Saturday, December 29, 2012

Match Preview: QPR vs Liverpool

Queens Park Rangers are looking to end a turbulent 2012 on a high by earning a much-needed Premier League victory against visitors Liverpool in Sunday's televised clash.

Rangers are rooted to the bottom of the table after just one win in their opening 19 matches of the season.

However, supporters are hoping another memorable home victory against the Reds can be the catalyst for survival once again.

The Hoops trailed 2-0 with 13 minutes left in last season's corresponding fixture, before fighting back to win 3-2 and move out of the relegation zone.

It sparked a run of five victories in their final 10 matches to avoid an instant return to the Championship.

Redknapp replaced predecessor Mark Hughes in late November, after the Welshman paid the price for this season's woeful start, and it sparked an initial upturn in the Hoops' fortunes before successive defeats against Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion ruined their Christmas.

Rangers are six points adrift of safety and will be pinning their hopes on ex-Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse firing them to victory against his former club, who have been consistently inconsistent over the past 12 months.

The Reds have shown glimpses of progress under Brendan Rodgers, but the statistics show the 10th-placed club have never accumulated fewer points at the halfway stage of the season since three points for a win rule was introduced in 1981.

However, despite Boxing Day's 3-1 defeat at Stoke, they remain just eight points behind the top four.

Defeat at the Britannia came after a 4-0 rout of Fulham and Rodgers, who has been backed by the Anfield crowd, will be aiming to go into 2013 with a heartening away win as he aims to haul Liverpool back into the Champions League.

Liverpool is sweating on the fitness of top scorer Luis Suarez for the trip to Loftus Road.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers says the Uruguayan striker has been hampered by an ankle injury in recent weeks and could be forced out of the clash.

Former QPR youngster Raheem Sterling is pushing for a start.

Rodgers Rejects Roy Comparisons

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has brushed off any comparison of his record with that of former Reds boss Roy Hodgson.

Defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day meant the Northern Irishman has exactly the same points haul - 25 - from 19 league matches as that of the now England manager.

Hodgson did not make it past 20 league games as defeat at Blackburn in early January 2011 put an end to a difficult and much-criticized six months in charge.

Rodgers benefits from a position of greater strength as he was the choice of owners Fenway Sports Group in the summer and while his record may not be as good as predecessor Kenny Dalglish, he is working to a different set of objectives than those given to the Scot.

He is a long way from his position becoming under threat and insists progress has been made with plenty more to come.

"I don't think about them to be honest, it is not something I am overly worried about," he said of comparisons with Hodgson's record.

"I have been brought in here to do a job and the owners have been brilliant with me.

"The backing I've had from supporters has been incredible considering and that is the most important group really.

"They recognize what is going on, they understand like I would understand the frustration.

"Any comparisons I don't really focus on and it is difficult to compare the two groups because there is a lot of youthfulness in this group but yet still a lot of growth left in the team.

"There is a lot of progressing to do because we're 10th in the table and this is a club which wants to be at the very top but the only way you can do that is by reconstruction of the work and building the squad.

"That is what is going to take a bit of time. I always say it's like a good meal - I'm not a great cook but a good meal takes a wee bit of time but also to offer a good meal you need good ingredients.

"That is something we will do over time and hopefully put a nice meal on the table for supporters."

A deal for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge has virtually been done while the club are still pursuing Blackpool winger Tom Ince.

However, club sources told Press Association Sport "to treat as rubbish" comments by Birmingham chairman Peter Pannu suggesting the club was in talks with Liverpool over goalkeeper Jack Butland.

"I understand there are talks with Liverpool, I understand that Everton might be interested, Southampton gave me an offer in the past, I know not whether they want him," Pannu told the Birmingham Mail.

Speculation has linked Butland with a move to Anfield for weeks but earlier this month Rodgers stressed he was not looking for another goalkeeper in January.

Only a fortnight ago second-choice goalkeeper Brad Jones signed a new contract and while rumours persist about Jose Reina's future it seems inconceivable Rodgers would let him go in January, if at all.

"We certainly won't be able to do everything in January that would help us, but we'll be able to make some additions that will help the group," said the Reds boss.

"We can look forward to that and then review it again in the summer.

"There are very few names we have actually enquired about, but we're hoping we'll be able to do something in January pretty early on.

"We need that wee bit more experience, especially at the top end of the field.

"We're hopeful we can do that and then we'll see what else January can bring for us.

"We won't be spending a great deal of money. It'll be between January and the summer time that we can look at progressing the group and then hopefully go again."

Birmingham Confirm Liverpool In Talks With Butland

Liverpool has opened talks to sign England goalkeeper Jack Butland, Birmingham acting chairman Peter Pannu has confirmed.

Pannu has admitted that he is prepared to sell Butland, along with other key players, in January to stop the Championship club from going into administration.

Birmingham have hit financial trouble because of debts incurred by parent company Birmingham International Holdings Limited, as well as loss of revenue caused by relegation from the Premier League in 2011 and the fact that owner Carson Yeung has had assets frozen as he prepares to face money laundering charges in Hong Kong.

Butland, 19, has become one of the club's most valuable assets, playing from Great Britain at last summer's Olympic football tournament and making his England debut in a friendly against Italy in Berne in August.

He only made his Birmingham debut on the opening day of the Championship season against Charlton, but has firmly established himself as the club's first-choice keeper.

Southampton and Everton both expressed an interest in signing him in August, but although Pannu rejected those approaches, he has admitted that he will find it much harder to fend off Liverpool when the transfer window opens.

"Let's use Butland as an example," Pannu told the Birmingham Mail. "I understand there are talks with Liverpool, I understand that Everton might be interested, Southampton gave me an offer in the past, I know not whether they want him. His is a phenomenal player and let's move this from another angle.

"For example, if Liverpool comes in for Butland, do you not think Butland wouldn't want to go there? Even if Liverpool came to me with £4 million, I'm sure if his agent is doing a proper job he will blow my door down and say he wants the Liverpool opportunity."

Pannu insisted that any money brought in from sales would go towards keeping Birmingham afloat.

"If I allow this club to go into administration, I think I will never [be able to] step foot in Birmingham [again]. Never. And I am not going to allow that to happen," he added. "If I do annoy the fans and I do dispose of players, it will be to keep the club afloat.

"What I can say is that - and I might be blasted for this by the fans - but no one is for sale and everyone is available. As in any club. Give me a £15 million offer for Jack Butland, can I say no?

"I have rejected £6 million from Southampton [in the summer] but I rejected it when our finances were OK. As the time is ticking, I might not be able to reject it if I get something similar."

Newcastle Will Receive Just £5m For Ba

Alan Pardew's hopes of persuading Demba Ba to ditch his release clause look doomed after it emerged the Newcastle striker stands to pocket an incredible £2.5million from it.

Angered by the constant speculation caused by the £7.5m exit clause in Ba’s contract, Pardew challenged him to drop it and negotiate a new deal or be put up for sale.

The ultimatum looks like having only one outcome, following news of the windfall awaiting Newcastle’s top scorer once the contractual agreement kicks in.

Anyone offering the stipulated amount will not only land one of the Barclays Premier League’s most accomplished finishers but make him £2.5m richer, according to The Sun, with just £5m going to Newcastle.

It is a nightmare scenario for Pardew, who already feared he would be ill-equipped to recruit an adequate replacement with £7.5m at his disposal. With the figure trimmed to £5m, he will find it even harder to fill the boots of the Senegal marksman, who now seems certain to be heading out of Tyneside when the window opens next week.

Ba has stubbornly resisted all efforts to draw him to the negotiating table, and the reasons why are now evident after it transpired a third of the fee will go directly to him.

A free transfer from West Ham 18 months ago, the 11-goal marksman has attracted strong interest from Arsenal, QPR, Liverpool and Paris St Germain, who will all be alerted to a development that signals his imminent departure.

The 27-year old is thought to favour a move to The Emirates, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has reservations over his £80,000-a-week wage demands, particularly given the knee problems that deterred other clubs from moving for him when he arrived from the Bundesliga.

Wenger has not ruled out a third spell at the club for Thierry Henry despite being linked with the Newcastle striker as well as Barcelona's David Villa.

New York Red Bulls striker Henry reported for training with the Gunners today during the MLS close-season.

'I’ve not lost interest in him,' said Wenger when asked about the Arsenal record scorer.

'He’s still coming today to practice with us. We are very close but at the moment, I think he has had a second spell at the Club that was very successful. You have to be cautious that it’s not one time too many. I have not completely ruled it out but I haven’t spoken about it with him at all.'

Wenger added: 'I like Demba Ba, yes, but I don’t think this is the right place to speak about that, because he plays against us on Saturday. I wouldn’t like to put Newcastle or us or him in an uncomfortable position. If you ask me "Do we sign Demba Ba?" I say no.'

Pardew is already making plans for life without Ba and is lining up a move for Marseille’s Loic Remy.

However, Pardew is trying to remain confident the player is happy to stay in the North East, but will not allow the speculation to drag on until summer.

The 51-year-old said: 'Really and truly this window is the key, I think, because if Demba goes in this window, it will cause us a problem.

'I think he will stay, but there's a possibility he could go because of the clause that's still in force. In the summer, I won't let it run until the summer. I'll do something about it.

'We will either move Demba on or we will secure him in the summer.'

Sturridge And Ince Set To Sign But.....?

Daniel Sturridge and Tom Ince remain Anfield-bound in January, but Brendan Rodgers is adamant his main transfer strategy for reviving Liverpool’s fortunes will be played out at the end of the season.

Chelsea striker Sturridge has already had a medical on Merseyside, while Blackpool forward Ince will follow him into Anfield, as Rodgers looks to give his team more attacking impetus.

But the additions Rodgers sees as vital to restoring Liverpool to their former status as regulars in the Champions’ League will be made after he completes an in-depth review of his first season in charge.

Rodgers cites instilling greater consistency as his main objective, and, much as Sturridge and Ince are expected to add energy and drive to the second half of Liverpool’s season, he admitted he will be looking for proven top-flight performers when the window reopens in the summer.

‘We have enquired about some players and hope to be able to do something in January,’ said the Liverpool manager.

‘There are a lot of names being mentioned, but we should be able to make some additions and make them pretty early.

‘But the main review will take place in the summer, and it is clear we need that bit of experience up at the top end of the field.

'The best and most important period will be between now and the end of the season, when we can look at what needs to be done, in terms of progressing the club further, and then go again.’

Bayern Munich Enter Race For Liverpool Target

Bayern Munich has entered the running to sign Schalke contract rebel Lewis Holtby.

The midfielder has been strongly linked with a move to Liverpool after failing to agree terms with the German club.

Schalke held another round of talks with Holtby recently but they could not find a resolution and he is likely to leave in January.

Brendan Rodgers has made his interest known but news of Bayern's interest will concern him.
Holtby, 22, is said to be keen on a move to the Premier League but Bayern will make a late effort to try and land him.

Wigan Star Dismisses Liverpool Rumours

Franco Di Santo has taken to Twitter to quash rumours that Liverpool are set to make a move for him in the transfer window.

After a slow start to his Premier League career at Chelsea and then on-loan with Blackburn, the Wigan striker, 23, has enjoyed a new lease of life in the North West over the last season-and-a-half.

And this upturn in form has reportedly seen Brendan Rodgers become interested in his future, as the Argentine’s contract at the DW Stadium ends at the end of the season.

But Di Santo has claimed the gossip is just paper talk and insisted he is negotiating a new contract with Roberto Martinez’s side.

He tweeted: “I'm a Wigan player and I have contract until June and we are in negotiations and I don't have idea about what the news paper said.

Liverpool Eyeing Permanent Deal For Sahin

Liverpool is weighing up a move to make Nuri Sahin's stay at the club a permanent switch.

The midfielder joined the Anfield club on a season-long loan from Real Madrid in a bid to gain regular first-team experience but has been restricted to just seven Premier League appearances.

Sahin recently returned to the Reds squad after undergoing surgery for a broken nose sustained during the decisive Europa League group game with Udinese earlier this month but has failed to feature in a domestic outing since an hour-long run-out in November's 1-1 draw at Chelsea.

But the 24-year-old could be set to stay and fight for his place at Liverpool with Madrid appearing unconvinced by his lack of opportunities since moving to England just three months ago, combined with an unspectacular debut season in the Spanish capital, where he made just 10 outings.

Under-fire Real boss Jose Mourinho had originally planned to use Sahin as a foil for former Borussia Dortmund team mate Mario Gotze, who was also part of their Bundesliga-winning side in 2011, should the reigning La Liga champions secure his signature but is understood to have since reconsidered.

It is a view shared by Bernabeu chiefs, who are prepared to cut their losses on the Turkey international barely 20 months since he arrived for a fee in the region of £8 million. Despite approaching his mid-twenties, Sahin's permanent capture would be a move for longevity and echo that of winger Oussama Assaidi, also 24, who joined last summer from Heerenveen for £3 million.

However Madrid's determination to hold firm on their £14 million buyout clause for Sahin, whose current contract runs until 2017, in a bid to ensure a modest profit remains a key stumbling block.

Joe Cole Seeking £3.6million Pay-Off

Joe Cole is requesting a £3.6m pay-off from Liverpool to quit the Merseyside club in January.

The former Chelsea and West Ham midfielder joined the Reds in 2010 but has failed to make an impact at Anfield – with just 42 appearances in his two-and-a-half year spell at the club – and spent last season on loan at French side Lille.

Cole is now seeking a move away from Liverpool, with both QPR and Reading circling, but is demanding a £3.6m pay-off with 18 months still remaining on his contract.

The 31-year-old, whose contract is currently worth around £100,000 a week, is unlikely to be offered more than £30,000 a week from either of his prospective suitors and wants Liverpool to help make up the shortfall, with Brendan Rodgers keen to get him off the club’s wage bill.

Should an agreement be reached to terminate Cole’s contract, the midfielder would be free to sign for another club when the transfer window opens on Tuesday, with relegation-threatened duo QPR and Reading the frontrunners for his signature.

Assaidi Heading To Cup Of Nations

Reds midfielder Oussama Assaidi has been named in Morocco's provisional squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

The 24-year-old, who has made 10 appearances for Liverpool since arriving at Anfield last summer, was included among the 24-man selection by coach Rachid Taoussi.

Morocco have been drawn alongside hosts South Africa, plus Angola and Cape Verde, for the tournament - which kicks off on January 19 and concludes with the final on February 10.

Assaidi has represented his country on nine occasions, scoring once - against Algeria in June 2011.