Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Is our season over?

Sitting in the away team's dugout at Anfield in May 2005, Brendan Rodgers would have had little idea how his career would then progress to place him in the host's dugout just shy of a decade later. As a Chelsea coach during Jose Mourinho's infamous spell at the London side, Rodgers experienced the Portuguese's battles with then Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez at first hand.

He also encountered the formidable Anfield crowd for the first time. Watching the Kop put the Reds on the road to Istanbul as they sucked Luis Garcia's controversial shot inches over the line, Rodgers publicly lamented the decision but privately was impressed with the capacity of Kopites to have such a huge influence on proceedings.

Fast forward eight years and Rodgers was relying on the Kop to work its magic again to help dig his team out of a considerable hole they had got themselves into. Attempting to recover from a two-goal first leg deficit for only the second time in their history, it was an evening in which Rodgers could have enjoyed an epic European match and therefore establish himself as Liverpool manager and immeasurably improve his reputation.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Although the Reds' response to conceding an away goal had all the hallmarks of a European comeback to remember, they fell just short, unable to score the fourth goal they needed to progress during the final half hour against Russian side Zenit St Petersburg.

It was arguably a match that encapsulated the Merseysiders' first season during Brendan Rodgers' time in charge. Promising so much, but lacking a finished product. Taking two steps forward, then one step back. Raising our hopes, but leaving us disappointed.

When he arrived in June, Rodgers had the backing of most supporters. Liverpool fans are a knowledgeable bunch and knew returning to greatness- or even competitiveness- would be a long and painful process. He may not have managed a top team before, but his record at Swansea was impressive, and the style of play he deployed positively mouthwatering to Kopites longing for a return to the good old days of pass and move in the Liverpool groove.

As the season has panned out since, there's little doubt that Liverpool's style of play has improved, although they were hardly playing unattractive football under previous incumbent Kenny Dalglish. Results have been little better then under the much maligned Roy Hodgson, though, which is worrying.

Floundering in mid-table, the Reds had remarkably failed to beat a team in the top ten until their victory over Rodgers' former employers Swansea midway through February. Sure, they had played well against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City, but taking three points from them proved to be too difficult a task.

Flummoxed- Rodgers' failure to convert performances into points is puzzling
Rodgers' insistence on his team sticking to his passing philosophy no matter what has been both mesmerising and irritating in equal measure. At times, it reminds Reds of why Rodgers has the potential to be an excellent manager at the club. At others, it reveals his frustrating lack of pragmatism, which has arguably cost Premier League points this season.

A perfect example of this came against Zenit, when both Agger and Enrique almost cost the Reds a goal when they tried to play out from the back instead of just thumping clear. Later in that half, however, Liverpool played a beautiful string of passes together to work their way out of a tight position, as most fans were probably yelling at them to hoof it long already.

Rodgers' tactical naivety was also arguably displayed on that night. Making a double substitution after netting the third goal disrupted the team's momentum unnecessarily. Rafael Benitez was regularly, and with some justification, condemned for failing to make substitutions early enough. 

However, he was right in arguing that disrupting the flow of a team that is doing the right things, creating chances and dominating play by making substitutions is unwise and I can't help thinking that the Spaniard would have been able to oversee a completed comeback against Zenit, rather than the glorious failure we witnessed with Rodgers at the helm.

At only 40 years old, though, Rodgers is a young manager with plenty of time to develop his tactical nous and fine tune his philosophy. His style of play is commendable, enjoyable and encouraging. Whether it will produce results quick enough to satisfy FSG and the supporters and keep him in a job is another question all together.

Eliminated from all cup competitions and with Champions League qualification a distant dream, Liverpool only have Europa League qualification left to play for this season. You couldn't blame someone wanting the season to be over now so we can start all over again. However, that epic European night at Anfield against Zenit, although tinged with disappointment, could provide the motivation for a late push up the table.

The intoxicating thrill of the atmosphere at Anfield on a big European night is what makes enduring all the ups and downs that come from following Liverpool FC worthwhile. Those nights make us special and unique. They set us apart from lesser clubs. And we want more of them. 

That hunger to get this club back where it belongs- playing in and winning big European matches- is what will provide the purpose for the rest of the season and hopefully ensure a good run in towards the end of the campaign.


Friday, 22 February 2013

So close, yet so far as Reds crash out of Europe

It was a case of glorious failure for Liverpool at Anfield last night, as they just couldn't quite complete what would have been one of the best European comebacks the Kop has ever witnessed. The Reds exited the Europa League at the round of 32 stage after failing to score the four goals required to secure progress after Jamie Carragher, in his 150th and final European match for the club, had gifted Hulk a decisive away goal with a disappointing error.

Two exquisite free kicks from Suarez and a bundled effort from Allen following a neat one-two between Enrique and Henderson were enough to make most Kopites believe a shock comeback was on the cards. However, Liverpool failed to capitalise on their momentum in the final half hour, crashing out of the competition as their opponents Zenit St Petersburg advanced to the next round on away goals after a 3-3 draw on aggregate.

Seeking to harness the power of the fans' support, Rodgers emphasised the importance of the role of the crowd in the pre-match build up. Anfield didn't disappoint either, as an electric atmosphere was produced to intimidate the Reds' Russian opponents and inspire the Merseysiders to victory.

Feeding off that energy, Liverpool started in the ascendancy, playing with a good early tempo and making most of the running. All they had to show for it, however, was a free kick that Steven Gerrard blasted way over the bar.

Disaster struck on 20 minutes, though, when Hulk capitalised on a short back pass from Carragher, which allowed the Brazilian to run through on goal and slot past Reina to net a crucial away goal for Zenit and put them three ahead on aggregate.

Hulk pounces as Carragher makes a mistake
Preventing Zenit from scoring an away goal had been of paramount importance considering Liverpool hadn't managed to net one in Russia. Now, needing four goals in 70 minutes to emerge victorious, the Reds were facing an almost insurmountable task. If any team was going to mount a memorable comeback, though, it was Liverpool on a European night at Anfield.

Roared on by the Kop, Agger picked the ball up deep and dribbled to the edge of the Zenit box, where he drew a desperate foul. After Denisov was booked for trying to change the position of the free kick and refusing to move back to where the referee instructed him to stand, Suarez stepped up and, rather than curling the ball goalwards, he intelligently drilled it through the poorly constructed wall and into the net.

At that point, a sense of the impossible being made possible was stirring inside an increasingly noisy Anfield, as the supporters provided inimitable vocal backing. The Reds would have to keep things tight at the other end, though, as a second Zenit goal really would have killed the game as a contest. Reina's mis-kick of a bouncing ball was therefore briefly frightening, although the Spaniard quickly recovered.

Nevertheless, the momentum was clearly all in Liverpool's favour when they netted their second of the evening minutes before the break. The excellent Enrique, who immensely enjoyed the attacking freedom he was necessarily given in the dire straits Rodgers' side found themselves in, played a superb one-two with Henderson, the former Sunderland midfielder providing a return pass of pinpoint accuracy. On the by-line, Enrique picked out the unusually far forward Allen, who turned the ball home at the second attempt.

Allen bundles home to put the Reds ahead on the night
Needing only two second half goals without reply to progress, many Liverpool supporters predicted the completion of a historic comeback and a night that would live long in the memory. Zenit were visibly shaken by the Reds' reply to their opening goal, and they seemed unable to cope with the cauldron that was Anfield. They weren't afraid to attack when they had the ball, but thankfully they rarely enjoyed possession due to the home side's dominance.

The second period began as the first had ended, with Liverpool attacking constantly, ravenously hungry for further goals to fuel their comeback. Agger may have unnecessarily blasted over the bar to provide Zenit with temporary relief, but it was clear that the visitors were hanging on to their aggregate lead by the skin of their teeth, relying on referee Kuipers failing to spot Hubocan's handball in the penalty area.

The home side were given a free kick on the hour mark, however, as Suarez was fouled yet again by a Zenit defender. He picked himself up and then curled a sensational free kick around the wall and into the net. It was his 25th and arguably most important goal of what has been a brilliant campaign for the inspirational Uruguyuan.

With half an hour left to score once more, what had previously appeared impossible- or at least extraordinarily difficult- now seemed eminently possible, if not inevitable.

At that point, Rodgers decided to make a double substitution, swapping Allen and Henderson for Shelvey and Assaidi respectively. Although both played quite well, in hindsight it was probably a unwise time to make the substitutions, as disrupting the flow of a confident side by making changes is naive.

Soon after arriving on the pitch, Shelvey picked up a yellow card for a rash challenge, which gave Hulk a set piece in a dangerous position. Thankfully, he wasn't as lethal as Suarez, although his dipped effort did go worryingly close to finding the back of the net. At the other end, Suarez and Gerrard were the main protagonists for the Reds, the former watching Malafeev parry another one of his free kicks, before the latter's volley at an awkward angle after the ball just didn't sit up for him nicely was turned behind by the goalkeeper.

Due to their dedication to passing football and refusal to change their style of play, Liverpool ran the risk of conceding a fatal second goal. When Agger refused to clear long, the ball fell to Hulk and he forced Reina to make an excellent low save. Then, after intervening importantly in the box, Enrique foolishly tried to play his way out and the ball went to Anyukov, whose long-ranger was fortunately deflected over.

In the closing stages, however, it was all Liverpool. Shelvey's thunderous first time strike frustratingly flew into the side-netting, while Agger headed a corner wide as the Reds searched for that elusive fourth goal and Zenit held on for dear life. Unfortunately, despite Reina going up for a corner at the death, they managed to stop Liverpool scoring again and thus progressed on away goals after a 3-3 draw on aggregate.

Suarez can't hide his disappointment after the final whistle is blown 
The Anfield crowd remained at their sensational best, though, closing the evening with a rousing rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" during injury time, showing their appreciation for the players' phenomenal effort and demonstrating that Liverpool FC remains the best footballing family to be a part of.

It may have ended in disappointment, but Liverpool were back where they belong last night- competing in epic European encounters at fortress Anfield. We can only hope that it isn't too long before we are back playing big games in Europe once again.

You'll Never Walk Alone

Monday, 18 February 2013

Reds smash five past Swansea

Liverpool returned to form in style yesterday, storming to an emphatic 5-0 victory over Swansea City at Anfield. Goals from debutant Philippe Coutinho, Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez were bookended by converted spot kicks from Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, as Brendan Rodgers' side put their boss' former employers to the sword and arguably demonstrated that they have moved on from disappointing midweek defeats to West Brom and Zenit St Petersburg.

Registering a phenomenal 35 shots on goal, the Reds were absolutely dominant from the first whistle to the last, and thoroughly deserved what was a convincing win. Boosted by the return of Daniel Sturridge, who has been sorely missed, and the debut of former Inter Milan play-maker Coutinho, Liverpool started strongly.

Involved from the off, Coutinho glided past a couple of challenges early on before driving goalwards, while Downing struck wide of Vorm's goal on several occasions. Moreover, Suarez beat Vorm with a wonderfully lobbed volley from range but couldn't break the deadlock as the ball landed on the roof of the net. Meanwhile, Swansea's single sight of goal came when Lamah's strike from a corner hit Johnson near his arm, with Howard Webb thankfully ignoring the Welsh side's appeals for a spot kick.

The often derided official was surprisingly generous to Liverpool throughout the course of the match, although he did deny the home side a penalty after Sturridge was tripped in the box. To increase Kopites' frustration, Coutinho side-footed the loose ball wide. Liverpool didn't have to wait too long to gain the lead their play deserved, however, as Webb pointed to the spot on the half hour mark after Suarez had been felled. Atoning for his miss against West Brom, Gerrard fired into the bottom left corner.

Gerrard made no mistake this time from the penalty spot
Sturridge nearly doubled their advantage soon after, seeing his dinked effort drift away from goal before shooting straight at Vorm from a narrow angle. 

Heading into the half time interval, Rodgers would have been pleased with his players' performance, although the fact that 21 shots had yielded only one goal may have worried him. With Swansea's renowned attacking ability, further goals were essential, not only to ensure that three points were secured, but also to restore confidence after some disruptive defeats and to give the Anfield faithful some joy and a reason to believe that the season isn't over just yet.

Fortunately, Coutinho opened the floodgates barely seconds into the second half. He burst clear of Swansea's defence and slotted past Vorm to cap a promising debut that provided ample evidence of his ability and encouraging signs of another useful weapon being added to Liverpool's attack. 

Coutinho doubles Liverpool's lead
Coutinho's cheeky back heel almost made it three, before Enrique and Sturridge combined to devastating effect on the edge of the area, the former smashing past Vorm to bag a rare goal for himself and a third for his increasingly confident team, who had entered into exhibition mode. 

After Agger rose highest and nodded over Gerrard's corner, Luis Suarez inevitably joined in with the goalscoring free-for-all, netting his 18th League goal of the campaign by firing into the corner of the net after evading a challenge. 

His strike partner Sturridge, who has added another dimension to the Reds' attack and enhanced Suarez's performances, also added his name to the score sheet. In between a shot that was saved and a shot that struck the crossbar, Sturridge fired into the top corner from the penalty spot following Wayne Routledge's handball. 

A season-ending shoulder injury to Fabio Borini, who has struggled with poor form and misfortune already at Anfield, while both teams ran down the clock was the only disappointment from the afternoon. 

Borini yells in pain after landing awkwardly on his shoulder
Apart from that, it was an afternoon of unexpected but beneficial events. Howard Webb awarded Liverpool two penalties, one of which was given for a foul on Suarez. The Reds actually converted those spot kicks, as well as three of their countless other chances. Most importantly, Liverpool finally beat a team in the top ten!

Nonetheless, defeating a depleted Swansea side evidently with more than one eye on their Capital One Cup final next weekend shouldn't be too surprising or a cause for undue celebration and optimism. Yes, it's nice to return to winning ways and bag a hatful of goals, but the real test of this squad's ability is coming up in the next few weeks in the form of crucial matches against Zenit and Spurs.

The outcomes of those contests will provide more information on the direction Rodgers' side are heading in than this Sunday afternoon stroll.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Zenit push Liverpool towards European exit

Liverpool are teetering on the brink of European exit after falling to a disappointing 2-0 defeat away to Russian side Zenit St Petersburg. The ordinarily clinical Luis Suarez spurned four excellent chances to grab a crucial away goal, before the superbly named Hulk netted a fantastic strike and poor defending soon after allowed Semak to double Zenit's lead and put his side in the driving seat heading into the second leg at Anfield next Thursday.

With little else to play for, Brendan Rodgers picked a strong starting line-up in the hope that a Europa League run would provide some consolation for exiting the FA Cup at the early stages and the Reds' unacceptable position in the Premier League table. With Sturridge ineligible, though, Suarez was largely isolated up front, receiving little support from Downing and Sterling.

Rodgers must have been pleased he picked Reina instead of Jones, though, as the Spaniard repeatedly kept his side in the contest when Zenit threatened to open the scoring early on. First, he made a good save to deny Roman Shirokov from close range, before Hulk's shot goalwards was crucially tipped behind the post by the number 25.

At the other end, Suarez wasted two gilt-edged chances to break the deadlock. After watching his shot drift narrowly wide following a promising counter-attack, the Uruguyuan intercepted a wayward pass and went through one-on-one with the keeper. Unfortunately, his attempt to round Malafeev proved unsuccessful as his touch was too heavy, taking him frustratingly wide of goal.

Midway through the first period, Jamie Carragher demonstrated why he still has so much to offer Liverpool during his final few months playing for the club. Hulk twisted and turned as he moved worryingly closer to the goal, but Carragher stood firm, read the play like a book and won the ball cleanly. The 35-year old couldn't stop the hosts dominating, however, as Danny headed straight at Reina and Hulk then hit the post, as the home side began to place their opponents under considerable pressure.

On the break, though, Suarez had a chance to send Liverpool into the interval with a lead. Allen's cross came to Sterling, who squared for Suarez. Unbelievably, he somehow contrived to put the ball wide with a fancy flick from yards out.

It wasn't a case of third time lucky for Suarez, as he flicked wide of goal
To be fair to Suarez, as annoying as his misses were, at least he was threatening the Zenit goal. At times, it seemed like Liverpool's attack was a one-man show. The best Sterling and Downing could conjure up was a shot high and wide from the latter on the stroke of half time.

The start of the second half was scrappy, with neither side getting hold of the ball and asserting themselves on the game. The deteriorating pitch didn't help either. However, Liverpool were the happier of the two teams, as Zenit's momentum had been slowed and the contest was evidently now more even.

Thankfully, someone other than Suarez was attacking Zenit's goal as well, although Glen Johnson is hardly an unexpected source of forward-thinking football. The England international travelled all the way to the edge of the box from the halfway line but then, tiring, saw his poked effort clip the keeper and go behind for a corner.

Suarez was still the focal point of the visitors' attack, though, and he spurned his fourth and final goalscoring opportunity on the hour mark. Downing cut into the middle and the ball ran perfectly for Suarez, whose curled strike went agonisingly wide of the target when it seemed like he'd finally bagged a crucial away goal. At that stage, with the Reds on top and Kopites discussing the relative merits of a goalless draw, Zenit
stunningly struck twice in a matter of minutes to completely alter the direction of the match.

First, Henderson lost possession to Hulk and, with Skrtel failing to close him down quick enough, he launched an unstoppable strike goalwards that left Pepe Reina with no chance.

Hulk looks to the heavens after netting the opener
Then, Johnson left Sergey Semak free at the back post to convert a cross and double their advantage, leaving Liverpool with a mountain to climb. It could have been worse, but fortunately Reina managed to turn Fayzulin's late long-range effort behind his goal.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this game is that it was very similar to our defeat versus West Brom on Monday. Liverpool played well and should have scored but failed to do so and, due to a lapse in concentration at the back, conceded two goals and lost the game. A long-term concern, as well, is the inability of our attack to function without Sturridge. Even Suarez seems to lose some of his attacking potency when the former Chelsea striker is missing.

With Sturridge ineligible in the Europa League, the Reds' deficit won't be reduced by him returning for the second leg and firing them to victory. If Liverpool are to stay in Europe a herculean effort and atmospheric Anfield are required to help them surmount the uphill task they face.


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Reds robbed by Baggies

Liverpool's faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League faded into a far-flung fantasy last night after defeat at home to West Bromich Albion left them twelve points off the top four with only twelve games remaining.

Former Liverpool assistant manager and current Albion boss Steve Clarke used his insider information to  mastermind an excellent game plan that his players executed to perfection. Similarly to last season at Anfield- the last time the Baggies kept a clean sheet on the road- West Brom kept the hosts at bay and then struck in the late stages through McAuley and Lukaku to clinch their first win since Boxing Day in front of a disbelieving Anfield crowd.

Although disappointed at the absence of the on-form but injured Daniel Sturridge, Kopites were pleased to hear latest new arrival Philippe Coutinho was on the substitutes' bench, ready to make his debut for the Merseysiders. Meanwhile, Shelvey stood in for Sturridge just off sole striker Luis Suarez and Jamie Carragher retained his place alongside Daniel Agger at the heart of the Reds' defence after announcing his retirement recently.

The first half was unexpectedly low key, as a flat atmosphere permeated Anfield. Neither side really stamped their mark of authority on the contest, with West Brom happy to sit back and fail to register a shot on or off target and Liverpool frustratingly unable to replicate the type of form they displayed at Manchester City and Arsenal.

Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net after 10 minutes but Shelvey's simple finish after Foster had parried Johnson's blast was rightly ruled out for offside. For the rest of the match, the Reds found it impossible to find the net as they came up against an inspired Ben Foster, who was arguably his side's man of the match.

The 29-year old former Manchester United stopper pulled off plenty of superb saves, tipping Agger's header over the bar and palming away Downing's powered strike from range. Suarez then shot high and wide, before Foster's work was almost undone by a mistake from one of his defenders, namely Steven Reid. Shelvey's low cross didn't find anyone in a Red shirt, but Reid very nearly turned it into his own net, slicing the ball just over the bar to the relief of the Baggies' faithful situated behind the Anfield Road end goal.

Rodgers' side started the second half slightly better, applying more pressure on their opponents and asserting their supremacy, however, the Midlanders remained stubbornly difficult to break down and the Reds' attack lacked the creativity necessary to unlock their defence. Suarez would normally provide that spark of genius to break the deadlock but he wasn't at the races last night either.

On 53 minutes, Shelvey's header from a corner was cleared. Carragher headed the ball back to him and it then rolled across the line, but sadly Shelvey was offside so it wouldn't have counted anyway. With an hour played, Rodgers sent on reinforcements to try and spur Liverpool on to victory, Sterling and Borini replacing Henderson and Shelvey respectively.

The pair made an impact. First, Borini's swerving shot was thwarted by a diving save from Foster. Then, Sterling set up Gerrard, whose shot was well saved by Foster. Borini scrambled to reach the rebound but only managed to hit the side-netting.

The breakthrough finally seemed to have arrived with a quarter of an hour left to play when, quite remarkably, Suarez was a given a relatively soft spot kick after a slight nudge in the back from Olsson. Liverpool fans had a feeling it just wasn't going to be their day, though, when Gerrard missed the Reds' sixth penalty out of their last seven, Foster making a fine save.

Foster saves Gerrard's spot kick in a crucial turning point
That, alongside West Brom's decision to go two up front after the introduction of Lukaku, proved to be the decisive turning point in the contest. Emboldened by their performance so far and with fortune seemingly on their side, the away side pushed forward to inflict the killer blow. After Mulumbu's shot had swerved wide from 25 yards out, West Brom took a shock lead, as McAuley easily evaded the attention of Agger to head a corner home.

Lukaku then shot wide after breaking clear, but he wasn't going to be denied a goal as, in the dying stages, he turned Agger and fired home to clinch a 2-0 hit and run victory for the visitors. Coutinho may have made his debut late on, but there was nothing he could do to rescue the Reds.

Smash and grab- Lukaku puts the final nail in the Reds' European coffin?
It was a win their plucky performance arguably deserved. For all their pressure, Liverpool's 23 shots resulted in no goals while West Brom's four shots yielded two goals and three points. That's simply not good enough at this level, and certainly not the type of form that will propel the Reds into contention for Champions League qualification.

At this rate, we'll be lucky to get into the Europa League!

Facebook Comments

Very disappointing. - Jane Wiffen

The players need to play with spirit and passion. - Jack Staley 

Total disgrace. Brendan Rodgers must be very disappointed, they played with no passion. Man of the match was Carra. The rest were a total disgrace.


Saturday, 9 February 2013

The end of an era

We all knew this day was coming. However much we desired to delay the inevitable, the announcement of the impending retirement of Jamie Carragher was bound to come sooner or later. At 35, he has reached the age where professional footballers traditionally hang their boots up and begin a life mainly situated on the golf course or in Sky Sports' studios.

Meanwhile, Kopites' dreams of a Team of Carraghers will be replaced by cherished memories of the man who embodied their unparalleled spirit and fulfilled their dreams in the process. A career littered with match-winning performances and winners' medals. which was, most importantly, dedicated to the humble service of his local club, will not be quickly forgotten at Anfield.

When the 19-year old Jamie Carragher marked his first start for the club with a headed goal during a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, few could have predicted the impact he would go on to have at the club. Even fewer would have recognised how witnessing a goal from Carragher was such a rare collectors' item!

Despite playing as a striker while in Liverpool's youth teams, Carra lacks goalscoring prowess and also has a penchant to net the occasional own goal. Nonetheless, the amount of goals he has prevented, and thus games he has saved or won, as a result of a last-ditch tackle or vital defensive block is unquantifiable. The amount of players he has immeasurably improved by guiding them with his strong leadership and loud voice is also impossible to calculate.

What can be expressed in numbers, though, is the amount of appearances he has made for the Reds: 723 and counting. Second in the club's all-time appearance list, the colossal Carra has had quite a career, the pinnacle of which was indisputably the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.

Riddled with cramp and barely able to stand during a gruelling thirty minutes of extra time, Carragher made two crucial clearances to keep hold of the 3-3 draw Liverpool had superbly secured and earn a penalty shoot-out. Ecstatic and elated, Carra, literally running on adrenaline, was the first to sprint to Jerzy Dudek in celebration after the Polish stopper had saved Andriy Shevchenko's spot kick to clinch a historic fifth European Cup for Liverpool.

23 Carra Gold- Carragher savours winning in Istanbul
It was a fitting way to end Rafael Benitez's first season in charge at the club. As the first manager to regularly play him at the heart of the defence, Carragher owes a lot to the Spaniard, who brought to an end the rotating role the number 23 had had under previous boss Gerard Houiller. Although that experience had developed his versatility, Carragher really came of age as a key player in the Reds' starting line-up when he was starting at centre back week in, week out.

In recent times, Carragher has seen his starting role in the side diminished. New manager Brendan Rodgers has clearly, and quite reasonably, decided that Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger are going to be his first choice centre backs for the foreseeable future. Carra's role has been limited to appearing in Cup matches and the occasional League game to give either Skrtel or Agger a rest. 

Consequently, it's unsurprising that he has decided to announce his retirement from the game he loves and the club he has devoted his entire career to. Carragher has always said he wants to play regularly and won't settle for warming the substitutes' bench. This hasn't led him to grumble and express his disapproval, though. Ever the professional, Carra has fully supported Rodgers and concentrated on helping the team in whatever way he can. 

His commitment and patience have been rewarded recently, as he started against both Arsenal and Manchester City, where his experience and defensive nous were vital to securing two well-deserved draws. Although unlikely to be a regular in the starting line-up for the remainder of his last campaign at the club, Carragher will still have a role to play in marshalling the defence when necessary and providing leadership both on and off the pitch.

Moreover, when he has hung up his boots, it seems almost inevitable that Carra will join the club's backroom staff at some point in the not so distant future. 

The end of an era may just prove to be the start of another. 


Monday, 4 February 2013

Sturridge and Stevie leave City feeling blue

For the second time in the space of a week, Liverpool failed to garner the points their performance deserved against a top team, as Manchester City fought back to claim a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon. After Edin Dzeko opened the scoring, Daniel Sturridge controversially equalised as the Bosnian feigned injury. In the second half, Steven Gerrard's superb strike appeared good enough to win the match for the visitors, but Aguero's brilliance, matched with Reina's stupidity, meant the spoils were frustratingly shared.

After blaming the youngsters in his squad for the Reds' exit from the FA Cup, boss Brendan Rodgers opted to start with an experienced line-up against the Premier League champions. The average age of the starting eleven was 28, with 22-year old Jordan Henderson the youngest member of the team.

Liverpool were in the ascendancy during a tentative start to the match. Reina may have had to tip Silva's 20-yard volley over the bar soon after kick-off, but the Merseysiders enjoyed the majority of possession and their front line threatened City's usually robust defence, which was inevitably weakened by the absence of club captain Vincent Kompany.

After 13 minutes, Johnson lofted the ball over City's defence to Sturridge, who proceeded to promisingly round goalkeeper Joe Hart but was frustratingly denied by crucial intervention from Zabaleta at the last moment. Sturridge then eased past the hosts' defence far too comfortably for Roberto Mancini's liking, setting up the perfectly positioned Luis Suarez, who uncharacteristically skewed his shot well wide.

Man City took the lead against the run of play just past the halfway stage of the first period. The ordinarily imperious Daniel Agger was to blame, as he first played Dzeko onside and then failed to prevent Milner's low, left wing cross reaching the tall 26-year old, who completed the simple task of turning home from close range.

Ironically, the pair were at the centre of attention for the second goal soon after as well, though neither found the net. Agger arguably fouled Dzeko, but referee Anthony Taylor waved play on, telling Liverpool's players not to kick the ball out. They obeyed this instruction and went on to witness former Manchester City striker Daniel Sturridge smash home from 25 yards out to level the scoreline.

Sturridge keeps calm after scoring the equaliser
Sturridge did well to not celebrate his fourth goal in half a dozen matches, as he surely must have been tempted to celebrate considering the barrage of abuse aimed at him from the stands. For his part, Dzeko justified Liverpool's decision to play on and revealed his playacting as, immediately after Sturridge's shot had hit the back of the net, he was miraculously healed and instantly ran over to the sideline to hurl abuse at the linesman, an offence for which he rightly received a booking.

On the stroke of half time, City almost hit the self-destruct button, as a horrible mix-up almost handed Liverpool the lead. Zabaleta's poor back pass was completely misread by Hart and the keeper watched on helplessly as the ball rolled past him. He must have breathed a massive sigh of relief when the ball trickled behind for a corner. Had it rolled over the line, the pair would have become stars of every blooper video for the next 50 years.

There wasn't any lasting relief for the home side, though, as they continued to struggle to cope with their opponents' tenacity, application and desire during the second half. Downing headed and shot wide, while Suarez's curled effort just missed the target as the Reds dominated, with Sturridge's yellow card for going down theatrically in the box after minimal contact from Lescott the only thing detracting from the visitors' display.

As reward for their effort, Liverpool took the lead with 17 minutes remaining with a fantastic strike from Steven Gerrard that was worthy of winning any game. Clichy cleared to the Reds' captain, who controlled with his chest before smashing a 30-yard drive past Hart and into the corner of the net with immaculate accuracy.
Captain fantastic justifies his nickname with a wonder goal
Reina and Aguero display contrasting emotions
Irritatingly, Liverpool's tendency to throw away leads and fail to see out matches against the top teams became evident again only five minutes later, as Reina's embarrassing error allowed Aguero to net a sensational equaliser for the title contenders. A long ball played forward posed little danger until Reina ridiculously decided to rush out and try and claim it, leaving his goal completely exposed. Aguero cleverly beat the Spaniard to the ball and produced an outstanding finish from an extraordinarily tight angle.

Both teams had chances to clinch all three points, Johnson's shot and Maicon's header missing the target, but ultimately they had to settle for a draw that does neither side much good. The draw leaves City nine points behind runaway leaders Manchester United, while the Reds face an uphill struggle to qualify for the Champions League because they are the same number of points adrift of fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur, who are breathing down the necks of London rivals Chelsea after their one-goal victory at West Bromich Albion yesterday.

Nonetheless, Liverpool can be more pleased with a point, which they probably would have taken before kick-off. Yes, considering the way the game panned out, it is frustrating not to claim all three points, but their performances against both Arsenal and Manchester City are evidence of progress from Brendan Rodgers' side. This nasty habit of failing to kill off opponents needs to quickly end, but the reasons for optimism at Anfield abound at the moment.

For the first time in a while, Kopites can definitively say things are heading in the right direction.

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Dominated them just like we did Arsenal. Two points thrown away but we are going in the right direction. - Mark Halfpenny

We should have beaten Man City twice. - Fishball Gerard