Thursday, November 08, 2012

Match Preview: Anzhi Makhachkala v. Liverpool

After playing six of their last seven at home, Liverpool are back out on the road, this time heading to Moscow to face Anzhi Makhachkala as the final half of Europa League group play gets started.

The experiment continues for Liverpool, with significant changes in cup competition the norm, and a constant sense of anxious excitement about seeing youngsters and fringe first-teamers compete in matches that they're not necessarily ready for. They can over-perform and inspire as evidenced against Young Boys and West Brom, or they can look lost and disorganized, as witnessed against Swansea in the League Cup loss last week.

At least on Thursday there's not really any purgatory for Brendan Rodgers, the club announced the names that traveled earlier in the day, and it's a squad with more youngsters than squad regulars, with only a handful who have seen consistent minutes in league. The cup competitions have been an excellent avenue for Rodgers to bleed those from the Academy, and Thursday looks to be another chance for the manager to challenge his younger players.

Anzhi poses a significant challenge, even if there's a few factors negating what would otherwise make for an overwhelming atmosphere; the club play their home matches in Moscow, meaning a shorter trip, and the crowd is expected to be sparse in an effort to control the hostility that's marred Anzhi's appearances to date. They've played twice since their loss at Anfield, first losing away to Rubin Kazan 2-1 before bouncing back with a 3-1 home win over Terek Grozny. It's certainly an important match for both sides, but with Anzhi two points off Liverpool and Udinese facing Young Boys at home, three points are vital for Guus Hiddink's squad going into their final group fixtures.

A host of changes are in store, meaning that in addition to the absences of Martin Kelly, Lucas, and Fabio Borini through injury, Liverpool will be without most of their first-choice eleven and the recovering Glen Johnson and Pepe Reina.

That means matchups against Young Boys, West Brom, and Swansea will serve as the template, with a side that'll leave no middle ground about where the priorities lie ahead of Sunday's challenging trip to London to face Chelsea. It looks like another opportunity for Brad Jones in goal barring an appearance for Peter Gulacsi, and either a quick return for Andre Wisdom, the re-emergence of Jon Flanagan, or Jordan Henderson deputizing at right back.

Hopefully it's Flanagan, which would spell Wisdom ahead of the weekend and leave Henderson available for the midfield, where options are limited even with his presence. The rest of the back line seems easy enough, with Jamie Carragher, Sebastian Coates, and Jack Robinson the most likely to feature.

It’s a threadbare midfield without Gerrard, Allen, and Sahin, leaving either Conor Coady or Dani Pacheco in line for an appearance and a mandate that Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey start. I suppose Suso could make his way into the midfield as well, but like Wisdom, he seems set for a spot at Stamford Bridge, and anything other than a substitute appearance could prove too taxing. Pacheco was very impressive for the U21s against Wolves and might get the nod, and after the appearance against Swansea, the less said about Joe Cole the better.

We saw against Swansea that Samed Yesil is nowhere near ready to lead the line at the senior level yet, and on short rest (like Pacheco) another start might not be likely. Rodgers doesn't have many other options if he wants a striker in the lineup aside from Yesil and Adam Morgan, so it's got to be one of the two. I'll go with Morgan given Yesil's outing earlier in the week, and we're left to hope that he receives more direct support than Yesil did against Swansea. Stewart Downing and Oussama Assaidi have started in every cup match Liverpool have played since advancing to the group stage, with Downing getting the winner at Anfield when these teams faced off two weeks ago.

Rodgers Leaves Out Big Names

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has left out most of his top stars for Thursday night's Europa League tie against Anzhi Makhachkala.

Rodgers has decided to rotate his squad for the game in Moscow with Sunday's Premier League clash with Chelsea in mind.

Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin, Daniel Agger, Jose Reina, Glen Johnson Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique have all not travelled as Rodgers looks to keep them fresh for the trip to Stamford Bridge.

Youngsters Stephen Sama, Adam Morgan and Conor Coady have been called into the squad, while Jon Flanagan is available again after injury.

Daniel Pacheco is also included after impressing for the under 21s earlier this week, with Jamie Carragher set to captain the Reds.

Rodgers has challenged his fringe players to prove they are worthy of a place in his first-choice side.

Many of the side who struggled in last week's Capital One Cup defeat at home to Swansea will again be given the chance to impress, but Rodgers denied those players needed to redeem themselves against a side second in the Russian League but he is looking for some of them to show they can make a difference.

"I knew the cup game (against Swansea) was always going to be difficult," said Rodgers.

"But I've said to the players the biggest thing we look for is that their focus and concentration is right.

"Everyone wants to play in the Premier League but this is a real opportunity to shine and show you can get into that team.

"We have already seen that this season Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom all started in the cup competitions and they are now regulars playing in the Premier League team.

"Every game is a platform. There is a great motivation there for the players but it is also the opportunity for them to prove they can play and obviously get themselves into that team."

Rodgers defended the strength of the side he could put out on Thursday at the Lokomotiv Stadium - UEFA will not allow Anzhi to play in their troubled home region of Dagestan.

"It is not a secondary team," added Rodgers. "It is a team in order to a) win the game and b) give players an opportunity to play where they want to play.

"There is certainly no lack of respect for Anzhi. We have a squad here that we feel can get a result."

Liverpool Face Losing Out On Genoa Ace

Liverpool could miss out on Andreas Granqvist as Zenit St Petersburg look to continue their spending with a move for the Genoa defender.

Granqvist, who spent time at Wigan between 2007 and 2008, admitted last month that he was flattered by interest from Liverpool and hinted he would be keen on a switch to Anfield.

But free-spending Zenit, who splashed out over £70m on Hulk and Axel Witsel earlier this year, are also tracking the Sweden international.

And according to sources in Italy, Zenit are readying a £6.5m bid for the Sweden international.

Liverpool Ready To Steal Manchester United Target

Liverpool is aiming to steal Heerenveen star Filip Djuricic from under the noses of Manchester United.

The 20-year-old has been a long-term target for United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and even had a spell on trial at Old Trafford in 2009.

It is thought that United were unable to obtain a work permit for the Serbia international at the time, leaving him to join Dutch side Heerenveen instead.

But Djuricic could still yet fulfil his Premier League dream, with Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers readying a January move for the attacking midfielder.

Anfield chiefs hope that a bid of around £4m could be enough to land the talented youngster, whose ability to also play as a second striker will strengthen the Reds depleted forward-line.

Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea Chase Tommie Hoban

Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have joined the hunt for Watford wonderkid Tommie Hoban.

Arsenal and Manchester City were already tracking highly-rated centre-half Hoban who has forced his way into Gianfranco Zola’s first-team this season.

Scouts from United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool were at Vicarage Road on Saturday to watch Hoban, 18, impress in Watford’s win over high-flying Leicester.

Zola said: "Tommie Hoban was the best player on the pitch, no question in my mind.

"His confidence, his touch - he has a calm in possession which is a great quality for a defender.

"You don't need to tell Tommie something twice either. That's why he's improving so much game by game."

Arsenal let Hoban go when he was 14 due to a knee injury but have kept tabs on his progress, along with City, as he has battled back at Watford.

The Irish youth international made his first Hornets start in September and been an ever-present since.

Liverpool End Didier Drogba Interest

Liverpool has been forced to end their pursuit of reported target Didier Drogba after the former Chelsea striker pledged his future to Shanghai Shenhua.

The Reds were rumoured to be keen on taking the Ivorian on loan in January but he has now made it clear he would prefer to stay in China and would not be returning to England.

'I hope next season I can start again from the beginning with Shenhua,' Drogba told the Shanghai Morning Post.

'Because I joined relatively late, I didn't prepare with the team early in the season, so our results were not very good.'

The 34-year-old has had a tough start to his career in Asian football.

He's had numerous managers in a short space of time and a dispute among the club's hierarchy nearly led to his contract being cancelled because the club wouldn't have been able to pay his estimated £300,000-per-week wages.

The Chinese Super League begins in March.

Wigan Shot Stopper Rejects Liverpool Rumours

Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi has dismissed reports linking him with a move to Liverpool, insisting that he is 100 percent committed to the Wigan cause.

The 30-year-old has often been Wigan’s savior since he made his move to the DW Stadium from Bolton Wanderers permanent in 2011, and has established himself as one of the most competent shot-stoppers in the league.

Rumours suggesting that Pepe Reina’s future as Liverpool’s number one may be in doubt emerged over the weekend, with Al Habsi touted a potential replacement for the Spaniard, but the Oman international has moved quickly to cool talk of a move to Anfield

"I have said it many times before but I love this football club, I love the fans and I hope to give them much more," Al Habsi told the Wigan Evening Post.

"I heard about what was said at the weekend, but that kind of thing is not of any importance to me.

"I am very, very happy at Wigan - as has been the case since I first came here.

"I am doing well, my form is coming on with every game I play, and my confidence is very high.

Lille Coach Eyes Cole Return

Lille coach Rudi Garcia has admitted he would love to have Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole back at the club.

Cole enjoyed a successful spell on loan at Lille last season before returning to Liverpool in the summer.

The 30-year-old has struggled to establish himself in Brendan Rodgers' plans this term and was criticized for his performance in last week's Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea.

Cole's long-term future has been the subject of speculation with the transfer window set to reopen in January and his former Lille team-mate Yohan Cabaye suggested over the weekend the former Chelsea and West Ham man should consider a return to the French club.

Garcia admits they could not afford to sign Cole on a permanent basis on the summer, but would love to bring him back to Lille.

"Joe is not only a great person, but also a great footballer. But financially it was not possible to save him," Garcia told RMC

"This can be prohibitive for the return of Joe to Lille. Sportingly and humanly, I'd love to see him back."

Liverpool Captain Reveals Mourinho Ambition

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has revealed that Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho is the manager he would most like to play under, were he given the opportunity to choose.

This is not to say that Gerrard has his sights set on a transfer away from Liverpool to Real Madrid, but the England skipper was merely answering questions from supporters in a Twitter Q&A.

When asked by one fan to identify a manager he would want to work with, Gerrard appeared to take little time to select Mourinho, with the Liverpool star calling the Santiago Bernabeu coach 'the Special One'.

Gerrard could be plying his trade with Mourinho at Real Madrid had things panned out differently in his career, with the 32-year-old previously revealing that the Portuguese had wanted to bring him to the club.

It was not the first time Mourinho attempted to secure the signature of Gerrard, with the former Chelsea boss twice trying to sign the Liverpool legend during his time at Stamford Bridge.

In 2005, following Liverpool's famous Champions League win in Istanbul, Gerrard outlined his desire to quit Anfield and sign for Mourinho's English champions.

However, Gerrard soon abandoned this idea to sign a new contract with Liverpool and reiterated his love for the club.

"[Liverpool] weren’t really challenging at the time, so there was something to think about. But I ended up saying no and a year later I said no again," Gerrard told the Daily Mail in September this year.

Liverpool Braced For Hearing Over Approach For Dempsey

Liverpool are braced for a Premier League hearing to fight a charge of illegally approaching Clint Dempsey during last summer’s failed bid for the former Fulham striker.

Dempsey left Craven Cottage for Tottenham on deadline day last August despite well-documented interest from the Merseyside club.

Fulham did not drop their complaint following Dempsey’s departure and are still rigorously intent on calling Liverpool to account for what they believe is a breach of the rules.

Evidence is still being assembled in the case, but Liverpool could be fined or hit with a suspended points deduction if they are unable to defend themselves against the charge.

Fulham made a formal protest to the Premier League in July after taking exception to comments by manager Brendan Rodgers, reported on Liverpool’s official website, expressing interest in the striker.

There was also an embarrassing gaffe on the New England Sports Network website which erroneously claimed a deal was agreed. Although Liverpool Football Club has no editorial control over NESN, they have the same owners and a private apology was issued to the London club for the mistake.

Liverpool intend to fight any charge and are aware an investigation is ongoing, although it is understood they have not yet received any confirmation of a timescale as to when a hearing will take place.

Fulham’s case will focus on the public comments released by Liverpool, which undoubtedly impacted on the Anfield club’s negotiating position when it came to trying to seal a deal for the American international.

Liverpool has been called to account by the Premier League before, when they were fined for an illegal approach to Middlesbrough’s Christian Ziege in 2000.

Spurs also reported Liverpool when they moved for Robbie Keane in 2008, although they dropped the complaint on completion of the £20 million sale.

In recent years, Chelsea received a three-point, suspended penalty for illegally approaching Ashley Cole.