Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 2 Chelsea

Benitez was denied a victorious return to the scene of many of his former glories by player of the year candidate Suarez who ensured the focus was all on him - again.

It would not have been until, with Chelsea 2-1 up, he chose to sink his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic as the pair tangled in the penalty area.

Referee Kevin Friend missed the incident and despite the Chelsea defender's protests no action was taken.

For such an odd incident Suarez has previous, having served a seven-match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax immediately prior to his move to Liverpool in January 2011.

The 26-year-old is no stranger to controversy, having been sent off for a goalline handball in a World Cup quarter-final, suspended for eight matches for racially abusing Patrice Evra and admitting to diving earlier this season.

It was even his handball which resulted in Chelsea's match-winning penalty and it seems inevitable the Football Association will be contacting him again.

His equalizing goal with virtually the last kick of the game in the sixth and final minute of added time will probably be forgotten in the furore which is to follow.

In terms of the actual football Chelsea had looked like winning with a goal from Oscar and an Eden Hazard penalty either side of substitute Daniel Sturridge's close-range strike.

With Tottenham winning earlier, the draw was a blow to Chelsea's Champions League expectations as it dropped them to fourth, just a point ahead of their London rivals.

Benitez remains a hugely divisive figure and that was highlighted no better than with his stepping back out into Anfield for the first time nearly three years after leaving.

Supporters warmly welcomed the man viewed as a returning hero in these parts - the only ones not applauding were those from Chelsea whose objections to the Spaniard directly result from his red roots.

For all his supposed failings a glance back at Benitez's six-year spell at Anfield shows just how far the club has fallen - they are seventh - since then.

Having won a fifth European Cup in 2005 he added the FA Cup a year later before returning to the Champions League final in 2007 and he qualified for Europe's elite club competition every season except for his last - without doubt the most tumultuous and difficult of his time at the club.

His affinity with Liverpool supporters has only been strengthened by his support for the Hillsborough families and on Saturday, he visited the memorial for the 96 at Anfield and laid flowers and a single red rose for Anne Williams.

A minute's applause was held for the long-time justice campaigner, whose 15-year-old son Kevin who died in the disaster, after she passed away earlier this week just a couple of days after attending the 24th anniversary memorial service.

Chelsea's opening goal was courtesy of a near-post header by the Brazil international who managed to out-fox Daniel Agger and then beat Jamie Carragher to beat Jose Reina inside his left hand post.

Prior to that there has been little in the way of goal threat with Glen Johnson poking wide from Suarez's lay-off after the England full-back had begun the move with Jordan Henderson.

Ramires' drive was punched clear with two fists by Reina who, after the 26th-minute goal, almost embarrassed himself by fumbling David Luiz's long-range free-kick and only just managed to retrieve the ball before it crossed the line.

Liverpool's first shot came in the 40th minute when Suarez's effort was beaten away by Petr Cech, who dealt more comfortably with the Uruguay international's scuffed strike on the stroke of half-time.

Philippe Coutinho, who had looked increasingly tentative and timid, was replaced by Sturridge - bought from Chelsea in January - and he instantly changed the dynamic.

His first run put Steven Gerrard clean through - only for Cech to deflect the shot wide with his legs - and then he smashed a 25-yard effort against the post.

But the England striker did brilliantly to get his feet in the right position to convert an awkward chance from Suarez's far post cross in the 52nd minute.

Liverpool's bubble was burst pretty quickly, however, as when Suarez handled defending a Juan Mata corner Hazard stroked home from the spot.

They continued to press but the closest they came to puncturing a hole in Chelsea's defence, apart from Suarez's teeth, was when substitute Jonjo Shelvey fired into the side-netting.

However, Suarez produced another talking point by heading home Sturridge's cross with the clock showing 96 minutes and 34 seconds.

Sturridge Praised By Rodgers

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers felt the half-time introduction of Daniel Sturridge made the difference as his side came from behind to draw 2-2 with Chelsea.

In a game overshadowed by Reds striker Luis Suarez biting opponent Branislav Ivanovic, the home side trailed at half-time to Oscar's opening goal.

Sturridge was brought on for the second half and scored within seven minutes, although the home side also needed a second late leveller from Suarez to earn a point after Eden Hazard's penalty had restored Chelsea's lead.

Rodgers was pleased with the second-half effort from his players, particularly 23-year-old former Chelsea striker Sturridge.

"I thought Daniel was outstanding in the second half and as a team we were much more aggressive," said Rodgers.

"We had one or two moments where we showed intensity but I felt bringing Daniel on in the second half, playing with a narrow four in midfield and letting him move and work around Luis Suarez, would give us more of a threat.

"In the first half we were too slow. We played with three midfield players to control the game and we never had any real control - our passing was loose and sloppy.

"I think it shows the character in the group, to come from behind. We made two mistakes for their goals - we're disappointed with the goals that we gave away.

"I can only commend the resilience of the players. To get back into the game at 1-1 and go behind again to a penalty might have made them flat for the rest of the half.

"I thought our second-half performance was outstanding; our tempo was much better, we were more aggressive in our attack and we thoroughly deserved at least a point from the second half."

Benitez Blames Referee For Dropping Two Points

Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez was left raging after his side conceded a 96th minute equalizer at Anfield on Sunday.

Luis Suarez scored just before referee Kevin Friend blew the final whistle and in his post match press conference Benitez let his feelings be known.

“I didn’t see anything, I was concentrating on the game and talking about football — we had the game nearly won. Why six minutes extra time? We don’t know. The rules are really clear so six minutes and 45 seconds more is very difficult to understand.

“Having six minutes added on was a frustration, so to play 45 seconds further was another frustration.

“But I won’t speak to the referee. It will not change anything.”

Benitez consoled himself with a great reception from the Kop on his first appearance at Anfield since being sacked in June 2010.

He added, “It was an emotional return. I was very pleased with the reception I got but disappointed with the late goal.”

Liverpool Fine Suarez For Bite But Won't Sack Him

Liverpool have fined Uruguay striker Luis Suarez an undisclosed amount for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic at the weekend but will not sack him, the Premier League club said on Monday.

Suarez, the league's top scorer with 23 goals, has been widely condemned for his behaviour in Sunday's 2-2 draw and is expected to get a lengthy ban from the Football Association but Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre said the club would stand by him.

"I think the most important thing is that we acted swiftly on Sunday," Ayre told the club's website (www.liverpoolfc.com).

"Luis issued his apology and then we spoke with him on Sunday night and then again on Monday morning. We've taken action to fine Luis for his actions."

Ayre did not specify the size of the fine but Suarez asked for the money to be donated to the Hillsborough Family Support Group - an organization set up after the 1989 stadium disaster that left 96 Liverpool fans dead.

Former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness said on Sunday that Suarez had reached "last chance saloon" at Anfield after the latest in a string of misdemeanours while others have suggested the club could take a moral stance and terminate his contract.

However, Ayre said manager Brendan Rodgers would work with the player to help improve his discipline.

"The owners are happy with the way we are handling the matter," said the managing director.

"He's a very popular player with his team mates. As we keep saying, he signed a new four-year contract last summer and we'd all love to see him here throughout that contract.

"He's a fantastic player, top scorer and everything we'd want in a striker so there's no change there."

The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) said on Monday that Suarez would be offered anger management classes.

Suarez Apologises To Ivanovic

Luis Suarez has apologized for biting Branislav Ivanovic and admitted his actions were "inexcusable".

And Liverpool have criticized their controversial striker with manager Brendan Rodgers branding it "unacceptable" and managing director Ian Ayre saying he had let the club down.

Suarez bit the Chelsea defender on the arm in Sunday's 2-2 draw at Anfield and escaped unpunished for it, going on to score his side's injury-time equalizer.

Rodgers earlier claimed not to have seen it but said he would launch an internal inquiry into the incident and had warned Suarez that no player is bigger than the club.

In a statement on Liverpool's official website, Suarez added: "I am deeply sorry for my inexcusable behaviour earlier today during our match against Chelsea.”I have issued an apology and have tried to contact Branislav Ivanović to speak to him personally. I apologize also to my manager, playing colleagues and everyone at Liverpool Football Club for letting them down."

Rodgers added: "Having reviewed the video footage and spoken to Luis, his behaviour is unacceptable and I have made him aware of this." Ayre said: "Luis has made an unreserved apology for his actions today. His behaviour is not befitting of any player wearing a Liverpool shirt and Luis is aware that he has let himself and everyone associated with the club down. We will deal with the matter internally and await any action from the FA."

The FA is still expected to take action against Suarez, who was nicknamed "the cannibal of Ajax", after biting an opponent, PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal, during his time in Holland.

The controversial striker was given an eight-match ban last season when he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.

Former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness had called his actions "embarrassing" and said he is in the last-chance saloon at Anfield now.

And Gary Lineker, the top goalscorer in the 1986 World Cup, called on the PFA to remove Suarez from the shortlist for the Player of the Year award.

Suarez Charged By FA For Ivanovic Bite

The Football Association has charged Liverpool forward Luis Suarez with violent conduct for his bite on Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic.

The Uruguayan bit the defender's arm in the second half of the two sides' 2-2 draw at Anfield, later going on to seal the injury-time equalizer.

The FA confirmed in a statement on its official website that "the incident was not seen by the match officials and has therefore been retrospectively reviewed.

"It is alleged that the conduct of Suarez constitutes violent conduct and it is the FA's contention that the standard punishment of three matches that would otherwise apply is clearly insufficient in these circumstances."

The Liverpool star has until 18.00BST on Tuesday to appeal, with an independent panel to be brought together on Wednesday to hear the charge.

Suarez has been fined by his club, who has indicated that they would accept any judgement forthcoming from the FA.

Ivanovic Will Not Press Charges Against Suarez

Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic will not press charges against Luis Suarez despite being bitten by the Liverpool striker on Sunday afternoon.

Suarez has publicly apologized and been fined by the Reds for his "inexcusable behaviour", while any potential punishment from the Football Association is still pending.

But Ivanovic, who was interviewed by officers on Sunday evening following complaints from the public, does not wish to take the matter through legal channels.

"Merseyside Police can confirm that following an incident at the Liverpool v Chelsea game on Sunday, 21 April 2013, officers have spoken to Branislav Ivanovic in person," the force said in a statement. "He had no apparent physical injuries and did not wish to make a complaint.

"This is now a matter for the Football Association."

Liverpool have fined Suarez an unspecified amount for his actions, while the Professional Footballers' Association has offered him anger management counselling.

And despite calls from many pundits that the Reds should sell their striker, managing director Ian Ayre has stated that the issue has no bearing on Suarez's Anfield future.

Barton Told Liverpool To Back Suarez

Joey Barton is set to cause yet another Twitter storm after the Marseille midfielder said Liverpool ‘would be mad’ not to back Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan bit Branislav Ivanovic during his side’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

Despite almost unanimous criticism of Suarez from pundits, the media and fans on Twitter, Barton – never one to shirk an opportunity for controversy – decided to add his opinion into the mix, causing uproar as he called for Liverpool to back their divisive striker.

Suarez, who has previously been banned for seven matches for biting Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax just three years ago, is now set to face action from the Football Association.

But Barton believes the Uruguayan should be allowed to get away with his hungry antics because he is a good player.

‘Suarez is a good as a player as there is in world football at the minute. Yes, he’s messes up and shouldn’t have bitten another player, but a player like him has a right to play on the edge,’ Barton tweeted.

Tom Ince Refuses To Rule Out Liverpool Return

Blackpool winger Tom Ince has failed to rule out a return to Anfield.

The son of former Anfield midfielder and current Tangerines boss, Paul, has been in excellent form this season and has caught some admiring glances from the Premier League.

Ince piqued the interest of Reading and Liverpool during the January transfer window, however neither side were able to thrash a deal out for him.

And though he is getting regular first-team football under this belt, Ince is open to a return to Anfield.

He said: "I wanted to experience the real world and play in front of 10-15,000 people every week, which you don't get at reserve level, and thankfully [then Blackpool boss] Ian Holloway came in for me.

"Having watched Blackpool in the Premier League, when they were such an exciting team, and seen some of the young kids at the club, I knew that it was meant for me and I haven't looked back since.

"You can jump into the Premier League too soon and I've still got a lot of developing to do, so right now my focus is playing for Blackpool, working hard for them and chipping in with a few more goals."

Ince has rattled in 18 goals for Blackpool, who are just four points clear of the Championship drop zone.

Liverpool Ready To Rescue Remy With £8m Bid

Liverpool is ready to meet Loic Remy’s release clause with QPR on the brink of relegation.

The France international forward joined the Hoops in January in an £8m deal but can leave for the same price if Harry Redknapp’s side is relegated.

With QPR 10 points from safety with just four games left relegation is virtually assured, and Daily Star Sunday and the Sunday People both report that Liverpool are ready to make the first move.

Arsenal and Newcastle are also interested in the 26-year-old but Liverpool are leading the race for Remy’s signature as Reds boss Brendan Rodgers looks to bolster his attacking options.

One potential stumbling block could be Remy’s £90,000-a-week wage demands.

Newcastle came close to signing Remy in January before being outbid by QPR, while Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is thought to be impressed with how the ex-Marseille man has adapted to the Premier League.

Remy has scored five goals in nine appearances for QPR.

Alderweireld Plays Down Liverpool Transfer Talk

Ajax defender Toby Alderweireld has rubbished reports he is interested in a move to Liverpool this summer, but will assess his options.

The 24 year-old was quoted in a Belgian newspaper stating that Liverpool "meets my criteria" earlier in the month, but he claims reports of a switch to Anfield in the summer are wide of the mark.

"I have also read that Liverpool would be interested," Alderweireld told Dutch newspaper Metro.

"I never said Liverpool would be my next club. Nothing is true about that."

Along with Siem de Jong and Christian Eriksen, Alderweireld is expected to leave the Dutch giants this summer, but he insists the club are still very much in his plans.

"Ajax is in every way a fantastic club. We play for prizes every year and we also show good things on a regular basis in Europe," he added.

"After the season I will look at my options. Possibly, I even stay at Ajax."