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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LIVERPOOL FC: The Fall Before The Rise?

Well, almost 48hrs has passed from the debacle of our defeat to Aston Villa at home. Now, it is not the defeat that hurts, as a team can recover form from a defeat and go on well. Man Utd showed that last season dropping positions and then perking up. I can put into perspective what the result on Monday possibly meant to most, if not all, LFC fans, in three points:

1) Losing to Aston Villa. Aston Villa were beaten, at home, in their opening game by Wigan, who were starting with Robert Martinez. They then went away to Austria to lose to Rapid Vienna, just by the single goal. They then face up to coming to Anfield, after we had beaten Stoke 4-0, and even that match was after we started so lethargically at White Hart Lane. The prospects of an away win, or even Villa scoring, were slim. We were to capitalise on Villa's current woes and our recent found form. We were not suppose to lose on Monday.

2) Losing at Anfield. I think the last time we had lost at home was to Man Utd in December 2007, to a single Carlos Tevez touch. Almost two years ago. Anfield is a fortress, so why did we simply down tools and allowed it to be invaded?

3) Losing 1-3. Following on from point 2 above, we were not suppose to lose. We were not to lose by a margin of having conceded three and scoring one. We allowed ourselves to be 0-2 down by half time, and I care not for whether a corner should have been allowed or not. Once the referee gives it, we positioned ourselves and we defend the goal. The last time we lost 1-3 at home to Villa was back in September 2001. Eight years ago.

So those who had written us off for the title just couldn't hold themselves from the laughter. Funny how so many make predictions so early into the season. If that would be the case, then Man Utd's positioning of 19th two seasons ago meant they would be relegated. But we all know they didn't, doing the exact opposite by winning the title. So how, three games in, we're meant to be out of the title race is bewildering, unless people wish to make out something from our squad. When you compare the teams of the top 4 favourites, people think they have a justifiable cause to do so:

Liverpool 1st XI: Reina; G Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua; Mascherano, Leiva; Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun/Babel/Reira; Torres

Man Utd: Foster; Rafael, Evans, Vidic (back from injury), Evra; Valencia, Fletcher, Anderson, Park; Rooney, Berbatov

Chelsea: Cech; Boswinga, Carvalho, Terry, Cole; Essien, Lampard, Mikel, Malouda; Anelka, Drogba

Arsenal: Almunia; Eboue, Vermaelen, Gallas, Gibbs; Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby; Arshavin, RVP, Eduardo

That is how those teams are right now. They can, most certainly, change, with some absentees returning and vying for a place, maybe even slotting in straight away in a few cases. But Liverpool shouldn't be declining at the moment, not with the push we had from last season, with the only difference being Xabi Alonso's omission. Did he really make such a difference or are we missing a player who we have not yet learned to cope without and can only do so with a few matches under our belt? Was Monday's defeat another bad day at the office, to be blamed on the players, or one that is the manager's fault?

For me, there are few excuses to make one feel consolable. After Monday, I had to think, think what went wrong, what can be done to put things right. No doubt anyone reading this will let me know their views, but one person I really hope to be interested with a POV is Rafael Benitez. Tall order, and from some of the comments I have read from certain forums, it is a good thing he doesn't read them....Or does he? I hope he does pass by EFT, and picks up on these points from me:

1) At the earliest opportunity, link Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger in defence. Jamie Carragher is 'Carra', and that alone is 'nuff said' in LFC. But I think he be more of a benefit to us now providing support coming off the bench than starting on the field. Agger is a pacy, strong, tall centre-back who provides a good header for dead-ball moments and a left-foot strike. Skrtel is our 'henchman', a die-hard, putting himself on the line with his blocks and tackles. They are our up-n-coming centre-backs. The onus is on getting and keeping Agger fit. The onus is also on getting and keeping all our players fit!

2) Drop Lucas Leiva. Impressive as the U-20's Brazil captain, not as the central midfielder for LFC. Not anything in the slightest in the mold Alonso brought, and RB, you know why you brought over Xabi. You brought over Mohammed Sissoko to be the new 'Patrick Vieira' and he was anything but. You made a central midfield well out of Alonso and Javier Mascherano, another you know well why you brought him over for. You made it so Steven Gerrard could aid Fernando Torres upfront, accompanied by Dirk Kuyt and another. Changes, Mr Benitez, changes. And it's changes needed now to spearhead our season, starting with Leiva. You may not want to hurt but instead develop the youngster, but we dont have time for that right now.

3) Move Gerrard into central midfield in front of Mascherano. The Argentinian appeared to want a move from Anfield but for negotiations failing. To lose both Alonso and Mascherano would be akin to cutting into your veins. I don't mind bleeding Red, but it is bleeding that has to be worth it. So we managed to hold onto Mascherano, and we've acquired Alberto Aquilani. 'Injury-prone', 'Sicknote', I've read him being called (unsurprisingly) but we can rehabilitate him to provide us that strength and vision from central again. In the interim, Gerrard should be moved to central midfield, with Leiva dropped.

4) With Gerrard central, that can bring out the defensive and attacking flair of Mascherano on the counter, with Gerrard taking over on the attack to feed the flanks and/or upfront. Saying that, we want our wingers. We have a choice out of Ryan Babel, Albert Riera, Yossi Benayoun, and Nabil El Zhar. Anyone who has seen El Zhar perform should know the Moroccan is an eager winger with pace and skill. Is he ready for a regular EPL run? I don't think so but he is coming along. That said, Benayoun was dropped against Spurs after performing so well last season. That was to give Babel a chance he has been itching for. The Dutchman didn't come up to scratch.

5) Both Babel and Leiva, for me, have this season to thoroughly impress. I still think Babel can give us a lot more, Leiva not so right now. Now Riera is available, it is he on the left and Benayoun on the right who should start, every game. That then relieves Kuyt, finally, to go up front as the second striker to Torres. Kuyt can feed the flanks, hold the ball up from central, and bring in the wingers, and when you talk about Riera and Benayoun, they are both inquistive and determined players who take on full-backs. And they both provide crosses and assists.

6) Brush up on our defending from dead-ball situations. This is where, for some reason, we are most vulnerable. Some blame it on this 'zonal-marking' strategy. It's a point worth noting. Mark a space, fine. If a player moves out of that zone when the ball is played, that adds confusion and we're exposed. Go back to player marking, ensure someone is designated to being the ball winner to head away danger, instead of the ball coming over and people are looking for anyone to head the ball. That is what we use to have in Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia, made them formidable defenders.

7) An obvious point but one that needs making. I've heard some voices and opinions say the difference between Benitez and Alex Ferguson is Ferguson pushes his team to win, no matter the cost, no matter the match, pre-season, league, cup matches, Europe, it doesn't matter. Benitez was said to prefer a draw at some stage in a match if Liverpool aren't making the waves they should be. So we should install into the players that we will not settle for anything but a win in every match. If they can get close enough to make a chance, they should execute it. Too often we have not punished chances, too often. Against Villa on Monday, we were similar to Man Utd in Rome - starting well for the first 20mins and then waning, which allowed the two goals before half time.

I believe that if LFC were to implement my points, we will become stronger and go more formidable for the title. It is no way whatsoever over for us in the title race. Our focus now in every game has to be as stated in point 6 above. Besides, we could be having a lull in our play to improve much later on.

In the season of 2001-2002, when Villa last won 1-3 at Anfield before Monday, Arsenal won the league and FA Cup; LFC ended 2nd; Man Utd ended third, trophyless and failing to win the title to make a historic four consecutive title wins. Does all of that sound appropriate for this season? Well, Chelsea ended up 6th in 2001-02, so we perhaps cannot read too much into the above! However, by my reckoning, on balance of how we've finished under Benitez since his arrival, we could finish 2nd this season, 3rd next win the title in 2011-12. How is that?

2004-05 - 5th;
2005-06 - 3rd;
2006-07 - 3rd;
2007-08, 4th;
2008-09, 2nd;
2009-10, 2nd;
2010-11, 3rd
2011-12, 1st
2012-13, 1st

Well, some can get a nice chuckle out of that, especially LFC fans, but you never know. It's been a slammer so far, and Bolton away will provide a firm test for us to gain a win and get back on the track, but even after that we must press on, no more false dawns. Champions League football and cup competitions will soon turn the corner and we have to put our defeats to the back and concentrate on each match.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Why Liverpool may struggle this season

I have been following Liverpool's pre-season games. The stats read played 7, won 2, drawn 2 lost 3.

I am not normally too concerned about friendly matches, as they are all about getting players fit and ready for the new season. Perhaps I shouldn't therefore read too much into Liverpool's disappointing form, but there are several reasons why I am concerned that Liverpool may struggle this season:

1. Absence of Alonso - no doubt he will be missed. Rafa will replace him with Lucas until Aquilani is fit. That's the double wammy here - Lucas is a poor player and Aquilani sounds as though he won't be fit for another 2 months. He will also need time to settle into the English football (not a certainty for a player who has only ever played in the Italy). Alonso's absence has created a massive void in Liverpool's midfield and I cannot see any current Liverpool player who can come in a do as good a job.

2. Defensive frailties - Carragher, Agger, Skrtel and Aurelio have all suffered injuries in pre- season and are doubts for the start of the season. Johnson is a good signing but Liverpool look seriously vulnerable in defence when they replace any one of the above with their younger reserve players.

3. Lack of wingers - this is a old old problem and for some reason has not been rectified. Kuyt on the right and Benayoun on the left - where is the width?

4. Gerrard and Torres cannot play every game - if they could, they would be supermen. If either one of these players gets injured, Liverpool virtually lose 50% of their attack. Liverpool have no decent replacements for these players - Voronin, Ngog, Babel are nowhere near as good.

5. Will other players want to leave? Mascherano has already given Barcelona the green light to make an offer. Thankfully they didn't, but how long will it be until he and others get fed up?

6. Lack of transfer funds - Liverpool have to sell to buy - period. They simply don't have the power in the transfer market like Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City etc do. Liverpool risk being left behind.

7. No new stadium - as much as we love Anfield, it is too old and too small. Liverpool need that new stadium built asap to generate the revenue to even get close to the likes of Man Utd. The stadium won't be built any time soon however.

8. Pressure - Liverpool came very close to wining the league last season that there will be even more pressure this time round for them to go one better. Ths slightest sign of a stuggle will pour the pressure on Rafa. 3 season without a trophy - how long can this go on for?

9. The Americans - enough said.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Passing of a Blessing to Football

Sir Robert William Robson, CBE

Where do you start on one who was so positive on and off the pitch?

Player, Manager, a knight, a commander. One who transformed his experience and thought into a sport as a 'teacher', who raised a quiet side in Ipswich Town to the FA Cup famously over Arsenal, the UEFA Cup thereafter against AZ Alkmaar, the Dutch league twice consectuviely with PSV, and again in Portugal with Porto (after he was unfairly dismissed from Sporting Lisbon) and then the domestic trophies with Barcelona, as well as what is now the UEFA Cup.

He took on the mantle of his 'home' club, in Newcastle United, his boyhood team, and he made them a worthwhile competitor in the top flight of English football. I implored for him to remain there when he was passed on for Souness. And Bobby showed how much of a competitor he was off the pitch, as well as on it, in his sparring rounds with cancer. Four times that re-match occurred, and eventually Sir Bobby was defeated. But put up a fight he did, nonetheless, as such a character he was. It truly made him a gentleman, an honourable professional and a figure of football that there is clearly a rarity of right now.

Football now is a competitive arena almost as much off the pitch as on it. In fact it would seem more off it. Money has become a catalyst to some success and where would our English hopes be if the managers of the top flight teams were compelled to restrict their spending and be persuaded into nurturing more of the homegrown talent. I would think our national team would simply flourish and prosper, continental teaching (in some cases) mixed with homegrown application. That is the kind of football Sir Bobby would have an integral part of in his later managerial period.

From when he was pushed from St James' Park, instead of having to hang onto such roles as a consultant to Steve Staunton for the Republic of Ireland squad, Sir Bobby would have been better placed to bring through more of England's talent in a sophisticated national football school, something separate and yet parallel with those being taught under the tutilage of the top flight coaches. He would have cherished that role.

My fondest memories come mostly from the 1986 & 1990 escapades in the World Cup. How we made waves into the QF in Mexico, only to be out-done (still bewilderingly) by Maradona's 'Hand of God', and then further by his run for the 2nd goal. Italy, where a tearful Gascoigne had to be consoled, where an equally tearful Stuart Pearce missed, in the semi-finals.

Other tributes have stated Sir Bobby would be sorely missed. I echo that. Other than the likes of Bobby Moore, the Charlton brothers, there hasn't been a more gallant person. Thank you, Sir Bobby.



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