Thursday, November 05, 2009

Match Report: Lyon 1 - 1 Liverpool

Liverpool's hearts were broken by a cruel last-minute equaliser that has all but ended their Champions League dreams for a traumatic season.

The much-maligned Ryan Babel had scored a wonderful goal with just seven minutes left and if Liverpool could have hung on to that lead they would still have had a realistic chance of reaching the last 16.

But Liverpool's season has been littered with shattering luck and bitter body blows, as well as beach-ball goals.

And when Lisandro struck an equaliser in the final seconds for Lyon - sending them into the last 16 - Liverpool knew their own hopes were left hanging by a thread.

Fiorentina's expected win over Debrecen keeps them firmly in second spot and Liverpool will need more than a miracle now after this devastating blow.

Daniel Agger passed a late fitness test on his back injury to play in this crunch Group E clash in the Stade Gerland, boosting the Anfield club's side who were eventually missing seven senior players as they battled for their European lives.

Fernando Torres was also in the starting line-up, while Alberto Aquilani was on the bench, Andriy Voronin partnering Torres up front.

Lyon made two changes from their side that won at Anfield a fortnight ago. Michel Bastos and Bafetimbi Gomis came in for Ederson and Sidney Govou, who were both in the bench.

At first Torres looked barely able to run, certainly with nothing like his usual mobility.

The occasional sprint when needed was about his limit early on such is the severity of the serious groin injury he is carrying.

Lyon may have been lulled into a false sense of security against the Spanish ace, and when he found a yard of space in the box he almost had Liverpool ahead after 12 just minutes.

Emiliano Insua swung over a cross from the left, and the striker met it first -time eight yards to force a fine point-blank save from Hugo Lloris, who was to deny Liverpool twice more before the break.

Liverpool defended deep and in numbers, desperate not to concede early while Lyon had plenty of possession. They moved the ball around crisply and Bastos tested Jose Reina from 20 yards while the giant Gomis had Liverpool's keeper stretching again with a 25-yarder.

But Liverpool were searching for a breakthrough of their own, and another Insua cross gave Dirk Kuyt the chance of a clever lob, again Lloris needing to be at his best to touch the ball over the bar.

The French side then lost Anthony Reveillere and Miralem Pjanic to leg injuries with Lamine Gassama and Ederson taking their places.

Liverpool's third decent chance of the half came after a foul on Torres deep in his own half.

Javier Mascherano's quick free-kick cleared Lyon's back line and allowed Voronin a clear run at goal. His shot was low, but again Lloris was up to the task, blocking the effort with his legs.

Agger was booked after 33 minutes for blocking Gomis' run on the halfway line, with Lisandro cautioned for a foul on Kuyt a minute later.

Lyon started the second period with a quicker tempo, and Lisandro hooked over an Aly Cissokho cross. The full-back's next cross saw Bastos head over the far angle.

The match was now unbelievably tense, one mistake could ruin a creditable performance by Liverpool.

And Lyon were increasing the pressure to grab the goal that would put them into the last 16.

As Liverpool pressed forward, the gaps were appearing behind them, and Gomis looked increasingly dangerous.

Liverpool's first change came after 67 minutes when Babel replaced Voronin, Torres being left on this time.

Then Lloris made yet another stunning save, turning away Lucas' effort with his left hand with Kuyt following up with an overhead shot that was kicked off the line.

Lyon brought on Govou for Gomis, before Reina had to make his first serious save of the night, blocking Lisandro from close range.

Lisandro got away again after 78 minutes, turning Agger and then firing a curling shot just wide of the far post with Liverpool now playing with four men up front.

Torres' misplaced header gave Bastos another chance to run at Liverpool's defence, his shot being deflected for a corner.

But Liverpool broke from defence after a painful bout of head tennis to get the ball away and grabbed a sensational goal after 83 minutes.

Yossi Benayoun spun the ball out to the left for Babel, who cut inside to unleash a thunderous drive into the top corner from 30 yards, before being engulfed by his team-mates.

Three minutes from the end Torres was finally taken off, David Ngog taking over up front.

But with just seconds left, Liverpool's dream crashed. Lisandro got past Insua in the box and lifted his shot over Reina for the equaliser.

Rafael Benitez Happy To Be At Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has insisted that he would like to remain as the tactican of the Merseyside club for many more years to come.

The Reds are in a serious crisis, as six losses in seven games has threatened to throw the club's ambitions out the window. A seventh loss - against Olympique Lyonnais in the Champions League - would be catastrophic for the Anfield outfit, as it would be their worst run since the appointment of the legendary Bill Shankly as manager of the club.

But with injuries to Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Fabio Aurelio and Albert Riera, there exists a real chance of the Reds succumbing to yet another defeat.

On top of the humiliation that would come with bowing out of Europe's top club competition at the group stage, the Merseysiders would suffer losses of around £15 million should such a thing come to pass.

"I am very pleased to be here and I wish to be here for a long time," Benitez is quoted by the Press Association as saying.

The club's two most important players - captain Gerrard and Fernando Torres - are in danger of having to undergo surgery to correct their respective injury problems.

"We do not want either player to have an operation, we will hope that they continue to improve. It is too early to say just yet," he said.

However, Benitez's side will receive a minor boost, as summer signing Alberto Aquilani is reportedly on the verge of starting his very first game in a Red jersey.

He continued: "At one stage 14 players were injured or had a virus, no club could cope with that.

"It is not easy with this injury crisis. If any of the top sides in England lost four or five of their very best players and then four or five from their bench, they would struggle.

"People do not realise how important Torres and Gerrard are until you lose them, this situation is not easy for anyone. But we will do our best and we do have the experience of such situations.

"Two years ago we also needed to win our final three group matches, and we succeeded. We can do that again.

"The players here are strong enough for this challenge. The mentality of the group is good, and they are determined to win.

"The players are working very hard, they are positive and determined. They know this result is important for the club, for everyone.

"But our fans have not turned. They are clever people, they know the position the club was in when I arrived and they know what position it is in now, they know this is the only way."

The under-fire boss insisted that his side will turn things around when some of his charges regain their fitness.

"It is important for everyone to see the bigger picture, I am sure things will change in a few weeks when we have our players fit again," he said.

"When we have our big players available, everything will change."

The gaffer then commented on his transfer policy, which has been subject to questioning on more than one occasion.

"I do not accept that we have not signed good players, some may not have settled as quickly, but we are doing a good job," he said.

"This is not the right time to be discussing our signings. But we do have good players, and we have too many injuries.

"We have signed very good players, we have a good team and a good squad.

Touching on the looming clash in Lyon, Benitez continued: "Losing would be bad for us, bad for the club, but we will keep going. But we are not thinking that way, we are only thinking of winning.

"In a few weeks these problems will have gone. Key players will be fit."

Dire Doss To Head Home

Liverpool flop Andrea Dossena is set to end his Liverpool nightmare by securing a January loan switch to Napoli.

Dossena, 28, is one of under-fire Reds boss Rafa Benitez's worst signings and has failed to convince the Spaniard he deserves a first-team berth.

The Italian cost £7 million when he joined from Udinese in the summer of 2008.

Benitez has come under huge criticism for selling John Arne Riise to Roma for £4 million and paying a much bigger fee for Dossena who has struggled to make any impact on the starting line-up at Anfield.

The left-back has played just one minute in the Premier League this season - in the 3-2 win at Bolton in August.

He has dropped behind Emiliano Insua in the pecking order and is desperate to secure a move back to his homeland to revive his career.

Napoli boss Walter Mazzari is keen to take Dossena on loan until the end of the season with a view to a permanent deal.

But it is understood Dossena's wages, thought to be around £40,000 a week, could prove a stumbling block to a full transfer.

Wenger Lends Further Support To Under-fire Benitez

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has once again publicly supported Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

The beleaguered Anfield supremo remains a man under mounting pressure, yet his Premier League rival suggests Benitez is the perfect man for the job, and Liverpool’s hierarchy should not do anything foolhardy.

Wenger told CNN International: “Rafa Benitez is a super manager.”

“We live in a world where democratic judgment is only in the present, and that's why it's very important to have directors who are strong enough to resist to the judgment, who is sometimes infant, and as well to explain why they resist.”

Liverpool FC Lose Appeal Against Philipp Degen Red Card

Liverpool FC's manpower crisis has got worse after they lost their appeal over full-back Philipp Degen's red card in Saturday's defeat at Fulham.

Injury-hit Liverpool had both Swiss defender Degen, and stand-in skipper Jamie Carragher sent off in the second-half of the match at Craven Cottage which they lost 3-1. Liverpool FC appealed against both decisions and now await the FA's deliberations over Carragher's foul on Bobby Zamora that saw him red-carded.

"At a Regulatory Commission hearing, a claim for wrongful dismissal by Liverpool defender Philipp Degen was rejected," read an FA statement.

"Degen was sent off for serious foul play during Liverpool's Premier League match with Fulham on Saturday 31 October. Degen's three-match suspension begins with immediate effect."

Degen will now be unavailable for the Premier League games at home to Birmingham and Manchester City, plus the Merseyside derby clash at Everton on November 29.

With fellow full-back Glen Johnson's calf injury forcing him out of Wednesday's Champions League Group E clash in Lyon, Degen - who is not registered for Europe - could have found himself getting an extended run in boss Rafael Benitez's first-team.

Liverpool felt that Degen's foul on Clint Dempsey merited only a yellow card, but the FA do not agree.

If Johnson does recover in time for Monday's game with Birmingham, Degen will probably find himself completing the ban in reserve football.

Steven Gerrard Still Rues Xabi Alonso Exit

Steven Gerrard was "devastated" when Xabi Alonso left Liverpool FC and admits the Reds have missed the Spaniard.

Liverpool FC captain Gerrard, who is currently injured forged a good understanding with Alonso in midfield. Alonso moved on to Real Madrid in the summer, since when Liverpool have struggled for form in the Premier League and Champions League.

"Devastated, yeah. Devastated. But there was nothing I could do about it," Gerrard said.

"Xabi said a long time ago that he wanted another chapter in his career and finally he got it and his team-mates and the coaches couldn't stand in his way. We just have to say thanks and move forward without him."

Liverpool recouped around £30million for 27-year-old Alonso, and spent most of that on bringing replacement Alberto Aquilani to Anfield from Roma.

Aquilani missed the first two months of the season due to injury and Liverpool have already lost seven matches.

Gerrard knew it would take Liverpool time to adapt to life without Alonso, who in a playmaker role had a vital duty in Rafael Benitez's team.

Gerrard said: "It's always going to be different when you lose one of the best players in the world - and people are finally realising that's what he is, on the back of his form for Real Madrid and the difference in us from last year.

"We've got other midfielders here doing a good job but it will take a while before Alonso's out of our system because he was such a top player."

Reds Look At Youngster

Liverpool have handed a trial to Norwegian youngster Christian Landu Landu, according to the player's agent.

The 17-year-old has also been linked with Premier League rivals Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs.

But it appears as though The Reds have stolen a march on their rivals by taking a closer look at the Viking youngster.

Landu Landu's agent Stig Lillejord has confirmed the deal, stating his close ties with the club helped the trial come to fruition.

"The deal has been made possible by my close relationship with Liverpool," Lillejord told

Massive Cash Boost For Struggling Liverpool FC

Liverpool, the English soccer club which signed a record shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered earlier this year, has agreed another lucrative partnership.

The club will be backed by 188Bet, the online betting company which already has partnerships in place with Aston Villa, Chelsea, Bolton and Wigan. The partnership will last for three years, and is expected to earn the club as much as US$7.5 million.

"We are delighted to welcome 188Bet to our family of partners. Their innovative approach to betting will enhance the fan experience, in addition to benefiting good causes through the 188 Foundation," said Ian Ayre, commercial director of Liverpool Football Club.

"Given 188Bet's presence in Asia, we will develop a number of initiatives that will mutually benefit our respective organisations. 188Bet has made a clear commitment to marketing their brand through football, and we are looking forward to developing a successful partnership," he added.

Liverpool To Get Windfall Worth Hundreds Of Millions

The city of Liverpool claims it would receive a £200 million (US$330 million) boost if it is a host city for the 2018 World Cup, should England win the rights to host the tournament.

The city is arguably the biggest heartland of English soccer, with both Liverpool and Everton having secured multiple trophies over the years. Though neither side has won the Premier League since its inception in 1993, Liverpool have been English league champions 18 times, and Everton nine.

However, the city's chances of selection as a host city could be affected by the continuing doubt over both clubs' stadiums. Liverpool are keen to leave Anfield for a new stadium in Stanley Park, while Everton have their own plans for a move. But with the current situation unclear, the city could miss out to other cities where developments are more concrete.

The city's bid is based on both clubs having new stadiums by 2018, but Anfield is being used as a fallback option. However, another nine years of use would see the famous stadium slip further behind the league's new grounds in many of the areas Fifa focus on when considering bids.

The English bid team will decide in three weeks which cities will be included as part of the country's bid.

Saudis Want Liverpool Pair To Revive Nation's Fortunes

Saudia Arabia's soccer chiefs are head-hunting former Liverpool pair Gerard Houllier and Rick Parry to sort out their football.

The oil-rich government plan to recruit former Kop chief Houllier as their new director of football to oversee the national team and their top sides.

Houllier is in charge of France's football empire and could even be allowed to do both jobs - although the cash in the Middle East may tempt him to go there full-time.

Parry is also being chased to run the administrative side of the Saudi game. He is available after leaving Liverpool at the end of last season and has wide knowledge.

The Saudis are fuming that they missed out on the World Cup finals next summer after some disastrous results and they believe that bringing in two of Anfield's old boys will sort out the game from the top down.