Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Match Report: PSV Eindhoven 1 - 3 LiverpooL

Liverpool had to come from behind against PSV Eindhoven to clinch top place in Group D, but in the end this Champions League victory was achieved at a canter at the Philips Stadion.

Boss Rafael Benitez rested Steven Gerrard and sent out a much-changed side against the Dutch champions and found themselves behind when Danko Lazovic struck after 36 minutes.

Dutchman Ryan Babel found an equaliser just before the break and from then on there was only ever going to be one winner. Albert Riera belted home a 30-yarder for the second before French youngster David Ngog added a third to ensure the night ended comfortably for the Reds.

Benitez would have been further contented after he was able to blood three local youngsters in European football - Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly all getting their first taste of Champions league football.

PSV needed to win to have any chance of qualifying for the UEFA Cup, but they fell away badly after going ahead, while Liverpool will now go into next week's draw for the last 16 as group winners and certain of playing at home in the second-leg of their tie.

Liverpool left out Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Jose Reina with Robbie Keane recalled to play up front alongside Ngog. Babel was included on the wing while Lucas started in midfield.

Diego Cavalieri got a rare run-out in goal, with Jamie Carragher captaining the side.

Despite their much-changed side and the fact qualification for the last 16 had already been achieved for the sixth time in seven seasons, Liverpool began full of energy.

A second minute Andrea Dossena cross was headed just wide by Riera, while Babel almost created a shooting opportunity as he glided in off the right flank.

Babel, because of his former association with Ajax, was jeered by the home faithful.

PSV's first attempt on goal came after 15 minutes when Timmy Simons let fly from 20 yards and Cavalieri opted to punch away when he could have caught the effort.

Then after Nordin Amrabat ran from half way, he was muscled out of a shooting chance by Carragher in the box.

There was little urgency or pace about the game, but it was brought to life after 36 minutes when PSV took the lead.

Liverpool were furious with the goal and Riera was booked for arguing with a linesman who had failed to spot Lazovic a yard offside before he fired the ball home from a couple of yards.

A corner from the right had bounced off Dirk Marcellis straight to Lazovic, with Liverpool defenders certain he was offside before he beat Cavalieri from close range. Television replays showed they were right.

Four minutes later Alvaro Arbeloa and Simons were booked after a confrontation following an Arbeloa foul on Lazovic.

But with just seconds of the half remaining, Babel rose to head home a Lucas free-kick for the equaliser.

Babel, so often a peripheral figure when he gets into Liverpool's starting line-up, was showing far more intensity and when he cut in from the right after 59 minutes, he slammed a low shot into the side netting.

Lucas then got a cross in from the left and Keane, trying to get the ball onto his right foot, saw the chance slip away from him just 10 yards out.

PSV still needed the win to keep their UEFA Cup hopes alive and kept coming forward at pace. It took a fine saving header from Arbeloa to stop Amrabat reaching a far-post cross.

After 67 minutes Edison Mendez was cautioned for following through into Lucas' ankle.

But two minutes later Liverpool were ahead when Riera lashed a 30-yard shot past Andreas Isaksson.

Benitez sent on youngster Darby for Arbeloa before the re-start for his first taste of European action.

Benitez was soon to introduce another of Liverpool's local youngster when Spearing replaced Riera after 75 minutes.

Two minutes later the game was virtually all over when Keane's fine ball sent Ngog racing away from the half-way line to coolly slide home the third.

PSV sent on Reimond Manco for Mendez, while another Liverpool teenager, defender Kelly for his debut in place of Carragher.

Mascherano took over as skipper before PSV made a change of their own with Stefan Nijland replacing Otman Bakkal.

Totti Wants Roma-Liverpool Final

Roma captain Francesco Totti would love to play Liverpool in the final of the Champions League, in order to avenge their defeat in the final of 1984.

The Giallorossi extended their winning streak to six earlier tonight, with a convincing 2-0 win over Bordeaux in Rome. Matteo Brighi and Francesco Totti grabbed the goals for the home side, as they assured themselves of top spot in their Champions League group.

Totti has been an integral part of the incredible Roman resurgence of late, since making his return from injury earlier in the season. As a result, the capital club are now undefeated in their last eight matches in all competitions.

Following the completion of tonight’s match, Il Capitano spoke to Sky in regards to the knockout phase of the competition.

“All roads lead to Rome? As for us at present, we are at the tollbooth. The centre of the city is still far away, but we know the roads well so we should be fine,” Totti jokingly said.

“On a more serious note though, this may very well be my last chance to play a match of such significance in Rome, and so I would love to make the final.

“Hopefully it will be another Roma-Liverpool final, just like it was in 1984,” he added.

Totti then made some final comments concerning the side’s resurgence in recent times, and the pleasure it has brought to the club.

“In the space of just one month, everything has changed.

“For example tonight is the first time that we have finished first in a Champions League group, making it an unforgettable day.

“What makes it even better is that after the first matchday, we were not sure if we would even qualify, let alone finish first, and so we are all very pleased with our efforts,” he concluded.

The talisman of Roma will be keen to lead his troops to their seventh successive victory on the weekend, when they do battle with Cagliari at the Stadio Olimpico.

Kuhn Backs Liverpool To Lift Champions League

Aalborg’s temporary coach Allan Kuhn has backed Liverpool to win the Champions League over Wednesday’s opponents Manchester United.

Kuhn took charge of the Danish side following the departure of Bruce Rioch and this week’s Champions League clash is the last of his 12-match stint as coach.

The 40-year-old has confessed that he believes Liverpool will be the team to lift Europe’s top honour this season rather than last year’s winners United.

Ahead of this week’s clash at Old Trafford, Kuhn responded to a question as to whether he believed United would triumph once again come May by saying: “No. They won't win it again.

“Liverpool will. I am a Liverpool fan, so that is what I hope will happen.

“Manchester United are a great side, but I think it will be more difficult for them this time. Maybe they got a little luck with the John Terry penalty.

“You do need luck to win the Champions League, but there are a lot of great teams around to give them a fight.”

Aalborg have yet to lose under the leadership of Kuhn but the former Lyngby player admits that may well come to an end on Wednesday at the Theatre of Dreams.

Future Bright For Reds - Benitez

Rafael Benitez has written himself into Liverpool history with his 40th European victory as Anfield boss, but it was the performances of his youngsters against PSV Eindhoven which pleased the Spaniard the most.

The convincing 3-1 win over PSV in their last Champions League pool game - which confirmed top spot in Group D - set a points record at this stage of the competition and saw Benitez overtake Bob Paisley's club record number of wins in Europe.

But Benitez was more pleased with being able to blood a trio of local youngsters, while seeing his own heavily-criticised young foreign imports also come good.

Lucas and David Ngog have born the brunt of such criticism of late, but both were outstanding against an increasingly dispirited Dutch side.

Once Ryan Babel had equalised Danko Lazovic's opener for PSV there was only going to be one winner with Albert Riera and Ngog scoring fine second-half goals.

Benitez said: "It is always good to be able to bring on local youngsters, produced by the club.

"And Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly all did well on their European debuts.

"Everything went right and I was delighted with the over-all performance. There were plenty of positives for the club and it's future."

Babel's goal was Liverpool's 300th in the European Cup, and the victory saw Liverpool pip Atletico Madrid for top spot in group D.

Benitez said: "We wanted to win the group to make sure that we had the second leg of the next round at Anfield.

"And there were so many positive things to take from this performance. We were able to use three young lads, and the performances of two other young players, Lucas and Ngog, were outstanding.

"We were able to make a lot of changes, and all the players coming in did well. Diego (Cavalieri) in goal was very good, Ryan (Babel) scored a fine goal and worked hard throughout."

Benitez added: "Once we had got level we were always a threat. I was very pleased with the overall performance, we are always able to say that people like Jamie Carragher, Alvaro Arbeloa and Daniel Agger have played well.

"But this time we are able to say that about young lads and many of our squad players.

"We have won the group and that gives us growing confidence. We will now be drawn against a team who have finished second in their group, and we cannot play the other English sides at the next stage.

"I can only hope for a good draw next week and look forward to a second leg in front of our own fans in the next round."

PSV coach Huub Stevens maintained that his side were able to "leave the pitch with their heads held high".

He said: "Liverpool were more experienced. We made some silly mistakes in the first half, and kept repeating them in the second period.

"But I felt we started the game well, even if initially a little doubtful. And we deserved to be in the lead.

"But we conceded a goal seconds before the break and the mood in the dressing room at half-time was one of great disappointment.

"But the way we had played in that opening spell gives me confidence for our games to come in the Dutch League."

Rafa Benitez To Sign New £16million Liverpool Deal

Rafa Benitez was celebrating a double last night as Liverpool topped their Champions League group and he was offered a new £16million deal.

American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are rewarding their Spanish manager for his success so far this season.

While Liverpool topped their group to ensure an easier draw in the knockout stage, Benitez's advisor was penning the fine print on a four-and-a-half year contract.

The final package will be settled over the next few days, but it is thought he will earn in excess of £16million over the course of the deal.

The deal is a victory for Benitez, who said the length of the contract, not the money, was the issue.

The owners wanted to follow the US-sports style of a single-year extension, but have backed down.

Reds Rejected Babel Return

Liverpool blocked a request from Ryan Babel to return to Ajax on loan, according to the winger's agent.

The Holland international moved to Anfield from the Amsterdam Arena in 2007 as Reds manager Rafa Benitez paid £11.5million.

However, Babel has struggled to secure regular first-football and has found opportunities increasingly limited this season following Benitez's decision to ditch his rotation policy.

And Babel's representative, Winnie Haatrecht, claims the 21-year-old - who started against Blackburn at the weekend - is concerned at his lack of first XI action and that he requested a temporary return to Ajax in the past, which was rejected by Liverpool.

Haatrecht told De Telegraaf: "Ryan feels he is sitting too much on the bench and he wanted to play more.

"He requested me to ask Ajax if they would be interested in a temporary return.

"After they responded enthusiastically, I asked Liverpool to cooperate. The club, however, will not let him go.

"Rafa Benitez feels Ryan is too important. Hopefully this will be translated into increased minutes.

"Let us be clear Ryan is very happy, but to develop he needs to play more minutes."

Benayoun Joins Babel In Eyeing Liverpool Exit

Israeli International Yossi Benayoun has joined Liverpool team-mate Ryan Babel in voicing his discontent about limited opportunities at the Premier League club, with the former West Ham United player revealing that he will assess his situation at the Merseyside club in January or at the end of the season.

Benayoun was unveiled at Anfield on the same day as Babel last summer, but like the Dutchman, who declared that he wished to return to former club Ajax on loan is unhappy at having to settle for a place on the bench under Reds boss Rafa Benitez in the Premiership this season.

While 28-year-old Benayoun understands that it is hard for Benitez to drop anyone from a Liverpool side that is currently top of the Premier League and is prepared to be patient. Benayoun is also, having to consider if his long-term future is at Anfield or whether it lies elsewhere.

Benayoun told the Sun: “The boss had a chat with me a couple of weeks ago after stuff appeared in the newspapers about my future.

“I didn't ask for any talks - he said he wanted to speak to me about it and he just told me to stay calm, because I would get my chances in the team.

“We agreed it was important now for me to put any of my personal feelings to one side and concentrate on trying to keep us at the top of the table.

“There will be time for me to think about my situation in January or at the end of the season.

“So for now I'm happy to put that behind me and focus on doing my bit for the team. The problem for me is the manager is not rotating as much as he used to.

“It is the same 11 players every week, and they are doing so well, so no one can really complain.

“I have to be patient, but I'm still not sure whether, in the long term, my future will be here.”

Ian Rush: Hyypia Is A Liverpool 'Great'

The legendary Ian Rush believes that giant defender Sami Hyypia is well on his way to legendary status at Anfield.

The big Finn, signed for only £2.5 million from Dutch club Willem II a decade ago, has proved to be bargain buy, Rush thinks, and still has part to play for the Reds this season.

"Sami Hyypia has been a tremendous servant to Liverpool and he’s got to be up there with the best signings the club has ever made," Rush told The Liverpool Echo today.

"The big Finn is nearing 10 years at Anfield in which he has played over 450 games. It’s hard to believe he cost only £2.5million from Dutch club Willem II.

"He might be 35 but he proved again at Blackburn on Saturday that he’s still capable of playing at the highest level. It’s been nice to see him get a chance in recent weeks and he’s been excellent."

And Rush also commented on the fact that injury to Martin Skrtel has cleared the way for Hyypia to step up and prove his worth to Liverpool once again, and also that the player provides a positive example to other players currently on the fringes of the Liverpool first-team set-up.

"It’s funny how things work out because if Martin Skrtel had stayed fit then Sami probably wouldn’t be playing and possibly looking to move on in January," the Welshman added.

"As it is the defender has shown he’s still a valuable member of the squad and he is a great example for the Reds’ other fringe players."

Jamie Carragher Captures The Sacred Scent Of Liverpool

It is quite a while since Anfield was the name that used to draw me to my job like no other; a place where you could not help but write well because its legend and the people who breathed its air demanded it of you. Frankly, in all of football, it had a sacred scent unlike any other.

I was reminded of this, both in a sharp and warming sense, on the flight to Shanghai for the recent Masters Cup tennis tournament, because I had invested the best £18.99 of the year on Carra, My Autobiography and once I had picked it up, the next six hours of the flight passed so satisfyingly, I did not even notice the bumps.

Jamie Carragher made his debut for Liverpool the year my football correspondent days drew to a close and has played more than 500 times in the shirt since. He has seen the identity of the club he loves eaten away at, he has played for three managers, Roy Evans, Gérard Houllier and Rafael Benítez, into whose strengths and weaknesses he delves fascinatingly. He is the embodiment of the one-club man — though his first love, he confesses with images to prove it, was Everton — but does not know if his career will end at Liverpool because he will go on “until my body can take it no more”.

Carragher’s autobiography is not the usual “life-story before he is even wet behind the ears” job. He says that he would have waited longer to tell it but there were things he wanted to get off his chest and the upshot is a story so grippingly strong and full of insight, it should be the template for any player tempted to burst into storytelling the minute they score their first goal for England.

Carragher is a man of his people and it is for them, especially, he writes. “We all dream of a team of Carraghers,” the Kop sings to the tune of Yellow Submarine. He yields to no man in his love for them — though their verbal attacks on certain players from other clubs are criticised — nor they, apparently, for him. If this book is not bought for you, treat yourself to it.