Reds set to miss out on Salah

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FC Basel attacker Mohamed Salah looks set to sign for Chelsea before the end of the transfer window – after long negotiations with Liverpool.


salahThe Egyptian international has been the subject of interest from Brendan Rodgers for some time now and a deal appeared to be getting closer this week with reports claiming that the club had agreed a fee with the Swiss side and some even claiming he had rented an apartment on Merseyside.


But it now seems that Jose Mourinho has stepped in to swipe the winger from under the noses of his rivals after agreeing to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United in the last 24 hours. And it seems that the 21 year old has had his head turned by the Portuguese and the lure of a title race coming to the boil.

Salah is believed to have made it clear that his preference was to sign for Liverpool as he believed he would be given considerably more playing time and opportunities by Rodgers, but it has been reported that Mourinho has managed to persuade him that he will get a chance at Stamford Bridge despite strong competition for places between Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, and Andre Schurrle – with Christian Atsu and Victor Moses both set to return to London this Summer too.

The news will come as a huge disappointment to Rodgers as he had put Salah to the top of his wanted list in this month’s transfer window and a deal appeared to be on the cards until the last minute interest from Chelsea.


Luis Garcia – Liverpool legend or ‘bag of nothing’?

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Last week saw the sudden announcement of Luis Garcia’s retirement from professional football.

This lead to an outpouring of tributes to the little Spaniard from Kopites all over the world, to a player that was hugely appreciated by those at Anfield, but so often misunderstood everywhere else.

You only have to look back to Sky Sport’s ‘Preview of the Season’ in August for an example of just this.

During Jamie Carragher’s Sky Sports debut alongside Gary Neville, the pair were busy discussing Phillipe Coutinho.

Carra was explaining how he believes the Brazilian will spend most of the time this season on the left hand side, whilst arguing he would like to see him deployed in a central ‘number 10’ position.

To which Neville responded: “He’s talented, but will he actually turn out to be that good, or will he be like Luis Garcia – a big bag of nothing?”

Neville is hardly going to win any popularity contests on Merseyside, but speaking of a player who did so much for Liverpool in such a derisory manner is likely to see him retain his crown of most hated ex-Manchester United player amongst Reds fans.

Whilst being unpopular amongst Liverpool supporters, Neville has won a lot of fans for his punditry and analysis on Sky Sports over the last 18 months or so.

Yet even he, the man hailed by every man and his dog as a ‘breath of fresh air’ for his thoughts on the beautiful game, could not understand what Luis Garcia was all about.

You can see Neville’s point in some respects. At times, Garcia could be infuriating to watch. But that truly only tells a small part of his Liverpool story.

Garcia would often go missing in games, especially during his first season in 2004-05, when Rafael Benitez’s side struggled on the road.

The Reds managed just five league wins on the road that season, and Garcia managed just three goals – although all came in victories over West Brom, Norwich City and Portsmouth.


And it is the timing and the importance of such goals that adds to the argument that Luis Garcia should be remembered as a Liverpool legend.

Because for all the times in which he did go missing in games, and left fans infuriated with a fancy flick or trick instead of a simple pass, he would pop up with crucial and often spectacular goals at exactly the right time.

In fact you could argue that nobody contributed more to Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League success than Luis.

The number 10 managed 13 goals in all competitions during his first season at Liverpool, of which five came during the Reds incredible Champions League campaign – a total not matched by anyone else.

And what is even more impressive, is that none of these strikes came before the knockout rounds.

Garcia proved a willingness to stand up and be counted during that famous Champions League season.

Steven Gerrard – by far and away the clubs best player during that period – was absent for crucial ties against Bayern Leverkusen and Juventus.

Xabi Alonso missed both legs of the Bayern Leverkusen clash, the first leg of the Juventus tie, and the second leg of the famous semi final against Chelsea – you may remember the outrageous dive from Eidur Gudjohnson that led to his yellow card and subsequent suspension.

The Reds also had to cope without the likes of Harry Kewell and Djibril Cisse during their run to glory, players who were considered to be two of the clubs biggest names during that period.

However, Luis remained an ever present on the road to Istanbul, and didn’t half contribute along the way.

He managed three over the course of two legs against Bayern Leverkusen, with two crucial away goals in Germany to all but settle the tie in the Reds favour.

And of course, we all remember his spectacular volley against Juventus – the goal that proved decisive in the quarter final win against Capello’s side – and the infamous ‘ghost goal’ that saw us knock out Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on perhaps the most famous of all European nights at Anfield. Even though video technology revealed it didn’t cross the line – apparently.

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Yesil out for remainder of season

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Young forward Samed Yesil is going to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a second anterior cruciate ligament injury within the space of just a year.

yesilThe German youth international arrived from Bayer Leverkusen in the Summer of 2012 for just £1m and was unfortunate to suffer a similar injury last February while on international duty.

He made two first team appearances last season in the League Cup, against West Brom and Swansea City. But he failed to make an appearance in the Premiership. He is yet to make a first team outing in 2013/14.


He has made four appearances for the Liverpool under-21 side, scoring once, so far this season.

“It’s a horrible situation for him. He had only just recovered from the previous injury.” said Alex Inglethorpe, the under-21 coach.

“We will give him the support he needs. He’s a great character and I am sure he will come back strongly from this.”

Jones ready to take any opportunities

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Brad Jones has said that he will be ready and waiting for any opportunity afforded to him by Brendan Rodgers this season.

JonesThe Australian stopper is likely to make his second start of the season in the FA Cup fourth round clash with Bournemouth on Saturday after making his first in the last round against Oldham.

Belgian custodian Simon Mignolet, a Summer signing from Sunderland, has been inconsistent since Christmas with a few errors costing goals against Manchester City, Chelsea, Stoke City and Aston Villa.

Jones is ready to seize his chance to challenge the keeper for the number one spot in the team.

“I’ve realised that you’ve got to prepare all the time like you’re going to start, so that if that surprise is sprung on you, you’re as ready as you can be,” Jones told Liverpoolfc.com

“There are obviously boys whose chances have been limited. If the gaffer gives you a chance, you’ve got to try and take it.

“Being a goalkeeper, it’s different if you’re not playing. It’s rare that you come on as a substitute, so in that sense it’s rare. But I think in general it’s very similar for a lot of players.

“Nothing gets guaranteed, it’s purely down to the manager’s ideas of the game and what he wants to do and circumstances. I’ll just continue on.

“I’ve said it before – I didn’t expect to play so many games last season and this season, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Lucas faces spell out

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Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva is facing as much as two months out with a knee ligament injury suffered in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Saturday.

lucasHe came on as a half time substitute in the game for compatriot Philippe Coutinho – but only last twenty minutes before going off with the injury, being replaced by Joe Allen.

He will hope to be back in action sooner rather than later to help his club qualify for the Champions League – and to seal a place in the Brazil squad for the World Cup they host this Summer.

The midfielder missed most of the 2011/12 season after an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered against Chelsea.

“Blame me” says Rodgers

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Brendan Rodgers has told fans to blame him for the catastrophic first half against Aston Villa yesterday – but he has defended Luis Suarez against the latest witch hunt.

Liverpool went 2-0 down after less than forty minutes as Villa dominated the opening exchanges. Rodgers had switched his side to a 4-4-2 formation and they were getting overrun in midfield.

RodgersDaniel Sturridge pulled one back for the Reds on the stroke of half time and Luis Suarez went down under a challenge from Brad Guzan early in the second half for Steven Gerrard to level things at 2-2 for Liverpool.

And Rodgers was also quick to point out that his side had already been denied what appeared a clear penalty at 0-0.

“I thought we should have had a penalty in the first half when (Leandro) Bacuna handles the ball,” Rodgers said.

“The second I thought was a penalty. Luis has taken it up to the keeper and, once he has touched it around him, his body makes contact with Luis.

“Obviously from Paul’s perspective he will think it has been harsh.”

Rodgers had recalled Sturridge to his starting lineup for the first time since the win over Fulham over two months ago and he felt that Lucas Leiva was the right man to be dropped to accommodate the England striker.

“I go with my gut feeling. I thought it was an offensive team.” he said.

“I have played that before. If you want to blame me, blame me.

“It is a good point. I don’t think we were anywhere near our level in the first half, give credit to Villa for that.

“The front two was a real threat for us and tactically we had to change it.”

Villa’s manager, Paul Lambert, didn’t feel it was a penalty and also seemed to accuse Suarez of diving to win it for the Anfield side.

“Brad has pulled his arms away. It is hard for the referee to judge it. He has a split-second decision to make but I think Brad used his experience to pull his arms away and then you get punished,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Suarez had dived, he added: “I’ll let you be the judge of that.”

“I am not being critical of anyone. I’m not getting caught into that, the guy is a world-class player.”

“I thought we were excellent. I thought Ron Vlaar was excellent, Benteke looked back to himself but we lost Gabby (Gabriel Agbonlahor) at a vital time and he was unplayable.” he said of his side’s performance.

“I always thought we looked a threat on the counter-attack. We might have sneaked it but I don’t think anyone could begrudge us a point.”

Liverpool captain Gerrard also felt that Villa were worth a point.

“They deserved a point. We were nowhere near good enough in the first half,” he told Sky Sports.

“They put a lot of men around me in the first half. Whenever I got the ball they swamped me and I admit it wasn’t one of my better 45 minutes.

“The problem today and the reason fans will be disappointed is our immaculate home record.

“It is no time to panic and we will carry on fighting for fourth. They are all big tests now.”

Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa

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Liverpool came back from two goals down to salvage a point against Aston Villa at Anfield this evening.

The visitors dominated the first half and took a 2-0 lead with goals from Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke. They could have had more with good chances going begging during an opening half which they looked set to shatter Liverpool in.

Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor ran amok in the Reds’ defence and will feel that they deserved to be two goals ahead going into the break. But returning Daniel Sturridge scored with a cool finish after neat play put him in on goal.

It could have been different had a handball by Leandro Bacuna under pressure from Martin Skrtel from a Steven Gerrard free kick. But referee Jon Moss didn’t award the penalty and pointed for a corner. It was the closest Liverpool came to a breakthrough in the opening forty minutes, such was Villa’s dominance.

The visitors took a deserved lead when Andreas Weimann slotted in after neat work by Agbonlahor down the Villa left. The Austrian slid in to tuck away his second goal of the season to send Paul Lambert’s side an advantage that had looked likely. Christian Benteke got on the scoresheet for the second game running when Simon Mignolet rushed off his line to palm the ball on to the Belgian striker’s head.

The visitors continued to look the more likely scorers until Sturridge gave the hosts hope with his leveller at the end of the opening half.

Lucas Leiva was brought on at half time for the ineffective Philippe Coutinho. The young Brazilian was out of sorts throughout the opening forty-five minutes, with several passes going astray. His compatriot came on and gave Liverpool more stability in the centre of the park, where the visitors has outnumbered and outrun Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.

Brendan Rodgers’ team were looking more threatening in the opening stages of the second half and got back on terms when Brad Guzan rushed off his line to slide into Luis Suarez for a penalty. Referee Moss felt the penalty was ample punishment for the American and left his cards in his pocket. Gerrard, having more influence in an advanced role, stepped up to slot away the spot kick into the bottom right hand corner past the hand of Guzan, who had guessed right and dived down to his left.

The Villa keeper seemed to be happy to settle for the point after conceding the penalty as he took his time over each following goal kick. The whole Villa side also seemed to be satisfied with a point after losing their two goal advantage. Lambert was urging them on from the touch line and had to make a change when Agbonlahor failed to recover from a collision with the advertising boards in the first half. Grant Holt made his debut as his replacement after signing from Wigan on loan this week.

The ex-Norwich striker doubled up with Benteke upfront to keep Liverpool’s rearguard busy while they looked for a winner. Toure and Skrtel saw a lot of aerial battles and won most of them to stop the Midland side from snatching the lead back. The Reds pushed on with Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling all looking dangerous.

Suarez attempted an audacious shot from a free kick halfway down the pitch, which flew over the Villa bar. He had a couple more efforts on goal but couldn’t find his way past Guzan. A free kick from thirty yards also whistled past the frame of the goal from the Uruguayan striker, who had one of his quieter games of the season.

Joe Allen made a return from injury as Lucas Leiva was forced off the pitch after the hour mark after a knock. The Welshman continued the calming influence in the centre of the park for the Reds, who wrested back some control in the midfield after being overrun in the first period. Rodgers’ decision to play Gerrard in an anchor role seemed to backfire badly as the England captain was left outnumbered too often. The tactical substitution at the break was much needed and had a similar effect to Didi Hamann’s arrival in the Champions League final of 2005. Liverpool had more balance and the switch paid off with a return to parity.

Villa had a few attacks in the closing stages but will be satisfied with a point on a ground where they haven’t lost in three visits now. The point sees them move into the top half of the Premiership table while Liverpool are now eight points adrift of leaders Arsenal, who won 2-0 at home against Fulham this afternoon. Manchester City sit seven points clear of the Reds now after a 4-2 home win over bottom side Cardiff City. Everton can leapfrog Liverpool into fourth place with a win at West Brom on Monday night. Roberto Martinez was present at Anfield to scout the two sides his team face in the next couple of weeks.

Rodgers will be hoping for a better performance against the local rivals at Anfield after a disappointing draw.

Sturridge returns to starting eleven

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Daniel Sturridge has returned to the Liverpool starting eleven for the visit of Aston Villa this evening.

sturridgeThe England striker makes his first start in over two months after a spell on the sidelines. He did make a scoring return from the bench last week in the 5-3 win at Stoke City.

Lucas Leiva is the man to make way for him and the Brazilian takes his place on the substitutes bench alongside fit again Joe Allen.

Starting XI: Mignolet, Johnson, Cissokho, Skrtel, Toure, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho, Sturridge, Suarez.

Substitutes: Jones, Kelly, Lucas, Moses, Allen, Aspas, Alberto.

It’s time to talk about Martin Skrtel

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The Reds 5-3 win at the Britannia on Sunday will be remembered for another fine attacking display, and the return of the SAS, who reminded everyone once again why they are perhaps considered the Premier League’s deadliest strike-force.

But whilst Suarez and Sturridge took the plaudits for another rampant display in front of goal, a nagging defensive concern reared it’s head once more.

Martin Skrtel has picked up a habit in recent weeks of man-handling opponents from set pieces.

It started during the 3-1 win over Cardiff at Anfield on December 21, when the Slovakian was fortunate not to concede at least one penalty for wrestling opponents, with eyes in no direction of the ball whatsoever.

It continued at the Etihad on Boxing Day, where Skrtel tried the same trick a couple times more, yet it was still not enough to prevent Vincent Kompany heading home a crucial equalizer.

And there was yet another case at the Britannia on Sunday, this time involving Ryan Shawcross. The incident actually ended with both players wrestling one another on the goal-line, although a lack of clear replays coupled with the intensity of one of the games of the season, meant the incident was brushed over.

It has been picked up by commentators and pundits, and you feel it won’t be too soon before Skrtel is punished by one of the more eagle eyed officials.

I am of the opinion it is not just Skrtel’s recent shirt pulling craze that should be of concern for Liverpool fans, as the 29-year-old has been an almost permanent fixture in a defence that has now conceded at least two goals in seven of their last eight Premier League games on the road.

Skrtel started the season in superb form, with a man of the match performance on his return to the first team in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United on September 1st.

He has started every Premier League game for the Reds since, either as a part of a back three, or as a two alongside either Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho or Kolo Toure.

Many have questioned why vice captain Daniel Agger has found himself on the bench more often than not this season, especially since the recent influx of errors that have crept into Skrtel’s game.

As well as the obvious man-handling from corners, he managed two own goals in the space of three games during December, and it could be argued was at fault for failing to react quicker than Samuel Eto’o for the Cameroonian’s winner at Stamford Bridge.

Obviously, centre back is one of the toughest positions in which to excel, with every error scrutinized.

Whilst Skrtel has been a fantastic servant for Liverpool since his arrival at Anfield almost exactly six years ago, his form in recent weeks has got me concerned.

Since the man of the match display against Manchester United, the Reds have managed just three clean sheets in the 19 league and cup games Skrtel has played – against Fulham, Tottenham and Hull City.

The number of goals conceded from set pieces is also a growing concern, with Southampton, Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Everton, Cardiff and Manchester City, all profiting with goals from either corners or free kicks around the Liverpool penalty area.

You would hope a big and powerful defender like Skrtel with all his Premier League experience, would do better in organizing those around him from dead ball situations.

Of course, it is not his sole responsibility. But with Liverpool so well stocked in the centre back department – barring the recent injuries to Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger – it seems somewhat surprising Skrtel has remained Rodgers undisputed first choice centre back.

Rodgers has spoken this season of wanting to rotate his many defensive options to keep things fresh, and you wonder whether Skrtel may profit from a first team break.

Daniel Agger would be the obvious replacement, but the vice captain is set to miss four weeks with a calf injury, however Mamadou Sakho is ready to return after an impressive spell before picking up an injury at Stamford Bridge, whilst Kolo Toure has hardly put a foot wrong in the games he has played.

It would also be nice to see  20-year-old Tiago Ilori given a chance in the upcoming FA Cup tie at either Burton Albion or Bournemouth, with Reds fans yet to catch a glimpse of the £8million summer arrival from Sporting Lisbon.

Skrtel started the season in fine form, it has been the last six weeks that have bought about concern, with his new found technique from set pieces the most worrying issue.

I just hope the situation can be rectified one way or another before the Reds are made to suffer by conceding a costly penalty, when everyone will hold their head in their hands and say: ‘It’s been coming.’

With this looking to be the tightest Premier League season in history, where every result and every goal counts, if it means pulling Skrtel out of the firing line for a while, then so be it.

 

An interview with John Barnes

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I was lucky enough to be invited down to Football Fancast’s Capital One Cup party last Wednesday, where the special guest was Anfield legend John Barnes. I was able to catch a few minutes alone with Digger to ask a few questions on behalf of Kopworld’s readers – many of them contributed by users on our forum.

EddieC: John, thank you for taking the time to speak to me this evening. I’ve been getting opinions from our members on the questions they would like to ask you, and one of the most common has been what is your favourite memory from your time at Liverpool? Are there any memories in particular that stand out for you from your time at the club?

John Barnes: There are many individual memories, but one of the lessons I learned at Liverpool was that the continuance and longevity of performances is what makes a successful player. The great individual moments are meaningless when you look at the bigger picture. Winning my first league championship, winning the FA Cup, winning player of the year at Liverpool – these individual moments are meaningless when you look at the experiences I had over a period of time at Liverpool for ten years, and the lessons it taught me in terms of how to be successful. The biggest thing that stood out for me was when I won my first league championship and I expected a big party, Ronnie Moran came in with the medals in a plastic bag and all he said was ‘pre-season training starts on July 7th’. If you make a big song and dance about it, all that does is limit your success. If you ask a player ‘what is your ambition?’ and they answer ‘to win the World Cup’, if they win the World Cup at 17 then they have fulfilled their ambition. And what do you do then – retire? So the key has to be the repetition of success rather than individual memories.


EC:
You mention the repetition of success, and of course that was something that Liverpool fans were used to when you joined the club in 1989. Your former club Watford however had not been so blessed in the trophies department – was there a big difference when making the step up to such a successful club?

JB: It was a big culture shock. There wasn’t that much difference in terms of the football, but what stood out for me immediately was the size of the club. Watford were able to fill their stadium, but the supporters were all from Watford and the surrounding areas – with Liverpool it was global. So in terms of the football it was very similar, but the magnitude of the club took some getting used to.


EC:
You left Liverpool for Newcastle in 1997, but this was in the latter stages of your career. Whilst in your prime there must have been numerous clubs that would have liked to acquire your services, but was there any solid interest from anyone? If there was, were you tempted to leave Liverpool earlier than you did?

JB: When John Toshack was manager of Real Madrid they came in and tried to sign me in 1990, but I didn’t want to leave Liverpool. And in 1992 – just before I ruptured my achilles tendon – there was interest from some Italian clubs. But after my injury I had to change the way I played, and this meant I was never going to go and play for an Italian or Spanish club. Before coming to Liverpool I wanted to play for an Italian club – Serie A then was what the Premier League is today, the best league in the world – but once I arrived at Liverpool I decided I could achieve everything I wanted to as a player. We weren’t in Europe at the time due to the ban on English clubs, but I was confident we would be back in the European Cup once the ban was lifted. Of course by the time we were allowed back in Europe we weren’t winning the league anymore to qualify for the European Cup.


EC:
Of course the lifting of the European ban coincided with Liverpool’s drop in form, which brings us nicely on to the next question. As someone who was at the club in the early 90’s, is there anything in particular that you think led to our fall from grace?

JB: I think we tried to radicalise and change things too quickly. Graeme Souness had a lot to do with the emergence of players like Fowler, Redknapp and McManaman as he gave them all their chance, but he tried to bring them in too quickly. What needed to happen was we needed to integrate them slowly, and get some of the older players out. But getting rid of Whelan, McMahon, Houghton and Beardsley – when they were all 30 or 31 at the most – all at the same time, meant that a lot of these players came in at the same time with not a lot of experience. When Rush or Whelan came into the side they were two youngsters coming into an experienced side, you don’t want to put six youngsters into a side and then expect them to go and win the league. So I think we just tried to change too much too soon on the pitch.

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