title chase is over
Liverpool striker Peter Crouch has
admitted his side have not been good enough to mount a
serious Premier League title challenge this season.
Crouch has found it difficult to break into manager Rafael
Benitez's first team since the arrival of Fernando Torres in
the summer but struck in the 88th minute to hand his side a
2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Monday night.
That result was the latest in a bad run at Anfield this
season as the Reds have failed to turn some lavish summer
spending into a marked improvement in the league.
And while Steven Gerrard has moved to lay some of the blame
on the uncertainty surrounding the club's American owners
and the long-term prospects of Benitez, Crouch insists the
current side should be performing better regardless.
"With the squad we have at Liverpool, the gap to the top
three is certainly too far. We felt before the season we
would mount a serious challenge, but that doesn't appear to
be the case now," he said.
"We've fallen a long way behind and, like Stevie said, it's
not good enough. There's enough talent in the dressing room.
"We've got a good set of players here. Whether it's good
enough to win the title, I don't know, but we certainly
should be doing better than the position we are in right
The England forward, who is attracting interest from former
club Portsmouth in the transfer window, now believes the
club's main target is to maintain their place in the top
And he wants the players to achieve that aim despite the
off-field speculation regarding a possible bid for Liverpool
by Dubai International Capital as rumours over Benitez's
"It's nothing to do with the players. We've just got to
concentrate on the job out on the pitch and we're still
positive in the dressing room," said Crouch.
"First and foremost now we have to cement a Champions League
spot for next year, that's the minimum and that's what we
have got to strive for."
Anfield crisis starts to deepen
Liverpool's future is reaching crisis
point as their American owners run out of time in their
desperate fight to retain control at Anfield.
And the bitter reaction of the Kop during the 2-2 draw with
Aston Villa could have a telling influence on the futures of
Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
With city sources claiming that the American co-owners have
hit a hitch in their bid for a restructuring of their loan
agreement with the banks, the battle for Anfield would seem
to have reached a key moment.
Such was the animosity towards the Americans at Monday
night's game against Villa, it is hard to see - due to
security reasons - how they can ever appear again in the
Anfield directors' box.
And there was even talk at Anfield of the stadium plans
having to be delayed again, such is the lack of cash.
Waiting in the wings are Dubai International Capital (DIC),
who are believed to be waiting with a £350million offer.
The speculation about the club's future has been growing
despite Hicks releasing a statement on Sunday.
In it he insisted he remained "fully committed" to his role
as Liverpool co-owner, denying he has been involved in
discussions with DIC over selling his stake.
It read: "I have not received any offer to purchase the club
from the DIC or anyone else, much less accepted any such
offer. Nor do I have any intention of doing so.
"Whoever is behind this false report, the facts are that I
and my family have always been, and remain, fully committed
to co-owning the club; that no-one in my family has ever
indicated any intention or desire to sell our stake in the
club; and that we expect and intend to be co-owners of the
club, and to actively and enthusiastically support the
club's manager, players and fans for many years to come."
Matters have come to a head almost a year since a Liverpool
board meeting in a Canary Wharf hotel, a couple of hours
ahead of a 2-1 win over West Ham, which virtually pulled the
plug on DIC's initial bid, with the board opting instead to
sell to the Americans.
That same night the bemused DIC party sat behind Liverpool
chairman David Moores and chief executive Rick Parry at
Upton Park, knowing that their deal had collapsed only hours
earlier. The Dubai group formally withdrew their bid 24
Now Liverpool's next league match is, coincidentally, at
West Ham - again on January 30.
By then Hicks and Gillett may have had to accept a bid to
buy the club.
Under-pressure boss Rafael Benitez will hope by then to see
his side safely into the FA Cup fifth round, with non-league
Havant and Waterlooville next up at Anfield on Saturday.
Commenting on the draw with Villa, Benitez said: "Nobody can
say that the players do not want to try, they certainly do.
"It is difficult for me to explain how I feel, you know my
English. But I am very, very disappointed. Especially
because you can see how the fans react.
"They are magnificent to the team, to me, and we owe them
some good games and some good victories.
"Now we have a cup tie with a non-league team, it will be a
great occasion for everyone but maybe we can score some
goals to give us confidence."
Benitez is well aware that skipper Steven Gerrard has blamed
the off-pitch crisis for Liverpool's fading form. The Villa
draw means they have thrown away 15 points at home this
season and won just four of 11 matches at Anfield this term.
Liverpool are now in fifth place, two points behind
neighbours Everton with a game in hand. The two teams clash
at Anfield on March 29 in what could become a showdown for
the fourth Champions League slot.
Benitez remains steadfast behind his players, adding: "It is
difficult to explain to people what is wrong. We were much
better than Villa, creating chances and should have killed
"We used to have problems playing away from home, now we are
very good in that situation but we cannot win enough at
"We are creating chances and still we cannot win two or
three games in a row."
He added: "We deserved to beat Villa, no question. But we
must analyse why we didn't.
"If you are not creating chances, then something is wrong.
But we are creating them so we must work out why we are not
finishing games off.
"We were much better than Villa, we are not being faced by
teams who have worked out how to play against us.
"If we were not playing well then we would have to change
everything, but that is not true. We are playing well, and
we must keep going.
"I will not think about the top of the table, I will not
talk of conceding anything. We must work to be fourth, and
then try to get higher.
"We must be realistic, though, and talk about being in the
top four now.
"What was positive is that the team continued working hard
right to the end after what had happened. Peter Crouch
scored a fine goal and we certainly deserved that."
out at unstable Reds
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard says
speculation over the club's ownership and the future of
manager Rafa Benitez is affecting the players on the pitch.
Liverpool lie fifth in the Premier League after a 2-2 draw
at home to Aston Villa and are 14 points adrift of
Manchester United and Arsenal.
Gerrard said: "It's not just this week, it's been going on
for some time and it's certainly not helping the players.
"I've got to be careful what I say, but it's certainly not
helping the team."
Liverpool have come under intense media scrutiny in recent
weeks after prolonged speculation over Benitez's future and
the management direction of American owners Tom Hicks and
Last week, Hicks revealed he had spoken to Jurgen Klinsmann
in November about the possibility of taking over from
Benitez, before the German agreed to become Bayern Munich's
new coach at the start of next season.
The revelation followed a very public spat between Benitez
and the Americans over the Spaniard's transfer policy.
BBC Sport understands Dubai Investment Capital is preparing
a bid to buy the club from the American duo, who took charge
less than a year ago.
Supporters at Anfield on Monday chanted and held up banners
in support of Benitez, while also asking for Hicks and
Gillett to sell the club to DIC.
Gerrard added: "We know what's going on, but as players
you've got a job to do on the pitch and you try to put
what's going on off the pitch to the back of your mind.
"But sometimes it's impossible, when it is every day."
O'Neill disappointed not to win
By Ben Blackmore - Setanta Sports
Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill said he
felt disappointed after coming away from Liverpool with
a 2-2 draw.
Villa led with three minutes remaining thanks to Marlon
Harewood’s strike and a Fabio Aurelio own goal, before Peter
Crouch pegged them back.
O’Neill recognised a point was a good outcome for Villa, but
he could not hide his disappointment that they had not
secured a win.
"I'm very disappointed to concede so late on - you'll allow
me that - but on the balance of play a draw was a fair
result," O'Neill told Setanta Sports.
"At half-time I thought we had to step it up a bit. We
always had a chance but we hadn't played to our normal level
in the first-half.
"I thought we gave them a little too much respect but we
weathered a storm and were always in the game, we got the
equaliser and pushed on.
"I'm pleased we've got something to show for our efforts and
are battling on. If you come to Anfield you'd say you've
done well to leave with a point, although there is still
that tinge of disappointment.
"Liverpool are a fine side and are capable of winning ten
games on the trot. But we are still learning, but we have to
try and learn quickly."
Rafa rues missed chances
By Lee Brown - LFC Official Website
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has lamented his side's
failure to kill off Aston Villa after a late Peter Crouch
equaliser saved them from a defeat that had looked unlikely
at half time.
Yossi Benayoun's 19th minute strike had put the Reds in the
driving seat before Villa scored twice in the three second
half minutes, but Rafa believes his team should have already
been out of sight.
"We were controlling the game and creating all of the
chances, but we needed to score the second goal to kill the
game off," said Benitez.
"If we'd have scored the second goal I'm sure we'd have
scored more because we were playing well.
"I told the players after the game that if you can't kill
off the game you will give the other team hope and that was
what happened. They were waiting for a free kick and they
scored from two set pieces.
"We had the chances to win, but we didn't take them and in
the end you have to be happy because we could have lost."
Substitute Crouch netted to earn Liverpool a share of the
spoils but Benitez believes he was right to start with Dirk
Kuyt up front.
He said: "We have played some games with Crouch and more or
less it's the same situation.
"Kuyt is always around, he's always creating chances for
himself. Maybe if you use another player he will have these
"For me, if we were using Voronin, Crouch or Kuyt it is more
or less the same situation."
rescue late draw
Peter Crouch scored just two minutes from
time to salvage a 2-2 draw for Liverpool against Aston
Liverpool had taken the lead on 19 minutes when Yossi
Benayoun slid in ahead of Martin Laursen to poke the ball
home after his initial effort had been saved by Stuart
The Reds dominated the rest of the first half and the
beginning of the second, but they were made to pay for a
series of missed chances as Villa turned the game on its
head in the space of two minutes.
Martin O'Neill's side had created nothing until substitute
Marlon Harewood drew them level in the 69th minute with a
spectacular overhead kick.
Olof Mellberg's volley was then deflected into his own net
by Fabio Aurelio and it looked as though Villa would
withstand Liverpool's late onslaught until Crouch struck.
Reds boss Rafa Benitez fielded arguably his strongest side
against Aston Villa - one of the club's main contenders for
fourth spot - in a match which had plenty at stake.
There were six changes from the side that beat Luton in the
FA Cup last week. Javier Mascherano was back in central
midfield, Jose Reina returned in goal and new signing Martin
Skrtel was on the bench.
Aston Villa were without the influential Gareth Barry for
the first time in almost four years - the England man missed
out with a pelvic injury.
Mellberg returned, while Scott Carson was ineligible under
the terms of his loan from Liverpool. Taylor took his place.
As expected there was a high-profile display of support for
Benitez from the Kop.
The fans were struggling to focus on the match itself. But
they needed too, and fast.
Villa were quick on the break, attacking down the right, and
with Gabriel Agbonlahor a constant threat.
Dirk Kuyt's cross presented Benayoun with a volleyed chance
that flew over, and Craig Gardner charged down a Harry
And Liverpool took the lead after 19 minutes. Steven Gerrard
and Kuyt set up the close-range chance for Benayoun to net
at the second attempt from six yards.
Villa hit back with accurate, long balls for Agbonlahor and
Ashley Young - but Liverpool almost snatched a second goal
in the 31st minute.
Again it was the impressive Gerrard, aided by Kuyt, who set
up Fernando Torres from 15 yards - but the striker put his
John Carew, playing deep, caused plenty of problems with his
flick-ons, but Liverpool were defending well, and the ball
was quickly shifted to Gerrard, who was dominating midfield.
Watching Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini, who will face
Liverpool in the Champions League in March, will have seen
plenty to concern him in Gerrard's overall play.
Curtis Davies sliced wide of his own goal soon into the
second half, before Kuyt wasted a great chance to put
Liverpool further ahead.
Mascherano and Gerrard surged up field, exchanging passes,
before the ball was laid into Kuyt's path, invitingly, on
the right. But the Dutch striker skewed his effort into the
Torres almost got clear, Taylor saving at his feet, before
the Spaniard turned on the edge of the box to fire inches
Liverpool were now producing their best spell of the game.
Strong in the tackle, supporting and attacking with pace.
Alvaro Arbeloa saw one clever chip clear the bar after more
impressive play by Mascherano and Gerrard.
To their credit, Villa withstood this pressure and with 24
minutes left sent on striker Harewood for Gardner. His first
involvement was a run and cross to set up Carew for an
effort saved by Reina.
Arbeloa was booked for a foul on Stilian Petrov after 68
minutes, and from the free-kick, Villa were level. Laursen
headed the ball back across goal for Harewood to flick into
Liverpool sent on Skrtel for Arbeloa, before Mascherano was
booked for a foul on Young.
Villa launched another attack and were ahead when Mellberg's
effort from the right was deflected into goal by Aurelio.
But Crouch averted a disastrous result for Benitez when he
hooked in right footed from 10 yards after Laursen had
failed to clear.