Saturday, November 10, 2012

Match Preview: Chelsea vs Liverpool

Chelsea and Liverpool renew their rivalry at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Super Sunday.

After several meetings in the UEFA Champions League and domestic cup finals, including last season's FA Cup, since the turn of the Millennium, these fixtures have developed into tense encounters.

Add to that the fact £50million man Fernando Torres will likely be facing former club Liverpool and looking for his first win against his ex-employers and it promises to be another fiery clash.

The Spaniard made his debut for Chelsea against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge after his January 2011 move but has lost all three Premier League meetings and also in the League Cup last season.

Torres did not feature in the last campaign's FA Cup final, when Liverpool was defeated 2-1 at Wembley.

Meanwhile, after losing top spot in the table to Manchester United, Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea, who defeated Shakhtar Donetsk with the last kick of the game in the Champions League on Wednesday, will want to get back on track.

Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers, who worked on the Blues' coaching staff earlier in his career, is desperate for a change of luck after collecting just two league wins since taking over in the summer.

The Anfield club also travels to London on the back of a Europa League defeat by Anzhi Makhachkala, who won 1-0 against a much-changed side in Moscow.

England left-back Ashley Cole will once again be missing for Chelsea when they host Liverpool.

Cole sat out Wednesday's Champions League win over Shakhtar with a hamstring injury and manager Di Matteo hopes he can return for next weekend's trip to West Bromwich Albion.

John Terry, back from suspension, will be pushing for a start on Sunday after he was surprisingly left on the bench in midweek, while Frank Lampard is still out.

Liverpool rested Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin, Daniel Agger, Jose Reina, Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique for their midweek Europa League commitments.

The majority are likely to return to the starting XI at Stamford Bridge, although it remains to be seen if Reina and Johnson are fit.

Reina has missed six matches with a hamstring injury while Johnson has been absent for four games with a similar niggle.

Liverpool Star Hopes To Keep Torres Quiet

Martin Skrtel is determined to stop ex-Liverpool star Fernando Torres scoring against his old club when the clubs meet on Sunday.

Torres moved from Liverpool to Chelsea for £50 million in January 2011 following an impressive 81 goals and 142 appearances at the Merseyside club. This is in stark contrast to his time at Stamford Bridge where he has scored just 19 in 84 appearances.

Skrtel is not being lulled into a false sense of security and is anxious to keep the Spanish star under wraps.

"Now he is playing for Chelsea and if I play I will be marking him,” Skrtel told Liverpool’s website. "It’s going to be special but we have to look after him because even if he isn’t scoring goals at the moment he is still one of the best strikers in the world and still dangerous. We have to keep our eye on him for 90 minutes and not let him score.

“I haven’t seen Chelsea play too many times this season but from what I’ve heard his performances are better than last season. It’s going to be hard playing against him but I believe in my qualities and the quality of our team and I believe we won’t let him score.”

Asked if he would rather score himself or stop Torres scoring, Skrtel added: “Definitely stop Fernando scoring a goal because as a defender the main job on the pitch is to stop the striker scoring and try to keep a clean sheet. I always look forward to every single game I can play for this club. These big games are special and Sunday will be special.”

Johnson Return Boosts Liverpool

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson is set to return to first-team action against his former club Chelsea on Sunday, while Pepe Reina could also make his comeback.

Hamstring injuries have forced full-back Johnson and goalkeeper Reina out of the past four and six games respectively.

But manager Brendan Rodgers is confident that Johnson, who was Chelsea's first signing in the Roman Abramovich era, will be able to take his place in the defence.

Reina is more doubtful but Rodgers believes he will definitely be fit to face Wigan next Saturday if he does not line up against the Champions League winners.

"Glen looks very strong so he will be fit," Rodgers said. "We will assess Pepe over the next 24 hours and if he doesn't make the weekend, he will be fit for next. Pepe is recuperating very well and he is working very hard."

Australia international Brad Jones has been deputizing for Reina but Rodgers confirmed the Spaniard will be straight back into the team when he is able to return, saying: "Brad has done very well but Pepe is our No. 1 keeper."

The trip to Stamford Bridge pits Liverpool against their former striker Fernando Torres, who scored 33 goals in his debut campaign at Anfield and left for Chelsea in a British record £50 million deal in January 2011.

The same day Liverpool bought Luis Suarez from Ajax for £22.8 million and Rodgers, who said he had never heard rumours that Torres would welcome a return to Anfield, praised his Uruguayan top scorer.

He said: "Certainly from the outside, Fernando Torres did a terrific job here. In those first 18 months he was fantastic. He decided to move on and Liverpool got a world-class striker who has been absolutely breathtaking.

"Particularly this season some of his play has been fantastic. He is a world-class striker and obviously Fernando Torres left to go to Chelsea and good luck to him. I'm blessed to work at a great club with great players and Luis is one of them. Liverpool have done terrifically from that deal."

Liverpool Hope Martinez Can Solve Striker Shortage

Liverpool is set to renew their interest in Porto striker Jackson Martinez.

Martinez, 26, was strongly linked with a move to Anfield during the summer but he opted to join the Portuguese side.

The Columbian forward has continued his impressive goalscoring run, netting 10 goals in just 11 games this season.

Italian sources claim Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has continued to monitor his progress and is ready to meet the buy-out clause in his contract.

With Andy Carroll joining West Ham on loan, Liverpool's attacking options are limited and Rodgers wants to provide more ammunition for Luis Suarez.

Porto will be desperate to keep Martinez at the club, but may be forced to sell their star forward if Liverpool meets the asking price in his contract which is believed to be around £18.5m.

Arsenal Join Liverpool In Scouting Austin

Arsenal and Liverpool are among the clubs keeping an eye on Burnley hot-shot Charlie Austin, according to the Daily Mail.

Austin has enjoyed an excellent start to the season after bagging an incredible 20-goals in just 16 games for Burnley so far this term, a haul that makes him the top scorer in all of Europe – ahead of superstars Lionel Messi (18) and Cristiano Ronaldo (19).

Unsurprisingly, his form has attracted interest from some of the Premier League’s top sides and Arsenal and Liverpool have sent scouts to run-the-rule over the 23-year-old in recent weeks.

Everton, Newcastle, Reading and Aston Villa have also been tracking the striker during Burnley’s last five games and several interested scouts watched on as he found the net once again with a late winner over Leeds United on Tuesday night.

Burnley is aware of the growing interest in their star striker and it seems the Championship side will do well to keep hold of Austin this January. However, if they are forced to sell they will be guaranteed a healthy profit on the £1.5m they spent on the player just last year.

It’s not often clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool buy from the Championship and there have been only a handful of names that have been able to make the step-up and perform at the highest level. While the standard is no doubt not at the same level as the Premiership, clubs can find great value in the Championship and natural goal-scorers like Austin could be worth a punt.

Liverpool Join City In The Hunt For Chelsea's Conor

Liverpool has joined the race to sign Chelsea's highly-rated midfielder Conor Hunte.

Sportsmail revealed last month that Premier League champions Manchester City were showing interest and they are due to watch him in action against Crystal Palace this weekend.

However, Liverpool is also keen on the England U17 international and wants to tempt him to join their burgeoning set up.

Hunte is 16 and has yet to sign a professional contract with Chelsea. He has played three times for England U17s but the attacking midfielder is uncertain about staying at Stamford Bridge.

He impressed City in the recent youth match between the two sides that Chelsea won 2-0 but Liverpool have a growing reputation for snapping up the best young players in the country and giving them a platform to break into the first team under Brendan Rodgers.

Raheem Sterling has forced his way into the reckoning at 17 and has now been given a full England call-up while Jerome Sinclair has also made his first team debut at just 16 years and six days after joining from West Brom.

That may encourage Hunte to move north although Liverpool and City would still have to pay a compensation fee.

Newcastle United Plan On Renewing Efforts To Sign Carroll

Alan Pardew has not given up on bringing Andy Carroll back to Newcastle United, and plans to bid for the striker once his loan spell at West Ham United expires.

Newcastle was keen to resign their former player from Liverpool during the summer, but the club’s demands proved to be too high. The 23-year-old eventually joined the Hammers on a season-long loan before the transfer window shut, but Pardew has revealed that the club would like to involve should Liverpool decide to sell the player next summer.

"He's a Liverpool player and not wanted so at some point he's going to move permanently," Pardew told BBC Sport. "I'd like to think we'll be in the mix for that."

The former Charlton and Southampton manager also admitted he would like to bring Kevin Nolan back to Tyneside, if he had the money at his disposal. The 30-year-old left St James’ Park for West Ham in 2011 and has enjoyed a successful spell in East London, which has continued to flourish this season alongside his old Newcastle teammate Carroll.

"Big Andy hopefully one day will want to come back and certainly I'd like to have them both in my squad now because we would be stronger for it. But obviously finances restrict me from doing that."

Match Report: Anzhi Makhachkala 1 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool conceded top spot in Group A to Europa League opponents Anzhi Makhachkala after defeat in Moscow.

Giant striker Lacina Traore scored a brilliant individual goal as the visitors switched off seconds before half-time.

The result, the Reds' first-ever away defeat in the group stage and only their third loss in 22 European matches, allowed the Russian club to assume pole position.

Anzhi may play 1,000 miles away from their home in Dagestan because of security issues but they remain strong on Russian turf and made it five successive European home wins.

It was always going to be a tough assignment for Liverpool as manager Brendan Rodgers, with Sunday's trip to Chelsea in mind and unperturbed by a weakened team's Capital One Cup exit against Swansea last week, opted to leave his big-name stars at home.

As a result he selected nine Englishmen, in a starting XI with an average age of just under 24, in a 3-5-2 formation.

It meant Conor Coady, who captained England Under-17s to their first European Championship title in 2010, made his debut in an icy-cold Lokomotiv Stadium.

The Liverpool-born 19-year-old has progressed through the club's academy and was given his chance having been an unused first-team substitute three times.

Striker Adam Morgan, 18, was making only his second start but, having been prolific throughout youth level Rodgers remains hopeful he will eventually make the step up and he was given the difficult job of leading the line.

At the other end of the scale Joe Cole, on his 31st birthday, struggled to make an impact again after a woeful 45 minutes against the Swans.

The first half was a typically cagey European affair with chances at a premium.

All of which made it all the more remarkable that when presented with a shooting opportunity Jordan Henderson declined in the 23rd minute.

The 22-year-old spoke before the match about wanting to prove he has a future at Anfield but he will need to improve his decision making if that is to be the case.

Morgan showed good strength to hold off Odil Ahmedov and thread a pass through but from a 45-degree angle he opted to cut the ball back to the striker.

It probably showed a lack of confidence but chances in Europe do not come around that frequently and it was a waste.

Contrast that with former Barcelona forward Samuel Eto'o, Anzhi's £330,000-a-week marquee signing, who forced Brad Jones into a good save from Yuri Zhirkov's cross after the ex-Chelsea player had robbed Andre Wisdom near Liverpool's right touchline.

Henderson flicked on a tame near-post header from Downing's cross and Cole nodded Downing's inswinging free-kick wide before, in added time, Liverpool lapsed.

Traore brilliant spun Sebastian Coates with a left-footed touch and then lobbed Jones with his right for his fourth goal in six matches.

Cole at least made it out for the second half, which was more than he did last week, and set up Morgan to fire into the side-netting soon after the restart.

Eto'o replied with a curling shot which Jones claimed comfortably diving to his left while Traore and Rasim Tagirbekov flashed shots just past the post as the game began to open up.

Substitutes Suso and Dani Pacheco, on for Morgan and Coady, gave the forward line some more youthful impetus but it was the hosts who remained the more threatening with Jones making another good save from Traore's powerful header.

Cole's last contribution before being replaced by Oussama Assaidi was to force a close-range save from Vladimir Gabulov after he had fumbled Suso's shot.

But Traore should have finished off Liverpool when put clean through by Eto'o but he rolled his effort wide of the upright.

Henderson had a late chance to equalise but ballooned his shot well over.

Brendan Rodgers Defends Team Selection

Brendan Rodgers has defended his team selection following Liverpool's 1-0 loss to Anzhi Makhachkala.

The Liverpool boss made nine changes from his side that drew 1-1 with Newcastle last weekend, leaving out stars Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez for the Europa League tie. Lacina Traore scored the winning goal for Anzhi putting the Russian side top of the group, one point ahead of Liverpool.

Asked whether bringing Gerrard and the others would have made a difference, Rodgers said: "Not at all. I think that is a little disrespectful to the players who are here. They have been magnificent and I thought they did really well and we just got punished for a mistake," said the Reds boss.

"That led to us losing the game but I don't think it was anything to do with Suarez, Gerrard, Joe Allen, Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger not being here," added Rodgers. "It was a much-changed team but Coady came in and was outstanding in his first start, playing against top players, and for Flanagan it was his first game in a long time. It was just one of those things. We will take it as a team, we are disappointed but there are so many positives [to take] from the game."

Anzhi manager Guus Hiddink conceded that Liverpool controlled the game but thought if his side had taken their chances they would have won comfortably.

"They had a young side but that does not mean they were not experienced as some of those players play frequently in the Premier League," Hiddink said. "They were good players, skilful players who were tactically good. They tested us but we also have some young players so it's a good result for us. We didn't finish it off in the second half, we had two big opportunities, but it was an interesting game on a very bad pitch. They controlled the game and tested us but that makes me happy with this result.”

Liverpool sit 12th in the Premier League and will look to turn their poor start to their Premier League season around against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend.

Coady Eager After Dream Debut

Conor Coady says he fulfilled a childhood dream when making his Liverpool debut against Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday night, and now wants a taste of the action more regularly.

The 19-year-old became the latest young talent to experience first-team football under Brendan Rodgers, starting in a central midfield role for the Europa League Group A fixture.

While the local lad described the occasion as 'really special', a maiden appearance has merely inspired the youngster to grab himself further opportunities in the starting XI.

"It was fantastic and I enjoyed every minute of it," Coady explained to the Liverpool Echo. "It was a big night for me and my family. It's every boy's dream to play for Liverpool.

"You have to be patient, bide your time and work hard in training. I've waited a long time for this day and it was really special to get out there and play.

"I put my all into it and I was made up to make my debut. I was happy with the way I played and I thought all the boys did well. Hopefully it's the first appearance of many for me."

The Reds were unfortunate in slipping to a 1-0 defeat by Anzhi in Moscow, conceding as the first half concluded, and Coady fully expects the team to bounce back.

The No.35 continued: "I thought we were a bit unlucky not to get anything from the game.

"It was a mistake for their goal and we were gutted to concede just before half-time. We sat in there, competed with them and I thought we were fantastic tactically.

"As a young lad you want to play against the best players in the world and to come up against [Samuel] Eto'o was great.

"He's still up there with the best - a class act. We're just disappointed not to get a result, but we will bounce back from this and become better.

"It's fantastic to play under Brendan. He has given a lot of us young lads games this season and it's great he has shown that faith."