Friday, 30 April 2010

Forlan Curse Strikes Again to Break Red Hearts

The curse of Diego Forlan struck Anfield once again last night as the Reds were left heartbroken after crashing out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage, leaving us with nothing to show from what has been a season full of disappointment.

A close range effort from the former United player in the 102nd minute sent Liverpool out of the competition, ending Liverpool's hopes of any sort of success for our efforts this season.

It was a crushing result that left all inside Anfiled gutted, however the supporters can be proud of our team's effort as the players worked tirelessly in search of that precious place in the final of the Europa League.

Rafa Benitez sent out an attacking team, which included Aquilani,Gerrard, Kuyt, Benayoun and Babel, in an attempt to secure the goals needed to fire us to Hamburg. Macherano reverted to right back, with Johnson converting to the left side of the defence and Agger replacing Kyrgiakos alongside Carragher at the heart of the Reds back four.

Liverpool started with a high tempo, managing to gain more corner kicks in the first few minutes then they had during the whole of the first leg. After only 10 seconds had been played Liverpool went close to claiming a crucial lead. Agger's long punt up field was flicked on by Kuyt into the path of Yossi Benayoun, who was running into space in the penalty area. The Israeli tested De Gea in the Madrid goal with a good effort from a tight angle.

Liverpool had dominated the opening exchanges, and were well on top, but the away side came back into the game as the half progressed, with Raul Garcia firing in a fantastic strike from 25 yards out that bounced in front of Reina forcing our world class keeper into a terrific save.

After that, Liverpool had a stunning passage of play which left Anfield breathless. It was simply sensational stuff from Liverpool which definitely deserved a goal. Lucas played a pass from deep that Aquilani let run through his legs to the feet of Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman played a five yard pass to Gerrard, who then exchanged one-two's with both Aquilani and Kuyt before spreading the ball out to Mascherano, who was in acres of space on the right.

The Argentina captain got to the ball quickly, then centred the ball across the front of the goal. Dirk Kuyt stretched and got his left foot onto it however the ball flew just over the crossbar. It was the best move of the night, and one that proves the quality that Liverpool's first 11 possesses. It was delightful football to watch that left Liverpool fans confident that their team could power into the final with ease.

Liverpool thought they had broke the deadlock on half an hour as Agger headed home from Gerrard's free kick, however the goal was correctly ruled out for offside as the Dane was in an offside position when the ball was sent into the box.

With two minutes of the half remaining the Merseysiders did take the lead as Aquilani scored a wonderful goal that will stay with him forever. After a difficult and immensely frustrating season for the Italian, he will be delighted to have scored such a massive goal last night, and must be desperate to experience more electric European nights at the home of football, Anfield.

Mascherano threw the ball down the right hand channel and Benayoun ran onto the ball before crossing into the middle of the 18 yard box. His cross was met by Aquilani who sent an excellent shot into the bottom right hand corner.

It was a magnificent goal that sent us into the break full of optimism and crucial confidence. However, it was the Spanish side who started the second half the better, as they came into the game more and put the home side under spells of pressure, without really testing Pepe Reina in the Liverpool net.

A minute into the half Simao shot into the Kop from the edge of the box, before Assuncao followed suit as he blazed over the bar after a poor clearance from Johnson had presented the away side with an opportunity.

Midway through the second half Steven Gerrad's firm strike was well held by the 19 year old Athletico Madrid keeper David de Gea after Aquilani had found the skipper with an intelligent pass.

On 70 minutes Liverpool displayed their counter-attacking abilites as we went close to grabbing a vital second. Gerrard made a critical clearance with his feet as the strike from an Athletico player looked destined to nestle in the net. The ball travelled to Benayoun on the edge of the box, who played a short pass to Aquilani.

Aquilani spread play out to Kuyt on the left, then Kuyt cut inside before sqauring the ball to Benayoun. The tricky winger decided that he couldn't thread a pass back to Kuyt to set him through on goal, so he attempted to score himself. Unfortunately his curled effort went high into the Anfield Road end.

As time was running out Glen Johnson nearly sent the crowd into delirium as he went close to doubling the Reds lead. The England right back adapted well to playing at left back and managed to keep Jose Antonio Reyes quiet for the majoriy of the match whilst retaining an attacking threat. Unfortunately he was at fault for Forlan's all important away goal, however he should be pleased with the rest of his performance.

Johnson cut in from the left wing, using his right foot to break through two Athletico defenders before shooting at goal from all of 20 yards. It required a good save from the keeper to prevent the ball bursting the net.

With the scored locked at 1-1 on aggregate the teams went into half an hour of extra time with everything to gain, and everything to lose. It was a season defining 30 minutes for Liverpool and, once again, we fell short at the crucial stage.

It all started so well as the Reds scored a second after only four minutes of extra time had been played. Lucas received the ball 20 yards from goal after a scramble for possession on the edge of the box. The Brazilian displayed the flair that is so often associated with his homeland as he chipped a beautiful pass into the path of Yossi Benayoun, who had found space on the left hand side of the 18 yard box. Yossi fired past the keeper from a difficult angle to give us a vital second goal.

It was a fantastic goal however my celebrations were somewhat muted as the fact remained that a single away goal for Athletico Madrid would send us crashing out of European competiton. Athletico were centimetres away from scoring that vital goal after 100 minutes as Juardo sent a scintilating strike just wide of the right hand post.

Only two minutes later Diego Forlan popped up to score the all important away goal to send Liverpool out of Europe. A long ball was played up the field where Reyes crucially beat Johnson in the air. It was a fatal mistake from Johnson as Reyes exploited the space behind the make-shift left back by dinking an inviting ball to Diego Forlan, who was left unmarked at the back post. Forlan smashed home an emphatic strike to break Liverpool hearts.

Forlan is famous for his goals at Anfield as, although he was undoudtedly a flop at Old Trafford, he earned cult hero status amongst United supporters as he scored a fifth of his goals at Anfield. 2 of his 10 goals for the Mancs came against Liverpool, and he scored in both legs of this semi-final. He truly is a thorn in Liverpool's side. Let's just hope we never meet him again.

Liverpool battled and fought until the end but, as Reina said afterwards, "the tank was empty" as Liverpool had already given all they had to give. It was an incredibly disappointing night for Liverpool, and one which left all people associated with this great club absolutely gutted. However, the supporters can be proud of the effort that the lads put in last night, and the commitment to the cause shown by all the players.

I must end this post by saying how magnificent the Liverpool supporters were last night. They created an electric atmosphere, and showed what it means to be a Reds supporters by encouraging and backing the team throughout the whole 120 minutes. The Kop even found time to applaud Fulham's tremendous efforts in getting to the final of this competition as the news came through before extra time had begun. It epitomised the Liverpool Way of respect for the achievements of opposition teams, and complete support for the team and the manager throughout. I was proud to be a Red last night after a wonderful performance not only from the team, but also from our outstanding supporters.


Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Why I want Liverpool to BEAT Chelsea

The title of this blog might seem a little strange to those not up to date with the football world. Surely it is fairly obvious that, as a Liverpool supporter, I would want them to beat Chelsea this Sunday, and that that news is hardly worthy of a blog post.

However, all Reds supporters face a massive dilemna in the coming days. As all of the footballing world knows, Liverpool supporters are fiercly proud of their long and glorious past which includes a joint record 18 League titles, 5 European Cups, 7 FA Cups, 7 League Cups, 3 UEFA Cups, 3 European Super Cups, 15 Charity Shields and 3 FA Youth Cups.

Such a glittering past makes us the most successful team in British history. However, our title of the most League titles, which has already been equalled by Manchested United, could be beaten this season by our Manchester rivals. The top of the table sees Chelsea only one point ahead of Manchester United after both teams have played 36 League games.

To secure their fourth consecutive League title, which is a record in itself, and a record 19th as well, the Mancs must take full points from games away to Steve Bruce's Sunderland and at home to Stoke City, whilst hoping that Chelsea slip up either at Anfield on Sunday or when they host Wigan Athletic on the final day of the season.

All Liverpool supporters will be desperate to deny United the title as so much of our enviable history is at stake. However, Liverpool still have to secure Europa League football for next season by claiming at least one point from the last six available. Moreover, if we can take all six points from our last two fixtures than it is still remotely possible that we could sneak into the Champions League through the back door.

Whilst many Reds supporters have lost all hope of qualifying for next season's Champions League I believe that Liverpool must compete till the end. Although in all likelihood Liverpool will not finish fourth, whilst it is still mathematically possible we must give our all in a desperate attempt to somehow grab fourth spot from under the noses of both Tottenham, City and Aston Villa.

With Tottenham facing Manchester City at Eastlands on 5th May in what could prove to be the decisive match that determines who will claim that coveted fourth spot, Liverpool must win their match on Sunday against Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea team to pile as much pressure as possible on our rivals.

Like all Liverpool supporters, I would be gutted if Manchester United take our proud record of 18 League Championships as it has always remained one of the main boast's of all Reds. However, I believe that we cannot continue to rely on United failing to win in order to retain our records.

We must start winning trophies, League titles and European Cups once again if we are to remain as the most successful team in English footballing history and, unfortunately, that's never going to happen without serious investment in what is a very weak looking squad.

Liverpool's first 11 is world class. There is no doubt. Reina, Johnson, Agger, Mascherano, Gerrard, Torres and potentially Aquilani are all top class footballers, and Benayoun, Kuyt and Carragher provide stable performances week in week out. However, once you start looking at the substitutes bench you begin to realise the astounding lack of depth in our sqaud.

For example, on Thursday these were the substitutes for our biggest game of the season against Athletico Madrid in the Europa League semi final; Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Pacheco, Degen, El Zhar, Ayala and Ngog. Admittedly Liverpool had several players out injured (namely Skrtel, Aurelio, Insua and, most importantly, Fernando Torres)but still the Liverpool bench was severely lacking in quality, especially going forward, with three out of the seven substitutes defenders and only the youngsters Dani Pacheco and Nabil El Zhar, alongside a half fit David Ngog, offering any sort of attacking threat.

Some might blame that lack of strength in depth on the manager, however you cannot reasonably expect Rafa to build a title winning squad when he has been forced to break even in the last three transfer windows. He may be one of the best managers in the world, with a fine CV to back that claim up, but if he is given no finance then there is simply no chance of success at Anfield.

It has always been the Liverpool Way to give your all in every game, both as a team and as individuals, and I believe that we must go all out on Sunday to prove a point. We musn't roll over, and we must win the game to restore confidence after a crushing defeat on Thursday.

I expect nothing less from Rafa's Reds.


Monday, 26 April 2010

4 Star Reds Condemn Burnley to Championship

Liverpool defeated Burnley 4-0 at Turf Moor to confirm the Lancashire club's relegation back to the Championship after only a season in the top flight. An assured second half performance from the Reds led to Gerrard (twice), Maxi and Babel scoring to keep our faint hopes alive in the battle for fourth spot.

It was an encouraging display from a Liverpool side that have disappointed on the road this season. Before this game Liverpool had only managed a measly 14 goals away from Anfield, which was less than Burnley, Wigan and Wolves had scored.

This pathetic away form has cost the Reds dear this season, with 8 of our 10 defeats coming on the road, however this victory could be a turning point that leads to a significant and vital improvement of our away form next season.

After a long trip to Spain in midweek Rafa decided to rest some weary legs, making four changes to the line-up that started in Madrid. 19 year old Daniel Ayala made only his third league appearance as he replaced the rested Kyrgiakos. Aquilani was given a rare start as he came in for Lucas, Maxi started in place of the injured Ngog and Babel was selected ahead of Benayoun.

Liverpool never really got started in the first half as they were still recovering after the long trek to Madrid and back during the week. Burnley looked threatening during the first 45 minutes however they failed to fashion any clear cut chances.

Burnley nearly took the lead midway through the first half as Flecther rose highest to head Pattison's cross just over the cross bar.

After that, Gerrard stormed into the box with purpose after playing a neat one-two with Dirk Kuyt. Gerrard reached Kuyt's flick into the penalty area and eventually shot at goal, however Brian Jensen made a comfortable save to keep the game goalless.

With half time near the home side created another aerial opportunity to score, however, once again they failed to take advantage of the opening. Mears centred the ball from the right wing into the box where Cork beat Carragher in the air and tested Reina with his firm header, however the Spanish stopper was more than equal to the task as he produced a fantastic save to deny the Burnley midfielder.

Liverpool came out for the second half looking to grasp hold of the game and gain control of the contest after Burnley had impressed during the first 45 minutes, and they did just that with two goals in the first 15 minutes of the restart leaving Brian Law's Burnley side with an uphill task.

On 52 minutes, Benayoun played a forward pass to Steven Gerrard, who then exchanged passes with Alberto Aquilani. After that, our captain ran at the Burnley defence before finding the back of the net with a well struck shot from 20 yards that deflected off Cort before beating Jensen in the Burnley goal.

It was a well worked goal by the Reds that gave us vital confidence to go on and score the goals needed to kill off the game and confirm the home side's relegation to the Championship.

7 minutes after Gerrard had opened the scoring the England international doubled our lead with a tremendous strike giving the keeper no chance. Maxi floated a clever pass into Aquilani. Unfortunately, the Italian slipped however the ball rolled perfectly into the path of Steven Gerrard, who struck home with power, pace and precision leaving Jensen helpless.

It was a simply stunning strike from Gerrard who seems to be coming into form at the perfect time for England, but at precisely the wrong time for Liverpool, who are yet to have seen his true potential during the current campaign.

Burnley went close to finding a way back into the game with 20 minutes left as Fletcher's shot beat both Carragher and Reina before rebounding off the post. It was a wake up call for the Reds, as a goal at that stage would have revitalised Burnley and sparked an onslaught from the home side in a desperate attempt to delay their inevitable relegation.

4 minutes later Liverpool scored a third to completely kill the game off. It was a fantastic team goal that rounded off an impressive display nicely. Benayoun, who had replaced the injured Dirk Kuyt, sqaured the ball to Aquilani. Aquilani controlled the ball before threading a terrific pass into the path of Maxi Rodriguez, who was running into the box down the right wing.

It was a wonderful pass from Aquilani, who played well yesterday. This type of cutting edge passing is what Liverpool have been missing for most of the season, however Aquilani looks to possess the passing range that will add a crucial extra dimension to Liverpool's attacking creativity.

Maxi ran onto the ball before slotting the ball past Jensen. It was Maxi's first goal in a Reds shirt, which is surprsing condisering the attacking ability that he has brought to the right hand side of the midfield. In fact, Maxi has had such a positive effect on the Reds midfield play that Rafa has already described him as a "very important player."

With time running out Burnley nearly managed a consoltaion goal as a poor clearance from Glen Johnson was easily cut out by Wade Elliott. The 31 year old passed to Eagles, who put a dangerous cross into the area. The ball travelled to the back post where Stven Thompson's weak header rolled wide of the far post.

In the last minuted of injury time Liverpool scored a fourth. Lucas received a pass from Aquilani before playing a fantastic through ball into the path of Ryan Babel, who shot past Brian Jensen to confirm an emphatic victory for the Reds.

A common criticism from Lucas' detractors, who seem to blame him for all of our problems this season, is that he lacks the passing ability of Xabi Alonso. Of course, very few people have the passing range of Alonso yet his critics fail to realise that fact. However, this world class pass, amongst others (eg, his through ball for Torres' winner at home to Blackburn)proves that the Brazilian is improving, and should be given extra time to prove he is a top player.

The 4-0 scoreline is an inaccurate reflection of Burnley's performance as Laws' men played quite well, and looked threatening for the first 50 minutes until Gerrard showed his class by scoring twice in 10 minutes. By that point there was no chance of a miraculous recovery from the home side.

This uplifting victory should raise Liverpool's confidence levels ahead of the crucial return leg of our Europa League semi-final at home to Athletico Madrid on Thursday. Perhaps more importantly, this success could prove crucial in turning around Liverpool's fortuntes on the road, leading to much improved performances away from Anfield next season.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Tie Set Perfectly for Anfield Decider

Liverpool will have to overturn a first leg deficit for the third time in a row if they are to progress to the inaugrual Europa League final in Hamburg, Germany, after poor defending early on cost the Reds dear as they fell to a one goal defeat in Madrid.

After a long journey to Spain via train, coach and eventually plane the Reds started sluggishly, conceding what turned out to be the winning goal after only 8 minutes had been played. Horrible defending from Liverpool cost them dearly here as former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan scored a crucial early goal.

Jurado easily beat Carragher on the left edge of the 18 yard box and managed to cross the ball into the danger area. The ball travelled past the desperate lunge of Kyrgiakos to Forlan, who had been granted the freedom of Madrid in the 6 yard box. His first attempt on goal was a pathetic header that fell to the ground however he beat Reina to the second ball and squeezed it past the keeper and into the back of the net. Carragher tried to hack the ball away off the line but he couldn't quite get his foot to the ball.

It was the worst possible start to the match, and one that could have seen Liverpool disintegrate, however the Reds regained their composure and attemped to quiet the raucous home crowd with a period of possession.

They succeeded and even created a few opportunites to equalise quickly. On 17 minutes Kyrgiakos passed to Kuyt, who then played a neat one-two with Steven Gerrard. Kuyt fluffed his shot from 20 yards out however it bounced perfectly for the Reds as it landed at the feet of Yossi Benayoun, who beat the keeper from 8 yards out. Unfortunately the goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside, denying the away side a critical away goal, which would have completely transformed not just the game, but the tie as a whole.

It was a disappointing error from the linesman, and one which could prove fatal for Liverpool's chances of reaching the final of the Europa League as away goals have become so crucial in European football.

Only a minute later Gerrard had a fantastic chance to level the match up at 1-1 as Lucas played him in on goal over the top of two Athletico defenders. Gerrard's left footed effort was disappointing though as he failed to test the keeper as his strike went into the side-netting.

The rest of the first half was incident free as both teams struggled for midfield superiority. Liverpool managed to contain the home side well, and held the ball well however, as has been the case for the majority of the season, we failed to create any clear cut chances without the injured Fernando Torres. He was a massive miss again last night as Athletico Madrid's attacking style regularly left gaps at the back which Torres would have exploited.

The next real opening went Athletico's way as Ujfalusi and Jose Antonio Reyes combined well down the right. Reyes, who used to play for Arsene Wenger's Arsenal team, ran at the Reds backline down the right wing, and looked to sneak into the box between Agger and Benayoun however an excellent slide tackle from the Israeli stopped him in his tracks. The ball travelled into the path of Ujfalusi, who then beat Agger and Carragher before firing a shot into the side-netting when well placed.

Liverpool went into the break relieved that they were only goal goal down as, after conceding such an early goal, it was crucial that we didn't concede another before the break. The away side came out for the second half aiming to continue to frustrate the Spanish side, whilst also testing De Gea in the Madrid goal, in an attempt to secure a vital away goal to take back to Merseyside.

After only 5 minutes of the second half had been played Gerrard went close to scoring for the Reds. Kuyt's impressive cross-field ball was chested down by Ngog into the path of our captain, who stormed past the Athletico defence and looked to be through on goal, however a fantastic recovery tackle denied him a goalscoring opportunity.

Soon after a poor pass from Maschernano was easily intercepted. The ball was played through to an Athletico attacker who was past the Reds backline and alone in the penalty area with only Reina to beat. Nonsensically, he tried to head the ball past the keeper and Reina comfortably collected the ball with a minimum of fuss.

3 minutes later Reina made a world class save to keep Liverpool in the game. Ujfalusi, who was causing Agger problems down the left, stormed to the by-line before crossing the ball magnificently to the back past. Glen Johnson slipped allowing Simao, who has been one of Rafa's transfer targets in recent years, space and time to fire home.

The Portugese shot at goal from 6 yards out expecting to see the net bulge however a world class stop from Pepe Reina denied the home side a decisive second goal. It was a wonderful save from a world class goalkeeper.

Liverpool responded midway through the second half as Babel played a good ball to set Kuyt through on goal. Unfortunately the Dutchman's first touch was awful and took him away from goal. Kuyt regained his composure before clipping the ball back into the centre of the area, where several Reds players tried to get on the end of his cross however none of them were successful as the Madrid defence eventually cleared the ball away from the goalmouth.

Ujfalusi continued to test Agger and Benayoun down the left, and went close to doubling Athletico Madrid's advantge after 76 minutes. The Czech international cut inside from the right before firing a fierce effort goalwards. Reina did well to beat the ball away however it went back into the danger area instead of out wide. Thankfully Carragher made up for his error in the build up to the goal by making a brilliant clearance from only a few yards out.

It was a warning sign for Liverpool that the Reds heeded as Athletico failed to seriously test Reina in the Liverpool goal during the last 10 minutes. In fact it was Liverpool who went closest to scoring with 5 minutes left with the best move of the match. Johnson received the ball on the right, then played a good one-two with Nabil El Zhar, who had replaced Ngog who was struggling with a back injury.

Johnson ran on with purpose into the centre of the pitch before passing to the feet of Dirk Kuyt. England's first choice right back expected to complete another one-two with the Dutch forward. Instead, Kuyt played an intelligent pass to Gerrard, who was in space in the penalty area to the right of the goal. Stevie placed an inviting cross into the centre of the area however no Liverpool played managed to get his head to the ball, and Athletico cleared the danger.

Liverpool will go into the second leg as slight favourites thanks to our tremendous record at home this season, which has seen us claim victory in 13 Premier League home matches this season, losing only twice. However, Liverpool should remain wary of the threat posed by a positive Athletico Madrid side, who will set out to score an all important away goal that would leave Liverpool needing to score three times to progress.

Liverpool have the experience of European competition to be able to cope with the pressure and proceed to the final. Moreover, Liverpool have managed to overturn first leg deficit's at Anfield in the last two rounds of this tournament as we came from 1-0 down to beat Lille 4-1 on aggregate before recovering from being 2-1 down against Benfica to progress to the semi-final thanks to a 5-3 aggregate success.

We're all set up for what should be yet another European night to remember at Anfield next Thursday.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

3 Goal Victory Confidence Booster for Reds

Liverpool overpowered West Ham on Monday night to secure a comfortable 3-0 victory over the London side. First half goals from Yossi Benayoun, who was facing his former employers, and David Ngog, who was starting in place of the injured Fernando Torres, set Liverpool on their way before a Robert Green own goal sealed the victory with half an hour still to play.

It was by no means an exceptional performance from Liverpool, however the comfortable margin of victory will be a massive confidence booster ahead of the Europa League semi-final away to Atheltico Madrid on Thursday.

Rafa switched to a 4-4-2 formation to accomdate for the loss of Fernando Torres to injury, as both Dirk Kuyt and David Ngog started up front. Ngog put in an impressive display, worked hard and scored the vital second goal which set Liverpool on their way to a comfortable win.

The early exchanges were dull, with neither side taking charge of the encounter. The atmosphere didn't help either as Anfield was flat, largely due to the fact that many Irish fans were unable to attend as all airports were closed, whilst many supporters had already set out on the long road trip to Madrid, causing there to be around 7000 empty seats, which is highly unusual for a match at Anfield.

The first opening fell to Maxi Rodriguez after neat work in the centre of the park from Yossi Benayoun led to him receiving an inviting pass. The Spaniard's fierce strike forced Robert Green to make a crucial stop at the near post.

Surprisingly West Ham started the match slowly, and looked unwilling to attack the Reds goal. Given their precarious position you would expect the Hammers to be desperate to perform well and pick up vital points wherever possible however it seemed as if they had one eye on the 6 pointer coming up next at home to Wigan Athletic.

It was a game that needed a goal to set it alight, and one finally arrived after 18 minutes. Steven Gerrard quickly took a fantastic free kick that picked out Yossi Benayoun, who was unmarked in the area. The Israeli captain sent the ball into the back of the net off his chest to give Liverpool a vital, if unorthodox, opener.

On 20 minutes Carlton Cole forced Reina into a wonderful stop. A long ball was played up to the English striker, and he controlled the ball magnificently on his chest before turning Jamie Carragher. Cole fired in a fierce strike from the left hand edge of the 18 yard box however Reina was equal to it and made a tremendous stop to keep the Reds in the lead.

After this, Kyrgiakos missed a glorious opportunity to double our lead. Gerrard whipped in an excellent corner from the left hand side, and it found Kyrgiakos in space in the 6 yard box. Unbelieveably, the Greek headed into the ground and the ball bounced over the cross bar. It was a horrible miss. You cannot help thinking that Hyypia would have buried that chance with his eyes closed.

2 minutes after Kyrgiakos should have doubled our lead David Ngog found the net with a clinical finish from 8 yards out. Benayoun, who was at the centre of most of Liverpool's attacking play, cut into the centre of the pitch from the left hand side, before passing to Maxi on the right. Maxi sent the ball across the penalty box and found David Ngog. The young French striker scored with a wonderful first time finish.

It was a goal that you'd expect from Fernando Torres, not David Ngog, which demonstrates the quality that Ngog possesses. I have always said that Ngog is a good striker with bags of potential, and this season can only be good for his development as he has been thrust into the limelight in the absence of Torres.

Hopefully Rafa will be given the money to sign a top quality back up striker who is willing to spend time on the bench when Torres is fit and firing, however if he doesn't receive the neccesary funding, which is quite likely unless a deal to sell the club is made quickly, then Ngog will have the experience to perform at a higher level when he stands in for the Spaniard.

Just past the half hour Cole shot wide of goal from the edge of the box before Dirk Kuyt went close with a similar effort from slightly further out, however Robert Green managed to turn the ball behind for a corner.

Liverpool went into the break with a comfortable lead however they would have been determined to score a third goal and kill the game off completely because if the Hammers could get an early goal in the second half then they would be right back in the contest.

Thankfully, the Reds managed to grab a third goal on the hour mark to put the result beyond doubt. Gerrard's superb free kick from the left curled towards the back post, where Kyrgiakos got a slight touch on the ball. The ball rebounded back off the post before ricocheting off Robert Green and into the net. It was unfortunate for the away team's goalkeeper however it was no more than they deserved as Zola's men put in a peformance that should leave their supporters worried.

The rest of the second half was largely uninteresting as both sides knew that the game was over. Liverpool could have scored many more goals, however they took their foot of the pedal in anticipation of the midweek clash in Madrid.

Pepe Reina has been on top form this season, and, as a result, he is currently the division's best keeper as he has the most clean sheets. He is aiming to win yet another golden glove award so was desperate to claim another shut-out. He demonstrated this desire midway through the second half when he raced out of his goal, made himself big and denied Carlton Cole after he had been played through on goal.

Gerrard had the last chance of the match with 12 minutes to go as his poor corner at the Kop end rebounded back out to our skipper. Thinking quickly he fired in an effort that was heading for the near post, however Green got down quickly to keep his strike out. It was a brilliant attempt by Gerrard, who was later substituted so he could rest ahead of the Europa League semi-final against Athletico Madrid on Thursday.

It wasn't one of Liverpool's best display this season, however this run continues Liverpool's exceptional home form and provides an essential confidence boost going into that massive Europa League game tommorow.

With Torres out injured it will be difficult for the Reds to score, however I expect us to keep it tight and grab a crucial away goal on the break, so i'm predicting a 1-1 draw that would leave Liverpool in the driving seat going into the return leg at Anfield a week later.


Sunday, 18 April 2010

Torres- The New Owen

On hearing the news that Fernando Torres will be out for the rest of the season following surgery on his injured knee immediate comparisons with Michael Owen sprang into my mind. Both players were top class finishers and excellent strikers during their time at Anfield, and both have been dogged with persistent injury problems denying them the opportunity to realise their full potential.

Michael Owen was a class player who first got me interested in football. In fact, the reason I started supporting Liverpool at the tender age of 5 was because he played for them. On form, he could beat any goalkeeper with consummate ease and professionalism. He was mainly a poacher in the box, scoring crucial goals from close range.

He was a teenage sensation, scoring a critical goal in his debut against Wimbledon in May 1997 at only 17 years of age. Moreover, he broke all the scoring records in the youth teams as he accelerated into the first team, taking the place of an injured Robbie Fowler.

However, persistent hamstring problems continued to deny him playing time, and stoppped Reds supporters seeing his true ability on a regular basis.

Owen's finest moment in a Liverpool shirt was undoubtedly the 2001 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Liverpool were 1-0 down with only 7 minutes to go. Arsenal had dominated the game but Liverpool had managed to frustrate them for the majority of the game until the 72nd minute, when Fredrik Ljungberg gave the Gunners the lead.

Up stepped Michael Owen. He scored on 83 minutes with a right foot finish from 8 yards out to equalise and bring the Reds back into the encounter. After that, with only 2 minutes left on the clock Patrik Berger played Owen through, and Owen coolly slotted the ball past Seaman, writing his name into FA Cup history and confirming the 2001 FA Cup Final as "The Michael Owen Cup Final."

It was a tremendous moment in what was a wonderful season for Liverpool as we won the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup under the stewarship of Gerard Houiller.

The next season Michael Owen confirmed his status as a world class striker as he hit a stunning 28 goals to prove that he was worth the title of "European Footballer of the Year" which he had been given at the end of 2001.

Owen was on fire again the following season as he matched his record of 28 goals from the previous season, and scored a vital goal in the 2002/2003 League Cup final to condemn Manchester United to a 2-0 defeat.

Injury continued to hamper his progress as he managed to make only 38 appearances in all competitions during his final season at Anfield. He still managed to score an impressive 19 goals, giving him a ratio of 1 goal in every 2 games, however he could have scored so many more if he had had more minutes on the pitch.

When Gerard Houiller was sacked in the summer of 2004 doubts began to form in the media as to whether Owen would stay at the club. With only a year left on his contract Owen decided to leave for Real Madrid for a cut-price £8 million.

The way Owen left caused animosity towards him amongst the fans as he seemed unwilling to give new boss Rafa Benitez a chance. All he had to do was sign a new long-term deal, give Rafa one season to prove himself and if he still didn't like the look of the new man in charge then he could have left the following summer for his full value.

If he had taken this route then he would have won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, and would have almost certainly decided to continue his time at the club and cement his status as an Anfield legend. The way things turned out Liverpool were forced to sell their star striker for a measly £8 million when his true value was closer to the £25-30 million bracket.

To fully ruin his reputation with the Reds supporters he later signed for arch-rivals Manchester United, showing he cared little for Liverpool. The hostility between Manchester United and Liverpool is well known. It is simply unbelieveable that he should even consider a move to Manchester, and yet the move went through and we saw him return to Anfield this October. Thankfully, we got one over on Michael as the Reds recorded a vital 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Fernando Torres and David Ngog.

There's no doubt that Michael Owen was a top striker, yet he could have been so much better if he had had more playing time. In terms of League appearances Owen only managed to play more than 90% of the League matches twice, in 1997/1998 and 2002/2003. The rest of the time Owen ranged between 71.05% in 1999/2000 to 78.9% in 1998/1999.

In total, Owen played in 214 out of the 266 League games that Liverpool played between the 1997/1998 season and the 2003/20004 season (excluding the 1996/1997 season when he only appeared twice as he hadn't yet broke into the first team picture.) This means that he only played in 80.5% of the available League games during his time at Anfield.

Surely he could have been a world class striker in the mold of Ian Rush if only he'd managed to remain injury free.

Like Owen, Torres was a teenage sensation at his hometown club of Athletico Madrid. He was made captain at only 19 years of age after impressing up front, scoring 14 goals in 31 matches during the 2002/2003 season and 21 goals in 40 appearances in the following season. In the summer of 2007 he was snappped up by Liverpool for a club record fee of approximately £20 million.

Fernando Torres has been Rafa Benitez's best signing during his tenure at the club. In his first season he managed to score an astounding 33 goals in all competitions. 24 of those goals came in the League, which gave him the record of the most prolific foreign goalscorer in his debut season in the Premier League, beating Ruud Van Nistelrooy's record by one goal.

Torres continued his good form into the next season, however he was dogged by injuries and only featured in 24 of the Reds Premier League games. He still managed to score 14 League goals, helping us to a fantastic second place finish however you cannot help thinking that if he and Steven Gerrard had been fit for the majority of the season then Liverpool would have been crowned English Champions for the 19th time.

Liverpool had to fight for the title with their two main men spending too much time on the treatment table, and did extremely well in taking the race down to the wire if you consider the fact that Torres only featured in 63.2% of the League games whilst Gerrard could only play in 81.6% of the League matches. If those two players had been available 90% of the time I am convinced that we would have won the League.

This season Torres had been suffering yet again from a persistent and troublesome knee problem, which has ruled him out for the rest of the campaign. He has still scored an excellent 22 goals in all competitions, however Liverpool have had to rely on the inexperienced David Ngog to fill Torres' considerable boots for large spells of the season.

Torres will only feature in 22 League clashes this season, meaning he will have played in only 57.9% of the Reds League games this season. Over his 3 seasons on Merseyside Torres has played in only 69.2% of Liverpool's League matches. This has stopped him realising his true potential and has denied Liverpool various successes, not least the League title last year.

Torres' goalscoring records are sensational, just like Michael Owen's were during his stay at Anfield, however he looks to be suffering from the same amount of injuries as Owen had to endure. With a World Cup looming ahead in the summer, and with Torres likely to be fit to join Spain in their World Cup campaign, Torres will have a disjointed pre-season once again, which will almost certainly cause yet more injury problems next season.

Let's hope that Torres can overcome his horrible injury record and get fully fit in time for the new season, when Liverpool will aim to right the wrong's of this season and climb up the table to challenge the big guns at the top of the League. If he doesn't then Liverpool could face another season relying on inexperienced youngsters to fire in the goals.


Saturday, 17 April 2010

Hammers Tough Test for Rafa's Reds

Gianfranco Zola's relegation threatened West Ham side travel to Anfield on Monday night desperate to earn some valuable points to aid them in their fight for Premiership survival. After losing 6 games on the bounce plunged them deep into the relegation dog-fight the London outfit have took 4 points from their last two matches, earning an unexpected draw at Goodison Park and clinching a 1-0 victory over Sunderland.

West Ham have failed to win at Anfield in their last 42 attempts, however their recent up-turn in form will provide them with confidence heading into the Monday night clash. Their motivation to take something from this match is massive.

The Hammers sit one place above the relegation zone in 17th, however they have a 4 point cushion between themselves and Burnley, who are a place below in 18th. If they can earn at least one crucial point at Anfield they would be in the driving seat to stay up. After the Liverpool game West Ham face a 6-pointer at home to Wigan before difficult games away to Fulham and at home to Manchester City.

Rafa Benitez's side go into this match knowing that even if they claim all 3 points it could make little difference to our position in the table if either Spurs or City take points off Chelsea or United on Saturday. Liverpool must hope that both Tottenham and City lose their games, and take advantage of the situation by closing the gap to 2 points behind Tottenham Hotspur and 3 behind Manchester City with a win at home to West Ham.

Fernando Torres in unlikely to start the game as he struggles with a troublesome knee problem which kept him out of the squad that drew 0-0 at home to Fulham on Sunday. The Spanish striker was due to fly out to Spain to see a specialist during the week, however a volcanic ash cloud covering most of Western Europe has grounded all flights to and from the UK, leaving Torres stranded in Merseyside.

He has been working hard with the club's physios in the gym, however Rafa is unlikely to start Torres as the Reds have a massive game in Madrid against Atheltico on Thursday night. With a 4th place finish becoming ever more improbable Rafa has prioritised the Europa League, and would much prefer to keep Fernando on the bench against the Hammers in order to have him fully fit to start in the crucial semi-final bout in Spain on Thursday (that's presuming the dust cloud has moved by then!)

Liverpool must go into this game concentrating on taking all 3 points, which could offer us a glimmer of hope in the race for 4th spot should City and Spurs slip up on the weekend. Normally a win at home to West Ham is expected, however with the Hammers desperate to stay up, and Liverpool slipping up recently at home to Fulham, Liverpool should be prepared for a difficult encounter.

However, with a renewed sense of optimism surrounding Anfield after the news that the Yanks have put the club up for sale, I expect the team to claim a 2-0 victory with goals from Gerrard and a late goal off the bench from Torres sealing the win.


Friday, 16 April 2010

Yanks Put Club up for Sale

Tom Hicks and George Gillett have announced that they are putting the club up for sale. The Americans, who have owned the club for three years, have finally decided to sell up 100%, causing renewed optimism amongst Reds fans.

Martin Broughton, a life-long Chelsea fan and Stamford Bridge season ticket holder, has been appointed as Chairman with the sole task of over-seeing the sale of the club to owners who can take the club forward.

In a brief statement for the club's official website,, the Yanks said, "Owning Liverpool Football Club over these past three years has been a rewarding and exciting experience for us and our families. Having grown the club this far we have now decided together to look to sell the club to owners committed to take the club through its next level of growth and development."

This is the best news of the season for Liverpool supporters desperate to see these cowboys leave the club. In fact, it's probably the best thing that could come out of this season, even if we do win the Europa League in Hamburg in May.

Whilst being at Liverpool may have been a "rewarding and exciting experience" for the Yanks we can assure them it has been anything but for Liverpool supporters. During their tenure Liverpool have stood still in the transfer market and failed to build a new stadium. Moreover, debts have been piled onto the club which could threaten the long-term financial stability of the club.

Rafa has been repeatedly undermined by the owners, and has never received full backing in the transfer market. Over the last three transfer windows Rafa has had a net spend of precisely nil. He has been yoked with a "sell to buy" transfer policy, which was rapidly escalating into a "sell not to buy" transfer policy.

No manager can succeed with this level of investment, yet Rafa has been expected to achieve Champions League qualification every season and, so far, he has managed to secure top level European football season after season.

The Yanks time in charge has been riddled with lies. When they arrived in February 2007 they promised that the club would not be saddled with any debt whatsoever. They claimed that their purchase of the club wasn't a leveraged buy-out like the Glazer's purchase of Manchester United, but that's exactly what it turned out to be.

Liverpool's debts suddenely soared to £237 million as Hicks and Gillett borrowed money from RBS to purchase the club, and made the club pay the loan back, through the use of Kop Holding Limited.

Tom Hicks even made this insulting statement in May 2007, saying, "When I was in the leverage buy-out business we bought Weetabix and we leveraged it up to make our return. You could say that anyone who was eating Weetabix was paying for our purchase of Weetabix. It was just business. It is the same for Liverpool."

Clearly Hicks knows how to get the fans behind him! Comparing Liverpool to Weetabix was ridiculous and always bound to back-fire. No one has an emotional interest in Weetabix yet so many people care deeply about Liverpool Football Club. Even your average single celled amoeba could recognise that more people care about Liverpool than Weetabix, yet, somehow, Tom Hicks fails to see the difference.

On top of that, George Gillett, promised that work on the new stadium would start promptly after their purchase of the club.

He stated, during his first news conference after taking control of the club, that, "The shovel needs to be in the ground within the next 60 days and you will soon see a great big swimming pool being dug out on Stanley Park."

And yet, over 3 years later, building work still hasn't begun on Stanley Park. There aren't any builders or diggers, let alone any old men walking around in their swimming trunks taking an early morning swim!

Finally, after three years suffering under these horrible owners, who could have ruined the club and sent us scaling down the divisions in a similar fashion to Leeds United, Liverpool are likely to have new owners, and fresh investment, in the next few months.

One of the main criteria for any future owners is that they have to build a new stadium. Broughton said in an interview with LFC TV that any new owners would have to be "crazy" to end the plans to build a new stadium. Also, the fans will be looking for owners to invest in the side, give Rafa time to build a title winning squad and uphold the rich traditions of the club.

Hopefully Liverpool can find new owners as soon as possible so that Rafa can spend a significant amount of money in the summer transfer window.

After a desperately disappointing season, things are starting to look up at Anfield.



Thursday, 15 April 2010

Never Forgotten

On this day 21 years ago Liverpool supporters set out to Hillsborough, Sheffield to support their team in the FA Cup semi-final. Tragically, 96 supporters never returned. They had been crushed to death in the pens after fatal over-crowding.

These are the names of the 96 who lost their lives;

John Alfred Anderson (62)

Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)

James Gary Aspinall (18)

Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)

Gerard Bernard Partick Baron (67)

Simon Bell (17)

Barry Sidney Bennett (26)

David John Benson (22)

David William Birtle (22)

Tony Bland (22)

Paul David Brady (21)

Andrew Mark Brookes (26)

Carl Brown (18)

David Steven Brown (25)

Henry Thomas Burke (47)

Peter Andrew Burkett (24)

Paul William Charlie (19)

Rayond Thomas Chapman (50)

Gary Christopher Church (19)

Joseph Clark (29)

Paul Clark (18)

Gary Collins (22)

Stephen Paul Copoc (20)

Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)

James Philip Delaney (19)

Christopher Barry Devonside (18)

Christopher Edwards (29)

Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)

Thomas Steven Fox (21)

Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)

Barry Glover (27)

Ian Thomas Glover (20)

Derrick George Godwin (24)

Roy Harry Hamilton (34)

Philip Hammond (14)

Eric Hankin (33)

Gary Harrison (27)

Stephen Francis Harrison (31)

Peter Andrew Harrison (15)

David Hawley (39)

James Robert Hennessy (29)

Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)

Carl Darren Hewitt (17)

Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)

Sarah Louise Hicks (19)

Victoria Jane Hicks (15)

Gordon Rodney Horn (20)

Arthur Horrocks (41)

Thomas Howard (39)

Thomas Anthony Howard (14)

Eric George Hughes (42)

Alan Johnston (29)

Christine Anne Jones (27)

Gary Philip Jones (18)

Richard Jones (25)

Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)

Anthony Peter Kelly (29)

Michael David Kelly (38)

Carl David Lewis (18)

David William Mather (19)

Brian Christopher Matthews (38)

Francis Jospeh McAllister (27)

John McBrien (18)

Marion Hazel McCabe (21)

Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)

Peter McDonnell (21)

Alan McGlone (28)

Keith McGrath (17)

Paul Brian Murray (14)

Lee Nicol (14)

Stephen Francis O'Neill (17)

Jonathon Owens (18)

William Roy Pemberton (23)

Carl William Rimmer (21)

David George Rimmer (38)

Graham John Roberts (24)

Steven Joseph Robinson (17)

Henry Charles Rogers (17)

Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)

Inger Shah (38)

Paula Ann Smith (26)

Adam Edward Spearritt (14)

Philip John Steele (15)

David Leonard Thomas (23)

Patrik John Thompson (35)

Peter Reuben Thompson (30)

Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)

Peter Francis Tootle (21)

Christopher James Traynor (26)

Martin Kevin Traynor (16)

Kevin Tyrrell (15)

Colin Wafer (19)

Ian David Whelan (19)

Martin Kenneth Wild (29)

Kevin Daniel Williams (15)

Graham John Wright (17)

Justice for the 96. Never Forgotten.

Please observe a two-minute silence at 3:06 pm this afternoon, in remembrance of the 96 supporters who died 21 years ago today.

If you wish to watch the Memorial Service, it starts at 2:30pm and you can view it for free via the official Liverpool site,



Monday, 12 April 2010

Don't Buy the Sun

One thing that amazes me about Liverpool is the fact that some supporters, most of whom are not local to Liverpool, continue to buy and read the Sun newspaper. The boycott of the Sun newspaper by all Liverpool fans, and most Merseysiders regardless of their allegiances, is clear and obvious and yet some people continue to give money to the newspaper that accused Reds supporters of murdering their own.

If you continue to buy the Sun newspaper after reading this article then you might as well stop calling yourself a Reds supporter.

Four days after the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Reds supporters lost their lives, the Sun printed outrageous lies that caused even more grief and heart-ache for the families of those who had died.

The Sun completely disregarded all standards of decency and honesty in media reporting, and decided to report some unfounded, hurting and disgusting allegations, that were later proven to be 100% false, as fact, in order to make a quick buck.

The headline on the front of the Sun (commonly referred to as "The Scum" or "The S*n" amongst Reds fans) had these claims listed underneath a banner headline of "THE TRUTH."

"Some fans picked pockets of victims. Some fans urinated on the brave cops. Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life."

None of these claims have any truth in them whatsoever. As the Taylor report later confirmed, Liverpool supporters did not cause the tradegy. It was the slow response from the police, and "the failure (by the police) to cut off access to the central pens once gate C had been opened (by the police)" that caused the overcrowding and subsequent deaths.

And yet, even after their insulting claims had been cleary proven to be entirely inaccurate, Kelvin Mackenzie, who was the editor of the Sun at the time, sticks by the scandalous lies his newspaper printed, and refuses to apologise.

Speaking at an after dinner event during 2006 Mackenzie said, "All I did wrong there was tell the truth. There was a surge of Liverpool fans who had been drinking and that is what caused the disaster. The only thing different we did was put it under the headline "The Truth". I went on "The World at One" the next day and apologised. I only did that because Rupert Murdoch told me to. I wasn't sorry then and I'm not sorry now because we told the truth."

So, Mr Mackenzie continues to hold to his insane, infantile and undoubtedly false view that drunken Liverpool fans caused the disaster. How a man like this could have such a top job as editor of a national newspaper, considering he has the intelligence of your common single celled amoeba, is beyond me.

His disgusting opinions continue to disgust and appal not only Liverpool fans but most right-minded human beings.

Why should anyone give money to a newspaper that printed such horrible lies? More specifically, why should any Liverpool supporter continue to buy a publication that accused their fellow supporters of murdering their own?

There is simply no excuse. The message is clear. DON'T BUY THE SUN.



Fulham hold Reds to end Champions League hopes

Last season draws at home to the likes of Hull City, West Ham United and Fulham cost us the title. This season it looks like an immensely frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Europa League semi-finalists Fulham could deny us a fourth place finish.

The major team news before the match was the exclusion of Fernando Torres, not just from the starting eleven but from the sqaud as a whole. The reason was that he has gone to see a specialist to treat his knee problem. David Ngog filled his boots in the lone striker role.

Before the match both teams paid their respects to the 96 who died at the Hillsborough Disaster with a minutes silence that was impeccably observed by all inside Anfield. Black armbands were also worn in anticipation of the 21st Anniversary of the disaster on Thursday.

Liverpool started off looking for a crucial early goal, that would have forced Fulham to come out of their defensive shell, creating space for the Reds to exploit.

Gerrard demonstrated his passing range with a beautiful 40 yard pass from the left hand side, that found David Ngog in the area. The young Frenchmen had to stretch to reach the pass, but managed to connect with his right foot. Unfortunately Ngog's decent effort looped just wide of the far post as Schwarzer was beaten.

Following that, some patient build up play from Liverpool led to the ball being transferred from the right to the left. Babel collected the ball on the left, then ran purposely into the centre. He slipped a pass through to Johnson, who whipped in a cross to the back post. The ball had travelled past the goal, but Gerrard did not give up as he ran to head the ball back to Aquilani. Aquilani controlled the ball before audaciously attempting an overhead kick. His acrobatic effort was comfortably saved by the keeper.

Aquilani was starting to show his attacking prowess, and soon after he displayed his passing ability with a wonderful long pass from the centre of the pitch finding Maxi Rodriguez in the penalty area. It was a fantastic pass that echoed of Xabi Alonso, however Maxi failed to beat Schwarzer when well placed.

Liverpool were completely dominating the game by this stage, and showed no sign of fatiuge after their midweek exploits in the Europa League. Fulham had clearly come to "park the bus" and weren't going to risk ruining their defensive plan in order to try and breach Pepe Reina's net.

It was now a case of the Reds constantly bombarding the Fulham goal in the hope that eventually their defensive wall would break.

Mid-way through the first half, Babel, who started on the left wing, stepped inside his marker before placing an inviting centre into the box. Aquilani raced onto the ball and headed just over the bar from 10 yards out.

On the half hour Mascherano went close to scoring his third goal for the Reds, as he smashed a fierce strike goalwards from 30 yards out. It was a fantastic effort, and Schwarzer had to be on top form to stop the shot.

Minutes before half time Greening barged into Johnson as the right back was just about to make yet another marauding run down the right. Greening had already been booked, and his foul was clearly a bookable offence and yet somehow the referee didn't send him off.

It was an unbelieveable decision. If Fulham had been reduced to 10 men at that point then the game would have changed completely. The extra man would allow us more space to exploit, making it more likely that Liverpool would score. Just look at the Wolves match earlier this season. Wolves were defending resolutely (and admittedly threatening our goal as well) until Stephen Ward was sent off and the Reds took charge.

The second half served up the same action as the first half. Put simply, Fulham put eleven men behind the ball and Liverpool were struggling to break them down and score the all important first goal.

Minutes after the restart Aquilani, who had been at the heart of most of our attacks, went close twice. Firstly, Johnson played a pass down the right wing to David Ngog. Ngog controlled the ball then skilfully travelled to the by-line, performing many step-overs in the process. He then pulled the ball back to Maxi, who laid the ball into the path of Aquilani. The Italian tested Schwarzer with a strike from the edge of the box that the keeper did well to turn over.

From the resulatant corner Aquilani went close again. The corner was played short to Mascherano. The Argentina captain squared the ball to Aquilani, who's fiery left footed shot went just wide of the post.

After this Ryan Babel, who put in another promising performance yesterday, skipped past the challenge of Greening before firing in an effort that the keeper had to beat away at the near post. It was a fantastic, inventive run from Babel, and his shot nearly sneaked in at the near post.

On 65 minutes Rafa made a substituion that did not make sense to me. He brought Dirk Kuyt on in place of Alberto Aquilani. Whilst I can understand the change to a 4-4-2 formation, I cannot fathom why the Spaniard took off Aquilani, who had been our main attacking threat for most of the match. Aquilani was at the heart of everything positive that we did, yet he was substitued with 25 minutes left to play.

Kyrgiakos was inches away from giving us a critical lead with 13 minutes left to play, as some good work from Kuyt set him up perfectly. Benayoun, who had also been brought on by the manager, played a short corner to the feet of Kuyt. The Dutchman saw that Kyrgiakos was in space at the back post, and intelligently floated a wonderful cross in the Greek's direction. Unbelievably, Kyrgiakos, who was starting his third game in a row, headed over the bar from 6 yards out.

At that point most Reds knew it just wasn't going to be our day, and that proved to be the case as Liverpool failed to fashion any more note-worthy opportunites in the final ten minutes.

In the 92nd minute Fulham achieved their first shot on target, which demonstrated the extent of their attacking intentions. The ball was thrown to the feet of Okaka, who played the ball into the path of Damien Duff. The Irishman's effort was well stopped by Reina, who demonstrated his fantastic goalkeeping ability as yet again he was inactive for the majority of the game yet retained 100% concentration to make a vital save during injury time.

This game brings to mind a famous quote from the great Bill Shankly. "We murdered them 0-0." That could not be more true, as Liverpool completely dominated this game, and probably created as many chances against Fulham as we did against Sunderland, however against Sunderland we managed to get an early goal, which sealed the victory for the Reds.

Rafa's "guarantee" of a top four finish now appears futile as our hopes of qualifying for the Champions League lie in tatters. Liverpool lie in 6th position two points behind Spurs, who have two games in hand, and a whopping six points behind Manchester City, who have one game in hand.

Where do we go from here?



Friday, 9 April 2010

Reds Power Past Benfica

Liverpool are through to the semi finals of the Europa League after a fantastic performance at Anfield earned them a 4-1 win on the night, and a 5-3 aggregate triumph. In a dominant display, the Reds performed magnificently, passing the ball with confidence, and attacking with purpose. Goals from Dirk Kuyt, Lucas and a brace from the on form Fernando Torres secured safe passage through to the last four, where we will meet Athletico Madrid.

Torres used to captain Athletico Madrid, and will be looking forward to returning to his home city, especially after missing the opportunity to play against his old team-mates two seasons ago. Liverpool and Athletico were both in Group D during the 2008/2009 Champions League campaign, however Torres missed both group stage matches because of injury.

Before the game Rafa Benitez had a selection head-ache in defence as Emiliano Insua was suspended after picking up a yellow card in the away leg. Daniel Agger, normally a centre back, filled in for the Argentine and performed well. The Dane was much more defensively solid than Insua was in the first leg, and brought the ball out of defence with confidence.

Benfica controlled the first 20 minutes of play, however they failed to seriously test Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal. Liverpool found it difficult to gain large periods of possession as the away side kept the ball well, and looked to run at the Reds backline.

The first chance of any note fell to Fernando Torres after 18 minutes. Glen Johnson went on one of his typical marauding runs down the right wing, then put a cross into the danger area. The ball was met by the head of Fernando Torres, however the Spaniard's flicked header didn't trouble Cesar in the Benfica goal, as it rolled frustratingly wide of the far post.

9 minutes later Liverpool took the lead thanks to a header from Dirk Kuyt. Gerrard whipped an inviting corner into the 6 yard box, and Kuyt jumped highest to power a header into the back of the net from close range. There was some confusion as to whether the goal had been disallowed, as the linesman had raised his flag for offside, however the goal was allowed to stand after Benitez had pointed out to the 4th official that it is impossible to be offside from a corner.

Liverpool suffered from some horrendous refereeing in the first leg, and nearly suffered again last night. If that goal had been disallowed then it could have changed the whole course of the tie. It is simply unbelievable that UEFA allow a linesman to officiate in a top level game, even though he did not know that you cannot be offside from a corner. That's the sort of error you expect down the park in an under 15's game, not at Anfield in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

That goal sapped the confidence from the away side, and excited the Anfield crowd, who created an amazing atmosphere in what was yet another memorable European night. Liverpool were now on top, and asserted their dominance just after the half hour as Lucas Leiva scored to double the Reds advantage.

Benayoun went on a tricky run inside his own half, before passing to Gerrard. Our captain then played Lucas through on goal with an excellent ball that cut through the away side's defence. Lucas controlled the ball, then coolly took it round the keeper before slotting home with the outside of his right boot. It was a wonderful move, and a fantastic finish. In fact, it was so impressive that I thought Torres had scored until the camera focused in on Lucas celebrating!

Lucas, who is usually perceived to be solely a defensive midfield player, has been starting in a more advanced role during this Europa League campaign, and the change of position has seen the Brazilian put in some terrific displays, that demonstrate his true ability.

In the last round against Lille, Lucas was started in a more attacking position, and he looked confident on the ball, and even earned Liverpool an early penalty which Steven Gerrard converted to send Liverpool on their way to a 3-0 victory.

Lucas must now be deployed in a more attacking role, at least at Anfield, if we are to see the type of displays that earned him the title of Brazilian Footballer of the Year in 2006.

Anfield was rocking, however the supporters were nearly sent into anxiety minutes before half time. A cross was played into the Liverpool box, and the ball nearly found its way into the back of the net. It was a game of pinball in the Reds 6 yard area, and the ball could have gone anywhere. Thankfully it rebounded off Lucas, ricocheted off Benayoun then went behind for a corner kick.

Liverpool came out for the second half looking to extend their lead, and claim victory. At this stage, we were 2-0 up however a single Benfica goal would send the game into 30 minutes of extra time.

Liverpool started the second half well, attacking with purpose in search of a third goal, which eventually arrived three minutes short of the hour mark.

This goal was the best of the lot. Benitez described it as "almost perfect" (which is the highest level of praise you can reasonably expect to receive from the Reds boss). For me, it was counter-attacking football at its best.

It all started with a free kick for Benfica in a dangerous position on the left hand side, 30 yards from goal. The cross was weak, and easily cleared by Mascherano. His fellow South American, Lucas, picked up the ball and switched play to the left and to the feet of Yossi Benayoun. Yossi skilfully cut inside before playing an incisive pass out to Kuyt on the right. The Dutchman stretched to reach the ball and sqaured it across the face of the goal to Fernando Torres, who had the simple task of converting from 6 yards out.

It was a simply stunning move. If only we had performed like this for the whole of the season!

At this stage, it looked like being a case of how many goals Rafa's Redmen would score, however that wasn't the case as Anfield was sent into shock when the visitor's pulled a goal back with 20 minutes left to play. Cardozo smashed a free kick underneath the Liverpool wall and into the net from the edge of the box. It was a disappointing goal to concede as Cardozo's firm strike took a slight deflection off Gerrard, that sent the ball past Reina and into the net.

Only a day before Liverpool's fierce rivals Manchester United had been knocked out of the Champions League by German giants Bayern Munich. The Mancs had raced into a 3-0 lead however Olic grabbed a goal back for the away side on the stroke of half time. Early on in the second half United were reduced to 10 men, and eventually Robben sent Bayern through with a world class volley.

It seemed incredible that Manchester United had crashed out of Europe after being 3-0 up, and all Reds fans gleefully took the opportunity to torment their Manc mates after such an embarrasing collapse. Now, those same supporters were racked with anxiety as we were in danger of suffering defeat in the same humiliating manner as United had a day previously.

Liverpool had to withstand some pressure from the Portugese side for the next few minutes before the game was finally put to bed. Mascherano played a brilliant through ball to Fernando Torres, who delightfully dinked the ball over Moreira, who had replaced the injured Cesar in the Benfica goal. It was a beautiful goal from the Spaniard, which extends his run of braces in home matches to 4 in a row. He has netted twice against Portsmouth, Lille, Sunderland and now Benfica.

Overall, it was yet another impressive European display from Liverpool. The Europa League has provided an invaluable release from the pressures of League football, and represents a fantastic opportunity to claim another piece of silverware.

Liverpool will now hope to carry this form into the rest of their critical League games, starting at Anfield against Roy Hodgson's Fulham side, who also progressed to the semi finals of the Europa League last night, following a 3-1 aggregate triumph over Wolfsburg.


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

What is needed for a title challenge next season?

Year after year we get our hopes up that this year could possibly be the year that Liverpool break their seemingly never ending wait for that elusive 19th League Championship, and secure our status as the best team in Britain. Normally, by Christmas time most of our hopes have been shattered and we're left looking to next season yet again.

This season was no exception. The football has simply not been anywhere near good enough. Confidence has been lacking, and as a result performances have been infuriatingly awful on occasions (Portsmouth and Wigan away immediately spring to mind as torturous away day displays). At times there has seemed to be a lack of desire in the tough away day clashes against teams who are difficult to play against. Also, without Torres and several other key attacking players the Reds have lacked the neccesary cutting edge to put teams to the sword.

As this disappointing season draws ever closer to a conclusion, I take a look at what Liverpool need to do to challenge for the Barclays Premier League title. More specifically, I will examine specific areas of the field that need improvement during the summer transfer window.

Emiliano Insua is a promising young player. He has a fantastic cross and can attack with purpose, especially against lesser outfits at Anfield. However, his defending at times this season has been woeful. Any half decent winger with a bit of pace and a trick or two can easily rip him to shreds.

Insua is definitely one for the future. No doubt, and a successful Benitez signing at only £1 million, however, with Aurelio out of contract in the summer and unlikely to stay at Anfield any longer, the Reds certainly need to purchase a more experienced left back, who is better defensively. Insua should remain at the club, but as a second choice left back to fill in when neccesary.

Glen Johnson has been an exciting propsect this season. His barn-storming runs down the right terrify defenders, and add a crucial extra dimension to our attack. Without the £17 million signing Liverpool would be weak down the right as Kuyt, for all his hard work, fails to scare left backs in the fashion that Johnson does.

Unfortunately Johnson has missed large periods of the season due to various injuries. He had to cope with many niggles during the first half of the season, before he suffered a medial ligament injury in his right knee at Villa Park on 30th December 2009, which condemned him to three months on the treatment table.

During that time various players have filled in at right back. In the main, Jamie Carragher, who use to play at right back during the Houiller years, filled in for Johnson. Occasionally Mascherano played at right back. The Argentina captain did well, was solid defensively and looked at his attacking best when marauding down the right wing, however Liverpool missed his midfield work, and he was soon moved back into the centre.

Martin Kelly and Stephen Darby are two young players that could play second fiddle to Johnson, however, if we are really going to challenge for top spot than we need another top class player at right back, and Rafa will be on the look out during the summer to find a player to fill this role.

At times this season Liverpool have lacked creativity in attack. With both Mascherano and Lucas regularly starting, even at Anfield against lesser teams, the Reds have remained solid, and have dominated games, however they have failed to show the creativity needed to unlock the top defences. With Benayoun, Babel and Riera all suffering injuries at one point during the season, we have been short of options on the wings.

Liverpool need to sign a top quality right and left sided attacker to bolster the midfield. We have more than enough talent in the centre of midfield, with Gerrard, Mascherano, Lucas and Aquilani all good performers on their day, however quality has been missing on the wings. Yes, Kuyt provides hard work and does score many crucial goals, however he has consistently underperformed for large parts of this season, but he hasn't been dropped as there are no replacements of sufficient quality.

On the left, after finally developing a professional attitude and closing his mouth Ryan Babel has shown his true ability with some impressive performances during the second half of the campaign. Yossi Benayoun has failed to hit the heights of last season, when he played the best football of his career, however that is mainly due to persistent niggles keeping him out of the picture.

Maxi Rodriguez was signed in the winter transfer window, and has put in some promising performances. His direct runs at defences, and attacking ability add creativity to the Reds midfield, however he is only a free signing, and will not win us the title. If we are going to challenge for the top prize, which all Reds supporters crave, then we need to sign a world class winger, and preferably one who isn't prone to injury, has a fantastic, hard-working attitude and is effective on both wings.

Liverpool have suffered the most this season when our main man, Fernando Torres, has been injured. Unfortunately Torres has had his fair share of injuries this season, and has only managed to feature in 31 of Liverpool's 48 competitive games, scoring a stunning total of 20 goals giving him a goal to games ratio of 1 goal in every 1.55 games.

When El Nino has been on the sidelines, David Ngog has usually replaced him in the lone striker role. Whilst Ngog has performed well in some games, scoring 7 goals in 24 matches, at 21 he is only a young player, and can't be expected to carry the expectations of a club the size of Liverpool at such a young age. He needs time to develop, and learn his trade from the world class Torres, and should be given this time, as, if he develops to his top level then he could be an invaluable player for the Reds in the future.

However, if Liverpool are going to be serious contenders for next season's Premier League then we need at least one more top quality striker, and preferably two as, if you look at Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, you can see that they all have at least two world class, expensive strikers.

Manchester United have Berbatov (£30 million) and Rooney (£25.6 million). Chelsea have Didier Drogba (£24 million) and ex Red Nicolas Anelka (£15 million). Arsenal's forwards are the least expensive, however they have several top quality strikers, and none of them are cheap. They include Eduardo da Silva (£7.5 million), Andrei Arshavin (£15 million) and Robin Van Persie at a bargain £2.75 million.

Compare that to Liverpool, who have bought Fernando Torres at £20-26 million, and David Ngog at £1.5 million. Liverpool's top four rivals Manchester City have spent crazy money on an excessive amount of strikers, who provide them vital fire-power up front.

Emmanuel Adebayor was signed from Arsenal for an eye-watering £25 million. Carlos Tevez was bought for an unholy £47 million and Roque Santa Cruz, who has now become a bit part player, was purchased from Blackburn Rovers for £17.5 million. On top of that, Manchester City also have Craig Bellamy to call upon, and have allowed Robinho, who was purchased from Real Madrid for £32.5 million, to go out on loan to Brazilian side Santos.

When you compare Liverpool's attacking resources to those of their close rivals, you can see a massive gap developing. It's hardly a surprise that Liverpool struggle without their talisman, Fernando Torres.

Even Tottenham Hotspur, who do not have an obscenely rich owner or Champions League football to bolster their income, have a much deeper attack, as they can call upon Peter Crouch (£10 million), Jermain Defoe (£15.75 million), Roman Pavlyuchenko (£14 million) and Eidur Gudjohnson (loan) to net them a goal.

Liverpool must look to sign at least one top quality striker if we're to compete at the highest level next season.

Of course, if all these improvements are going to be implemented then Rafa will need the ability to spend a vast amount of money which, with the current owners, is simply never going to happen. Benitez will almost certainly be asked to break even in the transfer window for the fourth time in a row, which will do the Reds title hopes no good whatsoever.

Look at last summer for example. Liverpool signed Glen Johnson (£17 million) and Alberto Aquilani (for a fee that could rise to a maximum of £20 million). If we had held onto Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso then last summer would have been a period of progress, which could have seen the Reds challenge for the title this year. Unfortunately, Rafa had to break even, so Alonso and Arbeloa were both sold, in addition to the sale of a few youngsters, leaving Rafa back at square one. Liverpool had stood still, and, in football, you have to sprint just to stand still as all the other big clubs spend obscene amounts of money at every given opportunity.

If these improvements to the playing squad are made, with no significant departures, then Rafa's Reds could be fighting for number 19. However, that is extremely unlikely as Hicks and Gillett will fail to back Rafa in the transfer window, yet again.


Monday, 5 April 2010

Disastrous Draw leaves Champions League Hopes Hanging by a Thread

Liverpool simply had to win this one. After both Manchester City and Aston Villa won their games on Saturday, anything less then 3 points was not acceptable. Moreover, Liverpool were looking to take advantage of Tottenham's slip up at the Stadium of Light. Unfortunately, Liverpool were left frustrated and bitterly disappointed once again after yet another miserable away day.

In normal circumstances, a draw away to Birmingham would be considered a point gained, rather than two points dropped. Alex McLeish's side have performed tremendously throughout the season, especially at their St Andrews fortress. The Blues have taken points off both Manchester teams, as well as Chelsea and Arsenal at home this season, and are now unbeaten in their last 14 home games, a run that stretches all the way back to their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers at the end of September.

However, Liverpool simply had to win this game. It was always going to be difficult, but Liverpool are in a desperate situation, and have to take all available points out of every single game.

The first half was a largely dull affair, with little goalmouth action at either end. The first chance for either side fell to Fernando Torres. Kyrgiakos, who was starting in place of the rested Daniel Agger, played a long ball up the pitch towards Torres. The Spaniard headed the ball down to his countryman, Maxi Rodriguez. Maxi returned the ball to Torres with a simple pass. Torres aimed for the top right hand corner, however his curled effort failed to test Joe Hart in the Birmingham goal.

Torres was instrumental in the Reds next opening. It all started when Kuyt ran onto the ball on the left wing. The Dutchman slipped the ball to Yossi Benayoun, who then switched play out to Torres on the right. El Nino put an inviting centre into the box, however Maxi could only hit the cross bar with a shot from 6 yards out. It was a glorious chance that he really should have taken.

Birmingham responded soon after as McFadden shot inches over from 25 yards, before Gardener skipped past Insua too easily, then played Jerome through. Jerome, who scored a screamer at Anfield earlier this season, was forced wide by Insua, however he still managed to test Reina with a firm strike, that our keeper had to punch behind for a corner kick.

From the corner Birmingham had a fantastic chance to claim a vital first goal, minutes before the break. McFadden's corner travelled over Reina and to the back post, where it was met by the head of Roger Johnson. To the relief of Reds fans, he could only manage to head over the bar from yards out.

Liverpool came out for the second half determined to secure a vital 3 points. They set out with a positive mindset, and reaped the rewards after only two minutes of the second half had been played.

Yossi Benayoun headed Gerrard's corner to the edge of the box, and to Glen Johnson. England's right back completely fluffed his shot, however the ball fell to Gerrard on the left edge of the penalty area. Our skipper turned Bowyer inside and out, before curling a wonderful shot past Joe Hart and into the bottom corner. It was a delicious finish from Gerrard, and yet another example of Stevie scoring crucial goals for his beloved Reds.

For some unknown reason, Liverpool then went back into their defensive shell, and were duly punished for some diabolical defending on 56 minutes. McFadden put a cross into the box from the right hand side, and the ball travelled through to the unmarked Ridgewell at the back post, who had the simple task of converting from 2 yards out.

It was absolutely shocking, school-boy defending from the Reds back line. The whole of the back four got dragged towards the left hand side, where the ball was, leaving Ridgewell with the freedom of St Andrews. Johnson was the main culprit as the right back should have been aware of the threat from the other side of the pitch, however the whole of the defence should have been much more organised.

As regurlar readers will know, I am an ardent Rafa fan, and I'm normally unswerwing in my support for the Reds boss, however he made an unbelieveable substitution after 65 minutes. Rafa replaced Liverpool's prolific top scorer, Fernando Torres, for the inexperienced and out of form David Ngog. Steven Gerrard was clearly mystified when he saw Torres leaving the pitch, and must have felt gutted and amazed to see our best striker leaving the action at a crucial part of the game.

Rafa's justification for this illogical decision was that Torres was "exhausted" after playing for 80 minutes on Thursday, in Portugal. Whilst that may be true, it is insane to take off Torres in one of the most important games of the season. Forget about Benfica next Thursday, we had to win this game first. All manager's live and die by their decisions, and it seems like this substitution could just cost Rafa his job as, if Liverpool don't finish fourth, which is exteremly likely now, then Rafa's position at Liverpool will be at serious risk. I still think that with a decent amount of money Rafa can be a successful manager at Liverpool, however he might not be given the time (or the finances) to achieve the success that we all know he can deliver.

To be fair to Benitez, Liverpool did begin to create chances and put Birmingham under pressure after Ngog had been brought on, however it is likely that those opportunites would have been created anyway, and that Fernando Torres would have buried at least one of them, giving Liverpool the win they needed so desperately.

Ngog headed Johnson's cross just wide of the post when he should have done better. After that, Birmingham were inches away from taking the lead, as a result of even more awful defending from Liverpool. Insua had been dragged out into the right back position, where he couldn't cope as Ridgewell stormed past him with consummate ease.

Carragher and Kyrgiakos failed to mark their men, and left Bowyer free to receive the cross at the back post. Bowyer, who has been one of Birmingham's star perfomers this season, had all the time in the world to beat Reina and score a critical goal, however somehow he managed to shoot wide. Only he will know how he managed to miss that gilt edged opportunity.

Liverpool fought back, and went close to scoring themselves several minutes later. The hardworking Maxi stole possession off Bowyer on the edge of the 18 yard box, then found Kuyt with a pass. Kuyt, who was playing up front, took the ball wide of goal, before cutting a pass back to Maxi. Maxi then passed the ball back to Ngog, who shot just wide from 8 yards out.

It was a good move, however it finished disappointingly as Ngog failed to see Gerrard, who was standing in a great position to his left. All it took was a simple 5 yards pass and Gerrard would have had a clear sight of goal, and almost certainly would have scored. Ngog needs time to learn, so can be excused for this error, but you can't help feeling that Torres would have noticed Gerrard free in the area, and set him through on goal.

Gerrard curled a shot inches over the bar, before Maxi missed an open goal from 7 yards out. Gerrard's cross from the right had been beaten away by Hart, however the ball fell to the feet of Maxi Rodriguez. Stunningly, he smashed his strike over the bar, with Hart lying helpless on the ground. It was an unbelieveable miss, and one that left most supporters feeling that it just wasn't going to be our day.

Babel shot into the side netting before Ngog has the perfect opportunity to silence all his critics and score a last gasp winner for the Reds. Gerrard played an astounding 40 yard pass from deep, that cut through the home side's defence and sent Ngog through one-on-one with the keeper. Unfortuantely, Ngog's weak shot was comfortably gathered by the keeper. Once again, you can't help thinking Torres would have buried that shot, and won the game for his side.

Before this game, Liverpool had 6 cup finals left to play. I believed, and still do, that 5 wins and a draw should be enough to secure a top four finish. This is the draw, and now Liverpool can't afford to drop any more points. From now on in, nothing less than 3 points in every single game will be good enough. It will be very tough, especially considering we face Chelsea at Anfield on the penultimate weekend of the season, however the fixure list still gives us hope. Tottenham and City have a horrible run in, that could just save our season.

Hope you had a happy Easter, and, as always, YNWA

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Away Goal Gives Reds Advantage

A battling display from Liverpool was rewarded with an away goal, giving the Reds hope that they can still progress to the semi finals of this season's Europa League, despite conceding twice from the penalty spot to lose 2-1 to Portugese outfit Benfica.

Liverpool were forced to fight throughout the match, as they had to play the majority of the game with only 10 men, after Ryan Babel had been sent off in bizarre fashion halfway through the first 45 minutes.

Liverpool were solid at the back, and can take heart from the fact that both goals conceded were from the penalty spot. Despite of their attacking dominance, the home side had to rely on two penalties to score, as the Reds defence managed to remain firm in the face of never-ending attacks from the forward thinking Benfica side.

Liverpool started in the best possible manner, claiming the lead after only 8 minutes had been played. It was a fantastic, well worked goal as well. Gerrard had been tripped on the left hand edge of the penalty area, and was rightly awarded a free kick. The Benfica defence expected Gerrard to put an inswinging cross into the box, but instead he slotted a sqaure pass to Daniel Agger, who found the net with a delightful backheel. It was a wonderful goal that was reminiscent of the Dane's goal in the 2007 Champions League semi final against Chelsea.

It was the perfect goal for Liverpool, which silenced the voracious home crowd, who had created an amazing atmosphere prior to the start of the match.

Benfica responded quickly, pressurising the Reds backline time and time again. Almost immediately after we had taken the lead, Benfica nearly equalised. Angel Di Maria put an impressive ball into the back post, where it was met by Cardozo. Fortunately for Liverpool the ball bounced before it arrived at the feet of the striker, and his shot looped over the net. It was a sign of things to come, as the home side absolutely dominated the rest of the first period, with Liverpool struggling to get out of their own half.

Minutes later, Cardozo spurned another glorious opportunity as he headed tamely into the arms of Pepe Reina, after he had met another cross from the left wing.

Di Maria, the attack minded midfield player, was controlling play, and was Benfica's main threat in attack. His performance last night will only increase the interest of bigger European clubs. It is rumoured that Manchester United, Chelsea and even Liverpool are interested in signing the diminutive 22 year old, however Rafa will almost certainly not be able to afford to sign him, as it is expected that he will be yoked with a "sell to buy" policy once again during the summer transfer window.

Angel Di Maria showed his quality once again when he spread an awesome 40 yard pass across the pitch and to the back post, where the unmarked Ramires headed over. It was disappointing marking from Insua, who looked out of his depth once again last night.

The young Argentine left back certainly has the potential to be a great player, however his performances during the second half of this campaign have been consistently poor, especially defensively, as he has been torn apart time and time again by wingers willing to run at him with pace and trickery. His suspension for next week's return leg is almost a blessing in disguise, as it will stop him being destroyed by the Benfica attack once again.

Shortly before the half hour mark, Di Maria blasted a strike inches over the bar from 25 yards. After this, Liverpool were reduced to 10 men as Ryan Babel was sent off for touching Luisao's face. Luisao had just cynically chopped Torres down from behind, earning himself a yellow card.

According to the Liverpool bench, Babel raised his hand to Luisao's face in an attempt to calm him down, and to stop him talking himself into a second yellow card. This act of generosity from Babel back fired, as he received his marcing orders. By the letter of the law the referee was right to send him off, however it was such a petty offence, undeserving of that sort of extreme punishment.

To make the situation all together more confusing, the referee flashed a yellow card in the directtion of Luisao twice, which seemed to indicate that the Benfica captain had been sent off, however that was not the case, as Mr Eriksson was apparently just confirming the booking. It was a bizarre few minutes, that left Liverpool reeling.

Di Maria continued to pose questions of the Liverpool defence, as he shot just wide of the post after he had received the ball.

Against all odds, Liverpool thought they had doubled their lead on 37 minutes, with only their second chance of the match. Gerrard's free kick from the right was punched clear by the keeper, however the ball fell to the feet of Fernando Torres on the edge of the box. The Spaniard shot and scored, however his goal was disallowed for offside. Kuyt was offside as the ball was played into the box, however it is debateable whether he was active or not.

After that, Torres went close again after Johnson's throw in had set him free in the penalty area, however his weak shot was comfortably collected by Cesar in the Benfica goal.

Liverpool ended the half having to defend for their lives, as a series of long throw ins and corners threatened to breach the Liverpool backline, however the Reds stood strong, and went into the break with a crucial one goal lead.

Cardozo had a golden chance to equalise for the home side soon after the interval, as he headed Di Maria's corner over the bar. The Liverpool defence had given him a free jump, yet somehow he managed to head over from only 6 yards out. It was a poor miss from the number 7, however he wasn't to be denied.

On the hour mark, Cardozo smashed a free kick against the left post. The ball rebounded out to Aimar, who was fouled in the 6 yard box by Emiliano Insua. It was a clear penalty and rightly given. Cardozo stepped up, and confidently struck the ball into the bottom right hand corner. Reina guessed right, however the penalty was well taken, and found the net.

Interestingly, minutes before the Benfia equaliser a flare had been thrown onto the pitch. It nearly hit one of the officials behind the goal. Throughout the second half this continuted to happen.

Now, you would think that UEFA would take action after this unruly, dangerous behaviour from sections of the home support, however my bet is that they will either ignore the situation completely, or they will impose a tiny, insignificant fine. If that was an English club they would almost certainly be thrown out of the competition, or at least forced to play the rest of their games behind closed doors.

Anyway, back to the game, and Liverpool continued to come under severe pressure, as the Benfica manager threw on Nuno Gomes in place of a defender. It was a signal of their desire to score as many as possible in the home leg, as they know that the away leg at Anfield will be much more difficult.

Torres spurned a glorious opportunity to score a second goal for Liverpool that would have really put us in the driving seat going into the second leg at Anfield in a week's time. Torres turned on the halfway line, then played a pass out to Kuyt on the right. Kuyt waited patiently before slotting a wonderful pass through to Torres, which left our star striker one-on-one with the keeper.

As everyone expected to see the net bulge, El Nino disappointingly dragged the ball wide of the left hand post. It was a chance you would expect him to bury, making it even worse when he pulled his strike wide.

With 10 minutes left, Cardozo converted from the penalty spot once again, to break Red hearts. The skillful Di Maria, tricked his way past Johnson, who was actually quite solid in defensive last night, before his attempted cut back from the byline was blocked by the hand of Jamie Carragher.

It was a clear and obvious penalty, no argument. Cardozo camly waited for Reina to dive, before slotting the ball home to give Benfica the lead for the first time in the tie.

Gerrard had a late chance to grab a second goal for Liverpool, however his shot was easily stopped at the near post.

Liverpool now go into the second leg of this tie knowing that a 1-0 win will be good enough to see the Reds through to the semi finals. If we keep it tight at the back, and don't concede an away goal (which is easier said than done as Benfica are a wonderful attacking side) then we should progress, as with Torres and Gerrard returning to form, Liverpool should have no problem scoring goals against anyone, even Benfica's tight defense who, going into the game last night, had conceded just 12 goals all season.

Happy Good Friday, and, as always, YNWA