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• Liverpool keen to avoid another summer of transfer rumour• Suárez receives award from Football Supporters’ FederationLiverpool have opened talks with Luis Suárez’s agent over the new contract they hope will keep the brilliant Uruguay international at Anfield and out of the reach of Europe’s richest clubs for the prime of his career.The Anfield club’s managing director, Ian Ayre, flew to Barcelona on Tuesday for preliminary negotiations with Pere Guardiola, the agent involved in the striker’s dispute with Liverpool over the terms in his existing deal when Arsenal tried to sign him in the summer.Suárez has two and a half years remaining on his contract and Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, have been reluctant to offer extensions midway through a season. Such has been Suárez’s stunning form since his return from suspension on 25 September, with his 17 goals in 11 matches propelling Liverpool to within two points of the Premier League leaders, Arsenal, that those plans have been revised.There was no official contract offer put to Guardiola by Ayre. Their meeting was merely the start of what could prove a protracted process, with the brother of the Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola well aware of how highly Suárez’s stock has risen this season. Real Madrid were interested in the 26-year-old in the summer but did not lodge an official bid, although they are expected to again be among Suárez’s suitors at the end of this campaign.Liverpool hope to head off another summer of speculation over the striker’s future by offering to make Suárez the highest-paid player at Anfield at a time when his career is flourishing under Brendan Rodgers.The rehabilitation of the Premier League’s leading goalscorer was reflected in a rare individual accolade on Monday, when he was named the 2013 player of the year at the Football Supporters’ Federation Awards at the Emirates Stadium.Suárez chose “coming back to play” at Anfield as his highlight of the year and credited his relationship with the Liverpool supporters as the key to his recovery.He said: “After so many difficult moments for me I was able to win the supporters back, and that was unbelievable when I came back to play.”LiverpoolLuis SuárezTransfer windowAndy Huntertheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
• Benítez wants to sign Dane on loan in January• Mamadou Sakho preferred to Agger against SpursRafael Benítez wants to capitalise on Daniel Agger’s predicament at Liverpool and take the defender on loan to Napoli in January.Representatives of the Italian club contacted Liverpool on Monday regarding a temporary deal for the 29-year-old when the transfer window reopens. The Denmark international, who was brought to Anfield from Brondby by Benítez in 2006, recently lost his place at the heart of Liverpool’s defence and Napoli have moved quickly to test Brendan Rodgers’ resolve to keep the centre-half.Rodgers made Agger vice-captain in the summer after Barcelona’s interest in signing the defender on a permanent basis but he has been the one to miss out as the Liverpool manager continues his search for a settled partnership in central defence.Kolo Touré was selected in preference to Agger for the Premier League defeat at Hull, only for the Dane to make an immediate return for the 5-1 win over Norwich. Illness then cost Agger his place against West Ham, giving the £18m summer signing Mamadou Sakho the opportunity to stake his claim. The French international retained his place for Sunday’s 5-0 rout of Tottenham.Whether Liverpool will be receptive to a loan deal for Agger is uncertain. The influential defender has attracted interest from the Spanish champions and Manchester City in recent seasons and a permanent offer could yet be forthcoming.LiverpoolNapoliSerie AEuropean club footballAndy Huntertheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
By disposing of Andy Carroll, Brendan Rodgers enabled Liverpool to build their game around Suárez, who has thrivedIt was, as Brendan Rodgers put it, an honour for Luis Suárez to captain Liverpool in what proved to be André Villas-Boas’s swan song at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. And much more besides. It was recognition of his status as the club’s finest talent, reward for his reaction to a thwarted transfer saga and, perhaps cynically, part of a concerted effort to avoid a repeat next summer. Liverpool cannot be faulted for indulging Suárez on that score.The award of the captaincy in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard and the out-of-favour Daniel Agger, Liverpool’s vice-captain, underlined the extent of Suárez’s rehabilitation since accusing Rodgers of breaking promises over his future only four months earlier. His response was another illustration of why he is being recognised as simply one of the leading strikers in the world, rather than a world-class talent carrying too much baggage, as Liverpool reinforced their Champions League credentials at White Hart Lane. It also demonstrated why Anfield officials wish to secure him on a new long-term contract before the season is over.Suárez’s brace in the 5-0 rout took his tally for the season to 17 goals in 11 appearances, an average of 1.54 per game. The 26-year-old has scored more goals in the 12 weeks he has been available to Liverpool than 10 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs have produced since the campaign began on 17 August. And to think there were question marks over Suárez’s finishing during the first 18 months of his Liverpool career.The Uruguay international’s return under Kenny Dalglish was hardly a cause for despair, four in the 13 games that followed his £23.5m arrival from Ajax in January 2010 followed by 17 goals in 40 appearances in 2011-12 as he settled into the Premier League. But the trajectory soared to 30 under Rodgers last season and, were he to maintain his current remarkable ratio over the final 22 league games, Suárez would break the 50-goal barrier.Rodgers gave his explanation for the striker’s outstanding form and finishing before West Ham United’s recent visit to Anfield, pinpointing the bold decision to off‑load Liverpool’s £35m record signing, Andy Carroll, and construct a team around Suárez at the start of his tenure as the turning point. The Liverpool manager said: “My thinking was that if Luis is playing with a big guy he is playing off the second ball, and his anticipation skills are very good. But I just felt that wouldn’t benefit him because when you play with a big target man it is hard not to make that the focal point of your team.”Removing that means you have to connect your game better through the lines. Possession is not good enough on its own, you have to penetrate. With a player like Luis, who is always on the move in between spaces and in behind, that serves him best.”That, however, does not address Suárez’s impressive reaction to being refused a move away from Anfield this summer. Premier League stars were accustomed to getting their own way, and sulking if refused, but Suárez’s commitment has been faultless while his temperament is reflected in a disciplinary record this season of one booking during a frenetic Merseyside derby. If he is playing for a move to a Champions League club, the evidence so far indicates he wants to take Liverpool with him.With all due respect to Arsène Wenger and Arsenal, Suárez must have reflected on why the Premier League leaders – whom Liverpool can overtake with victory over Cardiff City on Saturday – were the only club to make an official bid for his services in the summer and realised that change was in order. As Gerrard said just days before the striker pleaded for a transfer in an interview with the Guardian: “Move on if you want further down the line, but a player of his calibre should wait for the big one to come to him. He deserves to play for one of the best teams in the world, a Barcelona or a Real Madrid. They will come calling for him again. I am hoping, from a biased point of view, that he gives us another year and shows us the form he did last season. Maybe it will be time for him to go next year or the year after. I don’t think it is the right time for him to go just yet.”The Liverpool captain has been unerringly accurate in his statements relating to Suárez’s career and value to Rodgers’ team, saying in August, for example, that: “What we can achieve this season depends on whether he stays or goes.”On Sunday, in the Sky studio at White Hart Lane, Gerrard admitted: “We’re lucky to have him and we need to enjoy him while he’s here because if he keeps performances up like this, I hate to say it, but the big guns are going to be sniffing which is what we don’t want.” Liverpool are striving to ensure that is one Gerrard prediction that bucks the trend.Luis SuárezLiverpoolAndy Huntertheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
Liverpool’s 5-0 hammering at White Hart Lane was a damning indictment of the Portuguese’s tactical acumenFollowing the 6-0 thrashing away to Manchester City, André Villas-Boas significantly adjusted his strategy for the subsequent match, a 2-2 draw with Manchester United. His side played much deeper, with the midfielders protecting the defence keenly – Tottenham invited pressure, but denied space in behind and between the lines. Consequently, the defence was penetrated much less frequently.The strategy for this match, however, was a bizarre return to Villas-Boas’s favoured high defensive line, which played perfectly into the hands of Luis Suárez and Liverpool. Villas-Boas has significant injury problems in defence, and Étienne Capoue and Michael Dawson is clearly not an ideal partnership. From an early stage it was clear they had no relationship together – they stepped up to play offside at different times, Capoue was never in a covering position when Dawson was bypassed, and Suárez was pulling both out of position. The centre-backs desperately needed protection, as Liverpool continually raced past them at will.Liverpool’s build-up play was occasionally superb, but when a simple long clearance from Martin Skrtel brought Hugo Lloris out of his penalty box and created a chance for Suárez, the extent of Spurs’ problems became clear.Suárez is the ideal striker to work the channels and break in behind, while Jordan Henderson’s boundless energy also contributed – he made untracked runs in behind the defence for the first three goals, and encouraged Liverpool to play directly, important considering the cautious nature of Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen. Raheem Sterling continually took on Kyle Naughton down the outside, while Philippe Coutinho tucked inside to play simple passes.It was astonishingly easy for Liverpool. The similarity to Spurs’ previous thrashing is striking, and the fact Villas-Boas actively decided to return to the strategy that failed at City is a damning indictment of his tactical acumen.Football tacticsAndré Villas-BoasLiverpoolTottenham HotspurMichael Coxtheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
• Manchester City nightmare is history, he adds• Spurs win would see them level with the RedsLewis Holtby believes Tottenham’s self-belief is back after their emphatic defeat at Manchester City a fortnight ago, with André Villas-Boas’ squad confident of overcoming Liverpool on Sunday in a “massive, massive game”.Spurs’ 4–1 victory over Anzhi in the Europa League on Thursday secured a fourth win in five matches, and three points against Liverpool at White Hart Lane would see them go level with their opponents in the Premier League.Holtby, who scored a fine effort against Anzhi, insisted that the result at City is history and that Spurs are close to returning to top form. Asked what has changed in the past two weeks, the German midfielder said: “I think the belief in ourselves and the way we want to play. The momentum we have now, that winning streak, these good performances in the last two weeks, we have to show it against a big side like Liverpool, especially at home. If we win that game we could bounce maybe to second or third place, and that’s what we’re aiming for. Now it’s on to us to handle that pressure.”Tottenham have beaten Sunderland and Fulham and drawn with Manchester United since their 6-0 capitulation at Eastlands.Holtby added: “We played against Man United at home, where we had a lot of pressure on us, had a good result but unfortunately we didn’t win that game. Then we got two difficult games against teams who sit with their backs to the wall, had very tough times. It wasn’t easy to win both away games but we did that. Now we are ready to play Liverpool, but we have to do the talking on the pitch.”Tottenham HotspurLiverpoolPremier LeagueJames Riachtheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
Midfielder has acclimatised to pressure of being at Anfield and insisted he was not affected by bad miss against EvertonTimes have changed since the erratic Everton striker Mickaël Madar was pinned to a dressing-room wall after missing an open goal at Anfield, and spent the rest of the night in a bar where an irate supporter repeated; “Ball. Goal. Ball in goal. Understand?” But there remains nowhere to hide after a glaring error in a Merseyside derby, as Joe Allen discovered last month at Goodison Park. He concedes: “A lot of people probably wrote me off the second that game finished.”To recap, and with apologies to the genuinely decent Liverpool midfielder, the visitors were leading 2-1 when Luis Suárez beat three blue shirts on the edge of the area and the ball broke for the unmarked Allen. Time and Everton defenders stood still as he side-footed beyond Tim Howard but also wide of the post, earning an earful from Suárez, a booking and finally the hook from his manager within the next eight minutes.The breathtaking derby ended 3-3 and with many questioning how the Wales international would recover from the latest setback in his short Liverpool career. The answer has been brief but encouraging, two assured displays in the heavy Anfield defeats of Norwich City and West Ham United, with the 23-year-old’s resolve also demonstrated in his analysis of that Goodison moment.”It was something that would have affected me in the past but, in all honesty, it didn’t really affect me too much,” Allen says. “I understood the significance of it. It was a pivotal moment in a massive game and there is no hiding from that. But I understood it was a miss and it happens in football. I would have been more disappointed if it had been a terrible performance for the team.”The only disappointment I had was whether it would affect my chances of selection, and luckily it hasn’t. I’ve had an opportunity to get straight back out there soon after, which was important, and it hasn’t knocked my confidence in a way people probably expected.”Allen’s philosophical approach and improved confidence reveals plenty about the difficulties of swapping his boyhood club, Swansea City, for the pressures of being a £15m player at Liverpool. Adapting to Brendan Rodgers’ passing style was never going to be an issue for the Liverpool manager’s former charge at the Liberty Stadium. Adapting to the scrutiny, however, was a different matter.”In the 18 months I’ve been here that is probably the side of football I have improved a lot,” the midfielder admits. “Being at a club like Liverpool you understand that the scrutiny and the pressure is probably 10 times greater than at certain other places and you have to learn to deal with that. That has been a positive thing for me and that is why I was so excited to get back out there playing straight away. I didn’t affect my confidence as I think it would have done in the past. That is down to myself and others at the club who help you in that regard.”The “others” at Liverpool include Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychiatrist involved in Britain’s cycling success story, whom Rodgers hired last November to help players with their “mental tuning”. Allen adds: “We are very lucky at this club to have someone like him available to us and he is someone I’ve looked to use. To overcome something like that miss has been 18 months in the making. Obviously I was hugely disappointed after the game, but it’s happened and there’s nothing I can do about it now. The best response is to get out there and show it hasn’t affected me.”Allen particularly impressed against West Ham last weekend and heads to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday insisting: “We are probably a run of good away results from really turning the corner and taking this team to a new level.” In the maelstrom of the derby it was overlooked that Rodgers lamented: “We never kept the ball and needed to control the game better,” in the final 20 minutes – when Allen was off the pitch. With Steven Gerrard injured for a demanding festive period the responsibility on Liverpool’s available central midfielders will intensify.”That’s natural when you lose an inspirational figure and the leader of the team,” Allen says. “We have to see it as an opportunity to come to the fore. We will have to show leadership amongst ourselves without Stevie out there. Obviously it is a massive blow for us to lose Stevie, he is a key player for us and our leader, but this is the reason you try to build a strong squad. People have got to step up and show we are able to cope with that loss.”White Hart Lane marks the start of three December away fixtures that could shape Liverpool’s Champions League qualification credentials, the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge completing the set. Allen’s improved self-belief extends to a top-four finish this season. “It is certainly realistic,” he states. “As players you have to set your sights right up there and believe you can do it. We do. We can beat anyone with the players we’ve got here.”That’s enough evidence to show we can get in there. At the start of the season you would have looked at this period in the fixture list and thought it will be challenging. But we’ve got a base now of good performances and good victories and we have the momentum and confidence to come out of this period with some very good results.”LiverpoolAndy Huntertheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
The Anfield manager has been in situ for 18 months now and has won only twice against a perceived rival for European football, neither of them away from homeThree points separate Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the table as the Premier League prepares to enter its energy-sapping and momentum-swinging festive period. Both top-four pretenders have won two league games in a row and they meet at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon. Yet despite the minute differences, they are separated by a chasm of perception.Tottenham, goal-shy and lacking a leading edge, have supposedly lurched from crisis to crisis, with the manager André Villas-Boas apparently on the brink of his losing his job just a fortnight ago before winning three of the next four in all competitions. By comparison, Brendan Rodgers’ team have been free scoring in steamrollering the bottom half of the Premier League and sit in second place, just four points shy of Arsenal.Victory for the home side on Sunday, however, will see them draw level with their rivals, although the eight-goal swing required to see Spurs leapfrog Liverpool is unlikely. Should Tottenham prevail, a glance at the festive fixture list suggests they may pull away, with the Reds facing trips to Manchester City and Chelsea between Christmas and new year.Though to assume that Spurs will beat West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City at home over Christmas is to reckon against an unpredictable league season and their own inadequacies. In their seven league matches at White Hart Lane, Villas-Boas’s team have scored just four goals from open play and lost to Newcastle and West Ham United.Spurs are one point better off than they were after 15 games last season but have scored 13 fewer goals – it leads many to the lazy observation that they have a Gareth Bale-shaped hole in their attack. But at this stage a year ago the Welshman had scored just six of his 21 league goals, and had shown mere glimpses of the sparkling late-season form which enabled him to win games almost singlehandedly and be named a two-time player of the year.Villas-Boas’s main dilemma has been trying to integrate his seven summer signings, and finding space for the £30m Argentinian playmaker Erik Lamela, who has so far been afforded just 237 minutes of Premier League football. Spurs have, though, excelled defensively where, despite the 6–0 aberration at Manchester City last month, their record of seven clean sheets is second only to Everton.For Brendan Rodgers the trip to White Hart Lane is the precursor to what is shaping up to be the defining month of his Liverpool reign. Trips to the Etihad and Stamford Bridge loom, and injuries to Sturridge and Gerrard have served to dampen already low expectations.During his 18-month spell on Merseyside Rodgers has failed to win away from home against any of the so-called top six. Even with fixtures at Anfield taken into account the Northern Irishman has presided over only two victories in 15, a 3-2 win over Spurs last season and a 1-0 triumph over Manchester United in September.Liverpool have conceded two or more goals in 12 of the 15, and have, on average, conceded the first goal against a top-six side away from home in the 23rd minute.Only once have the team kept a clean sheet into the second half of these fixtures. In the corresponding meeting with Spurs last year Liverpool were 2-0 down inside the first 15 minutes and playing catch-up. It’s a familiar tale for Rodgers’ Liverpool.But big-game struggles are nothing new in the recent history of Anfield managers. It took Rafa Benítez until his fifth season, 2008-9, before he took three points from Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford; between 2004 and 2010 the Spaniard lost 16 of 26 away games against legitimate title and Champions League rivals.The busy festive schedule will serve as a yardstick for Rodgers and despite the lengthening injury list, depleting numbers in midfield and a distinct vulnerability in defence, their Champions League hopes remain realistic.In Luis Suárez, Rodgers possesses not just the league’s top scorer but the form player in the country. Rodgers’ refinement of Liverpool’s system, and centralising of Suárez to it, has seen the Uruguayan’s game take a stratospheric turn. He has scored as many goals (15) in 10 games, as he managed in a season and a half with Kenny Dalglish at the helm.Under Rodgers, Suárez has struck 38 times in 43 games compared to 15 in 44 with the Scot. He has become not merely a scorer of great goals, but a great goalscorer to boot.In the buildup to the 4-1 win over West Ham last weekend, Rodgers identified the sale of Andy Carroll as pivotal to the transformation of Suárez: “What we try to do here is create the environment for the elite player and he is an elite player. I had to make a call last year by letting Andy Carroll go out and create a situation where we could get the benefit out of Luis’s talent.”But he still had to perform and he has done that tremendously well. It was maybe said that he needed a lot of chances to score goals before, but his goals record was still fairly good. Now it is an opportunity and it’s a goal.”Despite Suárez’s glittering form, Liverpool’s charge up the table will not be taken seriously until they are able to defeat a leading rival away from home. Being a flat-track bully has its virtues but it can only get you so far; with Tottenham’s home difficulties this year, it’s an ideal opportunity for Rodgers to shed his unwanted record.For all Liverpool’s obvious progress under the former Swansea manager, it is difficult to pin down a result that defines what he has achieved in his first 18 months. While Villas-Boas can point to a victory at Old Trafford and home defeats of Manchester City and Arsenal, Rodgers has fallen agonisingly short on a number of occasions.After an annus horribilis in 2012, where Liverpool claimed just 44 points out of a possible 117, Rodgers has brought recovery. Of Liverpool’s 64 points claimed during this calendar year, 45 have come from beating bottom-half sides. Though he has struggled translating Liverpool’s verve against lower-half teams to the top sides, he has made Liverpool difficult to beat – after losing 17 league games in 2012, they have lost just six this calendar year.Liverpool in 2013 have the look of progress about them. But do Tottenham? Since falling short of Champions League qualification by a single point in May, Spurs look to have taken a sideways step.But that sweeping statement illustrates the difficulty with assessing a Premier League season where every side apart from Arsenal appear incapable of putting together winning sequences. The search for the unquantifiable answer has leapt beyond the rational answer too often this season. Spurs, the crisis club before Manchester United lost consecutive games at home last week, personify that.For both Villas-Boas and Rodgers this weekend’s encounter offers the chance to challenge perceptions that they are either under- or over-achieving. But in this season where Manchester United can lose consecutive home games to Everton and Newcastle United, Manchester City can lose at Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Sunderland, and Chelsea at Newcastle and Stoke, who can say who is achieving what with conviction?LiverpoolBrendan RodgersPremier Leaguetheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
Click to enlarge, and debate the strip below the line. Keith Hackett’s verdict appears in Sunday’s Observer, and here from Monday.Competition: win an official club shirt of your choiceFor a chance to win a club shirt of your choice from the range at Kitbag.com send us your questions for You are the Ref to email@example.com. The best scenario used in the new YATR strip each Sunday wins a shirt to the value of £50 from Kitbag. Terms & conditions apply.For more on the fifty year history of You Are The Ref, click here.Steven GerrardLiverpoolLaws of footballtheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails