Sunday, March 22, 2009

Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa

Liverpool turned up the pressure on faltering Premier League leaders Manchester United as they swept Aston Villa aside with another goal spree at Anfield.
Steven Gerrard inevitably provided the inspiration with his first Premier League hat-trick - two from the spot - as Liverpool sent out another emphatic statement of intent about their renewed title ambitions.
Rafael Benitez celebrated signing a new five-year contract by watching his side seal victory by half-time as they established a three-goal lead - building the platform for a win that leaves Liverpool in second place and just a point behind United after their shock defeat at Fulham.
Liverpool then racked up two more crucial strikes after the interval to extend their goal difference beyond United's, a factor that could become decisive in the coming weeks.
United may still have that crucial game in hand, but the huge shift in momentum since Liverpool's crushing victory at Old Trafford has all at Anfield seriously believing they can overhaul their fierce rivals in the run-in.
Dirk Kuyt started the rout early on with a close-range finish after Gerrard's free-kick was headed on to the crossbar by Xabi Alonso.
Albert Riera half-volleyed home the second from keeper Pepe Reina's long clearance and Gerrard added the third before the interval.
He beat Brad Friedel with ease from the spot after Nigel Reo-Coker had fouled Riera.
With Villa despondent, Gerrard struck again from a well-worked free-kick five minutes after half-time and he sealed his treble on 65 minutes.
It was again a penalty, awarded after Friedel brought down Fernando Torres, an offence that earned Villa's unfortunate keeper a red card.
Defeats for United and Chelsea opened the door for Liverpool to really start breathing down the necks of the pace-setters, and this display was exactly what Benitez would have demanded.
Liverpool's title race looked all-but run after defeat at Middlesbrough at the end of last month, but a series of blistering displays have sent confidence surging through the ranks and re-ignited their hopes of claiming the Premier League and the Champions League.
Real Madrid and United were on the end of four-goal beatings - and here they went one better against a Villa side whose main aim of qualifying for the Champions League appears to be receding on a weekly basis.
Liverpool, in contrast, have found a high tempo to their game that has eluded them too often this season, and despite a good Villa spell midway through the first half that saw Reina twice save well from John Carew, they were always in command.
And it was a victory that did not even require any real flashes of trademark brilliance from Torres, who was kept relatively quiet, such was Liverpool's dominance in all parts of the pitch.
Buoyed by United's setback at Craven Cottage on Saturday, Liverpool opened in the manner of a team who had seen the title come back into their sights in dramatic fashion.
It took only seven minutes for Liverpool to take the lead - and inevitably captain Gerrard was heavily involved.
Alonso glanced his swerving free-kick against the bar and Kuyt was on hand to slam the rebound past Friedel.
Villa needed to survive the predictable early assault from Liverpool, and once they did they had success with their attempts to give Carew the ammunition to cause havoc in the penalty area.
He was twice denied by important saves from Reina, first from a shot at the near post as he got on the end of Ashley Young's cross and then with a header that was turned away superbly by Liverpool's keeper.
Reina was then instrumental in Liverpool's second goal after 33 minutes that broke Villa's resolve and effectively sealed the points.
He launched a long clearance that was allowed to make its way into the Villa penalty area, where Riera lashed a half-volley high past Friedel.
And if Villa harboured any hopes of a revival they were snuffed out six minutes before the interval when Gerrard added Liverpool's third from the penalty spot.
Reo-Coker, pressed into service as an emergency right-back, was having a miserable time and he was lured into a challenge on Riera in the area that was never going to end in anything other than a spot-kick, which Gerrard duly dispatched.
Gerrard scored his second, and Liverpool's fourth, after 50 minutes when he slid a wonderfully-precise low finish beyond Friedel from Alonso's tapped free-kick.
With goal difference emerging as a real factor, The Kop urged Liverpool forward and their rampant side obliged.
Liverpool made it five after 65 minutes in a moment that summed up Villa's afternoon.
Torres raced clear and was hauled down by Friedel - although there seemed little malice in the keeper's challenge.
Referee Martin Atkinson produced the red card and substitute keeper Brad Guzan's first task was to pick Gerrard's penalty out of the net as the Liverpool captain completed his hat-trick.
Liverpool then played out time and conserved energy for battles ahead - safe in the knowledge that they had sent out another warning signal to United.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa (Agger 76), Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso (Lucas 66), Gerrard (Ngog 80), Kuyt, Riera, Torres.Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, El Zhar.
Booked: Gerrard.
Goals: Kuyt 8, Riera 33, Gerrard 39 pen, 50, 65 pen.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Reo-Coker (Guzan 64), Cuellar, Davies, Luke Young, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Heskey (Agbonlahor 58), Carew (Gardner 88).Subs Not Used: Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Shorey.
Sent Off: Friedel (64).
Booked: Luke Young, Gardner.
Att: 44,131
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Man Utd 1-4 Liverpool

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.
Benitez celebrates growing confidence
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, March 10, 2009

Liverpool 4-0 R Madrid (agg 5-0)

Fernando Torres delivered a scintillating solo performance to torment his old adversaries Real Madrid and send Liverpool into the Champions League quarter-finals.
Torres, for so long the symbol of Real's fierce rivals Atletico Madrid, returned from injury to spearhead a Liverpool display that once again re-inforced their credentials in Europe's elite competition.
Torres put Liverpool ahead after 16 minutes when he turned in Dirk Kuyt's cross from close range - although Real complained bitterly that defender Pepe had been fouled in the build up.
Real also felt they were harshly treated when Steven Gerrard scored Liverpool's second from the spot 12 minutes later after Gabriel Heinze had been penalised for handball.
The brutal truth for Real was that they were outclassed, with Liverpool underlining their vast superiority when Gerrard slammed home the third from Ryan Babel's cross two minutes after the interval.
Substitute Andrea Dossena completed a dream night for Liverpool by scoring his first goal for the club with two minutes remaining.
Only a show of outstanding one-man defiance from Real keeper Iker Casillas stopped Liverpool from running riot even more in front of a delirious Anfield gallery.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez demanded respect for his European record in the build-up to this tie, and it will be given after a performance that once again demonstrated that for all his inability to claim the Premier League so far in his Anfield reign, there are few finer operators in this form of football combat.
Real coach Juande Ramos was wearing the look of dejected resignation that characterised much of his brief reign at Spurs long before the final whistle, with the Spanish champions looking one-paced and ageing in crucial areas thanks to the vibrant nature of Liverpool's display.
The brilliance of Torres was ably supported by Gerrard on his 100th European appearance for Liverpool as the pair delivered compelling evidence that they can be the driving forces for another assault on Rome, where Liverpool won this trophy in 1977 and 1984.
Liverpool were able to recall Torres after the ankle injury he sustained in the first leg in the Bernabeu - and he was the focal point for a first-half display that put the tie firmly out of Real's reach.
Gerrard scored twice as Liverpool overwhelmed Real.If Real needed the impetus of an early goal to put Liverpool under pressure, they were not given a chance as they were subjected to a siege in the opening exchanges.
Torres was almost untouchable, signalling his intentions in the third minute with a turn which left Fabio Cannavaro in his wake, but Casillas denied his Spanish international team-mate.
And Casillas showed his class again from the resulting corner, leaping acrobatically to turn Javier Mascherano's 20-yard drive on to the bar.
Real were not being given any opportunity to fashion attacks or bring order to their play, and even though Liverpool's opening goal in the 16th minute was hotly-contested by Ramos' side, they could not complain at being behind.
Pepe insisted that Torres had hauled him down as they chased a long ball, but Liverpool's striker did not wait for the whistle, racing to the edge of the six-yard box to apply a simple finish to Kuyt's cross.
Liverpool were playing in the positive and fluent manner that has eluded them so often at Anfield this season, and Casillas was in action once more to save Martin Skrtel's header.
And Torres was at it again when he pulled the ball back from the touch-line for Gerrard, but Casillas, a shining light amid this fiasco of a performance from Real, was again equal to the occasion.
Liverpool doubled their advantage after 28 minutes, but once again Real were left cursing the officials when Heinze was penalised for handball.
The former Manchester United defender, who almost joined Liverpool, pointed to his shoulder, but it was all in vain as Gerrard powered home the penalty.
It effectively ended the tie, although Real belatedly twitched into life as Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina was twice forced to save from Wesley Sneijder and Gonzalo Higuain.
The only cloud on what was virtually a perfect opening period for Liverpool was a yellow card for Mascherano for kicking the ball away.
Real made a change at the interval, replacing the subdued Arjen Robben with Marcelo - but any hopes of an unlikely revival were snuffed out when Gerrard added Liverpool's third two minutes after the break.
Babel is clearly not a favourite of Liverpool's supporters, but they had no complaints when he escaped down the left flank and crossed invitingly for Gerrard to side-foot a crisp finish high past the unfortunate Casillas.
Indeed, only the excellent Casillas stood between Real and a rout, saving superbly again from Gerrard as Liverpool displayed the freedom of a side that knew their ticket into the last eight of the Champions League was already stamped.
When Real did pose a threat, which was hardly ever, Liverpool's rearguard remained resolute on a night that offered little other than frustration for the legendary Raul and his colleagues.
Torres' night ended as it started, when he was denied by the diving Casillas, this time from a rising first-time effort.
He was substituted to a standing ovation, but if Real thought that was the end of their punishment they were mistaken as the unlikely figure of Dossena arrived unchallenged in the area to turn the fourth past Casillas.
Liverpool departed to rapturous applause at the final whistle - fully deserved after a performance that signalled a warning that they will once again be a serious force in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio, Alonso (Lucas 60), Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard (Spearing 74), Babel, Torres (Dossena 83).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Ngog, Kelly.
Booked: Gerrard, Mascherano, Dossena.
Goals: Torres 16, Gerrard 28 pen, 47, Dossena 88.

Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Cannavaro (Van der Vaart 64), Pepe, Heinze, Robben (Marcelo 46), Lassana Diarra, Gago (Guti 77), Sneijder, Raul, Higuain.Subs Not Used: Dudek, Saviola, Metzelder, Miguel Torres.
Booked: Pepe, Heinze, Marcelo.
Att: 42,550
Ref: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland

Liverpool halted their recent damaging league decline with a victory over Sunderland at Anfield.
The Reds should have gone behind but Kenwyne Jones had his shot saved when one-on-one with keeper Jose Reina.
They were eventually made to pay for the miss when David Ngog side-footed in his first league goal for the Reds after Steven Gerrard's headed pass.
Yossi Benayoun slotted in a second to secure the win after keeper Marton Fulop had spilled Ngog's cross.
The win was just the tonic Liverpool needed as they attempted to get over the hangover of suffering a massive setback to their title hopes with defeat at Middlesbrough last Saturday.
It also saw them complete the type of win they have failed to manage at home this season as they broke down stubborn defensive opponents to earn the three points.
But the belief and confidence the Reds showed at the end was in stark contrast from their start to the game.
There was a sombre feel about the home side and Sunderland should have capitalised when Jones touched the ball past Martin Skrtel before racing clean through on goal.
Benitez pleased with Reds reactionThe striker had only Reina to beat but saw his effort saved as the Reds keeper guessed correctly by diving low to his right.
Liverpool arose slightly from their stupor and, although they began to dominate possession, their was little industry or invention about their play.
Benayoun showed some promise on the right of the Reds midfield but epitomised his team's play with his final ball lacking in both direction and a cutting edge.
Sunderland had come to contain their opponents and were doing so in an assured manner.
When the Reds did threaten a goal, Black Cats keeper Fulop kept them at bay as he impressively palmed Albert Riera's deflected shot off Grant Leadbitter wide.
Midfielder Javier Mascherano, playing at right-back for the Anfield side, saw his long-range shot skim the top of the crossbar shortly before the break.
We've got enough to stay up - SbragiaIt seemed to be developing into a familiar story for the Reds but Frenchman Ngog made the vital breakthrough for the home side after Gerrard steered Riera's cross into his path.
The goal seemed to lift a weight off Liverpool's shoulders and give the players an injection of purpose and energy.
Sunderland tried to muster a response but struggled retain possession before Fulop's error from Ngog's hooked cross allowed a grateful Benayoun to slot home.
The win leaves Liverpool third in the Premier League and four points behind leaders Manchester United, who have two games in hand.
Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia:
"Jones should have scored - and on any other day, he probably would have done so.
"If we had scored then the game would have been very different. Liverpool would have become anxious and we would have given ourselves something to hang on to.
"Liverpool would have been under pressure. We did okay in the first half - but once they went ahead, it was always going to be difficult.
"We had to gamble by bringing on more strikers. But that gave them space - and once they scored the second, the game was going away from us."
Liverpool: Reina, Mascherano, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua, Benayoun (El Zhar 90), Gerrard (Babel 82), Alonso, Riera, Kuyt, Ngog (Lucas 70).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, Aurelio.
Booked: Ngog.
Goals: Ngog 52, Benayoun 65.

Sunderland: Fulop, Ben-Haim, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque (Edwards 81), Whitehead, Reid, Leadbitter (Cisse 62), Richardson, Jones (Murphy 76).Subs Not Used: Gordon, Bardsley, Davenport, Healy.
Booked: Whitehead.
Att: 41,587
Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).