Thursday, September 18, 2008

Match Report: Marseille 1 - 2 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard played a captain's role by taking his Liverpool goals tally to 99 as the Merseysiders opened their Champions League group campaign with a crucial win.

The Stade Velodrome had been the venue for Liverpool's European salvation last season, and Gerrard made sure it was a welcome return to the south of France.

Marseille had taken the lead early on through their skipper Lorik Cana, but Gerrard - already Liverpool's record scorer in Europe - grabbed a fine equaliser with an outstanding 25-yard curler.

Then six minutes later he cracked home a twice-taken penalty to give Liverpool something to hang on to.

And they needed to fight hard as the French side battled bravely in the second period, but Liverpool clinched their victory with a defiant rearguard action.

The Reds included both Gerrard and Fernando Torres in their starting line-up for the opening group D clash.

Both key players have been recovering from injury and their inclusion was a major boost for the Anfield club.

Andreas Dossena came into the side in place of calf-injury victim Fabio Arbeloa, while Lucas took over in midfield from Xabi Alonso.

Marseille, who won 1-0 in the Champions League last term at Anfield before losing the return 4-0, included Hatem Ben Arfa, their £10m signing from Lyon, who had recovered from an ankle problem.

Skipper Cana also returned, having been rested at the weekend in the draw at Bordeaux.

Liverpool had opted for caution with Robbie Keane and Albert Riera both on the bench. Gerrard was being used in the attacking midfield role that worked to such good effect last season, and several times early on Liverpool could have scored.

After just seven minutes, Steve Mandanda tipped over a Lucas header and soon afterwards Dirk Kuyt's pass set-up Ryan Babel.

The Dutchman created the space with his first touch but blasted a good opening high over. Then Gerrard forced Mandanda into a diving save before Torres saw a header clear the far angle.

Marseille had chances of their own. Mamadou Niang was clear on the left but wasted the opportunity, shooting high over. Martin Skrtel was booked for a late tackle on Niang after 20 minutes as the game became surprisingly open.

But after 23 minutes the French side were ahead when they caught Liverpool square and punished them with a fine goal.

Rarely are Liverpool exposed straight through the middle, but when Benoit Cheyrou's first-time ball sent Cana clear, his quality side-footed finish sent the Velodrome fans wild.

Liverpool's response was emphatic.

Two minutes later Torres won possession on the halfway line and presented Kuyt with a pass on the right that was instantly played into Gerrard's path.

The Liverpool skipper struck a first-time, curling effort from 25-yards that soared over Mandanda into the far corner for the equaliser.

And after 31 minutes Liverpool were ahead. Babel's sharp turn in the box ended with Ronald Zubar's trip and a penalty. Zubar was booked before Gerrard struck the ball past Mandanda off the post.

But Austrian referee Konrad Plautz ordered a re-take because Kuyt had encroached into the box. Gerrard kept his nerve and clinically netted a second time to put Liverpool ahead.

The double strike extended Gerrard's European goals record for the club. Last season, in the Anfield side's 4-0 win in Marseille, Gerrard's goal that night broke Michael Owen's benchmark of 23.

He extended that tally later in the competition to 25, and two more here in the opening half for the captain stretched his tally to 27, and 99 for the club in all competitions.

Marseille were stunned and soon sent on Mathieu Valbuena for the injured Modeste M'Bami after 41 minutes.

Ben Arfa lasted until the 56th minute before his ankle problem forced him off, Karim Ziani taking over.

The game was still very open. Babel almost forced the ball around Mandanda at one end, while Liverpool were making too many defensive errors at the other for Benitez to rest easy.

Marseille could easily have been level when Vitorino Hilton met a corner with a fierce downward header that Jose Reina managed to hold on to.

Liverpool sent on Riera after 64 minutes for Torres, who had looked short of pace after his spell out, before Ziani struck a 12-yarder over the bar as Marseille searched for parity.

The Reds then withdrew Gerrard after 68 minutes, sending on Yossi Benayoun with Babel now the lone striker.

Liverpool had got the most possible out of their recently-injured stars, and it was now left to their colleagues to withstand a mounting Marseille onslaught.

Ziani fired over again before Mamadou Samassa replaced Bakari Kone.

Babel saw a golden chance to finish the contest go to waste after 74 minutes when Riera and Benayoun set him up close in, only for Mandanda to save the point-blank effort.

The youngster then struck the post after 78 minutes as he surged through on the left. But still Marseille came forward searching for the equaliser as Liverpool sought to punish them on the break.

With five minutes left, Kuyt was replaced by Keane, fresh legs to the cause as Liverpool continued to hang on.

Niang saw a diving header go wide from a right-wing cross, Marseille still fighting for an equaliser.

Reina saved superbly in injury-time from Niang and Liverpool had their victory.

Gerrard Hopes For 100th Goal

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard hopes his 100th goal for the club will prove to be 'a special one'.

Gerrard took his tally for the Reds to 99 on Tuesday with a decisive brace in the UEFA Champions League group win over Marseille.

The midfielder's first goal for the club arrived in December 1999 against Sheffield Wednesday and he is now on the brink of a personal landmark.

However, Gerrard insists the priority is for Liverpool to keep winning and he accepts there will have to be an improvement upon the Marseille performance.

"I hope it's a special one," Gerrard told Sky Sports about the prospect of his 100th Liverpool goal.

"Hopefully it will come sooner rather than later.

"I'm not thinking about that, I'm just thinking about winning football matches for the team.

"Tonight was a good win, but we'll certainly have to up the performance."

Rafa Sees Room For Improvement

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez believes his side must find another gear despite coming from behind to secure a vital victory against Olympique Marseille last night.

The Reds triumphed 2-1 in their Champions League opener at the Stade Velodrome thanks to a captain's brace from fit-again Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool conceded the first goal of the game to l'OM skipper Lorik Cana midway through the first half, but Gerrard rallied with a 20-yard stunner and a penalty to put his side ahead eight minutes later.

However, the Merseyside club were under the pump throughout the second period and could well have left the south of France with nothing were it not for the heroics of under-siege 'keeper Pepe Reina.

And while Benitez was pleased with the result, he insisted the performance was not quite up to scratch - especially when compared to their domination of Manchester United on Saturday.

“The key was to get a third goal and finish the game. When we couldn’t do that we were a bit lucky in the end,” the Spaniard told the press.

“Coming from behind tells me we need to improve in defence but also that the mentality is very good.

“We are ready for winning and recovering from bad situations.

“The first game in your group is really important to win. It puts us in a good position. PSV and Atletico Madrid will find it difficult here.”

Mascherano Hails The Gerrard Effect

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano has praised his Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in the wake of the club's 2-1 victory over Marseille last night.

Gerrard struck a first-half brace to give the Merseysiders a satisfactory start to Group D. The 28-year-old netted a penalty on the half hour after levelling Lorik Cana's opener with a majestic curling effort that beat Steve Mandanda all ends up.

His midfield colleague Javier Mascherano has hailed his captain's impact and revealed the pleasure of playing with Gerrard on the field.

He told "What a player. With a world-class player like Stevie, it's always a joy and you just try to give him responsibility on the pitch."

Mascherano put in a tireless display in Liverpool's win over Manchester United on Saturday, leading to some observers concluding that it was his best performance in a Liverpool shirt. The Reds started the 2-1 Anfield win without their skipper, who was recovering from double-groin surgery. He was fit enough to play only 22 minutes of the encounter.

However, Gerrard was sufficiently able to take his place in last night's starting line-up and responded with a match-winning display.

His Argentinean team-mate was eager to emphasise the importance of Gerrard to the side, and hailed his effect on the team.

He continued: "He's very good for us and we can play with confidence when he's there. Marseille had four or five players in attack who played very well. They were good between the lines, very quick and it was difficult to contain them, but Stevie made the difference for us."

Pepe Positive After Liverpool Win

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina is in a positive state of mind after his side came from behind to claim three points in Marseille last night.

Liverpool were trailing to Lorik Cana's opener before Steven Gerrard rescued the tie with a brace at the other end. The Reds captain netted a twice taken penalty kick to put alongside his fantastic leveller from 25 yards.

However, it is with the penalty kick that his goalkeeper Pepe Reina is most impressed. After being told to re-spot his penalty, Gerrard successfully dispatched the kick beyond Steve Mandanda a second time.

Reina told the club's official website: "The nerve of Steven Gerrard is unbelievable. He showed he can handle the pressure in this situation. It was incredible. That's why he's Stevie."

After the game, the squad member of Spain's Euro 2008 triumph was singled out for praise following a string of fine stops.

Liverpool have made a great start to the competition this season as they feature in what is probably the most difficult group to negotiate.

Reina lavished the praise on last night's opposition, but revealed his happiness at having secured the first three points of the campaign.

He continued: "We knew it would be tough because Marseille are a better side than they were last season. They were difficult to handle between the lines because they have skilful players with pace. They created problems for us but you expect that in Europe.

"It's a great start for us and it gives us the confidence to look forward. We are very happy.

"The positive thing is we have a winning mentality and players who can come in and do a job at the same level as those they are replacing. There is still a lot of room for improvement though and we have to keep working hard day after day."

Liverpool FC Legend John Barnes Is New Jamaica Coach

LIVERPOOL legend John Barnes will take over as Jamaican national team coach on November 1 - with the task of guiding the tiny nation to the World Cup finals.

Barnes, whose only experience of coaching was a stint at Celtic from June 1999 to February 2000, has signed a one-year contract.

Born in Jamaica he was the unanimous choice of the Jamaican Football Federation.

Jamaican chief Horace Burrell said: “John has a lot of experience playing at the highest level.

“He’s in fact an icon to many black players. He has had a short stint in coaching, but we believe that this individual has enough in him, and with a good support staff, we can see Jamaica through to this round of the qualifiers and beyond.

“In international football you need an individual with international stature. Having a coach of international repute opens a number of opportunities for our national team.

“Many countries will invite you to play friendlies only because of the image and reputation of your coach.

“When an icon like John Barnes becomes the coach of Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz team, immediately the international spotlight shines on Jamaica in every single aspect of the sport.

Former Tranmere star Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore will lead the Reggae Boyz in their next two CONCACAF Group B semi-final World Cup qualifying games against Mexico and Honduras in Kingston next month. Barnes’ first match in charge will be against Canada on November 19.

Brazilian technical director, Rene Simoes, was sacked last Thursday. The Boyz crashed to Honduras 2-0 in San Pedro Sula the night before – a result that flung the qualifying campaign to the 2010 South Africa World Cup in a spin after “top players” were consistently left out of the team, with Hull striker Marlon King in particular consistently overlooked.

Burrell added: “The JFF feels very confident that with the new adjustments, we will make it to South Africa 2010.

“We have to go for the experienced players. Mexico, Honduras and Canada all have professional players.”

Tommy Smith: Liverpool Made Us Feel So Proud

NO COLUMNIST enjoys giving stick to players - but sometimes you have to do it.

So it is only fair that after a performance like Saturday's, every Liverpool player involved gets a huge pat on the back from me.

That is what they all thoroughly deserve after a magnificent performance against Manchester United, one which lifted the heart of every Reds fan, including me.

Let's be honest, when we saw the team sheet was missing Torres and Gerrard, it looked like we really were up against it.

But the players rose to the challenge and produced terrific performances all over the Anfield pitch.

Liverpool have perhaps been guilty of a lack of belief at times against United and the fact we hadn't beaten them for so long in the league was clearly a factor in that.

But faint hearts never win anything – and it was great to see the confidence and togetherness of the lads.

Rafa Benitez rightly highlighted the character they showed after going down to that early Tevez goal. I was delighted to see the team not shrinking but growing and fighting their way back with such obvious determination and self belief.

We closed United down at every opportunity. Mascherano led the way and was wonderful; Dirk Kuyt as usual never stopped while Xabi Alonso gave his best performance for a long time and had a huge influence on the outcome. And while Robbie Keane may not have performed miracles in possession, he tore around tormenting United's defenders..

Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel were rocks at the back and Arbeloa also showed just how solid and committed he can be.

The fans too played their part. These lunchtime kick offs usually affect the mood inside the ground but on Saturday in the sunshine it felt more like a European night.

A word too for Rafa Benitez. Once again he got it right with his tactics and the use of his substitutes. He put Ryan Babel on at just the right time and gave him the right orders. The manager must take credit for the fact that Babel popped up as the match winner.

The challenge now must be to take this long overdue win over United and bottle it.

If we show this sort of spirit and determination against all our opponents in the league then I’m sure we will make the progress we are all desperate to see this year.

The message to the players is simple.

Well done lads – in future pretend you are playing United every time you take to the pitch!

With an attitude like Saturday's we won't go far wrong.

Hamburg To Make £14million January Raid For Liverpool Striker Kuyt?

SV Hamburg coach Martin Jol is reportedly considering another move for Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt in the January transfer window after making an approach this summer for the Dutch International, which came to nothing due to the asking price from the Reds, according to reports.

28-year-old Kuyt has two years left on his current contract at Anfield after making the switch to the Premier League from Ererdivisie team Feyenoord in 2006 on a four-year deal to the Merseyside club.

Former Tottenham Hotspur boss Jol is a big admirer of his fellow Dutchman, with Jol attempting to bring the forward to Spurs, while he was in charge at White hart Lane, but eventually missed out to Rafa Benitez’s side.

However, it is now understood that Jol is preparing a £14million bid for Kuyt in the January window, which could prove enough to let Benitez let Kuyt leave Anfield for the Nordbank Arena.

Kuyt has been quoted recently as saying that Jol was someone he would want to work with in the future.

“Martin Jol is one of the best Dutch coaches, someone who I want to work with possibly in the future,” Kuyt told Sportsweek recently.

“I am happy at Liverpool. My contract still has two more years to run.”

Ablett Throws Down CupGauntlet

Gary Ablett has thrown down a League Cup gauntlet to his young starlets ahead of their clash with Sunderland tonight.

With the Carling Cup third round tie against Crewe Alexandra beckoning at Anfield next Tuesday night, Ablett is hoping the likes of Stephen Darby and Jay Spearing can impress manager Rafael Benitez and give him a selection poser.

The likes of Darby, Spearing, Damien Plessis and Emiliano Insua are expected to be involved against the Black Cats but Krisztian Nemeth is ruled out after picking up a knock on international duty with Hungary.

"I would hope some of the lads might get a chance against Crewe but we know the size of Rafa's first-team squad," Ablett told
"There's about 26 players in his squad now and it's going to be ever so difficult to get an opportunity. There's a lot of players who haven't played on a regular basis so far and they are going to want to play some football.

"Only Rafa knows what his plans are for Crewe and we will just have to wait and see how results go in the meantime.

"It's interesting when you speak to the likes of Carra and Stevie G about how the young lads did during pre-season and they have nothing but praise for them.

"Darby is the captain and one of those lads that would run through a brick wall for this club. He has got a fantastic attitude in training and during the matches. You ask him to do a job for the team and he will never complain. He will just get on with it and do it to the best of his ability which, nine times out of 10, will be a fantastic performance.

"Unfortunately, Nemeth picked up an injury while on international duty with Hungary Under-21s, but he's back in training and hopefully will be ready for a game in a week to 10 days."

Tonight's visit is the second north east trip of the season for Ablett's men after their opening 1-0 win at Middlesbrough. The jaunt to Hetton-Le-Hole is always a poignant visit for any Liverpool side with it being the birthplace of the great Bob Paisley.

The season before Ablett made his senior debut for Liverpool, Paisley was advisor to manager Kenny Dalglish, and as a young boy coming through the ranks he was well aware of just how special the great man was.

"I remember just being totally in awe of the man when you walked past him down the corridor," he added. "You look around Anfield and Melwood now and you see the foundations that Bob and Bill Shankly made. We've got them to be ever so thankful for.

"This club has got fantastic links up in Hetton-Le-Hole with Bob. It's a great chance for some of our young players to know about the history and the personality that Bob was, and what an influence he had on Liverpool."

Sunderland were the last team to beat Liverpool in the Barclays Premier Reserve League North when they won 1-0 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in October 2007. However, Ablett's side got their revenge with a 1-0 win in the return game in Hetton-Le-Hole.

"We were unlucky not to take something out of that game we lost to Sunderland, and I remember Emiliano Insua hitting the bar and their 'keeper making a great save from Jay Spearing," said Ablett.

"When we beat them in the return fixture that was a very difficult game. Sunderland normally play a few seniors against us but it's one we are looking forward to, because we know on our day we can beat anyone.

"It was a bit of magic and strength from Nemeth that won us the game last season. He held their new centre half off and finished with a lob over the goalkeeper. It was a fantastic goal.

"We know teams want to beat us so we need to be prepared and go and play at the best of our ability every time we play. It was a good start for us beating Middlesbrough we want to show everyone what we are capable of again this season."

Spanish teenager Dani Pacheco caught the eye against 'Boro with a man of the match display, and Ablett has promised there is a lot more to come from the 17-year-old this season.

"Dani has had a great start to his career with us," said Ablett. "With him being so young last year we felt it would be more beneficial to let him settle in and keep bring him on as a substitute.

"Rafa gave him a chance with the first team during pre-season and he did particularly well. Our job is to keep him motivated at our level and we saw signs against Middlesbrough that he is quite prepared to do that. He passed the ball as well as I've ever seen him and he made the goal for Jordy.

"The disappointing thing from my point of view is when he went clean through on goal and hit the post. That's something we've got to get into Dani's game, get him scoring more goals but that will happen. He's still young and will keep improving."