Wednesday, September 26, 2012

League Cup Preview: West Brom vs Liverpool

Liverpool's League Cup triumph last season was not enough to prevent a summer of major upheaval at Anfield.

But with the season barely a month old there are question marks over whether those changes have set them on the path to improvement or actually left them in an even more precarious position.

One of the consequences of the blood-letting on Merseyside was the departure of first-team coach Steve Clarke who seems to have settled nicely into his new role as head coach at The Hawthorns.

His masterminding of a 3-0 victory over his former employers on the opening day of the season suggested Liverpool's loss was most definitely West Brom's gain.

That result was no anomaly in the story of the season so far. For the Baggies it was the springboard to their best ever start in the Premier League. For Liverpool it signalled the beginning of their worst opening to a top flight season in more than a century.

As such it is the Baggies who will begin a clash with Liverpool in the unusual role of favourites.

This is the first meeting between the two sides in the League Cup since October 1997 when Liverpool won a third round tie 2-0 at The Hawthorns. West Brom has won three of the last four games between the two sides.

The Baggies have only made it past the third round once in the last six seasons, beating Manchester City 2-0 at this stage in 2010/11. Albion won the League Cup in the first season they entered it in 1965/66. Manager Steve Clarke won a League Cup winner's medal with Chelsea in 1998.

Current holders Liverpool have won the League Cup eight times - more than any other club. They beat three Premier League sides on the way to Wembley last season, Stoke, Chelsea and Manchester City. The Reds have scored in each of their last 12 League Cup ties.

West Brom boss Steve Clarke may choose to make changes to the side that beat Reading on Saturday.

Striker Shane Long is among those pushing for a return to the starting XI.

Liverpool defender Martin Kelly is out of action with a knee ligament injury, while Jonjo Shelvey is suspended.

Daniel Agger is also out with a bruised knee problem while Fabio Borini suffered a swollen ankle at the weekend.

Rodgers Wants Killer Instinct

Brendan Rodgers has urged his shot-shy Liverpool squad to show a killer instinct until he can bring in a goalscorer in January.

Since taking over from Kenny Dalglish in the summer, the Northern Irishman has been working on getting his squad adapted to a game-plan based around lots of possession.

In probably their best display so far, the Reds dominated Sunday's home match against Manchester United, even after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off before half-time, but ended up losing 2-1 having not taken advantage of their control.

Rodgers wants his players to threaten the goal more, especially as they have scored four times in five Premier League matches, but is happy with the way everything else is developing despite his side being in the bottom three.

"I said to them at half-time we have to be effective as well," said Rodgers, who is currently working to bring in a goalscorer to fit into his system in January.

"We have to hit the target. There is no point us getting into good areas in the field and twisting and turning and being bright if we don't shoot.

"You have to shoot otherwise you don't score - that is something we know across the board we need to improve on.

"There's no reticence to shoot but it is in the DNA of the player, the type of player. That is what we hoped we could bring in over the summer and we weren't able to do that.

"So we've got to go with what we've got until January and you bring in the certain type of player who can help that."

Despite the defeat to United, Rodgers believes the United match provided a watershed moment in his short tenure as Reds boss.

"I think we have seen enough in the team to see the improvement and the biggest thing for me to come out now is that control and domination," he added.

"We really dominated and controlled the ball against United, a top, experienced side, so for me that is a big moment from when I first came in."

Gerrard: Be Fair To Suarez

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has urged referees to be fair to Luis Suarez and not judge him on his reputation.

The Uruguay international was booked for diving during the Reds' draw at Sunderland earlier this month.

He was then denied a penalty by referee Mark Halsey in Sunday's defeat to Manchester United at Anfield despite appearing to be clipped by Jonny Evans in the box.

Gerrard believes the 25-year-old is suffering from the label given to him during a difficult period last season.

"I think even when Luis does get blatant penalties now he doesn't get them," said the skipper.

"It is down to referees to not judge him and give what they see - if it's not a penalty don't give him one but if it's clear give it. It's only fair.

"He was booked at Sunderland but against United it was a penalty."

Reds defender Glen Johnson conceded the match-winning spot-kick at Anfield after Antonio Valencia went down in the area.

He echoed the sentiments of his captain, adding: "Reputations go in front of people at times and because Valencia is not a known diver that is why he got the decision.

"I almost guarantee if it was exactly the same situation and it was Luis and not Valencia then it wouldn't be a penalty."

Agger & Borini Injuries Less Serious Than Feared

Concerns that Martin Kelly's injury on Sunday was a significant one and that the player would be out until at least the new year proved founded today when it was revealed that the young fullback had ruptured the ACL in his right knee. Unfortunately for Kelly, this injury will require his ACL be surgically reconstructed, and there's a good chance the player won't see action again this season—and that any kind of return to full fitness will be a long, difficult road for the 22-year-old.

Fortunately there's better news to report when it comes to Daniel Agger and Fabio Borini. Borini's bruised and swollen ankle was always considered the least serious of the three injuries suffered against Manchester United, and x-rays today confirmed that there was no fracture and signal a likely brief layoff.

Meanwhile for Daniel Agger the news is also encouraging. After he collided with teammate Glen Johnson and had to be stretchered off the pitch in the second half, and given his significant injury history, there had been concerns that Agger might miss months. Instead it has been confirmed that defender suffered a significant bone bruise to his knee, and with no ligament damage sustained his layoff should be nearly as short as Borini's.

Expecting either of Agger or Borini to be back over the next two weeks, a stretch that sees Liverpool face Norwich and Stoke in the league, Udinese in Europe, and West Brom in the League Cup might be overly optimistic, but both should be ready to return to action by the time Reading comes to town on October 20th following the international break.

Jones Keen To Prove Himself At Anfield

Brad Jones is aiming to make the most of a fresh start under Brendan Rodgers by kick-starting his Liverpool career.

The goalkeeper has made six senior appearances for the club since arriving from Middlesbrough in the summer of 2010. But Rodgers has indicated he is prepared to give Jones a chance in both the Europa League and the Capital One Cup this season.

The Australian has played in two of Liverpool's five European games this season, and is set for a League Cup run-out at West Brom on Wednesday night. Pepe Reina remains Liverpool's first choice keeper, but Jones has risen from third to second in the pecking order while Alexander Doni has been on leave in Brazil.

Jones has had a difficult time off the pitch over the last two years, with his son Luca dying last November after a long battle with leukemia. On the field, Jones feels the arrival of Rodgers from Swansea in June has given him a chance to start afresh.

The 30-year-old said: "It's settled down over time off the pitch. On the pitch, this season's been a lot better for me. The new manager involves me a lot more, which was difficult last year anyway with me being here and being away.

"I've started with a clean slate, fewer things to worry about this season, and a new manager coming in. It was a case of having to prove myself all over again but it's something I feel has gone well.

"I'm hoping the manager has been happy with the way things have been going, with the way I've trained and played in the few games I've had. It does feel like starting again, and that's probably a good thing, to be honest. I can start afresh and try to push on."

Jones paid tribute to Liverpool and their fans for supporting him and his family following the loss of his son. The goalkeeper has worked over the last two years to raise funds for the Anthony Nolan Trust cancer charity, for whom his partner Dani Lawrence ran in last year's London Marathon.

Jones feels that the volume of that support he received both during his son's illness and for his charity efforts has strengthened his bond with the club.

He said: "It's incredible, really. The club and the fans have been fantastic, not only with supporting me in general but in helping out with the charity stuff we do and supporting my girlfriend when she was doing the marathons and half-marathons for charity.

"It is a special place to be. It's one big family and nothing shows that more than the way I've been treated."

Rodgers Backs Excellent Wisdom

Brendan Rodgers believes Liverpool youngster Andre Wisdom has "all the qualities" needed to make a name for himself at the club.

The 19-year-old defender scored on his Reds debut in their thrilling 5-3 Europa League win over Young Boys and his talent has impressed the former Swansea boss, who thinks he could fit into the side's new style of play.

"It's always good when you put young players in and you see how they react," he told the club’s official website.

"I thought Andre Wisdom at right-back was excellent. He's got all the qualities that I believe will set him up to have a very good career.

"He's quick, he's strong and he passes the ball well, which is going to be important for us at this club and always has been. I thought he was a real positive note."

Wisdom played in a back-four containing Jamie Carragher against the Swiss side and Rodgers feels the veteran’s experience is key to young players coming into the team.

He added: "It is critical. The likes of Andre Wisdom look up so much to guys like Jamie Carragher, and to be on the same field as him and learning from his experience and leadership qualities is very, very important.

"Sometimes as a coach, you can coach players, you can talk with them, you can educate them, but when they go out onto the field, if they've got top players around them that can also help them manage the game from the inside.

"Guys like Carra are top class at that and, for me, your young players are only as good as your senior players."

Sahin With An Eye On Turkey Spot

Nuri Sahin has vowed to win a regular place in Liverpool's midfield and boost his chances of getting back into the Turkey starting line-up.

Sahin, 24, has made two starts for Brendan Rodgers' side since arriving on a season's loan from Real Madrid.

The midfielder is looking to rebuild his career at Anfield after a knee injury interrupted his progress in Spain last season.

The midfielder, who won the Bundesliga title with Borussia Dortmund two seasons ago before moving to Madrid, has fallen down the pecking order with his national team.

He was restricted to substitute appearances in Turkey's World Cup qualifiers against Netherlands and Estonia, but hopes that making an impression at Anfield will convince coach Abdullah Avci to give him a greater role in the Turkey side.

"First of all, I'll give everything to have a successful season at Liverpool and to play as many games as possible," Sahin told

"Recently I've experienced how quickly an injury can set you back. And of course, I want to be in the starting 11 for Turkey. That's my main aim and I think I'm close to achieving it."

Darren Burgess Leaves Liverpool

News emerged that after finding his role at the club diminished under Brendan Rodgers, conditioning coach Darren Burgess had decided to leave Liverpool in order to return to Australia. His departure follows that of head of sports science Peter Bruckner, who left in April alongside Damien Comolli when Fenway Sports Group began their overhaul of the club's backroom staff, and in fact there were rumours that Burgess was leaving the club shortly after Bruckner's dismissal and again in the summer after Brendan Rodgers was hired—only those rumours never ended with an official announcement.

When Rodgers arrived, there was the suggestion that with the new manager looking to bring much of his support staff from Swansea along with him to Liverpool there would no longer be room for Burgess at the club. Now it appears that those rumours—and the reasoning that went along with them—were true, and that his departure has in fact long been on the cards. It does, however, appear that Rodgers convinced Burgess to at least stick around for a few months to see if could adjust to working alongside the new arrivals and in a slightly less prominent role.

"Brendan wanted to bring in some staff from Swansea," said Burgess following his departure from the club, "and Brendan has been fantastic, but my role has changed and it's not really worth living on the other side of the world for. It's tough, because I worked for 15 years to try to get into the Premier League—it was my dream. But I leave thinking it's the right thing for my family."

A diminished role and a job far from home for him and his family seem as good a reason as any for Burgess to move on, and we wish him all the best wherever he ends up back in Australia.

Margaret Aspinall Calls For Lifetime Bans

A Hillsborough campaigner has called for lifetime bans for people making offensive gestures or chanting about tragedies.

Margaret Aspinall, a member of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, was at Anfield on Sunday as the club paid tribute to the work done in the search for justice following the publication of the independent panel's report exonerating fans for the deaths of 96 people in the 1989 disaster.

Both sets of supporters acted respectfully throughout, until after the final whistle when a couple of Liverpool supporters goaded the Manchester United contingent with a Munich gesture in reference to the 1958 crash which killed eight United players and 15 others.

The response of the United fans to the taunts was depressingly predictable, chanting 'Always the victims' and 'Murderers' - reminders of the Merseyside club's own recent tragedies in Hillsborough and Heysel.

Aspinall did not witness the incident, stressing it would not have affected what was an "uplifting" day anyway, but felt it was time action was taken against the perpetrators.

"A couple of fans came up to me at the end and said they hoped I hadn't heard any of it, and I didn't but a lot were upset by it," said Aspinall.

"Even if I had heard it it wouldn't have mattered because there were only a few morons. They are not winning. You have to look at the vast majority.

"I hope it never creeps back in again. Any form of chanting about any disaster is appalling and it makes you ashamed.

"If they get caught on CCTV they should not get a second chance - ban them for life so they can never go to a match again.

"The Manchester United fans were very good. Obviously there were a few morons but you can't blame the majority."

Prior to the match on Sunday, United great Sir Bobby Charlton presented former Reds striker Ian Rush with flowers, later to be laid at the Hillsborough memorial, and captains Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 red balloons.

Mosaics on three sides of the ground reading '96', 'Justice' and 'The Truth' were displayed for the opening minute of the game.

Aspinall said the occasion had been a fitting tribute in recognition of the 23-year fight for justice, which will now continue off the field in the law courts.

"It was a very emotional day but also a very uplifting one," she added.

"We just felt very humbled by what the two clubs and fans did.

"It was a fabulous thing and it didn't matter who won at the end of the day because it was all about the 96.

"It was a wonderful tribute and I thought it was a lovely moment, a lovely gesture, when Sir Bobby Charlton presented flowers to Ian Rush on the pitch."