Monday, August 01, 2011

Preview & Matchday: Liverpool vs Valerenga

After a tumultuous few weeks in the capital and beyond, Norwegian football has resumed some sort of normal service—matches in the 17th round of the Tippeligaen, scheduled just two days after the attacks in Oslo and Utoya, were postponed, leaving this past weekend’s fixtures as the first matches in nearly two weeks. And while Monday’s match is a friendly, it’s sure to be an emotional affair, with a minute’s silence scheduled to go along with renditions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “My Little Country,” an Ole Paus song that’s understandably grown in significance over the past few weeks.

VĂ„lerenga were among the four teams in action as play resumed yesterday, dropping a 2-1 decision to current league leaders Molde FK. That leaves Monday’s hosts alone in the tenth spot in league, eleven points from the top and only seven from bottom. They finished last season in second behind champions (and perennial European qualifiers) Rosenborg, which gave them a spot in Europa League qualifiers starting in mid-July. They got past Armenian outfit Mika FC by way of two 1-0 wins in the first round, but stuttered in the first leg of their tie with Greek side PAOK, falling 2-0 at home. They’ll resume the tie in Greece this coming Thursday, and league play three days later when they host Sogndal.

It’d be surprising to see many of their regular first-teamers just two days after an important league match; from what I can gather, all their familiar faces turned in a full ninety against Molde on Saturday, and with plenty left to do after a long trip midweek, I’d guess we see something resembling a reserve outfit against Liverpool on Monday.

It’s a different story for Liverpool, who has publicized their traveling party as a constellation of stars after sending a decidedly weakened squad to Turkey four days ago. The Liverpool official site lists Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina, and Daniel Agger as the old boys set to return, in addition to summer signings Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, and Stewart Downing. VĂ„lerenga’s official site took it a bit further, publishing the full squad list, which includes the above names along with youngsters Raheem Sterling (who confirmed his place in the squad earlier on Twitter) and Stephen Sama. Andy Carroll, who played the entire match in Turkey, will travel as well, but with David Ngog included, you’d imagine that there’s little chance for Carroll to see a large number of minutes.

If accurate it’s the same size squad that traveled to Istanbul and missing a number of the names that featured in the loss to Galatasaray—Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen, Emiliano Insua, and Phillipp Degen are among those absent, as are Maxi and Raul Meireles, both of whom missed Thursday’s match as well. It’s essentially a split squad, with only a few names making both trips; Carroll, Kuyt, Kelly, Shelvey, Spearing, Aquilani, and Flanagan all played at least a half earlier in the week but made Monday’s squad, meaning that outside of those names we’ll get an almost entirely new-look side.

And, if you struggled through Thursday’s match like most of us, that’s a welcomed prospect. After a successful Asian Tour, Kenny Dalglish’s squad has stumbled in two matches running, and that’s created some anxiety about how well Liverpool are prepared for the rapidly approaching Premier League season. It’s no coincidence that the recent stumbles have coincided with experimental elevens that featured more reserves than regulars, though, as well as players that nearly everyone’s looking forward to seeing the back of.

With only Valencia separating Liverpool from Monday and Sunderland on the 13th, it’s about time for Liverpool to transition from gaining fitness and putting on a good show (which hasn’t really happened anyhow) to getting themselves prepared for serious competition. Yes, it’s still preseason, and the result isn’t really that important against a weakened opposition, but with the bigger names involved, you’d hope for things to look markedly different than the last two times out.

Liverpool Made An Approach For Crewe Teenager Max Clayton

Liverpool made an approach for England under-17 striker Max Clayton, according to Crewe boss Dario Gradi.

The Crewe teenager has been linked with numerous Barclays Premier League clubs in recent months, but penned a new deal with the Railwaymen in June.

And, according to Gradi, Liverpool had made an attempt to sign the 16-year-old, who opted to stay loyal rather than move to Anfield.

Gradi also claimed that Liverpool had acted illegally when making their move for Clayton.

"Max handled it very well," Gradi told the Sunday Express. "He didn't knock us at all.

"He had the chance to go to Liverpool, which might not happen again. I didn't think it was right for him and in any case it was an illegal approach.

"I couldn't stop him leaving in the June but he could see there would be first-team opportunities here. We offered five boys, including Max, identical contracts and they all signed them without any fuss.

"I am managing to keep them away from the big clubs but it's becoming harder. The scouts will always latch on to our games because they know they are going to see good players."

AC Milan Confirm Interest In Alberto Aquilani

Alberto Aquilani could be offered an escape route from Liverpool by AC Milan.

The Italian spent last season on loan at Juventus and is seemingly surplus to requirements at Anfield following the signings of central midfielders Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam.

AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has admitted that his club could be prepared to make a move for the 27-year-old.

"We could talk about Aquilani," he told Gazzetta Dello Sport.

"He’s a midfielder with the characteristics that we are looking for so, like with other players in his role, he could be of interest."

The Italian champions have been linked with a big-money move for a midfielder this summer, but former hero Kaka will almost certainly not be arriving due to his salary expectations.

"His wage is impossible for an Italian club," said Galliani.

Manchester City's Mario Balotelli has also been linked with a move to AC Milan, but Galliani has ruled out a move for the controversial striker.

He said: "Balotelli? If someone comes he will be a left inside midfielder, not a striker."

Villas-Boas Considers Sensational Move For Want-away Liverpool Midfielder

Chelsea could be set to launch a sensational bid for Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani as the club's chances of signing Luka Modric appear increasingly slim.

The Blues have had offers of £22m and £27m rejected by Tottenham for Modric and according to Fanatix.com, manager Andre Villas-Boas is unsure about spending £40m on the Croatian star.

The sports website also claims the Portuguese tactician is looking to alter Chelsea's style of play to a more fluid, passing game rather than the powerful, direct approach they currently use.

And that is the thinking behind the interest in Aquilani who, although struggled at Anfield, has the proven ability of fitting in with that style of play.

The Italy international moved to Liverpool in 2009 in a £20m deal but injuries and a lack of form meant his time at the club as so far been a frustrating one.

He spent last season on-loan at Serie A side Juventus and it is thought the 27-year-old wants his future resolved on a permanent basis rather than spending another season on a temporary deal.

Chelsea are reportedly considering a loan offer with a view to a permanent deal should he prove himself to be a success but it is unclear whether Liverpool, who are eager to recoup some money after spending over £50m this summer, will agree to the deal.

However, Reds boss Kenny Dalglish understands he must attempt to trim down the size of his midfield after bringing in Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam and could see Aquilani leaving on-loan as an ideal option.

Liverpool To Table £12m Bid For Stoke Defender

Liverpool are considering an approach for Stoke centre-back Ryan Shawcross as manager Kenny Dalglish looks to bolster his defence ahead of the new season, according to caughtoffside.com.

The Merseyside club has invested heavily in the squad so far this summer as they target a return to the top four. Midfielders Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing have all been brought in but it is thought Dalglish is keen on recruiting a new defender.

Shawcross has been a vital part of a Stoke side that has significantly improved since it arrived in the Premier League in 2008. They achieved a top half finish and made the final of the FA Cup last season.

The 23-year-old defender is hoping for an England call-up after he ruled himself out of playing for Wales and will see a move to a bigger club as the best way to put himself in contention.

Despite having a number of centre-halves in his squad, Dalglish reportedly has issues with his options. Daniel Agger has been hit by a number of injuries that has seen him ruled out of much of the last two seasons while Martin Skrtel has missed all of pre-season with a calf problem.

Jamie Carragher and Sotirios Kyrigiakos are both over 30 and Dalglish is thought to be keen to bring in some young blood. At 23-years-old, Shawcross is at the right age for the younger, new-look Liverpool side.

Although 12m-rated Shawcross helped Stoke to a Europa League place last season, Dalglish is reportedly hoping the former Manchester United trainee will be tempted to join a club that is pushing for a Champions League spot.

Henry Demanding Top-Four Finish

Liverpool owner John W Henry has warned Kenny Dalglish it would be a "major disappointment" if the club fail to secure Champions League football this season.

Significant investment in new players has raised expectations at Liverpool, with Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing all arriving as big-money summer captures.

That trio will be used to support the January arrivals of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, brought in to replace Fernando Torres, and Henry now expects to see a return on his investment.

"It's too early for us to start talking about winning the league," Henry told Dagbladet. "In my opinion Manchester United are the ones to beat. They have a good squad, and look really good.

"Our main goal is to qualify for the Champions League. If we don't it would be a major disappointment."

Alonso Backs Liverpool For Top Four

Former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso has predicted the Reds will finish in the top four this season ahead of Monday's friendly with Valerenga.

Alonso remains a Liverpool icon following his part in their 2005 Champions League-winning season and, although now a Real Madrid player, he keeps a close eye on how things are developing on Merseyside.

He has already previously stated that Liverpool have the right man at the helm in Kenny Dalglish, and he continues to keep involved by talking to the likes of Pepe Reina and Steven Gerrard.

Dalglish has already added Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing to his outfield playing staff during the summer transfer window, and a new left-back is still expected to arrive. The Reds face stern challenges from the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City, not to mention the top two, for a Champions League spot, but Alonso is confident over their plight.

"The club has clearly been working in the transfer market and they have brought in a few quality players," he said on Liverpool's official website. "I still keep in contact with Pepe and Steve Gerrard. They are looking forward to this season with the new additions.

"With those players - and, more importantly - the stability at the club, I think they will be in the top four at the end of the season. It's where the club belongs. People still talk about that Champions League victory and that's the sort of night Liverpool should be experiencing more regularly."

Liverpool FC's Visit Means A Lot To Norway

Liverpool has been regular visitors to Oslo in recent years but today’s trip to face Valerenga will be unlike any other.

Norway is a nation grieving after the horrific terrorist attacks 10 days ago which claimed 77 lives.

A car bomb at a government building in the capital killed eight with another 69 shot dead on the island of Utoya.

“The whole country is still in shock,” admits former Reds defender Vegard Heggem.

“It has affected everyone in a huge way.

“When I saw the pictures on my TV screen I just couldn’t believe what had gone on.

“You ask yourself how this could possibly happen in a small and peaceful country like this.

“It’s going to take a long time for people to come to terms with what happened.

“It will certainly change this country forever.”

At times like this football seems inconsequential but ex-Norway international Heggem has praised Liverpool’s decision to honour tonight’s friendly.

The Reds have a huge Scandinavian fan base and the 36-year-old says the visit of Kenny Dalglish’s side will have a positive affect on his devastated homeland.

“I’m really happy that Liverpool are still coming to Oslo to play,” he said.

“It means a lot to the club’s Norwegian fans when they come to play here.

“Of course everyone is still hurting from what happened here but you can’t just stop everything entirely.

“Slowly but surely people are trying to get back to every day life and it’s important that as a country we carry on.

“Liverpool as a club is very conscious about values. The club is all about togetherness and that’s what people admire about the club.

“It will be good for the people here to come together on Monday and enjoy the game. It’s all part of starting to move on.”

Valerenga may be at home tonight but Liverpool won’t be short of support in the 25,000 capacity Ullevaal Stadium.

“Fans will be travelling from all across Scandinavia to watch this game and it will be a sell-out,” Heggem said.

“Liverpool’s popularity is massive here. Many Norwegians started to follow the club in the 70s and 80s when the club enjoyed some great periods of success.

“And the fact that the club has had a number of Scandinavian players playing for them over the years has ensured that interest has been maintained.”

Heggem made 65 appearances for the Reds after signing from Rosenborg for £3.5million in 1998 but the talented right-back was hampered by injuries.

He retired in 2003 and returned to Norway where he owns and manages a fly fishing lodge on the Orkla river.

Business is busy but Heggem retains a close affinity with Anfield.

“I loved my time at Liverpool and I’m still a big fan myself,” he said.

“I watch the games and I try to get across to Anfield at least once every season. When you have lived in Liverpool for five years it does something to you. I will follow Liverpool for the rest of my life.

“When I moved back to Norway I took over running the fishing lodge from my parents. It’s on the farm where I grew up about an hour south of Trondheim in central Norway.

“We get visits from anglers from all over the world who come here to fish for wild salmon. June, July and August are the very busy months.

“There’s also a lot of work in terms of planning and marketing so it takes up a lot of my time but it’s going well.”

Heggem will be at tonight’s game and he expects the Reds to return to winning ways after back to back friendly defeats.

The Norwegian League is around the midway point and Valerenga are down in 10th place, some 14 points adrift of leaders Molde. When the clubs last met in 2008 Liverpool were convincing 4-1 winners.

“Norwegian club football is not as good as it was some years ago,” Heggem said.

“Valerenga were expected to be serious title contenders here this year but they have disappointed their fans.

“It’s a game Liverpool should win quite easily but you have to take into account that Liverpool are in pre-season. Valerenga are in the middle of their season so they will be more match fit.

“It should be a decent test which Liverpool will need with the Premier League starting again soon.

“It will be a useful game for them and it’s also a very valuable game for the club to keep close contact with their Norwegian fan base. There is a lot of excitement about the game.”

Dalglish will field a much stronger side than the one involved against Galatasaray last Thursday.

Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger are set to return to action along with new boys Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson.

Heggem is bullish about his old club’s future under Dalglish. “We’ve made some good signings and there’s a lot of optimism,” he said.

“It was a disappointing season for the club last year and not qualifying for Europe didn’t feel good.

“We fell a long way behind the other top clubs but things improved a lot after Kenny Dalglish took over.

“I hope the club bounces back. We want to see Liverpool get back to competing for the title.”

Moli Hat-Trick In Another U18 Rout

David Moli smashed a hat-trick as Liverpool U18s beat Shrewsbury 4-0 on Saturday.

The England U16 international had another two goals chalked off for offside.

His Swedish colleague Kris Peterson was the other scorer for Mike Marsh's free-scoring side.

Moli and co have now bagged an awesome 29 goals in five games during pre-season.

Next in the firing line are Macclesfield, who travel west for a friendly on Wednesday.

Liverpool Appoint Former Argentina Striker’s Brother As South American Scout

Liverpool has stepped up their operations in South America with the appointment of Diego Caniggia as the club’s new scout on the continent.

Caniggia is the brother of former Argentina striker Claudio Caniggia, who enjoyed an illustrious career, peaking in the early 1990s with spells at Roma, Benfica and Boca Juniors.

Brother Diego Caniggia has worked with Liverpool Director of Football Damien Comolli previously. The Frenchman employed the Argentine in the same capacity when Comolli was in charge of Tottenham Hotspur’s scouting department.