Saturday, April 07, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Aston Villa

Liverpool play host to Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday with both sides desperate for all three points.

The Reds are looking to arrest a horrible run of form, which has seen them lose six of their last seven Premier League matches to culminate in them dropping to eighth spot in the table.

Villa are also in need of a morale-boosting victory as they are nervously looking over their shoulders in the battle to stay up, with Alex McLeish's troops sitting just five points above the drop zone.

Liverpool go into the game without No.1 goalkeeper Pepe Reina following his sending off against Newcastle last weekend.

Summer signing Alexander Doni is in line to make his belated debut for the club as Reina's replacement with Brad Jones set to provide cover on the bench.

Defensive trio Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly are still working their way back to fitness and are set to miss out again.

Charlie Adam remains sidelined with a knee ligament problem, while long-term absentee Lucas is continuing his rehabilitation from his cruciate knee injury

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish could restore Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson to the starting line-up after being named on the bench at Newcastle.

Villa could be boosted by the return of full-back Alan Hutton after he missed last weekend's defeat to Chelsea with a calf problem.

Young striker Andreas Weimann, who made his first league start against Chelsea, is doubtful with an ankle injury suffered during that game.

Charles N'Zogbia is making good progress on his knee injury, but the trip to Anfield could come too soon for the Frenchman.

Gabriel Agbonlahor will captain Villa in the absence of Stiliyan Petrov as he begins his treatment on his leukaemia condition.

With Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar both sidelined Nathan Baker is set to continue in central defence alongside James Collins.

Darren Bent is out for the rest of the season with his ankle injury, while Fabian Delph remains unavailable with an ankle problem.

Possible starting XIs:
Liverpool: Doni, Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique, Henderson, Gerrard, Spearing, Downing, Bellamy, Suarez.

Aston Villa: Given, Hutton, Baker, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Herd, Gardner, Ireland, Agbonlahor, Heskey.

Dalglish Ready For challenge

Kenny Dalglish reckons guiding Liverpool back to the summit of European football will not be an easy task - but he is not afraid of the challenge.

Dalglish is regarded as the club's greatest ever player and earned a long list of honours during his playing days.

This also continued in his first stint as manager at the club but the decline since he left has been hard to arrest, with the club's last league title coming 22 years ago when he was boss.

Manchester United has since gone on to become the dominant force in the game and has seemingly claimed league titles at will.

Their rivals Manchester City are now serious contenders after their lavish spending spree and Tottenham have also emerged as a club with title aspirations.

Liverpool has missed out on the UEFA Champions League for the last two years and their present slump has evaporated all hopes of a late run to qualify for this competition.

Under Dalglish, they are now eighth in the table and are in the midst of their worst run since 1953, 16 points adrift of fourth place.

"It is always difficult to get back to where they were because they were so high up," said Dalglish.

"But it (the method for success) has not changed too much really - it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of effort.

"We have good players who can get there but you need confidence and belief in yourself and you need a bit of luck.

"We can work as hard as we possibly can and if we do our side of it then at least we can look at ourselves and say we had a right go at it.

"At every football club it is [about] hard work but I can't believe how hard work is a bonus for people.

"I think that was taken as given that you work hard; so for us we'll work hard because you get nothing if you don't.

"These lads are genuine and honest and they have worked really hard to get any success they have had.

"We just have to keep on going and believing and try to keep our confidence up that the hard work will be rewarded eventually."

Gerrard Pleads For Patience

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has called on the club's fans to be patient as the team look to end their slump in form.

The Reds are mired in their worst run in over 50 years after suffering six defeats in seven Premier League matches.

The displays of Kenny Dalglish's men has led to criticism from disgruntled supporters after seeing the side slip down to eighth spot in the table behind local rivals Everton.

Although Gerrard accepts their current spell is far from what is expected, he believes they will come out the other side and be better in the longer-term.

"There are a lot of challenges ahead this season. I'd ask the supporters to be patient; we will get it right," Gerrard told the club's official website.

"We have had a mixed March. We're in a league position we're not happy about and we need to look at ourselves and try to move up the league as soon as possible."

Gerrard was named the club's player of the month on the back of becoming the first scorer of a hat-trick in the Merseyside derby for almost 30 years.

And while he is grateful for the recognition, he knows unless the team improves individual awards will count for little.

"It's always nice to be rewarded for personal achievements, but from day one I have always said it's about the team," added Gerrard.

"It's nice as a player to know you're doing your job properly. Now I need to help the team to improve and become more consistent.

"The Everton game was obviously a highlight for me in March. It was a great team performance but besides that there weren't many highlights.

"Let's hope April has many more and that we can climb up the table and get to the FA Cup final.

"Although we have been inconsistent in the league we have shown we are a stronger squad and can beat anyone."

Kuyt Wants Liverpool Stay

Dirk Kuyt's agent has moved to play down reports linking the Liverpool striker with a move to Roma.

The 31-year-old has been a bit-part player under Kenny Dalglish this term, starting just 19 games, and there are rumours his six-year association with the club could soon be over.

Kuyt helped Liverpool win the Carling Cup this term with a timely goal after coming on as a substitute in the final.

Roma have been linked with the Dutch striker and also his former club Feyenoord in Holland, but the player's adviser insists he would ideally like to remain on Merseyside.

"He would prefer to stay at Liverpool," Rob Jansen told Algemeen Dagblad.

"If that is not possible there is a big possibility that he would decide to choose a new foreign adventure.

"If he did ever return to the Netherlands, then it would 100% be for Feyenoord. I am going to Liverpool in the next 10 days to talk to them about Kuyt."

Liverpool Alerted As Argentinean Midfielder Is Made Available

Liverpool is expected to fight it out over midfielder Lucas Biglia, after reports in Belgium claimed that Anderlecht are ready to sell the star.

According to TalkSport, reports in Belgian publication La Derniere Heure claim that the club is willing to listen to offers for the 26 year-old, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League for a number of weeks.

Liverpool are rumoured to be interested in signing the Argentinean after struggling to find consistent league form this season.

Anderlecht bosses are thought to be willing to part with the defensive midfielder for an estimated £15 million, but could well enact a bidding war for the sought after player, with suggestions that both Fiorentina and Roma are monitoring his availability.

Biglia, who has played for the Argentinean national side six times, joined Anderlecht in 2006 after switching from Primera Division side Independiente.

Roma Reject Suarez Links

Roma have played down speculation that they are lining up a move for Liverpool ace Luis Suarez.

Recent reports emanating from Italy have suggested Suarez was on Roma's list of summer transfer targets as they look to bolster their attacking options.

Suarez's future at Anfield has been the subject of conjecture in the wake of his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra earlier this season.

Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini has moved to cool rumours of a move for Suarez insisting there have been no talks with Liverpool about the Uruguayan.

"There is no negotiation going on for Suarez," Sabatini told Radio Mana Mana.

"Even though he's had a few problems recently, he's a really strong player but these are only transfer rumours."

Sabatini also dismissed talk linking the Giallorossi with Genoa's Rodrigo Palacio.

"Palacio? We are satisfied with the attackers that we already have in the squad. We have other priorities," added Sabatini.

Liverpool Lack Self-Belief

Kenny Dalglish hopes Liverpool can get by with a little help from their friends amid a crisis of confidence.

Ahead of Saturday's visit of Aston Villa to Anfield, the Carling Cup winners have slumped down the Premier League table after a dreadful run of just four points from a potential 24.

If their wretched form continues, FA Cup semi-finalists Liverpool are in danger of finishing the season in the bottom half of the table.

That would be inexcusable after last summer spending more than £50million and Dalglish hopes his squad can rediscover some self-belief with the backing of fans.

"It's really important to be supportive of each other," the Liverpool boss told their official website. "There's not one faction of the football club that's more important than the other. We can all help each other.

"We can help the punters by putting on a good performance and getting a good result. They can help us by giving us good support and encouragement that helps the players.

"I'm sure we'll get fantastic support on Saturday and that's when we really need them.

"When you think of the quality of the players we have got, and you say they maybe lack a bit of confidence or belief, you say that can't be right, because they are great players.

"But confidence and belief is a huge thing. It doesn't matter how good you are, that's still a large proportion of where your performance comes from.

"If they are confident and they have the belief, it's going to be helpful. And if they feel other people have the belief in them, that's going to help as well.

"It seems strange when you talk about players of really high quality having taken a wee confidence knock, but that's a fact of life."

Lucas Continues On Road To Recovery

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva is confident he’ll return to action stronger than ever next season after a frustrating spell on the sidelines.

The Brazilian international damaged anterior cruciate ligaments in his knee, stretchered off during the Reds’ 2-0 win away at Chelsea in the League Cup.

After returning home for the early stages of rehabilitation, Lucas was back at the club’s Melwood training ground at the turn of the year, and is now confident things are moving in the right direction as he looks to return in August for the 2012/13 campaign.

"It's going well. The knee has responded very well after surgery," Lucas told Liverpool’s official website.

"There's still a long way to go, but everything is going as planned and the doctors are very happy with my progress."

Whilst the former Gremio star admits life has been hard off the pitch, he’s continued to stay involved in first team activities, with colleagues helping to keep the 25-year-old’s spirits high during a difficult period.

"At the home games, I am always involved. I haven't missed one. It's important. On a daily basis here at Melwood, I think it's important to be around and try to send my team-mates a positive message and help in any way I can - and I am always there at Anfield to support them,” he continued.

"It's my first injury since I came to Liverpool, so it's a bit frustrating because I would like to be on the pitch and help my team-mates."

It’s not just the players who have supported Lucas through these tough times though, with the Reds’ loyal supporters showing their affection to last season’s fans’ player of the year through social networking site Twitter.

Signed by Rafa Benitez, the player originally took time to settle into Premier League life, but is now a firm favourite with everyone connected to the Anfield outfit.

"It's been a mix of everything - supporters, team-mates, doctors and my family," Lucas concluded.

"Everyone has pulled together and it's made a big difference for me. The messages I have received, especially on Twitter, have been very good and they keep me positive and strong to recover."