Saturday, October 22, 2011

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Norwich

Liverpool and Norwich will both look to build on some encouraging recent results when they lock horns at Anfield on Saturday evening. Kenny Dalglish's Reds have bounced back from a couple of defeats in September to re-establish themselves in fifth place in the Premier League. Having beaten Wolves and Merseyside rivals Everton, they drew 1-1 with Manchester United last Saturday after being pegged back by Javier Hernandez's equalizer.

Norwich has also been moving in the right direction over the past few weeks after recovering from a poor start to the campaign. The Canaries have won three of their past four games and the 3-1 victory over Swansea last time out left them in the top half of the table. Paul Lambert will now be relishing the chance to claim a famous scalp at Anfield.

Lucas serves a one-match suspension for Liverpool after collecting his fifth booking of the season in the draw with Manchester United. Jordan Henderson, dropped to the bench for the last two matches, may therefore regain his starting place in midfield. Defenders Daniel Agger (rib) and Glen Johnson (hamstring) are fully fit again after playing in the midweek friendly defeat to Rangers. Andy Carroll will be hoping for a recall to the starting XI after Dalglish opted to go with Luis Suarez as a lone frontman against United, supported by fit-again skipper Steven Gerrard.

Lambert has had the luxury of not having to make too many changes to his side this season and again has no fresh injury worries ahead of the trip to Merseyside. He is, however, still without the services of defenders Zak Whitbread (hamstring), Daniel Ayala (knee) and Elliott Ward (knee). James Vaughan is a long-term absentee with a knee problem of his own.

Possible Starting XIs

Liverpool: Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique, Kuyt, Henderson, Adam, Downing, Gerrard, Suarez.

Norwich: Ruddy, Naughton, Martin, Barnett, Tierney, Bennett, Hoolahan, Fox, Pilkington, Morison, Johnson.

Carroll Causing Concern For Dalglish

It's often said that a player returning from a long-term injury is like having a new signing and that is certainly true for Liverpool after Steven Gerrard's first start in more than six months last weekend. He couldn't have asked for a much better comeback, playing 90 minutes against Manchester United and scoring a goal too. As the captain and the driving force of Liverpool, his return is obviously a massive boost and he will be looking to kick on again when Norwich visit Anfield on Saturday.

From a manager's perspective there's not really much you can do for a player when he is injured - apart from offering words of encouragement and cajoling him along. It is down to the player to handle it and it can be really difficult when you're out, especially when you're a bit older.

Steven is 31 now and admitted this week that he seriously worried about whether he'd ever be the same player again whilst he was sidelined. When you know you're nearer the end of your career than the beginning, it's only natural to get those sort of doubts - especially as he's had setbacks as well. There will have been times when he's thought "I'm doing really well and only a couple for weeks away from coming back", and then suddenly he's out for another few months, which then seems like an age.

Although the manager's encouragement is important during a lengthy lay-off, the key people are the physio staff and your family, who keep you going during your low points. Rehab can include days and days of work that feels really mundane, and it can be difficult to find motivation when you're doing such light work. Life is easy for a footballer when you're playing games, winning matches, scoring goals - the whole world is rosy. Then suddenly, that's snatched away and your team-mates go off on holiday over the summer while you're visiting the medical staff - or they're travelling to games and you're not with them. It can be a real mental test; the six inches between your ears is the most important thing in football.

While Steven Gerrard has been frustrated by injury, his team-mate Andy Carroll will have been frustrated by his lack of playing time this season. It's been really difficult for him to deal with the expectations of him and I think people have got to try to forget that £35 million price tag and accept that he's young and going to take time to bed in. When he got into the Newcastle side he knew all the lads because he'd been at the club for years and he knew his way around Newcastle because that's where he's from. Suddenly there's a massive transfer fee, he's left the club he's grown up at and he's thrown in at the deep end playing for a huge club.

People have said that he doesn't fit into the formation that Kenny is using at the moment, but I think that Kenny is actually playing that way because Andy hasn't been good enough. Away from home, just about everyone plays one up front and that one is always going to be Suarez at the moment for Liverpool because of the way he's playing, his knowledge and experience. He's an established international, who's played for a big club in Ajax - Andy hasn't had that, he is still just a young lad. Against Norwich, Kenny will probably think seriously about playing two up top with Andy and Luis Suarez together but if he doesn't play in these sorts of games, it doesn't bode too well.

Kenny's team selection against Norwich will be interesting as it's the sort of fixture - at home to a promoted club - that Liverpool have to win if they are serious about getting into the top four. However, it won't be easy as Norwich has had a very encouraging start to the season and they're a tidy team. Paul Lambert has a lot of hungry players, most of who have been on the edge of being Premier League players but unproven, and they've reminded me of Blackpool last year in the way they try to play good football.

Dalglish Backs Jordan To Shine

Kenny Dalglish admits he does not yet know Jordan Henderson's best position but insists the Liverpool midfielder is at the right club.

Henderson, 21, made a £20million switch from Sunderland to Liverpool in the summer as Dalglish set about creating an English heartbeat to his team.

The size of the fee and the lack of a regular position in the team have seen the England Under 21 international struggle at times to display his best form.

In Liverpool's last two marquee games against Everton and Manchester United, the midfielder has found himself on the bench.

However, the suspension of Lucas Leiva for the Norwich game on Saturday could well provide him with a route back into the team.

And while Dalglish accepts he is yet to extract the best from the youngster, he has no doubt Liverpool will reap the benefit of his future years.

"I don't know his best position yet - but I know his best club and that's this one," said Dalglish.

"We just want him to play and enjoy playing. He's a talented footballer with a great future in front of him and we are just delighted he chose to come here.

"He'll be here for a long, long time and he's going to be a tremendous asset for us. He's got patience too."

He added: "He's a young boy who has come down from Sunderland and is starting to settle in really well now.

"He's another option for us in midfield this weekend. I've just got to make the right decision."

Liverpool Scouts Track England Starlet

Liverpool target Mason Bennett is poised for a shock senior debut with Derby County.

The 15-year-old forward has been scouted by a handful of top clubs in England, and has already earned international recognition at U16 level.

“Mason is someone we have to be patient with, but we can’t deny that we’re very excited about him," said Rams boss Nigel Clough.

“He’s a fantastic prospect and playing in the Championship would certainly not faze him."

Liverpool has a track record of bringing teenage talent to Anfield, with director of football Damien Comolli eager to build for the future on Merseyside, a philosophy proven with the signings of Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll.

The club's academy at Melwood is regarded as one of the best in Europe, with fellow England youth internationals Adam Morgan, Conor Coady and Raheem Sterling all plying their trade in the Liverpool ranks.

16-year-old Sterling would be of particular relevance, with Liverpool signing the player from QPR in 2010 for a fee that could rise to as much as £5 million.

Liverpool Dealt Decisive Blow In African Defender Pursuit

Liverpool has been dealt a decisive blow in their pursuit of Nigerian international defender Taye Taiwo.

The AC Milan full back was heavily linked with a move to Anfield in the summer transfer window, with Kenny Dalglish thought to be tracking the player before a move to AC Milan in May.

Despite the recent nature of the move, speculation has persisted that a move away from the San Siro could take place in the New Year, forcing agent Fabio Parisi to dismiss the claims.

“I saw him at the end of the match and he was very happy. The fans gave him an extra push. Let’s hope that he gets a chance to prove himself because the more he plays, the more he will believe," said Parisi.

“As for his future, he is definitely staying at Milan.”

A return to Ligue 1 has been mooted, whilst Liverpool are believed to be keen on adding a defender in the transfer window, with Ghanaian international Samuel Inkoom claiming he's close to joining the club.

After failing to secure Taiwo's services before the season began, Dalglish turned Liverpool attentions to Jose Enrique, bringing the Spaniard to Merseyside and solving the left-back conundrum at the club.

However, the Reds lack depth in position, and one of the African pair could join the ranks at Liverpool to provide competition for places under the stewardship of 'King Kenny'.

Molby: Goal Has Inspired Him

Jan Molby believes Jordan Henderson's strike for England U21s has given him a lift that could see him make a real impact against Norwich City this weekend.

The Reds will be without the suspended Lucas Leiva for the visit of Paul Lambert's men and Molby is tipping the former Sunderland midfielder to make a well deserved return to the starting XI.

Molby said: "With Lucas suspended, Kenny Dalglish has a decision to make about who to bring in.

"I expect Jordan Henderson to come in on the right, with Dirk Kuyt up alongside Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard in midfield with Charlie Adam. Henderson did himself no harm at all with his cameo against United. It seems that going away with England Under-21s and getting a goal has helped boost his confidence."

Three points against Norwich would see Liverpool put further pressure on the sides currently occupying the top four positions.

Molby expects a tough encounter against the Barclays Premier League newcomers but feels the Reds must pick up a victory if they have serious intentions of returning to the Champions League next season.

"We need to get back in the top four as quickly as possible," he said.

"If we're serious about achieving that we have to win games like tomorrow's home clash with Norwich City.

"I've been impressed by what I've seen of Norwich so far this season

"When they came up, you looked at the squad and thought it smelt a bit like the Championship. But they've managed to improve both individually and as a team.

"They attempt to play a similar type of game to Liverpool with a lot of quick passing. They've got good width in Elliott Bennett, who they signed from Brighton, and they aren't scared of anyone. They showed that recently at Old Trafford when they carved United apart on a number of occasions."

Reds Welcome Chinese Trialists

Two Chinese youngsters have realized a dream by beginning a week-long trial with Liverpool Football Club.

Lung Chan, 16, and Chen Nal, 15, arrived in the city on Wednesday ahead of a seven-day spell at the club's Academy.

A meet and greet with the likes of Frank McParland and Damien Comolli was first on the agenda prior to a Thursday evening training session with the Reds' U16 squad.

The duo both produced some neat touches during a two-hour work-out and they will now be hoping to show the club's coaching staff what they can do throughout their time in Kirkby.

The Academy’s director of recruitment Stuart Webber explained the decision to invite the pair to Liverpool.

Webber told "It all came to fruition when Damien (Comolli) introduced me to a Chinese agent. He had some ideas that involved us going out to China to have a look at a few of their players.

"As a result, a few weeks ago, I went out there and watched them in action. I saw the two who are here now and decided to ask them to come over to the UK so we could have a look at them in our own environment to see what they are like playing with our players and in our conditions.

"Asia is a massive market for us to explore and if we ever get it right, it could be huge for us. You only have to look at what it has done at Manchester United with Ji-Sung Park.

"It would be fantastic if we could find a player of that quality. It would be fantastic for us and for the whole of Asia. There is such a passion for football over there and it would be great to be able to give something back to them if we can find a player who is good enough to make it here at Liverpool FC."

He added: "Both of these lads have done well so far. Obviously the language barrier is difficult and it is a different culture. But they have adapted well and their ability is beginning to shine through. It promises to be an interesting week for both them and us."

Liverpool Don't Want To Scrap Relegation - Henry

Liverpool owner John W Henry has dismissed reports that foreign owners are keen to scrap Premier League relegation as "complete nonsense".

League Managers' Association (LMA) chief executive Richard Bevan claimed earlier this week that the English top-flight's American and Asian power holders have discussed the possibility of ending relegation to the Championship, claiming that "particularly American owners without doubt" are keen on the concept.

Bevan's revelation led to an angry backlash from many involved in the game, with the Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson describing it as "suicide" and Wigan owner Dave Whelan threatening to pull Wigan out of the Premier League if such an idea became a reality.

But Henry, who took control of Liverpool last year, has rejected Bevan's comments - describing them as "complete nonsense" and telling the Associated Press that the issue "hasn't been discussed".

Fellow American owner Randy Lerner, who is the man at the Aston Villa helm, also dismissed the relegation reform claims, insisting he was "confused and surprised" by them.