Thursday, August 23, 2012

Europa Cup Preview: Hearts vs Liverpool

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will take a gamble on his fringe players on Thursday night as he names a weakened side for the Europa League clash at Hearts.

The Reds head to Tynecastle for the first leg of their qualifying clash without the likes of skipper Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson.

And though Rodgers clearly wants to rest his main men for Sunday’s Anfield clash with Premier League champions Manchester City, such rotation doesn’t bode well for their continental campaign.

His assistant manager Colin Pascoe admitted squad rotation would play a key part in Liverpool’s Europa League campaign.

“With the squad and the players we have got here it’s fantastic so you have to rotate the players because you play on a Saturday, then a Thursday and a Sunday, so it’s an opportunity for all the players to perform,” he said.

“One minute you are in the Europa League and the next we will be playing Manchester City, then it’s the second leg against Hearts followed by Arsenal.

“There are some fantastic games and teams who you want to play against. These are games we can’t wait for.”

Also missing will be left-back Jose Enrique (knee) and Joe Cole, while new man Oussama Assaidi is ineligible after featuring for former club Heerenveen in an earlier round.

The hosts will be forced to run a late fitness test on goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, who may give way for new signing Peter Enckelman.

MacDonald’s pregnant partner was admitted to hospital yesterday, meaning that the former Aston Villa netminder may be required to stand in for him — and he is ready to do so.

Enckelman said: “It’s a lot to take in during a week but the good thing is I’m old. I think I’ve got a reasonably wise head on my shoulders so experience should see me through.

“Obviously it’s not ideal preparation for me but at the same time I’ve been trying to keep myself ticking over during the summer.”

Hearts lost 5-0 at home to Tottenham at the same stage last term and the tie was all but over in the opening half hour as Spurs netted three times.

Enckelman added: “The lads are well aware of what happened last year and are very eager to put it right.”

No Hearts Debut For Assaidi

Oussama Assaidi is not eligible to play in Liverpool's Europa League play-off matches against Hearts.

The Morocco winger, who became the club's third summer signing last Friday, is cup tied having featured for Heerenveen in the qualifying rounds.

However, he will be available should Liverpool reach the group stages.

The squad travel from John Lennon Airport to Edinburgh on Wednesday afternoon before training at Tynecastle Stadium.

Reina Wants Home Wins

Pepe Reina has called on his Liverpool team-mates to turn Anfield into a fortress as they prepare for a tough run of home games.

Liverpool will play host to Manchester City, Arsenal and then Manchester United before the end of September and, although it is not possible for a team to win a championship in the first two months of a season, Reina knows it is possible to lose it.

Following on from their 3-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion in the opening game of the season Reina admits it is important for the Reds not to lose more ground on their title rivals.

"We don't have the easiest run of fixtures coming up, but they are what they are," he told the club's official website. "We have to face them and I'm sure for them it won't be easy to come to Anfield.

"We have to make ourselves strong at home. This year we have to get better results at home.

"We are getting the ideas from the manager - and we still are - and this is just the beginning. We have to lift ourselves up now and stick together more than ever.

"It's not normal (to lose). But I don't think we will see many games for Liverpool like we did on Saturday. There is nothing to worry about. This is just early days. It was a bad game, and it is as simple as that."

Liverpool can get back to winning ways when they take on Hearts in the first leg of the Europa League play-offs in Scotland on Thursday.

Liverpool Favourites To Sign England Winger

Liverpool have emerged as the favourites to sign Adam Johnson from Manchester City after Brendan Rodgers was promised funds to capture the England winger, it has been claimed.

It is Johnson's wish to leave the Etihad Stadium this summer in the pursuit of more regular first team football with the hope it will benefit his fledgling England career.

The 25-year-old made only 10 Premier League starts last season and City has already received a formal approach from Sunderland for the winger.

Tottenham have also shown an interest, as have Everton, but Liverpool is now the leading candidates to secure a deal for Johnson before the transfer window closes, according to The Independent.

Rodgers will be backed by the club's owners with the £10 million valuation City have placed on Johnson and, should be move to Anfield, will be the former Swansea manager's fourth summer signing.

The Northern Irishman has already completed deals for Fabio Borini, Joe Allen and Ousmane Assaidi, but is keen to add another penetrative option to his Reds midfield.

Newcastle Refuse To Offer More Than £12 Million For Liverpool Striker

Liverpool may have to accept a substantial loss on Andy Carroll, as Newcastle United refuse to offer more than £12 million for the striker, reports suggest.

Liverpool have placed a £20 million price tag on the man they signed from the Magpies a year and a half ago, but Alan Pardew and the Newcastle United hierarchy have no intention of matching that fee, the Daily Mail report. And the Tyneside club feels they will eventually get their man for their price, knowing that Brendan Rodgers will be reluctant to accommodate a player who does not feature in his plans.

Newcastle have been monitoring Carroll’s situation all summer, since Rodgers disclosed that the club would listen to offers for the Gateshead-born forward. The man signed for £35 million in January 2011 sat on the bench for most of Liverpool’s dismal 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion on the opening day of the season at the weekend, only coming on for the injured Joe Cole with ten minutes of the match remaining.

Newcastle will feel they hold the initiative in the Carroll saga. Aware that the Liverpool may have to sell below their asking price in order to generate funds, Alan Pardew also knows that the England international has his heart set on a return to St James’ Park. Carroll rejected the chance to move to newly promoted West Ham United earlier in the summer despite Liverpool accepting an offer, and it would appear that Newcastle is his desired location, should he leave Anfield.

Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini started against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon, as Carroll watched his team dismantled by the rampant Baggies.

Manchester United Aiming To Beat Liverpool To Mexico Midfielder

Manchester United is considering a £10million move for Mexico's Olympic star Hector Herrera.

The 22-year-old midfielder was the inspiration behind Mexico's gold medal victory and has been on United's radar for over a year with Liverpool also very keen.

Pachuca sporting director Andres Fassi has announced they had had a fresh approach from United requesting permission to approach the starlet who is nicknamed 'Zorro'.

Fassi said: 'There is an official interest. We have the document, but there’s nothing else to add at this time.'

Herrera is recovering from an ankle injury but United see him as a decent replacement for former transfer target Lucas Moura who moved to Paris St Germain.

United, who have also gained a work permit for Chilean striker Angelo Henriquez, are understood to be exploring the possibility of taking defender Phillipe Mexes on loan from AC Milan.

The 30-year-old has also been offered to Arsenal in discussions over Nicklas Bendtner.

Andy Carroll Could Be Left On The Bench For Another Season

Liverpool has reportedly insisted that they would rather hold onto Andy Carroll for another season than face the prospect of losing him on the cheap before the transfer deadline.

Despite the 6ft 3in England ace not featuring in boss Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice plans this season, the club have said they will not compromise on the player's price – meaning the striker is facing the prospect of another campaign warming the bench.

Carroll has already turned down bids to join West Ham United, Aston Villa and Fulham, even though the Hammers were ready to up his wages to £90,000-a-week.

Carroll's former club Newcastle is keen to end his Liverpool nightmare, but the club is not willing to match the £20 million asking price set by Liverpool.

Magpies’ manager Alan Pardew feels that Carroll’s price will depreciate as the transfer deadline moves closer, knowing Rodgers’ desperation to sell the player and use the funds received to sign some of his own targets.

However, Rodgers has announced he will not let Carroll go if a serious offer arrives too late for him to bring in a serious replacement.

It is no secret that new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers wants Carroll off his books only 18 months after the striker signed for the side, but has failed in his bid to sell the player up to now, with Carroll unwilling to go to a club which doesn’t play in Europe regularly.

Rodgers is set to have talks with Carroll to explain the situation to the striker, and will inform the England international that he might have to join a lesser club who are ready to match Liverpool’s fee, or spend a lot of time in the coming season warming the bench at the Merseyside outfit.

Gerrard Eyes Suarez-Torres Partnership

Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres became Liverpool teammates for a mere matter of hours before the latter joined Chelsea on deadline day in January of last year.

But the forward duo will finally have the opportunity to play alongside each other - well at least in the imagination of Steven Gerrard, after the Reds captain revealed he had picked both players for his fantasy football team.

Gerrard and Torres formed a particularly potent combination during the Spaniard's four years at Anfield, and the England midfielder clearly has fond memories of their days together on Merseyside.

A pairing of Torres and Suarez would certainly strike fear into defences across the Premier League, and Gerrard is expecting his forward partnership to bear fruit this season.

“I’ve settled on my front line, I’ve gone for Suarez and Torres – I’ve copied off Harry Redknapp," he told The Fantasy Football Club.

Gerrard has, however, opted not to include himself in his fantasy football XI, as the pressure of being Liverpool and England captain is quite enough to deal with already.

“I like the sound of that to be honest," he added. "I’ve left myself out though, I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.”

Martinez Rejected Reds Offer

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez claims he turned down the Liverpool job because of his "unique" chairman.

The Spaniard was heavily linked with the vacant manager's role at Anfield this summer before the job eventually went to Brendan Rodgers.

The 39-year-old boss also reportedly turned down Aston Villa last year, opting to sign a new three-year deal with the Latics instead.

And Martinez has explained that the chief reason for his decision is the persuasive power of Wigan chairman Dave Whelan.

"We must educate people," Martinez told the Daily Mirror.

"In five or six years, we reap the benefits. Maybe I won't be there then.

"But this is not why I stayed when Liverpool made me an offer.

"I stayed because my chairman is unique.

"This summer we sat down together. He had thoughts about the future of the club, I'd done the same.

"He knew that I had spoken with other clubs. But he is so persuasive, I extended my contract for three years.

"He wants to take the club to the next level. I know it will be difficult, but it excites me a lot."