Saturday, February 28, 2009

Middlesbrough 2-0 Liverpool

Liverpool's title ambitions were dealt a major blow as Middlesbrough won for the first time in 15 league games.
Nabil El Zhar, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel all tested Boro keeper Brad Jones but Xabi Alonso's own goal from Stewart Downing's corner put Boro ahead.
Tuncay swept in Jeremie Aliadiere's low cross to double the lead before Steven Gerrard was denied by Jones.
Marlon King tested Pepe Reina and also had a goal disallowed for offside late on as Boro ran out comfortable winners.
Liverpool, who have not won at The Riverside since a 2-1 victory in March 2002, made four changes to the side that won 1-0 at Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Steven Gerrard came in to make his 300th start for the Reds, but not even he could unlock a resolute Boro side that was unchanged from the one that beat West Ham in Wednesday's FA Cup replay.
The visitors enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges with El Zhar, making his first league start, testing Jones with a low shot from eight yards at his near post.
Missed chances frustrate BenitezAnd Kuyt's rising shot on the turn from the penalty spot was tipped over by the Boro stopper who also smothered Babel's effort from an acute angle.
Boro rarely threatened unless they were able to smuggle the ball out to Downing on the left, who's pace proved problematic for makeshift right-back Martin Skrtel.
The winger's crosses also caused panic in the Liverpool box and O'Neil almost profited when he nipped in front of Arbeloa at the back post, but Reina was down smartly to deal with his toe-poked effort.
However, the Liverpool keeper could do nothing to stop Boro from taking the lead.
Three Liverpool defenders missed Downing's in-swinging corner from the right and the ball cannoned into the net off Alonso's left knee.
It was Boro's first league goal since 10 January and Downing almost made it two moments later after blocking Skrtel's clearance and racing clear, but Reina saved well.
Paphos-smogyEl Zhar wasted a fantastic chance to level immediately after the break when he lifted Gerrard's sublime pull-back over the bar from 12 yards with the goal at his mercy.
Somewhat against the run of play, Boro doubled their lead when O'Neil and Jeremie Aliadiere combined well down the right and the latter's low cross was swept home first time by Tuncay from the penalty spot.
Gerrard immediately set about reducing the deficit, bundling his way into Boro's box, but Jones was again equal to his effort and after a goalmouth scramble, Alonso's effort was deflected over.
Boro confidence is flowing - SouthgateMarlon King should have wrapped up the win after being found in acres of space by Tuncay, but he wanted more time than he had and Reina saved.
Liverpool captain Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were substituted and with their exit, so the Reds hopes of salvaging something from the game faded.
Downing provided one final perfect cross that O'Neill volleyed wide while King thought he had made it three when he tapped in from close range, only for the assistant referee to rule it out for offside.
Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate: "We have shown in the our last three games with four points from two league games and an FA Cup win how we can play.
"We have had four clean sheets in six games and the confidence is flowing back through the players and the crowd carried us through at the end.
"This win should give the players an unbelievable amount of belief."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez: "In the first 30 minutes we had around five chances and we did not take them.
"If before this game it was going to be difficult to win the league then it is clearly now going to be even harder.
"We have to think about Sunderland next before preparing to face Real Madrid in the Champions League."
Middlesbrough: Jones, Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, O'Neil, Bates, Arca (Walker 88), Downing, Sanli (Adam Johnson 79), Aliadiere (King 68). Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Taylor, Emnes, Alves.
Booked: Sanli, Bates.
Goals: Alonso 32 og, Sanli 63.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher (Benayoun 71), Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard (Lucas 76), Babel, El Zhar (Ngog 68). Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Riera, Darby.
Att: 33,724
Ref: Rob Styles (Hampshire).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Real Madrid 0-1 Liverpool

Liverpool put themselves in a strong position to overcome Real Madrid in the Champions League by beating the Spaniards with a professional display.
Yossi Benayoun struck the Reds winner when he headed in a Fabio Aurelio free-kick from eight yards.
Real had been poor and Arjen Robben had their best chance when his shot was steered over by keeper Pepe Reina.
Liverpool had barely given Real a sight of their goal and comfortably closed out the first leg last-16 tie.
The Champions League has always brought out the best of Liverpool under manager Rafael Benitez, who tactical expertise has flourished in the competition, and this was no different.
Benitez has made an exact science out of defensive durability, frustrating the opposition and punishing teams on the counter-attack and the formula worked to perfection once again.
Real struggled to break through the discipline of Liverpool and, despite Raul's early swivel and shot being saved, the Reds were comfortable from the start.
They were holding the home side at arm's length and could then have taken the lead when they twice caught Real's defence napping with two long balls forward.
Fernando Torres was the first to race through on goal but his angled shot from the right was excellently palmed wide by keeper Iker Cassilas.
A similar ball almost let Benayoun in but Casillas was more alert than his defence and came to the edge of the area to block as the Reds midfielder tried to chip him.
Liverpool were given a scare when keeper Pepe Reina saved a Sergio Ramos header but Gonzalo Higuain put in the rebound.
The effort was rightly disallowed for offside and, other than that, Real were being limited to speculative long range shots.
However, Alonso had the most audacious of shots when his audacious strike from his own half was tipped over by Casillas.
Real were being nullified by Liverpool and Guti came on after the break to add some guile to their sloppy play.
It did little to help the Spanish club and there was the distinct sense that Liverpool could engineer an away goal as they looked the more likely to score.
The threat was not materialising into clearcut chances and the visitors were not helped when Torres went off with a niggling ankle injury.
Real finally showed a glimpse of the danger they pose when a swift counter-attack ended with a swerving Robben shot somehow being steered over from Reina.
But the Reds finally breached the Real defence when Benanyoun struck after former Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze gave away a free-kick.

Monday, February 23, 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.
We showed what we're about - Hughes
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.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Dossena (Aurelio 76), Benayoun, Mascherano (Babel 83), Lucas, Riera (El Zhar 63), Torres, Kuyt.Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Ngog, Spearing.
Booked: El Zhar.
Goals: Kuyt 78.
Man City: Given, Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge, Zabaleta, De Jong, Kompany, Ireland, Bellamy, Robinho (Caicedo 88).Subs Not Used: Hart, Garrido, Vassell, Evans, Elano, Weiss.
Booked: Dunne, Kompany.
Goals: Arbeloa 51 og.
Att: 44,259
Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool

Fernando Torres scored a dramatic late header to take Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League and leave Portsmouth in relegation trouble.
David Nugent gave the hosts the lead with a low shot before Fabio Aurelio equalised with a powerful free-kick from inside the area.
Hermann Hreidarsson restored Pompey's lead with a stooping header.
But with only five minutes remaining Dirk Kuyt powered in from an acute angle before Torres' late cameo.
With the win in the bag, manager Rafael Benitez will feel vindicated for starting without his star striker who had been rested following his exertions during the FA Cup defeat by Everton in midweek.
But with the scores at 2-2 on 89 minutes, many Liverpool fans would have wondered why Torres had not been brought on earlier.
Benitez also chose to rest Kuyt for much of the match, electing to play what many would consider a weakened XI.
The Reds found it difficult to adapt to playing with each other in Benitez's chosen system, which saw three at the back and Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel playing off the lone striker David Ngog.
It was a tough ask for 19-year-old Ngog, who was given his first start, to lead the line against heavyweight centre-backs Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin.
Unsurprisingly, he did not get a sniff on goal, although Benayoun did in one of the few efforts in the opening 45 minutes, when he found the side netting after being put through on goal.
Moments later, Brazilian Aurelio went even closer when his 25-yard free-kick smacked off David James's right-hand upright.
James, who equalled Gary Speed's all-time Premier League record of 535 appearances, was asked to perform heroics only once when he tipped Javier Mascherano's 30-yard flier round the post.
It was not all Liverpool, however, former Anfield striker Peter Crouch and Nugent giving the visiting backline a decent workout.
But between them they only created one chance of note in the first half when Nugent's lay-off was hit on the half-volley by Crouch over Pepe Reina's crossbar.
Everton fan Nugent was seen taunting the opposition with a '1-0' gesture, which seemed to refer to Liverpool's Cup defeat.
Adams still has faith despite defeat
And the former Preston striker rubbed salt in Liverpool's recent wounds when he picked up Crouch's throughball, sprung the offside trap and placed his effort under Reina's body and into the goal.
With Kuyt already brought on to replace Ngog, Benitez made another change by bringing on playmaker Xabi Alonso.
But it was Aurelio who pulled the scores level with a cracking free-kick, which came about after James was forced to handle Crouch's suicidal backpass with Benayoun bearing down on goal.
Aurelio stepped up to take the kick inside the penalty area and buried it beautifully low through the legs of Crouch and Nico Kranjcar, who was on the line.
Benitez brought on Torres in search for a winner, but it was at the other end where the game took another twist when Hreidarsson headed Nadir Belhadj's free-kick into the ground and past Reina, who seemed confused by the bounce.
It was turning out to be a horrible week for Benitez until his substitutes got him and the side out of jail with two classic strikes.
In the 85th minute, Torres picked out Kuyt inside the area whose neat footwork created enough space to fire in a wicked shot high past James.
Torres then took centre-stage in the dying moments to convert Benayoun's pin-point cross past the reach of the Pompey keeper.
Portsmouth: James, Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Basinas, Davis, Mullins (Kranjcar 46), Belhadj, Crouch, Nugent.Subs Not Used: Begovic, Lauren, Mvuemba, Pamarot, Kanu, Gekas.
Booked: Hreidarsson.
Goals: Nugent 62, Hreidarsson 78.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Dossena (Alonso 67), Arbeloa, Mascherano, Aurelio, Babel (Torres 76), Ngog (Kuyt 56), Benayoun.Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Riera, El Zhar.
Goals: Aurelio 69, Kuyt 85, Torres 90.

Att: 20,524
Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).

Friday, February 6, 2009

Everton 1-0 Liverpool (aet)

Everton teenager Dan Gosling struck a dramatic winner two minutes from the end of extra-time to settle the FA Cup fourth round replay against Liverpool.
Liverpool, who lost Steven Gerrard to injury early on and saw Lucas Leiva sent off in the second half, looked to be surviving for a penalty shoot-out.
But Gosling, 19 last Monday, showed remarkable composure to curl home a clever finish past Pepe Reina.
Leon Osman hit the post for Everton, who meet Aston Villa in the next round.
Everton deserved victory for their more positive approach in a typically abrasive encounter that turned into a war of attrition.
Liverpool, who ran out of steam in extra time as they tried to hang on in extra time, are now left to concentrate on the Premier League and the Champions League.
Boss Rafael Benitez resisted the temptation to rest his big guns, with both Gerrard and Fernando Torres included in the starting line-up.
Xabi Alonso posted the first moment of danger when he fired an angled 25-yard drive just wide with Everton keeper Tim Howard beaten.
Liverpool suffered a major setback after 15 minutes when captain and inspiration Gerrard limped off with a hamstring injury, to be replaced by Yossi Benayoun.
The rest of the first half was a scrappy mess, with no quality on show and the play punctuated by a succession of stoppages.
Everton's Tim Cahill picked up a yellow card following an aerial clash with Jamie Carragher, and he was followed by team-mate Steven Pienaar for a nasty late tackle on Lucas.
Sabiha GokcenLucas picked up a booking of his own early in the second half, as did Everton captain Phil Neville as there appeared little chance of any football breaking out amid the physical exchanges.
Everton midfield man Marouane Fellaini had been having a nightmare, to put it mildly, and it was no surprise when he was replaced by Gosling after 52 minutes.
It took an hour for the first serious chance to be created, and it came following a mistake from the previously faultless Phil Jagielka.
He conceded possession, allowing Alonso to find Albert Riera, but Howard was swift to race off his line to block the Spaniard's effort.
Everton then came desperately close to breaking the deadlock after one of the game's more fluent moves.
Mikel Arteta played in Cahill, who set up Osman - only for the midfield man to crash a shot against the post when he should have scored.
Liverpool were reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes left when Lucas, having already been given a yellow card, left referee Alan Wiley no option other than to send him off after a cynical trip on Joleon Lescott.
Everton, understandably, then had the majority of the possession in the closing stages, but Liverpool's defence held firm.
Osman was the threat again six minutes into injury-time, but Reina saved well and then recovered brilliantly to deny Gosling.
Cahill then headed the resulting corner from Leighton Baines agonisingly wide.
Torres had suffered a fruitless evening at the hands of Jagielka, and he was eventually substituted after 101 minutes.
Such was Everton's desperation to get the game won before the lottery of penalties that boss Moyes even gave Dutch outcast Andy van der Meyde a rare outing as substitute.
And it was his cross that paved the way for Gosling to settle a gruelling Merseyside derby and spark wild celebrations from the Everton fans inside Goodison Park.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Osman, Fellaini (Gosling 52), Neville (Van der Meyde 106), Arteta, Pienaar (Rodwell 60), Cahill. Subs Not Used: Nash, Yobo, Castillo, Jacobsen.
Booked: Cahill, Pienaar, Neville, Arteta, Hibbert.
Goals: Gosling 118.
Liverpool: Reina, Dossena, Carragher, Skrtel, Arbeloa, Kuyt, Alonso, Gerrard (Benayoun 16), Leiva Lucas, Riera (Mascherano 80), Torres (Babel 101).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Agger, El Zhar.
Sent Off: Leiva Lucas (76).
Booked: Leiva Lucas, Alonso.
Att: 37,918
Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).

Gerrard faces three-week lay-off

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will be out of action for three weeks after a scan revealed a torn hamstring.
Gerrard was replaced after 16 minutes of Wednesday's FA Cup replay against Everton, which Liverpool lost 1-0.
The midfielder will now miss Saturday's match against Portsmouth, England's friendly against Spain next week and the visit of Manchester City.
Gerrard, 28, also faces a race against time to be fit for the Champions League tie against Real Madrid on 25 February.
bracewells-wedgeThe absence of Gerrard is a blow to Liverpool's title credentials having scored 11 goals for them in the league this season.
Liverpool are two points behind champions Manchester United, who have played a game less.
"A scan today has confirmed a tear in the hamstring of Steven's left leg," a spokesman told the club's official website.
"He will be out of action for about three weeks."
It is a blow to Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez who did not add to his squad in the January transfer window.
The Spaniard also came under criticism from some fans after selling striker Robbie Keane back to Tottenham for £12m.
It has left Liverpool short of forward options and the absence of attacking midfielder Gerrard further limits Benitez's options.
Star striker Fernando Torres is also battling his way back from a hamstring injury and is still short of full fitness.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Fernando Torres struck two late goals at Anfield to sink Chelsea and ensure Liverpool kept up the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United.
The game looked destined for the draw that would have suited only Sir Alex Ferguson until Torres made his dramatic intervention to close the gap on United to two points, although Liverpool have played a game more.
Chelsea saw Frank Lampard sent off on the hour for a foul on Xabi Alonso, a decision they contested bitterly as they claimed he took the ball first before making contact with the Liverpool midfield man.
But they can have no serious complaints about the result after Liverpool dominated throughout, taking the game to Chelsea in a game played out in freezing conditions.
Torres broke the deadlock a minute from time when he headed in a near-post cross from Fabio Aurelio, then set the seal on the win in stoppage time with a simple finish after substitute Yossi Benayoun had robbed Ashley Cole.
Anfield was ecstatic at the final whistle, with recent traumas seemingly forgotten and hopes of a first title since 1990 revived again.
Chelsea now face a massive task to rebuild their challenge and on this evidence there must doubts about whether they have the desire to perform the task.
They have picked up only one point this season in five games against their closest title rivals, with Liverpool completing a double over the Londoners.
Liverpool were the hungrier side from the first whistle, with Chelsea keeper Petr Cech saving well from Alonso and Benayoun and Alex performing heroics in defence to keep Rafael Benitez’s side at bay.
For manager Benitez, with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett looking on, it was a crucial victory and one the Spaniard and Liverpool needed desperately to over-shadow the off-the-field politics that have proved such a distraction in recent times.
Liverpool, as expected, did not even include Robbie Keane on the bench – only intensifying speculation that his short and unfulfilling Anfield career is drawing to a close.
Chelsea keeper Cech was swiftly in the action, acrobatically turning over a rising 25-yard drive from Alonso as Liverpool made the more forceful opening.
Cech was less convincing after 18 minutes when he fumbled a routine shot from Javier Mascherano, but no Liverpool player was in the vicinity to take advantage of his moment of poor handling.
Chelsea’s best performers were all in defence, and Alex came to the rescue with a crucial block on Torres after he worked an opening in the penalty area.
Scolari bemused by Lampard red card
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side were fortunate to escape four minutes before the interval when Cech saved well from Albert Riera, with the rebound striking Cole and rolling inches wide.
Liverpool had hardly been sparkling, but at least they had shown the attacking intent, while Chelsea had offered nothing in the way of threat to keeper Pepe Reina.
That same pattern resumed after the break, with Dirk Kuyt hooking an effort off target after Gerrard’s corner found him unmarked at the far post, and Alex then made another vital intervention to halt Torres.
Old enemies Lampard and Alonso were involved in a flashpoint on the hour that saw Chelsea’s England midfield sent off.
Lampard challenged with his studs up and referee Mike Riley had no hesitation in brandishing the red card.
It was a moment laced with irony, as prior to the game Lampard had spoken of a lingering feud with Alonso following an incident in January 2005 when Spaniard suffered a broken ankle after a tackle from the Chelsea midfielder.
After receiving medical attention Alonso almost added insult to Chelsea’s perceived injury eight minutes later when he saw a shot deflected off Alex on to the bar.
Scolari decided it was time for a change, sending on Deco and Didier Drogba for the anonymous Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka.
It led to Chelsea’s first serious effort on target with 16 minutes from time, a tame shot from Salomon Kalou that was comfortably collected by Reina.
Liverpool were still doing all the pressing, however, and Cech had to be at his best to turn away a curling 25-yard drive from substitute Benayoun.
The Israeli midfielder then sent a searing volley inches over as Liverpool set themselves up for one last big effort to break Chelsea’s resolute rearguard.
The breakthrough came two minutes from time when Torres glided in Aurelio’s cross – then turned into an empty net after Cole was caught in possession by the lively Benayoun.
The Israeli international was involved in bizarre incident near the end of the game when Bosingwa put his studs high on the back of Benayoun, pushing the Liverpool midfielder off the pitch, but the Chelsea defender escaped punishment.
Liverpool merited the three points and continue their pursuit of United, but for Chelsea the title race may now be run.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Alonso, Mascherano (Babel 83), Riera (Benayoun 74), Gerrard, Torres (Ngog 90).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Agger, Leiva Lucas.
Booked: Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard, Arbeloa.
Goals: Torres 89, 90.
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou (Stoch 85), Anelka (Drogba 69), Malouda (Deco 69).Subs Not Used: Hilario, Ivanovic, Ferreira, Mancienne.
Sent Off: Lampard (60).
Booked: Ashley Cole, Mikel, Terry.
Att: 44,174
Ref: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).