Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Match Report: Aston Villa 1 - 0 Liverpool

Aston Villa duo Stewart Downing and Ashley Young have been on Liverpool's radar for some time and manager Kenny Dalglish witnessed first-hand their qualities as his side slipped to the defeat which ended their Europa League hopes.

Liverpool rarely troubled their hosts on an afternoon when Villa's two wingers provided the main attacking thrust.

Downing produced the one moment of quality with a deft touch and brilliant finish to decide the match in the first half as Dalglish's players appeared to run out of steam after a season which for some of them began in July in the Europa League.

It means Liverpool have failed to qualify for Europe for the first time since 1999, although many will see that as a blessing as it will give Dalglish a chance to concentrate on strengthening his squad and making a challenge to get back in the Champions League next season.

Dalglish appeared to already have one eye on the future by naming a bench which, the 31-year-old Christian Poulsen apart, had an average age of just over 19.

He also gave Joe Cole a chance to impress with his first start for two months but the England international failed to take it and he faces an uncertain future after just one season at Anfield in which he has failed to deliver.

Injured Reds captain Steven Gerrard was sat among the travelling supporters but he will have been less than impressed by a first half which was almost entirely devoid of quality or incident.

In fact, Downing's 33rd-minute goal aside it was difficult to single out anything else worthy of a mention.

Virtually substitute Marc Albrighton's first involvement having replaced Fabian Delph was to provide the right-wing cross which sailed over the defence to the unmarked Downing who took a touch before smashing a narrow-angle shot past Jose Reina via the underside of the crossbar.

Either side of that the story of the half was of niggling fouls, injuries and scrappy play.

Liverpool lost Jay Spearing barely 10 minutes into the game having been fouled moments earlier by Nigel Reo-Coker, who was booked, and was replaced by Jonjo Shelvey.

Jamie Carragher temporarily had to leave the field to have stitches in a head wound after a clash with Lucas Leiva, who came closest to scoring for the Reds with a shot from a Raul Meireles corner cleared off the line by Ashley Young.

Cole had a chance to atone for an anonymous opening 45 minutes when Lucas' lofted ball picked him out in the penalty area but he ballooned a shot well over.

The England international's disappointing afternoon was eventually ended in the 67th minute when he was replaced by David Ngog.

Just prior to that Raul Meireles should have done better when Luis Suarez's cut-back took out the sliding Kyle Walker and James Collins but former Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Friedel clawed out his shot.

Collins, substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stiliyan Petrov all had chances to put the result beyond doubt as the hosts finished the stronger, with only Fabio Aurelio and Luis Suarez coming anywhere close for Liverpool.

Ashley Young's withdrawal minutes from the end saw the player, entering the last year of his contract, applaud all four sides of the ground in what looked like a farewell.

But even the prospect of losing one of their major stars could not dampen the delight of the home crowd, who could not decide whether they were happier at a first Villa Park win over the Reds since February 1998 or the demise of city rivals Birmingham.

Meanwhile Dalglish, heading into his first summer transfer window, has plenty to ponder after back-to-back defeats to end the season.

Big decisions need to be taken on some big names as he looks to revitalise his playing staff.

He may well have seen the future at Villa Park.

Reds Boss Wants A Return To The Good Old Days

Kenny Dalglish doesn’t go along, totally, with the view of Jamie Carragher that missing out on a Europa League place could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

As a player, the former European Cup hero lived for those famous European nights at Anfield, and on the continent. Nothing’s changed now he’s the gaffer.

All of which is another reason why he wants to take Liverpool to new heights next season after steadying a ship which was drifting along relative aimlessly.

Despite losing the last two games, the Liverpool boss is full of praise for the players he inherited and who have bought into his and his coaching staff’s philosophy.

"They deserve a holiday. Some are more unfortunate than others in that they have to play in the Copa America (Brazil's Lucas Leiva, Uruguay's Luis Suarez) in July but we just need to get on with it and push forward," he added.

"I hope they enjoy their break because they deserve it. I've been relatively happy but, at the same time, it is not a football club that has built its history and tradition on losing matches.

"We don't want that to become a habit but I am really proud of the players by what they tried to achieve and how they turned it around."

Liverpool Join Tottenham In Race To Sign Brad Friedel

Brad Friedel has been offered the opportunity to re-sign for Liverpool this summer after Kenny Dalglish joined Tottenham Hotspur in the chase for the veteran American goalkeeper.

The 40-year-old is out of contract at Aston Villa and talks over an extension at Villa Park are on hold due to the uncertainty over the manager Gérard Houllier's future. That has alerted several Premier League rivals to the prospect of an astute free transfer and it is understood Liverpool and Spurs have emerged as front-runners for his services.

Friedel joined Liverpool from Columbus Crew in 1997 but made only 25 league appearances for the Anfield side over three years before moving to Blackburn Rovers, where he established himself as one of the finest keepers in the Premier League. However, a return to Merseyside would only be as back-up to José Reina, with the Spain international having recently ended doubts over his long-term future at Liverpool, and the prospect of more regular first-team football at White Hart Lane in place of the erratic Heurelho Gomes could work in Harry Redknapp's favour.

West Bromwich Albion are also interested in the former USA international while Villa have not given up hope of convincing him to extend his successful three-year stint in the Midlands. Speaking before the final game of the season on Sunday, a 1-0 win over Liverpool secured by Stewart Downing – another Dalglish target – Friedel said: "The contract talks at this moment have been put on hold because of Mr. Houllier's health and also the ongoing court case with Martin O'Neill.

"Myself and my advisors wanted to get to safety first and foremost before we started diving into things of that nature. I still feel very good, I still think I've got a year or two left in the legs and we'll see what happens. I've enjoyed every minute of my three years here, so we'll just have to see what the future brings."

Roy Hodgson, the Albion manager, could decide to turn his attention to Preston's Andy Lonergan, who impressed in the Championship last season and has also been on Birmingham City's radar.

Liverpool And United Favourites To Land £10m Set-Piece Wizard

Liverpool and Manchester United are favourites to land Blackpool's Charlie Adam, according to bookmakers William Hill.

The Scottish midfielder was relegated with the Tangerines after defeat to United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

But after Adam scored a stunning free-kick at the Stretford End and following Sir Alex Ferguson's comments earlier in the season that Adam's corners alone were worth £10 million, United have jumped to the front of the queue, along with long-time admirers Liverpool.

After the club made a bid for the midfielder during the January transfer window, Liverpool have been watching Adam intently, and are expected to go back in for the 25-year-old this summer as they search for a left sided player to supply Andy Carroll.

In addition to Adam, who is expected to leave Bloomfield Road for £10 million, Liverpool and United are after Ashley Young, who is believed to be leaving Aston Villa this season.

‘Acceptable Bid’ Will Snare Liverpool Target

Aston Villa’s caretaker manager Gary McAllister has insisted that the side will be trying to keep Ashley Young next season, despite interest from Liverpool and Manchester United.

Young came off the ground yesterday in Villa’s last game of the season waving to the crowd in what appeared to be a farewell gesture, though McAllister says it was nothing to do with the England international’s future.

"I think people thought that was staged but his calf was screaming,” the Villa manager said.

"He wasn't coming off waving goodbye because we want to keep him.”

Liverpool has long been connected with Young, with Kenny Dalglish seeing the 25-year-old as a good addition to the Anfield club’s midfield.

Manchester United have also shown interest in the star, though Liverpool are favourites to snare Young as United reportedly look for younger signings to decrease the average age of their squad.

But McAllister is insistent that Villa still have a chance of keeping Young, as they hope to improve the quality of their squad and look to challenge for European football.

"We have to keep trying and a couple of signings here or there might help,” McAllister said.

"I am sure there is interest because there has been a lot of speculation around Ashley for a long time now.”

In a hint that Liverpool could get their man if they come up with the right price, McAllister said that if he had to let Young go, he would do so for a bid that fitted the star.

"Until such a time that someone comes in with a bid which is acceptable to Aston Villa then he is still a Villa player because he has a year left on his contract,” the caretaking manager said.

"But there is no way of me predicting how clubs will do their business.”

Eden Hazard Has Ruled Out A Summer Move To Liverpool

Liverpool's hopes of signing Eden Hazard this summer have been dealt a major blow after the player confirmed his desire to stay in France according to talkSPORT.

The 20-year-old Belgian international winger has drawn many plaudits for some of his scintillating displays for Lille this season, on the way to helping them to the French Ligue 1 title.

Hazard capped a fine season when he was named UNFP Player of the Year yesterday evening as the union of professional players and coaches presented its annual accolades.

Reds manager Kenny Dalglish has been heavily linked with a summer approach for Hazard, with Liverpool thought to have already made a tentative offer of €23million to bring him to Anfield in June.

Director of football Damien Comolli is on the lookout for two wide midfield additions in a bid to strengthen Liverpool's ranks next season, and with the financial backing of club owners Fenway Sports Group, it appeared that no player is out of reach for the Merseysiders.

However, a recent club source stated that Hazard is not interested in a summer switch to Liverpool and is in fact happy at Lille – a club who can now offer him Champions League football.

"Eden has chosen to stay. He has a contract until 2015 and now Champions League football. Everything points towards staying."

Hazard was named the best young player in Ligue 1 for the past two seasons and stepped up as the youngest player ever to scoop the top award after netting seven times this term to help the club to their first title since 1954.

Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have also been previously credited with an interest in Hazard, but it is Liverpool who will be the most disappointed by the latest developments in the ongoing transfer saga of one of Europe’s brightest young talents.

Liverpool Target Yann M'Vila Signs Contract Extension With Stade Rennais

Stade Rennais midfielder Yann M'Vila has signed a contract extension that will keep him at the Ligue 1 outfit until 2015.

The 20-year-old committed himself to the club after months of speculation linking him to the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United and French rivals Olympique de Marseille.

M'Vila's contract was due to expire in 2014 but has now been extended for one more year, a statement on the club's official website confirmed.

The young talent has established himself as a regular member of Laurent Blanc's France squad while also proving indispensable to his club side, racking up 36 league appearances this season.

Dalglish Reveals Liverpool Injury Latest

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has revealed that Andy Carroll, Maxi Rodriguez and Glen Johnson are all suffering injuries, after the trio were left out of the squad for Sunday's match with Aston Villa.

While Carroll played last weekend against Tottenham, Dalglish said in hindsight the striker should not have been chosen for the Liverpool squad.

"Andy's not been able to sustain any reasonable time in training and it would have been irresponsible of us to bring him,” Dalglish told the official Liverpool website of the trip to Villa Park yesterday.

"We played him last week [against Tottenham], but it was unfair on him that we did ask him to play.

“I didn't think we should risk the boy's fitness by bringing him.

“Although we've not got any games, it's important they're all back fit in July.”

Dalglish said Johnson and Maxi were both also left at Merseyside on Sunday, with the pair suffering hamstring and adductor problems respectively.

"I don't think any of them will need surgery,” Dalglish assured fans.

"Soto [Kyrgiakos] was injured as well, so maybe the end of the season has come at the right time for us - I might have been in next week!"

Dalglish Blames Liverpool's Failure To Qualify For Europa League On Poor Start To Season

Kenny Dalglish believes Liverpool were lucky to finish sixth in the Premier League table after their abysmal start to the campaign but believes their failure to qualify for the Europa League will not stop players wanting to play for the club.

Aston Villa's 1-0 victory on Sunday helped condemn the Anfield outfit to their first season without European football since the 1999/2000 season. The damage was largely done under previous boss Roy Hodgson after he gained just 25 points in 21 games until Dalglish took over the reins in mid-January.

Speaking to reporters after the match, the Scot bemoaned the poor state of the club when he took over and admitted that a season without European football would take some getting used to.

"It's always nice for everybody to be involved in Europe, isn't it? Whether it is going to be helpful or not to be out of it remains to be seen," Dalglish stated.

"It is a long time since this club wasn't involved in Europe.

"It is new ground for everybody. We just need to get on with it and accept that we aren't.

"We didn't qualify for Europe because we lost the game on Sunday it was because we had a bad start to the season.

"If you start as badly as that then you're lucky to be sixth come the end of it."

Liverpool's disappointing season ensured that no Champions League or Europa League football will be on offer to prospective signings this summer. Despite the setback, Dalglish was convinced the club remained a big enough draw and was confident if any player didn't want to come it'd be "their loss not ours."

"There are a lot more players who don't play in the Champions League than do and I think Liverpool football club is a big enough attraction to players," he added.

"If we want to bring someone in, I'm sure the club is a big enough attraction. Any one we do bring in will have to be a lot better than what we have here and that is only the chosen few.

"We'll be select with what we choose to do, and if they don't want to come, it's their loss not ours."

Stewart Downing's 33rd minute goal ensured a promising revival under Dalglish ended with a loss. The 60-year-old blamed tired legs for the result.

"It's disappointing for the players. They've done fantastic to get as far as they have done and it would have been nice to finish on a positive," said the Scot.

"We just ran out of legs a bit and players a wee bit, too. There were players that played who shouldn't have played, as well.

"Jonjo Shelvey shouldn't have played more than 20-25 minutes. His knee will be painful in the morning.

"The most important thing for us is that they did the best they possibly could. Our legs just ran out a wee bit and we came up short."

Young Stars Shine In The Sun

Liverpool U18s have enjoyed their last training session of the 2010-11 campaign in the sun-drenched surroundings of the Caribbean.

Rodolfo Borrell's squad welcomed youngsters from the island of St Vincent to the Buccament Bay Resort to run through some fun-filled drills on Saturday - with the twist that the players had the role of coach.

Winger Toni Silva took to the task with relish and revealed he has loved every second of his Caribbean adventure.

He told us: "It's great for the kids to come here and play football with us. It has been a lot of fun and a good way to round off our last day of training.

"This island is fantastic and the resort is just paradise. If they let me, I'd love to come here again at the end of next season too!"