Sunday, May 12, 2013

Match Preview: Fulham vs Liverpool

Liverpool takes on Fulham at Craven Cottage without star duo Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.

Fulham will be looking to end a run of four successive defeats to secure their Premier League status.

The Cottagers have not won a Premier League game for six matches since their 3-2 win over the QPR on April 1st to leave them nervously looking over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight.

Liverpool go into the game sitting in seventh spot with not much to play for and only a slim hope of finishing in sixth above neighbours Everton.

The Reds are unbeaten in six in the Premier League, with just one defeat in 11 in all competitions and they defeated Fulham 4-0 in the earlier fixture at Anfield this season.

Fulham boss Martin Jol is sweating over the fitness of Mladen Petric and Simon Davies before finalising his side to face Liverpool.

Petric (hip) and Davies (hamstring) both missed last weekend's home defeat to Reading and they face late fitness tests to see if they can return to the fold.

Steve Sidwell is still suspended following his red card against Arsenal, while Mahamadou Diarra (knee), Ashkan Dejagah (ankle) remain on the sidelines through injury.

Alexander Kacaniklic will be hoping to start against his former club after impressing off the bench against Reading.

Liverpool will be without captain Gerrard as he has undergone shoulder surgery to end his ever-present record in the Premier League this term, while Suarez is still missing as he serves the third game of his ten-match suspension.

They will be joined on the sidelines by Daniel Agger who has also been ruled out of the final two games of the campaign with a back problem.

Martin Skrtel is set to replace Agger at the back alongside Jamie Carragher who will take the captain's armband from Gerrard.

Jonjo Shelvey could get the nod to replace Gerrard in midfield unless Brendan Rodgers decides to shuffle his pack and play Fabio Borini and switch Jordan Henderson to central midfield.

Brendan Rodgers Aiming For Top Four Finish

Brendan Rodgers has set his sights on finishing next season inside the top four and earning a place in the Champions League.

Rodgers is aiming for consistency and believes the club is moving in the right direction but believes that winning the Premier League next year would be a stretch too far.

"[The top four] is where we want to be," Rodgers said. "The history of this club dictates that but this season was about putting that base in place.

"Next year can be a big year for us if we can add the right type of mentalities to the group and make sure we become more consistent.

"The realism is in the earlier part of the season we got two consecutive wins in the Premier League for the first time in over a year. That is something you have to put into perspective."

"My focus is to try to close the gap. We are bridging that gap slowly this year but hopefully we will take a bigger stride next year," Rodgers continued.

"But the reality is very simple: we are 30 points behind the leaders and 12 points behind fourth place so we have a lot of work to do here.

"We know it is a long road but we don't like being second-best and being behind. We don't start the season aiming to finish fourth; the aim is always to win the title. For a club of this status that is the ultimate objective - but you have to be realistic."

Liverpool Chasing Away Goals Record

Liverpool is close to creating a new club scoring record – and Jordan Henderson is itching the fire the Reds into the history books.

Brendan Rodgers’ side has plundered 35 goals away from home in the league this season and can make it their best-ever Premier League tally with two more this weekend.

Liverpool head to Fulham on Sunday as the division’s second most potent attack on the road and with Henderson in decent scoring form.

The former Sunderland man has netted five times in the Premier League since the turn of the year, including two in the 6-0 demolition of Newcastle United earlier this month.

Henderson says extra work after training at Melwood is behind his improving record in front of goal but he believes the whole team has shown a cutting edge this season.

Liverpool struck just 23 times away from Anfield in the league 12 months ago, but the current crop is just two goals away from setting a new landmark.

“It’s always important for midfielders to get goals,” said Henderson.

“Hopefully I can keep working on that and get a few more next season.

“Scoring goals has been brilliant for me on a personal level, but I think the team has definitely progressed throughout the season and we can only get stronger and better and we look forward to next season.”

He added: “We’ve progressed over the season – we’ve played some really good football and won some really good games.

“We’re definitely progressing all the time and we’ll look to continue to do so in the last two games and next season.”

Liverpool Target Porto Hot Shot Martinez

Liverpool are thought to be interested in Porto goalscorer Jackson Martinez, but are expected to be rivalled by Borussia Dortmund.

Martinez has been in fine form this season scoring 28 goals in 36 appearances which has led to interest from the Reds according to the Express.

However, with Dortmund close to losing star Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich they are preparing to secure his replacement in the shape of Martinez.

They say with the possibility of the Reds losing talismanic frontman Luis Suarez to either Bayern Munich or Atletico Madrid they could push the

Martinez is thought to be valued at €40m (£33.4m) by Porto, but Liverpool would be loathe to pay such an inflated fee since they were reported to have made an offer of around £8.5m last season.

Liverpool Send Scouts To Watch Abednnour

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is interested in Toulouse defender Aymen Abdennour.

Rodgers is sending scouts to check on the Tunisian international, 23, this weekend before considering a £6million bid.

Abdennour, who can play centre-back and left-back, has been watched by Arsenal, Manchester City and Barcelona at various stages of the season.

Liverpool wants two defenders with Douglas of FC Twente also on their list. Marseille defender Nicolas N’Koulou has also been mentioned at Anfield but could prove too expensive at £15million.

Rodgers will have around £25m to spend and needs to sell to help bring in the defenders and two attacking players that he wants.

West Ham Set To Open Talks Over Carroll Deal

West Ham are set to open talks with Liverpool over a permanent move for striker Andy Carroll and hope to finalize a deal in the next few weeks.

Carroll has become a fans favourite at Upton Park following his season long-loan move from the Merseyside club at the start of the season.

Despite facing lengthy periods on the sidelines with knee and hamstring problems, the England forward has still managed to score seven goals and has played his part in helping West Ham challenge for a top half finish.

West Ham are desperate to keep the 24-year-old and co-owner David Sullivan says they will be doing everything to ensure he pledges his long-term future to the club, even though Newcastle and Tottenham have also been linked with his signature.

Sullivan told the club's matchday program: "We would love to keep him beyond this season and we will soon be sitting down with Andy and Liverpool to make some progress on that front.

"My choice (for player of the year) would be Andy Carroll, who has battled back from injury twice to put in a series of tireless shifts for the team.

"His game is about so much more than just scoring goals and he is so often the focal point of everything good we do going forward."

Alonso Not Quitting Real Madrid For Liverpool

Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso says it is ‘obvious’ he won’t be quitting the Spanish giants for a move back to the Premier League in the summer.

The 31-year-old left Liverpool for Madrid in 2009 but has been linked with a return to his former club, while speculation has also be rife of a move to Chelsea should Jose Mourinho return to Stamford Bridge.

But Alonso has now categorically stated he has no desire to quit the Bernabeu, despite his current contract being set to expire next year.

‘Obviously I will continue here,’ he said.

The Spaniard enjoyed five hugely successful years on Merseyside before returning to his home country, during which time he became one of the most highly-rated midfielder’s in the Premier League.

And although it had originally looked as though the World Cup winner was stalling on a new deal at the Bernabeu, it now seems he is prepared to remain in the Spanish capital at least until the end of his contract.

Downing Sees Future At Liverpool

Liverpool winger Stewart Downing has expressed his determination to stay at the club - although he admits manager Brendan Rodgers will have the final say.

In the first half of the season the England international could hardly get a game and when he did it was sometimes at left-back.

Rodgers told him in November he could find another club when the January transfer window opened, but injuries provided an opening in the team and the 28-year-old seized his chance.

"That's football for you," said Downing.

"Me and the manager have always had open conversations and I found it difficult at the start of the season because I didn't play, it wasn't that I wasn't playing well.

"Once I got in the team and had a run of games my form picked up and I think the team got better and better and we've had some good results, especially after Christmas.

"There have been some positive signs and personally I'd like to stay but that is the manager's decision."

Downing believes that upturn in performances since the new year points to a sense of optimism for Rodgers' second campaign in charge.

"I think overall it has been a decent enough season," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"There has been a lot of change, the football is certainly better the way we play.

"If we keep this team together - and I am sure the manager with strengthen - then we can have right good go (next year), that will be the big test.

"The change in manager, the change of players coming in and the change in the way we play we were not going to win everything this season.

"Last season we got the (league cup) trophy but we didn't finish high in the league because we didn't play well enough.

"But next season is obviously the big test for us."

Skrtel Staying With Reds

Brendan Rodgers insists Liverpool FC have no intention of selling Martin Skrtel this summer.

The 28-year-old has started just one Premier League game since the defeat to Manchester United in January and speculation about his Anfield future has continued to grow.

“It has been difficult for him and I’ve acknowledged and recognized that,” Rodgers said.

“The great professional he is means his focus has been outstanding and he’s trained very, very hard everyday and has been there when he’s been required.

“We made the change a few months back and I think Jamie Carragher has arguably been one of the best defenders in the league, and Daniel Agger has been fresh and played very well.

“It has been unfortunate for Martin but he has been a loyal member of the squad and is still very much part of my plans here.

“He’s happy here, he’s not in any rush to leave but players want to play. I haven’t had any concerns with Martin at all, his attitude has been first class.

“It is important they know where they stand and he knows where they stand. He is very much a part of what we are trying to do here. We are trying to build up a group with a winning mentality and he’s got a winning mentality. It’s just unfortunate he lost his place.

“It wasn’t so much through his form, it was just I felt we needed more of an organizer and a leader.”

Rodgers: Reina Going Nowhere

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has played down speculation linking Pepe Reina with a move away from Anfield, stating unequivocally that the Spaniard is essential to his future plans.

Reina has been in decent form again this season for Liverpool, despite a number of injuries, keeping 16 clean sheets in total and four in Liverpool's last five league games.

However, with the club again failing to qualify for the Champions League, many have suggested the Spanish international may look for a move away from the club, with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid as possible suitors.

But manager Rodgers has sought to bring an end to this discussion, reiterating Reina's fondness of the Kop and highlighting the fact that he is still contractually bound to the club.

"It's that silly season now that starts up all the rumours and whatnot but Pepe's not for sale," Rodgers told journalists at the pre-Fulham press conference on Friday afternoon.

"He's got three years left on his contract here, he's happy and obviously there's speculation but it's not worth commenting on."

Furthermore, in a recent fans' Twitter Q+A, Reina revealed he would be happy to see out the rest of his career at Liverpool, saying: "it would be a nice bit of history to be here more than 12 or 13 years".

Gerrard Eyes Pre-Season Lift

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is confident he will have fully recovered from surgery in time for the start of pre-season.

The England midfielder's campaign ended prematurely as he requires an operation to rectify a problem with his left shoulder, but he insists the timing is right.

"While it's disappointing, to be honest playing every league game is not a very important personal achievement - what is more important is that I am fit and available for the team," he told the club's official website.

"Between the medical staff and myself we've decided the best decision is to get it done now so I am ready for pre-season training.

"I first got the injury against Oldham in the FA Cup when I came on as a sub and I've since aggravated it on numerous occasions.

"The medical team and staff have been brilliant - they've helped me a lot and put a lot of hard work into getting me out there onto the pitch.

"I've felt my form has been good this season. I think I got off to a slow start after (Euro 2012) but got stronger as the season went on.

"I've enjoyed the season, although it is disappointing to leave it empty-handed."