Sunday, November 30, 2008

Liverpool slip up - to the top

If I were Benitez I would be asking myself, what more do you want? We're a point clear at the top of the table. Before the season we were tipped to be the club to finish 5th by many pundits. Yet we lead the league and there were boos at Anfield last night. Tough crowd.

We created chances here but again failed to finish them off. This has been the problem against unambitious teams at home this year. They are well within their rights to play for a point, but we've made it too easy for them by not being clinical enough. Sami went very close with some headers and they cleared off the line twice. Green was in superb form and made some amazing saves. The ref and linesman seemed to ignore multiple handball offences from the left back which didn't help. If there's one area that we lack in, it's breaking down a packed defence. Often we have to rely on a moment of magic from Torres or Gerrard.

Rafa called on the team to show no fear. It's a fair point as we've looked nervous in quite a few of our recent matches. He's implored the fans to be supportive and patient. He obviously noticed it against OM, as I did sitting in the Main stand. The start of the match had a good atmosphere but it deteriorated in the second half and was flat by the end. The booing at the end of the West Ham took this to another level. Best fans in the world? Not in my book. Gerrard says they deserve a title. I hope it gets delivered.Rafa took time out to back Keane today. He's having a hard time of it at the moment but his on pitch moaning when he gets subbed isn't doing him any favours. Any player who isn't performing at a big club can expect to be subbed. Look at the Man Utd striker situation.

The victory over Marseille was achieved at a cost. Both Torres and Aurelio are out for a few weeks. We'll definitely miss El Nino. It's a chance for other players to step up. We'll need them to take the opportunity. Dossena did just that and was great last night. He had by far his best game for us and delivered dangerous crosses all game. If only some of the players could have got on the end of them. The news that Xabi is committing his future to the reds is a relief. Hopefully that is the end of the Barry story.

Blackburn are in poor form so we would really wanting to be doing them at Ewood park on Saturday. But then again, West Ham and Fulham had terrible away form when they came to Anfield and they both got draws out of it. I reckon we really need to improve on breaking down a packed defence. That is the one area where Arsenal, Chelsea and Utd are well ahead of us. Too often, we have to rely on a moment of magic from Torres or Gerrard to make the breakthrough.

Zola spoke of his respect for Carragher in the pre match press conference. I loved Zola as a player. I hope he does well in management except when he plays us.

I've heard the name Zuculini a few times recently. He's a young Argentine midfielder that ourselves and Utd are supposed to be after. One player who won't be arriving at Anfield is Michael Owen. Rafa ruled out a move this week. I don't think it would be a smart move considering his injuries and wages.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mission accomplished

I know how to pick them don't I? That was a boring match to chose for my first game at Anfield this year. A 1-0 win assured qualification for the next round but it wasn't a game that will live long in my memory. Nice goal but a terrible performance.

The manager described the second half as scary. No argument. As has happened a few times this year, we should have put them away when we were dominant, and when we didn't get the killer second goal, we sat back and let them back into the game. It didn't help that Xabi and Javier were off form and didn't control the midfield as they usually do. Both players misplaced quite a few passes which is uncharacteristic.

Rafa has a few injury headaches ahead of the West Ham game on Monday. Torres and Aurelio are out for a few weeks. Dossena will come in at left back and will have to improve on his recent performances. Robbie will fill in for El Nino up top. It's going to be a good opportunity to get a run of games and establish himself. I'm hoping that he takes it with both hands.

Benitez is happy that Gerrard didn't react when hit by a lighter from the Marseille fans. Oli Kay in the times looks back at the captains 10 years since he made his debut as a sub against Blackburn.

Rafa says he expects to see more from Babel this season. We all do. He has so much talent that it'll be a crime if he doesn't make it. I think Rafa should give him more starts.

Tony Barrett in the Echo explores the academy and it's recent lack of first class graduates. Everton have had much more success then we have in recent times.

It appears as if Gerrard has taken up one the pastimes of the landed gentry, albeit with a LFC slant. Good ad.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Opportunity cost

I hate to say it, but I think that Rafa missed a trick yesterday. With Chelsea and Utd being held to draws in winnable games, we could have gone two points clear if we beat Fulham. It was a fantastic opportunity, one which is unlikely to come along too often this season. Rafa knows we messed up. I think the decision to start Lucas alongside Mascherano backfired. The service from the pair of them wasn't good enough to feed the strikers. When they did get the ball, they didn't take the chances. I know Xabi played for Spain this week, and may have been tired or carrying a knock, but we really missed his invention, especially with Gerrard out injured.

The boss will have to get the squad over it in time for the Marseille match on Wed. It isn't a formality but it's not a do or die match either. Atleti and LFC are pretty much qualified. It's just a case of who will finish top and get the easier draw in the last 16. Hopefully we can knock a few past Marseille and get revenge for them beating us at Anfield last season. This match is going to be my first trip to the hallowed turf of L4 this season and I'm quite excited about attending a champions league game there.

Xabi's current form is drawing plaudits. Rafa was gushing in his praise for the Basque midfielder after the Bolton game. This is back up with his best form ever in my view.

Rafa and I are of the same mind on ground share. I think this has only re entered the public domain as the Americans are experiencing funding difficulties at the moment. If they are bought out then I'm hoping that will the end of that and construction will begin in earnest. I don't think ground share is an option as both clubs and both sets of fans are against it.

Arbeloa is being linked with Atletico. I've been impressed with him over the last few years even though he has had a few poor matches. Get it sorted and give him a new contract Parry.

It sounds like Voronin would be happy to stay in Germany, if the money is right. I don't think that there will be any tears shed on Merseyside if that comes to pass.

Skrtel has said confirmed that he's happy in England and not looking to move back to Russia. There were claims earlier in the week that he hadn't settled. His recovery from injury seems to be coming along nicely. Rafa is going to have some tough decisions to make when he's fully fit.

Football 365 have an article on Aldo. He was always a favourite of mine growing up as he was Irish and Red. Here he is in action along with the class of 88, from before Sky invented football in 1992.

Friday, November 14, 2008

No place is safe

Megson was tipping us for the league before the match. After that win we've moved inches closer, but we're still miles away. We're jumping all of the hurdles being put in front of us but there's much of the race yet to be won.

A 2-0 away win sounds routine, and it was. We created a whole host of chances and could have won 6-2. Gerrard, Lucas, Torres and Keane all missed glaring chances to put a gloss on the victory. Thankfully, deadly Dirk struck again and Gerrard headed a fine goal after a sublime cross from substitute Torres. Dirk had another superb game to continue his fine form this season. He took his goal fantastically well, a header from a great Aurelio cross, and saw a venomous shot crash back off the bar. Nicely done Dirk.

Rafa wants the squad to know that nobody is guarenteed a place. That includes Fernando Torres. The battle for a starting spot is really heating up. Nando will have to fight for a place when he returns from International duty. Let's hope he doesn't get injured this time. Gerrard won't be joining up with England as he's injured.

Once the tedium of a midweek international friendly is over, Fulham will be making their way to Anfield. We've a decent record over them in recent years and they tend not to do as well on the road. After that it's Marseille in L4. I'm really looking forward to the game as I'm making my first pilgrimage of the season and it'll be my first european game at the old ground. Can't wait.

Rafa has begun contract talks which is great news. Pennant looks to be on his way out of the club in January. To Bolton perhaps? A former target, Gareth Barry, is being linked with a move to Spurs now. Given the way Xabi has been playing, I hope we don't revive our interest.

Paul Tomkins on the official site has an interesting article on transfers and how long it can take for players to settle and deliver. He has a great list of players who were labeled flops but went on to be huge successes. It should be required reading for those who are writing off Robbie Keane already. A mate of mine told me that "it will all end in tears". I hope and predict that he'll be wrong.

Man Utd fan and former shareholders united member Keith Harris is predicting financial doom for us and advises a ground share with Everton.

Another Man Utd fan, the incredibly nerdy and boring Bill Edgar in the Times, says that we won't sustain a title challenge as we don't have the strength in depth. Has anybody else noticed how much better the Game podcast is this season now that he's been fired from it? Boring fool.

Ian Doyle in the post focuses on the academy and the rift between it and Melwood. This has been discussed by others like Dave Usher on the Liverpool way. It is a bit worrying and would be great if it gets sorted.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

We need to talk about Andrea

Rafa felt the time was right to unleash his sinister rotation policy on the Carling cup. I saw this on a Liverpool forum and thought it was perfect. The boss used the opportunity of the Spurs match to bench some of the top players like Stevie, who needs a rest according to Rafa. Unfortunately, the reserves and fringe players took their opportunity with both hands - to show us that they're not good enough. It's only the carling cup so it doesn't hurt much but it's annoying to see the team perform so badly.

Agger said it wasn't good enough. He's not wrong. Not impressed with Dossena. But given how highly the Italians and Don Fabio himself rate him, there must be more to him than we've seen so far. But he has been fairly shit so far. I thought he was gradually improving but he was rubbish last night, as was Degen. If Arbeloa or Aurelio gets injured, which is quite likely in the latter case, we could be in trouble. Insua looks a better bet than Dossena at the moment. Maybe Dossena will go on to prove us wrong, or maybe Rafa will see he's not working here and cut his losses, as he did with Morientes and Josemi, and sell him in the summer.
The problem Rafa now faces is who to select against at right back against Bolton as Arbeloa is suspended. The options appear to be, play right back Degen or Darby, or move Carragher across from the centre and bring Sami in the middle, alongside Agger. The latter is more likely I reckon. If we go for option a, we can expect Bolton to put Davies on Degen/Darby and launch and aerial bombardment. If we have Carra out there then he'd be well able for it. Hopefully Torres will benefit from the run out and look sharper on Sat morning. We should have more than enough to batter them.

The A Liverpool thing blog has a feature on Fracisco Duran. Insert your own 80's joke here.

Riera has discussed the Spanish players and their use of English. Rafa seems very insistent on this and rightfully so. Speaking of Rafa, Stan Collymore doesn't think that Rafa deserves a new contract. Stan for manager. Tool.

Torres has reiterated that he has no desire to move anywhere else. He's a committed red and is staying here for a long time to come. Great news.

Investment banker Keith Harris reckons that the Americans may be forced to sell in January. Let's hope he's right.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dublin double downs Bagies

Robbie's happy. Rafa's happy. The fans are happy after watching this. Back on top of the league and all is rosy in the red half of Merseyside.

Well done Keane lad. It's been a long time coming but two quality strikes from Robert gave us a glimpse of what's to come from him. We all knew that the talent was there and that the goals would follow sooner or later. It was a little bit later than I'd have liked but he had been playing well and setting up goals for others, while not scoring himself. He looked really up for it on Sat, even before he scored. Once the first went in, he got hungry for more. Gerrard fed him with a beautiful ball for the first goal. I would imagine that he was slightly disappointed to be subbed when on two goals but Torres needs game time and we know team comes first for Rafa.

So we're back on top with Chelsea. I had hoped that Blackburn might take something from them but that was always unlikely I suppose. Utd betting beaten by Arsenal was great news. They're 8 points off the top now which is significant, but not insurmountable.

It's Carling cup this week which always gets the pulses racing. Spurs will be up for it to try and maintain the momentum they've built up in the league. I expect we'll see some of the kids on reserves on display so we might be heading for a beating. As is always the case with the domestic cups, to win a bonus but to lose is never a disaster.It appear that Torres and Babel were busy while they were out injured. They've both opened business in Clapham, south London. Fine entrepreneurs.

Alonso is once again being linked with a move, this time Valencia are said to be the club sniffing around. He's been superb this season so I hope that Rafa decides to keep him at Anfield.

Dossena is unhappy with his own form. I do think there is room for improvement there but he has being showing signs of a gradual upturn in recent weeks. The left back spot is up for grabs now if he or Aurelio can put a consistent run of form together.

Rafa thinks Maradona will make the correct choice in giving Mascherano the armband. The legend himself visited Melwood on Fri and all of the players got their photos taken with him. No sign of those snaps anywhere yet.

El Zhar scored a fantastic goal for the reserves in a 2-1 defeat to City this week. Nathan Ecclestone scored a hat trick for the u-18s when they beat Bolton 5-0. Their next game is against City.

Kerrison, the young Brazilian striker, is being linked to us again. I don't know anything much about this kid bar hearing Tim Vickery talking about him on the BBC 5live world football phone in.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just deserts?

A late goal which turns a loss into a draw can feel like a win. That was the case here. We couldn't make our early dominance pay, they scored and we god lucky with the equaliser. It keeps us joint top of the group which is the bottom line. If we can out score them in the remaining matches against PSV and Marseille, we'll go through as group winner. Either way, it's going to be LFC and Atleti.

The ref had a bit of a stinker. Besides the controversial penalty at the end, he missed two earlier hand balls which could have made it a lot easier for us. But these things happen I suppose. Atletico had a few claims of their own. They were very lucky that we didn't hammer them in the first match so maybe the luck evened out a bit here with us getting a soft peno.

We could and should have won it given the amount of chances we created. Agger alone could have had a hat trick. Robbie Keane had a good chance following an amazing Alonso pass but his shot was wide. Robbie also had a good opportunity when 1 v 1 with Franco. Riera had a lovely volley which went narrowly wide. But our finishing was poor and they made us pay with a fantastic goal from Maxi, a good player, who we've been linked to in the past. After they took the lead, it was easier for Ateltico to sit back and hit us on the break with pace, like they did for the opener.

Rafa's happy enough that it was a peno. I'm not convinced. I think that there was contact but Gerrard definitely made the most of it. If it was given against us I would be pissed off. I can understand why Stevie did what he did but I don't condone it.

King Luis was looking forward to the match beforehand. He got a few minutes at the end and got to say a proper goodbye to the Kop, which he didn't get when he went to Atletico. The old song got a run out - Luis Garcia, he drinks sangria.
West Brom give us a good opportunity to get over the Spurs loss when they visit Anfield on Saturday. We really need a win here to get back on track. We may even have El Nino back. He was in the squad here but didn't make the bench. I think Rafa is right in not taking a chance on his fitness. Let him take his time and get properly fit.

Do these comments from Gillett sound like he's ready to sell or is it just more guff? The latter I fear.

Jorge "shit on a stick" Valdano says that Mascherano is possibly the best midfielder in the world. I love Javier.

New deals for Dirk and Agger. Andy Hunter in the Guardian has written an article on Kuyt's upturn in form this season. He didn't have his best game last night but by and large, he's been very good this year and deserves his place in the team.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

White heart pain

Ouch. That's gotta hurt. It does. Now I know how gooners felt after the 4-4 draw last week. Fairplay 'Arry and all that but we should have had this in the bag long before the end of the match. We hit the woodwork three times but didn't get the vital second goal. We aren't great at finishing teams off this season. By not establishing a 2 or 3 goals cushion, we give the opposition a chance to make a comeback. That was what happened here. I feel that if we had El Nino fit, he would have put at least one or two of the chances away. We were always going to suffer a poor result on the back of our best player being out. As it happened, we've managed to go on a fantastic run without him for most of the season so far.

Let's take stock. We're still joint top of the league, having beaten our two main rivals without our best player. That's more than almost every red would have hoped for at the start of the season. We've lost one game, not the league. Our next four games are West Brom, Bolton, Fulham and West Ham. Novembers have been black for us in the past but I'm hoping that we can move beyond that this year and get maximum points from those games to remain joint top, or better if Chelsea slip up.

Redknapp admits that they got lucky after being under the cosh for so long. I can't argue with him but it's a lot easier to be magnanimous after winning.

On the plus side, Torres should be back soon and we have a handy run of games coming up. Dossena had a good match and is slowly improving his form, although he should have done much better for the second goal. He has underwhelmed us so far but I hope he'll kick on to show us his Udinese and Italian international form in time. It was good to see Robbie and Dirk link up well for Dirks goal. He's scoring a lot more regularly this year which is great. Robbie still looks a little goal shy and seems reluctant to take on a shot at times. I know he was carrying a knock and the lone striker role doesn't suit him that much. Fernando back should help him by creating more space for him to exploit.

Let's see how the team can turn themselves around after the first defeat of the season, starting with Atleti on Tue. If we can beat them, which we should be able to, we'll be safe for the second round and almost guaranteed to top the group. Hopefully we'll see EL Nino get a few mins.

Oliver Kay in the TImes has a piece loking back at the team Rafa had on his first premiership game in charge against Spurs, over four years ago. The Guardian got five legends of yesteryear together to compare their teams to Rafa's.

Rafa wants to talk to Hicks and Gillett about a new contract. Don't blame him. Get it sorted you pair of pricks.