Monday, December 31, 2012

Match Report: QPR 0 - 3 LIverpool

QPR's survival hopes were dealt a major blow as Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool to a comprehensive victory despite the absence of manager Brendan Rodgers.

It was a dreadful end to a rollercoaster 2012 for the west Londoners in which there have been plenty more troughs than peaks.

Liverpool dominated from the outset and coasted to victory even without Rodgers, who was unwell and too sick to be on the touchline.

Assistant manager Colin Pascoe and coach Mike Marsh deputized at Loftus Road, which witnessed two Suarez goals inside the opening 16 minutes.

Daniel Agger nodded the visitors further ahead in the 28th minute and, despite an improved second-half performance from the hosts, Liverpool were never in any real danger of losing grip of proceedings.

The defeat leaves QPR bottom and eight points adrift of safety heading into a tough January, which starts with a trip to rivals Chelsea.

Harry Redknapp's side had an important day given their current predicament, with fans calling for the spirit shown when Liverpool last visited back in March.

QPR came back from behind to secure a 3-2 win that day, with the result proving a catalyst in their successful battle against the drop.

The west Londoners needed a similar result but started poorly, with returning goalkeeper Julio Cesar tested inside three minutes.

Suarez jinked past Clint Hill and unleashed a fierce strike that the Brazilian, recalled in place of Robert Green, could only parry.

Cesar may have wished he had stayed on the bench given the pressure he was under from the outset, with Suarez netting his first of the afternoon in the 10th minute.

The Uruguayan collected a pass from Jordan Henderson and ghosted past Hill with worrying ease, before striking low past the goalkeeper.

It was the 14th time this season that QPR had conceded the opening goal and in the 16th minute Liverpool doubled their advantage.

Suarez was again both scorer and creator, bursting along the byline from the right to produce a cross that Nedum Onuoha could only block straight into the striker's path, allowing him to net again.

Adel Taarabt and Djibril Cisse tried and failed with audacious efforts in a bid to reduce the deficit, although it was Liverpool still in the ascendancy.

Ryan Nelsen did superbly to stop Suarez connecting with a low Glen Johnson cross, before an unmarked Steven Gerrard tested Cesar from the resulting corner.

Liverpool did not have to wait long for their third goal, as Gerrard collected a short corner and sent in a right-wing cross for Agger to nod home.

Taarabt called Jose Reina into action for the first time shortly afterwards, although most of the action was still at the other end.

Jordan Henderson was inches away from Liverpool's fourth with a drilled 20-yard strike, before a Gerrard effort was cleared off the line by a combination of Armand Traore and Nelsen.

Taarabt struck a number of shots from distance as he tried to single-handedly claw QPR back, but the home team's efforts were met by boos at the half-time whistle.

The Hoops emerged for the second half with Shaun Derry on in place of Cisse as Redknapp switched to a 3-5-2 formation.

The move to make the home side sturdier worked for the most part, but the Reds were still creating chances.

Suarez saw a goalbound effort superbly tipped over by Cesar, before Gerrard and Henderson threatened.

QPR proved more of a threat in the second half and, after Traore flashed a cross-shot across goal, Stephane Mbia had two strikes from distances.

Jose Enrique limped off and was replaced by Suso as the game entered the final 20 minutes in which Liverpool shut up shop.

Mbia saw two further strikes as QPR searched for a consolation that never came as the 3,288 visiting supporters went home happy. Their QPR counterparts, though, were left to wonder where they go next.

Gerrard Heaps Praise On 'Magician' Suarez

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has praised the club’s “magician” Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan played a pivotal role in inflicting a 3-0 defeat on struggling Queens Park Rangers.

The former Ajax forward scored two goals in the first 20 minutes of this afternoon’s game at Loftus Road, adding his 12th and 13th goals of the Premier League campaign before Daniel Agger added a third before the half time whistle.

Despite Brendan Rodgers being unable to make the trip due to illness, the Reds never looked in doubt of taking all three points, and the club captain Gerrard was quick to praise the club's talismanic forward.

"He's been brilliant for us since he came to the club," Gerrard said, Sky Sports report. "Week in, week out he shows what a top player he is.

"These players have only got to play against him twice a year, we've got to train against him every day, he's a magician."

Northern Irishman Rodgers missed the trip to London after he was struck down with a virus that has also affected other members of the Liverpool coaching staff. Gerrard was also quick to praise the influence of his manager, despite his absence this afternoon.

"Yeah, it's tough [without Rodgers], there's a gap there," Gerrard explained. "You can tell when Brendan's not there, he's been fantastic since he came in.

"He's been brilliant to the players and when we knew he wasn't going to be coming today it was important that we got the three points for him and make sure he's getting looked after at home and he'll be happy with the lads On Sunday."

Liverpool Defender Jose Enrique Tears Hamstring

Liverpool defender Jose Enrique suffered a torn hamstring in Sunday's 3-0 win over QPR, Reds assistant boss Colin Pascoe has confirmed.

The Spaniard was substituted after pulling up 71 minutes into the game at Loftus Road, which the Merseyside club won thanks to Daniel Agger's header and a Luis Suarez double.

And Pascoe, who led the team in the absence of the ill Brendan Rodgers, has now conceded that Liverpool may be without the full-back for some time.

"Unfortunately it looks like he's got a tear in his hamstring," he told reporters.

"He was terrific on Sunday, absolutely superb, and the way he's been performing these last couple of months has been a joy to watch.

"It's a shame, and hopefully he's not out for too long."

The 26-year-old has appeared in 12 Premier Leagues so far this season.

Liverpool Make Sneijder Bid

Liverpool has made a bid for want away Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder, Gazzetta dello Sport have claimed.

The Milan-based paper has reported that the Premier League club has made a bid in the region of €10m for the Dutch international.

The 28-year-old has been embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with the Nerazzurri after he refused to sign a new deal with reduced wages.

Coach Andrea Stramaccioni has since refused to play the former Real Madrid man, with a number of clubs around Europe being linked with his services.

Manchester United, Schalke and Tottenham have all been reportedly interested in Sneijder, but Gazzetta believe Brendan Rodgers' team can be considered serious contenders for his signature.

Two stumbling blocks for the move however could be the lack of Champions League football the Anfield club can offer, as well as the player's wage demands.

Liverpool & Newcastle Fight For Nicolas Isimat Mirin

Liverpool is ready to go head-to-head with Newcastle for highly-rated Valenciennes central defender Nicolas Isimat Mirin, according to reports.

The 21-year-old defender is one of a number of blossoming talents in the French league, and both the Reds and Magpies have him on their list of targets for the January transfer window.

Indeed, Liverpool are reportedly the front-runners, having been scouting Mirin all season, while Newcastle chief scout Graham Carr is also urging his club to make a bid.

The two clubs are now set to battle it out in the new year, with Valenciennes ready to do business for around £4million.

Ligue 1 outfits Lyon and PSG have also expressed an interest, but Mirin is said to favour a switch abroad, despite making just 31 first-team appearances.

According to French radio station RMC, Valenciennes would ideally opt to do business with a club that would allow Mirin to remain with them on loan until the end of the season.

Chelsea And Liverpool Still In The Race For Brazil Star

Chelsea and Liverpool remain in the hunt to sign AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato after Corinthians denied stories that they had agreed a deal to sign the Brazilian star.

Pato has been strongly linked with a move back to South America and reports circulated that Corinthians had agreed a move with the prolific forward.

But the 23-year-old has still got a long way to go before a deal can be finalized.

The news will come as a big boost to both Chelsea and Liverpool who have both been linked with Pato.

The talented forward stated during the summer that he could be tempted by a move to the Premier League and both Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers are monitoring his situation closely.

Corinthians remain the favourites to sign him but both Chelsea and Liverpool are waiting to pounce if the deal falls through.

Corinthians director Duilio Monteiro Alves said: "I had a meeting with the CEO of Milan [Adriano Galliani].

"It was only an initial talk - the negotiation is complicated. The figure is high and the player is young. Galliani and I will meet next week and we will talk more."

Aldridge Says Liverpool Should Try To Sign Walcott And Ba

John Aldridge has urged Liverpool's owners to splash £20million on signing both Theo Walcott and Demba Ba during the January transfer window.

The former striker feels the club's transfer policy has not been particularly successful in recent years with millions spent on the likes of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll.

Brendan Rodgers looks set to close a deal for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge in January, but Aldridge wants to see more attacking options added to the squad and says Walcott and Ba would be ideal cut-price signings due to their contract situations at Arsenal and Newcastle respectively.

He told Goals on Sunday: "With all due respect we've paid a lot of money for people that haven't fitted the bill, £20million here and there.

"I'm only speaking hypothetically, but Demba Ba - what a couple of seasons he's had! He's mobile, he's a presence up front and he's strong.

"And Walcott as well... you'd probably get them two now for £20million. It's only hypothetical, but I think they are the type of players that they are looking at.

"Whether they'll come or not is a different matter. If Sturridge comes that's fine, but we can't just stop there. We need more potential players up front who can get you a goal."

Walcott's Arsenal contract expires at the end of the season and Aldridge says he would be the perfect fit to play in Rodgers' 4-3-3 system, alongside Luis Suarez.

And while he's not convinced the England striker, who scored his second hat-trick of the season against Newcastle on Saturday, would move to Anfield, he says Liverpool should be looking for forwards of the highest quality.

"To take us on to the next stage we should be looking to match the quality of Suarez alongside him," Aldridge added.

"One of the problems Brendan had when he came in was he changed the system from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 and in a 4-3-3 system the three up front have to be strikers / semi-strikers like Walcott or Sturridge.

"We got rid of Craig Bellamy, Maxi and Dirk Kuyt who fit that bill. They will get you goals from the wide areas. You're always going to get goals from your striker, but you need your left and right-hand front men to chip in.

"But the players we've been left with, with all due respect to them, are wide men in a 4-4-2. Raheem Sterling and Downing are not strikers.

"So what he has to find now are the people that can play up alongside Luis Suarez. Sturridge could fit the bill and Walcott would be ideal, from my point of view, to play in that system.

"But I don't think Arsene Wenger can afford to let him go. Whatever his demands are at the moment, he has to match them.

"He's scored two hat-tricks playing down the middle. He's a fantastic player and against Newcastle he showed the potential in his play."

QPR In Negotiations With Liverpool Over Joe Cole

Sky Sports understands Queens Park Rangers are in talks with Liverpool over a move for Joe Cole.

The former England international, who earns a reported £90,000 a week, is expected to leave Anfield in January as he does not feature in boss Brendan Rodgers' long-term plans.

QPR manager Harry Redknapp hopes to take advantage and take former West Ham United colleague Cole to Loftus Road to help in their fight against Premier League relegation.

The playmaker was not a member of Liverpool's squad in Sunday's comfortable win at QPR, which ensured the London club stayed bottom of the table.

And Cole's absence has only increased speculation he will be on the move when the transfer window opens next week.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Match Preview: QPR vs Liverpool

Queens Park Rangers are looking to end a turbulent 2012 on a high by earning a much-needed Premier League victory against visitors Liverpool in Sunday's televised clash.

Rangers are rooted to the bottom of the table after just one win in their opening 19 matches of the season.

However, supporters are hoping another memorable home victory against the Reds can be the catalyst for survival once again.

The Hoops trailed 2-0 with 13 minutes left in last season's corresponding fixture, before fighting back to win 3-2 and move out of the relegation zone.

It sparked a run of five victories in their final 10 matches to avoid an instant return to the Championship.

Redknapp replaced predecessor Mark Hughes in late November, after the Welshman paid the price for this season's woeful start, and it sparked an initial upturn in the Hoops' fortunes before successive defeats against Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion ruined their Christmas.

Rangers are six points adrift of safety and will be pinning their hopes on ex-Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse firing them to victory against his former club, who have been consistently inconsistent over the past 12 months.

The Reds have shown glimpses of progress under Brendan Rodgers, but the statistics show the 10th-placed club have never accumulated fewer points at the halfway stage of the season since three points for a win rule was introduced in 1981.

However, despite Boxing Day's 3-1 defeat at Stoke, they remain just eight points behind the top four.

Defeat at the Britannia came after a 4-0 rout of Fulham and Rodgers, who has been backed by the Anfield crowd, will be aiming to go into 2013 with a heartening away win as he aims to haul Liverpool back into the Champions League.

Liverpool is sweating on the fitness of top scorer Luis Suarez for the trip to Loftus Road.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers says the Uruguayan striker has been hampered by an ankle injury in recent weeks and could be forced out of the clash.

Former QPR youngster Raheem Sterling is pushing for a start.

Rodgers Rejects Roy Comparisons

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has brushed off any comparison of his record with that of former Reds boss Roy Hodgson.

Defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day meant the Northern Irishman has exactly the same points haul - 25 - from 19 league matches as that of the now England manager.

Hodgson did not make it past 20 league games as defeat at Blackburn in early January 2011 put an end to a difficult and much-criticized six months in charge.

Rodgers benefits from a position of greater strength as he was the choice of owners Fenway Sports Group in the summer and while his record may not be as good as predecessor Kenny Dalglish, he is working to a different set of objectives than those given to the Scot.

He is a long way from his position becoming under threat and insists progress has been made with plenty more to come.

"I don't think about them to be honest, it is not something I am overly worried about," he said of comparisons with Hodgson's record.

"I have been brought in here to do a job and the owners have been brilliant with me.

"The backing I've had from supporters has been incredible considering and that is the most important group really.

"They recognize what is going on, they understand like I would understand the frustration.

"Any comparisons I don't really focus on and it is difficult to compare the two groups because there is a lot of youthfulness in this group but yet still a lot of growth left in the team.

"There is a lot of progressing to do because we're 10th in the table and this is a club which wants to be at the very top but the only way you can do that is by reconstruction of the work and building the squad.

"That is what is going to take a bit of time. I always say it's like a good meal - I'm not a great cook but a good meal takes a wee bit of time but also to offer a good meal you need good ingredients.

"That is something we will do over time and hopefully put a nice meal on the table for supporters."

A deal for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge has virtually been done while the club are still pursuing Blackpool winger Tom Ince.

However, club sources told Press Association Sport "to treat as rubbish" comments by Birmingham chairman Peter Pannu suggesting the club was in talks with Liverpool over goalkeeper Jack Butland.

"I understand there are talks with Liverpool, I understand that Everton might be interested, Southampton gave me an offer in the past, I know not whether they want him," Pannu told the Birmingham Mail.

Speculation has linked Butland with a move to Anfield for weeks but earlier this month Rodgers stressed he was not looking for another goalkeeper in January.

Only a fortnight ago second-choice goalkeeper Brad Jones signed a new contract and while rumours persist about Jose Reina's future it seems inconceivable Rodgers would let him go in January, if at all.

"We certainly won't be able to do everything in January that would help us, but we'll be able to make some additions that will help the group," said the Reds boss.

"We can look forward to that and then review it again in the summer.

"There are very few names we have actually enquired about, but we're hoping we'll be able to do something in January pretty early on.

"We need that wee bit more experience, especially at the top end of the field.

"We're hopeful we can do that and then we'll see what else January can bring for us.

"We won't be spending a great deal of money. It'll be between January and the summer time that we can look at progressing the group and then hopefully go again."

Birmingham Confirm Liverpool In Talks With Butland

Liverpool has opened talks to sign England goalkeeper Jack Butland, Birmingham acting chairman Peter Pannu has confirmed.

Pannu has admitted that he is prepared to sell Butland, along with other key players, in January to stop the Championship club from going into administration.

Birmingham have hit financial trouble because of debts incurred by parent company Birmingham International Holdings Limited, as well as loss of revenue caused by relegation from the Premier League in 2011 and the fact that owner Carson Yeung has had assets frozen as he prepares to face money laundering charges in Hong Kong.

Butland, 19, has become one of the club's most valuable assets, playing from Great Britain at last summer's Olympic football tournament and making his England debut in a friendly against Italy in Berne in August.

He only made his Birmingham debut on the opening day of the Championship season against Charlton, but has firmly established himself as the club's first-choice keeper.

Southampton and Everton both expressed an interest in signing him in August, but although Pannu rejected those approaches, he has admitted that he will find it much harder to fend off Liverpool when the transfer window opens.

"Let's use Butland as an example," Pannu told the Birmingham Mail. "I understand there are talks with Liverpool, I understand that Everton might be interested, Southampton gave me an offer in the past, I know not whether they want him. His is a phenomenal player and let's move this from another angle.

"For example, if Liverpool comes in for Butland, do you not think Butland wouldn't want to go there? Even if Liverpool came to me with £4 million, I'm sure if his agent is doing a proper job he will blow my door down and say he wants the Liverpool opportunity."

Pannu insisted that any money brought in from sales would go towards keeping Birmingham afloat.

"If I allow this club to go into administration, I think I will never [be able to] step foot in Birmingham [again]. Never. And I am not going to allow that to happen," he added. "If I do annoy the fans and I do dispose of players, it will be to keep the club afloat.

"What I can say is that - and I might be blasted for this by the fans - but no one is for sale and everyone is available. As in any club. Give me a £15 million offer for Jack Butland, can I say no?

"I have rejected £6 million from Southampton [in the summer] but I rejected it when our finances were OK. As the time is ticking, I might not be able to reject it if I get something similar."

Newcastle Will Receive Just £5m For Ba

Alan Pardew's hopes of persuading Demba Ba to ditch his release clause look doomed after it emerged the Newcastle striker stands to pocket an incredible £2.5million from it.

Angered by the constant speculation caused by the £7.5m exit clause in Ba’s contract, Pardew challenged him to drop it and negotiate a new deal or be put up for sale.

The ultimatum looks like having only one outcome, following news of the windfall awaiting Newcastle’s top scorer once the contractual agreement kicks in.

Anyone offering the stipulated amount will not only land one of the Barclays Premier League’s most accomplished finishers but make him £2.5m richer, according to The Sun, with just £5m going to Newcastle.

It is a nightmare scenario for Pardew, who already feared he would be ill-equipped to recruit an adequate replacement with £7.5m at his disposal. With the figure trimmed to £5m, he will find it even harder to fill the boots of the Senegal marksman, who now seems certain to be heading out of Tyneside when the window opens next week.

Ba has stubbornly resisted all efforts to draw him to the negotiating table, and the reasons why are now evident after it transpired a third of the fee will go directly to him.

A free transfer from West Ham 18 months ago, the 11-goal marksman has attracted strong interest from Arsenal, QPR, Liverpool and Paris St Germain, who will all be alerted to a development that signals his imminent departure.

The 27-year old is thought to favour a move to The Emirates, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has reservations over his £80,000-a-week wage demands, particularly given the knee problems that deterred other clubs from moving for him when he arrived from the Bundesliga.

Wenger has not ruled out a third spell at the club for Thierry Henry despite being linked with the Newcastle striker as well as Barcelona's David Villa.

New York Red Bulls striker Henry reported for training with the Gunners today during the MLS close-season.

'I’ve not lost interest in him,' said Wenger when asked about the Arsenal record scorer.

'He’s still coming today to practice with us. We are very close but at the moment, I think he has had a second spell at the Club that was very successful. You have to be cautious that it’s not one time too many. I have not completely ruled it out but I haven’t spoken about it with him at all.'

Wenger added: 'I like Demba Ba, yes, but I don’t think this is the right place to speak about that, because he plays against us on Saturday. I wouldn’t like to put Newcastle or us or him in an uncomfortable position. If you ask me "Do we sign Demba Ba?" I say no.'

Pardew is already making plans for life without Ba and is lining up a move for Marseille’s Loic Remy.

However, Pardew is trying to remain confident the player is happy to stay in the North East, but will not allow the speculation to drag on until summer.

The 51-year-old said: 'Really and truly this window is the key, I think, because if Demba goes in this window, it will cause us a problem.

'I think he will stay, but there's a possibility he could go because of the clause that's still in force. In the summer, I won't let it run until the summer. I'll do something about it.

'We will either move Demba on or we will secure him in the summer.'

Sturridge And Ince Set To Sign But.....?

Daniel Sturridge and Tom Ince remain Anfield-bound in January, but Brendan Rodgers is adamant his main transfer strategy for reviving Liverpool’s fortunes will be played out at the end of the season.

Chelsea striker Sturridge has already had a medical on Merseyside, while Blackpool forward Ince will follow him into Anfield, as Rodgers looks to give his team more attacking impetus.

But the additions Rodgers sees as vital to restoring Liverpool to their former status as regulars in the Champions’ League will be made after he completes an in-depth review of his first season in charge.

Rodgers cites instilling greater consistency as his main objective, and, much as Sturridge and Ince are expected to add energy and drive to the second half of Liverpool’s season, he admitted he will be looking for proven top-flight performers when the window reopens in the summer.

‘We have enquired about some players and hope to be able to do something in January,’ said the Liverpool manager.

‘There are a lot of names being mentioned, but we should be able to make some additions and make them pretty early.

‘But the main review will take place in the summer, and it is clear we need that bit of experience up at the top end of the field.

'The best and most important period will be between now and the end of the season, when we can look at what needs to be done, in terms of progressing the club further, and then go again.’

Bayern Munich Enter Race For Liverpool Target

Bayern Munich has entered the running to sign Schalke contract rebel Lewis Holtby.

The midfielder has been strongly linked with a move to Liverpool after failing to agree terms with the German club.

Schalke held another round of talks with Holtby recently but they could not find a resolution and he is likely to leave in January.

Brendan Rodgers has made his interest known but news of Bayern's interest will concern him.
Holtby, 22, is said to be keen on a move to the Premier League but Bayern will make a late effort to try and land him.

Wigan Star Dismisses Liverpool Rumours

Franco Di Santo has taken to Twitter to quash rumours that Liverpool are set to make a move for him in the transfer window.

After a slow start to his Premier League career at Chelsea and then on-loan with Blackburn, the Wigan striker, 23, has enjoyed a new lease of life in the North West over the last season-and-a-half.

And this upturn in form has reportedly seen Brendan Rodgers become interested in his future, as the Argentine’s contract at the DW Stadium ends at the end of the season.

But Di Santo has claimed the gossip is just paper talk and insisted he is negotiating a new contract with Roberto Martinez’s side.

He tweeted: “I'm a Wigan player and I have contract until June and we are in negotiations and I don't have idea about what the news paper said.

Liverpool Eyeing Permanent Deal For Sahin

Liverpool is weighing up a move to make Nuri Sahin's stay at the club a permanent switch.

The midfielder joined the Anfield club on a season-long loan from Real Madrid in a bid to gain regular first-team experience but has been restricted to just seven Premier League appearances.

Sahin recently returned to the Reds squad after undergoing surgery for a broken nose sustained during the decisive Europa League group game with Udinese earlier this month but has failed to feature in a domestic outing since an hour-long run-out in November's 1-1 draw at Chelsea.

But the 24-year-old could be set to stay and fight for his place at Liverpool with Madrid appearing unconvinced by his lack of opportunities since moving to England just three months ago, combined with an unspectacular debut season in the Spanish capital, where he made just 10 outings.

Under-fire Real boss Jose Mourinho had originally planned to use Sahin as a foil for former Borussia Dortmund team mate Mario Gotze, who was also part of their Bundesliga-winning side in 2011, should the reigning La Liga champions secure his signature but is understood to have since reconsidered.

It is a view shared by Bernabeu chiefs, who are prepared to cut their losses on the Turkey international barely 20 months since he arrived for a fee in the region of £8 million. Despite approaching his mid-twenties, Sahin's permanent capture would be a move for longevity and echo that of winger Oussama Assaidi, also 24, who joined last summer from Heerenveen for £3 million.

However Madrid's determination to hold firm on their £14 million buyout clause for Sahin, whose current contract runs until 2017, in a bid to ensure a modest profit remains a key stumbling block.

Joe Cole Seeking £3.6million Pay-Off

Joe Cole is requesting a £3.6m pay-off from Liverpool to quit the Merseyside club in January.

The former Chelsea and West Ham midfielder joined the Reds in 2010 but has failed to make an impact at Anfield – with just 42 appearances in his two-and-a-half year spell at the club – and spent last season on loan at French side Lille.

Cole is now seeking a move away from Liverpool, with both QPR and Reading circling, but is demanding a £3.6m pay-off with 18 months still remaining on his contract.

The 31-year-old, whose contract is currently worth around £100,000 a week, is unlikely to be offered more than £30,000 a week from either of his prospective suitors and wants Liverpool to help make up the shortfall, with Brendan Rodgers keen to get him off the club’s wage bill.

Should an agreement be reached to terminate Cole’s contract, the midfielder would be free to sign for another club when the transfer window opens on Tuesday, with relegation-threatened duo QPR and Reading the frontrunners for his signature.

Assaidi Heading To Cup Of Nations

Reds midfielder Oussama Assaidi has been named in Morocco's provisional squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

The 24-year-old, who has made 10 appearances for Liverpool since arriving at Anfield last summer, was included among the 24-man selection by coach Rachid Taoussi.

Morocco have been drawn alongside hosts South Africa, plus Angola and Cape Verde, for the tournament - which kicks off on January 19 and concludes with the final on February 10.

Assaidi has represented his country on nine occasions, scoring once - against Algeria in June 2011.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Match Report: Stoke City 3 - 1 Liverpool

Boyhood Everton fan Jon Walters proved to be the scourge of Liverpool for the second successive season at the Britannia Stadium as the Reds' woeful run in the Potteries continued.

Walters scored either side of Kenwyne Jones' header after the visitors had taken the lead through a Steven Gerrard penalty awarded in the first minute.

The Merseyside-born 29-year-old was the match-winner on this ground in September 2011 with the only goal of the game from the spot.

And his two strikes took him level with Ricardo Fuller as the club's joint leading Premier League goalscorer with 18.

But this victory also owed plenty to Stoke's ability to battle and unsettle opponents and recover from going behind so early on in the game.

That ensured Liverpool left still looking for their first Premier League win at their bogey ground, with just two draws and three defeats in their five visits since Stoke were promoted.

Tony Pulis' side secured a third successive home league victory over Liverpool for the first time since 1956-57 and extended their unbeaten league run at the Britannia to 16 matches, a sequence stretching back to February.

Stoke fans appear to have a particular dislike of striker Luis Suarez and that animosity was amplified almost as soon as the match kicked off.

There were 32 seconds on the clock when Suarez broke into the right-hand side of the penalty area and was pulled back by Ryan Shawcross.

The Stoke captain's hands-on approach has earned him many critics in recent weeks and referee Howard Webb was definitely not a fan as he immediately pointed to the spot.

It was the first time in 32 matches Liverpool had been awarded a penalty and Gerrard was in no mood to squander the opportunity as he coolly stroked home for the third successive league game - a feat last achieved in December 2007.

Liverpool fans were finally able to fulfil the promise they have been singing about for weeks as they did indeed 'party when Suarez got a pen', accompanied by a plume of red smoke which engulfed the away end from a flare which had been let off.

However, the celebrations were short lived as the home side were not only level four minutes later but ahead with just over 12 minutes gone.

A customary long ball forward could only be flicked backwards by Daniel Agger and with Martin Skrtel losing his footing Walters capitalized to smash a shot past Jose Reina.

The aerial bombardment continued but there will be questions asked in the Liverpool defence about Stoke's second from a corner as Jones was able to jump virtually unchallenged to head in at the undefended near post.

It would have been worse for the Reds had Reina not thrown up a hand to tip over Matthew Etherington's shot.

The closest Liverpool came to equalizing before the break was when Gerrard stabbed wide from Stewart Downing's cut-back on the left.

Half-time brought a change for the visitors with Raheem Sterling replacing Suso and the substitute almost had an immediate impact with Suarez bundling his cross wide at the near post.

But Liverpool's hopes of getting back on level terms quickly were extinguished with Walters' second of the night.

The defence again failed to deal with a long throw as Jones flicked on for his strike partner to control the ball on his chest and hammer home a dipping volley.

With the hard work done all Stoke had to do was keep it tight at the back, something they have become increasingly good at this season with a top-flight best nine clean sheets, and look to hit break on the counter-attack.

Liverpool failed to really trouble the defence of Asmir Begovic - the best being Gerrard's long-range curling shot which the goalkeeper palmed clear - as Suarez became an increasingly isolated and frustrated figure up front.

Stoke's win moved them up to eighth in the table, within five points of fourth-placed Tottenham while a sixth defeat of the season for Rodgers' side leaves them rooted in mid-table.

Brendan: We Need To Find Consistency

Brendan Rodgers reflected on Liverpool's 3-1 defeat against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium and reiterated calls for his side to be more consistent in their play.

The Reds took the lead after two minutes against Tony Pulis's side on Wednesday night; however, Jonathan Walters equalized before Kenwyne Jones added a second and Walters made it 3-1.

"I said during the week and last week that [consistency] will be the biggest thing for the group," explained the manager during his post-match press conference.

"We were terrific at the weekend [against Fulham] but you have got to be able to put a run of games together - if not you just keep taking two or three steps forward and making one or two back and then going again.

"That's been the nature of the group over the last couple of years in terms of where we have finished. We're looking to improve that. There is still an awful lot of work to do.

"We conceded soft goals last night after a great start. A terrific ball by Martin Skrtel and a bit of magic by Luis for our first pen of the season and Steven sticks it away perfectly. We are one-up in a difficult place to score goals.

"The first goal [we conceded] we were rather unfortunate - Skrtel slips and then Walters finishes really well. But the other two goals, we have to be better than that. The players have to be better in those moments.

"You have to earn the right to play in whatever game - and in particular when you come to here. You know you are going to get pressed. I have no doubt about the characters we have - we have some big characters and big players, but last night it was just too easy for them."

Asked about the importance of bolstering his squad during the upcoming transfer window, the manager insisted: "I'm not thinking about that now. I'm thinking about the game last night and reflecting on that and how we can be better because it was very disappointing.

"Credit to Stoke - what they do, they do very well. They kept working and deserved the three points. January will come and there will be one or two bits of business. But my main thought is about the next game and improving our performance level."

Luis Suarez collided with Asmir Begovic late in the second half and Rodgers explained how the Uruguayan was forced to put ice on his ankle afterwards to stop the swelling.

"He's been playing with a swollen ankle for the last few weeks," said Rodgers. "We'll wait until the morning to see how he is but he is a warrior and he should be fine for the weekend.

"I think he was unfortunate to pick up a booking [in that challenge]. He's not even looked at the 'keeper - he's trying to swivel on the ball. I thought it was a bit unfair he picked up a booking for that."

Jose: We Must Show More Character

Jose Enrique believes Liverpool need to show more character if they are to achieve a top-four finish this season after the Reds lost 3-1 to Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day.

Things had started so well for the visitors when Steven Gerrard fired them in front with their first penalty of the season, but Stoke fought back to take the points, and the left-back admitted it was a bitter pill to swallow.

"I thought after the penalty we were going to win the game but overall they played better than us and we didn't deserve the three points," Enrique told

"We need more experience and need to show more character in these type of games.

"You can see we have quality players and we have a good squad, but we need fo fight for every point we play for if we want to be in the top-four.

"We have to get a winning mentality going and we have to show what we are all about."

Liverpool head to Harry Redknapp's Queens Park Rangers on Sunday and Enrique is hoping the Reds can end 2012 on a winning note.

He added: "We need to bounce back from this defeat and we need to go to QPR and win.

"Every game in this league is difficult but you have to give 100 per cent every time you play for this club and show character."

Rodgers Sweats On Suarez's Fitness

Brendan Rodgers admits Luis Suarez could miss Liverpool's trip to QPR on Sunday with an ankle injury.

The Uruguayan has been struggling with the problem for a number of weeks, but Rodgers does not know if the striker can continue to play with the pain and could be forced to rest him at Loftus Road.

Speaking after Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day, Rodgers said Suarez would have a fitness test before a final decision is made.

"Luis Suarez has been playing with a swollen ankle for the last few weeks," he said. "We will assess him and see how he is."

Rodgers was left frustrated with his defence as Liverpool suffered a second defeat in three matches, suffering defeat at the Britannia Stadium despite taking an early lead through Steven Gerrard's penalty.

"It was a great start for us, when you come away from home it's great to go a goal up, but we just gave away poor goals tonight. I think all three goals were actually quite straightforward to defend," he said. "Obviously Martin Skrtel slips (for the first), which is unfortunate, but the other two goals we've got to do much better than that. So that was the disappointment really.

"We got into some good areas but ultimately when you come to places like here, which is a difficult place to come, you've got to defend better or else you get nothing, and we probably deserve nothing because of that."

Liverpool Eyeing January Move For Argentina Striker

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers could be set to sign another striker as he is keeping tabs on Wigan’s Franco Di Santo.

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez publicly insists they are hopeful of keeping the 23-year-old Argentina international.

But privately the Wigan hierarchy fear he will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season.

That has alerted Rodgers who knows Di Santo from their days together as young player and coach at Chelsea.

Rodgers remains an admirer and if it is a deal he can get done for free next summer to bolster his squad then it will appeal.

Liverpool have already agreed a deal with Chelsea for Daniel Sturridge to join in January for around £12m.

That will take the pressure off Luis Suarez but, with Andy Carroll out on loan and likely to leave in a permanent deal, Liverpool still see it as an area they want to strengthen.

Rodgers has made a habit of signing former players who he rates, trusts and believes in and Di Santo also fits into his style of football.

Wigan will try to keep Di Santo but may be fighting a losing battle.

Liverpool Target Holtby To Leave Schalke On Free Transfer

Schalke midfielder Lewis Holtby has decided against renewing his contract with the Bundesliga club, paving the way for a potential move to Liverpool in the summer.

The former Alemannia Aachen star's camp have been in negotiations with Schalke for several months but can reveal that the two parties have failed to reach an agreement, with a switch away from the Veltins Arena now looking a certainty. exclusively revealed back in October that Liverpool had identified the 22-year-old Germany international as one of their primary transfer targets and Brendan Rodgers' side could now look to step up their interest in the player in the January transfer window.

Under the Bosman ruling, Holtby, whose current deal with the Gelsenkirchen outfit expires in the summer of 2013, would be free to negotiate a contract with potential suitors in the new year and Liverpool could look to pounce.

The Reds, who were soundly beaten by Stoke City in the Premier League on Wednesday, have been lacking in depth in attacking areas, with Luis Suarez carrying the goalscoring burden alongside fleeting contributions from the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jonjo Shelvey.

Reports had suggested that Everton fan Holtby had demanded almost £5 million a year to commit his future to Schalke although the player's agent Markus Noack rubbished those rumours, telling that such a figure had been "plucked from the air".

Schalke, who currently lie in seventh place in the Bundesliga table and face Galatasaray in the last 16 of the Champions League in February, tied down influential striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to a new contract on Sunday although appear to have lost the battle to keep another of their prized assets.

Jens Keller's side are expected to make an announcement on Holtby's future later on Thursday with the midfielder seemingly now set for the Premier League having made no secret of his desire to make the move to England in the past.

Premier League Clubs Tussle For England Youth Star

Fulham is leading the Premier League pursuit of Derby teenage sensation Will Hughes, but face competition from Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, according to the Daily Mirror.

The 17-year-old England youth international is a January target for a number of the Premier League’s biggest clubs, but Fulham are thought to have moved first in the race to sign the young playmaker.

Cottagers boss Martin Jol has revealed the west London club are firm admirers of Hughes, who has sparkled in the Championship this season for Derby.

Speaking in the Daily Mirror, Jol said: “Believe me, there is probably 10 clubs in the Barclays Premier League having a look at him. He is one of these wonderful talents so he is always on lists. If you have a good scouting system, he will always be on the list but we will see.”

Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea are all believed to be among the Premier League clubs scouting Hughes, who received his first call up to Stuart Pearce’s England under-21 squad this season.

Arsenal has a strong reputation when it comes to buying players from the lower divisions of English football. Arsene Wenger bought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott from Southampton, and Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff, while Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is known to give youth a chance in his first-team.

Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom, all teenagers, have played extensive first-team football for the Anfield club this season. As for Chelsea and Spurs, the two London clubs are expected to be busy during the January transfer window – both have money to spend – and a move for Hughes could be on the cards.

Still, the Daily Mirror reports Fulham lead the chase for the young midfielder, and Martin Jol may feel the need for strengthening in the middle of the park is great, with Mahamadou Diarra set to join Mali at the African Cup of Nations, and Mousa Dembele, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu all sold during the summer.