Sunday, March 06, 2011

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs Manchester United

To the uninitiated Sunday's gargantuan clash between Liverpool and Manchester United could be interpreted as being a mere sub-plot to what might develop between the warring Glaswegians on the touchline.

Sir Alex Ferguson's loose tongue caught the attention of the Football Association this week but it's unlikely a slap on the wrists will silence his verbal tirades should things not go his way on Merseyside.

Much has been made of relations between messrs Dalglish and Ferguson in the build-up to a game that could go a long way to defining the title's destiny, but it will be what transpires on the field rather than off it that will determine North West bragging rights.

The reality is that while Kenny Dalglish had a twinkle in his eye this week when pointing out that Liverpool hold a superior record in Europe to a United side closing in on a 19th title that would set them apart from their Merseyside counterparts, it is with genuine respect that they regard each other.

Born of solid Glaswegian stock the pair had their attitude to life shaped in the tough docklands of Govan, with the principles of hard work, discipline and endeavour likely to be rally calls in both dressing rooms come Sunday.

In the stands, though, a rivalry less cordial reigns supreme. While Liverpool retain hope of gatecrashing this season's Champions League party by snatching fourth spot, a costly defeat at Upton Park last time out likely extinguished such lofty aspirations and thus, those with a scouse twang may settle for being party poopers rather than attendees.

Gary Neville did his best Fred the Red impersonation at Stamford Bridge in midweek when turning the air blue in the away end but should he be planning a similar trip to Anfield, we suggest on the grounds of safety he wears the giant devil head he dons on match days at Old Trafford by way of disguise.

It's unlikely the match officials will be overly disappointed by the absence of agent provocateur Neville but Ferguson just might be, as he looks to assemble a watertight defence shorn of its talisman.

The most untimely of red cards shown to Nemanja Vidic in defeat to Chelsea leaves a Serbian-sized hole in United's back four. Skipper Vidic has been nothing shy of herculean this season in dragging what many, harshly perhaps, consider to be a mediocre United side to the summit and his suspension is compounded by Rio Ferdinand's absence through injury.

Chris Smalling has largely been immaculate in Ferdinand's place, save for conceding a late penalty in West London, but Wes Brown - who Ferguson has said will start on Sunday - lacks anything like the match sharpness needed to perform in a game of such magnitude.

Murmurs coming out of Manchester have suggested Ferguson's declaration of faith in Brown could be kidology, with Jonny Evans reportedly having returned to training at the start of this week. The inclusion of either would hardly be ideal though, with Evans neither match fit nor buoyant with confidence after a shaky campaign.

It could be that Ferguson elects to move John O'Shea inside and start with Rafael at right-back, although the Brazilian's buccaneering forward forays are undermined by question marks over his defensive capabilities and a temperament that at times can look foolhardy, at best, in showpiece games.

For the Chelsea game Ferguson named the same side in consecutive matches for the first time since May 2008 but even disregarding forced changes, it is expected the Scot will alter personnel.

Many were surprised by United's gung-ho attitude in the capital given Ferguson usually elects to play a lone striker against leading sides, so it'll be interesting to see whether he reverts to type against Liverpool. Javier Hernandez looked a little lost against Chelsea and it could be that Dimitar Berbatov is given the nod to start alongside Rooney, or more likely the Mexican marksman will make way for additional midfield bodies.

It could prove to be a momentous day for Ryan Giggs, a prime candidate to start if as expected United pack the midfield, as any sighting of the Welshman will see him become United's all-time record league appearance holder outright, having equalled Sir Bobby Charlton's tally of 606 in midweek.

The plaudits will rightly rain down on the oldest swinger in town if Giggs figures, but Liverpool fans will be more focused on the newest addition to their ranks if, as expected, Andy Carroll makes his Anfield bow.

Dalglish, whose record against Ferguson as a manager reads just four wins from 21 matches, could be tempted to pitch Carroll straight in to test United's makeshift centre-half partnership but the likelihood is that the £35million record buy will start on the bench.

"I am sure Fergie would love to know what is going on with Andy Carroll," he joked earlier in the week, before rather obliquely adding: "What I can tell you is that his progress has been exactly what we had hoped it would be."

A previously successful 3-5-2 formation employed away from home since Dalglish's return to the dugout went awry at West Ham and a return to a back four, as his been his wont when playing at Anfield in any case, is the more likely formation to be used.

A hamstring injury prohibits the involvement of the in-form Martin Kelly, which in turn will see Glenn Johnson drop back from a more advanced role at left-wing back to right full-back.

Joe Cole made a cameo appearance in East London last weekend but while he's champing at the bit for playing time, it seems more likely Dalglish will opt to deploy Maxi Rodriguez on the left-hand side.

Support for Luiz Suarez will primarily come from Dirk Kuyt and fans' favourite Raul Meireles, who should shake off a knee injury to pose plenty of problems for Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, with his trademark runs from deep notoriously difficult to pick up.

On Sunday the talking stops though, as the 22 players selected go forth into a battle that is not only steeped in history and rich in rivalry but one that could not be more important in terms of deciding the destiny of this season's Premier League crown.

King Kenny will not give up his moniker without an almighty fight, but then Fergie's hardly averse to a tear-up either.

Possible starting XIs
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio, Maxi, Lucas, Gerrard, Meireles, Kuyt, Suarez

United: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Smalling, Brown, Evra, Giggs, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Rooney

Dalglish Urges Referee Not To Get Bullied At Anfield

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has expressed concern that "the ones who shout the loudest get more beneficial decisions" from referees as he prepares to lock horns with Sir Alex Ferguson in the North-West derby.

Ferguson was charged with improper conduct by the FA following Manchester United's 2-1 defeat at Chelsea in midweek after he spoke out against referee Martin Atkinson, who awarded Chelsea a penalty and neglected to send off David Luiz despite two off-the-ball challenges.

Dalglish, who did not mention Ferguson by name, stressed his hope that such comments would not influence officials' decisions in United's favour.

"Sometimes I worry that the ones who shout the loudest get more beneficial decisions - and that is totally unfair," he said. "This week the theme has been about referees and I've got to say that when I came back in as manager I was made fully aware of the respect campaign with regard to officials. I think we have adhered to the campaign in every respect.

"We have never come out and criticized match officials in any of our games. They have made mistakes in all of our games, but we've also made mistakes. It is impossible for officials not to make mistakes, but there is a respect campaign in football and I want to know whether we are going to be the only ones that adhere to it.

"I hope that we aren't going to suffer as a club because we show respect to officials. We will continue to respect the campaign - but only as long as we don't suffer in any way, shape or form because of it.

"At this particular moment, I don't think anyone can argue that we haven't suffered. We gave a good account of ourselves in the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford when we lost to a poor penalty decision made in the first minute and then had Steven Gerrard sent off.

"We will try our best to retain our dignity and show respect to referees, but we would also like to think they give us the respect we deserve by at least trying to go along with the guidelines of the campaign. Everybody thinks they are hard done-by by referees - and you are at some stage - but sometimes you get some benefits as well."

Former Reds boss Rafael Benitez echoed Dalglish's comments. "The people who are doing the right things have to have some benefit and, to the people that are not doing this, someone has to say, 'Enough is enough'," he said in the Mail on Sunday.

Suarez Wants To Halt United Title Charge

Luis Suarez has said derailing Manchester United's title bid "would be a prize" for Liverpool ahead of the teams' meeting at Anfield on Sunday.

Liverpool, trailing fourth-placed Chelsea by nine points, will need to take all three points if they are to maintain any realistic hope of qualifying for the Champions League, but Suarez has said the chance to prevent United securing a record 19th title is his focus ahead of the game.

"Of course, we know how important this game is," he said in the Liverpool Echo. "We know how important it is that United don't win the title because of the rivalry between the teams. We have the same amount of titles. It would be a prize for us to stop them winning the league.

"I remember many years ago watching this game on television and being impressed by the partnership between Gerrard and Fowler. They were very good together."

Suarez also revealed his Uruguay team-mate Diego Forlan, who famously scored both United's goals in a 2-1 win over Liverpool in the 2002-03 season, had talked up the North-West derby.

"Diego told me that it is the most important game of the year for them as it is for us," he said. "I know that of all the games in the season this is the one that both most want to win.

"To score in a game like this and help the team to win is something that as a player you always dream of, but my main objective is that the team keeps on getting points.

"That the United fans still sing that for Diego shows the power of the fixture. It shows it is a very important game. I have played a lot of big derbies in Holland, Uruguay and for the national team against Argentina and Brazil, so I am calm.

"I am used to playing derbies, and these are the class of games you most want to play in in any competition - a derby between two really big teams both going for European places. That is why I came here."

Andy Carroll, who joined Liverpool alongside Suarez at the end of the January transfer window, is expected to make his debut at the weekend.

"My impression is that he has a lot of quality," Suarez said. "It is down to us as a group of players to help him fit in and ease him back."

Steven Gerrard Set To Miss Manchester United Clash Due To Recurring Groin Injury

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is set to sit out today’s clash with Manchester United at Anfield, having picked up the same groin injury in training on Friday which sidelined him for three games just a week ago – according to a report in The Daily Mail.

The Reds' captain made his return last weekend during Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat by West Ham at Upton Park - their first loss under new manager Kenny Dalglish.

Dalglish and Ferguson will renew their dugout rivalry this afternoon, locking horns for the second time this season having already come up against each other at Old Trafford in the FA Cup.

Manchester United won that game 1-0 thanks to an early Ryan Giggs penalty, and has beaten the Reds twice so far this season, but remains vulnerable following their 2-1 defeat by Chelsea on Tuesday.

Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out of the game, whilst captain Nemanja Vidic is banned after picking up a red card against the Blues.

That is a double flow for Ferguson, but given Gerrard's importance to Liverpool, Dalglish will also rue his own skipper's likely absence from the action at Anfield.

Dalglish Aware Of Rooney Threat

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is wary of the threat an in-form Wayne Rooney will pose his side when Manchester United visit Anfield on Sunday.

However, he accepts he cannot afford to put special plans in place to contain the former Everton striker as their arch-rivals have plenty of players who can cause them problems.

Dimitar Berbatov scored a match-winning hat-trick in the 3-2 win at Old Trafford back in September - before Dalglish's time in charge - and also won the penalty which Ryan Giggs converted to clinch FA Cup victory in January.

Rooney, whose record against Liverpool is not great with just two goals in 12 appearances, has scored five in his last five Premier League matches with three in three games.

Dalglish needs no reminding of the 25-year-old's talent but will not focus entirely on stopping the England international.

"I don't think Wayne Rooney has to justify his abilities as a footballer to anyone," said the Scot.

"Anyone involved in football would know he's a top-class player.

"He has the ability to do all the things you talk about - and we hope he doesn't do them Sunday.

"It's difficult to keep players like that quiet at times but it's not difficult to lay plans.

"It's our job, whether it works or not remains to be seen. If you can't have an idea about what you want to do in a game then you've got a problem.

"But it's not just Wayne you need to concern yourself with - it's Manchester United.

"They are a top team and that's why they are top of league at the moment."

Raul Meireles Looks To Slay Bitter Rivals As He Enters Dragon's Den

On Sunday lunchtime, Raul Meireles will need his dragon. It covers his back. “You know what it means?” asks the Portuguese midfielder, when required to explain the vast tattoo which runs down his spine. “It is protection. In Japanese mythology, it is the perfect creature.”

On Sunday, Manchester United are at Anfield. Against the Red Devils, face to face with Liverpool’s demons, Raul Meireles will need his dragon.

He knows it, too. His eyes are wide, his tone disbelieving, when he discusses the intensity, the sheer, relentless physicality which pervades the Premier League. “The kicks here,” he exclaims. “Ooph. The game never stops. Everything is a battle.”

Never more so than against United; never more so than when United must be defeated if Liverpool are to have any hope at all of remaining even the joint most titled club in England. Reason to be afraid? Reason to think he has no taste for a third encounter with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side this season? No. A laugh. “It is very good. I like it. This is England. It is unbelievable.”

It is a word that crops up often in 45 minutes in Meireles’s company on a sunny spring afternoon at Melwood, Liverpool’s tranquil training complex. He is relaxed, engaging, his English fluent enough to showcase his rapid-fire wit. His sentences are short, staccato. He receives an idea, releases a retort. He is as economical with words as he is with possession. And he is positive. Always, breathlessly positive.

The Porto team where he made his name? “Lucho Gonzalez, Lisandro Lopez. Unbelievable.” Andre Villas-Boas, the coach at the club he departed last summer for Anfield for £11.7 million? “I only worked one month with him. Unbelievable. He is like Steve Clarke, since he came here. Wow.”

His delight is not restricted to his former club. Rui Bento, his hero, was unbelievable. Steven Gerrard, his captain, likewise. Kenny Dalglish’s return, too, to replace Roy Hodgson. “The fans had stopped believing in the team. Now, with Kenny, they sing his song 10 times every game.” Believable? No. “Unbelievable.”

So too the goal that first catapulted him into the country’s consciousness, that volley at Molineux. “After the game, I went home, straight on to the internet and watched it 20 times. But it was a lucky goal.”

Another recurring theme. “I am a lucky guy,” he says, when discussing team-mates past and present. “I played with Vitor Baia at Porto. He won more titles than any player in history.” He will not, though, be drawn on who is the best he has played alongside. “Too difficult. Sorry. Lucho. Cristiano Ronaldo. Lisandro. But I like Stevie [Gerrard].”

Conscious of his own good fortune, capable of drawing pleasure from all he has achieved. Meireles is a reservoir of positivity. His first few months in England, though, must nearly have drained it.

His transfer, he freely admits, was “a dream”. “I always dreamed of playing in the Premier League,” he says. “But [I never thought] for a top club. Maybe a middle club. To play in Liverpool, it is fantastic.

The supporters. Wow. I want to win every game because they deserve it.”

Especially after what they, and he, went through earlier this season. By October, Meireles, pursued for the last three years by Internazionale, Sevilla and Marseille, found himself in a side sitting 18th in the league.

He is adamant Liverpool’s ostracism from the Champions League did not negatively impact his view of the club. “When Liverpool make you an offer, there is only one answer,” he insists. “When my agent told me it was a possibility, I said I go now. Now.”

Nor, more surprisingly, did the relegation battle he found himself embroiled in. There are no regrets.

“Did I expect it? No. Never in my life. Never,” he says. “But I enjoy things more now. In Portugal, at my first club Boavista, I had to fight and fight to be in a good position. Then at Porto, we played so well, we had the best players in the best team. I won 10 titles. Then I came here, and we had this season.”

Meireles, playing out of his homeland for the first time, might have found his expectations confounded, his ambitions realigned to fit Liverpool’s new reality, but while his surrounds were unfamiliar, his club’s plight was less strange.

His ability to connect with a dropping ball would not suggest it, but perhaps Meireles does not have the greatest sense of timing. A boyhood fan of their great rivals Boavista – “I hated Porto” – he crossed the Douro in 2004. The summer after Jose Mourinho won the Champions League, left for Chelsea and took a raft of players with him.

“It is hard to lose a figure like him,” he says. “That year, my first at Porto, we won nothing. We had three coaches. But that is normal when you have had two fantastic years, winning everything. It is difficult to build a new team. But the second year was perfect.

“It is like Liverpool. This is a difficult year. New coach, new players. But I think next year we will have more chance to fight for better places. It takes time to be perfect.”

Hodgson, summarily dismissed by Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owners, in January was never afforded that time. Meireles will not speak ill of him – “He brought me here. I like him. I need to thank him” – but will acknowledge that Dalglish’s more aesthetic style suits him better.

That is hardly a surprise. Meireles, muscular but slight, is not built for combat, but for grace. “In Portugal, we say it is better to be small and good, than big and bad,” he says. United should not expect him to shrink away from challenges today. “Sometimes you need to tackle. “But it is more how you read the game.”

And it helps when you have a dragon on your shoulder. Offering protection.

Liverpool Interested In A Summer Move For Fernando Gago

Liverpool are believed to be interested in a move for Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago.

The 24-year-old was previously reported to have had a training group bust-up with team-mate Pedro Leon, while regular starts have not been in the offing for the Argentine.

And now The People reports that Real are keen to offload the midfielder to the highest bidder during the summer transfer period, and the Merseyside outfit are interested in the former Valladolid man.

It has been reported that Real want £10 million from the sale of Gago, whereas the Reds appear to be looking for an £8m deal.

Dalglish Has Magic Touch To Turn Hopes And Dreams Into Reality

The Liverpool manager knows that facing down their greatest rivals is the best way to reinvigorate the club.

Kenny Dalglish cannot make a wrong move at Liverpool. After all, he invented the dance. Liverpool's greatest player understands the club like no man alive and maybe as only one or two in its history have.

Dalglish is more relaxed as caretaker manager this time than he was as manager 20 years ago. It has become customary to say he is allowing the real Kenny Dalglish to be glimpsed this time. Liverpool supporters never complained about the Dalglish they saw before.

There was nothing artificial about the taciturn Dalglish who felt he acted at all times for the good of the club and with its principles close to his heart. He knew what the supporters wanted and he knows what they want now. He carries this weight with modesty but if anyone, as a Sky reporter did, tries to suggest they are representing the fans, Dalglish is quick to remind them of his position and his strength.

They dance to his tune and in that he has much in common with Alex Ferguson. Last week, Ferguson once again demonstrated why he has been such a success in English football.

Again he railed against the establishment, first as he anticipated a persecution that did not materialize and then as he took on a referee and an FA charge which even his own lawyers were suggesting he didn't fight.

He is an unreasonable man but one aware that the reasonableness of others is his and Manchester United's greatest strength. Dalglish has always been another who will not back down.

When reporters talked to Dalglish, who turned 60 on Friday, about his relationship with Ferguson last week, they fell back on the journalistic convention when discussing the United manager, the "good bottle of red". Would Dalglish have one waiting for him? "It's my birthday, not his."

Dalglish may have been joking but again he understands that his constituency is beyond Ferguson and the newspapers.

He has remained true to his code, formed in Glasgow and Liverpool, during a return in a very different era. Dalglish has become more expansive while saying as little as he used to do before.

The calamitous appointment of Roy Hodgson is almost forgotten now. Almost but not quite. Dalglish has offered a glimpse at what Liverpool under the old regime rejected last summer.

His candidacy was dismissed. Instead Hodgson's promotion above his pay grade was hailed by the opinion-formers as a return to traditional English values at a club which never had much time for traditional English values.

Until last Sunday's defeat at West Ham reminded Dalglish -- if he needed reminding -- that much needs to be changed at the club, there was a sense of inexorable progress about his return.

Only so much can change in two months. Last Sunday's defeat effectively ended Liverpool's ambitions to qualify for the Champions League but the damage was not done at the Boleyn Ground. The damage was done last summer and in the desperate months of Hodgson's management. Dalglish has restored ambition to Liverpool and that comes at a price. No longer is it necessary to listen to Hodgson chortling at the idea that Liverpool might challenge for the title or talking about the burden of expectation.

When Dalglish talked about managing expectations in his first week, he seemed untroubled by it. Later he would go on to say that managing expectations had never been difficult at Liverpool: the traditional method they dealt with it was by winning. Right now, that is not a solution available to Dalglish but victory against Manchester United is.

Ambition is back on the agenda too and ambition in English football starts with facing down Ferguson and Manchester United. Rafael Benitez understood this. Dalglish wrote the playbook.

A year after Dalglish's departure in 1991, Liverpool were given a glimpse of what was to come. Not the dominance of Manchester United but at their delight at those occasions when they could deny them, no matter how temporary the delay would be.

They celebrated at Anfield as they denied Ferguson his first title. Some wondered if United were strong enough to come back from the blow. The next season, not for the last time, United demonstrated their powers of recovery.

Dalglish's team can set them back again today but there is an urgency as United head towards a 19th title and Liverpool remain beached on the 18th acquired 21 years ago by Dalglish.

Since then, there have been glimpses and challenges. Liverpool, for a time, was able to beat Manchester United routinely, much as Manchester United under Ron Atkinson was able to beat the great Liverpool sides.

United's strength under Ferguson has always been their ability to destroy the mediocre sides their challengers dropped points against. So Liverpool would celebrate a victory while United knew the title was coming or would not be long in returning.

Two years ago, Liverpool was closer but a lot has changed since the 4-1 victory at Old Trafford.

In the summer Dalglish will presumably become full-time manager with full-time commitments. He is the man to make the club challenge United but he will need the backing of the owners.

He has made the team look better than Roy Hodgson believed they were simply by believing in them. Benitez, too, indirectly ran down the side by suggesting he needed more money for better players. Dalglish has his private thoughts but the face he projects to the media is hard to read. That is the way a manager should always be.

Yet, the game has changed. Pepe Reina gave his strongest indication yet in an excellent interview in the Guardian yesterday that he would consider leaving in the summer. If he goes the job will again become more difficult.

Reina's words add to the pressure but players like Reina are not the ones responsible for the mess Liverpool allowed themselves to become over the past few years.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett might have gone but their legacy still remains. The wars fought and the money drained had an impact on the side. When Christian Purslow and Martin Broughton decided to rid themselves of their turbulent manager last summer, they anticipated an explosion of joy. Instead Hodgson dragged them down.

Dalglish, in contrast, can only point them in one direction. As Liverpool have moved up the table, he has routinely pointed out that this is not where Liverpool belong, that the club will never be happy as long as they remain sixth or seventh in the league.

He manages expectations by reminding supporters, as if they didn't know, that he shares their ambitions and dreams.

His reputation, he said, would have been damaged if he had turned down this opportunity. There was never any chance of that, no matter what the challenge.

The new owners acted swiftly when Fernando Torres left. If they hadn't there would have been renewed despondency.

In the summer, if Reina leaves, it may be tougher. He has a clause in his contract which allows him to go for £20m, a cut-price deal for one of the world's finest goalkeepers.

Liverpool reinvested the Torres money quickly but replacing Reina when players are needed throughout the squad will be a greater test of the new owners' financial commitment.

They have still to appoint a chief executive and Dalglish remains a caretaker, even if it seems a formality that they will make his appointment long term.

In doing so, they will point Liverpool in one direction: the direction Dalglish wants to take them. He speaks and acts with a blue-blood's certainty about what is best for Liverpool Football Club. He has always embraced the collective that is part of FSG's philosophy too but he will be the manager, the figurehead and the spokesman.

The reality is that today offers some distraction. Reina stated in his interview that since last summer when both he and Torres decided to stay "things haven't changed much". The only thing that has changed has been a greater awareness of the reality. Dalglish's job is to change it.

Hodgson repeatedly stated that he didn't have a magic wand. He was right, he didn't. But other managers do.

Dalglish's association with Liverpool has been long and magical, glorious and tragic. He embodies the club and understands how Liverpool is a vessel for the supporters' dreams. Today he will hope to cast another spell.

Reina Making No Promises

Goalkeeper Jose Reina cannot promise his 'eternal love' to Liverpool, despite reiterating he is happy with life at Anfield.

The 28-year-old, who claims he was the subject of offers from other clubs last summer, is contracted on Merseyside until 2016.

But while the shot-stopper has stressed he is currently content at the Premier League club, he is making no long-term commitment to the Reds.

Reina told The Guardian: "I am not announcing my departure - far from it. I've said lots of times I'm very happy in England and comfortable at Liverpool.

"But I'm not prepared to swear eternal love to anyone. That's impossible. Any player who says that is lying.

"I can't say much because I have a contract with Liverpool. But eternal love doesn't exist. No-one is master of his own destiny. When a player is at club he has to give everything - that is all you can ask of him."

Arsenal has been linked previously with Reina and should he ever make it known he wants to leave Liverpool there could be strong interest from several clubs.

The Spaniard admits his future could hinge on the willingness of the club's American owners, Fenway Sports Group, to invest in the side.

"I would never say, 'I'm never going' because even I don't know that," he said.

"It depends on how this season finishes, on how competitive we can be.

"It depends, above all, on the ambition of the owners in building a better team; hopefully, they will be generous in their efforts but we know the economic reality."

Five-star Reds Rout Rovers

Liverpool U18s produced an outstanding second-half performance as they overwhelmed Blackburn Rovers by a 5-1 scoreline on Saturday afternoon.

The Reds went into the match on the back of an eight match winning run but were stunned on 35 minutes when the visitors opened the scoring with a well-worked set piece.

The hosts responded in the right manner and pulled level just before the interval when Adam Morgan drilled a low shot into the bottom corner.

It had proved to be a difficult first 45 for the home side but whatever Rodolfo Borrell said during the half-time team talk seemed to work wonders as they powered into an unassailable lead following the restart courtesy of Raheem Sterling and another clinical strike from the in-form Morgan.

Conor Coady then crashed home the fourth from the penalty spot before Krisztian Adorjan sealed the victory with a classy finish as the Reds warmed up for next Sunday's FA Youth Cup clash with Manchester United in style.