Thursday, January 12, 2012

Match Report: Manchester City 0 - 1 Liverpool

Manchester City slumped to their second home defeat in four days as Steven Gerrard's early penalty moved Liverpool to within 90 minutes of their first Wembley appearance since 1996.

Lacking key men, including skipper Vincent Kompany who sat forlornly in the stands as he began a four-match ban, and drained by the energy exerted at having to play for 78 minutes with 10 men against Manchester United at the weekend, City were a shadow of their usual selves.

It represented the first time they had lost back-to-back games at the Etihad Stadium since February 2008, before Sheikh Mansour began his billion pound quest to conquer the English game.

The only consolation came from knowing they could still reach a Carling Cup final against either Crystal Palace or Cardiff if they can reverse this result in the second leg at Anfield in a fortnight.

Little wonder Roberto Mancini was so keen to fight Kompany's suspension.

With Kolo Toure on African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast, it forced the City boss to pitch Stefan Savic into the biggest game of his fledgling Blues career.

The Montenegrin was only 21 last week and has started just one Barclays Premier League game for City since joining from Partizan Belgrade in the summer.

It soon became clear he was in for a difficult evening.

That Andy Carroll was able to spin away from him and race onto Stewart Downing's through-ball said everything given the wretched time the Liverpool striker has had in his 12 months on Merseyside.

Returning keeper Joe Hart was equal to the shot, just as he was when Gerrard went for the far corner a couple of minutes later and Downing had an effort deflected towards the same area of his goal.

Savic had another trick up his sleeve though as Daniel Agger forced his way into the box from the corner. The youngster panicked, attempted to clear when he was nowhere near favourite to reach the ball and Agger bit the dust.

Referee Lee Mason awarded the spot-kick and Gerrard drove it past England team-mate Hart to put the visitors ahead.

That all this occurred inside the opening 11 minutes emphasized the difficulties City were having, and no one epitomized them more than Mario Balotelli.

An injury doubt beforehand, the combustible Italian reacted in anger when Charlie Adam bundled him over, then tapped him on the head as he ran away from the scene.

Balotelli belted the subsequent free-kick into the wall and then hobbled away for no discernable reason.

After a few more minutes of relative inactivity, during which he let a straightforward pass roll out for a throw-in and gave a free-kick as he tried to make amends, Mancini decided he had seen enough.

Balotelli headed straight for the tunnel, bringing an end to another bizarre chapter in his career.

It was not until the last moments of the half that City finally roused themselves, only for Samir Nasri to be denied by Pepe Reina and James Milner to fire Micah Richards' cut-back over.

On Sunday, City responded magnificently to a far worse half-time scoreline and almost secured a result that would stand alongside any in this stellar season.

But they needed the kind of lift Aleksandar Kolarov gave them against United with that magnificent free-kick.

This time around, they just encounter frustration as Reina stayed on his feet long enough to prevent Aguero getting a shot on target after the South American had spotted Martin Kelly about to play a blind backpass.

Unusually poor in a heavy defeat on the same ground eight days ago, Reina was also in the right place to deny Richards' close-range header after the stand-in City skipper had met Nasri's corner.

The disappointment was that instead of going for the jugular, against opponents so lacking in verve compared to their thrill-a-minute efforts earlier in the season, Liverpool grew increasingly more negative.

By the time Jamie Carragher replaced Craig Bellamy 11 minutes from time to take up a midfield holding role, the visitors had six orthodox defenders on the field.

Little wonder City failed to make a chance of note as they continued to run into a red brick wall in what time remained.

Dalglish - Work To Do

Kenny Dalglish knows Liverpool still have work to do to reach the Carling Cup final despite their 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

Steven Gerrard's 13th minute penalty set the Reds on their way, with the visitors dominating the first period before lacklustre City improved after the break.

With the second leg at Anfield still to come, the Merseyside club will be favourites to progress to Wembley, but Dalglish was quick to sound a note of caution.

He said: "If you come here and win 1-0, you're not going to be unhappy are you? It was a fantastic performance from the players against a team that are a really good side.

"We've got to be happy, but we're not presuming in any way, shape or form that the job is done.

"We might have a slight advantage with the goal, but that doesn't mean to say there is anybody jumping through hoops. We'll just be as professional as we can in the second leg."

Liverpool was happy to pack their defence in the second period and Dalglish admitted he was happy to leave the Etihad Stadium with a clean sheet.

The Scot added: "It was two different performances in each half. In the first we looked a lot more threatening than in the second, but in the second half with the goal advantage we just battened down the hatches and tried our best to get through it.

"We've had no goals against us - not too many teams have come here and gone away with no goals against them.

"It was a fantastic effort from the players in the second half. It might not have been the prettiest performance, but they didn't fall short in their desire, commitment or ambition in any way."

Mancini Clashes With Gerrard

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini was involved in an angry tunnel exchange with Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard after Wednesday night's 1-0 Carling Cup defeat at the Etihad Stadium.

The pair clashed twice, the second particularly fractious, with Gerrard annoyed at Mancini's response to a late tackle by Glen Johnson on Joleon Lescott.

However, after Mancini had completed a round of interviews, they had a further, more cordial discussion, although the City chief was clearly not a happy man.

"Steven Gerrard can say what he wants," said Mancini. "I said what I think. That is what I am used to doing.

"It is not important what Steven Gerrard or the other players have said."

Mancini is still annoyed at the four-match ban skipper Vincent Kompany must serve following his controversial dismissal against Manchester United at the weekend.

The City manager was adamant his captain would succeed in his appeal, claiming that, in 30 years in the game, he had never seen anyone get sent off for the kind of tackle on Nani referee Chris Foy deemed worthy of a red card.

And Mancini felt an even greater sense of injustice this evening as he felt Johnson's tackle on Lescott was even more questionable.

"It was worse," he said. "This tackle was worse. Gerrard came to me and said I said something.

"It was not for Johnson. It is for the tackle. This tackle was worse than Vinny's. Everyone can see it."

Gerrard was quick to respond, saying on BBC1: "It surprises me because he had a go at Wayne Rooney.

"Now he's had a go at one of ours."

The incident completed a bad night for Mancini and his team, who suffered back-to-back home defeats for the first time since February 2008.

Kompany's stand-in Stefan Savic had a particularly difficult time, struggling to contain Liverpool forward Andy Carroll and conceding the penalty that allowed Gerrard to ram home the winner when he caught Daniel Agger.

That Savic is expected to retain his place for the Premier League trip to Wigan next Monday hardly inspires confidence, although Mancini is looking on the bright side.

"Savic needs to get experience," he said. "It is normal. He is young. Against a striker like Carroll maybe he could have some difficulties. But in the second half it went better."

Mancini confirmed he expects to know within the next 48 hours the extent of the ankle injuries that kept David Silva out tonight and forced Mario Balotelli off towards the end of the first half.

After losing three times in their last four games, City are in their toughest period of the season and with Tottenham to face before the end of the month, in addition to the decisive semi-final at Anfield just afterwards, it is not getting any easier, with both Yaya and Kolo Toure absent on African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast.

"We have just played two difficult games," he said. "I knew this before, when I said that January will be an important month for us because we lose three or four important players."

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, who insisted he did not see Johnson's two-footed tackle on Lescott very late in the game, admitted his side were under pressure in the second half but praised his players' commitment for holding on.

"There were two different performances in each half; first half we looked a little more threatening but in the second half, having got the goal advantage, we battened down the hatches and tried to get through it with no goals against us," said the Scot.

"Not too many teams have come here and gone away with no goals against them.

"It was a fantastic effort by the players in the second half - it might not have been the prettiest performance but it did not fall short of desire.

"Once we got ourselves in front we were determined not to lose it.

"They are always a very difficult team to break down, they are a fantastic side and that is why they are top of the league.

"To be fair Pepe (Reina) had a good save from Richards' header and from (Samir) Nasri in the first half.

"If you come here and win 1-0 you are not going to be unhappy. It is a fantastic performance by the players against a team that are a really good side."

Despite coming out on top at the Etihad Stadium Dalglish was taking nothing for granted in the return leg in a fortnight's time.

"We might have the slight advantage with the goal but it does not mean to say there will be anyone jumping through hoops at our place - we will just go and be professional in the second leg," he added.

"We have to be happy but we are not presuming that the job is done."

Spearing Injury Latest

Kenny Dalglish is hopeful Jay Spearing isn't facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after being forced from the field during Liverpool's 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final, first-leg win over Manchester City on Wednesday night.

The midfielder pulled up sharply midway through the first half after playing a pass and was promptly replaced by Charlie Adam.

Dalglish confirmed Spearing was suffering from a tight hamstring, but he's optimistic it's not too serious.

The boss told reporters: "It was his hamstring, but it wasn't too bad. It just went a bit tight on him. I don't think he has pulled anything, but we'll have to wait until the morning when he gets back (to Melwood)."

Liverpool Join Race For Midfielder

Liverpool has joined the race for Dijon midfielder Benjamin Corgnet, according to French sports daily L'Equipe.

The 24-year-old who was playing amateur football two years ago, has already attracted the interest of Lyon and Newcastle United, with the pair consistently linked with the midfielder.

But now Liverpool is taking a close interest in Corgnet and have had the Thionville native watched several times recently.

The Reds Director of Football Damien Comolli is well aware of the player's rise up the French football pyramid and has taken note of his impressive feats in Ligue 1 with newly promoted Dijon this season.

Corgnet has regularly been amongst the goals in the current campaign, notching seven in Ligue 1 from 18 games.

Liverpool Plot Move For Highly-Rated Serbian Starlet

Premier League duo Liverpool and Chelsea are set to go head-to-head for the signature of Partizan Belgrade starlet Lazar Markovic, according to The People.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish and the clubs director of football Damien Comolli are both said to be huge fans of the Markovic. Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas is also believed to be an admirer of the 17-year-old.

However sources in Serbia suggest that Markovic's representatives have been in Merseyside to discuss a potential deal, which could go through sometime during the January transfer window.

Markovic has been compared to former Liverpool star striker Michael Owen. This is the strikers first full season with Partizan and he has scored six goals in 15 league appearances.

There could be a problem with regards to the players work permit, but the Anfield club could be allowed to bring Markovic to the UK before he wins an international cap as an exceptional talent.

Liverpool Plot Move For Marseille Striker

Liverpool are said to be monitoring Tottenham’s interest in Marseille striker Loic Remy with a view to pipping the North London side in the race to sign the French international.

The 25 year old striker has previously been linked with a move to the Merseyside club in the summer but no bid was forthcoming but the eight match ban handed down to Uruguayan Luis Suarez and the average form shown by Andy Carroll has led the Anfield side to re-ignite their interest in the Stade Velodrome forward.

Remy has been a consistent performer at Marseille since his move to the south of France club from nearby Nice back in August 2010. Didier Deschamps has grown to rely on the speedy striker and has not been disappointed with the powerfully built attacker netting 26 goals in 63 appearances.

A move to the Premier League may well appeal to Loic Remy, not least because Marseille are struggling to keep in touch with the leading pack in Ligue 1. Currently L’OM sit in sixth spot some nine points of top of the table PSG and even though Deschamps’ side have edged through to the knockout stages of the Champions League a move to the English top tier could still tempt the former Lyon man.

Harry Redknapp has openly discussed his interest in the Marseille man, who is said to be valued at around the £20m mark by the Ligue 1 side, and the White Hart Lane boss is hopeful of luring Remy to North London with the prospect of securing Champions League football for next term.

Liverpool will look to director of football Damien Comolli to help persuade Remy to consider a move to the club, the Frenchman is incredibly well connected in Ligue 1 circles and had previously been linked with moves to bring the striker to Tottenham during his days working for the club in a similar role to his current Anfield post.

Dalglish’s side has managed to score just 24 goals in 20 Premier League matches this season.

Demba Ba Targeted By Liverpool

Demba Ba is reported to be a transfer target for Liverpool, after it was claimed the Newcastle United striker has a £10million release clause in his contract.

The Senegal international has been the signing of the season, having scored 15 Premier League goals since his free transfer from West Ham to Newcastle in the summer.

Magpies boss Alan Pardew has no interest in selling the striker, but his Spurs counterpart Harry Redknapp sparked speculation about the 26-year-old's future by hinting he has a buy-out clause in his deal.

Press reports have suggested a £10million offer would trigger his release and Liverpool are said to be keen to activate the clause, as Luis Suarez, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll have managed just 11 league goals between them this term.

However, any transfer will have to wait until the end of the season, as Ba is away on Africa Cup of Nations duty.

Newcastle sources insist the player is happy on Tyneside and Pardew has refused to discuss the possibility of him leaving.

Liverpool Targets Joao Teixeira

Liverpool wants to bolster their youth ranks with a deal for Sporting Lisbon teenager Joao Teixeira.

Teixeira, who turns 19 this month, caught the eye when scoring for the Portuguese side against Liverpool in the NextGen Series.

Midfielder Teixeira comes from the famed Sporting academy that produced Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.

Madrid Plot £30m Suarez Steal

Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho is ready to offer Luis Suarez an escape from his Liverpool nightmare reports the Daily Mail.

According to reports in Spain, the La Liga giants will offer £30million in a bid to bring the Uruguayan international to the Bernabeu this month.

Mourinho is hoping to take advantage of the furore currently surrounding the Liverpool striker, after Suarez was banned for eight games following an alleged race row with Patrice Evra.

The South American sensation was also banned for a further game and fined £20,000 for a two-fingered salute towards Fulham fans at Craven Cottage.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish has defended Suarez to the hilt, and the club has come into criticism for its staunch backing of the player.

"Obviously there was a big issue with Luis," Dalglish told the club's official website. "The players showed support for Luis which was fantastic, but then some people interpreted that wrongly as the players saying they're not interested in the fight against racism.

"That is totally and utterly rubbish. We don't want racism anywhere near football and certainly not anywhere near this football club."

After opting earlier this month not to appeal against the length of Suarez's punishment, Liverpool will be without the star striker until mid February.

Madrid are now hoping they can tempt the Anfield-based club into a sell with a lucrative offer before the close of the transfer window.

Real Madrid Make Liverpool Target Available On Loan

Real Madrid will allow Esteban Granero to leave the Santiago Bernabeu on loan this month, with the midfielder a reported target for Liverpool.

The 25-year-old has made only five appearances for Real this season and is desperate for more regular first-team action.

According to SER Deportivos, Los Blancos are now offering Granero to potential suitors, with a view to a loan agreement for the remainder of the season.

Anfield has been touted as a possible destination for the Spaniard, with Kenny Dalglish reported to be considering reinforcing his midfield during the transfer window.

It was initially claimed that the Liverpool boss had identified Granero as a potential acquisition following a season-ending injury to Lucas Leiva and the prolonged absence of Steven Gerrard.

However, the Reds skipper has now returned to action and has already made his presence felt in the Liverpool midfield, so Dalglish may opt against any new recruits.

Liverpool Lead Castaignos Chase

Luc Castaignos looks set to leave Inter on loan this month and Liverpool have leapt in front of Bologna in the race to sign him.

The talented young forward joined over the summer from Feyenoord, but with one Serie A goal and relatively few appearances this season he is expected to go out on loan.

Bologna had been the hot favourites to take the Dutchman, although new reports suggest Liverpool are now most likely to capture Castaignos.

The 19-year-old is also of interest to Premier League sides like Everton and Tottenham, according to the Daily Mail.

Kenny Quashes Carroll Talk

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has rejected reports that Andy Carroll could be set to leave Anfield during the January transfer window.

Reports suggested the £35million club record signing's former club Newcastle were preparing a cut-price bid to take the England international back to his native north east.

The Magpies have played down the speculation and Caroll's representatives have also insisted they have neither been told to look for, nor are seeking, a move for their player.

Dalglish was dismissive when asked about whether the rumours could unsettle the striker, who has scored four goals this season but has yet to find his best form since his transfer to Merseyside almost 12 months ago.

"I am worried about the people that invent them," he said.

"You have absolutely no foundation whatsoever (for the stories).

"I don't need to justify what is in the paper. I have stood up - and always will stand up - for the players."

Turning the argument around on journalists at his post-match press conference after the 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final first leg win over Manchester City, Dalglish added: "You justify your profession and you justify the story."

Liverpool Backed By Standard Chartered Despite Luis Suárez Row

Liverpool has received the full support of their multi-million pound shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, in the aftermath of the recent race-row controversies which engulfed the club.

Anti-racism organisations, especially Football Against Racism in Europe’s executive director, Piara Power, claimed Liverpool’s reputation and ‘brand’ has been severely damaged in the light of the Luis Suárez affair.

However, the banking group which last year secured the largest commercial deal in Anfield history - an estimated £80million - has reiterated its ongoing commitment to the club.

Standard Chartered officials are understood to have maintained daily contact with the Anfield hierarchy following recent events, and held talks with the club after the Oldham defender Tom Adeyemi was abused by a supporter last Friday.

The bank says it is happy with how the Anfield board has responded and there is no suggestion their relationship has been compromised.

In a statement to Telegraph Sport, Standard Chartered said: “Liverpool FC has recently reiterated its resolute stance against racism.

“Standard Chartered is a multicultural, multinational organization and we fully support and share the club’s efforts to combat racism and any sort of discrimination. We remain very happy with our sponsorship of the club.”

Such remarks come at an especially sensitive time as Liverpool pursues more global commercial partners.
The club’s American owners are actively searching for a stadium sponsor to build their new £300million arena on Stanley Park, and any suggestion lucrative backers will be dissuaded in the light of recent events would cause untold damage.

Liverpool requires a minimum of £150million in outside investment before they can press ahead with their relocation from their current Anfield site, so their strong reiteration of their anti-racism stance in recent days has been a necessity.

Both managing director, Ian Ayre, and Kenny Dalglish, whose charismatic presence has been used to attract investors into the club in the past, both delivered a passionate defence of the club over the last 48 hours.
The supportive stance of Standard Chartered is a welcome reassurance.

The bank is in its second year of an estimated £20million-a-year shirt deal with the Merseyside club, which runs until 2014.

It will be noted that the bank’s most lucrative market is in Africa, Asia and across the Middle East, where sensitivities about any racial controversy could cause most embarrassment for Liverpool and their chief sponsor if there was a strong reaction.

The Standard Chartered position would suggest, as Liverpool have argued throughout, that beyond the jurisdiction of the English FA the case against Suárez is not perceived to be as cut and dried as many in this country have presumed. The club is confident global investors will not take as dim a view of the club’s reaction as has been claimed.

Liverpool’s swift response to the latest race row involving Adeyemi has received praise from his club, Oldham Athletic.

“The chairman and directors of Oldham Athletic Football Club would like to thank Liverpool Football Club and officers of the Merseyside Police for their concerns and painstaking efforts in investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident involving Tom Adeyemi,” read a statement. “The club and player have been notified of every detail during the progress of the investigation.

“The professional standards applied throughout have been praiseworthy.

“The club would also like to thank the numerous fans from Liverpool and Oldham, and also those from around the country who have sent letters of support to Tom.

“This type of incident is contained within a minority and should not deflect from a superb match that was enjoyed by both sets of club officials and fans.”