Saturday, April 25, 2009

Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Liverpool

At the turn of the year, who would have thought that Hull City would find themselves entangled in the relegation scrap? Once touted as the best newly promoted side ever to grace the Premier League, they now sit just three points above the danger zone in 16th place as we enter the final five rounds of the season.

Having opened their maiden top-flight season with a nine-game unbeaten streak, Phil Brown's men have won just once in their last 17 league outings. In the last two weeks they have lost to Sunderland and Middlesbrough, both direct rivals in the fight for survival.

So, safe to say, it is not in the best circumstances that they come up against a side who are pushing for top honours and simply cannot stop scoring. Nevertheless, the manager believes there could hardly be a better time for his struggling Tigers - who drew at Anfield in December - to come up against such a formidable opponent.

"We're in a vein of form where we need to arrest the situation as soon as possible and what better time than at a packed KC Stadium against one of the best teams in the world," Brown said earlier this week.

"We've had situations thrown at us in the last two years that would suggest Hull City versus Liverpool will be a one-sided affair. But we have our own thoughts about that.

"I've always said if we bring our best to the table and we are as organised as we can be, we can give anyone a game at this level."

While Hull are clinging on for dear life, Liverpool are similarly desperate to keep touch with those ahead of them - 'those' meaning league leaders Manchester United.

The Reds' incredible 4-4 feast against Arsenal on Tuesday night allowed Sir Alex Ferguson's mob to skip three points clear at the top of the table the following day, and with a game still in hand. Thus, with just five rounds left, victory on Humberside this weekend is the only option.

The curious thing is that, whilst they are now in danger of letting United off the leash, the Merseysiders are perhaps the form team in England. They've racked up an astonishing 20 goals in six league games, but questions are now being asked of their defence after conceding eight in their last two outings - a stat that does not please Pepe Reina.

The goalkeeper said on Thursday, "We are scoring a lot of goals but we have to try and improve in defence. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football but now we must sort some of the problems we're having in defence.

"We've always had the balance between attack and defence. That's why we're always there in the Champions League and cup competitions, because we are a team with balance. We have to get back to this way."

This call for a more measured approach is perhaps at odds with Liverpool's need to win every remaining game to have a realistic shot at a first Premier League crown - or any silverware at all, for that matter. Thus, it will be interesting to see what line Rafael Benitez's troops take at the KC Stadium this Saturday.


Hull City

Apr 18 Sunderland 1-0 Hull City (Premier League)
Apr 11 Middlesbrough 3-1 Hull City (Premier League)
Apr 04 Hull City 0-0 Portsmouth (Premier League)
Mar 22 Wigan Athletic 1-0 Hull City (Premier League)
Mar 17 Arsenal 2-1 Hull City (FA Cup)


Apr 22 Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal (Premier League)
Apr 14 Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool (Champions League)
Apr 11 Liverpool 4-0 Blackburn Rovers (Premier League)
Apr 08 Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea (Champions League)
Apr 04 Fulham 0-1 Liverpool (Premier League)


Hull City

Anthony Gardner is expected to miss the rest of the season with a back injury, while Jimmy Bullard won't return from a knee problem until the summer.

Captain Ian Ashbee is suspended, but Bernard Mendy - who starred in the reverse fixture - and Daniel Cousin are in contention after sitting out the loss to Sunderland through injury.

Probable XI: Myhill - Ricketts, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson - Fagan, Boateng, Marney, Kilbane - Geovanni - Manucho


Steven Gerrard is expected to miss out once again as he continues to battle back from a groin injury, meaning the job of supporting Fernando Torres will likely be shared between Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun.

Sami Hyypia is still carrying a knee knock, so either Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger will partner Jamie Carragher in central defence.

Probable XI: Reina - Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio - Alonso, Mascherano - Benayoun, Kuyt, Riera - Torres


Hull City

When the Tigers were flying early in the season, Michael Turner's ultra-solid defending grabbed many a headline. The young centre-back leads the league in clearances, and he will be a busy man if 'Pool carry their recent form into this clash.


He has been a bit-part player since arriving at Anfield in 2007, but Yossi Benayoun has proved a valuable commodity throughout the back half of the season. The Israeli playmaker put on a scintillating display against Arsenal in midweek, and his invention could prove pivotal in Gerrard's absence.

Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard To Miss Hull Clash With Groin Injury

Rafa Benitez has confirmed Steven Gerrard will miss Liverpool’s Premier League trip to Hull after his captain failed to recover from his adductor strain in time to be fit for the game.

Gerrard suffered the injury in the Champions League quarter final, first leg defeat to Chelsea, missing Liverpool’s last three games as a result, and the Spaniard today admitted the visit to the KC Stadium will come too soon for the England international.

But Benitez is confident Gerrard will return to the side for the remaining four games of the campaign, starting with Newcastle’s match at Anfield in eight days’ time, all of which Liverpool must win if they are to overhaul Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.

Benitez’s side currently lie three points behind their Old Trafford rivals, who also boast the added cushion of a game in hand, and he again insisted they “must be perfect” between now and the end of the season to stand any chance at all of ending the club’s 19-year wait for a league championship.

As he prepares to face Phil Brown’s relegation battlers, Benitez will no doubt be boosted by the confidence imbued by scoring four goals in each of their previous three games, although he does admit a degree of concern that, in two of those, they have conceded the same amount.

He said: “Chelsea and Arsenal are really good teams and we know they can score against anyone. We must be worried to concede four in two games, but if we can go back to the defensive level we had before and keep the attacking threat we have, then we will be fine.

"United have difficult games and while they are in the driving seat, we have to keep our confidence we can catch them.”

Hull Fear Liverpool FC Striker Torres

Hull manager Phil Brown believes the only way to stop Fernando Torres is to keep him off the Liverpool team sheet.

The in-form Spanish striker is Brown’s main worry as he prepares his side to face the Reds at the KC Stadium today in a match which could have a major say in outcomes at either end of the Premier League table.

Brown reckons he has the game plan to frustrate Rafael Benitez’s men, but asked how he will stifle Torres, who was absent for the 2-2 reverse fixture in December, he admitted: “I don’t know.

“Every manager in the country has to deal with him at some stage and the best way to deal with him at Anfield was him not playing.

“He picked up a knock in the first 15 minutes (against Arsenal on Tuesday) and obviously I was watching him closely because I’m the next manager to face him.

“He’s a fantastic player.

“You talk about Torres and Stevie Gerrard as the combination but it’s a potent strike force whatever comes out of Liverpool’s dressing room.”

Gerrard has been ruled out of today’s game with a groin injury much to the relief of Brown, who, when asked if that was what he had been hoping for, replied: “Absolutely. One million per cent. And hopefully one or two of his comrades won’t play either.”

In contrast to Liverpool, Hull have found goals hard to come by of late and they have gone nine games without scoring more than a solitary goal. Striker Daniel Cousin could return to the side after recovering from a back problem but Brown admits defence is his main priority.

“We’ll try and frustrate them. We know we’re not going to have much of the ball,” he said.

“They’ll have a lot of possession, a lot of chances, a lot of corners, so we’ve got to defend properly. It’s as simple as that.

“In the main I’m looking for our best defensive heads.”

Arsenal Point So Crucial To Liverpool FC Title Bid

UPBEAT Rafael Benitez believes the dramatic draw with Arsenal could prove a crucial point as he reiterated Liverpool would not surrender their title ambitions.

Benitez’s side missed a chance to crank up the pressure on leaders Manchester United when they were held 4-4 at home by the Gunners on Tuesday night.

United’s straightforward 2-0 win against Portsmouth 24 hours later means the Old Trafford side lead their North West rivals by three points with a game in hand.

With the champions entertaining Tottenham Hotspur in today’s evening kick-off, Liverpool can temporarily go back to the top of the table with victory at struggling Hull City this afternoon.

And experience of past title run-ins means Benitez is convinced Yossi Benayoun’s injury-time equaliser in midweek could yet prove “crucial” as the race for the championship enters the final month.

“As a manager, when you have experience you know that each point is very, very important,” said the Liverpool manager.

“For me, 3-3 with five minutes to go, with the belief we could score again was the key. To concede again was a big shock for us.

“So to come back again and make it 4-4 was massive in terms of the confidence and what that can do for us. The point could still be crucial at this point of the season.

“After the game everyone was really disappointed. But now the message is clear; to keep going, to keep the belief because you never know what might happen in football. We cannot give up.

“We have to keep going until the end.

“Three points in the next game is the most important thing now, then we can see what happens. That’s the only way.”

Liverpool FC Reach Third FA Youth Cup Final In Four Years

Anfield has been marvelling at a fair-haired number nine for the past two seasons, but another continued his emergence lower down the club.

Lauri Dalla Valle has a long way to go before he can call Anfield his home, and any comparisons with Fernando Torres or another Liverpool Youth Cup Michael Owen at this stage of his career would certainly be unfair. But the 17-year-old Finnish forward is getting noticed by the Anfield faithful for more than his striking blond hair.

He added to his goals tally with a double to help Liverpool into the final of the FA Youth Cup last night. He now has 20 in goals this season, seven of those in the run to the Youth Cup final.

Ably assisted by David Amoo, Tom Ince and Alex Kacaniklic, Dalla Valle spearheaded the Liverpool attack and scored from two clinical strikes as Hugh McAuleys side booked their place in the clubs third final in the past four seasons with a routine 3-1 victory over Birmingham to complete a 6-1 aggregate success.

They will now face Arsenal in another two-legged tie with first leg at the Emirates. It will be a tough challenge as the Gunners defeated Manchester City who are on course to win the North West section of the FA Premier Academy League again 6-2 on aggregate in the other semi-final.

But as if often the case in the Youth Cup, McAuleys side have grown into the competition. With their attacking ability and defensive strength they will feel they are capable of becoming the fourth crop of the clubs youngsters to lift the prestigious trophy next month.

Despite holding a three-goal advantage from the first leg Liverpool started on the offensive, trying to put the tie completely beyond the visitors early on. Ince saw one effort saved, while Steve Irwins wicked cross from the right was cleared and Andre Wisdom fired over from the edge of the area inside the first five minutes.

Soon after Amoos cross was headed back across goal by Kacaniklic, but Birmingham keeper Dean Lyness punched clear as Dalla Valle tried to apply the finishing touch.

Right-winger Amoo, as he had done in the first leg, was causing plenty of problems and from another cross Dalla Valle hooked over on 10 minutes.

Seven minutes Finnish striker Dalla Valle showed his predatory skills as he fired Liverpool into the lead on the night. From his cross Adam Pepper saw his shot palmed away by Lyness. And although Dalla Valle initially missed his kick on the follow-up he kept his composure to slot home from six yards.

Birmingham had hardly been seen as an attacking force but they almost levelled after 23 minutes. Liverpool captain Joe Kennedy had to hook off the line following hesitancy in the home defence after keeper Dean Bouzanis had dropped a cross under pressure.

Five minutes later Amoos fine run saw him play in Ince, who in turn set up Dalla Valle, but his effort was smothered by Lyness.

Amoo and Dalla Valle in particular never gave the visitors defence a minutes peace and the two combined soon after, as the Finnish forward looped a header from the right-wingers cross onto the top of the Kop goal.

As half-time approached Birmingham drew level with a stunning strike. Captain Ashley Sammons was allowed to run from the centre circle before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the top corner from 30 yards to give the visitors a slim hope of a comeback.

But seven minutes after the restart that was gone as Liverpool regained their lead with a lightning-fast break. A superb cross-field ball by German full-back Christopher Buchtmann found Ince, who advanced towards the box to slip in Kacaniklic, and despite keeper Lyness getting a hand to the Swedish wingers shot it looped into the net.

On 58 minutes Dalla Valle grabbed his second of the night. Latching onto a long ball out of defence from Spaniard Daniel Ayala he ran from the half-way line before slipping the ball home under Lyness.

Ince went close twice soon after. First he fired on the volley after a good interchange of passing between Buchtmann and Kacaniklic, then Lyness superbly saved another shot.

Subsititute Alex Cooper almost put the seal on a fine evening for Liverpool with three minutes left, but his shot on the turn clipped the outside of the post.

Dalla Valle, who came to the sidelines complaining of a thigh problem, had to be replaced with 12 minutes left by Karl Clair. Liverpool are hopeful the injury is not too serious and that their chief supply of goals is able to take his place in the final against Arsenal.

Midfielder Pepper also limped off with a groin problem and faces a race against time to be fit for the first leg of the final which is provisionally scheduled for Friday, May 22 at the Emirates with the Anfield return expected to be on the following Tuesday.

Rafa Avoids Tevez Talk

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has played down speculation linking the club with a move for Carlos Tevez.

Tevez is coming to the end of a two-year loan at fierce rivals Manchester United, and with the league leaders still to secure a deal for the Argentinean, Liverpool have emerged as potential suitors for the former Boca Juniors star.

The Reds are widely believed to be in the market for a new striker following the departure of Robbie Keane in January - although Benitez insists that no firm targets have yet been drawn up.

"It is too early [to talk about individual players]. Summer is too far," said the Spaniard.

"We are not talking about players because now we are focused on the league."

Benitez has been linked with the 25-year-old before, having forged a strong relationship with his representative Kia Joorabchian during the negotiations to take Javier Mascherano to Liverpool in 2007.

And with Liverpool needing only to correspond with Joorabchian and not Manchester United, the club would be able to avoid the same acrimony that has greeted previous attempts to snare players from Old Trafford.

Benitez Denies United Jibe

Rafael Benitez has denied reports claiming he thinks Liverpool are better than Manchester United.

Benitez was quoted on Friday insisting the Reds were a better team than the Old Trafford and he was the only one willing to stand up to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Those comments sparked a reaction from United boss Ferguson in his press conference, but Benitez has since refuted the reports.

"It is not true," Benitez told Sky Sports News. "I did not say this.

"It was a normal conversation with a good journalist and then has been twisted a little bit.

"We are really focused and do not want to lose our concentration."

But Benitez did warn Manchester United that his team is ready to pounce upon any mistake they make in the title run-in.

United returned to the top of the Premier League with victory over Portsmouth in midweek and now have a three point advantage with a match in hand.

Both clubs have slipped up in recent weeks - Liverpool's 4-4 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday the latest - but Benitez is confident his side will push their north-west neighbours right to the end of the season.

"Clearly it was difficult before (the Arsenal game) and now it will be more difficult but we will keep going," he said.

"We have confidence we can win our games and United will make a mistake so we have to be ready and hopefully we will see a mistake and it will be very close.

"It is football and you never know what can happen. If we win and they (United) cannot then again we will be talking about the title race.

"It is important to keep going and keep the belief."

The Spaniard hopes his players do not lose their focus when they take on Hull at the KC Stadium on Saturday.

Liverpool's last two matches - the Champions League exit to Chelsea and Tuesday's league clash at home to Arsenal - have both finished 4-4.

That is a most un-Benitez-like scoreline and he admitted certain events in midweek left him frustrated and even angry.

He will underline to his squad they cannot continue with the win-at-all costs mentality and forget their responsibilities to the team.

Benitez is a meticulous planner and each player is given a detailed job - specific to the opponents they are facing - to do before each match.

Those instructions were not carried out against the Gunners and Benitez intends to drum into his squad the importance of keeping their heads during the match.

"The first three goals against Arsenal were individual mistakes, you cannot blame the team you can talk about one player," he added.

"The last one was a team mistake so we have to do better defending a corner when we are attacking.

"I was really disappointed. We have been practising for years how to defend this situation and I was shouting at one or two players.

"We had the [pre-match] report and it said be careful with Theo Walcott at corners because he can start the counter-attack.

"It was so clear, they (the players) knew, and we made a mistake.

"In this case it was because they wanted to score and they were losing their position.

"They realise there was a mistake so next time it will be different.

"It (an attacking attitude) is good in open play but when you talk about set-pieces everyone has responsibilities and we have to be careful with these things

Kenny Dalglish In Talks With Rafa Benitez Over Liverpool FC Role

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has spoken to club legend Kenny Dalglish about a return to Anfield but a role for the Scot has yet to be finalised.

Dalglish, voted the Reds greatest player, has already voiced his desire to help his former club and it has been suggested he would be brought in to become involved in youth development.

Benitez is optimistic he can work with the 58-year-old, who had a 14-year spell at Liverpool before quitting as manager in 1991.

It is true I was talking Kenny and the conversation was really positive, said Benitez.

He wants to help any way he can and we will talk in the future.

The conversations are there. I am really pleased and I think he is really pleased too.

Wolves To Land Reds Starlet

Wolves are poised to sign former Liverpool youngster Jack Metcalf, understands.

Metcalf linked up with Premier League-bound Wolves earlier this month on trial after leaving Liverpool's Academy.

The talented defender is thought to have impressed the Wolves coaching staff during his time at Molineux and they are ready to offer him a deal at the club.

The 17-year-old came through the ranks at Liverpool and has featured for the reserves and the youth team this season in the FA Youth Cup.

A host of clubs expressed an interest in signing Metcalf after he left Anfield, but Wolves have won the race for his signature.

Allardyce Angered By Lee

Blackburn Rovers boss Sam Allardyce has told Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee that there was no need to become involved in his dispute with Rafa Benitez.

Last week Allardyce joined forces with Manchester United chief Sir Alex Ferguson in accusing Reds leader Benitez of failing to show respect to rivals.

The accusation came as a result of hand gestures made by the former Valencia manager during Liverpool's 4-0 victory over Rovers on 11th April.

Benitez chose not to respond to the allegation but on Monday his right-hand man, Lee, defended the event and described Allardyce and Ferguson's comments as 'quite sad'.

And Allardyce has been upset by the opinion of his former Bolton No.2, telling Sky Sports News: "There was no need for Sammy to get involved.

"It wasn't a situation I was going to get him involved in. It was a situation that was between me and Rafa Benitez.

"If anyone should have spoken, it should have been Rafa Benitez and not Sammy Lee."

Allardyce, who is fighting a Premier League relegation battle with Rovers, has also rubbished Lee's claims that he did not attempt to confront Benitez immediately after the heavy setback at Anfield.

"My situation was that, as I repeat there was the situation to speak to him in his room and he wasn't there," he concluded.

Hobbs Makes Switch From Liverpool To Leicester Permanent

Newly-crowned League One champions Leicester City, who will be playing their football in the Championship next season, have completed the signing from Liverpool of defender Jack Hobbs on a four-year contract.

Hobbs, 20, has been on loan to Leicester all season but has now joined the Foxes on a permanent basis for an undisclosed fee.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my season with the club and I am absolutely delighted to make the move permanent," Hobbs was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

He had joined Liverpool as a 17-year-old after having played a mere three minutes of professional football for Lincoln City.

He said of newly-promoted Leicester, "This is a massive club and I believe we can go all the way to the Premier League. That's one of the reasons why I have committed to signing a four-year deal.

"I couldn't be happier here. Leicester have shown great faith in me and instilled me with great confidence. I really am over the moon."