Sunday, April 17, 2011

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Liverpool

Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal owe it to football fans everywhere to keep the Barclays Premier League title race alive with victory over Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. The Gunners can take advantage of Manchester United's FA Cup semi-final date with rivals City at Wembley this weekend to close the gap at the top of the table down to four points. If Arsenal can then go on and win their game in hand at north-London rivals Tottenham next Tuesday night, that deficit could be down to just a single point which would leave everything still to play for ahead of their May 1 showdown with the Red Devils at Emirates Stadium.

Even though the destiny of the championship is now out of Arsenal's hands following a run of three successive draws before their win at Blackpool last weekend, Wenger's men have not lost in the league since going down 1-0 at Old Trafford some 14 games ago. The Gunners boss insists his side must focus on extending that run with another victory over the Reds. "We are in the run for the championship so why should we at the moment feel that we are bad?" said Wenger, who launched an impassioned defence of his team following more questions about their character.

"It is important that we feel we are strong and it is important for the country that this championship race is still alive." Wenger added: "Of course we always want to win more, but you look at the history of any club and to be consistently at the top for 15 years and moving to a different stadium is not as bad as people say it is.”I just felt it is important we focus on what we can achieve, and that we do not sit here like we are on a tribunal. "What you have to accept is that England is the most difficult championship in the world, and that there are six or seven teams who can win the championship. That is why it is difficult for everybody."

Arsenal could welcome back goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny from a finger injury. Centre-half Johan Djourou (shoulder) may also recover, along with midfielders Alex Song (knee) and Denilson (toe), but full-back Bacary Sagna (knee) is a doubt. Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (ankle) is also struggling so veteran Jens Lehmann could be set for a place on the bench again.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish believes Andy Carroll's double strike this week is merely a hint of what is to come. The ₤35million striker grabbed his first two goals for the Reds in their impressive 3-0 demolition of Manchester City on Monday. It ended a two-month wait for the 22-year-old, who was carrying a thigh injury at the time of his club record move from Newcastle in January. Dalglish said: "It wasn't of paramount importance he scored - we put him back in a bit earlier than we probably should have, but obviously he was medically okay.”

“He just needed match practice and it was going to take him a few games to get up to that. He scored the other night but that is not his fitness complete, and it is not his career complete at Liverpool. It was just a stepping stone to go forward and produce more goals for us." Carroll, making only his fourth start for the club, played alongside fellow new recruit Luis Suarez and the pair showed signs of a promising partnership.

Uruguay striker Suarez has also made an impressive start to his Liverpool career having scored twice since his January arrival and played an instrumental role in last month's defeat of Manchester United. Dalglish added: "Sometimes it takes a little time to settle down but both Andy and Luis have been brilliant.”They have settled in very quickly and got on with the game. We are delighted with both of them."

Another player to catch the eye against City on Monday was 18-year-old right-back John Flanagan, who was handed his debut in the absence of the injured Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly. The Academy graduate's baptism of fire could now continue as Liverpool travel to title-chasing Arsenal. Dalglish said: "Circumstances accelerated his promotion a little bit and he did very well. We had no qualms about putting him in for his attitude and commitment. "At just 18 years of age, to play against Manchester City is a big test, and he came through it fine."

Johnson and Kelly remain sidelined with hamstring injuries but Liverpool has no fresh fitness concerns as they seek their first win at the Emirates Stadium. Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger are the other major absentees having both been ruled out for the rest of the season.

Knighthood Calls Flatter Dalglish

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is flattered by calls for him to be awarded a knighthood by relatives of victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Families of the supporters killed in the 1989 tragedy have asked Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotherham, the city's former Lord Mayor, to put down an Early Day Motion requesting the Queen confer a knighthood on the Scot.

Dalglish was in his first spell as Liverpool manager when 96 fans were crushed to death at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

The 60-year-old earned widespread gratitude and admiration for the role he played representing the city and the club in the aftermath of the disaster.

He attended many funerals in person and remains emotionally involved.

On Friday, Rotherham told a crowd of thousands at a memorial service at Anfield to mark the 22nd anniversary of Hillsborough of the families' request.

Dalglish said: "It is very flattering but I just go about my work, do the best I can.

"If somebody wants to do things that are outside my control that is up to them, but it is very flattering.

"But I don't think I will get carried away with it."

Dalglish resigned as Liverpool boss in 1991, later admitting the stresses associated with Hillsborough had taken a heavy toll.

He returned to the Anfield hotseat for a second time in January following the departure of Roy Hodgson.

He attended Friday's service along with all players on the club's books and many former Reds stars and reiterated his continuing support for the families' quest for justice.

Dalglish said: "It was very poignant.

"Everybody that has some feeling for Liverpool Football Club realizes the importance of yesterday's day and the service.

"Every single person from the football side of the club were there, the Academy lads were all there for the first time, which was brilliant.

"You tend to forget that it was 22 years ago and some of them weren't born then.

"It is fantastic to see the progress they are making in their quest for some form of justice and I just hope they get it.

"We want to make sure they get what they deserve and I don't think they have had what they deserve so far."

Liverpool Fans Demand Irish Duo Quit TV Show

Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton were last night under intense pressure from Liverpool supporters to withdraw from an RTE television program sponsored by The Irish Sun newspaper.

The two former Liverpool and Ireland players are being criticized by supporters of the club because of their involvement in the planned live screening of Premier Soccer Sunday on May 1, sponsored by the paper.

The Sun is still held in contempt by Liverpool supporters for the manner in which it reported the deaths of 96 fans at Hillsborough, 22 years ago last Friday.

Four days after the tragedy, the newspaper ran a front page story with the headline 'The Truth' alleging that fans had picked the pockets of victims, urinated on police and beat up a policeman trying to resuscitate a victim. Those allegations were subsequently retracted and an apology issued 15 years later, but the feelings still run deep and a large-scale boycott of the newspaper continues in the city to this day.

Liverpool fans have been using supporter websites and social media outlets to express their anger and disappointment that two players who were in the Liverpool side that day would allow themselves to be associated with a program so closely linked to the newspaper.

"Their appearance says to Liverpool supporters that there has been a softening of the stance when there hasn't been any softening," Jim Boardman of told the Sunday Independent.

"We've boycotted The Sun for 22 years. We're still waiting for justice for the 96 fans who died and I believe that the stories that appeared in The Sun in 1989 have contributed to the families not receiving justice. I would have expected better from a couple of our old heroes."

Ger Kane, a Liverpool fan from Summerhill, Co Meath, echoed those views: "To have two Liverpool players who played that day in Hillsborough to be associated with The Sun really hurts. Ronnie Whelan was captain that day. He knows what this means. They both attended funerals of those who died. I would be amazed if they weren't aware of it. They shouldn't have anything to do with that paper."

Fans have been discussing possible actions they might take in the event of the show going ahead with Whelan and Houghton, including staging a protest outside RTE's Montrose studios on the night. A number of complaints have been sent to RTE's press department and Kane tried to contact Garston Entertainments, the agency that represents Whelan, but received no reply.

Whelan was on his way to Dubai yesterday and when contacted he said he was not aware of the program's link with The Sun or of the storm it had caused among supporters and did not wish to make any further comment. "Thanks for letting me know," he said. "I will have to speak to RTE first."

Houghton, in Dublin yesterday to appear on last night's Premier Soccer Saturday, also said it was the first he had heard about it. "I haven't a clue," he said. "I'll obviously have to think about it. I'll have to speak to RTE about it and see what's going on. I'll have to find out about that."

And though neither Whelan nor Houghton need lessons on the extreme emotions aroused by Hillsborough more than 20 years on and the ongoing aftermath in which victims' families still fight for the justice they feel has been denied them, they will be all too aware that the eyes of the Liverpool supporting community are on them, passionately urging them to do what they believe is the right thing.

"Ronnie Whelan was our captain that day and Ray Houghton was a player," added Kane. "Both players attended many of the victims' funerals so to see them associated with a show sponsored by The Sun is sickening to most Liverpool fans and surely it would be unwise for them to go ahead with their appearance."

"As it's a one-off show I would definitely say they should pull out and it would really help the cause," said Boardman. "I can understand that ex-players need to make a living but this is a one-off show so I'd like to see them pull out. Liverpool's support is so strong in Ireland that I think their withdrawal would send a powerful message to The Sun."

Liverpool To Move For Manchester City Outcast Shay Given

Liverpool is reportedly set to make a move for Manchester City outcast Shay Given during the summer.

Reds shot stopper Pepe Reina has been heavily linked with a move away from the club, should they fail to secure European football next season.

And with Tottenham Hotspur currently five points ahead in fifth place with a game in hand, Kenny Dalglish's side could yet miss out.

The Scot has recently insisted the Spain international is happy at Anfield, but the News of the World claims the Merseysiders are prepared to accept their goalkeeper's potential departure, with the manager wanting the Republic of Ireland international as a replacement.

Dalglish has already signed Given twice before in his career, first at Blackburn Rovers and then at Newcastle United.

Kenny Dalglish Is Relaxed About His Future

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has said he is relaxed about his long-term future at the club despite being out of contract in the summer.

Liverpool fans are desperate for Dalglish to be handed the reins on a permanent basis after turning the club's fortunes around since taking over from Roy Hodgson, although the Anfield legend is happy to put contract talks on hold until the end of the season.

“I’m perfectly relaxed about the position,” Dalglish was quoted as saying in The Mirror.

“I’m just happy to be here and given performances like that the other night against Manchester City, maybe it’s correct we have to wait until the end of the season for talks.

“I’m not bothered whatsoever. It’s not my decision about the future. I can only look forward to [the match against Arsenal on] Sunday."

There has been talk of a long-term contract for Dalglish for some time now, and the 60-year-old would like to see an end to the constant questions about his future.

He added: “If it sounds boring, it’s even worse for me because I have to keep repeating it.”

Newcastle Want Spearing Swap For Enrique

Newcastle will test just how much Liverpool want left-back Jose Enrique by insisting that promising young Reds midfielder Jay Spearing moves the other way.

PEOPLE SPORT revealed on April 3 that Kop boss Kenny Dalglish was keen to hijack Enrique’s planned move to AC Milan, who remain favourites to take the speedy Spain defender to Serie A.

Liverpool has not been put off – but they might be if Newcastle insist on Wirral-born Spearing, 22, as part of any deal.

He has come on in leaps and bounds under Dalglish in the absence of injured skipper Steven Gerrard.

Toon manager Alan Pardew insists that, despite reports coming out of Merseyside, no deal has been struck with Liverpool for Enrique, 25, whose contract at St James’ Park has one more season to run.

But he is resigned to losing the Spaniard. Newcastle chief scout Graham Carr took in two matches in France last weekend – one involving Toulouse and their France Under-21 star Cheikh M’Bengue.

Sources say Toulouse have already rejected a £5m bid from Newcastle for the 22-year-old left-back.

Liverpool Face Battle To Keep Ince

Liverpool is fighting to keep hold of Thomas Ince – the son of former Kop idol Paul Ince.

The midfield prospect, 19, is out of contract in the summer and has been offered terms at Anfield but may opt for a move away as he wants first-team action.

Liverpool does not want to lose Ince, who would cost a compensation fee if he moved, but fear he could be snapped up.

Rampant Reds Sink United

Toni Silva and Michael Ngoo both scored twice as Liverpool U18s produced a magnificent display to beat Manchester United 6-0 at the Kirkby Academy on Saturday morning.

Rodolfo Borrell's side might have been without their suspended inspirational skipper Conor Coady, but with Craig Roddan and debutant Lewis Hatch outstanding in the middle of the park, the Academy starlets played some sparkling football.

Adam Morgan also continued his incredible scoring feat as he netted for the 13th successive game - 12 of those at U18 level.

The result means the race for the Academy League Group C title is still well and truly on as Liverpool continues to put the pressure on leaders Everton.

Before the game both sides observed a minute's silence in memory of the 96 Liverpool supporters that lost their lives at Hillsborough.

United started brightly and James Wilson went close with a drilled effort that landed just wide, but Borrell's side soon started to take command.

With Roddan pulling the strings in midfield alongside Hatch, who was starting his first full game for two years after injury, the young Reds began to show what they are made of.

Morgan went close to the opener after 16 minutes when his close range effort was brilliantly kept out by Joe Coll.

The lively Raheem Sterling then went close on two occasions before the breakthrough arrived six minutes before the break.

Krisztian Adorjan drilled in a superb cross from the left flank and found Silva at the back post. The Portugese starlet then lobbed the ball over the head of United defender Sean McGinty, then he turned him inside out again before finding the net with a terrific finish.

United then had a great chance to equalise from a corner minutes later. Jamie Stephens misjudged a cross but the unmarked McGinty at the back post could only head into the side netting.

It was to prove a costly miss as just before the break Silva made it 2-0 with a breathtaking goal. Picking the ball up in his own half, the Academy No.7 beat three defenders before finding the net with a great strike from the edge of the box.

With Monday's reserve outing at Manchester City in mind, Silva made way at half-time for Ngoo, but if the United defenders might have been relieved to see him leave the field, that didn't stop the one way traffic.

Straight from the restart Sterling charged through the United defence only to be denied by a brilliant stop from Coll.

The stopper then palmed a Brad Smith cross onto his own bar and moments later Sterling beat four defenders only to see his curled effort land inches wide.

Goal number three duly arrived on 57 minutes and it was perhaps inevitable that the lad who just can't stop scoring was again on the mark.

Roddan's brilliant cross from the left found Morgan at the back post and the striker netted in his 13th successive game.

Adorjan then saw his blistering drive kept out by Coll before the Hungarian made it 4-0 after 74 minutes with a superb turn and shot, after Hatch's effort was charged down.

Incredibly the scoring wasn't over. Ngoo made it a fantastic five two minutes later, with a sweet finish after wonderful link up play with Sterling.

The big man added goal number six four minutes from time after a lovely pass from Roddan.

The U18s will hope to continue their quest for the title when they visit West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday afternoon.

Liverpool U18s: Jamie Stephens, Joseph Rafferty, Brad Smith, Stephen Sama, Matty McGiveron, Craig Roddan, Raheem Sterling, Lewis Hatch, Adam Morgan (Tom Walsh), Krisztian Adorjan, Toni Silva (Jack Dunn). Unused subs: Tyrell Belford, Patrik Poor.

Reflecting on his team's performance, Borrell said: "To be fair United came with a very young side but we were too, with only four U18s on the pitch and the rest were all U17 with a couple of U16s.

"It was a very good performance and in general I'm quite happy because we kept up a very good level during the 90 minutes.

"I'm happy with our play and that is what I have been trying to teach them since I arrived here. They are getting better and we need to keep it going.

"It is a big result but we need to keep our feet on the ground and keep working.

"Silva scored two very good individual goals, especially the second one, but I had to take him off at half-time to protect him because he has been involved in a lot of games for the U18s and reserve team."

Reds Set For U19 Champions League

Liverpool have revealed plans to participate in a prestigious U19 Champions League next season.

The competition would see the Reds take on some of the finest young talent in Europe and Academy director Frank McParland believes it would be of huge benefit to the development of our stars of the future.

McParland told "On August 17 we start the U19 Champions League.

"We will play the first game of it against Sporting Lisbon. Hopefully that will be played at Anfield. We'll have to see what the first-team fixture list throws up first of all, but that is the plan.

"I don't have a definitive list of the teams involved but I know Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Lyon are looking to play in it.

"It's all about our reserves going to a new level next season. We are trying to pit them against top, top opposition.

"Hopefully we will play most of our games with the reserves at the Academy. We would hope to play the Champions League matches at Anfield but we will have to see about that.

"We'll still be in the domestic league too but this will offer them the chance to play in front of big crowds and against a higher quality of opposition.