Ricky Lambert

Divock Origi hits for slump-busting hat-trick, first club goals in 20 matches

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Divock Origi’s slump may have cost him a chance to play at Liverpool this season, but it’s finally over.

The 19-year-old Belgian striker, on loan at Lille for the season, has struggled mightily this season and saw each of his last 20 appearances in all competitions send him home empty-handed. No longer.

Today, Origi busted out in a big way, bagging a trio in today’s 3-0 win over Stade Rennais to end a 1,418 minute stretch of goalless play. He struck the first seven minutes before halftime when a corner scrum saw the ball end up at his feet on the left side of the box, and he volleyed it home past the crowd.

He grabbed two more in the second half before coming off in the 77th minute, and Liverpool will no doubt be pleased with his performance. Origi’s struggles clearly concerned his parent club, as they desperately needed strike help in January but wouldn’t pay the fee to break his season-long loan early. It’s likely that his poor form played a role in their decision.

They had some fun in France at Stade Rennes’s expense:

Liverpool paid Lille a reported $14 million for Origi over the summer, before immediately sending him back to his old club on loan. The Reds have a strike force of Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, and Ricky Lambert, but Brendan Rodgers has been forced to move winger Raheem Sterling up front for much of the new year due to injuries and poor form to the aforementioned group.

Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs Liverpool (Lineups)

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A pair of key misses has Brendan Rodgers scrambling in today’s clash as Liverpool travels to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace live on CNBC at 8:30am ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

With Daniel Sturridge still out – and according to Rodgers, “as down as I’ve ever seen him” – thanks to a new thigh injury, Brendan Rodgers also misses Mario Balotelli and Jordan Henderson.

The Italian striker is out with hamstring and groin problems, while Henderson is sick today and unable to make the lineup.

In Balotelli’s stead comes Ricky Lambert, who has been criticized for erratic performances this season, receiving little regular playing time and relegated to just a few understudy performances. Today, he has a chance to turn all of that around.

With Henderson out, Joe Allen gets the start in the middle in front of Steven Gerrard and alongside Philippe Coutinho in the Liverpool midfield, with Emre Can rested on the bench.

WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace vs Liverpool live online at NBC Sports Live Extra

For Crystal Palace, Marouane Chamakh partners with Dwight Gayle up front, leaving Fraizer Campbell on the bench. There are no other real surprises in their lineup. Mile Jedinak again wears the captains armband having returned from suspension, alongside Joe Ledley and hard-hitting Yannick Bolasie in midfield, and James Puncheon supporting the front two.

United States international Geoff Cameron will be commentating the match alongside Arlo White from the booth.

LINEUPS:

Crystal Palace: Speroni; Kelly, Delaney, Dann, Ward; Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie, Puncheon; Gayle, Chamakh.
Bench: Hennessey, Hangeland, Bannan, McArthur, Zaha, Campbell, Johnson.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Johnson, Gerrard, Allen, Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling, Lambert.
Bench: Jones, Toure, Moreno, Lucas, Can, Borini, Markovic.

Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa: Agbonlahor’s early score leads Villa past listless Liverpool (video)

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Gabriel Agbonlahor picked up a scrappy goal early and Aston Villa held firm as Liverpool had nothing to offer its home fans at Anfield and blew a chance at jumping into the top four of the Premier League table.

Aston Villa hasn’t lost at Anfield since 2010, and their odd streak continues thanks to a solid defensive shape and physical style of play.

[WATCH: Full match replay available here]

The first chance of the game fell to Lazar Markovic in the sixth minute, who latched onto a cross to head towards the far post, but it went a few feet wide.

It was Villa, though, who started the better side, and they cashed in.  Their first corner flew into the box just inside 10 minutes, and defender Philippe Senderos was able to get a head to the ball and send it towards the goal. It hit Gabriel Agbonlahor on the way in, but the Villa striker was able to collect, turn, and touch home from point blank range.

The visitors continued to be dangerous at Anfield, where Villa manager Paul Lambert has never lost, and they came close to a second on 12 minutes. Senderos again proved dangerous on set pieces, as a free kick from dead center of the attacking half came in and Senderos latched on, but sent it over the bar as Simon Mignolet barked at his Reds defense.

[VIDEO: Premier League Highlights here]

Senderos also found himself a bit lucky after 23 minutes, as he stuck a boot out and kicked Mario Balotelli with the play nowhere near him, but the referee missed it completely.  Likely had the referee seen the play, it would have deserved a straight red card.

Villa stifled the Reds attack, clogging their lanes well and then hitting back on the break.  Liverpool found their first real opening in the 26th minute when Philippe Coutinho dinked a long ball into the box.  It found the head of Jordan Henderson and he touched back for Adam Lallana in space, but his shot was blocked by Senderos.

Villa continued to play hack-a-Mario on the Italian striker, scything him down on every opportunity, whether the ball was at his feet or not.  Senderos was not the only guilty party, as Alan Hutton also ripped him down on the touchline on the half-hour mark.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

Senderos continued to be a menace on set pieces, as another corner on 37 minutes found his feet but he blasted over.

After the break, Liverpool looked more like themselves with an attacking hunger and using pace to their advantage, but they couldn’t capitalize. Rodgers removed Lallana in favor of Raheem Sterling with a half hour to go, and then removed Mario Balotelli for Ricky Lambert 10 minutes later to try and get fresh legs in the attack.

Their first real chance since early in the match came on 79 minutes, when Philippe Coutinho scrambled to take a corner and it found the head of Dejan Lovern but he just missed the bullseye in the far corner.  Then Coutinho just two minutes later crashed the post with a shot but again failed to test Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a shot.

Liverpool pushed hard for a goal as it creeped towards stoppage time, but Villa put numbers behind the ball and showed no signs of even coming close to conceding, as every ball pumped into the box was regurgitated back out.

Villa held on for the road win, and their three points push Lambert’s club up to 10 points, good enough for second place in the Premier League meaning Aston Villa and Swansea hold the second and third place spots in the table.  Meanwhile, Liverpool blow their chance to make the top four, and instead sit on six points and have two losses to couple with two wins.

Also, the clean sheet gives Brad Guzan three on the season, the only Premier League goalkeeper with that number.

LINEUPS:

Liverpool: Mignolet; Manquillo, Moreno, Lovren, Sakho; Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Markovic (Borini 71′), Lallana (Sterling 61′); Balotelli (Lambert 71′).

Aston Villa: Guzan; Hutton, Baker, Senderos, Cissokho, Westwood, Delph, Cleverley, Richardson, Agbonlahor, Weimann.

Goals: Agbonlahor 9′

WATCH: Rodgers says Sturridge’s injury ‘could have been avoided’

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Brendan Rodgers didn’t minimize it. When asked about Daniel Sturridge’s injury, the Liverpool boss took a small shot at the international break, noting his attacker was injured on what would have been a recovery day at club-level.

“I think it was an injury that could have been avoided,” Rodgers said, saying Sturridge could miss three weeks. Averaging 4.3 shots per game, the 25-year-old will be a significant loss.

That loss will put more emphasis on Mario Balotelli, who will be Liverpool’s main scoring threat this Saturday against visiting Aston Villa. Ricky Lambert is also an option, but asked about the Southampton import during today’s press session, Rodgers seemed reluctant to include him among his starters. As Liverpool tries to score the second goal of the season against Villa, Balotelli may be on his own up top.

For highlights of Rodgers’ press conference, check out the video, above.

Southampton set to add Celtic’s Fraser Forster

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Given the losses Southampton’s suffered this summer, goalkeeper didn’t look like that club’s top priority. Last year’s number one, Artur Buroc, is still on the books, as is backup Paulo Gazzaniga, while United States prospect Cody Cropper seemed to be one of the team’s goalkeepers of the future. With long-time Saint Kelvin Davis also hanging around, Southampton could almost afford to sell.

But news that Saints are close to sealing a $17 million deal for Celtic’s Fraser Forster is a reminder: Goalkeeping, particularly evaluating it, is a very funny thing. Whereas one manager may prefer a pure shot-stopper, another may put more value in preventing shots before they get off. One boss may consider whatever a keeper offers with his feet a bonus,  while others see it as a potentially defining part of a goalie’s game. Where some coaches prioritize consistency and stability, some accept the erratic if it comes with the spectacular.

Forster is certainly capable of the spectacular, but having spent the last four years in the wilting Scottish Premier League, it’s difficult to tell how good he is, though his time in Champions League hints he should be an improvement on Boruc. But the last experience he had in England, loaned from Newcastle to Norwich four years ago, was in the third tier. At 26 years old, Forster will be getting his first real taste of English soccer at the highest level.

Given the club’s other needs — apparently depleted in defense; having lost Ricky Lambert and Adam Lallana in attack — it’s a curious use of £10 million, but Ronald Koeman just may not feel comfortable with Boruc. Or, maybe he just wants more competition, and between Gazzaniga (22 years old) and Cropper (21), the new boss at St. Marys may not see players capable of providing it. Though  Saints’ have issues elsewhere, Koeman may have seen goalkeeping as a primary concern.

Granted, the extent to which Saints have needs elsewhere is debatable. Go down the roster and put names to positions, and you see a team that has all its needs covered; at least, in terms of its starting XI. Players like Lallana, Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw, and Calum Chambers are gone, but Koeman has Gastón Ramírez, Graziano Pellè, Maya Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand, and Nathaniel Clyne in their places. Players like Jack Cork, James Ward-Prowse, Sam Gallagher, could be ready for bigger roles, while more talent coming through the academy — Matt Targett,  Jack Stephens, Harrison Reed — will help cushion the fall. Add in other acquisitions, like Algerian international Saphir Raïder and Serbian international Dusan Tadic, and Koeman has a number of options. While the names aren’t as recognized as those he’s lost, Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement won’t be dealing with a bare cupboard.

Perhaps that’s why Forster was a priority. Koeman, after working with his team over the last month, may be upgrading instead of filling holes. If Boruc isn’t his preferred style of keeper, it’s not hard to see why the new boss would swap one former Celtic keeper in for another.