28 July 2008

Robbie Keane signs for 4 years

See, every now and then, Liverpool can actually complete transfers at something other than a snail's pace.

After posting about Robbie Keane on Saturday, I certainly didn't expect the deal to be finalized by Monday afternoon. Even as late as this morning, the Liverpool Echo was reporting that the medical would take place today, with an announcement no earlier than tomorrow.

So much for that. The fee is £19m, with the potential to rise up to £20.3m (which is a minimum of £12m more than Spurs paid for him). It's Liverpool's second-highest transfer fee ever. And Spurs are incensed, claiming that this is “an enforced sale.” The story on Tottenham’s official site is incredibly hilarious; I’d link it, but Tottenham’s web site seems to be down. I wonder why.

And you know what, the pace of the transfer is refreshing. Like with Babel last year, Rick Parry can get his finger out his ass to get some work done once in a while. Although, unlike with Babel, we'd heard rumors of this deal for a few weeks. But in comparison to Gareth Barry, who I first wrote about in May, this deal actually was completed (and I'm willing to bet good money that Barry isn't coming to Liverpool this summer).

Now, as I implied in the earlier post, I expect this transfer to alter Liverpool's tactics. For all intents and purposes, Keane is replacing Crouch, although the players have very different styles. But the addition of Keane should force a move away from the 4-2-3-1, as I don't expect him to play in Gerrard's role or in a wide position (at least, in a wide position like Kuyt does).

So let's take a look at the possibilities.

Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Keane Torres


Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Gerrard Mascherano Alonso Babel
Keane Torres

Skrtel Carragher Agger
Arbeloa Mascherano Gerrard Alonso Aurelio
Keane Torres

Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Gerrard Mascherano Alonso
Keane Torres Babel

Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Keane Torres

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know which formation would be best, or even which Benitez is leaning toward. But if it were up to me, the 4-1-3-2 looks the strongest.

Notice how rarely I include Alonso, Skrtel and Kuyt, and how I didn't mention Degen, Dossena, Lucas or Voronin at all. It'll be interesting to see how Benitez rotates, and exactly what formation he sticks with.

A big complaint last season was that Benitez didn't know his best team until he settled with the 4-2-3-1 in February. Although I don't know if I fully subscribe to that theory, if Liverpool is going to improve on last season's performance, and finally compete as we hope they can, that cannot be the case this season. The team certainly needs to be more stable.

So this takes summer spending up to around £32m, with Keane, Dossena, Degen, Ngog and Cavalieri signed. About £20m has been recouped through the sales of Crouch, Riise, Guthrie and Carson with more likely to come.

We're getting to the point where I don't see the need to add any more "big-name" players to the line-up. Liverpool has a big enough squad, and they may well have a strong enough squad. Look at the players, both established and young, that I left out of those guessed line-ups. Now we need to learn which formation is most effective and stick with it, so Liverpool doesn't waste half a season figuring out what's the strongest line-up.

26 July 2008

Keane v Barry

I don’t want to appear to be counting chickens before they’re hatched, and hopefully I’ll have more to write about this early next week, but I wanted to say one thing upfront. Georger said similar in the comments last night, but I want to expound on it as well.

If it comes down to Robbie Keane or Gareth Barry, I’m taking the somersaulting Irishman (worst celebration ever) every time. And yes, I mean that after everything I’ve written this summer, whether it was about Barry or Liverpool sticking with the 4-2-3-1 formation.

The Barry deal was always contingent on shipping Alonso out. And I’ve never been sold on that front.

I’ve written multiple times that if Benitez prefers Barry to Alonso, I’m okay with Xabi being sold. But that’s not the same as advocating it. Every time I wrote about Xabi v Barry, whether in the comments or on the main page, I’ve tempered it by writing how much I enjoy Alonso both as a player and a professional. And I believe every word of it. I will lose zero sleep if Liverpool miss out on Barry and are “forced” to stick with Xabi.

Even if Barry would be better for Liverpool in the league, it’s not a huge upgrade over Alonso, especially not if Liverpool’s paying £18m for it. But Keane would be more a potent striker than Crouch, Voronin or Kuyt. Even if that meant Liverpool played more of a 4-3-3, 4-1-3-2, or even a 4-4-2 instead of the 4-2-3-1 I’ve come to love.

Plus Keane would count towards a player quota by UEFA’s standard. I don’t know how much weight I put to the rumors suggesting Liverpool wants Barry because of his nationality (as Benitez also appears to want to sell Pennant, Carson and Finnan, all of whom meet the same standard), but I’ve seen it written.

£18m or so is a lot, especially considering the budget Liverpool looks to be working with, but I’d rather see it put toward a 28-year-old striker who we know can score goals in England than a 27-year-old central midfielder. Now let’s see the deal done.

22 July 2008

Liverpoolfc.tv amuses me

Seems a bit cruel to show a picture of Voronin from today’s game above that headline.

I didn’t see today’s match – and I’m not holding a missed penalty against him – but Voronin had been decent in the three before. I’ve written that he did the same last year only to disappoint by May, but I’m holding out hope he’s actually progressing.

But this, coupled with the supposedly imminent signing of 19-year-old David Ngog from Paris St. Germain (a cousin of Jean-Alain Boumsong, no less!), can’t be a sign, can it?

20 July 2008

Liverpool 1-1 Wisla Krakow

Darby Carragher Agger Dossena
Benayoun Lucas Plessis Leto
Babel Voronin

Aurelio for Leto 46’
Hyypia for Carragher 46’
Skrtel for Agger 46’
Spearing for Plessis 46’
Mascherano for Leiva 46’
Pennant for Babel 46’
Insua for Dossena 63’
Pacheco for Benayoun 63’
Kuyt for Voronin 71’
Hobbs for Darby 71’
Martin for Cavalieri 71’

Voronin 6’
Jirsak 12’

In Fribourg, Wisla provided the sternest test Liverpool’s faced so far this preseason.

Aside from a goal within six minutes, when Voronin stabbed in his own rebound after a smart pass from Benayoun following good buildup by Lucas and Babel, Wisla was arguably the better side, especially in the first half. They replied in the 12th minute, had a goal wrongly ruled out in the 30th (Benayoun played Boguski onside), struck the foot of the post with a free kick that had Cavalieri beaten, and earned something like 10 corners (probably a slight exaggeration) in the first half.

Wisla was clearly fitter, with the start of the Polish season a week away, and from what I understand, pretty much played their first-choice XI.

Thankfully, Liverpool was better after the break. Wisla took the foot off the gas a little, but Liverpool also did a much better job winning (and retaining, to a lesser extent) possession. I’d hazard a guess that had something to do with Mascherano coming on, although Spearing also did well.

But other than a couple of Kuyt opportunities that forced saves and an almost-own goal in the 75th minute that unluckily crashed into the side netting, Liverpool didn’t really look like getting a winner. Neither did Wisla Krakow.

That’s two goals in two games for Voronin, which has been nice to see. It’s worth remembering he had a good July and August last year though, raising expectations before an injury threw off his campaign. And he should have scored a second in the 22nd when a mistake put him one-on-one with the keeper, only for his tame shot to be parried away.

I was a bit surprised to see Carragher and Agger start for the third game in a row. Maybe it’s just because both had the summer off and are available, while Agger needs to get back to fitness, but I’ve also a hunch Rafa considers it his first-choice pairing when Liverpool plays four at the back.

Dossena made his debut, and was solid if unspectacular in 63 minutes. He did make one smart run forward, only to be marginally offside (if that) when put one-on-one with the keeper. I do fear both Degen and Dossena’s propensity for getting forward will give me a heart attack during the early part of the season, as they adjust to the way Liverpool play, but we wanted (and needed) Liverpool to acquire more attacking fullbacks. Chances are, Aurelio and Arbeloa will still be first choice on the flanks for the near future.

Insua also had some excellent attacking runs after coming on for Dossena, including a mazy one that ended with a shot from distance too close to the keeper in the 67th.

And once again, Pacheco looked decent after he came on: he displayed some excellent ball control, made a nice run to earn a free kick just outside the box, and unselfishly set up Kuyt’s chance in the 87th.

Finally, as an aside, Leto sure complains about not getting free kicks an awful lot. I hate that.

I can’t be upset with a draw, nor the fact Wisla was the better side throughout the first 45. I still remember a 0-5 loss to Mainz in 06/07, among others, in past pre-seasons. No one was injured, players received more match practice, and it was a good mix of first-teamers, youngsters, and new signings. Plus, it was a tougher match than against either Tranmere or Lucerne. That’s all I ever ask from pre-season friendlies.

17 July 2008

Liverpool 2-1 Lucerne

Degen Carragher Agger Insua
Benayoun Lucas Plessis Leto
Voronin Pacheco

Skrtel for Agger 46’
Babel for Benayoun 46’
Hyypia for Carragher 46’
Darby for Degen 46’
Aurelio for Leto 55’
Spearing for Plessis 62’
Mascherano for Pacheco 77’
Kuyt for Insua 80’

Lucas 10’
Gavranovic 12’
Voronin 36’

I wanted to post about the Lucerne friendly. Even though I didn’t see it live, I planned on downloading the torrent and getting a review up late last night or today.

But I either kicked someone’s dog or was a bad boy when downloading a torrent in the past, because my connection keeps getting refused. I swear, I try to be good and seed…

So yeah, all I saw was LFC.tv’s 15-minute highlights, and that’s nowhere near enough to write a full review.

But I still have a couple of things to say after watching said highlights and reading all the same reviews you have. And I need to get content up any time the mood strikes me.

• I was impressed they managed to get a full 15 minutes. From what I read, it was typical pre-season, even with Liverpool having a few good chances to score more. Although the highlights did have about 30 seconds of back passes.

• But there were highlights. Voronin’s chipped goal (such a tough skill) seems to have more people talking, but my favorite moment was Pacheco’s reverse throughball that led to Lucas’ opener. There was next to no space to make the pass and Pacheco barely had a look up, but he couldn’t have played a better ball.

Of course I remember Besian Idrijaz’s hat trick against Wrexham just over a year ago. But Idrijaz never looked as consistent or talented as Pacheco. And he’s only 17. Awesome.

• It was good to see the Lucas/Plessis pairing again, and even better to see how often Lucas got forward, scoring within ten minutes.

• Yes, Degen was at fault for Liverpool’s equalizer. He was paying zero attention to the Lucerne player at the far post, and the resulting knockdown led to Gavranovic’s goal. That cannot continue. But yeah, ‘it’s preseason’ and all that.

• I also was worried by a couple of Insua missteps. If two made the “highlights,” I’m afraid to ask how many more occurred. Of course, if it was any other player, I wouldn’t be so concerned; I just expect far too much from Insua. I have since his first start against Pompey.

• Evidently Kuyt joined the squad yesterday and still asked to play. Yet another reason I’m so quick to defend him. Similar goes for Babel, who was out for less time than expected after tearing ankle ligaments on May 31. Pity he’s been called up for the Olympics (just like Lucas and Mascherano).

• And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how delighted I was to hear “The Final Countdown” after each goal. If that song doesn’t make you smile, you either have a heart of stone or seriously need to watch some Arrested Development.

The Wisla Krakow friendly is Saturday at 12pm. If there's no streams and you've got no other way to see it, it'll be delayed on Setanta at 8pm.

12 July 2008

Liverpool 1-0 Tranmere

First half:
Darby Carragher Hobbs Agger Insua
Pennant Plessis Lucas Benayoun

Second half:
Skrtel Hyypia Agger
Degen Spearing Plessis Aurelio Insua
Flynn Pacheco

Gerrard for Plessis 66’
Voronin for Pacheco 66’
Kelly for Agger 77’

Benayoun 43’

Liverpool was announced as a 4-4-1-1, but the formation looked like a 5-4-1 to me, with the fullbacks often getting forward in support, in the first half. Even with five defenders on the pitch, Liverpool rarely had to defend.

For 44 minutes, it looked like the away side was going to go without a goal despite all their good work. Liverpool had all the possession and were creating chances, but Tranmere did well to deny Pacheco much space. That Liverpool only had one forward allowed Tranmere to mark Pacheco with both center-backs, although Pennant, Benayoun and Lucas attacked more as the half went on.

Even without a goal, Benitez would have been pleased with the performance in the first 45. Despite the pressure, Pacheco never looked out of his depth, nearly scoring in the 18th minute after good interplay with Lucas, chipping a shot over an out-of-position Coyne from the right of the box only to see the effort go wide. He almost struck again in the 37th when he latched on to Carragher’s nice ball over the top only for the keeper to make an excellent sprawling save.

Others threatened as well. Insua’s shot from distance (that looked to be on target) was blocked by Chorley in the 28th, while his run down the left and centered ball nearly led to an own goal in the 34th. Following the subsequent corner, Pennant cannoned a shot off the top the crossbar.

But two minutes before halftime, Benayoun got Liverpool’s first goal of 08/09 with a delicious curler from the left side after Hobbs’ shot was blocked and Lucas couldn’t get on the end of it. There’s no way I can do Yossi’s goal justice; it was even better than the screamer he scored against Reading last year.

Even with the chances in the first half, the pace was that of a preseason match. But it dropped even more in the second half, more so after the substitutions.

In fact, although Voronin had a couple of nice touches (and actually could have gotten the second in the final minute, but chose to pass instead of shoot), Liverpool was more threatening when Pacheco was on the field. Tranmere defended with 10 men for long stretches, but began to play better after 75 minutes, and put two headers wide of Cavalieri’s goal in the space of 90 seconds.

There was nothing to be concerned about over the drop in tempo in the second half. It’s the first game of the preseason, and the fact that a good mix of young reserves, new signings and senior players did well together, coupled with a gorgeous goal by Benayoun is an excellent result.

But out of everything, I was happiest to see Dan Agger look like his old self in 77 minutes on the field. There’s a reason I keep writing that Agger was sincerely missed last season. Following today’s performance, it sure looks as if using three center backs has crossed Benitez’s mind.

After everything I wrote since May, Liverpool didn’t use a 4-2-3-1 formation at all. The major tactical similarity between the two halves was wing-backs getting forward at every opportunity. Darby, Insua and Degen all filled this role, although I was surprised to see Degen play so centrally at times. He certainly looked willing to attack though.

Following this match, I’m a bit more upset I won’t be able to catch the next friendly against Lucerne, if there will even be a stream. It sure looks like it’ll be tactically interesting, with Benitez willing to use these friendlies to experiment with the team’s shape. Last year, Liverpool played in a fairly straightforward 4-4-2 no matter the personnel in every preseason game I saw.

07 July 2008

Crouch to Portsmouth

It’s a shame that Peter Crouch’s departure seems imminent, but it’s not all that surprising. He hasn’t been happy on the bench, and that’s where he’s been relegated to since the arrival of Fernando Torres.

Admittedly, I was a bit surprised we didn’t get many chances to see a Crouch-Torres combination. The two started seven games together (5 wins, 2 losses) and weren’t a standard 4-4-2 pairing in two of those.

The duo was effective in wins over Bolton and Sunderland, but still had infuriating moments when they got in each other’s way even in the best of games, which wasn’t completely unexpected given both are used to playing in similar spaces despite having different styles.

Benitez seemed hesitant to pair the two from the beginning of the season, probably for the reason in the paragraph above, but Liverpool finding success with the 4-2-3-1 formation starting in February didn’t help either.

In the two games where Torres and Crouch played but weren’t a pairing up top, Liverpool lost to Reading 1-3 away and beat Arsenal 4-2 in the Champions League. The Reading match, where Crouch, Torres and Voronin were basically a three-man front line, was Liverpool’s first loss of the season and a deserved one, despite my belief that Torres should have earned two penalties.

I went more in-depth on Crouch and the 4-2-3-1 after the second leg of the CL quarters against Arsenal, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. In this match, Crouch started in Gerrard’s role with Stevie pushed out to the left. Even though Liverpool won, scoring four in the process, it wasn’t the most convincing of displays by the front four, and two of those goals – including the winner – came after Crouch was substituted for Babel.

The best thing about the 4-2-3-1 has been Gerrard and Torres’ partnership, and Crouch’s inclusion upset that balance. As I said in April, if it comes down to accommodating Gerrard, Torres or Crouch, I’m siding against Crouch.

If Benitez truly wants to stick with the 4-2-3-1, Crouch is always going to be Torres’ understudy if he stays at Liverpool. I think the Gangly Handful can be effective in this formation – his hat trick against Arsenal in March 2007 was proof of that – but he’s never going to get 33 goals in a season.

I wish this situation wasn’t the case, and that Crouch was willing to back Torres up, but he obviously isn’t happy in that role and wants to go elsewhere. I can’t begrudge him that.

Crouch has a year left on his contract, he hasn’t accepted the club’s offer of an extension, and he could leave for free in a year. The club certainly still remembers McManaman’s departure to Real Madrid in 1999. £11m, the rumored fee, is an excellent deal even if it’s £8m upfront and the rest in add-ons, especially when compared to £8m plus Nuñez for Michael Owen. And everyone knows Liverpool could use the money that would be generated by Crouch’s sale.

It goes without saying that Crouch will need to be replaced. I’m happy to see Liverpool announce Nikola Saric’s signing, as I’m always happy when Benitez is out buying “starlets,” but Saric’s not Crouch’s replacement.

I still don’t know if Nemeth’s ready for the step-up, or if Benitez is even ready to try him out. It seemed telling that Nemeth didn’t get any time with the first team this season when Plessis, Insua and El Zhar started games, and San Jose and Putterill at least made the bench. Obviously, after the season Nemeth had at reserve level, I think he has a future at Liverpool, but I don’t know how much experience he’ll get next season.

Which means that Torres, Kuyt, Voronin and possibly Babel are the only recognized first-team strikers. It was crucial that Torres stayed fit last season; if that's Liverpool’s strike-force in August, it’ll be even more so this time around.

06 July 2008

Too much meta, not enough football

Once again, I’m forced to apologize for the radio silence around these parts. While part of it is due to the fact I’m hesitant to write about unconfirmed transfer gossip, which is the only Liverpool "news" around, there’s another reason as well.

Last Monday I ended my four-year exile from academia and began grad school. So while I'm keeping up, I'm not keeping up as much as I had been. I will continue to post as often as possible, but, for example, match reports might not show up an hour or so after the game ends. And when it’s early summer, I’m just starting to get acclimated to the schoolwork I’ll be doing, and there’s not much besides transfer talk floating about the internet, it’s probably going to be quieter around these parts.

But don’t think that this blog’s going to become radically different or even die a slow death. Because I’m almost positive that won’t be the case. And yes, I did just leave myself a little bit of wiggle room there, but don’t take too much notice.

As usual, if there is anything concrete on the Barry, Crouch, or Keane (that’s a new one…) fronts, I’ll most likely have something to say.