Sunday, September 21, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 0 - 0 Stoke City

Defiant Stoke stopped unbeaten Liverpool in their tracks at Anfield with a magnificent rearguard action.

Liverpool dominated throughout, had close on 70% possession, but just could not find a way past goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and his outstanding defenders.

Stoke play to their strengths - being direct and physical - but they deserved their day in the sun.

They halted a Liverpool side who had beaten Manchester United and Marseille in the previous week.

Manager Rafael Benitez rested Ryan Babel, Javier Mascherano and Lucas to the bench with Robbie Keane, Albert Riera and Xabi Alonso returning.

Stoke had former Liverpool midfielder Salif Diao in their side, his first start of the season while Amdy Faye was suspended.

Leon Cort and Ricardo Fuller were also on the bench after playing against Everton last weekend, Mamady Sidibe and Abdoulaye Faye returned.

Gerrard thought he had scored his 100th club goal after just two minutes when referee Andre Marriner gave a free-kick for a push in the back on Fernando Torres.

The captain's curling free-kick from the left looked to have been missed by everyone-- including Sorensen - as the ball sailed on into the far corner, with Dirk Kuyt throwing himself at it on the far post, without making contact.

All Gerrard's colleagues rushed to congratulate their captain but a linesman's flag surprisingly cut short the celebrations.

Stoke responded with a 20-yard shot from Dave Kitson just over, while at the other end Sorensen needed to save smartly from a Robbie Keane first-time effort.

Gerrard kept trying and his next effort, a 20-yard free-kick, that Sorensen held comfortably.

Stoke were continually forced back with Liverpool keeping possession and passing well.

Such was Liverpool's territorial advantage that centre-back Martin Skrtel was spending considerable time linking in midfield.

Stoke lost Ibrahima Sonko with a leg injury after 21 minutes, to be replaced by Cort, while Sidibe needed to change his shirt after a gashed eye left him blood-stained.

But despite the constantly flowing attacks Stoke did not panic despite keeping two men up front whenever they could manage.

The tactic gave Liverpool plenty of space and possession, with Andrea Dossena joining Riera down the left almost at will.

Sorensen punched away another Alonso long-range strike and Torres had a drive charged down.

But there was great resilience and organisation about Stoke, with Diao screening the defence where Faye, Danny Higginbotham and Cort were standing firm against the barrage.

Kuyt fired wide and Gerrard saw another right-footer sail wide, while Alonso clattered another 20-yard shot over the top as the Potters reached the break unscathed.

Six minutes into the second period Keane almost ended his goal famine. Alvaro Arbeloa and Kuyt combined down the right and when the cross arrived on the six-yard line Kuyt's stabbed effort was well saved by Sorensen.

Liverpool continued to pour forward but frustration was creeping in with too many players trying increasingly erratic long-range efforts.

Stoke grew in confidence and they started to win set-pieces inside Liverpool's half, while the hosts were becoming wasteful.

Kuyt's lay-off saw Torres side-foot over from 10 yards before Babel replaced Riera after 65 minutes.

Sorensen had to save well from Kuyt, while another curler from the Dutchman just cleared the far post.

Yossi Benayoun then replaced Keane, with Jamie Carragher and Gerrard seeing efforts go close from outside the box.

Gerrard had another effort deflected wide by Cresswell with Stoke now camped in their own final third. Ricardo Fuller came on for Kitson after 77 minutes.

Liverpool's nerves were jangling every time Stoke won a throw or set-piece and for one Delap effort all 11 players were called back into defence.

A Gerrard run and Benayoun pass ended with Torres spinning to lash yet another effort into the Kop.

Skrtel was booked for a foul on Fuller, but Stoke hung on, throwing bodies in the way of numerous crosses and shots.

Rafa: Massive Mistake Costs Us

Rafa Benitez was left cursing a 'massive' refereeing error which denied Liverpool a crucial opener in Saturday's stalemate with newly-promoted Stoke.

Steven Gerrard appeared to have opened the scoring after just three minutes only for the linesman to flag for no valid reason.

"Nobody knows why it was disallowed," Benitez told reporters after the final whistle at Anfield.

"The referee told Carra that he – and not the linesman - disallowed the goal but I don't think he knows why. With the position the referee was in, how could he disallow it? It was unbelievable and we have to talk about it because it was a key decision.

"It is impossible to explain.

"The other thing we have to talk about when you forget about the massive mistake is the game. We had plenty of possession, tried from both sides and between the lines, had corners and free-kicks and long shots - but we couldn't score. This is football sometimes, but the players worked really hard.

"Sometimes you need a bit more luck or sometimes a bit more ability in the final third.

"I don't know how many attempts we had. It's difficult to find a solution when you have 25 to 30 chances – you just have to do the same again and maybe it will be different next time."

Once Keane Breaks Anfield Duck He Won't Stop Scoring, Says Torres

Fernando Torres believes the slow start to Robbie Keane's Liverpool career will be forgotten once the Republic of Ireland international gets his first goal for the club. The Spain striker, who scored three goals in his first eight appearances after moving to Merseyside from Atlético Madrid, expects his forward partner to make up for lost time once he has broken his duck.

Keane has not found the net in his first seven league and cup games following a £20.3m move from Tottenham Hotspur, the only blip to an otherwise healthy start to the season for Rafa Benítez's side. Liverpool will replace Chelsea - who play Manchester United tomorrow - at the top of the table for at least 24 hours if they defeat Stoke City at Anfield and mark their best start to a Premier League season after five matches, beating the 12 points they amassed in the 1993-94 campaign.

"I know Robbie is going to be a very important player for us. Maybe he needs to score his first goal, then he'll go on to score a lot more as that's the type of player he is," said Torres. "When you arrive you want to score straight away to relieve the pressure. He is just waiting and wanting to score that first goal and he is a great player to have in the dressing room. I know Robbie from watching him back when I was at Atlético, so if we want to win trophies we will need players like him."

Whereas Keane scored on his debuts for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Coventry City and was soon among the goals at Internazionale, Leeds United and Tottenham, he is struggling to get his name on the scoresheet for the club he supported as a boy. Yet the player is not feeling the pressure, according to Benítez. "I was speaking to Robbie the other day and I told him that everything would be fine," said the Liverpool manager. "He said: 'Listen, I think you are more worried than me.'"

Despite his difficulties, Keane will fancy his chances today as Stoke pay their first league visit to Anfield for 23 years. Liverpool stuck eight goals past them the last time the clubs met, in a League Cup tie eight years ago, Robbie Fowler helping himself to a hat-trick.

Steven Gerrard, who is on 99 career goals for Liverpool after scoring twice in midweek against Marseille in the Champions League, will be itching to complete his century ahead of next Saturday's derby against Everton at Goodison Park.

"We are lucky to have the best midfielder in the world," said Benítez. "He doesn't just score goals, he scores fantastic goals. If he scores against Stoke we will be very pleased."

Liverpool Charged Over Ziege Approach

LIVERPOOL have been charged by the Premier League with making an illegal approach for former player Christian Ziege while he was at Middlesbrough.

Ziege, the German international defender now at Tottenham, has also been charged in connection with the transfer.

Both the Anfield club and Ziege have been given 14 days to respond to the charges, and are likely to face a Premier League disciplinary commission.

The charges follow a complaint from Middlesbrough over the transfer of Ziege to Liverpool for £5.5million at the start of last season.

The charges follow a 10-month investigation into allegations made by the Teesside club, and are a severe embarrassment to Liverpool and manager Gerard Houllier, who last year described Middlesbrough's claims as "laughable".

A Premier League spokesman said that the charges related to "approaches made to a player registered to another club, without the permission of that club, via his agent."

In an article in a Middlesbrough match programme in October last year, Boro chairman Steve Gibson said the club had given Ziege a get-out clause on compassionate grounds following his move from AC Milan the previous year.

Gibson said: "We were aware that Ziege had suffered greatly in Italy and that he did not want a repeat of that. To safeguard the club's position we took comfort in the rules of the Premier League, where it is written law that no player can induce or look to seek another club during the length of his contract, and neither can any Premier League club look to induce a player to break his contract.

"In addition there is a confidentiality agreement within the contract which forbids the club discussing the contract, or the player discussing any part of a contract to third parties.

"We believe that both Christian Ziege and Liverpool broke the rules of the Premier League and we are seeking redress to this situation."

If the charges are proved, Middlesbrough will seek compensation for a player they valued at £8 million.

Fernando Torres Needs A Rest, Admits Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez conceded last night that star striker Fernando Torres is suffering a hangover from the incredible 12 months which catapulted him to world fame.

Torres is now a major candidate to become World Footballer of the Year after scoring a staggering 34 goals in his first season at Liverpool.

He then grabbed the winner for Spain in the European Championship Final.

But such high profile exploits have taken their toll on the shy 24-year-old, who admits he is uncomfortable in the spotlight.

And Benitez explained that the Spanish superstar is struggling for form and fitness at the start of the new campaign, after a punishing workload during his first season in the Premiership.

"We have to accept that Nando is not at the level that he can play because the pre-season has been difficult for him, and also because he has been injured," Benitez revealed.

"He had a big first season with Liverpool and then went all the way to the final with Spain.

"We need to remember that Fernando came back late because of the European Championships.

"That makes it difficult for him and he is not yet 100 per cent fit.

"Physically, he is not at his normal level and I would be really worried if he was right now because it would mean in two months' time he would struggle after everything he has been through."

Benitez knows that Torres is far from his best after such a draining year, but believes it is better for the club that the striker remains low profile in his return to full fitness and comes back gradually.

"I am not worried about him at all. He has quality and he can play well.

"He is 24 and will only improve. I am sure that every week he will be better," said Benitez. "Remember, he has had his pre-season disrupted and it is different for a striker than a midfielder or a defender because they are under more pressure and if you have been injured and not fit it is more difficult.

"He will improve little by little - the same as the other players. But he is not our only option.

"When we signed Keane we knew we were getting a striker who can score 15 goals every year.

"The question was to add the goals of Keane to the goals of Torres and Gerrard.

"At least we can change if we need to change something in a game, or use different players if one is unfit or out of form.

"Against Manchester United we had Keane and Kuyt and it worked very well. We didn't need Torres for that game, so we have many more options this time.

"But don't worry. Fernando will get back to his best level."

It is more likely that he will miss the Carling Cup game against League One Crewe.

Youngsters Take On Owls

Liverpool Under-18s take on Sheffield Wednesday this morning boosted by the return of wing wizards David Amoo and Alex Kacaniklic.

The pair missed last weekend's 3-2 win over Newcastle United with injury but are back to face the Owls. German youngster Christopher Buchtmann is also in line for his first start of the season for Hughie McAuley’s team at left back.

The young Reds have scored nine goals in their opening four games, of which three have been victories. Their only defeat came 2-0 at Coventry City when they were perhaps unfortunate not to have taken anything from that game.

"We have done well so far this season and we certainly have players in our team that are capable of winning football matches," McAuley told

"We have only lost once so far and we were unlucky against Coventry. The game against Wednesday will be similar in the sense it will be a difficult game. They will try and make things difficult for us and it will be a battle but we have to compete with them and try and let our football do the talking.

"It's good to have Amoo and Kacaniklic available again as they started the season really well. They love to take on defenders and on their day can be a real handful to the opposition.

"Buchtmann is available again and he gives us more options in the wide areas."

Rafa Hails Number Two Lee

Rafael Benitez has spoken of his admiration for number two Sammy Lee and believes he has had a big impact on the team this season.

The Reds boss said Lee's infectious enthusiasm for the club never ceases to amaze him and added his help has been invaluable.

"I think we have made a fantastic addition this season with Sammy Lee," said Rafa.

"Sammy knows the mentality of the fans, he knows the mentality of the players so little by little we are bringing back something that we needed."

Rafael Benitez Seeks To Reassure Liverpool Supporters

Rafael Benítez interrupted his preparation for today’s match against Stoke City — in which victory would send his Liverpool side to the top of the Barclays Premier League — to spend four hours with a delegation of fans from the Spirit of Shankly (SOS) supporters’ union on Thursday. The Liverpool manager covered a wide range of subjects during the discussions but reassured the fans that his future lies at Anfield.

The meeting came five days after George Gillett Jr., the club’s co-owner, held face-to-face talks with the SOS group. Then, the supporters left bemused, after the American expressed the view that the club were in a “sound financial state”, despite Gillett and Tom Hicks, his fellow owner, plunging the club into debt with a £350 million refinancing package and failing to provide funds for the promised new stadium.

After talking to Benítez, the SOS mood was more upbeat. The Spaniard admitted to sharing the supporters’ frustrations with the political turmoil behind the scenes at Anfield but refused to be drawn on ownership issues or his relationship with Rick Parry, the chief executive, saying he preferred to concentrate on the progress of the team. Benítez was keen, however, to emphasise his commitment to the club, informing the fans’ delegation that he had no career plans other than to bring success to Anfield. The manager illustrated this by detailing his intention to revamp the club’s academy.

He also said that Sammy Lee had been brought back to Anfield’s backroom staff not just for his coaching ability but because, as a former player, he could strengthen the present regime’s links with the club’s tradition.

“It was a very good meeting,” a member of the SOS delegation said. “The manager showed his passion for the club and convinced us that he is taking Liverpool in the right direction.”

Yesterday, Benítez turned his attention back to the matter in hand. With Chelsea, the leaders, playing tomorrow, victory over Stoke would put Liverpool top of the table for the first time in 12 months. The Spaniard is aware, however, that the Premier League newcomers will present a difficult challenge. “We must match them physically and also make sure the technical aspects of our game and our tactics prevail,” Benítez said. “We know every challenge will be hard, but we have the quality to make the difference.”

Benítez is unconcerned about the form of Robbie Keane, who has failed to score in eight appearances for the club since his arrival from Tottenham Hotspur for a projected £20.3 million in the summer. The manager gave the Ireland striker a vote of confidence yesterday, praising his all-round game. “I am not concerned about this [Keane's lack of goals] — his effort and work for the team is outstanding,” he said.

Fernando Torres backed Keane to have a big influence on the season. “I know Robbie is going to be a very important player for us,” the Liverpool striker said. “Maybe he needs to score his first goal and then he will go on to score a lot more.”

Keane, 28, said that his experience is helping him to cope with the slow start at Anfield. “I have not scored yet and that is something that I want to do, but it is also not something I am too worried about,” the forward said. “If I was a young lad and a bit naive, I would probably be really worried about it, but as long as the team is winning and I keep working hard, that is all I can do. My first goal is just around the corner and hopefully many more will follow.”

Slow Starter Keane Given Double Boost To Confidence

MISFIRING striker Robbie Keane has been given a double vote of confidence that he’ll soon be hitting the goals trail – by both strike partner Fernando Torres and manager Rafael Benitez.

Despite netting for the Republic of Ireland against Norway last month, Keane, who will be hoping to open his account this afternoon against a Stoke side who have conceded 12 goals in five games this season, has so far failed to find the goals to justify his £20million price tag since arriving at Anfield.

Now 11 games including friendlies into his fledgling career on Merseyside, Keane has still to hit the mark in a Liverpool jersey and was axed from the starting line-up by Benitez for Tuesday, only coming on four the final four minutes of the 2-1 win over Marseille in the Champions League.

However, with the player a notoriously slow starter to campaigns – he broke his duck on the corresponding weekend for Tottenham against Bolton last season before going on to net 23 times for the Londoners – Keane has been backed to start finding the net soon by striker partner Fernando Torres.

Torres, who bagged 33 goals in his debut season at Anfield, said: “I know Robbie is going to be a very important player for us.

“Once he scores his first goal, he will go on to score a lot more, because that is the sort of player he is.

“You want to score straight away to relieve the pressure when you join a new club.

“But I know Robbie from watching him when I was with Atletico, and I know we will need players like him if we want to win trophies.”

The player himself seems unconcerned by his continuing goal drought and even had to reassure his manager that he was feeling fine.

Benitez revealed: “I talked with him two weeks ago and said don’t be anxious and he said: ‘Listen, you are more worried than me!’ It was okay.”

The Spaniard believes that Keane’s barren streak is similar to similar runs for Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt under his stewardship but he does not feel it is a major problem.

He said: “I am really pleased with Robbie. He is doing a very good job.

“The other day Robbie and Kuyt were doing really well against United.

“It is just that we have the same situation now that we had with Crouch – people talking about when he will score.

“I am sure that as soon as he scores the first goal, you will see a lot of them.”

Benitez added: “I have spoken to him during the training sessions when we talk about movement but he has experience and he is clever.

“I said try to play well. I will be really pleased if you play well and we continue winning.

“It doesn’t matter if you score or not. It would be better for everyone, but if you don't score and we win then that is good.”

And Keane himself has insisted he is not worried about his failure to find the net.

He said: “Obviously I realise I have not scored yet and that is something that I want to do, but it is also not something I am too worried about.

“If I was a young lad and a bit naive, then I would probably be really worried about it, but as long as the team is winning and I keep working hard, then that is all I can do.

“I know I will get my reward for all the hard work I have put in. I think my first goal is just around the corner. Hopefully when that does come, many more will follow.”

Keane believes the continued support of the Anfield crowd will help him along.

He said: “The crowd have been brilliant to me since I came here. It has been everything I expected, what with being a Liverpool fan already. They are always the 12th man behind the ball and were roaring us on against Manchester United last week.

“They have really been great to me, and I can feel everyone pushing me on to get my first goal and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.”