Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reds Put On The Spot

Another busy week for Liverpool saw a dominant away victory at Aston Villa followed (almost inevitably) by a frustrating stalemate with the Reds' perennial party poopers, Wigan Athletic.

Sandwiched in between those encounters was an FA hearing that resulted in an eight match ban for Luis Suarez, for 'racially abusing' Patrice Evra.

This is a sensitive issue that is bound to divide opinion, but the club's unprecedented reaction to the punishment bestowed on Suarez, not to mention Kenny Dalglish's unwavering support would suggest that the incident in question owes more to cultural differences than racial abuse.

It is unthinkable that a man with the integrity of Dalglish would put his reputation on the line, if the club's opinion was any different. Liverpool look set to appeal, which some would see as risky, given that his ban could be extended if the ruling was upheld.

The fact remains though, if the player and the club believe that justice has not been done, the length of ban becomes an irrelevance. They must seek to clear his name and in doing so, restore the club's reputation for zero tolerance on racism. Any suggestions that Suarez would not be in the right frame of mind to play against Wigan Athletic were swiftly dispelled as Dalglish kept faith in his talisman, who dually rewarded King Kenny with another committed performance.

The Uruguayan possesses tremendous mental strength; the type of which separates the great players from the good. There was never any chance of Suarez letting Kenny down with his performance. Another Liverpool forward who never lets the side down is Craig Bellamy, who was instrumental in the early goals that secured another away victory for the Reds at Villa Park.

Bellamy scored the first and delivered a mean cross onto the head of Martin Skrtel for the second; helping to cement a man of the match performance from the Welshman. With Villa looking low on confidence, Liverpool dominated possession and continued to carve out chances.

Only the woodwork would deny Suarez a goal, as he first rattled the cross bar before stroking an exquisite chip against the inside of the post. Jonjo Shelvey made his first start for the club and rewarded Dalglish with an all action display in front of the influential Charlie Adam.

Never shy in front of goal, Shelvey had five shots and on a couple of occasions took up great goal scoring positions in the box. Had some of his team mates been a little more generous with the ball he may well have ended up on the score sheet.

Ultimately, Liverpool would have to settle for 2-0 and a satisfying away win.

Roll on three days to Wigan and an all too familiar pattern begins to take shape. Liverpool are fast out of the blocks, passing the ball well and creating great chances straight from the off.

Despite this impressive level of industry, it doesn't yield any goals. Glen Johnson failed to finish off another fine move; denied by the excellent Wigan stopper, Ali Al Habsi. Al Habsi would be a thorn in the Reds' side all evening.

Possibly Liverpool's most unwanted statistic this season is their haul of missed penalties.

The curse would strike again here as Charlie Adam (the only Liverpool player to score a penalty this season) joined Suarez, Dirk Kuyt and Andy Carroll on the list of spot kick failures. Such a record could prove costly for Liverpool as competition for Champions League qualification is stiffer than ever.

Liverpool was driven on late in the game by their incessant attacking left back Jose Enrique. The Spaniard has proven to be one of the best acquisitions of the season and has brought great dynamism to the side.

Quite how he has never been called up for the Spanish senior side is a mystery. His technique, ball retention, strength and pace are all second to none.

Despite his endeavor, a goal remained elusive and Liverpool were forced to settle for a point on what has become a bit of a bogey ground for the Reds.

Frustration at draws this season has been diluted by the level of Liverpool's performances. Dalglish has crafted an attacking side that plays attractive high tempo football, passes the ball well and presses high up the pitch when they don't have possession. Team ethic is a good as it's been since King Kenny's last rein at the helm.

Its great news for Liverpool supporters and has given fans a new lease of life this term. The goals for record is one that is in need of improvement but this is something Dalglish will be all too aware of. He will get it right.

Liverpool finish the year with two home games over Christmas against Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, before starting the new year with a crunch clash at Manchester City. With seven fixtures in January, the depth of the squad will be tested to the limit.

This is a great chance for players who don't start every week to stake their claim for a first team place. With Luis Suarez suspended (subject to appeal) it will provide an opportunity for Andy Carroll to prove his worth and put the doubters at bay.

Carroll may not have enjoyed the greatest of starts to his Liverpool career, but if he seizes his chance and starts hitting the back of the net, he will have provided an antidote to the team's achilles heel.

That should be top of everyone's Christmas list.

Reds Monitor Gerrard

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard could return from his two-month injury absence against Blackburn on Boxing Day.

The England international has not featured since the draw with Norwich at the end of October after sustaining an ankle infection having already missed a large chunk of the season.

Gerrard, 31, has appeared in just five matches this campaign as a result of injuries, but he is back in training and stands a chance of facing Blackburn at Anfield.

Manager Kenny Dalglish has remained typically cagey, but has not ruled out the possibility of the influential midfielder playing some part on Monday.

Liverpool's boss told his pre-Blackburn press conference: "He is training, so as we've said before we'll always monitor his progress and make sure we've done the right things.

"Everything he's done, he's done very well. He's been training, but whether that means he's ready or not, we'll have to wait and see."

Liverpool was held to a goalless draw at Wigan on Thursday night and Dalglish has confirmed his squad did not sustain any new injuries.

Jay Spearing will return to the squad from a three-match ban having served the final game in midweek and the midfielder will add to the options against Blackburn.

Dalglish said: "We're fine. We never picked up any knocks the other night. Jay's suspension is over, so we've added to the squad rather than taken away from it."

Rovers Plight Upsets Dalglish

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish admits he is saddened by his former club Blackburn's lowly position in the Premier League.

The Reds host Rovers on Boxing Day, with the Lancashire outfit rooted to the foot of the table and supporters calling for manager Steve Kean to leave the club.

It is in stark contrast from Dalglish's time at Ewood Park, when the Scot managed to win the Premier League in 1995.

He also provided the Blackburn fans with some of the best moments of their recent history, but now they are desperate to avoid being relegated to the Championship.

On Friday morning, around 100 protestors made their voices heard at the club's training ground, again calling for the dismissal of Kean and owners Venky's.

Ahead of their clash on Monday, Dalglish has reiterated his passion for the club and remembers his time at Blackburn fondly.

He said: "I was at Blackburn for three or four years and it was a great place for me to go and work.

"There were some smashing people that were in charge of the club at that particular moment in time and I would have never foreseen the situation they are in.

"They are under a lot of pressure and the frustration is understandable in many ways, but I don't think it is helpful and I think it is sad really that it has come to that - but that is the way it is.

"I think it is unfortunate that as a manager you know that results are going to count and if you don't get them then you are running the risk of getting your P45.

"Results aren't purely down to what the manager does, he needs support from the players, owners and certainly the crowd."

Despite his past associations with Blackburn, the Liverpool manager is desperate for a win at Anfield to boost his side's chances of reaching the top four.

The Reds remain three points behind Chelsea, who drew with Tottenham on Thursday, but are also facing up to the prospect of up to eight games without the suspended Luis Suarez.

But Dalglish believes that regardless of Blackburn's position in the table, they will still provide an awkward challenge for his team.

He added: "Obviously Blackburn are at the wrong end of the table but every game is tricky for its own reasons.

"There seems to be a bit of animosity in and around the club at the moment - but then sometimes that can be an inspiration for some people.

"For other people who aren't strong characters they shy away from it, but we expect them to be strong characters to do what they can to get themselves points on the board and try to help their manager as well."

Liverpool Target Gonzalo Higuain Linked With Juventus Move

Liverpool striker target Gonzalo Higuain is being linked with a January move to Italy.

The Argentine international has been heavily linked with a move away from Real Madrid, with Kenny Dalglish reported to have taken an interest in the 24-year-old.

However, Italian publication La Stampa is claiming that Juventus have made the player their 'top priority' in the New Year, with an opening bid of £24 million prepared for the former River Plate starlet.

As for Liverpool, their interest has gone relatively cold in the player following their initial link to the player in The Metro back in August.

Speculation again surfaced over a possible Reds move in October, with Spanish radio station Cadena Ser claiming Liverpool were considering a New Year offer for the player.

With the Blues and Bianconeri now in the running for the player, Liverpool appear the least likely to make a move, although they are relatively short in the striking department at Anfield with only Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt amongst the senior ranks.

Liverpool Plot £16.6m German International Bid

Liverpool will reportedly look to lure Koln attacker Lukas Podolski to Anfield as the Merseyside club looks to beef up their attacking options following the FA ban handed to top scorer Luis Suarez.

Director of Football Damien Comolli has earmarked a move for the Polish born German international after seeing Suarez handed an eight match ban and was already scouting the 26 year old as Liverpool have been struggling for goals and have been far to dependent on the Uruguayan international.

Andy Carroll has failed to make an impact and with alternative options Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy being more effective out wide there is a very real need for Liverpool to consider making a January more to bring in reinforcements as they look to mount a successful challenge to reclaim a spot in the top four.

Podolski has enjoyed the last 18 months since his move from Bayern Munich to the club he played for from age 10 to 21 and has managed a very impressive 14 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances thus far this season and Comolli will advise Kenny Dalglish to put forward a bid that meets Koln’s reported €20m (£16.6m) valuation.

Liverpool’s owners are willing to fund January additions as they look to secure Champions League football for next term and having forked out over £100m on new signings in 2011 will continue to back Dalglish next month.

Podolski is an adaptable attacker who can also play out wide as well as in his preferred position up front and Liverpool are keen to bring in the hugely experienced attacker who has amassed a hugely impressive 95 international caps, notching up a whopping 43 goals for the German national team in the process.

Arsenal have also been linked with a move for the Koln man who may well be open to a move away from the Bundesliga, not least because his side, despite his impressive goal tally, find themselves in 10th place.

Shamir Goodwin Emerges On Anfield Radar

Brighton & Hove Albion starlet Shamir Goodwin has emerged as a transfer target for Liverpool.

The 17-year-old striker has come to the attention of the Barclays Premier League outfit after some fine form for the Seagulls youth team, according to The Daily Star, with the Reds now reportedly considering a move for the player.

Goodwin has struck 14 goals in 15 appearances for the academy side at the Amex Stadium, and Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is now looking at the player as a potential addition to the Merseyside outfit's own setup at Melwood.

Jordon Ibe is the most recent high-profile purchase at the Anfield academy, with Liverpool agreeing a fee with Wycombe which could reportedly rise to £1 million for the young Englishman.

He joined former MK Dons starlet Seyi Ojo in making a move to Liverpool, with the 14-year-old completing his move in November.

Regarded as one of the best youth setups in the country, the Reds have a track record of bringing players into the senior fold, with Jack Robinson and John Flanagan two recent graduates.

Currently boasting England youth internationals Connor Coady and Raheem Sterling, as well as Spanish starlet Suso, the future appears very bright for Liverpool as Dalglish and Damien Comolli build for the future.

Croatian Hitman Urged To Snub Liverpool Move

Ally McCoist has urged striker Nikica Jelavic to reject the chance of a move away from Rangers, with Liverpool one of the reported suitors.

Speculation over the last fortnight has placed the Reds in the mix for the striker, who moved to Ibrox Stadium for £4 million last August.

His form in the SPL has alerted a number of clubs south of the border, with The Daily Mail claiming today that Reds boss Kenny Dalglish is one the interested parties in the 26-year-old.

However, McCoist is hoping his player can resist the lure of English football, as well as the financial rewards that could come with a move to the likes of Liverpool.

"It's one of the selling points, there is a greater opportunity at a club like this to compete for major honours," said the manager in reference to their league and cup exploits domestically.

"We fully appreciate, and are well aware, that financially we cannot compete with the vast majority of the teams in the top two divisions down south. That's just the nature of the beast at the moment.

"If a bid comes in for any of our players which we find really acceptable and appealing, you would have to consider it, like every club in the country. I don't think we are any different. But everybody is aware of the importance of keeping our important players."

Jelavic certainly falls into that bracket, scoring 28 goals in 41 games for the Gers, a record which appears to have brought the player to the attention of the Anfield outfit.

Liverpool have been linked with a number of high-profile strikers in the English press leading up to January, with David Villa and Roberto Soldado just two to be mentioned.

And, in a poll of Liverpool fans conducted on facebook, GiveMeFootball found that 87% of Reds fans wanted Dalglish to move for the Valencia striker over any other, including Jelavic, who secured 3% of the vote.

The Merseysiders are relatively short of attacking back-up this term, with Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt the only three senior options currently at the disposal of the Scottish boss.

With the backing of owners FSG, 'King Kenny' is expected to have the funds available to make moves in 2012 should he wish, with a striker potentially on the agenda.

John Barnes Blasts Luis Suarez Witch Hunt

Former Liverpool and England footballer John Barnes has attacked a "witch hunt" against Luis Suarez after he was banned for racially abusing another player.

The Liverpool striker was banned by the FA for eight games for using "insulting words" in reference to Manchester United defender Patrice Evra's colour.

Barnes defended Suarez, saying: "As much as we will say ignorance is no excuse, ignorance is an excuse."

He said that "cultural differences have to be taken into consideration".

Barnes, who played for Liverpool from 1987 to 1997, endured racial abuse throughout his playing career.

Speaking on BBC Radio Merseyside, he said: "From a cultural point of view, [Suarez] has been backed by people from Uruguay saying the word he used is not deemed as a racist term."

He continued: "As much as we will say that ignorance is no excuse, ignorance is an excuse."

"Twenty years ago in England, the same people in England now condemning him were ignorant as to what racism is. Why don't they condemn themselves?"

Barnes, who received 79 England caps, continued: "When Manchester United play Liverpool and 10,000 United fans are saying 'you Scouse thieves', I'd like them all to be banned."

"And Liverpool fans too, when they say 'you Manc or whatever'. So where are we going to draw the line? Racism has to be zero tolerance but this is now a witch hunt."

Suarez intends to appeal against the ruling, which stemmed from allegations made following a Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United on 15 October.

Barnes said: "By admitting [what he said], he obviously didn't feel that what he said was that significant.

"Because he could easily have gotten away with it by saying 'I never said a word'."

Johnson Defends Suarez Support

Glen Johnson has hit back at criticism of his support for Luis Suarez after former Manchester United defender Paul McGrath insisted he would have 'thrown his shirt to the floor' rather than don a T-shirt backing the Uruguayan.

Suarez was given an eight-match ban by the Football Association on Tuesday after being found guilty of misconduct for using insulting words to Patrice Evra which included a reference to the Manchester United defender's colour.

Before Liverpool's game at Wigan on Wednesday, the Reds players displayed their support for the 24-year-old by releasing a statement and wearing T-shirts depicting an image of Suarez and his name and number seven.

However, McGrath described those actions as 'shameful' and insists he would never have complied.

He said: "If I was in Glen Johnson's situation, I'd have thrown the shirt to the floor.

"If that had been someone in my time and I'd heard the comments or I'd even suspected he was guilty, and obviously there has been a tribunal, then I would not wear a T-shirt with his name on it, saying all is well and good here.

"There are a lot of children that watch these games and to have done what they did, doing their warm-up in T-shirts with his smiling face on it, having just been done for a supposedly racist comment to one of his opponents, is shameful for football.

"It puts the anti-racism campaign back to the beginning as far as I'm concerned."

England international Johnson, though, hit back on Twitter, saying: "I will support who I want when I want!!! There are a lot of reasons why I'm standing by Luis Suarez!!!"

McGrath, whose career encompassed a seven-year spell at Aston Villa as well as his time at Old Trafford, believes such actions are symptomatic of the modern game.

He said: "Maybe Kenny [Dalglish] is trying to make a statement to the FA but I just think it is in bad taste that he sent them out in those T-shirts. It would have been much better for Liverpool Football Club if they had worn anti-racism shirts.

"It's about respect. There's this issue going on about respecting your opponents.

"It is actually a game. The game itself has gone too big, it's about winning and the money.

"The actual element of football being a game has long since gone, it is all about protecting your interest, protecting your best players."