Everton 0 Liverpool 2 – Three points are the point

Sunday, 29 November 2009 – Premier League – Result

Everton 0-2 Liverpool

Liverpool won the derby, closing the gap to fourth place and keeping a clean sheet.

After the despair of this season so far it should have been a massive boost for Liverpool supporters.

And for the vast majority it was.

Derby matches always follow their own rules. Fouls that might attract a lifetime ban will be let go in a derby match. If the two sides are at opposite ends of the table you’ll often not be able to tell. It’s rarely a moment of footballing genius that gets the points and the headlines – it’s more likely to be a dodgy penalty or a goal from someone who “should” have been sent off.

It’s a pity that’s how it is – but that’s how it is. It always has been, and probably always will be. If Everton and Liverpool meet in Europe later in the season it might be different, but with English referees in domestic competitions no player leaves the field without being battered and bruised.

In Liverpool’s case few players entered the field without bruises, strains and painkilling medication. Liverpool went into the match with battered pride, but came out of it knowing they did what was needed.

Were they lucky? At times, yes. The opener came from a deflected Mascherano shot. Pepe Reina fumbled a spinning shot that might have trickled over the line on another day.

But Reina also showed why Rafa is desperate for the club to find the funds to offer him a new contract as soon as possible, a double save from an unmarked Cahill and Fellaini on the follow-up stopped Everton from turning the game into Liverpool’s latest nightmare.

And if the clichés are true about luck evening itself out Liverpool have a fair bit of good luck to look forward to now this season.

It wasn’t the sort of performance that goes on its own DVD in a club’s official shop, well, unless the scoreline is the other way round and it’s the Everton Club Shop. But it was full of encouraging signs. Continue reading Everton 0 Liverpool 2 – Three points are the point

Liverpool win but it’s not enough

Champions LeagueResult

Debrecen 0 Liverpool 1

David Ngog’s early goal was enough for Liverpool to have done their bit on the night – but events in Italy meant it was all academic. Liverpool are now looking forward to playing in the Europa Cup after Christmas, their earlier games in the group putting them there.

The disappointment is massive for Liverpool. To be playing for what used to be called the UEFA Cup is something Liverpool have not done for a long time, and something they have never done under Rafa Benítez.

It means playing on Thursday nights, it means league games getting postponed until the Sunday, it means we aren’t where we want to be. But for those who harp on about how important it is for Liverpool to win trophies, it means they go from struggling outsiders in this competition to, already, favourites in the other one.

The danger in dwelling on the disappointment is that the critics will grumble into the night about this game. But looking at this game alone Liverpool actually won. It might ‘only’ be Debrecen, it might be with the strongest side they’ve had available in some time, but it’s still a win, the start of a winning run if the players’ heads can be lifted in time for the weekend.

From the first league game when Carragher and Skrtel clashed heads until the draw on Saturday when Agger and Babel were off injured early on in the game Liverpool have had an injury curse hanging over them. When injuries weren’t decimating the squad viruses were and even tonight Liverpool still couldn’t put their strongest line-up out, Fernando Torres the biggest missing name.

But Liverpool did win. They did the job they set out to do on the night tonight. Ngog got the only goal, and Debrecen rarely threatened. As time ticked down Rafa clearly felt it was time to protect his lead, substitutions aimed more at wasting a bit of time than creating goals.

If Liverpool can draw a line between Sunday’s draw and tonight’s win, they can label the part before the line as “the bad times”.

Injuries and illness can’t be blamed for all the poor results. But they have played a massive part. Continue reading Liverpool win but it’s not enough

Debrecen v Liverpool Johnson back, Agger starts

Champions League

Debrecen v Liverpool

Glen Johnson makes a return and Daniel Agger is over his bang to the head so Jamie Carragher gets back to his usual spot in the centre of defence. It means Liverpool’s back four is about as strong as it can be in a game the Reds need to win whilst keeping one eye on the other match in the group.

With Lucas and Mascherano starting in their usual central-midfield spots Alberto Aquilani still has to wait for that first start. Fabio Aurelio looks set to play in an advanced role on the left, Kuyt on the right and Steven Gerrard centrally, in support of David Ngog. As always Pepe Reina is in goal.

Debrecen: 1 Poleksic, 10 Bodnar, 17 Meszaros, 21 Fodor, 24 Mijadinoski, 25 Szelesi, 30 Kiss, 55 Szakaly,77 Czvitkovics, 86 Laczko, 14 Rudolf
Subs: 12 Pantic, 16 Komlosi, 6 Ramos, 7 Dombi, 22 Bernath, 33 Varga, 39 Coulibaly

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 Johnson, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 22 Insua, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 12 Aurelio, 8 Gerrard, 18 Kuyt, 24 Ngog
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 16 Kyrgiakos, 37 Skrtel, 38 Dossena, 4 Aquilani, 15 Benayoun, 26 Spearing

Teams – LFC v City: Carra starts at right-back

Liverpool boss Rafe Benitez is still some way from being able to pick his strongest side, but at least today the starting eleven is made of players who play for the first-team on a regular basis.

Glen Johnson isn’t fit, so Jamie Carragher moves across to right-back. But with both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel fit that doesn’t mean Liverpool are short in the centre of defence. Emilian Insua completes the back-four.

Alberto Aquilani still isn’t considered ready for a start, so Lucas joins Mascherano in the centre of midfield.

David Ngog plays in the Torres role, Fernando still missing as he recovers from that hernia injury. He’ll be getting his support from Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard, and also Ryan Babel.

With Rafa Benitez reportedly needing to lose four players in January, reportedly with an eye on the wage bill, these are the times for the players who get their chances to make sure they take them.

On the bench are some of those returning from injury, with Aquilani joined by Albert Riera, Yossi Benayoun and Fabio Aurelio. Nabil El Zhar is also on the bench, back from a long-term injury.

Mark Hughes doesn’t need to worry about lowering his wage bill, and his side features one-time Liverpool target Gareth Barry, who was reportedly paid far more than Liverpool would have paid him had his deal gone through to play for the Reds. It also features former Red Craig Bellamy.

Kick-off is at 12.45pm.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 23 Carragher, 22 Insua, 37 Skrtel, 5 Agger, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 18 Kuyt, 8 Gerrard, 19 Babel, 24 Ngog
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 12 Aurelio, 16 Kyrgiakos, 4 Aquilani, 11 Riera, 15 Benayoun, 31 El Zhar

Manchester City: 1 Given, 3 Bridge, 5 Zabaleta, 19 Lescott, 28 Toure, 7 Ireland, 8 Wright-Phillips, 18 Barry, 34 De Jong, 25 Adebayor, 39 Bellamy
Subs: 12 Taylor, 4 Onuoha, 33 Kompany, 6 Johnson, 40 Weiss, 14 Santa Cruz, 32 Tevez

Referee: Phil Dowd

Lyon v Liverpool: Torres starts, Carra at right-back

Wednesday 4 November 2009 – Champions League

Lyon v Liverpool

One of the myriad of conspiracy theories said Liverpool didn’t really have a stack of injuries for the Fulham game, and that players were secretly rested for this fixture tonight. Well if that was true they didn’t do a good job of resting.

There was a dilemma for Rafa at right-back: Glen Johnson is injured, so is Martin Kelly who came in for Johnson in the reverse fixture and Philipp Degen isn’t registered for the Champions League. So it was a choice between risking youngster Stephen Darby in this high-pressure game, or moving Jamie Carragher out wide into that full-back position he stopped liking a long time ago. Rafa went for the latter and Carragher will of course give it his all.

Thankfully for Liverpool Daniel Agger is fit to start – although he reportedly had to stand all the way to France on the flight over to try and get some respite from his back injury. Agger lines up alongside Kyrgiakos because Martin Skrtel stayed hom with a muscle problem, Emiliano Insua plays left-back.

Rafa hinted that he might start with Alberto Aquilani but the Italian signing is on the bench instead. Lucas and Javier Mascherano start in the middle of the park. Benayoun, Kuyt and Voronin start the game, with the most welcome name perhaps that of Fernando Torres.

All things considered, if Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard had been fit Rafa would have been able to pick more or less his first-choice eleven.

Ryan Babel and David Ngog are both on the bench.

Lyon: 1 Lloris, 3 Cris, 13 Reveillere, 20 Cissokho, 6 Kallstrom, 7 Michel Bastos, 8 Pjanic, 17 Makoun, 28 Toulalan, 9 Lopez, 18 Gomis
Subs: 30 Vercoutre, 32 Gassama, 10 Ederson, 41 Gonalons, 14 Govou, 19 Delgado, 29 Tafer

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 16 Kyrgiakos, 22 Insua, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 15 Benayoun, 10 Voronin, 18 Kuyt, 9 Torres
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 32 Darby, 40 Ayala, 4 Aquilani, 26 Spearing, 19 Babel, 24 Ngog

Referee: Frank De Bleeckere

Kick-off: 7:45pm

Depleted Reds land in Lyon

Liverpool’s injury crisis continues as they arrive in France to face Lyon in the Champions League, and before they left Rafael Benitez spoke about who might make it, who might struggle and who definitely wouldn’t be going.

“Aquilani had a virus,” he said. “He trained today but was a little bit weak, hopefully in two days’ time he will be better.

“Gerrard won’t travel to Lyon. He has no chance. He is improving but we have to wait. Skrtel has no chance. He has a small muscle problem. It’s not too big but he is feeling something.

“Johnson is training and working with the physios but he is a doubt at this moment. He will travel to Lyon and we will see. Agger is improving – he will travel and we will then decide. He felt something in his back but it’s much better now. We have to wait and see how he reacts. Fabio is improving but he still has a small problem in his calf, so we will have to wait.

“Ngog is much better, so he could be available.”

And after a number of critics got carried away over Rafa’s decision to sub Fernando Torres with an hour gone on Saturday, he confirmed that what seemed blatantly obvious was indeed the case. Torres shouldn’t really have played, using him for an hour was a gamble and any longer would have been a serious risk to his long-term fitness.

The manager said: “I was surprised with the critics after the game because Fernando has had problems in the last month after the international games. We are trying to manage because he was close to having an operation. Still this morning, two days after the game, he is feeling something. He is not comfortable. He has not got the power he had before, so we have to manage and try to protect him. He cannot play well if you keep pushing him. Maybe if you push him he will be injured for a long time.”

One of those ex-players who had a pop at Rafa was Jamie Redknapp. The former captain said: “Even the most ardent supporter must question the key decisions at Fulham. If Fernando Torres is fit to play, then he’s fit to play. Very few players in the modern game will be 100 per cent fit for matches. You play with niggles – that’s part of the job.”

The comments seem strange given the injury problems Redknapp faced during his time at Liverpool, some of which kept him out for months at a time. Despite numerous visits to George Gillett’s knee surgeon Richard Steadman in Vail, Colorado, Redknapp eventually had to retire early from the game. Surely he should have some sympathy for Torres, surely he wouldn’t want to see Torres spend months on the sidelines they way he often had to himself.

It was later reported that the Torres injury is an inguinal hernia and that Liverpool have been trying to protect Torres in an attempt to delay the need for surgery.

Rafa was perhaps also right that much of the most stinging criticism comes from people who just haven’t spent a moment looking into the background of the decisions they’re condemning. He said: “I am really surprised with the critics. When you talk about big names, people just analyse the names and not how the player is when he is on the pitch. He was not 100 per cent fit.”

Torres is going to France because Liverpool are stretched, not because he’s fully recovered: “We have to take Fernando to Lyon because we don’t have too many options. We have to keep working with him and the rest of the players.”

Liverpool have 29 players in their Champions League squad, some of whom are eligible via the “B” list made up of youth players and very inexperienced. Daniel Ayala has just been added as a “B” list player. Of the 29 in the squad, only 19 travelled to France today, and some of those have question-marks over their fitness.

The nineteen in France are: Pepe Reina, Diego Cavalieri (missed Saturday with flu), Daniel Agger (missed Saturday with back injury), Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Emiliano Insúa, Jamie Carragher, Stephen Darby, Daniel Ayala, Alberto Aquilani (recovering from a virus, still on recovery from ankle injury, has only played 13 minutes this season), Javier Mascherano, Lucas, Jay Spearing, Damien Plessis, Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, Fernando Torres (struggling with a groin injury), Andriy Voronin and David Ngog (missed Saturday with an ankle injury).

Missing are: Steven Gerrard (groin), Glen Johnson (calf), Albert Riera (hamstring), Fabio Aurelio (calf), Martin Kelly (ankle) and Martin Skrtel (muscle). Andrea Dossena and Nathan Eccleston were both in the squad on Saturday but weren’t on the flight today, presumably having succumbed to that flu virus. Martin Hansen and David Amoo are the other two members of the Champions League squad who didn’t travel.

Nabil El Zhar is another Liverpool casualty, out with knee ligament damage, but like Philipp Degen he wasn’t actually named in the Champions League squad.

Didi: “Ridiculous” to slate Rafa for subbing an unfit player

Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann has spoken out in defence of Rafael Benítez at a time when the manager is under fire from the media and a growing number of fans.

Hamman sent a message to the manager’s detractors: “People calling for Rafa’s head are being very premature. He has been there five years and has improved them every season. Rafa has got everything a top-class manager needs, he will turn it around.”

Didi says Liverpool have got better every year since Rafa arrived: “It’s almost the first time in his five-year period at Anfield where they’ve had a bad spell like this. Every year Rafa has gradually improved Liverpool, every year he has taken them forward.”

He pointed out that there is still a long way to go this season, even if Liverpool’s league hopes are now very slim: “There are still another 27 games left in the league and while I don’t think they can win it after the start they have made, there is plenty of time to get into that top four.”

Continue reading Didi: “Ridiculous” to slate Rafa for subbing an unfit player

Rants at Rafa: Which cups are most important?

If Rafa Benítez started to follow some of the advice – and some of the orders – aimed at him from the press and public he’d find himself running around in circles as he tried to make some kind of logical sense out of it all.

It doesn’t mean all the advice is wrong, or ill-thought-out, although when it comes over as an order rather than advice it’s usually more of a rant than anything of use. Most of the advice falls under a handful of headings, but most of those headings contain advice that contradicts itself.

One of them is his prioritisation of the cups.

This is one that always brings up contradictions. Liverpool start each season entered into four major competitions. Rafa prioritises each competition; so the League Cup is the least of his worries, then the FA Cup, with the League and Champions League treated about the same.

Is it right to place the League Cup at the bottom of the list of priorities? Back when Bob Paisley couldn’t get rid of the damn thing and it was never out of our trophy room the League Cup still held a lot of respect. All 92 clubs would compete for it, the big boys coming in for the two-legged second round.

Later on some top-flight managers, like Alex Ferguson, complained it was causing fixture congestion. They’d play with most of their youth sides and lobbied for a bye to the third round. When this demand was met it freed up two midweek spots in the calendar, handy for clubs playing in the expanding Champions League.

By the time Rafa Benítez arrived at Anfield it was already treated as low priority by teams at the top end of the league system. It was still a trophy that was nice to win, but most big clubs relied on the kids to get them close to winning it. Continue reading Rants at Rafa: Which cups are most important?

Time to stick together as Liverpool bad times continue

When Liverpool lost on Saturday it was in the kind of circumstances that should have afforded the manager some sympathy. But with five defeats out of eleven league games, six defeats in the last seven games, any sympathy is going to be drowned out by the noise from the critics.

The media, and in particular the back pages of the tabloids, always need to have a manager they can stick their claws into and claim is on the brink of losing his job. They find a man who is down, and stick the boot in over and over again. They don’t stop until either his career at that club is killed off or he finds the strength – and results – to fight his way out. At the moment they’ve only got Phil Brown to distract them from their pursuit of Rafa.

There’s also a core pack of critics amongst Liverpool’s support who have been calling for Rafa’s head almost as long as he’s been the boss at Anfield. It’s so long since they started their campaign that it’s unlikely they can remember why it started; they want blood and it’s instinct driving them towards it.

As well as the founders of that group there are the others who joined at different times during his tenure, for reasons that can no longer really be used to justify their constant sniping. They just don’t like the man, even if they protest otherwise, and constantly have to find fault with him to justify their calls for his head.

Times like now are like manna from heaven for them.

It has to be pointed out that this doesn’t apply to all the Liverpool supporters who are critical of Rafa. Some are just following the words they read in the back of their tabloids, they just believe every word they read and take it all at face value. But Rafa is not above criticism, he does get things wrong and some of the more critical Rafa supporters can point this out without losing any balance in what they say. They would happily sit and talk to Rafa and explain their criticisms to him, they could look him in the eye and tell him straight why they think he needs to do certain things a different way, or to stop doing other things altogether.

And if at some point they felt he was getting more wrong than right, that it was time to admit it really wasn’t working out, they could face him, look him in the eye and tell him this.

Those critics are worth listening to. They want Liverpool to win things. They want Liverpool win things. The rest are cowards, bullies even, and they long ago stopped putting the club ahead of their own egos.

If Rafa left now the bullies would consider it a victory, whatever happened to Liverpool after that. Continue reading Time to stick together as Liverpool bad times continue