Sunday, January 09, 2011

FA Cup Preview: Manchester United vs Liverpool

The FA Cup may not be anywhere near the top of Manchester United’s priority list this season, but the fact that they been paired with bitter rivals Liverpool in the third round - added to last season’s early exit from the competition - means this is a match they will be taking very seriously indeed.

Sir Alex Ferguson will surely also be licking his lips at the chance to dump yet more misery on his arch-rivals, particularly in a season where his team are currently on target to surpass Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles.

However, the Scot will be all too aware of the honeymoon effect that Kenny Dalglish's appointment could bring about for the visitors, and he will hope to make it a very short cup run for the man who was the reigning league and cup winning manager when Ferguson first came to English football.

They say that form goes out of the window in the FA Cup, and in derby games too for that matter, and Liverpool will travel to Old Trafford praying that really is the case. The Reds are under fire after a dismal season, and recent defeats to Blackburn Rovers, Wolves and Newcastle United proved to be too much for Roy Hodgson and the Liverpool board.

Yet the Merseysiders should need little motivation for this game, both in terms of the opposition and in the return of 'King Kenny' in the dugout, and a quick glance at the history books will also give them hope. The last time the two sides met in the competition, in 2006, the Reds beat United in the fifth round courtesy of Peter Crouch’s first half goal.

History also dictates that in every FA Cup tie between these two sides since 1985, the winners of the tie have gone on to lift the trophy. Motivation, indeed, if any were needed.


Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted that he will select a strong side for the visit of struggling Liverpool after claiming to have erred last season in “picking the wrong team” after the Red Devils were knocked out in the third round by Leeds United.

Two men who definitely miss out are John O’Shea and Paul Scholes, while Wayne Rooney and Edwin van der Sar remain doubts. Javier Hernandez, meanwhile, may have forced his way into the starting XI with two goals in his last two games.

Possible starting XI: Kuszczak; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson; Berbatov, Hernandez.


After a string of bad news for Roy Hodgson on the injury front in recent weeks, Kenny Dalglish walks straight into a somewhat better situation as, aside from Jamie Carragher, he has virtually a full squad to pick from.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos is expected to miss out in favour of Daniel Agger in defence whilst Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles should also return, which means Dalglish has something of a selection headache in midfield.

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

Roy Hodgson Exits Liverpool & Kenny Dalglish Takes Over

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has left the club by mutual consent.

Hodgson, 63, won only seven of 20 Premier League games after taking over from Rafael Benitez in July 2010 and led the club to 12th in the table.

Former player and manager Kenny Dalglish has been placed in charge until the end of the season.

"Both parties thought it in the best interests of the club that he stand down," said American owner John W Henry in a statement on the club's website.

Hodgson refused to answer questions about his Anfield future following Liverpool's 3-1 defeat by Blackburn on Wednesday, the club's third loss in four Premier League games, which left them just four points clear of the relegation zone.

And when his press conference ahead of Liverpool's FA Cup third-round match against Manchester United on Sunday was cancelled on Friday, it fuelled further speculation that the former Fulham manager's tenure was drawing to a close.

"I have found the last few months some of the most challenging of my career," read a statement from Hodgson on the club's website.

"I am very sad not to have been able to put my stamp on the squad, to be given the time to bring new players into the club in this transfer window and to have been able to be part of the rebuilding process at Liverpool."

Club ambassador Dalglish will oversee team matters for Sunday's FA Cup tie at Old Trafford.

The 59-year-old won eight league titles with Liverpool as a player and manager, taking charge of the club for a six-year spell between 1985 and 1991.

He also helped the Anfield side to three European Cup triumphs before hanging up his boots.

"Kenny was not just a legendary footballer, he was the third of our three most successful managers - three giants," said Henry, who bought Liverpool in October.

"We are extraordinarily fortunate and grateful that he has decided to step in during the middle of this season."

Hodgson has extensive domestic, European and international managerial experience, which includes spells with Blackburn Rovers and Switzerland, who he guided to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup.

He also had a period in charge of Italian giants Inter Milan.

He joined Fulham in December 2007 and steered the club away from the relegation zone, escaping the drop on the final day of that season.

He transformed the Cottagers and guided them to their highest ever top-flight finish in 2008-09, reaching the Europa League final the following year.

His results in west London were enough to persuade Liverpool, searching for a successor to Spaniard Benitez, to offer Hodgson a three-year contract in July.

Despite losing influential Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano to Barcelona for £17.25m in August, Hodgson spent over £20m bringing in Christian Poulsen, Raul Meireles, Danny Wilson and Brad Jones, as well as signing Joe Cole and Paul Konchesky.

But Hodgson endured a tough start in his new job, as his side was knocked out of the Carling Cup by League Two Northampton at Anfield on 22 September, while a 2-1 home defeat to Blackpool on 3 October meant they dropped into the bottom three of the top flight for the first time since September 1964.

And following Liverpool's third league defeat in four matches, at Ewood Park on Wednesday, Hodgson's position at Anfield became untenable.

Former Liverpool defender now BBC Sport football expert Mark Lawrenson said he was "surprised" the team has not gelled under Hodgson.

"He was renowned for improving players at Fulham, coaching them and making them better but at Liverpool the opposite has happened," he said.

"Liverpool has gone backwards and the players he has brought in just haven't worked. I think unfortunately Roy was the wrong man at the wrong time for Liverpool and it has been a case of thanks but no thanks."

Liverpool Plot £28m Trio Raid As Comolli And Dalglish Draw Up Wish-List

Newly installed caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish and Director of Football Damien Comolli have reportedly been busy drawing up plans for the January transfer window and are keen on making moves for Benfica full back Fabio Coentrao, Stoke City centre back Ryan Shawcross and Utrecht striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel.

Portuguese international Coentrao is attacting a lot of interest and is thought to be a player that Comolli rates very highly and given Benfica’s poor showing this season, eight points behind leaders Porto, Liverpool may feel they can persuade the 22 year old wing back to push for a move.

Dutch international Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is a player that has interested the Merseyside club for a few months now and some sources suggest that an offer of around £8.5m was made for the Utrecht man and Liverpool appear willing to up that original offer in order to beat off interest from Napoli in the prolific Eredivisie striker.

Liverpool had been strongly linked with Stoke City defender Robert Huth but apparently his team-mate, and former Man United player, Ryan Shawcross is also a player the Anfield side is keen on bringing in to help stabilize an error prone defence.

Dalglish and Comolli will be looking to find ways to bring in realistic targets in January so as to help the club salvage something from a season that has been truly woeful but they will also be looking to bring in players who are there for the long term and will therefore only be looking to buy players in the relatively early stages of their careers and these three fit that bill and would not require the club’s owners to fork out excessive amounts of money in the process.

Real Madrid Plotting Swoop For Steven Gerrard

Real Madrid are believed to be interested in acquiring the services of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard by making a £20 million move for the Reds' skipper.

According to The Mirror, the Spanish heavyweights believe that the midfielder is losing patience with the club's inability to remain as competitive as they used to be.

The 30-year-old had previously come close to leaving the Merseyside club after the exit of Gerard Houllier back in 2004, but went back on his decision to remain with the Reds at the time.

It has been reported that striker Fernando Torres and goalkeeper Pepe Reina could also make a move away from the club, despite Roy Hodgson having already been fired.

Gerrard's current contract with Liverpool runs through until 2013.

Juventus Prepare Bid For Unhappy Fernando Torres

Juventus are reportedly planning a move to sign Liverpool striker Fernando Torres in the summer. Bianconeri boss Luigi Delneri is keen on bringing the Spaniard to the club but will find it tough to persuade the Merseyside club to sell one of their prized assets.

The Serie A side’s main attacking threats, with the exception of Fabio Quagliarella, are nearing the end of their careers with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Amauri aged 36, 31 and 30 respectively and the Turin side are planning major summer additions to help make the Old Lady of Italian football into genuine title chasers.

26 year old Fernando Torres is reportedly not very happy with life at Anfield but the recent sacking of Roy Hodgson may improve his mood and help the usually prolific striker get back in the swing of things. The former Atletico Madrid man has only netted six goals from 18 Premier League starts but his overall record on Merseyside, 78 goals from 131 starts, shows just crucial he is to the club’s chances of success.

Juventus are ready to make an offer in the region of £45m and are also looking to sign current loan Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani on a permanent deal with the Italian international having a great season at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino.

Liverpool Set To Press Lukaku Move

Liverpool are ­pressing ahead with a £20million swoop for Belgian strike sensation Romelu Lukaku – despite Roy Hodgson being given the boot.

Kop talent-hunter Damien Comolli is understood to have approached Anderlecht about the 17-year-old striker who already has eight caps for his country.

The 6ft 3in powerhouse hit 15 goals in 33 league games for Anderlecht last season despite starting on the bench for 12 of his appearances.

His performances for the Belgian club have attracted scouts from all of Europe’s top clubs including both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs as well as the giants from Spain and Italy.

But it’s Liverpool who is pulling out all the stops to sign him – with a £15m initial fee the starting point rising to more than £20m with performance-related add-ons.

That’s big money for Liverpool’s new owner John Henry, head of the Fenway Sports Group, but the Anfield hierarchy recognize they have to start revamping their squad – and fast.

That’s why Comolli has been busy identifying the brightest young stars in Europe and Lukaku now tops his list after Liverpool were told they have little chance of signing his international team mate Eden Hazard from Lille.

Belgian winger Hazard, 19, is wanted by Sir Alex Ferguson as well as Jose Mourinho and sources in France say he’s likely to head for United or Real Madrid rather than risk a move to a club in transition.

Another player on Liverpool’s radar is Valencia’s Pablo Hernandez.

The People revealed back in October that the Spanish midfielder was a target and the Anfield club have now enquired about his availability.

Despite David Silva’s exit to Manchester City in the summer, 25-year-old Hernandez has failed to pin down a regular starting place and has admitted he will look for a move if coach Unai Emeri doesn’t give him a decent run. Tottenham have also expressed an interest in the £15m-rated star.

Thompson: Fans Key To Hodgson Exit

Liverpool legend Phil Thompson believes that Roy Hodgson had no future at the club once he had lost the supporters.

Thompson said he had never before seen the Liverpool fans so unified in opposition to a manager, including Graeme Souness' ill-fated spell at the helm in the early 90s.

He described the fans' stance against Hodgson as "unprecedented'' - but also said that he felt the former Fulham boss had not been given enough time to mould the team in his own vision.

"Six months is not long enough, not just for Liverpool but for all managers,'' Thompson told Sky Sports News. ”Everybody should have a chance.

"What we've seen at Liverpool in the last month has been unprecedented, unparalleled in the way the fans have turned. Even in the dark days of Graeme Souness' reign, there were no universal chants for Graeme to go.

"Liverpool fans felt as though we were different, we don't do things like that, we stick together and we stick with the club. Now the fans had even started taking the mickey out of their own manager, chanting 'You're getting sacked in the morning'. That is incredible.''

Another former Liverpool defender, four-time European Cup winner Phil Neal, hopes Kenny Dalglish can restore some unity at Anfield after being put in charge of the team until the end of the season.

"With the fixtures coming thick and fast we've got to be a unit and Kenny would be the first man to stand in and maybe create a bit of the old type of togetherness along with the fans,'' Neal said. "It's the right stop-gap thing. He's a quality person, knows all about togetherness ... the body language of some of our players was concerning to all the Liverpool ex-players because they didn't look like they enjoyed playing with each other.

"That's concerning because other clubs have gone down the leagues because they've sacked their manager and can't find a better one. I hope that's not the case with Liverpool.''

Ray Houghton, one of the best signings of Dalglish's first spell in charge, believes the Scot will relish the challenge of returning to the Anfield hotseat: "Kenny is an iconic figure at Liverpool, both as a player and a manager. He has got unfinished business, no doubt about it.

"If you sat down with Kenny I am sure he would tell you he would love to take the job on on a permanent deal, and be there for the long term. He has still got a great affiliation with the Liverpool fans and there is nothing he would love more than to come back at this stage and be a major success. I really hope so.

"I hope Kenny can come in and energize the squad. I am sure he will by his name alone and I think he will put a few smiles on people's faces. I think maybe Roy lost the fans. When you read those quotes about fans not getting behind him - that was a decision that backfired on him.

"Plus when you arrive at the training ground and see 'Hodgson out' - once you see that the fans are well offside with you, you have virtually no chance.''

Rodolfo's Reds Sink Eagles

Rodolfo Borrell's youngsters turned on the style as they reached the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup after a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield on Saturday.

The young Reds deservedly came back from a goal down to beat Palace after extra time.

Half-time substitute Kristjan Gauti Emilsson scored twice at the Kop end and captain Conor Coady slotted home a late penalty.

Borrell's team played some mesmerizing football at times with Spanish starlet Suso and Raheem Sterling tormenting the Eagles defence.

Against the run of play Palace took the lead after 34 minutes when Jack Caprice's low cross from the right found Ibra Sekajja who netted at the Kop end.

With Emilsson replacing Adam Morgan at the break, the substitution had a dramatic impact when the Icelandic forward made it 1-1 nine minutes after the restart.

Coady's superb cross from the right found Emilsson who chested the ball down before lashing an unstoppable shot into the back of the Kop net.

Liverpool continued to press forward, creating numerous chances and Toni Silva could have won it in stoppage time when he was clean through but shot straight at 'keeper Charlie Mann.

13 minutes into the first period of extra time, Borrell's side got their noses in front when Emilsson headed home Silva's astute cross.

Coady then netted a late penalty when Sterling was brought down.

The youngsters did the Academy proud on the day and they enjoyed playing on the hallowed turf for the first time.