Friday, April 09, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 4 - 1 Benfica

Fernando Torres struck twice as Liverpool produced a devastating attacking performance to power past Benfica into the Europa League semi-finals tonight.

Dirk Kuyt and Lucas were also on target on a pulsating night at Anfield as the Reds overturned a 2-1 deficit from the first leg of their quarter-final tie.

Their first-leg nemesis Oscar Cardozo threatened to make life difficult with a goal that made it 3-1 on the night but Torres' second delightful finish ended the contest.

It was a performance that came in marked contrast to Liverpool's struggles in the Barclays Premier League and their increasingly forlorn attempts to finish fourth.

They left the field frustrated after being held at Birmingham on Saturday but, after a slow start, their determination to progress in this competition soon became obvious.

They made two changes from the weekend, the key one being the deployment of first-leg goalscorer Daniel Agger in the unfamiliar role of left-back due to Emiliano Insua's suspension.

Jamie Carragher and Sotirios Kyrgiakos started in central defence while Javier Mascherano replaced the ineligible Maxi Rodriguez.

Torres, who was controversially substituted at Birmingham to rest a knee injury, showed worrying signs of discomfort in the early stages.

His mobility was not helped by a crude early challenge from Sidnei and that set the tone for a night of rough treatment for the Spaniard, who had clearly been identified as the dangerman.

Benfica actually started the stronger and had an early opportunity after Carragher pushed the charging Pablo Aimar over on the edge of the box.

Angel di Maria's free-kick went straight into the wall and was put behind for a corner.

Liverpool took time to find their stride and it was not until the 15th minute that they worried Benfica as Steven Gerrard's whipped free-kick was headed behind by Amorim.

Gerrard then fired in a cross for Torres but the striker, who headed straight at Julio Cesar anyway, was offside.

Torres had another chance from a Glen Johnson cross but his glancing header went wide.

The Reds were taking charge and although Benfica continued to look dangerous on the break, they carried the greater threat.

They levelled the tie in the 27th minute after Yossi Benayoun won a corner on the left.

Gerrard delivered a perfect cross for Dirk Kuyt from the resulting set-piece and the Dutchman firmly headed home from six yards.

A moment of confusion followed as the goal initially appeared to have been disallowed as the assistant referee on the far side flagged for offside.

Liverpool protested and the referee and additional assistant behind the goal agreed the goal should stand.

With an away goal in the bank, that gave the Reds the edge overall but they had the momentum and wanted more.

They followed up with a second goal six minutes later as Gerrard slipped the often-maligned Lucas in on goal with a superb ball.

The Brazilian showed great composure to swerve around Cesar and tap in his first goal in 11 months.

The job was far from done, however, and Liverpool survived a couple of scares before the break as Cardozo fired a free-kick at Jose Reina and Sidnei had a shot deflected for a corner.

But Benfica captain Luisao almost handed Liverpool another goal early in the second half.

Kuyt won possession on the right and fed Gerrard, who delivered a low ball across the box.

Luisao slid in to make the interception but lost control and needed Cesar to palm it away.

Liverpool's deserved third arrived just before the hour from a swift counter-attack.

Lucas was struck between the legs as the Reds defended a free-kick inside their own half and left their colleague in pain as they charged downfield.

Benayoun raced into the Benfica half and spread the ball wide for Kuyt, whose first-time cross was swept in by the onrushing Torres.

The atmosphere at this point was raucous, but anxiety soon set in as Benfica pulled one back on 70 minutes after Kuyt fouled Ramires on the edge of the area.

Cardozo, who scored two penalties in the first leg, blasted in a low shot through a gap in the wall.

Benayoun conceded another free-kick in a similar position for tripping the same player four minutes later but this time Cardozo's curling effort flew narrowly wide.

The Reds battled on and showed the resolve to kill off the tie eight minutes from time.

Lucas won the ball in midfield with a powerful challenge and Mascherano sent Torres clear with a brilliant pass.

Torres made no mistake as he raced into the area and clipped the ball over substitute goalkeeper Moreira - a replacement for the injured Cesar just moments earlier - with delicate poise.

Liverpool could at last breathe easily and took off Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun in the closing minutes.

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Fears For His Future

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has reawakened doubts about his commitment to Liverpool by expressing his deep disappointment that a move to refinance the club's large debts has seemingly fallen through.

Recently, Benitez was outspoken about reports that the New York-based Rhône Group's offer of £150m has apparently been rejected by the club. "If we don't have new investors its will be difficult to go one step further," the Liverpool manager said. "For six months I was really optimistic, especially about this group, because they were one of the groups who were there," he added. "But they are not there now. The Rhône Group is not there."

"I have heard a lot of talk about investors for six months," Benitez added. "I have had some talks myself with possible investors and still we are here and working hard but without confirmation." Liverpool are unwilling to discuss whether the Rhône offer has been withdrawn, though it has, with the current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett's reluctance to cede overall control seemingly the stumbling block.

Benitez also agreed with striker Fernando Torres' frank assessment of his team's failings. Torres has claimed that a spate of summer departures meant "everything got messed up" for them this season. A draw at Birmingham on Sunday has left them sixth, four points adrift of that all-important Champions League-qualifying position, having played a game more than both Manchester City in fourth and Tottenham in fifth.

Benitez concedes his squad needs major investment this summer to force its way back among the title contenders. The Spaniard said: "I agree with Fernando about a lot of things. He talks about it being a pity we finished with 86 points last year and we couldn't progress.

"We need to sign some players; we need to bring some money. We need an investor and then we can challenge in a better way. The players are working so hard and they feel they can do more.

"Fernando the other day [at Birmingham], he was feeling really tired. He was trying and the other players were trying but while we don't have the investor it will be difficult to go one step forward."

Dirk Kuyt Desperate To Win Europa League With Liverpool

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt is desperate to win a trophy during his time at Anfield and become a part of the club's great history.

"If you speak about my desire, I am desperate to win a trophy here at Liverpool Football Club," the Dutchman told reporters at a press conference on Merseyside on Thursday.

"I know the history of the club; I know how many things they won in the past, so I want to be part of that history. I have come very close (to winning something) in the past with my team-mates, but it wasn't good enough - but hopefully it will be this season.

"It's always frustrating if you can't achieve the things you want, but at the end of the day you have to look forward and think positively.

"If you look backwards and think about the negatives, you can forget this trophy as well. We will look forward, we are desperate to win it and want to keep playing in the same way we have in the last few games at Anfield.

"It makes us all very hungry. I am not the only one who hasn't won a trophy here at Liverpool, so we are all working very hard every day to achieve this.

"Like I said, things aren't going the way we thought they would this season, but we are still in contention for a trophy and we are really up for it."

Benitez: Winning Europa League Crucial To Liverpool FC's Hopes Of Investment

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez believes a strong finish to the season is crucial to the club’s future.

Benitez admits the club need major investment to force their way back amongst the Premier League title contenders after a disappointing campaign.

The poor state of Liverpool FC’s finances - and the consequent lack of transfer funds - has been a recurring issue over the past two years.

Benitez hopes winning the Europa League and qualifying for next season’s Champions League will draw in potential new investors.

He said: "We have to invest. If we want to move forward we need money, we need investors, because the market is very expensive.

"The players are working very hard, you cannot ask for more from them, but we have to stick together now, try to progress in the Europa League and try to finish fourth in the Premier League.

"Working hard at the moment is the only way we can show that we want to progress.

"It is clear if we are winning trophies it is easier for anyone.

"We have been in the Champions League for six years in a row. Thanks to this the club still has the big name it has had in the past.

"We are bringing in a lot of money playing in Europe. We want to be there and then it will be easier for investors to see the club has an opportunity."

Liverpool FC’s chances of finishing fourth in the Barclays Premier League are looking increasingly slim.

They are sixth in the table, four points adrift of that crucial Champions League-qualifying position, having played a game more than Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur who are both ahead of them in the race for fourth.

Maxi Rodriguez Keen For 'Inspirational' Javier Mascherano To Sign New Deal At Liverpool

Argentinian Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez wants his compatriot Javier Mascherano to ink a new contract at Anfield soon because the team need his inspirational qualities.

Mascherano is in negotaitions with the Reds currently and is expected to sign a new deal eventually.

Rodriguez believes his fellow-countryman is also keen to commit his future to the club.

"Javier is a fantastic player and when he signs his contract it will be great news for the club," Maxi told the Reds' official website.

"He is also fantastic to have in the dressing room and he is an inspiration.

"He loves playing for Liverpool in front of these wonderful supporters and is very happy to play for the club for a long time to come."

Rodriguez himself is very content at Liverpool following his January move from Atletico Madrid.

"From my first day here I felt very comfortable and I have settled in extremely well," he added.

"For me the team is the most important thing and I always try my best to help Liverpool.

"I don't mind if I play on the left or right side of midfield as I am comfortable in both positions."

Dutch Wonderkid Admits It Would Be A 'Dream' To Join Liverpool

Feyenoord wonderkid Georginio Wijnaldum has admitted it would be a "dream" to move to Liverpool.

Dutch midfielder Wijnaldum, 19, has caught the eye of Liverpool's scouts this season with Feyenoord demanding around £5million.

Wijnaldum said: "It's my dream to play in a big league and England would be the perfect choice. To follow in the footsteps of Dirk Kuyt would be sensational. He triumphed at Feyenoord and has had great success at Liverpool."

Wijnaldum has played 28 games for Feyenoord this season, scoring three goals and is being tipped as a future star of Dutch football.

Spartak Slam Riera Salary Demands

Spartak Moscow coach Valery Karpin claims Alberto Riera's proposed £5 million switch from Liverpool fell through because the winger demanded too much money.

Riera found himself in the Anfield doghouse after describing Liverpool as a "sinking ship", comments the Spaniard has since backtracked on, and was eager to secure a move to the Russian league before their transfer window shut on April 8.

Two weeks ago it appeared that the outspoken 27-year-old would join Karpin's Spartak, but the deal collapsed.

"I can tell you why the transfer didn't happen," Karpin told the Daily Mail. "Riera wanted to go to Spartak to hit the jackpot. We made him understand that this wouldn't happen with us.

"I can say there will be no acquisitions before the transfer window closes."

Riera, who last appeared as a substitute during Liverpool's 1-0 defeat in Lille on March 11, now faces the tough task of winning back the trust of manager Rafael Benitez.

England Soccer Player Gerrard To Open Restaurant

England soccer player and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has bought a share in his favorite local restaurant with an eye to turning it into a New York-style hipster bar.

Gerrard is joining forces with restaurateur Paul Adams to relaunch the Warehouse Brasserie ( in Southport just north of Liverpool, Gerrard and Adams said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The venue, which boasts a Michelin Bib Gourmand, is undergoing a major refurbishment before re-opening just ahead of this summer's World Cup as the Warehouse Kitchen & Bar.

"I've been eating there for years because I love the food and the atmosphere, so it's genuinely exciting to become its co-owner with Paul," Gerrard said in the statement.

The design and theme of the restaurant is being kept a closely guarded secret but has taken its inspiration from the new wave of "hipster bars" popular in New York's Tribeca district, the statement said.

Gerrard said he wanted to be more than just the celebrity face of the restaurant.

"This is my first venture in the restaurant trade but I think it's important to also say that my priorities are, and always will be, on the football pitch," he said.

Football Finance Expert David Bick Explains Why Failure To Reach Champions League Would Leave Liverpool In Big Trouble

There is so much speculation surrounding Liverpool's finances at the moment, it is hard to know where to turn. You hear so many whispers and rumours that you wonder what to believe.

The idea that the mooted interest from the Rhone Group, a US-based private equity firm, was merely a ‘stalking horse’ is interesting. This sort of thing goes on in business, as you would expect, so it is likely to happen in football. The idea with this is to flush out any genuinely interested buyers by playing up interest from another party. Whether it works or not is another matter.

Without wishing to just pluck numbers from the sky, investment in Liverpool – when you factor in the stadium and squad enhancements – could be anything between £500 million and £1 billion. That is the reality of the situation at the moment.

What does surprise me is the mention of the concrete deadline of April 6 for fresh investors. Now it appears that this has been changed from a 'deadline' into a ‘guideline’. But don’t forget that another re-financing deal is due with the Royal Bank of Scotland in July, and this is almost entirely dependent on Liverpool qualifying for the Champions League, which at the moment is uncertain at best.

If Liverpool - under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett - do miss out on the Champions League, I think they are in big trouble, as I simply can’t see how they can meet their interest repayments.

That is why the deadline of Easter for fresh investment seemed a little strange; why would any would-be investor get involved at this stage of proceedings, when everything is still up in the air on-the-pitch? Surely they would wait until the summer.

As to whether Champions League football is really important from an investor’s point of view, it is hard to say. Of course any investor will want the lowest possible price, and it could be that investing in a club that is not in the Champions League enables that.

But then if you invest into a club that has fallen out of the Champions League for a season, you need to weigh up whether it is a long-term thing, and how much it will cost to get back in there. Liverpool would obviously need serious spending on the playing side of things, and that is without even mentioning the new stadium.

A lot of people have almost forgotten about the new stadium when they talk investment with Liverpool, with everyone focusing on the debt side of things. The new stadium, on Stanley Park or anywhere else, is going to be a huge cost, even more so than clearing the debts.

Let’s be clear on this; anyone who is looking into Liverpool as an investor is doing so because of the name and the prestige of the club. A club like Newcastle, for instance, may have its merits from an investment point of view – a hefty 50,000-seater stadium for example – but in terms of prestige Liverpool and Newcastle are worlds apart, and that goes for the amount of investment that both clubs would require.