Sunday, March 30, 2008

English Premier League Preview: LiverpooL vs. Everton

Sunday brings the 178th Merseyside derby to Anfield with both sides having plenty to play for. The Merseyside neighbours are both vying for the fourth and final Champions League spot with Liverpool currently leading Everton by two points in the table. A win for Liverpool would establish a healthy lead over their neighbours and give them some breathing space ahead of their triple header with Arsenal; whilst a win for Everton would see them leapfrog their neighbours into fourth.

Earlier in the season, Liverpool won the derby 2-1 in a fractious game that had practically everything: an own goal, two red cards, a last minute penalty winner for Liverpool and an even later penalty claim for Everton turned down by the referee in the dying seconds.

Everton will be anxious to gain revenge for that match which they felt unlucky to lose and also to prevent Liverpool from doing the double over them for the third time in the Premier League. However, they will be conscious they have won only two of the last sixteen derbies and have not won at Anfield since 1999. Despite this, their away form in the league is good with only Chelsea and Manchester United having picked up more points on the road.

Liverpool will be eager to bounce back from last weekend’s mauling at the hands of Manchester United. They were on an excellent run of form before that game with seven wins out of seven and will be looking to regain their momentum, particularly with important Champions League fixtures looming.

If recent form is anything to go by Sunday’s referee Howard Webb will have a busy afternoon. This fixture has seen more red cards in the Premier League than any other, as Everton will remember to their cost from the last fixture when Hibbert and Neville were both sent off. Steven Gerrard will also be well aware of this fact, having already seen red twice in this fixture in his career already.

Whilst Liverpool will be desperate to beat their local rivals and make up for last weekend’s defeat, they do go into this fixture with one eye on the midweek Champions League game against Arsenal. Whether Benitez will be able to resist rotating his side remains to be seen, especially seeing as many of his players were on international duty in midweek. He will certainly be without Mascherano after his red card last week so Lucas may come in and Benayoun may feature. Torres should be fit despite picking up a knock against United and coming off early in midweek for Spain against Italy.

Everton were furious with the referee after the last Merseyside derby for refusing to send off Dirk Kuyt for a late challenge on Phil Neville and also for not awarding them a last minute penalty, and they will be desperate for a result at Anfield.

However, since being knocked out of the UEFA Cup against Fiorentina their form has dipped at this crucial stage of the season, losing to strugglers Fulham and only managing a draw against West Ham in their last two games. A point may not be enough either if they seriously want to be playing Champions League football next season so they will head to Anfield looking for the win and to ensure that their otherwise excellent season does not start to slip away from them.

Their situation is not helped by the news that Tim Cahill is out for the season with a broken metatarsal and his goals will be missed, particularly seeing as he has scored in the derby in the last three seasons.



23 March v Man Utd (a) LOST 0-3

15 March v Reading (h) WON 2-1

8 March v Newcastle (h) WON 3-0

5 March v West Ham (h) WON 4-0

2 March v Bolton (a) WON 3-1


22 March v West Ham (h) DREW 1-1

16 March v Fulham (a) LOST 0-1

9 March v Sunderland (a) WON 1-0

2 March v Portsmouth (h) WON 3-1

25 Feb v Man City (a) Won 2-0



Mascherano is banned after his red card against Manchester United and Lucas may come into midfield. Torres should be fit after picking up minor knocks in recent weeks. Although manager Rafael Benitez has resisted the urge to rotate his team recently he may have an eye on the midweek Champions League game against Arsenal and could possibly make changes from the team that started at Old Trafford.


Tim Cahill is out and will be a big absence for the Toffees. Pienaar, Yobo and Johnson are also doubts which means Osman may retain his place in the side and Anichebe may start up front with top scorer Yakubu.


Liverpool: Steven Gerrard

After less than impressive performances against Manchester United last weekend and in midweek for England, the Liverpool skipper may just be in the mood to put things right against Everton. He will be looking to add to his tally of ten league goals for the season and to keep Everton well behind his team in the race for fourth place.

Everton: Andy Johnson

If Johnson can shrug off a groin injury he could be the man Everton look to for goals in this game. The last time Everton beat Liverpool Johnson scored twice and he remains the last Everton player to score in a Merseyside derby (Everton scoring through a Hyypia own goal earlier in the season). If he finds the net at Anfield it will be his 100th league goal which should prove a huge incentive.

Rafa: Three Signings Already Confirmed

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has been keen to reveal that he has already made headway in his bid to strengthen the club ahead of next season.

The Anfield Club are desperate to close the gap on the league's leading sides, and as such their manager has already got a jump on the summer transfer market, with a trio of new players already confirmed.

"We have agreements with two young players and one senior player who will be a starting XI player. That deal is already done," trumpeted Benitez. "We are also making plans for our preseason tour and talking to players here about new contracts."

The press have been speculating that the 'senior player' is likely Schalke's highly rated Brazilian full-back Rafinha, while the two youngsters are also believed to be South American in origin.

Perhaps more significantly than the signings themselves is that it strongly indicates that Benitez is planning for a future at Liverpool.

The Spanish tactician is said to be on the wishlists of several of La Liga's top clubs, and Inter Milan are also supposedly intent on luring him away from Anfield.

Arbeloa: Torres Deserves Award More Than Ronaldo

Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa believes that club mate and compatriot Fernando Torres deserves the Player of the Year award ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo is the favourite to win this year's individual honours - both the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year, as well as the PFA Player of the Year - on the back of a season that has seen him score 35 goals already, and provide nearly as many assists.

However, Fernando Torres is not far behind, also having netted 27 this season, which is already the best by anyone in his debut season in the Premier League.

The Spaniard has adapted seamlessly to life in the English top tier, something even the likes of Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba failed to do, and Arbeloa believes that the striker deserves to be named the Player of the Year despite Ronaldo's heroics.

"Ronaldo's confidence level is so high everything he tries seems to come off and he is a step ahead of everyone else at the moment," he began, speaking on the club's official website.

"Alex Hleb of Arsenal and Chelsea's Joe Cole have also caught my eye but Torres has been massive for us.

"He has created a lot of goals for himself and is on a par with the best and I am sure he will be voted Footballer of the Year ahead of Ronaldo.

"He is an idol who has earned his stripes, particularly at Anfield, where he has scored most of his goals."

Awards such as these are often decided by the results of top European competitions, and with both involved in the Champions League, as well as set to feature in Euro 2008, there is everything to play for.

Parry Wants Quick End To Reds Saga

Rick Parry believes Liverpool's ownership saga is coming "to a head" and must now be resolved by the American co-owners as quickly as possible.

George Gillett revealed in an interview this week that his relationship with Tom Hicks had long since broken down, and Parry admits that he sees no way in which they can carry on as a partnership.

With Dubai International Capital reportedly keen to launch a full takeover of the Anfield club, Hicks has so far refused to do business unless he can retain a controlling share, while Gillett appears more amenable - claiming DIC would be "responsible" owners.

But whatever happens, Parry has called for matters to move quickly.

"I think it brings it to a head - clearly for the good of the club from where I sit," the Reds' chief executive told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme.

"The hope will be that it's resolved quickly now, it's dragged on for long enough and the ideal would be to move to as speedy a resolution as possible."

Parry added: "All things are possible at the moment - somebody's got to sell, that's clear. If they're not able to co-exist then there needs to be a solution where one buys and one sells, or both sell.

"There aren't too many other possibilities but it's pretty clear that to carry on with the status quo is going to be extremely difficult."

Petulance Must Not Mar The Merseyside Derby

Most Evertonians will be familiar with the on-edge, slightly queasy feeling I have as we approach an end of season Merseyside derby with a lot at stake.

We approach these games with trepidation because, in our eyes at least, they have delivered some big injustices over the years. You won't spend long in the company of an Evertonian before talk turns to a disallowed late winner in the 1977 FA Cup semi-final and an Alan Hansen handball on the line in the 1984 Milk Cup Final.

Questions of refereeing are never far from the after-match analysis of a derby but today, of all days, I'm hoping the headlines are about the result, not the referee - especially after recent events.

The debate about players abusing referees is not new. But I sense it now has the potential to become a serious issue for the game. There is a real risk that the game is increasingly perceived as becoming arrogant and laced with a culture of disrespect.

The words of rugby league international Adrian Morley struck a chord: "Far too many footballers have been allowed to get away with this kind of petulance and ignorance for far too long. The referee's decision is final and the referee is always referred to as 'Sir', even now in Super League. Footballers should learn from us."

Footballers may be tempted to shrug their shoulders but that would be the wrong response. I would be the first to point out that football culture is different from rugby. No one expects footballers to be angels. As my old Sunday league team-mates would tell you, I was not averse to having a say on referees' decisions myself.

But some of the recent scenes of footballers berating referees go way too far and it's a terrible indictment of our top flight that abuse of referees in junior football is growing. Of course it doesn't end there. Every weekend in the Premier League we are treated to an array of diving that would make the talented Tom Daley proud.

So football needs to act decisively on respect for referees. I'm pleased that the FA, under the leadership of David Triesman, is facing up to the scale of this problem.

The Respect campaign being trailed at grassroots level bans anyone but captains talking to referees. Barnet, to their great credit, recently adopted the same approach and went on a fantastic run. There is a real case for its introduction in the professional game.

The now-established Professional Game Match Officials Board, which draws together the FA, Premier League and the Football League is another step in the right direction.

Everyone in football has a responsibility to take this campaign seriously, including the managers who appear to make referee-bashing their second job. It pains me to hear time and time again some managers failing to take responsibility for a team's defeat and blame the referee instead. So it was encouraging to hear Fabio Capello talking about the importance of respect in relation to the England team.

But David Moyes has a point too. He will strike a chord with supporters of many clubs when he calls for more openness when things go wrong and poor decisions made that can cost clubs dear. If that happened, perhaps it would encourage managers to be more temperate in their remarks.

Everybody accepts that referees will make mistakes. But people pay a lot of money to watch games and it would help take the heat out of these situations if there was more acknowledgement of mistakes.

Why is it all so important? Football is so prominent in our society that it affects the behaviour of young people. Young boys and girls who grow up watching their role models respect authority are much more likely to go on to respect authority in their life.

It matters because football's reputation is in question and the game risks losing support and standing.

But, if we don't get a grip, who will be the referees of the future? It is a thankless job and people will simply not turn out to do it if the reward is abuse. If there is a shortage of referees, there is the risk of people refereeing without sufficient experience at every level - that can only lead to more argument between players, managers and the authorities.

It is a vicious circle football needs to break - quickly.

Wenger Wary Of Torres Danger

Arsene Wenger knows his Arsenal side must be wary of "dangerous" Liverpool frontman Fernando Torres and pass a "test of character" when the two English sides go head to head for a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The Gunners host the first leg of the all-Barclays Premier League affair on Tuesday night in what will be a run of three matches against the Reds, with a domestic fixture at Emirates Stadium to come in between on Saturday.

Even though the Arsenal manager accepts both sides know each other well, Wenger maintains there will be no chance of his men underestimating the challenge which lies ahead.

"I rate Torres," said Wenger of Liverpool's in-form Spanish frontman. "I believe he had quite a good start after a spell when he was in and out.

"Since he is back on a regular basis, he is extremely dangerous."

Wenger revealed: "We have known about him for a long time, but I never tried to sign him.

"We were interested when he first started at Atletico Madrid, but we never made any offer."

Wenger maintains the familiarity of the opposition means mental focus will have a big influence.

"When you play a 'local' team in the European Cup it is a test of character. We know we can do it, but who wants it the most?" he said.

"Against an English team the competition is always different. You come back more to a formula - the mental strengths of the two teams will make all the difference in the game.

"We know each other well, so there are two things which will make the difference - the quantity of the mental strengths available in the teams and how well the players who can make a decision perform.

"We play each other three times in six days and it will be a case of 'who is ready again'?"

Wenger accepts preparation for the tie will be similar to what would happen in the build-up to a Premier League game, but with a different approach to the games themselves, given it is effectively a cup competition.

"You know in this game - a direct knockout - the goal conceded at home is the killer," he said.

"In a league game you think even if you can concede a goal you can still win it.

"So we have to be organised, cautious and make sure you defend well first before you attack."

Having knocked holders AC Milan out in the last round, following a goalless draw at Emirates and then a fine 2-0 win in Italy, Wenger accepts it will take another composed all-round display to see off the Reds, who won the Champions League in 2005 and reached last year's final.

"Liverpool will be more rough, more edgy and difficult to penetrate," he observed.

"Milan was a confrontation of two similar styles where we were better. Against Liverpool we will have to win the physical battle as well.

"They can raise their game and it is a team which at home can dig deep and produce a result."

Wenger noted: "We want to win the game on Tuesday, but 0-0 is never a disappointing result at home in the first leg because it puts the team who plays against you at home under huge pressure.

"They play with the idea that if they concede a goal they are out. That puts them a little bit in between - do we go for it or do we wait? It gives you a good chance."

Chelsea await the winners in the semi-finals, should they come through against Fenerbahce. Manchester United take on Roma in the other half of the draw.

Wenger - who guided his men to the European Cup final two seasons ago - sees no reason why there should not be Premier League representation again in Moscow.

"Certainly one English if not two will be in the final this year," he said.

"We were in the final in 2006 and we can come there again."