Saturday, January 19, 2013

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Norwich

All eyes will once again be on Luis Suarez when Liverpool host Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday.

The Uruguayan is making headlines after admitting to diving against Stoke City earlier in the season and, although he has avoided Football Association action, he could be punished by his club.

Suarez will therefore be the centre of attention at Anfield not long after causing controversy for an apparent handball against Mansfield and he is already no stranger to Norwich having scored hat-tricks in his last two appearances against the Canaries.

The striker, who celebrates his 26th birthday next Thursday, is also in fine form this season and has scored six goals in his last six appearances in all competitions.

Norwich will therefore know stopping Suarez is key in a game when a victory could move Chris Hughton's club to within two points of Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool.

A recent run of just one point in five matches has seen Norwich slip down the table after a previous 10-game unbeaten run in the top flight.

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is pushing for his first Premier League start at home to Norwich City after two goals in as many games since his £12million transfer.

Defender Jose Enrique is still not fully fit after a hamstring problem so Glen Johnson will continue to deputize at left-back.

Jordan Henderson could challenge for Joe Allen's place in midfield.

Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson has recovered from the illness which kept him out of the Newcastle game last weekend.

Andrew Surman returns to the squad after recovering from a knee injury and Grant Holt (hamstring) has been declared fully fit.

Defender Steven Whittaker (hip) and striker Steve Morison (knee) are still recovering but could return in 10 days.

Rodgers Backing Sturridge

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has no doubts over Daniel Sturridge's attitude as the striker prepares to make his Anfield debut.

Rumours about Sturridge's personality have dogged his career so far but he has made a fine start to life on Merseyside with goals in his first two games.

Norwich visit Anfield on Saturday and Rodgers was keen to defend his new signing in his pre-match press conference, where he was asked about a whispering campaign about Sturridge.

"It has been very unfair, I have to say," said Rodgers. "I remember being at Chelsea and I'd heard all these things about Nicolas Anelka being an awkward player and I found him one of the nicest guys I ever met in football.

"Sometimes when you are quiet and you focus on yourself you can be criticized for being awkward, but I don't think that is the case with Daniel at all.

"I was aware of him beforehand and I think any frustrations and disappointments he's had were purely down to the basis he wasn't playing or getting an opportunity.

"I can understand that. He went (to Chelsea) as a 20-year-old and it was always going to be difficult for him to play. But he has mixed well here and is very hungry to learn. It is going to take time for him to feel at ease and comfortable.

"This will be his first time playing at Anfield and that is a real special feeling.

"Daniel came in here and the spotlight was on him because everyone knew we needed someone up there to help Luis (Suarez) and get goals. With his pace and power you have a real feeling he can get a goal.

"We've had some terrific performances so far this season but consistency has been our biggest downfall. I believe the group will be as good as any team in this league but we have to be consistent and be able to not play well and win.

"This season we've normally played well and won games; we've also performed well and not got something from the games. At times, we're going to have to not play well and be able to win."

Suarez Criticised By Rodgers

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez's diving admission brought swift admonishment from manager Brendan Rodgers, who described the comments as "unacceptable".

In a television interview, the Uruguay international confessed he had tried to win a penalty in October's goalless draw with Stoke by going down in the area.

He was unsuccessful in his attempts - although he escaped punishment - and his actions brought stinging condemnation from Potters boss Tony Pulis at the time.

Rodgers has staunchly stood behind his star striker when criticism has come his way, but following this latest admission there was no defence.

The 25-year-old has been spoken to by the Reds boss, who stressed the issue will be "dealt with internally" - although the club would not confirm what that would involve.

"I've seen the comments and I think it is wrong. Certainly from our perspective it is unacceptable," said Rodgers.

"It is not something we advocate here. Our ethics are correct.

"I've spoken to Luis and he totally understands, and knows where I'm coming from as manager of the club.

"This is a big club and whatever people do say goes around the world, and what was said was wrong and not acceptable - he takes that and we move on.

"There is no-one bigger than the club or the club's image.

"The comments, from our point of view as a club, are not what we would want to hear.

"This is something which was obviously wrong and is not something we associate with as a club of this standing."

In his interview with Fox Sports Argentina, Suarez admitted he even questioned himself after the tumble against Stoke.

"Sometimes you do things on the field that later you think 'Why the hell did I do that?"' he said.

"I was accused of falling inside the box in a match, and it's true I did it that time, because we were drawing against Stoke at home and we needed anything to win it."

Only a week ago, in the wake of Suarez's handball goal in the FA Cup win at Mansfield, Rodgers said he had spoken to the striker regularly about the criticism he receives and how to deal with it.

The signs this season were that those chats were having a positive effect, as Suarez has been in scintillating form with 19 goals so far.

However, the Uruguayan's admission of diving prompted Rodgers to pull him in for another talk, as he is concerned what effect the comments may have on the team - and referees' opinions - for the remainder of the season.

"You normally find players, when their careers are finished, admit to all these kind of things - he just happened to be honest in the middle of his career," said the Reds boss.

"My main concern is the team. As long as it doesn't affect our chances - we've only had one penalty this year anyway - but as long as it doesn't damage our prospects in the future that is the most important issue.

"Anything that is detrimental towards that is something I don't take too lightly and if that is something I think affects it, that (his chat with Suarez) was a clear message."

Rodgers insists the focus which falls on Suarez, and the headlines which follow, is not an issue for his man-management skills.

"He is a real topic of conversation, football and media-wise, and as a manager my responsibility and leadership I have to make comment when I have to," he said.

"It has been quite nice most of this season when it (speculation and criticism) hasn't been about.

"He is tough-minded and, irrespective of what is out there, media-wise he gets on with his job. On the football side there are no complaints.

"I work with Luis every day so I know the character he is. I know he is a good man who wants to do the best for the club."

Sneijder Will Have To Take Pay Cut To Join Liverpool

Wesley Sneijder’s chances of joining Liverpool in January rest upon whether he will take 100k a week pay cut.

The Dutchman has fallen out of favour with Inter Milan after not being able to agree a new deal and Liverpool are interested in signing him. Sneijder is current netting £6 million a year after tax which is way over the Reds’ budget.

The 28 year old is close to a move to Turkish side Galatasary after they agreed a £6.3 million deal with Inter, but it is well known that he would rather move to the Premier League.

Italian sources have revealed the Reds ARE one of the clubs he would take a wage drop for.

Now Kop boss Brendan Rodgers hopes the Holland ace’s admission that his mind is not on the money sees him pick Merseyside.

Sneijder said: “It’s not a question of money. I have time and won’t be rushed.

“My doubts have nothing to do with the offers. I don’t want to feel forced into a life decision in a short space of time.

Galatasaray president Unal Aysal wants a weekend decision. He said: “We’ll wait another three of four days.”

Butland To Liverpool As Replacement For Reina

Pepe Reina has emerged a summer transfer target for Diego Simone and Atletico Madrid which could see Liverpool make a bit for Jack Butland.

The 30 year old has been linked with a move back to his homeland for sometime and has not produced the form of previous season and boss Brendan Rodgers could be ready to cash in on the Spanish keeper.

It has been widely speculated that the Reds have been monitoring the situation of Jack Butland at Birmingham City and they want him succeed the Spaniard.

The Blues could be forced to sell Butland due to their financial problems, which could start a goalkeeping merry-go-round. The impressive youngster made his England debut in August after gaining many plaudits in the Team GB Olympic team.

West Brom Keen To Loan Coates

West Brom manger Steve Clarke is keen to bolster his defensive options with the signing of Liverpool centre-back Sebastian Coates on loan.

The defender joined Liverpool in August 2011 from Nacional, for an undisclosed fee, however he has failed to live up to expectations with the Anfield club.

The Uruguayan has managed just 49 minutes of Premier League football since August and has bee restricted to a handful of Europa League and Capital One Cup matches.

West Brom is desperate for defensive cover after it was announced that Queens Park Rangers have stepped up their interest in Jonas Olssen.

Steve Clarke worked with Coates at Anfield and he sees him as the perfect replacement for Olssen should he make the switch to Loftus Road during the transfer window.

The club are hopeful a deal can be negotiated within the next 48 hours, with a view to making the switch permanent at the end of the season.

Hearts Secure Danny Wilson On Loan Deal

Hearts have agreed to sign the former Rangers defender Danny Wilson on loan from Liverpool until May, pending international clearance.

The Scotland defender, 21, has been on loan at Bristol City recently but played only one match due to injury.

He is John McGlynn's first squad addition since the Scottish Premier League relaxed Hearts' signing ban.

If clearance comes through on time, Wilson will go straight into the squad for Saturday's match against Celtic.

Wilson is eligible for the under-21s and therefore fits the criteria set out by the SPL that allows Hearts to sign players.

The Tynecastle club had been placed under a signing ban last year due to late payment of wages and it was extended over a "remuneration default".

The default related to bonus and appearance monies but the SPL is now satisfied payments are in order.

However, the club can only sign under-21 players until the end of the season and they will be restricted to a one-out, one-in policy.

Left-footed Wilson has been capped five times and made his international debut against the Faroe Islands in November 2010.

He came through the Rangers youth set-up and played 26 games for the Ibrox side before manager Kenny Dalglish signed him for Liverpool for £2m in July 2010.

However, he has struggled to break into the first team at Anfield since and his loan to Hearts follows similar spells at Blackpool and Bristol City.

Jon Flanagan Ruled Out For Up To Three Months

Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan has been ruled out for up to three months with a knee injury, manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed.

The 20-year-old picked up the injury playing in the Reds' Under-21s side against Southampton on Monday night and is now facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Rodgers' side host Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday, with Flanagan the only fresh injury concern as Jose Enrique continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

"Jose Enrique is making good progress but the only unfortunate thing is young Jon Flanagan got injured in the reserve game during the week,” the Reds boss told reporters in his pre-match press conference.

"Even though Jon hasn't featured so much, he's been in some of our Europa League games and played in the FA Cup.

"He's out of the squad now for up to 12 weeks with a knee injury.

"Apart from that, we're pretty fine."

Liverpool sits eighth in the Premier League table and will be looking for a win against the Canaries as they aim to bounce back from the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United.

Why Luis Celebration Has Added Meaning

Luis Suarez has explained why his trademark goal celebration of kissing his wrist is not only a tribute to his daughter - but to Anfield as well.

The striker kisses a tattoo of his two-year-old's name after every goal, but the gesture has taken on additional meaning since he learned that Delfina is an anagram of Anfield.

Suarez junior was born six months before he joined Liverpool and the anagram is a coincidence, but the 25-year-old likes to think there was an element of fate involved in his move to Merseyside.

He told "I didn't know her name was an anagram of Anfield but my wife has told me that people here in Liverpool say that when I kiss my wrist, I'm doing it because I have 'Anfield' on there.

"It's a total coincidence but a very nice one at the same time. Maybe there was fate."

Myth Of Liverpool Defensive Stability Under Threat

Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger can perhaps count themselves lucky that Liverpool is a club which regularly lurches from one disaster to the next.

Whether it be criticism over the failure to sign Clint Dempsey, an inability to shift high-salary also-rans or Luis Suarez’s endless flirtation with controversy – there is always something big happening at Anfield.

For that reason, the fact that the Reds’ defending has been atrocious this season has somewhat slipped under the radar. And the two men who should take a large slice of the responsibility, the club’s centre-back pairing, have seemingly avoided blame for such underperformance.

Last Sunday – at the hardest ground to visit in the Premier League, admittedly – some suspect work at the back was to blame for the concession of two goals; events which proved decisive as the visitors lost 2-1. The opener saw Agger unwisely rocking back on his heels as the sprightly Robin van Persie nipped in front to score, whilst the second was facilitated by the bizarre decision to place Skrtel in the wall for a free kick which was clearly set to be put in the box.

Such errors are comparable to the Slovakian’s ill-advised backpass during Liverpool’s first home game of the season at Anfield, one which allowed Carlos Tevez to earn a point the champions had barely deserved. Talk of early season rustiness and the teething problems expected when bedding in a new system were rife following that 2-2 draw in August but, as of January, they are still a regular occurrence.

Worryingly, the Merseyside club has conceded seven goals more than the 21 they had leaked at this point last season in the league, despite having parted company with Kenny Dalglish on the basis of seeking improvement. The eight clean sheets accrued so far also point to the likelihood that they will match last year’s tally of 12, despite intending to avoid the stagnation such statistics suggest.

At some point questions over the personnel who occupy the defence must be raised, and it appears that the fleeting but unsuccessful pursuit of Vegard Forren hints that they already are. In fact, the idea of selling one of Skrtel or Agger was toyed with repeatedly in the summer, with Manchester City said to be interested in a swoop for either centre-back at different stages of the window.

Suggestions that Swansea defender Ashley Williams was being targeted as a potential replacement were mocked at the time by Liverpool fans who believed the 28-year-old would be a step down. Yet, having seen the Wales captain form an impressive partnership with Chico Flores – one which has conceded four goals less than Skrtel and Agger thus far – would surely prompt a rethink on this business.

Of course, the chances of bagging the defender in January are slim due to his increasingly impressive performances under the stewardship of Michael Laudrup. That means Rodgers may be forced to look at one option which he has largely ignored during a season of defensive mishaps: Sebastian Coates.

The Uruguayan has made just three Premier League appearances so far this term, totalling 138 minutes of top-flight action. One of those brief outings came in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, as the centre-back was brought on at half-time to help his side switch to a back three and regain stability.

The 22-year-old was an impressive presence in that 45 minutes, helping Liverpool keep a clean sheet in the second half and seeing a match-winning assist chalked off after his compatriot Luis Suarez was wrongly adjudged to have been offside.

With that in mind, his exclusion from the first-team since is frankly bizarre. Age is no barrier to playing for Liverpool, as Rodgers’ regularly inexperienced team selections attest, but that Coates is being heavily linked with a loan move away from the club points to a misuse of an already thin squad.

And, when two men who are alleged to be at the peak of their powers are patently failing ahead of him, Coates might just wonder what he has to do.

Liverpool Pleased By Progress Towards Anfield Redevelopment

Every few months it seems Liverpool let it be known that there's really seriously for real this time news concerning the redevelopment of Anfield. Or at least that there's news about how there will soon be news concerning the redevelopment of Anfield.

And now, with suggestions the club will make a formal planning application in the spring and managing director Ian Ayre eager to talk about all the behind the scenes work being done, we can safely say there's news on the Anfield redevelopment front. Or at least there's news about how there might soon be news. It's probably one or the other.

"We are very pleased with progress," said Ayre. "A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes particularly with the acquisition of properties and architectural work to look at designs and plans which would be submitted for planning permission.

"We've got a meeting coming up in the next few weeks with the steering group which is made up of the various parties who were present when the announcement about the regeneration was made. Certainly in terms of milestones that we set ourselves, we are on track. We're pleased with the way we're heading and there's no reason to feel anything other than optimistic."

If Ayre's timelines is accurate, redevelopment of the area surrounding Anfield both to adhere to right to light bylaws as well as to get the local council to accede to the club's plans despite reports they favour the Stanley Park option is set to begin sooner rather than later.

Though of course with the seemingly endless delays and that the club has been dropping similar comments once a quarter since Fenway Sports Group came on board, many won't be happy until there's more to point to than just the club's managing director talking about progress. Which is probably entirely reasonable at this point.

Still, while we might be inclined to wait until there actually are shovels in the ground to pop the bubbly, perhaps Ian Ayre taking the time to tell fans there really has been progress is better than not knowing if Ian Ayre thinks there's been progress. Or it might be nice to actually see signs of said progress rather than having to take it on faith one more time. It's probably one or the other.