Sunday, May 09, 2010

Match Preview: Hull City vs. Liverpool

Hull are likely to be without Jimmy Bullard and Caleb Folan for Sunday's final Premier League game against Liverpool at the KC Stadium.

Bullard missed last week's 2-2 draw against Wigan, which confirmed their relegation, with an ankle problem and has not yet returned to training while Folan has a knee injury.

Rookies Will Atkinson and Mark Cullen are likely to keep their places after netting at the DW Stadium, with Kamil Zayatte, Ian Ashbee, Richard Garcia (all knee) and Stephen Hunt (foot) all long-term casualties.

Boss Iain Dowie believes the performances of the youngsters should give fans some much-needed hope for the future.

"The young boys have come in and shown what they're about,'' he said.

"Probably Will Atkinson was the one that raised eyebrows but he was picked on merit. What he gives you is a youthful enthusiasm and he seems to arrive where the ball is, which is a great habit to have.

"He's got goals (on loan) at Rochdale and we were seriously lacking in goals. Mark Cullen's got goals at youth-team level. They've continued that last week and it almost brought us a very big result.

"It didn't quite happen but this is something we want to build on. There were some positive moments for the future of the club.''

Liverpool midfielder Maxi Rodriguez is unlikely to recover from a thigh problem in time.

The Argentina international came off in last week's 2-0 defeat to Chelsea and is a major doubt, as is right-back Glen Johnson who missed that game with a calf injury.

Central defender Jamie Carragher is hopeful of recovering from a twisted ankle to face the Tigers to play in his 435th league match, surpassing the record of former captain Alan Hansen, and his 629th Liverpool game overall.

Lucas - Reds Still Attractive

Lucas Leiva does not believe the calibre of player Liverpool can sign next season will be hindered by failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

The Reds' hopes of a top-four finish were extinguished last weekend as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on home soil and the Merseysiders head north to relegated Hull City on the final day of the season in seventh position, two points off sixth-placed Aston Villa.

With a Europa League berth offering significantly lower income than the Champions League money boss Rafael Benitez normally commands, plus owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks' decision to put the club up for sale, the Spanish tactician - should he remain at the helm - looks likely to have a tiny transfer kitty to do business with.

But Lucas, one of Liverpool's better performers this season, insists the club can still lure the top names to Anfield through reputation should they be able to afford new targets.

"Liverpool is still a big, big club. When you have played in the Champions League, everyone wants to play in this kind of competition," said the Brazilian midfielder on the club's official website.

"But even if we can't offer the Champions League, I'm sure the big names will still see Liverpool as a good option. Hopefully we will get some players to help us."

Liverpool's loss to Chelsea was their 11th in the Premier League this season, almost double the number they lost in the past two seasons combined.

Their bid for Europa League glory, having failed to make it past the group stage of the Champions League, was also ended at the semi-final stage by Atletico Madrid, and Lucas admits the team has to do better next term.

"Everything we did last week against Chelsea wasn't good enough and it has been this way all season," he said.

"Sometimes we have conceded late goals, other times we have been unlucky. But the main thing is that we haven't done enough. That is absolutely clear. Now we have to wait and see what will happen.

"But if some players come here and they can help us, maybe we can improve next season. Rafa will know what we need. I will continue to do my job."

Jamie Carragher To Aid England And Fabio Capello’s Defensive Crisis And Come Out Of International Retirement

Jamie Carragher is set to come-out of international retirement after England head coach Fabio Capello targeted the Liverpool defender to solve his defensive headache, reports the Daily Mail.

The Anfield hero infamously hung-up his Three Lions boots in 2007, after being continuously played out-of-position at full-back, particularly by former coach Steve McClaren, in opposed to his preferred centre back role.

Nonetheless, the Liverpool man could be set to return to the England squad in time for the World Cup finals in South Africa with Capello fretting over the fitness of his defensive charges.

England captain Rio Ferdinand has been struggling with a back injury for the vast majority of the season, while Capello reportedly favoured replacement, Ledley King, suffers from a chronic knee problem that can flare-up and restrict the Tottenham man from competing in back-to-back fixtures.

Carragher certainly would tick the right boxes. His experience and versatility would be extremely useful for Capello, particularly with other players of suitable adaptability currently sidelined – Manchester City duo Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott.

Danny Wilson To Complete Liverpool Transfer

Defender Danny Wilson is expected to agree a move from Rangers to Liverpool in the next seven days.

The 18-year-old has just over a year left on his contract and had turned down the new deal on offer to him.

Liverpool had a previous bid turned down but have returned with an improved offer in the region of £2m plus add-ons that Rangers have deemed acceptable.

The Ibrox club stood to lose the player for around £500,000 in compensation had he not been sold this summer.

Wilson, who made his debut in October, was recently voted PFA Scotland young player of the year, having made over 20 appearances - two in the Champions League - and scored once this season.

Injury ended his campaign prematurely, but he will leave Ibrox with winners' medals from Rangers' Scottish Premier League and Co-operative Insurance Cup triumphs.

Carragher's Starlet Prediction

Jamie Carragher predicts Daniel Ayala will continue to 'climb up the ladder' after being impressed by the development of the rising star this season.

The Spaniard has made five first-team appearances so far this term and has also been a commanding presence in John McMahon's Reserves.

Carragher believes Ayala has a bright future ahead of him and backed the 19-year-old to progress even further.

"I don't think there's one particular area of his game that has improved, it just seems a natural steady progression," he told LFC Weekly.

"Daniel came over here as a 15 or 16 year old. He's 19 now and you can see how he has grown in confidence with the experience.

"He became a big part of the reserve team, then stepped up with the first team in training and now he's getting a game so he's climbing up the ladder all the time.

"Now he's got the first few games out of the way, he'll have got those initial nerves out of the way so hopefully his game will improve again."

Rafael Benitez drafted Ayala into Liverpool's defence for the recent 4-0 win over Burnley - and he did not disappoint as the centre-back turned in an accomplished performance at Turf Moor.

It was the teenager's second start for the Reds and his display caught the eye of defensive colleague Carragher.

"He's only played two games but we've had two clean sheets," said Carra. "It was a lot more difficult at Burnley because we were under pressure in the first half but for a young lad to come in, in what was again a makeshift defence in only his second senior start, he did very, very well. Although the result makes it look easy, it certainly wasn't."

Ince At The Double For Reds

Liverpool U18s wrapped up their Barclays Premier Academy League season with a comprehensive 4-0 victory at Huddersfield on Saturday afternoon.

Rodolfo Borrell's men turned in a sensational performance on a difficult surface to extend their unbeaten run to 10 matches.

Michael Ngoo opened the scoring for the Reds before captain Conor Coady added a second, just days after making his Reserves debut.

Tom Ince sealed the three points with a well-taken brace to ensure the Liverpool youngsters ended the season in style.

Liverpool U18s: Oldfield, Poor (Ihiekwe), Wisdom, Sama, McGiveron, Roddan, Coady, Sterling, Ince, Adjoran (Roberts), Ngoo (Emilsson). Subs: Chamberlain, Silva.

Anfield Sale Put On Hold

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton has dismissed suggestions Fernando Torres or Steven Gerrard will have to be sold to ease the club’s mounting debt.

Financial reports released for the first time show the club itself made an operating loss before tax of £16m in the year ending July 31, 2009, down from a £10.2m profit in the previous 12 months.

Kop Holdings, the company set up by co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to buy Liverpool in 2007, made a loss before tax of £54.9m.

That plunged the finances further into the red, with the debt rising from £299.8m to £351.4m, with interest payments on loans increasing by £3.6m to £40.1m.

With their rivals sensing weakness, there have already been reports of Chelsea preparing a £70m bid for Torres and Real Madrid considering a £35m offer for Gerrard.

Broughton said neither instances would be considered as both players remained integral to manager Rafael Benitez’s team.

‘‘There is absolutely no reason to sell either Torres or Gerrard,’’ said the British Airways chairman, brought in last month by the co-owners to oversee the sale of the club.

‘‘I don’t want to sell either of them.

“Rafa does not want to sell either of them, the club is not looking to sell them. We don’t need to do it to pay off any debt.”

Reds Dismiss Transfer Fears

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton has insisted there is no danger of the club selling Fernando Torres or Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool's parent company Kop Holdings has announced a loss before tax of £54.9million, while the club itself made an operating loss before tax of £16million in the year ending 31st July, 2009.

Reports have suggested that rivals could now look to test Liverpool's resolve by lodging big-money offers for captain Gerrard or talismanic striker Torres.

The Reds will be desperate to re-establish themselves next season after missing out on a place in the UEFA Champions League and Broughton has assured fans that Torres and Gerrard remain integral to Rafa Benitez's team.

"There is absolutely no reason to sell either Torres or Gerrard" said the British Airways chairman, brought in last month by co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to oversee the sale of the club.

"I don't want to sell either of them. Rafa does not want to sell either of them, the club is not looking to sell them.

"We don't need to do it to pay off any debt.

"Torres is one of the great players and every club would love to have him. We have got him and there is no intention of selling him."

Broughton held talks with Benitez earlier this week regarding the search for new owners and also plans for the summer squad rebuilding.

There are further get-togethers scheduled but with debt levels increasing at the club it seems unlikely Benitez will be handed the £50million-plus he feels he needs to get the club back into Champions League contention.

"We have met, it was a frank exchange of views, constructive and very helpful," said Broughton.

"The squad does need strengthening and that is an ongoing process which will not be stopped by the sale.

"We have sat down with Rafa to determine what is the strength of it (the squad), what it needs, who are the right players and who needs to be sold.

"What I have asked from Rafa is what any football club board ask at the end of the season.

"It is for an appraisal of each of the players, where the weak links are, which players he would prefer to sell if he had the opportunity, which positions he needs to fill, who are his prime candidates and what would be his priorities."

Broughton also revealed he hoped new owners would be in place at Anfield in a 'matter of months'.

"Success for me is completing a sale within a relatively short period - a matter of months - to someone who, hindsight says, was a very good owner for Liverpool," he told the club's official website.

John Aldridge: Javier Mascherano Is My Player Of Liverpool FC’s Season

Liverpool’s Player of the Year will soon be announced but while Pepe Reina is the odds-on favorite, my vote goes elsewhere.

Having been such a supporter of Javier Mascherano through the year and giving him so many Man of the Match awards on Radio City, it would be wrong of me to desert him at this stage.

He might have endured a slow start to the campaign but I felt he got better and better with each week and played starring roles in a couple of different positions, like when he slotted in a right-back at the Anfield derby.

It must be stressed, though, that Reina was only a fraction behind and his attitude and commitment has been first class; he is one of the best keepers in the world and Liverpool are lucky to have him.

With Reina and Mascherano, plus a few others, we have got a number of top players but Anfield needs revolutionizing, right from the top.

This is the biggest summer in Liverpool’s history and mistakes cannot be made.

Liverpool FC Letters: Fans Lend Their Support To Under-Fire Rafa Benitez

I want to make it absolutely clear that the vast majority of our fans want Rafael Benitez to remain as manager.

We still believe that Benitez is the best tactician in world football.

We are a family club and nobody understands the wishes and feelings of local Liverpool fans better than Spaniard Rafael Benitez.

As a lifelong fan I feel that Sky and other media outlets do not give our manager the credit that he deserves and are chiefly responsible for the pressure he finds himself under.

Next year is our year, and that is a fact.

RG Silent, via email

I and many thousands of our great club are sick and tired of the negativity being spouted in the media about our manager Rafa Benitez.

Yes he has made mistakes but it seems apparent to many of us that it is a media campaign to get Rafa the sack or force him out.

He is asked questions which should be aimed at the American owners or their representatives on the board.

I back Rafa 100% and want him to stay.

Stephen Herron, via email

I am a Benitez supporter and would like him to stay.

Clearly the media have a different agenda and want to see Rafa out.

Charlie, via email

I am a life long supporter of Liverpool Football Club.

The majority of us are 150% behind our manager and are fed up with all the media speculation and boardroom difficulties.

We want Rafa to stay and show our support for him.

Taimur Shoaib, via email

I just want to clarify that, in the likely event of media reports of ‘supporters want Rafa out,’ this is, for me and many others, simply not true.

He brought us Istanbul and made us the best ranked team in Europe. He made us play the best football I’ve seen for a long time.

He always appears with dignity and humility. He has my absolute backing.

Emil Persson, via email

Having followed LFC for some 65 years, from the age of 8 to 73, I can now say we are seeing the most negative and boring football from any Liverpool manager.

Since Rafa’s arrival we have been treated to rotation, zonal defence and his idea of attacking is one man up front and two holding midfielders. He has zero man-management skills (see the Alonso-Gareth Barry saga, among others) and is an almost failure in the transfer market.

I’ve given up expecting the title while he is here.

The Yanks may have caused mayhem but would any sane person give Rafa £80m to spend?

Bill Sixsmith, Aughton

I am a Liverpool fan born and bred and would like to say most Liverpool fans don’t want Rafa Benitez at the club anymore.

He has taken us as far as he can and now we’re going backward. He has wasted a lot of money and I want to see my club going forward in a good and positive way.

If Rafa has any respect for the club and the fans he should leave.

Joyce, name and address not supplied.