Sunday, September 14, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 2 - 1 Manchester United

Rafael Benitez has finally got something to smile about after watching Liverpool beat Manchester United for the first time in his Anfield career thanks to an own goal from Wes Brown and Ryan Babel's winner.

The Liverpool boss had never beaten United in eight previous league games, with the champions having won the last five meetings between these two giants.

But United wilted under a relentless second-half pressure, had Nemanja Vidic sent-off and saw substitute Babel secure victory.

Carlos Tevez put United ahead early on. But after a torrid opening period, Liverpool were level with a Wes Brown own goal before Liverpool dominated the second half and grabbed a priceless win with 13 minutes left.

Liverpool gave new signing Albert Riera his debut but Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were not risked any closer to the initial action than the bench.

For the champions, Michael Carrick returned after an ankle problem, but all eyes were on £30million striker Dimitar Berbatov on his first appearance for his new club.

Liverpool fans staged a march to the ground from a local pub to protest at the club's American owners.

But that did not stop co-owner George Gillett taking his place in the directors' box, although not in the front row close to the fans.

There was also a row of smartly-suited Americans, all singing along to "You'll never walk alone" - the anthem moved to seconds before kick-off rather than when the teams march out, presumably to unsettle United.

It did not work. The champions were ahead after just three minutes.

Berbatov was allowed to get to the line by some sloppy marking and covering, and Liverpool's defence was nowhere to be seen when his pulled back cross was lashed home by Tevez.

United were quicker and more mobile all over the pitch while Liverpool continually conceded possession.

But the Merseysiders should have scored after 13 minutes when Edwin van der Sar fumbled a corner and Kuyt's blast from three yards hit Paul Scholes on the line.

Liverpool at last started to get into the match as Tevez was booked for a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa and a succession of free-kicks pinned United back.

And they were level after 26 minutes. Xabi Alonso's curling, low shot into the area deflected off Patrice Evra and Van der Sar hurled himself forward.

But he only managed to push the ball on to Brown, who could do nothing about it cannoning off him and over the line. Riera followed the ball in, but it was the United man's last touch.

United sent on Ryan Giggs for Carrick at the break, the midfielder having taken a heavy blow on his ankle in the first half.

Liverpool started the second period in much sharper form, Benayoun almost saw a flicked effort evade Van der Sar and Alonso fired over from 20 yards.

Keane narrowly missed breaking his scoring duck when he failed by inches to connect with a Javier Mascherano cross-shot. United's reply came from Paul Scholes who drove wide.

United sent on Hargreaves for Scholes after 66 minutes, having been forced back for much of the second spell.

Two minutes later Liverpool introduced Gerrard in place of Benayoun as United started to come back into the game.

As if to underline the point, Jose Reina was forced into a fine save from a dipping Giggs volley.

Riera was taken off after 71 minutes and replaced by Babel having made a good impression after a shaky start.

And on 77 minutes, Liverpool's pressure paid off. Mascherano battled his way down the right and to the line, Kuyt took up possession and played the ball across for Babel to crack home.

Nani came on for Anderson, and Rio Ferdinand was booked for bringing down Keane as the Irishman looked to be bursting through on goal. Nani was next into the book for bringing down Mascherano.

Liverpool were going to replace Keane with David Ngog, but changed their minds at the last moment when it was clear Mascherano had injured his ankle. The Argentinian limped off and Sami Hyypia came on instead.

United had Nemanja Vidic pushed up front by now, and Liverpool needed three central defenders.

Vidic was then sent off for crashing his arm into Alonso's face after 89 minutes, a second yellow card swiftly followed by a red. He will now miss the visit to Chelsea on September 21.

Youngsters Edge Out Newcastle

Finnish striker Lauri Dalla Valle netted the winner as Liverpool's under-18s took the points in a thrilling clash with Newcastle United at the Academy.

The game appeared to be heading for deadlock with both sides level at 2-2 before Dalla Valle popped up with a smart finish to secure the points for Hughie McAuley's side.

The Reds had opened the scoring through a Newcastle own goal while Adam Pepper added a second for the home side. The Geordies kept hitting back to seemingly deny Liverpool victory until Dalla Valle netted to ensure a well deserved victory.

"We played some great football and fully deserved the win against a good Newcastle side," said McAuley.

Liverpool Unsure About Gerrard, Torres For Marseille Trip

Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of key players Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres ahead of Tuesday's Champions League encounter away to Marseille.

Gerrard managed 22 minutes of Saturday's confidence boosting 2-1 win over Manchester United on his return from a groin operation.

But Spanish international Torres remained on the bench after suffering a hamstring injury against Aston Villa on Aug. 31.

Javier Mascherano is also a doubt after pulling up with a calf problem in Saturday's game.

Liverpool are second in the Premier League and head to France on a high after manager Rafael Benitez saw his team record their first victory over United in his five-year reign at Anfield.

"Now we will go to Marseille in a good frame of mind," Benitez told reporters after Saturday's win.

"That was our best performance of the season and we now feel we can go into a Champions League in good heart and spirit."

Former European champions Marseille met Liverpool in the group stage last season, winning 1-0 at Anfield before being thrashed 4-0 at home.

Rafa Knows His Reds Can Improve

Liverpool made the sort of statement of intent that Rafa Benitez had been praying for on Saturday - but he insists his team can still improve.

Five successive defeats by Manchester United in the league and a succession of hard-luck stories against the Old Trafford men had meant that Benitez has never experienced league victory over Sir Alex Ferguson.

That all changed thanks to a vibrant comeback at a raucous Anfield which saw Liverpool over-power the best team in the country.

Behind early on through a Carlos Tevez strike, Liverpool struggled to initially contain Manchester United's pace and movement.

But when the outstanding Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso got a grip in midfield, Liverpool were on the way to a significant victory in the early weeks of the Barclays Premier League title chase.

An own goal from Wes Brown gave Liverpool their lifeline back into the match, and the longer the second period went on, there seemed only one winner.

The deciding goal came from substitute Ryan Babel with 13 minutes left, and there was time for Nemanja Vidic to be sent off for a second yellow card - he could easily have had a straight red - for a forearm crunch into Alonso's head in an aerial challenge.

Benitez experienced his first league win over United in nine attempts, and said: "This was my first win against Manchester United in the league, and that was important for the team and for the fans in terms of belief and confidence for the future.

"And we also showed character after conceding an early goal. It was really important to score the goals we did, and to improve so much in the second half.

"I do not want to talk about just one player, the team was very good, lots of players working very hard. Especially Robbie Keane and Dirk Kuyt, the strikers, who put in amazing work rate and performances.

"We are in a good position in terms of confidence rather than results, because it is too early to start talking about titles.

"What we have done is put ourselves in a good position in terms of confidence and where we are in the table.

"But if we want to stay where we are, we must continue to improve. We needed to improve our form, we had been winning but not playing too well, so we needed to play better for the future."

He added: "We have also shown improvement against one of the top sides. That has been our problem against other teams in the top four.

"But we have beaten the champions of England, and Europe, and that has given us already improvement on last season.

"We were losing against a good team, but we showed character and there were lots of positives."

Ferguson, who handed a debut to new signing Dimitar Berbatov, made no excuses for the defeat against arguably United's fiercest rivals.

He said: "Our defending was poor, we had a bad day. Overall they were far the better team.

"We started well, we scored a wonderful goal and Berbatov could have had one even earlier.

"But that is the time when you should establish yourself. But Liverpool made us make mistakes with their effort and tackling, and we did not cope with that at all well.

"It's hard to say why we were not able to respond to that, but we certainly could not cope with their strong tackling.

"They harassed us into mistakes, and they must take credit for how hard they pressed us when we had possession.

"We should be able to handle that better. There was nothing to take out of that performance in any way."

But Benitez ended the day knowing that Liverpool had proved a point at last.

Performances against the rest of the top four have been poor in his time at Anfield, but a win against the European champions has put that set of embarrassing statistics right at a stroke.

And they did it without Fernando Torres, and with Steven Gerrard only on as substitute for 22 minutes.

Benitez said: "We did not have key players, Gerrard for most of the game, and Torres. But we showed we had a good squad and players who could come in and show real quality.

"We will have to use all our players throughout this season, and we showed that there are people who can come in and produce performances like that.

"I was disappointed with the early goal we conceded, you do not want to give a team like United possession and control of the game.

"We had to change many things, but we were much better in the second half and we deserved to win. We were not more aggressive than them, but we played better in the second half."

Rafa Benitez: Don't Get Carried Away By Liverpool Win Over Manchester United

Rafa Benitez refused to get carried away with his first League win over Manchester United.

Ryan Babel stepped off the bench to fire the winner with 13 minutes remaining after Liverpool had come from behind having conceded after just three minutes.

But after Wes Brown put through his own goal in the 27th minute there was only one team that looked likely to take all three points.

While captain Jamie Carragher claimed it was a monumental win, Benitez was quick to apply the brakes on any tendency to get carried away.

He said: "It's nice to know we are momentarily top but to stay there we need to keep improving. It was an important win for the team and for the fans to give us confidence for the future.

"Obviously I was disappointed to concede early on because we wanted to dictate the tempo from the start. But we showed immense character to come back and overall we played better than them. But this is just the start.

Hopefully it will be the same when we play Chelsea and Arsenal."

In stark contrast, Sir Alex Ferguson blasted his team for their shocking defending and accused them of looking like a bunch of part-timers.

"We gave away two bad goals and you don't expect that from Manchester United," he said. "Liverpool were by far the better team. When you have bad days it is important to take something out of it but there was nothing positive to take out of that performance. Both goals were absolutely shocking."

Ferguson appeared none too pleased with the officiating of Howard Webb either, adding: "We are not a dirty side but we have had three bookings and a sending-off. But that is the disadvantage when you play away from home.

"Nemanja Vidic certainly led with the elbow but defenders do it all the time. Jamie Carragher leads with his elbow all the time but he never gets a free-kick given against him."

Ferguson immediately set his stall out opting to field three strikers and giving a debut to Dimitar Berbatov. And the Bulgarian marksman could have won a penalty inside two minutes when Martin Skrtel handled his shot on the turn from Brown's cross.

But barely 60 seconds later Berbatov's impressive cutback from the byline set up Carlos Tevez to fire home.

Liverpool recovered well from the early setback, and United keeper Edwin Van der Sar almost gifted them an equaliser. He flapped at a corner and when Dirk Kuyt volleyed the loose ball towards goal, Paul Scholes cleared off the line.

It was a stroke of luck that brought Liverpool level. Xabi Alonso's shot took a wicked deflection off Patrice Evra and when Van der Sar attempted to punch the ball clear it hit Brown's leg and went in.

Robbie Keane was doing his level best to try to capitalise on Liverpool's increasing possession. But he was getting short shrift out of a United defence marshaled by Rio Ferdinand.

Ferguson made a change at the break, bringing on Ryan Giggs for Michael Carrick. But it was Liverpool who nearly stole in front. Keane crossed from the right and when it looked to be reaching the unmarked Kuyt at the far post, Evra stuck out a leg and cleared.

Both sides looked to the bench as they attempted to win the game. Owen Hargreaves and Steven Gerrard came on in quick succession.

And a mistake by Gerrard, losing possession 25 yards out, could have proved costly. Giggs let fly with a sublime volley that Pepe Reina acrobatically tipped over his bar.

Yet it was Liverpool who looked more likely to score as they chased every ball.

And they were eventually rewarded when Javier Mascherano stole the ball from Giggs as he tried to shepherd it out of play. The Argentine passed to Kuyt and he found an unmarked Babel, whose shot bounced into the United goal to send the home crowd into raptures.

Nemanja Vidic's dismissal for a second bookable offence on 90 minutes compounded United's misery.

Rafa Still Waiting For New Deal

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has reportedly yet to receive the new deal that was promised to him by the club’s American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, reports the Sunday Mirror.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a turbulent relationship with the owners since their arrival at Anfield, yet recent reports had suggested that some kind of peace had broken out between the three on Merseyside.

The Americans appear to have angered Benitez in the past by approaching Jurgen Klinsman about replacing him as manager and there also appear to have been difficulties with the club’s proposed new stadium and the issue of making finances available for new signings.

However, according to the Sunday Mirror the owners and the manager may be set for more difficulties after the paper revealed that Benitez has yet to receive a new deal that he had been promised by the owners.

Gillett and Hicks are reportedly at odds over offering the Liverpool manager a new deal which is causing the delay. Benitez’s current contract has just under two years left to run.

The manager himself refuses to be drawn on the speculation surrounding his future, saying only: “I cannot talk to much about me or this situation. My priority is to talk about the team.”

Benitez enjoyed a memorable day at Anfield yesterday as he secured his first victory over Manchester United in nine attempts. Despite going a goal behind in the third minute, the Reds ran out 2-1 winners with Ryan Babel securing the win with just over ten minutes to go.

Exclusive: DIC Consortium Preparing New Bids For Liverpool And West Ham

Liverpool and West Ham are braced for takeover bids this month from DIC after the Dubai consortium appointed hot-shot British businessman Robin Binks to clinch a deal.

Dubai Investment Capital, the private equity fund of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum are determined to own a Premier League club - particularly after the £200million takeover of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United Group.

Dic, advised by London investment firm PCP, have set-up 'PCP-DIC Seven Ltd' to complete a buy-out.

Binks' first target is Liverpool but they have also since sounded out the Hammers.

Carragher: We Mean Business Now

Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher says that the fact that they finally managed to get the better of Manchester United on Saturday should send out a warning to the rest of the league.

An own goal by Wes Brown combined with a opportunistic strike Ryan Babel snapped a terrible run for Liverpool against their arch rivals, and Carragher is now genuinely convinced that their 18 years title drought will finally come to an end by the time all is said and done this campaign.

"It's a great result for us," trumpeted Carragher on the club’s official website. "Not just for the three points, but for the belief and confidence it will give us. We've just beaten the best side in Europe and a team we have a lot of respect for. It should do wonders for our confidence.

"For too long we've been off the pace in the league and it's been all about Man United and Chelsea. Now we've gone to the top of the league and put a bit of breathing space between ourselves and United," added the ultra-reliable defender, who was a stand-in captain for Steven Gerrard who started on the bench.

"We'll see at the end of the season what this result has done for us but hopefully it will spur us on."

Rafa On The Road To Glory

THE Road to Hell’ which had flared out from the Anfield tannoy before the game was transformed into the road to redemption for Rafa Benitez and his Liverpool side.

Seven league defeats in eight games against Manchester United since Benitez took over the reins – the other one was a draw – meant the Spaniard could have been excused for looking forward to this game as eagerly as uncorking a bad bottle of Rioja.

Last night though it was United boss Sir Alex Ferguson whose glass of red would have had that bitter taste. He will also be without influential defender Nemanja Vidic for next week’s visit to Chelsea after his late sending off.

But by then his side were suffering a power cut of major proportions while for Liverpool, performing in front of much-criticised American co-owner George Gillett, it was all Yankee doodle dandy.

The last time he had faced United Javier Mascherano had to be manhandled off the pitch after being sent off, snarling away at the officials.

Yesterday he snapped and snarled – but it was all legal. United’s stars, including £30million Dimitar Berbatov, must have thought a rottweiler had been released.

Benitez’s side though were more than just dogs of war. They clawed their way back following Carlos Tevez’s early goal and eventually displayed a greater appetite for battle to impose their positive identity on the game.

Maybe, just maybe, Senor Benitez has grasped the heartbeat of The Kop who desire the Premier League title above everything else and that includes another Champions League triumph.

Benitez said: “Our position around the top of the league is good but we must still improve. But after this result we know we can beat anyone. To come back from a goal down was important. It showed real character.

“We knew at 1-1 that if we made a mistake United would kill us. They didn’t. This win has to give us tremendous satisfaction.”

Jamie Carragher, who has become sickened with United’s continued Premier League prowess, added: “That has put us top – at least for a few hours – and that’s where a team like Liverpool should be. It gives us a belief and confidence beating the best team in Europe. This was our best performance of the season.”

Earlier it hadn’t taken Berbatov too long to announce himself as a United presence – a delightful invitation for Tevez to puncture any Kop expectation inside three minutes.

Anderson played a ball to Berbatov inside the box and the Bulgarian held Carragher at bay before exposing Liverpool’s marking with an instinctive low cross for Tevez to confidently slam past Pepe Reina.

But just as United appeared to be on cruise control, breaking forward with confidence, Liverpool struck.

A long-range effort from Xabi Alonso ballooned off Patrice Evra inviting Liverpool new boy Albert Riera to chase it. Edwin van der Sar won the race but palmed the ball against Wes Brown and into his own goal.

Liverpool waited for the response. It didn’t materialise and when Steven Gerrard was sent on with 22 minutes to go it was Benitez’s side who looked the more likely winners.

And so it proved. Mascherano wriggled his way to the by-line and the equally hardworking Dirk Kuyt took over finding fellow Dutchman Ryan Babel who did the rest.

The joy around the red half of Merseyside which was compounded when Vidic received a second yellow card after clattering into Alonso. After a friendly exchange with Benitez at the final whistle Ferguson couldn’t help himself laying into the fourth official. That would have been nothing to what his side got later.