Sunday, January 03, 2010

Match Report: Reading 1 - 1 Liverpool

Steven Gerrard rescued Liverpool again with an equaliser at the Madejski Stadium to earn an FA Cup third-round replay against Reading and avoid an embarrassing defeat.

It was hardly the most influential performance from Gerrard but the Liverpool skipper produced a goal when his side needed it most, as he does so often, meaning the two clubs will meet again at Anfield.

Simon Church had bundled in an opener to give the hosts the scent of an upset but Gerrard levelled before the break for Rafael Benitez's men.

Liverpool had been defeated on their last visit to Reading's stadium, little more than two years ago, but plenty has changed since the days of Steve Coppell's men upsetting the heavyweights in the Premier League.

The Royals head back into Coca-Cola Championship action sitting just above the relegation zone in 20th place and there is a feeling of frustration from fans against chairman Sir John Madejski, who is yet to appoint a new manager following Brendan Rodgers' dismissal last month.

Reading chief scout Craig McDermott has been in charge and while survival is the priority, a run in the FA Cup tends to boost confidence.

They also had Brian Howard, who scored a famous winner for Barnsley against the Reds in 2008, on the bench after a jaw injury.

Liverpool's season has seen them knocked out of the Champions League and also struggle to keep pace with others teams in the hunt for a top-four place in the Premier League, so the cup has been seen as one of their only genuine chances of success.

With that in mind, Benitez picked a strong team - Gerrard and Fernando Torres started - but they started poorly, not helped by the tricky conditions at Reading's ground, a venue that also hosts rugby games for London Irish.

The hosts had the ball in the net when Jobi McAnuff met Pepe Reina's punch but the header was correctly ruled out as Grzegorz Rasiak was offside and also impeded the Liverpool goalkeeper to allow the finish to trickle over the line.

Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici was fortunate to escape further punishment when he handled outside the penalty area, claiming a ball Gerrard pushed through to Fabio Aurelio. Martin Atkinson only awarding a free-kick.

The West Yorkshire referee was also lenient when he turned down a Reading appeal for a penalty when Martin Skrtel tugged on Gylfi Sigurdsson's shirt, but Emiliano Insua finally went in the book when he fouled McAnuff on the right flank.

That led to Church's strike. Ryan Bertrand swung over the deep free-kick to the far post, with most Liverpool players expecting the ball to drift out of play.

They did not count on Rasiak darting around Lucas Leiva and pulling the ball back from the byline. Church used his shins to tap in from close range for his fifth goal of the season.

Liverpool looked to Torres to get them back in the game and the Spain striker headed just wide when Dirk Kuyt crossed from the right channel.

It was their other talisman, Gerrard, who grabbed the equaliser. The midfielder picked the ball up 25 yards from goal and shaped to cross, with Kuyt stepping over the delivery to fool Federici.

Gerrard sent Torres through before the break and Federici spread himself well to block the finish, and Aurelio also drilled wide when sent through.

Reading's disgruntled fans spotted their former manager on his duties as a pundit and chanted "we want our Coppell back", as they hope for a return to the days of success.

The club have been in freefall since relegation from the top flight two seasons ago and the likes of Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt have been sold - but at least the current players were not giving up. Sigurdsson unleashed a swerving shot that required a decent Reina save.

Torres had threatened just after the break when he went just over the crossbar from the edge of the area.

Federici appeared to pull a hamstring midway through the second half, so Ben Hamer came off the bench and saved on the line from Alberto Aquilani before the end. Torres headed just over in stoppage-time.

Liverpool 'Swoop' For Ruud van Nistelrooy And Rafael van der Vaart

Liverpool could sign Rafael van der Vaart as well as his Real Madrid and Holland team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy in January, according to a report.

With manager Rafael Benitez urgently needing reinforcements, The Sun reports that the much-touted loan deal for former Manchester United striker Van Nistelrooy will be agreed "in the next few days".

But, although Liverpool hope to conclude a six-month loan deal for Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez, the paper also reports that 26-year-old winger Van der Vaart could also be on his way to Anfield in a "dramatic double swoop".

The major sticking point in any deal for Van Nistelrooy, whose contract with the Spanish side expires at the end of the season, is the striker's estimated £140,000 weekly wage packet.

That could see Liverpool turn their attentions to Aston Villa's Emile Heskey, the former Liverpool forward.

Substance As Well As Style With Alberto Aquilani

Patience is a virtue sorely lacking in modern football and that is something Alberto Aquilani will have discovered this week.

Despite the fact he is just starting to find his feet after enduring a 12-month spell that was decimated by injury and included the upheaval of moving to another country, he is being branded a flop two Premier League starts into his Liverpool career.

For some commentators, it wasn’t enough that he stroked the ball around with elan, tried his hardest to launch attacks whenever he received possession or that he kept getting up from every robust tackle that knocked him out of his elegant stride.

No. Judging from some of the views that have been raised in the days since his performances against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa, it has already been decided that Aquilani is going to be a Liverpool flop.

Perhaps his reviews would have been kinder if he had scored goals in each game from inside his own half as well as hitting a series of raking, cross field passes into the path of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, to show he has a telepathic understanding.

But neat and tidy isn’t good enough any more, is it?

In this era when everything must be done yesterday and there is no time for reflection, knee-jerk reactions are commonplace and determine whether footballers are instant triumphs or turkeys.

It is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Had this same rationale been applied at the end of the 1990s, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, for instance, might have been drummed out of Arsenal because the English game was too much for them.

Thanks to a bit of time and understanding, though, they became two of the greatest players ever to appear in the Premier League; now this is not to suggest Aquilani will become an all-time great but you get the picture.

Simply, it is his misfortune that he has to follow in the footsteps of Xabi Alonso; his sale to Real Madrid is used as the reason why Liverpool’s campaign came off the rails and the inference is that the Reds are no longer a force now he has gone.

Yes, Alonso was a majestic player. His five years on Merseyside were littered with many highs, he scored some wonderful goals – not least the equaliser in Istanbul – and he was a terrific ambassador for the club.

The way he conducted himself after moving to Madrid also screamed class, backing Benitez to turn Liverpool’s fortunes around, for instance, when it might have been easy for him to stick the boot in.

What those commentators who are labelling Aquilani as a dud now are conveniently forgetting, though, is that in his penultimate season at Anfield, Alonso had what can kindly be described as a dip in form.

Alonso’s quality is missed at Liverpool but he, like 2009, is now part of the past; 2010 is the future and, contrary to certain opinion, it is bright for Aquilani, particularly if he continues in the same vein he has shown so far.

There have been comparisons made with his style being similar to that of Jamie Redknapp but Aquilani is much more adventurous, eschewing the backwards or sideways option at all cost to push forwards.

That trait – first shown in the Champions League dead rubber with Fiorentina – has been the most encouraging aspect of his start to life here, as has the way Aquilani has not let the physical nature of the English game bother him.

Only by the end of the season will we really be able to truly gauge what Aquilani has brought to the side but, if the body language of Torres and Gerrard are to be used as a barometer, it is so far, so good.

Of course, that he hasn’t done anything headline-grabbing to date, other than arrive with an injury, will mean his worth has already been assessed in certain quarters; fortunately, Merseyside’s footballing public is much more knowledgeable – and patient.

Real Madrid Ready To Part Company With Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy appears to be on his way out of the Santiago Bernabeu after Real Madrid have told the attacker that he will be allowed to leave in the winter transfer window.

The 33-year-old is finding regular first team football hard to come by at Los Merengues and has made only one league appearance for Real Madrid this term, scoring once.

Madrid are reluctant to let any players go in January, but a report in Marca claims that they are ready to make an exception for Van Nistelrooy in order to keep the Dutchman's World Cup dreams alive.

Van Nistelrooy retired from international football after Euro'08, but he recently expressed his desire to make a comeback at the 2010 World Cup in a final attempt to win silverware with Oranje.

The report that Van Nistelrooy may leave Madrid in January will be good news for Liverpool. The beleaguered English powerhouse are believed to be eager to sign the Dutchman.

Liverpool FC Fans Are Finding Their Voice For Lucas

The away section at Villa Park on Tuesday evening was, not surprisingly, a noisy, joyful place after Fernando Torres scored a goal of huge magnitude.

But while the hymn that is dedicated to him was sung long and loud, with plenty of bouncing, he wasn’t the only Liverpool player to be feted in verse by the travelling contingent – the identity of the man in question, though, may come as a surprise.

Having once been shamefully booed when coming on to the pitch for a game at Anfield, Lucas has started to turn the way supporters perceive him and it would not be wrong to suggest his performance at Villa was his best to date for the club.

Running tirelessly and tackling relentlessly, the Brazilian was magnificent in protecting the Reds’ back four and relished the responsibility he was given by Benitez; it was a display that suggested he is coming of age.

Quietly and efficiently, Lucas has been one of Liverpool’s success stories this year and has never gone missing in the big games they have played; more of the same will ensure his name is sung with an increasing frequency.

John Aldridge: Fernando Torres’ Aston Villa Strike Can Transform Liverpool FC Season

A season can change on one pivotal moment and hopefully Fernando Torres’ winner at Villa Park will be it for Liverpool.

We rode our luck a bit and Pepe Reina produced a couple of great saves but it was a fighting performance.

We still have to play better but it was a massive win and the spirit we showed was very pleasing. Hopefully it will restore the belief that seemed to have gone missing.

We’re in a mini league with four teams for fourth place and we’ve got to get our heads down and fight like we did against Villa.

There’s a lot of work to do and we’re going to have to hit a tremendous run of form to finish in the top four.

The problem we’ve got is that Manchester City will spend big this month, but at least on the back of two wins there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s vital we keep grinding out positive results away. Our home form has been similar to last year with us only two points worse off now compared to this stage last season.

However, before the Villa game we were 13 points worse off on our travels. We’ve been so disappointing away but the win at Villa should be a real confidence boost.

Torres only got one chance but he showed his class and stuck it away, making him the fastest player in the club’s history to reach 50 league goals. It only took him 72 games and I’m delighted for him.

In comparison I got to a half century in 83 games, while it took Ian Rush 84 and Robbie Fowler 88.

The three of us all played with fantastic players around us. We had creative wide men who provided us with a lot of service.

Torres hasn’t had that and apart from his understanding with Steven Gerrard he’s had to do most of it on his own.

Robbie and I both took penalties and Rushie also took a few, but Torres doesn’t - which really puts into perspective what a magnificent achievement it is.

He’s been a great signing for the club and hopefully he’ll be here for many years to come.

One newspaper in particular has been stirring things up, suggesting Torres may move on next summer. It’s been bad enough being a Liverpudlian in recent months and the last thing we need is scaremongering

Torres has said how much he loves playing for the club and living in the city but I’d love to see him come out and quash the latest rumours.

Benitez Scouring Transfer Market

Liverpool's transfer activity is threatening to overshadow their FA Cup third-round trip to Reading on Saturday.

Manager Rafael Benitez is promising "not too many changes" to his side for the clash at the Madejski Stadium, but there could soon be changes to his Anfield squad.

The Spaniard has been linked with a host of players with the transfer window having only just opened, while sources in Spain and at the club suggest there is a good prospect of Atletico Madrid's winger Maxi Rodriguez arriving on a six-month loan.

Talks are believed to be ongoing for the 29-year-old, who is a close friend of Reds midfielder and Argentina team-mate Javier Mascherano.

Striker Andriy Voronin could be the first to depart, with Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow both interested in the player.

Voronin has been on holiday over the Christmas period, having been frozen out by Benitez since a wasteful appearance in the Champions League draw in Lyon.

A string of missed chances by the Ukrainian ultimately ended Liverpool's genuine hopes of qualification for the last 16.

Benitez is considering Greece international full-back Vasil Torosidis as a replacement for Glen Johnson, who could miss up to two months with his knee injury.

Asked if he was considering signing a full-back, Benitez said: "Yes, we are working hard (on transfers) and trying to do our jobs, and we'll see if we can do something.

"We are looking in the market but it's not easy to find good players available because the majority of them are playing in top sides. But we are trying to find solutions if we can.

"We have some good players who people are interested in because they're not playing too many games for us, but we have to manage carefully."

Ryan Babel will be allowed to leave, but his agent has been told there is no chance of a loan move, while Andrea Dossena is a target for Atletico Madrid.

Other players linked with Liverpool are Galatasaray midfielder Arda Turan, Standard Liege striker Milan Jovanovic, Malaga defender Ivan Gonzalez and Crystal Palace youngster Victor Moses.

But first, Liverpool need to avoid a cup disaster in Berkshire, having established some measure of confidence and form with back-to-back league wins over Wolves and Aston Villa.

Benitez added: "The FA Cup is always important, but when you are out of the Champions League it becomes a major trophy.

"Our fans are still thinking of winning silverware this season, so that means the FA Cup. It is a very important competition for us now.

"We must look at our squad and decide what we are going to do at Reading. We have more training sessions to see how they are, but because the competition has added importance now maybe we will not change too many players.

"We know we are facing Spurs eight days later, but that does give us more time to get players fit so we can field a strong team at Reading."

Andriy And Wife Off To Hertha

LIVERPOOL flop Andriy Voronin is on the verge of heading back to Hertha Berlin for around £2.5million.

But he does not look too bothered as these pictures show - and who can blame him!

While his Kop team-mates shiver in the cold, Voronin is on a sunshine break in Miami Beach with wife Yulia.

The Ukraine striker, who spent last season on loan at the German club, is in advanced talks with Hertha.

Voronin scored 11 goals for Berlin to help them finish fourth - he has managed just five league strikes in 27 Kop outings.

Hertha, fighting to avoid the drop this season, wanted him last summer but failed to agree a fee with Liverpool.

Italian Andrea Dossena is also set to leave Anfield with Napoli the likely destination despite Atletico Madrid's interest.

The left-back, 28, joined Liverpool for £7m from Udinese and has made just 22 starts in 18 months ago.

Tottenham And Liverpool Player Swap Deal Is Touted

Despite the well documented money problems, Liverpool are expected to sign a new striker during the transfer window.

And that could be good news for Tottenham - with Reds boss Rafa Benitez said to be interested in Roman Pavlyuchenko.

But Harry Redknapp can forget about recoup the transfer fee Spurs paid for the Russian - because the deal would quite possibly be a swap.

Winger Ryan Babel, out of favour at Anfield, is being tipped to head to White Hart Lane if a swap deal was proposed.

Benitez is also interested in signing former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy on a six-month loan deal.

Huge wages could prove to be a stumbling block.