Sunday, August 29, 2010

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion

Liverpool will be desperate to build on Thursday's Europa League play-off triumph over Trabzonspor by recording their first win of the 2010-11 Premier League season against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

Reds fans will undoubtedly still be reeling after the club's dismal 3-0 defeat to Manchester City in their last league outing, although the 2-1 win out in Turkey, without influential twosome Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, will have helped repair the damage.

While only two games into the new domestic season, Roy Hodgson will no doubt be under pressure to deliver a victory at Anfield with the Merseyside outfit already five points off the pace and having only picked up one point against two potential rivals for a top four finish.

With Javier Mascherano on his way to Barcelona and Dirk Kuyt committing his immediate future to the club, the Reds can now begin to focus on the challenges that lie ahead this term, albeit with the signing of a left-back before the close of the current transfer window seemingly still a priority.

West Brom's start to life back in the Premier League has been something of a mixed bag, although following the 6-0 trouncing at the hands of Chelsea on the first weekend of the season, boss Roberto Di Matteo will be delighted to have recorded a 1-0 win against Sunderland last Saturday.

The Baggies will be hoping for more of the same from recent signing Peter Odemwingie following his winner against Steve Bruce's side, and after the capture of former loan star Marc-Antoine Fortune from Celtic, Di Matteo certainly has options up front.

Albion haven't recorded a victory over Liverpool since 1981 and they will be hoping their luck will change at Anfield, where they have failed to grab a win since way back in 1967. The last time the two sides met on Merseyside, Robbie Keane grabbed a brace as the Reds triumphed 3-0 in the Premier League back in 2008.



Having been kept back for the trip to Trabzon, both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard should return to action at Anfield on Sunday.

Javier Mascherano's protracted move to Barcelona appears to be coming to a close and the Argentine will almost certainly be left out of the Reds' squad for the third consecutive game.

Joe Cole will definitely miss out as he serves the second game of his three-match suspension following his red card against Arsenal, while Daniel Agger and Milan Jovanovic could return to the side having missed out against Trabzonspor.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger; Kuyt, Lucas, Gerrard, Jovanovic; Torres, Ngog.

West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies made a number of changes for their League Cup victory over Leyton Orient on Tuesday and there will likely be recalls to the starting XI for the likes of Peter Odemwingie, Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans.

New signing Marc-Antoine Fortune may have to settle for a place on the bench if his international clearance is granted in time, while Jerome Thomas (ankle), Joe Mattock (foot) and Ishmael Miller (thigh) look set to miss out.

Possible Starting XI: Carson; Jara, Olsson, Tamas, Cech; Barnes, Morrison, Dorrans, Mulumbu, Brunt; Odemwingie.

Roy Hodgson Warns Doubters Not To Write Off Liverpool

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has hit back at critics of his side following their 3-0 defeat to Manchester City on Monday night.

The Reds began the season with a draw at home to Arsenal but were soundly beaten at the City of Manchester Stadium, leading some commentators to dismiss their title hopes, something that bemused the former Fulham boss.

"I can't get my head around why, on the second game of the season, it should be seen as such a watershed," Hodgson told

The Anfield outfit bounced back by beating Trabzonspor home and away to secure qualification to the Europa League and Hodgson praised his side for their efforts in Turkey.

He continued: “We lost a football game. But we showed great character, to keep going and keep playing the right football against Trabzonspor and I was really pleased we achieved victory against a team which are notoriously difficult to beat.

"It is always important to win games and it was good preparation for Sunday.

"It wouldn't have been nice going into the game with two defeats behind us so getting a victory was important for the psychological feeling coming up to a West Brom game."

Next up for the Merseysiders is the visit of West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League and their manager is looking forward to recalling some key players to the starting line-up.

"It will be nice to play at home again and hopefully get the players who weren't in Turkey back into the fray again and maybe a little bit rested," he added.

"That will be useful. It was a very tiring pitch in Trabzon and, had we had to fight with the same XI that we had against Manchester City against West Brom, it would be very tough for them.

"It is good to give one or two of them a rest and psychologically it will be a boost we won the game because you don't want to be going in staring at the possibilities of three bad results on the trot.

"I've spoke to the medical staff; Steven [Gerrard] is feeling better and they are optimistic he will be okay. [Milan] Jovanovic will be okay, but Maxi Rodriguez is still sick and Daniel Agger is feeling a lot better too. It is really only Maxi who is a great doubt.

"This Europa League is in some ways harder on a squad than the Champions League because you get more teams from the far eastern part of Europe. Then you are playing Sunday-Thursday-Sunday, so you need a very big squad."

Carlton Cole 'Set For Liverpool Transfer' After Reds Sign Raul Meireles

Carlton Cole is the next name on Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson's shopping list after the club clinched the signing of Raul Meireles.

Hodgson hopes to use the funds from the sale of Javier Mascherano to Barcelona to rebuild his squad and began that process by bringing in Portugal midfielder Meireles.

The Reds have paid Porto £11.5 million for the 27-year-old, who is a direct replacement for Mascherano.

Hodgson now wants to strengthen his forward options by signing a target man and, according to the News of the World, has set his sights on West Ham's Cole after learning that Tottenham's Peter Crouch is not for sale.

Cole has been the subject of interest from Stoke City and Sunderland over the summer, but Liverpool hope to win the race for his signature by offering the Hammers a cash-plus-player package.

Liverpool In Hot Pursuit Of PSV Eindhoven Striker Ola Toivonen

Liverpool are in hot pursuit of PSV Eindhoven striker Ola Toivonen.

According to the Star, Liverpool ambassador Kenny Dalglish watched the Swede play against AZ Alkmaar last weekend and urged Reds boss Roy Hodgson to sign him.

Liverpool are set to offer PSV £8m for the 24-year-old forward.

And Hodgson says boosting his fire-power is now a priority.

“If the right player comes along it would be good if we could bring in another striker," he said.

“I don’t make any apologies for saying that but I would want it to be the right man. There are a lot of players we can sign and we’re linked with a lot every day because they would like to come and play for Liverpool.

“It’s important for me that if we bring someone in that he really fits the profile which I have sketched out for this player and that he fits in with our transfer policy.

“The striker I want would also be a player who has got some of Fernando’s qualities that’s for sure."

Mascherano Rejects Criticism

Javier Mascherano has denied going on strike at Liverpool as he prepares to seal his move to Barcelona.

The Argentine international is expected to tie up his move to Barcelona on Monday after Liverpool reluctantly agreed a fee for the midfielder on Friday.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson aimed a swipe at Mascherano following a deal being agreed with Barca questioning his professionalism after the former West Ham man reportedly refused to play in last Monday's defeat at Manchester City.

However, Mascherano has blasted Hodgson's criticism and claims he was 100 per cent professional during his time at Anfield.

"I showed at Liverpool that I am always 100 per cent professional and nobody can doubt that," Mascherano told The People.

"Against Manchester City I was not right to play. I spoke with the coach and he understood my position. It was better for the team.

"I have never had any problems with the new coach - I accepted his orders and Roy Hodgson would confirm it.

"My team-mates knew it was my decision and did not say anything about it to me."

Mascherano insists his move to Barcelona is not driven by money and he is excited about joining the Spanish champions.

"Liverpool will always be in my heart, but my time there has finished and now it is time for a new challenge," added Mascherano.

"I have not left Liverpool to join Barcelona for money, just for sporting reasons. The Barca project is very exciting. They have been interested in me in the past and this second opportunity to join them was impossible to reject.

"I will for ever be grateful to Liverpool for what they did for me, but I have done all I can for them on the pitch in return.

"The fans were always brilliant with me and now I must wait to see if they view my exit negatively. That is football."

Mascherano also revealed former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez wanted to bring him to Inter Milan, but that Lionel Messi played a big part in persuading him to move to Camp Nou.

"Inter was the first option," he added. "Rafa wanted me for his new project, but my family and the challenge Barcelona provides made me choose Spain.

"Lionel Messi was also a big influence. He spoke with Pep Guardiola and told him Barcelona needed me."

Di Matteo Has No Regrets Over Turning Down Hodgson

Roberto Di Matteo has no regrets about turning his back on the chance to play for Roy Hodgson.

The Baggies boss takes his side to Anfield for today’s game against Hodgson’s Liverpool admitting he has a lot of respect for Hodgson due to the veteran manager’s time as boss of Switzerland.

Di Matteo was born and raised in Schaffhausen, in Switzerland, but opted to play for Italy, as both his parents were Italian.

His decision to play for the Azzurri coincided with Hodgson’s spell as manager of the Swiss national side between 1992 and 1995.

But Di Matteo, while respectful of the Liverpool boss, believes he made the right choice to opt for Italy over his birth nation.

Meanwhile, across Merseyside, Spaniard Mikel Arteta has offered his services to England, assuming he is eligible.

Di Matteo believes the choice should lie with the player.

“I was given a choice but I decided to retain my Italian nationality,” said Di Matteo.

“It turned out to be a good decision but it depends how he (Arteta) feels and what he thinks of his career.

“It’s a very personal decision for someone to make.

“Look at the German or Swiss teams. The majority or, at least half of the team, are second generation of immigrations.

“I’m open-minded. We live in an era where there is a European Union.

“I feel very European because I’ve lived in Switzerland, Italy and England. The choice is there.
“I know Roy Hodgson well and it goes back a long time to when he was national coach of Switzerland.

“He is a nice man. He had two fantasic seasons with Fulham and did an amazing job.

“But if you look at what he’s done over his career he’s done a great job wherever he’s been.

“He qualified for the World Cup with Switzerland. He was revered over there – he was very successful.

“I could have played for Switzerland but I had already made my choice, which I felt was right.
“But, Roy, yes I’ve known him for years.

“I wasn’t surprosed to see him appointed at Liverpool. He was the ideal candidate for the job in my opinion.

“He came from two fantastic seasons with Fulham. He’s a balanced person, knows the Premier League, he’s experienced.

“He’s coached Inter Milan, Switzerland, some big clubs along the way and now he’s got his reward with Liverpool.

“I think he will do a good job there.

“He’s a new manager in at Liverpool and is at a restructuring phase. A new manager has his philosophies, how he wants to play. Roy will do well.”

Meanwhile, Di Matteo believes the rule about home-grown players will impact on managers at the top of the Premier League as the transfer window enters its final days.

Albion have almost concluded their deals, with maybe one more player set to arrive before Tuesday’s deadline.

And all Premier League clubs are now having to make sure their 25-man squads have eight home-grown players.

Arsene Wenger described it as an artificial supression of talent.

Di Matteo believes the new directive will test those managers who prefer to do their shopping abroad. He also feels it is a mere reaction to the nation’s progress.

“The home-grown rule is an interesting one,” added Di Matteo. “The 25-man rule isn’t too bad but what will have an impact is eight home-grown players. Clubs will have to think about how they move players around.

“We’re okay here. Young players don’t have to be named in the 25 so it’s not a massive problem in that respect.

“And poaching will always go on. But this is the first step towards bringing a limit in for foreign players without contravening any European Union rules.

“Look at Inter Milan – they won the Champions League with no Italian players.

“We’ve had this before – you could only have three foreign players at one point. We had it in Italy.

“Then they change it – it usually comes on the back of a national team not doing well in the European Championship or a World Cup.

“Spain will probably not be too concerned about this right now, for instance.”

Jamie Carragher Donating £25,000 To Everton

Jamie Carragher, a boyhood Everton fan, is donating £25,000 from his testimonial fund to the club he supported.

All the proceeds from Saturday’s Anfield friendly between his Liverpool team and an Everton Xl are going to charity, with Carragher insisting that £25,000 goes to a cause chosen by Everton.

He said: “I was an Everton fan as a kid, so it’s fantastic the two teams are coming together for my testimonial.

“Hopefully it will be a game where Reds and Blues can sit together, like I did when I went on The Kop as a young Evertonian.”