Monday, March 01, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 1 Blackburn

Striker Fernando Torres marked his first start since January 13 by scoring the winner in an ill-tempered 2-1 victory over Blackburn at Anfield.

The Spain international hit his 13th goal in 17 Premier League appearances just before half-time, having missed five weeks at the start of the year after a knee operation.

Liverpool had gone ahead midway through the half through Steven Gerrard only for Jamie Carragher's handball to allow Keith Andrews to equalise from the penalty spot five minutes before the interval.

With fellow top-four challengers Tottenham and Manchester City both winning this weekend, it was imperative Rafael Benitez's side maintain the pressure - and they ground out a win against combative opponents.

Before the match Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce, who has never had a great relationship with Benitez, had said the Spaniard's side played like his former club Bolton.

However, on this evidence - five Rovers players were booked and they could easily have had Steven Nzonzi and Pascal Chimbonda sent off - it was Rovers who lived up to Allardyce's reputation.

But it was the goalscoring return of Torres that will have put a smile on Benitez's face as Liverpool scored for the 26th successive league game at Anfield and the 33rd in all competitions.

Surprisingly, the Spain international played no part in the opening goal, which came from a swift and incisive move started by Lucas on the halfway line.

The Brazilian picked out Gerrard who, after exchanging passes with Dirk Kuyt and offloading to Yossi Benayoun, continued his run into the penalty area to collect the return ball, go past Samba and clip home a left-footed shot.

That was after Chris Samba, Martin Olsson and Morten Gamst Pedersen had all had half-chances to put Blackburn ahead.

Liverpool, though, were indebted to Jose Reina in the 17th minute as the goalkeeper made a good double save from Pedersen, particularly the first shot which deflected off Jamie Carragher.

On the half-hour Kuyt should have made it 2-0 from Gerrard's corner but appeared to be surprised by the pace of the ball and headed wide from three yards.

In the 38th minute Liverpool were forced into a change when Fabio Aurelio limped off with what looked like a thigh injury and was replaced by Emiliano Insua.

Two minutes later Rovers were gifted an equaliser when Benayoun's weak clearance was played straight back into the penalty area and, despite three Liverpool players surrounding Kalinic, Carragher catastrophically went to ground where the ball hit his hand.

Andrews fired home from the spot to put his side firmly back in the game.

However, Liverpool went ahead again a minute before the break when Samba could only poke the ball off Torres into the path of Rodriguez, who crossed into the six-yard area for the Spaniard to smash home.

Early in the second half Olsson was booked for handball in the centre-circle before Nzonzi was lucky to escape with a caution, having flattened Lucas with an aggressive push to his face.

Pascal Chimbonda's first act, having come on for Olsson, was to bring down Rodriguez as he threatened to cut into the penalty area.

Daniel Agger headed Gerrard's whipped-in free-kick over at the far post.

Chimbonda's second contribution was to carelessly give the ball away to Kuyt, which eventually resulted in Robinson having to tip Rodriguez's shot around the post.

Kalinic was next to go into referee Alan Wiley's book for hacking down Mascherano from behind and, after several close calls, former Liverpool forward El-Hadji Diouf was eventually booked for bringing down Mascherano.

Referee Wiley and one of his linesmen somehow missed Chimbonda, who had already been booked, thrusting his boot into Rodriguez's chest as the Rovers defender rolled on the floor.

Ryan Babel replaced Benayoun for the final 10 minutes but with only a slender lead the pressure began to mount on the hosts.

Torres departed to a standing ovation with his work done but in the knowledge he will have to continue to produce on a regular basis if his club is to secure Champions League football next season.

Liverpool And Chelsea Will Be Kicked Out Of The Champions League

Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City all face the extraordinary prospect of being excluded from the Champions League and Europa League in two years because of the huge financial losses they continue to suffer.

European football chiefs insist they will enforce a ban on those clubs unless they radically reduce their multi-million pound losses.

And though Manchester United will escape censure despite their £716million debt, because they are still making a profit at present, Liverpool's precarious financial state means they face a huge crisis if they wish to meet UEFA's tough new rules.

The regulations will be published this summer in a bid to prevent further clubs going into financial meltdown, as Portsmouth have done this week, and will outlaw the kind of support that owners Roman Abramovich and Sheik Mansour have provided Chelsea and City.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino insists that the bodies set up to regulate the new rules will not baulk at throwing out clubs who cannot balance their books, whether they be Real Madrid or Liverpool.

Infantino said: 'It is not our objective to exclude clubs, but if there are rules, it is our objective that those rules will be respected. For this reason we have established the club financial control panel, chaired by Jean Luc Dehaene, who is the former Prime Minister of Belgium. I don't think somebody like him would be afraid of anything.

'They are independent to oversee the rules and pass any potential sanction to the disciplinary committee, which is also independent and which will decide the sanction.

'But the rules will be the same for everyone and of course they will be enforced the same for everyone.'

UEFA's drive for what they call financial fair play is the biggest shake-up of elite football since the formation of the Champions League in 1992 and represents a direct challenge to the Premier League's financial model, which has allowed excessive borrowing and rich benefactors to fund many clubs, factors which caused the demise of Portsmouth.

The renewed threat from UEFA, who will finalise their new rules this summer, will wholly undermine Manchester City's plans to spend further millions this summer.

City recorded a loss of £92.6m last year and that figure is likely to balloon still further after the extraordinarily expensive signings of Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure.

UEFA are likely to demand that by the time the 2012 regulations come into force, City are on course to break even, which seems highly unlikely, unless they slash their wage bill and decline to enter the transfer market.

Liverpool, too, are at huge risk given that last year they posted losses of £42m and had to pay £36.5m interest on their debts, which the Anfield club claim have now been reduced from £350m to £237m.

UEFA will give clubs two years to put their accounts in order and will allow a transitional period in the first two years of the scheme, but they insist that clubs such as City and Liverpool cannot simply continue as they do now and expect to be cleared for competition.

Infantino added: 'The rules come into force in 2012-13 and at the beginning there will be some sort of transitional period, which we are defining. But it doesn't mean that a club cannot be excluded in 2012 if the situation is extremely bad and getting worse.

'From this summer the clubs will know what the rules are going to be and if a club doesn't do anything and think that rules will only apply after 2012-13, that's a wrong calculation.'

Infantino confirmed that, at present, United would meet UEFA's criteria because last year they made a profit, even though their enormous debts cost them £68.5m in interest payments.

'United is, of course, very well managed by David Gill and as long as they can still make a profit at the end of the year, it's fine. In the long term, though, the question is whether they can still afford this debt.'

Liverpool though have been warned that their financial model will have to change, putting owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks under further pressure to secure new funding.
'They have to look at not making these £40m losses every year. And one of the ways of not making them is to reduce the debt, or to reduce the salary of the players, though that has sporting consequences.'

Chelsea have at least embarked on a campaign to wean themselves off the funding of Abramovich, having reduced their losses from a staggering £140m in 2006 to £44.4m last year and, if they can continue at a similar rate, would be likely to meet UEFA's criteria.

Infantino said: 'Chelsea is a good example as a few years ago they said that their objective was to break even and now it will be underlined by some rules. If everyone plays by the rules this inflation which raises higher salaries and transfer fees, will decrease. It will be a big change and I don't think the owners will be unhappy. On the contrary, what they are saying to us is that they would be happy of they don't spend their personal fortune on this.'

When the rules are applied, UEFA will assess a club's accounts over a three-year period so that making a loss for a single season would not be punished.

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez Unhappy With Spain Boss Vicente Del Bosque Over Fernando Torres Call-Up

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is furious with Spain boss Vicente del Bosque's decision to start with striker Fernando Torres in the upcoming friendly with France, according to the Sunday Mirror.

The Reds forward has only just returned from a six-week lay-off due to groin and knee problems and Benitez needs his star man in top shape as his side prepare to push for fourth spot in the Premier League.

Benitez will reportedly hold showdown talks with Del Bosque, following the latter's announcement that 'El Nino' will be making an appearance against the Frenchmen in Paris on Wednesday.

A source close to the Kop boss is quoted as saying: "Rafa is not happy that there have been no discussions with anyone from the Spanish national team about Torres’s fitness.

"He cannot stop Fernando reporting for international duty, but he will be making it clear to Del Bosque to remind him that Torres is far from 100 per cent fit after his recent injury and that he must be handled with care and consideration."

Liverpool Land QPR Midfielder Raheem Sterling

Liverpool have captured highly-rated English international Raheem Sterling from Queens Park Rangers.

With the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Fulham in the hunt for the youngster, Liverpool have managed to sign the player for an undisclosed fee.

The player will join up with the Liverpool Academy.

Managing Director Christian Purslow told Liverpool's official wesbite: "The success of our Academy is vital to the future progress of the club and we have made clear that we will invest in outstanding young talent.

"Raheem is a very exciting young English player whose progress was being closely monitored by many other leading clubs and I'm delighted he's joining us.

"Frank McParland and his staff have done a great job in bringing him to Liverpool."

Allardyce Accuses Liverpool Of Mistreating Diouf

Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce has further turned up the heat ahead of the Premier League clash against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has disliked Allardyce’s physical approach to the game for some time and went as far as making a DVD on Big Sam’s Bolton side to send to the referees’ association, highlighting perceived injustices. Allardyce recently accused Benitez of using the same physical tactics this season.

He has now stoked the fires further by claiming that Liverpool did not handle Blackburn striker El-Hadji Diouf properly during his time at Anfield.

Allardyce said, “Dioufy had the opportunity to be a big star at Liverpool when they spent £11-12m on him after the 2002 World Cup, but he got cast off very quickly and didn’t get the back-up service he would have expected at a club like that. He does feel let down by them.

“He was left on his own in a strange country where he couldn’t speak the language. He didn’t know where he should live or anything about the finance and banking side.

“He was a young man with plenty of money, liked going out and that’s what he did. He’s motivated enough now to know that’s not the way forward.

“I think Liverpool slipped up in that department. They should have persevered with him, but he looked a complete write-off and waste of money coming out of Anfield.

“We looked after him at Bolton. We looked after all that off-field side of it so he could just concentrate on his football and he felt much happier.

“Understanding your players is a very important part of man-management. Getting the best out of players is what I’ve been all about and Dioufy resurrected his career with me.

“He’s still playing at the top level and hopefully he can go and play really well on that big stage at Anfield and show them what they’re missing.”

Diouf struggled for goals during a three year spell at Liverpool before Allardyce signed him at Bolton. Diouf has scored 2 goals in 20 appearances so far this season.

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva Expects Race For Fourth Place To Go To Wire

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva admits that the fight to finish fourth in this season's Premier League may not be decided until the last day of the season.

Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur are tussling with the Reds for that coveted Champions League place, but Lucas is confident that Rafael Benitez's team has the necessary backbone for the battle.

"It might even go right until the last game of the season to decide fourth place," he told the Reds' official website.

"We have difficult games against Manchester United and Chelsea, while [Manchester] City also have games against Tottenham, Arsenal, Aston Villa and [Manchester] United. It will be an interesting race and hopefully we can finish fourth.

"We kept another clean sheet against Manchester City which was a positive and I think we are stronger in defence now.

"At the beginning of the season we were conceding too many goals, especially from set pieces and we have improved a lot on this.

"We were disappointed not to win against City because we wanted the three points.

"We had the opportunity to go fourth but I think it will be the same until the end of the season with four teams battling for the Champions League place, and I hope we'll be there."

Liverpool hosted Blackburn Rovers to Anfield on Sunday afternoon and Lucas is looking for his side to claim an important three points.

"It's an important game for us because from our last two games we lost at Arsenal and drew with Manchester City, so we need the three points on Sunday," he said.

"We are in good form at home and have won our last five league games at Anfield. It will be important to keep the clean sheet first and then score goals to get the three points and stay in the race for the top-four.

"We drew 0-0 with them at Ewood Park in December but it was a game we could have won."

Spirit of Shankly Add Pressure On Liverpool Owners

Spirit of Shankly has unveiled billboards around Liverpool in an attempt to raise awareness about the ongoing backroom problems at the club and add pressure on the Reds’ American owners.

Spirit of Shankly, last month, forced Tom Hicks Junior from the Board of Liverpool FC after the American foul mouthed a Liverpool fan via email.

The fans’ group has had success in getting through to the club recently, having a meeting with managing director Christian Purslow at the start of February.

Billboards were put up today at Vauxhall Road and Prescot Road in Merseyside and more billboards around the city have been planned.

The billboards, which read “Tom and George: Debt, Lies, Cowboys – Not welcome here”, also redirect fans to the Spirit of Shankly website which has more information on the group’s campaign against the owners, which started in early 2008.

The owners have broken their promises on not loading debt on the club, giving manger Rafael Benitez funds for the transfer market and building a new stadium.

The club’s debt currently stands at £237 million, according to Purslow and the building of the new stadium has been postponed on several occasions.

Who are Spirit of Shankly?

In January 2008 over 350 Liverpool supporters crammed into The Sandon pub, Anfield, and discussed not only the custodianship of our current owners but the wider issues that affect us as supporters. Issues that have been discussed by fans for decades, issues where almost unanimous desire for change is consistently met by indifference from the club – all these were aired and on a historic and emotional night, ‘Spirit Of Shankly’, the Liverpool Supporters’ Union was born.

Since that date, and following two mass meetings at the Olympia in Liverpool, a volunteer acting committee has been established, the Union has been set up as an Industrial and Provident Society and a set of aims for the short, medium and long term have been established.

The inaugural AGM took place in February 2009 and Liverpool supporters the world over were invited to take part. A Management Committee was elected after the wonderful work done by the volunteer Committee during the first year.

Why should Liverpool supporters join the union? In a nutshell, if we stand together and speak with one voice, regardless of language or accent, we can make a genuine difference to our football club, the city of Liverpool and indeed the wider footballing world.