Friday, September 27, 2013

Match Report: Man United 1 - 0 Liverpool

Javier Hernandez brought a sense of stability back to Manchester United after a turbulent week by netting the only goal in an absorbing Capital One Cup tie with Liverpool.

Hernandez wriggled away from Jose Enrique to touch home Wayne Rooney's corner.

The Mexican's first goal of the campaign came so early in the second-half, United manager David Moyes had barely got beyond the penalty area in his walk to the home dug-out.

It meant it was easy to spot the Scot's celebration, at a strike that should at least quell some of the angst that built up following that awful hammering at Manchester City four days ago.

United's performance was not perfect.

Indeed, on his return following a 10-match suspension, Luis Suarez came close to levelling when his vicious free-kick struck the bar with David De Gea beaten.

De Gea had only just repelled Victor Moses' powerful diving header.

But the hosts had chances to sew up the contest too, with Simon Mignolet producing a couple of excellent saves to deny Rooney.

And after bravely riding the hefty punches landed on him at the Etihad Stadium, Moyes was probably not that bothered about the actual scoreline anyway, just the much-needed victory against one of England's biggest clubs, and United's greatest rivals.

It was hardly a surprise Suarez should start. After all, when you have spent so long out and are desperately in need of match fitness, there is little to be gained by kicking your heels on the bench watching others do what you are paid so much for.

Perhaps understandably though, the Uruguayan was not quite on top form.

He was caught on his heels slightly when Steven Gerrard rolled an inviting pass into his path, which allowed Rafael to slide back and clear.

And when Enrique's curling cross dropped over Jonny Evans' head, Suarez's first touch was just too long so De Gea was able to slide out to bravely block his second.

He did supply the through ball that ended with Daniel Sturridge toe-poking wide.

Suarez would have also got the assist if Moses had been able to drill his square ball home. Moses didn't get the opportunity though as Ryan Giggs reached it first.

It was all part of an absorbing opening period, notable for the fact neither goalkeeper actually had a shot to save.

As befitting a team that got so badly beaten at the weekend, and containing so many players with so much to prove, United started with intent.

Nani and Shinji Kagawa were particularly lively, whilst stand-in captain Rooney buzzed around with menace.

However, with the exception of a Nani effort that was deflected wide, all that early pressure fizzled out and it wasn't until much later in the half United started to force the pace again.

Yet they did appear to lack conviction, with neither Phil Jones nor Giggs willing to commit fully to attack.

Such tentativeness was perhaps understandable given the hammering meted out at the weekend.

Some kind of relief was required. And it arrived through Hernandez's goal a minute after the re-start.

Liverpool responded to the setback with impressive vigour.

Indeed, they should have been level when United's defence got themselves in a muddle attempting to subdue a joint raid involving Suarez and Sturridge and succeeded only in presenting Jordan Henderson with a shooting chance.

The England man had enough time to do better than merely drag a disappointing shot wide. And he knew it.

Excellent approach play involving Hernandez and Kagawa deserved a better ending than Nani's poor finish too as the second-period delivered the goalmouth action that had been lacking beforehand.

Kagawa, proving exactly why so many United fans were baffled at his lack of action so far this term, saw his dipping effort flick off the bar before play immediately switched to the other end, where Enrique fired wide.

So unhappy was Gerrard with that waste of possession that he very publicly rebuked his team-mate, who kept his head down as he ran back to his defensive station.

It was the prelude to a thrilling finish, in which Moses, Suarez and Rooney, twice, all came close.

In the end though, United held Liverpool at bay for what could turn out to be a very valuable victory for their manager.

Lack Of Concentration Cost Us - Rodgers

Kop boss Brendan Rodgers has praised the effort of his players but rued the momentary lapse which ultimately caused defeat against Manchester United.

Liverpool suffered their second straight defeat of the season on Wednesday night when a sole Javier Hernandez goal was enough to put Manchester United through to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup at Old Trafford.

The visitors had impressive spells throughout the game but couldn't convert any of their chances despite being boosted by the return of star striker Luis Suarez.

Speaking at his post-match press conference, Reds manager Brendan Rodgers reflected: "I thought we had good spells in the game where we got into real good areas and probably just the final pass let us down and that final finish, but I've no qualms about the players' effort. I thought they were brilliant in everything they gave to the game.

"We're disappointed with the lack of concentration for the goal and it cost us."

Following criticism of Rodgers' decision to play four central defenders in the 1-0 loss to Southampton on Saturday, the Northern Irishman changed to wingbacks for the encounter but admitted it was a decision largely forced upon him because of the personnel available.

"I've never in my life ever played four centre-halves in any game," explained Rodgers. "Anybody who knows me and knows my work, knows that's not how I would operate. But when you have no choice that's what you've got to do.

"I try to always get as many attackers on the field as I can. I just felt that was a system that suited the players that we have and I thought the players played the system very well - we got numbers forward.

"If we had to play that system again for a period of time until players are fit then, we obviously need to work more on it but it's something that you can see the players are comfortable in.

"It gives us three players to dominate midfield, gives us the two strikers up front that are arguably up there with the top strikers in the league, and it still keeps us secure at the back. If we need to play it again, I think we can play it well."

Rodgers Faces A Dilemma Of His Own Making

Brendan Rodgers may have dealt well with one selection dilemma on Wednesday night, but he faces an even bigger one heading into Sunday's match against Sunderland—and this time, it's of his own making.

Having now lost their last two games and burnt through much of the goodwill fostered by a strong first month, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers find themselves facing something of a selection dilemma—and not the one at the back. There may be very real squad depth issues Rodgers has had to cope with in defence due to a series of fullback injuries, but the bigger problem lies further up the pitch. The real problem is at positions that haven't been ravaged by injury and where, in theory at least, the club's summer dealings should have given the manager the options he needs to navigate a season without European commitment.

The real selection problem heading into the weekend doesn't come at the back, where the use of three centre halves to combat Liverpool's fullback injury crisis at the very least appeared a promising tactic against Manchester United, but in midfield and at striker, positions where Rodgers does have depth and options. Or at least where he should have, given he and his scouting staff just spent the better part of £15M bringing in a pair of players to provide depth there. Iago Aspas at a hair under £8M and Luis Alberto for just short of £7M aren't nailed-on starters—at least not yet in Alberto's case—but they cannot have been intended to be no more than expensive ornaments for Liverpool's bench.

In the end, though, that's just what they've seemingly become, with Alberto largely relegated to U21 action and Aspas out of favour after he failed to impress when asked to play a more peripheral role than he had at Celta. If the players ahead of them on the depth chart at their natural positions were fully fit and on form, it wouldn't be an issue. The problem is that they quite clearly aren't, with Steven Gerrard having appeared to have reached the stage in his career where going all out for 90 minutes even once a week is a difficult ask and Daniel Sturridge carrying a knock that shows no signs of improving with the manager asking the striker to play every minute of every match.

For Gerrard, despite looking exceptionally ineffective—and perhaps even infuriatingly indifferent—against Southampton on the weekend, it was no surprise that he found just that little bit extra in the early going on Wednesday against United, and as a result he was one of the most effective players on the pitch throughout the first half. Unfortunately, it was just as unsurprising when the second half saw Gerrard fade out of the match. It was so bad that, by the end, Kolo Toure was storming the United penalty area and desperately trying to wave Liverpool's captain forward to join him while a spent Gerrard hung back, unwilling or unable to commit himself to the attack.

It didn't help, either, that Lucas was removed in the second half after a highly dubious yellow card began to hinder what had been a solid display for the Brazilian. With the club's defensive specialist in midfield gone along with Gerrard's legs, the captain seemed to have no confidence in his ability to get back in coverage should Liverpool turn the ball over. And so, as a result, he appeared to choose simply to not commit himself forward. Past the 70th, 80th, and finally the 90th minute, with Liverpool reverting to something of a 4-3-3 and Toure the nominal defensive midfielder, Gerrard just sat back, forcing the willing but not especially threatening defender to be the one pushing on for a late equalizer.

Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, looked punch-drunk on the ball for much of the night. Uncertain at times, stumbling at others, it seemed as clear as at any point this season that whatever knock the England striker began the year with and that kept him out of action over the last international break remains an issue. Sturridge has shown an admirable desire and determination to play through the discomfort and delivered a series of effective performances despite being at far less than 100%, but on Wednesday, two games in a week appeared to be asking far too much of a player who probably shouldn't have started and who at the very least should have been taken off in the second half.

What's worse is that when the match ended, Rodgers still had an unused substitution in hand along with one exhausted and increasingly ineffective captain, one injured and increasingly ineffective striker, and £15M of hand-picked depth options at their positions still sat on the bench. Perhaps, being that the match was against Manchester United, Gerrard simply had to start. Perhaps, given the return of Suarez, Sturridge needed to play with an eye towards rediscovering their chemistry. Neither, though, needed to go the full ninety—against either United on Wednesday or Southampton last Sunday. Neither has needed to play every minute of every match so far this season.

Now, Liverpool face a trip to Sunderland on Sunday and a third match in eight days, where Rodgers will have to choose between a pair of players who appear unable to handle the workload he's given them and a pair of pricey depth options he has clearly shown he isn't confident enough to play for even a minute in place of either starter. It seems a winless situation for Rodgers, but that's only because of choices already made. Neither Sturridge nor Gerrard should have had to play 180 minutes this week. They shouldn't be asked to play 90 minutes every game. Now that they have, and especially with Liverpool having lost the last two matches, Rodgers is left with a dilemma of his own making.

Rodgers: We'll Reinforce Again In January

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is hoping to maintain his side's impressive start to the Premier League campaign until Christmas, and will strengthen the Merseyside club's prospective title challenge with the addition of new signings in January, reports the Daily Mirror.

The Reds boss has plenty of reason for optimism in 2013/14 following a series of solid early season performances, as the club tasted defeat in the league for the first time last weekend after a 1-0 loss to Southampton at Anfield.

With 10 points from the opening five games, Liverpool are currently well-placed in fifth, and ahead of Sunday's trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland, Rodgers has challenged his players to get back to winning ways as soon as possible.

"The players have made an excellent start," said the Northern Irishman. "We were disappointed at the weekend, we were a bit flat and subdued and just couldn't really get going.

"Part of that was because of the players we have available, but I know that the players I have given absolutely everything."

After three victories from the opening three games, Liverpool have now gone three games without a win in all competitions following a 2-2 draw away at Swansea, defeat against Southampton, and last night's Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United after a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford.

However, Rodgers remains upbeat, and is hopeful of putting together a good run of results with the help of the recently returned Luis Suarez, who made his first appearance following a 10-game ban on Wednesday evening.

"Now we can only concentrate on the league through to Christmas," he explained. "We have to make sure we stay up in the top six in the league and keep fighting.

"Hopefully we can reinforce again in January."

Liverpool To Make Offer For Midfielder In January

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is keen to be reunited with Gylfi Sugurdsson and is ready to make a formal approach for the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder in January.

Rodgers brought Sigurdsson back to the Premier League when he signed the midfielder on a short term loan for Swansea City and was again interested in signing him when he became the Liverpool manager in the summer of 2012.

Sigurdsson excelled during his time at Swansea and after deciding to leave Hoffenheim, was eventually persuaded to ignore a possible reunion with Rodgers in favour of moving to Tottenham.

The 24 year old had a mixed first season as he made some 49 appearances in all competitions, but he struggled to convince Andre Villas-Boas that he deserved regular starts and would feature in 27 games as a substitute.

Sigurdsson has enjoyed an impressive start to the season, scoring both goals in the 2-0 win over Norwich, but there is stiff competition for places after Spurs invested heavily throughout the summer.

The Liverpool Echo reports that Rodgers is keen to take advantage of that competition for places by offering Sigurdsson a possible exit in January.

Tottenham paid £8.8m for the Iceland international in the summer of 2012 and it remains to be seen whether Villas-Boas would be prepared to allow the midfielder to leave.

"It remains unclear whether Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will want to sell but business is business," a Spurs source is quoted as saying in the Echo. "Whatever he sells Gylfi for, there will be a decent mark-up."

Sigurdsson garnered a reputation for scoring goals from midfield having fired 17 for Reading in the Championship back in the 2009-10 season, while his return of seven goals in 18 league games for Swansea was equally impressive.

Liverpool have struggled for goals this season with just Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses getting on the scoresheet in league action, and Rodgers may feel that Sigurdsson will help address this problem in January.

Liverpool Should Sign Carlton Cole

I appreciate that many people wouldn't like to class Carlton Cole among the Premier League greats but he is one of these players who has received an unfair criticism in his playing career.

Emile Heskey is somebody else with a similar style who has faced taunts for his non-prolific goalscoring record.

The fact is, neither of these players would have played as many games as they have in the Premier League if they weren't good strikers, let alone for England where Cole, under stiff competition, has played seven times.

The 29-year-old has received some negative press in recent weeks for his poor fitness which is holding up a return to the club that released him in the summer, West Ham United.

Sam Allardyce has clearly realized his mistake in not offering the striker a new deal at Upton Park.

The reason for not being offered more years was probably because the Hammers signed Andy Carroll before his injury, from Liverpool, which I think was another bad decision by The Reds.

He also struggled last year bagging only two Premier League goals.

However, Remember that saying: 'form is temporary, class is permanent.' Lest we forget that Manchester United and Liverpool were linked with a £20 million move for the powerful hitman just four years ago.

So why should Brendan Rodgers buy the former Chelsea youngster now? Quite simply, in the last three games Rodgers' side has lacked ideas going forward.

The sale of Carroll means the Anfield outfit no longer has a target-man. The fluent style of play employed under the Northern Irish manager may be attractive but they need to have another plan when it isn't working.

Luis Suarez's return is a massive boost but is he unlikely to win headers in the air against tall centre-backs when the nice passing has failed.

Swansea and Southampton in particular have rattled them recently and sometimes it looks as though they need a release, somebody who can win an aerial battle, hold up the ball and let the more creative players get the ball facing goal rather than their back to it.

Step up Carlton Cole the potential Kop saviour. And what's even better- he's free.

I'm not suggesting at all that he be a long term solution and shouldn't necessarily start ahead of Suarez or Daniel Sturridge but he would be a great option from the bench for the rest of this season if he can sort out fitness doubts, where Carroll was probably to expensive to leave on the bench, there wouldn't be the same problem in this case and the former Chelsea man is probably desperate to impress for a big club again.

How good a team can you be of you haven't got a varied squad, a squad for all conditions if you like.

Manchester United have got variety up front along with Tottenham Hotspur, as have Chelsea with the likes of Demba Ba, Samuel Eto'o and Fernando Torres, Arsenal probably wish they had more as well.

Even Barcelona who are the original passing masterminds have started to go more direct and for the Premier League against physical centre-backs, its vital.

People will still laugh off the man with nearly 300 career appearances but considering I’m biasing this article on his hold-up play and ability to bully defenders- he doesn't actually have a bad goalscoring record.

He managed 15 goals in the 2011/12 campaign and that was at West Ham, just imagine what he could potentially do with the better service from better, more creative players at Liverpool.

There's almost no chance of a move to Liverpool happening but it wouldn't be the worst decision in the world.

Remember in 2000 when Liverpool was laughed at for signing Gary McAllister? That turned out to be one of the most inspirational short term signings ever one year and five trophies later.

Liverpool Cast Gaze On Keita Balde Diao

Premier League hopefuls Liverpool could be making a move as soon as January for Lazio’s teenage goal-getter Keita Balde Diao.

The Merseyside club sent scouts to watch the exciting 18-year-old play in Rome after he joined Serie A from Barcelona in 2011.

Sky Sports Italia reported scouts from Brendan Rodgers’ side were checking out the forward from the stands during Lazio’s 1-0 win against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League last week.

They will have been impressed as the Spanish-born Senegal player proved to have a winning touch providing the assist for the game’s sole goal.

Diao was signed for only £250,000 from the Catalan giants – his contract with Lazio runs until 2017 and the club is understood to be willing to sell the prospect for a reasonable fee.

Rodgers is known to be keen on reinforcing his striking options with only Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge as his main forwards.

Wisdom Seeks Loan Move Away

Liverpool full-back Andre Wisdom is on the lookout for a loan move in a bid to further his career.

The 20-year-old broke into the first team last season and made 12 league starts but he has found opportunities limited this time around.

Despite Glen Johnson missing through injury Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has preferred to try Kolo Toure and Martin Kelly at right-back.

Wisdom is still highly rated at Anfield but admits he may look elsewhere for the time being with Championship side Wigan rumoured to be interested.

He told the club's official website: "We've signed a few more defenders and it's obviously going to be harder to get a spot in the team.

"But I've been given some time to play - it's appreciated and it has been good.

"Obviously I need experience - I need more games because I'm still learning.

"Maybe if I am to go on loan and get that experience I need, I can try to be a key player in the team."

Lucas Back In The Picture For Brazil

After nearly two years out of the Brazilian national team following injury and a coaching change, Lucas Leiva has been called up for the Selecao's October friendlies against South Korea and Zambia.

Having installed himself as one of the first names on Mano Menezes' teamsheet, a season ending injury while on top form and Brazil changing coaches while he sat on the sidelines recovering had put Lucas' hopes of taking part in next summer's World Cup in serious doubt.

Felipe Scolari's history of sticking with a settled lineup as much as possible left his chances looking even more bleak with the new national team manager appearing to have already decided on his likely squad—one that Lucas didn't appear all that close to being in contention for.

Today that all may have changed, with the player's World Cup hopes given new life by a call to participate a pair of friendlies against South Korea and Zambia during October's international break.

"Today the felling is [like] when I got my first call to play for Brazil," said Liverpool's defensive midfielder, adding that he is "very happy to have this opportunity to represent my country again."

It's a welcome return to the national team for Lucas after nearly two years away from international action. However, it will mean some long flights and massive timezone shifts for the 26-year-old Brazilian.

The first friendly against South Korea will be in Seoul on October 12th before Brazil travel to Beijing to face Zambia on neutral ground on the 15th.

Ayre Talks "Difficult" Suarez & Contract Extension Plans

Despite admitting to it being difficult at times for the club to deal with Luis Suarez and his crises, Ian Aryre sees the striker in Liverpool's long-term plans and even suggests there will be contract negotiations before the end of the season.

Following Wednesday disappointing loss to Manchester United, while most fans were asking questions about team selection and why manager Brendan Rodgers started the clearly tired and injured over players he brought in to provide depth over the summer, those further afield were more focused on Luis Suarez. And managing director Ian Ayre was more than happy to talk openly about the controversial striker's return and possible future at the club.

"Of course, any types of incident of that nature are damaging to a brand," Ayre told Sky Sports News in an interview following the match, "but Liverpool Football Club is way, way bigger and always will be way bigger than any one player or one individual. What is important at those times is to ensure we act respectfully and professionally as a football club. In the past, we got some of that wrong, [though] I'd say more recently we got that right.

"Luis is a street fighter, a larger than life character, and we have had to deal with it. Nobody is condoning his behaviour, but it is just something you have to deal with. We've worked a lot with him since the Ivanovic incident and he's back to what he's best at. We all move on together. Hard work and lessons have been learnt and we now have a process in place for any crisis. Not a Suarez crisis, just any one."

Despite the problems Suarez has caused Liverpool—a series of incidents and controversies stretching back nearly to the moment he arrived at the club—Ayre was quick to praise the striker's commitment to working hard in practice so that he would be ready to go when his latest ban ended.

"He's been committed," said Ayre. "He's worked hard, trained hard. It's been difficult, and been difficult for him really. It's always difficult being a footballer, and being a footballer like Luis Suarez you want to be on a football pitch. I think it's been a challenge for him but he's got through it and I think, for a first game back, for somebody who hasn't had the opportunity to play in the Premier League this season, he acquitted himself very well."

The managing director also suggested, in what will seem a rather unexpected twist for many following a contentious summer that saw Suarez openly agitate for a move first to Real Madrid and then to just about anywhere that wasn't Liverpool, which the club would look to begin contract negotiations before the season's end:

"We [look to] begin those type of discussions two years in from the end, so it'll be the end of this season. We'll do the same with everyone and at the right time we'll have the discussion with Luis and his advisors."

Few will expect any such discussions to go anywhere, though if Liverpool remain in the hunt for a Champions League berth comes the final months of the season then anything might be possible. Still, most will take Ayre's words as being largely for show, and the safer money will be on Suarez departing in January than on his signing a new deal in April or May.