Andy Gray and Richard Keys: Age is catching up with Gerrard

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Time running out for Stevie G?: Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers with Gerrard.

Liverpool have had a poor start to the season and are clearly missing the energy and drive provided by Luis Suarez last season. Today, they take on Everton in the Merseyside derby determined to get things back on track. Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who front beIN Sports’ EPL coverage, discuss why Brendan Rodgers’ team has struggled.

Andy Gray: I was staggered, five games in, to hear Brendan Rodgers describe his team as ‘a little bit broken’. Ok, they have lost one of the best players in the world in Suarez and they have new players who have yet to settle in so they are finding life tough, but he sent the wrong message to Liverpool fans and the players.

Liverpool are low on confi¬dence and without Suarez and the injured Daniel Sturridge they lack penetration. They are looking for the youngster Raheem Sterling to inspire them every time he plays and that’s not going to happen.

Steven Gerrard, as captain, needs to step up and show some guidance, but he looks to be struggling and Mario Balotelli has been anything but Super Mario since he arrived. They look to be at a crossroads and today’s match could decide which way they turn. They either raise their game, beat their Merseyside rivals and move on from there or give another iffy performance like they gave against minnows Ludogorets in the Champions League, and Middlesbrough in the League Cup, and continue to fade so there is plenty of soul searching to do.

Gerrard is now 34-years-old and you can’t hold back time. I have been there. I know what it’s like in a game when somebody comes past you as if you were standing still and there have been times this season when his lack of pace has been exposed. Stewart Downing did it for West Ham when Sam Allardyce played him at the top of the diamond against Gerrard and it was very effective.

It’s not easy to play in Gerrard’s position because you have to cover a lot of grass and that ain’t easy at his age so maybe they have to look at a change of formation and play Lucas alongside Steven or, and I hesitate to even suggest this, the time could be coming where he needs to be left out of the side.

While he is not the cause of what is happening to Liverpool he is part of the reason.

As for Everton, they need to stop conceding so many goals. It’s alarming that they have the worst defence in the league with 13 goals conceded and one clean sheet. They look decent going forward but they are far too open and exp-osed and there have been far too many individual errors.

The difference between Liverpool and Everton for me is Roberto Martinez’s side look like they can score goals. Shoring up a defence is much easier to solve than getting your attackers to put the ball in the net but I think these two sides are pretty evenly matched so I am going for this match to finish 2-2.

Richard Keys: Liverpool remind me of Spurs when they sold their best player, Gareth Bale, spent loads of money and thought the team would be better off. It’s the same sort of scenario at Liverpool with the sale of Suarez and I think, for the first time, Rodgers is under pressure and so too is his captain.

Despite his public support for Stevie G, I think Rodgers would quite like to move the club on and take it in a direction where perhaps Jordan Henderson is doing that job. Making him vice–captain is a step in that direction.

I wouldn’t leave him out today because this is a game, with its special atmosphere, that is tailor-made for him. He does look his age and is no longer dominating games in the way he should.

I would also question the signing of Balotelli. He has certainly made an impact off the pitch with his tweet about Manchester United the other day and Liverpool don’t need that kind of distraction. Every coach thinks they can get something out of players like Balotelli and of course they can’t.

His contribution to Liverpool will never outweigh the baggage he brings. I’m not sure Rodgers knows how to get his team firing on all cylinders but I do think they will beat Everton because Martinez has got more problems with that leaky defence. 3-1.

Chelsea v Aston Villa AG: Villa flatter to deceive because they don’t have anyone who is go¬ing to score regularly. Chelsea will be far too good for them. 3-0.

RK: Chelsea need to be careful because Villa are no mugs this sea¬son. It will probably be a goalless first half and while it won’t be easy Chelsea will eventually wear them down and win 2-0.

Crystal Palace v Leicester AG: Leicester beat Man United 5-3 so, understandably, you think Palace will be no problem. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that and that’s why I think Palace will get their first home win of the season. 1-0.

RK: Neil Warnock has done a much better job than I thought he would at Palace and, like Andy, I don’t think Leicester will have the same intensity they had against United. 2-1 Palace.

Hull City v Man City AG: Hull are a half decent side but City lost too many games against teams like this last season and Manuel Pellegrini won’t let that happen again. 2-0 away win.

RK: I refer to Man City’s fragility on a weekly basis and I still think that dressing room is only a heartbeat from implosion at any given time but they should win this. 3-1.

Man United v West Ham AG: It’s hard to have any confidence in United at the moment and West Ham’s away form has been pretty good. However, I can’t believe there will not be some kind of backlash to what happened at Leicester. 2-1 home win.

RK: Sam Allardyce will be buzzing after last week against Liverpool. He will front load with big guys against United’s defence, if you can call it that. United have amazing quality up front and, of course, they might tear the Hammers apart, but I’m sticking with a 2-1 away win.

Southampton v QPR AG: Away from home QPR look to have nothing and have been too easy to beat. The only thing that will stop Southampton winning is not taking QPR seriously enough. 2-0 home win.

RK: QPR are probably the worst Premier League side I have ever seen and that takes some doing. 3-0 Saints win.

Sunderland v Swansea AG: Sunderland are not easy to beat and Swansea are a bit of a unknown quantity. Because it is at the Stadium of Light I’m going for a 1-0 home victory.

RK: I’m with Andy on this. After their good start Swansea are begin¬ning to find their true level, which for me, is bottom six. 1-0.

Arsenal v Tottenham AG: Another one of those derby matches where history plays a part. Arsenal usually win this and I have seen nothing that is likely to change that. Spurs have been very iffy and I don’t think the players have yet bought into what Mauricio Pochettino is trying to do. 3-1 to the Gunners.

RK: I would love to be proved wrong but I think Spurs still have too much work to do before they can worry teams like Arsenal. 2-1.

West Brom v Burnley AG: Baggies manager Alan Irvine has had two great results in the past week so they will be up for this. It’s difficult to get three wins on the trot but I think, against Burnley, they’ll do it. 2-1.

RK: Burnley just cannot find a goal. Two good wins for West Brom will have done wonders for their confidence and although I still think they will struggle this season this is the perfect game for them. 2-0.

Stoke v Newcastle AG: Stoke have been awful at home and Newcastle are a bit better on the road. There’s not much between these two but I think Stoke will get that first home win of the season. 2-0.

RK: Momentum says Newcastle should win this but I agree with Andy that Stoke have to start winning at home some time and this could be where it starts. 1-0.

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Enrique defiant over Xavi’s lack of first-team action

Andy West 27/09/2014
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Reliable option: Xavi in training earlier this week.

In the wake of a poor perform­ance against Malaga on Wednes­day night, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is coming under increasing pressure to give more playing time to veteran midfielder Xavi.

Barca dropped their first points of the season with the goalless draw at the Rosaleda, which saw the Cat­alan team fail to register a single shot on target.

Xavi was left on the bench throughout the encounter, and the 34-year-old has only played 43 min­utes of action in the opening five league games, clearly demonstrat­ing the seriousness of Enrique’s intent to build a new midfield around Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.

Looking ahead to this evening’s meeting with Granada at the Nou Camp, Enrique refused to yield to suggestions that the introduction of Xavi could provide a cure for the lethargy they displayed at Malaga.

“Everyone knows that Xavi is special,” he said. “I am very happy with how he is conducting himself and he is an important player, but I will use him when I consider it appropriate.

“You [the media] can make what­ever interpretation you like. But I can only pick 11 players, and when­ever you ask me about individual players I will give the same answer: they are all important.”

Enrique appeared to be frus­trated by the criticism his team has received for their performance at Malaga, and he added: “There’s no need to be dramatic. We will con­tinue to follow the same path. The biggest pressure we face is the de­mands we place upon ourselves.”

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid’s Tiago says the club need time to rebuild as they look to rediscover the form that swept them to an improbable title last season.

Diego Simeone’s men returned to winning ways with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Almeria on Wednes­day night and will be put to the test again by resurgent Sevilla tonight.

Tiago said: “We know there have been many departures and arrivals and a team is not built eve­ry night. But the will to win is there and that ambition and enthusiasm will lead us to where we want to be.”

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Report will not be published, says FIFA

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FIFA’s head honcho: Sepp Blatter.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has rejected calls to publish a secret report into alleged World Cup bid­ding corruption.

The report into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was compiled by FIFA’s independ­ent investigator Michael Garcia but Blatter and FIFA’s legal chief say any decision on publishing the report is out of their hands and would threaten the confidentiality that had been guaranteed to the 75 witnesses.

Garcia himself and a number of FIFA executive committee mem­bers including Northern Ireland’s Jim Boyce have called for the report to be published.

Russia won the bid for the 2018 World Cup while Qatar will stage the 2022 tournament.

Any decision to publish now rests with German judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert, who is considering the report and will announce his find­ings in November.

Blatter said: “We are bound by the regulations which have been accepted and the report of the investigatory chamber first has to go to the adjudicatory chamber and we know now at the beginning of November [the chairman] will be ready to give his report.”

FIFA’s legal director Marco Vil­liger added: “The principle of con­fidentiality is enshrined in the [ethics] code and if not perhaps cer­tain witnesses or whistleblowers might not co-operate to the same extent if confidentiality is not guar­anteed.”

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