Sunday, November 16, 2008

Match Report: Bolton Wanderers 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Liverpool survived a test of character at Bolton to maintain their challenge at the top of the Premier League.

The disappointment of the Carling Cup defeat at Tottenham in midweek was swept away by what eventually turned out to be a convincing victory.

Liverpool have never enjoyed Bolton's physical approach but this time they stuck to their gameplan and won with fine goals from Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard.

Kuyt opened the scoring from Fabio Aurelio's cross, before Gary Cahill's header was controversially ruled out by referee Rob Styles.

And despite some more nervous moments, the Reds eventually sealed victory when Gerrard headed in substitute Fernando Torres' cross.

Bolton recalled captain Kevin Nolan following suspension, with Ricardo Gardner dropping to the bench.

Liverpool decided against including 20-year-old Stephen Darby for his league debut at right-back and switched Jamie Carragher from the centre of defence. Sami Hyypia retained his place alongside Daniel Agger.

Torres, who was taken off after 55 minutes at White Hart Lane and criticised by manager Rafael Benitez for his display, was left on the bench as Liverpool made nine changes.

The visitors found out quickly that they would have to match Bolton's industry and willpower. Tackles by Gavin McCann and Fabrice Muamba on Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano showed that.

But Liverpool soon had Bolton pinned back, with only Kevin Davies up front as they got defenders Hyypia, Agger and Carragher into dangerous wide positions.

Likewise Albert Riera, but he twice wasted excellent openings on the right with poor delivery early on.

Liverpool's patient build-up was starting to stretch Bolton. Mascherano and Gerrard both saw long shots go close before Dirk Kuyt saw an effort crash against the bar after 24 minutes from a Gerrard pass.

The Reds forged ahead when Aurelio crossed from the left after 29 minutes and Kuyt rose to send a looping header into the top corner for the lead.

Liverpool then started to power forward and somehow Robbie Keane managed to miss an open goal from two yards before Agger flashed a 25-yard effort just wide of the far post.

Bolton had an effort from Cahill disallowed seconds before the break when he headed in a corner, with referee Styles insisting that Reina had been fouled seconds earlier.

Styles was booed off by the home fans at the break and almost from the restart Bolton were awarded a string of free-kicks which allowed them to mount the sort of intense aerial pressure they excel at.

Gardner came on for Muamba at the break and when he broke clear on the left after 52 minutes he almost equalised, as Reina's rush from his line forced a shot into the side-netting. Agger, hurling himself towards the post, collided with the woodwork.

Liverpool then brought on Torres for Keane and from a right-wing cross from the Spanish striker, Gerrard almost got the second goal from a yard out.

Liverpool were hanging on to their lead as Bolton hammered away in search of an equaliser.

But the danger was always clear for the home side with Torres now on the pitch.

And after 73 minutes he created a superb second goal for Liverpool, clipping in a cross with the outside of his foot for Gerrard to send past Jaaskelainen with a diving header.

It could have been three for Liverpool in the closing stages, the Bolton goalkeeper saving superbly from Torres and then Xabi Alonso.

Torres could also have scored after 88 minutes but he struck the post from Lucas' lay-off.

Spine Tingling

When you look at Liverpool, you've got to look at the players down the spine of the team: Reina, Carragher, Gerrard and Torres.

Put those four players on the pitch and Liverpool are as good as anybody. If those guys are fit for the whole season I'd say Liverpool will be a major threat.

But if they are without two of them for a consistent amount of time during the season they will struggle. We saw that in midweek when only Torres started against Spurs.

They were properly turned over and that would worry me if I was the manager of Liverpool. It's not a problem if the squad players only have to come in for one or two games, but if they need to play for several weeks without those key players then they won't pick up nearly enough points.

It's good news for them that Torres is fit again. When Liverpool played Spurs in the league they dominated the game and should have been out of sight by half time.

If Torres had been playing they would have won the match and his return means they'll be able to close games out much better.

Away at Bolton is the sort of game Liverpool need to win if they want to challenge for the title. Gary Megson's side have turned it around a bit lately and are becoming hard to beat again, like they were under Big Sam.

They haven't had that fear factor of late, but recently they've upped their work-rate and that's what they need.

As long as they work hard they'll stay up because they have got players capable of good things. Matty Taylor is a good player with a great left foot and Kevin Nolan is getting back to his best.

Nolan got a few plaudits when Sam was there and he can count himself unlucky he didn't play for England a couple of years ago. He's not getting as many goals now but he's doing a good job which has been going unnoticed.

But I think this will be a game too far for Bolton. Liverpool are too strong all round the pitch and I can't see how Bolton can beat them. Who would get in the Liverpool team from the Bolton team? Nobody.

Benitez: We Were Good For The Win

Liverpool trotted away from the Reebok Stadium with the win as Bolton Wanderers failed to take their chances. Man of the match Xabi Alonso told Sky Sports of the importance of maintaining a lofty position at the top of the league, and was happy with taking away maximum points.

Liverpool followed up the disappointment of a midweek Carling Cup exit with a solid win over Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League this lunchtime.

A goal on either side of the half sealed the Trotters' fate. Dirk Kuyt scored a well-worked team goal in the opening 45 minutes and Steven Gerrard put the tie to rest in the second.

Midfielder Xabi Alonso believes the points are more important than the performance, and told Sky Sports:

"We probably should have scored more but the most important thing is the points.

"It's important to be top [of the league]... we know we have to carry on though and we will see at the end of the season where we are," he said.

"There is confidence [in the team], we are scoring goals and winning games."

Manager Rafa Benitez added: "I think the win was deserved.

"We had two or three chances in the first half, we took one, got another in the second, and overall we were good for the win... we could have had four or five."

Rafa Raves Over Revitalised Alonso

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has heaped praise upon midfield maestro Xabi Alonso, suggesting that his fellow Spaniard is approaching career-best form.

Xabi Alonso was man-of-the-match as the Reds romped to a 2-0 win against Bolton Wanderers yesterday afternoon. His silky passing opened up the game early on, but his defensive nous proved just as valuable when the Trotters pressed forward during the second half.

It is amazing to think that the Basque playmaker would not still be wowing Premier League crowds with his majestic 65-yarders if Juventus had been willing to meet Liverpool's asking price during the summer, or if Gareth Barry had made his long-expected switch from Aston Villa to Anfield.

Injuries and a drawn-out recovery process saw Alonso slip down Benitez's pecking order last season. Javier Mascherano's growing reputation as the best defensive midfielder in the world made him undroppable, while Brazilian youngster Lucas Leiva was staking a strong claim for the other deep-lying spot behind Steven Gerrard.

But after an excellent showing at EURO 2008, the former Real Sociedad player has well and truly re-established himself as a first-team regular. And his manager couldn't be happier.

When asked if Alonso was in the best form of his Liverpool career, Benitez told the club's official website: "Clearly he is playing well.

"He played really well in his first year too. Okay, now he has more confidence and the players around him are maybe better too, like Gerrard and Javier Mascherano."

Alonso's champions have often suggested that his supposed drop in form after his debut season, 2004-05, was down to a lack of quality in the Merseysiders' attack. That problem seems to have been addressed, at long last.

The efforts of Albert Riera, who signed from Espanyol during the summer, have earned particular praise. The Spain winger has been a hit on the left flank, and many believe his touchline-hugging play has contributed hugely to Alonso's resurgence.

But Benitez believes his £40 million strike-duo should also take some of the credit: "It makes it easier for a midfielder when they have good movements of people like Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane in front."

Degen Out For Four Weeks

Liverpool defender Philipp Degen will be out of action for up to four weeks after sustaining a foot injury against Tottenham in the Carling Cup.

The 24-year-old suffered a metatarsal injury during the 4-2 defeat to Spurs and was replaced by 20-year-old Stephen Darby.

This is the latest in a long line of injuries for the defender since he joined the club in July 2008, restricting him to just two first-team appearances.

The Swiss international's latest setback has given manager Rafa Benitez a dilemma. With Alvaro Arbeloa suspended for the weekend trip to Bolton the Liverpool boss may have to play Jamie Carragher or Darby at full-back.

The Liverpool boss has remained upbeat and is confident that Degen can return to action quickly.

He said: "It's a pity for Philipp because he hasn't had much luck with injuries so far, but hopefully he can come back from this problem quickly.

"It's always a problem when you have two players for a position and one of them gets injured, and even more of a problem when the other player is suspended for a game.

"But we have options within the squad and we'll have to decide what we want to do for the game at Bolton."

The only other absentee for the Reds trip to the Reebok is defender Martin Skrtel and Benitez feels the fact that he only has two injuries to deal with justifies the fact that he made 10 changes for the Carling Cup match.

He added: "A lot of players were rested for the game at Tottenham because they had been playing a lot of football, but they will be back this weekend.

"They have looked sharp in training and will benefit from having a week free of competitive football."

Babel Airs Anfield Frustrations

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel has admitted his frustrations at a lack of opportunities at Anfield.

The Dutchman has earned a 'super sub' reputation on Merseyside due to his consistent match-winning impact from the bench since an £11.5million move from Ajax in 2007.

Babel helped Liverpool edge out Arsenal in a thrilling UEFA Champions League quarter-final last season and scored the Premier League winner against Manchester United in September after entering both games from the sidelines.

But the 21-year-old, who is usually deployed on the wings by manager Rafa Benitez, confesses that he is unhappy with a deficiency in first-team starts.

"I'm satisfied with my level of performance but the situation is clear - that I'm not going to be one of the regular 11 starters," Babel said in The Guardian.

"It's difficult. I do get frustrated. I can tell myself that I'm still only 21 and at the start of my career.

"But it is making it hard for me because, as time goes on, they keep telling me that I'm young and that my time will come. Well, OK, but I'm not a player who wants to wait. I want to be involved now rather than in three or four years' time."

Babel has also stated that he would rather compete with strikers Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres than be deployed in a wide role.

"I have always said that I want to play as a striker," he added.

"Of course, it would not help me improve if I wasn't able to play, or train, in another position a couple of times. But all the time?

"I used to play as a striker in Holland. I grew up as a striker. That's the position I want to play.

"But I'm working on it. I look at myself before I blame others. I'm going to do something about it. It's not something I'm scared about."

New Yanks Snub For Rafa

Rafa Benitez has suffered yet another SNUB at the hands of Liverpool's owners.

The Kop manager expected contract talks to open this week but Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett have not even decided who will negotiate on their behalf.

Despite Steven Gerrard helping Liverpool to a 2-0 win at Bolton to continue their best ever Premier League start, the American owners have no intention of reaching a speedy conclusion to negotiations — even though they run the risk of losing key players if they delay the manager’s contract.

The pair even seem happy to wait until the summer before concluding a deal.

And, although the pair released a joint statement backing their boss, the News of the World understands there remain deep divisions on what form any contract should take.

Benitez revealed this week preliminary talks had started - but this was nothing more than his advisors contacting the club.

Co-owner Gillett, in particular, wants to play a waiting game to see if Liverpool maintain their fantastic start and is especially concerned about Liverpool’s scouting set-up following the fringe players’ defeat to Spurs in midweek.

Rafa has launched a passionate defence of his talent spotters. He said: “We should remember that the scouting department has signed Skrtel, Reina, Torres, Kuyt, Agger and Mascherano, who was struggling at West Ham but has come here and been amazing.”

There are fears Hicks, who insisted on news of the planned talks being announced, is exploiting Liverpool’s brilliant start to the season as a public relations stunt to help push forward a sale.

Rafa Cuts Losses On Dossena

Andres Dossena may head for Juventus or Roma as Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez looks to cut his losses on the full-back flop.

Italian international Dossena has failed to deliver since his £7million summer move from Udinese, and several Serie A clubs have been alerted to his immediate availability.

Benitez would off-load the left-back in January for the right price, although the Merseysiders are sure to incur a loss due to his dreadful form.

Roma and Juve were battling with Liverpool for Dossena’s signature at the end of last season and are considering re-igniting their interest.

Dossena remains highly-rated in his home country.

And his poor displays in England have been attributed to his inability to adapt to the pace of the Premier League.