After The Match 


Liverpool-Reading 2-1 (1-1)            15.3.08                        PL
Goals: Mascherano (19), Torres (48)          Matejovsky (5)
Team: Reina, Aurelio, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard, Babel, Kuyt, Torres
Subs: Benayoun (Kuyt 81), Riise (Babel 83), Hyypia (Gerrard 90)
Not used: Itandje, Crouch
Yellow: Hunt (59), Ingimarsson (65), Matejovsky (74), Bikey (79), Cisse (87)
Red: None
Referee: Andre Marriner
Attendance: 43,524
Shots on target: 7-1
Shots off target: 14-4
Blocked shots: 3-2
Fouls conceded: 7-23
Corners: 7-2
Offsides: 1-1
Possession: 61-39
Yellow: 0-5
not to say anything about the referee..."
Rafael Benitez

1703: Monster fee maybe, but Mascherano is worth it
1703: Mascherano: I just went crazy
1703: Carragher hails Torres
1703: Seven up for Liverpool, but the big test comes...
1603: Alonso delighted with perfect week
1503: Rafa: Masch goal first of many
1503: Coppell bemoans Anfield loss
1503: Torres sees off Royals  

Monster fee maybe,
but Mascherano is worth it

Comment by Nick Peet - Liverpool Echo

When any club splashes out £20 million on one player the expectation in the stands is only exceeded by that in the boardroom and dugout.

And while Fernando Torres had already lived up to his price tag even before he became the first striker since Robbie Fowler to score 20 league goals for the Reds on Saturday, the club's other big signing was adding a silver lining to his first full season too.

Javier Mascherano has simply been a revelation since his high profile and turbid switch to Anfield little more than 12 months ago.

The Argentinian battle-axe was saved from his nightmare at West Ham by Rafa Benitez last February and one year on he finally put pen to paper on a permanent four-year deal with the Reds just two weeks ago.

In just one year the 23-year-old from San Lorenzo has become as popular at Anfield as superstar hitman Torres or even home-grown idols Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

While Saturday's equaliser against Reading may only have been his second goal in over four years and 112 club matches, the 'Little Chief' – as he is known in his homeland – was already worth every penny in the eyes of supporters.

That's probably why no questions were asked on the Kop when the bill from sporting group MSI arrived at Anfield.

Liverpool fans knew that they had one of the best anchor men in the world, desperate to prove himself in a red shirt.

Every successful team in the modern game requires a defensive midfielder and in Mascherano Liverpool have a true master of the art.

AC Milan have Gennaro Gattuso, Barcelona can choose from Yaya Toure and Xavi while Chelsea have Michael Essien, Arsenal Martin Flamini and United Owen Hargreaves.

But there isn't a Liverpool fan on the planet who would willingly swop any one of those for the Reds' diminutive Argentinian international.

Just last week Benitez described Mascherano as "the best defensive midfielder in the world" – and few could argue with that sentiment, especially when you tear through his statistics for the season.

Mascherano has played 1,861 minutes of Premier League football so far in this campaign and gone into 308 tackles, winning 198 of them to afford him a 64% success rate.

Now, compare that with Essien who has won 108 of 191 tackles, giving him a success rate of 56.5%, or even Flamini who has spent almost every second of Arsenal's league campaign on the field (2,406 minutes) but has won only 147 tackles from 272, leaving him at 54.0% for the season.

And you can even compare Mascherano's numbers with the cream of the continent.

At Barcelona Xavi, after spending 2,224 minutes on the pitch in La Liga, has gone into 264 tackles, winning just 99 at a rate of 37.5%, while team-mate Yaya Toure has played a lot less (just 1,495 mins) and is more accustomed to that role but still only hits 63.5% after winning 125 tackles in 197.

It really is no wonder then that statistics also so show Pepe Reina to be the most inactive goalkeeper in the Premier League.

Mascherano marshals the space in front of the Reds back line with aplomb.

He must cover a marathon of miles during the 90 minutes, while his tackling is assured and his composure on the ball irrefutable.

He's also enjoying a notable improvement in his passing also, not to mention his forays forward.

And now – dare I suggest it after one solitary strike – he's adding goals to his game also.

He's a big game player at a big game club, as his man of the match performance in Athens last May proved best.

Plus he's in love with the club, the city and especially the fans.

Liverpool may have splashed out £20m for a defensive midfielder. But already that looks like money well spent.

Mascherano: I just went crazy

By Tony Barrett - Liverpool Echo

Javier Mascherano today told of his joy at scoring his first Liverpool goal – but pledged to continue putting the needs of the team before personal glory.

Mascherano capped another magnificent personal performance for the Reds against Reading on Saturday when he scored a brilliant equaliser and went wild with delight.

He admitted getting carried away when the ball hit the back of the net in front of the Kop.

“It was an incredible moment,” he said.

“I have not scored a goal since I was at River Plate, so to score one for Liverpool – and in front of the Kop as well – was really special.

“I can’t really describe the feeling but I know I celebrated like I had gone crazy.

“Some of the lads in the dressing room said I was like Inzaghi in the Champions League final.

“It just meant so much to me and it was important also for the team because we had just gone a goal behind.”

After Liverpool’s 2-1 win over the Royals, which puts them three points ahead of Everton in the battle for fourth, Rafa Benitez challenged Mascherano to hit the target more regularly, saying he has the talent to score more goals.

But the Argentinian is content with his current role in the team and happy to see others score the lion’s share of Liverpool’s goals.

“I think the manager was joking,” he laughed.

“It would be nice to score more goals but I don’t think there are many holding midfielders who score lots of goals.

“In this position you have to play deep and try to keep the balance of the team and that is the most important thing for me.

“I will try to score more goals but I know that I have to do my own job first.”

Fabio Aurelio, who scored his own first goal for Liverpool away at Bolton earlier this month, said everyone at Anfield was delighted for the popular Mascherano when he broke his duck.

“Javier has been having a great season, working really well for the team and I think he deserved to have a great moment like the one on Saturday.”

“Everyone was happy for him,” he said.

Carragher hails Torres

Sky Sports

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has backed Fernando Torres to be the difference in their crucial run of fixtures.

The Reds face Manchester United this weekend before taking on Everton and then Arsenal in three games that could define Liverpool's season.

Torres helped Liverpool to record their seventh win on the spin on Saturday with the winner in the 2-1 victory over Reading.

The Spaniard is in a rich-vein of form and his goal against Reading saw him become the first Liverpool player to net 20 league goals since Robbie Fowler in 1995-96.

Carragher is relishing Liverpool's testing fixture schedule and he believes Torres can help them overcome their rivals.

"Their top defenders will relish showing him what they can do but, let's face it, he's on fire at the moment and he can turn our season," Carragher told The Mirror.

"It can go two ways for us now. If we win the majority of our big games coming up, then we go on and have a fantastic season. If we don't then it is all doom and gloom again.

"We have five games against our three biggest rivals and they are going to be absolutely massive. But I relish those games, and if you are going to win trophies you have to win them. Nando can do that for us.

"Against United we didn't really make the most of him, he didn't play against Everton and came off injured at half-time against Arsenal. He hasn't really played against them."

Seven up for Liverpool,
but the big test comes next

Comment by Nick Smith - Liverpool Daily Post

And to think the last time Liverpool went into a fixture with Reading they were unbeaten in the Premier League.

Imagine if you’d offered their supporters a glimpse into the future back then and told them that, a little more than three months later, they would be going into their next meeting looking for a seventh successive win.

They could have been forgiven thinking such a run would merely re-affirm their title credentials. Telling them it would have had that effect on their claims for fourth place would have soon wiped the smiles off the faces.

An indication, since that first defeat at the Madejski, of just how much devastation the most turbulent of winters has left in its wake.

Of course, keep this form up and fourth might yet not be the extent of the ambitions.

But the fact remains that Liverpool still need to take a reality check before anyone gets too excited.

Because in the aforementioned victories, all Liverpool have done is win games you would expect them to.

Even Inter Milan, given the fact that Rafael Benitez’s aptitude on the continent is such that he can probably walk on water over to it by now.

But in the league? Five wins during a helpful schedule of four at home against opposition that any self-respecting Liverpool side should dispatch.

All of which, like a Tom Hicks statement, leaves so many questions unanswered. A situation that will be emphatically sorted out in the next three weeks.

Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal – the true tests of exactly how faultless this winning formula Benitez has majestically hit on really is.

The Gunners trilogy is massive. Make no mistake, Arsene Wenger will be far more miffed with his deal in the Champions League quarter- final draw than Benitez. The Frenchman knows full well the Spaniard has all the weapons to destroy his European destiny once again.

But while he’s at it, Benitez should take aim at Wenger’s domestic dreams. It might be too late to impact on the title race directly now but breaking the cycle of failure that has plagued his meetings with fellow ‘big four’ opposition can’t do any harm.

Liverpool simply can’t resist the great European Cup occasions, which is fair enough. But having to rely on them in the face of more shortcomings on the home front isn’t satisfactory.

The fact that supporters complain about £34 to watch a “training session” (actually quite reasonable to study Fernando Torres’s finishing practice) after a 3-0 victory over Newcastle proves how mundane this ‘we must finish fourth’ existence has become.

Reading never allowed it to become so routine on Saturday, proving they at least give two s___ts about their battle to stay up if not the FA Cup – although at least this year their defeatist theory on that competition has been mercifully exposed as the misplaced cynicism it always was.

Marius Matejovksy’s stunning strike hinted at a more competitive occasion, if not one that was ever going to end with Liverpool taking anything other than three points.

So what would be so wrong with them going all out to increase their tally by the same amount at Old Trafford on Sunday? Or at the Emirates on April 4, even if it is only the third most important game against Arsenal of that week.

It would finally be a tick in an empty box marked ‘success away to top four rivals’ on Benitez’s CV. It would tell us something about Liverpool that we didn’t previously know.

Success in Europe, however glorious, just wouldn’t. Of course Liverpool have to go for it, but now is the time to lay demons to rest – not just English opposition in the Champions League.

And it might just give us some pleasant surprises in a game of very few.

Incidentally, the top four is so now entrenched that they’re leaving the rest of Europe behind as well as – with the exception of Everton once again – the Premier League.

Taking up half the slots in the last eight of the Champions League is good for few except Richard Scudamore and the clubs involved, who couldn’t care less if they were the sole representatives from their country anyway.

It only strengthens their monopoly at home, while abroad it would be more bearable if it was any kind of an omen for Euro 2008 but the end of the domestic season is the end of this country’s involvement in Europe for the year.

So it was “a great week for English football” – how exactly?

Alonso delighted with perfect week

By Paul Hassall - LFC Official Website

Xabi Alonso reflected on a perfect week after he celebrated the birth of his first child by helping the Reds maintain their hopes of a fourth place finish with victory over Reading.

The Spanish playmaker missed the famous midweek win over Inter Milan at the San Siro to witness the arrival of his new-born son, but capped a memorable seven days by returning to play an important role in the win over Steve Coppell's men.

"It's been a great week, for the club of course and for me personally," said Alonso.

"It's really exciting and I am happy with everything at the moment."

With tough fixtures on the horizon it was important that Liverpool picked up three points against Reading and Alonso admits they made it difficult for themselves after conceding an early opener to Marek Matejovsky.

"It was a very tough game," he said.

"They did very well scoring from that set piece at the start of the game. It left us with a hard task but we were lucky enough to score two goals.

"At the end they pushed hard and we had to defend but we were good enough to claim the three points that we needed to remain in fourth place."

Alonso also expressed his delight for teammate Javier Mascherano who finally broke his duck for the Reds with a rasping 23-yard strike.

"I am pleased for Javier, he has finally got his goal," he said.

"I enjoy working with him, he has great defensive qualities, and has been trying to score, but it wasn't happening.

"He is a typical Argentinian player who sits in front of the defence and breaks up the play.

"He holds his position there and does that job really well. You cannot ask for much more, but he is getting forward now and has much more to his game."

Rafa: Masch goal first of many

By Jimmy Rice - LFC Official Website

Rafa Benitez claims Javier Mascherano can become a regular scorer for Liverpool after his first club strike against Reading.

The Anfield manager revealed he's been working with his midfield dynamo on shot accuracy, a statement backed up by the precision of Mascherano's 19th minute equaliser on Saturday.

The 25-yard strike helped secure a seventh successive win for the Reds, with Fernando Torres bagging the other goal in a 2-1 victory.

Benitez said: "We have seen before that Mascherano is not bad on the edge of the box. He just needs to improve his accuracy and then he could score more goals. If other teams play deeper then he might have space and he can score.

"We have talked about this with him and he knows he can score from the edge of the box. But it's not normal because he is a holding midfielder and plays deeper than Gerrard and Torres. He can do it though because he has ability and quality.

"It was a fantastic goal for him and an important one for us."

The Argentine's strike was his first in 44 appearances on Merseyside and comes just weeks after his big-money move to Liverpool was made permanent.

Benitez knows he's already starting to get his money's worth.

"When you have a player for a year and you know how good he is, sometimes you just have to pay the money," he said. "You see sides who've spent £20million on two or three midfielders. We knew this player was good and we needed to spend the money.

"The balance is the key. To have people who can work hard but who also have quality."

The Reading victory also saw new dad Xabi Alonso recalled to the starting XI, and Benitez claims that his performance, alongside that of Mascherano, was the key to another three points.

The Anfield boss said: "The holding midfielders against a team as physical as Reading need to work hard, and if the team plays well it is thanks to the holding midfielders.

"It was really, really important for us to get three points today. There was a little anxiety in the last few minutes but I think we deserved to win today.

"At the end we had a few problems with set pieces but throughout the game we created enough chances to score more than two goals.

"It was difficult because they were well organised and sometimes we gave the ball away. But sometimes we were playing really well. When Mascherano scored his goal you could see the difference."

The game witnessed several debatable refereeing decisions from man-in-the-middle Andre Marriner.

Reading felt aggrieved not to get a penalty following a late Steven Gerrard handball, though replays showed there was no intention whatsoever.

Benitez, meanwhile, was furious in the first half when the referee failed to see an elbow to the face of Alvaro Arbeloa.

The Spaniard said: "I prefer not to say anything about the referee, but we were not happy and they were not happy. That's enough of an explanation.

"It was clear Arbeloa was hit with an elbow. Everyone could see it but the referee said no. Afterwards the player was bleeding and that was the proof."

On the Gerrard handball, Benitez added: "I could see a foul on Xabi Alonso before that anyway, but Gerrard told me what he did and for me that's not handball."

Coppell bemoans Anfield loss

Sky Sports

Reading boss Steve Coppell was unhappy with the officials after his side's narrow 2-1 defeat to Liverpool.

Coppell felt his side were unfortunate not to get anything from their clash at Liverpool, blaming a lapse in concentration for Liverpool's winner.

Marek Matejovsky gave Reading the dream start with a superb opener after just five minutes only for Javier Mascherano to draw Liverpool level on 19 minutes with a terrific effort.

Fernando Torres grabbed the winner for Liverpool early in the second half but Coppell felt his side had strong claims for a penalty when Dave Kitson saw his effort charged down by Steven Gerrard.

"We scored a nice goal early on and they came back at us and scored a terrific strike," Coppell told Sky Sports.

"1-1 at half-time and i thought it was all to play for, but a lapse of concentration and they get in front.

"At the end in the closing minutes thought we had a great shout for a penalty. Steven Gerrard I don't think got one hand it was two. We could have got something from the game, it was close enough to be that way.

"Like many disgruntled managers against the big clubs it is hard to get an even sway of the decisions.

"I don't want to moan about the referee we contributed fully to the game, we could have got something from it and that had got to give us some hope."

Coppell believes the defeat will not have major impact on his side's fight against relegation and he remains confident they can ensure their safety by reaching the 40-point mark.

He added: "The result was never going to break our season but it could have made it if we had got a real postive result could have made a hell of a difference.

"We are still in the thick of things, but still very much in charge of our own future. It is up to us to try and and get sufficient points and I am still confident we can get 40 points and that has not changed after today's result.

Coppell also played down Shane Long's reaction to being substituted on after 63 minutes with the Irishman hurling his shirt to the ground.

Coppell insists the shirt-throwing tantrum was not because of Long was being substituted but because of his frustration at being penalised by the officials throughout the game.

"I think he was more frustrated with the decisions," added Coppell. "He was up against a big centre-half who was uncompromising but every time there contact between them the linesman's flag was on a spring and it was a Liverpool ball.

"He just felt frustrated that he did not get one of the decisions.

"I dont want to see the shirt throwing and it won't happen again."

Torres sees off Royals

Sky Sports

Liverpool consolidated their place in fourth spot with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Reading at Anfield.

The Reds came from behind to take all three points after Marek Matejovsky gave Reading an early lead with a superbly-taken goal.

Liverpool levelled matters on 19 minutes with Javier Mascherano netting his first goal for the club with a superb strike.

Fernando Torres grabbed the winner for Liverpool three minutes into the second half when he headed home Steven Gerrard's free-kick for his 20th Premier League goal of the campaign.

The win moves Liverpool three points clear of local rivals Everton in the race for fourth, while Reading find themselves back in trouble at the wrong end of the table

Reading stunned their hosts with an exceptional goal after a free-kick wide on the left for Arbeloa's foul on Stephen Hunt.

John Oster guided the ball across the edge of the penalty area and the unmarked Matejovsky smashed a swerving volley into the top corner off the crossbar with Jose Reina motionless.

Liverpool's response was a fine ball from Gerrard that sent Torres away but Hahnemann rushed from his line to make a fine block on the edge of the box.

It was going to take something special to match Matejovsky's effort and it came from Mascherano, only the second goal of his first-team career with Corinthians, River Plate, West Ham and now Liverpool.

The Argentina international gained possession 40 yards out and surged forward to lash the ball high past Hahnemann into the top right-hand corner.

Liverpool almost scored again when Mascherano's sweeping ball out to Babel set the Dutch youngster moving and he cut in before lashing an angled drive that Hahnemann beat away.

Babel's diving header from Gerrard's cross a minute later was rightly ruled out for offside before Dirk Kuyt hooked over Arbeloa's cross on the turn.

Alonso, from 30 yards, almost put Liverpool ahead a minute from the break but the hosts struck soon after half-time.

Torres was brought down out on the left after 48 minutes and when Gerrard lifted the free-kick into the box the Spain striker rose unchallenged to head down and wide of Hahnemann.

Kuyt headed just over from Fabio Aurelio's cross before Hunt, not surprisingly, got himself booked for yet another foul on Arbeloa.

Torres' crossfield ball sent Babel away on the left and the winger side-stepped three defenders before blasting his shot over the top.

Reading then took off Long, sending on Dave Kitson after 63 minutes. The Irish striker was far from impressed, hurling his shirt onto the track before being reprimanded by a clearly angry Reading boss Steve Coppell for his action.

Hahnemann then saved well to beat out an Aurelio drive with Torres heading the rebound just wide.

Andre Bikey was next into the book for a foul on Gerrard and the Cameroon international became involved in a heated exchange with the Liverpool captain and referee Andre Marriner before the yellow card was shown.

Reading threw everything forward and there was loud appeals for a penalty when Gerrard charged down a Kitson shot in injury-time but Liverpool held on.

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