Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 2 - 1 Crewe

Liverpool's players responded to manager Rafael Benitez's pre-match challenge to earn themselves a place in his plans for Saturday's Merseyside derby with a comfortable 2-1 victory over Crewe in the third round of the Carling Cup.

Jermaine Pennant was a constant menace on the right flank while Lucas and Daniel Agger produced assured performances to give the Spaniard a selection poser for the game against Everton.

Agger gave Liverpool a 15th-minute lead from a free-kick before Michael O'Connor's equaliser 10 minutes later.

Pennant supplied Liverpool's second goal with a dangerous cross which was headed home by Lucas in the 58th minute but really the margin of the victory should have been greater.

While strengthening the Reds first team for a Barclays Premier League title challenge has been Benitez's priority he is attempting to build a squad to challenge on several fronts.

The manager included only one English player - Pennant - in his starting line-up as he handed debuts to Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri and Swiss defender Philipp Degen.

Sami Hyypia, named as captain, and Agger were recalled in central defence while there were places for Lucas, Emiliano Insua and Damien Plessis while Nabil El Zhar, Ryan Babel and David Ngog carried the attacking threat.

Crewe first-team coach Steve Holland included former Liverpool youth team defender Danny O'Donnell alongside captain Julien Baudet at the back.

Degen and Pennant linked up well down the right flank in the eighth minute to create Liverpool's first chance.

Breaking from a Crewe free-kick, Pennant slipped a clever ball to Degen on the overlap and he whipped a low cross into the penalty area but neither Ngog nor Babel were able to get a touch.

Pennant continued to provide the home side's best outlet and Crewe defender Billy Jones was lucky to escape a booking after a late challenge on the winger in the 12th minute.

Liverpool's pressure eventually paid off three minutes later after Ngog was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by O'Connor.

Denmark defender Agger took the resulting free-kick and smashed a powerful low effort past goalkeeper Steve Collis.

Crewe equalised in the 25th minute after Byron Moore's shot was deflected by Agger for a corner.

Jones crossed and Calvin Zola's header was parried by Cavalieri but O'Connor made amends for his earlier foul when he slammed home from close range.

The Railwaymen began to settle but it was Liverpool who created the next opportunity in the 41st minute.

Hyypia was picked out on the penalty spot by a Pennant corner but Collis blocked his shot and Plessis could only fire the loose ball into the crowd.

Babel went close moments after the interval when his shot from the left edge of the penalty area was deflected and wrong-footed Collis but looped on to the roof of the net.

Liverpool restored their lead in the 58th minute after good work down the right flank by the impressive Pennant.

The lively winger delivered a dangerous cross into the penalty area and Brazil midfielder Lucas timed his run superbly to direct a header past Collis.

Benitez surprisingly introduced Fernando Torres and the Spain international was immediately involved.

Pennant delivered another ball into the penalty area in the 82nd minute and Torres' header was tipped past the post by Collis.

The Crewe goalkeeper saved again from the Spaniard two minutes later after Torres had broke clear of the Crewe defence.

Liverpool were given a few late scares as Crewe pressed for an equaliser but held on to secure their place in the next round.

Liverpool To Make £8million January Swoop For Spurs' Lennon?

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is reportedly considering a January swoop for Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon, with the England International also said to be attracting attention from Aston Villa and Newcastle United.

21-year-old Lennon has been at White Hart Lane since joining from Leeds United in 2005, but despite making a promising start to his career at the North London side, which forced him into the England squad, Lennon has not pushed on to become the star many thought he would at Spurs.

With the arrival of David Bentley at Spurs from Blackburn Rovers, Lennon looks set to only play a bit part under Juande Ramos in the Premier League season and could be open to a move in the January transfer window.

Should Benitez decide to follow up on this reported interest in Lennon then it is believed that it would cost the Reds in the region of £8million to reunite the winger with former team-mate Robbie Keane, who left Spurs for Anfield earlier this summer.

However, Villans boss Martin O’Neill will also be keeping an eye on the situation, with the Irishman a big admirer of Lennon and his exceptional pace, but having signed James Milner from Newcastle would appear not to need Lennon. While the Magpies have still to fill the void left by the sale of Milner.

Benitez Wants New Deal For Agger

The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has revealed that he wants to offer Daniel Agger a new contract at Anfield. The Danish central defender hasn't featured in the first team since a disappointing performance in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier against Standard Li├Ęge and there had been reports that the 23-year-old was unhappy at being frozen out.

Benitez has now spoken out and revealed that the defender is very much part of his plans. "I have been talking to Daniel and he is ready, focused and really happy here," said Benitez. "I was on the flight to Marseille and I was thinking about we need to offer him a new contract. I was surprised when we landed and read some comments in the press.

"I spoke to him and he said, 'no problem, I am really happy here'. I am really pleased with him and I have a lot of confidence in him. He knows that we are playing well, that Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel are playing well and that maybe he needs to wait. The understanding between Carra and Skrtel has been good.

"I said that Daniel is one of the best centre-backs we have when he is fit and if he is fit it will be difficult for me. He needs games. He is a very good offensive centre-back when we are playing at Anfield. Clearly we missed Daniel last season. He is a centre-back but good on the ball and a threat for the other team too."

Rafael Benitez: I Had To Call On Fernando Torres

RELIEVED Rafael Benitez admitted he had to turn to Fernando Torres to help his second-string Liverpool sidestep a Carling Cup scare last night.

The Spaniard’s side edged past Coca-Cola League One outfit Crewe Alexandra with a 2-1 home victory in their third round tie.

Daniel Agger gave Liverpool the lead with a brilliant 20-yard free-kick on 15 minutes, only for Michael O’Connor to equalise for the visitors 10 minutes later.

Lucas’s 58th-minute header ultimately proved decisive, but the home team’s inability to score a killer third led to some nervy moments in the final minutes in which Crewe’s Tom Pope should have sent the game into extra time. Despite the Merseyside derby looming large on Saturday, Torres made a surprise appearance from the bench midway through the second half.

And Benitez explained: “It was a little too close for comfort in the end. As always in these kind of games, if you don’t kill the game off then the opposition keep going.

“We were a little bit nervous towards the end but we had enough chances to score the third goal. That’s why I brought Torres on, to try and score the third goal.

“Every competition is important to us. We knew they’d have to go forward and have to leave more space at the back looking for the equaliser, and you could see Torres is a player who can finish the game.

“I just wanted to give Torres a run-out. I was going to do the same with Robbie Keane but Philipp Degen had a problem and I had to bring Jamie Carragher on instead.”

Degen was helped off the field 17 minutes from time, and it emerged later the Swiss international, who was making a belated debut following a groin operation, had suffered two broken ribs.

Benitez fielded an entirely different starting XI to the one that was held to a goalless draw by Stoke City at Anfield at the weekend.

It gave a chance to a number of fringe players, with Agger scoring his third goal for the club and Lucas his second.

“We scored two good goals, Agger’s was a fantastic shot and Lucas is a player that likes to get into the box and can score more goals like the one he scored,” said Benitez.

“We had a lot of young players out there tonight. Some did better than others, but the work-rate was good for them all and the game was quick.

“We had two or three balls that we gave away easily, but we also had two or three chances at the end. If Torres had scored, it would have been easier for us. A third goal would have finished the game.”

Agger’s appearance was only his second in a year after his previous campaign was decimated by a metatarsal problem.

And Benitez added: “Both Agger and Sami Hyypia were good in defence. It will be a difficult decision for me now to decide who plays at centre-back as both were playing really well.”

Meanwhile, Crewe’s first team coach Steve Holland praised the performance of his players.

“If you can come to Anfield and have that chance to get something at the end of the game, it reflects what I thought was a good performance from the players,” he said. “You do wonder what might have been had that chance at the end gone in.

“Torres coming on perhaps was a compliment about how well we were playing. There was a mass brawl to get his shirt at the end!

“I thought there would be one or two more of the younger players playing for Liverpool, and half expected one or two of the reserve regulars to play. When we got the teamsheet we knew all of the names, they aren’t necessarily regulars, but they are good players.

“But when you look at their subs bench, I said to our subs that I didn’t fancy their chances in the half-time seven-v-seven!”

Pennant Hopes For More Chances

Jermaine Pennant is hopeful he can force his way back into contention for a regular place in Liverpool's starting line-up after an impressive performance in their 2-1 Carling Cup win over Crewe.

Pennant was a constant menace on the right flank and delivered the cross for Lucas to score the winning goal after Daniel Agger's free-kick had given Liverpool the lead on Tuesday night.

The 25-year-old winger had been linked with a move away from Anfield before the transfer window closed but is now determined to fight for his place.

Pennant said: "It is very frustrating to know that you've been a playing such big part of the team and all of a sudden you are in the shadows but that's the manager's choice and you just have to get on with it.

"If you get your chance you have to make the most of it and when teams come to Anfield it's their cup final so it can be difficult.

"We have got a lot of strength in the squad which is why it is so hard to get in the team so I'll keep plugging away and see what happens.

"It was nice to play a game - whether it's the Carling Cup or any game it's good to get a run out I and enjoyed every minute of it.

"It gives another us chance to play another game and if the draw is good we can go further in the competition."

Manager Rafael Benitez confirmed that Philipp Degen was withdrawn after he broke two ribs in the match and was replaced by Jamie Carragher.

Benitez also admitted he was pleased to give the emerging talents of Emiliano Insua, Nabil El Zhar and Damien Plessis a chance to shine at Anfield.

"It was good to see some young players and it is important for their confidence," Benitez said.

"Clearly to see how the young players do against stronger players is very important and also to see how they perform against these types of teams.

"I think that we have a lot of young players who did well today - their work-rate was good.

"They competed really well, it was a good test and it also allows us to rest some of the senior players."

Crewe first-team coach Steve Holland was proud of the way the Coca-Cola League One outfit acquitted themselves.

"There was a mass brawl to get Fernando Torres' shirt afterwards but overall I think they didn't show any signs of nerves on the night," he added.

"We acquitted ourselves well - we stuck to our game plan and could have even have nicked an equaliser at the end with a couple of late chances."

Degen Suffers Cup Knock

Liverpool defender Philipp Degen is facing a frustrating spell on the sidelines after breaking two ribs.

The Switzerland international picked up the knock while on Carling Cup duty against Crewe on Tuesday.

Degen had to be replaced by Jamie Carragher after 73 minutes and appeared to be in some discomfort after suffering the blow in an innocuous looking challenge.

The news comes as a major setback to the 25-year-old as he looks to establish himself at Anfield following his summer arrival at the club.

"He has broken two ribs," Reds boss Rafa Benitez told the club's official website.

"He is very unlucky."