Monday, 30 December 2013

Luckless Liverpool lose again

Liverpool fans could be forgiven for feeling a frustrating sense of déjà vu.

For the second time in four days their team fell to a 2-1 defeat away from home against one of the title-challengers despite taking the lead, and once again Mignolet should be questioned for his failure to prevent the winning goal finding the back of the net. However, the starkest similarity that Liverpool’s defeat to Chelsea yesterday has with their loss at the Etihad on Boxing Day is the puzzlingly poor refereeing.

Howard Webb, supposedly the best referee in the Premier League and one of the best in the world, decided not to show a card of any colour to Samuel Eto’o, despite the Cameroonian making two challenges that could quite easily have seen him shown a straight red. To make matters worse, one of his spiteful tackles was in the box on Luis Suarez and, although Webb had a clear view of the incident, he took no action.

Furthermore, Terry should have been penalised for a foul on Suarez in the box and Oscar was leniently only shown a yellow for a late two footed challenge on Lucas in the dying stages. Even Chelsea had cause to complain, as Lucas admittedly fouled Hazard in the box eleven minutes in. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that on the balance of decisions Chelsea clearly benefitted more from Webb’s incompetence than the Reds, whatever the notoriously cunning Blues’ boss Jose Mourinho claims.

The game began at a thrilling pace and remained thoroughly entertaining for neutrals throughout the first 45 minutes, although Kopites would have been disappointed by the hosts’ dominance, despite the visitors taking the lead only three minutes in. After Eto’o scrapped his studs down Henderson’s shin pads, an offence which ought to have earned him a red card, Coutinho whipped in the resulting free kick and Skrtel was the first to react and tapped home the loose ball from close range.

Chelsea’s response was swift and emphatic. The Blues instantly went up the other end and forced Johnson to make a goal line clearance. Hazard then should have been awarded a penalty for Lucas’ foul on him in the box and Mignolet had to be on top form to tip Lampard’s fine strike over the bar, before the equaliser eventually arrived on 18 minutes when Hazard curled home from the edge of the box to level the score line.

Skrtel scores early on

Mignolet made a great save from Lampard's shot...
...but was to blame for Chelsea's second 
The comeback was complete on 33 minutes. Liverpool were complicit in their own downfall, though, as they conceded an eminently preventable second goal only half an hour after they had taken the lead. Eto’o beat Skrtel to Oscar’s cross and toe-poked towards goal. Mignolet got a strong hand to it and should have stopped his effort but only succeeded in turning it into his own net. It was frustratingly bad from the former Sunderland stopper, who otherwise performed relatively well and made some notable saves.

Sandwiched in between Chelsea’s two goals, Liverpool crafted an intelligent attacking move that forced Cahill to make a world-class tackle to deny Joe Allen just as he was about to pull the trigger from six yards out, but apart from that the Reds’ attacking edge was comparatively blunt and Rodgers had work to do during the half time interval.

Sakho’s looping header against the crossbar seven minutes after the restart was encouraging; however the Merseysiders were soon hampered by injuries that highlighted the need to bring in reinforcements in the New Year. While Chelsea have squad depth that enabled them to replace the injured Branislav Ivanovic with England left back Ashley Cole in the first half, Liverpool were left to throw on 19-year old Academy graduate Brad Smith for his senior debut when Joe Allen picked up an injury on the hour mark.

Why Rodgers decided not to bring on his £7 million summer signing Luis Alberto instead of Smith is a mystery, although it might be a subtle hint to the Spaniard that he is surplus to requirements and a cry for FSG to get their chequebook out in January. Sakho was also added to Liverpool’s already extensive injury list in the dying moments when he pulled his hamstring and had to be replaced by Toure.

In their pursuit of an equaliser in the final half hour, the most notable events came when Liverpool were denied not by Chelsea, but by Howard Webb. First, he refused to point to the spot after Terry had clambered all over Suarez as they contested to reach Coutinho’s free kick. As if that decision wasn’t bad enough, with 10 minutes remaining Webb had the perfect view of an off the ball swipe at Suarez from Eto’o in the area but entirely ignored the unbelievable incident.

Suarez isn't impressed with Webb's explanations
When Oscar then went in two-footed on Lucas but was only shown a yellow card Liverpool fans knew they weren’t getting the rub of the green and it wouldn’t be their day. They were just thankful that substitute Torres saw his low shot saved by Mignolet, since a goal for that traitor would have rubbed salt in the wounds inflicted on us by both our opponents and the referee.

As irritating as it is to lose two games against close rivals in large part due to unimaginably bad officiating, there is nothing we can do now but look forward to an inviting run of fixtures in January, which should propel Liverpool back into the top four, particularly considering how small the margins are between the teams at the top of the table.

Despite defeats away to City and Chelsea, the season is by no means over for Liverpool.

YNWA

Friday, 27 December 2013

Unlucky Liverpool denied a point at City

Officiating of the quality you’d expect to see in park football prevented Liverpool getting the point their performance at the Etihad deserved on Boxing Day.

The Reds did remarkably well to restrict home side Manchester City to just two goals- Hull City are the only other Premier League team to have achieved that feat this season- and also posed a significant attacking threat throughout the 90 minutes, claiming the lead midway through the first period thanks to a strike from Philippe Coutinho and crafting a few decent goalscoring opportunities during their second half search for an equaliser.

However, they were denied in no small part due to some unbelievable errors from officials, the most ludicrous of which was to flag Raheem Sterling offside when he was on a different cut of grass to the defender.

Should have gone to Specsavers...
Yes, Manchester City performed well, as is expected considering their perfect home record this campaign, but things could have been so different had Sterling’s legitimate goal been allowed to stand. As it turned out, rather than possessing a formidable two-goal lead, Liverpool had a slender one-goal advantage that was quickly wiped out by Manuel Pellegrini’s dominant side.

City started the better, with Nasri’s shot requiring Skrtel to make the first of several excellent blocks and Navas nodding a header against the woodwork after only five minutes had been played. Liverpool’s attack weren’t going to let their City counterparts overshadow them without a fight, though, and started producing some exquisite football halfway through the first 45 minutes, as the match gained an entertaining end-to-end feel.

Raheem Sterling was particularly impressive and, after seeing his goal wrongly chalked out for offside after Suarez’s perfect pass had put him through, the revitalised teenager breached City’s backline once again. To round off a rapid Reds’ move, Coutinho took over possession of the ball and placed it perfectly into an empty net to give the visitors the lead after 25 minutes.

Coutinho and Suarez's joy at taking the lead proved short lived
Frustratingly, that lead only lasted six minutes, as sub-par defending from a City corner, especially from Martin Skrtel, who seemed pre-occupied with pulling shirts, gifted the hosts a leveller. The Blues’ captain Vincent Kompany was the first to reach a near-post corner and sent a header into the net, with Joe Allen rendered unable to clear off the line due to poor positioning.

Before a combination of wonderful one-touch football from City and abysmal goalkeeping from Mignolet allowed City to net what turned out to be the winner on the stroke of half time, Liverpool had a great chance to enter the interval in the lead themselves.

The Reds’ attacking triumvirate of Coutinho, Sterling and Suarez intricately exchanged passes in a free-flowing move of the highest calibre, but frustratingly Coutinho’s final effort lacked the power necessary to trouble Hart, who made a relatively comfortable save.

City then punished their opponents for their profligacy, as a series of one-touch passes from Nasri and Navas ripped apart the Reds’ defence and sent Negredo in on goal. The 28-year old Spaniard’s strike seemed surprisingly unthreatening, but Mignolet somehow managed to make a hash of it and essentially turned the ball into his own net when he could have quite easily caught it had he stood tall.

Mignolet was dismayed at his mistake that handed City the lead
It was the type of error we’ve become accustomed to seeing his opposite number, Joe Hart, making, not Mignolet, who, on the whole, has been a safe pair of hands so far this season, even if his footwork still needs to be improved.

In the second half, City continued to enjoy a large amount of possession, although Liverpool created the better goalscoring opportunities.

Soon after the restart, a goalmouth scramble in the City box ended when the offside Henderson inadvertently blocked Suarez’s shot, which seemed to be heading into the far corner. Henderson’s cheeky back-heeled effort was then saved by Hart, before Sterling somehow squandered the best chance to equalise.

After sprinting down the left wing, Suarez sent a brilliant cross across the penalty area to Sterling, who had the simple task of converting from close range but ended up volleying over the bar. It was a poor miss that would have kept him awake into the early hours last night.

Meanwhile, at the other end Mignolet was only called into action twice, first to catch Negredo’s chip and then to catch his header. If only he’d been so adept at catching Negredo’s efforts on goal in the first period!

In the closing stages, referee Lee Mason gave Reds’ supporters another reason to be aggrieved at his display, as he failed to penalise Kompany for blatantly pulling Suarez’s shirt at a corner kick. Admittedly, Skrtel had got away with doing similarly nefarious things earlier on, but two wrongs don’t make a right and Liverpool should have been given the chance to score a last gasp equaliser from the penalty spot.

Suarez and Kompany remonstrate with the officials
In the end, Liverpool can be pleased with their performance, even if they are understandably disappointed with the result and angry at the officials. They displayed commendable determination in refusing to alter their expansive style of play to try and combat City, and showed that their attacking force more than matches the Citizens’.

For coming the closest to ending City’s 100% home record the Reds can be rightly proud and should head into Sunday’s clash with Chelsea full of confidence.

YNWA

Monday, 23 December 2013

Suarez and Sterling strike as Reds defeat Bluebirds

Liverpool’s match against Cardiff on Saturday lunchtime was about so much more than just football.

Rodgers embraces Mackay
It was about solidarity between two teams that have suffered the same struggles, worries and fears. The Reds endured years of frustrating and seemingly endless quarrels between the former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and ex-manager Rafael Benitez, which ended with the sad but inevitable departure of a deeply loved manager who had delivered success and produced a squad of such quality that his successors have arguably failed to replicate up until now.

The Bluebirds- who now absurdly normally wear red due to a baffling decision by their owner- looked set to say goodbye to the manager who had similarly given them unparalleled success in propelling them into the Premier League and preparing a squad with a fighting chance of retaining their place in the most exciting, and lucrative, League in the world.

Malky Mackay may have been handed a stay of execution by Vincent Tan, but the frosty relationship at the core of their club doesn’t appear to be thawing anytime soon and the saga will, in all likelihood, drag on into the New Year.

Foreign owners who know nothing about what football means to real fans will continue to cause internal chaos, and those supporters suffering under such owners will forever receive the sympathies and support of Liverpool fans who, despite now finally appearing to have owners they can trust, understand entirely what Cardiff supporters are going through.

Perhaps just as remarkable as the boardroom transformation at Anfield, is the transformation of star striker Luis Suarez. In four months the Uruguayan has gone from hated traitor to adored hero. No longer arguing over the clauses in his contract in an attempt to manoeuvre a move away, Suarez has now put pen to paper on a new long-term contract and is scoring at a rate that justifies his status as the highest paid player in Liverpool’s history.

As we’ve come to expect, the magical number seven stole the show yet again against Cardiff at Anfield, scoring twice to become the first player in the Premier League era to hit double figures in a single month. And, with two more matches left in December, only a brave man would bet against Suarez adding to his impressive total of ten goals this month.

Perhaps more importantly, he showed significant signs of maturity. Not only was he unselfish in setting up Sterling for the Reds’ second goal when he could have easily scored himself, he also demonstrated humility and respect as he passed the captain’s armband on to Daniel Agger when he replaced Coutinho with seven minutes remaining. In the long term, that character development could be even more important than the short term impact of his goals.

It’s those goals, though, that attract the most attention and plaudits because they are spectacularly driving Liverpool’s run of good form. It may have taken Suarez an unusually long amount of time to register a shot on target on Saturday, but when he finally did 25 minutes in it was worth the wait. After good work from the scouse Cafu that is Jon Flanagan, Suarez dispatched Henderson’s cross past the keeper and into the net with a devastatingly lethal first time volley.

Suarez volleys home the opener
Cardiff had actually started the match fairly well up to that point, with Kirkby born Craig Noone testing Mignolet with a decent curled effort after a quarter of an hour. However, after Suarez opened the scoring Liverpool were utterly dominant and the visitors failed to cope with the hosts’ impressive attack.

Coutinho fired a shot against the base of the post, Skrtel headed over the bar and Flanagan’s strike was cleared off the line as Liverpool piled on the pressure before Raheem Sterling netted the second moments prior to the interval. Running clean through on goal parallel to Suarez after Henderson’s clever ball had set the number seven in, Sterling received a pass from the unselfish Suarez and completed the simplest tap-in to score possibly the easiest goal of his career.

Suarez’s spectacular curler into the bottom right hand corner on the stroke of half time put the game to death as a contest, and set up the prospect of a humiliating end to Malky Mackay’s reign as Cardiff City boss.

Suarez celebrates with his teammates
With Liverpool firing on all cylinders and Cardiff unable to resists the Reds’ relentless attacks, the Merseysiders could have gone on to fire six or seven past the Welsh side.

A combination of the hosts taking their foot off the accelerator and the away side stepping up their game prevented a cricket score, however, and made the result respectable for Mackay’s men, who even bagged a consolation on the hour mark, as shoddy defending at a set piece cost the Reds another clean sheet.

Sakho was left marking two men and one of them, namely Jordan Mutch, got his head to the centre and nodded home in front of the jubilant travelling supporters, which was deeply frustrating for Kopites hoping to see improvements in their team’s defending ahead of big matches against rivals Manchester City and Chelsea, who will both pose a greater attacking threat than Cardiff.

A second Cardiff goal at that point would have made things interesting, and a corner into the box with 20 minutes left on the clock did cause a worrying goalmouth scramble in the Liverpool penalty area. Thankfully, though, it never materialised and the game petered out, with Suarez being denied a hat-trick by the woodwork the only event of note in the closing stages.

On the final whistle, Rodgers embraced his counterpart Mackay, who then went on to applaud the tremendous travelling supporters before disappearing down the tunnel for what many believed would be the last time.

Mackay claps to the Cardiff fans
Thankfully, he has been given a temporary reprieve, but who knows whether the unpredictable Tan will change his mind and sack Mackay sooner or later? One thing’s certain, though, he will always receive the backing of the marvellous Cardiff fans, who in turn will be cheered on every step of the way by Kopites who can sympathise with them better than most sets of supporters.

YNWA

Monday, 16 December 2013

Reds smash five past stunned Spurs

That was worth the wait.

With their scarcely believable 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane yesterday Liverpool not only thrashed one of their main rivals for Champions League qualification and ended a streak of six defeats at their bogey ground. They also sent a message out to the rest of the Premier League loud and clear; Brendan Rodgers’ men mean business.

From the first to the final whistle, Liverpool were in the supremacy. After securing a two-goal lead at half time thanks to goals from Suarez and Henderson, the visitors pressed home their advantage in the second period and, when Paulinho deservedly saw red on the hour mark, there was only ever going to be one winner.

Youngsters Flanagan and Sterling added their names to the score sheet; with a second from the Reds’ number seven sandwiched in between to clinch an incredible victory in front of a stunned, and infuriated, White Hart Lane. It was arguably Liverpool’s best performance under the reign of Brendan Rodgers, and good enough to get his Tottenham counterpart Andre-Villas Boas sacked.

Lucas Leiva came in for the injured Steven Gerrard in the only change to the team that fired four past Tottenham’s London neighbours West Ham United at Anfield last weekend. Luis Suarez took over the skipper’s responsibilities, captaining the Reds for the first time in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, Jordan Henderson filled the number eight’s boots impressively in midfield, putting in the type of virtuoso performance Kenny Dalglish, who was watching on from the stands, paid £16 million for when he was Liverpool manager in the summer of 2011. Covering every blade of grass, the former Sunderland man capped a superb attacking display with his first League goal of the season.

Before then, he was instrumental in the build up to the opening goal 18 minutes in, as Suarez capitalised on his creative work to escape the attention of Tottenham’s disjointed defence and coolly slot the ball past Lloris and into the bottom corner.

With Coutinho and Henderson pulling the strings in the middle and Sterling so effectively beating Naughton on the wing that the 25-year old full back was replaced at half time, Liverpool kept up the pressure and pinned back their opponents for the rest of the first half.

Suarez squandered a good chance when he went one-on-one with Lloris, Coutinho hit the woodwork and Johnson’s strike flew just over the bar as the Reds battered their hosts, whose only response came in the form of a header over the bar from Chadli.

A second goal was an absolute must if the Merseysiders were to make their dominance count and, thankfully, it arrived with five minutes of the first period remaining. Lloris did well to thwart both Henderson and Suarez, but there was nothing the French stopper could do to prevent the former volleying into the back of the net when the rebound fell invitingly to him inside the box.

Suarez gets the goalscoring fun started

Henderson celebrates his first League goal of the campaign

Two minutes before the break, Tottenham almost found a way back into the match. Thanks to a bad back pass from Sakho and poor footwork from Mignolet, Soldado had put the ball in the back of the net to seemingly stem the tide of Red dominance and offer Spurs hope for the second half.

Fortunately, referee Jon Moss penalised the Spaniard for a push on Mignolet, which was arguably harsh on the home side. They could have no qualms with his dismissal of Paulinho fifteen minutes after the restart, however, as the Brazilian followed the example of Everton’s Kevin Mirallas in practicing his karate kicking skills on Suarez. Unlike the Belgian, though, Paulinho was rightly sent to take an early bath.

Ironically, Spurs had been improving up to that point, Soldado unleashing a fierce effort over the bar two minutes into the second half. Paulinho’s straight red card was the final nail in their coffin, though, which removed any lingering doubt regarding the outcome of the contest. It was now simply a question of whether Liverpool would settle for their two-goal lead or push on further to really embarrass their hosts.

Anyone who knows anything about Brendan Rodgers’ footballing philosophy knows that the first answer was never an option. Liverpool were going to kill off Spurs in style.

First, on 74 minutes Henderson’s magnificent back heeled pass found Suarez, who squared the ball across the penalty area to Jon Flanagan. Flanno rifled the ball into the net to score a goal he will never forget and then ran to celebrate in front of the ecstatic travelling Kop.

Then, substitute Luis Alberto’s clever pass put Suarez through on goal and the Uruguayan beautifully lofted the ball over Lloris to net his seventeenth goal of the season. To conclude, Suarez set up Sterling, who calmly scored the goal his performance merited to round off an unbelievable afternoon of world class football from Liverpool.

Flanagan won't forget that one anytime soon

17 goals: can there by any doubt he's currently the best player in the League?

Sterling deserves a pat on the head from Suarez!
Before kick-off, Liverpool’s festive fixture list looked daunting. In contrast, at the end of 90 minutes of scintillating stuff from the Reds, they can now enter into matches at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge with renewed confidence and assurance in their ability.

If they can stick five past Spurs without reply at White Hart Lane, they can do anything!

YNWA

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas crackers could make or break Liverpool's season

Kopites have got some tasty festive fixtures to get their teeth into as a complement to the Christmas turkey.

Up to this point, Liverpool supporters can be satisfied with the Reds’ season so far. Few were brave enough to predict that Brendan Rodgers’ side would sit second in the table come the middle of December, but that’s where they find themselves, boasting the second highest goals tally in the League and enjoying a highly respectable average return of two points per match.

Kopites get in the festive spirit
However, the next few weeks contain three season-defining fixtures that will give strong indicators as to whether the Reds can sustain their brilliant start and keep pace at the top or fall away from the dizzying heights of the upper echelons of the Premier League table.

To make things even more difficult and, at the same time, interesting, Liverpool will have to complete those three matches without two of their talismanic players, as skipper Steven Gerrard and star striker Daniel Sturridge spend the festive season on the treatment table.

First up on Sunday, Liverpool make the long trip south to their bogey ground White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur. Worryingly, the Merseysiders have returned home from North London after suffering a disappointing defeat in their last six matches at the stadium, as May 2008 was the last time Liverpool took any points from an away match versus Spurs.

Moreover, after a difficult spell in which the future of manager Andre-Villas Boas was somewhat pre-maturely called into question, Spurs’ form has improved noticeably. After hitting rock bottom at the Etihad Stadium when they embarrassingly lost 6-0 to Manchester City, Tottenham have turned a corner, picking up a point against City’s local rivals United and coming from behind twice to secure morale boosting wins on the road against Fulham and Sunderland.

Hopefully they’ll be tired after their Thursday night exertions in the Europa League, although a 4-1 home victory over Anzhi can only do good for their confidence and they did not face an exhausting trip back home from some far flung corner of Eastern Europe either.

Tottenham’s goalscoring record gives Liverpool hope, however. The Londoners have struggled in front of goal this season, scoring only 15 goals, the same as Luis Suarez has managed despite his suspension at the start of the season. If the Reds can tighten up at the back and keep Tottenham out, they can reasonably rely on their magical number seven to bang them in at the other end.

After a home match against Cardiff City, from which three points are an absolute must, Liverpool face their toughest two games of the season in the space of four days. Both Manchester City and Chelsea have imperious home records that it will take a mighty effort to break on Boxing Day and on the 29th December respectively.

City have had a schizophrenic season. At the Etihad, they have been world beaters, winning all seven of their home matches so far and achieving a remarkable goal difference of +27 in the process. On the road, however, City switch from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde, being beaten four times and achieving an underwhelming goal difference of -1.

Chelsea, meanwhile, possess an even more intimidating home record under the managerial reign of the ever-controversial Jose Mourinho. With the Portuguese boss in the dugout, the Blues have an unbeaten home record in the League stretching back an astonishing 67 matches across his first spell at the club between 2004 and 2007 and since his return for this campaign.

Mourinho's smug sense of satisfaction may be justified by the Blues' home record
While I’d like to be naively optimistic and think Liverpool have a realistic chance of breaking those two records and having the Christmas to beat all Christmases, I must be honest and admit the festive fixture list is a daunting one from which I’d be ecstatic if we collected eight points out of twelve.

Victories over Tottenham and Cardiff and draws at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge would make it a very Merry Christmas for Brendan Rodgers’ men. On the other hand, setbacks in matches against our main rivals for Champions League qualification could leave Liverpool with a nasty hangover come New Year.

Let’s hope Kopites are savouring the taste of a successful Christmas spell and not just the taste of tender turkey this festive season.

Merry Christmas!

YNWA

(This article originally appeared on This is Anfield).

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Liverpool nail Hammers

However they go in, they all count.

Liverpool’s goals in their 4-1 victory over West Ham United at Anfield yesterday were not as aesthetically pleasing as the ones they netted versus Norwich in midweek, and they certainly won’t be appearing in December’s goal of the month competition! However, they were just as valuable, as they secured three more points for Brendan Rodgers’ men; taking them up to second place in the table thanks to City and Chelsea dropping points and setting them up well for a tricky festive fixture list.

Sam Allardyce’s side unsurprisingly proved more formidable opposition than Chris Hughton’s Canaries. With far more experience and expertise in putting ten men behind the ball and defending for their lives, the Hammers managed to keep the Reds’ at bay for most of the first period.

Fortune tends to favour those in form, though, and Liverpool got a stroke of luck just before the break which set them up nicely for the second half, Demel scoring an own goal to break the deadlock. Thankfully, the floodgates opened in the second period, and the Reds went on to claim a relatively comfortable 4-1 win, despite enduring a difficult ten minute spell after Skrtel’s own goal gave the visitors renewed hope.

The Londoners did more than just park the bus in the first half. They unexpectedly threatened as well, Jarvis directing an early header wide and then finding Maiga with a fantastic cross, which the 26-year old Mali man headed goalwards, forcing Mignolet to make an impressive save.

Encouragingly, the number 22 not only proved that he’s a quality shot stopper, but also demonstrated his distribution skills yesterday, sparking a superb counter attack after quarter of an hour when he threw the ball into space for Sterling after confidently catching a corner kick. The youngster, who turned 19 today, squared to Henderson, whose shot was unfortunately blocked.

A minute before the deadlock was broken, Sterling should have scored himself. Set through by the brilliant Coutinho, Sterling was presented with an excellent opportunity to convert but ended up scuffing his shot wide of the target.

Thankfully, West Ham shot themselves in the foot and undid all their hard work minutes before the interval. A relatively tame shot for Luis Suarez could have been held by Jaaskelainen, but instead he pushed it into the path of the backtracking Demel. The ball ricocheted off the Frenchman and rolled into the Anfield Road end net.

Pressing home their advantage, Liverpool netted a second two minutes after the restart. Sakho diverted Gerrard’s dangerous delivery goalwards and, although either Skrtel or James Collins got a touch to the ball before it crossed the line, the goal was awarded to the Frenchman. It was a fitting reward for the solid performance he put in after replacing the ill Agger at the back.

Sakho scored, even though Skrtel tried to claim it
Those two goals either side of the interval couldn’t have been more pivotal. Had the Reds failed to score them, West Ham seemed destined to frustrate their hosts into dropping all-important points that they can’t afford to squander if they are to maintain their lofty place in the Premier League table.

Irritatingly, though, Liverpool let the Londoners back into the contest midway through the second period. After Jaaskelainen made a couple of decent saves to deny Coutinho and Sterling, Skrtel scored his second own goal in the space of six days as he inadvertently diverted Jarvis’ header past Mignolet and into the back of the net.

It was frustrating not only because it let the Hammers back into the match, but also because it meant that once again the Merseysiders failed to keep a clean sheet. After keeping three clean sheets in their first three League matches, Liverpool have since managed to prevent their opponents netting only once more, and that was against the abysmal Fulham, who are struggling to score against anybody at the moment. However prolific Luis Suarez may be, the Reds can’t keep on relying on scoring more goals than their opponents, and must tighten up at the back as a matter of primary importance.

As Brendan Rodgers mentioned after the match, Liverpool’s response to conceding was pleasing. After enduring a tough ten minute spell, which included a worrying goalmouth scramble, the home side scored a third to put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt. Glen Johnson, who was sporting the captain’s armband after Steven Gerrard had pulled up with a hamstring strain and been substituted, whipped a sensational cross to the back post, where Suarez superbly headed home his fourteenth goal of the season.

The Uruguayan then scored his second as his blast took a huge deflection off Joey O’Brien to wrong foot Jaaskelainen. Before then, though, referee Michael Oliver rightly showed Kevin Nolan a red card for his completely unnecessary horror tackle from behind on Henderson.

At least he can enjoy his Christmas dinner now
It was such a stupid and pointless tackle that I wouldn’t be surprised if West Ham’s scouse skipper was trying to pick up a three-match ban so he can put his feet up over Christmas! He has a track record, after all, having been suspended for festive fixtures in the last three seasons. Admittedly Jon Flanagan was fortunate to avoid serious punishment for a similarly bad tackle on Stewart Downing only three minutes in, but that in no way excuses Nolan.

With Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea coming up over the Christmas period, Liverpool had to take maximum points from this match. Thankfully, they didn’t slip up and now head into those challenging, season-defining matches brimming with promise, optimism and, crucially, goals.

Bring on the big games!

YNWA

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Suarez Show

Sturridge who?

Luis Suarez produced the type of mesmerising form last night that thrills Reds’ supporters and allays their fears regarding the fitness of his strike partner Daniel Sturridge. With the magical Uruguayan in such scintillating form, Liverpool will score goals, win matches and pick up points even while the England striker faces a frustratingly lengthy spell on the treatment table over the festive season.

The Canaries, however, must be sick of the sight of Suarez. After conceding eleven goals to the number seven alone in their last four meetings with the Merseysiders, Norwich could be forgiven for abandoning all attempts to take points off Liverpool as long as Suarez stays at Anfield.

In the first half hour, Suarez demonstrated why John Henry and Brendan Rodgers fought so hard in the summer to keep him at the club.

His first goal was a thing of beauty. 40 yards out, nobody expected Suarez to have an attempt on goal, least of all Norwich goalkeeper Ruddy. How wrong they turned out to be! Punishing Ruddy for his seemingly minor positional error, Suarez sent a stunning strike looping over the keeper and into the Kop end net to open the scoring in a spectacular and memorable manner.

Suarez sees goalscoring opportunities that nobody else does
Suarez’s second may not have been as aesthetically appealing, but it revealed the predatory striking instincts that make him feared by defences across the world. Latching onto Gerrard’s clever flick on from Coutinho’s left wing corner, Suarez smashed home from close range to double both his personal tally and Liverpool’s lead.

He went on to net a third and, in doing so, become the first Premier League player ever to score three hat-tricks against the same club, ten minutes before the break, producing arguably his best goal of the night to clinch the match ball. Flicking the ball inventively over Fer, Suarez somehow managed to maintain his balance in order to drill a low strike into the back of the net from the edge of the box.

Suarez celebrates scoring perhaps his best goal of the night
It was a fitting way to cap an exceptional first half performance that the 26-year old will struggle to better for the rest of this season, if not for the rest of his career.

With the outcome of the contest beyond doubt after the first 45 minutes, the second half was simply an opportunity to bolster the Reds’ goal difference and watch more of the magician that is Luis Suarez in action.

After replacing Lucas in the starting line-up, the out-of-form Joe Allen was looking to impress boss Brendan Rodgers to try and win a regular place in the Northern Irishman’s midfield. Just before the hour mark, he sent a fantastic strike from range goalwards, forcing Ruddy to make an excellent save to tip the ball over.

The ability to produce threatening efforts on goal is one of the things that distinguish Allen from his competitor for a place in the starting line-up Lucas. If he can demonstrate a sharper attacking edge than the Brazilian and combine it with defensive competence, as well as matching Lucas’ consistency, the Welshman might just fight his way off the bench and back into contention for a place in the starting eleven.

For his fourth goal 15 minutes from time, Suarez conjured up the type of set piece supporters have become used to seeing him deliver. Curling a stunning free kick around the wall, Suarez left the keeper with no chance, the ball finding the corner of the net with a satisfying sense of inevitability.

Bradley Johnson evaded Agger to head home a consolation for the visitors on 83 minutes, before skipper Steven Gerrard almost got in on the goalscoring fun, cleverly improvising to send an effort against the base of the post after Coutinho had set him up. With only a minute left on the clock, Suarez’s final act was to set up Sterling, who netted Liverpool’s fifth with a neat finish inside the box.

In the dying seconds, Suarez was substituted by Aspas, receiving the raucous standing ovation his display fully merited as he left the pitch and claimed his seat on the bench. Suarez single-handedly transformed what was likely to be a routine midweek home match against struggling Norwich into a night few will forget in a hurry. At the same, he erased the memory of the Reds’ defeat to Hull City from our minds.

Suarez poses with the match ball
With Suarez in this type of form, only a fool would bet against Liverpool breaking into the top four.

YNWA

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tigers tame Reds

It was ‘one of those days’ for Liverpool at the KC Stadium yesterday.

Lacklustre and lifeless, Liverpool succumbed to an embarrassing 3-1 defeat away to Hull City on Sunday lunchtime, casting serious doubts over not only their title credentials, but also their ability to maintain their position in the top four. The Tigers’ top performance deservedly earned them their first victory over Liverpool in seventeen attempts, while Brendan Rodgers’ men were a shadow of their former selves, appearing disjointed, defensively vulnerable and toothless in attack throughout 90 minutes that Kopites endured, rather than enjoyed.

Following the blow of losing Daniel Sturridge for the upcoming festive fixtures, Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses were handed the opportunity to fill Sturridge’s sizeable boots and stake a claim for a regular place in the starting eleven. Unfortunately, neither impressed and both were eventually substituted in the second half. Meanwhile, at the back Toure and Skrtel seemed uncomfortable playing together and were exposed on several occasions by the hosts’ attack, while the youthful Flanagan was unsurprisingly the target of sustained pressure down Hull’s right hand side.

From the off, Steve Bruce’s men were on top, keeping things tight at the back and threatening on occasion, eventually claiming the lead 20 minutes in. Liverpool were given a warning sign five minutes before the opening goal when Curtis Davies headed narrowly wide, but the Reds failed to heed the warning and fell behind when Jake Livermore enjoyed a stroke of good fortune, as his effort from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection off Skrtel to wrong foot Mignolet and fly into the back of the net.

It was at that point that I thought it might just not be our day.  A slow start from the Reds, Hull’s energetic opening and the fact that fortune seemed to be on the hosts’ side as well were all factors combining to make me thoroughly pessimistic half way through the first 45 minutes.

It came as a pleasant surprise, therefore, when skipper Steven Gerrard produced a bit of magic to get the Merseysiders back into the contest soon after the deadlock had been broken. Him and Suarez stood over a free kick after Davies had been rightly booked for hacking down Jordan Henderson on the edge of the area. The number eight proceeded to curl a beautiful free kick beyond McGregor and into the back of the net, papering over the cracks of a shoddy first half display with a fantastic equaliser that the away side hoped would provide a platform for them to build on in the second period.

Gerrard and Henderson celebrate the skipper's equaliser
Frustratingly, it turned out they weren’t much better in the second half either, as Sterling and Moses remained anonymous and Suarez struggled on his own up front. Hull weren’t deflated by the leveller, either, and continued to pressurise their opponents while retaining an attacking threat, Davies heading wide of the post on the hour mark.

The introduction of Coutinho, who had started on the bench due to injury hampering his training during the week, had an instant effect on the Reds’ attack, as the Brazilian cleverly set up Moses, only for the Chelsea loanee’s shot to be saved by the keeper.

The Reds’ defence remained eminently vulnerable, however, and were culpable for allowing David Meyler to give Hull a deserved lead with 18 minutes remaining. Toure and Skrtel failed to co-ordinate their attempts to clear the ball, providing Meyler with the perfect opportunity to arrow the ball beyond Mignolet and into the bottom corner.

Ironically, the only positive to come out of the match, apart from Gerrard’s superb first half strike, was the reaction of Kolo Toure after conceding the second goal. The Ivorian beat the ground repeatedly in evident frustration, displaying the type of passion devoid from Liverpool’s display for large spells.

Toure doesn't accept defeat lightly
As usual, the Reds relied on Luis Suarez to try and dig themselves out of the considerable hole they found themselves in. The Uruguayan almost produced the goods as well, but he failed to replicate his free kick heroics from the previous week’s Merseyside derby, sending a dipping strike inches wide from a set piece in a similar position to the one he beat Tim Howard from at Goodison Park.

To round off a thoroughly miserable afternoon, Martin Skrtel scored an own goal with three minutes of normal time left, inadvertently heading Huddlestone’s scuffed strike, which was heading wide of the target, beyond his own goalkeeper and into the net.

Ahmed Elmohamady thankfully squandered a last gasp chance to net a fourth. Nonetheless, Liverpool’s humiliation was already complete.

To concede three goals against a Hull side who had only managed to net more than once in one previous League game is simply not good enough, and Liverpool’s defence must take a long hard look at where they went wrong and how they can improve. The Reds have now conceded three goals in successive matches for the first time since 1998. If Rodgers doesn’t establish a settled and more stable backline quickly, we will continue to leak goals, which will undermine our push for Champions League qualification, since all successful teams are built on a strong defence.

After suffering defeats like this one you want another match to come along as soon as possible in order to recover from the setback quickly. Thankfully, Liverpool have the ideal fixture in which they can right the considerable wrongs of this display coming up in midweek, as struggling Norwich City make the long trip north to Anfield.

It’s vitally important the Reds’ stuff the Canaries so that this match can be written off as simply a bad day at the office.

YNWA

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Reds and Blues remind us why we love football

That’s why we love football.

This blog aims to give “rational and passionate opinions on Liverpool Football Club.” Sometimes, however, rationality and passion come into conflict. Yesterday’s Merseyside derby provides the perfect example. Rationality dictates that, as a Red, I’d prefer an instantly forgettable and dreadfully dull 1-0 victory for Liverpool over their arch rivals Everton rather than a thrilling 3-3 draw that yields two fewer points. The former appeals to my mind, the latter to my heart. At the end of the day, though, football is all about passion and emotion and my heart wins over my head.

From the moment the 221st Merseyside derby became the first in the Premier League era to see both sides score in the opening ten minutes, those inside Goodison Park knew they were in for a treat. The pulsating start proved what many on both sides of the red-blue divide had suspected; this was the start of a new era of Merseyside derbies. Under Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, two young managers with remarkably similar footballing philosophies advocating expansive styles of play, the days of cagey, tactical affairs are over and, in their place, is high octane, edge-of-your-seat entertainment as two teams vying to reclaim their previous glories battle it out.

Forget defending, it was all about attacking football from the first to the final whistle yesterday lunchtime. First, Coutinho was left free at the back post to prod home Gerrard’s deep left wing corner. Then, the Blues immediately went up the other end of the pitch and drew level in a similar fashion, as the unmarked Mirallas evaded the attention of Steven Gerrard to turn home a loose ball in the box from Leighton Baines’ free kick.

The respective defences may have been having an off-day, but both goalkeepers were in sensational form throughout the 90 minutes and made spectacular saves that prevented a cricket score being run up. Mignolet made one of those saves to thwart his fellow Belgian Lukaku when he was sent through on goal on twelve minutes. Thankfully, the bizarrely-bearded Howard failed to replicate his opposite number’s heroics seven minutes later, as Luis Suarez somehow squeezed a sublime low free kick around the wall and into the bottom right hand corner, beyond the grasp of the American stopper.

To spice things up even more, Phil Dowd ridiculously decided against showing a red card to Kevin Mirallas just after the half hour mark. The Toffees’ number eleven left stud marks on Luis Suarez’s knee following a dangerously high challenge on the Uruguayan, which Dowd inexplicably deemed only worthy of a booking.

Coutinho celebrates...
...Suarez scores...
...and Mirallas kung fu kicks
One can only speculate how both the referee and the media might have reacted had the roles been reversed and Suarez’s stud marks been left on Mirallas’ knee, although I suspect a public flogging wouldn't be beyond the bounds of possibility. I’m sure a booking for Suarez diving might just have received a little more attention than the yellow shown to Barkley for simulation as well.

After the break, a fine stop from Mignolet was required to keep the visitors’ lead intact, as he blocked Deulofeu’s low effort when the Barcelona loanee was sent one-on-one with the keeper by Mirallas. Joe Allen then squandered a fantastic opportunity to put the Reds’ two ahead at the opposite end on the hour mark, as he somehow shot wide from close range with the goal at his mercy. The Welshman went on to receive a booking and was promptly replaced by Victor Moses. At this rate, Lucas and Henderson need not be worried about losing their place in the team to the £15 million man.

Liverpool’s nemesis Lukaku remained a constant threat for the home side, and Mignolet had to be on top form to deny him twice. There was little he could do on 72 minutes, however, as the Chelsea loanee side-footed home after the Reds’ defence disappointingly failed to deal with a free kick into the area. Lukaku went on to deliver what seemed to be a sucker punch ten minutes from time, as he exploited yet more poor defending to power a header home from a corner kick and put Everton in front for the first time in the contest.

Lukaku strikes again...
...but Sturridge has the last laugh
Impressively and encouragingly, though, Liverpool didn’t give up and stole a point with a minute of normal time left on the clock, as Sturridge glanced home a header from Gerrard’s pinpoint set piece delivery. They could have even nicked all three points, but Howard produced a great save to repel Suarez’s immense volleyed effort two minutes into injury time, before Phil Dowd called time on what had been undoubtedly the best Merseyside derby in recent times.

In hindsight, a point is slightly disappointing because we were in the lead twice and really should have held on to all three points. As it transpired, though, a point wasn’t too bad an outcome considering we were eight minutes away from losing to the insufferable Toffees.

In the end, the reminder of why we love football that this dramatic derby provided proved priceless.

YNWA

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Reds run riot in Fulham rout

Liverpool couldn’t have responded to defeat at Arsenal in a better way.

Dominant from start to finish, the Reds fired four past the Gunners’ London neighbours Fulham to provide the perfect preparation for their trip to Goodison Park after the international break and leave Cottagers’ manager Martin Jol expecting to receive his P45 imminently.

After Amorebieta’s own goal opened the floodgates, Skrtel and Suarez scored soon after to put Liverpool 3-0 up at the interval. With three points in the bag, it was simply a case of how many the Reds could score in the second period. Suarez bagged his second and the Reds’ fourth ten minutes after the restart, with the only disappointment being his failure to net a second consecutive hat-trick at Anfield.

Reverting to 4-3-3 after Arsenal picked holes in the Merseysiders’ 3-4-1-2 formation in the first half last weekend, Rodgers handed a return to the side to vice-captain Daniel Agger. In midfield, Coutinho operated on the left flank, with Henderson on the opposite side and Lucas and Gerrard occupying the centre of the pitch.

When the game kicked off following a minute’s silence the day before Remembrance Sunday, the hosts began on the front foot and never surrendered their position in the ascendancy. Agger volleyed over, Coutinho shot wide and Suarez saw his strike saved by Stekelenburg before the visitors created anything of note. Their one sight of goal came on the quarter of an hour mark, when an admittedly brilliant cross-field ball from former Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov sparked a counter attack that culminated in Kasami’s shot being deflected behind.

Following a few below-par performances, which had prompted some to call for the skipper to sit out this match, Steven Gerrard was back on form yesterday afternoon and, excluding Luis Suarez from the reckoning, was clearly man of the match. Pinging pinpoint passes across the pitch to open up Fulham’s defence, Gerrard’s deliveries played a crucial role in all four goals.

First, it was his menacing inswinging free kick that Fernando Amorebieta headed into his own net under pressure from Luis Suarez. Then, tall Slovak Martin Skrtel reached the number eight’s accurate right wing corner to power a header home and double the Reds’ lead.
Suarez tries to claim the opening goal
Skrtel scores the second
Coutinho then tested Dutch keeper Stekelenburg twice and Sturridge fired wide, as Liverpool piled on the pressure, before Gerrard was instrumental in setting up the third goal that removed any doubt about the contest’s outcome. After expertly nutmegging the dumbfounded Berbatov, Gerrard magnificently switched play to Henderson. His perfect pass put Suarez through on goal and the Uruguayan, who had to receive special permission to play in this fixture from his national team ahead of their World Cup play-off versus Jordan, made no mistake from close range.

Unlike earlier on in the season, Liverpool didn’t take their foot off the accelerator in the second half. In fact, only two minutes into the second period the Reds should have added a fourth, as Stekelenburg stopped Suarez, made an amazing save from Sturridge’s rebound and then saw the number seven fire over the bar when the ball fell to him in a good position, all in the space of thirty seconds.

It didn’t take long for that fourth to be bagged, though, as Suarez sent a clinical finish into the net after receiving the ball from, you guessed it, Steven Gerrard.

Unfortunately Suarez's prediction of a hat-trick proved inaccurate this time
The final half hour proved to be a mere formality, consisting of Coutinho’s pursuit of a goal and Suarez’s search for a third. Unfortunately, neither achieved their goals despite their best efforts, but overall there was nothing Kopites could complain about after a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of exceptional football from the home side, who returned to second place in the table.

Enjoying over two-thirds of possession and having 32 shots, ten of which were on target, Liverpool’s utter dominance was evidenced by the statistics, although it was also as clear as day to even the most casual of observers. The task facing the Reds now is replicating this display in every home match so that Anfield once again becomes the bastion of invincibility the great Bill Shankly envisaged it as.


YNWA

Progress report: 10 games in

“Ignore the table until 10 games have been played” is a mantra repeated ad nauseam at the start of every new season. Now that we are ten games into the 2013/2014 campaign and are officially allowed to look at the Premier League table, it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the season so far. It will be a pleasant experience for Kopites, as things are undoubtedly looking rosy for Rodgers’ Reds.

What a difference a year makes.

This time last season things were much different and Liverpool fans had good reason to be worried. Languishing in thirteenth place, level on points with Norwich City and the eventually relegated Wigan Athletic, the Merseysiders had managed to secure only two wins and a mere eleven points, and Brendan Rodgers was enduring  a difficult start to life at Anfield.

Admittedly, the fixture list had been unforgiving, throwing up home matches against both Manchester clubs and Arsenal, as well as a trip to Goodison Park for the first Merseyside derby of the 2012/2013 season. However, that could not excuse a points return from the first ten games of the season one point lower than that achieved by Roy Hodgson, who didn’t sit in the Anfield dugout for much longer as results and performances remained disappointing, to say the least.

How times change.

In comparison, Liverpool have started this season at breakneck pace, filling Kopites with confidence, Rodgers with joy and opponents with fear. With six wins and 20 points under their belts, the Reds sit third in the table, level on points with Chelsea and Tottenham and ahead of both Manchester City and United. Instead of competing with relegation candidates, Liverpool are fighting it out with the big boys, returning to where they belong in the upper echelons of the table.

The transformation in Liverpool’s fortunes can be explained by two main factors; firstly, the form of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Dubbed the SAS due to their military-like ruthlessness in front of goal, the pair have scored 14 of the Reds’ 17 League goals this campaign.

Suarez's partnership with Sturridge has given him something to smile about
There were doubts about Suarez’s commitment to the club after he was forced to stay in the summer and Sturridge could have taken a while to regain top form after missing most of pre-season through injury. Those fears have proven unfounded, though, as the pair have both been brilliant individually and have struck up one of, if not the most lethal strike partnership in the Premier League. Should they continue to fire on all cylinders, there’s no reason why Liverpool can’t retain their lofty position in the table.

Secondly, Brendan Rodgers has devised a well-thought through and effective formation, which provides not only defensive solidity, but also attacking fluidity. Designed on the principle of employing five attacking players and an equal number of defensive players, the Reds’ 3-4-1-2 formation is remarkably innovative. Three centre backs and two holding midfielders provide security, while Coutinho or Moses is given licence to wreak havoc in the number ten role behind the SAS and the wing backs have freedom to join in the fun as well.

It may need moderating depending on the opposition, as evidenced on Saturday, when Arsenal’s creative midfielders  took advantage of the space afforded them due to our centre backs’ pre-occupation with Giroud,  but in general the unique formation Rodgers employs has been beneficial. Not only has it helped gain positive results and win points, it has also stamped the Northern Irishman’s mark on the club and resulted in his footballing philosophy being reflected out on the pitch. It reminds me of the 4-2-3-1 formation that Benitez made his own with so much success during his time at the club. In a similar fashion, Rodgers has come up with a formation that meets the demands of both defence and attack and facilitates a balanced but effective style of play.

Thumbs up: Rodgers has won the approval of Reds supporters
Another positive that has contributed to the improvement this season is the extra depth and competition within the squad. This is most evident in defence, where Rodgers brought in a raft of reinforcements during the summer. The competition for places in the starting line-up has been so fierce that even vice-captain Daniel Agger has been left on the bench in recent weeks due to the form of Skrtel, Sakho and Toure. Combined with the principle of keeping in form players in the team, which has seen Skrtel come back in from the cold, this extra competition can only keep the players on their toes and increase the probability of good performances.

With so many positives to take from the opening ten games, pointing out negatives may seem like pointless nit-picking. There are, however, some areas in which Liverpool need to make more progress. Most obviously, there has been a tendency for performance levels to tail away during the second half of matches. In fact, it took the Merseysiders until the end of September to score their first goal in the second half. This is probably a short-term anomaly, though, and nothing to be overly concerned with.

A perhaps more serious long term issue is Liverpool’s defending from set-pieces, which so often seems to be ineffective. Time and time again the Reds have been caught out from corners and free kicks, while comparatively little has been created at the other end from dead-ball scenarios. However, it’s in all likelihood simply a case of sorting this out on the training ground with much practice and then we should start to see a difference on match day.

Talk of a title challenge has always been premature, as it would take an unbelievable transformation to go from seventh to first in one season. The Reds’ start to the 2013/2014 campaign has shown us that they are certainly capable of competing for Champions League qualification, however.

Ten games in, Liverpool’s goals for the season appear clearly in sight. Kopites have every reason to believe that their beloved team will achieve them.

YNWA

(This article originally appeared on This is Anfield)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Gunners too good for Liverpool

Liverpool fell to a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates as Arsenal emerged victorious from the weekend’s top of the table clash.

The Reds entered the game with high hopes following their emphatic victory over West Bromwich Albion last weekend, where Sturridge and Suarez showed the type of class and skill that promised to terrify Wenger’s backline. The Gunners’ recent defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea also suggested that their seemingly imperious form may be less apparent against more capable opposition.

Unfortunately, though, Arsenal were back to their brilliant best and, although Liverpool’s display was far from poor, it evidenced tactical naivety, particularly in the first half. The 3-4-1-2 formation that has served Rodgers’ men so ably against other sides proved inappropriate against Arsenal, as it left holding midfielders Gerrard and Lucas to deal with Rosicky, Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla all by themselves, while Toure, Skrtel and Sakho marked lone striker Giroud.

The predictable result was that the home side’s creative talent was given the space to show off their skills between the lines and, consequently, Arsenal dominated the first 45 minutes. Reverting to 4-4-2 at half time, Liverpool improved after the break, having more possession, completing more passes and creating more chances, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Londoners, who sealed victory thanks to a world class goal from arguably the player of the season so far, namely Aaron Ramsey.

The major team news for Liverpool was that Jon Flanagan, a player marginalised and seemingly on his way out of Anfield, started at right wing back in the place of the ill Glen Johnson. Who knows whether he has a long term future at the club, but most can agree that he performed better than left wing back Aly Cissokho against Arsenal yesterday teatime. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho began on the bench following his return from injury.

Only nine minutes in Jordan Henderson had a great chance to open the scoring for Liverpool, but he was like a deer caught in the headlights when presented with a clear path through to goal after a superb tackle in the middle of the park. As a result, his shot was disappointingly weak and failed to test Szczesny and, to make things worse, a mere ten minutes later Arsenal took the lead.

Bacary Sagna beat Cissokho down the right wing and whipped a cross into the box, where Cazorla met his delivery and powered a header against the post. The Spaniard retained his concentration and reacted fastest to reach the rebound and blast beyond both Skrtel and Mignolet.

Cazorla fires the Gunners in front
As difficult as it was facing a resurgent Arsenal side, the Reds’ weren't helped by some sub-par refereeing from Martin Atkinson. Soon after the Gunners’ opener, Sagna fouled Suarez and the number seven intelligently played a quick free kick, which started off a move that ended with Henderson tapping home. Infuriatingly and inexplicably the goal was chalked off because Atkinson ludicrously decided booking Sagna immediately was more important than allowing the away side to press their advantage and take a quick free kick.

At the other end, Mignolet was busy throughout the game, and he had to be on hand to make another good save after an Arsenal one-two released Ramsey on the half hour mark. Cazorla then struck wide as the Reds entered the break with a lot of work to do. Thankfully, after swapping Cissokho for Coutinho and changing to 4-4-2, there was a noticeable improvement, Henderson volleying narrowly over the bar soon after the break.

Silly mistakes in defence persisted, however, and almost cost the visitors dear. Ten minutes after the restart, Toure passed straight to Giroud, who dinked an effort wide of the post when he really should have doubled his team’s lead.

When the Gunners’ second goal did arrive, Liverpool couldn’t be blamed. It was simply a great goal that nobody could do anything about. An unbelievably good long range volley from the rejuvenated Ramsey sailed past the helpless Mignolet and hit the back of the net.

Ramsey is a man re-born this season
It was the Welshman’s eleventh goal in his last 18 games. He had previously managed to net just ten times in 148 matches.

If anybody was going to forge a way back into the match for Liverpool in the final half hour, it was going to be either Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge. The former proved particularly threatening against the team he wanted to move to in the summer, agonisingly clipping the far post with a clever outside-of-the-boot effort.

With minutes remaining, the latter was almost presented with a golden opportunity as Szczesny dropped the ball perilously close to the England striker’s feet, but the Pole recovered to spare his blushes. The last chance of the match saw Suarez side-foot wide when clean through on goal. Sturridge screamed at him for not squaring the ball, but he would have attempted to score if he’d been in Suarez’s shoes.

The disappointment from this defeat is augmented by the optimism many Reds had heading into the contest. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to beat this season’s pacesetters, but, as it turned out, Liverpool were humbled, underlining the fact that they are probably still at least a season away from truly competing for top spot.

This campaign is all about getting into that top four. It’s vitally important the Reds get back to winning ways at home to the woeful Fulham next weekend in order to continue their quest for Champions League qualification.

YNWA

Sunday, 27 October 2013

SAS send Baggies packing

Luis Suarez demonstrated why Liverpool were so determined to keep hold of him during the summer in a masterful performance yesterday.

Smashing his record of not managing to score against West Bromwich Albion, Suarez banged three past the Baggies to not only claim the match ball, but also put the Reds firmly on the path to a well-deserved win and second place in the Premier League table, two points behind table-toppers Arsenal. Daniel Sturridge joined in the fun later on, magnificently chipping the ball over the keeper and into the net from the edge of the area to allay any anxiety that may have existed after Morrison pulled one back for the visitors from a controversial spot kick. 
Suarez smiles for a photo with the match ball
Suarez was on the offence from the go, dragging a shot wide of the far post six minutes in. We then saw both the good and the bad of the number seven soon after, as he first went down far too easily in the penalty area in an unsuccessful attempt to win a penalty and then opened the scoring with a sublime show of individual talent. 

Picking the ball up deep, the Uruguayan immensely bypassed three West Brom defenders with embarrassing ease and then fired low past Myhill and into the bottom corner. He was at it again only five minutes later, somehow managing to find the top corner with a header from 18 yards out after Cissokho’s powerful centre found Suarez, more by chance than design.

Playing in the most advanced of the central midfield positions behind the stunning SAS, Henderson pressed the West Brom defence persistently, safe in the knowledge that Lucas Leiva, who returned to the line-up following the birth of his second child, was there behind him to keep guard of the defence. His efforts were almost rewarded with an impressive goal five minutes before the break but his curling strike towards the top right hand corner went narrowly over the bar.

At the other end, the only real chance Steve Clarke’s men created came on the stroke of half time when ex-Red Nicolas Anelka nipped between Skrtel and Mignolet and prodded goalwards, but thankfully our clean shaven number 37 recovered in time to make a clearance that denied the Baggies a goal that would have brought them back into the contest and made the second period far less comfortable for the dominant hosts.

Man of the moment Luis Suarez, meanwhile, was still searching for his hat-trick, terrorising Albion’s backline in the process. Ten minutes before the interval he hit a free kick just wide of the post and it wasn’t until ten minutes after the restart that he found what he was looking for. Latching onto Gerrard’s perfect set piece delivery, Suarez glanced a header into the net at the Kop end to score his- and Liverpool’s- third goal, ensuring three points would be added to Liverpool’s account at the end of the 90 minutes.
"Luis. Magician." John Henry says it all in a two-word Tweet
Sturridge then blazed against the bar as the Merseysiders threatened to run riot, but the Baggies were controversially rewarded a penalty midway through the second period to temporarily rain on the Reds’ parade. Billy Jones went down under Lucas' tackle in the penalty area and, although referee Jonathan Moss allowed play to proceed, he changed his mind when his assistant flagged for a penalty. From the spot, Morrison scored what turned out to be a consolation for West Brom, although at the time a swift second goal from the visitors would have been a serious cause for concern.

As it turned out, Kopites had no reason to worry, as Sturridge dispelled all concerns with a goal that brought a smile to the face of every Red. Twenty yards from goal, the in-form England international unexpectedly sent a stupendous chip over Myhill and into the back of the net. 

Sturridge celebrates in his traditional manner
It was an unbelievably good goal from Sturridge, but not enough to steal the limelight from Suarez, who left the field to a standing ovation a minute from time as he was replaced by Luis Alberto. Before then he had cheekily tried to add a fourth to his total with an improvised overhead kick, but Myhill did well to push the acrobatic attempt onto the crossbar.

Considering West Brom’s form going into the match yesterday- they were unbeaten in five and had won at Old Trafford- and their recent record in this fixture- the Baggies had won their last three League matches versus Liverpool- this was a really pleasing victory. Liverpool were imperiously good from the first to the final whistle, dominating in a fashion not seen since the dizzying heights of Rafael Benitez’s era at Anfield.

With Suarez and Sturridge firing on all cylinders, both individually and as a partnership, this was the perfect preparation for Liverpool’s most difficult task of the season; next week’s visit to the Emirates Stadium. If the Reds replicate this display they’ll have every chance of securing a win that will send an emphatic message to the rest of the Premier League.

YNWA