Early Doors

Babel and Reds see red

Early Doors

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At least now we know what those extra officials in Europa League matches are there for - target practice.

Last night at the Estadio da Luz, firecrackers were thrown on to the pitch by the home fans on several occasions during Benfica's 2-1 win over Liverpool. One exploded close to a referee's assistant on the byline (fourth/fifth/sixth official?) and left a small crater.

Referee Jonas Eriksson threatened at one point to abandon the match. Rafael Benitez may have wished he did.

Ryan Babel's foolish decision to raise his hand to defender Luisao right in front of the Swedish referee saw Liverpool reduced to 10 men and eventually see their early lead overturned.

The Dutchman has had his run-ins with his manager this season, and that act of indiscipline - harmless as it was, but technically a sending off - gives Benitez another entry into the file marked 'reasons to sell Babel in the summer'.

Oddly enough, one of those entries may also now be that he can once again call on Albert Riera on the left wing. The Spaniard executed the sort of deft turn that has been absent from him on the pitch of late after his proposed move the Spartak Moscow stalled.

Whether Riera does make his way back into the side or not, comments from him, Babel and even golden boy Fernando Torres this season don't exactly point to a galvanised squad ready for the tough end-of-season scrap for fourth place.

That U-turn in full:

March 18, 2010: "The team's playing badly and needs changes. It is a sinking ship. But in the two years I have been here Benitez has never managed a situation with a player by talking to him. He thinks he is the boss and everyone else is deaf. The dialogue with the players is practically zero. It is non-existent and there is a lack of tact."

April 1, 2010: "I want to continue my career at Liverpool because it is one of the best clubs in the world. The feeling is spectacular, we have a great stadium and I feel very good at Liverpool. I speak with Fernando Torres and (Jose) Reina and agree on the greatness of Liverpool."

To be fair to him, he also said in his original interview: "I would like to be here for the rest of my career, but players live to play. My objective is to go to the World Cup and for this I have to play". But that's not nearly as interesting.

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Proof if it were needed that the Europa League plays a barely audible second fiddle to the Champions League comes in the shape of Bobby Zamora's goalscoring form in the competition this season.

As well as goals against Liverpool and Manchester United and Tottenham this season, Zamora has netted against Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and now Wolfsburg in Europe this term, yet still he has as much chance of making the England squad as Portsmouth have of beating the drop this season.

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As ED prepares to spend its Easter Bank Holiday chained to its desk, it can't help but look upon the actions of Barnsley's Ryan Shotton with a mixture of envy and pride.

With four minutes to go in Tuesday's 0-0 draw at Plymouth that pretty much ensure the Tykes' safety, the 21-year-old defender fouled Craig Noone in the fourth minute of injury time. In doing so, he picked up his 10th yellow card of the season, incurring a two-match ban just in time to miss both matches over the Easter weekend.

Of course there is no suggestion that the Shotton did such a thing on purpose, but if ED could have found a way to get the weekend off, it would have done. Nice work, sir.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Firstly I don't think West Ham should be picking our team and I think that is a fairly obvious statement.  If there is a complaint but my conscience is perfectly clear on the subject and as far as I'm concerned we don't have a case to answer. In the last game I selected a team comprising of a defender just sold for £10m (Chris Smalling), a South African international (Kagisho Dikgacoi), who replaced Danny Murphy and I replaced Bobby Zamora with Clint Dempsey, a USA centre-forward. I can't understand why, if you have a large squad, it's not allowed for you to change things around. I can't imagine anyone questioning Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea for using all the players in their squad." - Roy Hodgson sticks it to West Ham after the Hammers announced they would complain to the Premier League about the team fielded by Fulham against Hull last weekend.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I apologise for the situation that developed recently. I'm the first to suffer from it because I love football and I'd like to play and now I wait in silence to be able to be useful to the team again." - Internazionale's Mario Balotelli apologises to Jose Mourinho for the row between the pair that has seen the precocious forward frozen out for the past month.

COMING UP: Team news ahead of all the weekend's action in the domestic and major foreign leagues, match facts for every Premier League fixture, Fantasy Football tips with Choose 'em or lose 'em, the latest blog offerings from Jim White and Paul Parker. You can bet on any of this weekend's matches - including the potentially title-deciding clash that is Manchester United v Chelsea - at Eurosport Bet, and maybe make the four-day weekend all the more special.

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