Monday, May 03, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 0 - 2 Chelsea

Chelsea edged closer to the Barclays Premier League title with a crucial victory over Liverpool at Anfield.

An error by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard handed Didier Drogba a simple opening goal in the first half and Frank Lampard added a second after the break.

The result ensured Chelsea remained in pole position to win their first championship for four years but also finally put paid to the Merseysiders' hopes of securing Champions League football next season.

With Manchester United a point behind before kick-off and playing later in the day, Carlo Ancelotti's side knew anything less than a win would hand the initiative to their rivals.

And with next week's final weekend seeing United host Stoke - Chelsea are at home to Wigan - there was no margin for error.

Chelsea were undoubtedly the better side but the match may have turned out differently had they not been gifted a 33rd-minute lead.

The conspiracy theorists would certainly have had a field day.

Some fans had been suggesting all week they would rather Chelsea win an Anfield than beat the Stamford Bridge side and hand United the chance to eclipse the club's tally of 18 league titles.

However, even they could not have prophesied the manner of Chelsea's goal.

Gerrard failed to notice Drogba when he passed back to Jose Reina and the Ivory Coast international nipped in to round the goalkeeper and tuck the ball home.

Prior to that, the early exchanges had been open. Lampard shot wide and Nicolas Anelka forced Reina into a low save while Liverpool's Maxi Rodriguez and Javier Mascherano, standing in at right-back because of Glen Johnson's calf injury, saw shots deflected wide.

There were also three penalty claims in what was a bustling first half.

Two for Chelsea involved Salomon Kalou and his tendency to hit the ground as soon as he entered the box.

His first was a blatant dive in the ninth minute under Mascherano's challenge but referee Alan Wiley allowed that to go unpunished.

In added time at the end of the first half the same player was through on goal - with Lucas Leiva in close attendance - and managed to trip himself up.

Despite fierce Chelsea protests Wiley again made the correct decision.

Whether he got Alberto Aquilani's 26th-minute penalty shout right was open to debate after the Italy international went down under Branislav Ivanovic's challenge as he raced on to Rodriguez's chipped pass was open to debate as the defender appeared not to get the ball.

The loss of Rodriguez to injury just before half-time, when he was replaced by Ryan Babel, was a blow to Liverpool.

Six minutes into the second half Kalou muscled his way past Mascherano to drill a cross into the six-yard area, where Anelka failed to get the touch which would certainly have brought a second Chelsea goal.

But the Frenchman played a more influential role in the 54th minute when his cross picked out Lampard who bundled home from close range.

If that was not bad enough for Liverpool, they then lost Carragher to injury which meant 19-year-old Daniel Ayala was thrust into the action.

A forlorn-looking Fernando Torres, whose season was prematurely ended by a second knee operation in three months, could only watch on despondently from the stands.

It would have been 3-0 in the 67th minute had it not been for Reina's one-handed save from Florent Malouda's low shot.

David Ngog replaced Aquilani for the final 15 minutes but Liverpool were a spent force with only Reina keeping Chelsea at bay, punching away Michael Ballack's 25-yard free-kick and then producing a smart double save from Anelka and then Kalou.

The defeat meant Liverpool will finish the season with their lowest points total in five years, since accruing 58 in Rafael Benitez's first campaign in charge back in 2004-05.

Whether the Spaniard, strongly linked with Juventus, is around next season to rectify that remains in doubt.

Rafa Benitez Reveals Contract Frustration

Rafa Benitez is reported to have claimed that the club has broken promises made to him before he signed a new five-year contract just over a year ago.

The Spaniard has admitted his future beyond the end of the current season is unclear, and has been quoted in several of Sunday's national newspapers as saying that the conditions at Anfield had changed since he agreed his new contract.

"I decided to sign an extension because the squad was good and the money was going to be there. But the conditions changed," he said.

"We've had a bad season and hopefully things will be different in the future, but at the moment I can't talk about the future because I don't know what's going on."

Benitez said a similar situation unfolded at Valencia, leading to him leaving the Spanish club for Liverpool in 2004.

"I left Valencia because conditions changed," he added.

"It was not a question of my money that I stayed at Liverpool. I said 'no' to other massive offers. I decided to stay under certain conditions and they have changed.

"The players share the same frustrations. I know how they feel because I've been talking to them all season. The season has not been good, that is clear. We know why and what has to change."

Benitez has been strongly linked with a move to Italian side Juventus this summer.

Agger Making No Excuses

Daniel Agger has dismissed claims that Liverpool's financial problems off the field have been a catalyst for failure on it.

The Reds have failed to live up to expectations this year after finishing just two points off winning the league title in 2009, with the team's exit from the Europa League at the hands of Atletico Madrid on Thursday leaving their season all but over.

But Danish defender Agger has claimed that his side are yet to give up hope, and that the players can not blame the unrest at boardroom level and the issues over the future of Benitez for their level of performance.

"The players can't use the ownership issue as an excuse because it had absolutely nothing to do with us," he said.

"You can talk all you want, but it means nothing if you don't show anything on the pitch."

The ongoing wrangling between owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks as they try to sell the club and settle outstanding debts has been seen by Benitez as a reason behind the club's alarming fall from grace this season, with little funds available to strengthen the squad.

Agger appeared to agree with Benitez's issues to some extent; however the 25-year-old stated that despite changes in the hierarchy being required, his team-mates had to stand up and be counted in the final games of the season.

"A lot of things have to change here," he added.

"We all have to realise this season hasn't been good enough and we need to do more.

"For me the reason is simple - the players have not performed. Players should be playing for their futures.

"If you don't perform then you shouldn't play. It is that simple."

Rafa Benitez Will Quit Liverpool Like Valencia

It was June 2, 2004, when Rafa Benitez bid an emotional farewell to Valencia with tears streaming from his Spanish eyes.

Now, almost six years on, it seems inevitable that hysterical history will repeat itself and the weeping will begin again as Benitez walks alone from his beloved Kop.

The irony isn’t lost on anyone who knows the Liverpool boss that the corner which stubborn Benitez has painted himself into is all too familiar territory.

At Valencia, he felt betrayed when the club’s power brokers stalled and dithered on deciding about a new, extended contract.

Benitez didn’t feel he had their unreserved backing.

He felt unloved and said: “Personal and emotional damage have made me reconsider staying here.

“It seems they think more of me elsewhere than they do at home.”

Those words now sound oh so familiar as Benitez, 50, battles his inner demons and his own board, accusing anyone within earshot of breaking promises to him.

He expected a transfer budget of £20million, plus whatever he raised in sales, for this season’s planning.

It didn’t happen. And he believed that after the exit of chief executive Rick Parry, he would be able to adopt more of a hands-on role and be more in control of the club’s destiny.

But managing director Christian Purslow has come in and Benitez has discovered, to his dismay, which he interferes as much as Parry did.

Benitez, just 12 months into his new five-year deal, is at his wit’s end.

The tears are about to flow and won’t dry until he gets hold of the £80m transfer kitty promised if he becomes Juventus’ new manager.

He talked mainly in riddles after being dumped out of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday by Atletico Madrid.

But there were clear, incisive phrases too which summed up his thinking about being let down.

When asked if he considered it a privilege to manage Liverpool, he said: “For sure. This is a massive club and the fans have been fantastic every day.

“I’m proud to be here. I signed the contract extension because the squad was good and the money could be there. At the end things changed.

“We have had a bad season and at the moment I can’t talk about the future because I don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I said ‘no’ to massive offers. I decided to stay here under some conditions which have changed.

“I know how the players feel too, because I have been talking to them all season and we share the same frustrations.

“I also left Valencia because the conditions changed. The season has not been good. That is clear. We know why and what has to change.

“Because of the history of this club, everyone expects us to be top all the time. But the real situation is that we’re competing under different conditions because of money.

“From the start, expectations were too high. Mentally it was not easy for the players to approach every game thinking we need to be contenders when we were six, eight and then ten points behind.”

Liverpool Have Nobody To Replace Rafa Benitez

Liverpool have started their search for a new manager – admitting they have nobody lined up if Rafa Benitez quits for Juventus.

Even though there have been doubts about the future of Kop boss Benitez for months, Liverpool have only just begun canvassing opinion and sounding out sources on who would be the man for the job.

It’s another indication of the uncertainty at Anfield, with American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett trying to sell the club.

The obvious target, Jose Mourinho, is unlikely to accept, as he is waiting to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and believes his chances of eventually landing that job would be damaged if he joined arch-rivals Liverpool.

Mourinho’s controversial, confrontational style - again evident in Barcelona last week when his Inter Milan side reached the Champions’ League final - means he doesn’t have universal support at Old Trafford.

But the former Chelsea manager’s brilliant record makes him the favourite to follow Fergie, who would approve of the appointment.

Mourinho could also have the offer this summer of what he would regard as a more-exciting challenge than Liverpool - Real Madrid.

So Liverpool could end up considering Bayern Munich’s Dutch boss Louie Van Gaal - Mourinho’s European Cup final opponent.

Another Dutchman, Guus Hiddink, appears to be out of reach after agreeing to become manager of Turkey.

Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill and Birmingham’s Alex McLeish will be considered and Fulham’s Roy Hodgson, despite being 62, could be discussed after succeeding where Benitez failed in getting his team into the Europa League final.

The answer could even already be at the club in former manager and Academy Ambassador Kenny Dalglish.

But until Benitez’ future is resolved, the chaotic situation at Anfield will continue.

Liverpool Chiefs Believe Fulham Boss Roy Hodgson Would Be Rafael Benitez's Ideal Replacement

After leading Fulham to the Europa League final, Roy Hodgson has emerged as a shock candidate for the Liverpool hot-seat should Rafael Benitez leave Anfield in the summer.

According to the News of the World, Benitez’s future on Merseyside is very much still up in the air with a proposed move to Juventus rumbling on.

Such uncertainty had led the Reds to draw up a shortlist of potential candidates to become the Spaniard’s successor, and Hodgson's Premier League experience has placed him on top of their wish-list.

Others on the list include Aston Villa's Martin O’Neill and Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, but having taken the west London outfit to the Europa League final in Hamburg later this month, Hodgson has emerged as favourite for the job.

The 62-year-old has a wealth of experience both home and abroad, and is said to be keen on the England job.

However, due to the excellent work carried out by Three Lions chief Fabio Capello, it appears the former Inter Milan manager isn’t prepared to wait.

The ex-Blackburn Rovers boss has impressed many over the past few seasons with his fine work at Craven Cottage, and it is believed he is ready for one last big challenge before he calls time on his illustrious managerial career.

Benitez Fails To Shed Light On His Liverpool Future

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez left everyone in the dark about his future with the Premier League club after he appeared to bid farewell to the fans during a lap of honour around Anfield.

Benitez, who has been linked with Juventus and is due to meet Liverpool's new chairman Martin Broughton in the next few days, refused to give any assurances that he will be at the club at the start of next season.

"I prefer to concentrate on the next game and I will try to see the chairman," the Spaniard told reporters after Liverpool were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea in their final home game of the season.

"I have four more years on my contract and we will wait and see.

"I have been talking about all the speculation for the last two or three weeks... I will not talk too much about (the future)."

Liverpool have failed to win any silverware since they triumphed in the FA Cup final in 2006.

DIC Close In On £500m Takeover Of Liverpool

The Sunday Express report that Dubai International Capital are finally close to securing a £500 million takeover of Liverpool.

The next few weeks are set to be tumultuous at Anfield with owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks selling up and Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez heading to Juventus, according to the Sunday paper.

DIC, the investment arm of Dubai’s ruling family led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, attempted to buy Liverpool in 2007 but lost out to the American pair of Hicks and Gillett.

In 2008, DIC attempted to buy Gillett’s 50% share of Liverpool but talks broke down again.

If the deal goes through this time, DIC are tipped to commit funds to build Liverpool a new stadium and will hand a new manager a significant sum of money to spend on new players.

The Sunday Express list a whole list of names to replace Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, including Joe Mourinho, Martin O’Neill, Martin Jol and Frank Rijkaard.