Monday, December 06, 2010

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Aston Villa

After going on an inspiring run of six games unbeaten in all competitions, Liverpool have slipped into an all too familiar situation that sees them with little room for error. They are well off the pace in the race for fourth place, as 10 points separate them from Manchester City.

And even if the Reds should win this game - which is technically a game in hand - it would still mean that they would have to navigate through a run of form that is seven points better than City’s results. All this would still be fruitless if Tottenham Hotspur, continue to push forward as they did last month.

So saying that the Merseyside club has no room for error is correct if they are realistically chasing fourth spot, which has looked a little unlikely since their morose start to the season.

Manager Roy Hodgson will be without both his skipper Gerrard and his vice-captain Carragher, who are sidelined with injuries. The talismanic England international is expected to be back in time for the next Premier League game against Newcastle United, while centre-half Carragher sustained a dislocated shoulder against Tottenham and surgery has ruled him out for up to three months.

On the other hand there is some encouragement to be taken from Joe Cole’s return to fitness, though his form still poses some concern. But the performances put in by Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez in the recent loss to Spurs is encouragement enough that the home side can still pose a potent threat in the absence of Gerrard.

Another positive is that the manager rested several players during the midweek tie against Steaua Bucharest, when the team secured qualification into the knockout round of the Europa League. Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Raul Meireles, Glen Johnson and Paul Konchesky played no part in the game against the Romanian side, while Lucas’ last minute appearance can barely be termed an exertion.

Meanwhile, Torres’ form has been a bit of a concern as he has been slightly off colour this season, though there have been a few flashes of brilliance that remind supporters what he is capable of. And in the absence of key players, it may be up to the Spaniard to produce a performance worthy of winning the game.

Gerard Houllier still talks fondly about his time as manager of Liverpool, and the trip to his former home will likely be an emotional one.

The Frenchman guided the Reds to an historic cup treble in 2001, when they won the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup (forerunner of the Europa League). He even guided the club to a second-placed finish in the top-flight, which they have failed to better since - though they did equal it and come tantalisingly close to winning the Premier League under his successor Rafael Benitez.

Houllier, though, ran into a wall of criticism during a portion of his reign at Anfield as his tactics were at times viewed as one-dimensional while his signings were also subject to some criticism. In particular, his failure to get the team playing creatively during the latter part of his tenure led to a strained relationship with the upper echelon of the club that ultimately led to an exit by mutual consent.

He returned to manage French heavyweights Lyon and took a break from club management during a spell with the French FA before returning to the hotseat, and England, to succeed Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa.

The Ulsterman was a real favourite at Villa Park, but left suddenly - just before the start of the season – owing to a disagreement with owner Randy Lerner. As yet the 63-year-old replacement has been unable to play saviour and rescue the club convincingly from the fall-out following the popular O'Neill's departure; but he could alleviate the situation by master-minding a victory over his former employers.

To accomplish this, Houllier will have to spur his side to produce something different, as they have only one win away from home this season – against Wolverhampton Wanderers, which is hardly a major feat as they are currently languishing at the bottom of the standings.

Having been unable to fill every unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, Villa find themselves in rough weather as they have won only one game in their last seven outings in all competitions. What is worse is that they have lost their last three matches, with the late strike by Nikola Zigic in the Birmingham derby proving to be a real League Cup quarter-final heartbreaker at St Andrew’s.

The time for redemption is ripe, but the question is whether the Villans can muster the sort of performance that will earn them three points at Anfield.



Steven Gerrard (hamstring) remains on the sidelines owing to the injury sustained whilst on international duty, but now the club’s vice-captain Jamie Carragher (dislocated shoulder) has joined the skipper on the sidelines - and is expected to remain out of action for three months having undergone surgery.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos should come in and take the role of the vice-captain like he did against Steaua Bucharest in midweek, while Daniel Agger (calf) has not yet recovered from injury.

Jay Spearing (ankle) is not in contention to make an appearance, though it remains unlikely that he would have been given a look in even if fit.

Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Christian Poulsen are all in contention to play a part in this fixture, with the former Chelsea midfielder in particular having a chance of playing behind Torres owing to Gerrard’s injury. But manager Roy Hodgson will likely opt to go with David Ngog to partner the Spaniard since Cole is only just back from injury.

Possible starting line-up: Reina, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Konchesky; Kuyt, Meireles, Lucas, Maxi; Ngog, Torres.

Aston Villa

Stiliyan Petrov and Fabian Delph (both knee) are unavailable due to injury and are only expected to return in the new year. Steve Sidwell (Achilles) is also out until Christmas.

Midfielder Barry Bannan (groin) is rated as a doubt for this game, and is unlikely to feature at Anfield. But Marc Albrighton, Nigel Reo-Coker and Emile Heskey have all made significant progress in returning from their respective injuries. However, this game may be a little early for the trio.

Ashley Young picked up his fifth yellow card of the season during the volatile midweek clash in the League Cup against Birmingham City, and will serve a one-match suspension so is unavailable for this game.

Stephen Ireland could make the starting line-up in the absence of Bannan, while Robert Pires and youngster Jonathan Hogg could also be in line to play from the first whistle.

Possible starting line-up: Friedel; L Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Clark, Hogg; Pires, Ireland, Downing; Agbonlahor.

Manchester United & Liverpool Eye Bolton Wanderers Boss Owen Coyle As Potential Next Manager

Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle is being lined up by Manchester United and Liverpool, respectively, with a view to becoming their manager should Sir Alex Ferguson retire or Roy Hodgson lose his job, according to a report in The Mirror.

Coyle – named Premier League manager of the month for November - joined Bolton from neighbours Burnley less than a year ago in January 2010.

Since then, Coyle has turned Bolton from relegation candidates into European challengers, as well as coaching them to play some of the most attractive football in the Premier League.

Bolton currently lie sixth in the table on 23 points and are the fourth highest scoring team in the league with 28 goals.

Chairman Phil Gartside said: “Our results and performances have improved greatly and that is a measure of Owen’s influence.

“We’ve virtually the same players that he inherited, but he’s got the best out of them, playing in a style that is attractive as well as effective.”

It is believed that many Bolton fans are resigned to losing Coyle at some point and are bracing themselves should Ferguson retire at the end of the season.

Liverpool Move For £10 Million New Torres Partner Given Go Ahead

Bolton boss Owen Coyle has admitted he would not stand in Johan Elamander’s way, should he wish to leave the club in January.

Elmander is Bolton's record-signing after joining the club from Toulouse for around £10 million in 2008, and the 29-year-old has been in magnificent goalscoring form of late – which has seen him linked heavily with a move to Liverpool.

The Sweden international could be available on a free transfer in the summer, but Bolton are reportedly prepared to cash-in come the New Year should one of his suitors meet their valuation.

And Coyle now admits that he would completely understand if Elmander decided to progress his career elsewhere.

"Ultimately, if and when - it's hypothetical at the moment - something came out and he said, 'I'd like to try that', I wouldn't have any problem with it," Coyle revealed, according to

"He has been fantastic for me. The relationship I have got with him is great, it is very upfront and we are quite open with each other. If in January a top club, a Champions League club, came in for Johan, it would only be natural that he would turn his head at that.

"It's never going to faze me, I'm not going to get upset about it. Ultimately, Johan has to do the right thing for him and his family."

Elmander’s recent performances have led to Bolton launching a surprise assault on the Champions League places and have also reportedly caught the eye of Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson has made no secret of his desire to add more potency to his Anfield attack after admitting that Liverpool rely too heavily on Kop heroes Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

And, with Torres' chequered injury history, Hodgson is keen to strengthen his striking ranks and is thought to be interested in bringing Elmander to Liverpool.

Should Liverpool decide to move for Elmander, they will reportedly have to fight off interest from Stoke and Newcastle.

Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo and Japan sensation Keisuke Honda have also been linked with January moves to Anfield as Liverpool look to bolster their attacking options.

Damien Comolli Lines Up French Signings At Liverpool

Liverpool's director of football strategy, Damien Comolli is apparently lining up bids for as many as five French based players.

According to The People, Comolli has been told to target players in their early-20s by Liverpool's owners. Comolli is using his knowledge of the game in France to target some of Ligue Un's finest young talents in January and next summer.

Topping the list is Lille's Belgian wonderkid, midfield playmaker Eden Hazard, who scored against Liverpool in the Europa League last season. According to The People, the Reds will also target striker Loic Remy, who moved to Marseille over the summer. St Etienne's attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet and Lille centre-back Adil Rami have also been identified by Comolli as possible targets.

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund's highly rated Serbian centre-back Neven Subotic is also reported to be a Liverpool transfer target.

The People comments that the Anfield club will also need to offload players, naming Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio as possible current stars to be sold in order to raise funds for new signings.

Liverpool FC May Leave Melwood For New Training Ground, Says Comolli

Damien Comolli has revealed Liverpool is considering leaving their Melwood training ground to a new facility that would incorporate the Academy.

At present, while the first team trains at Melwood, the youngsters are based in their own separate home in Kirkby.

The Academy has come under increasing scrutiny given the scarcity of graduates to break through into the senior squad during the past decade.

And Comolli, Liverpool's recently-appointed director of football strategy, says he is in agreement with the club's new owner, John W Henry that a training ground should be built to accommodate both.

“The first time I went to see the academy with John Henry we said it at pretty much the same time – it should be together,” said Comolli.

We have discussed it and, in the long term, want to do something about it.

“Melwood is great but if you want to create a culture in the club you need a single entity, a single facility.

“I was involved with planning the new training ground at Spurs and I am sure that they will have the best in the world when it is finished.

“If we build one here it will be better.”

Liverpool won the FA Youth Cup in 2006 and 2007, but Comolli added: “The question we have to ask is: are we producing teams?

“Or are we producing players? We need to produce players, not teams who win.

“We need to individualize training for these players and make sure they have their own specific program, with a long-term view.

“You have to get it right at the Academy level because it is part of the genetics of the club.”

Melwood, which is West Derby, has been Liverpool's training ground since the 1950s and, under the guidance of then manager Gerard Houllier, underwent a radical modernization in 2001.

The Academy was opened in Kirkby in 1998.

Liverpool Ready To Join Tottenham In Raid On West Ham

Liverpool is preparing to challenge Tottenham Hotspur for the signature of West Ham midfielder Scott Parker.

Roy Hodgson has been promised some funds to strengthen the Liverpool squad this winter and Parker is on the wish list for the Anfield boss, however they will face stiff competition for Parker’s signature from Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham who have long been interested in signing the West Ham midfielder.

The fact that Parker has extended his contract at West Ham seems to make no difference to the Liverpool and Tottenham bosses and who can blame them with West Ham looking Championship bound they have probably figured that the West Ham owners will try and cash in on Parker as soon as they can.

West Ham though have apparently slapped a £20 Million price tag on Parker and it is hard to see how Liverpool can pay that sort of cash out even if the new owners are making funds available, Tottenham can afford it, that is not open to debate, but Liverpool is very questionable.

Milan Jovanovic Could Leave Liverpool In January If He Stays On The Bench

Milan Jovanovic’s agent, Cvijan Milosevic, admits his client could exit Liverpool in the January transfer window.

The 29-year-old joined Anfield in the summer on a free transfer from Standard Liege but has struggled to make an impact, with Roy Hodgson limiting his appearances to European games.

Milosevic has reiterated the midfielder is willing to stay at the club but his playing time must become more frequent.

Milosevic has admitted after the Serbia international’s stunning performance at the 2010 World Cup, finding a new club would not be difficult given the interest shown in the player from various teams.

"Retuning to Belgium is not a priority - there is interest in him from clubs in Germany, Spain and Holland," Milosevic told The People.

“He wants to prove what he can do but if he remains a reserve by the end of the month his plans could change.”

As a result of his limited appearances for Liverpool this term, Jovanovic has fallen in the Castrol Rankings. The Serbian is now only rated as the 1827th best player in Europe's top five leagues.

Comolli Dismisses Suggestions He Has Weakened Position Of Roy Hodgson

Liverpool's new director of football strategy Damien Comolli has dismissed suggestions that his appointment has lessened the power of club manager Roy Hodgson.

Last month, Comolli was appointed to his role by new owners New England Sports Ventures (NESV) and although the details of the post are not specified, his main task will be to scout new players.

It has been speculated that Hodgson’s say in transfer deals will be diminished as a result, with the new American owners also reportedly unimpressed with the former Fulham boss’s recent acquisitions.

However, Comolli is adamant he will not take any steps towards signing new players without Hodgson’s agreement, and that the Reds’ manager will have the final word on the club's transfer policy.

"A lot of people ask: who is going to make the final decision? I can guarantee you, 100 per cent, that in this job - especially in England - I have never signed a player without the manager agreeing to it. Never, ever," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

"I don't care what people say. And it won't happen here. If you sign a player that the manager doesn't want you are just throwing money into the bin.

"We had a very long meeting last week with Roy about the window.

“We went through the list and there was one player who Roy said 'This one, I really don't like him, I know him well and I'm not comfortable with him.' So we take him off. It is not issue."

Comolli also revealed that NESV have shown interest in financing deals for high-profile new signings in the January transfer window.

The Reds have had an inconsistent start to the season and ahead of Monday’s clash with Aston Villa, currently sit in the bottom half of the Premier League table.

As a result, Comolli confirmed that new blood could be brought in to the club in the new year in order to strengthen the team.