It's been an eventful morning.
We'll get the inevitable Mascherano news out of the way first. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool's statement didn't mention the price tag, but the BBC's reporting that Barcelona will pay £17.25m, which is £750,000 less than Liverpool spent to get him from West Ham's reserves. And almost £7m less than City paid to take Yaya Toure from Barca. There might be the usual add-ons that eventually bump the fee up higher, but still. Fantastic. I hope lube was included in the deal or else that raping will be exceptionally uncomfortable.
Unlike I usually do with departing players, there'll be no eulogy for a mercenary who forced his way out of Liverpool at the worst possible time. I loved the player while he was here, but in contrast to the likes of Alonso, Garcia, and Hyypiä, among others, I couldn't care less how he fares in Spain. He was marvelous on the pitch almost every time out, but the fee and the way he left will ruin my memories forever. Hope your wife's happier in Barcelona. But I also hope Busquets keeps you out of the side except for Spanish Cup games, and you rot in the reserves, just like at West Ham.
I'd also hope that Hodgson gets to spend at least half of that £17m or so, but I'm not holding my breath. Adding that £17.25m to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, Liverpool's made around £23m in transfer fees this summer, and that's not including the supposedly imminent Insua sale. The transfer market closes on Tuesday. It's safe to assume it'll pass without Tom Hicks' so-called "big summer" of spending. But with a current midfield of Gerrard, Lucas, and Poulsen (not counting Spearing, sorry), Liverpool simply has to buy someone. And they'll be linked with every available player in the meantime. "We've got the best midfield in the world..."
Now, more important to the immediate future was this morning's Europa League draw, where we learned Liverpool's group stage opponents.
There's a bit of history and some tasty ties in that group, even if it's not the easiest. Dossena was sold to Napoli in January. Kuyt's first professional club was Utrecht, where he spent five years. Liverpool's been to Bucharest four times, but only faced Steaua once, in the 03-04 UEFA Cup campaign, drawing 1-1 in Romania before a 1-0 win at Anfield. You'll also remember they faced Romanian opposition last year in the form of Unirea Urziceni.
Napoli's clearly the toughest side. There's the aforementioned Dossena, but more importantly, a fair few names you'll remember from the World Cup: Slovakia's Hamsik, Uruguay's Cavani (on loan from Palermo) and Gargano, and Italy's Quagliarella. They also have Argentinean Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was a rumored transfer target in the summer of 2009. Oh, and Cristiano Lucarelli, on loan from Parma, a striker I've always had a soft spot for. Both legs will be challenging, especially the away leg, as Napoli's always been a difficult destination for English teams.
I know a lot less about both Steaua and Utrecht. I'm unfamiliar with almost all the players in the Bucharest team, and highly recommend the Scouting Romania blog for information about Steaua in the run-up to those matches. Utrecht absolutely wiped the floor with Celtic last night to qualify, winning 4-0 at home to cancel out Celtic's 2-0 result in Glasgow. Supposed Liverpool target (if we're believing Goal.com) Ricky van Wolfswinkel scored three of the goals – two from the spot – while Utrecht's keeper, Michel Vorm, was an understudy for Stekelenburg at this summer's World Cup. Otherwise, I'm fairly in the dark on these sides for now.
The match-ups are as follows:
September 16: Steaua (h)
September 30: Utrecht (a)
October 21: Napoli (a)
November 4: Napoli (h)
December 2: Steaua (a)
December 15: Utrecht (h)
Liverpool opens and closes at home, with the crucial ties against Napoli third and fourth. United away will follow Steaua at home, Blackpool at home will follow Utrecht away, Liverpool will play Blackburn at home after Napoli away and Chelsea at Anfield after Napoli at Anfield, while Villa at home comes after Steaua away, and Fulham at home comes after Utrecht at home. That's about as good a draw as Liverpool could get with the subsequent league fixtures. For once, Platini comes through.