Sunday, August 22, 2010

Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs Liverpool

'Super Mario' came to Manchester City's rescue on Thursday night in Romania, but there wasn't a single moustachioed, red-dungaree-sporting plumber in sight. It was Mario Balotelli, City's latest big money striker, who came off the bench against Timisoara to save his new team the slight embarrassment of returning to England without a first leg advantage in the Europa League.

It took 72 minutes for Roberto Mancini's side to break the deadlock on Thursday and before that, 90 had passed without a goal at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur. At this early stage of the season one goal from two games is hardly drought material but, given the money spent by Mancini in the summer, it won’t be long before critics are asking questions of the Italian's acquisitions.

Mancini has conceded it could take a few weeks for City's star-studded line-up to gel and become a genuine force to be reckoned with in the Premier League, but the former Inter boss will be hoping to set the wheels in motion with a victory at Eastlands on Monday.

It has been a week of ups and downs for Liverpool; on the pitch they carried the momentum of a draw with Arsenal on the opening day into a midweek Europa League meeting with Trabzonspor where they came out on top thanks to a solitary goal from Ryan Babel, though a one-goal lead could prove difficult to hold on to with the notorious Turkish crowd breathing down their necks.

Joe Cole misses the trip to Eastlands and missed a penalty on Thursday night to round off a disappointing week for him, while Chinese businessman Kenny Huang pulled out of a takeover that would have seen the club free of the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and Alberto Aquilani will be in Italy on Monday ahead of a loan move to Juventus.

Two players who look likely to stay with the club are Javier Mascherano and Dirk Kuyt, though. Both had been linked with moves to Inter, but manager Roy Hodgson believes the European champions will not move for the pair. It is a massive boost for the Reds, who will be keen to prove the City revolution will not prevent them from returning to the top four, and what better way to do that than with a win on Monday night?


Manchester City

James Milner could make his debut for City after completing his switch from Aston Villa this week, but fellow summer signings Aleksandar Kolarov and Jerome Boateng are injured, while Wayne Bridge is also a doubt.

Mario Balotelli looks likely to recover from the knee problem that saw him limping after his first appearance against Timisoara in midweek and could start.

Possible Starting XI: Hart; Richards, Kolo Toure, Kompany, Zabaleta; Yaya Toure, De Jong; Milner; Tevez, Balotelli, Silva.


Roy Hodgson rested a host of first team players on Thursday, many of whom are likely to return to the starting line-up, including Javier Mascherano, who could return after a calf injury. Daniel Agger, however, is struggling with concussion.

Fernando Torres may also get his first start of the season after appearing as a second half substitute against Arsenal and Trabzonspor. Joe Cole begins a three-game suspension after his red card against the Gunners.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio; Mascherano, Poulsen; Kuyt, Gerrard, Jovanovic; Torres.

Silva Fears Torres Impact

David Silva is concerned about the damage Fernando Torres could do to Manchester City on Monday at Eastlands.

The former Valencia forward has played alongside Torres on numerous occasions for Spain.

They were both part of the squad that helped the nation win the World Cup in South Africa after an extra-time victory against Holland.

Since then Silva has joined the City revolution and is due to come face-to face with Torres when Liverpool visit in the Barclays Premier League.

Torres must be hoping his fitness worries are behind him. He injured his thigh in the World Cup final after needing two knee operations during the season.

Yet the striker still managed to finish with 22 goals in 32 games in all competitions for his club, who finished a disappointing seventh in the table.

And Silva is worried that Torres, who came off the bench in the draw against Arsenal on Sunday, is getting his sharpness back and may be ready to make City suffer.

"I would rather play with Torres than against him,” Silva told Sky Sports' Barclays Premier League preview show.

"We all know that Fernando is a very good player. At any moment he can win the match."

Silva has started in City's first two games. He helped the team beat Timisoara 1-0 in the Europa League play-off first leg match on Thursday.

That victory came on the back of a goalless draw with Champions League contenders Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Silva has a special reason for seeking success against Liverpool and added: "I want to win as it is the first home game. I hope we will start well."

Roy Hodgson Targets PSV Star Carlos Salcido If He Fails To Land Fulham's Paul Konchesky

According to The News of the World, the Anfield boss remains hopeful of signing the Fulham left-back but has the Mexican international lined up as an alternative.

Salcido, 30, has been capped 77 times for his country and has also won the Dutch Eredivisie title twice since moving to Holland from Mexican side Guadalajara in 2006.

The Mexican stalwart featured heavily in this summer's World Cup, helping his country to the last 16 before they were eliminated by Argentina.

Hodgson continues to search for a left-back despite re-signing Fabio Aurelio last week, following his decision to play Daniel Agger out of position to fill the breach last weekend against Arsenal.

Inter Make £15 Million Move For Liverpool Striker Dirk Kuyt

Inter and former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is ready to bid £15 million to prise Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt away from Anfield.

According to The Sunday Mail, Liverpool remain adamant that Kuyt is not for sale, and manager Roy Hodgson stated earlier this week that he believed Inter president Massimo Moratti would not be bidding for any of his players.

However, Kuyt has been told that the Merseysiders received a fax from Inter on Thursday night following their Europa League clash with Trabzonspor and now has the option of moving to Milan to be reunited with his former boss.

He was reported to have told a newspaper in Holland yesterday: "On Thursday night, during the Europa League game against Trabzonspor, the board of Liverpool informed me officially that they have received a fax from Inter. You can call this a luxury situation for me."

Inter are understood to have offered a cash-plus-player exchange deal for Kuyt which was rejected, but it is reported that a cash-only bid would be enough for Liverpool to change their stance on the Dutchman.

Dirk Kuyt Will Decide On Inter Milan Move By Weekend

In spite of Liverpool coach Roy Hodgson's insistence that he had been told by Inter Milan chief Massimo Moratti that the Treble winners would not bid for his players, an £8-million offer has been made for attacking midfielder Dirk Kuyt.

"On Thursday night, during the Europa League game against Trabzonspor, the board of Liverpool informed me officially that they had received a fax from Inter,” Kuyt said last night. “You can call this a luxury situation for me.”

The Dutchman will decide whether to leave Anfield this weekend, according to the Mirror.

Moratti confirmed he would not be bidding for Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, but denied giving any assurances to Hodgson on Kuyt.

“Mascherano? We won’t make a move for him," he said. "But Kuyt? We will have to wait and see.”

Krisztian Nemeth To Leave Liverpool For Olympiakos

Krisztian Nemeth is set to join Olympiakos next week, after the Greek giants agreed a €1.5m fee with Liverpool for the young striker’s services.

The 21-year-old has agreed terms on a three-year deal, and is expected to finalize the move on Monday, following the completion of a medical. The Greek club announced on their official website that an agreement had been reached.

Nemeth spent last season on loan with AEK Athens, and had been courted by Olympiakos’ fierce rivals Panathinaikos, as well as numerous others across Europe, but the player’s agent, Tibor Pataky, has revealed that the Hungarian will be moving to Piraeus.

“It seems Krisztian will sign at Olympiakos on Monday,” said Pataky, “But it is not complete yet, though every paper is, I think.

“It is a very big story in Greece because he was at AEK last year, and now the two big rival Panathinaikos and Olympiakos are in a competition for him. And still there are teams from Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal interested.”

Nemeth joined Liverpool from MTK Hungaria in the summer of 2007, and impressed for the Reds’ reserve team in his first season. His goals helped them to the Premier League Reserves title in 2008, and earned him the Player of the Season award.

However, despite shining for Hungary at youth and U20 level, the Gyor-born forward found it tough to break into former manager Rafael Benitez’s plans. A loan move to Blackpool was scuppered when he sustained a fractured cheek bone in his first game for the Seasiders, and Nemeth eventually ended up heading for Athens with AEK last season.

He scored 3 times in 18 appearances for the Greeks last term, and in May was rewarded with a first call-up to the senior Hungarian squad, for a friendly with Germany in Budapest.
But with Benitez gone, and Roy Hodgson looking to reshape his squad, Liverpool have taken the option to cash in on their young asset.

Nemeth was not included in any of the Reds’ pre-season fixtures, with the likes of Lauri Dalla Valle, David Amoo and Nathan Eccleston drafted in from the youth and reserve teams ahead of him and, with the player setting his sights on a place in the Hungary squad for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers, a move to Olympiakos – where he will link up with former Anfield team-mate Albert Riera – looks to be in the best interests of all parties.

Hodgson Backs Joe Cole To Fire

Roy Hodgson accepts Joe Cole has made a bad start to his Liverpool career but is not reading much into his early tribulations.

Cole made a bright initial impression against Rabotnicki in a Europa League qualifier but that was quickly forgotten as he was sent off on his first Barclays Premier League appearance for the Reds against Arsenal.

That incurred a three-match domestic ban but, free to play on in Europe, he compounded his misery by missing a penalty against Trabzonspor on Thursday.

Cole's frustrations will continue as he is forced to sit out Monday's trip to Manchester City and Hodgson concedes, despite him being eligible for the return against Trabzonspor, it will be some time before he shines.

The Liverpool manager said: "The biggest blow is for him. He was so desperate to start his career here well and he hasn't done so.

"In his first game he managed to get himself sent off - albeit somewhat harshly - and in his second he missed a penalty.

"It has been a bad week for him and now it is going to be even worse because after the game in Turkey he will have to sit on his backside for two or three weeks because of the international break.

"It couldn't be a worse start for Joe Cole in his Liverpool career but starts are starts and finishes are finishes.

"We will judge Joe Cole on what he has done for Liverpool sometime in the middle of May when the final ball this season has been kicked."

Cole's arrival on a free transfer from Chelsea helped lift the mood at Anfield after the disappointment of last season's seventh-placed finish.

The England international was deployed in a playmaking role behind the front men in his early Liverpool outings and Hodgson wanted his creativity for the testing visit to Eastlands.

Hodgson will now rethink his tactics as he has no like-for-like replacement for the tricky 28-year-old.

The former Fulham boss said: "You play to your strengths. We have been using Joe where we think he serves the team best.

"If he is not playing someone else will come into the team and we will try to use him where he serves the team best.

"I am not hung up on a particular playing style. I have a footballing philosophy but not necessarily a particular system.

"It would be foolish to start discussing now how much we are going to miss Joe because he has only just come to the club anyway."

One player who could start is star striker Fernando Torres, who has made two substitute appearances since suffering a groin injury playing for Spain in the World Cup final.

Torres made an immediate impact when introduced at half-time against Trabzonspor and Hodgson feels he is now ready for 90 minutes.

Hodgson said: "He showed what a quality player he is on Thursday.

"He was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Turkish defence and was very unlucky not to score.

"We know what we have got in Fernando Torres and know over however many games we play he is going to be a very important player for us.

"It is really nice to see him back and it is important now we manage his fitness.

"It is important we look after him because we want him to be playing on a regular basis throughout the season and not only for a short period because we have overused him.

"Hopefully this year the Kop will see a lot of him."

Liverpool and Manchester City both have lofty ambitions but as the Merseysiders labour under weighty debts, the contrast in the resources available to Hodgson and opposite number Roberto Mancini is marked.

But Hodgson said: "People ask if I am envious but when you have got people like (Steven) Gerrard, (Javier) Mascherano and Torres, to name but three, it would be very foolish to get envious.

"I am quite philosophical about these things and we will be ready to play the game."

Kenny Huang Blames Liverpool Chairman For Failed Takeover

Kenny Huang decided to withdraw from the race to buy Liverpool because of his increasing disillusionment with chairman Martin Broughton and the club’s board over the timescale and pace of a deal, it has emerged.

It is believed Huang was unimpressed at Liverpool’s unwillingness to set a general “horizon date” for the completion of a sale.

He is also thought to have been concerned by Broughton’s insistence that the board should reserve the right to accept an 11th-hour bid from another candidate even if the terms of sale had been agreed.

Broughton has been persistent in his assertion that he will not be corralled into rushing a sale by any candidate while sources close to the process are adamant it is in the club’s best interests to keep an open mind on the winning bidder until the very last minute.

Huang, the only contender to buy the debt-laden club who had made his intentions plain, issued a statement on Friday night.

In it he revealed that he had informed Liverpool’s board that he no longer wished to be considered a candidate to buy out the stakes of current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Though his bid has been laced with questions over the provenance of its funding since it was first revealed earlier this month, his advisers insist his finances were checked and approved by the Royal Bank of Scotland, who hold Liverpool’s £237 million debt, and Barclays Capital, the bank mandated to run the sale process.

He is also believed to have supplied all supporting paperwork requested by the club.

Huang was viewed as a “serious contender” by all parties linked to the sale, but grew frustrated at the board’s perceived prevarication.

He was refused a period of exclusivity in which to finalize his bid last week – he had wanted a deal to be agreed before the closure of the transfer window.

He was also concerned by the revelation that BarCap had been involved in an abortive attempt in June by Hicks and Gillett to refinance their debt and forego a sale.

Sources at Liverpool and BarCap have insisted the departure of Huang from the negotiating table is not a hammer blow to the sales process.

It has been suggested there may be as many as four other bids on the table, though as yet no other group has confirmed its interest. Liverpool’s board is believed to be discussing their options should no sale be secured.