After six years, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to say his goodbyes to Arsenal in the next few days as the 2017 summer transfer window draws to a close, but who is this move good for, if anyone?
It is remarkable to think that, given he had two years of professional football at then-League One Southampton behind him before signing for the Gunners, that Oxlade-Chamberlain is still only 24 years of age.
Although he will understandably be a bit miffed that Arsene Wenger’s side will be in Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time in 20 years and therefore wants to be back in the Champions League, but at what potential cost for a player, it is fair to say, still in development?
It would appear that Oxlade-Chamberlain now has two options at his disposal after Manchester City’s interest looks to have faded into oblivion, leaving Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea, and Liverpool.
What is in doubt though, whichever club he chooses, is who is supposed to benefit from ‘The Ox’ signing on the dotted line.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte changed the face of English football last season when his 3-4-3 system blew away everyone before it and, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, with seemingly every manager in the Premier League now adopting the formation.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s current manager, Wenger is no exception, and he has used the original winger as his right wing-back to little success, which most recently culminated in a 4-0 humiliation at Liverpool and the latest calls for the Frenchman’s head.
Regardless, that has not deterred Conte who presumably sees Oxlade-Chamberlain as competition for Victor Moses, but with Moses adapting so surprisingly well to the role compared to his potential rival, will the new man get the football he requires?
It will be even less likely if instead he is considered in the wing-forward/number ten role where Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard provide a stern enough battle as it is.
Alternatively, Anfield is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s destination. It will mean he will be back in his favoured winger role, but again the amount of options at Liverpool’s disposal will end up in Oxlade-Chamberlain on the fringes, with Moh Salah and Sadio Mane two of the first names on the Reds’ team sheet and Adam Lallana in first reserve.
Granted, none of this may matter to Oxlade-Chamberlain if he gets the Champions League football he so desperately craves in a rotational fashion, however he also has to consider that this is a World Cup year and, even though the Three Lions do not have a wealth of options available, they are still unlikely to take a squad player to Russia next summer.
Maybe he would be better off staying at Arsenal, ironically maybe the only ‘winners’ here, given they will get a reasonable fee for a man out of contract at the end of the season, but that contract stand-off looks to have burned all of his bridges at the Emirates.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has spent his summer trying to get out of a club in crisis, but in doing so he has created one of his own.
Jurgen Klopp’s long-awaited appointment as Liverpool manager sparked mass excitement among Reds fans all over – and rightly so – he is a perfect fit for the club.
A quote by Klopp back in September that stated he would probably not end his sabbatical from management for a “top club” has been resurfaced by fans mocking Liverpool’s fall from grace but Klopp also said he would rather work on an exciting “project”.
Despite jibes, five-time European Cup winners Liverpool are still a big club, huge in fact, but restoring a team who has not won a top flight title in 25 years to contenders again is without doubt the “project” that tugs on Klopp’s heartstrings.
“The intensity of the football, how the fans live football in Liverpool, around Liverpool and all over the world (attracted him the club).
“It’s not a normal club. It’s a special club. I had two special clubs in Mainz and Borussia Dortmund and this is the perfect next step for me”.
The German also joked in a mesmeric first press conference that if he has not guided Liverpool to at least one title over the course of his four-year contract, he will move to Switzerland.
Chief Executive Ian Ayre was openly delighted with his new man saying:
“When we started the search (for a new manager), it was important that we found somebody that we thought could bring success to the club. It was important we could find someone who could take on the size, the might and the ambition of the club and Jurgen certainly ticks those boxes”.
A sign of progress: Klopp’s appointment could be the start of big things for Liverpool
The size of the project will not daunt Klopp in the slightest. His transformation of Borussia Dortmund into a European heavyweight for a brief period is not to be understated
Dortmund would have gone out of business in 2003 had it not been for a 2 million Euro loan from Bayern Munich and they came close to bankruptcy again in 2005.
Klopp was appointed at Signal Iduna Park in 2008 off the back of a season in which Dortmund almost got relegated but nevertheless qualified for the Europa League as they got to the DFB-Pokal final (a 2-1 loss against Bayern).
Just two years later, Klopp guided them to fifth and the following season they were champions and the year after that they were defending champions – with a then record of 81 points. Dortmund also claimed the DFB-Pokal (German FA Cup) in a famous double winning year.
They lost their title in what was ultimately a cruel 2012-13 campaign as they finished second to Bayern in the league, the Supercup and the Champions League, but it was no doubt a tremendous achievement nonetheless. Dortmund finished second again in 2013-14 before the slump last season that ended in them finishing seventh and Klopp’s famous tenure ending via resignation.
Under Klopp, Liverpool should also become a lot wiser in the transfer market. The club currently work with a transfer committee, which includes the manager, where the group work on who the club should sign.
During Brendan Rodgers’ three-year spell in charge, Liverpool spent just over £210 million and only Daniel Sturridge (£15 million), Phillippe Coutinho (£8.5 million), Simon Mignolet (£9 million) and Mamadou Sakho (£15 million) could be described as relatively successful buys.
Most notable flops include Fabio Borini (£10 million), Joe Allen (£15 million), Luis Alberto (£6.8 million), Iago Aspas (£7 million), Dejan Lovren (£20 million), Lazar Markovic (also £20 million) and the infamous Mario Balotelli (£16 million).
Of that not-so-secret seven, only two (Allen and Lovren) are currently part of the first team squad while Alberto, Markovic and Balotelli have been loaned out to Deportivo, Fenerbache and AC Milan respectively and Borini and Aspas have been sold to the likes of Sunderland and Sevilla.
Klopp is likely to be more astute. At Mainz and Dortmund he has picked up a reputation of signing unwanted or underrated players on the cheap and moulding them into some of the finest talents in the modern game.
Mats Hummels was acquired for Dortmund from Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for just 4 million Euros, Ilkay Gundogan joined for the same fee from FC Nurnburg and Shinji Kagawa initially moved to the Black and Yellows from native Japanese outfit Cerezo Osaka for a modest 350,000 thousand Euros.
Klopp for the Kop: Could domestic silverware be coming to Anfield soon?
His finest achievements though are the players that left his Dortmund for arch-rivals Bayern.
Mario Gotze, scorer of the goal that won Germany the World Cup last summer, is a product of the BVB youth system and was given his first-team debut by Klopp. Robert Lewandowski, currently on a scoring streak of 15 goals in six games, also became a household name under Liverpool’s new boss after he was prized from Lech Poznan for just 4.5 million Euros.
With the mercurial Klopp at the helm, Liverpool could and should be wiser in the transfer market if the boss is given control and the esteemed youth academy could be used to good effect once again to produce the next Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher that the Merseyside club are crying out for.
What is arguably most important though, as the reaction to his unveiling proved, Klopp has the power, the prestige and presence to unite Liverpool supporters and give them a reason to shout once more.
Rodgers’ appointment led to mixed views, from the young exciting coach who transformed Swansea and to do the same for Liverpool to take them to the next level, to the manager who was inexperienced with a big club and only had a Championship play-off final trophy to his name.
Klopp however has got lips moving, hearts racing and fingers tapping excitedly on keyboards at the prospect of Liverpool becoming great again, to be feared again, and more importantly respected again.
“Liverpool think they’re a big club, but the real big clubs are not too worried about them, who they buy, what they are going to do”, according to Carragher, but now they have Klopp, that might just change.
The 2015-16 Premier League season is slowly dawning upon us and, soon enough, so will the dreaded “sack race”. Here are five managers that will need a good start this season to prevent themselves being dragged into the mire.
1) Steve McClaren – Newcastle United
Newcastle’s murky issues off-the-pitch seem to finally look like they are coming to an end. Alan Pardew resigning as manager to take over at Crystal Palace in December 2014 was the beginning of the end of the “Cockney Mafia” and now owner Mike Ashley is set to step down to much fanfare from the Newcastle faithful.
New manager McClaren hopefully signifies a new dawn at St.James’ Park, however he arrives in Tyneside having twice failed to gain promotion from the Championship with Derby County following a brief stint as a coach at QPR, a failed return to FC Twente where he previously won the Eredivisie, a four month spell at Nottingham Forest and a dismal period at Wolfsburg where he was sacked after less than a year.
McClaren has defiantly announced his intentions to be the first man to bring a major honour to Newcastle since Stan Steymour who won the FA Cup in 1955 while in charge, which could suggest the Magpies’ league position could be sacrificed in order to pick up some shiny silverware.
A home match against Southampton offers McClaren a decent prospect of a promising start as Newcastle boss where he will be backed by a 50,000-plus capacity crowd, but defeat will only remind his new fans that he was once a man leading arch-rivals Middlesbrough to a 2004 League Cup win and a 2006 UEFA Cup final.
Man About Toon: McClaren is the new Newcastle boss.
2) Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool
What a year for Rodgers – and not in a good way. He finished May 2014 by signing a four-year extension to his Liverpool contract after winning the LMA Manager of the Year award a few weeks earlier having guided the Reds to 2nd place in the Premier League scoring 101 goals in the process – the club’s most since the 1895-96 season and the third highest in Premier League history. He finished May 2015 with Liverpool in sixth and his job under scrutiny.
Raheem Sterling’s likely departure gives him another headache, as for already the second time in his tenure, he has to find a replacement for his top goalscorer – although Daniel Sturridge missed most of last season through injury.
That ultimately made his job a lot more difficult, as did £15 million man Mario “the postman does not celebrate when he posts a letter” Balotelli failing to deliver.
The Northern Irishman has wasted no time in recruiting for next season, already bringing in six new faces at the time of writing.
Charlton’s Joe Gomez (£3.5 million), Roberto Firmino of Hoffenheim (£21.3 million), Manchester City’s James Milner (free), Burnley striker Danny Ings (tribunal), Bolton’s Adam Bogdan (free) and Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne (£10 million) are the early Anfield arrivals to bolster what was a small side that struggled to cope with both Champions League and Premier League matches last season.
It is not a problem they will have this time around, which could work in their favour like it did two seasons ago, but with Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City being seven of Liverpool’s first eight away games and Jurgen Klopp still as yet being unemployed, Rodgers could well be soon nervously looking over his shoulder.
3) Arsene Wenger – Arsenal
Two successive FA Cup triumphs has certainly relieved some pressure on Arsene Wenger – it has silenced a few doubters, anyway – but this needs to be the season the Gunners finally start firing on all fronts.
The blow-your-socks-off signing of Alexis Sanchez for £35 million around this time last summer was the second sign of intent after the £42.5 million capture of Mesut Ozil the previous season from a manager who had attracted a reputation of being a bit stingy in the transfer market.
Sanchez swiftly showed with his performances why his manager paid the big bucks and the Chilean would later be named Arsenal Player of the Year.
Other signings Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina, and January buy Gabriel Paulista did not quite have the same impact though – with unexpected progress coming from academy players Hector Bellerin and Francis “Le Coq” Coquelin.
Whether Coquelin really is the rock-solid holding role midfielder Arsenal have been craving for years remains to be truly seen, but for now it has filled a reasonably large gap in the “how far are Arsenal away from being Premier League champions?” puzzle.
One piece of the jigsaw has definitely been found, however with the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from London and title foes Chelsea for £10.9 million.
While the Czech Republic international was no longer the main man between the sticks for the Blues, he is still clearly a top stopper and a definite upgrade on both Wojciech Szczesny and Ospina with Jose Mourinho openly reluctant to sell Cech to a Premier League rival.
Unlike McClaren and Rodgers, Wenger is not wary of an early sacking, but only picking up six points from their opening 12 last season opened the door for Chelsea to romp to the title. A better start this August, and we may just see a first Arsenal triumph since that “Invincibles” team of 2004.
4) Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur
Despite failing to reach the much-coveted Champions League places, Pochettino’s first year as Tottenham boss was a success, finishing fifth and guiding the north Londoners to a League Cup final, but some fans are still not totally sold on him due to a lack of plan B.
The Argentine has wasted no time in planning for next season though, bolstering what was an, at best, dodgy defense with the proven Premier League buys of Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld (both undisclosed fee) who enjoyed successful seasons with Burnley and Southampton respectively in addition to FC Koln’s Kevin Wimmer (also undisclosed fee).
Spurs may attract some neutral admirers this season too with the English core that has the potential to develop in the coming years. Harry Kane had a phenomenal rise last season, going from third choice at Tottenham to most prolific English marksman in the Premier League in the space of seven months.
Ryan Mason, who has spent the majority of his seven-year Tottenham career out on loan to clubs such as Yeovil, Doncaster, Millwall and France’s Lorient ended the 2014-15 season as a once capped England international just a year after spending time on-loan at League One Swindon Town.
Eric Dier also found himself in the spotlight and the new additions of the aforementioned Trippier and Dele Alli (£5 million from MK Dons) join a rejuvenated Danny Rose, Three Lions regular Andros Townsend and Alex Pritchard who returns to White Hart Lane after two successful loan spells at Brentford and Swindon while, although Algerian, academy graduate Nabil Bentaleb will generate admirers from those who love a home-grown player.
This is similar to when he was at Southampton with Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert all getting England recognition as well as Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Clyne and Jay Rodriguez all earning plaudits while Pochettino was in charge at St.Mary’s.
Pochettino will get a good opportunity to get some early points on the board once the difficult task of Manchester United away is chalked off with Stoke at home, Leicester away, Everton at home, Sunderland away and Crystal Palace at home following that as they look to go one step further and finally reach the promised land of the top four.
Maur of the same please, Poch: Pochettino with rising star Harry Kane.
5) Manuel Pellegrini – Manchester City
It is fair to say that Manuel Pellegrini starting the 2015-16 season at the helm of the Citizens a little surprising.
His pedigree of taking Villarreal to the semi-final of the 2005-06 Champions League and fellow Spanish side Malaga to the same stage five seasons later got him the Manchester City job with the target of making them in a force in Europe, which he has so far failed to do so.
Winning the league title in 2014 did Pellegrini’s reputation no harm, but a trophy-less season where City did not really challenge for the title, only made the last 16 of the Champions League and round four of both the FA and League Cup was underwhelming to say the least.
A huge rebuilding is expected at the Etihad this summer with young talents Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph all linked with a move to the blue side of Manchester in order to give them a new lease of life and restore them as champions of England, and finally get them to worry Europe’s elite.
Failure to do so, however, may just result in the Engineer Pellegrini needing a servicing.
Unbeaten in the Premier League since December 21 2014, Liverpool are now well and truly in the mix for a place in the top three, largely due to the very thing that hampered them last season.
Offensively, Liverpool were dynamite in 2013/14, scoring 101 goals in 38 games, largely thanks to Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez with 31 goals and runner up Daniel Sturridge with 21 of his own.
Defensively, however, they fizzled out. 50 goals were conceded by the Reds, 12 teams conceded more, only two of which (Tottenham and Newcastle) finished in the top half.
A collapse at the back in the iconic 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace when 3-0 up comes to mind as the match that lost Liverpool the title.
This campaign has pretty much been the complete opposite, Liverpool’s strikers have been rather pathetic, while defensively they have improved massively, despite early season stick.
Summer signing Mario Balotelli has just one Premier League goal, as does Fabio Borini, while Rickie Lambert and Sturridge (who has been out injured until recently) have just two each.
Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping has been brought into question regularly this season, despite this though he does have the joint second highest amount of clean sheets (10) from 24 games. Only Southampton’s Fraser Forster (12) has more.
Simon says “don’t let them score”: Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.
This is largely due to Brendan Rodgers’ new system of defenders with three centre backs – Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and the most impressive of the trio Emre Can playing in-between the wing-backs of Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.
Can and Markovic deserve the main plaudits here, due to them both being played in unfavoured positions.
Bayern Munich castaway Can has slotted into the heart of Liverpool’s back line since his £9.75 million arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in July, and does not look out of place despite his astute frame and young age of 21.
Markovic, meanwhile has adjusted to playing in a deeper role than what he was used to at Benfica and Partizan Belgrade.
Moreno too on the other flank is the closest thing Liverpool have come to replacing the marauding full-back that was club legend John Arne Riise, probably best underlined by the gif of each player’s first goal for the club.
Not forgetting Anfield cult hero Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian has been subject to both boo boys and fan boys during his time in Merseyside, but everyone loves him now – and rightly so.
Seven of the 10 clean sheets Liverpool have amassed this season have came when Lucas was in the side with the 28-year-old also boasting a passing accuracy of 86%, and has also made 57 tackles in 14 games.
Although the other end of the pitch has been a problem for Rodgers’ side, Philippe Coutinho is now more pivotal to his side and Sterling has blossomed in a false nine role up top, leading the club’s scoring charts with six goals.
Sturridge’s return to injury, and hopefully form, may now make this Liverpool squad the most complete in recent history as they march on to the coveted Champions League places.
Fabian Frei’s 25th minute strike cranked up the heat on Brendan Rodgers’ pressure cooker as Liverpool’s flash in the pan Champions League campaign finished with a fizzle.
Frei fired in from the edge of the box after a neat one-two with Luca Zuffi to knock out the five time champions at the group stage despite Steven Gerrard’s equaliser.
Gerrard, hero of that night against Olympiakos on this day 10 years ago, dragged Liverpool level with a trademark free-kick eight minutes before the end to ensure a tense finish.
Rodgers’ reds were repugnant up until their goal though and their performance left a sour taste in the mouth in front of an expectant Anfield crowd that produced a fiery atmosphere pre match on an ice cold Tuesday night.
Substitute Lazar Markovic boiled over just after the hour, sent off for flailing an arm into the face of Behrang Safari who went down like he had been shot like a poacher after minimal, if any, contact but the malice from Markovic was clear to see and the Serbian was shown his marching orders.
Martin Skrtel of all people fashioned an uncharacteristic effort from distance that narrowly swerved past the woodwork shortly after Taulant Xhaka shot wide at the other end.
The Liverbirds did produce a late flurry that left all those watching with their hearts in their mouths but ultimately came up short.
Gerrard and Jordan Henderson forced fine saves in the final five from the Basel keeper but finished third and go into the Europa League.
LIVERPOOL’S Champions League life hangs in the balance going into their final group game against Swiss champions FC Basel at Anfield tonight.
The Reds have only amassed four points from a possible 15 in their five games and only victory will be enough to see them move into the knockout stages.
Basel have been somewhat of a nemesis to English clubs in this competition in the past however, beating Chelsea home and away in the 2012/13 season as well as eliminating Manchester United the previous year with a 2-1 win at their home of St.Jakob-Park.
Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets are the only opposition Liverpool have picked up points against in Europe so far, winning 2-1 in the red side Merseyside and drawing 2-2 in Razgrad.
They have not been much better domestically either and are currently languishing in ninth, six points off the coveted place in the top four spot that enables them to qualify for next season’s competition.
Liverpool last won the Champions League in 2005 but required a two-goal winning margin against Olympiakos on this day 10 years ago to progress from the group and secure the 3-1 win.
The feat was achieved thanks to a dramatic rasping strike in the dying seconds from Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers will be hoping the spirit of that night will still resonate with his out-of-form club captain.
Gerrard was only used as a late substitute on Saturday despite scoring against Leicester the previous Tuesday as Liverpool limped to a lifeless 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland.
Steven Gerrard is reportedly currently pondering signing a new one-year deal at Liverpool with his current one set to expire in the summer but is it time for both parties to move on?
The Anfield icon, 34, is expected to suffer a drop in wages if he accepts the proposed offer instead of leaving the club in June.
Liverpool’s captain has also had to deny a rift with boss Brendan Rodgers this week after the manager dropped Gerrard as he marked his 16th anniversary at the club as well as benching him when the Reds faced Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.
Rodgers revealed he “wasn’t aware” of the landmark until he walked into the dressing room and saw the programme. Gerrard insisted in an Instagram post the following day that a rumoured rift was “nonsense”.
Matters on the football pitch obviously need to be considered too of course with Rodgers admitting his skipper can no longer play two full games a week.
He has been forced to play in a much deeper role in Liverpool’s diamond formation which limits his influence in the final third of the pitch that he was once so needed for.
Gerrard looking a frustrated figure on the Liverpool bench
Jordan Henderson (55), Philippe Coutinho (57) and Adam Lallana, then at Southampton (63), all completed more key passes than Gerrard (54) last season and Lallana created more chances (68) than Gerrard (67) too. Henderson and Coutinho fashioned 62 and 64 respectively.
Gerrard did contribute the most assists (13) but only one of these did not come from either a corner or a free-kick. He also notched the most goals out of the five, also 13, but 10 of them were penalties.*
Veteran talisman Gerrard has only missed one match this campaign (the League Cup win over Middlesbrough) – making 16 starts and two substitute appearances but some of his displays have left a lot to be desired.
Most notably the 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace where Mile Jedinak dominated the midfield (even scoring a free-kick in a similar vain of a younger Gerrard), as well as Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie repeatedly leaving him for dead with their speed, strength, power and guile.
The much improved Henderson is starting to become the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield much like he is for England since the former Three Lions captain retired following their dismal World Cup display where they finished bottom of their group.
The new Gerrard: Jordan Henderson, finally justifying that £20 million price tag
It was a disappointing display in Brazil from most members of the 23-man squad but unfortunately for him, Gerrard will be tainted with providing the nail in England’s coffin with a mistimed header that played in then club colleague Luis Suarez to knock Roy Hodgson’s men out after only two games.
By Liverpool fans, Gerrard will be remembered as the “one club man” who turned down the glamour of Chelsea’s riches and Premier League titles in 2004 for his beloved Reds and pretty much single handedly dragging them to glory in the 2005 Istanbul Champions League final.
But to many others, Anfield’s legendary number eight will forever remind them of individual errors.
From the dodgy back-pass that led to France beating England 2-1 at Euro 2004 after being 1-0 down in injury time as well as doing the same again, teeing up Didier Drogba in 2010 to all but win the title for Chelsea and of course that slip last season against the same club that cost him his best chance of winning the Premier League.
And as more of these mistakes creep into Gerrard’s game in tandem with his influence on a football pitch fading, Liverpool need to respectfully shun their skipper in order to retain his status as a bona fide Liverpool legend.
Liverpool’s Selhurst Park curse continued as Crystal Palace cruised to a win to climb out of the bottom three while the Reds are now winless in four.
Late strikes from Joe Ledley and an astonishing Mile Jedinak free-kick sealed the three points for Palace despite Liverpool taking the lead after just two minutes.
Rickie Lambert scored his first goal in Liverpool colours to give his boyhood club a dream start before Palace pegged them back.
It was a goal made in Southampton with Lambert latching onto Adam Lallana’s through ball before tucking the ball past Julian Speroni.
Dwight Gayle took the wind out of Liverpool’s sails soon after though, equalising 15 minutes later when he turned in the rebound from Yannick Bolasie’s fierce strike off the post for his fourth goal in his last three games against Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Palace had to wait a little longer for their second but it was well worth it, Bolasie, who terrorised Liverpool all game, flicked the ball over Dejan Lovren and then squared it to Ledley who was never going to miss from point blank range.
Jedinak completed the scoring when he curled in a corker of a free-kick nine minutes before the end.
Reigning champions Real Madrid kept up their 100% start to this season’s Champions League campaign thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a brace from Karim Benzema.
Ballon d’Or holder Ronaldo set the Galacticos on their way 23 minutes in, capping off a wonderful one-two with James Rodriguez, letting the ball bounce before beating a despairing Simon Mignolet inside the box with an accomplished finish.
Benzema doubled the visitors’ lead on the half hour mark with a looping header from Toni Kroos’ cross, leaving Mignolet stranded in the Liverpool goal once again.
The French forward netted his second of the tie four minutes before the break when he bundled in a badly defended corner. Pepe scrambled the set piece into the path of the 27-year-old to end the contest before half time.
Phillipe Coutinho came closest for the hosts with a rasping drive in the first half that rattled the post but did not find the net to the relief of the under fire Goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Ronaldo, the ex Manchester United star who scored his first ever goal at the home of their arch rivals tonight, was keen to silence the boo boys during the 90 minutes but could not add to his tally, shooting wide on one occasion and was denied by Mignolet on a few occasions.
He was replaced later on in the second half by Sami Khedira with Carlo Ancelotti clearly having one eye on Saturday’s El Clasico which promises to be an exciting occasion on Saturday evening.
Aston Villa grinded out an unexpected 0-1 win over Liverpool thanks to an early goal by Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Agbonlahor, who this week signed a four-year contract extension at Villa Park, put his boyhood club 0-1 up after just nine minutes when he bundled in a corner thanks to some poor Liverpool defending.
Said defence was under pressure again soon after but this time Phillipe Senderos headed over from Ashley Westwood’s free-kick.
Liverpool throughout tried and failed to break down a resolute and organised Villa side.
Mario Balotelli, who many quoted as a “bargain” at £16 million was ineffective against Senderos and Nathan Baker on his home debut in a Liverpool shirt and was replaced by Rickie Lambert with 20 minutes to go.
The controversial Italian had just one chance of note, a deflected effort in first half injury time that went wide.
Balotelli also had headed chances at corners but did not gain sufficient contact on either of them.
Liverpool’s closest effort came nine minutes before the end when Phillipe Coutinho hit the post from the outside of the area. From the rebound Raheem Sterling’s shot was blocked by his own player Jordan Henderson which summed up their day.
Brendan Rodgers’ side again showed that while plan A of patient but potent passing play can be deadly as well as easy on the eye, the side lacks a different option when teams set up to defend and hit them through a counter attack or, like this case, a set piece.
Aston Villa however were impressive in the way they set themselves up and continued their recent good form at Anfield, they have not lost there in their last four outings now.