Monday, 31 December 2012

Super Suarez sinks sorry QPR

Liverpool returned to winning ways with a convincing 3-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road yesterday. In the absence of boss Brendan Rodgers, who returned to Merseyside at lunch on doctor's orders, assistant manager Colin Pascoe oversaw an impressive performance from the Reds, as Luis Suarez (2) and Daniel Agger put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt after only half an hour had been played.

Liverpool were as good as QPR were bad during a first half that the visitors completely dominated. The London side, low on confidence following a disappointing season and seemingly uninspired by new manager Harry Redknapp, were embarrassingly poor and, in the words of Bill Shankly, were lucky to get nil. Their opponents, on the other hand, oozed class and were in the ascendancy from the first to the final whistle.

Luis Suarez, in particular, appeared highly motivated and determined to win the game almost single-handedly, although, thankfully, for once he didn't lack support up front. On his return to his former employers Sterling performed well, while Downing continued his recent run of form and Henderson took advantage of a rare starting opportunity.

The first sight of goal Suarez had saw the number seven's shot punched clear by Julio Cesar. It wasn't long, though, until the Uruguayan was beating the goalkeeper for fun. On ten minutes Henderson fed Suarez, who had cleverly worked himself some space before gliding effortlessly past his marker and finding the bottom corner with consummate and classy ease.

Suarez slides past the defence and opens the scoring
Six minutes later, Suarez doubled his personal tally and the Reds' advantage with a close range finish after he'd picked up possession from Downing on the right wing and seen his low cross rebound back to him.

By this stage Liverpool were coasting and centre backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, who had been hassled endlessly only days earlier away to Stoke City, now had their cigars out and their feet up due to QPR's utter inability to test them. The Dane did put the Sunday papers down for one moment, though, to add to the Reds' lead minutes before the half hour mark. A short corner was played to Gerrard, whose whipped cross was headed home by the towering Agger.

Agger watches his header beat Cesar
The away side could have been ahead by five or six at the interval, as they persistently searched for goals to boost their goal difference. Henderson flashed a shot narrowly wide while Gerrard's deflected strike was cleared off the line after Suarez had wreaked more havoc in QPR's box.

In response, Adel Taarabt, arguably the hosts' only bright spark, shot straight at Reina and then wide of the target. It was the sum total of a woeful first half display from a team seemingly destined to be enduring wet Wednesday night trips to Huddersfield next season.

After the break, Liverpool, satisfied with three points and three goals, took their foot off the gas while QPR improved a little, although not enough to mount a hugely improbably comeback. They may have managed to begin their revival by recovering from two goals behind at home to the Reds last season, but there was no prospect of them repeating that remarkable feat. 

Their lack of professionalism was also amplified when Stephane M'Bia was rightly booked by referee Anthony Taylor for diving. QPR's only vaguely positive movement came when Armand Traore's drilled cross flashed dangerously across the face of goal. Apart from that, their only second half achievement was preventing a cricket score.

The only causes of frustration for Kopites were the refusal to substitute key players like Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, who could clearly benefit from a rest during a hectic festive fixture list, especially when the match was evidently already won, and an injury that could rule Enrique out for several weeks.

Nonetheless, Liverpool could be extremely pleased with their afternoon's work, which elevated them to ninth in the table, eight points off fourth and only five behind fifth-placed Arsenal, who admittedly have a game in hand. If Luis Suarez can remain fit and keep up this form then there's every chance the Reds will enjoy a much improved second half of the season. 

Key to their progress now is discovering how to remove the inherent inconsistency Liverpool have been suffering from. The roller-coaster ride may be enjoyable in a perverse way, but consistent and continued improvement is both preferable and possible. 

Trying to instill some consistency in his side is likely to plague Rodgers more than any virus, but if he wants to remain in the Anfield hot seat then he's got to find a way to snap his troops out of their yo-yo like form.

Happy New Year! You'll Never Walk Alone

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Potters punish poor Reds

A dream start was followed by a nightmarish performance last night, as Liverpool fell to a disappointing but ultimately unsurprising defeat at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium. Gerrard's early penalty gave the travelling Kop hope but goals from Walters (2) and Jones secured three fully deserved points for the Potters and frustratingly continued the Reds' unpredictable yo-yo form.

Brendan Rodgers naively selected the same side that beat Fulham 4-0 at Anfield four days previously, ignoring the fact that games against Fulham at home and Stoke away are markedly different prospects. As a result, Liverpool's defence struggled to cope with the physical presence of Stoke's attack. A third centre back and 5-3-2 formation would have been advisable but Rodgers seemingly lacked the pragmatism to alter his starting line-up depending on the opposition.

Many expected an unexciting encounter with little in the way of goalmouth action. They were proved comprehensively wrong after a thrilling start to the match produced three goals. First, Gerrard converted Liverpool's first spot kick of the season with ease after Suarez was clearly fouled in the penalty area by Ryan Shawcross.

Unfortunately, defensive errors then cost the Reds dearly. Agger failed to deal with Shawcross' long punt up field and, after Skrtel slipped at the crucial moment, Walters ran through and beat Reina to level only a few moments after the hosts had fell behind. To make things worse, on 12 minutes Jones evaded his marker, Agger, far too easily and headed Whealan's corner beyond Reina and into the net.

Leap for joy! Jones celebrates a remarkable turnaround
With their incessant pressing and evident desire, Stoke managed to subdue Liverpool's normal dominance and, as the Potters are notoriously difficult to score against, the visitors faced an uphill struggle. Gerrard shot wide from range and Begovic made a good save to prevent Suarez's blast from a narrow angle finding the back of his net, but the comeback that the Reds attempted to instigate was insufficient. Stoke retained an attacking threat as well, Reina impressively tipping Matthew Etherington's threatening right footed strike over the cross bar.

Liverpool's task became doubly difficult four minutes after the restart, as Walters controlled the ball and magnificently volleyed past the helpless Reina following Jones' flick on from a throw in. 

Not good enough- Liverpool's defence lament conceding again
Ever the controversial figure, Luis Suarez, who has been on the receiving end of criticism from Stoke supremo Tony Pulis in the past, was booked for a rash challenge on goalkeeper Asmir Begovic before Howard Webb disallowed his goal following Henderson's handball in the build up. 

The Uruguayan's frustration visibly grew as his teammates once again relied on him to try and carve out a route back into the contest. He failed to do so and, bar a curling Gerrard effort that Begovic stopped, Liverpool rarely looked like troubling a Stoke side who moved above them in the table as a result of last night's defeat. 

To improve, Liverpool must first concentrate on replicating Stoke's enviable home form and making Anfield a fortress once again. Moreover, with average players and a mid-table side, Rodgers must be more flexible and willing to compromise his principles if necessary to get a result. The defensive grit and determination that was desperately needed against the Potters was fatally missing last night. 

Nonetheless, there's little he can do with the squad as it is at the moment. The January transfer window cannot open quickly enough for Liverpool.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Liverpool thump four past Fulham

Liverpool returned to winning ways in emphatic fashion against Fulham at Anfield yesterday, smashing four goals past the hapless Londoners, who failed to produce anything in response. Martin Skrtel opened the scoring spectacularly, Steven Gerrard- back to his best- doubled the hosts' lead, the ever improving Stewart Downing put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt soon after the interval and Luis Suarez ended his mini goal drought with his first December goal in injury time.

Following last weekend's embarrassing home defeat to lowly Aston Villa, a win and positive performance against Fulham were imperatives in front of a long-suffering Anfield crowd, who had only witnessed three League victories this season prior to kick-off. As promised, Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling were rested, as Shelvey, Lucas and Gerrard occupied the centre of the pitch while Suso and Downing supported lone striker Luis Suarez.

After beginning the better of the two teams, Liverpool were rewarded eight minutes in with a fantastic strike from Martin Skrtel, who thumped home from inside the penalty area after a corner landed favourably for him.

Skrtel slides in celebration of opening the scoring
The Slovakian's fellow centre back lacked his goalscoring prowess, as a stunned Anfield found out when Agger unbelievably fired over the bar from literally yards out following good build up play from Gerrard and Suarez. At that point, particularly after Reina anxiously dealt with Richardson's shot, nervy Kopites thought it might be one of those days where the Reds fail to add to their early lead and get punished as a result.

Thankfully, the superb Steven Gerrard, who was delightfully pinging passes across the pitch from his deeper role, calmed some of those nerves ten minutes before the break when he broke forward to latch onto Downing's clever pass and impressively found the bottom corner with his shot. 

Captain fantastic enjoys netting the Reds' second of the evening
Revelling in his preferred right wing role, rather than being stuck at left back, Downing continued to impress, putting the match to bed as a contest six minutes after the restart. The England international, who recently revealed Rodgers has allowed him to leave if he wants, surged into the box from the right hand side and fired past Schwarzer with panache.

From that point on, it was really all about seeing how many goals Liverpool could score to boost their goal difference and propel them as far up the table as possible. In pursuit of that aim, Johnson and Downing shot wide, while Gerrard forced Schwarzer to make a good save before Suarez somehow managed to bundle his way through Fulham's defence but was eventually foiled by the out-rushing goalkeeper.

Nonetheless, after Reina prevented Hugo Rodallega's free kick clinching an undeserved consolation for the woeful visitors, Suarez scored the fourth of the evening and his eleventh of the season, converting Enrique's cut back from close range.

Cherry on top of the cake- Suarez adds a fourth in injury time
Suarez's strike was the proverbial cherry on top of the cake that was Liverpool's performance yesterday. Ironically, though, one of the most pleasing aspects of the Reds' victory over Fulham was that so many other players found the back of the net, hopefully reducing our reliance on the skillful Uruguayan in the future. A clean sheet was also crucial as, with Reina not at his best, defensive confidence must be earned and maintained.

Up to eighth and only five points off fourth, things seem to be looking up once again for Liverpool. A productive Christmas period is crucial to kick starting our season and heading into the New Year with more momentum and points on the board.


Monday, 17 December 2012

Benteke brilliance hands Villa victory over Liverpool

Liverpool's brief run of form came to an abrupt end on Saturday, as Aston Villa managed to claim a 3-1 victory in front of a stunned Anfield crowd. Star striker Christian Benteke was clearly the man of the match, as, sandwiched between his two goals, he set up Weimman with a world class assist, which demonstrated why the Midlanders' £18 million man Darren Bent has been confined to the substitutes' bench over recent weeks.

Despite their good record versus Villa- Liverpool have gained more points (72) against the Villains than against any other team- the Reds were simply not at the races and, for all their possession and goalscoring chances, they never looked like earning anything from the contest after Benteke put the visitors three up soon after the interval.

After Anfield observed a moment of applause for Phil Taylor, the former Liverpool player and manager who passed away recently, Liverpool began the match the brighter, pressing high up the pitch and forcing Villa's defence into mistakes. Five minutes in Lichaj almost turned Downing's cross into his own net, before the ex-Villain struck just wide of Guzan's goal from range.

Perhaps Liverpool's best chance went begging midway through the first period as, after stealing possession from Herd just outside the area, Suarez squared to the well placed Shelvey. Unfortunately, Shelvey took too much time on the ball and was eventually well tackled by Baker just as he went to pull the proverbial trigger.

Liverpool fans sportingly joined Villa supporters in their nineteenth minute applause for Stiliyan Petrov, the Bulgarian international who is still battling with leukaemia. They were stunned into silence ten minutes later, though, when the visitors took the lead completely against the run of play. Benteke collected the ball 25 yards from goal and arrowed the ball past Reina and into the corner of the net.

Suarez then smashed a shot into the side netting and Weimman took advantage of a poor back header from Johnson to loop the ball over Reina and onto the roof of the net, before the 21-year old Austrian tucked Benteke's ingenious back heel beyond Reina to double Villa's lead and leave Liverpool with a mountain to climb in the second half.

Weimman wheels of in celebration in front of a disbelieving Kop
Introduced at the break to add an extra dimension to our attack, Cole quickly helped Benteke to put the outcome of the match virtually beyond doubt. He was dispossessed in a crucial part of the pitch, allowing Villa to counter attack and Benteke to shrug off Skrtel before neatly finishing past Reina.

Man of the moment- Benteke made the difference
Liverpool's response was feeble and Villa stood firm to secure a hard-fought victory. Suarez's low free kick caused panic in the box but Villa eventually cleared, while Agger also scuffed an effort wide. In fact, at the other end Weimman almost doubled his personal tally, heading Bannan's cross just wide. Gerrard may have nodded Johnson's shot into the net from close range to clinch a consolation for the home side, but it was a case of too little, too late for Liverpool.

Considering Villa's lowly position in the Premier League table and the fact that they'd only scored four goals away from home prior to Saturday, this was a really disappointing result and a significant setback. Just as Kopites began to believe momentum was being gathered and Rodgers' side were making progress, they went and performed woefully and were deservedly defeated.

One step forward, two steps back seems an apt description of Liverpool's progress so far this season. It's innately frustrating for supporters but it appears an unavoidable aspect of re-building the club up from the ashes of Hicks, Gillett and Hodgson. 

All we can do is patiently wait for things to turn around and continue to wholeheartedly support the manager and players.


Monday, 10 December 2012

Reds claim smash and grab win against Hammers

Liverpool staged an impressive comeback to record back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time this season. After Johnson's stunning opener, the Hammers went in ahead at the break thanks to Noble's penalty and Gerrard's own goal. A well worked goal from Joe Cole and Collins' own goal meant the visitors returned to Merseyside pleased with their afternoon's work and with three crucial points in the proverbial bag.

With Suarez suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season versus Southampton last weekend, Jonjo Shelvey started up front as a makeshift striker, with support from Sterling and, initially, Downing, although he reverted to left back when Joe Cole replaced the injured Jose Enrique approaching the half hour mark.

Class act- Johnson gave the Reds the lead
West Ham arguably started the better, Diame's strike thankfully rolling inches wide after a deflection off Carlton Cole had completely wrong-footed Pepe Reina. It was Liverpool who took the lead, though, after 11 minutes thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from Glen Johnson.

The England international marauded down the right wing before hammering a beautiful shot past the helpless Jussi Jasskelainen. It was a goal of the month contender that Johnson did well not to celebrate, instead respecting the former team he'd just scored his third goal against.

Johnson, who has arguably been one of the Reds' best players this season apart from the mercurial Luis Suarez, then almost assisted Sterling in doubling their lead a few minutes later. Jarvis was unable to cope with his pacy run forward and, after he squared the ball to Sterling, the teenager fired just wide of the target.

When Johnson went forward, though, his opponent Jarvis could often exploit the space he left behind and, midway through the first period, Agger was required to make a crucial block to prevent Cole turning Jarvis' cross home. For all the benefits of his attacking play, better opponents may be able to punish Johnson more for allowing them too much space behind him.

West Ham were still very much in the game at this point and, with a little help from referee Probert and Reds' skipper Steven Gerrard, managed to head in at the break in front. First, the referee ridiculously awarded the hosts a penalty after Demel blasted a shot that hit Allen's hands from point-blank range. There was absolutely nothing he could have done to move out of the way, yet West Ham had a penalty that Noble duly converted. Then, Liverpool shot themselves in the foot, as West Ham continued to apply pressure, culminating in Gerrard heading Jarvis' threatening cross past his own goalkeeper.

The Hammers' dominance continued into the second half, as Liverpool struggled to impose themselves on the contest and find a way back into the match. Nolan's shot was blocked by Agger and Collins headed Taylor's outswinging corner wide of the target, as the home side arguably looked more likely to score next. Apart from Sterling's excellent curled effort that brought out a good save from the keeper, Jasskelainen remained largely untroubled.

The momentum swung in Liverpool's favour, though, when West Ham's key man, Mohamed Diame, pulled up with a hamstring injury and had to be stretchered off. Combined with the arrival of Henderson, who seemed much more confident after netting the winner in Italy on Thursday, that point changed the match. Only five minutes later, Sterling and Henderson swapped passes to set up Cole, who shot into the corner of the net before refusing to celebrate scoring against his ex-employers.

Soon after, Henderson broke down the right and crossed into the middle towards Shelvey. Collins got to the ball first but he only succeeded in looping the ball over his own keeper and into the net, much to the delight of the Liverpool players and ecstatic travelling Kopites behind the goal.

Smash and grab- Shelvey celebrates a dramatic comeback
Thankfully, Liverpool held onto their lead to clinch their first League win immediately after a Europa League match in nine attempts. It was arguably a rare example of Liverpool winning when they didn't deserve to. West Ham played well enough to warrant at least a point, but the Reds were ruthless in attack despite missing their star striker. 

The performances of Shelvey, Cole and Henderson were particular positives, while Johnson's goal will live long in the memory. Most importantly, sitting fifth in the form table and only four points off fourth place, Liverpool's season is definitely beginning to turn around and gradual progress in the right direction is being made. 

After their worst start to the season in over a century, Liverpool are back on the road to recovery.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Reds through by the skin of their teeth

Liverpool scraped through to the knockout stages of the Europa League last night after suffering a late scare. During injury time, when Jordan Henderson's solitary strike seemed enough for the Reds to progress, Di Natale went worryingly close for Udinese, firing inches over the bar with the last kick of the match, to the relief of Rodgers' side. Had he scored, Liverpool would have been out of Europe.

As it was, Henderson's first European goal secured top spot in the group for Liverpool, as they qualified alongside Anzhi Makhachkala, despite the Russian side's 3-1 defeat to Swiss side Young Boys. Overall, the Merseysiders' display warranted their third win in Italy and a place in the next round of the Europa League, although manager Brendan Rodgers will be disappointed that the Reds didn't manage to get the job done with a game to spare.

Five changes were made to the line-up, as Luis Suarez started up front, Henderson joined Allen and Sahin in the middle and Enrique swapped positions with Downing, the former reverting to left back while the latter returned to his usual left wing position. For Udinese, Danielle Padelli, literally a one-time Liverpool player, started in goal. His sole appearance for the Reds came in Robbie Fowler's final match at Anfield, as the hosts drew 2-2 with Charlton Athletic in 2007.

Only 11 minutes in, though, the away side were forced into a change, as a blow to Nuri Sahin's nose meant he was replaced by Jonjo Shelvey, who had hoped to rest in order to remain fresh for Sunday's visit to Upton Park. Shelvey was then involved in the build-up to the opener on 23 minutes.

Suarez drilled a free kick into the wall after Heurtaux had fouled Shelvey. Downing's resulting corner was headed on by Suarez to Suso. The Spaniard laid the ball off to Henderson, who swept home to give Liverpool the all-important first goal.

Hen party! The Reds' number 14 celebrates scoring in Italy
Liverpool grew in confidence and almost doubled their lead only four minutes later when a skillful passing move culminated in Johnson turning home Downing's cross. Unfortunately, the Reds were denied by the linesman's offside flag.

The visitors had two further chances to add to their advantage before the break and, almost inevitably, they both fell to Luis Suarez. First, his optimistic effort flew off target when he should have looked up and squared to either Shelvey or Downing, who were both in better positions close by. Then, his stunning overhead kick from close range was denied the goal it deserved by a fantastic stop from Padelli.

With Young Boys and Anzhi drawing 1-1 in Switzerland, Liverpool occupied second place in Group A during the interval. They knew, though, that a single Udinese goal would see them plummet down to third in the group and crash out of European competition.

The temptation may have been to play it safe and try and close out the match. Thankfully, in the second half Liverpool managed to find the right balance between keeping a clean sheet and pushing forward to try and put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt.

In pursuit of that second goal, Suso squandered a good early chance, disappointingly firing wide when he really should have at least tested the keeper. However, there's no guarantees he would have scored considering the form Padelli was in. On 65 minutes he magnificently stopped Henderson's exceptional volley finding the back of the net. Soon after, he made a great save to deny Suarez after he'd jinked past several Udinese defenders, as Liverpool began to wonder whether they'd make a mistake in letting the keeper leave in 2007!

The Reds' cause was seemingly further helped when Pasquale was sent off ten minutes from time after earning two yellow cards for poor challenges on Suso. However, from that point on Liverpool began to retreat and defend what they'd secured. Their strategy appeared successful, until Enrique foolishly and needlessly gave away a free kick with only a minute left of injury time.

Although the set piece was cleared, the ball found its way back to the dangerous Di Natale, Udinese's star striker who had been sent on with five minutes to go to try and break Scouse hearts. He was inches away from doing so, as, with the last kick of the match, he smashed a volley just over the bar.

Too close for comfort- Di Natale almost broke Red hearts
Fortunately, Liverpool enjoyed that little bit of good fortune that was missing earlier on in the campaign, which may be a sign that their season is beginning to turn around. With Young Boys eventually beating Anzhi 3-1, Liverpool finished top of the group on 10 points. That means they will face one of the four lower ranked Champions League drop-outs or a Europa League group stage runner up. The second leg of their last 32 tie will also be at Anfield.

With European competition now finished until February, Liverpool can concentrate on domestic football and picking up crucial points that will push them up the Premier League table over Christmas. Let's hope they enjoy some more comfortable victories than this one over the holiday season.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Reds sink Saints

Liverpool clinched a vital victory over Southampton at Anfield yesterday afternoon thanks to a headed effort from Daniel Agger. The Reds were clearly the better side throughout and should have added to their tally but failed to do so, therefore allowing the possibility that the Saints may snatch a late leveller. Fortunately, the visitors lacked the required firepower up front and the hosts secured three crucial points and a pleasing clean sheet.

The main team news was that Lucas Leiva returned from injury, making his first start since August alongside Allen and Gerrard in the middle of the park. Downing was thankfully demoted to the bench, as Enrique reverted to left back while Shelvey and Sterling supported Luis Suarez in attack.

Before kick-off, there was a minute of applause to remember the life of Stephen Packer, a player for Liverpool's under-9s who tragically died of cancer recently.

Liverpool's players pay tribute to Stephen Packer
Soon after the start of the contest, boyhood Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert, who scored at Anfield for his primary school team, had the first sight of goal, firing just wide from distance. Until his strike at the end of the half, Southampton didn't test Reina again and Liverpool remained firmly in charge.

Midway through the first period, Shelvey took a clever quick free kick to Suarez, who in turn teed up Gerrard. The skipper's shot was crucially cleared by a Southampton defender. Johnson then flew forward and shot straight at the spectacularly named Gazzaniga, before Shelvey's strike was turned away by the visiting goalkeeper. 

Undeterred, Shelvey continued to probe the away side's defence and went extremely close to breaking the deadlock after 35 minutes. A rapid Red counter attack culminated in the number 33 firing a shot against the junction between the post and the cross bar. It was an excellent effort from Shelvey, who is quickly becoming a permanent feature in Liverpool's first team and consistently performing to a very high level, impressing Kopites with his work rate and skill.

The opener that the Merseysiders' play deserved finally arrived two minutes before the break. Suarez curled a magnificent free kick against the bar and the ball was then delivered back into the box, where Daniel Agger superbly nodded into the corner to give Liverpool a crucial advantage heading into the interval.

Agger celebrates with his teammates
The second half progressed in much the same fashion. Apart from Ramirez's strike well over Reina's goal from range, Southampton showed little in the way of attacking intent, while Liverpool continued to search for that second goal to kill off the contest, ultimately striving in vain.

Suarez and Enrique have been working well recently, and the pair almost combined again on 70 minutes, a neat one-two playing the Spaniard in on-goal. Unfortunately he lacked the goalscoring prowess of Suarez and shot just wide of the target.

Agger's header from Shelvey's corner then looped narrowly wide, before a free-flowing move involving Johnson, Sterling and Gerrard ended with Suarez punching the ball over the bar from close range. Referee Michael Oliver caught him red-handed and showed him his fifth yellow card of the campaign, which rules him out of next weekend's tricky trip to West Ham United.

Despite firing 24 shots and claiming 69% of possession, in the end Liverpool had to settle for a narrower margin of victory then they would have liked. Lucas' return, a clean sheet and someone other than Suarez scoring are all positives to take from the match, although Liverpool must start taking more of their chances if they are to travel further up the table. 

All in all, though, with teams above the Reds in the table dropping points, Liverpool can be pleased with what could be the first win of many in a month full of eminently winnable fixtures.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Bale and ref deny Reds

Liverpool's eight match unbeaten streak in the Premier League came to an end at White Hart Lane last night, as Tottenham Hotspur secured a 2-1 victory from an entertaining midweek clash with the Merseysiders. Welsh winger Gareth Bale was at the heart of the action, scoring for Spurs and also inadvertently for Liverpool after assisting Aaron Lennon's early opener. Meanwhile, the Reds were left ruing refereeing decisions once again, as Phil Dowd turned down two strong penalty appeals.

Brendan Rodgers decided to stick with the same team that played out a bore draw at Swansea on Sunday, with Stewart Downing remaining at left back and Jordan Henderson starting alongside skipper Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen in midfield. The Reds' boss was probably regretting that decision when the hosts exploited an error from Downing to take the lead after seven minutes.

Bale had already threatened for Tottenham, testing Reina with a venomous free kick and firing a cross-shot just wide of the far post. His reward for an impressive start came when he drove powerfully at the Liverpool defence and squared to Lennon, who'd escaped the attention of the out of position Downing far too easily. He converted comfortably from close range.

Lennon celebrates giving Spurs an early lead
It was an understandable but not excusable mistake from Downing. As a winger, he clearly isn't accustomed to appropriate defensive positioning. However, he has such a bad reputation with Kopites that he can't really afford to make any more mistakes, as he may already be living on borrowed time.

To make things worse, Tottenham enjoyed some good fortune that enabled them to double their advantage under ten minutes later. After Henderson spurned a glorious opportunity to equalise by shooting wide with an open goal to aim for, Bale delivered the sucker-punch as his set piece from range found its way past Reina thanks to a decisive deflection off the wall. 

After a fatally slow start, Liverpool managed to regain a foothold in the contest during the last 25 minutes of the first half. Unfortunately, yet again they failed to craft many goalscoring chances. Nonetheless, they went agonisingly close to halving the deficit nine minutes before the break. After referee Phil Dowd frustratingly refused to point to the penalty spot following a foul on Gerrard by Dembele, Suarez's effort was excellently cleared off the line by Kyle Walker when it appeared destined to cross the line.

Liverpool continued to perform well during the second period, although they still lacked a cutting edge and the Londoners were managing to keep their opponents at arms length. After Bale's free kick curled wide of the target, Agger launched an ambitious strike from distance that fell to Suarez, whose own effort was deflected into Lloris' hands. 

Since being pushed further forward, Jose Enrique has evidently enjoyed attacking at will. He continued to do so last night, seeing his shot turned behind for a corner on 71 minutes. Havoc ensued from the resulting set piece, and the ball eventually ended up comically rolling into the net after Lennon smashed it against teammate Bale's face.

Oops! Bale amusingly reduces the Reds' arrears
The unexpected route back into the game inspired the visitors to apply heavy pressure on their hosts during the closing stages. Ten minutes from time, Agger impressively persevered under extreme defensive pressure  when most other players wouldn't have even tried to keep the ball in play. His lobbed cross was fiercely volleyed over the bar by Suarez.

Enrique's shot then swerved inches wide of Lloris' post, before Liverpool had another appeal for a penalty fall on deaf ears. Suarez went down under a strong challenge from Gallas but was almost inevitably denied a spot kick.

It just wasn't going to be the Reds' night. Despite a relatively good display at a very tough place to go to, Tottenham clinically punished Rodgers' men for their poor start and took advantage of the goalscoring chances they created. 

Liverpool could go a long way to improving their League position by learning from their opponent's performance. 


Monday, 26 November 2012

Stalemate at Swans as Rodgers returns

Liverpool and Swansea played out a rather uninspiring goalless draw yesterday afternoon, as Brendan Rodgers' heavily anticipated return to the Liberty Stadium failed to live up to expectations. Aside from Jose Enrique's wrongly disallowed goal, neither side came close to breaking the deadlock and, ironically considering their reputations as pass and move masters, a poor final pass was often what let both teams down.

Surprisingly, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique swapped positions, with the former playing as an auxiliary left back while the latter revelled further forward down the left hand side. Meanwhile, Jordan Henderson made his first start in the Premier League since Liverpool's 1-0 defeat at Swansea last May. After impressing against Young Boys on Thursday, Joe Cole was awarded a seat on the bench.

The first chance of the encounter fell to the home side, as Wayne Routledge went close, rifling an attempt at goal that Reina punched away. The Merseysiders were in the ascendancy for the rest of the first 45, though, creating more goalscoring opportunities and controlling possession. On 17 minutes, Enrique made a good run into the box to unconventionally connect with Johnson's cross using his chest. Unfortunately, the ball rolled wide of the post.

The magnificent Raheem Sterling thundered a strike against the cross bar from a corner kick just past the half hour mark, moments before Enrique bundled the ball home from Suarez's clever pass but was wrongly flagged offside when he was actually in line with Swansea's defensive line.

Enrique looks to the linesman after turning home
Johnson and Suarez were also denied by goalkeeper Tremmel, as the Reds grew in confidence and asserted their superiority in the contest. Meanwhile, shots narrowly wide from Hernandez, who was Swansea's main threat in the first half, and de Guzman were all that Michael Laudrup's men managed to achieve.

There was a scarcity of decent goalscoring chances during a disappointing second half. After Hernandez's free kick went high and wide 10 minutes after the restart, Gerrard and Suarez tested Tremmel and former Swansea midfielder Joe Allen cleared off the line from Williams' header. 

But, apart from that, little of note took place until Reina and substitute Dyer collided on 73 minutes. A mistake from Downing allowed the number 12 to rush through on goal but thankfully Reina bravely came out to close the angle. After both received treatment, they commendably shook hands and got on with the game, which is a lamentably rare sight in modern football.

Eight minutes from time, Suarez and Sterling broke forward and faced only one defender. Frustratingly, a poor pass from Sterling took Suarez off course and gave the hosts time to recover. Eventually Suarez shot at goal, but it would have taken a lot to beat Tremmel from the position he was in. 

Frustrated- Sterling's final pass let Suarez down
In injury time, Shelvey almost diverted Gerrard's long range strike goalwards and also saw the goalkeeper beat away one of his own shots. However, by that stage, it was clear that neither side was going to clinch a winner.

Swansea will be happier with a point, although a draw and a clean sheet isn't a terrible outcome for Liverpool either. Sure, there's work still to be done up front, but at least our unbeaten run has been extended. 

A much better performance will be needed to take points from White Hart Lane on Wednesday, though.


Friday, 23 November 2012

Late leveller leaves Liverpool with work to do

Elsad Zverotic's stunning late equaliser left Liverpool in a precarious position in Europa League Group A last night. A win would have seen the Reds' progress to the knockout stages of the competition with a game to spare, but the home side failed to hold on to the 2-1 lead they secured heading into the closing stages of the contest, and therefore the Merseysiders will travel to Turin to face Udinese in just under two weeks time knowing they must earn at least a point to stand any chance of progressing past the group stages.

Rodgers selected a weaker than expected starting line-up, as Gerrard, Suarez, Sterling and Allen were all left on the bench. Reina made his 81st European appearance, a record for goalkeepers at the club, while Joe Cole was afforded a rare start and Shelvey began up front as a lone striker. 

Young Boys began brightly, threatening only 10 seconds after kick-off. Thankfully, though, their break forward culminated in Zarate's overhead kick flying into the Kop, rather than into the net. Reina was then forced to block a shot, as the hosts struggled to get going during the opening exchanges. They came back into the contest midway through the first period, thanks in large part to the work of the promising Jonjo Shelvey.

First, he sent a decent pass through to Cole, who dragged wide from an angle. Then, after Henderson's free kick had been dealt with by goalkeeper Wolfli, Shelvey delightfully flicked the ball through to Henderson in a manner reminiscent of Luis Suarez. Unfortunately Henderson was nowhere near as clinical as the Uruguyuan, as his shot lacked conviction and was saved by the keeper.

Nonetheless, the opener came soon after the half hour mark, as Cole and Suso played a neat one-two before the former crossed for Shelvey to simply head home from close range.

Shelvey stoops to open the scoring
It was an impressive move from the Reds and Shelvey's fourth goal in the competition this season, giving him an enviable average of a goal every 70 minutes in the Europa League.Suso and Cole almost doubled our lead soon after, the former firing wide from distance and the latter seeing his shot ricochet off Skrtel before it was cleared off the line. 

The influential Shelvey and Cole combined to set up Suso moments before the break, but unfortunately he unwisely elected to shoot early and thus disappointingly missed the target when he should have been more clinical in front of goal. 

As usual this season, Liverpool were made to pay for their profligacy as, after Farnerud and Zverotic sent a warning strikes narrowly over the crossbar, Bobadilla excellently smashed a half volley past Reina from an acute angle. Perhaps most frustratingly, literally seconds earlier Cole had wasted a good chance at the other end to make it 2-0. 

It was Cole, though, who responded for the Reds and put the home side back in front twenty minutes before the final whistle. The heavily criticised Londoner intelligently found space in the penalty area and was found by Gerrard after the skipper had swapped passes with Suarez. Cole confidently converted from six yards out.

Back on form? Cole certainly performed better against Young Boys
His goal, assist and overall performance were certainly encouraging last night, although it'll take several more of these performances to convince Kopites that he has the ability to return to the Reds' first team on a regular basis. The former Chelsea man may just have earned himself a place on the bench versus Swansea on Sunday though.

At this point, Liverpool were proceeding through to the knockout stages. However, there was always that nagging feeling that the pattern of the season would repeat itself and the Reds would yet again throw away a victory they arguably deserved. Lo and behold, Young Boys equalised two minutes from time. After Reina claimed a rising strike from range by Zverotic, he failed to replicate the feat soon after as the 26-year old Montenegrin blasted a powerful effort through the Spanish stopper's hands and into the back of the Anfield Road end net.

Gutted- Zverotic's strike stunned the majority of Anfield into silence
It was a body blow for the deflated Reds. They had hoped to qualify with a game to spare in order to rest the big guns at the start of December ahead of a gruelling holiday schedule. Now, Rodgers will have to pick a virtually full strength starting line-up in the final group game versus Udinese if Liverpool are to progress and remain in Europe.

More importantly, Liverpool must prevent this pattern of performing well but failing to claim victory from perpetuating itself. That's arguably the toughest task facing boss Brendan Rodgers.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Reds wipe the floor with Wigan

Liverpool returned to winning ways yesterday, as Wigan were convincingly beaten at Anfield. Two goals from the on-form Luis Suarez set the home side on their way, before the Uruguyuan combined with Raheem Sterling to set up Jose Enrique for an easy third. The Merseysiders saw out the contest with minimal fuss.

Pepe Reina returned to the starting line-up after recovering from injury, so Brad Jones, who has impressed in his place, dropped to the bench. Meanwhile, Liverpool started with five at the back, as Wisdom joined Agger and Skrtel in central defence, with Johnson and the ever-improving Enrique bombing down the wings from full back. Suarez was paired with Sterling up front.

After a quiet opening, the Latics threatened first. A well-worked Wigan move culminated in Watson wastefully firing over Reina's crossbar. Kone then cut inside and struck goalwards from 25 yards but Reina made an easy save. The hosts cranked up the pressure midway through the first period, Johnson's deflected shot from Gerrard's corner going over the bar, before Agger headed over the skipper's next set piece and Suso saw his stinging strike turned away by Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal.

Moments before the half hour mark, Sterling and Watson inadvertently collided on the edge of the Reds' box when competing in the air. Though there was no fault on either side as both players were clearly looking at and going for the ball, Watson came off the worst and hence the visitors were awarded a free kick. Ramis proceeded to fire harmlessly into the Liverpool wall.

The best chance of the first half fell to Enrique on the stroke of half time. Martinez's men had their keeper to thank after he somehow denied the Spanish left back from close range to prevent him breaking the deadlock after Suarez's low cross had found him in space in the penalty area.

After the interval, Liverpool came out and crucially quickly took the lead, before going on to dominate the second half. Only two minutes after the restart, Luis Suarez gave the hosts the lead. Brilliant work from Sterling saw him nip the ball away from Figueroa and cut back for Suarez, who converted his 12th goal of the season from 10 yards out.

Suarez (who else?) opens the scoring versus Wigan
After Di Santo's shot was deflected into Reina's arms and Henderson volleyed wide from range, Suarez added a second to his goalscoring tally and doubled our lead. Enrique's excellent through pass sent Suarez through on goal and the number seven did the rest, calmly slotting past Ali Habsi.

Hungry for a hat-trick, Suarez struck into the side-netting on the hour mark, before he was involved in the build-up to Enrique's goal. A neat one-two between Suarez and Sterling resulted in the latter crossing to Enrique at the back post. The number three was right on cue to tap into an empty net from yards out.

There was still time for Kone to strike against the post from close range, while Johnson went close to adding a fourth for the Reds, but Wigan never really looked like getting back into the match after Suarez scored his second and Liverpool were more than happy to hold onto their lead and see out the 90 minutes.

Two important points can be taken from yesterday's match. Firstly, 5-3-2 seems to work better than 4-3-3. The three centre backs provide a more solid defensive base, while also allowing dynamic full backs Johnson and Enrique to bomb forward at will. Secondly, Enrique and Suarez seem to be developing a very promising relationship. The pair have been involved in creating, and converting, goalscoring opportunities several times since Enrique returned to the starting line-up following a prolonged absence, as Rodgers preferred to start Johnson at left back and Wisdom on the opposite side.

Dynamic duo- Suarez and Enrique worked well together against Wigan
With three wins and no defeats in their last seven fixtures, things are undoubtedly beginning turn around for Liverpool. While vice-captain Jamie Carragher may be a little optimistic in claiming that the Reds can challenge for fourth place, recent signs of improvement have been promising and, as an arguably easier fixture list awaits the Merseysiders in December, Liverpool's season might be just beginning.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Super Suarez rescues a point at Stamford Bridge

Liverpool had Luis Suarez's remarkable goalscoring form to thank for rescuing a point from their clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday. The on-form number seven nodded home after 73 minutes to level the scores after Chelsea captain John Terry had given the hosts the lead in the first half, before being stretchered off with what looks like a season-threatening injury.

Conscious of the threat posed by Mata, Hazard, Torres and Oscar, Liverpool started with a 5-3-2 formation, as Agger, Wisdom and Carragher began at centre back, while Johnson and Enrique performed as full backs. Up front, Sterling played alongside Suarez. Reina once again missed out due to injury, allowing Jones to make his seventh consecutive appearance in goal.

After a minute's silence had been observed before kick-off for those in the armed forces, Chelsea began the better and, after grabbing the lead with their first sight of goal, continued to control the contest and dominate a disappointing Liverpool for the rest of the first 45 minutes. Uncharacteristically, Allen was dispossessed in a crucial area six minutes in, allowing Mata to find Oscar, who thankfully blazed over the bar when he should have done better.

The Londoners didn't have to wait long to take the lead, though, as Terry escaped the attention of Agger to tower above the Reds' defence and place a free header past Jones on 19 minutes.

Terry heads home his 50th Chelsea goal to give the Blues the lead
The rest of the first half saw Chelsea create several goalscoring chances, while Liverpool somehow managed to remain in the contest, despite coming under constant attack from their opponents and rarely troubling Cech, who was virtually a spectator.

First, Torres' shot went through Wisdom's legs and was beaten away by Jones, with Hazard firing the rebound wide. The former Liverpool striker then nodded over the bar, before Mata wasted a glorious chance on the stroke of half time, striking over the bar when one-on-one with the keeper after Wisdom and Carragher had been comfortably beaten. 

To add to their frustration from not doubling their advantage, Chelsea lost their skipper soon after the half hour mark, as John Terry suffered a knee ligament injury after an accidental collision with Suarez and had to be replaced by Cahill. The Englishman, who had only just returned from a four-match domestic ban for racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, is likely to miss a significant portion of the campaign.

After Mata's left footed shot sailed wide and failed to compensate for his earlier miss, Liverpool's captain nearly suffered a serious injury as well. During a goalmouth scramble, Gerrard fell to the floor and remained there for a worrying amount of time, although he eventually returned to his feet, to the relief of Kopites. 

Out of the blue, the Reds equalised seventeen minutes from time. Suso's right wing corner was headed on superbly at the front post by Jamie Carragher. The ball travelled to Suarez at the back post who, after sneakily pushing Ramires in the back, headed home from close range.

Suarez heads home the equaliser
With the benefit of replays, it is clear that the Uruguyuan pushed Ramires in the back to gain an unfair advantage and therefore should have been penalised. However, Suarez will see this decision as payback for an equally inaccurate offside decision that prevented him bagging his hat-trick and the winner against Everton at Goodison Park. Ultimately, the age-old truism that football tends to even itself out over the course of a season tends to be correct.

The visitors were like a completely different side after the equaliser, and could quite feasibly have gone on to claim all three points. Suarez was sent through on goal and would have scored his second but for crucial intervention from Cech, while the Chelsea keeper was called into action again by Jose Enrique in injury time. 

Despite failing to clinch a winner, Liverpool will be the happier side following a 1-1 draw. For long spells, Chelsea dominated and they really should have been out of sight at the interval. Had the Reds adopted a more attacking approach from the off, they may have scored earlier and gone on to dominate the play, like they did during the closing stages.

Nonetheless, this result should definitely be seen positively as one point gained, rather than negatively as two points dropped.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Young Reds lose in Russia

Liverpool's long trip to Russia to face Anzhi in the Europa League proved frustrating as, despite a promising and productive performance from the club's youngsters, the Merseysiders fell to a 1-0 defeat thanks to a strike from Lacina Traore on the stroke of half time. A mistake from Coates allowed Traore to spoil the first half and convert what turned out to be the winner, as the Reds failed to clinch an equaliser during the second 45 minutes.

A host of first team stars were rested, as boss Brendan Rodgers picked a starting line-up encouragingly containing nine English-born players and with an average age of just 24. Conor Coady made his debut in the centre of midfield, while Flanagan and Morgan were handed rare stating opportunities. Andre Wisdom also played at centre back for the first time, as Rodgers experimented with a 3-5-2 formation. 

The Reds' youthful starting line-up pose for the pre-match photo
The Northern Irishman's tactics proved successful for the vast majority of the first half, as the visitors took the sting out of the contest and then began to craft goalscoring chances as the half progressed. The home side may have enjoyed more possession than their opponents during the opening stages, but they rarely troubled the Reds' rearguard, Zhirkov resorting to diving to try and win a free kick from Flanagan after 15 minutes. 

After a disappointing display out of place at right back against Swansea last week, Jordan Henderson was looking to impress after being afforded the opportunity to play in his preferred position in the middle of the park. 

Unfortunately, he displayed his evidently battered confidence when he decided to cut the ball back when one-on-one with the keeper after excellent work from Morgan. His pass was annoyingly intercepted by an Anzhi player when, had he been a little more confident, he could have rounded Gabulov and given Liverpool the lead.

The Reds' dominance seemed to be worrying Anzhi boss Guus Hiddink, as he decided to make a substitution after only half an hour, as defensive midfielder Gonzalez replaced winger Ahmedov. The substitution almost paid off immediately, as Gonzalez shot at goal from 15 yards out but failed to seriously test Jones. The Aussie keeper was called upon to make a world-class save soon after, though, as he brilliantly beat away a fierce shot from Samuel Eto'o. 
Traore celebrates breaking Red hearts

With half time approaching, Liverpool would have been the happier of the two teams heading into the interval had referee David Borbalan blown his whistle ten seconds earlier. It was deeply frustrating, therefore, to see Traore capitalise on errors from Coates and Jones to lob over the latter and break the deadlock literally seconds before the break.

Nevertheless, Liverpool remained in the ascendancy in the second half, although once again the considerable amount of possession they enjoyed failed to translate into goals. 

After Morgan had shot into the side-netting, Eto'o responded for the Russians, as his shot drew a comfortable save from Jones. The dangerous Traore then shot into the hoardings from range after nutmegging Henderson, before Tagirbekov's shot-cum-cross proved just too quick for him to reach and Jones saved his strong header. 

On the hour mark, Pacheco and Suso replaced Morgan and Coady respectively. Suso was particularly influential in the Reds' attack during the closing stages, seeing Gabulov spill his shot thirteen minutes from time. Frustratingly, Cole couldn't capitalise from close range. He was promptly replaced by Assaidi. Although admittedly Cole performed better against Anzhi than he had done versus Swansea, that's saying very little as the Londoner was absolutely woeful against the Welsh side!

Traore was terrorising the Reds' defence again on 78 minutes, as he went through one-on-one with Jones. Despite looking certain to score, he struck inches wide to the relief of Rodgers' side. Unfortunately they couldn't make him pay for his error, though, as, apart from two shots from Henderson flying high and wide, Liverpool failed to equalise and fell to a frustrating one-goal defeat in Russia. 

While it is understandable to lament the one costly error that ensured our downfall, there are still many positives to take from tonight's performance. Once again, several youngsters impressed in the Europa League. Andre Wisdom, in particular, looked composed, controlling and strong at centre back. Rodgers also tried out a new formation, which proved relatively successful and will provide him with a back-up plan in the future. 

Following Young Boys' 3-2 win over Udinese in Italy, Liverpool sit second in Group A, level on points with the Swiss side who they face next up at Anfield. A win back on Merseyside in a fortnight would go some way to securing progress to the knockout stages of the Europa League. 


Monday, 5 November 2012

Newcastle hold Reds despite superb Suarez strike

A sensational strike from Luis Suarez (who else?) secured a 1-1 draw for Liverpool at home to Newcastle United yesterday. After a first half that they dominated ended with Cabaye netting a fantastic opener against the run of play at the Kop end, the Reds responded in the second half through the Uruguayan, who bagged his seventh goal in the last nine League matches to quash Newcastle's hopes of ending their 17-match run without a win at Anfield.

Before kick-off captain Steven Gerrard was presented with a red Liverbird by Gary McAllister for achieving the remarkable feat of 600 appearances for Liverpool, which is a figure reached by only nine other players.

Captain fantastic reaches 600 not out
Liverpool were undeniably in the ascendancy when the action began. In fact, apart from Cabaye's goal, the closest Newcastle came to scoring in the first half was when Demba Ba struck hopelessly high into the Kop after a quarter of an hour. 

Suarez and Gerrard were inevitably at the heart of the hosts' attack, the latter forcing Krul into a save from his free kick only a minute in and the former curling agonisingly wide from a set piece as well as shooting against the Newcastle keeper's legs. Youngster Suso also posed a threat, shimmying into the box on 40 minutes only to see his shot deflected just wide, but Suarez remained the fulcrum of the Reds' attack, occasionally lacking support from his teammates in crucial areas. 

Newcastle's sucker-punch arrived two minutes before the break. After Andre Wisdom's foul throw, Hatem Ben Arfa beat Enrique far too easily and sent a cross to the back post, where Yohan Cabaye sent a sensational angled volley flying past Brad Jones and into the top right hand corner.

Cabaye celebrates breaking the deadlock
Anfield was rightly stunned, both at the magnificence of the strike and the fact that, yet again, Liverpool were entering the interval trailing despite absolutely dominating the contest and creating far more goalscoring chances than their opponents. 

Although Liverpool didn't create the same volume of chances in the second period, the momentum remained firmly in their favour and, after Suarez's snapshot tested Krul, the number seven combined with former Newcastle defender Jose Enrique to equalise for the Merseysiders. Enrique had terrific vision to pick out a long ball forward to Suarez, who awesomely evaded Coloccini, controlled the ball on his chest, rounded Krul and tapped home into an unguarded net from yards out.

Eyes on the prize- Suarez's close concentration helps him to equalise
It was a goal of the month, if not goal of the season contender from the majestic Suarez, who promptly picked the ball out of the net and ran back to the half way line, displaying his desire to get the game started again and push on for a winner.

Soon after, Suarez constructed two gilt-edged chances to grab that winner, which Shelvey and Sterling failed to convert. First, the Uruguyuan's tenacity paid off as he evaded a couple of defenders before putting the ball on a plate for Shelvey. To the frustration of the vast majority inside Anfield, Shelvey fluffed his lines and failed to connect sufficiently to find the back of the net. Then, Sterling hesitated momentarily after being played clean through by Suarez. This allowed Taylor to recover and slide in to make an impressive block tackle. 

Suarez remained at the heart of the action during the closing stages, as Coloccini, who he'd tormented throughout the match with his silky skills, was shown a straight red for a horrendous tackle on him. Although contact was minimal, Coloccini clearly intended to inflict serious harm on Suarez and, if he hadn't missed Suarez, Liverpool's only striker could have been severely injured.

There was still time for Shelvey to go close twice but, nonetheless, the ten-men of Newcastle managed to hold on to their undeserved point. 

Arguably the most frustrating fact about yesterday's match was that it was a caricature of Liverpool not only during this season, but over the last few campaigns. We dominated possession and created more chances but, because of our reliance on a single striker, lacked a cutting edge and ended up drawing a match at home that we really should have won. This clear trend cannot be blamed on bad luck, though, and the evidence that Liverpool aren't clinical enough in front of goal is continually accumulating. 

Rodgers clearly needs to purchase at least one new striker in January and, until then, he must encourage more midfielders to get forward and support Suarez, allowing him to drift into space and work his delightful magic. 


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Halloween horror show as Reds crash out of the cup

Liverpool's defence of their League Cup trophy came to a disappointing conclusion last night, as Brendan Rodgers' men fell to a deserved 3-1 defeat against the Northern Irishman's former employers at Anfield. Swansea City dominated the first half and secured the lead thanks to Chico's header. In the second half, they defended solidly and clinically counter-attacked to punish a poor performance from the home side.

With Sunday's Premier League fixture versus Newcastle United in mind, Rodgers began the match with a weakened side. Henderson was strangely picked at right back, while Joe Cole and Samed Yesil were handed rare starting berths and Brad Jones made his fourth consecutive appearance in goal. Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez formed part of a strong bench.

The visitors began the better and remained firmly in the ascendancy throughout the first period, creating more goalscoring chances and passing in a manner that Rodgers aspires to replicate at Anfield. After 18 minutes Ki-Sung Yeung's 20-yard shot sent Jones scrambling, before a trademark block from captain for the night Jamie Carragher was needed to deny Hernandez a clear shot at goal following neat interplay with teammate Michu.

Jonathan De Guzman then lobbed the ball onto the roof of the net, before the Swans' pressure paid off and the Welsh side claimed the lead soon after the half hour mark. Chico rose highest in the penalty area to power a header into the corner of the net.

Inevitable- Chico's opener was always coming
The inevitability of Swansea's opener was perhaps most frustrating, as it was clear from the opening stages that they had a better work rate and a greater desire to win than their below-par opponents, who never really got going during a disappointing first 45 minutes.

Nonetheless, Joe Cole could have immediately equalised for the hosts, but his header lacked power and was comfortably collected by the keeper. Yesil's shot was then blocked by Williams, but neither of the pair did enough to warrant any more action after the interval. Cole, whose days at Anfield must be numbered, looked like he hadn't been on a football pitch in years, while Yesil was horrendously immobile, lacked positional sense and posed no threat whatsoever to Swansea's defence. 

Gerrard and Suarez replaced them respectively at half time, and their arrival gave the Reds an instant boost. Unsurprisingly, they were next to try and obtain parity, as Suarez nodded off target from Shelvey's cross five minutes after the restart, before Gerrard's effort from range hit the post and Downing frustratingly failed to convert the rebound. 

Brad Jones' performance was one noticeable positive to take from the evening. The Aussie keeper wasn't culpable for conceding any of the goals and, on 66 minutes, made a tremendous treble save to prevent the away side doubling their advantage during a goalmouth scramble. Moreover, he tipped Michu's goal-bound effort over the bar before Williams headed inches wide from the resulting corner.  

A goalmouth scramble at the other end of the pitch not only failed to yield a leveller for the Reds, but also saw Swansea devastatingly counter-attack and bag their second of the evening. Displaying greater desire, the visitors won several 50-50 challenges as they broke. The move culminated in Dyer tapping home Hernandez's clever, composed and unselfish square pass from close range.  

Suarez may have headed home Gerrard's free kick four minutes later, but it was a case of too little, too late for Liverpool, who even lacked urgency when they were chasing the game in the closing stages. 

Suarez's goal provided little consolation
In injury time, Swansea hammered the final nail into the Reds' Capital One cup coffin as a carbon copy of the build-up to their second goal concluded with De Guzman's last gasp tap in from Michu's assist.

A 3-1 defeat was little more than Liverpool's lacklustre, low-energy, pedestrian performance deserved. Yes, Swansea played well and it was only the League Cup, but this defeat destroys the momentum garnered from recent results and leaves Liverpool stuck struggling to shake off their early season woes. 

It's easy to say it after being knocked out of the cup, but the League certainly is the priority this season and therefore the Reds must pick themselves up now and put in a much better performance against Newcastle on the weekend. 


Monday, 29 October 2012

Derby draw as ref robs Reds

Luis Suarez was predictably the centre of attention yesterday lunchtime, as the thrilling 187th League meeting between Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton ended in a 2-2 draw. The Uruguyuan celebrated hilariously in front of opposition boss David Moyes after his shot was deflected in off Baines, headed home a second and was denied a late winner by an absurd decision from the linesman.

He also could have been sent off for stamping on Distin's ankle and amusingly put a coin thrown at him from the crowd into his boot. Suarez's antics were only one part of what was a thoroughly entertaining Premier League fixture, packed with controversy, passion and fantastic football.

Surprisingly, Brad Jones was selected to start ahead of Pepe Reina in goal for the visitors, despite the Spaniard returning to training earlier in the week. Meanwhile, Glen Johnson was not risked after pulling up with muscle tightness on Thursday versus Anzhi, so Jose Enrique returned to the left back position he occupied for long spells last season.

As expected, the Merseyside derby began at breakneck pace. All four goals arriving in just over half an hour was slightly less expected. It all started after quarter of an hour, when Suarez drove the ball back into the area after Enrique's cross had evaded Sterling. Thankfully, a deflection off Baines took the ball into the Everton net and opened the scoring for the Reds.

Moyes always knew Suarez was a diver!
In response to Moyes' comments earlier in the week about diving, which were obviously if not explicitly aimed at Suarez, the number seven dived in front of the Scot in celebration. It was hilarious comedy from Suarez and, to be fair, Moyes took the banter well after the match. 

Moyes' misery was doubled six minutes later, when Suarez nodded home a Gerrard free kick to confirm Liverpool's early supremacy. Unfortunately, a mistake from stand-in stopper Brad Jones immediately allowed the hosts back into the contest. He punched a corner kick right back into the danger area, where Osman stood unmarked. Although the 31-year old still had a lot to do as many bodies were between him and the goal, he managed to half-volley home from the edge of the area.

Clinical- Osman exploits Jones' error to halve the deficit
On the half hour mark, youngster Raheem Sterling could have seen red. After originally being booked for obstructing Baines, he tripped his marker only minutes later. With Tim Howard protesting and the Goodison crowd baying for his blood, Andre Marriner was under severe pressure to show Sterling a red. Fortunately, after a quiet word with the captain, the referee decided against producing a second yellow card.

That was the extent of the officials' generosity, though, as they proceeded to make the Reds' task increasingly more difficult. In the build up to Everton's equaliser, the officials erroneously awarded the home side a throw in. Consequently, Fellaini's cross found Naismith, who evaded his marker Enrique before clattering home from close range.

The Toffees, who enjoyed 60% of possession during a remarkable recovery from going two goals down, continued to press before the break, the influential Mirallas seeing his shot from a tight angle palmed away by Jones and Coleman firing an impressive strike inches over the bar from distance. 

On the stroke of half time, Phil Neville disgustingly dived and deservedly received a booking. The hypocrisy and irony of the Everton captain blatantly diving in the week that his manager derided players who go to ground too easily was not lost on the travelling Kop, who chanted "are you watching David Moyes?"

During the interval, Rodgers reverted to three at the back, replacing Sahin and Suso with Coates and Shelvey respectively.The away side also benefited from the injury to Everton's most dangerous attacker, Mirallas, which forced Moyes to replace him with Gueye. The Liverpool manager's clever tactical change stemmed the tide of Everton attacks and demonstrated his ability to respond to changing game scenarios appropriately. 

Only four minutes after the restart, Liverpool had a gilt-edged opportunity to restore their lead. Enrique's excellent pass set Sterling through one-on-one with the keeper. Frustratingly, he lacked composure and mis-hit his shot, to the fury of Suarez, who was in a perfect position to score. At the other end, intervention from the on-form Skrtel was required to deny Jelavic a near certain goal after a clever one-two had took Agger out of the equation. 

Jelavic then proceeded to head wide twice, before the spotlight almost inevitably returned to Luis Suarez. As he challenged for the ball with Distin, he caught the Everton defender on the ankle. The Toffees unsurprisingly appealed noisily for Suarez to be sent off, although a booking was probably the right decision as Suarez's tackle was more mis-timed than malicious. 

With six minutes remaining, substitute Jordan Henderson did extremely well to steal possession on the by-line before crossing to Gerrard, whose snapshot was blocked by Jagielka. Fittingly, the match concluded with controversy. Gerrard's free kick into the box was knocked down by Coates to Suarez, who smashed home from yards out and then wheeled away in celebration. His joy turned to despair, though, when he turned round to see the linesman's flag up. 

Suarez and co. surround the officials at full time
It was an indefensible decision that cost Liverpool two crucial points. In a weekend when Liverpool so clearly suffered at the hands of officials, while Manchester United reaped incredible benefits from faulty refereeing, it's not surprising conspiracy theorists believe United's club officials wield undue influence at the FA. 

Nonetheless, Liverpool can take many positives from what was an entertaining Merseyside derby and, following four consecutive matches in which they were undefeated, the Reds have a platform from which to kick start their season.


Friday, 26 October 2012

Downing defeats Anzhi

Liverpool went to the top of Europa League Group A last night thanks to a rare right-footed strike from the marginalised Stewart Downing. Soon after the interval, the former Villa winger unexpectedly struck a magnificent effort past Anzhi Makhachkala goalkeeper Gabulov. The fantastically named Russian side failed to summon up a response and the hosts saw out the match to clinch three crucial points.

Brendan Rodgers selected a surprisingly strong starting line-up considering Liverpool face local rivals Everton in the Premier League on Sunday. Rodgers reasoned that a win was crucial to keeping pace in the Europa League and, as a result, picked experienced first team players such as Gerrard, Suarez, Johnson, Agger and Skrtel. Meanwhile, Brad Jones continued to deputise for the injured Pepe Reina, who could be back to travel to Goodison Park on Sunday.

Oussama Assaidi, who has been restricted to Europa League appearances since signing from Dutch side Heerenveen in the summer, was arguably the Reds' main attacking threat during a cagey first half. The Moroccan linked up superbly with left back Glen Johnson, and his mazy dribbles down the wing posed a consistent threat to Anzhi's defence.

Assaidi embarks on another mazy run
After 12 minutes he was involved in creating the first goalscoring opportunity of the match. The number eleven was sent into space down the left wing and cut inside before laying the ball off for Suarez, whose low shot was saved by Gabulov.

Assaidi was again the creator soon after, as Johnson's blasted effort was parried by the keeper, before Gerrard struck a free kick disappointingly into the wall following a terrible tackle from Christopher Samba on Luis Suarez, which rightly earned the former Blackburn Rovers man a booking. Midway through the first period Jonjo Shelvey was left holding his head in his hands after blazing embarrassingly high over the bar from the edge of the box after Suarez had set up a gilt-edged opportunity. 

With little creative play from Downing on the opposite wing, the Reds continued to rely on Assaidi and Johnson. Assaidi displayed his battling qualities well and then saw his shot saved, before Johnson played an intelligent one-two with Suarez and then went down in the box under the challenge of an Anzhi defender. Instinctively, it looked like a penalty although, on reflection, referee Bas Nijhuis probably was right not to point to the spot. 

There was still time for Sahin to head Gerrard's corner over the bar and Agger to strike a trademark shot from distance just over the bar. At the other end, Brad Jones had had little to do, except use nimble footwork to cleverly side-step Smolov to the delight of the Kop. On the stroke of half time the same player who he'd earlier embarrassed struck goalwards but Jones wasn't troubled as the ball flew wide.

At the break, Glen Johnson was brought off as a precautionary measure, being replaced by Raheem Sterling, as Stewart Downing reverted to left back. Liverpool pushed for the opener early on in the second half, Skrtel drilling at goal after confidently shrugging off an opponent and Gerrard heading Shelvey's hooked cross just over the bar. 

Eight minutes into the second half the home side's early pressure was rewarded with a goal, as Downing cut inside and hammered into the top right hand corner from 20-yards out to break the deadlock with an absolute stunner. 

Great goal- but can Downing perform on a regular basis?

It was a great goal from Downing, although he'll have to replicate that strike several times if he is to win back the faith of the fans, who have been justifiably disappointed with his sub-par performances in the past.

Suarez tried to swiftly double Liverpool's lead two minutes later, but his shot from distance went inches wide. Samuel Eto'o, who reportedly earns £50,000 a day, provided his employers with little value for money, as his first sight of goal last night came 20 minutes from time when his shot on the spin was well dealt with by the impressive Jones.

Ten minutes from time Daniel Agger cheekily tried to emulate George Best when he headed the ball out of Gabulov's hand and hooked into the empty net. Unfortunately, the Dane's audacity didn't pay off and he was promptly shown a yellow card. Thankfully, though, Anzhi rarely looked like seriously pushing for a late equaliser. Traore stabbed wide from inside the six-yard box, but apart from that the Russians seemed impotent up front.

This was Liverpool's third clean sheet in a row, which is certainly encouraging after an opening to the season in which too many goals were leaked at the back. The Reds may not be prolific at the other end and there is clearly room for improvement in front of goal, but if they can keep up this form then their season may start to slowly turn around.