Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hyypia - Reds Didn't Panic

Sami Hyypia felt it was important Liverpool did not panic after falling behind to Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

Emmanuel Adebayor headed the Gunners into a 23rd-minute lead in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday evening.

But Liverpool were level just minutes later when Dirk Kuyt turned home a low cross from Reds captain Steven Gerrard.

The away goal makes last season's runners-up favourites to progress to the semi-finals ahead of next week's return meeting at Anfield.

Hyypia was happy with Liverpool's response to conceding a goal and admits the priority was grabbing an away goal, even if it arrived on the final whistle.

"We always knew that we shouldn't panic, even if they scored," Hyypia told Sky Sports News.

"If we scored the goal in the 90th minute or something, that's still the away goal.

"It was important not to panic."

Rafa Benitez Refuses To Label Liverpool Champions League Favourites

Rafael Benitez refused to label his side as favourites for the Champions League semi-finals following last night’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal.

Liverpool manager saw his team take the ascendancy in their quarter-final meeting by coming away from the Emirates Stadium with a 1-1 draw.

Dirk Kuyt scored the away goal that could prove crucial for Tuesday’s second leg at Anfield, shortly after Emmanuel Adebayor gave the Gunners the lead.

In their run to last season’s final, Liverpool closed out second legs at home against Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven, plus in the semi-final with Chelsea when they didn’t have an away goal to fall back on.

But even with the odds now heavily stacked in favour of Benitez leading Liverpool to a third last-four spot in his four seasons in charge, the Spaniard is remaining wary of Arsenal’s threat.

He said: “I don’t think it’s in our favour. When you play against Arsenal you know they can score in any stadium.

“Yes, we are playing at Anfield and our own supporters make a massive difference but we are playing against a very good team.

“You could see their quality tonight, they had plenty of possession so we needed to play on the counter-attack and work really hard in defence.”

But after puzzlingly leaving Adebayor free to head home Robin van Persie’s 23rd-minute corner, Benitez was delighted that it took only three minutes for Kuyt to come up with his response when he poked home Steven Gerrard’s cross.

“When you play Arsenal and concede a goal it’s really difficult if you don’t equalise soon after because they keep attacking,” he said.

“And if you make a mistake it’s 2-0. So it was really important for us to score fast.

“An away goal is always important and Anfield will be an advantage for us. We know if we can score it will be more difficult for them so it’s a good situation for us.

“A difficult situation, but better than before we scored.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was adamant his side should have had a penalty in the second half.

Dirk Kuyt appeared to hold back Aleksandr Hleb by tugging on his arm but Dutch referee Pieter Vink only awarded a corner after the challenge.

Benitez agreed with the decision, saying: “It’s not very clear so in England that’s no penalty. There wasn’t a lot in it.”

But Wenger said: “It was blatant and it was under the referee’s nose.

“It’s a few times this has happened and it’s difficult to accept.

“It’s not as if the referee was in a bad position, he was only five yards away from Kuyt but didn’t give a penalty.”

Overall, Arsenal had 13 shots to Liverpool’s four, leaving Wenger perplexed by his side’s inability to convert their possession into a first-leg lead.

But he did salute the contribution of Steven Gerrard, whose brilliant run led to Kuyt’s sixth goal in this season’s Champions League.

“To have the amount of possession we did and only to come away drawing 1-1 is frightening,” added Wenger.

“I can’t fault the players because we tried very, very hard and Liverpool created very little.

“But credit to Steven Gerrard for the goal.

“It was a touch of class and he pulled back a ball we found very difficult to defend.”

Liverpool go to the Emirates Stadium again to take on Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday before Tuesday’s quarter-final second leg at Anfield.

What The Papers Say........

The Fourth Estate believe that Liverpool have a critical advantage...

'While Liverpool, with their away goal, have the edge, Arsenal would surely have won had the substitute Nicklas Bendtner, in an offside position, not been in the way of a net-bound effort from Cesc Fábregas.

'Arsenal are exasperated, too, that, with the score at 1-1, the Dutch referee, Pieter Vink, failed to see the tug at the left arm of Alexander Hleb by Dirk Kuyt that should have brought a penalty in the 66th minute. On broader reflection, Arsène Wenger should be happy about spells, after the interval, when his side had an expansiveness unseen since they held that five-point lead in the Premier League not so long ago.

'Nonetheless, Arsenal probably need to reach the sort of peak at Anfield that they attained to beat Milan 2-0 at San Siro in the previous round. The overall situation will gladden Rafael Benítez at a time when this competition offers the sole hope, as it probably does for Arsenal, of plucking triumph from a muddled season' - Kevin McCarra, The Guardian.

'That goal has given Liverpool plenty upon which to cling in the second leg, although it was an oversight by the referee, another Dutchman, at the other end which ensured this contest remains tantalisingly on edge. Kuyt clearly hooked Alexander Hleb's left arm back as the Arsenal player glided into the area 66 minutes in, the Belarusian tumbling to the turf and wondering why he was not awarded the penalty the foul merited. Kuyt played the innocent but there was a puff of the cheeks which betrayed his relief as he retreated to defend the resultant corner.

'The anguished mood that had gripped the home dugout simmered on in the aftermath. Arsène Wenger spoke of a "blatant penalty right under the eyes of the referee". It is perhaps just as well that the Frenchman was unaware that Pieter Vink, a policeman from Noordwijkerhout, comes from a place some 5km from Kuyt's own home town of Katwijk' - Dominic Fifield, The Guardian.

'Advantage Liverpool. Showing all their European experience, Rafa Benitez's side absorbed everything that Arsenal threw at them here last night, and will believe they can reach the semi-finals at an impassioned Anfield next Tuesday.

'Billed as a very English affair, this first leg was shaped by goals from a Togo international, Emmanuel Adebayor, and a Dutchman, Dirk Kuyt, who equalised. Arguably the most impressive performer was the Argentinian, Javier Mascherano, who delivered a determined 90-minute shift of ball-winning and simple distribution' - Henry Winter, The Daily Telegraph.

'There are close calls - the Democratic nomination, London's mayoral election, Brown versus Cameron at the polls next time, perhaps - and then there is this match. Pick a winner if you dare. Try to put a cigarette paper between them. Advantage Liverpool? Not against the team who defeated AC Milan at the San Siro, surely. The clever money on Arsenal? Not if you have studied Liverpool's form in Europe since Rafael Benítez took over.

'Those who were expecting a first-leg stalemate were only half wrong. Both goals came in a three-minute spell and, for the remaining 87, two English teams playing Champions League football cancelled each other out. Sound familiar? The pleasant surprise was that this was no Liverpool-Chelsea snooze-fest, no exercise in tactical tedium and the crashing together of immovable objects. This match was open, enjoy- able and bodes well for the spectacle at Anfield next Tuesday. Liverpool had the best of the first half, Arsenal the best of the second. Honours even, then, and credit all round' - Martin Samuel, The Times.

'For Wenger, it must have been so painful to watch. First there was the ease with which Steven Gerrard left Mathieu Flamini in his wake before surging past Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure.

'Then came Gael Clichy's failure to stop Kuyt from meeting the Liverpool captain's cross with a close-range finish.

'Clichy had allowed the Dutchman to cut inside him. Advantage Liverpool.

It is the kind of advantage that Rafa Benitez and his players have proved the masters of protecting in the Champions League, that they have protected at the expense of teams like AC Milan and Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea.

Even if Arsenal can reflect on a fine record at Anfield and a season that has seen them score with impressive consistency on their travels, staying off that list of illustrious Liverpool scalps is not going to be easy' - Matt Lawton, The Daily Mail.

'Advantage Rafael Benitez - another classic from the old master of the Champions League smash and grab. Last night his team made the dark art of European football look bliss-fully simple as they took Arsène Wenger's season to the brink of extinction.

'Arsenal will remember the penalty that was never given to Alexander Hleb and they will regret the moment that they allowed Dirk Kuyt in to poach the equaliser, three minutes after Emmanuel Adebayor gave them the lead. But most of all they will consider the trip to Anfield on Tuesday with bleak foreboding: nowhere in Europe, not even San Siro, has quite the same reputation as the fortress in Stanley Park' - Sam Wallace, The Independent

Home Sweet Home Beckons For Rafael Benitez

Long before the Champions League was even a concept and long, long before companies such as Vodafone were around to sponsor it, Liverpool learnt a supreme lesson from this kind of fixture - you do not stake everything on the first leg.

Thirty years ago, the first round of the European Cup saw the champions of England drawn against the champions of Europe in a straight knockout. It was the kind of fixture that Silvio Berlusconi, sometime prime minister of Italy, full-time president of AC Milan, would cite when forcing through the Champions League. It was painful seeing the big beasts of the game culled so early.

The champions of England versus the champions of Europe. It sounds impossibly glamorous now but in September 1978 it meant Nottingham Forest lining up against Liverpool at the City Ground.

In 1978, Liverpool conceded early, as they did at Arsenal last night and against Chelsea in last year's semi-final. Unlike in the two more recent matches, however, Liverpool panicked; they threw more and more bodies forward to retrieve a game that, with a second leg to come at Anfield, did not really need rescuing. Then Garry Birtles scored again and a manageable 1-0 defeat had become the most invariably fatal of first-leg results, a 2-0 defeat.

Kenny Dalglish will tell you that Liverpool lost because they approached the match as if it were a normal domestic fixture. This is a mistake that Rafael Benitez has never made. Even when Liverpool are playing Derby, you feel there is one corner of his mind forever straying towards Europe.

When the two semi-finals with Chelsea are recalled, it is always for Anfield's wall of sound, louder even than the noises that greeted the triumphs of Paisley or Shankly, which appeared fatally to unnerve Chelsea. However, had Jose Mourinho arrived on Merseyside on the back of a significant victory - and last year his instinctive caution ensured Chelsea squandered an opportunity to knock Liverpool out cold at Stamford Bridge - it would not have mattered what noises the crowd made.

It says everything about Benitez that despite losing on all his three previous visits to Arsenal, Liverpool reserved their best performance here for when the European Cup was at stake, rather than mere league points.

His midfield, sturdily anchored by Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso, drove Cesc Fabregas, the hero of Milan, deeper and deeper into his own half, where he appeared to be enveloped by frustration.

So, too, did Benitez. When Steven Gerrard misplaced a simple free-kick, Benitez turned his back and unleashed a stream of wholly untypical invective. Liverpool co-owner George Gillett may have been trapped on the far side of the Atlantic by heavy snow but Benitez seemed to know how much of his reputation was staked on this fixture. When Dirk Kuyt slid in the precious away goal, Benitez sat impassively before leaping up to issue more instructions; his essential coldness revealed.

His counterpart, Arsene Wenger, ended the evening watching on his haunches, also deep in thought. Just as victory in the San Siro was not beyond him, it will not be on Merseyside either.

All around the Emirates Stadium are written the years commemorating seasons in which Arsenal have won silverware. Wenger might have glanced at 1989, when the Arsenal of Smith and Thomas, Adams and Dixon came to Anfield and won the title with a 2-0 victory. Maybe it is time to invoke the spirit of George Graham.

Arsenal 1 - 1 LiverpooL

Arsenal were left frustrated as Liverpool held on for what could to be a crucial 1-1 draw from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners, who have seen their Barclays Premier League title hopes fade following a run of just one win in six, had taken an early lead through Emmanuel Adebayor.

However, the Reds, last season's beaten finalists, hit back quickly through Dirk Kuyt's close-range effort after a fine run from captain Steven Gerrard.

Arsenal dominated the second half and Should have had a penalty when Alexander Hleb was clearly tugged back by Kuyt.

However, Arsene Wenger's men could not find a way past Liverpool who will now fancy their chances of securing another European Cup semi-final appearance when the two sides meet again at Anfield next Tuesday night.

Despite the electric atmosphere, it was a cagey opening for what was the 200th meeting of the sides, who will face off once more in the Premier League on Saturday lunchtime.

After seven minutes, Adebayor raced onto a long through-ball as Jose Reina dashed out of his goal.

The Liverpool goalkeeper missed his attempted clearance, but was alert enough to recover ground and then block the follow-up cross from the Togo frontman.

At the other end, Cesc Fabregas had to do some defending in his own six-yard box to deny Sami Hyypia after he had stayed up front following a corner.

On 21 minutes, the Liverpool defence was split by a fine chipped pass from Mathieu Flamini.

Robin van Persie got ahead of the two centre-backs and into the penalty area, but as the ball dropped, the Dutchman could only fire a left-footed volley over the crossbar.

Reina then had to get down quickly to deny the Arsenal striker, who sent in a low shot from the edge of the box.

From the resulting corner, after 22 minutes, the Gunners took the lead.

Van Persie knocked the ball short to Fabregas before he whipped it into the area, where Adebayor leapt highest to nod his first goal since scoring in the defeat of AC Milan at the San Siro.

However, Arsenal's lead was short-lived as the visitors grabbed what could yet prove to be a crucial away goal in the 26th minute.

Gerrard powered into the left side of the penalty box, charging past three defenders.

The Liverpool skipper kept his feet to send over a low cross, which Kuyt bundled in ahead of full-back Gael Clichy.

The visitors were clearly lifted by their goal and enjoyed a decent spell of possession as the half-hour mark passed.

However, despite plenty of action around both penalty areas, neither side was able to find a penetrating pass.

Liverpool had a chance just after the restart, and Manuel Almunia needed to get down quickly to smother Kuyt's snapshot.

Arsenal introduced England squad man Theo Walcott, to replace van Persie, for the second half and the teenager looked lively down the left as Hleb was given more freedom in an advanced role.

Walcott picked up the ball and let fly from 25 yards, but his shot was always going wide of Reina's right-hand post.

Again both teams were not scared of going forwards, however once more they lacked a decisive pass in the final third.

On 65 minutes, there was a double let-off for Liverpool when Martin Skrtel blocked Emmanuel Eboue's effort before Arsenal had what looked a certain penalty turned down by the Dutch referee.

Hleb weaved into the box, before he clearly had his shirt tugged back by Kuyt. However, referee Pieter Vink was unconvinced and signalled instead only for a corner.

Wenger sent on Nicklas Bendtner for the final 24 minutes, replacing Eboue as Walcott moved out to the right and Hleb to the left.

The Danish striker was soon in the thick of the action, somehow managing to keep out Fabregas' goalbound effort while on the line - although he was flagged offside.

Arsenal continued to press in the closing stages, and in stoppage time Fabregas dived in to meet Adebayor's cross, but his header lacked power and Reina comfortably collected.

Liverpool - with 10 men behind the ball for long spells - held firm and take the upper hand into next week's second leg at Anfield.