End of the season, not the end of the world

One of the worst seasons in Liverpool’s history off the field has now ended in pretty awful circumstances on it.

Liverpool’s last two league games make no difference to their position, which is stuck in fourth place as the team not quite up there with the top three, pretty much how it’s been for too long now.

One way or another the ownership situation needs to be resolved and Liverpool need to stop being in the headlines because of stupid spats and spin.

Liverpool went into this game knowing one goal from them would give them the confidence and sap Chelsea’s. Chelsea scored first in a first half that they’d dominated. But when Liverpool took over the second half and got an equaliser it looked like Liverpool could do it, could get a second goal and get through.

But it was Liverpool’s stuffing that got knocked out of them. Extra time came along and a Chelsea goal was disallowed, fairly, for offside. But seconds later Chelsea were in front. Hyypia brought down Ballack in the box, and with Frank Lampard on the field there weren’t going to be arguments between the German and Didier Drogba over who was going to take it. Lampard, still mourning his mother’s death sent Reina the wrong way.

Hyypia himself should have got a penalty. Replays showed him clearly brought down in the box, with the referee raising the whistle to mouth as if to award the penalty, before fulfilling Rafa’s prophecy about him being something of a homer.

When Drogba got his second it was all over. 3-1 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate, Liverpool couldn’t come back.

Ryan Babel’s goal three-and-a-half minutes from time raised faint hopes – at 4-3 a single goal from Liverpool would see them through – but Fernando Torres, scorer of Liverpool’s first, top scorer at the club in his first season, was on the bench.

The five minutes of stoppage time in the first game had ended with an own goal from Riise that made this tie have a different complexion to what it would have had, but there was no such length of time to be added onto any of the four halves played tonight.

A lot of fans were worried about trouble in Moscow had Liverpool got through to play there against their bitter rivals Manchester United, but none of those fans actually wanted their team not to get through. To picture “big ears” in the hands of Didier Drogba or Christiano Ronaldo isn’t something that sits easy in the mind in any way shape or form. Chelsea v Barcelona would have been far easier to watch.

Replays showed a player offside for Drogba’s opener, Sami Hyypia should have been given a penalty to make up for the one he gave away, but Liverpool know these things happen, they know they’ve got to find something to make up for nights where the referee and his officials make mistakes.

Bad luck played a part too in other ways. Martin Skrtel put a brilliant tackle in on Didier Drogba early in the game and didn’t recover. He was replaced by Hyypia, who wouldn’t have been on the pitch to give the penalty away otherwise. And using a sub early in the game limited Rafa’s options for tactical changes.

But Rafa’s choices with the options he had seemed strange to say the least.

With two subs left to make, and a need to score, Ryan Babel would have expected to be next on, but instead it was Jermaine Pennant, on for Yossi Benayoun who was one of Liverpool’s brightest players, and the provider of the Fernando Torres goal that finally broke that duck for Rafa’s sides at this ground. Continue reading End of the season, not the end of the world

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.

Rafa answers Warnock as Reds get ready for Chelsea

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez says he’s going to get some legal advice in response to claims made by Neil Warnock about his team selection against Fulham last season.

Warnock’s side Sheffield United were relegated last season when, despite having lost far too many games over the course of the season, Rafael Benítez ensured they went down by not picking his strongest team.

It was of course all Rafa’s fault, Warnock having planned the season down to the finest tiniest detail and having expected Fulham to lose against the Reds. Instead his plans were in tatters. After not expecting to have to win their last to avoid the drop he found that his team had to win it after all. In fact they only had to avoid defeat – a draw would do. It was in their hands, but that wasn’t the point – Warnock expected Rafa to make his side safe, and he let him down.

So on the last day of the season it was pretty much down to Sheffield United to guarantee their own safety. Stop Wigan, and they were safe with Wigan down in their place. Warnock also knew that West Ham United could go down instead if they lost against Manchester United, but he’d began to start thinking that other teams weren’t willing to help him. They weren’t – United beat United as expected, just not the actual United everyone had expected.

And the other United in this story, the Sheffield one, lost 2-1. Relegated on goal difference. Equal points with Wigan, but one goal worse off. Continue reading Rafa answers Warnock as Reds get ready for Chelsea

Anyone would think a big game was coming up

How that great mind must have ticked over all day and all night as the day grew closer to Chelsea’s latest semi-final with Liverpool.

The two sides have been drawn together in Champions League semi-finals for three out of the four seasons Rafa Benítez has been in charge. In the other season they met at the group stage instead, and also had an FA Cup semi-final.

But the Champions League semi-finals have been particularly heartbreaking for Chelsea. In 2005 Luis Garcia scored a goal that to this day haunts the then manager Jose Mourinho. He mentioned it just about every time they played Liverpool, claiming it was never goal. He said it hadn’t crossed the line, and even though no replay exists to show if it had or hadn’t, he kept insisting it had been kept out. He kept quiet about the other option the referee had – had he not awarded the goal he’d have sent off goalkeeper Petr Cech and awarded a penalty.

In 2007 it went to penalties, and Liverpool went through.

So now, with two days to go, it was time to try and unsettle the Liverpool squad, manager, and fans. After all, we’ve nothing else on our minds.

And what a masterstroke it was. Surely nobody would see through it. The job fell to Joe Lovejoy, of The Sunday Times, ably assisted by the headline writer.

The headline was a masterstroke: “Chelsea line up summer bid to snatch Steven Gerrard from Liverpool.”

Already the smiles from Saturday’s win were starting to fade. Surely not?

The article began: “Chelsea will make a third attempt to sign Steven Gerrard from Liverpool if, as expected, Frank Lampard leaves at the end of the season.”

Oh no! Here we are about to play Chelsea, and now we find our captain’s off to join them in the summer again. He had a bit more: “Jose Mourinho, Chelsea’s former manager, was twice out of luck when he tried to buy the Liverpool captain. However, fortune may well smile on his successor, Avram Grant.”

Maybe there’s something in it though. Look at how much his value goes up per year: “Gerrard almost joined Chelsea in June 2004 for £20m, and again 12 months later, for £32m, after the Anfield captain reacted to the interest by submitting a transfer request.” So, we’re talking about his value going up by £12m a year, so the £72m is going to come in handy.

Hang on, can we stop him leaving? Joe has a clue for us: “He only changed his mind after his family received death threats and a fan burned his replica shirt live on Sky TV.” Continue reading Anyone would think a big game was coming up

Mourinho wants Chelsea to beat Reds

A different kind of enemy to Liverpool fans has just reappeared on the scene, and it’s almost a welcome sight.

Up until around six months ago the mention of the name Jose Mourinho was sure to raise some angry and disgusted mutterings from just about any Red. But since then he’s left Chelsea, and Liverpool fans have new targets for their angry and disgusted mutterings.

No doubt he still hasn’t got over the goal from Luis Garcia. The one that crossed the line according to hundred of independent witness wearing Red shirts in the main stand. The one that hadn’t according to
Luis Garcia scores the goal Mourinho hatedthe independent witness wearing a somewhat ruffled look that night, claiming later: “The linesman scored the goal. No-one knows if that shot went over the line and you must be a hundred percent.” We were.

Mourinho’s not in charge now, but knows who he wants to win: “I don’t know who will win. I think always between big teams the result is a question mark. I want Chelsea.”

He also wants them to win the league: “Mathematically it’s possible. I want them to win. Yes, for the fans, for the players, yes, for the friends I have in the club. And when I say friends I include the board. I have no problems with Peter or Roman. I always support my friends.”

Good loser? Jose MourinhoAvram Grant wasn’t happy with the squad Mourinho left behind, but Mourinho’s response was to the point: “I don’t care what Avram Grant says.”

It’s nice of Jose to back his old club. The last time a former Chelsea manager backed his successor for success against Liverpool in a Champions League semi it was the Reds who got to the final. Back in 2005, Claudio Ranieri said: “I think Chelsea have more chances because they are used to being in this position but they must be careful. Liverpool are strong in the Champions League.”

How right those words turned out to be. The bit about Liverpool being strong, rather than who would get through.

And we all know what happened next.

CL Result – Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2 (Agg: 5-3)

UEFA Champions League QF 2nd Leg – April 8th 2008 – Result

Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2 (Agg: 5-3)


Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard (speaking to ITV): “That was possibly one of the worst performances I’ve ever put in in a Liverpool shirt, but I still had the confidence to score the penalty.

“That’s up there with them (previous big nights at Anfield) Arsenal are a fantastic team. A times today, they passed us of the pitch. In the end we’ve come through, it was a great team performance tonight.”

Asked if Liverpool deserved to win: “It’s difficult to say because it would be unfair on Arsenal, but over two legs, as I’ve said before, we’re a match for anyone. If those fans perform like that, it’s a big help to us and other teams find it impossible.

“We’ve got some big games coming up but we’ll be ready for Chelsea.” Continue reading CL Result – Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2 (Agg: 5-3)

CL: Reds v Arsenal – Crouch starts

Rafa Benítez might just have caught Arsene Wenger out with his team for tonight, he’s certainly caught most fans out. The 4-3-2-1 formation seems to have been put to one side for the time being, with Torres looking likely to be partnered by Peter Crouch.

Carragher is right back; Aurelio left back; Hyypia and Skrtel starting in the centre of defence ahead of Pepe Reina. No real surprises there. But it’s more uncertain just how the players will line up ahead of that.

Of course Carra could be one of three centre-backs with Aurelio playing a more advanced role.

Alonso and Mascherano are likely to play centre-midfield, but it’s still not certain where Gerrard and Kuyt will actually line up. Continue reading CL: Reds v Arsenal – Crouch starts

Gillett fancies a pint for his trouble

Take your cameras with you to the pub tonight if you’re one of those lucky enough to be enjoying a pre- or post-match pint either side of the game.

George Gillett is rumoured to be planning a visit to the Albert.

It seems to be all part of an orchestrated campaign to recover his reputation with fans.

We all heard his claims recently that after months of being a willing seller of his half of the club to Tom Hicks he’d now changed his mind after receiving death threats. He took the death threats seriously enough that in fear of the lives of his wife and family he was going to go back on multi-million-pound business deal.

So now he’s off to the pub to mix with the very people that might have been making those death threats he spoke of.

The only two reasons he gave for now refusing to sell to Hicks were the death threats, and that Hicks had run out of time.

Yet it’s hardly a secret that when he finally found the means with which to convince the banks to allow him to sign for his half of the £350m club debt he did so at the absolute limit of his financial means. He was already said to be pushing himself close when he took out his half of the original £298m borrowed for the original takeover, but pre-credit-crunch he still had some room to manoeuvre. By the time the duo were speaking to the banks about the renewal of that deal, he was getting short shrift. His assets weren’t even close to the value they had been listed at when that first loan was agreed. Continue reading Gillett fancies a pint for his trouble