Friday, April 25, 2014

Match Tactical View: Liverpool v Chelsea

It would be a shame if Jose Mourinho follows through with his threat to play a reserve side for this contest, but it's unlikely Brendan Rodgers will be paying too much attention.

With Liverpool in this form - they've won their last 11 - they can afford to go out and play their own game, without reacting too much to the identity of their opponents. As we've noted many times in this column, the Reds have generally made extremely fast starts in big matches this season, and it would be something of a surprise if they didn't score the opener again here.

It's been interesting how many of those crucial openers have come from set-pieces, where Liverpool have been more prolific than any other side in the division, and considering this has been something of a problem Chelsea throughout this season, it could be worth looking at Martin Skrtel, for example, to score first.

The Slovakian centre-back has looked uncomfortable defensively in recent weeks, but his status as the league's top goalscoring defender shouldn't be ignored, especially against a Chelsea side lacking John Terry and Petr Cech.

Rodgers' only genuine selection decision concerns the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, who might not return against his former club. If he is available, Rodgers will return to the diamond midfield he played at Norwich last season - if not, it might again be something of a 4-3-2-1 system again, with both Coutinho and Sterling playing just behind Suarez. In truth, from a purely Liverpool perspective, Rodgers might as well risk Sturridge at this stage of the campaign, although the player himself will be desperate to avoid worsening his injury ahead of the World Cup.

Rodgers' other issue is the continued absence of Jordan Henderson through suspension - not a huge issue at Norwich, but potentially more problematic against a powerful Chelsea side. Rodgers would have asked him to pressure Nemanja Matic, cup-tied in Europe and therefore likely to start this weekend, but without a natural replacement for Henderson, the Serbian holding midfielder might command the midfield zone.

Chelsea are likely to play deeper than other big sides - Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal - have at Anfield, which means the home side might get less joy with pace in behind the defence, and will instead have longer, more sustained periods of possession.

The full-backs, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan, should feature more in advanced positions - but this would open up Liverpool to Chelsea's counter-attacks, likely to come from Mohamed Salah and possibly Andre Schurrle. There's no real need for Liverpool to be risky in this respect - a draw would be a decent result for the home side.

Another interesting subplot is Luis Suarez's performance. Although the Uruguayan has scored an amazing 30 goals in 30 league starts this season, his record against the rest of the top four is a distinctly unimpressive 0 in five. There's more to Suarez's game than goals, of course - in the 5-1 home win over Arsenal he was probably the game's best player despite not getting on the scoresheet - but it could be worth laying Suarez to score.

Mourinho Given Permission To Play Kids Against Liverpool

Mourinho claimed he would concede the Premier League title to Liverpool by fielding a weakened side when the two teams face each other on Sunday.

A win for Chelsea would still leave them two points behind Brendan Rodgers' men, whereas they go into the semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid as favourites to make the final.

The Chelsea manager has accepted that the Premier League is out of reach for this season and winning on Sunday would only help Manchester City's chances, not theirs.

Now the board at Stamford Bridge has given their consent for Mourinho to field whatever team he feels necessary, even if it means absorbing a heavy defeat.

It means that Mark Schwarzer could be rested to make way for third choice goalkeeper Henrique Hilario while chances could be given to under-21 stars Tomas Kalas, Nathan Ake and Andreas Christensen.

Manchester City is obviously very keen to see Chelsea win on Sunday as a win would put the title back within their reach. They are six points behind Liverpool but have a game in hand as well as a superior goal difference.

However, the Premier League has confirmed that Mourinho is entitled to play any team he desires.

Mick McCarthy and Ian Holloway have been fined for fielding weakened teams in the past but a movement, started by the latter of the aforementioned pair, forced the Premier League to change their policy on such matters.

Liverpool Plot Summer Move For Spanish Wonderkid

Liverpool are in pursuit of Spanish wonderkid Kuki Zalazar, reports Marca.

The 15-year-old, who is the son of former Uruguay international Jose Zalazar, is currently attached to the youth set-up of La Liga club Malaga.

The Spain Under-16 striker will be able to sign professional when he turns 16 in June and Malaga will try to persuade him to stay at the club with the promise of reserve-team football and a contact with the first team the following season.

However, Liverpool also want him and it is believed the Reds' greater financial firepower and more impressive academy facilities could tempt him to Merseyside instead.

Monaco Join Liverpool In Race For Verona Star

Monaco have entered the race for Liverpool target Juan Manuel Iturbe.

In a potentially complicated deal, the Argentine winger will join Verona after he finishes his loan spell there from Porto at the end of the season.

That is when the Italian club will exercise their £15million option so they can sell him on to the highest bidder.

Rival Italian clubs want Iturbe too, but he will be too expensive for them and the battle for the 20-year-old is expected to come down to cash-rich Monaco and the Merseyside club.

Chelsea And Liverpool Close In On Sevilla Star

Chelsea and Liverpool are closely monitoring developments with outstanding Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

The Croatian, who is also on the radar of Barcelona, Juventus and Napoli, could yet stay in Spain, but a big Premier league bid could clinch the deal.

His representative, and brother, Dejan, revealed to Italian website "He is much admired in Italy and I have already talked to a couple of clubs interested in him.

"I cannot confirm who they are, but we are also considering the possibility of renewing the contract with Sevilla.

“We're talking to the president, but at the moment there is nothing concrete."

Liverpool Plan Double Swoop To Replace Agger

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers could replace defender Daniel Agger with a double swoop for Schalke’s Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sporting Lisbon’s Marco Rojo.

Italian side Napoli are keen on bringing Agger to Serie A in the summer with manager Rafa Benitez a big fan of the Dane from his time at Anfield.

It is believed that Rodgers would be willing to sell the 29-year-old after he has made just 15 Premier League starts this season.

And according to the Express, he is ready to replace him with Greek defender Papadopoulos and Rojo in the summer.

Rodgers is set to be handed a £50million transfer kitty after qualifying for the Champions League and strengthening his defence remains a key priority.

Papadopoulos, 22, is a long term target of Liverpool’s and is a highly rated central defender in the Bundesliga.

Rodgers is also keen on adding a new left-back to the squad and has identified Rojo as the perfect addition.

The 24-year-old has broken into the Argentinean squad and looks set to travel to the World Cup.

Southampton Make Approach For Liverpool Star

Southampton have made an enquiry about Liverpool defender Jose Enrique, which could signify a summer exit for the highly-rated Luke Shaw, [football] direct news understands.

The Saints are interested in signing the former Newcastle left-back who has not featured in the Liverpool team since the second week of November due to a knee injury.

Enrique started the season as the first-choice left-back for Brendan Rodgers’ side but has been forced to watch from the sidelines due to his knee problems.

The Spaniard still has two years left on his current deal but Liverpool were hotly pursuing a left-back last summer with Granada’s Guilherme Siqueira one of the main targets.

Southampton’s pursuit of a renowned left-back signifies that they may be resigned to lose Luke Shaw who has been frequently linked with a move to Manchester United.

The England international has been the subject of much speculation over a move to Old Trafford and is seen as a key component of United’s attempts to rebuild a title-contending team for next campaign.

Ayre: Owners Deserve Credit

Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has paid tribute to the club's owners Fenway Sports Group, admitting the Anfield outfit were "seconds from financial disaster".

Ayre concedes Liverpool were on the brink of going into administration in 2010 before Fenway Sports Group secured a deal to take over from the Premier League club from former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr.

And he believes their current owners deserve all the praise for saving the club and putting it back on the road for success as they look to secure the Premier League title this season.

"People sometimes forget how bad it was," Ayre said. "I speak to people now and they have really short memories.

"When you think about that day when [the High Court ruled John W Henry and Tom Werner could take over and] we tipped it over the edge and finally pulled it back, we have come such a long way.

"It's easy to say it's about time we are back in the Champions League. But if you think about where we were financially, just because you are Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there.

"There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners.

"It's an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are. As one of the few people who was here with the last ownership and through this one, the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now."

Talking about the club's financial problems four years ago, Ayre admitted the club was in dark place before Fenway Sports Group took over.

"It is no secret, it's like that TV programme - Seconds From Disaster. We were sort of in that vein.

"It was horrific to see the football club in that state.

"I do not think there was a Liverpool fan anywhere who was not worried we would not get to this position we are in now."

Liverpool Reveal Anfield Plans

Liverpool have unveiled their stadium expansion plans for the redevelopment of Anfield which could eventually boost capacity at their home of 112 years to almost 59,000.

The Reds announced in October 2012 that rather than move to a new stadium, they would prefer to redevelop Anfield and would work with Liverpool City Council to transform the surrounding area through a comprehensive regeneration plan.

Detailed proposals for an expansion of the Main Stand and outline proposals for an expansion of the Anfield Road Stand will be on show at exhibitions and a public consultation scheduled for this week.

The exhibition shows detailed design proposals for the proposed Main Stand redevelopment which include a newly-created public concourse and a carefully designed cloister which will become the new home for the Hillsborough Memorial.

The redevelopment could add an additional 8,500 seats taking the Main Stand's capacity to nearly 21,000 and overall Anfield capacity to around 54,000.

The outline proposals for the Anfield Road Stand provide for an increase in its capacity of around 4,800 seats.

The club are inviting residents, fans and local businesses to give their views as part of its planning application, which the club expects to submit to Liverpool City Council this summer.

Ian Ayre, managing director of Liverpool Football Club, said: "As part of our proposed Stadium redevelopment project, we have unveiled the detail of our ambitious plans for an expanded Main Stand and Anfield Road stand and are embarking on a consultation process which will shape and inform our planning application.

"In order to move forward with our expansion plans we need to have certainty that we can navigate the complex planning process and secure the support of the community, local home owners, businesses and other key stakeholders. This consultation exercise is an important part of this process.

"We started this journey just over 18 months ago and a lot of work has already been done, there is still an incredible amount to do, but good progress has been made so far and we are proud to be able to unveil our plans."

Liverpool City Council has confirmed that negotiations with property owners are progressing well and all parties are close to agreement but there are still details to be finalised.

Subject to agreement and planning consent being reached, construction work on the proposed Main Stand could begin early next year and it could be complete in time for the 2016/17 season.

Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said: "This is another important step in our ambitions to transform the Anfield area, bringing new jobs, investment and housing.

"The overall regeneration of Anfield will see £260m invested in the local community and will deliver hundreds of jobs - Liverpool Football Club's proposals for the stadium are a key part of this.

"We are all committed to delivering a brighter future for Anfield and the Club's exhibition is a clear signal that real progress is being made with all our plans."

Brian Cronin, chief executive of Your Housing Group, said: "This is another significant step in the process for the Anfield Project and we welcome the headway which is being made by all parts of the partnership.

"It's doubtless that many of our residents are very keen to see the plans and see how the new stadium might look and we are committed to making this happen."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rodgers: Hillsborough Campaigner's Words Inspired Us

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says he used the words of Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall to inspire his team to a 3-2 victory at Norwich.

Aspinall's son James died in the tragedy which took the lives of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989.

She spoke during a memorial service at Anfield on Tuesday to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

"She talked about stress - it can prove difficult but can also offer you great determination to fight," said Rodgers.

"Those were words we gave the players before the game. We stuck them on the wall.

"It is a club that is as one at the moment - and we are all fighting to achieve the ultimate goal."

Liverpool's win at Carrow Road moved them five points clear at the top of the Premier League with three games remaining - against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle.

The win has guaranteed a Champions League group-stage spot for next season and, at present, the Reds need seven points from those matches to secure their first league title since 1990.

Goals from Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez put Liverpool ahead at Norwich before Gary Hooper pulled one back. Sterling restored the two-goal cushion before a dogged Canaries side set up a tense finish after Robert Snodgrass headed in.

Sterling's two goals took the 19-year-old's tally to nine for the league season and Rodgers was full of praise for the young forward.

"He is arguably the best young player in European football at the moment," the manager added.

"I've been really pleased with his maturity. He puts an awful lot of time into his work. We've tried to play him in different positions to improve his football intelligence.

"He is a really humble kid and it has been great to see."

Rodgers added: "You have seen all the characteristics of our team - wonderful invention, creativity, arrogance on the ball, goalscoring as well as young and senior players playing in a structure that allows them to express themselves.

"In addition, we have had to show the courage to dig in and fight away from home against a team that is fighting for its life to stay in the division."

Former Liverpool winger John Barnes said if the Reds were to clinch the title, it would be the greatest Premier League victory of any club.

Speaking ahead of a 'Celebration of the 96' match at Anfield, he told BBC Radio 5 live: "The consistency they've shown has been incredible and I think if they win it this will be the most incredible victory from any team in the history of the Premier League.

"Where they were last year without making any major signings - (Daniel) Sturridge and Coutinho were there last year - so to finish seventh last year to winning the Premier League would be an incredible achievement and credit has to go to the players and the manager."

Liverpool Showed They Can Cope Without Sturridge and Henderson

Liverpool star Lucas Leiva feels the absence of striker Daniel Sturridge and midfielder Jordan Henderson will not affect the club’s race to the title.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are leading the Premier League table, five points ahead of second-placed Chelsea and are close to winning the title after almost 24 years after they beat Norwich City 3-2 on Sunday.

The Reds were without the services of Sturridge and Henderson on Sunday, with the former being out with a hamstring injury while the latter is serving a three-match suspension for a foul on Samir Nasri during their game against Manchester City.

But Lucas, who was called in along with Joe Allen to replace the duo, feels that with just three matches to go in the crunch title race, Liverpool will be able to cope with their absence.

“Jordan has played every game for the club this season and is doing a fantastic job”, the Brazilian told the club’s site.

"But any player coming in tries to do well for the team. It was no different for me and Joe.

"Of course, Sturridge and Jordan are important players for us, but we showed we have players that can come on, keep the level of performance and still get three points", the 27-year-old added.

Liverpool will be facing Jose Mourinho’s team at Anfield in a crucial match on Sunday before they play Crystal Palace and Newcastle United over the remaining weeks.

Rodgers: Reds Must Stay Grounded

Boss Brendan Rodgers says it is important Liverpool keep their feet on the ground as they prepare for a huge game against Chelsea.

The Reds took another step closer to their first Premier League title as they defeated Norwich 3-2 at Carrow Road, but Rodgers says they cannot get carried away.

England World Cup hopeful Raheem Sterling scored twice and Uruguay hitman Luis Suarez broke the 30-goal barrier as the Reds moved five points clear of Chelsea, who they host at Anfield next weekend.

"You never get too carried away when you win, and you never get too disappointed when you lose," said Rodgers, whose side are now guaranteed a top-three finish and with it a return to the Champions League.

"You can't win every game, but dealing with the expectancy is all part of being at a huge club like Liverpool. All I know is my players give me everything and I cannot ask for any more. For me, that is what is important.

"Now it will be about recovering. It is going to be a brilliant game next weekend with Chelsea coming to Anfield. The supporters will be right up for it and the team will look forward to it."

Liverpool are now nine points clear of Manchester City, who are third with two games in hand, one of which is against West Brom at the Etihad Stadium on Monday evening.

Liverpool To Fight United For Samba Star

Liverpool are ready to battle bitter rivals Manchester United for the summer signature of Cruzeiro midfielder Everton Ribeiro, [football] direct news understands.

A source close to the Merseyside outfit told FDN that the former Brazil under-20 international is on boss Brendan Rodgers’ list of targets, drawn up in preparation for the next transfer window.

The title-chasing Reds are well aware of United’s interest but are confident of presenting themselves as the more attractive destination by securing Champions League football for next term, possibly at their rivals’ expense.

The champions face an uphill struggle to finish in the top four and entertain Liverpool at Old Trafford in one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures in the football calendar this Sunday.

For his part, Ribeiro has refused to talk about a potential departure from his current club but that has not deterred his suitors, with Liverpool keen to put him alongside fellow countrymen Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Leiva in midfield.

The 24-year-old can operate on both flanks or through the middle.

Liverpool Eye Spurs Outcast

Liverpool is aiming to end Sandro’s Tottenham Hotspur misery at the end of the season, [football] direct news understands.

The Brazil international seemingly has a bleak future in north London after being dropped for Saturday’s 3-1 victory over relegation-threatened Fulham and then tweeting about it, to tell followers that he was not injured.

A source close to Anfield told FDN the title favourites hope to capitalise on the uncertainty surrounding his situation at Spurs by tempting them with a bid when the transfer window reopens this summer.

The club insider claims the Reds feel he would link up well with compatriots Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho on Merseyside, and boss Brendan Rodgers is anxious to add more depth to a squad which will be competing in next season’s Champions League.

Sandro, who has made 23 appearances this term, has little more than two years remaining on his contract at White Hart Lane and is likely to be tempted by the prospect of participating in Europe’s top club competition.

Real Madrid Plot £90m Bid For Suarez

Real Madrid are preparing a massive bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez that, if successful, would see the Bernabeu break the world transfer record for a second time in the space of a year.

CaughtOffside understands that Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti has been given the go ahead by the club’s money-men to pursue the 27 year old Anfield star, who has been in outstanding form this season.

Suarez is not only the Premier League’s leading goal-scorer but he also tops the assist making charts and is a shoe-in to win the PFA Player of the Year award, with the former Ajax man being one of three Liverpool star’s nominated for the prestigious prize with skipper Steven Gerrard and strike partner Daniel Sturridge also in the running.

Ancelotti is keen to bring in Suarez to form part of a mouthwatering strike trio in a central role with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale plying their trade on the wings. It’s a move that will lead Real Madrid to conduct something of a summer sale to help fund.

Real Madrid are keen to adhere to UEFA’s FFP (Financial Fair Play) guidelines and is part of an ambitious overhaul the Spanish giants are looking to conduct in order to make the most of arch rival Barcelona’s transfer ban.

Suarez’s form has been a key factor in Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge and Brendan Rodgers will be loathed to lose the forward but Real Madrid will hope that a £90m (€110m) bid would prove impossible to consider.

Real Madrid president Florentino PĂ©rez is confident of turning Suarez’s head and will feel all the more sure of being able tempt the unstoppable striker if his side has secured either a La Liga or Champions League crown this term, two titles that Ancelotti is still very much in the hunt for having already clinched a Copa del Rey triumph.

Though the outlay for Suarez would prove hugely costly Real Madrid are confident that the promotional and merchandising benefits of bringing in one of the best players in world football will more than compensate for the huge fee needed to convince Liverpool to sell their prized asset.

Suarez only recent signed a new lucrative deal which will see the marksman earn £200k a week from next season onwards though Real Madrid are ready to offer the forward as much as £270k a week as well as a hefty signing on bonus and a five year contract that would make him one of the best players on the planet.

Ancelotti is ready to listen to offers for benched keeper Iker Casillas, young striker Alvaro Morata as well as defenders Fabio Coentao and Raphael Varane whilst also considering big money offers for Sami Khedira, Isco and Angel Di Maria.

Liverpool Facing Five-Way Fight For Colombian Star

Liverpool is one of five clubs considering a summer swoop for Udinese forward Luis Muriel.

The striker's representative last week revealed the Colombia international is open to offers having struggled for a regular first-team role this term. The 23-year-old has started only 13 league games, yet has still managed to find the back of the net on four occasions.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers can start planning for a return to Champions League football following the 3-2 win at Norwich City and Muriel is on his list of targets to bolster his free-scoring attack.

But the Northern Irishman is not the only manager interested in Muriel, as four Serie A clubs are monitoring his situation closely.

Fiorentina, Juventus, Lazio and AC Milan are also on the trail of the former Deportivo Cali man, who won the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award in 2012.

Borini and Assaidi Help Liverpool's Title Tilt With Late Winners Against Chelsea

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have grabbed the headlines for Liverpool this season, but Brendan Rodgers also has two of his other forwards to thank for his side's five-point advantage at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi were both shipped out of the club on loan last summer after moving to Anfield a year earlier and, despite not playing for Rodgers' side this season, both have had their say on the title race with key goals against Chelsea.

Borini's late penalty for Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on Saturday not only earned the Black Cats a 2-1 win and three vital points in their fight against relegation to the Championship, it also put a huge dent in Jose Mourinho's hopes of overhauling Liverpool at the top of the table

Had Gus Poyet's side missed from the spot and the score remained the same, the Blues would've found themselves within four points of the Merseyside outfit with three games to play and a trip to Anfield still to come.

The impact of Liverpool's loanees on the race for the Premier League crown was also seen back in December when Assaidi scored a stunning injury-time winner against Mourinho's men.

In an entertaining game at the Britannia, two goals from Andre Schurrle had the visitors on level terms before the Morocco international bent the ball past Petr Cech from outside the area to seal a 3-2 victory for the Potters.

Without the former Heerenveen winger's influence, Chelsea would likely be another point better off in their hunt for a fourth Premier League title and third under Mourinho's stewardship.

Liverpool's impressive goal difference, which currently stands at +52, would still have Rodgers' men in control of their own destiny going into Sunday's showdown at Anfield.

But without the goals of Borini and Assaidi, the Blues would have had an opportunity to draw level on points with their title rivals. Instead, an away win this weekend will leave the west London club still two points behind the league leaders.

Suarez and Sturridge will rightly do battle for Liverpool's Player of the Year award, but Rodgers' decision to send two out-of-favour forwards on loan has helped ensure the Reds' title challenge now looks slightly more comfortable for the final weeks of this unpredictable season.