Brendan Rodgers’ adjustments fuel Liverpool’s Merseyside romp

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Ten days ago, starting nearly the exactly same team he selected today, Brendan Rodgers saw his Liverpool side held to a draw by Aston Villa, whose exploitation of a Steven Gerrard-Jordan Henderson midfield helped them build a two-goal lead after 36 minutes. That’s why, as Rodgers spoke before today’s Merseyside Derby about wanting to control the ball and dictate play, Liverpool looked in terrible shape. When NBC’s pregame show flashed the Reds’ lineup, the team looked set to play the same two-man midfield that would leave Gerrard exposed.

Surely Rodgers was too smart for this? Particularly against Everton. We all saw what happened against a less-talented Villa side. Against an Toffees team that can thrive in possession, surely Rodgers wasn’t going to match Gerrard and Henderson against Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry, and James McCarthy? The team’s dealing with a slew of injuries, but this was too basic a mistake for somebody of his caliber, particularly in light of what happened two Saturdays ago.

Come kickoff, however, it was clear Rodgers had learned from his mistakes. Gerrard was still in a deep-lying role, but both Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho were playing in front of him. With Raheem Sterling playing deep on the right, Liverpool remained in a kind of 4-4-2, albeit one entirely different then the one that struggled against Villa. Instead of relying on his two-man middle to hold their ground, Rodgers was helping them out. Coutinho was in from the left to make it a three, Sterling was playing deeper to provide support, and Daniel Sturridge was often coming back to provide an extra man in the middle. This was nothing like the team that was fortunate to salvage a point against Villa.

From WhoScored.com, here are average positions of Liverpool’s players on Tuesday (left) compared to Jan. 18 against Villa (right):

source:  source:

Clearly, this was Rodgers’ plan all along, but consider his posture before the match. He selected the same team, implied they’d be played the same way, and even told cameras he wanted to control the game. It was Rodgers’ typical fair, but on the heels of the Aston Villa performance and given how Everton like to play, it looked stubborn.

But Rodgers proved anything but. That pre-match bravado was just an act. Whereas Liverpool had held 56 percent of the ball against Villa, they ceded Everton 61 percent possession on Tuesday. Willing to play on the counter and rely on more direct play to Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, Liverpool proved adaptable. They also proved potent.

source:  Given the positions of Everton’s players (right, all but two’s average place in the attacking half), the change may have caught the Toffees off-guard. Perhaps expecting Rodgers’ stick to his dogma, Everton were caught out, their central defense beaten badly on the game’s last three goals.

Ultimately, Rodgers was right. Liverpool did dominate the game, albeit without the ball. The game played out as he planned, with quick action taking advantage of an isolated Phil Jagielka and Antolin Alcaraz, leading to the Reds’ most decisive derby win in 32 years.

Given what we saw against Villa, much of the credit has to go to the coach. He saw the problems, he recognized the opposition, and he adjusted. With 10 of the same players, Rodgers was able to affect a complete turnaround. As a result, Liverpool’s now got a four-point edge on their crosstown and Champions League rivals.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.