Monday, May 05, 2008

LiverpooL 1 - 0 Manchester City

Fernando Torres wrote another piece of history for himself with his 32nd goal of a stunning first season in English football.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo has stood between Torres and the PFA and Writers' Footballer of the Year awards this week, and yet another fine strike here underlined why.

The Spaniard has now scored in eight successive home league games which equals Roger Hunt's club record.

His 15th in his last 17 games shows the remarkable consistency of the front-man.

The winner came in the 58th minute when he cruised past Richard Dunne to beat Joe Hart with an angled drive.

Much of the game had been dominated by City fans venting their anger at the likely sacking of their manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, but it was Torres who again stole the show.

Liverpool's final home match of the campaign ended with a lap of honour, and Torres took much of the acclaim.

Boss Rafael Benitez also received his ovation. There will be no Champions League final this season, but the Kop made it clear that they don't want to see their manager go the same way as Eriksson.

Benitez made five changes from the side that lost at Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final in midweek, with Steve Finnan, Lucas, Sami Hyypia, Ryan Babel and youngster Emiliano Insua coming in.

Out went Xabi Alonso, Martin Skrtel, Yossi Benayoun, Alvaro Arbeloa and John Arne Riise.

And still Peter Crouch could not get a game, the lanky striker did not even make the bench.

Troubled Manchester City - who have lost four of their last five - recalled captain Richard Dunne, with Gelson Fernandes dropping to the bench.

For Liverpool, this was just a game for pride with nothing else now to play for with their European exit.

But for City, the game had taken on a whole new dimension. The future of manager Sven-Goran Eriksson was all that mattered to their fans packed into the Anfield Road end.

With owner Thaksin Shinawatra hell-bent on sacking the former England coach - seemingly against the wishes of virtually everyone else at Eastlands - those fans sang his name, hoisted 'Save our Sven' banners and made it perfectly clear who they were backing.

City fans even came up with an impressive version of a famous Pink Floyd song as 'Thaksin, leave our Sven alone' boomed across Anfield.

Eriksson waved obligingly, gave the thumbs up and bowed in appreciation to supporters who do not understand how a rare top-half finish in the Premier League is not good enough.

And their team, who are believed to be upset by developments, responded with a confident display. City were quicker and sharper in the opening stages, Michael Johnson and Stephen Ireland impressing in midfield.

Liverpool had plenty of possession, but initially created nothing of substance, apart from a Babel header over.

Fernando Torres then saw an angled cross-shot skid just wide on the far post, while Steven Gerrard - from 30 yards out - had goalkeeper Joe Hart flying across his box.

Liverpool were now improving. And when Insua's pass inside to Gerrard found his captain 20 yards out, a swerving shot forced Hart into an excellent save to his left.

After the break, only a fine interception from Vedran Corluka stopped Gerrard taking advantage of a clever Torres set-up, while Kuyt headed the resulting corner just wide.

Liverpool were much more positive now and Torres got away on the left from a superb Gerrard pass, but guided his shot just wide of the far post.

City responded with a fine Elano free-kick from 20-yards that hit Jose Reina's near post.

But in the 58th minute, Torres got his customary goal.

A poor Michael Ball clearance was headed back into the Spanish international's path, and he took on and beat Dunne before he angled his finish across Hart and into the far corner.

That goal meant Torres equalled the all-time Liverpool record of scoring in eighth successive home league game.

Roger Hunt, in Division Two in 1961-62, is the only other man to achieve the feat.

City then brought on ex-Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann, who was instrumental in their Champions League final victory in 2005, for Elano and the German received a standing ovation from the Anfield crowd.

Nery Castillo took over from Martin Petrov, with Liverpool replacing Babel with Benayoun.

Alonso and Andriy Voronin both got a late run-out in place of Lucas and Gerrard, but City made it clear this was not over when Benjani blasted in a 25-yard free-kick that Reina struggled to beat away.

City then sent on Javier Garrido for Darius Vassell. But Torres was looking for more, and having the beating for pace of Corluka and Dunne, he almost chipped Hart on the run.

Steven Gerrard Determined To Improve

A strange end to a turbulent season at Anfield. There was pride, but there were regrets. There were protest songs against meddling owners, but this time they came from the Manchester City supporters, rather than the locals. And as the Liverpool players embarked on the lap of honour after their final home game of the season, there was nothing so striking as the scowl on the features of Steven Gerrard.

This is not to suggest that Gerrard is having a repeat of the pangs that almost drove him to Chelsea, but, as Fernando Torres took a bow in front of the Kop, his captain had a face like thunder. Perhaps the pain of the Champions League semi-final defeat by Chelsea four days earlier had only just sunk in. Perhaps he was vowing that, three weeks short of his 28th birthday, he cannot allow another title race to pass Liverpool by.

This was supposed to be Sven-Göran Eriksson’s story, with City supporters giving their manager a show of support that will stay with him long after he has been evicted from office by Thaksin Shinawatra, the club’s Thai chairman. Or it could have been Torres’s story, given that the Liverpool forward had settled the match with his 32nd goal of an extraordinary first season in English football and, in doing so, had equalled Roger Hunt’s club record of scoring in eight consecutive home matches. But Gerrard’s scowl, as he pondered a summer without so much as the European Championship finals to look forward to, seemed to say more than anything.

John Arne Riise, Jermaine Pennant, Harry Kewell and Peter Crouch did not join their teammates on the lap of honour and may bid personal farewells as Liverpool look to sign players such as Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa captain, and Philipp Degen, the Borussia Dortmund full back.

Berger To Barry: Go To Liverpool

Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry has been urged to sign for Liverpool this summer – by one of his own team-mates!

In an incredible interview with the Daily Mail, Villa midfielder Patrik Berger stated that Barry would be foolish to turn down a move to the Merseyside Giants and urged his colleague not to let this opportunity pass.

Barry has persistently been linked as the main transfer target for Rafa Benitez this summer, and his sides tame defeat to Wigan on Saturday may have emphasised to him just how much progress is needed should the Villains want to compete on a par with the leagues top clubs.

Berger said: “If I was in Gareth’s position I would go there tomorrow. It is the opportunity of a lifetime and Liverpool certainly don’t come after you every year.

“He is the heart of our team at the moment and it would be a massive challenge for him. He would be in the Champions League and challenging to win trophies every year.”

Berger, a player who’s own future is currently unclear, says it is very hard for sides like Aston Villa to break into the top four.

“I think the gap – not just between Villa and the top four but the rest of the league – is big," he continued.

"To break into the top four you would really have to spend a lot of money. Everton have tried for the past few years but they only did it once, it is going to be very tough for Villa do to that.

“It will take time to reach the Champions League and to do that you would need to keep players like Gareth."

Barry, 27, has been an integral part of the Villa midfield this season, starting 36 of the 37 Premiership matches played so far. Former Czech international star Berger on the other hand, has been more of a fringe player - making just nine total appearances this season, all from the substitutes bench.

Villa owner Randy Lerner recently stated that he would give Martin O’Neil the finances required to secure Barry on a new long-term deal.

Torres: We'll Win It Next Season

Liverpool star Fernando Torres insists that the club can overcome their disappointing season without a trophy and win the Premiership title next season.

Despite an excellent personal season for Torres, Liverpool have failed to win any competitions – with Wednesday’s Champions League loss to Chelsea effectively ending their season.

Torres scored the winner today as the Anfield side battled to a 1-0 win over Manchester City and the Spaniard believes that more consistent League success is a possibility in the next campaign.

“We want to win trophies every season,” he told Sky Sports.

“For the fans the most important thing is the League. Maybe next season. We have a strong team and we can win every game.”

Torres, who was alarmingly substituted in extra-time during the Champions League semi-final defeat to Chelsea on Wednesday, was not expected to play any further part in this campaign after manager Rafa Benitez cited a hamstring injury. However, el Nino has revealed that there is no longer a problem.

“It was a problem for the Chelsea game but today I was fit," he said. "For the last game at Anfield everyone wants to play.”

Torres has scored 32 goals in total as part of an incredible first season in England, with 23 of those coming in the Premiership. With his winning goal against Manchester City, the twenty-four year old tied the club record of Roger Hunt by scoring in eight successive home games.

Benitez Wants To Buy Now

Liverpool fans could be welcoming their new Kop heroes sooner than later if boss Rafa Benitez has his way.

Time is of the essence to Benitez, who has revealed the Reds are trying to sign new players this month, and not wait until later in the summer.

Co-owner Tom Hicks has agreed to a summer spending spree of more than £30million, and Benitez has given chief executive Rick Parry a list of top targets.

The Reds have already been linked to Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry and Wigan's Antonio Valencia.

And any new faces will be coming quickly, hopes Benitez.

He told the Daily Star Sunday: "We will not be waiting until August to sign players. I think we will do things well before. Perhaps you will see some evidence in a few weeks.

"It will help me if the signings of new players are done early. It needs to be as soon as possible really, because then you know the situation and you can control the pre-season.

"Rick knows the necessity of early deals. Our conservation the other day was very positive.

"We are trying to fix the targets and progress. He knows that we want to sign the players right now.

"We aren't working on signing new players in June or July - but to sign them in May if that is possible."

After a trophy-less season this term, Benitez is determined to return to winning ways.

He said: "We want to win the next two games and we want to win silverware next season.

"We have Pepe Reina, who can be the best keeper for another year, with more clean sheets than anyone if he has one more.

"We have scored 116 goals. We want to be the best team in England - and people talk about us being defensive!"