Saturday, April 02, 2011

Match Preview: West Brom vs Liverpool

All eyes will be on Roy Hodgson as he invites former club Liverpool to face his West Brom side.

After a shaky start Kenny Dalglish's men are gaining momentum, winning four of their last six in the league as they look to continue their push for a Europa League place.

In contrast Hodgson and the Baggies are desperate to keep their heads above water in a crowded bottom half, sitting 16th and just a single point off the drop zone.

The reverse fixture in August serves as an indication of just how much has changed at both clubs this season, with Hodgson's Liverpool beating Roberto Di Matteo's Baggies 1-0 courtesy of a Fernando Torres strike.

Hodgson has relatively few injury worries ahead of the game, despite long-term absentee Pablo Ibanez still sidelined with a hamstring injury.

The Baggies are still without the influential Graham Dorrans in the centre of the park as the Scot continues his struggle to shake off an ankle injury.

The manager admitted he is unhappy with the Mexican national team for subjecting striker Carlos Vela to a 12,000-mile round trip during the recent international break, despite barely playing the youngster.

Dalglish will have a number of selection decisions to make, with Steven Gerrard returning to full training following groin surgery.

Although a start for the skipper is unlikely, one man who will look to feature is Luis Suarez, the striker handing his team a huge boost by returning from a groin injury that saw him sit out the international break.

Right-back Martin Kelly had looked in contention for a place in the team but suffered a setback in training following his return from a hamstring injury.

Possible starting XIs:
West Brom: Carson, Shorey, Scharner, Meite, Olsson, Reid, Thomas, Morrison, Brunt, Mulumbu, Odemwingie.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Meireles, Spearing, Lucas, Kuyt, Suarez, Carroll.

Roy Hodgson Says Kenny Dalglish Must Be Permanent Anfield Manager

Roy Hodgson says Liverpool owner John Henry must confirm Kenny Dalglish as his permanent successor, warning that it would be very difficult for another manager to do the job now that the club’s supporters have backed the Scotsman so emphatically.

“The fans want him to have the job,” Hodgson said. “He has the backing of the fans, and the fans are very, very important in football.

"If they don’t give him the job now, it will be very difficult for the next man who gets it, because the fans want him to have it.

“I knew it from the day I walked into the club, because Kenny had made it clear he wanted the job. The job was there, I was offered it, I knew the risk, the potential problems that could arise, and I don’t harbour any regrets or any resentment.”

Hodgson, who was sacked by Liverpool in January, said he would welcome Dalglish to the Hawthorns on Saturday for their league fixture, and would be happy to share a handshake and drink after the match.

But the West Bromwich Albion manager explained that he believed his chances of being successful at Liverpool were always slim once Dalglish had expressed an interest in his job.

“It is difficult to compete with icons. I went to the right club, but perhaps I didn’t arrive at the right time. Kenny made it clear he wanted the job, but the people who were making the decisions at that time decided to go for me.

"It left Kenny in a difficult position because he wanted the job, and when things didn’t go well, having him in the background wasn’t easy. It wouldn’t have been easy for any coach.”

For his part, Dalglish contests the suggestion that he undermined Hodgson. The 60 year-old, who did apply for the job when Rafael Benítez left, insisted that he had been nothing but supportive during a difficult period for both men.

“I had a good, close relationship with Roy when he was here and that is on record,” Dalglish said.

“I’ve always been here to help the football club, and the most important person at the club is the guy in charge, and that guy always maintains the respect of the people at the club.

"The guy who sits in the chair is the most important one and the one who always gets the support.”

Asked in what light he believes Liverpool fans will remember Hodgson, Dalglish said: “Everybody has their own opinions on what happened and their own opinions on individuals, so they will have their own feelings and respect.

"No Liverpool fan wishes bad on anybody.”

Since Hodgson was sacked, Liverpool have sold striker Fernando Torres to Chelsea and brought in Andy Carroll and Luis Suárez for £58 million – both targets of Hodgson’s.

Hodgson said: “Liverpool have got two outstanding front players who are raring to go. Carroll and Suárez, who I scouted, were on a list of players we were considering.

“Carroll was the most wanted striker in English football and Suárez was on everyone’s list after the World Cup and his time at Ajax.”

International Break Does Liverpool Good

Liverpool face former manager Roy Hodgson's team West Bromwich Albion today confident that the international break has been good for the Anfield club in several ways

Striker Andy Carroll scored his first England goal in the friendly against Ghana on Tuesday night, while none of the players who played for their countries reported any injuries on their return. It also gave injured captain Steven Gerrard time to recover from groin surgery and put himself into contention.

However, defender Martin Kelly has suffered a setback in his recovery from a hamstring problem with Fabio Aurelio also making slow progress from a similar injury.

"You have to look at each one individually to see if it has done them good or bad," said manager Kenny Dalglish.

"For ourselves we have tried to get people back to fitness so it is a bit of 50-50 success rate on that. It has been almost two weeks between games but for us we were delighted with the way they played at Sunderland and so will they have been."

McCarthy Accepts Liverpool Target Jarvis Likely To Leave

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy admits they face a battle keeping Matt Jarvis.

The Wolves winger is already being tipped for a £10million summer move to Liverpool.

Jarvis signed a five-year deal at Molineux earlier this season and his value has soared after outstanding displays in a relegation-threatened side.

McCarthy said: "Let's be adults. There are certain scenarios you can't stop.

"Jarvo's done nearly five years here and has been wonderful for us.

"But if a top-four club comes in and offers unbelievable amounts of money, it becomes very difficult.

"I know there's a lot of interest in him from talking to some of the top managers.

"There's no suggestion he or anyone else is for sale, but who thought Torres and Carroll would go?"

Jovanovic Set For Anfield Exit?

Liverpool winger Milan Jovanovic admits a return to Serbian football is highly unlikely despite being linked with a move to Red Star Belgrade.

The 29-year-old has struggled for game time on Merseyside after arriving on a free transfer from Standard Liege last European summer.

He has made just two appearances under Kenny Dalglish and five starts all season.

Jovanovic hasn't ruled out a move away from the club but will look elsewhere before a return to his home country.

Jovanovic told Mondo: "I'm not the one who started this story.

"Yes, you can never know what the future will bring you and I have never said that I will not return home someday.

"But than again we have to look at the reality of Serbian football.

"At this moment there are just minimal chances for me to return to Serbia, for at least the next two years.

"I have full respect for Red Star, who are probably the biggest brand in our football, and I have a lot of friends in that club.

"But Vojvodina are still the only club for which I have played in Serbia so I'm still foremost a fan of Vojvodina."

Liverpool In Race To Sign Portuguese International Rolando, Claims Agent

Liverpool have been confirmed in the race to sign Portuguese defender Rolando.

The 25-year-old Porto centre back has previously been linked with a move to the Barclays Premier League, and now agent Peppino Tirri has suggested that Liverpool have competition from Manchester United as well as two sides from Italy.

"There is also Manchester United and Liverpool following the player," Tirri told after claiming both Juventus and Inter Milan were tracking the player.

"His cost? Around €15 million. I think something could move towards the end of the month, now the clubs are focused on the championship and the Champions League."

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has hinted at a number of player changes in the summer, with the Anfield chief looking to put his own stamp on the side should he decide to stay at Anfield permanently.

The Merseysiders are also thought to have targeted both a left back and winger in their efforts to bolster the squad in several core positions, with claiming Dalglish is keen to add defensive reinforcements at Liverpool.

Signed from Belenenses by Porto back in 2008, Rolando has made over 100 appearances in all competitions for the Portuguese Liga outfit, and has been a figure of consistency at the Estádio do Dragão.

A regular member of the national side for Portugal, a transfer tussle could ensue for the player's signature this summer.

Connor Wickham Is For Sale To Liverpool Or Spurs, Says Paul Jewell

Ipswich boss Paul Jewell appears to have resigned himself to losing hot prospect Connor Wickham to either Spurs or Liverpool in the summer.

Tottenham and Liverpool are reportedly leading the race for the £15 million-rated striker, who turned 18 on Thursday.

Jewell said: 'I am hopeful he will stay but, let's be honest, we are all at the mercy of the big clubs.

'If Liverpool or Tottenham come in with money that is going to help us plough back into the team – silly money if you like – we have to listen to it.'

The former Wigan manager believes it would be better for Wickham's development if he stayed with the Tractor Boys.

But he pointed out that the England Under-21 international would not be leaving on the cheap as Ipswich do not need to sell.

Wickham has made 66 appearances and scored 11 goals for Ipswich, since he became the club's youngest ever debutant when he appeared at the age of 16 years and 11 days in 2009.

Liverpool Commercially Hot With Or Without Europe

Liverpool can count on their heritage to seal big sponsorship deals even if they are not playing in Europe next season, the Premier League club's managing director Ian Ayre said on Thursday.

The five-times European champions, who share the record of 18 English league titles with Manchester United, are in danger of missing out on continental club competition if a revival in their league form does not repair a bad start to the campaign.

With clubs seeking to increase revenues ahead of new financial rules from UEFA to ensure they break even, playing in the lucrative Champions League or Europa League can help but Ayre said in Liverpool's case it may not be essential.

"If you invest in Liverpool Football Club you are not investing in this season, this player or this result," Ayre told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the Soccerex European forum in Manchester.

"You are investing in the institution that is Liverpool Football Club, that is over 100 years of football, which is England's most successful football club still.

"One of the reasons that we're one of the most supported clubs in the world is the success we had many years ago. People believe still and they invest still and they love Liverpool still.

That's what people are investing in, they are not investing in how we perform next week or next year."

Ayre, promoted earlier this month from commercial director, said the club were focusing on increasing their global presence commercially and that "significant revenue" could come from a naming rights deal if they moved to a new stadium.

Since being taken over by American John W. Henry's New England Sports Ventures last October, the club has been considering whether to push ahead with a previous plan to build a new stadium or to expand their existing Anfield ground.

"We're exploring naming rights as a proposition to look at the economic model for a new stadium so that in theory would be the next big deal in that type of sponsorship area," said Ayre.

Ayre, 47, understands as well as anyone what sponsors are buying into at the club having grown up as a Liverpool supporter who used to mind cars for Everton fans on matchdays to save up money so he could buy tickets to watch his own team play.

In those days, Liverpool were enjoying some of their best years but Kenny Dalglish's side are now in sixth place, needing to finish fifth to guarantee a Europa League spot. They trail Tottenham Hotspur by four points having played a game more.

Even if they made it up to fifth, it would still be the second year in row that they miss out on the Champions League.

Not that their main sponsors are worried about that.

"The Champions League is not that important to us because it happens at a time most of Asia is fast asleep," Gavin Laws, group head of corporate affairs at Standard Chartered, told delegates earlier on Thursday.

The bank, which does much of its business in Asia, signed a four-year shirt sponsorship deal with Liverpool in 2009 worth a reported 80 million pounds.

"People don't get up in the morning to watch a whole game," Laws added. "They see the result and they might just skim through and see the goals."

Reds Honour Local Youngsters

It's not been uncommon to see silverware dished out at Anfield over the years - and it was no different on Thursday night as 48 local kids were honoured in Liverpool Football Club's annual Young Person of the Year awards.

More than 200 guests, including first-team stars Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing, attended the special ceremony in the Shankly Suite to witness the club reward the outstanding achievements of young people in the city.

In its 10th year, the awards recognize youngsters who have excelled in the following categories -

* Courage - overcame a disadvantage, illness or produced an act of bravery.
* Compassion - displayed loving kindness towards others.
* Caring - cared for a parent, relative, neighbour or pupil.
* Community - helped out in the community.

The youngsters were nominated by schools in the Anfield/Breckfield area, the club's SweeperZone groups, local community centres and youngsters participating in LFC's range of community and family projects.

The awards handed out by Shelvey and Spearing included Schools Special achievement, Sweeper Zone, Kickz, Respect 4 All, Goals for Girls and the Jack Carley award for courage.

It was then on to Liverpool's new Managing Director Ian Ayre to announce the winners of the four Young Person of the Year awards, which went to Kayleigh Fry, Nicolas Fielding, Chelsea Inman and Karl Christopherson.

Ayre said: "These awards recognize the valuable contribution young people make to their families, communities and to society as a whole.

"The Club has hosted these worthwhile awards for the last 10 years and is delighted to be involved with exceptional local young people."

As well as being handed a photo and autograph opportunity with Liverpool players, those in attendance were treated to a slap-up meal, live music and dancing.

Local Councillor Brian Dowling added: "I am delighted to support these achievements by our young people who are so critical to society's future success be it in business, community, sport or politics."