Monday, March 22, 2010

Match Report: Manchester United 2 - 1 Liverpool

Manchester United came from behind to clamber back to the Premier League summit, trampling on Liverpool's top-four hopes in the process.

Park Ji-sung headed home the winner after an hour, securing the spoils after Wayne Rooney's 33rd goal of the season had controversially levelled Fernando Torres' fifth-minute opener.

Although victory was not achieved without a nervy ending, during which Torres spurned a glorious chance to equalise, the result kept United's noses in front of Arsenal and Chelsea.

For Liverpool though, fight was not enough.

When they scored four times in the corresponding fixture last season, it appeared to open the door to that championship Holy Grail.

Not only has that been proved fool's gold, a 10th defeat of the season leaves them requiring slip-ups from Tottenham and others just to finish in a Champions League spot. What Rafael Benitez claimed before Christmas was a guaranteed fourth-place finish could hardly be further away.

Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed that a game of tiddlywinks between what the majorities still believes to be England's biggest clubs could trigger the deepest of passions.

Certainly there was no sense of inferiority from the visitors despite their present status, and with good reason.

It was the Merseysiders who had won the last three meetings - each of which featured the dismissal of Nemanja Vidic, who it seems in Torres has found someone he simply cannot handle.

Such is the mystique surrounding that duel there was an audible gasp the first time Torres ran at the Serbian. Like so much of the opening period's final half-hour, it petered out disappointingly. The spark had been ignited long before that, although Torres was the one who flicked the switch.

By his very demeanour, Torres gave the impression of being a man on a mission.

Five minutes into the contest, he seized on the loose ball after Michael Carrick had lost possession, sending Steven Gerrard away at top speed with an inspired backheel.

As Gerrard found Dirk Kuyt to his right, Torres continued his own run, United's defence never set properly to ensure the Spaniard remained under their control.

By the time Kuyt dug out his cross, Torres was on his own.

Park's wayward effort from a similar position later on proved the goal was anything but the routine effort it looked to be as the Spanish star guided the ball out of Edwin van der Sar's reach.

Quite apart from falling behind against such fierce rivals, an increasingly enthralling title race demanded a United comeback.

For Liverpool, the equaliser came far too quickly. The controversy was immediate too.

Benitez argued Javier Mascherano's attempt to haul back Antonio Valencia was outside the box, which, indeed, was where the infringement began. Ferguson countered the combative midfielder had prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity.

The managers - no friends these two - continued their finger-jabbing row long after Wayne Rooney had tucked home the rebound from a spot-kick awarded by Howard Webb and saved by Pepe Reina.

That was it for the goal threat until the hour mark arrived.

During his long career, Gary Neville has gone on plenty of unselfish runs down the right wing, knowing David Beckham or, more latterly, Cristiano Ronaldo were never going to give him the ball.

Darren Fletcher is not quite of that attacking calibre but Neville must have sensed his run was purely to provide space for the Scot.

So it proved. As Neville flew past on the overlap, Emiliano Insua edged to his right. In an instant, Fletcher had exploited the gap and curled over a cross.

As Rooney and Jamie Carragher tussled and tugged, Park arrived behind them, launching himself at the ball like a guided missile and powering the diving header into the corner of Reina's goal.

Rooney had one more chance before the end, which he fired wide.

Torres was on the end of a far better one when Gerrard drilled over a low cross near the end.

For once against United, the Spaniard miscued and Yossi Benayoun headed the loose ball straight at Edwin van der Sar.

United could celebrate, Neville and Ferguson doing the cheerleading.

Liverpool's money men are staring at a big black hole marked Champions League, Benitez is failing on his guarantees.

Javier Mascherano Willing To Commit His Future To Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano has revealed he is willing to sign a new contract with the club.

The Argentina skipper's future has been the subject of much speculation in recent times, with the tough tackler being tipped to join the ranks of Barcelona during the summer.

However, the defensive midfield stalwart has revealed the talks are ongoing, and the ball is currently in the club's court.

"I'm waiting for an answer from Liverpool," Mascherano said, according to the News of the World.

"They know what I want so it depends on them and not me. We have been talking about the contract."

It is claimed that the Argentine has a four-year contract in mind, with a mega-pay rise to around £90,000-a-week.

Liverpool have already tied down Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun, while Pepe Reina is also expected to sign a new long-term contract with the club in the near future.

Inter Boss Jose Mourinho Interested In Liverpool Job

The 'Special One' has been tipped to depart the San Siro at this term's end, with Real Madrid and Manchester City also believed to be pursuing his services.

Despite being interested in a potential job at Anfield, it is claimed that the Nerazzurri boss has no intention of plying his trade under the club's current owners: Tom Hicks and Geroge Gillett.

Moreover, it is believed that Mourinho will require guarantees with regard to funding and ownership if he is to take to the helm of the Kop club.

The club is reportedly in talks with the Rhone Group over a £100 million investment into the club, which will likely see Hicks and Gillett taking a back seat as the controlling stake would be held by the Rhone Group.

Pepe Reina Is The Best Goalkeeper In England - Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez is in no doubt Pepe Reina is the best shot-stopper in the Premier League.

The Anfield boss feels that Reina has proved the doubters wrong who claimed the Spain international would find it hard to cope with the aerial threat commonplace in the English game.

"We are really pleased because I remember at the beginning people said for England, in the air, he [Pepe Reina] is not the best," explained Benitez to his club's official website.

"He is the best in England - miles away from the others - and we are really pleased to keep him here for a long time.

"He is always organising the defenders and is more than a 'keeper.

"Sometimes the style of goalkeepers is for them to be really good in the six-yard box, but Pepe is really good in the 18-yard box.

"When you talk about a goalkeeper in a top side he normally doesn't have much to do.

"To be involved in this game especially at the end and the save shows the level of the player."

Benitez also praised Reina's commitment to the cause at Anfield and affirmed the talented gloveman would be staying on Merseyside for a while yet.

"Pepe is a key player and it is 100 per cent he will continue with us," the manager added.

"Since he came from Villarreal, always he has shown his character and his passion, his commitment with the club."

Liverpool Planning £50 Million Shopping Spree During The Summer - Report

Liverpool are pondering over whether they should spend £50 million during the summer to rebuild their squad as the club look to mount a serious challenge to win the Premier League next term.

The Reds forked out a handsome sum to bring in Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani last summer, and are reportedly set to wield the axe on some squad members to raise the funds required for player purchases this summer.

News of the World reports that the Anfield outfit will have £25 million made available once fresh investment in the club has been secured, however, the rest must be raised through player sales.

Albert Riera's recent fall-out with manager Rafael Benitez has put him in pole position to leave the club. It is speculated that his sale will generate £8 million, with CSKA Moscow believed to be interested in the player's services.

Meanwhile, it is claimed that Yossi Benayoun will also be sold to raise the funds required for a splash on the market. Liverpool are expected to fetch £9 million for the popular Israeli.

The Merseysiders also have approximately £8 million in reserve, following the sales of Andrea Dossena and Andriy Voronin in January, to make up the remainder of the money required to spend big in the summer.

Liverpool Warned Off Lille Youngster Hazard

Liverpool have been told that they must stump up a huge £20 million if they want to sign Belgian youngster Eden Hazard from Lille.

19 year-old Hazard scored the winner for the French side against Liverpool at Lille and also impressed back at Anfield, although his side were soundly beaten 3-0.

According to the News of the World, Liverpool have already made enquiries over Hazard's availability.

However, the £20 million asking price would be way above Liverpool's evaluation of the player or the kind of price they could likely afford.

Hazard was voted best young player in France in 2008-9.

Liverpool Are Going Nowhere And Need Drastic Change - Steve Nicol

Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol has called on the club to make “drastic changes” this summer and insisted the Reds are in desperate need of players and new investment.

A miserable season at Anfield has seen the Merseysiders dumped out of the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League and facing a battle just to finish fourth in the Premier League.

Nicol, who is now coach of MLS side the New England Revolution, has insisted that big changes are needed at his former employers.

"Something drastic has to change because the team is going nowhere and ultimately someone is responsible for that,” he told the Independent on Sunday.

"They need players and they need investment. They've spent over £200 million so you can't say they've not had money to buy players.

"If you don't get the right players, you're not going to win games, and you have to say they haven't got the right players as a unit."

The former Scottish international also explained how he felt too much pressure was placed on star men Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, which was not helping the players.

"[Gerrard and Torres] look as though they're carrying the whole stadium on their back. Every time they touch the ball they are under pressure to do something,” he added.

"You have big European nights where Gerrard and Torres are winning the games but it is not possible to carry that burden every single time you step on the field."

Nicol spent 14-years at Anfield as a player, winning five league titles, three FA Cups and one European Cup.

Benitez Ready To Offload Aquilani, Riera and Babel In His Bid To Keep Torres

Liverpool have given Fernando Torres assurances they will be active in the transfer market this summer to try to convince him his future lies at Anfield.

Prior to the Manchester United clash on Sunday, both manager Rafa Benitez and managing director Christian Purslow have talked with their star striker.

Torres is considered vital to Liverpool's interests as a 'global brand' and they told him the team will be strengthened, despite uncertainty surrounding the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona have all been linked with the hero of Spain's Euro 2008-winning campaign.

But Liverpool are adamant Torres will not be sold even for £60million because of the damage it would do to their reputation as a world force.

He is seen as their poster boy in the same way as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.

To placate Torres, Liverpool are looking to sell squad players like Albert Riera, Ryan Babel and Alberto Aquilani this summer to raise £30m, which will then be invested in top-line talent.

A pre-contract agreement has already been reached with Serbian star Milan Jovanovic and Javier Mascherano is expected to sign a new £90,000-a-week deal.

Benitez said: 'We can talk with Torres and go forward. He is happy and we don't want to sell him.'

Reina Proud To Commit Long-Term Future To Liverpool

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has spoken of his pride in signing a four year extension to his Anfield contract, committing the next six years of his career to the Reds.

The 27 year-old joined Liverpool from Valencia in 2005 and is set to spend the best years of his career now at Anfield.

He said, "I am really proud and really lucky to be here.

"I felt wanted from the beginning and these kind of things are personal. My mind is clear, my decision is taken and I have no regrets at all.

"It is nice to hear that other teams want me. But I am not thinking about leaving Liverpool at all. This is the right club for me.

"I don't see it as a sacrifice, signing for so long, and it doesn't make any difference to me if some people are saying I could have had my pick of clubs across Europe.

"I have talked it through with my wife and we don't see any better place to go. It is personal as well as professional. The education of my child is another factor and I feel it would be brilliant for my kids to grow up speaking two languages.

"I want them to speak English as well as Spanish and if it turns out to be with a Scouse accent, I will still be proud of them!"

Reina accepts that Liverpool have endured a disappointing season although they still harbour hopes of Europa League glory. Nonetheless, he is confident of future success for Liverpool and admires the loyalty of the club’s fans.

Reina continued, "We always want the best for the supporters and to deliver trophies for them. But even when we are not, they are always behind the team and that is priceless,

"All of us want to win trophies but sometimes that is not the case, and you cannot throw in the towel. It has been a long wait for the fans, 20 years without a league title, and I would just love to be here when and if it happens.”