Monday, May 25, 2009

Season review - 86 reasons to be happy

At the start of the season I predicted a second place finish. How right I was. 86 points, 77 league goals, only 2 defeats and the best goal difference in the table. A record points total of 86 for a second place team in the premiership. This in itself is a reason to be happy. Unfortunately it wasn't enough Utd finished 4 points ahead with 90. The post mortem will say that we drew too many and there is some truth to that. 11 draws in unacceptable and I'm sure we'll improve on that next year. We can point to the refereeing errors like the stoke draw where a legitimate goal was ruled out and bad luck with the amount of times we hit the wood work. But a combination of inaccurate finishing, sloppy defending and injuries to key players cost us at times. If we had've converted three draws into wins or our two defeats to Spurs and Boro into wins then we would've reclaimed the title. If. Too many if's. We didn't do it despite playing some great football and we came up just short. 14 points out of 18 against the top four showed we could take on and beat our competition. Utd won the league despite performing poorly against the top 4. They won it because they were the best flat track bully's. We need to improve our ability to unlock a packed defence. If we do that more constantly then maybe we can go one step higher next year.It's hard to look beyond Gerrard when selecting a player of the season. He scored many amazing goals and was named football writers player of the season. John Giles on Newstalk agreed with the selection of Stevie and said that playing in the hole has brought the best out of him. Torres was good when played but missed too much of the season to be considered. Xabi had a great year, his best with us. The Kop love him and want him to stay here for many years yet. I would have him in second place for the year with Kuyt close behind him taking the bronze medal. I'm a huge fan of the Dutchman but will I had my doubts about him last year. But this season he's proved all of us wrong with his 12 league goals from open play and 8 assists, better than Rooney's return. From a right hand attacking spot that is a superb return and he fully justifies his selection. We can improve on Riera on the left but deadly Dirk will continue to be one of the first names in the team.

El Nino has signed a contract extension. There's been a big shake up with coaching staff. Gary Ablett has been released as have Hughie McAuley and Dave Shannon. Rafa is remoulding the academy and youth structure now that he has more control over the club structure with his new contract.

While there has been bad news off the pitch this week in relation to the accounts with soaring debts and no buyers interested, the guardian today suggest that it won't affect Rafa's budget and he'll still have £20m plus sales. But already he's s seen targets like Barry go to City which he won't be happy with. If it means Xabi is staying then I'm quite satisfied. Other targets could be missed out on like Pranjic who looks destined for Munich, Silva who's talking to Real Madrid and Glen Johnson who Chelsea want to buy, again.

Hertha Berlin didn't manage to secure Champions League football and won't be taking up their offer on Voronin. Javier has denied reports that he's off to FCB. Javi Martinez says he's up for a move to L4, but Atletico Bilbao say we haven't made an approach. Despite what Rafa is saying, the Alonso to Madrid rumours won't go away. If he does leave then maybe his fellow Basque will replace him. Babel has been told he can leave. I don't think it's a great surprise given how he's performed and the amount of time he's received this year. The South American press reckon that we've been everybody to the signing of Brazil u-17 star Zezinho. With a name like that, he's got to be good. Lavezzi is being linked by Setanta with Dossena going the other way. Juventus are also interested in the left back and it seems Rafa is willing to let him leave.

Sami's last minutes a red can be seen here. He'll be missed especially for his towering performance when we mashed the mans 4-1 in old toilet.

Red in Dublin is off on holidays for a few weeks to enjoy the Irish rain. I'll return if and when there's some decent transfer moves to report. In the meantime you can follow my updates on twitter. Keep it red.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sami signs off as reds slam Spurs

It's always sad when a legend leaves. So it was for Sami who left Anfield after 10 fantastic years. The friendly Finn made 464 appearances for the Reds and won just about every medal going bar the league. Rafa brought him on here in the dying minutes for Gerrard and he took the captains armband. He even had a header cleared off the line which would have been epic. You could see how much it meant to him when the players hoisted him shoulder high and the emotion of it got to him . I respect his decision to go and play but I hope that he'll return to join the coaching staff when he's finished in Germany.

The game itself almost seemed of secondary importance to Sami's swansong. Torres opened the scoring with a fine header from a Kuyt cross. Deadly Dirk took the second but was helped with a large deflection off Hutton. Yossi rounded off the goals with a cheeky effort. He has such quick feet that players buy his feints and dummies but now that he has a few months of form and confidence behind him, they are coming off and he has become extremely deadly. Keane scored a consolation goal for Spurs and didn't celebrate which was nice to see. It didn't work out for him at Anfield but I don't have any ill feelings towards him. He was the wrong buy but that's not his fault. Maybe if he'd scored more he'd still be here but I doubt it. I think he took away from our best XI rather than added to it.

Gaz Baz continues to be linked with a move to L4 just as consistantly as Alonso is being linked with a return to Spain. Rafa was asked about it post match and said:

"Xabi has three years on his contract and we're really pleased with him. We do not want to sell. He is not for sale. He says he's happy here in Liverpool. He says it to you in every single interview and press conference."

Oliver Kay in the Times reckons that we're going to open formal negotiations with Tevez after the champions league final. Sky are linking Youann Gourcouff who did really well on loan from AC Milan to Boureaux this season. Mascherano says that he would like to be reunited with Tevez. If this report is to be believed, we've had a €20m bid rejected by Napoli. He's a really exciting player and could be credible alternative to Tevez or Silva and might be easier to capture.

I'll put together a season review in the next few days but then it'll be hibernation on the blog for the summer. I may do an occasional post if we have a big signing but you can check out the twitter feed for brief updates.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baggies burst

A 2-0 over the baggies marked their demise from the league and an end to our away campaign with just the spurs match to go. West Brom were clearly more "up for it" than we were and started the match at a ferocious pace. Not surprising given they were fighting for their lives. It took us a while to get up so speed but a gift from the home defence allowed Gerrard to pounce and score yet another league goal. It got easier after that. Dirk added the second after a fine pass from Stevie. Dirk has been in superb form this year and this was his 12th goal, equalling his best ever league haul. Even more impressive is the fact that they've all been from open play. Dirka dirka. Lucas put in a good shift in the middle with Xabi starting on the bench. When Javier came off injured the basque took his spot.

The fact that Utd had wrapped up the league yesterday did make this something of a damp squib. Arsenal took points from them but alas it was too late to matter. This did have the feel of a dead rubber but with Chelsea winning we had to make sure of second and the extra cash that we'll receive for it. Second place gets 30% of champions league revenue while third place only gets 15%. Big difference.

Carra explained that his bust up with Arbeloa was over trying to keep a clean sheet, with the aim of securing yet another golden gloves award for Pepe. Some people might be pissed off with it but it never bothers me seeing players have a go at each other. He shouldn't have raised his hands as he could've been sent off but I've no problem with keeping high standards through fear. Keane used to regularly bollock players at Utd, Gary Neville was on the end of one particularly savage tirade. It's been a great week for Steven Gerrard who was named Footballer of the year, the first Liverpool player to win the award since John Barnes in 1990. Here he is celebrating the 4-1 win at Old Toilet this season. He said in an interview today that he's matured in recent years and it's been obvious this year. He does appear less selfish now. His conversion to an attacking midfielder has helped to make the most of his qualities. John Giles said he was a worthy winner of the award. Much better choice than Giggs who won the PFA award despite barely playing or scoring. His 16 goals and 9 assists are a fantastic return. If only himself and Torres had been able to start a few more games. 13 starts together wasn't nearly enough.

Piet Hamburg is leaving the Academy this summer. This has been expected for a while as he seems to have been Rick Parrys man. He will be succeeded by Jose Segura who previously worked at the Barcelona academy. In other staff related news, Rafa has been praising Sammy lee saying he is close to perfect as a number 2. Is that because he no longer has ambition to be a boss after his failed attempt at Bolton?

Dossena is returning to Italy with Milan the likely venue according to channel 4. David Silva's agent says that there is interest from clubs and there are reports that we've offered £15m for the Valencia winger. Xabi's agent says he's going nowhere which must come as a great relief to us all. I still fear that he might be off if we receive a massive offer from Real Madrid or somebody else. Hope I'm wrong. Cadiz youngster Jesus "Suso" Fernandez is on his way to Anfield for talks according to the Mirror.

How would you feel about going to watch a match in the Carlsberg stadium on Stanley Park? While there might be emotional issues surrounding naming rights, the financial reality of our predicament means that we're going to have to sign up some partner for the stadium. Carlsberg have been decent over the years and wouldn't be a bad choice. Given the international money markets, it's a moot point at the moment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Irons flattened

With a start like this, it was a pretty easy game. Gerrard gratefully accepted a through ball from Torres to open the scoring when the game was less than 2 minutes old. He added a second with a penalty after El Nino was taken down in the box. Rob Green did well to save the initial peno but Stevie made sure with the rebound. Babel came on as a sub and made it an emphatic 3-0 from a Kuyt cross. This was only the 12th time this season that both Gerrard and Torres were fit to start in the league. How different would the season have been if these too had been fitter? It was a run of the mill performance without too much fuss. The defence made one or two mistakes but thankfully West Ham weren't up to taking advantage. Lucas slotted in for Xabi who wasn't fit.

The season is winding down and I think we'll keep pushing Utd all the way even if it will ultimately prove fruitless as they don't appear to be dropping any more points. Regardless of the title, I want to see us finishing as close to them as possible by beating West Brom and Spurs. We owe Spurs from the game in London earlier this season where they mugged us in a crazy game. If we win our remaining games we will finish on 86 points which is good enough to win the title more often than not. We've the best goal difference and have scored more goals than everybody else. So much for Rafa being a negative manager. I'm hoping that this is the practice run and we'll go a step further next season to finish on top.Pranjic of Heerenveen is being linked with a summer move by sky sports. Another Eredivise attacker, Luis Suarez of Ajax, could be a Benitez target this summer. He wouldn't be cheap but would be exciting, if a risk. A winger leaving this summer is Gary MacKay-Steven whose contract is expiring and Fulham are sniffing around him. Andrea Dossena reckons he's going nowhere and is adapting to life in England. I expect he could well be sold back to his homeland this summer. Almeria striker Alvaro Negredo has been linked with a move to L4 in recent weeks but the player himself reckons a return to Real Madrid would suit him better. Tevez is on the move and wants to stay in England. Maybe he wants to play beside Javier who's going nowhere. I'm a huge fan but I don't think we can afford him and there is the question of where he fits into our best XI.

This is worth a read and a few emails if you have time.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Legend leaves for Leverkusen

Auf wiedesein Sami. In our defensive foursome, he was absolutely awesome. One Scandinavian defender signs as another leaves. The circle of life is complete. I'm sad to see Sami leave but I understand that he wants a last hurrah. It would have been hard to see him play against us for another premiership team so I wish him all the best in Germany. On the upside, it's great to see Dagger sign up for years. I was convinced that he was leaving in the summer so well done to Rafa and the staff for convincing him his future is here. Between him and Skrtel we're sorted at centre half for many a year. I expect one of San Jose or Martin Kelly will be promoted next season to cover as the fourth choice centre back.

Did this result put Newcastle down? 3-0 could have been 6-0 as we hit the woodwork three times. Xabi struck the crossbar twice with two fierce shots and Gerrard hit it once. Could have been a landslide. Yossi bagged the first with his knee after a cross from Dirk. It may have been marginally offside but any sense of injustice the Toon army had was soon wiped out when Dirk powered in a diving header from a Gerrard corner. Goals from corners always give me a special feeling, rare as they are. Our dominance continued in the second half but we had to wait until late on the for the third goal. Alonso was taken off after Joey Barton was red carded for a bad challenge on the Basque. Lucas came on and scored his first league goal with a close range header from a free kick from the right hand touch line. I'm happy for the Brazilian as he looked thrilled but it now looks like he could leave for £6m this summer according to the red tops.
We're off to Upton Park next weekend. It should be routine with or without Torres who didn't play yesterday. West Ham are quite safe now so don't have much to play for. I hope that we win all of our games to push Utd the whole way. I don't see Utd dropping the requisite points to make it interesting enough but I want to finish a close second with a small gap to the top. This experience of being in a title challenge to the end will do our players the world of good for next season.

The news that Rafa will have to sell to increase his transfer kitty is not unexpected. The BBC reckon Silva, Villa and Glen Johnson are targets. Javier Saviola is being linked with a free transfer in the summer. Gareth Barry has spoken about a summer move. I think he's quite likely to arrive for less than £10m. Given his performance's this year, I hope that it doesn't mean a Xabi departure. Sources in Italy suggest Juve might be back in for him this summer. Rafa says that Javier is going nowhere. What about Pandev of Lazio? He'd be a cheap option for a summer signing. His teammate Zarate has signed a permanent deal with Lazio so we won't be getting him. AZs Moroccan striker Mounir El Hamdaoui is being linked with us and Arsenal. Negredo of Almeria is a target. Rafa says that Yossi will get a new contract offer. If anybody deserves it then he does as he's been amazing in the last 6 months.