Sunday, 17 March 2013

Reds sunk by Saints

Liverpool's hopes of achieving European qualification suffered a significant blow yesterday as they fell to a disappointing but admittedly deserved 3-1 defeat away to struggling Southampton. After dominating the first half, the hosts held a two-goal lead thanks to goals from Schneiderlin and Liverpool supporter Rickie Lambert. Coutinho's goal on the stroke of half time gave the visitors hope, but they failed to build on that and Rodriguez's strike ten minutes from time was the final nail in the Merseysiders' coffin.

With Reina still out injured, Brad Jones continued to deputise for him in goal. Meanwhile, Martin Skrtel replaced Jamie Carragher at centre back and Allen started ahead of Lucas alongside Steven Gerrard in the holding midfield role. Those two decisions ultimately proved to be mistakes from Brendan Rodgers, as Liverpool's back four were woefully bad and Lucas' steadying presence in the middle was sorely missed during a first half in which Southampton seemingly ran rampant.

Right from the word go, Mauricio Pochettino's men were in the ascendancy, threatening the Reds' back line and creating notable goalscoring chances. On four minutes, an important block by Skrtel was required to deny Rodriguez before Gaston Ramirez's low effort called Jones into action. Only a minute later, Southampton took the lead thanks to a clever piece of play from the home side and a bit of poor defending from the visitors.

Ramirez sent a cross to the far post, which Rodriguez knocked down for the onrushing Morgan Schneiderlin, who had been allowed to advance unchallenged from within his own half. The 23-year old Frenchman guided the ball beyond the keeper and into the net to give the Saints the all-important first goal as a reward for their early superiority.

Jones and Skrtel after the Saints opened the scoring
They didn't rest on their laurels, though, and neither did Liverpool's dreadful defending improve. After captain Adam Lallana fired over the bar, Agger's terrible decision to try and catch Lambert offside allowed the number seven to race through one-on-one with Jones. Thankfully, the Aussie stopper spared Agger's blushes, standing up well and denying Southampton a second so soon after their first, which would have left the Merseysiders with a mountain to climb.

The Reds continued to lack rhythm, while their opponents were really enjoying themselves and capitalising on their opponents' deficiencies, Rodriguez testing Jones on several occasions. On the half hour mark, Rickie Lambert's free kick took a decisive deflection off the wall, wrong footing Jones and eventually ending up in the back of his net.

It was a massive stroke of fortune for the Saints, but the old adage that you earn your own luck seemed apt. 

Nonetheless, that second goal seemed to provoke some sort of reaction from the Reds, Coutinho unfortunately shooting straight at Boruc after Johnson had played him through. The Brazilian, who played under Saints' boss Pochettino while at Spanish side Espanyol, reduced the deficit on the stroke of half time, picking his spot after a goalmouth scramble had culminated in Sturridge's blocked shot falling to his feet.

Coutinho pulls one back for Rodgers' Reds
Disappointingly, the away side failed to build on that goal after the break. They were expected to come out for the second half determined to right the wrongs of their first half performance, galvanised by a goal they arguably didn't deserve. However, that drive to turn things around that was so evident against Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday was crucially lacking this weekend.

Southampton were less dominant, but they remained relatively untroubled at the back. Sturridge shot wide from an awkward angle and Suarez saw Boruc save his free kick, but the Reds' attack lacked the potency of Lambert and Rodriguez, who had worked so superbly and efficiently to put them in the driving seat heading into the closing stages.

After Gerrard's bobbling effort had been collected by Boruc, Rodriguez scored a sensational goal on 79 minutes to put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt. He dribbled a sizeable distance without being challenged by the Reds' defence. After too easily gliding past half time substitute Lucas, Rodriguez fired past Jones at the second attempt to send the majority of the 32,070 spectators inside St Mary's wild.

Rodgers' men had no response to that and ending up falling to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to their relegation threatened opponents. It was a frustrating afternoon of football all round as well, as Everton unexpectedly beat Manchester City 2-0 at Goodison to go three points ahead of us with a game in hand.

Liverpool are going to have to improve in games like this if they are to end the season on a positive note. They travel to Aston Villa and Reading in coming weeks, who are both in similar situations to Southampton. They will be fighting for their lives and the Reds will have to match their grit and determination and desire to win if they are to pick up points and close the campaign in good form.

If they fail to do so then the recent momentum built up will be lost and they'll have to start from scratch again at the beginning of the new season.


Monday, 11 March 2013

Super Reds sink Spurs in five goal thriller

Liverpool claimed a thrilling 3-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield to extend their run of good form and move ahead of neighbours Everton into sixth place in the Premier League table. Despite dominating the first half and bagging the opener, Spurs had the lead soon after the restart thanks to two goals from Jan Vertonghen. Perseverance and a large dose of good fortune allowed the Reds to get back into the match, though, as Downing exploited a dreadful defensive error to equalise before Steven Gerrard's late penalty in front of the Kop clinched all three points for the jubilant home side.

With Pepe Reina out due to a calf strain, Brad Jones made his first appearance since his below-par display versus Oldham in the FA Cup contributed to the Reds' crashing out of the competition. Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher played his 500th Premier League game, as he reached an impressive landmark for potentially the last time in his career. Up front, Suarez, Downing and Coutinho formed a formidable triumvirate behind Daniel Sturridge, who returned from injury.

Brendan Rodgers' side began in the ascendancy, Sturridge shooting into the Anfield Road end and then just losing control of the ball after promisingly rounding goalkeeper Lloris. At the other end, the closely monitored  Gareth Bale fired a free kick goalwards, which Jones nervously beat away.

On 21 minutes, Liverpool's pressure paid off and some passing football of the highest caliber produced the goal it deserved. Coutinho's cute pass found Enrique, whose incisive through ball took out the entire Tottenham back line. Suarez poked underneath Lloris to find the back of the net and claim his 29th goal in all competitions during this campaign.

On fire- Suarez just can't stop scoring
Soon after, Liverpool's claims for a penalty were rejected by referee Michael Oliver after Walker pulled Coutinho in the box to prevent him reaching Suarez's drilled cross.

Tottenham's attack had been largely kept quiet thanks to Liverpool's focus on nullifying the threat posed by Bale, who had been restricted to shots from range that went high and wide. However, the hosts were given a scare when Sigurdsson, who had been one of Rodgers' transfer targets in the summer, fired inches wide when through on goal.

Frustratingly, Spurs netted an arguably undeserved equaliser on the stroke of half time, as Vertonghen rose above Johnson to head Bale's cross into the bottom corner. The timing of the goal was disappointing, deflating the home side and boosting the visitors heading into the interval. This was seen in the start to the second half, which was controlled by Villas-Boas' side. 

After Defoe's shot was just about dealt with by Jones, poor defending from the Reds allowed Bale's free kick to fall to Vertonghen, who powered a left-footed volley beyond Jones and into the corner of the net to complete the reversal and double his personal tally. 

When Sigurdsson's shot was then deflected onto the post by Johnson after a barnstorming run past Gerrard and Carragher by Bale, Liverpool breathed a sigh of relief, as a third goal really would have killed off the contest. Without a change of the flow of momentum, however, a third from Spurs seemed inevitable.

Thankfully, a piece of good fortune was the game-changing event that swung the match in the Reds' favour. A horrendous back pass from Kyle Walker gifted Downing a chance at goal and, after rounding Lloris, the former Villa winger, who has come on leaps and bounds in recent months, kept his composure and fired into the net to level the scores.

Downing profits from poor defending and levels for Liverpool
Back to his best, Downing then flew down the right wing, crossing to the back post where Sturridge headed into the side-netting.

Another piece of woeful defending from Spurs helped Liverpool win the match. Defoe's misjudged pass put Assou-Ekotto under pressure. In the process of trying to clear his lines, he barged into Suarez, who was instantly awarded a penalty by the referee. Spurs could have few complaints. Gerrard took advantage of their needless mistake, netting low to Lloris' left thanks to the knowledge of the keeper's tendency to dive to his right given to him by goalkeeping coach John Achterberg.

Ecstatic- Gerrard cannot hide his delight after netting a late spot kick
It was a terrific way to end an enthralling encounter. To comeback from 2-1 down against the in form Tottenham Hotspur was a remarkable achievement that Liverpool should be praised for. Yes, poor defending and good fortune contributed to their victory, but the Reds still performed competently to take advantage of those factors which, for once, went in their favour.

Liverpool's attack appears to be firing on all cylinders and could propel them to a fantastic end to the season, which may see them leap into the European places. This up-swing in form is finally yielding results against the big teams and, in the long run, appears to be garnering momentum to support Rodgers' plans to re-build and revamp the squad.

For the first time in a while, there is real hope in Kopites' hearts.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Suarez puts Wigan to the sword

Liverpool clinched their first win at Wigan since 2007 last night to keep their continental quest on the right track. An early goal from Stewart Downing was followed by an exquisite hat-trick from the irrepressible Luis Suarez as the Reds unexpectedly cruised to victory at one of their bogey grounds. The three points leave them in seventh, five points behind fifth placed Arsenal.

After being ineligible to play against Zenit St Petersburg, new signing Philippe Coutinho started and impressed throughout, providing assists for the first two goals. Unfortunately, though, Daniel Sturridge failed to even make the bench as he continues to struggle to shrug off a knock.

The visitors didn't need him, however, as they began brightly, scored early and remained firmly in control of the contest for the whole of the 90 minutes. Although Arouna Kone had a chance to open the scoring after only 30 seconds had been played, it was the Reds who struck first two minutes after the kick off.

Wigan failed to deal with Reina's long ball forward, which found Coutinho in space on the left. The Brazilian skillfully beat Boyce and then centred to Stewart Downing, who nodded home from yards out to net his first league goal away from Anfield for Liverpool. It was the perfect start to a potentially tricky tie for Rodgers' side.

The former Inter Milan playmaker was at it again on 18 minutes, sliding a magnificent through ball into the intelligent run of Suarez, who took a touch and then shot past Ali Ali Habsi to put Liverpool firmly in the driving seat.

Perfect pass- Coutinho sets Suarez in for the Reds' second
The relegation threatened Latics remained a threat but they came up against a seemingly unbeatable Pepe Reina, who displayed the type of form that made him one of Rafael Benitez's most successful Spanish imports. 

Soon after Suarez's strike, Reina dived acrobatically to stop Boyce's volley flying into the roof of his net. He then proceeded to thwart Di Santo and tip Beausejour's free kick over the bar before the interval to keep Liverpool's defensive sheet clean.

At the other end, Liverpool weren't carving out countless goalscoring chances, but, crucially, their finishing was clinical, which is a positive sign of improvement from previous seasons, when profligate finishing cost the Merseysiders' dear. 

A little bit of luck always comes in handy as well and, on the half hour mark, Suarez experienced some good fortune as his free kick found the back of the net via a deflection off Maloney's shoulder and the inside of the post.

Suarez scores his fifth free kick of the season
Liverpool were creating their own luck and deservedly went in at half time with three goals and three points all but in the bag. They put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt four minutes after the restart, Johnson marauding forward and then playing Suarez one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The Uruguyuan beat Al Habsi to seal his hat-trick and move to the top of the Premier League's goalscoring chart on 21 goals. 

Three and easy- Suarez celebrates scoring a hat-trick
With the match effectively over, little noteworthy action took place for the rest of the second half. The Reds were content with a four-goal victory while Roberto Martinez's men accepted their fate without putting up a fight. Meanwhile, the travelling Kop were in a jubilant mood, singing songs in honour of Hyypia, Dalglish, Rodgers, Gerrard, Enrique, Coutinho, Luis Garcia and, hilariously, Rafael Benitez.

In the dying moments substitute Jordan Henderson saw his header cleared off the line by McCarthy, but, with a phenomenal goal difference of +19- better than fourth placed Spurs- Liverpool won't be bothered about bagging four rather than five. They'll just be pleased with a thoroughly pleasing performance that sets them up perfectly for next weekend's clash with Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield.

While it's pleasing to beat a bogey team and maintain our formidable record against teams lower in the table, the real test of this squad's ability will come in the games against the big boys. If Suarez can help Liverpool put Spurs to the sword as well, then there's every reason to be optimistic about our conclusion to the 2012/2013 campaign.