchester United (home) lost 0-1

Reading (away) lost 3-1

Bolton Wanderers (home) won 4-0

Newcastle United(away) won 3-0


Derby County

Derby are down to the bare bones, with only sixteen fit first teamers to choose from on Sunday. They will wait to assess the fitness of Claude Davis and Stephen Bywater, who damaged a shoulder at Newcastle. Bywater’s absence would be a real blow, as, despite the number of goals conceded, he’s been Derby’s most consistent performer this season.


With Rafa’s endless rotation, who know what line-up he’ll pick for what he’ll regard as one of Liverpool’s lesser challenges this season. However, with the side beginning to look settled and strong on Saturday, he’d be ill-advised to tinker too much.


Giles Barnes (Derby County)

The youngster is beginning to show signs of the talent that so illuminated the Rams’ successful promotion push last season. The way in which he converted his chance on Sunday shows his growing capabilities at this level .Expect flashes of brilliance tempered by lackadaisical naivety.

Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

The young man from Madrid looks unstoppable at the moment. Expect Derby’s dithering defenders to be embarrassed at least once by him.

Gerrard A Future Liverpool Manager?

Steven Gerrard says he would jump at the chance to coach Liverpool one day, though conceded that his team-mate Jamie Carragher would be the most likely to actually do so amongst the current batch of Anfield stars.

Gerrard, 27, has been with the Red since his teenage days, so coaching his boyhood club would be the continuation of what has already been a glorious dream.

“If I was qualified to do it, there’s no way I could turn it down because of my bond with the club and the supporters,” he said.

“But I think Jamie’s got more chance than me. He maybe loves the game more than me. He studies the game more than me so maybe he might be a bit more prepared than me.”

Gerrard was first noticed by Liverpool's scouts at the tender age of 8, and joined the Reds as a schoolboy in 1987.

At the age of 14, the Whiston born boy had trials with various clubs, including the sworn enemy Manchester United, which Gerrard later said was only with the intent of pressuring Liverpool to give him a contract.

He then went on to sign his first professional contract with the club on 5 November 1997 and the rest is history as they say.

Benitez Warns Troops Off Derby Complacency

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has warned his team not to take their Boxing Day encounter with Derby County lightly.

Basement boys Derby County welcome Liverpool to Pride Park on December 26th, and although the Reds are hot favourites, Rafael Benitez (pictured) has characteristically warned his team off complacency.

The Spaniard told the Daily Mail, "Everyone is expecting us to beat Derby but we have had experience of Reading so we will have a lot of respect for Derby and will try to win this game.

"When you play away against a team which is battling relegation it is always very difficult."

Indeed, Benitez is clearly haunted by that Reading encounter, where his team fell to a shock 3-1 defeat to lose ground on league leaders Arsenal.

However, he believes that maintaining his rotation policy will ultimately lead to success.

"Sometimes you can use the same player, sometimes you use the squad," he continued.

"I like to use the squad because this is the key if you want to reduce the gap - it is using the right players at the right moment.

"When you play four games in 12 days it is such a short time you can change players and they can understand.

"Sometimes when you play one game a week and you leave six players out of the squad it is more difficult to explain but this situation is easier."

Carragher Calls For Consistency

With Liverpool falling out of the top four - albeit with a game in hand - many have begun ruling the Reds out as title challengers. Vice captain Jamie Carragher feels it's just a matter of keeping the leaders in sight.

Liverpool thrashed a powerful Portsmouth side 4-1 this weekend, but nonetheless find themselves a daunting 10 off leaders Arsenal.

Fan favourite Jamie Carragher, however, insists such details are irrelevant at the moment.

"It does not really matter who the leaders are, as long as we keep them in sight," he said. "At the moment it is Arsenal up there, so we just need to make sure that we keep hold of them for now."

Whether 10 points can be realistically considered 'in sight' or not in light of recent Premiership seasons is another matter, but the Merseyside stopper seems optimistic.

"I'm sure a time will come this season when they start to find it difficult, especially with all the young players they have in their side," he stated.

"There is no secret they are a great side, but I'm sure they will be tested at some point. We just have to make sure we are there to capitalize when it happens.

"I'm sure Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea will keep winning, so it's up to us to prove we can stay with them. It would be really exciting if it's a four-horse race with ten games to go."

With the bizarrely congested fixture list around this time of year, it often becomes the making of breaking of many sides, whether fighting for survival or for the title.

Liverpool face Derby, Manchester City and Wigan in the next week. Derby and Wigan are playing with a new lease of life under new management, and Sven's men have proven a stern test for the 'big four' so far this season, and indeed occupy the place above Liverpool in the table.

"Christmas is always a crucial time of the season," noted Carragher.

"You can look at this period almost as a separate group of games in that sense. From these three games we would always say that seven points would be fine, but nine would be excellent.

"That would make a massive difference heading into the New Year, hopefully we can them be a lot closer to Arsenal by then."

Liverpool lie fifth in the league table, with 33 points from 17 games.