Sunday, February 03, 2013

Match Preview: Manchester City vs Liverpool

Manchester City find themselves 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester United ahead of their Super Sunday showdown with Liverpool.

The Red Devils moved seven clear at the top of the Premier League courtesy of their 2-1 success against Southampton in midweek, 24 hours after the champions were held to a 0-0 draw at QPR.

Despite the gap which is opening with 14 games of the season remaining, City will highlight the fact that they famously over-turned an eight-point deficit in the closing stages of the last campaign.

Roberto Mancini elected not to make any additions to his squad during the January transfer window, but there was one high-profile departure as Mario Balotelli returned to Italy with AC Milan.

Liverpool remain a work in progress under Brendan Rodgers, with their thrilling 2-2 draw against Arsenal in midweek encapsulating what they have achieved and what still needs to be done.

The Reds took a 2-0 lead at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night, helped in no small part by some awful defending from the Gunners, only to allow the hosts back into the contest and have to settle for a share of the spoils.

The dream of a return to the UEFA Champions League remains alive, with Rodgers' men seven adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham, but their days of challenging for the Premier League title are but a distant memory at present.

Manchester City are again without captain Vincent Kompany for Sunday's clash at the Etihad Stadium as he remains sidelined by a calf injury.

The champions are hopeful Matija Nastasic (knee), who could only make the bench at QPR in midweek, will be fit to start, otherwise midfielder Javi Garcia may again have to deputise.

Right-back Maicon (knee) is back in training and could soon be available while fellow defender Micah Richards (knee) hopes to return this month. Midfielder Yaya Toure and defender Kolo Toure are still on international duty, while Balotelli has departed for AC Milan.

Liverpool boss Rodgers must decide whether to thrust new signing Philippe Coutinho into the fray for the meeting with the champions.

Coutinho completed his move to Anfield from Inter Milan in midweek but is likely to be given more time to acclimatise to life in his new surroundings.

Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique all returned from injury for the midweek draw at Emirates Stadium and can expect to be involved again this weekend.

Mancini Wary Of Threat Liverpool Pose

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has warned of the dangers facing his side as Liverpool travel to face the Premier League champions.

The Italian believes the Merseysiders are capable of qualifying for the Champions League and feels City will have to be at their best to avoid slipping up.

The champions will not want to drop many more points as they seek to pull Manchester United back at the top of the table.

Liverpool's recent run of good form was undermined by their shock loss to Oldham in the FA Cup last weekend but they responded with a positive display in a 2-2 draw at Arsenal in midweek.

That point ensured they remain in contention to finish fourth, which would vindicate manager Brendan Rodgers' methods after an at times difficult season of transition.

Mancini said: "When you want to change it is difficult sometimes.

"He [Rodgers] did some good results but Liverpool is always a strong team.

"I watched the game against Arsenal, they played well.

Liverpool has lost just one of their last five Premier League matches.

"It will be a dangerous game on Sunday. If we want to win, we should play well and score when we have a chance," added Mancini.

Sturridge Hopes To Develop Telepathic Partnership With Suarez

Daniel Sturridge is pleased with the partnership he is beginning to build with Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and hope that, with practice, it will only improve.

Sturridge will make his 100th Premier League appearance on Sunday against former club Manchester City, six years to the day that he made his debut but is still determined to improve his game.

"It's early days but the signs are that we're playing well together," said Sturridge. "I'm sure that will continue.

"As you play with someone more regularly, you do things telepathically, you know where they're going to be and you start playing off the cuff."

"It's always a weight off your shoulders if you start quite well. It has been a good start," added Sturridge.

"I'm hard on myself and I like to do a lot better than I am doing," he said. "There's a lot more to come from me. I've been performing OK but this is a fraction of what I'm actually able to do. Hopefully I'll be able to show what I'm really capable of doing in the months and years to come, when I'm playing week in, week out and I'm fully fit."

Henderson Helped By Criticism

Jordan Henderson believes that the criticism he has received has spurred him on to become a better player.

Henderson was told by Liverpool that he could look for a new club during the summer, and was heavily linked with a move to Fulham, but the midfielder has enjoyed a rejuvenating form during recent months.

After scoring goals in his last two Premier League games, Henderson believes that he is on the road to redemption at Anfield, admitting that the criticism was hard to bear at times.

"I wasn't playing regularly back in August so they gave me the option to go," Henderson told the Daily Mail.

"It wasn't a nice thing to hear. But I just had to take it on the chin. So I said no. I didn't want to go anywhere. I came to Liverpool wanting to stay here for the rest of my career. I certainly didn't want to leave after a year.

"I think I might have needed it, to be honest. I just feel if I keep working hard, and pushing on, I might not get as much criticism in the future.

"You have to go in and straight away try to match their ability. You need to learn to perform like they perform and that is a hard thing to do immediately. It's a step up and a challenge and for a good while I couldn't really do it.

"But this season the gaffer told me what he wanted from me, what I needed to improve, and I took it on board. He said I had to be better tactically, for example. He's been brilliant, to be fair, the advice he's given me."

Henderson has five England caps since making his debut against France in November 2010.

Suarez Eying Long Stay At Liverpool

Luis Suarez has insists he is feeling at home at Liverpool, underlining his intention to stay at Liverpool for “a very long time.”

The controversial Uruguayan added another goal to his increasingly prolific season in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Wednesday evening, as the Reds continue to state their claim for a Champions League spot.

Although the forward has struggled to endear himself to fans of the opposition since his arrival on Merseyside on transfer deadline day two years ago, but the Anfield faithful remain firmly behind their cult hero.

“I hope [to be at Liverpool] for a very long time because it's a massive club that kids dream about playing for," Suarez told Liverpool’s official website.

"I've been very proud to be at a club like Liverpool and to have made the decision to come here.

"In two years I've lived through some spectacular and very special moments that I will never, ever forget.

The former Ajax man has been dogged by controversy ever since his arrival in England. Consistent complaints on diving and the race row with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra have been particularly damaging to the forward’s reputation, but Suarez himself believes the club he now feels home at will help him through anything.

"There have been a few difficult times as well, but with the support of my family, the club and the fans, things have gone well for me."

Suarez continued: "I do feel at home here. When I'm out and about, all I get is support and encouragement from the local people and that's very important and when I come here to the club I feel like people have known me all my life.

"I hope to be able to help out the team for as long as I possibly can while trying do something to make the club and the fans very happy."

Mancini Eyes Suarez Transfer

Roberto Mancini is considering a £40 million summer bid for Luis Suarez to fill the gap left by Mario Balotelli.

Suarez pledged to stay with Liverpool even if they fail to reach the Champions League, but Manchester City boss Mancini is set to test that loyalty.

Mancini has made no secret of his admiration for Uruguayan Suarez, who has scored 22 goals this season. Liverpool visit the Etihad Stadium on Sunday and Mancini said: “Suarez is a top player.

I like him because he has quality, he is strong and he works. He is one of the best in England. But he plays for Liverpool.”

Mancini, frustrated to miss out on Robin van Persie, has sold Balotelli to AC Milan and could offload Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez.

West Ham Strike Deal To Sign Carroll

David Sullivan has confirmed that West Ham have brokered a deal with Liverpool to sign Andy Carroll permanently at the end of the season.

The England centre forward signed for the Reds two years ago for £35 million but after falling out of favour with new boss Brendan Rodgers he swiftly departed on loan to the Hammers at the start of the season.

However, to date, Carroll's time at the Hammers has been blighted by injury which has led to a return of just one goal from nine starts and two substitute appearances.

Whilst the two clubs have come to an agreement, Carroll is yet to agree personal terms with the East Londoners and Sullivan told the Daily Mail.

"I am often asked about Andy Carroll's deal. It is a season-long loan. Liverpool had an option to take him back in January, but he has been injured.

"West Ham has an agreement with Liverpool to sign him at the end of the season, but we have no agreement with the player.

"It was his desire to come to West Ham to prove himself to Liverpool and that hasn't changed.

"He has had injuries since he came, but he is back to fitness now and we have 15 games left... we need some goals and some points, so let's see."

Liverpool Midfielder Thrilled With Arrival Of Coutinho

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva is confident his compatriot Philippe Coutinho will bring his own brand of Brazilian flair to Anfield.

The 20-year-old became Brendan Rodgers’s second January signing after the Reds struck an £8.5 million deal with Inter Milan to bring the attacking midfielder to Merseyside. The deal may not have transpired, had it not been for the influence of Lucas, who has revealed he spoke to both Coutinho and Rodgers ahead of the move.

"The manager spoke with me, not asking me about his talent, because he was sure about his talent, it was just about how he was as a person," Lucas told the club’s official website.

"I spoke to him (Coutinho) a few times, not trying to convince him to sign, just telling him about the club, how things work here. He just felt it was a great opportunity for him to come to the Premier League and we are happy to have him here.”

With the addition of the signing of Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool have enlisted the services of two bright attacking options, helping to lift the creative burden that Luis Suarez was left to carry for most of the first half of the season. Lucas firmly believes that Coutinho will provide some more South American panache as the club look to rise up the Premier League table.

“He is a proper Brazilian with a lot of skill, he likes to play with the ball,” Lucas added. "He had a very good spell with Espanyol and I think he will be a great player in the future for us."

Having played for Vasco Da Gama, Inter Milan, Espanyol and now Liverpool in the past three years, Lucas believes that Coutinho is adept at adapting to new surroundings and will take little time to adapt to Premier League life, with a little bit of help from the club’s growing South American contingent.

"In Italy, it is a different game, but he has experience in La Liga as well. But I think he will be able to cope, I just hope he settles very quickly," said Lucas.

"We have Luis (Suarez) and (Sebastian) Coates, and myself, so we will all try to make him feel really comfortable and help.

"He is a young lad so we just need to make sure he settles very quickly, like Luis and Coates have, then he will be able to feel comfortable, show his qualities and start to play really well."

Alexander Doni Released By Liverpool

Sky Sports sources understand Alexander Doni has been released by Liverpool with immediate effect.

The experienced goalkeeper joined the Reds from Roma in a lucrative free transfer after spending six years with the Serie A club.

But he was unable to force his way ahead of Pepe Reina at Anfield, making just four Premier League appearances for Liverpool.

In fact, fellow back-up keeper Brad Jones has also seen first-team action ahead of the Brazilian relegating him to third choice.

The 33-year-old is now set to return to his homeland in a bid to force his way back into the national team ahead of next year's World Cup having last featured for his country in 2010.

Liverpool Send Spanish Starlet Out On Loan

Liverpool starlet Daniel Pacheco has left Liverpool to join Segunda division side Huesca on a loan deal until the end of the season.

The 22-year-old has struggled to break into the first team at Anfield previously under Kenny Dalglish and under Brendan Rodgers this season, having made just 17 appearances for the club since his move from Barcelona to Merseyside in 2007. The club announced the move on transfer deadline day.

This will be the Spaniard’s third loan spell away from Anfield, having returned to his homeland last season for a spell with Rayo Vallecano last season. Pacheco also spent time with Norwich City back in 2011 before the Canaries’ promotion to the Premier League, where he made just six appearances.

Pacheco’s latest club Huesca find themselves in what is increasingly looking to be a relegation battle. The club currently sit 19th in the Segunda division, having taken just 20 points from 23 games.

Kelly Demands Staggering £45k Pay

Young England international Martin Kelly has stunned Liverpool by demanding £45,000 a week to stay at Anfield.

The 22-year-old defender, recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, has been told to reconsider his position as negotiations over a new contract hit a bumpy start.

Liverpool, who play Manchester City on Sunday, are keen to introduce performance-related elements into their contracts for younger players and want Kelly to sign a deal similar to that recently agreed by Raheem Sterling, with a basic salary of about £25,000 a week, and an additional £10,000 a week if they play in the first team.

Young Reds Edged Out By Inter

A young Liverpool U18s side gave a great account of themselves as they narrowly lost 1-0 to Inter Milan in the quarter-finals of the Al-Kass Cup in Qatar on Friday.

A spectacular diving header from Francesco Bigotto from a right-wing cross gave the Italian outfit the only goal of the game in the 64th minute.

The young Reds had beaten Aspire Qatar 2-0 and then drawn 0-0 with Esperance to reach the quarter-final stage, and they played well during the 90 minutes.

Jordon Ibe was given the captain's armband by Steve Cooper and had a fine game on the right-wing.

Goalkeeper Ryan Fulton made two fantastic saves from point blank range in the opening 22 minutes while Connor Randall and Jerome Sinclair both had good chances at the other end.

Sinclair went close for Cooper's side in the second half when he cut in from the left flank and curled an effort just wide.

Lloyd Jones also went close with a header from a free-kick and Liverpool piled the pressure on the Inter defence but just couldn't find the equalizer they deserved.

Cooper told "I am so disappointed for the lads because they gave it everything and deserved a lot more.

"Considering how young a team we had out they did our club proud against a strong Inter Milan side.

"Our performance was very encouraging for the future."

On handing Ibe the captain's armband, Cooper added: "He is a very talented young player and we wanted to give him some extra responsibility and he handled it well."

The Reds have two games left now in the tournament. They face Real Madrid next on Sunday who are managed by former Red Fernando Morientes.