Saturday, October 15, 2011

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Manchester United

Manchester United will be hunting their first win at Anfield in four years when they make the trip to bitter rivals Liverpool in Saturday's blockbuster clash.

As one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures of the season, the Saturday showdown promises to get Premier League action back under way in style after the international break.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men head into the derby clash at the top of the table and undefeated so far this season, having dropped just two points in seven matches.

But with neighbours Manchester City breathing down their necks in second place on goal difference only, United will be desperate for three points to keep them sitting pretty in the top spot.

Memories of last season's Merseyside thrashing no doubt still haunt the visitors, when Dirk Kuyt's hat-trick condemned United to a 3-1 defeat and their third consecutive loss at Anfield.

Seven months down the line and United repeat the short trip to their North West rivals but this time with bragging rights, having overhauled the Reds' tally of 18 English league titles last season by lifting a 19th championship.

That sore point could provide the Reds with added motivation as they seek their third Premier League win on the bounce, having ousted local rivals Everton 2-0 last time out in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

While Liverpool's start to the season has not packed quite the same punch as their visitors', the Reds have kept themselves in the upper echelons of the table with 13 points from their opening seven games.

The hosts will also be boosted by the return to fitness of talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, who is tipped to start for the first time since March after recovering from a groin surgery.

Gerrard is expected to slot into a side which has been rejuvenated by Kenny Dalglish since his return to Merseyside in January and could pose a serious threat to United's unbeaten streak.

The Red Devils' own talisman Wayne Rooney will start following a turbulent international week which has seen the frontman incur a three-match ban for the start of Euro 2012 following his red card in the final qualifier in Montenegro.

Ferguson gave his star hitman his backing after that incident and will be hoping Rooney can shelve his international concerns and continue the form which has seen him net nine goals so far this season.

Saturday's clash will mark the third meeting between Dalglish and Ferguson since the Reds legend began his second stint at the helm, though the former has moved to play down any personal competition between the two managers ahead of the match.

Nevertheless, much of the focus will be on the two old foes as they continue their renewed rivalry, adding extra spice to what already has the makings of a mouthwatering encounter.

Dalglish has a full-strength squad at his disposal for Saturday's encounter, with Liverpool's international contingent having reported back for domestic duty unscathed.

Skipper Gerrard's return to contention provides the biggest lift for the Scottish boss, while Glen Johnson has also been declared fit after a hamstring problem forced him to miss the last three matches.

Centre-back Daniel Agger has recovered from a broken rib sustained last month and is also available for selection.

Ferguson is considering whether to hand captain Nemanja Vidic his United return after the centre-back played for Serbia on Tuesday night in Slovenia.

The skipper has been sidelined since United's opening weekend win at West Brom with a calf injury but could make his comeback at Anfield, while central defensive partner Rio Ferdinand is also closing on a return.

Jonny Evans is available should Vidic not feature after recovering from an ankle problem which kept him out of Northern Ireland's recent qualifiers.

Tom Cleverley (foot) and Rafael (shoulder) are still out but otherwise Ferguson reports a fully fit squad.

No fresh injuries were picked up during the international break, which Ferguson described as a "blessing" particularly with Fabio, Ashley Young and Patrice Evra all suffering knocks last Friday.

Possible starting XIs:

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Enrique, Kuyt, Gerrard, Lucas, Adam, Downing, Suarez.

Man Utd: De Gea, Smalling, Jones, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Young, Rooney, Hernandez.

Adam - Reds Reaching Peak

Charlie Adam claims Liverpool have yet to play to their true potential this season, but hopes they will scale those heights against Manchester United.

Kenny Dalglish's side have made a steady start to the 2011/12 campaign and headed into the international break on the back of a morale-boosting derby victory over Everton.

Next up for the Reds is a visit from arch-rivals Manchester United, with the reigning Premier League champions and current table-toppers due at Anfield on Saturday.

The fixture tends to bring the best or worst out of those on show, with a pressure cooker environment separating big-game performers from the rest.

Adam will get his first taste of an emotionally-charged atmosphere this weekend, following his summer switch from Blackpool, and he is confident that a new-look Liverpool side is ready to face the challenge head on.

"I still don't think we've played as well as we can but that happens when you bring in so many new players," said the Scotland international.

"We've shown glimpses of being a very good side. Hopefully we can continue that on Saturday. It is a massive game for the supporters and a massive game for the players.

"We know it's going to be difficult and we have got a lot of new players in our squad who are still gelling together.

"It's not about sending out a message, it's your own pride and performance being at this club.

"We have to win every game at this club and that's our challenge.

"We have had a couple of bad results but we have reacted in the right way.

"There's no bigger test than Man United at home and if we can win it, it will be a big confidence boost for us."

Adam will be at the very heart of the action at Anfield, possibly with fit-again club captain Steven Gerrard alongside him, and he admits the outcome of Saturday's clash could rest on who comes out on top in the midfield battle.

"The key normally in these games is the midfield," he told the club's official website.

"If you can get a grip of the game in midfield then I think you can win the match.

"Over the years gone by we have had some terrific performances, especially last season at Anfield when we beat them (3-1).

"So the midfield will be key and also you need somebody up front who can score you goals and we have certainly got that (in Luis Suarez).

"We are confident going into the game and hopefully come Saturday we can get the three points."

Liverpool Defender Martin Kelly Fit For Manchester United Clash

Martin Kelly has handed Liverpool a welcome boost ahead of Saturday's clash with Manchester United by declaring himself fit for the north-west derby.

The young defender was sent back to Melwood last week by the England under-21s having complained about tightness in his groin.

Since then, however, Kelly has been able to train for Liverpool and will be available for selection when Kenny Dalglish choses his starting XI.

And Kelly now hopes he has done enough to be awarded a starting berth for what, he admits, will be a stern test for the Reds.

"I came back from the England squad as a precaution with a tight groin," the 21-year-old told

"That's fine now and I trained on Monday, had Tuesday off and was back in on Wednesday.

"It's fine and I'm looking forward to what will be a really tough test for the team."

Liverpool is unbeaten at home this season, having won two and drawn one of their fixtures at Anfield.

But United will certainly be a different proposition for Dalglish's side, with the champions having started the campaign in rampant form.

Kelly, however, says the Reds have complete belief they can get the result they want - while he has urged the fans to make it as difficult as possible for their old foes.

"If we play how we've been playing at Anfield, do what we do best and play our football, we've got a great chance of winning," he added.

"We know how good we are, we believe in ourselves and so do the fans.

"The fans will be vital on Saturday in getting behind us and being that 12th man.

"Everyone is really excited about the game. We'll carry on working on the training pitch and then look forward to the match."

Dalglish Hits Back At Gerrard Critics

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has offered his full support to skipper Steven Gerrard as the 31-year old returns to full fitness ahead of Manchester United’s visit on Saturday.

Gerrard has not started a game for the Reds since March, when United last visited Anfield, with many feeling that the midfielder has passed his use-by date.

Recently, Gerrard insisted that he was defiant in the face of scrutiny and claiming that he is now fitter than he has ever been, the Liverpool captain vowed to deliver.

His manager has now verified that sentiment, making it clear that Gerrard remains a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“Steven has been fantastic for the club and everybody would want him to go on for as long as he could because he has always been a fabulous asset,” Dalglish was quoted on

The gaffer added: “Steven has made a huge contribution to this club and he isn’t going to change. He’s probably fitter now than he was before. He’s not in a Zimmer! When he plays, you’ll still see him charging forward. He did that against Wolves the other week when he came on.”

With England’s current generation of superstars all entering their thirties, Gerrard is not the only one whose status as a regular contributor has gone under the microscope.

Fellow England internationals Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, and John Terry have all been reminded that they must continue to fight for a place in both the domestic and international set-ups.

However, neither of those players have been bothered by the doubters and in fact, Lampard’s recent performances for the Blues suggest that he remains just as dangerous as he was a few years ago.

Dalglish has joined the initiative to ignore age as a major factor in selecting his players, especially when they are performing at a high level.

“Both Steven and Carra (vice-captain Jamie Carragher) are people who everybody else can look up to. Anybody who is an asset to the football club I am sure we will look forward to keeping. For me, you judge a player on what they are doing on the pitch. It doesn’t matter what their age is,” Kenny concluded.

With a win over the reigning champions at Merseyside this weekend, the Reds will only be trailing their bitter rivals by three points as the first quarter of the Premier League season approaches its end.

Liverpool Reportedly Tracking Celtic Midfielder Ki Sung Yeung

Liverpool are being linked with a January move for South Korean international midfielder Ki Sung Yeung.

The 22-year-old midfielder has come to the fore at Celtic after joining from FC Seoul, earning rave reviews in both the SPL and Europa League following a reported £2.1 million move in 2009.

Dubbed 'the Korean Steven Gerrard' for his all-action style of play, Daily Mirror reports claim Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is considering a £5 million move to bring the player to Anfield, presumably in January.

A move would see Ki line-up alongside the England international on Merseyside, although competition for places in the midfield is fierce with Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva also vying for a spot in the Liverpool starting XI.

'King Kenny' spent big on transfers in the summer, and is expected to do the same again in January with the backing of Liverpool owners FSG.

The signing of an Asian player will also be warmly welcomed by the club's hierarchy, who are eager to take advantage of the lucrative marketing opportunities in the country in any way possible.

Whilst this is unlikely to be of concern to Dalglish, it could have a positive long-term impact on the transfer funds available to the Liverpool boss, and with 44 caps to his name already, the youngster appears to be a top talent.

Dalglish Wants New Reds Deals

Kenny Dalglish is confident that Liverpool icons Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher can lead the team for many more years to come.

Both players' contracts are set to expire in June 2013, but the Reds boss says the 31-year-old skipper, and 33-year-old vice-captain can carry on well beyond that.

"I haven't a crystal ball, I don't know how long he [Gerrard] has left, how long it will be," said Dalglish. "Maybe once he gets back into the swing of things he will have a better idea himself.

"Whatever he wants to do we will go along with and for me both him and Carra are fantastic examples. Both of them are two people who everybody else can look up to.

"Carra and Steven have been fantastic for this football club whether they are playing or not playing. Anybody who is an asset to the football club I am sure we will look forward to keeping."

With the new set-up at Anfield, it's Liverpool's director of football Damien Comolli who has the final say on player contracts, but Dalglish sees no reason why age should be a factor when offering new deals.

"I got a long contract when I was 33 which I couldn't believe," he continued. "For me it doesn't matter about age.

"I am not rigid. If I was asked how long someone's contract should be I do not have any hard and fast rules. Everyone is different."

LeBron James To Attend Liverpool Match

For the first time since he became a minority owner of Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League in April, LeBron James will be in the crowd this weekend at iconic Anfield to see the team play.

The Miami Heat forward tweeted Thursday that he had arrived in England and later confirmed to that he'll be attending Liverpool's home game on Saturday against longtime rival Manchester United.

Saturday's game is the first meeting between the two English giants since Manchester United won the league championship in May and passed Liverpool as the winningest club in the country's history. United has won 19 titles in England's top flight to Liverpool's 18.

"Yeah, I'm going for sure!" James told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard Thursday night. "Wouldn't miss this one! Biggest game in the world probably."

In April, as part of an agreement with Fenway Sports Group to become the sole marketer of his rights globally, James and manager Maverick Carter were installed as minority shareholders in Liverpool, which ranked as England's most renowned club globally in the 1970s and 1980s but hasn't won the league title since 1990.

Liverpool was purchased in October 2010 by John W. Henry and the group that owns and operates the Boston Red Sox.

According to the Guardian newspaper in London, Liverpool's 3-1 defeat of Manchester United last season attracted an estimated 500 million viewers worldwide, whereas the Super Bowl is watched by 20 million viewers outside of the United States.

"Just got to Liverpool, England," James tweeted Thursday. "Riding through the city. What a beautiful place. Home and birthplace of the One and Only 'BEATLES.' "

U18s See Off Man United

Liverpool U18s have won their first home game of the season with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in Kirkby.

Adam Morgan - back from England U19 duty - put the Reds in front with a header after just two minutes.

Matty Regan made it two, again with his head, after 37 minutes before Nick Barmby's son Jack pulled one back with an explosive finish on the hour mark.

Morgan was then twice denied by former LFC Academy goalkeeper Liam Jacob, while Jack Dunn hit the crossbar.