Monday, February 02, 2009

Match Report: LiverpooL 2 - 0 Chelsea

Fernando Torres scored his first goals since October to keep Liverpool's title dreams alive.

Rafael Benitez's side still trail Manchester United by two points having played a game more, but remain in the hunt after eventually overcoming stubborn Chelsea resistance.

Chelsea had Frank Lampard sent off in the second half and from then on Liverpool pounded away in search of the winner.

And Torres struck with a near-post header and a simple tap-in in the final minutes.

Liverpool made three changes from the side which drew at Wigan in midweek, with Albert Riera, Dirk Kuyt and Xabi Alonso returning in place of Yossi Benayoun, Ryan Babel and Lucas.

Striker Robbie Keane was omitted from the 18-man squad, with teenage striker David Ngog on the bench.

Chelsea fielded the same side which beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in midweek, with Salomon Kalou passed fit.

Keane did not attend Anfield the last time he was left out of a squad, but was all smiles going into the home dressing room this time, and sat in the directors' box later.

But suggestions that he is on his way out of the club cannot be discounted and there was plenty of interest in the other goings on in the stands before the game, with co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks sitting well apart in the front row of the directors' box.

The pair will be re-opening talks with Benitez over his new contract and attend a board meeting together tomorrow.

On the pitch the game started in swirling snow, with Steven Gerrard surging around midfield as Liverpool took the game to Chelsea.

Alonso forced the first save from Petr Cech after 11 minutes, seeing a 20-yarder tipped over. Then Javier Mascherano fired in a low 30-yarder that Cech parried away, with no Liverpool man nearby to take advantage.

The midfield battle started to get tasty with tackles flying in. Mascherano was booked for flattening John Obi Mikel and soon after Cole was cautioned for a foul on Dirk Kuyt.

Torres and Riera both tested Chelsea with their direct running, but it was a very tight contest.

Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard were quick to support Nicolas Anelka, putting Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel under severe pressure.

After 41 minutes Riera fired in a fierce drive that was again pushed out by Cech, with Cole slicing the ball narrowly wide of the post as he cleared.

The second period was just a minute old when Alonso was cautioned for a foul on Kalou and Mikel was soon to be in referee Mike Riley's book for a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa.

Liverpool were attacking the Kop end now, and Gerrard, despite the bitter cold, was warming to his task. One run produced a corner, with Kuyt hooking wide while off balance. Then Torres saw a shot blocked by Terry.

Then on the hour Lampard was shown a straight red card for a tackle on Alonso. He connected with the ball, but also the Spaniard's ankle, and referee Riley reacted instantly.

John Terry was booked for protesting and Chelsea will rightly point out that Gerrard was only warned for a similar tackle a few minutes earlier.

Alex then deflected an Alonso drive onto the bar as Liverpool sought to claim the advantage.

On 69 minutes, Chelsea sent on Deco and Didier Drogba for Florent Malouda and Anelka.

Gerrard was booked for diving as Liverpool cranked up the pressure, with Torres having a shot hooked away by Kalou.

Benayoun then replaced Riera after 74 minutes, Liverpool searching for some invention to unlock Chelsea's rearguard. It almost came when Benayoun tested Cech from 20 yards before hooking another effort inches over.

Babel replaced Mascherano after 83 minutes and Chelsea sent on Miroslav Stoch for Kalou soon after.

And with two minutes left, Liverpool grabbed the lead with Torres' first goal in front of the Kop this season.

He arrowed a near-post header past Cech from a cross from Fabio Aurelio.

In injury-time Benayoun got away in the box after Cole failed to control and Torres fired home from eight yards.

Liverpool Were Better Than Chelsea, Admits Scolari

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted that Liverpool deserved their win against Chelsea at Anfield, but also revealed he felt the referee had made a mistake sending off Frank Lampard.

Lampard saw red in the second half for a foul on Xabi Alonso and speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Scolari insisted the red card had changed the game.

“I think the result it’s after what’s happened with Lampard. It’s normal because they have more possession, they have more quality, they arrive more in front of our goal, but until then no,” he said.

Scolari then went on to reveal his side would be appealing the decision and insisted the referee had made a mistake.

The Blues’ boss explained: “If it’s possible I want the referee to look at this situation on the television and maybe he will change the red card for Lampard because as I look on television it’s a foul for the other player [Alonso] not for Lampard.”

The Brazilian also insisted that he could not understand why the referee had decided to brandish the red card: “No I don’t understand. But maybe now, after, when he looks on television at what’s happened, maybe he will understand he is wrong, he will change the red card and maybe in the next game Lampard can play.”

After being reduced to 10 men, Chelsea struggled against a dominant Liverpool side who eventually prevailed courtesy of two late Fernando Torres goals.

Scolari admitted that Liverpool had controlled the game and that they had deserved the win that takes them three points clear of the Blues in second place.

“After this they are the owner of the pitch and they scored two goals,” he said before adding, “I think Liverpool are better than us, all of the game.”

The defeat puts a serious dent in Chelsea’s title aspiration but Scolari insisted his players would not give up yet. He concluded: “We need to look again, we need to try again, because we have many games. But we are behind now, two clubs Manchester and Liverpool, and it’s more difficult than before but we need to fight until the last game.”

Kuwait Billionaires Are Still In Anfield Talks

Liverpool are still locked in talks about selling the club to the Al-Kharafi family in Kuwait, despite reports that the secretive Middle East dynasty were no longer interested in Anfield.

Instead, Kuwaiti representatives saw Liverpool beat 10-man Chelsea at Anfield and they are continuing negotiations with warring owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, having conducted their due diligence studies of the club’s troubled finances over the past few weeks.

Hicks’ main allies at Liverpool, commercial director Ian Ayre and finance boss Phil Nash, have been in Kuwait making presentations to the Al-Kharafis, whose patriarch Nasser has delegated nephew Rafed, a Liverpool fan, to be chief negotiator.

It is understood the Al-Kharafi family want the majority stake, with Gillett being bought out and Hicks keeping a reduced percentage.

The full price would be about £300million but that would also mean picking up debts of £350m.

Liverpool will be wary after the Al-Kharafi clan terminated talks last July without explanation.

The contract was ready to sign and all that needed to be done was to settle periphery issues.
Hicks was furious after five months of negotiations conducted under the football radar.

Equally upset at their wasted work costing them millions were Al-Kharafi’s UK financial advisers, understood to be football stockbrokers Seymour Pierce.

But the Kuwait billionaires haven’t gone away, although agreeing anything between Hicks and Gillett is problematic.

Rafael Benitez Has Clear Mind Despite Anfield Turmoil

It is not known whether Rafael Benítez is a fan of Shakespeare — you suspect not — but, amid all the headlines about whether the Liverpool manager is “cracking up”, it is that line from Hamlet, delivered sotto voce by Polonius, that keeps coming to mind.

Benítez may have behaved curiously of late, but to dismiss his actions as those of a swirling, raging madman is to miss the point entirely. Whether it is waging war on Sir Alex Ferguson, dropping Robbie Keane or publicising a contract dispute with the club’s owners, the one thing that Benítez can never be accused of is failing to engage his brain. If his detractors can accuse him of one thing, it is of thinking too much, although Liverpool’s position in the Barclays Premier League table, enriched by yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Chelsea, hardly puts them down as a classic case of paralysis by analysis.

The Liverpool manager is no Hamlet, driven to madness by a desire for revenge. He is no King Lear, stripped of his dignity as he descends slowly into insanity. Benítez would probably prefer to regard himself as King Henry V, a man notable for military genius, a powerful leader whose air of nobility concealed a devilish, scheming side to his character.

Should Liverpool fail to win the Premier League — and even in the heady days of November and December they were never regarded as anything like favourites — many of the inquests will focus on January 9, the day when Benítez “lost the plot”.

Except that he did not. The tirade against Ferguson, accusing him of holding undue influence over referees, was calculated in the extreme. Benítez had armed himself with the relevant statistics and assured himself that he was on safe ground before proceeding to deliver his thoughts in a methodical manner. As these things go, it was as far removed from Kevin Keegan’s infamous “I’d love it” rant as can be imaginable.

Yet the perception of a manager “cracking up” in the heat of the title race is too much for some to resist, particularly when Ferguson is on the other end of the equation. Now that Benítez is off the critical list, however briefly, the spotlight will be shone ever more intensely into the eyeballs of Luiz Felipe Scolari as we — media, supporters, perhaps even his players — look for signs that he, too, has lost the plot. Then there is Arsène Wenger, another who has dared to show signs of fallibility. And that is before we look farther down the league at managers such as Mark Hughes, Tony Adams and Joe Kinnear, the ones really under pressure.

If Benítez had gone mad, he would probably have cause, given the absurdity of life at Liverpool over the two years since the Hicks-Gillett takeover. The co-chairmen sat in the Anfield directors’ box for the first time in 14 months yesterday, but, grown up as ever, insisted on being seated more than a dozen places apart, not exchanging so much as a glance. It has become a basket-case of a club — not quite in the Newcastle United class, but unravelling at such a rate that it has taken quite a feat of management to keep the team on some kind of even keel.

Nor is the handling of Keane the sign of a manager who has taken leave of his senses. Keane has been treated shabbily, left to feel a pawn in a political battle between Benítez and the board, but he is not the victim of muddled thinking. Benítez simply does not view him as a player deserving of a starting place at present or as a player who can change a game as a substitute, so he prefers David Ngog, a raw French teenager of 19, who is perceived to have the pace to stretch opposition defences in the closing stages of matches. Some would cite Keane’s price tag as a reason why he should be on the bench, even if only for the sake of his confidence. Benítez, who spends as long contemplating his substitutes as his starting line-up, would disagree.

If there is a frustration for Liverpool supporters, it is that there is too much method, a tendency to over-complicate things rather than get by on instinct. It was put to Benítez on Friday that Steven Gerrard, more than any player, remains a match winner even when seemingly dead on his feet and that, whatever his condition, he would never have been substituted by Ferguson under such circumstances (in the 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic on Wednesday).

They were valid points. But Benítez never has been a manager like Ferguson and never will be. Asking him to manage by instinct, rather than by analysis, would be like asking Ferguson to do the reverse. You would lose many of the qualities that have made him successful, which, in the case of Benítez, are self-assurance, clarity of thought and tactical genius — the things you associate with madness.

Jose Bosingwa Faces FA Hot Water After Yossi Benayoun Incident

Luis Felipe Scolari has conceded that Jose Bosingwa could be in trouble with the Football Association after a bizarre incident near the end when he put his foot into the back of Yossi Benayoun and pushed the Liverpool man off the pitch.

The incident was not punished by referee Mike Riley and the FA are certain to review video evidence if Riley acknowledges he missed the offence.

Now Scolari wants to see video evidence used to clear Frank Lampard as well, who was given a red card by Riley as Chelsea lost 2-0 at Anfield.

He said: "Liverpool had more possession overall, but once Lampard was sent off they had more chances and got into our box much more.

"I do not want to criticise the referee, all I ask is that he looks at the video with the men from the FA. If they agree that Lampard did not commit a foul for his red card, maybe they will change the decision.

"What Bosingwa did was not correct, he made a mistake. But if he is punished when the FA look at the video, maybe they will change the decision over Lampard.

"When he was sent off it changed the game for us one million per cent. We lost the middle and did not have the ball.

"They created more chances and had more possession. And they were able to score the goals after that decision.

"I have not spoken to the referee, it was his decision. I hope though that he will look at the TV and see that he should change the decision."

Scolari also insisted that he was not feeling any pressure on his future.

Following the defeat, he said: “We were not good today. Liverpool were better than us all game. They had two or three more chances than us before the sending off and, OK, afterwards they had more because they had more players.

“The title is more difficult now, obviously. But there are many games left and we have to keep going until the very last game. I have confidence in the squad we have.”

Gerard Houllier Regrets Snubbing Nicolas Anelka At Liverpool

Gerard Houllier admits he made a mistake showing Nicolas Anelka the door at Liverpool.

Anelka, currently the Premier League's leading scorer, returns with Chelsea today to the ground he once dreamed of making his own.

Now former Anfield boss Houllier has lifted the lid on why he snubbed a striker whose gifts he admired.

The decision, which badly shook Anelka, was a response to alleged dirty tricks from his agent brothers Claude and Didier.

Houllier said: "I think it was a mistake on my part because I should have should have carried on regardless.

"I thought, right to the end, I was going to sign him, but then I didn't feel the thing was right.

"I did not like the fact that, while he was at Liverpool with a purchase option to play for us, his brothers had tried to contact other clubs to sell him. I did not think that was fair play."

Houllier owned up to his blunder in a DVD devoted to Anelka's career.

It also features Steven Gerrard, who says: "Anelka is the type of player you want on your team rather than playing against you."

Liverpool To Rescue Javier Saviola From Real Madrid

Reports in the English press declare that Liverpool will attempt to sign Javier Saviola on-loan from Real Madrid, most probably as a temporary replacement for Robbie Keane.

Word has it that the Anfield giants have agreed to sell Keane, who joined from Tottenham Hotspur in a big-money move only last year, back to the Lilywhites.

That would leave a noticeable hole in Rafael Benitez's forward line - or an empty space on the bench, at least - and the Spanish tactician supposedly wants Saviola to fill the void for the time being.

The Argentine striker has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs this winter, as he has become openly frustrated with his lack of first-team opportunities at the Bernabeu.

Portsmouth were favourites to sign the former Barcelona star, but instead opted for Greek international Theofanis Gekas, while Everton's reported interest has amounted to nothing as yet.

It is uncertain whether Saviola would fancy a move to Liverpool, as his need for playing time may outweigh the allure of joining another one of Europe's powerhouse clubs.

Joe Kinnear: Newcastle Want Sami Hyypia, Liverpool Won't Sell

Newcastle United manager Joe Kinnear has revealed he attempted to sign Sami Hyypia from Liverpool, but to no avail.

The Finnish centre-back has been at Anfield since 1999 and is regarded as one of the club's greatest ever defenders. In recent seasons, however, his starting chances have been lessened by the emergence of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.

Nevertheless, Rafael Benitez clearly still sees the 35-year-old as a valuable commodity, as the Toon are now turning their gaze elsewhere as they seek a wise head for their fragile defence.

Kinnear told Sky Sports, "I tried for one centre-half, but got knocked back. Liverpool weren't prepared to let Hyypia out.

"I want to get somebody with experience because of the position we are in. We have a very young back four and I just want somebody who is a good organiser."

Sunderland have also been linked with Hyypia, but they are unlikely to pursue their interest following the arrival of Tal Ben-Haim from Manchester City.

Benitez In The Dark As Liverpool And Spurs Are Locked In Talks Over Keane's Return To White Hart Lane

Tottenham and Liverpool spent the eve of transfer deadline day locked in talks to take Robbie Keane back to White Hart Lane.

Spurs were thought to have made a bid of £10million to re-sign the striker, whom they sold to the Reds for £20.3million just six months earlier.

Liverpool rejected the offer but were happy to continue talks on an improved bid following their 2-0 victory over Chelsea.

Speculation has been rife over the weekend that the 28-year-old would be about to end his Anfield misery, intensified when Keane was left out of the squad all together for the visit of Chelsea.

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is keen to add another striker before the transfer deadline at 5pm on Monday, particularly since losing Jermaine Defoe for several weeks with a foot injury.

Benitez would not put up too much resistance should Tottenham meet the club's valuation, but, when asked after defeat to Chelsea if Keane would remain beyond the deadline, he said: I think Robbie Keane will be here when the transfer window shuts.

'He was left out because we were considering all our good players and who we needed for this game. It was only a decision based on this match and our requirements.'

But Benitez appeared to be in the dark about the new talks with Tottenham. He said: 'I have not seen any new offers, I don't know whether the club have had any offers.

'I have spoken to Robbie, he was there in the dressing room beforehand, and we also spoke afterwards and we were just talking about the game.

'He was pleased because the team had won. He is part of my squad, I would expect him to be in my Champions League squad.

'Everything is if, if, if. He is here, he is our player. That's it.'

Other than Defoe, Pascal Chimbonda has returned to White Hart Lane in this transfer window, moving back from Sunderland about six months after leaving Tottenham.

Liverpool Want Aaron Lennon In Exchange For Robbie Keane

According to reports in the British press, Liverpool striker Robbie Keane could be on his way back to former club Tottenham Hotspur after only half-a-season at Anfield.

The Reds paid around £20 million for the Republic of Ireland international in July 2008 but he has struggled to make an impact during his 28 appearances, scoring just seven goals.

Amid reports that Spurs had enquired about the availability of the 28-year-old, who was not even on the substitutes bench for yesterday's crunch tie with Chelsea, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was quoted by Sky Sports as saying, "I think Robbie Keane will be here when the transfer window shuts.

"He was left out because we were considering all our good players and who we needed for this game. It was only a decision based on this match and our requirements."

However, it has since been claimed that the 5ft 8in forward could be on his way back to White Hart Lane in a £15m deal, with Liverpool considering signing Real Madrid striker Javier Saviola as a replacement.

A report in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror claims that the switch is on the cards, as long as Tottenham agree to let Aaron Lennon move to Liverpool in exchange.

Apparently, the idea of the swap was brought up last week but Spurs boss Harry Redknapp turned it down straight away.

It remains to be seen whether the north London club will give in to the Merseyside outfit's demands, especially as they are keen to bring in cover for the injured Jermaine Defoe.

Liverpool Reject £15m Spurs Offer For Robbie Keane

Liverpool on Sunday night rejected a £15 million offer from Tottenham to take striker Robbie Keane back to White Hart Lane.

Although Anfield sources said they would consider selling the player if Spurs increased their offer considerably, Rafael Benitez's confidence that Keane will remain a Liverpool player after the 5pm transfer window closes this evening looks well placed.

The Republic of Ireland international's future has been the subject of intense speculation for weeks now. He played only eight minutes of Liverpool's three key games last week and did not even merit a place on the bench for last Monday's Mersey derby or Sunday's 2-0 win over Chelsea.

Manchester City are also believed to be monitoring the situation in the hope of tempting the boyhood Liverpool fan away from Anfield just six months after he arrived.

However, any move appears unlikely, given the lack of time available to Liverpool to bring in a replacement, and Benitez said he expected to have Keane available for Wednesday's FA Cup replay at Goodison Park. He said: "I think he will be here at the end of the month, yes. I spoke with him about the game before, not about his future, and he is OK."

Unlike last Monday's match, Keane attended Sunday's game, politely applauding Fernando Torres's double salvo and leaving his seat just before the final whistle.

He was joined in the stands by the club's co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the first time the two Americans have come face-to-face since August and their first trip to Anfield since December 2007.

Both sat, accompanied by their families, in the directors' box, separated by around a dozen seats. They will meet Benitez and the club's chief executive Rick Parry this week and are believed to be ready to offer the Spaniard a four-year deal worth around £20 million, complete with full control over the club's transfers.

Under the latest terms to be drawn up, Parry will be given a brief more concerned with the club's commercial activity. Beating Chelsea has not been Benitez's only significant victory this week.

The former Valencia manager did not comment on his contract, insisting he was focused solely on enjoying a win which reignites Liverpool's title challenge.

He said: "It is always important to win, regardless of who is sitting in the crowd. We deserved to win.

"I haven't seen the replay of the red card, but I am sure that it was not a foul by Xabi Alonso, if that is what [the Chelsea manager] Luiz Felipe Scolari is saying.

"Before, we were in a good position in the title race. Now we are in a better position. But that can change almost every day, so what you have to do is make sure that you always win."

That task will be made easier by the return to form of Torres. His two goals on Sunday were the Spanish international's first at Anfield since May.

He said: "It was a fantastic night for me. Two goals against Chelsea, the first since the injury, and winning an important game.

"Winning will bring back confidence, of course, after so many draws. But there are many games still left and we have to keep on working right until the end."