Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Match Report: Liverpool 0 - 2 West Brom

West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster included a Steven Gerrard penalty among a string of saves which laid the platform for the Baggies to record their first league win since Boxing Day.

The former England international denied the Liverpool captain twice, once from the spot, as well as Jordan Henderson, Daniel Agger, Stewart Downing and Fabio Borini.

And when Gareth McAuley headed home West Brom's first effort on target in the 81st minute it set up their first league double over the Reds - having won 3-0 on the opening day of the season - since 1966-67, with substitute Romelu Lukaku's 90th-minute striking giving the scoreline an unbalanced look.

All the promise of performances in draws against Arsenal and Manchester City was wiped away in 90 torturous minutes as Liverpool suffered their first home defeat since mid-December.

West Brom is not supposed to like Mondays. They had not won any of their previous 18 top-flight away matches on this day, a run stretching back 44 years to March 1969.

However, they appeared more than comfortable in a disappointing first half which saw both teams manage just two shots on target between them.

Both of those were registered by the hosts as the Baggies were not intent on showing much adventure but with Liverpool not clicking into any sort of gear they were not in much danger either.

With Daniel Sturridge's thigh problem not being risked the Reds were shorn of the pacy, incisive running which caused the Premier League champions so many problems in the 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium.

Replacement Jonjo Shelvey was given his first league appearance since Boxing Day, playing in the hole as Luis Suarez was restored to the out-and-out striker role but he pair failed to get in the way Sturridge has.

The 20-year-old did put the ball in the net early on but was well offside, which sort of set the tone for the half which was briefly enlivened by Suarez producing a brilliant behind-the-leg cross.

Agger had a header tipped over by Foster, who also caught Stewart Downing's stinging drive at the second attempt.

The closest Liverpool actually came to scoring in the first half was when Steven Reid's attempted left-footed clearance of Shelvey's low cross cannoned off his standing leg and looped over the crossbar from four yards.

A lack of fluidity and crispness was noticeably absent in Liverpool's passing game as the Baggies harried and hassled and tried to stifle as much of their opponents' movement as possible.

Every pass from the hosts seemed half-a-yard too short or long and their control of the ball wasteful.

Improvements were made by Brendan Rodgers for the second half as Downing had a shot blocked and Gerrard's follow-up was crowded out before Henderson's cheeky close-range backheel from Glen Johnson's pass was stopped by Foster.

With an hour gone more work was required and Raheem Sterling and Borini were sent on for the ineffective Shelvey and the tiring Henderson.

Borini was denied by a fully-stretched West Brom goalkeeper after lashing Downing's lay-off goalwards, McAuley slid in to block Suarez's shot and the wrong-footed Foster stuck out a hand to stop Gerrard's drive.

Foster denied Gerrard again moments later from the penalty spot after Suarez tumbled a little easily under Jonas Olsson's challenge, and Liverpool were made to pay when they were hit with the sucker punch nine minutes from time.

Chris Brunt swung over a right-wing corner and McAuley had a free run in the area to power home a header.

Liverpool went chasing the game and were exposed even later on when Lukaku, having originally been dropped to the bench, stroked home their second.

Having picked up just one point from a possible 18 the victory was vital in halting the Baggies' slide down the table.

It also extended Liverpool's unwanted record of still not having beaten a team in the top half of the Premier League this season as they saw West Brom leapfrog them into eighth.

Rodgers Defends Liverpool Performance

Brendan Rodgers defended his side's performance and effort following Liverpool's shock 2-0 loss against West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on Monday evening.

Rodgers' men dominated possession, but goals to Gareth McAuley and Romelu Lukaku saw the visitors claim all three points and surge above their opponents into eighth position on the Premier League table. However, Rodgers is refusing to panic.

"The players gave everything," he told Sky Sports. "It was one of those games where we just couldn't make the breakthrough.

"The longer the game goes on the more likely it is that they nick one. I can't fault the players’ efforts, it was just one of those games where we couldn't get the first goal.

"We weren't at our best but we were certainly on the front foot and looking to create. Full credit to West Brom, [Ben] Foster's made some brilliant saves.

"It was a good away performance from them and the longer it was 0-0 the riskier it got. I can't blame [Steven] Gerrard for missing the penalty, he had a fantastic game and he had the courage to step up and take it.

"I'm just disappointed that our good run, particularly at home, has come to an end. But we gave everything tonight and the keeper had a fantastic match. But we'll go again, we've got an important game in the Europa League on Thursday and we'll be ready for that."

Jordan: Liverpool Let Standards Drop In WBA Loss

Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson acknowledged his side had let their standards slip in their 2-0 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Monday.

Defeat came as a shock for Brendan Rodgers's side after their encouraging away draws at Arsenal and Manchester City, as goals from Gareth McAuley and Romelu Lukaku arrested West Brom's own lean Premier League run.

"The manager didn't have much to say after. We all know we didn't play particularly well," Henderson said in the Liverpool Echo. "I don't think we passed the ball as well as we could have done. We had a lot of the ball but we didn't create as much as we have been doing.

"It's a game we could have won [Steven Gerrard missed a penalty in the second half with the score still 0-0] but it just wasn't our night. You have to take these things on board and learn from it."

Rodgers did not attend the post-match press conference, opting only to fulfill his obligations to broadcasters covering the game. "It was one of those games we couldn't get the breakthrough," he said.

"The longer it goes on it gives the opposition more encouragement. It's a big disappointment because we had two home games this week [the other is against his former club Swansea City on Sunday] that we felt were opportunities for us.

"But we'll go again and get back in on Tuesday. We've got a game away in the Europa League [against Zenit St Petersburg] which we'll be ready for on Thursday and then come back, get ready and go again at the weekend."

West Brom's manager, Steve Clarke, said his side remained focused on Premier League safety first after a win that lifted them up to eighth place, but was particularly delighted at the result given his former club's recent form.

"Liverpool are playing as well as anyone in the league so to come here and get that result with the performance as well I don't think you can say we were lucky because we weren't," he said.

Liverpool Concerned Ahead Of Zenit Trip

With the return of Europa League action coming on Thursday with a trip to St. Petersburg to face Zenit, Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has voiced his concerns going into the match. Those concerns, however, have very little to do with what could happen on the pitch when Liverpool face a side boasting names like Hulk, Danny, and Bruno Alves.

Instead his concerns are for what could happen off the pitch after a string of recent incidents involving the club's supporters and racist incidents. Moments like the offering of a banana to Anzhi's Roberto Carlos ahead of a match in 2011 and an open letter penned by the supporter's club last winter asking Zenit to avoid purchasing black players for the sake "tradition" have hardly painted the club in the best light.

"It's been a major concern for us," said Ayre, "so I wrote to UEFA very recently expressing our concerns to them—and also to Zenit themselves. We await some responses in that regard. The most we can do is make our feelings clear ahead of the game, and hope that we get an adequate response and adequate support on the night.

"That's about the most we can do at this stage. I'm certainly hopeful that the right people will take the right action to ensure it's a game where we don't have that type of incident."

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool have yet to hear back from UEFA regarding their concerns, though one can be sure that if a player on Thursday night were to upon scoring reveal a shirt bearing the logo of a non-sponsoring brewery retribution would be swift and merciless. Because UEFA, like FIFA above them, can always be counted on to have their priorities in order.

Just so long as you define priorities as the interest of their corporate sponsors and television rights holders and not the fans or good of the game. Ayre, though, insists that no matter what happens, Liverpool and the club's players will react in the right way if something unfortunate does occur.

"We do plan to speak to the players about it," he added. "The most important thing for our players is that they remain professional throughout this. So the important thing is that we let them know how we expect them to act if there is an incident. I'd much rather we take the incident off the pitch and we deal with it. Obviously the referee has a role to play within that. But we'll be briefing our players of what's acceptable and what's not."

Liverpool Waiting In The Wings For Christian Eriksen

The Danish midfielder has caught the attention of a host of top European clubs, with Liverpool amongst those chasing his signature.

Eriksen has yet to sign a new contract with the Dutch giants, which has given fresh hope for Brendan Rodgers to claw him away in the summer.

Manchester United and Spurs have also been keeping tabs on Eriksen, but their interest has cooled in recent weeks.

Ajax's technical director, Marc Overmars, told Sports paper sporten.dk: "Christian has informed us that he doesn’t want to sign a new contract right now.

“I think he and his agent want to see what opportunities present themselves this summer.

"We want him to stay here for at least two more years, but the day he leaves us, he will be ready to play for the very best.

"He’s a player even the biggest clubs in the world could do with having in their squad."

Eriksen was on the scoresheet when Ajax beat Manchester City 3-1 in the champions League group stages.

Liverpool Plan £20m Raid For Madrid Star

Liverpool are being linked with a £20m summer transfer swoop for Athletico Madrid winger Arda Turan. The Reds have struggled this season, and manager Brendan Rodgers will now be given the money he requires to strengthen his squad.

Last October, the club sent a scout to watch the player in a World Cup qualifier against Romania, and as recently as December the winger’s agent told Turkish television: “Arda wants to play for another club, to live a different experience. We are working now to make it happen. Athletico know what our intention is. If all goes well, Arda will leave the Madrid club at the end of the season”.

However, Madrid boss Diego Simeone seemed to have a different opinion and in a recent interview he was adamant that the player was staying in Spain: “Arda isn’t going, definitely. He has a contract with the club, he is ours, he’s an extremely important player for the club and he demonstrates it when he has to. Arda is one of the best players we have and that he gives his best in every game”.

The player, himself, has previously made it clear he wants to join Liverpool, and when chased by Rafa Benitez in 2009 he said: “As I always mention, Liverpool attracts me because of their tradition. In Europe, I am a Liverpool supporter, so if I go to play in Europe, I would like to play for them”.

Turan’s recent injury problems may provide the one stumbling block, as he has suffered three separate injuries in the last fifteen months. However, the last thing Liverpool need is another injury prone player.

Malaga Playmaker On Liverpool Radar

Liverpool is being linked with a summer move for Malaga midfielder Manuel Iturra.

The Daily Express claims Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is ‘weighing up’ an offer for the 28-year-old, with the report claiming Manuel Pellegrini will listen to offers in the region of £3million for his player.

Iturra, who has appeared 38 times for Chile, has been in-and-out of the Malaga side this season, making 18 appearances. However, he’s yet to score in the current La Liga campaign.

And, with reports in The Sunday People over the weekend claiming Iturra will not sign a new contract with the nouveaux-riche club, the possibility of a move at the end of the campaign now seems realistic.

Whether it’s a switch to Anfield remains to be seen, but Rodgers proved in January that he’s willing to gamble on players from across the continent, with Philippe Coutinho joining Liverpool from Inter Milan in the final days of the window.

Were Iturra to join the Reds, then he'd fight for first team chances alongside captain Steven Gerrard, ex-Swansea star Joe Allen and Brazilian international Lucas Leiva. Youngsters Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey are also pushing for senior opportunities.

Gerrard Wanted Carragher To Play On

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has revealed that he tried to persuade Jamie Carragher to continue playing before he announced he would retire at the end of the season.

Gerrard admitted that he respects his vice captain’s decisions to call time on his playing days but says he would have loved him to stay on for another year.

"I've known a little bit longer than other people. I've tried just as hard as everyone else to try to keep him going for a bit longer," Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo.

"He bounced a few things off me, but he's made the decision himself along with his family. He's basically taken no notice of what I said because I was trying for him to push on for another year.

"At times this season it has been difficult for him not being a regular starter because he has been a starter since he made his debut.

"I can respect and understand his decision. We're all going to come to that moment in our careers.

"He's had a fantastic career and he feels it's the right time to go out at the end of the season. Hopefully there are still some big performances left in him before he goes."

Gerrard admits Carragher's presence and influence on and off the pitch will be sorely missed at Liverpool.

"It's sad for me - I'm going to miss him more than anyone," he added.

"It's going to be different for me, not having him alongside me as a vice-captain. It's tough.

"Everyone knows what we're going to miss on the playing side. Since I made my debut Jamie has been alongside me in the dressing room and been a close mate of mine.

"He has been through the journey with me as well. I've bounced a lot of things off him, highs and lows, and we've come through it all together.

"People mention him alongside the likes of (Alan) Hansen and (Mark) Lawrenson, the best defenders that this club has ever had. For me, if he's not alongside them he's a little bit above them. That's the biggest compliment I can pay him.

"He's a wonderful player. At his peak for two or three seasons he was one of the best defenders in the world."

Man City & Liverpool Chased Italian Manager Last Year

Manchester City and Liverpool explored the possibility of bringing Carlo Ancelotti to the Premier League in November 2012, according to reports in France.

The Paris St-Germain boss looks set to leave France at the end of the season - with Real Madrid reportedly interested in bringing him to the Bernabeu as a replacement for Jose Mourinho.

But it seems Liverpool and Manchester City were among three Premier League clubs who enquired about Ancelotti's services towards the end of the last year.

The talkSPORT report claims Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, looked into Ancelotti's availability as Brendan Rodgers continued to struggle for consistency at Anfield, while Roberto Mancini has overseen a disappointing season so far for the defending Premier League champions.

French newspaper Le Parisien reports that both Premier League clubs gave serious thought to approaching Ancelotti in November.

And the Metro reports that Ancelotti has admitted he faces an uncertain future in the French capital.

Speaking to French newspaper L'Equipe, Ancelotti said: "I want to stay. But I know that, at the end of the season, the club will decide whether they're happy or not with my work.

"I haven't spoken with Nasser. It's simple. We will see how things stand at the end of the season and, if the club is happy, and me too, we will continue. Otherwise, there's no other choice. It's one or the other. I'm very happy here, but if the club is not happy, I will have no problem changing."

Jose Mourinho and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger have been linked with the PSG post, should Ancelotti move on at the end of the season.

The French club tops the Ligue 1 table, and face Valencia in the first-leg of their Champions League last-16 tie this evening.

Summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to lead the French league's goalscoring charts, and the Swede will be integral to his side's hopes of progression to the latter stages of Europe's elite competition, while Ancelotti will no doubt be keen to lead the Parisian club to a famous Champions League win - it would be his first since he guided AC Milan to victory over Liverpool in the 2007 final.

John Henry Defends Dual Ownership

Liverpool's principal owner John Henry has defended his dual tenure of the Merseyside club and the Boston Red Sox amid claims of being overburdened with responsibility for the sporting giants.

While Liverpool supporters have never been overly concerned that their owners have alternative concerns - in fact, their successful running of the Red Sox was considered a major asset in their favour when they bought the club - it has evidently caused rancour in Boston.

A decline in results in Major League Baseball, especially last season, has inevitably created a situation where many at Fenway Park would rather Henry had never bothered moving into the Premier League.

In an interview published in the Boston Globe, Henry fends off the claims Liverpool are "a distraction" and points out he has been a rare, recent visitor to Merseyside.

"I think it's affected perceptions. I mean, everything affects you. But the things that have been said, repeated over and over again, are fairly ludicrous," he said. "The last time I was in Liverpool I think was in May of last year. I don't know where this fraction comes from.

"You can say every major league owner is distracted if you want to try and make a case for it because they all have other businesses, other endeavors. I think they all do. The major thing is the perception.

"Imagine if I had nothing else to do other than run the Red Sox? What do you think would be different?"

Henry admitted some of the Red Sox's supporters do harbour concerns.

"I would say some of them are not OK because they read the same stuff that you write and probably some of them think we are distracted. But we aren't. Last year's losses on the field weren't the result of Liverpool," Henry said.

"I would say all three of us are intimately involved every day with everything that goes on at Fenway Sports Group. But every day is different. You have different issues that come up just about every day."