Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pool draw blue all

This had the feeling of end of season fare from us, It was another case of giving the B team a run out. Therefore I'm not going to waste too much time posting about it. The few notable points were the comeback, Pennant and Insua. To be 2 goals down with 30 mins to go and to fight back for a draw is always impressive. Granted it was only against Birmingham, but it was a B team who showed the fight. Pennant was man of the match and caused the defence lots of problems. Crouch was thankful and said that Pennant is a strikers dream. He may have given Rafa a selection headache but I doubt it. Maybe he'll come on as a sub. It was good to see young Insua get a run out. It's a year since we last saw him but he looks like he's come on in that time and was getting good write-ups for the reserves this year. Let's hope that he gets a few more games before the season's end. I would like to see him challenge for a first team spot next year.

If Birmingham were the undercard, then Chelsea are the main event. I hope that we can turn it around at Stamford bridge but it's going to be really, really tough. We need to score, something which we've struggled to do there recently. Chelsea are likely to be without Lampard after the tragic death of his mother but will be strengthened by the return of the amazing Essien. It's going to take some huge performances from our big players like Javier, Gerrard, Torres and Carragher. Torres to score a breakaway goal and then we'll hold on for the last 20 minutes. Nail biting times ahead.

I've heard this guy mentioned a good few times on the boards this season. He's a swiss international right back and is playing for Dortmund at the moment. Local radio in Liverpool were saying on Thurdsay that a deal is agreed and he will sign in the summer. Degen himself seems less convinced. Maxi Rodriguez of El Nino's old club was also linked with a move to Anfield this week. I think that he could do a good job for us on the right. The Atletico president, Enrique Cerezo, says Rodríguez's going nowhere. Ballague says that Rafa is interested in Silva at Valencia hence his interest in Bentley has cooled. Could be an interesting signing. As with all of the rumours that'll be knocking about over the next few months, it's a case of wait and see.

Some of the Sundays ran a story saying that DIC have offered Jose the managers job. DIC moved quickly to deny the story. This ties in with what they've said in meetings with the spirit of shankly union. It sounds like they will back Rafa if and when they get into the club. Let's hope it's soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ginger blunder

As Unlucky Alf in the fast show would say, "oh bugger". What should have been 2-0 or 3-0 but was 1-0 became 1-1 with the last kick of the game. I'm sure Riise didn't mean it, but if only he had a right foot, he would have been able to lash it clear rather than head it into his own net. If Aurelio hadn't got injured then we wouldn't have seen Riise at all. But the biggest if is if we had of taken one or two of our chances then it wouldn't have mattered. If.

The guardian has Carra and Kuyt as the men of the match. It's hard to argue as they were both superb. Kuyt battled away and used his power well, if his pace let him down a few times. He did very well to finish between Cech's legs. Skrtel was top quality too. Drogba was well marshaled between the twin pillars of Jamie and Martin. Both Stevie and El Nino had better games but they still managed to make telling influences and either could have won the game. Cech did well to save and I'm hoping that he's not in as imperious form next week. Both Babel and Xabi had very good second halves. Xabi was spreading the ball around like the Alonso of old and it was a joy to watch. Babel had a lot of joy out of Fereira when he ran at him. Ryan had some bad news in his private life this week so it's a credit to the kid that he was able to keep his mind on the game.

I wasn't happy with the ref last night, and neither was Rafa. Loads of decisions, big and small, were going against us. I don't understand how Terry stayed on the pitch. His kick on Torres's back as he law on the ground showed his Lionhearted spirit and courage. That's the man I'd want leading me if I were in the trenches.

The off the field theatrics weren't the distraction that we had feared beforehand. Hicks was there. Prick. Just what we didn't need. Thankfully the Kop were sensible enough to ignore him and get on with supporting the team. DIC in the form of Samir Al-Ansari, pictured here, were also sitting in the directors box, as guests of Gillett. I doubt that Hicks was impressed.

Brum away on Saturday seems like an irrelevance now. I would imagine that Rafa will rotate the shit out of the team and put the squad players and reserves out. I think that we'll see the same team start at Stamford bridge, Aurelio apart, so we're unlikely to see many of them feature on Saturday. I'll try to muster the enthusiasm to write a post about the match sometime before the Chelsea match.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thanks Kasey

Sometimes second gear is all you need. It was all we needed against Fulham on Saturday. If ever there was a championship team in waiting, Fulham is it. We were able to rest a god few of the first team and we still got a 2-0 win away from home. But the credit here has to go down to one man: Kasey Keller. I thought he was poor for both goals. Pennant hit a nice strike from distance for the first but Keller could have saved it if he made an effort. Crouch managed to slip the second one between his legs which was nice. There were some notable performers in Lucas, Pennant and the ever fantastic Mascherano, but there wasn't really a whole lot to write home about. You did get the impression that Rafa and some of the players had their minds on other things, notably a date with Chelsea this tuesday.

If Fulham were the appetiser, then their west London rivals are the main course. Given that the first leg is at Anfield, we need to make it count. Chelsea have a superb record at the bridge so we wouldn't want to be heading there looking for a result. the fact that Essien is suspended for tomorrow is a boost as he's a fantastic player. It looks like Gerrard, Lampard and Drogba will all start. I expect Rafa to tell us to try and hit them early as we managed to do against Juve a few years back. We were in a similar situation against Inter and too a 2-0 lead into the second leg. It's going to be tough but the vibes coming out of Chelsea don't sound good which might improve our chances. I think that we'll sneak it by a goal but will have some tense moments. Expect it to be tactical, turgid and tense rather than thrilling like the Arsenal tie.

This is a terribly sad and moving story. Let's hope that Liam is able to see the banners unfurled on the Kop tomorrow.

The Liverpool Echo has a first hand account from a fan who survived Hillsbourgh. It's well worth a read for an insight from somebody who watched the tragedy unfold. The Guardian reprinted David Lacey's Hillsbourgh report from 1989.

This report from the daily mail could offer some insight into why it's all been kicking off in the boardroom. Oliver Kay analyses the Hicks spin in the Times. There is some interesting info about DIC in this article as there is here in the Independent. This story isn't going away anytime soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rovers routed

I think that we are getting over the Euro hangovers, at last. This game was the equivalent of two solphadine and a glass of water. Did the job but you wouldn't be over the moon about it. 3-1 is about as good as we could ask for, given the exertions during the week and the fact that Blackburn usually make it hard on us, as they did for 45 mins here. We would have lost or drawn this game a few years back.

Gerrard was probably the best player on the day. He caused the defence no end of problems and scored a lovely goal to make it 20 for him this years. He looked for a few penos in the first half but the ref gave him nothing. I don't think that they were dives, as there was contact. But he did go down easier than he might have, especially for the first shout. I'm not mad on seeing our players do that but it's common practice in the league now from all of the top players like Ronaldo, Rooney, Drogba etc. Doesn't make it right but some call it streetwise.

Torres had a quiet match and looked a big tired but he still managed to score his 30th of the season and 20th in the league. An amazing achievement in his first season. Andre Voronin came on and managed to nick one at the death. He's been poor enough after a bright start this year and I wouldn't be surprised to see him leave this summer. We did concede in time added on which didn't matter but I'm sure that it pissed Rafa off. He does like the clean sheets.

Lucas did well, slotting in for the suspended Mascherano, especially in the second half. His one two with Stevie led to the first goal. I'm hoping that he gets some more exposure over the last few league matches so that he has a solid base to build on next year. Xabi had a much better game than his recent form had suggested was possible. If Xabi does leave this summer, which looks likely in my opinion, Then we might see Lucas coming in as the regular partner for Mascherano in the middle. Rafa may also bring in somebody like De La Red or Martinez and rotate them with Lucas. I'll be sad to see Xabi go, if he does, but he hasn't been as good over the past 18mths. Sure he still has time and games to make a contribution between now and the summer.

There was a minutes silence for the 96 as the Hillsbourgh anniversary is on this Tuesday. The players stood and presented a united front in the centre circle. If only the board could do the same.

This is great news. Modric is only 22 and was awesome against England a few months back. I think that he could be incredible in our current system, with Gerrard dropping back or moving to the right.

This is also great news. Hopefully Highdale can make a full recovery ad go on to play for the academy team again.

Henry Winter has a great article on Parry v Hicks, the latest boardroom PR disaster. It's as disappointing as it is tedious. Even the normally silent David Moores has been chipping in with his two cents. It's a shambles. But it's a credit to Rafa and the team that they've managed to get to a euro semi final without letting it bother them, as this article by Brian Reade attests. I'm a big fan of Wenger but his whinging since Tuesday is unedifying.

I saw this on the bbc rumour page and I have to say that it would cheer me up no end if true.

After Diego Maradona has been handing out lavish praise to fellow countryman Javier Mascherano, the Liverpool midfielder is set to invite the Argentine hero to watch him play at troubled Anfield. (Mail on Sunday)

Maradona at Anfield, imagine that. He's a big fan of Monster Masch.

Next up is Fulham away on Sat. I can see Rafa rotating the fuck out of the team for this one. Fulham are fighting for their lives but are shit. Even our B team should be able to win. We only need around 2 more wins to be sure of fourth. If and when that happens, Rafa will rest all his big players and give the kids a run out, as he did last year. While I want us to get as many points as possible and finish as near to the top as possible, I suppose we should look at the bigger picture and focus on the champs league semis and a possible final where we might have an edge if our players are fresher.

I wonder if we can make it to Saturday without any more shots across the boardroom? Somehow I doubt it. Talk then.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Round three: Game set and match

It's been described as a modern day classic and it's hard to argue with that. 6 goals and some incredible football from both teams, along with a cracking atmosphere gave us a night to remember in Anfield. This is going to go down in the history books alongside the victories over Chelsea, Olympiakos and Juventus. Thanks Rafa.

It's one of those ones where it seems churlish to talk about individuals. There were many star performers. Torres scored an incredible goal after a flick on by Crouchie. I hope that he got his nachos after that. The of Carra, Sami Skrtel and Aurelio all made telling contributions. Sami trumped the others by scoring our first goal with a towering header when he lost his marker, Senderos. The midfield, and indeed the whole team struggled initially but started to assert themselves after the Sami header. Mascherano was immense and tackled anything that moved. He still had the energy to make bursting runs late on in the second half. Alonso was only ok as was Gerrard but he did show balls with a great peno. Kuyt was a colossus. He passed the ball forward for Babels goal but his contribution over the course of the game was huge. The guardian gave him an 8 out of 10 mark. It was one of those nights where his touch was good and that makes a big difference. This allied to his movement and game intelligence makes him a very useful player. When his touch is off, he's not half as effective. Babel was a match winner when he came on. He wasn't fit enough to start but won the peno and scored the winner with a superb breakaway goal. Fantastic cameo and a masterful sub by Rafa. He needs to build on this in starts over the next few games and moving into next season. This boy is going to be a star when he puts it all together on a consistent basis.

The belief and character that this team has is amazing. To come back from being behind in the tie twice, against a team we're told is superior to us, is a superb feat. But it's nothing new. We've seen these kinds of displays numerous times since Rafa's arrived. So while the character of the team is nothing new, the skill and verve on display is something new. The likes of Torres and Babel have given us an extra dimension this year to hit teams with pace and flair. Add this to the talents of Gerrard and Alonso and we're a match for anyone. We've been inconsistent, but when it's worked, like it did in the second half last night, it looks pretty good.
Rafa was impressed with the crowd at Anfield. I know that it's become something of a clice about Anfield on the big European nights but they were in fine voice again last night. Souness was talking about it on RTE beforehand saying that nowhere in Britain compares, with the possible exception of Parkhead and Ibrox. I know it can be a bit flat for run of the mill league games, but the fans, like the team, seem to be able to raise their game in Europe.

As John Nicolson said in his fantastic piece on football 365

Liverpool winning a big European game with the crowd singing at 130 decibels and the yellow glow of the floodlights illuminating an ink-black, rain-strewn, north-western sky, means all's right with the world, somehow.

While I can't buy into his urging for us to support all English teams winning in Europe, there are some great memories and sentiments in the piece.
Away from the first team, there was mixed news this week. Sean Highdale, a 17 year old at the Academy was involved in a car crash which killed two other passengers in the car. He is expected to make a full recovery which we can be thankful for. On a more positive note, the reserve team beat Blackburn with a goal from Nemeth, to win the reserve league North. It's mainly composed of young imports and academy graduates rather than mature has beens who're no longer able to get a first team place. The likes of Nemeth and Insua are very highly thought of and will hope to follow Pelssis into the first team sooner rather than later.

The BBC have an interesting interview with Rogan Taylor on Share Liverpool. It sounds like a great idea but I don't know if it will ever happen. I would love to get involved but I doubt that I'll have a spare £5000 for a few years. Maybe they will be able to sort out a minority shareholder system with one of the Americans or preferably DIC.

Ballague suggested in the times podcast that we have deals lined up for one senior player for the first team and two youngsters from South America lined up. This had led posters on the forums to speculate on who the youngsters might be. Two names being put forward are Diego Buonanotte from River Plate and Pablo Piatti from Estudiantes. This report from goal suggests De La Red is heading back to Real in the summer. There was a lot of speculation linking us to him in the past and he would be an obvious candidate to replace Xabi if he does move back to Spain this summer.

We can look forward to Blackburn match on Sunday with slightly less pressure on us. They've given us problems in the past but we should be able to beat them at Anfield considering that they don't have much to play for. We can't really afford too many slip ups with Everton breathing down our necks. In the longer term it's going to be two more games in Chelsea to look forward to or not. These games are not in any way enjoyable and have to be endured. It's going to be really tense.

Until next time.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Round two: deja vu

What odds on Tuesday night being another 1-1 to complete the hat trick of score draw score lines? This one started slowly. We played well enough in the first half and created some good chances. Crouch made a few for himself and others before putting away from outside the area, just before half time. Even if he does leave this summer, he's made a contribution when he has come in this year. We had to soak up some pressure in the second half but Bendtner was able to rise above the defence and head home from a free just before the hour mark. Pennant had stupidly given away a needless free and was subbed soon after. I think that he's been fairly poor this year and I wouldn't be surprised or sad to see him leave in the summer. Finnan came back in defence and did well as did Arbeloa on the other side.

Rafa's got to be the happier manager after that. He made 8 changes beforehand, with only Pepe, Carra and Skrtel surviving the cull and we still managed to get a draw away from home. Wenger made less changes so won't have as fresh a team on Tuesday night. Some of the players, like Fabregas looked tired both midweek and in this match. This should help us on Tue, especially were it to go to extra time. Wenger didn't look happy at all on the sidelines.At one point, it looked like he was so frustrated that his head might explode. I hope it's the same situation at Anfield.

Rafa and I agree that it was an impressive debut from the boy Plessis. The Guardian match report gave him the mana of the match award. Maybe Plessis is why Rafa was willing to let Momo leave at Christmas.

Souness was full of praise for Crouch after the match. Eamonn Dunphy interviewed Souness on his RTE Radio 1 programme last week. I have more time for him after hearing it.

In our defensive foursome, he's absolutely awesome. Sami signed a new deal this week which is good news. I think that his displays this season have merited his one year extension. At times he was our best defender despite his advancing years. I hope that he joins the coaching staff when he hangs up his boots. He has a lot of knowledge that he could pass onto the kids. Red legend.

David Fairclough was on Today FM radio here in Ireland confirming what I'd heard before about the Mascherano deal. He said that the £17m transfer fee quoted is a red herring as deal includes wages over the duration of the contract. This tallies with info I've read on forums. Good news.

This report says that Arsenal and us are battling it out again but the target this time is Ricardo Quaresma of Porto. He may be available to £5m if they are convicted of match fixing. Could be what we need for the right sided attacking role.

Various papers are saying that we have a deal agreed to buy Rafinha from Shalke for £6m. I think that this has a good chance of going through. He looked good form what little I saw of the barca champions league match last week.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Round one: Advantage Liverpool

I don't know about you, but I had a great time last night. There is something about midweek champions league matches that gets the adrenaline going. And what a match it was? It was standing room only in my local and there was a superb atmosphere. I'm glad the match didn't go on another 5 mins as I don't think that my nerves could have taken it.

It finished 1-1 and we've got to be happy with that. The guardian say that it was an occasion that the premier league could be proud of. While we rode our luck at times, we played with the experience we've built up over the last few ties. Rafa knows how to win these games. I hope he can finish the job next Wed night.

Kuyt gets loads of stick, from reds as well as opposition fans. I have to say that I love him. I know that he's limited and isn't really good enough to be starting every match for us. He will more than likely lose his first team place this summer when a quality replacement is brought in. But last night he was a hero. Put your hands up for Dirk Kuyt. He was my man of the match and Rafa agrees. He played a clever game and knew when to go forward and support the attack and when to track back and help Carra. He was immense. He hasn't scored many this year but I doubt he'll ever score a more vital goal than he did last night. He did superbly well to ghost in from the right and get in front of the defender to knock it home. He was lucky not to concede a penalty but he's had poor luck most of this season so maybe it's evening itself out now. Red legend.

Sami and Skrtel did well by and large but had a few hairy moments like when Van Persie got between them. There was a bit of a mix up for the goal as both seemed to leave it for the other. They, and Rafa, won't be happy with that. Carra was great as we expect him to be in Europe. One of his best games of an inconsistent season so far. He may not offer a huge amount on the attack from full back, but he's worth his weight in gold for his goals saving tackles, blocks and interceptions.

Monster Masch was awesome, as we've come to expect. He was everywhere and Fabregas didn't exert the kind of influence that he usually does. It's such a pity that he won't be able to play the league match on Sat. Gerrard was fantastic too. His run for the goal was inspired. He surged from deep and exchanged passes with Torres before attacking the defence and slaloming past first Eboue and then Kolo Toure. He made it look so easy that the defenders must have felt foolish. His cross was perfect for Kuyt to muscle in and prod home. A strikers goal from somebody who's rarely a striker these days.

Martin Samuel had a good piece in the Times ahead of the champions league match. It goes into how close the team is to mounting a sustained challenge on both fronts. Well worth a read. Richard Williams in the Guardian has an article on the contrasting performances on Fabregas and Gerrard.

Saturday is going to be like "deja vu all over again". I think that Rafa will rest and rotate a few of the players. I wouldn't be surprised to see Crouch start and Torres rested. He looked knackered towards the end last night. I predicted a league loss and a euro win over two legs. I'd take that now. We are good enough to get a result on Saturday but I feel Arsenal are going to want it more given they're still after the league. I'd be happy with another draw.