Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Chelsea

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is likely to start £35million striker Andy Carroll against Chelsea following his goal in the FA Cup final against the Blues on Saturday.

Carroll's introduction from the bench during the final gave Liverpool a fresh impetus and he came very close to scoring an equalizer but for a good save from Petr Cech.

The former Newcastle frontman is likely to replace Craig Bellamy in the starting XI while midfielder Jay Spearing may also miss out after his disappointing display at Wembley.

Chelsea are set to be without David Luiz and Gary Cahill again.

The centre-backs have been stepping up their recovery from hamstring injuries, with caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo last week hopeful they could return to full training this week.

Di Matteo will also assess how his FA Cup final heroes have reacted to Saturday's Wembley exertions before deciding on his team against the same opponents.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Agger, Spearing, Gerrard, Downing, Bellamy, Carroll, Suarez, Doni, Kelly, Coates, Flanagan, Robinson, Enrique, Henderson, Rodriguez, Shelvey, Kuyt, Sterling, Ecclestone.

Chelsea (from): Cech, Ivanovic, Ferreira, Bosingwa, Terry, Cole, Bertrand, Mikel, Essien, Meireles, Lampard, Ramires, Mata, Malouda, Drogba, Torres, Sturridge, Kalou, Turnbull.

Gerrard Demands More

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has issued a rallying cry to his team-mates to stamp out poor form in next season's Premier League campaign.

Since the turn of the year the Reds have won just four and lost 10 of 17 league games, picking up 15 from a possible 51 points.

Kenny Dalglish's side host Chelsea on Tuesday facing the real prospect of finishing outside the top eight.

Liverpool's league capitulation is evident considering just two months ago had they beaten Arsenal at home, not lost in injury-time, they would have moved within four points of the Gunners with a game in hand.

Instead they sit a massive 18 points behind Arsene Wenger's side with Champions League qualification well out of reach.

"We need to dust ourselves down and we need to respond to the challenge next year," Gerrard said.

"We've been fantastic in the cup competitions this year and the players deserve a lot of credit for that.

"We haven't been good enough in the league this year and we deserve criticism and we need to take criticism like men.

"We need to do better. We're Liverpool Football Club; we're not seventh or eighth in the league. We're better than that."

Liverpool Line Up Move For Darren Bent

Liverpool are said to be lining up a bid for Aston Villa striker Darren Bent who is said to be nearing a full recovery from an ankle injury that has kept him sidelined for much of the second half of the current campaign. Kenny Dalglish is reportedly interested in the England international who still has hopes of making Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad.

The 28 year old former Tottenham and Sunderland forward had netted a healthy total of nine goals in 22 Premier League appearances before he picked up his injury in late February and there was a great deal of speculation that a falling out with boss Alex McLeish may well lead to a bid from prospective suitors but talk of a summer exit died down following Bent’s ruptured ligament injury.

Liverpool could well do with alternative attacking options after managing just 43 goals in 36 Premier League matches. Luis Suarez has been the attacker in chief and even though Andy Carroll has scored three in his last five matches the former Newcastle United man is still yet to make a real impact at the Merseyside club.

Bent is a proven Premier League marksman and the London born striker may not be all that keen at remaining at an Aston Villa side who have found themselves in the midst of a relegation battle this term.

Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has already stated that he is unlikely to hand McLeish large sums in the summer and this could lead to the club’s star performers considering their futures.

Darren Bent has notched up in 99 goals in eight Premier League seasons and is the kind of consistent performer that Dalglish may feel he needs to bring in to partner Suarez up front in order to push his Anfield side back into the top four after three lean seasons away from the top table.

Gerrard Expects Carroll Call

Steven Gerrard believes Andy Carroll's recent fine form for Liverpool has made him an obvious candidate for a place in England's Euro 2012 squad.

Carroll has struggled at times to handle the weight of expectation that comes with representing a team of Liverpool's stature, while attempting to justify a £35million price tag.

He has, however, shown promise of late, with a number of eye-catching displays suggesting he has finally found his feet and is ready to repay the Reds' considerable faith in his ability.

Those in and around Anfield never doubted that Carroll would come good, with the 23-year-old blessed with all the attributes a top-class centre-forward requires.

They are hoping they will benefit from his talents for many years to come, and Gerrard feels England will also come calling this summer as they piece together their plans for a shot at European Championship glory.

After seeing Carroll step off the bench and come close to hauling Liverpool back into their FA Cup final tie with Chelsea on Saturday, Gerrard said: "Credit to Andy who came on and played brilliantly well.

"He changed the way we played. We were a lot better with him in the team, we were a lot more direct, we created more, we were more of a threat.

Carroll, who was introduced after 55 minutes at Wembley, scored one and came agonizingly close to overturning Chelsea's two-goal lead.

He saw a late header clawed away by Blues keeper Petr Cech, with the debate as to whether the whole of the ball crossed the line still raging on Merseyside.

"It is difficult for officials to give decisions like that," admitted Gerrard.

"There is an argument that maybe it is [over the line] on the computer image but when you look at the replay.

"Phil Dowd is standing by me and the linesman is 40 yards away - it is impossible to give a yes or a no on it.

"We have been debating technology for years and it will continue until it comes in. The officials need a bit of help.

"It was a final and there were 90,000 people there. I am not 100 per cent sure whether it was or it wasn't but there is certainly an argument there.

"Until the technology comes in we will continue to have these conversations after games.”

FA Cup Final Match Report: Chelsea 2 - 1 Liverpool

Didier Drogba became the first man to score in four FA Cup finals as Chelsea overcame Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley in a match with another massive goal-line controversy.

The Blues appeared to be cruising when Drogba scored at the start of the second half following Ramires' early opener, but the arrival of Andy Carroll turned the game on its head.

The burly Liverpool striker smashed home a superb goal not long after his arrival, then, with nine minutes left, rose to meet Luis Suarez's cross at the far post. Carroll was convinced he had scored, with Suarez equally certain the ball had crossed the line before Petr Cech clawed it back onto the crossbar.

Linesman Andrew Garratt was not so sure - and those who had the additional advantage of television replays were mostly of the same opinion.

Garratt could not signal the goal, so referee Phil Dowd did not give it.

And once another goalbound Carroll effort had been blocked in stoppage time, the Blues were able to complete their fourth FA Cup triumph in six seasons, and give Roberto Di Matteo his first piece of silverware as a manager in what could turn out to be a glorious double against Bayern Munich later this month.

There was no hint of the drama to follow when Ramires became the first Brazilian to score in this most prestigious of showpiece occasions.

When he first arrived on these shores two years ago, Ramires looked too slight to make an impact in England. Clearly though, he has guts, heart, drive and selfless determination.

If Roy Keane's endeavours for Manchester United in their Champions League semi-final triumph over Juventus in 1999 have gone down in history, then Ramires' performance in the Nou Camp 12 days ago deserves to go alongside it.

The yellow card he picked up means this will be the only cup final Ramires features in this season. And what a mark he made as Juan Mata slipped a pass beyond Jose Enrique.

The Liverpool full-back failed to recover his ground, allowing Ramires to bear down on the Reds goal.

Jose Reina elected to gamble rather than save the actual shot when it was unleashed. Reina chose incorrectly, diving to his right, allowing the ball to beat him rather embarrassingly at the near post.

Having fallen behind in both the semi-final against Everton and to Cardiff in the Carling Cup final earlier in the season, Liverpool had no need to fret.

What would probably have concerned manager Kenny Dalglish rather more was the way his team were outgunned in midfield.

It was not until the half-hour, when Steven Gerrard started to get in advanced areas, that the Merseyside outfit began to exert any influence on the game.

By that time Drogba, Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou had all wasted half-chances.

Branislav Ivanovic, like Ramires banned from the Champions League final in Munich on May 19, had done well to block a snap-shot from Craig Bellamy early on.

That was Liverpool's only opportunity though, until Suarez rose on the edge of the six-yard box only to nod Jordan Henderson's knock-back wide.

Unfortunately for Dalglish's team, their momentum was halted by the half-time break and before they could get into their stride again, Chelsea had doubled their advantage.

Out of contract in the summer and with Chelsea apparently unwilling to offer the two-year extension he has demanded, Drogba could be in the final throes of his Blues career.

If so, he will leave behind plenty of good memories.

When he found space on the left side of Liverpool's area and rattled a shot through Martin Skrtel's legs and into the far corner, he was scoring for the eighth time in as many Wembley appearances.

It prompted Dalglish into making his move, introducing his £35million portion of the £85million worth of striking talent that had been left on the bench, with Fernando Torres not starting for Chelsea.

And Carroll responded immediately, twisting John Terry around superbly inside the area before lashing his shot into the roof of Cech's goal.

The former Newcastle man then used his power to set up the much-maligned Henderson, who drilled a half-volley narrowly wide as those ageing Chelsea legs began to creak.

And Liverpool were convinced Carroll had levelled nine minutes from time when he rose at the far post to power Suarez's cross goalwards.

But the celebrations were cut short as the officials ruled Cech had clawed the ball out before it had crossed the line.

Even after half a dozen replays, there was no clear verdict either way, meaning the linesman, with one look, was in an impossible situation.

Carroll carved out one more chance, only for Terry to block, leaving Dalglish to reflect on the moment of controversy that denied him.

Liverpool Adamant Andy Carroll Header Was Over The Line

Liverpool striker Andy Carroll claims that his late header should have taken the FA Cup final to extra time and denied Chelsea their 2-1 victory.

The Liverpool substitute had already scored once and thought he had equalized in the 82nd minute when Petr Cech clawed the ball out of his goal via the crossbar.

Video evidence was inconclusive but suggested that referee Phil Dowd had made the correct decision, sparking fresh debate over the issue of goalline technology in football.

“I thought it was over the line,” said Carroll. “I thought it was in. I thought it came off the other side of the bar, which means it is in.”

Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, said that Dowd and his assistants should be congratulated if they got the decision correct but added: “It seems some people would have given it and some people would not have. I thought it was in.”

Cech and Chelsea captain John Terry, however, were adamant that Dowd had made the right decision. “If the ball was behind the line I wouldn’t have been able to put it outside," said Cech.

"I’m sure it was not behind the line. I’m 100 per cent persuaded it was not in.”

Agger Admits Slack Defending

Liverpool defender Dan Agger admits that their poor showing in the first hour was the reason for their FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea.

The Reds did not seem to come alive until Andy Carroll's introduction in the 55th minute but by then they were 2-0 down to goals from Ramires, in the first half, and Didier Drogba.

Carroll pulled one back just past the hour and almost headed the equalizer late on only to be denied by a great save from Petr Cech, with television replays inconclusive over whether the ball crossed the line before the Czech clawed it away.

But Agger admitted Liverpool paid for their poor start.

"We can't use that (fightback) for much. It simply was not good enough for the first hour and we can only blame ourselves," said the Denmark defender.

"We definitely were not good enough.

"Andy did really well when he came on and got a lot of balls to work with but sadly it was not enough."

Debate continued long after the final whistle over whether Carroll's header had actually crossed the line but Agger said he had no idea from his position on the pitch.

"I definitely couldn't see anything because I was at the other end so people watching television will have to decide that."

Midfielder Jordan Henderson admitted he went up claiming the equalizing goal more in hope than expectation.

"I appealed because that is what you have got to do," said the England U21 midfielder, who was at a loss to explain Liverpool's sluggish start.

"I am not sure why we started quite slowly in the first half. In the second half we came out and played some good stuff and we should have got back into the game.

"I think we will be disappointed when we look back.

"We wanted to win this game and we didn't and we are very disappointed."

Dalglish: No Early Talks

Kenny Dalglish says the Liverpool owners will do the same as him and wait until the end of the season before assessing how it has gone.

The Reds lost 2-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday and now has little else to play for this term apart from pride.

Anchored in mid-table, Liverpool take on Roberto Di Matteo's Blues in the Premier League on Tuesday before finishing their campaign against Swansea at the weekend.

However, there will be no summit meeting with owner John Henry to discuss a season which has brought some silverware in the Carling Cup, but got them no nearer to breaking back into the Premier League's elite.

"The owners will do the same as us," said Dalglish.

"They will sit and analyze the season when it is finished.

"That is what we said before a ball was kicked and there is no reason to change that."

The major positive for Liverpool on Saturday was the performance of substitute Andy Carroll, who almost managed to turn the game on its head.

Carroll scored one excellent goal, when he turned John Terry inside out before rifling past Petr Cech, came agonizingly close to grabbing an equalizer and then had a shot turned away by Branislav Ivanovic that would have brought the Merseysiders level.

It was a performance that is sure to have been filtered back to new England boss Roy Hodgson, and allowed Dalglish to underline exactly how much faith he has in the much-maligned forward.

"We have been happy with what big Andy has done since he came to Liverpool," said the Scot.

"If the ones who were critical of him are going to be fair and honest, they might have to re-write their pieces.

"If they don't want to do that, fine. It's not my problem.

"It doesn't change our opinion. He came on and lifted the team. He got the goal and was unlucky not to get another one."

Liverpool Were On The Brink

Former Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow has revealed the Reds were one day away from administration before the takeover of current owners Fenway Sports Group.

Purslow, a Liverpool season ticket holder, negotiated the sale to Fenway chief John W Henry and has cautioned criticism of that regime's first year and a half in charge at Anfield.

A 2-1 defeat to Chelsea means Liverpool, who cannot qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League through the Premier League because of a poor campaign, have only the Carling Cup to show for Fenway's first full season in charge.

Purslow said: "People have short memories, it's only 15-16 months ago we were a day away from being in administration. We are now stable financially.

"It's year one of what they (Fenway) said when they bought the club would be a long journey."

Purslow was appointed by former joint owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in June 2009 with a brief of finding new owners, and left his post shortly after Fenway completed their takeover in October 2010.

He believes Fenway should be given more time, but stressed the importance of Champions League football and a move to a new stadium if Liverpool's fortunes on the pitch are to improve.

"The club has had some investment (under Fenway) and it will take time for that to work," he said.

"I think everybody's disappointed with the league performance but it's year one.

"One thing I will say about American owners is the idea that there is some emotional connection is obviously rubbish.

"It's an investment game, Liverpool is an investment and the value of that investment will hang largely on two key planks in the strategy they would have put in place when they bought the club.

"The first was to get the team back into regular Champions League football."

That would not only increase profits by £20-30million a year but also help the club retain and hire the best players, Purslow explained.

But he revealed his disappointment the club had not made any progress towards building a new stadium, the second part of that strategy.

"If I am disappointed about one thing under this new ownership is that they've got nowhere on the new stadium," he said.

Chelsea's announcement this week of plans to build a new stadium on the site of the Battersea Power Station would put them in a stronger financial position than Liverpool.

"It's critical. If you look at Chelsea's news in the last few days, Arsenal have already stolen a march on us," added Purslow.

"If Chelsea get that stadium up and running then it's another team that's ahead of us in the queue."