Friday, August 16, 2013

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs Stoke City

The 2013/14 Premier League season opens at Anfield, with Liverpool hoping to avoid any distractions against Stoke City.

The red half of Merseyside has seen its summer dominated by the future of Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan striker having spent much of the transfer window pushing for a move away from the club - only to then suggest on the eve of the new season that he is willing to stay put.

Brendan Rodgers has, understandably, expressed a desire to turn attention away from the Suarez saga - the forward is still serving a domestic suspension for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic - and focus on the start of a campaign he hopes will see Liverpool position themselves back in the race for a top-four finish and a return to UEFA Champions League competition.

Fresh faces have been drafted in to try and aid the Reds in their quest and, on the back of a positive pre-season, they must now start providing a return on the considerable investment made in them.

The biggest change at Stoke heading into the new season has come in the dugout, with Mark Hughes having succeeded Tony Pulis - the man who has cemented the Potters as a Premier League outfit.

Hughes has plenty of prior experience of top-flight management, but needs to prove that an ill-fated spell in charge of Queens Park Rangers was a merely a blot on an otherwise impressive copy book.

He is unlikely to tinker too much with the philosophies that served Stoke well under Pulis, but will be aware of the need to find an added goal threat from somewhere - with only rock-bottom QPR having found the target on fewer occasions that the Potters last term.

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is rated at about 80 per cent fit, but appears to have shown enough to warrant inclusion in Brendan Rodgers' starting XI.

Centre-backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel (both knee injuries) are expected to be available, although the latter is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench.

Summer signings Simon Mignolet and Kolo Toure are set to make their competitive debuts, while fellow new arrivals Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto are also in the squad, but Luis Suarez is suspended for a further six matches.

Midfielder Brek Shea misses Stoke's season opener with a knee injury suffered during a friendly run-out in the United States last month.

Another midfielder, Jamie Ness, is also ruled out of Hughes' first competitive game at the helm after his involvement in pre-season was curtailed by injury.

Summer signings Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa, both defenders, are in contention for debuts while Asmir Begovic looks set to remain first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Thomas Sorensen and Jack Butland.

Luis Suárez Apologises To Liverpool

Luis Suárez returned from the cold at Liverpool on Friday when he trained with the senior squad for the first time since accusing the club and manager Brendan Rodgers of breaking promises over his future.

Rodgers ordered the Uruguay international to train away from the senior squad after his interview in the Guardian last Tuesday, when he stated his desire to join Arsenal and criticized Liverpool's stance over a £40m clause in his contract.

The Liverpool manager insisted that situation would not change until Suárez apologized for his "total disrespect of the club" but it is understood the 26-year-old took that step with his team-mates on his return from Uruguay's friendly in Japan.

The Liverpool striker is also due to hold talks with Rodgers on Friday. While that relationship has been strained, and Suárez denied midweek reports in Uruguay that he had decided to remain at Anfield, he has been given little alternative but to accept his immediate future lies at Liverpool by the club's refusal to sell.

Liverpool has consistently stated their prized asset is not for sale and the principal owner John W Henry reinforced that position last week when he announced no offer from Arsenal, or a European club, would prise Suárez away so late in the transfer window.

Reds Agree Cissokho Loan

Liverpool has agreed a deal to sign Aly Cissokho on loan from Valencia.

However, the 25-year-old left-back, who has one France cap, will not be available for the opening match of the season against Stoke on Saturday.

He is expected on Merseyside next week to finalize a move which could become permanent next summer.

Manager Brendan Rodgers had wanted to sign another left-back, Guilherme Siqueira from Spanish club Granada, but the clubs failed to agree a fee.

Liverpool is keen to bring in one more attacking player before the transfer window closes and have made an enquiry for Anzhi Makhachkala forward Willian.

At this stage, the Anfield club is one of a number of options for the former Shakhtar Donetsk player, who came close to joining Tottenham in 2012.

Liverpool has yet to make a formal offer but the fee would be a minimum of £25m. The Anfield hierarchy is, however, confident they can complete the deal.

Willian has become available after Anzhi made several high-earners available for transfer as they attempt to cut costs dramatically.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is keen to add to his attacking options after missing out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who joined Borussia Dortmund from Shakhtar Donetsk, and Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa after the Brazilian signed a new three-year contract with the Spanish side.

Liverpool Put Off By Siqueira's £12m Price Tag

Talks have stalled between Liverpool and Granada for left-back Guilherme Siqueira, according to reports in England.

According to The Liverpool Echo, the Reds have reached an impasse over Siqueira's £12m price tag, which is much more than the £5.5m they were willing to pay.

Granada has upped the price due to claims that Real Madrid are interested in the Brazilian full-back, with Siqueira recently declaring his desire to play for Los Blancos.

If a compromise cannot be reached, then Brendan Rodgers is prepared to go back in for Valencia left-back Aly Cissokho.

The Frenchman is reported by local Valencia media to have already agreed terms with Liverpool, with just the terms of a loan agreement to be sorted.

Negotiations had broken down over the deal, with Valencia insisting on permanent transfer while Liverpool is only prepared to take Cissokho on loan.

Liverpool In Willian Talks

Sky sources report that Liverpool has opened talks with Anzhi Makhachkala over the possible signing of Brazilian playmaker Willian.

The highly-rated 25-year-old only moved to Anzhi from Shakhtar Donetsk in January but the Russian side is now looking to offload their star players, because billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov is scaling back his financial commitment to the club.

And Liverpool are eager to strengthen their attacking options, having failed to land Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who joined Borussia Dortmund from Shakhtar, and Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa.

Willian recently told ESPN Brazil: "He (Kerimov) made it clear that, if good bids arrive, he would certainly help us go.

"Now I'm waiting for a new bid to arrive in the next days from a few clubs, like Liverpool.

"If it's really Liverpool, then it is surely a great club. I'm hopeful and very calm, just waiting for the best."

Liverpool may face competition for the signature of Willian, who has come close to joining Tottenham and Manchester City in the past.

But the Reds now seem to have the inside track on signing the former Corinthians man, who would be likely to cost in the region of £30m.

Skrtel Ready To Fight For Place At Liverpool

Martin Skrtel believes the competition for places in the Liverpool defence will see him improve, after reports linked him with a move away from the club as he was surplus to requirements.

Skrtel started 23 games for the Reds last term, but made he majority of those appearances in the first half of the season after falling out of favour with Brendan Rodgers.

With the retirement of Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool boss shrewdly brought in Kolo Toure on a free from Manchester City and the Slovakian international has welcomed the Ivorian and says that the competition will be a huge benefit to the club.

"I think it's always good when there is competition for places and it's very important for your performance," he told the club's official website. "The manager will decide who is in the best form and start that player.

"I'll do my best and all I can to make sure that I'm the one he's going to be starting with.

"Kolo is a great player. He's a very experienced player and he has been playing in the Premier League for a while. He came in to play the same position as me, so we'll see who is going to start.

"Of course I will try to improve this season because I missed the second part of last season. I tried to do my best in the pre-season and show the manager I am able to play, so we'll see how it goes this season.

"I'm ready. I was ready before and I'll always be ready. Then it's up to the manager who is going to start. I will try and I will give my all to get into the team."

Former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez had been linked with a move for Skrtel on both a permanent and loan basis after securing the signing of Pepe Reina but it now seems as though he is set to stay at Anfield and compete for his place.

Manchester City Chase Reds Defender

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger is being linked with a shock move to Manchester City.

The Daily Star claims the Citizens are ready to make their own advances for the player, after Barcelona tabled a £15million bid last week.

New Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has also tried to bring Pepe to the Etihad Stadium, but had a £20million offer rejected by Madrid.

The paper claims last season’s Premier League runners-up are ready to abandon their pursuit of the Portuguese international however, and turn their attentions to the Dane.

Manchester City isn’t flush with players in the centre back position, and will be without Matija Nastasic for the start of the campaign after he got injured during pre-season.

However, Liverpool has even fewer options, after Jamie Carragher called time on his career this summer.

Kolo Toure has replaced the Reds legend, but the Ivorian veteran is likely to play back-up behind Agger and Martin Skrtel at Anfield this term.

Brendan Rodgers will be desperate to keep the aforementioned duo on Merseyside over the coming fortnight, and the Liverpool boss would also be wise to avoid selling to a domestic rival on the eve of the new season.

Whether the lure of Champions League football proves too much for Agger, only time will tell, but the Reds will be eager to avoid a saga similar to the one currently surrounding Luis Suarez.

Downing Disappointe By Liverpool Exit

New West Ham signing Stewart Downing admits he was disappointed to hear Liverpool had accepted an offer for him after manager Brendan Rodgers gave him assurances about his future at Anfield.

The winger endured a difficult two years on Merseyside after making a £20 million move from Aston Villa in 2011 and was never able to recapture the form that prompted the Reds to pay such a hefty price tag.

But the England international had featured regularly in pre-season and was surprised to find out the club had accepted a £6m offer from the Hammers so readily, particularly after Rodgers insisted he was in his plans.

“I spoke to the manager and he said he wanted me to stay. So I’m disappointed that one minute I was staying and the next minute I’m gone," he told reporters.

“It was a surprise because it happened so quick. One minute I was in the starting XI for Liverpool, and the next I was on my way to London.

“I was playing in the team and playing regularly and that’s why I was surprised to be told that a fee had been accepted. It is normally when you are not playing, or you are not in the squad is why you leave.”

Downing will join up with former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll, who also left the Anfield club for east London earlier this summer in a deal worth £15m.