Saturday, December 10, 2011

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Q.P.R.

Liverpool will hope to continue their dominant record over Queens Park Rangers at Anfield, as Kenny Dalglish aims to get their season back on track.

A painful defeat at Fulham on Monday night ended the Merseysiders' recent unbeaten run, with Jay Spearing seeing red in his club's first defeat in 12 matches.

The loss also cost Liverpool what would have been a record-equalling seventh successive away win and they now return home hoping to avoid a continued theme of their season.

Dalglish has seen his side suffer frustrating draws at Anfield against the likes of Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea this campaign to leave them trailing the top four by five points.

Liverpool, who have also been held at home by Manchester United and Manchester City to mean they are unbeaten in their last seven home matches, but without a win in the last four, will therefore be desperate to avoid a repeat against QPR.

And Neil Warnock takes his club to the North West with the knowledge they have won just once in 20 league visits to Anfield.

In that time, QPR have only won one of the eight Premier League meetings with Liverpool, but the last of these games came in February 1996.

Warnock's team sit 12th in the table ahead of kick-off and six points clear of the relegation zone, but last season's Championship winners will be desperate for some consistency after drawing with West Brom last weekend.

QPR have yet to record back-to-back league wins in a strange, fluctuating season in which they have beaten Chelsea, but have also been hammered by Fulham and lost at Wigan.

Central midfield is once again a concern for Liverpool manager Dalglish ahead of kick-off.

Spearing, who was expected to provide the long-term replacement for Lucas Leiva after the Brazilian's season was ended by a cruciate knee ligament, begins a three-match suspension after his red card.

Captain Steven Gerrard is still recovering from an ankle infection so Jordan Henderson could start in his favoured central position, although the in-form Jonjo Shelvey has continued to impress following his recall from a loan spell at Blackpool.

Matt Connolly is in line for a recall for QPR and DJ Campbell and Kieron Dyer have both returned to first-team training.

Radek Cerny is expected to continue to deputize in goal, with Paddy Kenny and Brian Murphy both still unavailable.

Possible Starting XIs:

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Bellamy, Adam, Henderson, Downing, Suarez, Carroll.

QPR: Cerny, Traore, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Young, Wright-Phillips, Barton, Faurlin, Mackie, Helguson, Bothroyd.

Dalglish Claims Reds Focus

Kenny Dalglish insists his Liverpool players have not been distracted by off-field issues while preparing for Saturday's visit of QPR.

The Reds' 11-match unbeaten run ended in controversial circumstances on Monday night as Jay Spearing was sent off during a 1-0 defeat at Fulham and, after the match, Luis Suarez allegedly made an offensive gesture to the crowd.

Those incidents resulted in two FA charges, one for the club failing to control their players after the red card and the other for Suarez's apparent misconduct.

But Dalglish claims it has been business as usual at Melwood this week and the Reds boss is confident his side will need no extra motivation as they look to bounce back from their first defeat since mid-September.

"It has only distracted me because I've got to answer questions about it," said the Scot.

"It is a distraction which has to be covered but it should never take precedence over what we are trying to do on the pitch and the training ground.

"We will do what we always do and that is our best, as well as we can, and see if we can get a bit of luck going our way."

Monday's defeat was Liverpool's third in the league this season but their first since losing 4-0 at Tottenham in September.

Dalglish does not believe the Fulham setback will have hit his team's morale as hard as the defeat at White Hart Lane, though.

"I think it is worse to pick them up when they are rubbish and you can never accuse them of that," he added.

"Defeat is never pleasant but we set our standards higher than that so it won't be difficult to pick them up.

"The only reason you wouldn't back your players was if they were continually producing performances like the one at Tottenham.

"They haven't done that. This season they could have won every game they played in apart from Tottenham so I don't see why we have to be disappointed.

"We are only disappointed for the players that they haven't got what they deserved in terms of points and goals. The performance against Fulham was good enough to have won the game.

"We were on a great run. We didn't over-react when we were on a good run so we're not going to over-react when we lose a game."

Agger: We Must Bounce Back

Daniel Agger has urged Liverpool to maintain their top-four pursuit by bouncing back from the Fulham defeat by beating QPR.

The Red host Rangers on Saturday mindful they have slipped up at home to promoted sides Swansea and Norwich already this season.

Monday's controversial 1-0 defeat at Fulham has left Kenny Dalglish's side five points off Chelsea in fourth, but Agger believes they can still break back into the Champions League places this season and wants a win this weekend.

He said: "After the Fulham game it was the same as every time we lose - it was quiet and people were upset.

"Luckily, there is always a game next week and a chance to bounce back - and that's something we have to do."

On Liverpool's quest to make the top four this season and a return to Champions League action in 2012 after a two-year absence, Agger added: "Everybody who has experienced it knows it is the biggest tournament and wants to be in it.

"That's definitely the target."

Warnock Backs Suarez In FA Storm

Luis Suarez has found an unlikely friend in the guise of QPR manager Neil Warnock, who insists the FA is setting a double standard by punishing the player and not the perpetrators following Suarez's alleged middle-finger salute.

Suarez was charged with improper conduct by the FA after pictures in British newspapers appeared to show the Uruguayan aiming a gesture at Fulham fans. The Liverpool striker had previously suffered 90 minutes of abuse from sections of Craven Cottage.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish accused the FA of double standards on Thursday, insisting it sets no example by appealing Wayne Rooney's three-game ban for kicking an opponent - which is a clear three-game suspension by FA regulations.

However, Warnock believes the greater double-standard is set by the FA's treatment of players and fans. In the case of Suarez, Warnock argues that fans did far worse than anything produced by the player, yet it is the player that gets punished.

"I'm not sure the FA shouldn't look into chants by crowds, and fine clubs if fans give players so much individual abuse like they have done with Suarez," Warnock said. "I'd be tempted to do what Suarez did.

"If you're going to get fined, if you're going to do him, they should also look into where these chants come from and fine the people and clubs concerned.

"It's getting ridiculous. Fans can do what they want and as soon as a player reacts they get into trouble. That's the standards I detest."

Rangers head to Anfield this weekend with Suarez set to lead the line for Liverpool, and Warnock counts the Uruguayan among the top two players in the Premier League.

"I was hoping he'd be banned from tomorrow's game!" Warnock quipped.

"Him and [David] Silva have been the two outstanding forwards this year. He's so enthusiastic and determined - he's made to measure for the English game. I think he's a fantastic player.

"Dives a bit, but you get that don't you!"

Pulis Backs Dalglish FA Complaint

Stoke manager Tony Pulis believes Liverpool counterpart Kenny Dalglish was right to raise the Football Association's apparent double standards on disciplinary issues.

The Reds boss was unimpressed with the governing body yesterday successfully reducing Wayne Rooney's three-match ban - for a red card picked up in Euro 2012 qualifying - by one game.

Dalglish, who admitted there was no point trying to appeal Jay Spearing's dismissal at Fulham on Monday, said it set a "bad example".

The Football Association pointed out their disciplinary procedures covering domestic football was different to those for UEFA.

But Pulis said it will have planted seeds of doubt in the minds of many clubs.

"I totally agree with him (Dalglish)," said Pulis.

"It is not as if it was a 50-50 challenge or it was mis-timed, he (Rooney) has actually booted someone from behind.

"It would be interesting to see if a player from an English club actually went and appealed on a similar incident what the FA would have done - I think that is the point Kenny is trying to make.

"I don't think it would have been rescinded.

"I don't think it sets a precedent but it is almost a situation where they (the FA) have worked the system and the system has worked for them."

Four Issues Affecting Liverpool's Top Four Challenge

Liverpool continue to display green shoots of progress under Kenny Dalglish, and 9 months into the Scot’s second coming Anfield his side look capable re-joining European football’s elite for the first time since the 2009/10 season.

But frustratingly for the Anfield faithful, Liverpool have demonstrated something of a soft underbelly this season, dropping points against Swansea, Norwich and most recently Fulham as the lost ground to Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal in the race for a precious Champions League spot. If the Reds are to continue their progress under Dalglish and move on to the next level this season then they must address these issues.

Find A Replacement For Jamie Carragher

Liverpool has a good batch of youngsters and look well set for both the future and the present, but crucially they appear lacking at the heart of the defence.

If Steven Gerrard were to walk away from football tomorrow Liverpool could cope; Charlie Adam has done excellently this season, Lucas Leiva has stepped up wonderfully, Jordan Henderson is growing while Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey wait in the wings.

When it comes to that other Liverpool stalwart, Jamie Carragher however, there is far less cover.

There are high hopes that Sebastian Coates can step up to the plate but a more experienced player in the transfer window would do them a world of good.

Get The Best Out Of Andy Carroll

Popular opinion is on the verge of turning against Andy Carroll. Five goals since his arrival from Newcastle last January isn’t exactly the return expected of a £35 million striker, especially when he plays along a £22 million striker that has set the Premier League alight.

The England international has resembled something of a relic from a bygone era in his recent appearances compared to Suarez; while the Uruguayan is full of verve and movement Carroll appears confined by his role as “big man up top” and simply isn’t contributing enough.

The fact that being match fit and available haven’t come along hand in hand all that much for Caroll this year hasn’t helped either, but Dalglish was ultimately the one who splashed the cash, and he must work with his man to ensure his Liverpool career takes off.

Find Cover For Lucas

It’s a funny world where the loss of Lucas is lamented as the worse thing to happen to Liverpool for some time when a glance back to the start of the Brazilian’s career saw him lamented as everything that was wrong with the club.

Be that as it may his improvement since those dark days is something special and he had become central to Liverpool’s improvement this season; against Manchester City he harried and hustled the Roberto Mancini’s men out of the game and before his injury against Chelsea appeared in the form of his life.

Now Liverpool are without him and their anchor point has gone. In his place Dalglish must choose from a smattering of youngsters before Gerrard returns. He must either hope Gerrard finds his feet immediately with Adam dropping deeper or he may be tempted to delve into the market.

Curb Luis Suarez Exuberance

Another week and another controversy for Luis Suarez, this time for swearing at the Fulham fans after his side’s 1-0 defeat. The FA have subsequently charged him with improper conduct while the investigation into his altercation with Patrice Evra is still on-going.

Dalglish is no fool and will know the key to the former Ajax man’s energy and exuberance relies on his passion in a similar way to Wayne Rooney but Suarez already has an impressive rap sheet. Dalglish must remind him that he can only do damage to opponents on the field, and not from the stands.

Liverpool To Launch £15m Bid For Swiss Superstar

Liverpool are ready to make an offer for FC Basel star Xherdan Shaqiri after watching the winger put in a man of the match display against Manchester United.

The Reds have been linked with the midfielder for some time after first becoming aware of the players talent when he scored a blistering goal against England in a qualifier earlier this year.

The 20-year-old has continued to impress in the Champions League for Basel this term and on Wednesday night provided both assists as the Swiss side knocked United out of the Europe's premier competition.

Basel realize that they will struggle to keep hold of the winger and are prepared for a number of bids when the January transfer window opens.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is keen to strengthen his attacking options after watching his side waste a number of opportunities this season.

Shaqiri also fits in with the clubs transfer policy of signing the best young players available who have the ability to stay at Anfield for a number of years.

It is thought that Liverpool are ready to make a £15million bid for the Switzerland international, however, that figure could soon rise as there will be plenty of competition for the players signature.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona have also been linked with the promising young winger but Liverpool hope to convince him to choose Merseyside by offering regular first team football.

Liverpool are short of options for players in wide areas with Dirk Kuyt and Jordan Henderson often being asked to play on the wing, while Stewart Downing is the only natural left-footed winger.

Liverpool Relieved As Lucas Cools Talk Of Manchester United Switch

Sao Paulo midfielder Lucas, who is wanted by a host of top European clubs, has ruled himself out of a possible move to Manchester United in the near future, insisting that his desire is to remain in Brazil for the foreseeable future.

The midfielder is being closely monitored by bitter rivals Liverpool, who will be relieved by the news that Lucas is unwilling to negotiate for the moment, as Dalglish's side would almost certainly represent a second choice for the in demand star.

Italian giants Inter Milan are also keen on moving for Lucas, and Sao Paulo are said to be preparing themselves for a bidding war next summer, according to talkSport.

Lucas is rated at around £25 million by his club, who will be delighted that their star player remains committed to his football in South America, rather than cashing in immediately on a move to Europe.

"2011 has been a good year for me and I hope that 2012 is even better," Lucas recently revealed.

"For the New Year, I have some great objectives and they all go through Sao Paulo. I want to win a title and also have a great Olympics in London. After that, I will see, but I’m only interested in Sao Paulo’

However, given the financial constraints of Brazilian football, Sao Paulo may be forced to listen to considerable offers, with the board regarding certain lucrative figures as too good to refuse.

With Manchester United seemingly in the hunt for a genuine creative force in their midfielder, after crashing out of the Champions League with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Basle this week, Sir Alex Ferguson may be ready to splash out to secure a deal for the highly-rated youngster.

Kenny Dalglish Uses DVD To Reveal The Truth

Two years ago it was Rafa Benítez with his folded sheet of paper containing various "facts" about perceived Liverpool grievances. On Thursday in the same room Kenny Dalglish went one better, with a DVD display illustrating why Liverpool were more sinned against than sinning at Fulham on Monday, a match that earned the club a double dose of disciplinary trouble from the Football Association, with Luis Suárez accused of making an offensive gesture to home supporters and Liverpool charged with failure to control their players following the dismissal of Jay Spearing. "If anyone wants to see the truth it's on the screen," the Liverpool manager said.

"If we have infringed rules we will have to accept it and take the punishment, but I'm not certain what the rules are when it comes to disputing a decision," Dalglish added. "What I do know is that referees are inconsistent with their interpretations. The only intent in Jay's mind was to get the ball, and normally our discipline is good, as our film clip can prove.

"If you look at the way Craig Bellamy was being provoked [by Clint Dempsey] at Fulham you can only say his discipline was unbelievable. He didn't commit a foul, he didn't respond to the player shoving his head into his face, and yet he was the one to get booked. Once that happened we ended up having to take him off so we weren't left with nine players."

Footage from the game does appear to support that point, and Dalglish said it would be presented to the FA if Liverpool were asked to defend themselves, along with clips of Suárez being wrestled to the floor in the penalty area by Brede Hangeland and getting nothing, Andy Carroll being fouled and Bellamy being wrongly penalized for a harmless tussle with John Arne Riise.

"We just want to be dealt with fairly," Dalglish said. "We want the same rules to apply to us as to everyone else. At Fulham I think we got the short end of a lot of 50-50 decisions that on another night might have gone our way. Anyone watching the clips can see that for themselves."

Uppermost in Dalglish's mind is the latest charge to hit Suárez, two months after the Uruguayan was accused of racial abuse by Manchester United's Patrice Evra, a case which the FA has still to bring to a conclusion. Apart from being dismayed by the time that original investigation is taking – "Nine weeks to reach a decision is a joke, if it goes on any longer it will soon be due a testimonial" – Dalglish fears his player is being deliberately wound up by opponents and receiving scant sympathy from referees. "I've seen the picture [of the gesture] now and I'd rather be sitting here talking about football," the Scot said.

"The charge only landed yesterday afternoon and I have yet to speak to him about it, but everyone at this club will stand by him. We know what the truth is. Because he's such a fantastic player, opponents who can't stop him on the pitch find other ways to get at him. People are entitled to tackle him, but tackle him fairly. That's all we are saying.

"People are just jumping on the bandwagon now and accusing him of this, that and everything else. He is happy here, happy in his environment, but we need the outstanding issues to be cleared up before we can start talking about the man as a footballer."

Dalglish claims he can list four other players who have made similar gestures to the one Suárez made and escaped without charge, though he is reluctant to say who they may be. He disagreed that the Suárez gesture to the Fulham crowd was in any way comparable to the Wayne Rooney outburst into a television camera at West Ham that saw the Manchester United player charged and banned for a couple of games last season.

"I don't see any similarities between the two incidents at all," he said. "Saying they are a bit like each other is like saying a man is a bit like a woman. We have picked out at least four other instances that were just the same and the players were not charged. All we are asking for is some clarity on the matter."

Despite being without a league goal since the start of October, a fortnight before the United game and the trouble with Evra, Dalglish is convinced Suárez remains popular with supporters and will continue to be central to the club's plans.

"The contribution he makes is important, it is not necessary for him to score every week as long as he continues to terrorize people," he said.

"As long as opponents have to resort to verbals to try and get to him he must be doing something right. The fans recognize that. They will be right behind him on Saturday, because they know what's been going on. At the end of the day he's not been getting a fair crack of the whip."