Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Match Preview: Wolverhampton vs. LiverpooL

Wolverhampton Wanderers play host to Liverpool in the Premier League this week, with both sides needing points for very different reasons.

Only goal difference separates Wolves from the relegation zone, as they have failed to pick up a win in any of their last five games in all competitions.

The Black Country club's last outing resulted in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, Ronald Zubar's late goal preventing what would have been an embarrassing FA Cup exit.

Mick McCarthy rested much of his first team for that clash, meaning he will expect a fresh and fired-up group of player to take the pitch when the Reds come to town on Tuesday night.

Rafael Benitez's men claimed the spoils when these two teams met on Boxing Day, but the resurgence many expected after their win against Aston Villa in the following fixture hasn't quite come to pass.

Championship strugglers Reading ended Liverpool's FA Cup run at the first hurdle (albeit via replay) - an outcome which, coupled with the draw that followed at Stoke City, brought the doomsayers out in full force.

But as they've done so often this term, the Anfield giants bounced back last week with a rousing 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur to stay in touch with their fellow Champions League chasers.

Now Liverpool must take the next step towards something resembling a run of good form, and that means three points at Molineux - an achievable task, as Wolves have won there just three times this season.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Jan 23: Wolverhampton 2-2 Crystal Palace (FA Cup)
Jan 16: Wolverhampton 0-2 Wigan Athletic
Jan 3: Tranmere Rovers 0-1 Wolverhampton (FA Cup)
Dec 28: Wolverhampton 0-3 Manchester City
Dec 26: Liverpool 2-0 Wolverhampton


Jan 20: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Jan 16: Stoke City 1-1 Liverpool
Jan 13: Liverpool 1-2 Reading (FA Cup) (aet)
Jan 2: Reading 1-1 Liverpool (FA Cup)
Dec 29: Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool


Wolverhampton Wanderers

McCarthy made big changes to his starting line-up for the clash with Crystal Palace; some forced, and some purely in anticipation of Liverpool's visit.

Full-back Richard Stearman should return from suspension, while the likes of Marcus Hahnemann, Kevin Doyle, Jody Craddock and Stephen Ward will expect to reclaim their starting spots.

Andrew Keogh, David Edwards, Stefan Maierhofer and Michael Kightly are all carrying injuries.

Last starting XI (vs. Crystal Palace): Hennessey, Foley, Mancienne, Zubar, Berra, Elokobi, Henry, Jones, Surman, Ebanks-Blake, Vokes.


The attacking triumvirate of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun remains out of action, the latter two players having scored in the reverse fixture.

Dirk Kuyt or David Ngog will deputise up top, most likely with Alberto Aquilani in behind, while wing-back Philipp Degen could be pushed forward again.

New boy Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel will be pushing for starts, while Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and Nabil El Zhar are all sidelined.

Last starting XI (vs. Tottenham Hotspur): Reina, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Degen, Aquilani, Riera, Kuyt.


Wolverhampton Wanderers - Kevin Doyle

Some touted the Irishman as a flash-in-the-pan when he stormed onto the scene with Reading, but he is showing this season that he can trouble any Premier League defence. If Wolves are to obtain a result against the Reds, odds are that their leading goalscorer will be responsible.

Liverpool - Alberto Aquilani

'Aquaman' handed his doubters a big, fat slice of humble pie on his last outing, flourishing in the trequartista role as he steered his side to victory against Spurs. He and every Kopite will be eager for an encore showing.

Steven Gerrard Set To Face Wolves After Speedy Return From Injury

Steven Gerrard is in contention for Liverpool's visit to Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow after returning ahead of schedule from injury.

The club captain was expected to be sidelined for at least a fortnight after sustaining a hamstring problem in the FA Cup exit to Reading on 13 January.

Gerrard returned to action at the club's Melwood training ground over the weekend, however, and could now play in the Wolves game at Molineux.

"He was training on Saturday and then a full training session on Sunday, and today was the same," said the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benítez. "Normally he's someone who, if available, can play.

"We'll decide tomorrow but I think he can be available."

Benitez Confirms Plessis Interest

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has confirmed that an unnamed Italian club has shown an interest in Damien Plessis.

Skysports.com revealed over the weekend that the midfielder was the subject of an approach and a loan move would now appear a distinct possibility.

Plessis' career has stalled at Anfield since he made a handful of appearances after breaking into the first team in 2007/08 and Benitez has indicated that he is willing to negotiate.

The Liverpool boss told his club's official website: "Plessis is a young player who isn't playing games. We were considering a loan but we're talking to the player and his agent.

"We had an Italian team asking about him and we'll see if we can find a solution that is best for him and for us."

Liverpool Offer Jovanovic A Move To Anfield

Liverpool have offered Milan Jovanovic the opportunity to move to Anfield at the end of the season.

The Standard Liege striker is out of contract this summer and the Reds have put together a package that would see Jovanovic sign a three-year deal.

Jovanovic is high on Rafa Benitez's wanted list and it is understood the Serbian international would jump at the chance to play for Liverpool.

However, Jovanovic - who is a target for a number of Europe's top clubs, including AC Milan - is seeking some assurances before he makes his next move.

A powerful forward who has scored an impressive 52 goals in 107 appearances for the crack Belgian side, Jovanovic will play a key role for Serbia at the World Cup this summer.

Hot-shot Tempted By Reds

A report in L'Equipe today claims Marouane Chamakh is tempted by Liverpool’s offer to sign him on a free transfer at the end of the season.

The Morrocan striker met with representatives from Liverpool earlier this month and was reportedly offered a contract worth 28 million euros over four seasons at Anfield.

Chamakh is out of contract at Bordeaux at the end of the campaign and can sign a pre-contract with a foreign club. Along with Liverpool, Arsenal, West Ham and Sunderland are also interested.

The French newspaper suggests Chamakh will not reveal his decision until after Bordeaux's Champions League knockout tie with Olympiakos and is in no rush to make a decision.

The 26-year-old striker is likely to wait and see whether Liverpool qualify for the Champions League and how the next few weeks pan out for manager Rafa Benitez.

In 2009/2010, Chamakh has scored nine goals in 26 appearances for Bordeaux in Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

Dynamo Moscow Prepare £7million Bid For Liverpool Star Yossi Benayoun

Dynamo Moscow want to sign Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool and are prepared to offer £7million for the Israel midfielder.

Rafa Benitez would take some convincing to part with one of his favourite performers but the offer is well timed for cash-strapped Liverpool.

Benayoun signed a new deal in the summer but Dynamo will offer him a four-year deal worth £75,000 a week, with the tax rate significantly lower than in Britain.

Rafa Hails 'Right-Back' Dirk

Rafa Benitez today heaped praise on Dirk Kuyt for his role in getting Liverpool back to winning ways - and revealed how the Dutchman offered to play at right-back amid the club's injury crisis.

Kuyt was the two-goal hero as Liverpool beat top-four rivals Tottenham last week and was the subject of several questions as the gaffer gave his pre-Wolves press conference on Monday.

"He has a fantastic mentality," Benitez told reporters. "We talk about him being a striker who has played on the right because we needed it. He can also play as a second striker.

"When we played in the Cup and Philipp Degen had cramps, he said to me that if I wanted he could play at right-back.

"It's not just his versatility and the fact he's in very good condition, it's his mentality. He's always ready to help the team.

"He is a player that every manager would want in their team. You can play him or not but he's always available, always ready and always helping the team.

"When you talk about a squad or a winning team, you need players with this mentality. If you have to change something for a game or have to put a player out of position, he is always available. That's massive for a manager."

Meanwhile, Benitez has been delighted with the attitude of his players in the last two fixtures against Tottenham and Stoke.

Now he wants to see the same workrate at Wolves, where victory will lift the Reds into fourth place.

"The players have been really good," said the boss. "The commitment and the team spirit has been very good.

"When you don't have two important players like Gerrard and Torres, everyone has to stick together and work hard. The players have taken responsibility.

"People realise we could have won that (Stoke) game and I think it was a really good performance from the team. Since then we've been stronger.

"Wolves work very hard and have a good mentality as a team, so I think it will be a tough game for us. But we have the challenge that we can be in the top four if we beat them.

"We had problems with injuries, late goals and beach balls. If you put everything together it could have made a big difference. But everyone is working so hard now that it's easier for us to get results."

Benitez believes there will be plenty more twists in the race for Champions League qualification regardless of Tuesday's result.

"The four teams are so close and I think it will be the same for the rest of the season, so it's not a big difference if you're fifth or fourth at this stage," he said.

With Liverpool out of the FA Cup, Benitez gave his players some time off before they returned to full training on Saturday.

He added: "Maybe (being out of the Cup) you'll have more time to train with the players. When you have two games a week you cannot prepare things too much. You have to carry on with the games and rest players with light training.

"When you have time you can prepare things a bit better."

Elsewhere, Nabil El Zhar and Martin Kelly are back in training following persistent injury problems.

Fabregas: Liverpool's Night In Istanbul Is My Favourite

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas has revealed that the most memorable match which he has ever watched as a football fan was Liverpool’s epic Champions League final victory against AC Milan in 2005.

The 22-year-old Gunner recalled how Rafael Benitez’s side battled back from a 3-0 deficit at half-time to take the match to extra time before eventually sealing the game in a dramatic penalty shootout.

Goals by Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso and the goalkeeping antics of Jerzy Dudek were fundamental for the Anfield outfit on the night as one side of Merseyside turned Istanbul red.

Asked in an interview with Champions magazine to talk about his favourite match, the Arsenal midfielder revealed:

“It would have to be the 2005 Champions League final between Liverpool and Milan – a spectacular game.

“After that, the return leg of the semi-final last season between Barcelona and Chelsea. Obviously I enjoyed it because the winning goal was scored by a friend of mine, Andrés Iniesta, but Barcelona were practically out of that game and that goal was a historic moment.

“I wasn’t at the game; I saw it on the telly. It’s hard to go and watch games when you’re a player, with all the people there. I hardly ever go, even though I love football. I have been to Camp Nou a few times to see friends like Puyi [Carles Puyol] or Gerard [Piqué]. But I don’t like to bother them after the game. I just go, watch the match, and then leave.”

Rafa Restrained In Jones Row

Rafa Benitez has refused to enter a war of words with Sunderland boss Steve Bruce regarding Liverpool's pursuit of Kenwyne Jones.

The cash-strapped Reds are understood to want to sign the powerful striker on loan in the January transfer window with star man Fernando Torres recovering from knee surgery.

Bruce hit back at suggestions that he would allow a highly-valued player to leave and branded Liverpool's interest as 'embarrassing', labelling the Merseysider's public interest as an attempt to unsettle Jones.

Benitez, though, has resisted the opportunity to respond and claims Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow and Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn have been in talks.

The Liverpool manager told Sky Sports News when asked for his reaction to Bruce's comments: "I was not involved in this. Christian Purslow was talking with Niall Quinn, so they are managing the situation."

When quizzed as to whether a deal could yet materialise, he added: "They are talking about this."