After The Match 


Liverpool-Standard Liege (1-0 aet)           27.8.08               CL
Goals: Kuyt (118)
Team: Reina, Arbeloa, Aurelio, Carragher, Skrtel, Gerrard, Alonso, Benayoun, Kuyt, Torres, Keane
Subs: Babel (Benayoun 61), El Zhar (Keane 83),
Plessis (Torres 120)
Not used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Agger, Spearing
Yellow: Booked: Sarr (61), De Camargo (69), Dante (98)
Red: None
Referee: M. Busacca
Attendance: 43.889
Shots on target: 5-3
Shots off target: 14-5
Blocked shots: 6-2
Fouls conceded: 14-22
Corners: 6-6
Offsides: 2-3
Possession: 71.7-28.3
Yellow: 0-3

we showed good character."
Steven Gerrard

2808: The mystery of the Torres substitution
2808: Benitez hails his 'lucky charm' Kuyt
2808: Gerrard: Liverpool's spirit saved
          Champions League blushes

2808: Rafa’s men labour to Euro elite entry
2808: Lessons must be learned
          from Liverpool's narrow victory

2708: Average Liverpool sneak through

The mystery of
the Torres substitution

By Ben Blackmore - Setanta Sports

Hands up, how many of us have ever taken one look at Cheryl Cole and then asked the question: “How the hell did Ashley do it?”

How did Ashley Cole manage to get a girl like that? It’s one of those things that will always remain a mystery.

Now here’s another one. One that has gone on for at least nine years and most probably beyond that.

Why do managers, when defending a lead with only minutes to go, take off their best players?

It happened in Wednesday’s Champions League clash between Liverpool and Standard Liege. Dirk Kuyt grabbed the late goal, and immediately Fernando Torres was pulled off for Damien Plessis.

Now obviously Rafa Benitez’s reasons would centre partly on time-wasting, partly on adding defensive stability.

Fair enough. But why Torres over, say, Nabil El Zhar - who played well but offers much less defensively?

Torres defends from the front like a lion. His mere presence would keep at least two defenders occupied. He can chase balls into corners and he is one of Liverpool’s tallest players, which was particularly crucial when Liege’s giants got a corner in the dying seconds.

He was hardly being rested for Aston Villa and, even though he had put in a 128-minute shift, it’s hard to believe a fit 24-year-old couldn’t have squeezed two more minutes out of his body.

Furthermore, to throw on Plessis – a nervy youngster who is not up with the pace of the game – represents something of a two-minute gamble.

It doesn’t only concern Torres either. Last season Liverpool were holding onto a 1-0 lead at home to Everton, and off came Steven Gerrard.

In the end both substitutions made little difference, but the point is that they could.

This is by no means an attack on Benitez. All managers do it. Arsene Wenger took off Cesc Fabregas in the dying moments of Arsenal’s famous 1-0 win over Real Madrid.

And who can forget the lessons of 1999, when Bayern Munich withdrew their two best, two most influential players – only to see Manchester United snatch the European Cup from their grasp at Camp Nou.

That day Ottmar Hitzfeld withdrew his best ball-retainer Mario Basler and, most crucially, his greatest leader of men Lothar Matthaus.

With so much leadership, so much experience, off the pitch…Bayern capitulated.

One day it will happen again. After all, for Cheryl Cole you can already read Abbey Clancy.

Benitez hails his
'lucky charm' Kuyt

Liverpool Echo

Rafael Benitez hailed his European lucky charm Dirk Kuyt as Liverpool scrambled their way into the Champions League group stages.

They eventually beat an excellent Standard Liege side 1-0 on the night, and on aggregate, with Kuyt scoring the winner two minutes from the end of extra-time.

Benitez’s delight with Kuyt’s contribution was tempered by the news that skipper Steven Gerrard will have a groin operation today and miss both of England’s World Cup matches against Andorra and Croatia.

He will also be out of Liverpool’s trip to Aston Villa on Sunday, and may miss the home game with Manchester United on September 13.

Liverpool have clearly made a tactical decision to limit Gerrard’s loss to the Anfield club by deciding on an operation after last night’s game.

England boss Fabio Capello will no doubt be disappointed with that decision, but Liverpool clearly wanted to get the maximum out of Gerrard in the third qualifying round before agreeing to the operation.

Benitez said: "We decided that Steven would play through the pain against Liege and then have the operation.

"He may not be fit for the Manchester United game, but he certainly will be okay for the first group stage match next month."

Benitez revealed that Gerrard has been playing through constant pain this season.

It was clear that Gerrard was not at his best last night, and he will now go under the knife to make sure he is fit to lead Liverpool into the group stages in September.

"He has a groin problem so he will have an operation and could be out for 10 to 15 days. It is not serious but we need to do it now," Benitez said.

"He has been playing some games in pain, not being 100% fit and we decided that this was the best moment for the operation.

"He had a problem for the first game with Liege, and also when he went away to play for England in their friendly last week against the Czech Republic.

"We talked with the doctor yesterday and today, and it was decided that Steven would play in this match with the pain. But now we will have to get the situation solved."

Of Kuyt’s match-winning contribution, Benitez added: "I was delighted with Dirk Kuyt, his goal was a reward for all the effort he puts in for us. He is amazing.

"His work is tremendous, he keeps going right to the end and makes a tremendous contribution to our side."

Liverpool, despite another worrying display, are now in the group stages draw today in Monaco.

Benitez said: "Obviously there is some relief with the result. We knew it would be a difficult game against a quick, well-organised team.

"The positive was that we played a little better than recently - we want to win trophies but we also understand the need for money."

Gerrard: Liverpool's spirit saved
Champions League blushes

By Tony Barrett - Liverpool Echo

Steven Gerrard today admitted Liverpool’s last gasp extra time win over Standard Liege was too close for comfort – as the Reds skipper prepares to go under the knife to cure a troublesome groin injury.

Liverpool had Dirk Kuyt to thank for a winning goal deep into added time after the Belgian champions had proven a tough nut to crack in last night’s Champions League qualifier.

Rafa Benitez’s men now go into today’s draw for the lucrative group stages but Gerrard – who played through the pain barrier last night and is expected to be out of action for between 10-15 days following surgery – admits he is relieved to have made it through.

He said: “I think you have to give them credit. They’ve come to Anfield and were very organised and they’ve stopped us playing.

“They are a big, physical side and they were difficult to break down.

“But as the game went on we started to move the ball quicker and there was a lot more tempo to our play.

“It was a bit too close for comfort but we’re just pleased that we’re through.

“I think there was a slight improvement on our previous games. Like I’ve said, the tempo was a bit better and we’ll certainly take that positive.

“It was all about qualification tonight. We’ve done it the hard way but we’re in the draw and that’s the main thing.

“I think we showed good character. We know there will be times during the season when things aren’t going to be rosy and we’re not going to play great all the time.

“When this does happen it’s all about sticking in there, working hard for each other and getting the result, and thankfully we’ve managed to do that tonight.

“It’s also important to remember that we’ve still got players to come back that will make the squad stronger in the coming weeks and hopefully we will get a few more players in before the transfer window shuts.

“But when it comes down to it, if you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago if I’d be happy with two wins out of two in the league and making it through to the Champions League, I would obviously have taken it.”

Gerrard praised keeper Pepe Reina for a couple of outstanding first half saves which stopped Standard from scoring what would have been a crucial away goal.

And he also told of his relief when Kuyt’s close range volley gave Liverpool the win they so desperately needed.

“We expect that from Pepe because he is one of the best keepers in the world,” he said.

“You can always rely on him if you’re under the cosh and he’s done well for us again tonight.

“The main feeling when the goal went in was relief because you don’t want to go to penalties because it’s a bit of a lottery, although you know you’ve always got a chance with Pepe.

“It was a great ball by Ryan and a great finish by Dirk and I think we were all delighted to see it go in.”

Gerrard only featured in last night’s game following a consultation with club doctor Mark Waller and Benitez, and the Liverpool captain will today undergo groin surgery in a bid to clear up a problem which has troubled him for the last fortnight.

He said: “I’m struggling with that at the moment but I hope to find out more in the next couple of days.”

Rafa’s men labour
to Euro elite entry

By Ian Doyle - Daily Post

So the march towards the Eternal City can now begin in earnest.

But it was an unimpressive Liverpool that stumbled into the group stages of the Champions League on a night of high tension at Anfield.

The cheers at the final whistle were joined by an almost audible sigh of relief as Rafael Benitez’s side scraped past Standard Liege in their third qualifying round tie.

Concerns over early-season form were fully justified as Liverpool laboured to overcome the Belgians.

Less than four months after coming within an own goal of an eighth European Cup final, there was a genuine danger Benitez’s men would be forced to contemplate rubbing shoulders with Europe’s lesser lights in the Uefa Cup.

Instead, Liverpool go into the hat for today’s draw in the knowledge they are unlikely to be given a bigger fright in the competition all season.

Benitez believed his team needed two goals to progress, but an 118th-minute strike from Champions League specialist Dirk Kuyt proved sufficient.

The club’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, could ill afford to miss out on the estimated £12m windfall brought by qualification to the group stages of the Champions League.

Neither could Benitez, given the squad strengthening that Liverpool so clearly still require given the evidence of recent weeks.

The traditional tomato-throwing festival of La Tomatina took place in a town near to Benitez’s former club Valencia yesterday.

But while the manager was spared a similar red face, he can expect a critical pelting.

Standard, who were beaten in both legs in their previous encounter with Liverpool back in the 1965-66 European Cup Winners Cup, had conceded 11 goals on their last two visits to England when thrashed by ManCity and Arsenal.

There was no chance of a repeat last night. Well organised, determined and with confidence oozing throughout the team, Standard were everything Liverpool were not.

Going into the game, Liverpool boasted a 100% record in five games against Belgian opposition at Anfield and had never been beaten at this stage of the competition.

Benitez made just one change from the weekend’s last-gasp victory over Middlesbrough, the fit-again Fabio Aurelio replacing Andrea Dossena.

Standard welcomed back central defender Oguchi Onyewu from suspension, the only alteration to the team that gave Liverpool such a fright at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne a fortnight ago.

Olympic medallists Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva were saluted pre-match along with boxer and Liverpool fan David Price, who won a bronze.

But Liverpool needed the midfield pair on the pitch during the game, not before it.

Standard coach Laszlo Boloni claimed an away victory last night would represent the biggest by a Belgian side in Europe in 40 years.

The evidence of a one-sided first leg suggested otherwise. And, as in Liege, the visitors dominated the chances in the opening period with Pepe Reina once again Liverpool’s best player.

The keeper produced a brilliant save in the seventh minute, diving at full stretch to his right to turn away a 20-yard snapshot from Dieumerci Mbokani, rightly identified as a dangerman by Benitez before the game.

Reina made a similar stop in the 18th minute. With Liverpool’s defence slow to react to a ball pumped into the box, an unmarked Igor De Camargo completely missed his kick from eight yards out but retrieved possession and crossed for Marouane Fellaini to improvise a volley Reina did well to repel.

Marcos then sent an ambitious effort dipping wide as Standard gave Liverpool little encouragement going forward, Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane well shackled by the robust centre-back pairing of Onyewu and Mohamed Sarr.

The home side were largely restricted to shots from range. Goalkeeper Aragon Espinoza beat out a curling Fabio Aurelio free-kick early on, Yossi Benayoun scuffed wide after a driven Gerrard pass and Xabi Alonso was off target from distance,

Kuyt later headed a deep Aurelio corner wide at the far post, while Liverpool screamed for a penalty when Axel Witsel accidentally handled while attempting a sliding clearance. It would have been a harsh call against the Standard man, but no harsher than the penalty Dossena conceded a fortnight ago.

Liverpool finally roused themselves after the interval. Torres ended a trademark slaloming run with a shot that was blocked when a pass to the unmarked Kuyt was the better option, the Dutchman then struck wide and, in a rare clear opening, Keane couldn’t convert a low Alvaro Arbeloa cross.

Keane had been part of the Inter Milan team shocked by Swedish outsiders Helsingborg in the qualifying round back in 2000, but enjoyed no greater fortune last night, sacrificed along with Benayoun as Benitez sought to address a chronic lack of width by once again introducing Ryan Babel and Nabil El Zhar from the bench.

Standard were on the defensive for most of the second half but almost snatched victory in the last minute when De Camargo headed wide.

Arbeloa tested Espinoza from distance in extra time while El Zhar could easily have been awarded a penalty after going down in the box under the weight of a rash challenge.

Standard, though, couldn’t hold out and with two minutes of extra time remaining Babel, marauding down the left, cut on to his right foot and sent in a deep cross which Kuyt bundled in.

Lessons must be learned
from Liverpool's narrow victory

Comment by Nick Smith - Liverpool Daily Post

Even just a handful of games into the season, a few lessons have already been learned. Mainly, that playing badly is okay if you get the result.

And apparently, if you’re getting really carried away with Liverpool’s 100% start to the Premier League campaign, it’s the mark of champions.

But it’s not the mark of European champions. In fact, at the moment it’s the mark of nothing more than a confused bunch of under-achievers desperately wondering where their next coherent passing move is coming from and tiding themselves over with face-saving interventions at opportune times.

And when all else failed, that was what they fell back on once again last night, only this time with the added indignity of needing the best part of two hours to do it.

The hope was that Liverpool would up their game considerably, not just from that dreadful first leg in Belgium, but the subsequent underwhelming league games.

But the only standard they raised last night was the one from Liege – giving them a belief that they could inflict one of the home side’s biggest European upsets.

For most of this second leg, the home threat was minimal and that is worrying.

It’s the competition in which they are supposed to thrive not flounder. Build-up was tentative and often turgid, narrow enough to make cycle lanes jealous.

And the most alarming aspects of Liverpool’s current inability to open things up was almost exposed to the full by their opponents last night.

Standard weren’t simply sitting back and smiling about the lack of variety and invention that stood before them.

They wanted to capitalise, sensing – as anyone would in the current circumstances – that an away goal would be relatively easy to defend.

They should have got it too in an early period that mirrored the opening to the first leg two weeks earlier, the brilliant Belgian supporters packing half of the lower Anfield Road ensuring the atmosphere was just as inspiring to their heroes too.

And it was a similar story in midfield, where the tough tackling and tight marking squeezed all the control and composure out of Liverpool’s play.

They sat back a bit more in the second half, making the priority to continue their relentless frustrating of the five-times European champion. As a result it was all too tense for everyone’s comfort – except Sir Alex Ferguson, watching on and wondering what squeaky-bum time was doing turning up in August.

A complete lack of sustained pressure in the Standard final third ensured supporters grew as impatient as Gareth Barry for Liverpool to make their move, and the depressing inevitability of a second successive goalless draw against a team who were considered more sub-Standard when the draw was made, slowly dawned on them.

With Aston Villa and Manchester United imminent, you wonder how long Rafael Benitez and his players can get away with this. The prospect of returning players alongside a couple of new ones at least points to future positives.

And, of course, the final outcome that seals a place in today’s group stage draw, engineered by the introduction of that rare commodity – width, courtesy of Ryan Babel and his fine cross that Dirk Kuyt steered in.

In the end, it was a good job that late winner finally arrived.

Because progress had to be made.

Not being in the main draw for the Champions League is simply not an option for Liverpool.

Similar to the philosophy some Olympians hold of “gold is for winners, anything else for losers.” (Not that Javier Mascherano would have dared tell Beijing silver medallist David Price that during their pre-match parade last night).

But it’s not just the golden riches and rewards on offer that matters at Anfield – in fact, as Rafael Benitez suggested in the build-up to last night’s second leg, he’d take silver any day.

Whether the cash-careful owners see it that way is highly unlikely, but that is what the European Cup is all about for Liverpool. Had the adventure ended before it had even begun last night, where would it have left them?

Free to concentrate on the Premier League? Well, surely professional footballers should be able to do that in the remaining 36 games anyway. And there’s no guarantee the extra excitement and anticipation of a Champions League run is a massive distraction anyway. Indeed, it should add extra fuel to the journey.

You don’t get Istanbul nights on the way to wining titles. And no six-pointers with Chelsea could ever match the fearsome tension of the three epic semi-finals the two clubs have played out in the competition in the past four years.

Encounters that define eras, shape destinies. There’s no Liverpool supporter that would happily accept waiting another year for such moments – last night gives them the hope more memorable nail-biters are imminent.

Especially as Liverpool aren’t looking remotely close to cruising through any matches any time soon.

Average Liverpool sneak through

By Robin Hackett - Setanta Sports

Liverpool relied on a Dirk Kuyt goal deep into extra time to beat Standard Liege and progress to the Champions League group stages – but the celebrations will not disguise the need for Rafa Benitez to bring about a stark improvement from
his team.

The talk from the Liverpool camp before the game was of a need to play better. The team had been in winning form in the league but performances were not convincing and there would be no second chances if they failed to deliver.

On the night, though, the first real chance fell to Liege – Dieumerci Mbokani fired a swerving shot that Jose Reina did well to tip round the post – and, while Robbie Keane had a decent opportunity shortly afterwards, his wayward finish did little to suggest he was finally settling in at Anfield.

As the game wore on, Liverpool had their share of the chances, but their confidence soon wore away: Liege continued to press and, amid missed chances, long-range efforts just wide and agile Reina saves, Liverpool were again riding their luck.

At times, the hosts looked like establishing some momentum, but they so rarely breached the Liege defence that it was difficult to see them as favourites to progress – particularly as Wilfried Dalmat and Mbokani provided a very real threat on the on the counter-attack.

At the start of the second half, Liege started to reassert themselves once more and Rafa Benitez finally decided to give his team some width an hour in as Ryan Babel was brought on for Yossi Benayoun.

In truth, Liverpool had started to get back into it beforehand and the Holland international’s introduction, though timely, was perhaps not as significant as it may have appeared, but with the ability to stretch the play came a notable improvement in the English side’s ability to apply pressure.

That pressure rarely applied, however, to Rorys Aragon in the Liege goal. Liverpool had possession and they had chances, but they also struggled to produce much that provided any genuine danger – Keane in particular failed to inspire and it was little surprise that Benitez chose to withdraw him in the 83rd minute for Nabil El Zhar.

In the final minutes, Liverpool continued to press; Liege continued to counter-attack. But, in the end, neither route proved effective and the game went to extra time.

In extra time in particular but as a general rule throughout the evening, caution prevailed. The fans tried to lift the team as they deflated, roaring encouragement from the stands, but Liverpool, it seemed, felt penalties an attractive enough option to hold back.

As before, chances came and went, but they continued to strike from long-range or to look for the individual moment of brilliance that had always proved elusive. Liege continued to play on the break, but had seemingly lost all interest in actually scoring a goal.

As the game approached penalties, the closest Liverpool had come – fittingly enough – was a legitimate penalty shout when El Zhar was brought down by former Newcastle defender Oguchi Onyewu seven minutes from time, but the appeals, surprisingly muted all things considered, were waved away.

But the introduction of Babel ultimately proved telling. With less than three minutes to go, the Holland international put in an inswinging cross from wide on the left and Kuyt – disappointing on the night but so often the hero – stretched out a leg and turned the ball home.

So, a Liverpool win and a reprieve for Benitez and his team. How long they can continue to ride their luck in this fashion, however, remains to be seen.

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Thor Zakariassen ©