Monday, January 17, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 2 Everton

It was not an entirely happy homecoming for Kenny Dalglish on his first match at Anfield since becoming Liverpool manager for the second time but a draw in an entertaining 215th Merseyside derby represented some progress.

The club's legendary former player went into the game on the back of successive defeats to Manchester United and Blackpool but the result against their closest rivals at least ensured his first point.

However, there are still many issues to address as Liverpool's defensive frailties let an early advantage slip in a frenetic six minutes after half-time and their pride was only salvaged by a penalty in the final quarter.

Raul Meireles picked the perfect time to score his first goal to give the club he joined in the summer an interval lead but Sylvain Distin and Jermaine Beckford soon turned that around after the break.

But the Reds earned a deserved draw when Dirk Kuyt stroked home his fifth derby goal from the spot.

Watched by principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner, Dalglish received the expected rousing welcome which the Kop had been waiting to give him for a week since taking over from Roy Hodgson.

The occasion may have got to his players more than him as Everton enjoyed the better of the early exchanges.

However, it was not long before Fernando Torres showed he was in the kind of mood which had brought 63 goals in his previous 99 Barclays Premier League appearances.

Having volleyed over from a Meireles corner the Spaniard almost opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a typical piece of brilliance.

Anticipating the bounce of the ball better than Distin the 26-year-old cleverly turned the centre-half before twisting inside his defensive partner John Heitinga and unleashing a left-footed shot which beat Tim Howard but rebounded off the far post.

Kuyt charged into the area to reach the loose ball but his effort was deflected over.

Dalglish's decision to play Glen Johnson out of position at left-back in the last two matches had raised a few eyebrows but the England international's right-footedness was pivotal in setting up the opening goal.

Having cut inside in the 29th minute his far-post cross was headed down by Kuyt but Howard saved brilliantly low to his right and got up immediately to block the Dutchman's follow-up.

The Everton goalkeeper may have felt his work was done but the ball dropped to Meireles on the edge of the area and he drilled a swerving shot inside the near post with Howard unsighted.

Meireles was having one of his best games since arriving in the summer and when Kuyt's inch-perfect through-ball picked him out Howard was forced to tip a shot around his near post.

Half-time brought not only a change of player - Sotirios Kyrgiakos replacing the ill Daniel Agger - but a major shift in momentum.

Just 42 seconds after the restart Martin Skrtel allowed Distin to head Mikel Arteta's corner past Jose Reina and Johnson could not keep the ball out.

Everton went ahead six minutes later while Martin Kelly was laying pole-axed on the pitch after landing awkwardly after an aerial collision with Victor Anichebe.

The ball found its way to Leon Osman and he jinked his way into the penalty area before slipping a pass inside for Beckford to slot past Reina, who was booked for his protestations about Kelly not being able to receive treatment.

But just as Everton looked to have secured a grip on the game Howard handed their rivals a way back in the 68th minute when he tripped Maxi Rodriguez as they challenged for the breakdown of Meireles' free-kick.

Referee Phil Dowd pointed to the spot and Kuyt duly dispatched.

The closing moments became increasingly frenetic as the home side pressed for the winner they desperately craved to get the second era of Dalglish up and running.

Even the legendary manager's encouragement from the sidelines could not cajole the breakthrough.

But with Henry and Werner in the city for the next few days he may have to save his most persuasive arguments for the owners as he seeks reinforcements for his squad.

Liverpool are only four points above the relegation zone and considerable improvement is still required to banish the lingering but almost unthinkable spectre of relegation.

Kenny Dalglish Says Supporters Are The Key

Kenny Dalglish believes the Liverpool supporters hold the key to turning around the club's fortunes and feels the players showed signs of returning to form in the 2-2 draw with Everton on Sunday.

The Scot was back in the Anfield dugout for the first time since his return and watched his side dominate the first half but only come in at the break one goal up thanks to Raul Meireles' strike. The Reds fell 2-1 behind after in the second half but showed character to fight back and earn a draw as Dirk Kuyt slotted home a 68th minute penalty.

Dalglish felt the home support lifted the Liverpool players for the Merseyside derby following a poor run of form and he insists results will improve if they continue to show the same application.

He said: “We started very brightly. I don't know if the players lifted the supporters or the supporters lifted the players. We will be much better off if we are all in it together.

“I think today showed we care about the football club and maybe we can turn it around sooner rather than later.

“You could say we deserved to win the game but at the moment we don't have a great deal of fortune going our way.

“It's a great credit to the players that they continue to tap away at the door to try and get better. The harder the try, the sooner it will come.

“Other than taking all three points, I think it's been a very positive day for us.”

Dalglish felt aggrieved by decisions in the build-up to both Everton goals, the first a header by Sylvain Distin from the corner and the second turned in from close range by Jermaine Beckford.

“The first goal should have been a goalkick and he gave a corner,” he added. “Even if I've lenses in I could have seen that.

“The second one, Martin Kelly got battered and we got turned on the edge of the box. Maybe some other day we would get them given in our favour.

“Sometimes you get a cruel hand. The bounce of the ball went against us. We played with enough to get three points but we can be really pleased with the quality of our football.”

Injection Of New Blood Needed To Match Dalglish's Intensive Care

There is a well-known saying in American sport, often offered in support of coaches far more embattled than Kenny Dalglish at this stage of his second honeymoon.

It says that you can't make chicken salad out of chicken****. Dalglish may well consider his situation desperate enough to employ this coarse but vivid phrase when he sits down with owner John W Henry.

Henry is very proud of his restoration of the Boston Red Sox to the point of winning two World Series. But he didn't do it with lightweight playing resources, certainly nothing as flimsy as that now at the disposal of Dalglish as he seeks to prod his old club back to within shouting distance of the top flight of English football.

So now Henry has to get serious about the Anfield project. It's all very well appointing a director of football to draw up a master plan but he should know that a lot of people in English football -- and quite a number of them in relatively successful places like Arsenal and Tottenham -- are unconvinced that Damien Comolli is quite the sure-fire messiah his publicity sometimes suggests.

In the meantime, Henry has to realize that if Dalglish has been appointed as anything more than a big-league window dresser, he has to be given the means to do a job, however long or short his tenure.

Yesterday the challenge of merely making Liverpool look reasonably competitive again as something more than relegation scramblers still looked pretty mountainous.

Not, it is true, quite as Himalayan as it appeared at Blackpool in midweek, when Ian Holloway's cut-priced warriors merely had to throw a few well-aimed blows to create the foundation of complete mastery.

At least Liverpool came back from Everton's heavy one-two combination early in the second half -- and when they equalized it was interesting to see that Dalglish's instructions came straight from football's oldest playbook -- move, pass the ball, take the game to your opponents, he exhorted.

But then Dalglish knows well enough that however much you try to spruce up the football salad, you are rather dependent on the ingredients. They are not good enough, not nearly, and the extent of the problem deepens the moment you move beyond the holy trinity of Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres and the suspended Steven Gerrard.

Dirk Kuyt is, of course, a player of vast commitment. It must also help Dalglish's peace of mind that he seems to have helped provoke something like the old, brilliant furies in Torres.

The Spaniard came within an inch of scoring another superb goal and generally looked as if he had indeed returned from another planet.

That's fine as far as it goes but whatever new horizons, and old standards, Dalglish is able to evoke, they will remain as unattainable as they have seemed the past few years without a substantial increase in superior manpower.

One word now is that Dalglish is placing some hopes on signing the Beast of the World Cup -- Mark van Bommel. It makes a degree of sense.

In South Africa last summer, Van Bommel seemed hell-bent on becoming the football Antichrist. Not only he did he commit a rash of fouls, he did it with an absolute sense of impunity.

It was also true that he was one of the reasons why a stop-start Netherlands reached the final and might have won it if they had set their minds to playing a little football in the final.

Van Bommel can also pass the ball and read a game. For these reasons alone you could weigh the Dutchman in gold at Anfield right now and at around £3m Dalglish could fairly claim a bargain that could at least go some way to repairing erosion of a first-team squad completely ill-equipped to ride such losses as those of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

What is self-evident is that Liverpool have problems beyond the inspiration of a Dalglish if the new ownership do not abandon the pretty but impractical notion that the aura of King Kenny is in itself a powerful enough antidote to recent disasters, enough at least to keep the old caravan rolling until some grand reappraisals in the summer.

Unlike baseball, football has a trapdoor. It's called relegation and the new owners might be intrigued to know that it is an experience not unknown to clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea, and that before their desert windfall Manchester City regarded it as recurring feature of the football life.

Potential Raul Meireles-Steven Gerrard Midfield Partnership Gives Liverpool Reason For Optimism

There's no doubt that a 2-2 result in the 215th Merseyside Derby was far from an ideal outcome at Anfield, but -- aside from the short burst of Everton dominance to begin the second half -- this was one of matches that should be viewed as more encouraging than disappointing.

Most strikingly, Raul Meireles continued to emerge from his shell and was perhaps the best player on the pitch. He significantly contributed behind Fernando Torres in the center-right of the pitch and strong in combining with Dirk Kuyt, Torres and Martin Kelly in the wide-right areas as well. He was aggressive, creative and was looking to finish.

That ingenuity paid off in full. When Kuyt was twice rejected at the far post by Tim Howard, the ball fell to Meireles at the top of the area, and he brilliantly put the ball into the top corner of the net.

That goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 lead with two-thirds of the first half in the books, but it was far from Liverpool's first chance. Torres had previously hit the woodwork on a counter down the right, and Howard was constantly under fire.

Liverpool's full backs, Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly, very effectively advanced the ball through the wide areas, justifying Kenny Dalglish's decision to play Johnson out of position so that Kelly could be included.

Neither made a significant mistake at the back as well, and Lucas and Jay Spearing -- both of whom were relatively non-existent going forward -- did supply sufficient cover as defensive midfielders.

Everton scored on a set piece and brilliant play by Leon Osman and Jermaine Beckford, two of the Toffees' four shots on target. It'd be difficult to blame such on the defense.

The recently-maligned Martin Skrtel even did well, being involved in the play that led to Kuyt's spot kick on top of his contributions at the back.

When you add it all up, you see a match that Liverpool dominated for at least 70 of the 90 minutes -- even without Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool had 11 shots on target to Everton's four, 10 corners to Everton's six, and five offsides flags to Everton's zero. Those numbers, clearly, indicate the run of play strongly favoring Liverpool -- to the extent that the scoreline has to be considered somewhat unfair.

Liverpool, however, couldn't convert on many of these opportunities, but if Gerrard had been in the side, the story may have been quite different.

Liverpool's 10 corner kicks created little threat on goal, with many of them being mishit at the near post or being taken short. If the captain had been in the side, the delivery, surely, would have been much different.

The same can be said of those five offsides flags -- as it would seem a good bet that on one of those occasions Gerrard would have been able to more perfectly time the through pass.

Given what the Reds were able to do without their captain, it's hard to be anything but optimistic about the squad. When Gerrard does rejoin to the lineup, he'll have an in-form Meireles to partner with.

Before such occurs, however, a Gerrard-less Liverpool will have to slay two of its 2010-11 demons, road matches and Wolves, at Molineux this coming Saturday.

If Meireles can continue to build on his improving performances, that seems a pretty viable proposition.

Liverpool Hope To Sign One Of Premier League Winger Trio

Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli will be discussing at length when they feel Liverpool need in order to improve the Anfield squad as the Merseyside club tries to force their way back up the Premier League table. It appears that high up on the list of priority is the signing of a quality winger or two to add more natural width to a side that looks predictable and stifled on the attack.

Gerard Houllier will surely not be looking to sell either Aston Villa wingers Ashley Young or Stewart Downing, even if it was to his former club who he appears to still have a great deal of time and admiration for. The Villa Park boss is under fire after a very poor run of form and whilst the Frenchman is looking to freshen things up at the club and a number of players have been earmarked as exit bound, neither of the two England internationals are likely to be made available.

That said both players may be tempted by a move to Liverpool and if either expresses their desire to leave then perhaps things could become problematic for Villa. The good form shown by former Middlesbrough man Downing has been one of the few bright spots the club have experienced in what has been a very troubling season.

Ashley Young has consistently been linked with a move and is yet to put pen to paper on a new deal and come the summer the 25 year old will only have a year left on his current contract. The likes of Tottenham and Man United have been linked with interest in the former Watford man who may be looking for a new challenge.

Charles N’Zogbia has been close to a move away from the DW Stadium before and was set to move to Birmingham City in the summer until the French international’s wage demands put an end to any interest. The former Newcastle United man has repeatedly been linked with moves to a big club but as yet this has yet to materialize and a move to Liverpool would be something of a surprise.

Liverpool 'Close' To Landing Former Barca Star

Liverpool is reportedly close to landing Dutch international midfielder Mark Van Bommel after a €3 million offer for the player.

The out-of-favour Bayern Munich star has reportedly been told he can leave the club, and the Sunday Times reports that Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has moved for the player.

AC Milan are also said to be interested and are thought to have had a similar bid accepted by the German giants, with the Serie 'A' outfit set to go head-to-head with Liverpool for the Holland captain.

The former PSV Eindhoven midfielder has previously admitted a desire to play in the Premier League, although the Italian outfit has the lure of Champions League football to try and tempt Van Bommel to the San Siro.

With just six-months remaining on his current contract, the player is available at a discount fee, and has attracted interest from a number of clubs. Liverpool has been linked with the player in the past, and have this time taken their interest further with a concrete bid.

Reds owner John W. Henry is in Merseyside to discuss the club’s transfer activity this month, and the Anfield outfit are believed to be interested in strengthening in a number of positions.

An attacking foil for Fernando Torres is believed to be the priority for Liverpool, but a discount deal for Van Bommel appears to have been too good to turn down.

Damien Comolli is thought to have agreed with club scouting reports that the player would be a quality addition at Anfield, and the 33-year-old veteran could provide Steven Gerrard with some tough-tackling assistance in the Liverpool midfield.

An injury crisis at the Allianz Arena means that the Bundesliga side could try and persuade the player to stay, but face the possibility of losing him for free at the end of the season. Liverpool has sensed an opportunity, and will hope to persuade the player that Merseyside is his future home.

Liverpool And Arsenal Linked With Hungarian Winger

Despite the Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger announcing that he will not be bringing any strikers to the Emirates this month, the Mail reports this morning that Arsenal and Liverpool are both chasing the Hungarian winger Balazs Dzsudzsak who is currently playing for PSV Eindhoven in Holland.

Kenny Dalglish will definitely be reinforcing the Liverpool squad this month and there is every possibility that Dzsudzsak could arrive at Anfield to add some much-needed width to the Reds attack.

Dzsudzsak has been linked to Liverpool many times in the past while Rafael Benitez was manager, and if anything the tricky Hungarian international has improved even further. This season he has already scored 10 goals for PSV and made 5 assists as he has come to the attention of many top sides, but the Mail thinks that the Dutch giants would be willing to sell the 24 year-old to Liverpool or Arsenal for the attractive sum of just £10m.

He would certainly add a bit of flare to the Liverpool attack, but I would imagine that Arsene Wenger already has a good supply of wingers at Arsenal.

Pepe Reina Desperate For Liverpool To Qualify For Next Season's Europa League

Pepe Reina hopes that Liverpool can resurrect their season and somehow manage to qualify for a Europa League run next term.

The Reds have had an utterly under-par season so far, and are currently only four points above the dreaded drop zone. But they have changed managers as Roy Hodgson was given the boot and fans' favourite Kenny Dalglish was installed on a temporary basis - until the end of the season.

Now the shot-stopper admits that the gaffer has put forth his ambition of guiding the club to a European spot.

"Kenny has spoken about his idea for the club and that is clear - we need to save our season and fight to be in the Europa League," Reina told The People.

"Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in England and our fans do not deserve this season. It has not been the real Reds they have been seeing and I just hope we can end our bad run.

"Dalglish is a historic man in Liverpool and the dressing room is obviously with him.

"We are having a bad time of it but the players want to help get through that because it is our career and we have pride in our game.

"Dalglish has a lot of experience and knows perfectly what Liverpool Football Club is about. I hope we have success, although now is not the best of times."

Concerning the differences in ideologies between Hodgson and Dalglish, Reina said: "It is too soon too speak about the differences in the way Dalglish and Hodgson work, but with Dalglish there is more ball work and they are also working with us as people.

"Our morale needs to be worked on and that is key for the rest of the season."

Liverpool Owners' £30 Million Transfer Plan In Tatters After Potential Signings Put Off By Club Uncertainty

Liverpool's owners are reportedly having to deal with their transfer targets being against the idea of joining the club owing to the uncertainty concerning the management team.

It has been reported that a part of the reason why former boss Roy Hodgson got the boot at Anfield was because the club's targets were not keen on playing under him, at which point Kenny Dalglish was handed the reins until the end of the season.

Now the News of the World claims that despite the Kop hero having enough clout to bring in the big names, the targets are worried about the uncertainty surrounding the club's management as the Scot has only been appointed on a temporary basis.

It is believed that the Reds owners brought in fans' favourite Dalglish as a means to steady the ship, but two recent losses have reportedly led them to think that they face a much bigger task than that which they had initially anticipated when taking over the Merseyside outfit.

The owners are thought to be in line to spend £30 million in the market, with UK exclusively revealing that Luis Suarez is one of the club's top targets with the club locked in a transfer battle with Tottenham.