Saturday, August 13, 2011

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Sunderland

Liverpool will be desperate for a winning start against Sunderland after Kenny Dalglish's first pre-season since returning to the Reds dug-out.

There is renewed optimism at Anfield with the Reds legend having spent big this summer in a bid to continue their strong finish to last season and re-establish themselves as genuine Premier League title contenders.

Dalglish quickly turned around the club's fortunes after replacing Roy Hodgson in January, ending an 11-year break from management.

The 60-year-old not only rejuvenated the existing players but made some jaw-dropping moves in the transfer market, selling Fernando Torres to Chelsea and bringing in Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, who helped the Reds claim a sixth-place finish after being 13th when Dalglish took charge.

It was hardly surprising that he was offered the job full-time at the end of the season, signing a three-year deal, and the Scot has had a full summer to really stamp his authority on the squad.

He made it clear where he felt he needed to strengthen over the summer and bought British, with midfield trio Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing all arriving at Anfield for a total outlay of around £45million.

With Steven Gerrard set to be out for the start of the season, they all have the chance to establish themselves in the Reds' midfield before their talismanic captain returns, with Henderson's debut coming against his former club.

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has reinvested the £16m he received for Henderson and then some, improving an already strong squad with no less than 10 summer signings, including a permanent switch for Ahmed Elmohamady following an impressive loan spell on Wearside last season.

Wes Brown and John O'Shea bring vast experience, Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner will boost the Black Cats' midfield and Bruce has brought in Keiren Westwood and 18-year-old striker Connor Wickham after impressing in the Championship.

The Black Cats' form fluctuated last season, rising to sixth before slipping to 15th in mid-April, but three wins from their last five games saw them finish 10th, inside the top half on goal difference but more importantly for all Mackems - a point above arch-rivals Newcastle.

The Wearsiders will probably be happy to claim a point in front of an expectant home crowd at Anfield on the opening day but once the season is up and running they will be hoping to repeat wins over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City last season, and push for European qualification.

Luis Suarez could play despite only returning to training on Monday. The striker was absent during pre-season after helping Uruguay win the Copa America but Dalglish will consider him for selection.

The Reds boss has completed a deal for Newcastle left-back Jose Enrique but Gerrard (groin) and defender Martin Skrtel are both out, while full-back Glen Johnson (hamstring) faces a late fitness test.

Andy Carroll is set to start up front having scored in each of the Reds' last two friendlies, a 3-3 draw with Valerenga and a 2-0 win over Valencia.

John O'Shea's Sunderland debut will have to wait as the former Man Utd defender has been ruled out with a hamstring strain.

Fellow new boys David Vaughan, Brown, Gardner, Larsson, Wickham and Ji Dong-won will all hope to have forced their way into Bruce's plans.

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon (knee) remains sidelined, with Simon Mignolet looking set to get the nod ahead of Keiren Westwood.

Kieran Richardson (groin) should recover from the problem that forced him off during the Black Cats' final friendly, a 0-0 draw at Hibernian last week, but David Meyler and Fraizer Campbell (both knee) are definitely out.

Possible starting XIs:

Liverpool: Reina, Flanagan, Agger, Carragher, Aurelio, Henderson, Adam, Spearing, Downing, Suarez, Carroll.

Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Brown, Colback, Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, Richardson, Gyan, Sessegnon.

Dalglish Eyes Reds Run

Kenny Dalglish accepts Liverpool's title credentials will be judged by results from the off, but believes he has a much stronger side than last season.

The club legend steered his beloved Reds to a steady finish after taking over from Roy Hodgson's turbulent stint, and has invested heavily into the side since.

Friday's capture of full-back Jose Enrique took Dalglish's spending to over £100million since January, prompting talk of a potential title charge.

Dalglish insists, though, that results must reflect their investments, and cooled talk of their Premier League hopes by suggesting cup success may be more feasible.

"We didn't pay over the odds for anybody, in my opinion, and we are not going to scream to get more money from the owners."

"The five guys we've brought in have strengthened the quality and improved the depth of the squad, and we are a lot stronger than last year.

"You need to win a lot of games to win a championship, but you don't need to win as many to lift a cup, so we will just focus on getting as many positive results as we can."

In addition to Enrique, Liverpool has brought in Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and goalkeeper Alexander Doni.

Henderson and Downing cost a reported fee of £20million each, but Dalglish insists the club have got good value for their money.

"Our owners deserve great credit and I'm really excited about the season ahead," Dalglish said.

"We didn't pay over the odds for anybody, in my opinion, and we are not going to scream to get more money from the owners.

"We can talk to them and if they say yes, then we can try and get them. If they say no, we're pleased with the support they've already given us."

AC Milan Unwilling To Spend More Than €6 million For Aquilani

AC Milan is keen not to let Liverpool's Alberto Aquilani slip through their fingers, but they appear unwilling to meet the €10 million (£8.7m) asking price set by the Anfield outfit.

On Friday Aquilani's agent Franco Zavaglia left the door to San Siro open after he said a move there should not be excluded.

And La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Milan have revived the embers of interest in the 27-year-old midfielder who scored the winner in Italy's 2-1 win over Spain on Wednesday.

However, CEO Adriano Galliani is not keen on spending more than €6m (£5.2m) for the Italy ace. It is said Liverpool are holding out for at least €10m, but budgetary constraints are preventing Milan from paying that amount.

Meanwhile, Fiorentina's Riccardo Montolivo is thought to remain as the Serie A champions' ultimate target.

He tried to play down reports of an exit earlier this week, but the Florence outfit could be looking to offload him for €10m after he refused to sign a new deal last month.

Both midfielders appeal to coach Massimiliano Allegri who has made no secret about wanting to sign a top-class player for the centre-left side of the pitch.

Gonzalo Higuain Transfer 'Unlikely' As Liverpool End Spending Spree

Jose Enrique's transfer has brought Liverpool's spending spree to an end, despite rumours linking the Reds with Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain.

Spanish left-back Enrique completed his £6 million move from Newcastle United on Friday morning to become the fifth major arrival at Anfield this summer.

Reports in the Spanish press claimed that Liverpool had also made a £22 million offer for Higuain – although Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho was said to have rejected it.

However, Reds director of football Damien Comolli indicated there was no interest in the Argentina international.

Asked whether Enrique would be the final signing of the transfer window, Comolli told the club's official website: 'You can never say never, but it is likely.'

Liverpool had already landed Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Alexander Doni, and Comolli declared himself satisfied with his summer's work.

'I am convinced we were right in what we wanted to do. We've strengthened all the areas we wanted to strengthen with quality,' he said.

'I think there is a lot of debate about prices for players and transfer fees paid, not just with Liverpool but throughout the Premier League, but if we have signed a player it is because we were happy to pay the price of the transfer fee we paid.'

The Frenchman added that there may be some departures from Anfield before the end of the month.

Enrique Wants To Catch Liverpool Train To Glory

New Liverpool signing Jose Enrique is determined to make the most of his opportunity to play at a "big" club and has set his sights on winning the Premier League.

The Spanish left-back completed his £6 million move from Newcastle in time to be considered for today's season-opener at home to Sunderland. It would be a gamble for the manager, Kenny Dalglish, to throw him into the side after just one training session but Enrique, who was in the last year of his contract at St James' Park and had told the club he would not be renewing it, is keen to get started.

"In Spain there is a saying, 'When the train comes in, you have to take it'," said the 25-year-old, who moved to Newcastle in 2007 in a £6.3m transfer from Villarreal. "This is the first time a big club has come in for me and I had to take it. I have come to one of the biggest clubs not just in England, but in the world. This is one of the happiest days of my life. My ambition is to win everything with Liverpool. This year we won't play in the Champions League, so the most important thing is to try to win the League."

Enrique is Dalglish's fifth summer signing, following Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Alexander Doni. Those signings, and the January acquisitions of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, convinced the defender his future lies at Anfield.

"The club has won a lot of things, including the Champions League," he said. "They have amazing players and I hope to win things here. I am excited (by the signings), it shows Liverpool's ambition. They spent a lot of money in January on Andy and Luis Suarez and this summer they've spent a lot of money on other players.

"You can see they have big ambitions and that's why I came here – because I want to win things and I think I can do that here. I have already played for Newcastle in pre-season, I am fit and if the manager needs me, I am ready to play."

Dalglish Will Not Sell David Ngog Until He Finds Suitable Replacement

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish will not let striker David Ngog leave the club until he has found a suitable replacement, according to The Daily Mirror.

The report claims that the Reds boss has rejected a £4 million (€4.5m) bid from Bolton Wanderers on the basis that he is refusing to let the Frenchman go without having found a new striker to come in for him.

Ngog has been linked with a move away all summer with Sunderland having thought to be interested in the player as part of the deal that took Jordan Henderson to Anfield.

But any such move for the player seems reportedly less likely until Liverpool spend yet again in this transfer window on a new striker.

Dalglish would be loath to leave himself with only Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt in terms of striking options, especially as the club look to push for titles this season after a large summer expenditure.

Despite having only scored two goals in 25 Premier League appearances last season, Dalglish still sees Ngog as an important piece of his squad, and the Scotsman does not appear to be in any hurry to move him on.

Carragher Desperate To Bring Champions League Football Back To Liverpool

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher says he is desperate to see his club back in the Champions League.

The Reds have suffered a two-year absence from a competition that has seen them as winners in 2005 and defeated finalists in 2007 and the defender is keen to return to Europe’s premier competition.

Speaking to talkSPORT, Carragher said: "I think, with us not being in the Champions League over the last few years, everyone at the club is desperate to get back in there and get those great nights back at Liverpool."

Carragher did admit, however, that perhaps harbouring hopes of winning the title this season would be a little over-ambitious.

"To do that it’s going to be tough but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to win the league, of course we want to win the league," he continued.

"It’s been too long but I think to go from sixth to winning the league is maybe too much of an ask for us."

But the 33-year-old was more positive on the chances of the club finishing in the top four and securing that all-important Champions League berth.

"If we start the season well, and after a few months we’re still up there with the top teams, why not look at that situation then?" he argued.

"I’m desperate for the club to get back into the Champions League and if we start well we’ll take it from there."

Liverpool kick off their attempt to break back into the Premier League top four against Sunderland on Saturday.

Writing Is On The Wall For Emiliano Insua

When Emiliano Insua broke into the Liverpool side in 2008 he looked like a teenager with a big future ahead of him.

The Argentinean was raw but showed plenty of promise. Sadly that potential hasn’t been realized.

Insua played 31 league games in 2009/10 but too often was the weak link opponents looked to exploit. His positional play was poor.

After an unsuccessful loan spell at Galatasaray, the 22-year-old is back at Liverpool but training at the Academy.

With Jose Enrique on board, he’s a distant fourth in the pecking order for the left-back spot. He promised so much but delivered little and the writing is on the wall for Insua.

Committee Meet At Anfield

The Liverpool FC Supporters Committee today met each other for the first time at Anfield ahead of agreeing a set of questions to put to senior club officials in their inaugural meeting on Saturday before the opening game of the season.

The club announced in May that it hopes the new supporter consultation group will allow fans to help shape the club's future through regular and constructive dialogue with senior LFC officials.

Seventeen of the 18 Committee members were present for the meeting today - unfortunately ill-health prevented one member from attending - and they met with the Committee Chairn Karen Gill to discuss their agenda for tomorrow's meeting.