Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Match Preview: Stoke City vs Liverpool

Stoke City will look to extend their eight-game unbeaten run in the Premier League as they entertain a Liverpool side brimming with confidence.

The Potters have drawn their last three games and boss Tony Pulis will be looking to build on a hard-fought draw with Tottenham, especially since the Reds are yet to win at the Britannia Stadium in the top-flight.

City midfielder Charlie Adam looks set to miss out against his former team following the death of his father, with the club having allowed him to take compassionate leave.

Another former Liverpool old boy Peter Crouch is, meanwhile, expected to make do with a place on the bench while former Anfield legend Michael Owen remains sidelined despite declaring himself fit.

Liverpool will be in a confident mood when they travel to the Britannia Stadium after an impressive 4-0 win against Fulham on Saturday.

It was a massive turnaround from the performance against Aston Villa where they were comprehensively defeated 3-1 at home.

Brendan Rodgers is likely to bring Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen back in the starting line up, after both players started on the bench at the weekend.

Stewart Downing looks set to keep his place in the starting line-up putting in an impressive performance against the Cottagers, which also saw him score his first Premier League goal for his club.

Rodgers' side have only lost one of their last seven away games in the Premier League, winning two and drawing four while City are unbeaten in their last 15 games at home.

Owen Eager To End Poor Run Against Liverpool

Stoke striker Michael Owen is eager to get on the scoresheet against former club Liverpool, admitting that he has found it tough to play against them in the past.

Tony Pulis' side currently sit in ninth in the Premier League, just one place behind Brendan Rodgers' side ahead of their encounter at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day, despite having drawn 10 of their 18 games so far this season.

After leaving Liverpool for Real Madrid back in 2004, Owen has been back in the top-flight for the past seven years with the likes of Newcastle and Manchester United, but has struggled to have an impact against his first club whenever he's faced them, a situation he remains fully aware of.

"It is a strange feeling really playing against your old club, especially one where you were there for around 15 years," the striker told reporters.

"Liverpool is a big part of my life and career and I had some of the best times of my life at the club.

"So certainly I have happy memories. I have not been so happy playing against them since; I have never scored and not particularly enjoyed it."

Stoke is currently on a nine-game unbeaten run and Owen believes that the club's target is still Premier League survival above all else, before looking ahead at a possible European push later on in the campaign.

He added: "I don't see any reason why not. We had a really tough start to the season and we picked up points against some of the big teams.

"Then we went into a period of games where you would look at them on paper and say we had a chance of picking up points, and we have duly done that.

"I think our ambitions are probably still the same. First and foremost everyone wants to survive in the league, no matter what team you play for, so you want to hit that magic 40 points before you start dreaming about anything else.

"Then once you have done that, you want to finish the season as well as you can and get as high as you can.

"We know that is possible, but first and foremost it is about getting to 40 points and then we'll reassess from there."

Sturridge Passes His Medical At Anfield

Daniel Sturridge is on the verge of completing his £12million move from Chelsea to Liverpool after passing his medical.

The Liverpool Echo has revealed that Sturridge was at the club's training centre at Melwood to undergo a series of tests after agreeing personal terms with the Reds.

However, it is unlikely that he will be unveiled as a Liverpool player until January 2 as this is the first day that the necessary paperwork can be completed and he could well be in line for his debut on that day against Sunderland, or four days later in the FA Cup trip to Mansfield.

There had been some concerns that the deal would fall apart due to the demands of the forwards agent, but it seems the transfer is about to be completed as Brendan Rodgers looks to bolster his squad in January.

The England international has struggled to force his way into the reckoning at Chelsea this season but did demonstrate his ability under former boss Andre Villas-Boas when he was starting regularly.

In fact his record of 24 goals in 49 starts for Chelsea shows that he can be a genuine goal threat and Liverpool fans will hope that he can help ease some of the pressure on Luis Suarez.

Sturridge has started just one Premier League game this season but it likely to be far more involved at Liverpool, with Rodgers having been forced to rely heavily on young players due to his relatively small squad.

The 23-year-old may not be the only new face to arrive at Liverpool in the New Year, as the Echo believes that the club is now turning their attention to completing a deal for Blackpool winger Tom Ince.

The winger left Liverpool just 18 months ago but has since impressed while playing for the Tangerines and is reportedly keen to return to the club in January.

Rodgers Rubbishes Sturridge Contract Clause Talk

Brendan Rodgers has insisted there is no chance Daniel Sturidge will arrive at Liverpool on the back of demanding assurances that he will only be asked to play as a striker.

It is widely believed that Sturridge will make the move from Chelsea to Anfield early in the January transfer window. It has been reported that the forward has already undergone a medical, paving the way for a move on January 1.

Rodgers gave nothing away when asked about whether Sturridge had undergone a medical and also rubbished claim with regard to contractual demands.

It has been claimed that he has asked for a clause in his contract meaning he will only be asked to play as a striker.

Rodgers claims the club will do their transfer business in private but said no player will arrive having made demands about where they will play.

"There is nothing at all," Rodgers said in response to whether he could confirm Sturridge had undergone a medical. "There will be nothing complete until we have signed a player. Once we do I will have no problem speaking about who we sign. But until that point there is nothing to say."

When asked about talk of clauses in contracts, Rodgers said: "You guys keep writing and saying things. Certainly no one will come into this club and demand where they play, that's for sure.

"As with any negotiations, it is not straightforward but we will do the business privately.

"For us we are confident we will get some business done early in January which will really help the squad."

Arsenal & Liverpool Set To Miss Out On Barcelona Youngster

Valencia has made a move to snatch Arsenal and Liverpool target Isaac Cuenca on loan from Barcelona.

The Premier League duo have watched Cuenca for over a year and the forward, who can play on the wing, is seen as Barcelona's latest emerging star.

Cuenca, 21, has gone on loan before to Sabadell and Valencia is keen for him to have another temporary spell away from the Nou Camp.

Their interest will come as a blow to Arsenal and Liverpool as it is understood Cuenca prefers to stay in La Liga for now.

Suarez Focused On Long Liverpool Stay

Luis Suarez feels the signs are positive for Liverpool and is keen to play a big part in the Brendan Rodgers revolution.

Liverpool made a slow start to life under Rodgers, but they have been quietly impressive in recent weeks - and a 4-0 win over Fulham at the weekend took them up to eighth in the Premier League.

Suarez has led the line superbly for Liverpool, scoring 11 goals in 17 games this term, and he is relishing his role as the focal point of Rodgers' attack.

"The manager and I have mutual confidence in each other," Suarez told Sky Sports News. "I am really enjoying the style of play. It suits my game."

Suarez has been linked with a move to Italian side Juventus, but the Uruguayan has no intention of turning his back on Liverpool.

He said: "I am very happy here at the club; I could not be happier. I have always dreamt of being at Liverpool, so it is like a dream for me.

"It is a fantastic league to play in, we have a blend of youth and experience and I think we have a promising future."

Match Report: Liverpool 4 - 0 Fulham

Liverpool winger Stewart Downing had a rare day to remember at Anfield as his first Barclays Premier League goal for the club wrapped up a comfortable victory.

Only last week the England international had admitted he may leave next month after manager Brendan Rodgers said he could go.

If that was the incentive to put himself in the shop window it worked as he registered his first league assist in setting up Steven Gerrard - after Martin Skrtel's opener - and capped his performance with a goal of his own before Luis Suarez added an injury-time fourth.

The £20million signing has been held up as an example of Liverpool's wastefulness in the transfer market over the last few years.

Previous manager Kenny Dalglish certainly did not get his money's worth out of the winger and Rodgers has so far hardly attempted to as this was only Downing's sixth Premier League start of his reign.

He has mostly been confined to the Europa League and has even been played at left-back occasionally as Rodgers tried to find some use for him.

But in a more familiar advanced right-wing role he was able to showcase some of his talent with his first assist and goal in 17 months and 45 league matches at the club.

In fairness Fulham, who have won just one of their last nine league matches and only one of their last 10 away from home, were very accommodating and festively came bearing gifts aplenty.

Martin Jol's side left gaping holes all over the pitch and, unlike Aston Villa last week who were rewarded for all their harrying and hustling with a 3-1 win, Liverpool had plenty of time to take advantage.

As a result they moved up to eighth in the table, their highest position of the season, and five points adrift of the top four.

Unlike the previous week when Liverpool dominated the opening half-hour but failed to score and paid the price they got the break they needed early on.

Gerrard's eighth-minute corner picked out Skrtel, who had barely moved, and with former Reds full-back John Arne Riise slow to close down the Slovakia international he brought the ball down and smashed a volley past Schwarzer.

The centre-back was then required in the penalty area he is more comfortable in when he slid to block former Liverpool reserve Alex Kacaniklic's shot.

Daniel Agger's miss from just three yards - blazing into the top tier of the Anfield Road stand from Luis Suarez's cross - may have resurrected fears about not being clinical enough in front of goal.

Goalkeeper Jose Reina almost making a mess of Kieran Richardson's swerving shot, diving one way and having to save with his legs, served as another warning.

But those insecurities were put to bed in the 36th minute with Downing's first significant intervention.

The England international's brilliantly-disguised reverse pass from the edge of the penalty area deceived everyone except Gerrard.

Liverpool's captain seized on the flatfootedness of Fulham's defenders to clip a shot across Schwarzer and just inside the far post.

Suso scuffed a shot wide and Suarez fired straight at the goalkeeper before the interval but within six minutes of the second half the result was put beyond any doubt.

Gerrard, who had one of his better days spraying passes all over the field, picked out Downing on the right wing and he cut inside before blasting home a shot which appeared to release months of pent-up frustration.

The 28-year-old played like a man with a point to prove at times and saw another blistering drive sail just over the angle of crossbar and post.

Schwarzer did well to block Gerrard's close-range shot a Liverpool continued to press, Reina did less well with Berbatov's long-range effort which squirmed from his grasp and required Skrtel to clear.

But that was a rare moment of concern on what was a trouble-free evening as Liverpool recorded only their fourth home league win of the season when Suarez side-footed home in added time for his 11th league goal of the season - equalling his tally from the whole of last season.

Downing Response Pleases Rodgers

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes winger Stewart Downing has benefited from a sympathetic ear and an honest appraisal of the situation facing him at Anfield.

The England international produced arguably the best display of his 17-month Anfield career with his first Premier League goal for the club and first assist in the 4-0 dismantling of a woeful Fulham.

Yet only last week the 28-year-old had revealed Rodgers had told him he could leave in January if he was not happy.

The Reds boss admits there has been a marked improvement in Downing's form and puts that down to the response their frank and open exchange at the end of October.

"I think if you communicate with him you hope you can see a reaction," said Rodgers, whose move for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge is progressing with the player on Merseyside for a medical and further negotiations.

"You get some players like that. Some can manage themselves but you find with attacking players, because their job is to take people on, when things are not going quite right then they need that bit of support.

"But all they can do is work hard and you have to give massive credit to Stewart because he has reacted really well.

"Since then he has played a lot of games and he is a very important member of our group at the minute.

"If he keeps playing like that hopefully he will establish himself in there and show the talent he clearly has.

"If he wasn't playing then we would have looked at it (him moving) in January."

Downing has now started seven of the last eight matches, five of which have come in the league after previously making just one start in the opening-day defeat at West Brom.

His brilliant reverse-pass was instrumental in setting up Steven Gerrard for Liverpool's important second after Martin Skrtel's superb volley.

Then came the moment he had waited for, smashing his first league goal for the club he joined in July 2011, before Luis Suarez scored his 11th league goal of the season in added time.

"He is a good guy, he comes in every day to work hard and you saw his technique and quality on Saturday but equally important was his fight," said Rodgers of Downing's display.

"He was clever in his pressing and I spoke to him again the other day just to thank him because in the last few weeks he's played left-back, left wing and right wing and he hasn't moaned and groaned he's got on with it.

"He is playing well at the moment and he fully deserved his man-of-the-match award."

Liverpool's win moved them up to eighth, their highest position of the campaign, and within five points of the top four.

Rodgers was impressed to see a positive reaction after last week's surprise defeat to Aston Villa.

"We have played as well as that if not better in a lot of our games at home but what is critical is getting that first goal and if you follow it up with a second it really helps," he said.

"I think we had everything in our game: intensity, pressure and goals and four goals with a clean sheet is equally important.

"We have been improving steadily right the way through the season and you see the confidence in the team.

"We know there will be tough games but our only focus is the next game, which will be difficult at Stoke.

"Over this period there are four games in quick succession and it is a great opportunity to pick up points."

Martin Skrtel Delighted With Goal

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel has expressed his delight at opening the scoring in his side's 4-0 win over Fulham on Saturday.

Skrtel hammered home a volley from Steven Gerrard's corner to set the Reds on their way to an emphatic victory, and the Slovakia international admitted that he had never scored one like it before.

The 28-year-old also believes that the victory will give his side a lot of confidence going into their match against Stoke City on Boxing Day.

"It was the first time I've scored a goal like that. Last time I scored was the Manchester City game. I'm happy I helped the team win this game and I'll try to do my best in the future as well," he told the club's official website.

"Before the game we said it was the last game at Anfield this year - so we wanted to win. We got the win and scored four nice goals. The first goal is always important because most of the teams coming to Anfield want to defend and stay back, then try to counter-attack. We got it today and the game was going easily - that was the key.

"In a lot of games we have played well and created chances, but couldn't take them. I'm glad we scored more than one today. It's great for the team's confidence. On Boxing Day, we go to Stoke so we'll try to bring the three points."

The result lifted Liverpool up to eighth in the Premier League table, just five points off third place.

Rodgers: Gerrard Has A Job For Life

Steven Gerrard’s contract only expires in 18 months but Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is already adamant that he will stay at the club beyond his current deal.

There had been some speculation over Gerrard’s future, with doubts about whether he would be offered a new contract in 18 months, when he will be 34 but Rodgers told the Guardian:

"He is vital to us, and I recognize that. I know he has 18 months left on his contract, but I would want him to go beyond that for this club and this team.”

"He has been an inspirational captain for us, he has been a huge figure in the development of this team. We are improving, we are growing, and he has influenced that.

"Absolutely I would want him to stay beyond his current contract and extend it - there is absolutely no question about that.

"What I would say with Steven is he has a real hunger to succeed. He may be 32 years of age, but he's still got so much left."

"You look at his stats this season and he is right up there as one of the most influential midfielders in the Premier League. He's at the top in chances created, passing, possession; all the important things. I find it incredible he can have had any criticism at all. It is absolutely ridiculous. From seeing him every day working, and seeing him playing in the games, it's incredible.

Carragher Might Retire At The End Of The Season

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has admitted that there is a chance he will retire at the end of this season.

The 34-year-old has made over 700 appearances for the club and joined Liverpool professionally in 1996. This season is the last on his contract and although he remains ‘open minded’ he would not continue to play at the expense of the team.

"There is a chance that I will retire at the end of the season," Carragher told the Daily Express.

"It is the last season of my contract and the club has not said anything to me yet.

"I am open-minded, but I would not play on if I was killing the team when I played. I would not be hanging on for money or anything.

"And I would not go anywhere else. It is Liverpool or nothing for me."

“Things haven’t gone that well for the club in recent years and it seems to me that there are people who are happy about that.

“Naively, I thought everyone associated with Liverpool wanted them to win, but maybe it’s not like that.

“I’m not bitter about not playing. I want to play, but I want Liverpool to win first and foremost and I suppose the West Ham game showed that. I always will from the day I leave, whenever that may be.”