Friday, November 30, 2012

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Southampton

Liverpool will look for just a fourth win of a stuttering Premier League campaign when Southampton makes their return to Anfield for the first time in eight years on Saturday.

The visit of a team in the relegation zone should be an early Christmas gift for Brendan Rodgers and his men, but Southampton have won just as many games this season as Liverpool - who despite playing some decent football at times have found wins hard to come by.

Again Rodgers was happy with the performance of his team at Tottenham in midweek, but again the result did not match that level of performance and it is an open secret that scoring goals continues to stunt any growth in his developing team.

The fact Southampton sit just four points behind Liverpool tells its own story, but with a decent run of fixtures coming up in December though now is the time to start turning things around at Anfield.

Returning midfielder Lucas Leiva could help by freeing up Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen to do more of their work further up the pitch, and offering some help to Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling - who is still seemingly stalling over a new contract.

Former Liverpool youth player Nigel Adkins hopes to enjoy his return to Merseyside and his Saints have started to breathe life into their season with an unbeaten four-match streak including back-to-back wins lifting them to within a point of leaving the drop-zone.

But for a goalkeeping error from Paulo Gazzaniga against Norwich, Southampton would be travelling north as high as 15th in the table but they have improved since the start of the season and will aim to keep the home crowd frustrated early on.

Midfielder Lucas Leiva returns to Liverpool's match-day squad to face Southampton at Anfield after a three-month injury absence.

The Brazil international has finally recovered from a thigh injury, while Joe Cole has overcome a hamstring problem which forced him out of the midweek defeat at Tottenham.

Defender Andre Wisdom, on the bench at White Hart Lane after a knee injury, could come back into contention for a starting place.

Under-fire goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga looks set to start for Southampton again when they travel to Liverpool.

The 20-year-old Argentinian has come under increasing scrutiny following a number of recent high-profile mistakes, including the one that saw Norwich grab an equalizer in midweek.

Danny Fox could return from a knee complaint, while Frazer Richardson and Richard Chaplow are closing in on a return.

Displays Keep Rodgers Happy

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers admits he is satisfied with the progress of his charges since his appointment in the summer.

The Reds are currently fourth in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Manchester United, but Rodgers believes his team should be better placed.

Liverpool's eight-match unbeaten run was ended at Tottenham in midweek, but Rodgers was able to take comfort from the performance at White Hart Lane.

And the Reds manager is looming to get back to winning ways when Southampton visits Anfield on Saturday.

Rodgers said: "We are not in a position we deserve to be in, but ultimately we have to turn the performances into results and that is what we aim to do.

"It has been terrific to watch; you've seen the growth of the group, the mixture of young and senior players really playing with freedom and all you can do is keep your head down and work hard.

"The level of our game is a good one but we have to align that with results and that is important. Once we find the solutions to scoring more goals I believe we can push on."

Lucas Leiva In Contention To Face Southampton

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed that midfielder Lucas will be in the squad for the visit of Southampton on Saturday after being out through injury since 26th August.

The Brazilian had missed the majority of last season through injury and his availability will be a huge boost to the Reds.

In his press conference at Liverpool's training ground Rodgers also confirmed that midfielder Joe Cole will also return for an injury that kept him out of the game at Spurs on Wednesday night.

“The squad is fine,” said Rodgers. "Joe Cole will come back into contention. He had a scan on an injury but that showed up fine, so he should be available again at the weekend.

"Lucas Leiva will return to the squad, which is great news because he's been working very, very hard and played the reserve game last week.

"He's been training for a few weeks and looked very good, so we'll look forward to bringing him back in.

"Other than that, the mood is very good and we're really looking forward to the game."

The Northern Irishman continued to talk up the impact that Lucas' return will have on the team.

"He's very much looking forward to it. He's worked tirelessly in his recovery. We're just trying to nudge him along and make sure it's the right time.

"He had a few weeks of training before he played his reserve game. He looked very capable in that game and he's had another week of training and I don't think he can go any further with regards to training.

"His next step is games, so hopefully in the next couple of weeks he'll get opportunities to play and improve his football fitness.

"Mentally he's a tough boy. His mental fitness is very strong and he's looking forward to helping the team.

"It's a big boost because he's well in tune with what we're trying to do here. He's been kicking his heels on the side wanting to help his mates and the group, so I am delighted to have him back.

"He's a good guy and has a lot to offer the team, both on and off the field, and it'll be great to have him back in the squad."

Liverpool and Chelsea Linked With Transfer Move For Dutch Defender

Liverpool has joined Chelsea in the race to sign Dutch defender Stefan de Vrij.

The 20-year-old centre back is out of contract at Feyenoord in 2014 and is unwilling to commit beyond that point despite holding the captain’s armband at De Kuip, according to The Daily Mail.

The paper goes on to claim that Liverpool are now on the trail of the player, with manager Brendan Rodgers in the market to add a centre back at Anfield.

Sebastian Coates is attracting interest from Italy, the report claims, and the former Nacional starlet could be replaced by De Vrij on Merseyside. Any new addition at the back would provide competition for Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher.

Liverpool isn’t the only Premier League club interested in the two-cap Holland international however, with the Blues also linked.

The Metro claimed earlier in the week that Chelsea were leading other English clubs in their pursuit of the player, and were ‘believed to be ready’ to table a £5 million offer for a player who has turned down two new contract offers with the Eredivisie outfit.

Rafael Benitez has taken the reigns at Stamford Bridge on an interim basis following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, and it’s unclear how much control of the purse string the Spaniard will have in the January transfer window.

That hasn’t stopped De Vrij being linked with a move to west London however, and he’d compete with David Luiz, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic for a place in the Chelsea side.

Liverpool Target Out-Of-Form Spanish Striker

Liverpool is being linked with a move for Spanish striker Nolito.

The 26-year-old forward is struggling to make an impact at Benfica this season, losing his place in the first-team after an impressive debut season with the Portuguese side.

After moving from Barcelona to the Estadio da Luz on a free transfer in the summer of 2011, Nolito netted 11 goals in 37 appearances for last season’s Primeira Liga runners-up.

However, his fall down the pecking order has led to speculation over a move to the Premier League, with The Daily Express claiming that Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is interested in bringing the player to Anfield.

The paper goes on to claim that Rodgers is eager to revive the former Ecija starlet’s career on Merseyside, as the Reds look to bolster their attacking line in the transfer window.

Luis Suarez currently leads the line alone at Anfield, with Fabio Borini and Andy Carroll – the other senior options at Liverpool – unavailable.

It’s unclear how much Rodgers would have to pay to bring the player to the club, but the paper also suggests that Benfica may be willing to part with the player in 2013.

Liverpool Lining Up Deal For Former Leeds Winger

Liverpool could make a surprise January swoop for former Leeds United star Max Gradel.

Gradel, who now plays for Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne, came through the ranks at Leicester City but established himself at Leeds, whom he signed for following a successful loan spell.

The Ivory Coast international's displays at Elland Road lead to him being named the Fans' and Players' Player of the Year for 2011, and he earned himself a move to his current club in August of that year.

Gradel hit the ground running in France and has been scouted extensively by Liverpool, but Ukrainian heavyweights Shakhtar Donetsk are also keeping tabs on the winger.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is desperate to strengthen his attacking options and the 24-year-old, who can play as a winger and as a striker, fits the bill perfectly.

Harry Redknapp Flirting With Joe Cole Enquiry

QPR manager Harry Redknapp has called Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole a top player but insists that he has not made an enquiry for him yet.

Redknapp bought Cole through the youth system into the first team at West Ham and now as he looks to save West London club Queens Park Ranger from relegation he has praised the former Chelsea man but says that he has not made enquiries about any potential transfers.

"I like Joe, I had him as an 11-year-old," Redknapp told reporters.

"The talent is there and I think there's still a top player in there. I haven't made any enquiries yet - I haven't made any enquiries for anyone."

The QPR boss has also been linked with Marseille striker Loic Remy, who was close to joining Tottenham during Redknapp's reign at White Hart Lane.

But despite the speculation, the 65-year-old has reiterated that the side's current objectives are to turn performances around.

He added, "I was interested in Remy but that was then. It's a different situation now. He would be expensive. It depends on where we are in January.

"I've never discussed players with anyone. Here we are, we need to win matches now. January is way off."

Match Report: Tottenham 2 - 1 Liverpool

Gareth Bale scored a stunning free-kick and set up Aaron Lennon with a wonderful solo run to bring Liverpool's eight-match unbeaten run to an end at White Hart Lane.

The Welshman scored what has to be one of the most unlucky own goals in Premier League history to tarnish his evening slightly, but Tottenham still managed to come away with their second successive win despite an edgy second half in north London.

Bale tore West Ham apart at White Hart Lane on Sunday and he began Wednesday evening's game in similarly devastating fashion, embarking on a 50-yard run before playing in Lennon for the opener after seven minutes.

The Welshman then smashed home a brilliant swirling free-kick to make it 2-0 after 16 minutes, the ball looping and dipping over the wall leaving Pepe Reina completely non-plussed.

The win, which moves Spurs above Arsenal and Everton into fifth, did not come easily - but it did remind the club's critics that in Bale they have a man capable of winning a match almost single-handedly.

Playing at the same high tempo that helped them to destroy West Ham on Sunday, Tottenham flew out of the blocks and stamped their authority on the game from the off on a bitterly cold night in north London.

Reina got a taste of things to come when he saw a swirling Bale free-kick fly at him from 30 yards in the fourth minute, punching nervously away.

Bale was key to Tottenham's quick start. The Welshman latched on to Jermain Defoe's pass after the England striker had pinched the ball off Steven Gerrard, but he could only shoot at Reina.

Tottenham's early pressure paid off as Spurs took the lead in style. Bale collected the ball on the half way line and breezed past four players before squaring to Lennon, who tapped home from close range.

Luis Suarez spearheaded the Liverpool fightback, testing Hugo Lloris with a low drive after Michael Dawson's tackle had knocked the ball in to the Uruguayan's path.

A mix-up between Lloris and Kyle Walker then almost gifted the visitors an equalizer. The Frenchman rushed out of his goal to clear Suarez's through-ball - but the defender took the ball away from his goalkeeper into the path of Jordan Henderson, who blazed wide of an open goal.

The Spurs fans mocked Henderson for his miss and the midfielder's evening took another turn for the worse moments later when he was harshly adjudged to have fouled Dempsey 30 yards out.

Bale took a five-yard run up and despatched a powerful drive which dipped and swerved over the wall, completely bamboozling Reina, who could only stand and watch the ball sail in to his right.

Liverpool thought they should have had a penalty in the 36th minute when Steven Gerrard went down under pressure from Mousa Dembele, but Phil Dowd waved play on. The danger was not over for Spurs though, as Dawson dribbled in to the path of Suarez, whose shot was cleared off the line by Walker.

Liverpool continued to push for an equalizer after the break, but they almost conceded a third when Martin Skrtel's poor clearance set Defoe free but Dempsey selfishly muscled his team-mate off the ball and shot wide.

Spurs were struggling to get on the ball and their best threat came from set plays. Bale fizzed another long-range bender just wide in the 68th minute.

Two minutes later the former Southampton man unwittingly put Liverpool back in the game.

Lennon was well-placed on the line to clear Gerrard's header, but unfortunately for Spurs, the winger's clearance cracked Bale square in the face and flew in to the home net.

Bale was then jeered by the away fans after being booked for diving, although replays showed Daniel Agger did make contact with the winger's trailing leg as he charged at the Reds defence.

With 10 minutes to go Agger hooked the ball back for Suarez, but the striker snatched at the ball and his volley flew over.

Jonjo Shelvey chipped just wide and Suarez thought he should have had a penalty in a nervous final few minutes, but Tottenham held on until the final whistle, which Villas-Boas greeted with a huge double fist-pump.

Rodgers Rages At Referee

Brendan Rodgers launched in to a tirade against referee Phil Dowd for his performance as Liverpool's eight-match unbeaten run came to an unfortunate end at Tottenham.

Spurs ran out 2-1 winners at White Hart Lane thanks to a stunning free-kick from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon's first half tap-in.

Rodgers, whose team pulled a goal back courtesy of a Bale own goal, was infuriated at Dowd for not awarding them two spot-kicks - one for a foul on Steven Gerrard by Mousa Dembele, and the other when William Gallas took out Luis Suarez in the dying minutes.

Earlier this season, Rodgers complained that his team were not getting enough decisions from officials, and he was deeply unhappy tonight that Dowd awarded the free-kick that led to Bale's goal when Clint Dempsey went down under the slightest of touches from Jordan Henderson.

"Nothing is going for us away from home, that's how its been all season in terms of decisions," Liverpool boss Rodgers said in his post-match press conference.

"Clint Dempsey has been clever (with the free-kick). He gets a hand in his back and goes down.

"We should have had two penalties. It's incredible to have gone through the season without getting a penalty.

"The Steven Gerrard one was nearly assault. How is that not a penalty?

"Watch the second one. Luis Suarez spins, William Gallas swings his left foot, catches him and he goes down.

"The statistics will tell you that we've been in the box as much as anyone, but to arrive at this stage of season and not get a penalty..."

Tottenham were left desperately hanging on pretty much from the moment that Bale's free-kick doubled the hosts' advantage, with Suarez and Henderson both guilty of missing good chances.

"We will struggle to play as well as that and not get anything," Rodgers added.

"We were absolutely outstanding. We would have been disappointed had we come away from that game with a point."

In the end it was Bale's masterclass performance that proved to be the difference between the two sides.

The Welshman eased past four Liverpool players on a 50-yard run before squaring to Lennon for Tottenham's opener and his 30-yard swirling free-kick was a strike Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of.

The only negative for the former Southampton winger came with his comedy own-goal in the second half when he found himself in the way of Lennon's goal-line clearance and saw the ball rebound in off his head.

Bale has now scored 10 goals for club and country this season - and Andre Villas-Boas admits the biggest teams on the planet will have been alerted by the winger's form.

"Tottenham as a club want to keep him here as long as we can but we understand players like this have propositions, have market which is the nature of the game," the Spurs boss said.

"At the moment he's doing extremely well for Spurs and we are absolutely amazed with what he can do for us. Hopefully, we have no doubt he can become a top player in the future. He is on to a great career."

Reina was powerless to stop the ball as it dipped and swerved in to the net for Tottenham's first and Bale nearly beat the Liverpool stopper twice more from similar range.

"Ronaldo showed you can almost hit the ball from the bottom to the top and it has an effect it changes direction," Villas-Boas said.

"Gareth has the power to hit the ball at that pace and that's why the ball gets so many effects."

Liverpool Hoping Big Things From New Barry

Liverpool academy director Frank McParland hopes Reds teenager Marc Pelosi can develop into one of the finest midfielders in the Premier League, and has compared the American to Manchester City star Gareth Barry.

Pelosi joined Liverpool a year ago, despite keen interest from Major League clubs in his native USA, and the 17-year-old continues to impress in the Anfield club's youth system.

The teenager has been tipped by USA under-20 manager Tab Ramos to play his country's senior side for the 'next decade', and Liverpool are also hoping for big things from Pelosi.

According to Liverpool academy chief McParland, Pelosi is similar in style to Barry - a former target for the Anfield club - and the Californian has what it takes to reach the top.

"He reminds me of Gareth Barry of Man City," McParland told "We think he has really high potential."

Liverpool's pursuit of Barry in the summer transfer window of 2008 was well-documented, with Rafael Benitez striving desperately to bring the England international to Anfield from Aston Villa.

Barry outlined his desire to leave Villa for Liverpool, but the Reds were unable to meet the club's demands, and the midfielder joined Manchester City for £12 million a year later.

Liverpool FC’s U19s Keep NextGen Qualification Hopes Alive

Liverpool’s Under-19s earned an excellent victory in their latest NextGen Series match on Wednesday night.

In his first game in charge of the side since being appointed earlier in the week, Alex Inglethorpe’s team defeated their counterparts from Borussia Dortmund 3-0 in the match played at St Helens’ home ground, Langtree Park.

The victory, which keeps the Reds’ hopes of remaining in the competition, was built on a first-half double from skipper Conor Coady.

Liverpool completed the scoring in the second period when Adam Morgan found the net 13 minutes from time.

The result gave Liverpool some revenge after they fell to a 2-1 defeat to the same opposition in the competition at the end of last month in Germany.

Liverpool is now third in Group 5 behind leaders Rosenborg and Inter Milan. The Reds have one group game left, home to the Italians on January 8.

Inglethorpe’s team was dominant throughout the clash and took the lead midway through the opening period when Krisztian Adorjan combined with defender Brad Smith. His cross to the back post was perfectly struck and Coady headed home from close range.

The advantage was doubled five minutes later when Morgan was upended by Dortmund keeper Cedric Wilmes inside the penalty area.

Coady took the responsibility from 12 yards and duly dispatched the spot-kick.

Both Marc Pelosi and Jordon Ibe both went close to making it three before Morgan saw an effort cleared off the line.

Adorjan was unfortunate to see a neat flicked effort come back off an upright in the second half but the Reds eventually wrapped up the points when Morgan coolly netted via a pass from his Hungarian team-mate.

There was still time for Adorjan to strike another effort against the woodwork but the win was already secured.