Sunday, November 02, 2008

Match Report: Tottenham Hotspur 2 -1 LiverpooL

Roman Pavlyuchenko pounced on the stroke of full-time to lift Tottenham off the foot of Barclays Premier League.

Liverpool took the lead with just two minutes on the clock through a magnificent finish by Dirk Kuyt that saw Heurelho Gomes exposed yet again.

Jamie Carragher's own goal appeared to have salvaged a point for Spurs but Harry Redknapp's side had grander ideas.

With injury time approaching, Pavlyuchenko tucked home a Darren Bent pass to deny the Reds their return to the summit of the table and end the top flight's last unbeaten record.

Liverpool allowed a flurry of chances to slip by, with Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso missing the pick of them, until Carragher rose high in the 69th minute to nod into his own net.

They should have been out of sight before Carragher struck while Spurs displayed more of the fighting spirit which served them so well against Arsenal in midweek.

The victory rung up Redknapp's seventh point in three games since replacing Juande Ramos a week ago, a remarkable return given Spurs' dismal position until his arrival.

It was three points dropped for Liverpool, who had Robbie Keane to thank for setting up the opening goal.

Much of the pre-match build-up focussed on Keane's first appearance against the club he left for £20.3million during the summer and the match had barely started when he made his presence felt.

The Republic of Ireland striker continued some slick build-up play by finding the unmarked Kuyt down the right - and the Dutchman found the net from a tight angle with a brilliant finish.

Keane's celebrations, however, were muted out of respect for the club he led as skipper.

Spurs' defensive woes continued with an inswinging Gerrard free-kick scrambled away by Gomes and moments later Bent nearly turned the ball into his own net.

Bent tried to make amends at the other end when he chased an astute looping ball by Tom Huddlestone but Pepe Reina raced off his line to clear the danger.

The sting had been taken out of Liverpool's early onslaught as Spurs began to retain possession, but their opponents' constant harrying in dreadful conditions made life difficult.

Vedran Corluka tried his luck from out wide on the left after being teed up by David Bentley but his effort sailed wide.

The Spurs defence was opened up in the 29th minute when Kuyt nodded the ball down to Gerrard, who expertly weaved his way into the penalty area - however, his shot lacked the quality of the approaching run.

A desperate pass from Alvaro Arbeloa gave possession back to Spurs and the home side were holding their own in a keenly contested midfield battle.

But a dangerous run by Albert Riera underlined the threat posed by Liverpool as the ball was worked to Keane, who saw his shot easily blocked by a small posse of white shirts.

Reina was presented with a far tougher challenge at the other end in the 41st minute when he pushed aside Luka Modric's impressive effort from the edge of the area.

The ball slipped under the legs of Xabi Alonso's legs, leaving Reina with little time to react, but the Spaniard's reflexes were equal to the task.

Harry Redknapp brought on Pavlyuchenko at the interval and the second half was just moments old when the Russian dragged a shot wide.

Spurs were concerned when Kuyt charged towards the goal, with the ball popping up to Gerrard - whose shot was tipped onto the right corner of the woodwork by Gomes.

The England midfielder, spotting Gomes was stranded, then tried a looping shot from out wide but only found the top of the net.

Gomes flapped as Alonso sneaked in at the far post but the Spaniard's header slipped wide when he should have hit the target.

Liverpool should have been out of sight as the match but the visitors equalised against the run of play when Carragher, under pressure from Ledley King, headed a corner into his own net.

And the majority of the White Hart Lane supporters were delighted when Pavlyuchenko tucked home Darren Bent's pass to complete the comeback.

Rafa: We Missed Too Many Chances

Rafa Benitez expressed his disappointment after the 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur saying that he cannot believe Liverpool lost the game at White Hart Lane.

The Reds dominated large period of the game and after taking an early lead through Dirk Kuyt, were denied by the woodwork twice with skipper Steven Gerrard unlucky on both occasions plus there were other chances that went begging, while Spurs got the equaliser in the second half through Jamie Carragher own-goal and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the winner for Harry Redknapp's side in the closing stages.

It was the first defeat of the season for the Reds, who now are displaced to second place in the Premiership table with Chelsea at the top due to better goal-difference.

"I can't believe we have lost this game," Reds boss Benitez is quoted as saying on the club’s official website.

"After playing well in the first half we started the second half with four clear chances. We hit the bar and Kuyt and Alonso had great chances that we didn't take.

"Always it's important to create chances but you have to score from them. We were going forward, controlling the game and were dominant.

"I am really disappointed but it was really bad luck because everybody could see we were better than them.

"We were talking on the bench saying we have to score the second goal to finish the match off. I made some changes and thought the pace of Babel could make a difference, but to concede the two goals is something that is difficult to explain.

"As a team we were really good but we need to take our chances. That makes the difference in a game like this.

"Everybody was really disappointed in the dressing room because we know we had the game in our hands, but sometimes in football you need luck. It was a game we easily could have won 4-0."

Torres Set For Atleti Encounter

Having missed his homecoming against his former club at the Vicente Calderon, Fernando Torres is set to play some part in the return fixture this week.

Torres has been out of action for Liverpool since suffering a hamstring injury during Spain's World Cup qualifier against Belgium earlier in the month.

It was rumoured that the 24-year-old striker might have made the bench for yesterday's trip to Tottenham, but he was left at home once more as the Reds crashed to their first defeat of the season.

However, Rafa Benitez has confirmed that Fernando Torres will make the squad for Tuesday's Champions League Matchday 4 clash with Atletico Madrid.

"Fortunately, Fernando is ready to play," said Benitez. "I don't know if he will start, but he will definitely be on the bench, barring anything unexpected."

Liverpool and Atletico Madrid currently sit atop Group D with seven points each, making the match a vital encounter. If Torres does participate, it will be the first time he has played against the club that gave him his debut as a 16-year-old.

Liverpool Fans Reject George Gillett's Olive Branch Offer

LIVERPOOL FC supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly last night hit out at George Gillett’s claims that he had repaired his relationship with both the club’s fans and co-owner Tom Hicks.

A statement released by the group said Gillett and Hicks were “sadly mistaken” if they believed the anger towards them has in any way subsided “following the recent success on the pitch for Liverpool”.

It said: “Anger towards the owners has remained as high as ever. Gillett and Hicks should not mistake satisfaction with the performance of the team and manager (the renewal of whose contract remains one more undelivered promise) for fans softening their stance on wanting to rid the club of them.”

Yesterday’s Daily Post reported remarks Gillett made in an interview with a Toronto radio station in which the Canadian admitted he and Hicks got off on the “wrong basis” and are “embarrassed” by it.

He also suggested his relationship with the fans had improved.

Last night Spirit of Shankly said the comments had not helped repair the rift with the fans.

The statement added: “Where is their admission that they have got off on the wrong basis with Liverpool Football Club, the fans and manager?

“Where is their apology for the embarrassment they have caused the football club and those associated with it, through their inept running of the club, and their petty squabbles played out in the public domain?

“George Gillett seems to think he can win fans over by hailing Rafael Benitez, as ‘one of the great coaches’. Fans have had this opinion for a long time.

“George Gillett and Tom Hicks should think again if they believe fans are going to be taken in by their PR spin.

“Those running the football club are inept and need to go now to allow this club to move forward on and off the pitch.”

Spirit of Shankly said it reiterated its message to Hicks and Gillett to get out of the club. The group claimed the pair have no money, credibility, honesty, integrity, or dignity.

‘I Could Never Leave Anfield’

TO mark his fifth anniversary as Liverpool skipper, Steven Gerrard has given his personal account of what it takes to wear the armband in the recently released "Captain's Book”. Here, in an exclusive extract from the book, Gerrard tells of the moment he offered to give up the captain's role he cherishes and how he could never quit Anfield.

AFTER winning the European Cup in Istanbul in May 2005, Steven Gerrard ended up spending most of the summer agonising over his future.

Chelsea had come calling for the second time in little more than a year and the Huyton-born midfielder came perilously close to joining Jose Mourinho’s squad.

But having pulled back from the brink because, when it came down to it, he simply could not bear to leave the club he had supported all his life, Gerrard thought it only right that he should offer to give up the club captaincy.

“In my heart, this is my club and I want to bring success here for the supporters,” he writes.

“For their sake as well as my own, I never want to go through the events of July 2005 ever again.

“That was when I told Liverpool I wanted to leave (to go to Chelsea). But I just didn’t want to let go of what I’ve worked so hard for and as everyone knows by now, I could never leave this club.

“I’ve been here since I was eight years of age. I’d worked so hard to become captain and had so many great times and have got great relationships with people here.

“I knew the club deserved the next five to ten years of my career and I didn’t – and don’t – want to give those years to any other club. I want to give them to Liverpool.

“Winning the league is what I want more than anything and Liverpool is the only place I ever wanted to win it.

“I think that those few days in early July, 2005 where the most difficult days of my life.

“I’m not proud of them. I wanted it all to blow over and for it all to be forgotten about. I just wanted to get on with my football.

“At times, I thought I’d played my last game. I did a lot of thinking and I became really confused.

“It was difficult and I wouldn’t wish what I went through on any other player or any other person.

“I know I hurt the fans at the time and they were entitled to their opinion.

“I had to explain why I was turning Chelsea down at a press conference in June 2004 and I had to put them through it all again a year or so later.

“After it all happened, I said to the manager I would like to speak to the players on my own because I knew some of them had been frustrated with what had gone on, just like the fans.

“I offered to give up the armband which would have broken my heart but it was right to make the offer.”

Fortunately for Liverpool, the offer was turned down and Gerrard remains Reds skipper to this day.

Florent Sinama-Pongolle Eyes Happy Return

TUESDAY would, said Florent Sinama-Pongolle in the understated manner that is his style, feel “a very special night”. He had known one or two at Anfield during his four years there - fewer than he would have liked - and one memorable enough that he can foresee his name being applauded on Tuesday night. Without Sinama-Pongolle, Liverpool would not have won the European Cup in 2005. Without his equalising goal on a dramatic December evening against Olympiakos, Liverpool would not have reached the knockout stage.

At Liverpool, Sinama-Pongolle - “Flo” to his friends - had a career of cameos, no more. In Spain, where he has spent the past two seasons, joining Atletico Madrid at the beginning of this, his third in La Liga, he can boast much better. Indeed, last month, Sinama-Pongolle made his senior international debut for France. He did not turn 24 until 11 days ago. Still to reach his prime, he has already been on quite a zigzag of a journey.

Flo Sinama-Pongolle was discovered by Gerard Houllier, Liverpool manager at the time, playing for France at the 2001 under-17 world championships, where he emerged the outstanding player. Although he and his contemporary, Anthony Le Tallec, from Le Havre, made a big noise, neither broke through to establish first-team status and Sinama-Pongolle was subsequently lent to Blackburn Rovers by Houllier’s successor, Rafa Benitez. Still, it was Benitez who helped make the deal that relaunched him.

He joined newly promoted Recreativo de Huelva in the summer of 2006 and from there his career flew, his goals helping Recre to a healthy eighth in La Liga. The next season, he contributed as effectively. Benfica wanted him; so did Paris St Germain. Atletico had lost a striker, Fernando Torres, and they paid £5m for Sinama-Pongolle in July 2008 and after a month of this season, he was La Liga’s highest scorer. “It was a great run, everything I tried went in,” he says. “But I am mature enough to know I wouldn’t always be like that.”

Despite his success, Sinama-Pongolle had been sad to leave Liverpool. “They gave me so much, but by the end I needed to play first-team football,” he added. “Coming to Spain has been good. I’ve worked hard for this, pushed myself.”

Come Tuesday, Sinama-Pongolle will have a special interest in shining. “It’s a big night for me. For players like Torres and Pepe Reina, it was special coming to Madrid. Me, I’ve been looking forward to going back to Anfield.”

Rafa's Repeat Fear

Rafa Benitez hopes Liverpool's owners will sort out his future and avoid a Valencia style crash.

Benitez's Reds have made a flying start in the Premier League despite the Spaniard's future still being in major doubt.

His contract expires in the summer of 2010 and even though he met co-owner George Gillett in London there have stil been no discussions about an extension.

Benitez has been here before and his old club Valencia suffered bitterly from this kind uncertainty.

He had guided the unfancied side to a La Liga title in 2002. But there were no talks about his own future and having won another title and the Uefa Cup in 2004, a frustrated Benitez left for Anfield that summer.

Since then Valencia have had four permanent managers and have failed to build on success.

Benitez said of his current position: "After improving the squad for five years we know that we are very, very close to having a fantastic team and I want to be part of the future."

Benitez Keen To Seal The Deal

Rafael Benitez wants Liverpool's progress into the Champions League knockout stages secured as quickly as possible so he can concentrate on the Barclays Premier League.

Benitez sees Tuesday's Group D match at home to Atletico Madrid as the opportunity to settle one issue and give himself the luxury of qualifying for the last 16 with two games to spare for the first time.

That would mean Liverpool can focus their energy on their attempt to win the league title for the first time in 18 years.

If Liverpool beat Atletico and PSV Eindhoven lose in Marseille, the five-time European champions will be guaranteed a place in the knockout phase in February.

Their final two group matches against Marseille at Anfield on November 26 and away to Eindhoven on December 9 would allow Benitez to rest senior men and give squad players valuable European experience.

That is par for the course at Manchester United, but not something Benitez has managed at Anfield.

Benitez, whose side were held to a 1-1 draw in Madrid last month, said: "Clearly we want to be qualified for the knockout stages as quickly as we can, and a win on Tuesday will almost certainly settle that.

"But Madrid are a fine side, and away from home they are very dangerous on the counter-attack with some outstanding players of pace and quality.

"If we can win it will be a massive result for us. If we can get the points to qualify as soon as possible it will take a lot of pressure from us.

"It will mean that we can use other players in the final group matches and be able to concentrate our strengths and efforts in the Premier League to maintain our position in the title race.

"But I am sure that Atletico Madrid is thinking just the same thing, they will want to ensure their qualification as quickly as possible, too."

Atletico would also ensure a place in the last 16 if they won at Anfield and PSV lost in the south of France.

"The incentive for both clubs is clear, the winners would have 10 points and that could well be enough," Benitez added.

Benitez expects to have former Atletico striker Fernando Torres back on Tuesday, the Spanish international having missed the trip to the Vicente Calderon last month with a hamstring injury suffered on international duty.

"Torres is very, very close. But we have still been winning without him so we will not take any risks," added Benitez.

"But clearly he is very important to us. He can win games when we are not playing well. He can change games.

"Always you miss a player like that, but I am really pleased with the performances of the other players without him.

"We have good quality, so when one or two big players are not available we have handled that situation.

"What pleases me is that we have been without three of our top players for maybe half the games we have played this season.

"Javier Mascherano, Torres and Martin Skrtel have all missed several games each but we are still doing okay.

"That shows the quality we have in the squad now, it has improved at Liverpool."

The game will be an emotional one for Torres, a boyhood Atletico fan who scored 102 goals in 243 appearances for the club between 2001 and 2007.

But it will also see a return to Anfield for former Liverpool stars Luis Garcia - a hero of the Champions League Final victory in Istanbul three years ago - and Florent Sinama Pongolle.

Garcia left Liverpool for Atletico in 2007 after three seasons in which he made 77 league appearances, scoring 18 goals. His most significant strike in a red shirt came when he got the only goal in the 2005 semi-final against Chelsea.

Sinama Pongolle also made a telling contribution to that Liverpool campaign, scoring the first of three second-half goals which rescued them from elimination against Olympiacos in December 2004.

Messi Tips Liverpool To Win Champions League

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has revealed that Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool are his pick to claim Champions League glory this season.

The Reds are currently second in the Premier League and head Champions League Group D where they look odds on to qualify for the knock-out stages.

The club have famously claimed European glory on five previous occasions, most recently in 2005, and were also runners-up in 2007.

As reported by, the Argentinean admitted he fancied their chances again this season. He said: “If I had to choose anyone to win the Champions League then it would be Liverpool.”

The Barca ace highlighted several of their players to back up his claim and also alluded to the fact that their great strength makes them a difficult side to break down. Messi explained: “They have great players like Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano, and they are difficult to play against.”

The Argentinean and Barcelona star tasted defeat by Manchester United in the semi-final of the Champions League last season but Barca are currently unbeaten in Group C where they top the standings and look certain to progress.

Yet Messi also knows Liverpool well from the last time the two sides met in the competition, back in 2007. Although the two legs ended with the teams level, the score being 2-2, Liverpool progressed on away goals.

Whilst Messi admitted Liverpool did not always play the most attractive football, he did concede that they were effective - and that might see them into the final next May. He concluded: “Maybe there are teams that play better football, but I can see them getting to the final in Rome.”

Liverpool are in Champions League action in midweek as they welcome Atletico Madrid to Anfield, whilst Barcelona face Basel at home.

Heskey Set To Leave Wigan In Summer? Liverpool, Spurs & Aston Villa Linked

Emile Heskey has revealed that he is ambitious to win silverware and as such suggested that he is ready to leave Wigan Athletic, while Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa have been linked with the England striker.

The 30-year-old former Leicester City and Birmingham City star had a trophy-laden spell at Liverpool earlier in his career, and is now keen to add to his medals.

Heskey told the Daily Telegraph: "Am I ambitious? Playing football, you've got to be.

"I've won trophies, played at the highest level, won the Uefa Cup, the FA Cup, league cups and the Super Cup with Liverpool.

"That's why you come into football. But I want to win more."

He also revealed that he will consider his options in the summer as fair bit of interest is generated in the powerful forward following his recent performances that were inspiring for Three Lions as well as the Latics.

"At this stage of my career, I’ll sit down in the summer and sit down and think. Until then I'm just concentrating on getting things right at Wigan," he added.