Sunday, 29 May 2011

In Memory of the 39

26 years ago today thousands of Juventus supporters travelled to Heysel to watch their side play in the biggest match in club football, the European Cup final.

Tragically, 39 never returned.

A variety of causes, including the inaction of the police, unwise ticketing policy and, most importantly, the fragile nature of a stadium that was obviously not fit enough to stage such a massive occasion, led to 32 Italians, 4 Belgians, 2 French people and a Northern Irish man being crushed to death after a surge by a small minority of Liverpool fans caused a wall to collapse.

Contrary to popular opinion Liverpool supporters were not solely to blame for the disaster, however our role in the tragedy is inescapable.

This is a list of the 39 who died:

Rocco Acerra (29)

Bruno Bali (50)

Alfons Bos

Giancarlo Bruschera (21)

Andrea Casula (11)

Giovanni Casula (44)

Nino Cerullo (24)

Willy Chielens

Giuseppina Conto (17)

Dirk Daenecky

Dionisio Fabbro (51)

Jacques Francois

Eugenio Gagliano (35)

Francesco Galli (25)

Giancarlo Gonnelli (20)

Alberto Guarini (21)

Giovacchino Landini (50)

Roberto Lorentini (31)

Barbara Lusci (58)

Franco Martelli (22)

Loris Messore (28)

Gianni Mastroiaco (20)

Sergio Bastino Mazzino (38)

Luciano Rocco Papaluca (38)

Luigi Pidone (31)

Benito Pistolato (50)

Patrick Radcliffe

Domenico Ragazzi (44)

Antonio Ragnanese (49)

Claude Robert

Mario Ronchi (43)

Domenico Russo (28)

Tarcisio Salvi (49)

Gianfranco Sarto (47)

Amedeo Giuseppe Spolaore (55)

Mario Spanu (41)

Tarcisio Venturin (23)

Jean Michel Walla

Claudio Zavaroni (28)

On behalf of all Liverpool supporters I would like to offer my condolences to the families of the 39 people who lost their lives. We truly know how you feel. We are so sorry. You'll Never Walk Alone

Monday, 23 May 2011

Reds miss out on Europe following final day defeat

Liverpool's campaign came to a tame conclusion yesterday as the Reds missed out on European football next season following a disappointing and dull 1-0 defeat at Villa Park. Coupled with Tottenham's 2-1 win over Villa's midlands rivals Birmingham City, that result left Liverpool in 6th position with 58 points, which was insufficient to pip Harry Redknapp's side into 5th place.

Fabio Aurelio, Raul Meireles and Joe Cole all started as the King made three changes to the side that had surrendered so feebly to a 2-0 defeat against Spurs previously, while the Reds' bench encouragingly included youngsters Robinson, Shelvey, Wilson and Wisdom. Meanwhile, Martin Skrtel completed yet another 90 minutes, as the clean-shaven Slovakian astoundingly became one of only two outfield players to play every single Premier League minute this season.

Both Villa and their visitors appeared to be 'on the beach' already though in what was a typically lifeless end of the season encounter. With little riding on the outcome, the match began slowly, as both sides struggled to claim the ascendancy. On 12 minutes Jonjo Shelvey replaced Jay Spearing after the Reds' number 26 had been on the receiving end of an awful lunge from Reo-Coker, before Carragher had to receive treatment following an arm in the face from teammate Lucas Leiva.

Sandwiched in between those two unfortunate collisions were an unthreatening effort from Meireles and a crucial clearance off the line from Ashley Young after Lucas Leiva almost found the net from the Portuguese’s set piece.

The match sparked to some semblance of life moments after the half hour mark when Villa claimed the lead with their first real opening of the half. Exciting English youngster Martin Albrighton pinged an inviting cross to the back post, where reported Liverpool transfer target Stewart Downing crashed home a volley to give the Villains a scarcely deserved lead heading into the interval.

To be brutally honest neither side's performance had warranted a half time lead and injured skipper Steven Gerrard looked on distinctly unimpressed from where he was sitting in the visiting supporters' section.

Ashley Young's audacious effort ricocheted wide of goal five minutes into the second period, however the away side appeared more likely to find the net next, as the disappointing Joe Cole saw his wayward shot fail to test Friedel before the former Liverpool keeper combined effectively with Richard Dunne to thwart the Merseysiders' best opportunity soon after.

A swift counter attack culminated in Suarez squaring the ball to Meireles, who seemed certain to score with an open goal at his mercy. Frustratingly, a despairing dive from Friedel denied the 28-year old and, although there was a suspicion of handball from Richard Dunne, referee Lee Probert refused to point to the spot, with TV replays later proving inconclusive.

With 20 minutes of a fascinating season remaining a flurry of corners came to nothing and Brazilian full back Fabio Aurelio whizzed a free kick wide of target before Suarez skied high over the bar, as Liverpool's chances of Europa League qualification slowly faded. Agbonlahor was inches away from making contact with Bent's driven centre and tapping home after 77 minutes, however apart from that the game petered out to an uninspiring end.

Compared to the thoroughly entertaining, nail biting and dramatic end to the campaign at the bottom of the table, this match was inevitably anti-climatic. Although failing to qualify for the Europa League may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Liverpool can concentrate on domestic affairs and the fans can enjoy a few regular kick off times again, ending the season with two defeats highlights the need to significantly improve the squad over the summer.

Nevertheless, the Reds enter the summer months optimistic thanks to the removal of Hicks and Gillett and the return of the King.

Roll on next season!


Monday, 16 May 2011

Spurs overtake poor Reds

Liverpool’s hopes of securing European football for next season were dealt a body blow yesterday, as Spurs became the first team to leave Anfield with three points during Kenny Dalglish’s second spell in the Reds’ managerial hot seat. The visitors’ 2-0 victory, earned by Van der Vaart’s wonder goal and Luka Modric’s controversial spot kick, takes them into fifth and hands them the initiative in the race for Europa League qualification heading into the final weekend of what has been a fascinating campaign.

Following Monday’s emphatic victory over Fulham the Reds remained largely unchanged, with Andy Carroll replacing the injured Raul Meireles in the only alteration to the Merseysiders’ starting line-up. In truth though, the tall Geordie target man failed to make an impact and he clearly lacked sharpness as he struggles back to match fitness.

Crucially, his teammates weren’t much better throughout the 90 minutes and Tottenham took full advantage, escaping with an unanticipated victory. The Lilywhites controlled the opening exchanges and their bright start was rewarded nine minutes in when Van der Vaart’s sensational strike from the edge of the area dipped over Reina and into the Kop end net.

As the hosts struggled to make their mark on the match, their frustration became apparent, with Luis Suarez foolishly picking up a yellow card after kicking Tottenham centre back Michael Dawson in an off the ball incident that could have seen the Uruguayan sent off.

In fact, with self-confessed United fan Howard Webb refereeing the contest; it was surprising that Liverpool's number seven didn't see red. However, that proved to be one of few correct decisions made by the clean-shaven Fergie fan, as he persistently left the Anfield faithful exasperated with some perplexing decisions. This was demonstrated on the half hour mark, when Webb refused to point to the spot after Daniel Rose dragged Dirk Kuyt down in the box with a mindless challenge.

Approaching the interval Dalglish's troops began to improve, placing the visitors under a brief spell of pressure. On 37 minutes Carroll disappointingly headed a great chance over the bar after Skrtel's cross had found him unmarked at the back post, before his strike partner Luis Suarez whizzed a free kick narrowly wide on the stroke of half time.

The Reds' tame and timid first half display lacked attacking vigour and verve and a much-improved performance was needed in order to take anything from the match. Unfortunately, in a similar fashion to the first period Spurs started the second half the superior, and doubled their lead 10 minutes after the restart with the help of the shockingly dreadful Webb.

Flanagan's strong yet fair shoulder barge on former Evertonian Steven Pienaar took place outside of the penalty area, however Howard Webb outrageously awarded Harry Redknapp's side a spot kick.

The much-coveted Croatian midfielder Luka Modric stepped up to convert the penalty, placing the ball right down the centre of Reina's goal as the Spaniard dived to his right.

Only moments later Liverpool were denied a penalty of their own when the Kop complained that Rose had handled in the box. In all-fairness though, Webb's decision to not award a spot kick was later proven correct by TV replays. After that Suarez smacked Flanagan's low cross into the Kop, before Jonjo Shelvey replaced Jay Spearing and almost made an instant impact, thundering a 30-yard screamer inches wide of target with Cudicini beaten.

Apart from that though the game petered out into a low key conclusion, with the only 'entertainment' arriving when Lucas and Skrtel tackled a cart wheeling streaker to the delight of the crowd after the nutty nudist has comically evaded Pepe Reina.

Considering both sides' respective form heading into the match, and the fact that Spurs had failed to win at Anfield in 18 years prior to yesterday's encounter, this defeat is disappointing and unexpected in equal measure. Although a fair portion of blame can be apportioned to the woeful Webb, the Reds' below par performance admittedly warranted nothing other than defeat.

With Spurs now sitting in fifth, the Reds must better the Londoner's result on the final day of the season to qualify for the Europa League and, although some suggest a sixth placed finish may be a blessing in disguise, Dalglish will expect nothing less than 100% at Villa next Sunday.


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Return of the King

Possibly the worst kept secret in Premier League football was exposed on Thursday as Kenny Dalglish finally became permanent manager of his beloved Liverpool FC, signing a richly deserved three year contract to the delight of owners and supporters alike.

His new contract is a just reward for the legendary Scot, who has steered the club through some turbulent times and now appears to be leading Liverpool back to the golden shores of European football and, whisper it quietly, a title challenge next season.

The very notion of competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal for next season’s Premier League title seemed illogical bordering on the delusional during the dark days of Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated and mercifully short reign, when the looming jaws of a humiliating relegation dog fight appeared likely as the Reds shamefully filled the relegation places at their lowest ebb.

However, under the guidance of Dalglish the Reds have improved immeasurably, providing both style and substance while escalating the table and entertaining the Anfield faithful in what has been a thoroughly enjoyable and productive second half of the season.

The traditional pass and move, free flowing style of football promoted by the Liverpool Way and followed faithfully for so many years has now returned after being fatally ignored by Hodgson. Attacking, enterprising and entertaining football is the norm once again and an abundance of goals has encouragingly resulted, with the Reds netting 35 goals during Dalglish’s time in charge, more than any other side in the League over the same period.

This newfound focus on forward thinking football has not been to the detriment of defensive stability though. In fact, Liverpool have conceded only 14 goals since the King returned in January, with only Chelsea possessing a measlier backline.

Consequently, it comes as no surprise to learn that former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke, who worked alongside Jose Mourinho, has been massively influential in improving our defensive display, providing expertise and crucial tactical knowledge to remove avoidable errors and re-build the previously eroded foundation of any successful side; a solid back four.

Crucially, a change in tactics and footballing philosophy has been accompanied by an unmistakable lift in morale and confidence within the squad. The players now want to play for the manager, unlike under Hodgson, whose lack of popularity in the dressing room was reflected tellingly in the performances on the pitch.

Enjoyable training sessions’, backing in the pressroom and an emphasis on togetherness and unity has raised spirits considerably at Anfield. The confidence and belief engendered in the squad by Dalglish has contributed to an improvement in results and the emergence of a winning mentality.

The oft-quoted proverb, “Winning breeds winning” has rung emphatically true for Liverpool, with the Merseysiders currently embarking on an unbeaten run that stretches back to the start of April. As the season approaches a conclusion the Reds are in sensational form, which should hopefully translate into a quick start to the next campaign.

With FSG promising to invest significantly in the summer and a batch of quality youngsters knocking on the door of the first team, the future is undeniably bright for the Reds. Perhaps most importantly, the unity that the return of Dalglish has brought has created a cohesive team with the best interests of the club at heart.

No longer do we have warring, money-hungry owners snapping in the background. No longer do we have a clearly inept manager determined to make us the relegation candidates he clearly thought we were. No longer is the Kop divided between those who support the manager and those who don't.

Dalglish's return to the Anfield managerial hot seat has brought success on the pitch, harmony between the boardroom and the footballing staff and, above all else, a united Kop ready to concentrate fully on supporting the team, rather than protesting against greedy owners or calling for the manager's head.

The change from caretaker to King could be one of the most important moves in Liverpool's history.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Five goal thriller takes Reds fifth

Liverpool stormed to an emphatic 5-2 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage yesterday, as goals from Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, paired with Maxi's second hat-trick in three games, extended the Reds' recent run of stunning form and sent Kenny Dalglish's side into 5th place in the Premier League.

The silky and fluid pass and move style of football exhibited by the visitors was thrilling and effective in equal measure, as the Reds played some excellent, entertaining football while remaining in control throughout the whole 90 minutes.

Liverpool remained unchanged from the starting eleven that eased past Newcastle United last time out, with Jamie Carragher remarkably recording his 666th appearance, taking him outright in second place in the club's all time appearance makers list. Meanwhile, Pepe Reina, who was a virtual spectator for large periods, made his 150th consecutive appearance for the Merseysiders.

After scarcely more than 30 seconds has elapsed the in-form Maxi Rodriguez gave the away side a dream start, as the Argentine winger found the net after Schwarzer failed to clear Suarez's deflected cross. Only seven minutes later Maxi doubled both our lead and his personal tally after Lucas, who was also involved in the build up to our first goal, had sent Johnson free down the right. The Londoner's deep cross was met by Maxi, who coolly side footed home on the volley from close range.

Unbelievably, the Reds scored a third on 16 minutes to confirm their total dominance
of the opening period. Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer was culpable again for the Cottagers though as he allowed Kuyt's seemingly harmless shot to squirm in at the near post.

It characterised the early exchanges fittingly, as Fulham mistakes cost them dearly while everything seemed to be going in Liverpool's favour, as has been the case throughout the King's five month reign. Fortunately, the expansive brand of football employed by the away side continued to permeate their performance, with Suarez at the heart of all our attacking play as he ripped Fulham's defence to shreds

The Uruguayan breezed beyond Hangeland and attempted an audacious effort from an acute angle mid-way through the first half, before starting a typically free flowing move that culminated in Lucas lashing a strike over from 25 yards on the half hour mark.

After that Suarez tested Schwarzer with a effort from range after swapping passes with Johnson and Kuyt, while Dempsey saw successive shots cleared off the line and fly wide in the hosts' only two chances ahead of the interval. However, the Cottagers improved after the break, enjoying a spell of pressure and grabbing a goal back shortly before the hour mark as Dembele's well taken effort sneaked past Reina and into the bottom left corner.

On 63 minutes Liverpool were forced to scramble to safety when Hangeland tried to direct a corner goalwards and at that point a second Fulham goal could have changed the dynamics of the match dramatically, swinging the game in favour of Mark Hughes' side and handing them the momentum heading into the closing stages.

Thankfully, Maxi put to bed any fears of a Fulham revival though when he smashed a fantastic, ferocious 25-yard drive beyond Schwarzer's despairing dive and into the top left hand corner. It was a superb strike from the 30-year old, who has been one of many players to experience a refreshing return to form under the guidance of the highly acclaimed Dalglish.

With the outcome now beyond doubt, Suarez polished off both his and the team's performance perfectly as he rounded Schwarzer intelligently before slotting home after Shelvey's incisive pass had sent him bearing down on goal. The nous needed to convert that chance was characteristic of Suarez's game and demonstrated the footballing intelligence that will see him in good stead in the future.

There was still time for Steve Sidwell to score a beautiful consolation with a powerful drive from the edge of the box with four minutes remaining, however both the three points and the accolades were heading North with Dalglish's simply tremendous troops.

Despite their mid table position Fulham possess a formidable home record, with Spurs and the two Manchester clubs the only teams to win at Craven Cottage during this campaign. In the light of that fact this result appears even more impressive, as it shows our ability to match the top teams and signifies the crucial return of style and substance on the road.

This weekend's all important fixture between Liverpool and Spurs at Anfield will surely decide the destiny of both sides and, with Tottenham floundering and the Reds resurgent, we must enter into that clash as favourites to claim a momentous lead in the race for fifth place.


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pacheco- will he stay or will he go?

Coming from Ipswich, and still retaining a semblance of affection for my hometown team, I was understandably not particularly pleased when the Tractor Boys’ Suffolk rivals Norwich City clinched promotion to the Premier League with a Bank Holiday Monday win over south coast side Portsmouth. However, my displeasure at the result doubled with the realisation that the Canaries’ top two finish will, in all likelihood, lead to the permanent departure of Daniel Pacheco away from Anfield.

Since moving south in the middle of March on an emergency loan Pacheco has made five appearances for Paul Lambert's side, providing two assists on his debut and netting his first goal for the club in their comprehensive 5-1 derby victory over Ipswich Town.

Pacheco has tasted regular and competitive first team football in a confident and successful side for the first time in his career and has inevitably enjoyed the exhilarating experience, leaving him hungry for a consistent run of games in order to continue and accelerate his development.

As a result, although the 20-year old Spaniard will sign off from his loan spell on Saturday and return to Merseyside, the enticing prospect of first team football in the Premier League with Norwich, paired with the lack of opportunities afforded to him at Anfield, leaves Pacheco seemingly destined to return to the newly promoted Norwich in the summer.

For many years Pacheco has been one of our most promising youngsters and, when former manager Roy Hodgson handed him the number 12 shirt at the start of the season, hopes were raised that he could play a greater role in the first team this campaign, and that he could prove to be influential both from the bench and in the starting eleven.

However, the skilful Spaniard made only seven appearances for the Reds this season, featuring just once in the League and failing to play a single minute of first team football under current temporary manager Kenny Dalglish.

Considering the fact that King Kenny has been lauded by both supporters and the media for giving fellow youngsters John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly several opportunities at senior level, it is clear that the legendary Scot does not rate Pacheco as highly as other Academy startles.

Perhaps more importantly, he doesn't seem to fit into our system of play. Pacheco's preferred position is as an attacking midfielder who operates in the hole behind the main striker, however when the Reds employ a 4-2-3-1 system this role is normally filled by Raul Meireles, who possess more tactical nous and is more defensively able compared to the solely attack minded Pacheco.

Also, he has never really suited a role on the wings due to his lack of crossing ability and, although some have suggested that he should start up front ahead of the much maligned David Ngog, he doesn't have the physical presence to cope with the blows and bruises that a Premier League striker suffers over the course of the season.

Consequently, Pacheco has stagnated in the reserves and appears set to leave in the summer which, although understandable due to his failure to fit into our system of play, is frustrating. The former Barcelona youth player is tricky, talented and creative and could add an extra element to our attack both in the short and long term.

However, his departure could be the correct move for both him and Liverpool. Returning to Norwich would allow Pacheco to fulfill his obvious potential and enjoy regular, top level football while the Reds could use the transfer fee to invest in the Academy to aid the development of other young stars.

Ultimately, although I would be disappointed to see Pacheco leave, I, alongside the vast majority of supporters, trust Kenny Dalglish to make the right decision and work wisely in the upcoming transfer window in order to continue the Reds' recent resurgence, with or without the talented young Spaniard.


Monday, 2 May 2011

On song Reds make Barcodes dance to their Toon

Liverpool cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory at home to Newcastle United yesterday, with goals from Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez securing three crucial points and moving the Reds into 5th place. The hosts never really hit top form throughout the contest, however solid defending and clinical finishing were enough to seal the win and continue our recent run of impressive results.

Kenny Dalglish made one change to the side that comprehensively defeated Birmingham City last time out, as Glen Johnson returned from injury to replace 17-year old Jack Robinson at left back. Former Newcastle striker Andy Carroll was deemed only fit enough to claim a place on the bench, while vice captain Jamie Carragher made his 665th Liverpool appearance, joining club legends Emlyn Hughes and Ray Clemence in second place on the Reds' list of all-time appearance holders.

After seven minutes Meireles' volley flashed across the face of goal in what was an otherwise slow start, with the game only coming to life when a free flowing move culminated in Maxi netting his seventh of the season, as the in form Argentine volleyed Flanagan's cross home from close range, beating Newcastle keeper Tim Krul with the aid of a decisive deflection off Danny Simpson.

Unfortunately that failed to spark the expected Reds onslaught, as Newcastle ended the first half the stronger of the two sides. Spearing's stinging drive was parried by Krul, who then proceeded to grasp the ball just before Meireles and Kuyt could reach it, however that was the hosts' single significant sight of goal after Maxi's opener.

Midway through the first period Ameobi's ambitious 30-yard effort trickled through to Reina, before the visitors' number 23 rose to head goalwards twice, only for the hosts to clear on both occasions. Barton's low corner was then hooked high into the Kop by boyhood Liverpool fan Kevin Nolan, as Alan Pardew's Barcodes entered the interval confident of finding a route back into the match following a sustained spell of pressure.

Joey Barton nearly proved this confidence to be well placed moments after the restart, as the reformed yet controversial character saw his shot fly inches wide after Nolan had dug out a low cross to the back post. Thankfully, that close escape provoked a response from the Reds, who went on to dominate the rest of the match while Newcastle failed to seriously threaten Reina's goal.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was predictably at the centre of all the hosts' attacking play, as he linked up well with strike partner Dirk Kuyt and remained a constant threat, nearly doubling our advantage when his shot took a huge deflection and fell just wide with Krul rooted to the spot.

Soon after Maxi's miscued cross unexpectedly struck the cross bar, moments before Suarez hounded Williamson into a fatal mistake following an up field punt from Reina, leaving him with no choice but to foul the Reds' crafty number 7 and concede a penalty. Deadly Dirk made no mistake from the spot as he coolly waited for Krul to make the first move before calmly slotting the ball into the opposite corner.

Frustratingly Kuyt's fine form from the spot wasn't reflected in his aerial ability, as he glanced a header agonisingly and inexplicably wide from close range after Raul Meireles had picked out the unmarked Dutch striker in the six-yard box. Kuyt atoned for his error five minutes later though, as he and Suarez played an intricate one-two within a crowded penalty area before the latter struck easily past the helpless Krul.

Twenty minutes from time Andy Carroll replaced Maxi and received a raucous reception from the Anfield faithful, despite inevitable jeers from the away end. He made little impact though, as the game petered out to a quiet ending, with the home side in complete control. Portugese international Raul Meireles arrowed a header just wide, however apart from that neither keeper was tested and the clock was diligently run down.

With Tottenham falling to a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge this weekend, Liverpool have moved into fifth place in the Barclays Premier League, level on points with Harry Redknapp's Londoners but with a superior goal difference. The Reds will now travel to Craven Cottage next Monday confident of improving their away form and continuing their recent resurgence ahead of a pivotal match at home to Spurs a week later.


(Thanks to Katherine Morris from our Facebook page for providing a superb title for this piece.)