Thursday, November 13, 2008

Match Report: Tottenham Hotspur 4 - 2 LiverpooL

Harry Redknapp's magic touch continued with victory over Liverpool at White Hart Lane to secure Tottenham a place in the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup.

As if to illustrate the manager's impact since taking charge 18 days ago, it was two players on the fringes during Redknapp's revolution who turned the tie with three goals in six minutes just before the break against Rafael Benitez's reserves.

Roman Pavlyuchenko, who netted the late winner when Liverpool were beaten by Spurs in the Premier League, opened the scoring with a crisp finish before Fraizer Campbell added his first two for the club since his loan from Manchester United.

Damien Plessis and Sami Hyypia pulled goals back either side Pavlyuchenko's second, stirring memories of their second-half Istanbul comeback in the 2005 Champions League final - but Spurs held on to stay in the competition they won in February under Juande Ramos.

It is now five wins and a draw since the new manager was appointed.

Redknapp clearly wants to keep his whole squad happy and motivated - that was shown by the entire team shaking hands with suspended full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto when they returned from the warm-up.

Fabio Capello was in the stands to cast an eye on Darren Bent - the player most transformed since Redknapp's arrival - but Pavlyuchenko and Campbell were given their opportunities instead.

Capello could still look at Tom Huddlestone, whose range of passing was the bright spots in a dull opening to the match.

There was only a tame penalty shout of note before the match exploded into life seven minutes before the break after Gareth Bale slipped the ball down the left flank for Campbell.

The low cross was met first time by Pavlyuchenko and the powerful finish went through Diego Cavalieri's legs.

Jamie O'Hara should have added a second a minute later, with Campbell again providing but Cavalieri saved, then Ryan Babel and Pavlyuchenko were booked as the intensity rose.

Campbell grabbed his first in the 42nd minute after O'Hara chipped through, Cavalieri and Andrea Dossena got in the way of each other, leaving an open goal for the striker.

His next goal was a header from Aaron Lennon's cross, a neat finish to give Spurs a three-goal lead.

Liverpool have history when it comes to coming back from 3-0 down, and they were given hope when Plessis headed home Babel's corner from the left three minutes after the restart.

Pavlyuchenko replied immediately, restoring the three-goal cushion when he tapped in Didier Zokora's cross.

Fernando Torres was struggling on his return from his hamstring tear. He barely had sight of goal on his comeback and his evening was brought to an end 11 minutes into the second half when he was taken off for Emiliano Insua.

Apart from Torres and Daniel Agger, though, it was a second-string side that Benitez put out and there was no Steven Gerrard to inspire another famous comeback.

But their hopes did not fade entirely with Torres' departure, as Hyypia headed in from another corner, with Benitez then sending on Xabi Alonso.

As Spurs protected their lead, there were worrying scenes for Redknapp as goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes required lengthy treatment after Philipp Degen caught him.

Gomes was carried off on a stretcher in a neck brace, with oxygen required for the Brazilian, who was replaced by Cesar Sanchez.

Pavlyuchenko had a first hat-trick in English football in his sights but fired straight at Cavalieri when he raced through.

Liverpool fans thought they should have had a penalty when Bale tackled Degen.

Kevin-Prince Boateng, another player frozen out by Ramos, was also brought on for an appearance.

Benitez Defends Reds Selection

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has defended his decision to field reserves in the Carling Cup defeat by Tottenham on Wednesday night.

While Arsenal's youngsters looked ready for the top flight when they booked their place in the Carling Cup quarter-final earlier in the week, Benitez's second-string struggled at White Hart Lane and were defeated 4-2.

"They are internationals and have quality, but we didn't play well," said Benitez.

"I think they can still do well. When you have two or three not playing well, though, it's difficult for the others to keep up their levels.

"The young players need to play more games like this - win some games, lose some games, gain some experience."

Liverpool remain second in the Premier League but there will now be doubts if Benitez's squad players are ready to step in when suspensions and injuries

"If the team goes to Bolton and wins, we'll still be top of the table and everyone will be talking about our priorities," added the Spaniard.

"We're disappointed because I want to win every game. We had a lot of quality in that team and wanted to win. But you have to think about priorities.

"The Champions League and the Premier League are the priorities. After that, the FA Cup."

Spurs sealed their place in the last eight after two goals apiece for Roman Pavlyuchenko and Fraizer Campbell - strikers who have so far been overshadowed by Darren Bent since Harry Redknapp's arrival as manager.

"A lot of the heads were down, he's come in and stroked their egos a bit," said Campbell on Sky Sports 1.

Liverpool scored through Damien Plessis and Sami Hyypia, with Spurs seeing out the final 20 minutes despite having goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes carried off on a stretcher after a blow to the head.

The injury looked serious at the time but the Brazilian did not need to go to hospital and was able to talk to his team-mates after the win.

It means Redknapp, who was celebrating the birth of his grandchild Beau earlier this week, is still unbeaten as Spurs boss.

"The run will come to an end at some point, that's for sure," he said.

"The morale's great. They're all enjoying it. It's easy when you're winning.

"That's why we want to keep this run going. We're going well. We've got a big chance, here. But we have to keep going - we need league points."

Rafael Benitez Bemoans Errors In Liverpool FC Defence

Unhappy Rafael Benitez bemoaned the “very poor” defending that ensured a Carling Cup hammering for Liverpool.

The Anfield outfit conceded three goals in seven minutes before half-time before ultimately crashing to a 4-2 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in their fourth round tie.

A Roman Pavlyuchenko strike and two from Fraizer Campbell sent the Londoners on their way to inflicting a second loss on Benitez’s side in 11 days, following their earlier 2-1 Premier League triumph at White Hart Lane.

Pavlyuchenko scored another after the interval to leave goals from Damien Plessis – the first of his Anfield career – and Sami Hyypia as mere consolation for the visitors.

And a hugely disappointed Benitez admitted a woeful first-half display had cost his much-changed team.

“It was very unlike us,” said the Liverpool manager. “We were very poor in the last minutes of the first half.

“If you make one mistake and concede then you can change things around in the second half, but to concede three goals in a couple of minutes meant it was difficult for us to change anything.

“In the Premier League game here we played really well, but tonight we played really badly in the first half.

“In the second half, the commitment and effort from the players was much better and we scored two goals and had other opportunities, but we were always chasing the game and leaving ourselves open to a good counter-attacking side.

“We needed to play well, and instead we played badly and made some bad mistakes in defence.”

Benitez made 10 changes from the team that beat West Bromwich Albion 3-0 at the weekend, with Daniel Agger the only survivor.

Along with Plessis, youngsters David Ngog and Nabil El Zhar were handed starts while Philipp Degen and Diego Cavalieri made only their second appearances since their summer arrivals.

Reserve team captain Stephen Darby made his debut as a late substitute for Degen.

But Benitez defended his selection policy for the Carling Cup, and said: “You have to use the whole squad in this competition as you cannot have players playing in every game, especially when you are playing twice a week.

“Some need to rest and you need to use the squad. Many of the players we brought in tonight are internationals and have quality. But it’s clear they didn’t play well as a team.

“I’m not picking on any individuals. The youngsters would have been better had some of the more senior players done well. But they will get more experience from nights like this.”

Benitez added: “If the team goes to Bolton and wins then we will still be at the top of the table and people will talk about us doing well and the Premier League being our priority.

“But I am disappointed because I want to win every gamer. We came here with a lot of players with quality for winning.”

Fernando Torres, who made his first start since his hamstring injury last month, was substituted after 56 minutes with Benitez admitting he was nursing the striker back to full fitness.

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said: “If you’re in it, you want to win it.

“I’ve sensed a strong desire that they want to win every game.”

Of Campbell who netted twice, his first goals since arriving from Manchester United on loan, Redknapp said: “You can see why Sir Alex Ferguson turned down £7million for him from Hull.”

The result maintains Redknapp’s unbeaten record and he joked: “I should get out now, I’ve taken them as far as I can.

“It’s been a terrific start but you know you’ll have ups and downs.

“Saturday is a massive game against Fulham, there are 14 teams scrapping away and can be in trouble.”

Heurelho Gomes was carried off on a stretcher after taking a blow to the head but the injury was not serious – and there were still smiles in the dressing room afterwards.

“They are all enjoying it, when you are winning its easy,” Redknapp said. “That is why we want to keep this run going.”

Cash Crisis Could Force American Co-Owners To Accept £500m Bid From Sheikh Mohammed

Tom Hicks and George Gillett may have to swallow their pride and accept a take-it-or-leave-it £500million buy-out offer from Sheikh Mohammed in the wake of grim forecasts about their prospects of steering Liverpool through a worsening financial crisis.

With the deadline looming for repayment of a £350million loan to Royal Bank of Scotland, Liverpool's co-owners face a dilemma over their next move, following claims from financial expert Keith Harris that the Anfield club are 'the ones who worry me most.'
Sportsmail understands a £500million bid from Sheikh Mohammed is still on the table, after being lodged last February, but that it may be withdrawn, if the Americans are forced into a corner by their bank.

Hicks and Gillett are considering asking RBS for a six-month extension on their debt but are acutely aware of the implications, should their plea fail.

A healthy profit of up to £75million each still awaits them, if they accept defeat in an often acrimonious power battle with the Dubai leader and pocket his long-standing offer, but the terms could change drastically, if they take it to the wire and are denied more time to raise the necessary funds.

A refusal from RBS would be followed by an instruction to sell-up, and the Sheikh would need no crash course in the rudiments of business to sense a killing. Hicks and Gillett would no longer have any bargaining power, and a revised figure of around £350million, just enough to clear the arrears, would be the likely outcome.

With the credit crunch biting ever deeper, and Hicks and Gillett struggling to service debts and plans for a new stadium, they are unlikely to risk waiting for the bank's January 25 deadline and may even force the issue in the next few weeks.

Gillett indicated a willingness to deal with Sheikh Mohammed earlier this year, given the package would clear the £350million the American pair owed and still leave a surplus to be shared between them, but Hicks remained defiant.

The oil-rich billionaire is keen to pursue a rivalry with Manchester City's Abu Dhabi owners and is confident it is only a matter of time before he finally assumes control at Anfield. Time appears to be running out for the Americans, who are playing a game of brinkmanship that could leave them out of pocket if RBS bow to pressure from the current economic climate and call in their debt over the next couple of months.

Anfield fans' group ShareLiverpoolFC continue to demand a role in the club's future ownership but are still awaiting an invitation to talks from Hicks and Gillett.
Meanwhile, Harris appeared to backtrack over his claims that there seemed little chance of finding a buyer for Everton.

'There are certainly grounds for optimism,' he said. 'It is a terrific club, and having Bill Kenwright as chairman is one of its strongest selling points. I did not say there was no hope of selling Everton. There are plenty of people having a serious look.'

Liverpool Owners Tom Hicks And George Gillett Hit Out At Cash Crisis Rumours

Liverpool's American owners have firmly rejected suggestions that they are facing serious problems with debt amid the pressure of the global credit crunch.

Although both Tom Hicks and George Gillett have not directly commented, they are understood to be infuriated by the intervention of Keith Harris, one of English football's main power brokers, who has publicly expressed his concern over developments on Merseyside.

"Keith has an agenda here and is making mischief – the truth is our debt is lower than people think and manageable given the club's profitability," said a source close to Liverpool's owners.

"All the top clubs have debt, and Liverpool's is in fact lower than Arsenal and Manchester United."

The Americans are also adamant that the actual serviceable level of debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia is around £200 million rather than the £350 million loan figure that is regularly reported.

Harris was in Zurich with other leading figures in football at the International Football Arena on Tuesday.

"The one that worries me is Liverpool," he said. "The banks are two of those that have suffered, so whether they want to lend it again or not, they may not be able to. What normally happens in business is, if the banks won't finance, you have to raise equity."

Sources close to the Americans, however, launched a defence of their business plan. They put the actual drawn debt at £265 million, with the remaining balance of the loan made up of an available overdraft facility of £50 million and an undrawn figure of £30 million that will go towards the new stadium.

Hicks and Gillett also had £60 million of cash collateralisation pledged towards the banks, leaving a net debt figure of £205 million. That would be only just over five times the serviceable profitability of £35-40 million, a figure that is argued to provide sustainability and be similar to other competitors, such as Manchester United and Arsenal. Hicks and Gillett plan to use Liverpool's profits to pay the interest on the loans.

The Americans financed their initial purchase of the club with a £298 million loan that was replaced in January by a £350.5 million facility with the same banks. They also remain confident that a six-month extension to their loan is available and can be triggered at any time.

That would take them to July next year and would avert any danger of needing to raise equity by selling players in the January transfer window. Pressure, though, has been mounting in Liverpool on politicians to lobby the banks into refusing to extend the loan beyond January.

Share Liverpool FC, the supporters' group, are also attempting to organise the fan base into collectively raising the funds to bid either independently or with another investor for the club.

A bid for the club of £500 million has been on the table since earlier this year, but it is believed that the potential Dubai investors might be reluctant to maintain that offer as the deadline on the loan nears.

Banks "Could Pull Plug On Gillett And Hicks At Liverpool"

Keith Harris, the man who has brokered five Premier League takeover deals, believes the credit crunch could affect clubs seeking new owners as benefactors become more cautious.

Harris, who has masterminded deals at Chelsea, Aston Villa, Hull, West Ham and Manchester City and is seeking buyers for Newcastle and Everton, claims the economic downturn has made it tougher to find investors willing to risk moving into the top echelons of the game.

“It has never been more difficult to find buyers,” said Harris.

“It’s no longer a question of price negotiation - it’s should we? People are wondering if now is the time to spend.”

Harris is particularly concerned Liverpool may find themselves in financial difficulty if joint owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett fail to pay back a reported £350million worth of debt.

He also claims Merseyside rivals Everton are no longer a realistic proposition to be bought out.

“Liverpool’s debt is due in January, with maybe a six-month extension,” said Harris.

“The two banks which are the principal lenders - the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia - are two of those that have suffered. Whether they want to lend it again or not, they may not be able to.”

Equally alarming, said Harris, was the situation at Everton where there has been no movement in terms of a buyer for the Goodison Park club who, like Liverpool, want to build a new stadium.

“There is no progress at all,” said Harris, chairman of Seymour Pierce investment bank and a former Football League chairman.

Harris, speaking after a private address to football financiers in Zurich, re-iterated there were still two offers on the table for Newcastle but refused to name them.

“The work is progressing. They are wealthy investment funds, not from the Middle East but they do tick the test,” he added.

“The people behind them are first rate. They are capable of doing the deal and of investing in and managing the future.

“I don’t know how to predict when we might do the deal.”

Harris believes the Premier League’s fit and proper persons rule should be reviewed after the debacle of former Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra, who was in charge at Eastlands for a mere 14 months before selling the club to Abu Dhabi Investment Group for almost double what he paid.

“When he was first introduced to me I competed with another major investment bank to become his advisor.

“It wasn’t me who said Man City, it was him who wanted the club,” said Harris.

“We did an investigation into him by one of the big detective agencies. We found there was a military regime that was out to get him at all costs.

“We found that none of the allegations were proven and there was sufficient doubt in everyone’s mind as to what the motivation was of the military government - in short we thought it was out to get him.

“I actually I thought I was siding with the underdog but it went wrong which is sad. I think that probably what will happen now is that there will be an amendment in the way the Premier League view these (kind of) circumstances.”

Harris believes there has been too much negative publicity when it comes to the amount of debt accrued in English football and questioned FA chairman Lord Triesman’s widely-reported comments that the deficit figure was £3billion.

“The numbers he has used are slightly inaccurate,” said Harris. “The published figure is £2.5billion of which £900million is soft debt with no interest costs.

“The problem is only serious if the debt is with clubs which do not generate the cash to service it.”

Liverpool FC Target Admits To Wanting To Play In Liverpool

Portugal winger Simao Sabrosa has revealed his long-term goal is still to play in England.

Simao looked close to joining Liverpool from Benfica in 2005, but that switch fell through and he ended up moving to Atletico Madrid two years later in a transfer reportedly worth around 20 million euros (£13.4million).

The 29-year-old insists he is “very happy” at Atletico, but admits his ambition is to move to the Premier League in the future.

“I signed a four-year contract. I have two more left (after this) and, if I complete them, I will do it happily, but I still have the dream of playing in England,” he said on Portuguese television channel Sic Noticias.

“I’m attracted to the style of play there and their stadiums.”