Friday, February 25, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 0 Sparta Prague

Dirk Kuyt headed a late winner to snatch a 1-0 victory in Kenny Dalglish's first European tie as Liverpool manager.

Kuyt finally broke the resistance of a determined Sparta Prague side with the only goal of a testing Europa League affair five minutes from the end of the second leg at Anfield.

Both sides had squandered numerous chances in a scrappy round of 32 encounter but Liverpool's superior quality was eventually rewarded by the hard-working Kuyt.

David Ngog, Joe Cole and Raul Meireles had also gone close in front of a sell-out 42,949 crowd which further underlined the gathering momentum of Dalglish's new regime.

Sparta, backed by 3,000 of their own raucous fans, contributed fully to an eventful, if low-quality, clash but were eventually undone as Kuyt profited from a late corner.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, absent for the two previous games with a groin injury, was not risked and his dynamism and precision was missed throughout.

Christian Poulsen, whose partner had a baby earlier in the week, made little impact in a central role while Cole, starting for the first time under Dalglish was quiet on the left.

The former Chelsea midfielder looked determined to kickstart his faltering Reds career, however, and broke clear early on to send over a looping cross which clipped the bar.

The opening stages were lively and suggested the game, which ultimately lacked quality, would be far more eventful than the drab first leg.

Liverpool appealed for a penalty in the second minute when a Meireles free-kick bounced and caught Manuel Pamic on the hand but nothing was given.

At the other end Libor Sionko headed over from a Kamil Vacek cross and a dipping shot from Vaclav Kadlec narrowly missed the target.

Both goalkeepers were tested by headers, Jose Reina first claiming a firm effort from Sinoko.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos then went close to handing Liverpool the lead when he rose to meet a Meireles corner but Jaromir Blazek saved well to his right.

Reina had a scare when he failed to claim a corner but Sionko was unable to take advantage and Meireles missed a good chance when he scooped a cross from the rampaging Martin Kelly over.

Blazek had an uncomfortable moment when he spilled a long-range shot from Cole, who had cut in from the left, but Liverpool could not capitalise.

Ngog tried his luck from distance as the ball dropped invitingly but miskicked as he turned to shoot.

The Frenchman had a better chance moments later as Kuyt cut inside to tee him up but the Frenchman chipped tamely at Blazek, who almost gifted a rebound opportunity to Cole but recovered.

Lucas also saw a 25-yard shot drift narrowly wide just before the interval.

Liverpool were forced to withdraw one of the first half's better players in Kelly at the start of the second period, but were able to replace the right-back with the experienced Jamie Carragher.

The hosts started brightly after the restart with Meireles volleying narrowly wide and then creating another attack with a superb long ball for Kuyt.

Kuyt raced on into the area and pulled back for Ngog but the lone striker again fluffed his shot.

Sparta also continued to threaten but Reina got down well to cut out a cross from Ondrej Kusnir.

Liverpool met more frustration as they tried to prise an opening with Kuyt having a shot blocked and Cole heading wide midway through the second half.

The Reds pressed further with Meireles playing in Ngog but Blazek denied him.

Kyrgiakos was forced off for treatment after a clash of heads with Tomas Repka left him with a nasty cut above the eye.

He returned just as defensive partner Daniel Agger was forced off with injury and replaced by Martin Skrtel.

Kuyt, along with Meireles, had been one of Liverpool's most forthright players in the second half and his efforts were rewarded with his winner.

The Dutchman jumped above the defence five minutes from time to head firmly past Blazek and put the Reds into the last 16.

Cole should have added a second when he raced through on goal in injury time but sliced his shot wide.

Kenny Dalglish Delighted By First European Win

Kenny Dalglish had a late Dirk Kuyt header to thank for his first European win as Liverpool manager on Thursday night.

Kuyt powered home the only goal of a tricky Europa League tie against Sparta Prague with just five minutes of the second leg remaining at Anfield.

The 1-0 aggregate win secured a place in the last 16 and a clash against Portuguese side SC Braga.

It was Dalglish's first taste of continental victory as Liverpool manager having not competed on the European stage during his first spell in charge from 1985-91 due to a ban on English clubs.

Dalglish, appointed until the end of the season after the departure of Roy Hodgson seven weeks ago, said: "I had never done it before and I quite enjoyed it.

"It's a fantastic football club and I was lucky enough to be asked to come back.

Carra Overtakes United Star

Jamie Carragher last night overtook Ryan Giggs to become the record British appearance holder in European competition.

The 33-year-old came on as a substitute in the 1-0 win against Sparta Prague for what was his 137th game in continental football - one more than Manchester United winger Giggs.

Carragher made his European debut more than 13 years ago in a 2-2 draw away to Celtic.

His Euro trophy haul includes a UEFA Cup, a Champions League and two UEFA Super Cups.

John Arne Riise Wants Anfield Switch, Reports Claim

John Arne Riise reportedly wants to return to Liverpool amid suggestions he will leave Roma in the summer.

According to, the Norwegian left-back is expected to be made available to potential suitors when the transfer window reopens in June and the 30-year-old is said to be gunning for a switch to Anfield.

Riise enjoyed seven successful years with Liverpool; winning seven trophies during his time at Anfield - the most notable being the dramatic Champions League final victory over AC Milan in 2005.

The defender joined Roma in 2008 having been displaced in the Liverpool team by Fabio Aurelio but left Anfield with a heavy heart.

"I'm 100 per cent sincere when I say that I will always remember all the great moments we've had and you - our fans - have such great importance for these great matches and great moments," he said in an open letter to Liverpool supporters after his departure.

"Liverpool FC will have a lot more great moments like this in the future and I hope that I will experience great things with my new team - AS Roma."

Riise is the latest in a long line of left-backs to have been linked with Liverpool as they look to fill the problematic role in the summer.

Liverpool are also said to be monitoring Emilio Izaguirre of Celtic and Newcastle's Jose Enrique in their pursuit of defensive reinforcements.

Yuri Zhirkov A Surprise Left-Back Target For Reds

Liverpool are being linked with a surprise move for Chelsea's Yuri Zhirkov.

The Russian has found regular first team opportunities hard to come by since his £18 million switch from CSKA Moscow in 2009 and is now reportedly ready to consider his options in the summer.

Metro reports that Liverpool are preparing to bid for the 27-year-old - should he become surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge - as they pursue defensive reinforcements.

Zhirkov can ably fill either left-back or left-wing role and the former as an area of their current side that Liverpool are keen to address when the transfer window reopens.

Despite favouring the right-side of defence, Liverpool are currently deploying Glen Johnson in the less familiar left-back role and the Anfield club appear to be actively searching for a more long-term solution.

Liverpool Consider Summer Move For Preston Midfielder Adam Barton

Liverpool have reportedly been monitoring Preston youngster Adam Barton.

The midfielder has received glowing reports for his performances in a failing Preston side this season and has been linked with a move away from Deepdale in the summer.

According to the Daily Mail, Liverpool has 'extensively' been watching the 20-year-old and is considering making their move when the transfer window reopens in June.

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee made a check on Barton last weekend as Preston drew with QPR and the Daily Mail suggests an offer of £2.5 million will be made by the Anfield to the Championship side.

PNE, however, value the Northern Ireland international at closer to £5 million but will struggle to command that fee from Liverpool should they drop into League One - something which looks increasingly likely.

Liverpool owners New England Sports Ventures (NESV) are known to be keen make a more concerted effort to invest in young talent and Barton appears to have been identified as potentially shrewd acquisition.

The Reds have been scoring the lower leagues to find exciting youngsters and the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Connor Wickham have also been linked with moves to Liverpool.

Alberto Aquilani Will Not Return To Roma

The agent of Juventus midfielder Alberto Aquilani says his client will not make a surprise return to Roma during the summer transfer window.

The agent of Juventus midfielder Alberto Aquilani has confirmed his client will not be making a surprise return to former club Roma over the summer transfer window.

Franco Zavaglia says only the Bianconeri have the possibility of signing the Italian international by 30 June 2011.

Aquilani is currently on a season-long loan from English side Liverpool, with the Reds asking €16 million for the 26-year-old.

"Let us not joke around, as the situation is laughable," Zavaglia stated to in an interview. "There is no possibility Alberto will return to Roma. It is a fantasy.

"There is only one truth: Juventus has the possibility to sign him by 30 June 2011. Liverpool has set a €16m price and Juventus has not got much choice.

"It either signs him, or he will return to England. I do not intend to comment any further on the situation, as there is nothing concrete about the rumours," he concluded.

Liverpool bought the Azzurri international from the Giallorossi in 2009 for €25m, but after an injury-hit stint in England, he was loaned to Juventus last summer and has become a regular in the Old Lady's starting line-up.

Christian Purslow Steps Down As Special Advisor & Non-Executive Director For Liverpool

After helping the new Liverpool owners transition into their duties at Anfield, special advisor and non-executive director Christian Purslow has stepped down from his post.

Liverpool made the announcement on Thursday, confirming the successful shift of the club to its new owners, John Henry and Tom Werner, reports.

"We will always be grateful to Christian for his vital contribution to the Club during his time as Managing Director and latterly as Special Advisor," Werner said in Liverpool's official announcement. "He has played a fundamental role in securing the future of the Club and in the sale of LFC to new ownership."

Purslow also made an announcement regarding the news, and said that the club is in "safe hands" with the new ownership group.

"I have been happy to be available to provide support for the new owners during the transitional period since the sale but now Liverpool FC is in excellent shape for the future, and in safe hands, it is time for me to concentrate fully on other business interests," Purslow said. "I look forward with pride and excitement to watching Liverpool FC competes at the highest levels once again."

Before his shift to special advisor, Purslow was the managing director at Liverpool under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.