Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

If the Premier League was to be decided by home form alone, we would be looking at Liverpool having a serious shot at the title. But of course, things don’t work that way.

The Reds have been very strong at home, losing only one of their eight games to date at Anfield. This should give manager Roy Hodgson a lot of confidence ahead of this encounter, as he is currently under pressure. This is because the Merseysiders are threatening to remain in a consistently inconsistent state to finish in an anonymous mid-table position.

But it could be argued that with little football in recent times - their last two league games were postponed – the idle mind of the rumour mill could have turned into a devil’s workshop with speculation mounting over the former Fulham manager's future.

Still, after ‘missing’ two games, the players will likely be rearing to get out there and get down to business.

The return of talismanic captain Steven Gerrard should prove to be the catalyst that is necessary to help the club embark on a positive run of form, having secured contrasting results in an alternating win-loss-win pattern in recent weeks.

Wolves are in a sorry state of affairs since their recent defeat in a six-pointer with Wigan Athletic saw the Molineux outfit plunge to the very bottom of the table.

With only a mere 15 points on board after 18 games, it is little wonder that Mick McCarthy’s men are embroiled in a serious fight for survival.

The Yorkshireman’s worries are compounded by the fact that his side have a six-pointer against West Ham after the encounter against the Reds, and would want to go into that game with some semblance of confidence.

And what’s worse, Wolves have Chelsea, Manchester City and the reverse fixture against Hodgson’s men that follow after the clash against Avram Grant’s side.

With all this in mind, the travellers will want to take away something from this game to boost their chances of survival before things get out of hand.

But their form curve - on away days - has shot straight down to the basement, as McCarthy’s charges have drawn one and lost seven of their last eight trips away from Molineux.



The Reds will be glad to get back onto the pitch after their last two Premier League games were cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.

Skipper Steven Gerrard has returned from a hamstring injury sustained whilst on international duty, and should start the game playing just behind striker Fernando Torres. This would see David Ngog drop to the bench.

Jamie Carragher (shoulder) and Jay Spearing (ankle) remain sidelined.

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


Despite having no new concerns ahead of this game, Wolves still have a long list of injuries.

Jody Craddock and Kevin Doyle (both thigh), Michael Mancienne and Karl Henry (both knee), and Adlene Guedioura (broken leg) are all sidelined.

Possible starting line-up: Hennessey; Zubar, Berra, Stearman, Elokobi; Foley, Edwards, Milijas, Hunt; Ward; Ebanks-Blake.

Roy Hodgson Believes Liverpool Will Fare Better In 2011

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson believes that his charges will do better next year, after experiencing an underwhelming season to date.

The Reds began the season in ignominious fashion, and fell into the relegation zone early on. But they mounted a recovery of sorts to rise to a mid-table position as their campaign began to improve. However, recent weeks have seen the side once again display an inconsistent form that has seen their recovery come to a temporary standstill.

However, the former Fulham boss believes his players are working hard to right their wrongs, and envisions better prospects in 2011.

"I get the feeling every day the players are committed to the club and will work hard to do better in 2011," Hodgson said, according to The Sun.

"They are capable of it and I am really anxious to work with them and help them with it.

"We didn't use the takeover as an excuse [by new owners NESV], although I'm not certain we needed it as an excuse because we weren't playing as well at that stage.

"But we've got better as a team with all the work we are putting in, although results are what count."

The Merseyside club now locks horns with rock bottom Wolves at Anfield on Wednesday, and the manager added: "We know Wolves are bottom but from eighth down to 20th, the points difference is not that great.

"It means we have to be very careful as we might be against the bottom team but, in three weeks, they might be eighth.

"We know they'll be scrapping for their lives but, if we perform, I'm sure that we will cause them problems."

Liverpool Leading The Chase For Inter MIdfielder

So, they woke up and got rid of Rafa Benitez, they rode the storm and came through the worst of it, and are now hopeful of making their way back up the league table to their rightful place among the big boys; and they’re going to make sure of that by making wholesale changes to a largely inherited squad come January.

No, I’m not talking about Liverpool; I’m talking about Inter. Having replaced the Spanish tactician and brought in Leonardo, Inter will certainly find themselves very busy next month; not only will they have to re-enforce their own squad, but they’ll also have to fend off interest in several of their top players.

Wesley Sneijder is already being linked with a big-money move to Chelsea, and fellow midfielder Sulley Muntari is reportedly on the radar of quite a few clubs in Europe, with Liverpool leading the chase.

Muntari is another one of those players who managed to impress pretty much everyone except former boss Benitez: just as Champions League hero, Diego Milito, was dropped by the Spaniard. Muntari has also found himself languishing on the bench for much of this season, having started only 3 games.

Now, fair enough, he may not be quite as good as Sneijder or Milito, but when Jose Mourinho couldn’t bring Frank Lampard with him to the San Siro, his only other choice was Sulley Muntari: ‘nuff said, really!

Italian publication TuttoMercato reports that Roy Hodgson is lining up a £10m move for the 26-year-old Ghanaian, who can play as a standard central midfielder or in a more defensive role.

A possible replacement for Christian Poulsen, Lucas and/ or on-loan Alberto Aquilani?

However, Hodgson will first have to pre-empt a bid from Harry Redknapp, who is a known admirer of Muntari having worked with him previously at former club, Portsmouth. The Tottenham boss was loath to sell Muntari to Inter originally, and only did so to ease Portsmouth’s increasing financial burden.

Now with money to burn at Spurs again, Redknapp is thought to be keen to have Muntari in his squad once more.

Hodgson will need to act fast.

Reds Reject Babel Bid understands Liverpool have rejected a loan offer from Birmingham City for Ryan Babel.

Birmingham have been long-term admirers of the Holland international and tried to sign Babel during the last January transfer window.

A summer move to St Andrews was again mooted for the attacker, while Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United were also showing an interest in the 24-year-old.

Babel has continued to struggle to make an impression at Anfield and has started only one Premier League game for Liverpool this season.

With the transfer window set to reopen, Babel's future has again come under scrutiny, with Birmingham making a fresh attempt to sign the former Ajax youngster.

Blues boss Alex McLeish is keen to add a more incisive element to his squad next month and tried to bring in Babel on a temporary basis.

However, it is understood to have been rejected by the Reds as McLeish's counterpart Roy Hodgson seeks to keep his current squad intact.

Ngog To Be Offered New Liverpool Deal

David Ngog is set to be rewarded for his progress at Liverpool this season with a new contract.

Ngog is entering the last 18 months of his current deal that was signed on his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain in July 2008.

The French forward has become a first-team squad regular under Roy Hodgson and is Liverpool's top scorer this campaign with eight goals.

And the Anfield outfit are poised to recognize the development of the 21-year-old by offering an improved deal.

Ngog will be hopeful of retaining a starting role this evening when Liverpool resume their Premier League program after a weather-enforced break with the visit of rock-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Hodgson's men are aiming for a fifth successive home top-flight win and the forward is confident they can give the club's supporters something to cheer at the end of a difficult 12 months.

“Winning is always really important and we want to reward our fans by ending the year with a victory,” said Ngog.

“We are at home and we need to continue our good recent record at Anfield. We are always confident when we play at Anfield, especially with our crowd who are always pushing us to victory.

“Wolves are a well-organized side and they defend very well but we need a win and we will give it our best to try and achieve that.

“We know teams sometimes when they come to Anfield sit back and defend but we are well prepared for that and we will do everything we can to beat them.”

Hodgson - Shelvey A Prospect

Roy Hodgson believes Jonjo Shelvey is showing promise at Liverpool, but feels the teenager will have to wait to become an established Premier League player.

Shelvey joined Liverpool at the end of last season from Charlton Athletic and has been involved in the first-team squad this term.

He has gained experience in the Europa League and has also appeared four times as a substitute in the league under Hodgson.

However, while Hodgson has been impressed by the 18-year-old's contribution so far, the Reds boss has urged Shelvey to use his more senior team-mates as an example to follow.

"I haven't thought when Jonjo Shelvey plays a good game that it lifts him above Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva or Christian Poulsen because they are good players too," said Hodgson.

"What is good to see is that a young player we have invested money in is proving to be worth his money and is proving to be the future prospect we think he is.

"He is a confident young man but he's modest and he knows there is a lot of work to be done before he can hold his hand up and say 'Look at me, what a good Premier League player I am'.

"In players like Steven Gerrard, in particular, and also Poulsen, Meireles and Lucas he has people he can look at and say 'That's the benchmark'."

Hodgson has used the Europa League to blood some of the more inexperienced members of his squad and has been pleased by the way the fringe players have stepped up.

He added: "I have been delighted by the way our young, inexperienced players have stood up to the test.

"Being able to use the squad has been very useful as it has allowed us to have a fresher team at the weekend.

"It has also given me a chance to have a look at Shelvey, Dani Pacheco, Danny Wilson and Martin Kelly - it has been vital for us to learn about younger players."

Reina - Gerrard Is Reds Legend

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina has rated Steven Gerrard as one of the greatest players he has been able to call a team-mate.

Captain Gerrard is set to return to lead his side against Wolves on Wednesday night after recovering from the hamstring injury sustained in England's defeat to France in November.

Reina has indicated the return of his colleague will come as a welcome boost and the Spaniard ranks his skipper alongside the likes of former Barcelona team-mates Rivaldo, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, and international star David Villa.

"I agree with that," said Reina in the Daily Mirror when asked if he concurred with Jamie Carragher's recent assessment of Gerrard as the leading player in Liverpool's history.

"So far Stevie is one of the best team-mates I have ever played with.

"He is up there with the best and I have played for not bad teams, like Barcelona and the national team, so it's a great compliment and a big truth as well."

Hodgson Fumes At Hull Over Ayala Injury

Roy Hodgson has taken a swipe at Hull over the injury picked up by Daniel Ayala and suggested any future loan approaches to Liverpool will fall on deaf ears.

Ayala spent a productive couple of months at the KC Stadium, but picked up a hamstring injury towards the end of his spell.

Liverpool's medical staff expected Ayala to make a swift return to Anfield, but he remained at Hull and Hodgson has claimed the central defender aggravated the problem while on the east coast.

"We wanted to bring him back for the last three weeks of 2010 to get him fit, because he wasn't fit there, and to cover Jamie Carragher," Hodgson told the club's official website. "Hull totally refused and said, 'No, under the loan agreement he's here until January 1 and we're not prepared to allow him to go back.'

"We then said, 'In that case you can forget about loaning him in January.' We'd done them a great favour loaning him to them for so long and we couldn't believe that when we were in need of him, they said 'No'.

"Then (after Hull said 'No') we wanted him here at least until such time that he got fit from his hamstring injury, which we thought would be the middle of December, but they refused that as well and insisted he went back there. And then with the treatment he has been given there his injury has now been aggravated.

"Our fitness people were under the impression when he was here that they'd have him fit for about the 15th or 16th of December - now he won't be fit until the end of January because his injury has been exacerbated by going back to Hull City."