Sunday, October 31, 2010

Premier League Preview: Bolton Wanderers vs Liverpool

The feel-good factor under Coyle has revitalized Bolton, while Hodgson finally had a week to enjoy since he took over at Liverpool.

Although disappointed to grab just a point against Wigan, the hosts' eighth spot in the table has been well earned, with the bitterness from Gary Megson's reign now just a memory.

Liverpool would kill to be in the same place after a disastrous beginning under Hodgson condemned them to 18th. But following a draw in Napoli and a win against Blackburn, the slow climb up the standings could continue if all three points are claimed.

Bolton will be looking to reverse recent history after having become Liverpool's whipping boys.

The Anfield outfit have enjoyed a six-match winning streak against their weekend opponents after they previously traded results in the early part of the decade. Coyle will be keen to arrest the slide to continue the push into the upper echelons of the table.

What the Scot will not target is the disappointment of last season's 3-2 defeat at the Reebok under Megson. Bolton failed to follow up taking the lead twice and fell to a late Steven Gerrard strike.


Bolton Wanderers

Manager Owen Coyle is able to call on all his big hitters for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.

Despite the hot-tempered draw at Wigan Athletic last weekend, no fresh injuries have reared their heads. Squad men Ricardo Gardner (thigh), Andy O'Brien (hamstring) and Jlloyd Samuel (calf) still remain sidelined for the coming weeks, with Joe O'Brien (knee) and Sean Davis (knee) out for lengthier periods.

Ivan Klasnic has been named in the matchday squad after his arrest and bail this week.

Stuart Holden will most likely be in his now familiar role in the middle of the pitch for Bolton.

Probable starting XI: Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Lee, Holden, Muamba, Petrov; Elmander, Davies.


The Reds travel to the Reebok with a midweek reserves defeat to Huddersfield Town having had an impact on boss Roy Hodgson's options.

A knock to Ryan Babel (ribs) that demanded hospital treatment has put his place in jeopardy. More positively, Fabio Aurelio (Achilles) enjoyed a 60-minute run out.

Daniel Agger (illness) is believed to be back in contention, with Glen Johnson (hamstring) has been handed an outside chance. Dirk Kuyt (ankle) is still a week away from a return.

Probable starting XI: Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Konchesky; Maxi, Gerrard, Lucas, Cole, Raul Meireles; Torres.

Roy Hodgson Demands Repeat Display From Liverpool At Bolton

It’s little wonder that Roy Hodgson had a spring in his step at Melwood yesterday. By his own admission his first four months as Liverpool manager have been “traumatic” but he’s just enjoyed the best days of his short reign.

Last Sunday’s vital 2-1 victory over Blackburn lifted spirits and since then he’s enjoyed the rare luxury of a full week on the training ground to help ensure the Reds’ improvement is maintained at Bolton on Sunday.

Owner John W Henry’s public declaration yesterday to rubbish rumours that top stars could be sold in January was music to the boss’ ears.

“This week has been very nice,” he said.

“When you have a midweek game it does impact on what you can do training wise. You’re always concerning yourself with ‘can we do this?’ because it’s either too close to the next game or too soon after the last one.

“It’s advantageous having a free week as it gives you extra time to work on things. It means you can give the players Monday off and get a nice rhythm to the week.

“Training has been very good this week and hopefully we carry on from where we left off last Sunday.

“Against Blackburn we had more incisiveness around the penalty area – there was more devil in us.

“It was a good team performance and a good victory.

“It’s important from the first minute at the Reebok that we are as committed as we were in the 90 minutes against Blackburn.”

The win over Blackburn may have represented Liverpool’s best display of the season but Hodgson knows it’s far too early to be talking about turning corners.

For the manager it simply represented the final chapter in a miserable first quarter of the campaign.

Nine games have yielded just nine points, but Hodgson insists the Reds, who remain in the relegation zone, will start the second quarter of their league fixtures at Bolton in much better shape than they were in back in August.

“I’m wary on the back of one good result to say our problems have all finished as we’re still in a poor situation in terms of our league position,” he said.

“The first quarter of the season hasn’t been good for us in terms of the league and the next three quarters are going to be very important.

“When I came there were a lot of things that needed changing here and there’s still a lot of work to be done at the club.

“But going into the next quarter I’m hoping it won’t be quite as traumatic as the first quarter.

“Hopefully by the halfway stage we will start to see a bit of light. In January, with one or two transfers to improve the team and with the work the players have put in every day, we’ll be a stronger team.

“I’m looking for a good second half of the season but the next quarter, starting at Bolton, is important to continue the stabilization process and move us up the table.

“I’m not believing naively that we’re going to win seven out of our next nine and fly up to the top.

“But I want us to move away from the relegation zone and give performances that make us hard to beat and ask plenty of questions of the opposition with our attacking play.

“I believe in the team and I believe we’re capable of doing better in the next quarter of the season.”

Eighth placed Bolton are only three points better off than Liverpool but have only lost once so far this season and that was at Arsenal.

The Reds’ record against the Trotters is impressive having done the double over them in three successive seasons but Owen Coyle’s side are unbeaten at the Reebok since April and Hodgson is wary.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Bolton,” he said.

“They are a very good club and have been successful for a number of years.

“Sam Allardyce started it off and it was carried on by Gary Megson and now Owen Coyle.

“They are a very stable Premier League team and hard to beat. We will have to be at our best to get a result.

“They have had a lot of draws so far this season but that’s been the same throughout the league and is why so many teams are bunched together from bottom up to 10th spot.

“It’s strange because you get teams like us who have had a poor start and are disappointed with everything that has gone on, while there are teams like Bolton and Fulham on a similar number of points who are happy with the way they’ve done so far.

“They’ve drawn a lot but from what I’ve seen I don’t think Bolton are a defensive team. They like to go forward and have a lot of attacking players.”

One player tasked with halting the Trotters will be Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

The Greek defender has grabbed his chance to shine in recent weeks and produced a man of the match display against Blackburn last weekend.

With Glen Johnson still sidelined by injury, Kyrgiakos is set to continue at the back alongside Martin Skrtel as the Reds look to combat the aerial threat of Kevin Davies.

“I’m very happy with Soto and he’s certainly done a good job since he has come into the team,” Hodgson said.

“He didn’t have many chances here last season but he got his chance this season partly due to injuries to Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson and has taken it with both hands.

“He’s a whole hearted player who defends well and causes problems in opposition penalty areas. He has scored some good goals for us and it’s a good weapon to have.

“In the games so far he has been one of our better players.”

Kyrgiakos rose in front of the Kop to thump home a header from Steven Gerrard’s corner against Blackburn and Hodgson believes that combination with the skipper will bring plenty of rewards.

“We all know about the importance of set-pieces,” Hodgson said.

“It’s not just about movement and position, you need quality from the delivery and someone who is desperate to get their head or foot on the end of it.

“We have someone who can give us excellent delivery. There aren’t many better kickers of a dead ball than Steven Gerrard.

“Having someone like Soto to attack them is great. Long may it continue.”

Roy Hodgson At Ease Alongside Liverpool Ambassador Kenny Dalglish

Roy Hodgson insists he does not consider Kenny Dalglish a threat, despite the former Liverpool player and manager putting himself forward as a potential replacement for Rafael Benítez during the summer.

Fans even pointedly chanted Dalglish's name during the 2-1 defeat by Blackpool earlier this month but Hodgson considers the ambassador's work with the academy and scouting departments crucial to the future of the club and believes the days of in-fighting at Anfield are over.

"I'm not prepared to pass up on quality people who can help because of a fear the day may come the club decides they want Kenny as manager," Hodgson said.

"That wasn't the case in the summer, but that's not to say it won't be the case forever. I don't know. I have no fears in that respect because I know my qualities and I'm not a political person.

"He is doing a great job alongside us and we involve him in our scouting while he still works at The Academy and plays an ambassadorial role. That's what he's good at.

"You cannot find a better person for that than Kenny Dalglish. I told him I was disappointed he went for the manager's job because for me he should be working for Liverpool on a permanent basis, long after I leave for years to come assisting all future Liverpool managers."

Niko Kranjcar 'Set For January Liverpool Transfer'

Niko Kranjcar could be given the chance to kick-start his career with a January transfer to Liverpool.

The Croatia midfielder has indicated he is keen to leave Spurs after falling out of favour at White Hart Lane because of the form of Gareth Bale and summer signing Rafael van der Vaart.

According to the Times, he could get his wish to move on after Liverpool asked about his availability.

Reds boss Roy Hodgson has made it clear he intends to add to his squad in January and is looking for players capable of slotting into a Premier League side straight away.

Kranjcar, 26, fits that profile having played in England since 2006, initially with Portsmouth before making a £2 million switch to Tottenham in 2009.

However, a move for Kranjcar would test the commitment of Liverpool's new owners, as Spurs are believed to value him at around £7 million.

Newcastle United and Everton are also interested, but Tottenham's asking price is likely to prove too expensive for both clubs.

Masch Explains Anfield Exit

Javier Mascherano says he quit Liverpool because of a lack of investment by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The Argentinean ace moved to Anfield in February 2007 and made 139 appearances for the Reds before switching to Barcelona in a £18million transfer this summer.

Reds boss Roy Hodgson questioned Mascherano's professionalism for failing to make himself available to play against Manchester City before his move but the 26-year-old insists he had to get out of Anfield because of a lack of investment from the then owners.

He told The Sun: "While Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United were spending big money, Liverpool couldn't because they had no money.

"The situation is clear to me. When you want to fight for big things, titles, you must have a big team to win.

"But, at Liverpool, that wasn't the case.

"That was the main reason we didn't qualify for the Champions League and all players want to test themselves at that level."

He added: "It is not easy to leave a team when you have been there almost four years.

"The Liverpool people and fans treated me very well. I cannot say anything against them and they will always be in my heart.

"But, though it was difficult, I knew my time there was over. Finished. I needed to go."

Liverpool have since been taken over by New England Sports Ventures and Mascherano believes the Reds can now push on.

He added: "I try to watch all of Liverpool's games on TV. They have had a tough start but I'm sure they'll get much better.

"There have been a lot of problems with the owners and this has affected things on the pitch.

"Now this has been sorted out, I think things will get better for the team."

As for his Barcelona career, Mascherano has made six appearances so far and believes he is settling in well.

He said: "We are fighting for three titles this season and have started fairly well.

"I feel I have settled in OK. After only two months here I already feel at home and the people are treating me very, very well.

"I try to improve every day and adapt to the team - but La Liga is totally different to what I have been used to.

"The Premier League is much more physical but, here, they prefer to play more tactically and technically.

"Coming here is a step forward for me and I am trying to do better."

Mascherano admits he would love to see Fernando Torres join him at Camp Nou but believes it will be hard for the Spanish ace to quit the Kop.

He said: "Torres is so good, he could play for any club. I'd like to see him at Barca but don't know if that would be possible.

"Liverpool's fans love him so much and he loves them so much too that I don't know if they would be able to part."

Roy Hodgson Not Under Pressure To Sell Players In January

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has received a welcome boost after new owner John Henry insisted he will not be weakening the squad by selling any players in the January transfer window and will look to bring in reinforcements.

The American owner’s statement comes on the back of reported interest in Liverpool’s key Spanish duo Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina.

Both players have been linked with moves away from Anfield, with Reina reported to be attracting the interest of Manchester United.

But Hodgson, who has been in regular contact with the New England Sports Ventures group since their take-over, has been reassured that he is not under pressure to sell players.

However, he admits things could have been different had former co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett still been in charge.

He said: “The statements were totally self-explanatory and in line with everything John [Henry] and Tom [Werner, co-owner] have told me all along," Hodgson said.

"It is very much in line with our aims for the club.

"One of our aims for the club is to rebuild and restructure and get much stronger. The way we hope to do that is keeping our strong base of top players and adding more players to it.

"There have never been any discussions of the need to sell or get rid of players. All the talk has been of how we are going to make the team stronger.

He added: "It is a very different situation to the one I found myself in at the beginning. There was talk then of staving off administration and having to let players go.

"But the new owners coming in has completely changed the face of things and, as far as we are concerned, their statement is perfect. It is just what everyone wants to hear."

Stadium Decision May Take Some Time

Since NESV’s takeover of Liverpool earlier this month there has been much discussion on whether they will continue with the club’s current plans to build a new stadium at Stanley Park, or instead redevelop Anfield.

It is a situation they inherited when they took over at the Boston Red Sox, where they – eventually – chose redevelopment of the famous ballpark. Therefore some have assumed John Henry and his partners will choose a similar route for Liverpool.

However, Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy insists no decision has been made and that NESV will take their time to make a calculated decision for the long term future of the football club.

“The idea that any decision has been made about Anfield is inaccurate,” Kennedy says in an interview with the Daily Mail’s Des Kelly. “Henry has built his businesses on having the benefit of all of the information before he makes a call.”

“Nothing is going to be done in a rush. I understand why people draw a link but, frankly, when NESV took over the Red Sox at the end of 2001, we didn’t know what to do — build a new facility or redevelop here?”

“It wasn’t until 2005 that we gave the commitment to stay at Fenway for the next generation. We’ll do the same at Liverpool, listening and learning about what the employees, the council and supporters want before making any move, for however long it takes.”

“At Fenway we wanted to preserve one of the most important ball parks in the country,” Kennedy explains. ‘But if we didn’t think it could work economically we would not have pursued it. We have the expertise for building new and renovating old, and both options are definitely still on the table.”