Sunday, March 20, 2011

Match Preview: Sunderland vs Liverpool

Liverpool will be hoping there are no beach balls on the pitch when they visit the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

The last time they faced the Black Cats at the Wearside venue, the now departed Darren Bent's winning goal famously deflected into the net off such a piece of beach equipment.

But even if there aren't any beach balls, boss Kenny Dalglish knows there is a potential banana skin to avoid, given the Reds have lost all three of their Premier League away games directly following a Europa League matchday this season.

The Reds will be aiming to bounce back after crashing out of the European competition when failing to score against Braga at Anfield on Thursday night.

But, on the plus side, Dalglish's team have taken 17 points from their last eight Premier League matches - only Arsenal (18) have won more in this period.

But it will be tough against a Sunderland side who halted a four-match losing top flight run with a plucky goalless stalemate at Arsenal last time.

Boss Steve Bruce will be hoping the Black Cats have now stopped the rot as he seeks to win for the first time in four league and cup attempts at home following the 3-0 victory over Blackburn on New Year's Day.

Sunderland boss Bruce has been boosted by the returns of skipper Lee Cattermole. Nedum Onuoha and Bolo Zenden to the squad after injury.

Danny Welbeck returned from injury as a substitute against Arsenal last time and is pushing for a return to the starting line-up.

But others will miss out, with Bruce telling the club's official website: "It's still possibly too early for Fraizer Campbell and definitely too early for Michael Turner and David Meyler.

"We'll assess everything over the next 24 to 48 hours."

Keeper Craig Gordon should again be fit enough to make the bench, meaning Simon Mignolet, who performed heroics at the Emirates, will continue in goal.

Liverpool are likely to field their strongest front pair of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

Owing to Carroll's recent injury problems, the duo have played just 15 minutes together - in the 3-1 win over Manchester United - since both arrived in January.

However, the England international made his first start for the club in their Europa League exit against Braga, for which Suarez was ineligible, and the former Newcastle striker is likely to retain his place with the Uruguayan returning to the line-up.

Defender Daniel Agger may be fit, having missed the last four matches with a knee injury, but the Reds will be without captain Steven Gerrard (groin), defenders Martin Kelly and Fabio Aurelio (both hamstring) and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (knee).

Possible starting XIs:
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Bramble, Mensah, Ferdinand, Muntari, Onuoha, Henderson, Richardson, Sessegnon, Gyan.

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Wilson, Skrtel, Johnson, Rodriguez, Meireles, Lucas, Kuyt, Suarez, Carroll.

Suarez Cools Gyan Link

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has played down the hype surrounding his reunion with Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan on Sunday.

Uruguay international Suarez was sent off for a deliberate handball which prevented Ghana from progressing to the semi-finals of the World Cup last summer.

Gyan missed the subsequent penalty and the Africans suffered further misery from the spot as Uruguay advanced to the last four via a shootout.

Both stars of the World Cup, the pair have since transferred to England and will lock horns for their new clubs at the Stadium of Light this weekend.

The strikers are due to shake hands prior to kick-off, but Suarez insists his focus will be on the game and not one player.

"For me he will just be another player and someone playing for Sunderland," Suarez told the Daily Mail.

"It is not about us. It is a game between Sunderland and Liverpool and my focus will be on doing my best for my new team.

"I live for the present and the future. Not the past," he added.

Suarez scored 81 goals in 110 league games for Ajax before his £22.8million move to Anfield in January, becoming an instant hit with the fans following a lively start to his Liverpool career.

The 24-year-old was one of two big deadline-day buys for the Reds in a frantic transfer window which also saw Andy Carroll arrive in a £35million deal.

The two strikers have only briefly paired up, but Carroll's return to fitness could see Liverpool's new-look strike force see out the season together, although Suarez admits he is happy to play alongside anyone.

"Andy showed at Newcastle that he is a really good player and now I believe we can build a good partnership together," he said.

"All the strikers are good here and I am happy to play with any of them. But I think the strengths Andy and I have will complement each other well."

Suarez looks tailor-made for the Premier League on early showings and he suggests the competitive nature of England's top flight is more enjoyable than Holland's.

"It is more competitive," he said. "At Ajax, against some teams, you just knew you were going to win. Here the lower teams still beat the stronger teams.

"But for players like me it is more open, and I am enjoying it."

Long Ball Concerns Kenny

Kenny Dalglish admits Liverpool must alter their playing style if they are to bring the best out of striker Andy Carroll.

The £35million arrival from Newcastle has been effective in the air in his three appearances for the Reds but Dalglish feels his side has been too direct with Carroll in the side.

The Scot, in his second spell as manager of the club, insists Carroll is much more than just a target man and he plans to use his squad to play to the 22-year-old's strengths.

"Andy has tremendous assets which we have to learn to get the best out of and we have got assets that will help," said Dalglish.

"But he has to learn how we can get the best out of him. We have to fuse the two things together, play to his strengths but also play to ours and it will take a bit of time to get it working.

"The quicker they get gelling with each other the better it will be for everyone but I think the signs are very positive."

Carroll made his debut as a substitute in the 3-1 win over Manchester United earlier this month, followed by two appearances against Braga.

But Liverpool exited the Europa League with a whimper on Thursday night, failing to breach the Portuguese outfit over two legs and conceding in the first.

Dalglish admits his frustration at not building on the win over United and realizes he has a difficult task in restoring consistency at the club.

"It is frustrating when you can beat a team like Manchester United and then not get past Braga but I suppose every team has their frustrations," said the 60-year-old.

"Results are unpredictable for every club. For us we did beat Manchester United at Anfield but we never gloated or dwelt on it, we took the three points enjoyed the moment and then moved on.

"The two games since then we lost away to a penalty in Braga and we drew 0-0 here. We could have done with a bit of luck, especially at home, but that is the way football is.

"We have always tried to encourage and instruct and direct in the right way and I don't think we will change that.

"We have to make the minimum amount of mistakes as we can and the players have to as well and we will all work together and see where it takes us at the end of the day."

Leighton Baines 'Lined Up For Shock Everton To Liverpool Transfer'

The Reds have struggled at left-back all season and have made strengthening the position a top priority for the next transfer window.

It was thought Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish and director of football strategy Damien Comolli had settled on Newcastle United's Jose Enrique as their preferred choice, but it now seems they will be looking a bit closer to home.

According to the News of the World, their new target is Everton's Leighton Baines.

The 26-year-old England international has impressed with his attacking play and set-pieces this term, and has been credited with 11 assists in the Premier League.

Dalglish and Comolli are said to believe Baines can plug the gap defensively and also provide the crosses needed to get the best out of £35 million striker Andy Carroll.

Everton would be reluctant to sell one of their best players to their local rivals for fear of a backlash from fans, but the club's financial position means they may have to give serious consideration to a £10 million bid.

Liverpool Signings Will Get Wide Berth In Summer

Kenny Dalglish has decided Liverpool need to sign quality wide boys to bring out the best in £35million striker Andy Carroll.

That’s why the Liverpool boss is making the recruitment of Ashley Young from Aston Villa a top priority for the summer.

Young has declined the chance to extend his Villa contract and with just a year left on his current deal will be a prime transfer target this summer.

It may make commercial sense for Villa to sell their England star rather than lose him as a free agent next year.

If he does go, then Villa will look to Wolves’ Matt Jarvis as his replacement.

Manchester United is also trailing Young, but Dalglish is determined to seal the deal and pair him with a new full-back on the left flank.

Newcastle left-back Jose Enrique appears to be on course for a move to Anfield this summer.

The Spaniard has also turned down the chance to open talks over a new contract and his deal expires next year as well.

Enrique possesses the kind of pace and quality passing that Dalglish believes will help Carroll fulfil his potential.

Fabio To Monitor Carroll

Fabio Capello says he will wait until after the weekend's action before deciding whether to call up Andy Carroll for England's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales.

Striking ace Carroll, who made his debut for his country against France at Wembley in November, is expected to start for Liverpool at Sunderland on Sunday after shrugging off injury problems which have hindered his chances of an immediate impact at Anfield.

England boss Capello watched the 22-year-old, a £35million signing on Merseyside from Newcastle in January, in action against Braga in the UEFA Europa League in midweek ahead of next Saturday's clash at the Millennium Stadium.

But Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has already suggested Carroll may not be fit enough to deal with an England run-out, and Capello says he is still undecided over the youngster.

"I went to Liverpool to monitor Andy Carroll. He has played just one game (since being fit)," said Capello.

"Will Carroll be okay for Wales? We need to wait until after the weekend games.

"He is fit but he needs to play games because the big players need more games to find the good form."

Capello says he will also monitor Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, who has been struggling with an ankle knock, against Chelsea on Sunday, adding: "I just read that Adam Johnson played 10 to 20 minutes on Thursday (against Dinamo Kiev).

"I don't know if it is too soon for him (to be selected). We will see how he goes on Sunday."

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has also impressed Capello and could come into the equation, certainly for the friendly with Ghana on March 29th.

He said: "Smalling is a very interesting player. I am monitoring him.

"I spoke with Sir Alex (Ferguson) and he told me he needs more games, more experience.

"But I think, when you play Champions League games, it is really important."

John W Henry Back To Watch Liverpool And Unveil His Anfield Plan

Liverpool owner John W Henry will watch his side at Sunderland before confirming his long-term ideas.

Henry has torn up his original plans and met interim manager Kenny Dalglish on Friday to discuss how his relationship with director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, could work if the Scot were to be appointed full-time.

Henry's presence at the Stadium of Light will be welcomed by Liverpool fans who have not seen much of him since he bought the club from Tom Hicks and George Gillett in October and who have grown impatient over the delay in talking to Dalglish about becoming permanent manager.

Today's game will be the first time Henry has seen a Liverpool match outside the city. His only previous away game was at Everton, where his team lost 2-0 under previous boss Roy Hodgson.

Shortly after their arrival at Anfield, Henry and his company, the Fenway Sports Group, appointed Comolli to be responsible for transfers, with a coach beneath him being entrusted with first-team affairs.

But Dalglish's arrival in January has lifted the club and Henry realizes he should be kept on, even though he will want input into player recruitment.

Pepe Reina Reluctant To Commit His Future To Liverpool

Pepe Reina has refused to pledge his allegiance to Liverpool, hinting that the Reds may not be competitive enough anymore.

The Merseyside outfit began the season poorly and at one stage even found themselves in the relegation zone, but they have since mounted a resurrection of sorts under manager Kenny Dalglish - and are now chasing fifth place, which would guarantee another run in the Europa League, from which they were eliminated in midweek.

But with fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur currently seven points ahead of Liverpool and only nine games remaining, the five-times European champions could miss out on playing in a continental competition next season.

"It’s not about being patient, it is about the club winning and I want to be competitive," said Reina, according to The Mirror.

"All I can do is train hard and do my best, but who knows what is going to happen here?

Reds Shine In Germany

A party of Liverpool supporters has been in Germany this weekend for their fifth 'friendship visit' to Moenchengladbach to once again consolidate and enhance a very special friendship that goes back over 30 years.

Fans of the Reds and Bundesliga club Borussia Moenchengladbach established strong links following the teams' meetings in European competition during the 1970s.

Since 1992, a group of Borussia fans have travelled to Anfield every winter to support Liverpool, meanwhile Kopites, led by organizer Graham Agg, have journeyed to Moenchengladbach annually since 2007.

In 1991 a delegation of Borussia supporters flew to Liverpool to present a cheque for 21,000 Deutsch Marks for the Hillsborough families, a gesture that has never been forgotten on Merseyside.

It is a friendship that has stood the test of time, and is absolutely unique in world football.

Liverpool FC Back Anti-Social Behaviour Blitz In West Derby

A blitz on anti-social behaviour has won backing from Liverpool FC.

The council’s latest Respect week will focus on Yew Tree ward, in West Derby, which includes the Reds’ Melwood training ground.

Club representatives will be meeting some of the agencies involved to show their support for the week.

The scheme, which starts on Monday, will tackle problems such as crime and anti-social behaviour and look at improving job opportunities, the environment and healthier lifestyles.

The week will be launched with a planting scheme in Ackers Hall Avenue.

Other highlights will include a lantern-making workshop for six to 12-year-olds at Mab Lane woodlands on Monday from 3pm to 6pm.

Cllr Ann O’Byrne, cabinet member for community safety, said: “Respect weeks are aimed at all parts of the community so it is great Liverpool FC are supporting it.

“But even if you are a Blue or have no interest in football then the week should still appeal to you. There is a whole range of activities taking place.”