Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kuyt Hero

Last Gasp Winner Sends Liverpool Into Champions League

UEFA Champions League Qualifier

1 - 0 Standard Liege

It was yet another insipid performance from Liverpool and no surprises, a last-gasp winner from Dutch striker cum defensive winger, Dirk Kuyt. 3 games in and 3 different heroes. It all reaped the same rewards….Wins for Rafa’s men in Red.

But Liverpool fans must be thinking when will performances such as this end.

Against the Belgian champions, Liverpool once again looked listless and though they did play at a good tempo, the Reds just didn’t look sharp at all and the lack of width is apparent. That must be a real worry as Rafa Benitez will have to come up with a solution as time runs out with the transfer window coming to a close soon.

The partnership of Torres-Keane was once again disappointing and fruitless. Robbie Keane was eventually replaced by Nabil El-Zhar, who once again put up a decent performance on the flank and had a concrete penalty appeal turned down.

Torres looked off-coloured and was kept in American defender, Oguchi Onyewu’s pocket the whole night. His night was epitomized by the attempt to cross which ended straight in the Kop End and out for goal-kick.

Kudos to Standard Liege, who put up a fight and not only were they stoic in defence, their attack also caused Liverpool much trouble, Without Pepe Reina’s heroics, Liverpool would’ve been finished off in that 90 minutes.

Last weekend’s hero, Steven Gerrard, was unable to come up with the usual spectacular style as he too found himself crowded out and spent much of the game as a peripheral figure. Xabi Alonso had some genuine attempts on goal but it was just not good enough.

With Gerrard and Torres unable to weave their usual magic, Liverpool toiled and laboured in vain. There was no penetration from the flanks while the narrowness of their attack made defending so much easier for the away side.

Even with the introduction of Ryan Babel, his usual move of cut-in-and-shoot wasn’t effective. He replaced Yossi Benayoun, who had a torrid time and was largely ineffective.

Yet ironically, it was the 2 wide men who gave Liverpool the win and an estimated 10million GBP windfall. Babel was the architect of the move as he whipped in a powerful left footed cross and another Dutchman was on hand to connect with it and sending the Kopites into raptures.

A huge collective sigh of relief from the home fans as they were already preparing for a nerve-wrecking penalty shootout.

Dirk Kuyt’s goal scoring record was never much mentioned as he isn’t prolific at all but his commitment to the club was never in doubt and if one day Rafa needs him to play in goal, he would.

He was the hero for the day and with that, Liverpool embarked on yet another enthralling journey towards Rome, where the finals of this season’s UEFA Champions League will be held.

The road to glory this season starts with a path that gives the déjà vu feeling plus a tinge of familiarity. Once again, we’re drawn with French giants, Olympique Marseille, and PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands.

An interesting team was drawn out from the 4th pot and it was Atletico Madrid, former team of Fernando Torres. We will also welcome back out former heroes in Luis Garcia and Florent Sinama-Pongolle plus world class players such as Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez.

It is indeed an unfavorable draw for Liverpool as on paper, it looks really tough. But I can’t wait to see how the group stages will pan out and the intriguing encounters with Atletico.

The draw will be difficult and put our credentials to the test. But I’m sure the Reds will come through fine.

Champions League Draw:

Grp A
CFR Cluj

Grp B
Werder Bremen
Anorthosis Famagusta

Grp C
Shaktar Donetsk

Grp D
PSV Eindhoven
Atletico Madrid

Grp E
Man Utd

Grp F
Olympique Lyonnais
Bayern Munich
Stueau Bucharest

Grp G
Dynamo Kiev

Grp H
Real Madrid
Zenit St Petersberg

Monday, August 25, 2008

Scousers To The Rescue

English Premiership

Liverpool 2 - 1 Middlesbrough

LIV - Carragher (85min), Gerrard (90min+4);
MID - Mido (72min);

Faithful Kopites had to endure yet another eventful roller-coaster ride at Anfield as The Reds saw a match that is mixed with the unexpected and the familiar.

Well, when Liverpool are down and out, the one person they’ll rely on to drag them out of the miry pits would be none other than Steven Gerrard. He scored in the last kick of the game and handling Liverpool all 3 points. That’s familiar. Check.

Liverpool always needed a kick up their bottom before going into full-throttle. Ahmed Mido scored in the 70th minute, punishing the listless and disinterested Liverpool with a fantastic left foot shot which left Pepe Reina hapless. Yet at the end of the 90 minutes (or rather, 94 minutes), it was all joy for Rafa Benitez while all Gareth Southgate could do was to bury his face in his hands. A comeback, that’s familiar. Check!

Surprise of all surprises, though, is seeing Jamie Carragher scoring for Liverpool, at the right end of the pitch. The veteran defender who has played 500 odd games for the Reds had only previously scored 5 goals and his goal-scoring trait, or the lack of, has been made a frequent joke by the fans. A team of Carragher, any one?

Though his goal was rather fortuitous, a deflected shot just outside the penalty box, it still left many fans at Anfield amused yet delighted. There’s probably no greater joy than seeing Carragher scoring at the Kop End. That was all it needs to spark a late Liverpool surge which ultimately underlined the doggedness and character of this Liverpool team.

But the result shouldn’t be a distraction to how disappointing Liverpool looked again. 3 games into the start of the season and it seemed like the men in red didn’t look like they’re anywhere prepared or gelled properly.

Here, patience should be the key, bar a major catastrophe.

The much anticipated partnership of Keane-Torres still didn’t seem to have any sparks but there are some positive points to take note of as they put aside the horror partnership show last week at Stadium of Light and come up with some decent link-up plays and showed basic understanding.

It’s like how you and your partner started off. Before you guys knew you’re meant for each other, you begin with basic friendship were trust is built and both of you trying to work out on the area of communication.

Still early days for Robbie Keane but he does need to produce soon due to the heavy price tag and the huge expectation.

Elsewhere, take nothing away from Middlesbrough and their stoic defence. They have always been a pain in the a*$ for the ‘Big 4’ teams as they seemed to be always driven and motivated to steal points and break momentum.

The only reason why nobody really fancies them to break into the ‘Upper 6’ would be that they fail to bring the drive and passion into games against seemingly inferior opponents. They could very well beat Man Utd on their day but would lose to Wigan next.

Arriving at Anfield, Southgate had a game plan set and it was to frustrate Liverpool and at the same time, tries to steal a goal and watch them collapse. It worked… half of it actually.

They limited Liverpool to only a few chances, with Kuyt coming closest to scoring. The Dutch striker has been deployed in an unconventional right-wing role and looked lost at sea most of the time. Shame.

Without a proper left winger, Rafa resorted with using Yossi Benayoun and however talented the Israeli playmaker can be, he’s still more effective on the right and his constant cutting in narrows down the formation. He did leave more spaces for Andrea Dossena to run into but the Italian defender didn’t look particularly comfortable going forward. A benefit of doubt there, maybe he’s still trying to find his feet.

Last game’s hero, Xabi Alonso, was this game’s zero as he saw the game passed him by and his mistake ultimately led to Mido’s goal. He didn’t seem to be able to cope with the pace of the game and his partnership with Gerrard in the middle of the park failed to produce any spark.

Maybe Mascherano is more pivotal to the Liverpool side than we initially thought. His absence so far has destabilized the Reds a little and with the Olympic gold medal in hand, he should return to England with a fine spirit and renewed hunger.

Despite all the shortcomings, Liverpool still managed to grab all 3 points with the help of the 2 local heroes. Depending on which coloured specs you’re wearing, you could see it either as a warning to Liverpool or them playing like Champions.

We know how Chelsea and Man Utd won the league titles in past years. Play badly but win ugly. Yet I do not expect Liverpool to play at such level for long as they really do need to pick up the tempo and begin to build momentum. This is a marathon and so far, the start has been good on paper.

But they need to look good on eye to appease us as well!