Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Match report: Liverpool 3 - 0 Aston Villa

Liverpool's stand-in strikers shrugged off the absence of Fernando Torres to secure a comfortable 3-0 victory over Aston Villa and make it an unhappy return to Anfield for former Reds manager Gerard Houllier.

With Torres given the night off to be with his wife Olalla, who had gone into labour with their second child, David Ngog and Ryan Babel ensured he was not unduly missed with first-half goals.

Maxi Rodriguez added the third in the 55th minute to make it four successive Barclays Premier League victories for Liverpool at Anfield.

In truth Villa, like previous visitors West Ham, posed little in the way of a threat but there were some encouraging performances from Liverpool all the same.

Raul Meireles, having been given an extended run in the centre in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard, is starting to look like an £11million midfielder and was in the midst of most of the hosts good play.

Ngog and Babel will also have gained plenty of confidence from their performances, although they will have to prove they can do it against better opposition than this if they are to have long-term futures at Anfield.

Almost forgotten in all the attacking play was Jose Reina's clean sheet, his 100th in 198 league matches breaking by some considerable distance the previous record held by Reds great Ray Clemence - who took 217 games to reach the landmark.

Houllier, who won five trophies in his six-year spell at Anfield - and four alone in 2001 - to cement his place in the club's history books was welcomed back by a club motif-emblazoned banner on the Kop which read Gerard's Heart Beats.

It may have skipped a beat in only the third minute when Dirk Kuyt volleyed wide after Ngog's two headers from Meireles' right-wing free-kick were not cleared.

Set-pieces were a weakness for Villa all night and they were undone by one in the 14th minute.

Meireles' clipped delivery picked out Martin Skrtel who speared a header back across goal and the diving Ngog could not fail to nod in from barely three yards.

It was the Frenchman's eighth goal of the campaign - although only his second in the league - and it took him past Gerrard as the club's leading scorer this season.

Two minutes later Liverpool had doubled their lead with Babel justifying manager Roy Hodgson's faith to select him up front.

The Dutchman has consistently failed to impress since his £11.5million move from Ajax in 2007 but his goal was an example of the talent - which some would argue he has wasted - at his disposal.

Playing on the shoulder of Stephen Warnock, Babel allowed Lucas Leiva's lofted ball to drop out to his right and he swivelled to smash a shot across Brad Friedel and inside the far post.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos could have made it 3-0 in the 27th minute but planted wide his far-post header from Meireles' free-kick while Babel curled a first-time shot just wide of Friedel's left-hand post from the Portugal international's low cross.

Villa had one chance to get back in the game just after half-time but Gabriel Agbonlahor's close-range shot from Stewart Downing's cross was half-saved by Reina and the ball cleared by Paul Konchesky.

Moments later a counter-attack of brilliant simplicity finished them off.

Reina collected and instantly rolled the ball 30 yards down the middle of the pitch to Rodriguez, who offloaded to Ngog out to the left and then perfectly timed his run to sidefoot home the return pass 40 yards further up the pitch.

Rodriguez looks increasingly at home out on the left and, having scored just one goal in his first five months after joining last January, he now has three in his last seven matches.

Only former Liverpool goalkeeper Friedel prevented a fourth, parrying away Johnson's shot after he had weaved his way into the area.

Kyrgiakos' header from Meireles' corner was cleared off the line by Jonathan Hogg as Villa threatened to buckle completely.

The Kop, as in years gone by, sang the names of Houllier and his assistant Gary McAllister but it was more out of sympathy than anything else.

Hodgson, who has yet to win over the Anfield faithful, stood unmoved on the touchline safe in the knowledge three points were safe - which Houllier would testify is how all managers are ultimately judged.

Pepe Reina Sets Club Record In 100th Shutout With Liverpool

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina is not the first Reds' goalie to record 100 shutouts with the team, but he did it in the fastest amount of time.

Reina earned the century mark after blanking Aston Villa in Liverpool's 3-0 victory on Monday. It was his 198th game with the Reds, surpassing the record set by Ray Clemence, who reached the feat in 217 outings.

Also on the list of Liverpool goalkeepers to notch 100 clean sheets is Bruce Grobbelaar, who picked up his 100th in his 225th match, and Elisha Scott who reached the mark in 283 games.

When it comes to Reina's incredible accomplishment, the Spaniard gives all the credit to his teammates.

"Thanks to the boys because it's up to them," Reina told Sky Sports. "We have a big squad, there are not only three in the team. We have 24 men and we're all here to deliver."

Liverpool To Miss Out On Connor Wickham

Ipswich Town sensation Connor Wickham is ready to reject a move to Liverpool as he wants to join Arsenal or Tottenham in January, Goal.com UK can reveal.

Liverpool are hoping to win the race for the highly regarded striker by meeting the £10 million asking price set by Ipswich.

But Goal.com UK understands Wickham has sparked a battle in north London for his signature by telling Ipswich he favours a move to Arsenal or Spurs.

Tottenham are concerned about the size of the transfer fee but remain in pole position to sign the 17-year-old wonderkid and are prepared to offer £5.5m plus youngsters Andros Townsend and Jake Livermore, who are currently impressing on loan at Portman Road.

It is believed Ipswich would be prepared to accept the offer but may demand Giovani dos Santos on loan to clinch the deal. The Mexican star is out of favour at White Hart Lane and had a successful previous loan spell at Ipswich in 2009.

As Goal.com UK revealed in October, Arsenal have also been scouting Wickham but are yet to make a formal approach for the England under-21 international.

Ipswich were initially determined to hold on to Wickham until at least next summer but now appear ready to sanction a sale in the January transfer window.

Wickham has played just three games this season for the struggling Championship side due to ankle and knee injuries, but that has not deterred the Premier League big guns from making a move for the Colchester-born forward.

The 6ft 3in teenager fits into Liverpool’s new policy of signing the best young English talent and has been identified as an ideal signing by manager Roy Hodgson.

But despite being a Liverpool fan, Wickham does not feel a move to Anfield would be the best decision for his future and director of football strategy Damien Comolli faces an almost impossible task in convincing him to change his mind.

Wickham is understood to have been swayed by the progress of the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone at Spurs while Arsene Wenger has a history of nurturing rising stars at Arsenal.

Tottenham were widely reported to have made an £8.5m bid in the summer based largely on appearance and performance-related clauses for the striker, who has been praised for his power, athleticism and finishing.

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp believes Wickham will become a regular England international and was given a glowing recommendation by scouts after he starred for England in the European Under-17 Championships last May. He scored both goals in the semi-final win over France and then followed it up with the winner against Spain in the final.

He is the youngest first-team player in Ipswich’s history and has been mainly used as an impact substitute by manager Roy Keane, who is under pressure as his side sit 17th in the Championship following five defeats in a row.

Real Madrid Set To Beat Liverpool To French Youngster Yann Mvila

Spanish giants Real Madrid are preparing a 15 million euros bid for Liverpool target Yann Mvila, Rennes' promising young defensive midfielder.

Mvila burst onto the scene at Rennes last season, displacing former Liverpool player Bruno Cheyrou from the side. Mvila has excellent physical strength and is renowned as an effective ball winner, who is then able to use the ball sensibly. His rapid rise has also been helped by a real maturity in his game.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson travelled to France to watch Mvila play last month. The 20-year-old starred for Laurent Blanc's France side which recently beat England 2-0 at Wembley.

According to Spanish daily AS, Real Madrid have already entered talks with Mvila's agent Ahmed Ouidy with Jose Mourinho keen to make use of the midfielder's strength in the centre of the pitch.

Real Madrid apparently hope to pre-empt any approach from other clubs, primarily an attempt to take Mvila to Anfield, especially given the strong French connections of Damien Comolli, Liverpool's new director of football strategy.

Liverpool Prepare Cut-Price Deal For In-Form Serie A Starlet

Liverpool is reportedly monitoring Palermo midfielder Josip Ilicic.

The Slovenian international has caught the eye of a number of Europe's top clubs with six goals in 13 goals for the Serie A so far this season and, according to German website 4-4-2, Liverpool are ready to step up their pursuit of the 22-year-old.

Bayern Munich will allegedly prove to be Liverpool's main rivals for the signature of the €2.5 million playmaker who - like Anfield hero Steven Gerrard - is famed for his long-range shooting ability.

A deal for Ilicic would serve as further proof that Liverpool owners NESV plan to bring young talent to Anfield in their quest to build a squad for the future.

Liverpool have also been linked with multi-million pound January moves for Ipswich sensation Connor Wickham and Swiss youngster Valentin Stocker, but it has now emerged they may not complete as much business in the New Year as originally reported.

"What it does is hopefully mean the new owners and myself don't have to panic and go out and add numbers to the squad just for the sake of doing so in January," said Reds boss Roy Hodgson after he saw his Liverpool youngsters claim an impressive point against Steaua Bucharest last week.

"It will give us that calmness to say 'look, if we cannot get the quality and type of player we really want, then let's keep the faith in some of these young ones and wait for the right type to come along.

"If the European campaign had gone badly and we'd not picked up a few more points lately, then we could have been looking at the transfer window and saying we've really got to get some more players in because the squad is too thin.

"Now I think we will say 'yes, we would like some new ones with experience, we would like to improve the squad of course, but let's make sure we get the right guys.

"Several have put their hands up now and shown they can be trusted to perform in the Premier League, and that is important because we will be needing them."

Liverpool Plan Swoop For Fulham Man Clint Dempsey

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson will attempt to lure Fulham attacker Clint Dempsey in January. The former Craven Cottage boss has earmarked a move for the American and the poor start to the season under new boss Mark Hughes may lead the 27 year old to consider a move away from the west London side.

Hodgson is reportedly looking to bring in more attacking options and the adaptable Dempsey could well be a very useful addition to his Anfield squad. The £10m rated Texan can play in a number of positions in the final third and now in his fifth season in the Premier League he has shown what he is capable of and arguably has outgrown the Cottagers.

Fulham currently lie in 17th spot in the table having secured just two wins all season but Dempsey has still managed to impress, netting six goals so far in all competitions. However Roy Hodgson may find it hard to persuade Hughes to sell such an integral part of his side and a move would only have a chance of success if the former New England Revolution man pushed for an exit.

Liverpool have found goals hard to come by this season, scoring just 17 goals in 15 Premier League matches and a move for Clint Dempsey would make a great deal of sense as he has the ability to make opportunities for others as well as net relatively frequently himself.

Agent Refuses To Comment On Juventus' Interest In Liverpool Outcast Daniel Agger

Juventus' reported interest in Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has not been confirmed by the player's agent.

The Danish international has not settled in under new manager Roy Hodgson at Anfield, often sidelined by injury and no longer considered an integral part of the team.

The player recently spoke out against his manager, telling the press he expects Hodgson "to have the guts to tell me face to face if he doesn't want me."

When speaking to calciomercato.com, the player's representative would not confirm or deny the Bianconeri's interest in the versatile 25-year-old, only saying "no comment."

The press suggests that Agger's exit could be hastened by the potential arrival of Bolton's Gary Cahill or Stoke's Ryan Shawcross.

Inter and Wolfsburg has also been linked with the World Cup 2010 participant, who joined the Reds in 2006 from Brondby. The player is rated at 214 in the Castrol Rankings.

Hodgson: Liverpool's Progress In The Europa League Could Spell A Quiet January

Roy Hodgson believes that progression in the Europa League means that Liverpool does not have to make any panic purchases in the January transfer window.

The Reds boss has in the past maintained that he needs to bring in a few new faces to strengthen his squad, but booking a spot in the knockout round with a game to spare has given him enough confidence to wait before be makes a move.

It is thought that the Merseyside club may hold off until the summer to sign new players, as there are more options after the end of a season.

"The game in Bucharest gives me a bit more confidence that we can face up to what’s going to be a long, hard season," Hodgson said, according to the Liverpool Daily Post.

"What it does too is hopefully mean the new owners and myself don’t have to panic and go out and add numbers to the squad just for the sake of doing so in January.

"It will give us that calmness to say ‘look, if we cannot get the quality and type of player we really want, then let’s keep the faith in some of these young ones and wait for the right type to come along’.

"If the European campaign had gone badly and we’d not picked up a few more points lately, then we could have been looking at the transfer window and saying we’ve really got to get some more players in because the squad is too thin.

"Now I think we will say ‘yes, we would like some new ones with experience, we would like to improve the squad of course, but let’s make sure we get the right guys’."