Monday, August 15, 2011

Kenny Dalglish Still Looking To Complete His Liverpool Jigsaw

It has not been a good start to the season for Steven Gerrard.

Already frustrated by a groin injury which has delayed his start to the campaign, the Liverpool captain's attempts to rally his team-mates ahead of the Sunderland match fell on deaf ears.

"Today the real action begins," wrote Gerrard in his column in the match program for the opening game. "We all look forward to a season starting, particularly when it's opening with a home game.

"That hasn't happened too often over the last decade, so when it does you have to take advantage of it by getting maximum points."

Given Arsenal and Chelsea also failed to secure maximum points on the opening weekend, Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Sunderland is no cause for alarm despite a sense of anti-climax hanging over Anfield on Saturday night.

And unlike Manchester United, they are not battling an early season injury crisis - despite Gerrard's continued absence.

But it will not have escaped Kenny Dalglish's attention that three of the next four league games - Arsenal, Stoke and Tottenham - are away from home.

They face a vulnerable Arsenal side, the team Liverpool must overtake if they are to re-establish themselves as a top four force again, reeling by Cesc Fabregas's departure yet Dalglish clearly has his own problems.

Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique need time to gel. But time is not on the Liverpool manager's side with expectations high after his £100 million-plus spending spree since January.

The new additions experienced varying degrees of success against Sunderland. While Adam marked his debut with an assist and Downing was denied a goal by the woodwork, Henderson struggled to make an impact.

Enrqiue, who only joined on the eve of the game, showed that he can be a long-term solution to the left-back problem.

Yet question marks remain about the defence and it may require one more signing before the transfer window closes.

With Martin Skrtel sidelined with a calf muscle problem and Jamie Carragher not getting any younger, Dalglish has been linked with Bolton's goalscoring centre back Gary Cahill.

Now Milan Jovanovic is finally off the payroll and Joe Cole, Alberto Aquilani and Christian Poulsen set to depart after failing to make the substitutes bench on Saturday, there is room for another face.

No doubt it will take time for the new man, whoever it is, to settle. Time that Liverpool do not really have.

But Dalglish needs to complete the final part of his jigsaw if Anfield is to have any chance of hosting Champions League football next season.

Liverpool Left Their Brains & Tactics In The Dressing Room

Liverpool endured a frustrating opening day setback as Sunderland show resilience and courage with a touch of class from their new signing.

Liverpool showed off all their new major signings in front of their home crowd. For the first half Liverpool looked dangerous and inventive with Suarez forcing Richardson into a bad back pass which the striker pounced on and rounded the keeper; only to be brought down by Richardson. The foul was worth a red card but the ref Phil Dowd preferred to give him a yellow to the crowds’ anger. Suarez blazed over the resulting spot kick.

However, Suarez atoned for his earlier miss by heading a Charlie Adam free kick soon after. Liverpool came close again with an intricate run by Downing who impressed with Enrique on the left and Downing struck the post with a low drive. Carroll mid-way into the half had a goal chalked off for an alleged push on Ferdinand.

It proved to be a game of two halves however and Sunderland came out hungry and more determined. Although Liverpool came out of the famous tunnel, they seem to have left their brains and tactics behind. Liverpool’s second half was full of lapse defending and error strewn play. Sunderland latched onto Liverpool’s failings and looked to take full advantage.

The first warning came when Gyan was helped from uninterested defending and headed straight into a thankful Reina’s hands. But Sunderland did not have to wait too long and Larsson smashed home a smart scissor volley. Cattermole could have secured three points for Sunderland late on but blasted over.

Liverpool’s lack lustre defence may force Daglish back into the market. This weekend Loris Nery became linked with Reds. Nery is versatile defender who can play across the back. He is contracted the Saint Etienne until 2013. However at only 20 years of age he would be a player for the future and would not make an impact this season. Liverpool are reported to be willing to loan him back to the French outfit on a season long loan.

Carroll - We Are Ready

Record signing Andy Carroll insists Liverpool are ready to kick-on despite a disappointing 1-1 draw in their Premier League opener against Sunderland.

The Reds looked on course for victory after an early Luis Suarez goal, but they were pegged back by Sebastian Larsson's volley.

Carroll admits not beating Sunderland was disappointing, but feels Liverpool is now ready to push on.

"We are disappointed with the draw but all the lads are happy to get the first game out of the way and with the way things are going," he said.

"We have played some good football, we played well (in the first half) and we will take some positives out of it.

"I think we all played well together, we have done well in training and we created enough chances (against Sunderland) to prove that we can all fit in the team together.

"It is going to take everyone a little while to get together; we want a little bit more and we want to get a few more goals but we all think that it is there

"Now we have got the next game (at Arsenal) to look forward to."

Carroll himself insists he is now fully fit and ready to start living up to his £35million price tag.

"I have had the pre-season which I needed and it has helped me get over all the niggles and injuries that I have had," said the 22-year-old.

"I was injured a long time, so it was nice to play a few games and get my fitness up, as well as getting a few goals.

"I'm just looking forward to the rest of the season and keeping myself fit.

"Now it is a case of pushing forward. I have got to show what I can do.

"It is a big stage and I love playing for this club.

"Now I have got to do what I did to get myself here (score goals) and I am out to prove that I can do it here."

Carroll said the influence of manager Kenny Dalglish, and the faith the Scot had shown in him, was a major help.

"Kenny is a great manager and it is great to know that he has given me all his backing," the England striker added.

"I have just got to give it all back to him, really.

"In training he is giving me little pointers here, there and everywhere. Obviously I need to listen to him and put them into my game.

"It is nice to know that he has got faith in him and it is a big help."

Kop Mobility

Andy Carroll needs to up his game if he is going to live up to his price tag and be a hit at Liverpool.

That was the frank view of The Observer's chief sports writer, Paul Hayward, after he watched Kenny Dalglish's new-look side being held to an opening-day draw by Sunderland.

With new boys Charlie Adam, Luis Enrique, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson all on show, it was a disappointing result for a packed Anfield anticipating a summer of spending to shoot the Reds straight back into Champions League contention.

While all eyes were on the debutants, as well as goalscorer Luis Suarez, £35million man Carroll was starting only his 10th competitive game since joining from Newcastle.

He had a goal disallowed by was kept largely quiet by Wes Brown and Hayward feels that proves he needs to add a new dimension to his game already.

"I'm a bit concerned for Andy Carroll. I think he needs to be sharper to contribute more round the pitch, he told the Sunday Supplement.

"The reason I mention Carroll is when Downing arrived everybody said that would be the making of Andy Carroll because he would just knock all these pin-point balls onto his head in the box, but it's not going to be as simple as that.

"A Liverpool striker cannot be a static player in the box waiting just to finish; he's got to do more off the ball.

"What worried me more is that he doesn't look particularly quick across the ground. He may still be carrying an injury and he's not perhaps razor-sharp yet, but I just wonder how he's going to develop as a player.

"He can't be a static number nine because that player's gone out of fashion now, so his general work in the forward areas has got to be good.

"Mind you Suarez is so good at that, maybe he'll do his work for him. It's an interesting stage in Carroll's development."

Enrique Content With Debut

New Liverpool left-back Jose Enrique was satisfied with his debut performance on Saturday and is not discouraged by the team's winless start.

The Spaniard was thrown in at the deep end, starting the Reds' 1-1 draw with Sunderland after taking part in just one training session with his new team-mates after completing his move on Friday.

Enrique, who was only informed of his inclusion hours before kick-off after Fabio Aurelio failed to overcome an injury, put in a solid shift at full-back and expects the new-look side to gel in time.

"I am very happy because I only arrived the day before and I played my first game," he said.

"I was surprised. I only found out a few hours before kick-off. I knew Fabio had not trained but it was only this morning they told me.

"I am very happy (with my debut) but I am not really happy with the result. I think in the next few games, if I continue to play, it will be easy to understand players of this quality.

"It was just about defending first, because that is my job. I have plenty more days to train with the team and understand."

The 25-year-old is refusing to dwell on the Sunderland draw, a game which Liverpool led 1-0 through Luis Suarez before Seb Larsson spectacularly equalized in the second half.

"We have to think about the next game," he said, with Liverpool to travel to Arsenal next Saturday.

"We need more fitness but that is normal, as it is only the first game. I am okay. I am not 100% because I have not trained with the team and I need to get to know everyone. That is normal."

Liverpool Keeping Tabs On £3m Rated Celtic Winger

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is set to continue his summer spending spree and is lining up a move for Celtic winger Paddy McCourt, according to reports in the Daily Star.

Dalglish has been one of the busiest Premiership managers in this summers transfer window with the likes of, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Doni, Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique.

However it doesn't seem like the Kop boss has finished spending the cash is has set his sights on McCourt.

It is believed Dalglish and Liverpool's director of football Damien Comolli are both admirers of the 27-year-old winger.

McCourt made headlines last week after scoring a stunning goal in Northern Irelands 4-0 victory over the Faroe Islands.

The Northern Irish international signed for Celtic from Irish side Derry City in 2008, but has found it hard to cement a place in the first team at Celtic Park.

It is believed Liverpool could land the Celtic winger with a bid of around £3million.

Last season McCourt made 31 appearances for the Hoops in all competitions and scored seven goals.

Injury-hit Rangers To Step Up Bid For Danny Wilson

Rangers are expected to step up their efforts to take their former player Danny Wilson back on loan from Liverpool, to strengthen the defence of the Ibrox side.

Manager Ally McCoist has been keen to secure the return of another former Ibrox hero, Carlos Cuellar, but the club has admitted that there will be no move for the injured Aston Villa player in this transfer window.

Now McCoist is likely to turn to Wilson, who impressed for Scotland against Denmark last week and could slot in immediately if a short-term release can be agreed with Liverpool.

Rangers have David Weir injured, and he could be joined on the sidelines by fellow defender Kyle Bartley, who limped out of his team's match at Inverness on Saturday after half an hour.

Asked about Cuellar, the Rangers manager said: "It's done for this window and it's purely and simply down to getting somebody in to play.

"I don't need to tell you what I think of Carlos, I think he is a top-class defender. I would welcome him with open arms but we need somebody to play. I wouldn't say I wouldn't be interested in going back in for him."

Bartley was replaced by youngster Ross Perry, who was also struggling by the end of the game, with Rangers' defensive options already severely limited ahead of the Europa League play-off match away to Maribor on Thursday.

McCoist added: "I don't think David Weir will make it, Lee McCulloch will probably have a chance. Sasa Papac is suspended but I would hope Steven Whittaker won't be too far away."

New signing Dorin Goian, who will be at the heart of a potentially makeshift Rangers defence, warned: "We are going to play a good team and I know that from last year because I played against them with Palermo. We have to be careful."

Dalglish: LFC Can Carry On Buying Without Having To Sell

Kenny Dalglish has revealed he is under no pressure to sell players – and that Liverpool’s owners are instead urging him to continue his summer spending.

Bankrolled by Fenway Sports Group, the Anfield outfit has spent more than £50million to strengthen their squad during the transfer window.

In front of the biggest home attendance in more than 25 years, the new-look Liverpool, featuring four debutants, began the Premier League season in stuttering fashion on Saturday when they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Sunderland.

Such is the bulging squad now at Dalglish’s disposal, the Anfield manager could have named an entire starting XI of senior professionals who weren’t even in the 18-man party.

But the Scot has suggested principal owner John Henry, who was in attendance at the weekend, is encouraging more signings before transfer deadline at the end of the month.

“I’m not under pressure to sell,” said Dalglish. “We are under more pressure to get somebody in. The owners have been fantastic and there is no pressure in any way, shape or form.”

Liverpool nevertheless are hoping to move on a number of fringe players in the coming weeks, although Dalglish was adamant his team’s tired second-half performance was a consequence of putting too many players in the shop window during pre-season games at the expense of regular first-teamers.

“We had to be fair to everybody we have on the books and we gave them all a reasonable opportunity to get themselves fit and to prove they were worthy of a game,” said the manager.

“I don’t see any reason why that is not the correct way to go about things.”

Former Sunderland man Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique were all handed debuts at the weekend, the latter barely 24 hours following his arrival from Newcastle United after Fabio Aurelio suffered an Achilles injury in training on Friday.

And Dalglish said: “It will take time to get to know each other but the most important factor is they got through the game.

“Two of the players have just come back from the Copa America. It’s a big ask.

“But we knew what we were doing when we picked the side.

“How long will it take to gel? It might be next week, I don’t know. There is no timescale, that’s a certainty. Whatever time they need, they will have.”

Sunderland have bought a clutch of new players but manager Steve Bruce selected just two for his starting line-up, man-of-the-match Wes Brown and Sebastian Larsson, who scored the visitors’ equalizer.

And Bruce said: “The big thing when you make big changes is it’s very difficult to put them all in straight away and I’m sure Kenny will be thinking that too.

“It is going to take time isn’t it but if there’s one thing that they’ve all got in common it’s that they’re all good players.

“They need to make them gel, settle in the area and understand what Liverpool is all about.

“That’s the hard part for all of us. New players need time.”

Despite having only returned to training this week after helping Uruguay win the Copa America last month, Luis Suarez started the game at the weekend.

He won and missed a sixth-minute penalty before heading Liverpool’s opener, and Dalglish is wary of overburdening the striker.

“Luis was never going to finish the game,” said the Anfield manager. “He has got so much he can give and whatever he’s got he will give you. It’s not fair to push him past that limit. I don’t think he expects people to ask too much, he just does it anyway, willingly.

“For us, he has got to be managed and we will do our best to manage him.

“He came back on such a high that it would not have been right to leave him out of the starting XI.”

Saturday’s attendance of 45,018 was the highest at Anfield since Liverpool were beaten 2-0 by Everton on February 22 1986.

'They've Nurtured Some Greats'

In our latest column from Kirkby, reserve team head coach Rodolfo Borrell looks ahead to a European encounter against a side he regards as one of the finest in world football.

We kick off our first ever match in the NextGen Series against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night and I have to admit I can't wait for the new campaign to get underway.

We've had a long and tough pre-season but hopefully the physical demands we have placed upon our players will reap the results over the coming months.

This season the reserves set-up will be a little bit different. We will not only be looking to make an impact domestically but on the European scene too.

We are all very excited about the U19 Champions League-style tournament we have entered.

I think it is a positive step and a very good idea. I always promote our involvement in tournaments around the world as much as possible as it pits us against teams with other philosophies and styles of play. I think this is important for the improvement and development of the players.

The NextGen Series offers us this opportunity, playing home and away against some very big sides around Europe.

We will get to play at Anfield again as well as the main stadia of the other sides. You cannot overestimate how big it is for these youngsters to touch the 'This is Anfield' sign and run out in front of the Kop.

It is one of the most famous grounds in the world with a huge history. Then you have the support of our unique fans. It all helps these lads to understand more about the reality of playing for this club at the highest level.

Sporting Lisbon will be massive opponents. When I say they are a dangerous team it is not just because they are our next opponents and I am being respectful. These are not hollow words.

I remember when I had just arrived at Liverpool. There was real interest in some of the players we will face on Wednesday from my old club, Barcelona.

They were at U17 level at the time and I know for a fact that Barca was hoping to sign no fewer than three of their players. I then spoke to the people here and told them to have a look at the aforementioned players and to take note of how impressive Sporting's youth system is.

I know a lot of supporters and observers in England will be unaware of just how good the set-up is there. In Spain it is quite rightly regarded as one of the best in the world. They have very good squads running right through the age groups.

They have very quick, technically gifted players and they are really well organised too.

You only have to look at players that have come through their ranks in the past to see their pedigree. Luis Figo, Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo - all players of fantastic technical ability who have consistently produced at the highest level.

We know it will be tough but we feel we can beat them on our home turf. It will be a hugely beneficial experience for our youngsters and at the end of it all, that is what matters most.

Of course we do not know the exact personnel we will have for the match. Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson are eligible to play but they are with the first team, so it is up to the boss.

If he decides it is good for them to play these games with us then they will be welcome. If not, then it is no problem because the club knows what is best for these lads.

Some supporters may look at our group and expect us to progress comfortably but I am certain that will not be the case.

Wolfsburg was fantastic at U18 level in Germany last season. They won everything they were involved in so we know they will pose a threat.

As for Molde, I am expecting them to be a strong, physical side - a typical Scandinavian outfit.

I have always taken things one game at a time and it has served me well in my career as a coach. I see no reason to change that now. Our only aim is to beat Sporting Lisbon.

It promises to be a good game. Hopefully we will have a big crowd at Anfield to roar us on and give us the type of support that has won so many European encounters for the first-team over the years.