Thursday, September 16, 2010

Europa League Preview: Liverpool vs Steaua Bucharest

After a stuttering start to the domestic campaign, Liverpool should look welcomely at the distraction of a Europa League group stage clash with Steaua Bucharest at Anfield.

An uninspiring goalless draw against Birmingham City precedes Thursday's European clash and in that Premier League fixture, star players Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard were criticized for failing to galvanize their team-mates in a limp display.

However, both stars will be denied redeeming themselves in front of the Kop against the Romanians as manager Roy Hodgson looks to spare his best players the ordeal of an early season slog through the Europa League foothills. That means Torres, Gerrard and even Jamie Carragher are likely to be rested, with new signing Raul Meireles set for a full debut and Joe Cole filling in as he looks to gain fitness upon his return from suspension.

Despite the refreshened player selection, Hodgson will want a good run in the competition after the Reds reached the semi-finals last season, where they were knocked out by eventual winners Atletico Madrid. Hope will be gleamed from the fact that in the only previous meeting between Liverpool and Steaua, during a Uefa Cup tie in 2003-04, the Reds came out on top with a 1-0 win at Anfield after a 1-1 draw in Romania. They can also boast a stretch of 10 unbeaten games in the Uefa Cup/Europa League itself at Anfield.

Meanwhile, Steaua head into this clash after a solid start to their league campaign. They currently sit in third place after seven games and are level on points with leaders and city rivals Dinamo. New boss Ilie Dumitrescu, club legend and former Spurs and West Ham player, will be hoping to end a barren few years for the most decorated club in the history of Romanian football.

The Romanian giants finished fourth last season but won the last of their record 23 league titles in 2005-06. And the match at Anfield comes at a somewhat difficult spell for the side who have failed to win in their last three matches. Last weekend they were beaten 1-0 at Unirea Urziceni, who Liverpool knocked out of the Europa League at the last 32 stage last season.

However, Steaua have pedigree in Europe and won the European Cup in their halcyon days in 1986 when they beat a Barcelona side managed by Terry Venables 2-0 on penalties after a goalless draw. They followed that up a couple of months later by defeating Dinamo Kiev to lift the European Super Cup. Steaua also reached the 1989 European Cup final but lost 4-0 to AC Milan. These achievements are long in the past though, and any unfounded optimism will be tempered by the fact that the Romanians have never beaten an English side on the road.



New left-back Paul Konchesky should be fit to face Steaua despite failing to last 90 minutes against Birmingham City at the weekend.

Raul Meireles is set for a full debut alongside Joe Cole with Hodgson also giving a chance to youngster Daniel Pacheco.

Daniel Agger is set to return to his favoured position in central defence, while Dirk Kuyt is out with a long-term injury.

Possible starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Konchesky; Poulsen, Meireles; Pacheco, Cole, Babel; N'Gog.

Steaua Bucharest

Striker Bogdan Stancu is likely to be given the nod to lead the line up front and is the side's leading scorer this season with six goals.

Defender George Galamaz is ineligible, as is left-back Pablo Brandan, and strikers Marius Onofras and Marius Bilasco. All have played in the Champions League qualifiers for Unirea before joining Steaua and are thus ruled out.

Possible starting XI: Lungu; Latovlevici, Alves, Martinovic, Bonfim; Radut, Tanase, Angelov, Vilana, Matei; Stancu.

Roy Hodgson Underlines The Importance Of The Europa League

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson says that although the Europa League is not on a par with the Champions League, its significance in European club football cannot be undermined.

The Premier League giants commence their European adventure with a game against Steaua Bucuresti at Anfield in Group K on Thursday. Last season Hodgson led modest English side Fulham to the final of the Europa League and now expresses his admiration at the way UEFA have refurbished the old UEFA Cup.

"I agree entirely with those who say the Europa League is already a good quality version of the Champions League which provides some extraordinary matches," Hodgson told "We can't pretend the Europa League is quite as prestigious as the Champions League [which] will always be the biggest.

"However, it's pleasing the Europa League is now a very good second. There are so many quality sides around in the leading leagues that if you reach the group stage, you'll normally face top teams from Italy, Spain, Germany and England."

Looking ahead to the Reds' task in the group stage, Hodgson said, "We have drawn big-name clubs but with the good fortune of not having to travel too far. We played Trabzonspor in qualifying, a good team but a difficult place to get to – a long, long way away.

"When the season is in full swing you are grateful if the trips are shorter. I think the team will carry good support at Napoli and Utrecht.
"They won't be difficult for our supporters to get to – we'll look forward to those trips. Fulham is not traditionally a club where the fans follow the team all over the world.

"But somehow the European adventure last year entered into everyone's heart and soul and we had incredible support wherever we went. Liverpool traditionally have great fans and I expect that will continue."

Phil Thompson: Top Four Finish Is Liverpool FC’s Ultimate Aim

There have been a lot of people keen to knock the Europa League, but if you look at some of the groups, some of the game’s greatest names are involved.

It will certainly be difficult to win the tournament this season but, for the moment, I don’t think Liverpool can be looking that far ahead – there are other objectives to achieve first.

Top of the list of priorities is getting back into the top four and, like every other Red, I am desperate to see us play Champions League football again; it has been hard watching the group stages begin.

I’d expect Roy Hodgson to make changes this evening against Steaua Bucharest, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard likely to be those in the frame to be ‘managed.’

Hopefully those who come in will do the job expected of them and if we can get three points in our first game, it will give us scope further down the line to make more changes.

Liverpool Set Sights On Giant £12m Forward

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is planning a January move for Cluj forward Lacina Traore as he looks to improve his threadbare attacking options. The Anfield club attempted to sign Carlton Cole and Roman Pavlyuchenko last month and are desperate to offer under fire Fernando Torres more support to help shoulder his goalscoring burden.

The giant Ivorian has been a massive success since his move to the Romanian champions and has been linked with a move to the Premier League for some time with the likes of Tottenham and Everton previously reportedly interested in signing the 6ft 8in striker.

Hodgson is hoping to bring in a big striker who he can play as a foil for Spanish international Torres and a move for Traore would reportedly cost around £12m and if a bid was placed for the 20 year old he would surely be very tempted at a move to Merseyside.

Liverpool And Manchester United Battling To Sign Birmingham City Centre-Back Scott Dann

Manchester United and Liverpool's rivalry is set to be reignited in the January transfer window as they battle it out for Birmingham City centre-back Scott Dann's signature, according to

Dann, 23, has excelled in the Premier League since arriving from Coventry City last summer. His partnership with Roger Johnson has hauled the Midlanders up the table and saw them shut out superstar striker Fernando Torres last Sunday.

Interest is growing in the ex-England under-21 international, with an £8 million bid believed to be enough to secure his signature.

Dann could be tempted with a move back to his native Liverpool; though United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is hopeful the defender will consider himself a successor to injury prone veteran Rio Ferdinand.

Daniel Agger Relishing Life In Happy Liverpool FC Camp

As Liverpool’s players trudged from the St Andrew’s turf on Sunday afternoon, there was little glimpse of a smile on their collectively stern faces.

But Daniel Agger is convinced the laughter has returned to the training ground at Melwood since the arrival of Roy Hodgson.

Regaining the feelgood factor has been a buzz phrase around the club ever since Hodgson’s appointment as successor to Rafael Benitez sparked what Liverpool hoped would be a turning point in a summer of disillusionment.

Results on the pitch have pointed to the fact it will take time for the Anfield outfit to truly replicate the form that made them competitive for much of the Spaniard’s reign.

But away from the playing field, Denmark international Agger believes the change in players, coaching staff and training methods has already started to have a positive effect.

“It’s a new team with new players, young players, new staff,” says the defender. “You can see on people’s faces they’re a lot happier.

“The training sessions are different. When you get a new training session, new staff, new methods, it gives more energy somehow.

“Obviously the sessions have to be good and in the right way. But for me it’s important for a team to be happy to play football. For me personally it’s important to be happy to play football. I can perform better and I think it’s the same for everybody.”

When asked if he felt the squad had grown stale under Benitez, the 25-year-old adds: “I think we have to look at the future not the past so I don’t think it’s relevant.

“In every training session we focus on the future, we don’t look at the past.”

The recent past, though, has seen Denmark’s Agger pushed into an unaccustomed role in Liverpool’s defence.

With injuries having forced the Dane to become a makeshift left-back during the death throes of Benitez’s reign, Agger has found himself still in the position at the start of the Hodgson era.

The arrival of Paul Konchesky from Fulham last month has increased the pressure on the Dane, who, unable to dislodge either Martin Skrtel or Jamie Carragher from the heart of defence, only emerged as a substitute during the goalless draw against Birmingham City at the weekend.

And while content to serve the team, Agger admits his talent is best served at centre-back.

“Both me and the boss know I’m not a left-back and if I could decide myself I wouldn’t play there, but I’ve got to do what the manager tells me,” he says. “At a club like this you have to play in the position the manager puts you in.

“That’s the same for me. I’m happy to be in the team and that’s the biggest part of it. I’m never happy to be on the bench, so if I have to play left-back, I play left-back.

“I feel my qualities are in the middle and I feel I give more to the team in the middle.”

Indeed, given the lack of creativity shown by Liverpool at the weekend and the struggle for goals this season, it is noticeable that Agger’s ability to bring the ball out of defence at centre-back has been missed.

With Anfield manager Hodgson ready to rotate his resources, Agger is almost certain to be handed a starting role in his preferred centre-back position when Liverpool host Steaua Bucharest in tonight’s Europa League Group K opener.

The competition is well behind the Premier League in Liverpool’s list of priorities this season but Agger, who has yet to win silverware since arriving at Anfield almost five years ago, is taking Europe seriously.

“I came to this club to win trophies and we haven’t won anything for the last four years,” he says. “For me and the team it’s important, and it’s also important for the squad because we have a lot of players and everybody wants to play.

“We’ve got 25 players and they can’t all play, but we get more games because of this tournament, so it’s important to progress to keep more players happy.”

Asked whether the Europa League represented their best hope of silverware, Agger adds: “It’s the quickest way to success, isn’t it? Obviously the Premier League is very strong. Like last year, we want to win this.

“Steaua are a typical Eastern European team. We played in Macedonia earlier and obviously Steaua are a bigger club and a stronger team, but they’re similar kind of players.”

Liverpool have lost only one of 11 previous games against Romanian opposition, and progressed from their previous meeting with Steaua in the UEFA Cup in November 2003, following a 1-1 draw in Bucharest with a 1-0 home triumph.

Hodgson can also claim victory in his previous meeting with Steaua coach Ilie Dumitrescu, who played for Romania when Hodgson’s Switzerland won 4-1 at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States.

Pepe Reina Modestly Accepts Another Award From Club Fans

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has reiterated his determination to keep playing well for the Reds after receiving an award from a supporters' group.

The Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association (LDSA) has named Reina Player of the Season for 2009-10, and the Spaniard was delighted to receive another plaudit.

The 28-year-old also vowed to keep working hard and improving, for the fans' sake as much as his own.

"It's a wonderful thing because it means the people have recognized my job, although when a goalkeeper is voted the best member of the team, it means we have not done so well," Reina told his club's official website.

"But still it is good to be rewarded with this prize and I am very, very proud. I'm really grateful to the fans for their support - and it's even more special to win this award from the members of the LDSA.

"It's nice to be here, speak to the fans, see the smiles on their faces and try to make them happier."

New Study Highlights How Liverpool FC Was Ahead Of Its Game

A new study by a University of Leicester sociologist has highlighted how Liverpool football club became the first British club to truly internationalize the game – many decades before the supposed globalization of football talent.

The football manager is also presumed to be a largely modern invention, associated especially on Merseyside with the popular ‘socialism’ and media-friendly charismatic leadership of Bill Shankly from the late 1950s. But the first great Liverpool manager actually came much earlier, says John Williams of the Department of Sociology.

In a new book, Red Men: Liverpool Football Club: the Biography, Bootle-born Williams describes how Liverpool recruited footballers liberally from colonial South Africa in the 20s and 30s.

He also profiles the media-savvy and astute Tom Watson who piloted the club to its first League championships in 1901 and 1906, before taking his team to the FA Cup final in 1914 – the first attended by the King, as war loomed.

Said Williams: “The role of Watson and the Liverpool club at this time is analyzed in some depth. This was a moment when the Merseyside area precariously balanced the Victorian legacy of self-improvement and cosmopolitanism with almost unimaginable problems of social division and poverty, as the role of the docks in Liverpool gradually began to diminish.

“Red Men is the definitive history of a remarkable football club from its formation in 1892 to the present day, told against the sociological backcloth of the cultural and economic development of the city of Liverpool and the ambitions of its people.

“Football clubs are much more than just local centres for entertainment. They have their own identities and cultures, which are layered and painstakingly constructed over time. I wanted to examine the relationship between football and the city of Liverpool as well as exploring the emergence of local supporter cultures and the role of recent tragedies in establishing Liverpool FC as ‘more than just a football club.”

The research offers a rich sociological context for the discussion of the football club and its players and fans, and the professional game in the wider sense, by providing accounts of associated cultural and social developments in the city and beyond over the past century. It examines the early role of civic and ethnic elites in both sport and politics in the early years of the professionalization of football and deals with issues of gender, race and sport in Liverpool. It also explores the ‘clerical tyranny’ in Liverpool that restricted weekend play for local men and women for many years.

The book offers incredible ‘colour’ and unique data drawn from the Liverpool club’s official Minute Books which reveal evidence of the early commercialization of the game, hard-working but chaotic directors, discussions about stadium development and relations with supporters, players and sponsors, and (in hard times) whether the club could manage to pay for repairs to the club captain’s false teeth, cruelly damaged in football action!

The recent stadium tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough that have shaped the modern British game and the club and the city’s contemporary identity are also covered, as are the new Continental influences at Liverpool and, of course, the glory of Istanbul in 2005 when Liverpool won the European Cup for a record fifth time.