Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 3 - 0 Manchester City

Andy Carroll repaid the first chunk of that massive £35million price tag as he scored two of the goals that helped Liverpool condemn Manchester City to their worst possible preparation for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final.

A disastrous evening for the Blues that put their top-four hopes in the balance was made worse as Carlos Tevez suffered a hamstring injury that seems certain to rule him out of the Wembley showdown with old club Manchester United.

None of this will bother Carroll.

Signed as the replacement for Fernando Torres, the 22-year-old has got his name on the scoresheet before the Spaniard has netted for his new club Chelsea.

In a superb all-round performance, he dominated City defender Vincent Kompany in a manner the Belgian has not experienced all season, lashed home a first in quite brilliant fashion after only 12 minutes and added another when Aleksandar Kolarov's header bounced off the Geordie and into the net.

Between those two, Dirk Kuyt also struck leaving City beaten, bruised and wondering what fate has in store for them against their neighbours at the weekend.

With a favourable run to the end of the season, the Blues must have felt as if a decent result on Merseyside would have allowed them to confidently look ahead to Champions League combat next season.

Not in their worst nightmares could they have imagined what was about to unfold.

With Torres in Manchester ahead of Chelsea's Champions League clash with United at Old Trafford and Edin Dzeko in Roberto Mancini's starting line-up, three players who cost a combined fee of £112million during the January transfer window were within a 35-mile radius.

That they had not scored a combined Premier League goal between them has been a subject of intense debate.

By half-time, Carroll had two.

The first was a beauty.

Luis Suarez had already seen a shot touched onto the post by Joe Hart when Raul Meireles let fly with a long-range shot that crashed into Kompany.

The ball ricocheted straight to Carroll, whose first-time effort was hit with far too much power for Hart to keep it out.

Anfield erupted. Yet it was only the start.

When Kompany got himself in the way of a Fabio Aurelio effort, he could only divert the ball across the area, straight into the path of Kuyt, who sent a precise finish into the bottom corner.

As a shell-shocked City struggled to clear their heads, Liverpool struck again.

This time Meireles swept a cross to the far post after young full-back Dedryck Boyata had lost possession deep inside his own half.

Kolarov won the aerial duel with Carroll but it was a measure of City's evening that the Serb merely headed the ball against the man he was marking, from where it looped into the net.

For City boss Roberto Mancini, it must have felt like the sky had fallen in as, just for good measure, it started chucking it down too before half-time.

Yet potentially, the worst moment of all came in the minutes after Carroll's opener when Tevez pulled up with what he indicated was a hamstring injury.

The South American gave the signal for a pull as he made his way off the field. Mario Balotelli was immediately introduced. City's stunned fans could only hope it was a precautionary move. The reality seems certain to be rather more depressing.

Kuyt came agonizingly close to twisting the knife a little bit deeper when he flicked a header narrowly wide of the City goal at the start of the second period.

Given they were in the process of amassing 13 points against the current top four, it did beg the question why Liverpool have been performing quite so badly against the Premier League's lesser lights.

That was a reflective point though.

Mancini is the one who needs to find answers quickly as he enters the most important spell of his short Eastlands tenure.

James Milner, normally one of the most level-headed players, reacted with obvious anger when he was replaced by David Silva with less than an hour gone.

Not that there was any noticeable improvement from the Blues, with Balotelli producing a typically enigmatic display before suffering the ignominy of becoming a substituted substitute as Nigel de Jong was introduced.

Yaya Toure brought a decent save out of Pepe Reina with a 35-yard thunderbolt.

Carroll almost had the last word when he looped a header onto the roof of the net before departing to a standing ovation just before the end.

Andy Carroll Insists Liverpool Is ‘Looking To Get Fifth Place’

Andy Carroll insists Liverpool are targeting a fifth-place finish in the Premier League after their 3-0 victory over Manchester City.

The January record signing grabbed his first goals for the club either side of Dirk Kuyt's well-placed effort as Kenny Dalglish's side put the visitors to the sword in an explosive first half display.

And Carroll got Liverpool off to an excellent start when he scored his first goal for the club after 13 minutes which he followed up with another after the half hour mark to seal the victory, and the former Newcastle man was delighted with the result

“It’s been a great day for me to get my first goals for Liverpool and a great result all round really,” Carroll told Sky Sports.

And the striker was partnered with fellow new arrival Luis Suarez for the first time at Anfield, and the England man is happy with the burgeoning partnership:

“We’ve been working together well in training and it’s showing on match days," he added.

The result moves Liverpool within five points of Tottenham, who currently occupy the Europa League spot, and Dutch star Dirk Kuyt supported his team-mates aims, before praising the performance of the striker.

“We’re looking to get fifth place, it’s going to be difficult but we have to try and aim for that,” said Kuyt.

“Andy’s played well after coming back from a 12 week injury to play straight away, his teammates are very happy.

"He’s good in the air, everyone can see that, but he can play with the ball at his feet, he can hold it up and he’s a big threat in the box. So we’re very happy with him.

Kenny Dalglish Praises John Flanagan After Debut Against Man City

Kenny Dalglish gave teenage debutant John Flanagan just two hours notice of his Premier League bow last night, then praised the youngster for a “fantastic” display.

The 18-year-old was handed his first senior experience against Manchester City, in direct competition to England winger James Milner, and played a major part in the Reds’ clean sheet.

And Dalglish was delighted with the Academy product’s performance.

“He never knew he was playing until six o’clock,” admitted Dalglish. “We’d never have had enough tickets to go around if we’d told him any earlier!

“The family would have been inundating the club for tickets and there weren’t any to be sold so we had to keep it quiet.

“But he did fantastic. He was playing against Manchester City, he was playing against an international in James Milner and he was never fazed. He just went out and played.

“He took one down early doors on his chest and passed it away and I think that settled him. He didn’t look fazed in any way, shape or form. It’s a fantastic credit to him that he did as well as he did.

“It’s also a reflection on the good work that’s being done at the Academy.”

The spotlight inevitably fell on Andy Carroll afterwards for his spectacular double strike, but Dalglish typically was keen to spread the praise around.

“They were good goals from Andy Carroll, but it was a good goal from Dirk (Kuyt) as well.

“It’s great to see the big man get off the mark. The first one was a fantastic strike and the second a good header. You can see the more Andy and Luis Suarez play together the better the understanding is.

“He and Luis played really well tonight and Luis was unfortunate not to open the scoring for us when he hit the post.

“We were delighted with the evening’s performance and it’s a great reflection on the players and a great reflection on how much it means to them.”

Dalglish added: “We thoroughly deserved the 3-0 victory. We got three goals in the first half and in the second just made sure we didn’t give them any encouragement. It was a very professional performance in the second half and we had plenty of opportunities to add to the three goals.

“It was a great win for us to beat a team as good as Manchester City and deservedly so.

“It wasn’t easy for us. I don’t think it’s easy to keep Manchester City quiet and I think we worked really hard to do that. You should give credit to our players for the way they played rather than look for maybe failures in somebody else’s performance.

“We would never have got that result if our players hadn’t have worked as hard as they did, and they had to work that hard to get that result against an excellent side.”

The victory took Liverpool three points closer to fifth placed Spurs, with the Londoners still to visit Anfield, but Dalglish refused to speculate on the possibility of reeling in Tottenham and claiming a Europa League place next season.

“Every time we sit at a press conference I say exactly the same thing,” he added. “We’ve got our reward for the victory. We’ve got another one, and a real difficult one, on Sunday at Arsenal. We’ll go through our fixtures, we’ll add the points up and we’ll see where we finish at the end.

“Mathematically it’s possible, whether we actually get there or not I don’t know.

“But it’s satisfying that we got three goals and kept a clean sheet - I don’t think there’s much wrong with the evening’s work.”

Liverpool Star Will Make £14m Move - President

Juventus president Giuseppe Marotta has put forward his club’s intentions to purchase Alberto Aquilani after he starred for the Old Lady on the weekend against Genoa in a 3-2 victory.

"Aquilani has been a pleasant surprise for us because he had come from a negative period," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia.

"We are satisfied for Juventus and for the way we have seen an important player [Aquilani] get into the national team.

"It's clear that on our part there is an intention to buy him. Of course, we have an option and we will see if there is a chance to trade at the right moment with Liverpool."

Liverpool have had Aquilani on loan at Juventus since the start of the season, and Liverpool have made their intentions clear to sell the Italian striker to Juventus permanently. But the Italian giants had long said they could not meet Liverpool’s demand of £14 million for Aquilani’s services.

Aquilani’s agent, Franco Zavala, believes that the issue over Liverpool’s asking price will be solved in the summer, telling reporters recently: "The agreement is, by June 30, Juventus will have to pay €16 million [£13.9m], established in the summer.

“There is an expiration date, everything is organized.

"Only the Juventus team can lose. What has been done does not provide for further negotiations.”

Liverpool Contemplate Controversial Barton Move

Preston North End midfielder Adam Barton will become the subject of a summer transfer tussle between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool according to local paper the Express Star.

The 20-year-old starlet has been in fine form for the Championship relegation strugglers this season and has attracted the attention of a number of scouts across England.

Best described as a ball-playing midfielder, Barton has made 32 appearances for Preston this campaign and has been valued in the region of £5million, though Kenny Dalglish would be looking for a significantly lower deal.

The Daily Mirror linked the promising youngster with a January move to Anfield, amidst widespread speculation that Liverpool had been plotting raids on several youngsters in a bid to return to their old philosophy of grooming up-and-coming talent.

However, with no bid forthcoming Wolves manager Mick McCarthy has been tracking Barton, and was seen at Deepdale last Tuesday where he was thought to be running the rule over the player during Preston’s league encounter with Reading.

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee has also been spotted at a number of North End matches this season, both before and after the January transfer window which would suggest that the Reds interest still remains.

According to the Daily Mail, the former Blackburn trainee, who has been capped by Northern Ireland, would welcome a move to the Barclays Premier League, though it is unclear at this stage whether Liverpool or Wolves is a more appealing option.

With Preston’s Championship status still in doubt, it is unlikely they will be able to keep hold of one of their most promising stars, and the £5million figure may also be hard to come by.

Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli is rumoured to be ironing out a deal that will see a smaller lump sum, with additional add-ons and bonuses based on his progression into the first team.

Having been linked with a number of marquee signings since the Fenway Sport Group takeover, Liverpool fans will likely be underwhelmed by this latest transfer rumour, but the move will represent one that looks towards the long-term future of the club.

Juventus Keen On Liverpool's Glen Johnson

England international Glen Johnson could be on his way out of Premier League side Liverpool at the end of the season as struggling Serie A side Juventus have shown an interest in signing the full-back, The Daily Mirror reports.

La Vecchia Signora has been vulnerable defensively this season and are desperate to strengthen their back line in the summer transfer window.

The Turin giants have previously been linked with Hoffenheim's Andreas Beck for the position of right back, but they've now apparently turned their attention to Johnson instead.

Johnson started his professional career with West Ham United and also wore the jerseys of Millwall, Chelsea and Portsmouth before eventually joining Liverpool in the summer of 2009.

The full-back is reportedly looking for a new challenge and Juventus are ready to make a move for Johnson if he becomes available in June, with an offer in the region of €15 million required to lure him away from Liverpool.

Enrique Heading To Anfield - Thompson

Liverpool legend Phil Thompson believes Newcastle left-back Jose Enrique has already agreed a move to Anfield.

Enrique, 25, has been one of Newcastle's most impressive performers over the last two seasons and he is said to be rated at around £15 million.

Thompson, who won three European Cups as a Reds player and has acted as the club's assistant manager, told TV2: "From what I've heard, yes, the deal has been done and he will come to Liverpool. It'll be interesting because he's done very well.

"He had a difficult first season coming into the Premiership a couple of years ago but he really understands the game now.

"He's one of those full-backs who is good going forward but he's also a good defender and I think that is the main thing."

Enrique signed a five-year deal when he joined Newcastle from Villarreal in 2007.

Intuitive Clarke Proving The Perfect Foil For Dalglish

When Liverpool named Steve Clarke as their first-team coach just hours after they had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United, there was barely a murmur of dissent from Reds fans, even though the experienced Scot had been so intrinsically linked with regular sparring partners Chelsea, both as a player and a coach.

Their muted reaction spoke volumes not only for the esteem fans had for Kenny Dalglish's judgement, but also for the respect within the game for Clarke, who had spent 13 years in coaching positions with Newcastle, Chelsea and West Ham since hanging up his well-worn boots as a player.

One man who had mixed feelings about the appointment was his old Chelsea and Scotland team-mate, Pat Nevin, now a respected TV pundit.

“As a Hibs season ticket-holder, I was a little disappointed because I'd been trying to talk him round into becoming a manager at Easter Road, but I’m chuffed for him that he’s ended up at Anfield.”

In Nevin’s estimation, Liverpool has got the perfect foil to work alongside Dalglish. “Personally, I don’t know if I ever had a better understanding with a right back. Clarkey was technically very, very good. He understood complex moves, read the game intuitively and for that reason was able to cover at centre back and centre midfield at international level.”

After finding himself back in coaching, seven months after leaving West Ham, Clarke's return left Nevin far from surprised. “I knew he wouldn’t be out for long. The fact that he worked with Jose Mourinho for the duration of his Chelsea tenure proved he was no fool. There aren’t many coaches that have worked at the top clubs for that long. It always leaks out if you can’t do your job or you have a flawed character. There’s no hiding place at that level.”

Another reason Nevin believes Dalglish brought Clarke on board was his continuous involvement in the Premier League during the 'noughties'. “Clarke has superb contacts and that continuity over the last decade will help Kenny bridge any gaps, since he stepped out of management in 2000.”

With Dalglish at the helm, Nevin sees a player’s character becoming a key factor in regaining the famed boot room philosophy. “Personality is going to be a key facet at Anfield again. Rafa Benitez brought in a conveyor belt of new players, okay, some worked but many didn’t and that scattergun approach just won’t happen now. Kenny will want to spend time with a player and find out what makes him tick and Clarke is the same.”

With six Scots managing in Premier League, all born within 20 miles of Glasgow, Nevin believes Clarke has been influenced by the late, great Jock Stein. “I worked under Jock and he was a genius. I find an extreme honesty about managers who worked with him. The word integrity jumps out and Clarke is definitely of that lineage.”

When they first played together, Clarke didn’t immediately strike Nevin as coaching material, unlike a certain Goodison Park supremo. ‘I’ve known Davey Moyes since he was 14 and I knew, even then, that he would be a manager, but Clarkey wasn’t like that. At the same time I wasn’t surprised either. It was the way he trained and talked to other professionals. You could see his attitude was spot-on for the rigours of coaching.”

Liverpool’s win ratio in the Premier League has risen from 35 per cent to 55 since Dalglish and Clarke succeeded Roy Hodgson in January, and while part of that improvement has come through tightening up at the back – owner John Henry’s congratulatory tweeting about Liverpool’s improved defensive record won’t have gone unnoticed at Anfield – Nevin feels that Clarke was drafted in to do more than stop Liverpool shipping goals.

“I’d underline that Clarke is not a defensive coach. Obviously if a right back is getting caught square at the back, he’ll help them improve their positional play because of his technical know-how but I imagine Kenny, Sammy Lee and Steve will be concentrating on systems all over the park. They’ll adapt to a style of play for a reason, and explain what they want in terms the players can understand.”

Nevin believes a prime example of the duo’s common sense approach came early on in their partnership. “Take left back, it’s been a problem position for years, so what do they do, switch Glen Johnson over to the left hand side and keep Martin Kelly, who was playing out of his skin before he was injured, on the right. It was a no-brainer. Lots of managers try to use a magic wand to solve issues but Kenny and Steve act instinctively and do what football men would do.”

On a social level, Nevin says he caught up with Clarke in Liverpool recently. “Wherever Steve’s been working, we’ll hook up for a beer because we like talking about the game. I got on well with everyone at Chelsea because they were colleagues, but I consider Clarke a friend.”

Clarke is often portrayed in the media as a dour Scot and it's a stereotype that amuses Nevin. “He’s always being described as serious but he's not always like that. Fifteen years ago, the press was calling Kenny dour but now they’re starting to see his dry sense of humour. Granted, Clarkey’s not the quickest to laugh, but he has a typical West Coast (of Scotland) wit that entertains us Scots North of the Border.”

With seven games left of Liverpool’s season, Nevin believes that if Dalglish and Clarke are kept on by FSG (Fenway Sports Group) in the summer, they will be scouring the world for improvements to a threadbare and limping playing squad.

“Liverpool is in a much better place than they were. In Steven Gerrard, Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt they are sorted offensively but they do need a top-quality winger to feed Carroll. You can add to that a left-back and possibly a central defender. With his aura, Kenny will be able to attract players simply because of who he is and alongside Steve Clarke, who gives you organization and straight talking, you have two men that should ensure Liverpool's future is in safe hands.”

'Their Mentality Is Changing'

Pep Segura admits he will once again be forced to shuffle his pack as Liverpool Reserves prepare to host Bolton at the Academy this afternoon.

The combination of U18s fixtures and first-team injuries means the second-string boss has yet to field an unchanged line-up since taking temporary charge last month.

The Spaniard concedes it has been difficult to juggle between the various priorities at the club but he remains confident the ideas being implemented will bear fruit in the long-term.

Segura told Liverpoolfc.tv: "The idea we have for the latter part of the reserve season is to try and change the mentality of the younger players in the squad.

"We played against a very strong Villa team in our last game at Villa Park. It was a big experience for them but the most important thing was to look at the positive things that they did in the game.

"This is how we can help them grow as players."

He added: "We will try to take more players from the U18s squad for the Bolton game but we will have to assess it as they played against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

"We know Bolton are a strong side. They have some good players and I think that is better for us. I always prefer to take on tougher opponents as it benefits our players more.

"I would prefer to lose a match in which our players are forced to work at 100 per cent rather than win a match when they don't have to try as hard.

"This is the most important thing for the development of our players."

With just three matches left Liverpool remain in the running to top Barclays Premier Reserve League Northern Group B.

Segura acknowledges that his side could yet emerge with the title but feels the demands of the Academy program will make it a difficult proposition.

He said: "If we have all of our players available it is still possible that we can win our league. But the reality is that the first team needs our players because of all of the injuries they have.

"We have to play with different players every game and that makes it tough for us to create a strong team. Our idea is to work hard with the Scouse spirit.

"If we win, fantastic. But if we lose we will work harder. When you lose your idea is always to win the next game.

"But we always aim to do everything with the ideas and concepts we are in the process of implementing."