Thursday, November 11, 2010

Match Report: Wigan 1 - 1 Liverpool

Liverpool's four-match winning run was halted by a lively Wigan at the DW Stadium as Roy Hodgson's side faded badly after taking an early lead.

Despite being given an early advantage by Fernando Torres' third goal in four days, the visitors lost their grip on the game midway through the first half and never regained it.

Wigan equalised through Hugo Rodallega in the 52nd minute and finished the better side as the Merseysiders appeared to feel the exertions of beating Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday.

That will be a concern to manager Hodgson, who has complained about the depth of quality in his squad, with a trip to Stoke next up on Saturday.

The draw meant Liverpool missed the chance to move into the top five - a scenario which seemed a distant prospect just a few weeks ago with the Reds mired in the relegation zone until they put together three league wins to add to a victory in Europe.

It must also have annoyed Hodgson because, as they did against Chelsea, his side began strongly with Sunday's man of the match Lucas Leiva unleashing a 25-yard strike which Ali Al Habsi just managed to tip over.

The next time the visitors attacked the goalkeeper was given no chance by a clinical Torres.

An unusual statistic for this season is that all Liverpool's league goals, apart from their opening match against Arsenal, have either been scored or provided by Steven Gerrard and Torres.

The Reds' star duo demonstrated why their partnership is so successful in the seventh minute when Gerrard was given far too much time to carry the ball through midfield.

His perfectly-weighted 30-yard pass allowed Torres to outpace Gary Caldwell and fire across Al Habsi into the far corner of the goal.

It was the 26-year-old's first away goal since March 21 and, considering his prolific record, only the 17th in 41 matches outside Anfield.

The simplicity of that strike was contrasted by their next move, which saw Gerrard, Torres and Dirk Kuyt combine before the captain volleyed over from the Dutchman's header.

Torres was looking at his dangerous best and when Antolin Alcaraz stumbled he was clean through only for referee Peter Walton to pull play back for a non-existent foul.

Charles N'Zogbia looked Wigan's best outlet and he thought he had equalised in the 33rd minute when he seized on Lucas' weak pass and played a one-two with Rodallega to tap home but his team-mate had already been flagged offside.

A Ronnie Stam pass intended for Rodallega at the near post rolled agonisingly wide of the far upright as Wigan finished the half on the up.

Raul Meireles was replaced by Jonjo Shelvey for the start of the second half and the teenager's first contribution was to give the ball away to Rodallega but his forward pass to N'Zogbia was too strong.

The Colombian was not so wasteful moments later when Jose Reina could only palm Stam's low cross into his path and he gratefully fired home left-footed.

Wigan sensed their chance as Liverpool's play became increasingly ragged and Martinez sent on young forward Victor Moses for Jordi Gomez.

Kuyt's strike from Shelvey's deflected shot was half-saved by Al Habsi before it crossed the line but the Holland international had come back from an offside position and it was ruled out.

It was a brief rally as Stam again found room down the right to cross and Martin Kelly had to hack away at the far post under pressure from Tom Cleverley.

Gerrard's shot 10 minutes from time crashed down off the crossbar but not over the line with Al Habsi beaten as the game became end-to-end.

But it was Liverpool who were grateful for the final whistle as Mohamed Diame and N'Zogbia both forced low saves out of Reina.

The result may prove to only be a blip in Liverpool's recovery but Hodgson cannot allow his side to lose any momentum having built up so much confidence over the last three weeks.

Wigan may ultimately have been disappointed with a point, having won the corresponding fixture last season and finished so strongly, but it at least avoided a third successive league defeat.

Gerrard Deserves Place Among The Liverpool Legends

Jamie Carragher was no doubt awash with adrenalin and relief when he claimed his team-mate Steven Gerrard was the best player ever to pull on the red shirt of Liverpool. He had, after all, just watched Gerrard destroy Napoli with such single-handed authority and power he might have been a combination of Batman and Roy of the Rovers.

But is Gerrard better than Dalglish, Souness, Smith, Keegan, Rush, Callaghan, Hansen, Barnes, St John, Hunt and, for a few electric seasons, Michael Owen? It is a formidable roll call of extraordinary ability, and achievement, even when you exclude the man many Merseysiders will go to their graves believing was the best of them all: the legendary Billy Liddell.

For those of us who didn't see the Scotsman there is certainly no lack of glowing testament to his consistent brilliance along the wing. There are also two nuggets of evidence suggesting he indeed belonged in the very highest echelon. On the only two occasions a Great Britain team was selected, in 1947 and 1955, Liddell was included – at the expense of the great Sir Tom Finney. Sir Stanley Matthews played on the right in a 6-1 victory and a 1-4 defeat against the Rest of Europe, and in the first game some witnesses claimed they had never seen such wingers.

If Finney ever needed any reassurance after those rejections it would come, generously enough, many years later at the place where Liddell was so revered. Bill Shankly was asked how he would compare an up-and-coming star of the day, Tony Currie of Sheffield United and England, with his former Preston North End team-mate and idol. "Very favourably," Shankly said with due solemnity, "but remember Tommy is in his sixties now. However, I would still play him even in his overcoat."

No doubt Shankly would have loved Gerrard, and especially adored his ability to break open a game with his extraordinary eruptions of power and virtuosity, but then he also put a huge value on craft and guile and a mean fighting instinct. This, surely, would have carried Graeme Souness high on his list. For sheer accomplishment in what they did, Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Ian Rush and Ian St John would have received plenty of recognition in any assessment made in the shadow of Gerrard's current impact. He said of St John: "If he had been a boxer, as he could have been, St John would have been a middleweight. I love that weight. It has both power and speed."

Any inclination, though, to accuse Carragher of excessive partiality towards a friend and a team-mate, is impressively cautioned by a man who has either seen or played alongside all the contenders for the prize handed to Gerrard last week. Ian Callaghan, who would himself be on the long list of most sound judges, played 857 times for Liverpool, which makes him particularly well placed to bring down the stones from the top of the mountain.

He agrees with Carragher, after drawing up his own short list of Liddell, Dalglish and Gerrard. Still, a hundred questions rise up. Would Gerrard, if uprooted from Anfield, make the kind of impact in Italy that Souness did when he moved there after his superb contribution to Liverpool's achievements in Europe? Would he look quite so outstanding in a team surrounded by the quality that accompanied those such as Dalglish and Rush and Hansen on their journey along the peaks of the game?

Really, who can make such arbitrary judgements? Certainly, though, there is no hardship allowing Carragher his prejudice – and agreeing that he enjoys the company of one of the great Liverpool players.

Comolli Impressed By Payet

Liverpool official Damien Comolli has heaped praise on St Etienne winger Dimitri Payet, rating him as more naturally talented than Tottenham man Luka Modric.

Comolli, who was appointed as the new director of football strategy at Anfield last week, had plenty of time to observe Payet in his former role as director of sport at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

The Frenchman is also familiar with Spurs midfielder Modric, having spent three years as director of football at White Hart Lane.

Comolli suggests Payet, who has been recently linked with a move to Liverpool, has more to offer than Croatian playmaker Modric, and says the 23-year-old would be more than capable of plying his trade outside his homeland.

"On a natural class level, Dimitri is stronger than a player like Modric, (who) I saw very closely at Tottenham," Comolli told France Football.

"It is a very high level. We never stopped repeating to him: 'It is only up to you to join a French team'."

Sochaux coordinator of sports Jacques Crevoisier, former assistant to Gerard Houllier at Liverpool, agrees Payet has massive potential, likening him to French stars such as Djibril Cisse and Thierry Henry.

"Dimitri is a sprinter," said Crevoisier. "He is a little like Djibril Cisse and Thierry Henry when they were 14 or 15-years-old.

"Two years ago, I advised St Etienne to make him work on his endurance. He is now good on that level."

Juventus Join Inter Milan In Race For Daniel Agger

Juventus have joined Inter Milan in the race for Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger , according to Italian reports.

The Tutto Mercato Web Site says Inter Milan are favourites to land the 25-year-old Dane, who would be reuniting with his old manager Rafa Benitez.

The Dane, in his sixth season at Liverpool, is currently out injured with a calf problem and hasn't played since September 25.

Agger is contracted to Liverpool until 2013/2014 and is valued at €7.5M-10M.

Liverpool Keeping Tabs On Talented Basel Midfielder Valentin Stocker

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is tracking Basel's highly-rated midfielder Valentin Stocker as he continues to make plans for his Anfield revamp.

Stocker, 21, already has six caps for Switzerland and is renowned for his goalscoring ability.

He scored twice against Wales in last month's European Championship qualifier.

Liverpool are also watching PSV Eindhoven left winger Balazs Dzsudzsak, 23, along with Arsenal and Tottenham.

Liverpool Boss Sets Sights On £8m Rated Ivica Olic

Liverpool are reportedly interested in making a move for Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic. The hugely experienced Croatian international has found it increasingly difficult to force his way into Louis Van Gaal’s first team picture even though last season 19 goals helped the Bavarian club to a Bundesliga title and a Champions League Final berth.

The 31 year old is clearly in the latter stages of his career but still has a great deal to offer and would be available at a much cheaper price than Mario Gomez who had previously been strongly linked with a move to Liverpool. The German international has gone on to have a terrific start to the season at the Allianz Arena where he has become a regular starter and has netted ten goals already.

Ivica Olic has been a very consistent marksman during his time in Germany with both Bayern and Hamburg and was also huge success in Russia with CSKA Moscow and may well be ready for a new challenge and at his age the Croat will not want to be wasting time bench warming waiting for his colleagues to get injured or suspended so that he can make an impact this has led to the striker being handed just three Bundesliga starts this season.

Rafa Benitez was said to have been interested in signing the powerfully built striker back in 2008 and Hodgson seems similarly interested. The Anfield manager has stated his hopeful intentions to bring in five or six players in January and adding a further attacking threat would have to be very high up on his priority list.

Olic is thought to be valued at around £8m and Bayern Munich would more than likely not put up much of a fight if they felt that the player wanted to leave. Louis Van Gaal has a host of attacking options, many of whom are significantly younger that Ivica and therefore his chances of forcing a way back into a regular starting spot seem problematic.

Frank Rijkaard Would Find An Offer From Liverpool 'Attractive'

The agent of former Barcelona and Galatasaray coach Frank Rijkaard has claimed that the Dutch coach would like to manage in the Premier League or Serie A, with Liverpool being an attractive option.

Speaking to El Mecurio, Rijkaard's agent Perry Overeem indicated his belief that his client would favour a move to either England or Italy, with Liverpool previously strongly linked, citing his experiences at Barcelona to prove that the Dutchman is a capable coach.

"He wants to choose major European football teams in the Premier League or Calcio," Overeem said.

"I think that is attractive to a coach who showed in Barcelona he has the ability to manage in the best leagues in the world. He will surely be working in one or two months."

Rijkaard's agent also denied any link to the vacant Chilean manager's job, following the departure of Argentinean coach Marcelo Bielsa, affectionately nicknamed "El Loco" by fans for his eccentric style.

"I have not received any call from Chile or from that side of the world," the agent stated.
"The story is nothing but a rumor."

NESV Appoint Firm To Recruit CEO

New England Sports Ventures (NESV) today confirmed that it has appointed Spencer Stuart, the global executive search firm, to advise on the recruitment of a new Chief Executive Officer for LFC following the departure of Christian Purslow.

The search, which is to begin with immediate effect, will be led by Jonathan Smith at Spencer Stuart and will look at candidates from within the UK and internationally.

The focus for the appointment will be on business leaders with an interest in, and experience of, football.

NESV Principal Owner John Henry and NESV Chairman Tom Werner will be responsible for appointing the new Liverpool FC CEO and hope to be able to complete the process early in the new year.