Monday, December 10, 2012

Match Report: West Ham 2 - 3 Liverpool

Liverpool proved they could win without talismanic striker Luis Suarez as they fought from behind to take three points from Upton Park.

Uruguay international Suarez was serving a one-match ban but the Reds struck twice late in the game to seal a win that sees them leapfrog West Ham in the table.

Former Hammers' defender Glen Johnson opened the scoring for the visitors with a tremendous effort before a Mark Noble penalty and Steven Gerrard own goal turned the game in West Ham's favour before the break.

It was another West Ham academy graduate in substitute Joe Cole who pulled the visitors level in the second half with a James Collins own goal completing the comeback for Liverpool.

Gerrard, returning to captain the visitors after recovering from illness, saw an early effort deflected behind for a corner following some good work by Jonjo Shelvey.

West Ham then had a few minutes of dominance and Mohamed Diame, a one-time Liverpool target, saw his shot deflect off the back of team-mate Carlton Cole and drift just wide of Jose Reina's goal.

West Ham's Matt Jarvis was getting a lot of the ball down the left flank but was soon found wanting when he was tested defensively.

Gerrard played the ball out to Johnson on the touchline and the England full-back cut inside Jarvis with ease before arrowing a strike past the out-stretched hand of Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Johnson did not celebrate out of respect for his former club but the Liverpool bench was up in unison as the visitors grabbed an early lead.

Raheem Sterling had two chances to double Liverpool's advantage, firstly firing wide of Jaaskelainen's near post as Gerrard's shot was cleared straight to his feet.

Moments later Johnson again got the beating of former Wolves winger Jarvis and rolled the ball into Sterling's path, but the 18-year-old's low drive was just off target.

West Ham started to get more into the game after 25 minutes and again began testing the Liverpool defence with a number of high balls into the area, with their equalizer duly coming nine minutes before the interval.

A West Ham set-piece was cleared as far as Guy Demel whose shot hit the arm of Joe Allen as the former Swansea man closed him down.

Referee Lee Probert deemed the block to be intentional and pointed to the spot, with Noble stepping up to coolly convert the penalty.

Matthew Taylor, recalled to the starting line-up by Sam Allardyce after making an impact as a substitute against Chelsea last weekend, then headed high and wide from close range as West Ham started to take control.

The spell of pressure yielded a second goal for Allardyce's side, albeit it in fortunate circumstances.

Liverpool switched off after conceding a free-kick which Noble took quickly and found Jarvis in space on the left.

The 26-year-old produced yet another fantastic delivery into the box and the ball was sent flying past Reina off the head of Gerrard.

Shelvey then had a good opportunity to level on the stroke of half-time when he was picked out by Stewart Downing but his shot was well wide.

The second half started with both sides looking to be more creative in possession although neither Reina nor Jaaskelainen was tested before the hour-mark.

Sterling came close to levelling as his left-foot effort from the edge of the penalty area forced Jaaskelainen to flick the ball over his bar for a corner.

Shelvey had worked hard in an unfamiliar attacking role all afternoon and saw a header flash wide with 20 minutes remaining before Rodgers introduced Jordan Henderson in place of the ineffectual Lucas.

A serious looking leg injury suffered by Diame made Allardyce's afternoon even worse, with the in-form midfielder replaced by James Tomkins after pulling up hurt.

Joe Cole had been introduced by Liverpool before the game was 30 minutes old and was warmly received by the home fans.

The former Chelsea playmaker has struggled during his time with Liverpool and had little impact on the game until he struck a venomous equalizer after being played in by Sterling and, like Johnson, he refused to celebrate the goal.

The turnaround was completed just 12 minutes from time as Henderson swung in a low cross that Shelvey and Collins competed for with the balling looping up off the boot of the West Ham defender and over a helpless Jaaskelainen.

Sterling almost burst through to wrap up the game for the visitors, who saw out the five minutes of stoppage time to creep into the top half of the table.

Rodgers: Wait Until We Really Hit Form

Wait until we really hit form – that was the message from Reds boss Brendan Rodgers after his team claimed back-to-back league victories for the first time this season and climbed into the top half.

A stirring second-half comeback saw Liverpool triumph 3-2 over West Ham at Upton Park, with early substitute Joe Cole and an own goal filling the absence of suspended striker Luis Suarez.

The Northern Irishman was particularly pleased with the determination his whole team showed on Sunday and warned that there's more to come in the second half of the campaign.

"For us there was no drama. My focus since I came here has been about the collective. We all share the ball so we must share the goals, we must share the workload," Rodgers explained.

"We're not asking anyone to do any more than anyone else and I had great belief in the players that we could score and create goals tonight.

"We have done it all season but just not been clinical enough at times. I think you saw today the quality in the team and equally the fight in the team and that was very pleasing.

"We're just trying to build momentum. We had a difficult opening fixture list and when you couple that with trying to play a certain way of football, it was always going to be difficult.

"But certainly over the last few weeks we have progressed - let's just see how we finish. This is one of the biggest clubs in world football and everyone knows where it should be.

"We're making steady progress in climbing the league and that's important for us. It's a very tight league this season. We've supposedly had an unbelievably bad season up until now, so once we really hit form we'll be alright."

Rodgers Delighted With Young Shelvey

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers hailed Jonjo Shelvey after the Reds came from behind to beat West Ham 3-2 at Upton Park.

Glen Johnson fired Liverpool ahead with the best goal of the match in the 11th minute, before a Mark Noble penalty and an own goal by Steven Gerrard allowed the Hammers to reach half-time 2-1 in front.

But with 14 minutes remaining, substitute Joe Cole levelled matters with James Collins netting the second own goal of the contest on 79 to hand the Merseysiders three points.

The visitors even managed to win without their leading striker Luis Suarez who had to sit out a one-game ban.

But Rodgers said of Shelvey: "He was outstanding. But you see there are two different ways in which you can play the number nine role.

"In this country it is always a very traditional target man, a clear number nine. Give credit to Carlton Cole, I know him form my time at Chelsea, he is a real handful and was outstanding today.

"But you see young Jonjo at 20 years of age playing the number nine role in a different way - dropping into midfield and combining with the midfield players to make the fourth man, being a threat when he is in and around the box, showing great feet and I thought he was outstanding today the kid.

"It was great credit to him because there was a lot of pressure on him because people have been trying to compare him to Luis Suarez.

"But he is only 20 and has a big future ahead of him."

Steven Gerrard Calls For Champions League Push

Steven Gerrard set his sights on a sustained push towards the Champions League spots after Liverpool FC’s thrilling 3-2 victory over West Ham.

The Reds overcame the absence of suspended top scorer Luis Suarez as they fought back from 2-1 down to secure maximum points at Upton Park.

It was the first time this season that Brendan Rodgers’ side have bagged two successive league wins and they are up to 10th in the Premier League – just four points adrift of fourth placed Everton.

“I’m really pleased with the lads. It was a fantastic performance,” said Gerrard.

“I think before the game people were doubting us and thinking we would be a bit toothless in the final third without our top striker.

“But we’ve gone away from home, scored three goals and got the three points we came here for.

“We’re building slowly towards where we want to be. We’ve got two home games now against Aston Villa and Fulham.

“If we can capitalize and make it 12 points out of 12 then we will find ourselves a lot closer to fourth.

“It’s a platform to build on. We just have to focus on Villa now. Come the end of December we’re really looking to be close to that fourth position.”

Gerrard hailed the spirit Liverpool showed in the capital and believes the performance without Suarez made a mockery of suggestions that they are a one-man team.

“We showed a lot of character and determination to come back like that,” he said.

“Every win does a lot for the group and we did it without not only our top scorer but one of the top scorers in the Premier League.

“People will always doubt you and question what’s going to come from this team. A lot of people have said for years we’re a one-man team or a two-man team.

“We can’t control what people say and their opinions, but we know we have got a lot of good players here.

“If we play in the right way and do what the manager asks us then we will win games.”

Glen Johnson fired the Reds in front with a stunning 20-yard strike early on but the Hammers were in front before the break thanks to Mark Noble’s penalty and Gerrard’s own goal.

Substitute Joe Cole equalized with 14 minutes to go and defender James Collins deflected Jordan Henderson’s cross past his own keeper for the Reds’ winner.

“It was a special goal from Glen and he’s a player in form,” said Gerrard.

“He’s been fantastic for us since the start of the season. It’s no shock to me. I play for Liverpool and England with him.

“His consistency levels, and not just this season but for a long time now, have been very good.

“He’s certainly up there with the best right-backs in the world.

“I thought their penalty was harsh. If your arm is out away from your body you can understand why referees give handball, but I thought Joe Allen’s arm was close to his body and there wasn’t much he could have really done.

“I don’t think we would have got that decision if it had been down the other end but it doesn’t matter now.

“For the opening half an hour we completely dominated the game and that’s probably played the best we have played since Brendan came in.

“Having taken the lead, we were very unfortunate to find ourselves 2-1 behind. This is a difficult place to come but we fought back well and got a great result.”

Liverpool Want £30M Rated Spaniard To Cover For Suarez

Liverpool have joined the race to sign Swansea City star striker Michu, according to the Mirror. The report states Reds manager Brendan Rodgers will move for the 26-year-old if he fails to sign Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge.

Michu signed for the Swans in the summer from La Liga club Rayo Vallecano, and has since impressed hugely. The Spaniard is the leading goalscorer in the Premier League so far this season, with 12 strikes from 16 games. He scored both goals in last weekend's famous win over Arsenal at the Emirates, and struck twice more this weekend, in the 3-4 home defeat to Norwich City.

The forward was valued at £30m by Swans manager Michael Laudrup but the Mirror believes a bid of £10m could be enough to persuade chairman Huw Jenkins.

Sturridge, 23, was believed to be the subject of a £15m bid by the Anfield club but any move north is likely to hinge on two considerations - money and position. The young England international, the Mirror reports, wants £80,000 per week and the promise of a central attacking role. However, Liverpool will not guarantee the central role and have reportedly refused to pay so high a salary.

The bottom line, however, is that Liverpool are in need of strikers. The Reds have only 19 goals from 15 league games this season and Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez has 10 of those. The South American is the only senior striker available to Rodgers at present, with summer signing Fabio Borini still out injured and England international Andy Carroll away on loan to West Ham United. And with Suarez suspended for Sunday's match against West Ham, midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is expected to lead the attacking line.

Liverpool were recently also linked with Serie A club Napoli's Argentine striker Mauro Zarate and have been consistently linked with Arsenal contract rebel Theo Walcott. The 23-year-old England international is in the final year of his deal with the Emirates club and, like Sturridge, he is negotiating for a pay rise and a guaranteed central attacking role.

Celtic Boss Claims Liverpool Target Is Not For Sale

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has rubbished rumours linking Greek forward Georgios Samaras with a move to Liverpool, after a Daily Mail report linked the 27-year-old with a £5m switch to Anfield.

"It's just speculation, someone taking a flyer. I'm not sure if anyone will want to leave just now, the way things are going. Samaras has been a huge player for the club. He's been through a lot and has come out the other side and you can see what the fans think of him," quoted Lennon as saying.

The Bhoys have secured a place in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League this season, after finishing second to Spanish giants Barcelona in their group. Most impressively, Celtic has joined a select band of clubs who have beaten Barcelona in European competition in recent seasons, with a win at Celtic Park in November. And the 41-year-old Lennon is convinced the former Manchester City forward will choose to stay in Scotland and continue with the project in hand.

"I don't think he'd want to leave in too much of a hurry. The fact we're through [is the difference]. The players aren't looking a week or two down the line for the next Champions League game and maybe saving a bit for it. They know what's at stake, they know our consistency hasn't been all there," Lennon explained.

The Reds' need for striking options up front is not a new development. Brendan Rodgers has had only Uruguayan international Luis Suarez to call on for most of the season so far, after summer signing Fabio Borini suffered a fractured foot early in the year and England international Andy Carroll was loaned out to West Ham United. The former Swansea manager has acknowledged a strike partner for the South American is a must.

"We know he needs support going forward. If we can add the types of players we want to finish off the type of play we are producing it is going to be a really exciting team. For now we'll just keep plugging away, keep our heads down," the Northern Irishman said.

Xabi Alonso Dreams Of Steven Gerrard

Xabi Alonso wants to end his playing days back at his beloved Liverpool.

The Real Madrid midfield star’s current deal has 18 months to run and the Spanish giants won’t start talks until the summer.

But by then, Alonso, 31, will already have decided on his future, with a desire to link up once more with his great friend, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

Alonso and Gerrard talk regularly with the Kop star saying: “Xabi Alonso is the best midfielder I have played with. I miss playing with him.”

Now Gerrard looks like getting his wish with Alonso determined to return to Anfield before he hangs up his boots.

The Spaniard enjoyed a five-year spell at Liverpool and played a huge part in their Champions League triumph in 2005.

New Kop boss Brendan Rodgers has always insisted his formation centres on a “controller.”

And there’s none better than Alonso at pulling the midfield strings.

Alonso has never forgotten the influence of Gerrard.

He said: “He was a great influence. I learned a lot from him. We are friends and keep in touch. He is so inspirational.”

Sahin: My Position Is All Wrong

Nuri Sahin says he is trying his best for Liverpool – but that boss Brendan Rodgers is playing him in the wrong position.

The Turkish international joined the Anfield club on a season-long loan from Real Madrid in the summer.

Spanish giants Real snapped up Sahin after watching him dominate games from a holding midfield role for Borussia Dortmund during his 135 league games for the Bundesliga club.

But when Sahin, 24, turned up at Liverpool, he found himself playing behind striker Luis Suarez.

And he says his new role is one he is finding difficult.

Sahin said: “I’ve played my whole career deeper – that’s my position.

“But I have played as a number ten here. It was new for me but I tried my best to help the team.

“If I could choose a position it would be holding, as I feel more comfortable playing deeper and can give my all.”

Downing Disappointed At Role

Stewart Downing is frustrated at his limited opportunities at Liverpool - but he is in rush to leave the club.

The England international has been restricted to making the majority of his appearances in the Europa League since boss Brendan Rodgers succeeded Kenny Dalglish in the summer.

And Downing has been linked with a return to boyhood club Middlesbrough but, ahead of Liverpool's Sunday Premier League game at West Ham United, he is committed.

"It has been frustrating at times and I have been disappointed this season not to have played more games," said Downing in The Sun.

"But I am just trying to do my best when I play and to get a goal. It is a great club to play for. Hopefully it long continues."

The manager has not given up hope of a place in the Premier League's top four but he knows his squad must start converting draws into wins.

He said: "If you are going to be successful, then you have got to be consistent. Over the course of the season so far we haven't got that wee bit of luck.

"We managed to go eight games unbeaten in the league and the draws we had could very easily have been turned into victories.

"If you're going to challenge at the top end, you always have to be striving for that level of consistency."

Johnson Reveals He Is Studying For Maths Degree

For two hours a day Glen Johnson opens his textbooks and continues his studies.

“I’m doing a mathematics degree,” he says. “I was good at maths at school but I didn’t really think of anything else but football.”

As he talks he rubs his left wrist. Above it is a tattoo. “Tell me I can’t and I will show you I can,” it reads.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” he said, shrugging, of the tattoo. “My teachers at school used to say ‘you ain’t going to do anything, you ain’t going to achieve anything’. So I was thinking ‘I’ll show you’.

“Now the last thing they’d be expecting me to do is a maths degree but then until they saw me become a footballer they thought I couldn’t do that either.

"I’m a firm believer that anyone can do anything if they put their minds to it. If you get the opportunity take it – more importantly you have to want to take it.”

Johnson is now slightly embarrassed at the angry tone of the tattoo because he’s far from angry. Another tattoo – “everything happens for a reason” – means more to him.

“I always try and be positive and challenge myself to the limit.”

The Liverpool and England defender is halfway through the second year of his Open University degree, having passed his first year.

“I love the planning and problem solving, equations, working out, for example, how much fuel a plane needs,” Johnson, whose other passions include Formula One and MotoGP — he might one day get involved in the sports — says.

“They have tutorials at the weekend. But, of course, I’m busy at the weekends.”

Johnson does a nice line in humour. At times both self-deprecating and forthright, he is an engaging interviewee and readily offers up his thoughts on what it is like to be a Premier League defender and the criticism he has had, his friendship with Luis Suárez, the social network site Twitter, Chelsea – where he became the first signing of the Roman Abramovich era – Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho.

It helps that Johnson, now 28, is in the form of his life. Suárez has grabbed the goals and the headlines but inside Anfield the consensus is that, so far, Johnson is probably the player of the season.

Now into his fourth campaign at the club, life at Liverpool is good. There is, Johnson says, a real sense of “direction”, of “foundations being put in place to get back to the top” under Rodgers even if he is, astonishingly, the fourth manager he has worked under in just over three years.

Johnson has great belief in him — helped by the fact the two were “friends” from their time at Chelsea together where Rodgers was reserve team coach.

“Coley [Joe Cole] knew him as well and I remember him saying that Brendan would be a Premier League manager one day,” Johnson says. “And I could definitely see that.”

Nevertheless, Liverpool lie in the bottom half in the Premier League table, a position Johnson can barely believe.

“If you got points for performances then we’d probably be top of the league. With a killer instinct we’d have 12, 15 more points.”
Suárez provides some of that killer instinct. Johnson is close to the Uruguayan and fiercely defended him in the Patrice Evra race row. And does so now as he discusses the power of Twitter, which he is on — so that he can “get my point across”.

“All I put on there was that I work with him every day and he’s one of the best lads I get on with that this club and there’s no way he’s a racist,” Johnson says.

“I can speak a bit of Spanish and there are cultural differences. I supported him on Twitter and I’ve supported him every time I’ve spoken about it. It wasn’t good for Luis, his family or, of course, for Patrice Evra. So it’s good it’s over now.”

Although he has not been through anything like the scrutiny Suárez and Evra faced there have been some, frankly, weird as well as irritating, bogus headlines – ‘stolen’ B&Q toilet seats and allegedly lost passports – and also a welter of criticism over the year.

“You have to be mentally strong in most walks of life but football is so opinionated. You can be sitting in the pub and there are 10 people — some will hate you, some will think you are the best in the world. A lot of people want to kill you, want you to fail. It’s the way it is. You have to be thick-skinned.

“You have to agree that the way stories are — a bad story is better than a good story, isn’t it? If someone’s naughty it’s more of a talking point. On the front and back pages you don’t tend to get ‘good’ stories. It’s criticizing a manager for taking someone off or saying he’s under pressure of losing his job.”

Johnson is now one of the “senior pros” at Liverpool, something he can, frankly, scarcely believe.

“I’ve got Raheem [Sterling, still just 17] to thank for making me feel old! We were messing about today, playing ‘toros’, piggy in the middle and the two youngest go in the middle.

“It wasn’t that long ago that it was always me but looking around — I was the oldest in that group. That was the first time that had happened. Time goes so fast.”

Indeed Johnson’s mind flicks back to when he was 17, 18 and making his breakthrough at West Ham United – who Liverpool face away on Sunday – only to be sold, after just a handful of appearances, for £6 million to Chelsea.

Abramovich’s Chelsea. And in July 2003 18-year-old right-back Glen Johnson was the Russian billionaire’s first signing.

“No one had a clue,” Johnson says of the subsequent spending spree. “I was going to Chelsea but I didn’t know what would follow.”

He had not wanted to leave West Ham – “it never entered my head” – but only for one specific reason.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go to Chelsea, but I’d worked for eight years, since I was 10, with the one goal. To get in that West Ham first-team and then to leave after just 15 games was a bit, well, premature.”

However, Claudio Ranieri, the then Chelsea manager, loved him.

“Roman came in and wanted to win straight away,” Johnson says. Instead Chelsea finished second — second in the league and in the semi-finals of the Champions League and Ranieri was out, Mourinho in.

“It was harsh but what Mourinho brought to Chelsea was priceless,” Johnson says. “Although it was harsh, Roman produced.”

But Johnson suffered. “When I first went to Chelsea I was playing, it couldn’t be any better and Claudio believed in me. I was learning the game, I was a baby.

"Then Claudio left and Jose brought his players in, which is fair enough, but from there I didn’t really get a fair opportunity. I knew deep down I was good enough to be given a chance but I was never really given that chance. I’d come in and play well – and knew I wouldn’t play the next game.”

He recalls finally getting a small run of matches, performing and then being discarded before a big Champions League tie.

“I just thought ‘what can I do? I’m running into a brick wall every day’. Eventually I just said ‘enough’s enough, I have to go’.

Maybe others might not have said that and sat their contracts out just to say they are at Chelsea. No disrespect to Paulo Ferreira, who’s a lovely guy, but he’s sat there for about six years and played about 10 games and I couldn’t do that.”

Johnson went to Portsmouth, first on loan, then permanently for £4 million and got his career back on track – to such an extent that when it came time for him to leave, Chelsea was one of the bidders.

“I could have gone back. When I left Chelsea I said to myself ‘I’m going to make them want me’. I told myself that just to give myself a bit of motivation. So for them to then offer Portsmouth six times more than what they sold me for two years before was very satisfying.”

He joined Liverpool, for £18 million, in June 2009. Now Johnson’s never been happier.

“I live in a quiet little town, we have some good neighbours and when I’m away from football I don’t talk about football. I will even forget that games are on. I come in and the lads say ‘did you see that game last night?’ and they find it funny that I didn’t.”

Instead, there is his family, friends – and his studies. Not that he’s lost his passion for the game. Far from it.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love football, I love playing the game, I love playing for Liverpool but sometimes it’s good to switch off and be a normal bloke.”