Monday, March 04, 2013

Match Report: Wigan 0 - 4 Liverpool

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez steamed ahead in the race for the golden boot with a hat-trick as woeful Wigan was dispatched at the DW Stadium.

The Uruguay international followed in some illustrious footsteps by becoming the third Reds player to score 20 or more in a Premier League season after Robbie Fowler (25) and Fernando Torres (24).

With 10 matches to go it seems inconceivable he will not surpass those efforts as it looks like a straight race between him and Manchester United's Robin van Persie (19), whom he now leads by two in the battle to become the top-flight's leading scorer.

Stewart Downing's free header to open the scoring in only the second minute set the tone but his effort, created by his clever movement and good delivery by January signing Philippe Coutinho was almost forgotten as Suarez again took centre-stage.

Manager Brendan Rodgers had expressed his confidence earlier in the week that the striker would not be tempted to seek Champions League football in the summer but on this form - 28 goals for the season - it would be remiss of Europe's elite if they did not launch all-out offensives to at least try to lure him away.

Suarez has scored 15 in as many matches in all competitions, which has enhanced his bid to also be crowned player of the year for which he faces stiff competition from Van Persie and Tottenham's Gareth Bale.

Had Wigan's leading scorer Arouna Kone shown a semblance of his opposite number's sharpness the hosts could have been ahead with their first attack but the Ivory Coast striker failed to properly test Jose Reina.

Downing made them pay as he lost his marker in the penalty area to head home a cross from the impressive Coutinho, making only his third appearance since joining from Inter Milan.

The young Brazilian provided the assist for the 18th-minute second, from Gerrard's initial pass, with a perfectly-weighted ball into path of Suarez whose control was instant and finish clinical.

Coutinho's clipped pass over the top almost put Gerrard in for a third before Suarez doubled his tally with a mixture of brilliance and good fortune.

Gary Caldwell clattered the Uruguayan who, after scoring two brilliant free-kicks against Zenit St Petersburg in his last appearance, stepped up again.

He slipped as he connected with the ball but his shot had enough power and curl on it to clip Shaun Maloney on the edge of the wall and beat Ali Al Habsi with the help of the post.

Liverpool were in unfamiliar territory, 3-0 up with 55 minutes remaining and their dominance fully rewarded, but still they ploughed forward and Suarez's shot was blocked by the Wigan goalkeeper with Caldwell doing just enough to put off Joe Allen.

But for all Suarez's excellence had it not been for the brilliance of goalkeeper Jose Reina it may have been a less comfortable evening.

The Spain international, having one of his better games this season, had already saved one-handed from Emmerson Boyce's volley in the 21st minute with the score at 2-0 when he superbly tipped over Franco Di Santo's header from Jean Beausejour's cross.

Reina also denied Beausejour's free-kick on the stroke of half-time before normal service was resumed just four minutes into the second half.

Glen Johnson set off on what is increasingly under Rodgers' tutelage becoming a trademark surge forward which allowed him to advance more than 40 yards before picking the opportune moment to slide in Suarez.

From the position the striker was in on the right of the area a goal would not normally be a foregone conclusion but the form he is currently in meant there was only going to be one winner between him and Al Habsi as the Oman international lost again.

With Liverpool in cruise control and, understandably, taking their foot off the gas slightly allowed the hosts to improve - although they could not have got much worse - and Reina again showed his agility to deny Maloney's close-range header.

Rodgers: Suarez Best Striker In Premier League

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers believes that striker Luis Suarez is the best in the Premier League.

Suarez scored his third hat-trick on Saturday night during Liverpool’s 4-0 victory over Wigan and the manager had very high praise for his ‘stunning’ performances.

"For me there is not [a better striker in the Premier League]. He is clearly the Player of the Year for myself, and I'm sure he is for many other people around the country," he told

"He is absolutely incredible. Forget his quality - you talk about his hunger and desire. He trains every single day of his life. He never wants to opt out of training and have an easy day or a rest.

"And then every time he comes out onto the pitch he gives stunning performances and gives his maximum. A brilliant hat-trick for him and a great day for the team, because this is a difficult place to come. To play like that and get the goals and the clean sheet was terrific for us."

Downing: Reds Can Finish On A High

Liverpool winger Stewart Downing believes the side is starting to click into gear and while it may be just a little too late to snatch a Champions League place he is confident they can still finish the season on a high.

The 4-0 demolition of Wigan at the DW Stadium came courtesy of a Luis Suarez hat-trick after Downing's second-minute header but there were other elements of the performance which impressed.

Since taking over in the summer manager Brendan Rodgers has spent his time trying to ingrain a new way of playing into the side, although he admits he will still require a number of transfer windows to bring the best out of his methods.

But the ease with which £8.5million January signing Philippe Coutinho seamlessly fitted in on only his third appearance - providing assists for the first two goals - suggests Rodgers' plan is working.

And despite their frequent difficulties in finishing off their dominance in possession results are starting to suggest when things go right they do so in impressive fashion.

The sequence of Liverpool's last six league victories since December 22 is 4-0, 3-0, 3-0, 5-0, 5-0, 4-0.

"I think it's coming together. We've had some good results of late. We're finishing teams off and defending ever so well," said Downing.

"Pepe Reina made some great saves (against Wigan) and if we do our bit at the other end of the field, we've got a chance.

"It's all coming together. We've got 10 games to go and we've got to keep winning games."

Liverpool's total of 53 goals from 28 matches is their second best at this stage of a Premier League season - bettered only by the 56 scored in 1995-96 - but Rodgers is not getting carried away.

He can see the progress being made but knows Champions League qualification this season remains some way off for his seventh-placed side at this point.

"We are not thinking about that. All we are looking at this moment in time is the next game - that is what we spoke about in the last few days," said the Reds boss.

Liverpool Keen On Sunderland Keeper

Sunderland's number one, Simon Mignolet, could be set for a summer move away from the club as talks over a contract extension appear to have stalled.

The Belgian international has enjoyed a hugely impressive season, establishing himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League.

These performances have attracted the attention of a host of top clubs, with Liverpool believed to hold a keen interest in his services.

A source close to Mignolet – who may or may not have been his agent, according to manager, Martin O'Neill – this week stated that the stopper would be looking for a move away from Wearside this summer. The source cited the keeper's desire to secure the number one spot on the international scene, where he currently plays second fiddle to Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois.

The keeper himself moved to quash any rumours of unrest, but his manager this week revealed that he's still waiting for keeper to pen a new deal at the Stadium of Light, despite lengthy talks between the two parties taking place for an extended period.

The 24-year-old has two years left to run on his current contract, but should he refuse to commit longer-term, the Black Cats may have to relinquish their prize asset, should a suitable offer come in and, with Pepe Reina's form on the decline, it could be Liverpool who lodge that bid.

Brendan Rodgers has been linked with moves for a new goalkeeper since his arrival at Anfield, having courted Jack Butland most notably. A bid of around £10m could be enough to secure Mignolet's services and his acquisition could prove vital in the Reds' bid to return to Champions League contention next term.

Mignolet has kept nine clean sheets thus far this term and is a key reason why the Black Cats find themselves clear of the relegation zone, though his efforts alone don't look likely to be enough to ensure the club finish above fiercest rivals Newcastle.

Reading Defender Inching Closer To Liverpool Move

Reading defender Alex Pearce is reportedly edging ever closer to a move to Liverpool, as he continues to ignore contract discussions at the Madejski Stadium.

The Republic of Ireland international's deal at Reading expires in the summer, and while he has been offered a new contract, the Daily Star has reported 24-year-old is yet to commit as he hopes to join up with former boss Brendan Rodgers at Anfield.

Pearce is one of many centre-backs to have been linked to a Merseyside move since the announcement of Jamie Carragher's retirement. Swansea's Ashley Williams and Feyenoord's Stefan de Vrij have recently been mentioned on the rumour mill.

Pearce has been left out of the starting line-up for two consecutive Reading games but Royals manager Brian McDermott has denied this is as a result of the uncertainty of the defender's future. McDermott is not hopeful of retaining Pearce's service though.

He said: "We will see where he will be in the summer. At this moment in time nothing looks to be signed."

Liverpool boss Rodgers had previous interaction with Pearce during his brief stint as Reading coach in 2009.

Pearce was ever-present in Reading's promotion-winning season last year, in which the Royals had the tightest defence in the league. He made his international debut last September, scoring in a 4-1 friendly win over Oman.

Liverpool Eye Pre-Contract Move For Keisuke Honda

Liverpool wants to thrash out a pre-contract deal with Keisuke Honda over a summer switch to Anfield.

The versatile CSKA Moscow attacker is out-of-contract at the end of the season, and Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is allowed to approach the player now over a summer transfer.

Honda, who has 41 caps for Japan and is considered one of their best ever European exports, had been in talks with CSKA over an extension to his current deal, but with less than four months left to run, the club have confirmed he has ended negotiations and wants to move on.

‘We tried to extend his contract, but we can’t force him,’ confessed director Roman Babaev.

‘It is up to him what happens next.’

Reports in Russia suggest that the news has opened the door for Liverpool, who have been watching the situation carefully, and now believe they have a clear run for the player.

It’s thought Liverpool will sound out Honda for talks in the next few weeks, with the club keen to gauge his interest in a move to England, and if a deal can be brokered.

Honda does not fit with Rodgers’ mantra of buying young, English talent, but given that the 26-year-old would be a free agent in the summer, he represents a bargain that is difficult to turn down.

Fast, technical and able to play in any forward position, Honda has nine goals in 22 matches for CSKA this season – his best tally since his move from VVV Venlo in 2010.

Arsenal and Tottenham were both previously interested in the player.

Stoke Planning Swoop For Liverpool Midfielder

Jonjo Shelvey could be on his way out of Anfield – with Stoke plotting a swoop in the summer, writes the Sunday People.

The ex-Charlton prospect has recently been frozen out of the first-team by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers and sources say he will be allowed to leave for £7million.

Potters manager Tony Pulis sent a two-man delegation to check on Shelvey in a reserve match last week.

Pulis sees the 21-year-old midfielder as an ideal replacement for another former Anfield star, Charlie Adam, who looks set to leave the Britannia which would create a vacancy in the squad and on the payroll that Shelvey could fill.

Suarez Hoping Next Year Will Be Better

Luis Suarez has resigned himself to the fact that Liverpool not be receiving any silverware this season but believes that the best is yet to come for his side.

Suarez is now looking on to next year, when he thinks that the current side will come into its own, and hoping that they will have better luck next time.

"I think that maybe we've been a bit unlucky in the cup competitions," the 26-year-old told "I think we might have done enough to deserve to still be in at least one of the cups.

"But I think we've turned in some great performances in the league which have shown the real Liverpool that everyone wants to see, which will serve as the basis for what happens next year.

"I think the team is developing nicely, the new signings have settled in well, the manager is happy and I think if we carry on in the same vein we could have a very good season next time around. Let's hope so because that's what we all want."

Rodgers Backs Sterling Amid Court Concerns

Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling has been criticized by a magistrate after he failed for a third time to show up in court to answer assault charges.

The 18-year-old England international is accused of common assault, after a 27-year-old woman, who is known to the player, suffered "slight" facial injuries during an incident in the Toxteth area on November 2.

Sterling did not attend the hearing at Liverpool Magistrates' Court recently but was allowed to enter a formal 'not-guilty' plea to the charges through his solicitor, Mick Hogan.

The player had failed to appear at two previous hearings in relation to the incident and district judge Lloyd issued a warning to him that the trial would go ahead without him on May 20. "I am sure he understands that he will need to attend," she said. "If he doesn't the trial will proceed without him."

Earlier in the short hearing, district judge Lloyd questioned his absence, saying: "It would be much more useful if he was here. But anyway, there it is. We have got what we have got."

Sterling was initially summonsed to Liverpool Youth Court as the incident happened when he was 17, but he turned 18 in December and the matter was transferred to the adult courts.

The Jamaica-born star made his senior international debut for England last November against Sweden and is likely to be one of the key players for England U-21s in the European Championship in Israel from June 5-18.

Sterling has earned plaudits for his performances for Liverpool this season, although his form in recent matches has dipped and he has been being a substitute for the last two league matches having been an virtual ever-present in the first half of the campaign.

Suggestions he is suffering from burnout were quickly knocked down by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, although he conceded it was inevitable that such a young player might experience a drop-off in performance.

"This is a real tough league for an experienced player so it is no surprise that for a young kid that happens to him," said Rodgers. "I just have to protect him. I have not mentioned burnout at all. What I know is that if he never kicks a ball for the rest of the season, he has had an outstanding season."

FIFA Chief To Meet Racism Victims

FIFA's new anti-racism chief wants to meet the perpetrators and victims of racial abuse in the Premier League - including John Terry and Luis Suarez - as part of a fact-finding mission.

Jeffrey Webb, the president of the CONCACAF federation, said he wants to "hear both sides".

Webb is to head up a new FIFA task force to tackle racism and is to come to England to see how the Football Association has responded to the Suarez and Terry cases.

Liverpool striker Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, while Chelsea skipper Terry served a four-match ban for making a racist remark to QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

Asked about the two cases, Webb, from the Cayman Islands, said: "It is a huge concern to be honest. During a game for me it is unacceptable, I think the incidents were unacceptable.

"The FA has been very aggressive in their campaign and I think if these incidents do exist in an environment such as the Premier League then it begs the question what happens in some other leagues where they don't have the resources and the will and the desire as the English FA has had over the years.

"I will be meeting with the FA chairman David Bernstein and visiting the FA. At that time I would also like to meet with some of the players, perhaps have a round-table discussion to talk to the players and get their input, get some suggestions from them and learn from their experiences."

Asked if he wanted to meet Terry and Suarez, and the players they abused, Webb added: "Yes. We would like to hear both sides.

"Obviously there are a number of players who have been victimized, targeted. Plus we would like to hear both sides really."

Webb, speaking in Edinburgh at the International FA Board, said he hoped to meet the FA before the end of April, and insisted that black players had been let down by football's authorities.

He said: "We've been talking for a long time in football and I don't really think that we've supported the players. I don't think we've necessarily put the right sanctions in place to support them. It's a travesty that it comes to that.

"We as FIFA and the governing bodies have to make sure that players like Kevin Prince-Boateng and all the players around the world have the same rights and opportunities.

"I really don't think that financial instruments in today’s world are enough to deal with it.

"With the money that's involved in football today, the fines that are being established, I don't think they're working, obviously."

After the Suarez and Terry cases, the FA announced a new anti-racism plan in December under which professional clubs were warned that they will face sanctions for failing to deal with racial abuse by players, coaches or their fans.

The FA also promised to strive for at least 10% of referees and level-one coaches to come from ethnic minority backgrounds, and for players and coaches from abroad to undergo mandatory induction lessons to make them aware of the "British cultural environment".