Sunday, January 15, 2012

Match Report: Liverpool 0 - 0 Stoke City

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish failed to come up with the winning formula at Anfield as his side were held to a goalless draw against Stoke.

An unfamiliar line-up to combat the visitors' obvious physical strengths initially appeared to cause more problems for the Reds than it did their opponents.

It took until after the break for Dalglish's side to find their feet but they still struggled to carve out chances against the obdurate Potters and it cost them yet another three points.

They may still be unbeaten at home this season but they have now drawn seven of their 11 matches and the issue is starting to become more of a problem.

The point was exactly what Stoke had come for, however, and they left happy after doing a textbook job in stifling their hosts' creative abilities.

Liverpool lined up in the same 3-4-2-1 formation with which they beat Stoke at home last season but with the personnel different - including summer signing Sebastian Coates being given his first Barclays Premier League start - they struggled to adjust.

Dirk Kuyt, without a league goal since the final day of last season, lacked support up front and while Glen Johnson, on the right of midfield, roamed everywhere on the opposite flank Jose Enrique got forward less than he did playing at left-back.

There appeared to be misunderstanding and confusion everywhere Liverpool turned and Stoke were more than grateful to watch it all unfold in front of them with little intervention required on their part.

Very little quality was evident in the first half - Steven Gerrard's raking 60-yard crossfield ball straight to the feet of Enrique apart - as players ran down the blind alleys Stoke shepherded them into.

In fact the visitors had probably the best chance midway through the first half from a quick counter-attack but even then Matt Etherington's shot from outside the penalty area was easily saved by Jose Reina.

Stewart Downing, Gerrard and Jordan Henderson all had shots from distance but only the latter's troubled goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

For all their struggles at home this season, with four wins and six draws in 10 matches before kick-off, it was easily the worst 45 minutes seen at Anfield since Dalglish returned as manager a year ago.

There was a slight improvement after the break but not to the standard expected of a side with top-four ambitions.

Johnson twice cut in from the right to shoot with his left foot, having his first blocked and dragging the second wide, and when Enrique finally got forward his cross from the left byline was too close to Sorensen.

Striker Andy Carroll made his entrance in the 59th minute to replace Downing and immediately caused a problem with Robert Huth putting him a headlock, unseen by referee Howard Webb, from Gerrard's corner.

The England international's next intervention was less helpful, however, blocking Henderson's goalbound volley from Enrique's cross before then deciding he required a change of footwear.

Gerrard's threaded through ball picked out the toiling Kuyt in the area but the Holland international's first touch let him down.

The Dutchman was to miss Liverpool's best two chances in the final 13 minutes when he headed Enrique's deflected cross wide and then nodded into the side-netting at the far post.

Prior to those chances he had also gone down in the area as he tried to reach Johnson's cross after Carroll had twice appeared to be fouled by Huth in the box.

Martin Skrtel's downward header from Craig Bellamy's corner bounced over and with it went his side's chances of getting a winner as the hosts ran out of ideas.

Dalglish Left Frustrated

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish rued his side's lack of creativity as they dropped more points at home after being held by Stoke.

The Reds have drawn seven of their 11 games at Anfield this season to seriously damage their chances of a top-four finish.

The home side had the majority of possession but struggled to get to grips with their unfamiliar 3-4-2-1 formation and failed to create too many goalscoring opportunities against a resolute Stoke defence.

Dalglish conceded the onus was on his side to try and break Stoke down, but they only had one shot on goal in the whole game much to the disappointment of the home crowd.

"They came for a point and got a point and the responsibility is on us to be more imaginative to try and break them down but we didn't manage to do that," admitted Dalglish.

"The couple of opportunities we did have we never took, and in a game like that you've got to take your opportunities.

"We looked pretty solid at the back and I think they had one shot in the first half and not much more after that, but as I said it was our responsibility to be able to break them down.

"There was nothing wrong with the players' effort or determination, but on the day we just weren't good enough to break them down."

Liverpool had two claims for a penalty waved away in the second half by referee Howard Webb when substitute Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt went down in the box, but Dalglish did not have too many complaints with the decisions

"Probably in every game you go through there are a couple of penalty appeals. It's difficult to comprehend sometimes," he said.

"When they (referees) speak to people in the penalty area, I don't know what they say but obviously it must be about holding people back and then it's not punished - but we probably got away with a couple as well."

Dalglish used an unfamiliar 3-4-2-1 formation in the game and the Reds boss insisted he had no choice but to use it after losing Daniel Agger to injury.

"The boys at the back looked pretty comfortable, they were only playing against one person," noted Dalglish. "With the personnel we had, we didn't really have much of a choice.

"We were lucky to get Jose (Enrique) to play because he had a bit of a stomach virus and it was touch and go whether he was going to play.

"We left Daniel Agger out as a precaution because he's got a slight injury. We never had too many options."

Carragher Urges Liverpool To Sort Out Home Form

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher admits the team's difficulties at Anfield are damaging their hopes of a top-four finish.

Carragher, 34 later this month, has had to watch many of those struggles from the bench but started in the Premier League at home to Stoke City and, though they are currently unbeaten in 11 fixtures at Anfield, the Reds have also dropped 14 points and trail fourth-placed Chelsea.

"It wasn't the result that we wanted but Stoke are a tough nut to crack and they have proved that a lot of times this season,'' Carragher said.”They have got a very strong back four and unfortunately we couldn't break them down.

"It's been a problem a few times at Anfield this season. We need to sort that out before the end of the season if we want to get to where want to be, which is obviously the top four.''

Winning their last two matches in cup competitions, including victory at Manchester City in midweek, coupled with captain Steven Gerrard signing a contract extension meant the team went into Saturday's game full of confidence.

However, that gradually drained out of them over the course of 90 frustrating minutes in which Liverpool did not really create a decent chance until Dirk Kuyt missed two close-range headers in quick succession in the final 10 minutes.

There was little else in the way of action as the hosts struggled to get to grips with a 3-4-2-1 formation and Stoke gratefully welcomed the confusion and misunderstanding it brought, defending resolutely.

Andy Carroll felt he should have had a penalty after coming on as a 58th-minute substitute when he was fouled by Ryan Shawcross but Liverpool were clutching at straws by that point.

"We had a good result a couple of days ago and we wanted to build on that,'' said Carragher. "It is a bit of a comedown from Wednesday (against City) but we have had that plenty of times this season.

"People have been disappointed with some results but then we have got a result that people don't expect. We are still up there, very close to the top four.''

With City to visit Anfield for the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final trailing 1-0 and Manchester United arriving for an FA Cup fourth round tie in the next fortnight Liverpool's home form will come under more scrutiny.

But Carragher believes they can rise to the occasion against the league's top two sides: "A draw at home against City would be okay - we wouldn't have a problem with that and we would take that now,'' he said.

"You wouldn't want a draw against United, as you wouldn't want to be going to Old Trafford for a replay. I don't think anyone is looking at those games from that point of view. Maybe when you play sides who will come on the front foot, it makes things a bit easier.

"Teams have come here this season and made it difficult but you would expect that City and United will come and try to win the game - that may make it easier for us.''

Dalglish Sets Sights On Spurs Striker

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is said to be monitoring the situation around Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe after news emerged that his agent told the club that the striker wants to leave in this transfer window in order to get more regular starts.

Dalglish is said to be considering a number of players to bolster his attacking options due to Luis Suarez's suspension and Andy Caroll's prolonged struggle for form.

Defoe is desperate for first team football as he attempts to break into Fabio Capello's squad for the European championship as the Italian will need an in-form striker to cope with Wayne Rooney's suspension in the group stages.

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp says that Defoe's head may have been turned by a change of agent and confirmed that Struan Marshall had contacted the club on the player's behalf requesting that he be sold this month.

Marshall, who this week secured an extended contract for Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, also represents Stuart Downing and Jordan Henderson who made the switch to Anfield last summer.

Redknapp has favoured Rafael van der Vaart to play off Emmanuel Adebayor so far this season but rejected the notion that he would sanction the sale of Defoe who he has worked with at West Ham and Portsmouth previously.

"Daniel spoke to his agent who said he is not happy because he wants to play and he has got a few clubs in for him," Redknapp told The Guardian.

"I am sure he has got a few clubs in for him but we are not selling him. He is saying this club wants him and that club wants him - that is how they make their money. He is not moving anywhere, though. He is on contract here and is a big player for us."

Reds Eye Llorente

Liverpool are continuing their hunt for firepower – with Spain striker Fernando Llorente a possible target.

Kop boss Kenny Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli continue to monitor several options. They are also keeping tabs on other hitmen including Newcastle's Demba Ba but 26-year-old Llorente who would cost at least £20m, is also on their radar after some fine displays for Athletico Bilbao and Spain.

Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina and Maxi Rodriguez have also praised Llorente's performances in La Liga this term to Liverpool's hierarchy.

A move for Serbian wonderkid Lazar Markovic is looking unlikely after his club Partizan Belgrade slapped a £14m price on his head.

People Sport revealed last week that the 17-year-old was a target - but Dalglish will not fork out that kind of cash.

Granero Eyes Reds Move

The agent of Real Madrid's out of favour midfielder Esteban Granero has admitted that he would relish a transfer to Liverpool.

Teofilo Lazaro has spoken out about the future of 24-year-old Granero, who has slipped down Real boss Jose Mourinho's pecking order at the Bernabeu this season.

And, he revealed that the £8million-rated midfield man would be happy for a move away to secure regular first-team action elsewhere, namng the Reds as a possible destination.

In an interview to International Business Times, Lazaro said: "He's finding his chances limited at Real. He's keen for a move away - possibly to Liverpool. If he can't play at Madrid then he'll play somewhere else. It's as simple as that."

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish has always maintained that he is happy with his current squad, but there is no doubt the addition of Granero - whose acquisition could be funded by the sale of Alberto Aquilani to AC Milan and Joe Cole to Lille - would bolster the side's bid for a top-four finish this season.

Reds Reject Striker Swap Bid

Liverpool have reportedly snubbed Aston Villa's bid to sign striker Andy Carroll with Darren Bent offered in exchange.

Reports in the Sunday Express claim Villa chief Alex McLeish has approached his Reds counterpart Kenny Dalglish with a plan which would see reported Anfield target, Bent, make the move to Merseyside with Carroll going to Villa Park.

However, it appears that Dalglish turned down the offer because he wants to keep faith with the £35million capture from Newcastle, who has struggled for fitness, form and goals since joining 12 months ago.

It remains to be seen if McLeish will step up his attempts given that England international, Bent, was on target in Villa's 1-1 draw against Everton on Saturday and both player and manager have always insisted that his future is at Villa Park.

Dalglish Plans Carragher Talks

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish plans to hold talks with Jamie Carragher with a view to offering the veteran defender a future ambassadorial role to compare with Steven Gerrard.

Anfield captain Gerrard this week signed a new long-term contract at the club and accepted an offer to remain associated with the Merseysiders when he retires.

Dalglish would also like Carragher to eventually take up a similar position and discussions are set to take place with the centre-back.

Carragher, who is second in Liverpool's list of all-time appearances after 683 games, turns 34 at the end of January and has been out of the first team in the Premier League.

But Dalglish thinks the ex-England international is of identical importance to Gerrard, as the Reds boss said: "We'll have the same conversations with Carra' to see what his plans and ambitions are and to see what he would like to do.

"We want to try and keep him involved at the football club for as long as we can.

"It's hugely important for us to keep people who have been great servants like Stevie and Carra' have been.

"If they want to be here, we should do what we can to try to accommodate them.

"They are a fantastic asset to the football club both on and off the pitch, and that's something we should be looking to develop."

Ayre Defends Liverpool Racism Stance

Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre insists any perception that Liverpool's handling of the Luis Suarez affair means they take a soft stance on racism is "totally and utterly rubbish".

The Reds have come in for criticism in recent weeks for the way they have behaved during Luis Suarez's unsuccessful defence against allegations he racially abused Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

Liverpool's players wore T-shirts supporting Suarez before the result of last month's FA hearing had been revealed and the club's reputation has taken a battering in some quarters, particularly after Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi was allegedly racially abused by a fan at Anfield last week.

The Reds acted swiftly to investigate Adeyemi's complaint of abuse, with a man subsequently arrested, and Ayre is adamant there should never have been any doubt about Liverpool's commitment to fighting racism.

"One of the many disappointing things about recent events is that it has led some people to the perception that Liverpool Football Club's stance on racism and discrimination is not as firm as it is,'' Ayre said. "That is sad for the many fantastic people who work for this club and for our community team.''

"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.''

On the Adeyemi issue, he added in the club's program ahead of Stoke's visit on Saturday: "It is important to us all here that nobody is left in any doubt as to where Liverpool Football Club stand on this. Such behaviour will not be tolerated.''

In the wake of the backlash they received for their approach to Suarez's defence Ayre fully expects the Uruguay international to be the target of abuse from opposition fans.

Suarez has already served half of his eight-match ban after being found guilty of racially abusing Evra and, coincidentally, his first away match is likely to be at Old Trafford where he is likely to be afforded the most hostile of welcomes.

"It will be tough, we shouldn't kid ourselves that opposing fans are going to give him the best of times because that's the nature of football,'' Ayre told BBC Sport.”But he will get 100% support from Liverpool Football Club.

"Luis has come in for a lot of criticism but, we made a decision, Luis made a decision, not to appeal and the reason we did that was to move on. He also made a decision not to appeal the ban.

"Those things have been accepted and he is serving the penalty so we start afresh. The best way Luis can come back is to get on the pitch and score some goals and that's what everyone will expect of him.''