Saturday, 14 March 2009

Man Utd 1-4 Liverpool

By Phil McNulty Chief football writer at Old Trafford

Liverpool revived their ambitions of claiming the Premier League title in remarkable fashion as they humiliated champions Manchester United at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson's side looked on course to stretch their advantage at the top of the table when Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty gave them an early lead after Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina fouled Ji-Sung Park.

But Fernando Torres hounded Nemanja Vidic into a mistake eight minutes later and raced through to coolly beat Edwin van der Sar. And the transformation was complete a minute before the interval when Steven Gerrard scored from the spot after he had been upended by Patrice Evra. United's day of misery was summed up 15 minutes from time when Vidic, who had a nightmare afternoon at the hands of Torres, was sent off for fouling Gerrard and Fabio Aurelio brilliantly curled home the resulting free-kick from 25 yards.

The torment for United stretching into stoppage time when Liverpool substitute Andrea Dossena lobbed a composed finish over Van der Sar after being allowed to race unchallenged on to Reina's goal-kick.

United remain firm favourites to claim the Premier League, with a four-point advantage and a game in hand, but if Liverpool needed any incentive to continue to carry the fight to United, the impressive manner of this performance will have provided it. It has been a dream week for Rafael Benitez's side, with both Real Madrid and United put to the sword with four-goal performances.

Liverpool, once they found their feet, were the brighter and more creative side - with the magnificent Torres the spearhead, ably assisted by Gerrard. The Premier League leaders, in contrast, were lifeless in all areas as they suffered their heaviest home defeat since losing 4-1 against QPR on New Year' Day 1992. They were unsettled at the back and toothless up front with Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney unable to make their presence felt.

United must now bounce back from a defeat that was unexpected, both in style and scoreline, while Liverpool will move forward with renewed optimism that they can still over-turn the odds and catch the pace-setters. Liverpool had already lost influential midfield man Xabi Alonso to a calf problem when their difficulties increased in the warm-up, Alavaro Arbeloa injuring a hamstring with Sami Hyypia coming into the side, though the veteran gave an outstanding performance.

Benitez's revamped side struggled to settle early on, and it took a trademark block from Jamie Carragher to deny the industrious Park. Torres posted the warning signals for United with a turn inside the area that needed Vidic to clear.But it was United who took the lead after 23 minutes when Liverpool were punished for a rush of blood from keeper Reina, who dashed from his line and brought down Park when there appeared to be no imminent danger, Ronaldo completing the formalities from the spot.

If United thought the setback would break Liverpool's resolve, they were to be sadly mistaken as Torres produced a golden spell that had them in front before the interval. He levelled after 28 minutes with an example of all the qualities that make him arguably the world's finest striker. Martin Skrtel's long clearance was speculative at best, but Torres' presence created uncertainty.
Vidic let the ball bounce and Torres showed lightning speed to touch the ball away from the defender and steer a composed finish beyond Van der Sar.

Torres then planted further seeds of doubt in Vidic's mind with an arrogant nutmeg on the defender, followed by respectable penalty claims when he collided with the Serb. There had been few flashpoints, but there was a swift exchange of bookings after Liverpool's Carragher tripped Carlos Tevez and Rio Ferdinand fouled Dirk Kuyt.

Liverpool had ended the half in the ascendancy, and they were rewarded with the lead in the 44th minute. Torres was the creator with a clever pass inside Evra, and when Gerrard was tripped after reaching the ball first, referee Alan Wiley again got the big decision right and pointed to the spot.

Gerrard tucked the penalty beyond Van der Sar, leaving Old Trafford stunned at the strength of Liverpool's fightback. United, inevitably, penned Liverpool back after the break - but found the visitors in grimly determined mood. Liverpool were fortunate to escape after 62 minutes when Ronaldo, a subdued figure throughout, found Rooney at the far post and his header flew across the face of goal with Tevez unable to apply the finishing touch.

Ferguson went for broke with 18 minutes left, making a triple substitution as he sent on Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for Anderson, Carrick and Park. But there was barely time for his changes to make a difference as United were reduced to 10 men and went further behind in the space of seconds.

Vidic, who was also sent off at Anfield earlier this season, had suffered a harrowing afternoon, and once again his control was poor as he allowed Gerrard a clear run on goal. He chose to haul Gerrard back and the red card that followed was inevitable. As a stunned Old Trafford came to terms with that, Aurelio poured salt in the wounds with a superb 25-yard free-kick that left Van der Sar rooted to the spot.

The stadium was deserting rapidly as Liverpool inflicted one final piece of punishment on United, substitute Dossena lifting a stylish finish over Van der Sar. As Liverpool's players celebrated a landmark victory, there was only misery at The Theatre of Dreams - for once an inappropriate label for the home of the champions.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Carrick (Giggs 74), Anderson (Scholes 73), Park (Berbatov 74), Rooney, Tevez.Subs Not Used: Foster, Nani, Evans, Fletcher.
Sent Off: Vidic (76).
Booked: Ferdinand, Van der Sar.
Goals: Ronaldo 23 pen.

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard (El Zhar 90), Riera (Dossena 67), Torres (Babel 81).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Insua, Ngog, Arbeloa.
Booked: Carragher, Mascherano, Skrtel.
Goals: Torres 28, Gerrard 44 pen, Aurelio 77, Dossena 90.

Att: 75,569

Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Liverpool 1-1 Man City

Liverpool's title hopes were dealt a severe blow as they were held to a draw by Manchester City at Anfield. City broke the deadlock when former Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy's shot was deflected in off Alvaro Arbeloa. A poor Liverpool had rarely threatened but levelled when Dirk Kuyt poked home after a Yossi Benayoun cross.

Shay Given saved a powerful Benayoun strike in a frantic finish but the Reds failed to get a winner and trail Manchester United by seven points. Liverpool have now drawn six and won seven at home, while United have drawn just one and won 12 at Old Trafford. It is a telling statistic, revealing the story of Liverpool's failure to break down visitors to Anfield and, with Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso missing, their lack of squad strength and creativity compared to United's was also highlighted.

The Merseysiders had gone into the game with the pressure of knowing anything less than a win would have delivered a damaging blow to their title aspirations after United beat Blackburn on Saturday. The gravity of Liverpool's situation was hard to tell from the majority of their play as they struggled to find any sort of rhythm or fluency. City have won just once away from home in the league this season but were looking comfortable from the start and should have taken the lead through Stephen Ireland.

He had intercepted a stray Javier Mascherano pass and released Robinho on the right with a long diagonal ball before making a run into the Liverpool box. The Brazilian found Ireland at the far post but the City midfielder's shot lacked conviction as he tamely sidefooted straight at keeper Jose Reina.Liverpool's play was laboured and predictable and they lacked a player in the mould of the injured Gerrard to to take the game by the scruff of the neck and inspire their play.
Striker Fernando Torres tried his best to fill the Gerrard void as he set up chances that he would have relished for Albert Riera and Benayoun.

But Riera dragged a shot wide and Benayoun put his effort into the crowd to sum up a poor first-half which suggested anything but a side challenging for the title. Things got worse for Liverpool soon after the break when Robinho started a move which saw him find Vincent Kompany, who teed up Bellamy. Bellamy's shot went in off an Arbeloa deflection and gave the Reds little choice but to commit more numbers forward.

The situation was looking desperate the longer the game went on before Kuyt equalised when he pounced after Torres scuffed an effort from Benayoun's low cross. City had seen Liverpool overturn a two-goal deficit to win in the reverse fixture earlier this season. It was almost a case of deja vu, but Benayoun's late strike was blocked by Given and, although the Israeli's follow-up header struck Richard Dunne's arm, a penalty against the visitors would have been harsh. And, in contrast to their defensive vulnerability so far this season, City held on to earn a point.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Liverpool 1-0 Marseille

Steven Gerrard's first-half goal sent Liverpool into the Champions League knockout stage with an unconvincing win against Marseille at Anfield.

Gerrard headed in at the far post from Xabi Alonso's cross after 23 minutes.

It was the highlight of a poor Liverpool display, with Marseille dominating possession for long periods. Taye Taiwo had a long-range shot turned on to the post by Pepe Reina before the break, and Liverpool's keeper also saved superbly from Hatem Ben Arfa.

Liverpool now enter their final game of this section, away to PSV Eindhoven, battling with Atletico Madrid to finish top of Group D.

Rafael Benitez's side have made patchy progress to the last 16, but they have followed a similar path in the past and still navigated their way through to the final stages of the tournament. Gerrard was restored to Liverpool's line-up after missing England's win in Germany and a goalless draw with Fulham at Anfield with a groin injury.

Dirk Kuyt had an opportunity to give Liverpool the lead after 21 minutes when Fernando Torres provided a perfect cross, but his header was saved at the second attempt by keeper Steve Mandanda.

It was only a temporary reprieve for Marseille, with Gerrard putting Liverpool in front two minutes later. He stole in unmarked on the end of Alonso's ball to the far post to head powerfully beyond the helpless Mandanda.

Marseille were stringing some impressive passing moves together without delivering an end product, but they gave Liverpool a scare after 35 minutes when Reina touched Taiwo's long-range shot on to the post.

Ronaldo Zubar then headed the resulting corner wastefully wide when he was left unchallenged at the far post. Marseille more than matched Liverpool in the second half, with the gifted Ben Arfa a real threat.

He fired a dangerous cross just beyond Benoit Cheyrou then forced Reina into a stunning finger-tip save from an angled free-kick. Liverpool were desperately out of sorts and Mamadou Niang wasted an opportunity with 10 minutes left, heading off target when well placed.

But Liverpool's defence, superbly marshalled once more by Jamie Carragher, held out and can now concentrate on topping the group and avoiding some potentially hazardous opposition in the last 16.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio (Dossena 46), Mascherano, Alonso, Kuyt (Leiva Lucas 85), Gerrard, Riera (Benayoun 63), Torres.Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Keane, Babel, Kelly.
Booked: Mascherano.
Goals: Gerrard 23.

Marseille: Mandanda, Bonnart (Samassa 89), Zubar, Hilton, Taiwo, Ziani, Cana, Cheyrou, Ben Arfa, Niang, Kone (Valbuena 78).Subs Not Used: Riou, Rodriguez, Zenden, Kabore, Grandin.
Booked: Niang.

Att: 40,024
Ref: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal).

By Phil McNulty

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Benayoun threatens to leave Reds

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun has threatened to leave after becoming frustrated at manager Rafa Benitez's policy of using him as a substitute.
The 28-year-old, who joined from West Ham for £5m in 2007, has made just four starts in 11 appearances this season.

Benayoun told Israel's Channel Five TV: "If the situation remains the same over the next few months, I will not want to continue as a Liverpool player."

"I hope it changes as I want to stay and prove myself but it won't be easy."

Benayoun made his name at Israeli side Maccabi Haifa and Spanish outfit Racing Santander before moving to West Ham in 2005.

He switched to Anfield in 2007 and resisted a move away this summer despite interest from Italian side Roma and Dutch giants Ajax.

The Israeli international has made 41 appearances for Liverpool but he fears that his playing time will remain restricted following the team's good start to the season. The Reds are joint top of the Premier League with Chelsea, having lost only once, picking up 32 points out of a possible 39.

"The fact that I have spent so much time on the bench, while there has been a winning formula on the pitch, tells you everything," added Benayoun.

"I know I'm at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and that there are many good players like Ryan Babel and Jermaine Pennant who sometimes aren't even in the squad, but it's not much fun sitting on the bench all the time.

"I always wanted to prove myself good enough for Liverpool, and I thought I did well last season to contribute so many goals and assists.

"But there seems to be more competition for places this time, and if I continue to be on the sidelines, I would not want to stay, even though it is Liverpool.

"Maybe I will have to accept that and start learning another language, such as Italian or French or even Russian."

Flap over Liverpool's bird symbol

The owners of Liverpool Football Club have applied to register the Liver Bird as their trademark, prompting the city council to take legal advice. The club has applied to the UK Intellectual Property Office to register the image for £450.

Bosses hope it will stem the tide of counterfeit Liverpool merchandise bearing the famous Liver Bird emblem. But Liverpool City Council said the club had "no right" to claim the bird as its own.
Deputy council leader Flo Clucas said the council was taking legal advice over the trademark application.

"I have some very real concerns over it," she said.

"They do already have their crest trademarked, but they have no right of ownership to claim the bird, or any version of the bird, as their own. }

"The Liver Bird, not only does it appear on the Royal Charter for the council, but it is also used by local businesses and schools.

"It belongs to the city and nobody has a right to claim it exclusively as the own. It's a symbol for the city."

She has also raised concerns that if the club was successful in registering the image, it could start charging for its use in future. "The club also says they have no intention of charging organisations that want to use it.

Mythical bird
"But there is no guarantee in future that the people of the city will have the right to use that without having to pay for it."

A statement from the club said: "Liverpool Football Club is seeking to trademark only its own specific version of the Liver Bird, to combat its use in counterfeit merchandise.

"This does not extend to other versions of the Liver Bird, such as the city council's or those used by other commercial or charity organisations.

"We have absolutely no intention of challenging that usage of the Liver Bird.

"We are simply trying to stop people lifting our rendition of the Liver Bird out of the official club crest and applying it to fake Liverpool FC merchandise."

The Liver Bird is a mythical bird, similar to a cormorant, which as legend has it could often be seen flying alongside the River Mersey with seaweed in its beak.

Two statues of the birds stand atop one of the city's most famous buildings, the Liver Building.

The bird is also used on logos by several businesses, including the Liverpool Echo, which shows the bird carrying a newspaper in its beak.

Carragher key to title bid - Wark

Former Liverpool midfielder John Wark believes keeping Jamie Carragher fit will be key to the Reds maintaining their Premier League title challenge.

Carragher, 30, along with keeper Pepe Reina, has played every minute of the Anfield club's league campaign so far.

Wark told BBC Radio Merseyside: "Jamie Carragher has been so consistent it's unreal, for me he deserves all the accolades he gets.
"He's our main defender and when he is not playing we will struggle."
"He's a great organiser, he gives his all and the fans love him," said Wark.

Due to fellow centre-half Martin Skrtel's knee injury and Alvaro Arbeloas' suspension last weekend Carragher filled in at right-back for the 2-0 win at Bolton on Saturday. Carraghers' commitment to the cause pleases Wark.

"He throws his body into some tackles, I just love the way he plays football and the spirit he plays it with."

Parry favours Reds over FA post

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry is staying at Anfield - after being linked with a similar post with the Football Association's 2018 World Cup bid. BBC Sport understands Parry has decided to remain at Anfield, despite being the top contender from a five-man shortlist for the job.

Parry's future at Liverpool has been in question after co-owner Tom Hicks called for his resignation in April. But Parry insisted then his main focus was on remaining loyal to Liverpool.
And it appears that remains the case, despite the FA's hopes of persuading him to leave Anfield and play a major role in the 2018 World Cup bid.

Liverpool's other American owner, George Gillett, staunchly backed Parry when Hicks called for his removal.

And as Liverpool moved to present a united front amid off-the-field uncertainty, Parry also held talks with manager Rafael Benitez after the manager expressed frustration over the failure to sign Gareth Barry from Aston Villa in the summer.

Liverpool have enjoyed an outstanding start to the season, lying second behind Chelsea in the Premier League, and Parry's desire to stay at Anfield is a clear sign of an attempt to provide continuity and stability as takeover talk continues to surround Hicks and Gillett.

By Phil McNulty