Saturday, August 04, 2012

Match Report: Gomel 0 - 1 Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers' first match in charge of Liverpool ended in victory after a 1-0 win against Gomel in their Europa League third qualifying round first leg tie at the Central Stadion in Belarus.

Stewart Downing's 25-yard effort midway through the second half was enough to give the Reds the edge going into the second leg match at Anfield next Wednesday.

Gomel dominated the majority of the game and the Merseysiders were lucky to leave with the win after the hosts missed plenty of chances.

Liverpool's back four looked rocky throughout and it was poor finishing rather than the performance of goalkeeper Brad Jones which cost the home side.

Gomel, who are halfway through their domestic season, were full of energy and pressed Liverpool high up the pitch, giving the visitors little time to dwell on the ball.

Rodgers promised he would take the competition seriously and picked a strong side although Daniel Agger and Andy Carroll - both of whom have been linked with moves away from Anfield - stayed in the north-west.

Steven Gerrard was captain, while Jamie Carragher made his 700th Liverpool appearance and was partnered in the heart of the defence by Martin Skrtel.

Joe Cole, who spent last season on loan at Lille, also started - while summer signing Fabio Borini led the line in a 4-3-3 formation.

However former Chelsea man Cole lasted just 23 minutes as he hobbled off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, with 17-year-old Raheem Sterling his replacement.

Both teams began slowly although the visitors showed they were already buying into the Rodgers approach, with the vast majority of their football played on the floor.

Sadly for the Merseysiders it failed to yield opportunities and it was Gomel who created the first chance 25 minutes in.

Dmitri Platonov skipped past Gerrard and surged to the byline before delivering an accurate cross to Igor Voronkov, who headed over from close range.

Five minutes before the break and central defender Martin Skrtel was first outmuscled and then outpaced by striker Aleksandr Alumona, who shot straight at Jones - with the Australian deflecting the effort wide.

The danger was far from over and a short corner from Gomel caught the visitors out and Platonov should have tested Jones with a free header from 10 yards out, but mistimed and looped his effort over.

The hosts took just a minute to create an opportunity in the second half as once again the backline fell asleep as Platonov was played onside by Carragher and raced away down the left. The forward rounded Jones but his touch was too heavy as the ball ran away for a goal-kick.

Liverpool had another let off and it was Platonov who again went close after 65 minutes. Jay Spearing gave the ball away cheaply and Sergey Kozeka hit a rasping shot which cannoned onto the post with Jones well beaten. The rebound fell to Alumona who completely mishit his effort into the path of Platonov who, with the goal gaping, somehow shot wide.

Gomel were made to pay for their incompetence in front of goal as just two minutes later - following the introduction of Lucas for Jordan Henderson - the visitors were in front.

Downing cut inside from the right and unopposed from 25 yards fired past Vladimir Bushma into the left hand corner.

The goal deflated the home side, with Liverpool keeping possession well for the remainder of the game.

The visitors could have doubled their lead late on as Borini, who lacked service all night, burst through. However Bushma forced the Italian wide and parried the striker's effort away from danger.

However Liverpool left with a win and a clean sheet as they seek to make sure of an extended run in this season's Europa League.

Downing Happy To Be Versatile

Stewart Downing will willingly play on either wing if it means he features in the first-team plans of new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

The England international was on Thursday night the Anfield club's match-winner in their Europa League qualifying first-leg victory over FC Gomel in Belarus.

Downing played the full 90 minutes, operating on both the left and right wings, in what was Rodgers' first competitive game in charge of Liverpool since succeeding Kenny Dalglish.

The £20million summer 2011 signing from Aston Villa has failed to justify his price tag since being signed by Dalglish.

But Downing was happy with his performance against Gomel and he will continue to be versatile in order to fit into Rodgers' thinking.

"I'm not fussed, as long as I'm in the team," naturally left-footed Downing told Liverpool's official website with reference to playing on either the left or the right.

"That's the main thing. The competition for places is hot here and wherever the manager sees me playing, I'm happy to play there.

"I got the goal from the right, but if he wants me to play on the left I'm happy to do that as well."

Downing has also revealed how advice from Rodgers helped in his goal against Gomel, with the winger cutting in from the right before shooting left-footed into the back of the net.

"The ball fell to me and I thought about how the manager has been saying to come inside and get a shot off, so that's what I was looking to do," he said.

"Luckily for me it went in. I was happy with the strike."

Rodgers Plays Down Cole Injury

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers played down Joe Cole's injury after the playmaker was substituted during the Reds' 1-0 Europa League third qualifying round victory over Gomel.

Cole, who spent last season on loan at Lille, lasted just 23 minutes before he was replaced by 17-year-old Raheem Sterling at the Central Stadion in Belarus.

"Joe just felt his hamstring a little bit," Rodgers said. "I don't think it is totally pulled and it was just a little bit of tightness so we had to take him off.

"It disrupted our plans a little bit but it was better to have him come off rather than risk injury."

Glen Johnson was replaced by Martin Kelly just one minute into the start of the second period, but Rodgers said that was a tactical move and not forced upon him.

"Glen was only scheduled to play 45 minutes anyway so he was taken off as planned," he added.

Stewart Downing's second-half strike meant Rodgers' first competitive game in charge of Liverpool ended with victory, and the former Swansea boss was pleased with what he saw.

"It will take time until Liverpool start playing the way Swansea did last season (tactically)," he said. "Actually the way you play depends on the players you have.

"I saw two things which were very important for me, I saw desire and commitment. I am very grateful to my players for a good game.

"Obviously it was a serious test of the players' fitness and I am really happy with the result.

"This was my first competitive game in charge of Liverpool and for me it didn't really matter whether the game was played in Belarus or Brazil as I am really honoured to manage this side."

And the Ulsterman was impressed with Gomel, who on another day could have emerged victorious after wasting plenty of chances in front of goal.

Rodgers continued: "This game was a great test for us at this point of the season. We saw that Gomel is a very good club which is already into the season.

"Their tactical idea was to defend and counter-attack so it was difficult for us to find the open spaces in the first half but at half-time I told my players to be patient and that the chances would come.

"After the first 45 minutes I also changed the structure of the midfield and Steven Gerrard started to play a bit lower than the other two central midfielders.

"I am glad that Stewart scored the goal as we put him on that side to come in and shoot. It was a great shot."

Carragher Focuses On Rodgers

Jamie Carragher insists his 700th appearance for Liverpool was less important than Brendan Rodgers taking charge of the club for a first competitive game.

The centre-back on Thursday night played the full 90 minutes as a 1-0 win was secured over FC Gomel in Belarus in the first leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie.

But Carragher, second in Liverpool's all-time list of appearances behind Ian Callaghan (857), was not interested in another personal landmark and instead wanted to focus on Rodgers.

The new Anfield manager only arrived earlier this summer from Swansea City and so, amid pre-season friendlies, it was his first meaningful fixture at his new club.

And Carragher told Liverpool's official website: "It was a nice night for me on that score (700 games) but it was more important, because it was the manager's first game.

"It's a big thing for a manager in his first game, especially playing in Europe.

"It's a big thing for Liverpool, great tradition, and it's great we got the victory for the manager more than anything. As I said, his first game was more important than my 700."

Liverpool failed to impress again Belarusian top-flight side Gomel, who are midway through their season, but Carragher thought that was due to the different stages of preparation.

"We're pleased with the victory," he said. "It was a tough game, as European away games always are.

"They're in the middle of a season and I think you could see that in the fitness levels - they were much better at times than us."

Rodgers Explains Agger Absence

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has dismissed suggestions of Daniel Agger's Europa League absence being an indicator of a move to Manchester City.

The centre-back was left out of the Anfield club's squad for Thursday evening's Europa League qualifier against FC Gomel and that sparked extra speculation.

Sky Sports sources on Tuesday had revealed Liverpool had rejected two bids from City for Agger and further reports had since suggested the Dane handed in a transfer request.

Agger's agent, Per Steffensen, on Thursday night did little to calm the situation by announcing his client was 'not injured in any way' before the Gomel game.

But Rodgers is adamant the injury-prone centre-back was only absent in Belarus due to fitness issues, as he said: "The plan was always for Daniel to stay behind.

"Everyone knows his history of injuries. He came back to pre-season training after everyone else and is still not up to speed.

"He is fit but I have to make sure he is up to speed before he plays, because everyone knows his history with injuries."

Agger is under contract with Liverpool until the summer of June 2014 and earlier this summer he admitted he would welcome the chance to discuss a new deal.

City could therefore find it difficult to convince their Premier League rivals to sell and reports have suggested the English champions are instead looking at Marseille's Nicolas N'Koulou.

Liverpool Reportedly Close To Agreeing Deal For Welsh Star

Liverpool are rumoured to be close to agreeing a deal with Swansea for midfield star Joe Allen.

According to reports in the South Wales Evening Post, the Kop giants have been in discussions with Allen's representatives over personal terms, while Swansea decide whether to accept a refuted £12.5 million offer.

Liverpool have recently appointed former Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers to the Anfield hotseat, with an agreement that he would refrain from plundering the Swans for their best players.

However, it appears as though Swansea officials have wained on this after the handsome offer for the 22 year-old Welsh international.

Allen is believed to have a £15 million release-clause in his contract, and this could see the club hold out for the full-amount, as they prepare for life without the midfielder.

Any deal will likely happen after the Olympic Games, with Allen currently on duty with the Great Britain side.

When asked to comment on the player's current situation, new Swansea boss Michael Laudrup said: “There’s no latest — he is with the GB team at the Olympics so I have not had the opportunity to talk to him since I arrived.

“There’s nothing concrete. I can read the papers talking about the interest — it’s normal there is interest because the new manager of Liverpool is the ex-manager of Joe Allen.

“We all know he is a very good player, but I can assure you there’s nothing concrete at this moment.

“Let’s see what happens — I can’t really tell you anything else right now.”

Liverpool Join Tottenham In Chase For Porto Winger

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are hunting Porto’s Christian Atsu, as both clubs seek to provide depth to their wide areas.

It was Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas who originally promoted the lively winger to Porto’s first team during his tenure at the Portuguese club, and the former Chelsea boss is interested in bringing the rapid wide man to north London, following an impressive spell out on loan to Rio Ave last campaign, Metro report.

Liverpool are monitoring the 20-year-old winger’s progress, following his impressive season at the Portuguese minnows, where he bagged six goals in 27 appearances. Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for swift, incisive wide players, as was evident during his tenure at Swansea, suggests he may look to strengthen that area of his team, following the sale of Maxi Rodriguez earlier in the summer and Stewart Downing’s poor form last season.

According to the Metro, Porto will allow the Ghanaian to go out on a season-long loan with an option to buy afterwards, but both Liverpool and Tottenham are keen to take the player on a permanent basis.

Tottenham Consider Shock Move For Liverpool Youngster

There is a belief that Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is keen to secure the services of the 17-year-old and would be prepared to make a substantial offer of around £7million for the teenager.

Liverpool would certainly want to keep hold of Sterling who cost just £600,000 when he made the move from QPR as Rodgers is believed to be a fan of the exciting young winger.

He has already represented England at Under-17 level and last season was one of the standout performers for Liverpool's NextGen side which made it through to the semi-finals of the competition.

Previous manager Kenny Dalglish handed Sterling his league debut last season when he came on against Wigan Athletic to become the second youngest player ever to play for Liverpool.

With Rodgers looking to play the same style of football that was so successful at Swansea City, there was a belief that Sterling could look to perform the same role that Scott Sinclair did so successfully lasts season working under the Northern Irishman.

Fiorentina Claim Aquilani Deal

Alberto Aquilani's difficult and disappointing time as a Liverpool player appears to be over after Fiorentina co-owner Andrea Delle Valle claimed the signing of the Italian.

Midfielder Aquilani was this summer expected to leave Anfield having made less than 30 appearances for the club since being signed for £20million in the summer of 2009.

Injuries and an apparent failure to adapt to the Premier League saw the former Roma star loaned to both Juventus and AC Milan.

And Aquilani, who had been signed by ex-Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez as a replacement for Xabi Alonso, has wanted to return to Italy.

It appears he has got his wish, with Italian newspapers claiming a three-year deal has been agreed and a medical is also said to be taking place in Florence.

Delle Valle has told Sky Sport 24: "Aquilani is ours."

Brendan Rodgers, who is the fourth Liverpool manager during Aquilani's time at the club, had on Monday explained he was waiting to make an assessment on the 28-year-old.

"The situation with Alberto is simple," said Rodgers. "I have wanted to assess him over the first few weeks of training.

"Over the course of the next week, I will make a decision on what's going to be best for us, whether he will be useful for the group or whether it's best for him to move on."

Bellamy Not Thinking Of Medal

Craig Bellamy is refusing to get carried away and start dreaming of winning an Olympic medal.

Team GB faces South Korea in the quarter-finals on Saturday after going through the group stages unbeaten.

Bellamy, who has been one of the stand-out performers for Stuart Pearce's side, is keeping his feet on his ground after experiencing so many disappointments on the international front with Wales.

Asked if it Team GB could claim Olympic glory, Bellamy said: "That's you English. That is what you lot do - I'm Welsh!

"I'm just grateful to be involved. We are not going to win it. We aren't going to come first, second, third.

"We are just trying to beat South Korea. You can't look too far ahead. You just can't because anything can happen.

"I watch it sometimes and think, 'Be careful - you could go out in the next game'. But that is what's great about football.

"Being Welsh has taught me that, with two minutes to go, anything can happen. I've come into this with a wider look. Now it is just pure and simple - let's have a go and enjoy it."