Sunday, February 27, 2011

Premier League Preview: West Ham United vs Liverpool

West Ham will continue their increasingly anxious fight against Premier League relegation when they host a Liverpool side which could feature Steven Gerrard.

Avram Grant's side have spent almost the entire season in the drop zone, but are still only eight points adrift of 10th-placed Stoke.

The fact that safety has remained tantalisingly within reach therefore provides reason for West Ham to be optimistic, but also frustrated that they have been unable to find any form of consistency.

Liverpool's season has been equally confusing as in the first half of the campaign they produced dreadfully uninspiring form for Roy Hodgson, but they have now gone eight games in all competitions without defeat under Kenny Dalglish.

That form has propelled the Anfield club into the top six and they are just eight points adrift of Tottenham, who sit in fourth place and crucially occupy the last UEFA Champions League position.

Liverpool, who defeated Sparta Prague on Thursday night to reach the last 16 of the Europa League, have refused to get carried away by talk of the top four, but there cause could be boosted by the return of captain Gerrard from his groin injury.

Injury news

The England international has missed the last three games and watched the win over Sparta from the stands, but is expected to feature at Upton Park.

There is less positive injury news for West Ham as they will again be without Matthew Upson due to an Achilles injury.

On-loan striker Robbie Keane, who spent an unhappy 18 months with Liverpool earlier in his career, will not face his former club as he remains absent with a calf strain.

German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger is expected to make his Premier League debut for West Ham after overcoming injury to feature in Monday's FA Cup demolition of Burnley.

Liverpool will check on Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger, who were both forced off against Sparta, and Glen Johnson (Achilles).

Fabio Aurelio (adductor) is out and Andy Carroll (thigh) is still unlikely to make his debut, but Luis Suarez returns after being ineligible for the recent European games.

Possible starting XIs:

West Ham: Green, Reid, Tomkins, Jacobsen, Bridge, Sears, Parker, Noble, Hitzlsperger, Cole, Ba.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel ,Carragher, Kelly, Lucas, Gerrard, Maxi, Meireles, Kuyt, Suarez.

Kuyt Relishes Luis Partnership

Dirk Kuyt believes he can strike up a formidable partnership with new signing Luis Suarez because they speak the same language - that being Dutch.

The 30-year-old feels the capture of the Uruguayan is the key to reigniting Liverpool's stuttering season.

Having played for Feyenoord in the Eredivisie, Kuyt says he and former Ajax striker Suarez can create a deadly double Dutch partnership because they are on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it is helpful to speak in the same language because defenders can't understand what you are saying," the Dutchman told the Daily Mirror.

"I know I can help him. He speaks Dutch after his time in Holland, and that is good in terms of partnership.

"He played for the rival Ajax but every week I watch the Dutch league and I know how well he has been playing. The time we played together, I thought it went well and it will only get better.

"I was excited when he signed and the first thing I told the lads and everyone around the club was that we had signed a top, top player."

Kuyt is in no doubt that the Reds have pulled off one of the signings of the season having paid £23 million for the 24-year-old's services.

And in turn he believes Suarez has joined one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

"I phoned him just before the deal was completed and told him he was signing for a big club," Kuyt said.

"And I am sure it is just a matter of time before we get back in the Champions League."

Frustrated Cole Hoping To Hammer His Former Club At Upton Park

Joe Cole is hoping for another opportunity to ignite his Liverpool career against first club West Ham on Sunday.

The England midfielder has endured a frustrating season at Anfield after a high-profile free transfer from Chelsea last summer.

The 29-year-old was sent off on his Barclays Premier League debut for the club in August and has since been hampered by injuries and poor form.

Former boss Roy Hodgson became reluctant to use the player but the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as caretaker manager seven weeks ago has offered a fresh chance.

Cole had to wait until Thursday's Europa League clash with Sparta Prague for his first start under Dalglish due to a knee problem but lasted the full 90 minutes and could continue at Upton Park.

Dalglish said: 'Joe Cole coming back is a real bonus for us. It has been a stop-start season for him.

'It is a great credit to him the way he finished Thursday's game - he ran almost the full length of the pitch to almost score in the last minute.

'There is not much wrong with his fitness, he just needs to get back into match practice and the lad will be OK.

'I don't think he needed to show anybody he wanted to play.

'It has been frustrating for the wee man, sent off in his first game and then he picked up two or three injuries.
He never really got going.

'It's the first opportunity I've had to have him in the squad and he's a great asset to have.'

Dalglish's return for a second spell as manager has transformed the mood at Anfield after a dismal six months under Hodgson.

The Reds are unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions and back in with an outside chance of a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League.

Confidence is growing and supporters have certainly united behind Kop hero Dalglish, but the Scot does not want to take much credit for the change of atmosphere.

Dalglish said: 'I don't think there has ever been any doubt about the quality here but there is no point having quality if you don't have the application.

'I think the boys have really applied themselves brilliantly since we came in.

'They have responded brilliantly to the work on the training ground with Steve Clarke and Sammy Lee and let's just carry that forward.

'I think they deserve a great deal of credit for the way they've turned it around.

'They are the ones that play, they are the ones that get results.'
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is hoping to prove his fitness to return at West Ham after three games out with a groin injury.

Striker Luis Suarez is back in contention after being cup-tied for the last two games against Sparta.

Defenders Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger will all be assessed but the match is likely to be too soon for £35million record signing Andy Carroll to make his debut.

Dalglish is expecting the relegation-threatened Hammers to provide a stern examination of his team's credentials.

He said: 'We go into every game knowing it is going to be difficult and West Ham is no different to any other, irrespective of league position.

'It is a magnificent club we are playing against and we will always treat them with respect.

'But the most important team to get ready is our team. We will do our best to do that.

'West Ham is a fantastic football club that have not had the best of seasons but that doesn't mean to say they can't turn it on their day.

'I just hope their day isn't Sunday.'

Sunday will be the first time Dalglish has prepared a team to play the weekend after a midweek European game.

The 59-year-old did not manage in Europe during his first spell in charge from 1985-91 due to a ban imposed on English clubs.

Much is often made of the hangovers Premier League teams have suffered from playing in Europe but that is not an issue concerning Dalglish.

He said: 'We have not done anything we wouldn't have done if it was a normal league game.

'There are a few players that could be back on Sunday that could be helpful and freshen the team up a bit.

'But if you are going to win matches you are going to have to play more.'

Kenny Dalglish To Be Handed A Two-Year Contract At Liverpool

Liverpool is believed to be in line to hand Kenny Dalglish a two-year deal to prolong his stay as the manager of the club.

The 59-year-old was asked to step in and take the reins after former boss Roy Hodgson parted ways with the Reds, owing to a difficult set of results that had curtailed the Merseyside outfit to a mid-table position.

The Scot has since come in and breathed new life into the players, who have managed to put in some strong performances and lift the club to sixth in the Premier League.

Now The Mirror reports that the Reds - who had brought in Dalglish only to manage until the end of the season - will hand him a two-year deal to make his job permanent.

It has also been reported that the deal could be done before the clash against Manchester United, which is scheduled to take place on March 6.

Andy Carroll Told To Lose Weight Before Making His Debut

Liverpool is reported to have told their new striker Andy Carroll that he needs to lose weight before making his debut for the club.

The 22-year-old arrived on Merseyside after the Reds reached a record £35 million agreement with Newcastle United for the transfer of the imposing forward on deadline day last month.

The Gateshead-born player has been prevented from making his debut for the Reds by a thigh injury, but is expected to return to action within the next two weeks.

Having not played a single game this year, the forward is thought to have accumulated a little excess weight. And now The People reports that he has been told to shed some of it before making his first appearance for the club.

Apart from the big money acquisition of Carroll, Liverpool also brought in Luis Suarez from Ajax during the winter transfer window.

Moussa Sissoko Admits He Has Been In Contact With Liverpool

Moussa Sissoko has admitted he would be "delighted" at the prospect of moving to England to play for a big Premier League club and has revealed sides have already been in contact with him, including Liverpool.

The 21-year-old French international has been linked with a move to England previously with Tottenham and Manchester City both rumoured to be interested in signing the defensive midfielder.

Speaking to France Football, Sissoko admitted that a move to England may prove to be too tempting to resist but insisted he was concentrating on Toulouse at the moment.

"I would be delighted if one day I am lucky to join a big English club," he said.

"But I don't think about it so far. I had contacts with English clubs, notably Liverpool, but I preferred to commit myself to Toulouse, the club where I have been educated, to get more experience.

"It is up to me to go on improving, to become a world class player, to play in the biggest clubs and to join the French team as soon as possible."

Tommy Smith: Steven Gerrard’s Class Is Impossible To Replace

The old saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ has been highlighted at Liverpool in our last three matches.

We struggled to overcome Sparta Prague on Thursday, ground out a deadly dull goalless draw in Prague last week and were held at home by Wigan a few days earlier.

And for me it was no coincidence that Steven Gerrard was missing from all three with a groin injury.

I took my 12-year-old grandson Matthew to Anfield with his pal on Thursday and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so quiet!

There was very little to excite him and while I don’t subscribe to the theory that Liverpool are a one man team, we’re certainly a less potent team with Steven Gerrard sat in the stands.

Ultimately we got the job done without him – and it was an important victory.

I firmly believe that with Stevie back playing regularly and Andy Carroll available for selection we have a very good chance of winning the Europa League – or UEFA Cup as I still prefer to call it!

We are still slowly climbing out of a deep hole of two Texans’ making, but we are climbing out, slowly but surely.

A run to the latter stages of this competition would confirm that Liverpool is a club on the rise once again.

In that event a 1-0 home win over Sparta Prague would be quickly forgotten, but it could prove to be a pretty significant result in the long term.

What Thursday’s game did underline, however, is that we don’t have the men currently available in the squad who can have the same impact on a match that our skipper has.

Lucas is clearly not the same type of player, while Christian Poulsen, I’m afraid, has nothing like the same class or quality.

His passing on Thursday was very disappointing.

The message is clear.

Steven Gerrard, get well soon!

Martin Kelly Is Worthy Of England Call

It wasn’t difficult to work out what brought England boss Fabio Capello to Anfield on Thursday night.

With Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson ruled out through injury, there were only two Englishmen lining up against Sparta Prague.

It’s highly unlikely Capello had been lured up north by the chance to run the rule over Joe Cole.

After all the midfielder has only recently regained fitness and has produced nothing in a red shirt over the past seven months to warrant adding to his 56 caps.

Cole will need to start holding down a place in the Liverpool side before his country come calling again.

Capello undoubtedly took his seat in the directors’ box to cast his eye over Martin Kelly and the young defender ensured his trip was worthwhile.

The 20-year-old from Whiston has been a revelation this season.

Kelly is already an under-21 international and senior honours can’t be far away.

Over the past decade Liverpool fans have longed for a homegrown talent to follow in the footsteps of Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Someone capable of ensuring the side still possesses a Scouse heartbeat after those two loyal servants have hung up their boots.

Academy graduate Kelly looks capable of carrying the mantle.

The presence of the woeful Paul Konchesky limited his chances under Roy Hodgson earlier in the season. Ten of his 12 starts before Christmas came in either the Carling Cup or Europa League.

Many players have flourished under Kenny Dalglish over the past seven weeks but none more so than Kelly.

Since being handed a starting spot for the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford in Dalglish’s first game at the helm he hasn’t looked back. The boss’ faith in him has been emphatically rewarded.

Such has been his impact that England’s first choice right-back Glen Johnson has found himself shifted out to the left. It might not only be his Reds spot which Kelly takes from the £18million man.

Starting nine out of 10 games under Dalglish, he’s been a model of consistency and is now one of the first names down on the manager’s team sheet.

During the opening 45 minutes against Sparta on Thursday night he was Liverpool’s standout performer.

He made one crucial defensive interception but it’s his attacking qualities which are earning him rave reviews.

At 6ft 3ins, Kelly is a tall and strong but also a great athlete and packs an impressive turn of pace. Carragher is one of the youngster’s biggest fans and recently described him as “turbo charged”.

Sparta couldn’t handle him and but for some woeful finishing Kelly’s quality from wide areas would have helped kill off the tie.

A twinge in his leg forced him off at the break and he was sorely missed in the second half as Liverpool toiled in search of a breakthrough.

Kelly’s enthusiasm and determination to impress is clear. That burning desire to succeed has been crucial because progress hasn’t been plain sailing.

As a teenager in the youth team he missed two years of football due to back problems prior to his promotion from the academy to Melwood in 2007.

His eye-catching full debut against Lyon in October 2009 ended with him limping off. Injuries have hampered him but Kelly has kept fighting.

Being short listed for the PFA Young Player of the Year award and getting a call from Capello ahead of next month’s clash with Wales would be just reward for a youngster with a big future.