Bitter blue-nose Alan Stubbs, on the losing side at Anfield again on Saturday, couldn’t resist a dig at the European Champions afterwards.
The former Everton defender was an Evertonian growing up, and so it is no surprise to find he has a dislike of the Reds. A proposed move to Blackburn fell through early in his career because Rovers would not sign the player on his own – they would only sign him with Jason McAteer. When McAteer chose to go to Anfield instead Stubbs was desolate, and his hatred for the Reds increased significantly. Last season Stubbs was challenged by Milan Baros in a tackle that was certainly late, but by no means as bad as the former Celtic defender tried to make out. His exaggeration of injury at Anfield came back again on Saturday. He was clearly trying to get a fellow professional – Steven Gerrard – sent off after lying on the ground outside the box looking like he needed an ambulance. Seconds later, realising the referee wasn’t going to fall for it, he was up and running as well as he was at the start of the game.
There’s no doubt that Liverpool’s performance on Saturday was not of as
high a standard as manager Rafa Benitez would have liked, but the Reds
got the three points, in the wake of midweek internationals – a sign of
improvement over last year, when they’d have probably got just the one
point from the game. Stubbs tried to play down his play-acting after
the clash with Gerrard, and moved on to criticise Liverpool’s European
Cup win. He said: "I don’t think anyone thought they were going to win
the European Cup, and you have to be honest about that. It was a
disappointing year for them in the league to finish out of the
Champions League places and pressure is now on for them. Whether they
can challenge the big two, I cannot see it. But they will do better
than last season. When you have the players that Liverpool have, you
would have expected them to do better than last year."
Sunderland have only just returned to the top-flight, and the Reds boss
Benitez had warned the players to be wary of them as they might be
stronger than expected. Stubbs was pleased with his team’s
performances: "Liverpool looked a bit riled at times and they knew it
was not going to be easy. Other than the goal, our keeper has not had a
save to make. We are happy with the performance, but not the result.
Playing at Anfield was an eye-opener for many of the younger players
and a lot of it is to do with concentration."
What Liverpool did lack was a second goal. One goal ahead for
three-quarters of the game, the Reds were always in control, but there
was always the feeling that Sunderland could pull off a shock and get
an equaliser. Benitez admitted that the second goal would have made
things more comfortable: "I was worried because we were winning but we
needed the second goal to kill the game. We created some chances but I
was trying to put pressure on the team and keep them at a higher tempo
as I thought they were relaxing a bit. Sometimes you can score from bad
shots, but we created clear chances but could not score. We must
continue creating chances and hope it’ll be better next time."
In fact Liverpool did create a lot of chances: Djibril Cisse had a goal
dissallowed for offside (TV replays showed the linesman had made a
mistake and the goal should have stood) and numerous other chances went
narrowly wide or over. As Liverpool saw the weekend before at
Middlesborough, some days the shots just don’t go in. Whilst Chelsea
managed to get three points yesterday against Arsenal with the early
contender for fluke-goal of the season, Liverpool’s luck wasn’t really
in. Benitez said that the three points are what matters: "I wanted to
play with the two strikers and the likes of Gerrard behind them getting
into the box. We needed to change in the second half and made a few
changes and I think we controlled the game better. The most important
thing after not playing well was that we still took all three points. I
was a little disappointed that we didn’t score more goals but at the
end we had three points and are still unbeaten without conceding in the
league so far."
With the transfer window closing next week, Liverpool are still trying
to tie up some deals – both in and out – and strikers are the focus of
attention from outside the club. Milan Baros is set to join Aston Villa
or Lyon if a deal can be agreed, and Cisse is the subject of
speculation about a move away from Anfield. Michael Owen’s return to
Anfield is still on the cards, although the game of poker is still in
the early stages as Real and Liverpool try to out-bluff each other.
Rafa won’t deny interest in Owen, but will defend his current strikers:
"It is too early to be frustrated by a lack of goals and a performance
like that. Coming straight after an international week it is only the
win that is important. It is hard to find players with fresh legs. For
them to play 90 minutes for their country and then come straight into
another high tempo game is not easy. I used Cisse on the right wing but
that is not his position. That is why I am looking for a right winger."
After the game Rafa also announced the reason for bringing Steven
Gerrard off. Gerrard had played practically the whole friendly for
England during the week as they crashed to a 4-1 defeat, and perhaps
the tiredness from this contributed to him picking up an injuiry. Rafa
said: "Gerrard had a slight calf problem and so we decided to bring him
off as a precaution. He will have a scan tomorrow and we will see what
the problem is. He has felt something. I don’t think he can play
against CSKA Sofia on Tuesday night but hopefully he can come back into
the side against CSKA Moscow on Friday night for the Super Cup final."
In fact yesterday the club’s spokesman, Ian Cotton, confirmed what Rafa
had feared when he said: "Steven had a scan which showed a strain in
his right calf. He will definitely miss Tuesday’s game. Regarding his
involvement in the Super Cup, we will have a better idea later in the
week." New signing Peter Crouch could be fit for the game on Friday
though, after being out with a hamstring injury.
Prior to playing CSKA Moscow on Friday, the Reds have a European Cup
qualifier to play against and CSKA – CSKA Sofia. Liverpool are ahead
from the first leg, during which Sofia fans were clearly heard aiming
racist chants at Djibril Cisse. UEFA’s observer at the game heard the
chants and reported the club, who have been given a fine of almost
£14,000 by UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body.
Meanwhile, back on the stikers-in-and-out front, Marseille president
Pape Diouf spoke of how he’d be glad to get a chance to sign Djibril
Cisse. He said: "If such an opportunity came our way then we would
seize it. But the cup is still a long way from our lips."
One of the reasons for the link is because Liverpool are looking for a
centre-back, and Marseille centre-back Abdoulaye Meite has reportedly
been tracked by the Reds.
French champions Lyon denied rumours linking their current coach and
former Reds coach Gerard Houllier with a swoop for Cisse, but they did
make a bid of £8.5million for Milan Baros. This despite Liverpool’s
valuation of the player being widely quoted as £7million. Aston Villa
were the hot favourites to sign the player last week, but as of now
have still not met the asking price. The future for Baros is getting
Another Reds striker linked with a move away from Anfield – on a
temporary basis at least – is Florent Sinama-Pongolle. An important
player for the future, the French youngster bounced back to fitness
last week scoring and impressing all in a reserve match against
Everton. If Rafa Benitez feels it would server the club better to let
the player go out on loan this season then he’ll tell him so, but he’s
not likely to go to the club that have declared their interest in the
player. Scottish Premier side Aberdeen are reported to be interested in
the player, but this seems unlikely. With all due respect to Aberdeen,
they are one of the lesser lights in the two-horse Scottish league, and
Flo would do better to play in England.