Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Match Report: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Liverpool

Aston Villa remain in the Barclays Premier League bottom three after Liverpool came from behind to claim the three points and keep alive their faint hopes of securing a Champions League spot.

Villa looked on course for a third successive win after leading at the interval through Christian Benteke's 18th goal of the campaign.

But the Reds equalized through Jordan Henderson early in the second period and then skipper Steven Gerrard's penalty sealed victory for the visitors.

The home side, who yesterday slipped into the relegation zone for the fifth time this season, are level on points with Wigan but have an inferior goal difference.

Villa posed plenty of threat to Liverpool in the first half with Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor linking well and Ashley Westwood pulling the strings in midfield.

But Liverpool upped their game a gear in the second period as they closed the gap on sixth-placed Everton to three points.

Luis Suarez was a handful throughout the 90 minutes, despite his World Cup qualifier exertions in Uruguay in midweek, and came close on several occasions to notching his 30th goal of the season.

Villa were the first to threaten and a probing pass from Westwood found overlapping left-back Joe Bennett in plenty of space.

He delivered a teasing cross to the near post which Benteke just failed to make contact with as it flew across the six yard box.

Andreas Weimann had a volley blocked but Agbonlahor should have put Villa ahead after 17 minutes.

Matt Lowton delivered a superb curling cross into the danger area which picked out the run of Agbonlahor.

But the England striker turned his shot straight at Jose Reina when it looked easier to score.

Brad Guzan was called into meaningful action for the first time when finger-tipping a shot from Suarez over the bar after good play by Glen Johnson.

Then Nathan Baker had to be alert to nick the ball off the feet of Suarez inside the Villa area.

Benteke had scored twice in the 3-1 win at Anfield earlier in the season and after 31 minutes he put Villa ahead.

Westwood's cross was turned back by Agbonlahor to Benteke who drilled a fierce shot past Reina who got a hand on the ball but could not keep it out of the net.

It was the 18th goal of the season from the Belgian international.

Liverpool tried to retaliate and a misdirected pass from Barry Bannan allowed Suarez a free run at goal but Brad Guzan managed to keep out his low drive.

The Villa keeper then fingertipped aside a long-range drive from Liverpool skipper Gerrard.

Liverpool needed only three minutes of the second half to get back on level terms.

Philippe Coutinho's defence-splitting pass was seized on by Henderson who flicked the ball past Guzan into the corner of the net for his fourth goal of the season.

Gerrard became the first player to be booked for a foul on Agbonlahor.

Coutinho should have put Liverpool ahead in the 56th minute after beating the offside trap to run onto a pass from Suarez but he dinked his shot wide of the post.

But Liverpool were not to be denied and went ahead three minutes later.

Suarez was brought down in the box by Baker and the resulting spot-kick was converted by Gerrard.

Weimann could have made it 2-2 but scooped his shot over the bar from 10 yards.

Then Gerrard headed Benteke's header off the line at full stretch from a Westwood corner.

But Liverpool had succeeded in taking much of the string out of Villa's attacking threat and quietening the Holte End.

Suarez had a shot on the turn saved by Guzan after some trickery inside the Villa box.

Benteke had the ball in the net in injury time but was clearly a yard offside.

Rodgers Praises Outstanding Character In Comeback

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers praised his side’s character after they clawed back a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa.

Liverpool was 1-0 down at half time following a goal from Christian Benteke and Rodgers believes that drive and determination earned them the victory.

"Our character was outstanding. I thought we played reasonably well in the first half but we made a mistake and were punished by a good finish from Benteke," he told Sky Sports.

"I thought we created chances in the first half and second half we upped the tempo and going forward we were excellent. Defensively we were nice and solid so it was a terrific win for us. Paul's (Lambert) teams always go right to the end and it was tough for us.

"Our quality was there as was our drive and determination. I thought that tactically we adapted very well and overall I'm very, very pleased. After losing the previous game (against Southampton) you want to bounce back and we did that."

Rodgers praised January signing Philippe Coutinho after he paired up with Jordan Henderson in midfield for the equalizer.

He added: "The pass (from Coutinho) and the actual run from Henderson, his determination and desire to go and run forward was outstanding. A wonderful pass and fantastic finish. I'm really pleased for him and young Philippe has great, great quality."

Carragher Backs Gerrard To Commit To Liverpool Again

Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher has backed captain Steven Gerrard to commit the rest of his career to the club.

Gerrard scored the winner as the Reds won 2-1 at Aston Villa on Sunday and Carragher, who will retire at the end of the season, says he will see out his playing days at Anfield.

"I'm sure Stevie will sign a contract and finish his career at Liverpool the way I've done," Carragher told Sky Sports.

"There is no doubt about that. I'm sure he'll sit down and sort it out in the next couple of months. Steve will be finishing his career at Liverpool. He is 'captain fantastic' every week.

"It's not just against Villa. He's been doing it for years, scoring at one end, saving at the other."

Coutinho Settled At Anfield

Philippe Coutinho feels he has adjusted quickly to life at Liverpool and is looking to end the season on a high.

The Brazilian winger moved to Anfield in January from Inter Milan and has impressed during the early stages of his Premier League career.

He has earned plenty of praise from Reds boss Brendan Rodgers for his efforts so far, with the 20-year-old having shown that he is capable of handling the rigours of English top-flight football.

Coutinho told Globo Esporte: "I have been very well received here, everyone has treated me really well and the club is like a family, even with so many great idols playing here.

"The style here is much more physical. That was hard during my first few weeks here.

"In Italy they have more tactical discipline, marking is tighter, so there is less space. Here it is faster, there are more spaces to play in, but I also have to be faster. It's a lot better playing in England."

Coutinho caught the eye again during a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday and he feels Liverpool are capable of forcing their way into top five this season, with a weekend win leaving them five points adrift of that target.

He added: "We have the goal of winning as many games as possible to try and catch up with the top teams.

"The manager has always made it clear that we have to finish in the top five to qualify for an important competition (the Europa League)."

Rodgers Eyeing Armenia International Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has started planning for more attacking reinforcements at Anfield by adding Armenia international Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his summer wishlist.

Mkhitaryan is one of several advanced midfield players on Rodgers’ radar, with Ajax’s Christian Eriksen and Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa also under serious consideration.

Rodgers is keen to recruit another ‘number ten’ to play behind his strikers, although he is also prioritizing a central defender to replace Jamie Carragher when the transfer window reopens.

The 24-year-old Mkhitaryan has caught the attention by impressing Shakhtar Dontesk, but he would cost around £12 million.

A more high profile target is Danish international Eriksen, the 21-year-old from Ajax who has just 18 months left on his current deal, alerting most of Europe’s top clubs to his availability.

Liverpool know they would face serious competition for Eriksen, which is why they’re eager to compile a variety of options – thus avoiding a scenario similar to last summer when the collapse of the Clint Dempsey deal left Rodgers with no viable alternative to cover the loss of Andy Carroll.

Ben Arfa is a possibility because Liverpool expects Newcastle to renew their interest in Carroll at the end of the season. A swap deal could make Carroll’s return to St James’ Park more feasible.

Liverpool Target Michel Vorm

Liverpool is considering a move for Swansea City goalkeeper Michel Vorm as part of a summer shake-up planned by manager Brendan Rodgers.

It is understood that Liverpool intend to make up to five signings as they strive to make a sustained bid to be in the top four and qualify for the Champions League next season.

The future of goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been in some doubt throughout this campaign and it is believed that Liverpool could potentially be willing to listen to offers for the 30-year-old Spaniard.

Rodgers signed Dutch international Vorm for Swansea City in 2011 for just £1.5 million and the Welsh club will demand significantly more if the 29-year-old is sold. Liverpool have been linked with a number of goalkeepers this season although Reina has insisted he will stay at the club, and Rodgers has praised him, despite links to Barcelona to replace the departing Victor Valdes.

The priority for Rodgers this summer is a central defender to replace the retiring Jamie Carragher and he has been linked with a move for another Swansea player, Ashley Williams, although Arsenal are far more likely to bid for the 28-year-old Wales captain.

Rodgers also wants to improve his attacking options and, in particular, is keen to recruit a 'No 10' to play behind the strikers.

On Friday Ajax confirmed that Liverpool is monitoring the progress of highly-rated 21-year-old Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen while other players being considered include Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Arfa - possibly in a swap deal involving Andy Carroll who clearly has no future at Liverpool and is unlikely to stay at West Ham United where he is on a loan deal - or the Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan who currently plays for Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk.

One player who will not be leaving is Stewart Downing. In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the 28-year-old revealed that six months after being told by Rodgers he had not future the manager had informed him he is not for sale.

Overmars Fuels Eriksen To Liverpool Speculation

Marc Overmars has confirmed that Liverpool have scouted Ajax star man Christian Eriksen a number of times this season as reports circle that he is Brendan Rodgers’ top transfer target.

The Dane has been earmarked as one of the hottest talents in European football and with just one year remaining on his contract he is expected to leave Amsterdam.

Reports in the Dutch and English media have subsequently claimed that Liverpool are favourites to snap up Eriksen in a transfer worth around €20million (£16.9m).

Ajax technical director Overmars would not comment on the transfer rumours, but acknowledged that Liverpool have regularly had scouts watching their games.

"We have a list of scouts from foreign clubs who have visited us and Liverpool have been a frequent visitor," Overmars told De Telegraaf.

Eriksen has been repeatedly linked with a move to the Premier League, with Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur among the other clubs to have a reported interest.

Danny Wilson Willing To Stay At Heart

Danny Wilson has indicated he would be willing to stay at Hearts beyond his current loan deal from Liverpool.

The 21-year-old defender joined the Jambos in January after struggling to establish himself at Anfield following a £2million move from Rangers.

With his contract at Liverpool up in May, Wilson is willing to consider other opportunities and unwilling to rule out a longer stay at Tynecastle.

"I've enjoyed myself here - the most important thing is that I'm back playing," said Wilson, quoted in the Sunday Mail.

"I wouldn't be against staying here at all. I've got no issues with continuing my career in the SPL.

"I'm not going to turn my nose up at it. This is a good level, a good league and it tests me every time I play."

One potential stumbling block could be the finances at Hearts and that has prompted Wilson to be cautious about his future plans.

"We haven't spoken about next season," he added. "I probably won't know my future until the end of the campaign.

"The club is still having a bit of a rough time just now so I wouldn't like to put pressure on them by asking what's going on."

Rodgers Starts Search For Carragher Replacement

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has admitted that he will be thinking about who might replace retiring Jamie Carragher between now and the end of the season.

"I will miss him because he is a good man, a lover of football and he puts everything into training every day," Rodgers told Sky Sports. "There is no player who is ever irreplaceable but he is a big loss because you can see his experience and how he leads the line.

"We are going to be light in that area so between now and the end of the season we have to assess it as that is the one area of the field where we haven't brought anyone in.

"You need someone in there who is vocal and organizes the line and he does that remarkably well.

"I also have really good players here - Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel - and between now and the end of the season we know we need to strengthen the group and that is what we will look to do.

"If it is not something we have in the group then we may need that type of character in there who can organize and lead."