Sunday, 25 September 2011

Reds tame spirited Wolves

Liverpool brought their recent run of consecutive Premier League defeats to an end yesterday as the Reds claimed a 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in front of 44,922 at Anfield. An early own goal from Wolves captain Roger Johnson and yet another impressive strike from Luis Suarez gave the hosts a commanding lead at half time, however a swift second half response from the visitors kept the contest alive. Despite late pressure from the Midlanders, Dalglish's men held out for the three points and could quite possibly have added to their goal count late on.

Many expected club captain Steven Gerrard to return to the starting line-up after being used as a second half substitute in midweek, however Dalglish decided to remain wisely cautious over the skipper's fitness, giving him a seat on the bench alongside Craig Bellamy, who was man of the match against Brighton in many pundits' opinion. Meanwhile, Skrtel and Adam returned from suspension, the former returning to his preferred centre back role and the latter partnering Lucas in the middle. Tall target man Andy Carroll was handed a chance to quieten his critics as he began next to the on-form Suarez up front.

The game proceeded in a similar pattern to our previous outing in the Carling Cup, with the Reds dominating the first period and netting early but failing to kill off their opponents and allowing them back into the match during the second 45. Unusually though, Liverpool benefited from a slice of good fortune for once when, after eleven minutes, Adam's long-range shot was deflected into his own net by Roger Johnson, who, in the build up the opener, had been unbalanced by a nudge from Andy Carroll.

Carroll continued to influence the game, heading Downing's corner into the arms of Wayne Hennessey before delivering an inviting left wing cross into the danger area, where Suarez was inches away from sliding in and diverting the ball past the keeper and into the Anfield Road net. Meanwhile, at the other end his important header cleared away a dangerous cross.

Whether offensively or defensively, legally or illegally, it was encouraging to see Carroll involved in the action and worrying the Wolves defence and, although he may not have returned to form just yet, the signs from his performance yesterday are promising.

He was outdone though by Suarez, who doubled the hosts' lead seven minutes before the interval with a moment of magic to savour. The Uruguayan striker latched hungrily onto Enrique's excellent pass and then turned Berra inside out before firing home at the near post from close range. It was a simply sublime finish from the diminutive number seven, who almost grabbed a second as he stabbed wide on the stroke of half time.

The passionate and opinionated Wolves' boss Mick McCarthy must have been infuriated by his team's first half display, and responded by making two substitutions and reverting to a 4-4-2 formation. His bold and risky move was rewarded only four minutes after the break as substitute Steven Fletcher made an instant impact, turning home Hunt's cross from eight yards.

Although Liverpool reacted immediately, Hennessey making an outstanding block to deny Suarez and Carroll crashing a header against the woodwork, Wolves remained in the ascendancy and applied pressure on their hosts. Former Spurs' midfielder Jamie O'Hara shot over the bar from the edge of the box while Fletcher beat Reina in the air and headed wide, only moments after an almighty goalmouth scramble had frightened the home side.

After weathering the storm, the Merseysiders began to regain control of the contest, Lucas shaving the base of the post from Carroll's lay off and Suarez heading over the bar before being replaced by Gerrard, who received a typically raucous reception from the Anfield faithful. Suarez wasn't quite as happy as the masses though, angrily kicking a water bottle as he took his place in the dug out to, I suspect, the delight of Dalglish, who will be seeking similar desire from his teammates.

Gerrard almost made the headlines with a late strike that arced just over Hennessey's cross bar from 25 yards. The fairytale return wasn't to be but, nevertheless, the Reds held out for all three points and, with key players regaining form and fitness, will head into next weekend's Merseyside derby with renewed confidence.


Thursday, 22 September 2011

Liverpool squeeze past Seagulls

Liverpool secured a safe passage to the fourth round of the Carling Cup last night with a 2-1 victory over Championship outfit Brighton and Hove Albion at the recently built Amex Stadium. Goals close to the start and conclusion from Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt sealed the win for the Reds, with Ashley Barnes' late spot kick proving little more than a consolation.

Following Sunday's crushing defeat at White Hart Lane, Dalglish picked a relatively strong starting line-up in order to quickly recover the form lost after consecutive losses. Youngsters Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson complemented an experienced core composed of Reina, Carragher, Lucas, Kuyt, Suarez and Bellamy. Meanwhile, club captain Steven Gerrard started on the substitutes' bench after six months on the treatment table, eventually completing 15 minutes at the end.

The visitors, who created numerous chances and threatened the hosts’ goal at regular intervals, dominated the early exchanges. Our bright start was in stark contrast to the apathetic beginning to our previous match, with Craig Bellamy coolly netting his tenth goal for the club seven minutes in to confirm our supremacy.
Kuyt's headed effort was then hacked clear off the line, before the Dutch striker superbly sent Suarez one-on-one with the keeper but the Uruguayan contrived to fire wide when ideally placed to double our lead. The front three of Kuyt, Suarez and Bellamy were combining effectively and encouragingly, with Suarez dropping a header agonisingly wide of the far post from Bellamy's free kick on the half hour mark and the Welsh striker smashing a sensational 40-yard set piece against the cross bar five minutes prior to the break.

The trio seemed to be on the same wavelength and were playing football pleasing to the eye which, although clearly good news for Kenny and co, leaves Carroll, who remained on the bench throughout, facing fierce competition for a forward position many expected him to make his own.

The Merseysiders could have easily been three or four ahead at the interval, however they frustratingly failed to add to their lead and the age-old adage that football is a 'game of two halves' rung true once again. A bright Brighton side, enjoying resurgence under the guidance of the likeable Gus Poyet, spent the majority of the second half placing their Premier League opponents under pressure.

On 48 minutes ex Red Alan Navarro smashed a strike against the bar following Coates' poor clearance, before good attacking play from the Seagulls culminated in Sparrow shooting straight at Reina. Scouser and childhood Liverpool fan Craig Noone, who previously worked on the roof of Steven Gerrard's house, particularly stood out for Brighton, looking lively and posing questions of our back four. Shortly after the hour mark he fired over, before former Valencia man Vicente arced a shot wide.

With an equaliser looking eminently possible Dalglish decided to introduce skipper Steven Gerrard, to the joy of Liverpool fans thankful to finally see their star performer back out on the park. Nerves were calmed further five minutes later when Bellamy and Maxi combined to set up Kuyt, who struck the ball low beyond Ankergen and into the far corner of the net.

At that point Brighton's valiant second half effort appeared to be in vain, however they were given a glimmer of hope in the last of the 90 minutes as an embarrassing, school-boy error from the out-of-sorts Spearing forced Carragher to make a hasty challenge. Instead, the 33-year old vice-captain tripped up Vicente and Barnes proceeded to dispatch the spot kick past Reina. Despite late pressure from the home side, Liverpool held out and will be in the hat for Saturday's fourth round draw.

The main positives to take from last night were our first half performance, which showed the attacking class clearly possessed within the squad, and the return of Steven Gerrard, who will surely play a huge part in helping the Reds return to the top four should he stay fit. Moreover, Bellamy's performance was encouraging and demonstrated the potential he undoubtedly has, however he was up against a Championship defence and I'll reserve judgement on him until he shows he can perform consistently well in the Premier League and not prove a destructive force in the dressing room in the process.

On the flip side, the Reds failed to capitalise on their first half dominance, were ran very close in the second half by a team who were plying their trade in League One only last season and conceded a silly penalty in the dying stages.

Whatever way you look at it, Liverpool are through and can now concentrate on picking up crucial points in the contest for Champions League qualification.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Nine-man Reds hit for four in Spurs shocker

Liverpool were dealt a harsh reality check yesterday as they succumbed to their fifth loss in a row against Tottenham in what was undoubtedly their worst defeat during Kenny Dalglish's managerial reign. Two red cards and four goals conceded painted a stark picture as Harry Redknapp’s resurgent Spurs duly punished a poor display from the Merseysiders.

Jamie Carragher started his 468th league game to overtake the Anfield Iron Tommy Smith into sixth place on the club's all time appearance list, while Andy Carroll was handed his first start since the Reds' previous visit to North London, when they claimed an impressive 2-0 victory over Arsenal.

Having travelled to Greece and back to face PAOK in the Europa League in midweek, many expected the hosts to start the slower and tire quickly. However, it was the visitors who started sluggishly and failed to recover. The Reds were handed an early let off when Adebayor fired wide when well placed, but their luck didn't hold much longer as Modric latched onto Bale's left wing cross and curled an unstoppable strike into the top right hand corner of Reina's net soon after.

It was an unbelievably good goal from the Croatian, who clearly now has his head in the right place to play for Spurs after constant speculation throughout the summer linking him with a big money move to Andre Villas-Boas' Chelsea. The 26-year old then forced Reina to dive full length to keep out his low effort, before injury was added to insult as Daniel Agger, who had damaged his ribs in the build up to the opener, was replaced by debutant Sebastian Coates.

Suarez appeared to offer some light at the end of the tunnel for the away side on 18 minutes as he poked the ball beyond Friedel and into the net, however he was fairly flagged offside and that glimmer of hope was extinguished on the half hour mark as Charlie Adam capped our horror start by receiving his marching orders following a ridiculously high challenge on Scott Parker.

Liverpool's midfield had already been outplayed, out-thought and out-fought by their dominant Spurs counterparts and, with Adam having an early bath, the Reds found it doubly difficult to get a foothold in the contest and compete with their classy and clinical opponents.

Before the break Bale blasted a free kick off target and Kaboul headed Modric's cross wide and, disappointingly, the second half continued in the same vein right from the off, with Defoe pulling a shot wide from close range when he really should have doubled the Lillywhites' lead. His strike partner Emmanuel Adebayor then had a similarly embarrassing miss as his tame and weak effort was comfortably saved by Reina after Defoe had inexplicably beaten the off-form Martin Skrtel in the air and fed the former Gunners forward.

Skrtel was simply having a nightmare and pacy winger Gareth Bale ripped him to shreds every single time he sped past the clean-shaven Slovakian. Although both Johnson and Kelly are injured, the logic of selecting a centre back out of position against Bale must be questioned and even youngster Jon Flanagan surely would have done a better job at coping with the Welshman than the woefully inadequate Skrtel.

The number 37's day went from bad to worse shortly after the hour mark as he was rightly sent off after committing yet another bookable offence. From that point on Liverpool fell to pieces and Tottenham reaped the rewards, netting twice in quick succession. First, Jermain Defoe turned Enrique on the edge of the area before firing past Reina at the near post. The Spanish keeper was then at fault for Spurs' third goal as he spilt a long range shot into the path of Adebayor, who slotted home with a minimal amount of fuss.

With the outcome of the contest beyond doubt, the rest of the match was played out in exhibition mode for the home side, who kept the ball comfortably and remained in the ascendancy, claiming a chunky 65% of possession and prolonging the Reds' misery. Adebayor drove home in stoppage time to seal Spurs' biggest win over us in over 46 years.

Liverpool were simply dreadful yesterday and deserved exactly what they got; nothing. Our defence was shaky and vulnerable, our midfield was all too easily overpowered and our strike force was inevitably lacking ammunition due to ill-discipline leading to the pre-mature exit of Adam and Skrtel. Unlike at Stoke, we could not blame the referee as Mike Jones made the correct call in both red card incidents.

This match must be written off as a bad day at the office and forgotten immediately. Fixtures against Brighton and Wolves must now be used to regain confidence and momentum ahead of two massive matches against Everton and Manchester United at the beginning of October.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Replacing the middle men

Cutting out the ‘middle men’ is widely seen as a smart, cost cutting, red tape removing and efficiency improving move in the business world. Common business sense rarely translates into the sporting arena though and, unfortunately, Liverpool fans know all too painfully well how it feels for a football club to be run like a business after enduring the disastrous three and a half year reign of two charlatan sharks in the shape of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Their questionable business structure not only left the Reds’ squad severely depleted following years of asset stripping in order to afford ever-escalating interest payments, it also failed to deliver the promised profits, leaving Liverpool tinkering on the brink of financial oblivion and the footballing wilderness.

In fact, you could say that Hicks and Gillett literally cut the middle men out of Liverpool. Up until the 2009/2010 season manager at the time Rafael Benitez had gradually developed a formidable midfield triumvirate to challenge the best midfields in the League. Javier Mascherano’s energy and bite in the tackle helped to break up attacks and provide an extra layer of defence while Xabi Alonso pulled the strings going forward, pinging around passes with consummate class. Club captain Steven Gerrard provided the attacking thrust in the centre of the park, linking up excellently with an on-form Fernando Torres.

However, this impressive unit began to unravel that summer, with Benitez unable to invest the £30 million raised through the sale of Alonso to Real Madrid. The Spaniard had hoped to sign Gareth Barry as a replacement, however the funds were handed to the bank and Benitez was left relying on the overly similar Lucas and Mascherano. As the Reds fell from 2nd to 7th after a season of utter failure, the latter left the following summer in acrimonious circumstances, citing Hicks and Gillett as part of the reason for his move to Barcelona.

With Gerrard lacking fitness and form and key players like Alonso and Mascherano rapidly abandoning ship, reinforcements were desperately needed but, lamentably, they were never of the same quality as their predecessors. Poulsen, Aquilani, Spearing, Shelvey and Meireles all tried to fill their shoes with varying success but the serious overhaul required in the centre of the park did not arrive until this summer, when new owners FSG set out to display the stark difference between them and their American counterparts who drove the club into the ground.

Replacing the middle men who had been cruelly cut from our line-up, Dalglish quickly snapped up two of the Premier League’s most promising midfielders for a considerable sum of approximately £24 million in the form of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson.

Adam finally arrived from Blackpool following protracted negotiations throughout last season with the Seasiders’ stubborn boss Ian Holloway. The 25-year old Scot has heroically recovered from several setbacks during his career, including failing to break into Rangers’ first team and dropping down to the Championship with Blackpool, and instead of grumbling has displayed the sort of determination and drive to succeed that is inherent within the Liverpool Way.

Moreover, his all-round game and leadership ability were frequently commented upon last season, as club captain Charlie guided Blackpool courageously as they stuck to their brave if ultimately unsuccessful attacking philosophy, which won much acclaim from neutrals.

Above all else Adam has been lauded for his simply stunning passing range and many have understandably likened him to former fans’ favourite Xabi Alonso. Also, Lucas Leiva has been a revelation after stepping up to the plate last season, dramatically winning over the support of a sceptical Kop and quickly replacing Mascherano as the defensive linchpin of our midfield. With Adam and Lucas striking up a promising partnership in the centre so far this campaign, the Reds may have finally found a duo to live up to the high standards set by Alonso and Mascherano.

Additionally, fellow summer signing Jordan Henderson provides depth and competition in midfield and, at only 21, he certainly has the time to fulfil his much vaunted potential and mature into a quality player at Anfield. Learning under the tutorship of the likes of Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam can only enhance his development further while the expert knowledge gleaned from having Dalglish as manager should also accelerate his growth into an accomplished player.

Meanwhile, the return of Steven Gerrard, who has been frustratingly injured since March, appears imminent, and the added boost that will inevitably bring to the side is significant.

Although he may never reach the heights of his previously injury-free days, Gerrard remains one of the best midfielders in the world and, should be develop an understanding with Suarez similar to that which he nurtured with Fernando Torres, then defences will be terrified of facing the potent attacking force of our midfield and forward line working in harmony.

The centre of the park seems to be as strong as it has been since the days of the Mascherano-Alonso-Gerrard-Torres axis and, although the loss of Meireles to Chelsea minutes before the January transfer window closed reduced the depth in the middle slightly, his departure allows up and coming youngsters Shelvey and Spearing more opportunities to stake a claim for increased involvement in the first team.

Not only have our problems at the heart of the team seemingly been dealt with, but also, perhaps more significantly, the Reds appear to have resolved their long-standing issues on the wing. Pacey new signing Stewart Downing has flown out of the blocks, making an excellent start to his time on Merseyside and swiftly silencing his detractors. His menacing, purposeful runs frighten defenders and his pinpoint crosses should provide ammunition for Carroll to head his way back into form. It took a hefty amount of cash (£20 million) but we finally appear to have a world-class winger approaching his peak years at Anfield.

At long last the middle men that were cut out under Hicks and Gillett have been replaced and a substantial depth of quality has built up in our midfield in a relatively short period of time.

More importantly, the club is being ran like a football club aiming to win trophies, not a failing business attempting to keep up with interest repayments.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The £35 million question

To start or not to start?

That's the question facing Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish regarding the role of Andy Carroll in both his short and long-term plans. It may not run off the tongue as easily and eloquently as Shakespeare’s infamous ‘to be or not to be’ adage, but it is certainly far more interesting and the implications of its answer more profound, with the direction of the Reds’ attack and style of play, as well as a considerable sum of money, at stake.

Since the dramatic return of the man the Kop has christened ‘King Kenny’ to the managerial dugout in January, not only have results improved markedly but also the style of play has been transformed, from the dull defensive garbage served up by Hodgson’s side to the entertaining and expansive brand of football preferred by the legendary Scot.

Following the departure of moody Spanish striker Fernando Torres for a whopping £50 million, Dalglish purchased £57 million worth of striking talent in the shape of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, bolstering the Scot's options up front and adding impetus to the revival inspired by his return. With the former, towering above defenders at six foot three inches tall, possessing a considerable aerial threat and the latter, a relative dwarf at five foot eleven, ordinarily buzzing around intent on latching onto knockdowns, many Reds supporters hoped they could terrorise defences in a similar manner to that of John Toshack and Kevin Keegan during the glory years of the 1970s, when the Reds won four European competitions, the FA Cup and three League titles with the dynamic duo as their strike force.

Toshack and Keegan peal off in celebration of yet another goal

If they could match their predecessors combined tally of 196 goals from 568 games then the pair would earn legendary status on Merseyside and the net spend of £7 million to bring them to Anfield considered bargain business.

Unfortunately, Carroll was immediately sidelined with a thigh injury picked up while at Newcastle and therefore only made seven appearances, making minimal impact on the team and leaving the role of partnering the seemingly undroppable Luis Suarez up for grabs. With £16 million summer signing Jordan Henderson occupying the position on the right wing previously reserved for Dirk Kuyt, the industrious and versatile Dutchman switched back to his original role as a striker, starting alongside Suarez in the Reds' most recent League fixtures.

Meanwhile, Carroll has been left on the bench which, although possibly understandable at home to Bolton Wanderers, is hard to countenance when travelling to face Stoke City, a team notorious for their preference to play physical and aerial football, a style of play suited to the Geordie's qualities.

With the 22-year old only netting once so far this season (in the Carling Cup against Exeter City) and his national boss Fabio Capello unwisely expressing doubts about his fitness levels and lifestyle, Carroll is facing mounting pressure to justify his massively inflated price tag and prove himself both on and off the field. Moreover, after the return of controversial figure Craig Bellamy, Carroll faces increased competition for a starting berth.

For once Carroll isn't criticised for drinking alcohol!

In the short term, Carroll appears to be facing fierce competition for a place in the first team and he seems unlikely to make the sort of instant impact that Luis Suarez did upon arrival on Merseyside. However, more importantly, the question remains whether Carroll's capabilities are compatible with the style of play adopted throughout the Reds' history and reinstalled under Kenny Dalglish's second managerial reign.

The oft-cited Liverpool Way is an all-encompassing philosophy that provides the guiding principles for the conduct of everyone at the club, establishing a collective ethos of hard work and encouraging the sort of pass and move football demonstrated by the Anfield outfit towards the end of last season and during the opening weeks of the current campaign. Hard work and defensive stability provide the cornerstone to a successful, attacking side intent on keeping the ball on the ground and passing their way through usually tight-knit defences. A long ball game is discouraged and, while claiming all three points remains the focus, an emphasis is placed on entertaining the paying public.

This approach rarely lends itself to a tall target man. Yes, there is certainly a time and a place for a long ball. Of course, the issue isn't over whether it is a long or a short pass, but whether it is the right or wrong pass. However, it is simply not the Liverpool Way to continuously lump long balls forward and hope for the best, and that temptation exists when you have a player the height of Andy Carroll starting up front.

Ultimately, a compromise will have to be reached. New American owners FSG have spent far too much money on Carroll and wingers to supply him with aerial ammunition for Dalglish not to involve the Reds' new number nine as an integral part of the team. Equally, far too much has been invested in observing the traditions of our great club for Kenny to all of a sudden throw our pass and move style out of the window in an attempt to fully utilise Carroll's aerial prowess.

All of Dalglish's footballing genius and extensive knowledge of Liverpool FC will be required for him to come up with a sensible solution, where we can get the best out of Carroll without losing the distinctive brand of football associated with Anfield.

Should he succeed, Carroll and co. could add an epic of Shakespearean standards to Liverpool's long and storied history.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Potters Stoked by performance of 12th Man

Liverpool fell to their first defeat of the season yesterday after a combination of blatant refereeing errors, poor finishing and sheer bad luck saw opponents Stoke City emerge with an undeserved 1-0 win, ultimately sealed thanks to a highly dubious spot kick from Jonathan Walters.

Manager Kenny Dalglish stuck with the bulk of the side that secured such a comprehensive victory over Bolton Wanderers last time out, with Martin Skrtel replacing his injured namesake Kelly in the only change.

Surprisingly though, in a week in which Dalglish was forced to defend his £35 million purchase following unwarranted criticism of his fitness from England manager Fabio Capello, Andy Carroll was left on the bench. The number nine’s confidence cannot have been improved by missing out once again, particularly considering his height could have proven an invaluable resource both defensively and offensively against a typically physical and combative Stoke side, who handed a debut to ex-Red Peter Crouch up front.

The Reds’ last win at the Britannia Stadium came over a decade ago when an 8-0 annihilation saw Stoke unceremoniously dumped out of the Carling Cup at the fourth round stage. Since then, Stoke have done incredibly well to narrow the vast gulf in quality between the two sides and yesterday’s one-goal triumph came as a testament to the remarkable work done by Tony Pulis to establish the Potters as a recognised Premier League outfit.

However, they undoubtedly profited from many questionable refereeing decisions that went in their favour throughout the course of the 90 minutes. This was particularly true in the opening stages, as two crucial calls incorrectly went against the visitors, setting the pattern for what would be an infuriating afternoon.

First, Mark Clattenburg failed to point to the spot after Delap had blatantly blocked Kuyt’s header with his hand inside the box. Then, only moments later, the hosts were awarded a ridiculously soft penalty after Jonathan Walters went down under minimal pressure from a bewildered Jamie Carragher. The Irish international picked himself up to lash the spot kick confidently beyond Reina and into the net.
The opener had come against the run of play because, although they failed to seriously test Begovic during the early exchanges, Liverpool had been in the ascendancy and remained dominant for the rest of the contest. Frustratingly though the Reds lacked a killer instinct in front of goal, as demonstrated 10 minutes before the break when Skrtel blazed over the bar when well placed.

Suarez then turned Upson and tested the keeper with a low shot before Shawcross headed Etherington's cross over the bar, but the scoreline remained unchanged heading into the interval. Dalglish must have been disappointed to be trailing after controlling the first period and consequently sent his troops out with the express aim of equalising early on then capitalising on the momentum built up and putting Stoke to the sword.

Unfortunately though the start to the second half was scrappy and the Reds only began to build up a head of steam after a golden opportunity had been squandered on the hour mark. Enrique displayed vision and intelligence to split Stoke's defence with an incisive cross-field pass that sent Henderson bearing down on Begovic. A remarkable sequence of play followed, as Henderson was twice foiled by the keeper and once by a defender, before Adam's two attempts were also blocked as the hosts defended both heroically and desperately.

The introduction of new signing Craig Bellamy alongside Andy Carroll twenty minutes from time sparked a late onslaught from the visitors, who piled on the pressure in search of a crucial equaliser. The Welsh striker immediately showed his Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, encouragingly delivering a couple of enticing balls into the danger area but also arguing and squaring up to opponents unnecessarily.

With three minutes remaining the considerably shorter Bellamy almost benefited from being in the vicinity of his tall colleague Carroll, as Stoke defenders focused on the latter while Downing's deep cross travelled to the former at the back post. Disappointingly our new number 39 headed wide in time and space.

There was still time for another debatable refereeing decision and missed opportunity, with the ever-zealous Suarez inevitably involved in both incidents. First, Suarez was booked for screaming at the officials in protest after they had failed to spot Upson inadvertently handle Downing's cutback. However, to be fair to Clattenburg it was a 50-50 call as there is a credible argument that it was more a case of ball-to-hand then handball.

Then, deep into injury time miscommunication between Crouch and Begovic caused the ball to fall favourably for Suarez, who had the simple task of slotting the ball into an empty net from eight yards out. Agonisingly, the Uruguayan’s shot slid inches wide of the post as the Merseysiders' unbeaten record slipped from their grasp.

An unexpected away victory against similarly red and white clad opposition earlier in the season compensates for this loss, however frustration abounds as we dominated throughout yet failed to take our chances, which ultimately proved costly. Although Liverpool had eleven attempts on target to Stoke's one, the Potters were more clinical in front of goal and emerged with the three points, moving into fourth place, one above the Reds.

Nevertheless, should we replicate this performance in future weeks and receive more favourable treatment from officials then this defeat will be quickly forgotten.


(Thanks to Katherine Morris from Red and Proud's Facebook page for providing the title to this piece.)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Reds and the revolving door: Transfer window review

The transfer window slammed shut last night and, while the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal proceeded to panic buy as a result of their woefully poor starts to the season, Liverpool quietly tied up the loose ends of their transfer activity after wisely completing the bulk of their business prior to the kick-off of the new Premier League campaign.

While the customary fanfare and hysteria inevitably surrounded what was another dramatic deadline day, the Reds were uncharacteristically content following a busy summer of big spending. After years of asset stripping and squad depletion under the ownership of despised American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett, our new owners FSG demonstrated why they are so different to their American compatriots. Not only did they keep their promise to support Dalglish in the transfer market, they invested heavily on adding both quality and quantity to the Reds' previously paper-thin squad, seemingly without a moment's hesitation.

Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli clearly drew up plans to fill problem positions preferably with young, British talent with the ability to fit into the first eleven immediately and the time to develop further and add lasting value and quality to the Reds' squad. They carried out this plan efficiently and with expertise and class.

Although already possessing a reasonably strong spine, Dalglish added depth, competition and quality to the centre of midfield by bringing in Jordan Henderson for £16 million from Steve Bruce's Sunderland and Charlie Adam for £8 million from recently relegated Blackpool. 21-year old Henderson provides versatility as he can play in the middle and on the right wing and also adds a dynamic spark at the heart of the team. Meanwhile, Charlie Adam has settled in swiftly, instantly looking at home alongside Lucas Leiva in midfield.

In fact, while the Brazilian has won over supporters and filled the gap left by Javier Mascherano, Adam appears to have the passing ability to replace the much-missed Xabi Alonso. With Steven Gerrard set to return to action soon, an exciting midfield triumvirate resembling the Mascherano-Alonso-Gerard axis is encouragingly beginning to develop.

Moreover, at centre back highly rated Uruguayan Sebastian Coates was signed on the final day of the transfer window for £7 million from Nacional. Following the sale of Kyrgiakos and Ayala and with Carragher ageing, Agger injury prone and Skrtel under-performing, 20-year old Coates, who was crowned young player of the tournament at the Copa America, will provide stern competition for his teammates in that position and could prove to be the long-term replacement for Jamie Carragher if he fulfils his considerable potential.

The left hand side has always been a problem area for the Reds and millions of pounds have been wasted attempting to rectify that problem, with the likes of Ryan Babel, Albert Riera and Harry Kewell failing to provide genuine width and crossing ability on the wing. Based on their first few appearances alone, Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing appear to have finally solved our long-standing lack of quality down the left wing after striking up a compelling relationship in the opening stages of the season.

Downing's pace and ability to ping in a cross with pinpoint accuracy is complemented by the defensive solidity of Enrique. The 25-year old Spaniard isn't shy of getting forward himself though, and looks to have the right blend of bold attacking play and sensible defensive work. This partnership should prove helpful in bringing out the best in Andy Carroll as well, as the tall Geordie forward will thrive on the service provided to him from the wings.

Alongside Carroll up front this season will be the considerably shorter Craig Bellamy, who completed a move back to Anfield on a free transfer late last night after he had originally left the club in 2007 following an ill-fated round of golf with John Arne Riise. With David Ngog completing a £4 million move to Bolton Wanderers, Dalglish needed another forward to provide cover for Carroll, Suarez and Kuyt and went for the Welsh striker on a free transfer from Manchester City, where he fell out with Italian boss Roberto Mancini.

Bellamy undoubtedly has ability and can produce some powerful, fiery and memorable performances. However, his infamous bad temper and tendency to fall out with managers and cause division in the dressing room is worrying. Paired unfavourably with the fact that he is 32 and past his peak, the wisdom of signing Bellamy can be reasonably questioned. Perhaps signing another younger striker to act as an understudy to Carroll, Suarez and Kuyt would have been more shrewd but also, of course, more expensive.

In total Liverpool spent around £57 million on Henderson, Adam, Enrique, Downing, Coates, Bellamy and Doni, who arrived from AS Roma to provide back up to Pepe Reina. Although this equals the amount spent on just two players (Carroll and Suarez) in the January transfer window, the need to sell and release players to recoup cash and lower the wage bill was obvious.

Thankfully, after initially spending big to ensure our main transfer targets joined early and enjoyed a full pre-season at their new club, the Reds set out to remove some of the excessive deadwood that had developed under Hicks and Gillett and has held us back ever since.

The much-maligned Paul Konchesky, who arrived for a ridiculous £5 million from Fulham just last summer, was sold to Sven Goran-Erikkson's Leicester City for a fraction of the price paid for him, while Milan Jovanovic, reportedly on an eye-watering £100,000 a week at Anfield, returned to Belgium to join Anderlecht and Christian Poulsen, another Hodgson flop, left to sign for little known Ligue 1 side Evian. Meanwhile, Gerardo Bruna, Chris Mavinga, Thomas Ince and Nabil El Zhar were allowed to leave for free and Philipp Degen's contract was terminated by mutual consent on the final day of the transfer window.

While these departures would have pleased Kopites, other transfers resulted in mixed feelings. The main culprits in this category were the loans of Aquilani to AC Milan, Cole to Lille and Pacheco to Athletico Madrid. Although all three have failed to live up their potential at Anfield for various reasons, many believed they deserved a second chance.

Ultimately though I can understand the logic behind each of the temporary departures. Aquilani was unlikely to feature due to the increased competition from expensive new signings in the middle while both Cole and Pacheco do not fit into our system of play. Although they may return to prove me wrong, it seems improbable that Dalglish will welcome them back next summer.

Moreover, Emiliano Insua's transfer to Sporting Lisbon left me disappointed as he originally showed such promise and potential, before suffering a horrendous loss of form during the second half of Benitez's final year in charge and never recovering. The arrival of Enrique signalled the end of the road for Insua and, although his failure to realise his potential at Liverpool is disappointing, it was time for both club and player to separate.

Frustratingly, for the second successive transfer window Chelsea signed one of our better players minutes before the deadline but, fortunately, once again Liverpool appear to have benefited most from the transfer. After failing to entice Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to sell the much-coveted Luka Modric, new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas turned to Raul Meireles, who played under him at Porto before moving to Merseyside.

The Blues' original offer of £7 million plus ex Red Yossi Benayoun was rebuffed; with rumours suggesting Dalglish wanted Daniel Sturridge instead in a part-exchange deal. However, when Meireles handed in a transfer request half an hour before the deadline, a £12 million transfer fee was hastily agreed with Chelsea and the Portugese was on his way to Stamford Bridge.

Meireles was certainly impressive last year and demonstrated his talent with numerous goals from midfield, however he failed to start in any of our first three Premier League games and consequently worried that he would rarely play this campaign. Although his departure reduces the depth of quality in the centre of midfield, with Gerrard, Lucas, Adam, Henderson, Shelvey and Spearing all available the Reds have more than enough cover in that position and £12 million is a decent fee for a 28-year old with little sell-on value.

Overall though, it has been an encouraging summer of steady yet substantial progress. The squad has been strengthened massively, with an infusion of young, hungry players helping to substantiate the belief that Dalglish's red revolution can be successful in the long-term. Crucially, the majority of the deadwood has also, at long last, been removed.

And all with a net spend of just under £40 million!


(Thanks to Mick Mackay from Red and Proud's Facebook page for providing the title to this piece)