Monday, September 30, 2013

Match Report: Sunderland 1 - 3 Liverpool

Luis Suarez marked his return to Barclays Premier League action with a double as Liverpool beat bottom-of-the-table Sunderland 3-1.

The Uruguay international, back in the fold after completing a 10-match suspension, needed just 37 minutes to find his way on to the scoresheet when he made the most of a flowing move to tap home from close range, and then celebrated by revealing a tee-shirt dedicated to his family.

Strike-partner Daniel Sturridge had given the visitors the lead by bundling home a 28th-minute Steven Gerrard corner with referee Howard Webb failing to spot that the ball had gone in off his arm, and it was he who set up Suarez to make it 3-1.

However, managerless Sunderland, who had earlier hit the bar through Sebastian Larsson, more than played their part in the game and got themselves back into it when Emanuele Giaccherini pulled a goal back seven minutes after the restart.

There was as much focus before kick-off on the man who occupied Liverpool's number seven shirt as there was on the search for a replacement for the man who no longer occupied a seat on the Sunderland bench.

That process is ongoing with chief executive Margaret Byrne using her program notes to inform the club's fans that talks have taken place with several candidates, and that there will be discussions with more this week.

Interim head coach Kevin Ball, who has put himself forward as a candidate, launched his temporary reign with a Capital One Cup victory over Peterborough on Tuesday night, and kept faith with the 11 men who brought a measure of normality back to the club after a chaotic few weeks.

Once again, they produced a performance which combined character, organization and some intent.

Unfortunately for them, however, they came face to face with a team which boasted significantly more potent weapons than those in the Posh armoury.

There was little to choose between the sides during the early exchanges and Larsson came close to giving the home side a 24th-minute lead when his free-kick beat former team-mate Simon Mignolet, but came back off the bar.

Giaccherini and Adam Johnson were causing problems for the Reds, as was bustling striker Jozy Altidore.

However, it was Liverpool, who had seen an earlier Martin Skrtel effort ruled out for offside, who got their noses in front four minutes later, although in controversial circumstances.

Central defender Kolo Toure only just failed to make meaningful contact with Steven Gerrard's left-wing corner, but Sturridge smuggled the ball over the line, although replays revealed with more than a little help from his right arm.

But the visitors' second goal was a thing of beauty, Gerrard picking out Sturridge with a raking 37th-minute pass and watching the striker sweep past Carlos Cuellar before drilling in a cross for Suarez to steer home at the far post.

The Black Cats left the pitch at half-time perhaps aggrieved to be two down having created chances of their own, the best of them falling to full-back Craig Gardner with a minute of the first 45 remaining.

Lee Cattermole's deft pass over the top put Gardner in on goal and it took a fine reaction save by Mignolet to keep out his first-time effort.

Suarez picked up where he had left off after the break, winning a 48th-minute corner with a deflected shot and then firing across goal from the resulting set-piece.

But the Black Cats continued to battle for a way back into the game and found it with 52 minutes gone when Mignolet could only parry Ki Sung-yueng's long-range drive and Giaccherini pounced on the rebound to score.

Mignolet redeemed himself two minutes later when he dived to his right to push away a dipping Gardner effort as it sped through a crowded penalty area with the home side very much back in the game.

The Belgium international proved equal to the task when Altidore let fly from distance with 62 minutes played, but opposite number Keiren Westwood had to acrobatically turn away Victor Moses' stinging right-foot shot from a tight angle five minutes later.
Suarez passed up a chance to claim a second goal of the afternoon with 18 minutes remaining when Cuellar did just enough to prevent him from converting Enrique's inviting cross, and Cattermole denied him once again two minutes later with a good block.

But Suarez was not finished and having picked out Sturridge with a fine 89th-minute pass, he made his way into the box to convert his cross and seal victory.

Rodgers Lauds Suarez-Sturridge

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has said he is delighted to have Luis Suarez back in the fold, hailing his combination with Daniel Sturridge.

Suarez, back in Premier League action after his ten-game suspension for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, worked well with Sturridge to clinch a 3-1 win at Sunderland on Sunday.

Sturridge opened the scoring before assisting both of Suarez's goals as the Reds returned to winning ways after recent losses against Southampton and Manchester United.

Rodgers said: "I am not sure there are two better in the league, in all honesty. There are some wonderful partnerships around. You have got [Robin] Van Persie and [Wayne] Rooney up there, who are outstanding, but these two are right up there and they showed that against Sunderland.

"We have changed the structure of our team a wee bit to allow us to pass it better -- we have still got an awful of work to do -- and also to fit in with the types of players we have.

"They will only get better. You can see their understanding. We have done a lot of work with them together in training and they looked very, very bright today.

"They are two different types as well, which makes it hard for defenders because one has pace, one has power and two good feet, and the other is a wriggler and can shift his body very quickly and ends up in the box.

"He's getting the reward for his hard work over the period that he was off. I thought he was excellent the other night at Old Trafford.

"Him and Daniel up front are a real, real handful. They combined very well. On the back of a really tough game where we played well during the week, today was always going to be physically demanding game for us.

"I thought the work we put into it was exceptional and to get the three goals and maybe a few more chances to score a few more. I thought we were really dangerous on the counter-attack and as a team we worked really, really hard."

Sunderland interim head coach Kevin Ball was pleased with his side's efforts in his second game in charge. "We spoke at half-time and I thought you saw a great reaction," he said. "They gave it a really good go in the second half.

"We took it right to the death but unfortunately you're susceptible to that counter-attack where 3-1 - and I don't mean this as disrespect to Liverpool - flatters them a little bit. It was a shame because I thought the lads had a real good go today and that's something we need to take heart from."

Daniel Sturridge Cools Liverpool Title Talk

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has played down Liverpool's title hopes despite their strong start to the season.

The Reds moved up to second in the Premier League table after a 3-1 win at managerless Sunderland, with Sturridge opening the scoring before two goals from Luis Suarez - either side of Emanuele Giaccherini's effort for the Black Cats - sealing victory.

It was the Anfield club's fourth win in six league matches, but the England striker is refusing to get carried away at this early stage.

"It's early days, take every day as it comes. Don't worry about the future, worry about the here and now," he said on Sky Sports 1.

"I don't think we played as well as we could have in the first half, even though we were 2-0 up, but it was very difficult in the second half.

"We took our foot off the pedal a little bit and once they scored a goal it got a bit more difficult for us but we held on in the end.

"We defended well towards the end of the game and then got a late goal, which killed it off."

Sturridge opened the scoring in controversial fashion, with the ball taking a heavy deflection off his arm before nestling in the net.

The England man defended his actions, however, adding: "It's a great ball from Stevie, it's gone over the defender's head and it was last minute, I've obviously tried to head it but I guess my heading's not good enough.

"The ball's just gone in off my arm but I wouldn't do that on purpose. Sometimes these things happen."

Suarez netted a brace on his first Premier League outing since his 10-game ban and Sturridge believes the Uruguayan's presence can only help Liverpool this season.

"It's great to have him back in, he gives us options and he's one of the best forwards in the league. We form a good partnership," said the former Manchester City and Chelsea striker.

"We miss Philippe Coutinho, with his injury, we've got some great players in this team and I'm happy to be playing with them."

Atletico Madrid Prepare Bid For Liverpool Playmaker

Atletico Madrid is planning a £20million bid for Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho when the transfer window reopens in January, reports the Daily Express.

The 21-year-old Brazilian only arrived at Anfield from Inter Milan in an £8.5million deal at the turn of the year, but is already attracting a growing list of admirers.

Coutinho's fine form for Brendan Rodgers's side has not gone unnoticed around Europe, with Diego Simeone ready to tempt the Merseyside club into selling the exciting young star, with a lucrative offer more than double what Liverpool paid for him less than 12 months ago.

Atletico actually enquired about Coutinho's availability in the summer, but were swiftly knocked back by the Premier League outfit.

But, they are ready to renew interest again in January, providing they secure the finances gained from progression from the Champions League group stages this season.

Coutinho is currently sidelined by the shoulder injury picked up in Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Swansea City earlier this month, but following successful shoulder surgery is expected to return to action before the end of October.

Benitez Targets Two Liverpool Stars

Napoli boss Rafa Benitez is plotting a double raid on former club Liverpool in January, according to sources in Italy.

Benitez's new side are flying high in Serie A at the moment - they're second in the table and unbeaten after six games - and he is eyeing January additions in an attempt to strengthen their title tilt.

talkSPORT told you last week that he is keen on Martin Skrtel, who has recently worked his way back into Brendan Rodgers' plans at Anfield after being frozen out in the second half of last season.

But the Spaniard is also planning to revive his interest in Lucas Leiva, the midfielder he brought to Merseyside from Gremio in 2007.

Benitez was a firm admirer of the Brazilian during his time at Liverpool and frequently defended the anchorman from criticism.

However, he could struggle to land Lucas as the 26-year-old is now an integral member of Brendan Rodgers' first team.

Agent Of Udinese Striker Denies Liverpool Contact

The agent of Udinese striker Luis Muriel has denied that he’s been in contact with any English sides, despite growing rumours of Liverpool being interested in his client.

The 22-year-old Colombian, who signed for the Friuli-based side in 2010 and spent two years out on loan, scored 11 goals and provided three assists during his first full year with the Zebrette last season and has garnered the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs as a result.

However, despite admitting that the young attacker would be interested in moving to a bigger club in the future, his agent was quick to downplay the growing rumours that Liverpool had earmarked him as a perfect understudy to Luis Suarez.

“He’s an immensely talented player, so it’s only normal that big clubs should be interested in him,” Helmut Wennin stated to calcionews24.

“However, I haven’t had any contact with English clubs regarding his future, nor have I had contact with any Italian sides, either, but I don’t know if the Pozzo family has been talking to anyone.

“In either case, Udinese and the Pozzo family have been really essential in Luis’s career to help him grow both as a man and as a player.

“He has a great relationship with Francesco Guidolin and knows that he’s an important player for his club.

“But, of course, my client’s objective is to play for a top club someday and he’ll continue to work hard to improve and hopefully have the opportunity to test himself at a bigger club sometime in the future.”

Liverpool Ladies Claim First English Title

Liverpool LFC has clinched their first major honour as they won the FA Women's Super League with a 2-0 defeat of Bristol Academy WFC.

Going into the title decider in Widnes, Liverpool led Bristol by two points so knew a draw would be enough for the championship. In the event Louise Fors put them ahead from the penalty spot on 35 minutes and Katrin Ómarsdóttir doubled the lead in the second half, Liverpool ending Arsenal LFC's nine-season reign.

Swedish international Fors and Iceland midfielder Ómarsdóttir were two of a large number of winter arrivals as new Liverpool manager Matt Beard revamped a squad that had finished bottom in both previous FA WSL seasons. Winning their last seven games proved to be the key with 12-goal Natalie Dowie and Nicole Rolser, on ten, ending as the league's top two scorers. They can now look forward to a UEFA Women’s Champions League debut in 2014/15.

Fors said: "It's an amazing feeling. We worked hard all season and we deserve it." Beard added: "The players have been fantastic and they deserve it. They have done this themselves by spending time together off the pitch and creating a great team spirit."
Bristol have also earned a European berth, as although Arsenal won 2-1 at Everton LFC, they missed out on second place due to three points deducted for fielding an ineligible player in their 3-0 victory at Liverpool last month. To maintain their record of playing in Europe every season since 2003/04, Arsenal must claim a second continental crown this time around, starting in the round of 32 where they play WFC CSHVSM-Kairat on 9 and 17 October.

England's other 2013/14 UEFA Women's Champions League contenders, Birmingham City LFC, ended fourth after a 3-0 win at bottom side Doncaster Belles LFC, who will be departing the top division for the first time to be replaced by Manchester City LFC. Birmingham's European opponents PK-35 Vantaa today won their third straight Finnish Cup, overcoming HJK Helsinki 2-0.

New Liverpool Contract For Rodgers On The Agenda

Liverpool wants to tie manager Brendan Rodgers down to a new contract.

Rodgers, appointed as manager in June 2012, has under two years remaining on his deal and the Anfield giants are wary of taking any risks over his future.

The Liverpool board is yet to discuss a new contract with Rodgers, but it is believed to be on the club's agenda.

Rodgers has admirers at Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham, and could even be considered as a potential successor to Roy Hodgson if England fails to qualify for the World Cup.

Despite a run of three games without a win ahead of Sunday's trip to Sunderland, Liverpool has started the season well.

Rodgers and striker Daniel Sturridge won the Premier League Manager and Player of the month for August.

The 40-year-old Northern Irishman also impressed his bosses with his handling of the Luis Suarez saga.

Manchester United Face Demise Like Liverpool

Manchester United are in the process of a demise similar to that of the last Liverpool team to win a title, says Alan Hansen.

Hansen was a key part of the Liverpool team of 1990 - the last time the Merseyside outfit won the English First Division.

The new Manchester United boss David Moyes made just one notable signing in the summer in the form of Marouane Fellaini from Everton for £27.5m. The Premier League champions have since had their worst start to a league season in 24 years.

"Liverpool began to flounder because they failed to replace good players with better ones," Hansen told the Daily Telegraph

"The club has paid a heavy price in the two decades since."

Moyes, 50, was recommended by outgoing manager Sir Alex Ferguson but has since struggled with the role, finding his opening three months in charge hard going.

It was a frustrating summer for everyone at Old Trafford as players like Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale were pursued, but turned down the chance to join the club.

Hansen says that, although it is too early to make a judgement on Moyes, alarm bells are ringing around Old Trafford.

He believes there are some worrying similarities between the current United squad and that of Liverpool's shortly before their demise.

"It is too early to say we are now witnessing the end of the empire at Old Trafford," said Hansen.

"But alarm bells are ringing and there are clear similarities between the United of 2013 and the last Liverpool team to win the title back in 1990.

"I played in that Liverpool team 23 years ago and it was in the bottom three of the eight title-winning sides I played in at Anfield.

"It was an ageing team, one which Kenny Dalglish was looking to break up and build again with new players. In the past the club had successfully combined winning and rebuilding, but this time was different."

Hansen, 58, added: "United have more depth and quality than the 1990 Liverpool side, but I would say that the two first teams are comparable in terms of the issues they faced.

"Both could be described as ageing teams that needed breaking up, but with issues over those brought in as younger replacements."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Match Preview: Sunderland vs Liverpool

Managerless Sunderland play host to Liverpool at the Stadium of Light, live on Super Sunday, still seeking their first Premier League win of the season.

Kevin Ball takes charge of his first Premier League game as Sunderland caretaker boss following the sacking of Paolo Di Canio last Sunday.

Di Canio was axed last week 24 hours after the 3-0 defeat to West Brom left the Wearside club rooted to the bottom of the table.

Sunderland have just one point from their first five league outings and Ball will be hoping to boost his chances of landing the manager's job on a permanent basis with a positive result against Liverpool.

Liverpool travel to Wearside aiming to get back to winning ways after two straight defeats to Southampton in the Premier League and Manchester United in the Capital One Cup.

The gloss to Liverpool's impressive start to the season has been taken off in the last few weeks and Brendan Rodgers will be keen to see them get back to winning ways at the Stadium of Light as they strive to keep pace with the leading pack.

Sunderland will be without star striker Steven Fletcher after he injured his shoulder in last weekend's defeat to West Brom.

It means Jozy Altidore is expected to lead the attack and he could be supported by Emanuele Giaccherini, who scored in the midweek Capital One Cup win over Peterborough.

Defensive duo Wes Brown (calf) and Phil Bardsley (foot) remain sidelined as they work their way back to fitness.

Fabio Borini is ineligible to play against his parent club after joining Sunderland from Liverpool on transfer deadline day.

Lee Cattermole made his first start of the season against Peterborough and he could keep his place in midfield.

Luis Suarez is set to start his first Premier League game after coming through his return from suspension against Manchester United unscathed.

The Uruguay international played the full 90 minutes in midweek after serving his 10-match ban for his bite on Branislav Ivanovic and he is expected to keep his place in Rodgers' starting XI.

Rodgers is waiting on the fitness of vice-captain Daniel Agger after he missed the defeat at Old Trafford with a knock.

Full-back duo Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho remain on the sidelines through injury meaning Rodgers has a decision to make whether to stick to his 3-5-2 formation he played against Manchester United.

Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho is out after undergoing shoulder surgery last week, while two former Sunderland stars Simon Mignolet and Jordan Henderson are set to face their old club.

Mignolet Aware Of Revived Sunderland

Having recently completed a degree studying 20th century socialism, one might imagine Simon Mignolet joining in the applause at the demise of the politically provocative Paolo Di Canio at his former club Sunderland.

Instead, the Liverpool goalkeeper has only positive memories of his brief spell with the combustible Italian, recalling the galvanising effect the manager's arrival had at the Stadium of Light as the club fought relegation last spring.

Mignolet was also in the Sunderland side when Martin O’Neill – another coach he holds in affection – made the same short-term impact on his appointment a year earlier.

So the Belgian knows what is coming for Liverpool in the North East on Sunday, with Sunderland often finding their best form with a change of manager.

“If a new manager comes in, then every single player inside that dressing room wants to perform well and show what they are capable of. That is mostly what happened,” says Mignolet. “When a Premier League team decides to sack their manager, it is for that kind of response. From an opposition point of view you just don’t know what to expect. When it is your former team you always look closely at it. I am always having half a look over my shoulder to see how they are getting on.

“I still know a lot of players and other people at the club. I was there for three years and it is never nice to see them struggle. You feel for the lads because you know they’re trying to do the best but it’s obviously not going for them and also for the people around the place. If you’re a masseur or a physio or in any job, if you’re there and it goes against you, then it’s obviously not a nice environment to be in.”

Di Canio’s sacking after a players’ revolt suggested Mignolet left a flammable environment when he moved to Anfield, but he says the tension must have rapidly developed after he left.

“I had a good relationship with him. I never had a bust-up with him,” he says. “The first two weeks when he came he observed a lot. After a couple of days he changed a few little things and we had two massive results against Newcastle and Everton and got ourselves safe for the next season. So for me he was a good manager to work with.”

Life at Liverpool seems serene by comparison, although there is always a gentle simmering at Anfield when you lose consecutive games.

While questions are starting to be asked about the quality of some of Liverpool’s signings, Mignolet is unequivocally the most successful of the summer.

“He will be the best signing of the season and worth 10 points this year,” a senior Liverpool figure said once the £9 million deal had been struck. The confidence, thus far, is justified. Mignolet can already claim a heavy assist in six of the 10 the club’s 10 points to date.

It is to his credit that, after a few days of anxiety when Pepe Reina was loaned to Napoli to enable Mignolet to be number one, no one has since queried the merits of the decision.

It is easy to see why Mignolet provokes such certainty that he will succeed, given his quietly authoritative manner and studiousness on and off the park. There cannot be many modern players who have completed a degree while becoming an established international.

“I finished the degree last season. It’s political science,” explained Mignolet. “I don’t really like to say it’s politics, everybody’s going to say ‘he’s going to be a politician’, which is not true.”

So plenty of theoretical discourses with Di Canio, then? “No, no, no! I’m obviously interested in history, that kind of stuff, but I’m never going to be a politician after my football career. I started the course when I was in Belgium. My parents wanted me to have something behind me in case something went wrong, say an injury. When I arrived in England I had to finish six more courses.”

Mignolet has made an equally impressive start to his latest assignment – joining the ranks of Liverpool’s great goalkeepers.

Rodgers Plays Down Second-Half Stat

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is not worried about his side's second-half form this season.

The Reds have not scored after half-time in the Barclays Premier League since May 12 at Fulham, and that has contributed to them dropping four points in their last two matches - against Swansea and Southampton.

And, while Rodgers cannot explain why they have not scored any later than the 37th minute, he is not reading anything into the statistic.

"It is well documented we haven't scored a goal (in the second half) and sometimes that trend surprises you when you hear that," he said.

"Probably in some of the games in the second half we have sat a bit deeper and have seen out the results, but Swansea we didn't.

"It doesn't concern me. It is something we will work on.

"As the game (the 1-0 Capital One Cup defeat at Manchester United) went on the other night, I thought we were going to get that goal, but I can't say I'm overly concerned."

Rodgers is certain, however, it is not a fatigue issue.

"We have obviously had players who have come back and were gaining fitness," he said.

"Overall, the condition the team is in is very good.

"Sometimes it (not scoring) is just how it rolls out in the early part of the season, and for us we just need to keep working.

"Throughout the team we had good performances the other night. We just need to keep believing, keep our confidence and the wins will come."

Defensive lapses at corners have resulted in two single-goal defeats in their last two outings, and Rodgers knows that has to improve, although overall he does not see a great deal wrong with their displays.

"I think the performance against Southampton wasn't so good. We weren't as proactive in the games as we normally were," he added.

"I thought our performance at Old Trafford was excellent. The only negative was we conceded a very poor goal from a corner, but apart from that I saw a lot of the characteristics from the team that I would want.

"Our passing was good, the speed of our game was crisp. We sit (fifth) in the league on the same number of points as Manchester City and Chelsea and we are very determined to continue with a very good run in the league at the weekend.

"It (the team) will always be evolving, You can never be satisfied because you are always looking to improve.

"The consistency of the group has been good for the last seven or eight months and we've had very few blips.

"I expect us to rebound back and go again."

Liverpool faces Sunderland, a team rebounding from the sacking of Paolo Di Canio, at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

"There is an upturn you normally find when a manager comes in," he said.

"It is unfortunate Paolo lost his job. They had a victory in the week (in the Capital One Cup) and obviously Kevin Ball (caretaker boss) will go into the game looking for the players to put on a performance again.

"We know the capabilities of Sunderland and I am sure they will come out fighting for a result.

"For us, in order to continue climbing, we are determined to go and win."

Rodgers has been impressed with the performances of Martin Skrtel since his return to the side for the league victory over Manchester United earlier this month following an injury to Kolo Toure.

The Slovakia defender's opportunities appeared limited after the arrivals of Toure and Mamadou Sakho, but he has shown his battling qualities to hold down a regular place for the last four matches.

"I thought he was brilliant the other night. I called him into the office to recognize his performance was excellent," the Northern Irishman said.

"He defended crosses into the box, he was clever in his defending.

"It was great credit to his professionalism when he wasn't in the team he continued to work and was fighting every day to show he could play in the team.

"It was always the case when you got your opportunity you had to grab the shirt and he has done that and played very well."

Asked what had changed for Skrtel, he added: "Maybe before, he was more of a marker in terms of one-versus-one defending. He is a real strong competitor.

"For how we wanted to play, it was that balance between being aggressive and reading the game and the ability to play, and I think he has shown he is a terrific player and that was never in doubt.

"But there were other players here and we needed other characteristics in the team."

Liverpool Boss Wants Pastore

Liverpool are ready to swoop French giants Paris Saint Germain for the services of attacking midfielder Javier Pastore.

The Argentine is supposedly unhappy at life in the French capital following his big money move from Palermo in 2011.

He has failed to impress on a regular basis and has become disillusioned with life sitting on the bench under Laurent Blanc.

His agent Marcelo Simonian, states in the metro that his future at the club could be decided within the next few months.

The news is sure to attract the attentions of boss Brendan Rodgers who is thought to be keen in bringing the playmaker to Anfield.

Rodgers failed to make a big name signing this summer and Pastore was rumoured to have been just one of the players he was looking at.

The 24-year-old would fit into Rodgers style of play naturally having been known to get the ball on the floor and play defence-splitting passes

Liverpool Have Another PSG Player On Radar

Liverpool will be on alert as long term target Jeremy Menez's contract extension with PSG continues to be ignored by the club’s hierarchy. The owners of PSG have recently come out and said they have intentions to keep the player but as yet talks haven’t even started.

Le10 Sport have reported that the French international's contract with the French champions runs out in July 2014 and his representatives have still not been approached by the club to extend his current deal beyond this. In January, Menez will be able to speak to clubs regarding a pre-contract agreement with the possibility that Liverpool could land the winger on a free next summer or at a reduced fee in the winter transfer window. It has been revealed that meetings to discuss his contract haven’t even been set by PSG.

The Daily Star reported in March that Liverpool were lining up a £6m bid for Menez as the player was becoming unsettled in the French capital due to the arrival of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura, Edinson Cavani has also joined this year Their signings have resulted in Menez having less opportunities in the PSG first team. Rodgers will be keen to pick up a player who can play either on the wing or as a forward.

Liverpool have already raided the French club in the in the last few weeks by signing French international defender Mamadou Sakho. The player arrived in Liverpool towards the end of the transfer window after he was experiencing the same issues as his teammate Menez. Due to the influx of players coming into the club Sakho refused to extend his contract which also ran out July 2014. The player was concerned about making the France squad for next year’s World Cup and therefore decided to jump ship and find a new club.

Reina Doesn’t Expect Anfield Return

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina says it appears unlikely that he will play for the club again.

The Spaniard, currently on loan at Napoli where he has been reunited with former boss Rafa Benitez, does not expect to return to Anfield at the end of the season.

“At the moment it’s difficult to think about being a Liverpool player next year,” Reina told the Daily Mail. “They have a young goalkeeper in Simon Mignolet and the manager prefers him to me.

“That’s the reason why I’m here and he will be at the club next year as well. There’s no reason to think I’ll be a Liverpool player from now on but we’ll see where the future takes us.

“It’s been a good move so far and I don’t regret what happened. I would have preferred to say goodbye in a different way.”

Reina admits he had been happy at Liverpool and was not expecting to go anywhere in the summer.

“It did come as a surprise,” he said. “It was the club (Liverpool) who made the move. I was on my holidays and nobody told me anything.

“Suddenly Napoli called and said they were agreeing terms with Liverpool and Liverpool just rang me two days later and said the same. They probably had their own reasons.”

Rodgers Must Show Progress to Keep Liverpool Job

Ian Ayre, the Liverpool managing director, has warned manager Brendan Rodgers must demonstrate progress to owners Fenway Sports Group in order to keep his job but is not under pressure to end the club's four-year Champions League absence.

Rodgers was appointed in June 2012 and signed a three-year contract with The Reds.

After a difficult start he guided Liverpool to seventh in the Premier League in his opening season - an improvement on the eighth place finish achieved in the previous campaign - and begun his second term with three successive league wins including over champions Manchester United.

The club's number one priority remains qualifying for the Champions League, a competition in which despite being British football's most successful side with five victories, Liverpool haven't featured in since 2009 and have failed in four successive seasons to qualify.

Liverpool have spent upwards of £109m combined in the three transfer windows since Rodgers' move from Swansea City and after retaining wantaway striker Luis Suarez this summer after rejecting two offers from Arsenal, a top four assault is expected.

While admitting playing top tier European football is an ambition for Liverpool, Ayre says Rodgers must provide evidence of evolution in order to remain in the Merseyside hotseat.

"We base Brendan's performance on progress," Ayre said.

"We don't say to him that you have to finish in that position, you've got to achieve this.

"We set a very clear plan with Brendan when he came into the club. We were very clear and had a very open discussion with him about what the club's ambition was and what we wanted him to come in and specifically do and he's moving forward in all those areas.

"As long we keep progressing and we can see he's moving the club towards where it wants to be then he'll be the Liverpool manager.

"It's not about individual positional targets it's about him improving Liverpool football club and our opportunity to get back to where we believe we should be."

Liverpool finished 12 points adrift of the top four last season but signed eight new players during the summer transfer window.

But perhaps the most significant deal of the off-season involved retaining Suarez - a scorer of 30 goals in all competitions last term - who eventually made a u-turn in his wish to leave Liverpool after the club stated he was not for sale.

Following a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic Suarez made his first appearance of the season in the League Cup defeat to United at Old Trafford and Ayre says the primary motivation for keeping the hothead forward, whose career in English football has been littered with controversial moments, was linked to attaining Champions League qualification.

"This football club is the most successful British club in that competition in the European Cup and the Champions League so we absolutely want to and expect to get back there," Ayre, who joined Liverpool in 2007, said.

"Last season we were happy that we improved the group and the squad and we've had a good start and it looks good so far.

"We hired Brendan to change our philosophy and how we play football and to start something that we're all committed to," he added.

"If you're committed to that then someone like Luis Suarez is exactly who you need because of his ability and what he can achieve so it was never our ambition to change that and as I say he's still there and that's the end of it."

Agger And Allen Fitness Update

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers delivered a positive update on the fitness of defender Daniel Agger at his pre-Sunderland press conference at Melwood.

The Denmark international missed the Reds' 1-0 Capital One Cup defeat at Manchester United in midweek after completing almost an hour against Southampton last weekend.

Asked for an injury update, the manager told reporters: "We are what we are from the other night.

"Daniel Agger will hopefully come back into the reckoning; he has trained in the last couple of days. Other than that, it will be more or less the same squad.

"I can only work with the players that I have available. We have got a few injuries and most of them have been unfortunate injuries.

"I can only concentrate on the players we have available now and we'll maximize what we can out of that group. They are working very hard and working well."

Joe Allen will not be involved, however, with the Welshman requiring further recovery time from a hamstring complaint before he becomes available again.

"We felt leading up to the Swansea game that Joe's hamstring was getting better," said Rodgers.

"But he still has a bit of time to go on that. He's obviously working hard with the medical team but he's not fit yet."

The boss was questioned on the fitness of top scorer Daniel Sturridge too and quickly quashed any suggestions that the striker could be rested following the return of Luis Suarez.

"There's no taking him out. With Daniel, we've seen this season that even when he's not 100 per cent fit he's still an amazing player," the Northern Irishman added.

"He's still a player that will put defenders on the back foot. His pace and power is getting up to speed.

"He's a player that is very important for our team. He's a catalyst at the top end and even when he's not at 100 per cent he's still a top player."

Suarez played the whole match at Old Trafford on Wednesday and Rodgers provided two pieces of good news on behalf of the Uruguayan.

He said: "He's fine. He became a father for the second time so he's on top of the world."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Match Report: Man United 1 - 0 Liverpool

Javier Hernandez brought a sense of stability back to Manchester United after a turbulent week by netting the only goal in an absorbing Capital One Cup tie with Liverpool.

Hernandez wriggled away from Jose Enrique to touch home Wayne Rooney's corner.

The Mexican's first goal of the campaign came so early in the second-half, United manager David Moyes had barely got beyond the penalty area in his walk to the home dug-out.

It meant it was easy to spot the Scot's celebration, at a strike that should at least quell some of the angst that built up following that awful hammering at Manchester City four days ago.

United's performance was not perfect.

Indeed, on his return following a 10-match suspension, Luis Suarez came close to levelling when his vicious free-kick struck the bar with David De Gea beaten.

De Gea had only just repelled Victor Moses' powerful diving header.

But the hosts had chances to sew up the contest too, with Simon Mignolet producing a couple of excellent saves to deny Rooney.

And after bravely riding the hefty punches landed on him at the Etihad Stadium, Moyes was probably not that bothered about the actual scoreline anyway, just the much-needed victory against one of England's biggest clubs, and United's greatest rivals.

It was hardly a surprise Suarez should start. After all, when you have spent so long out and are desperately in need of match fitness, there is little to be gained by kicking your heels on the bench watching others do what you are paid so much for.

Perhaps understandably though, the Uruguayan was not quite on top form.

He was caught on his heels slightly when Steven Gerrard rolled an inviting pass into his path, which allowed Rafael to slide back and clear.

And when Enrique's curling cross dropped over Jonny Evans' head, Suarez's first touch was just too long so De Gea was able to slide out to bravely block his second.

He did supply the through ball that ended with Daniel Sturridge toe-poking wide.

Suarez would have also got the assist if Moses had been able to drill his square ball home. Moses didn't get the opportunity though as Ryan Giggs reached it first.

It was all part of an absorbing opening period, notable for the fact neither goalkeeper actually had a shot to save.

As befitting a team that got so badly beaten at the weekend, and containing so many players with so much to prove, United started with intent.

Nani and Shinji Kagawa were particularly lively, whilst stand-in captain Rooney buzzed around with menace.

However, with the exception of a Nani effort that was deflected wide, all that early pressure fizzled out and it wasn't until much later in the half United started to force the pace again.

Yet they did appear to lack conviction, with neither Phil Jones nor Giggs willing to commit fully to attack.

Such tentativeness was perhaps understandable given the hammering meted out at the weekend.

Some kind of relief was required. And it arrived through Hernandez's goal a minute after the re-start.

Liverpool responded to the setback with impressive vigour.

Indeed, they should have been level when United's defence got themselves in a muddle attempting to subdue a joint raid involving Suarez and Sturridge and succeeded only in presenting Jordan Henderson with a shooting chance.

The England man had enough time to do better than merely drag a disappointing shot wide. And he knew it.

Excellent approach play involving Hernandez and Kagawa deserved a better ending than Nani's poor finish too as the second-period delivered the goalmouth action that had been lacking beforehand.

Kagawa, proving exactly why so many United fans were baffled at his lack of action so far this term, saw his dipping effort flick off the bar before play immediately switched to the other end, where Enrique fired wide.

So unhappy was Gerrard with that waste of possession that he very publicly rebuked his team-mate, who kept his head down as he ran back to his defensive station.

It was the prelude to a thrilling finish, in which Moses, Suarez and Rooney, twice, all came close.

In the end though, United held Liverpool at bay for what could turn out to be a very valuable victory for their manager.

Lack Of Concentration Cost Us - Rodgers

Kop boss Brendan Rodgers has praised the effort of his players but rued the momentary lapse which ultimately caused defeat against Manchester United.

Liverpool suffered their second straight defeat of the season on Wednesday night when a sole Javier Hernandez goal was enough to put Manchester United through to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup at Old Trafford.

The visitors had impressive spells throughout the game but couldn't convert any of their chances despite being boosted by the return of star striker Luis Suarez.

Speaking at his post-match press conference, Reds manager Brendan Rodgers reflected: "I thought we had good spells in the game where we got into real good areas and probably just the final pass let us down and that final finish, but I've no qualms about the players' effort. I thought they were brilliant in everything they gave to the game.

"We're disappointed with the lack of concentration for the goal and it cost us."

Following criticism of Rodgers' decision to play four central defenders in the 1-0 loss to Southampton on Saturday, the Northern Irishman changed to wingbacks for the encounter but admitted it was a decision largely forced upon him because of the personnel available.

"I've never in my life ever played four centre-halves in any game," explained Rodgers. "Anybody who knows me and knows my work, knows that's not how I would operate. But when you have no choice that's what you've got to do.

"I try to always get as many attackers on the field as I can. I just felt that was a system that suited the players that we have and I thought the players played the system very well - we got numbers forward.

"If we had to play that system again for a period of time until players are fit then, we obviously need to work more on it but it's something that you can see the players are comfortable in.

"It gives us three players to dominate midfield, gives us the two strikers up front that are arguably up there with the top strikers in the league, and it still keeps us secure at the back. If we need to play it again, I think we can play it well."

Rodgers Faces A Dilemma Of His Own Making

Brendan Rodgers may have dealt well with one selection dilemma on Wednesday night, but he faces an even bigger one heading into Sunday's match against Sunderland—and this time, it's of his own making.

Having now lost their last two games and burnt through much of the goodwill fostered by a strong first month, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers find themselves facing something of a selection dilemma—and not the one at the back. There may be very real squad depth issues Rodgers has had to cope with in defence due to a series of fullback injuries, but the bigger problem lies further up the pitch. The real problem is at positions that haven't been ravaged by injury and where, in theory at least, the club's summer dealings should have given the manager the options he needs to navigate a season without European commitment.

The real selection problem heading into the weekend doesn't come at the back, where the use of three centre halves to combat Liverpool's fullback injury crisis at the very least appeared a promising tactic against Manchester United, but in midfield and at striker, positions where Rodgers does have depth and options. Or at least where he should have, given he and his scouting staff just spent the better part of £15M bringing in a pair of players to provide depth there. Iago Aspas at a hair under £8M and Luis Alberto for just short of £7M aren't nailed-on starters—at least not yet in Alberto's case—but they cannot have been intended to be no more than expensive ornaments for Liverpool's bench.

In the end, though, that's just what they've seemingly become, with Alberto largely relegated to U21 action and Aspas out of favour after he failed to impress when asked to play a more peripheral role than he had at Celta. If the players ahead of them on the depth chart at their natural positions were fully fit and on form, it wouldn't be an issue. The problem is that they quite clearly aren't, with Steven Gerrard having appeared to have reached the stage in his career where going all out for 90 minutes even once a week is a difficult ask and Daniel Sturridge carrying a knock that shows no signs of improving with the manager asking the striker to play every minute of every match.

For Gerrard, despite looking exceptionally ineffective—and perhaps even infuriatingly indifferent—against Southampton on the weekend, it was no surprise that he found just that little bit extra in the early going on Wednesday against United, and as a result he was one of the most effective players on the pitch throughout the first half. Unfortunately, it was just as unsurprising when the second half saw Gerrard fade out of the match. It was so bad that, by the end, Kolo Toure was storming the United penalty area and desperately trying to wave Liverpool's captain forward to join him while a spent Gerrard hung back, unwilling or unable to commit himself to the attack.

It didn't help, either, that Lucas was removed in the second half after a highly dubious yellow card began to hinder what had been a solid display for the Brazilian. With the club's defensive specialist in midfield gone along with Gerrard's legs, the captain seemed to have no confidence in his ability to get back in coverage should Liverpool turn the ball over. And so, as a result, he appeared to choose simply to not commit himself forward. Past the 70th, 80th, and finally the 90th minute, with Liverpool reverting to something of a 4-3-3 and Toure the nominal defensive midfielder, Gerrard just sat back, forcing the willing but not especially threatening defender to be the one pushing on for a late equalizer.

Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, looked punch-drunk on the ball for much of the night. Uncertain at times, stumbling at others, it seemed as clear as at any point this season that whatever knock the England striker began the year with and that kept him out of action over the last international break remains an issue. Sturridge has shown an admirable desire and determination to play through the discomfort and delivered a series of effective performances despite being at far less than 100%, but on Wednesday, two games in a week appeared to be asking far too much of a player who probably shouldn't have started and who at the very least should have been taken off in the second half.

What's worse is that when the match ended, Rodgers still had an unused substitution in hand along with one exhausted and increasingly ineffective captain, one injured and increasingly ineffective striker, and £15M of hand-picked depth options at their positions still sat on the bench. Perhaps, being that the match was against Manchester United, Gerrard simply had to start. Perhaps, given the return of Suarez, Sturridge needed to play with an eye towards rediscovering their chemistry. Neither, though, needed to go the full ninety—against either United on Wednesday or Southampton last Sunday. Neither has needed to play every minute of every match so far this season.

Now, Liverpool face a trip to Sunderland on Sunday and a third match in eight days, where Rodgers will have to choose between a pair of players who appear unable to handle the workload he's given them and a pair of pricey depth options he has clearly shown he isn't confident enough to play for even a minute in place of either starter. It seems a winless situation for Rodgers, but that's only because of choices already made. Neither Sturridge nor Gerrard should have had to play 180 minutes this week. They shouldn't be asked to play 90 minutes every game. Now that they have, and especially with Liverpool having lost the last two matches, Rodgers is left with a dilemma of his own making.