The Deadwood at Melwood

1 06 2011

A busy summer of transfer window activity is something us Liverpool fans have wished for in the last few years but, ultimately, they have been few and far between. This, of course, can be put down to the horrific running of the club by Messrs Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Fortunately, “internet terrorists” such as you and I watched as an “epic swindle” unfolded before our very eyes which saw Hicks and Gillett finally leave our shores once and for all with Boston Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner becoming our new owners. “At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky”. Thank you John and Tom for playing the part of the golden sky.

The 22nd of May 2011 saw the curtain fall on another compelling season of Premier League action and that date also meant that football fans across the globe began to impatiently wait on news of who their team will be signing for the coming season. “In the knows” have begun to link Liverpool with every player under the sun, safe in the knowledge that the law of averages will ensure they’re right at least once. Well, if you can’t beat them join them! Allow me to reveal an exclusive for you, dear reader. I have it on good authority that Liverpool will NOT be signing Lionel Messi, Lionel Richie or Lionel Blair any time soon. I feel an overwhelming sense of relief now that’s off my chest.

It is important to note that the return of Kenny Dalglish as manager also means a return of ‘The Liverpool Way’. The simple but effective implementing of “pass and move” is small evidence of the philosophy’s return on the pitch but off the pitch it signals a return to all affairs being conducted in private with little chance of details creeping out of the club until all of the I’s have been dotted and all of the T’s have been crossed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found the ease in which one could find out information about the club shocking under Roy Hodgson’s watch. Whilst it was nice to know the starting line-ups 24 hours before kick-off, it was more shocking than it was nice. In short, don’t believe anyone who claims to be “in the know” because they’re almost certainly not.

Instead of speculating on who we might sign in the coming months, I’ll be focusing on those who should be moved on although some will definitely be up for debate. There is plenty of deadwood in the playing squad so let’s not delay any further.

Joe Cole

What has happened to Joe Cole? The imposter we had parading around as him last season bore strikingly little resemblance to the same one who was scoring the winning goal for Chelsea at Old Trafford little over one year ago. I was as excited as anyone when the news broke that Liverpool had secured the signing of Cole on a free transfer after his release from Chelsea. Now, we can see that his début was a sign of things to come and he cannot any longer justify reported wages of £90k per week when he offers so little. Whilst his technical ability has never been in doubt, his proneness to injury and lack of pace and stamina makes him expendable. Rumours have surfaced that Harry Redknapp would be interested in taking him to Tottenham. If true, which I somehow doubt, would Cole offer anything that Luka Modric, Rafael Van der Vaart or even Niko Kranjcar do not currently offer? The short answer is no. Whilst it remains unclear whether or not the Liverpool hierarchy see a future for Cole at the club, I cannot see many Liverpool fans being disappointed at the sight of Cole leaving L4 after just one season. They might, however, be disappointed that Joe Cole never reached the heights that so many had hoped he would.

Milan Jovanovic

I would be lying if I told you that I had seen much of Jovanovic prior to his arrival on a free transfer from Belgian side Standard Liege in 2010. As such, I watched Serbia’s matches at the World Cup with more than a passing interest and he seemed to be solid rather than spectacular. The highlight of his World Cup would almost certainly be scoring the winning goal against Germany in the group stage. Jovanovic seemed to posses a fair amount of pace and came to us with a decent goalscoring record of 52 goals in 116 appearances for Standard Liege. Operating primarily as a striker, it was frustrating to see him rarely deployed in this position for Liverpool. He struggled to make an impact when utilised as a left winger and the Serbian was part of the team which lost to Northampton Town in the Carling Cup. Having recently gone on record expressing his regret at signing for Liverpool, I will be astonished if he is still a Liverpool player next season. So astonished will I be, if Milan Jovanovic is still a Liverpool player next season I will erect a life-size statue of Gary Neville in my back garden and kiss its feet on a daily basis.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos

Sotirios Kyrgiakos Greece vs moldova

Image via Wikipedia

I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised with the Greek’s two years as a Liverpool player. His size and aerial prowess instantly made many view him as Sami Hyypia‘s replacement although few expected him to succeed let alone reaching Sami’s level. Well, he didn’t reach Sami’s level (who could?) but that’s not to say he’s been a bad signing. Kyrgiakos was drafted in to the squad mainly as cover for Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger and, more often than not, he’s done well when called upon. However, there have been signs towards the end of the current season which have suggested that Kyrgiakos’ days could be numbered. A lack of pace and agility were brutally highlighted in the away fixture against Braga in the Europa League. Kyriagkos gave away the penalty which the brilliantly named ‘Alan’ dispatched in an even more brilliant manner. It isn’t too unrealistic to imagine Kyrgiakos still being a Liverpool player next season but if another club who could offer him regular first team football showed an interest, I don’t think anyone would stand in his way from moving on.

Brad Jones

Any goalkeeper signed by Liverpool has an almost impossible task on his hands in trying to dislodge Pepe Reina as number 1. A quick look back over Brad Jones’ career shows that he seems quite content in being an understudy to someone like Reina. Jones is 29-years-old and he’s only made 99 league appearances in his career. Should he finally fancy a stint as a number 1 somewhere, I’m sure Liverpool will not stand in his way. However, Jones is a “home-grown” player, despite being an Australian international, and if he is content to play second fiddle to Reina there might be a chance he’ll stay but don’t expect Brad Jones to feature often in the starting XI.

Brad Jones is a thoroughly fine man and has campaigned endlessly in a bid to raise money and awareness for Stem Cell transplants. His son, Luca, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia but he appears to have found a match in their bid for a cure. As you can probably tell, I’m more than a little bit out my depth talking about this so click here to visit Brad’s Just Giving page and donate if you can.

Paul Konchesky

I know what you’re thinking. Is Paul Konchesky still a Liverpool player? Unfortunately, yes. I’ll keep this short and sweet as there’s not much to discuss that you don’t already know. Many fans did their best Carlo Ancelotti impressions by raising an eyebrow when Konchesky was signed by Roy Hogdson last summer. There could be no denying that a new left-back was needed, mainly because Emiliano Insua didn’t appear ready to handle the burden of playing week-in, week-out. Hopefully Insua is given another crack at succeeding at Liverpool as there’s definitely potential to be realised there. Konchesky’s position at the club wasn’t helped when his mother took to Facebook to unleash a rage-filled rant at Liverpool fans, branding them “Scouse scum”. It’s nice to know that Mother Konchesky is as good with words as Paul is with a football. An uninspiring loan spell at Nottingham Forest did little to revive Konchesky’s fortunes and it is almost certain that Paul Konchesky will leave Liverpool this summer.

Christian Poulsen

Christian Poulsen came to Liverpool with a fairly big reputation and seemed to be a decent enough replacement for Javier Mascherano. With the benefit of hindsight, such comparisons should never have been made and Poulsen never even came close to playing at the level of Mascherano. Many looked back at Poulsen’s time with Sevilla in Spain with hope as he was instrumental in seeing the Spanish club defend the UEFA Cup as well as helping them win the Copa Del Rey. The emergence of Jay Spearing has pushed Poulsen further down the pecking order and with new signings to look forward to, as well as the possibility of Alberto Aquilani returning from his loan spell at Juventus, Poulsen’s Anfield future appears to be pretty grim. Unfortunately, Poulsen struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League and, at the age of 31, he seems to be expendable.

Philipp Degen

Philipp Degen can be ranked alongside Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Andrey Voronin as a recent free transfer flop. Degen spent last season on loan at Stuttgart and only made 5 appearances in the Bundesliga. I can’t imagine there are too many Stuttgart supporters praying his loan deal is made permanent. Degen has been blighted with injuries throughout his career and his time with Liverpool was no different. Deployed either at right-back or as a winger, Degen never showed anything to suggest he would be anything more than an average squad player. On the handful of appearances he made for the first team he seemed better going forward than he did defending. This doesn’t necessarily mean he was good going forward.

Nabil El Zhar

The diminutive Moroccan winger joined Liverpool in 2006 from French side Nîmes Olympique but, despite making 24 first team appearances, he never genuinely looked like establishing himself as a regular first team player. El Zhar spent last season on loan at Greek side PAOK where he featured 12 times in the league and scored 3 goals. El Zhar’s contract expires in 2012 so there shouldn’t be too many problems in finding a buyer for the French-born Morocco international.

The aforementioned players may not come as much of a shock as outward-bound players so let’s have a look at a few controversial suggestions of players who may move on.

Fabio Aurelio

Let me start by saying that I am a massive fan of Fabio Aurelio. Technically, he’s as good as anybody in the league. Some may think that’s hyperbole but I genuinely think he’s a very gifted footballer. Just ask Edwin Van der Sar and Petr Cech how deadly his left foot is! Unfortunately, Aurelio has suffered horrendously with injuries throughout his career, ranging from the broken leg he suffered in the 2003-2004 season with Valencia to the niggling muscle injuries frequently picked up during his time on Merseyside. It was around this time last year that Aurelio left Liverpool after rejecting a pay-as-you-play deal. Aurelio re-signed with the club just weeks later and he still has one year left on his current deal. Perhaps Aurelio will stay one more year but is hard to envisage Aurelio staying around longer than that unless he accepts a pay-as-you-play deal; the type of deal he was previously unwilling to accept. If Aurelio could overcome the constant injuries I’m sure he would become a very important player for Liverpool. Unfortunately, I think Aurelio is destined to spend the majority of his remaining career on the treatment table rather than the hallowed turf of Anfield.

Daniel Agger

I could copy the above paragraph and just substitute Fabio Aurelio’s name for Daniel Agger’s. Agger is a top-class centre-half who is comfortable on the ball and it is no surprise that Liverpool are better with Agger than they are without him. Agger is the type of player that one would imagine will work well in a Kenny Dalglish side which encourages short passing where attacks are patiently built from the back. You may then question why he’s been included but it boils down to one word; injuries. Since signing for Liverpool from Brondby in 2006, injuries have restricted Agger to 93 league appearances and, whilst that’s not too bad, it’s not brilliant either. The centre-half position is one where, ideally, constant disruptions are unwelcome. The best sides are usually the ones which have had a settled partnership in the heart of the defence. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been as good a partnership as any in recent years and their settled partnership is one of the key factors behind Manchester United’s success. If we delve a little further back in time it won’t be long before we stumble across Arrigo Sacchi’s incredible AC Milan teams of the 1980s. It should come as no surprise that a significant contributing factor to Milan’s success was their excellent defence. Their remarkable defensive capabilities were demonstrated at their best during the 1987-1988 season where they conceded just 14 goals in the entire campaign.

If Daniel Agger’s injury problems are behind him I sincerely hope he is still a Liverpool player when the transfer window shuts on the 1st of September 2011. However, if a big offer was made for him whilst question marks about his fitness still loomed large, it would be reasonable to strongly consider such a bid and use the funds to sign a centre-half who is capable of featuring on a regular basis.

Luis Suarez

Of course, I’m joking. No need to berate me in the comment section!


Benfica 2-1 Liverpool – Match Report

3 04 2010

Benfica 2-1 Liverpool. It is a score-line I am sure many Liverpool fans will consider to be a decent result; myself included. That all important away goal courtesy of Daniel Agger gives us something to go back to Anfield with in the hope of another famous European night with the 12th man that is the Kop firmly behind us. The circumstances concerning the way we were leading but still lost makes the result a bit harder to deal with.

Daniel Agger’s clever finish from a Steven Gerrard free kick in the ninth minute got us off to the perfect start and drew comparisons to the goal that he scored against Chelsea in the Champions League in 2007. It was a goal that seemed long overdue for Agger who had threatened to get on the score sheet in the previous match against Sunderland. After this however, Benfica showed their class with Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo coming close on a couple of occasions and we rode our luck a little when he spooned an effort over from inside the six yard box. His next chance was with his head after an excellent delivery from in-demand Argentine winger Angel Di Maria, yet the outcome and the score-line remained the same. Further headed chances were spurned by newly capped Brazilian international Ramires before Cardozo missed another. It was Di Maria to threaten next for the home side when his fierce strike flashed narrowly over Jose Reina in the Liverpool goal. On another night we could have easily been three or four goals down.

Great Dane: Daniel Agger gives Liverpool the lead in the 9th minute.

For me, it was disappointing how vulnerable we looked defensively, especially aerially, and I recall mentioning at the time via Twitter how it was the sort of game Sami Hyypia would have relished. This is why I believe Sotirios Kyrgiakos will come into the side to partner Jamie Carragher in the heart of defence for the second leg with Daniel Agger shifting to left back to deputise for the suspended Emiliano Insua and the injured Fabio Aurelio. What was also disappointing was the amount of criticism aimed at Insua by Liverpool ‘fans’. It is important to remember that he is still just 21 years old and has been thrust into the side due to Aurelio’s constant injury problems and Andrea Dossena and John Arne Riise have both moved to Serie A with Napoli and AS Roma respectively. It is the same situation with Lucas Leiva. He receives more criticism than he is due and fans normally state how he cannot pass or tackle. He is currently the fifth most successful tackler in the Premier League with a success rate of 69% and before last weekend he was in the top five passers in the league. Not bad for a player who cannot pass or tackle.

The suspension of Insua has resulted in talk of ‘three at the back’ but for me this would not be the best option as Benfica like to make the most of their wide men; in particular Di Maria. A five man midfield would probably need wing backs and then we are back with the problem of who plays at left wing back. Where would Glen Johnson feature if we had to play with three at the back without wing-backs? It would seem foolish to leave him out of a game that requires us to attack from the off. My final point on three at the back would be that it has been a long time since we have played with this system. I believe that it takes time for players to adapt to a different formation and now is not the time to change in what could be a season defining game. I will leave the team selection to Rafa.

Back to the game and after chances aplenty from Benfica came the big talking point of the match. Brazilian defender Luisao’s wild tackle from behind on Fernando Torres resulted in Ryan Babel receiving a straight red card for touching Luisao in the face. It could be argued that Luisao should have received a straight red card for the tackle itself yet Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson deemed that a yellow card would suffice. The tackle was of a reckless nature which then saw Babel remonstrate with Luisao before touching, and note not hitting out at, the Benfica captain in the face. It is a silly thing to do in the modern game even though it seems petulant, Fifa laws state that if a player raises or puts his hand in another player’s face then it is red card. If contact is made from a player to another player’s chest or below then it is a yellow card. Take note Ryan to push Luisao in the chest next time! Down to ten men with the whole of the second half and part of the first still to play ensured that it was going to be difficult to contain an attacking Benfica side.

Fracas: Ryan Babel receives his marching orders.

The second half saw us start brightly but things got worse on the hour mark as Insua felled fellow Argentine Pablo Aimar in the penalty area. This stemmed from us failing to deal with Oscar Cardozo’s powerful free kick which had moments before rattled the post. It was Cardozo who stepped up and powerfully tucked his spot-kick into the corner of the net. Either side of the equaliser saw further incidents; however, this time they were in the shape and form of missiles from the Benfica fans behind Jose Reina in the Liverpool goal. The second of the two missiles left its mark on the pitch and resulted in the referee consulting his fourth, fifth and six officials after the Additional Assistant closest to the missile was left nursing a sore ear. Lets hope we can show the Benfica fans how to behave properly in the return leg without the need of missiles to intimidate officials.

With ten minutes to go, Angel Di Maria skipped to the byline and his cross struck Jamie Carragher on his outstretched hand and a second penalty was awarded. You could tell after witnessing two penalties and a red card that this was not to be our night and a seventeenth defeat in a disappointing season loomed. Paraguay international Cardozo stepped up again to coolly slot his penalty into the same side of the net after waiting for Reina to dive the other way. This took his tally to thirty this season which will inevitably link him with a big money move to Manchester City among others in the summer. I do not normally like to blame referees for the outcome of games but he appeared to favour the home side with innocuous tackles from us being given as fouls whilst Ryan Babel got kicked in the head in the first half without a free kick being given. Jose Reina also got booked for time-wasting with a goal kick yet he only had the ball for a mere six seconds. I have not even accounted for the number of fouls and kicks Fernando Torres received.

Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo

With this considered, we did have a few chances of our own. Fernando Torres had the best of the chances after being released by Dirk Kuyt in the latter stages of the second half but he uncharacteristically and agonizingly spurned the opportunity by dragging his one-on-one chance wide of the post. Torres was later left with a chance to run at David Luiz but the Brazilian defender matched him for pace and strength and thwarted the attack.

We managed to see out the last ten minutes without further scare and the away goal provided by Agger could prove vital in the return leg as they so often do. Two further positives are that Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres did not pick up a yellow card in the match which would have resulted in them being ruled out of the return leg through suspension. Providing and praying that we do not pick up any injuries against Birmingham City on Sunday, Rafa Benitez has a more or less full squad to choose from.

It will be tough in the second but a famous European night at Anfield always fills me with optimism and I would not be surprised to see us win 1-0.

Mark Jepson

Dirk’s Double Does the Damage – Match Report

22 01 2010

Liverpool’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night gave everyone at the club a much needed boost following the FA Cup 3rd round defeat to Reading. This said, it was the third win in four in the league which has helped lift the Reds to within one point of fourth placed Tottenham. Dirk Kuyt’s sixth minute opener gave the injury-ravished Liverpool a deserved lead after finishing well from Alberto Aquilani’s lay off. Injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Yossi Benayoun, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres meant that the likes of Kuyt and Aquilani really had to step up to the plate on Wednesday, which they duly did.

Kuyt firing his first goal of the game

Chances were few and far between in the first 45 minutes, with Tottenham’s first chance coming just before Kuyt gave Liverpool the lead when Pepe Reina did well to smother the ball away from Niko Krancjar and Jermain Defoe. The visitor’s best chance came just before half time when Wilson Palacios slid a ball through to Luka Modric but Reina stood big and did well to deny the little Croatian. Liverpool’s only other first half chances came late from Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. The Liverpool versus Tottenham fixture is normally one of the better ones in a Premier League campaign but neither side really managed to claim the ascendency in the early parts of this one.

The beginning of the second half saw Liverpool lose concentration which nearly, and perhaps should have seen Tottenham equalise through who else but Jermain Defoe. A lack of concentration and subsequent mix-up from Kyrgiakos and Reina led to Defoe pinching the ball from Reina’s feet and slotting home into an empty net, only for the Kop to breathe a huge sigh of relief when the referee’s assistant adjudged Defoe as being offside. Replays suggest it was a somewhat fortuitous decision. This was the wake-up call that Liverpool were lucky to get but the next chance fell to the hosts as Philipp Degen’s run and cross was met by the head of Albert Riera whose header rattled Heurelho Gomes’ crossbar. It was desperately unlucky and left the Anfield faithful wondering whether it was a chance that would later be rued. Philipp Degen was to be involved again shortly after Riera’s chance when he flicked on a cross to Dirk Kuyt who blazed over from close range.

Jermaine Jenas then went close after about 65 minutes but Pepe Reina was in inspired form to palm the ball away to safety. Liverpool really should have put the match to bed after that when Kuyt’s high work-rate was rewarded as he stole possession on the halfway line before feeding Philipp Degen who wasted a golden opportunity. Manager Rafa Benitez had some special praise for Kuyt’s contribution in his post-match press conference where he said, “he was working very hard and maybe he could have scored four today,” Benitez told reporters. “His commitment is always 100 per cent, so we are pleased for him”. Spectacular efforts were next to follow from Albert Riera and then Alan Hutton for Spurs but neither goalkeeper was called into action on these occasions. This was to be the last chance for the visitors who lacked creativity in the final third with Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon both sidelined through injury.

Benitez must take credit for some inspiring substitutions in this game as the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez and David N’Gog sparked Liverpool back into life and commanding centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos went close seven minutes from time but his left footed half-volley was beaten away by Gomes in the Tottenham goal. It seemed as if Rafa was content to take the 1-0 victory as he introduced Stephen Darby to the right side of midfield in a bid to shore things up but it was fellow substitute David N’Gog whose lively play helped wrap up the points. He first turned delightfully on the edge of the box to force a smart save from Gomes before getting Sebastian Bassong in a mess as the Cameroonian defender felled the France under-21 international just inside the penalty area to give Dirk Kuyt the chance for his and Liverpool’s second. Kuyt smashed home the penalty only for Howard Webb to demand a retake after encroaching from Lucas Leiva among others. At the second time of asking, Kuyt switched sides and cooly slotted home his eighth goal of the season.

Kuyt and Lucas acknowledge the fans after Kuyt doubles the lead

After the match Rafa Benitez not only had praise for Kuyt, but the whole team including fringe players Philipp Degen, Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos who have equipped themselves well in the last two league games. Kyrgiakos reminds me of Sami Hyypia and this was demonstrated well in his handling of Mamady Sidibie against Stoke City and Degen looked full of running against Stoke and Tottenham whilst providing good defensive protection to Jamie Carragher at full-back. After the game, Benitez said “it is difficult to stop Crouch and Defoe, so I think the combination of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel did well,” before adding, “I said before, the squad is not as bad as people have said. Today we were without six players, but the rest of the squad showed character. We have to be pleased because everyone was working hard and the players who have not played too many games did well.” Without wishing to bemoan our bad luck with injuries too much, I do agree with Rafa. Everyone is keen to remind us that we are having a terrible season, yet we are now just one point behind Tottenham who are said to be having a fantastic season so things cannot be all bad.

To conclude, I think the addition of Maxi Rodriguez will turn out to be a shrewd piece of business, but it is the fitness of Benayoun, Gerrard and Torres that will be the key if we are to make the top four this season. Any team would miss Gerrard and Torres as they are pure and simply world-class, but the Tottenham game has shown that the squad is not overly-reliant on two players and it is now imperative that we kick on; starting away to Wolves.

Mark Jepson.

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