Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Northampton Town

Goalkeeper Brad Jones could make his Liverpool debut against Northampton in the third round of the Carling Cup at Anfield.

The Australia international has sat on the bench for four matches since his late-August move from Middlesbrough to become Jose Reina's deputy but he is set to be given an outing against the League Two side.

Manager Roy Hodgson will make numerous changes with many of his first team stars rested, giving fringe and reserve team players - some of whom featured in the Europa League victory against Steaua Bucharest last week - another chance.

Hodgson has every faith his second-string players will step up to the mark after being handed the responsibility of getting past the Cobblers.

But despite the rotation, which has already been effectively used in the Europa League, the manager insists he is taking the competition seriously.

"It's a strange game for us in a sense,'' he said. "It's one where we definitely need to rotate the squad having played so many games and having to play so many more before the international break.

"But on the other hand it's a competition I take very seriously and I want to have a good run in the competition. We are bothered.

"There's a responsibility on those who replace the big-name players like Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher to name but four.

"And to be fair they've shown themselves capable of taking on that burden in a couple of European matches already.

"As we saw in the last game against Steaua Bucharest, Jay Spearing was arguably one of the best players on the field. If you never give him a chance, how do you know that?''

Northampton boss Ian Sampson is likely to hand centre-back Ben Tozer his debut against Liverpool in the Carling Cup following his arrival from Newcastle on loan.

The 20-year-old should start with Dean Beckwith sidelined due to a thigh strain suffered before the Shrewsbury defeat, while Abdul Osman had to be replaced during the second half with a knee problem.

Tadhg Purcell will be out for most of the season following an operation on his cruciate knee injury while Craig Hinton also remains sidelined with a knee problem.

Midfielder Ryan Gilligan still requires surgery on an ankle problem and despite having been playing through the pain barrier, may be rested with Michael Jacobs a possible replacement.

Marcus Hall will also miss out again with a hamstring injury.

Liverpool FC Out To Win Carling Cup, Says Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson has set Liverpool's second-string the challenge of a lengthy run in the Carling Cup – as he received a fitness boost from Dirk Kuyt.

The Anfield outfit embarks on the road to Wembley when they entertain npower League Two minnows Northampton Town in their third round tie.

As in the Europa League, Hodgson has once again decided to rest a clutch of key players with Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Raul Meireles among those absent from the starting line-up.

And the Liverpool manager has urged their replacements to stake their first-team claims by ensuring their interest remains deep into the competition.

“It's a strange game for us in a sense,” said Hodgson. “It's one where we definitely need to rotate the squad having played so many games, and with us having to play so many more before the international break

“But on the other hand it's a competition I take very seriously and I want to have a good run in the competition.

“We are bothered.

“There's a responsibility on those who replace the big-name players like Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher to name but four. And to be fair they've shown themselves capable of taking on that burden in a couple of European matches already.

“As we saw in the last game against Steaua Bucharest, Jay Spearing was arguably one of the best players on the field. If you never give him a chance, how do you know that?”

Hodgson has taken the strange step of publicly naming many of the players who will start tonight’s game.

Summer signings Danny Wilson and goalkeeper Brad Jones will both be handed their debuts while Dani Pacheco is poised for only his second start of the season.

“Soto Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger will be the two centre-backs and Danny will play left-back,” said Hodgson. “He came here as a centre-back but is capable of playing at full-back in the same way we think Martin Kelly is capable of playing in this position.
“Pepe Reina is a fantastic character who wants to play every game, whether it's a seven-a-side in training or any game Liverpool Football Club plays, but it's important that Brad Jones gets his chance.”

Hodgson added: “I'm quite interested in Dani as well. He's a player who came back a little later after taking part in the U19 European Championships.

“He's impressed in training and looks like a very interesting prospect. His first-team chances have been limited because he wasn't in Switzerland in pre-season, where he would have played for sure.

“I'm really looking forward to seeing him play on Wednesday night, and it's another great chance for Ryan Babel and David Ngog to stake their claim for a place in the team.”

One player definitely absent is Kuyt, who continues to recover from the shoulder injury suffered while on international duty with Holland earlier this month.

Liverpool feared the 30-year-old would be out for a month, but the Dutchman has made a speedy recovery and is already back in training.

And Hodgson claims Kuyt may return for Thursday's Europa League trip to former club Utrecht and could even be back as early as Saturday's Premier League visit of Sunderland.

“Dirk has trained the last couple of days,” said Hodgson. “We're trying to protect him a little bit but he's made a remarkable recovery, so it'll be interesting to see how he progresses in relation to Saturday's game and the game next Thursday.

“We thought three to five weeks, so we're at the quick end of the scale.”

Tonight's opponents Northampton stand in 85th place in the Football League, only two points off bottom place having won only one league game all season.

However, they earned tonight's tie having won on penalties at Reading in the last round having earlier eliminated Brighton and Hove Albion.

This will be only the fourth occasion the teams have met and the first time since 1966, with Liverpool yet to be beaten.

Jay Spearing Ready To Take His Liverpool FC Chances

It has become Jamie Carragher's trademark. Whenever there is a lull in the action at Anfield, whenever Liverpool are in need of a short, sharp kick up the backside, the shriek of encouragement to pierce the silence inevitably belongs to the centre-back.

Yet with Roy Hodgson's side spluttering after being dragged back to 1-1 by Steaua Bucharest in last Thursday's Europa League group opener, Carragher was on the bench when a similar battle cry prompted an enthusiastic reaction from the home supporters.

Step forward Jay Spearing. The 21-year-old, handed his first-ever senior Anfield start, could see Liverpool were in need of a gee up and his call of “come on boys, we've got to pick it up” came through loud and clear, both to his team-mates and the appreciative fans.

Yet the homegrown talent is acutely aware that it is actions and not words that will force him further into Hodgson's first-team reckoning.

Spearing has pinpointed this season as make or break in his attempts to lay down firm foundations for a lengthy Anfield career.

So far, so good. Having featured extensively throughout pre-season – including a brief spell as captain during the friendly against Grasshopper in July – Spearing has been named by Hodgson in both the Premier League and Europa League squads for this season.

While still awaiting his league bow this campaign, the midfielder has appeared three times in the Europa League and is likely to be given another chance to impress in tonight's Carling Cup third round home tie against Northampton Town.

And Spearing says: “At the moment I am really happy with how the season has gone for me. I wouldn't change anything.

“I've been given my chances and hopefully I have proven to the manager that I am capable of playing whenever he needs me.

“But personally speaking, I can't think that I'm just going to be playing in the Europa League and Carling Cup. I want to be playing in the Premier League.

“Obviously, playing in the other competitions can give me a confidence boost but it's the Premier League that myself, and everyone else, is aiming to play in.”

Of his call to arms last week, Spearing says: “It wasn't for any attention but it's just something I've always done in every game and in training sessions.

“I just wanted to give the lads some encouragement. I thought at that point in the game we just needed to get the ball down and start playing again like we did at the start of it.”

Under Rafael Benitez, Spearing made his debut almost two years ago in a Champions League win at PSV Eindhoven before a cameo appearance in the 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid later in the competition.

The following season came a first Premier League start at Sunderland while he later spent a loan spell helping Leicester City reach the Championship play-offs.

But last week's outing against Steaua holds pride of place for Spearing, who says: “It was a massive moment for me to start my first game for Liverpool at Anfield and I will take a lot from the game.

“I got a lot of confidence when the manager told me I would be playing and I went out there and really enjoyed it.”

Hodgson is using the Carling Cup, as well as the Europa League, to assess his reserve and fringe players, and is expected to make sweeping changes this evening with Brad Jones replacing Pepe Reina in goal and both Dani Pacheco and David Amoo among several hoping to see action.

“It's going to be as massive competition for me and for the rest of the young lads as well,” admits Spearing.

“It's a place for us to show what we are all about. The manager is going to give us a chance in the Carling Cup and the Europa League, and we have to prove to him that we should be given an opportunity to show we can do it in the Premier League.

“Hopefully we've done that with our performances in the Europa League so far.”

Inter Set Sights On Liverpool Defender Daniel Agger

European champions Inter are reportedly interested in acquiring the services of Liverpool defender Daniel Agger during the winter transfer window.

Nerazzurri coach Rafael Benitez wants to use the 25-year-old as an alternative to current centre-back pairing Lucio and Walter Samuel, according to the Daily Mail.

Agger has a contract in place with the Reds, which ties him to the club until June 2014. Juventus were also reportedly interested in the Danish defender in the summer transfer window.

A figure of approximately €9 million could be enough to see Agger reunite with his former coach.

Dieumerci Mbokani Reveals Why He Chose To Move To Monaco Over Liverpool

Monaco striker Dieumerci Mbokani has revealed he had given his word to join the French side rather than make a move to the English Premier League and play for Liverpool.

The 24-year-old Congolese forward claims he was made an attractive offer, but was not prepared to go back on his promise.

"Liverpool gave me a good offer but I had already given the 'OK' to Monaco and I could not turn back on them," Mbokani told talkSPORT.

Mbokani moved from Belgian side Standard Liege over the summer for an undisclosed fee, but the figure was reportedly around the €7 million mark.

A host of English teams including Fulham and Birmingham City were also keeping an eye on the striker prior to his move to the Ligue 1 side.

Agger Puts The Record Straight

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has dismissed quotes attributed to him in the Danish press saying that he was "very disappointed" to read quotes which suggested criticism of boss Roy Hodgson.

Agger appeared to question Hodgson's methods in stories published in Denmark on Tuesday morning, in which the defender was quoted as saying he was "here to play football and not to unload [the ball]."

But the Denmark stopper says his apparent rejection of Hodgson's philosophy was instead a response to a question put to him by a television reporter, and subsequently twisted by the Danish press.

"I am very disappointed with the papers in Denmark for the way they have done this story,'' Agger said.”I spoke to Danish TV after the game on Sunday and answered the questions that were put to me. I didn't speak to the papers.

"The problem was the questions never appeared on TV, only the answers did, and then the newspapers put their own questions in. What came out was 100% wrong and that is why I am very disappointed.

"The TV journalist asked me what I needed to do to get back into the team and suggested I should start hitting more long balls. I said I wouldn't do that because I'm not that kind of player. That's where that quote came from.

"I actually think we play good football and that we have showed that against Manchester United and against Arsenal. What I don't understand is that it was only a few days ago when I spoke to the media ahead of the Steaua Bucharest game and said everybody at the club was happier now with the new manager, the new players and the new methods.

"It's strange to read this just a few days later but that's the way the media works, especially in Denmark. I have been involved in every [Premier League] game this season. Of course I'm disappointed when I'm not in the team, but I have been here for five years and really like it here.

"I wouldn't have stayed for this long if I didn't like it or if I was unhappy. I am still happy and will keep fighting for my place."

Kevin Keegan Demands Supporters Have Patience With Roy Hodgson Due To Ownership Chaos

Liverpool legend Kevin Keegan has called on supporters to be "sensible" with their expectations of new manager Roy Hodgson due to the takeover crisis.

Hodgson, 63, arrived from Fulham just after owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks put the club up for sale in April due to their mounting debts.

With the prospect of falling into the Royal Bank of Scotland's hands in mid-October if a loan isn't repaid, the Anfield outfit was restrained in the summer transfer market despite the losses of Alberto Aquilani and Javier Mascherano.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Keegan - who scored 68 goals in 230 First Division appearances in the 1970s - called for fans to give Hodgson extra time to settle.

He said: "They've got in Roy Hodgson a manager who is very experienced. I think when he went in there, he knew what the situation was.

"It's a club where there is rebuilding to be done and most of the sensible fans know that."

Hansen: Hodgson Is Beginning To Reap What Benitez Sowed

Liverpool legend Alan Hansen believes Roy Hodgson’s difficult beginnings at the Anfield helm are being undermined by the previous managerial regime of Rafa Benitez.

Much of the preseason optimism has evaporated at Liverpool according to the aforementioned Anfield hero, but Hansen believes Hodgson has already made inroads into a squad that was in desperate need of an overhaul, praising the additions of Raul Meireles and Joe Cole.

Hansen, who won eight league titles during his illustrious Liverpool career, believes Hodgson needs time for his team to gel but ultimately the former Fulham boss will be judged on results.

The former Liverpool captain told the Daily Telegraph: “Roy Hodgson is beginning to reap what Rafael Benítez sowed in his final 18 months.

“When he replaced Benítez as manager of Liverpool, Hodgson accepted an incredibly hard job because he was left with a team that, while not in total disarray, simply were not good enough.

“If you set out to challenge for a Champions League position and finish in seventh, then the team are clearly not up to requirements.

“Hodgson knew the task facing him at Liverpool when he left Fulham, and you have to say that he has already cleared out some of the dead wood and replaced those players with better personnel.

“But it is all about results, and when they are not going your way, people will begin to ask questions.

“After the defeat at Manchester United, it is clear that Liverpool are still suffering from the same problems away from home that they have had for a while.

“They were abysmal away from Anfield last season and have only managed one point from three away games so far in this campaign.

“The big concern, just five games into the season, is that Liverpool already find themselves 10 points behind Chelsea because, at the outset of the campaign, there was real optimism that they could put up a good show in the title race.

“After ending the last campaign in doom and gloom, there was a lot of hope at Anfield generated by the signing of Joe Cole and the announcements by both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard that they were staying at the club.

“It was a lift for everybody and, with a couple of good signings in Raul Meireles and Christian Poulsen, the outlook appeared much brighter.

“I am not saying that I expected Liverpool to win the title, but I certainly believed they could put up a decent show.

“You have to say that the hope and optimism has diminished after just five games.

“Progress has been made by Hodgson, but despite the reality that his players will take time to gel into a team, results are everything.

“So despite the positives that Hodgson has already brought in his time as manager, the story so far is mixed and the emotions of the supporters are fluctuating between high and low.”