Monday, April 12, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 0 - 0 Fulham

Liverpool badly missed Fernando Torres as they dropped two more points in their increasingly forlorn pursuit of fourth place in the Barclays Premier League.

The Reds had numerous opportunities to beat their fellow Europa League semi-finalists Fulham but, without the cutting edge of the injured Torres, drew a blank at Anfield.

They also came up against a goalkeeper in good form in Mark Schwarzer, who produced a number of saves including a fine stop from a powerful Ryan Babel drive.

Torres scored twice in Thursday's stunning victory over Benfica but left the field early to rest a knee injury.

Manager Rafael Benitez had expected the striker to be fit but he failed to even make the bench.

Dirk Kuyt and Lucas - Liverpool's other two scorers on Thursday - also had to make do with places among the substitutes along with Yossi Benayoun as Benitez made four changes.

David Ngog, Alberto Aquilani, Maxi Rodriguez and Babel were the men to come in but none made the difference against a resolute Fulham side.

Liverpool dominated possession throughout and Jose Reina, fresh from signing a new six-year contract, barely had a shot to save.

Yet their dependence on Torres was again all too evident.

Fulham were able to boast their leading scorer and hero of their European run, Bobby Zamora, following a fitness test on an Achilles injury, but the England World Cup hopeful endured a quiet afternoon.

The Reds should have taken the lead with just three minutes on the clock after Babel won a corner.

Steven Gerrard swung the ball in from the left and it was headed back towards goal by Daniel Agger after touching a Fulham defender.

It fell invitingly for Babel inside the six-yard box but the Dutchman failed to make any connection with a volley.

Gerrard created a chance for Ngog with a superb crossfield ball into the area but the Frenchman had to stretch and volleyed wide.

The tone for most of the afternoon was set with Liverpool much the livelier side but meeting continual frustration in the final third.

Another good move by Liverpool saw Gerrard pull back a Glen Johnson cross for Aquilani, who then flicked the ball up and attempted an overhead kick but Schwarzer saved comfortably.

Moments later Rodriguez took the ball down in the area to shoot but Schwarzer blocked.

Babel then delivered a good cross for Aquilani but the Italian headed over.

Mascherano tested Schwarzer with a powerful 30-yard drive just after the half-hour but the Australian saved well to his right.

Greening, already booked, was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for blocking Johnson 10 minutes before half-time as Liverpool continued to dominate without breaking through.

Liverpool pressed on and created three good chances for Aquilani after the break but the former Roma midfielder was unable to take any of them.

The first he scuffed weakly at Schwarzer before winning a corner with a shot the keeper palmed over the bar.

The ball came to him again soon after but this time he sliced wide from 25 yards.

Fulham spent large spells defending on the edge of their own area as Liverpool continued to push but they did so manfully, getting plenty of players behind the ball.

Gerrard got in a shot on target but Aaron Hughes blocked and Daniel Agger volleyed wide.

Schwarzer also seemed unbeatable, producing a brilliant save low to his right to keep put a fierce drive from Babel, cutting inside from the left.

Liverpool attempted to freshen up their attack by introducing Kuyt and Benayoun midway through the second half while Fulham withdrew the isolated figure of Zamora.

Kuyt was straight into the action and picked out Sotirios Kyrgiakos with a good cross only for the Greek to head over.

Another substitute, Daniel Pacheco, also had a powerful effort blocked.

Time ran out for Liverpool and, not for the first time this season, their supporters left frustrated.

Liverpool Comment: Without Fernando Torres, Toothless Reds Lack Top-Four Class

Sunshine, a perfect playing surface, and scores of Kopites with wallets inflated by Tony McCoy's Grand National triumph; all that was missing from this spring-time romp at Anfield was the result. Liverpool's draw with Fulham has surely ended Rafael Benítez's hopes of securing the Champions League football he bullishly guaranteed at the turn of the year, and the Spaniard can have few complaints this time.

Anfield's first stalemate of the season was greeted with predictable derision - Liverpool's supporters were left frustrated by their side's inability to raise the tempo of the game after a bright start to the second half - and there was a sense that both sides were showing the after-effects of their midweek exertions in Europe. If this was a dress rehearsal for the Europa League final, then it is advisable to make other plans come May 12th.

Shorn of the services of Fernando Torres, who was suffering with a knee injury, Liverpool were unable to find a way through a solid, but far from impenetrable Cottagers' defence. The support cast, who often flourish in the glow of the Spaniard's presence, were this time found wanting.

David Ngog has done an admirable job deputising for one of the world's best strikers this season, and boasts an impressive scoring ratio, but the Frenchman's presence was not enough today. Brede Hangeland had a few nervy moments, but bossed his young opponent with comfort.

Benitez will argue that his side dominated possession for the entire game, and he will have some justification. But the key is in turning such dominance into something of substance. Liverpool have been able to do that of late at Anfield - since losing to Arsenal in December they had won eight on the spin at home in the Premier League - but today the Reds came up short.

In fairness, visiting 'keeper Mark Schwarzer was the game's star performer. The Australian was tested by Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani (twice), Ryan Babel and Javier Mascherano as Liverpool spent most of the afternoon probing between the half-way line and the Fulham penalty area.

But the fact that Sotirios Kyrgiakos' late header was the only clear-cut chance of the second period, and the affectionate yet desperate ovation afforded to young forward Daniel Pacheco upon his late introduction, tells its own tale. Without the prolific Torres, Liverpool had no-one to rescue a decent, yet unspectacular, performance.

Benitez's programme notes spoke of how Liverpool could ill-afford to drop further points following last week's 1-1 draw with Birmingham City: "we have no room for mistakes" was the Spaniard's message. Unfortunately, the Reds' inability to nail down any kind of consistency this season was again in evidence. And without their Spanish superstar, who unfortunately has missed too many games through injury this season, they simply cannot be trusted to win games with any comfort.

Scoreless draws peppered the Premier League this Sunday, and whilst Manchester United's failure to swat aside Blackburn Rovers earlier in the day was greeted with jeers of delight and relief, Liverpool's latest dropped points means their bid for a top-four finish can surely be written off.

The saving grace is that their rousing efforts in midweek mean they have a basket marked 'Europa League' in which to place all their eggs. The collateral damage from this stalemate, however, is that that is it is in the Europa League where they will be playing again next season.

CSKA Moscow Line Up Move For Liverpool Midfielder Yossi Benayoun

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun is reportedly attracting the attention of CSKA Moscow.

The 29-year-old is reportedly the subject of a £9 million bid from the Champions League quarter-finalists.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez last week admitted he may be forced to sell in the summer if the club is unwilling to supply substantial transfer funds.

Benayoun has three years left on his contract with Liverpool and insists he is enjoying life at Anfield and has no ambitions to leave the club at the moment.

"It's flattering other clubs want me but what is important is where I am now," he told Sky Sports.

"I am enjoying myself and it's been good for me here.

"In a few more weeks, it will be the right time to talk about certain things."

Atletico Madrid Striker Diego Forlan A Target For Liverpool

Atletico Madrid forward Diego Forlan has emerged as a summer target for Liverpool, according to reports from England.

The Mail on Sunday comments that Reds coach Rafa Benitez is already looking at potential targets for next season, and recently admitted that he believes his squad needs at least five fresh faces in order to become title challengers once again.

Forlan, who spent three seasons with Manchester United between 2002 and 2004 before moving to Villarreal, has been prolific during his time in Spain, winning the Pichichi prize awarded to top goalscorer at both the Yellow Submarines and Atletico Madrid.

The 30-year old was thought to be a target of Barcelona during the close season, and is expected to star at this summers’ World cup for his country.

Forlan signed a new deal at the Vicente Calderon earlier this season, but may be interested in a new challenge at this stage of his career, and if so Liverpool are expected to pounce with an enticing offer to bring the striker to Anfield.

Atletico Madrid face Liverpool in the semi-finals of this season’s Europa League after overcoming Valencia in midweek.

Juventus Look To Fernando Torres As Well As Rafael Benitez

Juventus have stepped up their attempt to poach the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, by proposing to take two of his best players, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano, to Italy with him. The Serie-A club believe they can capitalise on the uncertainty over the future of Liverpool and the manager to instigate a radical overhaul of their own.

The Sunday Times can reveal that Barclays will make a shock £300m refinancing of the club, a move that is likely to lead to its eventual sale and the departure of its unpopular American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, has been appointed as chairman of the club while Barclays Capital has been appointed to find a buyer, with analysts believing the club to be worth at least £500m.

Benitez and Torres have both been openly critical of the dysfunctional ownership structure at Anfield in recent weeks, arguing that the team will remain unable to compete at the highest level unless substantial investment is made available this summer. While Mascherano has talked positively of extending his contract at the club, an improved deal remains unsigned. The danger of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League has provoked internal discussion about replacing Benitez as manager. As the cost of sacking the Spaniard is considered prohibitive at present, the club’s hierarchy may not discourage Juve’s interest.

Benitez’s agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, has been in talks with Juventus and Real Madrid as he forms an exit strategy. Recent statements by Benitez have seen him suggest that more than £60m needs to be spent on the squad this summer to compete with their main Premier League rivals.

We Need To Invest £60m On Players - Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has hinted Liverpool may need to spend as much as £60 million in the summer if they are to challenge for the Premier League title next season.

The club was expected to make a concerted bid for the title this season but have endured a below-par campaign that finds them in sixth place - 19 points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

Benitez believes the club must buy at least three new players in the summer to reinvigorate his squad and admits he will need to sell some of his squad to fund their arrival.

''The cost of a top-class player is about £20 million. I think we need three,'' he said. ''We want to keep the spine of the team. But sometimes you have to manage and you have to sell two or three players who aren't playing many games.

''I think we can improve but it depends if we can do the right signings and it is always easier to sign more players with more money. It's not easy for us to compete for players. We have to do almost everything perfectly.

''People can talk about this player and that player but they have to blend in because if you don't have £60 million every year you have to sell.''

Benitez believes the lack of depth in his squad has cost them dear this season. The Spaniard's only major purchase last summer was the £20 million he spent on Alberto Aquilani, who has struggled with injury since arriving at Anfield, and he concedes he needs more star players in his squad.

''Look at other teams, they have plenty of players worth £20 million who are not playing, but they manage because of the squad,'' he said. ''Last year we tried to keep players and extend contracts and to add some players. It depends on the money available but the key is if you don't have too much money then don't make mistakes.

''Sometimes you bring someone who needs to settle down or they have a problem - this year we had a problem with Alberto Aquilani and his ankle - so you cannot guarantee anything."

Rafa Admits He May Be Forced To Sell

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has conceded the continuing financial uncertainty at Anfield could lead to the summer departure of one of his big-name players.

The departure of captain Steven Gerrard or Spain striker Fernando Torres has been the subject of much speculation in the media should the Reds miss out on Champions League qualification following a turbulent Premier League season.

Missing out on a lucrative place in Europe would be a further financial blow at a time when reports claim that American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are actively seeking to sell their controlling stake in the Merseyside club.

Benitez is hoping that doesn't happen but is refusing to rule out the departure of one of his prize assets should the current financial uncertainty continue.

"I don't think I will have to sell a big player, but it will depend on investors so I cannot guarantee we won't have to sell. Our idea is to keep the spine of the team," he told the People.

"Sometimes you have to manage by selling two or three players who aren't playing too many games, but that does not bring in any big money if they are not playing."

Tom Hicks And George Gillett Ready To Sell Liverpool

Liverpool’s co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will this week appoint Barclays Capital, the bank’s investment arm, to begin the search for new owners after both agreed to discuss a complete sale of the club.

Though the pair had previously engaged Merrill Lynch and Rothschild in a bid to attract minority investors to Liverpool, the arrival of Barcap to invite new offers for the club and the forthcoming installation of Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways, as the club’s chairman is understood to be evidence that the Americans are preparing to withdraw from Anfield.

Both appointments are likely to be confirmed in the coming days as Hicks and Gillett bid to present a united front to potential suitors. That both had approached different banks in the past to sell all or part of their own stakes is thought to have been a considerable obstacle to attracting investment.

That search, led by Merrill Lynch, Rothschild and then Christian Purslow, the club’s managing director, has acquired a new sense of urgency in recent weeks after it emerged the Royal Bank of Scotland, holders of Liverpool’s £237 million debts, had made refinancing those loans in July conditional on the club securing £100 million of fresh investment.

The only concrete offer received by Liverpool, though, from the New York-based fund management firm Rhône Group, was effectively rejected last week amid suggestions the proposal – £110 million for a 40 per cent stake in the club – did not meet the Americans’ asking price.

That is likely to remain a source of concern for potential buyers, despite the appointment of Barcap and the arrival of Broughton to ease the sale.

Though the latest development is believed to represent the beginning of the end for Hicks and Gillett, they have twice held discussions over a complete sale in their three-year tenure at Liverpool, once with Dubai Investment Capital and once with the Qatari Al-Ansari family.

On both occasions, their asking price proved prohibitive, with the Americans thought to have demanded around £500 million for a club they bought for 220 million in February 2007.

Estimates drawn from guideline figures released by Deloitte suggest that, applying the same formula Hicks and Gillett used to place a value on the club when conducting their own takeover, Liverpool is now worth around £295 million.

New investment cannot come quickly enough for the Merseyside club. Trailing fourth-placed Manchester City by four points and having played a game more, Liverpool are faced with the sobering prospect of their place in the league hierarchy coming into line with their place in the financial hierarchy.

Never exactly a club that embraced modernisation, off the pitch Liverpool have been on pause as the rest of the Premier League has progressed. It has got to the stage where Benítez cannot even guarantee that the “spine of the team” — and for that read Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres — will be at the club next season.

“We will try [to keep them], we will see what happens,” he said. “But I cannot guarantee it – it depends on the investors.”

Two seasons ago Liverpool’s wage bill was £10 million behind Arsenal, £30 million behind Manchester United and £80 million behind Chelsea. That gap will have grown and Manchester City will have also overtaken them with Tottenham closing in rapidly. In financial terms they have fallen behind the curve.

“It is not easy to compete with Manchester City and Chelsea,” Benítez said. “I always say that we have to do almost everything perfectly. If we make a mistake in the transfer window it is extra difficult for us to manage.”

The obvious example at Liverpool is Alberto Aquilani, whose £17 million signing has been used as an example of Benitez’s inadequacy in the market.

The failure of Aquilani to replace Xabi Alonso is exacerbated by the thinness of Benitez’s squad. Manchester United have signed Mexican striker Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling of Fulham for fees that could total £19 million ahead of next season and neither is expected to come into the first XI. “No, we can’t do this,” Benítez said. “They even have a player worth £12 million [Zoran Tosic] out on loan.” Still, Benítez is, to use his own choice of idiom, trying to “wheel and deal”. He said that the signing of Milan Jovanovic from Standard Liege was “very close” but then that is a free transfer.

If City beat them to fourth then the ambition of Sheikh Mansour is bound to kick back in and the A-list players he wants might start to buy into the 'project’. Liverpool could be blown out of the water this summer.