Saturday, February 16, 2013

Match Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea

Liverpool's season of inconsistency continues to frustrate as they prepare to tackle Capital One Cup finalists Swansea at Anfield on Sunday.

Brendan Rodgers' side earned deserved plaudits for their thrilling draws away to Arsenal and Manchester City, before coming unstuck at home to West Brom on Monday and then suffering a 2-0 defeat away to Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League on Thursday evening.

Rodgers' former club Swansea have already triumphed once at Anfield this season, securing a 3-1 success in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup back in October, with Michael Laudrup's men tackling League Two giant-killers Bradford in the Wembley showpiece next weekend.

Another concern for Reds supporters will be that they have failed to score in the three top-flight meetings between the two sides since the Swans returned to the Premier League last season.

The Anfield clash is the only Premier League fixture of the weekend due to the fifth round of the FA Cup, with Swansea's participation having come to an end at the hands of Arsenal, while Liverpool were humbled by Oldham.

Victory for Laudrup's men would see them move to within two points of Everton having played a game more than David Moyes' side, whereas a success for the Reds would elevate them to seventh in the standings above West Brom and Swansea and three behind their Merseyside rivals.

Rodgers will welcome Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho back into his plans for Sunday's game.

The January signings were not eligible for the Europa League clash with Zenit St Petersburg and were the only key men not to make the long trip to Russia.

Martin Skrtel started in place of Daniel Agger in the centre of defence against his former club on Thursday evening, while Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling came in for Lucas Leiva and Jonjo Shelvey.

Defender Chico Flores will miss Swansea's trip to Merseyside after rupturing ankle ligaments against QPR.

Kyle Bartley or club captain Garry Monk will get the chance to step into the Spaniard's shoes and stake a claim for a place ahead of the Capital One Cup final.

Midfielder Leon Britton could return from an ankle injury, while left-back Neil Taylor continues his recovery from a broken leg.

Rodgers Admits Liverpool's Top Four Hopes Are Fading Fast

Brendan Rodgers has conceded that Liverpool’s wait to compete in the Champions League again is likely to have to continue for at least another year.

Despite impressive performances away to Arsenal and Manchester City where the Reds walked away with a point on each occasion in recent weeks, Rodgers’ side remain a long way off where they want to be.

With just 12 games of the season remaining, Liverpool sit ninth in the Premier League, 12 points away from fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur.

The former Swansea City had previously maintained faint hopes of Liverpool making a late bid for a top four finish, but as games begin to run out, Rodgers admits that the feat may be out of the club’s hands this season.

"Being a realist, it’s going to be very difficult", Rodgers told a press conference this morning, details of which were published through the club’s official Twitter account.

"It’s going to be a huge task", he added. "We can still do it but it will be difficult."

Liverpool welcome Rodgers’ former club Swansea to Anfield this Sunday, with the Capital One Cup finalists sitting two places ahead of the Reds in seventh.

Laudrup Expects Much Improved Liverpool Side

Manager Michael Laudrup expects his Swansea side to face a much-improved Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

The Swans enjoyed a 3-1 success over the Reds when they met on Merseyside in the Capital One Cup in October, putting one over on former manager Brendan Rodgers.

The Welsh club also claimed a point in the league meeting at the Liberty Stadium, and sit above Rodgers' team in the table after the Reds lost to West Brom on Monday.

Liverpool followed that reverse against the Baggies with Thursday's Europa League defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.

But Laudrup has seen signs Liverpool are becoming increasingly confident in Rodgers' methods and expects them to be a tougher proposition this time around.

"They are better now than when we played the cup game," he said.

"They have a couple of new players, we saw they have brought in (Daniel) Sturridge to play with (Luis) Suarez, and they have had more time with the new manager and understand how he works.

"I have watched them over the last five or six games before they played West Brom and they are getting better all the time."

Last weekend's win over QPR moved Swansea onto 37 points, putting them just a victory away from the oft-stated survival target of 40.

As a result Laudrup feels his side can travel to Anfield with no pressure on their shoulders, after enjoying a warm-weather training camp in Dubai this week.

But the Dane expects the high standard of Swansea's away performances, which have resulted in wins at the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle so far this season, to be maintained.

"Winning against QPR and with the points we have, we can go there with no pressure at all," he said.

"That does not mean we give the game away, we always want to be competitive, but the pressure will be on them, they are a team who have to go into Europe and they are strong.

"Anfield is one of those grounds where you can never expect to get anything, like at Old Trafford or the Etihad Stadium. I know we have had results at some of these grounds like the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, but normally they are huge favourites."

Liverpool Keeping Tabs On Emmanuel Emenike

According to Russian newspaper Izvestia, Liverpool are tracking Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike as a future replacement for Luis Suarez.

Liverpool face the very real possibility of losing star striker Suarez in the summer if the Reds fail to secure European football, and as a precaution, have earmarked Emenike as a possible replacement.

The 25-year-old is contracted to the Russian club until 2016 and is currently valued at around €12 million.

But after a successful African Cup Of Nations campaign, in which he finished joint top scorer with four goals in five games, a move to the Premier League could be on the horizon.

Emenike has been prolific since he joined the Russian outfit from Turkish side Fenerbahce, scoring 18 times in 37 games.

And although Luis Suarez has claimed he does not intend to leave Liverpool, another year without Champions League football will not sit well with the Uruguayan, who may well seriously consider his future if an offer from the likes of Barcelona or Manchester City was to arrive at Anfield.

Liverpool FC Chase £10m Rated Dutch Striker

Sporting Lisbon striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is the latest player to be linked with a possible move to Liverpool.

Despite the signing of Daniel Sturridge the Reds are still struggling up front and the Dutch player is highly regarded throughout Europe.

According to newspaper reports in Italy on Friday, Liverpool has sent a scout to watch the 23 year old, and are continuing to monitor his progress. In January Sky Sports reported that:

“Van Wolfswinkel has been linked with a move to England and the Premier League for some time, with the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle all credited with interest in the player”.

Valued at around £10m, Van Wolfswinkel has already stated his interest in playing in the Premiership:” I know that a lot of Dutch players play in England. It’s a really good competition and I do see it as a step to take maybe in the future, but we will see about that when it happens”.

Should they make a summer move, Liverpool could face stiff competition for the player from Norwich. Manager Chris Hughton confirmed earlier this year that his side is also interested in the player:

“Yes, I have seen those reports on him and there is an interest from ourselves but now far that interest from us has gone I don’t know. But certainly there is an interest”.

Gerrard Eyes Euro Comeback

Captain Steven Gerrard believes Liverpool is well-equipped to overcome a two-goal deficit in their Europa League tie with Zenit St Petersburg.

The Reds' hopes of reaching the last 16 of the competition were dealt a big blow as late goals from Hulk and Sergei Semak sealed a 2-0 victory for the Russian side.

Gerrard admits the result in the Petrovsky Stadium makes it very difficult for his side but he has backed them to respond in the second leg next week.

"If anyone can pull it back, it's us," the 32-year-old told the Liverpool official website.

"We'll have an advantage with our supporters. If they can create the noise they're capable of, get behind the team and we can get an early goal, it's game on.

"But we are disappointed. It wasn't the result we wanted - we wanted an away goal and to try and sneak away with a clean sheet, but if you concede sloppy goals, you get punished and that's what happened.

"Up until the 70th minute against Zenit, the game was under control. It was a tough night in tough conditions. We're disappointed with the two sloppy goals we conceded, but the tie is not over."

Winger Stewart Downing feels the Reds paid the price for a series of missed chances against Zenit.

"They started well and put us under a little bit of pressure, but with the chances we had, especially coming here, it's quite hostile and they had plenty of the ball, but we still had five or six chances to win the game," said Downing.

"But they've got some quality players and they showed that. Hulk was quiet for large periods but he came up with something special.

"The tie is still open. We'll be back at Anfield and we have to try and win the game."

Carragher Admits Liverpool Have A Mountain To Climb

Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool are capable of turning around a 2-0 inflicted by Zenit St Petersburg, but admits his side have a mountain to climb if they are to do so.

A sublime strike from Hulk swiftly followed by an effort from Sergei Semak in the second half condemned Brendan Rodgers’ side to defeat in the first leg of their last 32 clash with the Russian champions at the Petrovsky Stadium on Thursday evening.

Liverpool created a number of chances for themselves, the majority of which fell for Luis Suarez who endured a disappointing night in front of goal, but were unable to register a potentially vital away goal.

Despite the challenge at hand, Carragher points to Liverpool’s history in European competitions as proof that the club is capable of turning things around.

“It was a typical European night because you think you’re in control and then — bang — you’re 2-0 down with a mountain to climb,” Carragher said, the Independent report. “But it is a mountain the club has climbed in the past and we have to look to do again in a week’s time.”

Should Liverpool find themselves unable to topple the Russian giants, Carragher will have played his last European game for the club, having announced his decision to retire at the end of the season.

Rodgers Hits Out At Fixture Scheduling

The Liverpool manager is frustrated with the way in which the movement of his side's tie with Capital One Cup finalists Swansea City has been handled.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has blasted the Premier League for their "bemusing" handling of their fixture with Swansea City on Sunday.

The Swans' participation in the Capital One Cup final on February 24 against Bradford City clashed with the initial date for the fixture and the game has been brought forward as a result.

However, Rodgers, who has seen his side take on both West Brom and Zenit St Petersburg in the space of four days, feels that a third fixture within a week is too much for his players.

"I was very disappointed with the Premier League to be honest," the Reds boss told reporters.

"To put it in on a week when we have played on a Monday and played on a Thursday in an away trip to Russia, and put it in between that and another important European game on Thursday, I think it is another example of the Premier League in this country not helping teams whatsoever.

"I think every other country in Europe will always try to help their teams - some of them will play on a Friday before a European game - so for us to have it thrown in there when there were other free weeks was bemusing to say the least.''

Liverpool are 12 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification and Rodgers admitted that his side "may not be good enough" to close the gap and return to the top four for the first time since 2008-09.

"We may not be just good enough at the end of the day," the Northern Irishman conceded. "We have some top players here and some world-class players but it might not be this year for us that we can make that jump.

"But certainly, what we will do in every game is give everything and like we have seen in the last two games, in terms of the work rate, intensity and effort the players are putting in, I can't ask for any more."