to turn things around
By Carl Markham - Irish Examiner
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is
backing striker Fernando Torres to end his European goal
drought and fire his side into the quarter-finals of
the Europa League.
The Spain international drew another blank in the 1-0 defeat
in Lille on Thursday night, although that was partly due to
the brilliance of goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.
Landreau produced a superb low save from Torres’ six-yard
header just before half-time to keep the clean sheet which
meant Eden Hazard’s 85th-minute free-kick was enough to
Torres’ record in European competition is nowhere close to
matching his domestic form. In 30 Champions League and
Europa League appearances he has scored 10 times.
He has not found the net in Europe since the 3-1 Champions
League quarter-final defeat by Chelsea at Anfield on April
And you have to go back to his debut season with Liverpool
for his last goal on foreign soil — which was the Champions
League last-16 second-leg winner against Inter Milan in the
San Siro on March 11 2008.
That compares unfavourably with his incredible Barclays
Premier League haul of 51 goals in 75 matches.
A knee operation in January sidelined him for six weeks and
the 25-year-old is still not fully match-fit.
However, Benitez was pleased with Torres’ performance in
Lille and believes could well prove to be the key figure as
they attempt to overturn a one-goal deficit when the French
club visit Anfield next Thursday.
"It was really important to see Fernando fighting from the
beginning because it sent a very good message to the other
players," said the Liverpool manager.
"He was doing well in Lille but it was difficult for him
because they have pace, are comfortable in possession and
going forward are a threat — so we had to defend.
"You cannot defend against a team with this pace too high
because they will get men behind but you cannot defend too
deep because they have ability. So for our defenders to
defend and then go and support Fernando was not easy."
Benitez also defended his star striker after another 90
minutes of frustration eventually resulted in him being
booked for complaining once too often to referee Claus Bo
"It is not easy for him. There were too many fouls and too
many decisions," said the Spaniard.
"I don’t want to talk too much about this because it wasn’t
the difference but with so many referees (the Europa League
have two additional assistants at either end of the pitch) I
think they should do better sometimes."
Benitez expects his team to have to do all the running in
the return leg at Anfield as he believes Lille will be less
offensively-minded with a 1-0 lead to protect.
"I think they will wait, try to play counter-attack because
they know they have pace," he said.
"We know a clean sheet will be important for us but to score
one, two or three goals will be necessary."
Lille boss eyes Anfield goal
By Jamie Casey - Sky Sports
Lille coach Rudi Garcia believes his side
will have to score at Anfield if they are to knock Liverpool
out of the Europa League.
The French side heaped further misery on the Reds' shambolic
season with a 1-0 first-leg last-16 win in Europe's
secondary club competition at the Metropole Stadium on
Garcia insists, though, that his team is not set up to
defend for a draw and he admits they will travel to England
in search of a goal to help their quest towards the
"We are not a team set to play for 0-0. I believe we will
have to score to get through," Garcia told L'Equipe.
"The most important thing was to keep our chances of
qualification after the first match, and that result has to
give us some trust."
Garcia admits his side allowed Liverpool chances to take
something away from the game, but hailed goalkeeper Mickael
Landreau for keeping the Reds out with a number of vital
"We played without any complex," he added. "Liverpool put a
lot of defensive intensity. We had to take care of the
counter-attacks and we did it well, even if they had some
"But we had a great keeper. We would be wrong to not believe
in a possible feat against a big European team."
Garcia is wary of the threat Rafa Benitez's side are capable
of and has pinpointed their woeful form this term with key
duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres missing chunks of
"Liverpool is a great team of Europe," said Garcia. "We know
they were a little less as good this season in the absence
of Gerrard and Torres."
Highly-rated goal hero Eden Hazard grabbed the only goal of
the game as his free-kick delivery evaded everyone in the
box to creep in at Pepe Reina's far post.
The Belgian teenager admits his good fortune with the goal,
and backs his manager's opinion that the French side must
find the back of the net at Anfield.
He said: "I was lucky. But I hope my goal will remain
indelibly printed - if we can get qualification. During the
return leg we will have to play fast and score at least one
can still go through
Javier Mascherano is confident the chances
they created in their Europa League defeat to Lille proves
Liverpool can turn the tie around.
Confidence in the squad has taken a blow after a woeful
performance in losing to Wigan on Monday and although they
lost 1-0 in northern France it was a much-improved display.
In many ways conceding in the Stade Lille Metropole - which
was almost an inevitability considering Les Dogues had found
the net in all-but one of their last 21 matches at home -
makes little difference to next week's second leg.
Eden Hazard's 85th-minute free-kick means Liverpool have to
score if they want to progress and Mascherano insists that
is far from beyond them.
"We have a chance to come back at Anfield so I think I am
confident we can do it," said the Argentina captain.
"I think it was totally different game to the one at Wigan.
The team was working very hard and we didn't deserve to
"Against Wigan we did not play well and did not create
"But it is Europe. We conceded a foul and he took a good
free-kick and it was a good goal for them.
"The pitch was not the best in Lille but it was the same for
them so it is not an excuse.
"But I will repeat, it is half-time and we have a chance to
change things at Anfield.
"We created a lot of chances but couldn't score. The most
important thing was we had the chances.
"Hopefully we can score at Anfield. We have done it before
and we can do it again."
The situation has similarities with when Liverpool faced
their first French opponents in Europe - St Etienne - back
in 1977 when they trailed 1-0 heading after their European
Cup quarter-final first leg.
A now legendary night at Anfield saw substitute David
Fairclough snatch a goal six minutes from time to beat the
French champions 3-1 for a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.
On that occasion they went on to be crowned European
champions for the first of what turned out to be five
The prize is not half as glamorous this time around but how
Benitez, his players and the fans would welcome a repeat
the badge of goner?
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
There was something missing at Liverpool’s
Europa League match last night – and I don’t mean an aerial
challenge at a set-piece – again!
Eagle-eyed Echo reader Anthony Howarth contacted us to ask
why Liverpool haven’t worn their UEFA Badge of Honour
against Unirea or Lille.
Like the stylish gold star sported on the chest of World Cup
winners, the oval blue badge is a symbol of the highest
Only clubs who have won the European Cup three times in a
row, or five times overall, are granted the privilege of
being able to wear the Badge of Honour.
But Liverpool’s has been missing in their three Europa
League ties to date.
Are the Reds embarrassed to be playing in Europe’s second
Have the players come out in a rash with the colour blue
being so close to their skin?
Or have the badges simply come off in the wash?
After all, Ajax wore their badge in their Europa League ties
against Juventus this season, while AC Milan and Bayern
Munich wore their badges with pride in last season’s UEFA
But a Reds spokesman has explained that Liverpool are
playing it strictly by the book.
“We asked UEFA about the badge and were told it was a
European Cup/Champions League badge of honour, and as such
should not be worn in the Europa League,” he said.
“We can’t speak for Ajax’s decision or any other clubs, but
we’re following the rules.”
So there you have it.
Liverpool will only sport the UEFA Badge of Honour in
Champions League matches.
There’s an awful lot of Reds fans out there praying we get
to see that little blue badge again in September...
Benitez stays positive
despite Liverpool FC setback
Rafa Benitez insists his side can still
progress in the Europa League despite a 1-0 defeat in their
last 16 first leg against Lille.
Winger Eden Hazard curled an 85th-minute free-kick over the
Liverpool defence and past a static Jose Reina inside the
far post just when it seemed the visitors had weathered the
But it could have been far worse had substitute
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot not hit the post and gone
wide late on.
Benitez had called for his players to show Monday’s defeat
to Wigan had been an aberration and he felt they had done
“It was an improvement from the last game. The players’
reaction has been very positive,” said the Reds boss. “I am
disappointed with the result but really pleased with the
effort of the players. They were fantastic today.
“It was against a good team on a difficult pitch. The
reaction has been good.
“I think Lille started really well. We knew they had pace –
you can watch videos but until you see them on the pitch you
don’t see the pace they have.
“It was difficult to stop them but little by little we had
“When we had that control and were going forward we conceded
And he added: “When you play away you have to score when you
have chances. To score an early goal you can manage the game
but we worked hard.
“To have two or three chances to score and then concede a
free-kick, we have to be positive.”
Rafa's Reds hit a
Hazard in Lille
Lille winger Eden Hazard's late goal
inflicted a 1-0 defeat on Liverpool in the first leg of
their Europa League last 16 clash in France.
The visitors appeared to have survived a testing examination
by Les Dogues only for Hazard, who had been a threat all
night, to curl in an 85th-minute free-kick.
Despite being territorially dominated Liverpool had the best
two chances with Ryan Babel shooting too close to Mickael
Landreau and Fernando Torres' header being brilliantly saved
by the goalkeeper in the first half.
However, the scoreline was no real surprise as The Mastiffs,
as Lille are known, had scored in 20 of their previous 21
games at the Lille Metropole.
Their impressive record has seen them lose just once at home
in Ligue 1 since the opening day of the season on August 9,
with only one defeat in 17 home European fixtures.
For Liverpool - unbeaten in France since a 1-0 Champions
League defeat to Monaco in November 2004 - it was the worst
possible result coming so soon on the back of a woeful
performance at Wigan on Monday.
Their difficult task was outlined to them in the first
minute as Lille came out in no mood to admire their more
illustrious opponents as Yohan Cabaye forced Jose Reina into
a save within 38 seconds.
One of the most intriguing battles was between winger Hazard
and Emiliano Insua, who was destroyed on a regular basis by
Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia.
The 19-year-old Belgian struck an early blow by skipping
past his opponent and drilling a cross through the six-yard
area but no team-mate was close enough to take advantage.
Lille were more Arsenal than Wigan in their approach -
despite their heavily-sanded patchy pitch - and passed the
ball around with ease to often leave their opponents chasing
However, for all their possession they looked like they were
missing top scorer Gervinho, the Ivorian who was sidelined
Bizarrely, Liverpool had the best two chances of the first
Babel should have given the visitors the lead in the 26th
minute after a neat exchange with Torres but shot too close
to Mickael Landreau and the goalkeeper deflected the effort
with his legs.
Hazard was proving Lille's best outlet and his cross saw
Pierre-Alain Frau deflect a shot over after being pressured
by Jamie Carragher.
Gerrard responded with a dipping 35-yard strike just over
Landreau's crossbar before, in the 41st minute, Landreau
produced a brilliant low save to repel Torres' close-range
header from Johnson's deep cross.
Hazard had the ball in the net soon after half-time but was
Liverpool at least began the second half better than they
had the first and six minutes after the restart Lucas
volleyed Torres' headed flick-on wide.
Lille, by contrast, had lost some of their attacking verve
as they were drawn into a more attritional contest unsuited
to their style.
On the hour Babel had a fierce shot parried away by
Landreau, before Insua was booked for a foul on Hazard as he
threatened to break away.
Five minutes later Reina allowed a long-range shot from Frau
slip through his fingers but fortunately for the Liverpool
goalkeeper it ballooned behind for a corner.
Torres was then booked for his persistent complaints to
referee Claus Bo Larsen.
Cabaye drilled a dipping strike inches over Reina's crossbar
before he was replaced by Stephane Dumont, with Albert Riera
coming on for Babel with 17 minutes remaining.
Hazard went down in the area under Carragher's challenge
with seven minutes to go but Larsen waved away protests.
However, a minute later the winger made sure when he curled
in a free-kick which missed everyone in front of Reina, who
could only watch as the ball crept into the far corner.
And it could have been far worse had substitute
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's shot not hit the post and gone