Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Preview: Liverpool vs. Wigan Atheltic

Wigan’s very recent path to success means there is little history between these two sides, but two former Liverpool players – Emile Heskey and Chris Kirkland – will return to Anfield seeking to make a solid start to 2008 on familiar ground.

However, Wigan know that getting a result on Wednesday will be a tall order – they have yet to earn so much as a draw against the Reds in their entire history.

"When you got a place like Anfield, you need to be at your best to get something and it's always a massive occasion for any club to visit there,” said new Latics boss Steve Bruce.

“To get something at Anfield would be a great achievement. We will go there full of confidence and approach the game in the same way as we would any other,” added the former United player, who has a 0-0 draw at Liverpool this season as manager of Birmingham.

Saturday’s defeat to Aston Villa was a major disappointment for Wigan, who threw away a 1-0 lead and brought to an end a streak of seven points from nine. But the bigger picture, however, is just two wins in 17. The Latics once again find themselves in the relegation zone. They’ll be keen to clamber out as soon as possible, but is Anfield really the place to do it?

Despite what much of the media have claimed, Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Manchester City wasn’t a bad result: United lost at Eastlands and only Blackburn have matched Liverpool’s feat of a point so far this season. However, the fact remains that the gap to league leaders Arsenal is now two points greater than it was heading into the weekend. Time is slowly but surely running out for Liverpool’s title challenge.

As has often been the case this season, Rafa Benítez’ side have failed to convert pressure and chances into goals when it matters most: comfortable wins are great morale boosters, but a couple of sly 1-0’s yield more points than a 4-0 thrashing followed by a scoreless draw.

City defended well, but – more so than any of their title rivals – those were two points Liverpool could not afford to drop. Anything other than three points against lowly Wigan and the Anfield faithful must resign themselves to yet another season without the league championship.

The pressure is particularly on strikers Kuyt, Voronin and Crouch to start pulling their weight: the trio notched a paltry one goal between them in all competitions in December, and even that was hardly a key strike (Kuyt scored the third in the 4-0 win at Marseille).

As great as Fernando Torres is, Liverpool cannot keep relying on him to score the important goal in every game. Wednesday, against a Wigan side with just one clean sheet in 18 games, would be a fine time for Liverpool’s other forwards to rediscover their goalscoring form and begin justifying their place in the squad.



Match Result Date Championship
Manchester City - Liverpool 0 - 0 30/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Derby - Liverpool 1 - 2 26/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Portsmouth 4 - 1 22/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Chelsea - Liverpool 2 - 0 19/12/2007 CARLING CUP
Liverpool - Man Utd. 0 - 1 16/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Marseille - Liverpool 0 - 4 11/12/2007 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE


Match Result Date Championship
Wigan Athletic - Aston Villa 1 - 2 29/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Wigan Athletic - Newcastle 1 - 0 26/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Fulham - Wigan Athletic 1 - 1 22/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Wigan Athletic - Blackburn 5 - 3 15/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Bolton - Wigan Athletic 4 - 1 09/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Wigan Athletic - Manchester City 1 - 1 01/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE



Peter Crouch has completed his three-match ban and is available for selection. The news is less positive in defence, however, as Sami Hyypia’s ankle continues to bother him and Daniel Agger is still not fit. Benítez will probably select Arbeloa over Hobbs at centre-back, but may rotate his midfield and forwards once more. Torres will probably start, but it remains to be seen whether Crouch or Voronin get the nod over Kuyt.

Likely XI (4-4-2): Reina – Finnan, Carragher, Arbeloa, Riise – Babel, Gerrard, Alonso, Aurélio – Torres, Voronin


Emile Heskey resumed training on Monday and could be recalled against his old club. Jason Koumas is also available having recovered from a groin strain. Sibierski and Taylor respectively will probably make way for the duo.

Likely XI (4-4-2): Kirkland – Melchiot, Scharner, Bramble, Kilbane – Valencia, Brown, Landzaat, Koumas – Bent, Heskey


Liverpool – Andriy Voronin (pictured)

Fernando Torres will no doubt be keen to return to goalscoring ways at Anfield on Wednesday, but it is Liverpool’s other strikers who really need goals at the moment. Voronin has failed to set Merseyside alight since arriving from Leverkusen, netting just four times and not since October’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham. 2008’s first game gives the Ukrainian a chance to make a fresh start.

Wigan – Chris Kirkland

All eyes will be on Emile Heskey as he makes his Anfield return, but it is Chris Kirkland, another former Liverpool man, who will be of the greatest importance to the Latics. Blighted by injury, the goalkeeper was granted insufficient chances to make an impression in front of the Kop. A clean sheet on Wednesday would show the Reds exactly what talents they’ve thrown away.

Gerrard Gets The SAS To Guard His House

England star Steven Gerrard has hired a crack team of former SAS soldiers to protect his family after a terrifying raid.

The 27-year-old Liverpool captain took drastic action after his wife Alex Curran was threatened at their £4.5million home while he was playing in France.

The security men, whose regimental motto was Who Dares Wins, are now guarding Gerrard's home around the clock.

A friend told The Daily Mirror: "Stevie just felt that something had to be done to protect his wife, himself and his children. The safety of the ones he loves was the priority. These guys will now be there for him 24 hours a day. The family can sleep soundly." Alex confronted four masked men after hearing noises downstairs at their mansion in Formby, Merseyside, last month.

As daughters Lilly-Ella, three, and one-year-old Lexie slept, Mirror columnist Alex came face-to-face with the gang. They threatened her with violence before escaping with a large haul of jewellery.

Gerrard was told of the robbery at the end of a Champions League game against Marseille.

Alex, 25, was still in a state of shock when her husband arrived back home in the early hours.

The player was clearly upset the next day when he talked about his wife's ordeal. He said he was just relieved that no one was hurt but friends said he was angry his home had been raided while he was away.

A friend said: "Steve was livid. It was the work of cowards, hitting a property where they must have known there was only his wife and children there.

"Stevie was just the latest of several Liverpool players whose homes had been raided while they were playing away.

"The club started to look at ways to provide cover for the players' houses whenever they were away.

"But Stevie realised he needed something a bit extra and that's how he came to get involved with these specialist guys."

Javier Mascherano Unsure Of Liverpool Future

Uncertainty surrounding Liverpool's finances and indecision in the transfer market could lead Javier Mascherano to leave Anfield, with Barcelona said to be interested.

Mascherano is currently on a loan arrangement at the club after signing from West Ham United, where he was on a similar deal, a year ago following an unsuccessful spell at Upton Park.

The Argentine has revived his reputation at Liverpool as one of the best holding midfield players in world football and Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is keen to tie up a permanent deal for the player.

However, Benitez has yet to fully resolve a dispute with Liverpool's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, over what funds will be available to him to strengthen a squad that is in danger of falling out of the title race little over half way through the season and even faces competition from Everton, Manchester City and Aston Villa for the fourth Champions League position.

Liverpool's shaky form this season means that Hicks and Gillett - already having to refinance their own loans used to buy the club due to the global credit crunch and having scaled down ambitions plans for a new stadium - might be unwilling to meet the £17 million asking price for the player.

The player's agents have already put word out that he is for sale and have had positive feedback, particularly from the Nou Camp.

"With the time that has passed, it'll now be more difficult for me to stay here because I need to do something about my future," said Mascherano.

"I have done everything to stay but now the owners must decide if they want to buy me or not."

Liverpool host relegation-threatened Wigan at Anfield tonight with Benitez conscious, after recent dropped points, that only victory will keep his side in touch with the Premier League leaders.

Eriksson May Have To Swap To Land Crouch

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has reportedly earmarked Liverpool striker Peter Crouch as his top January transfer target - but he may have to negotiate a swap deal with the Anfield club to land him.

Sven-Goran Eriksson became a Peter Crouch fan when he was manager of England and selected the forward for the national team. Now he sees him as the player to give his promising City side an extra dimenbsion and a more consistent goal threat.

Eriksson has been tipped for weeks to be lining up a bid for Crouch, whose first-team opportunities at Liverpool have been restricted since the Anfield arrivals of Fernando Torres and Andriy Voronin.

However, the Manchester Evening News suggests that Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, who is known to be keen to bring in more new faces, and who (says the paper) has been told by his American bosses that he has very little money to spend this January, might favour a swap deal.

The men describes Benitez as a 'known admirer' of City's England Under-21 pair, Michael Johnson and Nedum Onuoha.

City's prized asset is Micah Richards, but although he has yet to sign a new £50,000 a week contract at Eastlands as he changes agents, City owner Thaksin Shinawatra is determined to resist any attempts to lure the England defender away.

Shinawatra's vision is to achieve European qualification for City with a team that is a blend of overseas superstars and Academy graduates.

Meanwhile Mexico striker Nery Castillo is not eligible for tonight's Premier League clash at Newcastle because the League's offices were not open to register him yesterday. The rule is that a player's name must be with the authorities 24 hours before he can be selected.

Castillo has arrived at City on a £3million, 12-month loan deal from Ukraine side Shakhtar Donetsk, but he will be available to play for City in Saturday's FA Cup third round tie at West Ham.

His arrival at Eastlands marked the staret of the second phase of Eriksson's recruitment drive.

The Swede, who has steered City to an impressive first half of the season, brought in eight players during his initial spending spree last summer.

But his priority this month is to sign a top striker.

Eriksson said: "We are talking to agents and we are trying in this country as well as abroad. I think something else will happen in January and we will be having meetings over the next few days.

“But it is difficult because we are working and the rest of Europe is on holiday, so it is hard to talk to people right now.”