Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Premier League Preview: Wigan vs Liverpool

After drawing 1-1 with Chelsea at the weekend, Wigan host Liverpool as Roberto Martinez tries to haul his side out of the relegation zone.

Wigan halted an eight-game losing streak with a 3-3 home draw against Blackburn Rovers a month ago.

Since then, they have lost only one of their past five matches, a 4-0 home reverse to Arsenal sandwiching 2-1 wins over Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.

With no major injury worries, Martinez will be hoping to build on the point salvaged in the clash against Chelsea with a good showing at home on Wednesday night against sixth-placed Liverpool.

The Latics have just three wins to their name so far this season and have conceded 30 goals already - twice the number they have scored. Martinez's men have not kept a clean sheet since September and will need to work hard to keep Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez quiet.

After losing 1-0 to Fulham earlier this month, Liverpool have bounced back with two straight wins - a 2-0 away win last weekend against Aston Villa coming after a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers.

Liverpool had defeated Chelsea 2-1 away and held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw before the loss to Fulham.

After losing Lucas Leiva for the season and with Steven Gerrard still short on fitness after being out with an ankle infection, Kenny Dalglish recalled Jongo Shelvey from Blackpool and started the 19-year-old in the victory over Aston Villa.

Shelvey, who scored six goals in 10 games for Blackpool before returning to Liverpool, looks likely to keep his place against Wigan alongside Charlie Adam.

Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel's good form recently have kept Jamie Carragher out of the starting line-up despite the centre-back being back to fitness.

Suarez has been central to Liverpool's success this season with five goals but the Uruguayan will need to be more prolific in front of goal.

Liverpool have scored 20 goals so far, 11 fewer than Arsenal who are level on points in fifth but lead the Reds on goal difference.

With goals in short supply, Liverpool could struggle to score if Wigan are resolute on defence.

Dalglish Confirms Striker Chase

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has confirmed the club's interest in sought-after Northern Irish starlet Rory Donnelly.

Cliftonville striker Donnelly is being chased by Swansea and Everton with both clubs thought to have agreed a fee with the Northern Ireland club for the 19-year-old.

However, Liverpool have now joined the chase for Donnelly with Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor revealing earlier this week he had spoken to Dalglish about the forward.

Dalglish has admitted Liverpool have expressed an interest in Donnelly, but admits they face competition for his signature.

"I spoke to the chairman - it was nice of him to tell everyone," said Dalglish.

"There is a bit of interest in the boy from a few places so we have registered our interest but that is as far as it goes at the moment."

Liverpool Rival Manchester United For New Messi

Old rivals Manchester United and Liverpool are both attempting to land the player dubbed the next Lionel Messi as they try and convince Xherdan Shaqiri to make the move to the Premier League.

Shaqiri has been one of the stand out performers for Basel this season and was instrumental in helping the Swiss side knock Manchester United out of the Champions League.

His superb displays have alerted some of the biggest clubs in Europe, with Manchester United hoping to bring the youngster to Old Trafford in the coming transfer window.

The Daily Star has reported that United have already contacted Shaqiri's agent Ulisse Savini about a possible switch to Old Trafford, with a figure of £10million being suggested.

Shaqiri has drawn comparisons to Barcelona legend Messi because of his ability to run with the ball and his impressive left-foot. The 20-year-old is on the radar of United and Liverpool who were strongly linked with the midfielder over the summer.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish is keen to add the creative midfielder as he has a lack of options on the right hand side of midfield, the position that Shaqiri prefers as he has the ability to cut in onto his stronger left-foot.

Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli is a huge admirer of the winger and is hoping that he can convince Shaqiri to choose a move to Anfield where he would be guaranteed first team football.

Should Manchester United miss out on Shaqiri then they will more tha likely turn their attention to Benfica midfielder Nicolas Guitan.

Liverpool Delay Gerrard Return

Steven Gerrard took an active part in Liverpool training on Tuesday, but Kenny Dalglish is refusing to put a date on the player's return to action.

Liverpool has been shorn of the services of their captain since he picked up an ankle infection in October. The Reds have made repeated denials that the midfielder had suffered a setback and he was pictured working hard in training on Tuesday.

The images suggested Gerrard could be included against Wigan on Wednesday, but that game will come too soon for the 31-year-old.

"We don't have any problems, apart from Jack Robinson, Steven (Gerrard) and Fabio (Aurelio) as well," Dalglish said. "The longer term ones aren't in the squad."

Asked if there was a chance Gerrard would feature at any point over the festive period, Dalglish said: "It remains to be seen, but we won't be making any comments on it."

Reina Targets Festive Boost

Jose Reina admits a productive Christmas can help to shape a season, and he believes Liverpool can catapult themselves into the New Year.

A top-four finish is the target for those in the Anfield camp, with the Reds having slipped out of that elite group in recent years.

Kenny Dalglish has them well placed to push on towards that goal, with three points currently separating them from the UEFA Champions League spots.

The next few weeks could be crucial to the Reds' cause, with the fixtures set to come thick and fast over the festive period.

Reina has been around long enough to know how important this time of year can be and the Spanish shot-stopper sees no reason why Liverpool cannot welcome 2012 style.

Fixtures against Wigan, Blackburn and Newcastle will take them through to the end of the year, and the Reds will be looking to take maximum points from that run of games.

"We know from experience how important December and January can be in terms of the title race and your position in the league, so we have to push now more than ever," Reina told the Reds' official website.

"Without meaning any disrespect to the teams we are playing in this period, I think all the games are winnable.

"Obviously, every team is tough to beat in this league but now we have to make sure we don't make any mistakes at home and that we take maximum points as often as we can."

Lille Hope To Keep Cole

Lille boss Rudi Garcia has expressed his desire to keep Joe Cole at the club beyond the end of his loan spell.

Cole joined the French champions from Liverpool over the summer on a season-long deal, and has settled in quickly with a series of impressive performances.

Kenny Dalglish stated last month that he had not heard anything from Lille about the possibility of turning Cole's move into a permanent arrangement, but the midfielder has repeatedly spoken about how much he is loving his European adventure.

Garcia has also enjoyed working with Cole and has made it clear he would like the former England international to stay.

"Of course I would like to keep Joe Cole at the club next season," said Garcia. "He's not just a very talented player, but also a man of many qualities.

"He shares the values of Lille and northern France. He is a humble guy, and honest and approachable despite his fantastic CV as a player.

"His team-mates really appreciate him. He has the virtue of being a hard worker - he goes flat out all the time.

"I sometimes have to tell him during training to take his foot off the gas and save some energy. He is a pleasure to coach."

Aldridge: Craig Is Signing Of The Season

Craig Bellamy is the 'signing of the season' - according to former Liverpool striker John Aldridge.

Bellamy returned to Anfield on a free transfer in the summer and netted his third goal of the campaign to set the Reds on their way to three points at Villa Park on Sunday,

After picking up the man of the match award as he helped Liverpool move to within three points of the top four, Aldo was fulsome in his praise for the Welsh international.

"Craig had his best game for Liverpool FC at Villa Park and he must be the signing of the season," said Aldridge.

"Jose Enrique has proved to be a bargain buy but to get Bellamy on a free transfer was remarkable business for Liverpool FC.

"We're talking about a player worth £15million plus!

"Forget about his age, he's as fit as a butcher's dog and is still as quick as he was when he was 21.

"We all knew it was a masterstroke by Kenny Dalglish signing Bellamy. Everyone knew he was available but Kenny used his persuasive powers to get him back to Anfield. It was a no-brainer.

"Now Bellamy has a second chance at the club he supported as a kid and you can see how much playing for Liverpool means to him.

"He was tremendous at Villa Park and I love his attitude and will to win. He gets on everyone's nerves on the pitch, including referees. He isn't afraid to have a pop at his own team-mates and I like that. It shows he cares. Point the finger at someone and then have a laugh about it afterwards - that's the way it should be."

Shelvey: Luis Made It Easy For Me

Jonjo Shelvey is hoping his display in his first ever top-flight start for Liverpool at Villa Park alongside Luis Suarez will be the springboard to future success with the Reds.

Kenny Dalglish handed him a role playing just off Suarez through the centre - a position he excelled in during his loan spell at Blackpool, and the No.33 turned in an accomplished display.

"I only found out I was going to be starting two hours before kick-off so it was a great feeling and I was buzzing," Shelvey told

"I was surprised to start but luckily for me it was my big chance and I felt I took it.

"I enjoyed it immensely. No disrespect to the lads I played with at Blackpool but to play up front with Luis was just an absolute honour for me. He is so clever and sharp and he made it easy for me.

"It was great to play a part in our first goal. I just tried to help the ball on and Bellers finished it which set us off. I thought we controlled the game and played well.

"It was great to get six points from the last two games and we want to kick on now and keep winning."

Shelvey was making his first ever Barclays Premier League start for Liverpool and chalked up some impressive stats during the 2-0 win.

From 29 passes made he recorded an 82.8 per cent accuracy, had the most shots, five, during his 83 minute outing and also had an assist for the first goal which Craig Bellamy slotted home from a corner.

He added: "I had a few chances and snatched at a few to be fair. I had a little joke with Charlie (Adam) after the game when he had a chance to play me in and went for it himself. Their keeper also pulled off a good save from my left footed shot and overall I was really happy.

"The manager has given me a lot of confidence with the faith he has shown in me. I want to stay at Liverpool now and help this club achieve some success this season. I don't want to go back out on loan and I want to fight for my place.

"I will work hard and try and show what I can do. Even if I play for the reserves I will give 110 per cent because you have to do that every time you represent Liverpool Football Club."