Thursday, December 02, 2010

Match Preview: Steaua Bucharest vs Liverpool

Steaua have been consistently inconsistent in recent months, as they have been unable to put together a run long enough to have a significant impact on their campaign. Just as something appears to be blooming, they have allowed themselves to be nipped in the bud.

Their last five games showcase the sort of inconsistency they have had, as a goalless draw against local rivals Rapid Bucharest was followed by a domestic cup game against the same side, but away from home. This resulted in a narrow 1-0 victory for Steaua.

But before their supporters could begin to relax, a loss to Gaz Metan Medias was in the offing. An expected victory over 14th placed Targu Mures followed, and their most recent game was a 2-2 draw at home to CFR Cluj.

They are currently placed sixth in their domestic league, the Liga 1, but a 10 point gap with the league leaders at the halfway point in their season means that a title victory looks unlikely. Still, another Europa League run could be on the cards if they can shake off the stuttering stop-start nature of their form and go on an elongated positive run instead.

In Europe’s second-tier competition itself, Steaua began with a difficult 4-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield, before drawing with Napoli and away at Utrecht. But in all fairness, the result against the Italian club must have felt like a loss, as Marius Lacatus’ men surrendered a three-goal lead to tamely fall prey to a strong comeback from Napoli. Still, they made up for it with a victory at home to Utrecht, and now host group leaders Liverpool in a tie they will want to get something out of.

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has admitted that he will ring in the changes in light of the game against Aston Villa during the weekend.

The focus on Villa is due to the mediocre performance in the Premier League, which is reflected in an anonymous mid-table position at the moment. Sitting in 10th place sandwiched between newly promoted Blackpool and Newcastle United may not have been the idea that the Reds supporters may have had in their minds, but the competitive nature of the league means that fortunes can change quickly.

It wasn’t long ago, when the Merseysiders travelled to London and took the lead against Tottenham, which prompted thoughts of what could be. But then they got dragged down again as a resurgent Spurs side managed to level matters before scoring the winner deep into stoppage time.

Still, the performance was there, and they will have to build on that performance with the right result against Steaua to regain the confidence that was lost in London - since a victory and qualification into the knockout round with a game to spare would be a much-needed morale booster for Hodgson’s men.

However, the former Fulham boss has chosen to field a weakned side, partly due to injuries and partly of his own volition. Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard are out through injury, while Daniel Agger is still unavailable for selection. And in addition to this, Hodgson has chosen to leave Fernando Torres out of the squad, to give the Spaniard some rest before the clash against Gerard Houllier’s men.

With Danny Wilson and Martin Kelly set to start, the captaincy is likely to go to Pepe Reina or Sotirios Kyrgiakos by the manager’s own admission.

But all said and done, even the relatively weakened team certainly has more quality than their opponents, which is likely to be enough reason for the manager not to second guess his decision of concentrating more on the weekend game than the task at hand.


Steaua Bucharest

Home advantage means that coach Marius Lacatus is likely to field a good attacking line-up for the day, with vice-captain Bogdan Stancu and the prolific Greek goal scorer Pantelis Kapetanos leading the line.

Despite being at the receiving end of a 4-1 result at Anfield, a positive style of football is likely to be the order of the day.

Possible starting XI: Tatarusanu; Bonfim, Alves, Galamaz, Latovlevici; Nicolita, Tanase, Gardos, Szekely; Stancu, Kapetnos.


Jamie Carragher (shoulder) is out for three months, while skipper Steven Gerrard (hamstring) still needs more time to return from injury. Daniel Agger (calf) is also unavailable for the trip to Romania, while Jay Spearing (ankle) is also sidelined.

Roy Hodgson has decided to rest Fernando Torres for this one, with the weekend tie against Aston Villa in mind, with youngster Dani Pacheco expected to come into the fold.

The gaffer will also start with Martin Kelly and Danny Wilson, to give the young Reds some more experience while they in turn are given a chance to stake a claim for a place in the first-team.

Possible starting XI: Reina; Kelly, Kyrgiakos , Wilson, Aurelio; Babel, Shelvey, Poulsen, Jovanovic; Cole; Pacheco.

Hodgson Insists Liverpool Fringe Players Are Not Playing For Their Future Against Steaua Bucharest

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson insists the club's fringe players will not be playing for their futures when they face Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League on Thursday night.

With regular starters Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher both sidelined through injury and Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles rested, the likes of Ryan Babel and Milan Jovanovic, as well as several youngsters, will be given the opportunity to stake their claim.

However, Roy Hodgson believes it would be unreasonable to judge the replacements simply on their performances against Steaua.

“I don’t think it would be fair,” he said.

“I think if you are going to be judged in that way you need to be playing with a large number of the more established players.”

Despite insisting that those involved weren’t playing for their Anfield future, Hodgson did urge his players to take the opportunity to impress him.

He added: “I wouldn’t want to say they are playing for their long-term futures but I think they have a great opportunity to show me that what I am seeing in training they are able to be produce in important matches.”

Hodgson also insisted that he is confident of his fringe players producing a good display, and pointed to their displays in the previous group games to show that he was justified in his selection.

“In the couple of games so far, away at Utrecht and Napoli, they [the fringe players] have not let me, the club or the fans down and I hope they will continue to do that in another difficult game.”

Joe Cole Given Confidence Boost As Club Rallies Behind Midfielder

Liverpool’s players and staff have had to band together to boost Joe Cole’s fragile confidence after the problems which have marred the start of his Anfield career, manager Roy Hodgson has revealed.

The England international arrived amid great fanfare in July - described by Jamie Carragher as a minor deity and heralded as the showpiece signing required to return Liverpool to greatness - but has endured nothing but disappointment and difficulty since his free transfer from Chelsea.

He missed a penalty in his second game at Anfield, his Premier League debut was cut short by a red card, resulting in a three-game suspension, and he has missed the last month with a hamstring injury sustained in the 1-0 win against Bolton in October. Even when he has played, Cole has admitted he has produced the worst spell of form in his career to date.

Hodgson maintains the 29 year-old, who will return to a weakened side for Thursday night’s Europa League tie at Steaua Bucharest, is still a “bubbly” figure, but acknowledges he has had to be handled with kid gloves to ensure his desperation to succeed does not become counter-productive. “Joe is not a naturally confident character,” said Hodgson. “He suffers when things are not going his way. Everyone at the club has worked hard to make sure he does not take it too hard and take too much on himself.

“He is quite happy to take responsibility, but sometimes players like that can take too much on themselves and push themselves even further down. Everyone at the club, in particular the senior players and his England colleagues here, have done a great job. The coaching staff has tried to encourage him, telling him it will come right. Hopefully that will start [on Thursday night].

“But he has a long time with us, a long contract and we know what he is capable of. The sooner he produces it, of course, the better for me, but there is no pressure on him in that respect.”

Cole’s chances of beginning his journey on the road to redemption here are diminished by Hodgson’s decision to travel to Romania without a host of senior internationals - injury victims Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger and the omitted Raul Meireles, Dirk Kuyt, Glen Johnson and Fernando Torres - but the Liverpool manager is confident his side still boast the leadership credentials required to secure the point that guarantees qualification.

“I have got Pepe [Reina],” said the 63 year-old of the goalkeeper who will captain. “He might be a bit far away from the action in goal, but to be fair if you take people like Carragher and Gerrard out of most teams, not many boast four or five leaders.”

Liverpool Make Spanish Defender Enquiry

Liverpool is reportedly monitoring Malaga defender Ivan Gonzalez with a view to a potential January move.

The Spanish centre back has been on the Anfield radar for some time, with Liverpool chief scout Eduardo Macia reportedly watching the player from before Rafael Benitez's time at the club.

Reports in December 2009 claimed that the Reds were set to bid on the player last January, and the speculation has resurfaced despite the change of manager on Merseyside.

Roy Hodgson is thought to have money at his disposal following the arrival of NESV as the new owners at Liverpool, and Spanish publication Cadena Ser reports that the Anfield chief could spend some of the cash on Gonzalez after Premier League clubs enquired about the player.

A three-month injury to Jamie Carragher, sustained in the weekend defeat against Spurs, has led to further speculation that the Liverpool boss will look to strengthen his defensive options at the first opportunity.

22-year-old Gonzalez has spent his entire career at Malaga, moving from the youth to B team before making his senior debut during the 2009 La Liga campaign.

A regular at La Rosaleda, it is unknown how much Liverpool would have to pay to prize the player away from his current club.

Highly regarded in his homeland and tipped to be a future international for Spain, Liverpool could look to conclude a deal in the opening month of 2011 and avoid a potential bidding war with any other interested parties.

German Giants Line Up Shock Swoop For Anfield Hero

Bayern Munich are preparing a bid for Dirk Kuyt, according to reports in Germany.

4-4-2 suggests the German giants are planning to swoop for the Dutchman in January and are confident of concluding a deal.

Liverpool are reportedly willing to listen to offers for Kuyt - who has two years left to run on his contract at Anfield - and expect Inter Milan to re-enter the race for the 30-year-old.

The Nerazzuri - who are managed by former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez - came close to sealing a deal for Kuyt in the summer but were unable to reach an agreement with the Anfield club.

"The two clubs continue to talk, but things are moving slowly," Kuyt's agent Rob Jansen said at the time.

"The difference between demand and offer is important. It is something between the clubs but Dirk told Liverpool he no longer wants to be involved as this is something that regards his career and life.

"It doesn't mean he wants to leave at all costs, but when a club like Inter comes along it's normal to look into the situation further."

However, the former Feyenoord striker-cum-midfielder has since insisted that he wants to remain at Liverpool, having become a firm favourite with the Anfield faithful.

"Of course I want to stay," he told the official Liverpool website. "Liverpool is a great club with a great history.

"Unfortunately in my four years I haven't won anything but hopefully in the future I will still have that chance."

Hodgson In Bid To Swipe Center Back From Ancelotti

Jamie Carragher’s shoulder injury sustained against Spurs on Sunday will keep the centre-back out until at least March leaving Roy with some thinking to do.

In a bid to strengthen a rather light defensive outfit, Hodgson will look to splash the cash on Bolton’s highly rated Gary Cahill. A bid upwards of roughly £12million should be enough to get Bolton’s attention.

Only days ago, Cahill was linked to Chelsea, Arsenal, Roma and Inter and now Liverpool will join the race for the talented defender.

Bolton may not be keen on selling Cahill to another Premier League club which may force through a foreign transfer, but it may also spark a bidding war and push his asking price through the roof.

Liverpool’s recent NESV takeover should allow for enough funds to secure the Bolton player’s services and may prove a simpler option for Cahill given Liverpool’s closer geographical location.

Failing in any bid for Cahill, Liverpool have been rumoured to be closely following Lille’s French international Adil Rami. He, like Cahill, would not come cheap though with his valuation at roughly £12.5million.

This could be a rather public analysis of Hodgson’s relationship with new American club owners, NESV. The newly installed outfit has not yet stated whether they will be spending during the January window where normally prices are often inflated.

However, faced with the potential scenario of Liverpool’s season being over by the time Jamie Carragher returns, Henry may have little option but to get his wallet out.

Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos are Liverpool’s only fit senior centre-backs and Danish International Daniel Agger is still weeks away from recovering from his calf injury.

Owen Coyle has a real fight on his hands now to keep the services of the 25-year-old, but I’m sure Coyle would welcome a fresh injection of cash. A manager of Coyle’s nature could probably buy half a team with £12million.

Jamie Carragher Lavishes Praise On Boss Roy Hodgson For Giving Youth A Chance

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is behind boss Roy Hodgson when it comes to the youth policy in the Europa League.

Hodgson has giving some of his side’s emerging talent a chance to proves themselves in this year’s competition and this will no doubt continue because Carragher himself was ruled out for three months after sustaining a shoulder injury.

This means that young defenders Martin Kelly and Danny Wilson will start against Steaua Bucharest on Thursday, and will feature heavily during the festive period as the fixture list starts to pile up.

The vice captain has been particularly impressed by the Scottish defender Wilson, who has grown in stature over the preceding games in Europe. Other players such as Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey have also captured his attention.

"They've done great, and it's credit to the manager as well for putting them in there in some difficult places," the 32-year-old told the club's official website.

"Even one of the qualifying rounds - Trabzonspor was a tough place to go. To come through was great. It's been great experience for them and it bodes well for the future.

"It's not just about them getting a bit of experience, though - they've also done very well. They've gone there and performed.

"It's been great for the club to see local lads coming through, so you have to give a pat on the back to them and also to the manager for giving them a chance."

Carra has also reacted to the FA Cup third round draw with Manchester United. Although he will be sidelined in January when the cup-tie will be played, he hopes his side can prevail in order to keep aspirations alive.

"It's a very tough draw for us but it's a very tough draw for them as well. It works both ways," he noted.

"The FA Cup is massive for me. I'm fortunate enough to have won it a few times but I'd love to play at Wembley in an FA Cup final with Liverpool before I finish.

"Hopefully the players can do the job for me and I can be back at Wembley at the end of the season."

Liverpool’s £5 Million Deal For England International Confirmed

It has been confirmed Liverpool paid a £5 million signing on fee to sign Joe Cole on a free transfer during the summer, a big percentage of which went to his agent.

And this is in addition to his reported £90,000 wages. Fans have not yet seen the best of the England international but he could be a bargain if he hits top form.

Cole was out of contract after his deal with Chelsea had run out and Liverpool swooped ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham to bring him to Anfield.

However, it does highlight the amount of money paid by Barclays Premier League teams for players that should technically cost them very little.

Liverpool paid over £9 million in agent fees as Roy Hodgson wasted no time in implementing his Anfield revolution – the second highest amount behind Chelsea.

Cole’s fee, though, was covered by the £6 million transfer fee they received from Chelsea for Israel midfielder Yossi Benayoun.

And their agent fees for next year could be higher as Hodgson continues his overhaul of Liverpool’s struggling squad.

Jacob's Special Melwood Day

13-year old Liverpool fanatic Jacob Soar saw his Anfield dreams come true recently when he met up with his Kop idols at Melwood.

Jacob, from Doncaster, travelled to the Reds' training base with parents Amanda and Kevin to meet and have photographs taken with Torres, Carragher, Cole and co.

Sadly, Jacob has faced a lifelong struggle with a number of conditions including Severe Dystonic Quadriparesis; Hydrocephalus; Symptomatic Focal Epilepsy; Bilateral Tempral Optic Atrophy. He has a Tracheostromy and a Gastrostomy button, and suffers recurrent chest infections.

But for one day at least he was able to put his problems behind him and savour every second of his special Melwood visit.