Friday, March 19, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 3 - 0 Lille

Liverpool kept alive their hopes of silverware this season with a 3-0 victory over Lille at Anfield to win their Europa League last-16 tie 3-1 on aggregate.

Captain Steven Gerrard's ninth-minute penalty gave them the ideal start, after Lucas Leiva had been fouled.

Fernando Torres then struck twice in the second half - his first European goals for more than 11 months - to put his side into the quarter-finals.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg an early Liverpool goal was essential to ease the pressure and, watched by Argentina coach Diego Maradona, they produced just that.

The much-maligned Lucas, returning to the side because of Alberto Aquilani's illness, dribbled into the area and produced a tidy piece of skill to go past Adil Rami and draw the foul.

Referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed to the spot and Gerrard confidently fired home to level things up on aggregate.

Torres had two half-chances to double the lead in the next five minutes as first he cut in from the right at pace only to see his near-post shot deflected wide before then lofting a shot over from Javier Mascherano's free-kick.

Despite going behind Lille still looked like they could be a danger on the counter-attack with Eden Hazard, goalscorer a week ago, and Ludovic Obraniak posing a threat from the flanks.

But right-back Glen Johnson was getting forward at every opportunity and when he found himself in the penalty area he hit a left-foot volley straight at goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.

Daniel Agger's glancing header from Gerrard's inswinging 31st-minute corner was eventually stopped by Landreau on the goalline after the ball got stuck between Dirk Kuyt and Franck Beria.

Lucas, having his best spell for some time, then shot straight at the goalkeeper from 20 yards.

A minute later Hazard burst past Agger and Johnson into the area and had only Jose Reina to beat but the goalkeeper stood tall and the shot deflected behind off his head.

Five minutes before half-time Torres headed Kuyt's hanging cross back across goal but wide of the post.

Lille came out after the break with more purpose and Jamie Carragher produced a perfectly-timed tackle to deny Rio Mavuba three minutes into the second half.

But a minute later Liverpool seized control of the tie with an expert piece of finishing from Torres.

Ryan Babel hooked a ball out of defence with his right foot which looked more like a clearance than a pass but Rami, who had been given a torrid time by Torres, misjudged the bounce of the ball and it ballooned over him.

The Spain striker did not need a second invitation and he sped towards goal before dinking a shot past Landreau with the outside of his right foot.

It was the first time he had scored in European competition since his goal at Anfield in the 3-1 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Chelsea on April 8.

Torres then drilled a shot just wide of the goalkeeper's right-hand post.

Liverpool's advantage was only a slender one and that fragility was almost exposed in the 73rd minute when Obraniak's free-kick picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the far post only for the substitute to bundle his shot into the ground and over the crossbar.

As the tie entered its final throes the anxiety began to grow as Liverpool were unsure whether to try to hold their lead or finish Lille off with a third goal.

It almost came when Kuyt's long-range strike was batted behind by Landreau.

But all the pressure was released when Torres followed up a rebound from Gerrard's shot to score his second a minute before time and his fourth in his last two.

It secured a second victory in an important week, with Manchester United to come at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Reina: My Title Desire

Pepe Reina has revealed how a burning desire to help Liverpool land the Barclays Premier League title made a decision to commit his future to the club an easy one.

The custodian, who confirmed on Wednesday he is close to agreeing a new deal with the Reds, is optimistic the experience of a difficult 2009-10 campaign can help Rafael Benitez's side in the long run.

And Reina admits he would love nothing more than to lead Liverpool to a 19th league title.

"The club has been good to me and I am grateful," said the Spain stopper. "My family believes there is no better place to be than here and that's why we'll be here a bit longer - much longer.

"There is nothing I feel more excited about than the chance of winning the league once with Liverpool. That would be a dream and hopefully in a short period it will come true.

"I hope we will build something good from the weak moments we have had this season.

"A proper team, a strong team has to do that and Liverpool is a strong team."

He added: "This is the only trophy we can lift and it is massively important to us. Winning a trophy is always good, no matter how your season has been.

"We know this season hasn't been good enough and we can do better. Everybody knows that. But as long as we have the possibility to win a trophy, that is the main thing. The target was to fight for the title but right from the beginning we did not do well."

Torres Named As Chelsea's Number One Target

Fernando Torres is being touted as Chelsea's number one transfer target as Fleet Street predicts a comprehensive revamp of the club's first-team squad following their ignominious Champions League exit.

Though some reports have suggested that the position of Carlo Ancelotti is under threat after Tuesday night's defeat to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan, the general consensus is that Roman Abramovich will keep faith with the Italian and re-open his chequebook to fund a lavish spending spree.

'Ancelotti may thus be able to consider moves for long-standing targets such as Fernando Torres, Franck Ribéry or Sergio Agüero,' reports The Guardian. 'Torres is emerging as the club's principal target and the Spanish striker's future at Liverpool could be decided by the level of investment attracted to his club in the next few months.'

A concurring Daily Mirror also declares that 'Ancelotti wants to build a "dream team" front pair of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres next season. Chelsea's wish-list is headed by Liverpool superstar Torres, with the Blues ready to table a £50million bid if they see any signs the Spaniard wants to leave Anfield.

'Chelsea know that Manchester City, who can outbid the Stamford Bridge side, have also targeted Torres, especially after his recent admission that he would not automatically go back to Spain if he decides to quit Liverpool.'

Chelsea have spent relatively little in recent years, with the club committed to the goal of breaking even. However, their early exit from the Champions League is expected to result in that austerity coming to an expensive end.

The Sun quotes a 'senior Chelsea source' declaring: "Carlo has the full backing of Roman and that will mean the kind of money being spent this summer that we haven't seen since Mourinho was in charge.

"Roman believes Carlo is the right man and will give him exactly what he needs to rebuild the team.

"This squad has gone a bit stale and needs to have some fresh blood."

To make room for the new additions, a number of current squad members are predicted to depart.

'Joe Cole will be the first to pay the price for a new attitude because the club are determined not to cave in to his wage demands,' declares The Times. 'The England midfield player is likely to be followed out of the door by Deco, Paulo Ferreira, Hilário and even Ricardo Carvalho.'

'Funds could be raised by moving players on with the likes of Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Juliano Belletti and even Salomon Kalou potentially made available,' adds The Guardian. 'The owner's desire to reinvigorate the squad could also have implications for contract negotiations with Joe Cole and Michael Ballack, whose deals expire at the end of the season, and possibly Nicolas Anelka, who is contracted until 2011.'

And the list of players Fleet Streets believes could be on their way to Stamford Bridge is considerable. A trawl through the backpages finds the club linked with, among others, Torres, Ribery, Agüero, David Villa, Giampaolo Pazzini, Simon Kjaer, Moussa Dembele, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sergio Asenjo.

Riera Launches Rafa Attack

Liverpool winger Albert Riera has hit out at Reds boss Rafa Benitez over a lack of communication with his struggling squad.

The Anfield outfit have endured a miserable season and their only remaining hopes of silverware hang in the balance as they bid to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home against Lille in the second leg of their Europa League last 16 clash on Thursday night.

Spain international Riera has made just two appearances for Liverpool since January, both of which came in Europe's second tier competition, and he is becoming frustrated by his lack of action.

The 27-year-old, an £8million signing from Espanyol in 2008, does not understand why he is out of the picture and is eager for more action to secure a place in Spain's World Cup squad.

He told Radio Marca: "When the coach says nothing to you and you are well, with no physical problems and training well, you cannot help but think it must be something personal.

"If I'm doing something badly and you are my boss, and you value me, then you are going to come and tell me what I have to do to play again. This is what hurts me.

"You see that the team is not doing well and there are no changes. It's a little frustrating because you see that you can help.

"I've been here two years and I know how he (Benitez) is. He's never sorted out a situation with a player by talking with him. He thinks he's in charge and everything else falls on deaf ears.

"His dialogue with the players is practically nil."

Regarding his future, Riera knows his hopes of featuring at South Africa in the summer depend on him playing first-team football.

"I would like to be here for the rest of my career, but players live to play. My objective is to go to the World Cup and for this I have to play," he said.

"Right now the only market open is the Russian one, I have offers from two teams and, looking at my situation, that has made me reflect a lot."

Hamann Slams Riera Over Benitez Attack

Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann has launched a withering attack on Reds winger Albert Riera after he went public with his frustration at not getting a game under manager Rafael Benitez.

The Spain international said Benitez did not speak to him and claimed he bore a personal grudge.

However, Hamann, who made 283 appearances for the Merseysiders and memorably came on for the second half in their Champions League final comeback against AC Milan in 2005, said Riera should look at himself.

"I didn't read too much into the comments because he's a player who has not played too much football over the last six to eight months," said the former Germany international.

"He is clearly frustrated but you have to say since he signed for Liverpool (in September 2008) he has not done enough to really have an opinion on the manager.

"If Riera is not in the team it is probably because he is not doing enough in training or in games.

"You have players these days who complain about managers and I think these players should look at themselves.

"The first question you have to ask when you are not playing is 'have you done enough to be in the team?'

"These days it happens too often with players who can't get in the team and the first thing they do is blame the manager.

"I can honestly say I have never had a problem with a manager in 15 years of my career and I would never blame a manager for not playing."

Hamann, who does some part-time coaching for Liverpool's youth teams, admitted Benitez had his own individual style of management but said he did not have an issue with it during his two seasons under the Spaniard.

"Every manager has his different styles and he may not talk, as other managers do, to his players but at the end of the day I always had a professional relationship with him," he added.

"Every player is different and he does speak to players. If he didn't speak to Riera on this particular occasion there must have been a reason.

"I never really needed much conversation with the manager because his team selection told you everything most weeks.

"I think he was always pretty honest in terms of his team selection - he always did what he thought was best for the team."

In his interview, Riera told Radio Marca: "When the coach says nothing to you and you are well, with no physical problems and training well, you cannot help but think it must be something personal."

He also went on to say he felt Liverpool were a "sinking ship" after a poor season which has seen early exits from the title race, Champions League and FA Cup.

Hamann disagreed, however, telling Radio Five Live: "I think Liverpool are far from a sinking ship.

"They are having a bad season by their standards but not all hope is lost and there are eight or 10 weeks ahead of them so it is all to play for.

"It (Riera's outburst) is very disruptive and I don't know whether he will play any further part in the rest of the season.

"If he didn't it would be understandable from the manager's point of view."

McMahon Salutes Ayala

John McMahon saluted Spanish defender Daniel Ayala after he gave a commanding performance during the reserves' 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic on Wednesday.

Goals from Lauri Dalla Valle and Daniel Pacheco sealed the Reds' place in the final of the Lancashire Senior Cup, and stretched the unbeaten run to 13 games.

Ayala and Victor Palsson were solid as a rock at the back and McMahon was delighted with the display.

"The game suited Danny as we needed passion and strength and he has got that in abundance," McMahon told

"He won headers, made some strong tackles and did well for us.

"Palsson did well again at centre-half. He has played there a few times now and showed some good signs in this game. Hopefully he can keep on improving.

"It's pleasing to get to another final and to have another game is also an added bonus."

Dalla Valla took his tally to two goals in two starts for the reserves this season and McMahon is pleased with his progress.

"It's the old cliché but that is what he is paid to do and if Lauri keeps doing that that's all we can ask for," he added.

"He is getting better all of the time and when the chances come along, more often than not he takes them.

"Lauri was up against two strong defenders and to play against them was good for his progress.

"It was a really good test for us against a big and strong side. They had a really good intensity about their work and closed us down quickly, so it was a hard game for us."

Spanish starlet Pacheco added the second goal with a superb finish and McMahon said: "Dani needed the game. He has been away with Spain Under-19s at a training camp and he was a little out of sorts and off the pace, so this game will be a big benefit to him.

"He took his goal really well."

Simon Kjaer Calls For Big Liverpool Offer To Tempt Him From Palermo

Palermo's hot property Simon Kjaer has told Liverpool to make him an offer he can't refuse.

The in-demand Denmark defender is believed to have rejected an offer from Manchester City in the January transfer window and he insists it will take a lot to convince him of a future outside Sicily.

Serie A giants Juventus are the latest to show interest in the 20-year-old, with reports in Turin that they will offer £18million striker Amauri in exchange.

But he said: 'I have another three years on my current deal with Palermo.

'It would take an offer to which you can't say no to arrive for me to leave here.

'I am a regular for this team and I have the chance to play in some prestigious competitions with the pink and black jersey.'

The Liverpool-mad centre-half recently admitted he would be keen to join up with compatriot Daniel Agger at Anfield, but he has also attracted interest from Old Trafford, where he is seen as a potential long-term successor to Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand.

Tottenham Hotspur and Wolfsburg are also among the clubs linked with Kjaer.

Hicks And Gillett Given Three Weeks To Accept £100m Deal

Liverpool's American owners are under more financial pressure to settle their debts than has previously been thought, with the New York-based company bidding to take control of the club imposing a three-week deadline to take or leave their offer.

The Rhone Group's proposed £100m investment for a 40 per cent share would enable the Liverpool chief executive, Christian Purslow, to deliver the entire sum to the Royal Bank of Scotland, the club's bankers, to pay down £100m of debt as the bank has demanded. But the time pressures the club currently faces are also compounded by the fact that Liverpool appear to have just 20 days to deliver some of that £100m figure to the bank. The presumption has always been that the deadline is July, by which time the club's current debt facility expires and must be renegotiated.

Liverpool's predicament appears to leave Rhone Group's partners Steve Langman and Robert Agostinelli in a strong position to take over a controlling stake – despite having offered a price which values the club at a half of the £500m Tom Hicks and George Gillett rejected from Dubai International Capital two years ago. There are currently no other prospective buyers lined up for Liverpool.

One source close to the process has said the half-dozen other potential investors the Anfield club seem confident of securing will not be new prospects but those whose previous bids have come to nothing.

Liverpool indicated last night that there was no precise deadline date for repaying the £100m and that there is some degree of leeway. The ultimate sanction would be RBS taking over, although that is highly unlikely as RBS is a state-owned bank. Running a Premier League club is not high on the agenda of a bank which announced a £2.6bn operating loss for the last financial year. But the endgame for Hicks and Gillett is certainly far closer than has been appreciated.

A 20-day target from today would make the 6 April the deadline for the repayment of some of the money – the start of the new financial year and the day after Easter Monday. Purslow has been saying for several weeks that he wanted his pursuit of new finance wrapped up by "Easter".

RBS does not appear to be anxious about the precise repayment date for the £100m it has demanded, though that may in part be a result of the confidence which the Rhone Group has created. But the pressing deadlines have created additional pressure for Liverpool and another consideration is the club's tortuous struggle to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Non-qualification would create a hole in next season's budget and would make Hicks and Gillett's position at Anfield less tenable. One source with insider knowledge of Liverpool's search for new investors told Sporting Intelligence website that several investors are delaying offers while they wait to see if non-qualification drives down the price. "Qualification is not necessarily the best outcome for would-be investors," the source said.

Rhone is aware of this, though its belief that its own offer of £110m-£115m can come to fruition is also based on the strong relationship formed with Purslow over weeks of negotiations leading up to the bid which was tabled at midnight last Friday.

The mystery surrounding the prospective investors led the Spirit of Shankly supporters' group yesterday to call on Purslow to explain "who exactly are these investors." Langman and Agostinelli are certainly not the "billionaires" they have been widely described as over the past five days, but multi-millionaires who would not be paying their own money to take over the club but investing the funds put into their hands for management.

Though the clock is ticking down on the Americans, RBS is understood to believe that a deal to deliver the club into new hands will be concluded quickly – possibly within two weeks – and that Rhone Group's interest has the potential to persuade other prospective buyers who have dragged their feet to make themselves known.

Mourinho, Benitez, Capello & Ancelotti On Real Madrid Shortlist To Replace Pellegrini

Spanish newspaper Marca reports this morning that Real Madrid have already begun planning to replace Manuel Pellegrini as coach following their shock Champions League exit to Lyon last week.

A sixth successive exit at the first knockout round of the Champions League has focused the search at the Bernabeu to a coach who can guide Real Madrid to success in Europe.

As a result, the four names Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is mulling over are Jose Mourinho (Inter Milan), Rafa Benitez (Liverpool), Fabio Capello (England) and Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea).

Real Madrid have gone through 10 coaches during the past 10 seasons and unless Pellegrini guides the club to a league title success with ease over Barcelona the former Villareal coach will be sacked in the summer.

Marca adds that whoever comes in will have to be a former winner of the Champions League who can restore the club’s status as one of the top clubs in European competition.

Fabio Capello has already had two spells as coach at the Bernabeu whilst Rafa Benitez was reserve team coach at Real Madrid earlier in his career. Arsene Wenger ruled himself out of the running last week.