Sunday, October 28, 2012

Match Preview: Everton vs Liverpool

Everton and Liverpool meet at Goodison Park as part of Super Sunday for the 219th Merseyside derby.

The two clubs are famously separated by less than a mile across Stanley Park and have long been fierce rivals.

This season's first meeting promises to be no different and hosts Everton are arguably enjoying the unusual experience of going into the game as favourites.

David Moyes' team sits fourth in the Premier League after making an uncharacteristically good start to the campaign, taking 15 points from eight games.

In contrast, Brendan Rodgers has been frustrated by the start of his Liverpool reign after collecting just nine points from eight matches to leave them in 12th position.

Everton do have the local bragging rights after finishing higher than Liverpool for only the second time in the last 25 seasons but they lost all three derbies, including an FA Cup semi-final in 2011/12.

Whatever happens at Goodison Park on Sunday, it seems certain to be another fiery encounter as the derby has seen more red cards - 20 - than any other fixture in Premier League history.

Steven Pienaar is suspended after being sent off for two bookings in last weekend's draw at Queens Park Rangers.

Marouane Fellaini missed the game at Loftus Road with the knee injury which also forced him to pull out of Belgium's squad for their recent World Cup qualifiers.

Tony Hibbert has missed the last five matches with a calf injury, while Darron Gibson has been absent for the previous six games with a thigh problem, although he has returned to training.

Jose Reina missed last weekend's win over Reading and Thursday's Europa League victory over Anzhi Makhachkala and it remains to be seen if the goalkeeper recovers from his hamstring injury.

Fabio Borini was ruled out for three months with a broken right foot earlier in October, while Glen Johnson was substituted at half-time against Anzhi with a muscle spasm.

Martin Kelly was sidelined for six months after suffering cruciate knee ligament injury in the September defeat by Manchester United and midfielder Lucas Leiva is another long-term absentee.

Rodgers Urges Ref To Stay Calm

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has warned referee Andre Marriner that he has a big part to play in this weekend's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

There have been 14 dismissals in the fixture, always one of the feistiest in the Premier League, over the last decade - and Rodgers has urged Marriner not to be too card-happy on Sunday.

"I have seen it over the years - the real firecrackers of games, full of intensity and passion, which they should be because that is what derbies are about," Rodgers said.

"But it is also important to stay calm, and I think the referee has a big part to play in it as well because I have also seen over the games some of the challenges. I think the history of this game shows there have been a lot of red cards.

"I would hope this weekend that we might get a decision that goes our way for once.

"The Merseyside derby is a terrific game full of passion and quality, and I just hope the referee in Andre can really ensure that everything is in control and that the football is what is talked about."

Liverpool will enter the fixture with momentum behind them, having beaten Russian side Anzhi impressively in the Europa League on Thursday.

Rodgers Waiting On Reina

Brendan Rodgers will assess the progress of Pepe Reina before deciding whether or not to include him in the Liverpool squad for Sunday’s Merseyside derby.

Reina suffered a minor hamstring strain while on international duty with Spain and was forced to sit out last weekend’s 1-0 win over Reading at the victory against Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League on Thursday evening.

He has returned to training but Rodgers is not sure if he will be ready for the trip to Goodison Park and will wait for as long as possible before making a call on his fitness.

“Pepe is back in training,” Rodgers told his pre-match press conference at Melwood. “So that’s good news. He’s working well and we’ll assess him over the next 12 hours.”

Brad Jones has covered for Reina in his absence and he is on standby to continue in the role should the Spain international be ruled out.

“Brad’s been excellent. The goalkeepers join in a lot of our work in training. They get involved in a lot of the possession work. Brad’s temperament has been excellent. I think he has come in and looked a real presence in the goal,” Rodgers went on.

“The nature of his game has been good and when he has been asked to make a save he has. So I’ve been really pleased with Brad since he has come in and played a number of our Europa League games and done very well.

“You need that competition with goalkeepers.”

Liverpool Bid £5m For Ilicic

The reports of Liverpool’s interest in Palermo midfielder Josip Ilicic continue to gather pace with a £5m offer on the table.

It has been rumoured for several weeks that Liverpool are tracking the Slovenian international and British media stepped up a gear today.

There are suggestions that the Reds are prepared to pay £5m for the creative midfielder, although they face competition in Serie A from Roma and Inter.

The 24-year-old has been in Sicily since 2010 when he made the move from Maribor.

Europe League: Liverpool 1 - 0 Anzhi Makhachkala

A superb strike from Stewart Downing saw Liverpool claim victory over Anzhi Makhachkala and move into top spot in Group A.

Downing cracked home an unstoppable effort from outside the box in the 53rd minute after coming in from the left flank.

The win was no less than the Reds deserved having been the better side for much of the contest, and they now lead the group with six points from three games.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers fielded a strong side including the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, resisting the temptation to rest a host of players ahead of Sunday's Barclays Premier League derby at Everton and making only three changes from the win over Reading on Saturday.

It was clear Rodgers was not about to underestimate nouveaux riche Anzhi, who lead the Russian top-flight, and are overseen by one-time Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink and had former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o up front.

The Reds were looking to bounce back from a 3-2 home defeat to Udinese in their previous Europa League outing and made a positive start without fashioning anything to really trouble visiting goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov.

He easily collected a shot from Suarez in the 12th minute and then pushed away an effort by Glen Johnson before Jonjo Shelvey - scorer of three goals in the previous two group games - ballooned an attempt over the bar from the edge of the box.

Eto'o had been relatively quiet, miscontrolling on the occasion when the ball had come to him in a useful position in the area, and Liverpool continued to carve out half-chances, with Oussama Assaidi seeing Gabulov get behind his strike to the near post and then catching his free-kick.

Johnson found himself through on goal in the 35th minute, but failed to get a shot in and took a tumble under the attentions of Kamil Agalarov, with the referee waving the Reds defender's penalty claims away.

Nuri Sahin headed a corner over and Daniel Agger was next to make a foray forward from defence, trying his luck from distance with an effort that curled high and wide.

Anzhi registered an attempt on goal in first-half stoppage-time when Fedor Smolov fizzed the ball across Brad Jones and wide.

Rodgers added new impetus to his attack at the interval by introducing Raheem Sterling for Johnson, and there were encouraging signs for Liverpool soon after the break, with Martin Skrtel's powerful drive bringing a save out of Gabulov before Gerrard headed Shelvey's cross wide.

The Reds kept up the pressure and moments later they made the breakthrough as Downing, who had been shifted to left-back, cut in from out wide and smashed the ball into the net.

Suarez almost swiftly added another with a strike that went just the wrong side of the post, and Shelvey then sent a shot into Gabulov's arms.

With the lead still only at 1-0, though, Liverpool could not afford to switch off at the back and they survived a scare in the 70th minute when defensive sloppiness saw the ball come to Eto'o, whose effort was saved by Jones.

Assaidi and Suarez went down in the box in separate tussles with the referee only being moved to book the latter for protesting, before Mbark Boussoufa saw a shot deflect wide of Jones' goal.

Agger thought he had doubled Liverpool's advantage when he headed the ball from Gabulov's hand and lashed in, but he also only picked up a booking.

Anzhi issued further warnings, with Skrtel making a goal-line clearance to deny Mehdi Carcela and substitute Lacina Traore striking wide.

Gerrard then fired over and Carcela struck wide at the other end before the full-time whistle confirmed Liverpool's win.

Downing Praised By Liverpool Manager

Stuart Downing has been praised by manager Brendan Rodgers after scoring the winning goal in Liverpool's 1-0 win against Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday night.

It has not been plain sailing for Downing following his estimated £20 million transfer from Aston Villa in 2011, and has dipped in and out of the team starting just one Premier League game under Rodgers.

Rodgers admitted Downing had been having a "rough ride" but seems to be impressed by the 28-year-olds latest performance.

"It's been a tough time but he's a good guy," explained Rodgers. "He's had a rough ride but he's an important member of our team."

After the victory, Rodgers guided Downing towards the Liverpool faithful to soak up the applause.

"He got a good reception from the Kop," Rodgers said. "He scored a brilliant goal. Stewart is a wonderful technician off either foot. I think the Kop realized that it was a wonderful goal at the end and if you can get a round of applause from them, which would mean a lot to anyone - a player, manager, coach, whatever.

You saw how they reacted accordingly. They gave him a great round of applause and that will hopefully do him good going forward. His commitment was excellent. He had to play in a different position in the second half, but he has got the quality to do that."

Downing seems happy to fight for his place in the team and said, "It was crowded around the box so I just thought hit it. They made it tough for us, so it was off the cuff."

"Football is full of ups and downs," he added. "It's how you react to them and I'm working hard to get back into the team."

His good form is coming at the right time for Liverpool with a visit to Everton on Sunday posing a stern test.

Assaidi Pleased With Progress

Oussama Assaidi believes he is improving all the time and hopes to be given further opportunities to impress at Liverpool.

The 24-year-old summer signing from Heerenveen made his sixth appearance of the season on Thursday as Brendan Rodgers' side edged out Anzhi Makhachkala in the UEFA Europa League.

He produced what was easily his best performance to date against the Russian outfit and hopes that he can now kick on after adjusting to the demands of life in England.

"I am very happy. We played very well and got the win," Assaidi told Liverpool's official website.

"Anzhi are a difficult side, but we did well and everyone is very happy.

"It was an important win to go top of the group. We did a good job and I'm delighted.

"I think I played well. I should have scored a goal, but I missed. I played the 90 minutes and I am very happy to do that and to have been given a chance by the coach.

"I think I am improving. Every day I am getting better and better. I am getting more physical and fitter and fitter. I'm delighted to be a part of this big club."

Wisdom Grateful To Team-Mates

Liverpool teenager Andre Wisdom has praised the club's senior players for helping him make the step up into the first team this season.

Brendan Rodgers' side claimed their first home win of the campaign against Reading last weekend with three teens in the starting line-up.

Winger Raheem Sterling, 17, has attracted most of the attention, and he demonstrated his vast promise again with the winning goal, but also playing a key role were 18-year-old midfielder Suso and 19-year-old full-back Wisdom.

Rodgers was keen Wisdom should not be overlooked in the praise for Sterling and, since making a goalscoring debut in the UEFA Europa League against Young Boys in September, the academy product has been virtually ever-present.

Injuries to Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique gave the teenager his chance in the Premier League, but he has grabbed it with both hands and it would be a surprise if he was not in the team again for the Merseyside derby against Everton on Sunday.

The youngster said: "It's been good making the step up. It's very competitive and hard but I think it's going well.

"With the players around me, the likes of Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson, it makes it that little bit easier because they're players with great amounts of experience and they pass it on to the young lads.

"It is difficult but that does really help, and it's important because to play in the Premier League you need more than just quality, you need to be mentally in tune as well.

"And that's hard when you're young because we're used to reserve-team football where you might get 50 people turn up to the game, so to go and play in front of 45,000 is a big shock."

The intensity is certain to be turned up another notch at Goodison Park this weekend, where Everton will be eager to build on their good start to the season with victory over their great rivals.

Wisdom is a Yorkshireman rather than a Liverpudlian but his aunt and uncle are Reds and he has experienced the occasion before, albeit as a spectator.

He said: "I've been to them and I can see the intensity and the fire in everyone's eyes. I've played in many reserve-team and youth-team derbies, and even in those the level of competitiveness is bigger than most games.

"It would be amazing to win. Everton have had a good start to the season but I think we have as well, even though the results haven't always gone our way. We just need to get the breakthrough, as we did last weekend.

"That's given the club a little lift and hopefully we can move forward and continue to keep our home record good as well as the away one.

"I think we should look forward and hopefully we can kick on by getting a few good results to help us up the table. But we just have to be patient. We're all willing to work hard and we all want the same thing, and that's to win games."

Shelvey Won’t Change His Style

Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey has spoken out about his row with Alex Ferguson but insists he won’t change the style of play that saw him given a red card in last month’s clash with Manchester United.

“I'd seen him (Ferguson) in the fourth official's ear after I made the tackle so as I was walking off I said: 'It's your fault I got sent off,” Shelvey told Sky Sports.

"I still stand by my decision that I wasn't going to pull out of that tackle. If I had pulled out I would have hurt myself and the fans would have gone mental."

"I knew I was in the wrong and then afterwards, as I was walking down the tunnel with my mate and his girlfriend, Ferguson was walking towards me. I just pulled him and apologized for what I had done.

"I said I was wrong and frustrated, I'm a young boy and emotions had got the better of me. But I told him I wouldn't have pulled out of the tackle if it was there. He said it was fine, that it takes a man to apologize, it was an emotional game and there are no hard feelings."

"My dad brought me up to respect people but if you have your opinion and feel you're in the right, not to be afraid to say it. I think that counts in all aspects of life. You have to fear no one - except for our manager here.

"It is about wanting to be a winner and a lot of games can be won on who wants it the most. I still stand by my decision that I wasn't going to pull out of that tackle. If I had pulled out I would have hurt myself and the fans would have gone mental."