Thursday, January 26, 2012

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 2 Man City

Liverpool set up a Carling Cup final against Cardiff after playing out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Manchester City at Anfield to advance 3-2 on aggregate.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, City quickly drew level on aggregate thanks to a superb long-range strike from defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong that flew into the top corner.

Liverpool hit back before half-time when Micah Richards was harshly penalized for handball after a deflection off his leg onto the arm, and Steven Gerrard stepped up to score from the spot.

The Reds kept pushing forward at the start of the second half but a number of superb saves from Joe Hart prevented them from moving into a position of complete control.

City then grabbed a goal against the run of play on 67 minutes to make it 2-1 on the night, with Edin Dzeko converting an excellent Aleksandar Kolarov cross from close range.

Liverpool were not to be denied, though, as Craig Bellamy rounded off a flowing move with a fine finish in the 74th minute to leave City with it all to do in the closing stages.

Roberto Mancini's side battled hard in an effort to send the tie to extra time but the hosts held firm to book a spot at Wembley.

Mancini's decision to start with three centre-backs - Joleon Lescott and Richards either side of the nervy Stefan Savic, with top scorer Sergio Aguero dropped to the bench - looked over-cautious and Liverpool seized the initiative.

Kolarov almost gifted Jose Enrique an opener in the fourth minute from a sliced clearance back across goal but Hart's outstretched foot block the left-back's shot and Stewart Downing screwed his follow-up volley wide.

Gerrard, tasked with a watching brief on David Silva, was booked for an early foul on Gareth Barry but it was the tackle of Charlie Adam on Dzeko from Silva's corner which could have done more damage to Liverpool but there were few City appeals for a penalty and referee Phil Dowd was unmoved.

Bellamy was Liverpool's most threatening outlet and he drew another save out of Hart after turning Savic on the edge of the box before having a goal disallowed for offside.

The home side dominated the opening half-hour but they were hit with a career-best goal from De Jong.

Having collected a square pass from Silva 30 yards out the trajectory of his sweetly-struck shot started outside Jose Reina's left-hand post but curled back enough to brilliantly beat the goalkeeper.

De Jong goals are a rarity - it was only his second in 118 appearances - but there was far more familiarity about the goal which put Liverpool back in front on aggregate.

Dowd generously decided Daniel Agger's shot which deflected up off Richards and on to his arm was a penalty and Gerrard, scorer from the spot in the first encounter, fired home to make it four consecutive goals in league cup semi-finals, having scored in both legs against Watford in 2005.

Savic was replaced by Aguero for the second half as City reverted to a flat back four but Liverpool were first to threaten again as Gerrard whipped in a free-kick from the left and Hart half-punched only to redeem himself by tipping over Martin Skrtel's goalbound shot.

The England goalkeeper, as he had done in November's league draw at Anfield, superbly kept the Reds at bay again when he tipped over Downing's downward volley from Dirk Kuyt's cross.

Silva wasted a free-kick from the right after the Spaniard was booked for fouling Zabaleta but there could not have been a greater contrast with Kolarov's cross in the 67th minute.

The Serbian drilled a low ball from wide on the left across Liverpool's six-yard box for Dzeko, who had lost Agger, to tap in at the far post.

Liverpool has a habit of producing fairytale finishes under the Anfield floodlights and so it proved.

Kuyt's pass in from the right to Bellamy was laid off to Glen Johnson who immediately bounced the ball back to the Welshman who curled home with his left foot.

Having effectively had his City career ended by Mancini after a fall-out with the Italian, it is unlikely the delicious irony was lost on the 32-year-old.

Kuyt headed wide Henderson's cross before Bellamy departed to a standing ovation, with even some among the City fans applauding his efforts.

Dalglish Savours Semi Success

Kenny Dalglish paid tribute to a 'fantastic performance' from Liverpool after watching his side book their place in the Carling Cup final.

The Reds held a 1-0 lead going into the second leg of their semi-final at Anfield but still displayed a positive attitude to finish the job and set up a Wembley showpiece against Cardiff.

Nigel de Jong's opener for Man City was cancelled out by a Steven Gerrard penalty, before City struck again through Edin Dzeko.

Craig Bellamy's fine finish secured a 3-2 aggregate success and left Dalglish bursting with pride after the final whistle.

"I think it was a fantastic performance. Although the game finished as a draw, we were deserved qualifiers for the final," the Scot told Sky Sports.

"The boys were magnificent last night and deserve a great deal of credit, and everybody in the squad has helped us get through.

"The supporters were magnificent and it is a great reward for them and the loyalty they have shown us, so for everybody at Liverpool it has been a fantastic evening."

Dalglish had further words of praise for the impressive Bellamy, who joined Liverpool from City last summer after being deemed surplus to requirements by Roberto Mancini.

"He was unbelievable. If Man City has anyone else like Craig that they don't want to keep, they know where we are," Dalglish said.

"He's been like that since he came in the door and it is fantastic to have him here."

Mancini Unhappy With Decisions

Roberto Mancini was left to bemoan a couple of refereeing calls that went against Manchester City after seeing Liverpool go through to the Carling Cup final.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, City had a lot of work to do at Anfield and opened the scoring thanks to Nigel de Jong's stunning strike from distance.

Steven Gerrard's penalty swung the tie back in Liverpool's favour, before Edin Dzeko scored from Aleksandar Kolarov's cross.

Craig Bellamy then grabbed the final goal of the night to eliminate City from the competition and send the Reds to a Wembley meeting with Cardiff.

While Liverpool dominated for long periods, Mancini felt the game hinged on two penalty decisions.

Referee Phil Dowd handed Liverpool a spot-kick when the ball reared up off Micah Richards' boot and hit his hand, but did not award one when Dzeko went down under Charlie Adam's challenge at the other end.

"We did a good performance, scored two goals. I think it was not a penalty for Liverpool and was for us. This changed the game," the Italian said.

"He (Richards) touched the ball on his leg, for this reason (it was not a penalty)."

When asked why his players did not vociferously appeal for a foul on Dzeko, Mancini added: "There is a referee on the pitch. It is enough.

"It was a penalty, incredible, clear. We did well, scored, we did some mistakes and conceded a stupid goal.

"We can do nothing."

Gerrard - Bellamy To Thank For

Steven Gerrard recognized the contribution of Craig Bellamy after Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.

The Reds booked their place in the final against Cardiff by playing out a 2-2 draw with City at Anfield on Wednesday - to maintain their advantage after a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago.

As he was then, Gerrard was on target from the penalty spot again, equalizing after Nigel de Jong's opener, before Craig Bellamy, a former City striker, scored after Edin Dzeko had put the visitors to Anfield 2-1 up on the night.

Liverpool last reached a domestic final in 2006 when they beat West Ham to the FA Cup in Cardiff, and the 26th February meeting will be their first Wembley appearance since 1996.

"It's a great feeling, it's been a while," Gerrard told Sky Sports.

"Since playing at Cardiff in 2006, it's been too long for this club. I'm delighted for everyone, especially the fans."

Gerrard was in no doubt who his side's star man was, with Bellamy hitting the decisive goal after City goalkeeper Joe Hart had produced a stunning one-man show to keep Liverpool at bay.

"Craig was the difference," Gerrard added.

"His pace was always a threat and we know that if a chance falls to him he can finish. It's a big thanks to him.

"We had to be positive and brave. Man City has so much quality and our decision to attack them paid off.

"Joe is a big character but I don't feel sorry for him. He's a top keeper and he will play in many finals. But it's our turn now and we have to go and lift that trophy."

Bellamy will get to face his hometown club in the final, as well as the side he played for last season.

"The omens were looking good going into the match last night after I saw Cardiff go through," the striker said.

"I was delighted for them and this couldn't be a better final for me.

"Cardiff means so much to me. It's funny how football can work out at times."

Liverpool And QPR Chasing Barcelona Midfielder Alexander Hleb

Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers have been alerted to the availability of former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb, with Barcelona ready to make the out-of-favour Belarusian a free agent, after talks over cancelling his contract.

The move comes two weeks after Hleb returned to Barcelona following a failed loan spell with Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg, who had asked to terminate his season-long agreement six months early, after the 30-year-old struggled with form and fitness, making just four appearances this term.

Hleb has also spent time on loan with Stuttgart and Birmingham City in the last two seasons, after manager Pep Guardiola lost patience with the versatile attacker in June 2009, just 12 months after signing him from Arsenal in a £15 million deal.

As Metro reported last month, Barcelona have been offering Hleb around Premier League clubs in a bid to get his hefty £90,000-a-week wages off their books, but with no takers, the reigning Spanish and European Champions are ready to make him a free agent with immediate effect.

Hleb is willing to accept a pay off by the Catalan club, and hopes he can now seal a return to English football, after recently admitting he wasted the best years of his career by opting to quit Arsenal in 2008: 'I've given away the best years of my career. And I hold no one responsible for it.'

Queens Park Rangers have shown a strong interest in bringing Hleb back to London, but Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is also keeping his options open, but has other targets in the pipeline at present.

Hleb is currently contracted to Barcelona until the end of the season.

Reds Hand Youngster Trial At Anfield

Liverpool have handed teenage Norwegian starlet Jakob Glesnes a one-week trial with the club.

The 17-year-old defender will travel to England on Sunday where he hopes to be enriched by his experience.

"I regard it as an opportunity to get a good week's training," Glesnes told Adresseavisen.

"I want to learn some things, show what I can do and return with some good experience."

Glesnes has previously had trials with Arsenal, Ipswich Town and Nottingham Forest.

Kenny Dalglish is keen to continue the club's recent policy of signing the best young talent from England and Europe.

Evra Set For Anfield

Mike Phelan has insisted Manchester United would not consider leaving Patrice Evra out of their game against Liverpool if he is fully fit.

United's FA Cup fourth-round tie with Liverpool will be the first time they have faced their old rivals since Evra levelled racism allegations at Luis Suarez that ended with the Uruguay forward landing an eight-match ban.

Suarez will still be suspended this weekend, a fact that is only likely to heighten the normal antagonism for United from the Kop.

Earlier this season, Sir Alex Ferguson left Wayne Rooney out of his starting line-up to face Liverpool due to the adverse reaction the striker receives in his home city, whilst last season, the United boss did not even take his star forward to former club Everton.

However, it seems Evra, likely to continue as captain in the absence of Nemanja Vidic with a season-ending injury, will be involved.

"It wouldn't be a consideration," said Phelan, when asked by Radio Manchester whether United had thought about leaving Evra out.

"Patrice Evra is a football player who plays for Manchester United.

"If he is fit, he is considered to play like any other player.

"What has happened has happened. What has been said has been said.

"You are talking about a football match now and I think it will be a very good FA Cup tie."

Ferguson Asks Fans To Behave At Anfield

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has written to the club's supporters, urging them to behave themselves at Liverpool on Saturday.

Improved behaviour by United fans at the Premier League match in October has led to a large increase in their ticket allocation being released for the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Anfield. However, it will be the first meeting between the teams since the race row between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez that ended with the Liverpool striker being given an eight-match suspension.

In a letter to supporters who have tickets for the game, Ferguson makes no reference to Evra or Suarez, or the row that he has said will have no impact on relations between the clubs. However, he does ask for "positive, witty and loud" support.

The letter said: "I wrote to fans attending the away match in October urging them to co-operate with stewards and officials at Liverpool so we can make a strong case for restoring our allocation for future United games at Anfield. The fans did almost everything asked of them. Please do everything you can to continue that good work.

"Your support is vital to the team and down the years that has been especially true at Anfield. But please put the emphasis on getting us into the next round and giving the sort of support you are famous for – positive, witty and loud."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Manchester City

A trip to Wembley and Liverpool’s first cup final in nearly five years are on the line on Wednesday, with Manchester City heading to Anfield for the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. Liverpool have a 1-0 advantage from the first leg after a Steven Gerrard penalty capped a dominant opening spell for Kenny Dalglish’s squad, but there’s little illusion that they’ll be able to coast into the final, with City more than capable of turning the tie over.

Thankfully there’s not a whole lot of time left to rehash the weekend’s failings, with any prolonged misery interrupted by a match that carries with it stakes, at least from a practical standpoint, that are higher than anything the club’s been involved in since the Europa League tie with Atletico Madrid just under two years ago. So sure, it’s the League Cup, but it’s also a match with some gravity to it at a time the club find themselves in desperate need of something to be positive about.

That it comes against the current league leaders adds to the challenge, particularly when considering that, after a frustrating finish to the match two weeks ago, they’ll be more than ready to press Liverpool relentlessly. They’ve rebounded nicely from the defeat in the first leg, getting past a plucky Wigan side 1-0 before beating Spurs 3-2 on a Mario Balotelli penalty in the final minutes of injury time on Sunday.

As Noel mentioned earlier, however, they’re likely to be without the match-winner on Wednesday, as the FA decided to pursue charges against him for Cobra Kai’ing Scott Parker’s face. Quotes from assistant David Platt indicate the club won’t dispute the retroactive red, which means the ban starts immediately. But as was the case in the first leg, there’s no lack of quality in the rest of the available personnel, even if they’re still missing the Toure brothers to the Africa Cup of Nations and Vincent Kompany in the last of his four-match ban. That leaves their defense as the main question mark, as Stefan Savic had a torrid time in the first leg and looks in line for another appearance on Wednesday.

Gerrard Keen To Finish The Job

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard wants to maintain focus ahead of Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final second leg - by banning talk of Wembley.

The Reds hold a 1-0 lead over Manchester City from the first leg and are favourites to progress ahead of the return game at Anfield, but Gerrard insists the team must prepare correctly.

Kenny Dalglish's side go into the tie after a woeful 3-1 defeat at Bolton on Saturday, leading some to conclude the team were already looking ahead to the big cup games this week.

Liverpool face Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday but Gerrard believes looking past Manchester City could be costly.

"(Wembley talk) has got to be banned because we haven't made it there yet," said the England international.

"Of course it enters your mind and you dream about it; that helps when it comes to motivation.

"But I don't think any of our players will be getting carried away or thinking we've already done the job.

"We know this is a big game and a tough game."

Liverpool have not won a trophy since lifting the 2006 FA Cup but Gerrard has plenty of big game experience of two-legged ties himself having won Champions League semi-finals in 2005 and 2007.

"I think experience is important, it always is," he told the official matchday program.

"Especially when you have a lead in such an important two-legged fixture.

"We need to play to our maximum. We need every player to turn up and play well to qualify.

"We need to ignore the scoreline and go into this game trying to win it. I think if we're too negative and try to just protect the lead it could be very dangerous."

Kenny - Reds Must Lift Fans

Kenny Dalglish insists Liverpool will give everything against Manchester City to get the fans back on side following Saturday's deflating defeat.

The Reds put in a woeful performance against Premier League strugglers Bolton at the weekend, going down 3-1 at the Reebok Stadium.

They have a chance to redeem themselves when they host leaders City at Anfield on Wednesday in the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final, having established a 1-0 lead at Ethiad Stadium last time out.

Manager Dalglish has vowed his players will work hard to ensure Reds supporters are celebrating by the final whistle.

"Hopefully it will be a fantastic occasion for everyone," he told Liverpool's official website.

"The punters will be turning up, there'll be loads of support for us but we need to do something that's going to get the supporters on our side. We can't always leave it for them to lift us, sometimes we need to lift them.

"We can't take it for granted that the fans are going to be there. We should never assume we're going to get the fantastic support that we do - we've got to earn that.

"They've got to see that we're up to put in a tremendous effort on Wednesday night to get a result for the club."

Liverpool are just 90 minutes away from a first Wembley appearance since 1996 but Dalglish is refusing to get carried away.

He added: "Let's not be running away with ourselves, let's make sure we get the hard work done first."

The Reds' poor display against Bolton prompted Dalglish to publicly criticise his players for the first time since returning as manager just over a year ago.

The Scot feels he was justified in his comments, adding: "I think what was said had to be said. At the end of the day I don't think anyone can object to the fact that we never played anything like we're capable of playing.

"In the past we've rightly praised them when they've deserved it, we've given them plaudits when we've done well and we've congratulated them for the way they've gone about their work.

"When you've been critical it doesn't mean to say you're getting any pleasure from it because at the end of the day we're all in it together. It's not the coaching staff and the players, it's everybody."

Liverpool Have Moved On

Liverpool first-team coach Steve Clarke believes the club has collectively accepted the consequences of defeat to Bolton and has already moved on from the misery.

Kenny Dalglish's men were last weekend embarrassed in a dire 3-1 loss at the Reebok Stadium and the manager for the first time turned criticism onto his players.

The Scot accused his squad of lacking respect for Bolton and blamed them for being preoccupied with Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City.

This weekend's forthcoming FA Cup tie against Manchester United also acted as a distraction, according to Dalglish, who said some of his players' futures were under scrutiny.

But coach Clarke insists the fall-out from the Bolton defeat is now a thing of the past, as he said "There has been a line drawn under it as far as we are concerned.

"Hopefully we've put it to bed.

"We have spoken about the game, we know it wasn't a good performance, we accept that and we try to move on and improve in the future.

"We all have to sort it out together. When things are going well we all take the credit and when they don't go well we have to take the stick."

Liverpool Open Talks Over FC Groningen Striker David Texeira

Liverpool have opened talks with FC Groningen over exciting striker David Texeira, as manager Kenny Dalglish steps up his transfer activity in the closing stages of the window.

Dalglish had previously made buying a striker his top priority for January, with Luis Suarez missing for eight matches through suspension, and Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt struggling to find their feet this term.

The Reds boss has had a whole host of established options under consideration, but after being quoted fees in excess of £20 million for Aston Villa's Darren Bent and Valencia's Roberto Soldado, Dalglish has changed tact, and is now in search of a younger forward who would represent better value for money in the longer term.

Twente prospect Luuk de Jong is Liverpool's preferred target, but Dalglish is thought to be unsure about his suitability to life in England, and has instead moved for another promising Eredivisie prospect, Groningen's David Texeira.

The Uruguayan isn't 21 until next month, but Groningen have a good pedigree for finding quality strikers, having previously had the aforementioned Suarez and PSV forward Tim Matavz on their books, and Liverpool are keen to wrap up a deal now before other interested parties make their moves.

Texeira is valued at around £8 million by Liverpool, but former club Defensor Sporting are believed to have a sell on clause option in his contract, which entitles them to 20% of any fee received.

That means that Texeira could cost closer to £10 million, but the Reds' Director of Football Damien Comolli is hoping to knock them down considerably, during talks this week.

Liverpool are expected to try and sweeten the deal by offering Groningen a pre-season friendly, which would see former hero Suarez return to the Euroborg stadium in a potentially money-spinning run out.

Liverpool Eye Up Spanish Wing Option In Pablo Hernandez

Liverpool are eyeing Valencia winger Pablo Hernandez according to Madrid-based daily Marca.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish has kept his powder dry in the current transfer window, despite admitting that he has money to spend if he so chooses.

But his side’s recent poor performances are thought to have given the Scot pause for thought.

Liverpool have stuttered in recent weeks, drawing 0-0 at home to Stoke City two weeks ago, with Dalglish bemoaning a lack of creativity, and then going down 3-1 to a struggling Bolton Wanderers at the weekend – a performance which left the Scot fuming.

The Merseyside giants have been heavily linked with Real Madrid midfielder Esteban Granero, with a loan mooted. But Los Blancos boss Jose Mourinho has long stated that he wishes no one to arrive or depart the Bernabeu in the current window.

Valencia winger Hernandez would add real spark and intent to Liverpool’s wide play, allowing Dalglish to stretch the play and also potentially supplying out-of-sorts striker Andy Carroll with further precious service.

The 26-year-old is considered one of Valencia’s crown jewels however and has been increasingly key ever since David Villa and David Silva were sold by Los Che.

Hernandez is under contract at the Mestalla until 2014.

Reina Fears Liverpool Years Away From Title Tilt

Pepe Reina feels Liverpool are three years away from challenging for the title, with the keeper claiming they are paying the price for a lack of invention.

The Reds have spent huge sums in the past 12 months in a bid to make up ground on the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. They have shown signs of promise under Kenny Dalglish, but halfway through the season they are five points shy of the fourth place which would bring Champions League qualification.

Liverpool are a mammoth 18 points behind leaders City and Reina feels it will be some time before the Reds are in a position to push for the title.

"I think it will be two or three more years before we are ready to challenge for the Premier League or Champions League again," Reina told the Daily Mirror. "Hopefully it will be as soon as possible but we are within touching distance of the Carling Cup final.

"We have not won a trophy since 2006 and it is very important to the club to collect some silverware this season," Reina said ahead of the Carling Cup semi-final, second leg with Manchester City. "At Liverpool, winning trophies is vital and we have a great chance of doing that in the Carling Cup.

"Of course, we are still working hard to qualify for the Champions League next season but we know it will be difficult. Liverpool is a club that is used to winning."

Reina feels Dalglish has got Liverpool on an upward curve but claims they are lacking a bit of creative spark.

The Spain international said: "We are a good team, especially tactically, but perhaps we have lacked a little imagination to win enough matches.

"We have failed to finish off games and dropped points in matches Liverpool would expect to win.

"On our day, we are a match for any team and we have the players. But we must show more quality. This is what the history of Liverpool demands."

Rodolfo Ready For Direct Approach

Reserve coach Rodolfo Borrell believes Liverpool might be forced to adopt a more direct style of play as they look to overcome a physical Blackburn side at the Academy on Tuesday.

Rovers have yet to win a reserve game so far in 2011-12, but they did prove a tough nut to crack when the two sides shared the spoils in a goalless draw back in November.

Borrell insists his side have learned some lessons from that encounter.

"What we learnt was that maybe sometimes you cannot always play such beautiful football or such a good style and you have to mix it up sometimes depending who you play against," said Borrell.

With a NextGen quarter-final against Tottenham looming just a week away, Borrell's men will be looking for a confidence boosting victory from the game against Blackburn and the reserve coach knows it won't be easy.

"Blackburn is a very difficult fixture because they are a massive, physical side with some big and experienced players, like we faced in the first game," he said.

"They have a very direct style of football that is not ideal for us but we know we have to face these kinds of sides. We have to take the right approach and get ready for the game.

"It's not going to be easy. We had to give a massive performance - one of the best team performances - at Blackburn away to get just one point. We will have to do the same if we want to get something out of this game."

Borrell also spoke of his frustration after last week's clash with Manchester United was called off due to a frozen pitch at Chester's Exacta Stadium.

"We were building up the whole week and it was frustration when we were told the game was cancelled just two-and-a-half hours before the start of the game," he added.

"It is not only about the build-up, it is also in terms of motivation, in terms of the talking to the players; individually, collectively, trying to put them in the right focus and to make the right approach to the game.

"We must now put our work into practice against Blackburn."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Clock Is Ticking For Dalglish

In times of adversity, Kenny Dalglish usually resembles the tougher types that populate John le Carré novels. The sort the Circus would happily send to Moscow, safe in the knowledge that, under interrogation, he would not even divulge his shoe size.

It made his post-match interview on ESPN on Saturday night all the more extraordinary. Dalglish is typically the master of evasion, one who turns questions back on the questioner. But after defeat to Bolton Wanderers he presented, unprompted, a comprehensive demolition of his own players' performance. "If anybody has aspirations of staying any length of time at this football club," he said, "they will not be here much longer if that's the way they are going to perform."

Most intriguing was his insight that, "it is all well and good saying they might have been distracted because there's another game on Wednesday and on Saturday." That sounded like the remnants of a conversation he had just had in the dressing room. Who, you had to wonder, had turned to Dalglish and told him that he was preoccupied with the Carling Cup semi-final second leg?

Dalglish's one-year anniversary as Liverpool manager passed earlier this month and it all feels a lot grimmer than it did on those sunny uplands of last season when, in March, the Kop sang "Happy Birthday" to their manager as his team defeated Manchester United, 3-1. That was an afternoon when the club at last emerged from under a dark cloud, most of it brewed up by the previous owners and then the acrimony of Roy Hodgson's brief reign.

Recently, the results have been less consistent and the problems conspicuous. The mishandling of the Luis Suarez affair. The problems Suarez's subsequent absence has left. The never-ending wait for Andy Carroll to come good. Stewart Downing's failure to score. The nagging fear that a net spend of around £48.5m in the summer on the likes of Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson has not paid dividends.

It was always going to take at least £50m to transform what remained of the Liverpool squad one year ago into something resembling a team capable of competing for a finish in the top four. This is the team's first season together and, by Wednesday night, they could be in their first domestic final in almost six years. As for a top-four finish, that still looks unrealistic.

Liverpool is not the first of the big dogs in the Premier League to teeter on the brink of some form of mini-crisis. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been there at some point this season. What changed on Saturday was that Dalglish was unwilling to lend anymore of the considerable well of goodwill that he has with the club's supporters to his underperforming players.

As Liverpool manager between 1985 and 1991, his patience with his team was rarely tested because, put simply, his team rarely lost. On Match Of The Day on Saturday night, Alan Hansen recalled a Dalglish team talk he had heard many times. "Effort, attitude and commitment was what he stressed," he said, but there was no mention of Dalglish having to remind his players in public what was expected of them.

The team beaten by Bolton included five players Dalglish brought to the club and Downing, a second-half substitute, was another of his signings. This is, by and large, Dalglish's team and their league form has not been good enough. This is his credibility on the line. His reaction on Saturday night told you that there is a limit to the lengths he will go to in order to protect them.

Taking your players on like that is a big step for any manager and is fraught with risk. You get the impression that Andre Villas-Boas, for all his confidence, is still a long way from telling the world that Fernando Torres has let the club down. Arsène Wenger never criticizes his players. Sir Alex Ferguson only rarely and only when the occasion demands, such as the 6-1 home defeat to Manchester City. Of all of them, Roberto Mancini can be the most publicly critical of his players.

Already this season, Dalglish has blamed referees for Liverpool's misfortune and he has, of course, sanctioned a pretty extraordinary broadside at the Football Association over the Suarez affair. The press are another regular target. Now that he has turned that critical gaze upon his own players, the excuses really are over. And about time too.

Starting with Manchester City in the second leg of that semi-final on Wednesday, Liverpool has a defining run of fixtures: Manchester United at home in the FA Cup, Wolves away, Tottenham at home, United away and then home games against Everton and Arsenal. It is a reasonable expectation that Dalglish should be judged at the end of the season, yet no one can be in any doubt this is a significant six weeks.

"If they think they can turn the clock on and off they will not be turning it on and off at this club," Dalglish said. The clock is a pertinent image at Liverpool. Of all the benchmarks in their wait for a 19th league title, the 2015-16 season looms as large as any other. If they have not won the title by the end of that season they will have gone longer without being champions than Manchester United did between 1967 and 1993.

There is much around the periphery of the business of a modern football club that can make a small difference, but in the end it still comes down to the players. There are times when there is a benefit in shielding them from their own shortcomings but it is not a position any manager, even Dalglish, can afford to adopt indefinitely.

Hamman Highlights Cup Importance

Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann believes winning the Carling Cup would represent a major step forward for the club and put the Reds "back on the map".

Kenny Dalglish's team takes a 1-0 lead into Wednesday's semi-final second leg at Anfield against Manchester City, another of the ex-Germany international's sides.

The Merseysiders have not won a trophy since their FA Cup final victory of 2006 and a draw in midweek would secure their first appearance at Wembley for 16 years.

Hamann knows how significant winning the league cup can be as he was part of the side which beat Birmingham in Cardiff in 2001 on the way to a famous treble as they also lifted the UEFA Cup and FA Cup.

"I think it is very important for them because the club has not won a trophy for six years now and we all know what an impact it can have," the German, speaking about the Carling Cup at an event at Football League headquarters, said.

"In 2001 we got off on our way to a memorable season with the league cup and I'm not sure whether we would have won the UEFA Cup or FA Cup finals had we not beaten Birmingham on penalties.

"To go to the final and win would be a major step forward for Liverpool.

"It puts them back on the map. We all know the longer you don't win the harder it gets the next year.

"A victory is very important because if breeds confidence and belief and faith in the other players and I think it gives them a better chance of finishing in the top four.

"They won't win the league this year because there are stronger teams but in cup competitions you only have to win six or seven games so that is why Dalglish has played strong sides.

"But other managers have identified that as well because if you look at the winners of the Carling Cup in the last few years apart from Birmingham they are all big teams.

"It is all about winning trophies and the Carling Cup was seen as the fourth cup a few seasons ago but has grown in importance the last few years."

A 3-1 defeat at Bolton at the weekend was the worst possible preparation for Dalglish's side but they will have drawn some comfort from seeing City let slip a two-goal lead against Tottenham, even if they did snatch a late 3-2 win.

Roberto Mancini's side was poor in the first leg but Hamann does not expect to see a repeat performance and believes Liverpool cannot afford to sit back and defend their lead.

"They (Liverpool) have had six years to get a monkey off their back and they have a golden opportunity this year," added Hamann.

"They have put themselves in a great position with a 1-0 win in the first leg and they have every chance.

"It is a big game for Liverpool on Wednesday because I am not sure whether they can shut them (City) out again.

"If Liverpool want to go through they have to score and this is where the problem lies because they find goals hard to come by at the moment.

"It will be a tight and interesting game but Liverpool is probably just marginal favourites because they won the first leg.

"And if they were to get to the final you would fancy them against a Championship side (Crystal Palace and Cardiff contest the other semi-final).

"It would do their confidence the world of good because it makes them believe more and if you have come out of a final successful it gives everyone an extra boost."

He accepts the Carling Cup may not be top of Mancini's priorities but expects to see City come out fighting on Wednesday.

"The league and the Carling Cup are their best two chances of winning trophies," he said.

"Last season they tasted success (winning the FA Cup) and once you have won one you want to win another and they will do everything they can to put another trophy in the cabinet.

"They are missing the Toures (Yaya and Kolo) and Vincent Kompany but I expect a strong team and performance.

"I was disappointed with them in the first leg but I don't think we will see as disappointing a performance as that again."

Luis Suarez Reflects On Bolton Defeat

Liverpool forward Luis Suarez has insisted that, although he trusts his teammates, he can't wait to get back playing again after seeing the Reds slump to a 3-1 defeat to Bolton.

The Uruguayan, who is currently serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, watched on as Kenny Dalglish's side were well beaten at the Reebok Stadium but the 24-year-old is adamant he is still very much behind his teammates.

Suarez posted on his official website, "We couldn't win but I trust a lot on my teammates, I can't wait to play again!!!!!"

Manchester United striker Michael Owen, meanwhile, believes the Reds "have another side to them" when they face teams he suggests they are expected to beat, and claims his former side are "hard to work out."

Owen said, via Twitter, "Hard to work Liverpool out. They look top class at home against the big teams but have another side to them when you expect them to win."

Liverpool Eyeing £10m Udinese Defender

Liverpool is leading the chase to sign Udinese defender Mauricio Isla.

Isla, 23, has been impressive for the Italian club and has caught the eye of Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish, who is looking to strengthen his squad in January.

The Chile international has also been linked with several big clubs in Italy but reports in South America suggest that Liverpool is winning the race to clinch his signature.

Isla can operate as a wing-back and can also playing across the midfield and his versatility will appeal to the Liverpool boss.

Udinese will be keen to keep their star defender at the club but would consider offers in the region of £10m.

Danes Would Let Starlet Leave

FC Norsjaelland has confirmed they would not stand in the way of starlet Jores Okore leaving the club.

The 19-year-old is being linked with a host of teams across Europe and a number of Premier League sides are reportedly keen.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle are all understood to have been watching the Danish teenager.

The Ivorian-born defender has also attracted interest from the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk.

And his club Norsjaelland admits they would not prevent a big move for Okore.

"There is on-going interest in several players, and it is no wonder that Jores is one of those players," Norsjaelland sports director Jan Laursen confirmed to Tipsbladet.

"There are undoubtedly many very strong clubs that follow him.

"We have a principle that we always look at the offers that might come. We want to help our players on."

Lyon Star Ends Liverpool Speculation

Liverpool target Dejan Lovren is not interested in a move to Anfield and has extended his contract at Lyon.

The central defender was on Kenny Dalglish's radar in the summer and the Scot, whose side was trounced by Bolton at the weekend, is keeping his eye on him.

But Croatia international Lovren does not fancy moving to Anfield and is eager to remain at a club playing in the Champions League.

The 22-year-old has committed his future to Lyon, having penned a new contract that expires in June 2016.

Lucas Returns To Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has returned to the club to continue his rehabilitation from a season-ending knee injury and hopes to begin gym work in four weeks' time.

The 25-year-old has spent the past six weeks in his native Brazil, where he underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament damage suffered in the Carling Cup quarter-final win at Chelsea in November.

Lucas, who is walking with the aid of crutches, will still miss the remainder of the season, but believes his recovery is on course.

He told the club's official website: "I am still a long way away, but the knee is getting better and the rehab is going well.

"I have to make sure I complete a perfect rehab and be back as soon as possible.

"The next stage is to get the knee moving and in the next few weeks I'll start to walk again.

"Hopefully in a month's time I'll start in the gym on my program and be able to work with weights.

"When you're on crutches you cannot do too much, so I can't wait to start my program and get in the swimming pool and things like that.

"The physios and the doctors have told me the rehab is going well and progressing well. I am doing everything I can to help my knee recover."

Back To School With Jose And Seb

Liverpool stars Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates went back to school as they took part in some fantastic community department led initiatives.

The duo, who were joined by Liverpool FC Ladies skipper Vicky Jones, visited St. Silas Primary School in Toxteth for the LFC Equality 4 All Scheme, and then Shorefields Community College in Dingle Vale for the LFC Premier League 4 Sport event.

One of the highlights of the day was Enrique, Coates and Jones taking part in a Q and A session with the kids in Spanish. A Spanish teacher was present as the pair were quizzed on their LFC career so far.

The 11-year-olds at St. Silas Primary also took part in a football session under the watchful eye of Enrique and Coates.

Liverpool FC Social Inclusion Officer Rishi Jain said: "To have Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates come down, meet the kids, join in a session and answer their questions was absolutely brilliant.

"It was really good for both of the players to take part in the Q and A session in Spanish. The school does a lot of work on different languages to reward the kids this way, so to help them practice their Spanish was an absolute pleasure for the club."

"The LFC Equality 4 All Project continues to go from strength to strength. We do 18 hours coaching a week with kids from different areas and ethnic minorities and bring them all together through football."

At Shorefields Community College Enrique and Coates demonstrated their table tennis skills when they took part in the LFC Premier League 4 Sport event, alongside 15 children aged 11 to 13.

The Premier League 4 Sport scheme aims to introduce four different Olympic sports to youngsters in the region - volleyball, table tennis, badminton and netball.

The initiative hopes to curb the drop-off in young people's participation in sports after leaving secondary school, as well as offering five hours of activities to youngsters as part of the government's 2012 legacy plans.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Match Report: Bolton 3 - 1 Liverpool

Bolton's battle to avoid relegation received an unexpected boost with victory over a Liverpool side who need to improve quickly if their season is not to unravel around them.

Midfielders Mark Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker gave the home side a deserved 2-0 lead inside half-an-hour and although Craig Bellamy's seventh of the season reduced the deficit, Gretar Steinsson restored the two-goal cushion just five minutes into the second half.

The victory saw Wanderers move out of the bottom three with a performance full of desire and tenacity which, especially in the first half, had the visitors' looking at each other quizzically.

Manager Kenny Dalglish will also no doubt want answers to how a side with only one home win all season - and who have lost their last 10 against the Reds - could open up a usually reliable defence so easily.

Prior to this match only Premier League title-chasers Manchester City and Tottenham had scored three or more against Liverpool this season.

Worryingly for Dalglish, they have to face City at home on Wednesday in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final holding just a slender 1-0 lead.

If they defend as poorly as this the 16-year wait for a Wembley appearance may go on even longer.

Wanderers made it 10 points from their last six matches and manager Owen Coyle will hope this result will prove to be a turning point for his beleaguered side.

But after watching his players fail to break down Stoke last week - one of many struggles at Anfield - Dalglish has to find a way of lifting a team which has won just once in six league matches, collecting just six points.

Liverpool's excellent record against Bolton counted for little as early as the fourth minute when the home side took the lead.

Martin Skrtel stepped out to meet Chris Eagles' pass into David Ngog but the slightest of touches from the former Reds striker moved it on to Davies who charged into the penalty area to shoot low just inside Jose Reina's left-hand post.

Eagles should have made it 2-0 when he held off the challenge of Jose Enrique as he ran in from the touchline only to fire a cross-shot past the far post from a narrow angle.

Bellamy, playing up front alongside Andy Carroll, was by far Liverpool's biggest threat with his pace getting him behind the Wanderers defence on a number of occasions.

The Wales international had one shot blocked by David Wheater while Carroll, who began to link better with his partner as the match wore on, headed straight at Adam Bogdan from Steven Gerrard's crossfield pass.

After Maxi Rodriguez's penalty appeal for the ball hitting Zat Knight's arm was rejected Bolton all too easily carved open Liverpool's defence for a second time.

Eagles was again the instigator, coming off the right touchline to chip the ball over the centre-backs for Reo-Coker to stab home.

Carroll was coming into the game more and after one first-time pass sent Bellamy racing through to shoot at Bogdan his flick-on led to a goal.

His header from Reina's clearance sent the Welshman racing through and this time he cleverly clipped the ball past the Bolton goalkeeper.

Bogdan then saved well from Gerrard's shot before Reina batted away Martin Petrov's free-kick in first-half added time.

Liverpool's hopes of redressing the balance early in the second half were snuffed out after just five minutes when Wheater headed Petrov's corner back across goal and Steinsson slid a shot inside the post.

With 25 minutes to go Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt were sent on for Rodriguez and Charlie Adam in an attempt to rescue the situation.

The chances were still falling to Carroll though but his luck did not improve as he blazed over from Davies' mis-control in the penalty area before completely missing Downing's cut-back.

Defender Daniel Agger had come closer moments earlier when his long-range drive clipped the top of the crossbar.

Carroll, without a league goal since October 29, continued to labour in front of net, typified by his complete miskick from Downing's cut-back.

Liverpool's attacking in the closing stages became even more desperate but they rarely looked like threatening Bogdan.

A first win over the Reds since September 10 did wonders for Bolton's confidence, less so for Liverpool who are looking increasingly ragged by the week.