Monday, August 03, 2009

Match Report: Espanyol 3 - 0 Liverpool

Real Madrid target Xabi Alonso made a brief appearance as a strong Liverpool team suffered a heavy defeat in Spain.

Midfielder Alonso came off the bench with six minutes remaining as Espanyol officially opened their new stadium, and reports in Spain indicate it may be his final appearance for Liverpool.

Luis Garcia - a namesake of the former Liverpool player - put Mauricio Pochettino's side ahead after 19 minutes and former Chelsea reserve Ben Sahar scored a second-half double to give Espanyol an impressive win.

The Barcelona-based team struggled to put teams under pressure at their previous ground, Montjuic, where the stands were far away from the pitch.

But the home side were able to feel the warmth of a sell-out crowd at their new home in Cornella-El Prat, and looked to boss the game early on.

Liverpool began well and Steven Gerrard tried his luck from long range early on, only to see his effort sail wide.

The Reds captain then almost gave the visitors the lead after 18 minutes, when he crashed a fierce effort against the bar.

A minute later, Liverpool were behind as former Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura played in Luis Garcia and the Spain forward beat international team-mate Jose Reina with a neat low finish.

Gerrard curled a free-kick against the post from 20 yards eight minutes later as Rafael Benitez's side sought a quick response.

Espanyol were proving hard to break down and the Catalans thought they had gone two goals up three minutes before half-time, when Raul Tamudo fired clinically past Reina.

However, the veteran striker was ruled offside and the home fans had to be content with a one-goal lead at the break.

Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena, Ryan Babel and Jay Spearing came on for the visitors at the break, replacing Glen Johnson, Emiliano Insua, Yossi Benayoun and Javier Mascherano.

Espanyol made five changes themselves, but displayed more urgency and went 2-0 up after 62 minutes.

Jose Callejon's pass found Sahar in the area, and the Israel striker slid the ball under Reina.

Benitez brought on Albert Riera, Andriy Voronin, David N'Gog and Damien Plessis late on, and Alonso made his brief appearance six minutes from the end.

But Espanyol wrapped up a fine win minutes before the end, when Sahar netted after Reina could only parry Ferran Corominas' close-range effort.

Liverpool Did Not Deserve To Beat Espanyol - Rafa Benitez

Liverpool lost 3-0 to Espanyol tonight, as the La Liga outfit celebrated their first game in the new Estadi Cornella-El Prat in style, with goals from Luis Garcia and a brace from Ben Sahar sealing an impressive victory for the hosts.

Reds manager Rafa Benitez acknowledged that his side were very much second-best, with the Spaniard admitting the home side thoroughly deserved their win.

"The game was very important for them. For us it was a friendly game, but you have to play with intensity in every match and you have to work harder than we did today," the coach told the club's official website.

"For 25 minutes in the first half we were more or less okay, but for the rest of the game they were on top of us, winning every second ball and challenge. You cannot win these kind of games if you don't work harder.

"We had chances and hit the crossbar and post, but clearly we did not deserve to win."

Benitez refused to highlight the poor performances of individuals, stressing that the defeat was down to collective rather than individual weakness.

"I don't think it was a problem of one or two players, I think the team as a whole were not working hard enough," he added.

"Espanyol were very good moving between the lines. We were not pressing and working together and it created a big problem for our defenders.

"But when these things happen in pre-season, you can change things for the start of the season. We have 15 more days and all the players can work together."

"We have had some players coming back late and they need to play and train more for their fitness, so we will see if we can improve in the next game."

Liverpool are now set to leave Spain, with their next pre-season game lined up in Oslo, where they will face Norwegian outfit FC Lyn.

Liverpool Boss Ready For Another Shot At United Legend

Having won a gruelling internal scrap, Rafa Benitez can finally concentrate on throwing Liverpool's most powerful punches exclusively at his rivals.

It comes as a blessed relief on Merseyside that instead of worrying about another spat between manager, chief executive or absentee owners, the Anfield combat lines are more appropriately drawn.

Benitez has been forced to exhaust too much energy applying his Machiavellian wisdom to a process of self-preservation. He's now entirely focused on sending Sir Alex Ferguson into unhappy retirement.

Liverpool versus Manchester United part two is a skirmish Don King would love to promote. It went the distance last season, and the The Kop will be relishing an equally bitter clash in the months ahead.

The rest of the football world may embark on an eyebrow raising exhibition as the Rafa versus Fergie feud is reignited, but Liverpool will be comforted if the mud continues to be slung beyond the boundaries of their own patch.

Don't underestimate how thrilling it is for a Scouser to hear Ferguson so motivated to keep the Merseysiders 'off their perch' for another season.

Until Benitez's enduring challenge last May, Fergie had become so unflustered by Liverpool's top four presence he wouldn't even mention the Merseysiders' when discussing possible threats.

Worse still, Benitez's predecessors suffered the ultimate indignation of being regularly praised by the United boss. That's the surest sign of Liverpool's unthreatening behaviour at the business end of a campaign (Fergie's Spring tributes are reserved for Arsene Wenger these days).

Fergie and Rafa can't even spit out each others' name without getting a blister on their tongue now.

Liverpool will have no difficulty assessing their chances this time. The more Ferguson mentions them or launches co-ordinated anti-Rafa attacks with allies like Sam Allardyce, the more dangerous they're being perceived.

Equally, the first gentle jab by Benitez about fixture lists, refereeing standards and Old Trafford penalty decisions will be ample proof of his buoyant mood as the season progresses. There should still be caution before declaring Liverpool's internal squabbles gone for good, though.

Liverpool's appetite for a self-destructing bust-up has recently seemed as feverish as an outbreak of swine flu.

Benitez's greatest triumph last year wasn't merely to withstand the pressure from his ex-board (50 per cent of which had wanted him sacked). It was to keep the tide of opinion swinging ferociously his way through an exceptional league performance, earning a long-term contract and seeing off his backroom irritants in the process.

But the recent declarations of unity within Anfield still won't sound convincing until the takeover saga ends.

Financially vulnerable Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr have tolerated each other rather than buried their differences.

And although Benitez has established a working relationship with newly appointed directors and assumed greater control over a broad range of club matters, the curious cases of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano are testimony that tensions can flare up at the merest hint of an agent's briefing.

The new broom currently working its way through the corridors of Anfield power has not yet swept away all the debris of a traumatic few years.

As usual, the on-field hopes of The Kop rest with the formidable spine of the team. Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt tend to avoid the rotation process, and the outcome of the Alonso and Mascherano sagas undoubtedly impact on the months to come. The rest of Benitez's squad form a methodical, but formidable unit.

Glen Johnson's arrival should be the catalyst for him to not only cement his place as England's best right back, but develop into a world class one.

Inevitably, Benitez himself will take centre stage as he bids to justify his view of Liverpool as a work of meticulously designed progress edging ever closer to its goal.

There's a little of something for everyone in a portrait of Rafa.

The glass is two-thirds full when recalling the league doubles over United and Chelsea last season, allied to those memorable European campaigns which allowed successive owners to cheekily quadruple the club's value since his arrival in 2004.

The glass half empty brigade recoil at the thought of the failure to beat Stoke, the defeat to Middlesbrough and the home draws with Fulham and West Ham.

There remains a chameleon-like style to this Liverpool side. They absorb the qualities of their opponent, no matter how brilliant or indifferent. It's a regular occurrence for Liverpool to beat Manchester United or Real Madrid, while struggling against a relegation certainty a few days later.

That's because Benitez's analytical, scrupulous approach means the rough and smooth walk hand in hand.

He'll labour over the tactical intricacies of Tony Pulis' mind as much as if he was facing Jose Mourinho.

That's one of Benitez's biggest strengths as a manager, but to those of a bygone era who believe weaker teams should be brushed aside without the need for a clip board on the touchline, it's also a source of disquiet.

Cynics peddle the idea Liverpool continue to fall agonisingly short because of unnecessary meddling against lowly opponents.

Rafa's staunchest supporters will say it's been an extraordinary effort to become so competitive, and it was only the regular absence of either Torres or Gerrard that cost Liverpool the four more points they needed last season.

The conflict-ridden debate about Rafa's true place in the club's history will only be resolved when his methods bring more silverware. It will be four years in May since their last trophy, and that's Liverpool's longest drought since the early 70s.

But if Benitez wins the title, he'll be rightly elevated to the ranks of Anfield immortals Shankly and Paisley.

Such an achievement may even be regarded Liverpool's greatest of all given the silver-spooned opponents he's had to overcome, and the restrictive in-fighting which has plagued his reign.

Liverpool Ready To Offer Roma €21 Million For Aquilani

Liverpool are willing to offer Roma €21 million for their home-grown talent Alberto Aquilani, according to the British newspaper The Daily Star.

The Premier League outfit are currently involved in a tug-of-war with Real Madrid over their midfield maestro Xabi Alonso, and, should the Basque leave Merseyside, are eyeing the Giallorossi player as the ideal replacement.

On July 31, it was reported that the 25-year-old has already agreed to personal terms with the Reds, a five-year contract worth €4 million per season, should the two clubs come to an agreement over his transfer.

Roma president Rosella Sensi has already admitted she does not know whether the midfielder will remain at the Stadio Olimpico. The club may be forced to sell some of their stars following last season's disappointments, including failing to qualify for the 2009-10 Champions League.

Kop Cash In On Fernando Torres

Liverpool are putting their shirts on Fernando Torres to help ease their debts.

The Reds' American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr., rubber-stamped a £290million refinace package this week and cashing in on the success of Torres is a crucial part of their marketing policy.

Anfield commercial director Ian Ayre said: "All the players are important but it is evident certain ones are crucial.

"Fernando is a global icon and a great footballer. They go hand in hand. From a commercial standpoint he's a huge attraction.

"Torres is the highest-selling shirt here. I'm not sure when he actually overtook Steven Gerrard, and there's not a huge difference, but he is our biggest seller.

"Being a global brand we have a big opportunity to push on - but we know it's not all about shirts."

Carra - Strike Duo Are Key

Jamie Carragher feels keeping Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres fit will be key to Liverpool's hopes of winning the Premier League this season.

Liverpool came close to ending their title drought, which stretches back to 1990, last term after pushing Manchester United all the way.

The form of Gerrard and Torres, who endured an injury-hit first half of the campaign, was instrumental in the Reds' title bid and Carragher acknowledged the importance of his team-mates.

"No other team in England has a partnership like Gerrard and Torres," said Carragher.

"It's strange to be talking about Stevie as a striker now, but that's what he's become, and in that position, just behind the main forward, there is no one better.

"In fact, there is no better strike pairing in the world than Gerrard and Torres. They can tear defences wide open in a split second.

"When you have that kind of ability in your team it gives you incredible belief. If we can keep them both free of injury then we are going to take some stopping. There were times last year when we went into games without them and it showed.

"It was great to see them both sign new contracts this summer - they are the most important players in our team.

"If they stay fit and continue to improve then I think we will go very close. We all hope this will be our year, but we'll have to play as well as we did last season and turn the draws that damaged us into wins."

Liverpool's Carragher Wary Of Owen Threat

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is pleased to see former Red Michael Owen back at a top-four club, but hopes his friend finds life at Manchester United tough going.

Carragher predicted United's latest signing could prove a masterstroke for Sir Alex Ferguson, but is crossing his fingers the England striker struggles for goals in the Premier League title race.

''Signing Michael Owen was a clever piece of business by United and he has started really well in pre-season,'' Carragher told the Sunday Mirror.

''In a way I'm pleased he's got a big move to a big club because he came in for a lot of criticism at Newcastle. Why? What did he do wrong up there?

''For me, Michael Owen is still a great player and great role model and I have this feeling he'll be good for United.

''But he plays for our biggest rivals now so he'll know I won't want him to carry on scoring once the season starts.''

He added: ''He's scored a lot of goals in the first few games for United and I hope he scores a few more pre-season because I want him to do well.

''But as soon as the season starts I hope he has a drought.''

Napoli Opportunity Has Passed For Liverpool Defender Dossena - Agent

Liverpool defender Andrea Dossena has repeatedlyly voiced his desire to return to Italy and this summer Napoli had shown a keen interest in the player, but, according to the player's agent Federico Pastorello, the deal is dead in the water.

"With the directors of Napoli I have not had contact for ten days, it is logicial to think that when we have not spoken for so long, the negotiations are defined as over," he told

"When you want a player, certain steps have to be taken that have not been made here. Obviously, they have a different objective or have decided to forgo the purchase of an outside left [defender]."

"We had spoken to the Rossoneri a long time ago, but they have not shown any interest in the player," he revealed in conclusion.

Last week, the Italian international had claimed he was "waiting for a better contract offer" from the southern Italian outfit, but it appears they have given up on signing the ex-Udinese player.