Saturday, August 24, 2013

Match Preview: Aston Villa vs Liverpool

Aston Villa take in their first home game of the new Premier League season, with Liverpool the visitors to Villa Park.

Villa may have come unstuck at Chelsea on Wednesday night, but manager Paul Lambert felt big decisions went against his side at Stamford Bridge and is pleased with how their campaign has started.

Lambert's men opened with an impressive 3-1 victory over Arsenal on the opening day, suggesting they should have enough to steer clear of the relegation struggles which haunted them in 2012/13.

They have also been buoyed by the summer commitment of Christian Benteke to a new contract, and the powerful Belgian forward has burst out of the blocks by netting three times in his two outings so far.

Liverpool will be hoping that someone within their ranks steps up to the scoring plate in the continued absence of Luis Suarez through suspension, with Daniel Sturridge seemingly the most likely candidate.

The England international struck the Reds' winner as they edged out Stoke City 1-0 at Anfield in their first fixture of the new campaign.

Brendan Rodgers is eager to see his side force their way back into top-four contention this term, and he will know that any side harbouring UEFA Champions League aspirations will need to collect points consistently on their travels - and Liverpool have emerged victorious in nine of their last 15 visits to Villa Park, losing just once.

Aston Villa should have defender Ciaran Clark available on Saturday.

Clark was forced off in the first half of the 2-1 loss at Chelsea on Wednesday with a head injury but is expected to be fit for the Reds' visit to Villa Park, while midfielder Chris Herd could be in contention for a first appearance this term following his calf problem.

Defender Nathan Baker (ankle) remains a doubt and winger Charles N'Zogbia (Achilles) definitely misses out.

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez remains the only notable absentee in Rodgers' plans.

The controversial forward is now halfway through the 10-match ban he received last season after sitting out the Reds' season opener against Stoke.

Fellow Uruguayan Sebastian Coates, a defender, is likely to miss most of the season with a knee injury sustained on international duty last week. Striker Luis Alberto was an unused substitute in that game and is still to make his debut, while new signing Aly Cissokho could also be in contention.

Match Prediction

Aston Villa must be over the moon. I know they were beaten by Chelsea after winning against Arsenal, but with Liverpool coming up it could have been a nightmare start to the season. Whatever happens here, I didn't think they'd have this many points. I've said it before but the best signing they could've made, they have: Christian Benteke. The fact that he has started so well makes you wonder if someone is going to come in with silly money for him, but he will score 15 to 20 goals - and that is the one thing that could get Villa into mid-table.

Liverpool's main striker, Luis Suarez, is of course another topic of conversation. If Liverpool's best 11 are on their game, they can take on anyone, but go beyond that and onto the bench then they have youngsters and I am not sure they have any game-changers to turn to. If Brendan Rodgers can keep them all fit, they will do well. I like the look of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, and I think they are in for a better season.


Sturridge Urges Liverpool To Push On

Daniel Sturridge has called for focus from his Liverpool team-mates as they look to continue their strong start to the new season.

Liverpool opened their Premier League campaign with a 1-0 win against Stoke City last Saturday, with Sturridge netting the only goal.

Brendan Rodgers' side finished seventh last season, with defeats early in the campaign setting them back, and the former Chelsea man is now urging his side to push on and put together a long unbeaten run.

"It's always good to get off to a good start if you can and then going past Christmas, that's when you enter the business end of the season, so it's good to lay the foundations down at the beginning," Sturridge told the club's official website.

"It's important to try not to lose games - if we can try to get a draw here and there and then in the games we're drawing, we get a win here and there.

"The games where your backs are against the wall, but you stand up in and fight and get a win or a point, they're the ones that count towards the end of the season."

The 23-year-old impressed against Stoke as Liverpool showed their early promise, and ahead of the clash with Aston Villa this weekend he has underlined just how crucial it was to pick up all three points on the opening day.

"The first game was very important for us," he added. "To get off to a good start after the work you put in during pre-season and going into the game with the right mentality, it's a special feeling.

"After all the hard work you do, if you go into the first game and lose, it's deflating - everybody's gutted, leaving the stadium the fans and the players are unhappy.

"To get off to a good start and for everyone to be on a high going into the next game with confidence is always good."

Rodgers Senses Reds Revival

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers may still be looking for new players but he already feels his team has come a long way.

Rodgers is hoping to steer the Reds back into the Champions League for the first time since 2010 and has said he would like to add to the five summer signings he has already made.

But the Northern Irishman was hugely encouraged by the performance in last week's season-opening win over Stoke and is happy with the improvement since taking over a year ago.

Rodgers, whose side finished seventh in the Barclays Premier League last season, said: "In order to be a winner you have to have the belief. That was something last year we were maybe not able to find consistently.

"But we have picked up a lot. The group has grown over time. It might only have been a small thing last week, but to get that win shows the development mentally.

"I can only speak highly of the players. They are the ones doing the work, they are the ones being driven and asked. To get that last week was very important for us.

"Whatever transfer talk or speculation there has been this week, the bottom line is there are some outstanding players here - top, top players.

"They will hopefully keep finding the ways to win games and hopefully we will add to the squad alongside them."

Rodgers has indicated he may look for a central defender before the September 2 transfer deadline while recent, albeit fruitless, interest in Willian indicates a desire to bring in an exciting attack-minded player.

Liverpool impressed against Stoke although they scored only one goal through Daniel Sturridge and it needed a late penalty save from Simon Mignolet to preserve the win.

Rodgers said: "It was a really good win for us. Stoke are a very tough team to break down.

"The performance level was very good and we got the three points besides that, which is the most important element."

The Reds will hope to carry forward their confidence into this weekend's trip to Aston Villa.

Rodgers is preparing for a difficult encounter given that Villa, who last season survived a scrape with relegation, have shown vibrancy in their opening games against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Rodgers said: "I very much expect for them to have a very good season this year.

"They are very much a counter-attacking team. They set up to defend half a pitch and then they break out with pace - (Christian) Benteke and (Gabriel) Agbonlahor in particular.

"There is no doubt Benteke is the real reference point for the team. The ball goes up to him and he holds it up well. He is a big powerful boy.

"Andreas Weimann makes good runs and has a knack for a goal.

"It is about trying to control the counter-attack. They are very fast, energetic players.

"But our focus is really on our own game. Our mind is very good at the moment. The players are continuing from last season and we just want to keep that going."

Liverpool continues without Luis Suarez, who is now halfway through the 10-match ban he received last season.

The controversial forward's future remains uncertain even though Liverpool remain steadfast in their determination not to sell and the player is back in training after his recent calls to leave.

Rodgers is pleased with the way the rest of his squad have not been affected by the summer-long saga concerning the Uruguayan.

He said: "It is safe to say of any distractions or speculation, we have controlled that, and focused on performing well on the training ground, finding ways to be better every day and taking that into the games.

"We will go into this game with good confidence but expecting Aston Villa to be a good team and we'll have to work hard to get a result."

Liverpool Braced For Late Suarez Bid

Liverpool has insisted striker Luis Suarez will not be sold before the transfer deadline, with reports suggesting Real Madrid are planning a £40 million swoop for the Uruguayan.

The future of the Liverpool forward has been under intense scrutiny this summer, with Arsenal showing a keen interest in the 26-year-old who stated he wanted to leave the club.

However in a dramatic u-turn it appeared the situation had been resolved after the striker returned to training before appearing at Anfield for their Premier League opener against Stoke last Saturday.

But it seems that Spanish giants Real Madrid are preparing to throw a spanner in the works by launching a late bid for the striker, as a possible replacement for Karim Benzema if the Frenchman joins Arsenal, although manager Brendan Rodgers has insisted the striker is not going anywhere.

"It's very difficult at this time [for a Suarez bid to succeed]," Rodgers said.

"We are trying to get one or two more quality players in through the door. If we lose Luis at this stage, it would be difficult to replace him.

"There might have been a point a few months ago when there was time to do it, but not with only 11 days to go."

"I'm sure there will be plenty of activity in these last days (before the window closes). It is what it is. We will deal with it like we have during the summer," he added.

Real Madrid could be set to smash the transfer record in the coming days, with reports suggesting Gareth Bale's move to Spain is nearing completion.

Liverpool & Spurs Battle For Adem Ljajic

Liverpool has joined the race to sign Tottenham Hotspur target Adem Ljajic, according to reports.

The Daily Star claims Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is keen on the 21-year-old, who appears set to leave Fiorentina this summer.

Ljajic has a year left on his contract with the Viola, but club president Andrea Della Valle has accepted that the youngster could be making a move away from the club in the final stages of the transfer window.

“It’s difficult to see Ljajic staying with us. Personally I would like to keep him, of course, but one has to understand the player’s intentions and the atmosphere,” he said, according to the paper.

Ljajic scored 11 goals in 28 Serie ‘A’ appearances last season, alerting Premier League clubs to his availability.

And, the Liverpool manager has sensed an opportunity to add to his squad at Anfield, with the youngster available for as little as €9million, the report claims.

Rodgers has already brought a number of players to Merseyside this summer, with Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas joining the Reds’ revolution.

The Serbian playmaker would provide Liverpool with another option in attack, but they face competition to bring the player to England.

Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas is also keen on the player, according to reports, with the north London outfit also looking to add quality to their squad.

Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli have already moved to White Hart Lane, although Tottenham Hotspur appears set to miss out on Willian this summer.

If Gareth Bale leaves Spurs this summer, then AVB will certainly still have money to spend, and Ljajic represents great value at the quoted price in the paper.

Arsenal And Liverpool On Turan Alert

Arsenal and Liverpool will continue to track the availability of Turkish star Arda Turan after his agent admitted he would jump at a move to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old joined Atletico Madrid from Galatasaray in 2011 for a fee of €12 making him the most expensive Turkish player of all time.

He has made 65 appearances for the La Liga side and has been an integral figure in Madrid’s side contributing to the sides Copa Del Rey triumph last season.

Atletico though, is reluctant to let Turan leave this summer as he still has two years remaining on his contract.

But his agent, Ahmet Bulut, admits that a move to the Premier League would be very difficult to resist.

He told "The club does not want to sell Arda. However, if we were to get an offer equal to his £29m buy-out clause Atletico should listen to such a proposal.

"Arsenal and Liverpool? A destination in the Premier League would be to the liking of the player and I can confirm there are clubs interested, like the two mentioned.

"At the moment there are no concrete offers, only preliminary contacts."

Although both clubs seem interested in taking the winger, the £29m buy-out clause remains a stumbling block.

Liverpool Wants Kiev Striker Yarmolenko

With the Willian deal now dead in the water, Liverpool is reportedly considering a move for Dynamo Kiev attacker Andriy Yarmolenko.

According to a report in Ukrainian newspaper, Liverpool is 'close' to signing Yarmolenko, whose current contract expires in 2015.

AC Milan tried to sign the 23-year old last summer, but according to his Agent, Mikhail Gulordava, Kiev rejected the Rossoneri's €20 million bid.

In a recent interview, Ukraine legend Andriy Shevchenko - a team-mate at Kiev - heaped praise on Yarmolenko, who is described by national coach Oleg Blokhin as ‘unstoppable'.

Liverpool is currently odds-on favourites to sign Yarmolenko, and reports in Spain claim that Reds are ready to make a €23m offer.

Yarmolenko is probably not the 'marquee' name LFC fans are hoping for, but there are some clear positives to his potential signing: 39 goals for Kiev in the last three seasons, double figures every year, and 11 goals in 32 games for the Ukraine national team.

Yarmolenko also scored for Kiev in the club's recent 3-2 Europa League victory over Aktobe.

Liverpool Reject £10 Million Bid For Skrtel

Liverpool has rejected a bid of £10 million for Martin Skrtel made by Napoli, it has been reported.

According to the Daily Mail, former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez made an offer for the central defender but it was instantly rebuffed by the Premier League club.

However, it is also reported that Napoli is now preparing a second, improved offer for the defender.

It was Benitez that signed Skrtel for Liverpool back in 2008, but if he wants to secure a reunion he will have to significantly improve his offer, according to the article.

The same article reveals that Brendan Rodgers is not willing to part with any of his defenders after an injury to Sebastian Coates has left him short at the back.

Coates has suffered a serious knee injury and is set to be out for around six months.

Skrtel has been a mainstay in the Liverpool defence since his arrival at the club and has made 151 appearances for the club in his time there.

Rodgers meanwhile has signed Kolo Toure this summer to replace Jamie Carragher who retired at the end of last season.

However, if Skrtel leaves then he will surely have to go and buy another centre-half before the transfer window closes.

Liverpool Drop Out Of Race To Sign Burak Yilmaz

Liverpool has been dealt a blow in the race to sign Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz, after the player's agent confirmed he is close to joining Lazio, reports the Daily Star.

The Turkish international has been the subject of intense transfer speculation all summer, after an impressive 2012/13 campaign at the Turk Telekom Arena, where he scored 32 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers was credited with an interest in bringing the 28-year-old to Anfield, as he looks to strengthen his squad even further, before the close of the transfer window.

With five new faces having already arrived on Merseyside, Yilmaz would have capped an impressive summer of business for Liverpool. But, it now looks as though he'll snub the chance to move to the Premier League, in favour of a switch to Serie 'A'.

"Lazio is the only side in the running to sign him," his agent, Ali Egesel, told Corriere dello Sport. "They have made an important offer for him, but it has not been accepted for now because Galatasaray don't want to lose him."

Yilmaz only joined Galatasaray from Trabzonspor last summer in an initial €5million deal, where he signed a four-year contract.

However, he could be about to leave the Super Lig champions as Lazio close in on the player's signature.

Liverpool Youngster Set For Loan Move

Stoke are plotting a loan move for out-of-favour Liverpool winger Oussama Assaidi, according to reports from the Daily Mail.

The 25-year-old appears to be surplus to requirements at Anfield, despite only having arrived at the club last summer.

Potters chief Mark Hughes is keen to take advantage of this as he continues his quest to inject some creativity into his inherited squad.

Liverpool is unlikely to stand in the player’s way if he is keen to push for the move, with Brendan Rodgers having already strengthened his attacking options noticeably over the last few months.

Stoke will face competition from a number of sides – including Genoa, Anderlecht and Feyenoord – for the Moroccan, who arrived on Merseyside with a promising reputation.

Despite showing glimpses of his ability in Europa League ties, Rodgers appeared to be unconvinced by the wide-man, and rarely allowed him first-team game time.

Hughes hopes that, given regular action, the pacey winger could develop into a lethal asset for his side.