Monday, April 26, 2010

Match Report: Burnley 0 - 4 Liverpool

Steven Gerrard's second-half brace and further goals from Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel relegated Burnley and kept Liverpool's top-four hopes alive.

Gerrard's first deflected off Burnley defender Leon Cort past Brian Jensen but his second was a fine first-time curling strike from 25-yards out.

Steven Fletcher later hit the post for Burnley with a left-footed half-volley.

Rodriguez fired home from 12-yards after Alberto Aquilani's pass and Ryan Babel beat Jensen when one on one.

The win left Burnley on 27 points, seven points behind West Ham with two matches left to play, while Liverpool remain in seventh but close the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham to two points, though having played a game more.

The victory was Liverpool's first away from Anfield in the league this year and could yet help them seal Champions League football for next season.

With Tottenham losing to Manchester United and Manchester City drawing with Arsenal on Saturday, Liverpool knew they had a great opportunity to close the gap on the teams above them.

Burnley's task was more simple, anything other than a victory would consign them to relegation after just one season in the Premier League.

Liverpool enjoyed the majority of the early possession, but despite a string of Gerrard corners they failed to create one decent chance, with Babel's screwed shot from 20-yards the only real effort of note.

Too often they gave the ball away, more through their own carelessness than Burnley pressure, leading to a disjointed and scrappy game which suited the Clarets.

It took half an hour for the first shot on target and it came from Liverpool's talisman, Gerrard.

Having burst into the box the ball found his path but after a neat swivel and strike from 12-yards, his half half-volley was comfortably saved by Jensen.

Burnley were full of endeavour with Fletcher heading Martin Paterson's right-wing cross from close range over the bar.

More home pressure followed and just before the break an unmarked Jack Cork, on-loan from Chelsea, should have done better when heading Tyrone Mears' right-wing cross straight at Pepe Reina who made a low save.

At the other end, Babel side footed tamely at Jensen when he found himself unmarked at the back post having broken the offside trap.

Liverpool were forced into an early change just after the break with striker Dirk Kuyt, who had been a solitary figure up front, was replaced by Yossi Benayoun.

Soon after, Mears' 20-yard free-kick was well saved by Reina as Burnley's attempts to break the deadlock gained momentum.

But it was Liverpool who got the first goal of the game and, unsurprisingly, it came from Gerrard.

Liverpool's captain played a neat one-two with Benayoun and having cut inside his man he unleashed a right-footed strike from 20-yards which took a huge deflection off Cort before flying past the wrong-footed Jensen and into the corner of the net.

Moments later Gerrard doubled Liverpool's lead with a sublime strike as Burnley's task became that much harder.

Gerrard latched on to Aquilani's knockdown and unleashed a fierce first-time right-footed curling shot from 25-yards which flew into the left-hand corner of Jensen's goal.

Soon after, Nugent tested Reina but his low shot was too tame to beat the Liverpool keeper.

Fletcher's neat turn and shot from the edge of the area was well saved by Reina while at the other end Rodriguez forced a decent stop from Jensen at the foot of his near post.

Fletcher was back in the action again and after controlling a long ball on his chest he was unlucky to see his 12-yard half-volley fly past Reina but bounce back off the post.

Burnley continued to press but Liverpool were that much more clinical and Aquilani's pass superbly opened up the Burnley defence for Maxi to fire right-footed across Jensen into the far corner of the net from 12-yards for 3-0.

And late on there was time for one more with substitute Lucas playing in Babel who beat the offside trap and found himself one on one with Jensen and the Dutchman made no mistake in firing past the Burnley keeper to seal the victory and Burnley's relegation.

Liverpool Willing To Sell Alberto Aquilani For €20m

A report in the News of the World today says Liverpool are willing to sell Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani if they receive an offer similar to the money they paid Roma last summer.

Aquilani has reportedly become increasingly frustrated at his lack of first team opportunities at Liverpool.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez failed to use Aquilani from the bench in recent games against West Ham and Atletico Madrid.

Chris Bascombe in the News of the World predicts that Aquilani will wait to see how developments play out at Anfield this summer with Rafa Benitez heavily tipped to leave Liverpool.

In 2009/2010, Alberto Aquilani has played 19 games for Liverpool scoring once and providing three assists.

The Merseyside giants paid 20 million euros for Aquilani last summer and is contracted to Liverpool until the end of season 2013/2014.

Liverpool In Talks For Real Madrid Striker Benzema

Liverpool are moving to trump Manchester United for troubled Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema.

The former Lyon star has failed to settle in Madrid this and been engulfed by troubles off the pitch in his native France.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is a big admirer of Benzema, but Reds rival Rafa Benitez has stolen a march on him by opening serious transfer talks with Real Madrid this week.

Benitez is taking interest in an imminent clear-out at the Bernabeu that will include Rafael Van der Vaart, Lassana Diarra, Benzema, Christoph Metzelder and Royston Drenthe.

Liverpool took the opportunity of travelling to Madrid to hold talks with Real officials about available players and Benitez is believed to have singled out Van der Vaart and Benzema as potential targets.

Liverpool Turn Attentions To Man City Youngster

Rafa Benitez will this summer attempt to nab Manchester City youngster Michael Johnson.

Liverpool hope to persuade the former Everton trainee to leave Eastlands for Anfield in an attempt to resurrect his faltering career.

Injury problems, off field antics and a number of high profile new arrivals have limited the 22 year old to just 36 Premier League starts in four seasons and just three appearances in the last two seasons. Rafa Benitez has been linked with a move for the former England Under 21 star but will apparently make a concerted effort to snap up the talented central midfielder in the summer.

The Anfield boss is hoping that whomever takes over ownership from Tom Hicks and George Gillett will give him money to invest in his playing squad and Benitez is looking to increase his British contingent ahead of incoming Premier League 'homegrown' guidelines.

Johnson is valued at around £12m and Rafa is looking to offload some of his squad members to help fund new additions. Albert Riera,Charles Itandje and Philipp Degen are among those set to leave the club in the summer.

Liverpool Set To Lose Utility Man To AC Milan

AC Milan will attempt to snap up Liverpool's Fabio Aurelio this summer.

The 30 year old Brazilian has been a bit part player since his arrival at Anfield in July 2006 and is ready to run out his deal at the club and listen to offers for his services.

It is unknown whether Rafa Benitez is likely to offer the former Valencia a new deal but even if he does Aurelio is keen on a new challenge and is ready to join the plethora of fellow countrymen at the San Siro.

Injuries, poor form and superior squad alternatives have restricted the left sided player to just 50 Premier League starts in almost four years at the club.

Aurelio's agent has stated that whilst a new deal may be offered to his client he is still very much open to incoming offers and especially ones from clubs who could offer regular first team football.

Valiant Kid Jonjo's Kop Calling

Liverpool are ready to snap up Charlton superkid Jonjo Shelvey in a £2 million-plus move.

The Anfield club hope to tie up a quick deal for the attacking midfielder who has made almost 50 first team appearances for the Valiants, despite being just 18.

Shelvey has been linked with Chelsea and Arsenal since making his big breakthrough and also emerging through the international youth ranks.

However Liverpool - whose moves for top talent is being masterminded by Kenny Dalglish - expect to seal the transfer within weeks.

The gifted Essex boy would follow QPR kid Raheem Sterling to the Kop with the England babe already part of the emerging new-look at Liverpool.

The Merseysiders are also tracking Manchester United's young striker John Cofie as they look to bring in young British talent.

Arsenal Plan Raid For Liverpool Goalkeeper Pepe Reina

According to a report in the Sunday Express, the much-lauded shot-stopper is viewed as an ideal replacement for Manual Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, after both have failed to impress this season.

Reina has established himself as one of the top keepers in the Premier League since joining Liverpool in 2005, and Reds' chief Rafael Benitez would be fuming if he was forced to offload one of his major assets.

The 27-year-old 'keeper recently penned a long-term deal at Anfield, but the prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season will truly test his commitment.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been linked with a number of glovemen this summer and Bayer Leverkusen's Rene Adler and Lyon’s Hugo Lloris may prove likelier options.

Reds Suitor Wants Rafa Stay

Chinese businessman Kenneth Huang has revealed he is in talks to buy Liverpool and wants manager Rafa Benitez to remain at Anfield.

Huang is at the head of a consortium interested in ending the ownership deadlock at Anfield and has claimed he has been granted access to the club's accounts by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

And the former Wall Street broker, who has a huge portfolio of investment interests in Hong Kong and the United States, expects a deal to be in place within the next two months.

Huang, who is working alongside business partner Adrian Cheng on the deal, insists Benitez is at the heart of his £500million master plan and has already contacted the Spaniard to give him assurances about the future in a bid to keep him out of the clutches of Italian giants Juventus.

"Negotiations have taken place over the last few months and we are at a crucial stage," he said in the Sunday Mirror.

"I really hope it turns out to be a successful bid. Right now my audit team is examining the books and my legal team is in close contact with theirs.

"We have a fierce competitor in the Middle East, but it could be finalised in June."

He added: "I was first approached (to buy Liverpool) in 2008 when I was in Singapore attending a Formula One Grand Prix, but the asking price was 1billion US dollars.

"It was totally unreasonable so I turned it down. The asking price has dropped significantly and we are talking again.

"I want Liverpool to win the Champions League and Premier League and I think Benitez is a very good coach."

Fernando Torres: I Fear Long-Term Injury If I Remain In The Premier League

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is fearful that he will sustain long-term injuries if he keeps playing in the Premier League.

The Spanish international has endured an injury-ridden season and his status for the World Cup this summer could be in doubt as he needs surgery to make certrain he is fit for South Africa.

Torres has scored 18 goals in 22 Premier League games during 2009-10, but injuries have prematurely ended his campaign and he is worried he will suffer frequent stints on the sidelines if he keeps playing in England.

"The Premier League is such a tough competition and I have always admired this championship and the players who are here,” Torres told The News of the World.

"This is my third season and I'm still amazed to see [Steven] Gerrard, [Wayne] Rooney and [Frank] Lampard, players who have been here a long time, still playing at such a high level and with such impressive rhythm because the English league really wears down a player.

"I just can't imagine what state I'll be in within five or six years if I continue to play here - it could easily give me problems when I stop playing. The physical level is superior to all other countries."

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has been linked with a move to Juventus in the summer, but Torres insists his fellow Spaniard is the reason why he came to Anfield.

"The difference between him and my other managers is that when I was at Atletico [Madrid] I was always over-protected," he added.

"Here, Rafa [Benitez] demands a lot and I have to live up to expectations. Some players need to be spoilt and other players like me need to always be pushed, and to have more asked of us.

"If Rafa had not been here I would never have come. He has taught me a lot and he has helped me go beyond my limits and to be the player I am today."

John Toshack Slams Rafael Benitez's Transfer Policy

Liverpool legend John Toshack has criticised Rafael Benitez's dealings in the transfer market and has warned the Spaniard the fans are losing faith in his ability to guide the club to success.

The Wales boss believes the Liverpool boss has squandered huge sums of money on a host of forgettable faces, and has warned him that the Anfield faithful's confidence in him is diminishing.

Despite finishing as runners-up in the Premier League last season, the Reds have been constantly under-performing this term, currently languishing in seventh spot in the league.

“[Rafael] Benitez has maintained his reputation with the fans after winning the Champions League. But they are running out of patience," Toshak told the Daily Mirror.

“His transfer policy leaves a lot to be desired.

“[Xabi] Alonso was a success. It is the same for [Pepe] Reina and [Fernando] Torres, but that’s it. He must have spent more than 300 million euros on players!”

However, Benitez can still bring some silverware to the Merseyside club this season with Liverpool currently in the semi-finals of the Europa League.

Juventus Offer Rafael Benitez £15m A Year

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has reportedly been offered £15 million a year to take over at Juventus, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The newspaper claims that Benitez will be given unlimited funds to attract the world's best players to Turin.

The report also states that the offer also allows him to bring in his own coaching staff as Juventus aim to re-establish themselves as a European and global force.

Such an offer may tempt Benitez who has admitted his frustration at a lack of funds to improve his Liverpool squad this season and has reportedly fallen out with the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

However, recent rumours have suggested that Benitez will stay at Anfield provided the club can find new investors.

It has been a disappointing campaign for Liverpool and Benitez as the club look set to miss out on a top four finish, and with it, the prospect of Champions League football next season.

Yet the Reds could still end the season with some silverware, courtesy of the Europa League. Benitez's men welcome Atletico Madrid to Anfield for the second leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday, needing to overturn a first leg 1-0 deficit

Liverpool And Rafael Benítez Stuck In Limbo Until The Club Is Sold

It is amazing how quickly ambitions recede and goals diminish. Liverpool, title contenders at the season’s start, are now faced with the challenge of trying to qualify for the Europa League next season. Not exactly dignified.

The Europa League, like methadone, may only be a pallid substitute but it’s better than nothing. Starting with Burnley on Sunday afternoon, Rafael Benítez knows his side must secure qualification via the league or be faced with the task of winning the thing just to be able to take part in European competition next season.

Liverpool are four points clear of Everton in seventh – all that is needed for Europa qualification after Portsmouth’s exclusion was upheld – but have to play Chelsea next week.

“It’s always important to be in the Champions League or the Europa League, both for the image of the club and for the money,” Benítez said.

“Yes, the image would suffer if we missed out on the Europa League, but sometimes you never know what is best. We will try to win the competition, try to be there and if not, we will get ready for the next challenge.”

The image of the club. That’s a pretty tough thing to define at the moment. In their current state, Liverpool are a provisional club. Even the short-term future is obscure. We don’t know who will own the club, who will manage it or who will be playing for it.

As those three factors are interdependent the picture will only become clearer if there is a radical change. This is a club at the end of a cycle and this season’s last four (or five if they reach the Europa League final in Hamburg) fixtures are the anticlimactic endgame. Or that’s what you must hope.

The worst-case scenario for Liverpool is that an overly optimistic valuation of the club, by Tom Hicks in particular, will deter investors and force the club to limp into another campaign without the means to compete.

Benítez has made it clear he needs four or more high-quality players. If he doesn’t get that investment the “next challenge” he spoke of will be another club.

Juventus clearly want Benítez to be their next manager. In many ways they are Liverpool’s Italian echo: the nation’s most successful club fallen out of their domestic elite and facing the commercial desert of exile from the Champions League. Unlike Liverpool, though, Juventus have money to invest and Benítez might see it as the best venue to rehabilitate a damaged reputation.

What consequences Benitez’s departure would have on the playing staff is intriguing. Roberto Mancini made the mistake of publicly declaring his admiration for Fernando Torres last week – that’s a long way from any sort of deal being done. Torres is a year into a four-year contract, which he signed last summer, and there has been no formal approach from Manchester City. It would take a degree of agitation on Torres’s part if he were to leave – perhaps Benitez’s departure would provoke that.

The case of Javier Mascherano is also interesting. The Argentina captain has been close to signing a new contract for some time now but it has somewhat curiously stalled again. Bets being hedged? “We were very close but I don’t know if there are changes,” Benítez said. “I don’t know if something has changed since the last time I was talking to him, which was maybe three or four days ago. I still expect him to sign. He is happy so hopefully he can stay.”

Even Liverpool’s transfer plans have been put into stasis. “The priority now is to prepare the team properly for our next game and then we will have plenty of time to prepare transfers,” Benítez said. Everyone is waiting for something to happen.

In the short term, Benítez has the task of lifting his drained players for Sunday’s game. After their long haul to Madrid via planes, trains and automobiles and their sapping defeat in the Vicente Calderón once they finally got there, it will not be easy to restore the freshness to this team. “They will be a little bit tired but that happens sometimes,” Benítez said. “We will work very hard with them, the medical staff, the fitness coaches, everyone is working very hard to recover the players quickly.” Just a few more games to go. Then, finally, the clouds over Liverpool should begin to part.