Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Fulham move on from Morrison

Fulham must admit defeat in their pursuit of West Ham United's Ravel Morrison
Fulham must admit defeat in their pursuit of West Ham United's Ravel Morrison

Fulham must admit defeat in their bid to sign West Ham forward Ravel Morrison, at least in the short-term, according to boss Rene Meulensteen.

With the transfer window shut to Premier League clubs, but open for those in the Championship and below to make loan moves, QPR boss Harry Redknapp has claimed his side are aiming to tie up a deal for the former Manchester United man.

And if Redknapp's promotion candidates can secure a return to the top-flight, they would surely become favourites to get Morrison on a permanent basis if West Ham were to let him go, particularly given the relationship between the east London club and Fulham following events last month.

Fulham had a transfer bid for Morrison rejected in January, with the Hammers accusing the Cottagers of an illegal approach.

Meulensteen insisted Morrison wanted to join Fulham when speaking after his side's 3-0 FA Cup replay victory over Norwich on January 15, sparking West Ham's grievance.

Now Meulensteen can only watch on from the sidelines.

"There's not very much we can do at this time, and what other clubs do we can't affect," said Meulensteen.

"The only thing I can affect is what we're doing at Fulham."

Fulham host Liverpool in Barclays Premier League action on Wednesday night, the game going ahead unaffected after planned London Underground strikes were called off at the last minute.

Buoyed by Sunday's 2-2 draw at Manchester United, Meulensteen admitted subduing Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge could be the ultimate challenge.

Meulensteen believes Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers deserves high praise for winning the fight to retain Suarez and reintegrating the Uruguay goal machine seamlessly after his ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic.

"It's been a job very well done from Brendan Rodgers to keep him at Liverpool and help him have the season he has had," said Meulensteen.

"How do you stop them? They've had an incredible season, the pace and the penetration, the variety and the unpredictability in the way they can all score goals.

"So it has to be all hands on deck for us to make sure that we defend in a good, compact manner, that we keep communicating, don't leave gaps for them to get through and play through.

"But the defensive performance from Sunday was definitely a massive improvement, and we can build on that."

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson questioned Liverpool stalwart Steven Gerrard's status as a modern great in his recent autobiography.

Meulensteen worked at Ferguson's side for scores of United-Liverpool grudge matches, and rates Gerrard as among the best the Premier League has to offer.

"In my opinion he is a top player, definitely," said Meulensteen. "Brendan [Rodgers] is looking at the players available and where he will best slot in as well.

"If Lucas would be fit, then probably Lucas would play a bit deeper and Gerrard a bit freer.

"But he probably thinks Gerrard is the best to play the deeper role now, it suits him, he's got the range of passing to do it, so he's still a very important player for Liverpool."

Kostas Mitroglu's knee injury continues to keep Fulham's new recruit sidelined, while defender Fernando Amorebieta will also miss out, but should return to training this week.

Hailing the impact of Everton capture Johnny Heitinga, Meulensteen said squad stalwarts Brede Hangeland and Scott Parker will fully understand being overlooked for the starting XI in Sunday's Manchester United clash.

"Johnny's been brilliant," said Meulensteen. "He's an established Dutch international, has vast experience and best of all he's a leader, he talks.

"Both Scotty and Brede are top, top players, and every manager would want players like that in their squad.

"That's why they've been around for many, many years.

"They are the first players to understand when a manager makes those sorts of changes, which they would not necessarily be happy about, but will accept and do everything they can if and when called upon."

Rodgers believes the evolution of Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson are prime examples of the strides being made at Anfield.

Coutinho was signed just over a year ago from Inter Milan for £8.5million and immediately showcased his abilities as a playmaker with an eye for a defence-slitting pass.

Where the little Brazilian came up short was going the other way where his defensive contribution was often found wanting.

Coutinho's arrival also coincided with a return to the team of Henderson, who - after rejecting the chance to join Wednesday's opponents Fulham the previous summer - had been a fringe player in Rodgers' first season.

A year on and the pair have cemented their positions as first choices and the manager credits the players with stepping up their efforts.

On Coutinho, Rodgers said: "He's got wonderful technique but obviously coming into the British game and this league there are other components you need to play.

"He's five foot seven, he's got brilliant technique, he's tactically cute and clever, but physically he's has everything to cope.

"People always wonder about small players in this league, can they play and can they cope?

"I think for players like him and Joe Allen, it's about the talent and if you've got the strength, your brain, the power and the mentality, you can succeed.

"If you talked to him I think he'd say one of the elements of his game he's improved are his defensive qualities - and he needs that because it's important for us and how we play."

Coutinho's presence in Liverpool's midfield, harrying and harassing Arsenal in Saturday's 5-1 victory, showed how he was putting that improved physicality into practice.

"He's not going to be diving in jumping into challenges but he can intercept, he can block, he can get up to people and press the ball," added Rodgers.

"You see with the fourth goal how he intercepted. His positioning is good so he can block passes and intercept.

"He's got a wonderful feel for a pass that not many players have.

"You either get midfield players who are holding midfield players or they're runners - he's one that can do both.

"He can get on the ball, penetrate with his passing, and he gives us a wonderful cutting edge to go and put our talented players in."

Coutinho may well have taken note of Henderson's all-action, high-energy approach in Rodgers' up-tempo pressing game which has seen him flourish over the last year.

"Jordan is taking that mantra on as well as anyone," added the Reds boss, who believes the 23-year-old is deserving of a starting place in Roy Hodgson's England team at this summer's World Cup.

"He has got everything physically. He has stature as a player and I have been mightily impressed with his tactical idea of the game and now he looks like he is ready to play for England for many years.

"Jordan can break a line on his run, can press and run and tactically he is improving so much.

"The way he is working, we would want to secure his services (on a new contract). He still has all his best years ahead of him and you can see his growth and development.

"He will want to get better and I'm sure it is in the interests of the club to tie him down."

Rodgers believes had Hodgson come to Anfield last weekend instead of sending assistant Ray Lewington, he would have seen England's first-choice midfield in action.

"For me you had the three England players on the pitch on Saturday with Jordan, Stevie (Steve Gerrard) controlling and (Arsenal's) Jack Wilshere," he said.

"You would have Stevie playmaking from behind and two attacking players who can run, get forward and get into the box and can press.

"With Stevie's experience controlling from behind it would be hard to pick a better three than that."

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