Saturday, January 08, 2011

Hodgson: Beating Manchester United Would Be A Remarkable Coup

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is looking forward to the FA Cup third round clash against fierce rivals Manchester United and hopes his side can use the magic of the cup to turn around their poor form.

United, unbeaten after 20 league games, are clear favourites for the clash with Hodgson's men, who lost 3-1 to Blackburn in their last fixture.

But Hodgson is confident that he can prove his doubters wrong and apply the tactics that will see his Liverpool side surprise Sir Alex Ferguson's men.

"We've got quite an experienced bunch of players here and they know as well as I do how important this game is," Hodgson told the club's official site after his usual open press conference with the media was cancelled on Friday morning.

"In particular for the supporters of the club who'd take enormous delight if we could knock Manchester United out of the cup on their home ground – it would be a remarkable coup.

"The important thing for me to do is, yes, make that point clear, but also to emphasize that to win it will require a lot of intelligent football. We're not going to do it through heart alone.

"It needs to be a combination of endeavour and desire, but also people using their heads to play well tactically, negate Manchester United's strengths and take advantage of some of their weaknesses."

Hodgson has face intense speculation about his future as Liverpool manager but the former Fulham boss was keen to stress that the players and staff at the club feel exactly the same as the disgruntled fans.

"It's very important the fans realize that we understand they have high hopes, expectations and ambitions for the club and the team. We have high hopes, expectations and ambitions as well.

"Every time we go on to the field we desperately want to see those dreams materialize and to produce the performances which bring you results.

"It's very painful when it's not happening and the fans make their views felt. We're all hurting in this situation."

The Reds boss described the loss to Blackburn as a "poor, poor defensive performance" and thinks that a break from the league could be exactly what his side need.

He added: "We thought after Bolton we had a good opportunity to go to Blackburn and beat them.

"To come away defeated was a harsh blow and this game against our fiercest rivals gives us the chance to show we are better than we were on Wednesday."

Hodgson had some good news for fans on the injury front, with news that only Jamie Carragher is set to miss the game through injury.

Defenders Paul Konchesky and Martin Skrtel are slight doubts but are expected to be fit for inclusion in the squad.

Raul Meireles has also made a quick recovery and Hodgson is delighted that he finally has a selection headache to ponder in his midfield.

"It's one of the few times in a long time that we've been able to consider Lucas, Steven Gerrard and Meireles on the pitch together," he said.

"First Steven Gerrard was out for six weeks and then Raul Meireles got injured. It's good to have the three of those available to play."

Fergie Rallies Round Under-Fire Kop Boss Hodgson

Sir Alex Ferguson rallied around under-fire Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, saying he has nothing to prove.

Hodgson, who takes his side to Manchester United in the FA Cup tomorrow, is on the brink of the sack with the Anfield club just four points above the relegation zone.

Despite United’s fierce rivalry with Liverpool, Fergie said Hodgson’s successful managerial record meant the 63-year-old deserved better than his current plight.

“Roy Hodgson doesn’t need to justify his record as a manager,” said Fergie. “His experience and performance level everywhere he’s been have been terrific, so I’m not going to get into that.

“We’re in a situation where managers are getting fired and threatening to be fired.

“It’s a very difficult industry these days. I feel for all those managers who are under pressure and have lost their jobs. The League Managers’ Association is the proper people to talk about it.

“They’re doing a fantastic job representing the managers brilliantly and they have a great chief executive in Richard Bevan.”

Fergie is determined not to suffer the same FA Cup fate as last season, when United were dumped out by Leeds – then in League One – at the first hurdle after a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford.

“The FA Cup is a tournament you can’t take for granted,” said Fergie.

“We did that last year and we got a reminder, losing at home to Leeds in the third round.

“It was the first time I’d lost a third round tie since I’ve been at the club and it didn’t sit well with me.

“I was sick for a few days, I didn’t enjoy it, so hopefully I’ll enjoy this one better.

“The big difference on Sunday will be that Liverpool will have 9,000 fans at Old Trafford.

“They’re only allowed 3,000 fans in a normal Premier League game, whereas in the FA Cup the percentage goes up and they’re given the whole end.

“It definitely generates a fantastic atmosphere.

“We’ve experienced that over the years, even last year when Leeds brought 9,000 fans.

“They made themselves heard and it was a fantastic atmosphere.”

Liverpool Switch Sights To Sevilla Striker

Liverpool are set to break the bank this month for Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo, according to reports in Spain.

The one-time Tottenham target has been in glittering form for Sevilla so far this season and has moved above Brazil star Luis Fabiano in the club's pecking order.

His displays have alerted Liverpool, who are desperate to further their striking options with Fernando Torres and David N'Gog the only senior strikers in their squad.

Negredo has a £70m release clause but it is understood that Sevilla would be willing to part with the striker for a fee of around £17m.

And reports have claimed that Liverpool has already made informal contact with Sevilla about a January deal - and a solid offer is expected in the next fortnight.

Liverpool 'To Beat Arsenal' To Signing Of Italy Defender

Liverpool are set to win the race to sign Inter Milan starlet Davide Santon, according to

The Reds have reportedly already held talks over a potential deal for the 19-year-old and more discussions are scheduled to take place next week.

Arsenal, however, are also thought to be planning to speak to the representatives of the Italy international when they fly to England but Liverpool remain the frontrunners for his signature.

A deal for Santon would only add to the famed stable of 'kids' at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger has long been renowned for his ability to identify and develop teenage prodigies - with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere testament to the talents of the Gunners boss and his academy staff.

Wenger is understood to want to bring the cream of young European talent to the Emirates Stadium as he looks to leave a lasting legacy with Arsenal should he eventually leave the Gunners.

Arsenal has also been linked with Ipswich wonderkid Connor Wickham and Israeli sensation Omri Altman as Wenger continues to build a squad for the future.

Likewise, new Liverpool owners New England Sports Ventures (NESV) have identified the development of young players at their academy as a priority - tasking director of football strategy Damien Comolli with bringing precocious stars to Anfield.

Comolli is renowned for having an eye for talent in its infancy and is believed to have been closely monitoring Santon with a view to bringing him to Liverpool during the transfer window.

The Italian is unsettled in Milan after falling out of favour with Rafa Benitez and - despite the former Liverpool boss having departed the San Siro last month - Santon is thought to still be keen on a move to the Premier League.

Santon is extremely versatile and can play at full back on either flank as well as in a more advanced role; something which could see him succeed either Glen Johnson or Paul Konchesky, both of whom could reportedly leave Liverpool this month.

And, with plenty of room to improve and develop, he would fit with the ethos of NESV in their quest to bring talented youngsters to Liverpool as they look to create a squad to challenge for future honours.

Report: Hoffenheim Want Ryan Babel

Netherlands international Ryan Babel could be on his way out of Premier League side Liverpool as Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim have expressed an interest in signing the versatile attacker, if a report in Voetbal International is to be believed.

The Sinsheim side is in the market for attacking reinforcements because of the expected departure of Demba Ba to West Ham United and sporting director Ernst Tanner supposedly sees Babel as the perfect replacement.

Babel came through the ranks of the Ajax youth academy and earned himself a transfer to Liverpool in 2007 with some impressive performances at the Amsterdam ArenA.

However, the winger has been unable to secure regular first team action with the Reds and has mainly been warming the bench in the past two seasons. Therefore, Babel is eager to move on in the winter transfer window.

The attacker has previously been linked with Birmingham City, but Hoffenheim now appear to be sitting in pole position to lure Babel away from Liverpool.

Is There Any Truth To The Rumours Linking Fernando Torres To Bayern Munich?

Liverpool Fernando Torres is a world class player and considering Bayern Munich's stature in Europe, it is far from ridiculous to imagine the Spaniard considering a move to the German champions.

The striker himself had confirmed the possibility in 2009, "Bayern Munich is a very attractive club." This fueled the speculation again. But is a transfer likely in the foreseeable future?

At least this winter, a transfer is definitely not conceivable. The German champions have already revealed that they will not be active in the transfer market. Torres is also too important for current club Liverpool, and could not leave the Merseyside outfit in their delicate situation.

If Spanish and British media report that Torres could move in January to the Isar, the current rumors are likely to be baseless and false. The question remains however: would the Spaniard move to Munich this summer?

That he is not opposed in general, he has already confirmed. If Liverpool miss out on European competition, as currently it looks like they will, a change from Torres would be quite conceivable. Assuming that he wants to change only to one of the best clubs in the world, the options are rather limited.

Barcelona and Real Madrid stand out, but Torres recently clarified, "My home is Atletico Madrid. When I go back to Spain it will only be to Atletico." This leaves only England, Italy or Germany as viable options. That it could be to Bayern Munich is an option, of course. But currently there is really no basis on which one could place these rumours. And this will hopefully end the speculation at least until the summer break.

Captain's Youth Cup Preview

Liverpool Academy captain Conor Coady admits he is relishing Saturday’s FA Youth Cup clash with Crystal Palace at Anfield.

The Reds U18s will look to build on their impressive showing in the third round against Notts County by progressing at the expense of the Eagles.

Coady admits he's delighted to be back into the swing of things following the Christmas break - and he can't wait to take to the field in front of the Kop.

Speaking to, the centre-back said: "I'm made up to be back, I could not wait to get back in over Christmas and now that I'm here I'm going to keep working hard and preparing for the game on Saturday."

The U18s will face a tough challenge against Palace, who are in good form this season and are sitting at the top of their league.

The match will place some of England's finest youth players against each other, and to sweeten the deal, the game will be played on Anfield's hallowed turf.

Coady said: "Palace will be just as excited as us to be playing at Anfield, maybe even more so because I don't think they'll ever have played at a stadium like Anfield. It's absolutely amazing and one of the best stadiums in the world.

"Palace are a good team, they pass the ball well, they're good upfront and they're good in midfield, so I think it's going to be a really interesting and good game for both sides.

"We'll be against some top-class players and that's what we want as U18s, to improve by playing against the best, so Palace will definitely be a great learning curve for us.

"Hopefully it'll be a good result for us on Saturday but we'll just have to see how we play."

Looking back to the end of 2010 and the strong run of form the U18s displayed in the league, Coady feels results proved what a good team they have become under manager Rodolfo Borrell.

He said: "My highlight of 2010 was simply playing for Liverpool Football Club and captaining the club in every game. It's the proudest moment that I'll ever have in my life.

"Hopefully we can keep going and building on our form, we've done really well."

Despite an impressive run of form from the Academy, the squad never got a full run out in December as bad weather forced a number of games on the fixture list to be cancelled.

"Not having many games over Christmas was very frustrating," considered Coady. "Usually every week we're preparing for a match but we just had to keep focused preparing for whatever game there would be.

"Notts County in the third round of the FA Youth Cup was our only competitive game in December, which was an outstanding performance from all the boys. The first half hour was especially brilliant but we did drop a level after the first goal but I think we got it back in the second half."

Coady's comments on the performance may be seen as quite modest as the U18s ran out 4-0 winners on the night, with goals from Adorjan, Sterling and Ngoo seeing the team safely through to the next round.

"I think we could have scored more if I'm honest," Coady continued. "They had a few chances but I thought we played really well. Ngoo got two goals but missed a sitter. I hope he doesn't mind me saying that!"

Liverpool's Cut-Price Revolution To Be Ripped From Pages Of Moneyball

Defeat at Manchester United in the FA Cup tomorrow would leave Liverpool with a little more time for thought. Only the Europa League and the effort to get into a smarter part of the Premier League would still be ahead of them. For the owners who bought the club in the autumn the work is merely beginning. John W Henry's investment company New England Sports Ventures may now start to demonstrate its approach to re-establishing Liverpool, regardless of who is appointed manager should Roy Hodgson be removed.

The owners' perspective will owe something to the success they have enjoyed in baseball. The Red Sox, unlike Liverpool, are well-off but they do not have the means of the New York Yankees. There was, indeed, a whole culture devoted to the "curse" that was supposed to explain a lack of World Series success since 1918. Under NESV they have triumphed twice, in 2004 and 2007.

By comparison with that 86-year wait in the history of the Red Sox, Liverpool's lack of the league title since 1990 is a mere pause. Although the baseball club generates plenty of cash it was the insight of people such as Theo Epstein that seemed critical. He became the general manager at the age of 28 in 2002. When Epstein left in 2005 the Red Sox got him back three months later.

Baseball, like cricket, lends itself to analysis since each pitch brings about a self-contained episode that can be studied. Games like football, which are meant to be continuous, cannot be broken down in that fashion. Nor is the information so open to the exhaustive study that is the norm in baseball. Nonetheless NESV's policy for the Red Sox is being loosely recreated at Anfield, where Damien Comolli became director of football strategy in November.

The fixation with baseball owes much to Moneyball, the renowned book by Michael Lewis that was published in 2003. Its subject was the Oakland Athletics and, specifically, the general manager Billy Beane. The movie is to be with us at last in the autumn, starring Brad Pitt as Beane. He had the outlook in baseball of a shrewd investor who can spot an undervalued share.

Others have tried hard to emulate that, with Moneyball both reporting on an emerging approach in the sport and popularizing it. The knack lay in seeing a merit beyond the obvious limitations of a particular player – and the chubby Kevin Youkilis of Boston, for instance, has an unusual restraint that means he is less inclined to strike out for the Red Sox. As a single-minded man he quite often gets to first base on a walk after control deserts a frustrated pitcher.

In a sense clubs have always been eager to carry out this sort of recruitment. Every manager hopes to crow over an outstanding player he secured for next to nothing. Beane was different because he was not following a hunch so much as questioning traditional attitudes about what it was that truly made the difference in a game. He also has a passion for football and, specifically, an allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur. Comolli, of course, worked at White Hart Lane as director of football for three years and during that period he came to know Beane. "We have been talking at length since 2006 about data application in both football and baseball," said Comolli. "Everything I've been doing has come from what the A's have been doing in terms of collecting and using data."

The difficulty now is that all those at the top level are out to refine their gathering of information and the analysis of it. Even so, Liverpool seems to be making a start in the refashioning of the squad. Sylvain Marveaux is expected to sign from Rennes and was in the directors' box at Anfield for the match with Wolves last month. Whatever his skills, he appeals, too, for the fact that his contract is coming to an end.

Those who are familiar with Marveaux describe him as more of a midfielder than a true winger and add that he is quick, passes the ball well and can finish accurately. This sounds rather attractive, even if he is injured at the moment, and he may be more alluring still for his cheapness. Liverpool supporters, of course, will wince at the notion of a cut-price plan to rebuild the squad.

NESV, however, has assuredly not been miserly when agreeing or extending the contracts of players at the Red Sox. It would be folly for the owners not to improve Liverpool radically, even if the main part of that endeavour is likely to come in the close season. They are astute and bought the club in what was effectively an enforced sale by Tom Hicks and George Gillett for £300m.

That has the tone of a bargain since NESV was not caught up in an auction. Whatever the potential, there is a great deal to be done at Liverpool. It has to be undertaken, too, when a range of clubs are better-placed to advance, particularly since Manchester City have the means to assume that one of the Champions League slots should ultimately be theirs each year as a matter of course.

For Liverpool the proposals to build a new stadium in Stanley Park or redevelop the existing site cannot be implemented until NESV has examined the issue fully. The Americans have a good track record but making a success of the Reds is a more severe challenge than anything they faced with the Red Sox.