Saturday, August 18, 2012

Match Preview: West Brom vs Liverpool

New eras begin in earnest at both West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool on Saturday's first day of the new Premier League season.

Both clubs have during the summer undergone changes in management following the respective departures of now-England boss Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish.

There has in fact been a strange managerial symmetry between the two clubs over recent years after Hodgson joined West Brom following his sacking at Anfield while new head coach Steve Clarke previously worked as Dalglish's assistant.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are now under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers having recruited the Northern Irishman from Swansea City as the Merseyside club look to improve on last season's eight-placed finish in the league.

Clarke will likewise be under pressure to make improvements at West Brom but he will have his work cut out to build on the excellent 2011/12 top-half finish which was secured under the lead of Hodgson.

Whatever the future has in store for the Scot in his first job as a manager after years of working as a right-hand man to the likes of Ruud Gullit, Jose Mourinho and Gianfranco Zola, he will be desperate for a good start having been dismissed by Liverpool in the summer.

Clarke, though, could be left counting the cost of the midweek international friendlies which have dealt him a number of injury concerns.

Scotland's James Morrison (ankle) and Sweden defender Jonas Olsson (minor knock) both returned from playing for their countries with problems and are being assessed ahead of the weekend's match.

New signing Markus Rosenberg is unlikely to be fit in time while midfielder Graeme Dorrans remains on leave with his daughter in hospital due to meningitis.

Striker Shane Long is available despite missing the Republic of Ireland's match with Serbia.

New Liverpool signings Fabio Borini and Joe Allen could both be given debuts at The Hawthorns.

Striker Borini is pushing for a start having impressed in pre-season since arriving in July from Roma, although midfielder Allen may have to settle for a place on the bench having only joined from Swansea a week ago.

Midfielder Joe Cole has recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in the Europa League qualifier against FC Gomel in Belarus.

Rodgers Eyeing Top Four

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers wants his team to embrace the challenge of breaking back into the top four.

The Reds have not qualified for the UEFA Champions League since 2009 but after several disappointing seasons new boss Rodgers is confident they can make a better attempt at rejoining Europe's elite.

"I've said right from the off I want to make us as competitive as we can possibly be," said the Liverpool boss.

"The challenge at the top of the table is greater than ever. Now there are seven or eight teams involved but the top four is certainly not something we'll shy away from.

"It's where a club of this status wants to be but it's always easier said than done and the reality over the past three seasons or so hasn't been that.

"Our job is to try to push on. There has been a lot of work done over the last few years to try to get the club back into the top echelons of the league so we are hoping to do that."

Rodgers is hopeful that by changing the club's tactical approach and by introducing quality youngsters such as Fabio Borini and Joe Allen he can turn Liverpool's fortunes around.

"There has been a lot of change and a lot of work going on and of course every manager wants patience but the reality of football means that's not the way it works," he added.

"The challenges are great and the pressures at this level are great.

"There is a long way to go for us. We will be better next year than we are this year because there will have been more time to work with the players and they will have adapted more to my methods.

"But all we can do is retain our focus and concentration to improve how we play and, more importantly, to be effective.

"A system or style is not very good if you're not winning games. You have to win matches.

"Your principles are based on the players you have and hopefully over the next number of years we will be able to bring in certain types which allow us to play a certain way.

"Until that moment comes the players are working tirelessly and relentlessly to improve their game and get results and at this early stage it is very promising for them."

Liverpool Can Play Exciting Football Under Rodgers Insists Club Legend

Liverpool legend Kevin Keegan has hailed the appointment of Brendan Rodgers as new boss, insisting that the former Swansea manager can bring exciting football to Anfield this season.

Rodgers was appointed as Kenny Dalglish's replacement at the start of the summer, and has already stamped his authority on the club as he looks to instill a similar system to that which earned him plaudits at the Liberty Stadium last year.

“I think it's a good appointment,” said ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan. “It's a step in a different direction for the club.

“We've seen the football he played at Swansea with players less talented that the one's he has now, and the fans will be thinking if he can play that brand of football with the likes of [Steven] Gerrard and [Luis] Suarez, then it could be very exciting.”

Rodgers has begun that in earnest, recruiting exciting midfield talent Joe Allen from his former club, as well as snapping up a proven goal-scorer in Fabio Borini, and an adept wide-man in Oussama Assaidi. All of his signings this summer point towards a more attacking style, something Keegan suggests Liverpool have been lacking in recent years.

“I think he will be attacking more with the players he has, and that's what Liverpool fans want. For years they have been too defensive at home, playing with one up top. If he's adventurous, they've got the ability to score a lot of goals at home.”

Initial criticisms of Rodgers questioned whether this was too big a job for him at such a relatively early stage of his managerial career, but as Keegan comments, his work at Chelsea alongside Jose Mourinho has given him the necessary experience to survive at a big club.

“He had a good grounding at Chelsea. He's not wet behind the ears in terms of the Premier League. When you're working with the likes of Mourinho at Chelsea, and you're winning things, you're bound to pick up things from that.”

One big question mark remaining though, is that over Andy Carroll's future at Liverpool. Rodgers' omission of the England striker from his squad for the Europa League first leg qualification clash only heightened rumours that the £35 million man may be off before the summer's end, but as Keegan suggests, Carroll may still have a role to play.

“It was looking very bleak last season just up until Christmas, but he then found his Liverpool and Premier League legs,” Keegan said.

“You've got to remember this is a lad with very little experience. I had him at Newcastle and never played him, so we're talking about three or four years ago and he wasn't playing at all.

“But he's a good weapon to have on your bench, and he can certainly play in games where you think playing more direct might suit you.”

Gerrard Not Slowing Down Yet

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is prepared to adapt to fit in with what Brendan Rodgers wants but insists he can still play a dynamic game.

Gerrard is now 32 and has had a number of injuries in his career, leading to suggestions that his future may be more as a deep-lying midfielder.

However, the England international says he still wants to play with the same energetic approach that has always been one of his strengths.

"I think people want me to say I can't play the same way any more, that I have to go deeper to control the game and play a slower game," he said in the Daily Express.

"But believe me, it's not happening. Not yet. I can still play a dynamic, energy-type game. I am prepared to adapt - I'll do whatever the manager wants - but I can still play the same way."

Gerrard has had discussions with new Reds manager Rodgers about what his position might be for the next few years, and he thinks it will only be a gradual change.

"The manager has spoken to me about what role he sees me filling," said Gerrard. "I still think he sees me as an attacking midfielder, but as we work through the ages - maybe 33 or 34 - then maybe I might be dropping a bit deeper. But I don't think anything is going to change this season.

"On the other side of it, I know I'm not going to be bombing forward every few seconds without a care of what's happening behind me. I have to play with my brain and control and pick the right time to go. I do appreciate I'm no spring chicken.

"There are people at the club who collect figures every day in training and measure my heart-rate, the amount of running you do.

"They haven't come to me yet and said, 'Listen, I don't think you can play the way you have been able to play '. They will do that one day, they'll come to me and say, 'You might need to adapt your game'. But it hasn't come to that yet."

Gerrard is enjoying life under Rodgers and insists he has lost none of his enthusiasm for training as he builds towards Saturday's Premier League opener against West Brom.

He explained: "Every day you have got a chance to show the manager that you should be in his starting line-up. Even though I am 32 I still try to impress the manager every day."

Carroll Unfazed By Speculation

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers says Andy Carroll has not allowed the summer speculation linking him away from the club to affect him.

England striker Carroll, 23, has struggled to match expectations at Anfield since making a £35m move from Newcastle in January 2011.

He has scored 11 times for the Reds in 56 appearances and his future is unclear following the arrival of close-season appointment Rodgers.

Newly-promoted West Ham were interested in signing Carroll on loan with a view to a permanent deal, but any potential move has been ruled out by Hammers boss Sam Allardyce this week.

Former club Newcastle are also monitoring the situation and it remains to be seen what role the Gateshead-born player will play in Liverpool's opening game of the Premier League season at West Brom on Saturday.

But Rodgers says Carroll is mentally ready to play if called upon, saying: "He's coped with the speculation fine.

"Unfortunately you cannot control what is written and the speculation out there, but he's coped well.

"We've spoke, our communication has been open and he's worked very hard on the training ground since he has been here and since I have been here. I haven't had a problem with him.

"He knows where he stands within the group. We will see how that develops."

Liverpool Target Desperate To Leave Fulham

Clint Dempsey is looking increasingly likely to leave Fulham following the news that Martin Jol has left the American out of his squad for the club’s first game of the season against Norwich Saturday afternoon.

Despite the fact that Liverpool are yet to make an official bid for the player, Dempsey has made his intentions to leave Craven Cottage clear, and has consequently spent much of Fulham’s pre-season training away from the first team. As the player’s future hangs in the balance, manager Jol doesn’t believe Dempsey is in the right frame of mind to take part in the club’s season opener.

"Clint was not involved over the last four weeks so he is not going to be in the squad,” Jol said, The Guardian report.

“He is not committed to the club. He wants to leave. I would like to keep him, but I think it's impossible. It's a sad and an almost embarrassing situation."

The former Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax manager has grown frustrated with Liverpool’s pursuit of Dempsey, who was crowned Fulham’s Player of the Season after scoring 23 goals for the club last campaign. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has previously disclosed the club’s interest in the American’s services, but no bid has been lodged yet.

“Even [Rodgers] told everyone he was interested in Clint Dempsey, but our people never had an offer on the table, so it's almost embarrassing,” Jol added.

“If you have shown interest in a player, especially in England, you have to follow it up with an offer. They didn't."

It has been thought that Liverpool saw Fulham’s valuation of Dempsey as too expensive, given that he has entered the last year of his contract. But the resolute Jol has explicitly warned the Anfield club that the forward will not be available on the cheap.

“At first we didn't want to get rid of him, later on we had to change our position. But our view is that we won't let Clint Dempsey go on the cheap, that's for sure.”

LFC Complete Assaidi Transfer

Liverpool Football Club has completed the signing of Oussama Assaidi from Dutch side SC Heerenveen.

The 24-year-old winger passed a medical at Melwood before signing a long-term deal with the club.

Assaidi, who has represented Morocco 22 times, told "I'm very happy to play for this big club. The first time I spoke to the coach I had a good feeling. I had offers from other big clubs but I've been waiting for this moment.

"The coach gave me a good feeling. It will be a dream to play with these big players and I hope training will help me to be a good player here.

"When I watch Liverpool it's always a good atmosphere, the fans are fantastic and I'm happy to be here."

Assaidi scored 20 goals in 68 appearances for Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivisie.

He becomes Brendan Rodgers' third signing as Reds boss following the arrivals of Fabio Borini and Joe Allen.

Rodgers said: "We're delighted with the signing, he's a young player who has done very well, in particular in the last couple of seasons, in Holland.

"He fits our style perfectly, he's an exciting player who is very good in one versus one situations and I think he's a player that will excite the crowd.

"We're not expecting too much too early, he needs time to adapt but we're delighted he's chosen to come here over a number of other clubs.

"As I said, I'll look forward to helping his development and I hope he'll become a very good part of this club."

Allardyce Gives Up On Carroll

West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce appears to have given up the pursuit of signing Andy Carroll after claiming a deal was never agreed with Liverpool for the striker.

The Upton Park club's co-chairman, David Sullivan, had on Wednesday announced England international Carroll had snubbed a move to London.

But ahead of Saturday's Premier League season-opener against Aston Villa, Allardyce insists no £17million fee had ever been agreed with Liverpool.

Anfield boss Brendan Rodgers is thought to be prepared to sell Carroll, who was signed by Kenny Dalglish for £35m in January 2011, but the club wants as much money as possible.

And Allardyce seems to think West Ham's interest is dead in the water, as he said: "We never agreed with Liverpool any deal to be able to speak to Andy Carroll to see if he would join us.

"Whatever deal we put forward to Liverpool was not agreed to by Liverpool.

"He would have been a massive signing for us and, like everything else, when you see an opportunity you try to go for it.

"Then you get onto negotiations and once that is exhausted you move on, which was a lot sooner than people actually talked about in the media.

"The negotiations were over in a couple of weeks or so regarding whether Andy was or wasn't going to come to West Ham."

Clarke - I Was Sacked By Reds

West Bromwich Albion head coach Steve Clarke has revealed he was sacked by Liverpool and would otherwise not necessarily have left the club.

The Scot is preparing to face his former employers on the opening day of the new Premier League season just months after previously working as Kenny Dalglish's assistant at Anfield.

Dalglish was fired in May but Clarke claims he was not shown the door at the same time and there was a chance he might have worked on the backroom staff of Brendan Rodgers.

"I had a chat with Brendan after Kenny had left. We did not go at the same time," said Clarke in The Times ahead of hosting Liverpool on Saturday at The Hawthorns.

"At the time, Brendan told me, 'do not walk away, because maybe we can work together'.

"From there, Brendan pulled out of the race, then came back in. Whatever happened, he got the job. But I actually got sacked by Liverpool.

"After they took Brendan in they must have decided to resign the whole staff.

"That is part and parcel of football. A new manager goes in, the owners wanted to start afresh. I was not lined up to go to Albion.

"I was fortunate there were still two or three jobs available in the Premier League and I managed to get this one."