Monday, May 13, 2013

Match Report: Fulham 1 - 3 Liverpool

Daniel Sturridge wreaked havoc on his return to west London, firing Liverpool to an easy win at Fulham with a superb hat-trick at Craven Cottage.

Sturridge had not scored against the Cottagers during his time at the club's local rivals Chelsea or while he was at Manchester City, but he took Martin Jol's team apart with three well-taken strikes.

Three minutes after Dimitar Berbatov had nodded Fulham ahead, the England striker turned Aaron Hughes inside-out before smashing the ball into the roof of the net.

The 23-year-old latched on to Philippe Coutinho's deflected pass before beating Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to make it 2-1 and he rounded off the win at the death with a clever chip over the Australian stopper, who was playing possibly his last match for the club.

Liverpool's poor form earlier in the campaign had already put to bed their hopes of a top-four finish, but their form in the final stretch of the season certainly gives Reds fans hope that next year could be the year that they get back into the big time.

They impressed with some eye-catching, free-flowing football in the second half, and they did it without either Luis Suarez or Steven Gerrard.

If they avoid defeat against QPR next weekend, they will end the season with an encouraging eight-match unbeaten run.

Fulham's final game of the season ended with boos from the Craven Cottage crowd after they saw their team extend their losing streak to five games.

Four red flares went off in the away end as the teams emerged from the tunnel, giving the match an air of excitement.

That soon began to dwindle, however, as both teams plodded along without threatening goal.

Jonjo Shelvey, in for injured captain Gerrard, broke into the Fulham box after slaloming past two defenders, but Sascha Riether put in a timely block.

Liverpool dominated possession, but Schwarzer remained untested until the 15th minute when Coutinho stung the Australian's palms with a 20-yard drive after he had rode a crunching tackle from Eyong Enoh.

Fulham were forced into an early change when Kieran Richardson came off and was replaced by Urby Emanuelson.

Fulham barely had a touch of the ball in the opening half-hour, but they went ahead after 32 minutes.

Damien Duff tapped the ball to Riether, who appeared to be in an offside position, and he whipped the ball to the back post where Berbatov nodded in after slipping in between Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher.

The lead lasted just three minutes and 15 seconds. Andre Wisdom punted the ball upfield, Sturridge picked the ball out of the sky with his right boot and lifted it over Hughes before rifling into the roof of Schwarzer's goal.

The former Chelsea man then taunted the home fans with a cocky celebration.

Berbatov sensed a chance to make it 2-1 when he latched on to Riether's cross, but Sebastian Coates nudged the ball behind for a corner.

The match had a lot more energy to it after the restart. Liverpool brought Jose Enrique on for Wisdom and switched to 4-4-2 after the break.

Johnson received a booking soon after for a poor tackle which saw him catch Enoh on the shins after going over the top of the ball.

Former Liverpool trainee Alexander Kacaniklic raced through after pinching the ball off Jordan Henderson, but he shot wide.

The Cottagers thought they should have had a penalty on the hour when Bryan Ruiz's cross struck Lucas Leiva's outstretched arm, but referee Mark Halsey waved play on.

Two minutes later and Liverpool were ahead for the first time. Coutinho's deflected pass fell into Sturridge's path and he calmly stroked the ball past Schwarzer.

The England international robbed Brede Hangeland moments later, but this time he could not beat Schwarzer.

Jose Reina did brilliantly to deny Hughes during a rare Fulham attack, but Liverpool were soon back on the attack through substitute Fabio Borini, who hit a post after giving his marker the slip.

Sturridge then scored the goal which ensured he took home the match ball. The former Chelsea man latched on to Coutinho's through-ball and lifted the ball over Schwarzer for what was his sixth goal in his last four matches.

Rodgers: Sturridge Can Be One Of Europe’s Best

After a match winning Daniel Sturridge hat trick against Fulham on Sunday, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said that he could be one of Europe’s top strikers.

The former Chelsea and Manchester City man has led the line for Liverpool since Luis Suarez was hit with a ten match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic.

His hat-trick at Craven Cottage saw his manager shower him with praise, suggesting the England international can go on to become one of the best marksmen on the continent.

"I've been mightily impressed by Daniel Sturridge. He is a young player who has got all the attributes to be a top European forward," he told reporters after Liverpool's 3-1 win over Fulham.

"We were very exciting. Going forward we were really creative. We scored three and could have had more. It was a terrific second half performance," he continued.

"I think we can have an exciting season next year. We can build. We need more depth in the summer. We will be looking for a real sustainable challenge for the top four."

Coutinho Making Liverpool Minds Dance With Possibilities

Philippe Coutinho is 20 years old. Sit back and ruminate upon that. It might make you happy, it might make you sad; it should definitely make you question what you were doing at that age. Whatever is was, it cannot match up to running football games with a nonchalance not seen in years.

Twenty years old. To say the world is at his feet is not quite apt, for everything is at his feet anyway, almost always. The ball is rarely a few yards away from those feet, those two size eight black, leather bags of stardust. When the ball does leave his feet, men twice his age inhale sharply -- their arms raise and smiles broaden. They want to know how he makes those passes, how he mangles the mind of his marker -- but yet, they do not want the secret to be revealed. No one wants to peer behind the magician's curtain.

This might seem like hyperbole. It probably is. But reason and rationality be damned -- he's only 20 and within 11 appearances has become one of the most popular Liverpool players in recent times. Children want his name upon their shirt, to wear it as they trip over open shoelaces mimicking his movement on the playground; adults just want to sing his name repeatedly, watching this throwback of a footballer remind them of a time gone by. Names reel off the tongue: Jari Litmanen, Peter Beardsley, Ronaldinho. He isn't as good as them yet, but he could be.

Only Coutinho could take the spotlight from a player who had just scored a hat-trick. But as Daniel Sturridge confirmed the possession of his match ball, the away fans sung the name of their Brazilian. Sturridge's name was to come later, but the love was first fired towards their number 10. Here is a player who makes football fun, and did so in a fun game of football.

There is temptation to simply whisper Coutinho's name repeatedly -- for ranting and raving is far too brutish for a player of such skill -- but in among his two assists and constant running, there was an entertaining game. Entertaining for Brendan Rodgers, at least, particularly in the second half.

And before Coutinho is carried back to Lime Street on a sedan chair, a moment to reflect on those around him -- particularly Sturridge. He is only 23 years old himself and looks, at times, like an accomplished striker.

This was one of those times: his pace was a constant outlet for the long ball; his awareness was top notch, his touch immaculate. That trident brought the trio of goals -- his first came from a long Andre Wisdom ball, his second a smart far post finish, his third a fine, lofted finish.

It was his first in particular that opened eyes and craned necks -- not just for his intelligent movement off the ball and emphatic strike with it, but because this was a time his side needed a moment to ignite the game. It had started tentatively for Liverpool. Though Fulham's opener was undeserved, it was not overly surprising. Sturridge took it upon himself to change the narrative of the game and bring his side back into it -- that mentality can be more vital than any fierce finish.

Mentality has been no friend of Liverpool's this season, but here they showed a determination to be better in the last 45. There will be calls that their second half improvement came in a fixture of little importance. Fair, but harsh. The improvement was so stark that it was clearly a resistance by the away side, a refusal to end a season of strong away performances with a whimper.

How the 90 minutes reflected the season. The first half was disjointed, partly down to the 3-5-2 formation which Liverpool needed time to adapt to. Rodgers wasn't waiting. He removed Andre Wisdom for Jose Enrique and went to a more structured 4-2-3-1. With that came the type of performance that has punctuated their season away from home; here was the swagger of QPR and Norwich, the incisiveness of Newcastle and Wigan.

Rodgers, and Liverpool, will focus on the second half more than the first. It has been a hard season and one most arduous at times -- forgive the club, and its fans, for simply revelling in the trickery of Coutinho, the forward play of Sturridge and everything around that.

Forgive them for focusing on Wisdom, who looked strong at centre half, an exciting glimpse into the future; forgive them for acknowledging the running of Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, as well as the industry of Jonjo Shelvey in a performance more polished than any of his others in recent times. But more than individuals was the teamwork, the movement off the ball and the intelligent passing to make it worthwhile.

Rodgers deserves praise for switching the system at halftime. Fulham were the essence of acquiescence in the second half, but that was partly down to how Liverpool played. When they are good, they can be soul-crushingly so. The Fulham attacks, infrequent as they were, were well defended -- especially by Pepe Reina, his gloves like shovels as he turned a couple of shots around the post.

It was not a perfect performance, but the penultimate game in a season that no longer matters is not the time for hand-wringing. Rodgers knows what is required of his team next season; an end of season 3-1 win at Fulham reveals little new. But what he does know will please him, if only in parts: This is a team capable of good things when the mindset and approach is right. Things to work on this summer, plenty to think about.

But disregard the planning for now. Embrace the ruckus a Brazilian playmaker can cause -- and that's to say nothing of an on-fire Sturridge and sidelined Uruguayan. With Coutinho in the team, it feels like anything is possible for Liverpool. He's only 20, after all.

Sturridge Credits Coutinho For Fine Liverpool Form

Daniel Sturridge has hailed Philippe Coutinho as the key to his excellent form for Liverpool.

Sturridge hit a hat-trick against Fulham on Sunday to take his tally to 11 goals in 15 appearances since arriving at Anfield from Chelsea in January.

But the striker insists former Inter Milan youngster Coutinho, who also moved to Merseyside in the last transfer window, deserves all the plaudits after the 20-year-old produced another superb display at Craven Cottage.

“He has assisted me maybe four or five times since he has been here and it is fantastic to be playing with a player of his calibre," Sturridge said.

"It's good to have someone around who is hungry. He has got a lot to prove, just like I have.

We have both come from big clubs where we have not had opportunities to play week in, week out and we are both hungry to show what we are capable of doing.

“He is a quality player. I can't praise him highly enough for what he has shown because it's very difficult to do what he has done in a very short space of time.

"He has made my job very easy, he has been very unselfish, he has put me in many times and it's fantastic to work with him.”

Having struggled for first-team opportunities at Chelsea, Sturridge admits he's relished the chance to play regularly under Brendan Rodgers.

“I’m relaxed, I’m enjoying my football, I’m enjoying being out on the football field and when a manager believes in you and gives you an opportunity you have to go out there and work as hard as you can and, if you can do that, then your abilities will shine through," he added.

"When I played there [at Chelsea] I didn’t play two games as a striker. I played one game, I'd score two goals and then I would be out.

"At Chelsea I didn’t have an opportunity. But it’s the past for me now, I’m not looking back. I wish them all the best in the Europa League final. I hold no grudges against the club."

Liverpool Target £8m Ligue 1 Starlet

Liverpool have held talks with Lille’s young star Lucas Digne in a bid to rejuvenate their defence, writes The Mirror.

The £8million rated defender is hot property and Brendan Rogers may be looking to splash his cash over the summer transfer period.

The French left-back has reportedly also been linked with Premier League rivals Manchester United and Manchester City.

Dutch side Ajax and Italian club Udinese are also thought to be keeping tabs on the youngster.

The signing could spell the end of regular first team football for current defender Jose Enrique however.

Rogers will be looking to put Digne straight into the first team and if his performances reflect those he has produced during his time at Lille, Enrique could be losing out.

His current club could cash in on the player whilst he’s attracting interest from so many clubs.

The 19-year-old has made almost 50 appearances for Lille since rising through the youth ranks to the first team in 2011.

Digne has also represented his country at every youth level, from Under-16s to the Under-19s side.

The Kop will be looking to bolster the back line for next season to replace the hole left by veteran defender Jamie Carragher, who is set to retire.

Liverpool Ready To Make Move For Christian Tello

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is keen to make Barcelona's promising forward Christian Tello his first summer signing.

The Reds appear to be locked in a three-way battle for Tello's signature with Spurs also in the frame.

The Reds tried to sign Tello last summer, but they failed to broker a deal.

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger insisted yesterday the club need to add more quality up front to make them a more potent attacking force.

Though they moved quickly for Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in January, Rodgers needs cover for Luis Suarez, who was banned for 10 matches for biting Branislav Ivanovic.

Spanish paper Marca suggests Liverpool should have no problem meeting his £8.4m release clause.

The only potential obstacle to a deal, they note is if Isaac Cuenca decides to stay at Ajax where he is currently on loan.

Tello who has been on the fringes of the La Liga champions-in-waiting has still contributed eight goals this campaign.

Raul Albiol Identified As Replacement For Carragher

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admitted last week that he was worried about who would fill Carragher's shoes, as the defensive stalwart has announced he is retiring after the season finishes.

The Reds have already been scuppered in their bid to land £10m rated Swansea captain Ashley Williams, who is expected to join Arsenal in the summer.

The Express Online reported recently that Liverpool are eyeing a move for Lille's left-back Lucas Digne, who is tipped to grace a bigger stage.

According to reports in Italy, Albiol has fallen out of favour with Jose Mourinho and has been limited to just 11 starts.

They also note that Albiol is trying to force himself into the reckoning for a place in Spain's 2014 World Cup squad.

Albiol only signed a new deal which will keep him at the Bernebeu until 2017.

Despite his on-the-field woes, Albiol started in Real's 1-1 draw with Espanyol over the weekend.

Christian Eriksen Deals Liverpool Transfer Blow

Liverpool has been dealt a blow in their pursuit of Ajax’s Christian Eriksen after the playmaker revealed he’s keen on a move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Reds are known to be trailing the talented Dane, but with Dortmund set to lose Mario Goetze to Bayern Munich next season, it looks as though they’ve stolen a march on the competition in the race for Eriksen.

‘Dortmund are a club where I would like to play,’ the 21-year-old told De Telegraaf.

‘I think I would be a good fit there with the football there.

‘Dortmund play nice, attacking football. The Bundesliga has never really been my preferred choice and a few years ago I would not even have considered it, but now I do.

‘The competition is getting stronger and it is no coincidence the two Champions League finalists are German clubs.

‘I know there has been contact between the two clubs, and both Ajax and Dortmund have already talked to my agent.

‘I will consider all the clubs and quietly make a decision. I want clarity when preparing for the new season, that’s the best thing – for everyone.’

Liverpool Outcast Will Take Pay Cut To Leave Anfield

Liverpool outcast Andy Carroll is set to send fans on Tyneside into a frenzy after declaring that he is prepared to take a pay cut to engineer a return to Newcastle United this summer.

The 24 year old England international made a 35 million pound switch from Newcastle to Liverpool in January 2011, but failed to settle down at Anfield, and was sent out on loan this season to West Ham United as the Reds tried to get the expensive youngster off their wage bill.

Carroll’s current wages at Anfield are believed to be in the region of £90,000 a week, while Newcastle’s highest earner only pockets £60,000 a week. Carroll will need to fit into the wage structure prevalent at the club should he make the move, which isn’t likely to be easy.

Liverpool are asking for 17 million pounds to part with Carroll, reportedly willing to make close to a 50% loss on the player, but Newcastle are hoping to knock the price down further as they believe the England international isn’t worth such an astronomical fee.