Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Stoke City

Liverpool had one busy day amongst the dying embers of January’s transfer window. Kop (probably not so much anymore) legend Fernando Torres packed up and flew south to join Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea for a massive £50m, whilst Newcastle’s Andy Carroll made the trip to Merseyside along with Ajax’s Luis Suarez, installing an Anfield revolution within the attacking third of Kenny Dalglish’s transformed squad.

However, it will be Uruguayan Suarez who will get the honours on Wednesday night ahead of the injured Carroll, allowing the Kop faithful to lay spectacle to what could be their next hero.

In the shadows of the epically sizable cheques and James Bond esque helicopter scrambles, Liverpool’s vice-captain Jamie Carragher returns to action after just under three months on the sidelines with a dislocated shoulder. His presence on the pitch will be a welcome prospect as the Reds look to kick-start their stop-start campaign once and for all.

Stoke have currently won just three of their away games this season and will almost definitely find Wednesday night’s game a tough test, by any means.

However, Tony Pulis’ side will be able to carry the fact that three points at Anfield will see the team, who currently lie in 10th, leapfrog their opponents and slot into seventh.

Pulis’s side have a very awkward style of play, combining pure toughness with a hint of flair and attractive football, something that caught out a then Roy Hodgson’s side when the two met at the Britannia Stadium with the home side brushing a poor Liverpool aside 2-0.



The home side will welcome back one of their most influential players on Wednesday night in the form of vice-captain Jamie Carragher who has not played since dislocating his shoulder in November.

Liverpool also look set to add new addition Luis Suarez to the line-up as he completed his move from Ajax on the eve of the transfer deadline earlier this week and should be eligible to make his debut at Anfield against Stoke.

Kenny Dalglish’s side have a full bill of health with the exception of £35 million and former Newcastle striker Andy Carroll, who is still battling with his thigh problem and won’t be able to turn out in a red shirt for a few weeks yet.

Possible starting XI: Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Johnson; Lucas; Kuyt, Gerrard, Meireles, Maxi; Suarez.

Stoke City

The visitors will arrive at Anfield with just one injury worry as Danny Higginbotham is struggling with a hamstring problem.
However, to add to Tony Pulis’ defensive problems, Ryan Shawcross still has more games to serve as part of his two-match suspension for his sending off at Fulham.

Stoke let go of two of their strikers over the transfer window with both Tuncay Sanli and Eider Gudjohnsen making their moves out of the Britannia Stadium in January, but still possess the firepower of Kenwyne Jones and Aston Villa loanee John Carew.

Asmir Begovic should replace Thomas Sorenson who was given a run out in Stoke’s FA Cup win over Wolves at the weekend.

Possible starting XI: Begovic; Wilkinson, Huth, Faye, Collins; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington; Carew, Jones.

Kenny Dalglish Moves Towards Permanent Manager's Role At Liverpool

Now Liverpool and Fernando Torres have ended the pretence that a) their jewel is not for sale and b) he has Anfield etched on to his soul, it cannot be long before Fenway Sports Group banishes another uncertainty over the club's future direction. That would be the "caretaker" prefix before "manager" in the job title of Kenny Dalglish.

The strategy of John W Henry and Tom Werner, Liverpool's principal owner and chairman, has been muddied by their first foray into the transfer market, though there is no mistaking their ambition. They approached January with a reputation for using Sabermetrics – a statistical system used to assess players that was developed in baseball – to make considered purchases and a stated aim not to make the kind of rushed judgments that had cost Liverpool dearly before their arrival. They spent £35m on Andy Carroll within 24 hours of Torres showing up at Melwood with his representatives to say there was no way back.

Promises of investment were delivered to such an extent on Monday that the mourning period for Torres lasted only a little longer than a can of deodorant sprayed on to a burning Liverpool shirt. And yet, with the £57.8m spent on Carroll and Luis Suárez being recouped by £56m from the sale of Torres and Ryan Babel, FSG's outlay spoke of necessity, not extravagance. It did, however, provide the clearest signal that Dalglish has FSG's confidence to manage Liverpool after his fire-fighting role ends, officially, in May.

The clamour for Dalglish's permanent appointment began before he was offered the position as a caretaker and it may be dismissed as sentimental or indecently premature, after five games in charge. But the evidence for his confirmation as manager is already compelling. The Scot was not some idle bystander on Monday while Damien Comolli lived up to his billing as director of football strategy and guided FSG through a potentially calamitous transfer window. Dalglish was at the heart of Liverpool's long-term planning for the replacement of Torres. Caretakers are given mops and buckets, not the most expensive British footballer of all time on a five-and-a-half-year contract.

One of the first assignments given to Dalglish by Rafael Benítez, after the former returned to the club as ambassador and academy figurehead in July 2July 009, was to scout Suárez at Ajax.

"We have known about him for three years," said the Scot, who will give the £22.8m striker a debut at home to Stoke City tonight, subject to international clearance. "When I came back here it was early on that we were looking at him, so when we were talking about players it was pushing at an open door regarding Suárez. He'll be a fantastic player and he's fantastic in the dressing room. For a Uruguayan, and a forward at that, to be captain of Ajax tells you something about the personality of the fella."

Dalglish was the driving force behind Liverpool's interest in Charlie Adam, which came to nothing when Blackpool rejected a £10m offer on Monday night and set a £14m price that FSG refused to pay. The arrival of Carroll, though, hardly fitted Comolli's brief, which is to unearth hidden gems at reasonable prices. Indeed it puts Comolli under a punishing spotlight.

FSG appointed Comolli 19 days after its £300m takeover in October, in response to the transfer mistakes that had contributed to Liverpool's decline. It seemed a sensible move. Now it appears to have been a rushed response by owners who never trusted Roy Hodgson and who accept, as Torres warned last summer, that Liverpool are not blessed with time if they wish to rejoin the elite.

It was said when Hodgson left the club four weeks ago that Dalglish's reluctance to step aside as caretaker would cause problems for FSG. That suspicion was cemented when the 59-year-old said at his unveiling on 10 January that he would happily move on for "somebody better". Yet FSG has struck lucky. Dalglish has galvanized Liverpool after the Hodgson era; in less than a month his charisma and outlook have affected the atmosphere, playing style, public statements and transfer policy at Anfield. His appointment would not be a populist move today. It would be an obvious one.

Reflecting on an extraordinary day in Liverpool's recent history, and the return to spending millions on players rather than on interest repayments, Dalglish said: "It's encouraging there are still players out there who want to play for the club and have a feeling for the club. It will benefit the self-esteem of the supporters and the owners and the players that this football club is still held in high esteem.

"While we have a realization we cannot hold on to the past, the history and tradition of the football club, neither can it be used as a noose around our neck. That should be a great signal for everybody to drive forward and make their own history. I'm sure John, Tom, every supporter and the staff and players are all singing from the same hymn sheet."

Suarez Ready For Hard Work

New Liverpool signing Luis Suarez has pledged to make his move from Dutch football to the Premier League a successful one.

The Uruguay international, who has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract after completing his £22.8million move to from Ajax, scored 111 goals in 159 matches for the Dutch club.

And while such feats in the Eredivisie do not always guarantee a similar record in England, the 24-year-old is determined to prove he can replicate his goalscoring at a higher level.

"My aim is to work, to show the fans how hard I am ready to work. I want to put in lots of effort, to show people my capabilities," he said.

"First of all I want to try to play as many games as possible and help move us up the table.

"My ambitions for the future are to do my very best for Liverpool, to try to learn more about English football and to become a champion.

"Liverpool is a very famous club, the most famous club in England, and I watched Liverpool and English football as a boy.

"It's a dream to be able to come and play here.

"I had a wonderful time in Ajax and I will miss them but that's football.

"You have to keep changing and moving forward to get better."

Suarez's glowing praise of his former club was reciprocated by Ajax's managing director Rik van den Boog, who believes the World Cup star has what it takes to be a hit on Merseyside.

"Luis is going to bring the place alive because he is a street fighter," he told

"He arrived here with a decent reputation but he was not a big player then.

"In the dressing room he soon stood up and became a leader. That's why he was special.

"When he goes on his travels to South America he always rushes back.

"Suarez is back on the training pitch the next morning when he has just flown around half the world for a game for Uruguay. He immediately puts his focus on his club again.

"We'll remember him for his incredible amount of goals and what he has done for the club."

Carroll Confident Goals Will Flow

The 22-year-old completed a shock club-record £35m (€40.9m) transfer from Newcastle on Monday after Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea for £50m (€58.5m).

Carroll has inherited the Spain international’s number nine shirt, worn by other Liverpool greats like Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler, and believes he is equipped to follow in their illustrious footsteps.

"Goals have always been in my game so I’m very confident I can score for Liverpool," he said.

"It’s a great feeling. The number nine is a big number and the one I wanted. To get it at Liverpool is a great feeling.

"I want to go out there and play the football that has brought me here. I’ll bring as much as I can to the team — I’ll score goals, create chances, hold up the ball and just try my best really. They have spent a lot of money on getting me here and I just want to repay them for what they have spent. I’ll do my best and think I can do it.

"I want to win trophies with this club and help push us forward."

Liverpool have not won a trophy since the FA Cup in 2006 and their fortunes have been on the wane over the last 18 months, with the club finishing a disappointing seventh in the Barclays Premier League last season.

The start to the current campaign was the worst since 1953 and resulted in the departure of Roy Hodgson after just six months in charge. Since Kenny Dalglish took over performances have improved and the investment in Carroll and Uruguay forward Luis Suarez, who completed his £22.8m (€26.6m) move from Ajax on Monday, has ensured the departure of Torres has not affected the improving mood within the club.

Carroll admits he was as surprised as anyone about how quickly his move from his home town club developed but he is keen to seize the opportunity.

"It’s massive. Liverpool is a big club which is going places and this is a chance to show what I can do," he added. "What I did at Newcastle has got me here and now I have to carry it on with Liverpool."

Dalglish is looking forward to working with a player who has the potential to become England’s first-choice striker in the next few years, having made his international debut in November.

"He’s just a young boy with a fantastic talent. He’s a big lad but is very good on the deck as well, he has good feet, he’s very strong in the air and he’ll give us a bit of presence up front. He’s a little bit different to what we’ve been used to but it won’t change our principles and philosophies of how we want to play."

Dalglish will not be able to call on Carroll for a while yet as he is recovering from a thigh problem which has already sidelined him for a month. However, the Scot insists the striker was not bought as a short-term fix.

"He signed for five-and-a-half years and there’s a lot of weeks in that time when he’ll be fit and playing for us."

The club’s other deadline-day signing, Suarez, could feature against Stoke at Anfield tonight if his work permit and international clearance come through in time. Dalglish is equally excited about integrating the 24-year-old — scorer of 111 goals in 159 matches for Ajax — into his team.

"He’s someone who has been on the radar here for a long time and someone who was brought in to really enhance the squad," he said. "He’s got a fantastic goalscoring record. For a Uruguayan to go to Ajax and become club captain speaks volumes for him as a person."

New Twist To Andy Carroll's Legal Battle With Agent

Andy Carroll's £35m move to Liverpool has made his legal battle with the agent Peter Harrison all the fruitier. In a fortnight both men will present their respective cases to an arbitration panel convened by the Football Association.

Harrison alleges that Carroll is in breach of his exclusive representation contract signed in March 2009. It is believed the contract was for two years, meaning it would nominally run until next month. However, a few months after signing it, Carroll informed Harrison that he wanted a change and would join Mark Curtis, who represented his friend and then captain at Newcastle United, Kevin Nolan.

Harrison's claim is that this put Carroll in breach of contract, resulting in a loss of earnings after he lost out on the agent's fee from the striker's contract renegotiation last summer. Monday's transfer complicates matters.

Intriguingly Richard Green, the lawyer who is representing Carroll in the Harrison case, also represented Carroll in his negotiation with Liverpool. If the panel finds that Carroll was indeed in breach of contract, then it may have to consider whether Green contributed to the effect of that breach by subsequently being involved in a £35m transfer.

"There isn't any conflict of interest at all," Green told Digger. "I've acted on behalf of Andy for some time and advice him on legal issues."

John Aldridge Blasts 'Fraudulent' Fernando Torres

Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge has hit out at Chelsea striker Fernando Torres for turning his back on the club's fans, but claims the future is bright at Anfield without the Spaniard.

The 26-year-old completed a British record £50 million move on Monday after handing in a transfer request, while the Merseyside club brought in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll for nearly £60m.

The World Cup winner enjoyed a harmonious relationship with fans at Anfield and had previously committed himself to the club, saying he would never move to another Premier League side.

"He's been pretty fraudulent with Liverpool fans, who have stuck with him through thick and thin, and he's been very thin of late," Aldridge told Sky Sports.

"They've actually been making excuses for him, saying mentally he's not right or he's injured, but to be honest he's not looked half the player [he was] for some time."

The former Atletico Madrid man has found it hard to maintain his form this season after an injury-ravaged summer, often cutting a forlorn figure in a red shirt during his final few months, and Aldridge believes that the Premier League champions have a lot to do to get him back to his best.

"For Chelsea, it's a bit of a gamble," he said. "Can they resurrect him to what he was doing for Liverpool for the first two years? Will he shirk off the injuries that have been dogging him?"

He added: "But having said that, if he does click with Didier Drogba that's one hell of a frontline."

Aldridge went on to say that Liverpool will be stronger with the additions of Suarez and Carroll, who he described as "two excellent players".

"They'll get more from them; Fernando Torres has not won a game singlehandedly for Liverpool for some time," he continued.

The former Liverpool striker said the club could be optimistic about improving in future under the ownership of Fenway Sports Group.

Asked whether the signings of Suarez and Carroll were a statement from the new American owners, Aldridge replied: "Very much. People will say they utilized the money from Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres, but a lot of clubs wouldn't have done that.

"Man United didn't utilize the £80m from Ronaldo, and if Hicks and Gillett were here they wouldn't have done that, that would have gone on interest payments.

"I've got a funny feeling that it won't be the last couple of big signings."

He concluded: "I think Liverpool could have a bright future under these people."

Liverpool Fail In Attempt To Prevent Torres Making Chelsea Debut Against Them

During transfer negotiations, Liverpool reportedly tried to strike a gentlemen's agreement with Chelsea that ensured Fernando Torres would not face his former side when the two teams meet at Stamford Bridge.

However, the Reds failed in their attempt and the Spanish World Cup winner will make his debut against his former club on Sunday, barring a sudden injury.

The two clubs - and the player - certainly left the deal late as Torres' transfer officially went through at 10:47 PM (GMT), thirteen minutes before the window closed.

The delay was due to Liverpool's request for Torres' debut to be delayed until the following week, according to The Daily Mail.

But the attempt failed and all eyes will be on the 26-year-old when he takes to the field on Sunday.

Speaking earlier about the prospect of facing the Reds in his first game for the champions, the former Atletico Madrid striker said: "It is like the destiny. It is not perfect for me but we will see what happens and I only have good words about Liverpool.
"They made me a top player and gave me the chance to play at the top level.

"I will never say anything bad about Liverpool. I have been very happy there, but now the history is different and I am playing for Chelsea.

"If I have the chance to play, I will do my best for Chelsea and hopefully I can score.

"I felt from last summer that I need to do a step forward in my career and for my ambition as a footballer.

"I am joining a team that is at the top level. There is not another level after Chelsea."

Chelsea warmed up for the mouthwatering clash with an entertaining 4-2 win over Sunderland, while Liverpool face Stoke City at Anfield on Wednesday.

Ince Strikes In Cup Triumph

Tom Ince struck a superb winner as Liverpool Reserves kept their hopes of retaining the Senior Cup alive with a 2-1 win at Prescot Cables on Tuesday night.

The young winger cut in from the right and unleashed a left foot curler on 23 minutes after a Gerardo Bruna penalty had cancelled out ex-Red Jason Massie's opener.

It capped a solid all-round display from John McMahon's young side who showed great maturity to overcome the blow of conceding an early goal to fight back and book a place in the last four.

In their previous outing the second-string had been able to call upon the services of Joe Cole and Danny Wilson but on a mild night at Valerie Park, it was captain John Flanagan and Ince who were the more senior names on the team sheet.

The hosts would have hoped to take advantage of such a young Reds outfit and after Jason Banton went close with a low shot, they took the lead on eight minutes.

A speculative 25 yard shot from Massie looked to be a comfortable save for Dean Bouzanis in the Liverpool goal, but the Australian somehow allowed the ball to slip through his grasp and give the home side the perfect start.

On an uneven pitch McMahon's charges suddenly found themselves up against it but within three minutes they were handed a lifeline.

A marauding run down the right by Ince was brought to an abrupt halt by Mark Calland leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot. Bruna stepped up and coolly converted to pull the visitors level.

The goal seemed to breathe life into Liverpool's attacking players and Bruna should have had his second of the match on 22 minutes when he angled a shot just off target after a clever through pass by Nikola Saric.

However, the visitors didn't have long to wait for their second goal as Ince showed some real class to curl home just 60 seconds later. The 19-year-old picked up a smart pass by Flanagan and drifted beyond three challenges before coolly curving into the far corner of Michael Langley's net.

The strike was met with smiles by the watching Dani Pacheco, who had taken his place in the stand to watch the match alongside Academy director, Frank McParland.

The Reds maintained their lead up to the interval and should have extended it on 57 minutes when Banton's dazzling run and shot was thwarted by some expert goalkeeping by Langley.

Saric then had a goal ruled out for offside after a neat one-two with Bruna before Cables came close when substitute Jake Ellis thundered a 25 yarder against the crossbar. Freddie Potter was first to the rebound but Bouzanis made up for his earlier error with a terrific stop.

Liverpool continued to look the more likely to add to the scoresheet and Bruna twice went close with free-kicks from distance.

With time running out the home side pushed forward leaving gaps at the back and Ince should have sealed victory when he burst clean through on goal, only to clip his effort wide of the far post.