Sunday, February 10, 2013

Match Preview: Liverpool vs.West Bromwich Albion

Just two points separate Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League and a win on Monday is crucial for either side to make a charge for the top six.

Liverpool sit seventh, five points behind sixth-placed Arsenal while West Brom are ninth.

The reverse fixture this season was on the opening day, and West Brom slaughtered the Reds 3-0. However, the Baggies haven't won a league game since Christmas and sit bottom of the form table.

Brendan Rodgers should be able to call upon Daniel Sturridge, who has been struggling with a thigh injury, while soon-to-retire Jamie Carragher could continue keeping Martin Skrtel out of the team in defence.

Zoltan Gera scored arguably the goal of the opening weekend back in August against Rodgers's men but the Hungarian is out of Monday's match with a knee injury.

Steve Clarke is also without Goran Popov after his red card last week for spitting in the direction of Kyle Walker. Liam Ridgewell should come in for the Macedonian.

Possible starting lineups

Liverpool: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Downing, Suarez, Sturridge

West Brom: Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Dorrans, Yacob, Morrison, Brunt; Long, Lukaku

Sturridge Facing Late Fitness Test

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge will undergo a late fitness test in order to ascertain whether he can feature in Monday night's Premier League clash with West Brom.

The 23-year-old, who has scored four goals in six games since moving to Anfield from Chelsea, withdrew from England duty due to a thigh injury picked up during last weekend's 2-2 draw with Manchester City.

Raheem Sterling was also forced to abstain from international duty with the England Under-21 squad, but manager Brendan Rodgers has confirmed he will be fit for this game.

"Raheem was on the field this morning so he'll be fine," Rodgers told reporters.

"Daniel we're just monitoring over the next couple of days. It's not overly serious but we just need to assess to see where he's at. We'll see by Sunday.

"Everyone else is fine."

Boss: Coutinho Adds Competition

New attacker Philippe Coutinho will add an extra level of competition to the Liverpool first team according to manager Brendan Rodgers.

The Northern Irishman swooped for the Inter Milan midfielder on the penultimate day of the January transfer window to further bolster his options after the arrival of Daniel Sturridge.

A previous injury means Coutinho may not be available for as instant an impact as the striker - who has notched four times in six appearances - and the 20-year-old's fitness will be assessed in the coming days.

But the increased battle for places in the starting XI that the signing of Coutinho brings is exactly what the boss was aiming for.

"He had been injured but he trained this morning. He's a young player that I've got very high hopes for," Rodgers told reporters at his pre-West Brom press conference on Friday.

"Daniel was ready to come in and play; with Philippe, we'll see how he goes in the next few days.

"He had a bridging session yesterday - he was with the medical team in Milan, came here and we've assessed where he's at in terms of fitness.

"He trained with the group this morning and we'll observe him over the next couple of days.

"He's a top young player with big experience. Bringing him into the group adds competition. The team that have been involved in the last couple of games have been exceptional.

"It's very important that the players on the side are fighting to get into the team. The key for us all was to build a competitive squad to challenge.

"The players have done remarkably well up to this point, but there's still a long way to go for us - an awful lot of improvements to make, consistency to find. But we're on the right path."

Despite performances deserving of six points from fixtures at Arsenal and Manchester City, the Reds collected just two from the respective journeys to the Emirates and the Etihad.

Rodgers refused to concede defeat in the battle for fourth, however, and says his players are of the same mentality.

Carragher Is Irreplaceable, Says Rodgers

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes that Jamie Carragher is one of a ‘dying breed’ and will be irreplaceable at the club when he retires at the end of this season.

"He has been a giant for me since I came in here, an incredible man, he is one of a dying breed," Rodgers told The Guardian. "He is someone who has good real old school values and ethics but, as you can see from his last two performances, he still has the qualities to play at this level.

"He is a real iconic player for this club and, for me, one which will be irreplaceable. I don't think he can be replaced. I genuinely think he is a player who I would call a pure defender. You see a lot of rash defending nowadays but he defends with great intelligence, he knows when to mark a man and when to mark space and understands the basic principles of defending.

"He is an outstanding leader and organizer in the team and to find someone with all those capabilities and who has the heart the size of a lion is very difficult. That type you won't find but you have to look for other types with other qualities and that is something we will have to do."

Ferdinand Backs Carragher To Enter Management

Manchester United defender has backed Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher as being the perfect candidate to enter management, following the 35-year-old’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season.

Carragher released a statement earlier today announcing his decision to hang up his boots after over 700 appearances for the Reds since making his debut in 1997, immediately leading to individuals from the football universe heaping praise onto the 35-year-old, including the likes of Michael Owen, Gary Lineker and Robbie Fowler.

Ferdinand was quickly on the scene, tweeting, “Jamie Carragher has been a great servant to Lfc. Great player and top fella! Funny guy! Nutter when we were kids but management material now.”

Carragher brought an end to speculation surrounding his future at Anfield earlier today through a statement which read, "This will be my last season at Liverpool and my last as a professional footballer.

"I'm making this announcement now because I don't want the manager or the club to be answering questions on my future when I've already decided what I am going to do.

"I will be fully committed between now and the end of the season to doing the very best for Liverpool Football Club, as I've done my entire career since joining aged just nine-years-old.”

Yesil Reportedly Injured During Friendly

There's no official news as of yet, but widespread reports and rumors on Twitter and the like that young German striker Samed Yesil has torn his ACL while playing for the U19s, which would mean a long layoff for a player that seemed to be finding his level after joining the U21s.

His stint with the senior squad earlier in the season was clearly too much too soon--by the player's own admission, it would be two to three years before he was ready to contribute on a consistent basis, but the failures of the summer transfer window meant that he had to serve in emergency duty in domestic and cup competition. He wasn't terrible, but it was a bridge too far to expect him to have a huge impact so soon.

If the news turns out true--and it's worth reiterating that we really don't know just yet--it's an unfortunate turn, particularly given the slate on offer for the youngsters this spring. Between the NextGen tie with Sporting and the run-in of the U21 Premier League, he'd be getting regular match action in meaningful(ish) matches. If that can't be the case, it's extremely disappointing, and hopefully he's able to make a full recovery from whatever injury he's incurred in a match that means absolutely nothing.

Marsh: I'm Not Surprised By Andre's Gesture

Mike Marsh believes Andre Wisdom's decision to head straight to the Academy immediately after signing a new contract with Liverpool is indicative of the grounded personalities being instilled into the club's home-grown starlets.

The defender penned a new long-term deal with the Reds in January at Melwood and as the ink was still drying on the papers, he headed back to the club's youth complex in Kirkby to show his gratitude for all the work the coaches and staff there put in during his development.

Marsh told "It just shows you the input and work he's done at the Academy with all the coaches in his development. It's nice for him to go back and share his pride at being offered a long-term contract with the first team and thank the people who worked with him.

"It's a very down-to-Earth club and I'd have been surprised if Andre hadn't gone down and thanked people. We've got a great link between the Academy and the first team here at Melwood.

"There are a couple of role models for the Academy lads here - the likes of Andre, Conor Coady, Raheem, Suso, Flanno and Robbo. There are a lot of them.

"We had four lads from the Academy up here training with the group this week, and so there are incentives for them to get up to Melwood - and there are people here who can say to them if you do well and continue going in the right direction daily, there's a chance for them to come up to Melwood permanently."

Liverpool Defender Commits Future To Anfield

Martin Kelly has committed his future to Liverpool by signing a new long term contract at the club.

The 22-year-old, who is currently out of action after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury he suffered in a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United back in September, was delighted to extend his stay at the club he has supported from a young age.

"I'm delighted to sign. It means everything to me and my family,” Kelly told Liverpool’s official website. “I've been at Liverpool since I was seven, so it's in my heart and I love the club.

"When you play in the Liverpool shirt, you have to show the fans what it means. I just love playing and trying my hardest for the supporters and for my family."

The product of Liverpool’s academy has made 54 appearances for the Reds since making his debut against Lyon during Liverpool’s Champions League campaign back in October 2009.

The news of a young defender committing himself to a long term future at Anfield comes days after Jamie Carragher announced his decision to retire at the end of the season.

Rodgers On Kelly Commitment

Brendan Rodgers today outlined the characteristics which can help Martin Kelly become a valuable member of the Liverpool squad after the young defender signed a fresh contract extension with the Reds.

The right-back put pen to paper on a deal to extend his stay at Anfield on Friday, the latest in an increasing line of players who have committed their future to the club since the arrival of Rodgers, who spoke of his pleasure at the news.

Asked by reporters at Melwood about the 22-year-old's contract, the boss enthused: "Martin Kelly has shown a commitment to our vision here.

"He's a young player that really impressed me when I came in. He's got a great manner about him off the field, he's low maintenance, he wants to work, he's professional - and he was exceptionally good in the games that he played early on in the season."

Kelly has been sidelined for the majority of the 2012-13 campaign after suffering a knee injury against Manchester United at Anfield - and Rodgers explained that no date has been set for his return.

"His rehabilitation is coming along very well, he's getting stronger in his legs," the Northern Irishman continued.

"He's doing a lot of work on his upper body as well. There's no timeframe on his return but he's worked hard."

Expanding on the theme, the discussion at the club's training complex turned to the heart of Liverpool's defence and the idea that Kelly could one day form a partnership with fellow talent Andre Wisdom.

Just 24 hours after Jamie Carragher announced that he will no longer be part of the Liverpool backline after the end of the season, Rodgers admitted the future for both aspiring defenders is exciting.

Rodgers On Financial Fair Play

Brendan Rodgers fully agrees with a new Barclays Premier League initiative which will limit the losses any of its member clubs are allowed to record.

In a move which aims to improve financial stability among the league's 20 teams, each side must adhere to wage bill regulations and abide by a maximum loss total of £105million across the three seasons from 2013 to 2016.

The Liverpool manager was asked for his opinion on the incoming rules during a press briefing on Friday, and gave his complete backing to the policy.

"For me, it's a good idea," Rodgers told reporters.

"We certainly wouldn't want to see one or two clubs who have got a lot more finance than anyone else run away with it.

"We've seen in the last couple of years, clubs that we would consider to be massive clubs and institutions in the game going bankrupt and struggling.

"That's not anything we want to see. It can happen.

"It's very important for the fair play and the competition itself, that there's a playing field that we all feel we can compete in.

"Once that kicks in over the next two or three years, it will be good for the game."

Benítez Surprised Liverpool Game Under Scrutiny

Rafael Benítez said he was "surprised" to learn that Liverpool's Champions League group game victory over Debrecen four years ago, a match he oversaw while manager at Anfield, had come under suspicion as part of Europol's investigation into match-fixing.

The Hungarian club has confirmed their goalkeeper, Vukasin Poleksic, had been questioned by Uefa having been approached by fixers before the game at Anfield, which Liverpool won 1-0 with a Dirk Kuyt's goal. No player or official involved with the game has been disciplined for any offence relating to it though Poleksic was banned for two years in 2010 by Uefa for failing to report an approach from match-fixers involving Debrecen's 4-3 defeat to Fiorentina in October 2009, a month after the Anfield tie.

Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, the European Union's law-enforcement agency, had told a news conference on Monday that a total of 425 match officials, club officials, players, and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, were suspected of being involved in attempts to fix matches, with 380 games under suspicion.

"I'm surprised, though it was nothing to do with [Liverpool]," Benítez said. "We went out to win the game, and we did. I didn't remember [anything suspicious]. It was a game we had to win, and we approached it to do just that. The fact it was 1-0 means it was quite difficult. I think that it's fantastic that the investigation is taking place, analyzing those 300-odd games. If they find something then OK. If not, even better. But it's important to clarify things. I'm very happy with that."