Sunday, August 18, 2013

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 0 Stoke City

Striker Daniel Sturridge got Liverpool's season off to a winning start but it was new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet who was the hero with a late penalty save.

The hosts had dominated throughout but had only the one goal to show for their efforts when Daniel Agger handled former Reds midfielder Charlie Adam's free-kick three minutes from time.

Jonathan Walters fired low to Mignolet's right but the Belgium international reached that and substitute Kenwyne Jones' follow-up to get his Liverpool career off to the best possible start following a £9million move from Sunderland.

Sturridge had only trained for two weeks having been sidelined by an ankle injury sustained at the end of last season on England duty, but if he felt rusty he did not show it.

He had already had the ball in the net once, heading in Steven Gerrard's free-kick only to be denied by an offside flag, before he eventually broke the deadlock in the 37th minute.

With most of the focus over the summer being on the future of Liverpool's other striker Luis Suarez, Sturridge completed his rehabilitation in virtual anonymity.

He is not one for creating headlines but knows where to make an impact when it matters and he ultimately settled the contest, although the game should have been put well beyond Stoke with the number of chances created.

Liverpool need someone other than Suarez, last season's 30-goal striker, to rely on if they are to seriously mount a challenge for the top four and Sturridge looks like he is ready to shoulder that responsibility.

His 12th goal in 17 appearances since joining from Chelsea for £12million in January is an impressive strike rate but he will need to maintain that over the course of a whole season.

First of all, however, he needs to do it over the first six games - the duration of the remainder of Suarez's ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in April.

Despite a summer of turmoil surrounding the Uruguay international there appears to be a sense his protestations about wanting to leave for a Champions League club - which resulted in him being forced to train on his own for a week - may have diminished.

Having been restored to training with his first-team colleagues on Friday, Rodgers said the 26-year-old was "back, smiling and happy" and there was definitely evidence of a broad grin as he walked around the perimeter of the pitch pre-match to a ripple of applause.

For all the problems Suarez has caused the club there is no doubt they will need his mercurial talents.

While they dominated a Stoke side trying to play more football under new manager Mark Hughes they lacked a cutting edge for long periods.

In fact, they could have been in trouble after just eight minutes when Mignolet, on his competitive Anfield debut, flapped at a cross with only the crossbar sparing his blushes by keeping out Robert Huth's volley.

But the tide quickly turned and Sturridge's disallowed goal was followed by Kolo Toure, another new signing, heading Gerrard's corner against the woodwork.

Sturridge blazed the rebound over from close range and then saw a cross-shot hacked clear by Erik Pieters after Philippe Coutinho had threaded through a pass which allowed him to go around Asmir Begovic.

Coutinho's vision to pick out opponents saw him set up Iago Aspas to shoot at the goalkeeper, who then blocked Jose Enrique's shot after a swift interchange between himself and Aspas.

The 21-year-old Brazilian seems certain to be Liverpool's creator-in-chief this season and he was at it again, putting Jordan Henderson through only for Begovic to get out quickly to block.

But just when it seemed Liverpool would go in frustrated, Sturridge cushioned an Aspas pass before drilling a low shot through the legs of Huth to finally beat Begovic.

One goal has never been a comfortable margin for Liverpool in recent seasons and they needed Mignolet to save well from Walters and Lucas Leiva to clear Ryan Shawcross' effort off the line to hold the half-time lead.

Further chances came after the break with Coutinho curling a shot past the far post, Sturridge denied at the near post by Begovic, Aspas heading wide from a corner and Henderson striking the upright.

Late on the excellent Begovic had to be at full stretch to tip over Gerrard's dipping free-kick and scrambled well to keep out Glen Johnson's close-range shot.

Adam almost embarrassed Mignolet with a shot from the halfway line before the goalkeeper came to Liverpool's rescue late on with his spot-kick save.

Rodgers Delighted With Opening Day Win

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has said he is delighted with his team’s performance after beating Stoke 1-0 in the first game of the new Premier League season.

With the added pressure of being the first team to host a Premier League match in the 2013/14 season, as well as the first televised Premier League game on BT Sport, the Reds brushed aside Stoke thanks to a first half winner from Daniel Sturridge.

It was new signing Simon Mignolet who saved the day, though, keeping out a Jonathan Walters penalty and Kenwyne Jones rebound.

Sturridge actually managed to find the net twice, having an early goal chalked off for offside, with both sides striking the bar in the opening half hour – Robert Huth for Stoke and Kolo Toure on debut at the other end.

Speaking after the match, Rodgers was pleased that the team’s hard work during pre-season paid off with an opening day win.

"Top of the league, here we go,” said Rodgers.

“Delighted, delighted for the players, the work they put in over the course of the pre-season and the focus and concentration and everything that was thrown at them and at the club, to come out and play like that, create as many chances and to get the win was delighted.”

Rodgers praised goalkeeper Mignolet for a match-winning performance.

“He made three terrific saves in the game.

“He had done his homework, he knows where all the penalty takes were going and he made a good first save and then, obviously, second action to get up and make the double save was impressive.”

Liverpool now travel to Aston Villa next weekend hoping to start the season off in impressive style with back-to-back wins.

Liverpool To Offer Willian Bumper Deal

Liverpool is ready to offer Willian £110,000-a-week to move to Anfield this summer as Brendan Rodgers closes in on the Anzhi star.

The Reds have been in the market for a marquee signing during the transfer window, and have now firmly set their sights on landing highly-rated Willian.

The 25-year-old has been made available for transfer by Russian club Anzhi, who are trying to lower their wage bill, and Liverpool opened talks on Thursday.

Willian has already confirmed his interest in making the move, and Liverpool are ready to offer the player £110,000-a-week to make sure it happens.

It’s a rise to his current £90,000-a-week terms, and should quicken up the transfer once a fee is agreed for his services.

Anzhi are known to want up to £30million for the player, and while Liverpool is prepared to spend big, they have open negotiations at around £25million.

Willian only moved to Anzhi in January, after he snubbed interest from Chelsea and Tottenham to join the big spending outfit.

Liverpool Plot Leandro Damiao Transfer Move

Liverpool is preparing to turn their attention to Brazil striker Leandro Damiao, writes Dean Jones of the Sunday People.

There are still fears on Merseyside that a new bid close to £50million could see Arsenal sign Luis Suarez.

And with Tottenham and Manchester United now trying to hijack Liverpool’s move for top target Willian, the Anfield giants want to ensure they are not left short of attacking options.

Brendan Rodgers has large funds available for a marquee signing before the transfer window closes.

The club has already missed out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who chose Borussia Dortmund, and Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa – and the Reds are concerned the same thing could yet happen with Anzhi Makhachkala’s exciting ­attacker Willian, 25.

Liverpool has back-up options in place as potential major signings though.

And Sunday People Sport understands Brazilian forward Damiao, 24, is on that list.

The Internacional striker has long been pursued by Tottenham, but they found it difficult to negotiate a deal.

Damiao still wants a move to Europe though, and manager Rodgers believes he has the quality that can take the Reds’ forward line to the next level.

Star man Suarez has apologized to team-mates at Liverpool and is back in first team training.

But even if he stays, Liverpool realizes they must help him on the goal front if the side are to push for a top-four place.

Liverpool Ponder Transfer Swoop For Richairo Zivkovic

Liverpool is keen to sign teenage wonder-boy ­Richairo Zivkovic.

The 16-year-old is currently in Holland with FC Groningen - first European club of the Anfield giants' Luis Suarez - and has been dubbed the new Arjen Robben.

The winger is a regular goal-scorer and broke Robben’s record as the youngest player to score for the club.

Groningen director Hans Nijland said: “All the top clubs in Holland want him but Liverpool is here every week too.

"They are watching him closely and very keen.”

Stoke Join Liverpool In Pursuit Of Winger

Queens Park Rangers winger Junior Hoilett is the subject of interest from Transfer Taverns dark horses Liverpool and Stoke City this summer, according to Sky Sports.

The Canadian wide man has started the season impressively in the Championship with Rangers and a loan move back to the big time could be in order to relieve more wages from the extravagant Hoops' bill.

Liverpool have been long term admirers of the former Blackburn player and having sold Stewart Downing to West Ham, Brendan Rodgers could make a loan move in the coming days.

However Stoke boss Mark Hughes has publicly confirmed his interest in the player who he managed at Loftus Road during his unsuccessful spell there.

Stoke have been tipped to struggle this season after ending last term miserably, but Hughes believes adding players such as Hoilett to his team will massively improve his chances.

The Potters will face an uphill battle though if Liverpool makes their move for the 23 year old soon.

"Junior is a very good player and somebody I have worked with before," Hughes told The Sentinel.

"He's obviously started the season off well, but I'm not sure if he's available. If we are able to bring in players of that quality, we will try and do that. But we have got to be patient.

"Ideally, you want your targets in through the door a couple of weeks before the season starts, but that hasn't been possible for whatever reason and there is enough time to get players in."

Toure Planning Long-Term Stay

Kolo Toure is hoping to spend 'a few years' at Liverpool after linking up with the Reds as a free agent this summer.

Following his release by Manchester City, Brendan Rodgers moved quickly to secure the experienced defender's services on a two-year contract.

At 32 years of age, Toure hopes he will remain on Merseyside past the end of that initial agreement.

He feels he still has plenty to offer and is delighted to have been given the opportunity to continue a distinguished career - which has seen him claim Premier League titles at Arsenal and City while earning over 100 caps for the Ivory Coast - at one of English football's grandest clubs.

Toure told the Daily Mail: "I'm very lucky to be at Liverpool. It's great to have the chance again to show what I'm capable of.

"I'm hoping it can be my second Arsenal: red colour, great style of football, great mentality.

"I've spoken to Jamie Carragher for advice. It's impossible to replace him so I have to find my own way."

He added: "I'd like to be here for a few years.

"I've been working really hard on my mobility because I've lost it a bit in the last four years. But I have had a great pre-season."

Rodgers Satisfied By Suarez Resolution

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers refused to discuss Luis Suarez's future after the victory over Stoke but did say he was happy with the way the situation had been "resolved".

The Uruguayan was in the stands with his family as a Daniel Sturridge goal and a late penalty save by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet gave Liverpool a winning start to the season at Anfield.

Suarez had earlier appeared on the pitch to wave to fans while wearing a Liverpool tracksuit.

"He is a part of our team, part of our club," Rodgers said.

"But I won't be saying anything on Luis Suarez, purely out of respect to the players that are here working hard. The only thing I will say is that I am very satisfied with the way everything has been resolved. We as a club are looking to the future and moving forward."

Suarez appeared at Anfield having brokered a truce with Liverpool by pledging to commit himself to the cause for as long as he remains at the club.

It is understood that he stopped short of offering either Rodgers or his team-mates a full apology but the Uruguayan's meeting with Rodgers did take the heat out of the situation and saw him invited back to train with the first-team squad.

The Suarez situation has overshadowed Liverpool's preparations for the new season, with the striker accusing the club of reneging on a verbal promise to sell him this summer in a newspaper interview.

Rodgers said he had been delighted with the way his players had put the issue to one side against Stoke.

"So much was written about us this summer but the players have shown a focus on getting results. That was a terrific result for us," he added.

Despite this uneasy peace, Suarez could still leave Anfield before the transfer window closes, with Arsenal, who have two bids rejected for him, still interested. The striker remains banned for a further six matches for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic last season.

2013-14 NextGen Series Cancelled

Funding problems have forced organizers of the NextGen Series to suspend the competition for a year.

The continental tournament, which features Under-20 teams from across Europe, has helped a number of players progress to senior teams, including Celtic's Tony Watt and Gary Gardner from Aston Villa.

Villa, Chelsea and Arsenal reached the semi-finals last season and it was the Villans who went on to claim the tournament in the finals, which were staged at Lake Como in Italy.

But with no major sponsorship on board for the 2013-14 season, and with potential competition coming from a UEFA-organized competition in the future, organizers have been forced to place it on a one-year hiatus.

Mark Warburton and Justin Andrews, co-founders of the NextGen Series, said: "The level of support we have received from the football industry, media and fans has been magnificent and for that we are truly grateful.

"It is hugely disappointing that an event of this nature, designed to assist with the development of Europe's elite players, should have to take such action but we hope to be back next season with an even better tournament."