Monday, January 26, 2009

Match Report: LiverpooL 1 - 1 Everton

Steven Gerrard produced another stunning goal to force a Merseyside derby replay.

Liverpool and Everton will be sick of the sight of each other by the end of this marathon, with the replay on Wednesday, February 4 at Goodison Park.

These sides clashed in the Barclays Premier League last Monday with Gerrard - who else - belting in another cracker to secure a 1-1 draw.

Now with the forthcoming replay they will meet three times in 17 days, rekindling memories of the four-game cup saga they fought out over a fortnight in 1991, which Everton won in the end.

The Toffees will fancy themselves again, having produced a defiant defensive display here to go with their hard-earned league point on Monday.

Joleon Lescott gave them a first-half lead and only the combined brilliance of Fernando Torres and Gerrard denied them a famous victory.

Suggestions that Reds boss Rafael Benitez would under-value the tournament and make a string of changes were unfounded.

There was no Diego Cavalieri in goal, Jose Reina kept the position for his first FA Cup game since the 2006 final.

Elsewhere Liverpool went for more width than in the 1-1 league draw, Ryan Babel and Alvaro Arbeloa detailed to patrol the flanks while Javier Mascherano returned to midfield and Jamie Carragher to the centre of defence.

Liverpool were further boosted by the absence of the influential Mikel Arteta from the Blues ranks with bruised ribs.

The Reds had started slowly in the previous game and allowed Everton a foothold in the game they never relinquished, but today they set about stamping some early authority.

They pushed Everton back with sustained possession and after Steven Pienaar's theatrical collapse in the box under pressure from Arbeloa failed to win a penalty, it was Liverpool who were flooding forward.

But they found their attacking waves crashing against the usual formidable rocks in Everton's defence. Lescott and Phil Jagielka were outstanding as Leon Osman and Phil Neville toiled diligently in front of them.

Liverpool barely created a decent scoring chance in the opening half, and the first time Everton broke out they won a 27th-minute corner that produced a goal to stun the Kop.

From Liverpool's point of view it was yet another set-piece disaster. Tim Cahill, booked early on for deliberant handball, flicked on Pienaar's flag-kick and Lescott nodded past an exposed Reina.

Everton had two free headers in that set-play, and Lescott was totally unmarked six yards out.

From then until the break Everton defended deep, with great resilience and rendered Liverpool frustrated and chanceless.

Torres found Jagielka no less an obstacle than seven days earlier.

Xabi Alonso was booked for a foul on Pienaar and Carragher too on his way off at the break for dissent, having become increasingly annoyed with Everton's constant time-wasting.

It needed something special to break Everton's iron grip, and it came from Torres and Gerrard, combining to stunning effect after 54 minutes.

Torres juggled the ball and then produced a breathtaking back-heel to send the ball flying into Gerrard's path. The captain surged into the box and drilled a shot inside Tim Howard and the near post.

The American should have done far better, but he partly redeemed himself three minutes later with a miraculous save from another Gerrard drive as a revitalised Liverpool powered forward.

Everton sunk even deeper into defence now, 11 men behind the ball, and after 71 minutes they took off striker Victor Anichebe and sent on midfielder Dan Gosling.

Now with Cahill on his own up front, Everton had midfielders breaking from all angles, only heightened when Jack Rodwell took over from Segundo Castillo in central midfield.

It gave Liverpool a real problem. They were pushing forward, and liable to be caught out by quick midfielders if their concentration dropped at the back.

Pienaar was booked for a foul on Martin Skrtel, and Albert Riera came on for Babel. The action was now fast and very furious, with Dirk Kuyt wasting a good opportunity from 12 yards and Torres seeing a close-range shot deflected away by Lescott.

But Everton's defence stood firm, and forced a replay they fully deserved.

Peter Bills: Anfield Echoes Only The Background To Torres' Outrageous Skill

Somehow, some things in football ought to be beyond question. Sir Alex Ferguson will publicly question the credentials of any side within striking distance of his beloved United in the race for the Premiership title. And going to Liverpool ought to be dreaded by every player in the Barclays Premier League.

In days gone by, it was ever thus. A roar that greeted the combatants at the start of every match gradually built to a crescendo of sound along the Anfield Road that would scare old ladies hurrying home before the denouement.

Here, where the ghosts of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Ian St. John stroll in quiet moments, some opponents have been beaten even before they have emerged, knees ‘a trembling, from the tunnel above which hangs a sign with the dreaded words ‘This is Anfield’.

Yet truth to tell, a home record this season of six wins and an extraordinary five draws in 11 League matches at Anfield, and now another on Sunday in the F.A.Cup against Everton, suggests the ground that was once the most intimidating in all England has lost its venom. The fear factor seems no more among visitors to this green swathe amidst the Liverpool inner city suburbs.

But for a time on Sunday, during the FA Cup tie, the Anfield crowd reminded us of those halcyon days for the club. The roar came from the gut, tearing at nerves and inner control like a wild wind threatening the stability of any human being within its path.

True, it took a moment of sublime skill to light the blue touch paper in the old style. Fernando Torres’ exquisite moment of ball juggling on his chest followed by the most sublime, outrageous flick we are likely to see in Premiership football this season, created an explosion of sound that sent Steven Gerrard on his way to goal.

Perhaps Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard allowed the shot to slide tamely under his body because he was still mentally admiring Torres’ moment of genius. But whatever the reason, as the ball hit the back of the net and Gerrard wheeled away in triumph, Anfield exploded.

It brought to mind so many past times when the decibel level was a danger to human hearing. Too often of late, that roar has been muted, deadened by a series of tame, technically proficient but tepid performances.

Perhaps too this is a point Rafa Benitez is still to learn about English football. It is undeniable that so much overseas talent now lights up the English game, much of it possessing technical excellence to a high degree. But football in England never was and hopefully never will be a mirror image of so much of the technically immaculate and utterly boring stuff paraded for too long on the Continent. Such is the growing disinterest in that stuff that clubs like Juventus play often in grounds little more than half full.

What has always distinguished English football is the raw emotion, the speed, the hurly burly and the roar of closely confined crowds. For sure, at times it has left much to be desired in a technical sense yet even so, the excitement has more than compensated.

At Anfield on Sunday we saw glimpses of both: Torres’ superb skill and the roar of the crowd, the emotion that still makes football in England so special. Who can say one is more important than the other?

Benitez Explains Keane Omission

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has confirmed Robbie Keane did not miss the FA Cup tie with Everton through injury.

The Republic of Ireland captain has not yet established himself in the Liverpool team despite being the club's biggest signing last summer. He has been replaced in all but one of the 16 Premier League matches he has started this season.

He started the third round FA Cup tie against Preston earlier this month but he was not even among the substitutes for the fourth round match at Anfield, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Benitez picked teenager David Ngog as one of his substitutes instead, raising speculation about Keane's future with the club.

Benitez said: "Robbie Keane was not selected, we have a very good squad. He was not injured. He is working hard and that is the most important thing for me. I have not seen him but it is normal for every player to want to be in the squad.

"They want to be in the 11 starters so I expect him not to be happy. Ngog was in because he scored two goals for the reserves and we had Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel too. That was four strikers in the squad."

Busy Benitez Unfazed By Liverpool's FA Cup Replay

Rafa the gaffer believes his squad contains the depth of quality to cope with a previously unscheduled trip across Stanley Park.

With Liverpool battling against Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table and awaiting a mouthwatering Champions League tie with Real Madrid, the last thing they needed was an avoidable fixture added in.

Yet that is exactly the predicament they find themselves in, after Everton left Anfield on Sunday night with a share of the spoils for the second time in the space of a seven days.

Thus, the Reds will travel to Goodison Park on February 4 with the aim of booking a spot the FA Cup fifth round, just a few days after a cruch league game with Chelsea.

But Rafael Benitez is not overly concerned by this fixture pile-up, as he reckons his fringe players - such as Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun and Andrea Dossena - can do the job.

The Reds boss told the press, “We have a lot of games coming up but we have a big squad and we can manage it.

“We have good players who can come in and when you play so many games you need that.

“I made four changes today and it was a strong team because we want to progress.

“It would be better if these games were all finished on he day, with no replays, but that’s not how it is done.”

David Moyes And Rafa Benitez Clash Over Tactics

Rival Mersey managers Rafael Benitez and David Moyes have fallen out again over tactics following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Everton at Anfield yesterday.

Meeting in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the sides produced an identical scoreline to their Premier League meeting at the same ground just six days earlier.

Joleon Lescott headed Everton ahead in the 27th minute but Steven Gerrard equalised on 54 minutes to ensure both sides went into the draw for the fifth round, which will pair the winners at home to Aston Villa or Doncaster Rovers on the weekend of February 14 – after a replay at Goodison Park a week on Wednesday.

Despite taking the lead, Moyes’s side were forced to defend for long periods and his opposite number Benitez was unimpressed with what he thought were negative tactics by the Scot.

The Liverpool manager said: “Clearly we dominated the game, controlled it, but we just couldn’t score the second goal.

“I expected to win after we equalised, but the quality and character we showed today was very positive.

“I felt one team was trying to win this game and the other was trying not to lose, but I’m still really pleased with my team.”

Benitez sparked friction between the neighbouring sides two years ago when he described Everton’s tactics as those of a ‘small club’ following a 0-0 draw at Anfield, a remark that led then-Goodison Park chief executive Keith Wyness to reply: “Benitez is in a minority of one in believing Everton is a small club.

“Somehow we just expect more of a Liverpool manager.”

However, on this occasion, Moyes, while showing his displeasure at the Spaniard’s latest claim, offered praise to his opposite number’s team.

He said: “I’d never come here looking for a draw that’s for sure. I might have taken a draw in the end.

“We look after our business here, we do things with a bit of dignity at Everton.

“Liverpool is a great football club – they’ve got a great chance of winning the Premier League.

“In the end we got a good point on Monday and we’ve taken a good side to a replay in the cup so from that point of view on this occasion I feel Everton have the upper hand.”

He added: “I was satisfied with a draw. It was a really tough game, we’ve been to Anfield twice in a week and got draws.

“There was a lot said that we wouldn’t be in the next round so we’re pleased we’ve given ourselves a chance of going through now.”

Although Everton will now get a chance to face their neighbours on home turf, Moyes does not think they can be considered favourites.

He said: “We’ve come to a side who have got a lot of big players and have spent big to win trophies so that makes it difficult for a side like Everton.

“I don’t think we’ll be favourites, you couldn’t class Everton as favourites at this moment in time but what you do know is that the players are extremely resilient.

“We’ve come here over two 90 minutes against a team with great aspirations and made it very hard for them to score.”

While Benitez had virtually a fully fit squad to choose from, Moyes was without his two most expensive players Marouane Fellaini and Ayegbeni Yakubu while playmaker Mikel Arteta was a late withdrawal with a rib injury so the Everton manager was pleased with his side’s display in the circumstances.

He said: “We had Arteta, Fellaini, Yakubu and Saha out but Liverpool had all their players available over the two games.

“We’ve got players to come back and hopefully that will help us.

“As you could see, once it was 1-1 it was difficult for us to try and find another way to find a second goal to get back in front. We really didn’t have the physical capabilities to do so.”

Moyes added: “I was disappointed that Liverpool had got so much possession and I was hoping to have stemmed that but I have to say at times Liverpool played well with the ball.

“In the main I felt quite comfortable defensively with Lescott, Jagielka and the goalkeeper because the boys are in good form and showed it.

“We’re disappointed because when we went in 1-0 up at half-time I said to them ‘in six out of the last seven games you’ve not conceded any goals so just go out and do it again in the second half and you’ll come in winners’.

Although Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was criticised for letting Steven Gerrard’s equaliser beat him at the near post, Moyes did not blame the American international, who made a superb save from the Liverpool skipper minutes later.

He said: “It could have been more but the goalkeeper was terrific and has been for us.

“We were in a wee bit of a mess before that but there was an exquisite piece of skill by Torres who back-heeled the ball into Gerrard’s path so sometimes you hold your hand up and accept that.”

Liverpool Hopes Now Rest On Firing Torres

AFTER another draw we are still left wondering if the class of 2009 really are the real deal or not; yes the draw specialists are resilient but have they really got that cutting edge to go on and win one or more trophies?

You can’t fault them in getting level in this game but once they pulled it back they seemed to drop down a gear.

To win trophies you need ability and desire in equal measures, some-times I really wonder if we have enough of the latter.

Now a tricky trip to Goodison awaits – on form we’ll be the underdogs.

What is clear is that as a defending unit, bar the last two goals against Everton, we are more or less there – full-backs may change but whoever starts in front of Pepe Reina are rock solid.

Martin Skrtel was especially excellent.

The zonal-marking debate will rage but Reina’s clean sheet record is a suitable retort.

Also clear is that the midfield don’t do enough to hurt the opposition.

I’m not going to get started on Dirk Kuyt, as after each game there is a power surge in the national grid due to the posts on Internet forums surrounding him.

But alongside him yesterday all we seemed to have was square and back passes, no attacking impetus at all.

What we are absolutely crying out for are central midfielders to burst into the box, wingers to take people on and whip in dangerous crosses.

At the start of the season I was licking my lips at the prospect of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Robbie Keane, Albert Riera and Ryan Babel in the same line-up. Now for various reasons this isn’t happening, but what it does show is that on form we have personnel.

That’s why I am backing Rafa to turn this around, the reason why we are so frustrated is that we know we have the team to win things, and Rafa has built it.

Our great hope now is that Torres can reproduce the form from last season as he edges closer to match fitness.

The hopes of a generation really do rest on his shoulders.

Liverpool Star Set For Everton Loan

As David Moyes carries on the search for new strikers to sign on loan, the latest name to come up is Liverpool's Robbie Keane.

Reports suggest that Everton are set to take Robbie Keane on loan for the remainder of the season from Liverpool.

The Ireland international striker has struggled to settle into his new home following his £20 million move from Tottenham Hotspur last summer.

The deal that has reportedly been offered to Everton is that they will take Keane on loan until the season finishes but the Reds will still pay the Irishman's wages.

An independent Everton fans' forum has reported that Toffees' boss David Moyes is on the lookout for more loan signings, and has also said that Keane has been offered to Everton on loan.

The 28-year-old has been left out of several squads by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, and has only made 17 Premier League appearances this season, scoring five goals during that span.

Moyes has also been looking at Lokomotiv striker Peter Odemwingie. The Nigerian, who has been continually linked with the Liverpool-based club for the last year or so, could finally make the move to Goodison Park, possibly in a loan deal from the Russian Premier League side.

Liverpool Star Keane Off To Newcastle: Transfer Talk

Metro's Danny Griffiths digs deep to bring you all the latest transfer stories, rumours and gossip from around the country.

Newcastle United may be the shock destination for Robbie Keane after he has become a square peg in a round hole at Liverpool.

The Magpies need a big impact player to replace Michael Owen who appears set for a summer move to Manchester City.

And Keane, left out the FA Cup draw with Everton yesterday, is the type of energetic, high-octane player to excite the Toon Army if the Tyneside club steers clear of the relegation zone.

Newcastle may even strike while the iron is hot by making a move before the transfer window closes next Monday.

But Liverpool would have to swallow a significant loss on the £20m they paid Tottenham for the Republic of Ireland striker in the summer.

Keane, who stayed away from Anfield after he was not even given a place on the bench yesterday, faces a tough future.

It is difficult to see where he can go if he leaves Merseyside as he would not be a fit for Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal while Manchester City have just bought a replacement in Craig Bellamy and Everton do not have the cash.

Aston Villa may be interested but Liverpool would want to engineer a swap deal for Gareth Barry and that won't happen if Martin O'Neill's men qualify for the Champions League.

Villa would prefer to sign Daniel Sturridge from City and they are also interested in Eastlands midfielder Michael Johnson.

Spurs may welcome home the prodigal son but he has already shown he cannot play effectively alongside Jermain Defoe leaving Newcastle as his best bet if he is to leave his boyhood heroes and remain in the Premier League.

Manchester City star Robinho is back in town for showdown talks with manager Mark Hughes after his controversial exit from Tenerife training to fly home.

Chelsea will be watching developments closely and owner Roman Abramovich may sanction a move as he sends a signal to fans that he is still deeply in love with the club.

Tottenham remain busy with Sunderland's Pascal Chimbonda set to complete a £3m return to White Hart Lane if he passes a medical today.

It's a mystifying move as Spurs paid Rangers £8m for Alan Hutton last January and although he does not return from injury until April the hugely versatile Vedran Corluka has been an able deputy with Chris Gunter waiting in the wings.

Tottenham are also expected to complete the signing of Carlo Cudicini from Chelsea to provide cover for goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and they could offer Mexican star Giovani Dos Santos for Brazilian forward Fred.

Wigan boss Steve Bruce is ready to send Wales international midfielder Jason Koumas to Cardiff City for Joe Ledley but Fulham are also interested after selling Jimmy Bullard to Hull.

Meanwhile, back on Tyneside and Newcastle are interested in paying £4m for Celtic defender Stephen McManus but Joey Barton will not be moving to Portsmouth after they boosted their midfielder by signing Hayden Mullins from West Ham and Pele from Porto this morning.

Ruler Of Dubai Eyes Liverpool Again

Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are seeing the value of the club fall ahead of difficult loan negotiations.

Dubai interests may again emerge as the main players in the battle to buy Liverpool. Speculation is growing in the Middle East that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, thought to have lost interest in the club last year as the credit crunch started to bite, may be preparing another move.

But if that does happen, it will only occur next summer, as sources close to the Sheikh argue that the price of the club is likely to keep dropping as the moment when loans with troubled Royal Bank of Scotland have to be renegotiated draws nearer.

Sheikh Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai and founder of Dubai International Capital, which was involved in lengthy and unsuccessful negotiations to buy the club last year.

The Sheikh then took on the potential takeover personally, but opted to pull out several months ago. However, with the intense rivalry between the Arab states over ownership of Premier League clubs, the Sheikh is again believed to be reviewing the situation.

It emerged last week that a Kuwaiti group, the oil-rich al-Kharafi family, were involved in talks – initially with Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks – over a potential buyout, plus the £400m financing of the club's proposed new stadium.

But the £600m asking price was considered too high and, following the amount of publicity the offer generated, it is now believed the consortium leader, Nasser Kharafi, has pulled out of negotiations.

A source close to the Middle East groups said: "The price was too high and the Kuwaitis were annoyed that their interest was leaked. Surely in the current climate, and with time running out on the Americans who must repay or re-finance their loan in July, nobody is going to buy Liverpool at this present time.

"The price drops with every passing day, and any prospective buyer would now wait until the summer before making a move. By then, the Americans would have to accept a much lower price – around £400m or lower."

That applies if the Americans fail to renegotiate their current deal, although there have been suggestions they still have hopes of achieving that. RBS was prepared to give them a six-month extension on that loan. But that was an existing deal, and they are highly unlikely to take on a new agreement with the Americans.

The source said: "With the government now having majority control of RBS, it would seem unlikely that Liverpool would be allowed a huge new loan while other businesses around the country are not."

Talks involving Liverpool's finance director, Philip Nash, and the commercial director Ian Ayre – along with high-level Hicks negotiators from Dallas – were held last week in London and the Middle East with the Kuwaitis.

But the £600m price was a sticking point, as were attempts by Hicks to continue as a minority shareholder. That looks to have brought him back into conflict with fellow owner George Gillett, who wants both Americans to leave on the same terms.

Reports of internal friction at Anfield have surfaced again, with the manager Rafael Benítez and the chief executive Rick Parry seemingly supporting different factions.

Last season it was Hicks who blocked the bid from DIC that was supported by Gillett – and now the co-owners appear to be at loggerheads again.

They will both be at next Sunday's home game against Chelsea, Hicks arriving a few days earlier in the hope of breaking the impasse over Benítez's new contract. Sheikh Maktoum and his Dubai associates, meanwhile, are watching and waiting.

Inter Milan Boss Mourinho Retracts 'Small Club' Jibe By Talking Up Liverpool's Title Credentials

Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho believes Liverpool possess 'everything they need' to claim the Barclays Premier League title this season.

Rafael Benitez's Reds sit second in league, level on points with leaders Manchester United but behind on goal difference having also played one game more.

While firmly in the title race, Liverpool have been guilty of squandering points at home to less-fancied opposition this season, but Mourinho, now the boss of Inter Milan, believes they can keep their championship challenge on track.

'It has been interesting watching Liverpool this season,' Mourinho wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

'I think they have everything they need to win the title.

'I still can't understand why they didn't do it in the last four years. Why wouldn't they be able to do it this season? Of course they can.

'The manager is good, the players are good, the crowd is unique, the tradition of the club is big, so why can't they do it? I think they can.'

Mourinho warned, however, that the resumption of the Champions League at the end of next month could again be a distraction for the Anfield club.

'Usually it is when the Champions League starts that they lose their focus on the Premiership,' he continued. 'It was like this in previous years when they did very well in the Champions League but they lost too many points in the championship.

'They have already lost 10 points at home by drawing the kind of matches they used to win. Against Stoke, Fulham, West Ham, Hull and Everton it has been two points lost. So if you can imagine that they had those 10 points now, they would be top of the league.'

The Portuguese also played down the recent spat between Benitez and United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

'As for these stories I read about Rafael Benitez and Alex Ferguson exchanging words, this is all part of the game,' he said.

'It is part of the fight you have to make to win a title, part of the pressure that managers try and put on other managers, clubs and structures to try to get an advantage.

'I think Benitez and Ferguson respect each other and both know they are contenders for the title. I don't think it is personal.'

Ballack: Chelsea Ready For Revenge In Liverpool

Chelsea travel to Liverpool on February 1 to take on a team desperate to improve their home form and stay shoulder-to-shoulder with Manchester United in the title race.

The Blues are already in danger of falling behind due to their indifferent record at Stamford Bridge, a trend that began when Xabi Alonso's deflected strike doomed the Londoners to their first league loss at home since 2004.

And so Michael Ballack is eager to ramsack Merseyside next weekend and give Chelsea's Premier League campaign a much-needed jumpstart.

"We know it’s difficult to win at Anfield but it’s not impossible," the German international said in The Sun.

"If we want to go back to the top, we have to win but Wednesday is the immediate focus.

"We have dropped too many points at home and we have to be careful.

"We’ve not had good performance this year against the big teams. That has to change if we are to win the title."

Chelsea currently sit third in the standings, two points behind Liverpool and one ahead of fourth-placed Aston Villa.