Sunday, September 07, 2008

U-18s Ease To Forest Victory

Liverpool Under-18s maintained their impressive home form with a comfortable 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the FA Academy Premier League.

Hughie McAuley's team dominated for the majority of the contest against their East Midlands counterparts and deservedly claimed their second consecutive home triumph courtesy of a first-half header from Lauri Dalla Valle and a late pildriver from Astrit Adjarevic.

The Reds began the match at a hectic pace, as if determined to make ameds for last week's disappointing defeat at Coventry, and they could have opened the scoring as early as the fourth minute when an error by Forest centre back Matt Skyes gave Thomas Ince a clear sight of goal, but his stabbed effort was deflected to safety at the last second.

There was little sign of the visitors as an attacking threat and on 13 minutes a flowing one-touch move involving James Ellison, Dalla Valle and Ince resulted in the left winger slipping a delightful low cross across the face of goal, but unfortunately for Liverpool there was no one at the far post to give the move the finish it deserved.

A minute later and another chance went begging when Dalla Valle's acrobatic effort from the edge of the box flew way over the crossbar after a clever run and cross from David Amoo on the right.

Forest were in need of some respite and they nearly got it on 25 minutes when Nialle Rodney crashed home Tim Hopkinson's knock-down, only to see his celebrations cut short by the referee's assistant's flag.

That aside, it was all one way traffic in the first period and at times Liverpool's approach play was breathtaking, with Dalla Valle often instrumental with a series of deft flicks and clever touches.

The striker was enjoying an impressive afternoon and should have opened the scoring on 33 minutes when he seized on the loose ball 40 yards from goal, powered beyond two defenders before seeing his near post shot beaten away by Forest keeper Karl Darlow.

However, the Finn was not to be denied and from the resulting corner he rose majestically to bullet home a header to give the Reds a deserved interval lead.

The visitors inevitably improved in the second-half but Liverpool were still the side creating the better openings with Dalla Valle twice denied by Darlow.

Substitute Nathan Eccleston could have made the game safe 15 minutes from time but he saw his his audacious volley from the left wing crash back off the crossbar.

In truth the second 45 rarely lived up to the first in terms of the calibre of football, but the Reds were always in control and Adjarevic drilled in a magnificent late strike to ensure Hughie McAuley's side eased to their second win from three matches played this season.

Benitez Puts Title Prospects Into Perspective

Rafael Benitez has attempted to put into perspective the intensifying competition at the top of the Premier League - and the pressures on him and his team to deliver the title.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is aware that expectations are building again for the Reds to mount a sustained challenge to win the title that has eluded them since 1990.

The Reds have followed another summer of big spending by getting off to a winning - if not as yet wholly convincing - start to the campaign in both Premier League and Champions League.

But Benitez acknowledges that Liverpool’s rivals are all upping the ante too, making the competitive challenge stronger than ever.

He has said that Liverpool now have the strongest squad since he took over at Anfield in 2004, but is cautious in his assessment of prospects, telling journalists:

“We know we’re better than before, but maybe the other teams are better also. Look at [Manchester] City, for example.

“Sometimes you need to take gambles,” he added. “If we’re making mistakes it’s because we were taking gambles with players who were cheap while we tried to find the balance.”

Benitez says he will not be bowed by the pressure of trying to take the title back to Anfield, in a campaign which will see Manchester United attempt to equal Liverpool’s record haul of 18 English championships.

“As always, it also depends on the other teams,” he said.

“When you are at a top side, you need to be ready to challenge for titles or to be under pressure.

“I don’t have any problem with the pressure, but if people analyse the situation properly, it’s changed a lot because other teams are signing big players.

“People need to understand that to win trophies is really difficult. More and more teams are spending more and more money.

“We will try to be closer and have a lot of confidence because the squad is better, but you can’t guarantee anything. We must make sure we do our best every time.

“We want to win trophies, and to win the Premier League would be amazing. But it’s not easy.

“If the owners of the clubs keep on spending big, big money, then they will want more and more success.

“But how many teams can win the title? Just one.”

John Aldridge: Love For Your Country Is A Two-Way Thing

There’s been a lot of hot-air and hysteria since Jamie Carragher’s honest admission that he preferred winning with Liverpool above winning with England.

You’d think he’d said he deliberately thought about scoring an own goal for Germany against the national side the way some people have reacted. It’s ridiculous!

Jamie said he always gave his best for England and some people are forgetting that is exactly what he always did.

What’s also being conveniently forgotten is that Jamie didn’t love England as much as Liverpool because England didn’t love him.

He was messed around big time by both Sven Goran Ericsson and then Steve McLaren - and after being patient for so long he simply got to the point where he didn’t feel wanted or respected at international level.

He’d had enough and I don’t blame him for simply being honest in his new book about what he felt when wearing the England shirt as opposed to the red of Anfield.

My own experience with Ireland was completely different to Jamie’s with England. I may have got into the Irish side via the back door but Ireland manager Jack Charlton respected me and the Irish people were so supportive to me.

Playing for Ireland was like a second home for me and we had some great times. When I go there now I still get a wonderful reception.

But Jamie was never loved and wanted the way myself and some of the lads who got to the World Cup finals and enjoyed those wonderful memories were.

It’ s a pity Jamie didn’t get snapped up by Ireland like me - because he’d have been treated like a king and amassed 70 or 80 caps!

It’s strange but there are a few players who are legends at club level but who never got the recognition they deserved from their countries.

Alan Hansen is right up there in the Anfield hall of fame and rightly so. But how many times did Alan play for Scotland? Just 26 caps was ludicrous for a player of his stature and ability for the Scots.

Also, I wonder what John Terry would say if he was asked what he would prefer if he could turn the clock back - getting to Euro 2008 with England or scoring that winning penalty for Chelsea in the Champions League cup final against United this year.

I suspect an honest answer from John Terry to that one would give a few of Jamie’s critics food for thought.

Jamie’s so generous

Going back to Jamie Carragher, what an incredible gesture of his to propose an Everton versus Liverpool derby game for his testimonial - and then give all the money raised away to local charities.

Jamie’s testimonial, whenever staged, is sure to be a sell-out and a huge sum of money raised.

So for him to pass that all on to organisations who can help people and good causes in the community where he grew up and plies his trade, well it really is generous beyond words.

Put simply, it’s the measure of the man for me.

Football clubs? Or flash toy factories

What a week with the megabucks takeover of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi.

It’s left me shaking my head and while City fans are on cloud nine, I’ve concluded that English football is now just a toy factory for the world’s richest men.

The game’s changing and it is no longer what it was in so many ways.

People will know I’m a fervent backer of the ShareLiverpoolFC movement, along with Phil Thompson and John Barnes. And that’s because we all believe our clubs and this great game of ours must remain connected properly with the supporters.

But increasingly, it seems our clubs are simply playthings.

Jamie Carragher: What Really Happened At Half-Time In Istanbul

At half-time in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, Jamie Carragher found himself staring into the abyss.

AC Milan had just produced a spell-binding 45 minutes of football to leave Liverpool trailing by three goals to nil.

All hopes of winning a fifth European Cup had seemingly been extinguished as Carragher and his team-mates walked into the dressing room for Rafa Benitez’s half-time team talk.

Here, in an exclusive extract from Carra: My Autobiography, Carragher talks for the first time about what exactly went on during that mythical 15 minutes and how Benitez’s inspirational intervention helped change the course of football history.

People ask what was going through my mind in those moments before half-time.

As I walked towards the dressing room, I was suffering from a depressing combination of despondency and humiliation.

I couldn't bear to lift my head up and glimpse the faces in the crowd, or the banners and red jerseys scattered around the Ataturk.

I looked towards the floor and saw nothing but endless dejection. My dreams had turned to dust.

I wasn't thinking about the game any more. My thoughts were with my family and friends. I was so sorry.

Daft, seemingly trivial ideas scattered themselves across my mind, such as 'What will everyone at home be saying about this?'

The thought of going home a laughing stock disturbed me. It would have felt like the whole city, the whole country, even the whole world was taking the mickey out of us.

There was a sense of shame to go with my sorrow. The Liverpool fans had taken over the stadium and there was nothing we could do to make amends.

I almost began to regret reaching the final. All defeating Juve and Chelsea had achieved, it seemed, was to allow AC Milan to outclass us and possibly secure the greatest ever margin of victory in a European Cup final.

They'd beaten Barcelona and Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in the 1994 and 1989 finals, and now I feared we'd create history for the wrong reasons, at the receiving end of a record defeat, by five or six. Keeping it at 3-0 and at the very least restoring some respectability was all that mattered to me now.

Nothing was said by the players as we returned to the dressing room. A mythical 15 minutes in the Liverpool legend was upon us, but it didn't feel that way.

The trickiest test in such circumstances is ensuring you don't give up.

It would have been easy for us to accept our ambitions were in tatters, which nine months of toil were going to end in catastrophe.

Mentally we were all over the place, but I knew it wasn't in my nature to accept this fate. No matter how bad it was, we were going to have to face up to our responsibilities.

Fortunately, there was at least one sane head in the room prepared to restore our battered spirits.

In that Ataturk dressing room Rafa Benitez cemented his place in Anfield folklore.

My admiration for his handling of the situation is unlimited. Rafa's conduct rarely changed, regardless of the circumstances. His calm demeanour was never required more than now.

Privately, he must have felt the same as us. He too couldn't have failed to think about his family, or what the people of Spain would be making of his side's battering.

Here he was, still struggling with his English, trying to instruct us to achieve the impossible.

“Good luck,” I thought to myself.

He showed few signs of emotion as he explained his changes, but the speed with which he made a series of tactical switches showed how sharp he still was.

First, he told Traore to get into the shower. That was the polite code for telling a player he's being subbed.

Djibril Cisse was told he'd be coming on to play on the right side and was already getting kitted out.

As Djimi removed his shirt, an argument was brewing between Steve Finnan and our physio Dave Galley. Finnan had damaged a groin and Dave told Rafa he thought he should be subbed.

Finnan was distraught and pleaded to stay on. Rafa wouldn't budge.

“We've only two subs left because we've already lost Kewell with an injury,” he explained. “I can't afford to make two now, and if you stay on I've lost my last sub.”

Traore was told to put his kit back on.

Then, as if struck by a moment of clarity, Benitez made an abrupt decision.

“Hamann will replace Finnan and we'll play 3-5-2,” he explained, displaying an assured conviction in his voice which, temporarily at least, gave me confidence.

“Pirlo is running the game from midfield, so I want Luis and Stevie to play around him and outnumber them in the middle so he can't pass the ball.”

The swiftness of this decision confirmed to me he may have considered this formation earlier. The same set-up had worked in Turin, although that had been a purely defensive strategy.

“OK,” part of me was thinking, “forty-five minutes too late, but we got there in the end.” Given the circumstances, it was still a brave move.

With both Cisse and Hamann now preparing to come on, there was only one problem.

“Rafa, I think we've 12 players out there now.”

Djibril would have to wait a while longer for his introduction.

When we emerged from our desolate dressing room, I wasn't encouraged by the look of steely determination on the face of Maldini as he led his side back out.

There were claims after the match of premature celebrations in the Milan camp at half-time.

I was upset on their behalf by that pack of lies. Traore gave an interview after the game suggesting the Italians were cocky at 3-0, but I think he was naive in his answers and it was twirled into a fairy story by the newspapers.

It simply didn't happen. Milan were far too professional for that. There was no way their captain, with all his experience, was going to allow anyone in his dressing room to take victory for granted.

Nothing I saw suggested Milan were already popping champagne. I have too much respect for them even to suggest it.

Even if they did, privately, believe they had both hands on the cup, who could blame them?

As I headed back into the arena, I was sure Milan were going to win, so were the forty thousand Scousers in Istanbul, so why shouldn't they have believed it?

I could hear “You'll Never Walk Alone” in the distance, and as I exited the tunnel it grew louder. It wasn't the usual version of our anthem, though.

There are different moments when The Kop summons Gerry Marsden's classic. Before every home game it's a deafening rallying cry, as if to inspire us to perform and frighten our opponents into submission.

If we're winning in the closing stages of a huge match, it will be sung again, this time in celebration.

But there are other occasions the words of the song have greater meaning, and at half-time in Istanbul the fans were singing it in sympathy more than belief.

There was a slow, sad sound to it, almost as if it was being sung as a hymn. The fans were certainly praying on our behalf.

To me, it was the supporters' way of saying, “We're still proud of what you've done, we're still with you, so don't let your heads drop.”

There was probably a hint of a warning in there too, as the walk back to my position felt like a guilt trip: “Don't let us down any more than you already have.”

Our coach Alex Miller's final instructions at half time were for us to “score a goal for those fans”.

That was the mindset we had. Get one and pride might be restored.

Rafa: Money Means Pressure For Bosses

Rafa Benitez fears that the latest influx of cash into the Premier League will pile more and more pressure on to managers.

The Liverpool manager fears that rich owners such as ADUG, the Abu Dhabi consortium who bought Manchester City last week, will skew the Premier League, and that they will become more and more impatient for success.

He said in The Guardian:

"If the owners of the clubs keep on spending big, big money, then they will want more and more success. But how many teams can win the title? Just one.

"So the rest of the teams who spend big money, the owners will realise they haven't won, so it could be more pressure and more problems for everyone.

"City will start the season under pressure from the first minute, but everyone knows you can't win every game. It will be a problem because four or five teams will spend big money, and only one can win.

"As a manager, you have to analyse things properly, because you aren't a fan. You can't just say what people want to hear.

"The Premier League is becoming more and more difficult because so many people are spending money.

"For us to qualify for the Champions League for five years in a row is important for a club of our stature. We want to win trophies, and to win the Premier League would be amazing. But it's not easy."

Poloskei Joins Liverpool

Following a successful trial spell, Liverpool have taken MTK Hungaria’s Zsolt Poloskei on a year-long loan.

Liverpool's link with Budapest outfit MTK Hungaria continues to bear fruit, with 17-year-old midfielder Zsolt Poloskei being handed a one-year loan spell.

Indeed, Peter Gulacsi, Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon have proved hits in the second string since joining from MTK last year, with the Merseyside club keen to pick up more Hungarian starlets.

Poloskei initially impressed Liverpool scouts while on international duty with Hungary Under 17s and will now have a further year in which to convince the club to make a permanent swoop.

The youngster will hope to follow in the footsteps of Nemeth, who has made a splash so far. The 19-year-old has been compared to Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler despite rececnt injury woes hampering his progress.

Poloskei's agent Tibor Pataky says Liverpool could exercise an option to sign the midfielder on a permanent basis.