Sunday, April 25, 2010

Premier League Preview: Burnley vs. Liverpool

Burnley play host to Liverpool this weekend in the knowledge that defeat could see them officially dumped from the Premier League.

After a promising start to their first top-flight campaign in over three decades, the Clarets now sit second from bottom with three games remaining - one point behind Hull City, who could move further clear with a result at home to Sunderland.

However, the crucial clash for Brian Laws and his charges is West Ham United's Saturday match with Wigan Athletic at Upton Park. A win for the Hammers would confirm Burnley's immediate return to the Championship.

There is a real chance the Lancashire outfit will be playing for pride alone when Rafael Benitez's road-weary Reds come to town on Sunday afternoon.

The trip to Turf Moor will seem like a skip to the shops for Liverpool after their 1,200 mile overland trek for their Europa League clash with Atletico Madrid in midweek, which the visitors lost 1-0.

Nevertheless, all the talk from Anfield has stressed that there can be no excuses for a sluggish performance this weekend, as they look to keep alive their slim chances of finishing in the top four.

The Merseyside giants - runners-up in the league last season - are hanging back in seventh place, five points behind a Tottenham Hotspur side who have a game in hand and Champions League football within their grasp.

Three points is an absolute must for 'Pool, although their recent record away from home - four goals in ten league games - doesn't bode well. The fact that they have won at Burnley just once in their last nine attempts in all competitions is another worrying statistic they will want to alter.



Apr 22: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (Europa League)
Apr 19: Liverpool 3-0 West Ham United (Premier League)
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 17: Sunderland 2-1 Burnley (Premier League)
Apr 10: Hull City 1-4 Burnley (Premier League)
Apr 3: Burnley 1-6 Manchester City (Premier League)
Mar 28: Burnley 0-1 Blackburn Rovers (Premier League)
Mar 20: Wigan Athletic 1-0 Burnley (Premier League)



Clarke Carlisle is the major concern for the hosts. The defender twisted his ankle in training during the week and looks all but certain to sit out this weekend.

David Nugent is also a doubt after missing training on Friday, but the striker should return on Saturday and is expected to make the matchday squad.

Last starting XI (vs. Sunderland): Jensen; Mears, Duff, Cort, Fox; Eagles, Alexander, Cork, Elliot, Paterson; Fletcher.


Will the striking dilemmas never cease for Rafa? With Fernando Torres out for the season after knee surgery, fill-in forward David Ngog - who scored against West Ham - is now struggling with a back problem and could be shelved pending fitness tests on Saturday.

Defenders Emiliano Insua, Fabio Aurelio, Martin Skrtel and Martin Kelly are all out injured, but midfielder Maxi Rodriguez is available after being ineligible for Europa League duty.

Last starting XI (vs. Atletico Madrid): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger; Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun; Ngog.


Burnley - Jack Cork

On loan from Chelsea, the young utility player has offered some real quality and sharpness in an otherwise messy Clarets side. Classy both on and off the ball, he could well be the first true success story to come from the Blues academy during Roman Abramovich's era.

Liverpool - Ryan Babel

With Ngog a doubt, boss Benitez could look to his Dutch enigma for the goals on Sunday. The former Ajax star has improved rapidly since the turn of the year and will hope to start after a typically bright showing off the bench in midweek.

Rafa Benitez Hasn't Given Up On Fourth Place

Liverpool have not given up on fourth place in the Premier League claims manager Rafael Benitez.

Benitez’s side head to struggling Burnley on Sunday praying that their faint hopes of finishing fourth are still alive.

Liverpool's last two trips this season are to Turf Moor and Hull on the final day but even victories there and also at home to Chelsea are probably not going to be enough to get them into the Champions League next season.

Liverpool returned from Madrid with another injury worry after striker David Ngog had to come off with a back problem in the second half against Atletico.

With star striker Fernando Torres out for the remainder of the campaign after a second knee operation and four defenders currently sidelined it leaves the squad looking a bit thin.

Benitez will assess what effect the trip and match in Madrid had on his players before deciding who is ready to face a tricky test at Burnley.

One player certain to return is midfielder Maxi Rodriguez, who will be fresh after remaining on Merseyside because he was ineligible for Europe.

"We have to consider a lot of things. We have to train and see how they feel and after this we will analyse carefully but we cannot make decisions now," said the Reds boss.

"We had five players injured against Atletico so it is not easy to change them because we don't have too many fresh legs but we will try to manage with the fixtures.

"The medical staff are doing a good job and I think it will be okay."

Rafa Relishing Maxi Return

Rafael Benitez admits he will welcome Maxi Rodriguez back into the fold with open arms when Liverpool take on Burnley at Turf Moor on Sunday.

The Argentinean utility man was ineligible for Thursday's Europa League meeting with his former club Atletico Madrid, but will return to the squad for the trip to Lancashire.

And Benitez believes Maxi has established himself as a key member of the Reds' side since his January transfer from La Liga.

"Maxi has become a very important player for us," said the boss. "He can keep the ball, he can pass it and his energy is good.

"He is always working very hard and it was a pity that we could not have him with us against Atletico; hopefully we will play well with him in the league.

"He is different to a lot of players that we have. His understanding is very good and we have been really pleased with what he has done for us."

Meanwhile, Benitez is calling on his troops to take maximum points from their remaining three league fixtures and ensure they are in a position to capitalise should Champions League chasers Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City slip up.

The Spaniard knows Burnley's fight for survival means they will pose a dangerous threat to his team - as the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal already have found out at Turf Moor this season.

However, he is keen for his men to ensure they head into Thursday's Europa League semi-final, second leg clash with Atletico in positive mood.

"It will be really important for us and the fans will be behind us, hoping that we can do what we have done in the past," added Benitez. "But they (Atletico) are a dangerous team, with pace and ability, so we will see. First we have to play against Burnley.

"I am trying to be positive that there won't be an effect. We came back by plane and the players have had some time to rest and hopefully we will win our game.

"Could it be different by the end of the weekend? We'll see. We've expected the others to drop points before but it hasn't happened. We just have to concentrate on our game."

Rafa Admits Away Troubles

Rafa Benitez has accepted Liverpool's away form has been their Achilles heel this season.

Their woeful domestic record away from Anfield this term has largely contributed to that situation as they have won just four and lost eight of their 17 matches on the road.

Benitez accepts their away form has been the major stumbling block to success this season and with a crucial Europa League semi-final second leg coming up on Thursday there is a danger his players will be too focused on that.

"We know our record away this year is not the best so we cannot go there thinking the job is done, we have to do it," said the Spaniard, whose side host Chelsea next weekend before travelling to Hull on the final day.

"Always you have an opportunity to change this record and it is positive that we were able to return home (from Madrid) by plane because we were originally thinking about arriving late on Saturday evening.

"We will have some time when we can rest and be ready. We know it will be a massive game and we will try to do our best.

"Never is it easy to play away, especially against a team which is fighting relegation.

"We have confidence and hopefully we can play well, score goals and have more confidence for the second leg against Atletico.

"We have got to go there and claim three points."

Benitez has refused to give up on fourth place despite the odds lengthening and fixtures shortening by the week.

The Liverpool manager is still holding out hope Spurs, City and now Aston Villa, who moved ahead of them into sixth with a midweek win over Hull, will slip up.

"Fourth place will be difficult and we know we are in a bad position but we still have to do our job," he continued.

"In the league we have to do the same and try to win and see what happens with the other teams.

"It could be a good game to play in between our Europa League."

Reds Eyes Swedish Starlet

Liverpool are lining up a move for talented Swedish teenager Kristoffer Peterson.

The 15-year-old, who currently plies his trade with Swedish minnows Savedalens IF, enjoyed a trial on Merseyside earlier this month.

Peterson impressed Liverpool's coaching team during his time training at the club and they are now ready to push through a move for the youngster.

The teenager is excited at the prospect of making the move to the English titans.

"I am no longer just toying with the dream. It feels like the club really wants to give me a chance," Peterson told Expressen.

The player's advisor, Robert Bengtsson Barkroth, confirmed Liverpool are planning to offer Peterson a deal at Anfield.

"We understand that Liverpool are willing to offer an education package, that will include school and studies," said Bengtsson Barkroth.

Liverpool Tempted By Move For Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart

Liverpool are considering a summer move for Rafael van der Vaart, having been offered the chance to sign the Holland international by Real Madrid.

Club officials met in the Spanish capital before Liverpool's Europa League semi‑final against Atlético Madrid on Thursday, with Real taking the opportunity to try to offload several players deemed surplus to requirements by the club president, Florentino Perez. Liverpool were interested in Van der Vaart, who was offered despite forcing his way into Manuel Pellegrini's plans this season, in a deal that would see Real recoup much of the €13m they paid Hamburg in 2008.

Whether Rafael Benítez envisages a role for the 27-year-old midfielder in his plans is not clear and doubts over the manager's long-term future at Anfield, plus the transfer funds available, mean there are several issues for the club to address before pursuing a deal for the former Ajax favourite. Liverpool's interest, however, has been registered.

Benítez, meanwhile, has stated his displeasure at Roberto Mancini's pronouncement that Manchester City are hoping to join Europe's leading clubs in pursuit of Fernando Torres this summer. The Liverpool manager accepts there will be interest in the Spanish striker at the end of this season, as was the case last summer, but is unhappy at Mancini's decision to go public with City's ambitions.

"There are some things in football that you cannot change," said Benítez. "I wasn't happy about this situation [Mancini's comments] but, when you talk to Fernando, it is clear he is happy at Liverpool, so hopefully everything will be OK. It does happen in football at times but I'd prefer to focus on my team because we have some important games to play. I try not to talk of players at other clubs because I want to focus on the games we have coming up."

Liverpool were spared an arduous journey back from Madrid, flying home straight after the game, and Benítez admitted his concerns lie with improving a miserable away record at Burnley on Sunday. The 1-0 defeat by Atlético on Thursday meant Liverpool have won only seven of 27 away games in all competitions this season. Benítez said: "That record suggests we have not been good enough away from home and that we have to improve, it's true. In Madrid it was a pity because we couldn't get the away goal but we have to be more solid and stronger. That's mentally and physically – everything."

Benítez has still not spoken to the new Liverpool chairman, Martin Broughton, one week after the British Airways chairman was officially appointed to the role at Anfield with a brief to sell the club on behalf of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Rafael Benitez Will Abandon Liverpool Should The Club Sell Fernando Torres And Steven Gerrard

Rafael Benitez will leave his post at Liverpool at the season’s end should the club decide to sell its two most influential stars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

According to the Daily Star the former Valencia boss is believed to be seeking assurances from newly-appointed chairman Martin Broughton that his most valuable assets will remain at Anfield for the start of the 2010-11 season.

Torres is a prime target for mega-rich Manchester City, who recently declared their interest in the free-scoring Spainish striker on public record, much to Benitez’ dismay.

While Inter boss Jose Mourinho is thought to be monitoring Gerrard’s situation on Merseyside, with speculation rife of the skipper losing patience at the club’s failing fortunes and underperforming ways.

Benitez himself has been linked with an Anfield departure, with Italian giants Juventus reportedly keen on acquiring the tactician as it looks to revamp its squad and regain its status among Europe’s most feared.

With the need to alleviate its debt, such sales could be forced upon as the financially embattled club looks to rebuild itself for the long-term.

Despite such speculation, Torres, Gerrard and Benitez have each issued their loyalty pleas towards the club amid the lingering doubt over their futures.

Lee: Goals Key To Final Dream

Sammy Lee believes Liverpool will have to hit the goal trail if they are to see off Atletico Madrid's Europa League challenge.

Diego Forlan's solitary strike has given Los Rojiblancos a 1-0 advantage heading into next Thursday's second-leg and the assistant manager reckons the Reds will need to show a marked improvement in the attacking third if they are to book a final berth.

"It's only 1-0 and that effectively means we are still in it," he told

"Pepe did make a crucial save but that just highlights the importance of him to this football club.

"We are confident. We know it is going to be difficult. We do feel that they are better on the counter attack so that will make it tough, but with our crowd behind us we can score goals.

"We know we will have to score goals. I don't mean just the one either, we'll need goals."

Before the Reds can focus their full attention on Atletico, they face a must-win trip to Burnley on Sunday.

Lee acknowledges that the Clarets are scrapping for survival but insists the Reds' bid for a top four place will ensure they are more than up for the test.

"At the end of the day we are still fighting for what we want," he said. "We've said on many occasions that each game presents its own degree of difficulty and none more so than Burnley.

"It's a very difficult place to go. The pitch won't be great but we'll have to adapt to it."

He added: "We know they have Fletcher who has scored some goals for them this season, but they also have Nugent and we know he can be a threat for us. At the end of the day it's about how we approach the game and we have to make sure we do everything right from our end."

With both Manchester City and Tottenham facing tough fixtures at Arsenal and Manchester United respectively, the game at Turf Moor could potentially offer Rafael Benitez's men a chance to close the gap on fourth spot.

Lee admits Liverpool are relying heavily on others to drop points but is determined to finish the campaign with a flourish.

"We'll try and win the next three and see where we are," he said. "It's important we do our job. What other teams do is out of our hands. We know what we have to do - we just have to make sure we do it."

Lee also revealed that the Reds will continue to assess David Ngog's back injury before deciding whether he can face Burnley.

"He has got a bit of problem," he said. "We will wait to see how he reacts to it in the next 24 hours.

"We only got back to Melwood at 4am on Friday morning and then we had them in training later on. Some of them are in recovery mode, so we'll just have to wait and see. It's too early to assess things but we'll see how it goes over the next 24 hours."

Ngoo Strikes As U18s Sink Boro'

Liverpool under-18s continued their superb run-in to the season courtesy of an emphatic 3-0 victory at home to Middlesbrough on Saturday afternoon.

Rodolfo Borrell's side produced a dominant display against the North-East outfit and deservedly took the spoils courtesy of goals from Michael Ngoo, Tom Ince and Krisztian Adorjan.

It means the Reds have now stretched their unbeaten run to eight matches and will head into next Thursday's clash at home to Leeds United in buoyant mood.

On a sun-drenched afternoon in Kirkby, the hosts made a fast start to the proceedings and could have been ahead inside three minutes.

A flowing move saw Toni Brito E Silva cut in from the right flank and run menacingly at the visitors' rearguard. The ball was then worked to Adorjan who brought a magnificent full stretch save out of Adam Smith with a blockbusting 18 yard effort.

The hosts continued to boss possession but did not create another opportunity of real note until the 16th minute when Ngoo flashed a shot into the side netting after he was played in on the far right of the penalty area.

Middlesbrough responded and almost snatched a shock lead when Kieran Edwards stabbed just past Chris Oldfield's right-hand post after a corner had made its way right across the Reds' six yard box.

It proved to be a costly miss though, as Liverpool surged forward and grabbed the opener less than 60 seconds later.

Ince glided in from the left and played a pass into Craig Roddan. The midfielder then flicked a ball towards Adorjan who lost his footing, allowing Ngoo to seize possession and thrash a stunning shot into the top left-hand corner form the edge of the box.
It was no more than the home team deserved and they almost doubled their advantage a minute later but Ince dragged wide when well placed just outside the area.

On the stroke of half-time it looked inevitable that Ngoo would snare his second of the game, but the slightest of touches from a Middlebrough head denied him a free strike on goal after Adorjan and Ince had carved the Boro' defence open down the right.

It was the same story after the interval with Liverpool once again asking the majority of the questions.

Silva's now trademark mazy run from the right ended with a 25 yard drive that was brilliantly tipped past the post by Smith, while only Ngoo will know how he headed the resulting corner over the top after he was left unmarked in the six yard box.

A second goal was very much on the cards and just past the hour mark they got it when Ince was on hand to fire home from the left side of the box.

With the points all-but guaranteed the Reds began to express themselves more freely and they made it three with 15 minutes to go when substitute Raheem Sterling crossed for Adorjan to convert.

Middlesbrough's misery was compounded in injury-time when Philip Shead was shown a a straight red for stamping on Ince.