Saturday, January 21, 2012

Match Preview: Bolton vs Liverpool

Liverpool travel to Bolton on Saturday evening well aware anything less than three points at the Reebok Stadium will cast serious doubts over their already flagging top-four ambitions.

A seventh Premier League draw of the season at Anfield in last weekend's dire stalemate against Stoke has left the 18-time champions of England five points adrift of fourth place.

And should Kenny Dalglish's team fail to win at a relegation-threatened Bolton, who have themselves been wretched at home in 2011/12, the pressure will mount.

Owen Coyle's team have incredibly lost eight times out of 10 league games at the Reebok Stadium and have conceded 24 goals in that time to leave them 19th in the table.

But a rare win over Liverpool could lift Bolton, who has sold Gary Cahill to Chelsea since their last league game, out of the relegation zone if results elsewhere go their way, given that they only trail 16th-placed Wolves by two points.

Ominously for Bolton, though, Liverpool have won the last 10 Premier League games between the two clubs, including in August a comprehensive 3-1 victory at Anfield and last season a late 1-0 success at the Reebok Stadium.

David Ngog is set to face former club Liverpool for the first time since his £4million summer move.

The striker is likely to replace Kevin Davies, who scored in Tuesday's FA Cup third-round replay win over Macclesfield.

Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen has returned to training after a thigh injury, although the Finn is not expected to be ready to start.

Midfielder Jay Spearing faces a late fitness test for Liverpool after the 23-year-old missed the game against Stoke with a hamstring injury.

Centre-back Daniel Agger is set to return after being rested, which could mean Jamie Carragher loses his place after his first league start in over two months.

Striker Luis Suarez is still suspended and serves the fifth match of his eight-game ban for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

Possible starting XIs

Bolton: Bogdan, Steinsson, Knight, Wheater, Ricketts, Eagles, Petrov, Reo-Coker, M.Davies, Muamba, Ngog.

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

Reina Sets Priorities

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina has urged his team-mates to put thoughts of cup showdowns with the two Manchester clubs to the back of their minds ahead of Saturday's trip to Bolton.

The Reds are just 90 minutes away from their first final in six years - and a first visit to Wembley since 1996 - as they hold a 1-0 lead going into Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final second leg at home to Manchester City.

After that there is more knockout action when they host arch-rivals Manchester United in the fourth round of the FA Cup in what is bound to be a heated affair in the wake of the Luis Suarez affair.

However, it is the club's Premier League form which needs addressing after just one win from their last five matches, which has included frustrating draws at home to Blackburn and Stoke and away at Wigan.

And while the lure of silverware is an obvious one for the players, Reina insists the focus has to be on arresting a slide which has seen them drop to seventh in the table, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

"We know how huge it is to play a Carling Cup semi-final, second leg at home and everybody knows how big the tie against Manchester United is going to be," the Spanish goalkeeper told Liverpool's official website.

"It definitely won't be difficult to put those games to the back of our minds, because the first game is Bolton and is therefore the most important of all three.

"It is vital for us. We have to get some momentum going and keep winning games.

"It's important not to lose - but it's even bigger to win the games and get three points after three points."

Last weekend's goalless draw to Stoke - the seventh time they have been held at Anfield this season - was possibly the most disappointing performance of the campaign.

Liverpool has had problems with converting chances at home, but against the Potters they struggled to even create opportunities.

"It's always frustrating when you don't win at home, but that has been the case so many times this season and it is disappointing, because we want to win," added Reina.

Liverpool's away form has brought them more victories (five), but they have also lost four and scored only 10 goals in as many games, so even though relegation-threatened Bolton have been struggling, Reina knows there is no room for complacency.

"There is a lot at stake for them, but it is a great opportunity for us, because they need to win, so the game will be more open.

"Any team on its day is always going to give you a game, so we need to try to focus on ourselves. If we deliver and perform to our level, we should be okay."

Adam - Euro Hunt Still On

Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam insists the club remain in the hunt for a UEFA Champions League spot despite dropping down to seventh in the Premier League.

The Reds were held to yet another home draw against Stoke last weekend, their seventh at Anfield so far this season.

Those dropped points mean the club have fallen out of the European places and are five points adrift of Chelsea in the final Champions League position.

When quizzed on whether Champions League qualification is still the club's main aim Adam told Sky Sports News Radio: "Of course it is, it's still there, there are plenty of points to play for, you never know what is going to happen.

"We have been disappointed with the results as well but that's expected, we are a new team gelling, it takes time but we'll do everything we can.

"For us it's trying to win every game and on the day it's not always happened for us.

"But we'll not stop working hard and keep doing the things that we know is right and trying to win as many matches as we can.

"The most important game is the next game, a difficult game away at Bolton, which we are looking forward to as we have to bounce back after last week."

On a personal level Adam revealed how quickly he has settled at the club following his big-money move from Blackpool and urged other young Scottish players to try and follow his lead in the English game.

"It's been great," he added. "When you join a new club sometimes it takes time to settle in but it's been easy for me with the players that we've got here, they have made me welcome and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

"Since I've walked into the door at this club I've enjoyed every minute.

"I've always been told to play with a smile on my face as I'm in a very fortunate position where I'm at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"For our national team manager I think he would expect his best players to be playing at the highest level, playing against the best players to improve.

"For me the Premier League is the best league in the world and it's a top league. Now you see the number of English clubs going to the Scottish market as they know the value for money is there.

"They don't have to pay over the odds for players but they're getting good quality for what they are paying for."

Dalglish - Bellamy Needs Care

Kenny Dalglish believes Craig Bellamy must be handled carefully if he is to avoid another serious injury.

The Wales striker is keen to play in every game he can, but the Liverpool boss feels a more restrained approach is needed.

Bellamy has made just nine starts in all competitions this season, but has come off the bench 11 times.

And the Reds boss will continue to adopt this approach for the rest of the season in hope of the striker avoiding another serious injury.

"Some players need greater management than others, but the players themselves have got to look after themselves," he said.

"Craig is fantastic in preparing for matches. I'm sure there's many others out there exactly the same - but he's really got a great knowledge of how you prepare.

"Some can go for longer, further, harder than others. We just want them to give themselves the best possible opportunity of performing as best they can.

"We can't run people into the ground, so we have to try and manage how they get on the pitch and how long they are on it.

"For the fitness side of it it's not fair on too many players at this stage of the season to be starting them every single game.

"Our goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, obviously, has started every one - but for the outfield players, it's difficult to get them through every game you play."

Milos Krasic Offered To Liverpool

Liverpool have been offered Serbia winger Milos Krasic by Juventus.

Krasic is not wanted by new Juve coach Antonio Conte and the Serie A giants have approached Liverpool because ex-boss Rafa Benitez showed interest in him.

Juventus have told the Reds they can have Krasic for the £12million they paid CSKA Moscow for him in 2010.

Liverpool are not interested in paying that much for Krasic, but they may consider taking him on loan.

Krasic, 27, was highly rated at CSKA and could boost the supply line to Andy Carroll from the right wing.

Juventus would prefer a straight cash deal to get Krasic off their wage bill and have circulated his name around Europe and to other Premier League clubs in the hope of finding a buyer.

Aziz Cuts Short Reds Trial

Sky Sports understands Swedish teenager Abdul Aziz has been forced to cut short his trial with Liverpool because of a heavy bout of flu.

Sky Sports revealed earlier this week how the 14-year-old from ISK Norkopping had been handed a two-week trial with the Reds.

Their scouts had sent back glowing reports to the Premier League club about Aziz's scoring exploits with his club and Under-15 national team.

However, the stocky striker who has been dubbed "baby Drogba" has not been able to display his full range of capabilities because of the bug.

Liverpool now hopes to re-arrange a trial with the teenager during the February half-term, having beaten off competition from both Manchester clubs to land him in the first place.

United, though, are believed to have already contacted the player who will also spend time on trial with them next month.

Kenny Dalglish will be loathe to lose out on such a highly-rated prospect to their north west rivals and is desperately trying to arrange another opportunity for him to return to the club.

Liverpool Expect To Earn £300m From Deal With Warrior Sports

Liverpool say they expect to earn a staggering £300m through their new six-year deal with the US sportswear company Warrior Sports, and have denied accusations that underachievement on the pitch led to the collapse of their current kit deal with Adidas.

Warrior, owned by New Balance, will become the club's kit supplier from June having agreed a £25m-a-year deal to enter the football industry for the first time. The £25m per year is a guaranteed figure for Liverpool, not performance-related, and eclipses the £23.5m-a-year deal that Manchester United have with Nike but are currently renegotiating.

With Warrior, Liverpool will control all non-branded merchandising – products outside the usual kit range – and are free to open club stores wherever they choose. That is not the case under Adidas, who control Liverpool's kit supply and the sale of non-branded merchandise, and the club believes they can double the £25m a year from Warrior when the current restrictions are lifted this summer.

Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, explained: "Our business is split in two. We have what you call kit, the branded products, the stuff the players wear, and that's the part of the business that the deal with Warrior covers. In our existing deal, there have been some restrictions on that in terms of the other unbranded products we sell, general retail. That sat within our deal with Adidas in certain lines and in certain markets.

"In our new deal, we have complete control of that. We will still work with Warrior, but we will have a much wider opportunity. That area of business currently represents 50% of everything we generate. The new deal represents half of what we currently generate, so we still have another opportunity to develop similar kind of revenues and that's what encouraged us."

Herbert Hainer, chief executive of Adidas, claimed the German company withdrew from negotiations to extend its six-year contract with Liverpool as: "We thought that what Liverpool were asking and what they were delivering was not in the right balance." Liverpool has, however, secured a £25m-a-year deal despite not qualifying for the Champions League for the past two years and Ayre insists the club's global appeal ensured Adidas's requirements were met.

"I'm happy that we delivered absolute value for a partner like Adidas and we will continue to deliver that value for Warrior," Ayre said. "We shared all the numbers with everybody we spoke to and I don't think it would surprise anyone to know that Liverpool are one of the biggest merchandising businesses in football and we wouldn't have had so many people interested if we didn't have a great business. We ran a very exciting process over 12 months. We worked very hard to speak to every major manufacturer in the sportswear category and we had winners and losers. Some people are very disappointed and some people are very happy."

Rather than taking a risk with a company unknown in football – Michigan-based Warrior were synonymous with lacrosse and hockey before last year becoming supplier to the Boston Red Sox, the baseball club that shares owners with Liverpool – Ayre believes the club will benefit as the company's main priority. That, it is suspected at Liverpool, has not always been the case with Adidas. Liverpool's MD added: "What really encouraged us is that this is their first foray into football and so we are their only customer and they will be very focused on Liverpool Football Club and promoting this opportunity around the world."

LFC Open Egypt Football Academy

Liverpool FC announced plans to open its first ever international football Academy in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

The groundbreaking venture, a first for Liverpool FC in the Middle East, was officially unveiled by Reds legend Ian Rush at a ceremony attended by media from all over the region.

The Academy, when it officially opens early next month, will have a permanent base in Madinaty, a new 33 million square metre ultra-modern extension city being built within New Cairo, with a supporting soccer school in nearby Al Rehab designed to help identify the best young footballing talent in Cairo.

For Managing Director Ian Ayre, who over the past two years has seen LFC team up with international partners to open soccer schools in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Cyprus, Indonesia, USA and St. Vincent in the Caribbean, this announcement demonstrates a genuine commitment to bringing supporters closer to the club, no matter where in the world they live.

"Our international football Academies connect fans around the world and provide young people with an opportunity to be trained by qualified coaches at an official Liverpool Football Club academy," says Ayre. "All of our Academies follow the operating model of our own academy here in Liverpool and we are excited about this latest addition in Egypt as it will also bring children together in local communities through football events and camps."

For Ian Rush, who over the past two years has travelled the world as Club Ambassador for the LFC International Football Academy Soccer schools, this latest project further illustrates the massive global appeal of Liverpool Football Club.

"This is a really exciting time for the club," insists Liverpool's record goalscorer, "because it's no longer just about what happens back home on Merseyside. We have millions of fans all over the world, particularly in Asia and over here in the Middle East, and while they can't all come over to Anfield to attend a match or see the first team play, we can now go to them.

"No matter where in the world you go, and I have been fortunate enough to travel more than most, you meet people who absolutely love Liverpool Football Club. Speaking to people over here in Cairo, the fans love more than just the football that's played on the pitch, they love everything about the club - the history, the fans and what the club stands for. If we can repay that support by coaching the next generation of football fans - the children of our supporters here in Egypt - then that's got to be a positive thing for everybody."

While Liverpool have provided the know-how into setting up and running the venture - Dave Riddler, a former LFC Academy coach and one-time team-mate of Rush in Wales, has recently moved to Cairo to head up the training program - the day-to-day running of the Academy will be looked after by Master Sports, a company with a long history of involvement in Egyptian professional football.

For Master Sports Managing Director Mohamed Hassan, himself a former professional footballer in Egypt whose career was sadly cut short by injury, joining forces with Liverpool is the culmination of a lifetime ambition.

"I started supporting Liverpool in the 1980s when we were the most successful club in the world," he says. "My friends were as passionate as I was but it was very difficult to find a place to watch the games live at that time in Cairo. It wasn't just the fact that we were winning trophies that appealed to me however. Liverpool's philosophy about what football should be about matched my own - to be excellent on the pitch, playing a passing game, but also to be modest off it. Even though they were the best, there was never any arrogance. The players were humble which is how I believe footballers should be.

"In terms of setting up a Liverpool Academy over here, it's something which I've wanted to do for a long time. I first approached the club about five years ago but I don't think the infrastructure at Liverpool was in place to make it happen but a lot has changed at Anfield and now I'm delighted to be able to say that this is the first LFC Academy in the Middle East.

"It's a real dream of mine to be able to work with Liverpool Football Club but more importantly, for me, it's a chance to help the young players in this country improve. There's a lot of very talented young kids in Egypt but they lack that little bit of extra tuition and guidance that Liverpool can help provide. With the right coaching I think we can develop young Egyptian players who can one day play for Liverpool. I know that sounds like a dream but I don't think it's an unrealistic one. Egypt won the African Cup of Nations in 2006, 2008 and 2010 so that proves this is a strong footballing nation. With Liverpool's help, we can help make the next generation of young players even better and that will be good for not just Egypt but Liverpool as well."