Saturday, April 13, 2013

Match Preview: Reading vs Liverpool

Reading welcome Liverpool to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday aiming to keep alive their slim hopes of staying up.

Winger Jimmy Kebe will miss Reading's Premier League encounter with Liverpool at the because of a groin problem.

Fellow midfielder Hope Akpan is a major doubt for the match because of an ankle injury sustained in last Saturday 2-0 defeat to Southampton.

Royals boss Nigel Adkins said Reading have further niggles, but no other players are expected to be ruled out.

Liverpool has Stewart Downing available again after injury, but Raheem Sterling is ruled out through injury.

Downing was forced off early on during last weekend's draw with West Ham because of illness, but he has recovered and is in the squad for the trip to Reading

Sterling is struggling with a thigh problem and Brendan Rodgers is not willing to take any risks with the youngster's fitness and he could be given a breather for the rest of the season.

Long-term absentees Martin Kelly (knee), Joe Allen and Fabio Borini (both shoulder) remain the only men on the sidelines.

Reading goes into the game bottom of the table, eight points from safety and with only six matches remaining.

The Royals have lost seven successive Premier League games, just one short of their top-flight record of eight straight defeats.

New Reading boss Nigel Adkins has suffered back-to-back losses in his first two games in charge, but he remains positive about their chances of pulling off a great escape from the drop zone.

Liverpool is currently seventh in the Premier League, nine points adrift of the top four with six games remaining.

Brendan Rodgers is refusing to give up hope of qualifying for Europe and will be keen to see his side pick up all three points after dropping two at home to West Ham last time out.

Interesting Facts:

In nine previous clashes with the Reds in all competitions, Reading has never managed a clean sheet.

Liverpool has won four of their previous five league meetings with the Royals, all played in the Barclays Premier League, though they did lose their last trip to the Madejski in December 2007.

The Reds have scored in their last 10 away league games, the longest current run of its kind in the top-flight.

The Reds have won 61% of games that Jamie Carragher has played in this season, and just 14% without him.

Rodgers Wary Of Reading Threat

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is expecting a tough battle when he takes his team to his former club Reading on Saturday.

The Royals are eight points adrift of safety in the Premier League although Rodgers does not believe relegation is a foregone conclusion under new boss Nigel Adkins.

Adkins has presided over two defeats since taking over from Brian McDermott but Rodgers reckons he is the right man for the job.

"It has been a difficult season and you feel sorry for Brian who got the team promoted but ended up losing his job," said Rodgers.

"They have decided to put in Nigel Adkins, who is a top-class manager but he is going to need time because his footballing principles and how he wants to play will be different to maybe what the club has had.

"I am sure he will fight and not give up on staying up and that is why it will be a tough game.

"But he is a guy who can go in there and take them back up as he has a couple of promotions under his belt and he knows what it takes to get back into the Premier League if they were to go down.

"But there are a number of games left and until they are mathematically down they will keep fighting."

Rodgers admits he left Watford to take charge of Reading against his better judgement in 2009.

The Northern Irishman was in charge for only six months - winning just six of 23 matches - but he sees that period, and the subsequent six months he spent out of work, as career-defining.

"It does knock you initially because that was the first time I'd ever lost my job in football," said the 40-year-old.

"I was always on an upward curve and I went there from a very good club in Watford. My plan was to stay there (Watford) but my heart overruled my head.

"But I was glad I went to Reading because even though it was a short stay of 20-odd games and it didn't work out, on reflection, it gave me a chance to look at myself and my beliefs.

"In order to progress as a manager I had to find out whether I had character or not because you knew in your next chance you had to succeed.

"I needed to reflect well and show the character to go again. It didn't seem it at the time but it definitely does help you.

"It hurts, arguably one of the worst feelings you can have - especially in football because football keeps moving.

"What happens is everyone rings then everyone forgets - that's the way football works but it gives you a greater determination, especially if you are a young coach.

"Maybe the journey I was on I felt it would never happen to me, everything was hunky dory and going really well and within the matter of 20-odd games I was out on my ear.

"The six months I was out of work from leaving Reading to going to Swansea was a real useful period for me to reflect and set me up for the rest of my football career."

Liverpool Open Talks With Transfer Target

Defenders seem to be the talk of the day here at the Football Transfer Tavern and given the latest claim from talkSPORT it seems Liverpool’s scouting department have been very busy.

They claim that the club is set to make a move for Ajax's Toby Alderweireld after having met with the players agent over a potential move to Anfield. The club is looking for at least one centre back and has already been linked with Ashley Williams, and now it seems that the club will battle it out with Newcastle United to make the player’s dreams of a move to the Premier League come true.

Given that international team-mates Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen are already happy and settled in England, the player would not be short of associates and it seems that Ajax are finally willing to let the defender leave.

Both Newcastle and Liverpool are facing the loss of their key centre halves this summer and along with Arsenal are certainly being linked with a few players meaning that for top class players the competition is certainly going to heat up as the summer approaches.

Liverpool Hope To Beat Arsenal To Ashley Williams

Liverpool believes that they can steal Ashley Williams from the clutches of Arsenal in the summer.

The Sun suggests that Williams is seen by Brendan Rodgers as the man to replace the retiring Jamie Carragher, but the biggest challenge facing the deal is Reds owners Fenway Sports Group shelling out £12 million to land him.

Rodgers, who will have to convince the club’s American owners Williams is worth the money, revealed, “It’s important to get players in as quick as we can. It’s about availability and players we can afford.”

Welsh centre-back Williams, 28, played under Rodgers for two years at Swans — and is a boyhood Liverpool fan.

Arsenal is also in the hunt and had a £9m offer turned down in January.

West Ham Offer £10m For Andy Carroll

West Ham will offer around £10million for Liverpool striker Andy Carroll in the summer.

The England striker joined West Ham on loan with a view to a £17m permanent deal, which remains Liverpool’s valuation. However, his injuries and goals return have prompted West Ham to re-evaluate the deal and they will reduce their offer.

Liverpool is likely to rebuff that as they try to negotiate a deal with Carroll and Newcastle for Hatem Ben Arfa. Yet Newcastle’s valuation of the France midfielder will also make that deal difficult.

West Ham also like Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Vitesse Arnhem’s Wilfried Bony.

However, while they want to give Sam Allardyce a budget that will convince him to extend his stay, they will not overstretch themselves with their Olympic Stadium move on the horizon.

Rodgers Unsure If Europa League Will Be Beneficial

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says that missing out on European football next season maybe a blessing in disguise.

The Irishman is still hopeful that they can climb to fifth in the Premier League table this season but has admitted that he is not hugely fussed as he wants to put all their efforts into Champions League qualification next campaign.

"There are two arguments," Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo. "As a club we want to be in there. We really enjoyed the European football this season after it had been missing for a year and I know the supporters love the travel.

"But you could argue that a season free of European football would give us a greater chance of finishing in a much higher position in the league - of competing for the top four which is a really difficult task with the teams up there and the finances involved.

"Our squad from the beginning of this season was small and we are gradually building that up.

"We would love to be in there and we want to finish as high as we possibly can, but it won't be the end of the world if we don't qualify for Europe. If it doesn't happen then it could end up being a blessing for us.

"It could allow us to have a real strong run at the league next year and that can then really springboard us for the years going forward.

"But ultimately we want a squad strong enough to be able to cope with European football as well as the domestic league and cups."

Downing Cannot Let Form Dip

Stewart Downing concedes that he only needs to look at the Liverpool bench to realize how important it is to maintain form.

The England winger struggled to find his feet earlier in the campaign, with it looking as though he was stumbling towards the Anfield exits at one stage.

He has, however, turned his season around and has become an integral part of Brendan Rodgers' plans.

Downing cannot afford to let complacency to creep in, though, with competition for places as fierce as ever - and likely to intensify further in the summer.

He told the official Liverpool FC magazine: "All I need to do is look at the bench to remind myself that I have to keep performing well.

"There is real competition for places, especially since Daniel (Sturridge) and (Philippe) Coutinho arrived in January. You have lads like Raheem (Sterling) waiting for a chance too. It means if you're not playing well you'll be hauled off.

"I'm sure the manager will also be looking to add to the squad in the summer.

"He's told me I'm part of his long-term plans, which was great to hear. Now I have to ensure that continues to be the case."

Downing admits it took him a while to settle on Merseyside, following a switch from Aston Villa in 2011, but he is now looking to become a mainstay in the Liverpool side for many years to come.

He added: "Some lads hit it off straight away at a new club, others don't. In my case it took longer than I obviously wanted.

"I'm glad it's clicked now and I have the chance to continue playing for a big club. I've always believed I could do well here.

"I've done that over the last few months and want to continue doing so for the remainder of the season and the years to come.

Skrtel Vows To Fight For Shirt

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel has vowed to fight for his place having fallen out of favour with manager Brendan Rodgers.

The Slovakia international lost his first-team spot to veteran Jamie Carragher, who is retiring at the end of the season, after January's FA Cup exit to League One Oldham.

He has started just one Premier League match - against Southampton when Carragher was injured - and has featured only three times since then.

Rodgers has been heavily linked with a move for Wales captain and centre-back Ashley Williams, with whom he worked at former club Swansea, in the summer.

That would put more pressure on Skrtel but the 28-year-old is determined to stand his ground.

"This is what happens in football and this time it was my turn," he told his official website,

"I have to respect it and wait for my chance and I hope my chance will come before the end of the season.

"Those who know me know that I will fight for my place in the team."

Rodgers knows he has to bring in quality in the summer if he is to bridge the gap between his side's current seventh place and the Champions League spots.

He has also been linked with Ajax's Denmark international Christian Eriksen, one of Europe's hottest young prospects.

And while the Reds boss accepts they do not have the finances to compete with some of Europe's biggest spenders, he has identified the players he wants to continue rebuilding.

"Like every other club you want to be making improvements constantly," Rodgers said.

"Unless you have absolute multi-millions to spend and make a big impact over one window then you have to do it over a number of windows.

"This will be another window which will be important for us in order to strengthen the group, to add quality to the group, because that can bring us up to another level.

"You have to be specific. You look at the profile of the players fitting into the way we want to work and then make sure they have the right mental characteristics to come into here.

"You can have players who are very good but can they play for Liverpool in their head? That is key for us going forward.

"We have to bring in players who will be mentally right and accept the challenge and not just be happy to be at Liverpool.

"To be at Liverpool means you have to be successful and you want to win things and we've no God-given right to do that. We have to earn the right and that is why we need those players who want to come in and earn the right."

Carragher Expects Suarez To Stay At Anfield

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes Luis Suarez will still be at the club at the start of next season amid reports that he may leave the Reds.

Suarez has continued his impressive form from last season to this and is currently leading the scoring charts and is a contender for the PFA Player of the Year award alongside Gareth Bale and Robin Van Persie.

His form has seen him linked with moves to Bayern Munich and Juventus but Carragher told Sky Sports that he expects him to stay on Merseyside.

"He (Suarez) is vital. He is one of the top players, not just in the Premier League, but in world football.

"We are desperate to keep him, I'm sure he will be staying, I think he loves it here and the fans love him,” he said.

"It would be a big surprise to me if he is not PFA Player of the Year. I think the Premier League has been good for him and he has been a star in the Premier League.

"It's not just Suarez, we have got lots of top players and we want to keep hold of them all. That is important for the club. Where we are in the league, it's important that we improve the squad and bring in some additions.

"Where we are at the moment is not where we want to be and the club next season will be looking to strengthen."

Liverpool Starlet Learning From Cristiano Ronaldo Videos

Liverpool starlet Jordan Ibe is hoping to learn from Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo - and is even watching videos of the Portuguese forward as he looks to add goals to his game.

The 17-year-old winger joined Liverpool from Wycombe in July 2012, and has impressed in the club's youth teams, even earning a spot in the senior squad for the recent away trip to Southampton.

And he's admitted to watching videos of Cristiano Ronaldo in recent weeks in an attempt to add more goals to his game.

Speaking to the Liverpool official website, Ibe said: "Going forward, Alex Inglethorpe [Liverpool reserve team boss] has helped me by showing me clips of Cristiano Ronaldo.

"20 of Ronaldo's goals last season were one-touch finishes at the back post. He's been helping me to get within the frame of the goal and in the six-yard box.

"I haven't scored a lot of goals this season, I have plenty of assists, but with what Alex is showing me I hope I can score a few more goals towards the end of the season."

The 17-year-old made seven first-team appearances for League Two Wycombe before he was snapped up by Liverpool, signing a pre-contract agreement in December 2011 signalling his intention to join the Reds before the start of the 2012-13 season.

Brendan Rodgers has given talented youngsters from the Liverpool academy chances to impress in the first-team this season. Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom have all seen first-team action, and Ibe will hope to be the next in line to make his league debut.