Friday, September 18, 2009

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 0 Debrecen

Dirk Kuyt's 12th goal in 35 Champions League games for Liverpool saw the Anfield men claim an opening Group E victory but there was nothing to suggest a Madrid final in May is on the cards.

The Dutchman is now Liverpool's third-highest scorer in this competition and they were more than thankful for his eventual winner in the final seconds of the first half.

The Hungarian champions did their best, while Liverpool were some way short of their peak.

Rafael Benitez took charge of his 300th Liverpool match as the Reds produced their 100th victory in this competition - their first was 45 years ago - but the Spaniard would have wanted a better display than this to mark a little piece of Liverpool history.

This was Debrecen's debut in the group stages but if they cannot improve on this showing they may well not win a point.

Liverpool kept faith with the side that had produced their best performance on Saturday in beating Burnley 4-0, with Fabio Aurelio on the bench for his first involvement of the season following a knee injury.

But they were sluggish and uninspired and it took them an awfully long time in the first period to get some reward for their almost total domination.

In fact there were barely a couple of seconds left in the half to restart the match when Kuyt forced the ball home after Vukasin Poleksic had palmed out a Fernando Torres drive.

Before that it had been virtually one-way traffic towards the Hungarian champions' goal.

Such was the general wastefulness, even Steven Gerrard was squandering chances regularly. Three efforts sailed wide, a header dropped over the crossbar and a low drive flashed inches wide.

Albert Riera was equally at fault. Three times he was put away, and on each occasion Poleksic got a hand on the efforts.

Gerrard even found himself booked for taking a free-kick too quickly by Portuguese official Pedro Proenca, who had clearly pointed to his whistle telling the Liverpool skipper to wait.

It was unnecessary, and could come back to haunt the England star as the competition progresses and suspensions become damaging.

And so it went on. The nearest Liverpool came before Kuyt's strike was after 30 minutes when Norbert Meszaros kicked off the line from the Dutchman after another Poleksic save from Riera.

The only time Jose Reina was called into action was to touch over a 20-yard effort from Meszaros.

Liverpool improved after the break, which was not difficult, and Gerrard smashed a swerving 25-yarder just over the crossbar before Yossi Benayoun went on a brilliant run past a string of defenders before forcing Poleksic into a fumbling save at the foot of the near post.

Lucas saw a powerful header flash wide but Liverpool were seemingly playing with a belief that one goal was enough.

But that is a dangerous policy, and Debrecen caused some worrying moments towards the end as they almost took advantage of a succession of set-plays.

Ryan Babel came on with 10 minutes left for Riera, his first appearance since yet another outburst over his lack of matches, and he produced one clever juggling act to fire just wide.

But Adamo Coulibaly, Debrecen's French frontman, almost punished Liverpool by forcing his way through and stabbing a shot wide after 82 minutes.

That Liverpool sent on the defensive Javier Mascherano for the inventive Benayoun with three minutes left, and then Aurelio for Kuyt in injury time, said everything about Benitez's concerns and frustrations about what he was watching.

He certainly could not afford to see a couple of points thrown away by a piece of sloppy defending and there were certainly a few of those.

Jamie Carragher Targets Early Champions League Qualification For Liverpool

Liverpool centre-back Jamie Carragher is looking for the Reds to seal qualification for the knock-out phase of the Champions League as soon as possible, after a 1-0 over Hungarian side Debrecen at Anfield last night.

The Reds enjoyed over 20 attempts on the opposition goal, but Dirk Kuyt's strike proved to be the only time they actually managed to find the net, and Carragher, although perhaps disappointed by the manner of his side's performance, acknowledged that it was the victory that was the important thing.

"We didn't play that well, we know that," the former England international admitted.

"We really played well on Saturday to get a good result but we had to make do with 1-0 here.

"The main thing is to qualify from the group as quickly as we can and we have made a good start."

Liverpool now move back to Premier League matters, and travel to London to face West Ham United on Saturday evening.

Liverpool FC's Confidence Returning, Says Dirk Kuyt

Striker Dirk Kuyt says Liverpool FC's confidence has returned thanks to three successive wins following a shaky start to the season.

Having lost two of their first three Premier League matches, Rafa Benitez’s side seem to be back on track, although last night’s laboured 1-0 Champions League win over Debrecen showed there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Liverpool FC head to West Ham on Saturday looking to maintain their winning run and close the gap on leaders Chelsea, who play fourth-placed Tottenham, and Manchester United and City, who face each other in the derby on Sunday.

And Kuyt, who scored his third Liverpool FC goal of the season against the Hungarians, insists they go into the game buoyed by recent results.

"Everyone knows we had a bad start, losing against Spurs and Aston Villa, so we had to try to get the confidence back, try to change things," he said.

"That’s what we’ve done by winning three games in a row, and now we’re looking forward to Saturday.

"Every game is difficult as everyone knows. The Premier League is a very hard league but we have the quality to win these kinds of games.

"At this stage we just have to look at ourselves, win our games and then in a couple of months see where we are."

The Holland international’s goal against Debrecen was his 12th in the Champions League, putting him level with former midfielder Terry McDermott in joint third on the list of Liverpool FC's all-time top scorers in the European Cup.

Only current captain Steven Gerrard (28) and Ian Rush (14) stand above Kuyt but the 29-year-old is just pleased to be contributing to the club’s success.

"It’s always nice to be important for the club, especially when it comes to Europe," added the Dutchman, who again played as support striker to Fernando Torres with Gerrard dropping back into a more orthodox central midfield position.

"Champions League games are always special, so I’m happy I scored again and now I’ll try to keep going.

"What I would like to do is become more and more important for the team and try to do my best.

"I’m happy with my performances so far this season but I need to keep going.

"I’m feeling really confident. I’ve played the last two games in a slightly different position but for me that doesn’t matter.

"I just want to be important for the team."

Goalkeeper Jose Reina, who had one serious save to make all night against the Hungarians, certainly appreciates the effort of Kuyt, who seems to always score important goals in European matches.

"It seems like it’s his competition," said the Spain international.

"He always scores in the Champions League, he’s got into the habit and let’s hope he keeps on scoring a lot of goals. He did a good job."

Liverpool struggled to hit anything near top form against Debrecen, making their debut in the group stages, and Reina accepts it was a frustrating night.

However, tougher tests await in Italian’s Fiorentina and France’s Champions League regulars Lyon.

"The job is to qualify and it is not easy. We have to think about getting as many points as possible but if we get them little by little we will get through," added Reina.

"It was a difficult game, we knew they’d go into it with a lot of motivation as it was their first match in the Champions League.

"They didn’t make things easy for us but we’ve fulfilled our objective, which was to win and now we can look forward.

"We’ve a difficult trip ahead of us to Fiorentina and we need to try to get the points there.

"It will be tough as Fiorentina play in one of the top leagues but if you look at any team in the Champions League you cannot say ’We’ll beat them easily’."

Liverpool Star Fernando Torres Vows To Halt Manchester United Dominance And Insists Premier League Is Better Than Spain

Fernando Torres is sure the English top flight is still the world's greatest league - and is determined to help Liverpool become its champions once again.

The Reds travel to West Ham in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday as their quest continues to bring home the trophy that has eluded them for almost 20 years.

The division has changed beyond recognition since the last time Liverpool were crowned champions in 1990, with the influx of superstar foreigners like Spanish striker Torres placing it in the eyes of many above any other leagues across the globe.

Such feeling has cooled somewhat after a summer which has seen the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso arrive in Spain to boost the Primera Division's box office appeal.

But for Torres, who spent 12 years playing in his homeland with Atletico Madrid, there is no doubt that England is the place to be.

"As a competition it is the best one," said Torres. "When you are talking about organisation, respect, and having all the stadiums full every weekend, it is really nice to see that.

"In Spain they have some of the better players in the world, but as a competition, it is not as big as the Premier League.

"I was playing in Spain, and I can tell you honestly, the Premier League is a much better competition."

Liverpool will be hoping for success both at home and abroad this year, but with the drought in league success ongoing and the prospect lurking of Manchester United overtaking the Reds' record all-time haul of 18 titles, Torres admits that the Premier League may have to take priority.

"We know that for the fans, for the club and for the majority of the players, the Premier League is a fantastic competition and we have had plenty of years not winning it, so maybe it is the priority," he said.

"We don't feel the pressure, but we know it would not be the best for Liverpool fans to see Manchester United with more English titles than us.

"But I think we are on our way, we are doing everything in our power to win trophies and we will see what happens at the end of the season."

The Spain striker said he was looking forward to giving the fans something to celebrate.

"I think the supporters cannot imagine what it would be like," Torres added. "I saw when Liverpool won the Champions League, all the people around the city, and I remember when Spain won the European Championship and millions of people were in the street. I think it will be something similar.

"Twenty years with no trophy in the Premier League is a long time, so it is very exciting for all of us."

Liverpool did not make the best start in their mission, suffering two defeats in their opening three league games.

But recent victories over Bolton and Burnley, along with a winning start this week in the Champions League against Debrecen, has given the side some momentum and Torres believes they are heading in the right direction.

"We are recovering the confidence now after winning three games in a row," he said.

"We have to keep on like this, but also improve, and keep working hard because there are difficult games coming.

"But we are on our way. There are some players injured and they will come back soon to help the team, but we don't have time to think in terms of the recovery of players and improving then - we have to win now.

"If we lose points in the coming weeks it will be very difficult to stay at the top come January and February."

Somebody likely to play a key role in the weeks to come is midfielder Lucas, who has been given a run of starts since Alonso's departure and who Torres believes is becoming an integral part of the first XI.

"He is an international from Brazil, and this is not easy," Torres said. "He is a fantastic player and he has to make a step forward now because Xabi has gone.

"He has the responsibility to become an important player for Liverpool and he has a real chance this season.

"He is playing in almost every game and we have real confidence in him.

"I am sure that he will get better in the future because he is still young. I hope he can be one of the best players for us this season."

Torres Happy At Anfield

Fernando Torres has insisted he is looking forward to staying at Liverpool for a long time to come.

The Spanish striker has enjoyed two successful seasons with the Reds but speculation regularly resurfaces linking him with a return to his homeland.

However, Torres maintains that he is enjoying life at Anfield and does not plan to leave in the near future.

"I have four more years on my contract and I am really happy," he told Sky Sports News.

"I don't think about going back to Spain. I don't know how I will feel in a couple or 10 years but I am really happy in England and I would like to play here for a long time."

Torres admits that he particularly likes playing alongside captain Steven Gerrard, who has found excellent form over recent weeks.

"Steven is a very important player for us in that position and makes a lot of goals," explained the 25-year-old.

Torres has shown only glimpses of his sparkling talent so far this term and there have been a couple of incidents when he has made it clear that he has disagreed with refereeing decisions.

He accepts that he has been too easily distracted at times but he is looking to remedy the problem immediately.

"These have been mistakes and I need to stay focused and forget about the referee because he is just doing his job," Torres commented.

Tom Hicks Hopes £100m Middle East Investment Drive Will Help Fund Liverpool's New Stadium

Merrill Lynch has been instructed by Tom Hicks, co-owner of English soccer club Liverpool, to find a minority investor prepared to pay UK£100 million for a 25 per cent share of the Premier League team.

'It is understood the firm is now targeting businesses or wealthy individuals in the Middle East who would be prepared to buy a minority stake, allowing the Americans Hicks and (co-owner George) Gillett to retain majority control,' reports The Guardian newspaper.

'The co-owners value the club at £500m, despite postponing the proposed new stadium indefinitely in the current economic climate, but a minority shareholding would come at a discount.'

Gillett claimed last weekend: "The club is in outstanding shape. Economically, it's never been stronger. We just paid down our debt very substantially. We have less debt per dollar than any club in the league."

Chelsea, Arsenal And Liverpool Told Di Maria Will Cost £45m As Argentina Star Clinches Benfica Mega-Deal

Benfica have handed Argentina star Angel di Maria a gold-plated contract in a bid to see off interest from Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.

The winger is about to sign a one-year extension on his contract that will see his buy-out clause raised from £27million to a prohibitive £45m.

Di Maria has been tracked by many of the best clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, Inter Milan and the Barclays Premier League trio, which he admits is flattering.

Nonetheless, he is poised to clinch a deal to 2013 that will see his wages rise by more than 50 per cent from £90,000 a week to a staggering £140,000.

'I live in the present and not the future,' said the 21-year-old. 'My deal is with Benfica although I am pleased by the news of interest from foreign clubs in me.

'This season is decisive for me and I still want to help Argentina fight for the 2010 World Cup.'

Benfica have previously insisted they would not sell the former Rosario Central player for anything less than his release clause and he could come under the spotlight again if he and Argentina get to South Africa 2012.

The tricky winger starred in his country's march to gold at the Beijing Olympics, scoring the only goal in the final against Nigeria and also hitting the net in the 2-1 quarter-final victory over Holland.

Benfica are now set to turn their attention to improving Brazil defender Luisao's contract. The 28-year-old has been attracting Manchester City.