Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reds Are Taking The Europa League Very Seriously Indeed

Although it isn’t the best competition to take part in, the UEFA Europa League offers Liverpool a great chance for silverware and a platform on which to build for next season.

Despite last night’s draw against Sparta Prague, the Reds still have a good opportunity to progress all the way to the final should they take this competition seriously. While it may not have the glamour or prestige of its big brother, the UEFA Champions League, it is a competition that holds special memories for the Merseysiders and has provided as many memorable moments in years gone by.

Under its former guise, the UEFA Cup, they have won it a joint record three times and their most recent success in 2001 is still fondly remembered as much as any other triumph in Europe over the years. Not only did they beat the likes of Roma and Porto, they also managed to overcome Barcelona in the semi-finals before taking part in one of the most dramatic finals in recent history, defeating Alaves 5-4 after extra time.

With that in mind, everyone connected to Liverpool should see this year’s competition as a chance to put some much needed silverware in the Anfield cabinet, which has been gathering dust for almost five years when they last won the FA Cup. After all, the philosophy of England’s most successful club is to win trophies so why turn down the chance to win the Europa League if that is the case?

Should Liverpool defeat Sparta Prague next week and then prevail against Braga or Lech Poznan, they will surely fancy their chances in a competition with few favourites.

Although Manchester City with their vastly expensive squad and capable of the odd excellent performance, they have rarely set pulses rating with their inability to defeat teams such as Aris on Tuesday night. Plus, their defeat to Lech Poznan in the group stages showed that Mancini’s men are vulnerable when teams attack them.

Another side that are seen as potential favourites, FC Porto, continue to impress under Andre Villas-Boas having gone through the group stages unbeaten and most recently defeating Sevilla 2-1 away from home last night. Should they carry on their rich vein of form then they will surely be favourites to reach the final in Dublin in May.

But there is still a lot of football to be played between now and then, and a lot can change. Should Liverpool reach the final, then it will surely be considered an achievement given the difficulties they have endured during the course of this season.

Ibrahim Afellay Linked With Summer Anfield Swoop

Liverpool are reportedly preparing a summer swoop for Barcelona winger Ibrahim Afellay.

The Dutch wing wizard is out-of-favour at the Nou Camp after joining the La Liga outfit in the summer, and Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is reportedly keen on bringing the player to Anfield.

Afellay was linked with a Liverpool switch in the summer as his PSV Eindhoven contract ran down, but the player moved to Spain instead in a bid to further his career.

However, times have been tough at the Catalan outfit, and talkSPORT claims that Pep Guardiola may be tempted by an offer from the Merseysiders.

Barca landed the player for €3 million, but Liverpool will have to pay more than that to bring the player to the Barclays Premier League.

NESV proved that they are willing to back the manager financially in January, spending £55 million on striker additions at the club in the shape of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

Dalglish has hinted that Liverpool will spend again at the end of the season, and the winger who can also play in a secondary striker role could be the ideal purchase.

Georginio Wijnaldum Is A Transfer Target For Liverpool

Highly rated Feyenoord winger Georginio Wijnaldum is a transfer target for Liverpool reports

The 20-year-old midfielder is one of the hottest prospects in Eredivisie and has attracted the attention of a number of leading European clubs including AC Milan, and Real Madrid.

But it is Liverpool who have registered the firmest interest with sources in the Dutch media claiming Anfield scouts were in the stands to watch the Feyenoord ace in action against Heracles in a recent league encounter.

Wijnaldum is a product of the youth system at De Kuip and made his senior debut for the outfit as a teenager back in 2007.

The Holland under 21 international is considered by many to be a 'rough diamond' - desperate to be developed into a superstar under the right tutelage; something he could achieve at Liverpool.

Kenny Dalglish has already demonstrated the influence he can have over his players, with the confidence instilled in the Liverpool squad the driving force behind their recent charge up the Barclays Premier League table.

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt could also prove to be a key figure in the quest to bring Wijnaldum to Anfield, with the former serving as a mentor to the latter during his time at Feyenoord.

"Dirk Kuyt is my role model. He left Feyenoord when he was the best, I am not that far," said Wijnaldum.

Liverpool Locked In Battle For £7m Sensation

Aston Villa are reportedly ready to join the race for Liverpool target Xherdan Shaqiri.

The fleet-footed winger's profile rose dramatically after he scored a stunning goal against England as Switzerland fell to a 3-1 defeat in the Euro 2012 qualifier in September.

He has since been linked with a move to a number of top European clubs - most notably Liverpool and Juventus - and, according to talkSPORT, Aston Villa are also closely monitoring his progress.

The 19-year-old helped FC Basel to the league and cup double last season in his rookie campaign and - should Villa beat Liverpool to his signature - the Swiss would only add to the battery of young talent currently on display at Villa Park.

Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier has been keen to blood as many youngsters during his brief spell with the Villans - something which Villa wideman Marc Albrighton was keen to pay tribute to.

“You can see what he’s doing here. He’s giving all the youngsters a chance and it breeds confidence throughout like he did with the lads at Liverpool," he told talkSPORT.

“When he was there he brought through some great players and he’s doing exactly the same here, he’s developing the young players.

“All we want to do is learn and become better players and hopefully we can do that on the Premier League stage.”

However, Villa are likely to have to fight off the advances of several suitors if they wish to sign Shaqiri - who is good enough to compete at the highest level, according to Basel's sporting director.

Ilya Kentsing said: "Shaqiri is a player for a big team and he could play for any top club," Kentsing said. "But we have no agreement yet with any club."

Shaqiri himself is thought to be keen on a move to England - and to Liverpool in particularly - and it was reported in December that he was hopeful the Reds would revive the interest they had shown in him during Rafa Benitez's tenure at Anfield.

Jamie Carragher: Martin Kelly Has Improved Under Kenny Dalglish

Jamie Carragher has attributed Martin Kelly's rise at Liverpool to the arrival of Kenny Dalglish as manager.

Under former Anfield and newly appointed West Brom manager Roy Hodgson, Kelly saw limited first-team chances in the Premier League and was reduced to appearances predominantly in the Europa League.

But since Dalglish’s introduction in January, Kelly has failed to appear in just one of the nine games the Scot has managed.

First-choice right-back Glen Johnson has been ousted from his role to accommodate Kelly and with the England international plying his trade confidently on his unnatural opposite flank, the 20-year-old looks set to cement his place in the first-team.

The 20-year-old has started all but one of Kenny Dalglish's nine matches in charge since the Scot was installed as Reds boss until the end of the season last month.

Carragher insists Kelly’s form is down to Dalglish’s belief in the club’s younger players and the veteran is impressed at how the right-back has settle into his role.

"Since Kenny's come in, he's really taken off," Carragher told LFC Weekly.

"I remember in his full debut against Lyon [last season] he was outstanding. Then he got injured and when that happens, it's difficult to get another chance.

"Since the United game, England's first-choice right-back [Glen Johnson] has been getting picked at left-back so that shows you how well he's done and how highly he's regarded.”

Carragher insists Kelly has much to learn but the 33-year-old believes his team-mate’s pace and energy should serve him well in future campaigns.

"He's still young and his understanding of the game will develop with experience but he's already a fantastic athlete,” said Carragher.

“His pace means he can get out of trouble when he does make a mistake. That ability to recover with speed was something I never had and he has that in abundance.

“I was in the stand against Everton and when he made that run past Leighton Baines, I thought it was Thierry Henry against me all those years ago. It was turbo charged.

"Modern full-backs need to be tall and Martin is very good at defending headers at the back post.”

Eccleston Attracting Interest understands that Nathan Eccleston's impressive form on loan at Charlton Athletic has attracted interest from Everton and Hull City.

The Liverpool youngster is currently on loan with the League One high-flyers for the remainder of the season.

The 20-year-old has been in fine form for Chris Powell's side having followed up his Man of the Match display against Peterborough with a goal against Hartlepool.

Eccleston has been a regular since arriving at The Valley and he is relishing the opportunity to play consistent first-team football.

Everton and Hull City are now thought to be keeping tabs on the Manchester-born marksman, who is well down the pecking order at Anfield.

Eccleston spent time on loan with Huddersfield Town last season and scored on his debut in a 1-0 win over Yeovil Town.

Wilson Targets More Starts

Danny Wilson is hoping his performance during the goalless draw with Sparta Prague will lead to him starting more games this season.

The Scottish international made his first start under Kenny Dalglish and gave an accomplished display at left-back as the Reds kept their fifth clean sheet out of their last six games.

"I've not played in two months since the Utrecht game so I was delighted the manager gave me the nod to play," Wilson told

"Defenders are always happy with a clean sheet, I enjoyed it, and hopefully I can be involved in the next match."

Liverpool's No.22 is confident Dalglish's side can complete their task in hand and beat the reigning Czech Champions at Anfield in next Thursday's second leg.

"To come away from Prague with a 0-0 scoreline is a good result for us to take back to Anfield and hopefully we can now do the job next week," he added.

"I think we will have to take the game to them at Anfield more than we did tonight because the first game was all about making sure we didn't concede and get a good result to take into the second leg.

"We have done that and at Anfield we can try and open them up a bit more."

Kenny Dalglish Keeping His Feet On The Ground About Young Prodigy Raheem Sterling

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish remains cautiously optimistic about youngster Raheem Sterling, who will become the club's youngest ever player if he features against Sparta Prague on Thursday.

The Reds boss is keeping his feet on the ground when it comes to the youngster, so as not to let hype hurt the development of the prodigy.

And alongside Sterling, Dalglish has also selected John Flanagan, Conor Coady, Tom Ince and Jack Robinson from the youth team and he is keen to give them a taste of first-team life.

"You've got to be very, very responsible when you're talking about Raheem," Dalglish told reporters.

"It's fantastic for him to be involved as it is for the three other lads. Obviously Tom Ince has been involved before but for the four lads from the youth team it's a fantastic occasion.

"We want to make sure they feel part and parcel of the football club. They are here because they deserve to be here and maybe because of the injuries we've got at the moment it dictates that they are here.

"They've done very well but none of them will be carried away with the result the other night in the Youth Cup."

However, Dalglish is keen to ensure that the young stars keep their feet on the ground and don’t get too carried away.

"They have done very well and none of them will be carried away by the result in the Youth Cup," he said, referring to the 9-0 drubbing that the young Reds handed out to Southend.

"We will be sensible with the kids. We don't have to manage the expectations of anyone other than the media, they are the ones who have blown it out of proportion.

"Raheem might have got the praise for the performance the other night but there were a lot of people who deserved it."

The forward scored five goals in the Liverpool youth side’s incredible 9-0 FA Youth Cup win over Southend on Monday, which was the performance that earned him a spot in the senior squad for the trip to play Sparta Prague.

But the youngster's achievements do not surprise his former club Queens Park Rangers' head of youth development, Steve Gallen, who said in the Daily Mail: "We always knew he was good.

"He had many nicknames when he played for us. One of them was simply 'The Magician'. Another was 'Raheem Park Rangers' because sometimes he would carry the team on his own."

Gallen also recollected one of the youngster's performances at his former club, where he plied his trade until last season.

"I moved him up to the Under 16s when he was 14 and he was the best player on the pitch. He came on as a sub against Millwall and there was this long ball from the goalkeeper. He watched it drop over his shoulder and volleyed it straight into the top corner. I was glad no scouts were there that day.

"This became normal. His ability is frightening. Balance, speed, awareness. No-one I've ever seen compares to him. He's a fantastic player and I really hope he does well."

The head of youth development of Sterling's former club also maintained that the 16-year-old had no airs about him, and hailed the forward's focus when it comes to striving towards winning a game.

"I've seen England Under 16 kids walking around like they own the country but not this boy," Gallen said. "He's too focused on winning. I've seen him get smashed by some giants and he gets up and carries on. No histrionics. He's small but made of granite."

Broughton To Sue Americans

Former Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are to be sued by the club's ex-chairman, Sir Martin Broughton, for defamation.

Hicks alleged Broughton was part of an 'epic swindle' when the latter oversaw the £300million sale of the club in 2010.

The American claims he lost £140m as a result of the sale against his wishes and was critical of Broughton in the process.

Broughton told The Times: "I am suing to have my name cleared, not for any money.

"They made accusations of fraud and conspiracy which were wholly unfounded. I am not losing any sleep. I know I acted properly."

On Thursday, Hicks lost his bid to overturn an injunction preventing him launching legal action over the sale in the United States without prior approval from an English court.

Mr. Justice Floyd, who made the ruling, criticized the delaying tactics of Hicks and Gillett, both during the sale process and in the subsequent months.

The judge also dismissed an application to strike out or stay claims by Broughton.

New England Sports Ventures' application to be allowed to join the Broughton action was granted by the judge.