Sunday, February 21, 2010

Match Preview: Manchester City vs LiverpooL

Manchester City play host to Liverpool in the Premier League this weekend with both sides seeking the upper hand in their tussle for a top-four finish.

Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur are also within striking distance of the Champions League places, but is the Citizens who currently hold possession of the final berth to Europe's elite competition.

Roberto Mancini's men are a point ahead of the Reds with a game in hand, although they would have hoped to be further ahead after their midweek clash with Stoke City.

But the Sky Blues could only manage a draw against Tony Pulis' Potters, meaning Liverpool will have the opportunity to vault back into fourth spot when they travel up the East Lancs Road on Sunday.

The Merseyside giants have enjoyed something of a resurgence since the turn of the year, putting on a seven-game unbeaten run before falling at Arsenal last week.

Their performance in the Europa League on Thursday night does not inspire confidence, however, as it took a late David Ngog strike to secure a 1-0 win over Romania's Unirea Urziceni at Anfield.


Manchester City

Feb 16: Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City
Feb 13: Manchester City 1-1 Stoke City (FA Cup)
Feb 9: Manchester City 2-0 Bolton Wanderers
Feb 6: Hull City 2-1 Manchester City
Jan 31: Manchester City 2-0 Portsmouth


Feb 18: Liverpool 1-0 Unirea Urziceni (Europa League)
Feb 10: Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool
Feb 6: Liverpool 1-0 Everton
Jan 30: Liverpool 2-0 Bolton Wanderers
Jan 26: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 Liverpool


Manchester City

Carlos Tevez is unlikely to feature, the Argentine star having returned to his homeland to be with his expecting partner.

Ex-Red Craig Bellamy is also set to sit out, while versatile defender Vincent Kompany and winger Martin Petrov remain doubts as well.

Winter signing Patrick Vieira, meanwhile, begins a three-match ban after accepting a charge of violent conduct for a kick on Stoke's Glenn Whelan.

Last starting XI (vs. Stoke City): Given, Richards, Toure, Lescott, Garrido, Barry, De Jong, Vieira, Johnson, Adebayor, Santa Cruz.


Jamie Carragher shrugged off a groin problem to reclaim his spot at right-back for Thursday's Europa League date, while the injury-cursed Fabio Aurelio also returned to the starting XI.

Star striker Fernando Torres and playmaker Yossi Benayoun are both back in training, but it is expected that neither will make the squad for this weekend's short trip to Manchester.

Glen Johnson remains sidelined with ligament damage.

Last starting XI (vs. Unirea Urziceni): Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Aurelio, Mascherano, Aquilani, Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera, Ngog.


Manchester City - Gareth Barry

Rafa Benitez chased him for the best part of 12 months, but in the end it was to Eastlands that the former Aston Villa captain went. The England regular scored City's crucial equaliser in midweek and will have to continue picking up the creative slack from absentees Tevez and Bellamy.

Liverpool - Steven Gerrard

'Captain Fantastic' has perhaps failed to live up to his title of late, in what has been a frustrating and injury-dogged season. His last few outings have shown signs that the Scouse superstar's best form is not too far away, though, so the Sky Blues' midfield has better keep a close watch.

Rafa Benitez Urges Liverpool To Crank Up Pressure On Champions League Rivals

Rafa Benitez has challenged his players to inflict Manchester City’s first home defeat of the season and make themselves favourites to win the race for the top four.

Liverpool head to Eastlands on Sunday knowing they can ill-afford to slip up against a side who have emerged as the biggest threat to their Champions League aspirations.

Roberto Mancini’s side are a point ahead of the Reds in fourth place and also have a game in hand, which leaves Liverpool with little margin for error.

But Benitez – who is expected to include Yossi Benayoun in his squad for the first time since January 13 – is confident Liverpool will acquit themselves with credit.

Having beaten top four rivals Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur in recent months, Benitez wants to ratchet up the pressure on City by recording another big win.

“We have managed the pressure well,” he said. “But now Tottenham, Villa, City and ourselves are in a position where we have to keep going until the end. Maybe one game can be a big difference, so it’s important to manage the pressure and maybe our experience can help.

“When teams are close in the table and there isn’t a big difference on the pitch, one small detail can change anything.

“Our experience of having been there already could be important. It depends on the players and if they can manage things well.

“Maybe we will be favourites. But there are still plenty of games to go, so we need to keep calm and do our job.”

Liverpool were laboured in beating Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League on Thursday night but Benitez was not too worried about the manner of the 1-0 win. Their patience, ultimately, was rewarded and Benitez has reminded everyone that there are likely to be several more tough fixtures like that between now and May 9.

“We’ve had a lot of games like Thursday when the other team defends well with a lot of people behind the ball,” he said. “You have to stay patient and keep a high tempo.

“It’s the same in the league. In every single game, you have to do the right thing. If you are nervous you will make mistakes. The message is very clear. We have to have a plan and everybody needs to know what to do. But it depends on the players and if they are nervous or not.”

If nerves do creep into Liverpool’s play, it will make it very difficult for them to peg back City but Benitez is not paying any attention to what is happening in Manchester.

“The most important thing for us is not to concentrate on them, but on us,” said Benitez. “If City are not in the top four, then we need to be in a good position and to have the chance to invest in the future.

“Maybe next year another team will have problems and it won’t be City against Liverpool, but someone else.

“But it’s clear that if we get into the top four, then City, Tottenham and Villa will have more problems and will have to push harder if they want to be there.”

Mancini - Pressure On Reds

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini says all the pressure is on Liverpool ahead of their Premier League clash on Sunday.

The Reds travel to Eastlands for a crunch game in the hunt for a fourth-spot finish and a much-coveted place in next season's UEFA Champions League.

Liverpool are currently one point behind City in the table having played a game more than their opponents, which Mancini says means his side have the upper hand.

"We want to win and so do they, so it will be difficult but more so for Liverpool," he said.

"We are above them and they have to try to get past us. We have to be positive, if we can win, we will go further ahead of them so that's what we must try to do.

"We are in a good position with 13 games to go and I hope that Sunday is a fantastic game for our supporters."

Mancini will be without important players Carlos Tevez, Martin Petrov and Patrick Vieira for the match at the City of Manchester Stadium.

The Italian tactician still believes his team can come out on top, though, but is not underestimating the ability of the men from Merseyside.

"Torres and Gerrard are great players but they have (Jamie) Carragher, (Dirk) Kuyt, (Javier) Mascherano, (Jose) Reina as well. That's not a bad squad to pick from," he added.

"Gerrard is really respected throughout Europe, he has everything you would want in a player and we know we will have to work hard to deal with him.

"Liverpool are a good side, with some good players and a good manager that have lots of experience from many years in the Champions League and being near the top in England.

"They have some players out injured but it will still be tough for us because they have a lot of strengths."

Mancini played down a row with striker Craig Bellamy earlier in the week, and the Welshman could feature against his former club if fit.

John Aldridge: Liverpool Have To Be Positive At Manchester City

Manchester City is without doubt the biggest threat to our hopes of finishing fourth this season and it’s a massive game at Eastlands on Sunday.

I think Aston Villa and Spurs will fall away in the race for Champions League qualification, but City have the firepower to keep pressing to the end.

I know City is a point clear of us with a game in hand, but I still think a draw would be a decent result for the Reds.

Looking at the fixtures to come, we’ve got a more favourable run-in than theirs.

City has got to go to the likes of Chelsea, Fulham and Arsenal, while they’ve also got Manchester United and Villa at home. Like ours, City’s away form has been patchy so there will be plenty more twists and turns.

What we can’t afford to do is go there and play like the way we did at Wolves or Stoke.

We’ve got to be more positive than that.

City are great going forward and we all know what a threat Emmanuel Adebayor can be, but they are vulnerable at the back.

That’s their Achilles heel and we have to ensure we get our set-plays spot on.

I know City have spent a lot of cash but I believe there is more pressure on us in the race for fourth place.

Liverpool’s financial situation means Champions League football is absolutely vital and the repercussions for not achieving that are massive.

David Ngog got the winner against Unirea Urziceni in midweek but Rafa Benitez has a big decision to make.

Ngog has struggled away from home this season and he had a tough night against the Romanians before the goal went in.

You can’t question his work-rate but I still think you need someone more forceful up there.

Ryan Babel did well when he came on and he might be a better bet playing down the middle as he’s stronger than Ngog.

Babel’s lack of defensive qualities means that when he plays out wide he can leave you exposed, but he could hurt City with his pace.

Javier Mascherano: I Would Never Leave Liverpool For Manchester City

Javier Mascherano has insisted that not even the prospect of playing for the club dubbed the richest in the world would tempt him to leave Liverpool for Manchester City.

On the eve of a crucial meeting between the clubs, the outcome of which could alter the balance in determining who finishes in the top four of the Barclays Premier League, Mascherano, the Liverpool midfield player, has made it clear that it is history and prestige that matter most to him, not money.

In a shot across the bows to Sheikh Mansour and his cash-fuelled City revolution, the Argentina captain admitted his fears that City could go on to buy lasting success àla Chelsea if they do manage to claim the all-important fourth spot — and with it a Champions League place — but he recoiled at the suggestion that such a scenario would make the Manchester club attractive to him. “Maybe if City got in the top four they would build on that like Chelsea, but I will say one thing: you can buy players, but you cannot buy history,” Mascherano said.

“At Liverpool we play with the history of the club. We don’t have the money that they have, but we are proud to play for Liverpool. I don’t want to play for Manchester City. Yes, they have money and they are building a good team, but I am still proud to play for Liverpool.

“You can buy stars but you cannot buy history and I think Manchester City respect Liverpool. I think they know we have some very good players too and we will fight until the end. Then we will see what happens.”

Although City have shown no interest in acquiring Mascherano’s services — Roberto Mancini, their manager, is not short of holding midfield players with Nigel de Jong, Patrick Vieira and Gareth Barry all available to him — the 25-year-old would undoubtedly fit in with Mansour’s vision of signing players who are the best in the world in their position.

Tellingly, although Mascherano had his head turned by Barcelona last summer, to the point at which he was considering leaving Liverpool, he remains adamant that big-spending City are not yet blessed with an allure similar to that of either the reigning European champions or his present employers.

But he is also aware that, for the sake of Liverpool’s immediate future, holding off the threat posed to their top-four status, by City in particular, is of paramount importance. His club occupy fifth place, a point behind City. He does not believe, though, that the issue will be resolved at the City of Manchester Stadium tomorrow, regardless of the outcome.

“It is an important game for us and for them, but I don’t think it will decide anything,” Mascherano said. “I was reading some things with people saying this is ‘the final’, but it isn’t. There are still a lot of games to play. Yes, it is a crucial game and we know that. They have spent a lot of money to be in the four. More money than us.

“They are a good team with good players, but we have very good players too. We know that we are Liverpool and have to be in the top four because of the history of this club.

“We don’t think too much about them. It will be very good for us to win there because if we win there we will be in the top four again and they will be behind us, but I’m not sure if we will be looking to send a message or not.”

Despite the rivalry and keen sense of competition between the clubs, Mascherano’s close friendship with Carlos Tévez, the City forward, has meant that his thoughts in the build-up to tomorrow’s clash have been dominated by the health of his international team-mate’s baby, who was born prematurely in Argentina this week.

City are not expecting Tévez to have returned from his homeland in time for Sunday’s game, a factor that Mascherano believes could be significant, but the Liverpool player is in no doubt that Tévez is right to put his family first at this time.

“It will be good for us if Carlito cannot play because I know how good he is,” Mascherano said. “I don’t know if he will play or not. I spoke to him and said congratulations for the new baby. I was worried because the baby was born before the due date, it was difficult for him. I don’t know whether he will continue in Argentina or come back and play on Sunday. The main thing for me is that he is happy and the baby is well. If he plays, he plays. The family is the main thing.”

Dirk Kuyt Ready To Reel In Arch Rivals Manchester City

The match between Manchester City and Liverpool on Sunday afternoon is set up to be one of those highly-charged tipping points.

In the race for fourth, and the guaranteed wealth it brings with qualification for the Champions League, this is a fixture that will shape the run-in.

With reports suggesting Craig Bellamy has fallen out with Roberto Mancini (denied by the City manager), Carlos Tevez on indefinite compassionate leave in Argentina after the premature birth of his child and Patrick Vieira suspended for three matches for violent conduct against Stoke last week, City could do with some good news.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have been making what might kindly be called attritional progress up the table, returning to stability after a miserable winter.

Thursday night's win over Romanian club Unirea in the Europa League was soul-sappingly dull but it brought with it another clean sheet, meaning Liverpool have conceded just once in nine hours.

Going into the weekend, Manchester City were in possession of fourth spot, a point above Liverpool with a game in hand. Both managers will judged on whether they achieve Champions League qualification for next season.

Needless to say, both clubs are feeling the pressure.

"It's just a really big game and if we can win this game we will be back in it and if we lose it we have a big problem," said Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool's industrious wide midfielder.

"We all look back a couple of months ago and we would have preferred to be in a better position than this position but at the end of the day it is what it is and we have to try and win this game and try to finish in the top four and we think we have the quality to do that."

This game also represents a larger struggle. When people reflect on the history of these two clubs in the future, this could be seen as a transition season.

Liverpool is a club struggling to hang on to its grand status, undermined by owners who have plunged the club into debt and by a lack of direction for the future. City, by contrast, are growing by the week, seeking to become a European superclub.

The change in status can be measured by the transfer of Gareth Barry to Eastlands last summer. He had long been courted by Liverpool after being identified as a replacement for Xabi Alonso but ended up choosing City when he eventually left Aston Villa.

Sure, he would earn more money with City but Barry is no fool and he was as much sold on the ambition coursing through his new club.

Liverpool's players have come out in proud defence of their club this week, though. There is no question that pulling on the red shirt and playing at Anfield still has an iconic cachet that is a draw for players with a sense of the history of the game.

Kuyt added: "The history of Liverpool is much, much bigger and every now and again you see clubs doing things like Manchester City now and Chelsea a few years ago. It happens but it's very difficult to buy the history of Liverpool.

"I don't know whether more players will join City for the money. For every player it's a different situation. I think the most important thing for a player is to win trophies and be successful as a football player.

"I think at the moment players think they can win trophies with Manchester City and of course they will always think about their family and money, but I don't think that's the main concern for most players.

"I think everything can help in football and experience is very important but for us the most important thing is we can look at ourselves as a lot better now than a couple of months ago. So that will give us confidence for Sunday. It is a big battle but everybody is looking forward to these kind of games.

"We have the experience to come from this position and the most important thing is we are on a good run without conceding many goals. We are winning games in a row and that is giving us confidence that we can do it. We will be ready."

Babel Showing Encouraging Signs

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel has caused manager Rafael Benitez a few problems over the last couple of months but he may just provide him with an unexpected solution as the race for Champions League qualification hots up.

The Holland international was linked with a move in the January transfer window when the club turned down a £9million bid from Birmingham but the player appeared to be doing his best to manufacture an exit.

A series of ill-advised outbursts on Twitter - one in which, more than 24 hours before kick-off, he revealed he had been left out of the squad for the match at Stoke - resulted in a severe dressing down from the manager.

Since then he has been restricted to only 71 minutes' pitch time in four substitute appearances but it seems the 23-year-old may be about to turn yet another corner in a disappointing career at Anfield.

He looked dangerous when he came off the bench in last week's defeat at Arsenal, where he was denied an equaliser only by Manuel Almunia's fingertip save onto the crossbar.

And he was Liverpool's biggest threat by far during a 27-minute Europa League run-out in which he set up the only goal for David Ngog against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday.

Benitez has seen a change in Babel's attitude and is hopeful the improvement continues.

"He was doing well in training sessions. He wants to impress now and you could see he was a threat from the beginning," said the Spaniard.

"Babel's fresh legs with pace was a different approach and it was good for us. I was really pleased with him."

Whether Benitez has the confidence to select the temperamental forward for Sunday's crucial Barclays Premier League clash at fourth-placed Manchester City is open to debate.

Babel has not started a match since November 21 - coincidentally in the 2-2 draw against City - and his inconsistent form means the Reds boss is more likely to go with a player like Fabio Aurelio who offers him more stability.

With City one point ahead with a match in hand, it is imperative Liverpool do not lose.

Krasic Ready To Make Summer Switch

CSKA Moscow's sought-after winger Milos Krasic has revealed he will decide on his future before the World Cup finals this summer.

The Serbian international has caught the eye of Europe's elite this season with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich all tracking the highly-rated 25-year-old.

Krasic's current deal in Russia expires at the end of the season and the attacking midfielder has eyes on a move to Spain after describing Real as the 'biggest club in the world'.

"For now I'm still a CSKA player and I haven't signed for anybody yet," he told Sportski Zurnal. "But I have a lot of interesting options so I will make my mind up before World Cup.

"I would like to travel to South Africa with nothing on my mind.

"Where would I move? Well based on my playing style (and) lifestyle wishes I wouldn't have any problems adapting to life in Spain.

"Real Madrid - it is by far the biggest club in the world and anybody would love to play in the white shirt.

"But also playing for AC Milan and Manchester United would be dreams come true."