Monday, February 28, 2011

West Ham 3 - 1 Liverpool

Scott Parker inspired West Ham to a win over Liverpool at Upton Park that lifted the east London side off the bottom of the Premier League table.
Parker produced a lovely dinked effort into the far bottom corner after 22 minutes to give the Hammers the lead.
Demba Ba's guided header into the top corner then left the Reds reeling.
Liverpool's late rally resulted in Glen Johnson tapping in after 84 minutes but Carlton Cole drove in a shot to secure a valuable win for the home side.
In their last league outing, Parker's half-time words had helped rouse the Hammers to fight back from 3-0 to draw 3-3 at West Brom and the central midfielder was again the driving force for his side.
Playing through the pain of a shoulder injury, he led from the front and his team-mates followed his example to produce a performance of grit and guile for only their sixth league win of the season.
Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish was left shaking his head from the touchline at times and, despite his side's goal, they raised their game too late as any lingering hopes the Anfield outfit had of launching an assault on a top-four spot lay in tatters.
The Hammers went into the game having again dropped to the bottom of the table after Wolves beat Blackpool 4-0 on Saturday, and there may have been a degree of trepidation as they faced opponents who were unbeaten in their eight previous games in all competitions.
But, despite having the worst home record in the top-flight ahead of the match, West Ham upped their game after a slow start to help raise the volume inside the ground by showing the type of qualities they will need to beat the drop.
There was character and composure as they neatly passed the ball about, while smothering any threat the Merseysiders tried to conjure up, with the dynamism of central midfield duo Parker and Thomas Hitzlsperger unsettling the visitors.
German Hitzlsperger, nicknamed "Der Hammer", is renowned for his powerful left-foot strikes and he twice produced well-struck long-range efforts which might have tested Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina more had they not been straight at him.
Parker is known for his combative style but showed he also has a delicate touch to his game after playing a one-two with Hitzlsperger and finishing with finesse as he put a strike out of the reach of Reina's despairing dive.
Dirk Kuyt sent a powerful strike into the side-netting and Luis Suarez had a dubious shout for a penalty after a James Tomkins tackle as Liverpool responded, although the 3-5-2 formation which has helped improve their form under Dalglish was having little impact.
And, after former Upton Park favourite Joe Cole came on for the visitors when wing-back Martin Kelly was forced off with a hamstring injury, the Hammers extended their lead.
Ba beat Danny Wilson, making his Liverpool debut in the Premier League, to a long goal-kick and, after glancing the ball to Gary O'Neil, ran into the area to head home his team-mate's clipped cross on the stroke of half-time.
The home side's keeper Robert Green was a virtual spectator until the hour mark.
A Steven Gerrard ball around the corner released the previously anonymous Reds striker Suarez and his shot across goal was brilliantly palmed wide by Green.
A 3-0 win would have taken West Ham above Wolves and out of the bottom three, and Frederic Piquionne should have put that within reach but glanced a Mark Noble corner wide.
The miss might have proved crucial after Suarez produced some skilful play before firing a low cross from which Johnson tapped in to set up an anxious finale for the home side.
But substitute Cole shrugged off Martin Skrtel in injury time and raced through to drive in a left-foot shot which beat Reina at his near post and eased the nerves of Hammers fans.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Liverpool 1 - 0 Sparta Prague (agg 1 - 0)

A late Dirk Kuyt header booked Liverpool's place in the last 16 of the Europa League as the Reds overcame a stubborn Sparta Prague at Anfield.
Kuyt guided in an 86th minute Raul Meireles corner as the home side finally converted one of their chances.
Sotirios Kyrgiakos had earlier been denied for Liverpool when keeper Jaromir Blazek clawed away his header.
Meireles blazed over and David Ngog had an effort saved for the Reds before Kuyt provided the finish needed.
Joe Cole raced clear and could have put the gloss on the victory as Sparta left spaces at the back in search of a leveller but the playmaker put his shot wide with just Blazek to beat.
Nevertheless, Liverpool prevailed to provide manager Kenny Dalglish with victory in his first European game in charge of the club at Anfield and set up a last 16 encounter against Portuguese outfit SC Braga.
Dalglish, however, will feel his side's progress should have been confirmed much earlier at a sell-out Anfield.
Following an uneventful goalless first leg, both teams showed more ambition this time around and the increased sense of urgency, blended with some sloppy play, made for an entertaining spectacle.
The Reds might have had a penalty as early as the opening minute when a Meireles free-kick bounced on to Manuel Pamic's hand, with the home side's appeals for handball being waved away.
The visitors hit back when a long throw fell for Libor Sionko and he poked an effort high as he was quickly closed down by Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina.
Vaclav Kadlec shot over and also had a powered header saved within the first 15 minutes as Sparta strived for an away goal which would have given them the upper hand.
The warning signs were heeded by Liverpool and a guided header by Kyrgiakos from a Meireles corner almost crept in before Blazek scrambled across to save.
This last 32 tie has come during the winter break in Sparta Prague's domestic season and their lack of action might have been behind Sionko and Kadlec failing to take a gilt-edged opening.
The pair appeared to get in each others way as a corner fell to them at the far post following Reina missing an attempted punch clear.
Liverpool had little excuse for their failure to take their chances as Meireles, who has been on such a rich goalscoring vein, blazed a half-volley high from a Martin Kelly cross.
Cole cut inside and had a shot blocked away by Blazek before Sparta right-back and ex-West Ham defender Tomas Repka's mistake opened the door for the Reds.
Kuyt got in behind Repka and pulled the ball back for Ngog, whose disappointing shot was straight at Blazek.
Lucas fizzed a 25-yard shot just wide of the Sparta goal and, while Ngog was working tirelessly, he could not find the finish to reward his play as he was again denied by the visiting keeper.
The prospect of an away goal late on to leave Liverpool with little time to respond would have caused anxiety among the home fans but that was all relieved when Kuyt got on the end of a Meireles corner as extra-time loomed.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sparta Prague 0 - 0 Liverpool

Solid Liverpool did not sparkle in Kenny Dalglish's first European match in charge of the club but remain well placed for the Europa League's last 16.
The visitors dominated early possession but failed to create any clear chances as Sparta's Manuel Pamic went close.
Glen Johnson poked a shot just wide after half-time but Liverpool, without injured captain Steven Gerrard, never looked like scoring in a drab match.
Yet they held tight late on as Kamil Vacek cracked a low drive wide.
On a night when temperatures dipped below freezing in the Czech capital, Dalglish's developing team - now unbeaten in their last seven matches - started brightly as every player sought to touch the ball.
Sparta, though, looked distinctly like a team who had just come out of hibernation having not played a competitive match following a near three-month winter break.
Though Liverpool took control, without ineligible Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez or talismanic Gerrard, they lacked penetration.
Lone striker David Ngog nearly burst though chasing Raul Meireles' instant attempted through-ball but was flagged offside while the French forward committed a foul when Fabio Aurelio released him.
Andrej Keric then whipped a high cross-shot over the bar with keeper Pepe Reina untroubled.
And Liverpool - still getting to grips with a more flexible tactical system than the one used by former boss Roy Hodgson - started to be opened up as a dangerous corner from Kamil Vacek's dangerous corner was followed up with a low shot which screamed just wide.
England right-back Glen Johnson was caught confused as Martin Abena threaded a superb pass inside him for Manuel Pamic to fire in a powerful shot from an acute angle.
But Reina palmed away the most clear cut chance of the first-half with no home strikers on hand to capitalise on any rebound.
Pamic soon needed treatment for a bloody nose, after which Johnson then drove at the Sparta defence but failed to get his shot off as the visitors continued to attempt to build passing moves from the back.
Dirk Kuyt was unlucky with a searching cross-field ball for Maxi Rodriguez after nice link-up play between Ngog and the always-alert Meireles.
But Sparta nearly found a way through after 30 minutes when Pamic skied a chance after Reina had flapped at a cross.
Marek Matejovsky then found the ball at his feet but when he tried to place a right-footed into the corner of the net Sotirios Kyrgiakos made an important block.
Midfielder Joe Cole trotted on for the injured Fabio Aurelio in the 36th minute before nearly setting up Ngog sharply, but his shot in the box was blocked by former West Ham United centre-back Tomas Repka.
Both Repka - who has been sent off 18 times in his career - and Ngog were shown yellow cards for a needless clash on the touchline, though the punishment for the Liverpool player appeared harsh.
Just before half-time the ever-industrious Kuyt should have done better with a Ngog knock-down but the Dutchman failed to connect on the spin just six yards out.
The slow pace of the match did not alter as the second half got under way.
Looking more comfortable than before the break, Johnson impressively slalomed his way to the right byeline to stand a cross up but Jaromir Blazek leapt to pluck the ball from Ngog's cocked head.
Cameroonian striker Leonard Kweuke then headed wide as Sparta carved out a decent opening.
Johnson again went close soon after but, after picking up a long pass on the right wing, he cut inside before trying to poke a curled shot inside the post with the outside of his right boot when a left-footed shot appeared the better option.
With 15 minutes remaining and a goalless draw looking like a good result to take into the second leg, Reina showed superb anticipation to make smart low save from Kweuke's spin-and-shot from 10 yards.
Keeping a clean sheet looked paramount as centre back Martin Skrtel replaced Ngog late on.
Yet this defensive ploy only invited pressure as 18-year-old midfielder Vacek jinked free outside the box before lashing a shot just past the post as Reina scrambled across his goal.
The second leg takes place at Anfield on 24 February with Lech Poznan or Braga awaiting the winner of the last-32 tie.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chelsea 0 - 1 Liverpool

Fernando Torres' Chelsea debut ended in the disappointment of defeat and a failure to last 90 minutes against his former club as Liverpool's revival under Kenny Dalglish continued with victory at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's £50m British record buy from Liverpool cut a subdued figure and was well shackled before being replaced by Salomon Kalou after 66 minutes.
If that was not enough to delight the Liverpool fans who taunted their former idol mercilessly and brandished banners to demonstrate their displeasure at the manner of his departure, their joy was complete three minutes after Torres' exit when Raul Meireles pounced to give Dalglish his fourth successive win.
Meireles took advantage of a mix-up between Chelsea keeper Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic to score his fourth goal in five games when he turned in Steven Gerrard's cross at the far post.
Chelsea's loss represented a missed opportunity after Manchester United slipped to their first league defeat of the season at Wolves, Ancelotti's side remaining 10 points behind the leaders. Liverpool, in contrast, move into the top six for the first time this season.
The win was no more than the rejuvenated Reds deserved - and it will have come as a relief to Maxi Rodriguez, who hit the bar when almost on the goalline in the first half.
Liverpool's resilience and organisation ensured it did not prove costly, but it was a forgettable start to Torres' Chelsea career and provided early evidence that coach Carlo Ancelotti has work to do to integrate the Spaniard into his attacking system, after also including Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in a lop-sided starting line-up.
The style in which Liverpool achieved this triumph only furthers Dalglish's claims to be given the manager's job on a permanent basis, and it is now surely only a matter of time before this formality is confirmed.
And it was done without the need for £23m striker Luis Suarez, who remained an unused substitute as Liverpool controlled affairs for a large portion of the game.
Chelsea looked unbalanced, lacked width and were eventually reduced to playing into Liverpool's hands with a succession of aimless long balls that were mopped up with the minimum of fuss, to the home fans' increasing frustration.
Anelka was utilised in a deeper role but it was an uncomfortable fit and Liverpool, boosted by an outstanding performance from Jamie Carragher on his first appearance since November after shoulder surgery, neutralised Chelsea comfortably.
The centre-back snuffed out Torres' best chance with a trademark tackle in the first half and he also fired over early on after being inadvertently found by Maxi.
Torres, loved by Liverpool's fans not so long ago, was greeted with hostility and one banner read: "He Who Betrays Will Always Walk Alone."
And he walked alone as he was taken off midway through the second half, although there will be much more to come from this gifted striker once he finds his feet at Stamford Bridge and Ancelotti uncovers a system that suits his talents.
While Dalglish kept Suarez on the bench, Chelsea had no hesitation in handing Torres an instant start against his former team-mates. The reception from the visiting supporters was predictably angry, but there were warm exchanges between Torres and Liverpool's players during the pre-match handshake.
Maxi almost extended the hand of friendship too far when he directed a wayward pass straight to Torres in the opening minute, but the striker squandered the opportunity of making a dream start when his rising drive flew off target.
There was soon another hint of his threat and it took a timely intervention from Carragher to divert his goalbound shot after he was played in by Drogba.
Liverpool were more than holding their own and ended the half in the ascendancy. They should have taken the lead just after the half-hour when Gerrard's cross evaded Chelsea's defenders and reached Maxi in front of an open goal less than six yards out. To general amazement, and the very obvious anguish of Dalglish in the technical area, he managed to hit the bar and hand Chelsea a reprieve.
The hosts were struggling to make an impact but Anelka raised a subdued Stamford Bridge's spirits with a low shot that flew inches wide before Torres' game came to a conclusion after 66 minutes when he was replaced by Kalou.
Torres' exit - a decision by Ancelotti that came as no surprise - was met with delight by Liverpool's fans and they had even more cause to celebrate when they went ahead soon after.
Chelsea keeper Cech and Ivanovic had already suffered one communication breakdown that led to angry words between the pair and the second proved more costly as Liverpool took full advantage.
Dirk Kuyt's presence in the vicinity of Gerrard's cross created uncertainty and Meireles was perfectly placed to score and continue his rich vein of form.
As Chelsea pressed Liverpool almost struck again with 10 minutes left, substitute Fabio Aurelio cutting inside from the left and forcing a fine save from Cech at his near post.
Chelsea's fruitless day was summed up in the closing stages when Liverpool defender Glen Johnson clearly, and needlessly, barged Ivanovic in the area, but referee Andre Marriner chose to ignore their appeals.
That apart, Chelsea provided Liverpool with no real alarms and a beaming Dalglish punched the air in triumph and embraced his backroom staff at the final whistle.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Liverpool 2 - 0 Stoke

Luis Suarez scored on his Liverpool debut as the Reds began their post-Fernando Torres era by beating Stoke.
Potters keeper Asmir Begovic's reflex save kept out a Glen Johnson header but Raul Meireles drove in a 47th minute shot to put the home side ahead.
John Carew had a strike which went wide before Suarez rounded Begovic and saw his shot go in despite Andy Wilkinson's attempt at a sliding interception.
Reds keeper Pepe Reina saved from Jon Walters as Liverpool secured victory.
On a day when the giant Torres mural on the outside of the stadium had been removed, inside Anfield Suarez provided enough evidence after his 63rd minute introduction that the Reds faithful might have another hero to appreciate.
The Uruguayan's goal in front of the Kop 16 minutes after coming off the substitutes bench helped the Reds to a third consecutive league win, while the home side also kept a clean sheet in as many matches.
Ahead of the game, fellow new forward signing Andy Carroll, who is sidelined with a thigh injury, also came on to the pitch to a rapturous ovation as the new arrivals gave a glimpse of the future.
The present team, meanwhile, went about the business of trying to prove their worth without Torres.
Dirk Kuyt took the Spaniard's place in spearheading the attack as manager Kenny Dalglish opted to play a three-man central defence of Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger to combat Stoke's physical aerial danger.
However, it was Liverpool's threat in the air which almost gave them the lead when a glanced Kyrgiakos header from a Steven Gerrard corner was cleared from the goalmouth by ex-Red Salif Diao.
Tony Pulis's side heeded the warning and showed a degree of comfort as their hosts struggled to break them down before the Merseysiders warmed to their task and exerted some pressure towards the end of the first half.
Liverpool wing-backs Martin Kelly and Johnson combined with the former crossing for the latter to cushion a header which Begovic kept out with an impressive save.
An unmarked Kuyt flicked another header disappointingly wide and, when the hard-working Dutchman was not clinical enough after being found by a nodded Gerrard pass or when turning and shooting from the edge of the box, it was hard not to think of the departed Torres.
That was until 47 minutes when a long range Gerrard strike came off the Stoke wall and, after Potters centre-back Robert Huth tackled Kyrgiakos, the ball fell to Meireles to steer in a shot for his third goal in four games.
Carew, making his full debut for Stoke, sent an effort across goal narrowly wide as the visitors were forced to attack before £22.7m signing Suarez made a goalscoring start to his Anfield career.
A Kuyt flick released Liverpool's new number seven on goal and, although Wilkinson got a boot to the striker's shot, he could only help it into the net off the post.
Reina had to keep out a Walters shot to maintain a clean sheet for the home side as the Reds revival continued ahead of the visit to face Torres and his new club Chelsea on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chelsea's Fernando Torres wants goal against Liverpool

Chelsea's new £50m signing Fernando Torres has said it would be "destiny" to score against former club Liverpool when the teams meet on Sunday.
By coincidence, the Spaniard could make his debut for the Blues against the side he left on Monday.
The 26-year-old striker has not asked to be left out of the Premier League clash and stated: "It is like destiny."
He admitted: "It is not perfect but if I have the chance to play, I will do my best and hopefully I can score."
Torres' departure from Anfield, where he spent the best part of four years, was greeted with anger by many fans, some of whom burnt replica shirts bearing their former hero's name.
But the player stressed: "I only have good words about Liverpool. They made me a top player and gave me the chance to play at the top level.
"I will never say anything bad about Liverpool. I have been very happy there but now the history is different and I am playing for Chelsea."
Torres, who scored 81 goals during his spell on Merseyside, risked further annoying fans of his former club when he told Chelsea TV: "I am joining a team that is at the top level. There is not another level after Chelsea.
"I am joining with big names like [John] Terry, [Frank] Lampard, [Didier] Drogba and [Nicolas] Anelka and I can be part of this great team."
Torres admitted he had not yet met up with the Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti but said: "I wanted to join because Chelsea always have shown a big respect for me.
"They really want me and it is important when you have the support of the people in the club, and the support of the fans who always showed respect to me when I came to Stamford Bridge and at Anfield.
"Now I am very happy to be a Chelsea player."
Fans of the Stamford Bridge outfit will be relieved not to have Torres lining up against them for once, after he proved to be a thorn in their side with seven goals against them while playing for Liverpool.
The striker added: "I have good memories and bad memories of games against Chelsea. All the goals are good memories because all of them are special.
"If they are happy as well because I am not going to score any more against them then it is good."