Monday, March 07, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 3 - 1 Manchester United

Liverpool's fully deserved 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Anfield may not ultimately prevent their arch-rivals surpassing the Reds' 18 league titles at the end of the season.

It has, however, dented Sir Alex Ferguson's side's hopes of a straightforward run-in and at the same time restored some pride for the Reds after two defeats at Old Trafford already this campaign.

Dirk Kuyt grabbed the headlines with a first Liverpool hat-trick against United since Peter Beardsley's in September 1990, before Javier Hernandez headed an injury-time consolation - but there were many more who deserved the plaudits.

Tireless livewire Luis Suarez had a hand in all three goals while Lucas Leiva and Raul Meireles produced impressive midfield performances.

The afternoon was capped off with a long-awaited debut for £35million record signing Andy Carroll after more than two months on the sidelines with a thigh injury.

For United their second-choice central defensive partnership of Wes Brown and Chris Smalling, deputizing for the suspended Nemanja Vidic and injured Rio Ferdinand, never looked comfortable on an afternoon when very few of visiting team reached anywhere near the exacting standards Ferguson demands.

They still remain top of the table, and it is difficult to bet against them being in that position come May, but two defeats in five days - having lost at Chelsea in midweek - leave plenty of questions to be answered.

While Carroll had claimed all the adulation prior to kick-off, when the action got going it was his fellow January arrival Suarez who had an effect where it mattered most.

The Uruguay international, a £22.7million transfer from Ajax, had one early effort prodded at Edwin van der Sar but that was merely a precursor to a piece of brilliance to set up the opener.

When he collected the ball on the left of the penalty area his route to goal was blocked by a number of opponents but his quick feet saw him weave past Rafael, Michael Carrick and Wes Brown on his way to the byline.

From there he squared the ball through Van der Sar's legs to present Kuyt with a tap-in from just inches.

Suarez could claim to have had a hand in the next one too - but the main credit had to go to Nani, who had a defensive aberration.

The Portugal international inexplicably headed the Uruguayan's cross back into his own six-yard area where Kuyt gleefully nodded in.

Liverpool's lead was fully deserved but it had been United who had come closest to scoring prior to Kuyt's 34th-minute strike.

Dimitar Berbatov, scorer of a match-winning hat-trick in their Old Trafford league encounter, volleyed Wayne Rooney's knockdown against the outside of Jose Reina's right-hand post.

The rivalry between the teams, England's dominant pairing over the last four decades, was evident in the closing stages of the first half.

Jamie Carragher, switched to right-back after Fabio Aurelio went off injured, was lucky to escape with just a booking after a reckless shin-high tackle on Nani.

After the ensuing melee Nani departed on a stretcher, replaced by Javier Hernandez, and Van der Sar was cautioned.

Rafael also benefited from referee Phil Dowd's leniency after a high challenge on Lucas Leiva earned him, and Martin Skrtel for his retaliation, a booking.

The second half began with United, not unexpectedly, having their best spell and for 20 minutes it appeared a goal was imminent.

Ryan Giggs, breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 606 league appearances, met Rooney's cross with a first-time shot which whistled just over the crossbar to serve as a warning that the game was far from finished.

Meireles had to clear off the line for the second time in the match to prevent Berbatov's close-range header going in while Giggs curled an 18-yard free-kick over.

More gaps were appearing in the visitors' defence, though, and when Kuyt put Meireles clean through Van der Sar came to the rescue by palming his angled shot away.

The Dutchman was at fault in the 65th minute, however, when he spilled Suarez's free-kick and his compatriot knocked in the rebound.

Carroll's long-awaited debut arrived in the 74th minute when he replaced Meireles to a rapturous reception and his first touch was a goalbound header.

Kuyt's supreme confidence saw him attempt a 25-yard volley which screamed wide while Gerrard twice hit low shots either side of each post.

Hernandez scored a late headed consolation from Giggs' cross in added time but it hardly raised a cheer among the visiting fans.

Dalglish Impact Proves He's Only Man For The Job

Liverpool's American owners would be making a huge mistake if they delay their decision on a permanent manager at Anfield until the end of the season, because, in Kenny Dalglish, they already have the only man for the job.

If you had taken a poll of 100 Liverpool supporters last Christmas and offered them a choice of Kenny or Jose Mourinho to succeed Roy Hodgson, Kenny's standing at the club would have ensured he would probably have won by 75-25.

But the same vote now would see him win 100-nil because of the impact he has had at Anfield since returning in January. Any manager other than Kenny would now be a disappointment for the club's supporters, but that's because of the turnaround on the pitch during his two months in charge rather than his status as a god-like figure at Anfield.

Now is the time to give him the job on a full-time basis because the challenge at Liverpool is getting the club back into the Champions League and the planning for next season needs to start now.

If Kenny does not know whether or not he will here next season, then he cannot start to look for the players that the team need to improve.

Kenny being Kenny, he still believes that he can get Liverpool into the Champions League this season and he will be focusing on getting the team as close as possible to that objective.

When I played under him in 1986, we had just lost to Everton and I told Kenny that it was the worst Liverpool team that I had played in. But he still believed the team could achieve something and, 10 weeks later, we ended the season by winning the double.

Back then, he spoke about the need to get some impetus going and that is what he will be thinking now. He has now generated that by getting the team winning, lifting morale and the victory against Manchester United, following on from the win at Chelsea last month, has given the club real impetus.

So the time is right for the owners to hand Kenny a full-time contract because it would give the club another boost and allow everybody to turn their attentions to getting Liverpool back to where those at Anfield believe they belong.

There is a theory that the owners might not want to stick with Kenny in the long-term because he is such a powerful figure that he could put them in an impossible position if things go wrong.

But for all of Kenny's popularity, if his team are lying fourth from bottom and producing rubbish, the supporters would not put up with it, regardless of who he is. And there would not be a problem with Kenny working with Damien Comolli, Liverpool's director of football, so long as Kenny had the final say on the players he brought in.

Kenny has changed the whole mood of the club. It is now a completely different place to walk into compared to the dark days of last November.

On the pitch too, there is a different ethos. In the past, if the likes of Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson or Gerard Houllier played with two holding midfielders, you would expect to see eight men behind the ball. But against United, Liverpool had two holding midfielders, yet they attacked the Premier League leaders and were rewarded for doing so.

The cynics that claimed that Kenny had been out of the game too long when he came back have all been proved wrong because they overlooked the reality that all the changes in football over the last 10 years have happened off the pitch.

A flat back-four is the same as it was in 1977, just as it was in 1937! It will be the same again in 2097.

Kenny's knowledge of the game and the players involved is still as detailed as it has always been and maybe the proof of that has come with the results that Liverpool have had under him.

I don't see anybody out there who could do the job better than Kenny and hopefully the owners will not wait much longer before making it a permanent appointment.

At 60, he is still young enough for the job and he will also be cheap. There will be no compensation fee required to get Kenny to sign a contract and it would make perfect sense to make the decision now.

Ferguson Refuses To Speak To Media After Liverpool Game

Sir Alex Ferguson refused to speak to media rights holders following the game at Liverpool on Sunday which Manchester United lost 3-1.

The United manager did not speak to host broadcaster Sky Sports, radio rights holders TalkSport and the club's television channel MUTV.

His assistant Mike Phelan did not carry out his usual post-match engagements with the BBC.

The decision not to talk to the media was made before the game.

Should any of the media organizations complain to the Premier League, the governing body would be forced to act.

Ferguson has not given a post-match interview to the BBC since 2004 after a BBC Three documentary about his son Jason, who was then working as a football agent.

The Premier League was due to discuss Ferguson's BBC boycott, which is in contravention of its rules, late last year, but if any fines were imposed for his non-compliance they have yet to be made public.

However, it is believed no media organization has ever lodged an official complaint over the issue.

Ferguson cancelled his pre-game briefing on Friday in protest at the coverage given to his post-match quotes at Chelsea on Tuesday for which the Football Association charged him with improper conduct.

His action was also prompted by the furore that surrounded Wayne Rooney's elbowing of Wigan's James McCarthy last weekend.

Ferguson said he had "feared the worst" when referee Martin Atkinson was appointed for the game at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea, which United lost 2-1 after leading at half-time.

He denies the charge and will have a personal hearing at a date no later than 25 March.

The Scot also has two matches of a four-game ban from last season hanging over him after remarks about referee Alan Wiley.

It is not yet known whether the media blackout will continue this week, ahead of United's FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal, although discussions are bound to take place behind the scenes.

However defender Rio Ferdinand, who was not at Anfield as he recovers from a calf injury, offered his opinion via Twitter.

"Bad result today, no excuses," he said.

Kenny Will Not Condemn Carra

Kenny Dalglish refused to condemn Jamie Carragher for his horror challenge on Nani during Liverpool's 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Anfield.

The former England centre-back was shown a yellow card by referee Phil Dowd for his high tackle just below the knee which resulted in the Portugal international departing the pitch on a stretcher and in tears shortly before the interval.

Carragher's moment of madness marked the start of a tense few minutes in the enthralling clash prior to half-time, with Maxi Rodriguez escaping punishment for lunging at Rafael, and the young United defender also fortunate to only see yellow after a two-footed tackle on Lucas.

The experienced Reds centre-back is reported to have waited outside the United dressing room to apologise to Nani after the match, which was settled by Dirk Kuyt's hat-trick, but Dalglish was not keen to discuss the incident.

When asked if the defender was lucky to avoid a red card, Dalglish told Sky Sports: "I think he was fortunate to be playing for Liverpool today, because we were the better team.

"I think the match was played in a fantastic spirit and I think both sets of players deserve great credit for they way they went about the match and for the most part, I think they made the referee's job quite easy.

"Football is more important than an incident in the football match. For us, we will talk about what we did on the football pitch, because we don't want to dilute that."

Kuyt's treble was the first hat-trick of his Anfield career, and he is unlikely to get three easier goals, with the first coming from close range after Luis Suarez's brilliance, before further simple finishes after errors by Nani and Edwin van der Sar.

"It's a hat-trick, he's got to be there to put it in. He works tirelessly for the cause and any reward he gets he works really hard for," Dalglish said.

"So if someone has been generous to him and laid something on for him a yard in front of goal then good luck to him, he deserves it.

"For us it is a huge win and the lads deserve great credit for the way they played, their discipline, their application and the pride they showed in themselves and the football club.

"It's been a tough season, it's not finished yet, but I think that would be the highest point of the season for Liverpool fans and to be part of it was an absolute pleasure. The boys that played today were magnificent."

Dalglish was also able to hand £35million January signing Andy Carroll his debut, with the former Newcastle striker coming on in the 74th minute and giving a glimpse of what he will bring to the side.

The Reds boss added: "Andy needs games. This was just a reward for the work he has done in training. He and the medical staff have done brilliantly.

"For Andy to be part of it, it gives him a welcome and you couldn't get a better game or a better occasion this season than that one."

United Fume At Carragher Tackle

Manchester United's war with football's match officials intensified yesterday as the club's chief executive David Gill instigated a heated exchange with referees' chief Mike Riley after Nani was carried from the field during a humiliating 3-1 Anfield defeat.

Gill remonstrated with Riley at half-time, minutes after Jamie Carragher's challenge on the Portuguese winger – a tackle that clearly warranted a red card – and Gill was still furious about the failure to send off Carragher after the match had finished.

Riley later played down the incident but United's feelings about the challenge on Nani leave little to the imagination. The 25-year-old, who was crying as he lay on the pitch, limped slowly out of Anfield last night with a very deep gash to his lower right shin, although he did not require crutches. Carragher earlier went in to the United dressing room to apologise.

It is two years since United last lost consecutive games – one of those being a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford – and they bore the hallmarks last night of a side wilting under the pressure of a tense Premier League finale, manager Sir Alex Ferguson refusing to discuss the match with the TV rights holder or his club's in-house station. The Premier League is unlikely to fine him for his failure to speak to Sky Sports before or after yesterday's game, taking the view that rights holders must register a complaint before they take action. Sky do not tend to complain, for fear of exacerbating a fragile relationship with the United manager yet further.

Ferguson will appear before a Football Association independent regulatory commission by 25 March, having denied an improper conduct charge for claiming Martin Atkinson was biased in his officiating of United's midweek loss to Chelsea.

The Premier League leaders preparations for the game were damaged 24 hours before kick off when Rio Ferdinand failed a fitness test and it was he who made the only pubic comment on a result which leaves them three points clear of Arsenal, with an extra game played. "Bad result today. No excuses," Ferdinand tweeted.

The Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, whose side climbed to sixth in the table, warned against rushing to judgment. "I think Manchester United are top, aren't they?" he said. "I think they are the benchmark for everybody. They are top of the league so, yes, they are still the benchmark. Everybody would want to be in the position Manchester United are in."

Dalglish, who could rejoice in an exhilarating display from £22.6m January signing Luis Suarez, declared in midweek that the gap between these two clubs is less than the 18 points currently separating them suggests.

When Dalglish was able to bring on £35m new signing Andy Carroll with 16 minutes to go, Liverpool certainly seemed a club with more at their disposal than United, who have now lost three successive league games at Anfield.

But Dalglish, who now has five wins to Ferguson's 10 in the managerial matches between them, warned: "The closer you get to the top the more difficult it is to close the gap.

"Going from 20th to sixth is not as difficult as sixth to first. The higher we go the more difficult the step up is but the owners are determined to move the club forward within reason and they'll do their best to provide the funds. The players out there today have done themselves no harm whatsoever."

Dalglish, who yesterday suggested that Liverpool were adhering to the FA's Respect campaign, even if no one else was, made light of the flashpoints which should have seen both sides reduced to 10 men.

"I thought the referee had an easy game to manage – apart from a couple of incidents," he said. "But the more important thing for me was the quality of the football that was played. There has been enough rubbish written anyway about other things – so we will concentrate on ourselves anyway."

Kuyt, the first Liverpool player to score a hat-trick against United since Peter Beardsley in 1990 – during Dalglish's first stint as manager – thanked Suarez for his brilliant run that set up the first goal of the afternoon. "He's a great player and played brilliantly and created two of the three goals I scored, so I am grateful for that," Kuyt said. "They were quite easy goals. I used to score these goals in Holland when I was playing more as a striker, but they all count and I am more than happy to take them.

"There was a lot of confidence in the team. We also had the belief that we can compete with the best. We showed that against Chelsea and have now shown that against Manchester United. We now have to compete against the other sides."

Liverpool And Everton Fight It Out For Goal Scoring Winger

Liverpool and Everton are battling it out to sign PSV Eindhoven winger Balazs Dzsudzsak after the Hungarian stated his intention to ply his trade in the Premier League. The Philips Stadion favourite has helped his side back to the top of the Dutch Eredivisie and within sight of their first domestic title in three seasons.

Balazs Dzsudzsak’s recent performances at PSV have garnered a great deal of interest and the Hungarian international may well be looking to leave Holland after four successful years at Eindhoven. The 24 year old scores a lot of goal from wide areas and has netted 48 goals in the past three seasons and it is no surprise that he is being targeted by many big sides.

Liverpool are looking for natural wide options having seen the likes of Maxi, Milan Jovanovic, Dirk Kuyt and Joe Cole fail to make an impact and having lost the only out and out winger they had, Ryan Babel, Kenny Dalglish could well do with make a move for the former Debrecen man.

Everton too could well benefit from a goal scoring wide man as currently they depend a great deal on goals from Tim Cahill although recently strikers Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford have started to click. It seems however that the Toffees may struggle to finance a deal to bring in £15m rated Dzsudzsak who would seemingly be an ideal replacement for Steven Pienaar who left for Tottenham in the transfer window.

Liverpool’s new owners are seemingly more than willing to finance moves to improve the club’s squad having signed Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll in January at great expense.

Liverpool Face Competition From Chelsea In Race To Sign Lucas Barrios

Liverpool face reported competition from Chelsea in the race to sign striker Lucas Barrios.

The Paraguayan international forward has been heavily linked with a move away from Borussia Dortmund in recent months, with former Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson thought to be keen on bringing the player to Anfield.

Barrios has recently professed his desire to play in either England or Spain after hitting the goal train for the Bundesliga leaders, although it’s now unclear if Liverpool are still interested in signing the player.

"It's pleasing to know Italian clubs are interested in me. I have always been fascinated by Serie A, but La Liga and the Premier League are also leagues I would like to play in one day," the player told Sky Sport.

TalkSPORT now claims that Chelsea have joined the race for the player, nicknamed ‘La Pantera’ (the panther), and are considering a €20.4 million summer move for the former Colo Colo star.

Kenny Dalglish spent big on strikers in January, investing over £50 million on Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez on deadline day at Liverpool.

The Scot has hinted at further additions in the summer, and whilst a striker is not thought to be a priority Liverpool continues to be linked with a number of forward players.

Carlo Ancelotti also spent big on strikers, with former Liverpool superstar Fernando Torres joining the ranks at Stamford Bridge. However, the ageing front-line is thought to be a concern for the Italian and Barrios could add depth to the Blues’ ranks.

Pepe Reina Could Complete A £22m Move To Manchester United In The Summer

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina could complete a £22 million move to arch-rivals Manchester United in the summer, according to a report in The Sun.

United are in the market for a new No.1 to succeed Edwin van der Sar, who has announced his intention to retire at the end of this season. They have been linked with a host of leading keepers, including Atletico Madrid prodigy David De Gea, Maarten Stekelenburg of Ajax and Schalke's Manuel Neuer.

This latest report, of a possible move for Liverpool's Reina, is likely to ruffle feathers at Anfield.

But the Reds are losing patience with the Spaniard, who has refused to commit his future to the club and appears to many to want out of Merseyside.

The 28-year-old signed a six-year deal with the club last April, but within two months was reportedly seeking a £15m move to Arsenal, which Liverpool rejected.

It is now claimed that, following Fernando Torres' transfer to Chelsea, Reina's agent is scrutinizing the goalkeeper's contract for an exit clause similar to the one his international team-mate used to get out of Anfield.

However, Reina has stated that his Liverpool future will depend upon where they finish they season, as he seeks a return to Champions League football.

Liverpool's new owners have already underlined their ambition, breaking consecutive transfer records with the £22.8m acquisition of Luis Suarez from Ajax and the £35m purchase of Andrew Carroll from Newcastle.

Arsenal is expected to compete fiercely for Reina's signature, as they seek an experienced shot-stopper in the wake of costly errors by Manuel Almunia, Lucasz Fabianski and newcomer Wojciech Szczesny, whose mix-up with Laurent Koscielny last week cost the Gunners their chance of a first trophy in six years.

Liverpool Ponder Decision To Rebuild Anfield Or Move To Stanley Park

Liverpool executives are set to make a decision over the long-awaited new stadium, but are torn between a move to Stanley Park and an Anfield renovation, according to The News of the World.

Ever since Tom Hicks and George Gilette, who are now suing the club, arrived on Merseyside a vague promise for a new 60,000 seated stadium has been toying with the fans, who have awaited the project for over six years.

The new owners, NESV, have heavily involved themselves in repairing the damage done by their predecessors, and have vouched to write to as many as 70,000 Liverpool supporters who have applied for a season ticket as far back as 1996.

John Henry and his associates claimed it was part of a ‘tidying up process’ which needed to be done.

The Reds’ board soon faces a decision and is either hopeful of either completing a move to Stanley Park or opting to modernize Anfield, which would boost its attendance to 55,000 and turn it into a 5-star FIFA-rated stadium.

Despite the club’s good attendance record in the Premier League, Liverpool have struggled to fill up the stadium, especially under the poor-performance of the Roy Hodgson regime.

The owners look more convinced that a modernization of Anfield would keep its ‘magic’, but if a large demand for tickets still exists then the board may seek towards the alternative.