Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Match Report: Fiorentina 2 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool's Champions League hopes took a shattering blow as Fiorentina claimed an impressive victory in a delirious Stadio Artemio Franchi.

This was their first away defeat in Europe since the semi-final defeat at Chelsea in April 2008, and only their ninth away reverse in 38 attempts in the competition under boss Rafael Benitez.

Montenegro international Stevan Jovetic did the damage with a quick-fire double inside 10 first-half minutes.

Liverpool had no answer to the 19-year-old's drive and pace, and their Group E future is now under serious threat.

Liverpool did not manage a shot on target in a disappointing first period and although they fought back after the break, Fiorentina were not going to let a prized victory escape their grasp.

Benitez's response to the loss of Javier Mascherano with a hamstring injury was to recall Brazilian defender Fabio Aurelio to his side.

Aurelio has had only a Carling Cup run-out against Leeds after a summer knee operation, and he was be used in a midfield role against the Italians, who are fourth in Serie A.

Otherwise it was the same Liverpool side that beat Debrecen in the first group match.

Aurelio was used in a holding midfield role to allow Steven Gerrard to continue his advanced role supporting Fernando Torres.

But it barely worked, with Fiorentina quicker and more mobile. Martin Skrtel, at the back, had to be at his best to halt a run and shot from Jovetic, who from the resulting corner set up Marco Marchionni for an overhead effort that just cleared the bar.

Jovetic saw another effort flash wide after 22 minutes, Adrian Mutu having created the opening having beaten both Lucas and Aurelio in midfield.

There had been constant indecision in the Liverpool defence, and a failure to retain possession in midfield, and they were punished after 27 minutes.

Mutu was in a clear offside position on the edge of the box, but Zanetti's through ball was aimed at Jovetic - running from an on-side position - who was allowed to close in on Jose Reina before guiding the ball past the Spaniard.

Reina needed to save well from Vargas soon after as Fiorentina sought to capitalise on their success.

The second was not long coming. After 37 minutes Marchionni crossed from the right and the ball found Vargas on the left.

His low shot to the near post was deflected past Reina by Jovetic.

Liverpool needed something quickly after the break, and Lucas saw a powerful header flash just over the bar inside a minute of the re-start, before Sebastien Frey beat away a Dirk Kuyt drive.

Gerrard miskicked after good work from Kuyt, before Torres saw a low header deflected wide from Gerrard's cross.

Aurelio shot wide from a Torres set-up, but Fiorentina looked to have weathered the Liverpool storm at the beginning of the half.

Gerrard, who had been strangely quiet during the game, then saw a shot charged away by Massimo Gobbi from Lucas' chip.

Ryan Babel was sent on for Emiliano Insua after 71 minutes, with Aurelio switching to left-back. Fiorentina responded by sending on an extra defender, Martin Jorgensen for Vargas.

Skrtel was next to venture forward, and he got to the byline before crossing for Torres to fire over. Seconds earlier a frustrated Torres had been penalised as he set up Kuyt, who fired past Frey only to have the effort disallowed.

Next on was Andriy Voronin in place of Kuyt, as Liverpool searched for any way back into the match. Gerrard lifting a 20-yarder over did not help that quest.

Liverpool FC Owners Tom Hicks And George Gillett Looking For Outside Investors

Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have confirmed they are looking for investment in the club.

Following the appearance of Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud in the stands with the Americans at the weekend; the pair released a statement confirming they had retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of an outside injection of equity into the club.

It added: "However the process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party."

Sports investment firm F6, chaired by the prince, had previously claimed an exclusivity deal with Gillett, and that he was in talks to buy his 50% stake.

Hicks is looking to raise £100m from investors in return for a 25% stake in a bid to turn around the club's debt.

Mark Lawrenson: Fernando Torres Needs Trophies To Be True Liverpool Great

Fernando Torres is usually bang on target – and he certainly was after his hat-trick against Hull City on Saturday.

Rather than basking in the glory of his outstanding individual achievements, the Spaniard was right to point out that it’s winning the major trophies that really matters in a player’s career.

Which is why Torres can’t yet be talked of in the same terms as the true Liverpool greats – even though for me he is the best striker in the world at the moment.

When you think about the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they are the only players who are on the same kind of level and they’re not out-and-out centre-forwards. If you’re talking about leading the line and finding the back of the net, I’m convinced Torres has no equal in the world game.

But in terms of playing for Liverpool, it’s all about the medals. Which is why Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush are the ultimate Anfield legends.

And you can’t put Torres in the same bracket as them at the moment.

You can say that he has the potential to be up there and could possibly even surpass them one day – but he has to be in a team that delivers.

Dalglish and Rush both have the League Championship and European Cup medals to back up their outstanding individual achievements.

Torres is scoring a lot of goals, but he knows himself that they will prove to be nothing but consolations if they don’t lead to Liverpool getting their name on the big trophies once again.

So next question: what are the chances of that happening in the near future?

Well, in terms of the title the maintaining is that Liverpool are well up there and giving themselves a chance. They made a bad start but it’s still only September and they seem to have got over those early shakes.

Besides, as much as those two early defeats to Spurs and Aston Villa were a setback, I think more surprise defeats could be in store for the leading clubs throughout this campaign.

Villa and Spurs, along with Manchester City, seem better equipped to be a threat to the top four this time and Manchester United and Chelsea have already been rocked by sides you would expect them to turn over.

In short, whoever wins the league this year is probably going to lose more games than usual anyway and that kind of trend will only play into Liverpool’s hands after that stuttering start.

And if proof were needed that people got a bit carried away wiring them off after three games then it arrived in the shape of Chelsea’s performance at Wigan on Saturday.

For a team that is flying on the back of eight straight wins, they were made to look awful by Wigan, especially in defence. They normally do the basics so well at the back – their defending from set pieces was particularly poor.

But it just goes to show that if you knock off for 90 minutes in this league, no matter who you play, you will get done.

I can only think that Chelsea must have sat in the dressing room before the game thinking they had won. If so, then it really bit them on backside.

But it’s a complacency, coupled with a huge dent to their confidence, that will only give Liverpool even more encouragement when the sides meet on Sunday.

Kuyt Can't Fathom Rush Record

Dirk Kuyt today spoke of his immense pride at the prospect of matching Ian Rush's European Cup goals tally.

Kuyt is just two shy of Rush in Europe's premier club competition after taking his haul to 12 against Debrecen.

If the Dutchman draws level with his Welsh predecessor, only Steven Gerrard with 28 will have scored more Champions League goals for Liverpool.

"That is unbelievable," said Kuyt. "To have the chance maybe to draw level with someone like Ian Rush is unbelievable.

"He is one of the biggest names in the history of Liverpool Football Club and it would give me a great feeling if I could manage to do that.

"I have to be respectful of his achievements in his career, but it would be good to match his goals and then maybe continue scoring.

"It is nice to get personal things, but for me the most important thing is winning trophies. The milestones are nice, but if you don't have anything to go with them like a trophy then it is not the same.

"Don't get me wrong, individual honours are nice, but it is all about the team winning."

Remarkably, Kuyt didn't trouble the scoresheet on any of his first 10 Champions League games for Liverpool.

That sequence ended in the 2007 final, when the 29-year-old bagged a consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat to AC Milan.

"I'm not sure why it has gone so well for me," said the Holland international. "In my first games in the Champions League I couldn't score at all. I got one in the final and it has just gone on for me since then.

"I think I have scored in every stage of the competition now and I am enjoying it. I just want to keep going. I don't try and do anything different to what I do in the Premier League.

"It is always nice to be involved in big Champions League nights and I feel confident going into them."

Collymore: Squad Looks Weaker & More Reliant Than Ever On Torres & Gerrard

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore believes his former club are more reliant than ever on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, following the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid.

Collymore acknowledges the aforementioned two as world class performers but suggests the club is too reliant on their abilities, and will struggle away from Anfield.

Collymore told “Fernando Torres has now scored 33 goals in 34 games at Anfield for Liverpool.”

“It is a quite astonishing statistic and he walked off with the match ball after Liverpool trashed Hull 6-1.”

“But sadly I do believe Liverpool are becoming a two-man show, with Steven Gerrard and Torres running things for Rafa Benitez's side.”

“I had a few callers at the weekend saying Liverpool play a better, faster attacking style of football without Xabi Alonso.”

“But I disagree, as apart from Gerrard and Torres, Alonso was arguably Liverpool's only other world class performer before he quit for Real Madrid.”

“Now he has gone, Liverpool's squad looks weaker and more reliant than ever on Torres and Gerrard.”

In the past Liverpool always used to buy from a position of strength, but they have not done so this summer.”

“They still have Alberto Aquilani to come back from injury in the next few weeks following his £20million move from Roma.”

“But Liverpool badly need to buy some more players to do the business for them away from home.”

“We know Anfield is a fortress but they need another striker to supplement Torres and take the burden off the forward.”

Cascarino: Torres Is Better Than Samuel Eto’o In His Pime

The former Chelsea and Aston Villa striker Tony Cascarino believes Liverpool forward Fernando Torres is a better player now than when Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o was in his prime at Barcelona.

The Spaniard leads the Premier League scoring charts with eight goals, five in his last two against West Ham and Hull City, and Cascarino suggests he is almost untouchable.

Cascarino told “The performances of Liverpool in the last few weeks only go to prove that main men Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are all-important to the Reds chances of glory this season.”

“Torres’ form has been scary in the last few weeks.”

“The Spaniard is not just one of the best strikers in the Premier League, he is one of the best in the world.”

“He has exceptionally quick feet and can transfer the ball from one foot to the other with great effect.”

“Torres is totally confident at the moment and is at the same level as Thierry Henry when he was in his peak at Arsenal and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United.”

“The Spanish striker is so good he is almost unsellable for Rafa Benitez unless of course there was to be an absolutely outrageous bid.”

“There are few strikers who have a bit of everything like Torres has.”

“He has guile, excellent technical ability, is strong in the air and is quick.”

“He reminds me of Samuel Eto’o was in his prime but the Spaniard is even more skilful.”

“Torres’ aerial ability also makes him stand out from the Cameroonian.”

Liverpool Coach Rafa Benitez Not Worried About Leaking Goals

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez insists that he's unconcerned about his side's leaky defence this season, pointing out that the Reds are in sterling form at the other end of the pitch.

Striker Fernando Torres, who leads the Premier League scoring charts with eight goals, is the primary reason for Liverpool's best offensive start to a campaign in over a century.

"Our form has a lot to do with Torres, obviously," said Benitez. "In the last three games he has been outstanding.

"Torres can still improve, because he likes to learn. He is on fire at the moment and is a key player for us, but the Champions League is more difficult and he is aware of that.

"His confidence has grown as the team has started to do well. We are creating more chances and there are plenty of options for him."

Benitez added: "When you are winning matches, opponents have to attack more and leave space, and that is what Fernando is exploiting.

"He can use his pace and ability. He is playing more games; he has acquired match fitness and is making life very difficult for defenders."
The backline, however, has been less reliable, and Benitez has had to defend Jamie Carragher, who has been criticised for his poor form.

Nevertheless, the club come into their Champions League match with Fiorentina on Tuesday on a six-game winning streak, in which they've racked up 18 goals.

"We are scoring more goals and not really worried that we have conceded a few more," said the ex-Valencia boss.

"Our aim is to score goals and win matches; keeping clean sheets is a bonus.

"This has been a very good goal-scoring start to the season, I'm told the best for over 100 years at this club.

"But even if you score goals and also concede, then someone will see the negative of that.

"But we always look to the positives; we are scoring a lot of goals and we aim to continue to do the same.

"We can improve in defence, of course, and I would like a lot of goals and none conceded, but that is hard to do if you do try to attack," Benitez continued.

"We will try to find the balance but I find it is easier to improve defences because you can work in training on basics, repeating the same things.

"With strikers it depends more on the quality of the player; that is more difficult."

Benitez is optimistic about Liverpool's chances in the Champions League, and claims that a win against Fiorentina after defeating Hungarian title-holders Debrecen on the tournament's opening day will put the club in a good position to make it through to the round of 16.

"To start a Champions League group winning matches is very important. We have won our first game, now we am to win the second.

"That will be fantastic; we will be in a very strong position," he added.

"We have not faced Fiorentina before in Europe and this will be a big occasion. Hopefully we can score some more goals and that will almost certainly put us into the group stages.

"But Fiorentina play good football and will be dangerous. They are fourth in Serie A and have excellent players."

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Blasts Back At Jermaine Pennant

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has responded to the criticism levelled at him and his players by Real Zaragoza winger Jermaine Pennant by leaping to the defence of Dirk Kuyt.

Pennant claimed that Benitez's coaching and tactics were "robotic" last week, and also asserted that when he was a Liverpool player himself he had found the continued selection of certain players ahead of him mystifying.

The latter remark was perceived to be a swipe at Kuyt, who has been a consistent selection in Pennant's position of right wing for the last couple of seasons at Anfield.

"I saw what he [Pennant] had to say, but I don't intend saying too much about him," said Benitez.

"Kuyt's record is there for everyone to see and he doesn't need me to defend him. You only need to look at the impact he has made to see he is picked on merit and has become an extremely important member of our squad.

"He speaks out on the pitch and doesn't have to say a single word to justify his place. He is a striker who is as effective on the wing or as second striker, and, as you can see from his record, he scores goals as well as working hard.

"He is the sort of player who would be good for any manager. We signed him then extended his contract because we knew he was an excellent player and outstanding professional. I could put him in central defence and he would be as good as anyone."

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Hopeful Over Javier Mascherano Fitness

Javier Mascherano will be sidelined for Liverpool's Champions League trip to Fiorentina on Tuesday evening due to a hamstring problem, but Rafael Benitez has allayed fears that it will be a lengthy lay-off by implying that the player will be fit for the upcoming clash with Chelsea.

"He was shooting in training and felt something in his hamstring," Benitez explained to journalists at a pre-match press conference. "He went to see the doctor and we found he had a small problem in his hamstring."

When probed as to how long Mascherano will be unavailable, Benitez estimated: "It could be two or three days, but we are not sure."

The one-game absence does not worry the Spanish gaffer. "It is not a problem because I think we can manage with Stevie [Gerrard] or another player. To lose a player like Javier is not good. But we will find solutions, whether it is with Gerrard or someone else," he said.

Meanwhile, Benitez reacted to the kind words bestowed upon him by Fiorentina manager Cesare Prandelli. The Viola boss, who has been with the Artemio Franchi outfit since 2005, described Benitez - a Champions League winner with Liverpool - as a "role model".

Benitez was graceful in his reaction: "First of all, I'd like to say thank you to Mr. Prandelli.

"He has done a very good job. I was watching some games and they have been doing very well. They are well organised and know what to do; how to attack and defend.

"They are in a good position now, but I think they can do better. To be in the Champions League is a big success for them and hopefully it will be the same this year."

Fiorentina qualified for the Champions League by finishing fourth in Serie A last season - a position they maintain this season, too, having won four and drawn one from six games. They are two points shy of surprise leaders Sampdoria.

George Gillett Explores Billionaire’s Interest In Liverpool Investment

An Indian billionaire is the latest wealthy individual to express an interest in investing in Liverpool.

Representatives of the unidentified man, who made his fortune in the energy industry, held talks with George Gillett Jr., the Liverpool co-owner, at a dinner meeting held at the Cipriani restaurant in Mayfair, Central London, on Sunday.

Gillett is following up the initial findings of Rothschild, the investment bank that he set the task of finding potential stakeholders in Liverpool. The American bought the club with Tom Hicks, his co-owner and compatriot, in February 2007.

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, dismissed fears that speculation about the club and their ownership could be a distraction to his team as they look to build on a run of six successive victories. “I spoke to George after the game against Hull on Saturday and all we talked about was football,” he said.

Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family who claimed he is ready to offer up to £350 million for a 50 per cent stake in Liverpool at the weekend, has confirmed that a deal has been done with the Merseyside club that will lead to the opening of two academies, one in Saudi Arabia and the other in North Africa.

The agreement signed by Gillett and Prince Faisal on behalf of the F6 group he chairs will also extend the interests of the American’s Nascar franchise. “The memorandum of understanding with the George Gillett group will establish an exclusive partnership between F6 group, Liverpool FC and Richard Petty Motorsports team,” an F6 statement read. “His Highness Prince Faisal stated that the partnership with George Gillett’s group will be a good addition to F6. This partnership will provide a lot of investments in football, racing and sports media in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

Barry Didato, a director of F6, claimed last night that Prince Faisal is carrying out due diligence with a view to buying all or part of Gillett’s shares.

Gillett is in Italy for Liverpool’s match against Fiorentina and has refused to speak on the record about his plans for the Anfield club or the possibility of incoming investment.