After The Match 


Wolverhampton-Liverpool 0-0         26.1.10                          PL
Team: Reina, Carragher, Insua, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Mascherano, Lucas, Gerrard, Riera, Maxi, Kuyt
Subs: Ngog (Riera 65)
Not used: Cavalieri, Aquilani, Babel, Degen, Darby, Pacheco
Yellow: Skrtel (72)
Red: None
Referee: Peter Walton
Attendance:  28,763
Shots on target: 1-1
Shots off target: 2-5
Blocked shots: 3-2
Fouls conceded: 9-9
Corners: 0-7
Offsides: 2-2
Possession: 46.7-53.3
Yellow: 0-1
HEADLINES "Is being linked with Juventus flattering?"
Rafael Benitez
2701: Dominic King on a night
          of frustration for the Reds

2701: Benitez silent on Juve switch talk
2601: Gerrard: We'll keep fighting
2601: Rafa finds positives in draw
2601: Wolves hinder Reds' charge

Dominic King on a night
of frustration for the Reds

Comment by Dominic King - Liverpool Echo

Lonely Planet, the travellers’ bible, recently published a list of the cities they deem to be the worst
in the world.

Along with places such as Los Angeles, Seoul and Accra, Wolverhampton was plonked in at number five; in other words, it’s a place they say you should avoid at all costs.

Rafa Benitez and his Liverpool players will know exactly why today.

Befitting the miserable metropolis they ventured to last night, the Reds rustled up a charmless performance, much to the consternation of those who witnessed it; just when you think a corner has been turned, another dead end appears.

There can be no complaints that Liverpool left with just a point to show for their ‘efforts’ nor can there be any feelings they were hard done by; for all the talent they had on the pitch, rarely did they threaten to impose their quality on the game.

Yes, they battled and scrapped to avoid a defeat and matched the relentless commitment of Mick McCarthy’s men but when inspiration was needed, it was sorely lacking; as a result, the season remains on a knife edge.

Liverpool might have crept up a place in the standings but not even their biggest supporter could say they enhanced their Champions League credentials in the process.

Such is the scrutiny Liverpool find themselves under these days, even something as trivial as names on the teamsheet see people searching to find conspiracy theories and hidden agendas when well known names are absent.

The man to find himself the subject of pre-match chatter here was, inevitably, Alberto Aquilani with sceptics suggesting there must be a sinister reason why Benitez picked the Italian as a substitute after an impressive showing against Tottenham.

No matter that Benitez opted to begin with an attacking line-up – Albert Riera retained his place, there was a first start for Maxi Rodriguez with the fit-again Steven Gerrard in between – all that was of interest was Aquilani’s omission.

Crazy. There are far bigger things going on at Liverpool than worrying about how and when Benitez chooses to use his players but at least it is safe to say that he doesn’t get sidetracked by those kind of issues in the run-up to a game.

His sole focus last night was overseeing another Liverpool win to keep the momentum behind the sequence of results they have steadily built up since getting the better of Wolves on Boxing Day.

It was evident from the off that McCarthy’s idea was to frustrate Liverpool, to squeeze the life out in the hope of pilfering something on the break or from a set play, but it was a dangerous game to play.

Or so you would have thought. While Riera went close with a free header from Gerrard’s corner in the first minute, for the rest of the contest they were pedestrian in their play, a pale shadow of the side that had thrillingly dismantled Spurs last Wednesday.

So frustrating. Wolves’ commitment could not be faulted but they were making mistakes which should have been seized upon, playing short balls across the defence to leave sections of the home crowd gasping anxiously.

Clearly the contest was there for Liverpool to seize it by the scruff of the neck, to impose themselves and show why they feel they deserve to be favourites to snatch the fourth Champion League spot but too often possession was squandered.

With temperatures plummeting and the atmosphere flat, this was a contest crying out for someone to sprinkle some stardust on it.

Nobody, however, was up to the task. Inspiration was in short supply, particularly on the flanks where Riera, despite showing occasional promise, ran down too many blind alleys and Rodriguez found it all too much.

There is no disputing the Argentine has great quality – his CV for Atletico Madrid and his national team screams out that he is an A list performer – but the rat-a-tat-tat of the Premier League in freezing conditions is a new experience.

Patience will be required for him to show his best but the problem he faces is that Liverpool’s perilous position demands Rodriguez get up to speed in double quick time; it will be intriguing to watch his development.

In fairness to the man from Santa Fe, he didn’t hide or shirk the issue; what Rodriguez lacks in inches, he clearly makes up for in heart and it was encouraging that he was prepared to shoot from distance even when things were not going his way.

But with the clock their enemy as much as Wolves and the other sides chasing fourth place, Liverpool needed more than just someone to try a speculative shot from outside the box – they needed poise, panache and pressure.

Watching them labour made for uncomfortable viewing. That, though, is Liverpool this season. Great displays one week, guff the next, say what you like about them but they are consistently inconsistent.

As long as it stays like this, the more intolerable the pressure surrounding them will become; humping the ball forward in search of a goal, as they did here, betrays the pass and move ethos that is synonymous with the club.

On the occasions when Liverpool did manoeuvre themselves into a position in the final third, their attempts to fashion the chance to make a difference were stymied by a wall of old gold shirts. Wolves deserved their point and clean sheet.

Yet when it was over, both Benitez and Gerrard were quick to stress positives. Nothing was lost, a point was gained and another shutout was recorded; that said, both are canny individuals.

Suffice to say they know improvement must come in the pursuit of paradise.

Benitez silent on Juve switch talk


Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is remaining tight-lipped over reports linking him with a shock switch to Italian giants Juventus.

Following the goalless draw at Wolves, Benitez refused to comment on speculation suggesting Juve are about to sack coach Ciro Ferrara.

The Spaniard saw his side miss out on the chance to put pressure on the Premier League top four after a shot-shy performance in which they failed seriously to test Wolves keeper Marcus Hahnemann.

Benitez, when asked about the Juventus link, said: "I prefer to talk about the game. Is the speculation a distraction? I was really focused today on trying to do the right things and to try and win this game.

"Is being linked with Juventus flattering? I prefer to concentrate on the game."

Benitez accepted a share of the spoils was a fair result, with his side dominating the opening 45 minutes before Wolves came more into the game after the break.

He said: "If you analyse the game, it was a fair result. In the first half, we were in control, although we didn't create chances. The final pass in the final third was the difference.

"In the second half, they pushed harder. We still had some good counter-attacks but again the final pass was the difference. It was a fair result."

The big plus for Benitez was the return of skipper Steven Gerrard, who completed the 90 minutes after missing two games with a hamstring problem.

Benitez believes a fit Gerrard will be crucial to the Reds' hopes of breaking back into the Champions League positions.

He said: "We know Steven is a key player for us. He has to improve his match fitness. But, if he is fit and can train properly in the week and play games, he can make the difference for us."

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy believes his players were well worth the point that took them to the 20 mark for the season in their battle to stay in the top flight.

And he praised the performance of striker Kevin Doyle, who operated as the only frontman in a revamped 4-5-1 formation.

He said: "If you see a better performance from a centre-forward than Doyle showed tonight, I would like to see it.

"If he had just managed a goal, it would have been one of the best all-round performances. He is physically strong enough to play that role.

"We changed the system and I don't think our keeper had a save to make. I don't think we were troubled.

"It was a really solid performance and it's great to get off 19 points because we've been there for too long."

Gerrard: We'll keep fighting

By Paul Eaton - LFC Official Website

Steven Gerrard has spoken of his delight at being back in action - and insisted Liverpool have turned the corner in their battle to claim a top four place.

The Liverpool skipper completed all 90 minutes of the Reds' goalless draw at Wolves on Tuesday night as Rafael Benitez's side moved into fifth place in the league table.

Although not the victory the Reds craved in the Midlands, Gerrard believes there were enough encouraging signs over the course of the match to suggest the team are heading in the right direction.

"It was a frustrating and difficult game tonight," he said. "Wolves defended well and the pitch was difficult to string passes together on.

"We're happy with how we defended as a team and that's four or five games undefeated for us now. We're a more difficult team to beat at the moment. Earlier in the season we'd have lost this game 1-0 but we've turned the corner now.

"We will keep fighting for this fourth place. We've a couple of home games to play now and if we can keep the momentum going and take maximum points then we'll edge into the top four.

"If we keep battling and keep defending as we have been then results will follow.

"There are a lot of people in the dressing room who are hurt at seeing us lying in seventh and eighth position and you learn a lot from these situations when times are hard.

"We have looked at each other and we want to put it right. The most important thing for me over the last four games has been the character and the desire the players have shown.

"As captain, that gives me major confidence as you know the good performances are around the corner if the solid base is there. Nobody is hiding and that's a big positive."

Gerrard, meanwhile, reported no reaction to the hamstring injury which has sidelined him for the past couple of weeks.

"It's great to be back, but just disappointing we didn't win the match," he said. "It's good to be back in the group again and I'm just looking forward to the next game now.

"The physios said I'd be out for two or three weeks when I had the scan, but I have healed quickly and there were no problems with the hamstring tonight, so I'm really pleased."

Rafa finds positives in draw

By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports

Rafa Benitez treated Liverpool's goalless draw with Wolves as a positive result despite falling off the pace for a UEFA Champions League berth.

The Reds had the chance to return to the top four for the first time since September providing results went their way ahead of their clash against relegation-battling Wanderers on Tuesday night.

But even with the return of fit-again talisman Steven Gerrard, the Merseysiders' toothless display saw maximum points elude them and leave them trailing Tottenham by three points in the race for fourth place.

"I think it was a tough game in the first half," admitted Benitez to Sky Sports.

"We were more in control in the second half, they were pushing (for a goal). It was a tough game for both (sides) and maybe the result is fair.

"I think it (the draw) is positive - we kept a clean sheet and you can see the team was working very hard and everybody is working for everyone."

The game saw Benitez make two changes to the team that beat top-four rivals Spurs with skipper Gerrard and new-boy Maxi Rodriguez handed starts for the Molineux trip.

But neither player left their mark on the game, with Gerrard - returning from a hamstring injury - looking particularly rusty but the Reds boss was happy with the duo's performances in the draw.

But Benitez reckons Gerrard will be back on top form very soon.

"It was positive for us that he was available, you can see that he has to improve his match fitness but it's a question of time," the Spaniard said.

And on Rodriguez's role he added: "He can give us more competition for each position and that is also good because we have problems in the wide areas."

Wolves hinder Reds' charge

By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports

Liverpool's quest for a top-four finish hit a stumbling block as Wolves claimed a precious point in their survival bid in a scrappy goalless draw at Molineux on Tuesday night.

The Reds were looking to close in on a UEFA Champions League position with maximum points against a side who had lost their last three matches and failed to score in as many games.

Rafa Benitez, whose agent has played down reports linking the Spaniard with a move to Juventus, named an attacking line-up with talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard back in the line-up after overcoming a hamstring injury while recent signing Maxi Rodriguez made his full debut on a cold night in the West Midlands.

Despite Liverpool's positive team selection, it was the hosts who created the best chances on the night as the tireless Kevin Doyle stabbed a shot a yard the wrong side of the goal before Kevin Foley missed a close-range header in the first half.

Mick McCarthy's side, who remain 17th despite the important point, faced a late onslaught from the visitors but Ronald Zubar's almost solo mission to deny the Merseysiders proved successful.

Liverpool, who move up to fifth ahead of Manchester City on goal difference, may rue their toothless display in the Black Country come the season's finish and they now trail Tottenham by three points after they beat Fulham.

It was the visitors, who had taken 10 points from the previous four games, who were quickest into their stride in the opening stages of the match.

Gerrard's second minute corner was met by the head of Albert Riera at the near post but his effort flashed across the Wolves box.

Dirk Kuyt, bubbling with confidence after his double against Tottenham, tried his luck from 20 yards out but Jody Craddock was able to make an important block.

Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina was booed every time he touched the ball by Wolves fans who remembered his part in the incident when Stephen Ward was sent off at Anfield on Boxing Day.

Liverpool enjoyed the lion's share of possession but Wolves coped comfortably and the best chance of the opening half fell to Doyle after 33 minutes in a counter-attack.

Jamie Carragher was isolated in the right-back role and unable to prevent Matt Jarvis from getting past him and sending in a low cross to the near post.

Doyle made a run across the Reds defence to attack the ball at the near post but poked his shot just wide.

Jarvis was posing the biggest threat for Wolves and another teasing centre picked out the run of Foley at the far post but his header was directed straight at Reina.

Christophe Berra got in a great challenge to halt the run of Rodriguez into the Wolves box at the expense of a corner just before half-time.

Gerrard was a peripheral figure for most of the first half but threatened after the restart when he seized onto a ball in behind from Lucas Leiva only for Berra to be alert to the situation.

Marcus Hahnemann had to be alert when back-pedalling to palm away a looping first time effort from the edge of the area by Riera.

Ward then almost played the home team into trouble with a mis-timed back pass but Hahnemann raced 20 yards out of his box to clear from Kuyt.

Doyle was impressing whenever Wolves ventured forward but would have been disappointed not to hit the target after he found some space outside the box.

Wolves were playing with increasing fluency and the belief was starting to grow amongst their young players.

Kuyt curled a 20-yard shot past the post after Gerrard enjoyed some rare freedom and the game was more of an entertaining spectacle.

Benitez made his first substitution after 67 minutes with David Ngog replacing Riera and Kuyt moving into a wider role.

The impressive Doyle drilled a left-foot shot past the post after getting past Martin Skrtel.

Skrtel was booked after 73 minutes for a lunge at Ward before McCarthy replaced Nenad Milijas with David Jones a minute later.

Liverpool huffed and puffed but lacked any sort of penetration to unlock the Wolves defence and whenever they came into a shooting position, like Gerrard did in stoppage time, the Reds players were crowded out to a valiant home defence who kept their first league clean sheet since beating Burnley mid-December.

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