Prem Result: Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 1

Barclays Premiership Result

Liverpool 3 (Morientes 4, Gerrard 61, 66) Aston Villa 1 (Barry 58)

Liverpool: J Reina, J Kromkamp, S Hyypia, J Carragher, D Traore, D Cisse (M Sissoko, 65), X Alonso, S Gerrard, J Riise (S Warnock, 74), P Crouch (R Fowler, 62), F Morientes. Unused subs: J Dudek, D Agger

Aston Villa: T Sorensen, A Hughes, O Mellberg, G Cahill, W Bouma, S Davis (C Gardner, 86), G McCann, G Barry (K Phillips, 82), J Milner, M Baros (J Angel, 45), G Agbonlahor. Unused subs: S Taylor, L Ridgewell

Referee: Mark Halsey
Attendance: 44,479
Half-time: 1 – 0
Continue reading Prem Result: Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 1

Reds v Villa: Rafa says Liverpool are focussed

With two league games left this season Liverpool are still in with a remote chance of second place. If Chelsea beat Manchester United early this afternoon then Liverpool’s game at home to Aston Villa becomes more important for the Reds. United have to lose two of their last three games for Liverpool to have any chance of second, but a Chelsea win would make that much more likely to happen.

If the last two games are important then the Liverpool players are more likely to be driven towards making mistakes that could lead to a suspension. Luis Garcia’s minor altercation with Hayden Mullins at Upton Park during the week saw him sent off and given a three-match ban. The FA were asked to look again at their decision but upheld the ban. They aren’t making many good decisions of late, if the England manager fiasco is anything to go by.

This led to a warning to his players yesterday from Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez. Losing your head will lose you a place in the cup final: “Luis Garcia cannot play in the final. Maybe that is a good thing for the rest of the players. It is good for them to see you cannot lose control before important games. It is a good lesson for Luis Garcia and we can learn from this.”

Luis has a reputation as a big-game player, scoring important goals in important games. Few games are bigger or more important than the FA Cup final, and Rafa says he’ll be missed: “He will be a big loss. He can score goals on the big occasion and we all know his quality. He can change the game.”

Up front Rafa has a dilemma over who to pick. Robbie Fowler could be making his last appearance at Anfield if he isn’t offered a new deal in the summer. So could Djibril Cisse and Fernando Morientes if Rafa has finally run out of patience and plans to sell. Cisse scored twice during the week but Fowler has a brilliant record against Villa – he’s played them 12 times and scored 12 goals. Rafa isn’t thinking of the individual players’ feelings though: “The most important thing is the team, not individuals.”

Rafa also emphasised that despite the excitement of the cup final there was still a job to do in the league, because until second place is out of reach they have to try and keep going for it: “That is what we will try to do. We have to think about the League matches, not the final. Football is only enjoyable when you’re winning. I have seen Villa a few times and they can be dangerous. It’ll be a tough game.”

Before Liverpool can get second place though Manchester United have to drop points, and they are still in with an outside chance of taking the title off Chelsea. Mourinho’s side need one point from three games to win the league, so today’s meeting of the two clubs could see the title decided. If that’s the case then Liverpool move closer to that chance of second spot, and according to Reds defender Jamie Carragher there’s every chance Chelsea will be doing Liverpool a good turn, something Mourinho wouldn’t be pleased with: “Manchester United have got a big game against Chelsea on Saturday. Both teams will be wanting to turn each other over but with Chelsea needing a point for the title hopefully they can win and do us a favour.”

If that match goes the way the Reds need it to then it’s down to Liverpool to get the three points at home: “If we can then capitalise by defeating Aston Villa it might get interesting. United have two home games to come after that so they’ll remain in pole position and it’s going to be difficult to overhaul them but all we can do is look after ourselves.”

Aston Villa’s manager David O’Leary is also looking for a point – the amount Villa need mathematically to avoid being relegated. He’s not happy with how the season has gone at Villa Park: “We shouldn’t still need a point to stay up but we still need to be looking at other results and that’s life. I was looking to get at least a point against Manchester City then we wouldn’t have to worry about anything.”

O’Leary says the quality in depth of Liverpool’s squad is excellent: “I went to see Liverpool at West Ham but it was such a waste of time because they left eight players out. They could field two world class teams – that’s why they’re up there challenging.”

Gerrard should make a return to the side after being rested in midweek, along with Crouch. Harry Kewell’s injury is not as bad as first feared. Rafa is unlikely to let sentiment get in the way of the important stuff so it’s not expected that Dudek will be saying farewell from the pitch today before his expected summer move away from Anfield.

Continue reading Reds v Villa: Rafa says Liverpool are focussed

Anfield says goodbye for now

Liverpool say farewell to their home supporters this afternoon in their last home game of the season. Like last season’s final Anfield fixture, the fans will be applauding players who are going to end the season with a major cup final. Last season it was the Champions League Final; Liverpool of course went on to win in one of the most memorable finals of all time. This season it’s the FA Cup that will bring to an end Liverpool’s season – 10 months after it started.

The traditional lap of honour will, like last year, leave some players wondering if they are waving goodbye to the home supporters for ever, or just until the new season. Rafa left it late to make decisions on many of his players last season, and is seemingly doing so this year too. Didi Hamann got a new contract last season, and has played enough games this season for that deal to continue for another term. Igor Biscan finally left, going to Greece. One other person who missed out was Vladimir Smicer – he was seen walking alone around the Anfield perimeter after mostly everyone else had long since left, reflecting on his time at the club he came to love. A few weeks later he was scoring the second Liverpool goal on their way to European glory, a goal that will ensure he’s got a permanent place in Anfield folklore.
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Carra joins calls for Luis ban to be overturned

The FA are due to make a decision today on appeals from Liverpool and West Ham against the red cards awarded to Luis Garcia and Hayden Mullins on Wednesday night. Referee Howard Webb confirmed after the game that the cards were given for violent conduct, which carries an automatic three match ban, and that means both players will miss the FA Cup final if the decision isn’t overturned.

Liverpool’s captain on the night, defender Jamie Carragher has added his voice to the growing list of those who feel that the sendings off were harsh to say the least. Carra says: “From what I saw I just assumed the referee would show them a yellow card each. Hopefully, when the referee has another look this will be the case. If he stands by his decision then the FA should get involved.”

The main argument is that both teams see the red cards as harsh, but a secondary argument is that the fact the two sides meet in Cardiff means that the effects of the bans negate each other: “It’s a very strange situation that probably won’t ever happen again where two teams who are due to meet in the final have a player each sent off. Neither team gains an advantage. It’s a shame for both players because if the referee sticks to his decision then they may never get another chance to play in an FA Cup final.”

Garcia was clearly in tears, the red card coming just two minutes after he’d entered the field as a sub, and Carra says that Mullins was also upset: “I know the West Ham lad from playing for England Under-21s and he was in tears after the match. Luis was devastated and really subdued when going down the tunnel, as you’d expect.”

The FA do have the power to overturn the red cards, but this seems unlikely unless Howard Webb agrees he overreacted. Yesterday Reds boss Rafa Benítez and West Ham boss Alan Pardew both commented on the harshness of the punishment. For Rafa a change to English red card rules would be more suitable for the future, where the length of a ban is not automatic but reviewed on its own merits: “It is not easy for the referee but for me the most important thing is that the two players apologised to each other and the referee and it is not that serious an incident. In Spain we have the possibility of banning for two games, three games, four games. Suspending the players for two games and leaving them available for the final would be enough because it was not a serious incident.”

Rafa also pointed out that the fact the two teams involved in the final both agree that the ban is wrong should add more weight to their appeals: “We know how important the final is. It is not as if it is better for us or better for them, in this case it is good for both players and the two teams involved. That is the reason both managers had the same idea. I think someone must be sensible. The situation is very clear.”

Pardew said: “I hope there is common sense and they will show some sympathy. By the letter of the law, perhaps they should have been sent off – but we are all in agreement the FA should show some clemency on this. We are both playing each other in the final so it is not affecting anybody else. A tiny little incident has cost them both a very special day.”

Pardew says that if the decision isn’t overturned it will but a big cloud over the final: “It was a little moment but, as it stands at the moment, they will both miss out, which will be a big, big shame and take away from what I think will be a terrific final.”

For Carragher the possible absence of Garcia would see Liverpool without the player most suited to the big game: “It would be a big blow to lose Garcia for the final. He’s a big game player. Whenever we play a big game he seems to produce the goods for us. One piece of magic can win you a game and the FA Cup final is a massive game.”

Continue reading Carra joins calls for Luis ban to be overturned

Xabi and Stevie looking forward to success

Xabi Alonso says Saturday’s FA Cup win over Chelsea will boost confidence for the Reds in their quest next season to bring the league title back home to Anfield. Liverpool have struggled against the so-called big teams this season, but have managed to send both Chelsea and Manchester United out of the cup on their way to Cardiff. Now the Spanish midfielder believes the Reds are on course for the ultimate prize: “We are getting there. We are improving and hopefully next season we can be challenging for the title. This result will inspire confidence. We were confident before the game. This season we have been winning a lot of games but against the top teams we have struggled a little bit. That’s why in the semi-final against Chelsea we wanted to show the level we are at and I think we did that.”

No doubt at all that Liverpool’s league form overall is better than last season, but unless they beat the big teams they might just struggle again next season. Liverpool are guaranteed third place, compared to last season’s fifth, and second is a remote possibility if United drop points in the run-in. Xabi continued: “We have shown that we have improved from last season when we won the Champions League but we want to carry on. We don’t want to stop. We want to challenge for the title. That’s our target next season.”

Continue reading Xabi and Stevie looking forward to success

Giuly hopes to speak to Rafa, Spanish coach of the year

Barcelona midfielder Ludovic Giuly yesterday used the media in an attempt to get his current club, Barcelona, to start talks on a new deal for him. In the process he acknowledged he’d heard rumours of Liverpool interest, but no direct contact with the Reds.

The 29-year-old French international wants a two-year extension to his current deal, which enters its final year in the summer. Giuly has been playing a central role for Barca of late, but was better known as a right-sided player before that.

He’s also stressing to Barca that he won’t sign a new deal unless they agree to all of his demands: “I’d need a two-year extension to my contract because my current deal expires in June 2007. I’d only sign a new contract at Barca if it was on my terms. If the club rate me and want me to stay, they’ll offer me the deal or at least enter into negotiations on it.”

Just to try and give Barca the impression they have to make some progress soon, he mentioned Liverpool’s boss Rafa Benitez: “I haven’t heard from Rafael Benitez yet, but maybe he’ll call me soon as people keep telling me.”

Benitez was in Spain himself, to pick up the Spanish Coach of the Year award. It is a prestigious award, given by La Comunidad de Madrid. Inevitably the fact he was in Madrid, and seen talking to officials from Madrid, has seen new rumours surface that he’s on his way to becoming Real boss. Rafa made it clear how much he’s content with life at Anfield: “I am very happy at Liverpool and enjoying life in England.” Those close to Rafa insist that he has no intentions of leaving Anfield, and that he’ll be signing a new deal very soon. New investment plans are closer than ever to being put into place, meaning Rafa will have even more funds at his disposal to take the next step with the Reds, which is to bring home the 19th league title for the record-holders.

Continue reading Giuly hopes to speak to Rafa, Spanish coach of the year

Stevie is PFA Player of the Year

Steven Gerrard is the Player’s Player of the Year.

The PFA’s Player of the Year Award ceremony was held in London tonight at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The influential midfielder saw off competition from Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry and for the second time this weekend, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, John Terry and Joe Cole.

This season Gerrard has already collected a Super Cup winner’s medal to add to the one he won in the Champions League Final last May. In December he was on the losing side in the final of the World Club Cup. Now he is set to lead the Reds out at Cardiff for the FA Cup Final before heading to Germany with England to round off a season that will have lasted almost 12 months by the time it comes to an end.

Congratulations to Stevie from us here at Anfield Road.
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Crass v Class: Class wins

Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Chelsea yesterday in the FA Cup semi-final sees the Reds making another trip to Cardiff to face either West Ham or Middlesbrough in the final in May. It was the tenth time in two seasons that the two sides have met; four league games, four Champions League games and one Carling Cup game preceding this. In that time Chelsea’s attitude has seen them take on a temporary position as most-hated team in England. For Liverpool fans opinion is still split over who their most-hated team is, but Chelsea are certainly giving Everton and Manchester United a run for their money.

Listening to the two managers yesterday two words came to mind – one each.

crass: 1. Coarse; crude; not refined or sensible 2. Materialistic 3. Dense
class: Admirable behaviour; elegance.

When Rafael Benitez joined Liverpool it came after some months of speculation over who would take over the reigns at England’s most successful club of all time once Houllier was inevitably shown the door. Jose Mourinho’s name had been mentioned regularly, but by a huge – and we mean huge – stroke of luck the Portuguese man went to Chelsea instead. Liverpool got the class manager, the man who is heading alarmingly fast towards legend status at Anfield. He’s some way to go to match the status of King Kenny and Shankly or of Fagan or Paisley – but he’s heading the right way.

Mourinho seems to be struggling more than ever with coming to terms with the few defeats he admittedly faces. Yesterday was the second time Liverpool have ended Chelsea’s hopes in cup competition at the semi-final stage, and it does seem to hurt him. It’s actually unbelievably funny to watch his interviews after losing, especially against Liverpool. Let’s hope we see many more of them, assuming he sticks around much longer.

Jose Mourinho was asked if Liverpool were closing the gap on Chelsea: “In the Premiership they have no chance. Over 40 matches, no chance. Maybe they will surprise me and they can do it. But in 10 matches against us they have won twice. In the Premiership the distance between the teams is 45 points over two seasons.

“We beat them in a final; they beat us in two semi-finals. A psychological advantage? I don’t think so. In four matches in the Premiership we beat them four times.”

When Chelsea were humbled by Liverpool on their way to becoming European Champions last season, Jose said the best team lost. He never got over that defeat, bringing it up months later along with his unilateral decision to disallow Luis Garcia’s goal. He was asked if the best team won again yesterday. What else would you expect him to say? “Did the best team win? I don’t think so.” Yes, Jose is bringing bitterness to the Premiership previously unseen outside Goodison Park. He said of the last half-hour: “In the last 30 minutes we deserved extra time.” Certainly Chelsea were getting back into things, after he made changes to his odd tactics, but they’d already lost the game by then in all honesty. Not for Jose though – it was all even before that: “In the first half nobody was better. They had a good start to the second half but then we dominated the game.”

He won’t wish Liverpool any luck in the final either, further underlining his deep resentment of the side his boss would love him to emulate success-wise: “I cannot wish them luck in the final. Middlesbrough or West Ham will be there and I must respect them. I wish them luck for their qualification match in the Champions League.” Mourinho is relieved Chelsea don’t have to qualify first – he’s not very good in knock-out ties.

Rafael Benitez was asked what he thought about Mourinho not shaking his hand at the end. Benitez was happy with the victory and though and was above taking a cheap shot at the beaten man: “I was with our supporters at the end and I could see him but he didn’t want to. At least we showed the people we can beat them.”

Morale at Anfield is sky high, the players and staff are friends as well as colleagues. They accept the rotation policy and in the main get a fair crack of the whip. Chelsea are rumoured to be one the clubs with the lowest morale in the league, Shaun Wright-Phillips one example of players they buy at a high price yet barely use. Rafa said: “They have a lot of good players but we do too. We have a great team spirit.”

No doubt expecting Mourinho to be complaining about how unfair something or other was, Rafa pointed out one simple fact: “We are in the final. My players have done a fantastic job.”

The Abramovich money has brought Chelsea a lot of players, but no FA Cup yet: “Chelsea are one of the most expensive teams in the world and they have a lot of good players. They played well and we were trying to control them but it is really difficult to control Duff, Cole, Lampard and Drogba and all the players that they have.”

Liverpool Football Club exists for its fans above all else, not as a rich man’s plaything. Rafa, as always, was made-up for the supporters and his players: “I am really happy and delighted for the players, the club and the supporters. It was an amazing game for us. The big clubs are always thinking about winning the big trophies and we are in the most famous Cup in the world. It is really important for us to win.”

Continue reading Crass v Class: Class wins

FA Cup Semi Result: Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2

FA Cup Semi-Final Result
Chelsea 1 (Drogba 70) Liverpool 2 (Riise 21, Garcia 53)
Half-time: 0-1

Chelsea: C Cudicini, R Paulo Ferreira, W Gallas, J Terry, A Del Horno (A Robben, 45), M Essien, F Lampard, C Makelele, N Geremi (D Duff, 62), H Crespo (J Cole, 62), D Drogba
Other subs: P Cech, A Ricardo Carvalho
Bookings: D Drogba 87

Liverpool: J Reina, S Finnan, J Carragher, S Hyypia, J Riise, S Gerrard, X Alonso, M Sissoko, H Kewell (D Traore, 78), Luis Garcia (F Morientes, 82), P Crouch (D Cisse, 69)  
Other subs: J Dudek, D Hamann
Bookings: Carragher 25, Reina 81

Referee: G Poll
Attendance: 64575
Venue: Old Trafford
Continue reading FA Cup Semi Result: Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2