Sunday, November 22, 2009

Match Report: LIverpooL 2 - 2 Manchester City

Liverpool proved they are not ready to be replaced in the top flight elite by Manchester City just yet as Yossi Benayoun's equaliser secured a draw at Anfield.

The mega-rich men from Eastlands arrived on Merseyside intent on proving they were top four material but they found a Liverpool side in defiant mood despite more injury problems.

Martin Skrtel put Liverpool in front but Emmanuel Adebayor and Stephen Ireland sent City ahead before Benayoun equalised.

Despite the furore over Liverpool's use of a Belgrade clinic to get players fit for a key week of vital matches in Europe and the Premier League, all four of the men sent to Serbia for treatment failed to make the starting line-up.

Glen Johnson was not even on the bench, where Benayoun, Albert Riera and Fabio Aurelio were initially named.

Liverpool had Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel and Jamie Carragher, the latter after a ban, returning from the side that drew with Birmingham last time out.

Manchester City made one change from the side that were held at home by Burnley last time out, Nigel De Jong coming into the side in place of Carlos Tevez, who was a substitute.

Liverpool started well, Gerrard attacking the right flank of City's defence when the opportunity arose.

The first chance came after five minutes from a free-kick following a Gareth Barry foul on Dirk Kuyt.

Gerrard swung the set-piece in from the right, Daniel Agger flicked on and centre-back partner Skrtel saw a free header from the left brilliantly saved by Shay Givens.

Agger, though, was injured in the incident after clashing heads with Kolo Toure. The young Dane's legs buckled under him as he was receiving treatment and he was carried off suffering from concussion.

Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos was soon on as substitute, a reshuffle Liverpool did not need against the pace of Emmanuel Adebayor, with Craig Bellamy itching to run at Carragher on the left.

Soon Liverpool suffered more injury trouble. Babel was hurt in a collision with De Jong, and needed treatment on the line.

Babel lasted only a couple of minutes more after his limping return and was replaced by Benayoun.

City was intent on containment and eventual control. De Jong effectively regained midfield possession to set in motion City's calm, thoughtful approach play.

Toure, suffering following an earlier tackle with Gerrard, was replaced at the break by Nedum Onuoha.

And Liverpool produced the lift the game needed with a goal after 49 minutes.

Pablo Zabaleta had given away a needless free-kick for holding Ngog on the left, and when Gerrard swung the set-play into the box, Skrtel was there first in front of Adebayor to stab home from six yards.

City needed to up their game now, and with the fire-power of Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz on the bench, they certainly had the ammunition.

And they waited until the hour mark to withdraw Barry and send on Tevez, who instantly drew a booking for Lucas following a tangle on the half-way line.

City cranked up the pressure as Liverpool fell deeper, and they were level after 69 minutes. Bellamy's corner swirled into the box and it was Adebayor's turn to lose Skrtel this time, heading the ball down into the turf from where it bounced high into the top corner.

City struck again after 76 minutes when Tevez and Wright-Phillips worked well to create a chance for Stephen Ireland to flick the ball past Reina.

Liverpool's response came within 60 seconds. Ngog crossed from the right, the ball deflecting to Benayoun who forced it home from a couple of yards out.

Rafa Happy With Character

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez praised his side's character after they fought back for a 2-2 draw with Manchester City.

Yossi Benayoun's goal earned Liverpool a draw after goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Stephen Ireland cancelled out Martin Skrtel's opener for the home side.

The draw means Liverpool have only won once in their last ten games in all competitions, but Benitez was happy with the attitude of his players.

"We're a little bit disappointed, we had chances at the end. But with the problems we had, making two substitutions in the first 18 minutes, to still come back we showed very good character. Until the last minute we were still pushing," Benitez told Sky Sports 1.

"The players worked so hard. You could see that even with a lot of problems we were winning and even though we conceded the first goal then the second, you could still see the character of the team.

"In the circumstances I thought we were very good."

Benitez saw his injury problems increase after Daniel Agger and Ryan Babel were forced off with knocks in the opening 20 minutes.

Agger sustained a deep cut after a clash of heads, while Dutchman Babel limped off with an ankle injury.

Benitez is unsure if the duo will be fit for Liverpool's vital UEFA Champions League clash with Debrecen this week, but is hopeful Albert Riera, who was an unused substitute against City and Glen Johnson will be available for the trip to Hungary.

"Agger has five stitches and Babel has a problem with his ankle, but it's too early to say and we have to wait," noted Benitez.

"I think it was important for Yossi Benayoun to come through today. On the bench was Albert Riera and hopefully (Glen) Johnson (will return). Maybe we'll have some more coming back."

Despite dropping more points Benitez is confident his side can end their slump in form once all their players are back to full fitness.

"With some players available and fit we are much better," said Benitez. "We are still bringing players back from injury. Gerrard was tired, (David) Ngog was tired and we had to make two substitutes early on."

Benitez Sure Of Top-Four Finish

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insisted his side will finish in the Champions League places following their 2-2 home draw with Manchester City.

The Reds have lost five and drawn two of their opening 13 Premier League matches and are now 13 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea.

But a defiant Benitez said: "When we have all our players coming back I am confident we will start winning games.

"If we can improve and play at our level, we will finish in the top four."

Despite the draw against fellow Champions League-hopefuls City, Liverpool are still within two points of fourth-placed Aston Villa.

Injuries to Daniel Agger and Ryan Babbel during the game added to their ever-growing injury worries and Glen Johnson was ruled out before the game.

But Benitez, who is also without key striker Fernando Torres, expects a noticeable upturn in their fortunes when some of the sidelined stars return.

"We had a shocking day with injuries," said Liverpool's Spanish manager, whose side have managed just one win in 10 matches in all competitions.

"Glen was not happy with his calf and he had been limping a bit in training.

"Then we lose Agger and Babel. We had one problem after another. We had to use players who have not been training with the squad, but we still managed to score first.

"We felt we could hang on, then they scored twice and we had to show great character to hit back at them to get the equaliser.

"We then had a couple of great chances at the end and could have won the game.

"You cannot be happy with a home draw, but to lose three players is very difficult.

"And of course we had three players on the bench who have been for treatment in Belgrade and had not been training with the team.

"It is not easy to manage, but the reaction of the players was fantastic. You cannot ask for more from players in such a position."

Why Rafa Benitez Needs To Release The Handbrake - And Throw In Aquilani - To Save Liverpool's Season

Rafa Benitez needs to drop the handbrake and throw in Alberto Aquilani to put Liverpool’s season into top gear.

This is a crossroads fixture for both teams and already seen as crucial for Liverpool and Manchester City.

But City have missed the chance to put daylight between themselves and Liverpool in recent weeks.

City have got stuck in a rut with draws while Liverpool have stuttered badly but are still in touch with the top four.

Liverpool are unquestionably a different team with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres fit and starting.

But the player that Benitez really starts to need pushing forward is Aquilani, all £20m worth of him.

Aquilani is an attack-minded player and maybe that is why Benitez has been very cautious about bringing him in and starting with him even after his lengthy injury lay-off.

But if you’re going to pay big money then surely sooner or later you have to try to reap the rewards.

Benitez was a bit more expansive with the style of football last season and yet this season, with bad results and low confidence, there has been a temptation not to take risks.

Liverpool desperately need a run of results and to start kicking on and there’s only one way to do that - really go for it in games.

The David Ngog dive rather deflected from Liverpool’s draw against a team tipped for relegation. But that was bad and now they need to win games.

Beating City would give the club such a lift and the belief that they can make the top four and also see off one of their main rivals.

A run of games with a few wins would really see them move up the table and Liverpool need their big players to deliver.

It’s not just all about Torres and Gerrard. Others must take responsibility. And when you cost £20m, Aquilani has to deliver.

It’s the same for City as there are big expectations for them this season. People say Mark Hughes must reach the Champions League but I feel fifth would be good progress.

After all, they have had to buy players who were largely not in teams in the Champions League but the next tier down.

When you do that, you get the next best and recent results have told us that City are still a work in progress.

Robinho is the exception to the rule and, with all his sulking and agitating, I would just sell him if I was City.

If Sheikh Mansour can get the money back they paid for him or even close then they should just cut their losses. Simple as that. You don’t want disruptions when you’re trying to build something.

City’s big problem is not the attacking players anyway. Craig Bellamy and Martin Petrov can give them better options to Robinho down the left.

It’s the problem that City have when they don’t have the ball. Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong are good players but the trouble is the team don’t defend well enough as a unit yet.

It’s not just about the back four struggling but the whole team not giving the likes of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott protection.

You can be sure that City will kick on and spend big again in January to try and push for the top four.

But I’ve still got my doubts about whether City can make it and once Liverpool get back in their routine and groove then the top four will probably take on a rather familiar look again.

Henry Cheat Storm Can Aid Liverpool

Rafa Benitez has called on Lyon to restore France's battered reputation - and help Liverpool complete another Euro miracle.

The Reds need Lyon to go from 'cheats' to emblems of fair play against Fiorentina on Tuesday - even though the French club has already qualified for the Champions League group stage.

Four of Lyon's players were part of the France squad whose integrity was hit by Thierry Henry's handball in the World Cup play-off win over Republic of Ireland.

Benitez, whose side face Hungarian whipping boys Debrecen, believes the eyes of the world will be on Lyon.

Draw or defeat for Fiorentina on their own patch will provide Benitez's side a route into the Champions League last 16.

A potential £21million will be lost if the cash-strapped Merseysiders crash out of the competition.

Benitez said: "I don't know if the Henry incident will affect Lyon but it could be good for us. It will be difficult for them but they have quality and players who want to prove something.

"If they want to show everyone in the world they are good professionals and want to win every game, it would be good.

"It could be something that works out positively for Liverpool. Their coach said they would try to win. He is a professional. I know Lyon have a good group of professionals and a good manager."

But Benitez has warned his side not to become preoccupied with events in Italy as they must keep their side of the bargain.

He warned: "We have to do our job. That is the key thing. We can talk about Lyon and Fiorentina but it is something we cannot control. For me, it is all about us winning against Debrecen.

"You cannot influence the other game. We have to concentrate on our job, win our game and then see what happens in the other match.

"If we talk too much about Fiorentina- Lyon, we may lose focus on our game. It would be bad if Lyon won and we didn't. So we have to do our job."

Benitez has been assured his immediate Liverpool future will not be threatened by midweek events in Italy or Hungary.

In contrast to the calamitous Klinsmann- gate saga of 2007, new managing director Christian Purslow is emphatic the club will NOT review Benitez's position on the basis of the Champions League campaign.

League displays will determine the success and failure of the season.

And while a recent bad spell has led to hysteria beyond Anfield's walls, within the corridors of power there is calm. Purslow's message to Benitez - with whom he has immediately established a close working relationship - has been one of understanding, given the injury crisis which has swept through the dressing room in recent weeks.

Purslow's philosophy is: "If we can't qualify this time, it's important to make sure we're at the Champions League party next year."

That stance ensures the Spanish coach will be judged at the end of the season no matter what happens this week. There remains a conviction from Benitez that the return of the cavalry will see order restored at the top of the Premier League.

However, the financial consequences of Liverpool being dumped into the Europa League are dire. The difference between going out at the group stage and the last 16 amounts to just £1.6million in prize money but sides that progress to the later stages reap massive dividends.

When Liverpool last reached the final in 2007 - the first year of the Americans' reign - they earned £24m from the combined prize and TV money. Over half was won AFTER the group stage.

If they go out on Tuesday, Liverpool can expect around £12m for their participation this year. But there will also be celebrations at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates due to the Anfield exit.

As Premier League runners-up, Liverpool were entitled to 30 per cent of England's ever increasing 'market share' from TV rights. That figure is calculated after the tournament.

Last year, Liverpool received 15 per cent of £50m as the fourth- placed finishers, amounting to £7.5m.

They could have at least doubled that this year.

In their absence, United, Chelsea and Arsenal will divide the Reds' share among themselves according to how far they progress.

Regardless of mounting criticism of Benitez, the Liverpool fans do not trust Tom Hicks or George Gillett to make decisions in the club's long-term interests.

Even Benitez's critics are uncomfortable with the notion of the manager leaving before owners who have inflicted such damage on Liverpool's reputation - especially as they have largely benefited from the Champions League campaigns.

The duo have used previous success to increase the value of the club.

A Liverpool setback in Debrecen will make it more difficult for Hicks and Gillett to attract the kind of investment they are currently pursuing. But it is a top-four finish which remains most significant.

Investors are already baulking at the £100m asking price for a 25 per cent stake in Liverpool.

The Americans will almost certainly have to rethink their strategy if the club falls out of the Euro elite, especially with a deadline looming at the end of March. This is when Liverpool must pass the Premier League 'going concern' test to retain its UEFA licence.

Fernando Torres Losing Battle To Be Fit For Merseyside Derby

Fernando Torres is losing his fight to be fit for next week’s Merseyside derby.

Liverpool’s Spanish striker is sidelined by a groin injury since playing through the pain barrier in the Champions League draw with Lyon at the start of the month. He returned to training last week and was expected to return this week.

But Rafa Benitez has admitted that Torres will miss the Champions League trip to Debrecen on Tuesday night and that the clash with rivals Everton at Goodison Park next Sunday may also be a game too soon.

Benitez said: “Torres had a plan of fitness that would take three weeks working with the physios.

“You can see he is improving all the time, but I would say that he is still maybe 10 days away from being right.

“The next few days will decide whether he will be fit for Everton, but at this moment there are no guarantees.”

Painkilling Injection For Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has had a second painkilling injection to ensure he leads from the front as Liverpool begin another pivotal week.

The Kop skipper returned to the starting line-up for yesterday's Premier League clash with Manchester City after recovering from a groin injury.

Now he's hoping to inspire a Champions League revival against Debrecen on Tuesday.

There were fears the 30-year-old would need an operation to cure any lingering pain.

But another cortisone injection in midweek should prevent the need for surgery.

Gerrard has been desperate to help get Liverpool's season back on track. An operation would only rule him out for three weeks, but with so many important games coming up he knows his club needs him.

"It's been a frustrating few weeks," admitted Gerrard.

"It's been a strange month because as soon as I was fit we had the international break.

"I've been dying to play and can't wait to get going again.

"The mood in the camp is really good. We know our position in the table isn't good enough but we have faith in our ability. We know we can put things right."

Meanwhile, Javier Mascherano's hopes of forcing a January move to Barcelona will end in frustration.

Benitez will not allow further disruption to his squad given the problems this season.

Mascherano has been a shadow of his former self since a £30million deal fell through last summer.

Liverpool will review his future at the end of the season. Until then the Argentine is under orders to forget about a switch to the Nou Camp.

Mark Hughes Plans To Tempt Fernando Torres

Mark Hughes will make another audacious bid to prise Fernando Torres away from Anfield if Manchester City replace Liverpool in the Premier League’s so-called Big Four this season.

Manchester City had a £70million offer for Spain striker Fernando Torres rejected last summer but will go back for him if they qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Rafa Benitez claims he would quit if Torres was sold, insisting £100million is not enough.

But neither that nor failed attempts to sign Kaka and John Terry will deter City from tempting debt-ridden Liverpool with a huge offer next summer. Hughes served notice of his intention to undermine Liverpool when he stole Gareth Barry from under their noses. And his coup de grace would be to tempt Torres.