Monday, December 29, 2008

Match Report: Newcastle 1 - 5 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard claimed a fine double as Liverpool tightened their grip at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a superb display at Newcastle.

The England midfielder got the ball rolling with a 31st-minute opener and then after Sami Hyypia and Ryan Babel had struck either side of David Edgar's header, he completed the job with a 66th-minute second.

There was still time for substitute Xabi Alonso to convert a 76th-minute penalty after fellow newcomer David Ngog had been tripped by Edgar to complete a miserable afternoon for Joe Kinnear's injury-ravaged side, for whom goalkeeper Shay Given made seven remarkable saves.

Rafael Benitez, sitting in the stands at St James' Park, was even able to leave striker Robbie Keane on the bench and withdraw Gerrard to warm applause from both sets of fans as a crowd of 52,114, the biggest of the season, gained an insight into the Reds' title credentials.

The win sent them four points clear at the top, for a few hours at least, and left the Magpies in some disarray on the day owner Mike Ashley announced he would not be selling the club after all and is ready to press ahead with his masterplan once again.

On a day earmarked by the Newcastle supporters to pay tribute to former manager Sir Bobby Robson, the gulf between the side he created and the one on show here could hardly have been wider.

Writing in the match program, Ashley said: "With the January transfer window approaching, we will be working closely with Joe to see what can be done to strengthen the squad."

Kinnear's list of potential targets will have grown significantly by half-time after his side were torn apart by the visitors in a breathtaking first 45 minutes which demonstrated once again just how important Given is to the club.

The Irishman was one of three Magpies, along with Steven Taylor and Charles N'Zogbia, to be linked with a January move to Arsenal by one newspaper, but had it not been for him, his side could have conceded at least eight by the time they headed back into the dressing room.

In the space of four minutes, he parried Dirk Kuyt's drive at the near post, blocked Gerrard's audacious flick and then pulled off a stunning one-handed save to deny the Reds skipper.

But his work was not done and he had twice thwarted Lucas by the time the clock ticked around to the 20-minute mark before keeping out Hyypia's 42nd-minute header with the help of N'Zogbia on the line.

However, by that point, he had been beaten twice as the rampant visitors finally made the pressure tell, Gerrard sweeping the ball home from Yossi Benayoun's 31st-minute cut-back before Hyypia headed home his captain's corner five minutes later.

Liverpool were simply irresistible, and a rout seemed on the cards.

But the Magpies rallied and after Taylor had headed a Danny Guthrie corner wide, Edgar proved the man for the big occasion once again.

Just short of two years ago, the Canadian marked his home debut with a stunning equaliser against Manchester United, and when he headed another Guthrie set-piece home in injury time his side at least had hope.

Jose Enrique, who had passed a fitness test on a calf injury just before kick-off, failed to re-appear after the break and Shola Ameobi's arrival prompted a reshuffle which saw N'Zogbia drop into the back four and Damien Duff move into midfield.

Ameobi almost made an immediate impact when Michael Owen only just failed to meet his 48th-minute cross with a diving header, but Liverpool's advantage was restored within two minutes.

Referee Mark Halsey was simply not interested in the home side's appeals for handball after Hyypia and then Lucas had helped on Gerrard's corner, and Babel stabbed the loose ball home to make it 3-1.

Kinnear's resources were stretched further with 56 minutes gone when Nicky Butt limped off to be replaced by Geremi, although the Cameroon international almost dragged his side back into the game on the hour.

After Owen had been cynically tripped by Javier Mascherano, he drove the resulting free-kick against the bar with goalkeeper Jose Reina beaten.

But if the game was not already over, the result was put beyond doubt with 24 minutes remaining when Gerrard ran on to Lucas' pass and lifted the ball nonchalantly over Given to make it 4-1.

Alonso made it five from the penalty spot after Edgar had tripped Ngog with 76 minutes gone, and although Guthrie and Taylor both went close, Given had to make a superb double stop to deny Lucas and then Babel at the death.

Juande Ramos Steps In To Stop Mijatovic Signing Liverpool's Pennant For Real Madrid

The Spanish champions' quest for a new winger has seen Juande Ramos challenge Predrag Mijatovic for the first time in a bid to stop the club wrapping up a deal to sign Jermaine Pennant, a report claims.

Juande Ramos has confronted Predrag Mijatovic and told him that he does not want Real Madrid to sign Jermaine Pennant from Liverpool and would rather focus on prising Antonio Valencia away from Wigan Athletic, according to Sport.

Los Merengues' new coach has opted to step in to prevent the club's sporting director continuing the chase for a player that he does not believe would fit in at the Bernabéu.

Mijatovic is believed to have not realised if the UEFA rules that mean that both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarrà cannot be registered for the Champions League and Ramos does not want another mistake to be made.

The two winter arrivals have played for their previous clubs in the UEFA Cup and only one can play for Madrid in Europe and now the Spanish giants are weighing up whether to contest the law.

Ramos has made it clear that he wants to add a new right winger to his ranks, but he does not agree with Mijatovic's choice and has now said his piece in order to prevent a transfer going through.

Pennant is seen as a cheap option by Mijatovic and talks over a €3 million transfer have already taken place, with Reds' manager Rafa Benítez keen to see the back of a player he has used only three times this term.

Madrid's coach, though, is said to have concerns about the player's goalscoring record as well as matters concerning his life off the field that have seen him have several brushes with the police.

The report concludes that Antonio Valencia is Ramos' preferred option after Ashley Young was ruled out of the equation - having already played for Aston Villa in Europe - and he will ask the board to press ahead with an offer to Wigan instead.

Milan Shift Up A Gear In Race To Sign Agger From Liverpool

Milan are keeping their eyes on Anfield as they follow Liverpool defender Daniel Agger.

The Danish stopper is currently awaiting a contract extension at the club, but if that is not forthcoming, then Milan are thought to be in pole position to prise him away from Anfield.

Earlier this month, exclusively revealed the player was at a crossroads when his agent Per Steffensen said he was unsure as to whether Agger would remain on Merseyside.

Reports in Italy have been rife with speculation and now Sportmediaset has jumped on the rumour bandwagon by claiming Agger could arrive at San Siro in January.

The Italians are currently on the hunt for a solid defender to cover for a number of injuries at the back. The Rossoneri cannot risk relying heavily on the injured Alessandro Nesta and thus Vice-president Adriano Galliani could take a gamble in the winter market.

Reports suggest Milan are ready to make an offer and this could see Agger's agents hold out in an attempt to procure competition for whichever club offers more cash.

Despite the stopper's current deal not expiring until 2010, Liverpool appear to have a fight on to convince him to remain a Red.

Galliani has already stated that he will be scouring the market for a defender in January and many sources are insistant that Agger is most likely to join Milan next month.

Carragher Ready For Mind Games

Jamie Carragher is hoping that Liverpool will still be in contention for the title when the mind games start in the spring.

Liverpool currently lead the table after the club put together their best start to a Premier League season.

However, the Reds have yet to sustain a challenge for the title under Rafa Benitez as the club look for a first top-flight crown since 1990.

Carragher is disappointed to have never been involved in a title race in the past, but is optimistic Liverpool will be in the mix this season.

"In my career, we've never been in contention around March or April," said Carragher on the club's official website. "The best teams pace themselves and get into the right position by then.

"When the mind games start, I want us to be in everyone's thoughts. It will tell us that we've been doing something right, and that we're in with a good shout of winning the Premier League.

"I love all that and it's always been disappointing that it's other teams that have been involved rather than us. We've always been outside the race watching and reading about it, but now we've a great chance to be in the thick of it.

"I've always felt the time to really get into the mix is when there are 10 games to go."

Long-serving defender Carragher also believes it is a testament to the strength of the squad at Anfield that Liverpool are top, despite playing much of the season without Fernando Torres.

He added: "To have done as well as we have without Fernando Torres has also been a fantastic achievement. If you'd have said at the start of the season we'd be top on Christmas Day and Fernando would have missed so many games, no one would have believed that possible.

"It's a tribute to the players and to the manager for coping so well without him.

"When you take a player like Torres out of our side, or Cristiano Ronaldo out of United's, it inevitably has an impact. He's our most outstanding attacking player and if he'd been fit he'd have been worth possibly 10 more goals to us.

"I hope it turns out to be blessing because he probably needed a rest after Euro 2008. If he's fit and fresh for the rest of the season he'll add an extra dimension to our team."

Joe Kinnear Insists Liverpool Are The Premier League’s Best Side

Newcastle United manager Joe Kinnear believes Liverpool will end their long wait for the championship after watching his team torn apart by the Anfield outfit yesterday.

Liverpool romped to a 5-1 win at St James’ Park to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League.

The Anfield outfit go into 2009 three points clear of Chelsea having taken 45 points from 20 games.

And as well as backing Rafael Benitez’s side for the title, Kinnear hailed a “magnificent” individual performance from Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who scored twice and had a hand in two other goals.

“I think we have just seen the title winners,” said the Magpies manager. “And I think we’ve seen the best performance I’ve seen from a single player for a long time in Gerrard, he was magnificent.

“Without a shadow of doubt they are the best team we’ve played this season. They were head and shoulders above us. They are an exceptionally good side.”

Kinnear believes Newcastle would have put up a better fight had their squad not been decimated by injury, particularly in defence where three first-team regulars were absent.

“With all the injuries we have had and three of the regular back four out, whatever problems we had Liverpool took full advantage,” he said.

“Had we had half of the players missing available, then maybe the result could have been different.

“But it was such a one-sided game because they are a world-class team. You have to take your hat off to Liverpool.

“Without Shay it would have been even worse. The only positive from the game is that he has proven he is the best goalkeeper in the league by a mile.”

Kinnear added: “We had a lot of players missing. We had no Joey Barton, no Habib Beye, no Oba Martins, no Mark Viduka.

“We had no Sebastien Bassong, and without his height at centre-back we couldn’t deal with Hyypia at set-plays.”

Before the game, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley had announced he was no longer seeking a buyer and had withdrawn the club from the market.

Kuyt Calls For Repeat Displays From Liverpool

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt says the table-toppers need reproduce their superb Sunday performance every week if they are serious about finally winning the Premier League title.

Rafael Benitez's side crushed Newcastle 5-1 away at the weekend to stretch their lead over Chelsea to three points.Liverpool turned on the style as two strikes from captain Steven Gerrard - along with goals from Sami Hyypia, Ryan Babel and Xabi Alonso - helped stun the Magpies at St James' Park.

But Kuyt says the real hard work starts now as Liverpool head into 2009 looking to end their 19-year wait to be crowned champions.

"It's great to be top at the end of the year. But it's just the beginning for us. We need to step up every week and in every game and try to perform as well as that in the next match," the Dutchman said.

"I really enjoyed the game and it caps a good Christmas period in which we have picked up six very important points and scored eight goals along the way."

Gerrard Backs Liverpool To Win The Title

Club captain Steven Gerrard has hailed the current Liverpool side as the he has played in and is backing them to clinch a first Premier League title.

Rafael Benitez's side will start 2009 three points clear of the chasing pack following Sunday's 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle United and are well placed to win their first top-flight title since 1990.

Captain Gerrard, who scored twice at St James' Park, said: ''We have given ourselves a great chance. We have to remain consistent, that is the key.

''If we want to stay at the top and be involved in this title race, we have got to deal with the pressure.

''We have big players here and we will have a lot of tests and challenges to come, but if we keep playing like this then we will be there.

''This is the best team I have played with,'' said England midfielder Gerrard. ''You look around the dressing room and, from the keeper to the forwards, we have some fantastic players. There is a confidence that we can get over the big hurdles.''

Liverpool have won 18 League titles in their illustrious history but the last time the Reds were top of the Premier League at New Year they finished the season in fourth.

Meanwhile, Liverpool legend Alan Hansen is starting to believe his former club are serious title contenders.

''I have been tipping Chelsea for the championship all along, but the longer the season goes on the better chance that I think Liverpool have got,'' said Hansen.

''Certainly Liverpool have a better chance of winning than they had least season,'' he wrote in his column in The Daily Telegraph. ''They are more resilient than at the same time last season, they have more strength in depth and, crucially, they are able to create impetus and momentum.

''In the last month they have had three draws against lesser teams and it has not affected them. The most important thing is that they are not getting beaten.

''Mentally, the difference between drawing and losing is massive, even if the gap in points between winning and drawing is greater. As a title contender a defeat places unbelievable pressure on you, so it is when you lose two games in four or five that you find out what you are made of.

''This is where Manchester United and Chelsea have become brilliant; it is the aptitude test of a championship-winning side.''

Danny Guthrie Quit Liverpool Due To Steven Gerrard's Brilliance

Steven Gerrard is among the best Premier League midfielders of this or any other campaign, according to former colleague Danny Guthrie.

And Magpies midfielder Guthrie has revealed that Gerrard's brilliance was the reason he decided his future lay away from Liverpool.

A £2.5million summer move to Newcastle followed the realisation that, with Gerrard commanding the engine-room, Guthrie was never going to be anything more than a bit-part player at Anfield.

Guthrie, 21, who made only a handful of first-team appearances for Liverpool, goes head-to-head with the England star today determined to show that he has become an accomplished Premier League star.

Guthrie said: "Steven Gerrard is the top man. He came through the youth system the same way I did.

"Liverpool are very strong in midfield and it's difficult to get a game for a young lad so I made the decision to move on and play games. When Newcastle came in I saw that as a great opportunity.

"It kills me not to play.

Even though Liverpool was my club I couldn't stay there playing 10 games a season and still playing in the reserves at 21.

"From my youth team not one single player is still there now.

That is how difficult it is to make it at Liverpool.

"I have no regrets.

I learned a lot from Steven Gerrard. I was only 18 when I went with the first team so it was a massive step up.

They've got top-class players all over the team and I learned my trade there.

"I think Stevie G is up there with Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira as the best ever Premier League midfielder.

He could be THE best, because he gets goals as well. For a midfielder to score as many goals as he does is incredible."

Guthrie, on target for Newcastle in Friday's defeat at Wigan, insists there was no rift with Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

He added: "Rafa said he thought it would be a good move for me because I wasn't going to play as much as I wanted at Liverpool.

He wished me all the best and he was great. I have total respect for him.

I took his advice, but I'd already made my decision.

"It's always disappointing when you've been at a club for years but every young player knows it might not work out. Going to Newcastle helped soften the blow."

Guthrie (below) believes a win over the title-chasing Reds would confirm their revival under Joe Kinnear.

But he believes dropped home points could come back to haunt his old club.

He said: "A good result against Liverpool will underline our improvement.

We've turned the corner in terms of putting some decent results together.

"I still think Liverpool can win the league. But they've let themselves down with dropped home points.

"After Christmas Manchester United and Chelsea will up the pace. I hope Liverpool can stay with them because this is the best chance they've had to win it for years."

Liverpool In £9 Million Bid For Glen Johnson

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is reported to have successfully lured Glen Johnson away from Portsmouth with a £9 million offer.

Benitez has been eager to bring the 24-year-old to Anfield for some time in a bid to bolster his back four, and according to the People, the 24-year-old was given a tour of the club's Melwood training complex in the build-up to Christmas.

His rumoured presence at the club's facility has added fuel to speculation that the real reason he missed Portsmouth's Boxing Day thrashing by West Ham is because a deal is done - contrary to the official line claiming he was injured.

And if the rumours prove true it may be tough for Portsmouth to hold on to Johnson due to their ever increasing debts. Manager Tony Adams already faces losing key players to other big clubs.

A return to a big four club would signify a milestone in Johnson's career.

During his time with Chelsea he failed to live up to the promise he had shown at West Ham and was soon spending a lot of time on the bench before being sold to Portsmouth.

Having revitalised his career at Fratton Park under former manager Harry Redknapp, Johnson was finally granted a return to the England squad.

Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon has also caught the attention of Benitez this season, and he is reported to be willing to offer a cash-plus-player deal involving Jermain Pennant to see it go through.

Xabi Alonso is being linked with a move to Arsenal and Pennant has also been linked with a move to Real Madrid.