Sunday, August 15, 2010

Match Preview: Liverpool vs. Arsenal

Liverpool welcome Arsenal to Anfield in the stand-out game of the opening weekend of the Premier League.

New Reds boss Roy Hodgson will be hoping to set down a marker against Arsenal as he prepares for his first Premier League game in charge of Liverpool.

Both sides will be hoping to show their title credentials on Merseyside as they look to challenge the top two of Chelsea and Manchester United.

Arsenal secured the double over Liverpool last season and the Londoners will be seeking to extend their recent good record against the Reds.

Liverpool is likely to be without star striker Fernando Torres despite the Spain international making good progress following a groin injury.

It means David Ngog or Dirk Kuyt are expected to start in attack for the home side with Joe Cole, who was linked with a move to Arsenal, set to play in a supporting role behind the front man.

Fellow new signing Milan Jovanovic is also set to get the nod in Roy Hodgson's starting XI after impressing in pre-season.

Recent arrival Christian Poulsen is pushing for a place in the side following his arrival from Juventus earlier this week, but he is set to content himself with a place on the bench.

Unsettled midfielder Javier Mascherano could start despite being linked with a move away from Anfield.

Pepe Reina will start in goal despite suffering from a minor shoulder injury, with Glen Johson, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel in defence.

Hodgson's biggest decision is who to start at left-back with Emiliano Insua or Fabio Aurelio unlikely to be used.

Daniel Agger could be employed at full-back or youngster Martin Kelly could start there after impressing in the Europa League in that role.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger must decide whether to select Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas in his squad following their late returns from the World Cup.

The Gunners are definitely without injured duo Nicklas Bendtner and Johan Djourou, while Denilson, Alex Song and Abou Diaby face late fitness tests.

If the trio are ruled out Jack Wilshere fresh from making his England debut in midweek could start in midfield.

Summer signings Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny are both expected to make their debuts.

Aaron Ramsey, who is set to return to action in November, remains a long-term absentee for Arsenal.

Time To Dream As A New Liverpool FC Era Dawns

It is the weekend to dream dreams, to make predictions and let your imagination run riot; the dawn of the new Premier League campaign is, in the main, a reinvigorating time and no place is that more true than at Anfield.

From feeling apprehensive when last season drew to a miserable close with a dispiriting 0-0 draw at Hull City, suddenly optimism abounds and there is a quiet confidence amongst Liverpudlians heading into the first Anfield date with Arsenal.

The Gunners have regularly been early visitors to Merseyside and you only have to think for a minute about past meetings with them in August to see how results against them have provided guides to how things might turn out.

A 2-0 victory on August 17, 1985 set the wheels in motion for a campaign that culminated in Liverpool winning the Double, another victory by the same score on August 28, 1999 suggested Gerrard Houllier was capable of turning the tide, while Robbie Fowler’s fabled four-and-a-half minute hat-trick on August 28, 1994 left you believing Roy Evans’ men could achieve big things – proven by a Coca-Cola Cup win the following April.

On the other hand, many Reds will remember Arsenal arriving on August 23, 1992 and stripping Graeme Souness’ side bare, their 2-0 win in no way reflecting the gulf between the sides.

Of course, it will be impossible to accurately gauge what will happen between now and May 22 on the back of one result but this first year under Roy Hodgson is, undoubtedly, going to make for compelling viewing. So what might we expect?


There is absolutely no doubt that all three men have talent and they have shown it in flashes during their respective careers here.

But, for one reason or another, consistency has proven elusive; Aquilani and Johnson’s first campaigns, for example, were ruined by injury and neither built up a head of steam after prolonged spells on the sidelines; Aquilani looked ill at ease in frenzied midfield battles, while Johnson’s defensive skills were called into question.

Both, though, made contributions at certain stages and if they are able to get a sustained run in the side, they will have a golden chance to show they were worth the big fees which were paid for them.

Babel, meanwhile, is a slightly different case; having been here for three years, he is now firmly in the last chance saloon but the frustration is that he has the talent to make an impact; if he applies himself, Babel could easily flourish; if he doesn’t he will be playing in pastures new this time next year.


Had injury not intervened at the most unfortunate time, Kelly might have easily got anything between 15 and 20 games last season.

Man of the match when thrust into the firing line in a Champions League game against Lyon, Kelly showed he had the temperament and talent for the big occasion and has built on that impression during pre-season.

Pacheco also showed a really pleasing attitude in that game and is absolutely desperate to show Hodgson that he can play a role in Liverpool’s long-term future.

As for Gulacsi, he is not going to oust Pepe Reina and might only be on the bench sporadically for the first team; but having seen him train in Switzerland, it is clear that the young Hungarian is a talented goalkeeper with a big future.


If Torres avoids the injuries he will show why he is the best striker on the planet and everything Gerrard has done since returning to training has given the impression that he means business this year.


A Liverpool trip to Wembley – it has been far too long – an end to all the uncertainty off the pitch and for the Reds to be spoken about simply for footballing endeavours. Victories at Old Trafford, Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge would be nice, too.


Top four. Liverpool’s best starting line-up is as good as any and if they can build up some early momentum, they can repel their many challengers.

Liverpool Are Long Way Behind Title Trio, Says Hodgson

Manager Roy Hodgson has hinted that Liverpool are unlikely to mount a Premier League title challenge this season.

Hodgson, who left Fulham last month to succeed Rafa Benitez at Anfield, told reporters on Friday his team could not yet match champions Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, the perennial front-running trio.

"After seven training sessions with what I regard as the key players it is pretty obvious to all we are a long, long way from being a team like United, Arsenal or Chelsea who have been working under the same coach for at least a year," he said.

"I don't even pretend the team after six or seven training sessions are going to be anything like the team we want to be," added Hodgson ahead of Sunday's season-opener at home to Arsenal.

"It would be ridiculous to suggest we can be at the top of our game now in terms of how I want the team to play."

Whether it was a deliberate ploy by Hodgson to take pressure off his players, time will tell, but the club can only dream of dominating English soccer the way they did in the 1970s and 1980s under Bill Shankly and his successor Bob Paisley.

Confidence was shattered last season as they lost their way under Benitez and a seventh-place finish was their lowest for 11 years. It is now 20 years since Liverpool won their 18th top-flight championship.

However with talk of a takeover of the club and new signings such as Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic, many fans have begun to believe the Merseysiders can again become a major footballing force.

Hodgson also said there was no sign of Javier Mascherano leaving Liverpool. The Argentina midfielder has made it clear he wants to go because his family has failed to settle.

European champions Inter Milan, now managed by Benitez, is the favourites to sign him but Hodgson said he had yet to hear of any bid.

"I can quite categorically state there has been no offer from any club for Javier Mascherano," he said. "As a result I don't see why I should put his loyalty or desire to play for the club in doubt every day.

"I don't want to let Javier Mascherano go. At the moment Javier Mascherano has shown no signs of going so it's not a question of replacing him."

Offers On The Table In Battle For Liverpool FC Ownership

Liverpool Football Club has received a number of firm takeover proposals, Anfield officials have confirmed.

The club released a statement following a key board meeting in London which followed two weeks of intense speculation about potential bidders, including Chinese mogul Kenny Huang and the Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi, as well as unnamed others.

Liverpool's statement read: "The Liverpool FC Board has reviewed a number of proposed bids for the club at a meeting held on Friday.

"The Board will continue to act in the best interests of Liverpool Football Club and its supporters, doing all that it can to ensure that the Club is ultimately sold to a buyer who has the resources and real commitment to give it a long-term, stable and secure funding position for its plans.

"The sale process is continuing. However, its timing and outcome remain uncertain.

"In the meantime, we will not comment on rumour and speculation."

The development is a positive sign that there is at last some formal substance to the Anfield sale process, with declared bids and letters of intent from several parties now vying to buy out Americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks, now on the boardroom table. Anfield officials made it clear after news of interest from Huang and Kirdi emerged that they wanted to see potential investors "show them the money" and had grown weary that the process was being played out in the media.

However, the club’s senior executives, led by Chairman Martin Broughton, Managing Director Christian Purslow and Commercial Director Ian Ayre, will take all the time they need to evaluate each offer thoroughly.

Though the Reds are still hoping for a swift resolution to the process, it is being stressed that the greatest priority above all is to ensure the club moves into the right hands, given all the controversies and broken promises of the past three years.

There is a determination to ensure that not only do bidders have the money to back up their now formally declared interest – but that they will deal with Liverpool’s debt burden, commit to finally building a new stadium, and prove worthy and responsible owners of the five-times European champions.

All of those criteria mean that a decision on a preferred bidder – should one eventually emerge – is still a matter of days, possibly even weeks away.

All the while, pressure is continuing to mount on Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The Royal Bank of Scotland will call in their debt of £237m on October 6, rather than facilitate another re-financing deal.

Hicks and Gillett could also be hit with a £20m fine in charges by the RBS if Liverpool is not sold before the end of August.

Hodgson Keen On Roque Santa Cruz

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is rumoured to be considering a move for Manchester City Striker Roque Santa Cruz and hope that Roberto Mancini’s need to trim his squad before the end of the month will make the Eastlands boss accept cut price offers for the Paraguayan.

Hodgson is looking to bring in extra attacking options and believes the former Blackburn Rovers forward has enough quality to force his way into the Anfield line up as a possible foil for Fernando Torres. The arrival today of Mario Balotelli pushes Santa Cruz even further down the pecking order and could leave the 28 year old missing out on the club’s 25 man Premier League squad.

Last term the powerfully built front man only managed six Premier League starts and is going to find it hard to improve on that total this time around. The forward arrived last summer for a fee of £17.5m but Mancini could be willing to offload Santa Cruz for half that fee as he looks to seal a quick sale.

Is Toulouse Striker Andre-Pierre Gignac On His Way To Liverpool?

Toulouse striker Andre-Pierre Gignac could be on his way to Liverpool, according to French reports.

The Sport 10 network said that Gignac’s agent is trying to push through a move to the Anfield outfit.

The 24-year-old is a tall, strong striker with great finishing abilities. He has great control and can beat defenders with his skill in tight situations. He is also takes dangerous free-kicks.

Gignac scored 11 goals for Toulouse FC last season.

He is contracted to his club until 2013 and he is valued at €15M-20M.

Gerrard Would Welcome Arteta

Steven Gerrard believes Mikel Arteta would make an excellent addition to the England squad.

The Liverpool ace proved his worth to Fabio Capello in midweek with a match-winning brace against Hungary.

Arteta is yet to win a cap for Spain and qualifies for England through the residency rule.

The Spaniard is regarded as one of the Premier League's best midfielders and Gerrard would have no qualms for Capello giving him the nod.

"I'd certainly love nothing better than to see Mikel Arteta available for England," explained Gerrard.

"You want to play with the best players, and if it makes the England squad better, of course I'd like to see it.

"I think it happens to most national teams [that they pick non-nationals], but it's up to him if he wants to make himself available.

"You want to play with the best players, and if it makes the England squad better, of course I'd like to see it."

Gerrard added: "Fabio Capello is the man to answer the question because he's the manager, but for me he's an excellent player."

Academy Boss Salutes Sterling And Hodgson

Frank McParland has revealed why Roy Hodgson made the shock move to include Raheem Sterling in his squad for the recent pre-season clash with Borussia Moenchengladbach.

The talented teenager enjoyed a 10 minute cameo in the 1-0 defeat in Germany offering supporters who don't make the regular trip to the club's youth base in Kirkby a chance to check out one of our emerging talents.

But how did the fledgling winger come to be on the plane to Moenchengladbach? We caught up with the Academy director earlier this week, to find out.

"I met up with the boss when we went to Germany. I spent two days with him and we had a good chat about the young players we have," explained McParland.

"We think we have some players with potential and he was really interested to hear about them. It was a really positive conversation.

"He asked about Raheem (Sterling) and after we had spoken, he decided to put him in the squad for the game with Borussia.

"The boy is only 15 so it was great that he could play 10 minutes or so. Everyone at the Academy was delighted about that. He is probably the youngest ever player to get near the first team and it was good that the manager showed his trust in our judgment.

"He's still getting to know everything about the club and we are looking forward to working with him more and more in the weeks ahead."

Last summer the club's youth base underwent a revamp that saw an influx of exciting new talent arrive in Kirby.

McParland admits the departure of Rafael Benitez could well lead to a change in some aspects of the Academy's day-to-day running but is relishing the chance to discuss the future with the former Fulham supremo.

"The boss is very busy at the moment and we haven't discussed exactly what his plans may be for us here at the Academy," said McParland.

"Once the transfer window closes and he is firmly settled into the job, I'm certain he'll have a say in what is happening here and we will welcome that.