Saturday, January 14, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Stoke

Liverpool turn their attentions back to the Premier League this weekend when they welcome Stoke to Anfield after two games in the FA Cup and Carling Cup.

The Reds go into the clash boosted by the news that skipper Steven Gerrard has signed a new long-term deal which is likely to see him end his playing career at Anfield.

Liverpool, who sit in sixth spot in the table, know there is no room for error as they look to maintain their push to finish in the top four with Chelsea currently three points clear of them in fourth place.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is likely to stick to his strongest possible line-up after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Manchester City in the Carling Cup in midweek.

Jay Spearing is set to miss out after picking up a hamstring problem against City so Charlie Adam is likely to start in midfield after coming off the bench at the Etihad Stadium.

Jose Enrique is expected to return to the starting XI after starting the game in midweek on the bench, meaning Glen Johnson will revert to his normal right-back spot with Martin Kelly making way.

Luis Suarez remains absent for the home side as he serves the fourth match of his eight-game suspension, so Andy Carroll will get another chance to impress.

Stoke are looking to complete the double over Liverpool after recording a 1-0 win over the Reds at the Britannia Stadium earlier in the season.

Potters boss Tony Pulis has a number of defensive worries to contend with before finalising his side.

Jonathan Woodgate, Marc Wilson and Ryan Shotton all face late fitness tests as they look to shake off slight knocks.

Full-back Andy Wilkinson could return at the back having overcome his recent knee injury.

The likes of Thomas Sorensen, Matthew Etherington and Peter Crouch are set to be restored to the team after they were rested for last weekend's FA Cup victory at Gillingham.

Possible starting XIs:

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Adam, Gerrard, Downing, Henderson, Bellamy, Carroll.

Stoke: Sorensen, Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson, Pennant, Delap, Palacios, Etherington, Walters, Crouch.

Molby: Carroll Important Versus Stoke

Jan Molby believes Liverpool will face a different type of challenge to the one they overcame midweek against Manchester City when they meet Stoke at Anfield on Saturday.

The Dane, who made 292 appearances for the club, also believes Andy Carroll has an important part to play, both in attack and defensively, if the Reds are to take all three points.

"We all know what to expect. Stoke play very direct and take no prisoners," said Molby.

"They will go piling in and we must match them physically.

"We need a physical presence against Stoke and I think Andy Carroll will come in handy in both penalty boxes.

"It certainly won't be easy because after a tough start to the season, Tony Pulis’ side have really picked up over recent months."

Molby also reflected on Wednesday night's win at the Etihad stadium and hinted that Dalglish might look to shuffle his squad for the game against Pulis and co.

He said: "The City game will have taken a lot out of the players and I'd expect Kenny to make a few changes. After a big win, it's all about ensuring the players are mentally prepared to go again.

"Liverpool defended brilliantly against Manchester City and fully deserved their 1-0 lead to take into the second leg at Anfield.

"Having gone one in front, it was a natural reaction that we sat back a bit. It's a two-legged tie and there was no need for us to take risks.

"City had a lot of the ball in the second half but didn't really have any chances. It wasn't pretty with Liverpool playing so deep but Kenny got his tactics spot on."

As for the second leg, Molby is relishing the prospect of another special cup-night atmosphere at Anfield as Liverpool look to secure a trip to Wembley for the first time since 1996.

"There will be a full house and a great atmosphere. There won't be a spare seat and the place will be rocking," he said.

"Liverpool has taken the Carling Cup very seriously this season and winning it would be a reward for that. We're now in a great position to go all the way."

Liverpool Lead The Way For Highly Rated Teenager

Liverpool are reportedly leading the chase for Crystal Palace's highly-rated teenager Wilfried Zaha with the Daily Mail claiming Kenny Dalglish made a personal call to Dougie Freedman.

The newspaper claims the Reds manager contacted his Palace counterpart to express his interest and to discuss the 19-year-old's ability and character.

The Anfield club has been monitoring Zaha for the past 18 months and it appears they have stepped up their interest ahead of making a formal offer.

Zaha caught the eye last season with a string of impressive performances, but it has been this term where he appears to be fulfilling his huge potential, becoming a crucial part of the Palace attack and playing a key role in their progression to the Carling Cup semi-final.

The Mail also claim that Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has contacted Freedman with regards to the £10m-rated youngster, while Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is also thought to be an admirer.

Palace are reportedly expecting Liverpool to make a formal offer in the coming days and the Reds are considered the favourites for his signature.

Reds Sow Seeds For Striker Arrival At Anfield

Lille’s determination to sign Joe Cole on a permanent deal could see coveted striker Moussa Sow head in the opposite direction.

Anfield boss Kenny Dalglish has made no secret of his desire to strengthen his attack following a meagre return of 24 goals in 20 Barclays Premier League games this season.

Sow is keen to move to England and has been strongly linked with Arsenal and Tottenham, but reports in France say Liverpool have not entered the race for the 25-year-old.

Le Parisien say Cole, who is on loan at Lille, would join the French champions in part exchange for their Senegal striker, who is on duty with his country at the Africa Cup of Nations.

There is interest from Russia and Lille were also prepared to accept an £8.3million bid from Fenerbahce this winter, but Sow would prefer a move to England and his happy to wait until the end of the season.

The former Rennes striker - who has just 18 months left on his contract - has look distracted this season. He has scored 10 in 25 matches, but was much more prolific last season, when he struck 26 goals in 51 games.

Cole has enjoyed a new lease of life across the Channel and has expressed interest in making the move permanent.

The 30-year-old has played a part in most of Lille's games this season after initially being eased into action and has scored three league goals in 15 appearances.

Dalglish Expects Quiet Window

Kenny Dalglish admits he is in a position to be able to add to his Liverpool squad if required, but says he has no plans to dip into the market at present.

The Reds took in a busy summer on the transfer front, with a number of fresh faces brought into Anfield.

Dalglish is happy with the business he was able to carry out during that window, with Liverpool having returned to the top-four hunt in the Premier League this season.

With there no obvious areas in need of strengthening, the Scot feels it would be foolish to spend money for the sake of it.

He does have funds available should a suitable target become available, but for now the Reds boss is refusing to be drawn into the endless rounds of speculation which greet the opening of the January transfer window.

"We've got an option to be active if we want to be active, but we said at the outset that we'd be quiet," Dalglish told the club's official website.

"It's work in progress for us. We'll just keep doing what we're doing, and the boys will keep working as hard as they can, and we'll see where we go.

"If we needed somebody to bolster up, we could do it - but I said right at the outset, we don't.

"We're not really chasing after anybody that we want to bring in in January. We've been happy with what they (the players) have done since August."

He added: "I don't think it is unusual when we said at the start we would not be very busy. I think it's unusual when people try to invent things, get it horribly wrong and then ask us to justify it.

"We said right at the outset, if anything there will be very little (transfer activity). It's a wee bit disrespectful to us after trying to be honest and saying there might not be much, that we get accused of not being active."

Adam Targets Silverware

Charlie Adam is adamant that Liverpool can finally end their long wait for silverware by winning the Carling Cup in February.

The Reds produced a stoic defensive display in the second half as they overcame Premier League leaders Manchester City 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the semi-final, first-leg on Wednesday night.

The Anfield outfit has not won silverware since their FA Cup success against West Ham back in 2006 and has not appeared in a Wembley showpiece final for nearly 16 years.

However, they have never lost at home in 14 previous League Cup semi-finals and the Scotland international is keen to help instil a winning mentality back in the side.

Adam said: "This club should be winning trophies and it has been a number of years since it last won one.

"We want to try and win as many as we can. We are in a semi-final and we have an FA Cup game to come against Manchester United."

Adam remains hopeful that Kenny Dalglish's side can finish off the job against cash-rich City at Anfield on January 25th.

He added: "I think the tie is still open. It was only the second game they have lost at home this season, but it is still going to be difficult at Anfield.

"The clean sheet will give us confidence though, especially as we lost three goals the last time we went to City.

"It is nowhere near done. We have got 90 minutes of hard work, but we have terrific support behind us and Anfield will be rocking.

"It will be a great second leg and hopefully we can do the job."

Gerrard Targeting Another Deal

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has already set his sights on earning another contract at Anfield despite only just signing an extension.

On Thursday, the 31-year-old agreed a new deal which will keep him at the club until the end of his career - but the midfielder has not set a date on when that will be.

"I'm hoping to play beyond the length of this contract," he told the Liverpool Echo. "I'm feeling fit and strong and I want to play for as long as I can.

"I don't want to put any time frame on it. As long as I feel good and I'm performing at the top level I'll keep going.

"Hopefully over the next few years I'll earn another contract with my performances.

"But even if Liverpool doesn’t offer me another contract after this one I don't think I could play for anyone else. I've been at this club since I was eight and I'm living the dream."

Gerrard is sure to get a noisier-than-usual welcome when he leads the team out at home to Stoke on Saturday as Liverpool look to build on the positives of a midweek Carling Cup semi-final first leg victory over Manchester City, their second successive knockout win after defeating Oldham in the FA Cup a week ago.

The captain scored penalties in both those games but the Premier League now takes precedence and manager Kenny Dalglish is looking for his side to build on their last home success against Newcastle in late December having struggled at Anfield this season.

Kenny - Gerrard Could Be The Best

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish believes that club captain Steven Gerrard could continue playing well into his late 30s if he remains fit.

The England international midfielder, 31 at the moment, signed an extension to his existing deal on Thursday but has already said that he is looking to go beyond his current contract.

Gerrard's last year has been dogged by a groin problem which required surgery and then an ankle infection, and Dalglish admits that fitness will play a big part in his longevity.

"You have to wait and see how they get through injuries," said the Scot.

"(Manchester United winger Ryan) Giggs is 38, isn't he? That's seven years down the line - that's a long time to predict - but if he's fit there's no reason why not.

"I've not got a crystal ball. I'm just delighted he's done what he's done and we have got him here."

Dalglish is considered Liverpool's greatest player but the Reds boss believes that Gerrard must now come into the reckoning.

"I wouldn't disagree he has certainly made a huge contribution to the club but he wouldn't be far away from being mentioned as the best player," he enthused.

"It is not just what he does in and around the first team it is what he stands for at the football club as well - which is more important.

"His standing within the community is fantastic and the way he does other work happily is a great testimony to himself as well."