Thursday, April 29, 2010

Liverpool 2 - 1 Atletico Madrid (agg 2 - 2)

Diego Forlan struck an extra-time away goal to end Liverpool's Europa League hopes and book Atletico Madrid's place in the final against Fulham on 12 May.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Spain, Liverpool levelled the tie when Alberto Aquilani converted Yossi Benayoun's cross with a fine finish.
And they added a second early in extra time through Benayoun's half-volley.
But former Manchester United striker Forlan fired home a Jose Antonio Reyes cross to confirm Liverpool's exit.
The result will simply add to the gloom surrounding Anfield in what has been a miserable season on and off the pitch.
Rafael Benitez's side suffered early exits in both domestic cup competitions and the Champions League, while they currently languish seventh in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, the club are carrying significant levels of debt, have been riddled by rumours of boardroom unrest and seem unwilling to put an end to constant speculation surrounding the future of Benitez.
In fact, the build-up to this match was somewhat overshadowed by the latest round of speculation linking the 50-year-old with a summer move to Juventus.
Benitez claimed no-one at the club had tried to talk him into staying and expressed frustration that a number of other managers had been linked with his job.
While there was no sign of disunity as the home crowd whipped up a electric pre-match atmosphere, Liverpool may regret failing to capitalise on their early pressure.
Only 10 seconds were on the clock when Dirk Kuyt flicked Daniel Agger's long ball into the path of Benayoun, who saw his low drive saved by the legs of keeper David de Gea.
Atletico looked rattled and it seemed an opening goal was inevitable as Liverpool bombarded them with a flurry of corners, but the visitors held firm and soon asserted their authority on proceedings.
The superb Sergio Aguero returned from suspension to lead their attack and linked particularly well with Reyes, Simao and first-leg goalscorer Forlan.
It was, however, the less heralded Raul Garcia who had their first clear-cut opportunity with a skidding effort from 30 yards that was palmed around the post by the diving Pepe Reina.
Kuyt side-footed Javier Mascherano's cross just over the bar following a delightful passing move, while Aguero was sent clear by Reyes but had nobody to cross to after rounding Reina.
Liverpool, bidding to reach a third European final in six years, thought they had taken the lead but Agger's header was correctly ruled out for offside.
Fortunately for the hosts, nothing would deny them when Benayoun crossed from the right and Aquilani turned a superb first-time finish into the bottom corner shortly before half time.
Atletico settled quickest after the restart - passing, moving and retaining possession with a real swagger - but Liverpool's defence was unmoved.
Simao and Paulo Assuncao put speculative shots off target, and at the other end Antonio Lopez made a vital interception with Benayoun ready to pounce on a Gerrard cross.
De Gea had to react well to tip a fizzing Johnson strike over the bar but Atletico were on top and Gerrard made a crucial clearance before Forlan almost latched on to a defence-splitting Simao pass.
Yet after an animated team talk from Benitez at full time, Liverpool were revitalised and deservedly doubled their advantage as Benayoun drilled a first-time half-volley into the bottom corner.
It felt like there was no way back for Quique Sanchez Flores's men, but they ignored the deafening noise to regain the ascendancy and ensure there would be one final twist.
Reyes collected a long pass, ghosted inside Glen Johnson and crossed for the unmarked Forlan to lash past Reina and send the travelling supporters delirious.
Atletico are now within touching distance of their first major European trophy since the 1962 European Cup Winners' Cup.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Burnley 0 - 4 Liverpool

Steven Gerrard's second-half brace and further goals from Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel relegated Burnley and kept Liverpool's top-four hopes alive.
Gerrard's first deflected off Burnley defender Leon Cort past Brian Jensen but his second was a fine first-time curling strike from 25-yards out.
Steven Fletcher later hit the post for Burnley with a left-footed half-volley.
Rodriguez fired home from 12-yards after Alberto Aquilani's pass and Ryan Babel beat Jensen when one on one.
The win left Burnley on 27 points, seven points behind West Ham with two matches left to play, while Liverpool remain in seventh but close the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham to two points, though having played a game more.
The victory was Liverpool's first away from Anfield in the league this year and could yet help them seal Champions League football for next season.
With Tottenham losing to Manchester United and Manchester City drawing with Arsenal on Saturday, Liverpool knew they had a great opportunity to close the gap on the teams above them.
Burnley's task was more simple, anything other than a victory would consign them to relegation after just one season in the Premier League.
Liverpool enjoyed the majority of the early possession, but despite a string of Gerrard corners they failed to create one decent chance, with Babel's screwed shot from 20-yards the only real effort of note.
Too often they gave the ball away, more through their own carelessness than Burnley pressure, leading to a disjointed and scrappy game which suited the Clarets.
Laws looks to bounce back from relegation
It took half an hour for the first shot on target and it came from Liverpool's talisman, Gerrard.
Having burst into the box the ball found his path but after a neat swivel and strike from 12-yards, his half half-volley was comfortably saved by Jensen.
Burnley were full of endeavour with Fletcher heading Martin Paterson's right-wing cross from close range over the bar.
More home pressure followed and just before the break an unmarked Jack Cork, on-loan from Chelsea, should have done better when heading Tyrone Mears' right-wing cross straight at Pepe Reina who made a low save.
At the other end, Babel side footed tamely at Jensen when he found himself unmarked at the back post having broken the offside trap.
Liverpool were forced into an early change just after the break with striker Dirk Kuyt, who had been a solitary figure up front, was replaced by Yossi Benayoun.
Soon after, Mears' 20-yard free-kick was well saved by Reina as Burnley's attempts to break the deadlock gained momentum.
But it was Liverpool who got the first goal of the game and, unsurprisingly, it came from Gerrard.
Liverpool's captain played a neat one-two with Benayoun and having cut inside his man he unleashed a right-footed strike from 20-yards which took a huge deflection off Cort before flying past the wrong-footed Jensen and into the corner of the net.
Moments later Gerrard doubled Liverpool's lead with a sublime strike as Burnley's task became that much harder.
Gerrard latched on to Aquilani's knockdown and unleashed a fierce first-time right-footed curling shot from 25-yards which flew into the left-hand corner of Jensen's goal.
Benitez still chasing fourth spot
Soon after, Nugent tested Reina but his low shot was too tame to beat the Liverpool keeper.
Fletcher's neat turn and shot from the edge of the area was well saved by Reina while at the other end Rodriguez forced a decent stop from Jensen at the foot of his near post.
Fletcher was back in the action again and after controlling a long ball on his chest he was unlucky to see his 12-yard half-volley fly past Reina but bounce back off the post.
Burnley continued to press but Liverpool were that much more clinical and Aquilani's pass superbly opened up the Burnley defence for Maxi to fire right-footed across Jensen into the far corner of the net from 12-yards for 3-0.
And late on there was time for one more with substitute Lucas playing in Babel who beat the offside trap and found himself one on one with Jensen and the Dutchman made no mistake in firing past the Burnley keeper to seal the victory and Burnley's relegation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Liverpool 3 - 0 West Ham

Liverpool moved back into sixth place after an emphatic win over West Ham, who remain one place above the relegation zone.
Yossi Benayoun put them ahead in unusual fashion, diverting a Steven Gerrard cross in off his stomach.
David Ngog added a second with a fiercely struck snap shot from a Maxi Rodriguez cross as the Reds dominated.
After the break a Sotiros Kyrgiakos header came back off a post and in off the leg of Hammers keeper Robert Green.
It was a wretched display from West Ham, who have not won at Anfield for 47 years and may not have the chance to play there next season if their fortunes do not improve, having succumbed to their seventh defeat in the last nine games.
They now face a critical home fixture with Wigan on Saturday mindful of awkward closing games away to Fulham and home to Champions League-chasing Manchester City.
Liverpool, who plan to set off for Thursday's Europa League semi-final first leg at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday lunchtime because of the volcanic ash saga, are now a point clear of Aston Villa having played a game more.
They have a home match with Chelsea either side of winnable away trips to Burnley and Hull.
With both sides having plenty to play for the opening exchanges were remarkably tame, anguished cries from the players were often audible on the rare occasions when West Ham's vociferous 1,500 travelling contingent were not making themselves heard.
Benayoun teed up an early chance for Rodriguez but his shot was easily saved by Green.
The Hammers enjoyed some comfortable early possession in midfield but posed little direct threat and the kind of cunning invention typified by their manager Gianfranco Zola as a player.
Benayoun ghosted between the defenders and was completely free on the edge of the six-yard box as Gerrard's free-kick from the right-hand touchline bounced just in front of him.
The industrious Israeli diverted the ball in off the post with his stomach, carefully keeping his hands out of the way, despite appeals to the contrary from West Ham defenders.
More atrocious defending from the visitors gave Liverpool another golden opportunity, but from inside the six-yard box Kyrgiakos somehow headed a right-wing Gerrard corner into the ground and the ball bounced over.
It did not prove at all critical as with the move of the match Liverpool doubled their lead shortly before the half-hour.
Benayoun's quick pass found Rodriguez on the right and his first time cross was met instantly on the half-volley by Ngog, whose shot was too fierce for Green to keep out, even though the England goalkeeper got a hand to the ball.
The remainder of the match was merely a procession for Liverpool, who might conceivably have had three penalties - two for handball and one for a foul on Ngog.
West Ham, badly missing the purpose of the suspended Scott Parker, introduced Guillermo Franco at half-time but Liverpool extended their advantage as another teasing Gerrard free-kick, this time from the left, caused more distress in the visiting defence.
Kyrgiakos met the ball from close range and West Ham's misfortune was summed up when it rebounded off a post on to the back of Green's leg and into the net.
Liverpool could even afford to take off Gerrard, Benayoun and Ngog to allow them a rest ahead of Thursday, while West Ham suffered even greater misery when Carlton Cole went off with a knee injury.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez:
"We have to keep doing our job. It will be more difficult now [to qualify for the Champions League because Tottenham won [against Chelsea], normally you would not expect them to win.
"But we have to be in a good position if they make a mistake.
"West Ham started the game pushing but as soon as we scored the first goal it was easier, we had more chances and we scored the second goal and the third one killed the game."
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola:
"We started well. We were quite comfortable on the pitch. We suffered on dead balls - normally we are very good defending against them but not today.
"The first goal was a killer, I felt we were on top of the game.
"The second was a distraction, that was a killer. After 2-0 it was difficult for us.
"In the second half we tried to have a go and press them hard but they scored on a dead ball."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Liverpool 0-0 Fulham

Our hopes of qualifying for Champions League next season seems gone. We really missed Torres absence. Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League took another huge blow as they failed to break down resolute Fulham despite dominating possession.
Alberto Aquilani fashioned Liverpool's best chances but found Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer in inspired form.
The Australian thwarted Aquilani's early overhead kick and palmed away the Italian's curling 20-yard effort.
And Schwarzer was again equal to Ryan Babel's fierce strike as Fulham defended deep and frustrated Liverpool.
This game could have been a dress rehearsal for the Europa League final in Hamburg - if Liverpool and Fulham are able to overcome their respective semi-final opponents.
But if that is the case, the neutral will hope for a far less one-sided affair - as Liverpool attacked relentlessly but lacked the necessary guile to open the scoring.
Rafael Benitez's Liverpool side will take on Atletico Madrid after overcoming Benfica 4-1 at Anfield to win 5-3 on aggregate, while Fulham won 1-0 at German champions Wolfsburg for a 3-1 aggregate victory and will face Hamburg in their last-four encounter.
But, there were no signs that Liverpool were feeling the effects of their exertions in the week as they started brightly with chances falling to David Ngog, Maxi Rodriguez and Aquilani.
The home side had received an attacking blow prior to kick-off when talismanic 22-goal striker Fernando Torres was ruled out with a knee injury.
And Liverpool missed the Spanish international's cutting edge as they dominated, Ngog lashing a half-chance high and wide after being put through by Javier Mascherano early on.
Benitez admits defeat in race for fourth
Liverpool found joy down the flanks and an inventive piece of play by Aquilani almost brought the opening goal.
Glen Johnson's cross was headed back across goal by Steven Gerrard and Aquilani, with his back to goal, teed himself up an overhead kick but the shot flew straight into the hands of Schwarzer.
Seconds later Maxi was set loose in the box but he fired into the feet of the impressive Fulham stopper.
Schwarzer was again tested by Mascherano, who found space 25 yards out and looped a vicious half-volley towards goal which the keeper just managed to palm away to his right, as Liverpool threatened to run riot.
Hodgson delighted with Fulham persistence
Despite their stunning form in Europe, Fulham have not won on the road in the Premier League since the opening day of the season and their lack of attacking intent at Anfield gave an inkling as to why.
A double chance for Aquilani at the start of the second half suggested the second period would again be dominated by the home side.
First the Italy international's curled effort from 20 yards was touched over the bar by Schwarzer, before Aquilani drove a left-footed effort wide.
Fulham continued to defend deep and invite Liverpool on to them and Babel took the opportunity to test Schwarzer again with a fierce low drive which was pushed around the near post.
It began to feel like it would not be Liverpool's day when Greece defencer Sotirios Kyrgiakos headed over the bar when he really should have done better from five yards out after being set up by Dirk Kuyt.
And as the seconds ticked by Liverpool could not find the urgency or ingenuity to carve open the robust Fulham defence leaving the Anfield crowd frustrated and having to contemplate next season without Champions League football.
The result may also mean that if these two sides do meet again this season it would represent Liverpool's best chance of taking something out of a disappointing campaign.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Birmingham 1 - 1 Liverpool

Frankly this is one of the dissapointing Liverpool performance that i had watched so far. No hunger to win possesion of the ball and no passion to win the game especially in the first half!
Liverpool's hopes of securing fourth spot and Champions League qualification suffered a big blow after a lacklustre draw at Birmingham.
In a dour first half, Maxi Rodriguez hit the bar for the Reds, while Roger Johnson headed over at the other end.
Liverpool took the lead when Steven Gerrard turned Lee Bowyer to curl in after Glen Johnson's mis-hit pass.
Birmingham hit back as Liam Ridgewell bundled in James McFadden's cross and survived three late David Ngog chances.
Starting the day five points adrift of fourth spot, a win for Liverpool was a must, but instead they relinquished a lead, no doubt to the delight of closest rivals Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa.
With an eye on Thursday's Europa League tie with Benfica, Reds boss Rafael Benitez opted to rest Javier Mascherano and Daniel Agger and bring in Yossi Benayoun and Sotiros Kyrgiakos.
It was a risky strategy against a team riding high in ninth spot and unbeaten at St Andrew's since September and Liverpool, again using Fernando Torres as a lone striker, seemed short of ideas and drive in the opening exchanges.
Their best efforts in the first half-hour were timid shots from Dirk Kuyt and Torres, while at the other end of a very sticky pitch, the skill of McFadden, making his 200th club career start, proved a regular nuisance for the visitors' defence.
As the interval approached, the game finally woke from its slumbers with both teams having their best opportunities to break the deadlock.
Benitez defends substituting "exhausted" Torres
On the back of a swift four-man move, Torres curled the ball into Maxi eight yards out, but the Argentine could only crash his shot against the bar.
Desperate to pick up their first win in five league games, Birmingham's tempo also increased and after an inswinging McFadden corner, Johnson headed just over as keeper Pepe Reina flapped uncharacteristically.
Liverpool's slowly increasing pressure paid off just after the break, when Johnson mis-hit a shot over to Gerrard on the left, and he turned Bowyer inside out to curl a fine shot inside the far post.
The stage was there for Liverpool to dominate and boost their hopes of Champions League qualification, but instead the lead lasted just eight minutes and it was all down to the continuing tricks of McFadden.
The Scottish midfielder tip-toed around three defenders and curled in a delightful ball to the back post for the unmarked Ridgewell to bundle the ball in with his thigh.
Benitez reacted by bringing on Ngog for Torres, who walked off the pitch seemingly perplexed at his manager's decision, while Gerrard also appeared to be a little confused.
However the substitution introduced new venom to the Liverpool attack and Ngog, the striker who won a controversial penalty against Birmingham in November, went close twice with a header and shot.
The second half was proving to be a much livelier affair and Birmingham's scorer almost turned provider as Ridgewell crossed into Bowyer from the left but the unmarked midfielder fluffed his volley.
Liverpool dictated proceedings in the final 15 minutes and should have scored a winner from one of their hatful of chances.
Maxi blasted the ball straight at his own player Alberto Aquilani, while Gerrard shot over from the edge of the box.
The England midfielder looked desperate to secure the three points and he set up Maxi with a stunning through-ball but the Argentine wasted his shot.
Benitez's record of his team not beating Birmingham extends to eight games but the Spaniard's thoughts will now move towards Benfica as hopes of qualifying for the Champions League perhaps begin to fade.