Friday, April 30, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 1 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan scored against Liverpool for the second time in a week to end the Merseysiders' dreams of a third European final in five years.

The former Manchester United forward, who hit the only goal in the first leg, scored the crucial extra-time away goal which booked their place in May's Europa League final despite a 2-1 defeat at Anfield.

Alberto Aquilani's 44th-minute strike had ensured the game went into the additional 30 minutes and despite Yossi Benayoun putting his side ahead, Forlan - much derided during his time in English football - had the last word.

Twice previously in this competition Liverpool had come back from first leg deficits - against Lille and Benfica - but on this occasion even a win was not enough.

How they missed injured striker Fernando Torres, watching his former club take on his current employers from the stands, after dominating most of the game but failing to finish off their opponents in normal time.

But it was not the lack of goals which did for them in the end, but the one they let in at the Kop end to a familiar foe.

Liverpool had needed an early boost and they almost got it after just nine seconds.

Daniel Agger's long ball picked out Benayoun in the penalty area and his low shot from a narrow angle was turned behind by goalkeeper David de Gea, who had an easier save when Aquilani shot straight at him in the 11th minute.

It was a sign of things to come as Atletico's gameplan of sitting back and counter-attacking was restricted to just the former.

But the Spanish side, driven by the knowledge an away goal would strengthen their position considerably, still posed an occasional threat and Jose Reina dived low to his right to turn Raul Garcia's long-range effort around the post midway through the half.

Still Liverpool pushed forward and Dirk Kuyt, who recovered from a calf injury to lead the line, was only inches over as he slid into the six-yard area to deflect Javier Mascherano's cross.

The game was becoming more open but when Sergio Aguero went round Reina from Jose Antonio Reyes' perfect through-ball he opted to cross rather than shoot from a narrow angle and Forlan could not make up the ground.

Liverpool thought they had scored the goal they desperately wanted when Steven Gerrard curled in a 32nd-minute free-kick and Agger headed into the bottom corner only to be flagged offside.

Gerrard was booked for a needless foul on Aguero as the half drew to a close and frustration levels began to rise at Anfield.

But a minute before the interval the breakthrough finally came with the simplest of moves and the most exact of finishes.

Stand-in right-back Mascherano's throw down the wing was picked up by Benayoun whose cross was missed by Kuyt but found Aquilani who curled a low shot just inside De Gea's left-hand post.

With honours even Liverpool's approach play was more patient and measured as the second half began.

But the optimism around Anfield which was tangible before the break had been replaced by a growing sense of anxiety and the players could feel it, with Benayoun shooting well over from 25 yards.

Urged on by the Kop, Liverpool found an extra gear and when left-back Glen Johnson cut in and whipped in a right-footed shot De Gea could only parry it over the crossbar, but the goalkeeper was able to claim Gerrard's corner unchallenged.

The last 10 minutes saw Atletico have probably their best spell of the game but Forlan crucially mis-controlled the last chance of regulation time having sprung the offside trap.

Five minutes into the added period Liverpool went ahead for the first time.

A Gerrard free-kick was only half-cleared and Lucas lobbed the ball over the inside-left channel where Benayoun, played onside by Antonio Lopez, drilled home left-footed with De Gea getting a hand to the shot but failing to keep it out.

Substitute Jose Manuel Jurado's 20-yard effort inches wide of the post was a warning Liverpool failed to heed as in the 102nd minute Atletico scored a the vital away goal when Reyes beat Johnson to cross for the unmarked Forlan to stab home.

The second period was notable only for Simao Sabrosa firing just over as Liverpool's European dreams - and their hopes of a successful conclusion to their season - were extinguished.

Benitez: Reds Board Won't Back Me

Rafa Benitez last night threw his future as Liverpool manager into fresh doubt by revealing he has NEVER received assurances over his job.

But, with Juventus waiting in the wings to capture Benitez, it could well be the last big night of his six-year reign.

When asked if anyone from the Anfield boardroom had sat down with him and given assurances over his future, he replied pointedly: “No.”

He added: “For one year I have been listening to stories about Martin O’Neill taking my job or Klinsmann, Mourinho, Rijkaard or Hiddink.

“But I have to keep doing my job. All I can do is focus on the next game.

“The opportunity to be in a European final is massive for any club. We have some problems with injuries, but we will be ready for the game.

“I have read in the Spanish press Atletico players saying there is not much difference between the atmosphere at the Calderon and Anfield, but there is a massive difference and hopefully we will see that.”

Despite the doubt over his future, Benitez continued to build for the future when he completed the signing of Charlton youngster Jonjo Shelvey for £1.7m.

The 18-year-old midfielder has passed medical and agreed personal terms, and will complete his move to Anfield on May 10.

Ryan Babel Blames Outside Influences For His Mistakes At Liverpool

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel admits he allowed himself to be affected by influences which ruined his game and almost forced him out of the club.

The Holland international was a bit-part player midway through the season and found an outlet for his frustrations through his personal Twitter page.

That prompted a personal rebuke from manager Rafael Benítez and with Birmingham reportedly having a £9 million bid turned down, it appeared the Dutchman was heading for a January exit.

However, a meeting between Benítez, Babel and his agent straightened things out and since then the player has started to show glimpses of the form which persuaded Liverpool to pay £11 million for him in July 2007.

"I think the turning point was that I could focus on the football and not rumours and different sayings of people and the media.

"For every young player it is difficult to focus 100% when you know you are the subject of something that can influence your game.

"During that period people were telling me negative and positive things and that made me think about different things and you cannot concentrate on football.

"When you read in one paper that Liverpool want to get rid of you – even though you know it is not true – it is those little things which confuse you.

"I was not close to leaving but it was one of those things that did not make me concentrate 100%.''

Of Benítez's pep talk he added: "It is a situation where both sides have to work with each other. It has given me confidence recently and I'm now trying to give something back.

"Liverpool have confidence in me and I have confidence in Liverpool."

Babel lays some of his self-doubt and insecurity at the feet of his father, a hard taskmaster by all accounts.

"I am very self-critical, that is how I have been raised," he added. "I have a very difficult father who is always looking at points where I can improve.

"Sometimes that is annoying because you come off the pitch with a good feeling and he still comes with points that could be better.

"I only want to improve more. I think it is clear how my career has been so far but I'm confident for the future so, as long as I can concentrate on football, the best will definitely come."

Liverpool Target Danny Wilson Refuses New Rangers Deal

The chances of Danny Wilson leaving Rangers this summer appear to have increased following reports that the highly-rated young defender will not sign a new deal at Ibrox.

Liverpool have emerged as favourites to sign Wilson in recent weeks with his current Rangers deal expiring at the end of 2010/2011.

A report in the Scottish Sun today claims Rangers have given up hope of holding on to Wilson beyond his current deal which makes it likely he will leave this summer.

Rangers have reportedly held talks with Liverpool over a deal but the Merseyside giants face competition for the youngster from the likes of Aston Villa, Spurs and Manchester City.

The desire to sign Wilson is in line with the current transfer policy of Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez who recently signed Raheem Sterling and is close to a deal for Jonjo Shelvey, two of the hottest prospects in England.

Liverpool Line-Up Rangers' £5m Defender Madjid Bougherra

Rangers’ defender Madjid Bougherra could be a summer target for Liverpool - if Rafa Benitez keeps his job.

The Anfield boss is thought to be keen on bringing the Algeria international back to the Premier League ahead of next season.

But with Benitez's future on Merseyside uncertain, any hopes Bougherra may have of a summer move to Liverpool will hinge on the Spaniard staying at the club.

Bougherra's agent Farid Raayad said: 'There’s serious interest from three clubs and Liverpool’s is the strongest, but it depends on the future of Benitez.

'Panathinaikos are also interested as are Fenerbahce.'

Bougherra, who is rated at around £5m, could be joined at Anfield by teenage team-mate Danny Wilson.

Liverpool have been linked with a move for the 18-year-old as he refuses to sign a new deal at Ibrox after bursting on to the scene this season.

Mauro Zarate Attracts Attention From Liverpool & Manchester City

Mauro Zarate has been tipped to leave Lazio and head back to the Premier League, according to Leggo.

Zarate, who has experience in England having played for Birmingham City in 2008, is close to an exit following a less than perfect season.

He has scored just three goals in 30 appearances and is ready to pack his bags. He will ask to meet President Claudio Lotito at the end of term to ask for guarantees in relation to the challenge for objectives, such as qualification for Europe.

This season the focus has been on dodging relegation, something that has not gone down well with Zarate.

Leggo's report comes just weeks after Zarate's brother and agent issued a quit threat.

"If we are in the way of Lazio then we will leave," Sergio Zarate said.

Liverpool and Manchester City are both said to have made enquiries with the club.

Ngoo And Ince Strike In Under-18s Triumph

Liverpool Under-18s stretched their unbeaten run to nine matches with a superb 4-0 victory over Leeds United at the Academy on Thursday afternoon.

The Reds dominated for long spells against the Yorkshire outfit and deservedly earned the three points thanks to goals from Michael Ngoo, Tom Ince (2) and Conor Coady (pen).

It means Rodolfo Borrell's men have not lost a match since their FA Youth Cup defeat at home to Watford back in February and can complete an impressive finish to the season by avoiding defeat in their final game at Huddersfield on May 8.

Following a scrappy opening devoid of any real clear-cut chances, it was Liverpool who came closest when Toni Brito E Silva set up Ngoo on nine minutes.

The former Southend striker looked all set to fire in a shot at goal from just inside the penalty area but instead opted to turn back into trouble, allowing Leeds the chance to clear.

The opportunity merely served as a catalyst for Liverpool to step it up a gear, however, and on 18 minutes they grabbed the breakthrough courtesy of their in-form forward.

John Flanagan picked out Silva on the right side of midfield. The Portuguese winger cut inside his man and fired in a low shot that Ryan Jones could only parry into the path of Ngoo, who gleefully swept in the rebound.

Craig Roddan was then unlucky to see a long range drive flash just past the post shortly after as Liverpool began to get at the Leeds rearguard.

The Reds were well in control of the proceedings and it came as no surprise when they added a second, with Andre Wisdom setting up Ince to fire past Jones on the half hour mark.

The visitors had enjoyed very few forays forward and Adam Watson's speculative free-kick was the best they could muster in as one-sided a first 45 as you are likely to see.

Indeed, Leeds were lucky to go in just two goals behind at the break after Silva latched onto Ngoo's flick, rounded the 'keeper and fired in a shot that was hacked off the line.

The pattern continued after the interval and on 55 minutes the Reds ensured there would be no doubt over the result as Coady picked himself up to drill home the third from the spot after he was hauled down in the area.

As if the away side hadn't suffered enough, Borrell took this as the cue to unleash Raheem Sterling and the substitute almost added a stunning fourth when he skipped past two and arrowed a shot just beyond the far upright.

Liverpool pressed throughout the remainder of the encounter and after another substitute, Kristjan Gauti Emilsson twice went close, Ince wrapped up victory with a magnificent strike on 86 minutes.

McLeish Plans Birmingham Stay

Alex McLeish has spelt out his desire to remain as Birmingham manager for "at least" the next two seasons.

McLeish insists he is in no great rush to put pen to paper on a new deal. The former Scotland boss has been linked with a move to Liverpool should Rafael Benitez end his term at Anfield in the summer.

But he is happy with life at St Andrew's where he has guided Blues to promotion and a top-10 position in the Premier League in successive seasons.

"We haven't really sat down and got into (the contract) as such," he said. "There has been no real hurry for it. There are still two games to go. We are not into May yet.

"There is plenty of time. People outside seem to be more anxious about getting it done. The club and I are relaxed about it.

"I don't see any reason why I've got to leave. If you are talking about me being linked with big clubs, it is nice that my name is mentioned, but these clubs will be going for names of maybe people who have been a little bit more successful than me in the game.

"I've had some success but maybe they are looking at a different kind of level, European success, English titles, things like that. At the moment I am concentrating on Birmingham, certainly for this season and the next couple of years at least."

Phil Parkinson: Jonjo Shelvey Sale Is Good Value For Charlton And Liverpool

Charlton Athletic manager Phil Parkinson believes the £1.7 million sale of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to Liverpool is a good deal for the south London club.

The teenager's transfer fee will rise depending on how he fares at Anfield, and Parkinson believes Rafael Benitez has a great young talent on his hands. But he also believes the time was right for the Addicks to cash in on one of their most promising assets.

"No manager likes to lose their best players, but this deal represents very good value for the club going forward, and is a fantastic opportunity for Jonjo," Parkinson told reporters.

"It's very difficult to stand in the way of any young player joining a club the stature of Liverpool."

With Charlton seemingly destined to be in the League One play-offs at the end of the season Parkinson is only disappointed that they will not be able to call upon their prodigy for the remainder of the campaign, as they look to claw their way back into the Championship at the first attempt.

"I've spoken to a number of fans and I know they are puzzled about the timing of the transfer," he said, as Shelvey will join the Reds at the conclusion of the final league game.

"The timing isn't ideal but unfortunately that was taken out of our hands once Liverpool approached, and the board and I agreed it was best to get everything out in the open.

"We can now move on and concentrate on the next few weeks as we enter a crucial stage of the season, and indeed, the club's history."

Shelvey became Charlton's youngest player when he made his first-team bow in April 2008, aged just 16 years and 59 days. He has 48 appearances and scored eight times for the Addicks.

Liverpool And Carlsberg Set Sights On Lucrative Chinese Market

Carlsberg will appear on the shirts of Liverpool FC at Anfield for the final time this weekend when the Reds take on Chelsea, and use the opportunity of the biggest game of the Premier League weekend to target the Chinese market.

Liverpool's sponsor will display its logo on the famous red shirts worn by Steven Gerrard and his teammates in Chinese.

'Carslberg officials came up with the idea as a way of interacting with the club's huge support in Asia and as acknowledgement of Liverpool being the only UK city to be exhibiting at the World Expo in Shanghai later this year,' reports the Liverpool Daily Post.

'Chinese messages will be displayed on the perimeter advertising boardings during the match and a Chinese competition winner will present a trophy to the 'Man of the Match' in the Carlsberg Lounge after the final whistle,' the newspaper adds.

The match is vital for both Liverpool and Chelsea. The London team are hoping to stay ahead of Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title, while Liverpool are desperate for three points as they chase qualification to the Uefa Champions League.

Rafa Benitez's side currently sits in seventh, with Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City in the race.

However, Liverpool are hoping that the fact that Manchester City and Aston Villa meet on Saturday and Tottenham and City play on Wednesday will open up a chance for the Reds to leapfrog their rivals.