Saturday, November 24, 2012

Match Preview: Swansea vs Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers returns to Swansea City as an opposing manager for the first time when he takes Liverpool to Liberty Stadium on Sunday.

The former Swans boss swapped Wales for Merseyside in the summer after accepting the offer to succeed Kenny Dalglish at Anfield.

Rodgers is expected to receive a warm welcome having guided Swansea up through the Football League and finishing 11th in the Premier League last season.

But Michael Laudrup has continued the good work of his predecessor and will want another win over Liverpool after knocking them out of the Capital One Cup in October.

Swansea currently sit one point and one place above their weekend visitors in the league and so will be determined to build on their impressive win at Newcastle United last weekend.

However, Liverpool will kick-off in Wales on a seven-game unbeaten run in the league in the wake of last Saturday's victory over Wigan Athletic.

Influential Swansea midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng has been sidelined after a recent hamstring injury and is not yet certain to play at the Liberty Stadium.

The summer signing from Celtic sustained the fitness problem in the game against Southampton and missed last weekend's win at Newcastle United.

Former Arsenal defender Kyle Bartley has returned to training and could be in contention.

The £1million recruit had been sidelined since September after picking up a hip injury but he is now back with Laudrup's senior squad.

Liverpool boss Rodgers is likely to recall his main men to the first XI.

The Anfield manager rested the likes of Jose Enrique, former Swansea star Joe Allen and Glen Johnson in Thursday's Europa League draw with Young Boys.

Luis Suarez, captain Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling were used as substitutes but can expect to return to the starting line-up.

Lucas Leiva is back in full training after his thigh injury but he has not played a first-team game since the end of August.

Rodgers Targets Win In Swansea

Brendan Rodgers has insisted that he is determined to lead Liverpool to victory over his former club Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday.

The Premier League game in Wales will be the first time that Rodgers has returned to his previous employers since leaving them for Liverpool in June.

Rodgers says that he is looking forward to returning to the club where he enjoyed two successful seasons, but wants the Reds to register a win.

"It's certainly a fixture I was looking forward to," he said. "It's a beautiful part of the world, a brilliant club and I had two memorable years there.

"It was a wonderful experience and I have great memories from there, both professionally and personally.

"I'm really looking forward to going back and seeing many friends there, but ultimately looking to get the result. That's what we'll be there for."

However, Rodgers admits that winning at Swansea will be tough for Liverpool.

"The Liberty Stadium is a difficult place to go, but we're going into it with a real strong mindset," he said.

"We feel we're getting that momentum together and we're looking to continue with our run.

"We had a terrific result in our last league outing. We go into the game with big confidence. We know it will be difficult but we'll be looking to get a result."

Rodgers is confident there will be no animosity between striker Luis Suarez and Swansea defender Ashley Williams this weekend after acting as mediator to diffuse any potential difficulties.

The Swans defender was heavily critical of Suarez in an extract from his Premier League diary recounting last season, their first in the Premier League, published this week.

Williams was quoted as saying the Uruguay international was "streets ahead of any player I've truly disliked" and he wanted to "knock him out" for the player's diving antics.

Rodgers was taken aback when he read those comments and has spoken to Williams, who in turn has talked to Suarez, in an attempt to prevent the situation escalating ahead of Sunday's match.

"I have spoken to Ash and Ash has spoken with Luis so there is no issue there," said Rodgers, who along with Joe Allen returns to the club they left in June.

"When I saw it I was surprised because in my time there because Ash, knowing his character, is a real good man with good intelligence and maturity and a good footballer player.

"When I saw those comments I spoke to him and got the full explanation of how it has seemingly got out there and he was very quick to want to apologize for that.

"That is done. There is no problem there and I am sure they will shake hands on Sunday and get on with it."

Allen: Williams Comments Will Motivate Suarez

Joe Allen believes Ashley Williams' scathing attack on Liverpool striker Luis Suarez will backfire on Swansea in Sunday's Premier League meeting.

In his new autobiography, Swans captain Williams said he wanted to "knock out" Suarez during last season's game at Anfield and accused him of diving.

Williams could yet face disciplinary action from the FA for the comments.

Allen said: "It will give Luis some extra motivation, which is dangerous from Swansea's point of view."

The Football Association says it is aware of Williams' remarks about Suarez - published in My Premier League Diary - but will make no further comment on whether the defender will be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Williams shied away from stoking the flames further in an interview with BBC Wales this week, instead describing Suarez as the best striker in the Premier League.

But his first impressions of the Uruguayan were certainly far less complimentary, as he writes in his book that "Suarez has that aura about him that says 'I'm untouchable', and his manner and behaviour made me want to knock him out."

He continues: "The lack of respect he shows everyone means he gets no respect from me."

The pair will lock horns again at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday and Allen feels the contest will add an extra edge to the mid-table encounter.

"These sort of things happen in football and the battle between Luis and Ash will be one to watch on the weekend," he said in an interview for BBC Radio Wales' The Back Page program.

Allen returns to the Liberty Stadium for the first time on Sunday since his £15m summer move from Swansea to Liverpool.

His transfer, which ended a 13-year association with his home-town club, made Allen Wales' most expensive player.

The 22-year-old midfielder was the second singing made by new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who had been tempted away from Swansea five weeks earlier.

Allen admits to being slightly concerned with "the pressure" that came with such a high price tag, but there was never any question of rejecting an opportunity to join the five-time European champions.

"It's the type of challenge I've always dreamed of taking on so when the chance came around I found it difficult to turn it down," said the Wales international.

"Having been at a club for so long it's always difficult to leave but these moments, such as this weekend now, [are] where you get the chance to get another taste of your home club."

Liverpool will arrive in south Wales one point below Swansea in the Premier League, a scenario Allen admits he did not envisage at this stage of the season.

The Swans have made a better start this season under new manager Michael Laudrup compared to their debut in the top flight last season under Rodgers and beat Liverpool in a League Cup tie in Anfield in October.

Returning to Swansea will be a "foreign" feeling, says Allen, and he is conscious of the need not to let the occasion rule his emotions.

"You can focus too much sometimes on the occasion rather than treating it as any other football match," he said.

"That's the key for me - to try to approach it like I would any other weekend."

AC Milan Set To Rival Liverpool For Barcelona Winger

AC Milan look set to rival Liverpool for Cristian Tello with a January bid for the Barcelona winger.

Tello, 21, opened talks over a new contract at the Nou Camp earlier this season but he is yet to reach an agreement.

Liverpool were strongly linked with the youngster during the summer, but failed to bring him to Anfield.

The 21-year-old, who is out of contract next summer, has found the back of the net twice in eight league outings this season, and he is now attracting interest from AC Milan.

Sources in Italy claim the San Siro side is weighing up a £6.5m offer for Tello in January, although they could attempt to lure him to Italy on a free transfer in the summer.

Liverpool Target Drops Man United Transfer Hint

Liverpool transfer target Kevin Grosskreutz would prefer a move to Manchester United, according to reports.

The 24-year-old German international admitted earlier in the week that he’s interested in a move to the Premier League, with his current Bundesliga contract set to expire at the end of next season and speculated interest from Liverpool.

"Should I continue with my career in a foreign country at some point, the Premier League of England would be my top priority,” he told Bild, according to SkySports.

"I really like the way football is played over there. I have no concrete thoughts on that. In terms of contracts, my first conversation will be Borussia Dortmund. "

But, whilst Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has been linked with a move to bring the player to England, it now appears Manchester United appeals most to the former Rot Weiss Ahlen starlet.

“It would be excellent to play alongside Shinji [Kagawa] again,” he’s quoted as saying in The Daily Express.

Kagawa moved to Old Trafford from Dortmund in the summer transfer window, but his start to life with the Red Devils has been blighted by injury.

Despite Grosskreutz’s wish, the paper reports that Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has not been tracking the player’s progress, which gives the Reds ‘hope’ over a possible deal.

Liverpool has been linked with a number of wingers in recent weeks, with Thomas Ince and Theo Walcott both reported to be on the Anfield radar.

Any subsequent January arrivals would instantly add competition for places, with Raheem Sterling and Suso an inexperienced wing competition currently favoured by the Merseyside chief.

Arsenal Star Doesn't Want Liverpool Transfer

Theo Walcott is reportedly unlikely to quit Arsenal for Liverpool, with the Gunners star harbouring reservations about a transfer to Anfield.

Walcott is out of contract with Arsenal and the end of the season and has been frequently been linked with a transfer to Liverpool as he struggles to agree terms over a new Gunners deal.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers reportedly wants to bring Walcott to Anfield either during the January transfer window or in the summer, but may struggle to secure the signature of the Arsenal star.

According to the Daily Mail, Walcott is unsure about a proposed move from Arsenal to Liverpool for reasons relating to performance and geography.

Walcott is reported to be settled in London and would rather not leave the city for Liverpool, while the England international has been less than impressed by Liverpool's recent form.

Should Walcott leave Arsenal for Liverpool, he would be quitting a club who can boast to be Champions League regulars for one unlikely to qualify for next season's competition, and this is reportedly clouding the 23-year-old's thought process.

Liverpool, though, would be willing to meet the wage demands of Walcott, who is holding out for a salary of £85,000-a-week.

Mowbray Doubts Downing Deal

Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray has hinted that he is interested in signing Liverpool winger Stewart Downing in January, but admits that realistically it will not be possible for him to do

The 28-year-old has struggled to establish himself as a regular first-choice player in the Reds team since his move from Aston Villa in July 2011 for £20million.

A number of Premier League clubs are interested in Downing, and Mowbray admits that it will be difficult to convince the England international to join the Championship side.

"I don't want to talk about him (Downing), he's a Liverpool player," he said in The Northern Echo.

"The bottom line is, half the Premier League would probably like to buy him if he becomes available.

"He is an international footballer; we are Middlesbrough in the Championship, who has been selling players for the last two years.

"We have reduced the wage bill from £27m down to £12m, £15m off it, gone. That's where we are.

"And if I was a Premier League manager, why wouldn't I want Stewart Downing? Half the league would want him."

Downing started his career at Middlesbrough and made over 230 appearances for his home-town club before leaving for Villa in 2009.

Jeffren Rubbishes Agent's Claims Of A Move To Liverpool

Sporting Lisbon’s Jeffren has dismissed speculation suggesting that he is close to a Premier League switch to Liverpool.

The former Barcelona winger was linked with a January move Brendan Rodgers side in recent weeks, reports fuelled by Jeffren’s apparent agent, Jorge Llagostera. The agent, claiming to represent the interests of the 24-year-old Sporting man, told the Portuguese press that a number of clubs were monitoring the progress of Jeffren, with Liverpool particularly keen on a move.

Since that statement, the player himself has stepped out to rubbish Llagostera’s claims, and has denied any affiliation with the agent whatsoever. Taking to his personal Twitter account, Jeffren wrote:

“Given the media statements produced Jorge Llagostera, I want to clarify that this man is not my representative. So these statements have no value,” Portuguese newspaper Record report.

Jeffren left Barcelona in the summer of 2011, and was at that time also linked with a switch to Anfield. A move to Sporting beckoned, however, where the winger-cum-forward has struggled to impose himself amid inconsistent performances and a string of injuries.

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 2 Young Boys

Maligned midfielder Joe Cole was denied his chance to be hailed a hero after Liverpool conceded a late equalizer to leave their Europa League challenge in the balance.

The 31-year-old's first Liverpool goal in 19 months appeared to have secured the victory over Young Boys to ensure progress to the knockout stages from Group A.

But having led once through Jonjo Shelvey's fourth European goal of the season only to be pegged back by Raul Bobadilla's brilliant equalizer, Brendan Rodgers' side conceded to Elsad Zverotic with two minutes to go.

Liverpool now has to avoid defeat in Udinese in a fortnight to have a chance of progressing.

It somewhat spoiled what was one of Cole's better performances in a red shirt, although that is not saying much considering his career at Anfield has generally been viewed as an incredibly expensive waste of resources.

He had provided the assist for Shelvey's first-half header and had generally been much brighter than Liverpool fans had ever seen him.

Cole is still a long way from getting anywhere near paying back the money already lavished on a player whose £100,000-a-week wages have continually been used to highlight the errors in the club's transfer dealings.

However, it was a step in the right direction and Rodgers will retain hope he can integrate the midfielder into his system at Anfield.

With Group A leaders Anzhi having beaten Udinese earlier in the evening, Liverpool knew victory would see them progress with a match to spare.

Defeat for the visitors would put them out and they started brightly, fashioning four shooting opportunities inside the opening 11 minutes.

However, none came remotely close to testing Jose Reina, breaking Ray Clemence's goalkeeper's record with an 81st European appearance.

Just moments after massively overhitting a simple pass into space out for a goal-kick, Cole had Liverpool's first real chance but fired an angled shot across Marco Wolfli and wide of the far post having been played in down the right by Shelvey.

Cole then won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area but Jordan Henderson's low shot was comfortably claimed by the goalkeeper.

After Young Boys defender Dusan Veskovac was carried off with a hamstring injury, Henderson failed to take advantage of being put clean through by Shelvey's nifty backheel with Wolfli saving at the expense of a corner.

Suso also had a shot saved before, on the half-hour, Rodgers was forced to send on Gerrard for the apparently injured Andre Wisdom, meaning Henderson shuffled out to right-back.

Within two minutes Liverpool were ahead with Cole playing a significant part.

The former Chelsea midfielder exchanged passes with Suso, whose return was perfectly weighted to allow his team-mate to cross for Shelvey - picked as a nominal striker despite just five goals in 52 previous matches for the club - to head in from three yards.

Suso had two chances to double the lead before the interval, seeing one shot deflected into the side-netting and missing the target with the other while Cole saw his effort bounce off Martin Skrtel only to be cleared off the line by Raphael Nuzzolo.

Alexander Farnerud and Elsad Zverotic were both narrowly off target with long-range efforts early in the second half after Liverpool failed to close them down quick enough.

Cole had a better chance from Suso's through-ball but Wolfli smothered his shot and Young Boys raced down the other end to equalize.

Henderson was caught on his heels when the long, diagonal pass came over to Bobadilla but that hardly made the 25-year-old Argentinian's strike that much easier or any less impressive.

He controlled the ball on his right thigh and in the next movement smashed an unstoppable left-footed drive past Reina.

The arrival of Luis Suarez was not delayed much longer and when he replaced Suso new life was breathed into the Reds' forward line.

Few would have suspected Suarez's magic dust would have rubbed on Cole but the 31-year-old rolled back the years, as well as his marker, to turn on the pass supplied by Gerrard via the Uruguayan and plant a shot past Wolfli.

Luck was definitely on the midfielder's side as before the goal Rodgers had summoned Raheem Sterling to be his final substitute and Cole ultimately made way for a player 14 years his junior.

But he was denied his moment of glory by Zverotic's swerving 88th-minute strike.

Cole Determined To Prove His Worth

Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole insists he still has plenty to offer the club as he fights to save his Anfield career.

Cole, 31, scored his first goal for the club in 19 months as they drew 2-2 with Young Boys in the Europa League on Thursday night.

The former Chelsea man has struggled for form and fitness since returning to Liverpool in the summer, following a season on loan at Lille.

Cole missed the best part of two months after picking up a hamstring injury during a defeat at West Brom on the opening day of the season. He has only made one league appearance since then, with manager Brendan Rodgers otherwise restricting him to appearances in cup games.

However, the former England international is determined to force his way back into the first-team set-up at Anfield.

"I've been a good player for West Ham, Chelsea and Lille and England when I've played so I'm sure if I play football here, I'll be a good player for Liverpool," Cole said.

"It was nice to be out and playing. It was my third game back and I've felt stronger in every game I've played so I've just got to keep going, keep plugging away. It was an enjoyable game to play in but overall the result wasn't great so we're disappointed that we didn't come away with a win to see us through."

Elsad Zverotic's 88th-minute equalizer for the Swiss side has given Rodgers a headache as he tries to ensure European football at the club beyond Christmas. His side must win their final Group A game away to Udinese on December 6 to be certain of making the Europa League's last 32, while if they lose they are out.

Cole, though, believes that Liverpool can overcome their Europa League disappointment against Young Boys and make it through to the next round.

"Of course we can qualify," Cole said. "I don't think it's very complicated. Just win the game and that puts it all to bed. That'll be the thought out there. Liverpool needs to be playing European football after Christmas so we'll go there strong, I would imagine, and try to win the game."

Andre Wisdom Injury Latest

Brendan Rodgers is hopeful that he won't have to do without full-back Andre Wisdom despite injury forcing him off the field against Young Boys on Thursday.

The teenager was withdrawn before half-time during our 2-2 draw, but he should be okay to face Swansea on Sunday.

The boss told reporters at Melwood: "Everyone is fine. We had young Andre Wisdom come off as a precaution, but he should be fine.

"It was just a slight tweak in his knee and we just wanted to make sure he didn't provoke it anymore, so it looks like he'll be fine.

"The rest of the group was in preparing for the game on Sunday and the other group that played last night was recovering. Everyone is coming along well."

Lucas Makes Liverpool Return

Liverpool's Lucas successfully completed an hour on his first competitive appearance for three months on Friday.

The Brazil midfielder injured a thigh muscle during a 2-2 draw with Manchester City on 26 August but returned to training earlier this month.

And he was part of an U21 side which beat Middlesbrough 1-0 at the Kirby Academy.

Lucas played 61 minutes before he was replaced by Craig Roddan, and afterwards he tweeted: "Nice to wear the red shirt again.

"Looking forward to a good week of training and will hopefully be available at the beginning of December."