Monday, April 05, 2010

Match Report: Birmingham 1 - 1 Liverpool

Liverpool's hopes of securing a Champions League spot are hanging by a slender thread after Birmingham defender Liam Ridgewell earned his side a share of the spoils at St. Andrew's.

Reds skipper Steven Gerrard put his side ahead a minute into the second half but Ridgewell levelled matters nine minutes later.

It means Rafael Benitez's side are four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City and have played a game more.

And the Spaniard is still searching for a first Barclays Premier League victory over Blues in eight attempts spanning his six seasons at Anfield.

Birmingham again showed the resilience which has been their trademark in preserving a seven-month unbeaten home record.

And the share of the spoils with Liverpool means they have drawn at St. Andrews with every one of the current top six this season.

Benitez made three changes from the side beaten at Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday with Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Yossi Benayoun and Maxi Rodriguez replacing Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel respectively.

Blues boss Alex McLeish fielded an unchanged side as he kept faith with the players who had held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw.

The first half-chance fell to the in-form Fernando Torres after he was picked out by a pass from Maxi Rodriguez but his first touch was surprisingly poor and took him away from goal.

Gerrard was operating mainly in a deeper role but he ventured forward to find the overlapping Rodriguez in space only for his shot to be blocked by Roger Johnson.

Torres tried his luck from 30 yards out but his curler was high and wide of Hart's goal.

Then after 35 minutes Joe Hart produced a superb reflex save to prevent Rodriguez from giving the Reds the lead.

Torres was the creator with a menacing dipping cross and Rodriguez's powerful first-time shot from 10 yards out was tipped onto the crossbar by the on-loan Manchester City keeper.

The game started to come to life and Jose Reina beat out a shot from Cameron Jerome at the expense of a corner, although the striker appeared to be offside.

Then Reina failed to deal with a deep centre from James McFadden and Johnson's header at the far post was only just off target.

Lucas became the first player to be booked after 38 minutes for a shirt pull at McFadden.

Gerrard needed only a minute of the second half to break the deadlock although there was an element of fortune about the goal.

Glen Johnson's attempted shot was well off target but dropped nicely into the path of Gerrard on the left side of the Birmingham box.

The England player had time to cut inside before unleashing a fierce cross-shot which flew into the corner of the net.

Keith Fahey became the first Birmingham player to be yellow-carded after 51 minutes for a challenge on Lucas but Gerrard's free-kick flew well wide.

Birmingham responded in positive fashion to going behind, with full-backs Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell getting forward at every opportunity.

And after 56 minutes Ridgewell brought the home side back on level terms.

Former Everton player McFadden was the creator with some neat trickery on the right flank before floating over a teasing cross which left Ridgewell with the simplest of tasks from close range.

Benitez made his first change after 65 minutes with David N'Gog replacing Torres, who looked far from happy at being taken off.

N'Gog was greeted with a crescendo of boos from the Blues fans after winning a controversial penalty in the 2-2 draw at Anfield earlier in the season.

N'Gog had a great chance to restore Liverpool's lead but he headed wide when well placed from Johnson's cross.

Then Lee Bowyer was guilty of an even more glaring miss. Ridgewell's cross found him unmarked six yards out but he poked the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.

N'Gog squandered another golden chance, drilling his shot wide from 12 yards after Dirk Kuyt had dispossessed Bowyer to set up the opportunity.

Substitute Alberto Aquilani inadvertently blocked a close-range shot from Rodriguez as the visitors searched for a late winner.

Rafael Benitez Pleased With ‘Great Performance’ Against Birmingham City

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has praised his side following Sunday’s 1-1 draw away to Birmingham City.

The Reds took the lead through Steven Gerrard just a minute into the second half but were denied the win after Liam Ridgewell’s close range equaliser.

Yet despite dropping points in the race to grab fourth place and the last Champions League spot, the Liverpool boss insisted he was happy with his team's display.

"It was a great performance, we had a great chance in the first-half and in the second-half you can see at the end we have a lot of chances," Benitez told BBC Sport.

The Reds boss also admitted he was frustrated at the "silly" goal conceded by his side but was happy with his players’ response after Liam Ridgewell’s equaliser.

Benitez added: "It was a silly goal, when you concede, it is not the best but in this way it's the worst.

"The reaction of the team was good, we were attacking and creating a lot of chances.

"We are disappointed because it was a good performance."

Fernando Torres was replaced by David Ngog after 65 minutes and Benitez explained that he substituted the Spaniard because of tiredness.

He added: "He [Torres] was exhausted, we played 60 minutes with 10 players the other day.

"[David] Ngog was good for us because he was a pair of fresh legs. His movement was good for the team."

Rafa Explains Torres Call

Rafa Benitez insists his decision to substitute Fernando Torres at Birmingham in Sunday's draw was simply an attempt to freshen up his flagging Liverpool side.

With the game evenly poised at 1-1 with 25 minutes left to play the Spaniard surprised everyone in St Andrews with his decision to withdraw Torres in favour of David Ngog.

Torres has been in fine form since his return from injury and while Benitez will point to an exerting Europa League tie on Thursday that saw Liverpool play for an hour with 10 men, his front-man looked perplexed by the decision.

Benitez thought his star striker looked tired and was in no mood to make apologies for his call post-match. Of the impression Ngog played well in his cameo off the bench, Benitez insists there is no reason for Torres to feel aggrieved.

"He was tired, he was really tired," Benitez told Sky Sports. "We needed fresh legs so I went with Ngog.

"It was a really good substitution because he was working very hard and had a few chances, so perhaps the movement and energy he had made him fresher.

"Sometimes maybe the player wants to play 90 minutes but we needed the energy and I think Ngog was really good."

The stalemate leaves Liverpool four points off Manchester City in fourth, and three behind Tottenham in fifth, with both having played a game less than Benitez's side.

Benitez concedes his team have it all to do if they are to secure UEFA Champions League football for next season but is adamant there is still plenty to play for between now and the end of the season.

"Tottenham and Man City are in a better position but there are still many games to play. We have to win our games and then see where we are," he continued.

"We were talking about winning the six games or maybe drawing one. Now we have drawn the one so we need to win the other five.

"It was a pity, it was a great performance from the team. We made a lot of chances in the first half and then in the second half. We had to win."

Liverpool's Hopes Of Fourth Spot Fading Fast

Liverpool's chances of playing in the Champions League next season receded further on Sunday when a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City left them four points adrift of fourth spot in the Premier League.

Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool the lead two minutes into the second half but they were pegged back nine minutes later when Liam Ridgewell headed the home side level and visiting fans were left exasperated after Spain striker Fernando Torres was substituted.

Liverpool remain in sixth place with 55 points from 33 games played with Tottenham Hotspur in fifth place on 58 from 32 and Manchester City, who are now favourites to grab fourth after a 6-1 thrashing of Burnley on Saturday, on 59 from 32.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez claimed tiredness was the reason he withdrew leading scorer Torres at Birmingham with 25 minutes to go -- a decision which left the striker, who has netted 18 league goals this season, shaking his head.

"He was exhausted, we played 60 minutes with 10 players the other day," Benitez, whose side will try to overturn a 2-1 deficit at home to Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday, told the BBC. "(David) Ngog was good for us because he was a pair of fresh legs. His movement was good for the team.

"We had Ryan Babel ready, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez so we had enough people in attack."

Ngog failed to convert two glorious chances to put Liverpool back in front shortly after replacing Torres, adding to the disquiet amongst the visiting fans.

After a dull first half Gerrard ended his recent goal famine to shoot Liverpool in front with a pinpoint finish but the visitors were guilty of poor defending as the unmarked Ridgewell equalised, bundling in a James McFadden cross at the far post.

"It was a silly goal, when you concede, it is not the best but in this way it's the worst," added Benitez. "The reaction of the team was good, we were attacking and creating a lot of chances. We are disappointed because it was a good performance."

Liverpool joined Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in failing to win at Birmingham this season and with just five games left, three of them away, they are now long shots to claim fourth place.

Alan Hansen Predicts Fernando Torres Will Fire Liverpool To Europa League Victory Over Benfica

Former Liverpool FC player Alan Hansen is convinced the Reds will clinch a place in the Europa League semi-finals as Fernando Torres is back on song.

Torres heads into the first leg match against Benfica in Portugal on Thursday night on the back of scoring a brace in the victory over Sunderland on Sunday.

Hansen was impressed with the Spaniard’s contribution.

He said: "If Liverpool are going to do anything in the battle for fourth spot or the Europa League then obviously Torres and Steven Gerrard have got to be fit. It looks as though the two are fit.

"It was probably the best performance of the season on Sunday. The form Torres has shown over the last couple of matches proves that he is match fit.

"The sharpness is back, he scored a fantastic goal as well as a great goal against Manchester United."

Another Liverpool FC legend Roger Hunt, who helped England win the 1966 World Cup, is also a fan of Torres.

He said: "I would have loved to have played alongside Torres as he is a bit special.

"My only worry is if England get to meet Spain in the World Cup then we will have to face him."

Benfica thrashed Everton FC 5-0 in the group stages but Hansen believes Liverpool FC will have the edge in the quarter-finals.

"I played against Benfica three times and Liverpool have a great record against them,” he said.

"Obviously it is going to be tough but Liverpool can go there with renewed confidence and hopefully get the right result to bring them back to Anfield.

"With a big crowd and a big European night at Anfield with a great atmosphere, I can’t foresee any problems. So I think Liverpool will get to the semi-final."

Benfica To Offer Liverpool Flop Way Out Of Anfield

Benfica are set to offer Diego Cavalieri an escape route out of Liverpool this summer.

The Brazilian keeper has endured a nightmare spell since joining from Palmeiras in 2008 and has made just four appearances.

Pepe Reina remains the club’s No.1 and that has ­restricted Cavalieri to a ­bit-part role.

The Portuguese club had talks with Liverpool after their 2-1 win on Thursday.

Liverpool In New £150m Mega Shirt Deal With Adidas

Liverpool are set for a much needed £150million cash injection from sportswear giants Adidas, according to a report in the News of the World this morning.

The current deal between Adidas and Liverpool, worth £12m-a-season, has two years to run but discussions are underway over a new ten-year deal.

Along with Manchester United, Liverpool have massive amounts of worldwide shirt sales and Adidas have told managing director Christian Purslow that they are eager to start negotiations.

The News of the World fail to add whether Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez will see any of this cash injection but some of the £15m a year fee could well find itself in the transfer kitty of whoever is in charge at Anfield.

Chris Bascombe adds in the Sunday tabloid that "Adidas also believe star names including Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard will stay beyond this summer, so are moving swiftly to protect their lucrative partnership."

Rhone Group Press Liverpool For Answer To £110 million Investment Offer

The deadline set by the Rhone Group for Liverpool to accept a £110 million offer to take a 40% stake in the Anfield club expires on Monday, with the only concrete proposal received by current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in their search for fresh investment likely to be effectively rejected.

Rhone became the first suitor to show their hand when the New York-based fund management firm, run by billionaires Robert Agostinelli and Steven Langman, presented their offer to Liverpool in the early hours of March 13.

It is believed they informed the club they expected to discover whether their bid had been successful by April 5.

There has been no further contact between the parties and Telegraph Sport understands that Rhone are not prepared to extend that deadline.

Though it is believed Rhone's offer met Liverpool's valuation, it is thought the level of control they hoped to acquire for their stake as well as the nature of their investment has proved a stumbling block. Hicks is believed to be particularly resistant to seeing his stake being decreased.

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, had met with representatives of the group to discuss their plans for the club and it is believed he had kept senior players, including Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres – who has been unequivocal in his demands for Liverpool's owners to back Benítez in the transfer market this summer – abridged of developments.

That Rhone's deadline – barring an unexpected and unlikely turnaround in the next 24 hours – will pass with no progress made will no doubt come as a blow to those attracted by the group's promise of a £25 million infusion of funds for transfers, but it is far from the only cause for concern for a club whose immediate future remains clouded.

On the pitch, Liverpool know they must beat Birmingham at St Andrews on Sunday to maintain the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in the race to qualify for next season's Champions League. Off it, sadly, matters are far more complicated.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, Liverpool's bankers, have informed Hicks and Gillett that they must reduce their £237 million debt burden by £100 million by July if they are to be granted a deal to refinance their loans.

Christian Purslow, Liverpool's managing director and the man charged with securing a cash infusion to reduce the debt, has consistently identified Easter as the time by which he "hoped" to have a deal agreed with an outside investor to bring an end to the stagnancy induced at Anfield by the current, unpopular regime and to enable work to begin again on the long-awaited new stadium on Stanley Park.

Though sources at the club insist that was more guideline than deadline, that the holiday period will pass with Liverpool no closer to securing their financial future will hardly inspire confidence for Benítez's squad or the club's fans.

Sources at Anfield, though, remain confident of attracting the required investment "in good time" for the club's loans to be refinanced.

As many as "six or seven" serious investors were believed to be looking at matching or bettering Rhone's offer three weeks ago and noises emanating from the club suggest that as many as two of those are expected to materialise into firm proposals.

What is not in doubt, though, is that Liverpool are reaching their end game.

In the next three months, Hicks and Gillett's tenure will almost certainly reach an end, at least in its present form. More straightforwardly, defeat at Birminghamon Sunday and against Benfica in the Europa League second leg on Thursday, and much the same may be said of Benítez.

Liverpool To Reject £110m Offer From New York Investors

Liverpool appear ready to reject a bid for control of the club from New York-based fund management company Rhône Group, which would enable them to pay off £100m of debt demanded by Royal Bank of Scotland. Rhône's deadline for Liverpool to take or leave their £110m offer – tabled on 13 March – expires on Monday. With seemingly no willingness on the part of the company's partners, Robert Agostinelli and Steven Langman, to offer an extension, Liverpool must look elsewhere for funds.

The Independent on Sunday understands that the sticking point in talks with Rhône relates to their demands for control of the club rather than the valuation of the 40 per cent share they would take. Rhône are understood to have wanted concrete assurances written into any deal that Liverpool's co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett would not be able to combine their 30% shares to maintain overall control. A 100% takeover from Hicks and Gillett would seem to solve that issue, which always seemed a sticking point. Though Rhône's departure leaves Liverpool with no firm offers as the club reaches the Easter deadline, which managing director Christian Purslow had identified for finding a new equity partner, there are suggestions that the interest of two prospective investors may be turned into firm bids.

Liverpool, who need a win at Birmingham on Sunday to maintain their hopes of taking the fourth Champions' League position, continue with Hicks and Gillett. The unpopular Americans have been told by RBS that they must reduce their £237m debt burden by £100m by July if they are to be granted a deal to refinance their loans over a longer period and given access to funds to begin work on any new Stanley Park stadium.