Saturday, November 08, 2008

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs. West Brom

West Brom travel to Liverpool on Saturday evening hoping to apply a fitting conclusion to their hosts' shaky week.

Last weekend Rafa Benitez's Reds suffered their first defeat of the season as they were stunned by a White Hart Lane late-show to surrender top spot in the Premier League.

And after dominating in North London only to suffer defeat, Benitez's side almost suffered the same fate in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday as Atletico Madrid very nearly completed a classic smash and grab on Merseyside.

The home side will, therefore, be eager for a polished performance upon their return to domestic action as they bid to revitalise their title credentials, but West Brom and manager Tony Mowbray will have other ideas.

Mowbray will have studied the blueprint of last season's Championship rivals Stoke, who travelled to Anfield in September, frustrated Benitez's men, and made off with a deserved stalemate and point.

The Baggies will also be well aware that they need to address a dip in form which has seen the Hawthorns outfit slip into the relegation zone following four games without a victory.

West Brom's cause will not be helped by the probable return of Liverpool star Fernando Torres, with the Spanish striker likely to make his comeback after a hamstring injury to add a neccesary cutting edge.

Xabi Alonso would be expected to make way, but the midfielder's excellent run of current form suggests Robbie Keane's place in attack could be under threat as the Republic of Ireland international still seeks his first Premier League goal in red.

Centre-half Daniel Agger appeared to dislocate a finger against Atletico but should be fit, while Andrea Dossena could return for Fabio Aurelio as the pair continue to be handed equal opportunities at left-back.

West Brom midfielder Filipe Teixeira has returned to training after knee and calf problems and could be named in Mowbray's squad, while James Morrison is in contention for a starting place despite limping off against Blackburn last weekend.

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson will make his return to Anfield after joining the Baggies in July.

However, Leon Barnett (knee) is expected to remain on the sidelines for another two weeks and defensive colleague Abdoulaye Meite (calf) remains on the long-term injury list.

Possible Teams:

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena, Kuyt, Gerrard, Mascherano, Reira, Keane, Torres.

West Brom: Carson, Zuiverloon, Donk, Olsson, Robinson, Greening, Koren, Valero, Morrison, Miller, Bednar.

Torres Set For Baggies Return

Rafa Benitez is hopeful Fernando Torres will be able to make his first appearance in more than a month when West Brom visit Anfield.

The Spanish striker has not played for the Reds since the 3-2 win over Manchester City at Eastlands on October 5 after picking up a hamstring injury while on international duty.

In the six games Torres has missed Liverpool have scored eight times, but have only scored more than once on one occasion when Wigan were edged out in a five-goal thriller.

Benitez is optimistic Torres will prove the time has come for him to be unleashed on Premier League defences again by proving his fitness ahead of the visit of West Brom.

"Fernando has more confidence now and he has been training normally with the rest of the squad," said Benitez.

"He looks okay and we will decide whether or not he is ready to play against West Brom after our final training session before the game.

"But we are hopeful because he is much better now than he was earlier in the week."

Meanwhile, fellow injury victim Martin Sktrel has ditched his crutches as he continues his rehabilitation from a knee ligament tear.

The 23-year-old centre-back is happy with the way his recovery programme is progressing but is not yet ready to set a date for his return to action.

Skrtel suffered the injury after falling awkwardly at City.

He said: "I can already walk without crutches but for the next two weeks I have to wear a special orthosis (knee brace).

"The doctor explained some new exercises to me and we have not discussed the date of return yet. Anyway, I cannot nor do I want to rush anything. “

West Brom Goalkeeper Scott Carson Is Bracing Himself For A Testing Return To Liverpool Today

Carson, who moved to the Hawthorns in a £3.25m deal this summer after three frustrating years at Anfield, knows just what to expect from his old team and that his task will be even tougher if Fernando Torres is fit to play.

“Torres is a world-class striker and as a player you want to operate against the best,” said Carson.

“I would like to see him play and hopefully I can play well and prevent him from scoring.

“Tony Mowbray has been working on the shape of our team and hopefully we can click and be stronger at the back after conceding a few goals in our recent games.

“Hopefully I can go there and have a good game. If Torres plays it just means that I have to be even more on my toes.

“If we can go to Anfield and frustrate them for as long as we can who knows what the result will be.

“It would be great to get a point and give us a lot of confidence for the following game against Chelsea.

“I don’t know what kind of reception I will get from the Liverpool fans.

“I have no hard feelings about Liverpool. I never really had a chance to prove what I could do at Anfield, but it was a great learning curve for me.”

Albion’s aim for the season is survival, but Liverpool have far loftier ambitions and Carson expects them to sustain their challenge for the league title.

He said: “Liverpool are now playing really well. Going to Chelsea and winning proves they will be one of the title challengers. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are desperate to have a crack at the title.”

Mascherano Wants Agüero In Premier League

Liverpool's midfield battler Javier Mascherano wants fellow Argentine international Sergio Agüero in the English Premier League.

Agüero appears to be happy with Atlético Madrid, who have promptly slapped a £35 million price-tag on his head after learning of newly-rich Manchester City's interest in their star man.

Kun is highly rated by Atleti, who're currently trying to ease him back to full fitness whilst they gun for the last 16 of the Champions League.

However, Liverpool's recent continental double-header with the Primera Division side has reminded Reds star Mascherano of his highly-rated international team-mate. Now, he's urged the 20-year-old to head for the Premier League.

"I think playing for a big club in England would help him and he is certainly good enough to do it," said Mascherano, who initially moved to West Ham United in a controversial move.

"Lionel Messi is maybe one step ahead of him at the moment but he is still a fantastic player.

"He is strong and a good finisher and he has a very good technique."

The Citizen's are the only ones who've registered a strong interest in Kun, but the English giants will know all about his qualities. Still, it remains to be seen whether City, Liverpool or any other club would be willing to do business for anywhere near £35 million.

Kuyt's King Of The Kop, Says Dalglish

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish has expressed his delight with Dirk Kuyt's form, insisting that the Dutchman is finally reaping the rewards for all his hard work.

Kuyt's constant inclusion in the Liverpool line-up became something of a running joke last season, as the Oranje forward's shots were more likely to end up in the Mersey than the back of the net.

The 27-year-old amassed a grand total of three goals in 32 Premier League appearances, and Reds fans were at a loss as to why Rafael Benitez chose him regularly ahead of Peter Crouch.

But since the back end of last term, Kuyt has enjoyed a remarkable revival. Since being shifted to the right flank to accommodate the Fernando Torres-Steven Gerrard partnership, he has gradually rediscovered not only his form but also his goalscoring touch.

Crucial strikes against Inter Milan, Arsenal and Chelsea helped Liverpool to within a whisker of reaching their third Champions League final in four years. And, though this season is barely a quarter gone, Kuyt has already bettered last term's league tally.

With Torres injured, the former Feyenoord man has rotated with Robbie Keane in the centre-forward role and has proved a valuable contributor with his strength and non-stop energy.

And Dalglish, the Glaswegian ex-forward widely regarded as Liverpool's greatest ever player, is thrilled to see Kuyt shining at Anfield.

"Dirk has had a really good season so far and it's always pleasing when someone who works so hard gets a reward," he told the club's official website.

"He is a very genuine boy who will always give everything he has and the fans definitely recognise and appreciate the effort he puts in.

"He deserves all the success he gets because he works his socks off for this team."

Keirrison Ready For Europe

Europe's big boys have been put on red alert after Brazilian prodigy Keirrison, and his club, revealed that he is ready to leave his homeland.

"My dream is to play and to triumph in Europe," Keirrison said on the Setanta Sports website. "I am working to achieve this goal every day."

The 19-year-old, who has been touted as one of the most promising young strikers in South America, came to prominence last year when he helped Coritiba win the Serie B title and earn promotion to Brazil's top flight.

'K9', as he is colloquially known, has scored over 50 goals in 100 games since being elevated to the senior squad at the Estadio Couto Pereira, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed across the Atlantic.

Barcelona and Liverpool have both been strongly linked with Keirrison, with Rafael Benitez reported to be particularly keen on the Dourados-born forward.

The Coritiba president, Jair Cirino dos Santos, admitted that there have been several enquiries into the Keirrison's availability and declared that the youngster's days in the Brasileiro are nearing an end.

"There is certainly interest from Europe, but the issue is not yet resolved," Dos Santos said. "Keirrison will not play in Brazil next season and that is for certain."

Most of Keirrison's contract is owned by Mais Sports, a third-party firm similar to the one who brought Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez to West Ham United in 2006.

A spokesperson for the company said: "K9 will be in Europe for the next season, but we need to study the offers to decide what is best," he said.

"The kid is prepared for the jump to Spain, England or Italy. It will not be a problem because he will be Brazil's number nine in two or three years."

Benitez Planning Long-Term Future

Rafael Benitez has made it clear he is anxious for an early resolution to contract negotiations he hopes will secure his long-term future as Liverpool manager.

The Spaniard's next challenge comes against West Brom at Anfield on Saturday - when Fernando Torres will be restored to the Reds front line - but there are matters to be addressed off the pitch too, as Benitez plots Liverpool's bid for the Barclays Premier League title.

Torres' return is timely, after Liverpool lost their unbeaten league record to Tottenham last weekend. But sorting out Benitez's own future will also go a long way to boosting confidence.

"I want the contract done quickly, because the team is playing well," said Benitez.

"I do not want to be talking about this for weeks and months.

"The team is very strong - you can see the progress. There is a new stadium soon, and I want to be part of the future of Liverpool.

"The length of the contract is important to me. We have been improving the squad for five years - so clearly we know that in the future we can be contenders and we can win more trophies."

When a potential five-year contract was suggested, Benitez said: "That would be very good.

"We will have to see, but I would like to be here for a very long time.

"We must do it quickly. Next week there will be meetings, and I hope it can be sorted soon - certainly not too long.

"I do not want to keep talking about my contract. It is not good for the team and it is not good for the club. We are in a good position that could be good for the future.

"I would like to see it signed before the end of the month. The owners have to talk to my agent about the conditions of the deal, but clearly the length of the contract is crucial.

"Stability is the key to winning trophies and being contenders for the title."

Benitez also wants stability in his strike force, aided by Torres' return and a likely pairing again with Robbie Keane - who is still struggling for goals.

Benitez said: "When Torres was playing alongside Robbie before the injury, it was beginning to work well. I would like to see that partnership again.

"Robbie has been working so hard, and maybe the goals have not been coming.

"I talked to him yesterday; I said we were happy with him, and we know he is having to do things that are difficult for him. But it will be easier for him to play alongside Torres.

"If we have Torres fit, we will score a lot of goals - like last season.

"I have a lot of confidence in our strikers - Dirk Kuyt and Keane have been working so hard while Torres has been injured. But I will now have them all back at a very critical time for us."

Rafa - Maradona Talks Positive

Liverpool held constructive talks with Diego Maradona on Friday as the new Argentina boss dropped by to outline his future plans.

The Argentina legend spent almost two hours at the Reds' Melwood HQ talking to boss Rafa Benitez and captain-elect Javier Mascherano.

Maradona wants the midfielder as his captain, a role which Mascherano himself has said he does not want, although Benitez thinks he has the right attributes to do the job.

Benitez said: "We talked about what Maradona wants from us and from Javier. The talks were positive, it was helpful to know what he was thinking.

"I did not discuss Javier becoming captain. But he has all the right credentials if he wants to do the job. He would make a great captain."

Mascherano was the last player to leave the training ground, but refused to discuss details of his meeting with Maradona.

The legendary 1986 World Cup winning captain brought Melwood to a standstill as players lined up to speak to him, with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Robbie Keane heading the queue!

"I was having a discussion with Maradona in my office, but it was very difficult. There was a constant stream of our biggest players wanting to meet him. Probably our two most famous were first in the queue," said Benitez, who added: "Maradona was great, he was very patient with all the requests. Even some of Carragher's family turned up.

"Xabi Alonso also wanted to meet him, his father had played alongside Maradona at Barcelona.

"We also had lots of the youngsters here who were just speechless and wanted to meet him."

Maradona's visit came after he had held meetings at Manchester United's training ground earlier in the day.

Liverpool Fan Died Celebrating Steven Gerrard Goal

An elderly Liverpool football fan died after getting over-excited when captain Steven Gerrard scored a dramatic goal in the Champions League, an inquest heard.

Jim Carver, 77, a great-grandfather, was so thrilled when Gerrard scored that he jumped up to celebrate as he watched on television in his lounge.

He then felt light headed, fell to the ground and suffering fatal head injuries at his home in Whiston, Rotherham, the inquest heard.

Mr Carver was watching Liverpool's away game against Marseilles on September 16th. Marseilles had taken the lead but an inspired Gerrard double secured a 2-1 win for Liverpool.

Mr Carver's widow Beryl, 72, said: "Jim loved watching sport and was an armchair fan of Liverpool. I can't stand football so I was upstairs watching my own little TV when it happened.

"He had suffered a few falls in the past and I think he jumped up excited when Liverpool scored a goal.

"After that he decided he didn't feel too good so he was going to go to bed. He had bumped his head but we didn't realise it was serious at first, but then I called the ambulance.

"He was to come home from hospital but unfortunately he had another fall and his condition got worse."

Pathologist Dr Terry Marshall told and inquest in Rotherham that Mr Carver died "from head injuries sustained as a result of his celebrations during the televised Champions League clash."

Mr Carver, a retired steelworker, had five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Acting Rotherham Coroner Fred Curtis recorded a verdict of accidental death.