Monday, April 19, 2010

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs West Ham United

Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League hang by a thread ahead of their clash with West Ham United on Monday night.

Tottenham Hotspur's big wins over Arsenal and Chelsea have seen them leapfrog Manchester City into fourth spot in the Premier League, leaving the Reds eight points behind in sixth place.

Thus, failure to beat the Hammers would all but kill the Anfield giants' push for a place in Europe's elite club competition - although they could sneak in if they triumph in the Europa League, where they will face Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals this week.

But even with that and the announcement that the club's American owners are ready to sell up, manager Rafael Benitez's focus must be fixed on a West Ham side who will be desperate to pick up any sort of result as they look to stave off relegation.

The Irons sit just one place out of the drop zone, three points above Hull City and four above Burnley (with Portsmouth already doomed to the Championship), and a surprise win on Merseyside would give them a welcome buffer heading into the last three rounds of the campaign.



Apr 11: Liverpool 0-0 Fulham (Premier League)
Apr 8: Liverpool 4-1 Benfica (Europa League)
Apr 4: Birmingham City 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Apr 1: Benfica 2-1 Liverpool (Europa League)
Mar 28: Liverpool 3-0 Sunderland (Premier League)

West Ham United

Apr 10: West Ham 1-0 Sunderland (Premier League)
Apr 4: Everton 2-2 West Ham (Premier League)
Mar 27: West Ham 0-1 Stoke City (Premier League)
Mar 23: West Ham 1-3 Wolverhampton (Premier League)
Mar 20: Arsenal 2-0 West Ham (Premier League)



Fernando Torres looks unlikely to feature at all. The Spaniard was scheduled for a trip to his homeland for examinations on his troublesome knee, but the volcanic ash fiasco has delayed that plan and boss Benitez appears unwilling to risk his star striker without specialist medical clearance.

Also missing will be Fabio Aurelio and Emiliano Insua, meaning Daniel Agger will likely line up at left-back once again - a role in which he has impressed so far.

Last starting XI (vs. Fulham): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Mascherano, Aquilani, Maxi, Gerrard, Babel, Ngog.

West Ham United

Gianfranco Zola's side will have to make do without Scott Parker, as the influential midfielder is serving a suspension.

Luis Boa Morte won't be risked as he recovers from a knee problem, while Kieron Dyer (hamstring), James Tomkins (ankle), Jack Collison and Herita Ilunga (both knee) are also out.

Last starting XI (vs. Sunderland): Green, Behrami, Upson, Da Costa, Spector, Faubert, Noble, Kovac, Stanislaus, Ilan, Cole.


Liverpool - Glen Johnson

A former Hammer, and one the Kopites will hope can batter his old club into submission. On his day the England right-back is as damaging as any out-and-out winger, and one would expect him to go forward with gusto in this sort of game.

West Ham United - Ilan

The Brazilian has proven to be something of a nuisance for opposition defenders since his January move from France. With three goals in seven games - including last week's winner against Sunderland - he is a man the Reds' reconfigured rearguard will have to keep an eye on.

Fernando Torres Could Miss The Rest Of The Premier League Season And World Cup

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is fearful that star striker Fernando Torres could miss the rest of the Premier League season, as surgery could be necessary to repair his knee injury.

The Spaniard has been unable to see his doctor in Barcelona due to the flight ban in Britain, but Liverpool’s medical staff thinks an operation on the knee might be needed.

If the Spain international does indeed go under the knife he will certainly be unable to compete in the Reds Premier League and Europa League games, and could be unavailable for his country at the World Cup this summer.

“We are not sure whether he will play again this season,” Benitez told The Mirror.

“He needs to see the specialist and he will tell us whether Fernando [Torres] needs an operation and when he will be back.”

There was some hope that Torres could be back against West Ham United on Monday night but now there are fears that the Spaniard could be out for the considerable future.

'Our Affinity With Atletico'

Sammy Lee is hoping Liverpool can show their true European pedigree when they take on Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday.

The Reds have already won the competition on three previous occasions and if they were to achieve glory in Hamburg on May 12, they would get to keep the trophy.

However, before any thoughts of that can become a reality Lee insists the team have a big job to do against a talented side who Liverpool know very well.

"It is a special occasion for this football club every time we play in a European semi-final and we do seem to have an affinity with Atletico Madrid," Lee told

"There will be two quality sides on show and a game when we need everybody to play their part.

"It will be special for Fernando to go back to Atletico but it will be special for us as well.

"We should really give great credit to Benfica because they are a very good footballing side and it took a tremendous performance from the lads to beat them.

"Our supporters always have a big part to play in what we do. I don't know what comes first, whether they get us going or we get them going, but the big thing is we are in all it together.

"You saw what happened against Benfica. We went into the second leg 2-1 down against a top quality side and it was night everybody played their part and the 12th man as always were fantastic.

"Only time will tell whether it's an advantage having the second game at Anfield, but we've got to make sure we come out on top."

Last season the two sides played out two 1-1 draws in the Champions League and Lee is under no illusions as to how tough a test Atletico will pose.

"They are a very good side and we know how difficult a tie this will be," he added.

"We had two tough games with them last season and in pre-season as well when they came to Anfield. We are well briefed. We know their strengths and weaknesses and we have a game plan. We will be ready for it."

Liverpool Plan £15m Bid For Bolton Defender Gary Cahill

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has targeted Bolton central defender Gary Cahill, according to a report in The People this morning.

Benitez’s bid for Cahill depends on whether the Spaniard stays at Anfield and if he is given funds by a new regime at Liverpool.

The Merseyside giants have informed Bolton that they are interested in signing Cahill but Liverpool will face competition from Spurs for the 24-year-old.

Cahill is contracted to Bolton until 2011/2012 but Bolton may be willing to sell him for a big fee in order for Owen Coyle to strengthen the Trotters squad in the summer.

The People speculate that Cahill has a release clause in his Bolton deal and Liverpool see him as the long term replacement for Jamie Carragher.

Feyenoord Wonderkid Georginio Wijnaldum Linked With Liverpool Despite Club Uncertainties

Despite their off-field problems, Liverpool are reportedly hot on the heels of 19-year-old starlet Georginio Wijnaldum of Feyenoord.

According to the Daily Mail, the club is being forced to alter their transfer strategy this summer in the face of mounting financial problems.

Coupled with recent news that the club is up for sale having drafted in new chairman Martin Broughton, the Reds are believed to be looking towards younger stars with smaller price tags.

Traditionally the Anfield side has targeted established players for big money, but that is all set to change this summer.

The financial worries at the club show no sign of abating and it is reported that Broughton has given the green light to a new sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered, which contains a pre-requisite that the club qualify for the Champions League in order for the full £80 million-a-year to be paid.

With such off-field financial troubles, acquiring Wijnaldum would be good business for Rafael Benitez.

The talented Rotterdam born midfielder has scored four times this season in 31 Eredivisie outings.

Juventus Ready To Take Advantage Of Liverpool Cash Crisis With Dirk Kuyt Raid

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt could be heading to Serie A, with Italian giants Juventus reportedly targeting the Netherlands international.

According to the News of the World, manager Rafael Benitez is widely tipped to move to Turin this summer and Juve are speculated to have made enquiries as to the availability of Kuyt leaving Anfield as well.

The Reds have been reported to have recorded debts of up to £237 million, an astronomical sum which could force the club's hierarchy to look into the possibility of off-loading some of its star performers.

Since joining from Feyenoord for a £10m fee in 2006, Kuyt has impressed on Merseyside scoring 15 times last season. He's maintained that form this term as well, with 13 goals to his credit.

In addition to his fire-power, Kuyt has been applauded for his work-rate and tenacious attitude, meaning Liverpool will want to recoup as much of their outlay as possible from any possible summer transfer.

Kelly Targets Glen Spot

Martin Kelly has outlined his intention to put Glen Johnson's first-team spot under pressure after revealing how he believes there is no finer English right-back to learn from.

Kelly has made three first-team appearances so far this term, including a highly-impressive performance in the Champions League against Lyon.

He admits studying Johnson in training has helped him develop - and now he wants to use that growth in order to challenge the Reds' No.2 for a spot in Rafael Benitez's starting XI over the course of the next year.

"As a young player, there isn't a right-back better in the country than Glen Johnson to be learning from," Kelly told LFC Weekly. "His ability defending and going forward is excellent.

"Since his arrival at the club, I've learnt so much from him. He's a really bubbly lad too and helps me all the time. All the players really like him because he's an approachable person.

"It's going to be a big task to replace him in the team but I've got to try. Over the next 12 months I want to put him under as much pressure as possible and take my chances when they come along."

No Extra Pressure For Rafa

Rafa Benitez has insisted there is no additional pressure to do well after it emerged this week that Liverpool are looking for a new buyer.

The Reds have made it through to the semi-finals of the Europa League and are also battling for fourth place in the Premier League.

Benitez is determined to win every remaining game of the campaign to lift a continental trophy and hopefully secure UEFA Champions League qualification.

But he is unfazed by the announcement on Friday that co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have put the club up for sale.

"Everyone knows Liverpool are a top side and one bad season is not going to be changed by winning one or two games at the end," said Benitez.

"Clearly the Europa League will bring some silverware but in terms of the value of the club it is massive so we don't need to think about one or two games.

"Always in football things can change in one week but we have to win our games.

"For us it is not difficult to concentrate on our job, it is just to win four games, get 12 points and see what happens.

"I think we deserved to win against Fulham but we couldn't so we have to make sure we do it against West Ham and in the other games."

Liverpool take on the Hammers at Anfield on Monday, still eight points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham with time fast running out.

There are just four games left in the Premier League but Benitez will not give up on his Champions League dream until it is mathematically impossible.

He has promised to focus solely on the clash with Gianfranco Zola's struggling West Ham before looking ahead to the Europa League semi-final three days later.

"As a manager you have to train and prepare the players properly and that is my job now," he said.

"For me it is very clear and very simple: first West Ham and then Atletico Madrid.

"A top side like Liverpool is always thinking about winning trophies. It is not the best season but hopefully we can improve until the end."

Tom Hicks Wants £800 Million For Liverpool

Tom Hicks has revealed that he hopes Liverpool will be sold for as much as £800 million, earning him and co-owner George Gillett up to four times their outlay and making the club his “most profitable investment”.

Hicks and Gillett, who bought Liverpool for £219 million in 2007, officially announced their intention to sell the club on Friday, appointing the British Airways chairman, Martin Broughton, to the same position at Anfield to oversee the process.

Liverpool have been granted a six-month extension to refinance their £237 million debt by the Royal Bank of Scotland so potential owners can be identified, but Hicks’s insistence that the club can still attract a premium price is likely to rule out any hope of a swift end to the Americans’ unpopular regime.

“Liverpool will be the most profitable investment I have ever made,” Hicks said, claiming that there was a strong business rationale to buy the club. “I should make four times my money. Liverpool has been the most rewarding in so many ways and the most painful in so many ways. When you feel fans turn against you, it is very frustrating.

“The fans blame the owners [for failures on the pitch], but the reality is that we have had injuries to our key players and we just were not a very good team without them.”

Precedent and mathematics suggest Hicks may struggle to find a buyer to meet his expectations. Though Friday’s announcement represents the first time Liverpool have formally been put up for sale since the Americans’ 2007 takeover, talks have been held over a complete takeover on two previous occasions - with Dubai Investment Capital and the Kuwaiti Al-Kharafi family.

On both occasions, the asking price, believed to be in the region of £500 million, proved prohibitive.

Their reasoning for increasing that valuation again as they make their first concerted, unified attempt to offload Liverpool was made plain in the statement which announced their departure. Under their tenure, revenues have increased by 55 per cent, commercial income by 83 per cent and operating profit by 60 per cent.

Yet according to the precedent set by their own takeover, the estimated value of the club is its revenue multiplied by a factor of 1.8. According to figures released by Deloitte and Liverpool’s last posted revenues, their own method would value the club at about £295 million.

Though sources at the club this week intimated there was no set asking price – insisting value would be determined by the rules of the open market – and Broughton was adamant he had been engaged to find a buyer at a “reasonable” price, Hicks’s statement suggested that his and the new chairman’s definitions of “reasonable” may vary wildly.

Selling Liverpool at a price deemed suitable by its owners is likely to be further complicated by the team’s failure to fulfill manager Rafael Benítez’s “guarantee” of a Champions League slot for next season.

Although Broughton believes no buyer would be able “to take advantage in a financial sense” of the decrease in revenue, sources at the club have indicated that short-term success on the pitch would be taken into consideration.

The club’s supporters’ union, Spirit of Shankly, last night suggested Hicks’s statement proved he was “not living in the real world”. A spokesman added: “To suggest he and George Gillett have quadrupled the value of the club in the last three years is simply not realistic. No potential investor will pay that much because the club is not worth that much.”