Monday, July 26, 2010

Roy Hodgson Prepares To Rest Stars For Liverpool's Europa League Test

August is still a week away and Roy Hodgson has yet to oversee his first competitive game at Anfield but, already, Liverpool's new manager is talking darkly of burnout and "unbelievably difficult" challenges ahead.

The first arrives on Thursday in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, at the home of FK Rabotnicki in the first leg of a Europa League qualifier.

"These will be two unbelievably difficult games for us at this stage of the season," says Hodgson, whose sports science and medical staff have urged him not to risk playing a host of established names including Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, Jamie Carragher, Dirk Kuyt and Glen Johnson. All are still recovering from their World Cup adventures (or misadventures) and the fear is that utilizing them now would prompt mid-season burnout.

"It's a lose, lose," says Hodgson, acutely conscious of boardroom pressure to chase silverware. "It will be very difficult without our top players but the sports scientists say if we use them now we'll lose them further down the line."

The teamsheet on Thursday should certainly make interesting reading. And particularly after a very young, highly inexperienced Liverpool lost 1-0 at Kaiserslautern in a friendly only notable for the fact that it was Milan Jovanovic's debut, Hodgson sending the Serbia winger, signed from Standard Liège, on for the second half.

If Thursday will be a big night for Alberto Aquilani – Hodgson has made it clear he expects Rafael Benítez's £17m buy from Roma last summer finally to display his hitherto hidden talents in Skopje – it also represents arguably Rabotnicki's biggest game since September 2007 when they faced Bolton Wanderers in the Uefa Cup. Significantly, playing Sammy Lee's then side earned a club sometimes dubbed "The Romantics" as much money as they usually expect to accrue in an entire year.

Small wonder a Rabotnicki website yesterday proclaimed: "Liverpool will come to Macedonia – one of the world's biggest clubs will play Rabotnicki in a qualifying Europa League tie. And, no, it's not a joke, nor a dream."

Hodgson trusts his arrival at Skopje "Alexander the Great" Airport will not herald a nightmare. If Liverpool must be mindful of Filip Petkovski, Rabotnicki's highly promising 20-year-old striker, at least an ongoing refurbishment of the Philip II Arena – commonly known as the Gradski Stadium – dictates they are unlikely to suffer the same deprivations faced by Bolton.

Three years ago Nicolas Anelka and company raised eyebrows by declining to use the away dressing-room facilities following a 1-1 draw – they scraped a 1-0 win at the Reebok – instead detouring to a nearby hotel before racing to the airport and their return flight to Manchester.

Yet even if the showers are not quite up to Premier League standard, Hodgson will have little compunction about reminding his players that, right now, Liverpool are in no position to be precious.

Fernando Torres Transfer A Possibility, Admits Liverpool's Roy Hodgson

Fernando Torres may be sold by Liverpool this summer after Roy Hodgson admitted there is nothing more he can do to persuade the Spain striker to stay.

Reds fans were heartened to hear reports that talks between Chelsea transfer target Torres and Hodgson had gone well, but the new Anfield boss has now revealed the player has a number of issues with the club.

It is believed the World Cup winner feels that promises Liverpool officials gave him about strengthening the squad in order to challenge for trophies have been broken.

Hodgson told the News of the World his personal relationship with Torres is good, but that he does not know if the 26-year-old will agree to stay at Anfield.

"Unfortunately, I cannot do much more. His beef is with the club and not me," said the ex-Fulham boss.

Hodgson added: "He knows what I would like to do with the club. He knows how much I value him. But his issues are with what has gone on in the past rather than the future."

Meanwhile, the Liverpool manager is reported to be stepping up his efforts to sign a new left-back.

According to the Daily Star Sunday, he is planning to make a £7 million bid for Wigan Athletic's Honduras international Maynor Figueroa.

Should Wigan signal they are ready to listen to offers, Liverpool is likely to face competition from Sunderland for Figueroa's signature.

Dalglish Expects Torres Stay

Former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is confident the capture of Joe Cole and retention of captain Steven Gerrard will show Fernando Torres just how serious Roy Hodgson is about moving the Reds forwards.

Hodgson, who took charge at Anfield following the departure of Rafael Benitez, is hoping Torres will follow Gerrard's example and publicly commit himself to the club, but concedes the Spain striker has misgivings.

"When Torres sees that [Cole signing] and talks with Roy I am sure he will give us good news," Dalglish told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek program.

"I hope Torres stays. Only Fernando knows what is going to do.

"Unfortunately for him he is injured, but he is a fantastic player and is very happy around the club and the city.

"The fact that Stevie is staying will be a great help and players like Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, Jonjo Shelvey and Danny Wilson means there is buying for the present and the future."

Dalglish added: "Roy is going to stamp his own authority on the club - but it is difficult at the moment because the players are coming back in dribs and drabs after the World Cup and you don't have everyone coming back together."

Liverpool Target £15m Atletico Madrid Star Diego Forlan As Fernando Torres Replacement

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is believed to be lining up Diego Forlan to replace Fernando Torres, amid fears that the Spanish international is ready to walk out of Anfield.

According to The People, the Kop chief is ready to build for the future and has his sights set on bringing the Atletico Madrid star back to the Premier League if his stellar striker decides to move on this summer.

The club's top-brass are said to have contacted Atletico officials in the past few days to check on the availability of the Uruguay star, and were quoted with a valuation of £15 million for the former Manchester United man.

Liverpool will make an official bid for Forlan if Torres departs and Hodgson isn't too optimistic on his chances of keeping his the World Cup 2010 winner following discussions in Spain.

Torres would cost around £50m, despite a disappointing tournament in South Africa, a fee that is most likely to deter any bid from interested clubs such as Chelsea.

However, the upside of Liverpool selling Torres would be that it would swell the club's coffers and provide Hodgson with money to spend on reinforcing the squad.

The former Fulham manager is already looking at other likely targets and has earmarked Ipswich Town's highly-rated young striker Connor Wickham as a possible one for the future.

The 17-year-old has been wooed by various top-flight clubs in the past few weeks, with the Tractor Boys already rejecting an £8.5m bids from Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Juventus Offer Liverpool Tiago As Javier Mascherano's Replacement

With the prospect of Argentina captain Javier Mascherano moving to Inter Milan, Juventus are looking to offload midfielder Tiago to Liverpool.

26-year-old Mascherano has done little to deflect the rumours linking him with an Anfield exit to reunite with former boss Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan and Liverpool have been unable to pin the midfielder down to signing a new contract.

New Anfield boss Roy Hodgson will speak to Mascherano for the first time this week, but should he be unable to persuade him to remain at Liverpool, Tiago could be an option.

The 29-year-old has fallen out of favour at Juventus, but had a reasonable World Cup with Portugal. The box-to-box midfield engine also has good experience at Lyon, Chelsea and Benfica.

The People reports that Juventus would be willing to sell Tiago to Liverpool for 4.5 million pounds. This would be particularly affordable for Hodgson should the Reds receive a hefty fee for Mascherano as expected.

Mourinho Begs Real To Make £30million Bid For Gerrard

Jose Mourinho is ready to make one last-ditch attempt to sign Steven Gerrard.

The Real Madrid coach is trying to persuade the Bernabeu hierarchy to offer the £30million required to prise the England captain from Liverpool.

Spanish sources indicate that Mourinho is a long way from giving up on the midfielder and his renewed interest is another problem for Roy Hodgson, who admitted that he can do no more to keep striker Fernando Torres.

New boss Hodgson coaxed Gerrard into publicly committing his future to Liverpool last week, but he insists that issues with the debt-laden club are what have prevented Torres following suit.

Liverpool's ability to compete for trophies is at the heart of the problem and that is likely to be highlighted by Javier Mascherano, who is expected to demand a move to Inter Milan this week.

As the club's pre-season tour ended with a 1-0 defeat by Kaiserslautern in Germany, Hodgson is fighting fires that are not of his making. He has walked into the problems left by Rafael Benitez and his sacking, so it is ironic that the Spaniard's most bitter rival in English football should create another headache.

Mourinho, who repeatedly clashed with former Liverpool boss Benitez when he was in charge at Chelsea, has long been an admirer of Gerrard.

The Real Madrid manager's revived interest is almost a repeat of what happened six years ago, when an apparently disenchanted Gerrard looked set for a move to Chelsea.

But the England star decided to stay at Anfield after a discussion with Benitez who took over from Gerard Houllier.

Mourinho has again done nothing to quell speculation linking him with Gerrard, who tops his wish list.

He hopes to show Real president Florentino Perez the value of making Gerrard a notable exception to the Spanish club's normal practice of recruiting younger players.

If successful, it would be devastating to Hodgson, whose three-week reign has been beset by problems.

Gerrard is critical to Liverpool's chances of even moderate success because of the message it would send out if he was sold.

Hodgson would find it virtually impossible to replace the homegrown skipper and his sale would also certainly seal Torres's exit into the bargain.

'I've had a meeting with Fernando but there's not much more I can say,' said the former Fulham manager. 'If he has got problems with the club about things that happened in the past, then it's difficult for me to dismiss that.

'His situation has got nothing to do with me and he made that clear on the phone during the World Cup and when I met him face-to-face.

'I can't do much more than let him know that, like every Liverpool fan, I would like him to stay and would love to work with him.

'It's now for the club to satisfy him in whatever way they need to.'

Managing director Christian Purslow has been in Majorca trying to convince Torres and his representatives that the club did not oversell their ambitions last year when they persuaded him to sign a new deal until 2013.

Hodgson insists the meetings have been 'more positive than negative' but he also admitted that is no indication of the outcome. No wonder Hodgson insisted he had not yet lifted the air of gloom around Anfield last week.

He may have pulled off a coup by signing free agent Joe Cole on a free transfer from Chelsea but having uncertainty surrounding the futures of Torres, Mascherano and Gerrard again puts him on the backfoot.

Liverpool are also short of a recognised left-back three weeks before the start of the Premier League season, so the headache of having to play the season's first competitive game on Thursday is one Hodgson could do without.

Liverpool face a gruelling trip to Macedonia to play FK Rabotnicki in the third qualifying round of the Europa League and potential fatigue is sure to be a worry ahead of the domestic campaign.

Liverpool Face Anxious 48-Hour Wait To See If Lyon Enter Loic Remy Race

Nice striker Loic Remy's bid to play in the Premier League hangs in the balance after his former club Lyon was told they have 48 hours to match any transfer bid, according to The Daily Mail.

Remy is reportedly wanted by Liverpool, West Ham and Arsenal, but Lyon hold a 15 per cent sell on clause for the player and also hold the first chance to match any accepted bid for the striker.

This will also be a blow for West ham chairman David Gold, who flew to France on Thursday to try and secure a deal for Remy.

Remy, who is only 23, has been compared to former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. He managed to score 15 goals for Nice last season, catching the attention of a number of Europe's top sides.

Match Report: Kaiserslautern 1 - 0 Liverpool

New signing Milan Jovanovic made a 45-minute debut for Liverpool as a largely inexperienced reserve side lost 1-0 to Kaiserslautern in Germany.

The Serbia forward, brought in on a free transfer from Standard Liege, played the first 45 minutes before he was withdrawn by manager Roy Hodgson.

By that time the Reds were behind, courtesy of Ilian Micanski's close-range tap-in.

Jovanovic was one of only two members of the squad who had played at the World Cup, the other being defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos who lasted 77 minutes.

The Greek almost made a perfect return to life in a Liverpool shirt as his second-minute through-ball put David Ngog in on goal but he dragged his shot wide.

Moments later the newly-promoted Bundesliga side replied with Slovakian Adam Nemec having a shot deflected just over.

The 19-year-old Liverpool reserve forward David Amoo then shot straight at Tobias Sippel and Martin Kelly had an effort deflected over from Jovanovic's corner before the hosts made the breakthrough.

In the 32nd minute Jiri Bilkey beat Daniel Ayala to the ball before crossing for Micanski to extravagantly flick home from six yards.

Croatian Ivo Ilecevic's volley went close five minutes before half-time as Kaiserslautern continued to press.

After the break the Germans created a couple of opportunities but Hodgson's youthful side - midfielder Lucas Leiva was the most experienced first-teamer - did not concede again.

Hodgson now prepares to start his competitive Reds career with a Europa League third round qualifier against Macedonians FK Rabotnicki on Thursday without many of his first-team stars.