Monday, December 17, 2012

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 3 Aston Villa

Aston Villa exposed Liverpool's flaws and the flakiness of their challenge for a top-four place by inflicting the Reds' worst home defeat for more than three years.

Christian Benteke scored twice, either side of Andreas Weimann's well-worked goal, before Steven Gerrard's late consolation as the hosts' three-match winning run was ended in surprising fashion.

It was the first time Villa had scored more than once in any half of league football this season and extended their own unbeaten run to five matches, with only a second away win in 17 away league games.

Villa inflicted the same scoreline in August 2009, and although both sides are at a lower level now, this was a result no-one would have predicted.

The visitors almost doubled their league away goals tally for the campaign, which now stands at seven, in recording only their fifth Anfield victory in 34 visits.

Yet barely 24 hours earlier Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had been talking about targeting second-placed Manchester City so high was the confidence in his squad.

City are now 14 points ahead and, worse still, Liverpool failed to take advantage of Everton's draw at Stoke to close the gap on fourth place with many of their rivals playing on Sunday.

For their part Villa moved three points clear of the relegation zone.

The opening half-hour was virtually one-way traffic as the home side set off at pace in search of a third successive Barclays Premier League victory for the first time since May 2011.

But their eagerness seemed to get the better of them as there was an air of over-complication and lack of finesse about their play in the final third.

Stewart Downing, who in the matchday program revealed Rodgers had told him he could leave and he would assess his options in January, started left-back for the injured Jose Enrique but enjoyed plenty of space down the flank.

Gerrard bundled a shot at goalkeeper Brad Guzan after a poor pass behind him from Luis Suarez, returning after suspension, rebounded back off Raheem Sterling before Downing shot wide after cutting in on his right foot.

It continued with Joe Allen driving wide, Gerrard's feet getting in a tangle after being picked out by Suarez's inch-perfect cross-field ball, and Shelvey delaying his shot long enough got Nathan Baker to block after Suarez capitalized on Chris Herd's mistake.

Liverpool's inability to take their chances has hurt them in the past and it proved to be the case again in the 29th minute.

Brett Holman passed inside to Benteke, who took a touch and - with no-one closing him down - unleashed a low shot which beat Reina off the inside of his right-hand post.

What a difference the goal made as Villa suddenly started playing 30 yards further up the field.

It almost paid off when Weimann seized on Glen Johnson's weak header to lob Reina, only for the ball to drop on to the roof of the net.

The Austrian did not make the same mistake just before half-time with a brilliantly-worked goal.

Weimann released Benteke in the inside-right channel and raced into a gaping hole in the Liverpool defence to turn the striker's clever backheel under Reina.

Joe Cole's emergence for the second half at the expense of Shelvey highlighted the lack of genuine match-winners outside of Rodgers' first XI.

They should, however, have got back into the game early in the second half when Ciaran Clark clearly pulled Daniel Agger's shirt in the penalty area, but referee Neil Swarbrick maintained Liverpool's record of not winning a penalty this season by ignoring the appeals.

It proved costly as when Cole was robbed by Holman on the halfway line, Benteke was sensibly quickly given possession and he danced through the Reds backline to chip a shot past Reina.

Liverpool laid siege to Guzman's goal in the final half-hour, with further claims for a penalty when Johnson's header hit Baker's arm also going unanswered.

When they finally made a breakthrough it came too late with Gerrard heading in Johnson's cross-shot three minutes from the end.

There was just enough time left for Benteke to escape with a yellow card for pushing Johnson in the face in front of a rapidly-emptying Anfield.

Rodgers Hopes For Reinforcements In January

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admits his squad have some way to go to be a genuine top-four side and hopes the forthcoming transfer window can assist the process.

Christian Benteke’s double and an Andreas Weimann goal highlighted the Reds’ deficiencies as they were sunk 3-1 by Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday.

And Rodgers said: ‘That was probably as disappointing as we’ve been here but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

‘It is a strange thing football. We were talked up all week about us being top-four material but we know within the group we still have a long way to go.

‘There is going to be steady progress and there are going to be steps forward, like in the last few weeks, and a step backward like yesterday.

‘We looked at the first six months to assess: we know we need some support and hopefully we can get that in. We understand the process as well but the most important thing is to learn from it (the defeat).

‘The thing we’ve learned from Saturday is that you can’t ever be complacent. You have to be at full tilt every week. If we do that we have a great chance of getting the points but if we don’t you can get punished.

‘The challenge for us now is to have a good week’s training and come back next Saturday and hopefully get three points and get on the upward curve again.’

David Villa Primed For Barcelona Exit With Liverpool Waiting

David Villa could be available at the end of the season for a knockdown price of £10million, with Liverpool reported to be finally ready to bring him to England.

The striker has fallen down the pecking order of Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona, and Spanish paper AS claim the Reds could launch a bid for the 31-year-old in the summer.

Barca have ruled out selling Villa in the January transfer window, and Liverpool are unlikely to be able to splash that kind of cash in the new year, but if the Spanish giants complete the signing of Neymar at the end of the season, that would appear to leave little room for the former Valencia man at the Nou Camp.

Villa is already being overlooked for big games, and it’s understood he has become despondent with his place in the team, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Pedro, Alexis Sanchez and Crisitan Tello all ahead of him in Vilanova’s thoughts.

The Spain international’s contract expires in 2014, and a cut-price deal could appeal to both Liverpool and the player, who has always been strongly linked to the Anfield club.

Sweden & Genoa Defender Interested In Liverpool Move

Genoa defender Andreas Granqvist would consider a move to Liverpool after he admitted he was flattered by media reports linking him with the Premier League side.

Reports have claimed that Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has deployed scouts to Italy on a number of occasions this season to watch Sweden international Granqvist in action, and following glowing recommendations, is considering a January bid.

And after he was informed of Liverpool’s reported interest, Granqvist responded that he would be interested in a switch to the Anfield club.

“Honestly, I don't know much about this interest. I am focused on Sweden's World Cup qualifiers and then we'll see what happens,” Granqvist told Sportbladet.

“I am happy in Genoa, but obviously I am flattered by the interest from the Reds. They are an historic and successful club.”

Granqvist may appear familiar to some Premier League fans, particularly those of the Wigan persuasion, as the 27-year-old spent 18 months at the DW Stadium from 2007.

He made 14 appearances in his first year in English football, but fell out of favour and left the club for Swedish side Gronigen in 2008.

However, a move to Genoa has reinvigorated his career, and Granqvist is now considered one of the stand-out defenders in Italian football. His performances in Serie A have also seen him nail down a starting place for his national team.

Liverpool Facing Competition For Tom Ince

Liverpool face stiff competition in their bid to resign England Under-21 international Tom Ince with Blackpool boss Michael Appleton confirming there are interests in the winger from a "couple of clubs".

Ince, 20, is wanted by Reds boss Brendan Rodgers as he looks to bolster his attacking line-up in the new year with reports claiming a £6million deal was in the offing.

Ince left Anfield just 18 months ago in a £250,000 deal, but is now being lined up for a return after dazzling for Blackpool this season with 13 goals in the Championship.

His pace and ability to play across the forward line has caught the eye of Rodgers who admitted recently he is aiming to bring two attacking players to Liverpool in January.

Manchester United have also been credited with an interest in Ince in recent weeks and are known to have dispatched scouts to watch him in action for England Under-21s in their recent win over their Northern Irish counterparts.

Ex-United midfielder Appleton has done little to quell the speculation that Liverpool or his former club are in the running for Ince's signature by confirming Blackpool have opened dialogue with two clubs over the sale of Ince.

"There have been no bids as far as I'm aware," said Appleton. "I think there have been conversations with a couple of clubs and the chairman, but nothing concrete. No-one has come in yet and set the marker in terms of a price."

Ince, the son of former United and Liverpool Paul, was the subject of a failed bid by Swansea and recently said he was in no rush to leave Bloomfield Road having established himself as a key player for the club.

Appleton admits if the youngster is tempted away it will be a huge blow to the club, who currently lie 11th in the Championship table, four points outside the play-off spots.

He said: "If the worst did happen in January, and we did lose Tom, then we have to make sure we have replacements ready. They will have to fill some very big shoes."

United And Arsenal Prepare To Bid For Sterling

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has admitted that talks have stalled over Raheem Sterling’s contract with the club, paving the way for interest from Manchester United and Arsenal.

Sterling, who is valued at £15million, made his England debut against Sweden this year and if he were to move to United he would be the first player to move from Liverpool for nearly 50 years.

Former United winger Willie Morgan advised Sir Alex Ferguson to sign Sterling earlier this week and reports suggest that United, Arsenal and Manchester City are interested in the 18-year-old. He told the Manchester Evening News:

‘I think United should attempt to buy Liverpool’s left winger Raheem Sterling.

‘Sterling is the first winger I have seen in a long time who looks like a proper winger. He looks very good already and I think he is going to be great.

‘If you just let him go wide on the outside of the full-backs all the time I think he will be a great player. He’ll frighten people to death, so long as nobody coaches it out of him. He’s the brightest prospect out there and would suit United.’

Raheem Sterling Happy To Stay At Anfield

Raheem Sterling is currently happy at Liverpool and unlikely to move away from the club in the near future, talkSPORT understands.

With murmurings of a contract dispute and interest from Arsenal and Manchester United reportedly heightening, it had seemed the youngster could be set for the Anfield exit door.

But, it appears, this is far from the truth with the flying winger loving life on Merseyside.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has given the starlet, 17, a run in the first team this season for Liverpool and he has repaid his manager’s faith by putting in some sparkling performances on the flanks, earning himself an England call-up as well.

Sterling has made 14 appearances in the Premier League and scoring one goal, the winner against Reading in October, but he is still yet to receive a contract offer from the club with 18 months left on his current deal.

Downing Told He Can Leave Liverpool

Liverpool winger Stewart Downing has been told he can find a new club in order to get regular game time after failing to cement a starting place under new manager Brendan Rodgers.

The 28-year-old winger has frustrated Anfield fans in his 18-month spell at the club, and after being played up and down the left side this season, the manager's patience with Downing appears to have run out.

And with the blessing of Rodgers, the former Aston Villa man will start looking at alternative options in January - but may have to wait until the summer for a more permanent move.

"The manager has said I can leave if I want to. I think it's just the nature of football, the old cliche about it being a funny old game is true," he told reporters.

"I've played for a long time and there are spells when you can be in and out of any side. At the minute I'm trying to play as much as possible.

"If that doesn't happen I am at an age where I cannot be sat around. I need to play and the manager understands that."

The winger played 36 Premier League games for the Reds last season but failed to score a single league goal, and has not scored in six league appearances this term. He has, however, found the net three times in the Europa League.

And with Rodgers seemingly preferring Jose Enrique in a more advanced position on the left, Downing is looking at the upcoming transfer window and the summer for a potential move away from Anfield: "That's how the situation is and we will have to see what happens in January or in the summer."

Young Wing-Back Turns Down New Liverpool Contract

Liverpool wing-back Martin Kelly has reportedly rejected a contract extension with the Reds, according to the Daily Mirror.

The 22-year-old, who made his England debut earlier this year, has 18 months left on his present deal at Anfield and the club offered the youngster £35,000 per week to re-sign.

Kelly, who is out of action with a knee ligament injury, now joins fellow Liverpool academy graduate Raheem Sterling in rejecting new deals with the Merseyside club.

The report also claims that the Merseyside outfit finds the high salaries being paid to big-money signings such as Stewart Downing are causing problems in dealings with other players.

Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers has stated he is confident Sterling will sign a new contract with the Reds soon.

"No, [I'm] not at all [concerned. That will be resolved I'm sure, fairly soon. He's a kid who has got this special ability so that no matter what is going on, he doesn't get too involved with it. He focuses on his football. Hopefully, it stays that way," quoted the Northern Irishman as saying.

Young Reds Beaten In NexLions Final

Liverpool U18s had to settle for the runners-up place in the inaugural NexLions tournament after losing 2-0 to Sporting Lisbon in Singapore on Sunday.

Having beaten Singapore 1-0 in their opening match on Friday, the Liverpool team, featuring three 16-year-olds, was hoping to exact revenge on the highly rated Portuguese outfit after suffering two consecutive defeats against them in the European NexGen series.

Two second-half goals - the first scored within a minute of the restart by Luka Stojanovic and a second from substitute Luis Cortez on the 90th minute - put paid to that plan but the youngsters, without the injured Jerome Sinclair and Samed Yesil, didn't give up the game without a fight.

A long-range free-kick from Jack Dunn, deflected wide by a Sporting defender, was Liverpool's best chance from the opening half but after conceding the goal, Alex Inglethorpe's team seemed to step up a gear.

A goal-bound shot from Marc Pelosi, cleared by the last defender with the goalkeeper beaten, was the closest they came to an equalizer as they chased the game with the score still 1-0 but the 90th-minute strike from Cortez killed off any chance of a comeback and made sure Sporting Lisbon were crowned the first ever winners of the NexLions Cup.

Manchester United, having been beaten 4-1 by Sporting on Friday, defeated Singapore 2-1 earlier in the evening to claim 3rd place in the tournament.