Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Match Report: Manchester United 2 - 1 Liverpool

Striker Robin van Persie came out on top in the battle of the Premier League's top scorers as Manchester United emerged from a tricky test unscathed against arch-rivals Liverpool.

The Holland international continued his remarkable scoring spree with a close-range effort in the first half which was doubled after the break by Nemanja Vidic.

Liverpool substitute Daniel Sturridge overshadowed team-mate Luis Suarez, who began the day one behind Van Persie on 15 top-flight goals for the season, by marking his league debut for his new club with a second goal in as many matches and had a chance to snatch a point late on, but United held on grimly, if somewhat unconvincingly.

It was billed as the battle of the Premier League's two best strikers. Unfortunately it never lived up to the pre-match hype.

Van Persie - expertly and clinically - scored with virtually his first chance and could have had at least one other in the first half.

Suarez toiled in vain but never got the remotest inkling of an opportunity against Rio Ferdinand and Vidic - reunited in the centre of defence for the first time since September - with his one effort coming just before the interval and only troubling the fans in the Stretford End.

In spite of the age-old rivalry between England's two most-decorated clubs the first quarter of the game was something of a non-entity.

United enjoyed the greater dominance, as was to be expected from the home team, while not creating anything too threatening while Liverpool counter-attacked sporadically but fared even worse in the final third.

It changed in the 19th minute when, with United steadily building the pressure, the ball was worked from right to left for Patrice Evra to pick up in space.

His low cross was the perfect invitation and Van Persie did what he does best, side-footing a shot past Reina.

The statistics now adding up for the Holland international are startling. It was his 65th goal in 77 league matches, his 10th in the past 10 games, his fifth in five against Liverpool (three coming for Arsenal and the other at Anfield earlier in the season) and his 20th of the campaign.

Van Persie should probably have had another having charged through a gaping hole between centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger to collect Ashley Young's through-ball but he uncharacteristically ballooned over.

Liverpool, possibly due to the inexperience of the likes of Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen, appeared to crumble.

Allen, who is so often hailed for his possession statistics, passed the ball straight to Danny Welbeck and the Wales midfielder's embarrassment was only saved by a block from Agger.

Welbeck then skipped past Skrtel to fire over while Tom Cleverley saw a left-foot volley flash just wide of Jose Reina's left-hand post.

Only a brilliant goalline clearance from Skrtel from Van Persie's clever backheel from Rafael's cross prevented a second, with Reina taking a hefty whack from Shinji Kagawa in the aftermath which required lengthy treatment.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side have been in front at half-time in 211 previous league games at Old Trafford and never lost (199 wins and 12 draws) so the task facing Liverpool was stark without even taking into consideration their first-half performance.

United winger Ashley Young failed to reappear for the second half - replaced by Antonio Valencia - having injured himself after recklessly jumping into a tackle on Agger, for which he escaped any punishment.

However, the more significant introduction at the interval was that of Sturridge, whose pace up front provided much-needed support for Suarez and introduced a different dynamic for the United defence.

Wisdom had the chance to make a name for himself having charged forward 70 yards to exchange passes with Suarez only to fire hopelessly wide.

Within three minutes United were 2-0 up as Skrtel's foul on Welbeck on the edge of the area, which earned him a yellow card, allowed Van Persie to swing in a free-kick from which Evra's header deflected in off Vidic.

At that stage it appeared the game was up for the visitors but their first shot on target brought some hope.

A low strike from Gerrard, on a rare foray to United penalty area, was only parried by David de Gea and Sturridge used his poacher's instinct to follow up the rebound.

The change was almost instantaneous as, Reina palming away Kagawa's shot aside, Liverpool moved into the ascendancy with substitute Fabio Borini, on his first appearance since early October because of a broken foot, volleying wide.

Sturridge had the chance to snatch an equalizer and the headlines with five minutes to go after Suarez's determination saw the ball break to his strike partner but the £12million signing leant back and his effort sailed over and United escaped to consolidate their position as Premier League leaders.

Rodgers Proud Despite Defeat

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was pleased with the way his side battled back in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United.

Robin van Persie gave United a first-half lead and Nemanja Vidic extended their dominance in fortuitous fashion from a free-kick early in the second half.

But substitute Daniel Sturridge's first league goal for Liverpool brought the visitors back into the game and there were one or two nervy moments for the hosts in the closing stages.

Rodgers said: "I was very proud of the team. I thought that the first half we were a wee bit tentative at times in our passing and we actually presented them with opportunities in the game

"But in the second half - you could have easily at 2-0 given up the fight - the fightback was brilliant by the players and I thought second half we maybe deserved something from the game.

"We are disappointed to lose but take heart from the fact we kept going and Daniel Sturridge coming on and getting another goal was terrific. The second-half performance was much better.

"It's never easy when you have got young players that are making their debuts at Old Trafford and when you look at Manchester United's experience in their team - they have been there and been around a lot of them.

"For us it was just about reinforcing a couple of details that we needed to be better at. We are disappointed with the free-kick because we never defended that well enough. But after that the reaction was terrific.

"We will take great hope from the second-half performance. We know the improvements we need to make if we are going to sustain a challenge at the top of the table.

"There was 21 points difference before this game but it wasn't 21 points in terms of quality, it was 21 points in terms of the depth of the squad. So if we are going to be able to compete we need depth in our club that is going to enable us to compete on a consistent basis."

Rodgers also paid tribute to Sturridge who entered the action at the start of the second half.

He said: "I thought he was a real threat when he came on. He is an outstanding young player who just needed an opportunity. He will score many goals for Liverpool I am sure."

Downing Takes The Positives

Liverpool winger Stewart Downing was encouraged by the second-half performance in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday.

The Reds looked down and out when they trailed 2-0 after 54 minutes but Daniel Sturridge, a half-time substitute, pulled a goal back in the 57th minute on his Premier League debut for the club and the visitors finished the game strongly.

"We probably let them control it in the first half. We sat back too much and just let them have the ball too much," said Downing.

"The manager stressed at half-time that we needed to push on and put them under pressure more when they had the ball.

"Sturridge coming on maybe pushed us a bit further forward.

"We got support for Luis Suarez up there, who was probably getting frustrated before that.

"That's what Sturridge gives you. He can get in behind people, and he's got pace and power - you saw that with the way he took his goal.

"I thought in the second half our performance was really good. Certainly for the last 20 minutes we had them pegged right back.

"You could sense that their fans were getting edgy and Alex Ferguson was shouting a lot of instructions.

"We had them rattled a bit and created plenty of chances."

Liverpool Preparing Ambitious Swoop For Barcelona Keeper

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes could be on his way to Anfield to join Liverpool in the summer, according to the Sunday People.

Valdes has been an integral part of the success story at Barcelona, winning five La Liga titles and lifting the Champions League on three occasions since making the number one jersey his own in 2003.

But the 30-year-old goalkeeper, who like Liverpool’s own stopper Pepe Reina has had to play second fiddle to Iker Casillas in the all-conquering Spanish national team, has just 18 months of his contract left to run and Barcelona may be ready to cash in on him in the summer.

He is rated around £16million, however, which may put off Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, while Manchester City – another club linked with a move for Valdes – would also be reluctant to shell out that figure for a players who would be back-up to England international Joe Hart.

Liverpool has also been on the trail of young England goalkeeper Jack Butland, who is being tracked by a host of other Premier League clubs. Birmingham wants £6million for the 19-year-old, who is also interesting Southampton, Fulham, Everton and West Ham.

Molde Star Poised For Liverpool Medical

Liverpool are set to complete the signing of Norway defender Vegard Forren pending a medical, reports the Daily Mirror.

According to reports in Scandinavia, the 24-year-old is set to arrive in Merseyside on Tuesday, with the Reds ready to pip a host of rival Premier League clubs to the Norway international's signature.

Brendan Rodgers has already added Daniel Sturridge to his Anfield ranks this month, and now looks set to sign the highly-rated Forren, as central defensive back-up to first-choice pairing Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.

Television channel TV2 announced: "Molde has accepted a bid from Premier League club Liverpool. The 24-year old is travelling to England on Tuesday to undertake a medical."

Forren has racked up nearly 150 appearances with boyhood club Molde, and boasts five caps with Drillo Olsen's national team.

Everton and Fulham were both hoping to sign the talented star, who has been tipped for a bright future by Manchester United legend and Molde boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

Forren's prospective arrival at Liverpool will raise further questions over the future of Uruguayan stopper Sebastien Coates, who had been recently linked with a loan move away to gain some more first-team experience.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Scandinavian football expert Brendan Husebo said that Liverpool have potentially got their hands on a very talented defender.

"Forren was by far and away the best player in the Norwegian Premier League last year. But what made a big move inevitable was the way he extended that to internationals and the Europa League.

"After looking like lost potential, Forren has become calmness personified under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

"A skilful, strong, left-footed centre back might sound familiar to Liverpool fans, and comparisons to Daniel Agger in terms of style and potential are wholly justifiable."

Liverpool Winger Target Wants BVB Stay

Liverpool winger target Kevin Grosskreutz has played down talk of a move away from Borussia Dortmund.

The 24-year-old has been linked with the Premier League in the past, with Reds boss Brendan Rodgers sending scouts to watch the £10million-rated player in action back in November, according to Metro.

But, despite being out of the first team at Signal Iduna Park, the three-cap Germany international insists he wants to stay and fight for his place under manager Jurgen Klopp.

"I have no trouble with Borussia Dortmund and, basically, I don't want to leave. I am not giving up just because I am not in the first team. Borussia Dortmund always were and still are my favourite club,” he told Sport Bild on Friday.

"Until now I have not been offered a new deal that I could sign straight away, but I am looking forward to receiving that kind of proposal."

Despite not playing since December, Grosskreutz has featured 14 times in the Bundesliga this season, with his last appearance coming in the 3-1 victory over Hoffenheim.

However, his contract expires in the summer of 2014, and with less than 18 months remaining on the deal, a transfer opportunity could arise for English clubs.

Liverpool can take heart from previous Grosskreutz quotes if they wish to reignite their interest, with the player admitting that the Premier League was a ‘top priority’ back in November.

"Should I continue with my career in a foreign country at some point, the Premier League of England would be my top priority. I really like the way football is played over there. I have no concrete thoughts on that. In terms of contracts, my first conversation will be Borussia Dortmund,” he told Bild at the time.

The Anfield outfit have already added an attacking wide-man in the shape of Daniel Sturridge during the January transfer window, although the England international is eager to play through the middle if an opportunity arises. Rodgers has hinted that he will try and accommodate the youngster in that position.

However, the manager's 4-3-3 formation will limit opportunities with Luis Suarez the main man for Liverpool. Grosskreutz would be another excellent wide addition for the club if he were to make the Merseyside move, but it appears his heart lies with BVB at the present time.

Liverpool Hold No Interest In Signing Wesley Sneijder

Liverpool have no interest in signing Inter Milan contract rebel Wesley Sneijder - but managing director Ian Ayre insists the club have the finances in place to make any signings they want - reports Sky Sports.

The 28-year-old Dutch international is set to leave the San Siro this month after refusing to take a pay cut with the Serie A outfit, and is believed to be in discussions with Turkish giants Galatasaray.

However, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has also been heavily linked with a move for the playmaker, as he looks to strengthen his Anfield squad further this month, following the recent addition of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea.

In a recent interview, Ayre revealed that Liverpool are working on a number of targets, and says that money is not an issue for the Premier League club.

"It is about who Brendan has got his designs on. What he wants, we will always say the same thing, if we find the right deals for the right players we will get it done.

"Everyone who operates in January knows it is always a difficult window, but we will do what we can. We have got targets in sight and if we can resolve those great, if not then we will move onto summer and do what we need to do.

"We don't have any issues with finances, it is about doing what is best in the long-term interests of the football club.

"With the advent of financial fair play it means everyone should be running the club prudently and that does not mean not investing but investing wisely and at the right time, and we will always do that."

Back in January 2011, Liverpool broke their transfer record when they forked out a whopping £35million on the signing of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United, just days after bringing in Luis Suarez for a reported £22.8million.

Both strikers have enjoyed varying levels of success since arriving on Merseyside, with the latter currently out on loan with West Ham United. The Reds have been rather more conservative in the transfer market since splashing out on a number of high profile signings who have failed to live up to the hype, and expectations at Anfield.

Sahin Took Pay Cut To Rejoin Borussia Dortmund

Nuri Sahin took a substantial pay cut in order to bring an end to his loan spell at Liverpool and rejoin Borussia Dortmund, the club’s sporting director Michael Zorc has revealed.

Sahin, 24, left the Bundesliga side in 2011 to join Real Madrid, but the Turkish midfielder failed to establish himself in Jose Mourinho’s first team, playing a peripheral role in the side. Those circumstances paved the way for a season-long loan move to Liverpool, but despite a bright start, failed to shine in Brendan Rodgers’s side.

Sahin’s return on an 18-month loan spell to Dortmund was announced last week after an agreement was met by all three clubs involved, and Zorc has suggested that Sahin’s willingness to take a pay cut made the homecoming possible.

"I think we're all aware that the salary structure here is different from Real Madrid's," Zorc told Bundesliga.com. "However, Nuri accepted what we offered, as for him it was all about wearing Borussia Dortmund's shirt again. There wouldn't have been a chance to sign him otherwise."

Sahin made 135 appearances for the Bundesliga champions during his first six year spell with the club, and Zorc believes the fan favouritre has the ability to make an immediate impact on his return to his boyhood club.

“Nuri hasn't enjoyed much playing time in the last 18 months, but we're all aware of his qualities, which is why we're convinced he'll be a great asset in the coming years.

"I'm sure he'll be able to link up very well with all our midfielders and his footballing ability is outstanding. Our guiding principle was doing what we felt was best and most useful to Borussia Dortmund. This transfer has nothing to do with Bayern."

Gerrard's Transfer Warning

Steven Gerrard has warned Liverpool chiefs that a youth-only transfer policy would be to the detriment of the club.

The 32-year-old, who has 18 months left on his contract, continues to wield an enduring influence at Anfield, having lasted every Premier League game this season.

Liverpool have pursued young talent like Fabio Borini, Daniel Sturridge and Joe Allen - all under 24 - since Brendan Rodgers was appointed boss last summer.

But Gerrard has stressed the importance of experience and cited Frank Lampard's expected departure from Chelsea on a free transfer as a source of bewilderment.

"I disagree with the policy to be honest," Gerrard told The Guardian.

"I've seen many signings throughout the world who have gone to clubs at the age of 28, 29 or even older and done fantastic jobs.

"The main example at the moment is, if Chelsea don't keep Frank Lampard and another big club comes in and gets him and he produces top attacking midfield performances for the next two years, someone is going to get a bargain. What is he, 34?

"I can understand the policy that everyone wants young, bright, British players but I don't agree 100 per cent that should be the only way.

"I think you've got to add experience to young gifted players as well because in this league and at this level you need experience.

"I look at Aston Villa now and the majority of them are going to be fantastic players in time but in my opinion that team needs two or three old heads to guide them. To be successful at this level you need to get the mix right."

On his own prospects of a new deal, he added: "The manager has told me he wants me round for a long time.

"I think I can play another three or four years. I'm not saying I want a contract for that length but nothing has been spoken of yet."

Pacheco Inspires Elite Stage Win

Liverpool's U21s began their Elite Group campaign in the Barclays U21 Premier League with a 1-0 victory against Southampton at Kirkby.

Amid continuous rain, Daniel Pacheco forced the match-winner with an effort which hit Saints defender Jordan Turnbull and found the back of the net.

In the preliminary stage of the competition, the Reds remained unbeaten in 12 games and rounded off their campaign by thrashing Crystal Palace 4-1 at the beginning of December.

The first action of the match saw Jon Flanagan replaced by Ryan McLaughlin after suffering a knock, before Krisztian Adorjan curled wide of the far post from the edge of the box.

Michael Ngoo had two clear chances of his own but could not convert when behind the Saints defence and the visitors entered half-time level despite being dominated for much of the opening period.

Pacheco will have no idea how he failed to put the hosts in front 90 seconds into the second half, when the ball arrived at his feet from a goalkeeping parry.

But the Spaniard dwelled for too long before seeing his eventual shot blocked.

Pacheco made amends on the hour mark, however, gliding past a succession of Southampton challenges before driving past the goalkeeper with help from a deflection off Turnbull.

The diminutive forward had several opportunities to double his tally but Alex Inglethorpe's side settled for 1-0 and a winning start to the elite stage.