Thursday, July 29, 2010

Europa League Qualifying Preview: Rabotnicki vs Liverpool

Nicknamed the Romantics, even the most whimsical Rabotnicki fan will not believe that the Macedonian top flight outfit stand a great chance of eliminating Liverpool from the Europa League in the third qualifying round.

Only twice in the club’s history have they made it to the first round proper of continental competition, with the likes of Inter Baku and Odense having knocked them out in recent seasons. Ironically, the last time they did reach the main event, they were drawn immediately against another Premier League side, Bolton Wanderers, and were swiftly dismissed.

When Rabotnicki met the Trotters back in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup, they certainly did not prove to be whipping boys, going out only 2-1 on aggregate, and the second placed side in last season’s Makedonska Prva Liga will be aiming to come out of the biggest European tie in their history with similar credit.

The Skopje outfit, who have a strong Brazilian influence in their ranks, will hope to take advantage of a partisan home crowd, a sultry Macedonian summer evening and their visitors’ relative lack of match practice to cause an upset in this fixture.

New Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson showed last season that he will not treat the Europa League with total contempt, steering Fulham famously to the final of the competition, where they were narrowly edged out by a Diego Forlan-inspired Atletico Madrid. In charge of his first competitive game with the Reds, he will want his men to lay down a marker for the remainder of the season.

Hodgson, however, is still trying to get his squad to settle down at present. The Englishman is battling rumours that suggest Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano could be on their way out of Anfield, while he is also trying to plot a successful course towards new additions. Throw in the disruption the World Cup has caused the Pool’s pre-season preparations and suddenly this encounter does not look nearly so straightforward.

Additionally, pre-season has been something of a non-event for the Reds thus far. Only two friendlies have been played, and they have yet to score a goal, losing 1-0 to Kaiserslautern last Saturday, three days after being held by Grasshopper.

With cash seemingly at a premium at the Merseyside club, any opportunity to progress deep into profitable competitions will be considered a priority, but finishing in the top four in the Premier League will be Liverpool’s primary objective this season. There are still a couple of weeks before their domestic season kicks off, allowing Hodgson to examine his players fully in an encounter they could be stretched a little in.

Fernando Torres Tells Roy Hodgson He's Staying At Liverpool

While only weeks ago it appeared as if the Liverpool squad might come apart at the seams, it's turning out to be a rather successful summer for the club.

After the Reds snapped up Joe Cole and persuaded captain Steven Gerrard to stay, striker Fernando Torres has now told Liverpool that he's looking forward to playing for the club next season.

According to the Liverpool Echo, Torres spoke with manager Roy Hodgson and managing director Christian Purslow and let them know he would be returning to Liverpool next week after his post-World Cup vacation.

“As far as I know, he is looking forward to coming back here," Hodgson was quoted by the paper as saying. "He is coming back on Monday. He is enjoying a holiday and it is a well deserved break because he hasn’t really had one for three years. He is spending time with his family.

“Fernando is keeping a very low profile and is not speaking to anybody but he has told us that he is looking forward to Monday, to coming back to work and to playing for Liverpool next season.

“That’s what I know. All other reports (linking Torres with a move away) are, I would suggest, erroneous.”

Liverpool Agree Fee Of £2.5m For Aston Villa's Luke Young

Liverpool has made a surprise move for the Aston Villa full-back Luke Young. Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool manager, tried to sign Young earlier this year when he was in charge of Fulham and he has now rekindled his interest in the former England international. Liverpool has agreed a £2.5m fee for a player who has been told he is surplus to requirements at Villa Park.

Although Hodgson's pursuit of Young might raise a few eyebrows among Liverpool supporters, the 31-year-old is able to operate in both full-back positions and was asked to represent England as recently as last November, when Fabio Capello failed to persuade the defender to reverse the decision he made earlier that year to retire from international football with seven caps to his name. He would also increase Liverpool's quota of homegrown players to comply with the new Premier League rule.

Liverpool are also short of options in the full-back positions because Emiliano Insúa is set to join Fiorentina and Fábio Aurélio has left the club on a free transfer. Philipp Degen, the Switzerland right-back, has also been told that he can look for another club after meeting with Hodgson last week.

Villa have been keen to offload Young as he is one of the club's higher earners and has three years remaining on his contract. Sunderland had also expressed an interest in signing Young this summer but were unable to match his personal terms. Andy Evans, Young's agent, said: "A fee has been agreed with Liverpool. We're now in discussions about Luke's contract."

Villa's decision to make Young available for transfer came as a disappointment to many of the club's supporters. Having joined Villa from Middlesbrough in a £5.5m deal two years ago, Young performed well in his first season but his start to the following campaign was curtailed through a combination of injury and personal tragedy, when Andre, his 17-year-old half-brother, was found dead on holiday.

Young eventually came back into the Villa side but made only 14 Premier League starts and was ultimately unable to dislodge Carlos Cuéllar, an orthodox central defender, from the right-back position. He remained a popular figure among the Villa supporters, however, and was given a standing ovation when he appeared as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers in the final match of the season.

Insua's Viola Move In Doubt

Liverpool defender Emiliano Insua's move to Fiorentina is in danger of falling through, according to the Serie A club.

Fiorentina fear the player's wage demands could put the Argentine's switch to the Artemio Franchi in jeopardy.

Insua seemed set to leave Liverpool after Fiorentina agreed an undisclosed fee with the Merseyside side for the left-back.

However, Fiorentina sporting director Pantaleo Corvino has warned Insua that he might have to take a drop in wages to tie up the move to Italy.

"We have an agreement with the English club, but we have to find an understanding with the player in terms of wages," Corvino told

"We cannot guarantee him the figures that he gets at Liverpool."

Liverpool Linked With Porto Wing-Back Jorge Fucile

Liverpool are being linked with Porto wing-back Jorge Fucile.

The Uruguay international is attracting interest from Liverpool and Schalke, according to Lisbon sources.

Porto want £7 million for Fucile, who is aware of the Liverpool rumours.

But he said: "I have great respect for the president, the club and the fans.

"This is a great club to play for."

Inter To Offer Liverpool €15 Million & Sulley Muntari For Javier Mascherano

Inter have wasted no time in throwing together a move for Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, who is intent on quitting the Merseysiders.

Reds boss Roy Hodgson confirmed the Argentinian has expressed a desire to leave Anfield on Tuesday, and Inter are first in line to entice him away from the Premier League.

La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Inter are eager to use Mascherano's stance on leaving for their own gain, but president Massimo Moratti is not keen on spending €25-30 million on the midfielder.

The latest indications from Milan suggest the Italian champions will offer Sulley Muntari, who has become peripheral to plans, plus a €15m lump sum in exchange for Mascherano.

The Ghana international had a decent World Cup and is admired by Hodgson, who wouldn't mind having him at the club as a replacement for the outgoing 'Masch'.

Inter are now expected to speak up with the Reds, as dialogue becomes resonant over a prospective deal.

Espanyol Set To Complete Loan Swoop For Liverpool Midfielder Maxi Rodriguez

Liverpool have told Maxi Rodriguez he can leave the club and the midfielder is expected to complete a loan return to Espanyol, according to El Mundo Deportivo.

New Reds manager Roy Hodgson is understood to have told the Argentina World Cup 2010 star he is surplus to requirements at Anfield. This has alerted his former side to him and a temporary deal could be rubber stamped in the coming days.

The only obstacle to the move is Liverpool's demands for a permanent transfer. Espanyol are keen to borrow the player next season before buying him outright.

Rodriguez struggled to make an impression at Anfield last term after he completed a £1.5 million switch in the New Year. The 29-year-old enjoyed a three-year spell at the Barcelona-based team from 2002-2005 and is keen to reinvigorate his career there.

Liverpool Defender Danny Wilson Delighted With Move

Liverpool defender Danny Wilson says his move to Liverpool has capped off a "crazy" 12 months for him.

The 18-year-old moved to Anfield after impressing at Rangers last season.

"This time last year I was with the Rangers reserve team over in Northern Ireland playing pre-season friendly games," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"From there I went on to play 24 games for Rangers. It's been a crazy 12 months for me, but to get this move to cap it all has been fantastic."

Wilson was voted the Scottish Young Player of the Year last season and moved to Liverpool as they look to re-build under new manager Roy Hodgson.

The youngster is very aware of the battle he has to gain a place in the Reds starting line-up.

"I think if you'd ask any player they'd rather play than not play," Wilson continued. "I'm not going to sit here and say I deserve to push all these star players at Liverpool out of the team, it could take a while.

"It's going to take a lot of learning from me. I've noticed in training it's a faster pace down here and it's a different style.

"But at the end of the day you're a footballer and you're playing football and it's the same game. My main aim is to do as well as I can.

"I've not set myself any targets, but when it happens, it happens and if not, I'll just keep working hard and try and make it happen."

The Scotland youth international admits he knew of the Reds interest in him and he could not turn down the opportunity.

"I heard a few months ago that there was reported interest from Liverpool but nothing concrete," said Wilson.

"Once I heard that I started to get a bit excited but tried not to get ahead of myself. Once I heard of that I thought if there was a chance I could come to this club then I definitely would.

"Everybody knows Liverpool everywhere you go in the world, both the football club and the city. They've won five Champions League titles and 18 league titles and you can't argue with a record like that, especially in such a difficult league like England."

Cole: We Can Be Great Again

Joe Cole is convinced Liverpool are not that far away from a return to the great days after he admitted Anfield was always the hardest away ground to play at for Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League.

Liverpool's new No.10 has settled in quickly to his new surroundings and can't wait to parade his skills in front of the Kop.

"Look at all the pictures around this place and you want more of that," said Cole.

"The whole club is built on success. I can feel the hunger and the desire here, and that's a great base to come from.

"The gaffer's experience and organization are another positive and with all the quality players they have here, I am convinced we will do better than last season.

"When I had decided to leave Chelsea I didn't want to rush into a decision, you only get one career, but my first thought was Liverpool and my last thought was Liverpool. Now I want to concentrate on helping this club gets back up again.

"As soon as I walked into this place I loved it and I believe we can do something special here.

"I'm not one of those players who walks into a place and says I've always supported them, but I have always thought a lot of the supporters here.

"Liverpool was always the hardest away game in our fixtures, harder than going to Old Trafford. If we can make that the base and a fortress again, and get some points on the road, anything can happen.

"I don't want to come up here and end up going back south every day off. I want to immerse myself in the place.

"Someone once gave me the advice that when move, you should always make sure you are part of the club.

"It's a big challenge for me, but I will do that here."

At the age of 28 Cole believes his best days are yet to come and his big hope is to play a major role in helping Roy Hodgson's side get back to what Liverpool are renowned for - winning trophies.

"I left a mark at Chelsea, being part of great teams that won things, Player of the Year and stuff, and I am proud of that," he added.

"Now I want to leave my mark at a massive club like this as well - I'm really excited about it.

"I wanted to come to somewhere at the start of something and it was easy to come here because it's such a massive club. It's all pointing in the right direction."

"I want to be part of a team, a successful team. I know what a successful team's about and what an unsuccessful one is too.

"I know what it takes to win titles, all I need here is time to settle in, regular games and to get used to playing with new players.

"When you've been at a club as long as I have, coming to a new one, with a different style, takes time but we will roll on from there. It's a long process and we have to be realistic, but we are double positive."

The England international also revealed he is fully recovered from the knee ligament injury he suffered in January 2009 and wants to make up for lost time by giving his best years to Liverpool.

"Last year was tough," he added.

"I was trying to get my match fitness back and prove I should be starting, maybe trying too hard, but it just wasn't happening.

"But I still made an impact and still proud of the part I played in a difficult season. Now this is a fresh start. I just need match fitness but my body is strong.

"The important thing is getting the back to back games and just playing regularly.

"The last time I played 90 minutes was February and I need to be able to do that week in week out, and I will do that.

"Roy made it very clear he wanted me as a player and what he wanted from me. All I need is time and patience."

Roy Hodgson Expects More Signings To Arrive Before End Of Transfer Window

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is confident of further adding to his squad before the end of this summer’s transfer window following the captures of Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, Jonjo Shelvey, and Danny Wilson.

Hodgson, who will take charge of his first competitive game as Liverpool manager on Thursday in the third qualifying round of the Europa League against Macedonian side Rabotnicki, has spent a little over £3 million in transfer fees this summer, and the former Fulham boss is hoping there will be more new arrivals at the club.

"I am very excited and happy for the club that we have been able to sign three players of this quality," Hodgson explained at the unveiling of Cole, Jovanovic, and Wilson.

"It was important we made some signings early on and made clear to everyone that our intentions are very serious.

"I think it is clear from the players alongside me we are serious and we have been fortunate enough to acquire their services."

"We're still interested in some other players. I hope this won't be the last of our signings.

"The aim of the club, the aim of the board, Christian Purslow and everyone at the club, is to try and make this squad as competitive as possible."