Thursday, 30 May 2013

Season 2012/2013 Awards

Red and Proud looks back at the 2012/2013 season and hands out awards for player of the season, young player of the season, most improved player of the season and signing of the season. We also pick our goal and game of the season.

Player of the season: Steven Gerrard

Liverpool's inspirational captain has been at his brilliant best this season. An ever-present in Brendan Rodgers' starting line-up, the number eight has enjoyed a rare season free of injuries, missing only the last two inconsequential league matches in order to undergo surgery on a shoulder problem. As a result, Gerrard has been in masterful form, reminding Reds' supporters of why he is so crucial to the team and how much they will miss him when he follows his good friend Jamie Carragher and decides to retire.

At 33, Gerrard has done remarkably well to complete so many games, particularly considering he maintained his high standards of performance throughout. The number eight adapted well to the slightly deeper role in which he was deployed by Rodgers, pinging passes around the pitch with unerring accuracy and regularly starting attacks from deep, while also putting in a shift at the back and helping to protect the back four. Its a role that he'll probably be playing in for the rest of his career, so it is encouraging to witness him excelling in it already, placing the needs of the team above the evident desire he must have to roam forward and attack.

When he did find himself in attack, though, Gerrard didn't disappoint, bagging ten goals. The most memorable was his fantastic long-range strike against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, which would have given the Merseysiders a 2-1 victory had Aguero not responded soon after with a similarly stunning strike.

Captain fantastic has been wearing his shooting boots this season
With 30 goals in 44 appearances, the world class Luis Suarez would have received the player of the season award based purely on performances, but he blew his chances of winning the award when he inexplicably bit Branislav Ivanovic, which was an incident that tarnished not only the club's reputation but also the Uruguayan's entire season which, in all likelihood, will be remembered by most neutrals for 'bite-gate' rather than for his sensational strike rate. 

Therefore, for his professionalism, commitment and quality, Steven Gerrard receives the player of the season award.

Young player of the season: Raheem Sterling

The 18-year old winger caused quite a stir with his performances early on in the season, although his involvement in the first team tapered off in the New Year. Sterling was considered a regular in Brendan Rodgers' starting line-up, routinely frequenting Liverpool's right wing and testing defenders with his pace and trickery. 

After making 36 appearances and playing in over 60% of Liverpool's Premier League fixtures, Sterling has made considerable progress in his career this season, despite struggling to reproduce his form from the first half of the season in the second half of the season due to injuries blighting his confidence and the signing of Sturridge and Coutinho restricting his opportunities to continue to make an impact on the first team. 

Nevertheless, Sterling's impressive and promising displays at the start of the 2012/2013 season win him our young player of the season award. We look forward to watching him complement Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho in what promises to be an exciting attack next season.

Sterling's career has significantly progressed this season
Most improved player of the season: Jordan Henderson

Jordan Henderson arrived from Sunderland in the summer of 2011 with a £16 million price tag significantly increasing Liverpool supporters' expectations of him and thus hampering his performances and eroding his confidence. Kenny Dalglish routinely playing him out of position didn't help either, as the 22-year old struggled to impress when placed on the right wing or, more bizarrely, at right back. 

However, this season Henderson's form has noticeably improved. He has revelled in his preferred central role and has often enjoyed being given the freedom to attack at will, with minimal defensive duties tying him down. Energetic, conscientious and committed, Henderson has been a valuable member of the Reds' midfield, passing well and improving his finishing skills as well, netting six goals, including a wonderful strike at home to Norwich. 

His transformation has been similar to Lucas'. Both struggled early on in their Liverpool careers but were persistently picked in the starting line-up, often to the chagrin of many supporters. They've won supporters over, though, through good, old fashioned hard-work, evident devotion and improved performances. 

Stewart Downing has also massively improved this season, particularly after being told by boss Brendan Rodgers in December that he could leave in the January transfer window. Instead of leaving to join Middlesbrough on loan, Downing fought for his place and impressed in the process. The most improved player of the season award goes to Henderson, however, because he has consistently put in a shift in every game, whereas Downing can often go missing in games and fail to make an impact. 

Henderson wheels away in celebration after netting one of his six goals this season
Signing of the season: Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho has quite simply been a revelation since signing from Inter Milan for a measly £8.5 million in the January transfer window. Many expected him to require half a season to settle into life in the Premier League, but the diminutive midfield man has proved them wrong, performing exceptionally well from the word 'go'.

His dazzling skills have enthralled Kopites, who are delighted to watch a creative genius pick opposition defences to pieces for fun. Time and time again the Brazilian has spotted passes that nobody else in the stadium has, unlocking defences and providing numerous assists. His partnership with fellow January signing Daniel Sturridge has been especially encouraging, while fans cannot wait to see the pair play regularly with the goal machine that is Luis Suarez next season.

Sturridge has also been in exquisite form since signing in January, but Coutinho just edges it to clinch the signing of the season award. 

Coutinho was a bargain buy at just over £8 million
Goal of the season: Luis Suarez vs Newcastle United (H)

This remarkable goal encompassed both the beautiful football that Rodgers desires and the direct style of play that is sometimes necessary to earn Premier League points. A stray Newcastle pass gifted possession to Jose Enrique, who displayed terrific vision to pick out Luis Suarez with a lofted long ball. At that point the number seven still had plenty to do, but he completed the move in stunning fashion. After evading Coloccini, Suarez controlled the ball impeccably on his chest to direct the ball around Krul, and easily tap the ball into the unguarded net from yards out. It was a world class goal from the immense Luis Suarez.

Game of the season: Newcastle United 0-6 Liverpool

In their first game since the 'bite-gate' scandal that saw Luis Suarez handed a ten game ban, Liverpool proved that they aren't a one-man team and are more than able to find the back of the net without their star striker, as they achieved their biggest margin of victory during the 2012/2013 season at St James' Park. 

Braces from Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, as well as an early header from Daniel Agger and Fabio Borini's first Premier League goal, secured a fantastic win that the Reds' thoroughly deserved. Although he didn't get on the score sheet, Coutinho was instrumental in creating the goals that his teammates converted, pulling the strings masterfully in midfield. 

It was a classy performance from Liverpool, who were simply excellent.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

In memory of the 39

On 29th May 1985, 28 years ago today, thousands of Juventus supporters travelled to Heysel to watch their side play in the biggest match in club football, the European Cup final.

Tragically, 39 never returned.

A variety of causes, including the inaction of the police, unwise ticketing policy and, most importantly, the fragile nature of a stadium that was obviously not fit enough to stage such a massive occasion, led to 32 Italians, 4 Belgians, 2 French people and a Northern Irish man being crushed to death after a surge by a small minority of Liverpool fans caused a wall to collapse.

Contrary to popular opinion Liverpool supporters were not solely to blame for the disaster, however our role in the tragedy is inescapable.

This is a list of the 39 who died:

Rocco Acerra (29)

Bruno Bali (50)

Alfons Bos

Giancarlo Bruschera (21)

Andrea Casula (11)

Giovanni Casula (44)

Nino Cerullo (24)

Willy Chielens

Giuseppina Conto (17)

Dirk Daenecky

Dionisio Fabbro (51)

Jacques Francois

Eugenio Gagliano (35)

Francesco Galli (25)

Giancarlo Gonnelli (20)

Alberto Guarini (21)

Giovacchino Landini (50)

Roberto Lorentini (31)

Barbara Lusci (58)

Franco Martelli (22)

Loris Messore (28)

Gianni Mastroiaco (20)

Sergio Bastino Mazzino (38)

Luciano Rocco Papaluca (38)

Luigi Pidone (31)

Benito Pistolato (50)

Patrick Radcliffe

Domenico Ragazzi (44)

Antonio Ragnanese (49)

Claude Robert

Mario Ronchi (43)

Domenico Russo (28)

Tarcisio Salvi (49)

Gianfranco Sarto (47)

Amedeo Giuseppe Spolaore (55)

Mario Spanu (41)

Tarcisio Venturin (23)

Jean Michel Walla

Claudio Zavaroni (28)

On behalf of all Liverpool supporters I would like to offer my condolences to the families of the 39 people who lost their lives. We truly know how you feel. We are so sorry. You'll Never Walk Alone

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Signs of progress: 2012/2013 Season Review

Another season ends with nothing to play for, no trophy in the cabinet and no prospect of Champions League qualification. On the face of it, Liverpool's 2012/2013 season appears unremarkable at best and disappointing at worst. However, the second half of the season, in particular, has provided many reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Performances have been promising, new signings have been in sensational form and yet more youngsters have risen through the ranks of the Academy to make an impact on the first team. Perhaps most importantly, Liverpool's league performance, despite falling short of what we may have hoped for, improved notably from the previous season, showing encouraging signs of progress under Brendan Rodgers' stewardship.

Rodgers was handed an unforgiving fixture list at the start of his first season in charge at Anfield following his arrival from Swansea. Both Manchester teams and Arsenal were faced within the first month of the campaign, providing formidable opposition early on at a time of transition when easier fixtures would have been preferable. An embarrassing 3-0 defeat at the Hawthorns on the opening day of the season meant the Reds entered those fixtures lacking confidence and, consequently, only yielded one point from the nine available.

Individual mistakes, such as Skrtel's inappropriate back-pass that allowed Tevez to bag a late leveller for Manchester City at Anfield, arguably revealed some flaws in Rodgers' team, who, at times, appeared to indulge in passing for the sake of passing rather than to construct a productive attacking sequence of play. Hardly any supporters disagreed with Rodgers' overarching pass and move philosophy, which is so clearly in tune with the traditional Liverpool Way, but a number expressed concern at its application and the Northern Irishman's seeming lack of pragmatism. It's all well and good playing fancy football, they argued, but points on the board ultimately matter more than passes on the pitch.

Rodgers can be pleased with his maturing as a manager
Thankfully, Rodgers demonstrated his development and maturing as a manager during the second half of the season, in which his side combined both a penchant for passing football and an ability to pick up points and goals in an unattractive fashion when necessary. Andre Wisdom's long ball that assisted Daniel Sturridge's equaliser against Fulham at Craven Cottage is a good example of how an ideological preference for short passing football has been supplemented by a pragmatic acceptance of a more direct style of play when necessary.

Meanwhile, the character of the squad was shown in the Reds' impressive comeback to defeat Spurs 3-2 at Anfield in March. Instead of slipping to defeat after Vertonghen netted twice to give the Londoners the lead and put them in the ascendancy, the Merseysiders didn't give up and, with the help of some good fortune, staged a comeback typical of a well functioning Liverpool side, clinching all three points thanks to goals from Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard.

This ripening character was accompanied with a crucial addition of talent in the January transfer window with the arrival of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho from Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively. Both hit the ground running, the former crucially providing an alternative source of goals to Luis Suarez and the latter adding a sprinkling of mesmerising talent that the likes of Henderson, Lucas and Shelvey simply do not possess in their repertoire.

The pair often combined to lethal effect as well, Coutinho regularly playing pinpoint passes that only he spotted and Sturridge routinely taking advantage of the Brazilian's creative expertise to add to his already bulging goal tally. Liverpool's six goal victory at Newcastle provided two examples of the dynamic duo combining to punish an opposition defence, as Coutinho and Sturridge were involved in setting up Henderson for the second goal and also linked up for Sturridge to bag a third just after the break. Although there remains the danger that Coutinho and Sturridge may suffer second season syndrome, particularly as teams discover how they interact and attempt to develop strategies to combat their threat, the pair are one reason to look forward to next season with hope in our hearts. They also arguably prove that Rodgers can be trusted in the transfer window since, at a combined total of £20.5 million, the pair were bargain signings.

Another reason to be optimistic about the future is the fact that the long-term structural reforms of the Academy that former manager Rafael Benitez initiated appear to be coming to fruition under Rodgers, who seems willing to give youth a chance. The youth teams emulating the first team's style of play and formation has made it much easier for the likes of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso to settle in and seriously compete for a regular spot in the starting eleven.

Sterling seemed an integral part of the first team during the start of the season, providing a useful source of skill and pace on the wing and linking up encouragingly with Suarez. Injuries may have curtailed his progress during the second half of the campaign, but his 36 appearances, with 22 starts, is impressive and he certainly remains an exciting prospect for the future. Fellow attacker Suso may have had less of an impact than Sterling, but the silky Spaniard still has much to offer, reminding Reds supporters of his talent on the final day of the season against QPR at Anfield. Andre Wisdom, meanwhile, is a gritty defender who has performed competently whenever called upon, slotting into the back four with ease despite his young age. Alongside Martin Kelly, who has sadly suffered another injury plaughed season, he appears to offer Liverpool credible defensive alternatives, although Rodgers will of course be searching for more experienced defenders to replace Jamie Carragher and possibly Martin Skrtel this summer.

Wisdom and Sterling share a joke on the subs' bench
Overall, there were green shoots of promising progress on display during the 2012/2013 season that provide Liverpool supporters reasons to be optimistic about the future. Not only have new signings and young players performed excitingly well in a team with an enterprising, entertaining and efficient style of play, results have also been impressive, with an encouraging end of the season elevating Liverpool up the table and hopefully providing the basis for a quick start to next season. With a total of 61 points, the Reds managed nine more points than the 2011/2012 season and also finished significantly closer to both fourth position and first place. We may still be a long way from where we want to be as a club, but those statistics certainly indicate progress towards important goals.

Let's hope the 2012/2013 season is remembered as the first step on the road to a successful future under the leadership of Brendan Rodgers and not just as Jamie Carragher's last at Liverpool.


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Farewell Carra: A Tribute to a Liverpool Legend

For a boyhood Evertonian to come to be known as "Mr Liverpool", you know he must have been a special talent. When Jamie Carragher made his debut as a substitute against Middlesbrough in January 1997 in an otherwise unremarkable 2-1 League Cup defeat, few in attendance could have predicted the impact that that eighteen-year old would go on to have at Anfield.

Over sixteen years, though, Carra has been a revelation, making over 700 appearances and accumulating winners' medals in every competition except for the Premier League, earning a special affection from Kopites in the process. He may have scored more own goals against than goals for Liverpool, despite beginning life as a striker in the youth teams, but the number of points he has won for the club with his world-class defensive performances is innumerable, while he is also the proud holder of the record for the most number of clean sheets in the Premier League for a defender, namely 200.

His capacity to lead both vocally and by example has been immensely valuable, particularly in helping develop a number of younger defenders, while his technical ability is rivaled by only the very best in the game. During his career he repeatedly demonstrated his ability to block, intercept and tackle at crucial stages, while he has never been one to shirk responsibility and fade into the background on big occasions. He has always been the leader, rallying the troops to give 100% for the fans when it matters most.

Examples abound of Carragher's ability shining through in big matches, but the ones fans remember the most came in the club's run to Istanbul during the 2004/2005 season. Despite struggling in the League, Liverpool seemed to be transformed when the lights came on at Anfield for a European night and Carragher was at the heart of many crucial defensive displays that helped the Reds to once again defy the odds and progress to the next round.

In Turin, Carra and his partner in the centre of defence Sami Hyypia were instrumental in keeping a clean sheet against Juventus that ensured the Merseysiders' progression to the semi-finals against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. On that occasion, after Luis Garcia's early 'ghost goal' had given the Reds' a slim lead, the Blues put Benitez's side under constant pressure in the second half. They were denied manfully by Carra and co., though, leaving the Portuguese manager to resort to throwing on tall centre back Robert Huth up front in the dying moments. Predictably, however, Carra dealt with that challenge as well and put in a performance that led Alan Hansen, widely recognised as one of the best defenders in the club's history, to state that Carragher was ten times the defender that he was.

In Istanbul, Carra secured his status as a Liverpool legend. He gave his all, literally putting his body on the line to promote the Reds' cause and guarantee that the team's exceptional second half comeback didn't go to waste by conceding a late fourth goal. Crippled by cramp, Carra continued to marshal the defence and stifle Shevchenko nevertheless, hauling himself up from the ground repeatedly to make clearance after crucial clearance. He then was the first to run to congratulate Jerzy Dudek after saving the final spot kick in the penalty shootout, his joy at being part of the team to win the European Cup for keeps for Liverpool overcoming the inevitable pain the number 23 must have felt after 120 gruelling minutes.

Carra celebrates with supporters in Istanbul
As much as his ability is appreciated by supporters, the fans' love for the local lad ultimately stems from the fact that he is one of us. In an age of superstar foreign footballers with more money than sense and loyalty that rarely lasts beyond their next pay cheque, Carra is a refreshingly old-school footballer in the distinctive tradition of the Liverpool Way : dedicated, determined and honest, Carra isn't afraid to tell it as it is and state his opinion in a straight-forward manner that fans can relate to, which should put him in good stead for his punditry role next season.

Characteristically humble, Carra always put the club first. This was demonstrated during the first half of the season just finished, when he admirably accepted Brendan Rodgers' decision to have Agger and Skrtel as his first choice centre backs and adapted to his new role as a back-up. Not once did he criticise the manager or have a pathetic hissy fit like a certain Shrek did at Old Trafford. Instead, he got his head down and went to work at winning back the permanent place in the first team he used to enjoy and, soon after announcing his retirement at the end of the campaign, he was back in the first team, as Rodgers turned to him after a dip in Skrtel's form. He played in fourteen of Liverpool's last fifteen League matches, helping the Reds to keep clean sheets in half of those matches and suffering defeat only once. During his final matches for the club he proved that he could still add value and perform ably. 

On the pitch, Rodgers will find it extremely difficult to find someone with similar ability to Carra. Off the pitch, it will be impossible to find a player with Carragher's unique character and intimate connection with the supporters. Despite his horrendous time as manager at Anfield, current England boss Roy Hodgson summed up Carragher well:

"If there is a spirit of Shankly or a spirit of Anfield, then it's Jamie Carragher and his good friend Steven."

Carragher's spirit is unique and it will be sorely missed by supporters. In fact, I have unconsciously written in the present tense for large parts of this tribute because it seems unbelievable that we will never see Carra put on a Red shirt as a Liverpool player ever again. He is undoubtedly a Liverpool legend whose name will be uttered alongside the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Steven Gerrard when retelling tales of the Reds' storied history. His considerable contribution to the club and supporters' memories of his career will never be forgotten.

You'll Never Walk Alone, Carra

Monday, 20 May 2013

Carra departs in perfect fashion

Jamie Carragher signed off in style, as he completed his 737th and final appearance for Liverpool on an emotional day at Anfield. After 16 and a half years of dedicated service to the Reds, Mr Liverpool pulled on that famous shirt for the last time. He received a rapturous reception from the Anfield faithful who, after years of dreaming of a team of Carraghers, are now left without the admired number 23 to support.

The characteristically humble Carra, who has always placed the team above himself, seemed almost embarrassed at the amount of attention he received prior to kick-off. He walked through a guard of honour with his children as the Kop performed a heartfelt rendition of the club's anthem, "You'll Never Walk Alone", and held up a mosaic in his honour. Ian Callaghan, the only player to appear more times for Liverpool, also presented him with a golden 23.
The Kop pays tribute to a retiring Liverpool legend
Carra was perhaps the keenest to get the game started, and when referee Martin Atkinson eventually blew the whistle to begin Carra's final match the hosts instantly had a gilt-edged chance to open the game in the perfect fashion. Henderson broke clear and set up Coutinho, whose header was blocked behind for a corner. From that set piece, the diminutive Brazilian headed goalwards at the back post and the ball appeared to cross the goal line before it was cleared but the officials failed to spot it and the deadlock remained unbroken.

As one Liverpool career ended, another began yesterday as Jordan Ibe was handed his senior debut by boss Brendan Rodgers. The 17-year old winger performed ably, contributing to the attack on regular occasions as well as tracking back and making a crucial challenge at one point in the second half to the delight of the Kop. 

Mid-way through the first period, Ibe was also involved in the creation of the opening goal. Impressive build-up play from the youngster on the left wing culminated in Coutinho arrowing an amazingly accurate 20-yard drive beyond Robert Green in the QPR goal and into the bottom left hand corner. 

Coutinho looks to the heavens while celebrating his goal with teammates
It was another sumptuous piece of skill from the former Inter Milan star, who Reds supporters cannot wait to see in action again next season.

Determined to add to his measly goal tally, Carragher was given freedom to roam forward and try and bag a goal to commemorate his final appearance for the Merseysiders. Soon after the opening goal, he cheekily attempted to emulate Diego Maradona's  'hand of God' goal. Johnson, Enrique, Sturridge and Coutinho also had efforts for the dominant home side, while the visitors' only real sight of goal throughout the whole match came when Loic Remy's smart left footed volley went wide of the post. 

On the hour mark, the moment the entire ground had been waiting for almost arrived. A loose ball in the centre of the pitch bounced enticingly for Carra, who struck the ball as sweetly as he has ever hit it, firing a volley goalwards from 30 yards out. The noise was phenomenal as the crowd, anticipating a goal to remember, attempted to suck the ball into the net. Agonisingly, the ball thumped against the upright and rebounded away to safety.

Carra claps the Kop as he's substituted
It was the type of strike you'd expect to see Steven Gerrard firing goalwards on his final appearance for Liverpool. It was stunning to see his Scouse teammate emulating the skipper and genuinely gutting that he was denied by the woodwork, although keeping a clean sheet provided Carra with as much satisfaction as a goal. 

During the final half hour, Borini and Suso made substitute appearances, with the latter particularly impressing  after being out of the first team for a substantial spell. Spanish left back Jose Enrique also smacked the ball goalwards in search of a second, forcing Green to beat the ball away. 

Five minutes from time, Jamie Carragher received a spine-tingling standing ovation from the entire ground as he was replaced by Sebastian Coates. The Kop knew that a Liverpool legend was leaving the action for the final time and that they would probably never see such an awesome player and person in a Red shirt ever again.

True to his word, Carra didn't shed any tears as he led the lap of honour around the pitch at the end of the match and season. Typically understated, he said a few words of thanks to the fans, who responded with yet more applause for the 35-year old. 

The emotion of the day was evident for everyone concerned, but the magnitude of his retirement probably won't set in until the opening day of next season, when it will undoubtedly be strange to begin a campaign without Carra, who will surely miss the excitement of a new season as he sits in the Sky studio providing his expert analysis.

The Liverpool legend that is Jamie Carragher has finally retired and he will be forever remembered as a working class hero who gave his all to the Reds' cause.

You'll Never Walk Alone, Carra

Monday, 13 May 2013

Three goals for Sturridge, three points for Liverpool

Daniel Sturridge was Liverpool's star man as he netted an impressive hat-trick to put opponents Fulham to the sword in a lively end of season encounter at Craven Cottage. Former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov headed Fulham in front on the half hour mark but Sturridge swiftly responded with a rifled right footed effort to level the scoreline before the break. He then found the net a further two times in the second half to secure three points for the Reds and the match ball for himself.

With Agger out injured and Skrtel sick, Wisdom and Coates- who was making his first appearance since his woeful display against Oldham in the FA Cup- started alongside captain for the day Jamie Carragher in a back three, as Brendan Rodgers conducted what turned out to be an unsuccessful experiment with a different formation. Jonjo Shelvey was also given a rare starting berth in midfield.

Philippe Coutinho, who has been in sensational form since signing from Inter Milan in January, was inspirational once again, running fellow new signing Daniel Sturridge close for the man of the match award. After 14 minutes he had the Reds' first effort on goal, firing straight at Schwarzer after rounding two Fulham players with some sumptuous skill.

As a whole, though, Liverpool struggled to get going during a first half that seemed typical of a end of season match with little riding on the outcome. Unused to the formation they were playing in, the visitors lacked attacking potency and Sturridge was often left isolated up front. Fulham were little better, but, nonetheless, the Londoners took the lead on the half hour mark.

Riether's cross found Dimitar Berbatov, who was criminally left unmarked in the penalty box, and the 32-year old Bulgarian headed beyond Reina to break the deadlock.

A closer look reveals Carragher's boot has fallen off as Berbatov evades him to head home
In previous seasons, Liverpool may have folded at that point and gone on to suffer a depressing defeat that only extenuates our end of season blues. However, encouragingly Rodgers' men instead picked themselves up and responded immediately, Sturridge equalising soon after Berbatov's opener. Wisdom made a good block in the box and then pumped a long ball forward to Sturridge, who skipped past Hughes before slamming home with his weaker right foot.

That assist did not prevent Rodgers replacing Wisdom with Enrique at the break, as the Merseysiders reverted to their ordinary 4-2-3-1 formation. It was slightly harsh on the youngster, who had performed competently, but a change in our shape was necessary to facilitate an improved second half display. 

Liverpool enjoyed a slice of luck, though, on the hour mark as Craven Cottage exploded in anger towards referee Mark Halsey when he rejected their legitimate penalty appeals after Ruiz's cross appeared to hit Lucas' hand. To rub salt into Fulham's wounds, only two minutes later Coutinho's scuffed shot fell perfectly in the path of Sturridge, who slotted home. It was a sequence of play that made Kopites believe it was going to be their day.

Sturridge slots home a second
Soon after, Sturridge had a great chance to seal his hat-trick as he broke clear of the Fulham defence and tried to beat Schwarzer, who denied him with a fine save. The former Chelsea man was arguably naive, however, in not squaring to Shelvey, who would have had a very simple tap in from yards out.

At the other end, Reina made a superb save to palm away Hughes' powerful header, before substitute Fabio Borini displayed some potential talent as he cut in from the left and then fired a shot against the inside of the far post. Ex-Red John Arne Riise received a raucous reception from the travelling Kop and then almost equalised, Reina getting down well to stop his free kick. 

Liverpool rounded off their win five minutes from time as their two star January signings combined to net a third for the away side. Coutinho's beautiful through ball put Sturridge in on goal and he showed composure to send the ball over Schwarzer and into the net. It was a wonderful finish and an exquisite move that bides well for the future and displays Rodgers' transfer acumen. 

Sturridge salutes the crowd after netting his first hat-trick
On a day when our rivals Manchester United and Everton gained all the headlines as their managers moved on to pastures new, it was a little disappointing to be enduring an anti-climatic end to the season yet again. However, an impressive performance, particularly in the second half, was pleasing and Liverpool's 38 away goals, their most in a Premier League season, is a sign of progress. 

The Reds must now produce a similar display at home to QPR on the final day of the 2012/2013 season next Sunday in order to gather momentum for next season, when they must look to realistically challenge for Champions League qualification right up until the final whistle.


Monday, 6 May 2013

Bore draw as Carra says goodbye

Liverpool and Everton played out a lacklustre match as Jamie Carragher completed his 30th and final Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday afternoon. It was a typical end of season affair, with frequent scrappy spells and real goalscoring opportunities few and far between. Unsurprisingly, it ended goalless, leaving Everton five points ahead of Liverpool and favourites to finish above the Reds in consecutive seasons for the first time ever with only two Premier League matches remaining.

As expected, Brendan Rodgers picked the same starting eleven that smashed six past Newcastle last weekend, with Coutinho and Sturridge providing the attacking ammunition in place of the suspended Luis Suarez, who watched on from the stands. Meanwhile, the Kop lifted high a mosaic that simply said "Thanks" in appreciation of all of their neighbours' support during the recent developments regarding the Hillsborough disaster.

The Kop says thanks
Skipper Steven Gerrard was the home side's star performer, spraying passes around the park with ease and class from his sitting role alongside Lucas Leiva in midfield. On the quarter of an hour mark, one of Gerrard's long passes found Sturridge in space, but the former Chelsea striker lacked support and ended up blazing over the bar. Fifteen minutes later Gerrard went close himself, as Jagielka crucially blocked his goal-bound effort. 

At the other end, though, Liverpool breathed a sigh of relief as Fellaini beat Carragher to Baines' left wing cross and poked the ball narrowly wide of the far post. Nonetheless, the Reds had the best of the very few decent chances that were created. Five minutes before the interval another crucial intervention from Jagielka was required to stop Sturridge just as he looked to pull the trigger.

Soon after the restart, Coutinho and Sturridge combined again to go close to breaking the deadlock. The former's outrageously skillful through ball put Sturridge in on goal. Unfortunately, Howard did well to usher him away from goal and when he finally had an effort on goal it nestled in the side-netting.

There were only a few more talking points. Firstly, referee Michael Oliver, who had otherwise officiated a difficult fixture ably, inexplicably ruled out Distin's perfectly good headed goal from a corner kick. It was clearly an incorrect decision but Suarez's disallowed goal at Goodison earlier in the season comes to mind, perhaps evidencing the old credo that decisions even themselves out over the course of a season. 

After that, Gerrard surged forward and rounded the keeper but saw Distin stop the ball crossing the line, before Anichebe's deflected drive looped up awkwardly for Reina but the Spaniard dealt with the danger and punched behind.

Overall, though, it was an unremarkable contest- including a measly five efforts on target- that will only be remembered because it was Jamie Carragher's last Merseyside derby of his career. We'll miss his talent and skill but, most of all, his passion, which was on display so evidently every time the Reds faced up to the Blues.

Carra claps to the Kop