Sunday, October 17, 2010

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Liverpool

Never has a Merseyside derby been so important yet so little talked about. After an unprecedented week of boardroom drama at Liverpool finally finished on Friday, Everton will be keen to extend their misery on the pitch.

Both sides head into the fixture on six points and lurking at the foot of the table and with questions being raised over whether one of the Merseyside giants could end up in a relegation battle this season.

David Moyes’s hosts sit 17th in the table after finally notching their first win of the season at Birmingham last time out, in the process becoming the first team in more than a year to leave St Andrew’s with three points.

However, the Toffees are still without a win on home soil this season and have a dismal recent record against their bitter rivals at Goodison, losing six of the last eight Premier League fixtures between the sides.

Everton have struggled in front of goal this term, netting only six times in seven league games. If they are to record their first back-to-back wins since April, midfielder Tim Cahill could be the key. The Australian has scored four goals in Merseyside derbies, the same number as Steven Gerrard.

The positive vibe around Liverpool following the NESV takeover could quickly evaporate should they lose a match which has far more at stake than just local pride.

The Liverpool players have looked sorry for themselves so far this season and sit 18th in the Premier League, the first time they have been in the relegation zone in the top flight since October 1984.

The players can no longer blame the uncertainty over the club’s ownership for their worst start to a season in 56 years, a campaign that ended in relegation. Captain Steven Gerrard has been leading the calls for the men on the pitch to now drive the club forward. “We've all suffered in this, especially the supporters, and now it's time for us all to pull together and help move the club forward,” he said.

Manager Roy Hodgson is already asking new owners NESV for time to complete the ‘major job’ he has on his hands to turn Liverpool’s fortunes – but the jeers he received from the Kop during the 2-1 defeat to newly-promoted Blackpool last time out suggest he might not be afforded that luxury.

Hodgson will want his players to show spirit but will be wary that this hotly contested derby has seen 19 red cards in 36 Premier League meetings between the clubs – more than any other fixture in the division.

After the week Liverpool have had, predicting how the players will react in a Merseyside derby is the £300 million question.



David Moyes will make a late decision on defender Phil Jagielka ahead of Everton's clash against city rivals Liverpool. Jagielka was forced out of England's Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro with a hamstring injury and is a major doubt for the match at Goodison Park.

The Scot will certainly be without midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who played on for Belgium with a hamstring injury and now faces six weeks on the sidelines. "I thought he should have come off immediately and he didn't,” fumed Moyes. “It's probably made his injury worse. I'll write a letter of disappointment to the Belgian FA.”

Striker Louis Saha (calf) is almost certain to miss out while Steven Pienaar is sidelined with a groin problem. Jack Rodwell is still more than two months away from returning from a long-term ankle injury.

Possible starting XI: Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Coleman, Heitinga, Arteta, Osman; Cahill; Yakubu.


The big news for the visitors is that star striker Fernando Torres has been declared fit to play in the 214th Merseyside derby. Roy Hodgson says the Spain forward has recovered from the adductor injury sustained in the 2-1 defeat to Blackpool just before the international break.

Full-back Paul Konchesky is also available after recovering from a hamstring strain while Fabio Aurelio is on the verge of returning from the Achilles injury that has kept him sidelined since August.

Dirk Kuyt is out for at least three weeks after suffering an ankle injury playing for the Netherlands while centre-back Daniel Agger is doubtful with a back complaint.

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

New Reds Owners Meet With Players And Staff

Liverpool's new owner John W Henry visited Anfield on Saturday afternoon and then dropped in on training to give the players an insight into his plans to restore the team to one of the greatest in Europe.

Henry, along with fellow New England Sports Ventures chief Tom Werner, held their first meeting with Roy Hodgson's squad and said: "We want to make Liverpool a winning club again."

Henry and Werner made it clear that nothing was on the line in Sunday's Merseyside derby against Everton and reiterated their intention to repeat their feat of resurrecting the fortunes of a struggling club, as they did at the Boston Red Sox.

An inside source told ESPNsoccernet: "Everything was very positive in the first meeting with the players and the manager. The new owners had lunch with the players after their training sessions, and both John and Tom had their say, and made their ambitions for the club clear.

"It was very relaxing and there were some good conversations with the players. It had a getting- to-know-you type of feel to it, and the players were very responsive to what they heard, and in fact the players showed their appreciation; there was a warm reception for the new owners.

"There will be a much more workmanlike meeting going on, on Monday, with the new owners."

Henry will not be at Sunday's Merseyside derby but is expected to make his first appearance at a Liverpool match when they host Blackburn Rovers next Sunday.

Purslow Looking Forward To New Era

Liverpool's managing director Christian Purslow is adamant that New England Sports Ventures (NESV) are the perfect group to lead the club out of the doldrums and to the upper echelons of the Premier League.

Headed by John W Henry, NESV completed their long drawn-out purchase of the club on Friday when they finally ousted detested American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Purslow has hailed chairman Martin Broughton's role in seeing the acquisition through and has also moved to pacify the sceptical Reds fans, who feel another American group may not be ideal to pull them out of the mire.

"We've sorted out our financial issues once and for all and we can now get back to football," he beamed.

"It was incredibly civilized and it's just a pleasure to work with people like Martin Broughton. We have the best lawyers in London, it was tranquillity.

"Where your passport comes from isn't a priority.

"The club now has virtually no debt and a lot of our competitors would love to say that."

All Eyes Now Fixed On Liverpool's Latest American Fling

Now that English football has leapt into bed with American sports owners, it is worth recalling the fit and proper person's test in the classic film Diner. Elyse, the fiancee of Steve Guttenberg's character Eddie, must prove her marital credentials by submitting to a quiz about his beloved Baltimore Colts. Elyse needs 65 points otherwise the dress goes back, the cake gets thrown to the ducks and two young lives are wrecked.

Eddie is a brutal Paxman, hitting the well-prepared but nervous Elyse with devilishly tricky Colts questions as his friends listen in. "What was the longest run from scrimmage by a rookie in his first game?'' he asks.

As Elyse pauses for thought, one of his mates whispers: "Alan Ameche". Eddie is apoplectic, disqualifying the question.

Midway through the interrogation, Elyse's mother phones to find out how her daughter is faring and whether she needs to stand down the caterers.

"The guys think it could go either way," comes the half-reassuring half-time view. Unfortunately, the Ameche controversy comes back to haunt Elyse as she finishes just short of the required 65 pass. "The marriage," Eddie announces gravely, "is off." Eventually he relinquishes when Elyse pleads she knew about Ameche and his friends confess it was the only answer they got right. The wedding duly goes ahead with a colour scheme of blue and white, including Elyse's dress.

"Colts' colours," Eddie reflects approvingly. "We all know most marriages depend on a firm grasp of football trivia," observes one of Eddie's elderly relatives sagely.

English football now embarks on another transatlantic marriage, Liverpool moving on from their acrimonious divorce from Hicks and Gillett by getting hitched to John W Henry. Would he pass an Eddie-style test on Liverpool's illustrious history? Although Henry has been well briefed by his PR people, and Friday night's sound bites were imbued with a sense of respect for Liverpool, not even the most ardent Kopite would expect their new owner to know his Alan Kennedy from his Ray Kennedy. An hour on the website might help, though. Familiarity with the club's rich past would be nice -- a la Eddie from Diner -- but for the marriage to work Henry must prove his complete commitment to Liverpool's future.

Events at Anfield reverberate throughout the Premier League. What all supporters want is an owner with a plan that is long-term, a willingness to listen that is genuine and pockets that are deep. Henry seems to offer the first two. He keeps talking about the "long-term" while stating his desire to communicate with fans. New England Sports Ventures has wiped out the majority of the debt but how much will it now put into the squad and infrastructure? Henry has yet to commit to a new stadium in Stanley Park.

Of all the comments made by NESV on Friday, two from its chairman, Tom Werner, jumped out. "The new owners will begin to look at areas for greatest opportunity to increase the appeal of the club nationally and internationally," Werner said. Amid the exploding flashbulbs, didn't Werner see all the news crews from around the world clamouring for updates on the five-time European Cup-winners, the club of St John and Dalglish, Gerrard and Torres?

Message to NESV: Liverpool's global appeal comfortably eclipses anything the Boston Red Sox could dream of. To coin a phrase from the Harvard Business School, Liverpool can "make the brand sweat" more lucratively in overseas territories, but that "appeal" requires one quality to increase it: trophies.

It's not complicated. Silverware rules. "NESV will also begin to examine opportunities to enhance the match-day experience in the short-term," Werner adds. Getting Torres into top gear, bolstering the squad with heavyweight recruits and shedding lightweights such as Maxi Rodriguez is what's required to 'enhance the match-day experience'. Anfield, still home to one of the great atmospheres, doesn't need any fancy tricks from baseball arenas. Take me down to the Stanley Ball-Park? A seventh-inning stretch? Save that for Carra's bar afterwards.

Liverpool fans already sing their national anthem before kick-off. NESV must avoid gimmicks. The lesson of Anfield must be learned by the Premier League. The organization’s highly respected chief executive, Richard Scudamore, argues that he cannot pick who runs any of his 20 clubs provided they pass the fit and proper person test. Scudamore dismisses the idea of what he calls the 'we don't like the cut of your jib' door policy outside the VIP area of sport that is the Premier League.

But new proprietors must prove to the Premier League they have the finances to fund a club for a long period, for five years or more, and Scudamore must forbid any future leveraged buyouts such as the one Hicks and Gillett hoisted on Liverpool, almost ruinously, and the Glazers on Manchester United.

Old Trafford is a moneymaking machine, but so much of the profits go on interest payments it's little short of a scandal. Debt should become a four-letter word to the Premier League, particularly as Michel Platini's Uefa sounds determined to ban financially imbalanced clubs from Europe.

The current ownership debate should not be about nationality but about quality. There are good Americans and bad ones. Ellis Short is much admired at Sunderland. At Aston Villa, the breakdown in relations between Randy Lerner and Martin O'Neill was sad but the owner has recruited well, installing Gerard Houllier as O'Neill's successor. Stan Kroenke is well spoken of at Arsenal.

Just as there are good Americans and bad Americans, so there are good English owners such as Dave Whelan, the straight-talking, sense-making ruler of Wigan Athletic, and unpopular ones such as Mike Ashley at Newcastle United. Owners come in all shapes, sizes and motivations.

Maybe Scudamore could take the Eddie role, conducting a brief quiz at the new Premier League meeting with his 20 Elyses. And publish the results.

NESV Chairman Thomas Werner Expresses His Delight At Taking Over Liverpool

NESV chairman, Thomas Werner, has expressed his delight and relief after the American company completed a £300 million takeover of Liverpool.

The company, who also own American Baseball team Boston Red Sox, completed the deal on Friday after previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett dropped their injunction against The Reds chairman Martin Broughton.

Werner believes the club can move forward and NESV can help restore the club. He is also relieved that from the past couple of days, the company have managed to gain control of such a historic club.

“I think that Liverpool is one of the great clubs in all of sport.” Werner told

“Its history, its tradition, its fans - in some ways - are similar to the fans of the Boston Red Sox in that they're loyal, they're passionate and it's our good fortune to be stewards and we hope that we will take care of this extraordinary club and provide it with the resources and the commitment to win in the near future and hopefully restore some of its lustre.

“I think it's been a very interesting rollercoaster but now our focus is on stabilizing the club.

"We've been with the players this morning and the manager and we introduced ourselves, told them that we're here to be supportive, to be constructive and we have a great history in Boston of providing the resources to win and we expect to do the same.

Werner also believes that Liverpool can challenge for the title again and says that NESV is on the side of the fans and will listen to them.

“I think one message I'd like to give is I'd rather under promise and over deliver,” he continued.

“But if you look at our track record in Boston - and the Boston Red Sox have some similarities with Liverpool - we came into a situation where the club had not won actually for 86 years and we hope to win much faster than that.

“It's an honour to be here, we're humbled by this and we just want to tell our fans that we're going to listen to them, we're on their side and finally it's about winning on the pitch.

“We are quietly confident but we would like to say to our fans that we are honest, we care, we're focused, we have brought great management into Boston and we look forward to doing whatever we can to strengthen the club. We can't wait to see everybody at Anfield.”

Roy Hodgson Comes Out Fighting For Merseyside Derby

Roy Hodgson says it would be "a sad day for Liverpool" if the club's new owners abandoned the Anfield tradition of loyalty to managers and dismissed him after the team's worst start to a season for 57 years. He called questions about his future "insulting" and revealed that senior figures from New England Sports Ventures had discussed a "tie-up" with Fulham when he was in charge at Craven Cottage.

Despite 35 years in club and international management Hodgson has been shocked by the antipathy of some Liverpool fans and the ferocity of the media inquisition on Merseyside. Before today's lunchtime derby at Everton, he said: "I think it would be a sad day for football and for Liverpool if someone who had been brought in with the pomp and circumstance, and the money it took them to release me from my previous contract, and being feted as one of England's best managers – if after eight games people are deciding this guy has got to go.

"It would be sad for me. These things happen in football. You can't have the years in football I've had without ever being sacked, but it would be a sad day for Liverpool because that isn't Liverpool's style. So I find that type of question insulting to me and even more insulting to the club.

"They didn't employ me lightly. It took them two months to make the decision, they interviewed a lot of people before they decided I was the right man and they paid Fulham the compensation they wanted. For me the job is not two and a half months, it's longer than that. But I'm aware that if we keep losing then people might say 'this is not the right man'."

Liverpool are 18th in the Premier League table with six points from seven games, one place below Everton. In his first interview since Friday's takeover, John W Henry, who engineered the purchase from Tom Hicks and George Gillett, said the club faces "real challenges".

Hodgson, who has a three-year contract, said: "I met them when I was at Fulham. They were interested in a tie-up. As far as I know Fulham were never for sale during my time there. Mohamed Al Fayed never wanted to sell Fulham. If they were trying to buy the club it is something only Al Fayed would know about."

Everton are without Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jagielka as well as Jack Rodwell, Louis Saha and Steven Pienaar for the 183rd league derby – and the 214th overall – while Liverpool's striker Fernando Torres has recovered from a muscle strain sustained 10 minutes into the home defeat to Blackpool two weeks ago.

Hodgson said: "I think his future is relatively secure at the club. The one thing we have to remember about Fernando Torres is that he's a human being who has come in for an enormous amount of criticism, not least during the World Cup from people in Spain and around the world.

"The cry goes up 'What's happened to Fernando Torres?' Maybe nothing's happened to Fernando Torres. Maybe he's not playing very well and he's not happy not playing well. Could it just be that? Maybe I see things too naively at times. He's trying very hard to play well but he's been hampered by one or two minor injuries. Certainly in training I see him trying to help our cause as best he can."

Of the extreme reaction to Liverpool's poor early season form, Hodgson says: "Like everyone else I get really immersed in the subject. I start looking through the eye of the microscope at the miniscule particles of dust, trying to see if there is an atom there. Maybe it is just a bit of dust."

Liverpool Linked With Move For £9m West Brom Winger Chris Brunt

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is apparently keen on West Brom winger Chris Brunt and is looking to bring the Baggies man to Anfield in January to give his side more natural width. The Northern Ireland international has been in sparkling form this season and has been linked with a move away from the Hawthorns and Roberto Di Matteo faces a fight to keep the former Sheffield Wednesday man.

The 25 year old was instrumental in helping his side back into the Premier League last term when his 13 goals and countless assists helped the side to a runner’s up spot in the Championship. This term he has continued where he left off and is part of a very attack minded West Brom side that has had a great deal of success, especially in matches against big team opposition such as Arsenal and Man United.

The Belfast born wide man can operate on the right but is more comfortable on the left and can also operate in a floating role in front oft the central midfielders. He has a great left foot and is a set piece specialist who scores his fair share of goals and is valued at around £9m, a fee that the Merseyside outfit should more easily afford now they have new owners in charge.

Liverpool Hope To Complete £10m January Move For “New Steven Gerrard”

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is reportedly looking to beat arch rivals to the signing of impressive Belgian international Steven Defour as the Anfield boss makes plans for January acquistions.

Sir Alex Ferguson famously sent the Standard Liege a letter during his long term injury lay off wishing him well and that started speculation that the Old Trafford boss wanted to snap up the talented young attack minded midfielder.

Now with the boost of new owners at the Merseyside club, Liverpool will look to sign a player that many have dubbed the “New Steven Gerrard” and whilst such comparisons are next to impossible to live up to the 22 year old does play in a similar style to the Liverpool captain and does have a great deal of potential that appears to eclipse what he can achieve with his Belgian side.

Despite strong links to Manchester United, Steven Defour could be on his way to Liverpool, who are suddenly reveling in monetary salvation at the eleventh hour.

NESV, the new owners of Liverpool, are apparently looking to make an immediate impact once the books become a little more balanced, aiming to sign three or four new players in the next transfer window. Roy Hodgson is also an admirer of Defour, and would willingly fork out £10m for the prodigious midfielder.

But if Hodgson is to be sacked (highly probable in the event that Liverpool lose the Merseyside Derby) then that situation may change, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson free to claim Defour with the promise of regular Champions League football.

Ultimately, United remain firm favourites to sign Defour as they look to revolutionize the under-performing midfield, and only by withdrawing interest (an impossibility itself) will Liverpool become the new favourites in the race to land one of Belgium’s few significant talents.