Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 3 - 0 West Ham

Liverpool cruised to a comfortable victory over West Ham at Anfield to keep their faint Champions League hopes alive and leave the Hammers with three games to secure their top-flight survival.

Former West Ham midfielder Yossi Benayoun and David Ngog gave the hosts a 2-0 lead in a low-key first half and goalkeeper Robert Green's unfortunate own goal finished off his side.

However, both teams still have a great deal to do to achieve their aims as Liverpool are still five points adrift of fourth place while West Ham are only three above the drop zone.

A 10th successive home league victory was rarely in doubt against a club whose last win at Anfield came in September 1963 and who have much more important battles to win in the last few weeks of the season.

Having dropped to seventh after the weekend's games, Liverpool's hopes of Champions League football appeared to be over.

And with Fernando Torres' knee operation ruling him out for the remainder of the season, the suggestion was their chances of rolling over opponents had gone with him.

If his stand-in Ngog's first attempt on goal was anything to go by that seemed a fair assessment.

The 21-year-old Frenchman, often criticised for his decision-making, attempted to beat Green with a header from the edge of the penalty area from Jamie Carragher's long pass when he had time to bring the ball under control after springing the offside trap.

Having barely threatened, Liverpool took the lead in the 19th minute with a piece of quick thinking by Benayoun.

Steven Gerrard's right-wing free-kick bounced in front of the Israeli seven yards out and he allowed it to deflect off his stomach and in off Green's right-hand post.

From some angles it looked like it could also have brushed his arm but there were very few protests from the visitors.

West Ham's response was brief, with Carlton Cole firing in a shot which Jose Reina did well to hold.

Despite their lead the atmosphere inside Anfield seemed to reflect the team's forlorn hopes of fourth place and it was not improved when unmarked centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos headed Gerrard's 27th-minute corner down and over the crossbar from six yards.
But a surprisingly smart finish from the raw Ngog eased those worries two minutes later when he converted Maxi Rodriguez's cross with a first-time shot after Benayoun had begun the move by cutting in from the left.

Ngog was not nearly as clinical with his next chance, ballooning a header up in the air after Dirk Kuyt had nodded back Glen Johnson's hanging cross to the far post.

Kuyt's 30-yard half-volley was much better, forcing Green to tip the ball around his left-hand post as Liverpool ended the half in complete control.

West Ham replaced Junior Stanislas with Guillermo Franco for the second half but in truth everyone except Cole could have been substituted without complaint.

Kuyt's quick break and cross from the byline almost picked out Ngog at the near post as the hosts continued to dominate.

Having experienced mostly bad luck in a season which saw early exits from the Champions League and Premier League title race and numerous injuries to key players, Liverpool enjoyed another kindly bounce of the ball.

If Benayoun's goal was fortuitous the third was even more lucky as Kyrgiakos' shot from Gerrard's 59th-minute free-kick crashed back off the post, hit Green and bounced back into the net.

Gerrard was denied a fourth only by the slightest deflection off centre-back Manuel da Costa.

West Ham's frustrations continued to grow but referee Peter Walton showed leniency to Robert Kovac by only booking the midfielder when he grabbed the official's shoulder and gave him a push.

Even with the game over the hosts still pushed forward and Rodriguez's whipped near-post shot had Green scrambling to keep the ball from crossing the line at the second attempt while Kuyt's ambitious overhead kick showed confidence was certainly not lacking.

Unfortunately for both Liverpool and West Ham, they will need much more than that if their seasons are not to end in disappointment and heartbreak respectively.

Liverpool Forced To Drive To Madrid For Semi-Final

Liverpool are said to be looking into the possibility of travelling to Madrid for their Europa League semi-final by road after the ban on flights in the UK was extended until at least 1am on Tuesday.

A cloud of volcanic ash, caused by the erruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Icelandic, is hanging over Europe and is unlikely to move this week. Liverpool will have to make a decision imminently, considering the time it will take to travel to Spain by coach as well as the required recovery and training for the squad.

UEFA confirmed on Monday that Liverpool's game in Madrid will go ahead on Thursday as planned, as will Fulham's away game in Hamburg.

Both Liverpool and Fulham may face problems reaching the continent as routes across the English Channel have been fully booked with passengers forced to use the Channel Tunnel and ferry services. It could be that it is impossible for either club to reach mainland Europe.

Liverpool face the most daunting trip, as it will take them the best part of a full day to make the 2,600 mile journey to Madrid.

As it will take around 21 hours - without a stop and with no traffic problems - to reach Madrid the best option may be to travel with an overnight stop. But with Liverpool entertaining West Ham United in the Premier League on Monday night it leaves little recovery time before the players would have to board the coach.

Lawrenson: Rafa's Timing Is Shocking

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has come in for renewed criticism from Kop legend Mark Lawrenson, who believes it is time for the Anfield club to say “goodbye” to the Spaniard.

Benitez’s agent revealed on Thursday that discussions have taken place with Serie A side Juventus with a view to him becoming their next manager and former Liverpool defender Lawrenson believes that the timing of this announcement – coming as it did just 24 hours after the 21st anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster – shows a marked lack of respect to the denizens of Anfield.

Lawrenson is not the first Liverpool legend to speak out against Benitez and, although the Spaniard remains popular with the Anfield faithful, it looks increasingly likely that only Europa League success at the end of the season could prolong his stay as Liverpool manager.

He said: “Rafa Benitez has an appalling sense of timing and it may just be that the Liverpool fans will finally turn on the manager.

“Hillsborough is an open wound still on Merseyside. With such a long struggle and such a big event for so many people, Rafa's current tussle is put into very stark perspective. The timing is shocking. It's ill judged and insensitive.”

Lawrenson added: “The club is a soap opera right now. Will a new owner come in and try to keep Rafa? We really don't know. Nor does Rafa and maybe that's why he's looking elsewhere.

“But would you give him backing in the transfer market? His record is shocking. He has bought so many players and yet his revolving door transfer policy has hardly taken the club forward or improved the squad. There have been far too many duds.

“It's time for Rafa to go. It's been six years and it's time for Liverpool to say: ‘Thanks very much and goodbye.’”

Benitez: We Had No Hope Of Winning The Title This Season

Rafa Benitez claims it was unrealistic to expect Liverpool to win the Premier League title this season.

As the inquest into Liverpool’s disappointing domestic campaign rages on, Benitez says it was always going to be difficult for them to better finishing runners-up last term.

The Reds boss claims injuries also took a heavy toll on his squad, who look like missing out on the Champions League place.

“At the beginning of the season expectations were too high,” he said. “That is normal after such a good season.

“But I always say the same – the Premier League is the Premier League and the difference in money is so big that if you want to stay at this level for a while, you have to do almost everything perfectly.

“That’s not easy when you push and push because sometimes you cannot keep the players working so hard or at the level they were in the previous season.

“During pre-season we also had players coming back late and then we had injuries. We’ve had seven, nine or 11 players out at the same time in different months, players who would normally be starters.

“We can talk about mistakes, but when you have so many players injured, especially key players, it is not easy to sustain a level of performance every week.”

Fernando Torres has been Liverpool’s biggest problem this season – the Spaniard has spent a large chunk of the campaign either crocked or coming back from injury.

Torres Set For Six Weeks Out

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after it was confirmed he would undergo surgery on his troublesome knee injury on Sunday night.

The procedure will rule the 26-year-old out of action for around six weeks, meaning he will miss not only the Barclays Premier League run in but also the remainder of the club's Europa League campaign, which continues this week with a semi-final against Torres' former club Atletico Madrid.

A Liverpool spokesman told the club's official website: "Fernando saw a specialist in Spain earlier today and it was decided that he would need surgery on a torn cartilage in his right knee.

"We cannot comment ahead of the operation, but as a guide, the usual rehabilitation period for this type of procedure is around six weeks."

The news will also cast a shadow over Spain's preparations for the World Cup, with Torres a key element of the European champions' set-up for the tournament which gets under way in just over seven weeks.

Coach Vicente del Bosque will almost certainly gamble on the fitness of his star striker when he has to finalise his final 23-man squad, with Spain's first game in the tournament not until June 16 - around two and a half weeks after Torres' projected return date.

Torres' knee problem forced him to miss last weekend's goalless draw against Fulham as he flew to Barcelona to see Dr Ramon Cugat, the surgeon who operated on him in January when he was struck by a similar problem.

As recently as Friday, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was hopeful Torres would play some part in Monday's league encounter with West Ham or Thursday's first leg against Atletico.

The loss of Torres could sound the death knell on Liverpool's fading chances of claiming a fourth-place finish in the Premier League which would put them into the Champions League next season.

The Reds have dropped to seventh in the standings after this weekend's fixtures, eight points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with just 12 points to play for over their remaining four matches.

Despite enduring an injury-hit campaign, Torres has weighed in with 18 goals in 24 league outings for the Merseyside club this season.

Torres: I Didn't Put Spain First

Striker Fernando Torres has denied putting country before club after having a second knee operation which ended his Liverpool season.

The Spain international had surgery in Barcelona on Sunday night to repair damaged cartilage in his right knee, a problem which resurfaced after a similar operation in January.

That ruled him out of Liverpool's remaining four Barclays Premier League matches and their Europa League semi-final against former club Atletico Madrid but a six-week recovery period still gives him a good chance of going to the World Cup in South Africa.
But Torres said safeguarding his international place was not the overriding factor in the decision to operate again.

"It's not true. We exhausted all the possibilities before arriving at the final one," said the 26-year-old.

"There were three options. One was that the meniscus was okay, the second was that the problem was not clear and the third that the meniscus was affected.

"On Friday afternoon in Liverpool the scan I had cleared up the doubts and made us see that I would almost definitely have to have an operation.

"The meniscus was affected and the doctors said they had to operate.

"What's more, the injury happened in the second minute of the game (Europa League quarter-final second leg) against Benfica at Anfield and I played injured for 85 minutes.

"If I had been thinking about the World Cup and Spain I would have asked for a change (substitution).

"It wasn't like that; I wanted to get to the final of the Europa League with my team."

The current restrictions on air travel because of the volcanic ash cloud meant Torres' planned return to Barcelona on Thursday to see specialist Dr Ramon Cugat was delayed until Saturday.

When another flight was cancelled Torres decided to make the arduous road and rail trip with an overnight stop just outside Paris.

"The trip was an adventure. I arrived exhausted at 8.30 on Sunday evening and barely had time to have a shower at the hotel before going to the clinic where Dr Cugat was waiting for me," he said.

"Three hours after I had the meniscus operation."

Torres Confident Of Being Fit For World Cup

Spain striker Fernando Torres said he is confident of being fit for the start of the World Cup in June after undergoing knee surgery on Sunday.

"The World Cup is now the most important thing," he told his personal website (www.fernando9torres.com) on Monday.

"It's a four-year wait and if everything goes well I don't plan to miss it. I start work today."

The 26-year-old endured a long overland car trip from Liverpool to Barcelona for the surgery after his flight was cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud, but he was positive the effort had been worth it for him to make it to South Africa.

His decision to have knee surgery on Sunday, though, has handed coach Vicente del Bosque another World Cup headache.

With midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta also recovering from injury, Del Bosque will need to ponder his back-up plans in case he thinks it too risky to take one or more of the trio if they are not fully fit.

Torres, who scored the winner against Germany in the Euro 2008 final, is a fundamental part of the Spain team, covering three roles in one package.

His power and pace turn him into a goalscorer, battering ram and decoy who can unsettle the most experienced of defences.

The former Atletico Madrid man has bagged a respectable 23 goals from 72 appearances, but he gives Spain a physical presence that allows his more versatile and elusive strike partner David Villa to do even greater damage.

Valencia forward Villa has amassed 36 goals from only 55 games.

The explosive nature of Torres's game will make it a particularly tough decision for Del Bosque to make if doubts remain over his knee next month.

"Naturally, it is a worry," Del Bosque told Radio Marca in an interview last week when asked about the growing injury list.

"We have six or seven players who aren't in top shape, but we hope that in the month remaining before we have to produce our list, they will get themselves back up to full fitness.

"We have 30 or so players that we have absolute faith in and who could potentially come with us."

Replacing Torres is a tall order, but Fenerbahce's Daniel Guiza has successfully carried off a similar role over the last couple of years as Spain's 'reserve' striker.

Waiting in the wings for a possible call up are Athletic Bilbao's 'Lion King' Fernando Llorente, who scored against England in a friendly last year, and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo.

Arsenal's Fabregas cracked a bone in his right leg earlier this month, while Barcelona's Iniesta had a recurrence of a thigh muscle problem last week, but both hope to return by the end of May.

Further concerns for Del Bosque include Villarreal midfielders Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla, and Valencia's Villa and David Silva, who have all suffered with a string of injuries throughout the campaign.

Rafa: Academy Changes Working

Rafa Benitez believes there are already signs that our new-look Academy is producing exciting talent.

The gaffer instigated big changes down in Kirkby last summer, with the likes of Frank McParland, Kenny Dalglish, Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell being drafted in.

One player they are nurturing is 15-year-old left-back Jack Robinson, who was invited to train with the first team last week.

Benitez is hopeful the teenager and several other Academy scholars will soon be ready to train regularly alongside the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.

"Jack was okay," the boss told Liverpoolfc.tv. "He was a little bit shy at first, a little bit quiet. But the senior players were helping and supporting him. The first training session is never easy but little by little he was better.

"We have to go one step at a time, they have to progress through different teams, but it's always important to meet someone and give the others the message that they can progress if they're doing well. It's a good message for the others now because they have extra motivation.

"We didn't have too many players of the level we were expecting but now the atmosphere is really good and we have more players with quality.

"They have some players in each group and the other day I got a report with different names and different players - but still they are young so they have to keep working very hard if they want to be in the Reserves and then the first team."

Asked what changes had been made at the Academy since last summer, Benitez added: "When I talk with them it's clear they're doing a very good job and all the staff are working very hard to improve and change things. We are really pleased with them.

"We are trying for a different approach in training sessions. The mentality and the way they have to behave is more or less the same because it already wasn't bad.

"The technical plan and how to push the players is now a little bit better."

West Ham Midfielder Valon Behrami Backs Alberto Aquilani To Be A Hit For Liverpool Next Season

West Ham United midfielder Valon Behrami is convinced that his old opponent Alberto Aquilani will prove to be a hit for Liverpool next season.

Behrami played against Aquilani in Serie A, when the two players were at Lazio and Roma, respectively.

He is set to face him again on Monday evening when the Hammers travel to Anfield in the Premier League, but believes it is next season when Reds fans will see Aquilani's true capabilities after a campaign when the Italian has struggled for fitness.

"We played against each other when we played for Lazio and Roma, so we are used to meeting each other in a big match," Behrami said, according to Liverpool's official website.

"It will be a pleasure to see him, but I hope for us it is going to be good and a bad day for him!

"It has been hard for him, coming into English football. It is very different but he is a very good player.

"He has not yet been able to show all of his quality, but in the future he will be one of the best players for Liverpool.

"They haven't really seen what he can do. When he is 100 per cent fit and gets used to English football, he will show it.

"In Italy, he was one of the best players. He needs to just get fit again. He has had a bad injury and just needs some time to get in a good condition. I am sure he will be a quality addition to his team."