Monday, April 15, 2013

Match Report: Reading 0 - 0 Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers endured a highly-frustrating return to Reading as a remarkable performance from keeper Alex McCarthy saw Liverpool held to a goalless draw.

Time and again McCarthy came to the Royals' rescue by producing a succession of world-class saves to deny Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge.

The academy product, who recently recovered from shoulder surgery, only started the match after Adam Federici was ruled out with an ankle problem.

Liverpool dominated most of the Barclays Premier League clash at the Madejski Stadium and could have finished clear winners but for McCarthy's brilliance.

Chance after chance went begging before the interval and apart from a bright spell from Reading midway through the second half when Noel Hunt and Jobi McAnuff could have scored, they were in full control.

The final 10 minutes saw Liverpool lay siege to the home goal and while Sturridge was guilty of butchering a match-winning opportunity, Suarez could only stare in disbelief as he was foiled by the terrific McCarthy twice in quick succession.

The draw halted Reading's run of seven successive Premier League defeats and while it may not prevent them from being relegated, the spirit on display will have been appreciated by manager Nigel Adkins.

A minute's silence was immaculately observed before the match in memory of the 96 victims of Hillsborough, with the disaster's 24th anniversary falling on Monday.

Liverpool made one change to the side that drew with West Ham, replacing Stewart Downing with Sturridge, and they were immediately into their stride as they passed their way through Reading with ease.

They would have taken the lead but for a brilliant clearance from right-back Chris Gunter, who scooped Suarez's lofted shot off the goalline as the home defence was split open with ease.

From early on it was clear Reading were leading a charmed life as McCarthy made a fine double save off Sturridge and Coutinho, while Jamie Carragher sent a corner whistling over the crossbar.

Shortly after rescuing his side with his goalline heroics, Gunter then blundered by passing straight to Sturridge who could scarcely believe his luck as he unleashed Suarez onto the Royals' goal.

But once more McCarthy reacted brilliantly to stop the shot before Gerrard's follow up was deflected over the target.

Carragher was forced to intervene in the nick of time as Reading attacked, but the respite was only brief as Liverpool countered and Coutinho should have done much better with a great chance.

The reflexes of McCarthy were all that was keeping the Reds at bay and he produced another magnificent save to deny Sturridge from close range.

Liverpool finally had the ball in the net three minutes into the second half, but the flag went up for offside against Coutinho as he dabbed Gerrard's pass home.

Frustration began to creep into Liverpool's play, born out of their inability to deliver the opener their ascendancy deserved.

Instead, Reading began to play a bigger role in the match and could have taken the lead in the 67th minute when Pavel Pogrebnyak played in Hunt only for Reina to throw his body in the way.

Danny Guthrie then saw a shot blocked while at the other end the wasteful Coutinho blasted a fine pass from Sturridge well wide of the right post.

Now the match was anyone's and in the 65th minute Reading would have taken the lead had McAnuff struck the ball with greater force from 10 yards out, with the weakness of the shot allowing Reina to parry it clear.

Suarez and Downing then went close, and then it was Gerrard's turn to be denied by the fingertips of McCarthy.

Somehow, McCarthy then plucked a shot from Suarez from the air and palmed another attempt from the Liverpool forward to safety, while Sturridge blazed high over the crossbar.

Rodgers Hails Staggering Alex McCarthy

Brendan Rodgers described Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy's performance as "absolutely staggering" after Liverpool were held to a goalless draw at the Madejski Stadium.

The 23-year-old made a succession of world-class saves to deny Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho.

Rodgers said: "Sometimes you have days where the keeper makes one or two good saves, but we had 14 shots on target.

"I can see him playing for England, there's no question about that."

Having been out for five months while recovering from shoulder surgery, this was McCarthy's first appearance since 4 November and it came only after Adam Federici was ruled out with an ankle injury.

"I know Alex well. He's genuinely going to be a top, top keeper and to perform like that having been out for so long was absolutely staggering," Rodgers added.

Rodgers worked with McCarthy during his six-month spell as Reading manager in 2009 and tipped the academy product to go to the top of the game. "Reading has always produced very good goalkeepers so he was down the pecking order at the time," he said.

"He has all the qualities to be a top, top keeper - he's 6'5", makes good saves, is good on his feet and is very calm and assured despite being very young. In terms of England it will be hard because Joe Hart is one of the top five keepers in world football, so it will be very difficult for him because Joe is still very young.

"But there's no doubt he's a top talent. He'll be getting games here at Reading and hopefully he'll become the number one at Reading."

Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina made fine saves of his own when Noel Hunt and Jobi McAnuff threatened to score, but Reading manager Nigel Adkins insisted the afternoon belonged to McCarthy.

"He's put in a fantastic display," Adkins said. "We have some exceptional keepers and a really good goalkeeping coach.

"I'm really pleased with the players, their attitude and application. We've kept a clean sheet and it's fair to say Alex has pulled off some world-class saves.

Downing Says Liverpool Can Be A Force Next Season

Stewart Downing has promised that Liverpool will not give up on this season after they fell further behind rivals Everton. Downing is well qualified to talk about persistence.

The midfielder’s desire was publicly questioned by Brendan Rodgers earlier in the season, but in the build-up to this match Downing was told by the manager that he is now part of his long-term plans.

Quite a turnaround for the £20 million signing since last season when he produced no goals or assists. “We won’t let the season peter out,” Downing said. “The manager certainly won’t let that happen. He has stressed that we keep going right to the end and see what happens.”

Liverpool trail sixth-placed Everton by five points and fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur by eight, and have played a game more. “There are going to be slip-ups along the way but it’s going to be tough for us, there’s no hiding that. We have another big game coming up against Chelsea.”

A failure to reach Europe – and finishing below David Moyes’ men for a second season in a row – would be painful in the short-term but might be offset by long-term benefits.

Rodgers’ squad is taking shape in his image and next season, following a summer of recruitment, could be one in which a top-four place is a realistic target. Not having the distraction of the Europa League would help in that aim.

“This season was always going to be a transition time, with new ideas and players,” Downing added. “Next season is a big test for us. He [Rodgers] has most of the players he wants and we have to crack on.”

Rodgers agreed: “The creativity is there. For us to get to the next level, we need to bring in a few extra bits of quality. We’ll look at it in the summer.”

The harsh reality for Liverpool is that any team good enough to challenge for the top four would not fail to score after 26 shots against the bottom team. “Some of the chances we had, instead of making the keeper save them, we should have put them away,” Downing admitted. “That’s been our downfall. The longer the game went on, Reading got more confident.”

Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy deserved praise, though, giving a display that led Rodgers to talk him up as a potential England player. “The goalkeeper produced the best goalkeeping performance that probably anybody in this stadium has ever seen in their lives,” the Liverpool manager said.

McCarthy’s most eye-catching stops kept out Steven Gerrard, Luis Suárez, and a five-yard effort from his former England under-21 team-mate Daniel Sturridge. The Reading goalkeeper, who models his game on Petr Cech, said: “England is blessed with really good, young goalkeepers. Hopefully I’ll get my chance soon enough.”

His efforts meant new Reading manager Nigel Adkins broke the losing streak that developed under his predecessor Brian McDermott. Adkins sent a text to McDermott on Friday, congratulating him on getting the Leeds United job. “Well done to him,” Adkins said. “It’s good to see him back in football.”

Liverpool Line Up Summer Move For Micah Richards

Brendan Rodgers is keen on a summer move for Manchester City defender Micah Richards.

Liverpool has made an enquiry and are among a clutch of clubs who are interested in signing 24-year-old Richards.

Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are also watching developments closely while Real Madrid and Juventus have checked on his availability.

Richards has struggled with injury this season but City are reluctant to let him go and are likely to slap a £15m price tag on him to try and stop him leaving the Blues this summer.

Clubs have been alerted on Richards because he was up for City's Player of the Year last season and was first choice at right back before getting injured.

But his long absence has left clubs believing that he may be available and the Reds are particularly keen as he is young, English and versatile so he can play at right back or centre half.

Arsenal has been admirers in the past and would be ready to move in given any encouragement on the England international.

Richards is nearing full fitness and is hoping to play in the next few weeks but City may have to fend off strong interest while he is also desperate to play on a regular basis.

Real Madrid Ponder Offer For Gonzalo Higuain

Luis Suarez could join Real Madrid in a swap deal that would rock European football, with Gonzalo Higuain moving to Anfield.

The £50million-rated Liverpool striker has bagged 29 goals this season and is being chased by Bayern Munich.

But Real Madrid is interested in Suarez's services and could use Argentine striker Higuain as a sweetener to a possible deal, according to Spanish website

Higuain appears set to leave the Bernabeu but Madrid would need to pay Liverpool cash in addition to 26-year-old Higuain's services.

Karim Benzema is also set for the Madrid exit door and the Spanish giants are reportedly lining up moves for Sergio Aguero and Gareth Bale.

Suarez's possible switch to Juventus looks dead in the water after their director-general Beppe Marotta admitted the club did not have the money for one big signing.

Boss Inspired By Dortmund Blueprint

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has identified Champions League semi-finalists Borussia Dortmund as a blueprint for the project he has undertaken at Anfield.

The German side reached the last four of Europe's elite competition earlier this week courtesy of a dramatic 3-2 victory over Malaga at the Westfalenstadion - setting up a semi-final with Real Madrid.

Jurgen Klopp's team, which has been founded on talented young stars such as Mario Gotze and Marco Reus, had lifted the Bundesliga championship in each of the previous two seasons too.

It's a success story which has inspired Rodgers. "You can challenge without spending £80m in one summer," he told reporters.

"Look at the example of Borussia Dortmund, a team that won the Champions League and then struggled financially. They went out and rebuilt and it took them four to five years to push on.

"Then they won the league and their European work suffered. This year you can see they have put their focus on Europe and they have lost their title. That's a team that has been growing over five years.

"Unless you have got the Manchester City or Chelsea money and just bring in £70m-£80m worth in one summer to add to a Champions League-winning group, you need a different way.

"I think Dortmund's is the best way because you are not just looking after the team but also the club. Of course, supporters will always look at the team but for me it's bigger than that to have success. It's about all aspects of the club, so that when you do arrive you are in a strong position."

A top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League is likely to elude the Reds this season but the manager expects his team to be better equipped to challenge in 2013-14.

"It is the hardest step of all," he added.

"Chelsea was sixth last year and look at the reinforcements they made to get back to that level again. Then look at Tottenham who were fourth and did not get into the Champions League on a technicality. They spent £50m just to stay in there.

"It's a big ask, that's the reality, but we can really push on next year."

Andy Carroll Open To West Ham Offer

Andy Carroll is open to joining West Ham permanently but is unsure as to where his future lies. The football world was taken aback two years ago when Liverpool paid a club record £35m to sign the front man. Carroll arrived as the replacement for Fernando Torres but the move never quite worked out, leading to a season-long loan at West Ham in the summer.

West Ham has the option to make the deal permanent for an undisclosed fee, although reports suggest they will reduce their offer. Carroll has also been linked with a return to Newcastle, and the striker is uncertain what the future holds beyond the end of the season.

"I don't know what is happening so we will just have to wait and see," he said. "It has been great here and every minute has been fantastic. The lads have been great, the gaffer has been great and the fans are unbelievable."

Asked whether he would stay if West Ham put the right money on the table, he said: "It is obviously a great club and I do not see why not."

Carroll scored his sixth West Ham goal to earn a hard-fought point, his drive deflecting in off Steven Davis, seven minutes after Gastón Ramírez had given Saints the lead.

"It was a bit windy," he said. "The ball was all over the place but we came here and got a result. In the first half I was getting blocked off and there were a few players around me. I was talking to the referee a bit but it was a difficult day to me. With my goal, I just had to hit the target. Obviously it got a little bit of a deflection and went in, which sometimes happens.

"I have had a few injuries over the years and I am just getting over them now so it is good to get on a run of games and goals. I had a few chances and I think we could have won the game in the end. We are disappointed not to but happy we got the point."

The draw leaves West Ham and Southampton in safe, midtable positions in the Premier League, with seven points separating them from the drop zone. Both promoted clubs look set to ply their football in the top flight again next season, although the Southampton defender Jos Hooiveld said: "We are not going to relax. We just came up and we want to get the most amount of points possible. If we get 53 points, then we can relax. Things are looking good. There are still five games left and we want to end this season in style.

"It is nice to play those games and against West Ham it was exactly what we expected - a lot of fights, a lot of scraps.

"It was high tempo and it was a typical West Ham game. I kind of like the physical battle.

"I think we did very well, played our game, although the pitch and the weather did not really help.

"We played quite well at some points and I think we got the respect because in the end they were happy with the point."

Rodgers Plans Carragher Talks

Brendan Rodgers told Goals on Sunday that he plans to hold talks with Jamie Carragher over his future before the end of the season.

The Liverpool defender has announced plans to retire from football this summer and has been linked with a job in the media, but his manager believes he could continue playing for the club next year.

Carragher has made 33 appearances for Liverpool this season and has played the full 90 minutes in all but one of their last 11 Premier League fixtures.

Rodgers plans to use him in the first team for the rest of the season and says he will discuss the possibility of retaining his services at Anfield before his contract expires.

He told Goals on Sunday: "He's been fantastic and I do [believe he could play next season]. He and I communicate a lot and he's obviously got something in his mind.

"Him and I will sit down between now and the end of the season anyway and we'll see where it goes.

"If he does go, I will certainly miss him because he's been brilliant for me in my time there, going in as a manager of a club of that size.

"He's shown great respect and really helped me and the other guys. The thing for now is to keep performing the way he is until the end of the season and between then and now him and I will chat and we'll take it from there."

Carragher considered quitting Anfield last summer and Rodgers said one of his first tasks after taking the Liverpool job was to convince him to stay.

And while he wasn't initially planning to use him as a regular starter, he says the 35-year-old consistently impressed in training and soon forced his way into the team.

Rodgers added: "It's an interesting one with Carra because this guy's incredible. I want to put that on record.

"I saw him from the outside when I was at Chelsea and the games he was playing in the Champions League. I always thought he was one of the best defenders in European football at that stage.

"To come in and work with him at close hand and see his will and determination. His play speaks for itself, but the fight and spirit and quality that he shows every single day in training is amazing.

"I had a good conversation with Carra last summer because he was maybe thinking about moving on to pastures new last year, but we talked and decided that he would stay.

"For me, he's hardly put a foot wrong. I obviously wanted to go with a pairing of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as maybe the future at the beginning of the season and those guys have done really well.

"But I felt that with Carra and all the games he's played - the cup games and any time he's come in the league - he's been remarkable and I felt I wanted to put him in the team."

Wolverhampton Wanderers Want Jack Robinson Stay

Wolverhampton Wanderers chief executive Jez Moxey has revealed that the club would like to keep hold of Jack Robinson next season.

The defender joined Wolves earlier this year on a loan basis from Premier League outfit Liverpool.

Having been impressed with the 19-year-old's performances, Moxey has admitted that Wolves would be open to the possibility of Robinson remaining at Molineux for another campaign.

"Jack has done very well. There isn't anything yet in place. We're just going to get to the end of the season," Moxey is quoted as saying by the Express & Star.

"He's done very well. I think he's enjoying it here and he's a player we would be interested in next season."

Robinson has made seven appearances for the Black Country side.

U18s Fire Four Past Wolves

Alex O'Hanlon's stunning brace helped to ensure that Liverpool U18s coasted to a resounding 4-0 victory over Wolves at the club's Academy on Saturday.

The youngster's double - coupled with devastating strikes from Jerome Sinclair and Harry Wilson - condemned the visitors in what was a comfortable encounter for the Reds.

The result represents the perfect response to Steve Cooper's side's unfortunate FA Youth Cup semi-final defeat by Chelsea on Friday night.

There was a distinct lack of opportunities in the opening 15 minutes, with both sides' defences thwarting any opposing attacks.

Despite the defensive solidity displayed by both Liverpool and Wolves early on, a flurry of attempts soon followed.

The Reds failed to fully clear the danger from a move by the visitors, allowing Tendai Matthyaoke to slide the ball through to Ibrahim Keita.

The towering striker had to stretch in order to prod a shot towards goal, although goalkeeper Ryan Crump expertly anticipated the danger and was equal to the strike, parrying his effort to safety.

Immediately after, pacy frontman Sinclair raced deep into Wolves' half before pulling the ball back to Wilson. The visitors' skipper, Ben O'Hanlon, had to be alert and throw himself in the way of the winger's stinging shot that was destined for the net.

The tense battle for the first goal continued and Wolves thought they'd broken the deadlock two minutes later, but they were deemed to have scored in unfair circumstances by the linesman.

Alister Browns met Keita's flicked pass with a well-timed volley past Crump, although their initial joy was cut short after Keita was flagged offside.

Liverpool compounded Wolves' misery when they struck legitimately in the 24th minute.

Ryan Kent's drilled cross found O'Hanlon on the edge of the area and the No.10 swiftly rifled a shot that deflected past the helpless Scott Dutton and into the corner.

The Reds did not allow their momentum to cease and Sinclair doubled their lead with an impressive solo effort on the half-hour mark.

The youngster breezed past multiple challenges in a crowded area before calmly sweeping the ball across Dutton and into the far top corner.

Liverpool came agonizingly close to extending their lead further when Adam Phillips skimmed the woodwork in added time.

The midfielder surged past several players before powering a 20-yard shot that clipped the outside of the post, an effort that Dutton struggled to dive close to.

Five minutes after the restart, Sinclair was unfortunate not to increase his and the Reds' tally.

Phillips played a perfectly weighted pass through to the striker but Dutton rapidly slid out to block Sinclair's low shot.

Liverpool's next attempt to find the net drew much greater results, shortly before the hour mark.

O'Hanlon was pivotal once again as the influential youngster laid the ball out wide to the onrushing Wilson in space.

The winger remained composed and side-footed into the top corner at the near post to hand the home side a comfortable three-goal cushion.

Wolves' troubles worsened when the combination of goalscorers, O'Hanlon and Wilson, came back to haunt the visitors.

A quick passing exchange between the pair on the edge of the area allowed O'Hanlon the space to slam an unstoppable effort past Dutton and into the far corner, making it a memorable afternoon for the Reds.