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."