Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fab four

When Bill Shankley said that football was more important than life and death, I suspect that his tongue was firmly in his cheek. Occasions like last night can bring that home. The murder of 11 year old Rhys Jones shook Merseyside to the core. But at Goodison on Saturday and at Anfield last night, the two halves of the city came together in grief and to pay respect to the Jones family. As anyone who's lost a family member can tell you, people showing support won't ease the pain, but it can help to get you through. Tony Barrett has a great piece on the merseyside rivalry in the Liverpool Echo today. I hope that this once friendly rivalry can shed the bitterness and vitriol that have crept into it in recent years. Maybe events like the playing of Everton's theme from Z Cars at Anfield can help to warm relations.

To the match itself, we have to be fairly happy with a 4-0 win. Crouch got scoring underway with a tap in after some fine work on the wing from Benayoun and Kuyt who delivered an amazing cross to the far post from the right. Crouch had a few other decent chances to bump up the score but it remained 1-0 until the second half. Sami showed him how it's done when he got a free header in the area. Kuyt was rewarded with two goals towards the end. He had a great match and it was no less than he deserved. He had hit the bar earlier in the match so I was happy to see him get his season's account under way.

Kuyt and Benayoun were the two major stars of the game for me. Yossi started on the right but drifted infield and outfield at will. He has the ability to glide past defenders as if they weren't there. It's a joy to watch and the Anfield faithful were suitably impressed.

Seb Leto got a run out on the left wing for the first time in a competitive match. He looked a game lad to me and did ok considering his age and lack of English experience. I would imagine that he'll be a Carling Cup and FA Cup player this year.

Derby County visit Anfield on Sat for what should be a routine win. They, along with Wigan, were my two tips for relegation. I think that Stevie and Carra should be alright to sit this one out. Rafa will feel that he can rotate his team from Sunderland a bit and still have enough to beat them handily enough.

By Saturday, the transfer window will be closed. There is some speculation that we'll go for a defender given Carra's injury and missing out on Heinze. Chiellini is still being linked and would be perfect but it's all gone quiet at the moment. I wouldn't be too surprised if we don't make any moves and go with what we have. Some websites have been linking us with a bid for Julio Baptista with is pure bollocks in my view.

I'm off to Tuscany on holidays for ten days on Friday so there may not be any updates until the Portsmouth game. Arrivederci.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

7001 and counting

Last season it took Liverpool until October to get a win away from home. This year we have six points from two away matches already. I think that we played reasonably well here, but more importantly we got the result. This is a game that we would probably have drawn last season, like at Shefield Utd on the opening day. The new additions added to a more attacking attitude will give us a better chance on the road this year.

Momo's first ever goal for the club broke the deadlock and happened to be our 7000th league goal. It's another one of those meaningless stats which them media love to go on about in the buildup to each match. In Gerrard's absence, Momo played his harrassing role to perfection. The mediocre Sunderland midfield tried as they might, but Sissoko snapped at their heals. He may not be as measured in posession as Javier but nobody can hassle the oposition quite like Momo. I really rate the lad and if he can improve his distribution somewhat then he'll b e an amaing player. His goal was awesome after some clever approach work from Voronin and Pennant.

We could have had a few more goals if it hadn't of been for Gordon who was superb in the Sunderland goal. Torres could have had a hat trick against a less inspired keeper. The failure to build on our 1-0 lead despite the chances we had, led to an unessesary dose of nerves in the second half.

Voronin added the winner with three minutes to go. Nobody had said too much about him when he was signed as it was on a free transfer. Now some people think that he should be the first choice partner for Torres. Kuyt and Torres would still be my preference but I think that all of the strikers will get a lot of games give Rafa's preference for roatation.

Overall it was a good result away from Anfield. But it did come at a heavy cost as Carra broke a rib and Sami a broken snot. Hyypia should be ok to play against Toulouse tomorrow night but Carra might be out for a few weeks with his ribs. Lucklily, there is an international break after the Derby County match on Sat which should give him time to recover. The Toulouse match itself should be handy enough. We have the away goal and they didn't look very good in the first leg. I predict a 2-1 win for us.

The official site featured a letter from Luis Garcia last week. He was a great little player for us and I hope that we don't end up missing him too much this season. He was an amazing option to come off the bench or to conjure something out of nothing in european matches. His goal against Juventus in 2005 remains one of my favourite Liverpool goals of all time. He always came across well in interviews too and seems to be a genuine, brave and warm hearted soul. I hope that things go well for him at Atletico. It'd be great if he got the opportunity to return to Anfield with them at some stage.

Monday, August 20, 2007

We wuz robbed

Where do I start? I had to leave it a few days until I had calmed down before I wrote about the Chelsea match. As you know by now, Rob Syles ruined the match by giving Chelsea a non existent penalty and failing to send off Essien despite showing him two yellows. He's since been demoted. There were numerous other decisions that he messed up on but I'm trying to build a bridge and get over it. The ref robbed us of what would have been a great win over one of our title rivals. The difference between this match and previous season's matches against the top four is that this time we didn't let them back into the match after taking the lead, the ref did.

But before all of that, Torres did this. An awesome goal which had me jumping out of my seat. I thought that he was tidy if unspectacular over the rest of the game but when given the opportunity, he did what we pay him to do. Gerrard found him with a great ball and he took it up to Ben Haim. Nando showed him the ball to draw him in but then turned on the pace to leave him in his wake. Cech advanced but El Nino placed ball inch perfectly inside the far post. Some people have been drawing comparisons with Henry. He has some way to go before he is at that level but the way in which he toyed with Ben Haim and made the finish look easy, does remind me of him to some degree. What a home debut? I don't think that Torres is 100% yet after his ankle injury. This was a great start and I'm hoping that he can build on it against Sunderland.

There were other positives to take from the game. Pennant, again, caused Cole lots of problems on the right wing. His cross to Riise should have resulted in a goal if Riise's touch had of been better. The midfield as a whole played well and Gerrard was superb. They along with the defence closed Chelsea down well and they had no shots on target, bar the peno. Arbeloa had another decent match. I still have some reservations about a right footed left back.

After the boring International friendlies, we will be traveling to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland on Saturday morning. This is going to be a tough away match as we've seen from Sunderland's game's so far. Any team managed by Keane is going to fight for every ball. I wouldn't be surprised to see Crouch start this one.

It looks like Heinze won't be arriving at Anfield. He would have been useful as cover but I for centre half and might have competed for a starting berth at left back but I'm not that disappointed that this isn't happening. The fact that it's pissed Fergie off makes it a worthwhile exercise. I wonder if we'll now go for Chiellini or someone else for that spot? I'd be happy enough to go with who we have and to give Insua a few games at left back.

Check out the look on Slurs face in this clip from MOTD. He can't believe that Tevez missed with a header from a yard out. I really like Tevez but I don't know how the hell he missed that one. Almost as bad as this classic from Forlan. Here's hoping that Spurs can turn them over on Sunday to drop them into the relegation zone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Toulouse lose

Yesterdays game was not a classic. As is often the case with the champions league third round, it's a case of get the job done. Given the oppressive heat in the afternoon sun, we weren't over exerting ourselves. Veronin scored just before half time with this 25 yard belter.

Great to see that the Raven is building on his pre season form. It was an efficent rather than an inspired team performance and I'm sure that we'll put them to the sword at Anfield in two weeks time. The only worrying sign was the fact that Gerrard came off injured after an hour. The latest news is that he has a hairline fracture in his toe but he'll be fit for Sunday which is a huge boost.

The Chelsea match this weekend is huge now. Sky will be trying to build it up as a title showdown, which it isn't, but it's important that we learn the lessons of previous seasons and keep pace with the leaders at the start of the season. Too often in recent years, we've started slowly and have had to play catchup. With Utd having dropped 4 points from their first two matches, it's a good oppertunity to put down a marker against one of the other titile contenders. Chelsea seem to have a few injuries at the moment but I wouldn't be surprised if they manage to recover. Expect to see both Terry, Carvalho and Essien line out on Sunday at 4.00.

Have a look at this for a great interview with Torres. You will need access to spanish or a decent translation website. Interestingly they say that the fee was €26.5m or £18m to be paid over three years which is a lot less than was reported in the UK press. It's the kid's Anfield debut on Sunday. Let's hope that he makes it a special one.

We've signed another new keeper. This time he's a seventeen year old Hungarian called Peter Gulacsi. He has been signed on a years loan apparently. With a name like that maybe he should have joined Golden balls at the L.A. Galaxy. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cometh the hour..

This is what we've been missing. Isn't it great to have the season back? The famine is over and the feast is upon us. Here's hoping that Liverpool are sitting at the top of the table at the end of it.

For those of you that missed it, we ran out to a deserved 2-1 victory at Villa Park on Saturday. There were some great performances, notably Torres and Kuyt who looked great together. I'm very optimistic about their partnership after this. Their vision, movement and link-up play was a joy to behold. I hope that I'm not putting the mockers on them here but I predict a bountiful partnership from the lads. Rafa was delighted with El Nino's performance. Me too Rafa.

Gerrard was superb in the middle alongside Xabi. It was looking like another dissappoiting opening day draw when Stevie stood up and fired in THAT free. Astounding. There is a lot of guff written in the press about him playing in the middle but I think a more important factor here was that he's had the summer off and a full pre-season behind him. I'm sure that he'll play games on the right this season. If he plays like this, it won't matter what position he's playing in.

Riise wasn't great at left midfield but Arbeloa did ok at left back. Finnan was caught out by Young's pace a few times but he might have have had more protection with someone other than Pennant in front of him. Babel looked really good when he came on in the second half. He has that combination of pace, power and control that makes players dangerous. His directness and willingness to run at defenders is something that we haven't seen too much of around Anfield in recent times.

The team flew out to Toulouse today for the champions league qualifier tomorrow. I reckon that this should be fairly straight forward. It's going to be very hot at 3.30 in the afternoon but we should have enough to get at least an away draw if not a win. All I have to do now is figure out a way to get off work early.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rotterdam review and season preview

Rotterdam review

Our pre-season finished with the port of Rotterdam tournament over the weekend. First of all we played Shanghai Shenhua which we won 2-0. Fernando Torres scored his first for the club with a well taken chip over the keeper when one on one with him. Yossi provided a lovely through ball in the build up. I'm happy to see him score his first goal and enjoyed the manner in which he scored it. Not since Michael Owen have we had a striker who was both quick and good at one-on-ones. Gerrard scored the second goal with an audacious lob. Fine goal from the captain. Leto also got his first run out in this match and played quite well by all accounts. It'll be good to have some competition on the left wing this season.

Our final pre-season game was against Feyenoord on Sunday night. This ended up being a bit tasty and was feistier than our previous friendlies. Drenthe opened the scoring for the Dutch team. Then Kuyt had a legitimate goal disallowed before Gerrard scored again after fine work by Babel. Pepe had to save a penalty after an Arbeloa handball. There were a few handbags thrown at the end of the match. Nice to see the chief put a reducer in on Drenthe. So the match finished 1-1 and Porto won the tournament. Big swing.

The Champions League draw was made on Friday and we were drawn against Toulouse who finished third in France. I reckon that we should be able to win that handy enough over two legs. I don't know a huge amount about them other than the fact Elmander plays for them and they only just scraped into third place.

Gerrard stated his happiness at having more time in the centre this season, according to Rafa. I think that this is a bit of a media hobby horse and I've no problem with him playing on the right hand side of midfield and I would imagine that we'll still see him play there a lot this season.

Season preview

Every August, I convince myself that this year will be the one where we finally win the league. Where do I start? Where did we finish - third. Where will we finish? Hard to answer. Many experts seem to think it'll be as you were at the top with the same top four as last season. The guardian have us down for third spot. On the other hand, Henry Winter thinks that we'll finish in the top two and that it'll be the three horse race. I would be happy with that as long as we are involved in the title race at the business end of the season. I suspect that Chelsea and Utd are still slightly ahead of us squadwise, but if we could split them and contend the league I'd be impressed.

The defence required the least work and so it was. With the possible addition of Heinze, it's as you were. We performed well defensively last year so there was no need for drastic surgery. Riise is still a weak link sometimes but Heinze might challenge him to improve. There is some speculation that Carson might be on his way out, maybe to Man City or Villa on loan, to be replaced with Charles Itandje from Lens coming in as back up keeper.

In midfield we have improved the flanks which needed a lot of work. Babel, Leto, Benayoun were bought to add to Kewell, who is now back from injury, and an improved Pennant who looked quality after Christmas. I think that this was the one major area of the team that needed addressing. I'm much more confident of our ability to break down stubborn defences with penetration from the wings this year. Lucas came in to challenge the status quo in the middle. The only problem there is that we have too many good players chaasing too few spaces now.

Our attack has evolved. Out went Bellamy and Fowler for Torres and Veronin. As mentioned above, I think that Torres pace and verve will greatly enhance our attack. Veronin looks a clever player in pre-season and I now think that he'll challenge Dirk and Crouchie, rather than just making up the numbers.

Improvements have been made to many areas of the squad by buying some new talent and shipping those who weren't performing and were out of favour. The remaining issues and questions are

1) We've added to the attacking options and quality in the squad but is it enough? Will we score enough goals? We scored a lot less than the rest of the big four. There were many games where we dominated teams and had the majority of possession but we didn't create enough chances and didn't score enough of the chances that we created. We will have to commit more men forward when we are putting pressure on teams to make this work. The additions of Torres should help somewhat with the goalscoring but we need goals from all over the pitch. Our midfield will have to up it's scoring rate as only Gerrard has a proven history of scoring. I would expect Babel, Alonso, Kewell and Benayoun to chip in with a few each. Pennant only scored once last year and could do with working on that part of his game.

2) Can we perform in the head to heads against our rivals? We had the worst record of the top four teams last season. We were mugged in the last minute by Utd. I'm hoping that we can improve on it this season and get some impressive results against the other big teams.

3) Can we improve our away from? Last season Utd scored one more point than us at home, 47 to our 46 points. The difference came on the road. Utd took 42 points compared to our 22. This is where we need to get our act together. I reckon that our new additions will help us to break down packed defences plus the added pace or Torres and Babel will help us to hit teams on the break.

4) Can we start the season brightly? We had a terrible start last season and were realisticly out of the title race by November. We can't let that happen again. We will have a game in hand by week three due to the champions league qualifiers when we play Chelsea. This will give us a chance to state our credentials with an early blow. The fact that Terry and others could be out is a bonus. We need to establish our credentials early as a statement on intent.

So can we win it? Yes. Will we win it? Probably not. I expect us to challenge but in the end I think that Utd will probably win the prize. I hope that I'm wrong and we call in number 19. It all starts against Villa on Saturday. If we win it, people will be saying "it's on". If not then we'll be written off. Check back here every week for updates. Click here for an good article on rotation from Paul Tomkins.

Bring it on.