Monday, 30 September 2013

Suarez and Sturridge slay Sunderland

Those who said Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge can’t play together must have faces as red as the pair’s shirts right now.

The dynamic duo were in scintillating form at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light yesterday teatime, the latter assisting the former to score twice on his return to Premier League football after opening the scoring himself, as Liverpool secured their first win by more than one goal to propel them into second place in the table.

Despite failing to reach top gear for long stretches of play and suffering some uncomfortable spells when Sunderland exerted pressure, particularly after they pulled one back early in the second half, Liverpool claimed all three points, primarily because of the excellent work of their front pair, as well as the supporting Victor Moses. Combining together encouragingly effectively, Suarez and Sturridge proved too hot for the Black Cats’ back four to handle, leading boss Brendan Rodgers to label the strike partnership the best one in the League in post-match interviews.
“Those two will only get better; you see the understanding. We have done a lot of work with them together in training. They looked very bright today.” Rodgers on Sturridge and Suarez
Simon Mignolet and Jordan Henderson received warm applause from the home supporters as they returned to their former club as part of an unchanged line-up from Liverpool’s arguably undeserved midweek League Cup exit at the hands of David Moyes’ Manchester United.

Buoyed by the recent departure of Paolo Di Canio, whose eccentric personality and demanding managerial techniques made him unpopular with both players and fans, Sunderland started brightly, although the visitors created the best goalscoring opportunities in the early stages. After Suarez shot narrowly wide from range, Martin Skrtel converted the rebound after Kieran Westwood had parried Gerrard’s low free kick but he was offside by the narrowest of margins.

Midway through the first half Larsson’s fantastic free kick smashed against the cross bar, but Liverpool responded in the best manner possible, netting twice in ten minutes to severely deflate the hosts, whose incompetent defending came back to haunt them. First, Sturridge forced the ball over the line from close range from Gerrard’s corner, bundling the ball past the unfocused Larsson on the goal line.

Sturridge celebrates scoring the opener
For those who suggest the ball came off his hand rather than his head I have just two words: beach ball.

Then, Steven Gerrard, who put in an improved display, found Sturridge with a brilliant ball and the England striker squared to Suarez. The Uruguayan tapped home from yards out to double the Reds’ lead before revealing a shirt celebrating the birth of his new child.

Rather than crumbling like they usually have done so far this season, the Wearsiders provided a spirited response, Gardner forcing Mignolet to make a superb save and Johnson curling over the bar before the break. After the interval, it took only seven minutes for the home side to halve the deficit. Ki’s attempt from distance was disappointingly dealt with by Mignolet, as he merely parried the ball back into the danger area, where Giaccherini lurked to gladly exploit the error and side-foot home.

At that point, travelling Kopites were worried that their side could throw away three points against the second worst team in the League, who were growing in confidence and posing more of a threat as the match progressed. Thankfully, though, the Reds resumed their role in the ascendancy during the closing stages, although fans’ nerves remained until Suarez scored his second and Liverpool’s third in the dying moments of the match. Before then, Moses’ excellent strike brought out a brilliant save from Westwood and Toure unleashed a powerful shot that the Sunderland stopper palmed away.

With a minute of normal time left, Liverpool went from one end of the pitch to the other in under 17 seconds to put the outcome of the match beyond doubt thanks to a wonderful counter-attack. Starting with Mignolet comfortably collecting a corner kick, the Belgian quickly threw the ball to the onrushing Suarez, who switched play to Sturridge before running into space at the back post where the number seven got on the end of Sturridge’s return pass and converted a straightforward finish from close range.

Suarez is supremely confident in his own ability
Just to prove how confident he was that he’d score another goal, Suarez then lifted his top to reveal a shirt with a different message on it.

At the end of the day, it was pleasing to end a run of three games without a win; however difficult Liverpool made it for themselves by allowing Sunderland back in to the match at the start of the second half. With Suarez and Sturridge in this type of form, there is no reason why the Reds can’t seriously challenge for Champions League qualification this season.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Suarez returns in United cup defeat

I always felt that Manchester United needed to win this match more than Liverpool did.

With David Moyes under pressure following a humiliating 4-1 defeat away to local rivals Manchester City on Sunday, another defeat to arch-rivals Liverpool in midweek only weeks after losing to them in the League would have just compounded the pressure placed on the former Everton manager. As a result, the hosts were happier with the victory, secured by an early second half goal from Hernandez, than the visitors were disappointed by defeat.

Not that the significance of the tie to the respective sides was reflected in their starting line-ups. While Liverpool started possibly their strongest eleven, with Luis Suarez returning following suspension, Moyes made eight changes to the team that were thoroughly beaten at the Etihad.

Nonetheless, the likes of De Gea, Rooney, Giggs and Hernandez did start for the home side, who began the brighter. In the opening ten minutes, Hernandez and Rooney saw shots blocked while Shinji Kagawa had a low strike comfortably saved by Mignolet before the Japanese midfielder curled over.

After weathering the early storm of attacks from United, Liverpool came into the match and were dominant for the rest of the first half. Luis Suarez clearly added another dimension to Liverpool’s attack, combining well with strike partner Sturridge, but, after missing 10 games, his lack of sharpness was also evident. This was demonstrated midway through the first period when his first touch from a beautiful searching Enrique cross wasn’t tight enough and a great chance to get in behind United’s defence was squandered as the ball ran through to De Gea.

It's good to have Suarez back
On the half hour mark Sturridge went close, deftly flicking goalwards from Henderson’s right wing centre but Smalling guided the attempt over. A first half during which Liverpool had been in the ascendancy ended with a hint of things to come, as Hernandez twisted and turned around the Reds’ defence and shot from 25 yards but saw his effort blocked by Skrtel, who continued his run of good form last night.

Unfortunately, Jose Enrique didn’t play quite as well as his Slovakian teammate. Yes, he looked threatening on occasion going forward and hopefully he will resume his almost telepathic understanding with Suarez now the number seven is available for selection again, but he can be a liability defensively, and it was his lack of concentration that ultimately proved decisive. Literally seconds after the restart, Hernandez lost his marker Enrique all too easily and got on the end of an in-swinging corner, side-footing past Mignolet to give United the lead.

Hernandez was happy to exploit Enrique's error
Liverpool responded by creating their best opening of the match ten minutes later. Front three Moses, Sturridge and Suarez combined to set up Henderson, who chose placement over power but frustratingly shot just wide of the post from the edge of the box. Kagawa then fired an excellent drive goalwards, which brushed the bar on its way over, before the Reds went close to equalising twice in two minutes twenty minutes from time.

First, Moses’ diving header from Enrique’s cross was punched away by De Gea. Had the loanee headed the ball either side of the keeper it would have found the back of the net, but unfortunately it was in the perfect place for the Spaniard to make the save. Then, Luis Suarez almost produced a bit of magic to level the score line, hitting the cross bar with a well taken free kick thanks to a slight deflection off the wall.

In the end, though, despite late efforts from Suarez, Henderson and even Kolo Toure, Liverpool failed to grab an equaliser and force extra time. For the second time in a row, it was woeful defending from a corner kick that cost Rodgers’ men dear as they conceded a goal that could so easily have been avoided. At the other end, the Reds had a promising 17 shots, although worryingly only three of them were on target. It seems, therefore, that Rodgers needs to concentrate on defending from set-pieces as well as shooting practice during training this week.

Although the result was disappointing and there are some specific areas Liverpool need to work on, overall it was a positive reaction to defeat to Southampton in the League last time out. The outcome may have been the same, but the performances were poles apart in terms of quality and commitment.

Hopefully the Reds can arrest their recent run of disappointing results- they have gone three games without a win- in their final two fixtures before the international break against Sunderland and Crystal Palace, which look eminently winnable.


He's back! But how do you solve a problem like Luis Suarez?

Luis Suarez is still a Liverpool player. 

That’s a sentence I certainly wasn’t expecting to be able to type after the close of the transfer window when speculation regarding the Uruguayan’s future started in June. The assumption was that player power would inevitably prevail once again and, at best, the club would sell their star striker to an overseas club for an exorbitant fee that would finance reinvestment in the squad to try and find replacements for the simply irreplaceable number seven.

Now we’re approaching the end of September and not only is Suarez still a Liverpool player, his ten game ban for foolishly and absurdly biting Chelsea defender Ivanovic’s shoulder has been served and he is free to pull on a Red shirt once again. It couldn’t have come at a better time, either, as Liverpool appear to be struggling without the creativity of key playmaker Philippe Coutinho.  However, Suarez’s return raises a number of questions that are troubling both boss Brendan Rodgers and Kopites.

Perhaps the biggest question is what reception will he receive from the fans? Liverpool supporters are tremendously loyal and always back their team to the hilt, but once we are betrayed that love and support is instantly withdrawn. Just think about how our perception of Fernando Torres changed overnight when he jumped ship and joined rivals Chelsea. He suddenly went from our adored star striker to a despised traitor.

That process happened for many supporters when Suarez so publically and shamelessly pined for a move away from Anfield. No longer was he the indispensable super striker who Kopites would support through thick and thin, no matter how bizarre and iniquitous his misdemeanours. He was now the Judas who was willing to come up with any excuse to try and justify his brazen attempts to engineer a move away from the club who arguably made him the world class talent he is.

With Suarez unexpectedly remaining on Merseyside due to the stubbornness of John Henry and Brendan Rodgers, many Reds are unsure as to how to feel about Suarez. There’s a desire to forgive and forget his previous offences and move on, providing him with just as much support as any other Liverpool player.

At the same time, though, that desire is tempered by the knowledge that, if Suarez had had his way, he wouldn’t be playing for Liverpool anymore, and that fact will make Kopites understandably cautious about welcoming Suarez back with open arms. Yes, he’s a great player, but it’s hard to have affection for someone who has spent the summer trying to stab you in the back and you strongly suspect may well betray you in the future if he gets the chance.

On the pitch, an equally puzzling question is posed by Suarez’s return. Where will he play? With Daniel Sturridge banging in goals left, right and centre- the 24-year old has scored six in six so far this season- it would seem harsh to move Sturridge out onto the wing again in order to accommodate Suarez through the middle. The former Chelsea striker is revelling playing in his preferred position and his form justifies keeping him as the main man in the centre of attack.

Sturridge should remain Liverpool's main striker
The question has perhaps been answered, though, by the six week absence of Coutinho due to a shoulder injury. The creative midfielder had arguably been doing as well in behind Sturridge as Sturridge has been doing up front, so Suarez may have had to settle for a place on either the left or the right of an attacking triumvirate.

However, with Coutinho on the treatment table, Suarez can slot into his position in the meantime. In a slightly withdrawn role from Sturridge, Suarez may be given space to pull the strings in attack. If he isn’t, he’ll almost certainly drag a central defender out of position or occupy the time of an opposing side’s defensive midfielder. It’ll be interesting to see what roles they will play in when they are all fit. It will also give Brendan Rodgers a welcome selection headache.

It remains highly questionable whether Suarez will be as committed to the Liverpool cause as he appears to have been in previous seasons. Having set his heart on leaving Liverpool, he will almost inevitably lack the zeal and motivation of players such as Jordan Henderson, whose euphoric celebrations after scoring in a pre-season friendly versus Olympiacos showed the type of love for the club supporters expect from the players.

Nonetheless, Suarez may still perform at the world-class level we have come to expect from him, not out of love for the club, but rather from a love of his country. Suarez wants to be in Brazil with Uruguay for the 2014 World Cup and he knows that in order to get into their squad he has to keep on firing in goals and performing well for Liverpool. That may benefit the Reds, even if his heart isn’t in it. It may also prevent him from pulling off one of his stupid stunts again, although we can never know for sure with Suarez.

Suarez wants to be in Brazil in 2014 for the World Cup
The most difficult task facing Brendan Rodgers regarding Suarez is not integrating him back in the team or managing to get him forgiven by the fans. Good players will find a way to play together and, although his reception will probably be muted and frosty at first, the supporters will surely forgive him when he’s scored a couple of crucial goals, even if they will never love him in the same way again.

No, the most difficult task facing Brendan Rodgers is persuading Suarez that his long term future is at Anfield. At the moment, Suarez has to stay at the club because he signed a contract and the Reds are quite rightly demanding he honour that contract. Convincing Suarez that he should want to remain a Red is an altogether different and more difficult task.

It will require securing Champions League qualification this season and continuing to purchase top-quality players to build and grow the squad into a competitive one ready to rival the likes of Spurs, Arsenal, City, Chelsea and United.

Ultimately, that’s what Rodgers has to do if he is to solve a problem like Suarez.


(This article originally appeared on This is Anfield)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Rubbish Reds slip to Saints defeat

That was Liverpool’s worst performance in a long time.

Sloppy at the back and dire going forward, the Reds got what they deserved as they fell to a 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton, who also happen to be the last team to beat the Merseysiders when they claimed a 3-1 victory at St Marys in March. The setback ends the home side’s unbeaten run and sees them drop down to second place in the League below Chelsea on goal difference.

Desperately missing their creative linchpin Philippe Coutinho, who has been ruled out for six weeks with a shoulder injury, Liverpool lacked invention going forward and main man Daniel Sturridge was starved of service. At the other end, the Reds’ bizarre back four composed of four centre backs, with Toure at right back and Sakho on the left, looked disjointed and uncomfortable, regularly giving the ball away when placed under pressure by the industrious Saints and lacking the attacking potency that is there when Johnson and Enrique bomb down the flanks. Mignolet was frequently culpable as well, looking uneasy in possession and evidently lacking the distribution skills of his predecessor Pepe Reina.

To be fair to Southampton, they performed exceptionally well as a unit and fully deserved the three points. None of their individual displays stood out, but collectively they worked extremely hard, bravely pressing high up the pitch and retaining a credible attacking threat, even in the closing stages. The Saints were also rarely troubled by Liverpool’s late forays forward.

Nonetheless, it was the home side that had the best chances during the opening stages, Henderson’s curling effort being saved by Boruc after Sturridge had let Aspas’ pass continue into the 23-year old’s path. Aspas was then fouled to win a free kick in a promising position, but Boruc somehow managed to pull off a world class save to deny Gerrard what appeared a certain goal.

So close yet so far as Gerrard sees his free kick saved
Liverpool’s cries for a penalty fell on deaf ears soon after as referee Swarbrick unreasonably refused to point to the spot after Lovren clearly clipped Sturridge in the area. The England forward’s honesty in trying to continue playing rather than falling over under the challenge perhaps worked against him.

Had Gerrard found the net from his earlier free kick or had the Reds been rightly awarded a penalty then things could have been so different. A first half goal would have settled the nerves within Anfield and allowed the hosts to take charge. As things turned out, the Reds appeared less and less likely to breach the Saints’ backline and the visitors grew in confidence and belief as the game progressed. Moses may have posed a threat on the left, dribbling enthusiastically and seeing his shot tipped over a few minutes before the break, but he couldn’t help Liverpool gain a lead, and Southampton started the second half the better.

Rodgers’ men didn’t help themselves either, though, as Mignolet messed about with the ball only two minutes in and presented Lallana with a fantastic opportunity. The Belgian keeper may have atoned for his error by making a decent save from the resulting shot, but the unnecessary and unfortunate incident underlined once again how much work Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach John Achterberg has to do on his footwork.  

Liverpool were then punished on 53 minutes for yet more sloppy play at the back, Skrtel and Toure somehow contriving to conceded a corner from a Liverpool throw in near the halfway line. Daniel Agger then got caught out in the penalty area, allowing Dejan Lovren to connect with the set piece and find the net, despite the best efforts of skipper Steven Gerrard on the line.

Lovren celebrates in front of the noisy away end
That should have been a wake-up call for Liverpool. It turned out to be a rallying cry for Pochettino’s troops, who threatened again only minutes later, Osvaldo forcing Mignolet to make a reaction save, before the Belgian made a magnificent triple save to keep the Reds in the contest. Exciting young left back Luke Shaw strode forward confidently and shot at goal, but Mignolet was equal to the task, keeping out both his effort and the rebound before leaping to push the ball away before Steven Davis could get to it.

Another Gerrard free kick may have drawn another good save from Boruc, but if anything Southampton looked the more likely to score next, Davis cushioning a volley towards goal but seeing Mignolet catch his effort.  

In the end, Raheem Sterling’s squandering of the last goalscoring opportunity of the match summed up the game from Liverpool’s perspective. Sturridge’s pass over the Saints’ backline set Sterling up with a fantastic opportunity to go one-on-one with Boruc but his first touch was abysmal and the ball ran away from him. It epitomised Liverpool’s technical ineptitude.

The Reds must hope that this was just a bad day at the office, because if they play like this for any significant spell of the season then they are not going to finish in the top four. Games at home against mid-table opposition are the ones in which it is essential to take all three points, no matter how badly you play, and yet Liverpool have once again been stymied by opposition they should be defeating with ease.

In the long term, Rodgers must be on the lookout for adequate cover for Coutinho, as neither Aspas nor Henderson appeared capable of filling his sizeable boots yesterday. It’s a good job Luis Suarez’s suspension has ended now and he can perhaps slot in to the Brazilian’s number ten role behind Sturridge.

The game against Manchester United in the League Cup on Wednesday presents the perfect opportunity to bounce back immediately from this disappointing defeat and gain a morale-boosting victory, while bottom of the table Sunderland should be dispatched comfortably next Sunday teatime.

One thing’s for certain, though; Liverpool won’t win either of those games if they play anywhere near as badly as they did yesterday.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Shelvey the star as Swans hold Reds

For the record, Jonjo Shelvey is no longer a Liverpool player and now plays for Swansea City.

Not that the clean-shaven 21-year old midfielder acted like he’d made a summer switch from Merseyside to Wales when the Swans played host to the Reds in the Premier League’s Monday night offering.

Shelvey was simultaneously the hero and the villain for Michael Laudrup’s men. After opening the scoring after only a minute, Shelvey’s horrendous back pass sold keeper Vorm short and allowed Sturridge to net an instant equaliser. There was more pain for Shelvey as Moses exploited his misplaced pass to net on his debut, but he arguably made up for his errors by setting up Michu for the equaliser just after the hour mark. In the end, the result was Jonjo Shelvey 2-2 Jonjo Shelvey, and it’s obvious who the man of the match was!

New signings Mamadou Sakho and Victor Moses were handed debuts by Brendan Rodgers, as Daniel Agger missed out through injury and Iago Aspas dropped to the bench. Andre Wisdom also deputised for Glen Johnson at right back.

The match marking Liverpool manager Rodgers’ return to the Liberty Stadium began at a thrilling pace, with two goals in the opening three minutes a fitting introduction to a thoroughly entertaining game.  A minute in, Shelvey fluffed his lines with a shot from the edge of the box, but he took advantage of a lucky bounce of the ball to advance on goal, netting a calm left footed finish after evading the attention of Skrtel and Sakho.

Shelvey's joy was short-lived
He was soon left distraught, though, as he played a poor back pass, perhaps due to a lack of concentration after just netting against his former employers, gifting Daniel Sturridge a one-on-one situation with Vorm. With the former Chelsea player in sensational form, it came as no surprise to see him punish Shelvey and fire a superb finish into the net to level things up and bag his fourth goal in four games.

The rest of the first half persisted in an exhilarating end-to-end manner, with Coutinho and Bony seeing shots saved by the respective keepers and Sturridge and- you guessed it- Shelvey firing off target. Liverpool remained generally in the ascendancy, though, with their Brazilian playmaker Coutinho particularly influential and Victor Moses displaying signs of promise on the left wing.

Encouragingly, he linked up well with his fellow attackers as well, almost setting up Sturridge for his second midway through the first period. Terrific dribbling from Moses and a cross into the area gave Sturridge a seemingly unmissable opportunity but Vorm somehow managed to beat away his headed effort.

Liverpool didn't have to wait long to claim the lead, though, as Moses scored a debut goal on 36 minutes. Shelvey’s lackadaisical and misguided pass went straight to Moses, who sped menacingly towards goal and magnificently fired into the corner of the net to leave Shelvey’s face as red as Liverpool’s shirts.

Moses already looks a special signing
Nonetheless, the home side ended the first 45 minutes strongly and the visitors welcomed the interval when it arrived. Almost immediately after the Reds had gone in front, the Swans forced Skrtel into a brilliant sliding tackle to prevent Bony netting a simple tap-in.

The Welsh side also began the second half brightly, although their dominance and Liverpool’s decline didn't arrive until the turning point ten minutes after the restart, when Philippe Coutinho left the field with a shoulder injury to be replaced by the uninspiring Aspas. The statistics demonstrating the difference between Liverpool with and without Coutinho were damning. In the first half, Liverpool completed 48/66 attempted passes in the final third. They managed a mere four successful passes in the final third after the interval, with only 11 attempted.

Unable to retain the ball up-field, Liverpool were pushed further and further back by a resurgent Swansea. The hosts’ revival was rewarded on 64 minutes, when Shelvey’s flicked header found Michu, who converted low into the corner.

Michu yells in celebration of his equaliser
Credit to Shelvey, he recovered well after two fatal first half mistakes. Lesser players would have crumbled in his circumstances.

The closing stages were worrying for the Reds, as they once again failed to score in the second half after suffering a significant dip in form following the break. Swansea certainly looked the more likely to steal a win and the Merseysiders were more than happy to depart Wales with a point. Michu volleyed wide, before De Guzman’s free kick was turned around the post by Mignolet in between two attempts from the 26-year old attacking midfielder that flew wide and over.

Decent defending was required late on in order to secure the draw that keeps Liverpool unbeaten and at the top of the Premier League table. Although the Reds’ seeming inability to perform in the second half is a cause for concern and Coutinho’s injury could be particularly damaging to their attack, it’s hard to complain after taking 10 points from four games. It took Liverpool nine games to achieve the same points total last season, so clearly they have significantly progressed.

Victor Moses also appears to be another bargain signing from Chelsea, who seem far too willing to sell good players to Liverpool, while Sakho showed enough to suggest he has the potential to be a top quality defender, even if he did struggle at times.

Ultimately, the fact that a draw at Swansea feels like a defeat rather than a victory shows how far Liverpool have come from the often frustrating days of last season.


Sunday, 8 September 2013

No marquee signings but Brendan Rodgers still gets a B+/A

The fact that Liverpool enjoyed such a successful and productive end to the summer transfer window can perhaps best be demonstrated by comparing the situations Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers and Manchester United manager David Moyes found themselves in on Monday, a mere 24 hours after Liverpool had defeated their arch rivals 1-0 at an ecstatic Anfield.

While the Northern Irishman was relaxing and sharing a joke with King Kenny Dalglish at Bill Shankly’s 100th birthday celebration at the Hilton Hotel, the Scot was probably screaming down the phone in frustration at one of his club’s negotiators- knowing Moyes’ luck he may have even been yelling at an impostor! -desperate to sign someone, anyone, before the 11pm deadline.

A relaxed Rodgers and King Kenny share a joke
In the end, United ended up paying over the odds for an overrated Everton midfielder who appears unlikely to solve their obvious midfield problems. Rodgers, meanwhile, could celebrate the life of his greatest predecessor safe in the knowledge that deadline day had been stress-free and successful after the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed on three transfers that will significantly strengthen Liverpool’s previously thin squad.

The fact that the Reds’ transfer strategy and plan allowed their manager to essentially take a night off on the evening of deadline day is possibly the most pleasing aspect of the transfer window. In previous years the transfer window has been perilously close to slamming shut on Liverpool. For example, in January 2011 the late departure of Fernando Torres to Chelsea forced the club to, in a panic, splash out the ridiculous sum of £35 million on Andy Carroll on deadline day. Moreover, last summer Rodgers was left frustrated after being unable to persuade Clint Dempsey to pick Anfield over White Hart Lane on the last day of the transfer window.

This time around, following the pattern earlier laid down in January, Liverpool moved quickly to complete the bulk of their signings early on, allowing new arrivals time to adapt and gel together as a cohesive squad. When late signings were made to add depth to the squad, they were clearly carefully planned to ensure that the transfers were essentially completed a few days beforehand, with only the formalities finalised on deadline day. Like a conscientious student, Rodgers had finished his work way in advance, with only proofing and fine-tuning necessary on the day of submission.

His work received a respectable grade of either a B+ or an A as well. Virtually all the key areas that needed strengthening prior to the opening of the transfer window have now, to a greater or lesser extent, been strengthened. Nowhere is this more evident than at centre back.

Even before injuries to Coates and Toure, Liverpool knew they needed reinforcements at centre back. With the legendary Jamie Carragher retiring, Toure was bought in to replace the wealth of Premier League experience that Carra added to the squad, quickly becoming a cult hero with Kopites thanks to his no-nonsense style and instantly impressive performances. At 32, though, the Ivorian was never going to be the long-term solution to the Merseysiders’ central defensive problems and, when he got injured in the League Cup match at home to Notts County, Rodgers had to act quickly.

Thankfully, he did, signing two centre backs on deadline day to furnish Liverpool’s previously scarcely populated central defence with plenty of options. It may be stretching it a bit to describe Mamadou Sakho as a marquee signing, however, at  a reported fee of £18 million, the former PSG centre back, who can also helpfully play at left back, is certainly expected to be vice-captain Daniel Agger’s partner at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Tiago Ilori, meanwhile, is one for the future who, at £7 million, should provide cover and competition as well in the short term.

At the other end of the pitch, the Reds attack has also been added to, Iago Aspas providing industry and effort, Luis Alberto skill and potential and Victor Moses pace and goals. Stewart Downing may have been shipped out to West Ham at a substantial loss, but he was clearly surplus to requirements and, with FSG implementing sensible cost cutting measures, Liverpool simply cannot afford to keep a player in reserve when they are on the wages of a member of the starting eleven. Fabio Borini’s deadline day loan move to Sunderland may be a little more difficult to explain, although he clearly needs games after missing so much action through injury and Moses, who is slightly further on in his development than Borini, provides adequate cover for the Italian.

Between the sticks, Reina was pining after a move to Barcelona at the start of the summer so Rodgers acted swiftly and decisively to replace him with Simon Mignolet, who has perhaps been Liverpool’s best summer signing after keeping three clean sheets in three Premier League matches. Rumours of bringing in Shay Given as second choice stopper and selling Brad Jones ultimately proved unfounded, with the Reds unwilling to match the 37-year-old’s wage demands. However, failing to sign the former Newcastle keeper isn’t a huge blow, as Jones has sufficient quality to cover for Mignolet on the odd occasion and it seems pointless to pay more to simply have a different person warm the bench for the majority of the season.

The one position that Rodgers failed to strengthen was central midfield. The four options provided by Allen, Lucas, Gerrard and Henderson would be sufficient if he intended to play with two men in the middle of the park. However, as Rodgers prefers to play a 4-3-3 formation, it seemed as if another body was needed in midfield to bolster the options available to him and ensure sufficient cover in the event of injury or suspension. It’s unrealistic to expect a manager to achieve all their transfer goals in one window, though, and improving the centre of midfield was obviously a less urgent priority than providing reinforcements up front and at the back.

Willian chose Chelsea over Liverpool
The failure to secure a marquee signing left many Liverpool supporters worried during the middle of the summer, as they saw Mkhitaryan, Costa and Willian turn down the chance to move to Merseyside. Marquee signings are inevitably costly, though, and thus often provide a poor return on investment. They are certainly riskier signings than the type that Liverpool have made this summer, with more money at risk of being wasted, even if they often have the potential to be world-class.

Ultimately, despite concerns in the middle of the transfer window, Liverpool can now look back after the window has slammed shut and be pleased with their summer’s business. Suarez remains a Red, exciting new signings have been made within a generous but sensible budget and their squad has undoubtedly been improved, arguably to a greater degree than their closest rivals for a top four finish.

Add to that an unbeaten start to the League campaign and progression to the next round of the League Cup and it’s clearly a good time to be a Red.


(This article originally appeared on This is Anfield). 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Reds topple United to top the table

This was the day many Liverpool supporters were convinced that their team could claim the top four finish they so long for.

Winning our opening two games 1-0 against Stoke City and Aston Villa was pleasing enough. Beating our fiercest rivals at Anfield by the same score line, on a day when three exciting new additions to the squad were watching on from the stands, could prove the catalyst to an unbeaten run that would put the Reds unquestionably in the race for a top four finish and qualification for the Champions League.

New centre backs Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori were accompanied by loan signing Victor Moses as they saw Daniel Sturridge net a crucial goal early on to once again clinch a 1-0 victory for Liverpool. It would be unfair to suggest that it was a case of Sturridge one-United nil, however, as a dedicated and committed team display earned the Merseysiders all three points. Yes, Sturridge, who played despite carrying an injury that he later said discouraged him from shooting, was exceptional yet again, but what really won the game for the home side was an immense defensive effort.

Right from the off, Liverpool’s tempo was excellent, pressing their opponents high up the pitch while retaining a strong and stable defensive shape, with Lucas effectively patrolling in front of a back four whose only change from previous matches saw Skrtel come in from the cold to replace the unfortunately injured Kolo Toure.

This pressing paid dividends after only four minutes, as seven Liverpool players closed down the away side in their left back’s corner, reclaiming possession and allowing Daniel Sturridge to win a corner kick. Gerrard’s subsequent set piece was flicked on by Agger and the Reds’ number 15 was at the back post to nod home from close range.

Sturridge and Skrtel are ecstatic
Manchester United admittedly replied strongly, Young’s left wing corner rolling across the goalmouth with remarkably nobody getting on the end of it, before a superb block from Johnson, which raised unwarranted suspicions of handball, was required to prevent England striker Welbeck unleashing a shot on target.

Liverpool remained in the ascendancy, though, winning the all-important midfield battle. Passing the ball authoritatively and accurately, the hosts’ fluid yet solid midfield three of Lucas, Gerrard and Henderson were too much for United’s static and flat midfield four to cope with. It’s no wonder United boss David Moyes has been searching for an extra midfielder during the summer transfer window; although it is doubtful spending over £20 million on the overrated Marouane Fellaini will resolve the Mancs’ midfield problems.  

United stopper De Gea smothered Gerrard’s free kick and Coutinho sent another set piece high and wide before the break. On the stroke of half time, Robin Van Persie very nearly got himself sent off. Engaging in a pointless scuffle with Martin Skrtel that seems almost obligatory on these sort of occasions, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard recognised the Dutchman had already been cautioned and sought to wind him up further. Frustratingly, the away team’s star striker just about managed to retain his cool and avoid an early bath.
Van Persie almost got himself sent off 
After the interval, United renewed their campaign to secure an equaliser, while Liverpool looked even more determined to keep their opponents out and gain a morale-boosting win ahead of the upcoming international break. On the hour mark, a crucial refereeing decision went in the Reds’ favour, engendering hopes among Kopites that this might just be our day. Referee Andre Marriner adjudged Danny Welbeck to have tumbled too easily under the challenge of Iago Aspas in the penalty area in front of the travelling supporters, to the relief of the home fans.

Liverpool undoubtedly benefited from the stop-start nature of the second half, which allowed them to take a rest from the arduous task of keeping out United while also disrupting any momentum the visitors temporarily built up. Injuries and substitutions, not least to Glen Johnson after a thundering tackle on Evra on the edge of the box, kept the Champions from enjoying a sustained spell of pressure.

The rear guard action of the hosts was effective as well, restricting Moyes’ men to only a few late chances. Mignolet produced a superb save to keep out Nani’s effort from range on 77 minutes and Van Persie fired the wrong side of the post when presented with the clearest goalscoring opportunity the away side managed to craft two minutes from the end of normal time.

In injury time, Liverpool even threatened to put the proverbial cherry on top of the delicious metaphorical cake that was their performance, substitute Raheem Sterling’s shot forcing De Gea to stretch and palm the ball over the bar.
"It is another step for us because we drew too many of the big games last season. It is an indicator that our winning mentality is becoming stronger." Brendan Rodgers
"It's the best we've played this season." David Moyes 
They didn't manage to add to their lead, but nobody inside Anfield cared. They were just overjoyed after a fantastic win had extended Liverpool’s encouraging start to what could be an exciting campaign. With the Reds’ next serious challenge coming in the form of a trip to the Emirates at the start of November, this victory could be the start of a run of form that could prove crucial in the fight for fourth.

In the end, it was a fitting way to celebrate the 100th birthday of the great Bill Shankly.