Sunday, December 02, 2012

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 0 Southampton

Defender Daniel Agger's first goal of the season ensured Liverpool returned to winning ways at home to Southampton but they made hard work of the victory.

The Denmark international powered home a header just before half-time, only his fifth in 133 Premier League appearances, after a host of chances had gone begging.

In doing so he helped the Reds to only their third home win of the season and back-to-back league wins at Anfield for the first time since September 2011.

But in truth it should have been far more comfortable than it actually was, which is a familiar story where Liverpool has been concerned recently.

They had 14 shots in a totally one-sided first half although Southampton could easily have had a goal of their own with Rickie Lambert's long-range shooting threatening to catch out Jose Reina.

The Southampton striker sent an early swerving effort just wide before, in added time, his 35-yard drive had Reina scrambling back to turn ball around the post.

But those two chances book-ended what was a procession of missed opportunities for the dominant hosts.

The restoration of Lucas Leiva to the side as defensive midfield linchpin after a three-month absence with a thigh injury transformed the dynamic almost immediately.

With both Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen freed to play higher up the pitch in a 4-1-4-1 formation most of the action was concentrated in their final third.

Jonjo Shelvey, also back in the side, bobbled straight at goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, Glen Johnson flicked Luis Suarez's pass across the face of goal, Steven Gerrard had a shot charged down and then fired wide after a quickly-taken free-kick to Suarez.

Gazzaniga denied both Shelvey and Suarez, who made justifiable claims he had been pulled back by Jack Cork, before the Uruguay international latched onto Reina's long kick and beat the goalkeeper only for Maya Yoshida to clear the ball for a corner.

When Shelvey smashed an angled shot past the goalkeeper but back off the inside of the far post it appeared luck was not on their side.

However, it took a double-dose of Uruguayan intervention to eventually help break the deadlock two minutes before the break.

Saints' South American summer signing Gaston Ramirez flattened international team-mate Suarez on the edge of the penalty area and although the Reds striker crashed his free-kick onto the crossbar it rebounded to Johnson.

His cross into the penalty area was met by Agger who planted a header into the top corner from 10 yards.

Southampton, having undertaken damage limitation in the first half, came out positively after the break and Liverpool struggled to reassert their dominance.

After the first-half deluge it took until midway through the second period to carve out a good opportunity.

Jose Enrique, marauding from left-back having been restored to his preferred position, exchanged passes with Suarez on the edge of the area but his toe-poke at goal was deflected wide by Luke Shaw.

The Spaniard also saw his drilled half-volley from the left of the area batted away by Gazzaniga.

Such was Liverpool's desperation to score the second and give themselves some breathing space Suarez tried to punch in Gerrard's cross.

It proved costly as his subsequent booking ruled the side's leading scorer out of next Sunday's trip to West Ham, who beat third-placed Chelsea earlier in the day.

Suarez flashed a left-footed shot just wide in added time but in the end Agger's goal proved just enough to ensure they crept closer to the top four, which manager Brendan Rodgers insists remains a possibility.

It will only do so, however, if they first find more support for Suarez in the January transfer window and start converting more of their chances.

Rodgers Calm Over Suarez Ban

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is not panicking over Luis Suarez's looming suspension.

The Premier League's top scorer picked up his fifth booking of the season in Saturday's 1-0 win over Southampton after being cautioned for deliberate handball in the second half.

Ten-goal Suarez, upon whom Liverpool has become dependent this season, will now be banned for Liverpool's trip to West Ham United next Sunday.

But Rodgers was calm when he told Sky Sports: "It is something that was always going to happen at some stage.

"It is very difficult to go that length of time without picking up a yellow card. But it is okay.

"It is unfortunate for him but it will give an opportunity for someone else."

Daniel Agger's first-half header proved enough to beat Southampton but it should have been more comfortable for Liverpool in a familiar story of wasted chances.

The Reds had the worst shooting accuracy in the league before the game against Nigel Adkins' team and Rodgers said: "As the season goes on, hopefully they (chances) will go in for us."

Rodgers also dedicated the win over Southampton to former Liverpool manager Phil Taylor and Academy player Steven Packer, who both died this week.

"Both were very much a part of the Liverpool family and today's win is devoted to the families of those two," said Rodgers.

Rodgers Looking To Make As Many Liverpool Signings As Possible

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is looking to make as many signings as he can for his 12th place side but believes they still have a chance to finish fourth in the Premier League.

Asked if he was looking to make one or two signings or as many as he could Rodgers told the Independent, “As much as I can do, really. [But] we have got a real good group here. I have always thought that if you have three-and-a-half goal-scorers in your team, you have got a chance."

"We have got Luis Suarez. Steven Gerrard will get goals. He has been terrific this season and taken on an even greater responsibility with the juniors. But he will get goals."

"There is no question of that. If we can add a couple more that you know are goal-scorers, who instinctively get into the box and get goals, with the domination that we are having in games, then we have got a chance in the second half of the season.”

The Liverpool boss still believes that his side can still climb to a top four finish despite currently sitting in 12th place.

Asked if he thought that fourth was still a realistic aim, he said “absolutely, absolutely” and pointed to the fact that no team has pulled away in that position.

“Let’s be honest – it is a big ask; a massive ask,” Rodgers told the Independent prior to his side’s meeting with Southampton at Anfield. “But [fourth] has to be our target. We are going to look to try and get as close to that as we possibly can.”

Rodgers Targets Long For Liverpool

Liverpool is set to launch a £12million January bid for striker Shane Long.

Even though West Bromwich Albion are riding high in the Premier League – and even though Long, 25, still has two-and-a-half years left on his contract – the striker would jump at the chance to move to Anfield.

Brendan Rodgers remains a fan of Long’s from his time managing Reading and the fact the Reds made a bid to sign him when Kenny Dalglish was in charge shows they have serious intentions.

Anfield chiefs have let Long’s advisors know they are interested, especially as his £25K-a-week wages fit well within their tight budget.

And the Irishman’s advisor, Pat Dolan, is fully aware of Liverpool’s desire to get him on board, having listened to their sales pitch in 2011.

But he also knows West Brom will not want to sell, especially as Long’s fitness fits perfectly into Steve Clarke’s lone-striker system.

The Republic of Ireland hitman has scored seven goals for the Baggies this term, pushing them into a European spot.

But while Long is happy at the Hawthorns he is ambitious.

Interest Mounting In Sakor

A number of English clubs are believed to be among those keeping a close eye on Asker's teenage midfielder Vajebah Sakor.

The 16-year-old is considered to be one of the brightest prospects to have emerged from Norwegian football for some time.

It has not taken long for his obvious potential to be noted, with clubs from across Europe closely monitoring his progress.

Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal are reported to be keen on adding Sakor to their ranks, with scouting missions having been sent out.

Asker, of the Norwegian second division, appreciate that they have some talent on their hands and have conceded that a deal is likely to be struck soon.

"We know that there is a lot of interest in Vajebah but we are yet to receive a concrete offer from abroad," Asker's sporting director Espen Falck told TV2.

"We know he is wanted by a lot of clubs in Europe.

"Any interested clubs will have to move fast as he is set to leave us soon."

Sakor made his debut for Asker at the age of 15, making him the youngest player to ever turn out in the Norwegian second tier.

Rodgers: Flops Should Follow Lucas

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes some of his out-of-favour players could learn a lot from the example set by midfielder Lucas Leiva.

The Brazil midfielder seamlessly slotted back into the team for the 1-0 victory over Southampton in his first appearance for three months after a thigh strain.

His performance underlined just how important he is to the side and further highlighted how much he has grown into a key figure after a difficult start to life at Anfield.

Lucas was signed by former boss Rafael Benitez from Gremio for £5million in 2007 but despite enjoying the support of the manager fans quickly turned on the then 20-year-old, criticism which left him distraught at times.

Rodgers believes the likes of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, big-money signings who have failed to impress in their first 16 months, could learn much from the Brazilian.

"I think he is a wonderful example," said the Northern Irishman after Daniel Agger headed in Glen Johnson's cross for his first goal of the season at the end of a dominant first half against the Saints.

"I know it was difficult for him as I have spoken to him at length about when he was sat in tears sometimes in the changing room - it was so difficult for him.

"But what you have to have is that inner belief and the support around you.

"I am sure in those early stages he would have had that and it allowed him to continue to fight and his own personality has seen him win through and now he is very important.

"It will be the same for the other guys. Everyone gets the opportunity and I would like to give the players the hope they can succeed.

"So it might not have been so easy for some players but everyone is important to me and they all have a part to play."

Lucas' reappearance, after what he described as the worst year of his life after only 74 minutes of Barclays Premier League action following knee surgery 12 months ago, gave Liverpool a whole new dynamic.

His anchor role in front of the back four allowed midfield partners Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen, as well as full-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, to push forward more and it led to one-way traffic in the first half.

In the 14 attempts in the opening 45 minutes Jonjo Shelvey smashed a shot back off the inside of a post while Luis Suarez crashed a free-kick against the crossbar which eventually led to the goal.

Lucas is hoping for a fresh start after dismissing his two Premier League appearances, and two in Europa League qualifiers.

"I didn't count the other comeback because it was so short," said the 25-year-old.

"I was really looking forward to the game and the feeling against Southampton was the same as my first match for Gremio.

"I played more minutes (88) than people were expecting and now it is just a question of games and training sessions, which is the only way I will get to the level I was.

"I think it was really positive, especially as it is a year since my first injury.

"I was really pleased with the performance. I need to improve a lot but that is a good step I have made.

"Everyone knows it has been a long journey for me to turn around the opinion of people but they really appreciate the work I do for the team and the passion I have for the club.

"It was a great day for me and I hope I have many more."

Sterling Hits Back At Liverpool Over New Contract

Raheem Sterling has NOT been made a new contract offer by Liverpool.

Sterling’s advisors are angry after Brendan Rodgers publicly claimed the 17-year-old would be “very foolish” not to sign a deal with Liverpool.

And they insist that no formal contract was put on the table in either of the two meetings that they had with Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre.

The second meeting with Ayre came this week, but no offer was made.

The Sterling camp were amazed when Liverpool manager Rodgers then went public in what could be seen as attempting to bully the teenager into signing.

Rodgers said on Thursday: “If you are 17 and playing regularly, you would be very foolish not to commit yourself very quickly. If I was Raheem Sterling and his agents, I would look to tie it up very quickly.

“Raheem’s (contract) has been ongoing, really.

"The club and his representatives are in good dialogue and communication and hopefully we will get that resolved very soon, but there is no timescale.”

Sterling’s advisors also insist the England international is not being greedy and has not asked for anywhere near £50,000-a-week.

Rodgers' statement is in danger of backfiring as it has only highlighted the fact that Liverpool have yet to make a formal offer to Sterling, who turns 18 next week.

Young Reds Lose At Middlesbrough

An experimental Liverpool U18 side lost 3-1 away at Middlesbrough in freezing conditions on Saturday.

With an eye on Tuesday's FA Youth Cup third round tie at Swindon Town, Steve Cooper chose to rest key players and fielded an experimental line-up mainly comprising youngsters from the U16 team.

Louis Roubles scored the consolation goal for Cooper's charges.

Reflecting on the game, Cooper told "It was a good opportunity to give some of the youngsters in the squad a chance.

"I thought we only had ourselves to blame really because we had a lot of possession but gave away some sloppy goals, and if you do that you are not going to take anything from the game."

Liverpool U18 team: Mersin, Burke, Cleary, Brewitt, O'Hanlon, Rossiter (Marsh 60), Randall, Trickett-Smith (Kent 45), Roubles, Brannagan, Ojo.