Thursday, September 29, 2011

View from the Opposition: Everton v Liverpool

With the Merseyside derby fast approaching, we asked Click Liverpool's Everton correspondent Aaron Sharp what he expected from the game. 

With Everton seeing the likes of Mikel Arteta heading out of the club, and only a handful of loan signings being brought in, just how disappointed were supporters with the clubs summer dealings?

I think, when considering Evertonain reaction to this summer’s transfer window, you have to take into account the almost freakish way with which the eventual flurry of activity came about.

Everton headed into deadline day the only league club not to have done any business – and fans had no real reason to suspect that would change. 24 Hours later their best paid player had been sold, along with two strikers (the one thing you’d say Everton are short of) and they had only two loan signings to show for their loss. Understandably, the immediate reaction from fans was one of surprise, having not expected their club to be the big story of deadline day, but also one of dire pessimism – Arteta had enjoyed genuine cult hero status at Goodison.

Now that the dust has settled though, I think fans are a little more sanguine about the whole thing. £10m for 29-year-old Arteta, whose powers of influence in the team had been on the wane, seemed like good business. Especially considering his most recent injuries had been a cruciate knee ligament injury and a hamstring tear; the type of knocks which seem to strip older players of that dynamism in their 30’s (see Michael Owen). What also became apparent in the fall out of the deal was that he genuinely wanted to leave, a revelation that made his move easier to swallow all round.

As for the arrivals, in Stracqualursi Everton have an enigma on whom judgement should probably be reserved until he is fit enough to offer a meaningful alternative for Moyes. And in Drenthe they have excitement, if unpredictability. The Dutchman does have an air of the ‘Babel’ about him, but he’s already brought a pace and directness to the side which Moyes lost in Pienaar and had never really replaced.   

Speaking of transfer dealings, how would you rate Liverpool’s business in the summer?

I think they’ve bought well, if not very economically. But then, I can’t see that John W Henry is expecting any of his summer signings to go out and justify their price tags, more that he is willing to underwrite the cost of squad strengthening as a necessary outgoing, in which case the money spent is irrelevant.

It goes without saying that in Henderson, Adam and Downing, Dalglish has added a youth and mobility to his midfield, which has been needed in the absence of Gerrard. And while Adam has been, for me, the best of that trio, Liverpool’s best summer capture has to be that of Jose Enrique. The Spaniard has been one of the best left-backs around for some time and I think he could be an astute solution to Liverpool’s past width problems, down that flank at least.

The one glaring omission from the Reds’ summer shopping basket is a top class centre half. I’m not sure whether it was a case of the club not quite having carte blanche when it came to someone like Gary Cahill, or whether there is, in my opinion, a misplaced confidence in the likes of Carragher, Skrtel and Agger to be able to forge a partnership which could be Liverpool’s foundation for a charge on the Champions League places this season.

Everton have obviously been in the media a lot recently due to the growing concerns over the finances. Just how worried are supporters about the future of the club and how realistic is it that the club will find new ownership or at least persuade someone to make a significant investment?

That question is the one on everybody’s lips and that nobody seems to know the answer is a big source of the consternation around Goodison. Fan groups like the Blue Union would like to see a more transparent approach to selling the club so that at least the paying Evertonians could know of any progress in a potential sale. But Bill Kenwright and his staff have a method and it’s one they’re keen to stick to.

All we can really know is that issues such as the stadium are a real obstacle when it comes to potential investors weighing up how much they’re going to have to spend to help Everton achieve its potential as, historically at least, one of the genuinely great clubs of English football.

Despite all the worries off the pitch, Everton sit just three points behind Liverpool and with a game in hand. Just how important would a win in the derby be for helping fans forget about the goings on behind the scenes?

The fact that, despite the storm clouds having seemingly converged over Goodison, Everton have managed to make a better start this year than they have in recent ‘happier’ seasons is really testament to David Moyes’ good work. And even if there is still the suspicion the Blues are papering over some cracks at the minute, a derby win, as reds will well know, does wonders for morale.

The backdrop of such a spending difference this summer would make a win for the home side extra gratifying to their faithful. But also, and this is the point that David Moyes will doubtless be impressing upon his squad, a victory on Saturday could see Everton move to fifth, just three points off third with a game in hand. That should be incentive enough, even if the game in hand is a trip to the scene of Liverpool’s recent demise, White Hart Lane.

The national press are quick to dub the Merseyside derby as “the friendly derby” however some of us who have been to clashes between the two sides may beg to differ! What’s your take, the friendly or unfriendly derby?

It does surprise me that misty eyed memories of Blues and Reds sharing a coach down to the ’89 cup final still informs the national media of Merseyside Derbies being ‘friendly’. As you rightly point out, anyone who has seen recent clashes between the sides will attest they’re anything but. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing though, I think the recent coming together of the sides in terms of league position has added a genuine competitiveness to the fixture.

On the subject of relations between the two clubs, what’s your take on the idea of a shared stadium? It’s fair to say Liverpool supporters, and indeed the club, seem to be against it, but the idea certainly hasn’t been shot down by the Everton board.

You’re right in that, while Everton have remained pretty open minded about idea, it certainly seems to be something that’s not on John Henry’s agenda. To my mind that is reflective of where the two clubs are – Henry, clearly, is in the process of implementing a plan to grow Liverpool’s club identity in the coming years, and that plan is never really likely to include Everton given their current predicament.

That could change with investment over the park, but I’d be surprised if it does. Personally I think the city is big enough for both of us and in time two new stadiums will show that.

If there’s one Everton player who’s going to trouble Liverpool, who is it going to be?

When it comes to derbies you can never really look past Tim Cahill for Everton. The combative Aussie gets himself up for these games more than any other and his goal record shows it. Cahill is the Toffees top-post war goalscorer against Liverpool with five strikes, a crown he took from Duncan Ferguson in last season’s 2-0 win at Goodison.

For a left-field offering though, Seamus Coleman is another player who revels in a scrap. He announced himself last year with a fearless showing which Paul Konchesky is unlikely to ever forget, and whilst Enrique will be a different proposition altogether for the young Irishman, expect him to ask for no quarter when the whistle blows on Saturday.

And which Liverpool players are you most worried about going into the game?

Undoubtedly one: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has shown his tempestuous side this week but whatever his attitude to being substituted, his aptitude for goalscoring in unquestionable. Distin and Jagielka will face their toughest test of the season in Suarez. No small praise given that they lined up against Kun Aguero not seven days ago.

Finally, what’s your prediction for the game?

I don’t do predictions – especially for derby matches. But I do think it will be close, one goal in it.

You can follow Aaron on Twitter. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kick of the water bottle shows Suarez is a winner

Luis Suarez frustration after being substituted with ten minutes to go against Wolves on Saturday is just a sign of his winning mentality.

Body Language. A term often used to backup theories of a player’s discontent.

During Rafael Benitez’s last season as Liverpool manager, a game would not go by without a thorough investigation carried out regarding the body language of star players Fernando Torres or Steven Gerrard. When the pair exchanged a shrug and a stare at Birmingham City, the press jumped upon it as proof all was not well at Anfield.

When Roy Hodgson took over the managerial reigns, the scrutiny became even more intense. As results got worse, each Torres frown or Gerrard grimace piled on the pressure for Hodgson. Even us fans started to take an interest, with Hodgson’s facerub widely translated as “he hasn’t got an ‘effin clue what he’s doing!”.

The arrival of King Kenny created a feel good atmosphere, with performances and results improving beyond all recognition. Suddenly, body language was not such an issue anymore.

Last weekend, a 4-0 hammering at Spurs meant it was back on the radar, with some quarters of the press amazingly claiming Dalglish was losing the plot!

On Saturday, the reds returned to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Wolves. Star striker Luis Suarez was inspirational in the win, involved in everything good about the reds’ display, capped by scoring the second, and ultimately decisive, goal.

But when the Uruguayan was subbed in the 81st minute, replaced by returning skipper Gerrard, Suarez mumbled angrily to himself as he left the field, before using his supremely talented right-foot to kick over the water bottles in front of the home bench.

As soon as the water bottles left the floor, those two familiar words came into my head; Body Language. Liverpool’s star striker, substituted for the third game running, having a fit; I can see the press loving it. Combine it with Suarez’ on-the-field behaviour flailing of the arms, dissent and moaning; surely it can only mean one thing; he isn’t happy.

The hacks of Fleet Street will be writing their headlines as we speak... Suarez on his way to Real/Barca/Manchester City/[insert big club here]. Already, Manchester United fans have commented to me that Dalglish won’t stand for that attitude and that our No 7 will soon be on his way.

But, they couldn’t be any further from the truth. Whereas Torres’ body language was correctly deemed to be down to unhappiness and disenchantment with where Liverpool were heading, Suarez actions were nothing more than those of a footballer desperate to play every possible minute for his club. Dalglish won’t be angry with El Pistolero, he will love it.

Off the field Suarez is said to be a quiet, well-mannered family man, devoted to his wife and young daughter. On the pitch, he‘ll do anything to win; just ask PSV’s Otman Bakkal, whom Suarez bit on the ear whilst playing for Ajax.

For 90 minutes, Suarez is focused on winning and on scoring. He demands perfection from both himself and his teammates. When he spurns a chance, the anger and disappointment is clear for all to see with his arms flailing and profanities spilling out of his mouth. A number of times already this season, after failing to play in the Uruguayan, teammates, Jordan Henderson in particular, have felt the full force of a Suarez verbal. 

Officials aren’t safe either. Upended at home to Sunderland, kicked from pillar to post against Bolton and denied a last-ditch penalty at Stoke, Suarez has given the referees and linesmen more than a piece of his mind. At White Hart Lane last week, such was his frustration at how the game was panning out and already on a yellow card for dissent, Suarez was a ticking time bomb, one stony-glare at referee’s assistant away from a Liverpool’s third dismissal. Dalglish identified this and with the game over as a contest, Suarez was rightly subbed, with the relatively mild-mannered Craig Bellamy his replacement.

On Saturday, after running the show for 81 minutes against Wolves, the sight of the No 7 flashing on the fourth official’s board saw Suarez frustrations surface again. But, regardless of what some have pointed out, it wasn’t him having a go at Dalglish. Instead it was the reaction of a winner. With nine minutes still to play and the three points not fully assured, Suarez wanted to play on, to score another goal and cement the reds’ victory. When he later addressed the fans via Social media, he confirmed his winning attitude:

"Happy for the winning and scored again! Is important to gain more points in this championship! I felt really sad and sorry because I always want to help my team to win the match!! Thanks for your support!” – Luis Suarez

So ignore anything you read in the press about possible Suarez discontent. Ignore any rival fans saying he will do a “Torres”. The kicking of the water bottles in front of Dalglish signalled a will to win. Instead of reprimanding Suarez, Dalglish will wish more of his squad displayed the same hunger and desire. Whether it be kicking water bottles, flailing his arms, berating teammates and officials or performing miracles on a football pitch, we wouldn’t change Luis Suarez for the world.
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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Liverpool 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers: Suarez scores as Reds march on

Another scintillating performance from Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool to a 2-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield.

The Uruguayan's fourth goal of the season and a Roger Johnson own goal helped Liverpool on their way to victory.

With domestic bans applying to League Cup matches, Martin Skrtel and Charlie Adam were available and selected to start by Kenny Dalglish, having been forced to sit out of the Brighton & Hove Albion match after their respective dismissals at White Hart Lane.

Despite impressive performances in the midweek, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez failed to make the eleven, with the latter not even named amongst the substitutes.

Wolves started the game brightly, positioning themselves high up the field and forcing the hosts into a couple of individual errors. A stray pass from Martin Kelly found the advancing Matt Jarvis in space, but an eventual shot from Jamie O'Hara lacked the power to really test Jose Reina.

Mick McCarthy's side will have been kicking themselves for not capitalising on such mishaps in the eleventh minute, when Liverpool took the lead. Having picked the ball up and carried it into the final third, Adam decided to attempt a shot. With the effort sailing wide, an uncertain Johnson tried to quell the power of the shot with his head, only to deflect it past Wayne Hennessey and into the Anfield Road net.

The goal brought a momentum which had been lacking in the early stages, and it could have been two just moments later, as a Stewart Downing corner found the head of Andy Carroll, who forced a smart save from Hennessey.

Midway through the first half, Liverpool were given another good opportunity to double their advangtage. Having latched on to a long Reina pass, it looked as though Luis Suarez had pulled himself too far wide to force an opening. However, a smart backheel deceived Johnson and sent the Uruguayan through to the byline. Unsurprisingly, Suarez's teammates failed to adapt to his spontaneity, with the ball eventually being cleared.

In a bid to punish their opponents for not securing an important second, Wolves committed men forward and caused a few scares, with a well worked free kick routine from Stephen Hunt almost producing a clear cut chance.

Liverpool have shown thus far in 2011-12 that they can break decisively, and a Carroll centre from a rapid counter attack should have been converted by Suarez.

The Copa America winner didn't disappoint moments later though, with the hosts finally making it two.
Having sprung an offside trap which had caused him trouble throughout the opening period, Suarez's quick feet helped him get around Johnson and fire past Hennessey to seemingly end the visitors' chances of getting something from the match.

It was the Liverpool number seven's first goal since the trip to Exeter in August, but he could have had a personal second before the interval. A teasing cross from Downing left the ball loose in the area, but Suarez's deft flick past Hennessey dragged agonisingly wide.

McCarthy made a double substitution at the break and such a decision had instant benefits, with Steven Fletcher finishing excellently from a Hunt cross.

Liverpool could have restored the two goal lead almost instantly, with Hennessey bravely stopping Suarez and Carroll heading against the post.

A break from Adam in the midfield left Dalglish's side with a numerical advantage for the counter attack. The Scottish midfielder slipped through Downing, who failed to beat the impressive Hennessey.

Wolves surged as control passed from one team to the other but Lucas Leiva might have ended any hopes of an away point had his 20-yard drive been directed two feet to the right.

For his next trick Suarez jinked through the visiting defence. but his cutback lacked potency.
He and Carroll were working well in tandem and a smart one-two almost created a game-ending third goal with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Steven Gerrard was then introduced for the final ten minutes and almost fired in a trademark volley at the Kop end as Liverpool saw out a victory.

Liverpool v Wolves LIVE

View from the Opposition: Liverpool v Wolves

With Liverpool set to host Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on Saturday, we talked to Thomas Baugh from The Wolves Blog about his thoughts on the upcoming clash.
Image courtesy of Jamie McDonald.

It’s been a busy transfer window for the majority of Premier League clubs, how do you rate Wolves business in the market?

We did OK.

In Roger Johnson, we signed a proven Premier League defender who brings much needed leadership to a young side. He was always my number one target, so I was delighted that the club went out and made it happen.

Jamie O'Hara's move was also made permanent from Spurs. Again, he's proven in the Premier League and young enough to get even better in the years to come. A great signing who I think everyone was thrilled to bits with.

Still, another defender and another forward would have been nice though, as I think we're a player short at either end of the pitch.

Speaking of the transfer window, Liverpool have spent big once again under the new ownership, do you think the Reds have spent well?

In a word - yes.

I rate each and every one of the players you've signed so it's impossible to reach any other conclusion.

I haven't enjoyed watching Liverpool in recent years, but the creative players you've invested in have changed that completely.

I think you're a significantly better side than last season, as you'd expect for the dosh you've splashed out!

With the squad improvements Liverpool have made of the last two transfer windows do you think they now have enough to reclaim a place in the top four?

It's going to be tight.

I think you're still a little vulnerable at the back.

Will this Coates bloke be the answer to your problems? Maybe, but I'm surprised given the money you spent that a little more wasn't found to get someone like Gary Cahill from Bolton, who'd unquestionably take you up another level.

Since the last time you visited Anfield Liverpool haven’t just brought in new players, they’ve also changed the manager. Do you think Kenny Dalglish was the right appointment?

Well, for starters the manager needs the support of the fans to do well, so he's definitely got that.

He's also passionate about the club and knows it inside out, which bodes well.

He's won the Premiership too, so he obviously knows what he's doing.

And finally, he obviously wants to play more open, attacking football, which I think the top sides have to do in order to be successful.

So all in all, yes, I think Dalglish probably was the right appointment.

Under the management of Mick McCarthy Wolves have been promoted, avoided relegation and solidified their place in the Premier League, just how ambitious are you about this season and the coming few years?

As we're currently rebuilding Molineux, whilst still looking to invest in the team, I have hopes that we'll see more progress in the years to come.

Our squad is still young so hopefully the players we already have will continue to learn and improve. Most already have done so.

This season, we just need to stay up again and hopefully finish a little higher up the table.

A run in one of the cups would be nice too and whose to say we couldn't win one? We've beaten all the tops sides (apart from Arsenal) over the last few years.

Who do you think is likely to be the key man for Liverpool in the game on Saturday and who will be the Wolves player the Anfield supporters should keep an eye out for?

For Liverpool, it has to be Suarez. Our defence can be static at times, so his quick feet, invention and off the ball running scare the life out of me. Downing is another I rate highly so I'm hoping he's handled adequately too.

As far as Wolves go, keep an eye out for Adlene Guedioura if he starts. This lad can really play.

We're just waiting for him to be given a concerted run in the side to show what he can do. An all action midfielder with a thunderous shot. Could be a real dark horse this season.

Finally, what is your prediction for the game on Saturday?

I think Liverpool will probably win, but I'm expecting a close game.

We're good enough (on our day) to get a result at Anfield, so don't be overly surprised if we do.

Mick will likely pack the midfield after last weekend's disaster against QPR, so that should hopefully make us more difficult to breakdown.

Still, I'll go for 3-1 Liverpool.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tottenham 4-0 Liverpool: Nine-man Liverpool embarrassed by Spurs

Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel were sent off as Liverpool went down to an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday afternoon.

A stunning goal from Luka Modric in the sixth minute got the hosts off to an ideal start, before the Scotland international was dismissed for a second bookable offence inside the opening half an hour.

Numerically at a disadvantage, Liverpool tried to remain competitive, but when Skrtel was sent for an early bath in the 63rd minute, the game was over as a contest. Further goals from Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor (twice) completed a miserable day for the vistors'.

Ahead of the match, Kenny Dalglish made just one change to the side that lost at the Britannia Stadium last Saturday, with Andy Carroll coming in for Dirk Kuyt.

Despite Liverpool's line-up giving the impression of an offensive performance, it was Tottenham who started off on the front foot, with Adebayor stabbing an easy chance wide from ten yards.

And it wasn't long before the hosts broke the deadlock, with Modric taking advantage of a loose ball on the edge of the box, firing the ball past Jose Reina in one movement.

The goal was deserved, but left Liverpool reeling as Daniel Agger picked up a knock in the lead up to the strike. The Danish defender battled on for a period but was eventually forced off on 25 minutes to be replaced by debutant Sebastian Coates.

Just seconds after the substitution, Kenny Dalglish's side were down to ten men. Adam, who had already received a booking for a foul on Modric, launced into a high challenge on Scott Parker. Despite protesting his innocence, he can have no complaints with the referee's decision.

With less than half an hour played, Liverpool were up against it.

The hosts continued to dominate before the interval, with Younes Kaboul and Adebayor wasting good chances to extend their lead.

It was thought that the break might do the visitors well, with a regrouping needed, but Tottenham almost doubled their advantage within seconds of the restart, as a Kyle Walker cross eventually led to Defoe sending a simple chance wide.

Harry Redknapp's team continued with the pressure; Gareth Bale and Adebayor forcing Reina into making saves.

The away side's best chance of salvaging something seemed to be from dead ball situations, but those hopes were dashed just after the hour mark, when Skrtel accepted a second yellow card for a challenge on Bale.

The nine-man challenge gave Tottenham more freedom, and Defoe scored the goal which killed the tie just moments later. Having been fed in by Rafael van der Vaart, the English forward made no mistake in firing a low shot past Reina.

The match was over in a competitive sense, and Spurs rubbed salt into Liverpool's wounds on 67 minutes when Reina could only parry Defoe's strike into the path of Adebayor, who scored with a composed finish.

It was a day to forget for Dalglish's men, and Adebayor fired home his second of the game in stoppage time.
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Tottenham v Liverpool LIVE

Saturday, September 17, 2011

View from the Opposition: Tottenham v Liverpool

With Liverpool set to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Sunday, we talked to journalist and Spurs fan Ben Hardy about the clash. 

Spurs had a fairly busy transfer window once again, with two of the most notable incoming players being Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor, how do you rate your summer dealings?

Harry has once again proven his worth in the transfer window this summer, with a full England international and a proven Premier League striker coming in the form of Scott Parker and Emmanuelle Adebayor. These two big name signings are just what the club needs at the moment after a tough start to the season and hopefully will lift the morale and carry the momentum from a good display at Wolves. As usual, Spurs have also brought in a couple of exciting youngsters such as the Italian Iago Falque and the Ivorian youngster, Souleymane Coulibaly, who is one for the future.

Defoe is someone who will benefit from this as he usually excels playing with a tall man as we’ve seen with Crouch in the past, so the Adebayor – Defoe front force is an exciting prospect.

Obviously these high profile signings are fantastic and the fans love deadline day dealings, but we mustn’t forget another player brought in early on in the window. The free signing of Brad Friedel was a sensation bit of business for the club. Despite conceding 8 goals, he has arguably been Tottenham’s best player so far, pulling off some world class saves against the Manchester clubs and Wolves. Fans will argue that stability and confidence Friedel brings to the team is just as important as bringing in names such as Parker.

Of course it’s not just the players you’ve brought in that has been a talking point throughout the summer, keeping hold of Luka Modric, despite notable interest from Chelsea, was seen as a great move by the club, just how important is he to Spurs?

There’s no doubt about it that Modric is world class and up there with the best in the Premier League. Historically, Tottenham have always had a top class player in which the fans can thrive off such as Gascoigne, Klinsmann and Ginola to name but a few, and Modric is very much that player of the Redknapp era. Spurs would not have finished 4th if we did not have Modric, that’s how important he is to our team.

Tottenham have been here before however, big clubs coming in and unsettling the players, Berbatov in particular. In that case they took it to the wire and even complained to the FA about Man Utd’s dealings when they eventually got their man. I think most Spurs fans thought the same would happen again with Modric, especially when Redknapp revealed he did want to play against Man City. It’s great for the team that we’ve managed to keep him but he’ll have to win over the Spurs all over again after his lack of loyalty to the club, despite signing a 5 year contract only last season. If reports are true that Spurs declined £40million then some might argue and say we should have cashed and bought a world class striker, maybe we should have, but the point is he’s still here now so let’s utilise him and get the most out of him before he eventually moves on.

Liverpool had a big transfer window as well, with the new owners once again backing Kenny Dalglish, what did you make of the players Liverpool have brought in?

The combination of Kenny Dalglish and the new owners of Liverpool seems to have settled the club after a fairly poor 2010/11 campaign and made the top players want to play for Liverpool again. I beleive the most important signing for Liverpool this year was Stewart Downing. A player who is finding some of his best form and close to reaching his full potential, he is also heavily involved in the England set up which is an added incentive for him to play at his best. The Teessider’s ability to use both feet, operate on both flanks and pick out the right ball is inspiring and becoming a trademark.

The signings of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson are also important, especially with Gerrard becoming ever more injury prone. You get the sense these are real squad players and Liverpool now have the strength in depth that they have been crying out for under the previous regime. The likes of Suarez and Carroll must be included at this point, despite being signed last January, this is their first full season and many are expecting many goals between the pair.

Both Spurs and Liverpool will be looking to reclaim their place in the top four this season, do you think either can do it and if so who will be the team to drop out?

Tottenham suffered in the league last year as they battled to the Champions League quarter finals, so whether Manchester City can be a force in both competitions remains to be seen. However, I beleive Liverpool now have the quality and confidence to finish above Spurs, get back into the top four and even challenge for the title if they can stay clear of major injuries. It would be difficult to see Man City, Chelsea and Manchester United failing to qualify for the Champions League again, the weak link being Arsenal. The Gunners have taken massive hits this year with the losses of Fabregas and Samir Nasri, arguably their two best players from previous seasons. They have bulked up their squad with some last gasp deals, bringing in the likes of Benayoun, Mertesacker and Arteta. Even though they are quality players, I think they will struggle to fill the void left by Fabregas and Nasri and fully expect Liverpool and maybe even Tottenham to overtake Arsenal come May.

A clash towards the end of last season saw Spurs win at Anfield and gain a crucial three points in the race for the Europa League. Do you see Europe’s second tier competition as a good tournament to be in or a hindrance?

Spurs have already had their first game in this seasons Europa League so it’s easier to comment on. Tottenham have a squad with the ability to win this tournament if they wanted but Harry has made it very clear that the Premier League is year’s priority which I think the fans understand. Spurs fielded a team with 6 players 21 or under in the starting 11 and a bench all filled with teenagers on match day 1 in Greece. This is giving the youngsters and fringe players vital game time (as the reserve team was abolished) and it’s exciting to see what the home grown players are capable of producing. The game on Thursday against PAOK in Greece ended 0-0 however the youngsters produced a performance to be proud of in an extremely hostile stadium. The Spurs fans are aware that the Europa League is very much second best but if they share my view, then they see it as a valuable way to improve the up and coming youngsters.

Harry Redknapp has once again expressed his interest in the England job this week, and is favourite to take over the national side when Fabio Capello’s contract ends. What would your thoughts be on Redknapp leaving Spurs and who would you want to replace him?

To manage your country is one of the highest honours in football management and I’m sure he would get the backing of the club and fans if he was to leave for England. He’s achieved what no other Tottenham manager has in the Premier League and guided them to Champions League football and will be very fondly remembered as the man who turned 2 points from 8 games into victories against Inter Milan and AC Milan. In terms of his replacement, I could say the obvious and say the likes of Mourinho would be perfect for Spurs.

In reality, there are two main options for me and they are Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti. Former Redmen favourite, Benitez has a vast amount of Premier League experience with Liverpool of course and almost guided them to title in 2009, he brought in players like Torres who set a light the Premier League and of course guided Liverpool to two Champion League finals, including that victory over Milan in 2005. He knows how to handle top players and could get the best out the Tottenham talent. Ancelotti also has Premier League experience, winning the FA Cup and the title with Chelsea before he was unfairly dismissed last season. He knows how to win the league and he knows how to win cups, his record across Europe is also very good in terms on winning trophies and we all know Spurs fans crave trophies.

Speaking of Harry, he’s a manager who’s in the past liked to bring in British talent. With Liverpool now doing the same, do you think it’s a wise move to pay ‘over the odds’ for home grown players?

It’s brilliant to see so much English talent now playing at the top clubs but the price is an issue. Liverpool spent around £40 Million just on Downing and Henderson, two Englishmen who would expect to be involved with England in the coming years. There are also the likes of Ashley Young and Scott Parker playing in better teams now and if this carries on, England can once again be a force to reckon with in the upcoming competitions. Most players are being bought for ‘over the odds’, inflated prices right now so you might as well buy British and help the cause.

Finally, can we have a score prediction?

Spurs will be looking to carry the momentum gained from the victory at Wolves and put in a good performance in front of the home fans after the dismantling against Man City last time out. Liverpool come into the game off the back of a disappointing defeat to Stoke, in which Dalglish publicly vented his anger at the officials. Tottenham V Liverpool usually involves goals and I think it will follow the same pattern this year. Score draw, 2-2.

You can follow Ben on Twitter for more of his opinions on Spurs, Liverpool and the world of football. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lack of European football shows how far Liverpool had fallen before Dalglish's arrival

Liverpool's absence in this week's European ties shows how much damage was done under Hicks, Gillett and Hodgson. But under King Kenny, Liverpool are fighting to be back in Europe's top competition.

On Tuesday evening, whilst flicking through the Sky Sports channels watching Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea et al kick-off their Champions League campaigns, the absence of any Liverpool involvement got me thinking just how much damage was done to our club over the last two or three years.

Between 2005 and 2009, we were one of the heavyweights of Europe. 2005 saw us stage mission impossible to first overcome Olympiacos in the group stages, then the unforgettable fight back against AC Milan to win the trophy. Two years later we travelled to Athens for another final appearance, with the Semi and Quarter finals reached in 2008 and 2009 respectively. At one point, UEFA’s coefficient system ranked Liverpool as the number 1 team in Europe. Now we aren’t even in the Europa League. 

In what will go down as one of the darkest periods of Liverpool’s proud history, mismanagement of both the club and team set us back years. With American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett at the helm, the club became crippled the club with debt repayments, whilst the incompetent duo reneged on their words regarding the building of a new stadium. They also managed to undermine manager Rafael Benitez by approaching Jurgen Klinsmann about becoming the future manager.

Benitez himself though was far from perfect. A public pursuit of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry resulted in a falling out with Xabi Alonso, which saw the key midfielder depart for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. In his place, despite money being thin on the ground due to Hicks and Gillett’s actions, Benitez opted to replace Alonso with the injured Alberto Aquilani, a player who did not feature until November.

Missing a midfield playmaker, we struggled to replicate past form. Injuries to key players Gerrard and Torres left the squad depleted, so we had to rely on the likes of Ngog to fill in. The fluid attacking of the previous season disappeared and so to did our Champions League involvement as defeats home and away to Fiorentina meant an early exit. Even a stint on Channel 5 in the Europa League proved to be fruitless as a Diego Forlan inspired Atletico Madrid dumped us out at the semi-final stage. To make matters worse, the lack of quality in the squad resulted in a 7th place league finish, meaning no Champions League qualification.

Benitez paid the price, but with the debts spiralling out of control and the club up for sale, the acting Managing Director Christian Purslow opted for an appointment to steady the ship. His hiring of Roy Hodgson instead turned us into football’s version of the Titanic.

Despite a promising start which saw the arrival of Joe Cole on a free transfer, the moment the season kicked off, things went wrong. Cole was sent-off 45 minutes into his debut, then days later Mascherano got his wish as he was transferred to Barcelona. Defeat after defeat followed, one abject performance after another. With the likes of Poulsen, Jovanovic and Konchesky in the starting eleven, Hodgson’s brand of football was dull and more suited to a relegation dogfight, which is exactly where we were heading. His dealings with the press were causing concern too as he labelled Northampton “formidable” opponents, openly criticised his squad and insisted his 35 years of experience meant he wasn’t to blame.

Off the pitch, messrs Hicks and Gillett were playing hardball as potential buyers came in for the club. When New England Sports Ventures (NESV), tabled a bid, Hicks and Gillett attempted to block the sale, but a week of High Court battles finally ruled the sale could go through. We finally had new owners in the guise of John W Henry.

Despite the off-the-field developments, on the pitch Hodgson’s side went from bad to worse. The Christmas defeat at home to Wolves, where we didn’t have a single shot on target, meant Hodgson was a dead man walking. He, or rather we, were put out of our misery when defeat to Blackburn left the new owners with no option but to remove Roy and install King Kenny as caretaker boss.

Immediately a weight was lifted. Finally there was light at the end of the tunnel. Although results didn’t improve straightaway, the performances did. Suddenly we were passing the ball around again, attacking in numbers. By the end of the month, two wins on the bounce had revitalised the club. But the shadow of the previous owners and managers still loomed as star striker Fernando Torres handed in a transfer request and headed to Chelsea.

Rather than let the Torres situation diminish the new found optimism, the new owners backed Dalglish by breaking the club transfer record twice in one day on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. With the latter settling immediately, a superb second half to the season saw the reds shoot up the table, but such was the state Hodgson left us in, not even King Kenny could see us back into the Champions League places. We briefly flirted with the Europa League, but with the thought of seeing Stan Collymore and constant adverts for another Steven Seagal “Blockbuster” every Thursday night, I think Kenny decided to throw the last 2 games of the season to let Spurs qualify instead!

Now with a successful summer of transfer business behind us, the dark days seem a distant memory. The dead wood has been cleared from the squad, with some exciting talent brought in. The football on show so far this season has been fluid and exciting. Even Saturday’s loss at Stoke hasn’t dampened the optimism. The manner in which we suffered defeat at the Britannia Stadium was a world away from the same result nearly twelve months ago. That loss epitomised Hodgson’s Liverpool: no creativity, no fight and not good enough. Saturday’s game was different. We bossed the game, created chances and with a bit of luck, or decent refereeing decisions, we would have got something out of it.

After all the problems and mistakes made in the tumultuous period between Hicks and Gillet and Hodgson, we finally now look to be on the right track. The owners have done everything we could have asked for and in Kenny we have a manager who understands the club and plays football the right way. Player-wise, we have managed to rid the squad of players whose heart wasn’t in it Instead all the players now sing from the same hymn sheet and would all die for the red shirt.

The fact that we have no game this week, whilst the heavyweights of Europe begin their European campaigns, shows that we still have a way to go to be before we are back where we belong. But with all the changes made in a whirlwind 11 months under new ownership, we are well and truly on our way.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stoke City 1-0 Liverpool: Walters penalty ends Reds' unbeaten run

Liverpool's unbeaten start to the 2011-12 season was ended at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as they were beaten 1-0 by Stoke City.

The only goal of an exciting Premier League contest arrived in the 21st minute, as Jonathan Walters thundered home a penalty to give Tony Pulis' side the victory.Kenny Dalglish decided to make just one change to the side that comfortably beat Bolton Wanderers last time out, with Martin Skrtel replacing the injured Martin Kelly.

Sebastian Coates and Craig Bellamy, two signings that were made late in the summer's transfer window, were named amongst the substitutes.

Stoke, a team that is plying its trade in the Europa League this season, were able to give Peter Crouch (formerly of Liverpool) his first start since moving to the club on 'deadline day'. Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome, who have also only recently arrived at the club, were named in the matchday squad for the first time.

The game started aggressively, with Luis Suarez going close twice in the opening five minutes. The Uruguayan struck narrowly over from the edge of the box, before only just failing to connect with a Charlie Adam corner.

The visitors threatened with chances and dominated the opening exchanges, but they were behind midway through the first half.

Mark Clattenburg, the referee of the match, awarded Stoke a penalty after Jamie Carragher was adjudged to have hauled down Walters in the box. The winger stepped up to take the kick himself and finished with minimal fuss.

The Reds' response to going behind was available just moments after the restart, with Suarez almost punishing Asmir Begovic for some suspect goalkeeping. However, the Copa America winner's half volley was impressively kept out by a committed Ryan Shawcross on the line.

Before the interval, Dalglish's side probably should have capitalised on poor defending, as a low centre from Suarez was allowed to find its way to an incoming Skrtel. The Slovakian defender, who was filling in at right-back, couldn't keep his shot down.

Liverpool picked up were they left off in the second half, with Lucas Leiva's shot being deflected behind by Matthew Upson. The resulting corner came to nothing, but it was clear that the hosts were in for a difficult 45 minutes.

On the hour mark, the match should have been all square. A Jose Enrique pass sent Jordan Henderson through on goal. With only the goalkeeper to beat, the former Sunderland midfielder saw three poor efforts kept out, before Charlie Adam picked up the loose ball and attempted to force home the equaliser. The stubborn qualities of Stoke's defence were epitomised in and amongst this fracas, as both Marc Wilson and Begovic thwarted the Scotland international.

Dalglish made a double substitution as the game creeped into the final quarter, with Andy Carroll and Bellamy replacing Dirk Kuyt and Henderson respectively.

Despite having a lot of the ball and spending the majority of the last 20 minutes in the opposition half, Liverpool could only fashion two more clear chances. Stewart Downing was guilty of wasting a good opportunity, lashing wide after a tidy exchange with Suarez, before Suarez himself somehow failed to hit the target after Begovic flapped at a high ball in injury time.
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