Sunday, 30 September 2012

Five Star Reds sink Canaries

Liverpool claimed a resounding 5-2 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road yesterday afternoon to clinch their first Premier League win of the season in East Anglia. Luis Suarez was the star of the show, as the Uruguyuan silenced a hostile crowd with an accomplished hat-trick, repeating the feat he achieved at the same ground last season.

Nuri Sahin also added to the two goals he bagged at the Hawthorns in midweek, while skipper Steven Gerrard rounded off the scoring. Goals from Morrison and Holt provided little solace for the hosts, as they continue to struggle with second season syndrome, although they did frustratingly prevent the Reds finally keeping a clean sheet.

Trusting in youth yet again, Rodgers handed Wisdom and Suso their first starts in the Premier League after both displayed their burgeoning talent against Young Boys in the Europa League and West Bromich Albion in the Capital One cup. Raheem Sterling also started in the visitors' exciting front three, while Sahin, Gerrard and Allen dominated the centre of midfield.

The Reds began brightly and never looked back. Barely two minutes in, Suarez cut inside and arrowed into the bottom corner of Ruddy's net to round off a passing move involving Sterling, Allen, Johnson and Sahin that must have delighted boss Brendan Rodgers, whose side are beginning to reap the rewards of his pass and move philosophy.

Suarez celebrates opening the scoring early on at Carrow Road
After Reina saved Simeon Jackson's six-yard shot, Suarez was at the heart of the action once again midway through the half. The number seven was clearly felled inside the penalty area by a sharp elbow to the shoulder from Leon Barnett, whose clumsy challenge certainly warranted a spot kick and booking. However, referee Mike Jones waved away all appeals, with Suarez's admittedly deserved reputation as a diver undoubtedly influencing the decision. It was a classic case of the boy who cried "wolf"!

On the half hour mark, Suso fed Suarez, who clipped a superb pass into the path of the forward-thinking Gerrard. His header forced Ruddy to make a decent save and push the England international's effort away from danger. Suarez was then sent through on goal himself soon after, but his poor side-footed finish rolled annoyingly wide, much to the delight of the home supporters, who aimed the usual abuse in his direction throughout the 90 minutes.

He offered the perfect riposte to the crowd's insults literally seconds later, though, as he pounced on the indecisive Turner to steal possession before curling past Ruddy with an exquisite effort with the outside of his right foot. It was the sort of lethal finishing that Suarez has failed to produce so far this season and that the Reds have desperately needed in front of goal.

Norwich went ludicrously close to halving the deficit moments after the restart when Surman smashed the ball goalwards but Snodgrass inadvertently deflected his effort over the bar as he attempted to turn it home from close range. The hosts' failure to convert a golden goalscoring opportunity was punished ruthlessly a minute later, as Suarez slalomed down the right, remained on his feet when he could have gone to ground under a tackle and, at the second time of asking, found Sahin, who stroked home from yards out.

A delighted Sahin wheels away in celebration
The Turk was also involved in the Merseysiders' fourth ten minutes later, as Suarez swept the ball past Ruddy from the edge of the box after receiving his pass. Although Morrison fired into the bottom corner of Reina's net to reduce the arrears on the hour mark, the Reds remained firmly in the ascendancy and the likelihood of a remarkable comeback from the Canaries was very small.

That possibility was diminished further when Gerrard clinched a fifth, firing low into the middle of the goal after fine work from Sterling down the right wing. There was still time for substitute Grant Holt to whip the ball past Reina and into the net to make it 5-2, but that didn't stop the home supporters booing their team off the pitch at full time. 

They, like everyone else, knew that the post-match statistics painted a misleading picture. Although both teams enjoyed 50% of possession and had 10 shots and five corners, it was clear that the contest was nowhere near as even as those stats suggest. Liverpool dominated from start to finish, playing some magnificent football and finally finding their shooting boots. 

If they keep up this form then they should start to shoot up the table.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Baggies disposed of as Reds progress

Liverpool proceeded through to the fourth round of the Capital One cup thanks to a well deserved 2-1 victory over West Bromich Albion at the Hawthorns last night. Loanee Nuri Sahin grabbed both of the Reds' goals on a night when their youngsters shone, with Pacheco, Suso and Yesil particularly impressing while Jerome Sinclair became the youngest player to ever appear for the club at 16 years and six days old. 

Brendan Rodgers made eleven changes to the team that fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United on Sunday, as the Northern Irish boss handed starting opportunities to youngsters and squad players, with Jamie Carragher and Brad Jones as the two experienced players.

The evening started poorly for the visitors, as a goalkeeping clanger from Australian stopper Jones gifted the hosts the opening goal. The keeper embarrassingly and fatally dropped a free kick into the box and Gabriel Tomas took advantage of his error to convert into an unguarded net.

On-loan Chelsea striker Lukaku then terrorised Liverpool's defence, going close to adding a second immediately after the opener before beating Carragher far too easily and crossing to Rosenberg, whose low drive was parried by Jones. Thankfully, although Jones wasn't exactly on top form, Foster seemed to be performing even worse, and a mistake from the former Manchester United goalkeeper allowed Sahin to level the scorelines on 17 minutes. The Turk's drilled effort from distance should have been relatively comfortably saved by Foster, but instead the ball squirmed under his body and into the net.

Sahin scores his first Liverpool goal
From that point on Liverpool were dominant. In fact, they played with panache and a pleasing swagger that bodes well for the future. Sahin dictated play from midfield, Assaidi dribbled menacingly at pace on the wing and debutant Yesil, who signed from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, looked threatening in front of goal. Before the break, Assaidi and Pacheco combined promisingly, with both seeing shots saved by Foster. Downing's ambitious volleyed attempt also flew over as the away side searched for a second.

In their pursuit of the lead, Liverpool continued to test the shaky Foster in the second half. A strong strike from Samed Yesil worried the keeper, who just about managed to beat his effort away without inadvertently turning the ball into his own net.  The formerly marginalised Dani Pacheco, who looks revitalised after returning to the fray under Rodgers, then went close twice.

First, his sensational curling strike from the left edge of the area dipped over Foster and bounced clear off the crossbar. Then, his skillful nutmeg created space for himself, which he used to unleash a shot at goal and trouble Foster, who made a meal out of what should have been a fairly simple save. The Baggies keeper went some way to compensating for his earlier errors, though, when he made an excellent save to prevent Coates turning Sahin's whipped left wing free kick home. 

On 81 minutes Rodgers made an historic substitution as Jerome Sinclair replaced Yesil to became the youngest player in the club's history. However, it was the other half of the double substitution that really changed the outcome of the game. After replacing Pacheco, Suso was instrumental in setting up the winner. He ran at West Brom's defence and then played a pass through to Assaidi, whose fantastic square pass across the face of goal gave Sahin an easy finish that he couldn't miss from yards out.

Sahin celebrates an excellent team goal
Although Fortune's volley hit the post six minutes from time, West Brom never looked like forcing extra time and Liverpool secured the win and the place in the next round of the League Cup that their performance merited. This display was light years better than what was produced on the opening day of the Premier League season, when the Merseysiders fell to a humbling 3-0 defeat away to the Midlanders.

Hopefully, not only will this win kick-start our floundering season but also inspire the club's youngsters to continue to work hard and improve further, in order to gain more game time in the first team. If they do so, they'll have a bright future and Liverpool may finally have another bumper crop of talented youngsters knocking on the proverbial door of the first team.


Monday, 24 September 2012

Reds robbed by ref in United defeat

Liverpool were left ruing mistakes made by referee Mark Halsey yesterday after their poor start to the season continued with a 2-1 reverse at home to Manchester United, as the game swung on several controversial refereeing decisions that didn't go the Reds' way. Halsey's sending off of Jonjo Shelvey, cheap award of a penalty to Robin van Persie and refusal to listen to penalty shouts from the hosts left Kopites deeply frustrated and wondering whether the 51-year old official is in fact Howard Webb in disguise.

In the build up to this highly-charged contest media reports centred on the behaviour of both sets of supporters in wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's findings, which cleared Liverpool fans of all responsibility for the tragedy. Before kick-off there were a series of emotional events. United ambassador Sir Bobby Charlton presented Liverpool legend Ian Rush with flowers to lay at Anfield's Hillsborough memorial, Gerrard and Giggs released 96 red balloons into the sky and Anfield created three mosaics that read "TRUTH", "JUSTICE" and "96". Both sets of players wore jackets with "96" printed on the back during the pre-match handshake, which Suarez and Evra thankfully participated in, putting to bed the tension between the pair.

The Kop's pre-match mosaic
Unfortunately, some United supporters chanted offensive songs about the Hillsborough and Heysel disasters while they were kept behind after the conclusion of the contest, but at least respect was shown to the 96 and their families before the match began.

Inspired by the magnitude of the occasion, Brendan Rodgers' side started the better and dominated the first half, eventually receiving the reward their hard work warranted at the beginning of the second period. During the opening quarter of an hour, Suarez tested Lindegaard, Gerrard struck inches wide from Shelvey's clever low corner and Borini's effort was blocked. Suarez then curled over midway through the first half, before the Uruguyuan danced his way into the box but saw his shot blocked by Rio Ferdinand, as the home side's onslaught continued at full pace.

On 38 minutes, though, the Merseysiders' momentum was halted as Jonjo Shelvey, whose excellent performance and two goals in Switzerland on Thursday earned him a place in the starting line-up, saw red for a sliding tackle on Jonny Evans. It was a disappointing decision as Shelvey didn't go into the tackle two-footed, unlike Evans, and clearly won the ball. Although he undoubtedly deserved a yellow card, a sending off was extremely harsh on the 20-year old. Frustrated, Shelvey then proceeded to voice his anger at United boss Sir Alex Ferguson on his way down the tunnel, which was probably unwise. 

Nonetheless, Liverpool remained in the ascendancy and broke the deadlock immediately after the restart. Suso, who had replaced the injured Borini at the break, made an instant impact, skillfully creating space and crossing into the box. The ball eventually fell to skipper Steven Gerrard, who swivelled superbly before firing a left-footed volley into the corner of the net.

Gerrard opens the scoring
Irritatingly, Gerrard's goal seemed to kick the previously poor United into life, and they responded soon after  through Brazilian right back Rafael, who sensationally curled home from inside the box to level the scoreline. Just before the hour mark, referee Halsey gave Liverpool fans more reason to complain as he ignored their cries for a spot kick when Suarez was clipped by Evans in the box and then a classic Paul Scholes tackle flattened Raheem Sterling. Although whether Evans' foul on Suarez warranted a penalty is arguable (the number seven didn't help his cause with a dramatic fall), there is no doubt that Scholes fouled Sterling and thus Halsey certainly should have pointed to the spot.

To make matters worse, after Suarez and Suso saw shots saved, United were awarded a decisive spot kick 14 minutes from time. Liverpool lost the ball up-field, leaving left back Glen Johnson stranded. As Valencia broke forward, the England international desperately tried to catch up with him. Unfortunately, when he eventually did so, he was adjudged to have fouled the former Wigan winger, despite scarcely making contact with him. After a long delay due to treatment of Daniel Agger's injury, which was suffered in the build-up, Van Persie stood up and converted past Reina, despite the Spaniard getting a firm touch to the ball. 

Van Persie breaks Red hearts
Martin Kelly headed agonisingly wide from Johnson's cross on 83 minutes but unfortunately Liverpool couldn't muster a late leveller. Moreover, the Reds ended the match with nine men after Kelly left the pitch just minutes before the end with a knee injury that potentially could see him on the sidelines until the New Year. Add to that injuries picked up by Borini and Agger and overall it was a thoroughly miserable afternoon for Liverpool. There remain positives, of course, namely our first half dominance, style of play and the performance of Suso, but frustration is undoubtedly the prevailing emotion, not just after this match, but following five, admittedly tough, League fixtures that have yielded a mere two points.

However, football was put into perspective by the pre-match commemorations of the Hillsborough disaster yesterday. The 96, not Mark Halsey or Jonjo Shelvey, must be those we remember in the aftermath of yet another classic Liverpool-Manchester United contest.

Justice for the 96- You'll Never Walk Alone

Friday, 21 September 2012

Reds' young boys beat Young Boys in eight-goal thriller

A Liverpool side composed of youngsters and squad players emerged victorious over Swiss side Young Boys after an eight-goal thriller last night at the Stade de Suisse. Jonjo Shelvey's late brace secured the win and top spot in Group A of the Europa League for Brendan Rodgers' side.

The former Swansea manager selected an experimental line-up with Sunday's Premier League fixture against Manchester United at Anfield undoubtedly in mind. He handed debuts to new signing Assaidi, as well as Academy graduates Suso and Andre Wisdom. Meanwhile, second choice stopper Brad Jones replaced Pepe Reina between the sticks and Dani Pacheco started for the Reds for the first time in two years.

Rodgers' experimental starting eleven
Liverpool began the match in control, keeping possession well and quickly capitalising on their early dominance to take the lead in comedic fashion only four minutes in. Juhani Ojala humoursly scored an own goal after a teammate headed the ball against him and into the net following a right wing cross from Stewart Downing.

At the other end Young Boys tried to immediately respond, but Bobadilla's powerful drive went high and wide. Farnerud then dragged an effort wide from distance, but it was Liverpool who remained in the ascendancy and looked like extending their lead. The influential Assaidi went close on 24 minutes, shooting inches wide from the edge of the box.

The personnel may have been different, but the Reds' style of play remained the same, reflecting their manager's faith in his pass and move ideology. It seemed to be working well, as Rodgers' side showed impressive composure in keeping the ball for long spells and frustrating their Swiss opponents.

Talented 18-year old Suso almost doubled Liverpool's lead eight minutes before the break, as he excellently dribbled past several challenges and into the penalty area but, after the shooting angle narrowed, his cutback into the box just failed to find Pacheco and the danger was cleared. Unfortunately, soon after the visitors shot themselves in the foot with some terrible defending. Raphael Nuzzolo exploited a mix-up between Enrique and Jones, finishing into an open net to equalise for the home side.

Wisdom rose to head home the Reds' second goal
Thankfully, though, the Merseysiders still went in at the interval ahead, as debutant Andre Wisdom rose brilliantly to head into the net from Sahin's left wing corner. Wisdom's excellent goal was the cherry on top of the cake that was his pleasing performance.

There was still time for Farnerud's rasping left-footed strike to clip the post on its way wide, as the end-to-end nature of what was an exciting game began to emerge. This continued in the second period, as Assaidi's shot whistled over the bar only a minute before Zarate cut in from the wing and sent another long-distance strike wide of Jones' goal.

Redemption came for Ojala, who had earlier converted past his own keeper, on 53 minutes when he directed a header past Jones and into the corner from Bobadilla's centre. Frustratingly, Young Boys went on to complete a remarkable comeback 10 minutes later, as the threatening Zarate produced an exquisite dink over the onrushing Jones. The defensively naive Suso had earlier been outsmarted by Bobadilla as the hosts counter-attack rapidly.

With lapses in concentration at the back clearly costing Liverpool dearly, the Reds had to rely on their ability to score more goals than their opponents if they were to claim the win. Considering their deficiencies in front of goal this season, victory therefore appeared an unlikely prospect. However, surprisingly they managed to net three times in the final 23 minutes to clinch a well deserved win. 

Firstly, Coates nodded back into the far corner from a set piece and, although Borini may have got the slightest of touches, the Uruguyuan centre back was rightly given credit for the leveller. Borini then broke clear down the left and knocked the ball across to Henderson, who set up Shelvey to blast confidently past Wolfli. After Jones comfortably prevented Frey's header finding the back of the net, Shelvey's left-footed finish doubled his tally for the evening and secured a 5-3 victory for the visitors.

Shelvey celebrates scoring twice

It was the first time Liverpool have scored more than four in a European match since they posted a record Champions League victory in November 2007 with a 8-0 win over Besiktas. It was also a demonstration of the tremendous talent possessed by the Reds' youngsters. Shelvey has gone from strength-to-strength this season and looks a shoe-in to start versus United on Sunday,  Suso displayed his creative brilliance and Wisdom netted on his debut. The only disappointment was the performance of Pacheco, who failed to make an impact up front. 

With our Europa League campaign kicked off in exhilarating fashion, hopefully the momentum garnered from this goal-fest will carry on into our upcoming Premier League fixtures, starting against Manchester United on the weekend.


Monday, 17 September 2012

Suarez strike secures a point at Sunderland

An emotional week for Liverpool following the scandalous revelations of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report ended with Sunderland holding them to a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light on Saturday evening. After dominating the first period, the visitors fell behind against the run of play when boyhood Red Steven Fletcher broke the deadlock for the Black Cats half an hour in. Thankfully, Liverpool's pressure paid off in the second half as Luis Suarez bagged his third goal of the season to equalise for the Merseysiders and secure a deserved point.

Before kick off, Liverpool's players wore jackets with "96" on the back in remembrance of those who tragically lost their lives at the Hillsborough disaster, while Sunderland laudably posted a message on their scoreboard saying, "The Hillsborough tragedy had a profound effect on football as a whole and the thoughts of all of us at SAFC are with everyone affected by the tragic events of April 15th 1989. You'll Never Walk Alone." It was a touch of class distinguishing the Wearsiders from Manchester United fans, who continued to mockingly chant about the disaster at their match against Wigan Athletic on the weekend.

When the football began, Liverpool quickly gained the ascendancy. Shelvey and Suarez both dragged efforts wide from the edge of the box, before a weak back-header let Borini in on goal. Unfortunately, the Italian blasted at goal and hence Mignolet managed to block his effort relatively easily, and the rebound was skewed well wide by Shelvey. Mignolet then made a reflex save to deny Borini for a second time, before Fletcher exploited a defensive error from the otherwise flawless Glen Johnson to open the scoring for Sunderland. With the England international caught up-field, Gardner's driven cross between Reina and Skrtel found Fletcher, who tapped home from close range.

Impressive youngster Raheem Sterling was giving Sunderland debutant Danny Rose a torrid time down the right wing, and a change of pace almost caught the 22-year old out soon after the half hour mark. He resorted to fouling him to prevent Sterling proceeding any further, and frustratingly Suarez hit the subsequent free kick against the wall.

The Uruguyuan then resorted to dirty tricks himself in an attempt to find a way back into the match for the Merseysiders. Although his disgraceful dive was no worse than Danny Welbeck's, which earned United a penalty at Old Trafford on Saturday, it still warranted the yellow card referee Atkinson flashed in his direction immediately after.

Liverpool entered the interval irritated at once again dominating a match but falling behind due to sloppy defending and clinical finishing from their opponents, which the Reds' strike force just doesn't seem capable of emulating. Nevertheless, they came out for the second half determined to reward their fans' loyalty and constant support with an equaliser.

Shelvey's shot from 30 yards out two minutes into the second half was a statement of intent, before Johnson, who clearly revels in the freedom granted to wing backs in Brendan Rodgers' flexible system, strode confidently into the box, cut inside and curled the ball against the crossbar. At the other end, Johnson defended well to stop Sessegnon, before Gerrard's shot grazed the outside of the post on the hour mark, as the Reds came continually closer to levelling the scoreline.

They eventually did find a leveller on 71 minutes. Great play from Sterling (who else?) crafted a goal scoring opportunity for Suarez, who pounced to equalise.

Ten minutes from time Liverpool could have clinched the winner their performance arguably deserved, but Mignolet made a good save from Shelvey's shot and Suarez couldn't manage to head the rebound into the net.

This draw means that Liverpool haven't won any of their first four League games for the first time in over a century, which is obviously disappointing. A perhaps more important statistic, though, is the fact that Liverpool had lost the previous 14 away games when they had trailed 1-0 at half time. The heart and desire shown to get back into the match and claim at least one point was therefore encouraging, while the style of play and number of chances created bodes well for the future.

In a week when the tragic truth about the Hillsborough disaster was finally revealed, though, football fades into insignificance.

Justice for the 96- You'll Never Walk Alone

Thursday, 13 September 2012

First the Truth, now Justice

12th September 2012 is a day Liverpool fans will never forget. Just as 15th April 1989, the day when 96 Reds lost their lives at Hillsborough while attending an FA Cup semi-final, is a date etched indelibly on the minds of Merseysiders so the day when the truth about that terrible disaster was finally revealed will inevitably retain its place in the memory.

The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel dominated news coverage yesterday, as many were shocked at the utter incompetence of the authorities in charge at Hillsborough and the lengths to which they went to try and cover-up their fatal failings.

Little Liverpool supporters didn't already know was revealed, though. We knew that Reds fans, rather than being responsible for the disaster, actually helped alleviate the suffering and worked tirelessly to help in any way they could. We knew that the stadium was unsuitable and represented a health and safety risk. We knew that there was more the medical services could have done to save lives. We knew that the main cause of the disaster was the failure of police to prevent overcrowding. We knew that they then constructed a massive cover-up. We knew the papers printed lies. We knew the real truth.

The findings, nonetheless, were damning. The report found 164 statements were "significantly amended" and 116 "removed negative comments" about the policing, exposing the police's cover-up operation. It was also revealed that the police carried out checks on those who had died in order to "impugn their reputations". This incredibly involved testing children to see if they had been consuming alcohol. Perhaps most disappointing and heartbreaking of all was the revelation that 41 out of 96 lives had the potential to be saved beyond the arbitrarily imposed cut off point of 3.15pm determined by the original inquest into the disaster.

The needless loss of life is devastating for the families, the fans and the nation. The apologies that promptly followed were therefore wholly necessary and a vital first step in the healing process for the families of those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough.

Prime Minister David Cameron issued an unreserved apology to the families on behalf of the Government while his Conservative colleague Boris Johnson apologised for penning an article in 2004 blaming the disaster on the club's supporters. The FA have apologised for picking an unsafe venue for the match. South Yorkshire Police also released a statement saying sorry for their actions before, during and after the tragedy, although the comments of Norman Bettison, a member of their force at the time, have since enraged fans. (How he is given the title of Sir while King Kenny Dalglish, whose actions to support families after the Hillsborough disaster were commendable, is denied the same honour is another bizarre element of the British establishment).

Even Kelvin Mackenzie, the editor behind The Sun's infamous "The Truth" headline, offered what he described as a "profuse apology", although even in his statement supposedly saying sorry he seems to be deflecting blame onto the local MP and Sheffield news agency who, according to the report, originated the fabrications printed in Mackenzie's vile paper.

It must be recognised that these apologies would almost certainly never have been made had the Hillsborough Independent Panel not revealed the truth and, of course, however many times those responsible apologise, 96 families will remain bereaved. 23 years of hurt will not be healed overnight, but at least those in the wrong have, in large part, admitted their errors and attempted some sort of apology.

Now the truth has been established it is essential that justice is achieved for the 96. The verdict of accidental death delivered at the original inquest must be overturned and new inquests must be started. Prosecutions of those responsible are crucial to achieving justice and must be pursued vigorously. They cannot be allowed to escape accountability any longer.

Meanwhile, Liverpool fans are left with mixed emotions, which were perfectly expressed by Ian Ayre, the club's managing director, yesterday:

"Firstly, (I feel) sadness. Sadness that this whole tragedy was avoidable, and that even when it happened more could have been done to save lives. Secondly, anger. Anger at the cover up we now see, and knowing that our fans, the families and victims have been unnecessarily troubled for 23 years because of that. And thirdly, pride - because I think anyone connected to Liverpool Football Club can be proud today, proud at what the families, our fans around the world and fans of other football clubs have contributed to what we have achieved today. The hard pressure and hard work that people put in, the dedication people put in, and the tireless efforts that delivered all that happened today - that gives us great pride as a football club."

The truth is thankfully finally out. Let's keep on fighting for Justice for the 96!

You'll Never Walk Alone

Monday, 3 September 2012

Reds outclassed by Arsenal

Brendan Rodgers became the first Liverpool manager since Roy Evans to fail to win any of his opening three League matches yesterday after Liverpool succumbed to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Arsene Wenger's impressive Arsenal side. Goals from Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla secured the three points that the Gunners' performance deserved.

Loan signing from Real Madrid Nuri Sahin made his debut alongside Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard in midfield, while Raheem Sterling was handed another starting place in the front three after recent promising displays. Meanwhile, Jose Enrique replaced the benched Stewart Downing at left back.

The opening stages were closely contested, with neither side claiming superiority until Podolski's opener on the half hour mark swung the momentum in the visitors' favour. Before that, Borini shot into the hoardings and narrowly over the bar, while strike partner Luis Suarez saw his looped header from Enrique's dinked cross fail to trouble Arsenal's reserve stopper Vito Mannone, who was keeping goal in place of first choice Wojciech Szczesny.

After the game entered a brief lull, a mistake from Steven Gerrard proved fatal as Arsenal rapidly counter-attack to punish the Merseysiders. The skipper's misplaced pass was intercepted and the Gunners broke, the influential Cazorla running at Liverpool's defence ominously before playing in Podolski. The Poland-born Germany international finished clinically past Reina as Glen Johnson, who had been caught out further up the field, desperately slid in a vain attempt to prevent Arsenal breaking the deadlock.

Liverpool responded, almost inevitably through Sterling, as the 17-year old skilfully turned his man in the box before smashing the ball left-footed against the upright. Suarez was then felled in the box but the despised Howard Webb probably made the right decision in not awarding the hosts a spot kick.

The half ended with the away side in the ascendancy, though, as Arsenal really should have doubled their advantage. The Reds afforded the magnificent, Viera-esque Diaby far too much space to stride confidently into and, when he fed Giroud, many expected him to net a second for the Gunners. Fortunately, the French forward, who would be called Mr Sitter if he was a Mr Men character, squandered the opportunity and fired wide.

Early on in the second half Suarez had a stronger penalty appeal turned down by Webb. As the Uruguyuan attempted to reach Gerrard's right wing cross he was pushed to the floor by Mertesacker, yet no spot kick was given. It was probably a case of the boy who cried wolf, as Suarez's undeniable tendency to go to ground easily unfortunately lessens the chance of a penalty being given when he is genuinely fouled in the box.

After Reina made a fine reflex save to prevent Gibbs making it 2-0 with an angled shot, Stewart Downing replaced Borini and made an instant impact. His clever and composed back heel on the edge of the box found Suarez in space. The number seven's shot was then tipped over the bar by the keeper. Downing then linked up with Sterling, as the latter's cross was headed wide by the former at the far post midway through the second period.

Arsenal struck the killer blow on 68 minutes. An excellent free-flowing move culminated in Cazorla's shot ricocheting off Reina and into the net. For all of Arsenal's brilliance in setting up the strike, questions must be asked of Reina, who really should have done better and looks to be struggling at the start of the season.

The performance of substitute Shelvey was one positive to take from the game. The clean-shaven midfielder saw his effort smothered on 86 minutes, before Suarez dinked over from close range, but Liverpool never looked like finding a way back into the contest and Arsenal deservedly extended their five match unbeaten streak at Anfield.

Before kick-off the fact that Arsenal had failed to score so far this season was emphasised by Kopites, while the fact that they'd also kept two clean sheets in two matches was conveniently downplayed. On the day, Arsenal played excellently and scored two good goals, while it was hardly surprising that Liverpool's weak front three failed to breach the Gunners' much improved back four.

Although the Reds claimed 53% of possession, Arsenal's passing football was far superior. A crucial tactical flaw from the home side was their attempt to beat the Gunners at their own game. Instead of getting in their faces and making it difficult for Arsenal to play pretty football, they tried to pass their way through Arsenal and consequently left plenty of space for their opponents to exploit.

The match provided Rodgers' side both a tough lesson and a target to aim for. Those lessons must be learned and improvements made during the international break so that progress can be made when Liverpool travel to Sunderland's Stadium of Light in just under two weeks time.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Deadline day disaster leaves Liverpool short of strikers

The transfer window slammed shut (it never closes quietly) last night and Kopites were left with a vast array of emotions. Some felt angry- at Rodgers, at Ayre, at Henry, at everyone. Others felt understandably disappointed. Most were simply left bewildered at a situation that leaves Liverpool desperately short of options where it counts the most; in front of goal.

When former Swansea striker Fabio Borini reunited with Brendan Rodgers and became the Reds' first signing of the summer midway through July, many were optimistic that a) the 21-year old Italian could be a future star and b) more experienced strikers were sure to follow. Now, however, the consensus is that the unproven Borini provides insufficient cover for Luis Suarez on his own.

With Academy graduate Adam Morgan and young German striker Samed Yesil the only other striking options Rodgers possesses, the decision to loan out £35 million man Andy Carroll to West Ham United seems increasingly bizarre and unwise.

Sure, Carroll obviously doesn't fit into the style of play that Rodgers wants to implement at Anfield. And, yes, playing for Sam Allardyce, whose tactics suit Carroll down to the ground, rather than sitting on the bench all season should ensure that his value doesn't diminish below £15-20 million when Liverpool finally decide to ship him out on a permanent basis.

However, failing to replace Carroll leaves Liverpool perilously short of options up front. If Suarez and Borini lose their form and fitness, or are suspended, then there is very little cover to tide the Reds over until their return. Moreover, his departure means the Reds lack a plan B in attack. Although long balls up to Carroll to utilise his height and aerial prowess represent an arguably unwelcome temptation to depart from Rodgers' playing philosophy, at the very least Carroll would have provided a viable alternative when chasing games in the closing stages.

With Kuyt, Bellamy and Maxi all also leaving for a pittance it really is difficult to see where the goals necessary to fire Liverpool into the top four are going to come from. Last season's measly return of 47 goals, which was less than relegated Blackburn Rovers managed, may not be bettered.

Losing out on signing Clint Dempsey to Tottenham Hotspur is particularly galling considering the Londoners also snared Gylfi Sigurdsson, who, like the former Fulham striker, seemed destined to join Liverpool. With a strike rate of one goal every two matches for the Cottagers last season and the ability to play in any position in a forward three, Dempsey may well have been an invaluable source of goals, as well as versatility, in attack.

For all the disappointment surrounding strikers, there are some positives to be taken from our transfer activity this summer. In particular, the centre of Liverpool's midfield looks much stronger. Even after the sale of Adam to Stoke City and Aquilani to Fiorentina, as well as the loan of Jay Spearing to Bolton Wanderers, the Reds have more than enough quality in the middle of the park.

Joe Allen has impressed in the early stages of the current campaign, emulating former fans' favourite Javier Mascherano as he sits in front of the back four. He may lack the Argentine's bite in the tackle, but his passing ability more than makes up for it. Nuri Sahin also looks a promising signing, even if he only stays for a season. His passing ability is noted and he can also chip in with a goal everyone so often. Lucas' thigh injury ruling him out for three months is incredibly disappointing, but the likes of Shelvey and Gerrard mean adequate cover is available for the Brazilian.

With little improvements needed to our back four- keeping Daniel Agger despite interest from Manchester City was sufficient to maintain a decent defence- Rodgers was looking to build up his midfield and attack in order to deploy his preferred 4-3-3 formation. It seems as if he succeeded in the former but failed in the latter. Similarly to Rafael Benitez, Rodgers has put together a squad containing a strong and stable defence and midfield but a lack of firepower up front might cost him dearly.

The question of who is to blame for failing to sign another striker is a difficult one to fully answer, as no fan has all the facts regarding what goes on in backroom meetings between the manager and the owners. Clearly Rodgers must accept some responsibility for following a flawed strategy of allowing Carroll to leave before a deal to sign a replacement had been completed. Waiting until the last minute to try and sign Dempsey after declaring his interest in the American much earlier on in the summer was also a foolish move.

However, FSG's stubborn refusal to pay an extra £1 million for Dempsey can also be criticised. When they took over from Hicks and Gillett they promised funding for new signings, so quibbling over £1 million seems extremely petty considering how urgently Liverpool needed back up in the striking department. Additional caution is natural and necessary after blowing £35 million on Andy Carroll only 18 months ago, but heading in the opposite direction and refusing to shell out an extra £1 million for a player who was a key part of the manager's transfer policy is not the answer. Prudence is all well and good, but the owners have also got to be willing to push the envelope occasionally if the players needed to obtain short and long term success are going to arrive at Anfield.

Consequently, the summer transfer window will understandably be remembered with regret. Two new strikers in January are an absolute must. Until then all we can do is back the team and pray that Suarez doesn't get injured.