United punish Gerrard, Chelsea extend lead

Manchester United punished Steven Gerrard’s moment of madness as Juan Mata’s double secured a vital 2-1 win over bitter rivals Liverpool, while leaders Chelsea reestablished their stranglehold on the Premier League title race with a 3-2 victory at Hull on Sunday.

United were already leading through Mata’s composed finish in the 14th minute at Anfield when Gerrard made Liverpool’s task even harder as he earned a red card just 43 seconds after coming on as a half-time substitute.

Making his final appearance against United before his close-season move to LA Galaxy, Gerrard was sent off, for the eighth time in his career, for a clear stamp on Ander Herrera.

United took full advantage of their numerical superiority as Mata scored a quite brilliant second goal in the 59th minute.

Angel di Maria picked out the former Chelsea midfielder with a clipped pass that Mata converted with a stunning bicycle kick.

Daniel Sturridge got one back for Liverpool 10 minutes later, but Brendan Rodgers’ side couldn’t find an equaliser, leaving Gerrard to apologise for a mistake that could cost his team a place in next season’s Champions League.

Fifth placed Liverpool are now five points behind fourth placed United in the race for a top four finish and Gerrard said: “I have let my team-mates and manager down today, even more importantly I let all the supporters down and I take full responsibility for my action.”

United’s victory would have been even bigger if Wayne Rooney’s stoppage-time penalty hadn’t been saved by Simon Mignolet, but boss Louis van Gaal was content with a success which keeps them one point behind third-placed Arsenal.

“It’s an amazing result for the fans, because we’ve beaten Liverpool three times this season. We now have a gap from positions five, six and seven which is very important,” he said.

“We kept the ball and created a lot of possibilities to score. I said whoever could beat the pressure shall win. Juan Mata was very good.”

– Superb strike –

At the KC Stadium, Chelsea survived some self-inflicted wounds to secure a win that kept them firmly on course to win the title for the first time since 2010.

After second-placed Manchester City had closed to within three points on Saturday, the west Londoners are now six points clear again, with a game in hand making their position even stronger.

Jose Mourinho’s side took just 78 seconds to go in front as Belgium midfielder Eden Hazard advanced to the edge of the penalty area, where he lashed a superb strike past Allan McGregor.

The Blues looked in complete control in the ninth minute when Spain striker Diego Costa cut in front the left to curl a fine finish into the far corner for his 19th league goal of the season.

But Hull reduced the deficit in the 26th minute thanks to Egypt international Ahmed Elmohamady, who swept home Andrew Robertson’s cross from close range.

And Steve Bruce’s team equalised just two minutes later after a disastrous piece of play from Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

When Branislav Ivanovic pushed a risky backpass towards Courtois, the Belgian tried to take a touch before clearing, but he allowed the ball to trickle away from him towards Hernandez and the Uruguayan forward gratefully accepted the present as he slotted into the empty net for his first goal since October.

Courtois redeemed himself with a series of second half saves and Chelsea grabbed a priceless winner in the 77th minute when McGregor allowed a fairly tame shot from French forward Loic Remy, who had only been on for three minutes, to escape his grasp and trickle into the net.

At Loftus Road, Everton erased the frustration of their Europa League exit with a 2-1 success at lowly QPR.

Roberto Martinez’s side had bowed out of Europe with a humbling 5-2 defeat at Dynamo Kiev on Thursday, but they took the lead in the 18th minute through Seamus Coleman.

QPR drew level when substitute Eduardo Vargas struck from close-range in the 65th minute.

But on-loan Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon won it for Everton in the 77th minute to move the Toffees nine points away from the relegation zone and leave second-bottom QPR four points from safety.

Photo Credits : AFP

Gerrard takes swipe at Balotelli over penalty row

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard accused Mario Balotelli of being disrespectful after the controversial Italian striker snatched penalty-taking duties away from Jordan Henderson during Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League win over Besiktas.

Gerrard was angry that Balotelli overruled Henderson when the stand-in Reds skipper tried to take an 85th-minute penalty in the last 32, first leg at Anfield.

With the game goalless, Jordon Ibe won the spot-kick and England international Henderson appeared set to fulfil his role as the assigned penalty taker in the absence of the injured Gerrard.

But Balotelli took the ball out of Henderson’s hands, prompting an exchange of words with the Liverpool midfielder before a visibly irritated Reds striker Daniel Sturridge arrived on the scene to protest on Henderson’s behalf.

Ignoring their complaints, Balotelli, who has endured a difficult time at Liverpool since his move from AC Milan last year, didn’t seem bothered by the fuss as he deliberately stutter-stepped in his run-up before coolly stroking home the spot-kick.

Balotelli has scored 27 of his 29 penalties for club and country throughout his career.

However, Gerrard, watching from the ITV studio at Anfield in his role as a pundit, was unimpressed by Balotelli’s behaviour.

“Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous,” Gerrard said on ITV.

“Credit to Mario, he’s scored, but it’s not nice to see when footballers are arguing.

“Jordan is the captain and Mario showed Jordan a bit of disrespect there, but he’s scored a very important goal.

“I think six or seven players would have wanted to take that penalty so if they all say they are taking it, what happens then?! Rules are in place for a reason.”

Henderson admitted that he wanted to take the penalty, but he diplomatically tried to draw a line under the incident.

“I wanted the penalty, Mario felt confident and he has taken big penalties before. Everyone wants to take them. I felt confident in Mario, he has taken big penalties before and he got the nod,” Henderson told ITV.

Photo Credits : AFP

I wanted to stay at Liverpool – Gerrard

Steven Gerrard would have stayed at Liverpool if he had been offered a new contract during the close season, he said in a British newspaper interview published on Wednesday.

Gerrard, 34, announced last Friday that he will leave Anfield at the end of the season, ending a 25-year association with the club that has seen him make 696 appearances and score 182 goals.

He turned down a new contract in November, but he says that had the offer been made earlier, he would have extended his commitment to the club beyond the end of the current campaign.

“If a contract had been put in front of me in pre-season, I would have signed it,” he told regional newspaper the Liverpool Echo.

“I’d just retired from England to concentrate all my efforts on Liverpool. I didn’t want my club games to be tailored.

“My injury record had been fantastic for the past two and a half years and I had a great season from a personal point of view last season.

“It’s all ifs, buts and hindsight now. That period between the summer and the end of November gave me thinking time.

“There’s no blame and I’m not angry about it. There are other people in the squad and the club had other things to worry about. There is no finger-pointing from me towards the manager or anyone else at the club.”

Gerrard is expected to announce that he will join Major League Soccer club the Los Angeles Galaxy, following reports he has agreed an 18-month deal worth around £6 million ($9.1 million, 7.6 million euros).

Gerrard appears set for Hollywood ending

A Hollywood ending for Steven Gerrard’s storied career seemed all but set Tuesday, with the Liverpool captain’s move to the Los Angeles Galaxy widely reported to be an all-but-done deal.

The Galaxy emerged as the front-runner for Gerrard’s services almost as soon as the 34-year-old confirmed that he would be heading to America when he leaves Liverpool at the end of the English Premiership season.

Gerrard will be ending a 25-year association with Liverpool.

Although details of a deal with the Galaxy reported by media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic differ slightly, most predict an 18-month contract.

A BBC report, which did not cite any sources, said the former England captain would sign a contract worth some £6 million ($9.1 million, 7.6 million euros) with the Galaxy.

The Guardian reported that Gerrard would likely receive a basic salary of £4 million with merchandising rights raising the figure.

ESPN and the Washington Post had reported at the weekend that such a deal was in the works, even as MLS and Galaxy officials declined to comment.

A move to the Galaxy would reunite Gerrard with his old Liverpool team-mate Robbie Keane and see him follow in the footsteps of former England colleague David Beckham, who spent five years at the California club.

The Galaxy won their fifth MLS title in December, and have a vacancy to fill thanks to the retirement of longtime star Landon Donovan.

Donovan’s departure left the Galaxy with a vacant designated player berth, which they can use to ink high-priced stars with relief from salary cap constraints.

Other MLS clubs with designated player spots available include New York Red Bulls, with the departure of France’s Thierry Henry, and Orlando City, who have signed Brazilian star Kaka and Honduran striker Bryan Rochez for their inaugural season but haven’t filled their third designated player spot.

A report in the Daily Telegraph that the New York Cosmos were interested in Gerrard seems nothing more than a red-herring.

The Cosmos are a glamorous name in US football thanks to their heyday in the 1970s, when they lured such global icons as Pele.

But the North American Soccer League in which they operate is a second-tier league.

Such a move by a player of Gerrard’s stature would certainly be a slap in the face to MLS, already stung by the decision of Manchester City owners to keep Frank Lampard in England until May rather than having him arrive for duty with MLS’s New York City FC for it’s first season starting in March.

Manchester City are part-owners of NYCFC and the move was widely interpreted as a sign that their fledgling MLS venture is a low priority.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber told Sports Illustrated that NYCFC will need to work to rebuild trust with New York Sports Fans who were expecting Lampard to play the full season.

But he noted that it’s nothing new for European stars coming into MLS to make their debuts in mid-season — as Gerrard will do and as Beckham, Keane and Henry did before him.

Gerrard denies valiant Wimbledon in FA Cup

Steven Gerrard illustrated his importance to Liverpool with two goals as his side avoided FA Cup third-round embarrassment by winning 2-1 at fourth-tier AFC Wimbledon on Monday.

Playing in his first game since announcing that he will leave Liverpool at the end of the season, Gerrard put the visitors ahead with a 12th-minute header at the 4,850-capacity Kingsmeadow stadium in south-west London.

Wimbledon’s man-mountain centre-forward Adebayo Akinfenwa, a Liverpool fan, stabbed home a 36th-minute equaliser, but Gerrard netted a fine free-kick in the second half to earn Brendan Rodgers’s side a home tie with Bolton Wanderers in round four.

Gerrard’s strike prevented Neil Ardley’s hosts from emulating the original Wimbledon’s famous 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, when Lawrie Sanchez scored the only goal and Dave Beasant saved a penalty from John Aldridge.

But despite defeat, the night proved a triumph for the club, which was formed by supporters in 2002 after Wimbledon were moved 56 miles (90 kilometres) north to Milton Keynes and rebranded as Milton Keynes Dons after failing to find a new ground in the local area.

Having started life in the ninth tier of the English league system, AFC Wimbledon have been promoted five times in the last nine years and were appearing in the third round for the first time.

Although Liverpool manager Rodgers named a strong team, showing only four changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Leicester City on New Year’s Day, it was the hosts who threatened first, with Sean Rigg running onto Matt Tubbs’s flick-on and dragging a shot across goal.

But it was Liverpool who took the lead, with captain Gerrard spraying a pass wide to right wing-back Javi Manquillo before steaming into the box to meet the Spaniard’s cross with a stooping header.

– Sloppy defending –

Lazar Markovic then flashed a cross-shot wide of the Wimbledon goal, but having tested Liverpool’s strength, the home side began to make inroads, abetted by some dangerously sloppy defending.

Rigg saw a close-range snapshot brilliantly tipped over by Simon Mignolet and Tubb hooked a shot fractionally wide before Akinfenwa netted the equaliser.

After Mignolet failed to come for a corner, the ball bounced off Mamadou Sakho’s arm, hit the bar and bounced down for the barrel-chested centre-forward to prod home from a yard.

Wimbledon, 72 places below Liverpool in the league pyramid, threatened to create a sensation early in the second period, with Gerrard obliged to clear a header from Adam Barrett off his own line and Rigg blazing over after stealing past Emre Can.

But a foul on Philippe Coutinho by Barry Fuller on the edge of the Wimbledon box gave Gerrard a chance to restore the visitors’ lead and he took it, arcing a trademark free-kick into the top-left corner.

Dannie Bulman almost equalised within seconds of the restart, but he blazed narrowly over with his left foot.

Liverpool finished the game strongly, with Shea saving from Rickie Lambert, Coutinho, Gerrard and Markovic, but only a brave stop by Mignolet prevented substitute Adebayo Azeez from equalising in stoppage time.

Gerrard, meanwhile, was denied a hat-trick at the death when his goal-bound shot was blocked on the line by Callum Kennedy, as a captivating cup tie came to a close.

Statement from Steven Gerrard on his decision to leave Liverpool

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has officially issued a statement on his departure from Liverpool Football Club and  called his decision to leave the club “the toughest” of his life. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: “It is almost an impossible task to find the words to appropriately sum up Steven Gerrard and his importance to Liverpool. Below is his official statement