Sunday, October 16, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 1 Manchester United

It may not have lived up to Sir Alex Ferguson's billing as the greatest match-up in English football but Liverpool's draw at home to Manchester United was typically not without incident.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was denied a dream return to the starting line-up when his free-kick midway through the second half was cancelled out by substitute Javier Hernandez's late header.

The England international put seven months of rehabilitation behind him after a groin operation in March by capping an assured performance in midfield with the goal which looked like extending his side's home dominance over their arch-rivals.

However, Hernandez prevented a fourth successive United defeat at Anfield - which has not happened since 1979 - to maintain his team's unbeaten record this season.

It also denied Liverpool a happier anniversary than the one they were enjoying after marking the 12 months to the day since they were bought by Americans Fenway Sports Group.

Wayne Rooney's demotion to the bench summed up his miserable week after his England sending-off and subsequent three-match ban for Euro 2012, which was the talking point before kick-off.

Once the match kicked off there were plenty of others - mainly in the second half - with Rio Ferdinand's disputed foul on Charlie Adam which could have resulted in the defender seeing red and United goalkeeper David de Gea's impressive performance just two.

The first half was essentially about trying to establish a grip on the game and although Liverpool had the better of that scrap early on United had done enough to restore the balance by the interval.

Both sides had chances to open the scoring with Phil Jones, playing in midfield, heading Patrice Evra's deep left-wing cross into the side-netting when he should have done better.

A similar accusation could have been levelled at Luis Suarez, who looked like he would give Rio Ferdinand a torrid time after their opening exchanges but found the United defender a worthy opponent as the half drew on.

The Uruguay international found himself with only David de Gea to beat when Charlie Adam's 34th-minute shot kindly rebounded off Jonny Evans but the striker shot straight at the goalkeeper who parried the ball to safety.

Gerrard found the midfield a little too crowded for his liking and rarely got the space or opportunity to have much impact.

Early in the second half Ashley Young's 25-yard free-kick briefly had Jose Reina scrambling to claim at the second attempt but the tide was gradually turning in favour of the hosts.

They felt they should have had a penalty when Dirk Kuyt's header struck the arm of Evans. And when Ferdinand, who had been booked for an earlier foul on Suarez, tripped a charging Adam with the slightest of touches as he threatened to break into the penalty area, the Liverpool fans were convinced he should have been sent off.

Gerrard, however, exacted a greater punishment when he curled home a low shot from the resulting 25-yard free-kick after Ryan Giggs left a space in the wall.

Rooney and Nani were immediately sent on, with the latter blazing a shot well over, before fellow substitute Hernandez was introduced for the final 15 minutes.

And he made his mark within six minutes of coming on as Danny Welbeck flicked on a left-wing cross and the youngster headed home unmarked at the far post.

But United were indebted to De Gea, who has come in for a fair amount of criticism in his maiden season, as the Spaniard threw himself to his left to deny Dirk Kuyt.

He was in action again in injury time when he acrobatically tipped over a shot from Henderson, with the Liverpool midfielder also having a chance to win it even later only his header from Stewart Downing's cross dropping onto the roof of the net.

Dalglish Praise For Gerrard

Kenny Dalglish believed Steven Gerrard's first XI comeback against Manchester United epitomized the captain's importance for Liverpool.

The England international played in the starting line-up for the first time in seven months following a groin problem and marked his return with an opening goal from a free-kick.

United came back to equalize through Javier Hernandez but Liverpool manager Dalglish was delighted by the performance of Gerrard.

On his skipper, the Scot said: "I thought he was everything he's been for the club, and it was fitting he got the goal."

Dalglish added: "The fact we have Steven Gerrard playing is a real boost to us. It is fantastic for him he has crowned his first start for a while by scoring.

"He has made a fantastic contribution to this football club and he will continue to do that.

"To see him back was brilliant for us, but more importantly really encouraging for him. He still has a bit to go, but it was fantastic to see him starting a game and he deserves that reward of a goal."

After an uneventful first half, the contest provided far more entertainment in the second 45 minutes and developed into an end-to-end contest in the closing minutes.

Jordan Henderson went close to winning it, but his lobbed volley was superbly saved by David de Gea, who produced a composed display to respond to some of his critics.

Dalglish said: "I thought in the first half the two teams almost cancelled each other out, and the second half started much the same.

"We scored the goal then they equalized, then their keeper made two or three good saves. I thought the boy (De Gea) was struggling?

"He wasn't struggling, he made two or three great saves."

Gerrard Feels Hard Done By

Steven Gerrard was pleased to mark his return to Liverpool's first XI with a goal but he was disappointed Manchester United could not be defeated at Anfield.

The fit-again Liverpool captain's free-kick found its way through a United wall weakened by Ryan Giggs deserting his post to give the hosts the lead.

But substitute Javier Hernandez headed United level and Liverpool were unable to find a winner.

David de Gea made an excellent save from Jordan Henderson and when Martin Skrtel blazed over it was certain that United would remain six points ahead of Liverpool in the Premier League table.

"I'm sure our fans will feel a little bit hard done by with the chances at the end, we could have nicked it," Gerrard told Sky Sports HD2.

"Before the game our aim was to close the gap and get it to three points."

On his goal, the England midfielder added: "The free-kick wasn't the best, the intention was to get it over the wall, but a couple of years ago at Old Trafford the same thing happened, the wall split.

"Maybe it's just the bit of luck I was looking for in my first game back.

"When you're out and sitting watching these games, there's nothing worse. To be out there experiencing the emotions again was fantastic and hopefully I can stay fit for the rest of the season now."

United defender Rio Ferdinand has also been absent with injury for much of this season and concurred, as he said: "These are the games you want to play in, the things you love and enjoy."

It was Ferdinand's foul on Charlie Adam which led to the free-kick, with opposite camps feeling either that the Scot made the most of minimal contact or that Ferdinand was fortunate to escape a second yellow card.

"There was the slightest contact, but I don't think it was enough to make a fella of 12 or 13 stone fall on the floor," Ferdinand insisted.

He praised the character of his side, though, adding: "They created a couple of chances towards the end but for most of the second half I thought we controlled it and played good football. In the final third, if we'd made those good decisions, we could have had opportunities.

"We showed the resilience you need to come places like this and get a point."

Liverpool & Arsenal Interested In Belgian Defender

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is set to battle Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger for the signature Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen who has been strongly linked with a move away from the Amsterdam club for a number of months.

Dalglish added the likes of Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates during the summer but it is believed that he is still looking for a new centre-back and could attempt to lure Vertonghen away from Holland.

Arsenal have also been tracking the progress of the talented defender who is good friends with international colleague and Gunners centre-back Thomas Vermalen.

The 24-year-old has been linked with a number of clubs, with Inter Milan also said to be interested, but it is the Premier League duo who are hoping to land the defender.

Vertonghen has been one of Ajax's most consistent performers and was close to moving in the summer. However, he decided to stay and now Liverpool and Arsenal want to persuade Ajax to cash-in on the defender.

Reports in Holland suggest Liverpool are favorites to sign the Belgian international but it will take an offer of at least £17million to persuade the Dutch side to sell their prized asset.

Wenger has reportedly been handed £50m to spend in the summer and could use some of that war chest to land Vertonghen.

Holloway Cools Wilson Talk

Blackpool manager Ian Holloway says he is unlikely to be making an imminent move to sign Liverpool defender Danny Wilson on loan.

Holloway recently brought Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to Bloomfield Road on a temporary basis and has been strongly linked with an offer for Wilson.

The Scotland international has yet to make an impact at Anfield since his arrival from Rangers in 2010 and has made just one appearance in the Carling Cup so far this season.

Wilson recently admitted that he would be prepared to seek a loan move away from Liverpool in order to play regular first-team football.

However, Holloway is happy with the current make-up of his squad and has played down talk that he is ready to add Wilson to his ranks.

Holloway said: "At the minute my squad is taking shape, I'm working with people, and I don't think at this moment in time I'll be adding Wilson."

Ayre Rubbishes Media Report

Ian Ayre has rubbished a newspaper report claiming Principal Owner John Henry suggested Fenway Sports Group may have overpaid for Liverpool players.

The Reds Managing Director insists Henry's quote was not regarding the club's transfer business and was instead referring to baseball.

Ayre told LFC TV's Friday Night Live: "I have actually seen the transcript. It was John answering questions via email, rather than in an interview. I have seen his comments he replied with.

"What he was essentially talking about in the first place was baseball. He was talking about the comments people have been making about a big signing they (Boston Red Sox) made, Carl Crawford.

"He made the point they may have overspent on players, but at the same time a month or so ago, before the Red Sox got into trouble, people were saying the Red Sox were maybe the best team they've ever had.

"He just drew the comparison, but it wasn't actually related to Liverpool in anyway.

"The other thing that comes out from that, and I was talking to Tom (Werner) about it today, is how do you ever gauge what you've spent on any player until the end of his contract?

"It's a long time playing for a club, and not everything happens on day one. For Carl Crawford or anyone else, it's all about what you get from that player across the life of his contract.

"We've seen players come to football clubs, baseball clubs and other sports clubs and some have a brilliant start and some have a slow start and they're just different. It's all about what you extract as value.

"He definitely didn't relate it to Liverpool. I don't know if it was a mis-quote - I think his quote was right, but it was just taken out of context."

Ayre Explains TV Comments

Ian Ayre insisted that Liverpool Football Club weren't looking to sell their own overseas television rights.

Clarifying comments made earlier this week regarding the sale of Barclays Premier League overseas rights, the Liverpool Managing Director claimed the debate needs to be opened up but believes his comments were taken out of context in the media.

Ayre told LFC TV's Friday Night Live: "What I said, and what we were trying to put forward - the debate we've been trying to open up - isn't about Liverpool wanting to breakaway and sell their own rights. That is not in any way what we were trying to say.
"What we are trying to say is that at the moment, the way the rights are sold collectively is great. It generates a significant amount of revenue, more than any other league, and that is fantastic.

"However, the way those values that come in are distributed is an issue we believe.

"What a lot of fans maybe don't know is the UK rights - the domestic rights which are about half of the total - the way they're distributed is 50 per cent is shared equally and the other 50 per cent is shared on the basis of how many times you're on TV while the second half of that is distributed on the basis of where you finish in the league. That is a mechanism that rewards success and therefore the more successful, bigger clubs get a bigger share.

"But internationally, the other half of the money that comes in is just divided by 20. I don't think that's right and I think the bigger clubs have a bigger appeal overseas, they're playing in bigger competitions in Europe playing against bigger clubs that have bigger revenues.

"What we're trying to do - and what I was trying to do when somebody asked me the question - was just explain that I think that's an issue.

"The question I was asked was about the European ruling on illegal pay TV and I said that's an issue, for certain - but I think the distribution issue also needs a debate.

"It's unfortunate that it's snowballed into some ridiculous tirade of media that's suggested that we were trying to run off and damage the league. We're Liverpool Football Club, that's not our game.

"It's something I'd like to see debated and I'd like to see addressed."

Ayre admits he was disappointed with the manner in which his comments were reported in the media.

He added: "It was like a bland comment really. Somebody asked me the question and I said the whole media rights landscape is very important, it represents about 95 per cent of the revenue we get from the league every year - it's bigger than sponsorship and all of those things from the league.

"It's a very, very important part of every football club. Not just Liverpool or the big clubs - every club in the league, even the clubs in the lower leagues because of the parachute payment. It's a very, very important subject.

"What I said is that I think it needs to be addressed because I don't think the balance is right.

"What it turned into was a torrent of 'Liverpool is going to break away and damage the league'. Quite clearly, I never suggested that."

LeBron Makes LFC Donation

American basketball player LeBron James has donated $10,000 to the Liverpool FC Foundation during his first visit to the club.

LeBron, who plays for Miami Heat, made the donation at St Margaret's CoE School in Liverpool which is Liverpool FC's Respect 4 All centre, used for football coaching sessions with local children with severe physical or mental disabilities.

The centre is currently oversubscribed and LeBron's donation has kick-started a fundraising campaign to open a second centre in north Liverpool.

LeBron said: "I am honored and humbled to be a part of Liverpool FC and especially proud to help the club's charitable efforts. My foundation has always focused on giving kids the support they need to be successful. I'm excited to give this gift on my first trip and to start participating in the amazing work being done by Liverpool FC in the community."

Gary Adlen, Liverpool FC Foundation Director, said: "It's been a real pleasure having LeBron here. We are extremely grateful for his donation which will contribute significantly to opening a second Respect 4 All centre and support even more local children in north Liverpool."