Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Match Preview: Debrecen vs. Liverpool

Liverpool travel to Budapest knowing that a victory over the Hungarian champions Debrecen may not be enough to secure their progression from Group E to the Champions League knock-out stages, and will no doubt be listening intensely to any news from the match between Fiorentina and Lyon.

Rafa Benitez’s side only managed an unconvincing 1-0 victory against Debrecen at Anfield, in a match in which the Hungarian champions showed glimpses of a potential threat.

As is common-knowledge amongst followers of Champions League, it is these away ties against the lesser-known European sides which can catch the elite sides off-guard, not to mention a team that has only mustered one victory in their last ten matches.



Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City
Liverpool 2-2 Birmingham City
Lyon 1-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Fulham 3-1 Liverpool
Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (League Cup)

Debrecen - Champions League results

Fiorentina 5-2 Debrecen
Debrecen 3-4 Fiorentina
Debrecen 0-4 Lyon
Liverpool 1-0 Debrecen
Debrecen 2-0 Levski Sofia (Qualifier)



Manager András Herczeg will be hoping his Debrecen side can impress during their final home match of this season’s Champions League campaign, and in light of Liverpool’s current form, may even be contemplating victory.

Starting XI from last league Champions League match: Pantics, Komlosi, Szelesi, Leandro, Bodnar, Laczko, Ramos, Varga, Fodor, Czvitkovics, Rudolf.


Disastrous form aside, the other my ingredient to Liverpool’s tepid start to the season has been the severity of their injury list.

With Ryan Babel having joined Fernando Torres and Albert Riera on Liverpool's injury list, Rafa Benitez faces some big decisions in terms of selection – albeit with limited options.

The Spanish boss will also be without defenders Glen Johnson (Calf Strain) and Daniel Agger (Concussion) for Tuesday match.

Fortunately, and perhaps decisively for Liverpool, is that captain fantastic Steven Gerrard is fit to play in Budapest, and he excels when the chips are down.

Starting XI from last match: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Insua, Mascerano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel, Ngog.


Debrecen – Peter Czvitkovics

The Hungarian midfielder was one of Debrecen’s more impressive players during the contest at Anfield in September, and Liverpool will need to be aware of his set piece deliveries and ambitious shooting.

Donning the number 77 shirt, Czvitkovics is not short on confidence, and with the Debrecen support behind him, the Hungarian international could be prove to be a damaging threat to Benitez’s side.

Liverpool – Steven Gerrard

Whenever the phoenix rises from the ashes for Liverpool, it generally resembles their invaluable captain. Steven Gerrard may not be 100% fit for this Champions League fixture, but rest assured that whilst he is on the pitch he’ll run his heart out for his side.

A more than capable match winner, a more than experience head, don’t be surprised if once again it is Gerrard that comes to Liverpool’s rescue.

Red Letter Day

Liverpool Football Club should not be in a position of hoping for a favour from Lyon or a bad day at the office from Fiorentina to keep them alive in the Champions League.

But that is exactly where Rafa Benitez and his team find themselves ahead of their game in Hungary - a home win for the Italians in Florence will put Liverpool out regardless of their result at Debrecen.

Even in their current state, you would hope Liverpool have enough to keep their part of the bargain on Tuesday night - though there are no guarantees just now.

Fernando Torres will be missing again, but the real concerns for Benitez are at the other end of the pitch, where he has been unable to field a settled defence all season.

Liverpool have been all over the place at the back, and while injuries are a mitigating circumstance they simply have to apply the work they are doing in training properly when it comes to matches.

You can argue about zonal marking being a good or bad idea, but if that is your preferred system you just have to work harder and harder to make sure it is successful. And it did not work at the weekend when Emmanuel Adebayor was left unmarked to score for Manchester City.

As long as goals like that keep going in there will always be a doubt in your mind about Liverpool's ability to see out games - look what happened in Lyon last time, when the home side were battered all game but still managed to kick Liverpool where it hurts right at the end.

Just as important to Liverpool tomorrow is Lyon's progress at Fiorentina. Their players are professionals, and let's hope they go about it in the right manner even though their team is already through.

You would hope that the integrity of the game will shine through, especially after the debacle we saw with the French national side's World Cup qualifier.

THOMMO'S CALL: Liverpool have a legendary reputation for doing things the hard way in this competition, and I still think qualification could happen. I'm going for a Reds win in Hungary and a draw for Lyon at Fiorentina, which would leave Liverpool needing to beat the Italians by three goals in their final game. What a great night at Anfield that would be!

Liverpool's Injury Worries Continue As Ryan Babel Ruled Out

Ryan Babel has been ruled out of Liverpool's Champions League Group E match with Debrecen in Hungary tomorrow. The Dutch striker has failed to recover after twisting his ankle in Saturday's draw with Manchester City. Striker Fernando Torres will also play no part following his groin problem but may be fit to face Everton on Sunday.

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who were struggling with injuries at the end of the 2-2 draw with City, are in Liverpool's 18-man squad that travelled to Budapest today.

Glen Johnson, who missed the City game with a calf problem, was also in the party, while Albert Riera's hamstring injury meant he was left behind for further treatment. Daniel Agger has recovered from the head injury he sustained on Saturday.

Fiorentina's Poor Record Against Lyon Offers Hope To Liverpool

Liverpool's Champions League fate may be out of their hands but that is not to say it has already been decided. Fiorentina would need to beat Lyon at Stadio Artemio Franchi tomorrow night to be sure of reaching the knock-out stage at the Premier League side's expense and, if recent history is anything to go by, that is certainly not a foregone conclusion.

After being drawn in the same group last year, Fiorentina and Lyon have faced each other three times in this competition over the past 15 months, and so far the Italians' record reads: drawn one, lost two. When the two sides met in Florence in the fifth game of the group stage last season Fiorentina knew they needed a win to have any hopes of reaching the knock-out stages. They lost 2-1.

That was with something approaching a full-strength side, a luxury that the Fiorentina manager, Cesare Prandelli, has already acknowledged he will not have at his disposal tomorrow night. The former Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu, who tore the meniscus in his knee earlier this month, was ruled out of this game by his manager on Sunday, as was his most likely replacement, Stevan Jovetic – the scorer of both Fiorentina's goals against Liverpool in September – though the latter has since trained and still hopes to be involved. The centre-back Alessandro Gamberini is also out injured.

"We are better than last season, this squad has matured a great deal," said the Fiorentina captain, Dario Dainelli, when reminded of last year's defeat to Lyon. But in the league, at least, there has been scant evidence of improvement.

After a 3-2 defeat to newly-promoted Parma on Saturday, Fiorentina sit sixth, two points worse off than they were at the corresponding point last term. Many fans are frustrated at the club's failure to reinvest more than a fraction of the €20.5m they received when selling Felipe Melo to Juventus in the summer. A defence that had already given up five goals in two Champions League games against Debrecen was opened up far too easily by Parma, and Prandelli will be all too aware that Lyon have scored at least once in every Champions League game they have played since the 2007-08 season. That puts a lot of pressure on Gilardino – sent off in the first leg for what was ruled to be an elbow on Jérémy Toulalan – who is likely to play alone up front in the absence of Mutu and Jovetic.

Lyon, however, have injuries of their own to contend with, and are likely to be without midfielders Maxime Gonalons and Toulalan, full-backs Anthony Réveillère and François Clerc and centre-back Mathieu Bodmer. Although they sit third in Ligue 1, Claude Puel's side are also coming off a disappointing result, having conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with a last-placed Grenoble team who had previously claimed one point from 12 games.

The French side has already qualified but their captain Cris insisted that did not mean they would take their foot off the pedal tomorrow. "The objective was to qualify, now we have the chance to get first place," said Cris. "It will be hard because Fiorentina want to book their place. We're expecting a very physical match."

Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard Raring To Go Against Debrecen

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard cannot wait to have a go against Debrecen and salvage a season that has gone awry for his club.

The Reds have registered only one victory in their last ten outings in all competitions and are on the brink of bowing out of the Champions League, ahead of Tuesday's trip to Hungary.

"The mood in the camp is really good, although we know our position in the table isn't good enough," Gerrard is quoted by the Press Association as saying.

"But we have faith in our ability. We know we can put things right.

"It's been a frustrating few weeks because as soon as I was fit we had the international break. I've been desperate to play and can't wait to really get going properly again."

Only a win for Liverpool and a loss for Fiorentina against Olympique Lyonnais will ensure that the Merseysiders have their fate in their own hands.

Liverpool Can Make The Champions League Knock-Out Stage - Martin Skrtel

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel believes that the Reds can make it through to the knock-out phase in the Champions League.

The Merseyside club do not have their fate in their own hands at the moment, as a win against Debrecen will have to be followed by a victory for Olympique Lyonnais away at Fiorentina to ensure that Rafael Benitez's charges remain in the running to reach the last 16.

Should the aforementioned outcomes come to pass, the Anfield outfit would still need to beat the Viola in the final game of the group stage in order to progress.

"We now have a big game coming up on Tuesday, and we have to forget about the [Manchester] City result [2-2 draw] and start thinking about Debrecen because it is a game we have to win," said Skrtel, according to the Press Association.

"I am looking forward to it and I will give my all to try and help us get a good result. We believe we can get to the last 16."

The Slovakia international scored his first goal in a red jersey in Saturday's stalemate at Anfield.

"I was very happy to score my first goal for Liverpool at the weekend," he said.

"I have been waiting a long time for it, so it was a good moment for me.

"I am in my third season here and hadn't managed to score until Saturday, but I hope this is the first of many.

"But we were frustrated to have drawn again and we are not happy because of that. But there is nothing we can do about the result now and we have to look forward to the next game and try to win."

Burnley And Liverpool Fans Outperforming Teams In Premier League

English soccer clubs Burnley and Liverpool may be some distance from the top of the Premier League table, but the two clubs' fans top the 'Behaviour of the Public' Fair Play League, putting them in line for a lucrative windfall.

£20,000 will be paid to the official supporters' club of the team that tops the table at the end of the season. A maximum of ten points per match are awarded for fan behaviour by match delegates.

Burnley and Liverpool fans have seen mixed fortunes on the pitch for their teams. Just three points separates seventh-place Liverpool from Burnley, in tenth, but the latter are likely to be far more satisfied in a season in which Burnley were expected to battle relegation and Liverpool to challenge for the title.

Back in the Behaviour of the Public table, Sunderland are the closest club behind second-place Liverpool, while Bolton Wanderers sit bottom of the table.

Benitez Hails Progress Liverpool Have Made Under His Guidance

Rafa Benitez, the coach of English soccer club Liverpool, has hailed the progress the club has made both on and off the pitch during the last five years.

Benitez and the club's owners, American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have all faced criticism at various times for the club's failure to challenge effectively for the Premier League title. The current season has thrown up its own challenges; Benitez was speaking before the weekend's draw with Manchester City, which left the club seventh in the table after just one win in six Premier League games.

However, Benitez, who won the Champions League with the club in 2005 and reached the final again in 2007, insists the club is progressing. "There is a massive difference between five years ago and now," he told The Times newspaper. "The name of the club round the world is at the same level as it was in the 1980s. It's a fantastic achievement. Everybody talks about Liverpool in a good way. And we will get better."

The club's good reputation is showing on the balance sheet, with a record shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered agreed this summer, and followed by a string of other lucrative commercial deals.

Benitez also dismissed fears for the current season, saying: "People are worried. But the team will improve. When we have key players on the pitch we are as good as anyone. We have proved this in the past."

Rafael Benitez 'Manipulates' Liverpool Fans To Hide The Fact His Team Are Going Nowhere, Blasts Anfield Legend Jamie Redknapp

Former Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp has questioned Rafael Benitez's management and claims that he manipulates the club's fans.

On the eve of Liverpool's crunch Champions League showdown in Hungary against Debrecen - where they could fail to reach the last 16 for the first time under Benitez - Redknapp offered a wide-ranging criticism of the Anfield boss.

Redknapp believes Benitez should abandon the controversial zonal marking system and questioned whether Fernando Torres will want to stay if Liverpool are only in the Europa League next season.

Redknapp, who played more than 300 games for the club between 1991 and 2002, said:

'They have won one in 10 now and fans will be thinking. They are firmly behind him, though, he manipulates the fans, he gets them how he wants them.

'But there comes a time, if they go out of Europe this week and then lose at Everton, that the fans are swayed and will say that we have to look at him now.

'That team is not really going anywhere. The problem you will get is that will Fernando Torres want to play in the Europa League? I don't think so.

'If they don't get into the top four at the end of this season, it will be a major problem.

'You have huge problems going on behind the scenes with the owners, but it is too easy to blame that. On the pitch the players are not playing well enough, that's a fact.'

On Liverpool's defensive problems, Redknapp was equally damning.

He added: 'A few years ago zonal marking was the best format because they were one of the best defenders from set pieces.

'But the reason for that was that they had Peter Crouch and Sami Hyypia, two guys who are 6ft 5in plus.

'It doesn't matter how you defend when the ball comes in, zonal or man to man, they will clear it.

'Now you have a situation where people are not taking responsibility.

'You might have to turn round and say that zonal isn't working, let's go man for man.

'At the moment he is giving players excuses, teams look at it and think they will score against Liverpool.'