Saturday, December 11, 2010

Premier League Preview: Newcastle United vs Liverpool

It has been a whirlwind of a week for Newcastle. They parted company with their manager Chris Hughton due a perceived lack of experience, only to replace him with Alan Pardew – whose CV hardly embarrasses his predecessors’. Mike Ashley clearly is a man who aspires to be pantomime villain No.1 in the North East this Christmas.

Murmurs of discontent abound, with fans promising to demonstrate against the appointment ahead of the game on Saturday. Suffice to say, if Pardew can deliver three points on Saturday there will be a heavy sigh of relief within the corridors of power at St James’. Newcastle are sliding down the table, and don’t have much breathing space before they are sucked into the mire.

It’s been a peculiar season for Liverpool, by all accounts they’ve been far from brilliant thus far - yet they sit in eighth position in the league. The problem has been securing back-to-back wins in the league, with the victories against Blackburn, Bolton and Chelsea the only consecutive triumphs the club has tasted this term.

The trip up to Tyneside is as good an opportunity as any to put this right. Newcastle’s home form has been unspectacular this season, and with new boss Alan Pardew promising an attacking brand of football, there could be ample opportunity for Liverpool to strike on the counter. The Reds will be hoping three points would start to see them pull away from the middle of the Premier League pile and towards the coveted Champions League spots.



Alan Pardew will be able to call upon Joey Barton as the midfielder returns from suspension, but it looks as if captain Kevin Nolan (ankle) will remain sidelined.

Steve Harper (collar bone) returned to action this week, saving a penalty as his side cruised to a 7-1 victory in a specially arranged practice game against Middlesbrough. Despite featuring for 65 minutes, it’s expected that Harper’s deputy Tim Krul will keep his place in goal against Liverpool.

With centre-backs Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson still suspended, expect Sol Campbell and Steven Taylor to start at the heart of Newcastle’s defense. Other absentees include Ryan Taylor (ankle), Hatem Ben Arfa (leg) and Dan Gosling (knee).

Possible starting XI: Krul; Simpson, S Taylor, Campbell, Enrique; Routledge, Barton, Tiote, Gutierrez; Carroll, Ameobi.


Captain Steven Gerrard (hamstring) and Daniel Agger (calf) are on the verge of returning to the first team squad but manager Roy Hodgson has confirmed that both will miss out on the trip to Tyneside.

With Jamie Carragher (shoulder) out for the next few months, Liverpool will continue with the powerful combination of Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel at center-back.

Fernando Torres missed last weekend’s 3-0 win against Aston Villa as his wife gave birth to their child, meaning that the Spaniard will return to the starting line-up for the visitors. Jay Spearing (ankle) is the only other absentee for Liverpool.

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

Fernando Torres Ready To Return Firing On All Cylinders

Roy Hodgson expects to see Fernando Torres back firing on all cylinders for Liverpool at St James’ Park today.

The Spanish striker missed Monday’s 3-0 victory over Aston Villa to attend the birth of his son.

However, the manager revealed Torres has looked sharp in training at Melwood in recent days and is desperate to add to his five-goal haul against Newcastle.

Torres was guilty of spurning a couple of gilt-edged chances at Spurs a fortnight ago and Hodgson knows he’s key to the Reds improving their dismal Barclays Premier League away record.

“Fernando looks fit, healthy and delighted,” Hodgson said.

“To be honest he looks like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

“And it must be a weight.

“It’s a long time since my wife was pregnant and my son was born.

“I’m not sure I can cast my mind back that long but I can half imagine what it must be like.

“It’s been good to see him flying around in training and he will be flying around at Newcastle. Let’s hope he’s flying around with a bit of success on the end of it.”

Hodgson has also called on Lucas to maintain his recent high standards in the centre of midfield alongside Raul Meireles.

The manager believes he has found the Brazilian a role which brings out the best in him.

“Lucas has been working hard on the tactical side of his game to help us with the shape of the team,” he said.

“He has picked up on that very quickly and is a very intelligent player.

“It would be generous of people to say he’s needed three years to come to terms with English football. I think it’s more a question of that he’s happy with his role.

“He knows what we’re looking for from him and he’s confident he can keep on delivering. He also has extra confidence from being selected for the Brazil national team.”

Owners John W Henry and Tom Werner are in the country and Hodgson will hold talks with them over the next few days to discuss the club’s transfer activity in January.

No figure has been put on what the Reds are willing to spend during the window.

“We are rich in certain areas but in other areas we are slightly lacking in depth,” Hodgson said.

“A few injury problems would put us in very difficult circumstances. The January window might still be important for us to make certain we don’t lose matches just because we’ve lost one or two players.

“I don’t think any owners make it 100% clear what they are prepared or are not prepared to do.

“We haven’t got to the stage where we’ve said ‘we are going to do this or that’.

“That’s ongoing and will feature in our discussions while John and Tom in the country and will probably go on after that.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Pacheco admits he would be happy to go out on loan in January to gain more experience.

The Spaniard recently penned a new contract to keep him at Anfield until 2014.

“In order to get some playing time, and if it suits the club, the best thing would be for me to go out on loan,” he said.

“However, we will have to see how things stand in January and if the club are in agreement, then a loan move might be best for everyone.”

David Ngog: 'I Must Make The Most Of My Time At Liverpool'

David Ngog, whose surname is pronounced like the shampoo, doesn't entirely understand why fans and headline writers keep going on about Wash 'n' Go and if some of his Liverpool team-mates have made this brand his nickname, as has been suggested, then it's ahem...gone right over his head. "I'd not noticed," he says. "Someone told me about this but I don't really follow it."

Ngog hardly has much call for shampoo, as our portrait reveals, but the player's two-year struggle for recognition and prominence in the shadow of the once floppy-haired Fernando Torres has made him seem like the player soon to be on the go from Anfield. Ngog is probably one of the players Roy Hodgson will have had in mind yesterday when he spoke of how Liverpool's former managing director Christian Purslow was always in his ear, telling him which young players he should move on.

If the 21-year-old, who has started only 35 games for Liverpool in two and a half years, does not get a more substantial role at Anfield, then he will wash up elsewhere, of his own volition. "I am young but I can't waste my time," he says. "The quicker I can succeed the better. Of course if I see that I don't have a chance to play and don't play I will try to think about another option. I am ambitious and I want to be at the top and to play, and to be one of the best. If things don't happen I will have to make decisions." But for now he will wait. "I don't really have a target for when I want to break through. I work hard and I am confident in myself and I hope I will do it when I get the chance."

What Ngog doesn't say is that an extended period out of the spotlight has probably suited him just fine. He and his great friend Gabby Obertan, of Manchester United, are the two great hopes of their year-group in France and when Ngog broke through into the first team so early at Paris St-German – he was training with the first XI from the age of 16 and playing for them at 17 – there was a formidable weight of national expectation to deal with. The suspicion has always been that a desire to escape the spotlight contributed to his decision to leave so early for Anfield: too early, according to Paul Le Guen, his coach at PSG.

Ngog says Le Guen never gave him any compelling grounds to stay in July 2008 – "I think he knows that we had an agreement. He let me leave," the player insists – but Torres' overwhelming dominance at Anfield in the intervening years has since left France wondering whether their great young hope had made a mistake. Ngog is often compared with Nicolas Anelka, another of the relatively few successful products of the PSG youth system who was also on his way out of Paris at the age of 19, but by the time he had reached 21 he had already made his name at Arsenal and moved on to the Bernabeu.

As characters go, these two strikers stand no comparison. Ngog's shy reserve is as far removed from Le Sulk as you could get and his general reluctance to give interviews – this is his first in a British national newspaper – has faintly contributed to a view among some French commentators that he lacks the ruthless traits of a world-class finisher. Ngog simply insists that he has preferred to keep his counsel until he has something to shout about – "With journalists there is a danger, I prefer to prove my value on the pitch" – and the last few months have certainly offered evidence that his period of quiet development at Melwood is bearing fruit.

In his early Parisian days, Ngog was not at all strong in the air but his flying finish past Brad Friedel on Monday – his eighth goal in 12 starts this season – suggested something has changed in that respect, with his positioning and touch also clearly developing. "En grand, grand progres" (making great, great progress) is how the France under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts described him after his display for the under-21s against Denmark in October. "Plus puissant, plus mobile, plus buteur," (more powerful, more mobile, a better goalscorer) he added.

The qualities Mombaerts listed were all part of the complete Torres package, too, and there is no doubt that while quietly waiting for the main chance, Ngog has been quietly watching his club's main striker, too. "I think we have a good working relationship and on the pitch yeah, I try to learn from him because he has good quality as a striker. We can play well together," he says of Torres.

It is precisely what Ngog did back at the Parc des Princes where, while trying to establish himself for PSG, he found himself in the shadow of Pedro Pauleta, Le Guen's own 25-goal-a-season man. It helps that Ngog's air of quiet contemplation is allied to a strong work ethic. This was imbued in him by his father, a Cameroonian immigrant who settled in Paris as a 20-year-old to study automobile engineering and met his soon-to-be French wife, who was up in Paris from the south of France, working as a commercial assistant. (Ngog's reticence includes a reluctance that their names be published.)

Ngog, an only child, was a mere 12 years old when he joined PSG's academy, leaving his parents behind at their modest house in Paris's 95th department in the north of the city while he lodged at the club, Mondays to Fridays. "That was hard for my family, especially my mum," he says. "But you knew that you had to work. You had perhaps a 20 per cent chance of succeeding at PSG – maybe less. It wasn't easy and the coaches weren't easy with us. They were always pushing us." Ngog is one of those players who never seems to stray off the rails and the fastidiousness seems to run in the family considering that his second cousin Jean-Alain Boumsong – his father and the former Newcastle player's mother are cousins – was similar. Boumsong, with whose family the Ngogs often holidayed, is one of the few French players with a degree in mathematics.

The work paid off for the young striker. He impressed at every level in the French set-up, though it was displays at the prestigious international Montaigu Tournament for under-16s in France five years ago – Ngog scored twice in the final against Japan – that alerted the football world to his ability. "Before that PSG didn't used to use young players. They just bought players in and it was difficult to make it in Paris," Ngog recalls. "Afterwards it was different for me."

At Liverpool, he has demonstrated that he can score against any opposition. His goal which sealed the 2-0 win against Manchester United at Anfield last season was his favourite, he says. "I came on and there was pressure but when I scored at the end of the game it was a relief for every fan and I really connected with the crowd." The strike against Arsenal which set the Premier League campaign under way on the opening day of this season sent a message, too, though Monday's opener against GĂ©rard Houllier's side came with the Liverpool team under even more pressure. "This week's was more important in a way, as we have been under a lot of pressure," Ngog says. "Every goal is important in its own way."

The chances to score have become more frequent because of Roy Hodgson's inclination to play two strikers, where Benitez so often went for one. "Of course when you have two strikers, you have two seats," Ngog reflects. "I think we are doing well with this system. I think we are improving in the games with our passing and are more confident. It is good to have different options and this is one."

The idea of the names Torres and Ngog being as much a part of the Liverpool vernacular as Keegan and Toshack or Rush and Dalglish certainly does appeal. "Yeah why not?" And yet Ngog does not give the impression of being star-struck. His most persistent point in a half-hour interview is that he does not want his own imprimatur to be lost, simply because Liverpool happens to have one of the most famous strikers in world football on their books. "When you are in the team you have to adapt with other players as you are just a part of the team but for me I just try to be myself," he says. "But I don't want to think about too much being someone else's strike partner. I have to be my own player. I can play with Fernando or whoever. For me it's just about being on the pitch every week and showing what I can do."

That quiet self-belief seems to have persuaded Ngog that opting to forge an international career with Cameroon is not something he will do for now, despite a request he received before the World Cup from his old PSG manager Le Guen, who left Paris to manage the Indomitable Lions. "My father is a Cameroonian and I could play for that country," he says. "But yeah maybe [I'll wait]. I've not spoken to [Laurent Blanc] so I don't really know [about my prospects of playing for France]." Wait, not go: the epithet seems to apply to every aspect of Ngog's footballing life. The events of the past week reinforce the sense that Hodgson, as much as Blanc, has good reason to be glad of it.

Liverpool In 'Advanced' Defender Talks After Italian Contract Rejection

Liverpool defender target Philippe Mexes appears set to leave Roma.

The French international centre back has reportedly rejected a new contract offer from the Serie 'A' outfit, opening the door to either a cut-price move in January or free transfer in the summer.

Reds boss Roy Hodgson is thought to be one of the Premier League managers thought to be interested in the player, with Arsenal and Chelsea the competitors to Liverpool in the race to sign the player.

TalkSPORT report that the player's agent is in advanced talks with Premier League clubs, with reports in Italy backing up the claims by stating Mexes will leave the Stadio Olimpico at the end of the season. Liverpool is thought to be one of the clubs in contact.

Liverpool are thought to be in the market for a defender as Hodgson looks to strengthen in the core positions, and the manager has funds available following the arrival of NESV as the new owners at Anfield.

An injury to Jamie Carragher has intensified the club's interest in adding defensive bodies, and Liverpool could look to land a bargain in January.

The player has been valued in the region of £2 million due to the length of time left on his contract, although Liverpool could look to negotiate a pre-contract agreement that would see the player come to Merseyside for free at the end of the season.

Liverpool 'Favourites' To Land Cut-Price Eredivisie Playmaker

Liverpool have emerged as the no.1 contenders in the race for FC Twente's Theo Janssen, according to reports.

The 29-year-old playmaker is - as suggested by Metro - one of several Holland based players on Roy Hodgson's radar as he looks to bolster is his squad in January.

Janssen has allegedly been on the radar of the Liverpool boss for the last four months and now - according to - the Anfield club are 'favourites' for his signature.

Liverpool are believed to have been alerted to a release clause of £3 million in the Dutch international's contract and are planning a raid in the New Year.

However, it has been claimed that said release clause will only kick in during the summer transfer window - which has led Twente president Joop Munsterman to suggest Liverpool will have to fork out substantially more to land their man in January.

He said: "Nobody has spoken to me and if they did, FC Twente can ask what it wants for him."

Liverpool is expected to invest heavily in their playing squad during January and Janssen is just one in a long line of names to have been linked with a move to Anfield.

Belgian sensation Eden Hazard and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema have been two players constantly mentioned regarding a transfer to Anfield as new Liverpool owners NESV look to make their mark at Liverpool.

John W. Henry and Co. are reported to be willing to back Hodgson in the transfer market with upwards of £25 million as they continue their Liverpool revolution.

Hughes: Fulham Won't Sell Dempsey

Mark Hughes says Fulham will not listen to any offers for Clint Dempey, despite suggestions that Liverpool are preparing to make an offer in the January transfer window.

Dempsey is reported to be a target for former Fulham boss Roy Hodgson and has also been linked with Wolfsburg, managed by former England boss Steve McClaren.

However, Hughes has no intention of selling a player who has scored six goals in all competitions for the Cottagers this season.

"I'm sure there is interest in Clint. Most good players are mentioned at some point in time leading into a window," Hughes said. "There's been no contact from any clubs for Clint or any other player.

"Nor would we encourage it because Clint's very happy here, is enjoying his football and is having an impact for us. If there any enquires about Clint, they'll be getting short shrift."

Agent Won't Rule Out £10 Million Liverpool Move

Fulham ace Clint Dempsey is on the 'wish list' of many clubs, according to his agent.

The USA international - who scored against England at the World Cup - has been at the centre of growing speculation suggesting he could be set to swap west London for Merseyside - and Dempsey's representative has now given his take on recent reports.

"Some of it is just reports and some of it is accurate," Lyle Yorks told

"There's interest in Clint, but there are no discussions right now."

Liverpool and Wolfsburg were reportedly the frontrunners for the 27-year-old's signature but, while not ruling out a move or his client in the future, Yorks admitted neither club has been in contact just yet.

"These two are just reports at this point," Yorks added.

"But there's always interest in Clint. It's been that way for a long time. People have him on their wish list."

It had been reported that Roy Hodgson has been keeping an eye on his £10 million-rated former charge with a view to bringing him to Liverpool during the January transfer window.

The Liverpool boss has made no secret of his desire to bring in more potent attacking threats in the New Year to ease the goalscoring burden on Anfield hero Fernando Torres - with Dempsey one of several alleged targets.

West Ham striker Carlton Cole and Bolton star Johan Elmander have both also been linked with moves to Anfield as Liverpool step up their pursuit of striking reinforcements.

New Liverpool owners NESV are expected to back their manager in the transfer market come January as the look to send out a message of intent to the Anfield faithful.

Elmander Makes Bolton Vow

Johan Elmander intends to finish the season at Bolton Wanderers and insists money will not motivate a decision regarding his future.

The Sweden international's contract expires next summer and Bolton have held talks regarding an extension for the striker.

Elmander, who has scored eight goals in the Premier League this season, has been linked with a January transfer window move to Liverpool.

However, the 29-year-old has suggested he will not quit the Trotters midway through the season and will likely wait until the end of the campaign to decide on his next move.

"Of course, as a footballer, you like to have a big contract, but I don't want to comment on negotiations," Elmander told the Bolton News.

"I will give myself fully to Bolton while I am here and when my contract runs out in the summer, we'll see what happens.

"I have never been a player who goes after money, I have always chosen with my heart and the feeling I have in the pit of my stomach."

Elmander has flourished in the Bolton team this season and he has praised the influence of Owen Coyle after struggling to shine under former manager Gary Megson.

He said of Coyle: "He gives me a lot of freedom. This time last year it was very hard to play football, but when Owen came in and took over, it made a huge difference for me.

"Owen is honest, and I appreciate that. He is the best manager I've had.

"I will not talk about Gary Megson, but I can say the manager we have now is much more positive.

"He is always quick to praise the players and that was something Megson was not so good at. I have my confidence back. I have a manager who really believes in me."