After The Match 


Liverpool-Fiorentina 1-2 (1-0)           9.12.09                      CL
Goals: Benayoun (43)     Jorgensen (63), Gilardino (90)
Team: Cavalieri, Darby, Agger, Skrtel, Insua, Benayoun, Mascherano, Aquilani, Dossena, Gerrard, Kuyt
Subs: Torres (Kuyt 65), Pacheco ( Aquilani 76),
Aurelio (Mascherano 86)
Not used: Reina, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Spearing
Yellow: Montolivo (66), Gilardino (90)
Red: None
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)
Attendance: 40.863
Shots on target: 2-7
Shots off target: 5-3
Blocked shots: 3-0
Fouls conceded: 7-14
Corners: 9-7
Offsides: 7-6
Possession: 58.2-41.8
Yellow: 0-2

HEADLINES "The Europa League
means nothing to Liverpool."
Graeme Souness
1012: More to come from Liverpool's Little Prince
1012: Benitez: Reds' season starts now
1012: Souness worried for Reds
0912: Gerrard: Campaign not good enough
0912: Reds beaten as Viola top group 

More to come from
Liverpool's Little Prince

Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Echo

There has been a banner in the corner of the Kop this season saluting the arrival of Alberto Aquilani.

It proudly states ‘Il Principino – A Hero Has Arrived’ and depicts the Italian as a gladiator ready for battle.

It’s been about the only chance Liverpool supporters have had to see the lesser-spotted midfielder at Anfield over the past four months.

However, last night they finally got to have a proper look at the player dubbed the ‘Little Prince’ by the Roma fans who adored him.

This is who Rafa Benitez deemed worthy of splashing half of his summer transfer kitty on. The man tasked with filling the massive void created by Xabi Alonso’s move to Real Madrid and transforming a miserable campaign in which one crushing setback has swiftly followed another.

Aquilani didn’t set the world alight on his full Liverpool debut, but his promising 75-minute display at least provided some much needed cheer on another European night which had a bitter late twist in the tale.

Since the 25-year-old made the switch from Roma in a £18million deal back in August and signed a five-year contract he’s had to endure one long tale of woe.

Rehabilitation following the ankle surgery he underwent back in May took much longer than anticipated.

Then a virus handed him another setback, while his bid to prove to Benitez he’s in good enough physical condition for action has been painfully slow going.

Last night’s first start arrived some 124 days after he first signed on the dotted line and seven weeks to the day since he pulled on a red shirt for the first time in a reserve team fixture against Sunderland.

The combined sum of his first team career since that run out at Prenton Park had been 25 minutes with a late cameo at Arsenal in the Carling Cup followed by even briefer outings against Birmingham and Debrecen.

Benitez has not so much wrapped his prized signing in cotton wool as put him in polystyrene blocks and covered him in bubble wrap.

The message from the manager had been clear. He wouldn’t risk a player who wasn’t match fit in finely balanced games.

Benitez believed it wouldn’t do Aquilani or the team any favours.

Games against Everton and Blackburn were deemed too tight and too physical for him so he was left kicking his heels on the bench and told he needed to build up his fitness.

To his credit, Aquilani has remained patient and kept his thoughts to himself but his father, Claudio, recently revealed the family’s frustration and insisted: “The only way he can get truly fit is to start games.”

Benitez finally set him loose last night and there were flashes of star quality.

It was a glimpse of the future as Lucas was given the night off and Aquilani was paired in the middle of the park with Javier Mascherano. The pair appear to complement each other perfectly.

A sweetly struck pass to countryman Andrea Dossena eased any early nerves and then Aquilani just failed to climb high enough at the back post to convert Emiliano Insua’s deep cross.

His movement was clever and he expertly drifted into space to pick up Dirk Kuyt’s pass before being out-muscled in the box.

There was some classy touches and he spread play intelligently. One delightful back-heel into Steven Gerrard’s path midway through the first half turned defence into attack.

Aquilani also showed he’s not shy of a tackle with a couple of tasty clashes with Riccardo Montolivo, while his only sight of goal resulted in his 30-yard scorcher being blocked.

In the second half he faded but with so little football under his belt that was hardly a surprise. The standing ovation when he was replaced by Daniel Pacheco with 15 minutes to go was richly deserved.

Of course, this wasn’t the most testing of examinations for Aquilani against a depleted Fiorentina side in a dead rubber.

A subdued atmosphere hung over Anfield all night and the only sense of anticipation surrounded the chance to see the new boy.

It was ironic that having been tempted to make the switch to Merseyside by the prospect of being involved in famous European nights, he would start off by appearing in one that meant absolutely nothing.

Aquilani has returned too late to save Liverpool’s Champions League campaign but he has a crucial role to play in ensuring they take part in next season’s competition.

The past four months have given him plenty of time to study the physical and frenetic nature of Premier League football.

A run of just three wins in the last 14 games says it all. The Reds are in desperate need of inspiration and creativity and they need Aquilani to provide it.

Benitez: Reds' season starts now


Manager Rafael Benitez hopes the culmination of Liverpool's Champions League campaign can lead to "the beginning of a new season" for the Reds.

Liverpool were out of the competition before final Group E game against Fiorentina at Anfield, but the manner of the 2-1 defeat summed up their whole Champions League campaign this term.

Benitez has now seen his side concede three damaging late goals - in both matches against Lyon, and now Fiorentina. That has cost Liverpool dearly as the French and Italian sides move on into the last 16.

Liverpool are destined for the Europa League, and they have now been told by UEFA that they will not be seeded in that competition.

Benitez said: "The result and the way it happened just about sums up our Champions League campaign. Another last minute goal, and we are disappointed with that for the third time in this group.

"We are still trying to see the positives, we are playing better and we must now must take that into a very important game at home to Arsenal. It is the beginning of a new season for us now, I hope.

"We will not be seeded in the Europa League, we must cope with that and be strong to handle what ever comes our way now.

"Now we must be ready for the next game on Sunday. We worked so hard, we had chances, so they are the only positives that we can take from the game."

Boss Benitez was happy, though, with the full debut of £20million midfielder Alberto Aquilani, and the return from injury of Fernando Torres.

He said: "To see Aquilani, to see Torres, those were the real positive things for the next match and the rest of our season.

"Aquilani showed his quality, his touch was good. His vision and passing were good, but obviously he will have to work on his match fitness.

"Everyone is available for Sunday, if he trains well he could well be involved against Arsenal.

Souness worried for Reds

By Carl Markham - Press Association Sport

Former Liverpool captain and manager Graeme Souness fears the club could go into "meltdown" after they finished their Champions League campaign with their lowest points haul.

A stoppage-time 2-1 defeat to Fiorentina at Anfield left Rafael Benitez's side, who were already unable to progress to the knockout phase, with just seven points from six matches.

And although they will now drop into the Europa League, with their Barclays Premier League form also disappointing there is a real danger they could not be involved in Europe's top club competition next season.

Souness, who won the European Cup three times with Liverpool, captaining them to victory in 1984, has grave concerns about what failing to progress in the Champions League this season could mean for his club.

"I fear they are in meltdown. If they don't reach the Champions League next year the best players won't want to play for Liverpool," he said.

"That would be the first time in as long as I can remember. They are hundreds of millions of pounds in debt and they need a new stadium to keep up with the rest and just stand still.

"Every year they are dropping off the pace so they need a new stadium.

"If they don't get to the Champions League the banks will be knocking on the door wanting to replace the income stream that the Champions League would give them.

"All those scenarios are frightening for Liverpool supporters.

"I can't see them becoming a Leeds United because I think there will always be someone out there, whether it be a Russian or someone from the Middle East, who deep down is a big fan and would get them out of a hole - a saviour if you like."

Souness said the priority now must be securing a top-four place in the league despite the lure of silverware elsewhere.

"I think there is real danger. They have to look at the second half of the season," he told Sky Sports.

"The Europa League means nothing to Liverpool. I'm a Liverpool supporter and I would love them to finish in the top four and win the Europa League and FA Cup.

"But if there was a choice of those three it would be to finish in the top four.

"If you are looking to move your club forward you have to encourage the best players to come to your club.

"If they are not in the Champions League that won't happen because you won't have the same income coming into the club.

"If you are already in debt the banks will put pressure on Liverpool because they want money from somewhere to lessen the debt they have right now."

Gerrard: Campaign not good enough


Steven Gerrard admitted Liverpool's Champions League campaign was "not good enough" after they ended it with a 2-1 home defeat to Fiorentina.

Yossi Benayoun's glancing header gave his side the lead shortly before half-time at Anfield but Martin Jorgensen equalised with a low left-footed shot in the 63rd minute and Alberto Gilardino snatched a winner two minutes into added time.

Gerrard told Sky Sports 2: "If you look at the whole campaign, it was not good enough from our point of view but now we need to try to qualify for the same competition next year.

"It wasn't our strongest team but we gave a good account of ourselves.

"We were a bit unlucky to lose in the end.

"There was not much in it as far as points were concerned. It was just about getting this game out of the way and trying to get good preparation for the game against Arsenal on Sunday."

With the Reds having already failed to qualify for the knockout stages the only positives from a lacklustre encounter were a 76-minute run-out for Alberto Aquilani and the return from injury of striker Fernando Torres after a five-match absence.

Gerrard took heart from the performance of summer signing Aquilani.

"He's done well," said the skipper. "It's going to take him a while until he gets up to speed as far as match fitness is concerned.

"But the boy's a player, there's no two ways about it. He sees a pass, he's on the same wavelength and I have no doubts he'll turn into a fantastic player for this club."

On the prospect of playing in the Europa League, Gerrard added: "It's another cup to try to win. The final is at Hamburg, a fantastic stadium. We'll try to win it now."

Reds beaten as Viola top group


Liverpool's miserable Champions League campaign ended in defeat as they were beaten 2-1 by Group E winners Fiorentina at Anfield on Wednesday.

The visitors grabbed a late winner through Alberto Gilardino in the second minute of added time to clinch top spot.

Looking at the positives, Liverpool started with Alberto Aquilani at last - and Fernando Torres returned from a groin injury for the final 25 minutes.

Yossi Benayoun's first-half header gave Liverpool hope in a game they largely controlled, but defensive uncertainty gave Martin Jorgensen the chance to drive home the equaliser in the second period.

Fiorentina, aware that Lyon were hammering Debrecen, realised they needed to win to make sure of top spot in the group, and they piled on some belated pressure.

It paid off and Liverpool were to suffer yet another late goal disaster. It had happened in both games against Lyon, and now Fiorentina struck to steal their win in injury time.

Substitute Juan Vargas set up Gilardino for a fierce finish that sent the Fiorentina fans wild, and the club's coaching staff into delirious jigs of delight.

Liverpool rested Jamie Carragher, Jose Reina, Glen Johnson and Lucas and would have left out Dirk Kuyt had David Ngog not been taken ill earlier in the day.

Youngster Stephen Darby had a rare run-out at right-back, while Italian defender Andrea Dossena was used in the unlikely role of left-midfield.

The Italians, already secure in the last 16, were missing Stevan Jovetic, their most exciting attacker who scored both goals in their 2-0 home win over Liverpool in September.

The Montenegro international failed a late fitness test on an ankle injury which meant Fiorentina fielding only three of the starting line-up from the first match.

Another of Liverpool's support cast, second-choice goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri was soon into action as he raced from his line to block Cesare Natali's run onto a weak Daniel Agger back pass.

Aquilani was neat and inventive, but Liverpool failed to create anything significant before their Brazilian goalkeeper saved well from Lorenzo De Silvestri and Riccardo Montolivo to keep his side on level terms.

The game, sometimes with almost a testimonial feel about it, meandered on towards the break before Liverpool found themselves ahead after 43 minutes.

Manuel Pasqual's foul on Steven Gerrard gave the Liverpool captain the chance to lift a free-kick towards the near post for Yossi Benayoun to flick a header back into the far corner, despite Sebastien Frey getting a touch on the effort.

Liverpool dominated the early stages after the break, but were punished for poor judgement by Martin Skrtel, who allowed a cross-field pass to drift past him.

Darby was left facing two attackers, and could do little to stop captain Martin Jorgensen driving home the equaliser after 63 minutes.

Torres had been standing on the touchline waiting to come on while all this was going on, and he eventually arrived before the restart for Kuyt.

Benitez maintains that with Torres fit, Liverpool would never have been in the position of European also-rans. Torres tried his best to prove the point with some fine runs.

There had been occasional glimpses of Aquilani's talent, but he was taken off to give reserve striker Daniel Pacheco his debut.

The 18-year-old is rated very highly by Benitez, and joined Torres in an all-Spanish front pairing.

Fabio Aurelio replaced the hard-working Javier Mascherano near the end, with Fiorentina searching for the crucial winner that would win the group.

It arrived in added time and left Liverpool with their worst-ever Champions League group points tally.

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Thor Zakariassen ©