Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Aston Villa 0 - 1 Liverpool

Fernando Torres scored in the 93rd minute to give Liverpool a dramatic late victory over Aston Villa.
The Reds' season of frustration looked set to continue as Villa produced a spirited display in snowy conditions.
Steven Gerrard went close, Pepe Reina denied Stewart Downing and Gabriel Agbonlahor, and John Carew headed wide.
A draw beckoned but Torres raced on to a ricochet and slotted in, setting a record for reaching 50 league goals for Liverpool in the fewest appearances.
The Spaniard strike provided a pulsating end to a disappointing encounter and Liverpool's joy at snatching a morale-boosting three points was clear for all to see.
Torres will dominate the headlines having notched 50 goals in 72 Premier League matches, but much of the credit should go to Pepe Reina, who kept his team in contention with a couple of magnificent saves.
He helped Liverpool to only their sixth win from 19 matches in all competitions, which lifts them above Birmingham into seventh, four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham and two adrift of Villa.
Martin O'Neill's men drop down to sixth having conceded more goals than Manchester City and they are entitled to feel totally deflated by their last-gasp defeat.
The sense of importance surrounding the match was heightened by the knowledge that a win for either side would boost their top-four aspirations.
And there was little to choose between them during a cautious opening period that saw both teams zip the ball around with confidence and work hard for an early breakthrough.
Alberto Aquilani was handed his second start in four days at the heart of Liverpool's 4-4-1-1 formation and the Italian midfielder linked well with Gerrard and Torres.
Gerrard came close to opening the scoring when he collected a Torres pass and curled a dipping first-time strike towards goal, only for a back-tracking Brad Friedel to tip it over the bar.
For all their effort, Villa's desire to prise open the Liverpool defence was undermined by a lack of creativity in midfield.
With Ashley Young suspended, the recently impressive James Milner was deployed on the left of a 4-4-2 system and the Englishman struggled to assert his authority on proceedings.
The hosts had to wait 24 minutes for their first shot on target - Milner drove tamely at Reina - but they were gifted an opening on the half-hour.
Milner hoisted a corner to the back post where a completely unmarked Downing saw a smashed volley expertly saved from point-blank range by the arm of Reina.
At the other end, Liverpool felt they should have been awarded a penalty for a mis-timed tackle by Richard Dunne on Dirk Kuyt, but referee Lee Probert waved away their appeals.
Amid bitterly cold conditions and heavy snowfall, the players deserved credit for the general quality of the first half - but the same could not be said about much of the second.
Despite Liverpool having lost four of their previous six away league games, Villa strikers Agbonlahor and Carew posed little threat to the visitors' back four.
That said, the hosts' midfield became sloppy as the match wore on, starving their front men of service and allowing Liverpool to push forward at every opportunity.
But the Anfield club could not translate their dominance into goalscoring chances and Torres looked particularly off-form.
The game was in desperate need of a goal and the breakthrough might have arrived when Agbonlahor capitalised on Jamie Carragher's slip to race clear, but his low effort was turned behind by Reina.
Moments later, Carew glanced a header just wide of the far post from Milner's corner and Villa had a penalty shout rejected when Emiliano Insua appeared to head the ball on to his arm.
When the fourth official indicated four minutes of injury time it was Villa who seemed most likely to go on and snatch a last-gasp winner.
But the hosts carelessly relinquished possession and after a ricochet put Torres clean though on goal, the 25-year-old made no mistake with a crisp finish into the bottom corner.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Liverpool 2 - 0 Wolverhampton

Liverpool's players handed boss Rafael Benitez a welcome Christmas tonic with a battling win against 10-man Wolves.
The hosts were poor throughout but forced their way into the game after Wolves controversially had Stephen Ward sent off for two yellow cards.
The numerical advantage allowed Steven Gerrard to powerfully head home an Emiliano Insua cross after the break.
Yossi Benayoun doubled the lead with a deflected effort from close range to hand the hosts an unconvincing victory.
Liverpool went into the match having won just two of their previous eight league games and in the unusual position of being mid-table at the mid-way point of the season.
And while fans will not be convinced they have turned the corner after another stuttering display, the cheers around at Anfield at the final whistle will at least offer Benitez some festive cheer.
Wolves were the better side at times and manager Mick McCarthy will surely point to the dismissal of Ward as the turning point.
Referee Andre Marriner showed the defender a second yellow card - but only after being surrounded by Liverpool players for incorrectly cautioning Christophe Berra.
McCarthy had clearly fancied his side's chances of causing an upset by fielding a full-strength team - a very different approach to Wolves' recent outing against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
But the decision to field an attacking 4-4-2 formation allowed Liverpool to take control of the game in the early stages.
The visitors were fortunate Glen Johnson scooped a shot wide after finding space down the right while Fernando Torres, showing no sign of his long-standing groin injury, then tested Marcus Hahnemann after wriggling free in the inside left channel.
Alberto Aquilani, finally making his first Premier League start, looked comfortable in possession but some ill-advised flicks in and around the box tested the patience of an increasingly nervous Anfield crowd.
And Wolves, inspired by their fine recent form in the league, pushed forward and began to create chances of their own.
Nenad Milijas forced Pepe Reina into action from a free-kick before Kevin Doyle put a sharp header wide from only three yards out.
And the hosts' promising start had well and truly faded by the time Kevin Foley failed to control in the box after being left completely unmarked as the tension and frustration around a freezing Anfield increased still further.
But Wolves' hopes were dealt a blow when Ward was sent off early in the second half in chaotic circumstances.
The left-back, already cautioned for a tug on Benayoun, was eventually shown a second yellow card for a foul on Lucas - but not before referee Marriner incorrectly penalised Berra for the offence.
Liverpool's players crowded round the official to highlight his error and after consultation with his assistant, Marriner altered his decision and sent Ward off.

The incident appeared to galvanise the Reds and they soon took the lead when Insua's teasing cross was met in dominant fashion by home captain Gerrard, leaving Hahnemann with no chance.
Any result still seemed possible as gaps appeared all over the field, however, until Benayoun made it 2-0 midway through the second half.
Another fine cross, this time from Fabio Aurelio, found its way to the Israeli and his shot took a cruel deflection off Karl Henry and looped into the net.
From that point on there was no way back for Wolves but McCarthy can take a raft of positives from another impressive display. Liverpool fans will be thankful of the points but their side are still a shadow of the team that sat top of the Premier League on Boxing Day last season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Liverpool 2 - 1 Wigan

Liverpool relieved the pressure on manager Rafael Benitez with a morale-boosting victory over Wigan.
David Ngog's glanced header put the Reds ahead, although Liverpool missed several chances to add to their lead.
Jason Scotland volleyed against the crossbar for Wigan as he almost punished Liverpool's profligacy.
Fernando Torres tapped in at the second attempt to seal the win before Charles N'Zogbia scored an injury-time consolation strike for the visitors.
The victory was only Liverpool's fourth in the last 16 games and whether this will be a false dawn like the other wins remains to be seen.
But they moved up to sixth in the league courtesy of a much-needed three points and also marked a special occasion for the club with a determined performance.
Liverpool were celebrating the 50th anniversary since former manager Bill Shankly took over at the club and earned legendary status during nearly 15 years in charge.
Shankly took the club from the old second division - the current Championship - and won three league titles, two FA Cups and a Uefa Cup as he kick-started a golden era in the club's history which saw the Reds go on to dominate in English football and in Europe.
Those memories are in stark contrast to the present team's struggles this season, although the Reds quickly took control against Wigan.
Liverpool were rewarded with a goal after nine minutes when Ngog glanced in a header from Fabio Aurelio's angled cross after ex-Reds keeper Chris Kirkland failed to punch the ball away.
But the Reds are fragile at the back and would have conceded an immediate equaliser had Paul Scharner been more precise with a free header which he could only steer straight at keeper Pepe Reina.
Benitez had insisted beforehand his players were better than their Champions League exit and lowly league position suggested and they were trying to back up his words with actions.
Ngog pulled a ball back for fellow striker Dirk Kuyt and he struck a true close-range shot which Kirkland did well to fend away for a corner.
Then with Wigan clinging on at times, French forward Ngog pounced and angled a drive wide of the far post, yet Liverpool could not get a second goal to give them some breathing space.
Kuyt had a shot blocked following a goalmouth scramble before he got on the end of another Ngog cross only to see his volley brilliantly tipped over by Kirkland.
Liverpool let a lead slip in their 2-1 defeat by Arsenal on Sunday and, even though they showed little sign of capitulating in similar fashion, the home contingent were becoming anxious as the Reds tried to add to their slender lead.
Agger missed a header from a Steven Gerrard corner to add to their supporters worries and those concerns almost turned to despair when Scotland somehow missed a glorious chance.
Wigan deserved something at Anfield - Martinez
Reina failed to punch away a free-kick as he went up with Scharner and Hugo Rodallega, and when the ball fell for Scotland, he could only volley against the crossbar from eight yards.
Wigan kept Liverpool on their guard moments later as Rodallega had a free header blocked but Torres finally relieved the pressure when he scored on his 100th appearance for Liverpool.
He burst clear on the Wigan goal, rounded keeper Kirkland and, despite his initial shot being blocked by Titus Bramble, the Spanish striker picked up the loose ball and tapped in for his 61st goal for the Merseysiders.
N'Zogbia cut across the Liverpool box and fired in a low strike with two minutes to go but the home side held on.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Liverpool 1 - 2 Arsenal

A dissapointing night again for Liverpool FC and it's that Russian man again that is the hero for the opponents! Andrey Arshavin was Liverpool's tormentor again as Arsenal secured a vital win at Anfield to close the gap on Premier League pacesetters Chelsea and Manchester United.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger insists his side can still have a big say on the title race - but his bold claims looked in danger of backfiring as Dirk Kuyt gave Liverpool a deserved interval lead.
Liverpool's £18m full-back Glen Johnson, who suffered a torrid afternoon, unwittingly handed Arsenal a route back into the game when he turned Samir Nasri's cross past Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina five minutes after half-time.
And the visitors, who were uncharacteristically off the pace in the opening period, were ahead after 58 minutes with a moment of genius that Arshavin is making his Anfield trademark.
The Russian, who scored four goals in four attempts in a dramatic 4-4 draw at Anfield last season, struck in stunning fashion, controlling brilliantly before firing a thunderous shot high past Reina.

Arshavin's magic totally deflated the hosts who, despite having big guns Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Alberto Aquilani on the pitch in the closing stages, barely mounted any meaningful response as Arsenal closed out the victory with ease.
The result does further damage to boss Rafael Benitez's public guarantee that Liverpool will definitely finish in the top four, with Anfield totally subdued at the final whistle as Arsenal dealt comfortably with a succession of aimless long balls.
Arsenal's emotions were in sharp contrast at the final whistle as they responded to an angry half-time team talk from Wenger and celebrated a victory that leaves them only six points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand.
Liverpool were able to pair Gerrard and Torres together for the first time since early October as the Spain striker started after making an appearance as substitute in midweek against Fiorentina.
Aquilani made the reverse journey as he returned to the bench after making his full debut in the midweek Champions League defeat - a decision that left the Italian still waiting to make his full Premier League debut after his £20m summer move from Roma.
Torres' return gave Liverpool's attack an extra air of menace in a first half they dominated, exerting almost complete superiority over Arsenal as the Gunners delivered a desperately poor display.
Gerrard served up the perfect opportunity for Torres to mark his return with a goal after 11 minutes when he laid an inviting pass into his path in the penalty area, but Manuel Almunia read the striker's intentions and saved low down.
Liverpool's captain - and indeed the rest of Anfield - was infuriated when referee Howard Webb ignored what looked highly presentable penalty claims as he fell under challenge from William Gallas.
Gerrard received a measure of criticism for going to ground too easily in the area at Blackburn last Saturday, but he had a clear case here.
Kuyt gave Liverpool the lead they deserved five minutes before the interval, and Arsenal keeper Almunia must take a large share of the responsibility. He failed to deal with Aurelio's free-kick under pressure from Lucas, and Kuyt steered home the loose ball.
Arsenal needed a moment of inspiration or a slice of good fortune to ignite a lifeless display, and salvation arrived in the shape of the latter five minutes after the break.
Nasri's cross looked to be posing no serious threat, but a slight touch off Jamie Carragher wrong-footed Johnson, who bundled the ball past Reina.
There was nothing fortunate about the brilliant finish from Arshavin that put Arsenal ahead eight minutes later, taking a perfect first touch before lashing a finish high past the motionless Reina.
It prompted Benitez into making a change after 65 minutes, sending on Aquilani for Javier Mascherano in an attempt to provide an extra touch of creativity in midfield.
Aquilani's arrival failed to provide any spark, and Arsenal were never under serious pressure as they cruised to victory.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Liverpool 1 - 2 Fiorentina

Again, it's a dissapointing night for Liverpool FC with the late goal. Nevertheless, regardless of the result, Liverpool FC is already out of the Champions Legue. Sob! Sob!
Liverpool's disappointing Champions League campaign ended in miserable fashion, with Alberto Gilardino's last-gasp goal giving Fiorentina victory.
Rafa Benitez's side already knew they could not progress from Group E, while their opponents had already qualified.
Yossi Benayoun headed the Reds in front when he met Steven Gerrard's free-kick.
But Martin Jorgensen levelled with a low shot and Gilardino ensured his side topped the group when he turned in a Juan Vargos cross in injury time.
It was the third time the Reds had conceded a late goal in Europe this season, after doing so in both their matches against Lyon, and again they paid a heavy price for a defensive lapse.
But, in truth, Liverpool were unlucky to lose and it was probably of greater significance to their fans that £20m midfielder Alberto Aquilani made his first start and Fernando Torres, who played the last 30 minutes, returned to action after more than a month out.
That duo will hope to play a big part in the remainder of Liverpool's season - starting with Sunday's crunch Premier League encounter with Arsenal.
Understandably, Benitez had one eye on that game against the Gunners and, judging from the subdued atmosphere, so did the majority of the Anfield crowd.
Fiorentina, who sewed the seeds of Liverpool's Champions League exit with a stunning win in Italy at the end of September, were also short of inspiration early on - with their crippling injury list a mitigating factor.
So, most of the focus in the first half was on Aquilani, who arrived from Roma in August with a big reputation and price-tag, but until now had only played 22 minutes of first-team football from the bench because of injury.
The 25-year-old Italian international showed plenty of neat touches early on, as well as a willingness to tackle when he won the ball from Lorenzo De Silvestri and set Andrea Dossena free down the left.
Aquilani was also covering a lot of ground but he could not provide much in the way of creativity in the final third, something the entire Liverpool side were sorely lacking - despite enjoying most of the possession.
Fiorentina had the first meaningful efforts on goal, with Diego Cavalieri tipping over De Silvestri's bullet header before pushing away Riccardo Montolivo's scuffed volley from the resulting corner.
But it was Liverpool who took the lead just before half-time when Gerrard fired in a free-kick from the right and Benayoun found space to flick it past Sebastien Frey.
Fiorentina came out with more purpose after the break and immediately put Cavalieri under pressure when he struggled to deal with Gianluca Comotto's whipped cross under pressure from Gilardino.
Liverpool might have extended their lead with a carbon copy of their first goal when Gerrard fizzed in another free-kick from the right - but this time it eluded Daniel Agger, who threw himself at the ball but could not make contact.
Instead, the visitors were quickly level when Jorgensen rifled a powerful shot into the bottom corner after good work by Gilardino on the edge of the box.
Daniel Pacheco replaced Aquilani after 76 minutes and, with his first touch, fired in a low shot that was pushed wide by Frey.
At long last the game burst into life, with both sides pushing forward for the win.
It was the visitors who got it, with Vargas stealing the ball off Liverpool's rookie defender Stephen Darby and crossing for Gilardino to slot home from close range.
Fiorentina march into the last 16 of the Champions League, while Liverpool's next European game will be in the last 32 of the Europa League in February.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Blackburn 0 - 0 Liverpool

What a boring match to watch and it ended up with goalless. Liverpool's hopes of a top-four finish suffered a further setback as Blackburn produced a resolute defensive display to hold the Reds to a goalless draw.
After a dour first half, Blackburn's Franco di Santo and Nikola Kalinic both hesitated when played through on goal.
Steven Gerrard had chances to break the deadlock and a penalty shout turned on his 500th appearance for Liverpool.
And they should have won it late on, but David Ngog could only turn Glen Johnson's cross on to the bar.
The result, allied to victories for Aston Villa and Manchester City in the evening match against Chelsea, dropped Rafael Benitez's side to seventh in the table.
But Blackburn were good value for their point, which keeps them 12th and extends a run of just two home defeats in 25 home games since Sam Allardyce took charge.
Rovers came into the game buoyed by Wednesday's Carling Cup quarter-final victory over Chelsea.
They were also boosted by the return to work of Allardyce following heart surgery.
But despite featuring four changes from the side that beat the Blues on penalties, they looked slightly off the pace early on as a number of passes went astray and Liverpool enjoyed plenty of possession.
Although the visitors were without Fernando Torres for a fifth successive game, Gerrard was fit to make his landmark appearance against the club he faced on his debut in November 1998.
In Torres's absence, Dirk Kuyt was deployed as the lone striker with Gerrard, Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera providing support. But, of that quartet, only Gerrard looked even remotely dangerous in the opening exchanges.
Blackburn draw delights returning Allardyce
Well-organised and physically imposing, Blackburn's back four repelled everything Liverpool had to throw at them and gradually their midfield and attack began to grow in confidence.
A couple of mistimed tackles by Daniel Agger gave Blackburn free-kicks in promising positions on the right but both set-pieces were comfortably repelled.
Gerrard almost broke clear when he capitalised on a sloppy piece of control by Pascal Chimbonda but then lost out to Christopher Samba, while at the other end Samba headed straight at Pepe Reina from an unmarked position.
The best chance of an error-strewn half fell to Gerrard, who received possession from Riera on the left, opened his body and attempted to place his shot into the far corner, only for Samba to deflect the ball behind.
Samba was again on hand to deny Gerrard with a perfectly-timed sliding tackle at the start of the second half and, moments later, Blackburn might have taken the lead.
Benitez frustrated with draw
Di Santo was released by Steven N'Zonzi but seemed surprised that he had not been flagged offside, delayed and enabled Jamie Carragher to get back with a covering challenge before he could shoot.
Fortunately for all, the tempo increased after the break and Gerrard fizzed a drive straight at Paul Robinson before having a penalty shout rejected after a coming together with N'Zonzi.
The arrival of Ngog in place of Riera gave Liverpool greater presence up front and the Frenchman ought to have opened the scoring when Glen Johnson burst to the byeline and squared from the right.
Ngog came storming into the six-yard box but, faced with an open goal, contrived to shin the ball against the crossbar, with Kuyt's follow-up diverted to safety.
Blackburn threatened sporadically on the counter-attack - Benni McCarthy and Vince Grella drilled wide before Kalinic tentatively prodded wide when one-on-one with Reina.
Gerrard assumed a growing influence on proceedings but Liverpool lacked the finishing touch that Torres so often provides and were forced to settle for a point.