Tuesday, May 20, 2008

End of year review

It's time to take stock, a stock take if you will. It was a mixed season. In one way we made progress in the league by finishing with a points total of 76, just 11 points behind the winners. This is well up on what we had last year and but for a bit of luck, some bad decisions and results like the brum draw where we didn't care, we could have been a lot closer to Utd. Utd won the league with 75 points in 1997. On the downside, we dropped a league placing from third to fourth, with Arsenal overtaking us. We had a good run in Europe and could have made the final. But injuries cost us domestically and in the champions league. As usual we had a bad spell, this time it was in Jan rather than our traditional November slump.

The defence performed well in Dagger's absence. Sami rolled back the years and Carra was great in Europe but not as good overall as he has been. Skrtel came in and did superbly. Insua made another impressive end of season cameo. More of that kind of thing.

In midfield the Monster Masch was monstrous. I wouldn't swap him for any midfielder. He is the best in the business at what he does. The solidity of our spine owes a lot to Javier. Himself and Xabi formed a solid base for Stevie to break from. This worked superbly well in the second half of the season and I expect us to continue in this formation next year.

The forwards were a mixed bunch. Babel was superb at times, like his Arsenal cameo, but looked a bit lost at others. A good debut season to build on but I would expect him to deliver on a more consistent basis next year. Kuyt started really badly after the death of his father in the summer. But since Christmas he improved playing the right sided role and scored crucial goals against Arsenal, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Everton. I love Kuyt but I fear we need somebody better in that role if we want to challenge for the title. When he's good, he's great but when he's bad, he's shocking.

Last summer we were blessed with the arrival of El Nino. He came to us form sunny Spain, he got the ball and scored again. And again and again and again. For a fee of £20m he proved an absolute bargain. He broke Ruud Van Nistelroy's record at Utd of scoring the most goals in a debut season with 24 league goals. Amazing. He went onto score 33 goals in all comps. Phenomenal. Give that the kid has just turned 24, there are many years left for him to improve. I think that the stability of coaching under Rafa has helped him improve his game. At Atleti he had a different coach every few months or every season which can't have been fun.
Where do we go from here? With a couple of decent buys this summer we might be able to put a title challenge together. But as long as the boardroom farce continues, I can't see us being focused on getting the right investment in the squad together. Utd and Chelsea have invested massively and we need to do likewise to get our first team and squad up to their level. So if Hicks is still with us in August, which looks likely, it'll probably be another season of third/fourth.

Player of the year: Torres, without doubt. The kid has been astounding. He's changed Liverpool, as you can see here.

Young player of the year: Babel did well for the first team but I'm going to go for Nemeth for the contribution he made to the reserves winning the league. I hope to see him getting a run out for the first team next season. This kid is going to be a star.

Game of the year: The champions league quarter final 4-2 win over Arsenal at Anfield. As dramatic as it gets.

Goal of the year: Fernando v Marseille. Watch and learn.

Best moment of the year: The comeback v Arsenal at Anfield. The ability of the youngsters and reserves to get a draw at the Emirates in the league was impressive. Beating Everton twice was good too.

Worst moment of the year: The Riise o.g. against Chelsea. Other than that I think we'd have made the final for the third time in four years. Thanks for the memories John. The "penalty" that Rob Styles awarded against us in the Chelsea match at Anfield in August was a sickener. The 3-0 loss to Utd at Old Toilet was terrible as was the 1-0 defeat to West Ham at Upton Park.

Signing of the year: Again with the Torres. The future's bright with the kid on board.

Our summer signings have begun and Phillip Degen, a 25 year old swiss right back, will be signing for free on the first of July.

Andreas Dossena of Udinese is being linked with filling the other full back birth. Apparently Capello rates him highly. The fee being talked about is somewhere between £6m-£8m.

Sammy Lee is thrilled to back working at Melwood. I think that he could be one of the most important signings we'll make this summer. Some of the older players were at the club when Sammy left in 2004 and he seems to be well respected. There is no doubt that Pako's departure last autumn cost us in terms of stability and planning.

Tom Hicks has been hit by the credit crunch. Does that mean that he'll be more likely to sell to DIC? Maybe not. I fear that we'll be stuck with this fool for sometime yet.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spurs suffer

And so another season draws to a close. A 2-0 win away from home has to be taken in the context of the fact that neither team had anything to play for. Voronin got a rare goal. Torres scored again to make it 24 goals in the league. Other than that there wasn't too much to mention. It was good to see Insua make another start. I'm hoping that he is going to get a go next season what with Riise heading off in the summer.

Torres goal haul deserves some praise. In scoring 24 league goals in his debut season, he's surpassed the previous record held by none other than Ruud Van Nistelroy. Let's hope that he can improve on it next season. You can see all 33 of his goals scored in all competitions here. Torres says that the fans and the players have helped him to adapt to life in England. The Echo confirms what we already knew, that the Chelsea bid is bullshit. Never believe a story that originates in Marca.

Sammy Lee is in talks to take over as Assistant Manager.

Gerrard wants a title challenge. He's not alone there.

Lawro thinks that it's about time that we sorted out the ownership saga. It's not often that I agree with him but I'm going to change the habit of a lifetime here.

I'm going to do a season review post sometime soon but I won't be doing many post for the next while. If there are major transfers then I'll have a look then but I'm going to try and avoid doing the transfer roundups every five minutes.

Enjoy the good weather.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Home finale

I'm very late with my post this week. The weather in Dublin has been great and I got a bit distracted by the sunshine and sights of the city. Maybe my passion for football was drained somewhat by the champions league exit. This is the first time that our season has been effectively over by the end of April under Rafa. Hopefully it won't happen again.
The city match was our last game at Anfield this season. As is the case on these days, the players take their families with them on a lap of the pitch. The funniest part of the day was seeing the two young Carraghers chase each other from end to end. With that kind of work rate and courage, I say stick them in the first team next season, alongside their Dad. The team of Carraghers that we all dream of may not be that far away.

The game itself was nothing spectacular. We played some nice football in the second half and could have scored a couple more. Kuyt was unlucky to hit the bar. Babel could have helped himself to a few. Hart made a great save from a Gerrard strike. When it did come it was courtesy of Torres. He latched onto Dirks flick and beat the defender before slipping it between the keepers legs. Another Fernando classic. That makes it 23 in the league now. Not bad for a player who was said to be unprolific. It was good to see Insua get his chance at left back.

It's Spurs at White Heart Lane this Sunday. Niether team have anything much to play for so I expect it to be fairly drab, as the city game was. We may get to see some more of the youngsters which might make it worth watching. It would be great to see Nemeth get a few mins after the class he's shown with the reserves this season.

Gary Ablett's reserve side won the league final 3-0 against Villa. It's a great result for them and is even more pleasing given the fact that they are such a young team. We've seen Insua, Lucas and Plessis make first team appearances this year and maybe we'll see Nemeth

We've launched a £10m bid for Gareth Barry according to to the liverpool post, but we're facing competition from Arsenal who're trying to replace Flamini. Crouch may go the other way but wages are an issue. Does Barry mean that Xabi is on his way back to eSpain, or maybe Italy? One website has him linked with a move to Juve. But Rafa says that Xabi's going nowhere. Rafa's going to have to add to the back room staff as Alex Miller is off to Japan. Sammy Lee is the front runner at the moment.

We are being linked with a move for Aaron Ramsey of Cardiff. Steve Claridge is a fan but he's an idiot so I wouldn't take much notice of that. Spurs and Utd are after him too apparently. We tried to sign him for £1m last summer but no dice. A young Polish defender called Lukasz Kominiak has been on trial with the club for the last few days. Rafa does love to sign a few 18 year old centre halves every summer.

This is a fairly shameful story, but it's hardly surprising at this stage. I always liked Pongolle and I think that he could have been a good squad player and impact sub for us. But he wanted to play every week and has done really well for Recreativo Huelva over the past two years and is linked to a move to Valencia and Atletico. On this evidence, I doubt he'll be choosing Atletico.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A bridge too far

I used this post title after the final in Athens but I think that it's more appropriate now after losing at Stamford Bridge. We gave it everything but came up short. We were rubbish in the first half but better in the second. Chelsea deserved it over 120 mins but over the two legs we were probably the better team but that's football. Fair play to Chelsea, they took their chances last night and made us pay, which we didn't in the first leg. I hope they go on and beat Utd in the final.

Injuries cost us badly in both legs. Aurelio's led to Riise coming on last week and we all know what happened there. This time Skrtel took a knock after 20 mins and had to make way for Sami. This was a huge blow as Skrtel did an amazing job on Drogba last week and looked to be doing the same this time. He was able to match Didier for pace and power, not something many defenders can say. Carragher performed his usual heroics at the back. Sami has been superb for us this year and did his best last night. But he was caught out for the peno he conceded. At the other end he should have had a penalty himself when he was tackled as he slalomed his way though the Chelsea box, like a Finnish downhill skier. Maybe he should have gone down ala Drogba when he felt the contact. The ref seemed to be about to give the penalty as he stepped forward and put his whistle to his lips but then he changed his mind for some reason. Bizarre.

Yossi did really well to set up El Nino's goal. He was quiet for most of the match and struggled a bit being up against the amazing Essien. But that one run justified his inclusion. He's a handy squad player but I doubt that he'll ever be first choice. It was unfortunate that Torres picked up a hamstring strain and had to come off for Babel towards the end. Babel showed what he's capable of with a great strike from distance which even Cech couldn't save. It was 3-2 at that stage and we gave it our all but it wasn't enough, despite Babel's goal. I expect him to come on next season and deliver on a more consistent basis. He has the talent.

Lampard really impressed me last night. I wouldn't be his biggest fan but to take the responsibility and step up to deliver like he did last night was incredible. As anyone who's suffered a personal loss like that will know, it's hard to keep your mind on the job. I wouldn't begrudge him the win.

We were told beforehand that Liverpool under Rafa were incapable of scoring at Stamford Bridge. Despite that we got two goals. Unfortunately we conceded three. Many in the press predicted a boring game. It was anything but and 5 goals on the night and seven in the tie showed that both teams were committed to attacking. Stevie is proud of the way we played, as am I. So is Rafa.
Our remaining league games seem like an after thought and an irrelevance. Man City visit Anfield this weekend. The only notable aspect is that we may see the likes of Insua, Plessis and Nemeth getting game time. Other than that I can see it being dull. Both teams have nothing to play for and will be more or less on holidays. It could be Sven's second last game in charge so they may be more up for it than usual.

Rafa is looking to the future. It's clear that we need to make a few signings during the close season and I'm sure that we'll be linked to every player under the sun. I would imagine that Rafa will want to get some of his business done now, before the euro championships, when prices can get inflated.

No doubt we'll have to put up with the ownership soap opera over the summer. There are some reports in the Liverpool press that The Dubai investment could be by the Sheikh himself, rather than DIC. That could be good news as it would mean there was less emphasis on making a profit in the short term.