Monday, September 20, 2010

Match Report: Manchester United 3 - 2 Liverpool

Sir Alex Ferguson was indebted to the "genius" of Dimitar Berbatov after the Bulgarian's brilliant hat-trick floored Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Every single member of the United side had need to thank Berbatov at the end after they had tossed away a two-goal advantage against Merseyside opposition for the second weekend running, only for the former Tottenham man to net the winner six minutes from time.

In some very perceptive programme notes, Ferguson suggested to lose a winning position once was bad luck, twice is downright careless.

Now Liverpool can be added to Fulham and Everton as teams United have thrown winning positions away against this season.

They were only spared the sight of Ferguson's fury stripping paint off the home dressing room because of Berbatov, whose header denied Liverpool, who had levelled through Steven Gerrard's double.

The other part of Ferguson's pre-match missive was the declaration that "you must have faith and we are being rewarded this season for our confidence in a player who has a touch of genius about him".

Genius was an apt word to describe Berbatov's contribution, in particular the astonishing overhead kick that had put United two ahead midway through the second-half of a slow burner of a game that eventually turned into a classic.

Ferguson is not the only one in these parts who still feel this is the biggest fixture of the Premier League calendar.

Chelsea, Arsenal and even Blackburn may have won the title since Liverpool last did so in 1990. But with their 18 league championships and five European Cups, they remain the most successful English side, even if United have now joined them on the domestic front.

The atmosphere was crackling at kick-off, although the early action failed to match it.

United did create one excellent opportunity, which Nani wasted when he fired wide after Wayne Rooney's shot had bounced kindly for him after striking Gerrard.

But the game was low on incident until Berbatov broke the deadlock by nodding home Ryan Giggs' corner at the near-post.

TV replays did not show Fernando Torres in a good light.

His performance at Birmingham last week was branded "diabolical" by TV pundit and former Liverpool skipper Jamie Redknapp.

Clearly needing a goal, Torres was again struggling to make an impact.

New United captain Nemanja Vidic, who has suffered more than most at the feet of a man who remains one of the world's best strikers, tidied up one opportunity that had come Torres' way via a fortunate bounce off World Cup final referee Howard Webb.

The Liverpool forward also trundled a disappointing shot way off target after managing to get a quarter of a yard in front of Vidic as the pair turned on the edge of the area.

All this was forgivable. Just allowing Berbatov, who had already got in front of the former Atletico Madrid star as Giggs strode up to take the corner, just to stoop for it unchallenged, would not have impressed Roy Hodgson very much.

If defensive questions needed to be asked about that, there was nothing more to do than simply admire Berbatov's brilliance when he doubled his side's lead just before the hour.

It was almost impossible to believe it took just two touches to get Nani's right-wing cross into the net.

But it was precisely that. The first to control with his knee. The second to dispatch an overhead kick which left Pepe Reina rooted to the spot as it bounced in off the crossbar.

In any normal season, the contest would have been over.

However, there is a fallibility about United just now that clearly refuses to rectify itself no matter how harsh Ferguson's words.

The rashness with which Jonny Evans lunged in on Torres as the striker checked back inside the box gave lie to the theory United can operate effectively without Rio Ferdinand, overlooked for the captaincy and missing with a virus.

On the second occasion, John O'Shea could count himself mightily relieved Webb did not reach for the red card once he decided the Irishman had dragged Torres to the ground just outside the box.

The consequences of Webb's ruling would be felt in the eventual outcome.

With both situations though, Gerrard found the corner of United's goal with precision, racing gleefully to the ecstatic visiting fans the second time around to hail a position he could not have expected his team would be in 10 minutes previously.

It looked like United had blown it. Berbatov had other ideas and rose to meet O'Shea cross to give his side victory.

Sir Alex Ferguson Claims Liverpool Depended On Decisions From Officials In 3-2 Defeat To Manchester United

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hit out at refereeing decisions made in the 3-2 win over rivals Liverpool.

The Red Devils led 2-0 after two Dimitar Berbatov goals but surrendered that lead by conceding a penalty and a free-kick which were both scored by Steven Gerrard before Berbatov secured the win for United late on

Jonny Evans gave away a penalty after fouling Fernando Torres moments after Berbatov had given the hosts a second goal lead, before Torres won a free-kick on the edge of the area after being pulled back by John O’Shea.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Ferguson said his side should have won by a more convincing margin before launching an attack on the officials.

“From the game we [thought] it’s going to be 10 but it ends up 2-2 [after the refereeing decisions]. It was a travesty of a scoreline but a great result at the end of the day,” he said.

“They didn’t offer anything, they depended on decisions from the linesman. Edwin [Van der Sar] didn’t have a save to make, [Paul] Scholes controlled the midfield and we looked dangerous through Nani and Berbatov.”

Berbatov controlled the ball well in the area before executing a terrific overhead kick to put United 2-0 ahead, and Ferguson praised the striker, who became the first man to score a hat-trick against Liverpool for the Red Devils since Stan Pearson 64 years ago.

“The second goal was unexpected really, a surprise attempt and fortunately - not many of those overhead kicks go in the net - but it did today,” he said.

“There was a lot of criticism. It happens when we buy a player for a lot of money but he started pre-season very good and he’s carried that one but there has never been any doubt of the quality of the man.”

Liverpool’s defeat leaves them low in the bottom half of the table, and Ferguson admits criticism will have been served to whoever lost the game.

He said: “It was always going to be that sort of a test. If one doesn’t win, it will be a catastrophe and that’s what they will be talking about and it will have been the same if we didn’t win but fortunately we did win.”

The Red Devils boss also confirmed that the decision to substitute Ryan Giggs was down to illness.

“He was ill at half-time, feeling really queasy. Rio Ferdinand was last night also,” he concluded.

Roy Hodgson Targets Champions League Qualification After Defeat To Manchester United

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is targeting Champions League football, admitting his side is not in the title race after a 3-2 defeat to Manchester United.

Hodgson's side had trailed by two Dimitar Berbatov goals until a penalty and free-kick from Steven Gerrard brought the visitors back into the game.

But the Bulgarian completed his hat-trick to seal the win, leaving Hodgson to assess aims for the rest of the season.

"To use words like catastrophe is a bit strong unless you are talking about winning the league," he said, according to Sky Sports.

"Our aim is to get better, to get to the Champions League, and maybe that is where I have got to have my focus."

Despite the defeat, Hodgson was keen to stress his side had improved at Old Trafford.

He added: "We have had a remarkably hard start to the season.

"Our performance today was clearly a lot better than our last two Premier League performances [a narrow victory over West Brom and a goalless draw with Birmingham City].

"We were playing against a top team and we can take a lot of credit from the way we went about our business and got ourselves back into the game.

Roy Hodgson: Fernando Torres Is 'Not Firing On All Cylinders'

Roy Hodgson has admitted Fernando Torres is still not at his best, despite the striker having a hand in both of Liverpool’s goals against Manchester United.

The Spaniard has struggled to reach peak fitness in time for the start of the campaign after he suffered an injury-plagued summer, in which he still featured for his national side in South Africa.

Torres won Liverpool’s penalty for their first goal and the striker’s movement caused problems for John O’Shea, which led to the United defender fouling the 26-year-old. Steven Gerrard scoring from the resulting free-kick.

Hodgson has defended the form of his striker and still maintains Torres needs a combination of games and training before he can get back to his best.

“I don’t think he [Fernando Torres] is firing on all cylinders,” Hodgson told Sky Sports.

“Fernando’s [Torres] performance was a lot better [than last week against Birmingham City]. He is a player who needs more games, more time and more training.

“Manchester United do not often surrender possession, so it was difficult for him.

“We’ll get a tremendous amount of use from him this season.”

After watching his side pull level from two goals behind, Hodgson could do nothing to prevent Dimitar Berbatov from completing his hat-trick and subsequently earning United the three points.

“We deserved to get back in the game, we were unlucky to go 2-0 down,” said Hodgson.

“Conceding late is always tough, and we’re disappointed in that but otherwise we made a really good effort to bring us back into the game.

“If we had more composure we could have seen the game out.”

Previous encounters have been billed as high-intensity affairs but Sunday’s fixture was subdued, with both sides opting to withhold any full-blooded challenges. Hodgson believes the cagey start from both teams was the result of a good defensive display all round.

“A lot of teams have respect for each other,” explained Hodgson.

“We contained well and their front players didn’t receive too many balls.

“It was more a question of good defending and the goals meant we were forced to create chances and it opened up in the second half.”

Liverpool To Sign Impressive £12m Midfielder As Lucas Leiva Heads For Anfield Exit

It seems that Lucas Leiva has a fair few detractors among the Liverpool faithful so the idea of the Brazilian leaving the club will please many and the idea that impressive Swiss international Gokhan Inler may take his place would probably make quite a few Anfield supporters doubly happy.

The Udinese man has been a consistent performer in Serie A for four years now and the £12m rated 26 year old has been linked with a move away from Italy for some time and it appears that Roy Hodgson is a big fan and wants to bring him to Merseyside.

Clearly as former boss of the Switzerland national team Hodgson will have done his homework on Inler who is a good box to box player with a great engine and the physicality to make it in the Premier League. Quite where Lucas may head is another matter.

Rafa Benitez was reported to have been interested in bringing the 23 year old to the San Siro but talk of that potential transfer seems to have faded of late.

Reina & Torres Set To Leave Liverpool As Tom Hicks Plots £280 Million Buyout Of George Gillett’s Shares But No Funding Of New Signings Or Stadium

The power struggle at Liverpool is set to account for Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres, a report claims.

In a move that will certainly add to the despair among Liverpool fans, Tom Hicks is set to gain sole control of the Anfield club and thus delay its sale by two more years, possibly triggering the departures of key players Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres.

Despite Liverpool fans’ contempt towards him, Tom Hicks is on the verge of striking a £280 million deal with the Blackstone/GSO Group to buy out partner George Gillett, according to a report in The News of the World.

Hicks told the Reds’ board that the refinancing agreement will be signed by October 1, a move that will give the American until 2012 to find a buyer.

And in a detail that will deeply concern the club's fans, the GSO deal does not include any cash injection for transfer deals or plans to build a new stadium.

Hicks delivered the news in a three-hour board meeting in London on Wednesday.

One point that may still block his plans is Gillett’s past insistence that a deal should include plans for cash to be invested in new players and a new stadium.

But with Gillett allegedly defaulting on his own loan to RBS (the Royal Bank of Scotland), he has been forced to concede a degree of power to his business partner.

Meanwhile, Hicks told chairman Martin Broughton that he will not accept selling the club for the value of its debt (£282m).

Broughton was appointed in April at the request of RBS as a condition for the bank extending its loan to the two American co-owners for a further six months. He previously said his objective was to find a new owner willing to wipe out the club's debt and build a new stadium.

But there has been no formal bid for the club since the sale process began, and Hicks believes that gives him the legal right to pursue the GSO deal.

Despite intense speculation at the time, neither Chinese businessman Kenny Huang nor Syrian Yahya Kirdi made formal offers for the shares of Hicks and Gillett.

The Texan thinks the involvement of Blackstone would attract investors in the future. However, club sources are unconvinced that, after failing to sell the club for a high valuation, Hicks will succeed in doing so two years from now.

There has been a legal battle on this issue since June and a court hearing looks destined to decide the future of the Merseyside club.

It is unlikely that the club would attract investors in two years’ time as consecutive seasons without Champions League football would only hinder the club’s financial progress and status.

Players such as Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina have publicly demanded a change of ownership, and the fear now is that if Hicks succeeds in gaining sole control at Anfield it may well signal the end of the highly-rated Spanish pair's time with Liverpool.

Permission for the new arena on Stanley Park will have expired by September 2011, and the GSO deal will increase the interest rates on the rising debt.

Blackstone’s chief executive, Schwarzman – a friend of Hicks – is worth an estimated £3bn and many have concluded that Hicks has successfully convinced an old pal to help him out in a troubled time.

"A few weeks ago we were saying Hicks needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat," a Kop source told Sport of the World.

"It seems he's pulled out one of the biggest, wealthiest rabbits in Wall Street."

James McKenna, spokesman for Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool Supporters' Union, expects fans to react angrily to any attempt by Hicks to keep control of the club.

"This is the latest in an on-going soap opera but we don't want either Hicks or Gillett involved in the club and these plans will be met with the fiercest of protests," he told BBC Sport. "These reports are a worry."

Reds Ace Wins Star Prize

Liverpool FC's new Superleague Formula race star Frederic Vervisch produced a stunning performance to claim the top prize in Portugal.

In only his second drive in the red car of Liverpool, Vervisch claimed the €100,000 prize for winning the dash-for-cash Super Final.

What made the victory more impressive was the Reds driver had tyre problems but he showed all his quality to win the race.

He produced a superb standing-start and then a brilliant defensive display to hold off the charging John Martin (Beijing Guoan) and Davide Rigon (RSC Anderlecht).

Starting from fourth on the grid, the young Belgium made an incredible getaway to dive into the lead at turn one as pole man Robert Doornbos (Corinthians) made a slow start and was then touched into a spin by Tristan Gommendy (Olympique Lyonnais) which ended both drivers' races.

For the remainder of the five-lap event, Vervisch, who, unlike his two adversaries was on old tyres, fought desperately to hold off the Beijing and RSC Anderlecht drivers, using his superior pace out of the last corner to stay out of their reach on the start/finish straight, before they closed up to his tail again in the twisty sections of the circuit.

He crossed the line with an advantage of just 0.471 seconds at the chequered flag for a memorable win.

An ecstatic Vervisch said: "I'm speechless. This is the best result of my career and more importantly the money I have won means that I can continue in Superleague Formula for the next rounds.

"I'm really, really happy because I knew I wouldn't be the fastest in the Super Final and I didn't expect to win because I had no new tyres left.

"But I made a great start, tried to use the push-to-pass at the right moment and just hold on."