Sunday, November 01, 2009

Match Report: Fulham 3 - 1 LiverpooL

Rafael Benitez grimaced on the touchline as nine-man Liverpool were given a mauling in a humiliating defeat at Craven Cottage.

Liverpool defenders Philipp Degen and Jamie Carragher were sent off for reckless fouls and by the end the Fulham crowd were chanting "Easy, easy" as Liverpool resembled a shambles.

Goals from Bobby Zamora, Erik Nevland and Clint Dempsey gave Roy Hodgson's side a deserved victory with Fernando Torres grabbing the one consolation for Liverpool.

But this was a match which only demonstrated that Torres cannot do it all by himself.

He cannot keep producing the only quality in a Liverpool team which, without the injured Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson, looks bereft of ideas and creativity.

We had wondered what the significance was of that stirring victory over Manchester United last weekend.

Well, now it looks a one-off. A lone bright spot in a season which could get even darker next Wednesday when Liverpool travel to Lyon for a match which could see them effectively knocked out of the Champions league in the group stages.

After this result they might just be out of the Premier League race, too.

The pressure is building on Benitez. And with the Reds faithful once more booing his substitution of Yossi Benayoun the steam is hissing all around him.

Bizarrely, it was a match in which Liverpool enjoyed the majority of the possession.

A match in which they pressed forward with lots of effort, often against a wall of white shirts. But a match in which for vast swathes they struggled to supply the quality to go with their industry.

They must have wondered, however, quite how they found themselves behind after 24 minutes.

Fulham had not had a single shot on Jose Reina's goal. Let's be honest, they had barely crossed the half-way line.

But shortly after Benayoun had produced an acrobatic volley which fairly rattled the Fulham crossbar the home side broke away.

The ball came to Damien Duff on the left and that trusty left foot curled in a raking cross which bisected the Liverpool defence and allowed Zamora to tap home from close range.

A bit of a downer that, especially as Liverpool wags have been known to direct the following ditty in Zamora's direction, to the tune of 'Amore:' "When the ball hits your head and you're sat in Row Z, that's Zamora."

Well, now they know different. Zamora is lethal from six yards.

Benitez, however, must have been scratching his head, such was Liverpool's dominance.

The problem was that while Liverpool continued to press forward they struggled to produce the high tempo and urgency they had demonstrated against Manchester United last Sunday.

And when the equaliser came they could hardly put it down to rhythm and style. Instead it was fashioned out of nothing, but by the predator supreme.

There appeared to be little danger for the Fulham defence when the ball came to Andriy Voronin. His header was weak and misdirected but it cannoned off a Fulham defender and arced into the hitting zone of Torres.

He needed no more invitation. The Spaniard simply swivelled and swung his right boot and a fabulous volley from the edge of the box fairly scorched past Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

It was Torres' 10th league goal of the season and only demonstrated once more his value to Liverpool.

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson made a double substitution at half-time, bringing on Zoltan Gera for Diomansy Kamara and Nevland for Duff.

It was an attempt to push Liverpool back and stem the pounding and it had some success. In fact, Fulham might have re-taken the lead on the hour mark when Zamora fired over a cross and Gera swivelled and shot but unfortunately straight at goalkeeper Reina.

The Cottagers did take the lead, however, after 74 minutes and once more it was against the run of play.

This time Paul Konchesky surged down the left hand side and Reina could only parry his cross. The ball was headed back across goal by Gera and there was Nevland to slide the ball into the net.

It got worse for Liverpool four minutes later when Swiss defender Degen was sent off for a reckless lunge on Dempsey.

Incredibly three minutes later Liverpool were down to nine men when Carragher brought down Zamora and also received a red card.

And to wrap up an afternoon to forget for Benitez, Dempsey rolled in the third for Fulham as Liverpool disintegrated.

Blame For Benitez

Charlie Nicholas pointed the finger at Rafael Benitez as Liverpool's momentum came to a crashing halt at Fulham.

The Reds arrived at Craven Cottage buoyant after an impressive victory over Manchester United last weekend, but were bought crashing down to earth as goals from Bobby Zamora, Erik Nevland and Clint Dempsey sealed a 3-1 win for the home side.

Liverpool were also reduced to nine men following red cards for Philipp Degen and Jamie Carragher, but Nicholas says the Liverpool manager must shoulder the blame following some strange tactical decisions.

He said the removal of Liverpool's goalscorer Fernando Torres on the hour mark when the scores were level was the turning point in the match.

"Stunning," said Nicholas after the match.

"After 60 minutes he took Torres off, the only guy who looked like scoring, the only guy who was interested.

"He took a couple of kicks on the ankle and he was rubbing his knee a couple of times, but what it told me after 60 minutes at 1-1 is that he was already thinking about Lyon."

That game with Lyon is a crucial Champions League encounter in France on Wednesday night, but Nicholas feels Benitez sacrificed Liverpool's chances at Fulham because he was too preoccupied with that game.

Nicholas argued that Benitez has decided to prioritise the Champions League over the Premier League - and that is not good enough for a club like Liverpool.

"Momentum is everything in football," Nicholas continued.

"Rafa, year after year, is taking that momentum away. You get a fantastic and thoroughly deserved win against Manchester United and you think this team, even without Stevie Gerrard, can get a little bit of momentum.

"He's taken it all away from them today, he's taken all of the goodness that you've seen last weekend and he's taken it all back out.

"Even as a neutral we want Liverpool to be in the frame because we need a big Liverpool in there.

"He's going to have to question himself about going to Lyon and trying to find a victory. If he doesn't get that victory, where does it leave him?

"He could be out of the Champions League and he's more or less got one foot out of the door for the Premier League.

"You're sitting there thinking 'this is Liverpool Football Club', you should be going into every game to win the football match.

"It's as if there's an acceptance today that says they're now going to concentrate on the Champions League.

"Not good enough."

Nicholas also had praise for Fulham for their victory and for their under-fire striker Zamora, who troubled the Liverpool defence all afternoon.

"His energy was fantastic," he added.

"He ran into every corner he could, he stretched Carragher as often as he could because he knew Carragher was their best defender. If he could take him out of that central area there would be opportunities.

"He was their outstanding player, he gave every ounce he could and he was a threat all day."

Benitez Vows To Appeal Red Cards

Rafael Benitez will appeal against both red cards after nine-man Liverpool slumped to a humiliating 3-1 defeat at Craven Cottage.

Swiss defender Philipp Degen and captain Jamie Carragher were sent off for second-half fouls as Liverpool's Premier League hopes disintegrated, falling to their fifth league loss of the season.

But Benitez believed referee Lee Mason got both decisions wrong, saying Degen's foul on Clint Dempsey was no more than a yellow card while he maintained Carragher played the ball when he was adjudged to have brought down Bobby Zamora.

Benitez said: "They were two incidents in a few minutes when we were losing and they were difficult to take.

Gerrard Could Miss Key European Tie

Rafael Benitez is facing the very real prospect of trying to save Liverpool's European dream without Steven Gerrard.

The Liverpool boss is without his skipper at Fulham in the Premier League, and is seemingly clutching at straws that Gerrard will be available for Wednesday's Champions League trip to Lyon.

Liverpool have lost back-to-back Group E matches to Fiorentina and the French club, and a victory in the Stade Gerland is now the only result that will realistically keep the Reds in with a chance of reaching the last 16.

With Fiorentina at home to Hungarian club Debrecen on Wednesday, having already won in Budapest convincingly against the group's bottom club, Liverpool know they are up against it if they want to snatch one of the two qualifying places.

Lose to Lyon and the French side will have 12 points to Liverpool's three. If Fiorentina win their match in Florence, they will have nine points.

And that will mean Liverpool are all but doomed with just two games left, with the top two sides being able to engineer a result when they meet in Florence on November 24 that will eliminate the Anfield club.

It is a shattering prospect for Benitez, and would cost Liverpool £20million of UEFA prize money.

Benitez said: "We must win in Lyon. No matter what happens elsewhere, anything but a victory will leave us facing a really bad situation."

Gerrard is battling to overcome a groin injury, and is facing surgery if he fails to make the Lyon match.

Benitez added: "I do not know yet whether Steven will play in Lyon, we must work with him. But it is true there is a problem.

"We do have a problem if he is not fit for Lyon, it is a crucial time. In three days we will maybe have a better idea.

"He is doing well, and maybe he could be available. But Glen Johnson will be out for five days with a calf tear, so he is a problem too."

He added: "We know we have to win in Lyon, we do not know what will happen in the other group game with Fiorentina at home to Debrecen, but the Italian club have already won in Hungary, so they must be favourites to win in Florence.

"If they do then we know we just have to win. But we really know that anyway, we already know we have to win to stay in contention.

"We expect Fiorentina to win their match, but football can produce surprises. We can only look after ourselves and try to win our match."

Without Gerrard, the spotlight will fall elsewhere for the inspiration to keep Liverpool in the European hunt.

And Benitez sees Argentina captain Javier Mascherano as the perfect answer, despite claims of late that the midfielder is not happy and not at his best.

Benitez said: "Javier played his best game of the season when we won against Manchester United last weekend, I am happy with his form now.

"He was worried about whether Argentina would qualify for the World Cup finals, and sometimes you cannot stop players worrying about their countries.

"But they have reached the finals now and he is more relaxed and playing up to his best levels again.

"What happened in the summer with Barcelona is in the past now and not bothering him. We all knew about that interest, but it is not a consideration now.

"He is now doing really well and back to the very best level he was before."

Liverpool's form against French clubs, having won their last four matches on French soil in Europe, is good. A fifth is now critical.

Mata Waits On New Deal

Juan Mata's father and agent want Valencia to up their contract offer, amid claims that Liverpool are ready to make a move for the forward.

The Spain international is in talks with Los Che over a new contract and only last week his father, Juan Mata senior, stated that a deal was close.

But now it appears things have not moved on as expected and Mata could be forced to seek a move if the club does not match his expectations.

"We want Valencia to recognise the kid's true quality, and it's not only a matter of money," Mata senior is quoted by The Sun.

Mata himself admits he is attracted by Liverpool, but is leaving his future in the hands of his father.

"This matter is all down to the club and my agent," he said.

"Rafa Benitez is a big coach but I just want to concentrate on my game without any distractions.

The 21-year-old's current deal runs until 2012.

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez Pleased With Gerrard & Torres FIFA Nominations, Praises Mascherano

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has hailed the World Player of the Year nominations received by silky striker Fernando Torres and talismanic attacker Steven Gerrard; indicating that it bodes well for the club that two of their influential stars have won external commendation.

The Spanish gaffer also noted the increased form of Argentine battler Javier Mascherano insisting that he believes the midfield anchor is returning to his best form.

"We were worried at the beginning of the season because we had some problems and Argentina needed to qualify for the World Cup," the former Valencia boss is reported to have told the press.

"I think he was very good against [Manchester] United, so now he's coming back. His commitment is always fantastic."

Furthermore, there was heightened speculation regarding Mascherano's future due to the reported interest from Catalan kings Barcelona.

"We knew about speculation with Barcelona but at this moment he's doing really well, his training is fantastic and he is playing at the same level he was before," Benitez added.

Regarding the FIFA World Player of the Year nominations, Benitez claimed that it was a compliment to Liverpool as a club, as well as to the players as individuals.

"It's really good and important for the club," he noted.

"We know they are top-class players. They deserve to be there.

"It's positive to have two there, and it could be more in the future. We are really pleased for them."

Rafael Benitez: Alberto Aquilani Closing In On Liverpool Start

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has hinted that Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani will be ready for a first team start within the next couple of weeks.

The 25-year-old was signed by the Reds during the summer for around £17 million from Roma although an ankle injury has kept him sidelined for the first couple of months of the season.

Aquilani did, however, make his first team bow in the League Cup last week, coming on as a late substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium although a virus will keep the Italian international out of contention for this afternoon's encounter with Fulham.

Despite his latest injury setback, Benitez has suggested that the playmaking midfielder will be ready to start within the next two weeks which would see him line-up in the crucial game against Manchester City at Anfield next month.

"He [Aquilani] wants to play," the Reds boss told a group of assembled radio journalists, as quoted by the club's official website.

"We were talking about his match fitness and he was pushing us saying he wants to play.

"He has a really good mentality and he wants to impress. We have to decide and be careful with him. If he is okay then maybe in one or two weeks he can start."

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool Can Still Win Premier League

Despite succumbing to four defeats in just ten rounds of Premier League action, and occupying a fifth-placed standing with a game in hand over six and seventh-placed Manchester City and Aston Villa, midfield hardman Javier Mascherano remains optimistic on Liverpool's Premier League chances.

The Argentine captain refutes the notion that a 19th league crown is out of the reach of the Reds this season, but conceded that it was essential they did not drop any further points.

Liverpool travel to Fulham for the weekend tie without Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson.

Mascherano told Zoo: "The league is still possible.

"If we start to win and keep winning, anything’s possible, but we cannot afford to drop more points. We have to start winning and then not stop."

He added: "In football, you never know.

"If you start to win games, then it can happen. We have to forget about the past and just think about the future. And do it for us, for the team, and most of all, for the supporters."