Saturday, September 14, 2013

Liverpool Duo Earn August Premier League Awards

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge and his manager Brendan Rodgers have won the respective player and manager of the month awards for August, Sky Sports, after the Reds won their opening three Premier League games.

Victories over Stoke City, Aston Villa and arch rivals Manchester United saw Liverpool enter the international break top of the early season Premier League table with the division’s only 100% winning record. They are also yet to concede a goal ahead of Monday’s encounter against Swansea City.

And Sturridge has led the way in attack, scoring the decisive goal in each of their games, displaying his talent, and his eye for goal in the absence of the suspended Luis Suarez. Since arriving at Anfield in January, Sturridge has been a regular scorer, with 16 goals in 20 appearances.

Liverpool is currently in their best run of form under Rodgers, and the club’s former manager Gerard Houllier believes the Northern Irishman’s style suits the club. He said: “I like his philosophy because it goes well with the Liverpool culture. I like his passing game and also their results this season. They're top of the league and I hope they can stay there for as long as possible.”

Liverpool Look To End 7-Year Glitch At Swansea

Even after hosting the champions with a one-legged player up front -- albeit a fine one of limitless endeavour and goal-scoring ability -- Liverpool's trip to Swansea City on Monday represents their hardest game of the season so far.

This is not an extempore exclamation to keep the veil of pretentious intelligence lifted high, nor is it a forlorn attempt to engage in the mindset of a football hipster. There are people who claim Tomas Rosicky is actually better than Mesut Ozil, and there are people who would rather watch a nil-nil draw instead of a 4-3 thriller, all the while clinging to their belief that Nigel Reo-Coker's form at Vancouver deserves an England call-up, it's just that England are too stupid to realize.

Not so with this suggestion. There is no hidden agenda, no snobbery; it is actually true. The equation is simple: The more Liverpool keep winning, the higher expectation rises; the higher the expectation rises, the more pressure that is exerted upon the burgeoning squad. If Liverpool (3-0) beat Swansea, then Southampton becomes their biggest game of the season. After that, Sunderland. Six wins from six and suddenly Crystal Palace becomes the biggest game since football began.

But first, Swansea, and a near eight-year record that Brendan Rodgers is close to breaking. Including the final two games of last season, Liverpool have won five games in a row. Not since 2005 have Liverpool won six consecutive league games, an astonishing reflection of two things: the strain of Champions League football under Rafael Benitez and the corrosion since they last failed to qualify for the competition.

There is a clear correlation between success and consistency; the ability to win no matter what, and do it often, is the sign of a serious football club. This is made evident when Liverpool's seven-year glitch is compared with those they chase. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham have each managed six straight league wins in the past two seasons, while Chelsea did so in the season of their last title, 2009-10.

Though it fundamentally highlights that Liverpool's squad has not met the requirements in either quality or quantity, it also demonstrates a side that have forgotten how to maintain momentum. This team has not been capable of coping with pressure -- not in the league, at least -- and the slimmest sign of a must-win fixture is usually followed by a litany of failure. Shoulders hunch, heads explode and points are given away when there is a feeling, tangible or not, that the forthcoming fixture has importance attached to it.

An inspection of Liverpool's recent fixture lists reveals perpetual failure, must-win games becoming must-see for those who revel in their abjectness against teams both great and small. Even the current manager, striving to change that fault above all else, oversaw defeats to Aston Villa, Stoke and Southampton.

A lot of this is because of expectation. There is the expectation that engulfs a player, manager or tea-lady from the moment they sign for Liverpool, of course. There is the expectation spelled out by Bill Shankly's rhetoric that is essentially filtered through the sound system at Melwood; there is the suffocating patchwork quilt of success from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and Istanbul that adorns the walls, and the overriding, gut-grabbing realisation that your goals, tactics or cups of tea are never good enough to be placed on walls.

But there is the expectation of the here and now, as well. There is expectation that every win is another three points toward a restoration of greatness or, at the very least, Champions League qualification. This is a side that has struggled with that in recent years. In May 2011, Liverpool's must-win game for Europa League football against Tottenham at Anfield ended in a 2-0 defeat; in March 2012, with Champions League under Kenny Dalglish a possibility, they capitulated at home to Robin van Persie and Arsenal. When hopes are at their peak, the fall is far more painful.

Liverpool will travel to south Wales in peak form, even if it is broken by the summer break. Not since the end of 2008-09, the season when Liverpool flirted incessantly with the Premier League title, have they won five consecutive league games. Yet Rodgers has presided over that with this squad, a blossoming squad which is finding its step with every match.

It's impressive both statistically and when watching it unfold on the pitch. Of the five straight wins, the last four have been genuine bar-room brawls created by a steadfast belief in defending a 1-0 lead -- a genuine acknowledgement that Liverpool are playing in games that matter and will set up as such. After the performances against Stoke and Aston Villa, Daniel Sturridge's early goal against United was met with the Kop's united utterance: Defend this. The momentum, and expectation, was with them.

Of the five wins, only the 3-1 result against Fulham last May could be considered thoughtless and full of frolic; the other four have required the team to work hard and maintain discipline. With that comes expectation; expectation that Liverpool can win every game with such industry and calculation, that the red barricade can be erected and leads will remain untouched. Rightly so. In the past 11 league games, Liverpool has conceded from open play just twice.

It won't last forever, of course. And the longer it lasts, the more inevitable the tumble becomes -- such is the disposition of a club with no league title since 1990.

There is no reason for it to end at Swansea, however. Rodgers does not have it easy, but he rarely does. Against his former club, a club that will be desperate to show his loss is not felt at all, he must decide if he is to keep the defence -- sans the injured Glen Johnson -- that performed so well against David Moyes' United side. A dilemma, given Mamadou Sakho awaits his debut and Kolo Toure appears fit to return.

It's the biggest game of Rodgers' managerial career so far, an opportunity to keep Liverpool top of the league with 12 points from 12, so he must choose wisely. Not that he, or Liverpool, will mind that; it has been a long time since football mattered so much at Anfield. Momentum is with them and expectation shoots its laser-like glare; Liverpool must not wilt. If they do not, this unlikely adventure continues. On Monday, Swansea; the day after, the world.

Laudrup Surprised By Sturridge's Speedy Recovery

Swansea City boss Michael Laudrup has spiced up his side's clash with Liverpool by insisting he's "surprised" to hear about Daniel Sturridge's availability.

Sturridge pulled out of the England squad for the recent World Cup qualifying double-header, but reports suggest the 24-year-old could be available to lead the line for the Reds on Monday night.

Laudrup insisted he'd be pleased to play against a strong Liverpool side, but reopened the classic club vs. country debate by telling This Is Wales: "I thought Sturridge would not play because he was not fit enough for England, but now 48 hours later the reports are saying that he is fit to play against us."

"I was a little surprised about that. I hope he plays because I want to play against the best Liverpool team, but I thought there were rules to stop players not playing for their country and then playing for the club."

Despite his comments, the Swansea boss may have hoped Sturridge would be unavailable after the striker’s three goals in three games saw him crowned the Barclays Player of the month for August.

The match at the Liberty Stadium will see plenty of familiar faces do battle with former friends, as Brendan Rodgers and Joe Allen return to South Wales, while Jonjo Shelvey is likely to start against the Reds for the first time since his summer switch.

Suarez Still Seeking Liverpool Exit In January

Luis Suarez remains adamant he will leave Liverpool sooner rather than later, and will look to make the move in January, according to Goal.

The Uruguayan striker tried to force his way out of Anfield over the summer, and was the subject of two bids from Arsenal.

Although Liverpool's owners were adamant throughout the summer that Suarez wouldn't be sold, although the player's camp believed that Arsenal's second bid which exceeded £40 million was enough to activate a clause that would allow him to leave.

Liverpool refuted that and refused to entertain the bid from Arsenal, while Suarez's threat to take his case to the Premier League failed to materialize.

Despite late interest from Real Madrid Suarez remained at Liverpool after the close of the transfer window amidst rumours he was willing to commit himself to the club.

However Goal claim that all trust has been lost between Suarez and Liverpool's owners Fenway Sports Group, and that he will seek the earliest possible exit.

That may prove to be tricky given the fee that would Liverpool would command, and whether Arsenal would go back in for the former Ajax man having spent over £40 million on Mesut Ozil remains to be seen.

Suarez is yet to play for Liverpool this term as he serves his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season, but will return to face Manchester United in the Capital One Cup later this month.

Rodgers Has Careful Plans For Liverpool Captain

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed his plans in order to keep veteran midfielder Steven Gerrard match fit for the campaign.

The England midfielder has played his entire career with Liverpool and this weekend’s game will mark his 445th appearance for the club and his 400th game as captain.

The 33-year-old has become an integral figure in Rodgers’ team selection, playing the full 90 minutes for the first three matches of the season as well as playing the full 90 minutes in both of England’s World Cup qualifiers.

And Rodgers understands the implications too much football can have on the aging midfielders body and has careful plans in place.

“You need to analyze the people and what age he is at and the body type he is.” He told Sky Sports.

"One of the biggest things in our method of work is the recovery method. Stevie for example plays on the Saturday, recovers on the Sunday doing pulls, stretch and massage, on the Tuesday recovers further with maybe a light jog.

“It's a long load of low intensity recovery.

“Stevie was fit enough to play Saturday, Tuesday and Sunday at the start of this season.”

Rodgers believes the man-management of his players is imperative in achieving success and declares he is happy to allow Gerrard extra time off from training when he wants it.

"It depends if you are a dogmatic coach and you think you always have to have the player out there," added Rodgers.

"Given the culture we have created here, the players want to be out training every day.”

Rodgers faces a return to his former club Swansea on Monday night in the hope of keeping his 100% league record and remaining top of the Premier League.

Mignolet Basking In Penalty Save Glory

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet thinks his opening day debut penalty save against Stoke City has helped him settle into life at Anfield.

The Belgian stopper, was a £9 million summer transfer from Sunderland, replacing Pepe Reina who has since moved on a season long loan to Napoli to be with his old manager at Liverpool; Rafael Benitez.

He was one of many arrivals at the club this summer, alongside the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Iago Aspas and Victor Moses, the latter is on loan.

Mignolet's debut couldn't have had a better start to life with The Red's, his penalty save has helped Brendan Rodgers' side to record three straight victories.

Maximum points means that at this early stage of the season, Liverpool is top.

Furthermore, the 13 cap international is yet to concede a goal for his new club. As well as Stoke, Mignolet has kept clean sheets against Aston Villa and fierce rivals Manchester United.

Speaking about that save, Mignolet had this to say to Liverpool's official website: "Obviously if you do that in your first game as a Liverpool player in the Barclays Premier League, you're very happy."

"It boosted my confidence and it was a very special moment. Because of the save we won the game and it doesn't really happen often that as a goalkeeper you can be so decisive - especially in your first game."

"We've got three wins from the first three games played, so hopefully we can continue on that, progress and manage to play the coming games at the same level as we did the first couple of games."

Liverpool look to carry on their perfect start to the season with a win against Rodgers' former club Swansea on Monday night.

Glen Johnson Confirmed Out For A Month

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has confirmed full-back Glen Johnson is likely to miss a month of action with an ankle sprain.

The England international sustained the injury during the club's 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Anfield, during a challenge with Patrice Evra.

Johnson missed his country's World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine as a result, but Rodgers is hopeful the 29-year-old will return to the first-team fold in October.

"It's a disappointment because I think he's made a good start and he was excellent against Manchester United," Rodgers told reporters ahead of Liverpool's trip to Swansea City on Monday.

"Fortunately for us, with the way it works out and the international breaks, he'll probably only miss about four Premier League games.

"Glen is the type of player that you never realize how much you miss him until he's not there. He'll go away, work hard and keep himself in the best shape he can."

Despite the setback to Johnson, Rodgers is confident of having key trio Daniel Sturridge, Joe Allen and Kolo Toure available for selection against his former club.

Sturridge was unavailable for England duty due to a thigh injury picked up before the United game, while Toure and Allen were both injured during the Capital One Cup victory over Notts County in August.

"[Sturridge] was obviously disappointed to miss out on England games," Rodgers continued. "I felt for him because he came here, first and foremost, to do as well as he possibly can for Liverpool - knowing if he could do well, his aim was obviously to be the England striker.

"He returned back and there was a slight improvement, but obviously Roy [Hodgson] and his staff have to make the decision on whether he's going to be right or available. Obviously at that stage, he wasn't.

On Allen and Toure, the Ulsterman added: "Joe has trained with the team. He looked good [on Friday] morning and is certainly fighting for a place on Monday.

"Kolo is with our physiologists and is working well. He should be available for Monday."

Toure Welcomes Competition

Liverpool defender Kolo Toure admits he is spurred on by the extra competition provided by fellow new signings Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori.

Following his summer arrival the Ivorian slotted seamlessly into the void left by the retirement of Jamie Carragher at the end of last season.

However, with Sakho and Ilori coming in late in the transfer window from Paris St Germain and Sporting Lisbon manager Brendan Rodgers' centre-back options have been bolstered further.

And when Toure missed the victory over Manchester United a fortnight ago through injury the out-of-favour Martin Skrtel produced an impressive performance in his first appearance of the campaign.

It means a number of players are now fighting it out to partner new vice-captain Daniel Agger in central defence but Toure is not worried by the prospect.

"It's fantastic. It has increased the competition and everybody has to work really hard every day," said the 32-year-old.

"That is the only way we can make the team better and I'm glad we have signed two very good players.

"We know all about Mamadou Sakho, he is a very good player. Tiago has also come in from Portugal and is a really good defender as well.

"The competition will be really tough and we need to work extra hard. Nobody will be expecting to play, we'll all have to fight, but I love the competition."

Toure knows he was signed by Rodgers after his release from Manchester City because of the experience he can bring to the team.

He hopes to use that to his advantage as the battle for places heats up.

"I will always bring my experience," Toure told

The competition will be fair and I will help them (his team-mates) when they need it.

"We work as a team but I will do my best to show the manager I can keep my place," he said.

"I enjoy the responsibility. With the experience I have, I can help them and show them the way."

Owen: I Chose Manchester United Over Everton

Michael Owen admits he can understand why some Liverpool fans no longer like him following his time playing for Manchester United, but says he chose a move to Old Trafford as his only other option was joining Everton.

The former England international joined the Red Devils following Newcastle's relegation from the Premier League in 2009, which prompted his relationship with Liverpool supporters to sour.

Owen scored 158 goals in 297 appearances for Liverpool, but his distinguished service for the club was not enough to save the striker from the ire of some fans after he secured a move to their most bitter of rivals.

And, while Owen understands why is no longer looked upon favourably, the recently retired 33-year-old claims he chose a move to Manchester United as the only other feasible option would have been to move to the blue half of Merseyside.

“If one of my heroes was going to a team which I didn’t support I wouldn’t like it,” he told the Liverpool ECHO.

“Listen, I can understand that. If I was a fan, which I once was, I would feel the same, but you have to be grown up about it.

“As a player you only have one career. I have always signed for the best team possible who was in for me at that time.

“If I hadn’t have signed for Man United, the other option at that time was Everton and I don’t think a lot of Liverpool fans would have been happy if I had gone there either.

“If I had turned down both United and Everton I’d have probably ended up playing in the Championship.

“Anyone with any nous or normality about them realizes that you only get one shot at it. You have got to do what’s best for your career and to play at the highest level.

“If you wanted to be funny about it you could say ‘well, if I couldn’t play for Liverpool should I just have cancelled my career at 29 when I left Newcastle?’.

“There are two types of fan. Some can see nothing else but their club which is fair enough. But I think the majority of people at Anfield realize it’s not like I did anything for the wrong reasons."

Now that his playing days are over, Owen hopes he will be able to mend his relationship with Kopites, and hopes he will always be associated with Liverpool more than any other club.

“I played for Liverpool from the tender age of 11 with Stevie Gerrard. Liverpool is in my blood and I want to see them do well," he added.

“I’ve been back to Anfield a couple of times already this season and the reception I’ve had has been great.”