Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Steve Clarke defends Liverpool's Average Start

The Liverpool first-team coach, Steve Clarke, says the club's "average start" to the season is partly due to the changes taking place within the squad. The side has 10 points from six matches after losing at Stoke and Tottenham.

At a similar stage last season their tally was six and discontent was growing against the manager, Roy Hodgson, whose reign lasted six months when he was sacked in January.

As part of the overhaul, financed by the owners, Fenway Sports Group, and undertaken by Kenny Dalglish on his return to take charge of the club, seven players were signed in the summer with numerous others heading in the opposite direction.

Most of those new arrivals have featured in most of the opening matches and while Liverpool have played well in patches they are still to consistently produce their top form.

"Without getting too carried away or too disappointed it's probably just an average start," said Clarke. "You're probably looking at about a seven out of 10. Some pleasing performances and some not so pleasing, but you'd expect that from a group of players where you've made so many changes and you're trying to bed a few things down."

One of the key factors in picking up three wins has been the form of the four-goal striker Luis Suárez, with seven of Liverpool's 10 points coming in matches when he has scored. The 24-year-old was voted fans' man of the match for the fifth time in eight games this season (he has played in both Carling Cup ties) after Saturday's win over Wolves.

But it is the Uruguay international's determination to do well – highlighted by his frustration when he was substituted 10 minutes from the end at the weekend – which has equally impressed.

"With any top player the mentality is always that bit stronger. That's what separates them," Clarke said. "There are a lot of good players at this level and the really, really top ones have got that mental edge that drives them on all the time and produces the kind of performances that we've had from Luis so far.

"He's very grounded. He comes back in on Monday morning and works as hard as ever in training, he upsets all the defenders, scores a couple of goals and that's what he's all about. He trains like he plays – absolutely, every day. He loves to be playing football and that's a great thing."

Suárez was replaced by the captain, Steven Gerrard, making his first Premier League appearance for six months after a groin operation. The return of the England midfielder, who added to his 15-minute Carling Cup appearance last Wednesday, is a boost to everyone at Anfield.

He is lacking in match sharpness and this weekend's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park may come just a little too early for him to make his first start of the season. However, that will not stop the Huyton-born 31-year-old pushing for a place in the lineup.

"Steven himself will dictate the pace of his comeback with how he progresses in training," added Clarke. "We're delighted with the stage he's at, we're delighted with everything he's done for us. We could maybe have got Steven on a little bit earlier [against Wolves] but it didn't work out that way. We've got a full week now and we can use him well in training."

Liverpool Enter Race For £20m Brazilian International Striker

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is set to join Premier League rivals Tottenham in the hunt for Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao, according to reports on

Tottenham have been linked with Damiao throughout the course of the summer transfer window and it is now believed Liverpool is prepared to enter the race for the 22-year-old.

Dalglish was one of the busiest Premiership managers during the transfer window and added Craig Bellamy to January signings Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.

It is believed Damiao's current club Internacional have valued the forward at £20million and a number of top clubs from around Europe have also showed an interest including Barcelona, Inter Milan and Porto.

So far this season the Brazilian international has scored 39 goals in all competitions and is expected to be subject of a bidding war when the January transfer window opens.

Speaking earlier this month Damiao said: “If there is an opportunity to play in Europe, of course I would like it."

Dirk Kuyt Frustrated After Losing Liverpool Starting Place

Dirk Kuyt has spoken of his disappointment at losing a regular starting place at Liverpool but accepts the club had to improve competition for places to challenge for honours once more.

The Holland international has started only half of Liverpool's six Premier League games this season as the manager, Kenny Dalglish, seeks to integrate the £20m summer signing Jordan Henderson into the team and utilizes his options up front. Kuyt's absence has surprised many given his form under Dalglish last season and contribution this term, and the 31-year-old admits it has been difficult to adapt to his changing role.

"I'm disappointed to be out of the team," said Kuyt, who returned to the bench against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday having started and scored against Brighton in the Carling Cup. "From childhood, I've always been disappointed when I'm not in the team because I'm desperate to be involved and make a good contribution. But it also makes me very determined too. I need to continue to prove myself, train as hard as possible and, when I do play, make sure my performance is of a high standard."

Despite the personal cost, the former Feyenoord striker admits Liverpool's squad now has the depth he encountered upon his arrival at the club in 2006 and required substantial investment following the final draining years under the former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

He added: "Competition is tough now but it's brilliant for the club that there are so many players to choose from now, top-class international players. The players realize at the end of the day you need more than 11 good players to be successful.

"When I first arrived here we had a very good, big squad but for the last two seasons before this one, we haven't had the depth that we did in the first three seasons. Someone like Craig Bellamy is a strong addition to what is already a very strong squad, and that can only be good for the team. We definitely have better quality now and more players to choose from as well. I think with the signings we've made, we have a great squad now so we should be ambitious and have confidence in ourselves."

Henderson Needs More Time - Lucas

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has defended new signing Jordan Henderson and urged critics of the England Under-21 international to be patient.

Henderson has started seven of eight matches this season, only sitting out last week's League Cup win at Brighton, but has struggled to impress despite scoring against Bolton last month.

He has been substituted four times already and a number of poor performances have led to criticism of the 21-year-old.

Having been through a similar process after signing from Gremio in 2007, Lucas knows only too well about being a target for supporters.

In the seasons that followed he turned things around and insists Henderson can do the same.

"I don't blame the young players because I've been in their place for a few years," said the Brazil international.

"He is English and knows the Premier League but to come to such a big club like Liverpool is really hard. We have to encourage him and try to give him confidence to keep improving.

"Don't rush him a lot, give him time to settle and I am sure he will be a good player in the future."

Liverpool Midfielder To Be Sent On Loan To Gain First Team Experience

Liverpool are prepared to let midfielder Jonjo Shelvey leave the club on a short term loan deal as they attempt to give the youngster a chance to play first team football.

Shelvey was signed from Charlton in the summer of 2010 and despite arriving with a big reputation has so far struggled to force his way into the starting eleven.

The 19-year-old has made just four starts in his 22 appearances for the club and with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson all battling for a place in centre midfield he has found opportunities hard to come by.

Liverpool is keen to let the midfielder move in order to gain some first team experience and a host of Championship clubs have immediately signaled their interest.

Cardiff, Coventry, Hull, Birmingham and high-flying Middlesbrough have all shown an interest in the England youth player and will hope to land the midfielder in the coming weeks.

Bolton Keen On Loan Move For Shelvey

Bolton Wanderers are set to make a loan move for Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey once the transfer window opens in January.

The 19-year-old has struggled to get a place in Kenny Dalglish's squad so far this season and has only made 22 appearances for the Reds since joining them from Charlton in 2010.

At the moment he's behind the likes of Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Jay Spearing, Lucas and Steven Gerrard in the pecking order at Anfield, so it's understood that Liverpool are happy for him to go to a fellow Premier League club to gain more experience and confidence of playing at the highest level.

And nowhere could his potential be harnessed more than at the Reebok where under Owen Coyle, Bolton have helped develop Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge over the last two years, both players now regulars when fit at their parent clubs Arsenal and Chelsea.

Joe Cole Eyes Permanent Move To Lille

Joe Cole has admitted he would be happy to make a permanent move to French side Lille at the end of his season-long loan from Liverpool.

Following a frustrating season at Anfield in which the midfielder struggled to make an impact, the 29-year-old moved to the Ligue 1 champions in search of regular football.

"I talked to manager Rudi Garcia and he has the same game philosophy that I have, so I really wanted to come," Cole told L'Equipe.

"You have to make choices in life, and it was certainly not the simplest to me. The easy options were to remain in London or England.

"But I was excited. We are competing for the national title and I can play in the Champions League.

"Finally, it is a young team with great guys that really play good football and I have always dreamt of playing abroad."

He added: "Will I remain at Lille next season? That is possible. They are happy with me, and vice versa, so why not?

"We have started to build a bridge. I really love to play here. I hope it will be a success for everyone."

Cole believes that English players would benefit from moving abroad and experiencing different styles of the game.

"The English players get experience abroad which can enrich our national team," he said.

"In Italy, France or Spain, the game style is more Latin.

"The Premier League is not the best competition; it is just different and unique. Some people told me I was right to go abroad."

Cole scored a stunning goal for the French side in the 1-1 draw with Lorient on Saturday, and has enjoyed a successful start to his new club, even receiving a standing ovation from fans in his last match.

The midfielder has been absent from the national team for some time, but his recent form at Lille will cause many to question whether he should be put back in the side, although Cole admits this is not a priority for him.

"Will Fabio Capello watch Ligue 1? I hope so," he continued.

"It is not my major concern so far. First, I want to be consistently good.

"If I get called back into the national team, I would be the happiest man. I love to play for my country.

"When I lived in Chelsea, everyday there were paparazzi in front of my door. At Lille, I can walk in the streets confidently. People are polite and respectful. It is great to enjoy the city freely.

"Anyway, in England you are forced to deal with the press, you don't have any choice. If I had any choice, I would have liked to never be famous. We are just footballers, aren't we?

"At Lille, I found quality players with unequalled joie de vivre in the changing room. I enjoy myself and I have fun every day. There is a great atmosphere. It reminds me of my first season at Chelsea."

One man who has particularly caught Cole’s eye since joining the French champions is rising star Eden Hazard, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League, and is certainly one to watch for the future.

He continued: "Everyone is talking about him in England. Hazard is the best young player I have ever seen at such an age.

"He has everything to become one of the best players in the world."

Barnes Backs Dalglish For Success

Liverpool legend John Barnes has been delighted with the impact made by Kenny Dalglish since his return to Anfield, saying the combination of an attractive brand of free-flowing football, twinned with some impressive results has meant the Reds can once again be regarded as a force to be reckoned with.

The fiery Scot is, according to Barnes, showing just why supporters are hailing him as the man to bring the glory years back to Merseyside - and attributes the fear-factor installed at the club as a reason they can be successful.

"Liverpool is now playing with the right passion, determination and spirit," said Barnes. "With Kenny in charge everyone is pulling in the right direction and that's what you need to be successful.

"You need everyone, including the fans and the board, to be 100 per cent behind the manager. They are, and the players have responded to that with their performances."

"There has to be a fear factor there. A manager needs that kind of respect and power, and Kenny commands that at Liverpool."

The Reds have been very active in the transfer market since the return of 'King' Kenny - and Barnes is confident that the squad assembled by Liverpool's prodigal son, is strong enough to return the club to the UEFA Champions League next year.

"I don't think Liverpool will win the league but I certainly think they will be in the top four," he continued. "Kenny has made signings not just for the present but for the future.

"That's important as you need continuity. If you keep changing players you'll never get anywhere. Now there are a lot of players in the squad who will be around for a long time and that has to be good.

"Next season young players like Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson will be a year more experienced and with greater consistency of performances Liverpool can challenge for the title.

"I think Kenny can bring the title back to Anfield - everyone has got faith in him."

City Rivalries Set Aside To Fight Crime

A campaign which has seen Liverpool unite with Everton to reduce crime is celebrating its fifth birthday. The Kickz initiative brought the city rivals together to make Merseyside a better place to live. It has seen young people from disadvantaged areas attend football sessions, improve relations with police and become volunteers.

Working with the police, the clubs have produced some impressive results in places like Norris Green, Breckside and Stockbridge, including: 31.7% reduction in Criminal Damage to a Dwelling, 22.4% reduction in Common Assault, 56% reduction in Burglary in a Dwelling, 47.9 % reduction in Theft From Motor Vehicle and 52.6% reduction in Theft of Motor Vehicle.

Inspector Colin Lewis from Merseyside Police said: "Fifteen years ago if you'd said we'd be working alongside Liverpool and Everton to combat anti-social behaviour, reduce crime and victimization and promote citizenship among young people I'd have thought you were mad. I'm not sure the clubs would have believed it either. "It is as good a partnership as I've ever seen - and I've seen a lot."

Home Secretary Teresa May praised the Premier League and the police for their Kickz work during a celebratory reception at the House of Commons, and said: "We all know how many supporters enjoy watching football, but the idea of using its strength to help young people in this way is fantastic.

"It's doing really good work enabling them to not just be taken out of situations in which they might get involved in gangs or crime, but actually giving young people a voice."