Monday, 31 August 2009

Bolton 2 Liverpool 3

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

After the disappointment of the result at Anfield the previous Monday, Liverpool travelled to the Reebok stadium needing to get a win under their belts to prevent further drivel being written in the press. Bookmakers undoubtedly know their trade, but they clearly do not understand the machinations of a football club if they think that Rafael Benitez is a candidate for unemployment, and the constant media coverage of the ‘problems’ at the club are neither helpful nor informative when based on nothing more than conjecture. The starting line up contained a debutant in Kyrgiakos, replacing Martin Skrtel, and a first start of the season for Albert Riera who came in for Yossi Benayoun. No doubt this will be interpreted in the tabloids as Rafa’s ‘rotation policy’.

The first ten minutes were, perhaps unsurprisingly cagey, with Bolton having failed to find the net in either of their outings this season and Liverpool somewhat unwilling to push too hard for fear of conceding. The sole moment of note in the opening period was the challenge by Sean Davis on Mascherano for which a yellow card should have been produced, a decision which will have more relevance further on in this report.

As Liverpool began to emerge from their shell, the first decent chance of the match was produced. Riera crossed from the left flank and found Lucas bursting into the box unmarked. The Brazilian could not make the required contact, though, and the ball ran to the far side of the box where Glen Johnson collected. Darting inside onto his left foot, the impressive new boy put a dangerous ball across the face of the goal, and had Torres been able to make any contact then the first goal of the game would undoubtedly have been scored. A decent cross from Riera then went agonisingly over Torres’ head, and Liverpool were beginning to make their domination of possession pay. With Mascherano sitting in front of the back four, Lucas was given more license to go forward and support Gerrard and Torres, and he was unlucky on several occasions as the ball just failed to drop into his path following good runs.

As the game approached the half hour mark, though, Bolton too began to come forward with more adventure, and against the run of play they soon found themselves a goal to the good. After Torres had tested Jaskelainen with a deft chip, the home side drove up the pitch and won a disputable freekick thanks to a challenge from Kyrgiakos on Kevin Davies. Taylor swung the ball in towards the far post and Torres rose to head the ball over his own crossbar for a corner. Again the back upright was the target and Elmander rose highest to nod the ball back across the goal where Davies was waiting for the simplest of tap ins.

Again Liverpool looked to exert some more pressure in response to going behind, and soon Torres missed the best Liverpool chance of the game to this point. After a great passing move in front of the Bolton area, Johnson picked up the ball and swung in a cross to the far post. Torres took a touch and fired just wide, but soon Liverpool got their deserved equaliser. A corner from Riera was headed out to the edge of the box where again Johnson found himself in space. He took the ball inside Elmander who had come out to close him down and put a left foot shot low to the left of Jaskelainen.

With parity restored, Liverpool continued to press forward in the final five minutes of the half, without further troubling the Bolton keeper to any great extent. The home side, in fact, would have gone in ahead had Reina not pulled off a great diving save from a Taylor freekick. Davis received a booking just before the half time whistle, which should have seen him sent off after his earlier misdemeanours, but it was to prove a short stay of execution for the midfielder.

Rafa made no changes to the eleven during the break, understandable given the much improved performance. Within two minutes of the restart, though, disaster struck again as another set-piece put Bolton 2-1 in front. Jaskelainen hoofed a high ball into the Liverpool box, where Kevin Davies was too strong for Kyrgiakos. He nudged the ball further into the area where a slip from Carragher left Cohen with another simple finish.

Liverpool went close from a set-piece of their own on fifty minutes, with Gerrard having been fouled by Muamba. The skipper took the freekick himself and whilst Kyrgiakos won the ball at the back post he was unable to direct it on target. A dubious penalty appeal then received short shrift from Alan Wiley (quite rightly), but the referee was soon in the thick of things showing a red card to Sean Davis. As Lucas burst forward, Davis attempted to get back goal-side and succeeded only in clipping the legs of the Liverpool man. Wiley must have seen some intent in the challenge, producing a second yellow for Davis and dismissed him from the field. In all honesty, the challenge was more unlucky than malicious, although as I have already mentioned he could have gone prior to the break and so perhaps justice was done.

Liverpool saw their chance and immediately went for the jugular, with Gerrard smashing the ball against the crossbar with a fierce effort. Kuyt’s nod down found the Liverpool captain in yards of space and he was unlucky that his effort did not get the result it deserved. A succession of corners then followed, although it was as Bolton pushed out having cleared that Liverpool got a deserved equaliser. A ball lofted into the box from Gerrard found Kuyt, who cushioned the ball beautifully into the path of Torres, who took one touch before side footing past the helpless Jaskelainen.

The reds then strangely seemed to take their foot off the pedal, with only a long range Mascherano effort to test the Bolton keeper in the ten minutes that followed. Benayoun came on to replace Riera on the left wing but the home side, again sending a high ball into the box, then had a weak penalty appeal turned down as Kyrgiakos challenged Davies.

As the game began to become more stretched, though, a curling shot from Gerrard then went a yard wide of the mark and soon after a good pass from Kuyt into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ found no-one in the middle to slot home. Gerrard again went close after his initial effort rebounded off Taylor’s arm. Liverpool were now again dominating both possession and territorially, without the required breakthrough. Gerrard slid the ball through to Kuyt whose shot skewed off the outside of his boot and went well wide, and soon after Mascherano was replaced by Voronin in an attacking change from Benitez. It was now one-way traffic and a right foot shot from Johnson was well saved by Jaskelainen, moments before an overhead kick from Kyrgiakos again found the Bolton keeper steadfast. With the clock ticking into the last ten minutes of the game, the Liverpool fans were wondering if their team was to be frustrated by a resolute Bolton side, but a familiar saviour was to ensure all three points would come back to Anfield.

A cross from Johnson rebounded off Torres to Gerrard, who again found himself without a marker on the edge of the box. The reds talisman unleashed an unstoppable right foot shot which was past Jaskelainen before he could react, sending the travelling support into delirium in the stand. Benayoun should have extended the lead further shortly after with a volley, but sent his shot several yards wide. Bolton had sent Taylor up the pitch in an attempt to regain equality in the scoreline, but this only served to award Liverpool more open space in attack in which to work. Torres then thought he had scored, but it was ruled not to have crossed the line as Jaskelainen smuggled it away. Dossena replaced Kuyt for the final couple of minutes, with Rafa no doubt looking to shore up the defence to prevent an unlikely Bolton equaliser.

Liverpool negotiated the four minutes of injury time without mishap, though, and the side left the pitch having improved dramatically from the defeat to Aston Villa. In truth, the win was a deserved one, although again the problems in defending set-pieces could easily have left us without the just rewards from the game. This seeming inability to deal with the dead ball situation could well be our undoing this season if the problems are not resolved quickly. We can take positives from the game, however. The response to going behind twice could have been to retreat into self-pity, but instead the reds refused at any point to stop attacking even when chances came and went. Star performers on the day included Glen Johnson again, the full-back producing another strong display to further justify the decision to sign him in the summer. The sending off of Sean Davis undoubtedly changed the game with Gerrard able to find more space once Muamba was forced to undertake different duties to man-marking the Liverpool captain, but in truth Liverpool were in control for much of the first hour when the numbers were equal. Overall, then, a far more positive display and a quick return to winning ways which is always important after a defeat. In addition, it is always vital to go into an international break on a high note, as when the players representing their countries return, a positive mindset ensues. Let’s hope that there are no injury worries prior to the next game at home to Burnley on the 12th.

Match time and date: KO 15:00. 29 August 2009
Goals: Davies 33, Johnson 41, Cohen 47, Torres 56, Gerrard 83
Yellow cards: Bolton Cahill, Davis, Muamba; Liverpool Gerrard.
Red Cards: Davis (54)
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 23,284.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Knight, Cahill, Samuel, Ricketts; Davis, Cohen (Steinsson, 79), Muamba (Riga, 89), Taylor; K Davies, Elmander (Basham, 56). Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), A O'Brien, Robinson, Lee.

Liverpool (4-3-2-1): Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Insua; Gerrard, Mascherano (Voronin, 74), Lucas; Riera (Benayoun, 63), Torres; Kuyt (Dossena, 89). Substitutes not used: Gulacsi (gk) Skrtel, Plessis, Kelly.

Gerrard hopes Bolton win will kick start Reds title charge

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard hopes the determination of the players following the victory over Bolton on Saturday will kick start the clubs season and their title charge. Gerrard who's stunning half volley sealed the win at the Reebok Stadium said:

“It’s been well documented that it’s been a tough week and this is a big win for us,” said Gerrard in the Echo.

“No-one expected us to lose two of our opening three games and there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver three points.

“The performance played second fiddle today and it was all about the result.

“People were writing us off after three games which is madness.

“But we responded in the right way and we can take a lot of confidence from this result.

“I think things will settle down now and we will go on a good run of results.”

“All the players knew the performance wasn’t good enough against Aston Villa,” he said.

“I’ve had a difficult start myself and I held my hands up in the dressing room after the Villa game and said I wasn’t good enough.

“I’m man enough to do that. I needed to react personally today and I felt I did that.

“It’s always nice to win and score but if throughout the week you are under extra pressure and you hear people sniping away, trying to put the team down, then you get a little bit more satisfaction.

“We needed to react today and everyone stood up to be counted. We controlled the game all the way through and it was well deserved in the end.”

“I played a little bit deeper today and tried to get on the ball. It was the same role I played here last year.

“It was a difficult first 45 minutes because Muamba was like my shadow.

“I think if I had gone to the toilet in the first half he would have probably followed me!

“When they went a man down they couldn’t man mark me. That’s when the game opened up and we could punish them.”

“After finishing second last year everyone expected us to get off to a flying start and go straight to the top of the table,” he said,

“But we didn’t have a perfect pre-season. Players joined up late and we had bad luck with injuries. I’m not looking for excuses but we had disruptions.

“We always knew at times it was going to be difficult and we’ve been a bit edgy.

“I think the league this year is a lot different to last year when the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United were winning every game.

“I don’t think that will be the case this year. I think there are seven or eight top clubs in this league now who will be taking points off each other and the total needed to win the league will be lower this time.

“You can say the international break has come at a bad time because we’ve won and you want the next game to come as soon as possible

"but we can use this time to get people back. Fabio Aurelio isn’t far away and Daniel Agger won’t be far away either.

“Hopefully the boys who are off on international duty can stay fit, win for their countries and come back stronger.”

Managing director Purslow says Reds have spent more then they have recouped

Liverpool football clubs managing director Christian Purslow has spoken about the Reds transfer budget which has garnered a lot of attention this summer, with many press reports suggesting manager Rafael Benitez has been frustrated by the lack of spending power provided. However Purslow insists that the figure spent matches the previous seasons and suggests the club have spent £20 million more then the club has generated.

Although the actual figures remain 'undisclosed', Alberto Aquilani, the Italy midfield player, and Glen Johnson moved to Anfield for a combined sum of about £36 million according to the press. In the past week, Sortis Kyrgiakos has also been signed for a fee of £1.5 million from AEK Athens. Combined total: Approximately £37.5m

Xabi Alonso and Álvaro Arbeloa joined Real Madrid for fees of £30 million and £3.5 million respectively, Sebastian Leto signing for Panathinaikos for £3 million and several other fringe players have departed Anfield. It is also thought that the Reds recouped approximately £7m from Portsmouth from the sale of Peter Crouch the previous season. Combined total: Approximately £43.5m

“We’ve spent pretty much the same as we’ve spent every year over the past four or five years,” said Purslow. “We’ve spent about £20 million more than we’ve generated, which is what we expected. We’ve bought players the manager wanted to buy and sold players the manager wanted to sell and it has cost us almost to the penny what we expected it to cost," said Purslow in the Times.

“In fact, some of our competitors haven’t spent any money and we have. Spending isn’t the panacea everyone thinks it is, but we’ve spent £20 million and that’s real money. There are lots of costs associated with buying players and extending players that all go into transfer funds.”

Many of the press reports have centered on Liverpool's lack of spending power this year, however as reported here last week, the Reds have spent more money in transfers then Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal. The full run down of each clubs summer dealings can be read here.

Liverpool Physio has England role blocked by United

Manchester United have "blocked the proposed promotion of a Liverpool physiotherapist to work with the England team in a move that demonstrates the distrust that exists between the country’s top clubs," reports the Times.

Reds football physiotherapist Dave Galley, who has more than 25 years’ experience had expected to be part of the England medical staff for the friendly against Slovenia on September 5 and the World Cup qualifier with Croatia four days later.

However Galley has now reverted back to his previous role with the England Under-21 squad after what the Times says "the intervention of David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive," and "Liverpool are understood to be far from impressed with the situation."

A policy designed to ensure that only independent medical staff are appointed to work with the national team introduced by the FA last year, had "raised concerns about a rival club’s physiotherapist having access to valuable information about the fitness of players from other team’s."

Strangely United don't appear bothered by the current physiotherapist Gary Lewin appointed in August last year, and full time doctor Ian Beasley. "Both had previously worked for the FA on a part-time basis with their regular employment being provided by Arsenal," says the report.

Now Galley has returned to his role with the under 21 squad after Gill questioned "the wisdom of the appointment of Galley to work with Fabio Capello’s squad and the FA backed his opinion."

The FA say: “Dave has reverted back to the Under-21s after one game.” said an FA spokesman. “There should be no questions against his professionalism, We must be clear that there is an agreed board policy that has nothing to do with Manchester United that the medical staff should be independent.

“Franco Baldini (Capello’s general manager) and Rafael Benítez (the Liverpool manager) discussed the matter yesterday and it was explained we wanted to see Dave working with the team in the friendly this month. We refute any suggestion that we have been pressurised by Manchester United.”

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Media Round-Up: Bolton 2 Liverpool 3

A slew of bad press has been thrown at Liverpool football club and especially its manager Rafael Benitez in the past seven days. Most of the criticism was aimed at the Reds boss who after saying: "clearly the team has to improve and it depends on the experienced players to take more responsibility," found himself reading headlines like: "After criticising Gerrard and Carragher, Rafa Benitez needs to learn what goes on in the dressing room stays in the dressing room." Incredibly some fans appear to have fallen for the media's slight of hand trick, judging by the radio phone in's.

Prior to the Bolton match, more myth making 'Benitez attacks Gerrard' articles were published. The Guardian said: "Steven Gerrard not in good enough form for Liverpool, says Rafael Benítez." The article goes on to say: "Benítez pointed to a lack of collective responsibility among his senior players after the home defeat to Aston Villa on Monday, but today went further, saying that Gerrard was not currently playing at his "best level". This story would normally invoke a certain amount of worry from fans fearing a manager and player had fallen out, until you actually read the quote from Rafa that created the headline. Benitez said:

"We have seen Steven playing really well for a while now," said Benítez. "He is one of our big names, a key player. He will continue to be that. He will know that he has played a couple of games that are not up to his best level. But because he so often plays really well, people maybe can see the difference."

Clearly certain journalists have set themselves an agenda of a Gerrard/ Benitez bust up and we can expect more of these style of headlines to come.

Yesterdays well earned win, following two Bolton goals which went against the direction of play has created a mixed response from some of the press, who were obviously disappointed by the Reds gaining three points.

The Guardian says:
"Steven Gerrard arrives late to rescue Liverpool against ten-man Bolton." The story goes on to proclaim: "Managerial criticism for Steven Gerrard is as rare as sunshine this barbecue summer and, after a week in which Rafael Benítez reminded him of his talismanic responsibilities, it was probably inevitable that the captain should spare Liverpool further blushes with an 83rd-minute winner to settle a match in which battling Bolton led twice."

"Bolton, who had failed to score in their opening two games, deservedly broke their duck and felt they would have had a point, at least, had they not lost Sean Davis after 55 minutes for the second of two yellow cards."

The Telegraph is not as disappointed as the Guardian following the victory.
"After a week of criticism from inside and out over his performances, Steven Gerrard volleyed Liverpool to a victory over Bolton which, for 14 days at least, will kick-start their season."

"After twice falling behind, carelessly, against limited, aggressive and at times overly combative opponents, Gerrard, his every step shadowed by Fabrice Muamba, shed his limpet for the briefest of moments to send a trademark thundering volley beyond the grasp of Jussi Jaaskelainen and the travelling red hordes into raptures."

“He showed again he is a key player for us,” said Benítez. “He can be a leader for the rest of the players with his commitment and his quality. But all the players wanted to improve today, Steven, Fernando Torres and a lot of others. They all had a great determination to win the game.”

The article goes on to say: "Sean Davis, booked in the first half for kicking the ball away, was dismissed 10 minutes after the break for a cynical trip on Lucas as the Brazilian midfielder surged forward."

"The former Portsmouth player did not take Alan Wiley’s decision well, blaming the Liverpool player for demanding a yellow card, but to no avail. His manager, similarly, admitted he had some “sympathy” for what was a justified, if rather silly dismissal."

"Yet again, Liverpool had limited their opposition to barely a sniff of the ball and yet again they had created a number of good, if not glaring, opportunities, all of which fell to Torres."

"The stage was set, and the script, delighting in its lack of originality, was clear. Gerrard had already hit the bar with a fearsome drive from Dirk Kuyt’s knock-down when Torres, less profligate now, showed his own ruthless streak, driving fiercely past Jaaskelainen after a flowing move inspired by his captain. Liverpool swarmed forward, threatening again and again, before Torres headed Johnson’s cross to Gerrard, on the penalty spot. Lights, camera, action!"

The Times says: "Steven Gerrard rescues Liverpool"
The article goes on to say: "NO BARBECUE summer, this, but still the smell of seared flesh at Anfield, some of it prime English beef. Rafa Benitez’s withering reference to Captain Untouchable, Steven Gerrard, that he “played a couple of games that are not up to his best level” after Monday’s home defeat by Aston Villa will have cautioned not just his midfielder but all his players that another deficient performance would not be tolerated."

"Significantly, the final whistle produced no delirium within the visiting contingent. Instead they quietly digested the good fortune that had deserted them on Monday. None more so than Gerrard."

"Gerrard again lacked the assertiveness that brands his performances. That was until Bolton’s reduction to 10 men allowed him freedom to roam."

Gerrard reflected wryly: “I knew Gary Megson would do that. He did it to me last year. He [Muamba] was my shadow for 40-50 minutes. I don’t like to see a man get sent off but fortunately that was in my favour, that gave me more space.”

The story goes on to say: "The contest turned on the Davis sending off nine minutes after the interval. Already cautioned, he caught Lucas’s heels and Alan Wiley had no alternative but to brandish a second yellow. Megson was not a happy man. “They control the ball, slow up and wait for the hit,” was how he viewed the foul. “We’ve got to start doing that. We’re not particularly cute at bending the rules.”

The article adds: "It was an afternoon when the fates smiled on Benitez. For once, he had no gripe with the officials. We have presumably heard the last of that summer whine."

The Independent says: "Gerrard's late winner makes point to Benitez."
"Perhaps Rafael Benitez should be critical of Steven Gerrard more often if his captain responds to such comments like this. With the scores locked 2-2 and Liverpool's title ambitions in danger of collapsing before the transfer window has even shut, Gerrard struck with a trademark finish from 16 yards to earn his side victory against 10-man Bolton."

"Outplayed by Tottenham and outfought against Villa, Liverpool arrived at the Reebok knowing they could be out of title contention with a third defeat in four games."

"Yet despite the scoreline, this was a far from convincing performance by Benitez's men. Only when Sean Davis was sent off for two bookable offences, with Liverpool trailing 2-1 with more than half an hour remaining, did they take a firm grip."

"Three points, a first away win of the season and a match-winning performance by Gerrard. "We can prepare for the next game and be a little bit more relaxed because of the result," the Liverpool manager said. "It was a difficult game and twice we had to come from behind. Today, all the players wanted to impress and do well. They knew we had to improve and do well."

"When Benitez decided to pay £17m to Portsmouth for Johnson, many thought he had overspent on a player who left Chelsea after failing to cement a regular spot. But the England full-back has proved to be one of the few consistent performers for Benitez so far this term and his equaliser, his second goal for the club, was a delight. This time it was the Bolton defence who were guilty of failing to stay awake. After struggling to clear a corner, the ball fell to Johnson who required just a couple of touches before finishing from 20 yards."

The Express says: "Gerrard saves Rafa's blushes as Reds come from behind to beat Bolton"
"The visitors had plenty of possession, but without making many clear-cut chances, Matt Taylor and Cohen working tirelessly in midfield, breaking up Liverpool’s flow."

"the visitors were made to fight desperately hard by a Bolton side who were down to 10 men for much of the second period."

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Champions League group draw

The draw for the Champions league group stage has been made in Monaco today. Liverpool head up Group E and will face: French giants Lyon, Serie A side Fiorentina and Hungarian outfit Debreceni. The Reds have never previously met the three sides in European competition but Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is releshing the chalenge:

"You know in the Champions League there will always be difficult games and tough teams to play against," said Benitez on the official site.

"Lyon might not have won the league last season but before that they won it many years in a row, so we know they have lots of good players who can play good football.

"Fiorentina are an historic club in a nice city. I know from experience they have fanatstic supporters because I spent some time there when Claudio Ranieri was the coach.

"And we have experience of Hungarian football because of our relationship with MTK, so if Debreceni have won their league then we know it means it's because they're a good side.

"The important thing as always is that the travelling isn't too bad, we don't have too far to go for any of the games. We're just looking forward to starting the competition now."

Matchday 1: 15th/16th September
Matchday 2: 29th/30th September
Matchday 3: 20th/21st October
Matchday 4: 3rd/4th November
Matchday 5: 24th/25th November
Matchday 6: 8th/9th December

Czech starlet on way to Reds

Liverpool are set to bolster their academy further as they bring in Jakub Sokolik from Czech Republic side 'Banik Ostrava', according to the defender's agent, reports Sky Sports.

"The teenager, who turns 16 on Friday, is understood to be on his way to Merseyside to hold talks over a possible contract with the Premier League giants," says the story.

Sokolik's representative Pavel Zika expects the move to go through in the next few days.

"It is a regular transfer on the basis of an agreement between two clubs," Zika told Czech news agency CTK.

"During the next few days we should finalise the deal."

Sokolik who has played for Czech Republic at Under 16 level and is regarded as an exciting prospect, has been tracked by Liverpool for some time and Banik general manager Werner Licka is not surprised by their interest.

"On the club level we are basically agreed with Liverpool, but it is not concluded yet because Jakub is travelling to Liverpool to discuss the terms of the contract," said Licka.

"It is no coincidence that they have chosen him. He has a great potential to gain ground there.

"He knows what he wants and he is all right in the head. Personally, I am no big fan of transfers of such young players to foreign leagues but, on the other hand, the interest of Liverpool is a huge reward for our work."

Banik chairman Tomas Trucha added: "If he reaches the first team just once, then it would make the transfer one of the biggest in Banik's club history."

Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 3

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

I’ve held off writing this for a couple of days, in the hope that time might give me a little more perspective when reflecting on events at Anfield on Monday evening. It hasn’t. I’m still rattled by the outcome and more importantly the underperformance of the reds against a team that was beaten 5-0 here last season and who lost their talisman and captain in the summer. Whilst none of this is ever going to guarantee a victory, of course, Liverpool should have been heartened by their hammering of Stoke City a few days earlier and been right up for this one from the first whistle, but what the crowd actually got was a disjointed, submissive and uninspired 90 minutes of football from the home side. We were criticised last year for the seven home draws that ultimately cost us the league, and the hope was that this season would see us turn them into wins to give us that extra push up the league into top spot. On this showing it’ll go the other way and we’ll be lucky to get into the top four.

Benitez brought back Martin Skrtel to replace the impressive Daniel Ayala, who had made such a strong debut against Stoke. No other changes were necessary, with Riera and Babel being kept company on the bench by some of the youngsters on the fringe of the first team squad.

Surprisingly enough, Liverpool started the stronger of the two teams, going close after just thirty seconds. Torres cut in from the right and, looking up, he saw Benayoun making a run in behind the defence. He lobbed the ball up and the diminutive Israeli got to the ball in front of Brad Friedel but nodded it just wide of the post. Some of the issues began to show through soon after, however, when Villa were ludicrously awarded a corner despite Agbonlahor clearly pulling Skrtel’s shirt as he attempted to shepherd the ball out for a goalkick. As it came across, the reds crowd was amazed to see Fernando Torres virtually on his own goal-line to head clear. As the clearance came back across, there were three Villa players waiting to head the ball towards, but in the end Liverpool were lucky that Curtis Davies’ effort was directed straight at Reina.

Liverpool went up the other end, and promptly saw fit to deny Rafa’s insistence this week that we need to be more clinical in our finishing. Three reds players had a total of four chances within the space of five seconds to put the ball in the back of the net, with Torres, Benayoun and Gerrard (twice) being the culprits. The last, in all fairness was an excellent save from Friedel as he spread himself desperately in front of Gerrard to try and deflect it away from the goal. In general, though, the first 15 minutes served only to hide what was coming, with Liverpool marginally the better of the two sides going forward.

Villa soon began to put some passes together, and started to gain some momentum. In fact, it was Liverpool who were responsible in part for this as they began to give the ball away time and time again. Torres also went against Benitez’s advice as, sometimes justifiably, he started compaining to the referee about challenges from the Aston Villa defence rather than looking to play the ball. As the clock ticked round towards the half hour mark, the crowd were beginning to sense that all was not right in the Liverpool camp, with the away supporters beginning to be heard in their devoutly religious version of ‘Kum Ba Yah’ in which they seem to just recite a list of their players names.

On 32 minutes came the first goal of the game, and once again it was the reds who presented Villa with the means by which to score it. A run from Petrov towards the Liverpool box found him devoid of ideas and looking for a way to either release the ball or turn into space. As he slowed down, Lucas took the bait and challenged, with Petrov only too happy to hit the ground given his lack of options. From the freekick, it was the Brazilian who was made to pay for his error, as Ashley Young’s effort deflected off him and gave Pepe Reina no chance to save.

Liverpool, to their credit, did fashion their best chance of the half a few minutes later as they attempted to get back on terms. A (for once) good passing move saw the ball find its way out to the right flank with Benayoun, and he found the run of Glen Johnson with an intelligent backheel. When Johnson found Torres in the box, the Spaniard took one touch and fired towards goal, only to find Friedel perfectly positioned to parry the ball for a corner. With the last effort of the half, though, Villa double their lead.

When Sidwell took a potshot at goal, the ball went about 20 yards wide of the goal, and the Anfield crowd thought that a goalkick would be the final kick of the first half. When Sidwell appealed, however, the referee inexplicably saw fit to award a corner as he deemed that the ball had been deflected off Martin Skrtel. The ball was swung across and Curtis Davies found himself unmarked after no-one tracked his run to the near post, and he was able to glance the ball past Reina to leave Liverpool bemused.

No changes at half time, and Liverpool kicked off the second half heading towards the Kop end, with no-one under any illusions as to what was required. In truth, the second half would prove to be better with regard to the number of chances created, but still the inability to keep possession was evident for all to see.

Within the first couple of minutes, Johnson again went surging forward and found a clever through ball to Gerrard, but the skipper’s shot was at a good height for Friedel to pull off a smart reaction save. Mascherano’s long range follow up shot went straight into the keeper’s arms. Friedel then denied Kuyt from a Liverpool corner, tipping the ball over the bar when the Dutchman met the ball with the centre of his forehead. From the second corner, Kuyt hit the post as he stooped to head the flick on from Benayoun towards goal, and the ball ran for a throw in to the visitors.

With 25 minutes left, Liverpool had a decent shout for a penalty turned down, when Johnson slid the ball through for Torres inside the box. Facing away from goal, Reo-Coker came in seemingly from behind Torres, but the referee waved away the shouts of Liverpool players and fans. Voronin replaced Lucas soon afterwards, with Rafa looking to apply more pressure in the final third than the Brazilian had shown during the game. Gerrard stung the palms of Friedel shortly afterwards with a rasping shot from 25 yards out, and just a couple of minutes later Liverpool got the goal that brought them back into contention for the available points.

Some slick interpassing from Benayoun and Kuyt just outside the area left the ball running directly into the path of an excellent forward run from Insua. The young Argentinian found himself on the edge of the six yard box, and he had the presence of mind to play the ball across the face of the goal. Fortunately for Liverpool, Torres was standing just five yards out with no Villa player in his vicinity, and he rifled the ball into the roof of the net to give hope to the home crowd. Unfortunately, however, the game’s resurrection did not last five minutes before a moment of madness put the game beyond the reach of the reds.

Playing the ball across the field, Villa created some space outside Liverpool’s 18 yard area into which Reo-Coker made a clever run. Having effectively lost control of the ball with his touch, Gerrard came flying in with a lunge from yards away, which upended the Villa man and left the referee with no option but to point immediately towards the spot. The response from Benitez was to bring Ryan Babel on for Benayoun.

Villa were now content to sit back and let the Liverpool shirts come forward at them, a ploy which with some better finishing could have been disastrous for them. As the final ten minutes began, Torres went close from an Insua cross and then Kuyt was unable to convert a decent chance from a Babel cross. A flying run down the wing from Jamie Carragher then almost found a breakthrough, he slid the ball across the goal and Ryan Babel slotted home unchallenged, but the defender had been flagged offside after being unable to check his run for long enough. Torres again went close with his head, but found Friedel in exactly the right place again, and then a piledriver from Glen Johnson was again beaten away by the ex-Liverpool keeper.

Despite the chances, however, most Liverpool fans understood that the team from Birmingham had been far more clever in their approach to the game, and that tactically Martin O’Neill had outwitted Rafa. Again the problem with defending set-pieces was highlighted for all to see, with the zonal marking system obviously coming under heavy fire. The state of the substitute’s bench also showed the weakness in the strength of the overall squad, and if Liverpool fans expect to win the league then we need more inspiration to come off the bench. The two changes that Benitez made in the game saw Voronin and Babel come on. The Ukrainian in particular is clearly not of the required standard to play in a Liverpool shirt, and he never looks like producing a moment which can change a game. My thoughts on Babel are well documented by those who know me, but a player unwilling to challenge for the ball or even jump for a header has no place on the Anfield turf and should be sold for as much as we can get for him. Even the forward runs he undertakes seem to resemble the headless chicken more than the headstrong youngster, and after so long to develop since Benitez saw whatever he saw and signed him, it is time to admit defeat in our efforts to develop him into a top class player.

There were positives, however, to take from the game. The performance of the two full backs, Insua and in particular Johnson, was notable. Both were willing to get forward and support the attacking efforts without sacrificing their positional responsibilities in defence. Aurelio may well have a fight on his hands to retake the left back role from Insua. Another positive should be taken from the second half performance, which, whilst lacking the quality and penetration, at least displayed some drive and determination in the efforts to get back into the match.

A final word to the fans who saw fit to leave after the Aston Villa penalty, seventeen minutes from time. The sight of this kind of desertion provides a detriment to the club’s name. As we all know and have seen countless times over the years, magical things can happen on the field when Liverpool are playing, cast your mind back to Istanbul where three goals in six minutes won us the European Cup for the fifth time, the two goals scored in the last three minutes versus Charlton a few seasons back, and the similar effort in the home game against Middlesbrough at the start of last season. Next time, don’t bother spending your money on a ticket which could be happily filled by someone who understands the meaning of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Match time and date: KO 20:00. 24 August 2009
Goals: Lucas 34(og), Davies 45, Torres 72, A Young 75(pen)
Yellow cards: Liverpool Reina, Torres, Skrtel; Aston Villa A Young, Reo-Coker
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).
Attendance: 43,667

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua; Lucas (Voronin, 66), Mascherano; Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (Babel, 75); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Riera, Kelly, Dossena, Ayala.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Beye, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey; Milner, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Sidwell, A Young (Heskey, 80); Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Albrighton, Delfouneso, Delph, Guzan (gk), Gardner, Lowry.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Transfer Speculation: Robben, Babel

Arjen Robben
"Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is believed to have stepped up his interest in Arjen Robben, after the Real Madrid player was reportedly offered to Manchester United," claims the Mail.

“The Spaniard has long been an admirer of the winger, and could go head-to-head with his bitter rival Sir Alex Ferguson over the player's signature,” says the story.

The Dutch international who is believed to be out of favour at Real Madrid, is looking to return to the Premiership has been valued at around “£18 million.”

Ryan Babel
Rafa is still hoping the American owners will still make more funds available but could also raise further cash through the sale of Ryan Babel. “Benitez is believed to be losing patience with the youngster, and a bid of around £8 million might tempt the club to sell the underperforming winger to fund a move for Robben,” says the story.

“Benitez is believed to have been a long-term admirer of Robben's ability, and Madrid even considered offering the Dutchman as part of the deal for Alonso as they attempted to sign the midfielder earlier this month. Benitez, however, will be confident of persuading Robben to join him at Anfield, and may see him as the world-class winger he has been looking for, at a price more affordable than previous targets David Silva and Franck Ribery,” speculates the story.

Benayoun says there is still a long way to go

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun says the Reds can put things right this season and states the Premiership has a long way to go.

"Of course we are very disappointed. We didn't expect to lose but it was just one of those games," said the Israeli international to the official site.

"We need to try and improve and quickly, starting on Saturday against Bolton.

"We didn't play like we can play, we didn't move the ball like we did against Stoke in the second half.

"We missed our chances, particularly in the first half, and we conceded two goals from set-pieces.

"The second goal was a major blow. Losing 1-0 half-time you think you can get back into it, but 2-0 right on half-time put everyone down a little bit.

"We played a bit better in the second half, but everything went wrong for us.

"To lose two out of three is unusual for us. We lost only twice through the whole of the last Premier League season, and we have to show that we are still a strong team.

"We need to recover from this and look to work game by game, and work hard to play better.

"At a club like Liverpool, if you lose two or three games then people will ask if we are strong enough to win the league. But there is still a long way to go, everything can change.

"If we go on a long winning run then people will start talking differently about us."

"I don't think it's the senior players who need to come to the fore, it's all of the players. We know what we need to do to improve. This was one of those.

"I'm sure we have enough quality. We still think we can win the title. Maybe we cannot lose any more games until the end of the season, but we believe we are strong enough to be there at the end of the season. But it's too early to speculate, we just need to look to get a run of winning games.

"We have a lot of good players here already, enough to win the league. Aquilani is still injured and can bring us a lot of good things, we have a very strong squad, and we don't need to look at those kind of excuses after losing two games. We have enough quality to win games.

"It's important to get a winning run together, but maybe it's good that we have an international break coming up after the Bolton game.

"We have to try and come back stronger and we have games that we believe we can win. If we can win three or four games then the confidence can come back."

"Because there are other teams that are stronger, I feel the big four will lose more points than expected. Villa have proven they can beat anyone, and I'm sure Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal will have tough games against the likes of Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham.

"Hopefully, at the end of the season we will still be there."

Pepe Reina says Reds will bounce back

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina believes Liverpool will bounce back from defeat and says the team should not be written off.

"The fans can trust us until the end because as a team we have always been strong," said Reina to the official site.

"Obviously we are disappointed because it is not normal for us to play three games and lose two of them, but we have to look forward, try to improve and carry on with our title challenge.

"We are the same team as last season - the same team that won 86 points in the league.

"Nothing has changed except that some players have left and some have come in, but we are still a strong team.

"We have plenty of good players in the dressing room and we have to look forward because as soon as we win two or three games in a row things will change a lot."

"Teams like Villa, Tottenham and Man City will be involved in the title race and I think the eventual champions will probably win no more than 82 points this season."

"Tottenham are playing at a good level. They were probably better than us in the first game of the season, especially in the first half.

"But it is too early to speak about teams. We have to wait a little bit longer."

"I am pleased that I have probably had two good games at the beginning of the season, but I can't be happy because we have lost two out of three," he said.

"I know Rafa trusts me and it is positive when you feel this trust on yourself. All I can do is keep working and trying to improve. I am only 26, so there is still plenty of time for me to improve.

"But every single player, member of staff and everybody who works at Liverpool help make up this great club, and it is each of us that can help Liverpool be successful."

Press continue their attack of Benitez

The hysterical reporting on Liverpool Football Club continues in today's press. The Mail and the Guardian are both running polls asking if the Reds can still win the Premier league or if they are out of the title race. Bookmakers have slashed odds on Benitez becoming the first Premiership manager to be sacked, with Rafa currently positioned second favourite behind Pompey chief Paul Hart.

Newspaper Columnists are claiming Rafa is loosing the dressing room. Steve Stammers writing for the Mirror in his article entitled: "After criticising Gerrard and Carragher, Rafa Benitez needs to learn what goes on in the dressing room stays in the dressing room," says:

"It is one of the oldest maxims in football – lose the dressing room and you end up losing the battle." His story is based upon the miss-quoted interview with Benitez following the defeat of Villa when he stated:

"clearly the team has to improve and it depends on the experienced players to take more responsibility."

As reported here yesterday, this quote has assumed a new life as:

"Benitez blames Gerrard and Carragher for defeat."

Stammers goes on to say:

"But once such verbal assaults are made in the public arena, it is the start of a slippery slope. Gerrard and Carragher this week – whose turn will it be after the next Liverpool defeat? That will be going through the minds of the players. Great managers keep their views private and in-house."

This is one of a number of articles in today's papers attacking Benitez. Theres an old saying: "damned if you do, damned if you don't," and Rafa who has been criticised in the past for protecting his players after defeat, is now being condemned for asking his players to take responsibility.

These stories are being illustrated with pictures of Benitez taken when he is screaming instructions to his players during a match. The photo's are not complimentary and add to the notion being painted in the story, that Benitez is a man on the edge. One report says "the inquest goes on," which is a term usually used after criminologists study a corpse. This story also declares: "The clock is ticking for Benitez." The Reds boss has had a huge amount of unjust flack thrown at him in the past, but after only three games into the new season it appears to have reached a new low. The press practically demanding the sacking of managers is sadly part of the game now and such an action will clearly not be considered by Liverpool Football Club in order to satisfy a salivating press room.

The only real winners if Rafa was sacked would be the press, happy to claim another scalp. The team would fall into unrest, lacking in direction. Benitez would walk into any top coaching job in Europe and Liverpool would have to ostensibly start from scratch again.

Sadly this type of hysterical coverage is likely to continue and the best remedy for team and management desperate to win, is to work harder and try kick start the season. Only then will the critics curtail their written assaults. Liverpool, who alongside Barcelona, where the best team in Europe only a few months back, have not suddenly become the worst team in the Premiership. The Reds boss has not in the space of three months become the 2nd worst coach in the league. The Reds destroyed teams last term, brushing aside huge opponents with relative ease and played some of the best football the fans have seen in nearly 20 years. The team can match and surpass such displays again once they launch their season.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Media Round-Up: Liverpool 1 - Aston Villa 3

After last nights bitterly disappointing result against Villa, it was obvious the headlines weren't going to be pretty. Ten days after Liverpool started their campaign and six points dropped, the Reds have been written off as title contenders. The tabloids have deliriously eliminated their chances and bookmakers have dropped odds on the Anfield club capturing the Premiership title in May. With almost nine months to go, 35 matches left to play and a total of 105 potential points yet to win, Liverpool are out of the title race, its official!! Even with this ridiculous assessment in mind, some of the criticism leveled towards the club is damn right ludicrous!

Take a deep breath.... here's the 'Media Round-Up'.

"Are Liverpool already out of this year's title race?" screams the Guardian!

"The season is little over a week old, yet after tonight's 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, Liverpool have already lost as many games as they did last year. Home draws ultimately cost Rafael Benítez's side the title then; this time a loss on home soil, their first since losing to Manchester United in December 2007, may be the premature nail in the coffin. Even at this stage, is it time to write off Liverpool's chances for another season?"

"What of Benítez? Rumours were rife that he was going to quit last Wednesday when he stormed out of a training session, but he returned and Liverpool beat Stoke City 4-0 at Anfield. If, as it appears, he really is incapable of delivering Liverpool's first title since 1990, is it time for him to go? Or is it simply the case that this is the best Liverpool can expect, given the lack of available funds? With that in mind, was Benítez right to spend most of his budget on the admittedly impressive Glen Johnson when Liverpool arguably needed more firepower?"

"Crisis looms as Rafael Benítez hunts for answers," shouts the Telegraph.

"One glance at Liverpool’s bench is enough to outline why it has become so commonplace to assume that the side which finished second in the Premier League last season could yet drop three places and, disastrously, out of the Champions League places. Two youth team players, a striker deemed lacking last year and farmed out on loan and an Italian left-back Benítez countenanced selling. It hardly inspires confidence."

"Only the mercurial Ryan Babel and the industrious Albert Riera, of his reserves last night, could conceivably change a game against a side of Villa’s quality."

"Angry Benítez points finger at Gerrard," shriek's the Times.

"Rafael Benítez blamed his senior players — including Steven Gerrard — after watching Liverpool lose 3-1 to Aston Villa at Anfield last night."

"Benítez was quick to spread the blame throughout his ranks, putting particular emphasis on his belief that Liverpool were let down by some of their biggest names, including Gerrard, the captain, who gave away the penalty that sealed their fate."

"Lucas gift sparks Liverpool implosion," declares the Independent.

"One early season defeat is careless, two and it starts to feel like a crisis. Rafael Benitez's regime is well-accustomed to lurching from triumph to disaster and back again but last night's defeat had a gloomy, ominous quality that hinted at problems that run far deeper."

"It was Steven Gerrard's ludicrous tackle on Nigel Reo-Coker that conceded the penalty from which Ashley Young scored Villa's third and decided the game. Fernando Torres scored Liverpool's only goal but this season they will need so much more from him. With his black eye, streaky blond hair and constantly scowling demeanour Torres looked like a latter-day Paul Calf, railing against all the injustices of the world."

"Kop that! Benitez slams Gerrard after Aston Villa stun Liverpool at Anfield," cry's the Mail.

"Lucas gifted Villa a 43rd-minute lead with a headed own goal. But Benitez appeared more concerned with the way Jamie Carragher allowed Curtis Davies to nip in front of him for a near-post header just before half time and the manner in which Gerrard conceded a decisive penalty with a rash challenge two minutes after Liverpool had reduced the arrears."

Clearly the article's in the Mail and the Times are attempting to create further unrest in the club by forcing a wedge between players and manager. This is the last thing the club needs after such disappointing results and it's clear that after such lows, the team and the fans need to pull together. Benitez asked for "the experienced players to take more responsibility," yet this has been translated by the press into:

"Rafa Benitez pointed an accusing finger at Steven Gerrard and his senior players after Liverpool's first Barclays Premier League defeat at Anfield in 21 months."

Speaking in the post match press conference Benitez said:

“If you look at the goals we conceded, the first [the Lucas own goal] was a mistake and the second was in [first-half] injury time,” said Benítez. “Then we scored and, at a crucial moment, we gave away a penalty. We made too many mistakes at crucial times. It was a clear penalty."

“It was not only Lucas. We have to be fair. Gerrard gave away the penalty. There were too many people involved. If you want to analyse the mistakes of each player, you would have to analyse a lot of things in the game. We are talking about some names, but clearly the team has to improve and it depends on the experienced players to take more responsibility."

“If you are losing, the only way to change things is to win. After we lost the first game, we managed to beat Stoke 4-0. Now we have to try to respond in the same way and win against Bolton at the weekend.”

"It's not good talking about the title. We can't afford to look any further than our next game. People can talk about transfer funds but this team finished so close to the top last season and should be doing better."

Monday, 24 August 2009

Media’s scrutiny of Rafa’s transfer budget doesn’t tell the real story

‘Cash strapped’, ‘financial turmoil’, ‘transfer budget slashed,’ these and a whole host of other terms have been used to describe Liverpool Football Club’s woe’s in the transfer window this summer. Once again the press eager to suggest instability within the club have gone full throttle trying to highlight the financial inadequacy LFC have in comparison to the other so-called ‘top teams’. It seems an article cannot be written about the Reds without some sort of reference to Rafa’s frustrations in the transfer market. These headlines hit a nadir last week when rumours circulated that Rafa was about to walk following another bust up over the transfer budget. The speculation of course turned out to be false however it still hasn’t prevented article after article being written highlighting the transfer problems facing the club.

However a close look at the financial dealings surrounding the so-called ‘big four’ teams in the Premiership, reveals a different story. A run down of money spent in the transfer window so far see’s Liverpool at the top of the list:

A Aquilani (Roma, £18m), G Johnson (Portsmouth, £18.5m), S Kyrgiakos (AEK Athens, £1.5m), A King (Rushden & Diamonds, nominal), C Mavinga (Paris Saint-Germain, undisclosed).
Total: £38m

N Matic (MFK Kosice, £1.5m), D Sturridge (Manchester City, subject to transfer tribunal), R Turnbull (Middlesbrough, free), Y Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow, £18m).
Total: £19.5

Manchester United
L A Valencia, right, (Wigan Athletic, £15.25m), M Biram Diouf (Molde, Norway, undisclosed), M Owen (Newcastle United, free), G Obertan (Bordeaux, £3m).
Total: £18.25m

D Martínez (Independiente, £1.2m), T Vermaelen (Ajax, £10m).
Total: £11.2m

Whilst of-course it can be said that the team still needs plenty of re-enforcements, decent cover for Torres being the most obvious and Rafa would of-course welcome more funds to bolster his squad, however the above table reveals that Liverpool’s activity in the transfer market certainly isn’t lacking.

Rafa: We can do better then last seasons 5-0 Villa victory

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has stated that although the Anfield club's 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa last March was a very good performance, he says his team can get even better. Speaking ahead of tonight's Premiership encounter with Martin O'Neill's side, the Reds boss said:

"We have played some very good games," he said. "Villa last season was very good, scoring five goals and keeping a clean sheet, with a high tempo and lots of pressing. But I would like to play a little bit better. We were in a very good moment when we beat them and, while I am not saying this to be arrogant, but I think we can improve on that game," said Benitez in the Telegraph.

"For tonight, it depends on the players, if from the beginning they can play with a high tempo. But we need to remember that Aston Villa are a very good team who play on the counter attack."

The Liverpool boss has also highlighted the attacking threat of goalkeeper Pepe Reina. The Spanish international who's long clearances proved deadly last season, assisted goal scorer Albert Riera in the same fixture last season.

“Pepe is very important for us in attacking terms,” the Liverpool manager said. “He is a threat to defences because when you have Torres and Pepe together, you know as a defender you have to be watching the game. Pepe can give assists. He works hard on his kicking and you can see how good he is,” said the Liverpool boss in the Times.

“We have fantastic ’keepers in England but at a top side like Liverpool, it is very difficult because normally they are not involved in the game too much,” Benítez said. “To see Pepe at this level from the beginning of the season is really good for us. He needs to be focused and concentrated because he only has one or two saves to make in a game."

“He started very well against Tottenham and the save from [Rory] Delap against Stoke was fantastic. He showed he is a very good ’keeper; the best in the Premier League for me.”

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Benitez re-affirms commitment to Reds

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has reaffirmed his commitment to the Reds in his pre Villa press conference and laughed off suggestions he was about to quit. The confirmation that he intends to see out the remainder of his five year deal at Anfield will have heartened Reds fans and disappointed sections of the press intent on disrupting the Kop clubs' Premiership campaign.

Rumours circulated on Wednesday afternoon that Benitez had walked away from Melwood, following what the press called 'a disagreement' over transfer funds with club hierarchy. Speculation began after a bookmaker suspended betting on Benitez being the first Premiership manager to quit or be sacked.

Broadsheet newspaper the Telegraph should know better, but even they were unable to report upon the rumour correctly. Today's article on the subject declared Rafa had walked out 'AFTER' the victory over Stoke on Wednesday night. This simple error clearly highlights the inaccuracies and blunders the press are happy to peddle un-checked against the club at the present.

But as most Reds who attended Anfield that night will tell you, there was a definite sigh of relief from Kopites when they seen the Spaniard step off the team bus before the game. They also let their feeling about the manager be known loud and clear, as they sang his name throughout the match, starting from the opening minutes.

"I can tell everyone that my commitment to the club is still there," said Benitez to Sky Sports.

"When I signed the new contract it was because of the fans, because of the staff and because of the players."

"I told everyone I will stay - it was my decision. I'm really pleased here and I'd like to stay for the length of my contract. The fans know this so that's the most important thing for me."

"The problem here is that rumours go around very, very quickly. Even people who know me wanted to know what was happening. They all asked: 'Are you going? What happened?' I was even surprised myself."

"We had a situation similar to this one when we played Real Madrid in the Champions League. It was a surprise then, but we won the game."

"This time I got messages when I was preparing for the game against Stoke. They came through on my phone."

"We had a team talk and then came the messages. I had to concentrate, but no-one expected that. I don't know how, but someone started talk about this and the rumour grew."

"I can guarantee, though, nothing affected me as I was preparing for Stoke."

Merson will have to re-think his criticism of Glen Johnson

Liverpool Echo journalist James Pearce has written an amusing article for 'Blood Red' entitled: "Glen Johnson will make Paul Merson eat his words"

The ex Arsenal player turned TV 'expert', who infamously admitted to being an alcoholic, cocaine and gambling addict has consistently voiced his anti Liverpool opinions on 'Soccer Saturday,' questioned Rafa Benitez for paying £17m for Glen Johnson.

Speaking recently Merson said: “The Premier League is not blessed with 15 world-class left wingers so I don’t see how a right-back can affect a game that much.”

“I’ve got nothing against the player, I think he was outstanding for Portsmouth last year, but I just don’t think you should be spending that amount of money on somebody who plays at right-back.”

Writer James Pearce says: "Now it’s still early days but Merson and his mates may find themselves having to eat their words."
Johnson who has made an impressive start in a Red shirt, cutting though defences with his penetrating runs, has made one goal after being felled for a penalty at Spurs and scored an acrobatic scissor kick goal against Stoke on his Anfield debut. The player who celebrates his 25th birthday today has made such an exciting start to his Anfield career that £17m could prove to be a bargain!

New signing Kyrgiakos says: Liverpool are the best in Europe

Liverpool's new signing Sotiris Kyrgiakos who signed a two year deal on Friday, say's he has joined the best club in Europe. Speaking at his press conference following his move from AEK Athens, the 30-year-old also hopes to help the Reds win the Premier League this season:

"It's something I would like very much. I am very happy to have this chance at Liverpool. I know I had just signed a new contract with AEK. But although it was a good contract, you never stop having ambitions in life, and that is why I am here," he said in the Telegraph.

"When you are approached by a club like Liverpool, it is an offer you just cannot refuse. I hope that I can bring my strength to this squad, I am good in the air and I have a lot of experience now, so I hope I can be of benefit to Liverpool."

"There are a lot of real quality players here, so I hope to add to their squad and I know they will help me settle down here."

The Greek international who only found out about the interest from Liverpool on Monday says it wasn't a hard decision to make:

"When I found out it was Liverpool I didn't have to think too hard about it. I'm 30 years-old now, so it's a fantastic opportunity for me to join a club like Liverpool," he said on the official site.

"Sure, it's a huge opportunity, but the important thing is to stay fit and try my best."

Kyrgiakos also says it will be easy to ft into the Premiership following his two years stint in the SPL

"It will help because it is a similar style of football in Scotland."

"I would say I am a physical player in the way I like to defend. I am aggressive in the way I jump to head the ball but I always aim to play within the rules of the game."

"First of all, I want to establish myself as a starting player. Then, I hope to help the club achieve the goals it has already set. I believe I am at the best age for me to take on this challenge because of the experience I now have."

"Everyone is aware of Liverpool's traditions. I have come here because I believe they are the best club in Europe."

"I didn't know Rafa before coming here, but like everyone else, I know he is a great manager. Yes, I am very proud of this achievement."

Friday, 21 August 2009

Reds complete Kyrgiakos deal

Liverpool football club have confirmed they have completed the signing of Greek international defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos from AEK Athens.

"The 30-year-old has put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the option of a further year after successfully completing a medical," reports the official site.

Trikala-born Kyrgiakos began his career at the Panathinaikos academy in 1996. The powerful centre-back quickly established himself as a regular member of the Panathinaikos first-team, helping them to a Greek league and cup double in 2004.

In 2005, Kyrgiakos joined Glasgow Rangers on loan. After clinching the Scottish title and League Cup, the deal was made permanent in the summer of the same year as the 6ft 4ins defender agreed a one-year contract at Ibrox.

The Bundesliga was his next destination with the tough-tackling stopper sealing a transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2006, where he spent two seasons before joining AEK last summer.

A knee injury kept Kyrgiakos out of Greece's historic triumph at Euro 2004, although he started each of his country's three matches in the same tournament four years' later. In total, he has won 50 caps for the Greek national team.

Hibernian defender Bamba claims Reds want to sign him

Hibernian defender Souleymane Bamba claims Liverpool are one of three clubs that want to sign him. The Ivory Coast international has also announced that French clubs Lorient and Grenoble are admirers.
Bamba said in the Daily Record:

"I've been told by my agent there has been a lot of interest in me in the summer.

"Liverpool, Lorient and Grenoble are all following me and obviously it's flattering.

"Any player would be attracted to a club of Liverpool's size but I can't think too much about that until there is a concrete offer from them."

"I don't know if there has been any contact with Hibs and these clubs and I'm not focusing on it.

"The only thing I'm focused on is playing against Falkirk on Saturday. I've got two years left on my contract at Hibs and I'm very happy at the club. But I also know that things can change very quickly in football and if an offer did come in then I'd have something to think about."

Newspaper claims Reds £15m bid for Upson stopped by LFC's bank

Today's Telegraph claims a proposed move by Liverpool to sign Matthew Upson from West Ham United for up to £15 million has collapsed because the Anfield club's bankers are concerned about the scale of the fee.

The highly unlikely article goes on to claim that "West Ham have been prepared to sell Upson, who has two years left on his present contract, if their valuation of £15 million for the central defender is met."

The story also states: "The failure to sign the 30-year-old England international is believed to have been one source of the frustration being felt by Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez."

"Liverpool's interest comes as a major surprise given the size of fee and the age of the player," says the story.

However it is highly unlikely Benitez would pay £15 million for a 30-year-old defender with two years left on his contract no matter how urgent his defensive injury concerns are.

The story by 'Jason Burt Deputy Football Correspondent,' then goes on to highlight the Reds defensive problems and the clubs so called 'cash crisis'. His story also says:

"The Liverpool manager has now agreed a £2 million deal to sign the Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos from AEK Athens."

However the 'Deputy Football Correspondent' then appears to contradict his own words by stating the club has a lack of defensive cover:

"The Merseyside club face a lack of defensive cover with both Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger out, while Sami Hyypia, is yet to be replaced after joining German outfit Bayer Leverkusen in May."

Clearly the writer fails to understand that Greek defender Kyrgiakos will be Hyypia's replacement. I think it's safe to say that the story should be filed under 'B' for bollicks.

Daniel Agger to fly to France for back operation

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger requires surgery on a persistent back problem that has blighted the new Premiership campaign. His "injury has not responded to treatment" and "following a further visit to a specialist, the 24-year-old has been booked in for an operation next week," reports the Guardian.

The Danish centre-back has been troubled by the problem since March and has now travelled to France for the operation. Agger could face "a lengthy rehabilitation programme and is unlikely to be back in action before November," says the Echo.

"The operation is likely to sideline the Danish international for up to six weeks," reports Sky Sports news or "several months," says the Guardian keen to cast a dark cloud over the Anfield club.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Benitez quit rumours. Don't bet on it!

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has endured a torrid time at the hands of the press this week and last night he endured more unwanted speculation manufactured by bookmakers in search of a story. Rumours circulated throughout the afternoon and early build up to last nights match, was to be Benitez's last following what some papers described as a 'bust up over transfer cash' with either the American owners, managing director Christian Purslow, or both parties.

One betting shop "suspended betting and issued a few provocative statements," reports the Times, however this was clearly an attempt by the bookmaker to make a few headlines and gaining some free publicity to boot. Their appears to be more of this type of manufactured story appearing in the media. Remember the rumours that Franck Ribery was about to join the Reds? This story made the headlines after a mere £200 worth of bets were placed in one betting shop within an hour.
Last night following the match Rafael Benitez when asked about the rumours replied:

“I was told about the rumours, that maybe something happened here at Anfield, but I will tell the fans I want to stay - my commitment is 100 per cent,” reports the Mirror.

“If I can improve the squad I will be pleased, but if I can’t then I will stay to try and compete with the squad that we have.

“I can state I am committed to this club. When I signed a new contract I decided to stay here for the fans, for the staff for the players. We will try to get what we can, we will try to do what we can."

"I was at Melwood when someone told me about the rumours. It can happen here sometimes," adds the Gaurdian.

The club's managing director, Christian Purslow, dismissed the speculation stating: "It's 1,000% rubbish," he said. "I've only just had dinner with him today and the fact I hadn't heard the rumours should tell you everything."

Incredibly some newspapers have partially printed the quotes in a blatant attempt to continue the unrest and speculation surrounding the managers future. here's how the Independent reported it:

"Benitez tacitly confirmed afterwards that he had felt the pressure of a disappointing start and a modest transfer budget, suggesting that he had "decided to stay" out of loyalty to "the fans, staff and players". He added that his "commitment" was "100 per cent."

Incredible how cutting and pasting a quote together makes it sound altogether different isn't it? Know doubt the press who are intent with causing mischief at every turn will persist in their ruthless quest for readers and their will be many more headlines like this in the coming months.

Liverpool 4 - Stoke City 0

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

fter the disappointment of both the result and performance at White Hart Lane on Sunday, it was critical that the first home game was exploited to the full by a Liverpool side who have, in all honesty, struggled for form throughout the pre-season period as well. Rafael Benitez made two changes to the starting line-up, the replacement of Skrtel by Daniel Ayala a forced one thanks to the head injury that the former picked up in the challenge with Carragher, with Yossi Benayoun also replacing Ryan Babel after his successful introduction against Spurs. The Anfield crowd seemed to respond to the defeat, being in full voice to give their encouragement to the team against a side they had failed twice to break down last season.

The volume had the desired effect as Liverpool began at a pace akin to that which had been evident at the beginning of the home leg versus Real Madrid in last seasons Champions League encounter at Anfield. A neat passing triangle soon found the ball to send Steven Gerrard running at the Stoke defense, but the skipper was unable to find the required final ball. When Gerrard again made a clever run round the side of the defense, his cross cannoned off Faye straight to Lucas on the edge of the penalty area. He made a clean contact with the ball but was unfortunate to drive it straight into the arms of Sorensen. Stoke had set themselves up to defend in two banks of four, almost inviting Liverpool to attack and break them down. This proved a flawed plan with just four minutes gone as Torres put Liverpool one-nil up.

Gerrard was again the instigator as he picked the ball up ten yards outside the area. He played a neat one-two with Lucas and, despite not hitting the ball across the box as cleanly as he may have liked, it proved not to matter as it fell into the path of the Spanish goal-machine who stroked home from around ten yards out past a helpless Sorensen.

This prompted Stoke to begin to show a little more adventure in their play, forcing a corner after a challenge by Ayala, who was showing no nerves on his debut start for the first team. The corner was easily dealt with, though, and again Liverpool came forward with a decent counter-attacking move. The first bad foul of the game came shortly after, with Dean Whitehead going in for a late challenge on Javier Mascherano which left the reds man lying on the turf in some distress, the Stoke player receiving a yellow card for his efforts.

As the Stoke supporters launched themselves into another irrelevant and inexplicable chorus of the Tom Jones classic ‘Delilah’, Liverpool again came forward with Kuyt finding Glen Johnson with a throughball as the full back made an overlapping run outside him. He took the ball into the penalty area and was looking for a slide rule pass across the goal to find the waiting Torres, but Sorensen was able to get down and smother the ball before to snuff out the danger. Soon, however, it was Liverpool who again went close from a counter attack of their own.

As a Stoke set-piece move from the training ground broke down, the ball fell to Dirk Kuyt on the edge of his own area. He moved forward at speed before finding Fernando Torres racing down the right flank. His cross almost found Kuyt in the box before it dropped to Insua at the far post, but the youngster was unable to control his effort as the ball skipped off the turf and it went just wide of the post. Reina was soon forced to make his first save of the game as a trademark long throw in from Rory Delap was glanced goalwards by Ayala. Fortunately for the youngster, it was directed straight into the waiting arms of the Liverpool keeper. Insua then went on another run down the left and he was found by a perfectly weighted ball from Mascherano. He controlled on his chest and burst into the box, striking a left foot shot that was fired at the Stoke keeper from a narrow angle.

The only real threat from Stoke was coming from the Delap ‘quarterback’ throw-ins which arrowed into the Liverpool area. The reds defence was coping well with the danger, however, with Reina, Carragher and the impressive Ayala dealing with the majority of these situations easily. A ridiculous dive from Faye conned the referee into awarding a freekick to Stoke, and from the resultant kick the ex-bluenose James Beattie was unmarked in the area. His free header went easily within reach of Reina though in a mimic of his form during his spell at Goodison.

Liverpool’s head wound curse struck again as the first half entered its last ten minutes. A cross from Carragher found Torres challenging Shawcross at the back post, and the Spaniard came off worst with a nasty gash above his eye. The ‘stitch tally’ was raised by ten more as Torres was forced off the pitch for treatment, to re-enter the fray several minutes later. After his re-appearance, and with just a minute to go until half time, Liverpool gained a two goal cushion to effectively put at end to any realistic hopes that Stoke may have had. Torres went on a jinking run into the box and his shot deflected off Faye for a corner to the reds. As Gerrard crossed into the area, the ball was put behind for a second corner, and the captain’s repeat ball found Kuyt unmarked in the middle. His header was parried on the line by Beattie, but the rebound went in the air and Glen Johnson, on his home debut, performed a scissor kick which left Sorensen no chance and almost burst the net.

The reds deserved their two goal lead at half time, having been easily superior to their visitors particularly in the attacking stakes. Stoke had relied on winning freekicks and throw-ins around the Liverpool area but defensively, the home side had shown far more composure than in the previous fixture. Benitez saw fit to leave the side unchanged for the start of the second half, even with Torres sporting a large bump where his earlier injury had been sustained.

It was Stoke who came out the better of the two sides, however, and when Ayala headed a corner only marginally over his own crossbar, the subsequent cross came in and was glanced out to Delap lurking near the penalty spot. His effort was goalbound until Pepe Reina pulled out a stunning save, getting down to his left with lightning reactions to deflect the effort away from danger. This was easily Stoke’s best chance of the game, and the disappointment at failing to peg Liverpool back seemed to again send them into their shells. From this point on, Liverpool began to re-establish their dominance with some crisp passing movements. A shot from Gerrard almost fell to Kuyt after Sorensen’s save, and Johnson began to get forward with more frequency than he had done previously. Liverpool were fully in control of the midfield, with Lucas and Mascherano looking comfortable on the ball and spraying the ball wide at every available opportunity. A great ball from Benayoun found another foray forward from Johnson, who cut inside the covering full back and squeezed a left footed shot off, leaving Sorensen to get down quickly to tip it round the post.

A chorus of boos greeted Beattie’s replacement by Ricardo Fuller, although it was unclear whether the reds fans were noisy just because he used to play for Everton or whether they wanted him to stay on the pitch, having had so little impact on the game. Liverpool were cutting through the massed ranks of Stoke with apparent ease at this point, and soon a cross from Dirk Kuyt glanced off the head off Shawcross and Sorensen was forced to tip over his own bar. The reds pushed and pushed for the next ten minutes without any clear cut chances being created, but on 78 minutes the Liverpool captain provided the highlight of the evening. After a lengthy spell of passing and movement outside the Stoke area, Javier Mascherano chipped the ball forward looking for Gerrard. In one movement, the skipper controlled and turned through 270 degrees in one move to leave his marker standing, and he slid across the goal for the waiting Kuyt to tap home. A standing ovation soon followed as Gerrard was replaced by Voronin, and Riera also came on for Kuyt.

Ngog replaced Torres soon after, with Liverpool completely in control of the match, and the Frenchman soon made his mark in injury time following some more excellent play from man-of-the-match contender Glen Johnson. The debutant’s cross was deflected towards goal and Sorensen was forced to scramble back having come off his line in anticipation of the centre. He was only able to palm the ball weakly back into the path of Ngog, who still almost managed to miss, heading against the underside of the crossbar and into the net with no challenge anywhere near him.

The final whistle went without further incident, leaving Liverpool to savour a good win. Following the result at Spurs, hopefully an anomalous one, this performance showed the capabilities of the reds side, and it is to be hoped that this signifies a more confident approach which should see us able to avoid repeats of some of the stupid draws at Anfield last season. If we take a ‘glass half full’ approach, it could be said that we are better off by two points than last season, having lost to Spurs away and only drawn at home to Stoke, although only the eternal optimists among us will imagine this to be indicative of our title chances. Credit where it’s due, though, this was a sound team performance which was fully deserving of the margin of victory, and we can proceed with confidence into the coming fixture against Aston Villa on Monday night. Performances from Ayala, Lucas, and in particular Johnson and Gerrard were outstanding, and may point to the team settling down and playing the type of football that Liverpool are capable of.

Match time and date: KO 20:00. 19 August 2009
Goals: Torres 5, Johnson 45, Kuyt 78, N'Gog 90
Yellow cards: Stoke Whitehead.
Referee: P Walton (Northants).
Attendance: 44,318.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina (7); Johnson (9), Carragher (7), Ayala (6), Insua (7); Mascherano (8), Lucas (7); Kuyt (7) (Riera (5), 82), Gerrard (8) (Voronin (5), 82), Benayoun (7); Torres (8) (Ngog (5), 85). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Babel, Kelly, Dossena.

Stoke City (4-5-1): Sorensen (7); Wilkinson (6), Abdoulaye Faye (6), Shawcross (6), Higginbotham (5); Etherington (4), Delap (5), Whitehead (4) (Pugh (4), 70), Whelan (5), Cresswell (4) (Lawrence (4), 62); Beattie (5) (Fuller (4), 62). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Griffin, Cort, Kitson.