Friday, February 18, 2011

Match Report: Sparta Prague 0 - 0 Liverpool

Kenny Dalglish waited 9,394 days to get the chance to manage Liverpool in Europe but after a turgid Europa League goalless draw against Sparta Prague he must have wondered why he looked forward to it so much.

The 59-year-old missed out on continental competition in his first spell as Reds boss because of the ban on English clubs after the Heysel disaster.

Despite the significance of his debut, this last-32 first-leg match in the Czech Republic is unlikely to live long in Dalglish's or anyone else's memory.

Goalkeeper Jose Reina was Liverpool's best - and busiest - player with a few good saves, but even then he was not severely tested.

The visitors' play was disjointed and lacked a cutting edge but crucially they kept a clean sheet and Dalglish will be hopeful next week's home leg, when captain Steven Gerrard should be available after a groin problem, will provide greater satisfaction.

In the biting cold of the Generali Arena the game never really got going and although Liverpool tried to gain control by holding on to possession they never managed to make any ground by doing so.

In fact, it was Sparta who created the few chances, most of which were created from wide positions as full-backs Ondrej Kusnir, on the right, and the particularly effective Manuel Pamic advanced at regular intervals.

That was in contrast to Liverpool's two wide defenders, with Glen Johnson, back in his more familiar right-sided role, and Danny Wilson, a centre-back playing on the left, rarely getting the opportunity to go forward.

Pamic gave Johnson problems in the first half and almost capitalized to great effect in the 17th minute.

Martin Abena slid a pass inside the England defender and Pamic raced into the penalty area to drill a low shot from a narrow angle which Reina parried to safety.

Even the normally unflappable Spain international was not immune to the general untidiness which littered Liverpool's play and when he could only parry Kusnir's deep cross into the path of Pamic he was relived to see the defender blaze over with his weaker right foot.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos was next to the Reds' rescue, putting in a diving block to halt former Reading midfielder Marek Matejovsky's shot as it travelled goalwards.

With a lack of central midfielders, having left Gerrard and expectant father Christian Poulsen at home, the last thing Dalglish needed was to see Fabio Aurelio forced off with an injury in the first half.

It prompted a reshuffle with Raul Meireles withdrawn from his advanced role, from where he had scored five goals in six previous matches, to allow Joe Cole to come on.

The second half was little different from what had gone before except for Liverpool enjoying slightly more possession.

But the successful passing game which had been so evident in their six-match unbeaten Barclays Premier League run never really got going.

Sparta continued to pose the greater threat, however, and Leony Kweuke headed just wide from range on the hour.

Liverpool's best chance came with 20 minutes to go when Lucas Leiva's lofted pass picked out Johnson on the right of the penalty area.

He weaved inside but instead of shooting with his left foot - with which he has scored some screamers from range - he opted for the outside of his right and poked the ball past the far post.

The match was held up for a couple of minutes after a flare let off by Sparta fans behind Reina's goal clouded the pitch in thick smoke and there would have been few complaints had it blanked out the rest of the game.

When play did resume Reina had to be alert to stop Kweuke's shot on the turn from a corner, while Matejovsky's 25-yard effort curled just wide of the goalkeeper's right-hand post.

Dalglish switched to a back three for the last six minutes, with Slovakian Martin Skrtel receiving a predictably hostile welcome from the Czech crowd when he replaced Ngog.

Kamil Vacek almost snatched a winner with a long-range strike which whistled past the upright but Liverpool held on for a clean sheet which makes life slightly easier for them in a week's time.

Kenny Not Giving Up On Cole

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish insists he is determined to give Joe Cole all the time he needs to become an Anfield success story.

The Reds won the battle to land Cole on a free transfer in the summer following his exit from Chelsea.

But since his nightmare debut which saw him receive a red card, Cole has failed to make the expected impact, with a series of injuries also hampering his progress.

Cole made his first appearance under Dalglish during the Reds' goalless draw with Sparta Prague in the Europa League and the Liverpool boss insists the England man is very much in his plans.

"We have got to be patient with Joe. That his first run out since I came here," said Dalglish.

"That is a great start for him, to get himself on the pitch and get an hour won't do him any harm.

"Joe is a valuable asset for us. Obviously he is not going to pick his form up immediately, if he does it will be a real bonus for us.

"But we are not going to put him under pressure and expect him to be the Joe Cole who came to Liverpool in the summer.

"We want to give him a bit of time and make sure he gets there. Form is temporary, class is permanent and that is where we stand with Joe.

"We'll give him a bit of time to get up to speed and then we'll judge him. Joe needs his injury rebuilding so we'll get that right first."

Kenny Dalglish Takes Positives From 0-0 Draw With Sparta Prague

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has declared himself pleased with his side's performance following their 0-0 draw with Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 Europa League clash in the Czech capital.

Neither side created many chances, with the visitors failing to get an attempt on target in the entire game but the Anfield outfit will surely have the upper hand ahead of the return leg on Merseyside next Thursday.

Dalglish fielded a makeshift side in what was his first European tie as Liverpool manager and admitted that the goalless draw was a fair result.

Speaking to Five, the Reds boss said: "Obviously it wasn't a classic, we came here and thought if we kept them to nil we'd be reasonably happy.

"The onus is on them to try and put us under a wee bit of pressure and they didn't really put us under pressure at the back or in possession, they didn't close up and most of the time it came from us but they had a couple of opportunities as well.

"On the night, 0-0 is fair enough really."

The Scot also spoke of the importance of providing first-team football for a number of his squad players during the clash at the Generali Arena.

He said: "We've got to remember that we've got a few players out injured and we've had a few players come in for this game. Soto [Kyrgiakos] has come in and done really well, David Ngog came in up front and did reasonably well. [There was] a few people that needed games.

"Danny Wilson came in, that was his first European tie for us as well so there's a lot of value to come out of the game. Obviously if we'd won the game we would have come out of it a lot happier but it was useful for us."

Newcastle's Enrique Flattered By Liverpool Link

Jose Enrique claims he would be ready to join Liverpool because of "broken promises" at Newcastle.

The 25-year-old Spaniard - who insists he is desperate for Champions League football and to represent his country - says Manchester United and Aston Villa are also keen on him, but it is Liverpool who appear to head of the queue for the £6m-rated full-back.

Anfield director of Football Damien Commolli is said to have been impressed by the left-back's display as Newcastle kept a clean sheet away to Blackburn last weekend.

"It is flattering that Liverpool is interested," Enrique said last night. "I've also heard that Manchester United and Aston Villa have asked about me.

"I'm happy at Newcastle, but I'm not closing the door to anything. I love the fans here at Newcastle. I have suffered with the team, with the relegation two years ago and I have to be realistic.

"Newcastle is not working well, it has made promises it has not been able to keep and I am ambitious. I want to play in the Champions League, major competitions and to go to the Spanish team.

"I have the dream of the senior national team debut. I work to get the chance someday. I want to be prepared to do well in the red shirt."

The star, who has 16 months left on his current contract, added: "I've always said I'm fine at the club. But, like any player, I want to win titles.

"I want to say to my children in the future I've played in the Champions League or for Spain."

'The Magician' Tipped To Become Next Anfield Hero

Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling has seen his stock rise dramatically in the past few days.

On Monday, the 16-year-old scored five times as Liverpool under 18s routed Southend 9-0 in the FA Youth Cup and now finds himself on the verge of making an historic senior debut for the Reds.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish was in the stands at Anfield to witness Sterling's goalscoring feat and promptly drafted him into the first team squad for this evening's Europa League tie against Sparta Prague.

If Sterling plays at the Generali Arena he will become the youngest player to ever represent the Liverpool senior side, trumping the record of 16 years and 250 days held by youth team colleague Jack Robinson by 182 days.

The England under 17 international's rise to prominence has seen him gather praise from a number of notable admirers - most recently from former Liverpool defender Phil Thompson - and has now been backed to make a big impact at Anfield.

Queen's Park Rangers centre of excellence manager, Steve Gallen, tutored Sterling during his time with the London club and believes Liverpool have captured an incredibly exciting prospect.

"We always knew he was good," Gallen told the Daily Mail. "He had many nicknames when he played for us. One of them was simply 'The Magician'. Another was 'Raheem Park Rangers' because sometimes he would carry the team on his own.

"I moved him up to the under 16s when he was 14 and he was the best player on the pitch. He came on as a sub against Millwall and there was this long ball from the goalkeeper. He watched it drop over his shoulder and volleyed it straight into the top corner. I was glad no scouts were there that day.

"This became normal. His ability is frightening. Balance, speed, awareness. No-one I've ever seen compares to him. He's a fantastic player and I really hope he does well [at Liverpool]."

Alberto Aquilani Could Come Back To Anfield

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani could yet make a return to Anfield.

The Italian international midfielder has been plying his trade with Juventus this season, and was expected to complete a permanent move to the Serie 'A' side from Liverpool in the summer.

However, the bianconeri are having 'serious doubts' over signing the player on a permanent basis, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, and could pass on the option of signing the player.

Liverpool signed the player for €20 million back in August 2009, but Aquilani failed to show anything like his best form at Anfield under Rafa Benitez, who was sacked by the Merseysiders in June '10.

Managerial replacement Roy Hodgson allowed the player to return to his homeland, with the opportunity to make a full-time move should things work out. Liverpool is hoping to recoup around €16.5 million for the player from a sale.

However, the 26-year-olds wage demands are reportedly too much for the Stadio Olimpico di Torino outfit, who are not willing to pay what the player is requesting.

Other player options, such as Liverpool linked Andrea Pirlo, would prove to be a cheaper acquisition for the Old Lady.

The Merseysiders are keen to cash in on Aquilani whilst they have an opportunity, but if the deal falls through the former Roma star will be returning to Liverpool and manager Kenny Dalglish at the end of the season.

Court Defeat For Former Liverpool Owner Hicks

The Texan former owner of Liverpool Football Club has failed to overturn a court order barring him from launching massive damages claims over the sale of the Premier League side in the US.

Tom Hicks wanted High Court judge Mr. Justice Floyd to lift anti-suit orders which prevented him taking action in the Texas courts to halt the deal, in which he claims he lost £140m.

The judge dismissed that application but varied the anti-suit injunction to allow Mr. Hicks to make applications in the US in support of any proceedings in this country if he gives seven days’ notice to the parties he is suing.

Mr. Hicks believes he was the victim of an “epic swindle” when the club was sold against his wishes to New England Sports Ventures for £300m.

Mr. Justice Floyd also dismissed an application to strike out or stay claims by Sir Martin Broughton, the former chairman of the football club, seeking damages against Mr. Hicks for his actions while owner.

Liverpool Welcome High Court Ruling

Former Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has been dealt a blow in his plans to sue the club after the High Court ruled that he would have to bring his case to the UK, where it is highly unlikely he will be successful in any pursuit to receive damages over the sale of the team.

Liverpool FC were sold last year after judge Mr. Justice Floyd granted the board of directors permission to sell the club to NESV (New England Sports Ventures, now Fenway Sports Group) for £300 million, despite opposition from Hicks.

Hicks and co-owner George Gillett are trying to claim $1 billion (£620m) in damages from RBS, who the pair had been in debt to over their purchase of the club in 2007, and former directors.

The duo had a much higher valuation of the club and believe they are owed compensation as a result of "an epic swindle".

But Mr. Justice Floyd has ruled that any case will have to be brought to a UK court, and has given former chairman Sir Martin Broughton and NESV the option to receive protection from any damages claimed by Hicks, meaning it is highly unlikely that the former owner will be successful in any case against the club's new owners.

"We are delighted that Mr. Justice Floyd has granted the applications requested by Sir Martin Broughton, RBS and NESV and that the anti-suit injunction prohibiting the former owners from commencing legal actions against these parties outside the EU has been upheld and clarified," said a statement from Liverpool FC.

"Sir Martin, RBS and NESV continue to maintain that there is no basis to challenge the propriety or validity of any actions by them or any of those involved on their behalf in the sale of the club.

"They will continue to take all steps necessary to defend vigorously any litigation threatened or commenced by the club's former owners."

RBS loaned Hicks and Gillett the money to buy Liverpool for a fee of £220m before the club reached the Champions League final for a second time in three years.

Hicks and Gillett had promised to invest in players and build a new stadium to raise the value of the club, but failed to deliver and eventually agreed to sell up and hoped to fetch in the region of £800m for their asset.