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Liverpoolvs Unirea Urziceni - Ngog Video

Liverpool take a 1-0 lead to Romania after David Ngog’s second half winner against Unirea Urziceni.

Match Report courtesy of Click Liverpool

For the first time in six years, Europe’s second-tier competition returned to the red half of Merseyside. The last time the famous old ground hosted the Europa League, it was still called the UEFA Cup as Marseille ground out a one-all draw in March 2004.

A banner depicting manager Rafael Benitez alongside Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish ,in the style of communist Russia propaganda, looked on from the Kop as the Anfield faithful found themselves feeling a little unfamiliar with a competition which had served as scant recognition of continental importance a decade previous.

The novelty of competing on the continent had worn off following five consecutive appearances in the Champions League and a relatively sterile first half testified how poor a relation the new-format competition was to Europe’s premier competition.

UEFA’s decision to trial additional referees in this year’s tournament further highlighted the differences between the continental elite and its second-rate alternative with the home supporters bewildered by tracksuited officials standing on either end of the field of play.

Steven Gerrard had warned Liverpool’s critics to write off Benitez’s side at their peril and almost opened the scoring with a close range shot which Giedrius Arlauskis palmed away after some good build-up play by Dirk Kuyt.

The Dutchman, who had also grown accustomed to sporting Champions League emblem on his shirt, went agonisingly close some 10 minutes later but saw his effort deflected wide for a corner whilst Fabio Aurelio angled a free-kick wide of Arlauskis’ left-hand post on 14 minutes.

Unirea failed to make a lasting impression on the game in the early stages aside from Sorin Frunza’s low-struck free kick but, like Marius Onofas’ audacious 40-yard effort, the ball once again found itself in the arms of Reina who remained untroubled throughout the first half.

At the other end Albert Riera had better luck and threatened Unirea’s goal numerous times in the first half-hour with a series of efforts that caused panic amongst the Romanians’ defence.

David Ngog also went close 10 minutes before the interval when the Frenchman, who has divided opinion within the Kop jury, fired an effort wide on the turn during one of his less impressive appearances in a red shirt this season as both sides failed to demonstrate any real intent.

Liverpool began the second half in the same manner they had started the first as Gerrard glanced a header wide of the Kop goal before Aurelio fired an effort wide.

Benitez, meanwhile, introduced Ryan Babel on 62 minutes in a bid to instill further pace and firepower into his ailing troops. However the much maligned winger failed to inspire the Kop as he repeatedly allowed himself to be herded off the ball by the Romanians.

A gaffe by Daniel Agger almost gifted the lead when he intercepted a ball destined for Reina to collect that broke to Frunza who could only steer his effort out of play. Martin Skrtel, the Dane’s defensive partner, should have done better when he headed Aurelio’s corner over the crossbar on 70 minutes.

Alberto Aquilani, who had once again failed to justify his £20 million price tag, was replaced by Dani Pacheco minutes later and the Kop’s faith in the untried Spanish starlet during a drab team performance was evident as they chanted his name.

The former Barcelona prodigy provided an able assist for David Ngog 10 minutes from time when he nodded an Aurelio ball across the face of the goal for the former Paris Saint Germain hitman to power a diving header home.

Gerrard attempted to double the advantage but hit a curling 20-yard effort just wide of Arlauskis’ goal as Liverpool continued to enjoy the lion’s share of chances but failed to build on their lead.

The home side appealed for a penalty after Pablo Brandan tackled compatriot Javier Mascherano on the edge of the area in the opening seconds of stoppage time.

Despite the victory, Anfield’s first taste of the Europa League left the 40,450 crowd feeling slightly despondent ahead of next week’s return leg in Bucharest.


LIVERPOOL: Reina, Carragher, Agger, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Aquilani (Pacheco 74), Kuyt, Riera (Babel 62), Gerrard, Ngog (Lucas 89). Subs (not used): Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Degen.

UNIREA URZICENI: Arlauskis, Manel, Galamez, Fernandes, Brandan, Paraschiv (Vilana 86), Onofras (Marinescu 74), Paduretu (Rusescu 90), Apostol, Frunza, Bilasco. Subs (not used) Tudor, Mehmedovic, Nicu, Bordenu.

Attendance: 40,450

Referee: Eric Braamhaar (Netherlands)


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HISTORY and heritage versus finance and potential: it is a question that certain footballers will have to answer this summer when the transfer window opens.

With an ever-decreasing band of top class players available, invariably the same clubs competing for the same prizes find themselves chasing the same targets, so what will ultimately prove decisive?

In the red corner you have Liverpool; 18 league titles, five European Cups but lacking economic firepower. Standing in the blue corner, meanwhile, are Manchester City – their CV is short of silverware but their bank balance is burgeoning.

Put simply, City – backed by the billionaires of Abu Dhabi – have the potential to blow Liverpool or any of their other competitors out of the water; most clubs are finding it impossible to compete in such a landscape.

If City decide to draw up a contract with figures that resemble an international telephone number, they will, more often than not, win the race; looking at it rationally, what would you do if someone wanted to double or treble your salary?

It must be said, however, there are still plenty of top footballers who can see beyond pounds, shillings and pence and just want to be able to say they have pulled on the shirt of one of the world’s top clubs – think Fernando Torres, for example.

So, with that in mind, it is significant to listen to the views of Albert Riera ahead of tomorrow’s showdown between Liverpool and City at Eastlands, particularly as he has experienced life on both sides of the fence.

When he played for City four years ago, the massive turnaround in their fortunes was just starting to begin but Riera never settled and was only too happy to end his loan spell and return to Espanyol.

Compare that to when he discovered Liverpool were pursuing him. Despite more money being offer elsewhere, Riera only had eyes for the Reds and if he was asked to choose between his current and former employers now, his decision would ever alter.

“The money does not take you straight to the title but it certainly helps you a lot,” said Riera, when asked about City’s riches. “But we can’t think about that. All we are doing is thinking about ourselves and we will be focused on playing well.

“But whatever happens, you cannot say Liverpool is not in the top four. I don’t know where we will finish but you know that we will keep fighting until the end of the season for fourth place.

“Anyway, if that doesn’t prove to be the case, Liverpool are still top four. We have got a history and you cannot change everything in one year. The money they have will never take away from the prestige and titles we have.

“I am at the right club, I am sure of this. If you told me I had to change (back to Manchester City) I wouldn’t do it. The money isn’t important. It’s the football. We have everything here.

“We’ve got fantastic supporters and an amazing stadium. We have also got a great team and I am certain that, at the end of the season, we will be back up there in fourth place again.”

To do that, Liverpool dare not fluff their lines at Eastlands as City have the chance to disappear over the horizon; a home victory tomorrow would give Roberto Mancini’s side a four point lead, with a game in hand, heading into the final straight.

True, the outcome of this showdown will not prove to definitive but the feeling persists that whoever emerges victorious will ultimately have the Champions League on their agenda next season.

“This is the key moment,” said Riera. “It will not decide the race here and now, as there are many more chances to get points. But they are our biggest rivals for the Champions League and we need to win.

“Having a lead over your rivals is always better. It would be a really good moment to beat them. If we can get three points, afterwards we have got some games that you would expect us to win. It would be a good time to get three points.

“It would give us the confidence that we need right now. City are improving a lot and they have been near the top of the table for most of the season. It’s all so true that people have talked about us and said that we are not playing well.

“We wanted to be fighting for the title but that has not happened. With the players that we have, we know we can play better but we are still only one point behind them and this is a great opportunity for us. Finishing fourth is the minimum aim.”

Whether Riera retains his place in the starting line-up after an erratic display against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday night remains to be seen but he is hoping that Rafa Benitez gives an opportunity to bite the hand that once fed him.

This, after all, is the kind of game in which every player wants to be involved and the Spanish midfielder hopes Liverpool can become the first visiting side to triumph at Eastlands this season to make their rivals sit up and take note.

“They have played a game less than us so, if we won, it would be worth so much more than three points,” said Riera. “We will be back in front of them, we will have the confidence and it will mean more pressure for them.

“I suppose you can say it’s a bit like a final, as it is a massive game with so much at stake. But we need to win and we have to win. At the same time, we know it is not our last chance to make a statement.”

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TOMMY SMITH: Liverpool FC must respect Europa League if they want to end trophy drought

AS Liverpool kick off the Europa League campaign tomorrow night we can take a few lessons from recent history.

I remember heading into the FA Cup tie with Reading and there seemed to be no question as to who would progress.

A draw and a replay later and it hadn’t gone according to plan though.

That’s why we must be careful against Unirea Urziceni. If anything is taken for granted, we could be looking at another unwelcome cup upset.

Although there is one school of thought that says Unirea might simply be happy to be playing at Anfield, they’re not a bad side and only narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League.

While everyone would prefer us to be in that competition, we have to take the Europa League seriously.

The Liverpool philosophy has always been that, as soon as you went out of one competition, you set out to win the next.

The Europa League presents an opportunity for us to lift a trophy for the first time since the FA Cup in 2006.

The club’s reputation has been built on silverware and so we shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to add to that, be it in the Carling Cup, European Cup or whatever.

I’m not sure the squad is good enough to win the Premier League as it is but it should be good enough to win the Europa League.

Saying that I’d expect to see a strong team sent out against Unirea. We can’t afford to be complacent and field all the fringe players and kids.

Playing an under- strength side would immediately give the opposition an extra lift.

Plus, people pay good money to come to Anfield and watch the best players. If we want to win the competition we have to respect it.

They’re simply not as good as us.

For all the money that has been pumped into the club, City are stil some way off challenging the top teams in Europe as Liverpool have done for some years now.

The whole Robinho episode sums it up perfectly.

City have been let down with some of the players they’ve brought in. They don’t always play as a team, but more as individuals, which is no doubt why Robinho is no longer at the club. They tend to rely on the pace of the likes of Craig Bellamy on the left and one or two others.

The whole situation reminds me of Real Madrid. Just because you throw a load of money at it, doesn’t guarantee success.

City have improved a bit under Roberto Mancini but there have also been signs that all is not well.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have been playing well as a team again lately.

We’re playing as a unit again, with everyone relying on each other.

That’s why I believe we’ll come away from Manchester with maximum points.

Mascherano’s the new Cally

A major plus point for Liverpool lately has been the return to form of Javier Mascherano.

He reminds me of Ian Callaghan at times.

They’re different players but Cally would also give you everything, running all over the pitch.

Cally didn’t mind putting his foot in either, although he never got booked!

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Liverpool FC 1 Everton FC 0 - Dirk Kuyt's goal the difference for Reds amid red mist

Dirk Kuyt scores for Liverpool against Everton

TWO red cards, seven yellows and bags of controversy – the 213th Merseyside derby certainly lived up to its billing.

Dirk Kuyt’s second-half header was enough to secure Liverpool a priceless victory in their pursuit of Champions League qualification and complete the league double over their neighbours from across Stanley Park.

The Reds overcame the sending off of Sotirios Kyrgiakos for a two footed lunge on Marouane Fellaini before the break with a performance full of grit and character.

Kuyt broke the deadlock when he nodded home Steven Gerrard’s corner and they endured few scares as Everton failed to make their numerical advantage count.

The visitors’ frustration boiled over in stoppage time when Steven Pienaar was given a second yellow card for a foul on Gerrard.

The Blues haven’t won at Anfield since 1999 when Kevin Campbell got the winner and they will be kicking themselves about this missed opportunity to end that barren run.

Defeat for David Moyes’ side ended a nine-match unbeaten league run stretching back to the 2-0 derby setback the Reds inflicted at Goodison back in November.

Both managers had pleaded for cool heads in the build up to this game but their words fell on deaf ears.

Jamie Carragher made his intentions clear inside the opening seconds with a crunching tackle on Pienaar.

It set the tone for a predictably frenetic contest with the Reds dominating possession early on and looking the more likely to break the deadlock.

Inside three minutes Gerrard burst down the left before being upended by Phil Neville on the edge of the box.

The Reds skipper picked himself up and from an acute angle unleashed a curling free-kick which was beaten away by Tim Howard. It dropped kindly to Emiliano Insua but he lashed the rebound over.

The Reds continued to threaten with Daniel Agger firing over after the Blues had failed to deal with Gerrard’s corner.

Both sides had half hearted appeals for a penalty waved away. First Kuyt’s shot appeared to strike Pienaar’s arm, while at the other end Sylvain Distin claimed he was shoved to the ground by David Ngog.

The tackles flew in with Tim Cahill and Javier Mascherano both fortunate to avoid punishment before referee Martin Atkinson finally reached for his notebook after 20 minutes.

Kuyt was yellow carded after bringing down Landon Donovan 25 yards out and from the ensuing free-kick Pepe Reina had to tip over Leighton Baines’ effort.

Liverpool were left fuming moments later after Kuyt and Fellaini clashed.

Kuyt was brought down by Pienaar and as he lay on the ground Fellaini’s boot caught him in the head.

The Dutchman was incensed but Atkinson took no action against the Blues midfielder.

Pienaar was cautioned for a foul on Mascherano soon after and then Carragher followed him into the book for chopping down the South African.

Just past the half hour mark the Reds counter attacked to good effect with Rodriguez and Gerrard combining to tee up Ngog. However, the young French striker dragged his shot wide from the edge of the box.

Everton grew in confidence as the half progressed and Reina had to be alert to race off his line and deny Louis Saha.

Tempers continued to be frayed and the contest boiled over 12 minutes before the break.

Kyrgiakos’ two-footed challenge on Fellaini was deemed dangerous by Atkinson and after a lengthy stoppage the Greek centre-back got his marching orders.

In truth Fellaini could also have seen red for his part in the crunching 50-50 tackle but he escaped without a card. Fellaini was stretchered off and after lengthy treatment was finally replaced by Mikel Arteta.

The sending off forced Liverpool into a reshuffle with Carragher moving to the centre of defence and Mascherano shifted from midfield to right-back.

Both sides went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock just before the interval. Gerrard’s curling free-kick clipped the top of the bar, while at the other end Cahill missed a glorious chance when he nodded over after Mascherano’s misplaced defensive header had set him up.

Cahill went close again early in the second half but despite being down to 10 men it was Liverpool who posed the greater attacking threat.

Ngog was thwarted by Distin’s block before the deadlock was finally broken in the 55th minute.

Gerrard swung a corner into the six-yard box and Kuyt made the most of some woeful marking to nod past Howard. Anfield erupted and the Dutchman raced away to celebrate with his skipper.

Kuyt epitomised the Reds’ tireless work rate as moments later he produced a crucial defensive header at the back post to clear Donovan’s dangerous cross.

John Heitinga was booked for tripping Rodriguez as the Blues struggled to muster a response to Kuyt’s goal.

The visitors looked short on attacking ideas and with 18 minutes to go manager David Moyes went for broke as he introduced strikers Victor Anichebe and Yakubu in place of Osman and Saha.

Ryan Babel had replaced Ngog but the substitute, playing as a lone frontman, struggled to hold the ball up and in the closing stages the Blues dominated possession.

With six minutes to go Atkinson had his hands full again. In clearing the ball Gerrard’s boot caught Pienaar and a melee ensued.

When order was restored Atkinson dished out yellows to Gerrard and Anichebe.

The Reds defended bravely with Carragher starring at the heart of a gutsy rearguard effort.

In the 89th minute Yakubu let fly from 25 yards out and Reina was forced to tip his effort over the bar.

Five minutes of stoppage time gave Evertonians hope and Anichebe almost rescued a point.

The substitute burst clear in the box but Lucas and Reina combined to deny him.

When Pienaar picked up a second yellow for his barge on Gerrard the Blues’ misery was complete. Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Kuyt (Skrtel 90), Lucas, Mascherano, Rodriguez (Aurelio 90), Gerrard, Ngog (Babel 63). Everton: Howard, Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Donovan, Fellaini (Arteta 40), Osman (Yakubu 72), Pienaar, Cahill, Saha (Anichebe 72). Referee: Martin Atkinson Attendance: 44,316




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