Saturday, February 06, 2010

Match Preview: Liverpool vs. Everton

Liverpool will play host to Everton this weekend in the 213th edition of one of football's great fixtures: the Merseyside derby.

Unlike last season, when the Reds were right in the hunt for a maiden Premier League title and the Blues were knocking on the door of the top four, this time around the Scouse rivals are both looking to make up ground after a fairly dismal first half of the 2009-10 campaign.

Liverpool's win over Bolton Wanderers last weekend stretched their unbeaten run to six games, and yet they still find themselves a point outside the Champions League places.

Everton sit some way back in ninth place but their recent form is even more impressive than that of their neighbours, as they have not lost in the league since November.

It just so happens that Rafael Benitez's men were the last team to take all three points off the Toffees in top-flight play, with goals from Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano giving the 18-time English champions a 2-0 win at Goodison Park.

The odds are stacked firmly against David Moyes' mob returning the favour this Saturday, as they have not won a league game at Anfield since 1999.



Jan 30: Liverpool 2-0 Bolton Wanderers

Jan 26: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 Liverpool

Jan 20: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Jan 16: Stoke City 1-1 Liverpool

Jan 13: Liverpool 1-2 Reading (FA Cup)


Jan 30: Wigan Athletic 0-1 Everton

Jan 27: Everton 2-0 Sunderland

Jan 23: Everton 1-2 Birmingham City (FA Cup)

Jan 16: Everton 2-0 Manchester City

Jan 9: Arsenal 2-2 Everton



Steven Gerrard is back in action for the Reds, but both Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun - who continues to be linked with a move to Russia - remain sidelined.

Danish defender Daniel Agger has returned to training and could make the matchday squad, while full-backs Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio are still out of commission.

Last starting XI (vs. Bolton Wanderers): Reina, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Insua, Mascherano, Aquilani, Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera, Ngog.


Nigerian pair Joseph Yobo and Yakubu are back from the African Cup of Nations, with both having a chance to make the starting XI - particularly the latter, after Louis Saha limped off at Wigan.

Jack Rodwell and long-term absentee Mikel Arteta are also pushing to prove their fitness.

Last starting XI (vs. Wigan Athletic): Howard, Neville, Senderos, Heitinga, Baines, Osman, Fellaini, Cahill, Pienaar, Donovan, Saha.


Liverpool - Steven Gerrard

The skipper looked something like his usual self last weekend, mixing deft link-up play with barnstorming attacks despite the close attentions of Fabrice 'The Monster' Muamba. What better way to confirm a return to form and fitness than with a match-winning display against your oldest foes?

Everton - Tim Cahill

The little Aussie battler is another who has drawn some stinging criticism this season, but it's only taken a couple of trademark headers to hush up the naysayers. Undoubtedly one of the Premier League's very best goalscoring midfielders, Cahill will be aiming to make it three strikes in as many games this Saturday.

Mersey Derby Can Turn Liverpool FC's Season Around - Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez today claimed a win in the 213th Merseyside derby could be the result that totally transforms his increasingly confident Liverpool team.

Unbeaten in their last six Premier League games, the Reds will jump back into the Champions League positions – for a couple of hours at least – if they beat Everton at Anfield today.

That, of course, will be easier said than done, as the Blues come into the lunchtime showdown on the back of a nine-match unbeaten sequence and have a number of key players in top form.

Benitez, though, has the suspicion Liverpool are not far from clicking and saw signs in last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Bolton which gave him reason for encouragement.

“We want to make sure we get back into the top four and this is the first opportunity to try and do that,” said Benitez, who will have Fabio Aurelio back in his squad.

“Our aim is to keep the players playing with more confidence. After Everton, we have Arsenal and that will be another big challenge. But it will be much easier if we have got the right result against Everton and another three points.”

But with tests at Arsenal and Manchester City to follow, this, undoubtedly, is Liverpool’s most demanding schedule of the campaign and that is why Benitez has challenged his players to make a statement.

“I’ve spoken with the players and we have been analysing what we have (in terms of games) until the end of the season and this is the most crucial phase,” he added.

“To get a win against Everton and to see the team continue their unbeaten run would give everyone big hope for the rest of the season.”

Though he has not always seen eye-to-eye with David Moyes, Benitez is respectful of the way Everton’s manager has transformed his team.

He expects them to be an even more difficult proposition to the side that went head-to-head with Liverpool at Goodison Park on November 29.

“It is always special for everyone here in the city and both teams are coming into the game on the back of good runs,” he said. “When you play against your nearest rival, it is always important you win but it is all the more vital, as we are in a position where we cannot lose points.

“But you have to remember that Everton want to be challenging for a European place too; it will be a very exciting game and it is massive for everyone involved.

“The derby is special because, when you have a week like this it is all everyone talks about. We need to make sure we are talking about it in the week after, too.”

Carragher: Everton Is The Best Competition

Jamie Carragher says Liverpool will never be found wanting when it comes to mixing it with local rivals Everton.

The Anfield defender admits he gets wound up ahead of facing his boyhood idols more than any other match.

And with in-form Everton threatening Liverpool’s challenge to get back into the top four, today’s game at Anfield is one Carragher is desperate to win.

He said: “My feelings haven’t changed one bit. There is always that little bit of extra anxiety, which comes from the fear of losing."

“You talk about results being more important than performances but ideally you want to put the two together. When you think over the last decade, we’ve probably had our best-ever run of results against Everton."

“Normally in the past whenever Everton have beaten Liverpool, the accusation was that they wanted it a little bit more."

"So I’m glad in the last decade we have turned that around.”

Most people thought Liverpool were lucky to win 2-0 at Goodison Park in November.But Carragher added: “I don’t think we played particularly well and Everton had a decent game, to be fair.

“But we still managed to go to Goodison, one of the toughest places in the country, not play well and win 2-0.”

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has an unbeaten home record against Everton since taking charge in the summer of 2004.

And he said: “Every game for us now is important but because this is the first one it is the most important. When you’re not in a very good position, you know that every game will be crucial.”

Skrtel: Pain Means Nothing

Martin Skrtel is relishing the prospect of doing battle with a rejuvenated Everton when English football's fiercest local rivalry resumes on Saturday.

The Slovakian expects to wake up with a few bruises on Sunday morning - but insists it won't matter if Liverpool claim a crucial three points.

"It will be a very difficult game," Skrtel told "Every player has to make special preparations for this game. It'll be a fight and it will be fiery from the first minute to the last.

"Of course it's normal to come off the pitch after a derby with a few knocks. But against Everton you forget any pain, any bruises or any knocks. Every player tries to do his best for their team.

"It's a big derby, a game against Everton. It's a special game for everyone in this city, so everyone is desperate to play.

"The rivalry between Liverpool and Everton supporters is very big, and you feel it in the days before."

Skrtel believes the in-form Tim Cahill represents a major threat for Everton ahead of the lunchtime kick off.

"He's a good player," said the 25-year-old. "Last time I played against him he scored. He's very dangerous, especially from set pieces in our box. But our defence is now working very well. We can keep focused on him.

"He's not the tallest but he can break into the right places in the box. That's why he's dangerous - because he's in the right place at the right time."

One man who could be key in defending set pieces is Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Skrtel is in no doubt the Greek international is ready for his first taste of derby action.

"Sotirios has done very well, especially against teams like Stoke, Wolves and Bolton," said the No.37. "They play direct football and he's been one of our best players on the pitch.

"He's a defender's defender. He likes to play hard football - he likes to tackle and head the ball.

"He's a nice guy too. You can speak with him about anything you want or joke with him."

Meanwhile, Skrtel remains confident he can win major honours with Liverpool despite 2009-10 not going as planned.

"We showed our quality in finishing second last year with a club record points in the Premier League," he said. "This season we've been a bit unlucky. I know this team has quality. I hope and I believe we will show this quality in the future."

Liverpool Midfielder Alberto Aquilani Can Handle Everton Derby - Steven Gerrard

Liverpool's talismanic leader Steven Gerrard, 29, believes playmaking midfielder Alberto Aquilani, 25, bought from AS Roma last summer and now embarking on a sustained run in the first team following an ankle lay-off, will have no problems during derby day, given his experience of big games in Serie A.

Rafael Benitez's side face local rivals Everton on Saturday lunch-time, the 213th time the city's flagship sides have come together, and Gerrard believes there is no greater game in which Aquilani can score his first Liverpool goal.

"Whether he starts or plays as a sub, Alberto knows what derbies are all about," Gerrard explained to the club's official website. "I'm sure he will handle the occasion no problem.

"He will also get help from myself and Jamie [Carragher] to let him know what this game is about in the dressing room. Merseyside derbies are very quick and frantic in the first 15-20 minutes and the tempo and intensity is very high.

"It will be a great game for him to notch his first goal, too. He is improving the more he is playing and training.

"There were always going to be high expectations because of his big price tag. It takes time to get used to the speed and pace of the English game when you come from abroad, but he certainly has the talent."

Liverpool Striker Dirk Kuyt Admits To Feeling Under Pressure To Perform

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt admits that he feels under pressure to carry his side’s fortunes in the absence of his injured team-mates.

The Anfield club have been without key men Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson for large parts of their troubled campaign, and as one of the senior players, the onus has been on Kuyt to perform in their absence.

"Of course you feel a responsibility," he told a press conference ahead of Saturday’s derby against rivals Everton.

"Everyone in the team feels a responsibility and it is very hard when you are missing your best players. We have missed Torres for a while, Stevie [Gerrard] couldn't play every game and Glen Johnson has a bad injury, it makes it very difficult.

"Any other team, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, would struggle as well, but you can't think about this.

"You have to try to do it with the players who are fit at the moment.

"What we have done really well is keep working hard. We have been a bit unlucky with a couple of injuries, but the players are coming back and we are getting stronger and stronger. Once they are back we will all learn that it makes us stronger.

"Things are definitely changing, but we can't relax. We have to look forward and get the goals in."

Liverpool enter Saturday’s game on a six-match unbeaten run - both in the league and against their Merseyside rivals.

Should Kuyt score it would be his 50th for the Anfield club, and Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee admitted he would welcome any goal which secures victory for the Reds.

"It would be nice for him to score in the derby and get his 50, but it would be nice for anyone to score," he said.

"It's good for us that we have got goals going in from different areas. We are without Fernando, which has been well documented, but the lads are working hard and we have got players like Dirk who can score."

Milan Jovanovic Seeking Reassurances About Rafael Benitez's Future Before Committing To Liverpool

The uncertainty surrounding Rafael Benitez's future at Liverpool has put the signing of highly-rated Standard Liege striker Milan Jovanovic in jeopardy.

Jovanovic was widely reported to have signed a pre-contract agreement for a three-year deal with the Reds, to begin when his Liege contract expires in June.

But the player's agent, Zoran Stojadinovic, denied those claims, stating that his client was still weighing up his options.

And a Serbian football source told UK that the 28-year-old is reluctant to commit to the Reds at this point, until assurances have been made over Benitez's future at the club, and is considering his options - with Italian side Fiorentina and Spanish giants Valencia also in the running.

The source said: "Jovanovic didn't sign any kind of preliminary contract with

Liverpool, and Fiorentina and Valencia are both interested."

"The problem is that Benitez has not had good results at the club this season, and maybe he will not be the manager at the end of the season - when Jovanovic would have to move to Anfield."

Benitez's own future is in considerable doubt - despite the Spaniard's pledge to honour the remainder of his five-year contract at Anfield. Financial restrictions and internal politics have repeatedly undermined Benitez's position at the club, and there is a growing feeling that the former Valencia manager may seek pastures new at the end of this season.

Only last week the Reds boss spoke of being "proud" to be linked with Italian giants Juventus, who are expected to make an approach for the 49-year-old this summer.

Benitez has been tracking Jovanovic for over three months and sees the powerful striker - who has scored nine times in 23 caps for his country - as an ideal addition to his squad.

Jovanovic is expected to lead the line for Serbia at the World Cup this summer, and has a record of 68 goals in 140 games for Belgian champions Liege.

Liverpool FC Set For Cash Boost As Hicks Considers Stars Sale

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks is considering selling his NHL ice hockey franchise the Dallas Stars.

According to a report on ESPN, Hicks' holding company, the Hicks Sports Group, confirmed that Galatioto Sports Partners have been tasked with sourcing potential investors or outright buyers for the Stars.

In October, Hicks sealed a deal worth some US$500 million that saw him sell off his Texas Rangers MLB franchise.

Dallas Stars president Jeff Cogen said: "While a sale is not a certainty it is a possibility and Mr Hicks has received numerous inquiries about the team."

Liverpool's financial woes have been well-documented this season. Yet, it is still unclear what any potential Stars sale would mean for the Anfield club.

Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow recently conceded, however, that the club needed to reduce its debt from £237 million to £137 million by July, when its current refinancing deal comes up for renewal.

Liverpool had planned to issue new shares, diluting the ownership of American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Should Hicks receive a substantial cash boost from a sale in America, however, he may have the wherewithal to strengthen his position at Liverpool.

Liverpool's quest for commercial success has been complicated by the club's early exit from the Uefa Champions League this season, and would be made even more difficult if the team fail to qualify for the lucrative competition next year.

In his time at the club, Purslow has alread secured several lucrative commercial deals, including a club record shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered.

Ex-Gunner: Liverpool Are 'A Million Miles' From Progressing

Former Arsenal star Paul Merson believes that Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is lucky to still be in a job at Anfield following his side’s traumatic Premier League form and early cup exits, but believes that the top job at Juventus, with whom the Spaniard has been linked, would represent a step down in his career.

Speaking to Sky Sports ahead of the Merseyside derby, the player-turned-pundit made clear that Liverpool’s form had left a lot to be desired this term event though they were still in the race for fourth position.

“I think Rafa Benitez is lucky to still be the manager of Liverpool Football Club.

“It’s all about progressing and this year they've been a million miles off it.

Pinpointing the opportunity to work in Italy, the ex-Gunner made clear that life in Serie A was not what it used to be:

“He's been linked with the Juventus job, but that would be a step down in my eyes. The Premier League is the ultimate, then you go Spanish, then Italian after that.

“You've only got to look at the Champions League over the last few years to see Serie A is a million miles off England and Spain.

“Juventus is a great club, don't get me wrong, but there's only a couple of teams who can win that league, three at the most. I think that would be a bad move for Rafa, but I suppose it's up to him.”

Liverpool host Everton this Saturday at lunch-time in a match which could be integral to the club’s chances of playing Champions League football next season.