Monday, February 04, 2013

Match Report: Manchester City 2 - 2 Liverpool

Champions Manchester City lost more ground in the title race as they were held to a 2-2 draw in a thrilling encounter at home to Liverpool.

Edin Dzeko's 12th goal of the season put the hosts ahead midway through the first half only for Daniel Sturridge to smash home his fourth in six matches for Liverpool since his move from Chelsea.

An even better trademark Steven Gerrard strike put Liverpool ahead with 17 minutes to go only but Sergio Aguero salvaged a point with an exquisite shot from the narrowest of angles.

However, it was not enough on a weekend when rivals Manchester United won and the result leaves Roberto Mancini's side nine points adrift of the leaders.

After criticizing the youngsters in his side after their FA Cup exit to League One Oldham a week ago Brendan Rodgers selected Liverpool's oldest starting line-up (average age 28 years and 18 days) since October 2011.

It looked a sensible ploy as City have been imperious at home since before they won the title last May - losing just one of their last 41 league games - and they made their intent clear from the off.

There were just 49 seconds on the clock when Jose Reina was forced to tip over David Silva's dipping volley.

All the early pressure was with City but once Liverpool had weathered that initial storm they started to come into their own.

A deft touch by Sturridge took Stewart Downing's lobbed pass past Hart in one move but he was denied a goal as Pablo Zabaleta got back to block.

Luis Suarez, busy without being particularly threatening, flashed a shot across Hart and wide of the far post as it seemed the visitors were about to take control.

That notion was dispelled in the 24th minute as some neat interplay from Silva and James Milner from a throw-in on the left saw the latter cross low for Dzeko to sneak behind Daniel Agger and tap home from close range.

If that goal was founded in simplicity Liverpool's equalizer was made of pure brilliance, although it was viewed as controversial by indignant City players and their fans.

Agger appeared to go through Dzeko to get the ball but referee Anthony Taylor saw no foul and with the Bosnia international collapsed on the turf in their own half Liverpool played on.

The boos grew louder as the Reds made their way upfield but almost a minute had expired - with City momentarily winning the ball back on the edge of their area - before Sturridge scored.

Gerrard rolled the ball forward to the former City striker who smashed a fierce left-footed shot past Hart.

It was the first goal the City goalkeeper had conceded since December 29, 584 minutes in all.

The hosts were furious but Taylor's decision not to stop play was proved correct - even if his original one not award the foul was not - as Dzeko leapt got to his feet, declined treatment, berated the linesman and re-started the game.

Liverpool finished the half the stronger and having continued that after the break Mancini made a tactical switch 10 minutes in when he replaced Matija Nastasic with Aleksandar Kolarov and went to a back three.

That appeared to re-energise City and Aguero threatened to put them ahead again with a blistering 40-yard run only to slip as he entered the penalty area.

Gerrard showed him the way to strike a ball in the 73rd minute with a strike very reminiscent of his goal in the 2006 FA Cup final.

Gael Clichy's poor clearance from Jose Enrique's cross dropped to the midfielder 30 yards out and the England captain controlled the ball on his chest before unleashing a dipping low volley which gave Hart no chance.

It was Gerrard's sixth league goal - one more than the whole of last season - and his fifth in the last 10 games.

Martin Skrtel was introduced for the tiring Enrique and after almost scoring at one end was involved in a mix-up with Reina which allowed City to equalize.

Aguero raced onto Gareth Barry's pass and the goalkeeper's rush of blood saw him charge out to the left edge of his area, from where the Argentina international turned him and fired in impressively from a narrow angle.

Sturridge forced Hart into a low save late on before departing to jeers from the fans who, only a couple of years ago, cheered him as one of their rising stars.

Rodgers: Liverpool Should Have Won

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said he was disappointed to leave Man City with just a point after their 2-2 draw.

The Reds have been accused of not rising to the occasion but were full of attacking verve at the Etihad and were unlucky not to win.

Rodgers said: "We're disappointed. It probably typified our season as a whole. We have played really well in a lot of games and mistakes have cost us.

"I don't want to overshadow what was a brilliant performance. It's a game we should win, we showed great character to come back and then we went in front and we should have gone on to win it."

The former Swansea boss also said Daniel Sturridge's equalizer to make it 1-1 was a 'perfectly good goal' after City protested that they should have been awarded a free-kick in the build up.

He added: "It's a perfectly good goal. If you watch both players get tangled as the centre half tries to nick in front of Dzeko and wins the ball.

"The referee clearly deems it not a free-kick and the game plays on. It's literally about a minute later that we get the goal. There was enough time for Manchester City to get organized and get back in the game.

"My players were only doing what the referee asked of them which was that there was no free-kick and obviously it got us back in the game."

Gerrard Calls On LFC To Mount CL Assault

Steven Gerrard has sounded the rallying cry after another impressive Liverpool performance, and insists the Reds can continue their march all the way to a Champions League spot this season.

The Merseyside giants have not tasted elite European football for two seasons, and with Brendan Rodgers’ men currently lying in seventh place, nine points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham, another year in the Champions League wilderness looks likely.

However, after the Reds narrowly missed out on impressive wins against Arsenal in midweek and at Manchester City last night, Liverpool skipper Gerrard insists his side can still make a late push for the top four.

‘No disrespect to the sides we’ve got coming up but if we keep playing like that then we can certainly put in a challenge for fourth place,’ Gerrard said.

‘If we perform like that we will pick up a lot of points between now and the end of the season.’

The midfielder, 32, who was crowned England’s player of 2012, added: ‘We can take a lot of belief from the way we’ve performed against Arsenal and Manchester City.

‘It was similar to the Arsenal game in that I felt we did enough to come away with the three points.

‘City are a good side and to go away to the champions and get a point is a good result, but after the way we played we’re disappointed not to get the win.

‘We need to build on this and I’m feeling really confident about our ability to move up the table.

‘We might not have got the results we wanted against the top sides but every time we have certainly matched them if not bettered them in games.

‘We just need to try to cut out our mistakes and turn those draws into wins.’

Savage: Liverpool's Passing Thwarted Man City

In his regular BBC Sport column on football tactics, Robbie Savage takes a closer look at the 2-2 draw between Manchester City and Liverpool.

City's gameplan was to press Liverpool high up the pitch because of the attractive football Liverpool play.

But, at times, it didn't matter how much City pressed as Liverpool played some fantastic football and, in Daniel Sturridge, had a player right on his game. I thought the Reds edged it.

The pressing started from striker Edin Dzeko. There were shots of City manager Roberto Mancini on the sidelines telling his player to press.

In the first half, the tactics worked as chances were very rare. City was at home so they were on the front foot, got their goal through Dzeko and everything was looking great.

Then Liverpool equalized and the goal actually came from City pressing the ball high up the pitch. The home side won it back, played it into Dzeko, who was then fouled by defender Daniel Agger. The referee should have blown and given a free-kick to City but he played on.

There was about 30 seconds between the foul and the goal and City should know you have to play until the whistle. For me, Liverpool was right to carry on. It was not a head injury, so you play on.

But that upset City's gameplan. They seemed to lose a little bit of faith after that. They also got a bit tired in the second half as they didn't press the ball as much.

Whereas in the first half they were going with pace and in numbers to close the ball down, they became half-hearted and didn't go with the same enthusiasm and energy. They gave away a couple of cheap fouls and then Steven Gerrard put Liverpool in front.

City got a second wind and pressed again before getting the equalizer. The goal came after a mistake by Reds keeper Pepe Reina, although it started from City pressing and winning back possession.

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez gave away the ball cheaply and possession went back to City keeper Joe Hart. City built from there to get Sergio Aguero's leveller.

Midfielder Yaya Toure will be back for City after Ivory Coast's exit from the Africa Cup of Nations and he has been massively missed. He gives City pace, power and drive.

Looking around City's team there is not that much pace. If Yaya had been playing, he might have picked the ball up in the middle of the park and run at the Liverpool back four where they might have been vulnerable.

Manchester United also pressed Liverpool high up the pitch recently and won the game 2-1. The difference between that game and this one was that United were winning the ball higher up and going on the attack.

City did force Liverpool into errors but, instead of the visitors giving the ball back in dangerous areas, they were kicking it out of play for throw-ins or clearing the ball to the home side's centre-backs.

I was impressed by the way Liverpool, at times, played their way out of trouble. I thought that this was their best performance of the season.

They learnt from the game against Manchester United. Striker Sturridge was terrific and midfielder Jordan Henderson also had a decent game. Henderson and winger Stewart Downing are rejuvenated players and Gerrard again rounded off a captain's performance with a tremendous strike.

Liverpool's passing and performances are getting better. They led 2-0 at Arsenal before drawing 2-2 and were 2-1 up against City. It just shows how they are coming on. They just need to be more consistent.

They have midfielder Philippe Coutinho to add to that team and these are positive times for them.

They have yet to beat a team in the top 10 but that will come if they continue to play like they did against City. Although, I don't think they can break into the top four this season.

Sturridge Injury Doubt For England

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is a doubt for England's midweek friendly with Brazil after sustaining a thigh injury in the 2-2 draw at Manchester City.

The 23-year-old, who has just four senior caps, scored a brilliant goal at the Etihad Stadium to make it 1-1 in the first half but then picked up a knock.

He remained on the pitch until he was substituted just before the final whistle but Rodgers is not optimistic about his chances of joining up with England.

"He got a knock just before half-time on his thigh and he wanted to give it a go in the second half," said the Reds boss.

"I think he will be a doubt for the game on Wednesday, which is unfortunate because he was terrific today.

"His hold-up play, movement and pace was a real threat, and combination with Luis Suarez, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson up front was outstanding.

"He is just with the medics at the moment and he will have a chat with our doctors and he will speak with the England set-up.

"They might want to have a look at it but at the moment he is obviously struggling."

Zenit Want €15m Liverpool Player Before End Of February

Not all transfer windows in football shut on the same day and at the same time. Just like the windows in Italy and Germany closed a few hours before ours on January 31st, there are countries who still have quite some time left to buy players. Transfer windows closing only prevents clubs registering players, they don't stop sales, and as such an English team can sell a player to a club in a transfer window even though ours has finished.

In Russia they've still got until the end of February to sign players and the clubs there haven't simply stopped looking at targets here because we're 'closed'. Izvestia in the country reported a couple of days ago that Zenit St Petersburg want to sign Liverpool's Martin Skrtel and the rumours surrounding a move have grown since then in the country.

Liverpool signed the central defender from Zenit and the media outlet pushing the story say one of the reasons he's being targeted is because he would be able to fit straight into the league and the club. There are few concerns about whether the Slovakian would be able to settle in and perform - simply because he's proved himself there before. In terms of adding to their defence for immediate impact, there aren't many better options for Zenit.

It's acknowledged that getting him from the Merseyside club would be difficult at this time and a transfer fee of €15m is mentioned. Liverpool will surely feel that they want to keep him, especially with having no opportunity to replace the player, but if a big enough bid comes in then it could make it a more difficult decision.

Skrtel isn't the automatic first pick he used to be but Brendan Rodgers will probably want to keep him until the summer and then look at the situation again.

The Daily Mail said last July that Zenit were looking tempt the defender with a pay offer of around £110,000 per week.

Gerrard Voted As England Player Of The Year

Steven Gerrard has been named as the FA's 2012 Player of the Year after receiving more than 40 percent of the fans' votes.

The Three Lions captain came ahead of Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck and Chelsea defender Ashley Cole in a year where he earned his 100th cap against Sweden.

Gerrard said, “It’s always special to have been recognized by the supporters for doing a good job. My dream was to get one cap so to be in the 100 club is really special.”

England boss Roy Hodgson feels Gerrard can inspire the stars of the future, he said, “The younger players can look at someone who has 100 caps and think, ‘He started at the same age I am but he’s still here 14 years later’. And what a career he’s had.”

Goals Galore For Loan Stars

Daniel Pacheco began his temporary spell at Huesca in Spain with a goal and a win, while Michael Ngoo and Andy Carroll were also on the scoresheet for their respective loan clubs.

Pacheco struck in the second half to give his team a 2-0 advantage, which they maintained against Real Murcia to climb out of the relegation zone in the Segunda Division.

Ngoo bagged a goal for Hearts - his second in three appearances for the Scottish club - as they drew 2-2 at Ross County on Saturday. Danny Wilson also played the full 90 minutes at Victoria Park.

Carroll was the match-winner for West Ham at the weekend, heading in a late goal to earn all three points for the Hammers at home to Swansea.

Tenacious midfielder Jay Spearing featured for the full match in Bolton colours on Saturday but could not prevent Wanderers from suffering a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Watford.

LFC Appoint New Digital Media & TV Chief

Liverpool Football Club has appointed Matthew Baxter as the club's new Chief Media Officer to head up its digital media and TV operations.

Baxter brings a wealth of global digital media experience having held senior positions in well-known TV businesses including Warner Bros International Television and Walt Disney, and was part of the Fox Kids launch team in Europe.

Most recently, Baxter has been working as Senior Vice President of MGM Networks - where he worked across the commercial spectrum, with an emphasis on sales and marketing, creating and launching TV channels and MGM businesses around the world.

Ian Ayre, managing director, said: "Our digital media and television operations are a crucial component of the club's future brand and commercial development.

"Matthew will have global responsibility for establishing a world-class television and digital media business by further developing our digital platforms domestically and internationally.

"This is a key appointment in our digital strategy to create further engaging content for our growing global fan base."

Liverpool announced earlier this month that the club has overtaken Barcelona as the world's most globally active club on the social media platform Twitter, launching eight new local language Twitter accounts in just two months.

On the digital video platform, the club is also leading the way having recently become the first football club to launch an official page on iTunes, enabling fans to download their favourite programs to Apple devices.

Baxter said: "It's a real honour to join the team at an organization that is steeped in history and has enormous global appeal.

"There is a real opportunity to build on the existing platforms and develop the club's digital and TV strategy to further modernize this hugely potential asset."

Baxter is British, married to Louise and has three children. He will be relocating with his family from his home in London and joins the club on Monday, February 4. He will be part of the club's senior management team.