Friday, December 30, 2011

Liverpool 3-1 Newcastle United: Skipper Returns To Help Sink Magpies

Steven Gerrard's return from injury continued as he came off the bench to help inspire Liverpool to victory over Newcastle United.

The talismanic skipper produced a wonderful half-hour cameo as his goal combined with a brace from ex-Magpie Craig Bellamy moved Liverpool into fifth place.

With star striker Luis Suarez missing through suspension, following his one-game ban for gestures made to Fulham supporters, Kenny Dalglish opted to play ex-Newcastle striker Andy Carroll up front, with Bellamy and Stewart Downing supporting on the wing, whilst Jay Spearing was brought in to add steel to the midfield.

The early exchanges saw the Reds struggle to acclimatise to life without the movement of their Uruguayan striker. As they tried to exert pressure on the visitor's defence, a number of occasions saw Carroll do well to drop deep and link-up play, but this meant he was too far off the pace when crosses were coming in to the box.

On 25 minutes, the home side's frustrating start was compounded when Newcastle took a shock lead with their first real attack. Ryan Taylor's in-swinging cross was flicked on by Yohan Cabaye, then diverted into the net by a mixture of Geordie's top scorer Demba Ba and Liverpool defender Daniel Agger.

Immediately, Liverpool upped their tempo and were rewarded with an equaliser inside four minutes. Charlie Adam's fired a shot across goal which was partially cleared by Cheikh Tiote, but only as far as Bellamy who, despite the presence of six defenders on the line, expertly fired low into the bottom corner for his 150th goal in English football.

The Reds' confidence was now high and minutes later they nearly went ahead when Martin Skrtel stooped to flick Bellamy's corner just past the far post. Stewart Downing then showed a good piece of skill on the right hand side to cut inside full-back Taylor, but his through ball was cut out as he attempted to play in Carroll.

The half-time break came at the right time for the visitor's as they regrouped and looked more organised in the first 15 minutes after the break.

But, on 59 minutes, Dalglish introduced Gerrard and the game swung back in Liverpool's favour. The skipper fired in a right-wing cross which Carroll was inches away from connecting with. Minutes later, an inch perfect Gerrard lob found the Reds' record signing free inside the box, but with the big striker clearly lacking in confidence, his first touch was too heavy allowing goalkeeper Tim Krul to intercept.

The Reds did go in front though on 67 minutes. Agger's venture forward was stopped 30 yards out by Tiote, with referee Lee Probert awarding a free-kick, much to the Magpies' dismay. Gerrard loitered around the set-piece, but left it to Bellamy, who curled a brilliant free-kick past Krul, although the keeper was left unsighted by Carroll and Newcastle defender Danny Simpson.

Looking for an instant response, Newcastle pressed forward. Cabaye's excellent through-ball allowed the dangerous Ba to break free and dink the ball over the advancing Pepe Reina. With the ball edging towards the net, Liverpool defender Skrtel brilliantly cleared the ball off the line, reaffirming the centre-back's impressive recent form.

With that scare out of the way, Liverpool pressed for a third. Another wonderful Gerrard cross saw Carroll climb above the defence to head against the bar. As the ball rebounded away, Bellamy attempted to keep the move alive, but unbeknown to the officials Fabricio Collocini's right elbow resulted in the Welshman having to be substituted for stitches to nasty cut above his eye.

With 12 minutes remaining though, the win was confirmed with a piece of brilliance from Gerrard. As the impressive Jordan Henderson held the ball on the edge of the box, Gerrard made a typical lung-bursting run past the defence. He collected Henderson's pass, steadied himself, then coolly slid the ball under Krul into the far corner.

It was an impressive cameo from the skipper. With the Reds struggling to find the net this season and the impending 8-game ban for Suarez, the form and fitness of the captain is key to Liverpool's hopes of a top four finish.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wigan Athletic 0-0 Liverpool: Reds slip up at the DW as Al Habsi stars

An action packed, end-to-end, game at The DW Stadium failed to provide any goals as Wigan Athletic and Liverpool saw their game end in stalemate on Wednesday night.

With the game just hours away the Liverpool players issued a statement of support for teammate Luis Suarez, who had been charged with racially abusing Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra, much to the bemusement of those associated with the club.

That support for the former Ajax forward continued once the team arrived at the DW Stadium, with every Reds player in the warm-up sporting a white T-Shirt with ‘Suarez 7’ across the back.

The opening five minutes saw Suarez involved in the game on multiple occasions, looking alert and desperate to prove a point to the booing Wigan supporters whilst thanking the travelling Anfield faithful, who had been signing the name of the Uruguayan forward from well before the start of the game.

It was Jordan Henderson who had the first chance of the game, latching on to a knock back from Maxi Rodriguez and firing his shot towards Al Habsi’s top left-hand corner, but the shot was too close to the keeper who palmed the effort away comfortably.

Minutes later it looked liked Wigan could have scored the opener, with Conor Sammon making a break into the box before having his shots blocked by a barrage of Liverpool defenders, with Jordi Gomez being pulled back by the referee for a foul shortly after his effort was fantastically saved by Pepe Reina.

Wigan followed up with another fantastic opportunity, as Mohamed Diame broke into the middle and fired a power shot from long-distance, with the effort going just wide and hitting the side netting, much to the relief of Reina and the Liverpool back-four.

Liverpool responded quickly, with Maxi Rodriguez playing a chipped ball to Downing on the left which the England international fired into the box towards Kuyt, whose shot was too close to Al Habsi to trouble the keeper, who collected easily.

Maxi continued to trouble the Wigan back line, this time playing a perfectly weighted ball to Glen Johnson, but the full-back couldn’t steer his shot away from Al Habsi who once again pulled off a great save to stop the visitors taking the lead.

A late surge from Wigan - which saw Victor Moses make a magnificent run before Reina just punched to punch away his shot – wasn’t enough to break the stalemate at the DW Stadium and the half-time whistle blew with the score still all even.

Moments into the second-half Liverpool won a penalty, with Gary Caldwell sticking a hand out to stop a Luis Suarez effort, but Charlie Adam – who stepped up to take the penalty from the visitors – saw his penalty saved by the on-form Al Habsi, leaving the score all level.

With sixty minutes gone Wigan made their first change of the game, taking off Sammon, who had been lively throughout the first half, and bring on former Chelsea forward Franco Di Santo.

Shortly after Liverpool had a fantastic chance to take the lead, with Charlie Adam dipping a free-kick from distance towards Dirk Kuyt, who move well to get into the path of the ball, before seeing his close range effort  on goal go well wide.

With twenty minutes to go Kenny Dalglish opted to make two substitutions, taking off Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt and replacing them with Craig Bellamy and Jonjo Shelvey. Wigan quickly responded bringing on Watson and Rodallega for Gomez and Jones.

Rodallega nearly made an early impact, breaking through the Liverpool defence and blasting a shot towards goal, but Pepe Reina was well-placed to control the shot and put an end to any threat created by the substitute forward.

Despite a wave of pressure in the last ten minutes, Liverpool failed to create in the final third, with Suarez often left isolated up top as the Reds midfield were left struggling to find a way through a resilient Wigan back-line.

The addition of Andy Carroll did little to help Liverpool's attacking moves, with the score remaining level at full-time. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool: Bellamy Stars in Reds' Stroll

First-half goals from Craig Bellamy and Martin Skrtel gave Liverpool a comfortable victory over a lacklustre Aston Villa at Villa Park.

The Reds were two-up within 15 minutes and, but for the woodwork denying them yet again, they could have racked up more against a Villa side which offered nothing in response.

Reds' boss Kenny Dalglish sprung a surprise in his starting line-up by rewarding Jonjo Shelvey for a stunning on-loan spell at Blackpool, for which he was named Championship Player of the Month, with a place in the Liverpool midfield. Once again, Andy Carroll had to make do with a place on the bench. For Villa, Alex McLeish was left short in numbers up front due to the unavailability of suspended top-scorer Gabriel Agbonlahor and the injured Darren Bent.

The visitors started quickly with ex-Villain Stewart Downing, who was starting on the right, cut in and forced keeper Brad Guzan to turn the ball out for a corner. From the resulting Downing corner, Shelvey cleverly flicked the ball on at the near post to Suarez, whose own backflick was blocked by Guzan, only for Bellamy to gleefully tap home from six yards.

Only four minutes later, the lead was doubled and it again came from a set-piece. Goalscorer Bellamy turned provider, firing in a corner from which Skrtel rose highest to head inside the far post. It capped a fine run of form for the Slovakian who once again impressed alongside Daniel Agger, with Reds' stalwart Jamie Carragher once again on the bench.

The Reds continued to boss possession, with the midfield trio of Shelvey, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson combining well, whilst the pace and trickery of Bellamy, and Suarez to a lesser extent, was a constant threat.

As the half reached a climax, the home side eventually got hold of the ball, but despite the efforts of Charles N'zogbia in particular, they were unable to test the unworked Pepe Reina.

Straight after the restart, Liverpool nearly made it three, when the impressive Bellamy crossed to the far post from where Agger headed wide when he should really have done better.

By his own very high standards, Suarez had look quiet, probably due to the fact he had only trained twice in a week due to the ongoing disciplinary hearing into allegations of racism towards Patrice Evra. But he burst into life early in the second-half. When a through ball set the Uruguayan away, the chance looked to have gone, before he wriggled past Richard Dunne and fired a shot against the Villa bar.

Minutes later, he hit the woodwork again. He received the ball on the edge of the box, turned and brilliantly sent a chip over Guzan but against the far post. It was the 17th time already that Liverpool have hit the woodwork this season, with Suarez the main victim.

Adam was next to go close, when he broke into the visitors defence and saw his shot deflect narrowly wide. although the Scottish midfielder may have been better playing in the unmarked Shelvey.

The rest of the game was played out like a training session with Liverpool able to take off main men Suarez and Bellamy ahead of the busy Christmas schedule, whilst Carragher returned to Premier league action by coming on in a holding midfielder role, a throwback to his debut when he played that position against Villa in 1996.

The win moves the Reds above Newcastle United into 6th place, level on points with Arsenal. It was Dalglish's first win as Liverpool manager at Villa, whilst with the Reds wearing their controversial new away kit for the first time, it was a first for the travelling Kop to be cheering on the team in Blue and white.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Fulham 1-0 Liverpool: Late Goal Sinks 10-Men Reds

A Clint Dempsey goal five minutes from time gave Fulham victory over 10-men Liverpool.

The USA international struck after Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina uncharacteristically fumbled Danny Murphy's low shot. By that time, Liverpool were down to 10-men after referee Kevin Friend controversially chose to dismiss Reds' midfielder Jay Spearing after a challenge on Moussa Dembele.

Going into the game on the back of an unbeaten 11 game run, Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish brought in Spearing for the injured Lucas Leiva. There was also a start for Andy Carroll, as Dalglish played a front three with Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez supporting the big striker.

The opening 20 minutes saw the visitors boss possession, with Carroll firing straight at Mark Schwarzer when well placed. When Fulham did get the ball though, they threatened too, with Dembele breaking clear to force Reina to come out and save well. The Belgian international then hit a fizzing left-foot drive which the Liverpool keeper tipped away low to his left.

On 28 minutes, the Reds thought they were ahead when Jordan Henderson burst into the penalty area, before hitting an early shot, which beat Schwarzer before it struck the far post and bounced clear.

With Liverpool missing the defensive qualities of cruciate knee ligament victim Lucas, Fulham were able to find gaps in front of the Liverpool defence. From one such position, Dempsey struck a shot which moved whilst airbound, forcing Reina to adjust last minute to pull off another good stop.

After the break, Liverpool upped the tempo, forcing a flurry of early corners. When Schwarzer punched one set-piece clear, Reds left-back Jose Enrique hit a controlled volley goalbound, only for Schwarzer to recover well to palm away.

As the hour mark approached, the game's first moment of controversy occurred. A quick break saw Liverpool outnumber the Fulham defence. Rather than pass to an unmarked Bellamy, Charlie Adam advanced with the ball. As he reached the edge of the box he lined up a left-foot shot, only for Philippe Senderos to bundle him to the floor. With the offence taking place right on the edge of the box, Fulham were lucky to not concede a penalty and with Adam seemingly ready to strike towards goal, former Arsenal defender Senderos was even luckier to escape with only a caution.

Bellamy then fired wide after a great through ball from Glen Johnson, before a clever Enrique lob set Suarez through in the penalty area. As Schwarzer advanced, the Liverpool striker lifted the ball over the keeper before firing into the empty net. But, the referee assistant's flag was already raised, meaning referee Friend had no option but to disallow the goal. Television replays showed Suarez' foot was in line with last defender Brede Hangeland.

With twenty minutes to go, Martin Jol sent on Andy Johnson to add pace to the home attack. Within 60 seconds, their cause was helped further when referee Friend harshly sent-off Spearing. As the ball broke free in the Liverpool half, Spearing launched himself off the ground as he cleared the ball forward. Such was the force with which he hit the ball, the young midfielder followed through and caught Dembele. Immediately, Friend deemed the tackle to be dangerous and produced a red card.

Suddenly the dynamics of the game changed. From being in a position where victory looked the most likely result, Liverpool now looked happy to settle for a point. Dalglish tried to tighten the ship by replacing Bellamy and Carroll with the hard-working Dirk Kuyt and Stewart Downing. But as Fulham started to see more of the ball, chances started to be created.

Dempsey worked space 18 yards out and then, similar to Henderson in the first-half, the American hit an early shot which beat the rooted Reina, but agonisingly hit the bar. Dembele then forced Reina into a good stop. At the other end, Downing burst through two challenges to hit a 25-yard shot which Schwarzer did well to tip onto the post.

But on 85 minutes, the deadlock was finally broken. After a Fulham corner was only partially cleared, the ball was worked out to Danny Murphy on the left. The ex-Red cut inside Johnson before firing at goal. It looked to be a routine save for Reina, but the Spaniard fumbled, allowing Dempsey to nip in and fire home.

Liverpool pressed for an equaliser, but apart from Adam shooting just wide from 20 yards, Fulham weren't threatened.

In a weekend where the top five all won, this was a bitter blow for Liverpool's chances of making the top four. Dalglish's men now sit in seventh place, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Whilst the referee's decisions didn't help matters, more of a worry for Dalglish will be the fact that despite dominating for long periods, the Reds once again struggled to score. In 14 league games so far this season, Liverpool have only scored 17 goals. An improvement is needed if they are to mount a top four challenge.

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