Saturday, December 15, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Aston Villa

Brendan Rodgers feels that his Liverpool side have recovered well from what he calls a 'disastrous' start to the season as they prepare to host Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday.

Liverpool sit in 10th place, but Reds fans will be looking for their team to build upon solid recent form and make strides up the table.

Last Sunday's turnaround against West Ham, without suspended top scorer Luis Suarez, will have boosted morale and the controversial Uruguayan is available for selection once again.

Joe Cole stepped up to the plate to notch his first Premier League goal since April 2011 last weekend, but he has yet to start a league fixture so far this season. Despite his impressive contribution at Upton Park, Cole's future at Anfield is still uncertain, and it would be a surprise if he started against Villa.

Only goal difference keeps Paul Lambert's side out of the drop zone, but Wednesday night's Capital One Cup win at Norwich should have lifted spirits at Villa Park.

Goals have been hard to come by this season in the league, with just 12 in 16 games, and Darren Bent will not be adding to that total in the near future.

A thigh injury sustained at Carrow Road has sidelined the striker, but given his manager's reluctance to pick him of late, it is questionable whether he would have featured at Anfield.

Villa has a poor record at Anfield, with their victory on Merseyside in 2009 the only one in their last 16 visits.

Luis Suarez will return after serving a one-match suspension for reaching five yellow cards.

The Uruguay international has not been on the score-sheet in five appearances since netting twice against Wigan in mid-November.

Jose Enrique is a doubt after limping out of the win over West Ham with a hamstring strain.

Darren Bent's hamstring injury rules him out of contention until the new year.

The striker withdrew after 35 minutes of the Capital One Cup tie at Norwich on Tuesday, his first start since the Fulham game on 20 October.

Ron Vlaar is still out with a calf strain but Joe Bennett and Enda Stevens are available after recovering from their knee and ankle problems respectively.

Rodgers Sets Sights On Second

Brendan Rodgers believes his Liverpool side can confound their critics by not only chasing down fourth-placed Everton but also catching Manchester City in second.

Rodgers argues that his players have been "hammered" unfairly by pundits this season, and insists that his side's performances have been better than results suggest.

Liverpool have spent virtually the entire campaign in the bottom half of the Premier League table, but climbed to their season's high of tenth place by winning 3-2 at West Ham last Sunday.

That result came after a 1-0 home victory over Southampton the previous weekend, and marked the first time Liverpool had recorded back-to-back league victories since Rodgers took over in June.

Liverpool hosts Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday before Fulham visit Anfield the following weekend.

With trips to Stoke and QPR over Christmas followed by a New Year home clash with Sunderland, many Liverpool fans believe the club have a great chance to close the four-point gap between themselves and neighbours Everton, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualification place.

But Rodgers believes his side can, over the remainder of the season, also cut the 11-point gap between his side and Manchester City in second.

He said: "I've heard lots of people talk about Liverpool. Everyone's got their opinion, and I understand that because of the standards the club set in the 1970s and 80s. I'm well in tune with that but, for a club that's supposedly been very poor, we only lie four points off that top four position. And for me, the ambition is to grow higher.

"We're 11 points off second and that can all turn round very quickly. We need to get consistency. That's what we've got at the moment.

"If we can keep showing the motivation and commitment, then this sequence of games are opportunities, but it's no good looking at Fulham next week just yet. We've got to take care of Aston Villa this week."

Rodgers, who welcomes back top scorer Luis Suarez from a one-match ban for the Villa game, is adamant that an upturn in results has been coming for some time.

Having made their worst start to a season in 100 years by collecting two points from their opening five games, Liverpool have lost just one of 11 league matches since.

Rodgers added: "I've never had any complaint with the players. They've been brilliant since the first day I walked in here. They've been hammered throughout the season, left, right and centre, by a number of people, but I was quite calm because I see them every day, and their focus and concentration has been first class.

"I'm just happy for them that they're getting the rewards for their hard work. It's just steady progress that we're making. We're not enough halfway through the league season. But for us, our focus is on the next game."

Liverpool Face Competition To Land Gornik Zabrze Starlet

Liverpool target Arkadiusz Milik is now high on Torino's wishlist as the Polish youngster's stock continues to rise.

The Gornik Zabrze teenager has made his name in his homeland's top flight with seven goals in 14 appearances at the tender age of 18.

The youngster is already drawing comparisons with Manchester United target Robert Lewandowski and Bayer Leverkusen are already heavily interested in signing the prospect.

Gornik Zabrze is reluctant to part with their star asset but financial struggles might force them to cash in on the rookie in January.

And it has now emerged that Torino are ready to enter the running for the starlet, who has been tracked by Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.

Fulham Plan January Swoop for Liverpool Midfielder

Fulham are reportedly planning a move for Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson in January.

The 22 year old, who arrived at Anfield from Sunderland last season, has failed to secure a starting spot in the Reds' first team under Brendan Rodgers.

The England international previously insisted he wanted to fight for his career at Merseyside but the Cottagers will now attempt to lure the player to west London by offering him regular first-team action, according to

The report also claims Liverpool offered Henderson to Fulham in the summer, in a part-exchange deal for forward Clint Dempsey, but the arrangement eventually fell through.

Cottagers boss Martin Jol knows he has failed to find an effective replacement for Belgian Moussa Dembele, who made the switch across London to join Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, and is understood to be keen on snapping up Henderson.

Martinez Warns Liverpool Off Republic Of Ireland Star

Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez has insisted that there is no chance of James McCarthy leaving the club in January amid interest from Liverpool, but acknowledged that the Irishman will one day leave for a top club.

The 22-year-old has played an integral role in Wigan’s midfield since his arrival from Hamilton in 2009, and has gone on to state a claim for being a fixture of Ireland’s midfield despite his tender years. Roberto Martinez is aware that he may have a gem on his hands, but has urged McCarthy to continue polishing his game at the DW Stadium, rather than making the move to a bigger club to soon.

We will always feel really pleased with compliments towards our players, “Martinez said, The Daily Star report.”But James McCarthy is a young man - at 22 he is still developing

"One day he will be challenging to win titles and to be in the highest position in the game, there is no two ways about it.

"But he is still developing and the performance that he had on Saturday shows that he is developing in the right way.

"The last thing he needs now is to be distracted from his good work and the way he is developing."

Liverpool have also been linked with a move for McCarthy’s compatriot Shane Long in recent weeks, but West Brom’s leading goal scorer insists he is solely concentrating on his football at the Hawthorns.

Liverpool Chose Henderson Over Gotze

Liverpool briefly considered making a move for Borussia Dortmund starlet Mario Gotze in the summer of 2011, but instead the club chose to pursue and eventually sign Jordan Henderson from Sunderland.

The Times report that former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish and the club’s former director of football Damien Comolli that the Germany international was briefly considered when the club outlined their summer transfer plans, only to discard his name and push forward with their efforts to bring Henderson to Anfield. Since then, the former Sunderland midfielder has flattered to deceive, struggling to impose himself on Brendan Rodgers’ side, whereas Gotze has continued to prove why he is considered one of the most prodigious talents in world football.

Comolli was appointed Director of football Strategy in late 2010, and working alongside Dalglish, helped the club sign Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Sebastian Coates, Craig Bellamy, Jose Enrique in addition to Henderson in the summer of 2011. With the exception of Enrique, Comolli’s dealings have seemingly fallen short of expectation. The Daily Mail also report that Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud and Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa were also targets under Comolli’s tenure, but were overlooked in favour of others.

Perhaps the most controversial comment on Comolli’s time upon Merseyside was the £35 million acquisition of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United, a deal which Comolli still defends.

“If you want to talk about the Carroll deal, the situation was quite clear,” the former Tottenham Hotspur Director of Football said, The Daily Mail report.

“The way we looked at it, we were selling two players – Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel – and we were bringing two in – Suarez and Carroll – and we were making a profit and the wage bill was coming down considerably as well. It was a four-player deal.”

“Chelsea kept bidding higher and higher for Torres. The difference between their first and final bid is double.

“They [FSG] asked me what the risks were and I said if things don’t go well you’ll lose something on Andy, but it is difficult to measure whether you will make money if things go well because Liverpool aren't a selling club and he could be here for the next 10 years.”

Rodgers: Diving Is The Player's Responsibility

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes there is little club managers can do about diving in their team, stating that the responsibility lands solely at the feet of the player.

Rodgers has seen one of his players in Luis Suarez come under severe criticism at points during the season for going the ground to easily. The former Swansea City manager has backed the Uruguayan when he has faced backlash from the likes of Stoke manager Tony Pulis and Swansea defender Ashley Williams in particular, but has said the problem plaguing the game exists at all levels.

"Luis Suarez was held up as the only one that seemed to be doing it. Whenever many other players were doing it, both British and European, it seemed to go very quiet," Rodgers told Liverpool’s official website.

"It's something that is the responsibility of the players. The managers can only guide and give their opinion to the players. I've seen it at all levels - the Premier League, reserve games, youth team games and some kids football.”

The northern Irish manager admits that the problem of players going down unchallenged is plaguing the Premier League, but maintains the stance that the problem will be especially hard to eliminate from the English game.

"You see it now becoming a part of the game but it's certainly something we want to eradicate. It's a difficult one for the referees because they have to make that judgement straight away,” Rodgers added.

"Pundits and others get a chance to review it a number of times. It's something we must work hard to eradicate from the game."

Liverpool Goalkeeper Signs New Deal At Anfield

Brad Jones has signed a new long term deal with Liverpool after impressing Brendan Rodgers in the absence of Pepe Reina.

A string of injuries saw Spain international Reina sidelined for a time earlier in the season, but the former Middlesbrough shot stopper has proved to be a reliable deputy. Brendan Rodgers has for the most part selected the 30-year-old for Europa League outings, but injuries to Reina saw him also step in for high profile games with Everton, Chelsea and Newcastle United.

Rodgers recently spoke of the quality of his two goalkeepers, dismissing the idea that he was in the market to sign replacements after the club was linked with a move for Birmingham City’s Jack Butland.

"Of course you are always looking for talent but what we have is one of the best number one keepers in the Premier League in Pepe Reina and then Brad Jones, who was a number three or number four keeper here but has really kicked on since the summer,” Rodgers told Sky Sports last month.

"In the games Brad has played he's showed he is a very loyal and supportive number two. Our job then below that is to ensure we have top young talents who can then hopefully challenge at the top end."

Jones is the fifth Liverpool player to put pen to paper on a new contract since Rodgers’s appointment, joining Luis Suarez, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Jonjo Shelvey in committing their futures to Anfield.

Allen Gaining Edge With Peters

Reds midfielder Joe Allen is reaping rewards in his maiden season with the club by working on the mental side of his performance with Dr. Steve Peters.

Peters, who has been enlisted by Brendan Rodgers on an informal basis, has helped some of Britain's finest athletes during the past decade with his method of sports psychiatry.

Allen is one player to benefit from Peters' services and the Welshman has explained the impact such preparation can have when taking to the field.

"I've been to see him and I've found it very helpful," the 22-year-old reflected to the Liverpool Echo.

"In football anything you can add or bring which can benefit us in any sort of way is something that I am happy to have.

"Steve really is an incredible person. The things he has done in his career are very impressive. Spending time with someone like him can only rub off on you in a good way.

"I'm not sure if the mental side of the game is more important these days but it's certainly something that plays a part in how you play.

"I think it's pretty obvious to see when you have someone on the pitch who is in a good frame of mind. When a player is brimming with confidence you certainly see a difference in his performance.

"You only have to look at some of the people Steve has worked with. It's something we will utilize and I'm sure he will help us all over the course of the season."

Young Reds Reach NexLions Final

Liverpool U18s will face Sporting Lisbon in the final of the inaugural NexLions Cup after beating Singapore 1-0 on Friday in the Jalan Besar Stadium.

A single first-half back-heeled goal from Samed Yesil was enough to secure victory for the youngsters - who only arrived in Singapore late on Wednesday afternoon - and set up what promises to be a mouth-watering clash with the highly-rated Portuguese outfit on Sunday night.

Earlier in the evening, Sporting came from a goal down at half-time against Manchester United to win 4-1 and book their place in the final.

Having arrived at the stadium in time to watch much of that second-half - including a goal scored within 20 seconds of the restart - the Liverpool players will be acutely aware of the task they face in attempting to overcome a physically strong Sporting side.

For LFC coach Alex Inglethorpe, however, it's the perfect test for his players.

"Before the game, I said I wanted to play Sporting Lisbon on Sunday because it will provide a real challenge for our lads," he said.

"They won't often come up against teams like Sporting who play with a different style to many English teams.

"These are the players who Premier League managers look at and so it's a good way to benchmark where they are against these continental players.

"Some of our players tonight were just 16, so to come away with a victory against a team featuring a couple of 21-year-olds is a great learning experience for them."