Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Swansea

The main talking point in the build-up to this Capital One Cup tie will surround Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who will be coming up against his former employers for the first time on Wednesday night.

The hosting Reds have been tipped to make a number of changes to their starting lineup, with the likes of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Jamie Carragher all believed to be in contention.

Luis Suarez may also start the tie because of Liverpool's lack of options in the goalscoring department.

Visiting Swansea is also likely to make a few alterations for the encounter. Veteran defender Alan Tate and Garry Monk should be included, while Luke Moore will lead the line as a lone striker.

Liverpool and Swansea have not faced each other too many times. In their previous two meetings, Swansea has won once. The other meeting finished in a draw. Swansea can play good football and has done so for much of this campaign. They will trouble Liverpool undoubtedly.


Liverpool: DWWDL

Swansea: LWDLW


Liverpool: Jones; Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Johnson; Downing, Sahin, Shelvey, Assaidi; Suso; Suarez

Swansea: Tremmel; Tate, Monk, Davies, Situ; Britton, Gower, Michu, De Guzman, Routledge; Moore

Allen Looking Forward To Swans Reunion

Though there is lingering disappointment for the way in which Sunday's match against Everton ended for Joe Allen, a bigger focus for the midfielder is Wednesday's cup tie against Swansea City, his former club Wednesday's League Cup tie against Swansea City at Anfield was always going to draw interest mainly for pitting Brendan Rodgers against the club he used to manage, but it also marks a reunion for Joe Allen.

Until he joined Liverpool over the summer, in fact, Allen had spent more than half his life playing football for Swansea, having joined the Welsh side at the age of nine and spending the next thirteen years—bar a one month loan spell at Wrexham where he played in two games—there.

"It is going to be a strange fixture for me," Allen admitted, "and I'm looking forward to coming up against some good friends at a club I was at for many years. It will be an interesting game and one I'm looking forward to."

Given the length of time spent at his boyhood club, moving up the ranks as he refined his game and grew into a Welsh international and one of the most composed British-trained footballers in the game, calling his first match going up against Swansea "interesting" is probably a bit of an understatement.

There is, however, some reason to doubt whether Allen will actually see the pitch on Wednesday given the ninety minutes he played against Everton on Sunday and that Rodgers will almost certainly need him against Newcastle on the weekend. If the player is truly looking forward to it, though, and not simply trying to make the right noises, then there's always the chance Rodgers could be convinced.

And even if Allen is looking forward to Wednesday, when he spoke to the media his mind was still at least in part lingering on Sunday's derby match—and, as was the case for his captain, on the poor decision that cost Liverpool the win in stoppage time.

"It was a great feeling for a split second because we thought we had won the game," he said. "Credit to Everton and the way they fought back, but we feel disappointed we didn't get the three points as we had a goal dubiously disallowed right at the end which would have given us the victory."

Still, despite the disappointing end to Sunday's match, Allen was eager to look for positives in the draw against Liverpool's local rivals:

"It was a tough and physical battle but we expected that and I enjoyed it. Goodison Park is a tough place to come for anyone, so at least with the point we maintained our unbeaten run and we want to climb up the table as high as possible.

"We are heading in the right direction and this was another positive performance from us."

Whether he starts or not, Wednesday offers the club the chance to take another positive step if they can get past Swansea and secure a spot in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.

Laudrup Plays Down Rodgers Reunion

Swansea manager Michael Laudrup believes Wednesday's Capital One Cup clash with Liverpool will be a special occasion, but not because it marks the first meeting with former boss Brendan Rodgers.

The Northern Irishman left south Wales for Anfield in May, having guided Swansea to an impressive 11th place finish in their maiden Barclays Premier League campaign.

Despite having led Swansea to the promised land of the top flight, Rodgers can expect a hostile reception from the travelling support at Anfield, particularly after also prising midfielder Joe Allen away from the Liberty Stadium.

While the focus will be on Rodgers' facing his former club, Laudrup is unsurprisingly keen to divert attention elsewhere, not least because a win would send Swansea into previously unchartered territory.

The Swans have never advanced further than the fourth round of the League Cup, and could reach the last-eight for the first time in their 100-year history.

When asked if facing Rodgers added an extra spice to the occasion, Laudrup said: "I want to win every game we play, not only the ones where we are against ex-managers. There was one of those 10 days ago (against Roberto Martinez's Wigan) and we won that.

"But for me this is nothing different, I want to win all the games.

"I know there is something special when you see former players and coaches, but for me it is Swansea against Liverpool, not against Brendan Rodgers or Joe Allen.

"It's at Anfield and it is a big game in a competition where if we win we can claim a place in the record books of Swansea City."

Laudrup is set to make changes for the trip to Merseyside, and will be forced to replace goalkeeper Michel Vorm, who suffered a groin injury in Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Manchester City.

Gerhard Tremmel will take the Dutchman's place with David Cornell coming onto the bench, and Laudrup is backing the pair to step up.

"I have confidence in Gerhard and also in David," he said. "Of course what I need to have is confirmation of how long it will be with Michel, but I have no problem using Gerhard and David.

"It is a very special position on the pitch and Gerhard has not played many games over the last year and a half and suddenly he will have to play a lot and he starts with two easy games at Anfield and against Chelsea at home!"

He added: "There will be changes, a couple of them are obviously enforced, but I don't know yet how many there will be."

African Hitman Back On Liverpool Radar

Liverpool is once again being linked with a move for striker Demba Ba.

The Senegalese international has a £7 million minimum fee release clause in his contract at Newcastle United, which is set to be re-activated when the January transfer window opens.

And, with Fabio Borini out until the New Year with a broken right foot, the Sunday Mirror claims Liverpool will look to raid the Magpies in the opening month of 2013.

Brendan Rodgers is short of options in attack at Anfield, with Luis Suarez the only fit senior striker currently on the club’s books. Andy Carroll – who cost the Reds £35 million from Newcastle last January – is out on loan at West Ham United and appears out of favour with the Reds boss.

Rodgers has urged the club’s American owners to make funds available at the next opportunity, according to the report, with a strike partner for Liverpool’s Uruguayan hitman at the top of the agenda.

With Ba not set to feature at the African Cup of Nations early next year, it’s little surprise that interest in his services has risen, and Liverpool will be looking to capitalize on the relatively low release fee. It's not the first time the club has been linked with a move for the player this month either, with The Daily Mail claiming a fortnight ago that he was on the radar.

Liverpool Target Ex-Chelsea Striker In Loan Swoop

Liverpool is being linked with a shock loan move for ex-Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.

The 34-year-old Ivory Coast international left Stamford Bridge for China in the summer, joining Shanghai Shenhua on a free transfer after lifting the Champions League trophy under Roberto Di Matteo.

However, The Sunday People claims Drogba could make a quick return to the Premier League, joining Liverpool on loan when the Chinese season comes to an end next week.

The paper claims that Reds boss Brendan Rodgers will make an ‘extraordinary SOS call’ to bring the player to Anfield on a two-month deal, with Drogba looking to maintain his fitness ahead of the African Cup of Nation, which begins in January.

Rodgers already has a relationship with Drogba from his time on the Chelsea coaching staff, and the striker’s parent club is reportedly willing to agree the deal providing Drogba returns for the start of the new season.

Liverpool is desperately short of options in attack, with Uruguayan hitman Luis Suarez the only fit senior forward currently on the club’s books.

A move to Merseyside could jeopardize Drogba’s position as a Chelsea legend however, especially if he played for the Reds in the clash against the Blues in west London on November 11th.

There is still plenty of work to be done before the veteran pulls on a Liverpool shirt however, and if Drogba really is available, then there is little to stop other European clubs from attempting to broker a deal.

Liverpool Plot Lower League Goalkeeper Raid

Liverpool is being linked with a shock move for Middlesbrough goalkeeper Jason Steele.

The England U21 international is available for the right price in the January transfer window, according to The People, with Reds boss Brendan Rodgers considering a move.

Pepe Reina’s in-different form at the start of the season has raised questions over the No.1 spot at Anfield, with Australian international Brad Jones taking the Spaniard’s place between the sticks for Liverpool in Sunday’s 2-2 Merseyside derby draw at Goodison Park.

Whilst Reina had been nursing a hamstring injury picked up on international duty, the stopper was fit enough to take his place on the bench for the match. Reds boss Rodgers denied the keeper had been axed in favour of Jones.

Either way, it’s led to speculation over Liverpool making a move for the one-cap Great Britain international, who has been in sparkling form for Boro in the Npower Championship this term.

Were Steele to make the move from Middlesbrough to Liverpool, he’d be following in the footsteps of Jones, who completed the same transfer for £2.3 million in the summer of 2010.

Ajax Demand €30 Million For Liverpool Midfield Target

Liverpool have once more been linked with a January move for Ajax star Christian Eriksen – but will have to pay €30 million to land their man according to reports.

In recent weeks The Reds have been heavily linked with a move for the Danish international, who admitted it was ‘special’ to be associated with a transfer to the Anfield club earlier this month.

Liverpool are expected to be active in winter window after a disappointing summer in the market which saw them fail to bring in a striker on deadline day despite allowing Andy Carroll to join West Ham on loan.

The 20-year-old has been watched by a host of Premier League cubs and has been linked with a move to Manchester United in the past.

However Liverpool appear to be the most keen on securing Eriksen’s services and will make a move for him when the January window opens, with some claiming he is viewed as a long-term replacement for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

According to the National, The Anfield club are keen on securing players who can operate through the middle or out wide, although they will not overspend on individuals as they have done in the past.

However the paper reports that if Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers wants to land Eriksen, he will have to part ways with €30 million, while Ajax are said to be more willing to sell up in the summer rather than mid-way through the season.

Eriksen himself has previously insisted he will not be leaving the Dutch club until the end of the season at the earliest, and with Liverpool prioritizing a move for a striker in January a summer move may suit all parties.

That may include a move to take Marseille forward Loic Remy to Merseyside, who the National claim could make a move to Anfield in January.

Liverpool Identified Spain Midfielder As Joe Allen Alternative

Liverpool had reportedly identified Spain midfielder Benat as a potential summer acquisition, had they failed in the pursuit of Swansea star Joe Allen.

The Reds completed the signing of Allen in July for a fee of £13.5 million, with the Wales international following Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers from the Liberty Stadium to Anfield.

Rodgers had outlined the signing of Allen as a top priority after moving to Liverpool but, naturally, would have had alternative players in mind had the Reds been unable to sign the 22-year-old.

According to respected Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague, among the possibilities for Liverpool - prior to the signing of Allen - was Real Betis' Benat, who could now leave La Liga in the January transfer window.

Benat has a €10 million release clause written into his contract with Betis, which may appeal to Liverpool should Rodgers decide he wants to bring further midfield reinforcements to Anfield in the New Year.

The 25-year-old has the attributes to fit into Liverpool's high-intensity, possession-based system adopted by Rodgers since his arrival, although they may have to fend off interest from Arsenal should the Reds formalize an approach.

Liverpool Striker Target Linked With Italian Return

AC Milan could rival Liverpool for the signature of prolific Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, reports talkSPORT.

The 29-year-old - who spent a season at the San Siro before moving to the Bundesliga in 2010 - has been linked with a host of top European clubs, as he continues his scintillating scoring form.

In addition, Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo is one manager believed to be considering an attempt to sign Huntelaar, as Fernando Torres continues to flounder at Stamford Bridge.

However, Chelsea could face direct Premier League competition for his signature, as Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers plans to strengthen his Anfield attack in January.

The Dutch international has scored 40 league goals during a two-year stint in Germany, but will be out of contract at the end of the season, meaning Schalke could be forced to sell him, in order to avoid losing Huntelaar on a free transfer next summer.

According to sources in Italy, the forward could make a shock return to Serie A, with Milan languishing in mid-table, and on the lookout for a new striker, in a bid to fill the void left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who joined Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint Germain in August.

Match Report: Everton 2 - 2 Liverpool

Luis Suarez was controversially denied an injury-time winner as Liverpool had to settle for a Merseyside derby draw with Everton.

Suarez reacted first to fire into the roof of the net with time almost up only to see his effort ruled out by the assistant referee, who adjudged him offside.

Television replays immediately showed the former Ajax striker was onside as he poked the ball beyond Tim Howard for what would have been his hat-trick.

Earlier, Everton displayed all the qualities which have kept them in the top four this season as Liverpool blew a two-goal lead at Goodison Park.

When Suarez headed in his sixth goal in eight league matches in the 20th minute, after Leighton Baines had earlier turned the Uruguay international's cross-shot into his own net, the Reds appeared in control.

However, in a pulsating first half Leon Osman pulled one back almost immediately before Steven Naismith equalized 10 minutes before half-time.

The remaining 55 minutes subsequently failed to match what had gone before, and although both sides could have won it after the break, the point was enough to keep Everton in fourth, six points ahead of their near-neighbours.

Liverpool fielded five derby debutants - Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Nuri Sahin, Suso and Joe Allen - with Everton having just two in Kevin Mirallas and Naismith.

That may have contributed to what was a first 45 minutes so open it belied its history of being the oldest and longest-running cross-city rivalry in English football.

Suarez opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Steven Gerrard's pass sent Jose Enrique, on his first start since October 2, racing down the left and although his cross flashed through the six-yard area it was collected by the Uruguay international, whose drilled cross-shot return was deflected in by Baines.

His reaction was to race to the dug-out and dive full-length - in a celebration reminiscent of Jurgen Klinsmann's for his debut goal in English football in 1994 - in front of Toffees boss David Moyes after his pre-match comments about players going to ground easily.

Ironically, later in the half, it was one of Moyes' own players Phil Neville who was booked for diving on the edge of Liverpool's penalty area.

That prompted a swift retort from injured Reds defender Glen Johnson on Twitter.

"Haha classic P Neville battering Luis for diving, then what does he gets booked for....?! Haha," he wrote.

Six minutes later Osman's slight trip on Sterling presented Gerrard with the chance to curl in a free-kick and Suarez's deft header helped the ball past Tim Howard and into the far corner of the net.

For a team whose problems in scoring were well documented, things seemed to be going better than expected for Brendan Rodgers' side.

But Everton have not forced their way into the top four this season on a wing and a prayer, and they produced an instant response.

When goalkeeper Brad Jones, still deputizing for the recovering Jose Reina who was on the bench, could only punch a corner to the edge of the area, Osman controlled and volleyed home.

The game, surprisingly, became even more open with Suarez shooting just wide before Marouane Fellaini, back from injury after two matches out, ran the ball out of play as he bore down on goal when teed up by Nikica Jelavic.

Derbies can do strange things to people - highlighted by Neville's diving aberration - and the sight of Tim Howard, one of football's genuine nice guys, hurtling out of his goal in an attempt to get 17-year-old Sterling sent off for what he thought was a second bookable offence was ungentlemanly and unnecessary.

But the hosts soon put the focus back on football when Fellaini's cross was left by Martin Skrtel and Naismith nipped in front of Enrique to equalize from close range.

Everton poured forward with the excellent Mirallas marauding down the left against the inexperience of Wisdom and Sterling.

The Belgian had one shot turned away by Jones and another blocked by Skrtel after a brilliant turn took him past Wisdom, reluctant to make a challenge in the penalty area, while Seamus Coleman also blazed over.

After such a rousing 45 minutes, the second half failed to live up to those standards.

Everton suffered a blow when Mirallas failed to appear after the break and was replaced by Magaye Gueye while Rodgers made a tactical switch by bringing on Sebastian Coates, another derby debutant, and Jonjo Shelvey to go 3-4-1-2.

Chances continued to be created with Sterling clipping an excellent chance wide having been put through by Enrique while Jelavic, surprisingly quiet in such an open game, just failed to connect in the six-yard box before heading wide Leighton Baines' free-kick wide.

Suarez, never far from the action, was fortunate to escape with a yellow card after standing on Sylvain Distin's Achilles after the ball had gone.

Gerrard had a shot blocked by Phil Jagielka before Suarez was incorrectly denied an injury-time winner.

Gerrard Bemoans Controversial Decisions

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes the Reds have every reason to feel sorry for themselves after controversial striker Luis Suarez was denied a late winner in the Merseyside derby draw at Goodison Park on Sunday.

David Moyes’ side overturned a two-goal deficit to grab a draw in a high quality encounter at Goodison Park, but Liverpool can count themselves unlucky not to have taken all three points as Uruguyan striker Suarez had the ball in the net in the closing minutes only to see his effort ruled out by the linesman’s flag.

Earlier Everton had equalized following a throw which should have gone to the visitors.

“I’ve seen it (Suarez’s disallowed goal) again and we can feel sorry ourselves because it was a clear goal,” Gerrard said.

“We should have taken away the three points rather than just one. There is no offside and it’s difficult for me to explain it. The only person who can explain it is the linesman.

“I asked him after the game if it was offside and he said ‘I think so’. That’s not good enough. If every decision in this league is based on ‘we think so’ then we’re in trouble.

“The linesman got it badly wrong. The benefit of the doubt is supposed to go to the attacking player anyway.

“And for their second goal, it’s a clear throw-in to us. The linesman (not the one who flagged Suarez offside) gives us the throw but the referee (Andre Marriner) saw something different.

“He gave Everton the throw and their second goal came from that.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Match Preview: Everton vs Liverpool

Everton and Liverpool meet at Goodison Park as part of Super Sunday for the 219th Merseyside derby.

The two clubs are famously separated by less than a mile across Stanley Park and have long been fierce rivals.

This season's first meeting promises to be no different and hosts Everton are arguably enjoying the unusual experience of going into the game as favourites.

David Moyes' team sits fourth in the Premier League after making an uncharacteristically good start to the campaign, taking 15 points from eight games.

In contrast, Brendan Rodgers has been frustrated by the start of his Liverpool reign after collecting just nine points from eight matches to leave them in 12th position.

Everton do have the local bragging rights after finishing higher than Liverpool for only the second time in the last 25 seasons but they lost all three derbies, including an FA Cup semi-final in 2011/12.

Whatever happens at Goodison Park on Sunday, it seems certain to be another fiery encounter as the derby has seen more red cards - 20 - than any other fixture in Premier League history.

Steven Pienaar is suspended after being sent off for two bookings in last weekend's draw at Queens Park Rangers.

Marouane Fellaini missed the game at Loftus Road with the knee injury which also forced him to pull out of Belgium's squad for their recent World Cup qualifiers.

Tony Hibbert has missed the last five matches with a calf injury, while Darron Gibson has been absent for the previous six games with a thigh problem, although he has returned to training.

Jose Reina missed last weekend's win over Reading and Thursday's Europa League victory over Anzhi Makhachkala and it remains to be seen if the goalkeeper recovers from his hamstring injury.

Fabio Borini was ruled out for three months with a broken right foot earlier in October, while Glen Johnson was substituted at half-time against Anzhi with a muscle spasm.

Martin Kelly was sidelined for six months after suffering cruciate knee ligament injury in the September defeat by Manchester United and midfielder Lucas Leiva is another long-term absentee.

Rodgers Urges Ref To Stay Calm

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has warned referee Andre Marriner that he has a big part to play in this weekend's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

There have been 14 dismissals in the fixture, always one of the feistiest in the Premier League, over the last decade - and Rodgers has urged Marriner not to be too card-happy on Sunday.

"I have seen it over the years - the real firecrackers of games, full of intensity and passion, which they should be because that is what derbies are about," Rodgers said.

"But it is also important to stay calm, and I think the referee has a big part to play in it as well because I have also seen over the games some of the challenges. I think the history of this game shows there have been a lot of red cards.

"I would hope this weekend that we might get a decision that goes our way for once.

"The Merseyside derby is a terrific game full of passion and quality, and I just hope the referee in Andre can really ensure that everything is in control and that the football is what is talked about."

Liverpool will enter the fixture with momentum behind them, having beaten Russian side Anzhi impressively in the Europa League on Thursday.

Rodgers Waiting On Reina

Brendan Rodgers will assess the progress of Pepe Reina before deciding whether or not to include him in the Liverpool squad for Sunday’s Merseyside derby.

Reina suffered a minor hamstring strain while on international duty with Spain and was forced to sit out last weekend’s 1-0 win over Reading at the victory against Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League on Thursday evening.

He has returned to training but Rodgers is not sure if he will be ready for the trip to Goodison Park and will wait for as long as possible before making a call on his fitness.

“Pepe is back in training,” Rodgers told his pre-match press conference at Melwood. “So that’s good news. He’s working well and we’ll assess him over the next 12 hours.”

Brad Jones has covered for Reina in his absence and he is on standby to continue in the role should the Spain international be ruled out.

“Brad’s been excellent. The goalkeepers join in a lot of our work in training. They get involved in a lot of the possession work. Brad’s temperament has been excellent. I think he has come in and looked a real presence in the goal,” Rodgers went on.

“The nature of his game has been good and when he has been asked to make a save he has. So I’ve been really pleased with Brad since he has come in and played a number of our Europa League games and done very well.

“You need that competition with goalkeepers.”

Liverpool Bid £5m For Ilicic

The reports of Liverpool’s interest in Palermo midfielder Josip Ilicic continue to gather pace with a £5m offer on the table.

It has been rumoured for several weeks that Liverpool are tracking the Slovenian international and British media stepped up a gear today.

There are suggestions that the Reds are prepared to pay £5m for the creative midfielder, although they face competition in Serie A from Roma and Inter.

The 24-year-old has been in Sicily since 2010 when he made the move from Maribor.

Europe League: Liverpool 1 - 0 Anzhi Makhachkala

A superb strike from Stewart Downing saw Liverpool claim victory over Anzhi Makhachkala and move into top spot in Group A.

Downing cracked home an unstoppable effort from outside the box in the 53rd minute after coming in from the left flank.

The win was no less than the Reds deserved having been the better side for much of the contest, and they now lead the group with six points from three games.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers fielded a strong side including the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, resisting the temptation to rest a host of players ahead of Sunday's Barclays Premier League derby at Everton and making only three changes from the win over Reading on Saturday.

It was clear Rodgers was not about to underestimate nouveaux riche Anzhi, who lead the Russian top-flight, and are overseen by one-time Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink and had former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o up front.

The Reds were looking to bounce back from a 3-2 home defeat to Udinese in their previous Europa League outing and made a positive start without fashioning anything to really trouble visiting goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov.

He easily collected a shot from Suarez in the 12th minute and then pushed away an effort by Glen Johnson before Jonjo Shelvey - scorer of three goals in the previous two group games - ballooned an attempt over the bar from the edge of the box.

Eto'o had been relatively quiet, miscontrolling on the occasion when the ball had come to him in a useful position in the area, and Liverpool continued to carve out half-chances, with Oussama Assaidi seeing Gabulov get behind his strike to the near post and then catching his free-kick.

Johnson found himself through on goal in the 35th minute, but failed to get a shot in and took a tumble under the attentions of Kamil Agalarov, with the referee waving the Reds defender's penalty claims away.

Nuri Sahin headed a corner over and Daniel Agger was next to make a foray forward from defence, trying his luck from distance with an effort that curled high and wide.

Anzhi registered an attempt on goal in first-half stoppage-time when Fedor Smolov fizzed the ball across Brad Jones and wide.

Rodgers added new impetus to his attack at the interval by introducing Raheem Sterling for Johnson, and there were encouraging signs for Liverpool soon after the break, with Martin Skrtel's powerful drive bringing a save out of Gabulov before Gerrard headed Shelvey's cross wide.

The Reds kept up the pressure and moments later they made the breakthrough as Downing, who had been shifted to left-back, cut in from out wide and smashed the ball into the net.

Suarez almost swiftly added another with a strike that went just the wrong side of the post, and Shelvey then sent a shot into Gabulov's arms.

With the lead still only at 1-0, though, Liverpool could not afford to switch off at the back and they survived a scare in the 70th minute when defensive sloppiness saw the ball come to Eto'o, whose effort was saved by Jones.

Assaidi and Suarez went down in the box in separate tussles with the referee only being moved to book the latter for protesting, before Mbark Boussoufa saw a shot deflect wide of Jones' goal.

Agger thought he had doubled Liverpool's advantage when he headed the ball from Gabulov's hand and lashed in, but he also only picked up a booking.

Anzhi issued further warnings, with Skrtel making a goal-line clearance to deny Mehdi Carcela and substitute Lacina Traore striking wide.

Gerrard then fired over and Carcela struck wide at the other end before the full-time whistle confirmed Liverpool's win.

Downing Praised By Liverpool Manager

Stuart Downing has been praised by manager Brendan Rodgers after scoring the winning goal in Liverpool's 1-0 win against Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday night.

It has not been plain sailing for Downing following his estimated £20 million transfer from Aston Villa in 2011, and has dipped in and out of the team starting just one Premier League game under Rodgers.

Rodgers admitted Downing had been having a "rough ride" but seems to be impressed by the 28-year-olds latest performance.

"It's been a tough time but he's a good guy," explained Rodgers. "He's had a rough ride but he's an important member of our team."

After the victory, Rodgers guided Downing towards the Liverpool faithful to soak up the applause.

"He got a good reception from the Kop," Rodgers said. "He scored a brilliant goal. Stewart is a wonderful technician off either foot. I think the Kop realized that it was a wonderful goal at the end and if you can get a round of applause from them, which would mean a lot to anyone - a player, manager, coach, whatever.

You saw how they reacted accordingly. They gave him a great round of applause and that will hopefully do him good going forward. His commitment was excellent. He had to play in a different position in the second half, but he has got the quality to do that."

Downing seems happy to fight for his place in the team and said, "It was crowded around the box so I just thought hit it. They made it tough for us, so it was off the cuff."

"Football is full of ups and downs," he added. "It's how you react to them and I'm working hard to get back into the team."

His good form is coming at the right time for Liverpool with a visit to Everton on Sunday posing a stern test.

Assaidi Pleased With Progress

Oussama Assaidi believes he is improving all the time and hopes to be given further opportunities to impress at Liverpool.

The 24-year-old summer signing from Heerenveen made his sixth appearance of the season on Thursday as Brendan Rodgers' side edged out Anzhi Makhachkala in the UEFA Europa League.

He produced what was easily his best performance to date against the Russian outfit and hopes that he can now kick on after adjusting to the demands of life in England.

"I am very happy. We played very well and got the win," Assaidi told Liverpool's official website.

"Anzhi are a difficult side, but we did well and everyone is very happy.

"It was an important win to go top of the group. We did a good job and I'm delighted.

"I think I played well. I should have scored a goal, but I missed. I played the 90 minutes and I am very happy to do that and to have been given a chance by the coach.

"I think I am improving. Every day I am getting better and better. I am getting more physical and fitter and fitter. I'm delighted to be a part of this big club."

Wisdom Grateful To Team-Mates

Liverpool teenager Andre Wisdom has praised the club's senior players for helping him make the step up into the first team this season.

Brendan Rodgers' side claimed their first home win of the campaign against Reading last weekend with three teens in the starting line-up.

Winger Raheem Sterling, 17, has attracted most of the attention, and he demonstrated his vast promise again with the winning goal, but also playing a key role were 18-year-old midfielder Suso and 19-year-old full-back Wisdom.

Rodgers was keen Wisdom should not be overlooked in the praise for Sterling and, since making a goalscoring debut in the UEFA Europa League against Young Boys in September, the academy product has been virtually ever-present.

Injuries to Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique gave the teenager his chance in the Premier League, but he has grabbed it with both hands and it would be a surprise if he was not in the team again for the Merseyside derby against Everton on Sunday.

The youngster said: "It's been good making the step up. It's very competitive and hard but I think it's going well.

"With the players around me, the likes of Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson, it makes it that little bit easier because they're players with great amounts of experience and they pass it on to the young lads.

"It is difficult but that does really help, and it's important because to play in the Premier League you need more than just quality, you need to be mentally in tune as well.

"And that's hard when you're young because we're used to reserve-team football where you might get 50 people turn up to the game, so to go and play in front of 45,000 is a big shock."

The intensity is certain to be turned up another notch at Goodison Park this weekend, where Everton will be eager to build on their good start to the season with victory over their great rivals.

Wisdom is a Yorkshireman rather than a Liverpudlian but his aunt and uncle are Reds and he has experienced the occasion before, albeit as a spectator.

He said: "I've been to them and I can see the intensity and the fire in everyone's eyes. I've played in many reserve-team and youth-team derbies, and even in those the level of competitiveness is bigger than most games.

"It would be amazing to win. Everton have had a good start to the season but I think we have as well, even though the results haven't always gone our way. We just need to get the breakthrough, as we did last weekend.

"That's given the club a little lift and hopefully we can move forward and continue to keep our home record good as well as the away one.

"I think we should look forward and hopefully we can kick on by getting a few good results to help us up the table. But we just have to be patient. We're all willing to work hard and we all want the same thing, and that's to win games."

Shelvey Won’t Change His Style

Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey has spoken out about his row with Alex Ferguson but insists he won’t change the style of play that saw him given a red card in last month’s clash with Manchester United.

“I'd seen him (Ferguson) in the fourth official's ear after I made the tackle so as I was walking off I said: 'It's your fault I got sent off,” Shelvey told Sky Sports.

"I still stand by my decision that I wasn't going to pull out of that tackle. If I had pulled out I would have hurt myself and the fans would have gone mental."

"I knew I was in the wrong and then afterwards, as I was walking down the tunnel with my mate and his girlfriend, Ferguson was walking towards me. I just pulled him and apologized for what I had done.

"I said I was wrong and frustrated, I'm a young boy and emotions had got the better of me. But I told him I wouldn't have pulled out of the tackle if it was there. He said it was fine, that it takes a man to apologize, it was an emotional game and there are no hard feelings."

"My dad brought me up to respect people but if you have your opinion and feel you're in the right, not to be afraid to say it. I think that counts in all aspects of life. You have to fear no one - except for our manager here.

"It is about wanting to be a winner and a lot of games can be won on who wants it the most. I still stand by my decision that I wasn't going to pull out of that tackle. If I had pulled out I would have hurt myself and the fans would have gone mental."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool v. Anzhi

Europa League action is back underway, with Liverpool capping off the first round of group play by hosting Russian Premier League leaders Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday night at Anfield.

A European night at Anfield and a Merseyside derby make for an exciting four-day stretch, and the importance of Thursday's date with Anzhi--joint top with Udinese, one point ahead of Liverpool--hopefully creates an atmosphere of urgency and excitement. We knew coming in that Liverpool were going to be tested in one of the more challenging groups of the competition, and Thursday night kicks off a month that will determine whether or not Liverpool will be playing European football past the first week of December.

Their approach to the competition has been mixed, with periods of droll, listless performances sprinkled among a string of positive results--the terrible twenty minutes in the second half against Udinese condemned Liverpool to their first defeat in the competition, the only time they haven't won aside from the 1-1 draw with Hearts in the second leg of the final qualifying tie. Complete performances from Liverpool have been few and far between this season, but if they can manage to put together the encouraging pieces we've witnessed in their last two outings, there's no reason to believe that they can't wrap up tomorrow in one of the top two spots of Group A.

If they can't manage to produce on Thursday could make for a long evening; Anzhi are the most impressive and successful opponent Liverpool will have faced in the Europa League, entering Thursday night's match with an impressive resume in the competition and a two-point lead in the Russian Premier League. They've only conceded one goal in Europe, an injury time equalizer by Antonio Di Natale in Italy in the first match of group play. Aside from that they've outscored the opposition 17-0, with 11 of those goals coming with Anzhi as the away side. It may be their first-ever appearance in the group stage of a UEFA competition, but on form they're among the strongest teams in the competition.

There's a litany of familiar Premier League faces for Anzhi, starting on the touchline with former Chelsea caretaker Guus Hiddink and extending into the squad with Yuri Zhirkov, Christopher Samba, and Lassana Diarra (who's a doubt with an injury) all starting each of the first two matches in group play. Samuel Eto'o will likely start up top after getting a brace against Young Boys last time out; the Cameroonian striker has seven goals in league and will be supported by Lacina Traore, the tall striker who's scored six of his own in Anzhi's league campaign.

Absentees for Thursday are largely the same as the weekend--Pepe Reina was confirmed as unavailable, and Fabio Borini, Martin Kelly, and Lucas all continue to be ruled out with no concrete return dates. No other concerns emerged from the Reading victory, but with the derby on Sunday it wouldn't be too surprising to see a handful of key names left out.

Reina's absence seems to make for a fairly straightforward selection of Brad Jones, even if third-choice Peter Gulacsi has continued to build off his impressive showings in the preseason. In front of goal it's easy enough to pick the central defensive pairing, with Sebastian Coates and Jamie Carragher the back-up pairing for cup competition. On either side we could see the original academy breakthroughs; Jack Robinson might be nudged out in favor of Jose Enrique, who impressed in a brief cameo on Saturday, but there's a good chance he features on the opposite side of Glen Johnson, who likely starts again with Jon Flanagan's fitness status unknown.

Unless Conor Coady ascends the ranks quickly, we're going to see one of Joe Allen, Steven Gerrard, or Nuri Sahin, and Allen seems the most likely. Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson both got minutes on Saturday, with the former playing a decent chunk of the second half and the latter on to see the match out. Both should start on Thursday and play a large role; this is a midfield three that really excites, and one that was very, very impressive in the first half against Udinese.

Both Stewart Downing and Oussama Assaidi seem in line for a start unless Rodgers opts to go very young, as I would think that Samed Yesil is one of the only options in the middle. Luis Suarez very well could start again, but after a busy international "break" and an active but frustrating 90 minutes over the weekend, a rest should be on the cards, especially with such a busy end to the year on tap. Dani Pacheco, Adam Morgan, and Joe Cole could all be in the mix as well, and Raheem Sterling and Suso could make substitute appearances if needed.

Pascoe: No Derby Distraction

Liverpool assistant boss Colin Pascoe insists the players will not be distracted by the upcoming Merseyside derby as they prepare to face Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday.

The Reds will slip nine points behind Everton in the Premier League if they are beaten by their local rivals at Goodison Park on Sunday, but firstly they will try to get their Europa League campaign back on track.

Liverpool is third in Group A after the 3-2 defeat by Udinese in their last fixture and Pascoe says the Reds are focusing their efforts on toppling leaders Anzhi at Anfield.

"With the next game, it is always the same," Pascoe said. "The boys are looking forward to Anzhi.

"Everton against Liverpool is a massive game, but it hasn't been talked about and isn't being thought about at the moment.

"We are thinking just purely about the game on Thursday."

The Merseysiders will be without goalkeeper Jose Reina, who is struggling with a hamstring problem, and Pascoe admits it is touch and go whether he will be fit enough to face Everton.

"We are not quite sure at the moment," he said. "Hopefully not too long. He is doing his rehab at the moment and is working hard in training.

"So we will just have to assess him over the weekend and we will see then."

Brad Jones will deputize for Reina and admits the Reds will have to keep a close eye on Anzhi's former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o.

"Obviously Eto'o is a fantastic player and has been for a number of years, playing at the top," he said.

"You know you are going to have to be on top of your game, but I have to do that every day with the likes of Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard anyway.

"It is just about making sure you concentrate and do the right things."

Liverpool Join The Race For Dutchman

Liverpool has reportedly joined the chase for Dutch forward Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who’s dwindling contract could see him become available at a cut price before January.

The striker is contracted to Bundesliga side Schalke, who will take on Arsenal on Wednesday evening, but continued delays in talks over a new contract have thrown his future at the club in severe doubt, with his current deal set to expire next summer.

Liverpool and any other club who possess an interest in the 29-year-old’s services would be able to begin negotiations regarding a pre-contract agreement as early as January, but Schalke may choose to cut their losses by that point if all hopes of agreeing on a new deal are extinguished, and listen to offers for Huntelaar.

The Daily Star reports that Brendan Rodgers has identified the Dutchman as a viable target. Rodgers is desperate to secure the services of at least one other forward as soon as the January transfer window opens to ease the burden on Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan is the club’s only fit striker following the news that Fabio Borini will be ruled out until the New Year.

Huntelaar carries a reputation as a fearsome goal poacher, particularly as Ajax’s leading man, where he plundered 76 goals in 92 appearances between 2006 and 2009. Subsequent moves to Real Madrid and AC Milan have proven to be less productive, although the Dutch international has rediscovered his scoring touch in the Bundesliga, where he was the league’s top scorer last campaign.

Chelsea has also been linked with a move for the Schalke striker in recent weeks, as his contract negotiations with the German club have continued to falter. Aside from Daniel Sturridge, who also looks to be eager to leave Stamford Bridge, the club are short on cover should Fernando Torres struggle with fitness.

Liverpool Eye Up Finland Under 21 Striker

Liverpool has got their eyes on HJK Helsinki’s Joel Pohjanpalo to solve their striking crisis.

Fabio Borini is out for three months and Andy Carroll is on-loan at West Ham United, making Luis Suarez their only fit first-team striker.

Pohjanpalo is only 18-years-old but has been tipped for a bright future outside of his home country.

He has also attracted interest from Borussia Monchengladbach of the Bundesliga following impressive performances in Finland’s top flight.

The Finland Under-21 international first appeared in Helsinki’s reserve ranks as a 16-year-old where he scored a record-breaking 33 league goals in 21 appearances.

He earned a new contract in December 2011 keeping him in the Finnish capital until 2015.

Brendan Rodgers tried to sign Pohjanpalo in the summer but the striker turned down a three-year contract with the Merseyside club.

Liverpool has also failed in their bid to sign Hamburg striker Son Heung-min.