Monday, September 23, 2013

Match Report: Liverpool 0 - 1 Southampton

Southampton's match-winner Dejan Lovren had more than one reason to smile as he left Anfield having scored the only goal and escaped with not conceding a penalty.

The Croatia international struck in the 54th minute to end Liverpool's 12-match unbeaten league run spanning this season and last.

However, the Saints - the last team to defeat the Reds in March - may not have won 1-0 had referee Neil Swarbrick had the benefit of television replays which showed the defender had brought down Daniel Sturridge in the first half.

That incident aside, however, Liverpool did not create nearly enough chances for a team who began the day top of the table.

On this evidence the return of the watching Luis Suarez, sitting out the final match of his 10-match ban, has come not a moment too soon.

Rodgers' sprang a surprise in his line-up by experimenting in defence by selecting four centre-halves - arguably the strongest area of his squad - after naming Kolo Toure on the right and Mamadou Sakho on the left either side of the returning Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.

Neither options at full-back looked a success in the first half, failing to supplement their defensive duties with anything approaching the usual attacking roles expected of that position.

Saints' right-back Nathaniel Clyde got forward more than the pair of them in 45 minutes in which his side did not have the majority of possession but were not afraid to commit men to attack.

Sakho, on only his second appearance after a less-than-convincing outing in central defence in the 2-2 draw at Swansea on Monday, is seen as the long-term option in the middle but being broken in at left-back seemed almost like the Reds boss was accommodating the £16million signing from Paris St Germain for the sake of it.

The watching Jamie Carragher, who patrolled central defence so brilliantly for so many years for Liverpool before his retirement last season, will no doubt have left with plenty of ammunition for his new role as a television analyst.

Sat close to Carragher was Suarez, enduring his last punishment for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in April.

He looks set to return for the midweek Capital One Cup tie at Manchester United so this was Iago Aspas' last real chance to impress following his summer move from Celta Vigo.

The Spaniard scored 12 goals last season but has yet to score in five league games for his new club and the fact he lasted only 45 minutes told its own tale.

Liverpool created two real chances in the first half in addition to the penalty shout, a paltry return by anyone's standards.

Goalkeeper Artur Boruc's brilliant one-handed save denied Gerrard's curling free-kick after Aspas had been fouled by Jose Fonte before Sturridge, who after scoring in first four league matches had been unusually quiet, thought he had won a spot-kick.

He cut back on the angle of the penalty area Luke Shaw and Lovren, who made contact with the striker but not the ball.

Victor Moses carved out his own chance when he collected Gerrard's throw down the left, cut in past a couple of defenders only to see Boruc turn his shot behind.

Southampton had probed in the first half without properly testing goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who created his own problems by coming for a ball Skrtel had covered and could only watch as Adam Lallana volleyed over the open goal.

Chances seemed to be a premium for strikers at both ends as Southampton's England international Rickie Lambert had one sight of goal, from Gerrard's miscontrol, but sliced a gentle looping shot into the arms of Mignolet.

Raheem Sterling's introduction for Aspas at half-time should have injected some life into Liverpool's attack but it was the visitors who struck first in the 54th minute.

Lovren beat Agger to Lallana's corner to head down and past Gerrard on the goalline. It was a goal you sensed had been coming for a while.

The boost in confidence that gave Southampton was evident in Shaw's driving run from halfway which saw Mignolet brilliantly stop both his shot, the rebound off Sakho and then get up to prevent substitute Steven Davis poking home.

Lovren then produced a timely intervention at the other end, diverting Sterling's low cross from the byline destined for Henderson.

In the final 20 minutes, Liverpool were back to two regulation centre-backs as Agger and Skrtel were replaced for more attacking options but it did little to change the outcome.

Rodgers Blames Liverpool’s ‘Criminal’ Defending

Brendan Rodgers has slammed Liverpool’s ‘criminal’ defending after they lost their first match of the season against Southampton.

The Reds went into the match yet to lose so far this term, but Dejan Lovren’s second-half header proved to the difference on a difficult afternoon at Anfield.

And manager Rodgers blames his side for switching off at the back as the key reason for the defeat.

‘We were not technically good enough,’ he said.

‘Both the performance and the result were very disappointing – we didn’t play to the usual level that we like to.

‘I thought the goal was criminal, really. That’s the brutal honesty of it.’

Rodgers rotated his backline for the clash and made the surprise decision to play four centre-backs across a back-four, with Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho all playing.

The system didn’t work, but Rodgers finished by highlighting the positions – which includes Luis Suarez now completing his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.

‘That is the positive as he has now served his ban and we can bring someone as good as him back.’

Liverpool’s Barren Midfield Is Causing An Inability To Gel

Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to the hands of Southampton was more disappointing for the performance, than the result itself.

In fairness to the Saints, they came to Anfield and played a very impressive game of football. They were composed, strong and a great collective group. Considering they finished 20 points behind Liverpool last season, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have come on leaps and bounds over the summer.

There were worries with the Reds’ performance though. I’m not usually critical of Brendan Rodgers, but he got it wrong on Saturday.

Lining up with four natural centre-backs across the back raised a few eyebrows at kick-off, but it’s not something that hasn’t been tried (and worked) before.

Gerard Houllier had a back four of Jamie Carragher, Stephane Henchoz, Sami Hyypia and Markus Babel when Liverpool won the treble in 2001.

However, Mamadou Sakho is not a left-back, nor is Kolo Toure a right-back. Not, at least in the wing-back system Rodgers has been encouraging this year.

Sakho looked panicked on the left-side and then looked a relieved man when Jose Enrqiue came on during the second half to resume his role there.

Toure on the other hand bumbled his way down the right side, but was no substitute for the injured Glen Johnson.

Whilst Enrique and Cissokho, when fit, solve Liverpool’s left sided problems, I’m not too sure Liverpool’s transfers over the summer accounted for losing Johnson for a long period.

But the real problem Liverpool face, in my opinion, is the midfield engine.

When Steven Gerrard and Lucas switch off, there is a gaping hole between defence and midfield. The connection is missing, and therefore Liverpool looked incapable of pushing the ball forward with any sort of threat.

It has happened in second halves of games this season and has been commented upon by pundits. Against Southampton, Liverpool lacked that route between defence and attack throughout.

Iago Aspas is continuing to struggle in the physical Premier League, while the introduction of Raheem Sterling at half-time gave Liverpool some width, but he too was constantly ushered out of the game by the resolute Saints defence.

Southampton was the last team to beat Liverpool before this game and could well turn out to be Rodgers’ bogey team.

All attentions now turn to Wednesday with the League Cup third round trip to Old Trafford and the return of you-know-who.

RVP Could Miss Liverpool Clash

Manchester United manager David Moyes has revealed star striker Robin van Persie could miss the team’s match with Liverpool on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup.

Van Persie missed his first Premier League game since 2011 on Sunday as United slipped to an embarrassing 4-1 defeat away to rivals Manchester City.

It was clear to see United missed that bright spark up front and may be forced to play without him in the cup clash this week.

Danny Welbeck was brought in to partner Wayne Rooney at the Etihad and could be a starter once again on Wednesday.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Moyes revealed that he looked like he would be available up until the day of the game having trained through a groin strain all week.

"He had a groin strain in the week, we thought he might be OK but not quite," said Moyes.

"Up until Sunday morning, we thought he had a good chance. Maybe he'll be OK for Wednesday."

Whilst United may be without van Persie, Liverpool look set to introduce Luis Suarez back into the starting line up for the first time since last season after his ten-game ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic came to an end.

Liverpool Shouldn't Buy Abel Hernandez

Brendan Rodgers received a certain amount of kudos for his work in the recent transfer window.

Though no signing by itself was particularly revolutionizing, key problem areas were addressed.

With Pepe Reina’s recent seasons dampened by glaring errors, sometimes directly responsible for dropping points, it ultimately seemed sensible to replace him.

Similarly, the Reds surged up areas of the squad in which they were thinly stretched, including fullback and centre half positions, and with Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Victor Moses added to their attacking options.

Yet, it’s also worth adding they were, reportedly, frustrated in multiple attempts at bringing in some real game changers, players you would expect to be guaranteed first team football: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Christian Eriksen, Willian and Diego Costa.

Abel Hernandez, on the other hand, is some way off that kind of level, and Liverpool might come to expect a higher calibre of player during the January transfer window, in which the club did some impressive business last year.

This is especially true should Liverpool be in the mix for a fourth place finish, which would enhance their appeal to players tantalized by the prospect of Champions League football next season.

21 goals in 86 appearances over four years is hardly mouth-watering stuff, and although recently Hernandez has notched up four goals in three league appearances, it’s important to remember he’s now operating in Italy’s Serie B.

In last Palermo’s last season in Serie A, however, the Uruguayan forward attained only fourteen appearances, of which Palermo only managed to win two. Among these, Hernandez was unimpressive, providing only one goal and one assist.

On the other hand, Iago Aspas, who might himself be considered a squad player for Liverpool currently, last year produced twelve goals and seven assists.

On paper, his seven goals in ten international appearances, since 2009, amounts to an impressive goals per game ratio.

However, upon closer inspection, all seven were scored across four fixtures and three of these were friendlies. In the remaining fixture, Hernandez effectively found himself partaking in shooting practice against severe underdogs Tahiti in the Confederations cup, in which Uruguay expectedly thrashed their opponents 8 – 0 with Hernandez scoring four.

It’s also been suggested that, due to their shared nationality, Hernandez and Suarez would form something of an exciting partnership.

Unfortunately, in turns out the two haven’t experienced all that much playing time together on the international front. Not once have Suarez and Hernandez been included together in a starting line-up, and the total minutes both on spent on the pitch together amounts only to something like 60 minutes.

Basically, there’s very little to suggest Hernandez and Suarez would become an effective force up front. Nor is there much to indicate Hernandez would improve the squad, should Liverpool choose to pursue to Palermo man. Perhaps, come January, Liverpool should aim a little higher.

Perez Says Real Madrid Won't Bid For Suarez In January

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has told Liverpool fans he will not bid for Luis Suarez when the transfer window opens at the end of the year.

The news will come as a further boost to Liverpool supporters who eagerly await the return of their star man after serving a 10-match ban.

'We will not be signing anyone in January,' he said to the club’s members at the Real Madrid annual general meeting on Sunday.

Suarez is set for a fiery return in the Capital One Cup at Manchester United on Wednesday night.

Real sold Gonzalo Higuain this summer without bringing in a replacement.

But Perez made assurances to the club’s young centre-forward Alvaro Morata at the start of the season that no-one would be brought in to block his path to the first team.

He has now reaffirmed that promise and closed the door on any Suarez interest at least until the end of the season. Perez also used the annual meeting to relish in the capture of Gareth Bale.

He said: 'He has come to form part of our spectacular team. He was the image, the face, of the Premier League now he is here with us to help us win titles. We want to win our tenth European Cup and many more trophies.'

Madrid confirmed a record £440million income from last season and members were shown images of Bale signing as the meeting began.

Winger Angel Di Maria has meanwhile criticized the signing. The Argentine said: 'This is a club that always signs players and sometimes they forget just how good the players they already have are.'

Sakho Hints At PSG Return

Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho has hinted at a return to former club Paris St-Germain during an emotional speech.

The French international centre back joined Brendan Rodgers’ side in a £15million switch in the summer, making his debut in the 2-2 draw at Swansea last week.

But the 23-year-old told PSG supporters he believes he has unfinished business at the Parc des Princes.

During a goodbye speech ahead of the Ligue 1 home game against Monaco, he told the crowd: ‘I’m very proud to come here. I remember when I was young, I was up there, there in the stands and watched PSG play. My story with PSG isn’t over yet.’

Sakho was at PSG for 11 years, making more than 150 appearances for the current French champions after coming through the youth ranks.

Suso Bags Stunning Goal For Almeria

Liverpool talent Suso scored his first senior goal as Almeria surrendered a two-goal lead in the second half to share the spoils with Levante in La Liga.

The hosts went ahead through a penalty from Jose Antonio Rabasco 'Verza' in the 45th minute with Suso doubling the advantage early in the second half.

Christian Fernandez was sent off for the hosts shortly after the goal and Nabil El Zhar - another ex-Liverpool kid - put Levante back in contention with a penalty before Pape Diop completed Joaquin Caparros's side's comeback.

It was the fourth game this season in which Almeria have dropped points from a winning position and they are still yet to win in the top flight.

Levante meanwhile extended their unbeaten run to four games and have taken six points so far this season.

Youngster Reveals Gerrard Advice

Ross Barkley has revealed Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard told him to stay with Everton to help further his career.

Barkley has been handed opportunities to shine by Roberto Martinez this season and he opened his account on the first day of the season with a goal against Norwich.

The youngster's performances have not gone unnoticed by England boss Roy Hodgson, who handed the 19-year-old a call up to the squad for the recent fixtures.

The Liverpool-born midfielder linked up with Gerrard while on duty with the Three Lions and he was handed some words of wisdom from the veteran.

Barkley said: "He [Gerrard] said the big hitters are going to be looking at me but the main thing for me is to stay with the club I'm at, the team I support and love.

"I was a bit star-struck when I first joined up [with the England squad] but Steven was good to me when I was away. I sat next to him on the coach and he gave me loads of advice.

"He [Gerrard] told me I'm from Liverpool, a local lad playing for the team I support, and there is nothing better. He’s done that throughout his career."