Monday, January 07, 2013

Match Report: Mansfield 1 - 2 Liverpool

Luis Suarez's controversial strike and Daniel Sturridge's debut goal gave Liverpool a narrow 2-1 victory in their FA Cup third-round tie at minnows Mansfield.

Sturridge, a £12million buy from Chelsea a few days ago, wasted no time in getting off the mark and helping the Reds into the fourth round - and another tricky trip to Oldham - at the expense of their non-league opponents.

The Blue Square Bet Conference side had their moments, notably at the start of the second half, before Luis Suarez further crushed their hopes in the 59th minute - and not without controversy.

If a contentious handball had been spotted then perhaps Matt Green's 79th-minute strike might have forced a lucrative replay at Anfield, but it was not to be.

Instead for Mansfield manager Paul Cox, who turned 41 on Sunday and who married on Friday, his new wife Natasha will have to start flicking through the holiday brochures after failing to cash in on a promise from Blue Square that they would have paid for his honeymoon if the Stags had won.

Unfortunately, they made the worst possible start as it took just eight minutes for Liverpool, and Sturridge in particular, to make their mark.

The Stags defence was scythed open with ease by a delightful through ball from Jonjo Shelvey, and with Sturridge showing a turn of speed in racing on to the pass, he slotted comfortably beyond Alan Marriott from 12 yards.

The goal allowed the visitors to take control, with Marriott firmly behind a raking low drive from just outside the area from Joe Allen five minutes later that could have deceived as it flashed through a crowded penalty area.

Within 90 seconds it should have been 2-0, and effectively game over, as the Shelvey-Sturridge partnership combined again, with the latter clean through on to another incisive defence-splitting pass.

On this occasion, however, Sturridge dithered perhaps a fraction too long and shimmied once too often as his eventual crack at goal was beaten away by Marriott at close range.

At that stage, with just 15 minutes elapsed, that would likely have knocked the stuffing out of the Stags, however they grew in confidence as the half wore on even if Liverpool continued to dominate.

They were indebted to a superb sliding tackle from Lindon Meikle in thwarting Suso on the edge of the six-yard box, while John Thompson bravely threw his body in the way of a drive from Stewart Downing as he raced into the area.

But with the realization they were in the game and there was no walkover on the cards, and with the crowd becoming ever more vocal, they finally conjured their first chance just after the half hour.

A quick surging move resulted in leading scorer Green unleashing a fierce 18-yard drive that stung the fingers of goalkeeper Brad Jones, with Jose Reina one of those rested, along with captain Steven Gerrard.

They were amongst eight changes made to the side following the recent 3-0 victory over Sunderland, with Jamie Carragher taking over the skipper's armband.

With Suarez on the bench, Sturridge was given his chance to shine and a minute before the break he again managed to get in behind the home defence from a Shelvey pass, firing in a shot Marriott touched beyond the far post.

Whatever Cox then said to his players during the interval worked a treat as Town gave the Reds the fright of their lives in the opening few minutes of the second half as they besieged their opponent's area.

It was all sparked by a close-range shot from Anthony Howell that Jones nudged past his right-hand post.

Beyond that Howell saw another effort blocked by Carragher before Jones saved from Louis Briscoe, made a more fumbled attempt from Meikle, and then tipped one past his left-hand upright as Briscoe aimed a powerful angled drive towards the top corner.

It was hair-raising stuff for Liverpool, who eventually drew breath in the 53rd minute on a breakaway which culminated in Sturridge dragging a Downing pass across Marriott.

It proved to be his last act of his debut as Rodgers replaced the 23-year-old and Suso moments later with Suarez and Jordan Henderson.

The Uruguayan's introduction paid immediate dividends, but not without typical debate for which he has become renowned.

Again Downing was the provider and after Suarez's initial effort was blocked by Marriott, he then used his hand to bundle home the rebound from a couple of yards, sparking appeals from the Town players that went unrewarded.

The game appeared to be petering out towards a natural conclusion until Green struck 11 minutes from time with a right-foot shot from 15 yards that bounced off the turf and beyond Jones, heralding a frenetic finish.

The most notable chance saw Green lash a shot goalwards from 20 yards in the first of five minutes of injury time, only for Jones to paw away.

In the end, there was to be no romantic ending. Cox will have to save that for his honeymoon.

Rodgers Defends Decision

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers admits his side may have been a little fortunate to be awarded the second goal in their 2-1 FA Cup win at non-league Mansfield.

Debutant Daniel Sturridge gave the Reds an early lead before substitute Luis Suarez appeared to handle the ball before doubling the advantage, a goal which proved crucial when Matt Green pulled one back for Mansfield.

However, Rodgers pointed out that the officials saw the Suarez handball and ruled that it was not intentional.

"I've just seen it again and there's no doubt it was handball, but the referee and the officials ruled it wasn't deliberate," he said.

"I spoke to the fourth official when it was given because I couldn't see and he said it was (handball), so I can only assume they thought it wasn't deliberate.

"Obviously it was unfortunate for Mansfield and lucky for us that we got the goal, but it was a really professional performance from us."

When it was suggested that Suarez should have admitted the handball to the referee, Rodgers added: "It's not Luis' job to do that.

"It's not deliberate, as it's pushed up and hit his hand. It's up to the officials to decide that.

"That's why they get paid as officials and I thought Andre Marriner was brilliant.

"Maybe when you lose the game you look back on it and think it was unfortunate. We missed many more chances to put the game to bed but we got a wee bit of luck there, so it's something we'll take and move on."

Paul Cox Hails Talented Suarez

Mansfield boss Paul Cox hailed Luis Suarez a 'fabulous talent' despite the penalty controversy in their 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Liverpool.

In the Field Mill tie that saw Brendan Rodgers' men progress to the fourth round, Suarez doubled the Reds lead in controversial style when he appeared to handle his initial shot.

Cox refused to criticize the Uruguay striker, he said: "I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt and say it was a reaction, he's a goalscorer and I think goalscorers put the ball in the net anyway.

"He's a great fabulous talent, I'd go pay to watch him week in and week out. He's a wonderful player."

Cox also insisted he does not feel Suarez cheated and further praised the Liverpool number seven.

"No I don't. For me to come out and say something like that I think would be quite cheap. If it had gone in the other end and one of our players had done it I think we'd have accepted it," he said.

"This is the FA Cup, this is the beauty of it, sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn't.

"It's a beautiful game and for me he's a fabulous talent and for this country we're lucky to have him here. I don't think we should call him for doing something that I think 99 out of 100 players would do."

Cox also hailed the performance of his non-league Mansfield, he added: "I'm proud of my boys, I thought they were a different level second half. I thought we stood off them and let them play in the first half.

"We've done well against one of the best teams. We've a lot of positives to take out of it."

Ince's Trail To Liverpool Turning Cold

The status of Tom Ince as a Blackpool player will continue insists manager Michael Appleton unless Liverpool improve their offer of a fortnight ago.

Ince has been linked with a move back to Anfield but the deal is looking less likely after Brendan Rodgers indicated that Daniel Sturridge may be the club's only January signing.

Appleton has also expressed his desire to keep the winger and praised his professionalism in dealing with the speculation surrounding his signature.

According to Appleton, the Reds did place a bid for Ince, who was a Liverpool youth player, two weeks ago but it did not meet the club's valuation of the player.

And in a potential statement of intent from the Seasiders, Ince was picked to start against Fulham on Saturday in a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup, meaning the 20-year-old is cup tied, should he move club, for the rest of the season.

"He [Ince] is going through an indifferent period because of all the speculation but he is coping with it really well," Appleton said. "I know how difficult it can be, so he has to take credit for that and I am sure that once the speculation settles down, his performances will pick up again.

"Liverpool made an offer two weeks ago but we have not received anything since. It was a case of, 'That's not enough. You'll have to do better if you want him'.

"Until that changes, he will stay here.''

Liverpool To Offer Trial To Zidane’s Son

Liverpool could be set to snap up Zinedine Zidane’s son Enzo from Real Madrid, as they prepare to offer the youngster a two-month trial.

Zidane Jr., who usually goes by the name of Enzo Fernandez to avoid comparisons with his famous father, currently plays for Real Madrid’s reserve side Real Madrid Castilla, having been at the club since he was just nine years old.

But the now 17-year-old could be set to step out of his dad’s considerable shadow and fly the Bernabeu nest – with Anfield a potential destination.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said yesterday the Reds are unlikely to be adding to their January signing of Daniel Sturridge, although there may be room for one more arrival.

Zidane, while yet to feature in Jose Mourinho’s first-team squad, was invited to train with the likes of Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2011 but has yet to make the step up on a more permanent basis.

But the youngster, who is eligible to represent either his father’s nation France or Spain, did show a glimpse of his potential in November with a superb strike against rivals Atletico Madrid.

Spanish Midfielder Won’t Be Sold Below €20M

Real Betis coach Pepe Mel has declared that in-demand midfielder Benat will not be sold for less than his release clause of €20M, sending a stark message to his many suitors.

Benat is rated as one of the brightest up and coming midfielders in the Spanish game, having made superb progress in recent years.

The 25-year-old won his first Spain cap last year in recognition of his improved play and scouts have been flocking to watch him in action for Mel’s men.

Those clubs linked with the Spaniard include English Premier League trio Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City – and with Benat’s contract expiring in 2014, interested parties have smelt a bargain.

But Mel has told a press conference that the midfielder will not go on the cheap.

"Benat’s clause is €20M and he will only leave for €20M", the Betis boss was quoted as saying by Spanish daily El Mundo Deportivo.

"Anything that means selling for less than €20M would be a disaster.

"The club has to make their point and Benat knows this. If we had another situation, it could be different, to achieve a minimum amount of money to go into the market and find a replacement, the only figure is €20M."

Benat has played 15 times for Betis in La Liga so far this season, scoring four goals and laying another five on for his team-mates, as his fine form has continued.

Mel has the side flying high, sitting fifth in the league and well in the running for a spot in next season’s Champions League.

Liverpool Made An Enquiry But We Want Immediate Solutions

The agent of Lazio defender Modibo Diakite insists English Premier League club Liverpool have made an enquiry about his client, but at the moment only "immediate solutions" are being considered by the player.

Diakite’s contract at Lazio is due to expire in the summer and as yet there has been no agreement with the Rome giants over an extension.

It is thought to be unlikely that the 25-year-old will be able to thrash out an extension with Lazio and the player’s agent admits he could move if a deal cannot be done to keep him at the Stadio Olimpico.

But at present only options which would see Diakite land with a new club this month are being considered, something which appears to have put Liverpool on the backburner.

"It is true that Terek Grozny is very interested in the player", Diakite’s agent Ulisse Savini told Calcio Mercato.

"While in the case of Liverpool, there was an enquiry, however now we are only considering immediate solutions."

Asked about whether Diakite could move to another club within Italy this month, Savini dismissed that idea, claiming only a switch abroad is on the defender’s radar in the winter window, if he does not re-sign with Lazio.

"No, at the moment, only abroad", he replied.

Diakite made 25 appearances in Serie A for Lazio last season as well as featuring in the Europa League.

Rodgers: Liverpool Planning Carragher Talks

One-club man Jamie Carragher may stay at Liverpool when he eventually chooses to hang up his boots, but Brendan Rodgers insists he wants to keep the defender in them for as long as possible.

The pair are due to discuss Carragher's future and the former Swansea manager has praised the 34-year-old's calming presence in the dressing room for helping him settle at Anfield.

As a result, keeping Carragher in his playing kit is a priority for the Reds boss, even though the days of Liverpool's No. 23 being a fixture in the starting XI are almost certainly behind him.

This season Carragher has made nine appearances in the Premier League and Rodgers admitted his lack of game time has been frustrating for the player. But winding down the former England international's influence on the team is far from his mind.

"A lot depends on what route he chooses to go down," Rodgers told Liverpool's official website.

"I know he is interested in the coaching side but I know he also enjoys the media side.

"We have had loose discussions in terms of where he is at. We decided we'd have a chat after Christmas. There is no doubt I want him to stay as a player because he still has a lot to offer.

"It has not been easy for him [not playing in every game], but he's from the old school. He's got values and ethics. We communicate a lot, talk about football and life in general.

"He is always there for me to rely on with his experience of the club. He turns out every day and I'm sure there are days that are difficult for him, when he doesn't play.

"I recognize his qualities on the field but, equally important, I recognize him as a man off the field. I hope he feels very much part of the family we have here.

"He is a wonderful example to any player, absolutely incredible. He has still got a few years left in him for sure."

Liverpool Recruit New Youth Ambassadors

The Liverpool Foundation has launched the second phase of their successful Youth Ambassadors Scheme with another 25 local youngsters starting work on the program just before Christmas.

The Youth Ambassadors Scheme, a partnership between Liverpool FC Foundation and Liverpool City Council, began in April last year and is designed to provide employment opportunities for local youngsters and showcase the best of what the city has to offer.

The main task of the Ambassadors is to serve as representatives of the city and greet travelling fans upon their arrivals in Liverpool on matchdays.

The first phase of the initiative had 25 young people aged 16-19 taking part with 10 going on to full-time employment with new organizations as a result of the training, experience and confidence gained during the program.

Now another 25 young people have joined the scheme and Liverpool FC Foundation director Gary Adlen said: "The Liverpool FC Foundation is dedicated to encouraging young people into enterprise and opportunities to help improve their lives. We are delighted to launch our second Youth Ambassador scheme with Liverpool City Council.

"Young people are the future of our city and by working closely with agencies and the local communities collectively this partnership helps them achieve their goals."

The youngsters on the program distribute information about the city's sights and attractions and will receive a level one qualification with the LFC Foundation, which in turn will bolster their future employment prospects.

"This is a fantastic initiative which has given young people a real opportunity to gain skills which can help them secure employment," said Mayor Joe Anderson. "Young people have a vital role to play in promoting the city and our partnership is a great example of how investing in today's youth can bring massive benefits to our communities for years to come. I am delighted with the success of the scheme so far and know it will continue to go from strength to strength."