Saturday, October 31, 2009

Match Preview: Fulham vs. LiverpooL

They may have fallen to Arsenal in the League Cup on Wednesday, but Liverpool will nonetheless be in determined mood as they return to the capital this weekend to take on Fulham.

Last Sunday's 2-0 victory over Manchester United ended a four-game losing streak, bringing a wave of relief over the red half of Merseyside and boosting the Anfield giants to within six points of leaders Chelsea.

It was a second-string lineup that lost at the Emirates in midweek, so Rafael Benitez's regulars will be relatively well rested for the visit to Craven Cottage.

Fulham had no cup action during the week, having been ousted by Manchester City in the previous round; yet they had a decidedly better time of things when they revisited Eastlands last weekend.

The Cottagers looked set for a long day at the office after Joleon Lescott and Martin Petrov gave the hosts a two-goal lead early in the second half, but they responded almost instantly through Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey to snatch a morale-boosting point.

That result extended the London club's unbeaten run to five games in all competitions. They currently sit 13th in the league standings, seven points adrift of fifth-placed Liverpool.



Oct 25 Manchester City 2-2 Fulham
Oct 22 Fulham 1-1 Roma (Europa League)
Oct 19 Fulham 2-0 Hull City
Oct 4 West Ham United 2-2 Fulham
Oct 1 Fulham 1-0 Basel (Europa League)


Oct 28 Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (League Cup)
Oct 25 Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United
Oct 20 Liverpool 1-2 Olympique Lyonnais (Champions League)
Oct 17 Sunderland 1-0 Liverpool
Oct 4 Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool



Manager Roy Hodgson is hoping Andy Johnson will be available, as the former Everton striker is nearing fitness after a lengthy battle with shoulder and groin problems.

Simon Davies is also close to a return, having undergone advanced treatment on his foot. The Welsh winger is a chance to make the bench.

Midfield duo Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu are both out with knee injuries.

Possible starting XI: Schwarzer, Paintsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Duff, Greening, Baird, Dempsey, Kamara, Zamora.


Javier Mascherano returns to the fray after missing the midweek League Cup loss through suspension. He could be joined by Steven Gerrard, although the captain is recovering slowly from his latest groin niggle.

Fernando Torres also skipped the trip to Arsenal, having been short on fitness despite his goal-getting exploits against the Red Devils last weekend. The Spanish superstar is expected to start, but the ever-improving David Ngog is on standby.

Albert Riera (hamstring) remains sidelined, but Alberto Aquilani - who made his long-awaited debut with a 15-minute cameo at the Emirates - should be part of the matchday squad.

Possible starting XI: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Mascherano, Lucas, Benayoun, Kuyt, Babel, Torres.


Fulham - Damien Duff

The Irishman has looked rejuvenated since his summer switch from Newcastle United, and the Reds will have to pay close attention in order to stifle his creativity and goal threat from the flank. Same goes for American wide-man Clint Dempsey.

Liverpool - Lucas Leiva

The Brazilian hit back at his doubters last weekend with a top-drawer display against Man United. Will he follow up with another classy, energetic performance, or will this game pass him by like so many others?

Liverpool Without Steven Gerrard & Glen Johnson For Fulham Trip

Liverpool will be forced to maintain the feel-good factor built-up after the Manchester United win last weekend by travelling to Fulham without key pair Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard, as confirmed by manager Rafael Benitez.

The Spanish boss stated today, Friday, that influential attacker Gerrard is still suffering from a persistent groin problem, and that roaming right-back Johnson is sidelined due to a calf injury.

"Gerrard still has a problem with his groin so he won’t be available this weekend," Benitez explained to the BBC.

"At this moment he’s working with the physios. He has to keep working and we’ll decide next week how he progresses."

Regarding Johnson, he added: "Johnson has a small tear in his calf, so we will lose him for maybe one week."

Albert Riera will also be absent from the Reds' line-up this weekend, however, Benitez will welcome Javier Mascherano back into the side after the Argentine served his one-game suspension for picking up two yellow cards against Manchester United.

Rafa Benitez Fears Skipper May Go Under The Knife To Solve Groin Problem

Liverpool fear Steven Gerrard may require an operation to solve his troublesome groin injury.

Gerrard will be absent for Liverpool again on Saturday as he struggles to recover from the problem he suffered in England’s World Cup qualifying defeat by Ukraine almost three weeks ago.

The 29-year-old has managed only 25 minutes of action since then — in last week’s Champions League loss to Lyon at Anfield, when he aggravated the injury and limped off.

Liverpool are perplexed by Gerrard’s slow recovery. They are reluctant to opt for surgery but it may be an option if the injury fails to respond to treatment.

Manager Rafa Benitez had hoped his captain would be back for Saturday’s Premier League trip to Fulham, but has accepted defeat.

Top scorer Fernando Torres, who has been affected by a similar injury, is expected to start at Craven Cottage, though, and Benitez said: ‘Both have to keep going. Gerrard is still working with the physio so we will see. Hopefully, Torres will be OK, but for Gerrard maybe it is more difficult.’

Mascherano Forgets Barca Link

Liverpool star Javier Mascherano has denied suggestions his form has been affected by transfer rumours linking him with Barcelona.

Mascherano was linked with a move to Barcelona in the summer with Pep Guardiola a big admirer of the defensive midfielder.

The Argentine international concedes he has not been at the top of his game so far this season, but he is adamant it has nothing to do with rumours over his future.

"Everyone knows Barcelona were interested in me but that's in the past now," said Mascherano.

"Liverpool said no and that's the end of it. Some might say I haven't been playing well because Barcelona tried to buy me.

"I agree I haven't been at my best but it's not because of that. I just haven't started the season well."

Alberto Aquilani Set To Be Liverpool FC's Ace In Pack

He may not yet know the intricacies of their card school, but Alberto Aquilani has already shown he can potentially be Liverpool’s ace in the pack on the pitch.

The long wait was ended on Wednesday night when the £20m signing from Roma made a first competitive appearance for his new club at the Emirates.

Aquilani only emerged as a 77th-minute substitute, but there was enough promise during his brief cameo to generate genuine excitement among the travelling hordes.

The Italian produced some fine touches, showed great vision with one pass to Philipp Degen and was only denied an injury-time penalty by myopic referee Alan Wiley when his spectacular overhead kick was clearly handled by Philippe Senderos.

And Dirk Kuyt reveals that while the 25-year-old remains an unknown quantity to many supporters, he has already ingratiated himself with his new team-mates.

“We are pleased to see Alberto play,” says the Dutchman. “We’ve known him for a while around the club but this was his first game, and hopefully we can see a lot more of him.

“He’s a nice lad on and off the pitch. He told us he couldn’t wait to start, so it’s good for him and for us that he can finally play.

“He has tried to be involved not only in training but also off the field. He tried to play cards with us on the way down to London and pick up the language.

“And to be honest, he’s learning pretty quickly for an Italian!”

With Aquilani’s arrival coinciding with the departure of Xabi Alonso in August, the temptation has been to regard the Italian as a direct replacement, particularly given the great expectations that have built during the prolonged build-up to his Liverpool bow.

But Kuyt’s advice is simply for Aquilani to remember why Anfield manager Rafael Benitez ventured where Arsene Wenger wouldn’t by making the Italian the second-most expensive signing in Liverpool’s history.

“Alberto has to show his talent for himself,” says the Dutchman. “Everyone knows he is a quality player, Arsene Wenger said in his programme notes he is a talented player, but it’s up to Alberto to do it in the Premier League.

“The only thing I can say is that he is desperate to play and wants to show English football how good he is. We try to give him as much support as we can. Hopefully we will see a lot of him now this season.

“Every player who comes to Liverpool is his own personality. He’s not the new Xabi Alonso. He has to show his quality himself, and we will support him and help him.”

Carling Cup exits in recent seasons have prompted savage post-mortems on the strength in depth of Benitez’s squad and his youth policy.

With Liverpool’s largely second-string line-up impressive in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, such introspection was unnecessary.

And Kuyt adds: “We are really disappointed because we had a few chances to at least go to extra time. We worked really hard in the game, and Alberto should have had a penalty late on.

“We put a lot of effort into the game and tried to win. We had the belief we could win. Both teams scored good goals in the first half, and although we conceded again just after half-time, we never gave up.

“We created enough chances to at least equalise, but we couldn’t and that was the problem.

“It was a really good game between two sides that wanted to play football. We had nine changes from Sunday, and it was good to see the lads who maybe don’t play that often put a lot of effort into the game and give everything they have got. We can’t complain with the way we played.”

Emiliano Insua broke his goalscoring duck for Liverpool in spectacular fashion on Wednesday, striking a dipping volley beyond Arsenal goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski from 25 yards.

It was the latest landmark in an encouraging season for the left-back, who has held down a regular place in Benitez’s starting line-up while earning a first international cap for Argentina.

“It was a really nice moment for me,” says Insua. “I chested the ball down and just decided to hit it. I couldn’t believe it went in but it was nice and hopefully I can score more goals for the team in the future.

“It has been a really good season for me, for my club and country, but I have to keep it going. I know I can keep on improving and I have a lot of confidence.”

Insua concurs with Kuyt that Liverpool perhaps deserved to at least take the game to extra time.

“I’m really happy to have scored my first goal for the club but disappointed to have lost the game because I thought we played well,” says the 20-year-old.

“We knew before they are a good team, especially at home, but we had some good moments in the game.

“We pressed them all of the time and tried to keep the ball. Unfortunately we conceded two goals and we missed some chances and couldn’t score again.

“I never want to lose as a player and it’s the same for all of us. We are not in the Carling Cup any more but we still have three competitions left to play for so we have to keep improving.”

Emiliano Insua Calls For More Clean Sheets

Emiliano Insua today predicted Liverpool’s defenders are ready to rediscover their miserly ways – as Steven Gerrard geared up for a return to action.

Having been restricted to just 25 minutes of action in the past three weeks due to a groin problem, Gerrard is poised to slot back into the Reds’ midfield at Fulham on Saturday.

This game has been the captain’s target ever since he limped off during the Champions League defeat against Lyon 10 days ago and, should he pass a late fitness test, will give Liverpool a major boost.

Rafa Benitez’s side got their campaign back on track with an impressive win against Manchester United last weekend and Gerrard’s presence in the starting line-up at Craven Cottage will increase their chances of building on it.

But while Insua is delighted the skipper is up and running again, he knows the men behind can take some of the pressure off by improving their clean sheet tally.

The shutout against United was only Liverpool’s third in the Premier League so far and the Argentine full-back is aware that statistic needs rectifying.

“We must keep more clean sheets,” said Insua, who impressed during Wednesday night’s Carling Cup defeat at Arsenal. “If we do that, we will draw and win many more games.

“This is one important thing that we must improve on. The manager has told us how we need to change that (record) and we have to start now.

“We have to try and win at Fulham and then in the Champions League. We had a big win against United and we know we can do good things as a team.”

Insua’s spectacular first goal for the club was the high point of an encouraging display at the Emirates Stadium that suggested Liverpool are starting to turn the tide.

The catalyst, undoubtedly, was the vibrant display against United but like so many of his colleagues, Insua knows it will stand for little if they don’t follow up at Craven Cottage.

While performances in the past seven days have been encouraging, their predicament is still delicately poised, particularly with fixtures against Fulham and Lyon to come.

But Insua says toppling United has done wonders for confidence – now it is a question of making sure standards do not drop.

“The game against United was key for us because we had lost four games in a row and we were desperate to win,” said Insua.

“We managed to do that and now we have to make sure we keep going this way, both in the Premier League and the Champions League.

“We will see what happens in later on in the season but we must make sure we build on last week’s win. We never doubted ourselves and always believed we could do it.

“This is more or less the same team that played so well last season but we can’t relax because if we do that, we might lose more games.”

Javier Mascherano Admits Playing For Argentina Is Too Tiring And Risks Diego Maradona's Wrath By Putting Club Over Country

Liverpool's Argentina captain Javier Mascherano has admitted that his international commitments are taking a toll on him.

The combative midfielder thinks that his workload has been too heavy - and the constant globetrotting has left him tired.

Mascherano has made a bad start on his return to England since featuring for Argentina in their final World Cup qualification matches. Last Sunday, he was sent off in the 2-0 win over Manchester United at Anfield, causing him to be suspended for this weekend's match at Fulham.

The former West Ham star revealed that he has felt below par since returning to Merseyside but reassured Liverpool fans that his Argentina commitments are not his priority.

He added that he will forget about the World Cup until the domestic season is over. Argentina suffered a stressful World Cup qualifying campaign before eventually booking their place in the 2010 finals.

Mascherano, who has 50 caps for his country, played in the vital final qualifiers earlier this month. Diego Maradona's side eventually sealed their World Cup spot on October 15 with a 1-0 win in Uruguay.

Mascherano played in a holding role alongside ex-Manchester United man Juan Sebastian Veron and Newcastle's Jonas Gutierrez. Surprisingly, Manchester City's Carlos Tevez was left out but Argentina got the result that caused celebration - but left 25-year-old Mascherano feeling drained in the aftermath.

'I spent 20 hours on a plane coming back from South America,' complained the Liverpool midfielder.

'When I got here, all of us who had been away with our countries wanted to play and we all wanted to win. But, in that situation, it's tough. That's not an excuse. It's the reality.

'After a flight like that, you are never 100 per cent. You cannot be. It takes time to recover so all you can do is give your best.

'With so many games for club and country, I've been too busy. When our season here is finished then I will think about the World Cup. It was important to qualify. But Liverpool is just as important for me. This is my club and I live here. This is my priority.'

In the last World Cup in 2006, Mascherano earned rave reviews, playing every minute for Argentina before they were knocked out by Germany in the quarter-finals.

Maradona, shortly after being appointed, made Mascherano the national captain a year ago.

The Liverpool star also dismissed speculation that his poor form was down to not being granted a summer switch to European champions Barcelona.

He said: 'Everyone knows Barcelona were interested in me but that's in the past now.

Liverpool said no and that's the end of it. Some might say I haven't been playing well because Barcelona tried to buy me.

'I agree I haven't been at my best but it's not because of that. I just haven't started the season well.'