Reds in Europe

Posted by Garstonite on August 26, 2005, 10:56:57 PM

Champions League opponents

Great atmosphere, great occasion, great match and great memories. The 3rd May 2005 will be a date that lives long in the memory of many Reds - the day Liverpool beat Chelsea, paving the way to a final with Italian giants AC Milan.

When Lars-Christer Olsson said "Chelsea FC of England" at Thursday's Champions League draw, pairing them with us in Group G, it came as little surprise to Liverpool fans, or Steven Gerrard for that matter. From way back when UEFA deigned to allow us a chance to retain our title, with an exception that we would have no country protection, it was always on the cards. The skipper was quoted in Monaco as saying "I knew we were going to be playing Chelsea. I wasn't surprised at all. I just had a feeling."

Despite Mourinho's men defeating us three times last season, it was the Champions League that they desperately wanted. John Terry gave his account of the night at Anfield "Going back to the dressing room after that game was the lowest I have felt in football." Mourinho, as John Terry revealed, remained positive after the match, stating, "The manager just said our time will come." With their super-strong squad, determined and, sometimes overly confident manager, Jose Mourinho, who's to argue?

The Portuguese manager is a little more cautious heading into this tie however. There is no "We will beat Liverpool at Anfield," but there is a lot more evident respect. It looks as though he has learnt his lesson, “We have the utmost respect for them as a club and, of course, as defending European champions they will want to defend that title as best they can."

One thing is for sure, it should be another special occasion, the sort only Anfield can produce.

Understandably, the dominating talk about Group G centres on Chelsea and Liverpool. But what of the other opponents in the group: Belgian outfit Anderlecht and a side from Benitez's homeland, Real Betis? It's a very tough draw, but one which will not concern Rafa, who said "I'm not worried which teams we face because every side in the competition is strong."
"Maybe some teams will now be more worried about facing Liverpool. Some clubs will think they have to be careful when they face us because of what we've achieved last season."

And what was the reaction from Belgium following the draw?

Anderlecht's talented young defender Vincent Kompany said, "Liverpool and Chelsea are two of the best teams in England, maybe even the world. Perhaps third, and a UEFA Cup place, wouldn't be too bad for us." Veteran holding midfielder Yves Vanderhaeghe and manager Franky Vercauteren agreed that 3rd was their relaistic aim.

The Belgians have started their season very well, winning their opening three games scoring an impressive 11 goals, conceding just 1. Towards the back end of last season they were undefeated for twelve games and finished second in the table.

They are a side with a proud history and boast no fewer than 27 league titles, the last of which came back in 2003/2004 when they eased to the title by 9 points.

Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, Betis' moustachioed manager was a lot more upbeat than the Anderlecht representatives stating, "There's nothing we can do about the difficulty of the group. If we give our all, I have confidence we can go through."

And midfield maestro Miguel Angel is also thinking very positively, having this to say, "I am convinced that if we fight to the maximum, we can even finish top of the group. I am enthusiastic."

The Spanish League has yet to start, but will do this Sunday when Betis face Rafa’s old club Valencia away at the Mestalla.

Ones to watch

We are all aware of the dangers that Chelsea's side possess, but who are the key players from the teams that we are less familiar with?

Anderlecht - Their key players most fans would say, are Vincent Kompany, Christian Wilhelmsson and Mbo Mpenza.

Kompany - A solid and athletic defender who, many fans may remember, was linked with a move to us not so long back. However, back in July, the 6 foot 2" tall striker signed an extension to his contract that will keep him at the club until 2010. At just 19 years old he has a very bright future ahead of him, and his immediate aim will be to keep Djibril Cisse, Fernando Morientes, Peter Crouch and co. at bay when the two sides meet.

Christian Wilhelmsson - At 5 foot 9, he's not going to trouble Hyypia or Crouch in the air any time soon, but the Swedish winger is definitely one to watch. Able to operate on both flanks with tricky skills and a great cross, he is more than capable of giving our full backs a few headaches. Wilhelmsson was one of the stars in Sweden's EURO 2004 team.

Mbo Mpenza - A kind of cross between Djibril Cisse and Emile Heskey. OK, it doesn't sound too impressive, but his approach to the game is akin to theirs in many ways. A tall centre forward who is good in the air and also has wonderful pace will cause a threat to Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia. However, like Heskey and Cisse, he is often frustrating in front of goal and hasn't scored for Belgium in his last 44 appearances, but in his defence, he is often played out of his favoured striking position.

Should he demonstrate a cameo of the talent he is capable of, he will cause big problems to our backline. He has scored 70 goals in 205 games for the Belgians and  has started this season brightly scoring three times in three games.

Real Betis - Their key players are generally assumed to be Juanito, Joaquin and Oliveira.

Juan Gutierrez Moreno Juanito - At 5 feet 11, he isn't the tallest defender around, but he is perfectly capable of challenging in the air, and scores occasionally from corners. He may not be getting any younger but he has decent pace, although Cisse will take 'im! Good on the deck, with good distribution - it will be tough job trying to get past the Spanish International.

Sanchez Joaquin - So young, so energetic, so good! A player I would give my right arm for to play for Liverpool, as would Rafa with his struggles to find a right winger. Tricky, fast and a killer ball. Precisely what you want from this area. Coveted by all the big teams in Europe, Betis have placed a prohibitively high buy out clause in his contract. He is a more stable, less flamboyant, Christiano Ronaldo who Liverpool will have to be careful of when Betis hit us on the break. A real danger.

Ricardo Oliveira - A player Benitez will know all about. In the Spaniard's last year in charge at Valencia, Oliveira scored 8 goals in 21 appearances and was sold that summer for a 4.5 million euro fee. It was no doubt a piece of business Valencia regretted, as the Brazilian went on to score 23 goals in 37 games for his new club, Real Betis. A real livewire, with a wonderful eye for goal. With the service from the likes of Joaquin and Assuncao, we will need to keep a close eye on the 25 year-old.

A Timely Reminder

We may not have had the best team out but, let's face it, we weren't up against one of Europe's elite were we? It's imperative to learn from our mistakes, and defeat to CSKA Sofia will give the lads the wake up call they need. Without the midfield creativity of Alonso or Gerrard, Liverpool looked short of ideas. Sissoko had a few decent efforts throughout the course of the game, with his last minute shot which struck the bar down at the Kop end being the pick of the bunch, but Morientes and Cisse were given little service.

With Milan Baros signing for Aston Villa, there is a huge space left at Anfield which is crying out the words, "Michael Owen." We'll soon see if Benitez is being clever, or just being honest in his recent interviews, repeating the mantra "I want a centre back and a right winger."

Prior to the Super Cup, Liverpool have scored just one goal in three games and had it not even been for Xabi Alonso’s magnificent free-kick against Sunderland we could still be looking ahead to our next fixture hoping for our first league win.

Benitez was phlegmatic after the match, choosing to look ahead, "I always look for positives and I would look back to last season when we played Grazer AK at this same stage. We went into the match with a two goal lead and then lost at Anfield 1-0. The same has happened tonight so hopefully that will mean we go on and win it again."

Super Cup Final

Another CSKA on the agenda were today's opponents Moscow. For many Reds the Super Cup is merely a friendly, but not to the Liverpool players, staff or fans. You don't pass up the oppurtunity to lift a trophy when your name is Liverpool Football Club.

Benitez set the mood, claiming the competition as 2very important". He continued, "This is a trophy I value. For a big club like Liverpool, every trophy should be valuable. That is why we're in football. To win competitions."

Jamie Carragher, who captained the side in Steven Gerrard's absence said,
"To captain Liverpool in any game is special, but to do it in a final, particularly an occasion like this, would be one of the proudest nights of my life. Obviously, the most important thing is to win the game. We'll be looking to put in a good performance because, as the gaffer has said, winning any trophy is what it's all about for us."

In a game which saw lots of possession football, a few doses of bad luck, lots of frustration in front of goal and a cracking midfield battle between Didi and Dudu, Liverpool won 3-1. In all honesty, the scoreline flattered us somewhat. Looking short on ideas and pace, and with very little creativity, it took a fitting brace of goals and an assist via a great cross to win the game, all supplied by a man whose future has been at the height of much speculation: Djibril Cisse.

His refreshing pace and energy gave Liverpool the win, and as Jamie Carragher said after the game, "Djibril probably wants to prove a point and he reacted in the right way.  He won us the cup."

Whatever you make of the Super Cup win, we can't rely on the sort of luck that led to the equaliser to carry us forward this season.

© Garstonite 2005

View Comments | Post Comment