Thursday, February 24, 2011

Europa League Preview: Liverpool vs Sparta Prague

Liverpool went into the first leg playing over-cautiously and managing to carve out a dull goalless draw at the Generali Arena, where they could have, and probably should have, registered a victory to ease the pressure.

Not that a home game against the Czech side creates any undue pressure on the Reds, but it would have made the job a much simpler task as it would have only been a formality to see them off at Anfield instead of having to win the game as they need to presently.

Kenny Dalglish will likely field a stronger line-up than the one he did during the previous game, and with the Kop behind his men it appears to be a relatively straightforward game on paper.

But football matches are not won on paper, and the players will have to battle it out and claim a victory to progress into the last 16 of the tournament.

With home advantage on their side, however, the Merseyside outfit are certainly strong favorites to brush past their opponents and make their way to the next stage of the continental competition.

Sparta Prague really have nothing to lose, since they were pitted against a much stronger opponent who were expected to make no bones in finishing them off and pushing onward into the next knockout round of the tournament.

Instead, the over-cautious style of play from Dalglish’s men has given the Czech club a glimmer of hope that they may be able to spring an upset in the second leg. But this unlikely event will be a herculean task for Jozef Chovanec’s charges, as they have it all to do at Anfield - where the atmosphere could be intimidating on European nights.

However, the defensive approach coupled with the Dalglish fielding a relatively weakened side could give some hope for the visitors, as the Reds could potentially underestimate them and fall prey to a shock defeat in their own backyard.

But to do this, Sparta Prague will have to give it everything when they are in possession of the ball, as anything lesser than a 100 per cent effort is likely to end in a defeat at the backyard of one of the most successful teams in Europe.



There are reports that skipper Steven Gerrard is still struggling to regain his fitness, and manager Kenny Dalglish recently hinted that it may be wise not to risk the 30-year-old in this game.

Otherwise, Daniel Agger is expected to return to the fold after missing the first leg of the double header.

Possible starting XI: Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Wilson, Johnson; Poulsen, Lucas, Meireles; Cole; Kuyt.

Sparta Prague

The Czech side has nothing to lose and should put in a strong line-up hoping to score one goal in the hope of pressurizing their opponents and potentially progressing with a narrow win, or the away goals rule.

Possible starting XI: Blazek; Kusnir, Repka, Brabec, Pamic; Keric, Vacek, Abena, Matejovsky; Kadlec, Kweuke.

Kenny Dalglish Enjoying Every Moment In The Anfield Hotseat

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish admits he is relishing his second stint at Anfield after taking over the job almost seven weeks ago and is working as hard as possible to get results.

The Scot, who left Liverpool almost 20 years ago to the day, took over the Reds when they were languishing in bottom half of the Premier League.

But his presence in the dressing room has seen the Merseyside club rocket up the table and is now in contention for a European place.

Dalglish overlooked the departure of Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50 million and brought in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll from Newcastle.

And with all this action happening on and off the field, Dalglish concedes he has hardly known where the time has gone.

"I don't know how long it's been, but it's been hugely enjoyable,” he told the club's official website.

"To come back and be in charge is a great honor and all you can do is try your best, and that's all I'll continue to do - to try and work as well as I can and try and get some positive results.

"I didn't know it was [nearly] seven weeks, but every day you come in and there's something new to be done and every day you look forward to getting up out of bed, which is good.

"It's been a change, but it's been very rewarding and worthwhile for me and I just hope other people are enjoying it as much as I am."

Kenny Dalglish To Give Joe Cole A Chance

Heralded by Jamie Carragher as "like a god" in Liverpool after his summer arrival, the England midfielder has spent much of the subsequent seven months in the wilderness. Many managers might have discarded a player signed by a predecessor, but not so Dalglish. His faith remains steadfast.

The Scot is likely to hand Cole a third chance to start his Liverpool career against Sparta Prague on Thursday, following a lengthy run-out as a substitute in the first leg. He can only hope it goes rather better than the two previous attempts: his first, his Premier League debut, was ruined by a red card; his second, marked by a first Premier League goal, against Bolton, came before he spent a month sidelined by a knee injury.

It is not Dalglish's style to be fazed should Cole stutter once more, though. The Scot is adamant that there is no pressure on the 29 year-old.

Cole will be granted the time to rediscover form and fitness. Nobody at Anfield, where the errors of the past have all been absolved, will rush to judgment.

"He is a talented footballer and we have got to make sure he is right and ready,'' said Dalglish. ''He did well against Sparta last week, so he is really progressing.

"He looks really sharp in training and he did all right in the game. There is no rush with Joe. We have got to be patient with him. We are not going to judge him at this particular time because he is still getting fit.

"He is positive. He is a good wee guy, lively and bubbly, and Steve Clarke coming in has helped him as well, because he has worked with him before.

"Joe is very good around the dressing room. He knows it takes time to adjust after being out for a while injured. It is not a tap you can turn on and off. Even hot water takes a while to come through. He is enthusiastic and talented. We will try our best to get that out of him."

Dalglish should stand a better chance than most. Where the man he replaced, Roy Hodgson, seemed torn between boosting Cole's fragile confidence or indulging his cheeky-chappie persona, Dalglish offers a degree of certainty.

Cole will be granted his chance tonight largely because Dalglish is unlikely to risk Steven Gerrard – still nursing an adductor injury – and Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll remain unavailable because of ineligibility and a thigh problem, respectively. Cole will certainly not be included on grounds of form, despite appearing for almost an hour in the first leg. He has just two goals in 20 underwhelming appearances. So far, this season holds few fond memories.

"It has not gone how I would have liked here, but that is life," said the former Chelsea midfielder. "You have to push through the difficult times. I have had plenty of good times and my share of difficult times in my career, and I will 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 am pleased the team's form has turned around and we are going in the right direction. We're going in the right direction, and if Liverpool can keep going there, I'd love to be part of it."

Liverpool Step Up Chase For New Vieira

Liverpool have stepped up their pursuit of the Rennes midfielder described as the "new Patrick Vieira" - Yann M'Vila.

The all-action Frenchman has been on Liverpool's radar ever since the arrival of Damien Comolli as director of sporting strategy.

And, according to reports in France, Comolli has sent scouts to watch M'Vila in Rennes' last three fixtures - and has received glowing reports.

Now Liverpool could be ready to sanction a summer bid for the 20-year-old, who is also a target for Juventus, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid.

But, with M'Vila under contract until June 2013, it is reported that Liverpool will have to pay upwards of £10m to land their man.

Liverpool More Popular Than Manchester United - European Football Report

Liverpool is more popular than Manchester United, according to a report published by Sport+Markt and PR Marketing.

The report takes into account the amount of profit generated by merchandise sales.

182 top flight clubs and over 10,000 people from different countries were surveyed and the Reds outshone their opponents, and sit third in the table of the 10 biggest profit-making clubs in Europe, with United only placed in sixth position.

Real Madrid and Barcelona topped the table, which meant the Primera Division of La Liga became the biggest league generator of revenue having generated €190 million, with the bulk of that coming from the Catalan and Madrid clubs.

Despite the Premier League’s worldwide appeal it was second to La Liga, making €168m, although the profit was distributed more equally around the league.

The German Bundesliga was third having generated €130m, with Italy and France making up the rest of the top five leagues in Europe.

“The boom in European football merchandising is ongoing”, according to Dr Peter Rohlmann of PR Marketing.

“However, it is primarily the less established leagues that can look forward to significant growth, as they are gradually identifying the importance of club merchandising in brand management.”

Football shirts are still the most profitable piece of merchandise for clubs as 13.7 million were sold throughout Europe.

“Jersey sales represent the core business of many clubs and are often responsible for around 50 per cent of merchandising revenue”, said Andreas Ullmann, senior consultant at SPORT+MARKT.

“Cultural differences do exist regarding preferences for certain products. Russian or Ukrainian fans, for example, tend to buy more warm scarves, whilst English fans like to buy mugs bearing the logo of their favorite club.”

Liverpool Trump Rivals United And Secure World-First Deal

Premier League soccer club Liverpool FC has agreed a deal with Snow Valley to develop a mobile merchandise store.

The new store will allow Liverpool fans to purchase the same range of content as they would on the full online store, and the site will offer broadly the same functionality. Although it has been optimized for use on the Apple iPhone and iPad, it will also be available across all smartphone platforms and is usable on some older phones. Using Snow Valley's Muse ecommerce platform, the site will also be able to link to information from social media sites, including Facebook.

Liverpool is the first soccer club worldwide to offer their supporters such a service.

Speaking to Marketing magazine, Liverpool FC internet sales manager Chris Jennions said: "[The store is] driven by our fans. We could see that they were visiting the site with their phones and so it made sense to provide them with a really good mobile-optimized shopping experience."

According to the European Football Marketing Report, issued this week by German agency Sport + Markt, revealed that Liverpool generated more revenue from merchandise sales than any other English club last year. The Reds finished third in the list - which measured merchandise sales by clubs across Europe's top leagues - behind Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona but ahead of bitter rivals Manchester United.

Bent Questions 'Crazy' Carroll Fee

Darren Bent has waded into the Andy Carroll transfer, with Aston Villa's £24 million man insisting Liverpool's £35m outlay was "crazy".

Bent joined Villa in January when the Midlands club waved a huge cheque under the noses of Sunderland. But his deal was eclipsed by Liverpool's signing of Carroll and the subsequent sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50m.

Despite Torres firing blanks early in his Chelsea career, Bent can see the wisdom in splashing the cash for "the best striker in the country". But the purchase of Carroll has left him scratching his head.

"Deadline day was mad," Bent is quoted as saying in The Sun. "More so because of Andy Carroll's move to Liverpool.

"He has played half a season in the Premier League for Newcastle and has gone for £35m, so it is a bit crazy.

"Someone like Fernando Torres is, in my opinion, the best striker in the country and if he goes for £50m you think fair enough."

Young Guns In Seventh Heaven

Adam Morgan struck a brace as Liverpool U18s stretched their winning run to seven matches with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Huddersfield Town at the Academy on Wednesday afternoon.

The young striker gave a superb example of his finishing prowess with two second-half efforts as the Reds made it 19 goals in just four outings during February.

Raheem Sterling and Krisztian Adorjan (penalty) were also on target while Shane Birtles grabbed a consolation for Town as Rodolfo Borrell's team continued their surge up the FA Premier Academy League - Group C table.

Ahead of the clash the Spanish coach made six changes to the line-up that had ruthlessly put Stoke City to the sword, with captain Conor Coady the most noticeable absentee due to his involvement with the first-team squad.

It looked like having an adverse effect upon their freeflowing style in the early stages as the visitors created the first opportunity of note. Warrick Charlton's clever run gave him a clear sight of goal but his tame effort was easily gathered by Jamie Stephens.

The home side responded and a jinking run and shot from Toni Silva was superbly blocked by Lloyd Allinson before Sterling saw his goalbound drive deflected to safety.

On 16 minutes the young winger gave another cameo of his sublime talent when he outpaced the Huddersfield defence but his low cross was cut out at the near post.

The 16-year-old was getting himself into some good positions and should have done better just two minutes later when he failed to get a shot away following some neat footwork in the penalty area.

Adorjan then blazed well off target and Morgan had a goal ruled out for offside as Liverpool began to press.

It appeared that it would be only a matter of time until the hosts took the lead and they got the reward for their efforts on 38 minutes.

Adorjan picked up the ball in the midfield and immediately looked for Sterling with a beautifully weighted pass in behind the right full-back. The diminutive winger beat the advancing 'keeper to the ball and bravely dinked a delightful finish into the empty net.

The visitors had done very little in the attacking third but they almost drew level on the stroke of half-time when a set piece caused havoc in the Reds defence, leading to a free header for Birtles that he somehow contrived to nod wide.

If that was a warning for Borrell and co they certainly took heed of it as within five minutes of the restart they had doubled their advantage.

Morgan picked the ball up on the far right of the penalty area and shimmied his way beyond two defenders before cutting a sweet shot back across goal and into the bottom left-hand corner of Allinson's net.

It was a huge blow for the visitors and within moments they found themselves three behind when Adorjan showed great maturity to send the Terriers 'keeper the wrong way from the spot after Sterling was tripped on the left edge of the area.

Liverpool were now in cruise control and the fourth and best of the afternoon arrived on 59 minutes when an Adorjan knock down found Morgan who made no mistake with a crisp volley that arrowed into the far corner of the net.

By now it was completely over as a contest and Borrell was allowed the luxury of substituting both Sterling and Morgan as the home team continued to dominate.

The Yorkshire outfit did try to fight back but it just left more gaps for the Reds to expose and Adorjan should have grabbed his second of the afternoon on 70 minutes when he blazed over following a well timed pass from Silva.

Michael Roberts almost made it five with a delightful free-kick before Huddersfield finally had something to cheer when Birtles tapped home after a smart save from Stephens in stoppage time.