Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kenny Dalglish Cautious Over Steven Gerrard's Liverpool Return

Kenny Dalglish will not hurry the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, back into action before he is ready, promising before Thursday's Europa league tie against Sparta Prague to "think a bit longer term than just one game".

Gerrard has missed Liverpool's last two games due to a groin problem and Dalglish is anxious not to bring him back into the fold too soon. The manager told the club's website: "Steven is almost there. Whether he gets there in time or not remains to be seen but we're not going to push somebody into a game that's not quite ready.

"Much as Steven would love to play and we'd love to have him, I think we've got to think a bit longer term than just one game. But if he's fit and well, he'll come under consideration like everybody else.

"I think it's important we adopt the same philosophy as we've had before with the likes of Jay Spearing, who could have carried on a little bit longer with his injury but we wanted to get it done and dusted and get him looked after.

"Daniel Agger was the same, Martin Skrtel got a rest last week [in the first leg against Sparta], Martin Kelly got a rest, so I think we've got to be consistent in our approach to things and, if there is any doubt whatsoever, if we can get by without Steven, then we will do. Daniel is fit now, so he's up for consideration."

As for Liverpool's record signing, Andy Carroll, Dalglish says he is still some way off being considered for action but is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a thigh injury.

"He has done everything that has been expected of him up to this time," Dalglish said. "The medical people and ourselves on the football side are delighted with his progress. He's still got a bit to go before he'll be considered for a match but he's probably a little bit ahead of schedule rather than behind schedule."

Danny Wilson Relishing His Spell In Liverpool FC’s First Team

Danny Wilson confidently declared ahead of Liverpool’s return clash against Sparta Prague: “I relish playing on the big stage!”

The teenager could be given the nod again by Kenny Dalglish tomorrow night for the tie against the Czechs.

The defender gave a solid display last week in the Generali Arena when the Reds played out a 0-0 draw in the Europa Cup.

And if selected again, Wilson insists he will relish the big European atmosphere at a sell-out Anfield.

The 19-year-old said: “I found the atmosphere in Prague fine.

“I’ve played in big games like that before - Steaua Bucharest and others.

“So nothing like that really phases me. I just enjoy it.”

If Dalglish’s men do progress, they will face either Lech Poznan from Poland or SC Braga from Portugal in the last 16 of the competition.

Wilson was satisfied with Liverpool’s discipline in Prague last week, but is sure a far more attack-minded Reds will be on show tomorrow.

He said: “Last Thursday, we were happy not to concede a goal, and get into the next match.

“These matches are won over two legs, not the first leg, so we had to make sure we were still in the tie.

“We’ve done that by getting the 0-0, so we’re just looking forward to opening up at Anfield.”

Liverpool Centre Back Pair Linked With £14m Exit As Anfield Club Listen To Offers

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger is a summer transfer priority for Wolfsburg, according to reports in Germany.

The Bundesliga strugglers, who sacked former England manager Steve McClaren earlier this month, have identified the Dane as the man they want to shore up their defence.

And it is reported that the clubs have already been in contact about a possible deal in the summer with Wolfsburg prepared to pay Liverpool around £9m for the 26-year-old.

Agger, who is an integral part of Kenny Dalglish’s side, signed a contract extension in 2009 which would keep him at Liverpool until 2014.

Meanwhile, Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is being linked with a summer Anfield exit.

The Slovakian centre back has been in-and-out of the side at Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish, and now Wolfsburg are reportedly keen to add the player to their ranks.

Bundesliga champions under Steve McLaren just two seasons ago, the German outfit have struggled since, but have money to spend after the sale of Edin Dzeko to Manchester City.

Skrtel has been targeted as a player who can bolster the club’s defence, according to the Star on Sunday, and the club are reportedly ready to test Liverpool with a bid in the region of £5 million.

Cole: My Liverpool Pledge

Joe Cole admits his debut campaign as a Liverpool player hasn't gone to plan so far - but revealed his determination to play an integral role as Kenny Dalglish's contingent chase success in the remainder of the season.

A red card on his Barclays Premier League bow for the Reds coupled with a series of niggling injuries have restricted the England playmaker to just 20 appearances so far in his maiden term as Anfield's No.10.

However, Cole made his first appearance under Dalglish as an early substitute for Fabio Aurelio during last week's goalless Europa League draw with Sparta Prague - and the 29-year-old has pledged to do all he can to regain the sort of form that made him one of Europe's most sought-after players in the second half of 2010-11.

He told "It was good (to play against Sparta). It was important for me to get a game under my belt as I'd only trained twice, so it was nice to come on early.

"I didn't expect that and it was good to get going again. Hopefully all the little niggles and injuries I can put behind me and I can concentrate on the end of the season.

"It's not gone how I would have liked, but that's life. Things like that happen and you've just got to push on through the difficult times. I've had plenty of good times in my career and I've had my share of difficult times, and I'll always come through.

"I'm determined to be a success here. I'm working hard every day. The main thing is the club - it's all about Liverpool.

"I'm pleased it (team's form) has turned around and we're going in the right direction, and if Liverpool can keep going there, I'd love to be part of it."

Despite enduring a testing first seven months as a Liverpool player, Cole has no regrets about deciding to uproot from London, where he had spent his entire career, and move to Merseyside.

And he maintains a belief that his hard work and endeavours at Melwood will soon pay off.

He said: "I've enjoyed moving up here and living where I am. I haven't enjoyed the football because I haven't felt as though I have done myself justice or got myself right. I have been frustrated with the injuries. But that's all going to change.

"I'll just keep going, keep training hard and it will turn the corner sooner rather than later.

"The fans and the people of Liverpool have been great with me. I've played for West Ham and Chelsea in my career and you can tell by the way I speak that I am a London boy, so when I came up here it was a shock to people. I'd had offers in London, but I wanted to come and test myself and you have to go through difficult times.

"I'm fired up, still positive and still got enough energy - I want to be a success at Liverpool and I want to be part of this club. I joined because I knew I was joining a massive club with great history.

"It still gets me excited when I go to Anfield. I haven't played there for a long time, but I just want to get out there on the pitch and play."

Since arriving on a free transfer from Chelsea last summer, Cole has seen a number of radical changes take place at Anfield.

The acquisition of the club by Fenway Sports Group in addition to the instalments of Dalglish, Steve Clarke and Damien Comolli mean today's Liverpool look very different to the one that opened the campaign back in August.

Cole is confident the changes will have the desired impact on the Reds' fortunes - but he acknowledges he's faced his own off-the-field battles since pitching up in L4.

"It's been business as usual for me, really," he said. "Trying to keep myself fit has been the battle for me this year.

"New owners, new manager, new coaches, new football's a complete change.

"But I came in from a club in Chelsea where we had gone through a few managers as well over the last few years, so I am used to it.

"I think continuity is so important in football. Now we've got Kenny, Damien (Comolli) and Steve (Clarke), who are as good as you'll find at doing their jobs - their track records are proven.

"It's about continuity now. The club needs that for Liverpool to move forward and for us to progress. We need to stick together.

"I've been in successful teams and I've been in unsuccessful teams in my career. What we're doing now is the recipe for success, I 100 per cent believe that. If we keep going in the way we're going, with the structures that have been laid down we'll continue to progress and see how far as players we can take the club."

The appointment of Dalglish in January has served to inject a new lease of life into Liverpool's season.

Cole feels the methods implemented by the manager and first-team coach Clarke in training are proving successful on the pitch and admits the players are relishing playing under the tutelage of the iconic Scot.

"Obviously things have changed tactically," he said. "We've changed formation, training is a lot different and is more match-pace orientated - Steve Clarke is someone I'm used to working with from Chelsea.

"The lads are enjoying it, a weight seems to have been lifted and we seem like we're going in the right direction."

He added: "I think he (Dalglish) just wants me to get fit. I haven't got myself going - injuries and things have blighted my season, so I just need to get myself fit, get ready and get my body feeling good. I'm looking forward to the end of the season."

Cole played under high-profile managers such as Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti prior to joining Liverpool.

But what sets Dalglish apart from any of his previous gaffers?

"His man management - he likes to go around and have a chat with the lads," said Cole.

"He is very much liked and he's in to getting the lads together and building team spirit. He's good at that and he's lifted the place.

"The lads are coming in now with a smile on their face and looking forward to training, and that can only be a good thing."

Following his 53-minute run out in the Czech Republic last week, Cole is hopeful of figuring in the return meeting with Sparta at Anfield on Thursday.

Though Liverpool were held to a goalless stalemate in Prague, the winger is confident they can set up a last 16 meeting with either SC Braga or Lech Poznan.

And Cole in unequivocal in his desire to go all the way in the tournament and help the Reds clinch the Europa League in Dublin in May.

"I think we didn't do ourselves justice over in Prague," he said. "The game was there to be won, but it was a tough game on a difficult pitch.

"They were good tactically, but I feel we've got enough to go and win the game. European games are always special at Anfield and if we can stick together, pass the ball and have a good start to the game, we can make it an easier night for ourselves. I feel we've got enough to go and win the game."

Cole continued: "I play football to win. I'm not here to make up the numbers - I want to be winning trophies. The only opportunity we've really got is the Europa League now.

"It's a big trophy - it's a massive, European trophy and I'd love to lift it. The fans deserve it.

"You talk to Liverpool fans and they can reel off five Champions Leagues, three UEFA Cups, 18 leagues - and everyone knows it.

"This club is measured on the pots it brings in. Other clubs are measured on where they finish in the league and if they survive, but the standards are high at this club and I don't want to be a player who comes here and doesn't win anything.

"I want the big days - I want to go to Dublin, I want to go to Wembley - that's what I play football for."

Meireles Believes Carroll/Suarez Partnership Is A Recipe For Goals

Raul Meireles can’t wait to see Liverpool’s new strikeforce in action when Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez are available to start matches together.

The Portuguese midfielder has been hitting the back of the net regularly himself in recent weeks but he believes the Carroll/Suarez partnership is a recipe for goals.

“For me, Luis Suarez was man of the match against Wigan,” said Meireles in an exclusive interview with LFC Weekly this week. “Straight away he played very well and showed his quality. He wants to help the team and he has the right spirit, which will be good for us.

“And when Andy Carroll is fit to play again he will also be a big player for us as everyone knows his potential. This will be great for us as they are two fantastic strikers.”

Suarez’s immediate impact was underlined when the Kop sang their new Suarez song to the tune of ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ by Depeche Mode, but he isn’t the only player to be immortalized in song recently.

At the Wigan game a new tune to hail Meireles was also in evidence.

“I haven’t heard them (the songs) but of course it is very good for any player when you have the supporters singing your name,” said Meireles. “It shows that they like the job we are trying to do. Did I have a song in Portugal? At Porto every player had a song, some had big songs and some players had more of a cantic (chant).”

Juventus May Snub Purchase Of Alberto Aquilani

Juventus could decide not to take up the option to sign Alberto Aquilani from Liverpool on a permanent basis this summer, according to the Italian club’s former director of sport.

The Italian midfielder is currently on a season-long loan at the Stadio Delle Alpi, after spending one injury-plagued season at Anfield, and the Turin giants can sign the 26-year-old permanently for an agreed £12m fee in the summer, should they wish to.

Alessio Secco, though, believes the former Roma man has done little to justify such a large fee, and has suggested that Juventus will look to pursue other options, such as fellow loanee Fabio Quagliarella, from Napoli.

Seccio, who left Juventus last summer, said: “In my opinion, aside from the injury he suffered, Juventus will opt to sign Quagliarella from Napoli.

“It's true that he's coming off a rather serious injury, but in the end I think that his abilities as a player are not up for discussion and that Juventus will do everything to sign him.

“Instead, I think it'll be hard to see Juventus sign Aquilani. The player hasn't given the quality necessary to help the Bianconeri make that jump in class.

“Aside from the game against Lecce (a 2-0 defeat) on Sunday, in which the entire team played in a mediocre fashion, I think that Aquilani hasn't had a great season and that signing him for €16m seems a very exaggerated figure.”

Aquilani was signed for £17.1m from Roma by Rafael Benitez in the summer of 2009, but a serious ankle injury delayed his debut at Anfield, and he made just 26 appearances for the Reds throughout a stop-start campaign.

Since returning to Italy, he has featured 22 times for Juventus – scoring twice – but with Luigi Del Neri’s side languishing sixth in Serie A, and in danger of missing out on next season’s Champions League, doubts are now surfacing as to whether Aquilani will complete his anticipated switch to Turin.

Liverpool Ponder £2.5m Bid For Preston's Adam Barton

Liverpool is weighing up a £2.5million bid for Preston North End midfielder Adam Barton.

Liverpool scouts have watched the 20-year-old extensively this season and assistant manager Sammy Lee made another check last Saturday as Barton helped Preston recover a draw against QPR.

The former Blackburn trainee, who has been capped by Northern Ireland, is rated at £5m by Preston - but they may struggle to command that figure if they go down to League One.

Skrtel Denies Wolfsburg Talk

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel has insisted that he wants to stay at the club and denied any interest from Wolfsburg.

The Slovakia international has been an ever-present this season at centre-back in the Premier League for the Reds, making 27 appearances and scoring one goal.

Despite being a mainstay in Liverpool's backline, Skrtel has come in for criticism due to some lacklustre showings.

Although since Kenny Dalglish took the reins following Roy Hodgson's dismissal he has looked a stronger player.

Wolfsburg, who recently sacked former England coach Steve McClaren and sold star striker Edin Dzeko to Manchester City, are reported to be keen on landing the uncompromising 26-year-old.

However Skrtel, who moved to the Reds from Zenit St Petersburg in January 2008, insists he is happy at Anfield and has no intention of moving on.

"I have learned about the interest of Wolfsburg only from the internet and don't even know how true this news is," said Skrtel, who has three-and-a-half years of his contract left to run on Merseyside.

"One thing is for sure, though - I have a valid contract with Liverpool, I am happy there and if they are happy with me, too, I am not going anywhere."

Skrtel was introduced for the final six minutes of Liverpool's dour goalless draw with Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday, but was happy with Dalglish's decision not to play him from the start.

"It was the manager's decision not to have me in the starting line-up and I fully respect it. I didn't try to find out why he had decided that way," Skrtel continued.

"The manager changed the defensive system to three centre backs late in the game as we expected Sparta to send long balls out to (Leonard) Kweuke and (Tomas) Pekhart."

He was also positive ahead of the second leg at Anfield on Thursday, believing that his team has more than enough to make it to the last 16.

"He took down one striker and sent me on, out of which it was clear we did not want to concede a late goal to keep it 0-0. I think this result is good for us for the second leg, but we need to be more offensive," he added.

"I believe that we will score some goals and advance. We had expected the long winter break to show on Sparta, but it did not show on their game and they could have won.

"From Sparta I was impressed most by Kweuke, who is strong on the ball and in my eyes he was their best player."

Rush Opens LFC School

Anfield legend Ian Rush was the special guest as Liverpool Football Club launched their first soccer school academy in Northern Ireland last week.

In his role as the Reds' Soccer School Ambassador, our all-time record goalscorer was on hand at the University of Ulster sports campus in Jordanstown to oversee the club open the first of what will be many first football academies outside of Merseyside.

Over 100 primary school children from across the region attended the three-day clinic, which was ran by coaches from the Liverpool Academy complex in Kirkby in front of the watching Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.

Of course, Rushie himself was only too eager to don his boots too and take part in the sessions.

"Our aim is to do something different to other Soccer Schools because I believe Liverpool Football Club is something different and something special," he said afterwards.

"There is fantastic support for Liverpool FC here in Northern Ireland, and that's why we looked at bringing the Soccer School here.

"With it being such a stronghold of Liverpool supporters, I think it's fitting we should come here to do the first soccer school outside of Liverpool."