Saturday, October 17, 2009

Match Preview: Sunderland vs. LiverpooL

Liverpool have endured a tense start to the 2009-10 Premier League season, losing three of their eight games so far - not to mention their Champions League defeat at the hands of Fiorentina.

The Reds lost just twice in the league last term as they pushed Manchester United right until the final weeks, but their tame 2-0 reverse at Chelsea a fortnight ago has left pundits and punters alike wondering aloud whether the men from Merseyside can match it with their Big Four rivals.

Now, with an international break full of worry and contemplation behind him, Rafael Benitez leads his troops to Sunderland hoping to blast away the critics - but that could be easier said than done, especially given the news surrounding his captain and his star striker.

For so long the quintessential 'yo-yo' club, Steve Bruce's crew look like they may have finally got the hang of this top-flight business. The Black Cats sit eighth in the standings, just two points and as many places behind their visitors this weekend.

Thus, a win for the hosts would see them leapfrog the Reds in the standings - and they won't be short on confidence, as they were desperately unlucky not to claim all three points at Manchester United last time out.

However, the two teams' prior meetings places the advantage firmly with Liverpool, who have won the last six encounters and haven't conceded against the Mackems since 2002.



Oct 3 Manchester United 2-2 Sunderland (Premier League)
Sep 27 Sunderland 5-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers (Premier League)
Sep 22 Sunderland 2-0 Birmingham City (League Cup)
Sep 19 Burnley 3-1 Sunderland (Premier League)
Sep 12 Sunderland 4-1 Hull City (Premier League)


Oct 4 Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Sep 29 Fiorentina 2-0 Liverpool (Champions League)
Sep 26 Liverpool 6-1 Hull City (Premier League)
Sep 22 Leeds United 0-1 Liverpool (League Cup)
Sep 19 West Ham United 2-3 Liverpool (Premier League)



The big news for the Black Cats is the acquisition of Boudewjin Zenden on a free transfer. With George McCartney (foot) in doubt, Kieran Richardson suspended and Paolo da Silva returning late from international duty, the Dutchman could line up at left-back against his former club - assuming his move is cleared in time.

There is also concern over the fitness of Kenwyne Jones, whose commitments with Trinidad & Tobago mean he won't land on Wearside until Friday afternoon. Should the striker not feature, Fraizer Campbell will step in.

Possible Starting XI: Gordon, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Turner, McCartney, Malbranque, Cattermole, Cana, Reid, Jones, Bent.


Superstar duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both limped out of the international break with groin injuries. Both have undergone treatment and are in serious danger of missing the trip to Wearside.

Gerrard's absence could prove particularly troublesome, as midfielders Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano - along with Emiliano Insua - could be short on fitness upon their return from South America.

The news only gets worse for Benitez, with centre-back Sotiris Kyrgiakos facing at least five weeks out after damaging his knee in Greece's clash with Luxembourg. Daniel Agger, however, is ready to make his long-awaited return in defence, while Dirk Kuyt is reported to have shrugged off the ankle injury sustained in Australia.

Possible Starting XI: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Benayoun, Lucas, Mascherano, Riera, Babel, Kuyt.


Sunderland - Darren Bent

The former Tottenham Hotspur striker was in blinding form prior to the international break, his strike at Old Trafford taking his season's tally to seven goals. He'll be fresh too, having somehow failed to worm his way into Fabio Capello's England squad.

Liverpool - Yossi Benayoun

With the prospect of both Torres and Gerrard sitting on the sidelines this Saturday, Yossi will become the Reds' go-to guy. The Israeli is one of those players who can make top-flight defenders look like Sunday League hacks, so the Black Cats' back line had better pay attention.

Benitez: Reds Have Depth

Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool possess the quality which means they can cope without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

But privately the Reds boss is fuming that his star men have returned from international duty with injuries.

The Spanish manager has had to revise his plans for the match at Sunderland on Saturday, with the unavailability of Gerrard and Torres coming at a bad time as Liverpool try to re-ignite their season.

Defeat at Chelsea in their last outing was a third of the season in the Barclays Premier League for Liverpool, and Sunderland will be determined to cause more misery for their visitors at the Stadium of Light.

Benitez will not go public with any criticism, but there is little doubt he feels the pressures of international football, with the World Cup finals only eight months away, are telling.

Benitez said: "I cannot change the situation, so I just prefer to concentrate on the players I do have and to prepare for the matches.

"What we do not have is control in such a situation. It does not matter whether teams have qualified or not, they will still insists that their players are released.

"The World Cup is coming, so we must wait and hope they all return. There is still one more international date next month so the same thing will happen again."

Liverpool have discovered with their own scan that Gerrard's groin injury is worse than England realised. Torres has a similar problem.

Benitez hopes the pair will have recovered to face Lyon at home in the Champions League on Tuesday, but clearly that is also in doubt.

The Reds manager said: "Both are not ready yet, but hopefully (they will be available) for the next game against Lyon. The physios are working very hard on them.

"We have quality in the squad and we will have to manage with different players and a different style.

"It is always difficult to keep all of your players fit in international breaks, but there is nothing we can do about the situation, we have to cope with the outcomes.

"I would prefer to see internationals played on a Tuesday to give players the chance to get back for the next Saturday, or if it is a double-header the games should be on Wednesday first with the second game on the Saturday. That gives everyone more chance."

Dirk Kuyt, recovered from an ankle injury he sustained on international duty with Holland in Australia, will probably lead the attack in Torres' absence, with compatriot Ryan Babel and Ukraine striker Andriy Voronin also in line for roles in the side.

Benitez believes Liverpool can handle the problem, saying: "We can win without them [Gerrard and Torres].

"We have good players in the squad who can come in, but we must show spirit and character now to overcome the problem.

"There are players who have been training well and waiting for their opportunity. Well now it has come and they can take their chance."

Less than 24 hours before the Sunderland match, Benitez was still waiting for South American trio Javier Mascherano, Lucas and Emiliano Insua to return from their internationals.

But with Argentina now confirmed as qualifiers for the finals, Benitez hopes that Mascherano's club performances will improve.

He said: "I feel that it will be good for Javier Mascherano now to know the Argentina have qualified. It is always difficult when you struggle and the whole country is watching, but now he can concentrate on Liverpool.

"Javier was under pressure as captain, and with Diego Maradona saying Argentina were Javier and 10 others.

"For the players who have now qualified, it is a weight off their minds."

Benitez also believes under-fire defender Jamie Carragher will also prove his critics wrong after a worrying start to the season.

Benitez said: "Jamie Carragher is fit; it is not a question of his physical condition, people talk about his age or his 'legs' but it is not a question of that.

"It is a question of confidence. When you make a mistake and the team is not doing well in defence then the centre-backs and the 'keeper suffer more than the others.

"I am sure that now with more competition in this position, with Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel too, it will be better for the team.

"He has character and thrives on pressure, so the only way to change things is to be on the pitch and prove that you are the right man for the job."

Liverpool Without Steven Gerrard And Fernando Torres At Sunderland

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have both been ruled out of Liverpool's trip to Sunderland on Saturday because of injuries picked up on international duty.

Gerrard, Liverpool's captain, suffered a groin injury in England's World Cup defeat to Ukraine last weekend and limped out of training two days later, subsequently missing the home win against Belarus.

Torres also suffered a groin injury, with Spain, and was an unused substitute for their final group match on Wednesday.

Both players have been unable to train with the Anfield club since returning from international duty, and neither will be involved at the Stadium of Light.

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benítez, now faces the prospect of having to field those players who were involved in international matches in South America, something he has been loath to do in the past.

Javier Mascherano, Lucas Leiva and Emiliano Insua played in Argentina and Brazil's World Cup qualifying matches, and with Benítez short of midfield options, the three players are now expected to travel to Sunderland for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off at the Stadium of Light.

Benítez was more enthusiastic about Dirk Kuyt's chances of starting. Kuyt had picked up a knock in action for Holland. "He was training normally with the team and will be available," he said.

Dirk Kuyt Fit To Play In Liverpool FC's Clash At Sunderland

Dirk Kuyt has given Liverpool’s preparations for Saturday’s trip to Sunderland a much-needed lift by declaring himself fit for duty.

The Holland international picked up an ankle injury during his country’s trip to Australia last weekend and exacerbated the problem during the 0-0 draw in Sydney.

However, Kuyt has responded to treatment since returning to Melwood on Tuesday and he should keep his place in the starting line-up at the Stadium of Light.

That will come as a relief to boss Rafa Benitez, who has concerns over the fitness of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and who yesterday lost Sotirios Kyrgiakos for between four and six months.

Neither Gerrard – who had a scan on an adductor problem on Wednesday – or Torres trained at Melwood yesterday after returning from international duty but both will be given every chance to prove their wellbeing.

Similar sentiments apply to Argentine pair Javier Mascherano and Emiliano Insua, as well as Brazilian midfielder Lucas, who were not expected back at Melwood from South America until Friday afternoon.

The news, though, is not looking good for Kyrgiakos, who suffered a suspected rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament during Greece’s 2-1 win over Luxembourg in Athens on Wednesday night.

Kyrgiakos was examined by Liverpool’s medical staff at Melwood last night after arriving back from Greece but if scans realise the worst fears of both player and club, he could be out until March at the earliest.

That will leave Benitez short of experienced cover at the back but Andreas Dossena is determined to give his manager something to think about by forcing his way back into the fray.

The Italian defender has struggled to show his true form since arriving on Merseyside and was linked with a move away during the summer but he is adamant that he wants to stay and fight for his place.

“I want to play, but what is important for me is to work hard every day and be ready for when the boss calls on me,” he said. “It’s difficult, but I am a professional. I am a football player and sometimes you have to sit on the bench. That is part of my job.

“I want to work hard and keep a good mentality, which is important for all players, even those that play every game. You have to work hard and be ready.

“I have never said that I want to leave. I want to play, like every single other player, but I like it here and I like playing for Liverpool Football Club. The life here is perfect for me, the football is fantastic and I want to win something with Liverpool.”

Fabio Aurelio Recalls Famous Game That Changed The Fortunes Of Rafael Benitez And Valencia FC

There is a glint in Fabio Aurelio’s eye as he recalls the game that could have finished a reign but ended up sparking a dream.

While Istanbul and Cardiff are the places that Liverpudlians will forever associate with stirring comebacks masterminded by Rafa Benitez, Aurelio’s own memory of winning against the odds came in a small corner of Barcelona.

Back in December 2001, Aurelio – then of Valencia – remembers Benitez being under intense pressure, as Los Che had slipped off the pace in the race for La Liga after a stuttering start to the campaign.

Legend has it that Benitez would have been sacked had his team lost a crucial game against Espanyol and when his side trailed by two goals at half-time, it was claimed that Valencia’s press officer was called to start drafting the manager’s departure statement.

Then, though, the situation was turned on its head; a double blast from Francisco Rufete and another from Adrian Ilie, completed a turnaround to give Valencia an irresistible impetus that ultimately propelled them to their first La Liga title in 31 years.

Fast forward to the present day and Aurelio again finds himself in another side that is finding it difficult to match strides with the early pacesetters but he sees no reason why history cannot repeat itself – particularly if Liverpool win at Sunderland tomorrow.

“Before we played Espanyol that night, everyone said Rafa’s job was in danger if we lost,” Aurelio, twice at title winner at the Mestalla, recalled. “We were losing 2-0 at half-time but, by the final whistle, we had turned it around and won 3-2. After that, we put a good run together.

“With six games to go, we were six points behind Real Madrid but by the end we had gone six ahead of them. It’s the same all the time; if you want to get close to the top, you need a game to start it all off.

“In a different way, this could be the month that changes things for us. We are playing Sunderland now and we have to win to keep going in the Premier League, then there are Champions League and Carling Cup games too that must be won, too.

“But all you need is that one win to give you the confidence to go forward for the rest of the season. You just need to get it from somewhere, just like the night Valencia did that in Espanyol. Maybe Sunderland can be the one that does it for us.”

If Liverpool have been unable to build up a head of steam during the opening exchanges, the same is true for Aurelio, given he was ruled out for the first month due to the freak knee injury sustained during a family holiday in his homeland.

He has, though, played in five of the Reds’ last six matches and with Benitez sure to exercise caution with some of those players who have been away on international duty for much of the past fortnight, Aurelio is likely to figure tomorrow.

It should come as no surprise to learn, then, that he is relishing to the trip to the North East; having suffered wretched luck with injuries during his time at Anfield, all Aurelio wants now is the chance to start a sustained number of games.

“I feel ready to play,” said Aurelio, who is eager to impress so he can win a new contract.

“The only thing I need now is more matches. I haven’t played as many 90 minutes as the other players; the more you play, the more fit you feel and this is what I need now. I was carrying a problem from the end of last season. I was carrying on but getting treatment to get through. I then went on holiday and just playing with my brother-in-law and the kids when I felt something strange in the same knee.

“So I contacted the doctors here and after tests they realised that a piece of cartilage had come away, so I had to have arthroscopy to take the piece out that was blocking the joint. Now I feel OK. I haven’t missed too many games and I just want to get going again.”

Sentiments which apply to the squad in general; Melwood was deserted in the aftermath of the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea and that was a major frustration for those who had played at Stamford Bridge.

Today, however, normal service was resumed as the remaining international players returned to base and Aurelio is hoping that the squad can get a season-shaping fortnight off to the best possible start on the banks of the Wear.

“It’s always better when you have a full squad, so you can work hard to improve things,” said Aurelio.

“So it’s very different when there are only three or four of you; it hasn’t helped because we know we are facing a very important few weeks.

“When we face the big teams like Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, it comes down to the small details. If you get them right, it changes the result at the end and we know we have to pay more attention to that if we want to improve.

“We are six points behind Chelsea and Sunderland is a difficult game to have after the break; then we have got United at home, so we know we will either be close (to the top) or much further away. We have to look at every step and focus on it. It‘s important that we win something this year. The team has been working really well and this could be the season that we step forward and get something to show for it. We didn’t start off well but we know we have got the time to improve.”

Carragher: I'm Not Over The Hill

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has vowed to silence the critics who have suggested he is over the hill.

Carragher, 31, has been singled out for criticism by some pundits in a struggling side which has already lost three Premier League games this season.

However, the former England international is determined to answer his critics on the pitch.

"What will happen now is every time I have a bad game people will mention my age, whereas before it was just me having a bad game," he said.

"I look after myself. It's just that when things aren't going well for you, nothing goes well.

"It's happened to me before, after the 2006 World Cup - any mistake I made seemed to end up in the back of the net.

"At the moment I'm not playing well, I know that. But I've the strength of character to put it right.

"We all love it when we get praised.

"You can't have it one way and not the other - you've got to take the stick as well."

Tranmere Sign Reds Keeper Martin

Tranmere Rovers have signed Liverpool goalkeeper David Martin on a one-month loan deal.

The 23-year-old former England Under-20 international spent a successful loan period with League One Champions Leicester City last season.

"Saturday's game is very important and, with Luke Daniels being suspended, we needed an experienced goalkeeper," said Rovers caretaker manager Les Parry.

Tranmere face Brighton at Prenton Park in Parry's second game in charge.

Parry is confident that Martin will prove a shrewd acquisition.

"He's very highly rated and was one of the best goalkeepers in League One last season.

"He played a lot of games for Leicester City, keeping clean sheets in almost half of them.

"I'd like to thank Rafa Benitez and John McMahon for allowing him to come to us for a month."

Martin, who joined Liverpool from MK Dons in January 2006, also had a loan spell with Accrington Stanley two seasons ago.

Gillett Impressed By Saudi Visit Over Academies

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett claims to have been ''pleasantly surprised'' on a visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss new club academies.

Liverpool recently announced they had reached an agreement with Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdulla of Saudi Arabia to set up a number of academies in the Middle East.

Prince Faisal's F6 investment company have been linked with buying a stake in Liverpool but Gillett spoke only of opportunities to work together today.

''The facilities here are as nice as any I have seen in the world,'' the American said on Sky Sports News. ''I was very pleasantly surprised. I think there are some wonderful opportunities for us to work together.

''We have an appreciation for the respect the government of Saudi Arabia has for the youth of this country. They are committed to both facilities and program to bring youth to a higher level in all sports, but particularly in football.''

Prince Faisal also stressed the purpose of the visit was to discuss sporting development in the country and region.

He said: ''Definitely we look forward to any kind of venture between clubs in Saudi Arabia and Liverpool in transfer of knowledge, experience and implementation of Liverpool academy and philosophy in Saudi Arabia. 'This is the main thing and this is what we are discussing.''

However, he spoke only in general terms when asked about the possibility of investing in clubs.

''We have an eye for many opportunities in Europe, Asia, North America, South America,'' he said.