After The Match 


Liverpool-Man City 1-1 (0-0)             22.2.09                      PL
Goals: Kuyt (78)                                  Bellamy (48)
Team: Reina, Arbeloa, Dossena, Carragher Skrtel, Lucas, Mascherano, Benayoun, Riera, Kuyt, Torres
Subs: El Zhar (Riera 63), Aurelio (Dossena 76),
Babel (Mascherano 83)
Not used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Ngog, Spearing
Yellow: El Zhar (75)                  Dunne (32), Kompany (74)
Red: None
Referee: Phil Dowd
Attendance: 44,259
Shots on target: 3-3
Shots off target: 16-6
Blocked shots: 4-2
Fouls conceded: 10-14
Corners: 6-4
Offsides: 2-1
Possession: 60.8-39.2
Yellow: 1-2
it's more difficult

Rafael Benitez
2402: Liverpool FC's title dreams
          are hanging by a thread

2302: A case for cavaliers instead of caution
2302: A superfluous illustration
          of Liverpool’s weaknesses

2202: Carragher not giving up
2202: Benitez: Title will be difficult now
2202: Hughes happy with City efforts
2202: Kuyt goal fails to keep Pool on track 

Liverpool FC's title dreams
are hanging by a thread

Comment by Ian Rush - Liverpool Echo

Liverpool’s title hopes may not be over but they are undoubtedly hanging by a thread.

Sunday’s home draw with Manchester City is a major setback and it is also a massive disappointment because it means Manchester United’s lead at the top of the table has extended to seven points.

That is a big gap at this stage of the season and even though it is not an insurmountable one you would have to say that the odds are now stacked massively in United’s favour.

I still believe that United will drop points between now and the end of the campaign but the question is will Liverpool be able to capitalise even if they do?

The way they played against City suggests that would be a really tall order because Liverpool were a long way from their best.

At this time of year you really need to be hitting top form if you are going to maintain your challenge and in recent weeks that just hasn’t been the case for Rafa Benitez’s side.

The biggest disappointment of all is that they have now drawn six games at home and that is far too many.

Twelve points have been dropped at Anfield and if your home form is not up to scratch then it is going to be incredibly difficult to win the league even if your record against your title rivals is as good as Liverpool’s is.

Anfield has always been Liverpool’s great strength, a place where wins are not just sought they are expected.

But far too many teams have visited this season and have departed with a point without having been subjected to the kind of stringent examination you would normally expect.

City were the latest team to exploit this weakness and they were worthy of the point they ultimately earned.

United now have a comfort zone which means they can even afford to drop a few points and it still wouldn’t be enough to stop them from winning the league.

But things could still turn around. It may be highly unlikely but everyone at Liverpool needs to keep believing and keep pushing hard because if United did stutter it would not be the first time that a team has faltered with the finishing line in sight.

Until and unless it becomes mathematically impossible then Liverpool must keep on pushing.

A case for cavaliers
instead of caution

Comment by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo

Craig Bellamy never served many useful purposes during his solitary season in red – one goal in the Nou Camp apart.

But yesterday's deflected strike in Sky Blue at least gave Rafael Benitez a true sense of where his season's priorities now lie.

The forlorn bid to catch hold of Manchester United's shirt-tails can now be conceded for another season.

The Champions League has become the be all and end all of Liverpool's season.

That's not knee jerk fatalism at another home draw – just a realistic assessment of the Reds' current standing in the grand scheme of things.

And that's also not a cause for a wailing and gnashing of teeth and Rafa must go debates..

Liverpool aren't good enough to match Manchester's top side just yet. Heck, they were only just good enough to match that city's mediocre team yesterday.

But they're still better off than they were at this stage last season.

They don't boast the resource or the depth to go head to head with United over a full season, but they've progressed – and they're still making a better go of it than Arsenal and Chelsea have managed.

Whether they are better to watch, however, is a moot point.

To get to mid-February with only one Premier League defeat is a considerable achievement.

But when that admirable ability to avoid defeat is achieved at the expense of six home draws – the balance must surely be flawed somewhere along the way.

If Liverpool had been just a little more gung ho, a touch more cavalier in those six drawn games, they might have lost, for argument's sake, three of them.

But equally, they might have won three as well – and that would put them three points better off and within realistic striking distance of the current champions.

The Reds’ inability to win matches has cost them this season's title push.

The Reds boss tried to issue what passed for a rallying cry afterwards.

But there were 40,000 or so not singing from the same hymn sheet.

In fact they weren't singing at all.

Anfield was flat yesterday from first whistle until Dirk Kuyt's leveller 13 minutes from time.

There was a resigned acceptance around a stadium which can usually be guaranteed to back even the most hopeless of causes.

It was as if the Kop choir had grimly accepted that the title was over and was saving its vocal chords for the European nights which lie ahead.

Anfield was quiet and uninspired – given the mediocre fare they witnessed that was hardly surprising.

Liverpool, quite simply, weren't ambitious enough, forceful enough or penetrative enough.

With Steven Gerrard joining Xabi Alonso on the sidelines, a midfield fulcrum of Mascherano and Lucas was always likely to struggle for creativity.

They passed the ball simply and effectively – at least until Lucas' first misplaced pass of the afternoon six minutes from time drew predictable howls of derision for Anfield's most regular scapegoat – but what was needed was something a little cleverer.

Yossi Benayoun provided the sole source of inspiration, his cross from the left flank finally chiselling out an opening 13 minutes from the end.

But the inventive Israeli apart, Liverpool leaned far too heavily on Fernando Torres.

And as a grim afternoon wore on, the Spanish conquistador looked more and more disgruntled.

He was far from alone.

The betting booth which sits outside the Directors' Lounge at Anfield was a lonely place at 4.45pm.

There's usually a small queue of grateful punters waiting to collect, but yesterday there was no-one. That suggests that perhaps Reds fans are more optimistic than we think, because another home draw, statistically speaking, was always on the cards.

But it looked like no-one took that punt, no-one gambled.

That's what Liverpool must do now if the embers of their title fires are to be fanned. But realistically, that blaze is already out.

Rafa Benitez has proved a master of the successful European campaign in three of his four Anfield seasons.

The Champions League is now the Real deal for the Reds.

A superfluous illustration
of Liverpool’s weaknesses

By Max Munton - This is Anfield

At the back end of 2008, only a month and a half ago, we were sat proudly at the top of the Premier League and a full ten points ahead of Manchester United. Fast forward to today and we wake up this Monday morning seven points behind United; our title dreams all but over.

Perhaps we had false hopes. Building up such a fantastic lead in the first half of the season, winning games we shouldn’t have, looking like a Championship winning team again. But we haven’t truly played out of our skins all season. And now we’re not winning those games that we shouldn’t be allowed to. Now we’re not looking like a team worthy of competing for the title. Yesterday’s 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City showed we have weakness in abundance.

Yes, we missed Steven Gerrard as we finally woke up after going behind to former Red Craig Bellamy, just minutes into the second half. But that’s no excuse if you want to be Champions. As Kevin McCarra writes in this morning’s Guardian:

Had the injured Steven Gerrard been on hand, a recovery that led to Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser would probably have proceeded to victory. Few will resist making the comparison with United, who scarcely seem conscious of the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney.

United continue to triumph every time they run out onto the pitch. They have a team spirit that’s making them look pretty untouchable at the moment. We don’t. Yesterday’s performance was poor, weak, unorganised and more many parts of the match Man City were controlling play like they were the home team.

But what do we expect? Why was this season ever going to be any different than the usual disappointment?

Sam Wallace writes in this morning’s Independent that Liverpool have found themselves in a position more familiar with the likes of Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea over the years – playing second fiddle in a title race with United.

All the teams who have found themselves succumbing to Ferguson’s sides in title races over the last 16 years have crumbled in their own distinctive way. However, there was something familiar about the dread at Anfield yesterday, something similar has, at different times, gripped the likes of Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea over the years. A fateful anxiousness that meant when Craig Bellamy scored Manchester City’s goal on 49 minutes, it was not entirely unexpected.

There was an atmosphere of we know what’s going to happen around Anfield today. Reports that Benitez had just rejected another contract offer from the club were circulating, and nerves swept the stadium. Paul Joyce in this morning’s Daily Express says:

The increasingly tiresome saga over his future appears to have even left the Kop disenchanted, with Benitez’s name hardly chanted, if at all, during a tense and ultimately unrewarding day.

So what now?

There’s still 12 games to go and United haven’t won the title just yet. It was only last week that Benitez himself still claimed Aston Villa were in with a shout. So surely it’s possible? And United’s bubble has to burst at some point, right? If omens are anything to go by, then the fact that Benitez found himself 8 points behind Real Madrid with 12 games to go when he won La Liga in Spain with Valencia must stand us in good stead.

The Spaniard himself yesterday though admitted things are going to be tough now. Victory at Old Trafford on March 14th is a necessity. I think it’s only inevitable that the club’s off the field problems will continue for the remainder of the season – after all, Rafa may never sign that new contract even though he should be kept at all costs.

But on the pitch there are problems too. Lack of firepower, perhaps desire until the clock starts ticking faster and faster towards 90 minutes. Sam Wallace of The Independent notes:

Nineteen years after Liverpool’s last league championship the gap to Manchester United in first place is seven points and, with a title that seems to be heading inexorably in one direction, it looks like it might yet get even bigger. Yesterday, an undefeated home record in the league that stretched back to December 2007 was in danger until Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser with 12 minutes remaining, but even at Anfield it is becoming impossible not to acknowledge a more basic truth about the state of this team.

Maybe we were never good enough to challenge this season all along. Maybe United winning the league for the 18th time is set, as the rest of the Premier League fail to compete. Kevin McCarra of The Guardian concludes:

It is the misfortune of Rafael Benítez’s team, seven points adrift of the leaders, to be blamed for being more prominent so far than the rest of the also-rans. This game was a superfluous illustration of Liverpool’s weaknesses.

Carragher not giving up

Sky Sports

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is refusing to concede defeat in the race for the Premier League title.

The Reds saw their championship dreams suffer another dent on Sunday after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City.

The draw along with Manchester United's win over Blackburn leaves Liverpool seven points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's side with United now firm favourites to claim a third title in a row.

Carragher admitted the draw to City was a blow to Liverpool's chances, but he is not ready to throw in the towel.

"Yeah it is a big blow," Carragher told Sky Sports News. "We were five points behind before the weekend which was something we try to cut over the weekend, but with Man Utd winning and us drawing it has gone the other way.

"We would have prefered to have gone three or four points behind and it is going to make it more difficult for ourselves, but there is still a long way to go."

Dirk Kuyt's late goal earned Liverpool a point against City to cancel out Craig Bellamy's opener and Carragher concedes Rafa Benitez's men were not at their best against City.

He said: "You have got to give credit to Man City but we probably never created as much as we have liked.

"But to come back into it from 1-0 down we are pleased with that, we have done it a few times coming back this season but couldn't quite do it today."

Carragher admits Liverpool are going to have go on a winning run to have any chance of catching United and believes they need to beat the reigning champions at Old Trafford next month to get their title bid back on track.

"I think we are going to have to go on a great run to catch Man Utd but I think we are capable of that," he said.

"We have still got to go there and it looks like we are going to have to win there, which is going to be difficult as they are a great side Man Utd, but that is something we are going to have to do I think."

Benitez: Title will be difficult now

By Robin Hackett - Setanta Sports

Rafa Benitez has admitted it will now be difficult for Liverpool to win the title after dropping two points at home to Manchester City - but revealed Steven Gerrard is close to a return.

Liverpool had much the better of the first half at Anfield on Sunday but failed to take advantage, and former player Craig Bellamy made them pay with a deflected effort shortly after half-time.

Dirk Kuyt popped up to score an equaliser with 12 minutes to play, but The Reds were unable to find a winner.

The result leaves Liverpool seven points behind reigning champions Manchester United and, while Benitez was bullish about his team’s chances of winning the title ahead of the game, he now admits they face an uphill struggle.

"Clearly it's more difficult now," he said.

"We have to win against Middlesbrough and Sunderland and then we have to start thinking about winning at Old Trafford.

"I have confidence we can beat Middlesbrough and Sunderland and then it might be a different situation.

"It's not easy because United can win games even without playing well, but there are still 12 games. You cannot say everything is finished.

"Clearly, if we want to reduce the gap, we have to win our next games and then beat United."

He added: "It was a bad result because we could have done better with the chances we had in the first half.

"We controlled the game but you have to score first. We conceded a deflected goal and that changed the game because they have pace and ability - things were more open so they were dangerous on the counter attack.

"After we scored the goal, we had chances and could have won the game."

Liverpool lacked creativity in the midfield, but Benitez revealed they could be boosted by the return of Steven Gerrard for the game against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

"We will see after training tomorrow and then we'll decide with him and the doctor,” he said.

“He's close. The decision is not easy, but he's improving."

Hughes happy with City efforts

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes was pleased with his side's showing at Anfield after City battled to a 1-1 draw against Liverpool.

City may not have won in the Premier League since August but they looked impressive on Sunday afternoon and perhaps should have won the game.

Former Liverpool player Craig Bellamy scored against his old club and City looked to have won until Dirk Kuyt scored with 10 minutes to go to rescue a point for Liverpool.

But regardless of Liverpool's equaliser, Hughes was quick to praise his side.

He said: "I thought we were excellent today. There was drive and purpose in our game.

"We are disappointed that we did not get all three points but to come to Anfield and play against a team going for the Premier League title and get a point was great.

"We put in an excellent performance. We were strong and resolute when we had to be and overall I am very pleased."

The result means Liverpool are now seven points behind table toppers Manchester United and former Old Trafford favourite Hughes now believes it is United's title to lose rather than Liverpool's to win.

He added: "Liverpool can certainly comeback but we are now looking at Manchester Unites slipping up and they don't do that very often."

Kuyt goal fails
to keep Pool on track

By Robin Hackett - Setanta Sports

Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser gave Liverpool a point but failed to keep their title bid on track as a 1-1 draw with Manchester City at Anfield left The Reds seven points behind the leaders.

After Liverpool dominated the first half, Craig Bellamy turned the game on its head against his former side as his deflected effort put City ahead just after half time.

But while Kuyt popped up in the 78th minute to salvage a draw for his side, they were unable to find a winner.

Arsene Wenger had caused a stir in midweek when he labelled Manchester United 'untouchable', yet their subsequent victories over Fulham and Blackburn did little to dispel the notion.

Ahead of the City game, Rafa Benitez was looking to make up an eight-point gap on the reigning champions, but he was refusing to concede defeat.

“United may be winning more games than most at the moment, but to say you cannot beat them is not right,” he said.

“We are not intimidated by the challenge here.”

There was just cause, too. A win at home to City – a side that had not won away since August – would reduce the gap to five points and, with Benitez bullish about the trip to Old Trafford next month, there would be the opportunity to move within two points of the leaders.

Mark Hughes had set out with the intention of frustrating Liverpool – that much was clear from his selection of Pablo Zabaleta, Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany in the midfield.

Yet, without Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, Liverpool were forced to go with a central midfield duo of Javier Macherano and Lucas Leiva.

The result, as you would expect, was a first half with little free-flowing football in the centre of the park.

But it was a half with more than its share of chances. Liverpool dominated proceedings almost from start to finish, and at times looked to have done enough to break the deadlock.

At the halfway point, City were forced to defend a manic goalmouth scramble. As the half drew to a close, Fernando Torres came to life and supplied both Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun, but neither was able to find the target.

For all Liverpool’s chances, though, City still looked dangerous on the break and could easily have taken the lead on 30 minutes. Stephen Ireland played a superb long-range pass to Robinho and, after some fine play from the Brazilian, Ireland received the ball back in the area before seeing his tame effort denied by Pepe Reina.

But it was Liverpool’s half, and there were enough encouraging signs for Benitez to believe a goal would arrive in the second 45 minutes. Hughes, it seemed, had a major task on his hands.

That task was made substantially easier in the 49th minute, when Bellamy turned the game on its head.

Vincent Kompany did well to get the ball back to Bellamy, and the Wales strike managed to get a shot away in the area that, via a significant deflection from Alvaro Arbeloa, eluded Reina and found the far corner.

With Mascherano and Lucas in the midfield, Liverpool’s struggle for creativity was becoming a more substantial problem. City, meanwhile, were growing in confidence and looked dangerous on the break.

It could easily have been 2-0 when Micah Richards broke free in the area on 66 minutes – Ireland managed to steer the defender’s wayward shot into the net, but he was some distance offside and it was ruled out.

Yet, with 12 minutes to play, Liverpool got their equaliser. Yossi Benayoun put a cross in from the left and, as Torres failed to make clear contact, Dirk Kuyt pounced to drill the ball in for 1-1.

But while Liverpool tried to force a winner – Kuyt and Benayoun both forced fine saves from Shay Given – City continued to push for a goal on the counter.

It made for a frantic final ten minutes, but neither side was able to make the breakthrough and the game finished 1-1.

It was a solid result for City and something for Mark Hughes to build on, but whether Rafa Benitez still believes United can be caught remains to be seen.

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Thor Zakariassen ©