Friday, November 05, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 3 - 1 Napoli

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard came to his side's aid once again as his late hat-trick inspired the side to a Europa League victory against Napoli which highlighted the gulf in class within the squad.

The Reds were deservedly behind to Ezequiel Lavezzi's goal after a dire first-half performance but the England midfielder's introduction at the interval changed the dynamic.

Gerrard, as he always has, led from the front and scored three goals in the final 15 minutes to extend Liverpool's lead at the top of Group K.

It also made it two wins and two draws in the last four matches and ensured the side's mini-revival did not come crashing to an end before it had chance to gather momentum.

That Gerrard made such a difference highlighted the deficiencies on the playing staff at Anfield, with the side operating the vast majority of the second half with five central midfielders in a variety of other positions.

The captain put the rest of his team-mates to shame.

Newly-appointed director of football strategy Damien Comolli, watching alongside owner John Henry, must be wondering how he is expected to bring in talent to match that of Gerrard's, such was the midfielder's influence on the game.

But both Henry and Comolli would have been disappointed with how quickly Liverpool were put on the back foot by the lively visitors in the first half.

Equally worrying was the number of times they gave the ball away, a failing which ultimately cost them as one such occasion led to Napoli's goal.

Lavezzi looked dangerous from the start and his shot forced a corner off Paul Konchesky, with his next intervention releasing Edinson Cavani through the inside-left channel only for the Uruguayan to blaze over.

The provider was slightly closer himself when he seized on a misplaced pass by Jonjo Shelvey to run at the Liverpool defence and fire a shot just wide of Jose Reina's left-hand post.

Pressure was starting to build and Glen Johnson, returning from a thigh injury after a four-match absence, was the first player to be booked for hacking at the back of Cavani's legs before the Reds cracked in the 28th minute.

Christian Poulsen's aimless back-header in the centre circle was picked up by Cavani on the left and he slipped a pass through to Lavezzi who calmly steered the ball under Reina, sparking wild celebrations for the visiting fans - many of whom had managed to acquire tickets in a corner of the main stand.

The response was for David Ngog to stab wide from Poulsen's pass and Johnson to force a regulation save out of Morgan de Sanctis.

But manager Roy Hodgson had already seen enough and sent Gerrard out to warm-up 10 minutes before the interval, with the captain reappearing for the second half at the expense of Milan Jovanovic.

It took just 11 seconds for Gerrard to get into the game, winning a tackle with typical aggression before moments later inducing a foul from Andrea Dossena which earned the former Liverpool defender a booking.

The England midfielder's presence had certainly had the desired effect, even if it did mean the side now had even less width with five central midfielders on the field.

Ngog and Shelvey wasted chances before Meireles missed the target from eight yards after latching on to Ngog's loose pass.

Gerrard curled a free-kick just wide from the edge of the penalty area but it was his sheer determination which brought the equaliser in the 75th minute.

Shelvey's run appeared to be petering out when Dossena did his former club - where he endured a miserable time - a huge favour by diverting the ball towards De Sanctis.

Gerrard sensed an opportunity and charged in with his lunge enough to divert the ball past the goalkeeper.

Salvatore Aronica's 88th-minute trip on Johnson presented the captain with a penalty to double his tally and he duly obliged.

In the directors' box Henry punched the air but he had barely sat down before Gerrard completed his hat-trick and sealed the victory, cleverly dinking the ball over De Sanctis from substitute Lucas Leiva's through-ball.

Steven Gerrard Hails Liverpool's Second Half Fightback In 3-1 Win Over Napoli

Steven Gerrard believes that Liverpool are slowly finding their form after his hat-trick earned the Reds a 3-1 Europa League win over Napoli.

Gerrard came off the substitutes bench to inspire a much improved second half display after the Italians had held the advantage in the first half.

However, Gerrard struck three times in short succession to move Liverpool one step closer to qualification from the group stages.

The Liverpool captain admits his first goal and Liverpool’s equalizer displayed more characteristics of grit and determination rather than skill but was just pleased to draw Liverpool level.

“The manager asked me to come on and see if I could help the lads get back in it and I thought in the second half we were fantastic,” Gerrard told Channel Five.

“When you’re in that position against a giant of a goalkeeper you just go in and hope for the best, it was just determination and desire really and I don’t think the 'keeper fancied it.

The skipper was also full of praise for the clubs’ youngsters, such as Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing, who were given their chance to impress in front of the Anfield crowd.

He added: “It’s a fantastic experience for them, a great run out and credit to the manager for having the bottle and heart to put them in because these are big nights here at Anfield but I thought they did well again.

“In Napoli we put in a good defensive display and we have built on that and got back to back league wins and come from behind tonight to show good character, there is still a long way to go, we know we can get better.

"It’s going to take time but we feel as if we are getting close to where we want to be.”

Liverpool Owe A Debt Of Gratitude To Steven Gerrard, Says Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson believes everyone at Liverpool - not least himself - owes Steven Gerrard a debt of gratitude after the England international’s 14-minute hat-trick averted a morale-sapping defeat at home to Napoli in front of new owner John W Henry and director of football Damien Comolli.

Gerrard emerged as a second-half substitute with Liverpool trailing to a strike from the Argentine international Ezequiel Lavezzi but produced the fourth treble of his career - bundling home after a mistake by Andrea Dossena, coolly converting a penalty after a foul on Glen Johnson and brilliantly chipping home his third - to leave the Premier League side needing just a point to qualify for the knockout rounds of the Europa League.

Though Hodgson admitted in an ideal world he would not have needed to call on his captain to rescue the game, he was effusive in his praise of a performance which he believed encapsulates everything which makes Gerrard Liverpool’s spiritual leader.

“It was a real leader’s performance,” said Hodgson. “In the second half his entry on to the field was a catalyst. It galvanised the crowd and the team and I thought the way he scored the first goal epitomised the energy and the spirit the team showed in the second half.

“That goal was not pretty, but we had missed plenty of chances after pretty play. It was a captain’s goal, the goal of a guy who wanted to get his team back into the game and who was determined, even at the risk of injury, to get the ball into the goal.

“That is appreciated by me, all of the staff here and by the incredible crowd we had. We owe a big debt of gratitude to him but he would be the first to join me and say it was a good team performance in the second half. We deserved to win the game.”

Though Hodgson suggested it would be harsh to suggest it was the first time he had seen the best of Gerrard since taking charge at Anfield, the player’s insistence that the club are still very much a work in progress could, in truth, apply to his form this campaign too.

“Every game is a battle at the moment,” Gerrard said of his team’s form. “It started in Naples with a good defensive display and we have built from that with back-to-back league wins and now coming from behind to win. But there is still a long way to go and we know we can play better. It is a building process with a new manager, a lot of new faces and new ideas. It will take time, but we are getting close to where we want to be.”

Liverpool Target Brazilian Striker As £10 million Torres Partner

Liverpool are being linked with a January move for CSKA Moscow striker Vagner Love.

The Brazilian international forward is thought to be out-of-favour at the Russian club, returning home for loan spells at Palmeiras and Flamengo in the past two seasons.

Love joined CSKA in 2004, and has an impressive goalscoring record for the Koni. In six seasons, the striker has hit 97 goals in 185 appearances for the Russian Premier League side.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is thought to be in the market for a striker, and the Reds have been linked with Carlton Cole, Peter Crouch, Fernando Llorente and Antonio Cassano to name just four player in the last week.

The former Fulham boss has been promised money to spend by new owners NESV, with Liverpool thought to have a January transfer war chest in the region of £35 million.

Hodgson has hinted at potentially 'five or six' additions at Anfield in the opening month of 2011, and a foil for Fernando Torres is thought to be a priority.

Liverpool were first linked with Love in 2009, when the News of the World reported that Everton and Spurs were also interested in bringing the Brazilian international to the Premier League.

The link has gone quiet over the past 18 months, but FootyLatest now place Liverpool back in the race to sign the mercurial player.

Whilst the value of the player is up for debate, Liverpool will need to pay in the region of £10 million to bring the player to Merseyside.

Liverpool Line Up Spain Star As Torres Replacement

Liverpool are set to move for Athletic Bilbao star Fernando Llorente if they lose Fernando Torres in January.

Speculation is rife that Torres will quit Anfield in the middle of another disappointing campaign, with Manchester City, Chelsea and Barcelona all linked with him.

Liverpool won't allow that to happen without having a replacement lined up, and Torres' international understudy is the man at the top of their list.

Former Tottenham director of football Damien Comolli has just been appointed to a similar role at Anfield and he will know he faces the unenviable task of possibly replacing Kop idol Torres as one of his first jobs.

And Llorente is the man most likely. The 6ft 5in striker, who has scored seven times in 12 appearances for Spain, is nicknamed 'the Lion King' in Spain and has a growing reputation both in La Liga and around Europe.

But if the Reds are to pull off a deal for the 25-year-old, new owners New England Sports Ventures may have to meet the €36million buy-out clause in his Bilbao contract.

Liverpool Linked With Move For Tottenham’s £8m Forgotten Man

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is being linked with a move to sign Tottenham’s forgotten man David Bentley. The 26 year old attack minded midfielder has not started a minute of Premier League football for the White Hart Lane club and is now desperately looking for a lifeline to resurrect his ailing career.

Rafa Benitez was strongly linked with a move for the former England man during his reign at Anfield and with the Merseyside club suffering a woeful start to the campaign Hodgson has already stated he would like to bring in five or six new signings in January and a move for the Spurs flair player may make a great deal of sense.

There were signs in the second half of last season that Harry Redknapp had faith in Bentley and as a result the former Arsenal man started 19 games as he helped the north London club to a top four finish. However this season his only action has come in a Carling Cup encounter and he appears to have no future at the club.

The likes of Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers have been heavily linked with a move for the Peterborough born attacker but perhaps he would jump at the chance of reigniting his career at Liverpool. Whilst Bentley’s time at Tottenham could lead to many believing that he has been a flop he is still young enough to turn his career around and showed in patches last term what he is capable of and the £8m rated playmaker may be worth taking a calculated gamble on?

Dirk Kuyt Hopeful Of Being Fit For Liverpool’s Clash With Chelsea

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt is pushing to face Chelsea on Sunday after three weeks on the sidelines.

The 30-year-old has made a quicker than expected recovery from ankle ligament damage and will resume full training today.

Kuyt was injured on international duty with Holland last month and it was initially feared he could be out for a lengthy period.

Kuyt said: “I have worked really hard with the medical team.

“I am quite happy with them because I have recovered quickly. I have trained really hard and am ready to start team training.”

When asked about this weekend’s Barclays Premier League clash against Chelsea at Anfield, he added: “It depends on how the next couple of days go.

“Hopefully the team training will be okay and at the end of the day it will be up to the manager.”

Liverpool have endured a difficult start to the season, after collecting just six points from their opening eight league games under new manager Roy Hodgson.

That period was also overshadowed by an acrimonious takeover saga but, with that issue now resolved and the last three games won, Kuyt is optimistic.

He said: “It is always difficult when things change but in football these days, these things happen. You just have to cope with it.

“It is always easy, when things aren’t going the way you want them to, to look for excuses but those things are behind us now.

“It is very positive we have the new owners and it is very positive we have won the last two (league) games.”

Kuyt has also given his full backing to under-pressure boss Hodgson.

“We could all see last year how good a job the manager did at Fulham,” said Kuyt, whose car was damaged by a police horse on arrival at Anfield tonight.

“We are working really hard to reach the same thing as he did at Fulham.

“I think it is going well, every week it is going better. I think the team is getting more used to each other.

“We also have a few new players, so the future is bright.”

Liverpool Could Do With Damien Comolli Unearthing Another Two Gareth Bales

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson hopes that the club's newly appointed director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, can unearth a couple of Gareth Bales for him.

The Frenchman was previously a director of football at Tottenham Hotspur, and is thought to have been the brains behind the signings of Bale, Luka Modric, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Dimitar Berbatov - who is now at Manchester United - among others.

And the Reds boss hopes that Comolli can produce similar results on Merseyside.

Hodgson said on the club's official website: "If it's true that Gareth Bale is a player he spotted and brought through then we'll be happy if he can produce one or two more of them for us!

"The matter of player recruitment is of vital importance to clubs today. It becomes more important every year. And in Damien Comolli we have a person who has great experience at player recruitment.

"He'll have to look very carefully at the players who are being identified and recruited for the reserve team and academy as well."

The former Fulham boss insists that he will hold discussions with Comolli to better the depth of his squad, as he feels what he currently has is inadequate for his purposes.

He said: "I'm not sure our strength in depth is as good as it needs to be and that will be a very important conversation we'll be having in the coming days: what can be done to make our squad a bit stronger than it is?

"If you compare us to some of the squads we'd like to be competing against, theirs go a bit deeper."

However, the gaffer complimented some of his younger players for rising to the challenge, pinpointing diminutive midfielder Jay Spearing for some praise.

He added: "But those who have been thrown in have kept our heads above water.

"Take a guy like Jay Spearing. I think he's played in every single Europa League game so far. It's good to know that people like that are getting a chance to show what they can do and play regular football."