Monday, March 15, 2010

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Portsmouth

Two crisis clubs will go head to head as out-of-sorts Liverpool play host to last-placed Portsmouth in Monday night's Premier League action.

It's panic stations at Anfield after consecutive defeats at Wigan Athletic and Lille, with rumours surfacing that Rafael Benitez's reign may be nearing an end one way or another.

The weekend's results have left the Reds four points adrift of the Champions League places, with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City threatening to make it a two-way tussle for fourth.

The thought of finishing outside the top four or even missing out on European football altogether has Kopites worldwide in a state of distress, yet their woes cannot be compared to those of Portsmouth fans.

It was just two years ago that the humble Hampshire club lifted the FA Cup and although they have made it to the semi-finals this time around, they find themselves fighting for survival both on and off the pitch.

Debt-ridden Pompey went into administration last month and so could be hit with a nine-point deduction, which would all but ensure their relegation - they currently sit dead last with 19 points.

But Liverpool know all too well the danger that this band of desperate men possesses, as they succumbed 2-0 at Fratton Park earlier in the season.

Jamie Carragher summed it up when he said recently: "With administration it will probably bring them closer together and make them stronger. They've got nothing to lose."



Mar 11: Lille 1-0 Liverpool (Europa League)
Mar 8: Wigan Athletic 1-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Feb 28: Liverpool 2-1 Blackburn Rovers (Premier League)
Feb 25: Unirea Urziceni 1-3 Liverpool (Europa League)
Feb 21: Manchester City 0-0 Liverpool (Premier League)


Mar 9: Portsmouth 1-2 Birmingham City (Premier League)
Mar 6: Portsmouth 2-0 Birmingham City (FA Cup)
Feb 27: Burnley 1-2 Portsmouth (Premier League)
Feb 20: Portsmouth 1-2 Stoke City (Premier League)
Feb 13: Southampton 1-4 Portsmouth (FA Cup)



The return of Daniel Agger at the back means Benitez has something like his preferred lineup available to him for the first time in months, although there is a question mark over Yossi Benayoun after his absence at Lille.

Slovakian centre-half Martin Skrtel and Brazilian left-back Fabio Aurelio are both out of action.

Last starting XI (vs. Lille): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel, Torres.


Aaron Mokoena made the bench against Birmingham and could feature this time out as he shakes off a knee problem, while Tommy Smith (groin) and Anthony Vanden Borre (hamstring) are also pushing for a spot in the matchday squad.

Kevin-Prince Boateng is expected to remain sidelined with an ankle injury, alongside John Utaka (groin) and Hassan Yebda (knee).

Last starting XI (vs. Birmingham City): James, Finnan, Ben Haim, Hreidarrson, Belhadj, O'Hara, Brown, Wilson, Webber, Dindane, Piquionne.


Liverpool - Fernando Torres

The Spanish superstar is used to being the apple of every fan's eye, but he copped criticism from all quarters after his sulky showing in France on Thursday. A goal or two here would repair any damage quite nicely.

Portsmouth - Nadir Belhadj

Say what you will about his defensive game, but the Algerian wing-back's sense of adventure is vital to the way Pompey attack. With Glen Johnson bombing down from the other end, the visitors' left flank could see a lot of traffic.

Agger: We'll Keep Believing

Daniel Agger insists points rather than performance will be all that matters when Portsmouth visit Anfield on Monday evening.

Liverpool kick off a crucial week by taking on Barclays Premier League bottom club Pompey before the return leg of the Europa League last 16 tie with Lille, with the Reds needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit.

Rafael Benitez's side then travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Sunday - but Agger has warned Liverpool must simply focus on one game at a time.

"Against Portsmouth on Monday night the performance doesn't matter as much as getting the three points," said the centre-back. "We need to get some victories quickly and move on to get ourselves up the table.

"Every week we say this is a big week. Last week people said it was a defining week as well.

''We need to focus on the next game first, not the games after that. It's as straightforward as that."

Liverpool lost ground in the race for a top four finish after slipping to a 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic last Monday.

While Agger accepts the Reds have underachieved this campaign, he is adamant no-one at Melwood is ready to give up the fight for Champions League football.

"We can't slip up any more because it's getting to the end of the season and we know we need more points," he said.

"I can't imagine not being in the Champions League. That's the tournament we all want to be in. But it's our own fault where we are now and we have to get out of it.

"The fans have a right to expect Liverpool to be in the top four. A big club like Liverpool should be in there every year, but as we know football doesn't always work like that.

"The pressure of that shouldn't come into it. When you come to a club like this there will always be pressure to be successful.

"Maybe we'll have to start to imagine not being in the top four. But for as long as we have a chance we have to keep believing.

"If you play at a football club like Liverpool you always need to take responsibility, no matter who you are. You do that on and off the pitch, but you must definitely do it in the games."

Regardless of the outcome of 2009-10, Agger sees his long-term future at Anfield and admits he has a burning desire to clinch his first trophy as a Liverpool player.

He added: "I wouldn't walk away. I'd fight to put it right next year because I'm not a quitter.

"I've been close to winning trophies, but I still don't have any. That's a big disappointment because that's the reason I came to Liverpool."

Jamie Carragher Warns Liverpool That Portsmouth Have ‘Nothing To Lose’ At Anfield

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has warned his colleagues not to underestimate Portsmouth when the Premier League’s bottom side visit Anfield on Monday night.

While it's been a season of turmoil for the south coast side, Avram Grant’s men have lost just twice in their last six games. And having beaten the Reds once already this season, they'll fancy their chances of completing a double over the underperforming Reds.

Having lost their last two outings, to Wigan Athletic and Lille in the Europa League, Liverpool will be keen to return to winning ways yet Carragher admits it will be a stern test.

“Portsmouth being down there is a strange one because no-one was battering them at the start of the season,” the defender told LFC Weekly.

"They were always creating chances and Fratton Park is a difficult place to go.

"They've got loads of players but you don't really know who they are or who's who. It's hard to work out who will be playing, or who you're going to be up against.”

Indeed the 32-year-old also admitted the current problems at the club could help create a strong bond between the players and make them even more of a threat.

"With administration it will probably bring them closer together and make them stronger,” he added.

“They've got nothing to lose."

Real Deal For Steven Gerrard

Real Madrid’s latest Champions League flop will spark a £30million summer move for Liverpool’s superstar skipper Steven Gerrard.

Spanish sources say Real, who crashed out of the European Cup against Lyon last Wednesday, believe Gerrard, 29, is ready to quit Anfield after another frustrating season.

Real want to link the England midfielder with former Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo.

But even a hint that Gerrard could be prised away from Anfield would see the big-spending Spanish giants face fierce competition from the Premier League’s richest club – Manchester City.

It’s thought, however, that if Gerrard left Liverpool he would prefer to move abroad rather than sign for another English club.

Liverpool would publicly resist any attempt to sign their talisman, knowing his transfer would provoke fury on the Kop.

And Gerrard signed a new deal last summer which runs until 2013.

But Real have a record of landing their top targets – as they proved with their world-record £80m signing of Ronaldo.

They spent a staggering £200m last summer but even that hasn’t brought them the trophy they covet most – the European Cup.

Now, they are hoping Gerrard can help them be more successful on all fronts. And, in another twist, Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is once again being linked with the Bernabeu hot-seat.

Villarreal Want Liverpool Winger Albert Riera To Replace Robert Pires

Spanish side Villarreal are reportedly targeting Liverpool winger Albert Riera as an ideal replacement for Robert Pires in the summer.

According to the Sunday Mirror, the La Liga side are contemplating a £6 million swoop for the Reds’ out-of-favour wide man, who has made just nine Premier League starts for the Anfield outfit this season.

Injuries and a lack of form have pushed the 27-year-old towards the fringes of Rafael Benitez's under-performing Merseysiders, while the arrival of Maxi Rodriguez in January has also seen his first-team opportunities limited further, with Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun often inheriting the left-flank spot as a result.

However, he could be set for a return to his homeland with the report quoting a Villarreal source as saying: "If a deal for [Albert] Riera is feasible, we will have to explore our options."

Meanwhile, Pires’ current one-year deal at El Madrigal expires at the end of the season and he is widely tipped to leave the club, which could pave the way for a move for Riera.

Yet the Yellow Submarines could face competition for Riera’s signature with the report concluding that Sevilla are also interested in bringing the winger back to Spain.

Liverpool Targeting Manchester City Midfielder Stephen Ireland

Liverpool are planning a summer splurge to bring Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland to Anfield, according to The Mirror.

The 23-year-old Irishman was a revelation last season, earning several plaudits for his stellar performances.

However, this term has brought about a rocky period in his career, as he has been unable to hold down a spot in the starting line-up under new boss Roberto Mancini.

Manchester United were reportedly in pursuit of the goal scoring midfielder, but City's reluctance to consider any offer from their cross-town rivals is believed to have brought Liverpool into the fray.

It is speculated that manager Rafael Benitez has considered putting forward an initial offer of £8 million for the player's services, who has yet to win the favour of his Eastlands gaffer.

Yet the potential deal would largely depend on whether or not the Spaniard stays at Merseyside next season, as his successor may not see the probable acquisition in a similar light.

Rafael Benitez Coy Over Staying At Liverpool Next Season

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has remained coy over whether he will remain at the helm of the Merseyside club next season.

The Spaniard has had to endure some rough weather this term, with early exits in the Champions League and both domestic cup competitions having had an adverse effect on the club.

And with his charges' top four credentials having been fiercely challenged, there has been heavy speculation surrounding the gaffer's future.

Liverpool also recently lost 1-0 to Lille in France in the Europa League, and must overturn the result in the return leg at Anfield to ensure progression into the next round.

When quizzed as to whether his side would finish in the top four and secure Champions League football next season, Rafa told the News of the World: "I think I will have to guarantee now that we will work as hard as we did against Lille."

When pressed as to whether he would remain as the Reds' manager next term, he said: "I am sure that we will try to win against Portsmouth and after against Lille."

Benitez has been linked with taking a managerial position at Juventus, and more recently with Real Madrid following the Spanish capital club's exit in the Champions League.

Rhone Group Lodge Takeover Bid Of Liverpool

Liverpool have been subject to a takeover bid from the Rhone Group to dilute Tom Hicks and George Gillett's ownership at Anfield, according to the News of the World.

The New York-based private equity firm has reportedly set the ball rolling by lodging a £100 million bid in exchange for a 40 per cent stake in the club steeped in history.

This would see the controlling share pass on to billionaire financiers Robert Agostinelli and Steven Langman, as current owners Hicks and Gillett would be left with 30 per cent each.

It is believed that should the proposed deal reach fruition, the debt with the Royal Bank of Scotland would be repaid, and work would begin on the Reds' new stadium which is estimated to be worth about £350 million at Stanley Park.

Also, it is claimed that there will also be a substantial investment made in the transfer market during the summer, following the club's indifferent fortunes this term.

However, manager Rafael Benitez may not be the man to dabble in the funds, as he is reportedly pondering over quitting his job with one eye cast on Real Madrid after the Spanish capital club was ousted in the Champions League.