Saturday, July 23, 2011

Preview & Matchday: Liverpool vs Hull City

Liverpool continues their preseason preparations with a trip to the KC Stadium, where they’ll work to get up to speed and look to gain momentum ahead of the season opener in three weeks. This marks the midway point of the club’s preseason fixtures, and possibly gives us the first chance to see the Liverpool bow of at least a couple summer signings. As with everything in the preseason, it’s not quite the real thing, but it’s something.

Five of the six preseason matches are away from Anfield, with only the final match against Valencia taking place on Merseyside. Today’s trip is the shortest, though—only two hours separate Liverpool from Hull, which is a far cry from the 2,000+ miles they’ll travel over the next week to face Galatasaray in Istanbul. A welcomed chance to stay closer to home for Kenny Dalglish and company, and a chance for a few more Liverpool supporters to see the club in action before the season gets going proper on August 13th.

For Hull it’s the third match of a five in the preseason; they’ve won twice so far against North Ferriby United (4-1) and Winterton Rangers (2-1) on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, fielding different elevens in the back-to-back matches. Liverpool loanee Peter Gulacsi featured in the win over Winterton and conceded the only Rangers goal, and a host of other new signings made their debuts a day earlier in the rout of North Ferriby.

Over the past few seasons Liverpool’s shared a number of players on loan deals with Hull; Daniel Ayala and David Amoo joined the previously departed Jack Hobbs last season, and Gulacsi joined the club only a week ago. And, like every other club around this time of year, there’s been plenty of movement in other areas—Robbie Brady’s joined Gulacsi on loan from Manchester United, Paul McKenna and Dele Adebola signed on frees from Forest, and Hobbs made his loan move from Leicester City permanent in June.

Maybe the most interesting personnel development recently has been the ongoing Jimmy Bullard saga; the club released a brief and ambiguous statement to go along with reports from all ends that he’s been suspended for two weeks for a “breach of club discipline.” On the heels of talk that he was headed to QPR after a successful loan spell at Ipswich Town during the 2010-2011 season, probably not the type of press Hull were looking for. There’s plenty of recognizable names in the Hull squad for better reasons, though—Matt Duke, Stephen Hunt, Andy Dawson, Paul McShane, and Anthony Gardner are all holdovers from the club’s 2009-2010 Premier League season.

The early talk about today’s match on the Liverpool end has been the chance to see Liverpool’s fresh faces, with Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, and Doni all apparently in the mix to see time.

Kenny Dalglish has, however, unsurprisingly downplayed talk that we’ll see everyone we want:
“We will have a look at them and decide what’s best. There is certainly no rush for us to play anyone in these pre-season games. Stewart has been training for a fortnight and Jordan only started training on Monday. Everyone has trained well this week and the players are looking in good shape. Nowadays they come back looking as fit as they were before the break. But some have started back later than others and we have to take that into consideration.”

Good PR, but not enough to convince that we won’t get at least two of the three—Downing’s fitness doesn’t seem to be in question, and with Gulacsi heading out upon the club’s return from the Asian Tour, you’d guess that Doni would at least be in the squad with only Martin Hansen and Brad Jones left. Less clear is the status of Jordan Henderson; if he’s only been training for the week I’d imagine that a brief stint would be about as much as we could ask for. At least for now, those clamoring to have him as a regular fixture in the starting eleven might have to bide their time.

Otherwise it’s likely the same song and dance, with a good mix of youth and experience, and wholesale changes as available at the half. Dalglish said as much in the link above, along with mentioning some questions about the number of substitutes available—it’s only relevant because the Football League recently passed a ruling that only 5 substitutes would be allowed for league and Johnstone Paint Trophy Cup matches. I can’t imagine that there’d be any restrictions for today’s match, though, and with no reports of any new fitness concerns since the Asian Tour, I’m guessing we’ll see plenty of the squad in action.

And, as usual, we’ll be hoping for everyone to come out the other side more fit than less, and a step closer to being ready to do it for real in three weeks’ time.

Reds Eye Young Ivorian Ace

The president of Stade d'Abidjan has confirmed Liverpool is interested in teenage striker Angban Bekanty Victorien.

The 16-year-old Ivory Coast prodigy was a sensation in the Under-17 World Cup alongside Coulibaly Souleymane and Diarrassouba Drissa, who is reportedly set for a trial with Stoke City.

Various reports in Ivory Coast claim Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool have agreed a fee with Stade d'Abidjan for the services of the striker.

But the club's president, Abi Koffi Richmond, says nothing has been agreed with him yet and other sides are also interested in the youngster.

He told "Liverpool has not agreed anything with me yet, I have nothing written.

"They are a great club and respected club, I do not need to tell them how to do their work.

"I have contact from them through some agents but they are not the only club interested in the boy."

Liverpool Ready To Pounce For French Starlet

Liverpool are ready to snap up French Under 17 star M'Baye Niang from Caen, according to the Daily Mirror.

The 16-year-old signed a new contract with Caen in January, however it's been reported that the paperwork was filed incorrectly, making one of the hottest young prospects in world football available on a free transfer.

Liverpool are thought to be interested in bringing Niang, who made his Ligue 1 debut in the second half of last season, making seven appearances and scoring three goals, to Anfield.

The French starlet has been capped at Under 16 and Under 17 levels, making 14 appearances in all for his country. With such a strong reputation amongst young players, Liverpool would be a logical choice for Niang should he decide to leave France.

Niang can play as an attacking midfielder and as a striker, and is thought to be attracting interest from Tottenham as well.

Liverpool could be with one less versatile attacker in the coming days as Anderlecht bosses confirmed they're holding talks with Milan Jovanovic.

The 30-year-old Serbian international has been told he's free to leave Liverpool, and the Belgian side has been the most likely destination for some time.

Nothing has yet been agreed, but Anderlecht officials are confident a move for the Liverpool man will be completed.

"We're currently negotiating with Jovanovic, but we couldn't achieve an agreement (yet)," an Anderlecht spokesman said. "We're very much interested and the player would like to come."

It's understood that Olympiakos and Brugge are also interested, but Anderlecht remain the favourites to take Jovanovic away from Liverpool.

Reds Preparing To Unleash ‘The Next Robbie Fowler’

With plenty of attention being focused on the newest additions to Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool squad, one player also looking to make a name for himself at Anfield next season is promising academy product Adam Morgan.

The young striker, dubbed the 'next Robbie Fowler' has been making waves in the youth set-up, scoring 21 goals for the Reds' Under 18s before heading off to play for England in the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico.

Since returning to Merseyside, Morgan has continued his rich vein of form with four goals already in just two pre-season friendlies, including a brace in a Liverpool XI's 7-0 drubbing of Preston North End on Wednesday.

"I've been raring to go since the end of last season because I finished on such a high," he said. "I've had a good break. Mexico was a good experience but I just want to concentrate on Liverpool now and have a good season."

Morgan's reward for his fine performances over the past 12 months was the offer, and signing of his first professional contract earlier this month - a deal that will keep him at Anfield until June 2014.

Despite his fast-track development, Morgan is keeping his feet firmly on the floor. After emerging as a key performer for the Under 18s last term, his goal for this season is to make the step up and establish himself in coach Rodolfo Borrell's reserve side.

"If I can maintain last season's form, I'll progress and play for Rodo again hopefully," he continued. "I have a lot to thank him for, but I like working under Marshy [Mike Marsh – Under 18 coach] and I don't mind what team I play for as long as it's for Liverpool."

Five Reasons Why This Could Be Liverpool’s Year

Liverpool’s nightmare 2010-11 season officially went into the books about two months ago and even though it left painful lasting memories, all of that is history nonetheless.

For now, the Red half of Merseyside is preparing to bounce back next year under their fearless leader, Kenny Dalglish. To his credit, Dalglish nearly turned the aforementioned nightmare into a Europa League spot, which further increases the optimism surrounding the coming season.

Upon replacing Roy Hodgson, Dalglish brought forth a mini-revolution that included the departure of prolific Spaniard Fernando Torres in January, while Uruguay’s World Cup hero Luis Suarez and England international Andy Carroll arrived at Anfield to fill the void.

In addition to revitalizing the club’s previously one-dimensional attack that revolved around the often injured Torres, Dalglish also integrated youthfulness in other positions as young Jay Spearing impressed in the midfield and Martin Kelly showed flashes of brilliance in the defense.

Most importantly, he brought the huge roster of players together in a manner that bolstered morale and allowed the Reds to end the season strongly with a run that included a comprehensive win over champions Manchester United.

With that said, it is fair to believe that Kenny’s strategies have alerted rivals about the true potential of Liverpool as the new season approaches. In fact, the following five reasons suggest that this could very well turn out to be the Reds’ year to celebrate the title glory that has evaded them for over two decades:

5. A balanced attack:
Chelsea has Didier Drogba and Torres while Manchester United boasts of the lethal trio of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, and Dimitar Berbatov. Yet, neither of last season’s top two sides have a duo of young starlets with completely different skill sets. In Suarez and Carroll, Liverpool have actually discovered a partnership that could deliver for years as the Uruguayan’s mobility complements the former Newcastle striker’s presence. While Suarez has already scored four times in his 13 appearances for the Reds, Carroll also proved his mettle with two goals in six appearances last season. One must keep in mind that this was all accomplished without extensive preseason training. Starting with the Liverpool’s tour of China, both Suarez and Carroll will have plenty of time to get in sync with each other as well as the other members of the offense.

4. Incredible midfield depth:
If a player of Joe Cole’s caliber becomes a forgotten man as quickly as he has, then it is clear that we are talking about a world-class midfield. It must be noted, though, that rather than simply stacking up the players, Dalglish has created a unit of players who can establish a rhythm playing together. While newboys Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam can create plays down the middle, Lucas Leiva and Christian Poulsen can battle hard in the holding role. The likes of Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez can prove to be a handful for any defense on their best day. Last, but not least, the return of Steven Gerrard is poised to shake up the Premier League. The Reds missed the leadership of number 8 throughout his spell on the sidelines last year and now that the skipper has promised to be back in better condition than ever, don’t be surprised if Lionel Messi has trouble retaining his crown as the continent’s best player.

3. First full season for Kenny:
If you thought that Mr. Dalglish proved to be quite the tactician by calmly guiding he club to some level of respectability amidst massive chaos last season, just think how much he will benefit from a summer of nothing but planning. Bright minds like Kenny only need time to be on their side and with an entire off-season to solve the puzzle that last season turned out to be, expect his Reds to arrive into the new season as one of the most prepared teams in the league.

2. Stability has replaced unrest:
There is no secret that everyone associated with the club last season had to endure their share of frustration as uncertainty off the field hindered the team’s performance in the opening weeks of the campaign. Distraction lingered around the locker room as Hodgson’s doomed spell in charge of the club went from bad to worse with each passing week until the club’s ownership issue was settled. The new owners brought a new lease of life and thanks to several changes that followed, the Reds now appear to be stable again with silverware being the only object of their focus.

1. No European commitment:
The disappointing defeat to Tottenham Hotspur towards the end of last season not only took Liverpool out of the running for Europa League qualification, but it also dented their momentum in a big way. Nevertheless, looking back at that loss, the Reds might as well think of it as a blessing in disguise. Any Scouser will tell you that Premier League glory means far more than 10 Europa League titles put together, which is precisely why it is favorable for Dalglish’s men to dedicate all their effort towards the domestic front this year.

At the end of the day, saying and doing are two very different things. Looking at the promising development of this Liverpool squad, no one can have difficulty saying that they are likely to be contenders. However, it remains to be seen whether or not they can lift their first Premier League trophy since 1990 when the coming season ends up in the books next May.

Liverpool Cut Manchester United Ticket Allocation

Manchester United fans face seeing their ticket allocation for October's Barclays Premier League clash with Liverpool slashed by more than a third because of "persistent standing" issues at Anfield.

A report submitted to Liverpool City Council has recommended cutting the visiting supporters' capacity from 3,015 to 1,965 in an attempt to combat the problem of people blocking gangways.

The Ground Safety Advisory Group, who compiled the report after match between the two sides in April, suggests problems with United fans at Anfield are far greater than those of other visiting clubs.

"Pictures were presented which showed how the gangways at that game were affected compared to a similar high-profile game where persistent standing also occurred," said the report.

"The actions of the Manchester United supporters had overwhelmed the reasonable operations of the stewards through the management plan.

"This is an escalation of the actions of the supporters from previous games.

"It is not clear what more the club can reasonably do through stewarding measures to ensure spectators do not encroach in to gangways.

"Spectators from other away clubs attending the ground also persistently stand.

"However they do not spread out in to the gangways to the same extent that the Manchester United spectators do."

Liverpool City Council's licensing committee will make a final decision on the proposal at a meeting on August 8.

Luis Suarez Focused On Copa America Glory

Luiz Suarez insists the Golden Boot doesn't bother him as he focuses on winning the Copa America.

If the Liverpool striker nets in Sunday’s final against Paraguay he will top the competition’s scoring charts.

Suarez is currently level on three with Sergio Aguero, whose Argentinian side were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Uruguay.

“Being top scorer is not the important thing for me,” said Suarez. The main issue is the collective dream of winning the Copa. Personal stuff is secondary to that.”

Uruguay is chasing a record 15th South American title and Suarez added: “We’ll not forget about those titles but we are thinking about the present, about carrying on winning.

“Uruguay are not going to waste time celebrating past achievements and past titles won.”

Liverpool FC Announce Irish Link-Up

Liverpool Football Club has struck a two-year co-operation agreement with League of Ireland club Bray Wanderers and St Joseph’s Boys.

The link up was announced prior to the reserves' clash with Bray this week.

Coaches from Liverpool will visit both clubs in Ireland to deliver training sessions and boost the development of young Irish talent.

The hope is that some will be good enough to progress into the Reds' ranks.

Boss Kenny Dalglish, who is a close friend of Bray boss Pat Devlin, said: “I've always had a close affinity to young Irish players.

Pat Devlin and I have been in close contact for some years and it's important for Liverpool to have close links with Ireland, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

Liverpool FC Legends To Meet In Charity Clash

Roy Evans is returning to management for a special charity match in October.

The former Reds boss will lead a Liverpool side against Kevin Keegan's Newcastle in a showdown being billed at 'The Entertainers Reunited'.

The two bosses famously came up against each other at Anfield in April 1996 when Liverpool won 4-3 in a game which has been voted the greatest in Premier League history.

Evans, who will be joined in the dugout by Phil Thompson, has already signed up Mark Wright, Ian Rush and Jason McAteer, and other stars will be confirmed over the coming weeks.