Monday, August 26, 2013

Match Report: Aston Villa 0 - 1 Liverpool

Daniel Sturridge proved Liverpool's match-winner for a second successive weekend as the Merseyside club edged out Aston Villa to make their best start to a Premier League season for five years.

The Birmingham-born striker, who started his youth career with Villa, delivered a moment of pure quality midway through the first half, receiving Jose Enrique's left-wing pass before dancing past two defenders, rounding Brad Guzan and transferring his balance to poke home with his left foot.

It came after the England marksman fired the Reds to a 1-0 opening-day win over Stoke, leaving Brendan Rodgers' side with six points from their first two league games for the first time since 2008.

Liverpool finished second to Manchester United that season and, although that appears unlikely this term, Rodgers can only be delighted with the start his side have made without the suspended Luis Suarez.

For Villa, it was their third game in a tough opening eight days of the new season after victory at Arsenal and defeat at Chelsea, and they appeared off the pace in the opening 40 minutes against a sharper Reds side.

A late flurry at the end of the first half set the tone for a second period in which the hosts dominated and could well have taken a share of the spoils. Liverpool's new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who saved a late penalty against Stoke, denied the in-form Christian Benteke with a superb one-handed stop.

There was plenty of cause for optimism for a youthful Villa side who has already showed signs of development from the one which struggled against relegation last term, despite failing to keep a Premier League clean sheet for a club-record 25th match.

Villa manager Paul Lambert handed full debuts to summer signings Jores Okore and Leandro Bacuna, while Rodgers kept faith with the starting XI who saw off Stoke.

Both sides looked to feel each other out inside the opening 15 minutes, with the visitors showing the greater incision, although neither goalkeeper was forced into action.

Philippe Coutinho sent an effort high and wide after good work down the left by Enrique as the Reds started to dominate possession.

And it was no surprise when they made the breakthrough after 21 minutes.

Sturridge started the move before losing his marker, Okore, and when Enrique's pass from the left was dummied by Coutinho on the edge on the area, the former Chelsea striker showed great footwork to evade two defenders as well as Guzan and convert.

The goal only further boosted Liverpool's confidence while the hosts were chasing shadows at times.

With the home faithful becoming slightly frustrated, Bacuna sent Villa's first effort harmlessly wide after 32 minutes before Benteke's control let him down at a crucial moment.

And then with half-time approaching, Villa had two decent openings.

Benteke finally forced Mignolet into action, tipping the Belgium international's effort around a post, before Andreas Weimann saw his shot deflected narrowly over the crossbar.

Lambert's side started the second half with more purpose and, roared on by a sell-out Villa Park crowd, Ashley Westwood twice fired over from distance.

Importantly, however, Mignolet was barely troubled by the time Liverpool boss Rodgers handed a debut to new loan signing Aly Cissokho in the 69th minute.

Benteke and Weimann then headed wide before an unmarked Gabriel Agbonlahor volleyed off target from 12 yards having been presented with a great chance to level.

Matt Lowton finally forced Mignolet into action from long distance before Liverpool's summer signing from Sunderland produced a superb 86th-minute stop to keep out Benteke.

Karim El Ahmadi headed on to fellow substitute Nicklas Helenius and he found Benteke, whose powerful drive was brilliantly pushed around a post by Mignolet - ensuring Villa have now beaten the Reds just once in their last 16 Premier League meetings at Villa Park.

Brendan Rodgers Praises Team Spirit

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has praised his side's improved team spirit after two wins in the first two games.

The Merseyside club beat Aston Villa 1-0 on Saturday, with Daniel Sturridge getting the only goal of the game in the first half.

Rodgers believes the spirit in the dressing room is much better than last season and praised the players for staying focused over a distracting summer.

"It's much better than last year," Rodgers told reporters. "It took us until September to get our first win. I think since January we have been getting better and improving. It's all credit to the players. They have been absolutely first class.

"There's a lot of speculation and maybe a lot of distractions over the course of the summer with everything that has been written.

"I think you have to give remarkable praise to them that we've just stayed and focused on our task which was to make a good start."

Liverpool faces a tough test against rivals Manchester United at Anfield next Sunday.

Mignolet Helping Liverpool Grind Out Results

One of the keys to being a successful team is mastering the art of grinding out 1-0 wins. No matter how good a team is, it's impossible to play well every week and the teams at the top end of the table are there because they can usually find a way to win, irrespective of their level of performance. It's a trait that has been notable by its absence in Liverpool for several years, so whilst the win at Villa Park was far from being a classic, there's something particularly pleasing about it; this time last year Brendan Rodgers' side would have been unlikely to escape with all three points.

In fact, this time last season the Reds were dropping two points at home to then-champions Manchester City, despite producing a fantastic performance. It was a travesty Liverpool didn't win that day; Yaya Toure even described it as the toughest game he's had in all his time in England. Whilst it was nice to receive plaudits for the performance, unfortunately style points don't count when the league table is compiled. That City result wasn't a freak occurrence; too often in recent seasons Liverpool couldn't even win games when they played well, never mind when their performance level dropped.

Last weekend against Stoke City the performance was impressive, yet the afternoon could so easily have ended in disappointment had it not been for Simon Mignolet's late penalty save. That was a game Liverpool probably wouldn't have won last year and the same can be said of Saturday's triumph over Villa, which was an archetypal "game of two halves."

The Reds were excellent in the first period, dominating possession and looking dangerous in attack. Without the ball they impressed, too, pressing well and forcing Villa into mistakes and completely preventing the Midlands side from finding any kind of rhythm. The only negative from the opening 45 minutes was that Liverpool had only Daniel Sturridge's solitary -- albeit wonderfully taken -- goal to show for a dominant performance in which the home side was chasing shadows for long periods.

After the break, however, Paul Lambert's men came back into the match as Liverpool faded badly and it needed the intervention of Mignolet, once again, to secure maximum points for the Reds. Let's not sugarcoat it: the second-half performance was poor, the possession football completely disappeared, as did the goal threat. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't what we've come to expect from Rodgers' Liverpool. And when Christian Benteke went clean through late on, Liverpool fans will have had the same sinking feeling they had last week when Stoke were awarded that last-gasp penalty. And just like last week, Mignolet came flying to the rescue with a superb save.

Great goalkeepers win points, and whilst it's too soon to be proclaiming the Belgian as "great," you can make a very strong argument that Liverpool is already four points better off just from his presence between the sticks. Benteke went close in the first half, only to be denied by a flying stop by his international colleague, and when the pair faced off again after the break, once again it was the keeper who came out on top. Two terrific saves. He pulled off two or three top-drawer stops last week, too.

Speculating as to whether Pepe Reina would have made the saves that Mignolet has is a completely pointless exercise -- it's impossible to know what would have happened and it's also disrespectful to Reina, a popular figure with the supporters and someone who provided good service in the eight years he was at the club. All I will say is that for the past few years fans often bemoaned how teams would need to have only one or two shots a game to be able to take points from the Reds, but that trend has been reversed, so far, in the opening two fixtures of this season. Liverpool could so easily have been held to two draws, but instead they have two clean sheets and two 1-0 wins. The biggest reason for that have been the goalkeeper and the high standards he has set.

Center back Kolo Toure also deserves some credit for the solid defensive start made by the team. He was rock solid once more and whilst you are never going to completely subdue a player of the caliber of Benteke, this was a far cry from last season when the powerful Belgian completely manhandled Martin Skrtel. Big Kolo stood up to the test well and he's shown already what a shrewd acquisition he will prove to be.

Six points from the opening two fixtures is a terrific start for the Reds. It hasn't been entirely convincing, but being able to grind out results is a vital habit to develop and Villa Park won't be the easiest place to go and win this season. Villa's young, hungry side is a far different proposition this year than they were last. Arsenal, Chelsea and now Liverpool has all been given a difficult test by Paul Lambert's side, and this was a huge three points for Liverpool.

One thing Liverpool certainly doesn’t want to do is fall behind early in the battle for the top four. Two early wins is the ideal preparation for next week's clash with Manchester United at Anfield. Playing well would be nice of course, but few at Anfield will be complaining if it's another less than entirely convincing 1-0 triumph.

Brendan Rodgers Seeks New Liverpool Winger

Brendan Rodgers remains determined to sign a left winger before the transfer deadline to allow Philippe Coutinho to develop as a No10 at Liverpool.

The Liverpool manager was left frustrated by the refusal of Fenway Sports Group, the club's owners, to pursue a deal for Willian once Anzhi Makhachkala received an increased offer from Tottenham Hotspur earlier this week. Willian is the third major transfer target that Liverpool have missed this summer, following Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Diego Costa, and with Stewart Downing sold to West Ham United Rodgers wants another attacking option in before 2 September.

Rodgers's reasoning is partly explained by the outstanding form of Coutinho. The Brazilian has been deployed mostly on the left since his £8.5m arrival from Internazionale in January but his manager believes the 21-year-old can make a bigger impact in the centre.

"His ideal position is in the No10 role," said Rodgers, who is also in the market for an experienced central defender. "I've seen him play when Inter had two advanced players and one holding, and he was one of the advanced players. Whether it's a two or a one, he can play in that role, or from the side. But centrally, that's where I see him playing. That's why I'm looking to sign someone for the left wing."

Coutinho's start to his Liverpool career is in marked contrast to a difficult 30 months in Italy, where he struggled with injury and spent six months on loan at Espanyol. But Rodgers insisted: "I don't think he was a failure at Inter. At the time, Inter needed to move players out to get money. He was one of the players, like [Wesley] Sneijder, they had to move on. In his time when he was fit, he actually performed well. But he was a young player. Notoriously in Italy, a lot of young players don't get the opportunity, hence the reason he went to Espanyol on loan.

"He was only 18, 19 when he started at Inter. You don't see many young players playing in Italian football. He was at the stage where his quality demanded he played regularly, and it was about finding a stage for him to do that. When I was aware he was available having known of him when he was in Brazil, I thought it would be perfect for us. He's a wonderful player, a joy to watch. He's just turned 21 and he has a great career ahead of him."

Arguably the only reservation over Coutinho since he joined Liverpool is his impact against the leading teams in the Premier League. He was substituted early against Chelsea and Tottenham last season but Rodgers believes there were mitigating circumstances in both fixtures.

"He was still gaining his fitness and those were high-tempo games," the manager explained. "But I have no doubts about him on the big stage. I've seen him play in Champions League games for Inter, he can play in the big games, he has the temperament and quality. He might not have been at his best in those games last season but he has contributed."

Liverpool Named Favourites In Eriksen Race

Liverpool has been made odds on favourites to sign Ajax star Christian Eriksen.

Sky Bet has listed the Anfield outfit ahead of several other Premier League suitors, including Tottenham and Everton, at 11/8.

Eriksen has been subject to much transfer speculation this term, having been linked to moves to some of Italy and Germany's top sides.

The midfielder's attorney, Martin Schoots, revealed that concrete offers have been received from the continent.

"Yes there was a proposal from an Italian club, but I’d prefer not to say which one, and there was a proposal from a German club too," he told TuttoMercatoWeb.

The 21-year-old was outstanding for Ajax last season as they captured their third successive Eredivisie title.

Liverpool Target Galatasaray Midfielder Selçuk İnan

Liverpool is interested in Galatasaray midfielder Selçuk İnan according to Sporx. The Reds scouted İnan regularly during the league and Champions League last season.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has been linked with moves for attacking midfielders this summer including Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Christian Eriksen however, failed to sign Mkhitaryan and Eriksen has hinted that he would prefer a club that can offer him Champions League football.

İnan is a Turkish international midfield playmaker, renowned for his passing range, technical ability and being a set-piece specialist.

The 28-year-old midfielder is coming off the back of lifting his second league title in as many seasons with Galatasaray and played an important role in the Lions reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

İnan has scored 20 goals and provided 28 assists in 84 appearances for Galatasaray; the Turkish international was the leagues assist king between 2010 and 2012 and was Galatasaray's highest scorer in 2011-12.

The Turkish international joined Galatasaray on a free transfer from Trabzonspor in 2011 and still has three-years on his contract.

Liverpool has strengthened ties with Turkey recently, helping organize Turkish reality series, Soccer Prince, as well as partnerships with Turkish Tourism, and Ramsey.

Liverpool Line Up Victor Moses Move

Liverpool is reportedly interested in a deal for Nigerian winger Victor Moses who is likely to be sent out of Chelsea ahead of the imminent arrival of Willian.

Liverpool was interested in signing the Brazilian attacking midfielder, but they failed to push further for a deal for the now Chelsea-bound player.

Moses and Fiorentina’s Adem Ljajic are the names been mentioned as transfer candidates for frustrated Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is disappointed in his club’s inability to snatch Willian.

Rodgers is looking to fill the gap in his squad left by the departure of Stewart Downing and is looking at a clutch of available widemen, including Moses who now looks to be surplus to Jose Mourinho’s requirements at Stamford Bridge.

The 22-year-old Nigerian is a player Liverpool looked at when he was at Wigan Athletic and he is understood to be interested in the opportunity to follow ex-team-mate Danny Sturridge to Anfield, given how well he has doe since he left west London.

Liverpool Told To Pay £15million For Will Hughes

Derby has told Liverpool it will take a £15million-plus offer for them to part with midfield teen sensation Will Hughes, writes Tom Hopkinson of the Sunday People.

And Hotline understands the Rams will insist on a season-long loan back being part of any deal if Reds boss Brendan Rogers does meet their valuation.

Hughes, 18, is a huge talent and Derby is confident his value will go up even more this season.

The England prospect has previously been touted as a long-term successor to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

But Derby is keen to keep hold of the star for another season as Nigel Clough looks to push the club further up the Championship table.

Davids Praises Liverpool Stance Over Suarez Transfer

Champions League winner Edgar Davids says he understands why Liverpool is doing their utmost to retain the services of star-striker Luis Suarez.

The Dutch legend and Barnet player-manager is a former team-mate of Suarez, playing alongside the Uruguayan during his second spell at Ajax.

And Davids believes Liverpool is reluctant to part with their number seven simply because of the sheer quality he possesses.

“He is a good football player," said the former Juventus and Barcelona midfielder.

“I think everybody can say that Luis Suarez is a very good player. He scored so many goals in the Premier League and he is definitely a quality player."

Suarez, who scored 23 Premier League goals for the Reds last season, had expressed a desire to leave Anfield earlier this summer amidst interest from Arsenal.

Liverpool rebuffed the Gunners efforts to land the 26-year-old and recent reports indicate that Suarez has now accepted he will have to remain at the club.

Despite the Merseysiders maintaining the striker will not leave during the current transfer window, speculation persists that Spanish giant Real Madrid could still make a late move for Suarez.

Davids can understand why Liverpool is loath to lose one of their prized assets but believes the impact of Suarez potentially staying at the club remains to be seen.

“Of course (I can understand the club s reluctance to let the player go), he's a player that kept Liverpool going last season" said the star who played for Ajax, Juventus and Barcelona.

"But the season is not even 10 matches old so we don't know how this situation is going to affect the team or the player.