Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Match Preview: Blackburn vs Liverpool

Quick turnaround for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool as face relegation threatened Blackburn just a few days after their draw at Anfield with Aston Villa. Tuesday’s hosts sit 18th in the table, level on points with both QPR and Wigan and sandwiched in between the two clubs on goal differential. Three home wins since January and Liverpool’s recent record against…everyone should leave Steve Kean’s squad optimistic, though, in what’s a vital match for their survival hopes and hopefully an important momentum builder for Liverpool ahead of the weekend.

The uncomfortable truth to emerge from Saturday’s draw was that, despite how much we wished it wasn’t the case, Liverpool looked vastly improved from their more recent outings. It says more about just how bad they’ve been than it does about their ability to push further up the table—right now their biggest hope is that they can nudge ahead of Everton into 7th, and from there all they can do is try to hang on until season’s end for the bragging rights over their neighbors.

So Tuesday is another chance for Liverpool to show improvement, and regardless of how it turns out there’s bound to be some sort of negative reaction. Either they drop points and everyone points to how they’re still unable to find any consistency, or they win and everyone says that of course they should have won, it’s only Blackburn and etc. Which is fair, but it also ignores that this Liverpool side isn’t as good as we hoped they’d be, and progress is progress regardless of how proud we want to be.

On March 21st, Blackburn sat five points above the relegation zone (albeit with a game in hand over Bolton) after they’d won each of their last two—away to Wolves and home with Sunderland—by a 2-0 scoreline. Since then they’ve lost three straight, though, first to Bolton and then to Manchester United and West Brom. Their loss at the Hawthorns was the worst of the three, especially after they put up such a good fight against United, and left them in the bottom three yet again.

On Tuesday, Kean will be without Anthony Modeste, who picked up a red card in the loss to West Brom, as well as longer-term absentees Michel Salgado and Vincent Grella. Martin Olsson picked up a knock over the weekend and will be a late decision. Likely starters include Yakubu and Junior Hoilett in attack, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Jason Lowe and Steven N’Zonzi in the midfield, and Scott Dann, Grant Hanley, Brad Orr, and, if fit, Olsson lining up in front of Paul Robinson in goal.

Kenny Dalglish reported no new injury concerns after Saturday’s draw with Villa, leaving Lucas and Charlie Adam as the only confirmed absences. Lingering questions remain about the return dates for Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly, and Daniel Agger made the bench and had an impressive cameo late against Villa. Pepe Reina serves the second of his three-match ban.

If one of Kelly or Johnson is close, it would make more sense to give Jon Flanagan another start and rest one of them until the weekend. Flanagan has been solid in his last two starts and works his ass off, and with that in short supply recently he’s been fun to watch. Another start for Jamie Carragher might be likely, with Agger working his way back to match fitness and Sebastian Coates the clear fourth choice. If Fabio Aurelio’s fit it’d be great to see him in action, even if only for the twenty-odd minutes he’d stay healthy. Jose Enrique plows forward on his own, it seems, until there’s someone available to give him a badly-needed rest.

We saw Saturday that a pairing of Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson could work, but that’s with the cover and adaptability of Steven Gerrard further forward and wide. I still think they can make it serviceable despite neither being the strongest in the tackle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jay Spearing came back in for either one. Whatever’s done to avoid putting Jordan Henderson on the right, I’m in favor of—in this case, Stewart Downing on the right flank and Maxi on the left.

Luis Suarez is going to start, and Andy Carroll served his penance for his petulance during his Newcastle return. There have been plenty of stats about how much better Liverpool’s record has been with Carroll in the eleven, and also plenty of talk about the man mismanagement when it comes to the tall forward. That’s not to excuse his poor displays, but at some point he either needs to play consistently or head elsewhere. Craig Bellamy could feature, but with the semi-final looming in five days’ time, it’d make sense for him to start in London rather than Lancashire.

Liverpool’s form and place in the table is not good enough, full stop. And matches like Saturday’s and Tuesday’s are ones that the club should be winning, just as they should have won matches at QPR and at home with Wigan. The rallying cry has often been that they “haven’t gotten what they deserve,” which sounds nice and fits in isolation. But Liverpool mostly have been getting what they deserve this season, and it just so happens that what they deserve is disappointing draws and miserable losses. They haven’t applied themselves with any great urgency at any point this season, and the results have reflected that. We saw them start to do that a bit more on Saturday, and they’ll need to continue to do that if they want to see the season out on a high note.

Dalglish Demands Focus

Kenny Dalglish is confident Liverpool will be fully focused on facing Blackburn ahead of their FA Cup semi-final clash with Everton.

The Reds take on Rovers at Ewood Park in the Premier League on Tuesday before they face the Toffees at Wembley four days later.

Dalglish expects his players to be up for the game with Blackburn.

"We want to win every game we play in and we try to do that - it'll be no different on Tuesday night," said the Liverpool manager, whose team have won just twice in 2012 and taken only nine points from 13 matches.

"We need to get Tuesday done and dusted before we get ourselves and our minds focused on Saturday.

"The players are used to it. If you play for Liverpool Football Club, every game is a big game.

"I'm sure the boys who've come in who haven't grown up with it will probably realize that as well.

"This is a game we want to go and compete in and we want to go and win, and then Saturday will take care of itself."

The temptation, of course, would be to rest a number of players to give the side the best chance of reaching the FA Cup final, especially as Everton will have played their second Easter fixture 24 hours earlier.

But Dalglish insists there is no reason to do that with the time in between games, with the fixture list being kind to his side for once.

"We've been a wee bit more fortunate than some other teams. Some are playing Saturday-Monday. We're not too bad, Saturday-Tuesday," he added.

"It's tradition and they say that's what the supporters want to see. It's like the festive period.

"Everyone's in the same situation but it's just more difficult for the players, it doesn't give them the recovery time they need.

"But that's what the squad's there for and if you've got a good strong squad then you should be able to cope with it quite well.

"For us, we'll just have to wait and see what's come up from the game at the weekend and pick the team accordingly.

"I think for most teams who are playing it'll be a late shout."

There have been calls in recent weeks, after six defeats in seven games, for some of the club's talented youngsters to be given a run-out now there is nothing left to play for in the league.

Raheem Sterling, 17, made his first-team debut at home to Wigan at the end of last month but at the time Dalglish said it was more down to necessity than invention with a number of players injured.

And while Jon Flanagan, 19, has been deputizing at right-back and 20-year-old Jonjo Shelvey has started the last two matches, the Reds boss is in no hurry to throw in younger players when the team is struggling for results.

"The young boys came in last year, Flanno (Flanagan) and Jack Robinson was excellent," Dalglish told liverpoolfc.tv.

"Raheem came on (against Wigan), Jonjo has played and Jordan Henderson, 21, is still a young boy.

"But their reaction and response when they've come in has been a credit to themselves.

"At times it is unfair on young players to be thrown in before they're ready. We've got to look after that and we do.

"They'll get much more benefit out of it if we make the decision about when they should play, rather than being forced to play.

"We've been delighted with the progress they've made.

"We bring some of the other young boys from the Academy here (to Melwood) to train as well and that stands them in good stead if they ever have to be thrown in because they've seen the players every day and they've trained here."

Kean Eyes Reds Good Time

Blackburn boss Steve Kean hopes it will be a good time to play FA Cup semi-finalists Liverpool at Ewood Park on Tuesday.

Relegation-threatened Rovers meet the Reds in a crucial Premier League tie as they bid to end a run of three successive defeats which has sucked them back into the bottom three.

Liverpool have won only one of their last nine league games and Kean is hoping their focus is already starting to turn to Saturday's Wembley semi-final with arch-rivals Everton as they bid to lift two domestic cups this season.

The Blackburn boss said: "There is no reason why we can't go out and beat Liverpool. We've done it before last year. We played very well.

"Liverpool will have an eye on the FA Cup so us playing them now is a good time.

"It will be difficult for them not to think about the semi-final, so we will try to use that to our advantage.

"But they have got a very good squad, I have seen them live a number of times this season and they normally start the games very well and have had spells where they just haven't scored.

"Then their opponents have managed to get themselves in front and it has been difficult for them. But it hasn't been the case where they have played poorly."

Kean believes the strength of character in the Rovers dressing room will help them win the survival battle.

But he is demanding his players produce their best form for 90 minutes and knows they can ill afford a repeat of the lacklustre opening 45 minutes they turned in during Saturday's 3-0 defeat at West Brom.

He said: "We might have got away with having a bad result from this round of games because we've not lost any ground.

"We have got a very good dressing room with characters in it that want to win and stand up for each other and themselves.

"But we know we can play better than in the first half at West Brom. We need to make sure we analyse the reasons for that poor display and get back on song against Liverpool.

"We only need to go back to the last home game against Manchester United where straight away we were focused and on our game.

"We have to bring that to the players' attention and try and spark ourselves into life a lot quicker.

"If we can put the first 80 minutes against Manchester United and the first 20 minutes of the second half against West Brom together, and have an overall performance, we can certainly get a result.

"But there are going to be a lot of twists and turns in this relegation battle before anything is sorted."

Liverpool Open Negotiations For South American Ace

Liverpool has reportedly opened negotiations for the summer switch of Fiorentina midfielder Juan Manuel Vargas.

According to reports in the Sun, Liverpool have begun talks with the Serie A club over the potential switch of Vargas, who is also believed to be a target for German giants Bayern Munich.

The versatile Peruvian has indicated that he is ready to call time on his Fiorentina career, after enjoying four years in Florence.

The 28 year-old will be entering the final year of his contract at the end of the season, and with Fiorentina having already rejected an £8 million bid for the player, it appears as though Liverpool are in pole position to get their man.

Vargas can operate anywhere along the left flank, having initially started his career at Fiorentina as a full-back, before progressing to a more advanced position.

It is expected that Fiorentina will try and recoup some of the €12 million they paid Catania in 2008.

Agger: We Aren't Good Enough

Daniel Agger has admitted Liverpool is not good enough to be competing at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds slumped to a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Anfield to lose further ground to Newcastle and Chelsea and all but end any lingering hopes of making the Champions League.

The result means the Merseyside club has just one win in their last nine league games, and sits eighth in the table which would be their worst Premier League finish since 1994.

"We didn't score a winner," said Agger.

"Maybe that's because we aren't good enough.

"We had a lot of good chances, especially at the end. But we couldn't score the winner and that's the fact.

"It is a bit of everything; we are not playing well, we are not working the right way but we are trying everything we can and hopefully it will turn soon.

"We have to try to win every single game - especially at Anfield - but that has not happened the last few weeks and we have to turn it around.

"We play Blackburn on Tuesday and we have to do a bit better if we want a result there."

The defender also denied that the FA Cup semi-final clash with rivals Everton was proving a distraction.

"I don't think next weekend's game is in our heads now," he added.

"When you play for a club like this it doesn't matter if there is a trophy or not, there is always a lot to play for."

Agger's return to first team action after six weeks out with a cracked rib will be a welcome boost for the Reds.

The Danish international suffered the injury in the Carling Cup final and his absence was felt with Liverpool losing five of the six league games he missed.

"It is always nice to be out there," he said.

"It doesn't matter what sort of run (the team is on), it is always difficult watching from the sidelines.

"I should be used to it now (having had injury problems in the past) but it is difficult when you cannot do anything.

"I've only trained two times so it will be a week or two more before I'm fully fit."

Enrique: No One Is Safe In Team

Liverpool star Jose Enrique admits no one can assume their place in the team is secure when results have been as poor as they have this year.

The Reds have won just two league matches in 2012, taking only nine points from 13 matches, which has ended their hopes of Champions League qualification.

Enrique has started every league match except one this season but even his consistent form has dipped in recent weeks and he accepted that no player should be immune from being dropped.

"It has been difficult in the league and not just the last few weeks, the last few months," said the Spaniard, ahead of the trip to struggling Blackburn.

"Everyone can improve because when the team doesn't work in the league no one is safe.

"We are motivated because we know we are creating chances and doing well but the problem is we are not scoring many goals.

"In the league we know we have to finish as high as possible."

The major concern in their league form has come at Anfield, where they have won just five and drawn nine of 16 matches.

Enrique stressed that was the first point which needed to be addressed for next season.

"It is frustrating because at home teams who come here have to have fear because they play against Liverpool and we have dropped many points here," he added. "The important thing is we have to think that next season this cannot happen, we have to be stronger at home - and away too - but at home we have to get more points."

However, Enrique disagrees with the critics who claim Liverpool's season has been a poor one.

He won his first trophy since arriving in England in 2007, when he signed for Newcastle, in February's Carling Cup triumph over Cardiff.

That guaranteed Europa League football next season and with an FA Cup semi-final to come against Everton on Saturday the 26-year-old admits, from a personal point of view, his Reds career has begun well.

"The truth is we already have a cup in our pocket," said Enrique. "We wanted to play in the Champions League next season but that alternative is already finished.

"But we are in the Europa League next season and that is not that bad.

"It was not the target, because we wanted Champions League, but we have won a title and no one can say we have won nothing this season.

"Of course we are playing for another one (the FA Cup). It is important we take another one - two titles in one season would be amazing.

"I came here to win titles and to play for good things and I have one (trophy) and we play the Europa League, which I have never played.

"At the moment it is a great year for me but I want to play Champions League, this is the best."

Dalglish On The Brink

The prospect of Kenny Dalglish being sacked by Liverpool at the end of the season has become a real possibility, says The Times' Oliver Kay.

Despite his legendary status at Anfield, Dalglish has come under increasing pressure in recent months after a series of poor results in the league. Liverpool secured the Carling Cup and are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but Kay believes those achievements may not be enough to save his job.

Asked if he thought Dalglish could leave Anfield in the summer, Kay told the Sunday Supplement: "I would have been surprised a month ago or two months ago because everything seemed to be fine. But they have drifted completely in the league."

"They got to the Cup semi-final, won the Carling Cup, but their league results have been dire for the last couple of months and that is a real concern.”

"It is not a question of where they finish necessarily; it is a question of whether when you look at it you can see signs of progress. And on the last few months, certainly not.

"Their results over the calendar year would see them in the top four but if you look at it from the last two or three months then it would be the bottom three. So it's will the real Liverpool stand up.

"Is the real Liverpool the one that has done well in the cups and beaten some good teams or the one that has struggled in the league?"

How Kenny Dalglish Turned A Six-Game Losing Run Into Glory

Kenny Dalglish has described Liverpool's current form as the worst run he can remember as a manager, player and supporter.

But the Reds boss would do well to recall a dreadful six-game losing run he oversaw while in charge of Blackburn exactly 20 years ago.

The similarities are striking: Form that crumbled in March, big money signings failing to perform, and back page stories questioning whether 'King Kenny' could still cut it as a manager.

If Dalglish was to reflect on that run amid growing pressure at Liverpool he may find some reassurance at how quickly things can change.

The run ended with a draw, Liverpool's last result. Three years later, his team won the Premier League.

Now Dalglish's Liverpool has a chance to end their bad run at Ewood Park against Blackburn on Tuesday.

Blackburn record goalscorer Simon Garner, who was part of that 1991-92 squad, describes how Dalglish coped during such a bad run of form and what he did to turn it around.

"He left all the coaching to Ray Harford [his assistant manager] who was a very, very good coach. Kenny would come in with a smile on his face and have a laugh and a joke.

"Every Friday we would have five-a-sides and Kenny would play. We wouldn't stop playing until Kenny had won a game. Kenny is happiest when he is around the training ground with a bunch of footballers.

"We didn't talk about the run in training. We approach every game the same way, training was the same. We carried on as normal.

"Generally, we used to train for the opposition. I remember one game against Charlton and Kenny said to Ray Harford 'we will play a long ball game just for one game as Charlton won't expect it'. We trained to that plan all week and won.

"However we never used to know the team until 2pm on matchday. Kenny wasn't afraid to change a team. Time and again he would come up with a selection you wouldn't have expected."

"Some players need an arm around their shoulder, some need a telling off and Kenny understood that.

"When you were behind closed doors he could lose his temper. The only time this would happen was after a match when you'd had a bad game. But he wasn't one for throwing tea cups. Most of the time he would encourage you and this didn't change during a bad run.

"He wouldn't get annoyed as long as you worked hard and were giving everything you could give. If you worked your socks off he would understand."

"Kenny would always defend the players to the press and public, like he does with Liverpool now. We appreciated that.

"You don't want to read your manager in the papers saying you were having a bad time. Kenny never let that happen.

"He tried not to let the players feel the pressure and it helped. We were expected to get promoted because of all the money Jack Walker had spent.

"At the back of your mind you were thinking about it, but it wasn't talked about during the run so you didn't dwell on it."

"Back then you could sign players until March. He is missing a goalscorer at Liverpool. At Blackburn he was able to go out and buy players to try and get the goals mid season.

"He was happy to sign a player to do a job and get us up a division knowing he would replace them in the summer. You can't make those signings now with the transfer window.

"If he is still in charge in the summer there will be a lot of changes."

"We had a great team spirit. I don't think you get that so much nowadays in the Premier League. The game is so different. There are so many foreign players.

"Back then all the players stuck together and got on well, socialized together. I don't think that happens in the modern game.

"In that run it wasn't happening for us but we all thought deep down that we could turn it around.

"Kenny lives for football and I think he will be playing it similar to how he did it at Blackburn in that he will have the belief they are good enough.

"He will be hurting. Liverpool is in his heart. He looks older and tense this season. He looks like he is under pressure but he will try not let that get to the players.

"When you look at their squad they have enough to stop the run and he still has the FA Cup to go for."