Saturday, April 14, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Everton

Merseyside pride and a place in the FA Cup final will be at stake when Liverpool and Everton rekindle their fierce rivalry at Wembley Stadium.

A semi-final showdown at the home of English football appears to have all the makings of a cup classic, with derby tensions adding extra spice to what is always a special occasion.

The decision to host the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley has been questioned by many, but fixtures such as this deserve the grandest of stages.

Both sides will make the journey to the capital on Saturday buoyed by successful showings in their last Premier League outings.

Liverpool finally got back to winning ways at Blackburn on Tuesday and took the opportunity at Ewood Park to rest key men, meaning they have fresh legs to call upon.

Everton swept aside Sunderland, the side they saw off in the quarter-finals of the cup, at Goodison Park and are now unbeaten in their last five games in all competitions.

League form tends to go out of the window in knockout football, though, and the fact that local bragging rights have been added to the mix means anything is possible this weekend.

Liverpool and Everton do have previous when it comes to FA Cup meetings, and contests at Wembley.

The Toffees have emerged victorious in the last two cup dates between the two, with replay successes earned in 2009 and 1991.

Liverpool have prevailed when it matters most, though, with all-Merseyside finals in 1986 and 1989 going the way of the Reds.

Kenny Dalglish's side have also tasted Wembley glory once already this season, with the Carling Cup tucked away in their trophy cabinet.

Goalkeeper Brad Jones is set to make his first start since December 2010 as Liverpool prepare to turn to their third-choice shot-stopper.

The Australian comes into the side in place of suspended duo Jose Reina and Alexander Doni.

Defenders Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson are pushing for starting places having both made their comebacks from injury in the midweek win at Blackburn.

Steven Gerrard, Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez were left on the bench at Ewood Park, but they are expected to come back into Dalglish's starting XI on Saturday.

Everton manager David Moyes is set to revert to his strongest line-up after resting a number of players on Easter Monday.

Defender Leighton Baines, midfielder Tim Cahill and striker Nikica Jelavic are all set to return having been left out of the squad for the 4-0 win over Sunderland.

On-loan Tottenham midfielder Steven Pienaar is cup-tied but Darron Gibson will return to the team having been an unused substitute earlier in the week.

Dalglish Puts Faith In Liverpool FC Character For Wembley

Kenny Dalglish is convinced Liverpool FC have the character to defy the formbook by beating Everton to reach a second domestic cup final this season.

Having already claimed the Carling Cup in February, Dalglish’s side returns to Wembley this afternoon to take on the neighbours in their FA Cup semi-final.

While Everton are among the Premier League’s form teams, Liverpool’s dramatic 3-2 triumph at Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday was only a third win in 14 top-flight games this season.

The victory came despite playing more than an hour with 10 men following the dismissal of goalkeeper Alexander Doni.

And Dalglish believes the Ewood Park performance of an understrength side underlines the togetherness of his squad ahead of the 218th Merseyside derby.

“The other night showed you how important the players can be for each other,” said the Liverpool FC manager.

“With 10 men we showed great determination. We had six players aged 23 or under on the pitch and the young lads got great help from players around them like Maxi Rodriguez, Craig Bellamy and Martin Skrtel.

“It was rewarding to get that win as everyone worked so hard together. It was helpful for us to get that positive result.

“We have to ensure we're ready physically, mentally and tactically for Saturday.”

Although Liverpool have won both Premier League derbies this season, Dalglish admits this afternoon’s game is the biggest of the campaign.

“We need to stand up and compete,” he said. “Some people see it as success to get as far as the semi-final. But when you get that far you want to go on and win it.

“Winning a trophy is the more important thing. In order to do that, we need to win the semi-final.

“Whatever gets said beforehand doesn't matter. It will all come down to what happens on that pitch.

“What we do on the day is going to be far more important that what we've done at any other stage of the season. The build-up is irrelevant.”

While today is Dalglish’s seventh FA Cup semi-final as a player or manager with Liverpool, he admits the nature of the opposition adds to the significance of the occasion.

“Playing a semi-final is special, playing at Wembley is special but then you add Everton into it, our local rivals, and that makes it a wee bit extra special,” said the manager. “For us there are three ingredients there and we know what the rewards are.

“It's not like any other game. We won't try to kid anyone else that it is like that.

“We know we are up against a team in a really good run of form who we know will be well up for it.

“We know what we need to compete against.”

With Doni and Pepe Reina both suspended, third-choice goalkeeper Brad Jones will be between the sticks at Wembley – creating a piece of history by becoming the first Liverpool FC player to make his first four appearances for the club in four different competitions.

“Brad will be happy he got a few minutes under his belt at Blackburn,” Dalglish added.

“He’ll be excited as everyone else is about playing. That's what the squad is there for – to cover for every eventually.

“It’s credit to Doni that he kept himself fit and active and sharp, and Brad’s the same.”

Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing, who all sat out the Blackburn victory, will all come back into contention while Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger, who have each been sidelined in recent weeks, could all start.

Suarez Ready To Sacrifice Himself

Luis Suarez admits he would repeat his World Cup handball to help Liverpool beat Everton in their FA Cup semi-final.

The Uruguayan stopped the ball on the line, earning a red card in the process, to help his side beat Ghana in the quarter-finals in South Africa in 2010.

The controversial forward claims he would do the same if it helped Liverpool overcome local rivals Everton at Wembley.

"The sacrifice I made was because it was so important for Uruguay to make the semi-finals," Suarez is quoted as saying in The Sun. "Now I want to win this semi-final."

"It will take an enormous effort but I am dedicated to the team. If I am obliged to stop a ball in the last minute and we win, then I will repeat the action.

"Success for Liverpool is more important to me than anything else. But I do hope there is no drama like this for me."

Suarez, who is expected to start in attack after being rested for the midweek win over Blackburn, has called on Reds boss Kenny Dalglish to pair him with Andy Carroll up front so they can shoot down Everton.

"The manager has not decided on the team yet but I believe if I do play alongside Andy Carroll we will generate a lot of danger," added Suarez. "We haven't functioned 100 per cent together this season but now is the moment to change the situation.

"Andy got the winner at Blackburn on Tuesday and is happy about that. And that win has boosted our morale for the derby."

Downing Wants Fans' Glory

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have left the rest of the Liverpool squad in no doubt what a victory over rivals Everton on Saturday would mean according to Stewart Downing.

The England winger has been given a crash course on Merseyside bragging rights by the two local heroes ahead of their FA Cup semi-final clash.

Cup fever gripped the city as soon as the two famous old teams were drawn out of the hat to face each other - although Everton had to overcome a tricky replay at Sunderland first.

And Downing, who joined from Aston Villa at the start of the season, admits he cannot walk down the street without people telling him how much it would mean to them to beat Everton.

Downing told "Obviously Stevie, Carra and Jay Spearing, people like that, have been saying, 'Come on, we have to beat these'.

"They've been on at us. You can understand that. I've played in semi-finals and against local teams when I've been at other clubs, and people were the same there.

"You can sense it, the atmosphere - seeing the fans and the kids hanging about. They're all stopping you and asking questions about the semi-final.

"It's going to be a massive game and Liverpool will be like a ghost town on the day.

"It's bragging rights. I sometimes hear (from fans), 'As long as we finish above Everton in the league, everything's fine'. That just shows. If you've grown up with it as a young kid it's massive. It could make their week, it could make their year.

"We know what's at stake but I'm confident we can get a result."

Gerrard: Beating Everton Would Rescue Liverpool's Season

Steven Gerrard has told his Liverpool team-mates they must win their FA Cup semi-final against Everton or accept the season has been a disappointment.

The big-spending Reds have already lifted the Carling Cup this term, but that has not been enough to prevent strong criticism of the poor form that has left them eighth in the Premier League.

Gerrard knows the club's fans are not satisfied, but insisted a second cup final appearance would represent genuine success.

'The simple facts are our league campaign hasn't been good enough,' the Liverpool captain said.

'We're all frustrated and the players have under-delivered in the league, all of us. Not just the new signings, not just certain individuals, all of us have under-delivered in the league, but we've done fantastically in the cups.'

Gerrard added reaching the FA Cup final would definitely save the season.

'There's one more big hurdle to get over and to deliver two cup finals would be an unbelievable achievement,' he said.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish will be forced to select third-choice goalkeeper Brad Jones for Saturday's Merseyside derby at Wembley, as Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni are suspended.

He hopes defensive duo Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson will be given the green light to start the semi-final, after recovering from their recent injury problems.

Liverpool Striker Linked With Shock Move To PSV Eindhoven

Liverpool forward Nathan Eccleston could soon be presented with the option of playing his club football in Holland after it emerged that PSV Eindhoven were interested in the youngster.

According to Sky Sports, the 21-year-old has emerged as a genuine target for the Dutch giants, despite making just two Premier League appearances for Liverpool.

Eccleston was signed by Liverpool in 2006 from Bury and has developed in the youth set-up, regularly featuring for both the reserves and in the FA Youth Cup side.

The young forward has been loaned on three occasions to Huddersfield, Charlton and most recent Rochdale where he went on a one-month loan and scored one goal in five appearances.

Despite failing to make an impression in the first team squad under manager Kenny Dalglish, it is believed that the Dutch side may make an offer in the summer.

Eccleston is contracted until the summer of 2013, but the chance to play in Holland's top flight may be enough to persuade him to make the move to the side that is currently fifth in the Eredivisie table.

John W Henry Spurns Liverpool FA Cup Semi-Final For Boston

Liverpool owner John W Henry has flown back to the United States rather than attend Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Wembley.

Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team, returned to his native America with Liverpool chairman Tom Werner to watch Friday's first home game of the Major League season.
The pair spent only three days on Merseyside during their visit.

During that time director of football Damien Comolli left by mutual consent.

Henry and Werner, the principal representatives of the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) that owns Liverpool, are keen to have a replacement for Comolli in place before the summer transfer window opens.

Netherlands legend Johan Cruyff is a candidate for a senior role at Anfield, but it is understood no contact has yet been made with the 64-year-old.

FSG is also under pressure at Fenway Park after the Red Sox were booed off the field by their own fans in the final home game of last season.

However, after losing five of their first six away games of the current campaign, the Red Sox beat Tampa Bay 12-2 in their opening home match.

The game at Fenway Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next week, also marked the home debut of new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.

Baseball is Henry's first love. Having owned a small share in the New York Yankees in the early 1990s, he became sole owner of the Florida Marlins in 1999, paying a reported $158m (£100m) for the Major League Baseball outfit.

Backed by Werner and the New York Times, Henry took over the Boston Red Sox in 2002 before fronting the bid to buy Liverpool in October 2010.

Hamann: Liverpool Should Give Up On Carroll

Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann has told talkSPORT that the club should give up on misfiring striker Andy Carroll if he doesn’t put in a big performance against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final.

The pony-tailed striker has underperformed in the 15 months since his arrival at Anfield for £35million, scoring just nine goals in 43 games across all competitions.

And despite his winner against Blackburn in Liverpool’s 3-2 victory, the ex-German international believes that should he fail to put in a good showing at Wembley he should be transferred out of the club.

“I probably would start with Carroll [against Everton] because it always gives you an outlet and we know what he can be capable of on the day,” Hamann told Kick Off.

“If he doesn’t come up with a big performance tomorrow I think you have to give up on him because I think people have been watching [his performances] for 15/16 months and he’s just not done it.

“He’s got a great opportunity tomorrow to put things right and put in a big performance. I would love to see him start alongside Suarez tomorrow but obviously Kenny sees the team all week and he knows best.”