Monday, 30 August 2010

Reds Edge Past Albion

Fernando Torres scored his 50th Anfield goal in all competitions to earn Liverpool their 2000th League victory and, more importantly, a vital 1-0 win over Roberto Di Matteo's stubborn West Brom outfit.

Liverpool struggled to break down the visitor's defence for long periods of the match, however Torres popped up with a winner just past the hour mark to secure our first three points of the season.

Torres, Gerrard, Jovanovic, Skrtel and Agger all returned to the starting line-up after missing Thursday's Europa League trip to Turkey, as Hodgson decided to play his best side in an attempt to impress the capacity crowd and ensure that Liverpool entered the international break with confidence levels high.

New signing Raul Meireles was unveiled on the Anfield turf before the match and received a warm welcome from the Kop, whilst Fulham left back Paul Konchesky, who is expected to sing imminently, was also in the Main Stand watching his new side labour to a hard-fought victory over the Midlanders.

Torres and Gerrard linked up early on, raising expectations that the pair could destroy the away side's defence, however that was not the case as their back line remained firm for large spells.

Our Spanish striker exchanged passes with captain Steven Gerrard before attempting a shot from an audacious angle. He did well to get it on target, and former Liverpool keeper Scott Carson was forced to make a save to deny the World Cup winner an early goal.

Liverpool may have created the first opportunity of the match, however it was the visitors who dominated the early stages, controlling the pace of the match and restricting Hodgson's side. On 23 minutes a low shot from the well-placed Fortune required a good stop from the alert Pepe Reina.

West Brom were looking comfortable in possession, however they failed to seriously test our goal despite their control of the match. The first real opening fell to Liverpool though, as Lucas' deflected effort inadvertently put Kuyt through on goal, but the Dutchman got his feet tangled up and the best chance of the match was squandered.

Minutes before the break James Morrison shot wide on the half volley from range, meaning that the teams went in level at the break, and with the home side desperately needing a spark of inspiration from somewhere to break the deadlock and claim a win they were expected to comfortably obtain.

The start of the second half continued the pattern of slow, sluggish football that had permeated the first half, however Liverpool improved after Maxi replaced the ineffective Jovanovic on the left wing.

On the hour mark a goalmouth scramble ensued after a corner kick had been launched into the area. The scramble for the ball ended when Slovakian centre back Martin Skrtel shaved the cross bar with his awesome volley, which went inches over the top left hand corner.

Liverpool were now finally starting to create chances, even if we still hadn't hit anywhere near top gear. With 25 minutes still to play Liverpool counter-attacked down the left hand side after Reina twice denied Jara an opening goal.

Kuyt and Torres exchanged passes before the Dutchman superbly clipped the ball back to the edge of the area, where Torres met the ball with a fantastic first time finish which left Carson with no chance.

Liverpool searched for a second, and it nearly arrived soon after as a sublime cross from Steven Gerrard by-passed the Albion defence to find Torres at the back post. Unfortunately Carson made an excellent save to deny Torres, and Liverpool, their second of the afternoon.

The Reds should have had a penalty with seven minutes left as Torres' shot was blatantly blocked by the arm of Jara, however referee Lee Probert made an awful decision as he refused to award the spot kick.

That penalty would have made the last few minutes much more comfortable had it been converted, however James Morrison was sent off with two minutes remaining after a poor challenge on Fernando Torres had grounded the Spaniard.

Despite the red card the away side still applied pressure in the closing moments of the encounter, but the well-drilled Liverpool defence remained firm to close out a 1-0 victory.

Whilst the performance was nowhere near good enough, and must be improved if we are to pick up points at St Andrews and Old Trafford after the international break, the main positive to take from the game is that we managed to grind out a win when we probably would have been forced to settle for only a point in past seasons.

It is a mark of champions to win when you are not playing well, and whilst I still don't think we have the squad to be able to compete with the likes of Chelsea and United, a win and defeats for both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur means that we can be happy with our weekend's Premier League football.


Friday, 27 August 2010

Liverpool's Turkish Delight

Liverpool safely negotiated a path into the Europa League group stages thanks to a 3-1 aggregate success over Turkish side Trabzonspor. A 1-0 win from the first leg gave us a slight advantage travelling to Turkey, however it was always going to be difficult against a good side in a hostile stadium.

Liverpool fell behind early on, but fought back to score two late goals on the night, securing a place in the group stages and our first victory against a Turkish side in Turkey.

Roy Hodgson's task was doubly difficult as he was forced to leave star players such as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Milan Jovanovic, Daniel Agger and Maxi Rodriguez at home. Aurelio started on the left hand side of the midfield, and Hodgson started eight defensive minded players in a clear statement of intent.

The match got off to the worst possible start; with the Reds falling behind after only three minutes had been played as Gutierrez cancelled out our first leg lead. Dirk Kuyt fatally lost possession deep in his own half before Colman's miscued shot was stabbed home by Teofilo Gutierrez from close range.

It was a terrible start to a crucial match, which left Liverpool on the back foot for most of the first half as Trabzonspor dominated possession and looked threatening going forward.

With 13 minutes gone Burak eased past two challenges before dropping to the ground on the edge of the area. Thankfully, the referee wasn't fooled by his clear dive. The home side continued to control the match, and went close again soon after. Yattara's low shot was well blocked by Jamie Carragher. From the resultant corner Reina was called into action to stop a rasping shot from distance.

It was all Trabzonspor at this stage, and the Turks really should have doubled their lead half way through the first period when the unmarked Yattara contrived to head wide from only six yards out. It was a massive let off for Liverpool, who started to settle into the match after this point.

Kuyt's speculative drive was blocked before Aurelio fizzed a shot wide of target minutes before the half hour mark. After that, Glen Johnson scampered into the area and coolly fired Ngog's pass into the far corner. However, the linesman's flag denied the Reds.

On the stroke of half time Lucas' tamely hit shot from 35 yards out failed to test Kivrak, so Liverpool went into the break a goal behind and needing to spark into life and grab a goal. Whilst the first half performance was far from encouraging, Hodgson knew that a single Liverpool goal would change the whole complexion of the tie.

Trabzonspor started the second half the better, however the first real opportunity went the visitors way. Joe Coe delivered an inch perfect cross for David Ngog, however the French striker somehow managed to head wide from less than six yards out.

It was a shocking miss from Ngog, however he almost made up for it four minutes later as he went close again. Ngog turned brilliantly before sidestepping a defender and placing a shot just off target. It was a nice piece of skill to create space for himself, and a continuation of the impressive form displayed earlier on in the Europa League.

Liverpool were now asking all the questions, and, after 62 minutes had been played, Ngog had another chance to equalise as a great pass from the Brazilian Fabio Aurelio provided him with an opening. Unfortunately he dwelled on the ball for too long and the opportunity was gone.

The home side had failed to fully test Reina in the second half, and that trend continued with 12 minutes left to play as Alanzinho blazed high and wide after a fine run from the energetic Burak.

With time running out, and extra time looming large, an own goal from Remzi Giray Kacar put Liverpool firmly in the driving seat. A marauding run down the right from Glen Johnson ended with the defender putting through his own net under pressure from Cole and Ngog.

Liverpool could now relax, as their opponents required an unlikely two goals in the remaining eight minutes to knock us out of Europe. Thankfully that didn't happen, and Kuyt, who later confirmed that he sees his future at Anfield, even scored a later winner.

His late strike helped manager Roy Hodgson to become the only Liverpool manager since the great Bill Shankly to win his first four European matches.

Kivrak did well to keep out a strike from Pacheco, who was influential after replacing Aurelio later on, however the ball fell to the feet of Dirk Kuyt, and the Dutchman made no mistake from close range.

Overall, this is a fantastic result for Liverpool. Whilst the Europa League certainly isn't our priority this season, Europe has always been an important part of any Liverpool campaign and it would have been incredibly disappointing to drop out of the competition at such an early stage.

It was a very tough match, however Hodgson's team, composed of mainly squad players, proved their worth to the club with a hard-working display that eventually got the job done.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Men Against Boys: City Too Good For Reds

Five minutes left to play at a wet City of Manchester Stadium and, with Liverpool losing 3-0, both managers decide to make a substitution. Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini replaces £47 million Argentinean Carlos Tevez with the largely un-used £19 million man Jo, whilst Hodgson is left to replace free signing Milan Jovanovic with 19-year old Academy starlet Daniel Pacheco.

And in that one minute of time the vast gulf in quality between the two sides was subtly, yet painfully displayed.

Manchester City, aided by the eye-watering wealth of their owner Sheikh Mansour (who witnessed his first City game last night), clearly have a much better, and far deeper squad, leaving Liverpool to trail in their wake.

The chasm of quality and strength in depth separating these North West rivals was evident last night as money-rich Manchester City taught Liverpool a footballing lesson.

City's five-man midfield, including the combative Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry, the hard-working James Milner, former Barcelona player Yaya Toure and the simply sensational Adam Johnson, was too good for the Reds midfield, who struggled to cope in the absence of Javier Mascherano.

The main team news saw Roy Hodgson revert to a 4-4-2 formation with David Ngog partnering Fernando Torres up front. This was seen to be a positive step by Hodgson, and a statement of intent, however it turned out to be tactical suicide as the home side dominated the midfield and controlled possession, leaving the front two inactive as we laboured to win the ball back.

The first chance of real note came on nine minutes, as England international Adam Johnson's scorching effort from all of 25 yards screamed inches past Pepe Reina's post.

It was a warning, which we failed to heed as only four minutes later City deservedly took an early lead. Johnson skilfully slid a pass through to James Milner. The new signing then pulled the ball back from the by-line and into the path of Gareth Barry, who comfortably steered the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.

It had been a bad start for Roy's Reds and it was almost even worse when Tevez threatened to double their advantage as he curled a shot into the side-netting when well placed.

City were controlling the game, and denying our star players the ability to influence proceedings with pressurising tactics that kept us stuck in our own half. In fact, Liverpool were so desperate to test keeper Joe Hart that they resorted to potshots from range.

With half an hour gone Agger blasted a volley well of target after Gerrard's cross had been headed away by Micah Richards. After that, Ngog's low shot was easily saved by Hart, but Liverpool were still failing to wrestle control away from the home side and really get into the game.

Gerrard curled a shot well wide on the stroke of half time meaning that we went in at the break a goal behind and looking for inspiration and possibly a change in tactics from Roy Hodgson.

Unfortunately, neither of those materialised, as the pattern of play remained unchanged. The one-way traffic continued to keep Reina busy in the Liverpool goal. Admittedly, we did improve slightly for the first five minutes of the second period, however it was City who struck first to make our task doubly difficult.

Adam Johnson's deflected shot resulted in a City corner. From the set piece Richards rose highest to power Milner's corner goalwards, and Carlos Tevez got the final touch to take it past Pepe Reina.

A reaction was needed, and that was precisely what we got as Liverpool finally seemed to come to life. Minutes before the hour mark Liverpool went close to grabbing a critical goal back.

Gerrard's shot rebounded back to Milan Jovanovic off the base of the post. The Serbian international squared the ball to David Ngog, who forced Hart into a fantastic save. The ball fell to the feet of Fernando Torres, however Hart was quickly up to block and deny Liverpool a route back into the match.

The final nail in the coffin arrived with just over 20 minutes to play as Johnson went down under Skrtel's challenge in the box, and a penalty was correctly awarded. In fact, Skrtel was fortunate to still be on the pitch, as he had already been booked earlier on. Tevez stepped up and cleverly waited for Reina to make the first move before powering the ball into the corner of the net.

By this stage I, along with most Reds fans, was just hoping that the defeat wouldn't be any more embarrassing, and that we wouldn't suffer further humiliation. Thankfully that was the case, and we even created a few chances, however it was far too late to have any effect on the outcome of the match.

Torres flashed a left-footed shot just wide of the far post after a piece of skill created space for himself inside the penalty area, before Babel drilled a shot goalwards only a minute after replacing Torres. Apart from that Manchester City spent the remaining time keeping possession and causing further frustration.

This heavy defeat understandably leaves Liverpool supporters looking for an explanation. We can argue about the formation, zonal marking and the team selection until we're blue in the face, but ultimately the fact remains that City are quickly developing a better, stronger team and squad than ours, and there seems to be little we can do to stop this unless a change in ownership occurs soon.

Hodgson may have displayed his lack of tactical know-how in comparison to his predecessor last night, but there is little he can do to change the side until new investment arrives.

And, with that investment appearing to be further away then ever after the news that Kenny Huang has retracted his offer for the club, Liverpool could be trailing in the wake of their Manchester neighbours for the foreseeable future.


Friday, 20 August 2010

Tie Finely Balanced After 1-0 Win

Liverpool's Europa League play-off against Turkish side Trabzonspor is finely balanced after a Ryan Babel goal on the stroke of half time gave the Reds a 1-0 victory.

The Reds were disappointing during the first half, and the visitors enjoyed large spells of possession, however, after the arrival of Fernando Torres at half time, the home side significantly improved and took control of the match. We created several chances, and could have earned a comfortable lead to take to Turkey had Cole converted his spot kick and Poulsen's debut goal been allowed to stand.

The major team news saw Christian Poulsen given a starting berth alongside Lucas in the centre of midfield, whilst Ryan Babel was deployed in the lone striker role, a position he regards as his best, and one which he was rarely allowed to play in under Rafael Benitez.

Liverpool started on the back foot, with Trabzonspor comfortably keeping the ball. At one point, the boisterous away supporters even began singing "Ole, Ole" such was the ease of which they kept the ball.

With 10 minutes played Trabzonspor went close to taking the lead as Burak flashed his header just wide of the post after he got on the end of Colman's corner. It was loose marking from Liverpool as they allowed Burak a free header on goal.

Liverpool began to come back into the match, and retained possession of the ball for a spell, however we were finding it hard to break down the stubborn Turkish defence. It was like so many games under Benitez, where the passes were going backwards and sideways, and the attacking play lacked penetration and purpose.

On 25 minutes Fabio Aurelio stood over a set piece on the right hand corner of the penalty box. From 25 yards out the Brazilian failed to hit the target as the ball flew disappointingly over the top right hand corner.

Just before the break Trabzonspor had a similar situation as Burat's free kick blazed over the bar from 30 yards out. At this point most Reds supporters were resigned to a long wait before Liverpool finally managed to break the deadlock, and start playing some attractive football.

Thankfully, on the stroke of half-time Ryan Babel, who had had little impact during the whole of the first half, scored a great goal to give Liverpool a vital lead. Joe Cole ran with purpose at the backtracking defence before slipping Babel in on goal with a wonderful pass.

The Dutchman, who got his first 45 minutes of the season under his belt last night, coolly converted past the hopeless Kivrak to send Liverpool in at the break with a one-goal lead.

Fernando Torres, who had received a warm round of applause whilst warming up in the first half, replaced Ryan Babel up front at half-time, and immediately made an impact.

The Spaniard found himself out of position on the left wing, however he managed to step inside onto his right foot before unleashing a fierce shot goalwards. His strike stung the fingers of Kivrak before travelling behind for a corner.

Following that Christian Poulsen, who had looked comfortable and composed on the ball throughout the match, shot just over the cross bar from 30 yards out as Liverpool started to play some better football, and the noise levels went up another notch inside Anfield.

Only a minute later Liverpool had the perfect opportunity to double their lead, and Joe Cole had a fantastic chance to score his first Liverpool goal in front of an expectant and excited Kop.

Lucas was tripped over on the left edge of the box, and a penalty was duly awarded. It was perhaps the only correct decision made by the referee, who was far too whistle-happy, creating a stop-start game more akin to a rugby match than a football match.

In the absence of normal penalty-taker Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole stepped up to take the spot kick. Unfortunately his effort was tame and was comfortably stopped by the keeper. Kivrak was several feet of his line, however Cole's effort was poor and probably wouldn't have hit the net even if the keeper had observed the rules.

We continued to search for a crucial second goal, and Milan Jovanovic nearly provided it after 56 minutes when the fantastic Fernando Torres sent him through on goal. The Serb was one-on-one with the keeper, however Kivrak stayed tall and made a vital save to deny the home side yet again.

With the hour mark approaching Trabzonspor had their only clear opening during the second half. Umut evaded the offside trap to get on the end of a wonderful clipped pass, however Reina produced a tremendous save to deny them a critical away goal.

After that, Milan Jovanovic and Torres combined once again to test the keeper. Jova put an early cross into the box from the left, and Torres superbly met the ball with his head. It was a good effort from Torres, but the keeper made a good save.

As the clock ran down Christian Poulsen was unfairly denied a debut goal by an unbelievably bad refereeing decision. Jovanovic's left footed corner was headed goalwards by Kyrgiakos.

Kivrak spilt the ball and Poulsen scrambled the ball home, however the referee judged that the keeper had been fouled, despite the fact that no Liverpool player touched him. It was a terrible decision, and even worse play-acting by the keeper who was deservedly booed for the rest of the match.

Liverpool now travel to Turkey for the second leg next Thursday. They are sure to meet a hostile atmosphere from the passionate Trabzonspor supporters, however I believe that if Hodgson plays his strongest eleven then we should progress to the group stages. If we can score a goal then the Turks will have to score three and, after what I witnessed last night, I cannot see them doing that.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Fighting Spirit Shown in Opening Day Draw

Roy Hodgson's first Premier League game in charge of the Reds ended disappointingly as a late own goal from Spanish keeper Pepe Reina earned the Gunners a point.

A fiercely competitive game swung on the decision by referee Martin Atkinson to send Joe Cole off on the stroke of half time. However, the game didn't swing in Arsenal's favour as expected.

Quite the opposite occurred as Liverpool, who had struggled to gain a foothold during the first 45 minutes, showed fantastic fighting spirit to grab the lead and dominate the second half. It truly epitomised a game of two halves.

Hodgson chose to start with Javier Mascherano in a holding midfield role, and the Argentine performed superbly despite of his clear desire to leave the club. Fernando Torres also began the match on the substitutes bench as he lacked match fitness.

The excitement leading into the match from most reds supporters quickly fizzled out as the visitors strangled control of the early stages. Liverpool were sitting back and defending resolutely, however we found it difficult to break free and attack the Arsenal goal, with Joe Cole and David Ngog anonymous for large periods of the half.

5 minutes into the contest a handball from Javier Mascherano saw Arsenal awarded a free kick in a dangerous position. It took a brilliant save from Pepe Reina at full stretch to stop Vermaelen's powerful effort hitting the back of the net.

Then, Samir Nasri saw two tamely struck free kicks easily dealt with by the Liverpool defensive wall. With half an hour played, and Arsenal still on top, left back Gael Clichy went extremely close to opening the scoring as he screamed a shot inches over the bar from all of 30 yards. It was an excellent strike, and would have left Reina helpless had it been slightly lower.

Towards the end of the half Liverpool started to settle into the game, and began to create opportunities of their own. New signing Milan Jovanovic, who impressed throughout, evaded the offside trap and found himself in behind the Arsenal back-line with time to trouble Almunia. However, unfortunately the Serb lacked composure and volleyed harmlessly wide when well placed.

The last few moments of the half were very eventful as Liverpool continued to press. Glen Johnson stepped inside on to his left foot before unleashing a beautiful shot goalwards from 20 yards out. Almunia had to be on top form to tip it over the cross bar for a corner.

From that resultant corner Gerrard swung a cross into the penalty area where the ball was met by the head of David Ngog. The young striker looked certain to break the deadlock, however he was denied by a goal-line clearance from Clichy.

On the stroke of half time Joe Cole lunged into a tackle near the corner flag and accidentally caught Arsenal debutant Koscielny on the ankle. Martin Atkinson hurriedly pulled out a red card and sent Cole off on his Premier League debut.

It was a rash and reckless challenge from the England international, however there was no intent to harm the Gunners centre back, and it was his first bad challenge in the game. In my opinion he should have received a yellow card and a stern warning, however I must admit if an Arsenal player had committed a similar offence then I would be the first to demand their immediate sending off.

The sense of injustice surrounding the sending off seemed to galvanise Liverpool as they came out for the second half with fire in their bellies, determined to gain a good result despite of the red card shown to Joe Cole.

That fighting spirit that Liverpool are so famous for paid off after only a minute of the second half had been played as David Ngog rifled the ball into the top corner of the net after receiving a neat pass from Mascherano.

It was a brilliant strike from Ngog, and a clever pass from Mascherano as well. Ngog has now scored a stunning four goals in only three competitive matches this season, and appears to be maturing nicely into a very good centre forward.

Three minutes later Gerrard's free kick was headed wide by Martin Skrtel, before David Ngog also headed wide from another Steven Gerrard set-piece. Liverpool were now on top despite of their numerical disadvantage, and were searching for a second goal to finally defeat Arsene Wenger's side.

With just under 25 minutes left superb play by Dirk Kuyt, who put in another hard-working performance on the right wing, made his marker look silly. The Dutchman then flashed the ball across the six-yard box, but nobody was there to convert.

As the second period progressed Arsenal started to re-claim control as we decided to try and narrowly close out a 1-0 victory. With only 10 men on the pitch (and occasionally nine as Agger suffered from concussion) this was the right thing to do, as we stopped the away side utilising the width of the pitch to stretch our defence and create gaps in the back four.

Apart from Walcott's fine free kick on 73 minutes, which was expertly turned behind by Reina, the visitors created little of note until the final five minutes. Following a flowing move Rosicky played a one-two with a team-mate before his stinging strike was superbly tipped over the bar by Reina.

It was an excellent save, and one that compensated for his blunder only a few minutes afterwards. Marouane Chamakh, who had made no impact on the game whatsoever up to this point, headed against the post and the ball bounced back out to Reina, who spilt the ball over his own goalline.

It was a calamitous own goal from Pepe, which cost us two points, however he has been such a fantastic keeper during his time on Anfield, and will not suffer heavy criticism as both supporters, and the media, recognise his valuable contribution.

There was still time for Gerrard to test Almunia with a thumping free kick from 30 yards out, and for Koscielny to be shown a second yellow card after a deliberate handball stopped Torres in his tracks, however the score line remained the same.

On the balance of play throughout the whole 90 minutes a draw is definitely a fair result. Whilst Liverpool did tremendously well to control the majority of the second half with only 10 men, Arsenal dominated the opening period and should have claimed the lead during the first 45 minutes.

At half time I expected us to crumble and fall to a disappointing defeat like we so often did last season, however the battling spirit displayed in the second half provides hope for supporters that this season will be very different to last season.


Friday, 6 August 2010

Rampant Reds Ravage Rabotnicki

Amidst the media speculation and hype around the ownership situation that has engulfed Anfield recently, Liverpool had a crucial Europa League fixture last night in which they secured a place in a Europa League play-off to reach the group stage with what was a simply stunning performance from the men in red.

Roy Hodgson started with a strong Liverpool team containing all of England's World Cup stars, including debutant Joe Cole, who played superbly in the hole behind David Ngog. Milan Jovanovic was also given an Anfield debut whilst Martin Kelly and Daniel Pacheco were given rare starts.

The Reds started on the front foot, and never let the away side gain a foothold in this incredibly one-sided encounter. The opening stages were dominated with Liverpool possession. The ball was flying around on the ground as the Reds used quick, accurate passes to try and break down the Macedonians stubborn 10-man defence.

This system was successful after only 7 minutes as David Ngog had the ball in the back of the net after he received a pass from Glen Johnson following the right back's rampaging run down the wing. Unfortunately, the linesman's flag denied the young striker his third goal of the season.

FK Rabotnicki's first chance of any note arrived after 13 minutes, as Ze Carlos drilled a threatening free kick into the Liverpool box where Gligorou almost got a touch, however the ball raced through to Cavalieri in the Liverpool goal.

A minute later and Liverpool had almost broken the deadlock up at the other end of the pitch. Gerrard slipped Ngog through on goal with a brilliant pass, but as Ngog tried to round the keeper Bogatinov got a hand to the ball and the chance was gone. It was a wonderful move from the home side, however Ngog definitely should have done better when well positioned.

By this stage every Liverpool attack was being initiated by both Gerrard and Cole as the international teammates controlled the midfield. Cole clipped a wonderful ball into the path of Pacheco in the box, however the Spaniard couldn't control the ball, and the keeper managed to clear the danger.

Soon after Pacheco and Cole were involved again as the former stepped over Cole's pass to allow it to run through to Gerrard, who smashed a shot goalwards only to be denied by the keeper, who tipped his strike around the post.

The resulting corner was played short to Joe Cole. Cole stepped inside the defender before curling a beautiful cross into the box for David Ngog, who headed the ball into the top corner excellently. It was a fantastic goal from the Merseysiders, and richly deserved as well.

After providing an assist Joe Cole nearly scored his first goal for his new club as he audaciously attempted to curl the ball into the top corner from 25 yards out. He went close as the ball flew just over the cross bar.

Rabotnicki were offering nothing in attack and seemed content to sit back and try and stop Liverpool, however Liverpool's fluid style of play allowed us to open up the away side's defence on several occasions.

Hodgson was using the same 4-2-3-1 that Rafa implemented during his reign, however Hodgson allowed the side more fluidity in attack, with Johnson, Gerrard and even Lucas all pressing high up the field in order to keep the visitors boxed into their own half.

Their hardly seemed to be a defensive player out on the pitch for Liverpool as they didn't require them, such was the dormant nature of Rabotnicki's forward line.

With 40 minutes played Ngog, who was the personification of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde last night (one minute a world-beater, next barely even able to convert a simple chance), was bundled to the ground inside the penalty area by Lopes, and a penalty was duly awarded.

Gerrard made no mistake from the spot and coolly converted to double our advantage heading into the break. However, it should have been 3-0 as, with only a minute of the half left, great work from Pacheco and Cole put Ngog through on goal. With only the keeper to beat Ngog unselfishly decided to square the ball to Steven Gerrard, however he didn't receive the cut-back and the chance was gone.

The second half was a formality as the outcome of the game was already secured with Liverpool holding a 4-0 lead on aggregate. Liverpool used the second period to reward the 30,000 fans that had turned out with some scintillating football that, if replicated against Arsenal and Manchester City over the coming weeks, could see Liverpool being hailed as serious title contenders.

Seconds into the second half Joe Cole went close to scoring his first goal for Liverpool as his attempted cross had the keeper scrambling as the ball cannoned back off the cross bar.

Three minutes later Milan Jovanovic, who put in a good, hard-working display, surged infield from the right hand side before firing a strike at goal from 20 yards. It was a good effort, however the keeper managed to turn the ball behind the goal for a corner.

After that, Cole collected Lucas' pass and then spun away from a defender only to see his shot saved by Bogatinov. With the Reds continuing to hold superiority in the game, Rabotnicki were restricted to a long-range effort from Gligorou that went well wide.

On 66 minutes a sublime move involving Lucas, Johnson, Aquilani, Cole and Jovanovic ended with the Serbian international crossing to Ngog, but he couldn't direct his header goalwards, and another fantastic move went unrewarded.

Yet more inventive skill from Cole with 20 minutes left on the clock created space for Aquilani to run with purpose down the right wing. The Italian then crossed into the area, however it was just too far in front of the on-rushing Ngog.

Cole continued to desperately search for his fist goal, and went close with 5 minutes remaining as he headed just over the bar after receiving a cross from Martin Kelly, who was marauding down the left wing like he had played there all of his career.

In additional time Rabotnicki had a great chance to grab a consolation goal when a rapid counter-attack ended with Marcio's close range header being brilliantly deflected over the bar by the back-tracking Martin Kelly.

From the resulting corner loose defending allowed Wandeir to sneak in unmarked at the back post, where his shot struck the base of the post.

Overall, it was a fantastic performance from Liverpool last night, and a pleasure to watch, which is something I cannot say for the majority of the games last season.
With Roy Hodgson's new fluid, attacking and yet stable style Liverpool could really be onto a winning formula.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

ANYONE But the Yanks? Make or Break for the future

The recent news that Chinese businessman Kenny Huang is close to agreeing a deal with RBS to take a controlling stake in Liverpool Football Club has led to widespread optimism amongst supporters eager to see obscene amounts of money flowing into the Anfield coffers as soon as possible.

Huang is believed to be one of six bidders for the club, and has pledged to pay off all £237 million of the club's debt to the Royal Bank Of Scotland, as well as providing new boss Roy Hodgson with significant transfer funds to improve the squad with some top quality signings. Moreover, Huang has promised to kick start development of a new stadium, which would provide a massive boost to the club's matchday income.

Sound familiar?

Just over three years ago we heard the same promises from Messer’s Hicks and Gillett. They turned out to be barefaced, scandalous lies.

They promised development of a new stadium would start in 60 days. They lied. Stanley Park remains a park, and not a football stadium. There hasn't been the "spade in the ground" which the Americans so fervently guaranteed.

They promised they would support then manager Rafa Benitez with money to make Liverpool one of the world's best sides once again. They lied.

After originally being told he would be backed even if he wished to sign "snoogy doogy" Benitez was forced to continually break even in the transfer market. He was only allowed to spend what he made in player sales, and, towards the end of his tenure, wasn't even allowed to utilise those funds to develop the squad.

On top of that, for the first time in the club's history money spent on paying the wages of new players was detracted from the transfer kitty. What sort of insane idea is that? That's never been the way transfers have been handled at Anfield, and never should be either.

Most importantly, they ensured us that their takeover was not a Glazer-style leveraged buy-out and that they would not pile millions of pounds worth of debt on our club. They lied.

Liverpool are currently £351 million in debt, and are paying £40 million a year in interest payments on that debt. That £40 million could have bought at least two world-class players every year, but instead is used to pay off the gargantuan debt that the Yanks forced upon our club.

Moreover, the eye-watering levels of debt that the club are suffering under have put the very existence of the club at danger, so much so that Chairman Martin Broughton had to assure the Premier League that we would be able to fulfil our fixtures this season.

We've been lied to before and we cannot allow ourselves to be duped once again.

Yes, the news that a takeover is imminent and that the Americans will be leaving very soon is very positive, however it is crucial that we do not allow more charlatans to come in and destroy our club completely.

We can just about survive one calamitous ownership, but two terrible owners could spell disaster for Liverpool Football Club.

Let's be optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but let's not forget to carefully examine any claims made by Huang or any other potential new owner.

We've been fooled once, we cannot afford to be fooled again.