Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Reds Exit Europa After Shootout Loss

After securing a narrow first leg advantage thanks to Mario Balotelli's late penalty at Anfield, Liverpool made the trip to Turkey for the return leg against Besiktas which saw them re-visit the Ataturk Stadium which staged the famous 2005 Champions League final comeback as they secured a fifth European Cup title.

Thoughts of such a repeat on Thursday night were far from the even the wildest imagination but with a Liverpool travelling party lacking the strength of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Mamadou Sakho, Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho, Glen Johnson and Lazar Markovic, the Reds knew their task would not be easy.

The absentees meant a starting eleven featuring Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge up front and Kolo Toure and Alberto Moreno in defence while Academy duo Cameron Brannagan and Jordan Williams were named on the bench. The match began with a roaring atmosphere from both sets of fans with the hosts making an aggressive start with some tasty challenges.

The first chance of the game came in the 20th minute with Moreno collecting a pass from Balotelli on the wing before picking out Raheem Sterling who hit for goal only to see his effort parried by Cenk Gonen. The threat from the Reds began to grow and the next chance came from Sterling who saw a turning shot blocked by Necip Uysal.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Reds Complete Saints Double

After securing a late win against Besiktas on Thursday, Liverpool returned to domestic duties with the trip to face Southampton, a tie which would see two of the league's most in-form clubs face off.

Liverpool made two changes from the Besiktas match with Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge swapping places while former Saints defender Dejan Lovren replaced the injured Mamadou Sakho in a team featuring another fellow former Saint in Adam Lallana while Rickie Lambert was named on the bench.

A frantic start saw Southampton appeal for a penalty after only 22 seconds when a run into the box from Filip Djuricic saw him seemingly fouled by Emre Can but the referee thought otherwise as play continued. However, Southampton's mood worsened just five minutes later when a pass from Lazar Markovic found Philippe Coutinho whose stunning shot from long range sailed past Fraser Forster to open the scoring in superb style.

Both sides came into the game in good form so it was no surprise that despite the early opener, the play focused mainly in the midfield with Southampton's first chance to equalise coming just before the interval as Eljero Elia raced towards goal only to be denied on the edge of the area by the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

Southampton continued their attacking threat into the second half and had another good chance in the 50th minute with Graziano Pelle dragging a shot past the post, Alberto Moreno swept in a cross for Jordan Henderson just after the hour mark but the Reds captain was unable to create a chance to finish.

The presence of Moreno out wide soon proved effective for Liverpool as he swept in a dangerous cross in the 73rd minute which saw Matt Targett slip when attempting to clear and allowed Raheem Sterling to slot the ball past Forster for a 2-0 lead.

Southampton did have a chance late on to claim a consolation but Morgan Scheiderlin's header could only find the gloves of Mignolet who in securing a clean sheet broke a record of five away shutouts in a row for the first time since 1985 and ensured his side remained in the hunt for the top four. 

Besiktas Pay The Penalty

After a long winter break from European competition after suffering an exit from the Champions League, Liverpool began their second campaign of the season by debuting in the Europa League with the visit of Turkish side Besiktas.

The team selected included a third start in a row for Daniel Sturridge as Phillipe Coutinho extended his long run to 18 consecutive games with the duo accompanied by Jordon Ibe who made his European debut for the Reds.

Besiktas' last visit to Anfield saw them crushed 8-0 in 2007 but such a repeat seemed impossible in a fairy tight first half between the sides which began with Daniel Sturridge testing Cenk Gonen from a tight angle inside four minutes.

Veli Kavlak threatened for the visitors in the 32nd minute after connecting to a corner but his header failed to test Simon Mignolet as the ball narrowly missed the top of the crossbar but when Demba Ba latched on to a through pass in the 35th minute, memories of the infamous 'Gerrard slip' strike surfaced though this time around the counter resulted in a superb tipping save from Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool came close to breaking the deadlock just before the interval with Sturridge curling a free-kick over the bar and Alberto Moreno sweeping a long range shot which saw Gonen tip the ball over the bar. However, Liverpool's best chance of the game came in the 46th minute when Jordan Henderson's free-kick crept past the post with Gonen unmoved on the far post.

A close first 15 minutes of the second half saw the sides remain level past the hour mark which saw Henderson hit a chance narrowly past the post before a double switch saw Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli replace Joe Allen and Phillipe Coutinho which allowed Emre Can to move into midfield.

The Reds final change saw Raheem Sterling replace Adam Lallana and the former made an instant impact when he created a counter-attack which allowed him to find Sturridge who clipped the ball over from an acute angle. Liverpool looked the likeliest to break the deadlock and with five minutes left of the 90, they were given a great chance as Jordan Ibe's run into the box saw him felled resulting in a penalty.

Jordan Henderson collected the ball but seemed to be deposed as Mario Balotelli stepped in and chose to take the spot-kick which proved to be a good decision as he casually slotted past Gonen to open the scoring and seal a first leg advantage.

The Italian's strike proved to be enough at the final whistle but the issue of the penalty taker seemed to continue past the end of the game with a number of differing opinions. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Reds End Palace Hoodoo

When Liverpool were drawn away to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, thoughts turned to the past two meetings which saw Palace come from behind to dent Liverpool's title hopes in a 3-3 draw last April before sealing a 3-1 win earlier this season.

A few enforced changes from the Swansea win saw the injured Steven Gerrard and cup-tied Jordon Ibe drop out of the squad to be replaced by Joe Allen and Adam Lallana while Daniel Sturridge started back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Liverpool looked to make a good start with Lazar Markovic sweeping in a cross in the third minute but when the ball found Daniel Sturridge, he flicked an effort over the bar. Crystal Palace's first chance proved to be an important one as they opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a lofted pass from Joe Ledley to Dwight Gayle forcing Simon Mignolet to deny the striker but the ball fell kindly to Fraizer Campbell who slotted into the empty net.

The visitors pushed to draw level with efforts from Adam Lallana, Phillipe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson all denied by a run of fine saves by Julian Speroni who kept his side ahead. However, Palace could have extended their lead in the final minutes of the first half as Dwight Gayle advanced on goal before being denied by a superb tackle and save from Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool made a half-time change with Lazar Markovic departing for Mario Balotelli but it was the hosts started the half the better with Jason Puncheon powering a shot over the bar before Liverpool equalised in the 49th minute. Jordan Henderson clipped the ball across goal to the unmarked Daniel Sturridge who fired past Speroni for 1-1.

Dwight Gayle looked to regain the lead for Palace but was thwarted by a superb tipping save from Simon Mignolet whose stop proved to be vital just six minutes later when Mario Balotelli was fouled on the edge of the Palace area before sweeping in a free-kick which despite drawing a save from Speroni, found Adam Lallana on the rebound to put the visitors in front.

Palace;s best effort to draw level came from a dangerous cross from Fraizer Campbell which Simon Mignolet claimed before Dwight Gayle swept over a free-kick in added time as Liverpool ended their miserable run at Palace and in doing so sealed a place in the last eight of the competition.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Balotell Fires Reds Past Spurs

After a stalemate in the Merseyside derby at the weekend, Liverpool looked to continue their stay at the top of the form table with the hosting of fellow in-form side Tottenham last night. Daniel Sturridge made his first start coming back from injury while Steven Gerrard featured from the start for the third time in a week.

A slow start from both sides at a chilly Anfield saw Liverpool take the first chance as Daniel Sturridge advanced on goal before forcing a low save from Hugo Lloris which was followed two minutes later by Steven Gerrard's free-kick sailing over the bar.

After retaining his place from the weekend, Jordon Ibe looked to build on a good performance and came close to claiming an assist when he picked out Sturridge who hit for goal only to be denied by a stunning stop from Lloris. However, the Spurs 'keeper was picking the ball out of the net two minutes later when an aerial challenge between Jan Vertonghen and Sturridge saw the ball find Lazar Markovic who advanced on goal and slotted past Lloris to open the scoring.

The visitors could have gone two behind five minutes later when Ryan Mason's back pass was cut-out by Sturridge who looked to test Lloris but could only sent the ball over the bar. Mason's error had gone unpunished and instead of being 2-0 down, Tottenham were soon level as Eric Lamela slipped a pass through to Harry Kane who slotted past Simon Mignolet to make it 1-1.

Liverpool's response saw Ibe test Lloris after a pacy run before the young winger found Sturridge who in the final seconds of the first half, performed a backheel flick which cannoned off the post and the Reds attack continued into the second half which saw Sturridge's advance into the box on 52 minutes result in a penalty.

Steven Gerrard stepped up and fired past Hugo Lloris to put the hosts in front but the lead lasted just eight minutes as Spurs drew level after Christian Eriksen's free-kick had forced Simon Mignolet into a strong save, Harry Kane crossed for Moussa Dembele who clipped the ball into the net.

Liverpool changed tact with Steven Gerrard being replaced by Dejan Lovren which allowed Emre Cam to move into midfield which came close to a quick impact when he found Phillipe Coutinho who in turn supplied Lazar Markovic who forced a stop from Lloris.

Both sides made further changes as the game entered the final 15 minutes with Sturride and Markovic replaced by Adam Lallana and Mario Balotelli while Spurs brought on Nacer Chadli in place of Christian Eriksen. As the game entered the final ten minutes, Liverpool's changes paid off as Adam Lallana clipped the ball across the box and into the path of Mario Balotelli who fired past Lloris to put the Reds in front with his first league goal for the club.

Tottenham pushed to level for a third time but were unable to prevent Liverpool from securing a huge victory and completing a league double over them. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Reds Late Show Seals Palace Trip

Ahead of the Merseyside Derby at the weekend, Liverpool travelled to face Bolton in the FA Cup fourth round replay on Wednesday night looking to continue their good form in 2015.

Steven Gerrard returned to make his historic 700th appearance with Joe Allen also included in the starting 11 while Jordan Henderson dropped the bench which included Daniel Sturridge who hoped to continue his comeback from injury.

Liverpool started the better of the two sides with Adam Lallana picking out Steven Gerrard in space in the seventh minute who forced a save from Andy Lonergan before the Bolton stopper saw a stray shot from Philippe Coutinho sail wide of his goal.

Bolton responded with a high shot from Eidur Gudjohnsen in the 16th minute before David Wheater connected with a header from a free-kick which Simon Mignolet saved comfortably. The best chance of the game came from Raheem Sterling who after being supplied by a Moreno-Lallana combination, clipped a shot at goal only to see it cannon off the post.

Sterling looked to turn creator just before the interval as he combined with Gerrard to find Coutinho whose shot narrowly missed the outside of the post. Bolton seemed to be buoyed by still being in the game at half time and their position improved just before the hour mark as a run into the box from Zack Clough saw him tripped by Martin Skrtel resulting in a penalty. Eidur Gudjohnsen slotted past Mignolet to give the hosts the lead but their joy was soon soured with the dismissal of Neil Danns for a second booking in the 66th minute.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Bolton continued to threaten with Clough shooting pastthe post after a clever run before Feeney swept in a dangerous cross which saw Mignolet save crucially with Gudjohnsen just inches away from connecting.

Liverpool came achingly close to drawing level when Jordan Henderson's shot deflected off David Wheater before grazing the post before a pacy run from Daniel Sturridge resulted in a blocked shot which saw Sterling try his luck only to be denied in a similar fashion.

Emre Can fired a powerful shot at goal in the 83rd minute which saw Andy Lonergan tip the ball onto the crossbar but the Bolton stopper was soon beaten as Can clipped a pass forward into the path of Raheem Sterling who volleyed through the legs of Lonergan to level the tie at 1-1.

Extra time looked to be on the cards as the game ticked on into added time but when Jordan Henderson found Philippe Coutinho in space, the visiting fans began to believe and their faith was rewarded when the Brazilian swept in a superb shot which cannoned off the bar and over the line.

Bolton came just five minutes from a dream tie in the fifth round away to Crystal Palace but the Eagles will welcome Liverpool hoping to repeat their stunning 3-1 win from earlier in the season. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Sofa So Good For SCS

After exiting the Capital One Cup at the hands of Chelsea in midweek, Liverpool returned to league duties with the visit of West Ham United who sat just above the Reds going into Saturday afternoon's meeting.

Due to the packed fixture schedule, the Reds rested Steven Gerrard from a squad that saw Mario Balotelli miss out but saw the first inclusion of Daniel Sturridge after his return from five months out injured.

The reverse meeting between the sides saw the Hammers cruise to a 3-1 win last September which saw them lead 2-0 inside seven minutes this time around it took that long for the first chance to appear as Lazar Markovic hit wide after a good build-up.

Since scoring in the previous meeting, Raheem Sterling has become a shining star for Liverpool and he looked to continue his good form by setting up Jordan Henderson which saw the captain force a save from Adrian after 19 minutes. Sterling turned creator again five minutes later when he found Philippe Coutinho who drew a parrying stop from Adrian as Liverpool built up momentum.

West Ham responded with former Reds striker Andy Carroll latching on to an free-kick but the result was a tame shot which was easily taken by Simon Mignolet. In what seemed to be a trend of the game, Sterling continued to create for the hosts and after going down in the area saw the ball make a fool out of Stewart Downing before Markovic sent the ball wide of the target.

Sterling's effort were justly rewarded six minutes after the interval when a forward pass from Alberto Moreno saw Sterling chest the ball onto Coutinho who completed the one-two to send Sterling in on goal which allowed him to slot past Adrian to open the scoring.

The Hammers response came in the 64th minute when a stray shot across goal from Enner Valencia forced Mignolet into a strong diving save. The biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Daniel Sturridge came off the bench in place of Markovic to mark his return after five months on the sidelines.

His firs impact took just eight minutes when he connected to a pass from Sterling and forced Adrian into a stop but seconds later, he showed just why the fans have craved his return as he latched onto a clever pass from Coutinho before firing past Adrian to the joy of the celebrating Kop stand.

For many, the heralded SAS of last season will still be missed but at the final whistle it seems a new dawn is building for Liverpool in the form of an SCS and long may it continue.