Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Superb Reds sink suffering Blues to reach the semis

Liverpool secured a place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup last night with an excellent 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. After Andy Carroll's disappointing first half penalty miss, his strike partner Craig Bellamy provided two fantastic assists for Maxi Rodriguez to net at the Bridge for the second time in nine days and Kelly to head home his first goal in a Red shirt.

Before kick-off Kenny Dalglish had voiced concerns at the close proximity between this fixture and Sunday's Premier League match against Manchester City, with only 48 hours recovery time afforded to the two teams, as City travelled to London as well to face Arsenal. This concern was reflected in the Scot's starting line-up, as he made seven changes to the side, with only Reina, Enrique, Lucas and Henderson remaining from the weekend.

Welsh striker Craig Bellamy, who played with and for Gary Speed, was in tears during an emotional minute of applause in memory of the highly respected former Evertonian. After being excused from action on Sunday to grieve the tragic loss of Speed, Bellamy returned to put in a man of the match performance that Speed would have been proud of.

The opening stages were dominated by penalty box incidents. First, only three minutes in David Luiz powered forward and went down under a challenge from Coates in the area. Somewhat unexpectedly Phil Dowd, who was widely criticised for an inept display, booked the Brazilian defender for diving when Coates clearly made contact with him and it really should have been a Chelsea spot-kick. Soon after, the controversial and colourful character Luiz was involved again as he pushed Carroll in the back in the box. Once again it should have been a penalty but once again Dowd made an incorrect decision.

When Dowd finally made a correct call he was hesitant to do so and required significant persuasion from the indignant Carroll. Enrique's left wing cross was clearly handled by Alex as he challenged for the ball with Carroll and thankfully the referee eventually saw sense and pointed to the spot.

It appeared to be the perfect opportunity for Carroll to restore some confidence and give the visitors the lead, however lamentably the off form number nine fired a poor penalty straight down the middle of the goal and stand-in keeper Ross Turnbull made a relatively easy save. Nevertheless, Liverpool's tremendous 6000 strong support sung, "there's only one Andy Carroll" in support of him after his penalty miss.

Lampard's shot from distance was comfortably held by Reina and Enrique's cross shot was easily dealt with by Turnbull, as neither side stamped their authority on the contest. Dowd continued to make embarrassing errors though, this time brandishing a yellow card incorrectly in the direction of young Chelsea left back Ryan Bertrand after his teammate Romelu Lukaku's dangerously high tackle on Henderson had arguably warranted a red card. On the stroke of half time Chelsea crafted their first real opportunity of the match, as the lucky Lukaku rose highest to meet Boswinga's cross and guide a towering header inches wide of the far post with Reina beaten.

The first half had been a fairly balanced but rather dull affair, with few goalscoring opportunities and only contentious refereeing decisions to discuss over the traditional half time pie. If the second period had replicated the first then extra time and penalties certainly seemed to be on the cards.

Thankfully, the game livened up during the second 45 and, although Lampard's free kick rebounded off the bar and caused chaos in the Liverpool penalty area early on, the Reds gained the upper hand moments before the hour mark. Craig Bellamy confidently marauded down the right hand side and squared a perfect pass across the six-yard box to Maxi, who had the simple task of steering home from close range.

Liverpool doubled their lead and Bellamy's assist tally only five minutes later, when the number 39's fantastic left wing free kick found Martin Kelly unmarked at the back post. The 21-year old simply let the ball glance off his head on its way into the net; such was the quality of Bellamy's delivery.

Those two goals in quick succession devastated Chelsea's already fragile confidence and left Liverpool in the ascendancy for the remainder of the clash. On 74 minutes former Red Nicolas Anelka was played through on goal but Reina held him up and Carragher eventually got back on the line to clear away the Frenchman's shot. Torres' firm header then forced Pepe into a good save but apart from that the Merseysiders were untroubled and comfortably saw out the tie. In fact, the only disappointment came when Lucas Leiva, who has performed superbly over recent weeks, left the action on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury.

A poignant moment came ten minutes from time when Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt replaced Craig Bellamy. The move was irrelevant tactically and had little bearing on the outcome of the match, but the reception Bellamy received was laudable. The travelling Kop chanted "there's only one Gary Speed" and Bellamy responded with tears and warm applause. The club's anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" than reverberated around a hastily emptying Stamford Bridge, as our away support showed their undying passion for the umpteenth time.

Unsurprisingly, this victory closely resembled our 2-1 League win at the same ground just over a week ago. Bellamy setting up Maxi to open the scoring and the Reds' right back netting are obvious similarities. Also, Dalglish came out on top tactically once again while, although Carra and Coates had replaced Skrtel and Agger, defensive solidity was retained. Crucially, our fighting spirit and togetherness shone through compared to the disharmony in the Chelsea camp.

Liverpool can be more than satisfied with four points from the League matches versus Chelsea and City, and can now also look forward to a two-legged Carling Cup semi-final which, if the draw is favourable, could see us visiting the new Wembley for the first time.


Monday, 28 November 2011

Liverpool denied by Harty display from Mancini's men

The highly anticipated, keenly fought and hugely entertaining clash between Premier League forerunners Manchester City and Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool ended in a 1-1 draw yesterday, as the Reds moved into sixth place while Mancini's men remained top of the pile.

A game that ebbed and flowed enjoyably saw Kompany's headed opener quickly cancelled out by fellow centre back Joleon Lescott's inadvertent own goal, before the ever unpredictable Mario Balotelli was sent off for a second bookable offence only seven minutes prior to the final whistle and less than 20 minutes after he'd replaced former Gunners' playmaker Samir Nasri. This sparked late pressure on Joe Hart's goal from the home side, however the number one England stopper was on top form to deny the Merseysiders and keep the scores level at full time.

Before kick off the tragic pre-mature deaths of Brad Jones' son Luca and former Wales manager Gary Speed were fittingly commemorated with an impeccably observed minute's silence.

With the sad and shocking news of Speed's death filtering through on the morning of the match, debate raged around whether or not to postpone Sunday's Premier League fixtures as a mark of respect to his bereaved family. The League eventually decided that the fixtures would go ahead, however the football clearly paled into insignificance.

The emotion was even more palpable at Swansea's match at home to Aston Villa, where many of the Welsh players had worked under Speed for their national team and Villa keeper Shay Given had been a close teammate of Speed's at Newcastle.

The game began at a high tempo and, rather appropriately considering their position at the top of the table, City started in the ascendancy, Toure drilling the first goalscoring opportunity of the contest just over the bar six minutes in. Reina then had to be quick off his line to deny Aguero after Enrique unusually delivered a poor back pass. The visitors claimed that Reina handled outside of the area and TV replays added some credence to this view, however there was too little space between the ball and the keeper's arm for him to realistically move out of the way in time. It was therefore a case of ball-to-hand, rather than handball.

Aguero, who has netted a remarkable 10 goals in 12 appearances, posed another threat on 21 minutes when his mazy run into the penalty area caused several Liverpool defenders to desperately attempt to prevent him going through on goal. Thankfully, he ran out of space at the critical moment and the danger was averted. Unfortunately, it proved to be only a temporary reprieve for the hosts, Kompany meeting Silva's corner with a powerful header to break the deadlock on the half hour mark.

Many expected City to continue in control and exert further dominance over their opponents, however only minutes later a slice of good fortune brought the Reds back into the contest. Charlie Adam's long range effort was veering disappointingly wide but a deflection off former Everton defender Joleon Lescott wrong footed Hart and
sent the ball into the back of the net.

Liverpool then had a flurry of chances prior to the interval, Hart turning another low drive from Adam around the post excellently with his foot, Suarez striking high over the bar and Johnson curling a left footed shot inches wide of the far post within quick succession. Reina was called into action during injury time to block Aguero's effort, however the Merseysiders went into the break confident of continuing to compete on a level playing field with the big-spending Mancuians.

Dalglish's well-drilled defence remained tight throughout the second period and restricted the visitor's expensive attack effectively, while the Reds' midfield and attack attempted to craft chances and claim a winner. On 52 minutes Kuyt headed Downing's deflected cross wide, before a well-worked corner eventually led to Hart tipping Downing's volley over after it had bounced off the playing surface. The influential England international then saw his volley fly across the face of goal from Henderson's deep cross to the back post.

Despite the Reds creating the majority of the goalscoring chances, up to that point the tie had remained relatively balanced. The tipping point coincided with Balotelli's departure after an aggressive collision with Skrtel had earned the controversial and comical 21-year old a second yellow card. It was a truly absurd challenge and embarrassing performance by Balotelli, whose nickname is rapidly evolving from 'Super Mario' to 'Stupid Mario', his on-field follies coupling unfavourably with off-field misdemeanours such as setting fireworks off in his bathroom!

Fruitful link-up play between Lucas and Suarez culminated in Hart turning the latter's shot around the post, before a rapid counter attack from Dzeko exposed our back line and set up Aguero in a one-on-one position with Reina. The Spanish stopper and Danish centre back Agger did very well to stall the Argentine’s progress and, when he finally managed to get a shot away three red-shirted players were covering the goal line and Skrtel comfortably cleared the danger.

Manager Kenny Dalglish had initially ignored calls to introduce Andy Carroll earlier, however he sought to capitalise on Balotelli's dismissal by substituting Kuyt for the misfiring Geordie forward. He almost proved that call a correct one in the dying stages, as his goal-bound header was tremendously clawed away by the superb Hart in the Kop end goal. Perhaps brining him on earlier would have opened up the City defence further and enabled us to grab a winner while also helpfully building up Carroll's confidence. However, midfield control would have been sacrificed to achieve this and, against a team like City, that is simply not a viable option.

Although the hosts' late onslaught may have left them slightly disappointed not to have stolen all three points, a point from this side will placate both sides. Following Balotelli's red card City will be pleased to recover from their midweek defeat in Naples by taking a point away from Anfield, especially considering their 3-0 defeat here last season.

Meanwhile, despite their fifth home draw of the campaign, Liverpool will be satisfied with taking a point off the League's only unbeaten team. Their defensive display was particularly pleasing, with City recording their lowest number of shots on goal (7) of the season, half of their previous lowest amount. Moreover, we had 10 more sights of goal and enjoyed 56% of possession, statistically confirming yet another highly encouraging Liverpool performance.

The Reds will now revisit Stamford Bridge tomorrow confident of continuing their good form and claiming a place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Reds leave Chelsea feeling Blue at the Bridge

Liverpool maintained their two month unbeaten streak with a fully deserved 2-1 victory over Andre Villas-Boas' faltering Chelsea side yesterday. A well-worked first half strike from Maxi following a calamitous error from the hosts epitomised the first 45 minutes, before Chelsea recovered and levelled through Daniel Sturridge. The Reds weren't to be denied though, Glen Johnson's superb solo strike two minutes prior to the final whistle inflicting defeat upon his former employers and taking the Merseysiders up to sixth, level on points with Chelsea.

Kenny Dalglish went into the contest confident that his side could claim victory, with the legendary Scot never tasting defeat to the Blues during his two times in charge, winning eight and drawing three out of eleven meetings. Jamie Carragher was only fit enough to claim a place on the bench, meaning that Agger and Skrtel were paired together at centre back. Meanwhile, Bellamy partnered Suarez up front as Carroll dropped to the bench and Maxi made his first League start of the season. Ex-Reds Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles began on the bench for the Blues.

Liverpool players and staff wore black armbands as a mark of respect to Brad Jones after his son Luca tragically lost his long battle with leukaemia this week. With the match firmly put into perspective, Chelsea started in the ascendancy, Mikel driving over the top ten minutes in after Mata had gone perilously close to opening the scoring. Didier Drogba then fooled Pepe Reina, the TV commentators and half of Stamford Bridge as his 25-yard free kick curled inches past the post and rippled the back of the net. As many Chelsea fans pre-maturely celebrated and Pepe Reina began to berate his defensive wall, the Reds breathed a deep sigh of relief as it became apparent that the 33-year old Ivorian hadn't broken the deadlock.

Although the home side had more noteworthy sights of goal during the opening stages, Liverpool continually probed Chelsea's high defensive line and would have breached it on several occasions had the final pass been slightly better. Nevertheless, the visitors persistently pressurised their hosts, not allowing them any time on the ball and hunting in packs to win back possession.

This wise tactic came to fruition just after the half hour mark when Cech's poor pass put Mikel in an isolated position. Adam exploited the error, quickly dispossessing the Nigerian midfielder and passing to Craig Bellamy, who neatly exchanged passes with Suarez before feeding Maxi. The Argentinian justified Dalglish's decision to pick him by coolly slotting the ball beneath Cech's body and into the net.

Luiz was next to be targeted, as a trio in red shirts pressurised him into giving away a free kick on the edge of the box, referee Lee Probert also flashing a yellow card in his direction. Unfortunately, the usually lethal Suarez curled the resulting kick way over the top, before another great counter attack from the away side culminated in the diminutive Uruguyuay’s cross cum shot deflecting just wide of Cech's near post.

Liverpool had comfortably controlled the first half and should really have punished their opponents and extended their lead further. Disappointingly, they hadn't done so and Chelsea came back into the contest in the second half, equalising relatively early on and then going on to create numerous chances. Daniel Sturridge replaced Mikel during the interval and made an instant impact on proceedings, tapping home at the back post after a strong run into the box from Malouda.

Only two minutes later Reina was forced to pull off a stunning save to keep out Ivanovic's flick from Drogba's left wing free kick. The world-class Spanish stopper did well to get down and tip the ball behind the goal, retaining parity for the Reds. With 20 minutes remaining more Blue pressure ended with Malouda's acrobatic effort flying three yards past the post, before the French winger squandered a great chance to claim the lead as he scuffed a volley wide of the target having been left unmarked at the far post.

In search of a late winner Villas-Boas called for the cavalry, introducing former Liverpool stars Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles to the fray seven minutes from time. Both have struggled to really make a name for themselves since moving south and thankfully neither of them made a noticeable impact on the closing stages of this match.

In fact, the two remaining goalscoring opportunities fell to Liverpool and, ironically, former Chelsea right back Glen Johnson clinched the winner. First, Henderson excellently evaded challenges from Cole and Terry on the right wing and centred to Downing, whose lay off was tamely struck wide by Kuyt. Then, the marauding Johnson received Adam's raking cross-field pass, delightfully nutmegged Ashley Cole and tucked an outstanding left footed finish into the corner of the net.

It was a simply awesome goal that fittingly rounded off what was a top-notch performance from Kenny Dalglish's troops. Defensively, our back four remained robust during difficult second half spells where the Blues were dominant. Kuyt worked tirelessly as per, Lucas and Adam hounded their midfield opponents, giving them very little time on the ball, while the latter displayed his immense passing range with devastating effects. The underused Maxi made a decent claim for more regular first team football, while the tenacious Bellamy was industrious, inventive and an effective foil for the sensational Luis Suarez, whose recent run of good form (including four goals for Uruguyuay against Chile) continued yesterday.

With one win secured, Liverpool now head into their next two massive matches with confidence. On Sunday pacesetters Manchester City visit Anfield before the Reds return to Stamford Bridge to face the Blues in the Carling Cup. A point and progression to the semi-finals of the League Cup would represent a fantastic return from these three potentially season-defining fixtures.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Familiarity breeds Chelsea contempt

An age-old proverb wisely quips that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. With that in mind it is easy to appreciate why animosity exists and persists towards Liverpool’s opponents on the weekend Chelsea. There are already numerous reasons to hold the Blues in contempt; their owner Roman Abramovich’s Russian roubles, their despicable captain John Terry who, as an adulterer and alleged racist, is the ‘perfect’ role model and those hideous identikit plastic flags they embarrassingly hand out to generate an artificial atmosphere at Stamford Bridge are but a few.

The fact that we have faced them an inordinate amount of times over recent years only exacerbates the rivalry between the two teams. Since the 2004/2005 season the Reds have faced the Blues 28 times, averaging at over four and a half clashes a campaign. Of those, Liverpool have won 10 and lost 11, which gives the impression of relative equality between the two sides. However, when it comes to the big matches that matter most the Merseysiders are clearly superior to their London rivals.

This trend was most evidently seen in 2004/2005 when Chelsea won both Premier League fixtures and beat us 3-2 in the Carling Cup final but suffered a 1-0 aggregate defeat in the Champions League semi-final, where a hugely controversial Luis Garcia goal proved the difference. The debate rages to this day as to whether the ball actually crossed the line, however what most Chelsea fans fail to realise is that even if the ball had not crossed the line the referee would have awarded us a spot kick for Cech's foul on Milan Baros in the build-up and sent the Czech stopper off, which would have been an arguably worse outcome for Mourinho's men.

A year later Liverpool reached the FA Cup final at the expense of Chelsea, winning 2-1 in the Old Trafford semi-final due to a spectacular finish from Luis Garcia that the Londoners could have no complaint over. The following season saw Liverpool retain their dominance, clinching the Community Shield and reaching the Champions League final at the expense of Chelsea, this time claiming a penalty shootout victory. Unfortunately, although AC Milan were the Reds' opponents in the final yet again, the outcome in the showcase occasion was somewhat disappointingly different to in Istanbul, as the Italian giants won 2-1. In 2008/2009 Chelsea claimed some revenge with a 7-5 aggregate triumph over the Reds, although Liverpool almost staged a memorable comeback in a thrilling second leg, which eventually ended 4-4.

Ever since we dropped out of the Champions League the seemingly constant stream of fixtures between the pair has dried up and the fierce rivalry has subsided slightly. Nevertheless, underlying reasons remain as to why Liverpool and Chelsea loathe each other.

Fundamentally, the two teams are essentially antithetical. Liverpool have a storied and illustrious history yet lacked (until recently) the financial muscle to truly compete at the top echelons of the game, whereas Chelsea, although missing any sort of noteworthy historical successes, have collected domestic cups and League titles thanks to the ludicrous amount of money pumped into the club by Abramovich. Anfield is famous worldwide for its spine-tingling atmosphere. Conversely, Stamford Bridge is regularly (and rightly) derided for housing 'consumers' as opposed to supporters. Liverpool are situated in the working class north whereas Chelsea are located in the comfortably middle class Kensington area.

The sporting, cultural and economic differences couldn't be much more pronounced. It is therefore somewhat surprising that so many players have transferred from the Reds to the Blues recently. Nevertheless, it is hardly startling to discover that those who have left Liverpool for Chelsea have struggled to settle in and succeed down south.

Firstly, Yossi Benayoun, who was a valued creative midfielder at Anfield, moved to Chelsea in July 2010. He appeared only eight times for his new side though and was quickly shafted out on loan to Arsenal. The fact that he was loaned to one of Chelsea's top-four rivals reveals what Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas thought of the Israeli's talent. Most recently, Portugese midfielder Raul Meireles departed for Stamford Bridge literally minutes prior to this summer transfer window's deadline and hasn't exactly revolutionised their midfield. At £12 million Liverpool got a good price for the 28-year old.

Most famously and controversially, Fernando Torres traitorously left Liverpool to join Chelsea towards the end of January this year. The whopping sum of £50 million that we received for him was a British transfer record and made Torres the fourth most expensive footballer in history. Liverpool are more than delighted with the deal while Chelsea hurriedly search for the Spaniard's receipt.

His first game in a Blue shirt was against former club Liverpool and he was subjected to unmerciful abuse, as his previous employers emerged victorious. Since then he has really struggled to find any semblance of form and has become a figure of ridicule due to his laughable goalscoring record, netting a measly three times in 22 appearances.

The Chelsea number nine will hope to improve that abysmal record as Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge twice in the space of nine days soon, initially to complete our Premier League fixture against the Blues before also competing in the Carling Cup quarter finals. Liverpool head into the encounters in a rich vein of form on the road, claiming four away wins in a row in all competitions. Chelsea, meanwhile, will have had their confidence shaken by conceding five at home to Arsenal at the end of October and are generally vulnerable defensively, conceding 15 goals so far this season, more than any team in the top seven except Tottenham Hotspur.

The tie will be tight and could prove a barometer of where the two teams will finish this season. I predict a draw or narrow victory for the visitors. More importantly, in the long term Liverpool have the potential to overtake the Blues, as Villas-Boas faces a tough task to overhaul their ageing squad while Dalglish has already begun a Red revolution that could propel us back into contention for the top prizes in the not so distant future. Following FSG's takeover, both teams have similar financial strength and both are investigating the possibility of building new stadiums or re-developing their current ones.

The foundations seem to be built for a long-term rivalry that is likely to see the Reds and the Blues clash many more times and the proverb 'familiarity breeds contempt' proved resoundingly true.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Swansea surprise for poor Reds

Liverpool succumbed to their fourth home draw of the season, and second at the hands of promoted clubs, yesterday as Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City side took a hard-earned and wholly deserved point with them back to Wales. A poor Liverpool performance lacked the attacking verve of previous matches, with Andy Carroll’s glaring miss early on and Dirk Kuyt’s disallowed goal in the dying stages the Reds’ best two chances. Swansea, meanwhile, more than held their own and, after parking the proverbial bus during the first 45 minutes, threatened during the second period and arguably looked more likely to nick all three points.

The last meeting between these two teams came in January 1990 when Liverpool ran out comprehensive 8-0 winners in an FA Cup third round replay at Anfield. Unfortunately, a similar result wasn’t forthcoming this weekend, as the Merseysiders struggled to break down the stubborn Swansea back line.

After almost 30 years outside of the top flight, the Welsh side have taken to the Premier League like Swans to water, sitting comfortably in mid-table having conceded only once at the Liberty Stadium. However, they have struggled on the road, registering a single point from the 15 available from their five away fixtures prior to their trip to Anfield, although, to be fair, many teams will struggle to take anything away from the Etihad Stadium, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge.

As a result, the visitors understandably adopted a cautious approach at Anfield, getting men behind the ball and trying to frustrate their hosts. The whole pattern of the contest could have been changed seven minutes in though had Andy Carroll converted a gilt-edged chance. A neat one-two between Downing and Adam released the former Villa winger in space down the left wing. His low cross reached Carroll at the back post, who somehow contrived to hit the bar when it was easier to score.

It was a shocking miss from the tall Geordie, which revealed that, despite the improvement in his form over recent weeks, he is hardly the finished article yet. Nevertheless, a similarly embarrassing miss from Fernando Torres against Blackburn Rovers for Chelsea soothed the pain for hurting Reds. Conversely, strike partner Luis Suarez seems to be getting better and better with every passing week. Mid-way through the half his snapshot was deflected wide before he forced Swansea stopper Vorm into a stretched save.

In between those two opportunities Reina had to pull off a reflex save to deny Danny Graham, before an underwhelming first half culminated in promising 21-year old Joe Allen zipping a shot just wide of the Spaniard's far post from the edge of the box. Kenny Dalglish replaced the ineffective and below par Jordan Henderson with Dirk Kuyt at half time, however the Dutchman failed to inspire an improved display from the Reds, with the visitors increasingly controlling possession and posing a real threat to the home side's defence.

Eight minutes after the interval a timely intervention from Agger was required to prevent Routledge, before an error from Pepe Reina on the hour mark almost proved incredibly costly. He mis-controlled a square back pass and Graham almost nipped in to tap home but the number 25 survived the scare and just about managed to clear the danger in time. The off-form Reina then fumbled Dyer's shot into the path of Graham but recovered to smother the rebound. Swansea saved the best chance for the 84th minute though, when Graham knocked down Dyer's cross into the path of Allen, who had a clear sight of goal unchallenged from six yards out. Fortunately for the Reds he lacked the necessary composure and blasted well over when he should have at least tested Reina.

It was a near escape for Dalglish's troops, who responded by placing their Welsh opponents under pressure for the last few minutes. First, Suarez hit a free kick wide of target. Then, Johnson played the ball into the area where Agger headed through to Kuyt, who found the net with a diving header.

Frustratingly, female official Sian Massey, who was subject to senseless sexism from former Sky commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys prior to our 3-0 victory at Molineux last season, flagged Kuyt offside. It was a close but correct call. Swansea keeper Michel Vorm, who hadn't been troubled for large portions of the contest, made two sensational saves late on to retain parity. Suarez's shot was well stopped before Johnson's excellent acrobatic effort was expertly tipped over the bar by the 28-year old Dutch stopper.

Their late resistance meant they held out for a point and, such was the quality of their performance, Rodgers' men received a round of applause from the Anfield faithful. It was a case of too little, too late for Liverpool though. For once, not only was their performance lacking goals, it also lacked the plethora of goalscoring chances that have come to characterise the Reds' recent displays. Moreover, control of the game often eluded the hosts, with Swansea claiming 55% of possession and looking comfortable on the ball throughout. Considering our opponents' abysmal away record, the performance and result were simply not acceptable.

In 2008/2009 Liverpool just missed out on clinching the title, mainly due to drawing seven matches at home, a total surpassed by only Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, who finished 16th and 10th respectively. Worryingly, we are already more than half way to matching that unwanted figure and, unless Dalglish quickly rectifies our home form, in 2011/2012 the Reds could miss out on Champions League qualification as a result of dropping silly points at Anfield.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Luis Suarez- Just can't get enough

The Kop is arguably the most famous stand in club football. Architecturally it is impressive, boasting a capacity of over 12,000 as the biggest single tier structure in Britain. Also, it has witnessed innumerable enthralling European encounters and seen trophy after trophy paraded in front of it by victorious Liverpool sides of the past. Primarily though, the Kop is internationally renowned as a result of those who inhabit it- the famous Kopites. Widely held to be the most passionate and knowledgeable football supporters in the country, Kopites have been said to suck the ball into the Kop end net with their fiery and vocal support of their club.

Song after song has been invented by Kopites. Liverpool’s anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is spine tingling; ‘The Fields of Anfield Road’ recounts the Reds storied history while impromptu chants such as ‘Steve Bruce, He’s got a big fat head’ reflect the characteristic scouse humour and quick wit. The Kop’s latest hit, based on the song by Depeche Mode entitled ‘Just can’t get enough’, perfectly sums up the supporters’ thirst to see more of new signing Luis Suarez’s silky skills.

The Uruguayan’s arrival from Dutch giants Ajax for what, for a few hours at least, was a club record fee of approximately £23 million, was overshadowed by the sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea for a ludicrous £50 million and the current club record purchase of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United for £35 million. Suarez has stepped out of their shadow though and emerged as by far the best signing of the three.

Suarez attracted the interest of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish and Director of Football Damien Comolli after netting a notable three goals in six matches at the 2010 World Cup, as he formed a potent attack alongside Diego Forlan, helping Uruguyuay to overachieve and finish fourth at the summer tournament in South Africa. He also received negative press and a tarnished reputation though after deliberately handling on the line against Ghana in the quarterfinals. Some labelled him an outright cheat; others defended him claiming he instinctively acted in his country’s best interest, just like any other patriotic international player would in the same situation.

The furore surrounding the handball incident probably discouraged many of the top sides that were reportedly interested in the 24-year old striker from bidding for his services. Liverpool exploited their reluctance and engaged Ajax in a long-winded bidding process. After protracted negotiations Suarez signed on the dotted line this January and hasn’t looked back since. Undoubtedly the King’s stand-out signing, Suarez hit the ground running, netting on his debut at home to Stoke and seemingly enjoying the cut and thrust of the Premier League immediately, unlike many other foreign signings who almost inevitably endure a difficult spell where they struggle to adapt to the physical nature of English football’s top division.

His absorbing attacking ability won the praise of the Kop and quickly banished memories of Fernando Torres, who has since become an object of ridicule amongst Reds fans following the laughably abysmal start to his Stamford Bridge career. For all his goalscoring credentials, it is somewhat ironic that Suarez is best remembered for one particular moment in the 2010-2011 season where he set up a goal, rather than netting himself. Suarez splendidly slalomed into the box, skipped past several United defenders and rolled the ball across the goal line for Kuyt to simply tap home from literally yards out.

It was world class, top quality play from Suarez, emulating his fellow South American Diego Maradona in terms of audacity to attempt such a feat and ability to pull it off so successfully. Maradona was arguably the best player ever to grace the beautiful game and, although I usually guard against bold predictions, Suarez could be of a similar quality if he maintains his current form and avoids the pitfalls of drugs and booze, which Maradona sadly fell into.

After an exciting start to life at Liverpool, Suarez featured prominently in Uruguyuay’s Copa America triumph this summer. As well as contributing to a record 15th Copa America win for Uruguyuay; Suarez received recognition for his individual displays. Not only did he find the back of the net four times, he was named Player of the tournament and would have claimed the golden boot but for Peruvian striker Pablo Guerrero’s hat-trick in the inconsequential third-place play off, which included two goals in the final two minutes.

Although Liverpool supporters were obviously delighted for Suarez and relishing the prospect of seeing him return to torment opposition defences this season, many worried that he would suffer from exhaustion in the early stages of the campaign and burnout later on. After arriving back in late July and with the new season kicking off in mid-August, Suarez was granted precious little time to complete pre-season training and was not afforded the luxury of time to rest and recuperate.

Nevertheless, the optimism generated by winning a major trophy with his national team, coupled favourably with his boundless enthusiasm and love for the game, saw Suarez transfer seamlessly back into club football. Against Sunderland on the first day of the season he missed an early penalty but picked himself up to score our opening goal only minutes later. He followed that up with a late sealer at Arsenal, another goal in Exeter and a beautiful cross with the outside of his right foot in the build-up to Henderson’s opening goal at home to Bolton. Further strikes against Wolverhampton Wanderers and in the Merseyside derby extended his scintillating start to the season, before a world class curled effort after a cheeky nut-meg and a clinically converted header in the Carling Cup clash with Stoke City demonstrated yet again Suarez’s immense ability.

For all his talent, hard work and dedication though, Suarez provokes the fury of opposition supporters almost as much as he garners praise from his own fans. He is seen as a typical foreign footballer- all too willing to dive, try to con the referee and unfairly disadvantage the Reds’ opponents. The classic example of this came at the World Cup of course (as I mentioned previously) however in the derby as well his overreaction to Rodwell’s challenge contributed to the Toffees’ midfielder harshly seeing red for a largely innocuous tackle. West Brom's Paul Scharner also claimed rather comically (and nonsensically) that 1500 penalties would be given every match if referees pointed to the spot for incidents like Suarez's against the Baggies.

More seriously, Suarez was accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra during Liverpool’s recent 1-1 draw with Manchester United and the FA are currently conducting an investigation into the alleged incident. Although Suarez strenuously denies any wrongdoing and has received the full backing of the club and manager Kenny Dalglish, he incontrovertibly courts controversy, which is perhaps an element of his character that he needs to modify.

Nonetheless, Suarez is an exceptional talent and has added immeasurably to our attack. Moreover, he is beginning to form a promising relationship with Andy Carroll, which will hopefully prove as profitable as his partnership with Diego Forlan on the international stage. However if we fail to finish in the top four this season then I would not at all be surprised to see one of the two Spanish giants offer silly money for him and add him to their vast array of striking talent. Liverpool must keep improving to keep up with their rivals and the expectations of elite level European football from their star players.

On the other hand, Suarez has been regularly compared to the former incumbent of his illustrious number seven shirt, current club manager Kenny Dalglish and, if he has the same loyalty to the club as the legendary Scot then he should stay on at Anfield and claim a place in Kopite folklore.

One thing is for sure though; Liverpool supporters simply cannot get enough of Luis Suarez.