Thursday, December 27, 2012

Match Report: Stoke City 3 - 1 Liverpool

Boyhood Everton fan Jon Walters proved to be the scourge of Liverpool for the second successive season at the Britannia Stadium as the Reds' woeful run in the Potteries continued.

Walters scored either side of Kenwyne Jones' header after the visitors had taken the lead through a Steven Gerrard penalty awarded in the first minute.

The Merseyside-born 29-year-old was the match-winner on this ground in September 2011 with the only goal of the game from the spot.

And his two strikes took him level with Ricardo Fuller as the club's joint leading Premier League goalscorer with 18.

But this victory also owed plenty to Stoke's ability to battle and unsettle opponents and recover from going behind so early on in the game.

That ensured Liverpool left still looking for their first Premier League win at their bogey ground, with just two draws and three defeats in their five visits since Stoke were promoted.

Tony Pulis' side secured a third successive home league victory over Liverpool for the first time since 1956-57 and extended their unbeaten league run at the Britannia to 16 matches, a sequence stretching back to February.

Stoke fans appear to have a particular dislike of striker Luis Suarez and that animosity was amplified almost as soon as the match kicked off.

There were 32 seconds on the clock when Suarez broke into the right-hand side of the penalty area and was pulled back by Ryan Shawcross.

The Stoke captain's hands-on approach has earned him many critics in recent weeks and referee Howard Webb was definitely not a fan as he immediately pointed to the spot.

It was the first time in 32 matches Liverpool had been awarded a penalty and Gerrard was in no mood to squander the opportunity as he coolly stroked home for the third successive league game - a feat last achieved in December 2007.

Liverpool fans were finally able to fulfil the promise they have been singing about for weeks as they did indeed 'party when Suarez got a pen', accompanied by a plume of red smoke which engulfed the away end from a flare which had been let off.

However, the celebrations were short lived as the home side were not only level four minutes later but ahead with just over 12 minutes gone.

A customary long ball forward could only be flicked backwards by Daniel Agger and with Martin Skrtel losing his footing Walters capitalized to smash a shot past Jose Reina.

The aerial bombardment continued but there will be questions asked in the Liverpool defence about Stoke's second from a corner as Jones was able to jump virtually unchallenged to head in at the undefended near post.

It would have been worse for the Reds had Reina not thrown up a hand to tip over Matthew Etherington's shot.

The closest Liverpool came to equalizing before the break was when Gerrard stabbed wide from Stewart Downing's cut-back on the left.

Half-time brought a change for the visitors with Raheem Sterling replacing Suso and the substitute almost had an immediate impact with Suarez bundling his cross wide at the near post.

But Liverpool's hopes of getting back on level terms quickly were extinguished with Walters' second of the night.

The defence again failed to deal with a long throw as Jones flicked on for his strike partner to control the ball on his chest and hammer home a dipping volley.

With the hard work done all Stoke had to do was keep it tight at the back, something they have become increasingly good at this season with a top-flight best nine clean sheets, and look to hit break on the counter-attack.

Liverpool failed to really trouble the defence of Asmir Begovic - the best being Gerrard's long-range curling shot which the goalkeeper palmed clear - as Suarez became an increasingly isolated and frustrated figure up front.

Stoke's win moved them up to eighth in the table, within five points of fourth-placed Tottenham while a sixth defeat of the season for Rodgers' side leaves them rooted in mid-table.

Brendan: We Need To Find Consistency

Brendan Rodgers reflected on Liverpool's 3-1 defeat against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium and reiterated calls for his side to be more consistent in their play.

The Reds took the lead after two minutes against Tony Pulis's side on Wednesday night; however, Jonathan Walters equalized before Kenwyne Jones added a second and Walters made it 3-1.

"I said during the week and last week that [consistency] will be the biggest thing for the group," explained the manager during his post-match press conference.

"We were terrific at the weekend [against Fulham] but you have got to be able to put a run of games together - if not you just keep taking two or three steps forward and making one or two back and then going again.

"That's been the nature of the group over the last couple of years in terms of where we have finished. We're looking to improve that. There is still an awful lot of work to do.

"We conceded soft goals last night after a great start. A terrific ball by Martin Skrtel and a bit of magic by Luis for our first pen of the season and Steven sticks it away perfectly. We are one-up in a difficult place to score goals.

"The first goal [we conceded] we were rather unfortunate - Skrtel slips and then Walters finishes really well. But the other two goals, we have to be better than that. The players have to be better in those moments.

"You have to earn the right to play in whatever game - and in particular when you come to here. You know you are going to get pressed. I have no doubt about the characters we have - we have some big characters and big players, but last night it was just too easy for them."

Asked about the importance of bolstering his squad during the upcoming transfer window, the manager insisted: "I'm not thinking about that now. I'm thinking about the game last night and reflecting on that and how we can be better because it was very disappointing.

"Credit to Stoke - what they do, they do very well. They kept working and deserved the three points. January will come and there will be one or two bits of business. But my main thought is about the next game and improving our performance level."

Luis Suarez collided with Asmir Begovic late in the second half and Rodgers explained how the Uruguayan was forced to put ice on his ankle afterwards to stop the swelling.

"He's been playing with a swollen ankle for the last few weeks," said Rodgers. "We'll wait until the morning to see how he is but he is a warrior and he should be fine for the weekend.

"I think he was unfortunate to pick up a booking [in that challenge]. He's not even looked at the 'keeper - he's trying to swivel on the ball. I thought it was a bit unfair he picked up a booking for that."

Jose: We Must Show More Character

Jose Enrique believes Liverpool need to show more character if they are to achieve a top-four finish this season after the Reds lost 3-1 to Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day.

Things had started so well for the visitors when Steven Gerrard fired them in front with their first penalty of the season, but Stoke fought back to take the points, and the left-back admitted it was a bitter pill to swallow.

"I thought after the penalty we were going to win the game but overall they played better than us and we didn't deserve the three points," Enrique told

"We need more experience and need to show more character in these type of games.

"You can see we have quality players and we have a good squad, but we need fo fight for every point we play for if we want to be in the top-four.

"We have to get a winning mentality going and we have to show what we are all about."

Liverpool head to Harry Redknapp's Queens Park Rangers on Sunday and Enrique is hoping the Reds can end 2012 on a winning note.

He added: "We need to bounce back from this defeat and we need to go to QPR and win.

"Every game in this league is difficult but you have to give 100 per cent every time you play for this club and show character."

Rodgers Sweats On Suarez's Fitness

Brendan Rodgers admits Luis Suarez could miss Liverpool's trip to QPR on Sunday with an ankle injury.

The Uruguayan has been struggling with the problem for a number of weeks, but Rodgers does not know if the striker can continue to play with the pain and could be forced to rest him at Loftus Road.

Speaking after Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day, Rodgers said Suarez would have a fitness test before a final decision is made.

"Luis Suarez has been playing with a swollen ankle for the last few weeks," he said. "We will assess him and see how he is."

Rodgers was left frustrated with his defence as Liverpool suffered a second defeat in three matches, suffering defeat at the Britannia Stadium despite taking an early lead through Steven Gerrard's penalty.

"It was a great start for us, when you come away from home it's great to go a goal up, but we just gave away poor goals tonight. I think all three goals were actually quite straightforward to defend," he said. "Obviously Martin Skrtel slips (for the first), which is unfortunate, but the other two goals we've got to do much better than that. So that was the disappointment really.

"We got into some good areas but ultimately when you come to places like here, which is a difficult place to come, you've got to defend better or else you get nothing, and we probably deserve nothing because of that."

Liverpool Eyeing January Move For Argentina Striker

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers could be set to sign another striker as he is keeping tabs on Wigan’s Franco Di Santo.

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez publicly insists they are hopeful of keeping the 23-year-old Argentina international.

But privately the Wigan hierarchy fear he will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season.

That has alerted Rodgers who knows Di Santo from their days together as young player and coach at Chelsea.

Rodgers remains an admirer and if it is a deal he can get done for free next summer to bolster his squad then it will appeal.

Liverpool have already agreed a deal with Chelsea for Daniel Sturridge to join in January for around £12m.

That will take the pressure off Luis Suarez but, with Andy Carroll out on loan and likely to leave in a permanent deal, Liverpool still see it as an area they want to strengthen.

Rodgers has made a habit of signing former players who he rates, trusts and believes in and Di Santo also fits into his style of football.

Wigan will try to keep Di Santo but may be fighting a losing battle.

Liverpool Target Holtby To Leave Schalke On Free Transfer

Schalke midfielder Lewis Holtby has decided against renewing his contract with the Bundesliga club, paving the way for a potential move to Liverpool in the summer.

The former Alemannia Aachen star's camp have been in negotiations with Schalke for several months but can reveal that the two parties have failed to reach an agreement, with a switch away from the Veltins Arena now looking a certainty. exclusively revealed back in October that Liverpool had identified the 22-year-old Germany international as one of their primary transfer targets and Brendan Rodgers' side could now look to step up their interest in the player in the January transfer window.

Under the Bosman ruling, Holtby, whose current deal with the Gelsenkirchen outfit expires in the summer of 2013, would be free to negotiate a contract with potential suitors in the new year and Liverpool could look to pounce.

The Reds, who were soundly beaten by Stoke City in the Premier League on Wednesday, have been lacking in depth in attacking areas, with Luis Suarez carrying the goalscoring burden alongside fleeting contributions from the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jonjo Shelvey.

Reports had suggested that Everton fan Holtby had demanded almost £5 million a year to commit his future to Schalke although the player's agent Markus Noack rubbished those rumours, telling that such a figure had been "plucked from the air".

Schalke, who currently lie in seventh place in the Bundesliga table and face Galatasaray in the last 16 of the Champions League in February, tied down influential striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to a new contract on Sunday although appear to have lost the battle to keep another of their prized assets.

Jens Keller's side are expected to make an announcement on Holtby's future later on Thursday with the midfielder seemingly now set for the Premier League having made no secret of his desire to make the move to England in the past.

Premier League Clubs Tussle For England Youth Star

Fulham is leading the Premier League pursuit of Derby teenage sensation Will Hughes, but face competition from Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, according to the Daily Mirror.

The 17-year-old England youth international is a January target for a number of the Premier League’s biggest clubs, but Fulham are thought to have moved first in the race to sign the young playmaker.

Cottagers boss Martin Jol has revealed the west London club are firm admirers of Hughes, who has sparkled in the Championship this season for Derby.

Speaking in the Daily Mirror, Jol said: “Believe me, there is probably 10 clubs in the Barclays Premier League having a look at him. He is one of these wonderful talents so he is always on lists. If you have a good scouting system, he will always be on the list but we will see.”

Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea are all believed to be among the Premier League clubs scouting Hughes, who received his first call up to Stuart Pearce’s England under-21 squad this season.

Arsenal has a strong reputation when it comes to buying players from the lower divisions of English football. Arsene Wenger bought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott from Southampton, and Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff, while Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is known to give youth a chance in his first-team.

Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom, all teenagers, have played extensive first-team football for the Anfield club this season. As for Chelsea and Spurs, the two London clubs are expected to be busy during the January transfer window – both have money to spend – and a move for Hughes could be on the cards.

Still, the Daily Mirror reports Fulham lead the chase for the young midfielder, and Martin Jol may feel the need for strengthening in the middle of the park is great, with Mahamadou Diarra set to join Mali at the African Cup of Nations, and Mousa Dembele, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu all sold during the summer.

Liverpool & Tottenham Target Happy In Ligue 1

Liverpool and Tottenham target Michel Bastos claims he would be happy to see out the season at Lyon, rather than secure a switch elsewhere in January, reports Sky Sports.

The 29-year-old winger was heavily linked with a move away from France during the summer, and came close to a transfer to the Middle East, before the deal broke down at the last minute.

Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas has been credited with an interest in the Brazilian international's signature, as has Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, who is also looking to strengthen his attack.

However, Bastos' prospective arrival at either White Hart Lane or Anfield has been dealt a significant blow, after the player expressed his desire to remain in Ligue 1.

"I don't want to leave now, I want to stay," he told L'Equipe. "During the winter break I will not go back to Brazil, I will stay at Lyon to work with the fitness coach.

"In a transfer both parties have to agree. If I see that it is not good for me, I will not leave."

Despite continued speculation linking Bastos with the Premier League, with Newcastle United joining Liverpool and Tottenham on the list of clubs believed to be monitoring his situation, the South American star has revealed a significant change in mood, compared to his stance back in August.

"At the start of the season I did ask to leave, but things have changed," he continued.

"In the summer I wasn't disappointed not to go to Dubai. On a sporting level I would have lost a lot. I know I can still bring a lot to Lyon."

Sterling Commits International Career To England

Raheem Sterling says he is "100 per cent" committed to an international career with England, as the Liverpool winger feels he could not turn his back on the youth system which developed him as a footballer.

The 18-year-old was born in Jamaica, and could still elect to play for either nation having only featured in a friendly for the Three Lions, when he appeared as a substitute in their 4-2 defeat to Sweden in November.

However, while he has been courted from officials from both nations, the youngster is glad he made his debut for Roy Hodgson's side and wants to remain in the white shirt of England.

"I couldn't turn my back on England because I've grown up through the English youth system and progressed from there," he told reporters.

"I couldn't just switch over, I won't do that.

"Obviously I've got Jamaican roots. I was born there and my mum and family are from there, but no-one tried to put any pressure on me, which was the good thing.

"I believe it was a good thing for me to be called up and make my debut for England. It's 100% going to be England from now on."

Sterling and his mother moved from Kingston to London when he was five, and he progressed through the youth academy at QPR before moving to Liverpool in 2010.