Friday, February 15, 2013

Match Report: Zenit 2 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool conceded two goals in less than three minutes to Zenit St Petersburg to leave their Europa League campaign hanging in the balance.

Despite having failed to properly test goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with a number of chances the Reds seemed to be managing to hold on in their last-32 Europa League first-leg tie in the sub-zero Petrovsky Stadium.

But with 20 minutes remaining Hulk powered home a brilliant 30-yard strike before substitute Sergei Semak converted from close-range moments later.

Liverpool - and in particular top scorer Luis Suarez - will have to rediscover their shooting boots for the return leg next week otherwise their last chance of a trophy this season will be lost.

Manager Brendan Rodgers insisted he planned to give this competition due significance once they were into the knockout stage but an unexpected FA Cup exit to Oldham and a failure to pick up the pace in the Premier League made it seem even more important.

For that reason he selected virtually a full-strength side with captain Steven Gerrard starting his first away game in Europe this season.

Concern had been expressed before the match about possible racist abuse targeting Liverpool's black players - of which Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling were included in the starting line-up - but the Zenit fans, in fact, contributed plenty to generating a good atmosphere.

There were unconfirmed reports of isolated monkey chants at pitch level but nothing which was audible up in the stands.

The Russian champions fed off the fervour of their fans and displayed a sharpness which defied their two months without a competitive match as both striker Alexander Kerzhakov and Hulk, the latter from distance, were denied early on by Jose Reina.

In between Suarez responded by turning Nicolas Lombaerts and rolling a shot past goalkeeper Malafeev and across goal but wide of the far post.

The Belgian defender was not having the best of nights as he then inexplicably passed the ball to Suarez who drove into the area, rounded Malafeev but was denied from a narrow angle as Lombaerts recovered to block.

However, Liverpool, in trying to play a cagey European-style game, sank further back into their own half and it only served to invite on the hosts who saw Danny's header easily saved and Hulk hit the post.

The Reds' attacking was sporadic at best on a pitch cutting up badly but five minutes before half-time Suarez almost pinched a cheeky goal when the Zenit defence got themselves in a mess and Suarez backheeled Sterling's low cross just wide.

Johnson had a shot blocked by Malafeev after a long, driving run early in the second half while Suarez fired wide again as Liverpool could not find a clinical edge inside the penalty area.

It was a failing which cost them dearly on Monday as they were caught cold by West Brom, who scored twice late on at Anfield.

While they had not had the same dominance as they enjoyed against the Baggies they were not exactly in trouble - and that was when they were exposed.

With 20 minutes to go Jordan Henderson was dispossessed and Hulk, who had previously threatened without being worryingly dangerous, smashed one in to give Reina no chance.

But the defending for the second goal less than three minutes later raised plenty of questions as right-back Alexander Anyukov's low cross was drilled home at the far post by Semak.

Gerrard's free-kick forced a low save from Malafeev but no-one was on hand to capitalize on the rebound but Liverpool appeared to still be going backwards rather than forwards.

It encouraged Zenit to go for what would surely have been the killer third and Viktor Fayzulin saw his long-range effort deflected narrowly wide.

Liverpool will require a much-improved performance in a week's time if they are to turn around the deficit and keep their quest for silverware alive.

Rodgers Confident Liverpool Can Turn Around Two-Goal Deficit

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists his side will not give up hope in the Europa League despite a 2-0 defeat against Zenit St Petersburg in the first-leg of their last-32 clash.

Second-half goals from Hulk and Sergei Semak put the Russian side in a commanding position going into next week's return leg at Anfield.

But the Reds boss claims the creativity of his players ensures they have a chance at progressing to the last-16 of the competition.

"If we can be solid defensively as a group, we know we can create the chances to score,” Rodgers told ITV.

"There is no way the tie is over, not by a long shot. We are more than capable of getting the goals back.

"The next goal is vital for us, if we get the next goal it opens up the tie.

"We're very disappointed to have lost the game. After that opening spell, when they had too much space, I thought it was a near-on perfect away performance.

"We had chances to score and should have been in front, and we were defensively solid.

"So to concede the two goals in the last 20 minutes, especially the second one, was disappointing."

The bulk of those chances fell to Luis Suarez, who failed to convert an early one-on-one chance after Nicolas Lombaerts' error and also backheeled wide from inside the six-yard box.

"He could have had a hat-trick by half-time," Rodgers said.

"It just wasn't his night but he's been brilliant for us all season.

"The important thing is that after his first one-on-one, he kept going and was still in there."

Liverpool Join Battle For Sampdoria Starlet

Liverpool are the latest Premier League club to be linked with a move for Sampdoria starlet Mauro Icardi.

The Daily Mail claims Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has enquired about the player’s availability, as the 19-year-old continues to impress during his first season in Serie ‘A’.

Icardi was on loan from Barcelona at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris last term, as the Blucerchiati gained promotion through the play-offs from Serie ‘B’.

And, with eight goals in 18 Italian top-flight games, domestic rivals Napoli and Inter Milan have shown an interest.

However, both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are keen to bring the player to England, with the paper claiming both clubs have scouted the Argentine U20 international this season.

Indeed, Citizens chief Roberto Mancini made a personal check on the player during the recent 3-1 win against Roma, and was full of praise for his efforts in the match.

“He scored a great goal and moved very well and I must say I liked him,” said the Manchester City manager, fuelling speculation over a move from the Etihad Stadium outfit.

Spurs, meanwhile, are short of options in attack, with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor the only senior players available to manager Andre Villas-Boas in the position.

And, whilst the Tottenham Hotspur chief is unable to strengthen for the remainder of the season, Icardi would certainly be one for the future whilst adding some immediate depth to the forward-line at White Hart Lane this summer.

Both clubs now face the challenge of Liverpool though, with the Merseysiders another team short of options in attack.

Daniel Sturridge moved to Anfield in January, but the England international joins Luis Suarez as the only threat through the middle for the Reds. Andy Carroll's return at the end of the season is also far from certain.

Icardi would again offer something more, whilst also continuing the Liverpool manager’s policy of spending on young talent.

Liverpool Face Fight With Russians For Lazio Defender

Liverpool could lose out to Russian moneybags Anzhi Makhachkala in the battle to sign Lazio defender Modibo Diakite.

The 25-year-old’s agent Ulisse Savini last month revealed that his client, who is out of contract in June, has earmarked Liverpool as his preferred destination in the summer.

But Anzhi, whose own domestic transfer window is still open until later this month, have made an offer to sign him imminently, according to sources in Russia.

The Dagestan-based side sees him as the perfect replacement for Chris Samba and is ready to part with cash to seal a deal now.

Another Russian side, Terek Grozny, are also considering making a bid too.

Missing the opportunity to land Diakite would be a huge blow to Reds boss Brendan Rodgers, who is widely expected to revamp his defensive options at the end of the season.

Serie A sides Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina are also eager to snap up Diakite.

Liverpool Take Goalkeeper Hansen On Trial

Liverpool are ready to tie up a £1million deal for Viborg goalkeeper Kevin Ray Mendoza Hansen – if he passes a two-week trial at Anfield.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is known to be on the lookout for several young starlets to add to his new-look squad, and 18-year-old Hansen has caught the eye of Liverpool’s head of scouting Dave Fallows.

It is thought that Fallows has personally recommended the teenager to Rodgers, who has invited the shot-stopper to Merseyside for a closer look.

And, according to reports in Denmark, a £1m compensation package has already been agreed with Viborg to make the deal permanent if he impresses.

Hansen himself is just focused on gaining experience, but it is thought he could pocket a healthy signing-on fee if the transfer goes through.

‘I look forward to trying to impress,’ he told Viborg’s official website.

‘It will be a great experience.’

Manchester City and Arsenal are both known to have watched Hansen in the last few months, and will be disappointed to have potentially lost out on the player.

Tottenham & Liverpool Face Battle For South Korean Starlet

Borussia Dortmund have entered the race to sign Tottenham and Liverpool transfer target Heung-Min Son, according to TalkSPORT.

The Hamburg youngster has impressed since joining the German club in 2010, and scored a superb goal in his side's 4-1 demolition of Dortmund over the weekend, taking his tally to nine for the season.

Son also found the back of the net when the two sides met earlier in the season.

Tottenham have been linked with a move for the 20-year-old in the past and were reportedly lining up a January move for him.

While that failed to materialize Spurs could be preparing to make another move for the South Korean international, who has also been linked with Liverpool.

According to TalkSPORT, Dortmund have been impressed with what they've seen this term and will challenge the likes of Liverpool and Spurs for his signature this summer.

Hamburg sporting director Frank Arnesen admitted Son would be available for the right price but pressed home the importance of extending the talented youngster's deal beyond it's current expiry date in 2014 in order to ward of potential suitors like Tottenham and Liverpool.

Despite reports of interest from Dortmund, Son's advisor Thies Bliemeister told Sport Bild: "I have heard of Dortmund's interest. But I do not know any more."

Young Reds Hit Histon For Four

Liverpool's youngsters secured progress to the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup courtesy of a 4-0 victory over Histon in Cambridgeshire.

Kristoffer Peterson gave Steve Cooper's side the lead on 17 minutes before Jerome Sinclair back-heeled past Barney McLaughlin from close range to double the visitors' advantage.

Jack Dunn fired a beauty from a difficult angle late in the game to make it 3-0 before Daniel Trickett-Smith slotted a fourth.

In rough conditions and in front of a packed crowd at the Glass World Stadium, the Reds dominated from the first whistle and played some fine football on the night.

They almost broke the deadlock on 13 minutes when Peterson drew a rash challenge in the Histon area; however, the Swede rattled McLaughlin's post from the subsequent penalty.

It took him just four minutes to make amends, surging through a wall of players to roll the ball past McLaughlin for 1-0.

Dunn went closest to doubling the deficit before the interval when he drew a superb save from the 'keeper after Sinclair laid the ball off to him on the edge of the box.

Two minutes after the re-start, Sinclair raced into the penalty area and hammered the ball towards the roof of the net from yards out; however, McLaughlin got the faintest of touches to help the ball onto the crossbar.

On 49 minutes Cooper's men made it 2-0. Sinclair's cheeky back-heel took everyone by surprise as he tapped the ball low into the net from inside Histon's six-yard box.

Dunn made it 3-0 on 83 minutes when he shifted inside and thrashed a fine dipping effort into the top corner of McLaughlin's net.

Trickett-Smith, in an unfamiliar central-midfield role, completed the rout when he burst through the middle of the park and tucked the ball beneath the advancing stopper to add the Reds' fourth.

The victory means Cooper's side will play Leeds on Wednesday, February 27 at Anfield.

Hillsborough Inquest Coroner Appointed

Lord Justice Goldring has today been appointed as the coroner to oversee the new inquests into the Hillsborough disaster.

A 23-year battle for justice on behalf of the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives in April 1989 saw a series of breakthroughs in 2012.

The publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report into the tragedy in September laid bare the truth of what happened on that day and prompted an apology to the families by Prime Minister David Cameron.

In December, the original inquests which ruled accidental death as the cause were then quashed following an application by Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

A fresh batch of inquests will now be held to conclusively determine what happened at Hillsborough and Lord Justice Goldring will be at the head of that process.

The inquests were initially expected to take place in Doncaster but a law change to the Coroners Act 1988, revealed yesterday, means Goldring can decide on a location anywhere in the country.

The Leicester-born judge was named a High Court Judge in 1999 and held the position of Senior Presiding Judge of England and Wales for three years until December 2012.

He is expected to begin the new inquest proceedings at the earliest possible opportunity.