Sunday, October 19, 2008

LiverpooL 3 - 2 Wigan Athletic

Liverpool maintained their unbeaten home league record in 2008 with a stunning comeback victory, but how Wigan made them fight.

The Anfield men are specialising in dramatic comebacks, and after Chelsea's 5-0 win at Middlesbrough earlier in the day, they knew they could not afford to slip-up.

But they were twice behind to first-half goals from Egyptian striker Amr Zaki, his second an acrobatic volley at the Kop End.

Dirk Kuyt's first equaliser kept Liverpool in the game and they fought their way back to win 3-2, just as they had at Manchester City a fortnight ago.

Wigan battled for everything and the game turned on a red card for Antonio Valencia with 16 minutes left.

The Latics were down to 10 men and Liverpool powered forward, with Albert Riera grabbing the equaliser and Kuyt, with a slightly less clean version of Zaki's volley, secured maximum points for Rafael Benitez's side.

Liverpool were forced into four changes from the side which claimed a late fightback at Eastlands a fortnight ago with Daniel Agger, Robbie Keane, Andrea Dossena and Jermaine Pennant all coming in.

Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio were all out.

Emile Heskey, who revealed earlier in the week that a return to Liverpool would be "lovely" was missing for Wigan with a hamstring strain, so Dutchman Daniel de Ridder came in.

Tackles flew in, there was pace and desire from Wigan and they had the bulk of the early possession.

Zaki gave Agger and Jamie Carragher plenty to think about, and the collision between Lee Cattermole and Steven Gerrard in midfield was uncompromising.

Jose Reina needed to be at his best when he had to beat away a drive from Olivier Kapo after a clever pass from Wilson Palacios had put him through on the left of the box.

Liverpool had not really threatened to this point, but almost scored when Riera's ball put Keane in on the left after 28 minutes.

He was forced a yard wider than he would have liked, and saw his angled right-foot shot just clear the far post.

Then within a minute, Wigan were ahead after a terrible mistake from Agger.

Reina tapped a routine pass out to the Dane, who was far too casual. He allowed the ball to bounce away from him enough for Zaki to pounce, win the tackle, and stride into the box to beat Reina with a shot into the bottom corner.

Agger knew he had to do something after that howler and atoned after 37 minutes when he came out of defence down the left before exchanging passes with Dossena.

He then went past Cattermole in the box before crossing for Kuyt to fire in the equaliser, his first home league goal since scoring against the same opposition in April.

Kuyt then hit the crossbar and Riera's towering header cleared the top of bar.

But Zaki had the final word of the half with a stunning scissors-kick from a Valencia cross which flew past Reina for a sensational goal.

Liverpool went searching for a second equaliser straight from the restart and it took a fine save from former Liverpool goalkeeper Chris Kirkland after 57 minutes to keep Wigan ahead. Pennant jumped over Keane's low cross from the left, and Kuyt's instant shot was blocked by Kirkland's left leg.

Riera almost set up Keane in the six-yard box before Gerrard lashed a 30-yard shot wide.

Liverpool were now gambling by throwing men forward, risking more danger from the robust, physical Zaki, who was more than happy to take on Carragher at every opportunity.

Gerrard side-footed a free-kick wide after a Wigan wall had failed to retreat far enough, and Valencia was booked.

Wigan were furious because they believed that Xabi Alonso's touch sideways of about a yard meant the kick had been taken.

But worse was to follow for Valencia. Soon after he was in trouble again for a foul on Alonso, and referee Alan Wiley showed a yellow and then a red card to the Wigan man.

That just inspired Liverpool to launch a new wave of attacks, and when substitute Nabil El Zhar crossed from the right after 79 minutes, Gerrard dummied and Riera lashed home his first goal for the club.

Wigan deserved more, but with five minutes to go, Pennant crossed from the right and Kuyt hooked the ball down into the turf and up to clear Kirkland's stretching fingers.

Kuyt: We Never Stopped Believing

Two-goal hero Dirk Kuyt was understandably in effervescent mood following after his side produced another impressive late show to come from behind to beat Wigan 3-2 on Saturday.

Liverpool had to find some inspiration and dig deep in order to comeback twice over the Athletics after Amr Zaki took the lead on both occasions, only for Dirk Kuyt and then Albert Riera to level the scoreline. The Dutchman then popped up with five minutes to go to seal the winner.

"It was unbelievable," Kuyt trumpeted to

"I think we showed a lot of character today and it helped us come back from behind to win the game."

"We knew that if we kept trying and showed some of that character then we would be able to score goals, and that proved to be the case today. We always believed we could win.

"We didn't play very well at the start of the match, but at the end of the day the three points are the most important thing for us.

"We were always going to get a few more chances playing against 10 men, but I think it was our hard work that made the difference in the end," he added, suggesting that Antonio Valencia's 74th minute sending-off was not the turning point.

"We tried everything we could to beat them, and it's good to score the goals, but I think the most important thing today is winning the match - that is what makes me happy."

Liverpool thus retained their unbeaten start to the season and also maintain their early pace with last season's league runners up, Chelsea.

Rafa: We Must Make Life Easier

Rafa Benitez warned his players they must make life easier on themselves if their title charge is to remain on course after Liverpool again came from behind to win 3-2 against Wigan.

A Dirk Kuyt brace and another from Albert Riera secured a fifth comeback for the Reds this season.

It means Liverpool remain unbeaten in all competitions, but Benitez said: "I told the players at the end of the game that they had to make things easier for themselves.

"We started the game really badly. They were winning a lot of second balls and controlling the game. We started to get better but then they got the second goal.

"We needed to change a lot of things and the team showed a lot of character. We were pushing and pressing and passing the ball. In the end, thanks to this belief, we won the game."

Asked if his team could keep coming from behind, the boss joked: "I will talk with my doctor and we will see!

"No, I would like to score one, two or three goals in the first half. But the Premier League is very tough and when you show the kind of character we did today, it's important for the games ahead.

"We will see if we can show this kind of character against Chelsea next weekend, but I would like to be calmer on the bench!"

Goal hero Kuyt, whose winner against Wigan came on 85 minutes, has now found the net four times in three games.

Benitez added: "We were talking about Kuyt not scoring too many goals in the league but today, playing as a striker, he got two. The understanding between him and Robbie Keane was good.

"It is always the same. Kuyt is a player every manager would want in his squad. He showed again that he can score goals - something we know he can do."

Wigan twice took the lead through Amr Zaki, the first of which coming after a slip up from Daniel Agger.

Benitez said: "It was between Pepe Reina and Daniel. Daniel was not waiting for the pass and then he had to dribble quickly because Zaki was there. But his reaction was very positive. He kept going forward and created the first goal."

The Wigan result means Liverpool remain level top with Chelsea ahead of next week's trip to Stamford Bridge.

Benitez Cools Heskey Talk

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez admits he was 'surprised' to be linked with a bid for Wigan Athletic striker Emile Heskey.

The 30-year-old has been mooted for a return to Anfield, having previously left the Reds for Birmingham City in 2004.

Heskey is out of contract at the end of the season and speculation has suggested he could leave Wigan in a cut-price deal in January.

Aston Villa have been linked with a bid, while recent reports claim Benitez wants to hand Heskey a second spell on Merseyside.

On Friday, Heskey admitted that a move to Liverpool would be 'lovely' after revealing he is keen to play in the UEFA Champions League again.

Wigan boss Steve Bruce is hoping to persuade Heskey to sign a new contract, but the England international wants to keep his options open.

However, ahead of Wigan's trip to Anfield on Saturday, Liverpool chief Benitez did not want to go into detail regarding the speculation.

Benitez told a press conference: "You know my idea is not to talk about players playing for another team, especially before a game, so I was surprised."

Gerrard Confident Ahead Of Atletico

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is confident his side can overcome Group D opponents Atletico Madrid as they go in search of their second UEFA Champions League trophy in four years.

The Reds travel to the Spanish capital following days of uncertainty as to where the fixture would actually be played, with Uefa issuing the club with a stadium ban after the scenes which occurred in the side's fixture with Marseille.

The governing body eventually relented having issued Atletico with a significant fine, and the Vicente Calderon stadium will play host to the two sides expected to progress from the group into the knock-out phase of the tournament.

While England international Gerrard is expecting a difficult match, he remains confident that The Reds can rely on the knowledge of their Spanish contingent to overcome a Javier Aguirre side demolished 6-1 by Barcelona a fortnight ago.

"Atletico are a dangerous team. They have built well over the last two seasons and certainly spent their money well," Gerrard said.

"Speaking to our Spanish lads, Fernando and the boys, they tell me the atmosphere can be electric there.

"It is certainly a game we're all looking forward to, but we realise it will be very tough for us.

"But we have proved over the last few years in Europe what a good side we are.

"We are a match for anyone over two legs. Having that confidence and knowledge that we are a good side spurs us on even more and we know that teams don't want to play against us."

The clash will see Gerrard re-united with Luis Garcia, another of the club's heroes from the 2005 Champions League final victory over AC Milan, along with Florent Sinama-Pongolle, and the midfielder will keep a close eye on both players should they appear for Atletico.

He added: "I've always kept in touch with Luis and Flo since they left us.

"I exchange text messages with them quite a bit. If I see they have scored or done well in a match I will always send a message.

"They are two very good guys in the game. We will definitely have to be wary of them, we know exactly what Luis is capable of and what he did for us in Europe. He can pull off moments of magic.

"And Flo's game has improved so much since he left us. He initially went to Recreativo Huelva and did well there, and that won him the move to Madrid.

"If they are both playing, we will have to keep a close eye on both of them."

Luis Garcia Set For Reds Reunion

Liverpool are set to meet one of their legends of Istanbul as they bid to maintain their challenge for more Champions League glory.

Their trip to face Atletico Madrid, eventually confirmed for the Estadio Vicente Calderon after UEFA relented for the time being over their stadium ban, will now be devoid of the expected home-coming for former Atletico star Fernando Torres, out for 10 to 15 days with a hamstring injury.

But waiting for Liverpool will be two of their ex-players, including Luis Garcia who was in the side that beat AC Milan in the famous 2005 final in Istanbul.

Garcia is not a certain starter for the Madrid club, neither is Florent Sinama-Pongolle - who also had a spell with the Merseysiders.

But Liverpool's fans have never forgotten Garcia, in particular, and their song about the Spaniard and sangria will be dusted down in his honour.

The match is crucial to both sides, as is the return a fortnight later at Anfield with first and second spot in Group D seemingly certain to be decided on these two games.

For Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, re-acquaintance with Garcia and Sinama-Pongolle will give added spice to the occasion on Wednesday.

He said: "I've always kept in touch with Luis and Flo since they left us.

"I exchange text messages with them quite a bit. If I see they have scored or done well in a match I will always send a message.

"They are two very good guys in the game. We will definitely have to be wary of them, we know exactly what Luis is capable of and what he did for us in Europe. He can pull off moments of magic.

"And Flo's game has improved so much since he left us. He initially went to Recreativo Huelva and did well there, and that won him the move to Madrid.

"If they are both playing, we will have to keep a close eye on both of them."

Garcia has had a frustrating spell with Atletico, a move that although not formally part of the deal that took Torres to Anfield, certainly helped pay for it.

Since then he has spent too much time on the bench for his liking, but he has figured in European matches and done well.

Much as he did at Liverpool when even if not in the league starting XI, the 30-year-old frequently produced Champions League heroics.

The controversial semi-final winner against Chelsea was the most memorable, and his thumb-sucking celebration a feature of the side during that season.

This term for Atletico, he was on the bench for the 2-1 win over Marseille in their second group match, having played a key role in the 3-0 win at PSV Eindhoven in the opening tie.

Gerrard expects nothing less than a serious threat inspired by Garcia. He said: "Atletico are a dangerous team. They have built well over the last two seasons and certainly spent their money well.

"Speaking to our Spanish lads, Fernando and the boys, they tell me the atmosphere can be electric there.

"It is certainly a game we're all looking forward to, but we realise it will be very tough for us.

"But we have proved over the last few years in Europe what a good side we are.

"We are a match for anyone over two legs. Having that confidence and knowledge that we are a good side spurs us on even more and we know that teams don't want to play against us."

Rafa Benitez Says Losing Fernando Torres Isn't A Major Problem

Fernando Torres may be heartbroken at missing a dream return to Madrid, but Rafa Benitez for once is calm about the loss of his star striker.

A year ago the Liverpool manager would have been suicidal at the mere mention of the words Torres and hamstring injury in the same sentence.

But yesterday, as the Spaniard contemplated at least three matches without his centre-forward, he was able to offer a philosophical, almost cavalier response.

The reason is clear. Benitez clearly believes that he has finally arrived at a position where his squad is good enough to cope even with the loss of their main weapon.

That was proved a month ago when despite the loss of both Torres and Steven Gerrard, Liverpool beat Manchester United. And with new signing Robbie Keane approaching top form, Benitez is confident that even Atletico Madrid and Chelsea hold no fears.

"You look at positives and a big one for us was beating United without those two. After that game you could see how much more confidence the players had," he said.

"Before it both were pushing me to play them, but I have a lot of faith and belief in the others in my squad.

"In the past maybe we just did not have the same quality, but now we have and that gives me confidence.

"Sometimes you can have good players but not a good team - but I believe that we have both."

Torres will miss today's visit to Anfield of Wigan and according to his manager is definitely ruled out of next Wednesday's Champions League return to former club Atletico Madrid following the injury picked upon international duty for Spain.

Even though he is likely to be back for next week's tabletopping trip to Chelsea, the fact it is the THIRD hamstring problem he has suffered with his country is causing concern at Anfield.

Benitez has no problems with how Spanish boss Vicente Del Bosque is preparing his players. "You can't blame the manager or the fitness coach because Fernando said he was ready and in this case it's just bad luck," he said.

"But he has had three hamstring injuries with the Spanish national team and it's something we need to analyse as he's only had one in a year-and-a-half with us.

"For me the problem is all about playing too many games. If you have two matches, and one is against a country at a much lower level, maybe it would be better giving him a little break."

Liverpool face a Wigan side today that is led by Emile Heskey, a striker that Benitez is interested in bringing back to Anfield on a free transfer at the end of the season.

The Reds boss though, wouldn't be drawn on his interest in the player, or the question of whether he'd have kept Heskey at Anfield if the striker had not left just days before he arrived as boss at the club.

"We can't sign anyone before the Wigan game so we won't talk about players from clubs when we're playing them."

Rafa Will Never Walk Alone

Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett face a fresh crisis that could see several stars exit Anfield in support of Rafa Benitez.

Despite an 85th minute goal from Dirk Kuyt clinching a dramatic 3-2 win for Liverpool against Wigan yesterday, storm clouds are gathering over Anfield.

Champions League-winning boss Benitez has still heard nothing from the club's controversial American owners over an extension to a contract that was promised to him last April.

Benitez has only 18 months of his current deal to run and insists there has been no talks aimed at him staying longer.

But if he does go, he is unlikely to be walking alone - for the lack of encouragement from Hicks and Gillett has put many of the squad on red alert.

Even the long-term future of Fernando Torres, who, like all of the Spanish contingent at Anfield, joined the club because of Benitez, could be in doubt.

The manager insists that £21million record buy Torres is "unbuyable", but although he is only 18 months through a sixyear contract, he will be deeply concerned that Benitez has currently been left high and dry.

Yesterday's hero Kuyt, one of the manager's favourite signings, has 18 months on his current deal to run while Daniel Agger is pressing for an extension and a pay rise.

They are in the same position as the Kop boss - no approaches have been made to them and, like several others, they would be unlikely to commit to new deals until they discover what the future holds for the man who signed them.

Hicks and Gillett are at war with each other as they search desperately for ways to beat the world credit crunch, or sell out - which means much future planning has been put on hold.

The global financial depression forced the Americans into stopping work on their £400m plans for a 73,000- seater new stadium as they struggle to pay back the £435m they borrowed to buy the club, with interest costing them £30m a year.

Yet that threatens to be only the start of their problems - they would face an Anfield riot if Benitez does not get that extra year and heads out, with his top players following.

Benitez insisted: "I will not allow the situation to disturb my concentration because we have a lot of very important games coming up.

"But I have not heard anything about a new contract." The longer Liverpool's hierarchy keep Benitez in the dark about his future, the greater the risk that European Championshipwinning striker Torres will grow unsettled.

He was the subject of a £78m transfer deadline day bid by Manchester City, whose Arab owners say they will be back.

Spanish superstar Torres has repeatedly credited Benitez for convincing him to move to Merseyside and spurn Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Barcelona.

But, like Kuyt and Agger, who are already concerned that there has been no approach from the club to secure their futures, he will be watching developments - or the lack of them - with keen interest.

Dubai International Capital remain in the wings ready to replace Hicks and Gillett, but they want at least their money back to sell out.

Sheikh Maktoum and his group of fabulously wealthy co-investors refuse to meet their asking price - leaving Benitez, and the likes of Torres, Agger, Kuyt in the dark and in danger of being forced to quit the Kop.

And, furthermore, the Liverpool manager is well aware that his bosses plotted to replace him with Jurgen Klinsmann just over a year ago.

U18s Draw With United

Adam Pepper scored a second half equaliser as Liverpool Under-18s produced a spirited comeback to draw 2-2 with Manchester United.

Hughie McAuley's side responded well to last weekend's disappointing 4-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers and David Amoo had a fine game on the right wing.

James Ellison put the Reds 1-0 up but United came back to lead 2-1, before Pepper scored from the penalty spot to earn the draw.

"It was a really good game of football and I'm pleased with the way the lads responded after the Blackburn game," McAuley told

"We took the lead after 12 minutes when James scored after great play from Amoo on the right.

"Unfortunately we then conceded a goal two minutes later which was disappointing because you are always at your most vulnerable when you take the lead. Then United took the lead so we were 2-1 down at half-time.

"Marvin Pourie then had two good chances but we managed to deservedly get back into the game when Pepper was brought down in their box. He picked himself up and confidently put away the penalty.

"It was a very open game and it could have gone either way in the end. We had great chances to win it through Amoo and Astrit Ajdarevic but overall I thought a draw was a fair result."

Liverpool Under-18s team: Dean Bouzanis, Michael Scott, Shane O'Connor, Andre Wisdom, Daniel Ayala, Steven Irwin, David Amoo, Adam Pepper, Marvin Pourie (Astrit Ajdarevic 75), James Ellison, Alex Kacaniklic (Thomas Ince 79). Subs unused: Jack Metcalf, Michael Roberts, Hakan Duyan.