Monday, May 10, 2010

Match Report: Hull City 0 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool's hopes of a top six finish were dashed as they brought the 2009-10 campaign to an end with a disappointing 0-0 draw at relegated Hull City on Sunday afternoon.

The Reds dominated for long spells but couldn't find the breakthrough as Alberto Aquilani, Daniel Agger and Nabil El Zhar all spurned good chances, while Steven Gerrard hit the post late on.

It means Rafael Benitez's men finish the season in seventh place, with the prospect of a Europa League qualifier in July looming on the horizon.

The stalemate did hold some significance, however, with Jack Robinson coming off the bench to become the youngest Liverpool player in history at the age of 16 years and 250 days.

The Academy starlet replaced Ryan Babel with four minutes remaining to begin what will hopefully be a bright future.

Ahead of the encounter in Humberside, the boss opted to make two changes to the team that lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea, with El Zhar making his first start of the season and Babel coming in for the injured Maxi Rodriguez.

But it was perhaps the substitutes's bench that stole the pre-match limelight, with Martin Skrtel making his long awaited return from injury, while Robinson was hoping to make his own little bit of LFC history.

Many observers had suggested it was an end of season contest with little to play for, but with Pepe Reina still in the running for the Golden Glove award and the prospect of leapfrogging Aston Villa into sixth place, there was incentive enough for Liverpool to make the more promising start.

Some superb link up between Aquilani, Babel and Gerrard saw the skipper stretch his legs into the Hull area and angle a pass towards Dirk Kuyt, who was just a few yards away from collecting and having a free shot at goal.

It set the tone for a period of Reds dominance and on six minutes they could so easily have been ahead. Tom Cainey desperately tried to intercept Babel's searching pass, stretching out a leg that saw the ball loop over Tigers stopper Matt Duke and fly inches wide of the post.

It was a lucky escape for the home side who were keen to sign off their time in the Barclays Premier League with a notable scalp. However, it was the visitors who continued to look the more likely with Aquilani fizzing a few yards off target with a speculative 25 yarder.

El Zhar was then a fingertip away from capping his promotion to the starting XI with a goal, lashing a superb shot towards the top corner that Duke did brilliantly to keep out.

From the resulting corner Liverpool came even closer, as El Zhar's miscued strike was flicked goalwards by Kuyt, only for George Boateng to head off the line.

It had been a one-sided first-half, but after Aquilani dragged just wide of the far post, Hull almost snatched the lead. A free-kick was launched into the Reds' area, ending with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink nodding a tame effort into the grateful arms of Reina.

It seemed to inspire Iain Dowie's men and they would miss two more gilt-edged opportunities just after the half hour mark.

Javier Mascherano lost possession deep inside Liverpool territory and after a miss-hit shot deflected into Mark Cullen's path, the striker somehow contrived to step on the ball and fail to convert from just six yards out.

And the 18-year-old had his head in his hands less than a minute later when he glanced a free header wide of the far post after Will Atkinson's superb cross from the right.

Liverpool could count themselves very fortunate not to have fallen behind, but they should have taken the lead on 45 minutes when some woeful Hull defending saw the ball drop to Aquilani 10 yards from goal. The Italian composed himself and drilled in a shot that cannoned back off the crossbar, with Daniel Agger lashing the rebound way over the top.

A look at the half-time scores suggested that the title was well on its way to Stamford Bridge, while Villa's inability to breakdown Blackburn's stubborn rearguard meant a Reds goal would give them the advantage in the battle for sixth.

However, it was Hull who started the second period on top and they should have broken the deadlock on 51 minutes. Bernard Mendy teased a cross in from the right that Vennegoor of Hesselink and Cairney both came within a whisker of converting.

Next it was Mendy's turn to go close, firing in a 40 yard free-kick that Reina did well to tip over the top. The Spanish stopper had gone into the clash hoping to secure a fourth Golden Glove award in just five seasons, but with Cech a virtual bystander in Chelsea's rout of Wigan, the No. 25 would eventually have to share the gong.

At the other end, Liverpool had faded as an attacking force and as the final moments approached, the best they had mustered was a poor effort from Aquilani.

With time running out Gerrard almost snatched a victory, hitting a low shot just wide before going even closer with a drive that smashed back off the post.

Martin O'Neill Emerges As Liverpool's Number One Target To Replace Rafael Benitez

Liverpool have chosen Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill as their top choice to replace Rafael Benitez this summer.

Sunday’s match at Hull City is likely to be Benitez’s final game in charge of Liverpool as reports have suggested that Benitez will be moving to Juventus.

O’Neill is set to meet with Villa owner Randy Lerner to discuss his future with the club and some believe that the Irishman could leave in the summer, according to the Daily Star.

The last two Liverpool bosses have been Frenchman Gerard Houllier and Benitez, who is from Spain, but should the club hire a new manager they would prefer a British manager.

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, Birmingham’s Alex McLeish and Kenny Danglish are also being considered for the Liverpool job.

However, O’Neill would be the main target to lead the Reds if Benitez completes a move to Juventus this summer.

Former Anfield star Owen Backs Liverpool's Carragher For World Cup

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen has backed Jamie Carragher, following speculation that the Anfield stalwart will receive a surprise World Cup call-up.

With doubts over Rio Ferdinand’s fitness, Capello is reportedly on the verge of calling Carragher into his 30-man training squad to be announced on Tuesday, ahead of friendlies against Japan and Mexico.

Carragher announced his retirement from international football in 2007, having won 34 England caps. However, he has been one of Liverpool's more consistent performers this season and Capello will reportedly persuade him to make a return.

Owen, who played alongside Carragher for both Liverpool and England, told Sky Sports,

"Jamie has been there and done it for club and country,

"Whether he goes or not, he would be one of the last people you would worry about depending on."

Owen himself had harboured hopes of a late World Cup call-up, but saw his slim chances dashed after he was injured in the Carling Cup final earlier in the season.

Fulham Boss Hodgson Hints He's Open To Liverpool Offer

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has said that he would be open to an offer from a big club, hinting that a move to Liverpool would not be out of the question.

Last week, Hodgson was tipped as the front runner to succeed Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, who has been courted closely by Juventus. It appears that Benitez will not secure the assurances that he wants from the Liverpool hierarchy which could keep him at Anfield.

Meanwhile, Hodgson, has achieved what Benitez couldn’t, by leading his side to the Europa League final and has been linked with the Liverpool job. Hodgson has done remarkably at Craven Cottage, firstly keeping Fulham in the Premier League against the odds and now leading them to European glory.

The 62 year-old has plenty of top level experience, having coached Inter Milan and the Swiss national team.

The News of the World quote him today, saying that he would consider a move to a top club, which presumably included the likes of Liverpool.

Hodgson said, "If the day comes when a big club wants me and I am available then I would be happy to do it.

"If you really want to be the guy who is involved in European Cup finals every year, you have to choose your clubs very carefully," he added.

"My fault in the past has always been that I can't bear not working so whenever I leave a job I have a tremendous tendency - probably not always intelligent of me - to jump at the first job that comes my way that sounds half-decent."

Rafa Benitez Is Running Out Of Time With Juventus

Rafa Benitez could find himself in no-man’s land if Juventus finally slam the door on him becoming their next coach.

The Turin giants have given the Liverpool boss a deadline of tomorrow to decide whether he wants to leave Anfield.

New president Andrea Agnelli is growing increasingly frustrated and got tough after a crisis meeting with his fellow power-brokers.

They agreed they need an immediate answer from Benitez, with the Italians worried they are going to be left behind in the race to sign new players for next season.

There’s also a stumbling block over what level of compensation has to be paid by Juventus, with Benitez still having four years left on a contract worth £16million.

Benitez is also cooling on the switch, after being told he wouldn’t be be able to take his entire backroom staff with him, and couldn’t be guaranteed total control over transfers.

Agnelli would now prefer an Italian coach – but his henchmen favour former boss Didier Deschamps, currently at Marseille.

Benitez might now reconsider his position at Liverpool but it may be too late for the Spaniard and today’s clash with Hull could be his final game in charge.

Liverpool Boss Benitez Puts Aquilani Up For Sale For £15m

The People report today that Benitez hopes to raise £35million by selling the likes of Aquilani, Ryan Babel, David Ngog and Nabil El Zhar. This will ensure that Liverpool can hold on to their superstars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

The Sunday tabloid add that Benitez has been given a June 14 deadline to tell Liverpool whether he intends to stay or leave and if he remains he will set about a serious shake up of the first team squad.

Aquilani is reportedly available for 15 million pounds with Babel free to leave for 10 million. Benitez also rates Ngog at 10 million.

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 the Italian is contracted to Liverpool until the end of season 2013/2014.

If the Spanish boss can raise enough money he will look to sign Bolton defender Gary Cahill for Liverpool.

'He's Been A Fantastic Signing'

Rafael Benitez today hailed Dirk Kuyt as a 'fantastic signing' for Liverpool as the Dutchman closes in on his 200th Reds appearance.

Kuyt will reach the milestone should he figure against Hull City at the KC Stadium this afternoon - and the boss believes he has proven to be a fine acquisition for the club since arriving from Feyenoord in August 2006.

"For someone who has come from abroad and played a lot of games with the passion he does, it is a fantastic achievement," Benitez told

"It's always really important, but especially for a foreign player.

"I think people will realise in the future how good he is for us. Not just in terms of his performances on the pitch, but also as a person and a professional.

"He is a very good example and a great character who is always very happy and positive. He has been a fantastic signing."

Since moving to Anfield, Kuyt has been deployed in a series of different positions by Benitez - and the Holland star even offered to play at right-back during an FA Cup tie with Reading earlier this year.

However, it is a role on Liverpool's right flank where the 29-year-old has excelled most.

"It's not his best position - we know that he is a striker - but he has been very good for us playing on the right side," added Benitez.

"He has done well, scored goals, and has also played as a second striker and a target man.

"He has been good in all of these positions, but we needed to use him more on the right and he has done really well.

"That is the right attitude you expect from your players when you need them."

Chase On For McClaren

Steve McClaren's agent has confirmed that he will make a decision on his future this weekend, amid reports Wolfsburg have firmed up their interest in him.

McClaren has just led Twente to the Dutch title and a host of clubs are now tracking him.

Former German champions Wolfsburg are understood to be keen on securing his services, and sources claim that he has met with Bundesliga club.

However, another German side Hamburg are known to also be keen - whilst it is believed the likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham and Celtic are keeping abreast of the former England coach's situation.

McClaren's agent Colin Gordon has now been quoted by the Dutch media, suggesting a decision on his future will be made over the weekend.

"There are many interested clubs," Gordon told De Telegraaf.

"He will use this weekend to think about his future.

"He is home in England with his wife and sons, and they will be involved in any situations he makes."