Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ins, outs and goal droughts

Despite the media hype before hand, there weren't any fireworks on the pitch or off the pitch at Villa Park on Sunday. Rafa and O'Neil, the mortal enemies since their Gareth Barry tug of love, managed to shake hands without stabbing or head butting each other. The game itself was without major incident too. Both defences were on top and once Torres came off we looked a lot more toothless. On the plus side, our full backs Dossena and Arbleoa did well in keeping the pacy Villa attackers Young and Agbonlahor quiet. Keane did well enough and linked well with N'Gog and the team. He could and should have done better when he was put through on Friedal. He waited slightly too long before taking his shot which gave Reo Coker time to get back and tackle him. On another day he would have gotten a peno for it. I think that his confidence is lacking somewhat and once he gets a goal or two he'll be putting chances like that away again without thinking too much about it.

This is really bad news. Given Torres hamstring and Gerrard's groin, I think we're going to struggle badly against Utd at Anfield. I would be very surprised if either of them are fit in time for the game.
The Mirror provide some trial by youtube evidence on Albert Riera. He flew to Merseyside on Friday for a medical and it was tied up today before the transfer window deadline for an initial £5.5m. Given that Parry is in charge of negotiations, I was a bit worried that there might be a last minute hitch. Ballague gives a rundown of Riera's abilities on his blog. A lightly less high profile is 18 year old brazilian striker Vitor Flora who has signed from Botafogo. Cue many margarine puns. I wouldn't stoop that low (low) on red in Dublin.

As expected while there were arivals, there were also departures. High fiving Riera and Flora in John Lennon airport were Steve Finan and Andre Voronin. Finnan leaves for the sunny catalan climes of Barcelona as he's signed a 2 year deal with Espanyol. I hope he enjoys a beautiful city and does well for it's second club. I really like Finnan and he gave us great service over the past few years. But he fell down the pecking order towards the end of last season and was told he could leave this summer. Most reds will be happy to hear that Voronin is off to Hertha Berlin on a season long loan. Despite a few stunning goals in pre season this year and last, he wasn't of the level required for LFC. One player who won't be leaving is Xabi, despite a late £14m bid from Arsenal. We would be mad to sell him considering that we didn't get Barry. It looks like Pennant will be staying too as he didn't fancy a £5m move to Stoke. Maybe a loan deal will be agreed at some point.

The stadium news was as disappointing as it was predictable. If the banks won't give these fools anymore money then surely their game is up? If they can't borrow to build the stadium, and don't have the cash to fund it either, then their project is dead in the water. They have no chance of getting the £1billion Hicks wants without a complete stadium. I hope this all hastens their departure and the arrival of DIC and the Sheikh.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dirk delivers

We don't like to do it the easy way, do we? That was too close for comfort. I thought that we'd batter them after the first leg where they were great. As it happened we were only marginally better and they were marginally worse. Even though we had almost three quarters of the possession, we didn't do a whole lot with it. Babel did well when he came on and beat the right full to put a far post into Kuyt who stuck it away. That's 9 goals in his last 15 champions league matches. Astounding record considering he was playing on the wing and his poor league record last year. But it was all he did last night as he was terrible. He wasn't the only one. Most of the team was poor bar Pepe and the defence. Arbeloa wasn't great. Gerrard didn't look fit which makes his sense given his groin op today. Honorable mention goes to El Zahr who looked lively when he came on. The ref somehow failed to give him a peno when he was taken down in the box. Between that decision and the pen given against us which was a yard outside the box in the first leg, we didn't have great luck with the officials. But despite all that, we're through. Cheers Dirk.

Our Olympians will return for the Villa match and we'll need them with Gerrard out for 2 weeks with a groin op. Here they are flanking scouse Olympic boxing medal winner David Price. I expect to see Javier slot in beside Xabi for the trip to Villa Park. It's going to be a tough one, despite their shock defeat to Stoke last weekend. O'Neil will have them fired up against his number one Rafa. Young and Agbonlahor can cause us problems with their pace. Carra at right back perhaps?

The Riera deal isn't done yet but I expect it to be completed shortly according to what's knocking around in the media. An initial £6.5m will be followed by £1.5m in add ons depending on appearances and success. This is a lot better deal than the £16m they had been looking for earlier this summer. Everton bid close to £12m which was turned down because the player only had eyes for us and would you blame him? On last nights evidence, maybe.

Gareth Barry to sign a cut price deal next summer perhaps? He's staying at Villa for now but won't discuss a new contract for 12 months, at which point he'll only have a year left on his current deal.

Thanks to Dirk we made it through to the CL draw today. Unfortunately we got a pretty tough draw. We drew arguably the easiest team possible from pot 2 in PSV but 2 of the hardest teams from pot 3 and 4 in Marseille and Atletico Madrid. PSV we've beaten comfortably in the last few seasons and I'd expect us to do so again. Marseille gave us loads of problems last year and beat us at home. We made up for it by dominating them in the Velodrome in the final group match. Atletico Madrid will be difficult. In Sergio Aguero they have one of the most exciting young talents in the game, one who Rafa tried to sign form Independiente. I would imagine that El Nino is glad that he gets to make a homecoming and I'm sure he'll receive a hero's welcome. I reckon it'll be a bittersweet victory for him if we win in the Calderon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another string to our bow?

Only 6 points from a possible 6? Rafa out. That is entirely unacceptable for a club the size of Liverpool. I blame Rafa's rotation and zonal marking. If it wasn't for his bizarre policies then we'd be higher up the table, eh? Oh. Nice one Rafa, I take it all back.

All Joking aside, that was close. Listening to the match on the radio, I feared it was going to be another case of what might have been. When Boro went in front, I expected a draw. When Jamie leveled, I was relieved but didn't think we'd have enough time to nab a winner. How wrong I was. I'm sure that Lawro, in his lancastrian accent, would have said "'ey, 'ang on a minute, we can win this". I should have known that we had an ace in the hole. Stevie decided that one point wasn't enough. The only result he'd settle for was a win. What a man? When the chips are down and somebody needs to step up, invariably he does.

Mike (Manc) Reily is a right wanker, and didn't help the situation at all today. Winning ugly was something distinctly lacking in our armoury last year. We drew 13 matches last year, the joint highest in the top 10. What we needed was to convert some of those 1 points into 3, especially when not playing well. That's what appears different so far this year. A new string to our bow? I know it's early days, too early to be making sweeping statements, but we could have easily drawn that and dropped two points and Sunderland could have been the same. We didn't offer up champagne football but we got the result which I'll take for now. If we keep winning, the performances will come, especially when Mascherano returns.
Between Stevie, Fernando and hopefully Babel and Keane, we have a number of match winners in the side. The first two have won matches so far this season. I expect Babel to be eased in after his sub appearance today and start some matches soon. Keane still looks like he's getting used to us and us to him. Patience is called for and should be given unreservedly. He's proven that he's a quality premiership player over many years. Anybody questioning him is being ridiculously knee-jerky about it. Give him time and hell deliver. Keane did provide some evidence that his understanding with Torres is starting to develop.

Aurelio did very well when he came on today. Good sub by Rafa. Dossena is settling and improving but I expect there to be healthy competition from Aurelio as long as Aurelio stays fit. Otherwise Insua should be knocking on the door. Right back seems to be Arbeloa's for now with Degan struggling for fitness and Steve Finnan in limbo. Funny that. I thought the Catholic church had decommissioned it a few years ago. I'll be sad to see Finnan go but I fear it's very likely to happen at this stage. Villa and West Ham have been linked.

Liege on Wednesday won't be a walkover but we should be able to handle them at Anfield. They can't be as good as they were at home and we can't be as bad as we were in Belgium. Fingers crossed.

Tony Barrett says that Riera is back on the agenda now that Barry move looks dead in the water. But Sky also suggest that Everton might sneak in ahead of us with a £12m bid for Riera. Balague, being an Espanyol fan, has seen a lot of Riera and rates him highly. He does suggest that he's the type of player who needs an arm around his shoulder so maybe his confidence is a bit fragile. I don't know if that's the kind of player who'd thrive under Rafa who can be stand offish. Barrett also says that Rafa never really considered resigning.

Hughie McAuley is excited by the capture of a young keeper called Deale Chamberlin. He used to play for Villa but has now seen the light.

It sounds like our Danish community could be on rise. To add to Danny Agger (snakes on a dane) and the boy Savic, we've targeted a young midfielder called Mathias Jorgensen.

Riise had some glowing comments about Liverpool ahead of the Norway v Ireland friendly this week. I reckon he's a fan for life which is good to hear. I think that he's a decent chap but just wasn't good enough for us anymore. Despite his faults, many faults, he had some great games for us and played important role in many of the trophies we've won. But it was time for us and him to move on.

Montse speaks. She sounds like a lovely woman. I'd say she has it tough putting up with Rafa's football obsession. It's great to hear a bit more from the man himself about his life and ideas.

Some talk online is linking us to the newest of new Zidanes. Sofiane Feghouli is an 18 year old attacking midfielder and has been lighting it up with Grenoble. Another french kid being linked is Darnel Situ-Buyence at Lens. We'll have to fight off Utd and Portsmouth to land the 17 year old.

Rick and Rafa have kissed and made up according to Tony Barrett. Hopefully that's the end of matters of the pitch for now, but somehow I doubt it. Barrett also tells us that Rafa turned down a £2.5m bid from Stoke for Sami. He's a bit of a legend so I'd like him to get his testimonial.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chemistry and alchemy

Gentlemen, start your engines.

And we're off. To a sluggish start, it must be said. But this was never going to be an easy match and we got three points away from home against a much improved Sunderland. I can see them troubling other big teams at the stadium of light this year. We were poor enough in the first half but were much improved when Xabi came on for Plessis and created some good chances. First game of the season is all about result. 3 points, job done. United only drawing at home makes it an even better weekend.

That man Nando did it again. His "difficult second season" hasn't started too badly. "If only he could do it away from Anfield" was the incredibly begrudging moan coming from some quarters last season. 24 league goals in his first season wasn't enough for some people. Too many times in recent years we've drawn games when we should have won. But when you have world class talent like el nino in your squad, anything is possible. He used his alchemical skills to turn a leaden one point into a golden three. He could have had another one when Keane blocked his shot. Their chemistry will improve given more time together. I don't think Nando looks at top form and may be a bit rusty over the next few weeks. If he can score goals like that while he's rusty, we can look forward to some more magic when he's back to his best.

Here's an interview with Nando and Setanta man of the match Xabi Alonso. I really hope that we don't sell Alonso. He played well when he came on at half time. There are games where he doesn't have as big an impact as he should but they're rare. He adds so much vision and composure to the team that I think he's almost always worth his place. His effort from inside his own half yesterday showed the genius that he possesses again. Besides all that, he seems to be an absolute gentleman. Please don't sell him Rafa. Chris Bascombe reckons he wants out.

Tony Barrett in the echo has an interesting analysis of the season, focusing on matters off the pitch. Let's hope boardroom wrangling don't adversely effect our season, wishful thinking, I'm afraid. Balague reckons that Rafa nearly quit over the Barry saga when the yanks pulled out of paying the £18m. But then Rafa rang Balague to say he's not quitting. I like Balague but I don't reckon he knows quite as much as he lets on to know. Some of his predictions are way off.

The Daily Mail is linking us to Valero of Real Mallorca. We've been linked to him before, as far as I remember. Tony Mowbray of West Brom is also after him so we've no chance, clearly.

Check out Digger Barnes at the top of the pile. When he does his thing the crowd go bananas.

What do we expect from the rest of the season, starting with Middlesbrough visiting Anfield on Saturday? We should beat Boro at home. Boro aren't a bad side, as Spurs found out yesterday. I'm hoping the Keane can score on his home debut. It'd be a great way for him to settle in. If we get a peno, he should take it.

While I don't think we would have been out of the title race had we lost yesterday, I don't think we're favourites or guaranteed to nab no.19 because we beat the mackems. It's easy to react with a knee jerk after a good/bad result. I'll try to resist and keep the tiller on a happy medium. I really expect a title challenge. Unfortunately I fear it'll be an unsuccessful one. I predicted 2nd last year and am going to make the same prediction this time around. Many fans would be happy us to see us in the mix up at around Easter time. I would hope that we can push all the way but I think one of Utd or Chelsea will beat us to the prize. As I've said before, I don't see us winning under the Americans.

Rafa feels this is his best squad ever and I'm inclined to agree. With the addition of Keane, we now have three match winners. This should help a lot against packed defenses as they'll have to try and mark, Gerrard, Torres and Keane. Plus Babel could step it up and maybe become a fourth match winner. I think we're very well stocked in defence with Agger back, Dossena slotting in at left back and the sale of an error prone Riise. Midfield has loads of quality options and is as strong as any in the league. We're well stocked up front too. The only area that we're weak in is wide attackers. I don't say wingers, as we don't play with wingers. Kuyt did well at times on the right and Babel did the same on the left last year but neither delivered consistently. This is an area in which Rafa may try to strengthen over the next few weeks. Gerrard may play on the right in some games, and is very effective there, as we've seen in previous seasons.

It's great to have football back. How did we manage over the past few weeks since the euros ended? The drought is over, let's enjoy the deluge over the next 9 months.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sub standard

0-0 last night and a terrible game. We were shit. Pepe was one of the few to take any credit out of the match by saving a peno. We looked slow, sloppy and nervy. We can and will have to play much much better than that against Sunderland and in the second leg against Liege.

This is Anfield continue their excellent Kop Star series with a feature on Gerardo Bruna. The new Messi? Read it to find out but I'll give you a hint: probably not.

Reports in Germany suggest that we're after Dortmunds Polish right winger Jakub Blaszczykowski and we're going to bid €8m for him. I can't say that I know much about him.

Xabi played last night which surely means that he's staying now. Only a team outside the champions league would be interested in him now and there aren't too many of those who could afford him. Looks like Barry deal is dead too. He played for Villa in the Uefa cup tonight so I can't see him signing for us anytime before next summer. I reckon our business for the summer could be done as a result of this.

The BBC give a run down of our new signings here. Will there be one more before the end of the window? There's been rumours of a Joe Cole bid this week. While I think he'd be a good addition, I can't see a scenario where Chelsea would let him join us. As with most transfer stories in the summer, it's probably bullshit.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

There may be trouble ahead, part 3?

This is very worrying. The fact that Xabi is staying and Barry isn't signing for £18m doesn't bother me much. I love Xabi and am thrilled he's staying. Would have been terrible to see him in an Arsenal shirt. IF he plays this Wed then he's definitely staying. I do rate Barry and think he would have done well for us but £18m is a lot of cash. But the worrying part of this deal is the fact that it appears the owners aren't willing to back Rafa over this. Back him or sack him is my view. If they are vetoing certain signings then we're going down a perilous path. Do they think they know more than Rafa about football now? I hope Rafa doesn't walk over this. There is some DIC talk again but I'll believe that when I see it.

Analysis of the win over Vallerenga here. The scoresheet was the same as the Rangers match with Torres, Yossi, Xabi and Ngog on target. Xabi's was the pick of the bunch for me.

The Lazio match wasn't quote as goal filled. Voronin came off the bench to score the winner in the 89th minute at Anfield. That should help with putting him in the shop window. I don't think that he's good enough, and should be sold but the booing of him as he came on the pitch was a disgrace. I'm never in favour of booing our own players. But fairplay to the lad, he came on and struck a fantastic goal. He shushed the kop for his celebration and I think he was spot on to do so.

Rafa is happy with the progress that Ngog has made in fitting in with the squad. His goals against Rangers and Valarenga will have helped him settle. In the same report, Tony Barrett says that Rafa doesn't want to sell Yossi to Roma, despite what Spaletti has been saying.

Looks like the boy Brouwer might be off to Utrecht on loan. I suppose it makes sense as he won't be anywhere near the first team this season. I have a feeling that he'll end up permanently back in Holland sooner or later.

The Hungarian contingent at Anfield looks to be on the rise. Otikba Kenneth is a 17 year old centre half and will be singing from Bekescsaba this week according to the mirror.