Sunday, May 22, 2011

Match Preview: Aston Villa vs Liverpool

Gerard Houllier could be in attendance on Sunday as Aston Villa entertain his former employers Liverpool.

The Villa boss is still recovering from the heart scare he suffered earlier in the season but is reportedly keen to prove that he is on the mend.

His presence would offer a timely boost to the Villans, with uncertainty continuing to reign regarding their managerial post.

Houllier's future is an issue for the summer, though, with it still possible for Villa to secure a top-half finish in the Premier League.

That would represent some achievement for a club that looked like being dragged into a relegation battle at one stage.

Their ability to get goals has helped to steer them clear of trouble, with the target found in 15 of their last 16 games.

They have, however, won only one of their last 18 games against Liverpool and have not won on home soil against the Reds since February 1998.

Worryingly for Villa, they have also thrown away more points from winning positions this season (26) than any other side in the top flight.

Liverpool will be looking to steal a few more away from Villa Park on the final day of the season, and possibly sneak into the top five.

A fifth-placed finish would see them into next season's Europa League, but they need Tottenham to drop points at home to Birmingham if they are to secure qualification for continental competition.

A seven-match unbeaten run in final day fixtures bodes well for the Reds, with their last defeat at this stage of the season coming against Chelsea in 2003.

There is the promise of plenty of entertainment in their final outing of the 2010/11 campaign, with their last three away games producing a total of 12 goals.

Caretaker manager Gary McAllister has no fresh injury worries to contend with as Villa look to finish as the leading club in the Midlands.

They are currently one point adrift of West Brom, who visits Newcastle.

Record signing Darren Bent will be looking to take his Villa goal tally into double figures after netting nine in 15 games since his switch from Sunderland in January which could ultimately cost the club £24million.

Jean Makoun (calf) is the only senior star currently unavailable to McAllister.

Liverpool will once again be without skipper Steven Gerrard, who is nursing a groin injury.

Milan Jovanovic (knee), Martin Kelly (hamstring) and Daniel Agger (knee) will also be missing for the Reds.

Fabio Aurelio could return after shaking off a thigh problem, but his participation remains in doubt.

Should Martin Skrtel complete a full 90 minutes at Villa Park, he will end the campaign having played every minute of Liverpool's 38 Premier League fixtures.

Possible starting XIs
Aston Villa: Friedel, Walker, Collins, Dunne, L Young, Downing, Reo-Coker, Delph, Petrov, A Young, Bent.

Liverpool: Reina, Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel, Johnson, Kuyt, Spearing, Lucas, Maxi, Suarez, Carroll.

Jose Enrique Rejecting Newcastle Talks To Force Liverpool Move

Jose Enrique could be on his way out of Newcastle United this summer if he refuses to sign a new contract, with Liverpool his top potential destination.

Magpies boss Alan Pardew has said he wants the left-back to stay in the north-east if possible, but admitted it will be difficult to keep hold of the in-demand star - especially as he is currently refusing to discuss a new deal.

Enrique's contract is due to expire next summer, with both Liverpool and Lyon reportedly targeting the defender as a possible signing.

And Pardew admitted Newcastle may decide to cash in on the defender when the transfer window reopens - rather than having to let him leave on a free next year.

'The Enrique situation is something we talked about. How possible is it going to be to get him over the line?,' he said.

'It's difficult because we're finding it difficult to get him to come to the table. We're safe, which was what his people said that they would wait for.'

'It's now the last game, and once we get the last game out of the way we'll sit down and see where we are with it.

'We're very hopeful he stays but there's no point keeping a player who has set his sights on a club he has perceived is bigger. You can't keep a player that's unmotivated.'

Pardew added that there are 'one or two' other players at the club involved in similar situations.

Enrique joined Newcastle from Villarreal in August 2007 for a fee of £6.3 million. The highly-rated star has previously played for the Spanish U-21 side and is nicknamed 'The Bull'.

Liverpool Facing Huge Transfer Battle For £10 Striker Target

Liverpool striker target Gervinho is being monitored by 'huge' clubs in England, a French journalist has confirmed.

The Lille forward has been linked with a number of clubs across Europe, with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger thought to be keen on bringing the player to the Emirates.

Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly leading the race to the sign the player at the current time, with the Daily Mail claiming today that Harry Redknapp is in strong pursuit of the £10 million Ivorian.

However, Liverpool has been linked with the player on several occasions, with claims in January that the Merseysiders approached the Ligue 1 over a move for the player.

"Huge English clubs are looking at Gervinho," French journalist Xavi Rivoire told talkSPORT.

Kenny Dalglish has sent scouts to watch the 23-year-old in France, and the Liverpool boss is known to be in the market for another striker this summer.

Luis Suarez has been an instant success at Anfield after his arrival from Ajax in January, while Andy Carroll has shown promise despite limited opportunities since his £35 million move to Anfield.

A defender and winger are also thought to be on the agenda, with Dalglish and Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli working together to bring transfer targets to the club.

Comolli is still thought to have connections in France, and that could be the key to Liverpool landing the coveted hitman.

Adam Not Thinking About Liverpool Switch

Charlie Adam insists his mind is focused on saving Blackpool from relegation rather than a potential summer move to Liverpool.

The talismanic midfielder has excelled this season and attracted interest from both Liverpool and Tottenham in the January transfer window.

A prospective switch away from Bloomfield Road never materialized and the 25-year-old has helped to give Blackpool a fighting chance of avoiding the drop.

The Scotland international only has a year to run on his current contract but he is adamant his sole focus is on Blackpool's trip to champions Manchester United on Sunday.

"I just want to focus on the next game, that is all I can do," he said in the Times. "The club will make the decisions about what it wants to do. It isn't down to me.

"I have got a year left on my contract so we will see what happens but all that matters now is getting the result that we need."

Blackpool currently occupies 18th place in the league table - only in the relegation zone on goal difference - and Adam feels the club can hold its head high, regardless of the result at Old Trafford.

"If we are good enough then we will stay in the Premier League," he said. "If not then we will at least know that we have given everything from the first game.

"But one thing's for sure, in the future people won't look back and say, 'Blackpool played some really good football but went down', they will look at the bare facts that we came up one season and down the next. In a way we are fighting for our reputation as much as our status."

Bolton Expect Gary Cahill Bidding War Between Spurs, Arsenal & Liverpool

Bolton bosses have privately hinted they will be entertaining bids from a number of clubs this summer for highly-rated centre-back Gary Cahill, with Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, and even Manchester City expected to make offers.

Cahill has just one year remaining on his Trotters contract and looks increasingly unlikely to sign a new deal - leaving Owen Coyle with little choice but to offload him this close season.

Bolton chiefs have previously hinted they would listen to offers for the England defender - but had given no indication of whether they would sell.

However, recent reports of likely bids from several of the country's biggest and richest clubs - including high-rollers Manchester City, sleeping giants Liverpool, and north London rivals Spurs and Arsenal - have increased the chances of a bidding war.

As such, the Lancashire club believes the next few months could be the best chance they have of securing a deal worth more than their asking price of £17million - and will actively encourage offers.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is in desperate need of reinforcements at the back, as is newly installed Liverpool coach Kenny Dalglish.

However, both men may face stiff competition from City, who have a place in next season's Champions League and money to spend.

Finally, Spurs could also have something to say, with Harry Redknapp due to lose central defenders Jonathan Woodgate and Sebastian Bassong amid the continuing injury problems of club captain Ledley King.

Dalglish Ready For Busy Summer

Kenny Dalglish is preparing to increase the momentum of Liverpool's summer recruitment drive.

The Anfield boss, who signed a three-year contract earlier in May after initially returning on a temporary basis as successor to Roy Hodgson in January, has reportedly been told that he has £50million to spend.

That money would in theory be used to improve Dalglish's squad to a standard capable of at least returning Liverpool to the Premier League's top four and Newcastle full-back Jose Enrique is thought to be one of many targets.

Having revitalised Liverpool since returning, Dalglish, and director of football Damien Comolli, has also been working behind the scenes to identify other players and he has confirmed preparations are well under way.

The Scot said: "The planning was going on any way, irrespective of who was coming in because you can't leave it until the last minute.

"For training and some of the pre-season matches, planning had to be done.

"If you're sitting in this chair you've got to make the decision about what you want to do and when you want to train.

"But regarding players, there's only one person who can decide that, and that's the manager.

"That's something we need to come to terms with and get our skates on with to make sure we get to the right players."

Liverpool travel to Aston Villa on the final day of the season knowing that they must better Tottenham's result against Birmingham to finish fifth and qualify for the Europa League.

But Dalglish will not be paying too much attention to events at White Hart Lane, as he said: "Everyone knows the results from most matches whether it's the first, last or middle game of the season, you know what's going on at most places.

"It'll be no different on Sunday but we'll concentrate on our own game and see if we get any favours from somewhere else."

Clarke Reveals Points Target

Steve Clarke has revealed how Liverpool is close to reaching their point’s target he set upon arriving at the club in January.

The Reds took just 25 points from their first 20 games of the season under Roy Hodgson.

Since Clarke and Kenny Dalglish were recruited in the New Year a more impressive 33 points have been wrung from 17 matches.

This leaves Liverpool on 58 points heading into a final weekend contest at Villa Park - just shy of Clarke's goal when he arrived on Merseyside.

"When I came here and looked at the league and how close it was, I thought it was achievable to finish in the top six," the first-team coach told

"You always have to set your goals high, and in my head I had a point’s total that I thought was achievable. I have to say we haven't achieved it yet - but it's still possible. If we get to that it will be a pleasing job we've done in the second half of the season.

"But a club like Liverpool should always have expectations to be as far up the table as possible."

Dalglish: Alberto Aquilani Is A Quality Player

Kenny Dalglish has opened the door for Alberto Aquilani to return to the Liverpool squad next season by declaring that the midfielder would be welcomed back to the club.

The Italian signed in 2009 to replace Xabi Alonso, who had moved to Real Madrid, but injuries and a lack of form limited him to a handful of appearances at Anfield and Roy Hodgson loaned him out to Juventus last summer.

The 26-year-old, who has scored twice in 36 appearances for the Serie A side, was expected to make his move to Turin permanent but the club has not made a bid which matches Liverpool’s valuation.

And newly confirmed manager Dalglish has said that the player would be a welcome addition to his squad for next season.

"There's a distinct possibility he could be back here. He's a quality player," he told reporters.

"He got off to a bad start here with his injuries and never really got going after missing preseason.

"He went out on loan and has done very well over there. If he was to come back here, for me that would be like a new face coming in."

Dalglish has confirmed that the club's owner, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), has given him money to spend this summer and the Scot is determined to spend it on quality players, in the mold of Luis Suarez who has been a massive hit since joining in January.

"The people we'll be looking at are of the highest caliber, because the players here have done really well since January," said Dalglish.

"It would be disrespectful to them not for us not to be looking at a higher level.

"We've had a great end to the season. There will be lots of work done in the close season and we'll take it from there.

"Although it might affect them, players themselves expect new faces to come in and give the place a lift. It'll happen and they know it'll happen.

"If we get some quality people in to go along with the people already here that will help everyone - it always helps to freshen up the dressing room.

"But if we're bringing anyone in they've got to be better than what we've got - and that's going to be a big ask."

Dalglish has insisted that players on the periphery of the team will stay unless the club receives a suitable offer.

He added: "They are still our players unless someone comes and takes them away from us.

"We've got to assess what we need, and that includes the players who have been out on loan.

"They'll assess where they've been and the other club will assess them.

"Alberto is the highest profile but we've got decisions to make on those players but it may be dictated to be someone else making up their own mind.

"We've not had time to sit down and discuss the players who have been out on loan apart from Alberto."

Youngsters Delighted By Reds Visit

Liverpool U18s have continued to thrill the people on the Caribbean island of St Vincent after dropping in on four local schools on Friday morning.

Rodolfo Borrell and his 20-man squad held a Q & A session with star-struck pupils of CW Prescod Primary, Kingstown Preparatory, St Vincent Grammar and Thomas Saunders Secondary School before taking to the field to run some fun-filled training sessions.

The visit proved to be just as enjoyable for the Reds players as it was for the natives and midfielder Krisztian Adorjan told us he was delighted to take part.

"It was a really good experience and we all had a great time," said Adorjan.

"We gave the kids some kit and some footballs and we really hope they can put them to good use. They all love football and that really showed throughout the session."