Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Match Preview: Lyon vs. LiverpooL

Two weekends ago, Liverpool thought they had reached the turning point of what has been a frustrating campaign on all fronts. A 2-0 win over Manchester United seemed to silence the doubters and catapult them back into Premier League contention.

Now, though, after Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Fulham (and the League Cup loss to Arsenal), it's back to panic stations for Rafael Benitez and his men as they look to resurrect their Champions League campaign.

The Reds' Spanish boss was heavily criticised for his early substitution of Fernando Torres at Craven Cottage, as he took the superstar striker off with the scores still level. Some feel Benitez was wrapping 'El Nino' in cotton wool for Wednesday's away game at Olympique Lyonnais, so the pressure is on to get a result at the Stade Gerland.

The Merseyside outfit sits third in Group E with just three points from three games, having followed up their 2-0 loss at Fiorentina with a shock home defeat to Lyon last time out - Cesar Delgado grabbing a late winner at the Kop end.

OL are cruising through the group stages with a maximum nine points under their belt. And although their domestic form has been mixed since plundering Anfield, they sit just two points shy of Ligue 1 leaders Girondins Bordeaux.

A win for Claude Puel's side this week would simultaneously guarantee them a spot in the knockout stage and dash Liverpool's faint hopes of topping the group. And if Fiorentina beat Debrecen as expected, the Scouse giants will be left facing demotion to the Europa League.

It's do-or-die for Rafa's Reds, but the statistics fall in their favour - they have won on each of their last four visits to France. However, they'll be missing their talismanic skipper this time around.


Olympique Lyonnais

Oct 31 Saint-Etienne 0-1 Olympique Lyonnais
Oct 24 OCG Nice 4-1 Olympique Lyonnais
Oct 20 Liverpool 1-2 Olympique Lyonnais (Champions League)
Oct 17 Olympique Lyonnais 0-2 Sochaux
Oct 3 RC Lens 0-2 Olympique Lyonnais


Oct 31 Fulham 3-1 Liverpool
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


Olympique Lyonnais

Playmaker Kim Kallstrom and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris are available once more, having both shrugged off groin problems to feature against Saint-Etienne at the weekend.

Jean-Alain Boumsong (groin), Mathieu Bodmer and long-term absentee Anderson (knee, calf, shoulder) remain sidelined, meaning Jeremy Toulalan should continue to partner Cris in central defence - a role in which the midfield general has impressed immensely.

Michel Bastos sat on the bench at Anfield due to fitness concerns, but the Brazilian star - recently called up to Dunga's national team - could start this time around.

Last starting XI (vs. Saint-Etienne): Lloris, Clerc, Cris, Toulalan, Cissokho, Makoun, Ederson, Pjanic, Bastos, Govou, Lisandro.


The big blow for the Reds is the absence of Steven Gerrard, who is recovering slowly from a groin injury he exacerbated when these two teams last met. It is thought that both he and Fernando Torres will need surgery, although the latter is expected to start in France.

In more bad news for the travelling side, Alberto Aquilani is laid up with a virus having only just returned from the ankle injury that delayed his debut until last week's League Cup loss to Arsenal.

Glen Johnson is battling a calf problem, Martin Kelly - who impressed on his senior bow in the reverse fixture - is out with ankle trouble and Philipp Degen isn't part of the Champions League roster, leaving a hole at right-back that Jamie Carragher may be forced to fill.

Last starting XI (vs. Fulham): Reina, Degen, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Kuyt, Lucas, Mascherano, Benayoun, Voronin, Torres.


Olympique Lyonnais - Miralem Pjanic

Of all the creative talents at Lyon's disposal, this youngster is perhaps the most exciting. Many were left underwhelmed by the Bosnian's display in the reverse fixture, but on home soil he may feel more able to take charge of the game and show off his considerable gifts.

Liverpool - Fernando Torres

The Spaniard's goal against Fulham at the weekend - fashioned from what commentator John Motson termed 'a quarter-chance' - underlined just why, even when not fully fit, he is considered one of the world's deadliest strikers. He's yet to find the net in Europe this season, though, and will be eager to change that - especially with his prolific skipper sidelined.

Lyon Wary Of Liverpool Threat

Lyon insist they will not be lulled into a false sense of security ahead of their crucial Champions League clash with Liverpool.

The English giants are staring at a premature exit after Lyon's 2-1 victory at Anfield a fortnight ago left them with two defeats from three in Group E.

Rafa Benitez's men were reduced to nine as they suffered a 3-1 defeat at Fulham on Saturday - their fifth loss in 11 Premier League games - and have a host of injury problems for the trip to France.

Lyon need just a point to book their place in the knock-out stages and coach Claude Puel is under no illusions about the Reds' big-game pedigree.

"Liverpool may have their problems, but after we beat them they turned in a great performance against Manchester United," he said.

"They were tough, played at a great pace and fully deserved the victory. We saw then that they have great potential to bounce back.

"They are still a great club and capable of playing great games when they want, with fine players and a great coach.

"But we will only be thinking about winning, not just playing for the draw," Puel added. "Whether it is one point that we need or three, we will always play the same way.

"But we must get something from this match. We do not want to be needing to get points to qualify in the match against Fiorentina in Florence.

"Three teams can still qualify. It is a very tough group and maybe 12 points will not be enough to win the group.

"I believe that Liverpool will work very hard, put us under a lot of pressure and be determined to reverse the results that they have been getting so far in Europe this season. They will be tough opponents."

Liverpool dominated English and European football in the 1970s and 80s, and although they have not won a league title since 1990, Benitez has led them to two Champions League finals in the last five years.

Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson have not travelled, while star striker Fernando Torres is struggling with a hernia problem, but Lyon's Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom remains wary of the Reds.

"As a boy I watched Liverpool on TV and always admired them, many youngsters back then did," he said.

"I suppose that to see them in their current position is a surprise, but it is not something that they cannot turn around.

"Things happen like this to even the greatest teams. There can be a few defeats, then a dip in confidence and one bad thing follows another.

"Everything seems to go wrong all at once. But they can recover from this.

"We know they have injuries, but it is not something we have been talking about.

"We have to plan for the match as if nothing of that sort had happened. They are still a great club with great players, and we must not forget that."

Kallstrom added: "He (Torres) is probably the best in the world, I have played against him at international level and he is very clever with the ball and a very tough opponent.

"He is Liverpool's best player and whatever injury he has, we must concentrate on stopping him and being clinical in our own play to get the result we need."

Liverpool Rocked By News That Fernando Torres Is Facing Hernia Surgery

Fernando Torres has a hernia that could require surgery if he is overplayed, Rafael Benítez has been warned.

Liverpool’s medical staff delivered the worrying prognosis during the build-up to the club’s crucial Champions League match against Lyons on Wednesday.

Steven Gerrard is definitely out of the group E tie at the Stade Gerland because of a groin problem. The Liverpool captain is joined on Benítez’s lengthy casualty list by Fábio Aurélio, Albert Riera, Martin Skrtel and Martin Kelly.

Torres has been included in the squad that travels to France today and is likely to start Wednesday’s game — when anything other than victory will leave their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages hanging by a thread — and play through the pain.

The inguinal hernia has been affecting the striker for most of the past month since the problem developed while on international duty with Spain in early October.

Liverpool have attempted to mask the severity of Torres’s condition by nursing him through matches and allowing him to train only immediately before games, when his physical condition is deemed well enough. Since the 25-year-old suffered his latest setback, though, there have been real fears that he could need an operation.

It is hoped that the combination of rationing the striker’s appearances and occasionally allowing him to miss training will allow Torres the rest time he needs for surgery to be averted.

Benítez is aware, however, that even these precautions may not be enough to spare his £22 million record signing from having to have an operation.

Torres was substituted after an hour of Liverpool’s 3-1 Barclays Premier League defeat away to Fulham on Saturday, a decision that puzzled many fans and caused Ronnie Whelan, the former Anfield captain, to call for the manager’s head.

But it now seems clear that it was simply the latest example of Benítez’s desire to protect the forward from exacerbating the seriousness of his condition.

“I was surprised with the critics after the game because Fernando has had problems in the last month after the international games,” Benítez said. “We are trying to manage because he was close to having an operation.

“He is not comfortable. He has not got the power he had before, so we have to manage and try to protect him. He cannot play well if you keep pushing him. Maybe if you push him he will be injured for a long time.

“So, I am really surprised with the critics. When you talk about big names, people just analyse the names and not how the player is when he is on the pitch. He was not 100 per cent fit. We have to take Fernando to Lyons because we don’t have too many options.”

Benítez already faces the prospect of Gerrard having to undergo groin surgery to correct a problem he suffered while on duty with England.

“Gerrard won’t travel to Lyons,” Benítez confirmed. “He has no chance. He is improving but we have to wait. He has had an injection but we have to wait two or three days and see how he reacts.

“Skrtel also has no chance. He has a small muscle problem. It’s not too big but he is feeling something.”

At a time when Benítez’s position as Liverpool manager is being questioned like never before after six defeats in their past seven games, his injury concerns are mounting.

The situation is so dire that Alberto Aquilani, the Italy midfield player, has been added to the squad despite not having fully recovered from illness, while Benítez has also been forced to call on David Ngog and Daniel Agger even though the pair are nursing slight knocks.

“Agger is improving — he will travel and we will then decide,” Benítez said. “He felt something in his back but it’s much better now. We have to wait and see how he reacts. Ngog is much better, so he could be available.”

Benítez has taken the unusual step of naming a 20-man squad, with Stephen Darby, the 21-year-old right back who has never started a game for the club, included in case Glen Johnson fails to recover from the calf strain that has kept the England defender out of action since Liverpool’s victory over Manchester United nine days ago.

Uefa has also given the club special dispensation to promote Danny Ayala, the 18-year-old centre back, into the squad from their B-list.

Glen Johnson And Fabio Aurelio Added To Liverpoool Manager Rafael Benitez's Injury List

Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio have not travelled with the Liverpool squad for the Champions League match against Lyons tomorrow night after they failed fitness tests today.

Uefa has allowed Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, to bring in Daniel Ayala from a reserve list of players, such is the severity of the injury crisis at Anfield. Steven Gerrard, the captain, is among the players unavailable to the Spanish manager while Fernando Torres, the star centre forward, is also struggling to be fit.

Both Johnson and Aurelio, the defenders, were judged unfit to play in the vital group E match at the Stade de Gerland, and stayed on Merseyside for further treatment on their calf injuries.

Liverpool are third in their group on three points after losing to Fiorentina in September and suffering a 2-1 defeat to Lyons at Anfield two weeks ago. The top two from the group will qualify for the knockout stages and with Liverpool three behind Fiorentina in second and six behind Lyons in first, tomorrow night's match will go a long way to determining their future in the competition.

Hamburg Star Eljero Elia On Liverpool Radar

According to a report in German newspaper Bild, English giants Liverpool are closely monitoring the situation of speedy Hamburg attacker Eljero Elia.

Reds manager Rafael Benitez is eager to add some more depth to his attacking unit and the Spanish gaffer has reportedly made Elia one of his primary targets.

The Dutch international joined HSV from Eredivisie outfit Twente last summer for a reputed fee of €9 million. Elia has quickly developed into a key player for the Hanseaten.

His impressive performances haven't gone unnoticed in the rest of Europe. Apparently, Liverpool have sent scouts to Hamburg's latest Bundesliga games in order to have a look at the left winger.

Elia's current HSV deal is due to expire in the summer of 2014, meaning that the attacker won't leave Germany on the cheap. However, Liverpool could opt to involve Ryan Babel in the deal in order to lower HSV's demands.

Roberto Mancini Linked With Liverpool Job

According to The Daily Mail, Roberto Mancini has opened the door on the possibility of succeeding the under-fire Rafael Benitez as Liverpool manager.

The in-demand Italian recently settled his £5.5 million-per-year contract with Serie A giants Inter Milan, having parted ways with the San Siro club in May 2008.

Thus, with the Nerazzurri no longer obliged to feed his bank account, it is believed that Mancini is finally ready to re-enter the world of football management.

The former Bologna, Sampdoria, Lazio and Leicester City forward has been sought out by clubs from all over Europe in the past 18 months, the most noteworthy being Real Madrid.

But now it appears there could be interest from Merseyside as well, with the Reds struggling to find any sort of consistency in a season that has seen them lose five of their 11 Premier League game so far.

Benitez, meanwhile, has also been touted for the post at the Santiago Bernabeu, although Galacticos president Florentino Perez recently came out in support of Manuel Pellegrini.

Dossena Linked With Napoli Switch

Andrea Dossena's agent has admitted the Liverpool defender has attracted interest from Italian club Napoli.

The Reds defender has only made one substitute appearance in the Premier League so far this season and is finding it difficult to prove his worth to manager Rafa Benitez.

With Napoli looking to bolster their defence during the January transfer window, Dossena's agent Roberto La Florio thinks the left-back may want to move to ensure a place in the Italy squad for next year's World Cup.

"It is clear that in January Napoli will sign new players, especially in the role of Dossena," said La Florio.

"We'll see in January if there are opportunities to return to Italy and play - we are interested because Dossena wants to go to the World Cup.

"Napoli is the Italian team that has pushed most for Dossena and according to me it would be the perfect solution for him."

The 28-year-old became the first Italian player to play for Liverpool when he signed at Anfield for £7million in July last year.

Dossena is currently recovering from a muscle injury but may make the bench for the Reds' UEFA Champions League trip to Lyon on Wednesday.

Manchester United & Liverpool To Scout QPR Wonderkid Raheem Sterling This Week

Representatives from Manchester United and Liverpool lead a list of twelve Premier League clubs who are expected to watch QPR wonderkid Raheem Sterling in action this week.

Sterling has been picked for the England Under-16 side to play Northern Ireland in the Victory Shield on Thursday.

Scouts from United and Liverpool were in attendance at a QPR Under-18 match over the weekend to have another look at the striker.

Reports on Sunday claimed QPR were bracing themselves for a bid for Sterling after he attended the recent Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United.

The Championship side are now hoping to fast track Sterling into their first team and he could make his debut when he turns 15 in December.

QPR youth chief Steve Gallen is quoted in the Daily Mirror: "He is a great lad, very popular with his team-mates and with bundles of potential. If he keeps his feet on the ground and continues to work hard he has got a very bright future ahead of him."

Platini’s New Measures Could Hurry Liverpool Takeover By Kraft

While Michel Platini's plans for reform in European soccer may, at first glance, appear a serious threat to English soccer club Liverpool's future in European competition, the club's long-term future may be significantly brighter once the new measures are put in place.

Liverpool were one of the clubs namechecked by Platini when discussing his reforms in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, saying: "If Liverpool pay €60 million (interest) every year to the banks, it's a lot of money." The Uefa president vowed: "The philosophy to participate in our competitions is you must not spend more money than you receive."

He added: "In Germany, debts are not accepted. In England they are."

Platini also criticised the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter Milan, saying: "By putting in new rules we will protect the business of [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich, [Inter Milan owner] Massimo Moratti or [Manchester United owner Malcolm] Glazer. I am sure they want to sell but who will buy clubs with so many debts? Who would be that stupid?"

However, it is the large section of Liverpool's fans currently dissatisfied with the club's owner, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who have perhaps the most reason to welcome Platini's reforms. Robert Kraft, one of US sport's most respected team owners, has long expressed an interest in taking control of Liverpool, but has said he will not do so while the financial situation in English soccer remains out of control.

"We don't want to be a business where the wallet determines what kind of player you have," he told the British press in October, before adding to the New York Times: "At some point in the future there's a good possibility we could be involved.

In June, he revealed: "I met with David Moores, who is a fine gentleman, and we came very close to buying it, very close. I wanted to take over Liverpool. If the salary cap was there, we would have done it."

A salary cap may not be on the agenda, but Platini's reforms could be enough to tempt the man who turned the New England Patriots into the NFL's dominant team to put his money where his mouth is.

Jamie Carragher: Liverpool Should Have Signed Nicolas Anelka

Jamie Carragher admits Liverpool are paying the price for letting Nicolas Anelka leave the club.

The Chelsea striker enjoyed a productive loan spell at Anfield under Gerard Houllier in 2001-02, but chose not to sign the Frenchman permanently, instead signing El Hadji Diouf was signed for £12 million.

"I think it's a bit strong to say it was one of the worst decisions ever, but it's fair to say it was a mistake,” said Carragher.

"You look at Anelka now – he was top scorer in the Premier League last season. It's in the past now, but it was probably something that never went our way."

With Fernando Torres – Liverpool’s only reliable supplier of goals – heading for an operation, manager Rafa Benítez will be forced to rely on the likes Andriy Voronin, Ryan Babel and David Ngog.

Benítez is currently using Torres sparingly but will still include the Spaniard in his squad for the trip to Lyon on Wednesday: "We have to take Fernando to Lyon because we don't have too many options. We have to keep working with him and the rest of the players.

"We are trying to manage because he was close to having an operation. Still yesterday, two days after the game, he is feeling something.

"He is not comfortable. He has not got the power he had before, so we have to try to protect him.

"But he cannot play well if you keep pushing him, maybe if you push him he will be injured for a long time."

San Jose Frustrated In Spain

Liverpool youngster Mikel San Jose may be set to return from his loan spell in Spain ahead of schedule.

The 20-year-old defender agreed to join Athletic Bilbao on a season-long deal over the summer, but has grown frustrated at a lack of opportunities in his homeland.

He has been awarded just seven minutes of action this term and feels he needs to explore other avenues.

Reports suggest two Premier League clubs have expressed an interest in San Jose's services and his agent admits an agreement could be struck in January.

"His patience is being pushed and if nothing chances he will leave Bilbao in the New Year," said Jesus Medina.

"We do not understand Bilbao's persistence to strike a deal over the summer if they had no plans to play San Jose.

"This situation is damaging to his career. He is a professional and does not want to cause controversy, but he is suffering at the moment."

Speculation suggests that Blackburn and Wolves are the two English clubs keen on securing a loan deal for San Jose.