Monday, January 10, 2011

Match Report: Manchester United 1 - 0 Liverpool

Kenny Dalglish failed to get the dream start he was looking for as Manchester United ensured his second stint as the new Liverpool boss began with a 1-0 FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford.

Dalglish arrived from Dubai on Saturday night after accepting the challenge of reviving the Merseysiders' fortunes, which have plummeted dramatically in recent times, culminating in Roy Hodgson's dismissal on Saturday.

And he certainly brought more conviction to his players and Liverpool's supporters.

It will take rather more to create a winning team though, and while Dalglish can take heart from the way his side battled back following Ryan Giggs' controversial second-minute penalty and the dismissal of captain Steven Gerrard for a nasty first-half challenge on Michael Carrick, the Scot knows there is so much work to do.

Still, his name brings hope, even if time has moved on since February 22, 1991, when Dalglish resigned in the wake of an epic 4-4 draw with Everton.

Indeed, just eight days after Dalglish's dramatic decision to quit the club he will forever be linked with, came another significant day in English football - Giggs' United debut.

That Giggs boasts a record 11 Premier League winners' medals, 855 appearances and 157 goals for the Old Trafford outfit just emphasises the time that has elapsed since Dalglish bestrode an Anfield outfit that were still worthy of their status as a football giant.

There was a symmetry therefore about Giggs confidently striding up to dispatch a second-minute penalty that punctured so much of the optimism within the Dalglish bubble.

Not that the Scot would have been entirely convinced by Howard Webb's penalty award. Few who saw the replay were, although Daniel Agger's unwise decision to stick out a leg did offer Dimitar Berbatov something to fall over.

Unfortunately for Dalglish, it was not the last time he had reason to curse Webb, who steered the game towards its eventual outcome with two crucial decisions around the half hour.

The first was a non-decision when Rafael thudded into Raul Meireles with a tackle that won the ball, but was also two-footed.

Had Webb taken action for that, Gerrard might have thought twice about his own ill-fated lunge.

But the World Cup final referee kept his cards in his pocket and waved play on.

The same did not apply when Gerrard launched himself into England team-mate Carrick, going over the top of the United man, which Webb deemed reckless enough to merit instant dismissal.

Having taken all this into account, and the remainder of an otherwise positive opening 45 minutes for his team, Dalglish loitered for just long enough after the half-time whistle to suggest he might take issue with Webb. In the end, he opted not to bother.

The Scot's interval team talk could at least have reflected on decent opportunities for Fernando Torres, denied the chance to exert his superiority over Nemanja Vidic by the United skipper's absence, Gerrard and Maxi Rodriguez.

He must also have known that United would dominate possession in the way his own side had done before Gerrard's departure.

And if Javier Hernandez had been able to glance Darren Fletcher's right-wing cross into the bottom corner a couple of minutes after the restart, Liverpool would have had nothing worth fighting for anyway.

As it turned out, the Mexican was off target. And though Liverpool did spend long periods chasing possession, roused by their supporters, who were gaining their own voice through Dalglish, they refused to give up.

Ryan Babel brought a low save out of Tomasz Kuszczak before Fabio Aurelio sent a free-kick curling towards the top corner, forcing the Pole to claw the ball away.

It took United some time to re-establish dominance, although when they did, two blocked shots, for Berbatov and Rafael, rejected penalty appeals for Jonny Evans and Giggs, both far more plausible than the one Webb gave, plus an excellent save from Reina to deny Patrice Evra, were scant reward for a thrilling melee.

The sight of Michael Owen being introduced for United 16 minutes from time just added another surreal dimension to an amazing day.

There was no goal for Owen against his old club, as Anderson and Evra went closest to increasing United's advantage before the final whistle.

Dalglish Fumes At 'Joke' Penalty Decision

Kenny Dalglish has blasted the penalty decision that cost him a winning start to life as Liverpool's caretaker manager.

Ryan Giggs' first-minute spot-kick, awarded after Daniel Agger's challenge forced Dimitar Berbatov to go to ground, handed Manchester United a 1-0 win in the FA Cup third-round tie at Old Trafford.

The controversy didn't stop there, however, with Steven Gerrard shown a straight red card in the first half after jumping into a tackle on Michael Carrick.

Dalglish, returning to the dugout for the first time since a spell at Celtic in 2000, disagreed with both decisions.

"The penalty is a joke," he said. "I have seen the replay and unless they have changed the rules it is no penalty.

Ferguson Backs Dimitar Berbatov Penalty Claim

Sir Alex Ferguson claims Dimitar Berbatov did nothing wrong in winning Manchester United’s match-winning penalty against Liverpool today, but defender Rio Ferdinand is not convinced ref Howard Webb was right.

Returning Reds boss Kenny Dalglish disputed whether Daniel Agger’s challenge on the Bulgarian striker was a foul but his United counterpart had no doubt Berbatov was brought down after just 30 seconds at Old Trafford. ‘It was a penalty,’ Ferguson insisted.

‘Dimitar says he was definitely clipped. The replay shows he slightly touched him but the momentum is enough to bring the player down. ‘There is no reason for him to go down anyway. He is not that kind of player.’

However, Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand is not so sure the penalty should have been awarded.

He tweeted: 'I've just watched the penalty incident again...I'm 50/50 whether it was or wasn't., ref gave it we scored it. It's a game of swings and roundabouts.'

Babel Facing FA Probe

Ryan Babel could be in trouble over his Twitter rant, with the FA set to launch disciplinary action.

The Liverpool winger cut a frustrated figure following the Reds' 1-0 defeat to arch-rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup third round on Sunday.

With the tie having been settled by a controversial penalty, won by Dimitar Berbatov following a first-minute challenge from Daniel Agger, the match officials at Old Trafford have come in for criticism.

Referee Howard Webb also dismissed Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard for a lunging challenge on Michael Carrick, further infuriating the red half of Merseyside.

After the game Babel aired his displeasure on Twitter, writing: "And they call him one of the best referees? That's a joke."

The Dutchman also posted a mocked-up photo of Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt.

His actions have not gone down well with the authorities, with the FA confirming that they are to look into the issue and will rule on whether punishment is necessary.

"We will definitely look into this matter," said an FA spokesman.

Babel has since apologized for his outburst, saying: "My apology if they take my posted pic seriously. This is just an emotional reaction after losing an important game.

"Sorry Howard Webb."

Torres To See Out Reds Deal

Spain international Fernando Torres has rejected speculation he could quit Liverpool and has called for supporters to get behind the squad.

The Reds' star striker has been linked with a move away from Anfield following a poor season which has seen Roy Hodgson replaced by fans' favourite Kenny Dalglish.

The former Atletico Madrid man has been linked with an improbable switch to arch-rivals Manchester United, something he has quickly poured cold water over.

The 26-year-old marksman is contracted to the Merseysiders until the summer of 2013, with the option of a further year, and he insists he will see out his deal.

Torres admits the Reds have endured a below-par campaign and has called on everyone who supports the club to give their backing in a bid to turn around their season.

"More than ever, we need to stick together," he told The People. "We must live in the present, from match to match.

"We need to add more points, win matches and improve our standing in the table.

"That is our challenge and I demand the total help of our supporters in doing that.

"My head is in Liverpool and on helping save our season. I am professional and I always fulfil my deals.

"I haven't considered leaving, although in football that depends on the club.

"Liverpool had a lot of success under Rafa Benitez and that is difficult for anyone to follow.

"Even if the ball hasn't always dropped our way this season, we have missed out in a lot of matches."

Liverpool Prepare For Mass Clearout As Six Players Head For Anfield Exit

Liverpool are planning to offload a number of their squad as they look to freshen their squad with new additions this month. Caretaker boss Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli have identified a number of players they believe can be sold to help trim costs at the club ahead of potential additions. The likes of Ryan Babel, Glen Johnson, Emiliano Insua, Milan Jovanovic, Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen will all be made available either for permanent exits or loan deals.

There is as apparent interest in Dutch winger Babel who has failed to impress this season and the likes of West Ham and Ajax have reportedly taken an interest in the 24 year old. Glen Johnson will also be offloaded if any interested party is willing to make an offer within the same ball park as the £18m that was invested in his services, which may be a big ask, and Juventus are reportedly trailing the England international.

Emiliano Insua’s move to Fiorentina fell through in the summer and is also apparently a West Ham target and he may be a player that Liverpool chooses to farm out on a loan deal rather than sold off as the young Argentine has shown he has the potential to be a quality full back.

However it may prove difficult to find potential suitors for Milan Jovanovic, Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen, all of whom have not proven themselves to be worth first team consideration.

Serbian attacker Jovanovic is though apparently the subject of Bundesliga interest and Fulham may elect to bring Konchesky back to the club as Mark Hughes looks to strengthen his side as they look to push away from the relegation zone.

One player seemingly safe from the axe is Joe Cole who will hope to prove that his move to the club was not a failure. Liverpool’s owners are keen to freshen things up at Anfield and whilst they can see that the club needs improvement and that their squad is decidedly average it is however not a small squad and they feel that a clear-out is needed before any significant player purchases can be sanctioned.

With Hodgson Gone, Torres Has No Place To Hide

We know that Kenny Dalglish remembers those days – fast receding in the memory already – when Fernando Torres struck terror into defenders' hearts. We know because they were the days he chose to talk about in his last newspaper column before the call from Liverpool came and he swapped a cruise in the Persian Gulf, near Iran, for another nuclear location.

It was the sunny spring afternoon in March 2009 when Torres destroyed Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic which Dalglish chose specifically to discuss in that column. It is a measure of the depths to which Torres and Liverpool have sunk since that high-tide mark of the Rafael Benitez era – a 4-1 win at Old Trafford – that Jonny Evans – a defender utterly short of form – was fielded in Vidic's place yesterday and managed to emerge from this game with new-found confidence.

Dalglish plainly had some talking to do before Old Trafford beckoned yesterday morning – the Liverpool team coach arrived 40 minutes after United's – and the question on every mind surrounded the effect a 59-year-old member of Anfield lore would have on Torres when he sat the players down for the first time, at 10.30am.

On this evidence, any effect was not immediate but it was a sign of the greater confidence Dalglish will bring to the Anfield dugout that he removed Torres from the Old Trafford field 13 minutes from time yesterday. Roy Hodgson, always so aware of the diplomatic minefield associated with shifting the Liverpool hero, would probably have let him soldier on. But no one should conclude that this was Dalglish's way of sending a message. Torres's shoulders and head were down, as they had been throughout the six-month Hodgson tenure, and it was a statement of his obvious inefficacy, not of the manager's intent to be firm, when the dot matrix board flashed "9". There were no groans from the visiting ranks.

Dalglish insisted last night that Torres could have done no more. "He ran himself into the ground out there. It's a great sign that he's determined to get back and silence a few critics he has got," the manager said.

But that did not tally with the evidence. The flicker of intent in Torres immediately after Steven Gerrard's dismissal – he threw himself into one of the few challenges he actually won – suggested that it might be the catalyst. But it would always be an uphill challenge after Gerrard – one of the few players in the side on the same plane of football intelligence – departed and the climb was not one for him.

Torres was always a source of bafflement to Hodgson, who considered the causes of his anaemic season to be both physical and psychological. Dalglish hinted at the latter. "It doesn't matter how good you are, you need confidence and we've got to get that confidence back in," he said. But King Kenny's appointment removes, as well as adds, something where Torres is concerned: an excuse to hide behind. The Liverpool faithful which have played such a unique and fascinating part in the weekend's managerial succession have perhaps been more tolerant of Torres while Hodgson has been there to take the blame. But there is a new supreme sovereign at Anfield now. The expectation is that all players throw themselves to Dalglish's cause and the response if Torres fails will be absorbing.

One of the few players who seemed energized by Dalglish's arrival yesterday happened to be one of the least loved by supporters – Ryan Babel – which shows that anything might happen next at Anfield. But if the Dalglish alchemy does not take effect with Torres, Liverpool's almost entirely extinguished hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League are gone, and with them the caretaker's hopes of keeping this job beyond the summer. No guessing what the new manager's top priority will be.

Liverpool Players Accused Of Racism In FA Youth Cup

Kenny Dalglish's jobs as Liverpool's new short-term manager this week will include investigating a racism row involving the club's academy players. It follows an allegation that Crystal Palace's players were subjected to racial abuse during their FA Youth Cup fourth‑round tie at Anfield on Saturday. One player said he was "disgusted" by what he had heard.

The Football Association intends to contact Palace today for a full account of what happened and to ascertain whether they intend to make an official complaint. Palace was not returning calls yesterday.

The FA may also ask to speak to Dan Pringle, one of the players involved in a 3-1 defeat for Palace. Pringle expressed his dismay on his Twitter account after the match, saying: "Disappointed with result but really disgusted with the racism from Liverpool throughout the game. Disgraceful."

When he was contacted by several Palace supporters he later clarified that he was talking about Liverpool's players rather than the crowd.

Liverpool reacted with surprise, not least as they had several black players in their team. A club spokesman said: "We didn't receive any complaints either during or after the game and nothing was mentioned by the referee."

Liverpool's academy side is managed by Rodolfo Borrell, who was appointed in July 2009 after a successful 13-year spell at Barcelona, where he managed every age group from under‑11 to under‑17.