Saturday, September 25, 2010

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Sunderland

Both Liverpool and Sunderland will be looking forward to getting back to Premier League action on Saturday after suffering midweek defeats in the League Cup.

Liverpool was dumped out of the cup by League Two side Northampton Town on penalties, while Sunderland were knocked out of the competition by Premier League strugglers West Ham United.

It’s been a tough week for the Liverpool squad and their fans after defeat to bitter rivals Manchester United in the Premier League was followed by a humiliating midweek defeat on penalties to Northampton Town in the Carling Cup.

The Reds weren’t at their best against United but Roy Hodgson will take heart from the fight back from his side put up, although he will be concerned that his side conceded a third goal and that all three of United’s goals came from crosses.

Things didn’t get better on Wednesday night when the Cobblers knocked the Reds out of the League Cup. Despite making 11 changes Liverpool fans were expecting a victory but it wasn’t to be as they were outplayed by Northampton, who were deserving of their victory on penalties.

Reds fans will at least be buoyed by their record against Sunderland in the Premier League at Anfield and will hope the return of their more senior players sees an improved performance and a much needed victory.

Sunderland are on a bit of a high in the Premier League at the moment, following their victory over Manchester City, a strong performance against Wigan and their dramatic injury time equalizer against Arsenal.

Confidence was high at the Stadium of Light, but a surprise defeat to West Ham United in the League Cup will have dented that a little.

The form of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan will be something Steve Bruce will be happy with — between them the strikers have bagged seven of the eight goals scored by the Black Cats this season. Bruce will be hoping his new look strike partnership continues to flourish as Sunderland go in search of their first victory at Anfield in the Premier League.



Roy Hodgson is expected to recall his senior players for this match and that could mean 11 changes to the side beaten by Northampton Town.

Liverpool fans will be expecting to see Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Fernando Torres and Joe Cole back in the starting line-up and will hope they can turn around the Reds form.

Potential starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Konchesky; Cole, Poulsen, Meireles, Babel; Gerrard; Torres.


Steve Bruce played a full strength side for the Carling Cup defeat against West Ham so he may not make any changes to his starting line-up.

Captain Lee Cattermole will be available again after serving a one match suspension following his red card against Wigan, however Titus Bramble may not be involved following his recent arrest on suspicion of rape.

Potential starting XI: Mignolet; Onouha, Ferdinand, Bramble, Richardson; Henderson, Cattermole, Riveros, Malbranque; Bent, Gyan.

Roy Hodgson Confident That Liverpool Can Emerge Stronger From Current Problems

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has acknowledged that he is bitterly disappointed at his club's exit from the League Cup, but feels that it is too early in the season to become too downhearted.

Hodgson accepts that he and his players must take responsibility for the League Cup exit to Northampton Town but has urged fans not to lose faith in his regime.

"I've had many disappointments. You can't work at 35 years at the level I have without having disappointments," Hodgson told reporters.

"Any criticism which comes my way and the team's we have to accept because it is not acceptable to have a home game in the Carling Cup against a team several divisions below you and not come out with a victory.

"Wednesday was a really bad result for the club, it has knocked us backwards, and has put us in a situation where we are heavily criticized - perhaps rightly so."

Hodgson also adopted a more objective viewpoint when assessing the club's season so far, pointing out that there had been some positives to take from this campaign already.

"Everyone predicted the start of the season was going to be difficult looking at our program, players leaving and coming in and discussions about the future of the club," 62-year-old added.

"That is how it's proved to be. We've had some good moments - with five straight Europa League victories - but also some bad ones, like the [3-0] defeat at Manchester City and the one in the Carling Cup.

"It's been pretty much a mixed bag but we'll live through the bad moments and over the course of the season we'll do well.

"We are reading an awful lot into a bad result.

"If we'd had a positive result on Wednesday this would have been quite a positive press conference as people would have been talking about Manchester United (last weekend), how well we did in the second half, but all of that flies out of the window."

Fernando Torres 'To Submit Liverpool Transfer Request In January'

Fernando Torres is preparing to drop a bombshell on new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson in January by handing in a written transfer request, it has been suggested.

Torres is reportedly disgruntled at the Reds' manager's failure to bring in any more big-name signings since Joe Cole's arrival on a free transfer.

The signing of the ex-Chelsea star was thought to have been a watershed moment for the club in outbidding rival suitors Arsenal and Tottenham, with reports at the time claiming Cole had been offered £90,000 a week over four years at Anfield.

Shortly afterwards, Torres spoke out to commit his future to Liverpool - despite speculation that Manchester City and Chelsea were both preparing to break their transfer records to sign the Spanish international.

But the former Atletico Madrid striker is said to have had a rethink, with the Daily Star claiming he will demand to leave when the transfer window reopens.

Torres' form has been poor so far this season, with several factors - from exhaustion after the World Cup to fears of picking up more injuries - being blamed for his disappointing showings.

And it is said the 26-year-old believes a move away from Liverpool - where concerns over the club's financial position are overshadowing the team's performances - could rejuvenate his flagging club career.

Fans To Protest Against Liverpool FC's Owners At Anfield

Another protest against Liverpool’s American owners takes place at Anfield today. But Roy Hodgson admits the latest problem for those suffering supporters is entirely of his own making.

The reverberations are still being strongly felt from Wednesday’s calamitous Carling Cup humiliation at home to npower League Two minnows Northampton Town.

Although a second-string line-up, there were nevertheless six full internationals in the Liverpool team that slumped to one of the most embarrassing results in the club’s long, trophy-laden history.

After a difficult start to his tenure both on and off the field, it was the last thing Hodgson needed as he strives to put down foundations and revive the feelgood factor of pre-season.

And the 63-year-old shoulders much of the responsibility for a truly dismal evening in midweek.

"I didn’t feel the need to get the players together to lift spirits the day after the game," says Hodgson. "We had a training session with 13 players and they’re the ones who didn’t play because the others came in during the afternoon for a warm down.

"I told them ‘it was a bad moment for the club unfortunately which was of my making because I took a team that underperformed and lost, but it had nothing to do with you. You can’t take responsibility because you weren’t not even on the bench.’"

While exonerating those that were absent in midweek – indeed, Hodgson will change his entire starting line-up for today’s Premier League visit of Sunderland – the defeat only increases the pressure on Liverpool’s senior players to improve on a start to the season that has seen them accrue only five points in as many games and hover just about the relegation zone.

But Hodgson says: "Why should the pressure transfer on to them? The spotlight would have been on us anyway, five points in five games and at home at Sunderland.

"We are living through a moment of my own making you could say which people I think are profiting and enjoying themselves enormously by writing things about the club that they themselves don’t probably believe.

"Wednesday had nothing to do with the players who will play on Saturday and I don’t think their confidence or perception will change one iota.

"They are as disappointed as I was by the performance but its a game of football and it’s not the first time its happened to a football club, it’s not the first time its happened to Liverpool Football Club but when it does happen to you its a major blow and all we can do is take the criticism and the blow and get on with our jobs.

"There is no alternative and what’s more there’s no solution other than to do that."

If Liverpool’s unrecognizable line-up in midweek suggests maybe a "false" result against Northampton, then Hodgson believes his team’s testing fixture list has given their start a somewhat misleading appearance.

In five games, Liverpool have faced three title challengers – Manchester City and Manchester United away, Arsenal at home – and also travelled to a Birmingham City side that haven’t lost at home for almost a year.

And asked if the table gave a false impression of his team, Hodgson says: "Yes I think so, I’ve said that all along. I have to say that after the Man United game I was very, very sad after the game because after getting it back to 2-2 that would have been a really good result and it would have buoyed everybody.

"We didn’t get it because they scored a third goal quite close to the end but the training has been very good this week and I’m impressed with the players here.

"The criticism levelled about the depth of the squad I can understand because people saw the squad playing on Wednesday and we lost the game and people will make conclusions and there is not much I can do about that.

"Maybe it was a good learning process for me as well because seeing them in training and seeing them in matches is two different things and sometimes you have to see them in games.

"I think that we will get better as I’ve said all along. The players are working very hard and responding very well to the work we are trying to do but we need some results to back that up.

"The performances have been better after quite a poor one at Manchester City and nor particularly good against West Brom and Birmingham. United was a step in the right direction and I expect that to carry on."

Hodgson has learned the hard way in recent weeks that the spotlight on Liverpool far outstrips anything in his managerial career – even while at Inter Milan – and will only intensify should they fail against Sunderland today.

And the manager admits to being taken aback by the level of scrutiny his tenure has already been put under.

"Inter had a television channel all those years ago and they were forerunners and they had their own internet but, yes, it has surprised me a little bit I suppose," says Hodgson. "I’m coming to terms with that more and more.

"It’s not so much a surprise but you have to live it to appreciate it. I did expect it to be different to Fulham and much more spotlight and interest but you have to live it to appreciate it.

"If I say I’m surprised it suggest that I didn’t realize how big this club was and how much interest there is but I did realize that I was coming to a much bigger and more pressurized and scrutinized job than the one I was having.

"I realized those things but you have to live it to appreciate it. And all the things going on now are helping me appreciate that even more – if ‘appreciate’ is the right word."

Roy Hodgson Hits Back At Sir Alex Ferguson For Calling Fernando Torres A Cheat

Roy Hodgson has hit back at Sir Alex Ferguson by insisting Fernando Torres is not a cheat – and admits he should have immediately jumped to the defence of the striker.

Manchester United manager Ferguson caused a stir in the wake of Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford last Sunday by accusing Torres of attempting to get John O’Shea sent off after being fouled by the defender for the free-kick from which Steven Gerrard scored Liverpool’s equalizer.

Hodgson neglected the opportunity to rubbish the comments in the immediate aftermath of the match by refusing to become embroiled in a war of words.

But, with Torres set to resume up front against Sunderland at Anfield this afternoon, the Liverpool manager insists it was wrong for Ferguson to question the integrity of the striker.

"Fernando Torres is not a cheat, he has proved that time and time again," said Hodgson, who could welcome Dirk Kuyt back to the fold today. "He is a very respected player, he is strong and takes players on and not easy to stop and he is going to get fouls like he did for their equalizing goals.

"I don’t think anybody thinks that was not a foul on the edge of the box. I can understand the penalty as well because it is a bit unlucky on the player because he slides but unfortunately that is a stonewall pen when you slide and take somebody out of the game.

"Alex is a good friend of mine and knows how to use the mass media and he’s used it very well there and he might have used it to deflect from Nani who, certainly on one or two occasions, was playing for fouls in our opinion.

"There is no danger of us cheating. The players here have had years and years of criticism and crisis management every time they have not won a game or things have not gone their way and I think Torres will shrug those suggestions off just as I shrug them off."

Many Liverpool supporters were perturbed Hodgson missed the opportunity to instantly defend Torres, something the Anfield manager accepts was a mistake.

"Possibly I’m learning as I go along," he said. "I wouldn’t have thought it was necessary but seeing the way people exaggerate almost everything and want to hype everything up, maybe I should have said something there and then.

"I didn’t think it was necessary to say it because it was insulting people’s intelligence. For me, it was one of Alex’s inflammatory little digs to make his victory even sweeter and our defeat even harder and that’s part of the game."

With Liverpool still smarting from their embarrassing Carling Cup exit to npower League Two minnows Northampton Town on Wednesday, Hodgson will revert back to his first-choice team for the visit of Sunderland.

The Anfield manager is expected to change his entire starting XI and is likely to include Kuyt, who returned to training this week after missing three weeks with a shoulder injury.

Tommy Smith: Sweeping Changes Led To Liverpool FC Humiliating Downfall

I wasn’t at the Northampton game on Wednesday night. But I don’t think I could have been any angrier even if I had been.

As soon as the penalty shoot-out ended, I switched the radio off and went to bed.

Like all other listening fans, and of course the thousands of supporters who paid their money, braved the rain and went along to support their side in what should have been a routine cup game, I’d long since heard enough and had enough.

I know there were six international players on duty plus some other apparently up and coming youngsters. And for that reason we should have had enough to see off a lowly League Two side at Anfield.

But a fair share of the blame for this woefully embarrassing defeat simply has to go to the manager for making 11 changes – yes 11 changes – to the line-up.

I’m sorry but this is just utterly ridiculous to me.

I played for eight years in a team that barely changed under Bill Shankly.

The first team line-up and approach was replicated through the ranks. So if one of us did get injured, the left-back or right-half or whoever would be replaced by someone from the reserves who was groomed in the position and what was expected. He would step up and fit in.

How on earth are 11 players who have never played together as a side before be expected to play really well? To me they just can’t.

Had Roy Hodgson instead announced in advance that he would be playing people like Gerrard, Reina, Torres and Carragher in his starting line-up, then many more fans would have turned up I’m sure and we would have had no problems.

Remember, playing at Anfield is a cup final for a side like Northampton and to entirely change our side from the weekend has played right into their hands.

I know it’s early days for Hodgson and he’ll certainly be learning a lot about his squad. But I really hope that after Sunderland today he looks to keep the same side against Utrecht in midweek and again against Blackpool in a week.

If players need resting let them instead ease up on the training, as we used to do.

Because wholesale changes invariably bring wholesale misery in my book.

Labour MPs Raise Liverpool FC Sale Concerns With Christian Purslow

Three Merseyside MPs have met with Liverpool FC to raise concerns over the club's future.

Liverpool supporters Steve Rotheram (Walton), Alison McGovern (Wirral South) and Derek Twigg (Halton) have all raised concerns in the House of Commons over the rammifications of the sale which will seal Tom Hicks and George Gillett's imminent departure from Anfield.

On Thursday, the trio met Christian Purslow, the club's managing director, to discuss issues raised by supporters and constituents in recent weeks as the sale process continues to drag on with only weeks remaining before the Royal Bank of Scotland's loan deadline expires.

Fans continue to remain anxious about the long-term future at Anfield following the Americans' failure to ensure that the club remained debt-free following their takeover in 2007.

However a statement from the group revealed that they were satisfied with the outcome of the meeting and felt that Purslow, along with fellow board members, commercial director, Ian Ayre and, chairman, Martin Broughton are doing all they can to find the right buyer for the club.

“We are grateful to Liverpool Football Club and Christian Purslow for agreeing to a meeting so that we could discuss the current situation regarding the potential sale," it read.

"We are conscious that a crucial deadline is looming which has increased the anxiety of supporters, thousand of whom have contacted us, and we are keen to do all we can to see the club in a sustainable financial position.

"We came away with the clear view that everything possible is being done by Chairman, Martin Broughton, Managing Director, Christian Purslow and Commercial Director Ian Ayre to secure a buyer that will be right for Liverpool Football Club and will take the club forward.

"It is important that the Club gets things right this time regarding its future ownership and we believe the independent members of the Board deserve the backing of the club’s supporters.”

All three Labour MPs signed an Early Day Motion in June to highlight Gillett and Hicks' failure to 'exercise responsible stewardship', citing the failure to fulfil their promise to build a new stadium in Stanley Park as one of justification for 'a positive strategy to take the club forward'.

Rotheram, who was Lord Mayor of Liverpool before being elected as Walton MP, added: “The future of Liverpool FC and the building of a new stadium is crucial to the regeneration of the Anfield area and I emphasized this during our meeting with Christian Purslow.

"We need to bring an end to this saga and the uncertainty that has helped create such horrendous conditions for residents living in the area.”