Saturday, 27 February 2010

Reds Cruise into Last 16

After a nervy start, the Reds found top form on Thursday night and secured a safe passage into the last 16 of the Europa League thanks to a tremendous performance, earning them an impressive 3-1 victory (4-1 on aggregate).

Liverpool were composed and comfortable on the ball throughout, and didn't panic, even when they fell behind early on. In a hostile environment, and with a horrible pitch to play on, many other big teams would have crumbled under the pressure and crashed out of this competition, however the Reds displayed the character that Rafa Benitez has instilled in them, and displayed some attractive, attacking football to keep them in Europe.

The Reds started out looking to get an early goal to quiet the ferocious home support, with Gerrard testing Arlauskis after only two minutes as the scouse skipper fired in a drive that the keeper dealt with comfortably.

On 18 minutes Liverpool conceded the opening goal from a set piece, causing all the critics to crawl out of the woodwork once again and lay into Rafa Benitez's zonal marking. Amazingly, they seemed to ignore the fact that Liverpool have been defending excellently over recent games, and that Liverpool have had a great defensive record over the years that zonal marking has been installed at Anfield. Once again, facts are ignored in order for a good story to flourish.

Paduretu swung a deep corner into the box, and Fernandes rised unchallenged to head the ball home. It was a good header from the 31 year old, however no Liverpool defender went up to challenge for the ball. Whether you use zonal or man marking, someone must go and head the ball. In this case, Insua was quite clearly at fault, confounding the myth spouted by many useless commentators that you cannot apportion blame in the zonal marking system.

Liverpool responded 10 minutes later in the best way possible. Some neat build up play from the Reds led to Carragher, starting at right back in place of Glen Johnson, sending a deep cross into the back post. Gerrard was there to head the ball back, however he couldn't find Babel in the box. The ball was eventually scrambled clear to the edge of the box, however it wasn't safe as Mascherano met it, and smashed home a wonderful strike from 25 yards out, to score his first goal in European competition. It was a magnificent goal from the combative Argentinian, and richly deserved as he continued to work hard for the rest of the game, in defence and attack.

Rafa Benitez kept faith with the enigmatic Ryan Babel despite his poor showing on Sunday at Manchester City, and started him on the left wing. The Dutchman repaid Rafa's trust with a good game, admittedly against lesser opponents, but we'll take whatever we can get from Babel at the moment.

His best moment came on 39 minutes when he scored a fantastic technical goal. Gerrard whipped a free kick into the box, from the right, which was headed on by Sorin Paraschiv. The ball seemed to travel past Babel, however he managed to pull off a superb piece of skill to take control of the ball, before firing home from close range. He made it look simple, however that was a class goal from Babel, and it's a sign of what he can do if he's given a run of games in the first 11. I expect him to be given a starting berth, most likely on the left, against Blackburn.

The second goal killed off the game as a contest as Unirea now needed 3 goals to progress to the next round, allowing the Reds to express themselves and play an expansive brand of football which hasn't been seen since the start of the season, when Liverpool put 6 past Hull at Anfield.

Unirea had an opportunity to score after only 3 minutes of the second half, as a ball was sent into the box from the left by Bordeanu. An attacker contested for the ball with Insua before it fell to a Unirea striker, who shot into the side netting. It was a disappointing effort which he should have done better with.

It was a record breaking night for Steven Gerrard as he scored his 33rd goal in European compeititon, making him the top British goalscorer in Europe. His record breaking goal came after 57 minutes. Babel sprinted down the left wing and into space, before passing sqaure to Lucas. The ever improving Brazilian slotted a ball through to Benayoun, who was starting for the first time since the 13th January. Benayoun's tricky run into the box ended when he found Gerrard with a neat pass. The skipper smashed a shot home off the keeper to round off a brillaint victory for the men in red.

Liverpool were in control for the rest of the game, however the evening was soured slightly as Martin Skrtel broke a metatarsal in his right foot as he smashed into a tough tackle. He's expected to be out for around 6 weeks, and it seems like the injuries will just never stop at Anfield.

Bilasco forced Reina into a fantastic stop from close range, with 5 minutes left, after he had controlled a cross from the left, however even if he had scored it would have been nothing more than a consolation.

Liverpool now head to France to face Lille in the next round. It's a good draw for the Reds as France isn't too far to travel and Lille are opposition that Liverpool should be favourties against. If they show the same levels of commitment and desire as they did against Unirea then they should progress with ease.


Monday, 22 February 2010

Bore Draw earns Cautious Rafa Point

Before this game Rafa Benitez promised that Liverpool would attack the Manchester City backline. He lied. He also promised that Torres would not be involved at all. He lied again. Torres returned on the bench for the Reds, and came on for the last 15 minutes, but not even his cameo performance could inspire anything out of the dullest of encounters.

The importance of this game was evident as both managers sent out teams designed to avoid defeat, rather than going out and grabbing control of the game and taking all 3 points, despite of the obvious value in winning such a critical match. For City it would have opened up a 4 point gap between them and Rafa's Reds (and possibly 7 if they win their game in hand), and for Liverpool 3 points would have boosted belief amongst supporters, and in the sqaud, in their push for a top 4 finish, and take them 2 points above the Blue Mancs.

Rafa started with what looked like an attacking side, with Babel, Maxi and Kuyt all starting. However the team failed to show any creativity and cutting edge, which is what many supporters have been saying for weeks now. Kuyt laboured, as he always does, but lacks the physical strength to cope in the lone striker role, and Maxi needs time to settle into the Premier League, and, more specifically, Liverpool's style of play, which is concentrated on defence at the moment.

Babel was given a rare start following a tremendous 30 minute cameo performance at home to Unirea in the Europa League but failed to show anything of real quality, once again. It seems that every chance Babel gets to impose himself on the first 11, he squanders with yet another anonoymous performance. Admittedly he was feeding off scraps, but, all the same, it was still a very disappointing, if not surprising display from the young Dutch striker.

There was little to lift the boredom in the first half as both sides looked to control the game. Unfortunately for the supporters, this meant watching both teams passing backwards then sideways, then back to the keeper. It was dire stuff, the type of game you'd expect Bolton and Wigan to produce on a wet Monday night at the DW Stadium.

The first half-chance fell to Maxi, when he got on the end of Gerrard's cross, however, the Spaniard failed to steer the ball goalwards, instead hitting the ball wide. Kuyt could have also got a toe on the superb cross, which would have been enough to give the visitors the lead.

Liverpool nearly gifted Manchester City the opener on 35 minutes after they messed around with the ball in and around their own 18 yard box, allowing Adebayor to steal the ball and set up Ireland, who failed to shoot at goal, before the move broke down as the Reds got bodies behind the ball.

The best chance during the whole game fell to Martin Skrtel on the stroke of half time. Liverpool were wrongly awarded a corner as the officials thought the ball rebounded off a City player when it actually came off the Slovakian. Gerrard whipped in an inviting corner and, from 6 yards out, Skrtel headed inches wide, narrowly missing the opportunity to score his second goal for the Reds against City, and his second goal for the Reds overall.

The second half wasn't much better as both teams were still held back in attack by a desire to cling onto the safety of a 0-0 draw. It was slightly better than the first period, largely due to the fact that Torres, Benayoun and Bellamy were all introduced to the play, however the game still failed to produce any real chances for either side to steal what would have been an undeserved 3 points.

Ireland put the ball wide of goal from 8 yards out early on in the second half, when he was judged to be offside, however replays showed that the last touch came off Insua. It was a poor miss from the attacking midfielder, especially in a tight match where chances are at a premium, and it was an awful decision by the match officials to call him offside when the last touch was from a Liverpool player.

City tested Reina for the first time on the hour, as Adebayor's fierce strike from the edge of the box forced Reina into an impressive save. There were suspicions of handball when Adebayor was controlling the ball, however these were ignored by referee Peter Walton.

Adebayor was at the centre of everything the home side were doing in attack, and he had several opportunities to give his side the lead as they started to dominate the second period. His, and City's, best chance came when a long ball bounced over both Skrtel and Agger and sent the Togo striker clean through on goal. Astoundingly, Skrtel, who was voted Man of the Match by voters on the official club webstie, managed to recover in time to get a foot in and push the ball behind for a corner, just as Adebayor was about to fire City into the lead.

Following this, Adebayor headed over the bar when Kompany put Bellamy's corner back into the 6 yard area. It was a good chance and he should have done better, but at least he was putting in the effort to try and grab a winner, unlike many of the Liverpool team, who seemed content with a point.

For once this season Liverpool had some vital decisions go in their favour during the second half, as Adebayor was clearly shoved in the box by Agger, and should have been awarded a penalty, but it wasn't given. On top of that, Mascherano should have received a second yellow for a horrible tackle on Barry, that could have been a straight red, however no card was shown.

Mascherano is the type of no nonesense, strong tackling and hard working player that are vital for all succesful clubs, especially Liverpool, and he fits in very well with our style of play, which is based around dominance of possession and lots of determined hard work, however his indiscipline has cost the Reds in the past, for example at Old Trafford a couple of season's ago, and must be curbed or he could be suspended for crucial matches during the run in to the end of the season.

Liverpool had a chance to steal a victory in the dying moments, when the skillful winger Yossi Benayoun, who was returning following a broken rib suffered in the FA Cup replay against Reading, was unbalanced as he brushed past Vincent Kompany in the penalty area. If he had gone down it could have been a penalty, but i think he did the right thing by staying on his feet. His team mates will be telling him to go down next time to try and earn a penalty, however, for the good of the British game, i hope he doesn't as, in England, we don't celebrate cheating.

With hindsight a point at Eastlands isn't a bad result, as they're undefeated at home since April 2009, and have spent big on star names during the summer. Moreover, a point keeps Liverpool right in the middle of the race for 4th spot, whereas a defeat would have damaged morale considerably and, on top of City winning their game in hand, could have seen Liverpool sink 7 points behind the Blue Mancs.

As it is, Liverpool are now only a point behind Tottenham, who sit 4th, but with the best run in Rafa and his troops can be confident of having top level European football to look forward to next season, provided they keep up the hard work and defensive solidity, whilst also adding attacking flair, which should come from the likes of Benayoun, Torres and Johnson, who are all returning from long spells on the treatment table.


Saturday, 20 February 2010

Crucial Clash in Race for Champions League

The Reds travel to Middle-Eastlands on Sunday to face Manchester City in what could turn out to be a season defining match for both teams. With the battle for 4th spot heating up Liverpool and Manchester City will be looking to claim a massive 3 points, to distance themselves from each other, and the chasing pack.

City are currently in 4th place, one place and one point above Liverpool, and after playing one less game than the Merseysiders. However, their recent run has produced some disappointing results, with the Middle-Eastlands faithful losing patience with the team and the manager, unlike the majority of supporters at Anfield, who have backed the team, and manager, throughout a difficult season.

After losing out to their bitter rivals, Manchester United, in the Carling Cup thanks to a last minute goal from Wayne Rooney, the Blue Mancs have managed only 2 wins out of their last 5 matches in all competitions, a disappointing return considering those games came against Portsmouth, Hull City, Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City twice (once in the FA Cup), all games that they were expected to win comfortably.

Also, they struggled badly away to Stoke in the league, as they could only earn a point against the determined 10 men of Stoke City. It could have been much worse for Mancini's men though as a last minute goal from Ryan Shawcross was inexplicably disallowed.

Conversely, Liverpool head into this critical encounter following a run of very good results. Before losing at the Emirates, Liverpool had kept 6 clean sheet in their last 7 League games. Moreover, they claimed all 3 points in 5 of those 7 matches, including victories over Aston Villa, Tottenham and Everton.

On Thursday night Liverpool won 1-0 at home to the Romanian side Unirea Uniceni in the Europa League thanks to a diving header from David Ngog. The Reds dominated possession but lacked a cutting edge thanks to the absence of key attacking players, such as Glen Johnson, Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun, due to injury.

Liverpool will now take the confidence gleaned from this run of results into their Sunday clash with Manchester City, despite of the fact that they have not been performing incredibly well during the last few games, instead grinding out wins thanks to hard work and determination. This fact was even admitted by club captain Steven Gerrard in a frank interview with,following the Derby victory, where he said, "We're not playing terrifically well to be honest. The last few performances have been more about being solid defensively and nicking important goals. We can certainly play better."

I predict a sneaky 1-0 win for the Reds after yet another strong and determined performance.


Thursday, 18 February 2010

Liverpool Struggle to Move Parked Bus

Liverpool will take a slender advantage to Bucharest next week after they struggled to a hard fought 1-0 victory at home to Unirea Urziceni. The Romanian side defended resolutely throughout, putting 10 men behind the ball and making it extremely hard for Rafa's Reds to find a way through. They "parked the bus" and got what they would consider to be a decent result, which keeps them in the tie, and leaves Liverpool with work to do if they're to progress to the next round of what has become a vital competition.

Rafa selected a strong team in an attempt to batter the visitors out of sight, however his plans didn't come to fruition as Liverpool only managed to find the back of the net once, in what was a frustrating evening for the 40,000 Reds who unexpectedly packed out Anfield, in a show of support.

This game was exactly like the many home matches that we drew in the Premier League last season, with Liverpool dominating possession but lacking the cutting edge to put the opposition to the sword.

The best chance of the first half came after just 30 seconds, with Gerrard testing the keeper with a firm shot from 12 yards out after Kuyt had played a pass to the skipper through a sea of white Unirea shirts. The keeper did well to palm the shot wide for a corner.

If Liverpool had taken the lead at that point then the away side would have been forced to attack more, leaving gaps at the back for the Reds to exploit.

Liverpool continued to press in search of the all important first goal, with Mascherano and Aurelio attempting long range shots, but they couldn't open up the Unirea defence.

On 14 minutes Aurelio, who was starting at left back in place of Insua, went close with a free kick from 25 yards out. He curled his set piece around the wall, and it looked to be heading into the bottom right hand corner, but it rolled disappointingly wide, with the keeper beat.

After this, Carragher sent a high ball up into the box which David Ngog did well to control on his chest. Then, the young Frenchmen turned neatly and fired in a shot just past the post. It was an impressive bit of skill, which reminded me of Peter Crouch in his pomp. For a young lad, Ngog is very good at holding the ball up, and he demonstrated that skill tonight, as he continued in the lone striker role. With time, patience and a lot of hard work he could develop into a very good striker for Liverpool.

Liverpool went into the break frustarted because all of their impressive build up work and dominance of possession had gone unrewarded.

The home side came out for the second half intent on taking the lead, and they opened with a few opportunities as Gerrard headed wide before Aurelio's low strike from the edge of the box forced Arlauskis into an excellent save.

Unirea's only chance of note came on the hour, as their striker shot well over the bar from just inside the 18 yards box, squandering a great chance to break Red hearts.

Liverpool's persistence in attack finally paid off in the 80th minute as the two substitutes, Babel and Pacheco, who both added an extra impetus to the Reds attack once they were introduced, combined to set up David Ngog, who headed home from 6 yards out. Babel floated an inviting cross into the penalty area from the left flank, which Dani Pacheco, the young, talented Spaniard, cushioned down to Ngog, who broke the deadlock with an excellent diving header in front of the Kop.

Unirea started to attack more following Ngog's goal, but they never looked like scoring an equaliser as they lacked the neccesary talent to open up Liverpool's strong defence.

Liverpool now head to Romania in a week's time looking to secure a safe passage through to the next round. If we score an early away goal then the tie will be over, however the Red's backline must remain firm, to provide a platform from which we can build.

MOTM: Fabio Aurelio impressed at left back, and was a threat from set pieces, and Ryan Babel helped give Liverpool the cutting edge they were missing when he was brought on, however, i'm giving the award of Man of the Match to David Ngog. He scored the crucial winning goal, and laboured alone up front throughout, whilst also producing moments of skill that threatened the Unirea defence.


Monday, 15 February 2010

Beyond a Joke

In football it's generally believed that, over the course of a season, decisions even themselves out and you get what you deserve. While it's true that most teams do end up in the position that they deserve to be in, it's a common fallacy to think that poor refereeing decisions, late goals and injuries even themselves out. It just doesn't happen.

This season Liverpool have suffered horribly in this area, and it does not look like improving any time soon. Whereas last season Liverpool benefited greatly from last gasp winners against the likes of Middlesborough, Wigan and several other clubs, this year has been a completely different story, with 3 late goals costing us dear in Europe.

These 3 goals came home and away to Lyon and at home to Fiorentina. The home match against Fiorentina was a dead rubber, so it mattered little that Alberto Gilardino capatalised on a mistake from young right back Stephen Darby to complete Liverpool's Champions League misery.

However, the matches against Lyon , both home and away, were crucial, and defined the Reds Champions League campaign. Inevitably, they were both decided by late goals. Firstly, at Anfield Liverpool succmbed to a 2-1 defeat which left their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread, as Lyon dominated for large periods and deservedly won, thanks to goals from Maxime Gonalons and Cesar Delgado.

In the return Liverpool played exceptionallly well, especially considering the fact that both Johnson and Gerrard were out injured, and Torres was nowhere near full fitness. Lucas and Mascherano controlled the play in the middle, but the team still lacked a cutting edge, with Andriy Voronin missing their best chance.

However, the ever erratic Ryan Babel produced a fantastic goal with a wonder strike from 30 yards to give the Reds the lead with 7 minutes remaining. As ususal though, Lyon struck back to effectively end Liverpool's interest in the competiton for another year, as Lisando scored in injury time to break Red hearts.

It's intensely annyoing to know that we could be looking forward to a trip to the San Siro if it wasn't for a lack of concentration costing us 3 late goals, however these things always happen and cannot be planned for, you just have to cope as well as you can.

Injuries to key players have hampered the Reds pursuit of success this season, as injuries to Gerrard, Torres, Johnson, Benayoun and Aquilani (amongst many others) have destroyed all confidence the team had. The reason Liverpool were so poor midway through the season was because they had so many injuries to crucial players, and those players who were returning into the side after time on the sidelines were coming back into a side bereft of confidence and desperate for results.

It seems as if whenever the Reds have been performing well an injury has come along and wrecked all the momentum that has been built up. Injuries have denied the Reds any chance of success this season, and all we can do is hope for better next season, as our squad is nowhere near deep enough to cope with the sort of injury crisis we have had to face this season, thanks to a lack of investment from messers Hicks and Gillett.

Refereeing decisions this season have become beyond a joke. Normally, you'd expect a couple to go in your favour and a couple against, with the Reds most likely to receive a slightly fortunate decision at Anfield because of the effect of the Kop. However, this season the amount of not just bad, but frankly ridiculous decisions has increased incredibly.

It seems that some referees don't even know the rules of the game, for example the beach ball incident against Sunderland. Admittedly, we deserved nothing from that match anyway, but it was unbelievable that a professional referee, plus his assistants, didn't have a clue what to do once Darren Bent's shot had deflected into the net off a beach ball.

That cost us at least a point, and possibly 2 more as if we had managed to keep it tight at the back we could have built on that defensive platform to knick a goal.

It all started on the first day of the season at White Hart Lane when Liverpool were denied two penalties against Spurs, one of which was a stonewaller. Voronin was pushed off the ball when he was clean through on goal. Whether Voronin would have scored or not is a matter for debate as, after all, it is Voronin, but there is no argument, it should have been a penalty and a red card for Spurs' Benoit Assou Ekotto. The penaly, if converted, would have earned Liverpool a vital point from a tricky encounter on the first day of the season.

The other penalty appeal was for a handball in the area, which fell into the "seen them given" category. It could have been a penalty, but, after the Reds had already been given one penalty earlier on in the half, it was unlikely to be given.

Following this, Liverpool had yet more bad fortune at home to Aston Villa, as the away side took a 2-0 lead from a corner that was headed home by Curtis Davies on the stroke of half time. There was nothing wrong with the award of a corner, or the corner itself, but there was absolutely no time for the corner to be taken. The shot that was deflected wide came in 30 seconds over the allotted injury time, yet referee Martin Akinson somehow found time for the kick to be taken.

After the Villa game there was the horrendous beach ball incident at Sunderland, then in stepped Lee Mason. At Fulham, the referee who Rafa sarcastically described as "perfect", sent off both Phillip Degen and Jamie Carragher to end Liverpool's hopes of earning any points. Degen was sent off for a strong tackle on Clint Dempsey, that deserved a yellow card at most. Only 2 minutes later, Carragher was sent off for a challenge on Bobby Zamora, in which he clearly won the ball. Even Zamora admitted afterwards that it was never a sending off offence.

Mason's performance cost Liverpool yet more points towards the end of January, when he failed to award 2 clear cut penalties at the Britannia Stadium, home of Stoke City. Firstly, he showed Lucas a yellow card for diving when it was obvious that Danny Higginbotham had sliced him down in the box. Then, with seconds remaining, he failed to see Lucas being pushed in the area as he tried to get on the end of a cross from Fabio Aurelio.

These two decisions where bad enough, but he made a third critical error that cost the Reds dear on that day. For the Stoke goal Mason awarded the home side a corner, when it should have been a free kick, because Ricardo Fuller's shot went behind without a deflection. If Mason had made the right call, then Liverpool would have secured a crucial 3 points.

On top of this, the game before, Liverpool were harshly treated by yet another referee, this time in the FA Cup replay at home to Reading. Phil Dowd was the man in charge this time, and he was fooled by Shane Long's dive as the lanky striker went down easily following a weak challenege from Benayoun. Dowd gave the away side a spot kick and it was duly converted to send the game into extra time.

In extra time, Alberto Aquilani's shirt was grabbed while he was in the penalty area. It should have been a spot kick, especially considering how quick Dowd was to award Reading a penalty, but the cries of the Kop fell on deaf ears.

Most recently, the Reds have suffered two shocking decisions in critical matches at home to Everton, in what turned out to be a fiery and thoroughly entertaining Merseyside Derby, and away at Arsenal.

In the Derby, Sotitios Kyrgiakos was sent off for a two footed tackle on Fellaini, however, the Everton man somehow escaped punishment despite of the fact that he stamped on the Greek's ankle in the collision. Kyrgiakos could have been sent off, however, in a Derby match, it should have been a yellow. Fellaini, on the other hand, deserved to be sent off yet wasn't even shown a yellow card for his involvement in the challenge.

Furthermore, Pienaar was allowed to stay on the pitch for the majority of the match, even though he stamped on Mascherano in a horrifically high tackle, and took out Kuyt, the matchwinner, as well. He was finally given his marching orders for a second yellow, however this was at the end of the game, so had little bearing on the outcome of the match.

In our last match, at the Emirates stadium, the Reds were denied a late penalty following a blatant handball by Spanish playmaker Cesc Fabregas. Gerrard's free kick would have curled into the back of the net, but Fabrgeas put his hands way above his head and stopped the ball continuing towards goal. It was a save Reina would have been proud of yet, amazingly, a penalty wasn't given. Also, earlier in the game, Vermalen had deflected Maxi's shot over the bar, using his hand, but this was also ignored by match referee Howard Webb.

Let's be clear, in some of these matches Liverpool performed so badly that even if every decision had gone our way we probably still wouldn't have managed to get a result, but in some of them, crucial decisions went against us and defined the match. Crap referees are part and parcel of football, and, to a certain extent, they make the game more interesting as a result of the controversy they create, however the sheer volume of bad refereeing that has afflicted the Reds this season is simply shocking, and must be taken into account when evaluating the team's performance this year.

We can only hope that for the rest of this season things start to even themselves out. Somehow, i can't see it happening.


Money Hungry Premier League Plan Insane Top 4 Play Off

Back in the day it used to be that only the Champions could represent their nation in the top European competition, the European Cup. It was a competition reserved for the best of the best. Now, the Premier League are planning on introducing a new system where the 7th placed team could qualify for the final qualifying stage of the UEFA Champions League in place of the club who finished in 4th spot.

Bill Shankly's famous quote of, "First is first, second is nowhere" has effectively been throw out of the window already however offering the possiblity of Champions League football to a 7th placed team is way too far.

The Premier League have proposed a system where the teams placed 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th would contest a play off at the end of the season to determine who is entered into the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League, only one stage away from the prestigious, and money spinning, group stages. The Play offs would consist of two semi finals, with 4th playing 7th and 5th playing 6th, and a final encounter. All of these games would be played at the FA's Wembley stadium in a bid to pay for the huge construction costs it took to create the home of the England national side.

This bizarre Play off system for 4th place will not be introduced this year, and is unlikely to be brought in for at least another 3 years because these matches are obviously not included in Sky's current TV deal. Games of such importance would be high on Sky's list of priorities, and the Premier League will be looking to glean as much cash as they can out of them, so the Premier League will have to wait another 3 years before this insane system could be introduced.

The supporters of this proposal say that it would bring more excitement into the game. While this is true, it doesn't compensate for the fact that the Play offs are an unfair system. Let's say that Liverpool finished in 4th place, 20 points ahead of a Fulham, West Ham or a Birmingham in 7th spot, but then lose out on Champions League Qualification because of a poor referring decision, an enormous amout of injuries or just plain bad luck. This would be incredibly unfair, especially considering the financial consequences of failing to qualify for the Champions League.

The only reason England has 4 places for their teams in the Champions League is because of our enviable record in the tournment in recent years. Their has been an English team in every single Champions League final in the last 5 years, since Liverpool won the competiton for the 5th time in Istanbul, on an unforgettable night.

This dominance from English clubs has increased the quota of English clubs qualifying for the Champions League to 4. However, if 5th, 6th and 7th place teams continually gain entry into the Champions League then England's coefficient will almost certainly lower, which could lead to UEFA deciding that only 3, or even 2, English teams are allowed into the tournament. This is likely as the lesser teams who finish 7th will not be able to compete with the likes of AC Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid.

It would be disastrous for English football, not just Liverpool, as it would fail to take into account the whole of a season, and single matches, that could be determined by a bad referring decision or bad luck, would have around £30 million riding on them, creating tension and defensive play in an attempt not to lose the game, rather than to go out and win it.

This is just another attempt to screw money out of Sky and, more importantly, the fans, and must not be brought in if we are to compete at the top level of European football over the coming years.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Setback for Reds as Arsenal steal 3 points

Liverpool suffered a setback last night as they undeservedly lost 1-0 at the Emirates. The Reds played decent football and were in the game throughout, but they didn't possess the cutting edge needed to slay their top 4 opponents.

The hard work that has earned Liverpool vital victories over recent weeks was on display once again, however, for the first time in weeks, Liverpool looked to be missing their star striker, Fernando Torres, as the lone striker, Ngog, showed little to convince fans that he can provide the neccesary goals while Torres is on the sidelines.

Of course, Reds shouldn't be quick to criticise the French striker as he is only a young player, and has been thrust into the limelight this season as a result of the injury crisis that Liverpool have suffered. This season's experience should serve him well for future years, and he could be a talented indiviual. However, at the moment, he isn't showing the flashes of genius that we saw from him earlier on in the campaign.

The first half was a dire affair, with clear cut chances few and far between. The best opportunity fell to Bendtner on 25 minutes. After some neat build up play Bendtner was set through and had a clear look in on goal, however the Arsenal striker, who has been out for several weeks with injury, blazed his shot high and wide.

Liverpool responded with a chance of their own as Gerrard put a free kick into the home side's penalty area. Skrtel headed the ball down and it eventually fell to Maxi Rodriguez, who shot just over the bar from the edge of the 18 yard box. On closer inspection, the ball hit the hand of Thomas Vermalen, and quite possibly could have been a spot kick, that would have provided Liverpool with the all important first goal.

Near the close of the first period, Fabregas combined well with Arshavin before storming past a few members of the Reds defence, however his weak shot was comfortably dealt with by Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal.

The second half was a much better affair, with both teams opening up more and trying to take all 3 points. Lucas was played in by Kuyt, and the Brazillian midfielder, who has been one of the most consistent performers this season, did well to breeze past two of the Arsenal backline, but his scorching shot flew into the stands. It was an encouraging movement, which demonstrates that Lucas is not just a defensive workhorse, but is also a valuable member of the team going forward, when given the opportunity to attack.

5 minutes later Liverpool really should have took the lead. Gerrard played a magnificent pass through to Ngog who was running clear past the Arsenal defence and in on goal, however he was stopped by a tremendous challenege from William Gallas, just as he was about to pull the trigger and fire the Reds into the lead. It was a massive miss, and one that you cannot help but believe would have been safely tucked away by a fully fit Fernando Torres.

That disappointing miss nearly proved fatal as the home side counter attacked rapidly. Russian striker Andrey Arshavin used his skill to play Rosicky in behind Liverpool's right back, Jamie Carragher but, thankfully for the Redmen, the Czech international's touch let him down at the crucial moment, and the ball rolled behind for a goal kick.

Following this, Nicklas Bendtner showed the two sides to his game. First, he used his strength to take on at least 4 Liverpool players and run into the area. When he got there he was faced by Reina, who hurried out of his goal to make a vital intervention, blocking the ball confidently. It was an impressive surge forward, however his finish was lacking.

Minutes later, he insanely threw himself to the ground in the penalty area under a challenege from Daniel Agger. The Danish centre back didn't touch him, yet his international team mate fell over like he'd been hit with a ton of bricks. He was rightly shown a yellow card for his antics.

Rosicky's thunderous shot was deflected off Javier Mascherano as Liverpool continuted to defend stubbornly, however their resistance was broken on 71 minutes when some poor defending, which is uncharacteristic considering Liverpool's recent rearguard action, let them down. Rosicky was allowed all the time in the world, on the left, to pick out Diaby in the centre who comfortably headed home. Rosicky should never have been allowed to deliver a cross in the first place, and the defending once the ball had arrived in the area was truly dreadful. Abou Diaby was given the freedom of London to place his header into the back of the net, as none of the Reds defence has decided to pick him up.

This sparked a response from the away side, as they battled for an equaliser and created several opportunites to get back into the game. The best of these came on 85 minutes when Ryan Babel was centimetres away from producing a sensational equaliser, similar to his awesome strike in Lyon. Babel showed unusual strength to hold the ball up before turning his man. He then went onto fire an explosive shot in on goal, and he would have scored if it was not for the otherwise average Almunia making a fantastic save to tip Babel's shot onto the cross bar.

Babel's erratic performances have denied him a sustained run in the first 11 however his impressive cameo display last night should earn him a start in the Reds next match, at home to Unirea in the Europa League, in his preferred role as a striker, especially considering Ngog's below par performances over recent weeks.

With minutes left in injury time Liverpool were granted one last throw of the dice. Steven Gerrard was awarded a free kick on the edge of the Arsenal box, after a foul on Dirk Kuyt. The captain stood up and placed a wonderful free kick, that looked like it was heading for the back of the net to grab an invaluable point, however Fabregas blatanlty handled the ball right in front of referee Howard Webb. Stunningly, Webb failed to notice this obvious handball and did not award either a free kick or a penalty. It was debateable whether Fabregas was in the box or not, but either way Liverpool should have been given another chance to score from a set piece.

Liverpool have a right to complain about the 2 penalty decisions that did not go their way, for the umpteenth time this season. Nevertheless, they must look at their own performances and look to improve ahead of the visit to Eastlands on the 21st February. Liverpool have only managed a worrying 12 away goals this league campaign, and must now look to improve this tally if they're to secure the 4th place finish that they crave.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

2 Man Team- Another Media Myth

The claims made by some journalists in the media range from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Of course, they are just telling the the general public what they want to hear, otherwise people wouldn't buy their newspaper, listen to their radio show, watch their television programme etc, but surely it is a necessity for our journalists to have a bit of common sense behind their arguments.

"Liverpool are a 2 man team," they chime, "nothing without Torres and Gerrard," they protest. You even hear Reds fans, like Alvin Martin on Talksport, repeating these insane statements as if they're proven fact.

Funny thing is, you only hear this rubbish when Liverpool are on a poor run of form while Gerrard and Torres are on the sidelines, for example, earlier this season. Yes, Liverpool were experiencing a horrible run of results at the time. That's, as Rafa would put it, a fact. However, that run of disappointing results, and displays, is not just down to the fact that 2 of our best players weren't fit, even if that is a contributing factor.

This is shown by Liverpool's recent run of results, which has yielded an impressive 17 out of 21 points. That's title winning form, and if the Reds keep it up they might just be a half decent outside bet to sneak the title from underneath the noses of the Mancs, Chelski and Arsenal.

Ok, i might be getting a bit ahead of myself now, but the fact remains the same, Liverpool have had their best run of results (by far) this season while several key players, not just Gerrard and Torres, have been injured.

Liverpool have won 5 and drawn 2 of of their last 7 Premier League fixtures, with wins coming against Wolves, Villa, Spurs, Bolton and Everton. The 2 draws came away at Stoke and Wolves. Fernando Torres has missed 5 out of those 7 games and Steven Gerrard has been out for 2 of those 7 games. However, the skipper was half fit when he returned against Wolves, therefore making him less effective.

Glen Johnson, one of our best attacking players despite of his position at right back, has been out with a medial liagment injury in his knee and isn't expected to be back in contention for the first team until March. He picked up the injury at the end of December at a snowy Villa Park, and it has kept him out for 5 of our last 7 games.

The skillful Israeli winger, Yossi Benayoun, has had a broken rib and has been out since he picked up the injury in the FA Cup replay at home to Reading. This has ruled him out of 5 Premier League fixtures, and threatens to keep him on the treatment bench for more time than was expected.

Also, Daniel Agger, who is a first choice centre back, has missed 3 out of the last 7 games, and was an unused sub in one, at home to Bolton. Fabio Aurelio, the second choice left back, has also missed 3 out of the last 7 matches, with a calf problem.

Despite of these injuries Liverpool have been on top form, with 6 clean sheets out of the last 7 undefeated matches. All of this has come even though 2 of the backline have been out with injury, and Rafa has had to play squad players, like Kyrgiakos, in the back four, as well as moving Jamie Carragher to an unfamiliar (at least in recent years) role at right back.

Meanwhile, our best attacking players, including Yossi Benayoun, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger (yes, he's a central defender but his runs from the back are invaluable, and add an extra dimension to Liverpool's attack) alongside our "2 man team" of Gerrard and Torres, have all faced time out with frustraing injuries.

This has caused Rafa to persist with the underperforming David Ngog. Also, it has forced him to throw Albert Riera straight into the first team after his injury. Even Phillip Degen, who has had massive injury problems himself, has been employed on the right hand side of our attack as a result of the mounting injury crisis at Anfield.

So how have the Reds managed to produce such a sensational run of performances and results, with all the injury problems both defensively and in attack? Put simply, Rafa's gone back to what he is best at. He has stabilised our defence by playing a settled back four of; Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel and Insua. Also, he has got Lucas and Mascherano to perform at the highest level once again, providing a vital shield for the back four.

This defensive unit has only conceded 1 goal in the last 7 Premier League games. Liverpool have now become hard to beat once again, that has made a platform from which Liverpool can build. Up front, Liverpool have laboured yet continue to lack creativity as so many top attacking players are on the bench.

However, Dirk Kuyt has stepped up to the plate, scoring 4 goals in 4 games, including his 50th for the club as he scored the winner in the Derby. His crucial goals have enabled Liverpool to pinch victories while not playing an open, expansive style of football.

Furthermore, squad players have come to the fore, helping Liverpool to some much needed victories, especially Greek defender Sotorios Kyrgiakos, who has been a giant at the back. His commanding performances have made Liverpool a formidable force at the back, as he has kept top strikers like, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Everton's Yakubu quiet. He has also dealt with the physical threat posed by Kevin Doyle of Wolves and Bolton striker Kevin Davies.

On top of this, last season Liverpool finished 2nd and recorded the highest total of goals in the league, and played some unbelievable attacking football, even with Torres and Gerrard out for at least half of the season.

Don't listen to the lies and bile spouted regularly by journalists eager to label another club as "in crisis." Their only motive is to sell papers. Watch the matches, don't overreact and always look to support the club and the manager.


Sunday, 7 February 2010

Terrific Team Display takes Liverpool Fourth

A terrific team display from Rafa's Reds earned them a fantastic 3 points against their bitter rivals, and takes us to 4th place in the Premier League, as Manchester City lost 2-1 at Hull and Spurs and Villa played out a 0-0 draw in the Capital.

As is the case in most derby matches, especially the Merseyside derby, it was a scrappy game, but what it lacked in quality it made up for in sheer grit, determination and fight. It was a throwback to the glory days of the 70s and the 80s as tasty tackles where flying in all over the park, as both sets of managers, players and supporters were desperate for 3 crucial points.

Both teams headed into the encounter in good form. Everton were undefeated in the league since November, when Liverpool beat them 2-0 at Goodison Park thanks to a Joseph Yobo own goal and a tap in from Dirk Kuyt. Liverpool had also hit a purple patch of form recently, with 6 games undefeated and 5 clean sheets. In those 6 games, Liverpool picked up vital victories away to Villa and at home to Spurs.

Everton took the early intiative, with the Reds defence having to deal with several corners, however they failed to carve open a real opportunity. Agger blazed high into the Kop from 12 yards out, and Baines struck a cultured free kick which Reina dealt with well, as both teams struggled for superiority.

The tone had been set early on as Carragher stormed into a strong, but fair challenge on Pienaar. The South African reacted by commiting nasty fouls throughout, which eventually earned him the red card he deserved. Pienaar flew into a horrible tackle on Kuyt, and then went in extremely high on Javier Mascherano. He was given a yellow card for this challenge, but a straight red would have been justified.

On 33 minutes the Reds went down to 10 men as Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who has been a rock at the back over recent weeks, was sent off for a two footed tackle on Everton's Marouane Fellaini. It was a poor decision by referee Martin Atkinson as Fellaini stomped on Kyrgiakos' ankle in the collision. If any player was to see red, it should have been Everton's number 25, not Kyrgiakos.

This didn't stop Liverpool going on to put the away side under pressure, and they nearly took the lead towards the end of the half as Gerrard's beautiful free kick clipped the cross bar from 25 yards.

Everton had an unbelievable chance to take the lead going into half time. The USA international Landon Donovan sent a ball into the area and it ricocheted off Mascherano into the path of Cahill, who's instinctive header skimmed just over the bar and into the Evertonians in the Anfield Road end.

It was a match defining moment as if Everton had gone into the break a goal up, and with an extra player, it could have been game over for Liverpool.

Liverpool came out for the second half desperate to claim the all important first goal, and it nearly came on 53 minutes when young French forward David Ngog smashed a deflected shot just wide after latching onto a pass from Maxi Rodriguez. Liverpool weren't to be denied though as they took the lead thanks to Dirk Kuyt a minute later. Gerrard sent a corner into the penalty area and Kuyt nodded the ball into the net after it had travelled through a mass of bodies. Everton's keeper Tim Howard should have done much better but no Red cared as celebration engulfed Anfield.

The tension had been building up throughout the game, as many vicious tackles were being made, and this tension finally boiled over in the middle of the second half as a mass melee resulted after Gerrard caught Steven Pienaar following a strong challenge. Both teams reacted angrily, with Tim Howard the only player not to get involved in the arguments and fighting that ensued. This was a proper derby!

Everton pushed and strived for a winner as the game came to a close, but never really looked like beating Reina in the Reds goal. Yakubu tested Reina with a powerful effort from the edge of the box, but the Spanish stopper managed to pull off an impressive save. Reina truly is one of our best players, as he showed again on the weekend. He is fully concentrated every 90 minutes, even if he is largely inactive, as was the case against Everton.

Pienaar was sent off in injury time after picking up a second yellow card for jumping into Steven Gerrard. This game truly lived up to its reputation as one of the fiercest matches in England. 2 red cards demonstrated why this fixture has more sending offs than any other.

Liverpool have picked up a vital 3 points, in what was another "must win" match, and can now look forward to Wednesday's trip to the Emirates with optimism as Arsenal's poor form, and Liverpool's impressive form, could see the Reds pick up more points.

To conclude, i would like to offer my condolences to the familes of the 23 people who died during the Munich Air Disaster. It was 52 years ago on Saturday 6th February when many of the "Busby Babes" along with supporters and journalists died after their plane crashed on its third attempt to take off. They were returning from a European Cup tie in Belgrade. They will never be forgotten.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Purslow- A Yank in disguise?

Christian Purslow's appointment as Managing Director at Liverpool Football Club, in June 2009, as successor to Rick Parry, was heralded as a positive move by most fans, as he's an intelligent businessman who attended Harvard Business School, and has been a season ticket holder for several seasons. Supporters were confident that he could support the club financially and help sort out the mess that Tom Hicks and George Gillett have put our great club in, while remaining true to the values of the common supporter.

This hope was later confirmed as Purslow sealed an £80 million shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered Bank. Purslow was seen as a vital component in guareenting a deal that has significantly increased this income stream for the Reds.

However, i'm starting to believe that he is becoming more and more like the Cowboys that employ him with every passing day. In a recent meeting with the Supporters group, "Spirit of Shankly", he used language like "We expect", "If we" and "There an no promises, just an expectation and hope."

He's being careful not to trap himself into any promises that he in unable to keep, but he's also lying to us by saying that they "expect" investment by April. So when there is no fresh investment by April he can say, oh, we only "expected" it. Essentially he's giving us spin to try and buy time, and support for the Yanks, when he, like all true supporters, knows that the Yanks have no future at our club. Purslow admitted, "The promises (by this he means lies) of Hicks and Gillett are unforgivable. Hicks and Gillett can't hang onto the club." Of that, we are in agreement Mr Purslow.

Purslow continues to spin propaganda and lies to us when talking about funds for new signings. However, if you can see through the spin, he admits what he is trying to deny. It is well known that Rafa Benitez has been forced to sell players in order to buy new recruits. In the January transfer window he even had a "sell not to buy" transfer policy imposed on him, as he made a profit.

Purslow claims that, "The reduction of debt does not effect player sales as there is a seperate player account and money does not come from this for anything else." At a first glance this looks like a perfectly reasonable statement that wins him the argument. However, he later goes on to say,"The nature of funding the player account is it must balance, no more can go out than has come in. If we have £30 million in the account, then we can only spend £30 million. The player account is funded by player sales and any profit. PRESENTLY PROFIT GOES PRIMARILY TOWARDS PAYING THE DEBT, SO REDUCING DEBT MEANS WE HAVE MORE MONEY TO SPEND."

Lets have a look at that then. The amount of money in the transfer kitty (player account) is determined by player sales and profit. This confirms the sell to buy policy that has yoked Rafa during his efforts to sign new, world class players. No team can expect success with this sort of transfer policy, thats a fact, as Rafa would say.

At the moment most of the profit goes towards paying debt instead of filling the transfer kitty. This proves that, whatever Purslow may claim, debt is hampering Liverpool's ability to compete in the transfer market.

The minutes published on the "Spirit of Shankly" site were seperated into two portions. "Spirit of Shankly's" minutes and Christian Purslow's. This is because they couldn't agree on whose minutes were the most accurate. At the end of Purslow's minutes he says that supporter protests against the American ownership are discouraging investors. He states, "It is tough to persuade new investors...if they think they will get hassled every time they visit." Classic propaganda.

Mr Purslow you are wrong. If we don't protest, argue, shout and scream demanding they sell up then they won't. At the very least, it will make their situation at the club all the more comfortable, meaning that their desire to leave will be less, causing their horrible reign to endure much longer than neccesary. If we continue to protest, shout and make life as difficult as possible for them then they won't want any more to do with the club, encouraging them to sell at whatever price they can get. Also, our fiery passion will show the next owners what our club, and supporters, are all about. We won't accept lies and spin, or debt being piled onto our club, making success even more difficult to obtain.

Christian Purslow has turned out to be an excellent appointment for Hicks and Gillett as his spin has covered over his failure to keep promises, and has helped the Yanks attempt to justify their lack of investment on the playing field. Anyone's better than Rick Parry, but we can only hope that Purslow can find an investor willing to plough cash into the club and buy out the American's, or we might be hurling head first into mid table mediocrity.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

£100 million- What's that get you these days?

Christian Purslow, Liverpool's Managing Director, has claimed that Liverpool are searching for fresh investment of about £100 million to alleviate some of the severe and heavy debts that Liverpool are currently struggling under.

He claims that finding new investors is a vital agreement with the bank, and will ensure better, more long term re-financing arrangements with RBS in the future. Any reduction in debt is most welcome, but the critical question is, who would want to invest in Liverpool at the moment, especially if the deal keeps the cowboys at the club.

According to Purslow, who was speaking with Supporters group, "Spirit of Shankly", Liverpool are in talks with 5 or 6 interested parties who want to invest in Liverpool. But what will they get for their £100 million? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, so i'm staggered as to why they'd want to throw their money away.

The £100 million investment from any potential suitor would be used for the sole purpose of clearing debt. The money would only be used to attempt to clear up a mess that the American Cowboys have put us in.

Even with this fresh investment in the club, the Reds would still be £137 million in debt, and would continue to struggle to compete with the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and even Manchester United in the transfer market.

Moreover, any new investor would have to share power with the morons who have ruined our club, which is enough to make any person with half a brain sick. Why would a rich, wealthy, successful arab want to share a boardroom with the lunatics Hicks (who, adding insult to injury, fell asleep during Liverpool's game versus Bolton at the weekend) and Gillett?

Anyone with even the remotest sense of logic would stay far away from Liverpool Football Club, as long as the Yanks continue to shadow their evil presences over the club. Our only hope is that the Yanks get sick of being tormented by Reds fans and decide to cut all ties with the club and sell to some decent owners, who care about the values and traditions of the club, and have the financial power to be able to make us a great club once again.