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."