Sunday, November 20, 2011

Match Preview: Chelsea vs Liverpool

As much as Andre Villas-Boas and Kenny Dalglish would prefer it not to be the case, all eyes will be on Fernando Torres, with a few glances towards Raul Meireles, when Chelsea host Liverpool on Sunday.

Torres and Meireles both left Anfield within the last 12 months under respective clouds having been seen by many on Merseyside to have forced their transfers to Stamford Bridge.

Spain international Torres quit Liverpool last January in a £50million deal, while Portugal playmaker Meireles moved on the final day of this summer's window having played three games for his former club this season.

Both players have claimed there are untold stories to their transfers, but they remain unpopular in the eyes of those in red and are certain to be targeted by the travelling boo-boys in West London.

Liverpool's loss was Chelsea's gain and, although Torres, who suffered defeat to Liverpool in his first reunion in February 2011, has scored just three league goals since moving, both he and Meireles appear to be important members of Villas-Boas' new-look team.

Such will be the focus on Torres and Meireles, there may even be some respite for John Terry amid the ongoing investigations of the Football Association and the police regarding allegations of racism towards Anton Ferdinand.

Chelsea's main concern is to avoid dropping further points, with Premier League leaders Manchester City already holding a nine-point lead over Villas-Boas' fourth-placed club, who have already lost three games.

Liverpool would need to win four or more goals to overtake Chelsea, but Dalglish's side are just three points behind their weekend hosts, despite drawing three of their last four league matches.

Chelsea will welcome back Didier Drogba from suspension, while John Obi Mikel shook off a back injury to face Blackburn before the international break.

Goalkeeper Hilario was not involved in the squad at Ewood Park because he was suffering with 'flu, but Michael Essien (knee) remains a long-term absentee.

Defender Jamie Carragher is in contention to return to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday having missed the last two matches with a calf injury.

Striker Luis Suarez is expected to keep his place in the starting line-up after being rested for Uruguay's friendly win over Italy in midweek as a precautionary measure after a minor back problem.

Captain Steven Gerrard is still making his way back to full fitness after an ankle infection.

Possible starting XIs:

Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Ramires, Mikel, Mata, Sturridge, Torres.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Adam, Downing, Henderson, Kuyt, Suarez.

AVB - Reds Still In Title Hunt

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas believes Liverpool are still in the hunt for the Premier League title by virtue of their significant summer spending.

The Blues tackle Kenny Dalglish's men at Stamford Bridge on Sunday bidding to close the 12 point gap between themselves and table-toppers Manchester City.

Three successive home draws have seen Liverpool's momentum stall, but they know a win in west London will bring them level with their opponents.

Many are already suggesting a two-horse race for the title between the two Manchester clubs, but Villas-Boas has refused to rule out the prospects of Liverpool thanks to the Anfield club's history and heavy investment in players over the summer.

"I've always seen them as title contenders because it's been assumed by them that they would do it," said the Portuguese.

"Dalglish has made the necessary changes to Liverpool for them to progress to title contenders this year.

"He made seven changes to the team, seven coming in, which represents the type of commitment the ownership have to put them back on title-winning ways.

"They are one of the biggest clubs in England and I always assumed they were challenging for the title."

Speaking about his own side's prospects, Villas-Boas admits that his side is facing a crucial month of domestic league, cup and European action.

"It's a good period for the different competitions," he added. "You can qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League, the Premier League can maybe start taking its pattern by the end of December.

"There's also a quarter-final in the Carling Cup with Liverpool, which gives us a chance to go into that competition next year."

Villas-Boas has also challenged Daniel Sturridge to maintain his level of performance after making his England debut in midweek.

The 22-year-old capped a successful year with a first appearance for Fabio Capello's side in the 1-0 win against Sweden on Tuesday, and his club manager now hopes he can prove he deserves to stay in his national squad.

"His performances for the club have taken him to England, and to a first appearance, which is something that is gratifying," said the former Porto boss.

"When someone arrives at that level, you have to prove you can continue to be at that level. That's the challenge he faces."

Reina Aims To Pile The Agony On Fernando Torres

Pepe Reina is desperate to pile the misery on his close friend Fernando Torres when Liverpool FC face Chelsea tonight.

The Liverpool FC keeper will line up at Stamford Bridge against his fellow Spaniard who quit Anfield for a British record fee of £50million back in January.

Since then Torres has struggled in the capital with just five goals in 30 appearances and Reina is on a mission to ensure the striker endures another fruitless afternoon against Kenny Dalglish’s men.

“Fernando is my friend and I always speak to him,” Reina said. “It will be strange to play against him once again and to see him in blue is kind of strange.

“But I’ve played many times against friends of mine both in Spain and in England and it’s never been a problem.

“I will wish him all the best of luck after the game but for those 90 minutes I wish him anything else.

“I don’t want to lose.”

Torres is guaranteed a hot reception from Liverpool fans who were angered by his decision to walk out on the club.

However, Reina insists supporters should remember what he achieved during his three and a half years at Anfield when he netted 81 goals in 141 appearances.

And the shot-stopper expects Torres to rediscover the form which made him a Kop idol.

“It was his decision to leave and we had to respect that,” Reina said.

“It was such a large amount of money and it was still a difficult period for the club. Fernando thought it was an opportunity to keep growing as a player.

“What we need to keep is that Fernando scored a fantastic number of goals for Liverpool. He was once the people’s favourite.

“We’ve said it many times, there is no-one bigger than Liverpool. Players come and go, managers come and go, the club will always stay.

Carroll Will Be Given A 12-month Boot Camp To Salvage His Liverpool Career

Liverpool will put Kop-flop striker Andy Carroll in a 12-month boot camp in a bid to salvage his Anfield ­career.

The £35million star’s diet and ­drinking will be closely monitored – and he is even prepared to ditch his ­trademark ponytail as worried Kop chiefs plan a new clean-cut image for him.

Carroll, 22, has scored just four goals in 16 Premier League games since his move from Newcastle in January – a slump that that has seen him drop out of the England reckoning.

Three Lions boss Fabio Capello left him out of the squad for the games against Spain and Sweden and he hasn’t been guaranteed a Liverpool starting place this season.

The new year-long health kick ­imposed by Anfield chiefs is a clear sign they are disturbed by his conditioning, even though they have repeatedly denied it.

A source said: “Andy is happy to go along with this long training schedule Liverpool have devised for him. It’s a conditioning program which will look at his whole lifestyle. While Carroll is obviously a big lad he is not particularly muscular and they want to put this right. They are not looking to give him more bulk, but more strength.

“He knows that as a £35m signing he should be the first name on the Liverpool team-sheet for the game at Chelsea but he also knows this won’t be the case.

“And as far as England is concerned he feels that his international career is going backwards.” Significantly, when asked if Carroll still had an England future, Capello replied: “Yes. But it depends on him, not on me.”

But Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is defiant about his out-of-condition striker...and particularly that hefty fee.

Dalglish said: “Andy’s price-tag is only a problem for other people, not for us.

“He replaced a £50m striker which means we are £15m up on the deal – so he’s not a bad buy. Besides, we don’t look at anyone’s price.

“If someone comes here for nothing it doesn’t mean he has to be better than someone who has come here for £20m. If you can pass, play and score it’s no problem what you cost. Money is irrelevant.

“We are delighted with Andy Carroll. Two of the last three games he’s played have been his best two for the club.

“I don’t know where people get their ideas from about Andy. Stories appear on the internet about him and people follow it up even though it’s not always true.”

England boss Capello has warned Carroll he must be playing regularly and scoring goals to be under ­consideration for the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer.

The England boss said: “Andy Carroll is a good player and a good talent but in this moment we need to wait.

“First, he needs to score goals. For forwards it is like a drug – they need goals and I am waiting for his goals. I am looking for his goals.

“But I’m not worried about him. With young players you need to wait sometimes.

“When some players change clubs, like Carroll from Newcastle to Liverpool, the pressure is different.”

Arsenal And Liverpool To Battle For Barcelona Defender

Arsenal and Liverpool are amongst the teams ready to try and sign Eric Abidal, according to the Mirror.

The agent of the French left-back has claimed that it is more and more likely Abidal could leave the Nou Camp with his contract out at the end of the season.

Both Arsenal and Liverpool invested in new full-backs over the summer in the form of Andre Santos and Jose Enrique but appear to be keen on adding Abidal.

“We have very good relations with Barcelona, but we have not yet found the solution to extend the contract,” said agent David Venditelli.

“The truth is that, as time goes by, the risk of Abidal leaving Barcelona next year gets higher.”

Liverpool Set To Secure Chris Samba Signing

Liverpool is leading the hunt for Blackburn’s defensive colossus Chris Samba.

The ambitious Rovers star has switched agents after failing to secure a move away from Ewood Park last summer.

And Liverpool have been alerted to the fact he remains keen on leaving the struggling Ewood Park club. Arsenal showed keen interest in Samba last January, when the Congo international was rewarded with an improved five-year contract by Blackburn.

The Gunners and local rivals Tottenham were both chasing Samba during the summer but neither tabled official bids for the player.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has since signed German international defender Per Mertesacker, meaning that his interest in Samba has cooled.

Spurs are still on the look-out for a new centre-back but Liverpool are said to be in pole position for Samba.

Despite signing young Uruguayan defender Sebastian Coates in the summer, the Anfield club are still on the look-out for a new centre-back especially as this may be Jamie Carragher’s final season as a regular first-teamer.

It is believed Samba, 27, has become increasingly frustrated with life at Ewood Park and is eager to move to a bigger club while he is still in his prime.

That has sparked his move to new representatives and could see him switch clubs in January.

Blackburn owners Venky’s are under no pressure to sell players but they could be tempted by an offer of around £10million for their prize asset.

Reina: I'm Excited By Future

Pepe Reina believes all the ingredients are in place to make Liverpool challengers for the game's top honours.

The Spain goalkeeper insists the acquisition of the club by Fenway Sports Group last year has provided the Reds with the grounding required to enjoy a bright future - and he's excited by what is in store for the club.

"Now we have the money to buy some players and create a squad that is able to compete for the title," said Reina.

"Hopefully, with the right balance of the owners, supporters and the squad we can become champions again.

"It's important for the club to have this stability and positivity with the new players and a new manager. It is something we have to work on and the plan is to get better.

"It has been a good football career so far but my dream is to be in a championship-winning Liverpool team.

"My time here has been more positive than negative and I am very proud of having played so many games for Liverpool already.

"Liverpool is probably one of the best clubs, if not the best, in the world and it has been a pleasure to be here for the last seven years."

U18s Cruise To City Win

Liverpool U18s produced another superb display on their travels as they secured a 3-1 win at Manchester City on Saturday afternoon.

Mike Marsh's youngsters were looking to bounce back following last weekend's disappointing loss against Bolton and they did it in style courtesy of goals from David Moli, Jordan Lussey and Jack Dunn.

The result means the Reds remain unbeaten away from home this season and pick up three points that will give them a significant lift ahead of the forthcoming clash at Man United on Friday.

The visitors bossed the contest throughout and could have stolen in front on four minutes but no-one was on hand to fire in the rebound after Josh Sumner's shot was spilled by Angus Gunn.

City responded and Tyrell Belford did well to thwart Adam Drury before Alex Henshall's cross-shot was brilliantly cleared by Matty Regan.

The hosts were beginning to find openings and Drury wasted a glorious chance to put them ahead when he fired straight at Belford.

This miss seemed to inspire life into the Reds and after Lussey hit a free-kick into the wall they should have opened the scoring on 26 minutes.

The ball broke to Moli inside the six-yard box but when the forward miscued it presented an even more inviting opportunity for Regan. The centre back struck the ball cleanly but saw his effort arrow wildly wide of goal from point-blank range.

Next, Dunn fizzed just off target before the away side broke forward with devastating effect on 32 minutes.

Belford's quick-thinking throw found substitute Nathan Quirk on the left wing. The midfielder, who had just replaced the injured Sumner, hit a superb outside of the foot pass down the line to find the clever run of Dunn. The England U17 star raced through before unselfishly teeing up Moli who made no mistake from eight yards.

Dunn then saw a low free-kick beaten away at the near post by Gunn and Regan headed a corner over as Liverpool ended the half on top.

City was always going to respond after the interval but the visitors continued to produce a display worthy of their lead.

With defences on top, chances were at a premium until another fine move saw Liverpool double their lead on 59 minutes.

Moli did well down the right before crossing to the far post where Lussey ghosted in to fire home a clinical finish.

Both Dunn and Moli then wasted openings before City were given a lifeline on 76 minutes when Regan was harshly penalised for handball.

However, Belford produced a smart save low to his right to keep out Albert Rusnak's spot-kick.

With time ticking away Liverpool continued to threaten and they made it three four minutes later when Moli set up Dunn to beat Gunn with a low drive. It was the perfect way for the youngster to celebrate his 17th birthday and capped a final overall performance from Marsh's charges.

To their credit, City kept pushing until the end and they grabbed a consolation three minutes from time.