Thursday, October 30, 2008

Full Match Report: LiverpooL vs. Portsmouth

It needed a Steven Gerrard penalty to make sure Liverpool did not waste the tremendous victory they achieved at Chelsea at the weekend.

That win put Liverpool top of the Barclays Premier League, and a slip-up tonight against Portsmouth would have been a disaster for the Anfield men.

Tony Adams, in his first match in command of Pompey following Harry Redknapp's departure, saw his side push Liverpool all the way.

But Gerrard's spot-kick with 15 minutes left kept Liverpool top and extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches this season.

Liverpool made four changes from the side that claimed top spot in the Premier League by beating Chelsea on Sunday.

Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Robbie Keane and Albert Riera were all rested to the bench, with Sami Hyypia, Jermaine Pennant, Ryan Babel and Lucas coming into the side.

New Pompey boss Tony Adams also made changes from the side that drew with Fulham last time out.

Jermain Defoe and Richard Hughes were on the bench, with Sean Davis and John Utaka in midfield and former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch on his own up front.

There was an air of expectancy around Anfield following the Stamford Bridge success and Liverpool had Pompey under pressure from the start with some fine, flowing, football - much of which was aimed at getting Pennant into space on the right.

The passing was quick and the movement the same, with Liverpool looking like they were going to grab the lead plenty of times in the opening spell.

After 10 minutes Pennant and Alvaro Arbeloa combined to find Dirk Kuyt just outside the box, and his fierce low drive was superbly turned away and onto a post by David James.

Lucas saw a header fly over the bar and Xabi Alonso sent a 20-yarder swerving wide of the left-hand post.

But slowly, Pompey's resilience took the edge from Liverpool's approach play.

Crouch was the sole target for much of Pompey's forward movement, winning consistently in the air but missing his strike-partner Defoe.

The visitors' first chance was headed wide by Younes Kaboul from Lassana Diarra's free-kick, and then Papa Bouba Diop missed a sitter.

Diarra's chip found the big midfielder unmarked six yards out, but he planted his free header straight into Jose Reina's grateful hands.

Liverpool responded with a Gerrard shot into the wall from a tapped free-kick, the ball dropping for Jamie Carragher to test James from 25 yards.

Kuyt had a couple more chances in the half, but Liverpool ended the first-half looking for inspiration.

Diarra was booked for a trip on Gerrard just outside the box after 49 minutes, but Alonso planted the free-kick into the wall.

Portsmouth were beginning to look comfortable, Sylvain Distin and Kaboul assured at the back.

Liverpool needed sharpness, urgency and accuracy with their passing. Hyypia saw a header flash wide and Lucas had an effort deflected past the target, but too many mistakes in possession from Ryan Babel and Pennant continuall hindered the home side's progress.

Liverpool sent on Yossi Benayoun for an increasingly frustrated Pennant and soon after Pompey introduced Niko Kranjcar for Armand Traore.

Next into the fray was Riera, for Babel - and Liverpool increased the tempo.

Distin's block stopped Benayoun when Steven Gerrard had put him clear, and then James saved superbly from Gerrard's 25-yard effort.

Then after 75 minutes Liverpool got their breakthrough. Hyypia's header from Fabio Aurelio's corner was goalbound before Bouba Diop threw two arms into the flight of the ball.

Somerset referee Steve Tanner booked the Pompey midfielder and pointed to the spot, before Gerrard drove home the penalty.

Hughes came on for Diarra with 10 minutes left and four minutes later Defoe replaced Utaka as the visitors sought a point.

Robbie Keane came on for Gerrard in injury-time and almost got on the scoresheet in the final seconds - but there was only one goal in the game.

Arsenal Join Liverpool, Chelsea, Man United, Bolton & Sunderland In Chase For League 1 Wonderkid?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is ready to make another raid on the lower leagues of English football, with Leeds United starlet Fabian Delph on the radar of the Frenchman, according to reports.

18-year-old midfielder Delph has been at Leeds since making the short trip across Yorkshire from Bradford City in 2001 and made his senior debut for United earlier this season. Delph has been hailed as the most exciting prospect to come out of Elland Road since England International Aaron Lennon, who is now at Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur.

Wenger has already got recent history of signing young players from lower league football, with the Gunners boss bringing Theo Walcott from Championship side Southampton and Aaron Ramsey to the Emirates Stadium from Cardiff City. With the Frenchman now understood to be ready to test the water in League 1 and make a move for the young prodigy.

However, Arsenal will face competition from Premiership rivals Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland for the England Under-19 International, who are all said to have expressed an interest in the talented midfielder.

Delph is under contract at Elland Road until 2012, with it believed that Leeds value the young starlet in the region of £5million, £1million of which would go to Bradford as part of the deal that took Delph to United as an 11-year-old.

Spurs Boss Redknapp: Bring On Liverpool

Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp has said that his side will give a real go to Premiership leaders Liverpool at the weekend.

Spurs, who are still placed bottom of the table, have picked four points from two games since Redknapp replaced Juande Ramos in the White Hart Lane hot-seat. And the former Portsmouth manager has instilled a sense of belief in Spurs players that was evident last night as they pulled back two goals in the closing stages to hold bitter north-London rivals Arsenal to a 4-4 draw at the Emirates Stadium.

On Saturday, Spurs will face Rafa Benitez’s Reds, who are the only unbeaten side in the ongoing campaign, but Tottenham are ready for the test.

Redknapp said: "I've tried to make them believe in themselves. There's ability in the squad. Bring on Liverpool. We'll give them a good go on Saturday.

"I've not thought about points. I like to see us when we play and pass the ball. We had long spells in the first half where we passed the ball ever so well. We just encourage them to play."

Winning Is All That Matters - Rafa

Rafael Benitez has expressed his satisfaction with Liverpool's narrow victory over Portsmouth, despite a less than brilliant display from his team.

Many were expecting Liverpool to come crashing back to reality following their fantastic win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. They did, although an inexplicable brain-fade from Papa Bouba Diop allowed Steven Gerrard to fire his side to a 1-0 win from the penalty sport.

The hosts dominated proceedings but couldn't breach David James' goal from open play, leaving the Kopites somewhat deflated despite being top of the table.

But Benitez told the club's official website: "Clearly the win was more important than the performance. After the victory against Chelsea it was important to get the three points tonight.

"We changed four players and still won the game and the message for the squad and everyone is we can make changes and still win. We used players with different qualities and we always had belief we would score."

Wednesday night's performance was eerily reminiscent of the frustrating 0-0 draw against Stoke City which followed Liverpool's victory over Manchester United last month.

But Benitez chose to focus on the positives, insisting that his players did well considering Pompey stacked their defence.

"Portsmouth are a good team and we needed to be patient and keep passing the ball and creating opportunities. Being patient was the key word for us tonight," the Spaniard said.

"Everybody could see Portsmouth were defending well and they had a lot of bodies behind the ball so it was not easy to find the space. So we had to be precise with our final pass.

"We were very dominant in the first half and controlled the game. We had our chances and we regained the ball quickly.

"I thought the second half was more open and at the end we were a little nervous because they were playing a lot of long balls up to Crouch.

"I don't remember Pepe having a shot to save. Okay, we won the game with a penalty but we had other chances."

Liverpool will take on a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur this weekend as they seek to cement their spot at the summit of the Premier League standings.

Benitez added: "We will try to be at the top of the table for a long time but our idea as always is to think about one game at a time and the next three points."

Rafa Agrees With Carra, 'We Should Be Top'

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has agreed with Jamie Carragher's recent sentiment that the Reds deserve top spot.

Liverpool's win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge gave the league leaders a three point cushion, and confirmed Rafa Benitez's finest start to a Premier League season.

Jamie Carragher recently claimed that the Reds deserve their top spot, and this is a notion confirmed by his manager too.

When Benitez was asked whether he agreed with his vice captain, he replied: "Yes, I think it is important to have confidence. But we know there's a long way to go, so it is important for us to keep winning every game and keep getting three points.

"It is difficult to keep the people calm. You know, there is a lot to live up to, so we have to give out the same message and think about one game at a time," the club's official website quote the Spanish gaffer as saying.

"It is better to be in this position than playing catch-up with the other teams, because you know that if you make mistakes then they have fewer points anyway. It is a fantastic position and we will try to stay there as long as we can," he added.

Albert Riera On A Mission To Make Amends

ALBERT RIERA knows all too well that raising expectations is one thing but delivering on your promise is quite another.

This time last year, Riera was starring in an Espanyol side which was riding high in La Liga with hopes high that Barcelona's second club might even be able to challenge for the Spanish league title, a trophy they had never won in their history.

By January, they were third, due in no small part to outstanding performances from Riera and talismanic forward Luis Garcia, and were playing well enough to have Real Madrid looking over their shoulders.

But no sooner had hope emerged than it was replaced by despair as Espanyol went on a run of 11 defeats in 14 games which led to them finishing a hugely disappointing 12th.

Having gone from high to low in just four months, it is little wonder the 26-year-old is not getting carried away by the start made to the Premier League season by new club Liverpool, and he is warning that there is much hard work to be done before Rafa Benitez's side can class themselves as genuine title challengers – even after Sunday's momentous victory over Chelsea.

"That result was very important for us and for our confidence," he said.

"It was a very big result but it was only one result and the most important thing for us now is that we must build upon it.

"Now we are confident in ourselves and we know each other better but in football you can never afford to think that you have done enough, you always have to look ahead and try to keep on getting better.

"We are in a good moment but we cannot afford to stand still."

So well has the Majorcan-born left winger settled into the Liverpool side following his £8m move from Espanyol that it is hard to believe he has still only played nine games for his new club.

Anfield observers would be hard pressed to name a fixture where Riera has not played well, and in the short time he has been with Liverpool his performances have been of a particularly high standard.

His Liverpool career thus far is book-ended by appearances against Manchester United and Chelsea, the crème-de-la-crème of English football, and rather than being cowed by facing such illustrious opponents, Riera has actually been inspired by them and was a key factor in the Reds securing memorable victories against their fellow members of the big four.

Riera, though, is still not satisfied. As far as he is concerned, there is more – perhaps even much more – to come from himself as he becomes more acclimatised to the Liverpool way of doing things.

"I know I can still get better," said the Spanish international.

"The best way to progress is to believe that you can get better and give more to the team, and that's the way I am.

"I know that I can give more and having played less than ten games with the team I know that I can improve.

"It is the same for all players in the Premier League – if you have talent and you are prepared to work hard then you can succeed here and you can get better.

"At Liverpool we train hard all the time and this gives us all a chance of improving, especially the players who have not played too much in this country.

"But the most important thing is that the team is winning and that is happening right now."

Of course, some wins are more momentous than others and Sunday's 1-0 victory over Chelsea was the kind of triumph that makes the rest of the nation sit up and take notice.

All of a sudden, Liverpool are being regarded as a team which can challenge the recent supremacy of Chelsea and United, even though they have played just nine games and lack the course and distance record of their rivals.

Riera is delighted that the Reds have made a statement of intent for the rest of the season but he knows it will count for little unless they follow it up with yet more victories – hopefully starting tonight against FA Cup holders Portsmouth at Anfield.

He said: "Before Sunday's game everyone was talking about Chelsea and the fact that they were top of the league and unbeaten so far this season, but we were in the same situation and maybe people now know that we are a good team also and that we want to continue at the top of the league.

"But if this is to happen we know we have to keep on working hard in games and in training and doing the same things that have helped us get to the position we are in right now.

"We know it will be tough because the Premier League is very competitive and you have to work hard in every single game otherwise you can come unstuck.

"Portsmouth will be another difficult game for us.

“They won the FA Cup last season, are in Europe and have had some good results this season.

"But we have confidence and are playing in front of our own fans so we have to try and get another good result."

Having followed up their recent victory over United with a draw against Stoke, Liverpool will be looking to show that they have learned from that experience by ensuring that Pompey are not able to deflate them in a similar fashion.

Expectations are high at Anfield right now – that is the price that comes with beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

It is now up to Liverpool to prove that they can live up to them and not be weighed down by them, like Riera's former club was last season.

Benitez Ready To Rotate His Way To The Title

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admits the time has come for his Premier League leaders to show they have the strength in depth to sustain a title challenge.

The Reds laboured to beat a stubborn Portsmouth side 1-0 at Anfield on Wednesday after Benitez made four changes to the team that stunned Chelsea at the weekend.

Benitez gambled by resting Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Albert Riera and Robbie Keane and it took a late Steven Gerrard penalty to condemn Tony Adams to defeat in his first match as Portsmouth boss.

But the Spaniard insists that, having largely kept a settled team so far this season, he will now be forced to rotate on a more regular basis and that it is time to "manage" his squad.

"When you play another game in three days and you have the Champions League and you need to change players," Benitez said.

"Against Portsmouth it was clear that two or three players could give us fresh legs and now we need to manage the squad.

"We knew that the game against Portsmouth would be difficult so we used players with different qualities and then we were changing and trying to find other solutions.

"We were looking for different options and we had confidence that we could score."

Liverpool remain three points clear at the summit of the Premier League, having dropped just four points in their first 10 matches of the season.

But Benitez, who is hopeful that Fernando Torres will return from a hamstring problem at Tottenham this weekend, maintains that only a short-term view will give the Reds a chance of winning a first league title since 1990.

He added: "After the victory against Chelsea, to get three points against Portsmouth was really important and to change four or five players and still win is a message for the squad that we can change players and we can still win.

"We will try to be top of the table for a long time but we will just keep thinking about one game at a time and the next three points and that's it."

In Adams's first official game in charge of Portsmouth he surprisingly left striker Jermain Defoe, who has scored six goals in his nine Premier League starts, on the bench.

But Adams insists that there is no problem with his top-scorer and may persist with a five-man midfield on Pompey's travels, with Defoe or Peter Crouch left on the sidelines.

Adams said: "I will make tactical decisions, I will make technical decisions, physiological decisions and emotional decisions.

"I want Jermain to be Portsmouth's top goal-scorer and he will be and I want him to push to be the top scorer in the league and I think he can.

"We've been getting smashed up away from home. We'd lost to Braga 3-0 and 6-0 at Manchester City.

"I played with a 4-5-1 against the league leaders and that's why Jermain was rested.

"Jermain's 100 per cent behind me and he's magnificent. I've had nothing but a positive response from all of them but Jermain in particular.

"He understands and next week it might be Peter's turn or someone else's turn but I'm a big fan of Jermain Defoe and we'll see what happens against Wigan now."

Liverpool were made to work hard for the points but could have been infront before Gerrard's spotkick.

Dirk Kuyt headed into the ground from a Ryan Babel cross and Lucas had a shot deflected wide after he burst onto Gerrard's pass, with Sami Hyypia heading inches wide from the resulting corner.

And when it looked like substitute Yossi Benayoun would finally make the breakthrough from a Gerrard pass, he was denied by Sylvain Distin's sliding challenge as he prepared to shoot.

But just as Portsmouth were looking like holding on for a point, Papa Bouba Diop threw two hands at Fabio Aurelio's resulting corner as he attempted to stop Hyypia and Gerrard made no mistake from the spot.