Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Match Report: LiverpooL 4 - 0 Real Madrid

Champions League quarter-finals in style with a 5-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid.

In a remarkable first half, Real were torn to shreds by a breathtaking attacking display led by Fernando Torres, their arch-enemy from his Atletico Madrid days.

Torres scored early on, before Steven Gerrard fired home from the spot.

And had it not been for an outstanding display from Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Liverpool would have had a hatful in that first 45 minutes alone.

Gerrard scored a spectacular third seconds after the break to deflate Madrid further and substitute Andrea Dossena added a fourth with three minutes to go.

Sometimes Liverpool can defy logic.

So unpredictable in the Premier League of late, their fans were singing about another Rome final long before the end. And who would ever bet against the Anfield men in Europe.

Gerrard struck twice on his 100th European appearance for Liverpool to secure a quite breathtaking victory, Real were humbled for the second time in a fortnight by their old boy Rafael Benitez.

If manager Benitez feels he does not get enough respect for his Champions League achievements at Anfield, this fourth appearance in the last eight in five years will go a long way to gaining him the credit he craves.

England coach Fabio Capello was here for another Benitez masterclass, and Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan - Liverpool go to Old Trafford on Saturday - was a more than interested observer.

Anfield was at its European best, a cauldron of pounding sound cascading down from the Kop.

And it inspired a stunning start from Liverpool, with Casillas making two world-class saves in the opening minutes.

Torres, back after an ankle injury, had already embarked on one surging run into the box, before he dumbfounded Fabio Cannavaro with a brilliant turn to control a Gerrard pass, only for Casillas to save with his right foot.

Ryan Babel and Javier Mascherano both had shots deflected wide before Casillas rescued Madrid again, stretching to his left to touch a Mascherano 20-yard effort onto the bar and over.

After 16 minutes Liverpool were ahead. Jamie Carragher's long ball had Real on the turn with Torres and Kirk Kuyt bearing down on Pepe.

Torres looked to nudge Pepe from behind, and the Portuguese defender fell, leaving Kuyt to square the ball for Torres to beat Casillas from six yards, only his second goal against Real having managed just one against them for Atletico.

Real were furious with referee Frank De Bleeckere, the official who sent off Marco Materazzi when Inter Milan were beaten at Anfield at this same stage last season. But the Belgian was unmoved.

Pepe was soon booked for dissent before Casillas needed to be at his best to stop a towering Martin Skrtel header, before he somehow beat away a Gerrard shot following more brilliance from Torres on the left.

Gerrard was booked for a foul on Sergio Ramos before more misfortune befell Madrid. A linesman's flag signalled to De Bleeckere after 27 minutes that Gabriel Heinze had handled in the box.

Replays showed the ball hit the former Manchester United man on the shoulder, and he was booked for making his point. But Gerrard was nerveless, driving home the spot-kick.

Real were fuming. Heinze hurled himself feet first into Torres and it needed De Bleeckere and Gerrard to calm the situation, before Jose Reina produced his first saves of the night to turn away a Wesley Sneijder free-kick and hold Raul's header.

Another instinctive save from Reina stopped Sneijder from close range before Mascherano found himself booked after Xabi Alonso had tripped Pepe.

That will rule him out of the next European match, but it was unclear whether the yellow card was mistaken identity or because the ball was kicked away from the free-kick.

Real needed to do something, and they sent on Brazilian forward Marcelo for the anonymous Arjen Robben at the break.

But any plans for a fightback were destroyed just 65 seconds into the second period. Babel got away on the left and laid the ball back for Gerrard to volley superbly high into the net with Casillas helpless.

Real were in pieces, and had it not again been for Casillas - punching the ball away to his right - Gerrard would have had another after 54 minutes.

On the hour Lucas was sent on to replace Alonso, with Saturday's likely epic no doubt in Benitez's mind.

Belatedly Real took off a defender, Cannavaro, and sent on an extra forward in Rafael van der Vaart. But Madrid had been bereft of attacking ideas, and it was far too late by now.

Liverpool were able to indulge themselves by bringing on local teenager Jay Spearing in midfield for Gerrard, an Anfield debut for the former FA Youth Cup-winning captain.

Raul and Fernando Gago both had chances, but Liverpool were cruising at this stage and next to be given a rest was Torres with eight minutes to go, Dossena taking over, only to be booked within seconds.

With three minutes to go, the Italian defender appeared in the box to fire home the fourth goal of the night after a fine build-up involving Babel and Mascherano.

Gerrard Credits Benayoun In Liverpool Victory Over Real Madrid

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, delighted with his team's 4-0 thumping of Real Madrid, gave special mention to Yossi Benayoun who scored the only goal in the first leg.

Steven Gerrard picked up a double for himself in tonight's Champion's League clash against Real Madrid with Fernando Torres and Andrea Dossena also making it onto the score-sheet.

The win marked Real Madrid's biggest ever defeat in the competition, and sees the Reds advance to the quarter-finals.

"For the first 30 minutes we were awesome," Gerrard told ITV.

"I think we got the job done in the first-half and the second-half was just about seeing it out and we managed to get another couple of goals and everyone is really pleased.

"The second half was about seeing it out and fortunately we were able to score a couple more goals."

Tonight's game was not only a historical moment for the La Liga side in terms of goals scored against them, but also marked Gerrard's 100th European appearance for Liverpool. However, the skipper seemed less concerned with statistics and more with the positive result.

"The important thing for me was winning the game, booking our place in the last eight and it was a fantastic team performance.

"I also have to give a special mention to Yossi Benayoun who was fantastic in the first leg and unfortunately missed out tonight, so Yossi was with us tonight as well," he added.

Liverpool next face Manchester United at Old Trafford, a tantalising fixture that is important to both clubs regarding their Premier League campaigns. When quizzed on the matter, Gerrard was more concerned with the victory over the Spaniards.

"We have to enjoy tonight first.

"Some players will need some treatment after picking up knocks and we'll start concentrating on the United game tomorrow."

Liverpool Coach Rafael Benitez: We Should Have Scored More Against Real Madrid

Satisfied with his side's display at Anfield in the Champions League last 16, Rafa zoomed in on facing Manchester United at the weekend, and boomed that the Reds would have renewed confidence.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez claimed that his side were worth more than the 4-0 win they earned over Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 on Tuesday night, and was eager to turn and face domestic duty against Manchester United at the weekend.

Fernando Torres, Andrea Dossena and a Steven Gerrard brace helped the Reds to a 5-0 aggregate win, which left their manager calling for even more.

Benitez was satisfied with his side's display, and was keen to talk up morale in the Liverpool camp in the wake of the win.

He insisted that the Saturday lunchtime clash presents his side with a realistic chance to close the gap on Sir Alex Ferguson's side at the top of the Premier League.

He told a press conference at Anfield, "We played really well, and I am happy for the players and fans.

"The team was very good. We tried to put them under pressure from the start, and today is another good day for us.

"If you play so well against a team like Real Madrid it is good, but we could have scored more goals and we have to improve.

"We have a few days to prepare for the Manchester United game and hopefully we can reduce the gap.

"Manchester United are a good team but we will approach the game with confidence."

Liverpool Hero Torres: I Would Have Played Through The Pain To Face Real Madrid

Fernando Torres, having spent six years at Atletico Madrid, is no stranger to Spanish football. And it would seem that dedication to his club is among his many attributes.

The 24-year-old was in serious doubt for Tuesday night's Champions League date with Real Madrid, but he insisted afterwards that he was desperate to face Los Blancos.

"It was very important for me to play because of my past with Atletico," Torres said to ITV.

"I was working all week to try to stay fit for this game."

'El Nino' was the first to feature on the score-sheet as the Reds romped to the quarter-finals with an emphatic 4-0 thumping of the Spanish giants.

And while Torres admitted to feeling his problem ankle throughout the game, he dismissed the significance of his own discomfort when compared to the importance of their victory.

"We knew tonight was a massive game for us and for the fans, so it doesn't matter to play with pain in games like this," he concluded.

Liverpool Must Close Financial Gap Or Risk Lagging Behind European Elite

When Liverpool and Real Madrid collided on Tuesday night in the sort of atmosphere unique to Anfield on European occasions, they did so as sporting equals.

They may have only met once before in a competitive tie prior to this year's Champions League, the 1981 European Cup final, but as the most successful sides in the competition's history, with 14 titles between them, they dine at its highest table.

At Madrid they expect nothing less, and as the richest club in Europe they have resources to match their ambitions. At Liverpool expectations are just as high, but financial realities mean that they punch above their weight every time they pass the last 16 stage in Europe.

In financial terms Liverpool are quarter-finalists at best, ranked only seventh in the recent Deloitte's European money list with an annual revenue of £167 million dwarfed by Real's table-topping £290 million. Domestically, the club trail a distant fourth to their Premier League rivals.

The internal feuding between co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, outgoing chief executive Rick Parry and manager Rafael Benitez has dominated attention for the last six months, but closing the financial gap is the club's priority.

The raw numbers are chastening. Liverpool's commercial earnings last season were £51.5 million, £10 million less than Chelsea's, £13 million short of Manchester United's and better than Arsenal's £44 million only because the Gunners took a large portion of their £90 million deal with Emirates up front.

The gap in match-day revenue is even more startling. United take more than £3 million-a-game courtesy of Old Trafford's 76,000 seats, 9,000 of which are part of corporate hospitality packages, and generated £101 million last season.

Arsenal, with 7,000 premium seats in the 60,000 Emirates selling in the nearby City of London market, generated £94.6 million. Even Chelsea, with a comparable capacity, brought in £74.5 million, a full £25 million more than the £39.2 million generated at Anfield last season.

There are many on Merseyside who will tell you that the relative scarcity of corporate seats at Anfield – just 2,800 of the 46,000 come with prawn sandwiches – is one of the prime reasons for the sort of crackling atmosphere generated last night. It is a source of pride that the club have, relatively speaking, resisted the commercialisation so prevalent elsewhere.

The fans may cherish Anfield's authenticity but for owners with acquisition loans to service and expansion plans to realise, closing the financial gap is a priority. To do that they will have to overhaul a commercial operation that has been left standing by their rivals, and more importantly build the 73,000 capacity stadium that Hicks and Gillett promised when they bought the club.

The commercial failings of the club is the principal reason for the removal of Parry as chief executive, a move engineered by Hicks, now clearly the dominant partner in the dysfunctional relationship with Gillett.

With Parry leaving in May, responsibility for financial growth is in the hands of Ian Ayre, the former Huddersfield chief executive appointed as the clubs first commercial director by Hicks in 2007.

Ayre acknowledges the club have fallen behind, but is confident that they can make ground quickly. "It's fair to say that we should be stronger commercially given that we are the most successful club in English football historically," he told The Daily Telegraph. "The challenge is different here though, because you have to preserve the very unique values and history of this club. For every supporter who says we should be squeezing more money from the brand you'll find one who wants the unique nature of it protected. We have to respect that view, because there are people at Anfield every week for whom the club means everything."

Squaring that circle will never be easy, but with owners schooled in the hyper-commercial American sports market change is inevitable. Ayre is already targeting Asia, mindful that no English club have made a sustained impact on the market, and has plans for a number of new products including a touring version of the Anfield museum close to fruition.

The club are also targeting a greatly increased shirt-sponsorship deal. Carlsberg pay just £7 million a year for their deal with the owners confident that they can more than double that.

A new stadium will do more than any sponsorship to elevate Liverpool into the European commercial elite, with the new Anfield predicted to raise at least £50 million more per season while maintaining corporate seats at about five per cent of capacity.

"We have real support for the stadium plans because the supporters know it will be good for everyone. We're like a family that has outgrown its home, and its time to move on to a place where we can give all our supporters a fantastic experience as well as providing a magnet for tourism and the city," Ayre said.

Realising that vision will be the biggest challenge of all. The stadium plans have been approved and planning permission received, but with the credit markets frozen and uncertainty over the ownership of the club persisting, there is no prospect of work starting any time soon.

Until the search for fresh investors to break the Hicks-Gillett deadlock is successful, Liverpool will continue to compete in the slipstream of richer continental rivals.

Kjaer Interest Confirmed

Simon Kjaer's agent Mikkel Beck admits clubs from all over Europe are tracking the Danish starlet.

Reports from Italy have suggested that Chelsea and Liverpool are the latest clubs to join the chase for the Palermo stopper.

The 19-year-old has shone for the Sicilians this term and is now considered one of the hottest young prospects in Europe.

He was highly-rated before Palermo snapped him up from FC Midtylland, with Real Madrid failing to land him ahead of the Italians - who handed Kjaer a five-year deal.

However, Kjaer - who was called into the Denmark squad for the first time last month - is now being tipped to leave Palermo just 12 months after joining.

His agent is former Middlesbrough and Derby striker Mikkel Beck, but he refused to confirm the interest from either Liverpool or Chelsea.

"I cannot talk about specific clubs, but it is natural that the top clubs in Europe are following Simon - he has been outstanding this season," he told

"I have to comment all the time on Simon, but that is purely down to how he is doing.

"We don't know what is going to happen, he is very happy at Palermo and could easily stay put.

"A move is not on his mind at all, he is getting on with playing and that is how it should be."

Beck did though confirm reports that Kjaer has a clause in his contract that would allow him to move for a set €12million (£11million) fee at the end of the season.

"There is a clause in his contract," said Beck.

"It will allow him to move during a set period in the summer."

Spurs Set For Lennon Battle As Liverpool Target England Winger

Tottenham face a fight to hang on to Aaron Lennon this summer, with Liverpool set to make a renewed bid to land the winger.

Lennon has been outstanding of late, producing a superb display in the Carling Cup Final defeat by Manchester United and scoring four goals in his last seven matches.

Liverpool were interested in signing Lennon during the January transfer window when Spurs were negotiating the deal to bring back Robbie Keane but Harry Redknapp was unwilling to let him move.

Lennon, 21, has a contract with Spurs until 2012 but does not figure among the top earners at White Hart Lane.

He is also pushing for a recall to the England squad and Keane believes his team-mate could make it.

He insisted: 'I see no reason why he shouldn't be in the England squad.'

Meanwhile, Jamie O'Hara played the full 90 minutes last night as Spurs' reserves were beaten 3-0 by Fulham.

Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Fraizer Campbell, Adel Taarabt and Giovani dos Santos were also involved in the defeat.