Thursday, October 23, 2008

Match Report: Atletico Madrid 1 - 1 LiverpooL

Liverpool were denied a three-point haul from their Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid after conceding a late equaliser to Simao Sabrosa, a player once targeted by Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

The unmarked Simao drilled home a low shot with seven minutes remaining to cancel out Robbie Keane's early opener for Liverpool as the two sides, having each won their first two games, remained unbeaten in Group D.

Liverpool controlled the first half and held a deserved lead at the break but Atletico, who had been unbeaten in their previous six home meetings with English opposition, fought back to salvage a point which could ease the pressure on under-fire coach Javier Aguirre.

The Champions League anthem at the start of the match was greeted by jeers and whistles from the home fans, while the Atletico supporters behind the goal also turned their backs to the pitch in protest against the punishment handed out by UEFA last week.

Atletico were given a three-match stadium ban in Europe and fined by UEFA following crowd disturbances and accusations of racism during their Champions League home match against Marseille.

Atletico have appealed against the punishment, which is why Wednesday's match was able to go ahead at the Vicente Calderon and not at least 300 kilometres away from Madrid.

However, there was no obvious repeat of those crowd disturbances or racist chanting during Wednesday's clash, which saw Liverpool quickly settle into their stride.

Benitez's troops, unbeaten in their last 15 matches, could barely have asked for an easier opening 45 minutes as they took an early lead through Keane before comfortably containing a toothless Atletico.

Keane's goal came not long after young Atletico midfielder Ignacio Camacho had headed over the first chance of the match following a Simao free-kick.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard created the chance with a superb pass through for Keane, who beat the Atletico offside trap before coolly slotting low past Leo Franco.

That was just the start Liverpool would have been hoping for and Gerrard and Xabi Alonso both then tried their luck from distance before Keane spurned a decent opening to double Liverpool's lead.

He again escaped the attentions of his markers to get on the end of Gerrard's right-wing cross, but the Irishman attempted an ambitious flick and ended up missing the ball.

At the other end a much-changed Atletico, who had lost their previous three league matches against Sevilla, Barcelona and arch rivals Real Madrid, looked devoid of ideas going forward in the first half.

The hosts finally gave their fans something to get excited about in the 40th minute when former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan unleashed a 25-yard drive that flew just wide of Jose Reina's far post.

Aside from that effort though, the Liverpool custodian, one of four Spanish players in the Liverpool line-up, had precious little to do before the break.

Atletico coach Aguirre, under pressure following three successive league defeats, decided it was time to change things around at the break and he sent on star striker Sergio Aguero for former Liverpool player Luis Garcia.

That change immediately appeared to give Atletico a lift as they twice came close to an equaliser soon after the break.

The first opening saw Maniche pick up a pass from Forlan on the far side of the area before firing in a shot that flew into the far corner of the net.

However, the Portuguese was left with his head in his hands - along with the majority of the stadium - as he noticed the offside flag had gone up.

From an almost identical position moments later Simao then drilled in a shot which Reina brilliantly helped onto the post and then gathered at the second attempt as Liverpool rode their luck.

Reina could do little about the goal that brought Atletico back on level terms in the 83rd minute however.

Simao was left in acres of space on the far side of the area and, after Forlan had picked him out, he drilled a low left-footed shot past the diving Reina to level the scores up at 1-1.

That goal set the stadium rocking and gave Atletico a huge boost, and Miguel then tested Reina with a well-struck volley soon afterwards.

Liverpool could have silenced the home crowd in the 89th minute though when substitute Ryan Babel sent a diving header just wide of the Atletico goal from close range, but the match would end up finishing all-square.

Rafa Blasts Showboating Reds

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has warned his players that they must become more ruthless in front of goal in the wake of their UEFA Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid.

The Reds remain unbeaten in all competitions this season, but they have now surrendered their 100 per cent record in Group D of Europe's premier club competition.

Benitez was disappointed to see his side give up the lead at Vicente Calderon as Simao Sabrosa hit an 83rd minute equaliser to cancel out Robbie Keane's first half opener.

Republic of Ireland international Keane had an excellent chance to double Liverpool's lead in the first 45 minutes, but the striker opted to attempt an audacious back-heeled flick from Steve Gerrard's cross when the basic would have sufficed.

And Benitez was not impressed, telling Sky Sports 2: "My idea was that we could play better.

"We had chances and if you don't finish these games, these things (equalisers) can happen.

"We were playing well and had control, but we were trying to be too precise in the final third. Sometimes you have to finish.

"We were passing and passing and trying to give the perfect pass. It doesn't matter how you score, you have to score, that is it.

"It is positive. We have seven points so it is not a bad position. But when you concede in the 83rd minute you have to be disappointed."

Meanwhile, Benitez - who takes his team to Chelsea for a top-of-the-table Premier League clash on Sunday - has revealed that he has injury concerns over captain Gerrard, Keane and Xabi Alonso after the trio were substituted in the second half.

"It think they will be okay, but we had Alonso, Keane and Gerrard with knocks," added Benitez. "We needed to change them because they had muscle problems. We will see."

Keane, though, is confident his groin injury is not too serious as Liverpool - who are already without Fernando Torres - prepare for their trip to Stamford Bridge.

"In the first 20 minutes of the game I just tweaked my groin," said Keane. "I don't think it is too serious. I'm under the weather a little bit, which didn't help."

Keane, who joined the Reds from Tottenham in the summer, also held his hands up for the miss which angered his manager.

"Those balls move all over the place in the wind," he continued. "No excuse, I should have got something on it."

Robbie Keane: Liverpool FC Happy With Point From Atletico Madrid Game

LIVERPOOL striker Robbie Keane admitted he was happy to come away from the Vicente Calderon Stadium with a point after his side’s 1-1 Champions League draw with Atletico Madrid.

Keane opened the scoring for Liverpool in the 14th minute but Simao Sabrosa levelled seven minutes from time to grab a point for the hosts.

The Spanish side piled on the pressure in the second period and could have easily won all three points, as Keane acknowledged after the game.

“In the first half we had quite a few chances so we knew they would come out fighting and make it difficult for us,” Keane said.

“They put us under the cosh in the second half and then they had a few chances towards the end so all in all you have to be happy with a point.”

Keane missed a gilt-edged opportunity to double Liverpool’s advantage minutes after he opened the scoring, but chose to attempt an elaborate flick from a close-range volley and missed.

He admitted he regretted the decision and should have scored. “I should have had two. It was a great ball from Stevie (Steven Gerrard),” he said.

Injured Liverpool Trio Gerrard, Alonso And Keane Could All Miss Weekend Clash With Chelsea

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is hopeful key trio Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Robbie Keane will be available for Sunday's crunch showdown at Chelsea.

None of them finished last night's 1-1 Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid, with striker Keane and midfielder Alonso both struggling with knocks, and captain Gerrard suffering from fatigue.

It will not be known until later today how serious the problems are but Benitez is keeping his fingers crossed there is nothing too serious to worry about.

'The three players have had some problems,' said Benitez, whose side are locked at the top of the Barclays Premier League with Chelsea on 20 points.

'It was a little bit of a muscle problem for Robbie. Gerrard is okay. He was really tired and Alonso has a knock on his knee.'

Keane, who had given Liverpool a 14th-minute lead at the Vicente Calderon before Simao Sabrosa earned Atletico a point with a late equaliser, was the first to be taken off when he was replaced by Dirk Kuyt just after half-time.

'We need to check with Keane. I don't think it will be serious, but anyway we need to take care of him. He will see the doctor,' Benitez said.

'We are trying to keep players with fresh legs and 100 per cent fit, so we were trying to protect all of them.'

When asked if he had any fitness concerns for the clash with Chelsea, Benitez answered: "I don't know now, we will have to wait for tomorrow.'

Gerrard was the next to make way, being replaced by Ryan Babel in the 61st minute, before Alonso left the action with 15 minutes to go, Lucas taking his place.

Eight minutes after Alonso's departure, Atletico managed to equalise, but when asked if the change had played a part in the goal, Benitez insisted he had no choice but to replace the Spain international.

'I explained the reason already, he was injured and he was asking for the substitution,' he said.

Liverpool were without the services of star striker Fernando Torres for the match, with the former Atletico hero remaining in England to continue his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Benitez admits things might have turned out differently if the prolific forward had played, but preferred not to dwell on the subject.

'Obviously he's a special player and it could have been a different match. But he was unavailable so it doesn't matter. He couldn't play,' he said.

Liverpool had been good value for their half-time lead at the Vicente Calderon after limiting Atletico to just a couple of half-chances in the opening period.

However, the Rojiblancos looked a much better side after the break following the arrival of star striker Sergio Aguero, who had started the game on the bench due to concerns about his fitness.

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina admitted the young Argentinian helped turn the game around for the Spanish side.

'He is a tricky player who you notice when he is on the pitch because he causes a lot of problems and is difficult to stop,' said Reina.

'What is really important now is to get to 10 points and not slip up at home.'

Benitez: I Protected My Stars

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez says he was 'protecting' his 'injured' trio by hauling them out of the Champions League cauldron on Wednesday evening.

Desperate to hold off the challenge of hometown club Atletico Madrid, many would have found it strange to see Rafael Benitez hook Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Xabi Alonso during the second half.

The Reds went on to draw 1-1 and the absence of goalscorer Keane, 'Mr Champions League' Gerrard and shoot-on-sight midfielder Alonso was telling.

However, this was no tactical tinkering, for Benitez has confirmed that the trio were carrying knocks. With one eye on the Chelsea showdown on Sunday, then, Rafa decided to take them out of the oven to cool down.

They will be assessed for the rest of the week, but the boss expects the threesome to line up against the Blues.

"The three players had some problems," he explained. "Keane and Gerrard and Alonso were tired, so we were trying to use players with fresh legs. We were trying to protect all of them by substituting them.

"I don't think they are serious; we will have to wait and see tomorrow.

"It was a little bit of a muscle problem for Robbie and he'll see the doctor, but Gerrard is okay - he was just really tired. Alonso? He has a knock on his knee."

Atleti boss Javier Aguirre will perhaps be a tad insulted to hear Benitez admit that key man Gerrard was taken off for a rest.

Benitez Believes 'Pool Missed Torres

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has grudgingly admitted that his side may have produced an alternate result had Fernando Torres been fit to take on his former club.

Fernando Torres missed out on an emotional return to the Vicente Calderon to take on former club Atletico Madrid due to a short-term injury.

Liverpool left Spain with a point after a 1-1 draw and Rafa Benitez believes it would have been a different match had 'El Nino' been on the pitch.

"Obviously he's a special player and it could have been a different match. But he was unavailable so it doesn't matter," Rafa told the BBC.

"I think we had control of the game in the first half and part of the second half and I'm disappointed because we had chances to finish the game off... We made a mistake in the 83rd minute and we paid for it," he added.

Liverpool return to Premier League action this weekend and face a top of the table clash against London giants Chelsea. The Reds travel to Stamford Bridge for a lunchtime showdown on Sunday.

Tom Hicks Hits Back And Says: I'm Not Going To Sell Liverpool

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks remains insistent he has no intention of selling the club despite their plans to build a new stadium being thwarted.

Hicks and co-owner George Gillett want a 75,000-seater stadium at Stanley Park to generate the cash to repay their £245million personal debts as well as the £105million tied to Liverpool. The debts stem from the Americans’ takeover in 2007.

The global financial crisis has brought a halt to the plans, however, as no bank is in a position to issue further loans to finance a new stadium, and the Americans have been reduced to using Liverpool’s profits to pay off the interest on the loans but have not been able to reduce the overall debt.

Despite the situation, Hicks is adamant he does not want to sell up - although should that position change then Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, remains the most likely buyer as he continues to have a personal interest in Liverpool.

A source close to Hicks denied a report saying the investment bank Merrill Lynch have been instructed to find a buyer, maintaining they were merely providing expertise in refinancing the existing debts.

Hicks and Gillett refinanced their debts earlier this year with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and that deal is due to expire on January 25, although the Americans will almost certainly exercise an option to extend the deal for a further six months until the end of July.

The source told PA Sport: “Tom is not looking to get out of Liverpool - it is an asset he likes and he doesn’t plan an exit.

“They have not engaged Merrill Lynch to sell the club - they have been an adviser of Tom’s for 12 months.

“There is an option with RBS coming up to extend >fr 1,8fr 3,8<>

Liverpool FC Owners Hicks And Gillett Are Targets Of Coup By MPs

LIVERPOOL’s American owners could be the targets of an astonishing coup attempt – by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The PM has been urged to topple Reds owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett by six MPs.

The Merseyside MPs, led by Walton’s Peter Kilfoyle, want the government to pull the plug on a crucial £350m loan to Hicks and Gillett.

Their move came as Tom Hicks last night reinterated his desire not to sell Liverpool FC, despite suggestions investment bank Merrill Lynch has been instructed to find a buyer for the club.

A source close to the Texan said the bank was merely providing expertise in refinancing the existing debts.

He said: “Tom is not looking to get out of Liverpool – it is an asset he likes and he doesn’t plan an exit.

“They have not engaged Merrill Lynch to sell the club. They have been an advisor of Tom’s for 12 months.”

Those close to Hicks believe he and co-owner George Gillett will exercise a six-month extension on their loans due in January but the Mersey MPs believe they can put pressure on the Prime Minister – through the part-nationalisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland – to prevent such a move.

If RBS did stop an extension, the MPs – who are furious over the ongoing delay of plans for a new stadium – believe the pair would be forced to sell the club.

Yesterday, Kilfoyle tabled a parliamentary motion, quickly signed by George Howarth (Knowsley North and Sefton East), Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley South), Louise Ellman (Riverside), Bob Wareing (West Derby) and Derek Twigg (Halton).

The motion calls on the government to act because “the American owners have failed to deliver a new stadium for Liverpool FC, thereby delaying indefinitely the regeneration of one of the most needy areas of the country.”

A mistake by the Commons authorities meant the word “renew” accidentally appeared as “review” – changing the motion’s entire meaning – but that was due to be corrected last night.

Mr Kilfoyle told the Daily Post: “The government is not putting £20bn of taxpayers’ money into the Royal Bank of Scotland in order for two foreign nationals to use that money to buy a British institution without putting in any money of their own.

“The fact is that the owners are doing nothing about the stadium, which was their big selling point. They are of no value to the club, to football, or to the city of Liverpool.”