Sunday, August 24, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 2 - 1 Middlesbrough

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard fired a stunning stoppage-time winner to floor Middlesbrough after they threatened an Anfield shock.

England head coach Fabio Capello suggested in midweek that Gerrard is not fully fit, but he was still going strong late in the game against Boro as Liverpool came from behind to claim three points.

Boro had not won in the league at Anfield since 1976, and when Mido came off the bench to put them ahead with 20 minutes left that record looked likely to be consigned to history.

But Jamie Carragher saw a 20-yard cross-shot deflect home off Emanuel Pogatetz for an own goal with five minutes of regulation time remaining, and then Gerrard rifled home a 20-yard winner deep into injury-time.

Liverpool replaced the injured Sami Hyypia with Martin Skrtel in defence for the match, while Gerrard shrugged off worries over a groin problem to start in a match which saw Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena make their home league debuts.

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate initially named the side which beat Tottenham last week, with new signing Justin Hoyte on the bench.

But a pre-match injury to goalkeeper Brad Jones meant Ross Turnbull was thrust into action at the last moment.

He was put under immediate pressure by Liverpool. After three minutes Fernando Torres surged towards the penalty area and fed Dirk Kuyt whose fierce drive was turned aside at full stretch by Turnbull.

Then Dossena fired over a swirling cross-shot which Turnbull pushed behind.

Torres saw a flicked header go wide before there was a lengthy delay when Dossena and Jeremie Aliadiere clashed heads, both leaving the field.

Boro's French forward returned with his head heavily bandaged, while Dossena needed a stitch before being allowed back into the fray.

It then took a fine flying save from Jose Reina to touch over an 18-yard shot from Boro's Andrew Taylor.

Tuncay and Afonso Alves gave Liverpool central defenders Carragher and Skrtel plenty to think about before Gerrard almost scored at the other end when his dipping drive flashed just over, following neat build-up play between Torres and Kuyt.

Middlesbrough's England winger Stewart Downing, a possible target for Liverpool, cut inside two defenders from the left before sending a shot just wide of the far post.

The pace barely dropped, and only fine defending by David Wheater twice stopped Torres in the box, the second time after the Spaniard had been put clear by Kuyt.

Torres should then have given Liverpool a half-time lead but his shot was deflected wide by Emanuel Pogatetz.

Boro sent out Turnbull for a half-time warm-up in front of the Kop, the goal the visitors were due to defend in the second period.

But despite having the majority of possession, Liverpool were not making clear chances.

All the effort in the world was there from Keane and Kuyt, but Boro's defence was standing firm.

Liverpool's set-plays were weak and ineffective, and corners in particular were repeatedly wasted.

Boro sent on Mido for Alves on the hour mark, the Teesside club clearly believing they could get something out of the game.

And they almost took the lead after 62 minutes when Mido crossed from the left and Tuncay produced a clever turn and flick before forcing Reina into a sharp save.

Liverpool sent on Ryan Babel, fresh from his Olympic campaign with Holland, in place of Yossi Benayoun after 65 minutes.

Torres immediately went close with a 25-yard strike, but it was Boro who grabbed the lead after 70 minutes.

Xabi Alonso conceded possession and the ball was switched from Aliadiere to Mido, some 30 yards out. His fierce, low drive beat Reina and found the bottom right corner.

Liverpool replaced Dossena with Fabio Aurelio, with Boro sending on Hoyte for Taylor.

Keane was booked for dissent after Liverpool were denied a penalty when Gerrard's fierce drive was deflected wide, seemingly off a Middlesbrough player's arm.

Then Mido found his way into referee Mike Riley's book for time-wasting.

Liverpool sent on Nabil El Zhar for Arbeloa with seven minutes left and they finally managed to pile on the pressure.

They drew level when Carragher made the most of Riley playing an advantage after a shot from Alonso hit Gary O'Neil's arm.

Amid loud appeals for a spot-kick, Carragher unleashed a shot which looked to be going off target but deflected past the unlucky Turnbull off Pogatetz.

Turnbull made a fine save from a Gerrard free-kick in injury-time. But in the fourth minute of added time, Liverpool's talisman smashed home the winner, driving the ball into the right corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area after Wheater's poor defensive header.


Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa (El Zhar 83), Carragher, Skrtel,Dossena (Aurelio 75), Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso,Benayoun (Babel 65), Keane, Torres.

Middlesbrough: Turnbull, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz,Taylor (Hoyte 75), Aliadiere, O'Neil, Shawky, Downing,Alves (Mido 60), Sanli (Digard 87).

Warning Signs For Liverpool Despite Injury Time Winner Against Boro

If Liverpool fans have dreams of winning the Premier League this season, they can kiss them goodbye. Today at Anfield, Liverpool escaped with a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough with a woeful performance that was rescued by an own goal and then an injury time goal by Steven Gerrard.

This was a cruel blow to Middlesbrough who played a strong defensive game for most of the match under a 4-5-1 formation. Despite creating far fewer chances in front of goal, Boro looked more dangerous after Tuncay spun around a Liverpool defender and his shot was saved by Reina. Then in the 70th minute, Middlesbrough took the lead after Mido struck the ball into the corner of the net.

Liverpool’s equalizer came later when Jamie Carragher’s shot took a wicked deflection off Pogatetz and into the Middlesbrough goal. Then, with the last strike of the ball, Gerrard popped up to rescue Liverpool by striking the ball into the back of the net to send the fans in The Kop into ecstasy.

While the result will go down as three points won for Liverpool, there were several major concerns about Liverpool’s performance today. After they were outplayed for portions of last week’s match against Sunderland, you would expect Liverpool to raise their standard of play for their first home league match of the new season. That was entirely not the case. Liverpool did create plenty of chances, but they were as wasteful as Arsenal are renowned for. Gerrard and Benayoun were practically invisible for most of the match, while Torres and Robbie Keane have still yet to strike up a good partnership.

But most of all, what was missing from Liverpool’s performance is their ability to strike the killer blow. For large portions of the match, especially in the first half, Liverpool almost put Anfield to sleep by playing at a slow tempo that was easy for Middlesbrough to defend against.

To me, that’s one of the major differences between Liverpool and Manchester United. With Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, you can often sense a goal when a goal is coming when they start their blistering attacks. With Liverpool, so far, they’re too predictable and will find it very difficult to outperform Man United, Chelsea or Arsenal this season.

Liverpool needs to improve considerably if they’re serious about trying to stay a top four club this season. Defensively they look strong as long as Hyypia stays on the bench, but they have issues in midfield and up front. The team is relying too much on Fernando Torres just as they did last season when they seemed to be waiting for Gerrard to create something magical.

This is going to be a long season for Liverpool based on their last two poor performances.

Mascherano Makes History In Beijing

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano has become the first Argentinian footballer in history to win two Olympic gold medals.

Javier Mascherano helped the Albiceleste beat Nigeria 1-0 in this morning's Olympic final in Beijing‘s Bird‘s Nest Stadium, the winning goal for the South Americans being scored by Angel Di Maria in the 58th minute.

And in doing so, Mascherano made history, because four years ago in Athens, the defensive midfielder was also in the Argentina side that defeated Paraguay 1-0 in the Olympic final. That means he is the first Argentine ever to win Olympic gold twice.

The Liverpool star, now 24, was selected in Argentina’s squad for Beijing by national team manager Sergio Batista as one of three allocated over-age players.

Mascherano is now expected back on Merseyside in the next few days, as stated on the Liverpool FC website, and he will be joined by Brazilian Lucas, who earned a bronze Olympic medal after Brazil beat Belgium 3-0 in the third place play-off.

Stevie Wonder

Matt Le Tissier was left feeling for Middlesbrough as Steven Gerrard got Liverpool out of jail again.

Gareth Southgate's side looked set to claim a surprise win at Anfield thanks to Mido's second goal in as many games.

But an own goal from Emmanuel Pogatetz dragged Liverpool back into proceedings before captain fantastic Gerrard popped up to break Boro hearts with a last-minute winner.

"Steven Gerrard probably had one of the worst games I've seen him play, but you have got to keep him on the pitch," Le Tissier told Soccer Saturday.

"The ball dropped to him 18 or 19 yards out and the moment you saw him striding on to it, you knew where it was going. He tucked it away very well and the keeper had no chance.

"But Liverpool have got out of jail.

"We say it all the time, but if you can nick a result when you're not playing well - and this was not Liverpool playing particularly well today.

"That's twice now they've done it and that was what was missing last season. If they keep nicking those results when they're not playing at their best, when they do hit form they've got a chance.

"But Gareth Southgate will be beside himself that Middlesbrough haven't got a least a point out of that today."

Le Tissier was still wondering just how Boro came away with nothing to show for a spirited display.

In the end, Lady Luck helped with Pogatetz deflecting in Jamie Carragher's shot although referee Mike Riley also played his part with an excellent advantage.

"I've got to give Mike Riley credit because for the first goal it started out on the right wing and (Xabi) Alonso tried to cross it but the ball was blocked by the arm of Gary O'Neil.

"He went to put his whistle in his mouth but saw the ball breaking for Jamie Carragher who took a touch and went on to strike it.

"It was disappointing for Pogatetz after such a good game, but it just flicked off his arm and that has taken it past Ross Turnbull in goal."

Rafa Gets Himself In Real Stew

Rafa Benitez will this week make an official approach to Middlesbrough for Stewart Downing.

The Reds boss had hoped Downing would remain on Merseyside for talks following Boro's 2-1 defeat at Anfield yesterday, but the winger's boss Gareth Southgate refused him permission.

Benitez is a huge fan of the England star and is prepared to meet the north-east side's £12 million valuation.

And his move for the player appears to represent yet another nail in the coffin of Gareth Barry's dreams of joining the Reds. Aston Villa's England midfielder has long been linked with Liverpool and, even though Anfield's top brass have ultimately baulked at the Villains' £18m asking price, many believed the deal would eventually be done.

However the Spaniard, who would have used Barry on the left of midfield, has now decided Downing is his man.

The move for Downing represents a sea change for Benitez, who has revised his foreign policy. He has decided home-grown players are now more appealing than imports as they take less time to settle at their new club. And there could be further movement into Anfield this week as Benitez would still have around £8m for squad strengthening in a desperate bid to keep up with Chelsea and Manchester United.

Two foreigners on their way out of Liverpool are striker Andriy Voronin and keeper Charles Itandje.

The Reds rejected Galatasaray's initial bid of £2.5m for Ukrainian Voronin last week.

Benitez has told them he wants an extra £500,000 and the Turkish side are expected to bow to his wishes in the coming days.

Third-choice keeper Itandje is set to sign a season-long loan deal with Lille after his own move to the Istanbul outfit collapsed.

Rafa Beams At Win

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was delighted with how his side battled to the end and claimed an unlikely three points against Middlesbrough.

Benitez said prior to kick-off his side needed to start winning 'ugly' this season and that could easily sum up their victory over Boro.

Mido had given the visitors a shock lead 20 minutes from the end, but Liverpool claimed all three points thanks to a deflected Jamie Carragher effort and a trademark Steven Gerrard curler into the corner.

"It was a fantastic ending, it was important to win in this way, with the passion and the commitment of the players - I think it is much better," Benitez told Sky Sports.

"Clearly last season we were drawing games like this and two games we haven't played really well but we have won and have got six points.

"It is important for us to keep winning and then we can talk about football and not other things."

Benitez threw everything at Boro in the latter stages and he was delighted it worked.

"I think we needed to change, we played with three defenders and everyone was playing in attack so we could score the first goal and okay it changed everything but the second one was amazing," he said.

Benitez was quick to hail Gerrard - who played through the pain barrier.

"That one [goal] could be really important and I am pleased for him," he said.

"We knew he had some problems because he has been injured for ten days and he is not 100 per cent fit but he has that quality and can score goals like that."