Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Manchester City

A trip to Wembley and Liverpool’s first cup final in nearly five years are on the line on Wednesday, with Manchester City heading to Anfield for the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. Liverpool have a 1-0 advantage from the first leg after a Steven Gerrard penalty capped a dominant opening spell for Kenny Dalglish’s squad, but there’s little illusion that they’ll be able to coast into the final, with City more than capable of turning the tie over.

Thankfully there’s not a whole lot of time left to rehash the weekend’s failings, with any prolonged misery interrupted by a match that carries with it stakes, at least from a practical standpoint, that are higher than anything the club’s been involved in since the Europa League tie with Atletico Madrid just under two years ago. So sure, it’s the League Cup, but it’s also a match with some gravity to it at a time the club find themselves in desperate need of something to be positive about.

That it comes against the current league leaders adds to the challenge, particularly when considering that, after a frustrating finish to the match two weeks ago, they’ll be more than ready to press Liverpool relentlessly. They’ve rebounded nicely from the defeat in the first leg, getting past a plucky Wigan side 1-0 before beating Spurs 3-2 on a Mario Balotelli penalty in the final minutes of injury time on Sunday.

As Noel mentioned earlier, however, they’re likely to be without the match-winner on Wednesday, as the FA decided to pursue charges against him for Cobra Kai’ing Scott Parker’s face. Quotes from assistant David Platt indicate the club won’t dispute the retroactive red, which means the ban starts immediately. But as was the case in the first leg, there’s no lack of quality in the rest of the available personnel, even if they’re still missing the Toure brothers to the Africa Cup of Nations and Vincent Kompany in the last of his four-match ban. That leaves their defense as the main question mark, as Stefan Savic had a torrid time in the first leg and looks in line for another appearance on Wednesday.

Gerrard Keen To Finish The Job

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard wants to maintain focus ahead of Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final second leg - by banning talk of Wembley.

The Reds hold a 1-0 lead over Manchester City from the first leg and are favourites to progress ahead of the return game at Anfield, but Gerrard insists the team must prepare correctly.

Kenny Dalglish's side go into the tie after a woeful 3-1 defeat at Bolton on Saturday, leading some to conclude the team were already looking ahead to the big cup games this week.

Liverpool face Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday but Gerrard believes looking past Manchester City could be costly.

"(Wembley talk) has got to be banned because we haven't made it there yet," said the England international.

"Of course it enters your mind and you dream about it; that helps when it comes to motivation.

"But I don't think any of our players will be getting carried away or thinking we've already done the job.

"We know this is a big game and a tough game."

Liverpool have not won a trophy since lifting the 2006 FA Cup but Gerrard has plenty of big game experience of two-legged ties himself having won Champions League semi-finals in 2005 and 2007.

"I think experience is important, it always is," he told the official matchday program.

"Especially when you have a lead in such an important two-legged fixture.

"We need to play to our maximum. We need every player to turn up and play well to qualify.

"We need to ignore the scoreline and go into this game trying to win it. I think if we're too negative and try to just protect the lead it could be very dangerous."

Kenny - Reds Must Lift Fans

Kenny Dalglish insists Liverpool will give everything against Manchester City to get the fans back on side following Saturday's deflating defeat.

The Reds put in a woeful performance against Premier League strugglers Bolton at the weekend, going down 3-1 at the Reebok Stadium.

They have a chance to redeem themselves when they host leaders City at Anfield on Wednesday in the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final, having established a 1-0 lead at Ethiad Stadium last time out.

Manager Dalglish has vowed his players will work hard to ensure Reds supporters are celebrating by the final whistle.

"Hopefully it will be a fantastic occasion for everyone," he told Liverpool's official website.

"The punters will be turning up, there'll be loads of support for us but we need to do something that's going to get the supporters on our side. We can't always leave it for them to lift us, sometimes we need to lift them.

"We can't take it for granted that the fans are going to be there. We should never assume we're going to get the fantastic support that we do - we've got to earn that.

"They've got to see that we're up to put in a tremendous effort on Wednesday night to get a result for the club."

Liverpool are just 90 minutes away from a first Wembley appearance since 1996 but Dalglish is refusing to get carried away.

He added: "Let's not be running away with ourselves, let's make sure we get the hard work done first."

The Reds' poor display against Bolton prompted Dalglish to publicly criticise his players for the first time since returning as manager just over a year ago.

The Scot feels he was justified in his comments, adding: "I think what was said had to be said. At the end of the day I don't think anyone can object to the fact that we never played anything like we're capable of playing.

"In the past we've rightly praised them when they've deserved it, we've given them plaudits when we've done well and we've congratulated them for the way they've gone about their work.

"When you've been critical it doesn't mean to say you're getting any pleasure from it because at the end of the day we're all in it together. It's not the coaching staff and the players, it's everybody."

Liverpool Have Moved On

Liverpool first-team coach Steve Clarke believes the club has collectively accepted the consequences of defeat to Bolton and has already moved on from the misery.

Kenny Dalglish's men were last weekend embarrassed in a dire 3-1 loss at the Reebok Stadium and the manager for the first time turned criticism onto his players.

The Scot accused his squad of lacking respect for Bolton and blamed them for being preoccupied with Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City.

This weekend's forthcoming FA Cup tie against Manchester United also acted as a distraction, according to Dalglish, who said some of his players' futures were under scrutiny.

But coach Clarke insists the fall-out from the Bolton defeat is now a thing of the past, as he said "There has been a line drawn under it as far as we are concerned.

"Hopefully we've put it to bed.

"We have spoken about the game, we know it wasn't a good performance, we accept that and we try to move on and improve in the future.

"We all have to sort it out together. When things are going well we all take the credit and when they don't go well we have to take the stick."

Liverpool Open Talks Over FC Groningen Striker David Texeira

Liverpool have opened talks with FC Groningen over exciting striker David Texeira, as manager Kenny Dalglish steps up his transfer activity in the closing stages of the window.

Dalglish had previously made buying a striker his top priority for January, with Luis Suarez missing for eight matches through suspension, and Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt struggling to find their feet this term.

The Reds boss has had a whole host of established options under consideration, but after being quoted fees in excess of £20 million for Aston Villa's Darren Bent and Valencia's Roberto Soldado, Dalglish has changed tact, and is now in search of a younger forward who would represent better value for money in the longer term.

Twente prospect Luuk de Jong is Liverpool's preferred target, but Dalglish is thought to be unsure about his suitability to life in England, and has instead moved for another promising Eredivisie prospect, Groningen's David Texeira.

The Uruguayan isn't 21 until next month, but Groningen have a good pedigree for finding quality strikers, having previously had the aforementioned Suarez and PSV forward Tim Matavz on their books, and Liverpool are keen to wrap up a deal now before other interested parties make their moves.

Texeira is valued at around £8 million by Liverpool, but former club Defensor Sporting are believed to have a sell on clause option in his contract, which entitles them to 20% of any fee received.

That means that Texeira could cost closer to £10 million, but the Reds' Director of Football Damien Comolli is hoping to knock them down considerably, during talks this week.

Liverpool are expected to try and sweeten the deal by offering Groningen a pre-season friendly, which would see former hero Suarez return to the Euroborg stadium in a potentially money-spinning run out.

Liverpool Eye Up Spanish Wing Option In Pablo Hernandez

Liverpool are eyeing Valencia winger Pablo Hernandez according to Madrid-based daily Marca.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish has kept his powder dry in the current transfer window, despite admitting that he has money to spend if he so chooses.

But his side’s recent poor performances are thought to have given the Scot pause for thought.

Liverpool have stuttered in recent weeks, drawing 0-0 at home to Stoke City two weeks ago, with Dalglish bemoaning a lack of creativity, and then going down 3-1 to a struggling Bolton Wanderers at the weekend – a performance which left the Scot fuming.

The Merseyside giants have been heavily linked with Real Madrid midfielder Esteban Granero, with a loan mooted. But Los Blancos boss Jose Mourinho has long stated that he wishes no one to arrive or depart the Bernabeu in the current window.

Valencia winger Hernandez would add real spark and intent to Liverpool’s wide play, allowing Dalglish to stretch the play and also potentially supplying out-of-sorts striker Andy Carroll with further precious service.

The 26-year-old is considered one of Valencia’s crown jewels however and has been increasingly key ever since David Villa and David Silva were sold by Los Che.

Hernandez is under contract at the Mestalla until 2014.

Reina Fears Liverpool Years Away From Title Tilt

Pepe Reina feels Liverpool are three years away from challenging for the title, with the keeper claiming they are paying the price for a lack of invention.

The Reds have spent huge sums in the past 12 months in a bid to make up ground on the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. They have shown signs of promise under Kenny Dalglish, but halfway through the season they are five points shy of the fourth place which would bring Champions League qualification.

Liverpool are a mammoth 18 points behind leaders City and Reina feels it will be some time before the Reds are in a position to push for the title.

"I think it will be two or three more years before we are ready to challenge for the Premier League or Champions League again," Reina told the Daily Mirror. "Hopefully it will be as soon as possible but we are within touching distance of the Carling Cup final.

"We have not won a trophy since 2006 and it is very important to the club to collect some silverware this season," Reina said ahead of the Carling Cup semi-final, second leg with Manchester City. "At Liverpool, winning trophies is vital and we have a great chance of doing that in the Carling Cup.

"Of course, we are still working hard to qualify for the Champions League next season but we know it will be difficult. Liverpool is a club that is used to winning."

Reina feels Dalglish has got Liverpool on an upward curve but claims they are lacking a bit of creative spark.

The Spain international said: "We are a good team, especially tactically, but perhaps we have lacked a little imagination to win enough matches.

"We have failed to finish off games and dropped points in matches Liverpool would expect to win.

"On our day, we are a match for any team and we have the players. But we must show more quality. This is what the history of Liverpool demands."

Rodolfo Ready For Direct Approach

Reserve coach Rodolfo Borrell believes Liverpool might be forced to adopt a more direct style of play as they look to overcome a physical Blackburn side at the Academy on Tuesday.

Rovers have yet to win a reserve game so far in 2011-12, but they did prove a tough nut to crack when the two sides shared the spoils in a goalless draw back in November.

Borrell insists his side have learned some lessons from that encounter.

"What we learnt was that maybe sometimes you cannot always play such beautiful football or such a good style and you have to mix it up sometimes depending who you play against," said Borrell.

With a NextGen quarter-final against Tottenham looming just a week away, Borrell's men will be looking for a confidence boosting victory from the game against Blackburn and the reserve coach knows it won't be easy.

"Blackburn is a very difficult fixture because they are a massive, physical side with some big and experienced players, like we faced in the first game," he said.

"They have a very direct style of football that is not ideal for us but we know we have to face these kinds of sides. We have to take the right approach and get ready for the game.

"It's not going to be easy. We had to give a massive performance - one of the best team performances - at Blackburn away to get just one point. We will have to do the same if we want to get something out of this game."

Borrell also spoke of his frustration after last week's clash with Manchester United was called off due to a frozen pitch at Chester's Exacta Stadium.

"We were building up the whole week and it was frustration when we were told the game was cancelled just two-and-a-half hours before the start of the game," he added.

"It is not only about the build-up, it is also in terms of motivation, in terms of the talking to the players; individually, collectively, trying to put them in the right focus and to make the right approach to the game.

"We must now put our work into practice against Blackburn."