Thursday, December 16, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 0 - 0 Utrecht

Liverpool may have given children free tickets for the Europa League tie against Utrecht at Anfield but even they will have felt short-changed by the disappointing goalless draw against Utrecht at Anfield.

Manager Roy Hodgson had pledged to play his one fit star name, Fernando Torres, but had a last-minute change of heart after being persuaded otherwise by his medical staff.

With the Reds already qualified for the last 32, it led to a turgid and uninspiring night which highlighted the lack of depth in the squad.

Hodgson had initially planned to give Torres pitch time to rediscover his goalscoring touch - goalkeeper Jose Reina was also expected to start but he was left out of the squad altogether - but was forced to watch the entire 90 minutes from the bench instead.

There was some semblance of logic behind the idea but to play the striker in a game which was a dead rubber, with Liverpool already through as group winners, was always going to be a risk.

"I had a change of heart [on starting Fernando Torres]," admitted Hodgson prior to kick-off.

"I was seriously considering giving him a start but I had a talk with our fitness people and they convinced me it may not be the wisest move."

Torres' absence robbed Liverpool of their one genuine attacking threat and, as a result, the first half was not one which will live long in the memory of those young fans who benefited from the club's generous ticket offer.

The one piece of excitement they witnessed was when Milan Jovanovic, who scored against Steaua Bucharest in Romania a fortnight ago, rattled the crossbar with an eighth-minute long-range shot.

Aside from that the home side never established a rhythm, which was partly down to the fact Hodgson made 10 changes to the team which lost to Newcastle at the weekend with only Martin Skrtel, captaining the team on his 26th birthday, surviving.

The team still contained the likes of Joe Cole, Ryan Babel, Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and Fabio Aurelio but also included 19-year-old Nathan Eccleston, making his first start, and 18-year-old Danny Wilson on only his second appearance.

It contributed to a disjointed performance which very rarely rose above mediocre.

Utrecht, for their part, arrived at Anfield knowing they could not qualify for the last 32 but even with that freedom they too could not muster a display to excite their 4,000-strong travelling contingent.

And they suffered a blow just before half-time when top scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel left the pitch on a stretcher and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone after falling awkwardly.

Hodgson made a change at the interval but it was not the one the crowd were wanting, with Sotirios Kyrgiakos replacing Skrtel.

Babel was first to threaten 10 minutes after the restart when his run to the edge of the penalty area saw him fire wide of Michel Vorm's right-hand post.

Eccleston then departed to allow another promising youngster, Dani Pacheco, to enter the fray.

But Babel was looking Liverpool's most likely goalscorer and he came within inches of connecting with Kelly's low cross into the six-yard box.

Hodgson's final substitution had more than a touch of sentimentality about it, giving Dirk Kuyt a run-out for the final 18 minutes against his former club when he replaced Jovanovic.

It posed the question quite why Torres was included in the match squad at all.

Late on Cole looked certain to score but had his low shot charged down by Keller after Vorm had spilled Aurelio's cross.

That summed up the England midfielder - and Liverpool's - night.

Hodgson Explains Fernando Torres Omission Against Utrecht

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has defended his decision to leave Fernando Torres on the bench against Utrecht, claiming it was down to the club’s medical staff.

The Reds boss had said that the Spanish striker would be involved against the Dutch side, but with qualification from the Europa League group stage already assured, it seems the risk was not worth taking.

"With discussions with the conditioning people in particular they persuaded me to see the error of my ways even though I had this vision of Fernando going out there and having a great 45 minutes and maybe scoring a goal and giving him a lift," Hodgson said.

"He was quite looking forward to playing but when I got back to the club in the afternoon [after his press conference] and started to talk about it again, it seemed to me the potential disadvantages far outweighed the potential advantages."

The club tried to generate interest in the game by giving away free tickets to children, but Hodgson has denied that he used Torres’ potential involvement to improve ticket take-up.

"There was no question of needing a name to sell the game. I did honestly think it was a good thing.

"I didn't mean to mislead you. The physical conditioning people said to me that in any game there is a risk of injury.

"We want to do a good training session tomorrow and if he had played 45 minutes he would have been doing a warm-down instead of a major session.

"If he had had a wonder 45 minutes and scored a couple of goals it would have been really worthwhile but if he had played 45 minutes with the way they were playing the ball across the back, it would have been a complete waste of time for everyone.

"I am glad I was persuaded to change my mind on the subject."

Hodgson was left slightly frustrated by his side’s performance, though, believing the team were just lacking a little extra quality to get the win.

"I think we are all a bit disappointed by the game. It wasn't for want of trying. The problem is we lacked the technical quality in the final third.

"We got the ball into areas where we should have been capable of doing something and we didn't produce the pass.

"I was hoping, with so many people in last night - and some for the first time - we would produce a sparkling performance, but unfortunately we couldn't."

Roy Hodgson Says Players Are Trying Too Hard To Impress

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson believes some of his players are trying too hard to impress him and win a first team place, and actually harming their chances.

Hodgson made 10 changes for last night's disappointing goalless Europa League draw at home to Utrecht, giving opportunities to Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen, Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio.

But the under-performing players were below par and Hodgson thinks they are putting too much pressure on themselves in what has been a frustrating season all round at Anfield so far.

"It is most frustrating for them because they want it so much," Hodgson told reporters.

"There is no lack of desire, commitment, effort and wanting to do well.

"We didn't look after the ball enough or produce the right pass and that frustrates players who have first-team potential because they know they are capable of doing it.

"I see these players every day in training and I know some of them will be disappointed they did not take their chance a little bit better but that won't affect me because they will get other chances.

"Sometimes in football you can want things too much.

"If you don't get a chance on a regular basis and one comes along sometimes your desire to take it can impact negatively on your performance and that might have been the case for one or two."

Joe Cole's Stuttering Form Of Concern For Hodgson

Roy Hodgson criticized the form of midfielder Joe Cole following Liverpool's drab Europa League draw with Utrecht on Wednesday night.

Cole missed a late chance to snatch victory in a dire match at Anfield with Liverpool already guaranteed a place in the last 32 courtesy of finishing top of their group.

It summed up the stuttering season Cole is having to date since his free transfer from Liverpool in the summer with his time in the north west hampered by suspension and injury.

The former Chelsea playmaker was by no means the only Liverpool player below-par on the night, or for the season on that note, and Hodgson indicated he expected more from the 29 year-old.

"He knows he is better than that and he knows he can do better than that," he said.

"He sets himself high standards and I'm sure he came off the field feeling it was not the performance he wanted to give."

Just under 38,000 fans turned out at Anfield for a dead rubber of a match and Hodgson admitted it was disappointing his side could not produce a performance of note.

"We are all a bit disappointed by the game. It wasn't for the want of trying or that we weren't interested," he said.

"It was disappointing that with so many new people watching us, we couldn't produce a real performance for them.

"It wasn't a classic but Utrecht play really well away from home, keep the ball and cause problems."

€10m Wing Wizard Named As 'Prime' Liverpool Transfer Target

Liverpool have reportedly set their transfer sights on Spanish international winger Santi Cazorla.

The 26-year-old Villarreal midfielder has made an impressive start to the season with the La Liga outfit, and now Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is keen to bring the player to Anfield in a bid to strengthen his attacking options.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have both been linked with the player in the past, who has earned 29 caps for his country in their most successful period ever.

Liverpool Director of Football strategy, Damien Comolli, is thought to have played a role in highlighting the player as a potential addition to the Merseysiders, with the former Spurs guru looking to bring high-quality foreign imports to the club at the first opportunity.

Spanish daily AS claims that the Reds will look to tempt Carzola into a switch to the Barclays Premier League, with the Liverpool chief looking to use Fernando Torres and Jose Reina as part of the negotiations.

The arrival of new owners NESV at Anfield has seen the club linked with a handful of attacking players in recent weeks, and Liverpool boss Hodgson is thought to have a shortlist of 'five or six' players heading into the opening month of 2011.

A transfer war chest in the region of £35 million has been touted, and Cazorla now appears to be one of the targets with the funds after the Spanish reports confirmed he was a 'prime transfer target'.

Liverpool will have to pay a fee in the region of €10 million to prize the player away from the Yellow Submarine.

Liverpool Set To Move For Dortmund Starlet

Liverpool are ready to join the battle for Borussia Dortmund star Nuri Sahin.

The German-born Turkey international has earned rave reviews for his displays for Bundesliga table-toppers Dortmund so far this season.

And his form has reportedly caught the eye of Serie A sides Juventus and Inter Milan, who are said to be preparing summer bids,

But reports in Germany have revealed that Liverpool is now ready to rival any offer from Italy for the 22-year-old.

It is understood that Dortmund will refuse to sell in January, but could be ready to do business in the summer for a figure of around £13m.

Liverpool Target £8m Rated Brazilian Goal Machine

Liverpool are rumoured to be readying a January bid for Partizan Belgrade striker Cleo. Anfield boss Roy Hodgson has been monitoring the progress of the Brazilian and believes the powerfully built 25 year old could act as a good foil for Fernando Torres and would add more variety to an attack that has lacked a spark this season.

Cleo has been a been a big hit since his move to Partizan in the summer of 2009 and this season he has been a veritable goal machine netting 20 goals from 27 starts including an impressive 10 goals in Champions League action that have brought him to the attention of many interested clubs across Europe.

The former Red Star player would suit the physicality of the Premier League and Hodgson is believed to be keen on bringing in a target man and the added bonus with Cleo is that as well as being a powerfully built front man he also has a good touch.

Clearly the jump from the Serbian league to the English top tier would be a big one but the impressive run outs Cleo has completed in European football would suggest that he has the potential to make that step up. He is thought to be valued at around £8m a fee that Liverpool should more than easily fund with the help of the club’s new owners.

Roy Hodgson To Save David Bentley's Career With £5m Bid

Left out in the dark at Tottenham Hotspur, winger David Bentley could be set to re-light his career at Liverpool, according to The Metro.

Roy Hodgson has reportedly indicated that he would be keen to bring the player to Anfield during the January transfer window, if a fee in the region of £5 million can be agreed.

The 26-year-old has been frozen out at Tottenham Hotspur under manager Harry Redknapp and Bentley believes this is the perfect opportunity to get his football career back on track.

The winger was tipped to be an England star after securing an £18m move to Spurs from Blackburn Rovers in 2008. But injury and a lack of form has put pay to these notions and Bentley has only shown brief glimpses to merit such price tag.

This has meant he has fallen down the pecking order at White Hart Lane, behind stars such as Luca Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

However, Hodgson is to give him another chance and is willing to buy him for nearly a quarter of the fee Spurs paid. The Reds boss has revealed that he is desperate to land a tricky winger and Bentley represents value for money at that price.

Borrell Joy At Cup Triumph

Rodolfo Borrell hailed a superb team performance as Liverpool's youngsters got their bid for Youth Cup glory off to a flyer with a 4-0 win over Notts County on Wednesday night.

The Reds included the likes of Suso, Jack Robinson and John Flanagan in a strong starting XI and always looked likely to progress after Krisztian Adorjan fired home the opener on nine minutes.

Michael Ngoo then doubled the lead just after the interval before Raheem Sterling got his name on the scoresheet with a sensational third.

Ngoo grabbed his second of the game late on to seal victory and leave Borrell delighted by his side's overall showing at Meadow Lane.

"It is a great result for us and we are very pleased with how the lads applied themselves," Borrell told

"In the first 20 minutes we played fantastic football and deserved to go ahead through Adorjan.

"After that we were not practical in possession or as clinical in front of goal as I would have liked and we allowed the game to get too open.

"We spoke about how we could improve at half-time and I was delighted with the second-half showing.

"We scored three great goals and illustrated what a good team we can be against an opponent who had been unbeaten in their last 11 matches, including the last two rounds of the cup.

"We can now head into the winter break in good spirits and look ahead to what will hopefully be a successful 2011."