Monday, November 30, 2009

Match Report: Everton 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Liverpool claimed a smash and grab Merseyside derby victory to claim fifth place in the Premier League on a day of raw tension at Goodison Park.

But they will have sighed with relief after being pounded for almost all of this very local showdown, but somehow emerged with the points.

An own goal from Joseph Yobo, deflecting a Javier Mascherano effort past Tim Howard saw Liverpool ahead at the break despite being almost permanently on the back foot as Everton poured forward.

But their eighth win in their last 10 visits to Goodison Park was secured with 10 minutes to go when Dirk Kuyt scored from close range after another Yobo error.

Everton were the dominant force, but could not turn their pressure into goals, with Liverpool now having lost just two of their last 20 league games against the old enemy.

Rarely can a Merseyside derby have been played out with both rival managers - David Moyes and Rafael Benitez - having had to handle questions over their longevity in their jobs.

The 212th clash between these bitterest of rivals certainly held the immediate futures of both seriously under-achieving clubs. Everton, fighting to get away from the relegation zone and Liverpool desperate to put their distressing season back on track.

Everton made four changes from the side that lost so poorly at Hull in midweek, Tony Hibbert, Jo, Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov all returning with youngster Jack Rodwell the most notable omission with a groin injury.

Liverpool fielded the side that had won in Hungary against Debrecen, but could not save the Reds' Champions League lives.

And again there was no Fernando Torres in the squad, leaving young striker David Ngog to continue his Premier League education in the unforgiving glare of a derby battlefield.

With so much at stake, the opening exchanges were even more ferocious than usual. Mascherano and Tim Cahill traded kicks and warnings from referee Alan Wiley, with Cahill finding himself dumped on the track by the Argentina captain.

But it was Mascherano who was soon celebrating, having had a major part in Liverpool's 12th-minute lead.

Everton criminally allowed the midfielder to advance towards their box, where he lashed in a 20 yarder that deflected off Yobo and into the opposite corner than had been intended with Howard hopelessly wrongfooted.

It was the lead Liverpool had craved, but one that ignited a fierce and sustained response from Everton.

Twice they had the ball in the net before the break, but two efforts by Jo were ruled out for offside, the second when Fellaini blocked Jose Reina right on the line.

But there were other chances for Everton, with Bilyaletdinov managing to shoot wide from six yards when it would have been easier to score.

Reina saved from Russian winger, while the excellent Steven Pienaar was twice close as Everton surged forward in search of an equaliser they fully deserved.

Liverpool were barely noticeable up front, although Kuyt fired over and Howard made a fine save from Emiliano Insua's close-range header.

But they were rare excursions into enemy territory for Liverpool in a one-sided first-half.

Everton came out after the break intent on more of the same. They hurled themselves at Liverpool's creaking defence in which Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were working overtime to keep the blue waves at bay.

Liverpool were hanging on under the most searching of examinations. Saha replaced Jo after 66 minutes, still Everton rolling relentlessly forward.

Yobo managed to deflect an Ngog effort wide, but that was a rare venture out by Liverpool.

Reina produced a stunning double-save from Cahill and then Fellaini, Liverpool penned back and defending with increasing desperation.

In all of this, Steven Gerrard was a peripheral figure. Clearly short of pace and movement he was unable to influence what was going on all around him, until taking a hand in the critical second goal.

Ngog was finally withdrawn with 15 minutes to go, Yossi Benayoun arriving to play on the right with Kuyt taking the central attacking role. Albert Riera was next into the fray, in place of Fabio Aurelio, somehow Liverpool still ahead.

But with 10 minutes left, all Everton's brave efforts came to nothing as Liverpool dealt them a sickening blow.

Reina's long clearance was headed down by Kuyt with Yobo slashing wildly at the ball. It fell to Gerrard who set up Riera for a shot that Howard pushed into the path of Kuyt, who stabbed home the second.

Ayegbeni Yakubu came off for Cahill, and Lucas Neill for a crestfallen Yobo. But it was all over for Everton, who will never know how they lost this one.

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool Would Be Crazy To Get Rid Of Rafa Benitez

Javier Mascherano has claimed it would be madness for Liverpool to part company with Rafa Benitez.

Mascherano has been linked to a New Year move to long-time admirers Barcelona – but he insists the players and fans are right behind Benitez in his hour of need.

Mascherano said: “You can’t talk about changing the manager, that would be crazy. The fans are right behind Rafa Benitez – and I know the players definitely are.

“We know you can’t just take recent results into account. Liverpool have improved a lot over the last five years – and that is all down to Rafa. Remember, the club didn’t qualify for the Champions League every year before he came to the club.

“The fact that people think it is normal for us to be in the Champions League and challenging for trophies is down to one man – the manager.

“There is a big disappointment that we suffered in Europe, but now we must start winning games in the league.

“Rafa signed a new contract only a few months ago. I think the players, the fans, the owners all believe in him.”

Mascherano says it is crucial that Liverpool produce the form that will enable them to claim a place in the top four once again. The Argentina captain insists he still hasn’t given up on the title – but knows that a victory at Goodison is vital.

Mascherano said: “It is still not impossible to win the league, but our first job is to get back into the top four and qualify for the Champions League. When you see Chelsea winning all the time you have to accept that getting to the top will be very difficult for us, but our first job is to start winning games regularly and see what the future brings.

“It sounds stupid to talk about winning the League, but if Chelsea start to lose some games then maybe we will be given a chance to get back into it. At the moment, though, the aim must be the top four and it is down to the players to show we are the right players for Liverpool.”

He added: “Liverpool expect to win every game because we are a top club. We cannot think of going to Everton to just draw. That would not be a good result for us in our position.

“We have to go there and win. We can’t think about injuries or off-the-field distractions.

“We want to win for the fans and for Rafa Benitez. We know how special it is to beat Everton.”

Jurgen Klinsmann's After Kop Offer No.2

Jurgen Klinsmann will tell Liverpool's American co-owners: I wouldn't turn you down again.

The ex-Germany striker rejected the chance to replace Rafa Benitez at Anfield two years ago after holding secret talks with Tom Hicks and George Gillett, preferring instead to take over at Bayern Munich.

But he is back in the job market after being sacked in the summer and desperately wants to take over on Merseyside when Benitez's reign ends.

Klinsmann, 44, is no longer the first choice of Hicks and Gillett as the Spaniard's replacement.

That man is Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill, as People Sport revealed last month.

But the former Tottenham star would jump at the chance to take over if O'Neill rejected any approach from the Americans.

With Benitez's future on a knife-edge, that opportunity could come sooner rather than later.

The pressure is mounting on Benitez, whose side are out of the Champions League and whose hopes of winning the Premier League are effectively over.

The cost of sacking Benitez and his backroom staff - around £15million - is one obstacle for the cash-strapped owners.

But plans are afoot for a financial injection in January.

One option available is a shares-selling exercise which could release around £100million.

Liverpool Will Never Agree To Everton Ground-share Proposal

Liverpool have rejected the chance to share a super-stadium with Everton.

Sunday Mirror Sport can reveal that Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will not accept a proposal from Blues chief executive Robert Elstone that the Merseyside rivals should ground share.

A senior Anfield source said: “There is absolutely no chance that Liverpool will be sharing a stadium with Everton. It will never happen.”

Elstone called on Liverpool to go to the negotiating table after the government refused to grant permission for Everton to build a £400million new stadium and retail park in Kirkby.

Liverpool have had plans rubber-stamped for a 60,000-capacity stadium at Stanley Park.

But the project had to be shelved when the economic downturn made it impossible for them to finance the development.

However, the club’s American owners are confident that they will secure the £350m they need for the stadium once the pressure on the financial markets has eased.

And they expect to raise about £150m of the cash through stadium naming rights.

The gap in capacity between the Mersey giants and the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal has led to a gulf in revenue that shows no sign of changing.

And stadium ownership is one of the main assets football clubs can use on their balance sheet.

Rafa Benitez Ready To Bring Diego Forlan Back To Premier League

Rafa Benitez wants to bring Diego Forlan back to the Premier League - but must sell before he can buy the former Manchester United hitman.

Liverpool boss Benitez has also asked about another ex-United striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But Atletico Madrid raider Forlan, 30, is his first choice for a January swoop, although Benitez would have to stump up around £15million.

Forlan is desperate to leave his club, who are struggling near the foot of La Liga and also out of the Champions League.

The Uruguay international was not a resounding success during two years at Old Trafford but since going to Spain has been prolific for Villarreal and Atletico, shooting both clubs into the Champions League.

Forlan joined Atletico when Fernando Torres left them for Liverpool in 2007, but he could end up partnering the Spain international at Anfield. Benitez has also shown interest in Van Nistelrooy. But he will only want the Dutchman on a free if he fails to snap up Forlan.

Babel Heads For Exit To Bayern

Liverpool are ready to offload motormouth Ryan Babel to Bayern Munich.

Boss Rafa Benitez lost patience after the Holland star complained about his lack of starts for the club in midweek.

He will be loaned to Louis van Gaal's side with a view to a £9million move in the summer.

A source said: "Rafa has totally blanked Babel since his outburst. He understands some of his concerns but has made it clear to the player more than once he will only play who he believes to be his strongest XI and won't budge.

"Rafa cannot give Babel the assurances he needs with the World Cup coming up so he will let him go if he's not happy.

"The manager's only concern with this is that he won't be getting any money to improve the squad from the move."

Former Ajax star Babel has only made 24 Premier League starts since arriving at Anfield for £11.5m in the summer of 2007.

Holland boss Bert van Marwijk has told Babel he will only go to the World Cup if he plays regularly.

But Babel's representatives are already working to secure a perfect escape route.

Van Gaal has known Babel since he was a child and is confident the 22-year-old can make his mark at Bayern and the club have no problem taking on his £40,000-per-week wages.

The Dutch coach's ongoing feud with Italian striker Luca Toni is also likely to give Babel an opportunity to play up front with either Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose.

Benitez Wants Aurelio To Be Realistic

Brazilian Fabio Aurelio, 30, has been offered an appearance-related deal to seal his Liverpool future after this season.

Boss Rafa Benitez wants a 'realistic' agreement because of the full-back's injury record.

Aurelio, who was in the most recent Brazil squad for the friendly against England, is available on a Bosman next summer.

Benitez said: "Fabio has been really unlucky. When we spoke to him about an extension he had an injury and he has had a lot of injuries in the past.

"We made him an offer and the agent said not at the moment.

"We will talk to him again in the future because he is a good person and great professional.

"Maybe the situation needs to be looked at in a different way. He has to be realistic. I know he's pleased here and the important thing is I have a good relationship with him."

Benitez Lost Young Stars

Rafa Bennitez is on a mission to plug the Anfield fame drain which has seen stars like Jack Rodwell, Aaron Ramsey and Darren Fletcher slip through the net.

Rodwell played against Liverpool on Sunday in the Merseyside derby – a constant, painful reminder to Kop boss Benitez of the calibre of teenage starlets he has been denied – with Merseyside neighbours Everton beating them to his signature.

It’s understood Ramsey was also close to becoming a Liverpool player before they lost out to Arsenal because of behind-the-scenes dithering.

Fletcher escaped the Anfield clutches, too, and ended up in the grateful arms of bitter rivals Manchester United.

But Benitez is now hell-bent on securing such obvious talent in the future and has definitely adopted a more hands-on approach to the club’s academy since the departure of old Kop idol Steve Heighway.

The arrival of Kenny Dalglish has taken the academy to another level in terms of status and Benitez believes that promising kids will be attracted by such a famous figurehead.

It’s Benitez’s new ‘baby’ which he hopes will produce stars of the future over the next fi ve years of his contract, when his Liverpool dynasty will be a giant step closer to completion.

Benitez knows he can’t compete cash-wise with the likes of United and Chelsea, so discovering a golden nugget or two is the way ahead for him and Liverpool.

He said: “When I was discussing my new contract, people were saying it was about money. It wasn’t. I had better offers in terms of money.

“It wasn’t power either. I didn’t need more power. Before Rick Parry left I could do more or less what I wanted, although I couldn’t sign more players because sometimes it was the lack of money or we were too slow.

“I have the same control as I had before. But the difference now is the academy. I have an influence and people in the academy I can trust. The philosophy of the club is now the same. We are working together.

“I’m not stupid. If we have more Jamie Carraghers, more Steven Gerrards, it will be better and easier because the motivation and the commitment will be there.

“The message now is that we have Kenny Dalglish and his team and we are trying to do something which makes sense. It’s common sense. We couldn’t change things for five years and now we can.”

It’s the arrival of Dalglish which has certainly put a spring in Benitez’s step and given him more hope than ever before that his squad will be strengthened from within without gambling on foreign imports.

Benitez added: “This is the beginning for me. We are thinking about Kenny Dalglish as someone who can bring a lot of people into the club.

“They will think that if Kenny’s there – and he’s a legend – then something is right. We brought him in because with his experience he can certainly help.

“He has been with us around Europe and we have had a lot of conversations. He has had some contact, some meetings with people and young players who want to come. To see Kenny there is amazing.

“But afterwards we have to give them something more and we are doing that. We have improved the equipment and the coaching 100 per cent. And we are now at the beginning of something which can be really good for the team.

“If we can produce three, four, five players from our system that means a massive difference in terms of money.

“When you commit to your club for five years and you know you don’t have the same money available as some of the top sides in England, you know if you are to compete you have to produce local players.

“It’s something very simple to say but it’s not very easy to do. These players don’t grow on trees but I’m clear that we will be even better in the future.”