Sunday, September 25, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 1 Wolves

Liverpool returned to winning ways but made hard work of it at home to Wolves as defensive frailties and equally-fragile confidence levels were almost exposed for a third successive week.

Everything appeared to be going to plan as a Roger Johnson own goal, diverting in Charlie Adam's shot, and another magical Luis Suarez strike appeared to have put the Reds in the comfort zone at half-time.

But substitute Steven Fletcher pulled one back within minutes of the second half starting to ratchet up the pressure on the hosts, who were guilty of missing a number of opportunities to make the victory easier than it turned out to be.

Having lost back-to-back matches at Stoke and Tottenham, where they were humiliated 4-0, it was understandable nerves would be shaky.

And with the Reds keen to avoid a third successive defeat, which would have been their worst run since 2003, the pressure to secure a victory - especially with the Merseyside derby and the visit of Manchester United around the corner - was all-important.

What was equally key to Kenny Dalglish's side's fortunes this season was captain Steven Gerrard making his first Barclays Premier League appearance since March having recovered from a groin operation.

Wolves had actually started the brighter, aided by their hosts' penchant for conceding free-kicks outside their own penalty area.

Their best chance fell to Jamie O'Hara when a ill-judged backpass from Martin Kelly, returning to the side in the absence of the injured Daniel Agger, saw the midfielder shoot weakly at Jose Reina.

A couple of Adam corners caused some difficulties for the Wolves defence but not as much as the midfielder's 11th-minute long-range shot.

Stewart Downing's lay-off saw the Scotland midfielder unleash a 25-yard shot which was diverted past Wayne Hennessey by Johnson's diving header.

Andy Carroll, still the subject of intense debate about his place in the side, should have silenced his critics with a free header from Downing's corner but planted the ball straight at the goalkeeper.

In his favour, however, the England international's performance offered plenty apart from a goal.

But it was Suarez who, once again, was providing the major threat up front with the Wolves centre-backs struggling to contain the Uruguay forward.

Johnson was left bewildered when Suarez brought down Reina's kick and turned the defender inside the penalty area only for his cross to be cut out.

Two further half-chances fell to the South American before he finally got he just desserts in the 38th minute with a goal which owed everything to his movement and Jose Enrique's vision.

The Liverpool left-back lifted a ball over the top of the defence and his team-mate timed his run perfectly to collect, turn Christophe Berra inside then out before firing a shot inside the near post.

Just before the break - during which the third biggest cheer of the afternoon greeted news of former Reds striker Fernando Torres' sending-off for Chelsea - Suarez poked another shot just wide of the far post.

But Liverpool's defensive record this season - they have kept only one clean sheet - meant the third goal would be crucial and it fell to Wolves.

Four minutes after coming on for the start of the second half boyhood Reds fan Fletcher smashed home a shot from Stephen Hunt's cut-back after Reina and Martin Skrtel had got in the way of each other trying to clear their lines.

But Wolves almost crumbled in the aftermath as Hennessey produced his most important save of the game to block Suarez's effort at close quarters from Carroll's knockdown.

Carroll headed against a post while Hennessey made yet another vital block to deny Downing, who should have scored after Liverpool broke quickly on the counter-attack.

Wolves recovered their composure and turned the tables with an extended spell of pressure which caused some consternation amid the massed Red ranks and almost saw Berra equalize with a far-post header.

The long-awaited appearance of Gerrard, who made a brief substitute appearance in the Carling Cup in midweek, finally arrived in the 81st minute when the England midfielder replaced Suarez, who had run himself into the ground.

When the ball dropped to the Reds captain 25 yards out he did not need a second invitation to unleash a dipping volley but there was no fairytale Anfield comeback as the ball bounced wide.

There were a few worrying moments before the end but Dalglish's side saw them out to get back on the winning track.

Happy Days With Suarez

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is looking forward to a long and happy future with Luis Suarez at Anfield.

The Uruguayan scored his side's decisive second goal in superb, solo style in Saturday's engrossing 2-1 win over Wolves at Anfield, where Roger Johnson's own goal had set the home team on their way.

Substitute Steven Fletcher inspired Wolves to a second-half fightback with his goal, but Suarez was still the star of the show after tormenting Mick McCarthy's team.

The Copa America winner was visibly furious when Dalglish opted to replace him in the 81st minute with returning captain Steven Gerrard, who played his first Premier League match since March.

But Dalglish was full of praise for January signing Suarez after the match, as the Reds boss told Sky Sports: "It was a fantastic goal for Luis. He has been fantastic since he came here.

"He is playing with a wee smile on his face all the time and he is a good personality to have in and around the place.

"On the pitch, he has made a fantastic contribution. We are fortunate to have him and we look forward to a lot more happy days with him."

Gerrard had made a 15-minute outing in Liverpool's Carling Cup win over Brighton in midweek, but this was his first appearance at Anfield since the win over Manchester United on 6th March.

The England international has been missing for six months due to a groin problem, which required surgery, and he showed flashes of his class in his short outing against Wolves.

Dalglish, though, maintains he will not be rushing his star man back into the starting line-up, despite Everton and Manchester United looming on the fixture list.

The Scot said: "We are lucky to have Steven. Any football club is better off with a fit Steven Gerrard. As we keep saying, we'll continue in an educated fashion and look after him as best we can.

"We will reward him for the fantastic work he has done so far. If everybody has got the same mentality as Steven, we will be okay. We are just delighted for him and delighted with him."

Dalglish thought Liverpool were good value for their win, although they did look nervy after Fletcher pulled a goal back for Wolves shortly after his half-time introduction.

The Anfield boss said: "It was a difficult game. I think it was an entertaining game. I think we deserved to win.

"I think they got a lift in the second half. We came in two goals up, and deservedly so. Second half, they got a goal early doors and it gave them a bit of momentum and they put us under a bit of pressure.

"But the boys defended really well. They got a lot of headers in and one or two blocks. At the other end of the pitch, we could have scored another three or four with a bit of good fortune. But maybe we got a bit of good fortune with the first goal."

Kelly Praises Stevie Lift

Martin Kelly believes the inclusion of Steven Gerrard on Liverpool's teamsheet gave everybody a boost ahead of Saturday's 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

After making his comeback following a six-month absence with a substitute appearance at Brighton in midweek, the captain was named on the bench for the visit of Mick McCarthy's side before he made a late cameo as the Reds clinched three points.

And Kelly feels Gerrard's presence played a part in lifting the crowd inside Anfield, which in turn helped Liverpool make a positive opening to their clash against Wolves.

"It was good to get back to winning ways (in the league) and I think we needed the three points," Kelly told "We had the fans behind us and the return of Stevie especially lifted the crowd. We're happy with the win."

Liverpool took an early lead at Anfield when Roger Johnson deflected Charlie Adam's shot into his own net after 11 minutes.

The Reds then furthered their advantage moments before the break courtesy of a fine effort from Luis Suarez.

Wolves reduced the arrears when Steve Fletcher tucked home four minutes into the second half, but despite spells of sustained pressure from the visitors, it was Liverpool who went closest to finding the net again.

"The early goal was vital and we got another from Luis," said Kelly. "We were unlucky not to get a third and it's a pity we couldn't because that would have sealed it, but we were professional and saw the game off.

"It was a great goal from Luis. He's playing at a high standard at the minute. He is even training the same way as he is playing and it's fantastic to have him in the team.

"With Stevie to return, it's going to cause the gaffer even more selection problems. But we're all in it together."

On Wolves' fruitless search for an equalizer following their goal, Kelly added: "It always happens in football, especially in the Premier League, when you've got a two-goal lead and the opposition gets a goal, they're back in the game.

"But I thought we defended well, got through the game and it was vital we got the three points."

Liverpool return to action next Saturday lunchtime when they make the short journey across Stanley Park to take on Everton in the Merseyside derby.

Kelly believes it was imperative the Reds collected three points before travelling to Goodison Park.

He said: "We can build on this win. It was good to get a victory going into the derby next weekend. We needed it because it's going to be a really tough game there. We'll all have to work hard in training to make sure we're ready for next week."

Kelly is eager to play a part in the derby clash having been on the bench for last season's corresponding fixture with the Blues.

The 21-year-old's appearance against Wolves was his second start in succession following a hamstring problem - and the defender believes he's back in peak condition.

Kelly said: "I'm feeling good. The medical staff has worked me a lot this week to keep me on top of the hamstring injury. It was about being sensible against Wolves, and I thought I did that.

"The medical staff has worked really hard with me and we've come through it together. I'm made up I've played the last two games and I'm feeling fitter than ever."

He added: "I'm really looking forward to playing in the derby, if I'm selected. I was on the bench last season and it was a tough game. They started well and put us under pressure.

"We'll be looking for the win, but it's a derby day and it's always difficult."

Suarez Visibly Upset About Substitution

With Liverpool clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 82nd minute, the Anfield faithful rose and gave a rousing ovation at the sight of a green No. 8 being held on the fourth official's board, signifying the first Anfield appearance by captain Steven Gerrard since last spring.

Gerrard's highly anticipated home appearance came in place of Luis Suarez, and the striker made no attempt to hide his anger at being lifted from such a close contest. Suarez, who always wears his emotions on his sleeve, smashed a water bottle before spending the rest of the match shaking his head on the bench, a noticeable distraction from a close encounter on the pitch.

Suarez spent the entire match tormenting a Wolves' backline that seemed incapable of handling his otherworldly blend of balance and close control, with the Uruguayan creating a steady stream of opportunities for the Reds. Indeed, it was Suarez's brilliant 38th-minute goal, where he toyed with Christophe Berra before beating Wayne Hennessey near post, which proved to be decisive in handing Liverpool all three points.

However, with Liverpool hanging onto a lead, Kenny Dalglish's decision to replace a striker with an extra midfielder is a relatively common and tactically sound switch when trying to close a game. Furthermore, despite Suarez showing no signs of slowing down, the attacker has already logged heavy minutes in the early season and Dalglish will be looking to spare his star player's legs at every opportunity.

For his part, Dalglish has made no mention of Suarez's angry reaction, instead focusing on what was a dazzling performance.

"Luis has been outstanding since he came to the football club, not just on the pitch but off it as well. We are very fortunate to have him," said Dalglish after the match. "We look forward to many more happy days with him here because he's a fantastic footballer."

Dalglish is rarely one to criticize his players in public, and certainly shares Suarez's hyper-competitive disposition, but one would assume that the manager will privately speak with his pupil about calling negative attention toward himself while the team was fighting to earn a tough home win.

Liverpool Made Bid For Chelsea Target Mario Gomez

Chelsea target Mario Gomez was the subject of a bid from Liverpool, reports in Germany have claimed.

Gomez has been in quite sensational scoring form for Bayern Munich this season; netting eight times in three games, including a four goal haul against Freiburg.

And, according to Bild, Liverpool offered €30 million for the German striker in April, as Kenny Dalglish made plans for the summer transfer window.

Liverpool had been linked with the 26-year-old during the Anfield tenure of Roy Hodgson and, it would appear, reignited their interest following a fine run of form from Gomez.

The former Stuttgart frontman had scored 32 times for club and country before the end of April, and finished the campaign with 40 strikes in 44 appearances.

Chelsea, meanwhile, has been linked with Gomez in the past few days as Andre Villas-Boas allegedly considers signing a replacement for Fernando Torres in January.

The Spanish striker has yet to justify his £50 million price-tag since joining Chelsea from Liverpool nine months ago.

Andy Carroll Continues To Frustrate

A few eyebrows were raised in the Kop when Andy Carroll was named in Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool side to face Wolves on Saturday, seemingly out of faith rather than merit.

After all, the £35 million man has been well below-par this season – not least in the 4-0 defeat at Tottenham six days earlier – and Craig Bellamy had looked extremely sharp in the midweek League Cup win at Brighton.

Yet Dalglish is determined to persist with Carroll until he comes good, despite the worrying parallels with the start of Emile Heskey's career at Anfield.

Carroll arrived on Merseyside to much fanfare on the last day of the January transfer window and the Kop had high hopes for his partnership with Luis Suarez, hoping modern-day version of the famous combination of Kevin Keegan and John Toshack.

If anything, a home clash against a physical Wolves side that conceded three in their previous outing seemed the sort of occasion when Carroll could kickstart his Reds career.

While Suarez oozed class and scored a well-taken goal though, Carroll produced an influential performance but flawed performance as the spearhead of the hosts' strikeforce.

“Everything except the goal,” was Dalglish's analysis of the club's record signing. “We couldn't have got much more out of the big fella yesterday.”

The Scot has rallied against critics of Carroll and will continue to take the positives out of the former Newcastle man's displays in the hope that he rediscovers the form that prompted the Reds to pay so much money for him.

Some of the signs were particularly encouraging from a player who has been publicly criticized by England coach Fabio Capello for his lifestyle off the pitch.

Having seemingly shed a couple of pounds, he looked fitter and leaner than a month ago, and he used his physical prowess to cause Wolves problems in the air, making contributions almost by his mere presence.

That was the case in the build-up to the opener, an own-goal by Wolves defender Roger Johnson in the 11th minute after he deflected in Charlie Adam's shot. Wolves manager Mick McCarthy claimed Johnson had been fouled by Carroll seconds before Adam fired towards goal – and he was probably right.

Likewise, as Liverpool pushed for a third goal in the second-half, Carroll found himself involved, always looking to cause a nuisance, not least when he challenged Wayne Hennessey under a high ball, which then fell free for Suarez to force a fine save from the Wolves goalkeeper.

With just three goals in his Liverpool career so far, concerns are understandably being expressed over Carroll's contribution and whether he could turn out to be an expensive flop.

He is low on confidence. That was made the most clear deep into added time when instead of shooting when the ball fell to him in the penalty area, he tried to walk past Wolves defenders until he was in a perfect position to pull the trigger. By the time he drew back his foot to shoot, a Wolves player was on hand to smother the danger.

Earlier in the half, he had seen his header from five yards cannon back off the post. It was the kind of chance he was bought to bury - and it was the sort of cross from Stewart Downing that could get the 22-year-old rising up the goalscoring charts. He just can't get it right in front of goal at the moment.

His main problem, though, continues to be his restricted movement and clumsy technique in a team that wants to play swift passing football.

On one occasion in the first-half, after taking three touches to get the ball under full control, Carroll tried to spin a Xavi-esque pass wide with the outside of his left-foot but missed his target by at least 20 yards.

The awkward nature in which he attempted to execute the action seemed to encapsulate his lack of incisiveness, in stark contrast to the intelligence and skill of his strike partner Suarez.

While Suarez buzzed around non-stop with world class movement, Carroll is one of the easier players for a defender to mark as he moves little off the ball and slows down the team's one and two touch attacking play.

When the game stretched, Liverpool could have done with the introduction of Bellamy from the subs' bench to exploit the space and to put Wolves on the back foot with his pace.

It is Carroll's lack of technical quality and the negative effect he has on the rest of the team that means it may be time for Dalglish to drop the striker.

Carroll should take heart from his performance against Wolves – it was a step up from his anonymity at White Hart Lane – and he has shown he provides a useful outlet for the Reds.

The problem is: he's not even worth half of that £35m fee and his style should make him a Plan B for a side that has played some wonderful football when Carroll has been absent, but rarely when he has actually featured.

Morgan At The Double As U18s Win

Adam Morgan scored twice as Liverpool U18s romped to a 4-0 triumph at Wolves on Saturday afternoon.

Mike Marsh's side produced a tremendous performance in the Black Country and got back to winning ways after last weekend's 2-2 draw with Barnsley.

Academy hot-shot Morgan was in top form as he produced two clinical finishes while Kristoffer Peterson and Jordan Lussey were also on the mark.

Marsh told "The lads were excellent and played some great football.

"We took our goals really well and could have had a lot more."

Liverpool U18s: Jamie Stephens, Lewis Hatch, Tom King, Joe Rafferty, Matty Regan, Peter Aylmer, Kristoffer Peterson (Yalany Baio 63), Josh Sumner (Nathan Quirk 80), Adam Morgan, Henoc Mukendi (Saim Gainford 73). Unused subs: Connor Wearing, Michael Wilson.