Sunday, December 14, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 2 - 2 Hull City

Liverpool struggled to their third successive home league draw as Premier League new boys Hull produced another stunning away performance.

Hull had already won at Arsenal and Spurs and scored three in defeat at Manchester United.

And if not for Steven Gerrard they would have ended Liverpool's season-long unbeaten home record.

Hull were two ahead through Paul McShane and a Jamie Carragher own goal before Gerrard scored twice in eight minutes, taking his tally for the season to 11.

Gerrard was among the players returning after being rested from the Champions League win over Eindhoven in midweek, along with Jose Reina, Dirk Kuyt and Xabi Alonso.

Manager Rafael Benitez reverted to the same side which won at Blackburn last weekend, which meant Robbie Keane was on the bench and Sami Hyypia preferred to Daniel Agger.

Hull made just one change from the side which beat Middlesbrough last Saturday, Bernard Mendy taking over from Dean Marney, who was on the bench.

And although Hull were put under instant pressure, they soon started to confront Liverpool all over the pitch, working out that Andrea Dossena has limited pace and Reina does not take kindly to being pressured.

Hull could have been ahead after five minutes when full-back Sam Ricketts burst down the line, brushing Yossi Benayoun aside, and fed Nicky Barmby on the Hull left.

There were loud appeals for a penalty when the former Liverpool man's cross looked to have struck the arm of Javier Mascherano as he slid in to clear for a corner.

The appeals were waved away but it was no surprise when Hull took the lead after 12 minutes.

A Geovanni free-kick on the right sailed right across the box and was knocked back into the danger area by Marlon King, where McShane rose to head into the top corner.

Hull were full of pace, drive and desire and after 22 minutes they scored again.

After switching the play from left to right, via King's long ball, Mendy went past Dossena once more and pulled the ball back into the six-yard box, where Carragher turned it high into his own net.

Just a minute later however, Liverpool pulled one back. Kuyt surged down the right and fired in a low cross which fell for Gerrard to clip home from six yards.

McShane was booked for body-checking Gerrard and never seemed to recover from the blow, being replaced two minutes later by Marney.

And in what was now a tremendous match, Liverpool were level after 32 minutes, again through Gerrard.

Carragher's cross was headed down by Kuyt for Benayoun to hook on, giving Gerrard a 10-yarder for the equaliser.

Marney was booked for a foul on Hyypia two minutes after the break, the game continuing at the same rip-roaring pace.

Liverpool almost took the lead after 59 minutes when Hyypia's downward header from Gerrard's corner hit the foot of a post.

Then Albert Riera saw a swerving effort punched away by Boaz Myhill.

Hull were more content to defend and hit on the break, with Geovanni seeing one run end with a low drive that went wide of the far post.

Alonso curled a 20-yarder just over the bar, with Liverpool sending on Moroccan winger Nabil El Zhar for Benayoun after 74 minutes. Three minutes later Dean Windass came on for Barmby in only his fourth league appearance of the season.

Myhill then saved well from El Zhar, diving on the ball to halt Gerrard in the six-yard box. After 82 minutes Liverpool sent on Ryan Babel for Riera, before El Zhar was booked for a foul on Kamil Zayatte.

Lucas came on for Mascherano with four minutes left, the Argentinian having failed to stamp his usual authority on the match but Liverpool were unable to find a winner.

Rafa: The Game Was Too Open

Rafa Benitez believes that the frenetic nature of today's 2-2 draw with Hull City could be to blame for Liverpool's failure to take all three points.

Steven Gerrard scored a brace to help the Reds come back from 2-0 down in the first half, but Benitez couldn't hide his frustrations and admitted his team made too many mistakes.

"We showed character to come back and scored some good goals," he said. "But we couldn't play the final pass properly and the game was too open.

"The game was a little bit too frenetic and you have to be able to control things a lot more in these games.

"I was really pleased with the first few minutes. But we conceded two goals and everybody was a little bit nervous after that.

"It can make a massive difference when you score first, but the reaction of the team was very good when we went two goals down.

"They were a threat playing on the counter-attack. We know that teams like this will try to be organised and play in this way.

"We made too many mistakes. These are the kind of games that you have to win. We are disappointed, but we cannot change anything."

Liverpool Are Struggling At Anfield, Admits Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has conceded his side are finding it difficult playing at home as they were held to yet another draw by Hull City at Anfield yesterday.

In actual fact it could have been much worse for the Reds, who went 0-2 down in the game before a Steven Gerrard double rescued a point for Benitez’s men.

Speaking to the press after the game, Benitez admitted his side had made too many errors at the start of the game.

“We started well, but then we started to make too many mistakes,” confessed the Spaniard, “We conceded one, and then another and everyone was getting very nervy.”

However, the Liverpool boss also took time to praise his side for their response to going two goals down. He said: “But the reaction from the team when we were two down was excellent. They showed character to get back into it.”

Despite the comeback, the result is very much a case of two points dropped for the league leaders and Benitez admitted he side expected to win such fixtures.

“But we have to win this sort of game. We know that. I am very disappointed, everyone is disappointed,” revealed the Reds’ boss, “The game was too open, we could not find the killer final pass and the match became very frenetic.”

The result means that Liverpool have now been held by Stoke City, Fulham, West Ham United and Hull at Anfield this season.

This led to Benitez to confess that his side are struggling at Anfield. He said: “It is becoming difficult at home, where we do not have as much space to play because teams defend deep. In away matches it is different and we are able to exploit space on the counter-attack.”

However, the point gained leaves Liverpool two points clear at the top of the table, ahead of Chelsea’s game against West Ham United tomorrow, and Benitez was clear who his team had to thank. He concluded: “Steven Gerrard is very dangerous in that offensive role behind the striker, and we have to thank him.”

Youngsters Crash To United Defeat

Liverpool Under-18s saw their hopes of extending their unbeaten run to five matches end in disappointment after slipping to a 3-1 defeat at home to Man United.

The Reds struggled to keep pace with the creativity and flair of the visitors' attack throughout the contest and although Lauri Dalla Valle grabbed a late consolation they were ultimately punished for a shaky defensive display.

Ahead of the match Academy manager John Owens had described the previous meeting between the two sides as "as pure a game of football as you are likely to see", and once again it proved to be the case as both teams looked to play open, attacking football.

The visitors were first to show and a marvellous dummy from David Petrucci provided Ryan Tunncliffe with a sight of goal, but the midfielder guided his effort well over the top from the edge of the area.

United were in the ascendancy and should have taken the lead on seven minutes but Petrucci's tame header was easily gathered by Dean Bouzanis after Frederico Macheda's left-wing cross had found him unmarked in the penalty area.

With both sides looking to attack at every opportunity it was only matter of time until the deadlock was broken, and it was United who got the opener on 22 minutes courtesy of a sublime dipping effort from Oliver Norwood.

Reds winger Kacaniklic then flashed a fierce strike just wide of the upright as Liverpool looked to hit back immediately.

Hugh McAuley's men always looked a threat in possession of the ball, but were continually exposed by United's invention and they were lucky not find themselves even further behind when Ravel Morrison's angled drive cannoned back off the inside of the post.

In keeping with the pattern of play, it was Liverpool who had the next effort of note when David Amoo struck a snap shot straight at United keeper Conor Devlin after a firm header down from Joe Kennedy.

It was the hosts' best effort of the half and it would prove to be a costly miss too, as the visitors broke forward and doubled their advantage on 40 minutes.

Bouzanis' miss-hit clearance landed straight at the feet of Petrucci, who surged at the last defender before slipping the ball to Macheda to prod an effort beyond the Reds stopper.

The goal seemed to knock the confidence out of Liverpool and the Red Devils could have added a third soon after the interval when Bouzanis dived full stretch to deny Morrison following a mazy run and shot.

It was all United at this point and Macheda wasted another glorious opportunity when he crashed his shot well wide following good approach play down the right flank.

The Reds needed to get a foothold in the game and after Thomas Ince blazed a good chance way over the top, they were given a lifeline when Dalla Valle reacted with typically predatory instinct to reduce the arrears on 65 minutes.

The Finn then escaped the attentions of ex-Red Scott Wooton to race to the right by-line but his cut back was superbly cleared by Tom Thorpe.

As Liverpool pressed for the equaliser they continued to take chances at the back, and on 80 minutes United broke clear and restored their two goal cushion when Morrison rounded Bouzanis and coolly fired the ball into an empty net.

Liverpool U18s: Dean Bouzanis, Michael Scott, Shane O'Connor, Conor Coady, Joe Kennedy, Christopher Buchtmann, David Amoo, Adam Pepper, Lauri Dalla Valle, Thomas Ince (James Ellison 73), Alex Kacaniklic.

Man United U18s: Conor Devlin, Kenny Strickland, Joe Dudgeon, Tom Thorpe, Scott Wooton, Oliver Norwood, Ravel Morrison, Ryan Tunncliffe, Frederico Mecheda, Davide Petrucci, Robbie Brady (Nicky Ajose 73).

Bullish Benitez Insists Current Crop Of Anfield Heroes Can Emulate Class Of 1990

Rafa Benitez has boldly predicted he can take the title back to Liverpool for the first time since 1990.

In a rare show of optimism and confidence, the manager of the Barclays Premier League leaders insists he has the team to topple Manchester United and Chelsea.

Liverpool are only one point clear of Chelsea going into Saturday's home game with Hull but Benitez was in no mood to dampen mounting optimism on Merseyside after being angered by claims he had written off his side as genuine challengers.

Benitez said: ‘Of course we can win the title. I want to put across a positive message about our chances because we have every right to be positive.

'We are top of the table, playing really well away and have made just two mistakes in our last two home games.

‘We have players of real quality who are full of confidence. Why shouldn’t we be positive?

'If we are top at the end of the Christmas programme, we will have an 80 per cent chance of going all the way.

'Usually, teams who are top after Christmas go on to be champions, and we can do the same.

‘Everybody criticises the team at the top. Beforehand it was Manchester United or Chelsea.

'But now it is Liverpool top, and it is our turn.

'That is why we are being criticised, because we are the leaders. A month ago, we still had something to prove but not any more.

'A month on, we have proved to people that we can do it. We can win the title, but —and this applies to any team who become champions — you must do everything almost perfectly.’

The Liverpool manager flatly denied saying all three of their main rivals, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, would have to ‘mess up’ for the Anfield side to be champions for the first time since 1990.

Shedding his usual caution, Benitez hammered out the most upbeat forecast of his four-and-a-half-year reign as he brushed aside any worrying signs from successive 0-0 home draws with Fulham and West Ham, and being rated only third favourites by some bookies.

He said: ‘The other thing in our favour is that generally we are better and stronger in the second half of the season. We have important players coming back and there is no doubt we can kick on and improve on what we have already done.

'That is why I believe we can win the title.’

Benitez warned he would not tolerate any agitating by disaffected players, after recent complaints from Yossi Benayoun, Ryan Babel and Daniel Agger about limited opportunities.

Benayoun hinted he was ready to leave, Babel tried to engineer a loan move to Ajax earlier in the week and Agger has been linked with AC Milan.

All have been put in their place by Benitez, who underlined his determination to prevent Liverpool’s title charge being derailed by any unrest.

‘The players all know they will get chances and it could be in important games,’ he said.

‘Just look at what happened with Vladimir Smicer. He was hardly getting a look-in, then suddenly he was playing in the Champions League Final and scoring one of the goals that helped us win it.

Some might not make as many appearances as they would like but they can play a crucial part towards the end of the season.

'We will have a lot of games and injuries are bound to kick in, so everyone will be involved.

'You can be sure of that.

‘Harmony in the squad is vital, but I can guarantee that the atmosphere in the camp is very good and very positive.

'It isn’t always easy keeping a large squad happy all the time, but all I would say to the players is that they must respect the rules.

‘They have to accept there is a right way of doing things, and that means having respect for your team-mates and for what we are trying to do.

'It is one thing to say you want to play, but you have to think about the others.

'Who do you think you should be playing instead of?

'Don’t show disrespect to your colleagues. That is a very important principle.

‘The only way to react is by working harder than ever in training and hoping you have done enough to persuade the manager to pick you.

'I have had conversations with others in the squad, apart from Babel and Benayoun, and the message is the same for all of them.

'They all understand the rules and how things have to be done, and I can assure you everyone is pulling in the same direction.

'That is clear.’

As a further boost to Liverpool’s title aspirations, Benitez revealed that Fernando Torres and Martin Skrtel are both close to full fitness.

John Aldridge: Strong Minds A Key Weapon For Liverpool In Premier League Points Battle

If you were to pinpoint a single reason why Liverpool are top of the league and have just won their Champions League group it would have to be mental strength.

All good teams need it to stand any chance of being successful and Rafa Benitez’s side have it in abundance.

They have needed it as well because they have not yet found their fluency and they can sometimes be frustrating to watch.

But they are still grinding out results which can only happen if you have a really strong team mentality.

It’s fair to say we are still waiting for this Liverpool team to really click but that hasn’t stopped them from picking up enough points to top the league which says an awful lot about their character.

The win at Blackburn was fairly typical of what we have seen for much of this season. The performance wasn’t outstanding but they got the job done when it would have been so easy to slip up.

Ewood Park is never an easy place to win as Liverpool have discovered to their cost a couple of times but they scored three good goals and claimed maximum points and you can’t ask for much more than that.

It seems they are a bit better away from home at the moment, probably because they are afforded more space.

Meanwhile, it was great to see Liverpool top their Champions League group, but what pleased me most about the win against PSV was seeing three young local lads get on as substitutes.

Jay Spearing, Stephen Darby and Martin Kelly all did well after coming on, and I was really pleased for them.

Hopefully this wasn’t a token gesture by Rafa and he wasn’t just trying to pacify those of us who want to see more local lads promoted to the first team ranks.

You can’t dangle a carrot if there isn’t a hope in hell of young local players getting into the squad on a more regular basis.

Seeing them on the pitch in a Champions League game will have been a massive boost to the young players in the reserves and the academy because it’s important to know that there is a route into the first team if they are good enough.

I’m sure the majority of Liverpool fans would love to see more local lads getting their chance, so hopefully this was a sign of things to come.

*ONE thing that disappointed me this week was the news that Ryan Babel had asked to go out on loan.

The only reason you could possibly be looking for a move away from a team that’s top of the league would be if your confidence was so low that it needed boosting elsewhere.

Babel comes across as being quite a confident lad and it gave the impression that he was waving the white flag and wasn’t prepared to fight for his place.

He has to knuckle down and prove he is good enough to play for Liverpool because he is at one of the world’s greatest clubs and you don’t walk away from Anfield, even temporarily, without a fight.

Pennant Insists He's Staying But Liverpool Want £4m To Move Him On

Jermaine Pennant is on a collision course with Liverpool because he is refusing to join Stoke, Blackburn or Newcastle in a £4million January deal.

Liverpool are keen to cash in on the 25-year-old but Pennant would only be tempted to move in the New Year to a club still in Europe.

Although the winger has been frozen out of the team by Rafa Benitez, he is prepared to stay at Anfield until he is a free agent in the summer.

Aston Villa have put £4m striker Marlon Harewood up for sale, paving the way for a January swoop for Michael Owen or Emile Heskey.

Liverpool Eyeing Ukrainian International Dmytro Chygrynskiy

Liverpool have been linked with Shakhtar Donetsk defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy in the Januray transfer window. Here's your at-a-glance guide to the Ukrainian dynamo:

1) He was born on November 7th, 1986 in the Ukrainian city of Iziaslav.

2) He joined Shakhtar Donetsk at the age of 14 and made his was up through their youth set-up.

3) A towering 6'3" centre back, he made his debut in the Ukrainian Premier League in 2004, aged just 17, and has gone on to make 84 appearances and score six goals.

4) A natural born leader, he'd already captained Shakhtar in the Ukrainian Cup final by the time he was 20, and is currently the team's full-time vice-captain.

5) He was was voted man of the match in his second Ukrainain Cup final - a thumping 2-0 victory over rivals Dynamo Kiev.

6) He made his Champions League debut aged just 18 when he came on as a substitute against the mighty Barcelona.

7) He was selected for the 2006 UEFA U-21 Championship team of the tournament and called up to the senior side sonn after. Injury cruelly forced him to sit out the 2006 World Cup, but he has since gone on to earn 15 caps.

8) He's attracted a lot of interest from European clubs, but the good news for Liverpool is that he's keen on a move to the Premier League:

“A move to a big club in England would be a dream for me," Chygrynskiy told the Ukrainian press, recently.

"I cannot say the names, but two big Premier League clubs want me, and my agent has been talking to them for some time."

19) If he does come to England then journslits will be dreading spelling the youngster's full name: Dmytro Anatoliyovych Chyhrynskyi. Spell checks at the ready, lads.

Why Did Rafa Benitez Take Robbie Keane To Liverpool?

If Rafa Benitez was picking a team for the Champions League final tomorrow, then Robbie Keane would not be in it.

That’s the fact of the matter and that’s why Keane’s £20million move to Anfield in the summer is looking an increasingly bad bit of business.

I don’t put that down to Robbie Keane or his ability as a striker. Keane is a top-class striker who, on his day, is a terrific goal scorer, has a tremendous work rate and is a skilful and clever player with great vision.

But to bring that out now you need the Robbie Keane who is playing week-in and week-out and with that familiar swagger and style he shows when he’s on his game and full of confidence.

If the team gets chopped and changed every week and Keane keeps going into games knowing he will get subbed after 65 or 70 minutes then you will get a player low on confidence who is not playing to his potential.

Furthermore, Benitez knew what his favoured formation was when he bought Keane and that doesn’t accommodate him. Fernando Torres is the main man up front and Steven Gerrard is Mr. Liverpool in midfield.

That leaves little room for Keane and he is not a player who plays wide or just behind. His best position is playing alongside another striker and that brought the very best out of him at Tottenham last season.

Liverpool signed Keane on the basis off his performances for Tottenham last season when he was outstanding. But then they don’t play him, continually sub him and play him out of position. Which begs the question: Why sign him in the first place?

Michael Owen To Liverpool And Robbie Keane To Chelsea?

Michael Owen is an Abu Hasan's fart of a player. By which we mean, obviously, that his story will be passed down through the ages, making generation after generation snort and blub like redundant stockbrokers. Of course, even though the player's career, like a faulty linesman, seems to be flagging badly, his tale has yet to conclude. Technically, a happy ending is still possible.

But you've got to fear the worst when your hear that Rafa Benitez is prepared to forget about how Owen snubbed him years ago by choosing money, Newcastle and ridicule over Liverpool. With talk of a January return to Anfield, it looks like the striker who defected from Liverpool just before they won the Champions League is about to return there just in time to be blamed for them blowing their best ever chance of winning the Premier League.

And oh how that will make Robbie Keane laugh. Yes, loud and lusty will be the cackling from the Irishman's new home in Stamford Bridge.

Meanwhile, Joe Kinnear will use the paltry sum generated by Owen's departure to build a stupidly small car into which clever Mathew Upson will not be able to resist climbing, with inevitably hilarious consequences.

Newcastle will also try to lure Amr Zaki from Wigan, an utterly pointless pursuit given that Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal intend making far more attractive and lucrative offers to the Egyptian. Possibly involving a pyramid scheme.

Elsewhere, Juande Ramos's campaign to discredit those who say he knows nothing about English football was given a boost today by reports that he's to invest perfectly good Real Madrid money in Adam Johnson. You know, Adam Johnson, the guy with the ears and the nose and mouth. Yes, yes, the one with the knees. The player who, um, plays. And stuff. Oh yes, he's well worth £15m.

Ramos also reckons he can get Pompey's Lassana Diarra for £5m, which would make him, like a man who's just been savaged by small mammal from the family Soricidae, uncharacteristically shrew(e)d.