Clarke: Rodgers is under pressure

17 August 2012 15:42

West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke believes Brendan Rodgers must guide Liverpool back into the top four.

Clarke was Kenny Dalglish’s assistant at the Merseyside club last season, but was sacked alongside the Scot following a disappointing eighth-placed English Premier League finish.

And the 48-year-old, who has since taken the top job at West Brom – Liverpool’s opponents on the first day of the new season – believes Rodgers could face the same fate.

“The owners have said top four is not imperative for the current season,” he told reporters.

“I don’t believe that.

“A club like Liverpool have to be there challenging for the top four – I don’t think they can accept anything less.”

The former Chelsea coach also said Liverpool’s League Cup victory and journey to the FA Cup final last term was proof of the progress made under Dalglish.

“When you look at the team we were starting to build and to reach two cup finals,” Clarke said.

“If you are reaching cup finals, you know you have a team who can compete. It is not an easy achievement. Not many teams do it.”

The former Scotland international defender went on to defend the club’s transfer record under Dalglish, who spent vast amounts of money on the likes of Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll following the departure of big-name players such as Fernando Torres.

“We signed good players,” Clarke said. “Whether they get value for money, it depends on how they are used this season. Jordan (Henderson), Andy, Stewart and Jose Enrique were all in their first seasons.

“There were a number of new signings and it takes time for them to bed in. It took Andy quite a while to settle into the club and the way we wanted to play, but towards the end he was making a big contribution. He is a really good player.”

Clarke also revealed that Rodgers was open to keeping him at the club as assistant manager before owners Fenway Sports Group opted for a complete clearout.

“I actually got sacked by Liverpool,” he said. “I spoke to Brendan after Kenny left and I was still there.

“Brendan said he was one of the candidates and told me, ‘Don’t do anything silly because maybe we could work together’.

“But after they took Brendan in, they wanted to re-jig and reshape the whole staff. The owners wanted to clean the place out and start with fresh people. There were two or three jobs still available and I was fortunate to get this.

“(Saturday’s clash at the Hawthorns is) a big game for me because it is the first game in charge at West Bromwich Albion.”

Premier League preview: Manchester City v Southampton

17 August 2012 15:31

Newly promoted Southampton face the daunting task of taking on Premier League champions Manchester City on Sunday.

Southampton followed in the footsteps of Norwich to secure back-to-back promotions but Nigel Adkins’ men will be in no doubt as to the step up in quality when they tackle Roberto Mancini’s side at Etihad Stadium.

In their first taste of top-flight football since 2005, Southampton will have their work cut out in the opening four weeks with fixtures against last season’s top three – City, Manchester United and Arsenal – as well as Wigan.

Last year’s leading scorer in the Championship, Rickie Lambert, will be challenged with another step up in class and will need all the support he can get from livewire Adam Lallana and signings Jay Rodriguez and Steve Davis.

English winger Rodriguez made the move from Burnley for a club-record fee of seven million pounds while former Rangers’ captain Davis will provide much needed steel in the midfield department.

This clash looms as the biggest mismatch on the opening weekend of fixtures despite City’s uncharacteristic lack of activity in the transfer market.

The champions had not added to their squad until Sunday when the capture of young Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell for 12 million pounds was announced.

Mancini voiced his frustrations at the club’s lack of activity but refused to expand on his irritations with City the only Premier League club without a signing until Rodwell’s transfer.

Still, a fully fit Carlos Tevez will provide a huge boost to City while the enigmatic Mario Balotelli has remained with the club after a stellar Euro 2012 campaign with finalist Italy.

In their final match before the season proper, City looked fluid as they picked up the Community Shield with a 3-2 defeat of Chelsea on Saturday.

Southampton, in a rather ominous result, were comprehensively outplayed at St Mary’s in a 4-0 defeat in their final warm-up match against Italian side Udinese.

Premier League preview: Wigan v Chelsea

17 August 2012 15:29

Chelsea will look to get their Premier League season off to the perfect start when they travel to Wigan on Sunday.

After capturing the title in 2010 and finishing runners-up the following year, Chelsea had a disastrous campaign last term when they limped in to sixth place.

But despite having their worst Premier League season in the Roman Abramovich era, the east London club lifted the Champions League trophy and the FA Cup.

That double success earned then interim manager Roberto Di Matteo the full-time job and ahead of this season the club have already made some big signings.

They may have lost Champions League hero Didier Drogba, but the addition of German Marko Marin, Brazilian Oscar and Belgium’s Eden Hazard has boosted an otherwise ageing squad.

With the departures of Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou, the Blues lack considerable firepower up front with much of their hopes now resting on Spaniard Fernando Torres, who has endured a tough time so far at Stamford Bridge.

The former Liverpool striker did net in the 3-2 loss to reigning champions Manchester City in the Community Shield last week as Chelsea finished off their pre-season preparations with their fourth straight defeat.

Wigan, who finished seven points clear of the relegation zone last year in 15th place, have done little in the way of transfers with just midfielder Fraser Fyvie and defender Ivan Ramis coming to the club.

But they have lost their all time leading Premier League goal scorer with Colombian Hugo Rodallega departing the club on a free transfer to join Fulham.

Roberto Marinez’s side capped off a difficult pre-season with a 1-0 loss at Spanish side Celta Vigo, giving them just two wins from six matches.

The last time these two sides met, in April, Chelsea needed a 90th-minute strike from Juan Mata to secure a 2-1 victory, while their clash at the DW Stadium ended in a 1-1 draw.

Welbeck ready to fight for spot

17 August 2012 15:23

Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck is excited by the comparison of the club’s current strike force to the quartet from 1999.

Robin van Persie scored 30 English Premier League goals for Arsenal last season and has linked up with Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez.

Welbeck is relishing the extra competition van Persie will provide in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad and is very happy to hear of the parallels drawn between the current collection of forwards and the combination of Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it (the comparison with 1999),” Welbeck told reporters.

“But I was a massive United fan then. I watched that whole season all the way through, topped off by the Champions League final and the celebrations.

“Cole, Yorke, Sheringham, Solskjaer… that was a great strike force.”

The 21-year-old was a regular feature in the United side last season and many have speculated that van Persie’s arrival could limit his chances in the coming campaign.

But Welbeck insists that competition for places is a good thing.

“We’ve got a good variety of strikers at the club again now, capable of scoring goals in the Premier League and all of the competitions,” Welbeck said.

“We’ve also got Dimitar Berbatov, (Federico) Macheda and Will Keane, who unfortunately got injured at the back end of last season.

“That was unlucky for him as we thought this season might be his chance to make his first-team breakthrough. With all these strikers we’ve got at the club it’s a good problem for the manager to have.”

Owen still in Pulis´ sights

17 August 2012 15:03

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis has refused to give up hope of signing former Manchester United striker Michael Owen.

Owen was released by United at the end of the 2011/12 season after three years at Old Trafford and is yet to find a new home.

A move to the Britannia Stadium has been touted for much of the pre-season, with Peter Crouch urging the 32-year-old to join him at Stoke.

And Pulis says there is still a possibility of the former England international joining strikers Crouch, Jon Walters, Mamady Sidibe, Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome at the club.

“Michael hasn’t gone anywhere and it’s still a possibility,” he said.

“There’s still stuff happening and going on. Whether we can do a deal or not is another matter.”

“I’ve always said he’s a good player and someone I think people in the club would like to have around.

“He’s a great professional as well and Crouchy has shown what great professionals can do for the football club.”

Pulis, meanwhile, says a loan move for the versatile Macedonian international Gordan Popov has been put on hold due to work permit issues.

“He’s got to go to a tribunal on Wednesday so we’ll see,” he said.

“We’re still looking to do some business if we can, and we always tend to do our business at the back end of the transfer window.”

Stoke kick-off their English Premier League season with trip to promoted Reading on Saturday.