Thursday, 21 October 2010

Napoli 0 Liverpool 0: Roy's gamble pays off as Reds escape unscathed from Naples

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf7VWTwIrDoendofvid

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By JOHN EDWARDS from Naples

Under pressure: Liverpool's Milan Jovanovic (centre) heads the ball away


He stood with his hands in his pockets for most of the 90 minutes, and Roy Hodgson was able to keep them there after seeing Liverpool extend their unbeaten start to this season's Europa League here last night.

The Liverpool manager had admitted he would 'hold my hands up and take the blame' if his bold gamble of resting skipper Steven Gerrard and £21million record signing Fernando Torres had backfired and led to their first defeat, after five wins and a draw.

Fourth in Serie A, Napoli were expected to present a formidable challenge, particularly given the hostility generated by a capacity Stadio San Paolo crowd, yet it never materialised.

With Christian Poulsen and Jay Spearing establishing a stranglehold in midfield, and Jonjo Shelvey growing in confidence on his first Liverpool start, Hodgson's side were good value for a point and could easily have made it three after finishing strongly.

Hodgson said: 'There were plenty of positives and, if it was a gamble with the team I selected, the players made it pay off. Not many people expected a performance like that, but the team I sent out proved a lot of people wrong.

'When you make use of your squad, the players who come in have to step up to the plate, and they did. Young Jonjo Shelvey was making his first start in a tough atmosphere, yet he handed it superbly.'

The pressure had been building relentlessly on Hodgson, and it showed no sign of easing, following a clear indication that former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard was ready to step into his shoes at a moment's notice.


Mind the gap: Liverpool fans under heavy security after several were attacked by Italian rivals outside the ground


After the game, Hodgson responded to rumours that he was ready to quit his post at Anfield in the wake of the recent uncertainty surrounding the club. 'I have heard the ridiculous rumours and I can tell you there is not an iota of truth in any of them,' he said. 'The simple answer is I have never considered resigning and I never will.'

Rijkaard had only left Galatasaray 24 hours earlier, yet the signals were already making their way towards Anfield.

There had not been any direct contact from John Henry, or anyone else from New England Sports Ventures, according to his agent Perry Overeem, but they knew where he was.
'Frank will return into football, that is for sure,' said Overeem. 'The question is when and where, and that will not be answered now. It was only on Wednesday that the situation changed at Galatasaray, and we are working on making sure that everything is sorted out there.

'We haven't been approached by anybody official (at Liverpool) yet, and, to me, the current coach is still working with the support of Liverpool. Let us all wait and see what happens.'


Off target: Napoli's Marek Hamsik


Rijkaard may not have to wait much longer, if Liverpool fail to launch an overdue revival against Blackburn at Anfield on Sunday, despite the temporary respite provided by another encouraging venture to the continent.

While the noise from a partisan home support was constant and loud, Napoli's players looked tentative and strangely subdued. A marked lack of creativity limited their attacking threat to long-range efforts, Ezequiel Lavezzi firing harmlessly over from 25 yards in the 20th minute and striker Edinson Cavani clearing the bar from roughly twice as far after spotting Pepe Reina off his line eight minutes later.

It was all looking comfortable for Liverpool , particularly with Spearing making the most of a rare start alongside Poulsen, but the mood threatened to change in firsthalf injury time, when they failed to deal with a cross from Lavezzi, following a short corner on the right.


The ball was knocked down to Marek Hamsik, and his flick was on the point of crossing the line, when Paul Konchesky hacked it to safety. Little had been seen of Liverpool as an attacking force, though Ryan Babel should have done better after being picked out on the left of the area by Milan Jovanovic's crossfield pass. Babel's first touch let him down, and his second was scarcely any better, as he retrieved the ball from the goalline and succeeded only in running it out for a throw-in.

Jamie Carragher was withdrawn at half-time to save his legs for Sunday, though it hardly seemed necessary.

There was a brief scare on the hour, when Cavani planted a header narrowly wide with Reina rooted to the spot, but, increasingly, the game looked Liverpool's for the taking, if only they could muster a little more attacking intent.

Jovanovic had looked as likely as anyone to oblige, and he duly created an opportunity Babel should have despatched in the 70th minute. But Babel could only fire a shot against keeper Morgan De Sanctis.

A breakthrough beckoned again in the 82nd minute, when David Ngog turned past his marker, after chesting down a Jovanovic cross with his back to goal, and drilled a goalbound shot that was blocked.

It was a positive finish by Liverpool, but if only they had started in the same vein.


source: dailymail
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