Friday, August 06, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 0 Rabotnicki

New signing Joe Cole enjoyed a promising debut as Liverpool coasted through the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie against Rabotnicki at Anfield.

The England midfielder, who arrived on a free transfer having been released by Chelsea, was at the heart of his new side's best moves and set up the opening goal for David Ngog.

Captain Steven Gerrard slotted home a penalty just before the interval and after that it was more of an exhibition game.

The Macedonians put up little in the way of opposition and the visit of Arsenal in little over a week's time for the opening fixture of the domestic season will be a completely different proposition.

Although the match was only slightly more challenging than a regulation pre-season friendly the performance will have added to the growing feelgood factor at Anfield which has heralded manager Roy Hodgson's arrival.

Even if he does not manage to bring in any more players in either this transfer window - Liverpool had a bid for Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Jones turned down on the eve of the match - or the one in January the signing of Cole could well prove to be the Reds boss' crowning glory.

The 28-year-old was handed the central attacking role he so craves and he did plenty to justify his claims for taking that position off Gerrard, who has been so effective playing behind the striker in recent seasons.

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti claimed this week Cole did not have the footballing intelligence of the man he signed to replace him, Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun, but his movement and trickery suggested Hodgson may benefit from his Italian counterpart's loss.

Hodgson opted to change the preferred 4-4-2 formation he used at Fulham and adopt the 4-2-3-1 employed by his Anfield predecessor but, unlike the last few months of Rafael Benitez's reign, the system looked more fluid.

Ngog had the ball in the net early only to be flagged offside but he fluffed his first genuine chance in the 14th minute.

A backheel by Cole released Gerrard who put last week's two-goal hero clean through and although Martin Bogatinov dropped to his knees far too early the French striker took the ball too close to the goalkeeper who cleared.

The precision of Cole's lofted pass was not matched by the first touch of Spain Under-19 international Dani Pacheco, making his first start, but the opening goal was not long in coming.

A low 25-yard shot by Gerrard was tipped around the post by Bogatinov and Liverpool took the lead from the resulting 21st-minute corner.

The captain played the ball short to Cole who curled a cross towards the penalty spot where Ngog headed in off the underside of the crossbar.

Five minutes before half-time Fernando Lopes fouled Ngog as he turned Lucas Leiva's looping header past the defender and Gerrard slotted home from the penalty spot.

Less than 40 seconds after the restart Cole's cross-shot rebounded off the angle of crossbar and post while another new signing Milan Jovanovic's low shot was palmed around his left-hand upright by Bogatinov.

Cole then forced the goalkeeper into a low save to his left, Pacheco fired in a shot from the left wide of the far post and Ngog headed tamely at Bogatinov as the one-way traffic continued.

Gerrard, who last week committed his future to the club despite speculation to the contrary, soon departed to a standing ovation to be replaced by Alberto Aquilani while Jovanovic, who had also flashes of some much-needed creativity, made way for Maxi Rodriguez.

But the focal point continued to be Cole, whose display deserved a goal, as he was denied at the near post again.

Yet another Cole pass played Rodriguez in on the right of the penalty area and he cut the ball back on to his left foot but his shot was blocked by Egzon Belica.

Cole was destined not to get on the scoresheet as Martin Kelly's left-wing cross was too hard and high for the unmarked diminutive midfielder to get a proper header on.

However, Liverpool, who go into Friday's draw in Nyon for the play-off round, will be more than happy if Cole saves his strikes for more auspicious occasions.

Liverpool FC Ownership Situation Is No Excuse For Failure - Hodgson

Roy Hodgson has warned Liverpool FC the ongoing uncertainty over the club’s ownership will not represent an excuse for failure this season - and urged the Reds’ under-performing stars to "take a look in the mirror".

The Merseysiders missed out on a Champions League place as they finished down in seventh place in last season’s Barclays Premier League and were left facing a Europa League qualifier against Macedonian minnows FK Rabotnicki, the second leg of which is on Thursday night.

The summer since has seen fevered speculation over the future of co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, which has come to a head in recent days with Chinese businessman Kenny Huang registering an interest - but distancing himself from a formal bid for the club - while former Syria international Yahya Kirdi claims a deal "is in the final stage of negotiation".

Hodgson will not allow the turmoil to distract his team, and said: "As a player you have a chance to change things around here.

"I won’t go down the ownership route other than to say we know the ones we have now are very unpopular. That’s well documented - they know it and that’s why they are prepared to sell.

"But if you don’t think that the team is doing as well as it should, then as a player you can do something about it.

"We want our big players doing well. If they are not, I shall be advising them to look in the mirror and not to constantly look for excuses elsewhere and blame the owners for not having spent £500million.

"I am skeptical about comments in which players are questioning the club’s ambition. I would tend to throw that back at them and say that the club’s ambitions rest in your hands, you’re the ones playing for us and you’re the ones people are paying to watch.

"If we look at Real Madrid last season, they spent an absolute fortune on two or three players and it still didn’t get them what they wanted. They didn’t win the Champions League. They didn’t get to the semi-finals and they didn’t win their league or the Spanish Cup. I rest my case."

Hodgson is not concerned by the possibility his comments could upset the club’s big-name players, and continued: "I’d tell the players of the highest echelon to look in mirrors and analyse their performance. I am not fearful of doing that.

"We will push the players and some of them won’t like it, but my sympathy always lies with them and in my 36 years in management I have not been let down very often, so I must be right in my experience of trusting them."

Indian Billionaires Pitch For Liverpool Football Club Ownership

The battle for Liverpool Football Club’s ownership became hotter on Thursday with Indian billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Subrata Roy jumping into the fray to buy Liverpool.

Mukesh Ambani, who owns Reliance Industries Ltd, India’s largest company by market capitalization, and Subrata Roy who owns Sahara Group that sponsored the Indian cricket team, have submitted their bids to buy the team, popular tabloid The Sun reported.

The move comes nine months after their reported failure to buy a 51 percent stake in the Anfield outfit, which Ambani had denied.

Indian billionaires will now face the Chinese government in the battle to buy the Reds, joining at least four other interested buyers including Chinese sports tycoon Kenny Huang.

Huang, who is backed by the $332-billion Chinese Investment Corporation, held talks to buy Liverpool’s $286 million debt off Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia.

However, the report said Huang, who is backing the new Reds boss Roy Hodgson with a $180 million transfer kitty, has emerged as the favorite to replace unpopular Yank owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The Anfield auction is now wide open, the report said.

"Some potential buyers have declared their interest but haven't tabled a bid, whereas Ambani and Roy have put their money on the table. At this stage Liverpool are happy to let everyone compete against each other to squeeze out the best possible deal," the report quoted an unnamed insider as saying

Ambani, 53, was buoyed by the success as a franchise owner of a cricket team in India that played at the popular annual cricket tourney Indian Premier League. He is valued at around $19.86 billion and is rated India's richest man.

Ambani's fellow billionaire Roy, 62, is head of Sahara Group, a sprawling conglomerate worth more than $7.94 billion, who is also sponsoring the Indian hockey team. He won the franchise bid recently to own another cricket team that will play in the next year's Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Hicks and Gillett valued Reds at $963.46 million after Huang's interest emerged.

Liverpool Must Get It Right Over Sale This Time

Supporters group Spirit Of Shankly – ShareLiverpoolFC (SOS-SL) has urged Liverpool officials to ensure they find the right new owners for the club.

The battle for control at Anfield is hotting up with the disastrous three-and-a-half year reign of Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett coming to an end.

In a statement today SOS-SL insisted the interests of the club’s fans must be considered in the selling process.

It read: “SOS-SL in its commitment to the pursuit of the democratic ownership of Liverpool Football Club by its fans would welcome the prospect of the departure of the club’s present owners.

“However, amidst the current interest from various parties seeking to acquire the club, it is imperative that the club, the directors responsible for overseeing the sales process, as well as RBS and Wells Fargo banks, ensure that if the club is sold, it is sold to the most suitable consortium which has the interests of the club and its fans at heart. The interests of Liverpool Football Club’s supporters must be considered in this process.

“Any prospective new owner will be acutely aware that much of the commercial value of the club is directly derived from its global supporter base which drives the scale of the branding, merchandising and sponsorship opportunities that exist for the club.

“Any further fracture in the relationship between those who own the club and its supporters, will impact upon any owners’ ability to realize LFC’s commercial potential and therefore its ability to compete at the highest levels.

“Any sale that is not in the best interests of LFC supporters will ensure a further breakdown in this relationship, with dire implications for the club, its owners and supporters.

“Given the recent events in the history of the club, we can be sure that Reds fans will forensically examine the intentions and business plan of any new ownership regime.

“Therefore SOS-SL requires those responsible for overseeing the sale to ensure that, as a minimum, any incoming consortium has real equity to reduce the gearing on the club – eliminating the debt on the club – and providing the resources to undertake the capital expenditure necessary to rebuild the club.

“Most importantly, it must be able to fund the equity requirement for the stadium financing and be able to undertake player acquisition over the short and medium term to ensure that LFC are able to compete at the very highest levels of the Premier League and the Champions League.

“SOS-SL are fully aware that the increased revenues from the new stadium, once completed, will be sufficient to cover stadium construction costs, with interest and principal paid over a 15 to 25 year period, as well as provide the club with additional revenues to finance LFC operating activities, including player acquisitions.

“The instability that has blighted the club in recent years clearly demonstrates that financial models which continually drain resources from the club to cover acquisition debt payments or pay gross dividends to investors are unsustainable.

“Any new ownership regime must return the club to good governance built on sound long term business planning.

“SOS-SL understand that Hicks and Gillett's overriding objective will be to sell the club to the highest bidder in order to extract as large a profit as possible.

“This will not be in the best interest of the club or the fans if the new investor consortium has insufficient funds post acquisition or is highly leveraged and therefore with insufficient funds to achieve the club’s minimum expectations; investment in a stadium and funding for the team to enable LFC to compete at the highest level domestically and in Europe.

“In this regard, SOS-SL and LFC fans look towards Martin Broughton, Ian Ayre and Christian Purslow to do everything in their power to ensure that the club is sold to the “right” consortium.

“The same fans also look towards Stephen Hester at tax-payer owned RBS – and a coalition government in favour of supporter ownership - to ensure that the bank also applies sufficient pressure on the Board at LFC to select the most suitable investor consortium.”

An SOS-SL spokesperson added: “Given the financial dynamics of running a football club, and particularly the need for annual player acquisitions, SOS-SL believes that any genuine investor is more likely to seek a return on their investment at exit rather than seeking substantial annual dividend returns, and should be willing to partner with organized fans who wish to provide additional equity for the club.

"The long-term future of this football club, as well as any investment in it, is entirely dependent on the goodwill and support of the fans.

“The last decision regarding the ownership of Liverpool FC proved to be the most disastrous in the history of the Club. We cannot afford to get it wrong again.”

Kenneth Huang Denies Reports He Has Made Formal Bid For Liverpool

Chinese businessman Kenneth Huang has moved to deny reports he has launched a formal takeover bid for Liverpool.

The entrepreneur was believed to be ready to offer to pay the club's £237 million debt and go up to £320m to wrest control from current Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Chairman Martin Broughton confirmed yesterday up to six interested parties were in the race to buy the Anfield outfit, but Mr. Huang was believed to be the most advanced.

In a statement released to Sky Sports News, the 46-year old's representatives moved to distance himself from these reports.

It read: "In response to widespread media reports that Kenny Huang had made a formal bid for Liverpool Football Club, Mr. Huang would like to emphasize that he has registered interest in investing in Liverpool FC but has made no formal bid.

"There has been much speculation and commentary from a wide array of people, many of whom have little knowledge of the facts.

"Unless there is a statement that specifically comes from Mr. Huang or his authorized representatives, which presently is solely Hill & Knowlton Hong Kong office, we would suggest such comments should be given little credence.

"At this point in time there is nothing further for Mr. Huang to announce. If there comes a time where this changes, we will make the appropriate announcements."

Liverpool Keeper Bid Rejected But Striker Deal Might Be Back On

Middlesbrough have turned down an offer from Liverpool for Australian goalkeeper Brad Jones, according to Sky Sports.

The Reds had made an approach for the keeper today as they search for a new back up to first choice Pepe Reina.

However, Gordon Strachan will have no intention of selling Jones – and it is not guaranteed the 28-year-old would want to leave.

Jones has been a Boro player for almost 10 years now but has only just made the number one spot his in the last season – with the team relegated from the Premier League.

It now remains to be seen whether Roy Hodgson will go back and make yet another bid for Jones, with a number of other keepers available.

Federico Marchetti has been linked with a number of top flight clubs and could be a cheaper option as Liverpool try to bring in fresh blood and offload Charles Itandje and Diego Cavalieri.

Meanwhile, Loic Remy is set to have talks with Liverpool and West Ham after flying into Stoke to finally discuss a move to the Premier League.

Remy has been heavily linked with the Hammers this summer but Liverpool were thought to have beaten them to the punch before talk of a move suddenly stopped.

It seems it is now back on, though, and the youngster, who has just received a call up to the France squad, could sign for a top flight club before the start of the season next weekend.

Liverpool Ponder Move For Former Arsenal Star

Former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini is on Liverpool’s list of possible replacements for Javier Mascherano.

Roy Hodgson has been offered Danish international Christian Poulsen by Juventus.

But the Frenchman has four years of experience in the Premier League before joining Milan on a free transfer in 2008.

The 26-year-old has never established himself as a first-team regular at the San Siro.

And after playing in the Emirates Cup at the weekend, he admitted: “It is not an easy situation. It is frustrating when you feel good and they don’t give you a chance. I am very happy in Italy but now I hope to play more than last year.”

Milan could sign Portsmouth’s Kevin Prince Boateng as a replacement for Flamini.

Kelly Handed England Call

Liverpool youngster Martin Kelly has been named in Stuart Pearce's England Under-21 squad for the first time for next week's friendly with Uzbekistan.

Kelly, who impressed for the Reds during pre-season, is included in the 19 man party as Pearce runs the rule over his youngsters ahead of the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers against Portugal and Lithuania.

"Martin Kelly has played for Liverpool in this pre-season in a European qualifying tie and I also saw him with the younger age groups, so it's a great opportunity for him," said Pearce, who also handed first call-ups to Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson and Marc Albrighton.

"Because we were so successful a year ago reaching the European Championship Final, there was no preparation time for many friendlies before we went straight into qualifying, so it makes it difficult to have a look at players and tinker with the squad.

"This match will give us a chance to prepare for what will be two very important games next month."

Agent Of Liverpool's Alberto Aquilani Excludes Roma Return

Alberto Aquilani will not quit Liverpool and return to Roma, claims agent Franco Zavaglia, who has excluded an early exit from Anfield.

The Italian midfielder has recently recovered from an ankle problem that plauged his maiden season in England.

And reports this morning emerging from Merseyside claimed Aquilani was open to a Lupi return, just a year after leaving them for the Reds in a reported €20 million move.

However, Zavaglia has moved with haste to dampen the reports.

"I exclude this," Zavaglia told when asked whether there was a realistic chance of a Roma return.

"There is nothing true in this. It's all an invention from the press."

France Under-19 Skipper Gueida Fofana Urges Chelsea & Liverpool To Bid For Him

France under-19 skipper Gueida Fofana has urged Chelsea and Liverpool to snap him up from Le Havre.

The defensive midfielder was at the heart of Les Blues victory in last weekend's U19 European Championship Final victory against Spain. After inspiring his team-mates to victory, the Premier League pair and Barcelona have been linked with sweeping him up from the Ligue 2 outfit where he has just one year to run on his contract.

Speaking to, Fofana declared he was ready to try his hand at a major European heavyweight.

He said: "I am feeling great after winning the Euros, we played really well and deserved to win.

"I have heard that there are teams interested in me, but nothing concrete has come out as yet.

"If I have to leave here [Le Havre], I want to make sure it is on good terms."

Europa League Qualifier Preview: Liverpool vs FK Rabotnicki

Liverpool are set to welcome FK Rabotnicki Skopje to Anfield as Roy Hodgson’s side play the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying leg against the minnows from Macedonia.

The Reds hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg and will be expected to build on their comfortable outing in the Philip Arena last week, where two goals from David Ngog ensured that the Merseyside club won their first competitive game of the season.

The game comes just days after Chinese businessmen Kenneth Huang was strongly linked with a takeover bid.

Liverpool will line up against Rabotnicki with a near full strength line up, and Hodgson could very well treat the game as another chance to analyse his team ahead of the Premier League season — which is just over one week away.

The five-time European Champions will be hoping to continue the high levels of optimism that is currently sweeping through Anfield, just weeks after the club were in turmoil under Rafael Benitez.

They finished seventh in the Premier League and ended a miserable season with boardroom fallout and uncertainly over the futures of two of their finest players in Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

However, Hodgson’s arrival from Fulham has given the club a new lease of life and a new sense of enthusiasm this season has been maximized with the signing of Joe Cole from Chelsea.

Steven Gerrard quickly pledged his future to Liverpool soon after the former Fulham manager's appointment, and Fernando Torres also spoke of his plans to remain at the club, something which has come as a huge relief to everyone connected with the Merseysiders.

Another victory will only boost confidence levels ahead of a much tougher test against Arsenal in Hodgson’s opening Premier League fixture.

As for Rabotnicki, they will be coming into the game as huge underdogs following their 2-0 defeat at home, and even manager Zoran Stratev admits that they face a near impossible task.

"Macedonian football is at this level and I don't think we can do any more - but our fans may hope for something special in the match," Stratev said.

Team news

Liverpool are expected to field a near full strength line up for their first game at Anfield this season, with Joe Cole set to make his first appearance at Anfield in a Liverpool jersey.

The England quartet of Carragher, Gerrard, Cole and Johnson have all been placed in the Liverpool squad, and the team that will be much stronger than the inexperienced side that did such a professional job in Macedonia last week.

All four featured in Liverpool’s 1-0 friendly defeat against Borussia Moenchengladbach at the weekend and will continue their return to match fitness by featuring on Thursday.

There is also a return for January signing Maxi Rodriguez, who is another player to return from his break and will be hoping for a good performance to kick start his Liverpool career.

The Reds are still without a number of key players though, with the likes of Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Jose Reina, and wantaway midfielder Javier Mascherano all still resting from their World Cup efforts.

Fabio Aurelio is also in the squad following his return to the club: the Brazilian full back had been released at the end of last season, but Hodgson has moved to re-sign the full back after failing to land other targets.

"I will put out the strongest team possible," Hodgson told the press on the eve of the game.

“We are stronger on paper than we were in the first game because players that I did not consider using have now played at least 45 minutes on Sunday. That gives me a chance to throw them into the game.

"If they are senior players and they have been training with us for the last week or so since we got back and the medical people are confident we can use them without prejudicing their future we will use them."

As for Rabotnicki, they are expected to keep the same team which fought so well in the first leg.

Players to watch

David Ngog finally appeared from the shadows last week to become Liverpool’s man of the moment with two well taken goals, which have given the Reds one foot in the next round of the Europa League. Ngog has struggled to find his best form in a Liverpool shirt since his move from Paris St Germain in 2008, and has been strongly linked with a £6 million move away from the club. He has all the attributes to do well, Ngog has pace to burn and a good eye for goal and Kop fans will be hoping he can continue his goalscoring form with some more tonight.

Martin Bogatinov is definitely going to be a very busy man tonight and will need to perform out of his skin if his team are to avoid a hammering at Anfield. The 24-year-old Macedonian keeper will be hoping to impress on the bigger stage