Saturday, August 16, 2008

Betting Recommendation: Sunderland vs LiverpooL

Spain broke their major tournament jinx in the summer, so now Liverpool will do the same, right? Well, if they are to win the title for the first time in 19 years, a good start will be essential.

However, starting well is not something the Reds really do. Last season's win at Aston Villa was their first on the opening day in five years - and it should be remembered a crass refereeing error gave them the points that day.

A trip to Sunderland may not sound the most difficult of starts but in an era when Sky ensure the big guns only play each other when they say so, you suspect Liverpool fans were wondering what tougher trips there could have been first up.

They will remember well the opening-day trips to Sheffield Untied and Middlesbrough in recent years, both of which ended in draws and with a two-point gap already opened up in the title race.

With Sunderland having strengthened their squad compared to the one that took 30 of its 39 points at home last season, we feel more first-match woe could await Liverpool, especially after the less-then-impressive midweek display in Europe.

It's 11/10 in the 'double chance' market that Liverpool fail to win, but a draw at 11/4 looks the way to go.

Verdict: Sunderland 1 - 1 Liverpool (courtesy of bettingzone)

Match Preview: Sunderland vs LiverpooL

Captain Steven Gerrard will be fit to lead Liverpool into the new season when Rafael Benitez's team start their Barclays Premier League campaign at Sunderland.

Gerrard was only used for the final 24 minutes of the disappointing Champions League draw against Standard Liege on Wednesday following a thigh injury but will be in the side at the Stadium of Light after training on Thursday and Friday.

There are doubts over Xabi Alonso and Yossi Benayoun following minor muscle injuries resulting from the game in Belgium, but Fabio Aurelio and Martin Skrtel are both back in contention.

El-Hadji Diouf, Steed Malbranque, Teemu Tainio and Pascal Chimbonda are set to make their Premier League debuts for Sunderland.

Chimbonda (dead leg), Kieran Richardson (calf), Phil Bardsley (hamstring) and Danny Higginbotham (back) have recovered from injuries and are in contention for the game at the Stadium of Light.

Kenwyne Jones, Dwight Yorke and Paul McShane miss out.


The most scored by an away team on an opening day of a Premier League season is six, by Liverpool against Crystal Palace in 1994.

Liverpool have won only one of their last five opening day matches, away at Aston Villa last campaign.

Sunderland have scored only four goals in seven opening day fixtures, but have picked up 11 points from those four goals.

Sunderland have conceded exactly two goals in four of their last five Premier League games.

Liverpool have scored exactly two goals in their last three Premier League away games.

The Black Cats failed to score in their final two fixtures of the 2007-08 season.

Sunderland have not drawn a league game at home since December.

The Reds have only lost one of their last seven top-flight road trips, to Manchester United in March.

Only three of Fernando Torres' 24 goals (13%) came away from home in 2007-08.

Sunderland have lost their last four Premier League games against Liverpool, failing to score in each of them.

Sunderland's only Premier League home win against Liverpool came under Howard Wilkinson in December 2002.

Sunderland conceded more penalties than any other team in 2007-08, nine.


Sunderland (from): Gordon, Ward, Fulop, Chimbonda, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Collins, Higginbotham, Liddle, Edwards, Diouf, Tainio, Whitehead, Leadbitter, Reid, Richardson, Malbranque, Miller, Luscombe, Henderson, Chopra, Murphy, Stokes, Waghorn.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Hyypia, Skrtel, Dossena, Insua, Benayoun, Gerrard, Plessis, Alonso, Kuyt, Aurelio, Pennant, Torres, Ngog, Keane, Voronin, Cavalieri, Finnan.

Rafael Benitez Holds Rick Parry Responsible For Gareth Barry Saga

Rafael Benitez has blamed Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, and the club's owners for the protracted Gareth Barry transfer saga.

"I will try to be very clear over the [Barry] situation," Benitez, the Liverpool manager, said. "Everyone has been talking and it seems that the blame is put on me. I get blamed for everything, for global warming to high petrol prices.

"But in this case I want to be very clear. Since I talked to Martin O'Neill about the situation in April, I have not talked to anyone at Aston Villa. All the talks have been between our chief executive Rick Parry, the owner and the chief executive of Aston Villa. And those talks have all been pretty good.

"So if anyone wants to talk about Barry in the future they must talk with the owner, Rick Parry or the chief executive of Aston Villa. And as I have said, those talks I understand have been good.

"I was not involved in the talks about Barry, I was not involved in the talks about [Xabi] Alonso and Arsenal. If you want to talk about these players you must talk to the chief executive of our club who was handling the discussions.

"If you want to talk about players, then you talk to Rick Parry. If you want to talk about football, then you talk with me."

Parry made it clear last weekend that the club were not happy with the £18 million price tag for Barry or length of contract. But Benitez clearly still wants Barry in his team to solve his left-sided problems. "The squad is better but we now have problems on the left because we have lost [John Arne] Riise, [Harry] Kewell and [Sebastian] Leto. We will see what happens in the future with that situation, but clearly our squad is better."

Alonso Tells Liverpool Manager He Wants To Go

XABI ALONSO has told Liverpool he wants to leave Anfield – but is likely to be priced out of a move to Arsenal.

The Spanish midfielder’s future has been the subject of debate throughout the summer, particularly with Rafael Benitez intent on signing Gareth Barry.

Alonso was on the verge of a £16m move to Juventus until the deal collapsed with the Italian side signing Sevilla’s Christian Poulsen instead.

The Spain international has since been linked with interest from Arsenal, and Liverpool manager Benitez revealed yesterday that talks had taken place between officials from Anfield and the Emirates.

But it is thought Arsene Wenger is unwilling to meet Liverpool’s asking price for the 26-year-old.

Alonso is cup-tied in Europe until the new year after appearing in Liverpool’s Champions League qualifier in Belgium against Standard Liege on Wednesday night.

Alonso, who was signed for £10.7m from Real Sociedad in August 2004, was loudly cheered by home supporters during the friendly against Lazio last week. However, the Spaniard has now informed Benitez he wants a fresh challenge.

Liverpool Boss Benitez Wanted To Quit Over Gareth Barry Saga

Rafael Benitez had to be talked out of quitting as Liverpool manager last week over the protracted Gareth Barry transfer that is causing a fresh rift with the Anfield hierarchy.

It has emerged the Spaniard decided to resign after being told the club’s American owners would not stump up the £18m to sign Barry from Aston Villa.

After a conversation with close friends, Benitez ultimately stepped back from the brink and vowed to continue in his post.

But the Liverpool manager remains far from happy with what he regards as interference from Tom Hicks and George Gillett over his prolonged pursuit of Barry.

The midfielder was close to finally completing his transfer last week when Liverpool’s owners put the block on the deal after Villa changed their demands over methods of payment.

Chief executive Rick Parry then released a statement over the weekend stating the club considered the asking price as being “too high”, with the Anfield chiefs privately believing there would be little sell-on value for 28-year-old Barry at the end of his proposed four-year contract.

And the Anfield manager, frustrated at being singled out as the reason Barry is not yet at Liverpool, yesterday insisted he was not to blame for a transfer saga that has overshadowed preparations for this evening’s Premier League opener at Sunderland.

“Everybody has been talking and it is clear that I am being blamed for everything: global warming; rises in petrol prices – everything,” said Benitez.

“In this case, I want to be clear: since I talked with Martin O'Neill in April, I haven't talked with anyone else at Aston Villa. All the talks have been between Rick Parry and the owner and chief executive of Aston Villa – and they have been pretty good.

“If someone wants to talk about Barry in the future, they will have to talk to the owner or chief executive of Aston Villa, or Rick Parry. I was not involved in the talks about Barry – I was not involved in the talks about Xabi Alonso and Arsenal.

“I just want to clarify because every time people say ‘oh you were doing this'. I talked to Martin O'Neill in April and after this I was not in charge.

“I talked just with Martin O'Neill. I haven't had any contact with the owner or the chief executive of Aston Villa. I haven't talked with Martin O’Neill since April.

“If you want to talk about players, talk to Rick Parry. If you want to talk about football, then talk to me.”

Benitez is still keen to sign Barry, despite his appearance for Villa in the Uefa Cup on Thursday night that means he would be cup-tied from European competition until the new year.

The Anfield manager acknowledges the need to strengthen the left side of midfield and has been told sufficient funds will be made available – although whether they will be released to sign Barry remains open to question.

“We do have some problems on the left because we have lost John Arne Riise, Harry Kewell and Sebastian Leto,” said Benitez.

“I think we need something on the left but anyway, I will continue to try and improve and progress with the players that I have.

“I want to be clear. I don't have any problem – any problem – with the owners. So I am not talking about anything like this. It's just that I will try to improve the squad.”

While Barry remains the first-choice target, Benitez admits Liverpool are now considering alternatives.

“We have time so we will continue working,” he added. “We have players in mind. I don't think it will be a problem to find players.

“The question is to find the right players for us, the right left-footed players for us. I was in contact with the owners and they told me that we had some money, I think enough to get the player we want. It's not a problem. I feel we can progress.”

Jose Mourinho: Liverpool And Rafael Benitez Must Step Up A Gear

Forget all the hype about this summer’s transfer saga with Gareth Barry, forget the newspaper stories about the relationship between the manager and the owners and forget about that performance in Liege in midweek – I honestly believe this could be Liverpool’s year.

The manager, Rafa Benitez, arrived in England at the same time as I did and is beginning his fifth year at the club. I always said that my Chelsea team would not be at their best until I had five years with them, and the same should be true at Liverpool. It has been the same group of players and the same management structure for the past four years. Weaknesses are exposed in that time frame and dealt with.

Of course, Liverpool supporters have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years – they won the Champions League. But, as all football supporters know, a championship-winning side is so very different from one that can win the Champions League. Teams are separated in finals and semi-finals by details – details such as disputed goals and penalties. To win a championship is about more than details.

It is impossible to win the championship without a world-class goalkeeper and a world-class striker – and Liverpool have both. Last season, when the club bought Fernando Torres, the spine of the team was completed: Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Torres.

Reina underlined his importance to the team again on Wednesday night with his penalty save against Liege – and I know from first-hand experience that his penalty saves are no flukes – while I think everyone knows the respect I have for Gerrard. It just seems incredible to me that he has gone this long without winning a league title.

As for Torres? Benitez should take enormous credit for not only bringing Spain’s superstar to Anfield, but making him a better player, too. You saw him grow last season and at Euro 2008. He will score at least 20 goals again. With Robbie Keane at his side, maybe he can even break 30 in the league.

On top of all of that, Liverpool also have Anfield on their side – and they must use that to their advantage soon to win a title before they move grounds. It is an incredible stadium – I have so many emotional memories of taking my Chelsea team there and I quickly learnt what a tough, tough ground it is to visit. My happiest memory was a 4-1 league win there in 2005. It was the season after our first Champions League semi-final defeat there. My team were fantastic that day.

Of course, Benitez, being in his fifth year, hardly compares with Arsene Wenger in his 12th at Arsenal or Sir Alex Ferguson in his 22nd at Manchester United – that is serious continuity. And of course they will be serious challengers for the title again. People think that these two managers may have some problems this season because of a couple of player issues – but I cannot see the problem.

Yes, Arsenal have lost a couple of very important players again, but Wenger knows how to cope with that. He has had to deal with losing Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry in recent seasons and he has always rebuilt his team with youth, and they play in a very attractive way. Now they have lost Mathieu Flamini, who I look forward to coming up against in Serie A this season. But Wenger has brought in Samir Nasri, who can be a big star this season. People expected a lot from him at Euro 2008, but France were so poor that it was difficult for him.

I always tell my clubs that we do not buy players on the back of one tournament because a player who is special for 15 days is not necessarily going to be the same over a long league season – but Wenger had Nasri in his sights well before the tournament and knows a lot more than most about how special he can be. We must also wait until Aug 31 to see what else Arsenal will do. You never know what secrets clubs have in their offices.

One story that has not been so secret this summer has been that Real Madrid wanted to buy Cristiano Ronaldo. All along I thought that if there is one man in football who is strong enough and has the right mentality to deal with it and keep the player, it is Sir Alex Ferguson. His experience, knowledge and power at his club meant it was never going to be a problem. So long as the player returns from injury with the same motivation for the club and can produce something like the form he showed last season, then any supporters who are thinking of giving him a hard time will not. It is as simple as that. Sir Alex knows what he is doing and they must trust that.

Of course, my battles with Sir Alex are one of the things that I am going to miss the most. For three years it was just the two of us challenging for honours, and for two of those seasons my team were just too strong in the league. We beat record after record, were unbeatable at home and we also did so many important things, like scoring lots of our goals in the first five minutes of games.

But Sir Alex was able to raise his game and he rebuilt his team with the right blend of youth and experience to get back to the very top. I would like to think that perhaps we had something to do with that. He came back to win consecutive titles and then the Champions League last season. Yes, they needed penalties to win the final against Chelsea, but they had already got past Barcelona, which was a great achievement. I like Sir Alex because even if there was a word or a little fight before the game, then afterwards everything was over.

I see that Chelsea are at home against Portsmouth, which is very interesting for me – I have not followed Phil Scolari’s pre-season at all, but I am sure he is feeling no more pressure with his new club than he did taking Portugal or Brazil into major international tournaments.

But he will find it a difficult opening game against Harry Redknapp’s side.

Harry is a manager I like very much – he teaches his players so much more than just football. I bought Sulley Muntari from Portsmouth to Inter Milan this summer and when he spoke about Harry to me he used the phrase “father figure”. That is exactly what I think Harry is – and how I think a good manager should be. His teams always play with a smile on their faces and that is all down to him. He sees the bigger picture and in that respect he reminds me a little of Sir Bobby Robson.

Sir Bobby has been a winner all his life because he could see the bigger picture. I had the great honour of working with him at Barcelona and he would speak a lot about the pressures of his job as England manager. I really didn’t know what he was talking about until I arrived in England. I realised then just how difficult it must have been to be the national team manager for eight years.

To put up with all that he put up with, he deserved to take England to a World Cup final. But he didn’t have that bit of luck. Losing on penalties in a World Cup semi-final, a little like losing on penalties in a Champions League semi-final, these are details that can make a difference to a career. But Sir Bobby had a beautiful career.