Sunday, April 01, 2012

Match Preview: Newcastle vs Liverpool

Newcastle will welcome a number of familiar faces back to St James' Park on Sunday when fellow top-six chasers Liverpool arrive in the North East.

Kenny Dalglish, Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique are all set to take in a Premier League fixture on Tyneside for the first time since severing their respective ties with the Magpies.

Their presence will add extra spice to an occasion which already has plenty riding on it.

Newcastle head into the game sat level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea and only five adrift of the UEFA Champions League places.

Alan Pardew has been quick to play down talk of a top-four finish, but the Magpies have returned to form over recent weeks and remain very much in contention.

Their home form has helped to keep them among the frontrunners, with a six-match unbeaten run in front of their own supporters bringing four victories and two draws.

While the Magpies are flying high, Liverpool will be desperate to get their league campaign back on track this weekend.

Only rock-bottom Wolves (five) have picked up fewer points than the Reds (eight) in 2012.

They have lost five of their last six top flight fixtures, dropping them out of the race for a top-four finish, and have come unstuck in their last three on the road.

Liverpool have, however, won six of their last seven Premier League games with Newcastle and in Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard boast two goal-getters who relish playing against the Magpies - with Kuyt having netted five times in seven starts and Gerrard five times in his last five appearances against the North East outfit.

Ryan Taylor and Cheick Tiote are to make welcome returns to the Newcastle side on Sunday after shaking off knocks.

Taylor has been missing for two weeks with a calf complaint, while Tiote sat out last weekend's victory over West Brom with a hamstring problem.

Club captain Fabricio Coloccini misses out, though, as he picked up a hamstring injury at The Hawthorns.

Peter Lovenkrands (thigh), Leon Best (knee), Steven Taylor (Achilles) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) remain on the sidelines.

Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam will miss the trip to Tyneside as he must wait a fortnight for further assessment of a knee problem.

Dalglish is hopeful some of his other players will be fit to return, however, with defenders Glen Johnson (calf), Martin Kelly (ankle) and Daniel Agger (rib) all missing for last weekend's defeat to Wigan.

Midfielder Maxi Rodriguez has recovered from the illness which kept him out of the last game but forward Craig Bellamy (calf) has missed four successive matches.

Possible starting XIs
Newcastle: Krul, Simpson, Perch, Williamson, Santon, Ben Arfa, Tiote, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Cisse, Ba.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique, Henderson, Gerrard, Spearing, Downing, Carroll, Suarez.

Pardew Relishing Reds Test

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew is expecting 'fireworks' ahead of another epic battle with Liverpool on Sunday.

The 50-year-old began his rein at St James' Park with a 3-1 victory over the Reds in December 2010 but has also been on the receiving end of some painful results against the Merseyside club.

The FA Cup alone has provided a famous semi-final win over Liverpool as a Crystal Palace player as well as a heart-breaking final defeat as West Ham manager.

Newcastle and Liverpool are now set to battle it out in a crunch Premier League clash on Sunday.

"Liverpool brings out no middle ground for me," Pardew said.

"I have been beaten by them 9-0, I won a semi-final when they probably had the strongest team they have ever had and we should never have won.

"I was winning with 90 minutes on the clock in the FA Cup final and I was denied, and we should have won in extra-time, so that was another massive low.

"Then obviously, my first game here was a massive win, very, very important for my tenure and everything else that has gone on since.

"There is no middle ground, so expect fireworks either really negatively or really positively."

Newcastle go into the game eight points clear of the Merseyside club knowing a draw would be enough to cement sixth place.

Pardew admits though that his side has a long way to go before they can match Liverpool for silverware.

"They are a club steeped in a tradition of winning trophies, and they have won another one this year.

"We haven't got that tradition, unfortunately, and we need to try to gain it.

"But we have had a great season in the Premier League and we are trying to continue that on Sunday against what is a very talented team."

Pardew: Enrique Missed Bigger Picture

Alan Pardew says Jose Enrique failed to see the "bigger picture" when he left Newcastle for Liverpool last summer.

The defender made the move to what he felt was a bigger club, but finds himself returning to St James' Park on Sunday with Liverpool trailing the Magpies by eight points in the Premier League table.

Pardew says the Spaniard's exit was very different to that of Andy Carroll who also made the move to Anfield, albeit one transfer window before Enrique.

"When a player looks you in the eye and says he wants to go like Andy did, and the fee was what it was, there is no going back," the Magpies boss told Journal Live.

"Jose was different. I had many conversations with him and we couldn't even get down to finance.

"The scars of the previous regime were deep and he definitely wanted to go. Jonas (Gutierrez) and Colo (Fabricio Coloccini, Enrique's closest friends in the dressing room) have signed since and perhaps they weren't secure at the time.

"Maybe Jose felt it was all falling apart but sometimes there is a bigger picture. Sometimes players can't see that. Jose couldn't see it."

Liverpool Set To Beat Tottenham To Emmanuel Adebayor Deal

Tottenham look likely to end an impressive season on a miserable note by losing star striker Emmanuel Adebayor to Liverpool.

The Togo hitman has been on loan from Manchester City this season and has spearheaded a Spurs attack that has fired the club to within touching distance of a Champions League spot.

Spurs are keen to keep him at White Hart Lane on a permanent basis but, according to Caught Offside, may be about to pull out of a deal because of the player's excessive wage demands.

With Roberto Mancini blessed with an abundance of attacking talent at the Etihad Stadium, which will leave Adebayor looking for a new club.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish is known to be a fan and is ready to splash out on another striker this summer, to add to existing big-money purchases Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.

Adebayor has scored 11 times in 26 Premier League appearances for Spurs and offers a proven record of hitting the net – something the Anfield outfit have struggled to do during the current campaign.

Dalglish is also becoming increasingly concerned over Carroll and Suarez's inability to gel as a partnership and could turn to another player to bring a new dimension to the Liverpool attack.

Liverpool & Man City Ready To Enter Raul Albiol Transfer Race

Raul Albiol could be on his way to the Premier League in the summer transfer window after it emerged both Liverpool and Manchester City are interested in him.

The defender has struggled to hold down a first-team place since joining Real Madrid from Valencia in 2009 and looks certain to move on at the end of the season.

Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain have already indicated they are keen to land the 26-year-old, but they will face competition from major clubs across Europe, including City and Liverpool, reports the Sun.

City's backline has enjoyed a fine season, but centre-back is an area where Roberto Mancini's squad lacks depth.

Albiol could provide much-needed cover at the heart of defence, as well as in the holding midfield role. He would also add some Champions League experience to the Citizens team.

Liverpool's defence has also performed well this term, but Kenny Dalglish is keen to strengthen all areas of his squad in the summer.

Liverpool's defence has also performed well this term, but Kenny Dalglish is keen to strengthen all areas of his squad in the summer.

However, the Reds may struggle to attract the Spain international, as he looks set to receive offers from a number of Champions League clubs.

Kuyt Not Surprised By Criticism Aimed At Liverpool

Dirk Kuyt has revealed his lack of surprise at the criticism directed at Liverpool this season and insists the Reds should be contesting for a place in the Premier League's top four.

Liverpool sit seventh in table heading into the weekend fixtures, but could drop as low as ninth if results go against them.

Sixth-placed Newcastle, the Reds opponents on Sunday at the Sports Direct Arena, can go 12 points clear of the Anfield club with victory.

Despite being in the FA Cup semi-finals and winning the League Cup already this season, Kuyt admits that their league form has underlined a disappointing season.

Kuyt has accepted the criticism, he told reporters: "It [criticism] doesn't surprise me because Liverpool should always at least be in the top four or five.

"That is what we expect for ourselves and that is the pressure we put on ourselves because a club like Liverpool should always be there."

Kuyt admits he does not know how Liverpool managed to lose to Wigan at home and QPR away in recent weeks, despite being comfortable at parts in each game.

"Against Wigan it was just not good enough, there were too many players who did not find the form they normally do and suddenly you end up with no points.

"Against QPR we were cruising at 2-0 and we should have scored loads more and I still don't know how we lost."

Despite Dalglish maintaining otherwise, a run of five defeats in six league matches have all but ended Liverpool's challenge for a Champions League spot.

Damien Comolli Must Help Kenny Dalglish Sign Better Players

The premature post-mortem into the league campaign begins, and if criticizing a popular manager is too hard to stomach, there is usually an array of boardroom executives, owners or Liverpool players who are more convenient targets.

Nowadays, there is an even more vulnerable object of the fans’ ire: the director of football.

For those with no appetite to question the signings of Kenny Dalglish, shifting attention to Damien Comolli – a man with no historic or emotional ties to the Kop – is less provocative.

Each poor performance is followed by questions about his role, but the definition of Comolli’s position is clear. When Dalglish identifies a player he wants to sign, Comolli starts the negotiations to complete the deal.

That is how it worked last summer. If player contracts need extending, Comolli takes care of this. He has basically absorbed many responsibilities once associated with the chief executive.

There is now a distinction between the corporate and sporting aspects of how Liverpool are run, so you will not find anyone trying to agree a fee for a player one minute while trying to organize the ticket office the next.

Comolli is also entrusted with finding talent and bringing it to Dalglish’s attention.

There is a difference between a recommendation and a demand he sign someone. As yet, there is no player recruited under the new regime who the manager did not want. That will remain the case.

Equally, there will be an expectation this summer that Comolli shows evidence of the contacts and ability to spot a bargain that convinced Fenway Sports Group to make him their first appointment after taking charge.

Dalglish will anticipate his scouting department will supply a series of attainable names that will have him purring with excitement. This is where pressure on Comolli will justifiably intensify. Comolli believes his track record at Arsenal and Spurs demonstrates his ability to unearth talent. It must be said, there are those at both north London clubs who believe his contribution was significantly overplayed.

We are left to reach conclusions depending on the strength of each briefing, as in football credit is never apportioned fairly if it is a threat to one’s own self-interest.

If Comolli was the greatest talent spotter since Brian Epstein, his former clubs probably would not admit it, but it does not mean they are wrong in their mischievous whispers that FSG were sold a pup.

What is not disputed is Comolli oversaw many of the deals at White Hart Lane for players who have excelled since he left, but it needed the appointment of Harry Redknapp to get the best from them.

Liverpool’s form since their Carling Cup win triggers an alarming sense of déjà vu for Comolli. In February 2008, Juande Ramos’s Spurs side beat Chelsea in the League Cup final.

Of the subsequent 20 Premier League games, Spurs won just three, leading to the dismissal of Ramos, his assistant Gus Poyet and Comolli himself. After recommending Ramos’s appointment, Comolli had been warned he would be held accountable for failure.

Of the five Premier League games Liverpool have played since beating Cardiff, they have lost four. They head to Newcastle on Sunday, a club who have benefited from the French market you would expect Comolli to know best.

While there are those who will seek to drive a wedge between the director and the manager as sides are taken in the blame game, the fate of Comolli and Dalglish is united by a single factor which will decide their futures. They must identify and sign better players.

Reds Reward Social Academy Graduates

Unemployed people from the Wirral brushed up on their football coaching skills thanks to a ground-breaking project involving Liverpool FC.

The club teamed up with North Birkenhead Development Trust, BroBro Consulting, Diamond Soccer and Wirral Metropolitan College for the Social Academy program.

To celebrate the success of the project, the 13 Social Academy graduates, who all passed their Level 1 FA coaching badge, played a select XI from Liverpool FC including club legend Alan Kennedy and community coaches on March 29 at the Wyncote centre.

It was 2-1 at half-time to the Liverpool side and they went on to win 5-4.

Following the game there was lunch at the club's Bob Paisley suite, and a presentation event with certificates awarded to the 13 learners.

The Social Academy was co-ordinated from the St James Centre which is run by North Birkenhead Development Trust.

The objective of the Social Academy is to engage with long-term socially excluded people to provide them with the necessary skills to move towards the employment market.

The football coach education is provided by Liverpool FC and the Skills for Life education element by Wirral Metropolitan College.

Bill Bygroves, from Liverpool FC community department, said: "We are delighted once again to be supporting the Social Academy by delivering a football coaching program which over a number of years has been greatly appreciated."

Anna Barnish, Trust Manager at the St James Centre, said: "This was a fantastic opportunity for local unemployed people to receive coach education from one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

"We hope that we can work with the learners and develop them into community coaches and help them move towards employment."

Richard Brown, from the Social Academy, said: "The first Social Academy that was run from Wirral was a great success and will build on the successes we have delivered across Liverpool and Manchester.

"Linking education with football has worked exceptionally well and we hope to continue running the project and expanding the service that we offer."