CL: Chelsea v Reds – Benayoun in for Babel

The Liverpool side for tonight’s semi-final with Chelsea sees one unexpected face chosen to start. Rafa Benitez has left Ryan Babel on the bench, starting with Yossi Benayoun instead. Babel on the bench suggests Rafa is thinking of using Babel to make an impact in the second-half if needed.

He still seems likely to go with what has become the usual formation – four at the back (Carra and Skrtel are the centre-backs, Riise and Arbeloa the full-backs) – two in central midfield (Mascherano and Alonso) – and Gerrard, Kuyt and in this case Benayoun attacking, with Fernando Torres up front.

Frank Lampard returns for Chelsea after missing his side’s weekend game following the death of his mother. Drogba starts for Chelsea, with eyes on him to see if he falls down for good reasons or otherwise. Joe Cole has been a thorn in Liverpool’s side before and also starts.

Liverpool have to score tonight – and if they do the pressure goes on Chelsea instead. If there’s a winner on the night then that winner goes through to Moscow, a 0-0 draw sees Chelsea through, a 1-1 draw would go to extra time and penalties, any other draw would see Liverpool through. Liverpool’s lack of goals in recent seasons at Stamford Bridge is a record under threat, this is the first time Fernando Torres has played there.

Chelsea fans will be waving their free flags, with Chelsea staff waving the larger ones to avoid putting too much strain on their supporters. Liverpool fans will be bringing their own flags and banners, if the Chelsea staff don’t stop them, and will wave them all by themselves.

Chelsea: 1 Cech, 5 Essien, 6 Carvalho, 26 Terry, 3 Cole, 10 Cole, 13 Ballack, 4 Makelele, 8 Lampard, 21 Kalou, 11 Drogba
Subs: 23 Cudicini, 7 Shevchenko, 12 Obi, 15 Malouda, 33 Alex, 35 Belletti, 39 Anelka

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 6 Riise, 18 Kuyt, 14 Alonso, 20 Mascherano, 11 Benayoun, 8 Gerrard, 9 Torres
Subs: 30 Itandje, 3 Finnan, 4 Hyypia, 15 Crouch, 16 Pennant, 19 Babel, 21 Lucas

Referee: Roberto Rosetti

Passion, effort and skill wins games, not statistics

Champions League semi-final second-leg at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool up against Chelsea, the fourth game in a row in this competition that the Reds have faced English opponents. And if they win, they’ll make it five in a row after Manchester United came through against Barcelona last night.

As tempting as it is to talk about Liverpool’s chances in Moscow against Manchester United, that talk should be saved for now. Tonight is going to be difficult, but far from impossible. But the focus has to be on tonight.

We have to score. 0-0 would see us go out, as of course would any defeat. And we’ve not scored at their place in years. So that’s it then. Enjoy the day out, better luck with the draw next year.


We can do this.

That is about the only stat in Chelsea’s favour. If stats really mattered, if stats decided games, we’d probably not need to turn up tonight and the club could book its hotel now.

Thankfully football isn’t decided on the contents of John Motson’s match notes, but it’s worth giving a quick nod to a couple. This is the fourth season in a row we’ve faced Chelsea in a major semi-final – and it was us who made it through each time. The only other time we faced them in any major semi-final was in 1965 – we won then too. 1965 was the last year we had a problem in a European Cup semi-final, going out to Inter Milan in controversial circumstances to say the least. Since then we’ve had seven semi-finals – and we’ve gone through to the final every single time. All three of Chelsea’s three European Cup semi-finals have ended in heartbreak.

Chelsea hadn’t ever scored a European goal at Anfield until John Arne Riise’s own goal in the 95th minute last week.  Of the seven meetings between the two sides in this competition Liverpool have won the most times, twice to Chelsea’s once, with four games being drawn. Continue reading Passion, effort and skill wins games, not statistics

How long left? Ownership battle drags on.

The battle for control of Liverpool Football Club seems to be gathering more momentum in the media than it is in reality, with no real sign yet of any change in position from any of those involved. To summarise, Hicks says he won’t sell and wants to buy; Gillett says he wants to sell but not to Hicks; Dubai say they are going to buy the club soon.

Last week saw Rafa speak of a positive meeting with Tom Hicks over transfers, and although the Spaniard did point out that co-owner George Gillett and CEO Rick Parry were aware of what was said, he made it clear they didn’t attend the talks. Further hints from Rafa suggested the transfer budget would be minimal, but despite that he spoke of being happy he could get the targets he wanted. Time will tell if he’s happy it can make a difference to a league challenge, or just happy that when the names are revealed, nobody will expect a league challenge.

Any chance of increasing that budget depends on the resolution of the ownership situation. Only a takeover leaving one party with a controlling interest would see the transfer budget boosted.

No change.
This is where the club still finds itself – in a position of no change. Although some aspects of the club’s operations can continue during this stand-off, it’s still not able to operate as it could under the control of one entity. Continue reading How long left? Ownership battle drags on.

Result: Birmingham 2 Liverpool 2

A far-from first-choice Liverpool side came back from two goals down to earn a point against Birmingham today, a comeback inspired by Jermaine Pennant against his old club.

Liverpool are now nine points above Everton in fourth place, with the Reds’ neighbours 15 goals worse off, meaning Liverpool have all-but secured a place in next season’s Champions League Qualifiers. Everton have to win all three of their remaining fixtures and Liverpool have to lose both theirs, and all those matches would have to won and lost by a gap averaging more than three goals each game.

The team Rafa put out was picked with Wednesday night’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea in mind. Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt were unused subs, Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres not even in the 16.

Liverpool’s side had nine changes in all, but Chelsea weren’t afforded the same chance to rest players in their fixture today, where they claimed a late victory over Manchester United in the league.

After the game Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez said: “The team was controlling the game in the first half but we conceded a goal that changed things a bit. The second goal gave them more hope and we needed to score and did so. Continue reading Result: Birmingham 2 Liverpool 2

New Stadium moves closer, again

A report in today’s Liverpool Echo suggests the latest version of plans for Liverpool’s new stadium should get approval next week.

Computer rendering of New Anfield (v3)This is the third set of plans submitted to the council so far, looking cosmetically at least very close to the second set announced in July, and although “downgraded” from that version, still far superior to the version that became known by many as “The Parry Bowl”.

The planning department have looked at the latest set of plans and have changed the status to “recommended”. The next step is for the planning committee to look at the recommendations and decide whether or not to grant approval.

The first version of the stadium was announced in 2002, with a message that it was hoped it would be open by 2006, but definitely in time for the 2008 Capital of Culture year. Instead, Paul McCartney will be performing his summer gig for the 2008 event at Anfield. Continue reading New Stadium moves closer, again

Rafa hails “positive” talks on transfer plans

Rafael Benítez spoke today about the meeting he had with Tom Hicks and his son Tom Jnr at Melwood yesterday, and sounded very pleased with the outcome. Much will be read into what Rafa had to say, and how it clearly shows where his loyalties lie with regards the ownership situation. Except it doesn’t. He’s not being drawn in public one way or the other. He’s never said he’s felt in an awkward position when talking to Hicks, he’s never said he’s felt Hicks is the only option.

When Rick Parry received a letter from Hicks recently in which he was asked to resign, the reasons given included some that could easily have been written by Rafa. But these were long-term concerns of Rafa’s, going back to the days before the new owners arrived. In Rafa’s mind Rick Parry kept messing up his transfer moves, and although the Hicks letter was probably the first detailed public acknowledgement of the problem, it was well-known amongst supporters.

Despite the speculation over new ownership of the club, which is a two-way fight between DIC and Tom Hicks, time is ticking on and it is important to keep day-to-day business ticking over, which at this time of year concerns transfers. Rafa had mentioned after the Chelsea match that he wanted to talk with the owners and Rick Parry.

Today he said: “You know we have two owners and a chief executive. We need to progress – my responsibility is to prepare the squad for the future and to improve the squad. So, I had to talk to them. We have had a very good, positive, meeting.” Continue reading Rafa hails “positive” talks on transfer plans

Condolences to the Lampard family

After some earlier confusion the sad news has now been confirmed that Frank Lampard’s mother passed away today.

Condolences go from AnfieldRoad and I’m sure much of the LFC community as a whole to the family of Pat Lampard, who had been in hospital for ten days before passing away from pneumonia, aged 58.

As well as being Frank’s mother, she’s also former Reds midfielder Jamie Redknapp’s auntie, sister-in-law to Harry Redknapp, her husband is Frank Lampard Snr, of West Ham fame.

Frank Lampard had missed two league games to be with his mother from when she was first admitted to the Whipps Cross Hospital in north-east London on 14 April. But with her showing signs of improvement he took the decision to return to training, which he did on Sunday, and appear for his side at Anfield in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.

His club Chelsea said in a statement: “The club will be offering all the support it can to Frank and his family at this time. Pat was a very familiar face to many people at Chelsea FC. Her unswerving support for her son’s career was evident at virtually every game that Frank participated in regardless of where it was being played.

“She would always be there to watch him with Frank’s dad. Pat will be deeply missed by everyone at Chelsea.”

Lampard’s agent said: “Frank and his family would like to thank all the people that have inundated them with wishes of support. Frank would also like to acknowledge and say thank you for compassion shown to him by manager Avram Grant and all staff at Chelsea FC during what has been a terribly traumatic period for him and his family.”

Reds boss Rafa Benitez joined in the condolences: “It is difficult for him, especially before these important games. He has our sympathy because for him this is very, very bad news. Some of our players are mates with him from the national team, so everyone feels the same.”

Chelsea have three vital games in succession, Tuesday’s tie at Anfield was the first, with the second leg next week still to come and a clash with Manchester United in between. But Lampard felt his appearance on Tuesday would be with his mother’s blessing: “She follows me up and down the country so, knowing her, she would’ve had a right go at me for not playing this game. So that was in the back of my mind,” he said after the game.

“We’re very similar,” he said. “Quite sensitive, quite shy. Mum’s been the one who shaped me as a person — how to treat people, manners, that kind of thing.She’s brilliant and was always there for me and my two sisters, whatever we wanted to do.”

No matter what the rivalries might be between Chelsea and Liverpool, this isn’t the time to air them.

Our thoughts are with Frank and the rest of his family in what will obviously be a devastating time for them.

CL Result: Reds 1 Chelsea 1

For 94 minutes at Anfield tonight Liverpool controlled and at times dominated a match that Chelsea just seemed unable and unlikely to ever get back into. The indicated four minutes of time added on had already passed, the seconds were ticking on and Chelsea had a throw in. Then John Arne Riise had a moment he’ll never forget. But for all the wrong reasons.

Riise headed the ball into his own net from about two feet off the ground. He’ll never be able to explain why he did it.

Hopefully it’ll be the comedy clip on the end-of-season DVD, a gaffe forgiven after the second leg result made it irrelevant. But first Liverpool have to lift their heads and put the disappointment away. They deserved to win this game, they made life difficult for Chelsea, and if they play the same way at Stamford Bridge they’ll be in Moscow in a month’s time. The timing of the goal devastated Liverpool’s players and fans.

Liverpool had led 1-0 from just before half-time, when Dirk Kuyt’s perseverance saw him hit the back of the net, the ball passing under the body of the Chelsea man-of-the-match, goalkeeper Petr Cech, on its way in.

Cech had to work hard to keep Chelsea in it, making saves from the likes of Gerrard and Torres. Reina had barely touched the ball all night.

The goal Chelsea have is an away goal, meaning Liverpool have to score or they’ll go out. Torres was battered tonight by John Terry, who got away with more than would normally be expected in a European tie. Continue reading CL Result: Reds 1 Chelsea 1

CL Semi: Teams: Reds v Chelsea

For the third time in four years the Reds play host to Chelsea in a Champions League semi-final, but for the first time in those meetings it’s the first leg at Anfield.

Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio are the full backs either side of Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel, with Sami Hyypia on the bench.

And that, really, was the only part of Rafa’s line-up anyone was likely to guess over, injuries permitting.

Pepe Reina is in goal, on the day he said he couldn’t imagine life at Anfield without Rafa. Mascherano and Alonso are the two-man midfield, behind that row of three featuring Marcus Babel, Dirk Kuyt and the fit-again captain Steven Gerrard. In front is Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s number nine.

Chelsea start with Malouda, a name that might be looked back on in years to come as integral to the ownership situation, given that he was a target allegedly lost due to the slowness of CEO Rick Parry, the frustration felt by Rafa ultimately leading to bigger problems for the board than they might have imagined. He also won a penalty in bizarre fashion after throwing himself at the nearest Red shirt, enough to convince Rob Style in the game that saw Fernando Torres open his Reds account.

It’s a big match, but it’s only part one.

And off the field Tom Hicks, Tom Hicks Jnr and Mrs Hicks are there already, with Foster Gillett expected, alongside his guests Ms Staveley and Mr al-Ansari of DIC.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 12 Aurelio, 18 Kuyt, 14 Alonso, 20 Mascherano, 19 Babel, 8 Gerrard, 9 Torres
Subs: 30 Itandje, 4 Hyypia, 6 Riise, 11 Benayoun, 15 Crouch, 16 Pennant, 21 Lucas

Chelsea: 1 Cech, 20 Ferreira, 6 Carvalho, 26 Terry, 3 A Cole, 8 Lampard, 4 Makelele, 13 Ballack, 10 J Cole, 11 Drogba, 15 Malouda
Subs: 40 Hilario, 7 Shevchenko, 12 Obi, 21 Kalou, 33 Alex, 35 Belletti, 39 Anelka

Referee: Konrad Plautz

“Sick” Gillett invites DIC to distract.

George Gillett, high-and-mighty in his condemnation of Tom Hicks last week, has shown how hypocrisy works Colorado-style. It was Thursday evening in the UK when Gillett came forward with his views on the Hicks interviews that had aired throughout the day on Sky Sports News.

“Here we are, a few days away from a vital Champions League semi-final match and Tom has once again created turmoil with his public comments. Tom should stop.”

It was already a hypocritical statement to make by the owners of the Gillett-Evernham NASCAR outfit. Gillett had created turmoil of his own the month before when he came out of lengthy hiding to tell the world he could no longer work with Tom Hicks, that he’d received 2000 emails a day from fans telling him how much they hated Tom Hicks, and that he’d had death threats warning him not to sell to Tom Hicks. He’d done it just two-and-half days before a vital league match that Liverpool had to win to make sure Champions League qualification for next season was in their own hands. So he was a fine one to talk.

But tonight the news has come out that, if true, will trump any of his previous actions.

According to the Press Association, the Canadiens’ owner has invited the leveraged-buy-out investment arm of Dubai Holdings, Dubai International Capital, to Anfield tomorrow night. Better known as DIC, they failed to exercise an exclusive right to buy the club in January last year for a little over £200m including debt, reportedly on principle, but are now trying to spend over twice that amount, with reports ranging from £400m-£550m as the price they will pay. Continue reading “Sick” Gillett invites DIC to distract.