Monday, April 11, 2011

Preview: Liverpool vs Manchester City

A severely weakened Liverpool side goes into tonight’s game against Man City at Anfield looking to bounce back from the disappointment of defeat at the Hawthorns last weekend. Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger have joined the ever growing injury list which, alongside the confirmation that Steven Gerrard will miss the remainder of the season, leaves the Reds distinctly restricted in their selection options.

Liverpool suffered defeat at the hands of Man City in just the second game of the season, a crushing 3-0 loss which stands as one of the worst performances in Hodgson’s short reign. They will be eager to avoid being on the wrong end of a double against Roberto Mancini’s side, who may have one eye on next weekend’s FA Cup semi final against Man Utd.

The two teams sit 6th and 7th in the Premier League form table, having both taken 10 points from the last 6 games, but it is City’s away form which will give Liverpool fans cause for optimism. The Citizens have taken only 5 points in their last 6 away Premier League games, they have lost their last two road trips (admittedly tough games at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge) and their last win away from Eastlands was the 3-1 victory over Newcastle on Boxing Day.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are unbeaten at Anfield since Dalglish’s return to the dugout, having claimed three wins and two draws on home turf. Despite the injury problems they must once again fancy that the support of the Anfield fans can carry them through to another positive result.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with Liverpool’s current injury list, but the news following the West Brom game that Daniel Agger will miss the rest of the season and Glen Johnson is out for a month is a massive blow. With Martin Kelly still sidelined through the hamstring injury suffered against West Ham and the fitness of Fábio Aurélio, as ever, unclear, the Reds will most likely start the match with four centre backs filling the defensive positions.

Steven Gerrard’s continuing groin problem, for which he underwent surgery this week, mean that Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva will continue in the centre with Raul Meireles playing in a narrow left midfield role. Up front Luis Suárez and Andy Carroll will continue to build their partnership, with the latter creeping every closer to full match fitness and the former hoping to inspire the crowd in the same way as when Man Utd came calling.

Man City continues to be without the services of defenders Jerome Boateng and Micah Richards, but is otherwise at full strength. Mancini seems likely to once again leave January signing Edin Dzeko on the bench and field a front three of David Silva, Carlos Tevez and James Milner ahead of the standard midfield trio, Yaya Touré, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong.

Starting XIs

Liverpool (probable): Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Wilson; Kuyt, Spearing, Lucas, Meireles; Suárez, Carroll

Man City (probable): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; De Jong, Y. Touré, Barry; Milner, Tevez, Silva

Liverpool Edge Closer To £6m Barcelona Bargain

Barcelona star Ibrahim Afellay is due for talks over his future at the Nou Camp having been left frustrated by a lack of action in the team.

Liverpool was keen on the Dutchman before he moved to Barcelona in January but things have not worked out for him.

Midfielder Afellay, 25, has failed to command a regular place in the Barcelona team and has been largely restricted to a handful of cameo appearances.

And with Liverpool among those monitoring his plight in Spain, talkSPORT understands Afellay will speak with officials at the Nou Camp regarding his future in the coming weeks and if there are no assurances over his future, he will be free to leave this summer.

Many sources, including this one, believes that Ibrahim Afellay would be keen on a move to Anfield if indeed his assurances regarding first team football at the Nou Camp are not met. In many ways the former PSV Eindhoven man must have known that he would in all likelihood struggle to earn a starting spot in arguably Europe’s best performing line up.

Damien Comolli was keen on signing the 25 year old Dutch international in January and it appears that Barcelona will be willing to let the attacker leave for around £6m, which would be an absolute bargain but still helpfully doubles the amount the Catalan side paid for his services.

Liverpool could well do with the creative talent that Afellay offers and his arrival, if secured, would surely spell the end of Joe Cole’s time at the Merseyside club as the two players are very similar. The likes of Milan Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky are all also strongly linked with Anfield exits this summer.

Juventus Target Permanent Deal For Alberto Aquilani

Juventus general director Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that the Bianconeri are determined to engage in negotiations with Liverpool over the permanent stay of Alberto Aquilani.

The 26-year-old, who set up Luca Toni's winner in Sunday's 3-2 win over Genoa, is currently on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season.

Reports have suggested Juventus have balked at the English outfit's €16 million demands to keep him on loan, but Marotta has confirmed he is willing to listen to the Reds over negotiating the midfielder's permanent tenure in Turin.

"Aquilani has been a pleasant surprise for us because he had come from a negative period," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia.

"We are satisfied for Juventus and for the way we have seen an important player [Aquilani] get into the national team.

"It's clear that on our part there is an intention to buy him. Of course, we have an option and we will see if there is a chance to trade at the right moment with Liverpool."

The Old Lady beat Genoa to keep their hopes for European action on track with their third win in a row. They are currently seventh in Serie A.

Liverpool Ready To Join The Race For Gareth Bale

Liverpool is ready to enter the race for Gareth Bale – should Tottenham make him available – it has been claimed.

The 21-year-old winger has enjoyed his best season to date with his performances for Spurs earning the Welshman nominations for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year.

And now, in somewhat surprising developments, the Sunday Express reports that Spurs would seriously consider selling their prized asset in the summer if bids in excess of £30 million are made – and Liverpool are alleged to be one of the clubs courting the youngster.

The Sunday Express continues to add that Bale is high on the wish-list of Liverpool as the transfer window approaches and the Reds will have to battle with Manchester United if they want to bring the wideman to Anfield.

Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli held the same position at Spurs when Bale secured his move to White Hart Lane and the Frenchman is known to be a big fan of the Tottenham star.
Comolli is on the lookout for more natural width at both left-back and on the left flank and is understood to have identified Bale as the perfect acquisition for Liverpool and – with significant funds expected to be available in the summer – the Anfield club could have the capabilities to test the resolve of Tottenham.

Should Liverpool formalize their interest, they are also likely to have to fight off Inter Milan in their pursuit of Bale, with the Italians having experienced the form Southampton man at his devastating best.

Bale only recently penned a new four-and-a-half year contract at White Hart Lane, but speculation over his future shows no sign of abating.

Carragher Excited By Prospects

Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher admits even he is excited about the prospect of "top players" arriving at the club in the summer.

Having brought in Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez for a combined £57.8million - funded almost entirely by the sale of Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel - director of football Damien Comolli has already said he expects to have a busy summer.

There have been hints that there is money to spend and Carragher is looking forward to some new arrivals, saying: "I think there will be a feelgood factor going into the summer and the start of next season."

He added: "As players we have to look after ourselves and do our own job but we are like supporters as well, we love to see top players coming to the club and hopefully that will be the case.

"Everyone is delighted with the business we did in January and hopefully similar things will happen in the summer."

Since taking over in January manager Kenny Dalglish has effected a turnaround in performances which has seen the side beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United at Anfield.

However, they have also lost to strugglers Blackpool, West Ham and West Brom.

"It just shows you the level we can get to by beating two of the top sides," he said. "The other games, it's people who are fighting for their lives and they've got a different pressure on them to the ones at the top of the table.

"Whether it's a coincidence or something that's lacking in us, it's something we've got to find out.

"If we've got something positive or something we're good at, we're not going to tell anybody. And if we've got something we're not so good at, we're certainly not going to tell anyone either."

Dalglish: Judge Andy Carroll And Luis Suarez Next Season

Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez should be judged on their contribution next season and anything they produce this term is simply a bonus according to Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish.

The pair joined the Reds late in January and whilst Suarez was able to win over Kopites with a debut goal against Stoke, Carroll wasn’t able to wear the Reds No.9 shirt until March due to a thigh injury and is yet to break his scoring duck.

Dalglish is however adamant that the pair should be judged more vigorously in 12 months time.

"Anything we get out of them this season will be a real bonus," Dalglish told the Daily Mail. "It is good to see them getting an opportunity to play together and get an understanding and we will keep working on that.

"But this time next year would be the better time to judge that when they have had time to settle in."

The pair is expected to start in Monday’s game with Manchester City after a week in which Dalglish declared captain Steven Gerrard and Danish defender Daniel Agger will both miss the rest of the campaign.

The Liverpool boss has, however, moved to praise the attitude of his players since his arrival and believes they have shown real improvement since the turn of the year.

"I think we have paid credit to the players many times in the past and there is no need to change that," added Dalglish.

"I know we have not won every game but the attitude and commitment of the players has been superb and the way they have responded to the change [of manager] has been a great credit to them.

"Their ambitions match the club's and if they don't they won't be here.

"So it is onwards and upwards and we'll take Man City's game on Monday and see what we can get from that."

Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly will join Gerrard and Agger in the stands for the visit of City as the pair who has recently operated as wing-backs for the Reds look set to be ruled out for another month.

Despite seeing his squad down to the bare bones, 60-year-old Dalglish has no intention of taking his eye off objectives and is intent on improvement as the campaign draws to a close.

"We have never predicted anything other than we will concentrate fully on the next game,” said the Reds boss.

"I don't see any reason why you should change the habits of a lifetime - we said we would play every game, add the points up and see where we are.

"We're obviously happier being sixth than seventh but we'd also be happier being fifth than sixth.

"The football club has greater ambition than to settle for sixth spot and we'll be looking to improve on that as best we possibly can.

"We are better than sixth but we've got to prove that on the pitch.

"We have to prove on the pitch that we deserve to be higher in the table than what we are, we have to set our ambitions higher than that."

Andy Carroll Can Be A Liverpool FC Legend, Says Jamie Carragher

Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool team-mate Andy Carroll has got what it takes to be a striking legend for both club and country.

The £35million frontman is expected to make his fourth start for the Reds against Manchester City at Anfield tonight.

Carroll has yet to open his account following his record-breaking switch from Newcastle in January but Carragher is confident the goals will flow.

The 22-year-old scored on his second appearance for England last month and Carragher expects him to become a permanent fixture in the national side.

“Andy has got all the attributes you need to be a top centre forward,” Carragher said.

“I can’t advise him how to do that, but if I can help him a little bit along the way, along with the coaching staff and the manager and all the other players at the club, then I will.

“Andy has done fantastically well since he has come here. Now he is in the England squad, I think he can establish himself as the country’s number nine for the next decade.

“We will be looking for him to do that for Liverpool.”

Carroll’s partnership with Luis Suarez has already shown signs of promise and Carragher insists given time they will prove to be a lethal double act.

“Andy has just come back from injury and he is still finding his feet,” he added.

“But I’m sure him and Suarez will be a fantastic combination.”

CHIVAS USA: Negotiations On With Liverpool Youth

Chivas USA's search for someone who can score and create goals has unearthed a real prospect, and now the Goats are figuring out whether they can afford him -- and whether he fits into the master plan.

Teen attacker Jason Banton, on trial the past week from Liverpool FC's youth academy, put on a show Sunday as Chivas' reserves toppled the L.A. Blues, 2-0, in a friendly at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium.

He set up the first goal, hammering off the left post from a corner kick for defender Andy Boyens to finish, then scored the second, effortlessly beating Blues goalkeeper Oscar Dautt from a Victor Estupiñan through ball.

Can he play at the Major League Soccer level? Yes. Would Chivas like him on its roster? Sure. Will a deal be done? We'll see.

“It's a matter of deciding if his asking price is something that we can afford or should afford,” head coach Robin Fraser said after Sunday's game. “He's a talented young player, for sure, but like any or most 18-year-old players, there are some concerns. So we just need to weigh the whole thing and decide what is right.”

Fraser said he likes that Banton is “forward thinking, he likes to run and guys and he's pretty good at taking people on.” His concerns: “He's young, and while the boxscore will show you the goalscorer and that sort of thing, it doesn't tell the whole story. It's really a snapshot of the game. There's a statistic out there: You only have [the ball at your feed] for, like, two minutes of the 90 minutes you play. So what are you doing the other 88 minutes? These are all the things that go into that decision.”

Banton, London-born and -bred, has played in Arsenal's, Blackburn's and, since January, Liverpool's academies. He says he told his agent he wanted to look for a club overseas, and that his first choice was MLS, and less than two weeks later he was headed to Los Angeles.

“I thought I needed a change, and I need some first-team football” said Banton, who played at forward, in central midfield and in his favored position on the left flank against the Blues. “We're looking for me to stay on; obviously, just negotiating a few things, but hopefully stay on, but looking positive so far.

“It's a great club, great staff, great manager, great background. So hopefully stay on and push forward.”

Banton has seen a few Major League Soccer games. He was at Arsenal when Thierry Henry was setting standards for the Gunners and has watched a couple of his games with New York, and he's seen David Beckham with the Galaxy.

The Blues team Banton faced Sunday, which is preparing for its debut in third-tier league USL Pro next weekend, was dotted with former MLS players and a few with experience in Mexico, so if it wasn't a true reflection of what he'd face in the league, it offered at least a hint.

“It was fun. I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a bit physical, but slowly got used to it, then just getting used to [playing with] Chivas. Hitting the post and then scoring off that just boosted my confidence, and then when I got my chance, just took it.”

Banton set up Boyens' goal in the 36th minute, hitting the base of the left post from the top of the box, then doubled the advantage in the 61st. In the final minute, he dropped into the goalmouth a free kick from left left flank with which someone like Jimmy Conrad could do a lot of damage.

Fraser says the salary cap and the club's long-term vision will influence whether Chivas signs Banton, who almost certainly would arrive in a loan deal.

“When we got the job relatively late [before camp opened], I think we looked to make some quick decisions that we thought would get us up and running, and I think we have two mindsets going on at once,” the coach said. “I don't mean to sound cryptic or evasive, but, really, that's kind of what's going on in my mind right now, all these decisions, how are they going to affect us, not just tomorrow, but how are they going to affect us next year and the year after that.

“We work in a world of finite finances. It's not like other leagues where if a player doesn't work out, go get another one. And go get another one. And keep stockpiling. We don't give the luxury of spending frivolously, so we need to look at all the financial implications.”