Barcelona put on a masterclass of attacking football in their 5-0 drubbing of fierce rivals Real Madrid.
Journalists around the world ran out of superlatives for Pep Guardiola’s men, with some going as far as suggesting that his side is the best ever. It is hard to dispute this claim and it is made even more impressive as eight players in the side rose through the club’s academy ranks.
Andres Iniesta’s brilliant pass unlocked the Real Madrid defence which left Xavi free to give the Catalan club the lead in the 11th minute.
Pedro doubled the lead in the 18th minute, tapping in David Villa’s cross. The provider went on to become the next goalscorer in the 55th minute. The ex-Valencia striker was put through on goal by Lionel Messi’s (left) exquisite through ball and the pair combined again just three minutes later for Villa’s second and Barcelona’s fourth.
Substitute Jeffren completed the scoring in the 91st minute after converting fellow substitute Bojan’s cross past a helpless Iker Casillas.
A delighted Jeffren said after the match, “This was a match I will never forget. I had no idea that I was going to score a goal. I think everything went very well.
“This team has entered history tonight.”
His sentiments were echoed by Sergio Busquets. “It is a day for our history, and the end result is because of the high level that we have played at,” the Spaniard told AS. “It was a very complete match for all my team-mates.
“It is impossible to highlight one player, as all 11 were great. We have formed a style of football that is compact, and this makes it harder for teams to beat us.
“It is also a dream to have so many team players on our side.”
In the final minutes of Jose Mourinho’s worst ever defeat, Sergio Ramos was sent off for scything down Lionel Messi before pushing fellow Spanish World Cup winner Carles Puyol to the ground. The referee was left with no option and had to dismiss him.
After the game, Xavi said of the incident, “Sergio did not apologise, but this is normal. The feelings of anger and helplessness are understandable. [Our] Superiority should bother them.”
Manchester United saw off the challenge from a lacklustre Chelsea to win the Community Shield earlier this afternoon.
Antonio Valencia put United ahead after a superb cross from Wayne Rooney towards the end of the first half. Javier Hernandez put the Red Devils 2-0 up in the second half with a fortuitous effort but Salomon Kalou gave Chelsea a glimmer of hope in the 82nd minute.
With Chelsea pressing for a late equaliser, which would have forced a penalty shootout, United broke away and Dimitar Berbatov’s brilliant lob in the 90th minute ensured victory for United.
The team who has won the Community Shield in the last three seasons has gone on to be crowned league champions.
England progressed to the last 16 of the World Cup with a narrow victory of Slovenia in Port Elizabeth yesterday. Jermain Defoe’s 12th international goal was enough to put them through, albeit as group C runners-up. USA striker Landon Donovan’s 91st minute winner sent the USA from third place, meaning elimination, to top of the group to set up a last 16 tie with Ghana, leaving England to battle it out with old enemy Germany on Sunday afternoon.
After a disappointing goalless draw with Algeria in the previous match, Fabio Capello made three changes to his starting eleven. With Jamie Carragher serving a suspension, Matthew Upson came into the side to partner John Terry at the heart of the defence whilst Aaron Lennon and Emile Heskey were dropped to the bench in favour of James Milner and Jermain Defoe. It was Milner and Defoe who combined to give England what would turn out to be the winner in the 23rd minute. Some clever play on the right-wing allowed Milner the space to deliver an exquisite cross for Jermain Defoe to finish. Milner found himself in good positions throughout the game but this was to be the only of his nine crosses to find a team-mate.
England played some lovely football with Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney combining well on numerous occasions to create chances for themselves and for others. Gerrard should have given England a more comfortable lead on the half-hour mark but his shot was well saved by Samir Handanovič. There were chances to further England’s lead for Frank Lampard who’s rebounded effort was sent wide, whilst Wayne Rooney beat the offside trap after a delightful through ball by Lampard, only for Handanovič to tip his effort onto the post in the 58th minute.
England had to defend doggedly at times with goal-bound efforts blocked by Glen Johnson, Matthew Upson as well as two courageous stops from John Terry. This type of fighting spirit is the sort that will endear the players to the hearts of the fans once more.
Credit must be given to Slovenia for the way they went about approaching this match. With a draw enough to send them through, they opted against a defensive mentality in favour of continuing the type of attacking play that saw them sit atop of the group before kick off. They had few chances and were often left to resort to shots from distance. Valter Birsa tried his luck on a couple of occasions, but his efforts were comfortably dealt with by David James.
The three minutes of added time felt longer than the fifth set between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon but England managed to weather the storm to record their first victory of the tournament.
The victory lifted the spirits of players and fans alike with the joy of qualification etched on the faces of the players when the full-time whistle blew. A tricky tie against Germany awaits them on Sunday.
Benfica 2-1 Liverpool. It is a score-line I am sure many Liverpool fans will consider to be a decent result; myself included. That all important away goal courtesy of Daniel Agger gives us something to go back to Anfield with in the hope of another famous European night with the 12th man that is the Kop firmly behind us. The circumstances concerning the way we were leading but still lost makes the result a bit harder to deal with.
Daniel Agger’s clever finish from a Steven Gerrard free kick in the ninth minute got us off to the perfect start and drew comparisons to the goal that he scored against Chelsea in the Champions League in 2007. It was a goal that seemed long overdue for Agger who had threatened to get on the score sheet in the previous match against Sunderland. After this however, Benfica showed their class with Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo coming close on a couple of occasions and we rode our luck a little when he spooned an effort over from inside the six yard box. His next chance was with his head after an excellent delivery from in-demand Argentine winger Angel Di Maria, yet the outcome and the score-line remained the same. Further headed chances were spurned by newly capped Brazilian international Ramires before Cardozo missed another. It was Di Maria to threaten next for the home side when his fierce strike flashed narrowly over Jose Reina in the Liverpool goal. On another night we could have easily been three or four goals down.
Great Dane: Daniel Agger gives Liverpool the lead in the 9th minute.
For me, it was disappointing how vulnerable we looked defensively, especially aerially, and I recall mentioning at the time via Twitter how it was the sort of game Sami Hyypia would have relished. This is why I believe Sotirios Kyrgiakos will come into the side to partner Jamie Carragher in the heart of defence for the second leg with Daniel Agger shifting to left back to deputise for the suspended Emiliano Insua and the injured Fabio Aurelio. What was also disappointing was the amount of criticism aimed at Insua by Liverpool ‘fans’. It is important to remember that he is still just 21 years old and has been thrust into the side due to Aurelio’s constant injury problems and Andrea Dossena and John Arne Riise have both moved to Serie A with Napoli and AS Roma respectively. It is the same situation with Lucas Leiva. He receives more criticism than he is due and fans normally state how he cannot pass or tackle. He is currently the fifth most successful tackler in the Premier League with a success rate of 69% and before last weekend he was in the top five passers in the league. Not bad for a player who cannot pass or tackle.
The suspension of Insua has resulted in talk of ‘three at the back’ but for me this would not be the best option as Benfica like to make the most of their wide men; in particular Di Maria. A five man midfield would probably need wing backs and then we are back with the problem of who plays at left wing back. Where would Glen Johnson feature if we had to play with three at the back without wing-backs? It would seem foolish to leave him out of a game that requires us to attack from the off. My final point on three at the back would be that it has been a long time since we have played with this system. I believe that it takes time for players to adapt to a different formation and now is not the time to change in what could be a season defining game. I will leave the team selection to Rafa.
Back to the game and after chances aplenty from Benfica came the big talking point of the match. Brazilian defender Luisao’s wild tackle from behind on Fernando Torres resulted in Ryan Babel receiving a straight red card for touching Luisao in the face. It could be argued that Luisao should have received a straight red card for the tackle itself yet Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson deemed that a yellow card would suffice. The tackle was of a reckless nature which then saw Babel remonstrate with Luisao before touching, and note not hitting out at, the Benfica captain in the face. It is a silly thing to do in the modern game even though it seems petulant, Fifa laws state that if a player raises or puts his hand in another player’s face then it is red card. If contact is made from a player to another player’s chest or below then it is a yellow card. Take note Ryan to push Luisao in the chest next time! Down to ten men with the whole of the second half and part of the first still to play ensured that it was going to be difficult to contain an attacking Benfica side.
Fracas: Ryan Babel receives his marching orders.
The second half saw us start brightly but things got worse on the hour mark as Insua felled fellow Argentine Pablo Aimar in the penalty area. This stemmed from us failing to deal with Oscar Cardozo’s powerful free kick which had moments before rattled the post. It was Cardozo who stepped up and powerfully tucked his spot-kick into the corner of the net. Either side of the equaliser saw further incidents; however, this time they were in the shape and form of missiles from the Benfica fans behind Jose Reina in the Liverpool goal. The second of the two missiles left its mark on the pitch and resulted in the referee consulting his fourth, fifth and six officials after the Additional Assistant closest to the missile was left nursing a sore ear. Lets hope we can show the Benfica fans how to behave properly in the return leg without the need of missiles to intimidate officials.
With ten minutes to go, Angel Di Maria skipped to the byline and his cross struck Jamie Carragher on his outstretched hand and a second penalty was awarded. You could tell after witnessing two penalties and a red card that this was not to be our night and a seventeenth defeat in a disappointing season loomed. Paraguay international Cardozo stepped up again to coolly slot his penalty into the same side of the net after waiting for Reina to dive the other way. This took his tally to thirty this season which will inevitably link him with a big money move to Manchester City among others in the summer. I do not normally like to blame referees for the outcome of games but he appeared to favour the home side with innocuous tackles from us being given as fouls whilst Ryan Babel got kicked in the head in the first half without a free kick being given. Jose Reina also got booked for time-wasting with a goal kick yet he only had the ball for a mere six seconds. I have not even accounted for the number of fouls and kicks Fernando Torres received.
Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo
With this considered, we did have a few chances of our own. Fernando Torres had the best of the chances after being released by Dirk Kuyt in the latter stages of the second half but he uncharacteristically and agonizingly spurned the opportunity by dragging his one-on-one chance wide of the post. Torres was later left with a chance to run at David Luiz but the Brazilian defender matched him for pace and strength and thwarted the attack.
We managed to see out the last ten minutes without further scare and the away goal provided by Agger could prove vital in the return leg as they so often do. Two further positives are that Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres did not pick up a yellow card in the match which would have resulted in them being ruled out of the return leg through suspension. Providing and praying that we do not pick up any injuries against Birmingham City on Sunday, Rafa Benitez has a more or less full squad to choose from.
It will be tough in the second but a famous European night at Anfield always fills me with optimism and I would not be surprised to see us win 1-0.
Liverpool’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night gave everyone at the club a much needed boost following the FA Cup 3rd round defeat to Reading. This said, it was the third win in four in the league which has helped lift the Reds to within one point of fourth placed Tottenham. Dirk Kuyt’s sixth minute opener gave the injury-ravished Liverpool a deserved lead after finishing well from Alberto Aquilani’s lay off. Injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Yossi Benayoun, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres meant that the likes of Kuyt and Aquilani really had to step up to the plate on Wednesday, which they duly did.
Kuyt firing his first goal of the game
Chances were few and far between in the first 45 minutes, with Tottenham’s first chance coming just before Kuyt gave Liverpool the lead when Pepe Reina did well to smother the ball away from Niko Krancjar and Jermain Defoe. The visitor’s best chance came just before half time when Wilson Palacios slid a ball through to Luka Modric but Reina stood big and did well to deny the little Croatian. Liverpool’s only other first half chances came late from Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. The Liverpool versus Tottenham fixture is normally one of the better ones in a Premier League campaign but neither side really managed to claim the ascendency in the early parts of this one.
The beginning of the second half saw Liverpool lose concentration which nearly, and perhaps should have seen Tottenham equalise through who else but Jermain Defoe. A lack of concentration and subsequent mix-up from Kyrgiakos and Reina led to Defoe pinching the ball from Reina’s feet and slotting home into an empty net, only for the Kop to breathe a huge sigh of relief when the referee’s assistant adjudged Defoe as being offside. Replays suggest it was a somewhat fortuitous decision. This was the wake-up call that Liverpool were lucky to get but the next chance fell to the hosts as Philipp Degen’s run and cross was met by the head of Albert Riera whose header rattled Heurelho Gomes’ crossbar. It was desperately unlucky and left the Anfield faithful wondering whether it was a chance that would later be rued. Philipp Degen was to be involved again shortly after Riera’s chance when he flicked on a cross to Dirk Kuyt who blazed over from close range.
Jermaine Jenas then went close after about 65 minutes but Pepe Reina was in inspired form to palm the ball away to safety. Liverpool really should have put the match to bed after that when Kuyt’s high work-rate was rewarded as he stole possession on the halfway line before feeding Philipp Degen who wasted a golden opportunity. Manager Rafa Benitez had some special praise for Kuyt’s contribution in his post-match press conference where he said, “he was working very hard and maybe he could have scored four today,” Benitez told reporters. “His commitment is always 100 per cent, so we are pleased for him”. Spectacular efforts were next to follow from Albert Riera and then Alan Hutton for Spurs but neither goalkeeper was called into action on these occasions. This was to be the last chance for the visitors who lacked creativity in the final third with Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon both sidelined through injury.
Benitez must take credit for some inspiring substitutions in this game as the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez and David N’Gog sparked Liverpool back into life and commanding centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos went close seven minutes from time but his left footed half-volley was beaten away by Gomes in the Tottenham goal. It seemed as if Rafa was content to take the 1-0 victory as he introduced Stephen Darby to the right side of midfield in a bid to shore things up but it was fellow substitute David N’Gog whose lively play helped wrap up the points. He first turned delightfully on the edge of the box to force a smart save from Gomes before getting Sebastian Bassong in a mess as the Cameroonian defender felled the France under-21 international just inside the penalty area to give Dirk Kuyt the chance for his and Liverpool’s second. Kuyt smashed home the penalty only for Howard Webb to demand a retake after encroaching from Lucas Leiva among others. At the second time of asking, Kuyt switched sides and cooly slotted home his eighth goal of the season.
Kuyt and Lucas acknowledge the fans after Kuyt doubles the lead
After the match Rafa Benitez not only had praise for Kuyt, but the whole team including fringe players Philipp Degen, Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos who have equipped themselves well in the last two league games. Kyrgiakos reminds me of Sami Hyypia and this was demonstrated well in his handling of Mamady Sidibie against Stoke City and Degen looked full of running against Stoke and Tottenham whilst providing good defensive protection to Jamie Carragher at full-back. After the game, Benitez said “it is difficult to stop Crouch and Defoe, so I think the combination of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel did well,” before adding, “I said before, the squad is not as bad as people have said. Today we were without six players, but the rest of the squad showed character. We have to be pleased because everyone was working hard and the players who have not played too many games did well.” Without wishing to bemoan our bad luck with injuries too much, I do agree with Rafa. Everyone is keen to remind us that we are having a terrible season, yet we are now just one point behind Tottenham who are said to be having a fantastic season so things cannot be all bad.
To conclude, I think the addition of Maxi Rodriguez will turn out to be a shrewd piece of business, but it is the fitness of Benayoun, Gerrard and Torres that will be the key if we are to make the top four this season. Any team would miss Gerrard and Torres as they are pure and simply world-class, but the Tottenham game has shown that the squad is not overly-reliant on two players and it is now imperative that we kick on; starting away to Wolves.