Sunday, May 10, 2009

Match Report: West Ham United 0 - 3 Liverpool

Steven Gerrard scored twice against West Ham to send Liverpool top of the Premier League and keep alive their slim title hopes.

With Manchester United playing on Sunday, Rafael Benitez's men overtook them on goal difference - but time has almost run out and they only have two matches left.

United have four games and may not need them all to secure the title, although the efforts of Gerrard has at least stretched them well into May.

The 28-year-old's goals at Upton Park took his tally to 23 for the season, with Ryan Babel adding a late third to seal the win.

Liverpool's hopes this season have been built on the firepower of Fernando Torres and Gerrard - and the pair combined after 76 seconds for the opener.

Torres, back fit after a hamstring problem ruled him out of the win over Newcastle, received the ball in midfield but was given the time to turn and pick his pass, threading ball through to Gerrard beyond the Hammers defence.

The hosts were claiming offside but James Tomkins had played Gerrard on, with the England midfielder taking the ball around Robert Green and finishing into an empty net.

The early opener stunned the hosts, who kicked off knowing Fulham had won and Tottenham picked up a point earlier in the day in the race for the Europa League next season.

Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola believes four more points will see them secure seventh place - which will get them into Europe if UEFA grant them a club licence - and they had their moments after the setback of Gerrard's opener.

As they attempted to find a way back into the game, Diego Tristan flicked a header at goal from Mark Noble's free-kick that required Jose Reina to save.

They got a little closer just before the half-hour mark when Noble earned a free-kick on the left and swung the set-piece into the danger area. Radoslav Kovac got in front of Reina to meet the ball but his header flew over the crossbar.

Their progress was undone when Luis Boa Morte suffered a nightmare 30 seconds which resulted in conceding a penalty just before the break.

He was furious that no free-kick was given when Javier Mascherano brought him down, then chased back to own penalty area and hauled down Torres when Yossi Benayoun scooped the ball through.

Green saved Gerrard's spot-kick but the rebound fell to the Liverpool captain to tap home.

David di Michele should have pulled a goal back when he seized on a mistake by Jamie Carragher. He raced through and got his feet tangled up as he tried to take the ball around Reina.

It was a shocking miss and referee Alan Wiley rubbed salt in the wound by booking the Italian for diving.

Boa Morte was trying to atone for own his first-half error after the restart but one powerful run was ended by Fabio Aurelio, earning the full-back a caution.

Liverpool threatened to score a third, with Benayoun volleying over from Dirk Kuyt's cross and Torres looping a header just over the crossbar.

The Hammers defence looked under pressure but Matthew Upson was exposed in a different way when he received a bloody nose - the centre-back had to strip down to his underwear on the sidelines to change his kit.

Upson was among the players racing back when Liverpool broke on the hour mark, with the hosts saved by Green rushing out to block Kuyt's effort.

Benayoun then exchanged passes with Torres before shaving Green's post with a drive.

There were ironic cheers when Di Michele was taken off for Freddie Sears, as there were when Tristan put the ball in the net after clearly being offside.

The visitors were able to keep out any genuine efforts and added a third through Babel with five minutes remaining.

Kuyt crossed for his fellow Dutchman, Green saved the initial header but the rebound was tapped home.

Gerrard Looking To Man City For Helping Hand

Steven Gerrard wants Manchester City to help Liverpool's bid to snatch the Premier League title by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Gerrard scored twice in a 3-0 victory at West Ham United on Saturday which took Liverpool back to the top of the table on goal difference, at least until second-placed United play City.

"United have got a tough game," the England midfielder told Setanta Sports.

"City have just come into a bit of form and derby matches are never easy so we wait and hope City can do us a favour."

Liverpool and United have 80 points, with the Anfield team possessing a goal difference of plus-46 against the Old Trafford club's plus-40.

However, Liverpool only have two matches remaining and United have four.

Gerrard, with a personal-best 23 goals this season, said: "Our aim is to win our remaining games.

"We are happy with the result today and happy with the clean sheet and that puts more pressure on United.

"If they go and win their games, fair play to them they deserve it. But we have to keep the pressure on."

Gerrard put Liverpool ahead early and made it 2-0 after 38 minutes, forcing the rebound over the line after Robert Green saved his penalty.

"I don't like blaming other people for my errors but (team mate) Jamie Carragher said to me this morning 'you are due a penalty miss aren't you?'.

"He's getting the blame, he jinxed me," joked Gerrard.

Ryan Babel also struck as Liverpool chalked up their ninth win in 10 league games.

United, though, are well placed to land a third successive title and equal Liverpool's all-time record of 18 championships.

Rafa Benitez £64m Spree

Rafa Benitez will have a £64million war chest to battle Manchester United.

And top of the Liverpool boss' summer agenda is to finally tie up an £8m deal to bring Gareth Barry to Anfield when the season ends.

He will then off-load up to 11 squad players to cover the Barry deal and to generate more funds to compete in the transfer market.

With Xabi Alonso earmarked for an £18m switch to Manchester City, it leaves the way open for Benitez to keep his promise to Barry.

The Aston Villa and England star will tell his current manager Martin O'Neill to honour his pledge to sell him to Liverpool before the end of this month.

Barry has told friends he is determined to move to Merseyside after Villa's failure to qualify for the Champions League.

When a deal collapsed last season, Benitez assured Barry that he would be back for him - and he is keeping his promise. And Benitez wants Barry signed quickly to avoid the wrangles of last summer.

Barry has just a year left on his current deal and also feels Villa owe him the chance to move on after he committed to a final season in the Midlands.

Villa boss O'Neill has already conceded he is powerless to stop Barry leaving this time - although the fee could yet prove a sticking point in talks.

Having already been promised his annual £20m from the club's owners, Benitez thinks he could get another £44m in player sales.

As well as the £18m he expects from Alonso's exit, Rafa has sold Jack Hobbs to Leicester for around £1m, while others certain to go are Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena plus on-loan duo Andriy Voronin and Sebastian Leto.

Benitez also believes he will get more cash by slashing the wage bill, with big earner Jermaine Pennant set to quit Merseyside for Valencia on a Bosman.

Keeper Charles Itandje is also being forced out of the club for disciplinary reasons, while Swiss defender Philipp Degen has been a disastrous signing.

Albert Riera is also vulnerable as Benitez is considering a £12m swoop for Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing.

Meanwhile, Sami Hyypia will wait to see if the title race goes to the wire before deciding whether to accept a Liverpool testimonial. The 6ft 4in Finnish defender has agreed a summer move to Bayer Leverkusen after 10 years at Anfield.

If Manchester United have wrapped up the league by the time Spurs visit on May 24, Hyypia will likely to be honorary skipper for the day. If the race goes all the way, he may have a send-off next season.

Liverpool Have Done Their Job - Rafa Benitez

Liverpool overcame West Ham today with a 3-0 away win at Upton Park and secured the top spot, for the time being at least, and effectively ended any hopes that the Hammers may have had of a Europa League spot.

Rafa Benitez shared his thoughts on the preceedings, insisting that his side have done their job as well as they can and now must play the waiting game as Manchester United's games in hand loom large.

"The first goal was very important for us," began the Spaniard.

"To play organised, counter-attacking football was good because when they were going forward, we had more space.

"We are very pleased. The position we are in is great. We know we've done our job, all we can do now is wait."

Rafa was quizzed on the strength of Manchester United, and if he thought that their upcoming clash with Man City would be enough to cause a hiccup in the Sir Alex Ferguson's camp.

"I think it will be a difficult game. A derby is always hard. Hopefully we'll still be top of the league after this weekend," replied the 49-year-old Spaniard.

And when asked if second place would still be a good testament of Liverpool's efforts this year, the Reds boss said, "We are fighting for first position. Ask me in a few weeks whether finishing second was okay. First is better and that's what we're heading for."

If Gerrard Thinks We Can Win, We Can - Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun

Yossi Benayoun, a great performer of late for title-chasers Liverpool, spoke to the press after his side's comfortable win over Gianfranco Zola's West Ham United.

The win sees the Reds pitch up at the head of the table for the moment, as Manchester United wait to play their two games in hand over the title-chasing Anfield outfit.

With Liverpool now narrowly ahead on goal difference, Yossi shared his thoughts on the proceedings.

"It was important to win," began the forward, speaking with Setanta Sports.

"It puts the pressure on Manchester United ahead of their game tomorrow. Hopefully they will slip up and we'll be closer to them.

"I think it was a good performance. Of course we scored the first goal quickly, so that filled everyone with confidence.

"From then on it was easy for us. We took our chances and we played well as a team."

Ahead of Manchester United's derby clash against Manchester City, Benayoun spoke for the entire Liverpool squad by saying that he hopes United experience a hiccup in their campaign.

"We know it will be difficult. They [Manchester United] still have their games in hand and they are a very strong side," continued the Israeli.

"We will try our best to win the rest of our games like we have been doing in the past and hopefully they will slip up. If they don't, they deserve to be the champions, but hopefully we're in with a chance.

"We know that we've done our best - that's the most important thing.

"Manchester derbies are always difficult. City have a lot of quality players in attack, so hopefully they will win.

"But, everyone knows that Man United are the favourites, not many teams can stop them."

Reiterating the woes of Liverpool fans the world over, Yossi explained why the Premier League gradually fell into the hands of United.

"We lost too many games between January and February. That gave United the chance to get their confidence back and they went top of the league," he admitted.

"If we do finish second, we'll learn from this season and use it to our advantage next season."

Forever the loyalist, Yossi was quizzed on whether the earlier comments made by Steven Gerrard should be taken seriously when he stated that this Liverpool team will win a Premier League title.

"Yes, of course. One hundred per cent. If Stevie said it, then it'll happen. We're all behind him and we all think like that. Hopefully it will happen soon."

Jamie Carragher Jinxed Me - Liverpool Skipper Steven Gerrard

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard found himself chasing a hat-trick today at Upton Park as he netted twice for the Reds with Ryan Babel putting the game to bed with a late third.

Gerrard sported a never-say-die attitude as he addressed the press post-match, making it known that Liverpool will fight until the bitter end.

"We've got to keep going," began the skipper.

"We've got to do our job, and that's to win all of our remaining games.

"We're happy with the result. Happy with the clean sheet, and hopefully the pressure's on United now. If they win their games, then fair play, they deserve it, but we have to keep the pressure on.

"When you come to places like West Ham - teams that play well and have a good manager - it's important that you start well. That's what we done.

"Looking at the whole game, I think we deserved the win."

A rare occurrence was seen today as Gerrard failed to score from the penalty spot, but he managed to put away the resulting rebound that came from Robert Green's save.

"I don't like blaming other people for my errors, but Jamie Carragher said to me this morning 'You're due a penalty miss, aren't ya?', so he's getting the blame, he jinxed me!" laughed the captain.

Liverpool's number 8 also went on to hail the sense of brotherhood and drive felt in the Liverpool squad.

"[The win] shows we're a good team. It shows we've got a good togetherness and that we've got a winning mentality," Gerrard went on.

"We've got good players and we deserve to be top of the league at the moment."

Manchester United have two games in hand over Liverpool, with both teams tied at the top and 'Pool narrowly ahead on goal difference. However, Gerrard, along with the rest of the Liverpool squad, will be hoping that the Manchester derby will cause a hiccup for United.

"They've got a tough game. Man City have come into a bit of form and derby matches are never easy," continued Gerrard.

"We wait and we hope that Man City can do us a favour, but the important thing is that we do our job."

Thinking productively, Gerrard first rued missed opportunities before turning on a more optimistic tone when speaking of the club's future.

"It would be nice [if we still had the upper hand in the league], but we only have ourselves to blame for not winning football matches that we should have won," he said.

"We've drawn too many games at home this season and it's been frustrating, but you still have to give us credit. We've done so well to be in the title race.

"In a club like Liverpool it's important to win trophies, and second place doesn't bring anything - but it does show progression.

"We learn from this season, fix what we did wrong this season and get it right next season."

Rafael Benitez Ready To Sell Eleven Liverpool Players

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is reportedly set for a summer clear-out, with 11 players expected to leave Anfield.

The News of the World claims that the Spaniard is ready to sell a whole host of players including Ryan Babel, Albert Riera and Xabi Alonso, in order to raise funds.

The tabloid claims that Benitez needs the finances in order to finally sign Gareth Barry from Aston Villa and to compete with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in the transfer market.

Along with Babel, Riera and Alonso, the Liverpool boss is reportedly also ready to offload Jermaine Pennant, Philipp Degen, Charles Itandje, Sami Hypia, Jack Hobbs, Andriy Voronin, Sebastian Leto and Andrea Dossena.

Benitez is hoping to raise more than £44 million from these player sales and is rumoured to be handed a further £20 million from the club’s American owners.

These not inconsiderable funds will allow the Spaniard to secure the signature of Gareth Barry for £8 million, after spending most of last summer chasing the midfielder.

Whilst Barry has remained at Villa this season, he has made no secret of his desire to leave and join Liverpool and he may now finally get this wish at the end of the season.

Should Barry arrive at Anfield, this could even spell the end for Xabi Alonso who, despite being close to leaving the club last summer, has enjoyed an impressive campaign with the Reds.

Despite being a fan favourite, the Spaniard could be deemed surplus to requirements and with both Juventus and Manchester City reportedly interested in signing him, his time at Anfield may be coming to an end.

Liverpool On Brink Of Signing Danijel Pranjic

Liverpool are reportedly closing in on Heerenveen winger Danijel Pranjic, in a deal believed to be worth around €9 million.

The Croatian international has long been linked with a move away from the Dutch side and he admitted recently that he would welcome a move to Anfield.

That move is now looking a little more likely with the Sunday Mirror reporting that he is set to become Rafael Benitez’s first summer signing.

The 26-year-old has been in excellent form for the Dutch side this season and has attracted interest from the likes of Sevilla and Real Betis.

It is Liverpool, however, who are clear favourites to claim his signature.

The British tabloid reports that Pranjic’s agent has been back and forth between the two clubs this week in a bid to discuss terms and seal the deal.

Heerenveen director Yme Kuiper has also admitted that the Reds are Pranjic’s preferred destination, saying, “We understand Liverpool is the club where Pranjic wants to go.”

Pranjic has scored 16 goals this term and helped the Dutch side to ensure they will play in Europe next season.

However, Pranjic now appears set to leave the Eredivisie and should he complete his move to Anfield, this may even signal the end of Albert Riera’s Liverpool career.