Tuesday, 29 May 2012

In Memory of the 39

27 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

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Season 2011/2012 Awards

As the season has finally reached a conclusion I look back at what has been an eventful campaign and hand out awards for player of the season and young player of the season, while determining the best and worst games of the campaign as well as the goal of the season.

Player of the Season- Martin Skrtel

The clean-shaven Slovakian's reputation for no-nonsense defending and tough tackling was vindicated by his terrific displays this season. The seemingly ever-present Skrtel, who made 45 appearances for the Reds, has been the crucial bedrock of our defence.

Not only have his personal performances been world class, his guidance and marshalling of the back four meant that Liverpool conceded just 40 goals in the League, a figure bettered only by the Manchester sides. Moreover, his partnership with Daniel Agger has blossomed, as the Dane's ability to bring the ball out from the back is fittingly complemented by the defensive stability provided by the number 37. Although it is disappointing to see Jamie Carragher's Liverpool career slowly wind down, that centre back pairing will surely be preferable in the long term.

A flag at the FA Cup final whimsically joked, "Martin Skrtel is so hard he asked for a Big Mac in Burger King and got one." That demonstrates the affinity Skrtel has developed with the supporters, who have appreciated his determination, courage and commitment, principles which all accord with the traditions of the famed Liverpool Way.

Luis Suarez has dazzled the Kop with his trickery and the aforementioned Agger has excelled as well, but Martin Skrtel wins Red and Proud's Player of the Season award for the consistently top-quality performances he has produced throughout the campaign.

Young Player of the Season- Jonjo Shelvey

After returning from an impressive loan spell at Blackpool following Lucas' season-ending injury against Chelsea in the Carling Cup quarter-final, Shelvey has continued to progress at Anfield and has drawn attention with some accomplished performances.

While at the Seasiders Shelvey bagged six goals from 10 Championship matches, including a hat trick against Leeds United. As a result, the eccentric and entertaining Blackpool boss Ian Holloway was desperate to keep the former Charlton star.

Since returning to Merseyside, Shelvey has made 16 appearances for Liverpool, scoring twice, most notably against Chelsea, where his superb strike from distance caught out the Blues' keeper Ross Turnbull and sealed a confidence-boosting win for the Reds. Tenacious and attack minded, Shelvey is able to ping a pass with pinpoint accuracy and is never afraid of marauding forward to threaten the opposition's defence. He may need a little work on the defensive side of his game, but if the 20-year old continues to improve he should soon be an important member of Liverpool's first team.

Goal of the Season- Sebastian Coates vs. Queens Park Rangers

The young Uruguayan scored a sensational scissor kick to open the scoring at Loftus Road in the middle of March. A right wing corner was contested in the penalty area and eventually fell to Coates, whose world-class acrobatic finish found the back of Paddy Kenny's net. It was a goal an experienced striker would have been proud of, let alone a 21-year old centre back.

Suarez's lobbed effort from the halfway line to complete his hat trick against Norwich was a close contender for this prize, but the fact that a goal of such quality from Coates was so unexpected tipped it in his favour. One thing's for certain; Coates won't quickly forget his first goal in England, and neither will we.

Best Game of the Season- Liverpool 2-2 Cardiff City (AET- LFC won 3-2 on penalties)

Liverpool's first trophy in six years was collected in typically nervy, unpredictable and yet exciting and undeniably entertaining circumstances. After beating the likes of Stoke, Chelsea and Manchester City to reach the Carling Cup final, the Reds fell behind early on at Wembley, as Joe Mason gave Cardiff the lead against the run of play.

Thankfully, following our usual below par first half display in a Cup final, Skrtel equalised soon after the break, before Kuyt's instinctive strike gave the Merseysiders what seemed an unassailable lead in extra time. However, the Bluebirds' Ben Turner scrambled home from a corner kick at the death to send the game to a penalty shootout.

When Heaton made a world class save from Gerrard's spot kick and Adam's abysmal effort flew over the bar, many Liverpool supporters thought it just wasn't going to be our day. Fortunately, Miller and Gestede missed as well, before Steven Gerrard's brother Anthony failed to convert the decisive penalty. As a result, Liverpool clinched a record eighth League Cup.

Worst Game of the Season- Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool

Liverpool would have taken three wins out of four matches against Chelsea at the start of the season. Frustratingly, the most important game, the FA Cup final, was the one the Reds lost.

Mistakes from Jay Spearing, Jose Enrique and Pepe Reina allowed Ramires to give the Blues an early lead. Roberto Di Matteo's men then proceeded to dominate the contest for the first hour, as Didier Drogba scored yet again at Wembley to double the Londoners' advantage.

The introduction of Andy Carroll, who should have started, proved pivotal. The tall number nine grabbed a goal to halve the deficit soon after replacing Spearing, before he was at the heart of the game's most controversial incident. He powerfully headed Suarez's chipped cross towards goal, only for Cech to somehow make an excellent save and push the ball against the underside of the bar. A furore ensued about whether the ball had crossed the line or not but the officials ruled in Chelsea's favour and Liverpool slipped to a disappointing defeat.

A win would have secured a domestic cup double and glossed over the Reds' poor League form but, without the FA Cup in the Anfield trophy cabinet, the 2011/2012 season soberingly can't be seen as successful.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

The King is dethroned- what now?

Kenny Dalglish's sacking leaves Liverpool in a state of flux. With no chief executive, director of football, head of sports science, head of communications or manager, the Reds enter yet another summer of rebuilding with nobody available to oversee the playing side of the club and uncertainty worryingly abounding.

Unceremoniously, after only one full season in charge, FSG chose to terminate the King's contract, announcing the controversial news on Wednesday afternoon after previously holding crucial talks with the legendary Scot in Boston.

Although it was a decision I disagree with, I can understand why the new American owners showed the 61-year old the door. At times, his tactics have been questionable, his handling of the Suarez-Evra fiasco was farcical and finishing behind neighbours Everton in eighth place is simply unacceptable.

Nevertheless, I believe the King deserved another season in the Anfield hot seat. One poor League finish is only a sackable offence if the football has been dire. That wasn't the case last season, as the Reds regularly played some entertaining and enterprising football but just lacked the striking prowess to turn beautiful build up play into goals.

Moreover, Liverpool have played at the new Wembley three times under Dalglish, reaching two cup finals and lifting the silverware after one of them. Clinching the Reds' first cup in six years in your first full season in charge is no mean feat, and should have been enough to secure another season as manager.

In all likelihood, had we been able to pull off another cup final miracle and recover from two goals down to beat Chelsea then the domestic cup double would have glossed over our woeful League form and FSG would have found it almost impossible to dethrone the King. The fact, therefore, that Dalglish was essentially sacked due to one defeat frustrates me.

Whatever the rights or wrongs about Dalglish's sacking, FSG are now swiftly searching for his successor and many managers have been linked with the Liverpool job. Jobless Josep Guardiola, the former Barcelona manager who led the Catalans to countless cups, would be a dream appointment, although it seems extremely unlikely that FSG will be able to persuade him to occupy the Anfield dugout next season.

The three main contenders are Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez and Rafael Benitez.

Villas-Boas rose to fame during his time at FC Porto, where he won four trophies in his single season in charge. At the tender age of 33, the affectionately nicknamed AVB became the third youngest coach to win the Primeira Liga and the youngest manager ever to win a European competition, as the talented Portugese outfit triumphed in the Europa League.

There were even reports linking him with Liverpool, until Dalglish was given the job full-time. He did move to England eventually, though, managing Chelsea for a chaotic nine months, in which his team leaked goals copiously and Villas-Boas struggled to build a stable back four. Crucially, he lacked the support of the overly influential, experienced players at Stamford Bridge and was sacked by the Blues' petulant owner Roman Abramovich after a lengthy losing streak culminated in defeat to Roy Hodgson's West Bromich Albion in early March.

Villas-Boas adopts an attacking style of play that would prove easy on the eye and Liverpool already have a solid defence. He would also potentially be in it for the long haul, which is what Liverpool need, because of his youth. However, after such a difficult time at Chelsea, he would be under immense pressure immediately and, as a result, I wouldn't be surprised if he preferred a managerial role on the continent.

Having only managed Swansea City and Wigan Athletic, Roberto Martinez may seem an unlikely contender to takeover from Dalglish. However, he has become the hot favourite, and Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has given the Spaniard permission to speak to Liverpool.

Alongside his tirelessly positive attitude and commitment to forward-thinking football, Martinez is noted for bringing the Latics back from the brink of relegation on two occasions. In 2010/2011, Wigan survived thanks to a seventeenth place finish secured following a run of only two defeats in nine matches as the season drew to a conclusion.

This season, despite a disastrous string of defeats eight matches long, Wigan recovered magnificently to finish three places and six points above the drop zone. Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle and even Liverpool were all beaten as Martinez turned his team's campaign around.

Consequently, FSG appear to be interested in bringing him to Anfield, which would undeniably be a huge gamble. It could pay off and the Merseysiders could unearth a managerial gem who transforms the side and becomes a respected big club boss. On the other hand, he could prove to be another, admittedly more promising but ultimately just as disappointing, Roy Hodgson, who succeeds at small clubs but fails on the big stage.

The return of Rafael Benitez has also been discussed. The legendary former Liverpool manager led the club to their fifth European Cup triumph during his first season at the helm, before then landing their latest FA Cup a season later and appearing in the Champions League final again in 2007. The Reds also came the closest they have ever been to winning the Premier League when they finished as runners up under Rafa's guidance in 2008/2009.

Unfortunately, though, with increasing pressure from fans and a shocking lack of support from the former owners, as well as little money to spend on improving a thin squad, Liverpool finished seventh a year later, and Benitez was finally forced out of the club he loves in June 2010.

After a brief spell at Inter Milan, where he won the Italian Super Cup and the Club World Cup, Benitez returned to the Wirral, where he currently lives. His decision to return to Merseyside revealed the deep affection he has not only for the club, but for the whole area as well. Ever since, Benitez has made known his desire to return to manage Liverpool one day and I'm sure he'd bite John Henry's proverbial hand off if the American offered him the chance to return.

As a big Benitez fan and somebody who didn't want to see him leave Liverpool in the first place, I would love to witness Rafa's return. However, it would be a controversial appointment that would divide the fan base, something I'm sure FSG would like to avoid. Perhaps more importantly, FSG are looking to appoint their own men and have a fresh start, so bringing back Benitez probably wouldn't fit with their ideas for progressing forward.

Ultimately, whoever FSG appoint as the new manager, they must be in it for the long term in order to provide much needed stability. Additionally, they must receive the backing of the supporters and be willing to adopt a style of play befitting of Liverpool FC, while not sacrificing all important results and points.

I can't see us finishing much higher than fifth or sixth next season, though, as the new boss will be in the process of implementing his style of play and coaching philosophy and hence results are unlikely to immediately significantly improve.

That's why I don't understand Dalglish's dismissal, as the Reds would probably progress to around fifth or sixth anyway under the Scot, the only difference being that the King would have had an extra year to build his squad and integrate new signings. As it is, we're starting all over again with a new manager and, although expectations will doubtless skyrocket, the reality is turning around Liverpool will be a long process that requires patience.

Let's hope FSG have that patience and, most importantly, a plan.


Monday, 14 May 2012

Swans sink Reds

The final day of a disappointing 2011/2012 season finished in fitting fashion as a late strike from Danny Graham condemned the Reds to a 1-0 defeat at the Liberty Stadium. A typical end of season encounter, where neither side had anything left to play for except pride, inevitably produced an unremarkable spectacle. Unfortunately, defeat soured an instantly forgettable afternoon.

Alexander Doni replaced the ill Reina in goal, while Skrtel and Gerrard missed out due to injury. Meanwhile, Maxi Rodriguez started on the right wing in what looks likely to be his last appearance in a Red shirt.

After 11 minutes, the Brazilian keeper was to blame as he picked the ball up after a back-pass from Carroll. Thankfully, Sinclair blazed over the bar from the free kick inside the area. Doni compensated for his earlier error by making an impressive save just after the half hour mark. Sigurdsson, who was playing his final game on loan at Swansea before returning to his parent club Hoffenheim, hammered a threatening free kick towards the corner of the goal and Doni got down quickly and brilliantly to push the ball wide.

The hosts continued to press while the visitors lacked a crucial cutting edge up front. Taylor cut inside from the left and fired in an effort on goal but Doni made a comfortable save. The former AS Roma stopper was then called into action again, as he made a fine save to deny Dyer the opener.

On the stroke of half time, Carroll and Williams were booked for an off the ball altercation after the latter had unfairly challenge the former. The tall Geordie striker reacted in the wrong way but it was perhaps the only example of Liverpool showing any desire or passion in a first half where the Merseysiders failed to test Vorm in the Welsh side's goal.

However, Carroll's recent good from provided some solace and, when his stunning overhead kick 10 minutes after the restart drew a strong save from Vorm, there was a glimmer of hope that the number nine could drag the away side back into the contest.

On the hour mark, Bellamy replaced the ineffectual Downing and dragged an effort wide of goal soon after. Agger then powered a header straight into Vorm's arms before the keeper collected Carroll's first time strike, as Kenny's men began to show some signs of promise and potential.

Nevertheless, Swansea's only real goalscoring opportunity in the second period saw Danny Graham clinch all three points with his 100th career goal four minutes from time. Rangel and Sinclair combined on the right wing and squared the ball to Graham, whose crisp finish from close range beat Doni and found the back of the net.

It was a frustrating but hardly unexpected conclusion to a disappointing League season. Away from home against tough opposition and with nothing tangible to play for, Liverpool unsurprisingly lost. The one main positive to come from the contest was the performance of Doni, who looks to be a competent back up to Reina.

After Everton's 3-1 victory over Newcastle United at Goodison Park on the final day of the season, Liverpool finished behind their local rivals for only the second time in Premier League history. Eighth place is simply not good enough and must be improved upon next season.

At least City clinched the title ironically in Fergie time to deny United and, well, there's always next season!


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Classy Reds claim Chelsea revenge

Liverpool responded to defeat in the FA Cup final in the perfect manner last night, emphatically beating Chelsea 4-1 in the last League game of the season at Anfield to enact a measure of revenge on the Londoners. Three goals in ten minutes from Henderson, Agger and an own goal from Essien, gave Liverpool a comfortable lead at the interval and, despite Ramires pulling one back five minutes after the restart, Shelvey's sensational strike on the hour mark rounded off an unusually superb home performance from Dalglish's side.

With Steven Gerrard out due to a slight back problem, Jamie Carragher captained the side, while Andy Carroll partnered Luis Suarez up front and Jonjo Shelvey was given a rare starting place in the centre of midfield alongside Henderson. Chelsea, meanwhile, made eight changes to the team that triumphed at Wembley, as Fernando Torres returned to his old hunting ground.

As a result, Di Matteo's men struggled in the opening stages while Liverpool continued from where they left of on Saturday, dominating the play and creating numerous chances which, this time, were thankfully converted. After Suarez had nutmegged Terry and fired just wide and Carroll had curled over the bar, Ivanovic's header hit the post.

But apart from that the Blues rarely tested Reina, and it was the Reds who unquestionably exploited their ascendancy, bagging a hatful of goals. On 18 minutes, Suarez produced a piece of magic to beat three players before the backtracking Essien deflected his effort into his own net.

Soon after, Henderson took advantage of a slip from Terry at a critical moment and burst through on goal, calmly slotting the ball past stand-in stopper Ross Turnbull when many, considering his goalscoring record, doubted he would convert the chance.

The thrilling onslaught wasn't over, though, as Agger headed into the net just before the half hour mark after Andy Carroll had excellent nodded a corner into the Dane's path.

It was scintillating stuff from a Reds' side determined to atone for Saturday's errors and compensate their loyal supporters with a goal fest. Former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres fired against the underside of Reina's bar in response, before, unsurprisingly, the home side were also denied by the woodwork, as Downing's brilliant volley rattled the crossbar.

The 27-year old England international then proceeded to hit the post from a penalty on the stroke of half time, which was awarded after Ivanovic inexplicably elbowed Carroll in the chest. It was outstandingly Liverpool's fifth penalty miss of the season, which is a Premier League record.

Considering our reputation of Germany-like efficiency from the spot, the fact that only one of our spot kicks in the League has been converted this season is remarkable. It's extraordinary; therefore, that Liverpool managed to clinch their only trophy of the season, the Carling Cup, on penalties!

Whatever Roberto Di Matteo said to his side at the break must have worked, as the Blues reduced the arrears five minutes after the break when Malouda curled a free kick through a crowd of bodies and Ramires scuffed the ball over the line. Undeterred, Liverpool remained on top and the flow of the game was still in their favour.

Any fears of an Istanbul-esque comeback from Champions League finalists Chelsea were quashed by a superb strike from Shelvey on the hour mark. Turnbull's attempted clearance landed straight at the feet of the former Charlton midfielder, who showed great composure to steer the ball into the unguarded Kop end net.

It was an awesome goal from the ever-improving Shelvey who, in some ways at least, seems a brighter prospect than Spearing, whose disappointing display in the Cup final cost him a place in the team last night. The number 33 certainly possesses a much more potent attacking threat and poses a danger in the final third of the pitch to defences, whereas Spearing's role tends to be limited to protecting the back four.

With Anfield rocking at this point, Liverpool piled on the pressure in pursuit of a fifth goal. Carroll, whose cameo display in the Cup final was impressive, went close twice, slicing a shot wide and then landing a lob on the top of Turnbull's net. Dalglish then made two substitutions, replacing Maxi and Downing with Kuyt and Sterling respectively.

With virtually his first touch of the ball, exciting young prospect Raheem Sterling volleyed just over the bar. Moreover, Suarez lashed into the side netting from close range and Agger glanced just wide from Carroll's fantastic right wing cross. At the other end, Chelsea's only real goalscoring opportunity saw Reina make an excellent instinctive save to stop a towering Lukaku header from a yard out. It proved that, despite his generally poor form this season, Reina remains a class keeper.

After such a comprehensive victory, many Liverpool supporters are lamenting the fact that their team didn't perform as well in the FA Cup final. Although I can understand their frustration, delivering such an emphatic response against the same opponents only days after defeat is a very positive sign. The performance of individuals, such as Carroll, Suarez and Shelvey were also pleasing and promising.

Liverpool must now look to take this form into the final game of the season at Swansea on Sunday and, much more importantly, into the start of next season.


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Heartbroken Reds crash to Chelsea defeat

Liverpool's season is effectively over after falling to a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the 131st FA Cup final yesterday evening. The Blues' superiority was rewarded with a two-goal lead thanks to strikes from Ramires and Drogba following decisive defensive errors from Dalglish's side.

However, in the final half hour Liverpool came back into the game, as substitute Andy Carroll nearly stole the show. First, he bagged a goal to give the Merseysiders' hope, before his late header sparked controversy over whether or not the entire ball had crossed the line, opening up the debate regarding goal-line technology once again.

The main team news was that £85 million worth of striking talent was left on the bench, as Carroll and Torres failed to make the starting line-up for their respective teams, a decision that Dalglish will undoubtedly regret considering the impact the tall Geordie had on the game after his introduction. Moreover, legendary centre back Jamie Carragher missed out as Skrtel partnered Agger at the heart of the Reds' defence.

After Kopites had vociferously sung "You'll Never Walk Alone", Mary Jess Leaverland sung the traditional Cup final hymn "Abide with me" and Laura Wright sung the national anthem, before the action got underway. Apart from Drogba's long-range shot over Reina's bar 30 seconds in, there was little to report from the opening 10 minutes, as both teams nervously tried to feel their way into the contest and neither side really asserted their authority on the match.

That was until a host of Liverpool errors allowed Ramires to capitalise and give Chelsea the lead. Spearing's poor pass was intercepted by Mata, who released the marauding Ramires. The pacy Brazilian eased past the struggling Enrique far too easily and then fired past Reina, who really should have guarded his exposed near post and done much better.

Liverpool responded well, though, as Johnson crossed into the danger area and Bellamy saw his goalbound effort crucially blocked by Ivanovic. After that, Agger attempted something different as he confidently and purposefully strode out of defence but frustratingly he lost control of the ball on the by-line and Cech collected comfortably.

Despite those encouraging signs, Chelsea remained in the ascendancy; moving the ball quickly and pushing the Reds' back into their own half, leaving Luis Suarez isolated and therefore ineffective up front. Juan Mata was particularly influential between the lines, as Spearing and Henderson failed to sufficiently restrain his creativity. Before the break, Lampard fired over from range and Drogba shot just wide of Reina's post from all of 40 yards, as the Londoners entered the interval with the all-important momentum in their favour.

At that point, I wasn't overly worried as Liverpool have a reputation for performing poorly in the first half of cup finals and then coming back into the contest superbly in the second half, often leading to the agonising entertainment of extra time and penalties.

However, my concern grew significantly when Didier Drogba doubled Chelsea's lead only six minutes after the restart. Spearing was culpable for conceding the goal yet again, as Lampard skipped past him far too easily before playing in Drogba, whose shot went through Skrtel's legs, past Reina and into the net.

We should have expected a goal from the Ivorian. The 34-year old, whose Chelsea contract expires at the end of the season, has scored in every cup tie he has played at the new Wembley. With a record like that, he shouldn't struggle to find another club in the summer.

Immediately after the goal, Andy Carroll replaced Jay Spearing. The diminutive midfielder had been disappointing in the holding role in front of the back four, offering little protection to the Reds' defence and exposing how much we miss Lucas Leiva. Fortunately, though, Carroll made an instant impact. His height offered Liverpool a long ball option and his considerable build meant that he could hold the ball up in Chelsea's half, crucially allowing the midfield vital extra seconds to get forward in support of him and Suarez.

The number nine has often attracted criticism for not being a prolific goalscorer. However, on 63 minutes, ironically only moments after I had said to those watching the match with me that we needed a goal soon, Carroll converted to half the deficit. Downing had been disappointing for large spells, but his tremendous industry proved crucial in winning back possession in the left hand corner. The former Villa winger then played a square pass to Carroll, who fired into the roof of Cech's net to provide Liverpool with fresh hope.

Carroll continued to be at the heart of the Reds' resurgence, laying the ball off for Gerrard and Henderson, who hammered the ball high and wide respectively. His strike partner Luis Suarez also became more of a threat, cutting in from the left and drilling goalwards to test Cech with 17 minutes remaining.

Ex-Red Raul Meireles was greeted by boos as he replaced Ramires, while Dalglish brought on Dirk Kuyt in place of Bellamy. Liverpool persistently probed the Chelsea backline as they sought to force the match into extra time. The incident that this match will inevitably be remembered for occurred nine minutes from time and was the last real sight of goal Liverpool had in their pursuit of an equaliser.

Suarez's brilliant chipped cross picked out Carroll at the back post. He headed at Cech but the keeper pulled off a stunning save, pushing the ball onto the underside of the bar. Carroll and Kuyt wheeled off in celebration but referee Phil Dowd refused to award a goal because the linesman wasn't sure whether the ball had crossed the line. Suarez's protestations failed to persuade the officials and earned him a booking.

It was a very close call even with the benefit of TV replays, but the officials probably made the right decision. The infamous incident perhaps proves the popular belief that football evens itself out, compensating for Luis Garcia's equally controversial goal in the 2005 Champions League semi-final second leg at Anfield.

Moreover, it summed up Liverpool's intensely frustrating season succinctly. The Reds were denied by a combination of the woodwork, excellent goalkeeping and refereeing decisions not going our way, as has been the case so often during this campaign, which many fans now just want to end as soon as possible so we can start all over again.

How many times have we said that before?


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Make or break- FA Cup final preview

Rarely has such a huge amount depended on the outcome of a single match. If Liverpool beat Chelsea on Saturday to clinch their eighth FA Cup then their abysmal League form will be forgotten and the double-winning season deemed a success. Conversely, if the Reds lose to the buoyant Blues then their earlier Carling Cup triumph may be trivialised and deemed insufficient to satisfy both the supporters' and owners' demands, and King Kenny may even be dethroned.

The dramatically different consequences that could result from the outcome of the FA Cup final demonstrates both the significance of the occasion and the seemingly schizophrenic nature of Liverpool's admittedly intriguing but undoubtedly frustrating campaign.

Kopites have experienced the full remit of emotions. From the dizzying heights of winning at Wembley against Cardiff in the Carling Cup final and neighbours Everton in the FA Cup semi final, to the crushing lows of defeat at home to the likes of West Brom and Fulham, as well as endless draws at Anfield against teams we must beat to compete for Champions League qualification, which was the club's stated aim at the start of the season.

This curious phenomenon lacks a succinct explanation. Psychologically, good form has garnered momentum in the Cup competitions while the opposite has been the case in the League. Moreover, the Reds' rivals have been more prepared to rest first team players in Cup matches in order to prioritise a top four finish, whereas Dalglish has, perhaps on a point of arguably outdated principle, refused to engage in similar rotation. Liverpool's lack of luck in the League must also be factored in. While FA Cup fifth round opponents Brighton netted three own goals at Anfield, other teams have seen the woodwork come to their rescue on numerous occasions.

Nevertheless, the FA Cup draw has admittedly been favourable to the Merseysiders. Whereas every round of the Carling Cup brought another difficult away trip, Liverpool have been drawn to play at Anfield as many times as possible in the primary domestic cup competition. Oldham were dispatched 5-1 on a Friday evening in the Third Round, before Manchester United were sent back down the M62 disappointed after Dirk Kuyt's late winner ended their Wembley dreams.

Six were smashed past Brighton in the fifth round, before a narrow victory over Stoke City set up a Merseyside derby at Wembley in the FA Cup semi final, where the ever-improving Andy Carroll headed a later winner after poor defending had allowed Jelavic and Suarez to score earlier on.

The Reds' opponents, Chelsea, have undergone a transformation since Roberto Di Matteo took temporary charge of the Blues following Andre Villas-Boas' departure in March. Despite still struggling in the League, Chelsea reached the FA Cup final following a 5-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur and the Londoners also managed to claim a 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona, who are widely held to be the best club side in the world, to secure a place in the Champions League final. With Di Matteo restoring confidence, instilling defensive stability and regaining the support of influential senior players, Chelsea's form resembles that of the much-vaunted Mourinho era.

Perhaps most remarkably, the former West Bromich Albion boss has started to see improvements in the form of Fernando Torres, who moved South in a record breaking £50 million move last January. The Spanish striker even bagged a hat trick against QPR on the weekend, as Chelsea eased to a 6-1 victory over their London rivals. The thought of Torres coming back to haunt Liverpool by netting a last minute winner in the Cup final is a frightening one, although it cannot be ruled out.

Both sides suffered disappointing setbacks in midweek. While Liverpool's second string side were humbled at home to Fulham, Chelsea fell to a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle at Stamford Bridge after a world-class double strike from the in-form Papiss Cisse.

As a result, neither side will head into the FA Cup final with bundles of confidence and it is difficult to decipher a favourite. However, due to their record against Chelsea since Kenny's return- they've won all three contests- and the fact that the Reds have historically emerged victorious from massive matches against Chelsea, I believe Liverpool will secure a narrow victory, in all likelihood thanks to a second half comeback after a typically below par first half display in a Cup final.

Whatever happens, it will make or break Liverpool's season, and could make or break King Kenny's reign.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Reds suffer humiliating Fulham failure

A Martin Skrtel own goal condemned Liverpool to their fourth home defeat of the season last night, as Fulham finally ended their terrible record on Merseyside. Before kick-off, the Cottagers had never won in 41 top-flight League visits to face either Liverpool or Everton but, after a confident and assured display, Martin Jol's side emerged victorious over their disappointingly below par hosts.

With Saturday's FA Cup final versus Chelsea in mind, Kenny Dalglish made nine changes to the team that eased past Norwich City last time out. This was partly to offer the likes of Kelly, Maxi and Kuyt an opportunity to earn a place in the weekend's starting line-up, but primarily to rest key players, such as Reina, Agger, Gerrard and Suarez, who would be sorely missed if they picked up an injury or suspension.

Frustratingly, the first sight of goal saw skipper for the evening Skrtel inadvertently convert past his own keeper. Alex Kacaniklic, a promising youngster making only his second start for Fulham after former Reds' boss Roy Hodgson ludicrously allowed him to leave Anfield as part of the Konchesky deal, connected with John Arne Riise's cross but it was Skrtel who got the decisive touch that wrong-footed Doni.

The away side almost doubled their lead ten minutes later, as a lovely dink into the box from Dempsey took out the Reds' defence and left Pogrebnyak with a gilt-edged opportunity. Thankfully, the fantastically named Russian was denied by a good save from Doni, whose performance was crucial in keeping the scoreline respectable.

The atmosphere at that point was understandably downbeat and, as a result, the players had to lift themselves rather than relying on the disgruntled home supporters. They were moderately successful in doing so, but Fulham's lead never really looked vulnerable. On 19 minutes, Maxi launched a shot into the sparsely populated Anfield Road End, before neat passing from the Reds culminated in a 20-yard stab from Kuyt flying narrowly wide of the target.

On the half hour mark, a goalmouth scramble started when Schwarzer fumbled a cross and ended when Hangeland cleared Shelvey’s shot off the line. Despite little inspiration from his teammates in midfield, Shelvey remained the one spark of hope and was involved in most of the home side's attacking play. Five minutes before the break, his cracking cross-field pass found Kuyt, whose cross was almost turned home by Maxi. There was still time for the 20-year old to hit a sweet strike just wide of the post before the break.

It was little better in the second half, either. Fulham remained content with their lead and continued to pass crisper and move quicker than their hosts, who lacked the heart and the passion to drag themselves back into the contest. Former Liverpool left winger John Arne Riise, who the Merseysiders struggled to replace until Enrique arrived from Newcastle last summer, persistently threatened. The Norwegian had to be stopped by Coates, as he seemed destined to add to the Cottagers' lead on 56 minutes, before Doni denied the ginger-haired 31-year old with a decent save.

Liverpool's response was pitifully poor. Apart from Carroll's acrobatic effort that went awry and a last ditch tackle from Hangeland preventing Maxi going through on goal, the Reds failed to test Schwarzer. Hopes were raised when Raheem Sterling replaced Dirk Kuyt, but the talented youngster couldn't rescue anything from a game which we deserved to take absolutely nothing from.

Excuses could be made for last night's shambolic performance. The fact that so many changes were made to the starting eleven inevitably means the team is unlikely to gel and Fulham played better than their away record suggested they would. However, ultimately there is no way a performance that poor can be justified, particulalrly ahead of the biggest game of the season on Saturday.

We can only hope that the fact that most of those who started last night won't play against Chelsea ensures that this defeat won't effect our performance in the Cup final.