Monday, December 26, 2011

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Blackburn

Blackburn's challenging festive season run continues as they travel to Anfield to face Liverpool on Boxing Day.

After losing to the English Premier League's bottom side Bolton 2-1 on Wednesday, Rovers head to Liverpool knowing that a trip to powerhouse Manchester United awaits them on New Year's Eve.

Blackburn manager Steve Kean has been under enormous pressure from the club's disgruntled fans after presiding over just two wins from 17 matches so far this season, and it may go a long way to saving his job if he can take a point or even three against a top-six team.

That may not sound as far-fetched as it seems against Liverpool, who - despite being unbeaten at home this season - have drawn five of their eight matches at Anfield.

Sunderland and newly promoted duo Norwich and Swansea have all left Anfield with a share of the points, while Liverpool were also unable to break down lowly Wigan in their most recent fixture, on Wednesday.

If Blackburn are to come away with a point, they will most likely need to break down the team with the best defensive record in the Premier League; Liverpool have conceded just 13 goals in 17 matches.

Liverpool's problem this season has come at the other end, with front men Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt failing to provide enough goals to make the Reds a genuine title threat.

On the injury front, Kenny Dalglish has no fresh concerns, and was again coy about the availability of skipper Steven Gerrard, who is recovering from an ankle infection.

"Everything he's (Gerrard) 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," Dalglish said.

Midfielder Jay Spearing has been included in the Liverpool squad after serving his mandatory suspension following his red card against Fulham.

An injury to Scott Dann is the latest blow for Blackburn, with the centre-back set to miss six weeks after having and operation on his groin.

Dann joins Ryan Nelsen, Gael Givet and Martin Olsson on the sidelines for Rovers.

Maxi Eyes Half Century

Maxi Rodriguez could be set for a landmark 50th league appearance for Liverpool if he is selected for the Boxing Day clash with Blackburn Rovers.

Here are more facts and stat ahead of the festive showdown courtesy of Ged Rea.

Head to head: (League only)

At Anfield: Liverpool 38 wins, Blackburn 9 wins, 16 Draws.

Overall: Liverpool 53 wins, Blackburn 35 wins, 38 Draws.

Last season Liverpool won this fixture 2-1 with all three goals coming early in the second half. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, with his last goal for the club, gave the Reds the lead.

Within two minutes Jamie Carragher scored an unfortunate own goal before Fernando Torres shot home the winner.

The last meeting, back in January, saw Rovers win 3-1 at Ewood Park. Martin Olsson and Benjani (2) netted for the hosts. Steven Gerrard pulled one back on 81 minutes but five minutes later he missed from the penalty spot. It was to be Roy Hodgson's last game in charge of Liverpool.

In the Barclays Premier League Liverpool have won 16 of the 34 meetings with Rovers winning seven.

At Anfield Liverpool have won 11 and drawn five of the 17 Premiership clashes.

Liverpool have won the last four in a row against Blackburn at Anfield - the first time since 1954-55 when they won for the sixth time in succession.

Steven Gerrard began his Liverpool career with a substitute appearance against Blackburn in November 1998.

Billy Liddell, in 1958, is the last player to score a hat-trick for Liverpool against Rovers - doing so at Ewood.

Dick Forshaw in 1923 is the only Liverpool player to perform the feat at Anfield in this fixture.

Liverpool have kept eight clean sheets in the last 14 league meetings with Rovers at home, though Blackburn have scored in four of the last five visits.

Liverpool's biggest home win over Rovers has been achieved on four occasions - in October 1896, October 1933, April 2004 and April 2009 - winning 4-0.

The Reds have lost only twice in the last 25 league meetings home and away - 1996 and last season.

Craig Bellamy joined Liverpool first time around in the summer of 2006 for £6.5 million. He scored 17 goals for Rovers in 32 appearances in all competitions in his one and only season with the Lancashire club (2005-06).

Jonjo Shelvey made his league debut for Liverpool as a substitute in last season's 2-1 win at Anfield.

Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing all scored against Rovers last season for Blackpool, Newcastle and Aston Villa respectively.

The Reds have lost just twice on Boxing Day in the last 24 years. The last time they were beaten at Anfield was in 1986 when Manchester United won 1-0. Their last defeat was at the hands of Blackburn in 2006 at Ewood.

Liverpool have conceded only three first half goals in a league game at Anfield in the calendar year 2011 - Kevin Davies (Bolton - New Years Day), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham) and Vincent Kompany (Manchester City).

The Reds have lost only one of their last 15 games in all competitions.

Tottenham were the last team to score more than once against the Reds three months ago. Since then they have conceded eight goals in 15 games with only three coming in the last nine games.

Liverpool have the meanest defence in the Premiership this season having conceded 13 goals in 17 games.

If they shut Blackburn out it will be the first time since February that Liverpool have kept four successive clean sheets.

They are eight points better off than at the same stage last season (17 games).

This is only the fourth season in the Premier League era that Liverpool have remained unbeaten at home in the league up to Christmas. The other seasons being 1994-95, 2006-07 and 2008-09.

After last year's Boxing Day fixtures Liverpool were 10th in the table, 15 points behind the leaders and nine points off fourth.

Blackburn's biggest league win at Anfield came in September 1905 when they won 3-1.

Rovers' last victory on this ground came in September 1993 when Liverpool fan Mike Newell scored in a 1-0 win. It is their only league success at Anfield since 1963. Rovers' manager that day was Kenny Dalglish.

They have lost 10 and drawn 5 of the last 15 meetings here since that victory.

Rovers have scored just four times in their last eight visits to Anfield.

Not since May 2002 have they scored more than once in front of the Kop - and on that day they lost 4-3.

The last Blackburn player to score a hat-trick against the Reds was Danny Shea in September 1913 when he netted four times in a 6-2 win at Ewood.

Only three players have been sent off in Premier League meetings between the teams - all Rovers players: Henning Berg (1995) and Zurab Khizanishvili (2005) at Anfield and Lucas Neill at Ewood in 2003.

Rovers' leading scorers in the Premier League against Liverpool are Jason Wilcox and Chris Sutton (both with four).

Blackburn have failed to win away this season - picking up four points out of a possible 24. Their draws have come at Fulham, QPR, Norwich and Wigan.

They have suffered defeats on the road at Aston Villa (1-3), Newcastle (1-3), Stoke (1-3) and Sunderland (1-2).

Their last away win came at Wolves on the final day of last season.

Blackburn Rovers were bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day. The only basement side at this stage of the 19 previous PL seasons to stay up was West Bromwich Albion in 2004-2005.

In their defeat to West Brom nine days ago Scott Dann became the first Englishman since February to score for Rovers in the Premier League.

Blackburn is 11 points worse off than they were at this stage last season (after 17 games).

Steve Kean has won seven league games out of 38 since being appointed just over a year ago. They have lost 20.

Rovers have not kept a clean sheet in the last 20 league games -their worst run since a club record 27 games in 1931.

They have kept only four Premier League clean sheets since Kean took over.

Rovers have dropped 12 points from winning positions this season - the most in the Prem along with Norwich.

Scorers this season: (league in brackets)

Liverpool: Suarez 8 (5), Bellamy 3 (2), Carroll 3 (2), Maxi 3 (1), Adam 2 (2), Skrtel 2 (2), Gerrard 1 (1), Henderson 1 (1), Johnson 1 (1), Kelly 1 (0), Kuyt 1 (0), own goals 3 (3).

Blackburn: Yakubu 11 (10), Rochina 6 (2), Hoilett 3 (3), Formica 2 (2), Pedersen 2 (1), Samba 2 (2), Vukcevic 2 (1), Dann 1 (1), Givet 1 (0), Goodwillie 1 (0), Roberts 1 (0), own goals 2 (2).

Dalglish: Yakubu Poses Threat To Liverpool

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish admits Blackburn striker Ayegbeni Yakubu poses a threat at Anfield tomorrow, but is confident his in-form defence will keep the Nigerian quiet.

Rovers' summer signing from Everton has 10 Barclays Premier League goals - including four in one match against Swansea three weeks ago - this season.

However, the Reds have the most miserly defence in the top flight having conceded just 13 times in 17 league matches and have kept seven clean sheets, five of which have been in the last eight games.

"His goal tally is pretty impressive for a team at the bottom of the table," said the Reds boss.

"He's a clinical finisher. He got four against Swansea and got another goal the other night (against Bolton).

"He is a threat, but then there are a lot of good strikers that Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have come up against recently and they've been playing particularly well.

"We won't be presumptuous that they are going to play well but then again we won't be presuming Yakubu is going to score against us either.

"It will be a decent game, and it will be a good competition between Yakubu and ourselves.

"If we take our eye off everyone else and just concentrate on Yakubu then we could find ourselves in trouble, so we've got to be responsible and look after everybody.

"But he has certainly had a good goalscoring season this year."

Liverpool will be looking to improve on their disappointing home record this season when bottom team Blackburn visit.

Dalglish's side has won just three times in eight Anfield appearances and the win over QPR on December 10 ended a run of four successive draws at the famous old stadium.

The Scot admits it is not for want of trying as they have created numerous chances but have one of the lowest conversion rates in the top flight.

"We would love the boys to get the reward some of their outstanding build-up play deserves and we'll continue to make chances, and the opposition know we'll make chances," said Dalglish.

"There have been a few inspired goalkeeping performances against us which we can't do anything about, and the first thing we have to do is concentrate on hitting the target.

"We would be lots more frustrated if we didn't create those chances so as long as we get them we will be fine - the goals will come and the goalkeepers won't be as good as they have been.

"We now have two home games in a row starting with Blackburn and we need to take maximum points if possible.

"We know Blackburn aren't in a nice situation at the moment and because of that it will be difficult with them fighting for their lives and we will have to do our best."

All Eyes On Suarez & Kean At Anfield

Kenny Dalglish has leapt to the defence of Blackburn manager Steve Kean as Liverpool's Luis Suarez prepares for his first Anfield game since receiving an eight-match ban from the Football Association.

Suarez, who is set to appeal the suspension for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, is still eligible to play as his ban has yet to come into force.

The Uruguay striker featured in the goalless stalemate with Wigan on Wednesday -- the day after the suspension was announced -- and is again set to play against Blackburn, the Premier League's bottom club, on Monday.

But there will be just as much attention on beleaguered Kean as there will be on Suarez after a dreadful run of form which has left Blackburn fans calling ever louder for the manager to be sacked.

Earlier in the season Kean said he was willing to meet disgruntled fans to outline his plans for the future.

But the Scot now believes his safety could be at risk if such a meeting took place.

Liverpool manager Dalglish, who masterminded Blackburn's Premier League title success in 1995, admits the situation at his former club is 'sad' but believes Kean needs support -- not abuse.

"They are under a lot of pressure and the frustration is understandable in many ways," said Dalglish. "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 (sacked).

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

Having dropped points at lowly Wigan in midweek, Dalglish is demanding his side return to winning ways as Liverpool seek to keep their hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League alive.

Captain Steven Gerrard could return from his two-month injury absence from an infected ankle.

Midfielder 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 featuring against Blackburn.

"He's been training, but whether that means he's ready or not, we'll have to wait and see," added Dalglish, who has midfielder Jay Spearing available after suspension.

Meanwhile, Kean's future could be decided over the course of the next few days with Blackburn facing a daunting match against Manchester United on December 31 after Liverpool.

"It's not a nice place we find ourselves in at the moment," said Kean, who was appointed a year ago after Blackburn's Indian owners Venky's sacked Sam Allardyce.

"I'll take the responsibility for that, I'll never shirk away from that or duck that. The players are giving me everything they can.

"It's been tough. It's never easy when you're getting a bit of stick but it's part of the job.

"There are plenty of people who have got stick over the years from fans and months later the fans are singing your name. That's football."

Blackburn could be without first-choice keeper Paul Robinson who has a small tear in his calf muscle while Sweden international Martin Olsson (hamstring) has not recovered as quickly as anticipated.

Rodgers Reveals Donnelly Blow

Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed Cliftonville have backtracked on an agreement the Premier League club had regarding a fee for Rory Donnelly.

The Welsh side announced last week that an offer, believed to be in the region of £100,000, had been accepted by Cliftonville for the teenage striker.

Donnelly visited Swansea earlier this week to discuss terms, but Everton and Liverpool have subsequently declared their interest in the Northern Irishman.

Rodgers has confirmed the goalposts have now been moved and he is waiting to see if it will be possible for the Swans to conclude a deal for Donnelly.

"We have done everything we can up until this moment," said Rodgers. "We had the player watched over a number of months, I went to see him myself, and I felt he was worth taking into our group.

"We arranged for him to come over for a couple of days, he's a good kid and his agent and assistant coach enjoyed their time here and that's as much as we can do.

"We agreed the fee on the basis he came here and enjoyed it and we could put a deal together, what happens after that is out of our control.

"They decided the fee was no longer agreed and that's something out of my hands."

Although Rodgers appeared downbeat about Swansea's prospects of signing Donnelly, he did not rule out the prospect of Chairman Huw Jenkins putting in an improved offer for the 19-year-old.

"At this moment the chairman has spoken with their chairman and I will find out how that evolves," Rodgers said.

"It's up to the club, I came back with a valuation and Cliftonville have played the game quite well, but we shall see.

"He's a good kid and the two clubs who are reportedly interested are fantastic clubs, but it has to be about an opportunity for the player and they (Cliftonville) will decide who will be best suited.

"I find it sad and disappointing that we had an agreement and now we don't, morally you would think that would stand but we will find out over the next few days."

Five Players Liverpool Could Buy In The January Transfer Window

Here we take a look at some of the players that have been linked with winter moves to Liverpool.

1. Inigo Martinez – Real Sociedad

The Spanish youth international has scored two quite unbelievable goals from the halfway line this season. The catch? Well, he’s a centre-back!

2. Fernando – Porto

Much has been made of Liverpool losing their influential holding player Lucas Leiva to injury. Fernando is one of the names linked with replacing the 24-year-old.

3. Gaston Ramirez – Bologna

Liverpool has been linked with the playmaker’s signature for a number of months and it seems likely that the Reds could add to their Uruguayan contingent.

4. Roberto Soldado – Valencia

Kenny Dalglish’s side has also been linked with an ambitious £20m swoop for in-form Valencia striker Soldado. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored more goals in La Liga in 2011.

5. Ola John – Twente

Described as the “next Ryan Babel” the quick and skilful winger could add some much competition for Liverpool’s wide births.

PFA Chief Dismisses Luis Suarez's Claims

The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor has rejected Luis Suarez's claim of innocence that the term he used against Patrice Evra is not racist in Uruguay as the fallout following the Liverpool striker's ban continues.

Suarez is alleged to have called Evra 'negrito', claiming it is not offensive in his native country, but Taylor believes the forward is still in the wrong.

“I’ve travelled the world a lot and this defence that it is OK to make reference to the colour of somebody’s skin in South America in a jovial manner, well I’ve not heard that before," he told The Telegraph.

"In the past we’ve been told that spitting [at someone] is common in South America and I’ve not seen that either.

“Maybe our standards are so high because we have such a multicultural society and such a multicultural game, but that is only right, it does not mean our standards are too politically correct or anything like that.”

Taylor also laid blame at Liverpool's door suggesting that clubs should make foreign players aware of what could be seen as offensive in this country.

"I think it is up to the clubs to ensure new players are aware of what is right and wrong and they do," he continued. This isn’t something that happens normally and foreign players have been coming here in large numbers for the last two decades and that includes players from South America.

“If I was to work abroad, in the Middle East or Asia, it would be up to my employer and myself to make me aware of what is deemed acceptable behaviour in that culture and what is not. It’s about respecting the country and the culture where you work. I don’t see why that is any different here."

Suarez has been handed an eight-game ban and a 40,000 pounds ($62,712) fine by the FA for the incident but is planning to appeal.

Charlie Adam Is Not Afraid To Take Penalties Again

Midfielder Charlie Adam has no qualms about taking Liverpool’s next penalty despite squandering the spot-kick which saw his side lose ground on the Premier League’s top five.

Having created a number of chances against Wigan on Wednesday night, Gary Caldwell’s handball gave the Reds the perfect opportunity to break the deadlock just after half-time.

But Liverpool’s penalty curse continued as Adam, who has scored the team’s only effort from 12 yards at West Brom in October, made it four failures in five attempts with goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi saving.

The Scotland midfielder has now joined Luis Suarez, Dirk Kuyt and Andy Carroll in having missed from the spot this season.

But he said: “I never thought I made a good connection with the penalty and the keeper made a good save but I’m disappointed I didn’t score.

“I scored the last one I took and was confident but I missed it.

“But if the opportunity comes around again I will be there to try to take another one.”