The Liverbird

LIVER BIRD – Is This Liverpool’s Biggest Game In 24 Years?

I’m back from Budapest and bringing you what hopefully will turn out to be an iconic match preview in the build up to a game that is easily the most important one in my lifetime as a Liverpool fan when concerning the league. The Reds prepare to face the might of Manchester City on Sunday whilst also assembling a fitting memorial to the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough as we near the 25th anniversary of that fateful day.Every game in England will kick of 7 minutes late this weekend with Liverpool’s tie starting at 13:37. There will also be a special display using scarves donated from a variety of clubs and fans to remember the 96 and a mosaic will also be presented by the fans before kick off.Injuries for Liverpool leave them without Jose Enrique, the positive news though is that Daniel Agger is available again, Rodgers will have to decide whether to bring him back into the starting line up. Annoyingly for Liverpool, Man City’s injury worries appear to have been improved at exactly the right time. A knock for Yaya Toure is no longer deemed a problem and Sergio Aguero is also back in the team. The only player Pellegrini is unable to call upon is Nastasic.Liverpool are currently sitting top of the pile on 74 points. The Reds have not lost a game since 29th December and have won their last nine in the league. Manchester City currently find themselves third in the league beneath Chelsea on 70 points. City though have two games in hand thus adding the stratospheric importance to this game for Liverpool. If we manage to beat Pellegrini’s side, the title is well and truly in our own hands. City have won five out of their last six games and their last loss came at the hands of Chelsea.The last time the two sides met was in December last year. Liverpool played very well at the Etihad and most fans will find themselves recalling the ridiculous offside decision given against Raheem Sterling. City won the game 2-1 but Brendan’s side showed real promise in the game.The three meetings prior to this have all ended 2-2 with two games in the league and one in the Carling Cup. Manchester City may be a powerhouse now but they have not won a game at Anfield since May 2003. Milan Baros was on the score sheet that day in the 2-1 City win.Stat SandwichThe Reds have won all four of their home meetings with members of the top seven clubs, scoring 14 goals in the process.City have not lost in their last 10 away league matches.Liverpool have failed to score in only two of their league games this season.I asked you for your score predictions for this one and here are a few of the tweets I received, it appears some people are getting a bit carried away! Haha.I must admit I’m still not feeling nervous for this one I’m just stupidly excited, I’m sure the nerves will kick in tomorrow morning though but I still do honestly feel as though we can beat them. I also think there will be goals in this game hence why I’m going to pop a quid on 3-2 to Liverpool and also probably Martin Skrtel anytime.Whatever happens tomorrow it’s not all over, anything can happen and whilst it would be a massive blow we have to keep doing what we are doing and play to the end. But here’s hoping that tomorrow we will all be going absolutely ape shit knowing we’ve just battered Man City and are sitting top of the league with the title in our hands!Enjoy the match folks, it’s set to be a stunner!Like “The Liver Bird” on Facebook – www.facebook.com/TheLiverBirdsBlog

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The Guardian

GUARDIAN – Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Toby Moses

Arsenal’s resilient backbone, a Pulis reunion with Stoke, Chelsea’s crunch clash with Manchester United, and much more1) Arsenal’s resilient backbone will dash Fulham hopes of an upset When Fulham travelled to the Emirates last season Arsenal let a two-goal lead slip, before eventually salvaging a 3-3 draw. Arsène Wenger’s side came close to doing something similar in Monday night’s 2-1 victory at Villa Park, but the resilient backbone they have developed over the last 18 months held firm. Much of the credit for that has gone to Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at centre-back (unbeaten as a pair in the league since January 2012), but it’s a different emphasis throughout the team that’s really making the difference. Wenger’s best teams may be remembered for their passing and their flair, but it’s the hard defensive work of Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere, and even Mesut Özil that is allowing Arsenal to close out the narrow wins that in past years have eluded them. Fulham may never have won at the Gunners in their history – in any competition – but they have managed draws in the last two seasons at the Emirates, so this match provides Arsenal with ample opportunity to demonstrate the change they have undergone and the growth that has taken them to the top of the table.• Paul Wilson on Arsenal’s new-found grit• Fulham have bid rejected for Ravel Morrison2) Pulis’ quest for points is crystal clear in Stoke reunion Tony Pulis should be hailed by Stoke fans as a hero. The man who guided the club from mid-table Championship status to Premier League stalwarts, who took them to an FA Cup Final, who signed Ricardo Fuller. The football may not have been attractive, but it was effective – they were never a soft touch, and the lowest top-flight finish was 14th. However, it’s not that simple. That stolid style of play, coupled with a large outlay on transfers and wages, left fans disgruntled and there were few tears shed when he was shown the door at the end of last season. Mark Hughes was appointed to unpick the conservative tactics – which was more than apparent in the helter-skelter 5-3 loss to Liverpool last week – but it’s proving an arduous task. Meanwhile, Pulis has taken charge at Crystal Palace, and will face his old team for the first time on Saturday. Will the travelling support cheer? Will they jeer? Palace may be languishing at the bottom of the table, but a win could well lift them out of the relegation zone, and will put them just two points behind Stoke. One can’t imagine there’ll be any gratitude shown by the visitors for Pulis’s long service if they travel back to the Potteries without all three points.• From office to Premier League, the rise of Jedinak• John Guidetti signs for Stoke on loan3) Hughton receives dreaded vote of confidenceNow Chris Hughton has received the dreaded vote of confidence how much longer can he last? It’s unclear what the Norwich chief executive, David McNally, hoped to achieve with his interview on BBC Radio Norfolk – but his words did have distinct element of menace about them. “The brief for Chris was to keep us out of the bottom three – we’re not in the bottom three,” which of course begs the question what happens when they are in the bottom three? “In any position at the football club, if you don’t produce results then ultimately that’s how you’ll be measured. Are we disappointed this year with performances? Yes. Are we disappointed we are 15th in the league? Yes … Clearly the results haven’t been what we’d like.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? And, of course, that drop into the relegation zone could happen this weekend if they come a cropper against Hull City. What then? Norwich haven’t done much business in the transfer window – Jonás Guttiérrez has arrived on loan, but there have been no permanent additions, which seems at odds with McNally’s insistence on the primacy of Premier League survival. “We would not contemplate relegation at our club,” says the chief executive. “In a sporting sense, it’s worse than death. We are absolutely focused on making sure this great club stays in the Premier League.” So might the club be waiting to see if Hughton is still in charge before freeing up significant funds to secure their top-flight status?• Hull City agree deal for Shane Long• Chris Hughton must steer clear of the drop zone4) Holt ready to make villains of doubters Aston Villa’s home record may be woeful, seven losses in 11 games is relegation form, but the results away from Villa Park have been much stronger – and with a 3-1 win on their last trip to Anfield Paul Lambert will be hopeful of an upset against Liverpool. The Villa fans may not have been too happy with the loan signing of Grant Holt, but the introduction of the hefty No9 to support Christian Benteke could be a masterstroke. Lambert’s youthful set-up means that his gaggle of promising players don’t have anybody to look up to, or learn from – their most experienced attacker is Gabriel Agbonlahor and at 27, and still infuriatingly inconsistent, he isn’t well placed to act as anybody’s mentor. Holt on the other hand has a wealth of experience, from Singapore, to non-league, to the Premier League, he’s been witness to the vagaries of footballing fortune – and that sort of old head could be just what the dressing room needs. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that in his last top-flight outing he scored against Manchester City at the Etihad – no mean feat – and he’s even got previous at Anfield. A goal their again on Saturday will soon change the doubters minds.• Grant Holt joins Aston Villa on loan• Liverpool land Dunkin’ Donuts deal5) Saints face test of nerveSince the controversial departure of Nigel Adkins Southampton had seemed a model club. A promising young manager, a supportive chairman, an owner willing to inject cash for signings – everything was going swimmingly. But now Nicola Cortese, the chairman, and man who convinced Mauricio Pochettino of the charms of the south coast club, has left suddenly due to disagreements with the owner, Katharina Liebherr. In theory, this shouldn’t have much impact on the pitch – what do players care who signs their pay cheque? However, when the manager has felt moved in the past to make such bald statements as: “Basically, my future in Southampton has to be with Nicola,” and Luke Shaw welcomed the news by saying he was “gutted” it is clear that it’s going to cause some upheaval. Pochettino may have moved to quell the whispers, but if some doubt over his or the squad’s future remains then Sunderland must take advantage of any hesitance within the Southampton ranks. Their style relies upon hard work, pressing, closing the space – if any of the players slack off it can fall apart, and Gus Poyet’s side will have an opportunity to secure some vital points in their fight against relegation.• Pochettino says he is committed to Southampton• Gus Poyet plans to take advantage of a club in turmoil6) West Ham must quell anger over MorrisonWest Ham are said to be furious over Fulham’s alleged tapping up of Ravel Morrison – so much so that they’re willing to report them to the Football Association. It’s bad enough that they face losing one of the few bright spots in their otherwise disappointing campaign, but to lose the young English midfielder to a relegation rival is clearly too much to bear. But might the owners have been better advised to let the injustice slide, and instead set about renegotiating Morrison’s contract, if indeed they are so keen to keep him? When Arsenal successfully charged Chelsea and José Mourinho of tapping up Ashley Cole in 2005 it resulted in record fines for the Blues, Mourinho but also Arsenal’s own player. Come the end of the season not only did they finish second behind champions Chelsea in the league table, but they also saw Cole depart for Stamford Bridge a year later,disgruntled now not just by the “derisory” £60,000-per-week contract offer, but the hefty fine he’d been forced to pay to the FA. Did the furore distract Arsenal? Was Ashley Cole performing under-par for the remainder of his time at the club in part because of the £75,000 fine levied? It’s impossible to know for sure, but if there is a lesson to be learned it’s surely that teams are better off focusing on their own affairs, and not things that are out of their hands. Clubs will always tap up talent that interests them, agents will always seek larger contracts for their clients, and players will always have their heads turned by the next big offer. West Ham cannot afford distractions, they must concentrate on reinforcing the squad and staying in the Premier League, and beating Newcastle on Saturday, rather than petty, lose-lose squabbles with the teams around them.• Lacina Traoré granted work permit for West Ham move• FA sends a warning letter to Alan Pardew7) City goal machine rolls into town99 goals and counting. Manchester City may not be at the top of the league, but at home, at least, they appear unstoppable. There was a little wobble in Newcastle, but a helping hand from the referee saw them victorious, and the 5-0 mauling of Blackburn meant it was business as usual for City – with the added bonus of the return to fitness of Sergio Agüero. Manuel Pellegrini may not want to be led into describing his attacking trio as the best in Europe, but he’s happy to sing the praises of a strikeforce which is the envy of the league. And that’s without the highly-rated Stevan Jovetic, injured for most of the season, but now returning to fitness . It’s a huge ask of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Cardiff team to halt them in their tracks and delay the century celebrations – they’ve managed five clean sheets all season, and only two of those were away from home, against Stoke and Norwich. Peter Crouch and Gary Hooper may have their fans, but they’re hardly Agüero and Dzeko. Solskjaer’s already a United legend of course, and if he were to match Malky Mackay’s early-season victory over City this Saturday he would go a long way to cementing himself in the affections of the South Wales faithful too.• Pellegrini hails free-scoring City• Cardiff chase Ravel Morrison and Wilfried Zaha8) Sherwood must play tactical game to nullify SwansSwansea may have lost to Manchester United last Saturday, but they did enjoy 61% of the possession, with their three central midfielders able to take control in the middle of the pitch. With a bit more incision it could have proved another bad weekend for David Moyes. At Tottenham, Tim Sherwood is persisting with his switch to a 4-4-2 – allowing Roberto Soldado some much-needed support up front. However, while this may work against the lower placed teams, and when matching up against teams set up in a similar fashion, it seems likely to leave Spurs exposed against sides that overload the midfield. Arsenal have rarely had such a comfortable ride in the north London derby as they did in their FA Cup third round tie, with Sherwood unwilling – or unable – to compromise his vision in order to combat their midfield three. If he shows the same stubborn streak against Michael Laudrup’s team expect Swansea again to dominate the possession. The question then becomes whether Wilfried Bony can find a way to break Spurs’ resistance at the back, or whether Emmanuel Adebayor has one of those rare good days to get his manager out of jail.• Tottenham prepared to sell Etienne Capoue• Adnan Januzaj proves difference against Swansea9) Will Special One release the hounds?After Chelsea lost to Sunderland in the Carling Cup José Mourinho sounded an ominous warning that he was considering a shift in their tactics to help the defence: “If I want to win 1-0, I think I can, as I think it’s one of the easiest things in football. It’s not so difficult, as you don’t give players the chance to express themselves.” There swiftly followed a dour 0-0 draw at Arsenal, and Chelsea have conceded just one goal – at home to Liverpool – since the League Cup exit. In truth it was a slightly disingenuous statement – Mourinho had already shown his true colours in just the third game of the season, when he took his side to Old Trafford to play out a 0-0 draw in which neither side seemed to have much interest in pushing for a win. However, those sort of tactics are easy to justify away from home against a strong side – but will Chelsea fans, and the owner, accept a similar performance at home to a Manchester United team looking distinctly wobbly? Moyes’s team have played sides from the current top six seven times in the league so far this season, managing only five points and a solitary win from those game. Now shorn of their main attacking threats, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both injured, they’re ripe for the taking. So will Mourinho unleash the hounds – or will United’s lingering reputation of strength and his natural conservatism result in another disappointing “Super Sunday” clash at Stamford Bridge?• Robin van Persie: Moyes will turn thing around soon• Wayne Rooney may be out for three more weeks10) Is Mel a Wenger or more of a Ramos?When the TV companies picked West Bromwich Albion v Everton for the Monday night match one suspects it was more out of obligation – every team must feature a certain number of times – rather than any great expectations of the quality or excitement at the sporting contest. However, as luck would have it, it gives everybody the chance to witness first hand the club’s new manager in his first match in charge. Not much is known about Pepe Mel, sacked at Rayo Vallecano after leading them to the second division, then sacked by Real Betis following a poor run at the end of 2013 it’s an appointment that’s come somewhat out of left field, and doesn’t seem like a significant improvement upon Steve Clarke, who’d enjoyed such a good start to his managerial career last season. The Baggies’ fans never seemed wholly convinced with the rationale for disposing of Clarke, and a strong start by Mel will be vital if he’s to get them on side and lead the team up the table. Of course, a match against Everton is no easy start – Roberto Martínez’s side are maintaining their push for a Champions League place, and have upset far stronger sides than West Brom this season, so the crowd may be wise to reserve judgement until next week’s encounter against Aston Villa, direct rivals both geographically and in league positions. Mel is not the first foreign manager to arrive without name recognition on these shores – ‘Arsène Who?’ springs to mind, as does the similarly timed arrival of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton last year. But then so too do the names Gross, Venglos and Perrin. So what is it to be for Mel, is he a Wenger or more of a Juande Ramos?• Matej Vydra: Pepe Mel needs a great start• Everton sell Nikica Jelavic to Hull City• Sid Lowe on new Baggies boss Pep MelPremier LeagueArsenalManchester CityManchester UnitedChelseaLiverpoolTottenham HotspurEvertonNewcastle UnitedSouthamptonHull CityAston VillaStoke CitySwansea CityWest Bromwich AlbionNorwich CityFulhamWest Ham UnitedCardiff CitySunderlandCrystal PalaceToby Mosestheguardian.com 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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GUARDIAN – Liverpool took a risk with Luis Suárez and may have to pay a high price

The Uruguay forward only has himself to blame for a suspension which blows a hole in Brendan Rodgers’ rebuilding plansLuis Suárez admitted he and his wife, Sofia, “cried a lot” during that week of travelling back and forth to Manchester to protest his innocence in the Patrice Evra affair. There was utter despair when the guilty verdict arrived accompanied by an eight-match suspension. We can only guess at the extent of the misery in the Suárez household following the 10-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic but, crucially, so can Liverpool. Their confidence that Suárez will be a Liverpool player next season can no longer be absolute.There is one conversation that Suárez needs to have above all others at Liverpool. He has been told to have anger management counselling since Sunday’s ludicrous assault on the Chelsea defender, and in psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters has renowned help at hand on a weekly basis at Melwood. He met the managing director, Ian Ayre, on Monday to discuss a club fine and solicitor Natalie Wignall on Tuesday to compile a written submission to the independent regulatory commission that decided his punishment. The striker’s insistence that an automatic three-match ban would suffice undermined his contrition before being rejected outright by the three-man panel.Now the striker and his agent, Pere Guardiola, will have to meet Brendan Rodgers for talks that could shape the club’s direction under the Liverpool manager. The “no player is bigger than the club” theory is under renewed scrutiny at Anfield in light of Wednesday’s penalty. Liverpool’s position on Suárez did not change after Evra or in the wake of biting an opponent for the second time in less than three years – not for sale. The player has never expressed a desire to leave, not even after the controversies of last season, a change in manager at Liverpool and with Juventus willing to take him to Turin.The resolve to lead Liverpool back into Champions League contention may harden as a result of his latest punishment but that appears hugely optimistic from an Anfield perspective. As he contemplates a place on the sidelines until September – Confederations Cup duties with Uruguay apart – he knows there will be opportunity to make a fresh start this summer. Given the severity of his latest punishment it would be perfectly understandable if Suárez considered taking one. He did, after all, leave Ajax two months after receiving a seven-match ban for biting Otman Bakkal of PSV Eindhoven.Rodgers called it “victimisation” – and that was only after Tony Pulis had condemned a Suárez dive against Stoke City when the Liverpool striker had been stamped on by Robert Huth. No doubt that comment reflected the mood inside the Liverpool dressing room. Did Wednesday’s punishment fit the crime? Absolutely, in terms of the shock value, though before Liverpool rail at the sentence and an inconsistent FA disciplinary process in clear need of fine-tuning, it is worth remembering that only one person is responsible for their latest problem.Suárez’s 30 goals this season account for 34% of Liverpool’s total of 88. But in the past two seasons he has received suspensions adding up to 20 matches. The club’s finest player will not be available for approximately the next 21 weeks – subject to a likely appeal – but will be paid comfortably more than £2m during that period.Even with baggage Suárez would command a transfer fee this summer that, if reinvested properly, would strengthen Rodgers’ squad if not his limited number of world-class options. But Liverpool need to know immediately whether their leading striker wants to stay or go. Their summer transfer strategy rests on his answer, as does their start to next season; a crucial campaign for Rodgers.The Liverpool manager has spoken of “flying” in August, a conviction based on finally having his recruitment team in place, his ideas imposed on the squad and the prospect of making a few key additions. The remaining target for this season is a modest one, to finish above Everton in the table and claim bragging rights that count for little outside Merseyside, but to enter next season without Suárez for six games represents a major setback to those “flying” plans.Liverpool did not fare disastrously during Suárez’s eight-match suspension last season – losing two, drawing two and winning four, including three cup ties as Kenny Dalglish’s team progressed to the Carling and FA Cup finals. That Suárez-less period saw Craig Bellamy inspire Liverpool to a Carling Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City, Dirk Kuyt punish Manchester United in the FA Cup and Andy Carroll begin to find the confidence that helped him flourish in the final weeks. All three scored in a 3-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers, the final match of Suárez’s suspension, but all three were allowed to move on and the responsibility – and the risk – on the Uruguay forward increased. He was worth that risk until Sunday.Luis SuárezLiverpoolAndy Hunterguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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GUARDIAN – Kenny Dalglish denies Luis Suárez racism row cost him Liverpool job

• Scot defended Suárez while FSG stayed silent• ‘I was only the manager,’ says DalglishKenny Dalglish has said he was not dismissed as Liverpool manager due to his defence of Luis Suárez and believes more senior Anfield figures should have taken responsibility for the club’s handling of the striker’s racism charge.Dalglish was at the forefront of Liverpool’s belligerent support for Suárez after he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and handed an eight-match ban last season. The Scot was often the only person to defend Liverpool’s position with the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, silent throughout and the managing director Ian Ayre extending an apology only after Suárez refused to shake Evra’s hand at Old Trafford.Asked whether the Suárez saga had cost him his job, Dalglish, who led Liverpool to the Carling Cup trophy and the FA Cup final, but only eighth in the Premier League last season after major investment in players, said: “I don’t think so. That was up to them [the owners]. I can go to sleep at night knowing what I did I did to the best of my ability and if that does not come up to their expectations or they want to go in another direction – they own the club.”The owners made the decision they thought was best. They don’t want to make a decision which is detrimental to the club because if they did that they would hang themselves because they have a huge investment in it. I think anything that is not done in a positive manner cannot help you but I was only the manager. There are other people with greater intelligence than me and greater responsibilities than me when it comes to something like this.”I think [it was] the club as a whole. It wasn’t just me [making decisions]. The T-shirts [worn in support of Suárez at Wigan] were the players wanting to show their support for a team-mate. It might have been misguided and not have been right but it was not me who decided it.”Dalglish was highly critical of the process that led to Suárez being found guilty by an independent panel appointed by the Football Association. In an interview with TalkSport, he claimed he would not be as co-operative with the authorities should he find himself in a similar predicament in future.The former Liverpool manager added: “A lot of things were misguided, misinterpreted and misrepresented. I was always brought up to tell the truth and what I believed to be the truth, I said. If it ever came up again I would do it differently. I would be less helpful and less forthcoming and I think that is sad.”Kenny DalglishLiverpoolLuis SuárezAndy Hunterguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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