Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Match Report: LiverpooL 1 - 1 Everton

Everton stopped Liverpool in their tracks at Anfield with a late Tim Cahill equaliser that prevented their bitter rivals reclaiming the Barclay Premier League leadership.

When Steven Gerrard, captaining Liverpool for the 250th time, smashed home his 14th goal of the season mid-way through the second period, it looked as if the Reds were going to knock Manchester United off the top of the table.

But Everton have become a mean outfit this season, and they desperately wanted to put their local rivals in their place.

And when Cahill's late header flashed past Jose Reina, the Toffees secured a deserved point.

Fernando Torres was back in Liverpool's starting line-up for the first time since November following his hamstring problems, for this 209th Merseyside derby.

And Irish striker Robbie Keane, so often recently consigned to the bench, was also included, with Xabi Alonso another returned to the side that were so poor in drawing at Stoke last time out.

Everton, six games unbeaten going into this clash, were without the suspended Marouane Fellaini and young striker Victor Anichebe came into the side.

For Liverpool this was a test of their nerve after a difficult fortnight which included Benitez's outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson, and then the Anfield manager's contract wrangle.

These off-field distractions came while during a period when the Reds had been forced to sit and watch as Manchester United win three games in a week to claim the Barclays Premier League top spot for the first time this season.

This was the Reds' chance to reclaim the lead, and there was little doubt this was one of the most important derbies for years.

And it was important for Everton, too. They are in a European qualification spot despite a host of injuries, and they were intent on doing anything they could to ruin Liverpool's season, with the FA Cup fourth round clash back at Anfield on Sunday.

And they showed their intent inside 40 seconds when Anichebe struck a fierce, low 20-yarder that forced Jose Reina into a full-stretch save to his left.

Everton were not going to be out-muscled and three quick fouls on Gerrard had referee Howard Webb issuing lectures to Phil Neville, Joleon Lescott and Mikel Arteta.

Then Liverpool's first clear chance saw a 12th-minute drive from Kuyt blocked by Leighton Baines in the six-yard box.

Webb continued to be tolerant as the contest became heated, and fouls by Neville on Kuyt, Cahill on Martin Skrtel and Phil Jagielka on Keane failed to see a card produced.

Then Reina was again forced into action to keep out a fine header from Cahill following Anichebe's far post cross.

Everton were more than matching their neighbours, with the abrasive Cahill as confrontational as ever.

But Steven Pienaar pushed Webb too far and was booked for a block on Torres. Seconds later the Spanish striker surged between Lescott and Jagielka, only to lift his shot against a post and behind.

Cahill then almost punished Alonso for taking a quick free-kick, the Australian blocking the ball and lifting a shot over the crossbar from the half-way line.

Anichebe and Alonso both needed treatment after a clash of heads, before Leon Osman won possession in midfield and forced Reina into another save and Albert Riera then sent a 20-yarder flashing just wide of Tim Howard's right-hand post.

Referee Webb refused Liverpool a penalty two minutes after the break when Torres went down theatrically after being pushed by Jagielka.

Arteta was booked for a trip on Kuyt, Liverpool having the most sustained spell of pressure in the match. But still Baines got away down the left twice to test Reina with testing crosses.

And after Cahill had won a soft free-kick against Skrtel, Arteta fired in a low drive that Reina held with some difficulty.

Howard saved well from Gerrard and Baines was not to know Torres was offside as he produced a fine saving tackle to stop the striker scoring from the rebound.

Liverpool needed more guile to break down Everton's outstanding defence and Yossi Benayoun came on for Keane.

Everton felt they deserved a penalty when Skrtel looked to send Anichebe tumbling, and they may have had a case.

But the South Yorkshire referee waved away the appeals, and the complaints were still raging on the pitch - and the touchline - as Liverpool surged away for Gerrard to crash home a 30-yard drive to put the hosts ahead after 68 minutes.

It had been over 10 hours since Everton had previously conceded a goal.

Everton hit back with Osman firing a rising drive that Reina held. Such was Liverpool's desire to hang onto their lead that Torres was replaced by Lucas after 85 minutes, Kuyt now playing a lone role up front.

And Everton's defiance was rewarded when they forced themselves level after 87 minutes when Arteta's free-kick from the left was met by a powerful, flicked header by Cahill in the six-yard box.

Liverpool sent on Ryan Babel for Riera, but were unable to deny Everton their point.

Rafael Benitez Lined-Up For Real Madrid Appointment

Spanish giants Real Madrid are preparing to offer Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez the job of head-coach for next season, according to a report in British tabloid newspaper The Sun.

Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Juande Ramos currently occupies the position but Los Blancos have only handed him a contract which lasts until the summer.

It is reported that Benitez is being groomed to take over at the Bernabeu at the end of this campaign, which would explain his failure to sign a new contract at Liverpool.

The 48-year-old is a native of Madrid and made over 200 appearances for Real's reserve team Castilla between 1974 and 1981.

The former Valencia boss also coached various Real Madrid youth sides during the late 1980s and early 1990s and was assistant to Los Merengues' head coach Vicente Del Bosque in 1995.

It is also claimed that his recent attack on Alex Ferguson was conducted 'as a Madridista', with former President Ramon Calderon leading an anti-Manchester United campaign until he recently resigned.

Benitez: Reds Not Feeling Pressure

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez denied his side are wilting under the pressure after they threw away victory against Everton on Monday night.

The Reds had looked on course to collect the three points that would have moved them above Manchester United and back to the Premier League summit after Steven Gerrard's 35-yard drive after 68 minutes.

But a late equaliser from Tim Cahill, who headed home unmarked at the near post from a Mikel Arteta free-kick, meant Benitez's side remain behind United on goal difference having also played a game extra.

However, Benitez insists his side's title hopes are very much alive. He said: "The players believe they can challenge for the title.

You are not suffering from pressure after leading until three minutes from time.

"It is not pressure to be level on points with Manchester United in January.

"We are disappointed with how we defended against that late free-kick, and disappointed with giving a free-kick away at that stage so close to our box. It could have been avoided."

Yossi Benayoun had needlessly conceded that free-kick for a foul on Victor Anichebe.

"I will have to look at that incident again, but we had talked about not conceding free-kicks in that sort of area because Everton's set-plays are good," Benitez added.

"But we are still level with United and we know we can play better.

"We will improve as we get more of our injured players back, we still believe we can challenge for the title."

Everton boss David Moyes believed that his side deserved their goal and the hard-earned point.

It extended Everton's unbeaten run to seven games and Moyes said: "We showed what we have been doing now for a few weeks. We played with confidence and a draw was certainly a fair result.

"Maybe we could have had a penalty just before they scored, that was disappointing.

"We were still appealing for the penalty when Liverpool broke away and we allowed Steven Gerrard to walk into midfield and score.

"We turned off at that moment. We lost our concentration after not getting the penalty, and Liverpool took advantage."

Moyes refused to condemn referee Howard Webb for the decision not to award a spot-kick for Martin Skrtel's push on Anichebe.

Moyes said: "The referee had a very good game. There was a couple of penalty shouts at each end he didn't give them. I am more concerned with how we turned off at the moment we were denied a possible penalty rather than with the referee's decision."

But Moyes hailed his players for their spirited performance.

"Liverpool have been buying players to win titles, we are not in that league," he said.

"But we have showed the stability there is at our club, and how far we have come in the last few years.

"We were able to give Liverpool a really good game on their own pitch and we deserved the point, we earned it."

Evertonian Breaks Habit Of A Lifetime To Wear Red

No matter how well Benitez’s team play in last night’s Merseyside derby, one red-shirted fan won’t be cheering for Liverpool FC.

Lifelong Evertonian Ray Parr will break a habit of a lifetime by wearing a red Liverpool shirt at the match after he was auctioned for charity.

Mr. Parr, who runs a property development company in Kensington, agreed to the forfeit after friends pledged £2,000 for the Prince’s Trust.

The 63-year-old has been involved in fundraising for children’s charity Variety Club for 25 years and hosts Formby Hall Golf Club’s annual auction in aid of the Prince’s Trust.

He said after taking £12,000 in bids for items, his friend Gary Williams called him back to the stage and announced he would be auctioning Mr. Parr off in an extra lot.

Mr. Parr, who lives in Formby, said: “He knows I’m absolutely 1,000% Blue and I go once a year to Anfield for the derby.

“He said ‘come as my guest but you’ve got to wear the red shirt’. I said I’ll give you £1,000 not to.

“But then the bidding went around the room. I appreciate how hard it is to raise money for charity and, if someone wants to give £2,000 to the Prince’s Trust, I’ll do it.

“The work they do is fantastic – they help people set up businesses and it’s a good charity.”

After the bidding rose to £1,800, Mr Williams said he would round it up to £2,000 and buy Mr Parr for the event.

The pair will both watch the match tonight in Anfield’s famed trophy room.

Mr. Parr, who started supporting Everton, aged 10, said he is well-known among former players as a high-profile Evertonian.

He hosts them and other guests in a converted terraced house on Goodison Road on match days.

Known as the Strikers’ Suite, the downstairs of the property has been turned into a club house where 20 members meet for pre-match meals and post-match drinks.

The decor pays homage to Goodison heroes past and present and has been featured on Sky Sports and Setanta.

He added: “This is the very first time I’ve had something red next to my body.

“I will get slaughtered for this. Even Howard Kendall has had a chuckle.”

But, despite his apparent shift in loyalty, the father-of-two remains upbeat about the Blues’ chances of holding Liverpool, who are under pressure in the title race, to a score draw tonight.

He added: “Everton have a great away record and Liverpool have a poor home record. I think we will get a draw there.

“There’s a few little problems [at Liverpool].

“Steven Gerrard’s under pressure, as is Benitez, who’s not signed his contract.”

Pennant's Portsmouth Move Will Be A Loan From Liverpool

It was reported last week that Liverpool and Portsmouth had agreed a fee for winger Jermaine Pennant to make his move form Merseyside to Hampshire.

The 26-year-old is out of contract at Anfield at the end of the season, and Liverpool had invited offers for the player, resulting in interest from a clutch of clubs including Real Madrid, Sevilla, Wigan Athletic and Hull City.

It seemed that the player was definitely set to join Pompey manager Tony Adams down at Fratton Park, but now Setanta Sports are reporting that, should the deal actually go ahead, it is likely to be a loan move until the end of the season.

Questions seem to have been raised about Pennant's likely level of commitment to Pompey's cause and Adams has made it clear recently that he does not want passengers in his squad.

"I think the deal has been done with Liverpool and I'm going to speak to Jermaine at some stage and see how he feels about coming to Portsmouth," said Adams last week.

"If he doesn't want to, I won't take him on board. There are many players working hard, scrapping and holding it together."

The size of Pompey's reported bid is rumoured to have been around £3 million, but despite that being accepted, it now seems as though the player would really rather stay at Anfield.

Benitez Milking His Position As He Tries To Be The New Mourinho

He may not have the charisma, the style or the language skills, but when it comes to picking a fight, Rafael Benitez is looking more and more like the new Jose Mourinho.

The Liverpool manager is bringing to Anfield the 'creative tension' Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon once claimed was no bad thing at his club as internal battles threatened to tear them apart.

Benitez, having finally made Liverpool serious title contenders in the Premier League, knows he is in as strong a bargaining position as he will ever be at the club and is milking it for all it is worth.

After forcing owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to agree to his salary demands on a new contract, Benitez is now insisting on control over transfers too, and taking pot-shots at those in charge.

Not only does he think he is a master manager, he also seems to believe he is a crack negotiator too.

The Spaniard is rapidly revealing himself as a kind of megalomaniac who likes nothing more than to confront anyone standing in his way. Remind you of anyone?

Wading deeply into hostilities with Sir Alex Ferguson clearly is not enough for Benitez, but at the rate he is going, something is bound to go against him.

With Liverpool facing Everton twice in a week and Steven Gerrard due in court in between, it could come sooner rather than later.

Adams Tells Pennant He Must Prove He Wants To Join Portsmouth

Portsmouth manager Tony Adams has told Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant to prove he wants to join the south coast club or the move is off.

The clubs have agreed a fee, believed to be around £2million for a player who is out of contract in the summer, but Adams is worried about Pennant's attitude towards a possible switch.

Adams will told talks with executive chairman Peter Storrie and said: "I need to find out what's happening. It's been said he doesn't want to come but I'm not convinced that is the case.

"The deal has been agreed with Liverpool and I need to speak with Jermaine and see how he feels about coming to Portsmouth.

"If he doesn't want to, then it's the same as Jermain Defoe or anybody who wants to leave the club.

"I only need players who are working hard and are all in it together. People have to want to come and play."

Liverpool would be prepared to let Pennant go out on loan and sell him in the summer if he signs a one-year extension to his contract, which would enable them to demand a fee.

Pennant, who has also attracted interest from Real Madrid, AC Milan and Wigan, may be set on running down his contract and moving on a Bosman free transfer in the summer, with a switch across Stanley Park to Everton a possibility.

Picky Pennant Is Moving Closer To Pompey Deal After Accepting His Time Is Up At Liverpool

Jermaine Pennant is due to hold further talks with Portsmouth today in a bid to resurrect a £2million move to the south coast.

Pennant had initially rejected overtures from Portsmouth manager Tony Adams but he has since been told by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez that he does not figure in his plans and he will be unlikely to play again this season.

Pennant, who is out of contract in the summer, has had offers from Real Madrid, AC Milan, Hull, Stoke and Wigan but so far failed to agree a deal.

He wants to keep his options open in the summer and Portsmouth's proposal would still allow him to do that while playing in the Premier League. The 26-year-old is then likely to take stock of the offers on the table as a free agent.

Adams, who is also interested in Switzerland midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, said: 'If Jermaine does not want to come, I will not take him on board. People have to come and want to play.'

Bayer Leverkusen star Barnetta, 23, who has also attracted interest from West Ham, was part of Switzerland's 2006 World Cup squad and scored in their group win over Togo.