Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Alan Green: What does he know?

Alan Green. The football commentary equivalent of marmite. You either love him or hate him. The BBC Radio 5live commentator splits opinion more than any other radio football journalist. Some love his forthright, "tell it as it is" style whilst others cannot stand his arrogance, and apparent lack of respect for other people's opinions.

I am one of the few in the middle ground. I think Green is very entertaining, and I do tend to enjoy listening when he is commentating on a Liverpool match, however some of his views on the game are clearly insane.

On Sunday, the 57 year old Northern Irishman was at Anfield to witness Liverpool batter a helpless Sunderland team into submission, claiming a 3-0 victory. With time running out Rafa Benitez substituted both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, to rest them for the games ahead.

Crazily, Green repeatedly lambasted the Reds boss for making these substitutions. He claimed that it was typical of the Spaniard to "deny" his star striker a hattrick by replacing him during a game when Torres had already netted a brace. Also, he criticised the decision to substitute Gerrard, claiming that Rafa should have kept his best players on the pitch to score more goals, increasing the confidence of the team.

Whilst there is merit in the argument that they should continue to play, in order to increase both our goal difference and our confidence, given the circumstances it is illogical to criticise Rafa for protecting Gerrard and Torres from injury. After both Gerrard, and especially Torres, have faced substantial periods of time on the treatment table, it is clearly ridiculous to risk injury by keeping them on the pitch, when the game is already won, as it clearly was on Sunday.

Alan Green's views were shown to be foolish last night, as Wayne Rooney limped off the pitch at the Allianz Arena after he had sustained an ankle sprain, that is likely to keep him out of Manchester United's crucial Premier League encounter at home to title rivals Chelsea.

Now Mr Green, what if that had happened to Torres, or Gerrard? Liverpool would then have lost their two key players at the business end of the season, for the sake of an extra goal or two, or a hattrick for Torres?

Clearly, Mr Green is not a football manager. Now we know why. If Rafa had followed his advice, and failed to substitute Torres and Gerrard, than Liverpool could be facing up to the prospect of having to compete for fourth spot without their two key men.

Stick to commentary Alan, because you'll never make it as a football manager.


Monday, 29 March 2010

Liverpool Smash Sunderland

Steve Bruce's big fat head (reminds me of a song somehow) was severly deflated yesterday after his Sunderland side were thrashed 3-0 by Rafa's Reds. As Bill Shankly would have said, "Sunderland were lucky to get nil." Sunderland's poor showing must not take credit away from Liverpool, who played some sensational, free-flowing attack minded football, which led to a whole host of chances being created, of which three were converted.

Maxi Rodriguez and Fernando Torres were Liverpool's star performers, as they terrorised Sunderland's backline. Fernando Torres scored two world class goals, to take him to 20 goals in 29 appearances. It is an amazing strike rate that justifies his tag as one of the best strikers in the world. The most astounding thing is that he has been able to recover from long term injury so quickly, scoring 7 times in the Reds last 4 games. Without the Spaniard, Liverpool look very ordinary, a bit like Manchester United without a certain Scouser.

Maxi Rodrriguez was central to most of our attacks, and linked up with Steven Gerrard well throughout. Considering he was a free signing, Maxi has settled down quickly to life in the Premier League, and has proven his worth to the side with some inspirational displays, especially at Anfield. He is yet another example of Benitez's astute work in the transfer market.

Liverpool started the game on the front foot, going close after only 1 minute. Gerrard's free kick from the right was flicked on by the head of Dirk Kuyt. The ball fell to the feet of Daniel Agger at the backpost, who forced Craig Gordon into a fantastic save as he tipped Agger's effort onto the crossbar. It was a great strike from the Dane, and an equally impressive save.

Liverpool took the lead after only 3 minutes, when Fernando Torres scored perhaps the best goal I have ever witnessed. It was simply stunning, and deserving of the Goal of the Season award. Torres received the ball on the left wing, and ran at Michael Turner, performing a few step-overs in the process. He then squeezed past two Sunderland players before curling the ball into the top right corner from the left hand edge of the box. Gordon had no chance as it curled over his head and into the net. It was a fantastic effort from the Spanish striker, and one for the Kop to savour.

Soon after Torres nearly doubled the scoreline. Gerrard linked up well with Maxi Rodriguez, playing a 1-2 with the Spanish winger which led to our skipper having possession on the by-line. Gerrard pulled the ball back to Torres, who's firm shot went just wide of the post from 6 yards out.

Maxi and Stevie linked up in an almost identical fashion minutes later. Gerrard dinked down to head the ball to the feet of Maxi, who then flicked the ball back into the path of Gerrard. Stevie stormed onto the flick on, before striking the ball just wide of the far post. However, his shot had a slight deflection off Michael Turner, so a corner was awarded. From the left corner flag, Gerrard whipped an inviting ball into the 6 yard box. The ball hit Ryan Babel, who was standing next to the goalkeeper only 2 yards out, before travelling to the far post where it was met by Agger. Agger disappointingly dragged his shot wide of goal from only a few yards out.

After that, Gerrard took another corner, this time from the right. His wonderful centre was met at the front post by Maxi, who's flicked header was superbly stopped by an on form Craig Gordon, who managed to tip the ball just over the bar.

Liverpool had dominated the game up to this point, creating numerous opportunities which, if they had all been converted, could have seen the Reds leading by a cricket score after only 20 minutes.

Glen Johnson has been a revelation this season, with his roaming runs from right back adding another dimension to our attacking play, and the England international proved his worth to the team yesterday, as he scored the crucial second goal that allowed us to relax and play a thoroughly entertaining, expansive style of football.

Once again, the move started with a corner from Steven Gerrard. This time, Darren Bent managed to head clear to the edge of the box, however it only found Glen Johnson. Johnson controlled the ball superbly, before turning onto his left foot and smashing the ball into the back of the net from all of 20 yards. His stike took a slight deflection off a Sunderland player, however it was still a fantastic goal from Johnson.

The game was now won, and it was only a case of how many goals we would score. 5 minutes before half time Torres nearly made it 3 for Liverpool. It all started when Kuyt's blocked shot went out to Macherano on the edge of the box. The Argentina captain squared the ball to his fellow Argentine, Emiliano Insua, who had a better game yesterday, largely due to the fact that he had nothing to do defensively.

Insua's cross into the box found Dirk Kuyt at the back post. The Dutchman tried to find Babel with a pass, however, unfortunately Babel miskicked when in the perfect position. The ball rolled through to Torres. His first effort cannoned off the foot of the post and back out to him, however Torres snatched at his second attempt and placed the ball wide of goal.

Liverpool came out for the second half looking to score as many goals as possible, in order to improve our goal difference. The thrird goal duly came on the hour, as Torres scored yet again to seal a comprehensive victory. Gerrard, Torres and Maxi (what a surprise) combined well to set up Babel on the left wing.

Unfortunately, Babel was tackled and the ball went out for a throw in. The ball was thrown to Kuyt, who then laid the ball back to Babel. The Dutchman made up for his earlier error, as he sent a fantastic cross to Maxi Rodriguez on the edge of the penalty area. Maxi headed the ball back to Glen Johnson, who disguised his pass to Torres exquisitly. Torres' finish was equally as elegant, as he waited for Turner to slide out of the way, allowing the top striker space to pass the ball into the back of the net.

By this point, the Reds had begun to take their foot off the gas, as the game was won. It was a little disappointing to see the lads sit back a bit, as, if they had had the desire we could quite easily have smashed them for 7 like Chelski had smashed Aston Villa a day earlier.

Rafa was afforded the luxury of being able to rest both Gerrard and Torres, as they were both replaced before the final whistle. Steve Bruce introduced Bolo Zenden with 13 minutes left, and the former Red received a standing ovation from the Reds supporters. Zenden had the away sides only chance with minutes remaining, as his fierce strike from 20 yards out forced Reina into a wonderful save at full stretch. It was a tremendous stop from Reina, as, yet again, he managed to produce a fine save despite being a spectator for 90 minutes.

Overall, there was little to moan about as Liverpool put in the sort of performance that would grace any title winning side. Unfortunately, for the majority of the season, Liverpool have failed to play to anywhere near the sort of level we witnessed yesterday, leaving us lagging behind in the race for fourth, rather than leading the way in the title race.

Liverpool now travel to the Stadium of Light to face Benfica in the first leg our of quarterfinal tie in the Europa League, full of confidence after 3 goals, 3 points and a magnificent display saw the Reds send out a firm message to Spurs, Villa and City. We will not give up, and we will not be beaten.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Europa League vs Top 4

With the Reds hopes of qualifying for the Champions League relying on their rivals dropping points, and success in the Europa League becoming more likely now that we've reached the quarterfinal stages, I ask the question, if you had to pick one which would you pick, another UEFA Cup (which is what the Europa League used to be called) to take the Reds total to 4, which would be a record, or a top 4 place, securing another season of top quality football against the best teams in Europe.

The Europa League is a much maligned competition. It's problem is that it is unloved. The top European giants (including Liverpool) believe that it is a tournament way below their level, and not worthy of their full effort, whilst the smaller sides who qualify, such as Aston Villa, rest their key players and play squad players, to ensure that their League form doesn't dip.

On the other hand, the UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious club competition in the world. Many argue, with some justification, that it is a higher quality tournament than the World Cup. With teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan, Internazioanle and Liverpool regularly competing the Champions League hosts the best teams, leading to wonderful football, and enthralling encounters, which entertain millions world wide.

The first thing that got me thinking about this subject was an interview I read, which Jamie Carragher gave to, the club's official website, recently. In it Carra said, "I don't understand why people rubbish the Europa League. There are only two European trophies up for grabs every year. I mean, if you asked would I rather get in the semi-finals of the Champions League or win the Europa League, i'd rather win the Europa...People ask 'would you rather win the Europa Cup or finish top four?' Well, sometimes I think 'Win the cup'...It's about winning trophies."

This, in a nutshell, is the argument in favour of picking Europa League victory over a fourth place finish. Afterall, in 50 years time people are not going to look back and think, "Wow, Liverpool finished 4th in the 2009/10 season." They're much more likely to think, "Wow, Liverpool won the Europa League in the 2009/10 season, becoming the team first team to win the UEFA Cup 4 times."

In the end, as the great Bill Shankly said, "First is first, second is nowhere." If second is nowhere, where does that leave 4th place? At the end of the day, winning trophies, however meaningless they may seem, is much more important than finishing in 4th spot, which will never be remembered.

However, their is another compelling side to the argument, which I am inclined to argee with. Whilst 4th place may not be a significant success in the long term history of Liverpool Football Club, without Champions League football we could go into financial meltdown, in a similar fashion to Leeds United who, only 6 years after competing in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, fell into administration, which condemned them to life in the third tier of English football. It was, and still is, the lowest level Leeds have ever played at.

£25 million is the estimated value of qualifying for the Champions League, with that revenue topped of by progressing to the later stages of the tournament. Liverpool's whole financial system relies on the team qualifying for the Champions League year after year.

Rafa Benitez is expected to work wonders on a shoestring, in order to pay off the loans that the Yanks have heaped on the club so they could purchase it. Of course the manager must accept responsiblity for some of the failings on the pitch, just like the players must, however it is illogical to expect any manager, even one of the best in Rafael Benitez, to even finish in the top 4, let alone win the title, when they are yoked with a "sell to buy" (or what is rapidly becoming a "sell not to buy") transfer policy.

A top 4 finish would enable the Reds to compete at the highest level for yet another season, and would also keep the club afloat financially, whilst we wait, more in hope than expectation, for some "Scouse Knights" to swoop in and save our club. Moreover, if Manchester City qualify for the Champions League, then that would be another attraction for the top players to join the Blue Mancs, on top of the vast riches offered to those willing to play for Mancini's men.

With the gap between the rich and the poor ever increasing in the football world, Liverpool must ensure that they remain in the "rich" section. The Reds supporters crave League success, after 20 barren years without a single League title, however that elusive 19th title will not be secured without major financial investment. Without the Champions League, and with Hicks and Gillett still in charge, there is little possibility of money being spent to build a Championship winning sqaud.

Liverpool must aim to both win the Europa League and claim 4th spot, to salvage something from what has been a dreadful season, however, if I had to choose I would pick 4th position over a Europa League win, simply because the consequences of failing to qualify for the Champions League could prove catastrophic.


Reds back in Race After Rivals Drop Points

Liverpool's hopes of playing Champions League football next season received a major boost last night when two of their rivals for the coveted 4th spot dropped points. Aston Villa drew 1-1 at home to Sunderland, whilst the Reds local rivals Everton did Rafa and his team a massive favour by taking all 3 points away from Eastlands, beating Roberto Mancini's City side 2-0.

At the same time, Tottenham recovered from being 1-0 down at half time to beat London rivals Fulham, in the quarterfinal stages of the FA Cup, sending Spurs through to the semi finals at Wembley, where they'll meet debt-stricken Portsmouth.

Liverpool can take postivies from all three results last night. Aston Villa faltered yet again, drawing their second game in a row. The Villans only managed to collect a single point from games against Wolves and Sunderland at home, games which they were expected to win with a minimum amount of fuss.

These results suggest that Villa are experiencing their usual end of season slump, and will fall out of the race for 4th spot shortly. Unfortunately for Martin O'Neil's men their manager hasn't caught up with the times and realised that rotation is neccesary if he is to keep his team fit for the crucial clashes at the business end of the season.

Manchester City dropped 3 critical points last night, at home to Everton. Everton are always a difficult prospect, however any team with top 4 aspirations should be expecting to take at least a point of the Toffees. The fact that the game took place at Eastlands is even more significant as it ends City's unbeaten home run in all competitions. Before last night Manchester City hadn't lost a single game at home all season. Now that record is broken, it's possible that their confidence could be shattered, causing them to slip further behind Spurs, who currently sit in 4th position.

Tottenham Hotspur have played 30 games, and have 55 points. Two points behind them are Manchester City, and they have played the same amount of games.

Tottenham struggled in the first half last night, falling behind to yet another goal from the ever improving Bobby Zamora, however their second half fight-back was magnificent. Goals from David Bentley, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Eidur Gudjohnsen secured a 3-1 triumph for Redknapp's men. The goals were just reward for a fantastic second half display that left Fulham helpless.

This result can be either positive or negative for Liverpool. On the one hand, it continues Spurs' excellent form, which has seen them go on an 8 match unbeaten streak in all competitions, giving them confidence for the run in. On the other hand, it's another match that they must play, which could lead to some of their players suffering from fatiuge, worsening Tottenham's considerable injury problems.

Liverpool must look to win at least 6 out of their last 7 League games if we are to salvage anything from this dreadful season. Whilst this is not impossible, especially considering we face the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and West Ham at Anfield, it is very unlikely, and would require an unprecedented winning streak that hasn't been seen all season. However, with Tottenham and City facing difficult fixtures against teams at the top end of the season, Liverpool still have hope of scraping into the top 4, earning another season dining at European football's top table.


Monday, 22 March 2010

4th Spot a Million Miles Away after Old Trafford Defeat

Liverpool's hopes of finishing in the top 4 suffered a near fatal blow yesterday as we fell to a disappointing 2-1 loss at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. The game changed when the Mancs were unfairly awarded a penalty on 12 minutes, after Mascherano had tugged Valencia's shirt outside of the penalty area. It was a game defining moment, that spun the momentum in favour of the home side.

Liverpool started in the best possible fashion, taking the lead after only 5 minutes. The first goal was well worked, with Gerrard and Kuyt combining to set up Torres, who headed home from 6 yards out.

The move started with Torres harrying Carrick on the halfway line, causing him to lose possession. The ball fell to the feet of Steven Gerrard, who released Kuyt down the right after easily beating Ferdinand. Kuyt, who was starting on the right wing, pulled in a wonderful cross that landed perfectly on the head of Fernando Torres. The Spaniard leapt high in the air to meet the ball, and power a terrific header past the diving Edwin Van der Sar.

It was a fantastic, well worked goal from the Reds, however, disappointingly it was one of few moments of attacking creativity.

United responded quickly as Rooney dragged a shot wide from 20 yards, before the home side regained parity on 12 minutes, thanks to a dubious refereeing decision. A long ball was hit forward from the United defence, which Insua, who had another bad game at left back, headed to the feet of Antonio Valencia.

The Ecuadorian raced towards the penalty area, and Mascherano tried to stop him by tugging on his shirt, before Valencia, realising that he had the opportunity to earn his side a spot kick, dived into the box.

The rules of the game state that if a foul starts outside the box and continutes into the box then it is a penalty. I don't understand that rule, but that's the way it is. This still shouldn't have been a penalty though, as the foul started and ended outside the penalty box, before Valencia dived into the box. No foul was committed inside the box, therefore it shouldn't have been a spot kick. Unfortunately, it seems like no decision will ever go in our favour this season.

In frustration Torres kicked at the penalty spot, taking a huge clump out of the ground, in an attempt to distract Rooney, who compained loudly to referee Howard Webb. The distraction worked, as Rooney's penalty was brilliantly saved by Pepe Reina, however Manchester United's scouse star striker converted the rebound to level the game up at 1-1.

The game had really caught fire now, as the controversial penalty decision raised emotions on both sides, as Fergie claimed that Mascherano should have been shown a red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity (remember the Carling Cup final Fergie) and Rafa argued quite rightly that it was never a spot kick in the first place. Eventually the managers had to be seperated by the 4th official, in an attempt to restore order.

A neat move soon after from Liverpool nearly gave us a second goal. The move was started by Lucas, who spread a pass out to Kuyt on the right. Kuyt played a quick pass back to Gerrard in the centre. Our skipper then played a wonderful defence spliting ball through to Torres, however Van der Sar was quick off his line to grab the ball at Torres' feet.

With 5 minutes of the first half remaining, poor defensive work from Emiliano Insua almost led to United taking the lead. The Argentine failed to close down Valencia quickly, allowing the winger plenty of time to race past him and place a good cross into the box, where it was met by the head of Ji-Sung Park, who was instrumental throughout. The South Korean stretched to meet the ball with his head, and could only manage to head the ball wide of the target, to the relief of Insua and the rest of the Reds backline.

The Mancs were the better side in the second half, and they had the first chance of the half as well, as Ji-Sung Park provided Reina with a routine save after Rooney had found him with a neat ball.

United scored what turned out to be the winner on the hour mark, as a brilliant move led to Park scoring with a diving header at the far post. Valencia ran with the ball into the middle of the pitch, before finding Rooney with a pass. The former Everton player created space for himself, then switched play out to the right wing. A decoy run from Liverpool hater Gary Neville distracted Insua, allowing Fletcher time and space to whip an inviting centre into the box. Ji-Sung Park dived in at the far post to head home, leaving Liverpool with a mountain to climb.

In the remaining 30 minutes Liverpool, more specifically Torres, had two glorious opportunites to equalise, which would have earned us a crucial point, however both chances were spurned. First, Kuyt passed to Gerrard in space on the right edge of the 18 yard box. Gerrard centred the ball to present Torres with a fantastic opportunity, however the Spaniard's touch let him down, as the ball ballooned into the air, before being cleared by the United defence.

Sandwiched in between the two magnificent chances for Liverpool, Rooney had a chance of his own. Park's beautiful reverse pass set up Rooney, who ran at the Reds backline, terrifying Johnson and Agger. Thankfully, Rooney shot just wide of the post, however it was another demonstartion of the home side's danager on the counter attack.

In the dying moments Liverpool really should have grabbed a late equaliser. Gerrard recieved the ball from Mascherano, in a similar position to when he had set up Torres earlier on. He passed across the box, past Aquilani to the feet of Torres.

If you wanted the ball to land to any Reds player it would have been Fernando Torres, as he is normally such a deadly striker, however he scuffed his shot horribly. The ball went in the air, fortunately arriving at the head of Yossi Benayoun, who should have powered home a header from yards out, however his weak header was comfortably gathered by the keeper, to the relief of the majority packed into Old Trafford.

Rooney has defined the Mancs season. If he had been as injury prone as Torres has been this season then Manchester United would probably be in a simialr situation to Liverpool's as without their talisman they look incredibly ordinary. Also, if Torres had been fit and firing all season, like Rooney, then Liverpool would almost certainly still be in the title race. Hopefully next season Rooney will be out for half a season and Torres will be leading us to the title however, with Torres' injury record, I can't see that happening.

Liverpool are now rank outsiders in the race for the Champions League. All we can do now is win every single game for the remainder of our run in, and hope Spurs, City and Villa all slip up. It's not an impossiblity as Spurs still have to play Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, while City face United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Villa, however the chances of Liverpool finishing 4th are becoming slimmer and slimmer with every match.


Saturday, 20 March 2010

Restless Riera Suspended by Rafa

Albert Riera has been suspended by Liverpool Football Club following an outrageous interview with a Spanish radio station. In the interview, Riera claimed that Liverpool are "a sinking ship" after the Reds crashed out of the title race, the Champions League and the FA Cup in the early stages of the season.

Moreover, the Spanish winger, who has rarely featured this year due to his poor form, criticised the manager Rafael Benitez for his apparent poor man-management and defensive style. Riera said, "In the two years I have been here he (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 pratically zero."

Of course Riera is hardly a reliable source, as he has lost his starting berth this season because of his ineffective performances on the left wing. These comments are a result of his obvious frustration with a lack of first team opportunities, however he clearly hasn't proved himself in training or on the pitch, with several diabolical performances this season, including away at Blackburn Rovers and at home to Unirea Urziceni.

Riera then went onto demean Rafa's style of play. When asked whether Rafa could manage Real Madrid, Riera replied, "In Madrid, they ask you to play beautifully, as well as win. We have never played beautiful football-effective, yes."

Early on during his time at Liverpool, Rafa installed a defensive style in order to stop the Reds from losing matches because, at the time, the players didn't have the quality to destroy teams with wonderful attacking play. Riera is right that Rafa's style has been effective, earning the Reds the Champions League 2005, Carling Cup runners up 05, FA Cup 06, Super Cup 06, Champions League runners up 07, and a second place finish last year.

However he is wrong when he claims that Liverpool have never played beautiful football under Benitez. For the second half of last season we were playing brilliant attacking football, destroying teams 3 and 4 nil on a regular basis. In fact, Liverpool managed an astounding 32 goals out of their last 10 League games, at an average of 3.2 goals per game, which led to Liverpool becoming top scorers with a total of 77 goals.

Riera hasn't played anywhere near his potential and, therefore doesn't have the right to criticise the manager, especially not in public. If he had any concerns he should have talked in private with the boss, but his public outburst has infuriated Benitez, causing the Reds manager to put Riera on the transfer list. If he can find a club willing to pay the £8 million asking price then Riera will be on the first plane out of Merseyside.

In stark contrast to his Spanish compatrioit Pepe Reina recently stated his desire to stay on Merseyside for as long as possible. In an interview with the official club website, Reina stated, "I think Liverpool is the right club for me... Liverpool is one of the best clubs in the world. Whatever happens, whether we are in the Champions League or the Europa League, it is still Liverpool no matter what. It will always be like this. I see no reason to leave."

This is the type of commitment supporters are desperate to see in their star players, especially considering the fact that Reina could move to any number of clubs, thanks to his spectacular displays this season, that have seen him become the player of the season in the view of many Reds fans.

Riera, if he does leave, will not be missed. The fans want to see commitment and passion from the players, and those are two attributes that he clearly does not possess. His performances won't be missed either as Benayoun, Babel and Maxi Rodriguez have all hit top form at some stage this season, providing ample cover on the left wing.


Friday, 19 March 2010

Lucas Lights up Liverpool Win

The much maligned Lucas Leiva produced a terrific attacking display to inspire Liverpool to a fantastic 3-0 victory over French side Lille, to take the Reds into the quarter finals of the Europa League, where they will face Benfica.

Lucas was starting alongside Steven Gerrard as Rafa reverted to a 4-1-4-1 formation. This change in tactics not only stunned the opposition, but also amazed Reds fans, who have yet to see the Brazillian start in such an advanced role. Lucas looked comfortable in possession, and beat defenders at will. It was a completely different display to what we are used to, as he looks a lot less comfortable on the ball when playing closer to the back 4.

He was starting in place of Alberto Aquilani, as the Italian was suffering from a virus, yet Liverpool didn't miss Aquilani as Lucas filled his role with ease.

Lucas was the creator of the first goal, which came after only 8 minutes. After receiving a pass from Insua, Lucas ghosted past 3 players and into the penalty area, where he was brought down by a Lille defender. It was a clear penalty, and was duly awarded. Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty, and cooly converted, placing the ball into the bottom left hand corner to give Liverpool a crucial early goal.

Moments later Torres nearly doubled the Reds lead as he magically beat two players, after he had started next to the corner flag, nutmegging the first, before shooting into the side-netting. Torres was back to full form last night, adding another 2 goals to the brace that he achieved on Monday night against Portsmouth.

Midway through the half, Agger was denied a goal by his team-mate Dirk Kuyt, as the Dutchman accidentally blocked the Dane's header on the goalline. Gerrard whipped in a good corner from the left, and Agger had turned a header goalwards, but Kuyt inadvertently stopped the ball bulging the net.

Liverpool dominated the opening stages, playing an expansive brand of football that has only rarely been seen this season. The Reds play echoed back to the end of last season, when we regularly beat teams by 3 and 4 goals. The passing was crisp and fast, and the runs were incisive. So much of Liverpool's play this season has been slow, predictable and frankly boring, however that wasn't the case last night, as Liverpool searched for the goals that would guarentee them a place in the next round.

Lille had been kept incredibly quiet for the first half hour, however they squandered a wonderful opportunity to score a massive goal on 32 minutes. A long ball was pumped up into the Liverpool half. Agger dealt with it, heading the ball away, however it fell to the feet of Eden Hazard, who, after playing a neat 1-2, burst into the box.

The attacking midfielder, who had scored the only goal in the first leg, was one-on-one with the keeper and had the simple task of passing the ball into the back of the net, however he couldn't manage it as his shot smashed off Reina's head and went behind for a corner kick.

This was a major turning point in the match because, had Lille scored then it would have left Liverpool with an up-hill battle, as they would have had to score 2 more goals to progress.

After that, Daniel Agger missed yet another great chance from a Steven Gerrard corner. The ball flew past Ryan Babel, who was in the perfect position to head home, before hitting the Dane on the shoulder. Unfortuantely the ball flew over the bar without troubling Landreau in Lille's goal.

Just before half time, Torres headed Glen Johnson's cross agonisingly wide of the far post, as Liverpool searched for a second goal, which would have put them in the driving seat.

Liverpool came out for the second half looking to score the all important second goal, and took only 3 minutes to find it. Ryan Babel, who put in another decent shift on the left wing, smashed a long ball forward, which split the Lille defence and allowed Torres to run through before delicately dinking the ball over the keeper and into the Anfield Road end net.

It was a crucial and richly deserved goal however Liverpool couldn't rest on their laurels, as one goal from the visitors would see the Reds crash out of Europe.

The tension was palpable around Anfield, as a result of the many late heartbreaks the supporters have had to suffer through during this awful season, especially in the Champions League, where Liverpool conceded 3 last gasp goals that condemned them to the Europa League.

The away side took advantage of this tension, and started to wrestle some control back from the Reds, who had dominated for most of the match. Lille kept the ball for longer periods however they failed to threaten Reina's goalmouth for most of the second half.

On 72 minutes, a searching free kick was sent into the box. It was flicked on to the back post where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang met the ball with space and time, however he couldn't find the back of the net, as his shot sailed just over the cross bar.

It was a fright for Liverpool who, at this stage, were hanging on for their lives.

The closing stages were anxious for the Reds, however they did also have a few attempts on goal as Dirk Kuyt, who was returning to the starting 11 in place of Maxi Rodriguez, who is inelligble for European football, tested Lanreau with two fierce strikes from the edge of the box.

The Reds nerves were finally eased on 89 minutes, as Fernando Torres scored a late thrid to confirm Liverpool's passage into the next round. Gerrard powered past a defender before firing a shot in on goal. The rebound fell to the feet of Torres who made no mistake from 6 yards out.

Overall, it was another much improved performance from Liverpool, that carried on the momentum created on Monday night when we beat Portsmouth 4-1. Torres was on fire, Gerrard played well and Lucas looked much more comfortable when placed further up the pitch.

Liverpool now face Benfica in the quarter finals, which is probably the hardest draw we could have got. If Liverpool continue this level of football then we should progress easily, however Benfica are no mugs, and will be a difficult prospect. However, with the away leg coming first i expect Rafa's Reds to progress. If Liverpool do advance to the semi's they will face either Rafa Benitez's old team Valencia, or Fernando Torres will return to Spain to face Athletico Madrid, in what should be an interesting encounter.


Monday, 15 March 2010

Turning Point or Another False Dawn?

1 year and 6 days ago Liverpool thrashed Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield, sending us through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, with goals from Torres, Gerrard (twice) and Andrea Dossena securing an emphatic victory for the Reds.

It was the catalyst that set us off on a wonderful end of season run, which yielded an impressive 9 wins out of the remaining 10 League games, and an unbelievable return of 32 goals from only 10 matches, including 4 goals at Old Trafford, 5 at home to Aston Villa and 4 against Arsenal (although admittedly Liverpool did also concede 4 goals in that game, thanks to the ruthlessness of a certain Russian.) This magnificent run left Liverpool with a second place finish, only 4 points behind Manchester United.

Fast forward 370 days and Liverpool were facing bottom of the table Portsmouth, one of the few clubs to have financial difficulties worse than Liverpool, in a game that Liverpool simply had to win if they were to stand any chance of finishing in the top 4.

Rafa Benitez selected a positive starting 11, in at attempt to break down the parked bus that was Portsmouth FC, with Alberto Aquilani starting in place of Lucas and Maxi Rodriguez in for the misfiring Dirk Kuyt.

It was an inspired move by the Spaniard as Aquilani was instrumental in all of the Reds attacking play, and Maxi Rodriguez terrorised the Portsmouth defence with his direct runs. Maxi's performance last night, alongside his display at home to Blackburn, have made a mockery of Adrian Durham's insane claim that he is "the worst player he has seen in a Red shirt." I have two words for Durham, Salif Diao.

Liverpool started the game on the front foot, with a pacy tempo required in order to break down Pompey's defensive wall. The Reds had an early penalty shout turned down by Stuart Attwell, as Torres' shot hit the arm of a Portsmouth defender. The claim fell into the "seen them given" category, however it was not a stonewall spot kick.

Following this, intricate build up play involving Maxi, Aquilani and Torres led to Gerrard shooting over the bar from 20 yards out, as the skipper tried to curl the ball into the top right hand corner. It was a brilliant, free flowing move from Rafa's Reds, and indicative as to how they would play for the rest of the match.

Aquilani's ambitious effort went just wide of the left post before Liverpool finally took a deserved lead on 26 minutes, thanks to the determination of Steven Gerrard, who was back to top form last night. Our Scouse captain ran down Ashdown's poor clearance and the ball fell to Maxi. The Spaniard squared the ball to Fernando Torres, who had the simple task of passing the ball into the back of the net from 6 yards.

2 minutes later Liverpool had doubled their lead, easing all nerves and allowing the Reds to play an open and expansive game. Johnson chipped a dangerous cross to the back post and to Fernando Torres. After controlling the ball using his chest and knees, Torres laid the ball back to Babel, who poked the ball home from the edge of the box. It was an impressive goal from the Dutchman as he had little time in which to convert Torres' pass. His well taken goal should earn him another start against Lille on Thursday night.

Liverpool's 3rd goal came after 32 minutes, completing what was a sensational 6 minute spell. Gerrard, who was starting to spend most of his time attacking down the left, passed to Torres in space. Torres returned the pass with a beautiful back heel that fell to the feet of Aquilani. The Italian struck home with his weaker foot, beating Ashdown at the near post to score his first goal in a Red shirt.

Just before the break Liverpool nearly made it 4 as Torres, who was thriving thanks to the support he was receiving from both Gerrard and Aquilani, cut in from the left, beating Steve Finnan, who was returning to Anfield for the first time since his move away in 2008. Torres' shot smashed against the upright before it was cleared to the edge of the box by Pompey. The ball fell to the feet of ex Portsmouth player Glen Johnson, who fed Maxi down the right. Gerrard was waiting in the box, and he duly received the ball from Maxi, however his effort disappointingly flew wide of the post.

The second half was an exhibition for the Reds as the game was already won, and it was just a chance to boost our goal difference.

A lovely move ended with a 1-2 between Aquilani and Babel on the edge of the area. Babel played the ball out to Gerrard who tested the Portsmouth keeper with a decent strike. The ball went out to the left hand side of the pitch, where Stevie and Aquilani combined to set up Ryan Babel, who's scorching effort from the edge of the box stung Ashdown's fingers before htting the crossbar and going behind for a corner kick. It was a magnificent move from the Reds, with all attacking players involved, stretching the Pompey defence to breaking point.

Brown called Reina into action midway through the half after Belhadj had beaten Glen Johnson too easily. Our Spanish stopper was more than up to the task as he produced a fantastic save to prevent Brown's drive bulging the back of the net.

Michael Brown was involved in a controversial incident with Steven Gerrard later on, as he tangled with Stevie, and replays showed that Gerrard accidentally elbowed Brown. It was a nasty incident, and one which was immediately followed by the skipper's substitution, however Brown must take his fair share of blame, as he was illegally obstructing Gerrard, preventing him reaching the ball.

Liverpool saved their best for the last as Aquilani played an exquisite pass into the feet ot Torres, who was on the left hand side of the box. He cut in onto his right foot before burying his shot, as Jamie Ashdown was beaten at his near post once again, in what was a miserable night for the Portsmouth goalkeeper.

A brief lapse of concentration in the closing stages led to Belhadj grabbing a late consolation for the visitors, however it did little to sully what was a fantastic night for Liverpool.

My only worry now is that this is another false dawn, rather than the start of a revival, like the Madrid match was last season. Liverpool have had plenty of false dawns already this season. After a 2-0 victory over Manchester United, Liverpool went 5 games without tasting victory. Following a 2-0 win at Goodison Park, the Reds only managed a single victory in their next 5 matches, and that win was only a nervy 2-1 triumph over lowly Wigan Athletic.

If Liverpool can get positive results in their next two games (at home to Lille on Thursday then at Old Trafford on Sunday) then this game could be seen as the catalyst for a fantastic late surge that hopefully guarantees Liverpool 4th place, much like the Madrid match last season. If Liverpool crash out of the Europa League on Thursday and are then beaten at Old Trafford, then this match will be seen as yet another false dawn in what has been a season of dashed hopes for Reds supporters.


Friday, 12 March 2010

RBS+Yanks=Recipe for Disaster

According to the Daily Telegraph, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) will soon receive yet another injection of capital of up to £25.5 billion of tax payer money, which will take taxpayer ownership up to 95%, following the collapse of the high street bank as a result of the recession which currently engulfes Britain.

As taxpayers, surely we deserve a say in how RBS is run, and who they lend their (our) money to.

RBS have provided the loans for Hicks and Gillett to buy Liverpool Football Club. In simple terms, the Yanks borrowed money off RBS, to buy the club, and are now paying back that loan using money generated from the club, which ultimately derives from the back pocket of your average supporter.

RBS are not acting in our interests. Clearly, the Americans are loathed by Liverpool fans (taxpayers), and must be ousted as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the only realistic way to oust the Yanks is for RBS to demand full payment immediately, which would force Hicks and Gillett to sell up quickly.

For this to happen we must make our voices heard.

I recently found out about a Facebook campaign, designed to force RBS to end their support of the Yanks regime. The creator of the group has circulated an email, and has encouraged Reds to forward it to people at RBS.

Here are the addresses to send the email:;;;;

Here is the message (please add the appropriate surname at the start of the email, sign your name at the end and if you're not a British taxpayer, or future taxpayer, then delete the relevant sections of text)


Having reviewed the company accounts in relation to Liverpool Football Club and Parent Company Kop Football Ltd, of which there is approximately £237m worth of debt; it is clear that the business model operated by the current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett is unsustainable.

Whilst I appreciate any refinancing package deal is a confidential matter between the Royal Bank of Scotland and the current owners of Liverpool Football Club, it is also a very personal issue for many Liverpool supporters around the world. As a British Tax Payer and a lifelong Liverpool fan, I can assure you that I am not happy that my hard earned money is being used to pay for the purchase of Liverpool Football Club for George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

There is an ever increasing sense of anger and resentment towards the owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which is likely to turn towards RBS if the refinancing deal is extended in the coming months.

It is my understanding that if the refinancing deal is renegotiated beyond July 2010, then a campaign in protest against the Royal Bank of Scotland will take place which will include billboards with anti-RBS messages encouraging Liverpool fans to boycott RBS in a similar manner to the boycott of the Sun Newspaper (please see below)

If your objective is "the long term success of Liverpool Football Club" then I urge you to formally refuse any longer term refinancing for Hicks and Gillett, thus leaving the current obligations needing to be immediately repaid.

We as supporters of Liverpool Football Club are effectively paying the loan repayments for Hicks and Gillett, and as taxpayers have a "controlling stake" in RBS. We should therefore have a say in where our money is being invested.

The ball is firmly in your court.

Kind Regards,

Liverpool Supporter


Thursday, 11 March 2010

Not Great, but Not Bad

It was never going to be easy. Only 3 days after what many supporters consider to be the worst performance of the season, where the Reds failed to register a single shot on target away to Wigan Athletic, and facing opponents who had lost just one of their last 16 European matches on home soil was always going to be an exceptionally difficult task for a Liverpool team starved of confidence after a wretched season.

However, the players showed their commitment to the cause, worked hard and had a few chances which, if converted, would have secured an excellent result. Unfortunately, Eden Hazard curled a free kick into the back of the net 7 minutes from time to spoil an otherwise positive evening, however Liverpool are still favourites to progress.

Before the game ex Red Bruno Cheyrou, now playing for Anorthosis Famagusta, in an interview with, said, "I think that it (Lille's pitch) is the best playing surface in France." This claim proved to be laughable, as Liverpool had to play on yet another awful pitch, with brown patches dominating areas, and bobbles covering the abysmal surface. It was hazardous for Liverpool, and nearly proved costly at one point, when Reina took two attempts to collect a weak shot, due to a massive bobble on the pitch.

The early onslaught from the home side caused Liverpool to remain defensive for the first 20 minutes, however, despite their dominance, Lille failed to seriously test Reina. The best opening for Lille came after only 10 minutes when Hazard easily beat Insua, who was disappointing in the first half but slightly better in the second, before gliding past Agger. Hazard, who was one of Lille's best players, went on to slide a dangerous centre across the face of the goal, but it didn't trouble Reina.

Liverpool survived the early pressure, and then started to create a few opportunites of their own. On 15 minutes Fernando Torres ripped past several Lille defenders, before sliding in a beautiful pass to Ryan Babel, who was clean through on goal. Unfortuantely, Babel just couldn't get to the ball and it was cleared behind for a corner, but it was a great move from the Reds, as Torres and Babel combined well.

10 minutes later, Torres and Babel skillfully exchanged passes once again, before Torres played the Dutchman through on goal, however Babel's poor shot was comfortably dealt with by the experienced goalkeeper, Mickael Landreau.

Liverpool continued to dominate the game for the last 20 minutes of the first half, as Reina was left with nothing to do for large periods.

Gerrard turned neatly and then fired just over the bar on the half hour, a sign that the skipper is regaining some resemblance of his past form. After this, Liverpool went extremely close to taking the lead, with their best move of the match.

Fernando Torres, who was another player to put in a vastly improved performance, sped away out of his own half on a brilliant counter attacking run, before he was fouled on the edge of the 18 yard box. Gerrard whipped in a pacy free kick, which the keeper did well to push to the edge of the area, where Glen Johnson met the ball.

The England right back, who was returning to the starting line up for the first time since 29th December, clipped in a fantastic cross to the back post. Torres leaped highest to meet the ball with his head, and it took a magnificent stop from the keeper, on his goalline, to stop the Reds taking the lead.

Liverpool went into the half time break on top, and came out for the second half looking to score a vital away goal, although it was the French team that began the second period brighter. Lille even had the ball in the back of the net on 49 minutes, but it was ruled out for offside, when replays later showed that the player was never offside, as he was clearly being played onside by Emiliano Insua.

2 minutes later Lucas shot wide of goal, after Torres had flicked on Mascherano's long pass. After this Ryan Babel, who was impressive once again and deserves a run of games to show what he can do, stung the keeper's hands with a fierce effort from 18 yards out.

The home side came back into the game, and went close to scoring on two occasions. Both times it was Lille striker Frau who went very close to giving his side the lead. Firstly, he fired in a powerful shot from 25 yards out that swerved in the air, causing Reina to punch the ball clear.

With 20 minutes remaining Frau had another go, this time sending a thunderous strike inches over the cross bar, from 35 yards out.

It was a wonderful effort from the Frenchman, who was a threat all evening. Liverpool must make sure that they keep him quiet in the second leg, otherwise he could score a crucial away goal, which would almost certainly send Liverpool crashing out of Europe.

Lille's second half control finally paid off on 83 minutes. Hazard, who had dramatically dived in an attempt to win his team an undeserved spot kick only a minute earlier, swung in a tremendous free kick which sailed past everyone in the packed penalty area, before sneaking in at the back post. Reina could have done better, but there was not much the Reds could do, it was simply a beautiful strike from a talened player.

Worryingly, Lille went close to scoring a second, which would have seen Liverpool really struggling going into the second leg. The ball was dinked over the heads of the Reds defenders, and fell to the feet of Lille substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameya, who's shot deflected off Agger and onto the post.

In response Liverpool toiled in search of a critical away goal, however it didn't come. A goalmouth scramble nearly led to Torres finding the back of the net, but the ball was cleared to safety, and then, with seconds remaining, Reina hoofed a long punt upfield. Torres flicked the ball on to Riera, who played an excellent pass out to Gerrard in space on the left, but, unfortunately, the Reds captain couldn't find the back of the net.

As the commentators for Five summarised following the only goal of the match, a 1-0 result isn't great for Liverpool, but it isn't a bad result either, especially considering the unbelievable pressure that both Rafa and the players have been put under over recent days by a media all to happy to label yet another club as "in crisis".

Whilst it is never good to leave the away leg having failed to score an away goal, Liverpool are by no means out of this competition yet, and should progress to the next round if they manage to keep the Lille attack quiet at Anfield.

The Reds can now concentrate on another "must win" game, this time at home to bottom club Portsmouth, who are one of only a handful of clubs in a worse financial situation than Liverpool. Hopefully Rafa can break his Monday night curse (the Reds boss has never claimed victory in a Monday game) and help Liverpool to a crucial 3 points.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Latics Punish Reds Dreadful Performance

Last night was a horror show for the Reds, as a dreadful performance left their Champions League hopes hanging from a string. Liverpool failed to control a game they were expected to win, and this cost them dearly, as Wigan's dominance tested the Reds backline and eventually led to Rodallega tapping home a winner from close range, to condemn the Reds to their 9 defeat of the season, with 7 of those coming on the road.

Javier Mascherano's performance in the right back position was the only positive to come out of what was a miserable night for Liverpool. Masch sped up and down the right wing, and looked dangerous in attack whilst remaining defensively solid, and should be a better back up right back than Jamie Carragher, who returned to his favoured role at centre back.

Rafa Benitez, even when we lose, almost always claims that his team "controlled the game", yet even he was unable to say this last night as Wigan dominated the game in the middle of the park. Gerrard was anonymous once again, and Torres' finishing was dreadful for a stiker of his quality, but he can be excused as he is still nowhere near match fit.

Liverpool started the game with a few chances which, if they had been taken, could have shaped a different outcome to this vital clash. Gerrard wasted the Reds first opportunity as he blasted high and wide from 25 yards out, after Mascherano's cross had been cleared to the edge of the 18 yard box.

On 8 minutes Liverpool squandered their best chance of the match. Gerrard's corner was headed out to the edge of the box, where Lucas met the ball and headed it to Torres, who's shot skimmed the post and went behind for a goal kick. It was a great chance as the Spanish striker had a lot of space to strike the ball home, however his poor shot failed to test ex Red Chris Kirkland, who was in goal for the home side.

After this, former Newcastle player, Charles N'Zogbia, whipped a dangerous centre across the face of the goalmouth. Any touch would have sent the ball into the net but, thankfully for the Redmen, no one managed to connect and the game remained goalless.

Charles N'Zogbia was made to look like Christiano Ronaldo last night as he terrorized young left back Emiliano Insua, who put in yet another shocking performance against low grade opponents, similar to the game he had against Reading's Jobi McAnuff, who was also made to look like a world-beater thanks to a disappointing display from the inexperienced Argentine.

Don't get me wrong, on the whole i think Insua is a terrific young player with bags of potential, however i believe that he needs a rest at the moment, as he isn't use to playing so much football at such a high level. Unfortunately he will not be granted this rest, as Fabio Aurelio is plauged with injuries.

Rodallega shot over the bar from a free kick on the edge of the box, before Steven Gerrard wasted a brilliant chance on the half hour. Maxi Rodriguez played a pass to Kuyt, who then set Benayoun free in the box. Yossi skillfully played the ball past Figueroa before squaring the ball to our captain. Stevie slipped up when controlling the ball, but managed to pick himself up, however his left footed shot was scuffed agonisingly wide from only 6 yards out, and with the keeper already beaten, it was an embarrasing miss from the Reds number 8.

Wigan's dominance in the midfield paid off on 35 minutes as they deservedly took the lead. Dirk Kuyt somehow found himself in the left back position, and, as he tried to play the ball back to Lucas, N'Zogbia managed to steal possession, turn, then place a wonderful cross with the outside of his right foot right into the path of Rodallega, who made no mistake from 6 yards out, tapping the ball past Pepe Reina.

Minutes before half time Torres headed over the bar when he probably should have scored, causing Liverpool to head into the break 1-0 behind, and needing a significant improvement if they were to get anything from this frustrating match.

You would have thought that Liverpool came out for the second half desperate to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and transform their fortunes, however this wasn't the case, as Wigan started the second half brightly, denying Liverpool the opportunity to place them under any sustained spell of pressure.

On the hour Wigan should have doubled their lead as some poor decision making from the Reds backline nearly cost them dear. A long punt up the field reached the edge of the Liverpool box. Pepe Reina came out to try and collect the ball, however he missed it and it ran through to Marcelo Moreno, who tried to lob the ball into the net from a difficult angle. The ball was going in until Sotorios Kyrgiakos, who was returning from suspension, headed the ball off the line. From the resultant corner the home side went close again, as Moreno, who was becoming increasingly involved in Wigan's attacking play, headed just over the bar.

Liverpool continued to struggle to create anything in attack, and looked vunerable when the Latics pushed forward. With 17 minutes remaining the home side almost inflicted the killer blow, as Scharner nearly slid onto a ball from the right hand side, but he couldn't tap the ball home, due to Kyrgiakos putting him under pressure with a sliding tackle.

2 minutes later Liverpool should have been back on level terms, and they would have been, if Fernando Torres had been fully fit and firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately he wasn't, as he missed a tremendous opportunity, shooting wide from 6 yards out after Dirk Kuyt had headed Maxi's cross down to Torres' feet.

By this point most Liverpool supporters knew it just wasn't going to be our night, as yet another away horror show cost Liverpool further ground in the race for 4th spot. Rodallega had a great chance to compound the Reds misery, as he took possession off Ryan Babel, however he shot high and wide, when he only had one more defender to beat.

Liverpool are really struggling on the road this season. Last season's terrific away form, which yielded an impressive 13 victories and only 2 loses, has not been replicated this year, with Liverpool finding it hard to score goals away from their Anfield fortress, as a result of injuries to key forward thinking players, like Torres, Johnson and Benayoun.

Hopefully this shocking display can be the kick up the backside the players need, and lead to a turn-around in fortunes, starting with the Europa League clash in Lille on Thursday. One thing that is certain is that Liverpool can kiss goodbye to next season's Champions League if they perform anywhere near as badly as they did last night again.


Monday, 8 March 2010

Lucas vs Aquilani

In Liverpool's 4-2-3-1 system there is room for two holding midfield players. This season Lucas and Mascherano have been filling in these roles quite competently, however Alberto Aquilani, a £20 million summer signing, is now looking to take one of those two positions. Mascherano is a certainty as, on top form, he is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. On top of that, he is captain of Diego Maradona's Argentina side.

A fight for the other holding midfield role now seems to be developing between Lucas Leiva and Alberto Aquilani, and Lucas defintely has the upper hand, as he is one of only 3 players to have played a part in every single League game this season (the other two are Pepe Reina and Dirk Kuyt.)

The role of Lucas in the first team is probably the most divisive issue between supporters today. His supporters, including myself, recognise his tremendous work rate, thirst for a tackle and commitment to the cause, whilst appreciating the fact that he is only 23 years old and has time to improve further.

His detractors on the other hand, use him as a scapegoat for all of the team's problems this season, citing the fact that he hasn't got the same passing range as Xabi Alonso as a legitimate criticism, while conveniently forgetting that very few players display the same abilites as Xabi Alonso. It's like criticising David Ngog for not being at the same level as Fernando Torres.

Conversely, most fans with half a brain are united in their opinion of Alberto Aquilani. He's a talented player with potential, but he must be given at least a season and a half to get used to the rapid nature of England's Premier League, and to fully recover from his horrible injury problems, that meant he hadn't kicked a ball in anger for several months before he had even arrived on Merseyside.

Of course, the mass media will spout their usual rubbish about Aquilani not being good enough for the Premier League, and Rafa supposedly throwing £20 million down the drain, however they seem to be forgetting that Arsene Wenger, one of the best managers in Premier League history, says that foreigners should be given at least a season to adapt to the pace of the English game.

Also, when discussing Aquilani the mass media rarely mention the fact that Chelsea spent £18 million on Yuri Zhirkov, when the left sided player has only made 8 League appearances for Chelsea during this campaign.

Hypocritically, the London based media forget that one of their teams has spent a ridiculous amount of money on a player who has scarcely featured this season, while complaining that Rafa spent £2 million more on a player who has appeared in one more League game, and has much more attacking quality and potential than Zhirkov, who is likely to spend the duration of his Chelsea career living in the shadow of England's first choice left back, Ashley Cole.

The Italian, who has represented his national team 11 times, scoring 2 goals, has been plauged with an ankle injury, that has restricted him to substitute appearances and only the occasional start this year.

Aquilani needs gametime to get match fit, however, due to the poor performance from the team overall this season, he has been denied the opportunity to build up his match fitness in low pressure encounters, normally at Anfield, against sides who Liverpool are expected to beat.

The pressure Liverpool are under is so intense that Rafa cannot afford to risk playing Aquilani in a must win game, as, currently,he is nowhere near as good as Lucas defensively. Also, Aquilani is unlikely to last a full 90 minutes, therefore causing Rafa to start him on the bench and bring him on only if neccesary.

While this has frustrated many supporters who were eager to see Aquilani immediately transform Liverpool's fortunes, it is the sensible route, and, if he manages to get a full pre-season under his belt, should allow Aquilani a fresh start next season.

For the rest of this season i expect Rafa to stick with Lucas, who has shown signs of an improvement in his passing range and attacking ability recently, however i think that Aquilani will start a lot more games next season as Rafa tries to embed a more attacking mentality into his side, in an attempt to challenge Chelsea and the Manchester teams at the top of the table.


Friday, 5 March 2010

Another Must Win Game as Reds face Wigan

The Reds have yet another must win game on Monday evening as they face Roberto Martinez's Wigan Athletic side. In what is becoming a fiercly competitive fight for fourth spot, Liverpool must now seize a fantastic opportunity to gain much needed momentum in the battle for Champions League qualification.

Liverpool are the only team battling for fourth place who are in League action this weekend, and must exploit this fact by claiming all 3 points against Wigan to gain a psychological advantage over their rivals.

A win would take Liverpool 2 points clear in fourth position, giving them a slender but significant lead in the race for fourth. Admittedly, Villa, Spurs and Manchester City will all have at least one game in hand, however those games are not guarenteed points, as any footballer will rightly point out, it's much better to have the points on the board than to have games in hand.

For once all of Liverpool's star performers returned injury free from international duty, leaving Rafa Benitez with nearly a full squad to choose from. Martin Skrtel is out for around 6 weeks after breaking a metatarsal in his right foot during the second leg of Liverpool's last 32 Europa League clash in Romania, and Fabio Aurelio is facing 2 weeks on the sidelines with a damaged thigh muscle which he picked up at home to Blackburn Rovers in a bruising battle, last time out at Anfield.

Apart from Skrtel and Aurelio Rafa has a fully fit sqaud to choose from, following the news that Glen Johnson is in contention for a role on Monday evening. The return of the marauding right back is excellent news for Liverpool, as his attacking brillance will add an extra dimension to their forward play. Also, his return to the right back berth will allow Jamie Carragher, who has worked dilligently in place of Johnson, to move back into his favoured role at the centre of the Reds defence, where he is at his exceptional best.

After a difficult, physical encounter with Sam Alladyce's Blackburn Rovers in their last League outing Liverpool will have to deal with a different challenge when they travel to the DW Stadium, the home of Wigan Athletic.

Since the appointment of Roberto Martinez in June 2009 Wigan have been adapting to the Spaniard's positive, attacking tactics following years of dodged and determined battling, which had earned them Premiership status but was unlikely to take them much further. His free flowing style of play is encouraging to see from a side that is usually associated with the type of tactics that saw Aaron Ramsey suffer a horrific leg break, however Wigan's new forward thinking mentality plays right into Liverpool's hands.

If the Reds manage to continue their fantastic defensive work, which has earned them 7 clean sheets from their last 10 League matches, then they should be able to pick off the home side on the counter attack, as the return to fitness of Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun will allow the Reds to penetrate a frail Wigan backline.

Liverpool must aim to keep it tight for the first 20-30 minutes, then hit Wigan hard on the counter attack. If they manage to do this then it should be a comfortable 3 points for Rafa's Redmen, that keeps them firmly in contention for the final Champions League position.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Run in Favours Reds

Liverpool are facing a difficult battle with Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur in what could be the closest fight for fourth spot in years. While this is interesting and refreshing for the neutral, delighted at the break up of the so called "Big Four", Liverpool fans are crippled with nerves as they face the prospect of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time during the reign of Rafael Benitez.

Of course, the only reason Liverpool supporters have come to expect Champions League qualification as a minimum requirment for a successful season is because of the impressive managerial work of Rafael Benitez. Before he arrived in the summer of 2004 Liverpool had only experienced Champions League football twice, in 01/02 and 02/03, as the Reds regularly finished 3rd and 4th which, at the time, wasn't good enough for Champions League qualification.

Liverpool have tasted top level European football during every year of Rafa's reign, thanks to a consistent performance in the League, with two 3rd place finishes, one 4th place finish and a runners up position following a disappointing finish of 5th place in his inaugrual season. This has been good enough to secure Champions League football, and the riches that come with it.

Some might argue that it has become easier to qualify for the Champions League, due to the number of places in the competition now available to the top English sides, however the quality of the tournament has also increased, with more and more top sides from Spain, Italy and England getting the chance to play in Europe's top club competition, thanks to the increase in numbers for these successful countries.

Also, the quality of competing clubs in the Premier League has increased as Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have all grown and become footballing super powers, due to a combination of mega rich owners and fantastic foreign managers. On top of that, in recent years Rafa has had to fight against the likes of Tottenham and Everton for a position in the top 4.

In fact, in 2004/05, Rafa's first year in charge, Liverpool finished 5th, outside of the qualifying places for the 2005/06 Champions League campaign, however they managed to gain entry into the competition due to the fact that they won the competition in 2005, albeit they had to start right at the beginning, facing Welsh side Total Network Solutions (named after their sponsors) in the first qualifying round.

Liverpool now face a massive challenge if they are to continue to develop along with Europe's mega rich super clubs, who are essentially guarenteed Champions League football year after year.

Manchester City are one point ahead of them, and also have a game in hand, as a result of their massive spending during the summer. Also, Tottenham have gleaned one more point from their 28 matces, however they have played the same amount of games as the Reds.

The outsiders, Aston Villa, are 3 points behind Liverpool, but they have played 2 games less. While the games in hand can be seen as an advantage, it is much better to have the points in the bag, rather than having to rely on taking all 3 points from rearranged clashes, which are likely to fall during a midweek, congesting the fixture list and increasing the risk of injury.

One major fact is in Liverpool's favour though. They have a much easier run in then their opponents. Aston Villa also have a comfortable run of games heading into the business end of the season, however i expect them to crumble as they always do towards the end of the League season, because Martin O'Neil refuses to rotate his side, leading to critical players suffering from injuries and burnout.

While Liverpool face games against Wigan, Portsmouth and Sunderland Manchester City face tough games against Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa. Liverpool do have to play both Manchester United away and Chelsea at home, however they will not have to face any of their rivals for the coveted fourth spot, unlike City and Villa.

Tottenham Hotspur have winnable games in their run in, just like City, Liverpool and Villa, but they face a horrible period in April as they host Arsenal and Chelsea before travelling to Old Trafford. Hopefully those games will be the downfall for the Londoners, costing them 4th spot.

Villa, like the Reds, have one of the easier run ins, with matches against Wigan, Wolves and Bolton likely to earn the Villans 3 points. However, they also face a tricky tie at Stoke, and games away to Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as a home match against the resurgent Everton, who have recorded victories over both Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks.

By my calculations Liverpool should earn 23 points from their remaining fixtures, giving them a total of 71 points. Both Villa and City should finish with 67 points after registering 22 and 18 points respectively, whilst Tottenham fair the worst, gleaning a meagre 13 points from the rest of their games giving them a total of 62 points. This would leave Liverpool in 4th, Villa and City fighting for 5th based on goal difference, and Spurs left behind in 7th.

Of course these figures aren't completely reliable as they will be affected by my obvious Liverpool bias (as a Red i think we can win any game), however i believe them to be as accurate as possible. Also, the changes in form that will entail between now and the end of the season will obviously affect my results, making my estimates less accurate, however that is exactly what they are-estimates.

All we can do is hope, and back the lads and Rafa all the way to the end of the season because one things is for sure. This fight is going to go down to the wire.


Monday, 1 March 2010

Race for Fourth Heats Up

The race for that all important fourth Champions League position intensified this weekend as all 3 teams in League action gained vital victories in tricky encounters. Manchester City claimed an historic 4-2 victory over Chelsea in the "Battle of the Bridge", becoming the first team to defeat Chelsea at their Stamford Bridge home this season. Meanwhile, Tottenham won 2-1 at home to the resurgent Evertonians to take all 3 points out of a difficult game.

Liverpool were at home to Blackburn Rovers as Aston Villa contestsed the Carling Cup Final. It was a difficult match for the Reds as Sam Alladyce's over physical side definitely let the home side knew that they were in for a fight. Also, the Reds had added pressure on them as both City and Tottenham had both taken maximum points out of their earlier weekend clashes. It was crucial that Liverpool did the same in order to keep up with their opponents in the race for fourth spot.

There was no urgency in Liverpool's early play as the visitors took the early intiative during the first 20 minutes, peppering Pepe Reina's goal with shots. After only 1 minute the Blackburn captain Christopher Samba tested Reina with a header from Diouf's corner, before a wicked shot from distance flew just over the top left hand corner of Reina's goal.

Blackburn definitely started the better, however Reina was more than a match for many of their efforts. He saved Pedersen's shot from 18 yards out with ease as it went straight at him. After only 15 minutes Croatian striker Kalinic had a great chance to give Rovers a fully deserved 1-0 lead, as Lucas was caught in possession in his own half. Liverpool now found themselves in a 2 against 2 position, and Kalinic had the ball. Fortunately for the Redmen his effort went just wide of the post without worrying the Reds keeper.

Blackburn's early dominance seemed to spark Liverpool into life as they responded to the visitor's attacking football. They responded in the best possible way on 19 minutes as they took the lead, following a wonderful move.

Lucas fed the ball to Gerrard, who then played a brilliant 1-2 with Dutch winger Dirk Kuyt. Gerrard then sprayed the ball out to Yossi Benayoun on the left, who cut into the box with a neat run. The Israeli playmaker returned the ball to Gerrard who moved into space before powering the ball past Robinson with his left foot. It was an excellent movement from the Reds, which gave them a critical one goal advantage, despite of the fact that they had started disappointingly.

Soon after, Pedersen forced Reina into a terrific double save, as his first effort was rebounded back out to him. He received a brilliant long pass from Samba, then fired in a fiery strike which Reina was equal to. The ball fell back to the feet of the Norwegian who shot at goal again, only to be denied by our dynamic Spanish keeper.

Kuyt had a gilt edged opportunity to double the Reds lead on the half hour, as he headed wide from 6 yards out after Gerrard's corner had searched him out. It was an excellent opportunity and one which Kuyt should have took full advantage of.

Blackburn found a way back into the game on 38 minutes as they were rightly awarded a penalty following a handball by Jamie Carragher. Kalinic tried to turn in the box, after he had received a pass, however he was crowded out by Liverpool players. Carragher had slid in and
he sneakily handled the ball in order to move it away from the feet of Kalinic and Alan Wiley, spotting the offence, rightly awarded the away side a penalty. It was one of few correct decisions from the ageing referre.

Andrews stepped up to take the spot kick, and slotted the ball underneath Reina's body and into the net. It was a poor penalty and one that Reina, especially considering the good form he displayed in the rest of the game, could have stopped.

Parity was restored, however it was shortlived as Fernando Torres returned to goalscoring form. Once again, some expert build up play from the Reds led to an opening which they took full advantage of. Lucas played a fantastic through ball to Torres, which reminded me of Xabi Alonso, but the Spanish superstar was halted by a superb sliding tackle from Samba. The ball fell to Maxi Rodriguez, who reacted swiftly and played a square pass to Torres, who tapped home from 3 yards out to earn the Reds a crucial lead going into the half time break.

Sam Alladyce always sets his sides out to be physical and challenge in the tackle, however some of his players crossed the line yesterday. 5 minutes into the second half N'zonzi was given a yellow card for grabbing Lucas round the neck while competiting for an aerial ball. In frustration at receiving a booking N'zonzi shoved Lucas away, pushing him in the face. It was the most blatant red card there has ever been, as the offence was commited right in front of him, yet, somehow, Wiley managed to miss the vile behaviour displayed by N'zonzi and failed to show him a second yellow.

Liverpool ignored the away side's antics and continued to display some wonderful attacking football. On 54 minutes Benayoun made a tricky run into the centre of the pitch, after receving the ball on the left wing. He then played a pass into Kuyt, but he stepped over the ball and allowed it to run into the path of Steven Gerrard. At high speed Gerrard nudged the ball back to Kuyt, before the Dutchman spread a pass out to Maxi on the right. The free signing, who performed well showing signs of his potential throughout, shot inches wide of the post as the Reds performed some sizzling attacking football.

After this, Mascherano, who started at right back due to Liverpool's injuries in defence, put a cross into the box. Kuyt controlled the ball using his knee before attempting an audacious overhead kick. It was an inventive effort which only just missed the target.

Another example of Blackburn's overly aggresive play came on 80 minutes when Pascal Chimbonda kicked Maxi in the chest following a foul challenge by the Spanish attacker. It was another red card offence that went ignored by the under performing Wiley.

Reina made an expert stop in the last few minutes of injury time as Blackburn threw men forward in an effort to score the equaliser and earn what would have been a tremendous point for the Rovers. A ball was pumped into the box from a free kick and Christopher Samba met it with his head, forcing Reina into a full stretch save to stop the ball sneaking into the bottom corner.

After a frustratingly slow start it was a good performance from the Reds, especially in attack, as the return of Benayoun and Torres added extra impetus and cutting edge. Also, Gerrard was moved into a deeper position alongside Lucas in midfield, which allowed him to pull the strings in the middle of the park. Furthermore, it ensured that he wasn't man marked by a holding midfielder. It's a tactic that Rafa should seriously consider using in future games as it brings the best out of the skipper.

A 2-1 victory keeps Liverpool in the race for 4th spot, and ensures that the battle for Champions League football will go all the way down to the wire. Liverpool must continue this attacking brand of football if they are to earn the right to dine at Europe's top table next season.