Monday, August 24, 2009

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Aston Villa

After their opening-round defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, many a question was raised about Liverpool’s title credentials. The departed Xabi Alonso was sorely missed at White Hart Lane, and pundits nationwide wondered aloud whether anyone in Rafael Benitez’s squad could fill the void.

Some of those questions were answered with authority on Wednesday night as the Reds stormed to a 4-0 victory over Stoke City, against whom they failed to score a single goal last season. And all of a sudden, the men from Merseyside are title contenders once more.

It proved a double good night for ‘Pool in light of Manchester United’s shock defeat at Burnley, and they will want to keep pace with their North West rivals – who thumped Wigan Athletic on the weekend – by claiming the points when they face Aston Villa this Monday.

Benitez & Co. have every right to feel confident heading into the clash; for not only are the Birmingham side yet to record a victory this season, they were on the receiving end of a 5-0 drubbing at Anfield last time these two teams met.

Unfortunately for Villa, they have started new season much as they finished old one. Two games in, they have yet to record a victory – defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic last weekend was swiftly followed by a first-leg loss at Rapid Wien in Europa League qualifying.

Tipped to be among that ever-expanding pack of teams pushing to crack open the top four, the Villans will have to lift their game considerably if they hope to keep up with the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in particular.

They face a tough test this week at Liverpool, but Martin O’Neill believes that his men are well capable of bouncing back from their early disappointments and securing a result against last term’s Premier League runners-up.

The Ulsterman said recently, "Last season we beat Manchester City at home, we then went to Stoke and got beaten by a very late goal and that was dispiriting to lose it. Then we fought back against Liverpool and drew at home with them... We’re capable of getting over it."



Aug 19 Liverpool 4-0 Stoke City (Premier League)
Aug 16 Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Aug 08 Liverpool 1-2 Atletico Madrid (Friendly)
Aug 05 FC Lyn 0-2 Liverpool (Friendly)
Aug 02 Espanyol 3-0 Liverpool (Friendly)

Aston Villa

Aug 20 Rapid Wien 1-0 Aston Villa (Europa League)
Aug 15 Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan Athletic (Premier League)
Aug 08 Aston Villa 1-0 Fiorentina (Friendly)
Aug 04 Oxford United 2-0 Aston Villa (Friendly)
Aug 02 Juventus 0-0* Aston Villa (Friendly)



There are big concerns for Benitez at the back, as Daniel Agger is scheduled to undergo back surgery and will miss around six weeks. With Martin Skrtel still sporting a sore jaw, youngster Daniel Ayala could retain his place at centre-back.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos may get the nod instead, however, if all his paperwork is approved in time. The Greek defender has just signed for the Reds from AEK Athens in a deal reported to be worth €3 million.

Fernando Torres required stitches after a nasty head-clash in the Stoke game, but the Spanish striker is expected to start against Villa. Fabio Aurelio and Alberto Aquilani remain unavailable.

Possible XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Ayala, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun; Torres.

Aston Villa

O’Neill has problems of his own in defence, as Curtis Davies is set to miss out after re-injuring his shoulder during the midweek defeat in Vienna.

The inexperienced Shane Lowry could replace the former West Bromwich Albion stopper, although the gaffer also has the option of moving Habib Beye into the centre and shifting Luke Young to right-back.

John Carew is yet to play this season, having hobbled out of pre-season with a foot injury. A virus kept him off the plane to Austria, and he remains uncertain to make the trip to Merseyside.

Possible XI: Friedel; L. Young, Beye, Cuellar, Shorey; Milner, Petrov, Reo-Coker, A. Young; Agbonlahor, Heskey.


Glen Johnson (Liverpool)

The England right-back has begun his Anfield career on the right and is high on life after a magnificent display against Stoke in midweek. He has brought a different dimension to his new side’s attacking play, but it will be interesting to see how his defensive game stands up against Villa.

Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

This is the man who could potentially expose whatever weaknesses Johnson possesses. The speedy winger will hurt you if given any space, and his crossing and set-piece delivery could pose problems for Liverpool’s injury-hit back line.

Benitez Anticipates Tough Season

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez does not expect the Barclays Premier League's big four to have things all their own way this season.

Benitez, who could give a debut to new Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos against Aston Villa on Monday, anticipates plenty of teams taking points off the Reds, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

He said: "This will be a different sort of title race. Already we have lost, and so have Manchester United."

He continued: "There are other teams who can make an impact - Spurs, Manchester City, Villa - and I believe it will be a lot harder this season for the top four teams to win every game.

"Villa will be difficult for us. They have pace, experience and ability. They do very well in away games because of that and are an extremely dangerous side."

Rafa Reiterates Commitment

Rafa Benitez has promised Liverpool fans he is fully committed to the club despite speculation of an exit.

Rumours were rife that Benitez was set to quit the club in the build up to Wednesday's 4-0 win over Stoke City after a reported argument with club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

However, Benitez laughed off the reports and his side responded in style with a ruthless display against the Potters to get their season up and running after an opening weekend defeat to Tottenham.

The Spaniard has now assured fans there was no truth in the gossip and has promised to honour the five-year contract he signed earlier this year.

He said: "I can tell everyone that my commitment to the club is still there.

"When I signed the new contract it was because of the fans, because of the staff and because of the players.

"I told everyone I will stay - it was my decision. I'm really pleased here and I'd like to stay for the length of my contract. The fans know this so that's the most important thing for me.

"The problem here is that rumours go around very, very quickly. Even people who know me wanted to know what was happening. They all asked: 'Are you going? What happened?' I was even surprised myself."

The 49-year-old is no stranger to speculation surrounding his future and has previous experience of dealing with such matters on the eve of a big game.

He said: "We had a situation similar to this one when we played Real Madrid in the Champions League. It was a surprise then, but we won the game.

"This time I got messages when I was preparing for the game against Stoke. They came through on my phone.

"We had a team talk and then came the messages. I had to concentrate, but no-one expected that. I don't know how, but someone started talk about this and the rumour grew.

"I can guarantee, though, nothing affected me as I was preparing for Stoke."

Rafa: Glen Can Hit The Goal Trail

Rafael Benitez has backed Glen Johnson to aid Liverpool's title push by becoming a regular name on the scoresheet.

The Reds boss has been delighted with the attacking flair the right-back has shown since joining the club in the summer and is confident the England man can go close to hitting double figures this season.

"I don't want to give him any targets, but I think he can score between five and 10 for us because he is really good going forward and normally we are an attacking team," Benitez told radio journalists at his pre-match press conference at Melwood yesterday.

"I think he will get somewhere between the figures you mention.

"We analysed him after watching him in a number of games and knew we were bringing in a player with lots of quality who could get forward and score goals.

"He is a player who will work hard and I think he will aim to improve the defensive part of his game. I remember the first time I spoke to him and he told me he was keen to learn. He was happy because we told him we could help him and he is doing really well."

Asked if he felt playing alongside the likes of Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher will help boost the defensive side of Johnson's game, Benitez said: "Yes, I think it is important for him to play with these players because they will talk to him throughout matches and offer him advice on how to do things.

"I also think that working with Sammy (Lee) and Pellegrino will help him improve too. I am sure that at the end of the season we will be talking about a very good defender with a good offensive mentality."

Kennedy Set For New Challenge

Former Academy defender Joe Kennedy is preparing for a new life away from football.

The 18-year-old was released by the Reds during the summer but is now celebrating after being accepted on to a sports science degree course at John Moores University.

Academy Education and welfare officer Phil Roscoe said: "Joe is an individual who has demonstrated a committed and focused attitude towards not only his football but his education whilst he has been at Liverpool Football Club.

"Obviously it is tough for any scholarship player to deal with the fact that he has been released from a club and for Joe this has been no different.

"Joe has reacted to this in an extremely positive manner and, using the qualifications he has gained whilst being in the education programme at the club, has been able to enrol on a sports science degree at John Moores University.

"We wish Joe all the best for the future and as a club will also carry on supporting Joe's education and welfare during this period."

Kennedy skippered the under-18s last season as they made it all the way to an FA Youth Cup final against Arsenal.

New Signing Kyrgiakos Eyeing Up Late-Career Glory As Greek International Completes Anfield Switch

Liverpool's new Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos plans to capitalise on his unexpected chance to be successful at the very highest level.

The 30-year-old central defender has signed a two-year contract at Anfield after a £2million move from AEK Athens.

Kyrgiakos was unlucky to miss Greece's Euro 2004 success through injury, and had to sit and watch his countrymen lift the title in Portugal.

Since then he has had spells at Rangers in Scotland and Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany.

And almost out of the blue he has been offered the chance to make his mark with the five-time European champions as he approaches the final years of his career.

Kyrgiakos is very much a cheap option for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez due to the cash problems at Anfield.

But, unveiled today at the club's Melwood training ground, Kyrgiakos admitted it was an offer he just could not refuse.

He said: 'I am very happy to have this chance at Liverpool. I know I had just signed a new contract with AEK.

'But although it was a good contract, you never stop having ambitions in life, and that is why I am here.

'When you are approached by a club like Liverpool, it is an offer you just cannot refuse.

'I hope that I can bring my strength to this squad, I am good in the air and I have a lot of experience now, so I hope I can be of benefit to Liverpool.

'There are a lot of real quality players here, so I hope to add to their squad and I know they will help me settle down here.

'I have played for Rangers in Scotland and Frankfurt in Germany, which has given me a lot of experience of competitive leagues so I believe I will adapt quickly.'

Kyrgiakos is expected to be in Liverpool's squad on Monday for the home league game against Aston Villa.

He said: 'I do not know yet whether I will be playing on Monday against Aston Villa, that is up to the manager, but I will be ready if needed.

'I know that there have not been many Greek players who have been successful in the English game, so I feel that I have something to prove for my country, that we can play at this level.

'For me it is a chance to have success at the very top. I was injured when Greece were European champions in 2004, these things happen in football.

'So I have plenty of motivation to do well in the Premier League and help Liverpool to be successful.'

He added: "I only found out on Monday that Liverpool were interested, it was a surprise but I could not say no to this club, and I hope AEK fans understand. I will always have a place in my heart for them.

'My time at Rangers will help me play in England. I am a physical player and it will suit my game playing here.

'I had a few disciplinary problems in Scotland, but not too much. I feel I have learned now how to be physical in this style of football.

'This is the best stage for me to play football, I understand Liverpool's traditions and I am proud to have this chance. I have come to the best club, the biggest club.'

Liverpool Debts Mean That Rafa Benitez's Spending Days Are Over

Rafa Benitez's hopes of challenging Manchester United to end Liverpool's 19-year wait for a title seem to have been extinguished already after he was told last week that the remainder of his transfer budget for the summer would be £2million - a revelation which seems to have prompted the highly-charged midweek atmosphere at Melwood and the reports that the manager was poised to quit.

Benitez, whose relationship with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett has been strained since they took over the club, denied that but admitted yesterday that following the signing of AEK Athens defender Sotirios Krygiakos for a fee said to be close to £2m, that his spending looked to be over for now.

'I don't think there will be more,' he said.

Given that the reported £18.5m fee for Glen Johnson amounted to little more than £10m, once money Portsmouth still owed for Peter Crouch had been taken into account, and the £20m fee for Roma's Alberto Aquliani was offset by the £30m received for Xabi Alonso, Benitez in effect has had no additional transfer funds.

It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that Hicks and Gillett's debt has scuppered any chance of building on last year's second-place finish.

I Have Joined The Best Club In Europe – Liverpool’s Sotirios Kyrgiakos

Liverpool’s newest recruit Sotirios Kyrgiakos has claimed that he joined the Reds because he believes they are the best club in Europe.

The defender swapped AEK Athens for Anfield this week for a fee in the region of €3 million and he is clearly delighted with his decision.

Speaking in an interview with the club’s official website,, the Greek centre-back explained that joining the Merseysiders was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“When I found out it was Liverpool, I didn't have to think too hard about it,” he said.

“I'm 30 years-old now, so it's a fantastic opportunity for me to join a club like Liverpool.”

Kyrgiakos also described his style of play and admitted that he was hoping to become a regular in Rafael Benitez’s side.

“I would say I am a physical player in the way I like to defend. I am aggressive in the way I jump to head the ball but I always aim to play within the rules of the game,” he explained.

“First of all, I want to establish myself as a starting player. Then, I hope to help the club achieve the goals it has already set. I believe I am at the best age for me to take on this challenge because of the experience I now have.”

Kyrgiakos also confessed that he was well aware of Liverpool’s history and insisted they were the continent’s top team.

“Everyone is aware of Liverpool's traditions,” he added.

“I have come here because I believe they are the best club in Europe.”