Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunderland 0 - 2 Liverpool

A controversial penalty and a touch of brilliance from Luis Suarez handed Liverpool victory over Sunderland.
The Black Cats fell behind to a Dirk Kuyt first-half penalty after John Mensah had fouled Jay Spearing.
Referee Kevin Friend had awarded a free-kick before pointing to the spot after noting the linesman's decision.
Suarez doubled the lead after the break when he powered in from a tight angle before Sunderland's Mensah was shown red for pulling back Suarez.
That was the bitter icing of a tasteless cake for Sunderland, who also lost three players during the match because of injuries.
The Black Cats will not want to look at the table either. Having now lost five of their last six, Steve Bruce's men may now start looking over their shoulder rather than ahead.
Meanwhile, Liverpool will still be hoping to steal the fifth European spot - although they will not be wholly pleased with their performance.
Sunderland were the livelier of the teams in the opening 20 minutes and first to the second ball against a side who still seemed to be suffering from the exertions and the disappointment of their midweek Europa League exit.
Despite their inability to conjure a threat in open play, Kenny Dalglish's side looked dangerous on set-pieces, especially with £35m giant striker Andy Carroll present up front.
Before the penalty, Liverpool had the best chances to take the lead - with the former Newcastle man involved in the first instance.
Raul Meireles pinged a corner to the back post which the tall forward nodded back into the six-yard area for Dirk Kuyt.
The Dutchman's swept shot goalwards was brilliantly saved point-blank by Simon Mignolet. From the following corner, Kuyt headed over the bar from 12 yards.
The Black Cats found space on the wings and managed to despatch the ball into the Liverpool area but more often than not the visiting defence coped easily with what was thrown at them.
The one moment they relied on a bit of luck was when Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck combined beautifully down the left before Welbeck swung in a delicious ball across the area, which Kieran Richardson only just failed to get a toe to.
It was Richardson's last action of significance, as he came off the pitch to be replaced by Steed Malbranque. The home side had already made one enforced change when they replaced the injured Sulley Muntari with Lee Cattermole.
If Sunderland thought their run of bad luck was over, they were made to think again when Liverpool were awarded a penalty.
Mensah's poor chest control allowed Spearing to steal before he was brought down by the Sunderland player.
Referee Friend pointed to a free-kick before changing his mind, much to the fury of Sunderland boss Bruce on the touchline. But the decision had been made and Kuyt duly placed the ball to the left of Mignolet.
The Reds, buoyed by scoring, came close to adding another when Luis Suarez's low half volley had to be palmed away by the Sunderland keeper.
The Uruguayan had better luck after the break, although his strike owed more to audacity than fortune.
The midfielder was picked out by Kuyt's throw-in on the right and drove down the byline before cheekily thrashing the ball over the head of a crouching Mignolet from the tightest of angles.
Up to that point, Sunderland had only managed a couple of curling efforts from Malbranque and Jordan Henderson that failed to trouble keeper Pepe Reina.
They had also lost forward Welbeck because of another injury during the second period.
And with the eight minutes of the match remaining, Sunderland's miserable day was compounded with the sending off of Mensah for pulling back Suarez, who was through on goal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Liverpool 3 - 1 Man Utd

Dirk Kuyt's hat-trick ensured the Premier League title race remains wide open as Liverpool swept Manchester United aside at Anfield.
Sir Alex Ferguson may have been encouraged by Arsenal's failure to beat Sunderland on Saturday and the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table - but this ended as a day of abject misery for United as they slumped to their second successive defeat.
United's twin setbacks, with this loss following hard on the heels of defeat at Chelsea, mean they remain only three points ahead of Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger's side having played a game less. Kuyt was the hero as he struck the first treble by a Liverpool player against United since Peter Beardsley in 1990 and he found a willing and outstanding accomplice in £23m Uruguayan Luis Suarez.
Suarez's stunning sleight of foot took out three United defenders and set up a simple opener for Kuyt after 34 minutes and it was also Suarez's cross that Nani inexplicably headed into the Dutch striker's path for the second goal just before the interval.
Nani was a central figure in shameful scenes right on half-time. He was felled by a crude challenge by Jamie Carragher that eventually required the Portuguese winger to be stretchered off, with Liverpool and United players confronting each other in the angry aftermath of the incident.
This was followed by Rafael's reckless tackle on Lucas and more confrontation - a passage of play that saw referee Phil Dowd exercise extreme leniency in not sending off both Carragher and United's Brazilian defender.
Kuyt got his and Liverpool's third after 65 minutes when Edwin Van der Sar failed to hold the dangerous Suarez's free-kick.
The three-goal cushion allowed Dalglish to give striker Andy Carroll a late run-out for his debut following his £35m move from Newcastle United.
Javier Hernandez pulled a goal back for United in injury time but this will have been of no consolation to Ferguson after 90 minutes in which the Premier League pace-setters - admittedly robbed of the towering defensive figures of injured Rio Ferdinand and suspended Nemanja Vidic - looked vulnerable and overpowered in all areas.
For Liverpool boss Dalglish, this was the perfect belated present after he celebrated his 60th birthday on Friday and only increased the strength of his claims to land the manager's job on a permanent basis, with that eventual appointment surely nothing more than a formality.
Liverpool were able to put Carroll on the bench for the first time since his move from Newcastle, a decision perhaps encouraged by the absence of Ferdinand and Vidic from United's defence.
But it was Suarez who was a constant source of threat to United, almost pouncing in the second minute when he arrived unmarked on the end of Kuyt's cross but he was unable to control his finish and United escaped.
Liverpool's brisk start prompted United into a response and keeper Pepe Reina was grateful to see Dimitar Berbatov's dipping long-range drive glance off the outside of the post as he scrambled across his goal.
Dalglish had to reshape his defence after 25 minutes when the injury-prone Fabio Aurelio went down clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Sotirios Kyrgiakos. The Greek moved to partner Martin Skrtel in central defence, with Carragher moving to right-back and Glen Johnson to the opposite flank.
And as Liverpool reorganised they were almost punished but Raul Meireles was able to smuggle Wes Brown's header off the line following a corner.
Suarez's quick feet inside the area always threatened to cause havoc and so it proved as Liverpool took the lead after 34 minutes. United's defenders, in the shape of Rafael, Michael Carrick and Brown, collapsed like a house of cards as the Uruguayan weaved his way towards goal.
He prodded the ball past Van der Sar towards goal and Kuyt ran in to make sure from a matter of inches as United appealed in vain for offside.
A calamitous piece of defending from Nani gift-wrapped Kuyt his and Liverpool's second five minutes later. Nani rose to meet Suarez's cross in the area, only to succeed in directing it perfectly into the path of Kuyt in the six-yard area for a simple headed finish.
There was an ugly end to the half when both Carragher and Rafael were fortunate to escape with only yellow cards for awful challenges. Carragher's cynical touchline lunge on Nani prompted a flare-up between players from both sides before the winger was stretchered off.
And as tempers continued to boil Maxi Rodriguez made a thigh-high, studs-up lunge on Rafael, who immediately took out his frustrations on Lucas with a wild tackle. Once again it prompted unseemly exchanges before referee Dowd attempted to restore some sort of order by booking the United defender, while Rodriguez went unpunished.
Hernandez replaced the stricken Nani and United almost worked their way back into contention only for Meireles to clear Berbatov's header off the line early in the second half.
Meireles then showed his attacking qualities with a perfectly timed run on to Kuyt's pass only to be denied by Van der Sar.
But the United keeper was at fault as Liverpool extended their lead and Kuyt completed his hat-trick after 65 minutes. Suarez's free-kick was low and awkward but Van der Sar should have held on - and once he fumbled - Kuyt completed the formalities with a poacher's finish.
As The Kop revelled in Liverpool's victory and United's discomfort, Dalglish felt able to introduce Carroll for his debut and the striker received a rapturous reception around Anfield.
Liverpool cruised home and even the sight of Hernandez scoring deep into stoppage time could not stop wild celebrations sweeping around Anfield at the final whistle.