Sunday, October 25, 2009

Liverpool 2 - 0 Man Utd

YES, we did it again and this time without our inspirational captain, STEVEN GERRARD.

Anfield was awash with ecstasy as goalkeeper Pepe Reina rushed the length of the field to join the celebrations with Ngog - a sign of what was riding on this result for Liverpool and manager Benitez.
Reds boss Benitez entered this crucial game with spirits lifted after managing director Christian Purslow added his weight to co-owner George Gillett's message that his future is not under threat.
But it was the commitment and energy shown by Liverpool in the face of four successive defeats that was always going to be the most realistic measure of the current circumstances surrounding Benitez.
And Liverpool delivered in emphatic fashion, backed by fervent Anfield supporters who recognised Benitez had reached a pivotal point in his five-year reign.
Liverpool held sway for most of a match that only occasionally touched the heights, but the workload of the respective keepers confirmed this was a victory well-earned by Benitez's side - and which now leaves them only four points behind the Premier League champions.
United mounted a late rally of sorts but Ngog's late goal gave the scoreline a more realistic appearance.
And watching it all after a late cameo as substitute was Michael Owen, returning to Anfield for the first time since joining United and being subjected to a venomous reaction from Liverpool's fans.
Owen was involved in the late drama as he was fouled by Jamie Carragher with United trailing 1-0 and boss Sir Alex Ferguson felt the Reds defender should have been shown a red card rather than yellow.
It was perhaps the stroke of luck Liverpool have been missing recently.
Events on the pitch, as ever, will ultimately dictate Benitez's fate and United fans arrived at Anfield in the mood to revel in Liverpool's current misfortune.
Phelan disappointed with result
Eric Cantona masks and a succession of banners served as a reminder that they now equal Liverpool's total of 18 league titles - with beach balls thrown on to the Anfield turf to mock the manner of Liverpool's defeat at Sunderland.
The Kop rallied behind Liverpool, who as expected were without injured captain Steven Gerrard, and they responded with an energetic first-half performance in which United keeper Van der Sar was fully extended.
Van der Sar leapt brilliantly to claw out Aurelio's free-kick in the 14th minute after Patrice Evra had been booked for his third foul in quick succession - even recovering to keep out Kuyt's effort from the rebound.
Kuyt was guilty of missing Liverpool's best chance of a frantic opening three minutes later when he failed to hit the target from the angle after he was released by Lucas.
Valencia's pace was posing real problems for Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua, and he was the provider with a cross that saw Wayne Rooney's header clutched by Reina in front of an anxious Kop.
Liverpool were rising to the challenge of ending their recently dismal sequence, and Aurelio should have given them the lead 10 minutes before half-time, heading straight at Van der Sar from Yossi Benayoun's cross.
Benitez's side started well again after the break and Kuyt, his confidence perhaps sapped by earlier failures in front of goal, tried to set up Benayoun when the Netherlands striker would have been better served trying to test Van der Sar.
The goal Liverpool craved eventually came - and from a predictable source as Torres showed searing pace and clinical finishing to shrug off the attentions of Ferdinand before lashing a finish high past Van der Sar at The Kop end.
It was the signal for former Liverpool striker Owen to warm up, and he was subjected to a torrid reception and cries of "Judas" from the supporters who once idolised him.
Owen almost delivered the perfect answer to the taunts when he set up Valencia, but his shot smashed against the bar from a tight angle and United's last serious chance had gone.
There was still time for a frantic finish, with Vidic achieving the unenviable feat of a third red card in three games against Liverpool when he picked up a second yellow card for a foul on Kuyt. Mascherano joined him on the sidelines for a similar offence, this time a late challenge on Van der Sar - but the final word was left to Liverpool and youngster Ngog.
As United pressed forward in numbers, Liverpool broke and Ngog finished with composure from Lucas's pass to set the seal on a day that went almost perfectly to the script for besieged Benitez.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Liverpool 1 - 2 Lyon

A sad day for Liverpool and my idol, Steven Gerrard. Lyon deepened the sense of crisis surrounding Liverpool and manager Rafael Benitez as Cesar Delgado's injury-time winner left their Champions League ambitions hanging in the balance.
As the Reds slumped to a fourth successive defeat, their worst sequence since April 1987, boss Benitez was given a rare taste of the anger and frustration inside Anfield as their damaging slump continued.
And to add to the air of despair, Reds captain Steven Gerrard limped off midway through the first half with a recurrence of a groin injury.
The injury will make him a doubt for Sunday's meeting with champions Manchester United at Anfield, a game that now assumes huge significance for Benitez and his players.
Liverpool initially rallied after the departure of Gerrard and looked on course to arrest their recent slide when Yossi Benayoun put them in front as half-time approached.
But once Lyon substitute Maxime Gonalons scrambled home the equaliser after 72 minutes, Liverpool's resolve wilted and Delgado's close-range finish gave the French side a victory their late supremacy just about merited.
And it was Benitez who felt the full force of Anfield's displeasure when he contentiously replaced goalscorer Benayoun with Andriy Voronin in an attempt to snatch victory with five minutes remaining.
Loud jeering greeted the decision, and the move looked even more ill-judged when Lyon swept forward to snatch victory.
The one bright spot on a bitterly disappointing night for Liverpool was the excellent performance of young defender Martin Kelly, in for Glen Johnson, who was ruled out by a groin injury.
Liverpool gave Anfield little else to cheer, although they did show commendable spirit in their attempt to recover from the loss of Gerrard and the absence of Fernando Torres.
For all the effort the home side put in, they just did not have the weapons to hurt Lyon when they required that crucial second goal, and a central midfield partnership of Lucas and Javier Mascherano may be many things, but creative it is not.
Benitez now faces a huge task to resurrect his side's shattered morale before the champions come to Anfield.
They also know that defeat in Lyon in a fortnight would leave them battling against the odds to reach the last 16 of the Champions League - an outcome that would have devastating financial as well as footballing consequences.
Liverpool co-owner George Gillett was present at Anfield, and he will not relish the prospect of the club he is touting for sale falling at the group stage of Europe's elite competition.
Benitez was forced into a late reshuffle when Johnson was ruled out. It gave youngster Kelly the opportunity to shine and it was one he took with relish in the opening half.
Lyon, watched from the Anfield directors' box by their former coach and one-time Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, made a lively opening and should have taken the lead after only nine minutes.
The menacing figure of Aly Cissokho provided an inviting cross for Lisandro Lopez, and while Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina did well to block his header, the striker should have done much better.
Liverpool's attempt to recover from a mini-slump suffered a major blow after 24 minutes when Gerrard, who had been a subdued figure, was forced off and walked disconsolately down the tunnel to be replaced by Fabio Aurelio.
The departure of Gerrard galvanised The Kop, who recognised Liverpool were up against it, and also a home side who had previously struggled to exert their authority on Lyon.
They almost made the vital breakthrough after 35 minutes when Lucas retrieved an overhit cross from Kelly. The Brazilian's ball caused confusion in the Lyon box and keeper Hugo Lloris was forced to make a crucial save from David Ngog.
Liverpool had to survive a further scare before breaking the deadlock, however, when a stretching Sidney Govou could not connect properly with Kim Kallstrom's raking pass.
Benayoun brought Anfield to its feet as the under-strength Reds took the lead four minutes before the interval.
Aurelio's cross evaded everyone in the area, and the Israel international took his time before sliding a composed finish beyond Lloris.
And Aurelio should have doubled the home side's lead on the stroke of half-time when he flew in on the end of a wonderful delivery from Kelly, only to see his header spectacularly turned over the bar by Lloris in front of an expectant Kop.
Benayoun was posing a real threat and he almost grabbed his second after 55 minutes with a header from Dirk Kuyt's cross that dropped just the wrong side of an upright.
Kelly was delighting a Liverpool support only too keen to encourage homegrown talent, and he was the provider again with another cross that did not get the finish it deserved from Ngog.
Liverpool were walking a fine line as they failed to extend their lead, and they were punished when substitute Gonalons, on for the injured Cris, equalised with 18 minutes left.
As mass confusion reigned in the Liverpool penalty area following a corner, Reina saved from Jeremy Toulalan and then Jean Makoun before Gonalons headed in at the third time of asking.
Benitez then made a change that was, to put it charitably, mystifying when he replaced the lively Benayoun with Voronin.
Liverpool looked likely to secure an unsatisfactory point as the game entered stoppage time - but they were even deprived of even that.
Miralem Pjanic played in Govou and he set up Delgado to arrive at the far post and turn in a goal that delivered a devastating blow to their Champions League ambitions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chelsea 2 - 0 Liverpool

Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda sent Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League as their second-half goals gave Carlo Ancelotti's side a deserved victory over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
The enigmatic Didier Drogba - who mixed theatrics with threat in an encounter that was competitive rather than compelling - won the battle of the strikers with Liverpool's Fernando Torres to make decisive contributions and set up Chelsea's win.
Drogba, who infuriated Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez with his antics when coming into contact with opposing defenders, set up former Liverpool striker Anelka for a simple close-range finish on the hour to break the deadlock.
And in injury time he made light of the presence of Jamie Carragher and Fabio Aurelio to slide in another cross for substitute Malouda to seal the win.
Chelsea boss Ancelotti's usually impassive mask slipped in a wild touchline celebration, acknowledging the significance of beating a Liverpool side expected to be a serious threat to their Premier League ambitions, plus the importance of reacting swiftly to the shock defeat at Wigan.
And it was all done without suspended keeper Petr Cech, with his replacement Hilario distinguishing himself when called upon.
For Liverpool and manager Benitez, defeat capped a disappointing week after they slumped against Fiorentina in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The Reds threatened only occasionally, with Torres subdued by a magnificent performance from Chelsea and England captain John Terry, who repelled any danger that came his side's way.
Substitute Yossi Benayoun missed the visitors' best chance, but that came after Malouda had doubled Chelsea's advantage, with Hilario also clawing away Steven Gerrard's 20-yard drive in the closing stages.
It was Liverpool's third league defeat of the season, eclipsing the number of losses they had in their entire campaign last term, and Benitez has much to ponder in the international break as they failed to rise to a vital occasion.
Emotions could not be more contrasting for counterpart Ancelotti, who will see his reputation at Stamford Bridge enhanced after the Blues ultimately out-manoeuvred their opponents.
Liverpool's midfield was strengthened by the return of Javier Mascherano after injury - and he played a crucial role in protecting his defence in a scrappy, niggly opening period.
Torres set the tone early on with a nasty challenge that floored Terry, then Michael Essien was fortunate not to connect with a reckless lunge at Mascherano, although the Argentine did himself little credit with a dramatic collapse.
The home side's best hope of a breakthrough looked to be via the aerial route, with Drogba and Anelka both having headers comfortably collected by Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina.
And Michael Ballack should have done better than head Deco's free-kick off target at the near post after he escaped the attentions of the Liverpool defence.
Chelsea had exerted a small measure of supremacy as the half wore on, but Liverpool's threat was still in evidence. Torres wasted a clear opportunity when he headed Dirk Kuyt's cross straight at Hilario.
And the stand-in keeper came to Chelsea's rescue on the stroke of half-time when he reacted late to Albert Riera's 30-yard free-kick but managed to dive low to his right to turn it around the post.
Frank Lampard had been a peripheral presence, but he made a crucial contribution as Chelsea took a lead they just about deserved on the hour.
He turned the tables on Mascherano by robbing the combative midfield man in possession and fed Deco. Deco in turn found Drogba, whose cross provided an open invitation for Anelka to turn a finish high past Reina from point-blank range.
It was Drogba at his menacing best, but the striker spent too much time reverting to his bad old ways, throwing himself to the ground - and staying there - even though contact had been minimal at best.
When he did stay on his feet he was, as always, a huge threat and Reina was grateful to see his angled low free-kick swerve narrowly wide from 25 yards.
The goal at least impressed on Liverpool the urgency of attempting to trouble the Chelsea goal, and Torres scuffed a presentable opportunity wide with 10 minutes left after Gerrard drove into the penalty area.
Drogba again demonstrated his power and threat as Chelsea wrapped up the points in injury time, dismissing the presence of Carragher and Aurelio to set up Malouda for the simplest of finishes.