Saturday, August 29, 2009

Match Preview: Bolton Wanderers v Liverpool

Jlloyd Samuel could be in line to make his first Premier League start of the season for Bolton as Gary Megson's side host Liverpool.

Samuel was preferred to new signing Paul Robinson for Tuesday's Carling Cup win at Tranmere and could be set to keep his place in the side. Andy O'Brien is also in contention after recovering from a groin strain.

Joey O'Brien and Ricardo Gardner are still nursing long-term problems, but Ricardo Vaz Te is back in training with the squad and hoping to be given a run-out.

Ahead of the game, Megson believes Bolton's most important deals have already been done this summer in retaining the services of key players already in the squad.

Wanderers host Liverpool with the transfer window nearing its close, and with no points on the board so far from two Barclays Premier League games, Megson is keen to bolster his threadbare squad before the September 1 deadline.

The Bolton forward line looks to be a particular concern, with Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander the only recognised strikers currently available and a host of chances squandered in the 1-0 defeats against Sunderland and Hull.

Megson hopes to boost his attacking options with the signing of Cameroon midfielder Achille Emana from Real Betis and the reacquisition of former club captain Kevin Nolan from Newcastle.

But in an unforgiving transfer market, the manager claims that the most significant negotiations have already been completed at the Reebok Stadium.

"We wanted to try and keep as many of those established players as we could, and there are some real good ones in there,'' Megson said.

"Last year we managed to keep Jussi (Jaaskelainen) and we managed to keep Ali Al Habsi, who would manage to get in most Premier League clubs, so in that position (goalkeeper) we are well stocked.

"Kevin Davies is always linked with some clubs, but nobody has ever been onto me and said that they'll take Kevin, because I think there is a realisation that we just wouldn't entertain it.

"The same goes for Matt Taylor - he came out of Portsmouth's reserves and got 10 goals last year and we need him to start doing the same things again.

"And the biggest one was (Gary) Cahill. Gary came out of Aston Villa's reserves, had a full season here, found himself in the England squad and will kick on and go on even further.''

New Liverpool signing Sotirios Kyrgiakos came through a reserve run-out last night and is in line for his Barclays Premier League debut.

The Greece international played 45 minutes of the second string's 3-2 defeat by Blackburn reserves, and with concerns still over Martin Skrtel's jaw injury the new centre-back is set to play at the Reebok.

After two league defeats in three games, boss Rafael Benitez needs to get Liverpool's season on track quickly. But he is still without Fabio Aurelio, Daniel Agger and new midfielder Alberto Aquilani - all long-term injured.

Benitez has questioned Steven Gerrard's form after the two defeats.

The Spaniard has been careful not to be too critical of Gerrard, accepting that even an ordinary Gerrard is better than most midfielders on the planet.

But ahead of the Bolton game, Benitez has gone one step further.

He said: "We have seen Steven playing really well for a while now. He is one of our big names, a key player. He will continue to be that.

"He will know that he has played a couple of games that are not up to his best level. But because he so often plays really well, people maybe can see the difference.

"I know he will be ready now. The players are not stupid, they know when they are not playing well and not up to their best standard. He knows, everybody knows here, that we have to improve.''

Kyrgiakos Credentials Can Boost Reds

New Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos believes he has title-winning experience to boost the Anfield club's already flagging Premier League challenge.

The 30-year-old, signed last week from AEK Athens for £2million, has won titles with Rangers and Panathinaikos and could make his Liverpool debut at Bolton tomorrow.

He said: "I have a little experience of winning titles from my previous career in Greece and in Scotland.

"I won one title with Panathinaikos and two in Scotland when I played with Rangers. I hope that the experiences I had in Scotland will help me begin well at Liverpool.

"I believe that I have the qualities needed to play in the Premier League.

"My time in Scotland will help because it is a similar style of football to here. It is true that the Premier League will be more difficult than the SPL because the game is faster here and there are more quality players.

"In Scotland you had Rangers, Celtic and Hearts and it was very rare for us to lose to anyone - and if we did it was normally to one of those teams. In England, everyone is capable of beating everyone else."

He added: "I watched a lot of last season's Premier League on TV and Liverpool were very close to the title.

"From what I have seen this season we are equipped to go even better. In my experience of winning titles, you need a great team spirit in the dressing room and I have seen this already among my new team-mates.

"Everyone works hard and gives everything. That is the most important thing you need for such a long battle as the title race. After that, you need to be brave and have a little bit of luck along the way."

Benitez Left Without A Fall Guy

As Rafael Benitez flounders in a mire of his own making, it's easy to picture a happier scene being played out not a million miles away from Anfield.

A middle-aged man with grey, curly hair allowing himself a satisfied smile as he sits in front of the television at home or enjoys a leisurely round of golf. No, not Bill Kenwright. His name is Rick Parry, erstwhile chief executive of Liverpool FC. Or "Coco" to the fans who used to bombard internet message boards, blaming him for so many of Liverpool's ills.

Now Parry is gone, ushered out of the door at the end of last season, who is there left to blame? The American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks? Probably. Lucas Leiva? Definitely. Benitez himself? Surely not. Yet it was the Spaniard's demand for more control over Liverpool's dealings as a condition of signing his new contract in March that appeared to deliver the final blow to Parry's term in office.

Supporters had long accused him of mucking up Rafa's transfer deals. Of being too slow to the punch. Too conservative. They also blamed Parry for ticketing problems at the 2007 Champions League final in Athens, the delay in building a new stadium and the length of Andrei Voronin's ponytail.

If that wasn't bad enough, Hicks weighed in with a personal attack aimed at ingratiating himself to Benitez and his legion of disciples. The Texan described Parry's leadership as "a disaster", adding: "At the first meeting we had with Rafa he talked of the number of players he had missed out on because Parry was too slow. Too many times nothing happens."

So Parry is gone, Rafa rules the roost, Liverpool have landed all their transfer targets and the Premier League title is on its way. Well, that was the plan.

In fact, the perception is that Benitez's squad has actually gone backwards, not forwards, this summer. Two defeats in their opening three Premier League games - as many as Liverpool suffered in the whole of last season - would appear to support that view.

Against Aston Villa on Monday, Benitez executed his usual exit strategy when finishing on the losing side. A brief handshake with his opposite number Martin O'Neill and then first down the tunnel, slipping his spectacles indignantly into his top pocket. It would have been better if he'd left them there in the first place, so painful was the sight of Liverpool's surrender to a decidedly average Villa team.

In the days since there have been murmurings of discontent from supporters who know they came so close to a first title celebration for 20 years last season and were desperate to go one better this time around. One caller to a Merseyside radio phone-in even suggested Hicks and Gillett were deliberately keeping quiet and "giving Rafa enough rope to hang himself with".

Some turned on Lucas, the scorer of a hapless own goal, while others re-opened the debate over Rafa's devotion to a zonal marking system. After Sebastien Bassong's winner for Spurs in the opening game came Curtis Davies' decisive header for Villa. The natives are getting restless.

But the truth remains that this is Benitez's team. He signed Lucas, Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Charles Itandje, Voronin and Robbie Keane. He has left his squad too thin on the ground again and too reliant on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

And it was his plan to sell Xabi Alonso to Juventus last summer to fund a move for Gareth Barry that sowed the seeds for the Spain midfielder's controversial departure to Real Madrid earlier this month.

Parry cannot be blamed for that, any more than he can be blamed for Benitez's ill-advised decision to spark a public war of words with Ferguson last season that seemed to distract Liverpool far more than it did eventual champions Manchester United.

There are even suggestions the former Valencia boss has over-extended himself by taking on the added responsibility for transfer dealings which effectively means he calls the shots behind new MD Christian Purslow. There were similar concerns when Benitez worked for much of the 2007-08 season without an assistant following his fall-out with right-hand man Paco Ayesteran.

Benitez certainly believes in doing things his way, but you have to question whether Liverpool have been any more clinical in the transfer market this summer than they were under Parry.

True, the Anfield boss has had comparatively little money to spend. Although £37m went on Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani, he broke even by selling Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sebastian Leto. But both United and Arsenal's net spending is significantly lower than Liverpool's. Chelsea's is under £20m. Benitez is not alone here.

So what of his new signings? While no-one would question Johnson's impact since his arrival from Portsmouth - even though Benitez himself admitted he paid over the odds for the England defender - you cannot help but feel he will now be judged on the success of Aquilani.

The injury-prone Italian was still recovering from surgery to his right ankle when he arrived to sign a five-year deal worth £85,000-a-week, and will not appear until October when the public can decide whether Benitez has signed a worthy replacement for Alonso or an expensive flop.

By then, Liverpool's title challenge may already be history. Equally, the next four games against Bolton, Burnley, West Ham and Hull could see Benitez's side propelled back towards the top of the table and we will be talking about them as genuine contenders again.

Parry, for one, will be intrigued to see how it all pans out.

Brown Hoping To Keep Reds Target Turner At Hull

Phil Brown hopes Michael Turner will be able to convince himself that his future lies with Hull - by putting in a performance at Wolves like he did against Bolton last week.

The Tigers travel to Molineux in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday with the transfer window nearing its close and speculation hotting up, particularly following the completion of Joleon Lescott's protracted switch from Everton to Manchester City.

Turner is one of Hull's most prized assets and has been linked with a move away from the KC Stadium for some time after a string of impressive performances since their promotion to the top flight.

Liverpool have enquired about him and Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is the latest to register his interest, but Brown is determined to hang on to his man.

"This centre-half merry-go-round began as soon as Joleon Lescott moved to Manchester City and lo and behold, there are three or four centre-halves that have moved,'' Brown said. "We are trying desperately to hang on to Michael Turner and fingers crossed we can be successful in that area.

"He (Bruce) is not the only one, we've had enquiries from three or four Premier League teams and fortunately we've managed to hang on to him. But the market is so volatile. Twenty-four million pounds for Joleon Lescott just shows you how ridiculous the game has gone.

"People will pay it though, and if they are willing to, there is going to be a cascading effect. Unfortunately we're underneath the big boys and we have to wait for these things to happen.''

After a stuttering start, with defeats against Chelsea and Tottenham, Hull got their league campaign up and running last week with a 1-0 win over Bolton in which Turner's defensive display was instrumental.

Brown said that if the 25-year-old maintained his good form, both he and the club could continue to grow together - but accepted that any big-money offer would have to be considered.

He continued: "Hopefully a win at Wolves will keep Michael Turner at Hull, for a start. But unfortunately all these things take a back seat as soon as double figures in terms of millions are mentioned. Michael was brought to the football club for £350,000 less than three years ago.

Gerrard Not At Best, Admits Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has questioned Steven Gerrard's form after two worrying defeats in the opening three games of the season.

Defeats at Tottenham and at home to Aston Villa means Liverpool have lost as many league games in a fortnight as they did all last season.

After Monday's 3-1 loss to Villa, Benitez queried the collective lack of responsibility amongst his senior men.

The Spaniard has been careful not to be too critical of Gerrard, accepting that even an ordinary Gerrard is better than most midfielders on the planet.

But ahead of tomorrow's difficult trip to Bolton, Benitez has gone one step further.

He said: "We have seen Steven playing really well for a while now. He is one of our big names, a key player. He will continue to be that.

"He will know that he has played a couple of games that are not up to his best level. But because he so often plays really well, people maybe can see the difference.

"I know he will be ready now. The players are not stupid, they know when they are not playing well and not up to their best standard. He knows, everybody knows here, that we have to improve."

Benitez dismissed the theory that Gerrard's form has suffered after a difficult summer for the midfielder, involving a court case and acquittal following a night club incident last term.

He said: "For Steven that has not been a problem. I was not naming any particular player when I was critical after the defeat by Villa.

"But it is clear that everyone has to improve, we have analysed things and we have talked to all the players. The reaction from them has been very good.

"They have to show character and they have been working really hard during the week because that is the only way to change things.

"The team wants to show that we are good enough (to challenge for the title). But we know we can improve and I can guarantee that the players will be fighting hard from the very first minute.

"We were so close last season to the title and now people are expecting us to win lots of games in a row. But the Premier League is very difficult.

"We have to forget our mistakes and try to improve quickly, and try to play to the level we did last season.

"The team and staff know we are not doing well and have to improve. This is very clear. The players have responded by training hard to try to rectify the situation.

"The attitude has been good and we have to play well at Bolton and start the game well. Then we will be able to change things.

"We have lost two games and we are very disappointed, but now we have the chance to change everything.

"We have lost to two of the clubs who will be chasing the top four, Villa and Spurs, and there are good teams now trying to get into the top four. It will be more difficult for top sides now to win every game."

Rafa Benitez Warns Liverpool FC Players To Be On Their Guard In Champions League Group Stages

Rafael Benitez admits his players must be on their guard after Liverpool learned their Champions League fate.

The Anfield outfit faces a trip into the unknown after being drawn in Group E alongside French side Lyon, Fiorentina of Italy and Hungarian outsiders Debreceni.

It will be the first time Liverpool have faced any of the trio in a competitive fixture.

Benitez’s side open the group stage with a home game against Hungarian champions Debreceni and end with a home game against Fiorentina, who finished fourth in Serie A last season.

Lyon’s stretch of seven consecutive French titles was ended last year when they could only finish third. But Benitez anticipates some tricky encounters lie in wait for his team.

“You know in the Champions League there will always be difficult games and tough teams to play against,” said the Spaniard. “Lyon might not have won the league last season but before that they won it many years in a row, so we know they have lots of good players who can play good football.

“Fiorentina are an historic club in a nice city. I know from experience they have fantastic supporters because I spent some time there when Claudio Ranieri was the coach. And we have experience of Hungarian football because of our relationship with MTK, so if Debreceni have won their league then we know it means it’s because they’re a good side.

“The important thing as always is that the travelling isn’t too bad, we don’t have too far to go for any of the games. We’re just looking forward to starting the competition now.”

Newcastle United's Steven Taylor Will Not Move To Liverpool Or Everton - Chris Hughton

Newcastle Untied caretaker manager Chris Hughton believes the club will hold on to star defender Steven Taylor.

The former England Under-21 captain has been a long-term target of the Premier League big boys and speculation has grown since the Magpies' relegation.

Taylor was reportedly being lined up by Everton manager David Moyes as a replacement for the outgoing Joleon Lescott and has also caught the eye of Liverpool chief Rafa Benitez.

Hughton told Sky Sports News, "I am hopeful we will keep him. Nothing has been said to me that says anything different. I expect him to be a Newcastle player come Tuesday evening and beyond."

Speculation surrounding Taylor has cooled after Everton announced their intentions to bring in Portsmouth defender Sylvain Distin and Liverpool completed the signing of Greek international Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Taylor had been linked with an £8 million move away from St. James' Park but the Toon boss, in his third spell as caretaker manager, doesn't believe the club can afford to let any players leave if they wish to compete in the Championship.

"I hope no one else leaves. Most importantly is that we can compete. We have been fortunate on injuries until now," he asserted.

"The squad is quite tight at the moment. Along with that there is a feel good factor among players."

Finally the Tyneside caretaker admitted that the club, who have made no permanent signings this summer, are looking to add to their paper thin squad, adding, "We are looking to strengthen. We have said if we pick up injuries we would be stretched. We are at that stage now. At the end of the window we have to be in a position where we can compete and that means having a squad big enough.

"We are short up front. There is no getting away from that. Xisco and Carroll are both out. We have to work our way around that. We are going into a difficult game against Leicester on Monday."

Manchester United Block Liverpool Physiotherapist’s England Move

Manchester United have blocked the proposed promotion of a Liverpool physiotherapist to work with the England team in a move that demonstrates the distrust that exists between the country’s top clubs.

Dave Galley, who has more than 25 years’ experience working as a football physiotherapist, had expected to be part of the England medical staff for the friendly against Slovenia on September 5 and the World Cup qualifier with Croatia four days later. But the intervention of David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive and FA board member, led to Galley reverting to his previous role with the England Under-21 squad. Liverpool are understood to be far from impressed with the situation.

Gill, referring to a policy introduced by the FA last year designed to ensure that only independent medical staff are appointed to work with the national team, raised concerns about a rival club’s physiotherapist having access to valuable information about the fitness of players from other team’s.

The FA has previously taken steps to ensure that such situations cannot arise, with the appointment of Gary Lewin as England’s full-time physiotherapist in August last year, followed by Ian Beasley becoming full-time doctor four months later. Both had previously worked for the FA on a part-time basis with their regular employment being provided by Arsenal.

This protocol led Gill to question the wisdom of the appointment of Galley to work with Fabio Capello’s squad and the FA backed his opinion. “Dave has reverted back to the Under-21s after one game.” said an FA spokesman. “There should be no questions against his professionalism, We must be clear that there is an agreed board policy that has nothing to do with Manchester United that the medical staff should be independent.

“Franco Baldini (Capello’s general manager) and Rafael Benítez (the Liverpool manager) discussed the matter yesterday and it was explained we wanted to see Dave working with the team in the friendly this month. We refute any suggestion that we have been pressurised by Manchester United.”