Monday, February 07, 2011

Match Report: Chelsea 0 - 1 Liverpool

Fernando Torres' much-anticipated Chelsea debut ended in disappointment for player and club as Raul Meireles sealed a memorable win for the Spaniard's former Liverpool team-mates.

Meireles hooked home from close range after 68 minutes to take the game - and potentially any lingering title aspirations - from the big-spending Blues.

It was a different story for £50million Torres though, with the most expensive player in British football history hauled off after 65 unremarkable minutes.

Torres received a noisy reception when his name was called, with his new fans cheering and his old ones booing the announcement.

The game was little more than a minute old when he had his first sight of Liverpool's goal, courtesy of a mislaid pass from Maxi Rodriguez.

The Spaniard took a couple of touches towards the edge of the area before aiming for the top corner, but there was too much elevation on the shot.

Liverpool continued to show nerves, Dirk Kuyt giving away possession in the middle of the park after under-hitting his pass to the lively Martin Kelly.

Torres followed suit when he next saw the ball, taking a heavy touch and surrendering possession under pressure from Steven Gerrard.

With Torres partnering Didier Drogba in attack, Nicolas Anelka's role was a more withdrawn one but the Frenchman struggled to create much in the opening 15 minutes.

Jamie Carragher and Kuyt combined well down the right to fashion a rare Liverpool attack but the Dutchman's cross could not find the waiting Meireles.

There was a heart-stopping moment for Martin Skrtel when Anelka nearly robbed him on the edge of the penalty box but the centre-half did well to hook away Ashley Cole's cross from the left.

Daniel Agger floored Torres, to the amusement of the away contingent, when he tried to pass him on the left flank but the free-kick was harmless from Drogba.

Torres gave a glimpse of his sure touch when he flicked the ball to Frank Lampard to set up a quick break and moments later he had the chance to show his predatory instincts from eight yards.

He got on the end of Drogba's pass but saw the diving Carragher smother his shot.

With 33 minutes gone Liverpool should have had the lead.

Following good work by Glen Johnson, Gerrard drilled the ball across the face of the Chelsea goal and to Maxi at the far post.

The Argentina winger fluffed his connection from point-blank range and saw the ball canon back off the crossbar.

If the first-half's lack of quality could be explained away as nervous tension following the Torres transfer, the drab start to the second was a disappointment.

It took seven minutes for the first move of note, Kuyt handing Johnson a shooting chance from 20 yards, and even then no save was needed.

The hosts started to come to life after that, Drogba and Anelka each forcing corners as they looked to test Reina.

Torres continued to be a subdued presence and it did not help his cause that each time the ball came his way, at least two former team-mates were on hand to relieve him of it.

Kuyt, meanwhile, was working hard in the Spaniard's former lone striker role but with Luis Suarez waiting on the bench Liverpool had more explosive options in reserve.

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti clearly felt he did too and with 65 minutes gone he called time on an unremarkable Torres debut by sending on Salomon Kalou.

The Reds took the lead soon after, Gerrard breaking down the right and whipping a ball into the centre that neither Petr Cech nor Branislav Ivanovic came to meet.

The ball evaded Kuyt but Meireles was rewarded for his supporting run and hooked the ball home with aplomb.

Drogba tested Reina at the near post as Ancelotti's men attempted to rescue both the game and their title challenge and also made a hopeful appeal for handball in the Liverpool area with 10 minutes remaining.

Liverpool had chances on the counter, substitute Fabio Aurelio hammering one at Cech's near post and drawing a smart save.

The Blues became increasingly frenzied in their attempts to draw level and the first appearance of new £20million signing David Luiz, as a replacement, passed by almost unnoticed.

Ivanovic appealed for a penalty as injury-time began, but the officials were rightly uninterested.

Kenny Dalglish Says Liverpool FC's Only Motivation Against Chelsea Was Desire To Win

Kenny Dalglish insisted the sight of Fernando Torres in a Chelsea shirt hadn’t provided any extra motivation for Liverpool in yesterday’s impressive 1-0 victory over Chelsea.

The British record £50million signing endured a miserable debut as Raul Meireles scored the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge.

A fourth successive victory lifted the Reds into the top six of the Premier League for the first time this season.

“The players approached it professionally,” he said. “I don’t think (Torres’ presence) was any incentive.

“The incentive for us was to get three points and we did. Whatever someone else wants to do with their life is up to them.

“I came here to win three points and it would have made no difference if Carlo Ancelotti was playing up front, I’d still want the three points. The personnel of the opposition is not important to me.

“To be honest, he had one shot on target and Jamie Carragher made one great block tackle on him, but I’m not here to talk about other people’s players. I’m here to talk about my own players.”

Victory was achieved without either of the two strikers Dalglish brought in to replace Torres.

Andy Carroll is still sidelined by a thigh strain and Luis Suarez was an unused substitute as Dirk Kuyt worked tirelessly up front.

Dalglish believes his new recruits will face a battle to get into the side.

“The players were fantastic in their determination to win,” he said.

“As this football club has always said, the most important people are the people who are at Liverpool Football Club and that is the way it will always be.

“We have signed two fantastic players in Suarez and Carroll and we’re looking forward to seeing them – if they can get in the team that is. With the way we played today that won’t be easy.

“We’ve had four games now and we’ve played different systems, and not had any goals against. That’s down to a great pride in their work and a fantastic respect for the club. Whatever way we play will be to our strengths.”

A remarkable transformation in the Reds’ fortunes has reignited talk of Champions League qualification and boosted Dalglish’s chances of being handed the job on a permanent basis.

However, the caretaker boss insisted he’s just focused on carrying out the duties he was given.

He said: “If you win games, you get points, you move up the table. We’ve had our reward with four on the spin, and we’ve got next Saturday to look forward to against Wigan.

“It’s repetitive but in my footballing life I was only ever told to look after the next game. Sixth is a lot healthier than 12th when we started. That’s credit to he players, who have given 100%.

“I’m only doing what I said I would come in and do, which is help. I’ll never stand in the way of progress at this football club. I have never had a conversation with the owners beyond the conversation I had when I came in.

“That’s where we stand at the moment and until there is more to discuss – that is where we are.”

Jamie Carragher Wants Kenny Dalglish Confirmed In Liverpool Job

Fernando Torres became the latest victim of Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool renaissance last night after the Spaniard's eagerly awaited debut as a £50m Chelsea player ended in deflation and a 1-0 defeat at the hands of former team-mates.

The striker's first appearance for his new club veered horribly off script as he was snuffed out by the impressive Jamie Carragher and substituted just after the hour. The travelling support had barracked his every touch but by the end were too busy rejoicing in Raul Meireles's fourth goal in five matches that confirmed the recovery instigated by Dalglish since he took over last month.

This success was achieved without the input of Liverpool's own new arrivals, the £23m Luis Suárez or the £35m Andy Carroll, with Carragher subsequently leading the calls for Dalglish to be handed the job full-time. "I have great respect for Roy, so I'd never say 'things have changed for the better' and that type of stuff," said Carragher. "As a club and as players we didn't do enough to help the manager out – the performances weren't good enough and obviously the managers take the brunt of it.

"But things have improved now and Kenny coming has got everyone onside. It's not our decision if he gets the job. That's up to the club owners. But for everyone, especially me and Stevie [Gerrard], he's a hero to us. The results are obviously going very well. If you're asking me, obviously I'd love him to be the manager."

By inflicting Chelsea's fifth defeat here in 132 league games Liverpool registered a fourth successive victory without conceding a goal, to rise to sixth place, only six points from the fourth Champions League qualification place. They can now aspire to returning to Europe's elite competition, potentially at Chelsea's expense.

"Good players come and go," said Carragher when asked about his former team-mate. "We've played against plenty of players [who have left] – we used to play against Robbie Fowler when he went to Leeds – and it's not easy. You know the quality they have and Fernando is one of the best strikers in the world. I'm sure he'll prove that for Chelsea but he's not with us now. We have to focus on our own team."

Dalglish was just as reluctant to talk about the departed Spaniard, whose transfer had so dominated the week and the build-up to this occasion. "I'm not here to talk about someone else's players but I don't think any of their forwards will be too happy about the game they had," he said. "We signed two fantastic players in Luis Suárez and Andy Carroll and we are looking forward to seeing them play, if they can get in the team. The way the boys played today it won't be easy for either of them.

"The Torres situation wasn't an incentive for us. Whatever someone else wants to do with their life, that's their choice. We've said all we have to say on the lad. I came here to win three points. If Carlo Ancelotti had been playing up front for Chelsea, I'd have still wanted the three points. The personnel and the opposition aren't important to me. We just look at ourselves and sixth place is a lot healthier than 12th, where we started.

"Now that's four clean sheets and 12 points from four games, so everyone connected to Liverpool is very happy. As for my role long-term, I'm only doing what I said I would do: come in and help. I won't ever stand in the way of progress at this club. I've not had a conversation with the owners and, until there's something else to discuss, that's where we are."

Ancelotti was left to reflect on a damaging defeat, with an opportunity to eat into the 10-point deficit from Manchester United at the top passed up. Chelsea have now lost as many games this season as Birmingham City, a side who hoisted themselves out of the relegation zone only with victory at West Ham yesterday, and the manager was left complaining that Glen Johnson's late barge on Branislav Ivanovic went unpunished.

"We're disappointed because we had an opportunity to close the gap but now we're still the same distance from United," said Ancelotti. "But we have to keep going. Maybe now we have less possibility to close that gap but we have to try again. We still have to try to fight again for the title.

"The right result today would have been a draw but this is football. Liverpool was strong defensively and we were not able to find the solution and we played too slowly from the back. But we need to give Torres time to adjust. He has experience, he has confidence and was enthusiastic to play today. In him and David Luiz we have bought players with fantastic abilities who will be the future of this club."

Kenny Dalglish Distances Himself From Permanent Managerial Role

Kenny Dalglish has claimed that he has not spoken to Liverpool’s American owners about being given the manager’s job on a full-time basis.

Liverpool’s caretaker boss said he would “not step in the way” of another candidate should the John W Henry-led Fenway Sports Group consider that was the best way forward for the club.

Dalglish has overseen a revival since returning to the helm at Anfield following a two-decade break. Liverpool has climbed to sixth in the Premier League and their 1-0 victory at Chelsea on Sunday was their fourth win in consecutive games.

Asked about his long-term job prospects, Dalglish told reporters: “I’m only doing what I said I would do and that is to come in and help. I would never stand in the way of this football club.

“I haven’t discussed it [manager’s job] beyond the conversation when I took this job. That’s where I stand at the moment. When there is nothing to be discussed, I won’t discuss it.

“My concern is the Wigan match next week. The owners have been fantastic in their support during the transfer window.

“You've got to give credit to them. I think by their actions they are making decisions that are in the best interests of this football club.”

Dalglish was delighted with the application of his players after responding impressively to a three centre-back system that was used to negate Chelsea’s three-pronged strike attack.

“The players were fantastic in their approach to the game and their determination to win the match and not lose a game of football,” the Scot said. “We have played with it (three centre-halves) twice. We play with a system that suits our players and the opposition.

“I’m not trying to be clever or a tactical genius. I’m just trying to get the best out of the players. It’s a credit to them that a couple of things that we did want them to do tactically they took on board brilliantly.

“We have got four clean sheets in a row and 12 points. Anybody who is favour of Liverpool is very happy at the moment.”

Asked about Liverpool coming up against old boy Fernando Torres, Dalglish insisted there was no additional motivation in the game beyond the lure of three points.

“The players approached it professionally," he said. "I don't think (Torres' presence) was any incentive.

“The incentive for us was to get three points and we did. Whatever someone else wants to do with their life is up to them.

“I came here to win three points and it would have made no difference if Carlo Ancelotti was playing up front, I'd still want the three points. The personnel of the opposition is not important to me.”

He added: “To be honest, he (Torres) had one shot on target and Jamie Carragher made one great block tackle on him, but I'm not here to talk about other people's players, I'm here to talk about my own players.”

Dalglish singled out the contribution of Jamie Carragher, who was magnificent on his return to the team after two months out with a dislocated shoulder.

“It’s like getting another player in,” he said. “He is a fantastic asset for this club. It was a great credit to his level of fitness, especially at his age. He is not a teenager anymore but has been able to keep training and work with the sports science people.

“It was very important for him to play today to encourage, talk and lead. His heart and commitment and pride in playing for the football club helped to get him to the end. Tomorrow morning he will not feel the way he does today.”

Fiorentina And Napoli Ready To Pounce On Liverpool's Lucas

Reports from Italy suggest that Liverpool may have to brace themselves for a summer bid for Brazilian midfielder Lucas. Both Fiorentina and Napoli are confirmed admirers of the player and chatter from La Viola suggests they intend to match Napoli bid for bid if Liverpool make the midfielder available.

Lucas had a stormy start to life on Merseyside under former boss Rafael Benitez, but has quickly matured into a proven Premier League performer and his qualities are appreciated at international level too. Indeed, Lucas has been dubbed 'the new Dunga' due to his style of play.

The 24-year-old was the subject of interest from Brazil in January and any indication that Liverpool would allow Lucas to leave would ensure a flurry of bids arrive. Fiorentina and Napoli would both be confident of getting their man, with each believing Lucas would suit Serie A, with Villarreal and Gremio are also keen.

The fact that the Liverpool midfielder also holds an Italian passport means he would not be counted as a non-EU player in the country, making him even more attractive to the Serie A pair though.

Gerrard Ruled Out For England

Steven Gerrard has been ruled out of England's friendly with Denmark on Wednesday night.

The midfielder picked up a groin injury in Liverpool's 1-0 win at Chelsea and will not feature for Fabio Capello's side at the Parken Stadium.

England's vice-captain reported to his country's team hotel on Sunday night but the FA has confirmed that he has now returned to Merseyside.

Reds boss Kenny Dalglish had stated that he did not expect his skipper to play for the Three Lions.

"He has a groin problem," said Dalglish in the aftermath of Liverpool's victory at Stamford Bridge.

"He has to go so they can have a look at him but we've spoken to England and he'll not be playing."

Jay Spearing Believes Liverpool's Good Form Is Thanks To Steve Clarke

Midfielder Jay Spearing admits that Liverpool are training harder with Kenny Dalglish at the helm and that Steve Clarke’s appointment as first-team coach has made a significant impact at Melwood.

The 22-year-old told LFC Weekly: "Under him [Clarke] the pace of training has changed.

“He wants us to do things quicker. That's helped us to play at a better tempo in games.

"I think there was going to be a point in the season when it all clicked together and we started to play the way we should be and winning the games we should be.

“Slowly it's coming together under Kenny and Steve and we've got to continue that now.

"The atmosphere is good around the place again. You arrive in the morning and people are buzzing."

Spearing also revealed Dalglish’s spirit raised hopes high again at Melwood and that working with a legend like Dalglish has given him hunger for a regular spot in the Scot’s starting XI.

Dalglish showed his support for Spearing as he selected the midfielder in the team-sheet in the 2-2 derby against local rivals Everton in January.

Spearing added: "He's a legend and to be managed by him gives me, and all the players I'm sure, an extra boost.

"When he said he'd take the job it gave everyone, the players and backroom staff, a lot more confidence. It lifted the whole place.

"I don't really remember him being in charge the first time around. I've been told a lot about it and seen some of it on TV.

“He was obviously very successful then so why can't he do it now?"

John W Henry Questions Uefa Financial Fair Play Rules

Liverpool FC owner John W Henry has questioned whether UEFA’s financial fair-play rules will prove sufficiently robust - and was surprised to see Chelsea spending heavily on transfers as the London club revealed heavy losses.

Under UEFA’s new rules, clubs will face possible bans from European competition from the 2014/15 season if they spend more than they earn in the three years before.

Henry expressed surprise that Chelsea were willing to go as high as £50million to sign Fernando Torres from Liverpool, on the same transfer deadline day that the club also spent around £25million on David Luiz and announced total losses of £70.9million for the year ending 30 June 2010.

Henry said: "I was surprised Monday morning to receive an offer in that amount at the same time they were announcing such large losses.

"The big question is just how effective the financial fair-play rules are going to be. Perhaps some clubs support the concept in order to limit the spending of other clubs, while implementing activities specifically designed to evade the rules they publicly support.

"We can only hope that UEFA has the ability and determination to enforce what they have proposed."

For Liverpool’s part, Henry pledged to live well within the rules.

"We’ve always spent money we’ve generated rather than deficit-spending and that will be the case in Liverpool," he said, talking about the way in which his Fenway Sports Group operate the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

"It’s up to us to generate enough revenue to be successful over the long term. We have not and will not deviate from that."

Henry claimed Liverpool did not worry over what they had to pay to Newcastle for striker Andy Carroll, as long as they emerged with £15million in cash left over after the sale of Torres to Chelsea.

Liverpool have come in for criticism after lavishing £35million on Newcastle to bring Carroll to Anfield, but Henry said the size of the fee was not a concern as it was always factored in to negotiations with Chelsea.

"The fee for Torres was dependent on what Newcastle asked for Carroll," Henry said.

"The negotiation for us was simply the difference in prices paid by Chelsea and to Newcastle. Those prices could have been £35million (from Chelsea for Torres) and £20million (to Newcastle for Carroll), 40 and 25 or 50 and 35. It was ultimately up to Newcastle how much this was all going to cost. They (Newcastle) made a hell of a deal. We felt the same way."

With Ryan Babel moving to Hoffenheim for £6million, the difference on the Carroll deal allowed Liverpool to fund the £22.8million arrival of Luis Suarez from Ajax.

Henry also endorsed Liverpool caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish, without confirming he would be offered the job on a permanent basis.

"We didn’t know Kenny well prior to him coming aboard as manager," Henry said. "But he has exceeded our expectations on all fronts. It would be inappropriate to comment publicly on what happens beyond the end of this season."