Saturday, April 04, 2009

Match Preview: Fulham vs. LiverpooL

While most eyes will be keenly observing the visitors when Fulham clash with Liverpool this weekend, there are plenty of reasons to pay close attention the home side as well.

Whereas this time last season the London club seemed doomed for the drop, they now find themselves knocking on the door of Europe. Standing ninth in the Premier League, they are just one point adrift of seventh-placed Wigan Athletic and a berth in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.

Since taking over partway through last term, Roy Hodgson has fashioned a team capable of playing both dogged and eye-pleasing football to great effect. And what's more, little Craven Cottage has become one of the toughest places to visit in England's top flight, as the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and, most recently, Manchester United have all found out.

However, Fulham's record against Liverpool in recent times is not very encouraging - they have scored just once in their last five meetings. But the hosts - who did manage a draw in the reverse fixture at Anfield - may fancy their chances against a team more obviously affected by the latest round of World Cup qualifiers.

It would be no surprise if Rafael Benitez turned up for Saturday's match sporting heavily bandaged fingertips; the Spanish tactician will no doubt have been chewing his nails all week long as the majority of his squad fulfilled their international duties.
But of equal annoyance to Benitez will have been the fact the break interrupted his side's best spell of form for the entire season, one which has seen them storm back into the title race after being written off by the end of February.

The Merseysiders' last outing resulted in a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Aston Villa and put them within one point of leaders Manchester United, who they had drubbed 4-1 at Old Trafford the previous weekend. Add in the 4-0 mauling of Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League knockout tie, and you have a side in pretty decent touch.

Pundits and punters worldwide are waiting to see whether Liverpool can recapture their momentum instantly, a task complicated by the number of stars returning from international action. But with first place on offer (although United could snatch it back with a win over Villa on Sunday), there certainly won't be a lack of motivation.



Mar 21 Fulham 2-0 Manchester United (Premier League)
Mar 14 Bolton Wanderers 1-3 Fulham (Premier League)
Mar 11 Fulham 1-2 Blackburn Rovers (Premier League)
Mar 07 Fulham 0-4 Manchester United (FA Cup)
Mar 04 Fulham 0-1 Hull City (Premier League)


Mar 22 Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa (Premier League)
Mar 14 Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool (Premier League)
Mar 10 Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid (Champions League)
Mar 03 Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland (Premier League)
Feb 28 Middlesbrough 2-0 Liverpool (Premier League)



Hodgson has pretty much a full-strength squad to choose from. Ex-Red Danny Murphy will captain his men from midfield, former Evertonian Andrew Johnson should lead the line, and Brede Hangeland - linked with an Anfield switch in the winter - will start in the heart of defence.

Probable XI: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies, Johnson, Zamora.


Despite seeing most of his first-team players shoot off to join their national teams, Benitez only has a couple of minor concerns. Yossi Benayoun, having just shrugged off a hamstring problem, took a knock to the calf while representing Israel but seems to have recovered, while Javier Mascherano is expected to start, despite only returning on Friday following Argentina's shock 6-1 loss to Bolivia at high altitude.

Probable XI: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano/Lucas, Alonso, Gerrard, Kuyt, Riera, Torres.



Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has been in stunning form this term. When you look at some of the match-winning displays the big Australian has turned in, it's no surprise that Fulham boast the fourth best defensive record in the league. The former Middlesbrough man should be kept busy by the most prolific attack in the division.


Speaking of prolific attackers, Fernando Torres will be eager to get back on the scoresheet after two goalless outings for Spain. His record away from home this season is impressive, and he shouldn't be wanting for service with an in-form Steven Gerrard just behind him.

Steven Gerrard Feels Fantastic About New Liverpool Contract

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard today signed a new contract that will keep him with the Merseyside outfit until 2013, delighting supporters of the club everywhere. Now he'd like to celebrate that fact by captaining the club to some silverware at the end of the season.

The Reds are still in the hunt for both the Premier League and the Champions League, and have recently returned to some mightily impressive form, handing out successive thrashings to Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa prior to the international break.

Now Gerrard wants to see them turn that positive form into prizes as the business end of the season begins to gather momentum.

"This news has given me a boost and hopefully it will help us in our remaining games," he told Sky Sports News.

"We have got big matches to play, all of them cup finals as we have to win them all to stay in the title race and go all the way to Rome for the Champions League final.

"It is a fantastic feeling to have agreed the deal. This is what I wanted, to see out the rest of my career with Liverpool. I have said all along that as long as the club wanted me then I would stay at Liverpool.

"I have been a fan all my life and it will be fantastic at the end of my career to look back and say I have been with Liverpool all the way through.

"The main priority is to be successful and I want to achieve success at the club I love. If we can win more trophies together then I will be really happy."

Liverpool travel to west London this weekend to face Fulham, the team that defeated Manchester United 2-0 last time out.

Emiliano Insua Wants Key Role In Liverpool Title Challenge

Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua is hoping to use the disappointment he feels at his national team's humiliation at the hands of Bolivia this week as a spur to help his club side's challenge for honours.

Although the young Argentine did not feature in the match in La Paz, he felt the pain of the 6-1 defeat as much as any of his countrymen, but he is taking some comfort from the fact that it proves in football that anything is possible.

And it is that idea that Insua hopes will help Liverpool surprise most observers and overhaul Manchester United to win the Premier League title this campaign.

"I’m very disappointed about my country’s result because we won on Saturday in Diego Maradona’s first game in Argentina as national team manager," he told The Liverpool Echo.

"I don’t know what happened but we ended up losing 6-1 in our worst result for many years so it is a big shock. But it does show that in football, in every tournament, every competition and every game that any result is possible.

"It was only a few weeks ago that people were saying that Liverpool could not catch Man United but now we are closer.

"We are only one point behind and now we have to keep on going, try to win the next game and do everything we can to get into first position."

Liverpool travel to Fulham this weekend fully aware of how their rivals from Old Trafford imploded at the same ground a couple of weeks ago, and the youngster, although nowhere near a definite starter for the game, is assuring supporters that the team will remain focused right up until the end.

"It is exciting for us but we have to remain patient," he added. "We are closer to Man United and maybe we can overtake them at least for one day if we manage to win against Fulham. All we can do is try to win the next game, see where that takes us and then move onto the next game.

"I have been at Liverpool for two and a half years and I think that the last few weeks were the best since I have been here because the team got some really good results and played some really good football.

"But now we must look ahead and try to do the same against Fulham."

Chelsea & Liverpool To Do Battle For French Youngster Ibrahima Tandia

According to a report emanating from Sky Sports, Premier League rivals Chelsea and Liverpool are keeping tabs on French youngster Ibrahima Tandia.

The 15-year-old striker, who currently plays for Ligue 1 outfit Sochaux's Under-16 side, is being hailed as one of France's most promising starlets.

It is claimed that both the Blues and the Reds have sent scouts to watch the France U-16 international in action at the upcoming Montaigu Tournament.

However, it is thought that Tandia has already turned down approaches from Chelsea and Liverpool because he is concerned that they do not focus enough attention on nurturing youngsters.

Apparently, the teenager favours a move to Tottenham Hotspur, although he insists he is not thinking about a transfer abroad at present.

"I am at Sochaux; I don't have anything to say about these links," Tandia is quoted as saying by Sky Sports.

"Let me enjoy my Montaigu Tournament. Sochaux's officials are the ones you need to talk to."

Reds Duo Scoop Awards

Rafa Benitez and Steven Gerrard have been named as the Premier League Manager and Player of the Month for March.

Both men have recently signed new deals to stay with the club and it was an excellent month for the Reds on the pitch as they battled back into the title race.

Liverpool started March with a 2-0 victory over Sunderland before a stunning 4-1 win against fierce rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Gerrard was in inspirational form against United and was again the star of the show in the 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa a week later.

His hat-trick against Villa helped Liverpool close to within one point of United with eight games of the season remaining.

Gerrard has now been named Player of the Month an unprecedented five times in his career.

Benitez has also won the manager's prize on five occasions, with his most recent success coming in October.

Kuyt Agrees New Reds Deal

Dirk Kuyt has become the latest Liverpool player to agree a contract extension.

The Dutchman has joined skipper Steven Gerrard in signing a two-year extension with the Reds.

Kuyt was waiting for boss Rafael Benitez to sign a new five-year deal before pledging his own future.

The 28-year-old, who has been converted into a right-winger by Benitez from a striker, is now contracted until 2012.

Benitez said the deal will be a big boost to the club in their assault on the Premier League and European Cup.

"Dirk had one year left on his contract and we were keen for him to stay. He is a player with great quality who has a big part to play in our future. We are delighted to have reached an agreement," the
Spaniard said.

"To have announced new deals for Steven and Dirk on the same day shows how hard everyone is working and that we are moving forward quickly as a club.

"These are very positive messages and I am very happy."

The ex-Valencia boss will be hoping Fernando Torres will be the next to sign as the striker is in negotiations along with Jamie Carragher, Alvaro Arbeloa and Jose Reina.

Benitez added: "We are very close to sealing deals with other players, several. There will be more very soon."

Liverpool FC Owner's Loan Worry

A sports group belonging to Tom Hicks has defaulted on $525m worth of loans, an American newspaper reported last night.

The report originally surfaced on the financial website FINalternatives, but was also reported in the Dallas Star.

According to the reports, the loan is partially secured on the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars baseball teams owned by Hicks.

But the loan is not secured on Hicks’ 50 per cent stake in Liverpool or by the American businessman’s personal assets.

The $525m debt is divided into a $350m bank term loan, $100m second-lien loan and a $75m revolving credit facility.

“There is no possibility of banks owning the teams,” Hicks wrote.

He added: “I am working closely with both leagues to find quality partners that share my long term vision of building these two great franchises.”

McParland To Oversee Academy Revolution

When Rafa Benitez revealed last week that Frank McParland would be returning to Liverpool to oversee a much-needed review of the club’s academy it added another layer of confirmation to the belief that the Reds boss is far from happy with the youth set-up at his disposal.

But it also confirmed just how highly Benitez regards McParland, who was Liverpool’s chief scout before joining Sammy Lee for a brief spell at Bolton in 2007.

Anyone who knows McParland will know that he is a forthright individual who holds strong views about the way football should be played and clubs should perform. He is definitely nobody’s yes man.

He is also a massive Liverpool fan who has been a regular at Reds matches even since leaving the club a couple of years ago.

In this respect, his appointment – even though it remains a temporary one at this stage – is similar to Lee’s at the end of last season.

Benitez clearly believes that the combination of vast football knowledge, a bulging contacts book and a love for Liverpool is a potent one as he looks to reshape the club.

And if McParland makes even half the impact that Lee has made then he will have done one hell of a job.

Loving Hillsborough Mum Anne Williams A Hero To All Of Liverpool

According to the adage that time is a great healer, the gaping wounds which opened up on Merseyside and beyond on April 15, 1989 should have long since mended.

But in 11 days’ time the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough will arrive and hearts will weigh just as heavy as they did in the hours, days, weeks and months which followed British football’s biggest ever disaster.

Even the passing of two decades – an entire generation – has failed to ease much of the pain caused by the tragic and unnecessary deaths of 96 men, women and children who went to a football match and never came back.

“It’s time to move on” is a phrase which is being uttered with greater monotony with every passing year but this week, the plight of one courageous mother highlighted exactly why moving on is not yet an option and nor should it be.

Anne Williams’ old life ended when her 15-year-old son Kevin became one of the victims of the death trap that was the Leppings Lane end.

From that point on, Anne has devoted almost every waking moment to the ongoing fight for justice, in particular her own personal battle to find out how Kevin was killed and for it to be proven in a court of law.

Her relentless search for the truth eventually led to new evidence being discovered which appeared to prove that Kevin had been alive at least 45 minutes after the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed by the coroner who investigated the Hillsborough tragedy.

It wasn’t just any old evidence either. It came from two serving police officers who had found that Kevin still had a pulse at 4pm.

Furthermore, a doctor by the name of Ed Walker would later tell the British Medical Journal that the 3.15pm cut-off time was clearly bogus because he and other medical professionals had been trying to resuscitate critically injured fans long after that time.

“It is also a matter of public record that some victims who died in hospital did not die until well after 3.15pm,” said Dr Walker.

“I personally, along with many other members of medical staff, was attempting resuscitation on those who subsequently died, but were very much alive, well after 3.15pm. This is quite simply a matter of fact.”

Unfortunately, despite having such powerful evidence at hand Anne’s campaign for her son to be given the inquest she feels he was denied is yet to bear fruit.

Door after door has been slammed in her face as the British justice system has again proved itself unworthy of its name.

Anne had hoped that where her own country had failed her, Europe could unlock the door to justice but this week such aspirations came to nothing when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that her case was inadmissible because too much time had elapsed between the initial incident and evidence being presented to them.

Like packets of crisps and tins of soup, justice, apparently, has a sell-by date. The kick to Anne’s teeth could not have been any harder had a bewigged European judge pulled back his right foot and planted it squarely in her mouth with the ferocity of a Steven Gerrard volley.

Her reaction? “A while ago, I was going to stop fighting but now I’ve decided to carry on.” If ever a few short words summed up a mother’s enduring love for her son it is these.

Because this particular mother is not going to rest until a court of law finally accepts that Kevin Williams died after 3.15pm on Saturday April 15, 1989.

And she is certainly not going to “move on” until there is a full legal recognition that Kevin’s right to life was taken away by the failure of the emergency services on that terrible day.

From somewhere, she has summoned up the courage and the fortitude to continue her fight and for this alone she is exactly the kind of woman that any son would be proud to call “mum”.

Anne Williams is a hero. For what she has gone through and for what she continues to put herself through in the pursuit of justice there can be no other description.

Unfortunately, even heroes cannot always triumph on their own and Anne’s admission on her Hope for Hillsborough page on Facebook that she cannot keep up the fight alone will hopefully result in her being given the kind of support which she so richly deserves.

The Hillsborough disaster did not begin and end on April 15, 1989. It is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago and only when this lone woman’s battle for justice for her son is rewarded will the remaining wounds finally begin to heal.

Liverpool To Decide On Gulacsi Inclusion

The Anfield backroom staff will make the ultimate decision on whether on-loan keeper Peter Gulacsi plays for Hereford against Hartlepool tomorrow.

It is a crucial match for both League One sides who are striving to avoid relegation from the 3rd tier of English football.

Gulacsi has been in inspired form since arriving at Edgar Street, with the Hungarian U-20 international receiving many plaudits.

However, Gulacsi picked up a knee injury whilst training with the Edgar Street club this week and is a major doubt.

Bulls boss Graham Turner remains hopeful Gulacsi will get the all clear from Anfield, but its touch-and-go.

Speaking to the Hereford Times, Gulacsi admits he's desperate to play at Victoria Park, but ultimately it will be his paymasters at Liverpool who will decide.

'I started to feel pain in the back of my knee on Wednesday morning.

'I want to play on Saturday but the decision will be with Liverpool.

'I have been playing a lot of games and, of course, it's a new experience for my body.

'I think it's just a reaction to playing a lot of games in a short space of time.'

With Craig Samson sidelined after surgery on an injured groin, the Bulls have no back-up goalkeeper other than Jose Manuel Veiga.

The Portugeuse born stopper could therefore make his debut for United tomorrow.

If Veiga is drafted in he will hope he stays on the pitch!

In his last semi-professional match Veiga was red-carded for Tamworth against Cambridge United at the Abbey Stadium in April 2007.

Tamworth lost 1-0 in the Conference fixture with Robbie Simpson scoring from the penalty spot for the U's immediately after Veiga's dismissal.