Thursday, August 19, 2010

Europa League Play-Off Preview: Liverpool vs Trabzonspor

Roy Hodgson’s reign as Liverpool manager so nearly got off to the perfect start on Sunday, though the former Fulham boss, who enjoyed such great success in the Europa League last term, will now hope his first success in the Reds’ dugout comes against Trabzonspor. Faced with Arsenal on the opening day of the Premier League, David Ngog shot ‘Pool into the lead early in the second half, despite Joe Cole having been sent-off in the first period. Only a Pepe Reina error late on denied Hodgson’s men three points and they will be expected to immediately bounce back on Thursday.

Trabzonspor will provide significant opposition. As the most successful non-Istanbul based Turkish outfit, much of the nation will be backing the six-time Super Lig champions, who qualified for the competition as cup winners last term. Like Liverpool, Bordo-Mavililer only has one competitive game under their belts this term, though unlike Liverpool they can boast that to be a victory. Teofilo Gutierrez grabbed a brace as Ankaragucu were defeated 2-0 at the weekend, getting the Black Sea Storm immediately into the winning habit. Thursday’s foes will be a big step up in comparison to the side that finished in the lower reaches of the Turkish standings last term.



Roy Hodgson doesn’t have any injury or suspension worries going into this game. He may choose to give Joe Cole some additional time on the pitch as the former Chelsea man prepares to sit out a three-game domestic ban, but there could otherwise be a fair degree of rotation employed by the Cottagers’ boss.

Christian Poulsen isn’t eligible and with Fernando Torres struggling for peak fitness it’s unlikely the Spaniard will be seen.

Probable Starting XI: Cavalieri; Kelly, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger; Kuyt, Leiva, Cole, Rodriguez; Babel, Ngog


Senul Gunhes hasn’t registered any selection worries going into this encounter, and it’s unlikely that he will make big changes from the weekend squad.

Probable Starting XI: Kivrak; Balci, Glowacki, Korkmaz, Cale; Colman, Gulselam, Inan; Yilmaz, Gutierrez, Alanzinho

Premier League Always The Priority, Says Hodgson

It may be nearly 40 years since Bill Shankly declared the domestic league campaign as Liverpool FC’s “bread and butter”, but the maxim remains true to this day.

Just ask Roy Hodgson. The circumstances may be somewhat different – Shankly’s comments came in the wake of a championship and UEFA Cup double – but it is with one eye firmly on the Premier League that the Anfield manager approaches tonight’s Europa League qualifying play-off first leg against Turkish cup winners Trabzonspor.

That Liverpool is even in the competition in the first place is testament to the travails of the previous campaign that saw Hodgson parachuted in to the top flight.

Of course, having guided Fulham to the final of the Europa League in May, the 62-year-old has recent experience of the effects a lengthy European run can have on domestic efforts.

And with Monday’s testing trip to title-chasing Manchester City sandwiched between both games against Trabzonspor, Hodgson admits Premier League points will take precedent over Continental aspirations.

It’s why skipper Steven Gerrard is among several players that started Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Arsenal who will miss out this evening, with Javier Mascherano nursing a calf strain and Daniel Agger yet to fully recover from concussion suffered at the weekend.

For Hodgson, the game therefore represents an early opportunity to gauge the strength in depth of his squad.

“You always have to have one eye on the Premier League games,” says the Liverpool manager. “We have got players who have played 90 minutes last week, 90 minutes on Sunday, maybe asked to play 90 minutes on Thursday, then 90 minutes on Monday, then 90 minutes on Thursday, then 90 minutes on Sunday.

“If you ask 11 players to do that then you are asking a lot of them. We have already lost two and I’m not sure how many more we are going to lose along the way. But we have a squad of players to deal with that.

“Hopefully a club of our stature has more than 11 players capable of playing at a top level, and it’s going to be up to me to make certain I choose the right ones for the games and I don’t get anybody into a situation that, thanks to being overplayed, they miss a lot more games.”

Indeed, Liverpool are in the midst of a busy spell of five matches in 15 days in which Hodgson is seeking to navigate a safe passage to the group stages of the Europa League and avoid a repeat of his players’ stuttering top-flight start of the previous campaign.

However, the hangover of the World Cup continues to force the manager into a series of creative compromises while attempting to prepare his players.

“That’s the nature of the business,” says Hodgson, who has confirmed Mike Kelly has joined from Fulham as the club’s new goalkeeping coach.

“If you take a job at a top Premier League club like Liverpool, you know a lot of things aren’t going to be ideal.

“You don’t get the players back when you want them, it’s spasmodic balancing who has done enough training and who hasn’t, and the season comes upon you so quickly.

“Hopefully with a bit of luck we can come through this period. I don’t think we had that luck in the first game maybe that will come in the games to follow.

“You do need a bit of luck to survive this period before you have stabilized things to your satisfaction.”

One player eager for an outing is Fernando Torres. The Spaniard made his first Liverpool appearance since April as a late substitute on Sunday, but is likely to remain on the bench this evening.

“Fernando is very keen,” says Hodgson. “If we decide he should start the game he would be ready to do so. He’s training and working hard and when I ask him how he’s doing he says he’s fine.

“Could he play on Thursday and against City? I don’t know if he is up to two games in four days.

“I would think he could do that though. He’s worked very hard since he rejoined with us. He has worked hard with the physical conditioning people.

“But what we must remember with Fernando, Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel are they are doing something of a pre-season with games going on around them. We have to not be blinded by the fact they are three to four weeks behind.”

Christian Poulsen, though, could be in line for a debut following his move from Juventus last week.

“He has had a pre-season with Juventus,” says Hodgson. “He started shortly after us.

“But the Italian clubs, because they start their season later on, they start by taking the players into the mountains and running them into the ground.

“Then three weeks before the season starts, they get the ball out, do some tactical work and play some games.

“Christian has done his running but hasn’t done much playing. The only question is whether he is capable of playing a match.”

Kenny Huang To Back Out Of Race To Purchase Liverpool If Club Does Not Decide The Winning Bid Soon

Chinese businessman Kenny Huang is set to give up on purchasing Liverpool as he is frustrated with the lack of progress his bid for the club is making.

With current Reds owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett looking to sell the club, Huang is one of the parties interested in buying, and submitted an offer for Liverpool.

The Liverpool board is verifying that each perspective owner has the funds they have offered and are deciding which bid they will accept, with the bidder that receives the majority of the votes getting control of the club.

According to The Guardian, Huang is growing impatient as he hoped to buy the club before the transfer season ends so that he can provide Reds boss Roy Hodgson with funds to strengthen the squad.

Frustrated with the fact that Liverpool has not made a decision on who will take over the team, Huang could now drop out of the running for the club if the Reds do not choose the winning bid soon.

Liverpool Set Sights On £16m Manchester City Pair As Hodgson Looks To Spend Potential Mascherano Windfall

Liverpool are considering a move for Manchester City pair Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz. Roy Hodgson is willing hoping to re-invest any potential incoming funds from the sale of Javier Mascherano and Emiliano Insua to bring in the Eastlands pair who does not appear to have a first team future at Eastlands.

Roberto Mancini is looking to trim his squad ahead of naming his 25 man Premier League squad and is looking to release some more of his ever expanding squad on loan but is willing to listen to decent offers for some of his players, including the England full back Bridge who has now fallen down the pecking order at the club.

Roque Santa Cruz only arrived at the club last summer for a fee of £17.5m but Man City may well accept offers of around £10m for the 29 year old and Roy Hodgson is keen to bring in new attacking options and is said to be a big admirer of the former Bayern Munich and Blackburn Rovers man who only managed six Premier League starts last season and is likely to see even less action this term.

Bridge would cost far less and would help resolve the left back problem the Merseyside club currently finds itself in. Daniel Agger had to fill in against Arsenal and Hodgson is keen to bring in a new full back as soon as possible.

Both players would probably jump at the chance of a new challenge and the only obstacle to such a move could be Mancini’s unwillingness to hand over his players to potential rivals to a top four finish.

Reds Capture Oldham Starlet

Liverpool has agreed a deal to take 14-year-old Oldham starlet Iaia Embarlo to Anfield for a sum of £25,000.

The Portuguese striker, who attended the Latics' centre of excellence, has moved for that initial fee with further add-ons included in the deal.

Embarlo is the latest youngster to leave Boundary Park for the Barclays Premier League, following Tom Eaves' move to Bolton earlier this month.

Greeks Face Fight For Nemeth

Krisztian Nemeth's agent has revealed that the Liverpool striker is attracting interest from a number of clubs other than Olympiakos.

Reports in Greece have suggested that Nemeth is poised to join Olympiakos after the two clubs agreed a deal for him to move.

The Hungarian's representative Viktor Kovesdi admits that negotiations have taken place over a switch but insists nothing has been decided yet.

Nemeth has failed to make the breakthrough at Anfield since arriving as an 18-year-old in 2007, but is still regarded as an exciting prospect for the future and Kovesdi says there is attention from elsewhere.

Speaking about the link with Olympiakos, the agent told Pepsifoci: "We can confirm that there have been talks between the two clubs.

"What is more they agreed about the details verbally, but there are numerous teams which want to sign Nemeth so his future is not decided at all.

"There are two other clubs which would like to get him and they go on as they want to be the winner for the striker's signature.

"Negotiations went so far with Olympiakos that we could turn onto the details of what the Greek side can offer for the player.

"But Nemeth hasn't travelled to Athens yet and he won't go there on Thursday because other clubs want him too."

According to Hungarian reports, Liverpool has offers for Nemeth from Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Hodgson Rejects Talk Of Babel Interest

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has dismissed rumours suggesting that Wolfsburg have made an offer for Dutch forward Ryan Babel.

The 23-year-old has struggled to make his mark at Anfield, but Hodgson is not about to sell the Netherlands international.

He told reporters: "I'm afraid we're in the realm of speculation. You know better than I how many stories you're getting every day and many of them are unfounded - many are attempts from people to get their players in the spotlight.

"We've had no written or formal offers for Ryan Babel and he's a player who I'm expecting to play for us."

Roy Hodgson Reveals He Tried To Sign David Ngog At Fulham

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has revealed he isn't surprised by David Ngog's scoring spree as he tried to bring the striker to Fulham.

Ngog, 21, has been in blistering form for the Reds and has scored four goals in three first team appearances this term. The France youth international struggled to make an impact last term and had looked to be on his way out under then manager Rafael Benitez.

Speaking to the club's official website, Hodgson admitted he had expected Ngog to shine and had made the centre forward a loan target in the New Year while in charge at Craven Cottage.

He said: "I wouldn't say he has surprised me. He is performing pretty much in the way I thought he could and should perform.

"In terms of judgement of front players, there's often a dual judgement - the judgement of the coach and the players who appreciate what he's doing, but if he's not scoring goals that won't be appreciated by other people such as fans and the mass media.

"I tried to loan him when I was at Fulham, but we were not allowed to because Liverpool didn't want to loan him out.

"We ended up taking Stefano Okaka from Roma, but when we were looking for some help up front we enquired about David Ngog and were told he wasn't available.

"So obviously I've always had some consideration for him."

Despite hitting new heights this campaign, Hodgson refused to set a target for the youngster and insisted he will stay as reserve to star man Fernando Torres.

"To get 20-25 goals a season you have to be playing in the region of 50-60 games," he stated.

"In reality, I wouldn't want that at the moment because that would possibly mean Torres isn't playing a lot of games.

"I don't set targets for him in terms of number of goals, my target for him is to be good enough to play in the Liverpool first team so that if I decided just to play with one forward, he could do what he has been doing for us so far."

Hodgson Would Be Happy To See Javier Mascherano Play Out Current Contract

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is prepared to allow Javier Mascherano to leave the club for free when his contract runs out in two years.

The Argentina international is keen to leave England due to family reasons and former Reds boss Rafael Benitez would like to bring Mascherano to Inter Milan with him.

However, the Serie A giants refuse to pay Liverpool’s asking price of £30 million, meaning that the midfielder will have to wait to leave until January at the earliest.

Hodgson, who took over for Benitez this summer after Liverpool finished a disappointing seventh in the Premier League last season.

With the Reds preparing for the first leg of their Europa League playoff tie against Trabzonspor at Anfield, Hodgson acknowledged that he would be happy to keep Mascherano at Liverpool for the next two seasons.

"I'd be quite happy to work the two years with him. If he then wanted to walk away, then so be it,” Hodgson told The Sun.

"The nicest thing of all would be if he signed a new contract, it's there for him. But nobody is putting him under any pressure.

"I'm very happy he remains with us because in an ideal world if it was simply a situation of 'would we be prepared to listen to offers for Mascherano', I would say 'no, we aren't'.

"It's only this promise that was made a year ago that lingers over my head, which means I'm even prepared to go as far as this.”

Hodgson revealed that Liverpool has not received a bid for Mascherano, and the Reds boss insists that they will not sell unless they get a proper offer.

"We haven't had an offer for him. We want one that meets what we think is his value and Javier is perfectly happy with this - he doesn't expect the club to just let him walk out of here.

"His problem is a familiar one that his wife doesn't come to Liverpool, so when he's here he lives alone.

"But he realizes he is a very valuable player, the best at what he does in the world and a club has to offer us what he is worth."