Sunday, September 12, 2010

Match Preview: Birmingham City vs Liverpool

Second season syndrome? What second season syndrome?

Alex McLeish might have been concerned as the season began that his Birmingham City side couldn't possibly live up to last term's impressive finish, but with five points from their opening three fixtures already such a repeat performance doesn't look out of the question.

The Scot might not be resting easy just yet, however. Whereas last season the Blues impressed with their watertight defence, this season it has shown signs of being rather more porous. Luckily, a sharper attacking edge seems to have offset that change somewhat. Two 2-2 draws have bookended the club's fledgling Premier League campaign — a superb opening day fightback at Sunderland, and a somewhat disappointing finish against 10-man Bolton at the Reebok Stadium — with a comeback 2-1 win against Blackburn Rovers in between suggesting St Andrew's will once again be a fortress this season.

And that will be the aim for the club when Liverpool come to town on Sunday. McLeish will want to get a result, first and foremost, and if he can see an improvement in his side's defensive fortitude — no mean feat against one of the league's more threatening attacking sides — then so much the better.

With a 16-match unbeaten home run to rely on, and the knowledge that they haven't lost to the Reds in the league for six years, the side will go into the game feeling rightly confident they can come away with a point — at the minimum.

Liverpool, for their part, visit St Andrew's looking to push on after an only moderately encouraging start to the season. An opening draw with Arsenal was nearly so much more (but could equally have been so much less) and a subsequent defeat at the hands of Manchester City hardly helped lift the club's currently dark mood.

And while a 1-0 win against West Brom wouldn't normally be a cause for celebration, the return to goalscoring form of Fernando Torres at least allowed the Anfield faithful to begin to hope that a corner has perhaps been turned.

With the international break granting a further chance for Torres to work on his match fitness, hopes will be high the Spaniard gets himself on the scoresheet again on Sunday and fully announces a return to his best. But in truth, the club's supporters will happily take a win any way it comes.

Last season, of course, a 1-1 draw in the corresponding fixture all-but ended Liverpool's realistic hopes of retaining their Champions League place. On that occasion then-manager Rafa Benitez withdrew Torres early, to the visible chagrin of both the striker and Steven Gerrard.

Barely six months on from that dark day, it will be interesting to see just how much has changed.

Not a happy hunting ground for them or many top Premier League teams last season, a positive result for the Reds at St Andrew's might suggest they have the style and improving team spirit to regain something approaching former glories as the season continues to progress.



New signing Alexander Hleb was ruled out of the game with a leg injury and then ruled back in by manager Alex McLeish, but is unlikely to do any better than a place on the bench. The match also probably comes too soon for Kevin Phillips, who is also making his way back after a lay-off.

The club's other deadline day signings, Martin Jiranek and Jean Beausejour, should be available to make their debuts.

Possible Starting XI: Foster; Carr, Dann, Johnson, Ridgewell; Larsson, Gardner, Ferguson, McFadden; Jerome, Zigic.


Dirk Kuyt will miss the game due to the freak shoulder injury he sustained while on international duty with the Netherlands, but new signings Raul Meireles and Paul Konchesky could both make their club bows.

Joe Cole sits out the last game of his three-match suspension, while David Ngog is a doubt after his withdrawal from France's Under-21 game in midweek, which might give Ryan Babel a chance to stake another claim for regular first-team inclusion.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky; Poulsen, Lucas; Babel, Gerrard, Jovanovic; Torres.

Roy Hodgson Believes New Buyers Need To Move The Club If They Are To Succeed

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has called for any potential buyers to move the club to a new ground if they are to compete and win trophies.

The Royal Bank of Scotland have been rumoured to be ready to take control of the Merseyside club and Hodgson fears the bank will eventually sell to a bargain hunter, who will have no interest in moving away from Anfield.

Owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are obliged to pay debts of around £280 million to RBS in October, and if no buyer is found the bank may choose to take control of the club rather than allow the American owners refinance their loans.

RBS taking control of the club would see Liverpool sold for less than £300m and without a new stadium, as the bank would be only willing to recoup the money that they would have lost.

But although Hodgson has admitted his knowledge of finance "could be written on a postage stamp", he knows that it would be a disaster for the club as they need a bigger stadium to compete with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League.

“I hope [chairman] Martin Broughton finds an owner who first and foremost backs the club’s desire to build a new stadium, which would be tremendous for our long-term future.” Hodgson told the Daily Mail.

“If we want to be up there with other big clubs, we need to have a capacity to rival theirs.”

Liverpool currently have a capacity of 45,000 and generate £42m from matchday revenue, £30m less than Chelsea, who pull similar crowds but have more corporate boxes.

However Manchester United, with a capacity of 76,000, and Arsenal, who stadium holds 60,000, earn double the amount Liverpool do from their home games.

Roy Hodgson Is Reluctant To Play Fernando Torres In Every Game

Roy Hodgson insists Fernando Torres can handle three games in a week but admits he would prefer to use his star striker sparingly.

The Spaniard has failed to complete a season at Liverpool without sustaining an injury and the Anfield manager is mindful of the fragility of the 26-year-old.

"I think Torres can probably play three games in seven days - he is as capable as anyone else - but if you can spare your players you want to do that," Hodgson told Press Association Sport.

"Torres is nothing special in that respect. The thing about him is that he went to the World Cup with an injury, played without being fully fit and we are anxious to make sure that in this season he will be fully fit.

"I am hoping, with the size and quality of our squad, I won't have to use him three times a week, week after week.

"If that happens then what will happen to Liverpool is what happened to me at Fulham - I'll lose players because you can’t ask them to take on that workload at the level we are talking about."

Hodgson paid tribute to Spain’s World Cup-winning coach Vicente del Bosque for omitting Torres from Tuesday’s match against Argentina.

"I think it was good for him to go with Spain and score two goals against Liechtenstein but it was nice of Del Bosque to spare him for the Argentina [friendly] game because it will be good for his future not just for Liverpool.

"I realize he was obliged to take Fernando with him because he had to take all his star players with him [to South America] but it was good he did not have to use him in the game."

Torres is likely to start against Birmingham City on Sunday and Hodgson is satisfied with the way his side are progressing during the early part of his reign.

"We've only had one defeat. We've had some good results, won our four European games and we were unlucky to drop two points in the last minute against Arsenal," said Hodgson.

"I'm afraid defeats are going to come along. I can't sit here and say we won't lose matches because we will. Most teams in this league will.

"All we can do is work and prepare hard and try not to lose them.

"When a defeat comes along you have to analyze the reasons why, work at your game to become better and then you put the defeat behind you and concentrate on your next game."

Hong Kong Investor ‘Leads Liverpool Takeover Race’

A Hong Kong-based businessman is the main contender to takeover Liverpool Football Club, according to a source close to Barclays Capital.

The Royal Bank of Scotland set a deadline of 6 October for club chairman Martin Broughton and Barclays Capital to find a new owner and bring an end to Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s Anfield tenure.

With the deadline looming and a number of potential investors seemingly backing away from making an offer, many reports speculated the club was unlikely to find a new owner before the date.

But a senior source close to Barclays Capital believes there to be some interest in the club, with “as many as five bidders at in-depth stages of due diligence” and a “Hong Kong-based investor leading the race” to take over at Anfield.

The bank, however, appears unwilling to offer any financial support to the potential investors, with the source stating there is “no chance of BarCap becoming involved with the debt financing of any takeover”.

However, Barclays Capital are reported to be becoming increasingly frustrated with the current owners. “Unrealistic valuations are driving us [BarCap] insane,” said the source. The insider also accused the American duo of being “unreachable”.

Hodgson In Dark Over Funds

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson does not know what budget will be available to him in January despite making a profit on the club's summer transfers.

The 62-year-old was roughly £8million in profit thanks mainly to the £20million deal which took Javier Mascherano to Barcelona.

He had hoped to use the surplus to bring in a striker but with Mascherano's move to the Spanish champions not being completed until a couple of days before the deadline there was not the time.

With the club still up for sale and uncertainty surrounding what might happen early next month when owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have to refinance or repay their £237million-plus loan to the Royal Bank of Scotland, Hodgson does not know whether that money will still be available in four months' time.

Asked whether he would still be able to spend the money which he did not use in August the Liverpool manager said: "I would hope so but I don't know. I don't know what funds I have for January.

"I don't know quite how much [was available in August] - but with the limited amount of time at our disposal and the very limited market it wouldn't have been possible for me to find the striker I wanted anyway.

"The situation with the club's funds is extremely complicated and it would be very foolish for me to start making statements on that front.

"Perhaps by January the club will be under new ownership and I'll have to see what the new ownership has in mind."

Hodgson knows the squad still needs improvement despite making strides in the summer but admits he has had to tailor his transfer dealings to solve specific problems rather than being able to strengthen across the board.

By bringing in the likes of Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky and Danny Wilson he boosted the English/home-grown quota while Denmark international Christian Poulsen and Portugal's Raul Meireles were brought in to fill holes left by Mascherano and Alberto Aquilani, now on loan at Juventus.

All the new arrivals are set to be included in the squad for Sunday’s match at Birmingham.

"[Buying] home-grown is nice and we have to think more about it because of the new rules that came into effect on September 2 with the 25-man squad," said the Reds boss.

"If you want to get the full benefit of your squad you have to fill your quota of eight, if you're talking about seniors.

"What is important when you are looking to bring in very high-profile players is realizing there is a definite place for them in the team and they are not going to clash with another high-profile player.

"Otherwise you find yourself having two wonderful players but you can't find a place for them in your team because they clash.

"With Joe we knew what we were getting and where we were going to use him and we knew exactly the jobs Poulsen and Konchesky were going to fill.

"The same goes for Meireles who, alongside Poulsen, is one of the midfield players replacing Mascherano and Aquilani.

"Cole, Poulsen, Meireles and Konchesky: each of those players fit very much into the profile of what we were looking for at the club.

"We thought we needed that type of player in that position and I am very pleased to welcome those.

"In our ideal world we may have had one or two other positions pencilled in to improve our squad but I am still pretty satisfied with the ones we got."

At St Andrew's on Sunday, Liverpool will seek to end a run of just one win in their last 10 Premier League away matches.

The two clubs have drawn their last six encounters and Hodgson is expecting another tough test from Alex McLeish's side.

"Birmingham will be similarly strong as last season, when they showed what a good team they were and how dangerous they were and their home form was very good.

"We know Sunday's match will provide a very stern test."

Defender Seals Loan Deal

Liverpool have confirmed Daniel Ayala has joined Hull City on loan.

The 19-year-old centre-back has signed a one-month deal with the Championship side.

Ayala moved to Anfield from Sevilla in August 2007 and made his first-team debut as a substitute on the opening day of the 2009-10 season at Tottenham Hotspur.

The talented Spaniard has notched up a further four appearances for the senior side and featured heavily during Liverpool's pre-season preparations this summer.

Lionel Messi: Hodgson Wronged Mascherano In Transfer Saga

Roy Hodgson has been blasted for his role in Javier Mascherano’s controversial move to Barcelona.

The Liverpool boss was forced to let the Argentina midfielder go to the Nou Camp for £20million after he refused to play at Anfield.

But Barca superstar Lionel Messi says Mascherano HAD to move to save his family from a private hell in England.

Messi said: “Javier has a clear conscience but I wonder if the Liverpool coach has.”

The striker, who is a close pal of Mascherano, 26, in the Argentina team, added: “We were in constant contact during his final nightmare year at Liverpool.

“His family was deeply unhappy in England.

“They struggled with the culture, had no friends and he told me he used to come home from training to find his wife crying.

“A man has to put his family first and Javier had to put his wife and his two daughters before football.

“Hodgson was fully aware that Javier needed to leave the country because of his family and told Javier that if the right offer came in he would be allowed to move.

“Barcelona matched Liverpool’s valuation and Javier got the move his family desperately needed.

“Now the coach is saying that Javier held Liverpool to ransom when it’s not true. They both agreed he could go for the right price. Javier will reveal the truth of the conversations in detail one day but for now he is just happy he is at the greatest club in the world where he can finally win things – and more importantly where his family can be happy.

“He is happy now he is in a Spanish-speaking country. With all the South American players at Barcelona, he is like a new person.

“I have been speaking with him and he wants the fans to know that they were great and Liverpool Football Club will always be in his heart.

Young Reds Silenced The Rams

Rodolfo Borrell's U18s continued their impressive start to the season as they came from behind to beat Derby County 3-2 in a five-goal thriller at the Academy on Saturday.

After making an impressive first start for the reserves at Newcastle on Tuesday and scoring on his debut for England U19s last week, Michael Ngoo led the line alongside Hungarian Krisztian Adorjan.

Former Swindon Town stopper Jamie Stephens started in goal while exciting youngsters Raheem Sterling and Toni Silva also featured.

The young Rams started brightly and were in front after 12 minutes through an unstoppable 25-yard strike from Alex Witham that gave Stephens no chance.

Four minutes later the Reds had a great chance to equalize. Adorjan's superb defence splitting pass sent Silva clear, but after rounding goalkeeper Mats Morch, from a tight angle his effort only found the side netting.

Sterling was causing the Derby County defence all sorts of problems down the left wing and one run saw him beat four players before being hacked down just outside the box.

The former QPR starlet had a wonderful chance after 26 minutes. Again Adorjan was the instigator with a perfectly placed through ball to send him clear. Unfortunately the U18s' No.7 took a heavy touch and Morch produced an excellent point blank save at his feet.

A strong run from left-back Brad Smith took him to the edge of the box, and his fierce low cross was just missed by the lurking Ngoo.

However, the pressure finally told and Borrell's side got a deserved equalizer 10 minutes from the break.

It owed much to superb play from Ngoo who chased down a loose ball down the right, won it and crossed for Silva to slot home into an empty net.

The visitors also had their moments and were dangerous on the counter-attack, but the game then changed just before half-time.

In first-half stoppage time skipper Conor Coady let fly with a stinging 25-yard blast but Morch was equal to it as he palmed the ball over the bar.

From the resulting corner Matthew Regan climbed high to make it 2-1. The Derby players tried to protest the ball didn't cross the line but the referee had a perfect view of it and the goal was given.

Indeed the protests were led too far and Derby were reduced to 10 men when Aaron Cole was sent off for disputing the goal.

It then almost became 3-1 in stoppage time when Sterling weaved his way past a couple of defenders before his curled effort was well saved by Morch.

Borrell's side started the second half intent on adding more goals to their tally and it became 3-1 on 51 minutes when Adorjan netted with a superb left footed strike beyond the reach of Morch.

Silva should have made it 4-1 after a lovely pass from Ngoo but his effort was tipped behind for a corner.

To their credit the 10 men of Derby battled on and got back into the game with a gift after 68 minutes. Stephens sliced his clearance straight to the Rams No.9 Callum Ball, who couldn't believe his luck as he rounded the 'keeper and slotted into the empty net.

Despite conceding a bad goal the away side never came close to an equaliser in the final stages of the game and Ngoo was unlucky not to make it 4-2 after a great run, but was denied at point blank range by Morch.