Sunday, February 13, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 1 Wigan

Liverpool's ambitions of staging a late charge for Champions League qualification suffered an untimely blow as bogey side Wigan ended their four-match winning run in a draw at Anfield.

A fifth successive victory would have put the Reds within four points of fourth-placed Chelsea but despite dominating two-thirds of the game they failed to press home their advantage.

Raul Meireles impressed once again, extending his remarkable goalscoring spree to five in his last six matches, but at the other end Jose Reina's goal was breached for the first time in 463 minutes when Steve Gohouri prodded home from close range.

However, another positive note for Reds boss Kenny Dalglish was January signing Luis Suarez, on his first start since joining from Ajax.

He showed why the Merseysiders parted with £22.8million with a display full of energy, invention and determination.

Had the Uruguay international enjoyed more fortune his side would have won the game, having had a shot to make it 2-0 rebound off a post before the interval and a second-half free-kick cannon back off the crossbar.

Wigan, to give them credit, enjoyed a good spell after the interval which culminated in their goal and ensured Liverpool's record against them now stands at just two victories in their last seven meetings.

Suarez was into the action early, having a fourth-minute shout for a penalty turned down after a quick counter-attack from a corner and combining well down the right with Dirk Kuyt, who himself had a shot from the edge of the penalty area which had Ali Al Habsi grasping to hang on at the second attempt.

But the Wigan goalkeeper could do nothing about Liverpool's opener in the 24th minute as Meireles continued his scoring run.

Fabio Aurelio's cross from the left byline was partially deflected by the head of Gohouri but only as far as the Portugal international 16 yards out and he smashed home a right-foot volley.

Three minutes later Suarez almost doubled the lead with a manoeuvre reminiscent of the now-departed Fernando Torres.

He wriggled his way into the left edge of the penalty area before opening his body to shoot right-footed past Al Habsi only to see the ball rebound off the far post.

The Uruguayan was a willing outlet for Liverpool and Gohouri was booked on the half-hour for clattering into the back of him.

Wigan were in danger of being overwhelmed as Meireles continued to find space in and around their penalty area, blazing over from range on one occasion.

The closest the Latics came to producing a response was when winger Charles N'Zogbia fired in a low free-kick which Reina claimed easily late in the first half.

Meireles was replaced by David Ngog four minutes into the second half, with the Portugal midfielder heading straight down the tunnel to receive treatment.

But Suarez showed no signs of fading in only his second match since December 8 and Antolin Alcaraz had to resort to a foul to prevent him racing into the penalty area, for which he was booked.

But Liverpool's inability to seize complete control of the game and score a second gave the visitors hope and the threat of an equaliser turned into a reality in the 65th minute.

N'Zogbia curled an inswinging left-footed cross from the right which found its way to Gohouri who stabbed home from two yards out at the far post.

There was a suspicion of offside but it was only relevant if Alcaraz had got the slightest of touches on the way through and it was impossible to tell.

That was the first goal Reina had conceded in five matches and it threatened to undermine all Liverpool's previous hard work in putting together a run of four successive victories.

Suarez continued to impress and when Caldwell fouled him on the edge of the area in the 77th minute he picked himself up to curl a shot over the wall but onto the crossbar.

The Uruguayan, seemingly almost single-handedly at times, tried desperately to find the winner but found Latics captain Caldwell in particularly resolute form.

Aurelio fired a shot just over, which was followed by Martin Skrtel's header in added time as the hosts failed to find a way through.

The result put a check, for now, on lofty ambitions to break back into the top four but despite dropping points Dalglish will still harbour hopes they can still pose a challenge later in the season.

Unfortunately for Wigan, they remain in the bottom three.

Kenny Dalglish: We Lacked Sharpness

Liverpool took the lead through Raul Meireles but allowed Wigan Athletic to get back into the game after Steve Gohouri’s effort leveled the scores shortly after the hour mark, resulting in a 1-1 draw for the Anfield men.

Coach Kenny Dalglish was happy with his side's performance but insists that after the international duties of midweek his players lacked the edge to win the game.

“I think it was a game where we started well enough, we scored a good goal by Raul [Meireles] then Luis [Suarez] hit the post but you could tell that a lot of them had been playing on Wednesday night,” he told reporters.

“It’s the same if you get a game yourself on a Wednesday night, there’s just that bit of an edge missing.

“I think if the edge had been on the final pass would have been better and on three or four occasions we would have been in, but the sharpness was away a wee bit, which is understandable.

"But saying that we are obviously disappointed not to have taken three points and with a bit of luck we would’ve got them.”

Luis Suarez made his first start in a Liverpool shirt with the 24-year-old hitting the woodwork twice.

Dalglish was frustrated by the impact the international fixtures had on team selection, with Daniel Agger not fit to make the squad while Meireles came off as a second half substitute after picking up an illness on international duty.

The Liverpool boss admits it is a big blow to lose the Portuguese player, who has now scored in his last five Liverpool appearances.

“It hasn’t come from the cooking at Melwood, that’s for sure. It could just be a bug that’s going around. It was just sickness," he said.

“During the first half he wasn’t feeling to clever and he tried to play on but it wasn’t fair to ask him to.”

“Whether it’s a result of the game in midweek for Portugal and he’s just over-exerted himself or it’s a virus-- I don’t know what the cause of it is but he was certainly sick at half time.

"He’s a goalscoring threat for us so it was a blow to lose him.”

Dalglish Unsure If Gerrard Will Return In Europe

Kenny Dalglish has admitted he does not know if Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger will be fit for Liverpool's Europa League trip to Sparta Prague.

Both players missed the Reds' 1-1 draw at home to Wigan on Saturday due to injury and, with only one game in the next 11 days, Dalglish confessed he will wait to take a decision on the duo for the trip to Prague.

"Both Daniel and Steven will be days rather than weeks,'' said the Scot. "Obviously we've got the Europa League on Thursday, whether they are fit for that, we'll just have to wait and see. We've not got a game after that until the following Thursday so we'll see how they are and go from there.''

Dalglish said he felt his side's lack of spark against Wigan was partly down to the effect of the midweek internationals. He also bemoaned the Latics' equalizer, which was offside in the eyes of the Liverpool boss.

"I think it was a game where we started well enough, pushed forward and scored a good goal by Raul [Meireles] again,'' he said. "Luis [Suarez] hit the post but you could tell they had been playing Wednesday night a lot of them. There was just that little bit of an edge missing and if they had had that they the final pass would have been better. I think there were three or four occasions in the first half we would have been in, but the sharpness was just missing a bit, which is understandable.

"Obviously we are disappointed not to take the three points and with a bit of luck maybe we would have, despite the performance not being as good as it has been in the past. I think Wigan may have been a bit aggrieved if they had gone away without a point but Luis hit the post twice and their goal was offside - these things happen. We just have to brush ourselves down and get on with it. It's not been too damaging. We'll keep going.''

Suarez, a £22.8 million signing from Ajax late last month, enjoyed an impressive first start - having scored on his debut 10 days ago as a substitute.

Dalglish said of his new recruit: "It's not difficult to warm to him is it? He's very energetic and skilful. He loves to score goals and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. In normal circumstances maybe we would have taken him off because he's not had a game for a while. It probably pushed him that bit too far. We were just hoping he might get us a goal.''

Dalglish Delighted With Lucas

Kenny Dalglish has hailed Lucas Leiva for his transformation at Liverpool and says it is no surprise to see him playing the Dunga role for Brazil.

While Lucas, 24, has received the consistent backing of Liverpool managers, he has struggled to win over the fans since signing from Gremio in 2007.

However, his impressive performances over the last year have seen many supporters come around and, after he won his ninth cap for his country in the friendly against France this week, Dalglish feels he fully deserves international recognition.

"It was interesting to see him playing for Brazil on Wednesday," he said. "They have had some fantastic players in his position and the best known was Dunga, who won World Cups and went on to manage the national side.

"I've always said Lucas is highly thought of in Brazil, probably more than in Britain, but certainly not at Liverpool. I don't know why he has started playing so well. Maybe he just needed time to settle. Whatever the reason, we're just grateful for the job that he's doing.

"We have always appreciated what he can do. Last Sunday he was as good as anyone on the pitch at Chelsea, so to see him playing for Brazil wasn't really a surprise for me."

He added: "I don't think Lucas is going to be the one who beats five or six players and puts it into the back of the net, but he may be the one who stops the guy going past the first fella then sets us on our way.

"He's an important member of the team. Most teams have someone like that in the ranks and we are no different. The fact he started on Wednesday for Brazil tells you they must be very pleased with him as well, and the performances he's put in for us mean he's deserved it."

Meireles Happy With Form

Raul Meireles has expressed his delight with recent performances after emerging as Liverpool's man of the moment as they target a top-six finish.

The Portugal international scored the winner against Chelsea last week to take his tally to four goals in five games.

Meireles was former manager Roy Hodgson's most lavish signing at £11.5million from Porto.

Yet, it is under caretaker boss Kenny Dalglish that he is producing the sort of form that is endearing him to the Kop as they have moved up to sixth.

Meireles said: "The fans have been with me from my arrival, but now my goals mean their support for me is bigger.

"I am a hard man but I get very emotional when they sing my name during matches.

"This is unique but I must say that while I am happy with my goals, my objective is not to become Liverpool top scorer.

"I know my limitations but I will always give 150%.

"As a foreigner watching Liverpool on television, I always sensed something about the club but it's only possible to really understand it when you are here.

"To perform at Anfield and score goals is fantastic.

"I am privileged to play for Liverpool and perhaps in time I will think that I have fulfilled the biggest dream of my sporting life."

£25m Price Tag On Liverpool Defender Target

Liverpool defender target Fábio Coentrão has had a £25 million price tag placed on his head.

The Portuguese international has been heavily linked with a move away from Benfica, with Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish thought to be one of the managers interested in bringing the player to England.

Coentrão himself has previously expressed a desire to ply his trade at Anfield, expressing his admiration for the Merseysiders last month when they were linked with a move.

"I love Liverpool," the full back was re-quoted as saying on Live4Liverpool.

Manchester United are also thought to be keen on the player, with Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly monitoring the 22-year-old for several season now as his stock rises at the Portuguese Liga champions.

TalkSPORT claim Coentrão and his representatives have agreed a fee that will be accepted by Benfica should a club come in for the player, and it's reported that £25 million will be enough to take the player from the Estádio da Luz.

Liverpool were reportedly considering the player as a replacement for Paul Konchesky during the transfer window, but failed to bring the player to Anfield as Konchesky left for Nottingham Forest on loan.

Glen Johnson is currently filling in at the position for Liverpool, and doing an impressive job for Dalglish too. However, it's seen as a short-term fix and the club is expected to move for reinforcements at the end of the season.

New owners NESV have already shown that they are willing to invest in the club, and the manager has hinted that they will do so again in the summer. Coentrão is thought to be one of the targets, and Liverpool will have to spend big to fend off competition and secure the signing.

Liverpool Star On The Way To Newcastle

Joe Cole may be prepared to leave Liverpool at the end of the season to join Newcastle in search of regular football ahead of Euro 2012.

The former Chelsea and West Ham man has had an extremely disappointing and frustrating first six months at Anfield which have included a sending off on his league debut at home to Arsenal, a persistent knee injury, a missed penalty from his only attempt and a loss of form.

Furthermore, the change from a 4-4-1-1- formation under Roy Hodgson to a 5-3-2 or a 4-4-2 under Kenny Dalglish is likely to further limit his chances of first team football.

Under Hodgson, Cole was employed as a second striker but with Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez expected to play upfront together when the former returns to fitness and Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and the in-form Raul Meireles all seemingly liked by Dalglish, there appears to be no place for Liverpool's number 10.

The Liverpool hierarchy won't like the idea of such a high-earner not being a regular starter and may be willing to sell him for £5 million, roughly what they would have paid him in wages over the course of a season after he arrived on a free transfer from Chelsea during the summer.

Newcastle in the meanwhile would be happy to spend some of the money from the Andy Carroll deal on a player who offers something different to what they've already got in their squad; a goalscoring midfielder with flair.

The promise of an almost guaranteed place in the starting eleven may be too much for Cole to resist; he will be desperate to be playing regular football in a bid to ensure he's in Fabio Capello's squad for Euro 2012.

Danny Wilson: I Had No Interest In Making Stupid Loan Move To Celtic

Danny Wilson insists he would have been STUPID to join Celtic on loan last month.

The former Rangers kid, who moved to Liverpool for £2million in the summer, was wanted by Hoops manager Neil Lennon when he faced a defensive crisis.

Celtic spoke to the Reds about taking Wilson on loan but the bid was rejected by gaffer Kenny Dalglish, who was instrumental in taking the 19-year-old to Merseyside.

Now the defender has spoken for the first time about why moving to Celtic was NEVER an option.

He said: "My reaction when I heard Celtic had asked about a loan was like everyone else's. It's just stupid, isn't it?

"After being associated with Rangers for so long - I was there from age nine - it was never on the cards.

"I have no interest in going to Celtic. Would I have gone to another club on loan? Maybe.

"But after speaking to the manager he doesn't really want me to go anywhere. That was good to hear."

Wilson is enjoying life under legend Dalglish, who replaced Roy Hodgson in January. He's now determined to show he's worthy of a place in the starting line-up after playing just three times for the top team this term.

He said: "Kenny is a huge figure at Liverpool. He got instant respect as soon as he walked in the door.

"He's happy with how I've been performing in training. If an opportunity arises he won't hesitate to put me in."

Wilson won his second Scotland cap in midweek against Northern Ireland. And Craig Levein has admitted he expects Wilson and teenage Blackburn star Grant Hanley to be his future defensive pairing.

That's music to Wilson's ears as he played alongside Hanley at Murray Park.

He said: "It gave me great encouragement to hear Craig say that about us.

"I played with Grant when we were nine at Rangers. We were defenders even as kids."

Anfield No.2 Steve Clarke is pleased to see Wilson getting a chance with Scotland and believes it will help his Liverpool career.

Clarke said: "It's a fantastic honour to get picked by your country. That's Danny's reward for all his hard work."

Andy Carroll Hits The Ground Running At Liverpool

Andy Carroll gave the thumbs-up to Liverpool fans after training properly for the first time since his £35million switch.

The giant striker, who joined from Newcastle on deadline day in a breathtaking deal, stepped out at Melwood to be put through his paces.

And he signalled his happiness to watching youngsters, who peered over the fences to snatch a glimpse at their new No 9 after the record-breaking departure of Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50m.

Since Carroll arrived at Anfield, he has been stunned by how hard he is being made to work in trying to recover from a thigh injury that is expected to leave him on the sidelines for another two to three weeks.

It starts with sessions at the sports science department on the adverse affects alcohol can have on an athlete; the fact it makes players more prone to injury and can hamper performance, even when consumed days before a game.

They will also put Carroll on an intensive weights program in the belief that, come the start of next season, he will be an even more formidable forward and even more of an athlete.

Liverpool caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish said: 'Andy has been thoroughly checked over, he is progressing well and I think the people who made the assertion (that he is out for the season) have got a good chance of being wrong.'