Thursday, November 26, 2009

Match Report: Debrecen 0 - 1 Liverpool

Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League after a bitterly disappointing victory in the Hungarian capital.

They needed to win to give themselves any chance of reaching the last 16, but events in Florence ended those dreams with Fiorentina achieving the victory they needed to qualify.

David Ngog scored Liverpool's early winner, but they struggled painfully to produce a convincing display, the damage having been done in two games against Lyon that cost them four points.

The road to Madrid, where the Champions League final is due to be played, now becomes the road to Hamburg - where the new Europa League will reach its conclusion - with Liverpool in with the likes of Valencia, Benfica and neighbours Everton.

The Reds' reliance on Lyon to make a game of it in Florence proved misplaced and they failed for the first time in six seasons under Benitez to reach the last 16.

It was the end result everybody expected on the night but Liverpool left the Hungarian capital deflated.

The cost is little more than a couple of million pounds this season for Liverpool, who continually stress that they never budget for anything but the group stages.

But it is a severe blow to the esteem of a true European power who have suffered a fall from grace few would have predicted when the competition started in September.

The true damage comes next season if they fail to finish in the Premier League's top four, something they are far from certain of. That would see them lose a cool £10m immediately and put further question marks over the financial direction the club is facing.

Liverpool had Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio back from injury, otherwise it was the same side that drew with Manchester City on Saturday - with Ryan Babel out with an ankle injury and Yossi Benayoun on the bench, suggesting that his hamstring injury is still not completely healed.

Debrecen made eight changes from the side that beat Honved in the Hungarian league at the weekend, and included seven of the side that lost 1-0 in the opening group match back in August at Anfield.

And Liverpool could not have asked for a better start to settle any nerves as they went ahead after just four minutes with the Hungarians having barely touched the ball.

Aurelio's cross from the right curled to the far post for Jamie Carragher to head back across goal, where Ngog guided the ball with the outside of his right foot in off the keeper and the far post.

Twice Dirk Kuyt narrowly failed to get on the end of close-range crosses as Liverpool sought a second.

But they began to get sloppy, giving the ball away with over-ambitious passes which wasted the impressive movement that had Debrecen struggling.

Debrecen also gave away a lot of early free-kicks as they struggled to contain Liverpool, and Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers lost patience and booked Zoltan Szelesi for a foul on Gerrard.

Vukasin Poleksic twice saved well from Ngog, with Liverpool having 70 per cent of the possession.

But news of a Fiorentina goal against Lyon was enough to silence the travelling support and change the mood.

Debrecen's first opportunity soon followed with Gergely Rudolf heading wide when unmarked in the area. Liverpool needed, at least, to settle the issue with a second goal in this match as Debrecen continued to grow in confidence.

Poleksic made another fine save to turn away a close-range Gerrard effort after he was set up by Johnson.

Debrecen then sent on striker Adamo Coulibaly in place of Peter Szakaly. The big Frenchman had caused Liverpool plenty of problems earlier in the season.

Now nerves were getting to the Liverpool men as they toiled to clinch the match.

Emiliano Insua lost possession to Rudolf on the edge of the box, regaining the ball as the forward threw himself down in the box.

Agger's run set up a chance for Gerrard but he drove high over from the edge of the box.

Debrecen players were going down at every opportunity now, drawing howls of anger from the home fans.

Benayoun came on for Ngog after 77 minutes, with Debrecen replacing Marcell Fodor with Tibor Dombi a minute later.

Carragher headed an Aurelio corner just wide but the second goal remained elusive for Liverpool.

Kuyt was now the central striker with Benayoun on the right, but it was Liverpool on the defensive as Rudolf forced Jose Reina into a save from a fierce angled drive.

Liverpool sent on Andrea Dossena for Aurelio with a couple of minutes left, Alberto Aquilani replacing Gerrard in injury time.

There was still time for Coulibaly to have a shot kicked clear by Reina as Liverpool clung onto their lead.

Benitez Keeps Focus On Top-Four Finish

Rafael Benitez has confirmed Liverpool will prioritise their bid to make a swift return to the Champions League over a tilt for Europa League glory.

Being winners of Europe's most-prized club trophy in 2005 and finalists in 2007 counts for little now in the wake of an exit in the group stages for the first time in six seasons under Benitez.

A 1-0 win in Budapest against Group E whipping boys Debrecen could not rescue Liverpool, and although they will be considered one of the favourites to win the Europa League, clinching a place in England's top four is Benitez's main target.

After seeing Liverpool's disjointed victory in Hungary and watching helplessly from afar as Fiorentina confirmed their path into the last 16 with a victory over Lyon, Benitez said: "The key now is to finish in the top four to make sure we are in the Champions League group stages for the next season.

"We must concentrate on the next game, and that is the Premier League. Afterwards, if we progress in the Europa League, okay, we can still win a trophy.

"But we have to change our target. We have to think about the league and finishing in the top four. Only then can we also think about the Europa League and the FA Cup."

Benitez maintains that Liverpool would not be in their current position had striker Fernando Torres - still struggling with a serious groin injury - been fit all season.

He said: "I have been talking with two or three senior players, they realise that to be in the final stages of the Champions League every season is not easy.

"However, I do believe that with Torres fit, we would have got through into the last 16. It is the same with Steven Gerrard, he has been injured, but when you see him back on the pitch you know that with him (fit) also we would not now be in this position."

Benitez knows the financial implications of not returning to next season's Champions League.

Currently seventh in the Premier League, their position as part of England's 'big four' is under serious threat from Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

Benitez said: "We want to be as high as possible in the league so we have to start by winning the next game. And that's at Everton on Sunday.

"I can say to our fans that we will improve in the league. We can see Gerrard playing again, we have (Yossi) Benayoun also coming back from injury.

"We have (Alberto) Aquilani who is fit now. We can use him when before it was not easy because of his fitness and injury.

"We have had problems with injuries to our centre-backs, but we now have four who are fit for the first time for a long while.

"For me these are the positive things that we can look forward to for the rest of the season."

He added: "If I could change anything, it would be to have our big players fit. For a change it would be good to have a problem of who to select, before this has not been the case.

"It has been difficult with Aquilani. He has not been fit so he has no match fitness, therefore I cannot use him.

"Then if he doesn't play games, he cannot get the match fitness. That has been the difficult circle of events for him and for me to overcome.

"It was difficult again against Debrecen. Early on we could have scored two or three more goals, but towards the end we were under pressure and I could not risk bringing him on in such a situation, he would have needed time to settle.

"I have talked to him and explained. He has to keep working hard in every training session. His chance will come."

The damage to Liverpool's Champions League campaign was done in two games against Lyon that produced just one point.

Benitez said: "In the end we could not control events elsewhere. But we won (against Debrecen) and that is good, now we must concentrate on doing the same against Everton.

"I do not know whether Torres can play against Everton. He has been working and training all week, but when his injury was assessed we were told that he would need three weeks of treatment.

"At the moment he has had just over two weeks, so we will have to see how he is nearer to the match."

Graeme Souness: Rafa Benitez Is Living On Past Glories At Liverpool

Liverpool legend Graeme Souness blames the American owners for the current problems at Anfield, but also insists that manager Rafa Benitez is relying on past glory to keep him in his job.

The former manager also believes that Fernando Torres will be sold should the Reds not manage to qualify for next season's Champions League.

"If you ask me about any managers, particularly Liverpool managers because I know how difficult that job is, I'm not going to tell you 'this one should go or that one should stay', but I think he's very fortunate that he's managing Liverpool," Souness told Sky Sports.

"At Liverpool you get more of a chance than any of the other big clubs out there. He's very lucky that he won that European Cup so early on in his reign.

"I think that's bought him a lot of time, and there's still a great deal of affection out there for him with the people in Liverpool.

"But if they lose to Everton on Sunday and I think that would be another hard blow for the red side of Liverpool to take.

"It's a hard business today managing at the highest level, but again I'm trying to look beyond personnel. I worked for them for a long, long time and some of the best days of my footballing career were at Liverpool, and I worry about the bigger picture.

"I'm not worrying about the present players, the present management, the present owners. They're only custodians.

"When you own a big football club, a club that's steeped in tradition, you're there to look after it and hopefully pass it on in better nick than when you got it.

"I don't think those two Americans will be doing that this time around. I think Liverpool's crying out for somebody from the Middle East to come with a big fat cheque that allows them to take care of the debt and allows them to move forward.

"As long as they've got that debt hanging round their neck they're going nowhere. They are going nowhere fast, and the big danger for me is that they drop out of the Champions League places this season now and they can no longer attract the best players.

"All of a sudden they're having to unload some of their biggest assets.

"If they're not in the Champions League next year I think that will cause Liverpool major problems.

"I would suggest that if that is the case then anything could happen in terms of people leaving Liverpool.

"And the biggest asset they have is Torres.

"If you're not in the Champions League you're not going to attract the best players."

Reina Expects Liverpool Fans To Keep The Faith As Reds Are Dumped Into The Europa League

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina expects Liverpool fans to keep faith with the Merseysiders despite the five-time European champions crashing out of the Champions League on Tuesday night.

Liverpool's 1-0 victory over Debrecen, their first win in a month and only their second in 11 outings, was rendered irrelevant after Fiorentina edged past Lyon by the same scoreline in the other Group E match.

It means, regardless of results in the final round of matches next month, Rafa Benitez's side will enter the knockout stages of the far less prestigious UEFA Europa League in the new year.

Reina has already shifted focus to securing victory in the rebranded UEFA Cup and is sure the weary Liverpool fans can do the same.

'They will trust us, they will support us, they will be behind us and that's why they are Liverpool supporters,' said the 27-year-old. 'I don't need to tell them anything because they already know we always play 100 per cent.'

Failure to progress from the group stage heaps more pressure on beleaguered boss Benitez, although he was assured of his future last night by the club's managing director Christian Purslow.

The Spaniard faces an almighty battle to secure Champions League football next season, with Liverpool already 13 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea.

However, Reina is confident that adding silverware of any form will be a huge filip for the club come the end of the season.

'Of course we're disappointed because the Champions League is a big competition that we've done well in for the last three or four years,' added the stopper. 'Now we're out, though. It's a tough competition and it's not always possible to get out of the group stage.

'The Europa League is another competition for us and we want to win it. It also has strong teams and it will be nice to play in it. It's already become a target. It'll be tough because there are so many good teams involved.

'We have to look forward and keep trying to win. We haven't had too many of those recently. We have to move on and keep fighting.'

Next up for Liverpool on Sunday is a trip to rivals Everton, themselves struggling on the domestic front. The Reds won the corresponding fixture 2-0 last season and have enjoyed the lion's share of the points up for grabs at Goodison Park in recent years.

And for Reina, there would be no better way to forget about Liverpool's European travails than with victory over the Toffees.

'To beat Everton is always huge, especially for the fans. We'll be trying because we also need to win in the league and in the race for fourth place.'

Liverpool Could Be Counting The Cost Of Early Exit For Years

It is impossible to calculate precisely the financial cost to Liverpool of their dire failure to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage but it is safe to assess it as several million pounds the club could have seriously done without losing.

Uefa has secured a significantly improved TV deal this season, from €820m (£740m) overall to €1.05bn (£948m), and dishes the money out according to the stage each club reaches and how far other clubs from that country advance too. The earlier other clubs go out, the greater the share of the TV "market pool" which accrues to the clubs left in the competition.

If, as is unlikely, England's three other clubs are knocked out in the next round, Liverpool's loss will be lessened. Last season, when Liverpool were eliminated in the quarter-final by Chelsea, and Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all reached the semi-final, Liverpool earned €23.2m from Uefa for their participation in the Champions League, which included around €8m for the knockout stage.

In addition to the Uefa money they will not earn, the club will also lose the bounty from guaranteed full houses on knockout-stage nights at Anfield; they may have to consider dropping ticket prices to bring in the crowds for Europa League fixtures.

It is difficult to avoid the sense that last night's exit represents more than a drop in form for Liverpool, partly explicable by injuries. There is a feeling that the club's hold on its place among English football's elite is weakening, with failures on the pitch married damagingly to the mess off it, where the two North American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, could hardly be less loved.

They saddled the club with the £174m cost of their own takeover, which was completed so they could build Liverpool a new stadium of which there is no sign. In the year to 31 July 2008 the Anfield club, previously considered too careful at times with money, had passed £300m in debt, and more than a year on, that financial position will look no prettier.

By May we will know how much last night's elimination from the Champions League cost Liverpool in lost euros as well as wounded pride. The club cannot make the outdated claim that they can now concentrate on the league but they do need to dedicate themselves to retaining their precious place in the Premier League's top four.

A failure to qualify for the Champions League at all will cause a truly serious financial loss next season. Then, they could begin to fall terminally away from United, Chelsea and Arsenal and the other big city pretenders finally closing in on that fourth place, the gateway to euro-riches.

Manchester United And Liverpool Set For Further Asian Exposure

Goal TV, Asia’s pan-nation soccer television network, is to be broadcast in Indonesia for the first time, allowing fans of European soccer clubs in the country to see more of their teams. The two channels, Goal TV 1 and Goal TV 2, will particularly focus on English Premier League clubs Manchester United and Liverpool, the two European clubs with the strongest following in the region.

The channels will feature delayed coverage of games plus highlights from the English Premier League and the Uefa Champions League as well as showing Spanish football and the German Bundesliga. Dedicated club programming will also feature heavily, as will live coverage of games from the Scottish Premier League, Dutch Eredivisie and the Championship, England’s second-tier league.

The channels will be broadcast via the First Media platform in Indonesia, the latest of 12 Asian countries to take the channel since its launch in 2004.

English champions United are particularly popular in Indonesia. The club had planned a lucrative pre-season friendly in Jakarta in July before a terrorist attack forced the team to cancel a 100,000 sell-out game against an all-star team from the Indonesian Super League, a move which cost the club an estimated US$2 million in revenues.

Mascherano - Reds Will Bounce Back

Javier Mascherano is confident Liverpool will bounce back strongly from their early exit from the Champions League.

Tuesday night's win in Debrecen was not enough to save their flagging European campaign as Fiorentina's defeat of Lyon ensured Liverpool's demise.

Critics of Rafa Benitez have been given further fuel to throw on the fire in light of the most crushing of eliminations.

With Liverpool also badly underperforming in the league the pressure is mounting on everyone associated with the Merseyside outfit.

But midfielder Mascherano insists Liverpool will be strong in the face of adversity and not let this latest setback ruin the rest of their season.

"It's a strange feeling for everyone at the club," he told the Liverpool Echo.

"The Champions League is a special competition for us but it's gone and we must keep going.

"Now we are in another competition and we will do all we can to win that. There will be no problem with motivation. The motivation is simply to play for Liverpool.

"Liverpool deserve more from us and that is why we will do our best to win the Europa League."

The Argentine believes Liverpool can soon get back on track, starting with Sunday's crunch derby with Everton.

"We know it is going to be very difficult on Sunday but this is a really important game for us and for our supporters and we have got to start winning in the league again by beating Everton."

Rafa 'Under No Threat' - Purslow

Liverpool tried desperately to put a brave face on their first Champions League exit at the group stages for six years.

Chief executive Christian Purslow insisted manager Rafael Benitez's position "is under no threat" and skipper Steven Gerrard vowed that Liverpool would win the Europa League.

Benitez, meanwhile, claimed he was "more disappointed for the players, the staff and the fans" than for himself.

But in the cold light of day they will no doubt review the 1-0 win over a poor Debrecen side - with Fiorentina securing qualification by beating Lyon by the same scoreline - as a bitter pill to swallow.

Purslow made a point of doing media briefings after the game, and said: "You can never predict last-minute goals, which have cost us dear in the Champions League. That's no basis to make managerial decisions.

"We don't run our business in that respect. I'm on the record as saying Rafa's signed a new five-year contract, he's four months into that contract so to discuss that is not appropriate. He is under no threat."

Referring to the financial damage of missing out on qualification from the group phase, Purslow added: "It's limited actually. Assuming we have a reasonable run in the Europa League then we are financially neutral for this year."

And after David Ngog's early strike had secured Liverpool their win in the Ferenc Puskas stadium, Gerrard said: "Of course it's disappointing, we played fantastically well tonight and despite getting three points we don't progress.

"Now we'll be in the Europa League so we'll try to win that. The main prize has gone and to be playing in the Europa League is disappointing but we have to accept that, move on and try to win that competition.

"The only consolation for us now is if we go on and win the secondary one."

Benitez turned the focus onto Sunday's Merseyside derby at Everton, and said: "It was our own fault in the end, the late goals we have conceded along the way have cost us. We have been so good in the last few years that maybe people think it is easy to qualify in all competitions.

"Because of that, people think we can do it every season. But you cannot always, now we have a massive game on Sunday at Everton and we have to be ready for it.

"We have to be disappointed, we knew we had to win and we did that. You cannot change what happened in Florence, but at least we did our job.

"If you analyse the other group games, losing two late goals in two games with Lyon has been the massive difference. It has cost us four points from goals conceded in injury time.

"I like to win every game, I like to be as high as possible in every league table. But I have to be positive because you could see the players working so hard on a very difficult pitch.

"In this situation I think more about the players, the staff and the fans. I am disappointed for everyone.

"Now we have new targets. We are in a very bad position because now we cannot win the Champions League again, we know that, so the next game has to be won."

Liverpool Legend Tommy Smith Slams American Owners For Cutting Rafa Benitez Adrift In Europe

Liverpool legend Tommy Smith has put the blame on the club's American owners for the failure to make the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Last night's 1-0 win at Debrecen was not enough because Fiorentina beat Lyon by the same score to ensure Rafael Benitez's side will be contesting the Europa League after Christmas.

And Smith, who won two European Cups with Liverpool during a 16-year career at Anfield, is pointing the finger not at Benitez but George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

Tough-tackling defender Smith scored when Liverpool 3-1 to beat Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977, and admits he is heartbroken at their not reaching the last 16.

He said: 'Europe’s upper echelons is where Liverpool Football Club belongs. So being dumped out of a Champions League group which any Liverpool side should ordinarily have been able to conquer, is not good enough.

'Liverpool supporters are magnificent and unique - and the reason why Rafael Benitez and everyone at Anfield knows they deserve far better than they’re suddenly getting this season.

'And the question is, will the owners, who hardly ever turn up to watch a game, either sell up or somehow give him the money he needs to ensure this stuttering and deeply frustrating season is not repeated?'

Smith added it was 'bitterly disappointing' to slip into Europe's second-tier trophy and paid tribute to the Anfield fans.

He added: 'My thoughts last night went out to those magnificent Liverpool fans who stood in the rain in Hungary at the end on a cold November night singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

'They weren’t booing, screaming at players or calling for the manager’s head. No. They stuck with the team and shared the deep disappointment, singing their hearts out to try and lift everyone’s spirits.

'Certainly those fans will give the manger time to sort it out.'

Liverpool Must Win A Trophy This Season, Says Fábio Aurélio

The Brazilian defender Fábio Aurélio has said that Liverpool must win a trophy this season, following their failure to reach the Champions League knockout stages. Aurélio, back from a calf injury, played in midfield for Liverpool yesterday as they beat the Hungarian champions Debrecen 1-0 but were eliminated from the competition due to Fiorentina's win over Lyon.

"It is a big disappointment to be out of the Champions League, but we have to win a trophy," said Aurélio. "A big team like Liverpool must accept that. The Europa League is an opportunity to win a trophy and that's how we will go into this competition thinking. At Liverpool, every competition is important, we want to win trophies.

"We will have a great chance to get a trophy and we'll go for it, but there is still a long way go until May and we have to improve."

Aurélio refused to make excuses for the defeat, and conceded that Liverpool were not as solid at the back as they have been in the past.

"Being Liverpool, you expect to go much further in the competition than we have done this season," he added. "But now we cannot allow ourselves to dwell on what has happened, we must concentrate on the future to fight for a different title, the Europa League.

"We also have the challenge to do things better in the Premier League as well. It is difficult to know where this campaign has gone wrong, but against Lyon we lost goals in the last minutes of both games and that has made the difference.

"Liverpool used to be more solid in defence, and we have only scored four goals in five games in the group matches, so we have to improve in all areas. We have been missing a lot of players through injury problems, so we have to think that things can only improve in that situation."