Friday, October 01, 2010

Match Report: Utrecht 0 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool escaped with a goalless draw in their Europa League Group K clash in Utrecht after another disjointed and disappointing performance.

A point in the Stadion Galgenwaard, where the hosts had won their previous six matches, was no disgrace but it was hardly one of those classic, gritty away performances in Europe.

Roy Hodgson's side, who had five successive Europa League victories prior to this game, were dominated for long periods and their clean sheet owed much to goalkeeper Jose Reina and a goalline clearance from Raul Meireles.

Liverpool have now gone four matches without a victory in all competitions and Hodgson's blueprint for reinvigorating the team after Rafael Benitez's departure in the summer still looks very much like a work in progress.

Without their captain Steven Gerrard, left behind to rest on Merseyside, the side looked devoid of ideas and even the presence of Fernando Torres for his first Europa League start of the campaign did not help.

The only real positive to come out of the game was that the five-time European champions and winners of this competition on a record-equalling three occasions, extended their impressive statistics against Dutch clubs.

Since losing their first encounter against Ajax in 1966 they have now not been beaten in 12 matches against teams from the Netherlands.

But that run came close to being ended on a number of occasions as Utrecht were the better side from the off.

In only the fifth minute the prolific Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, scorer of 13 goals in 14 games this season, was given half a chance when Christian Poulsen gave away possession but the 21-year-old striker could only divert Dries Mertens' left-wing cross wide of the far post.

Liverpool fashioned three or four openings - none of which could be described in any way as good - with Meireles both shooting and heading at goalkeeper Michel Vorm either side of off-target efforts from Lucas Leiva and Joe Cole.

Torres also curled a shot wide after turning and shooting from the edge of the area.

But the best first-half chances fell to Utrecht with Jan Wuytens' volley only ruled out for Jacob Mulenga's foul on Martin Kelly, makeshift left-back in the absence of the injured trio of Paul Konchesky, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio.

And had it not been for Reina saving well at close range from Mertens after Dirk Kuyt, returning to his former club, was slow to react to a loose ball in the penalty area from a corner Liverpool would have been behind at half-time.

Torres had been quiet all night and, early in the second half, when the ball did drop to him in the penalty area from Glen Johnson's cross he hacked wildly at it with his weaker left foot and ballooned a shot over.

But Liverpool were soon on the back foot again with Reina diving at the feet of Wolfswinkel to stop Mulenga's low cross while Meireles cleared off the line from Michael Silverbauer's header when his goalkeeper came for Mertens' corner but missed.

Typically, considering his fortunes this season, Torres' one chance came in the 57th minute but he was denied by a great reaction save from Vorm when Kuyt picked him out with a low, near-post cross.

To compound the Spaniard's frustration referee Duarte Gomes awarded a goal-kick.

He was almost gifted another opportunity moments later when Mihai Nesu left his back-pass short but the striker's first touch took the ball out of play as he attempted to round Vorm.

As the match entered its closing stages it was Utrecht who looked the most likely scorers.

Maxi Rodriguez's first touch after replacing Cole with eight minutes to go saw him attempt an ambitious overhead kick which failed to hit the target.

Liverpool were happy with the draw but Mulenga should have snatched victory only to drive wide of Reina's left-hand post with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Kuyt Sees Future In Partnership With Torres

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt believes his strike partnership with Fernando Torres has a future despite the pair drawing a blank in the goalless Europa League draw in Utrecht.

The home side created the best chances, with Dries Mertens being denied by goalkeeper Jose Reina and Raul Meireles clearing Michael Silverbauer's header off the line.

Torres had one genuine chance midway through the second half when Kuyt crossed to the near post but the Spaniard's first-time shot was well saved by goalkeeper Michel Form - although referee Duarte Gomes did not spot the touch and awarded a goal-kick.

Torres has spent most of his Liverpool career playing up front on his own with a rampaging Steven Gerrard in the attacking role behind him but in the last two matches he has had Kuyt as a partner. The two combined for Kuyt's controversial opening goal against Sunderland at the weekend but the Dutchman is yet to return the favour.

"We created a good chance together and against Sunderland and West Brom it worked well so I think we can play well together, but last night wasn't the best game for us or the team,'' said Kuyt. ''It's just a matter of time for Fernando. I said that after the Sunderland game when people were talking about him not scoring, but he still provided two assists. Last night he missed a chance but he is human and can miss chances like everyone else. I'm sure his goals will come.''

Kuyt's return to his first professional club was not the spectacular homecoming he was hoping for as Liverpool were on the back foot for long periods. However, the Netherlands international believes a draw at the Stadion Galgenwaard, where the hosts had won their previous six matches, was a worthy one.

"It was a really tough game. It was difficult from the start. We didn't play our best game but we will keep fighting,'' he added. ''We created some good chances but so did they, so I think we have to be happy with a 0-0. We can take confidence from this and we will keep fighting. I think the good thing is that we got a clean sheet. An away draw in Europe isn't too bad and we have four points from two games, so we just have to keep going and win on Sunday (against Blackpool).''

Manager Roy Hodgson did not think his side's performance was as bad as it appeared from the stands.

"I thought the problems we had, if we had any at all, and the occasions when they created chances were of our own making,'' he said.”Utrecht did well, they were determined, aggressive and committed, so we knew we had to be at our best defensively to keep them out and fortunately we did. You could quite easily see today why Utrecht have such a good home record.''

Roy Hodgson: Goal Will Come For Fernando Torres

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson was again left to defend out-of-form striker Fernando Torres after his disappointing performance against FC Utrecht.

The Reds were held to a goalless draw in Holland on a frustrating night for the Anfield club and especially for the Spanish striker, who was unable to add to his one goal this campaign.

However, Hodgson was quick to defend the World Cup winner and stated that he was pleased with his performance as well as his side’s point.

The Reds boss told reporters: "I thought it was a good point, we knew it would be a tough point. We gave them a couple of chances through individual errors, but in terms of shape and the way we played I have nothing but praise for my team.

"Fernando is still seeking that elusive goal and there were a couple of good opportunities but unfortunately it didn't happen for him.

"He is getting closer, and it will come right for him. It was another good 90 minutes under his belt and he will be better for it.”

The striker appeared to be complaining of a knee problem as he went straight to the team physio after the full-time whistle, but Hodgson was quick to play down suggestions that the Spanish star had picked up an injury.

He added: "I didn't spend the whole 90 minutes watching one player or obsessing about him and whether he picked up a knock or not, I have to concentrate on all my players and I was satisfied with the team performance.

"Utrecht were as aggressive and determined as we knew they could be and we had to be at our best to keep them out tonight and we did.

"A point, which gives us four points now is more than satisfactory, and a draw is a more than satisfactory result.

"I think maybe a win for us would have been harsh on Utrecht because they deserved something from the game, so I am satisfied with the result, and our position in the group now.

"It was a good game and they are a good team, it was not a dull game where nothing happened, and I think it is quite easy to see why they have such a good home record," concluded the Liverpool manager.

Dimitri Payet 'Keen On Liverpool Move'

Liverpool are on the tail of French under-21 starlet Dimitri Payet as Roy Hodgson casts his eye around for potential January signings, according to reports.

Payet is said to be on the verge of breaking into the full French squad, with new manager Laurent Blanc having been impressed by the St Etienne man's recent form.

But Blanc - who is keen to ring the changes after taking over from the unpopular Raymond Domenech - is not the only boss to have had Payet watched as report Reds scouts have been attending several matches in Ligue 1 recently.

Payet has proved himself a prolific winger in France, with seven goals in as many games so far this season - alerting several clubs to his talents.

Although Liverpool will hope interest remains just that, with Hodgson keen to wrap up the signing for a relatively paltry fee in the region of £7million.

French media claim Payet has expressed an interest in moving to England in the past, with some sources suggesting the Merseysiders would be his first choice above fellow suitors Aston Villa.

Liverpool Boss Plans Old Trafford Raid

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is ready to make a sensational move to bring former Anfield favourite and England international Michael Owen back to Merseyside.

With the current lack of fire power up front for the Reds and star striker Fernando Torres seemingly suffering a World Cup hangover from his summer in South Africa with eventual winners Spain, Hodgson is ready to make a shock £4m bid for the 30 year old as he looks to improve Liverpool’s current situation and fire them back up the table.

After impressive performances against Championship side Scunthorpe, in which he managed to get himself on the score sheet twice and a late equalizer away to Bolton, Owen was disappointed to find himself not featuring in the midweek trip to Valencia and could possibly look elsewhere for regular first team football before his career comes to an end.

Manchester United seem to be boasting a number of attacking options with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Federico Macheda at boss Alex Ferguson’s disposal and it is thought that the 68 year old could be willing to let the former Real Madrid striker leave should an acceptable bid be made.

During his original 8 year spell at Liverpool, Owen amassed an incredible 158 goals in 297 appearances and although the Chester born striker is considered one of the most affective strikers ever to apply his trade at Liverpool, up there with the likes of Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler, it is thought that his move to bitter rivals Manchester United will leave many of the Anfield faithful less than happy about a possible return to the club.

However, if we can recapture his scoring form of old, Owen could quickly turn this view around and once again endear himself to those on Merseyside.

Miguel Drops Liverpool Hint

Valencia full-back Miguel has hinted that he would relish a move to Liverpool.

The Portuguese defender has revealed his admiration for the Merseyside club, who have recently signed his friend Raul Meireles.

But the 30-year-old right-back insists he wants to win silverware with Valencia.

"Liverpool are a team that I admire and I have a friend there now in Raul Meireles," Miguel told Superdeporte.

"Liverpool have always been my favourite English team and I have a lot of passion for them.

"I'm fine here and hope everything goes well for Valencia and we can win some trophies this year."

LFC Likely To Avoid Premier League Points Deduction Even If RBS Take Over

Liverpool FC likely to avoid a Premier League points deductions even if the Royal Bank of Scotland takes over the club.

The Reds face the very real possibility the bank could grab control by the middle of this month if American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett fail to pay the £237m debt.

Some football legal experts have predicted that Kop Holdings, which owns LFC, would automatically be placed into administration.

But the ECHO understands the Premier League would not view that move as Liverpool being declared insolvent.

Regular discussions have been taking place between Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton and league chief executive Richard Scudamore.

The Reds have been seeking clarification on the potential scenario if RBS took temporary charge at Anfield.

Sources have indicated a nine point deduction, threatened to football clubs when they go bust like Portsmouth last season, would not materialize.

League chiefs crucially consider the debt to rest squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, co-chairmen of the club and owners of Kop Football Holdings.

And as Liverpool has proved they have steady revenues - TV rights money, ticket sales, sponsorship - the club would avoid incurring any penalty.

The Reds reported a £200m turnover for the first time during the last 12 months, a significant rise compared to previous financial years and Anfield bosses insist the club remains highly profitable.

Lawyers closely watching the process, meanwhile, disagree over the possible outcomes and acknowledge the Reds are entering previously unchartered legal territory for the Premier League.

One urged caution citing the example of Southampton who were docked league points after claims that their parent company, and not the club, had gone bust, were dismissed by the Football League.

But a source familiar with the process told the ECHO: "A deal's been done to make sure those nine points aren't deducted from Liverpool.

"It's not actually the football club that goes into administration, it's the holding company.

"If it's only the holding company that goes under, that's when they've got clearance. The deal has been done between the club and the Premier League.

"The whole point of the points deduction is that it's unfair if the company goes under they abandon loads of creditors and start again so they are in a beneficial position compared to other football clubs.

"In this instance I suppose, what they would be arguing is that there aren't abandoning their creditors because their only creditors are just the bank, RBS, and they'll get paid out anyway."

Steve Horner, however, of Liverpool FC campaign group Kop Faithful, said the prospect of a nine-point deduction would not worry him if it meant getting rid of Hicks and Gillett.

The surveyor added: "We just want them to go. Their ownership period has been disastrous for the long-term future of Liverpool."