Sunday, December 18, 2011

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs Liverpool

Liverpool will look to keep their push for European football next season going strong when they visit Aston Villa on Sunday.

With 15 games behind them in 2011/12, Kenny Dalglish's side are in sixth place in the English Premier League on 26 points - three behind Arsenal who are in the automatic Europa League place, but 12 behind leaders Manchester City.

They have lost just three games so far in the league, but their Achilles heel has been too many draws - five of them in total - with four of those coming at Anfield against Manchester United, Norwich, Swansea and Manchester City.

They finally broke that run of dropped points at home by posting a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, with Uruguayan international Luis Suarez scoring the only goal of the game.

Alex McLeish's Aston Villa, meanwhile, is in ninth place in the league standings, seven points behind Liverpool.

The Midlands club made a solid start to the season, with two wins and five draws from their first seven matches.

But after their 4-1 loss to Manchester City on October 15, their first defeat of the season, things have not been so rosy at Villa Park.

They have lost two of their past four matches, although the defeats came against quality sides in Tottenham and Manchester United.

McLeish's men did bounce back in their most recent game, however, by scoring a 2-1 win away from home against bottom side Bolton.

McLeish has some selection headaches ahead of the fixture, with striker Gabriel Agbonlahor suspended for the match after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Bolton.

Winger Jermaine Jenas, who Villa had secured on loan from Spurs, is out for the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in their 1-0 loss to Manchester United on December 3, and goalkeeper Shay Given is nursing a hamstring injury likely to keep him out until the New Year.

For Dalgish, Jay Spearing will serve the second-match of a three-game suspension for being sent off against Fulham, while Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva is out for the rest of the season after injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Captain Steven Gerrard is back in training after overcoming an ankle infection, and his hoping to be back in action before the end of the year.

McLeish Expects Downing Stick

Alex McLeish believes Stewart Downing may come in for some stick as he returns to Aston Villa as a Liverpool player.

The ex-Middlesbrough winger left Villa Park last summer after two years at the club in order to join the Reds.

Sunday's game will be Downing's first return since leaving and McLeish knows he is one of a number of visiting players they need to watch.

The Scottish tactician believes the England international was a popular player, although that will not stop fans trying to get under his skin.

Ironically Downing's last Premier League goal came while he was an Aston Villa player in last season's win over Liverpool.

When asked what sort of reception Downing would receive, McLeish said: "I don't know.

"I think Stewart was a well-liked lad here at Villa but I'm sure the fans will wind up the opposition.

"I'm sure Stewart will maybe not get too much flak because he is a decent lad and he did a decent job

"But maybe the fans will give a wee bit of apprehension-inducing stick shall we say!

"He is a terrific player, and £20million tells you he has got something in his locker.

"We know what he can do. We have to give him close attention and try and make sure he has a quiet return to Villa Park."

Dalglish Eyes Top Four

Kenny Dalglish has hailed the progress made by his Liverpool side but now hopes to push into the UEFA Champions League places.

The Reds have enjoyed a solid start to the Premier League season but have ground to make up on the top four and will hope to stay in contention by beating Aston Villa on Sunday.

Dalglish does not believe Liverpool are far away from challenging the elite group once again and has called on his men to keep working hard.

"We've been delighted with what we have done," said the manager.

"We'd love to progress into the top four and the best way to do that is to do what we do well.

"It is only slight but, then again, some of the smallest steps are the biggest ones to take."

Manchester City and Manchester United currently lead the way in the title race and Dalglish insists they are both extremely strong teams despite being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage.

The London trio of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal are also ahead of Liverpool going into the festive period but Dalglish is ready for the challenge.

He added: "Of course it's going to be tough. The teams that are there or thereabouts are really good sides.

"Two of them got put out of the Champions League but there are still really good sides here.

"It's going to be tough but we'll have a good go and see where it takes us.

"We'll look to get the points by playing as well as we have done and getting that wee bit of extra luck.

"We believe we are doing things the right way so we'll continue to do that because we don't know any other."

Liverpool Planning Tottenham Raid For England International Midfielder

Liverpool are rumoured to be considering a January move for out-of-favour Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Tom Huddlestone.

According to reports on, Liverpool is desperate to sign a replacement for the injured Lucas Leiva, who will miss the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Lucas, who has come under criticism during his time in England, has been one of Liverpool's stand-out players this season, and his injury comes as a major blow as Kenny Dalglish tries to lead his side back into the Premier League's 'big four'.

Despite a plethora of midfield talent, the club lacks an established holding midfielder and has ear-marked Huddlestone as a short-term replacement.

The 24 year-old has fallen down the pecking order at White Hart Lane and is thought to be concerned at his lack of playing time since his return from injury.

The England international is currently valued at around £7 million, a price considered perhaps too high for a player who will have a short term role at Liverpool. However, Liverpool may test Tottenham's resolve with a loan bid for the powerful midfielder.

Liverpool Target Diego Perotti Admits Leaving Sevilla If Club Needed Cash

Liverpool wing wizard target Diego Perotti has admitted he would leave Sevilla if the club needed money.

The 23-year-old was heavily linked with a move to Anfield at the end of last season, with The Sunday People claiming that Kenny Dalglish made an enquiry over the player in March.

Reports surfaced on Sky Sports in April before leading into the summer, leading to Los Rojiblancos president Jose Maria Del Nido claiming that the player would not be sold to clubs in England or Italy.

However, Perotti has admitted that he could leave if the finances are needed at the La Liga outfit, potentially alerting suitors Liverpool, Juventus and Inter Milan.

"Before the end of the League I said that I'd only go if the president came and told me that the club needed the money if we stayed out of the Champions League," said Perotti.

"I would only leave if Sevilla needed money."

Gaston Ramirez, Lucas Rodriguez and Eduardo Vargas have more recently been linked with moves to Liverpool in the British media, leaving Kenny Dalglish with plenty of options over who he could turn too on January 1st.

The Anfield chief has so far been coy over potential additions to the ranks on Merseyside, but the Scot has admitted that Liverpool owners FSG are willing to bankroll some more moves should he wish to make signings in the New Year.

Liverpool Join Race For Dundee Utd Midfielder

Liverpool have entered the race to sign Dundee United midfielder Scott Allen in the January transfer window, according to The Daily Mail.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish is keen to sign the Scotland under 21 international, but will have to fight off interest from Rangers, Celtic and West Brom. Rangers’ boss Ally McCoist believed his side was the favourite for the player, but Liverpool's interest leaves Allen's future up in the air. West Brom have had a £400,000 bid accepted for Allen. Rangers have spoken of their desire to sign the midfielder and McCoist has urged Allen to think of Scottish football before England.

Liverpool is keen to bring the 20 year old down to Merseyside and with Kenny Dalglish's hero status in Scotland, Allen may be eager to link up with Liverpool. Allen has played just six first-team games for Dundee United, but is regarded as one of the best players the club has produced. The midfielder's contract expires in the summer and Allen will speak to interested parties in the January transfer window to try and arrange a deal away from Tannadice.

The Reds are without Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva until the end of the season and have doubts over captain Steven Gerrard's long-term fitness following injury worries. Liverpool boss Dalglish is again looking to young players and sees Allen as one for the future alongside fellow Scotsman Charlie Adam.

Aurelio Eyes First-Team Inclusion

Fabio Aurelio remains upbeat about the prospect of featuring for Liverpool in the second half of the season, and is determined to play a part in the club's quest for honours in 2012.

The 32-year-old Brazilian full-back is currently sidelined with a calf injury, and hasn't yet featured for Kenny Dalglish's side this campaign.

"For me the most important thing is to be available," Aurelio told "At the moment I am fighting to come back but hopefully once I return I can play some minutes on the pitch.

"It's not my decision but I will try to work as hard as possible to have the opportunity. I am capable of doing a job. I still have six months of contract here and I hope to finish the season off in a better way than it has started [for me]."

Aurelio believes the Reds deserve to be higher than their current position of sixth in the Barclays Premier League table, but is optimistic about their chances of forcing their way back into the reckoning for a top-four finish.

"We started off the new season with a lot of new faces and with everyone adapting to new teammates," he continued. "So far, I think we could have done better than we have but we are not in a bad position. I am still very confident that the team can achieve things this season.

"The performances haven't been so bad because of the opportunities we have been creating, but the ball hasn't been going in the net. I think we will keep going and if we create the same number of chances in the future, the goals will come."

With competition for places at Anfield as fierce as ever, Aurelio is hoping the busy festive period will give opportunity to the team's fringe players to make an impact.

"It's a hard time. You have a lot of games in a short period of time," he concluded. "For the ones who play regularly, maybe they are not looking forward to such a quick run of games.

"But for the ones not involved it is a chance to play and the moment to show what they can do, like Maxi has done.

"Maxi is a good example because he has worked hard and done well in each training session. You don't know when the opportunity will come you just have to be ready for it. It keeps everyone motivated because we know during this period there are lots of games and you never know what can happen."

Melwood Pair Led By Example

Conor Coady has paid tribute to Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey after the duo excelled during their respective run-outs for Liverpool Reserves recently.

The Melwood pair hit a double apiece as the second-string romped to wins over Sunderland and Wigan - and the 18-year-old midfielder feels he can only learn from playing alongside such dedicated first-teamers.

Coady told "Jay's been fantastic. He's a top player and a good lad. He helps you through the game and is a privilege to have in your team. It was fantastic to have him alongside me against Sunderland.

"He's just the perfect example to all of us lads hoping to make the grade and push on to Melwood like he has.

"It was the same with Jonjo and it's great that we've had some first-team players involved in the reserves recently because you learn a lot off them. All of the boys are doing well anyway but it doesn't hurt when they come down because you can only pick up positive pointers from them."

Coady featured as an unused substitute during the Europa League trip to Sparta Prague and a Barclays Premier League win over Birmingham last season.

He has yet to get the nod so far this term but remains hungry to make an impression.

He said: "I've been up to Melwood now and again when they've needed players for training sessions. Any time you get the call you are delighted because it's a fantastic experience for any of the boys going up there, not just me.

"I just try to take it one step at a time when I go up there. I try to take everything in and work as hard as I can. Playing with those players is just the highlight of your day.

"I just want to carry on playing well now and keep progressing. It'd be nice to go further in the NextGen and do well in the (reserve) league. I'll focus on that and then at the end of the season, see how it is going and hopefully push on even more."