Saturday, September 29, 2012

Match Preview: Norwich v Liverpool

Liverpool will hope a strong record against Norwich City in the Premier League will bring their first top-flight win of the season on Saturday.

Brendan Rodgers has yet to record a domestic three points since moving to Anfield, including last weekend's defeat by Manchester United, and will be desperate to address the struggles.

West Bromwich Albion was beaten at the beginning of Liverpool's League Cup defence in midweek but the Premier League is the priority.

And Rodgers will be pleased to know he has inherited a club record of having won five and lost none of the last six Premier League matches against Norwich.

Liverpool is also unbeaten in their last four visits to Carrow Road, winning the last three in a row, including Luis Suarez's hat-trick in this fixture last season.

Norwich have endured similar struggles in the Premier League and, like Rodgers, Chris Hughton has yet to record a win.

They sit just one place and point above relegation zone occupants Liverpool but Doncaster were defeated in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday and there could be some momentum.

Norwich has been counting the cost of their victory over Doncaster with the news Harry Kane could be sidelined for six weeks.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, damaged his ankle in the 1-0 win against the League One club.

Kane is also understood to have broken a metatarsal, although the full extent of the injury has not yet been confirmed.

Centre-back Daniel Agger has a good chance of being fit for Liverpool despite being carried off on a stretcher last weekend.

The Denmark international sustained bone bruising in the defeat by United but could retain his place in the starting line-up, although forward Fabio Borini (ankle) is rated at 50-50.

Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is suspended while Martin Kelly's knee operation means there is a decision to make in defence with left-back Jose Enrique still injured.

Gerrard: First Win Is Crucial

Steven Gerrard admits the pressure is growing in the Liverpool dressing room as they go in search of their first win of the Premier League season against Norwich.

The Reds have taken just two points from their opening five league matches, which have included home games against champions Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Their next three fixtures - against Norwich, Stoke and Reading - are definitely winnable on paper and Gerrard knows they must start converting their encouraging recent performances into victories.

"We have a run of games coming up now where there are points we should be taking but the longer it (not winning) goes on the more difficult it is going to get so it is important against Norwich we take maximum points," said the 32-year-old.

"If you look at the performances against City and United we should have six [more] points so it is not a case of 'they're out the way now, let's go beat the sides we should beat'.

"I think what we need to do is keep playing like we have done and hopefully we'll get the rub of the green, get referee's decisions in our favour and we will go on and take maximum points.

"Of course it puts more pressure on us. If we had won against United and beaten City everyone would be saying about how good a result it was at Sunderland (a 1-1 draw).

"But because that win hasn't come it seems as if we dropped points at Sunderland, so it is no good getting a point from these tough away games any more, we need to win them."

Carra Praises Rodgers' Bravery

Jamie Carragher has hailed Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers for being brave enough to put faith in the club's emerging talent.

Veteran defender Carragher again saw at first hand the potential of some of the budding stars of the future during Wednesday night's 2-1 win at West Brom in the Capital One Cup.

On-loan Real Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin scored both goals, wiping out an early opener from Gabriel Tamas, as holders Liverpool retained their grip on the trophy and set up a home tie with Rodgers' former club Swansea.

But others such as left-winger Oussama Assaidi, who laid on the winner, caught the eye, while Jerome Sinclair became Liverpool's youngest player at 16 years and six days as a late substitute.

Carragher said: "We believe that we have good young players at Liverpool.

"But you can have the best kids and academy in the world, and if the manager isn't brave enough to play them, then it doesn't make any difference.

"You have to give the manager credit for having the balls to play them and for the lads to have the sort of character they showed as well at West Brom after going 1-0 down.

"It isn't just the ability they have, it's the character as well. It's not just against West Brom that they've showed that. It was last week as well in the Europa League (against Young Boys).

"He's giving players a chance and they have to grasp it. So far they're doing that."

Carragher acknowledges the challenge facing Rodgers, who has admitted he has only 12 fit senior players ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash at Norwich.

He said: "It's difficult for the manager, we're in four competitions and the squad's a bit threadbare at moment.

"We missed out on a couple of players in the transfer window on the last day.

"We also have a few injuries as well, so it's difficult for the manager to juggle it all.

"I'm sure a lot of people looked at the team sheet at West Brom and thought it was going to be a difficult night for us.

"After the first 10 minutes maybe they were being proven right. But credit to the young players here."

Molby: Nuri Deserves Norwich Start

Jan Molby lauded the influence of on-loan midfielder Nuri Sahin after the Turkey international inspired a young Liverpool side to an important victory over West Brom on Wednesday night.

Anfield's Great Dane, who knows all about influencing matches from the centre of the park, was delighted to see Sahin pulling the strings and dictating the pace of the game at The Hawthorns.

And he believes the 24-year-old's decisive contribution mid-week should be rewarded with a starting berth for the Reds' trip to Norwich on Saturday.

"The performance of Nuri Sahin on Wednesday night did not come as a surprise to many of us, least of all myself," Molby wrote in his Liverpool Echo column. "I have written about the midfielder before and how much I like him as a player.

"He is starting to show us his form now and at the Hawthorns we caught glimpses of that football arrogance he plays with, which was great.

"Sahin was at the heart of a lot of what was good about Liverpool in the Capital One Cup against West Bromwich Albion.

"He deserves to start at Norwich City. He would go into my team for the weekend because we need players who can influence games."

Sahin fired the Reds' equalizer from distance before putting the finishing touches to an intricate 10-pass move to set-up a meeting with Swansea at Anfield in the fourth round.

The side was largely unchanged from the XI that secured a memorable 5-3 victory over Young Boys in Bern last Thursday and Molby is thrilled with the way the youthful outfit have displayed both character and composure during the two ties.

"What really encouraged me about the team was that they were confident in looking for those risky final passes, which would get them into dangerous positions," explained Molby.

"Barring one of two changes, it was the same side that went over to Switzerland last week and defeated Young Boys.

"And again, there was a real flow to their game. These lads have been given an opportunity and a lot of them have taken it with both hands.

"But not only did they impress everyone with their technique and skill at West Brom in midweek, but also their ability to dig in and show character.

"Brendan Rodgers was particularly pleased with the manner in which they fought back.

"The way Suso has played recently and with the confidence he has, I don't see any point in keeping him on the bench.

Meanwhile, Molby was keen to look ahead to Saturday's trip to Carrow Road with a degree of caution, pointing to manager Chris Hughton's ability to inspire his players as one of The Canaries' key strengths.

"Hughton is very much in the Paul Lambert mould of management and gets the players onside," said Molby. "He gets them working very well and he manages well, considering the limitations placed upon him.

"Norwich have had a difficult start to the season but remain a well organized side who will work as hard as anyone in the league."

"Up front, they have a real physical threat with Grant Holt and so, with Daniel Agger still a doubt, an important selection issue arises as who to partner Martin Skrtel at centre-half.

"With the current appetite for a new Liverpool, and the way he looked very comfortable on Wednesday night, I would select Sebastian Coates."

LFC Considering Offer For £10m Serie A Star

With Jamie Carragher winding down, and Daniel Agger still prime to picking up injuries, Liverpool could be in the market for another central defender in January, and according to new reports in Italy, the Reds are tracking Udinese defender Mehdi Benatia, and are considering making a 'tempting' offer.

Liverpool manager tried to sign the no-nonsense defender during the summer transfer window, but a deal could not be concluded.

In March - when Kenny Dalglish was at the helm - Udinese president Giampaolo Pozzo confirmed that Liverpool were interested. He told Radio KK:

"Arsenal and Liverpool have contacted me [about Benatia], but there is no mention of a transfer fee. At the end of the season we will see how it goes"

Chelsea and Manchester United are also reportedly interested in the £10m-rated defender, and with Nemanja Vidic injured again, And Rio Ferdinand getting older, Liverpool could face stiff competition for the Benatia's signature.

Central defence may not appear to be Liverpool's immediate priority, but it's arguably an area of the team that needs to be addressed.

Liverpool fans will get to see Benatia in action soon during the club's Europa League double-header with Udinese next month.

David Villa Reveals Summer Liverpool Inquiry

Liverpool has taken a lot of flak for not signing a star striker over the summer. Manager Brendan Rodgers has been frustrated to nearly no end that he was not allowed to bring in another player in the place of Andy Carroll. Having loaned the big Geordie striker to West Ham United, the Reds were left with only Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini as first team attackers.

However, it appears that aside from the failed attempt to sign Clint Dempsey from Fulham, the club were interested in a world class forward that has revealed he would have accepted the chance to move to the famous English club had his injury not prevented the summer transfer.

That world class striker is Barcelona and Spanish international David Villa. A leg break suffered in the club world cup last winter saw him miss the second half of the 2011/12 campaign as well as the European Championships for his country.

It has been revealed that Villa had indeed been interested in the potential move to Merseyside and has sparked debate that he could be a massive winter transfer period signing for Liverpool. According to both El Confidencial and Caught Offside, Villa is ready and willing to discuss his options.

If the Liverpool owners want a true solution to their scoring issues upfront, the combination of Villa and Luis Suarez with the support of Fabio Borini could be one of the most deadly front three groupings in the EPL. The creative ability of Villa could also potentially bring Steven Gerrard that much more back into the game for the Reds in the second half.

Suarez Defends Premier League Referees

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has refused to put the blame on referees regarding decisions that have gone against him this season.

Manager Brendan Rodgers yesterday revealed that he had spoken to Mike Riley, head of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd; irate with perceived mistreatment his players have been receiving this season. One of the northern Irish manager’s biggest gripes surrounded the incident at Anfield last Sunday, where the referee failed to award Suarez a penalty after a challenge from Manchester United’s Jonny Evans.

But the Uruguayan international has taken a more thoughtful approach, and has conceded that referees are tasked with a difficult enough job where mistakes can be made.

“There are times when the referee gets it right and others when he doesn't but that's all part and parcel of the game,” the forward told Sky Sports.

"It's happened in the last few games, like against Manchester United when the penalty shout on me wasn't given and then the one on (Antonio) Valencia was.

"But talking about it doesn't solve anything - the referee has a split second to see an incident. Let's just hope that it doesn't happen again in the future.”

Brendan Rodgers bemoaned a number of decisions that have gone against his side in the last week, particularly aggrieved with the decisions that saw Suarez’s penalty claim turned down and Jonjo Shelvey’s shown a red card.

Borini Wanted To Stay In Italy

Liverpool striker Fabio Borini would have welcomed a stay in Italy, his agent has revealed.

The Italian international arrived at Anfield for a fee of £10.5 million; just weeks after Roma had signed the remaining 50% of the player’s contract from Parma. Prior to his move to the Premier League, Borini was co-owned by Serie A sides Parma and Roma, a common circumstance in Serie A.

After a successful campaign, the Rome side paid Parma a fee of €5.3 million to acquire the other 50% of Borini’s rights and own the player outright. Little over two weeks later, the forward became Brendan Rodgers’ first signing as Liverpool boss.

But speaking to Italian radio station, Radio Incontro, Borini’s agent Marco De Marchi has suggested the striker would have been happy to stay at Roma. “His move to Liverpool happened very quickly, he wanted to stay at Rome. (and was prepared to even buy a house there.”

De Marchi was also quick to add that a move to Merseyside was a welcomed alternative.

“However, then the directors eventually decided to sell him to Liverpool and that was certainly a welcome destination for him.”

The 21-year-old, who Brendan Rodgers also signed on loan from Chelsea while he was managing Swansea City, has hit the back of the net just once so far this campaign, against Belarusian side Gomel in a Europa League qualifier.

Barnes: Education The Answer To Racism

John Barnes has told ESPN that "we are all unconscious racists" and said the punishments handed to Luis Suarez and John Terry are not the answer to ridding football of racism.

On Thursday, Chelsea captain Terry was fined £220,000 and given a four-match ban after an FA commission found him guilty of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand during a match at Loftus Road in October 2011.

In December 2011, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was given an eight-match ban and fined £40,000 after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in their match at Anfield on October 15.

Barnes, though, believes that education is the most effective way of clamping down on racism in the sport and suggested that everyone is guilty of "unconscious racism".

The former Liverpool winger told ESPN: "The trouble is stereotyping. We are all unconscious racists. It's what you think as much as what you say.

"If players are careful not to say it, [in order] to avoid bans, you cannot stop them thinking it. It just drives it all underground, and that can make it worse.

"So the approach of heavy-handed punishments isn't the answer. If you want to get rid of unconscious racism, you have to understand its causes and understand that people like John Terry and Luis Suarez are not going to change the way they think.

"The answer is through education, awareness, tolerance, and it is vital that we teach a new generation racial tolerance. It is about understanding the unconscious racism that can exist in all of us. It can exist in myself, but I can recognize it and deal with it.

"But the FA punishing John Terry and Luis Suarez won't change the way people think. It fails to get to the root of the problem.

"We need people to discuss the issues and not to be afraid of them, as they are now, and it is not the point whether you think John Terry is a racist or not.

"John Terry has been carrying his opinions for the whole of his life. His opinions about black people haven't changed, and he cannot help feeling the way he does about black people.

"But we all have to tackle the cause, the reasons why we feel this intolerance, rather than tackle the symptoms of it. John Terry is no different to anyone else - he is an unconscious racist, just as we all are."