Sunday, March 28, 2010

Liverpool 3 - 0 Sunderland

Fernando Torres scored twice as Liverpool swept aside Sunderland to maintain hopes of a top-four finish.
Torres opened the scoring with a spectacular strike in only the third minute, cutting inside Michael Turner and curling a shot into the top corner.
Glen Johnson added a second with a shot that deflected off Turner then turned provider for Torres to hook home again.
Craig Gordon saved well from Daniel Agger and Maxi Rodriguez to maintain some respectability for Sunderland.
Liverpool's win went some way to erasing the memory of their painful defeat at Sunderland earlier in the season when Rafael Benitez's side were beaten by a Darren Bent shot that controversially deflected in off a beach ball.
Liverpool had laid down their intentions in the very first minute, Gordon reacting smartly to beat away Agger's volley after Dirk Kuyt had flicked on a Steven Gerrard free-kick.
Benitez left wanting more goals after win
It was an early sign of things to come and Liverpool opened their account in magnificent style as Torres stamped an instant hallmark of quality on the game.
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina found the striker out wide on the left and Torres cut inside Turner before bending a delightful shot beyond the reach of Gordon and into the top right corner of the Sunderland net.
Torres' wonder strike was followed by a procession of Reds chances, as Torres, Gerrard and Agger (twice) all shot wide and Javier Mascherano's drive was spectacularly repelled by Kieran Richardson's diving header.
As well as some wasteful finishing from the home side, Sunderland fans were also grateful for some heroics from keeper Gordon, who brilliantly pushed away Rodriguez's header from a Gerrard corner.
But the keeper was beaten again on 32 minutes when Johnson's fine first touch earned him a yard of space inside Steed Malbranque and set up a left-foot shot that deflected wickedly off the knee of Turner and beyond Gordon's reach.
It could have been so much worse for Sunderland in a first half totally dominated by a Liverpool team oozing with the confidence that had been so starkly absent for much of this season.
The performance was perfectly precised by a glorious Liverpool move five minutes before the break that saw them sweep across the pitch and set up Torres for a shot that smacked against a post, the Spaniard scuffing the rebound wide.
Amid the Reds onslaught, Sunderland managed only a single attempt on goal in the first half, an innocent Jordan Henderson shot flying harmlessly wide, and it was five minutes into the first half before the visitors forced their first corner.
Gerrard was at the fulcrum of the home side's overwhelming dominance, with Torres the chief outlet.
Only a fine last-gasp block from substitute Paulo Da Silva denied Torres his second following a move driven by Gerrard and involving another forward burst from the rampaging Johnson.
But Sunderland's partial resistance was ended on the hour when Johnson again claimed the assist for Torres to score his second.
Johnson looked certain to shoot as the ball sat up for him on the edge of the box, but he instead rolled a pass into the path of Torres, who calmly hooked past a prostrate Gordon and into an empty net.
The last time these sides met, Sunderland secured victory with a Darren Bent shot that deflected in off a beach ball, but not even that type of bizarre intervention could have saved the Black Cats here.
In fact, for the best part it was a case of damage limitation for Steve Bruce's side as the hosts totally dominated.
Only the departure of Torres, Gerrard and Kuyt spared Sunderland further pain as Liverpool eased off towards the end.
Former Anfield favourite Bolo Zenden nearly grabbed a late consolation for Sunderland after coming off the bench to provide Reina with his only test of the afternoon.
The Spaniard was equal to the effort though, reacting smartly to keep out Zenden's right-foot drive and preserve a three-goal margin of victory that, in all honesty, flattered Sunderland.
The win moved Liverpool up to fifth, three points behind Spurs, though Benitez's side have played a game than their London rivals.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Man Utd 2 - 1 Liverpool

Manchester United came from behind to beat Liverpool at Old Trafford to return to the Premier League summit.
Fernando Torres was United's tormentor again as he rose to head in Dirk Kuyt's cross after only five minutes to revive memories of Liverpool's crushing 4-1 victory here last season - but United were to exact revenge on their arch-rivals.
Liverpool were furious when United were handed the opportunity to draw level swiftly as referee Howard Webb awarded a penalty as the outstanding Antonio Valencia was hauled back by Javier Mascherano as the pair raced into the area.
Wayne Rooney was unsettled by Liverpool's lengthy and vociferous protests, but when his penalty was saved by keeper Pepe Reina he was first to react and turn in the rebound.
United then held sway and snatched a deserved winner on the hour when Darren Fletcher's cross deep into the heart of the Liverpool penalty area was headed in by Ji-Sung Park.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, who confronted fourth official Andre Marriner and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson after Rooney's equaliser, was infuriated by the penalty award - and was also animated throughout by what he clearly regarded as a succession of contentious decisions that he believed went in the home side's favour.
Goalscorer Torres led Liverpool's other complaints against officialdom, and he became increasingly frustrated at virtually having to battle single-handedly against Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who ended an unwanted record of three dismissals in his last three games against the Merseysiders.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was desperately disappointing, although he created a late opportunity which Torres missed. Yossi Benayoun should have done better than head the loose ball tamely at Edwin van der Sar.
Ferguson will have regarded this as one of the most difficult tests of United's title run-in, and his succession of clenched-fist salutes at the final whistle demonstrated his delight.
For Liverpool counterpart Benitez, he watched his side fade badly as they lost further ground in the battle for fourth spot and a place in next season's Champions League.
Ferguson and Benitez made a single change each to their teams, with Park replacing Dimitar Berbatov for United and Maxi Rodriguez coming in for Ryan Babel in the Liverpool line-up.
United's boss insisted they had learned the lessons of being terrorised by Torres last season - but apparently not well enough as the Spain striker quickly emphasised his class.
Gerrard released Kuyt on the right, leaving Torres to escape from Vidic and Ferdinand to plant a firm header beyond the reach of Van der Sar.
United were level seven minutes later in contentious circumstances, following referee Webb's decision to award a penalty after Valencia tangled with Mascherano. It was a foul, but Liverpool felt the infringement started outside the area and chaotic scenes ensued.
As Liverpool boss Benitez raged on the touchline, Torres kicked away the penalty spot markings in fury as Rooney complained about the delay.
Liverpool keeper Reina blocked Rooney's spot-kick, but the rebound fell kindly for the England striker to slot home into an empty net.
Ferguson and Benitez were then involved in an angry exchange almost nose-to-nose in the technical area, with fourth official Marriner in between the pair in an attempt to keep the peace.
Valencia was United's main source of danger as he tormented Emiliano Insua down the right flank, and his cross almost created a second for Park as he headed just wide with Reina scrambling across his goal.
Torres, in particular, appeared aggrieved by what Liverpool saw as a grave injustice and he took his frustration out on Park to earn an overdue yellow card, his fifth in seven games.
Reina was tested twice by Nani's shot and a Rooney free-kick from the edge of the area before the interval, but the game had settled after an explosive opening.
The sparring continued in the early stages after half-time, but United managed to pierce the massed ranks of Liverpool's defence to take the lead after an hour. Fletcher was the creator with a perfect cross from the right flank, and Park bravely hurled himself in front of Johnson to head beyond Reina.
Rooney had been hugely industrious in his efforts to ensure United's victory, and he was almost on the scoresheet again with four minutes left, but he pulled a low shot just wide.
Liverpool had barely troubled United in the second half, but with only a minute remaining of normal time they conspired to waste a wonderful chance to snatch a point.
Gerrard, an anonymous figure until then, set up Torres with a cross. He mis-hit his shot, but it lofted invitingly into the path of Benayoun, who headed straight at Van der Sar from only six yards.
United were then able to play out five minutes of stoppage time - and the celebrations from players and fans at the final whistle illustrated just how vital this victory was to the champions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Liverpool 3 - 0 Lille (agg 3 - 1)

Fernando Torres scored twice to help Liverpool keep their season alive by reaching the Europa League quarter-finals with a battling win over Lille.
The Reds started perfectly with a Steven Gerrard penalty on eight minutes after Lucas was felled by Adil Rami following a fine run past four players.
Eden Hazard was denied an equaliser by a smart Pepe Reina save, but Torres chipped in the second after the break.
The Spaniard settled the tie by poking home following Gerrard's rasping shot.
It was an impressive result against an in-form French outfit and gave England a second team in the Europa League last eight following Fulham's earlier surprise win over Juventus.
European progression in front of the Anfield faithful was crucial to help salvage the season for a team without a trophy since their FA Cup triumph in 2006.
After an early Champions League exit and an ongoing struggle to secure fourth in the Premier League, boss Rafael Benitez admitted his players knew it was their "last opportunity to win a trophy".
And the mission to overturn their first-leg 1-0 deficit was clouded somewhat with Albert Riera's attack on the club's management 24 hours before kick-off.
The midfielder - suspended until Monday - may have called his team a "sinking ship" but they were riding high after just eight minutes.
A dazzling run by Lucas - in for the ill Alberto Aquilani - caused havoc in the defence and after the Brazilian had danced into the box, Rami's outstretched leg sent the midfielder crashing down. There were few protestations and up stepped Gerrard to calmly slot home.
Liverpool's three-pronged attack of Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt and Torres were moving the ball around crisply and a second goal almost arrived after a Gerrard corner, but keeper Mickael Landreau was alert to Daniel Agger's flicked header.
Lille seemed subdued for half an hour, but they finally showed their attacking prowess as Hazard, the goal-scorer from the home leg, burst into the box to shoot straight at the fortuitous Reina.
It was a warning for Liverpool and they hit back strongly with Agger going close again with his head, while Torres nodded Kuyt's floated cross just wide of the left post.
Despite enduring a number of nervy moments in the closing stages of the first period, the Kop were in full voice again three minutes after the break thanks to the lively feet of Torres.
A hopeful long ball from Agger found the Spaniard striding through the centre and after shrugging off the close attentions of Aurelian Chedjou, he stayed cool to chip the ball over the advancing Landreau.
The hosts were having plenty of possession but still looked anxious as the visitors pushed for the single goal they required to go through.
With 15 minutes remaining and chances few and far between, Lille came agonisingly close as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang poked a Ludovic Obraniak cross just over the bar.
Benitez looked concerned as Lille grew more confident and introduced Yossi Benayoun for the tiring Babel.
Two shots from Kuyt in 60 seconds, both pushed away by Landreau, came close to settling the late wobbles, and the tie was made safe in the final minute when Torres slotted home after Gerrard's shot from the edge of the box was saved.
It was relief all round at the final whistle and the Reds can now look forward to Sunday's visit to Old Trafford in the Premier League in high spirits.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Liverpool 4 - 1 Portsmouth

Liverpool thumped struggling Portsmouth to stay in touch with the teams chasing fourth place in the Premier League.
Three goals in six first-half minutes virtually ended the game as a contest, with Fernando Torres slotting home the opener after Jamie Ashdown's mistake.
Ryan Babel toe-poked home the second, with Alberto Aquilani sweeping in the third for his first Liverpool goal.
Ashdown kept the score down after the break, before Torres netted again, with Nadir Belhadj tapping in for Pompey.
The win moved Liverpool into fifth on 51 points from 30 games, a point behind Tottenham, who have played a game less than Rafa Benitez's side.
Manchester City are in sixth on 50 points having played two games less than Liverpool, with Aston Villa on 46 points from 27 games.
This was one of Liverpool's more fluid performances in a desperately disappointing season, with Aquilani playing a pivotal role in only his fifth start of the league campaign.
The former Roma midfielder did not make his debut until the end of October because of injury and has struggled to establish himself in the first team with Benitez seemingly reluctant to trust his big-money signing.
But Aquilani looked to have recovered some of the swagger that persuaded Liverpool to pay Roma £20m to bring him to Anfield in the summer, linking up the midfield and attack with some slick movement and passing - and a well-taken goal.
Early in the second half Aquilani was at the fulcrum of two sweeping Liverpool moves that ended with Ashdown denying Gerrard and then tipping over Babel's shot.
Bottom-of the-table Portsmouth have won just five games this season - one of those victories coming against Liverpool at Fratton Park - and despite making a positive start, Avram Grant's side all but waved the white flag once Torres put the home side ahead.
Portsmouth keeper Ashdown was playing for only the fourth time of the season and he was seriously at fault for the first goal.
Gerrard chased down Ricardo Rocha's pass to Ashdown and managed to block the Pompey keeper's clearance with the ball ricocheting to Maxi Rodriguez.
The Argentine quickly moved the ball across goal to Torres, who had the simplest job in sidefooting home.
That goal came on 26 minutes and by the 32nd minute Liverpool were 3-0 up.
Torres bamboozled former Liverpool defender Steve Finnan before teeing up Babel, who steered the ball into the corner of the net.
The Spaniard was also involved in Liverpool's third, combining with Gerrard to create space for Aquilani to sweep the ball past Ashdown.
Liverpool were rampant with Torres tormenting Finnan again before curling the ball against the post.
Chances were few and far between for Portsmouth, though Frederic Piquionne was a willing runner in attack, while Michael Brown drew a fine save from Pepe Reina early in the second half. With Liverpool in total control Rafa Benitez withdrew Glen Johnson and Gerrard, who came off after a spat with Brown.
The Portsmouth midfielder was furious after the Liverpool midfielder's appeared to hit him on the back of the head with his forearm as the two players were running at full pelt.
On 77 minutes Torres bagged his second, slamming the ball into the corner of net as Rocha and Finnan failed to close the Spaniard down.
In the game's closing stages Piquionne cut the ball for Belhadj to score for Portsmouth.
Liverpool will hope to replicate Monday's goal glut in Thursday's Europa second leg tie with Lille as they seek to reach the competition's quarter-finals, while they are likely to face a stiffer challenge than that offered by Pompey when they face Manchester United in their next Premier League game on Sunday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wigan 1 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League suffered a major setback as struggling Wigan punished an insipid display by Rafa Benitez's side.
The visitors' out-of-sorts performance was summed up four misses by Fernando Torres, who hit the post early on.
A Dirk Kuyt mistake led to Wigan's goal, with Emmerson Boyce then crossing and Hugo Rodallega volleying home.
Charles N'Zogbia almost added a second for Wigan when he broke clear and the home team held on for a deserved win.
N'Zogbia, Rodallega and James McCarthy were outstanding for Roberto Martinez's side as Wigan troubled Liverpool with their pace and no little skill.
Not for the first time this season, Liverpool were well below par and five yellow cards, including bookings for Torres and Steven Gerrard late on, summed up a miserable Monday for the Merseysiders.
They remain just a point behind Tottenham and Manchester City in the race for the top four, but have played 29 games to Spurs' 28 and City's 27, while Aston Villa in seventh are three points behind with three games in hand.
But while Benitez's side need to find form fast as they embark on a run in that includes a trip to Manchester United and an Anfield meeting with Chelsea, Wigan can approach the final games with renewed confidence.
The Latics had won just once in the league in 2010 to fall to within a point of the relegation zone, yet victory saw them climb to 14th with two of their next three games against fellow strugglers Bolton and Burnley.
As both teams came to grips with Wigan's relaid pitch it was Liverpool who started the brighter, their initial attacking strategy to bypass midfield with both Jamie Carragher and Gerrard launching passes to try and release Torres.
That initial spurt of pressure saw Liverpool win a corner with Maxi Rodriguez heading the ball to Torres, but the Spanish striker's volley struck the post.
Having survived that scare, Wigan started to give Liverpool a few things to worry about.
Chief pest to the Liverpool defence was N'Zogbia, who after almost releasing Rodallega with a clever reverse pass, flashed a couple of dangerous crosses across the Liverpool defence.
Symptomatic of Wigan's growing dominance were the yellow cards dished out to Emiliano Insua, Lucas and Sotirios Kyrgiakos.
Openings for Liverpool were proving rarer to spot, though Yossi Benayoun's trickery saw him break clear and tee up Gerrard, who was unable to get his shot on target after his initial effort was blocked by Paul Scharner.
Gerrard and Lucas had been guilty of giving the ball away and the next Liverpool player to do so was Kuyt, an error that led to Wigan's opener.
Boyce pounced on Kuyt's mistake and with the outside of his right foot curled in a cross that Rodallega cleverly touched past Pepe Reina.
Just before the break, Torres glimpsed a sight of goal, but under pressure from Gary Caldwell steered his header over the bar.
That chance was created by Rodriguez and soon after the interval the two former Atletico Madrid team-mates were at it again, with the same result - Torres putting the ball over the bar, this time with a shot.
Soon afterwards Benitez introduced Glen Johnson for Lucas, as the England full-back returned to action for the first time since late December.
Rejigged, but not revived, and almost immediately Liverpool suffered another scare when Marcelo Moreno blocked Carragher's clearance and with the ball looping towards the goal Kyrgiakos had to head away from under the bar.
Liverpool might have dominated possession in the second half but Wigan always threatened on the counterattack with N'Zogbia scampering clear and wriggling a shot past Reina, who was relieved when Scharner was unable to force the ball home at the far post.
With a quarter of an hour to go Torres missed his fourth reasonable chance, volleying narrowly wide after Kuyt headed the ball back to him following Insua's cross, one of the rare fluid pieces of Liverpool play.
Torres's night of frustration etched up a notch when he was booked for a poor tackle on Boyce, with Gerrard becoming the fifth Liverpool to be yellow carded for an equally poor challenge on McCarthy.