Steven Gerrard saves Liverpool’s blushes; but should fans be worried?

Leave a comment

Steven Gerrard bailed Liverpool out with a last-gasp winner at Anfield on Tuesday against Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets, but it was hard to ignore the warning signs emanating from the Premier League teams performance. Yet again.

[RELATED: Champions League roundup]

After losing 1-0 to Aston Villa at home on Saturday, Liverpool were moments away from another shock result as Ludogorets equalized in the 90th minute. Only a moment of madness from on loan ‘keeper Milan Borjan handed the Reds a lifeline which veteran Gerrard duly grabbed from the PK spot, but manager Brendan Rodgers must be a little concerned about his teams form to start the 2014-15 season.

Speaking in the tunnel after the game, his captain Steven Gerrard seems to be concerned.

“We did OK but it wasn’t better than OK. There’s a lot to learn, we were caused problems on the counter-attack like we were against Aston Villa. You have to give Mario Balotelli credit, it didn’t go his way for long periods but the sign of a good goalscorer is to keep going and get a chance. What’s more important is his work rate. If we win in Basel now it puts us in a good position but we must do better.”

source: AP
Rodgers knows his side must play better than they did vs. Ludogorets.

After the game, Rodgers also revealed that his side are failing to play to the same standards they set for themselves last season. There are a few reasons for this and there is certainly no quick-fix. Look, there’s no disaster here as Liverpool beat Ludogorets, a former amateur team who were only established 13 years ago, but the manner in which they continue to play is worrying. After four PL games they have two wins but were comfortably beaten by Manchester City and the shocked by Villa as the growing pains of assembling a new-look side continue.

[RELATED: Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets – Gerrard saves the day]

Mario Balotelli, despite scoring his first goal for the Reds with a late well-taken effort, worked hard but looked lost on his own up top and is still failing to gel properly with his new teammates as he tries to fill the Luis Suarez-sized void in the offense. The Reds are also missing Daniel Sturridge massively, as the pace and direct style of play the injured England international is exactly what is missing. On Saturday against Aston Villa, Liverpool had 75 percent of possession in their defeat and had 64 percent against Ludogorets. That possession was often slow and predictable, as they really haven’t got in behind the opposition and stretched teams (playing without Suarez and Sturridge will hamper that) who are happy to sit in two banks of four and defend what they have.

Defensively the Reds still looked susceptible on the counter attack as young full backs Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo were both caught pushing too high up and center backs Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho aren’t the quickest. That led to Ludogorets’ goals as one simple pass through the middle cut Liverpool apart.

After dissecting the areas Liverpool need to work on, it’s not all doom and gloom. They have plenty of new players who are finding their feet at Anfield but Rodgers will be worried that it’s taking them over a month into the season to settle down. On the flip side, Liverpool would probably have lost a tight game like this when Rodgers first arrived back in 2012 but signs of regression are already starting to creep in.

If Liverpool play like they did on Tuesday then they will struggle to beat their other Group B opponents FC Basel and get hammered by Real Madrid. They were let off the hook against Ludogorets as Gerrard and co. know they must regain their form. And fast.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Imagese
Leave a comment

Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).