Manager wants to maintain support of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge but believes everyone has a defensive responsibilityLiverpool have scored four or more goals in nine of their 27 league games to date, a remarkable strike rate that last week enabled them to overtake Manchester City as the highest scorers in the Premier League. Unfortunately the 4-3 win over Swansea also highlighted why Liverpool have still to overtake City in the title race. Unforced defensive errors keep costing them goals at the back, and Liverpool have easily the highest goals-against tally of the four clubs currently occupying the Champions League positions.A win at Southampton on Saturday evening would allow Liverpool to leapfrog City in the table, by virtue of the latter’s involvement in Sunday’s Capital One Cup final, even if Manuel Pellegrini’s side would then have two games in hand. Chelsea are increasingly looking like the team to catch in any case and, though José Mourinho keeps moaning about his lack of goalscorers, his team are the only one in the division that can boast an average of under a goal a game for goals conceded. If Chelsea’s miserly 21 goals against is the standard to which defences should aspire, Liverpool’s 35 is way off the mark, and never in the history of the Premier League has the title been claimed by sides that have let in so many by this stage of the season.That will not necessarily worry Brendan Rodgers, who has reined in the title talk of late and seen his side make up ground on the leaders as well-placed outsiders, though he is aware that momentary lapses of concentration at the back can undo hours of good work going forward. “Everyone has seen over a period of time that mistakes have cost us,” the Liverpool manager said. “It is an area that we are looking to improve and we will do. The first task on coming here was to improve the goals for total, and we have done that. If I get enough time in the job we will look to improve in the other areas too.”One of Liverpool’s problems has been constant changes in the back line due to injuries, although in the game against Swansea Rodgers made a bold call in replacing Daniel Agger after an hour because he did not feel he was strong enough to deal with Wilfried Bony. “Daniel can deal with that, he’s been outstanding in training all week and he will play at Southampton no question,” Rodgers said. “There was a wee bit of a spotlight on him last week but this is a collective effort.”I will judge every player, whether he is the team captain, centre-forward or a squad player, and make a decision if I think it will get us a result. I have showed that inmy time here and it was no different last week.”Rodgers rejects the charge that Liverpool are missing Jamie Carragher, or that the defence lacks a leader with sufficient personality to impose himself on opponents and maintain a level of defensive discipline. “We have showed resilience in coming back from behind enough times this season,” he said.”I don’t think you can question the character of the team, and this is about the team, it’s not about any particular individual. I have been coaching for 20 years, I know what top defenders and centre-halves look like, and what it takes to play there. We have been unfortunate at times, some of the mistakes we have made have been through players trying to take responsibility, others have just been mistakes. We all make them, but I don’t think it is fair to suggest that all we do is set up to attack, to fly up the pitch without anyone thinking about defending. There is more substance to our work than that, we want to be a really balanced team. We have two great goalscorers but the whole team has a defensive responsibility too. If we concede it is because we are not pressing well enough at the other end.”Southampton are still the only side to have won at Anfield in the league all season, Dejan Lovren scoring the only goal of the game in September, and have an excellent record against Liverpool at home, where they have lost only once in the past seven Premier League meetings.Luis Suárez was still serving his suspension when Southampton won on Merseyside – he has managed to score 23 goals since – though a greater factor in the game was Rodgers reshuffling his back line to the extent of playing four centre-halves, with Kolo Touré and Mamadou Sakho fitting in as full-backs either side of Agger and Martin Skrtel. “It wasn’t ideal,” Rodgers said. “We had injuries that meant we had to play people in different positions than usual.”While Rodgers will admit to being concerned about defensive aberrations – “It has been consistent, that’s the reality of it” – he is far too much of a glass-half-full man to become depressed about it when everything is still to play for. “We have put ourselves in a great position with 11 games to go,” he said. “There has been a focus on this part [defensive shortcomings] here for a while, but it’s part of my job to not get too down about it. We really have to focus now on the great parts of our game, and with 11 games to go it is about winning. We want to try and win every single game, and if we win 11 games by four goals to three Iwill be delighted.”LiverpoolBrendan RodgersPaul Wilsontheguardian.com 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsDetails
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The Chelsea forward was the standout player of the weekend but he was not alone in impressing from midfield, while Martin Skrtel’s quickfire double against Arsenal made a splashDetails
TALKSPORT – Arsenal’s possible line-up v Liverpool – Wenger to cut off Suarez supply line with tight midfield
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Brendan Rodgers will find his squad stretched to the limit after being unable to make any signings in JanuaryDetails
GUARDIAN – Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Barry Glendenning, Jacob Steinberg and Daniel Harris
Keep your eyes on Southampton’s love of youth, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s search for a win and a Liverpool love-in1) Will Gallagher get another chance?Mauricio Pochettino might refuse to speak English when the cameras and dictaphones are rolling – he is probably just amusing himself now – but that does not mean he’s come over here to put good, honest, hard-working homegrown footballers out of work. That could not be further from the case. Instead it has been wonderful to watch the way the Argentinian has embraced the Southampton ethos with such relish, turning to youth whenever the opportunity presents itself. Pochettino was asked in November whether he would add players to his squad during the transfer window and said that he would look to the young players at his disposal instead. “We have a lot of young players coming from the academy that are pushing really hard,” he said. “They are making a case for being in the senior team.” And Pochettino, who says Southampton appointed him because of his track record of giving youngsters a platform, has been true to his word. With Rickie Lambert nursing an injury and Dani Osvaldo in disgrace, Southampton had a striker shortage against Arsenal on Tuesday night. Pochettino’s solution? He gave Sam Gallagher, 18, his first league start – against the leaders, no less. It did not entirely go to plan, as Gallagher missed a great chance in the first half, but he still gave Per Mertesacker a difficult time and ensured it was a proud evening for Southampton. This young striker is one to watch – Fulham will certainly have to keep their eyes on him at Craven Cottage on Saturday. JS• Dani Osvaldo prepares to go to Juventus2) Mackems and Mags fought the law, and the law wonHaving escaped from the relegation zone for the first time this season, courtesy of their midweek win over Stoke City, Sunderland will fancy their chances against a Newcastle side no longer able to call upon the – at £25m – dearly departed Yohan Cabaye or Loïc Rémy, who must sit out this Tyne-Wear derby on the naughty step following his dismissal against Norwich. Newcastle have lodged an appeal against that sending off, more in hope than expectation that they’ll be able to call upon the services of their best player at Saturday lunchtime. Off the field, the 12.45pm kick-off has already prompted a rare and heartwarming show of solidarity between two clubs and respective sets of fans who don’t normally care a great deal for each other. Originally scheduled for 3pm and pencilled in as a “bubble match” (meaning travelling fans could only attend the game if they used official transport to travel to and from the game), supporters from both clubs successfully joined forces to persuade Sunderland to withdraw proposals to force their supporters to abide by these stringent arrangements, on the grounds that it branded all fans of both clubs as hooligans. In a further show of unity, earlier this month Sunderland and Newcastle issued a joint statement describing as “false and “absurd” Northumbria Police’s insistence that they are not responsible for dictating changes to kick-off times. “In recent years Northumbria Police have rejected every request made by the clubs for later kick-off slots, including Saturday 5:30pm, Sunday 4pm and Monday 8pm,” it harrumphed, pointing out that the local constabulary have told the Premier League that they will not support derby matches with kick-off times later than 1.30pm. If that isn’t an example of the police, who are handsomely paid by clubs for policing football matches, directing changes to kick-off times, it’s difficult to know what is. In other news of fans being patronised, Sunderland have also warned supporters about the dangers of bringing fireworks to St James’ Park on Saturday. “We have been asked by the FA to remind all supporters about the dangers of flares and polytechnics,” declared an official club diktat spotted by Northern Echo’s sportswriter Richard Mason. OK, so perhaps these seats of learning weren’t as difficult to get into as universities, but quite what Black Cat officials or the FA have against defunct tertiary education teaching institutions remains unclear. BG• Newcastle sell Yohan Cabaye for £20m • Lyon’s Clément Grenier in St James’ sights • Paolo Di Canio defends his tenure at ‘weak’ Sunderland 3) Solskjaer’s search for a (league) winIt is difficult to read too much into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s slow start as Cardiff City’s manager. On the one hand, the Norwegian has led Cardiff to the fifth round of the FA Cup with wins at Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers. On the other hand, he has lost three out of three in the Premier League. On the third hand, two of those games were at Manchester City and Manchester United, so only the 2-0 home defeat by West Ham can be considered a disappointment. Cardiff are bottom and have not won in their past seven league matches, but they are only bottom on goal difference and are a point from safety. What to make of it all? Perhaps the situation will become clearer after they host Norwich City in Solskjaer’s second match at the Cardiff City Stadium. This is the kind of opposition Cardiff have to beat if they are to stay up, and the first of four winnable home matches before the visit of Liverpool in March. Cardiff’s is not a hopeless task and there is potential in their team, particularly in midfield, where Jordon Mutch and Craig Noone, two skilful and energetic players, have impressed recently. Yet while Cardiff gave a good account of themselves in the 4-2 defeat at City, Solskjaer will know that Norwich, needlessly rigid Norwich, must be beaten if Cardiff are not to experience that sinking feeling. JS • Solskjaer on his return to Manchester United 4) Villa on MerseysideIs it possible that Aston Villa are not quite as bad as people think? They have treated their supporters to some wretched performances at Villa Park and put them through the wringer against West Brom before emerging triumphant on Wednesday night. On the road, however, it tends to be a different story, where their speed on the break can be utilised to devastating effect and has earned them 16 points. Villa have won at Arsenal and Southampton and having given Liverpool an almighty scare two weeks ago, they are back on Merseyside again, this time against an Everton side creaking under the pressure of an ever-expanding injury list. Once the brilliance of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge is acknowledged, Everton’s humiliation against Liverpool was logical – they were missing half of their back four, Phil Jagielka and Steven Pienaar looked unfit despite starting, and they lost Romelu Lukaku to an early ankle injury. Perhaps they will be boosted by a debut for Lacina Traoré – if he recovers from a hamstring injury in time – but the threat of Villa, who have Christian Benteke firing again, should not be taken lightly. JS• Everton’s style attracted Lacina Traoré 5) An emphatic display from ArsenalBefore dropping points at Southampton, Arsenal had won seven successive matches in all competitions but they only really produced their most illustrious football in one of them, the 2-0 victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup. Unlike in previous seasons, Arsenal have found a way, any way, to win in matches when they have lacked a spark, and for all the plaudits over their stylish play, their ability to dig in has stood out just as much – mostly because their disappointments in recent years have rightly been attributed to an absence of mental fortitude. Titles are won by sides that believe moral victories are worthless and Arsenal have realised that – there was nothing pretty about the 1-0 win at Newcastle last month and subsequent triumphs over Cardiff and Fulham were rewards for their persistence. Arsenal have developed a stubborn streak that will help them in the run-in. Still, the visit of Crystal Palace does offer them a chance to rediscover their silky touch and remind us why the football taught by Arsène Wenger has won them the admiration of so many neutrals. A thumping win rather than a draining slog would be the perfect way to settle any nerves at the start of two daunting months. JS• Arsène Wenger to stay after club seal £150m kit deal • Crystal Palace seek to sign Will Buckley, Ivan Ramis and Scott Dann 6) To Hull in a handcart OK, so they’ll probably travel by bus or train, but whatever the conveyance it’s difficult to know quite how the players of Tottenham Hotspur will feel as they line up against Hull City. Mightily relieved, is probably a fair assessment, not least because they’ll be facing a team that’s lost four Premier League matches on the spin and is likely to boast the less-than-prolific combo of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic up front, rather than the fearsome combined forces of Edin Dzeko and Sergio Agüero. These are worrying times for Hull, who have failed to score in the aforementioned run of defeats and now face a team who have won five on the spin away from home and are, you’d presume, desperate to avenge Wednesday night’s humiliation. If the Tigers are to avoid making it five defeats from five, it’s time they showed their claws. Grrr! BG• Tottenham turn down €10m Napoli bid for Étienne Capoue7) Suárez and Sturridge – best of friendsSport is emotional. One would have thought that Rafael Nadal would have been able to hold back the tears after injuring his back in his defeat by Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open final. He has won enough titles for it not to be a problem when a match doesn’t go to plan. But such are the standards set by athletes at the very highest level. This is a serious business and that much was evident during the Merseyside derby, when Luis Suárez gave Daniel Sturridge an earful after he made a mess of a chance, even though Liverpool were already 4-0 up. That didn’t bother Suárez, though: Sturridge either had to score or give him the ball. Instead he did neither and Sturridge, already seething after missing a penalty, was even more unhappy to be substituted a few minutes later. It would be easy to dismiss the pair as two more spoilt brats, but that would be a witless caricature. Instead it shows us what it takes to succeed at the top; the best never settle for second-best. With their unrelenting quest for personal glory, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have set the example for the rest of the field – they never give defenders a moment’s respite, so why should Suárez and Sturridge? Anyway, judging by the way they celebrate when they do create goals for each other, their relationship is strong, even though it promises to be one of the more amusing and intriguing subplots this season. JS• Liverpool hope to submit plans for Anfield expansion soon• Arsenal lower ticket prices for Liverpool FA Cup tie8) Time for Moyes to settle on a centre-half pairingManchester United have played 35 competitive games this season, in which they have conceded 35 goals and kept just 12 clean sheets. Of course, this is due in part to injuries up-front and the absence of midfield protection, along with general indolence and incompetence. But the team’s central-defensive partnership has also been altered 23 times, with eight different combinations used; parsimony is not thusly achieved. As such, David Moyes must settle on a pairing and allow it to develop, and it need not include the slowed Vidic or Ferdinand, because each of the remaining three has qualities to recommend themselves. Phil Jones, though the least experienced, is the most talented, and therefore the obvious choice – but only if Moyes is sure he can avoid the temptation to use him in midfield. Then, alongside, should be either Chris Smalling or Jonny Evans. Smalling’s ability on and under the ball is suspect, but he has recovery pace and decent form, while Evans reads the game well, is remarkably experienced for his age, and understands the importance of carrying the ball forward. Both have the raw materials to succeed, but only if given proper opportunity so to do. DH• David Moyes comes out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow • Phil Jones hails Juan Mata’s positive impact9) Will Mourinho play 21st century football?At the Etihad Stadium on Monday night, we may see the key game of this Premier League season. A Mourinho-fired Chelsea look the side most likely to challenge Manchester City for the title, but defeat would leave them six points behind – a gap not insurmountable, but one it would be hard to see them closing. Given that we already know City’s approach to the game – they will simply attack – interest will centre on how Chelsea proceed, particularly following Mourinho’s midweek criticism of West Ham. Was it hypocrisy, misdirection, honesty, or a mixture of all three? Whichever way, it would not be surprising to see Chelsea employ a similar strategy – as they did at Old Trafford and the Emirates, when there was a lot less to lose. But, though understandable, it would also be counter-productive – they will need teams to beat City between now and May, and if not them, then who? DH• Chelsea set to sign Kurt Zouma from St Etienne• Manchester City talk to Porto about Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando 10) Can Sam start winning?After securing a goalless draw at Chelsea, Not Insubstantial Samuel was at his self-basting best. “I’ve got as much experience as anybody else in this league, and I know what it takes,” he said. “In fact from our players’ point of view, what we lacked in quality we made up for in organisation, grit and determination”. But although West Ham can be justifiably pleased with their point, it is not those gained in the singular that will keep them up; so far this season they have won just four times, joint-fewest of any team in the league. Consequently, it is imperative they begin recording wins, and games do not come much more obliging than Swansea at home. Another draw or defeat, and people might just start questioning the value of both quantities of experience, and knowledge of takings. DH• West Ham sign midfielder Abdul Razak on short-term deal• Thomas Ince set to hold talks with Swansea City over loan movePremier LeagueSouthamptonSunderlandCardiff CityAston VillaEvertonArsenalHull CityLiverpoolChelseaWest Ham UnitedJacob SteinbergBarry GlendenningDavid HytnerDaniel Harristheguardian.com 2014 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 striker informs referee that Everton fans pelted him while he was preparing to take a corner during 4-0 derby victoryDetails