31 July 2007

Macca slams Liverpool's chances!!!!! (?)

Liverpool news has been sparse over the weekend, and outside of the reserve XI game against Colchester on Saturday, the only thing that caught my eye was the headlines about an interview with former Liverpool midfielder Steve McManaman.

What stood out is that the headlines state that Macca says Liverpool’s got no chance of winning the league this season. Say it’s not so…

BBC: McManaman cool on Reds title bid; McManaman doubts Liverpool title chances (audio)
Daily Mirror: Macca in Liverpool blast
Setanta: McManaman writes off Pool chances

It’s not so.

The problem is that Macca didn’t write off Liverpool’s chances, and really didn’t say much that’s newsworthy. I recommend listening to the BBC’s audio, which is where the quotes seem to come from. And the transcript of that…

Macca - I think they’ll do as well as every single year. I think it’s important for Liverpool to win the Premiership. It’s going to be very difficult for them. I certainly think they’ll be in the top four, like every single year.

Interviewer - Is that good enough though for Liverpool?

Macca - Well, no, of course it’s not. Everybody who hankers on about the Premiership, the holy grail for Liverpool is the Premiership. For Chelsea and Manchester United, it’s the Champions League isn’t it? But because Liverpool haven’t won it in a significant amount of time, that’s important for them to win the Premiership.

Whether they will do this year, who knows? They've strengthened, but so have the teams above them who finished 15, 16, 20 points ahead of them have also strengthened, so it's going to be very difficult for them.

This is writing off Liverpool’s title chances? This is news?

It is going to be difficult. All the top teams have strengthened. Liverpool’s focus will be on the league, and it’s necessary that the team is competing for the title if not winning it this year. All of these things are pretty much common knowledge. But did Macca say anywhere that Liverpool won’t or can’t win?

It’s become too common for me to criticize the 'mainstream media' for their portrayal of events and quotes on this blog, and I’m cognizant of repeatedly striking the same note. But this is yet another case of putting words in someone’s mouth. Every time it drives me crazy, but this time it seems more egregious than usual.

When it’s someone like Macca, Liverpool fans are going to pay attention. I know Macca’s one of the lead commentators on Setanta this season, so he’ll show up in the news a fair bit more, and probably say some things that will rub Liverpool fans the wrong way. And that’s both fine and fair; he is a pundit now. But it’s a complete disservice to Macca, Liverpool, and Liverpool’s fans to portray these comments in this light.

Naturally, the headline and story from the Liverpool Echo focuses on McManaman’s comments about Torres (“Torres is right man for the job – McManaman”), and doesn’t mention his comments regarding the league until the end of the story.


30 July 2007

Fantasy Football Reminder

We’re less than 2 weeks away from the start of the season, so I figure now is a good time to put up one last reminder (although it will stay linked on the sidebar until the start of the season) about the fantasy football league I’m attempting to run.

To join, create an account at http://fantasy.premierleague.com, create a team, and then choose to join a private league. The league’s name is “Oh You Beauty” (clever, I know) and the passcode is 70973-17577.

We’ve nine teams so far, which is actually more than I thought the earlier mention would generate, but it’s also made me too bullish. So I bring it up again in the hopes of getting a few more people involved.

With more than 10 people in the league, I might feel obliged to have a prize for the winner. Something like Guillem Balague’s “A Season on the Brink” or a t-shirt, or something else similarly priced. I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead, and there’s obviously wiggle room involved.

You’ve got no excuses not to.

27 July 2007

Liverpool 0-0 Portsmouth

Portsmouth wins 4-2 on penalties

Finnan Hyypia Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Sissoko Kewell
Kuyt Babel

52’ – Torres for Kewell
65’ – Benayoun for Babel
74’ – Arbeloa for Riise
76’ – Carragher for Agger
82’ – Leiva for Sissoko
85’ – Gerrard for Pennant

Utaka misses; Gerrard scores – 0-1
Taylor scores; Kuyt scores – 1-2
Lualua scores; Torres saved – 2-2
Hreidarsson scores; Benayoun saved – 3-2
Kranjcar scores – 4-2

Well, if Liverpool was going to lose its first game on penalties under Benitez, this was the right place to do it. And if I didn’t know any better, you could have convinced me I was watching a mid-season game between these two Premiership sides.

Admittedly, neither team played as well as they could have, the heat and humidity were obvious impediments, and there were signs that some of the players weren’t completely on the same page. However, in tempo and in the way the game played out, it looked a lot like previous Liverpool/Portsmouth meetings. Liverpool presses, is unable to break Pompey down despite the better chances and more of the possession, and Portsmouth always looks like they could nick an undeserved one, their best chance being on a Gary O’Neill one-on-one after the defense was split far too easily, but Reina was able to make himself big and block the shot at the top of the box. Kuyt was the main example of Liverpool’s wastefulness; he had four decent chances in the first half alone, twice putting it wide or high and twice bringing good saves from David James, but he wasn’t alone.

That full time ended 0-0 isn’t completely out of line with past matches, either. Nor is the fact that Pompey snuck away with a win. Maybe now is a good time to reiterate that yes, this is the preseason.

And since it is the preseason, I’m not too bothered about the result. I am a bit bothered about Liverpool’s inability to break a stubborn team down, which brings back some bad memories of seasons past, although it is the first time it’s happened this preseason. New players (and returning ones – hi Harry) weren’t always on the same page, Gerrard barely made a cameo, fitness levels and match practice weren’t completely up to par, and the conditions exacerbated these problems. But this game came perilously close to déjà vu; I’m sick of hearing about Liverpool's lack of ruthlessness. While writing, I can hear Jason McAteer in the background comparing Liverpool to Arsenal in profligacy and looking for the ‘perfect goal.’ Ugh. David James did have a great game, you know. Which, for some reason, he always seems to do against Liverpool.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think this season will be different, especially after players like Torres, Babel, Kewell, and Kuyt get on the same page. And I was a little surprised not to see Crouch or Voronin come on, but they’ve played the most minutes out of all the strikers in preseason. Plus, I’ve still seen a lot of positives in the past couple of weeks.

Pennant has probably had the best preseason of all Liverpool’s players. He’s continued his good form to close last season and continued to be a threat down Liverpool flanks. He was less effective on the left, where he played for the majority of the second half, but that’s not all that surprising, and it’s something that needs to be worked on (which is what preseason’s for). It’s become obvious that Rafa wants versatility out of his players, especially in attack. We’ve seen it in previous games with Rafa varying the players while keeping a fairly static formation and saw it today with Babel and Kewell switching positions in the first half. Based on what gone on so far, Babel, Kewell, Benayoun, and Pennant all look likely to play in different places throughout the season.

Alonso has also demonstrated why he’s so essential to the team, showing his range of passing and in dictating the flow of the game. While he didn’t continue his trend of scoring stunning free kicks, Riise’s also stood out, covering gaps in defense well while getting forward from left back as usual. The goals haven't hurt his cause, either. And Sissoko, who I fall in and out of love with multiple times in the same game, has put in some very energetic and typical ‘destroyer’ performances. I still think Momo is an offensive liability, and although he was more composed today, I don’t think Liverpool will get enough goals if he plays in every game. But I also don’t think he’ll play every game. There’s a time and place where Momo is very valuable; Barcelona last season is a perfect example of that. The aforementioned Voronin has also been a plus, as he’s been impressive every time he’s played.

I’m not going to jump on, say, Torres, who still hasn’t scored (yawn) and missed his penalty, as he showed his class and cleverness at times and because he’s behind in pre-season training with his ankle knock and lack of international clearance, or Babel, who showed that burst of speed which Liverpool will need, despite not quite linking up well with his teammates, or Kewell, who didn’t show the quality I know he still has or, like Babel, seem to be on the same page as everyone else. It’s preseason, and I’m not wavering in my belief they’ll come around.

Liverpool’s still demonstrated potential, is still to get the new signings fully settled, has picked up no injuries, and is working hard to improve fitness levels, evidenced by the fact that when players were subbed off you could see devices strapped to them that looked like heart rate monitors. Again, that’s what preseason is all about. And as said above, and in all the other reviews, some players have excited. Which is why I’m not that bothered by a loss in the Asia Trophy at the end of July.

Yes, at times, the defense has looked shaky, especially in holding a high line in the offside trap, and yes, for the first time in the preseason, Liverpool were unable to score (and at times were even wasteful), and it was in a game against Premiership opposition. But all the problems are rectifiable things, and I’m still pretty sure it’ll be a different story when we actually get to the season.

The last two preseason games are in the Rotterdam tournament, against Shanghai on August 3rd (12:30pm) and Feyenoord on August 5th (2pm).

25 July 2007

Gillett and Hicks and the new stadium

There will be a fair bit of talk about the new stadium, with 3 photos of the new design released today, and many others will cover it far better than I’m able to.

Liverpoolfc.tv main article

Liverpoolfc.tv portal to other articles
Liverpool Echo main article
BBC Sport article
RAWK stadium thread

I’d just like to make one point in regards to Gillett and Hicks.

The new owners said their first priority would be signing current players to new deals. Gerrard, Carragher, Reina, Alonso, Sissoko, and Finnan all now have new deals.

They then said money would be made available for new players, with no set figure, just depending on Rafa’s needs and wants. Well, Torres was signed for ~£20m, Babel for £11.5m, Benayoun for ~£5m, and Lucas for ~£5m, while bringing in Voronin on a free and innumerable youth players, with only £20m or so recouped through the sales of Bellamy, Cisse, Garcia and Pongolle.

Gillett and Hicks also promised a redesign of the new stadium plan, to take into account fans’ desires and the legacy of the Kop, making the new stadium more unique to Liverpool, while leaving room for possible expansion to increase the number of seats from 60,000 (which is what the first planning application approved) to a potential 76,000-78,000. With today’s announcement, it appears they’ve fulfilled that promise as well, although there’s still a good bit of work to be done. But they’ve made all the right steps, including tailoring the new design to make the new planning application as near to the old one as possible in the hopes it will be expedited, and beginning discussions over improving infrastructure to the stadium which would allow in the increase in capacity.

Yes, it’s still early, and yes, I’m still not completely convinced, but honestly, Gillett and Hicks have done everything they’ve promised so far, and that needs to be recognized.

24 July 2007

Liverpool 3-1 South China

Arbeloa Carragher Agger Riise
Benayoun Sissoko Alonso Kewell
Voronin Crouch

55’ – Pennant for Kewell, Kuyt for Crouch
66’ – Finnan for Benayoun
73’ – Hyypia for Sissoko
78’ – Threlfall for Alonso
83’ – Martin for Carson

Riise 10’; Alonso 28’; Agger 74’
Li Haiqiang 35

With only seven subs on the bench, Liverpool had far less chance to chop and change as they have in previous preseason outings, but we still got to see a wide variation of players. That Hyypia came on for Sissoko in the 73rd minute in a straight swap and when Threlfall came on for Alonso, Arbeloa ended up pairing Sami in the center of midfield should say enough. It’s not Reina having to play in midfield like last year, but it’s close.

Liverpool were partly hindered thanks to Torres, Babel, and Lucas Leiva, who was in line for his debut, all having to sit today’s game out as none had received international clearance. All three should be cleared for Friday’s match against Portsmouth. I imagine the difference between these three and Benayoun, who’s also a recent signing, was that Benayoun came from an English club. Gerrard also missed today’s game with an abdominal strain picked up in training, but he too should return for Friday.

Today’s win, Liverpool’s fifth of the preseason, also marks the fourth time in five games that Liverpool’s scored three goals, which is a far sight better than last season’s preseason performance. Riise nailed a trademark thunderbolt of a free kick, straight on and with the outside/toe of his foot in the 6th minute, while Alonso slotted home a penalty after it was his pretty throughball that led to Voronin being barged over twenty minutes later. Agger started and finished Liverpool’s third, and best, goal in the second half. He found Riise running forward on the left, and Riise’s cross found a wide open Kuyt, who unselfishly set it up for Agger to run onto and smash into the net. It was a very classy way to finish the scoring.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention South China’s lone goal, which was one of their few opportunities, as they were outclassed from start to finish, even with Liverpool lackadaisical at times. In fact, before the free kick was taken, it didn’t even look like and opportunity for a strike on goal being 35+ yards out, but Carson couldn’t keep out Haiqiang’s curling left footed strike. As much as I dislike linking opposition goals in the match report, it’s well worth watching the above link.

I thought Alonso was Liverpool’s best player today, although Voronin, who played the full 90, hustles an awful lot, has clever moments, and deserved a goal, is going to get his shouts as well and rightfully so. But Alonso was the fulcrum of all of Liverpool’s good play in the first half, made some absolutely superb passes, including the one to earn the penalty, and did his duty mopping up and stopping play in the middle with Sissoko.

And Momo, who was everywhere, is going to get a few mentions as well. And as Momo goes, those mentions are going to be both good and bad. Sissoko runs his socks off, rarely gives up on the ball, is as much of a defensive monster as ever, is improving his passing, and seems to be trying to do more in the final third of the pitch. However, he’s also too prone to breaking up Liverpool’s attack as much as the opposition’s, whether it’s a mazy run that unnecessarily ends with a poor touch or a misplaced pass to an open player. He’s trying to improve, and he is showing improvement, but I still can’t help but thinking he’s an offensive liability, no matter how excellent his tackling or motor is.

Others had good games as well today, which is reassuring, along with the fact that Liverpool ended with no injuries and performed well in a fairly raucous, if not hostile, atmosphere. I thought Pennant looked very lively after he came on, and he’s looked threatening in all of the preseason games, although he needs to have a better eye for and take more chances at goal. Riise got forward very well, put in some nice crosses, and well deserved his goal, the second free kick he’s scored in the four games.

It’s also worth noting that despite all the talk, including by me, of all of Liverpool’s new possibilities, and the likelihood of Benitez using a number of different formations, that Liverpool has played 4-4-2 (well, 4-4-1-1 if we’re truly playing this game), despite all the rotation of personnel. It’s probably a good thing that there will be consistent tactics/formations despite the number of players Liverpool has at its disposal so they can build some consistency, but admittedly, I’m more than a bit surprised that Benitez hasn’t experimented more.

So that’s five wins out of five, no injuries, and new and young players getting time to play with first team veterans. So far, it’s been a pretty successful preseason. Let’s hope it continues Friday against Portsmouth, which will again be on Setanta, coverage beginning at 8am.

23 July 2007

Recurring Monday Roundup

Before I get to the spattering of news and notes that took place over the weekend, I’d like to invite any and all of you to participate in the Fantasy Football league I’ve recently set up. I know a lot of people use Yahoo’s version, but for the past four or so years, I’ve used the Premier League’s, so that’s what I’m going with.

The address, if you're too lazy to click the link, is http://fantasy.premierleague.com. Once you get to the mainpage, you have to register with the site and create a team, at which point you can choose to join a private league.

The league name is “Oh You Beauty” and the passcode is 70973-17577

I hope to get a few people in this, and I anticipate the lot of you beating my brains in throughout the course of the season.

Now then...

- Steve Finnan, the lone holdout amongst those who had been discussing contract renewals, has finally joined Gerrard, Carragher, Reina, Alonso, and Sissoko in signing a new deal. To my surprise (and delight), Finnan’s new deal runs for the next 3 seasons, instead of the 2-year deal I thought he’d get. Yes, he’s 31, and yes, he doesn’t get credit for the job he does, especially on the attacking side of the field, but I will continue to reiterate my belief that Finn is the best right back in the league. You hear an awful lot about his “consistency,” and rightfully so, but that doesn’t nearly come close enough to describing what he does for the team. The most common complaint is that Finnan doesn’t get forward enough, but he’s always combined well with Gerrard on the right, and improves his partnership with Pennant every time out. He’s also one of the best crossers of the ball on the team period. Long may it continue.

- Meanwhile, Robbie Fowler’s signed a two-year deal with Cardiff City. Even though it somewhat hurts to say, this is probably one of the best situations Robbie could have found itself in. It is very strange referring to Fowler as a Championship-level player, but unfortunately, that’s what we’ve come to. I still maintain that he’s too good of a player for the Australian A-League or MLS at this stage of his career, and that MLS would probably have been bad for Robbie’s career, while Cardiff was near the top of the Championship for the first half of last season before finishing in 13th, has improved every year under Dave Jones, and is looking to replace their main striker (Michael Chopra, who’s off to Sunderland). Yes, I realize it’s a Welsh team, in the Championship, but they’re a good team with promise and potential. It really is a good situation for Fowler, and I’m excited to see what he can do there. All the best, Robbie.

- Last night, Emiliano Insua was part of the Argentinean team that won Under-20 World Cup, beating the Czech Republic 2-1 in the final. Insua played another full 90 minutes, and while Argentina was expected to win, having won five of the last seven Under-20 World Cups, the experience he’s gotten coupled with the confidence of winning the title can only be a good thing for Insua and Liverpool.

- Liverpool’s pursuit of Gabriel Heinze is in the news again. The BBC is reporting that Liverpool’s lawyers are attempting to work out a deal with United despite their extreme reluctance to sell a player, any player (no matter the fact he’s not in their plans and was told he could leave), to Liverpool. It comes down to the fact United supposedly sent a letter to Heinze’s agent that set out the conditions under which Heinze could leave, with no mention of any restriction on where he could go, including to Liverpool. Liverpool supposedly have met those conditions.

Admittedly, I have little desire to see a Manc play for Liverpool. I’m well aware that only one player has transferred between clubs in the modern era (Phil Chisnall, 1964). I’m worried that Heinze hasn’t recovered from the knee injury that kept him out for nearly a full season, as he did not play well last season at either left back or center back (he was worse at CB). And £7m seems like a good deal too much. But I also think that he could return to form, or at least improve, under Benitez. It sure doesn’t hurt that he’s Argentinean, with Rafa’s apparent fondness for players from that country. With the players Liverpool already has, what they need is a squad player who can fill in at LB or CB, which is supposedly what Heinze offers. He shouldn’t be completely past it being only 29. And honestly, the fact that Ferguson is so dead-set against the move makes me want him more.

- Finally, a reminder that Liverpool plays South China in Hong Kong tomorrow in the Asia Trophy, live on Setanta at 8:15am. The 3rd place game is Friday at 5:30, with the title game at 8:15. Portsmouth and Fulham are the two other teams involved. Thanks to work, I’ll be unable to see tomorrow’s match, but I’ll try to record it (no promises; thanks ITVN). A match report, if possible, will be late though.

20 July 2007

Liverpool 2-0 Auxerre

1st Half:
Finnan Carragher Paletta Arbeloa
Benayoun Gerrard Hobbs Babel
Voronin Kuyt

2nd Half:
Arbeloa Paletta Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Hobbs Benayoun
Torres Crouch

62’ – El Zhar for Benayoun
70‘ – Darby for Arbeloa

Gerrard 45’; Agger 72’

Well, that was a far more typical preseason game.

Until the 45th minute there was very, very little to write home about. Outside of the fact that it was a droll, tepid half and until Gerrard scored right before the halftime whistle, the main thing that stood out was the way that Liverpool rotated the strikers and wingers, which I’m pretty sure foreshadows what Benitez will try and do this season.

To begin the game, Babel and Benayoun lined up on the left and right flanks respectively. By the 15th minute they had switched flanks, and 20 or so minutes after that, Kuyt went out wide right while Babel moved into the middle. None of the changes made much difference, though; the game was played at a canter, the midfield was congested, no one could keep possession, and no one could seemingly get anything going, although it’s worth noting that Auxerre played a lot tighter than Bremen did.

That is, no one could get anything going until Gerrard made a typical drive from midfield with the half near its end. Finnan cut in well from the middle, played a lovely throughball that Babel dummied, and Gerrard strode onto it to slot it past the keeper with his “weaker” left foot. It was a moment out of the ordinary for the half, but one very much characteristic of both Gerrard and Liverpool.

Other than that, few things stood out. I thought Yossi Benayoun worked hard and made himself available on either side, Kuyt showed his typical work-rate despite the pace of the match, and new keeper Nikolai Mihaylov made a few decent saves and didn’t look too far out of his depth, although it was a slow-paced preseason game.

There were a couple of dismaying points as well. We finally got a letdown after Voronin’s first two games, as he was nearly invisible throughout the first half, while Babel was disappointing as well, giving the ball away easily and not looking very threatening when playing on the right.

Liverpool made less changes at the half than had been the norm, with Mihaylov, Paletta, Hobbs, Benayoun, and Arbeloa (moving to RB) staying on, and the story remained the same. Not much in the way of tempo or creativity, a solitary goal, and few bright spots or notable moments.

Liverpool’s second goal of the match came from an Agger header from a corner, which would be heartening given Liverpool’s performance on corners in the past, but Agger was completely wide open thanks to some terrible marking, although the free header was well-placed to beat the keeper. Auxerre rarely looked like replying either before or after the second goal, although their striker Maoulida, who was probably their best player, missed an absolute sitter of a header in the 67th minute.

Like the first half, very few put in performances that stood out, mainly thanks to the pace of the game, plus that I imagine a fair few were holding back given the long trip to China next week and that fitness levels are still low this early in the preseason. Mihaylov continued his respectable performance, despite a couple of spills, given that it was his first Liverpool match, even if he didn’t have much to do. Riise did well to track back, especially in covering the center, when other players were caught out of position. Pennant also put in what’s become a usual good performance, trying to beat his man and get to the byline, while also putting in some decent crosses.

But it was El Zhar, who came on for Benayoun on the left in the 62nd minute, who stood out the most for me. I have to admit, I wasn’t very impressed by his performance against Bremen; to me, he was one of the few who were taking the game at a walking pace and wasn’t involved nearly as much as he should have been. Today was in complete contrast to that; while everyone else around him was playing the game at a trot, El Zhar was active, provided the corner for Agger’s goal, tried to beat his man down the flank, and tried to make things happen. He was unlucky not to score when his Garcia-esque header towards the top corner was saved, and in fact, in my most generous moments, I’d say El Zhar reminded me of Garcia in more ways than just that one header.

And I certainly can’t go without a mention of Liverpool’s record signing, who played the entire second half partnering Crouch up top. Torres had some good movement, got out wide on both the left and right to try and provide assists, and probably should have scored his first goal for Liverpool in the 90th minute, where like against Bremen, the keeper did well to come off his line, close down the angle, and make himself big. But he also played in pace with the rest of the match; Torres, like Babel, Voronin, Crouch, and many others, looked tired following the week in Switzerland and probably training this morning before today’s match.

All in all, it was a decent workout to improve fitness levels, more time for new and young players to learn the other’s movements, and no injuries, if nothing special. Basically, it’s what preseason is all about, a glorified training session. Hopefully, and this is what’s most important, Rafa’s learned more about his possibilities for the upcoming season. Which, as Ian Connor, Nigel Spackman, and the rest of the Setanta crew reminded us, starts on August 11th at Aston Villa live on Setanta. It was almost as if they were promoting Beckham coming to the US or something.

The next friendly, against a South China XI, is Tuesday at 8:15am on (you guessed it!) Setanta.

17 July 2007

Liverpool 3-2 Werder Bremen

1st Half
Finnan Paletta Hyypia Riise
Pennant Gerrard Hobbs El Zhar
Voronin Crouch

2nd Half
Darby Carragher Agger Arbeloa
Benayoun Alonso Sissoko El Zhar
Kuyt Voronin

64’ - Torres for Voronin
73’ - Babel for El Zhar

Voronin 4’, 61’; Riise 14’
Schindler 7’; Almeida 84’

Once again, we saw the extent of Liverpool’s possibilities, with nearly two different teams lining up in each half. And they were some tantalizing possibilities on display. The big storyline is that contrary to expectations, Torres, Babel, and Benayoun all got a run-out in the second half, and while it’s still very, very early (that’s a mantra that I’m going to be repeating all preseason), all three had moments that left me very hopeful.

For a preseason outing, the game sure got going right away. Within 20 seconds, Gerrard had delivered a crunching tackle. 4 minutes in, Voronin smartly intercepted a hospital pass along the backline, rounded the charging keeper, and slotted home for his first Liverpool goal. Three minutes later, Schindler had equalized for Bremen, and seven minutes after that, Riise replied with a trademark rocket of a free kick (reminiscent of that special one against United in 2001) that Weise got hands to and still couldn’t keep out.

There was no way either team was going to keep up that pace, and both actually began to behave as if they were playing an early preseason match. However, there was still much that caught the eye, both good and, yes, bad.

First off, as I said, much of the post-match talk will center on Torres, Babel, and Benayoun, and after the money spent, that’s not surprising. But it was Voronin who really caught my eye. He was one of those lauded after Saturday’s game, and today did nothing to dissuade that. Aside from the two goals, he popped up all over Bremen’s half, looked threatening, and linked up well with Pennant, Gerrard and Crouch. He‘s clever and he’s strong, two great traits in a striker, especially one who’s considered the 4th striker and cost nothing in transfer fees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he catches a few people by surprise this season.

Pennant was the other who stood out in the first half. He made himself available, covered a ton of ground, looked to get to the byline on both flanks, and was involved in nearly every attack. He was partly at fault for Bremen’s first goal with a ton of open space on Liverpool’s right, but he did try to get back down the flank to try to close down the winger after both he and Finnan got caught upfield, and was unlucky to see the cross deflect off him to fall right to the Bremen striker.

But that goal also showed one of Liverpool’s main flaws in today’s game: they could be caught exposed, usually trying to pull off the offside trap. Maybe it was down to the fact that the defense was a bit different than usual in both halves, maybe it was due to missing Reina’s presence in goal, or maybe it’s just the preseason, but it was atypical. It happened again late in the second half, when the substitute Loring found space on the right and found Hugo Almeida, who in scoring saved Stephen Darby from an own goal in his first team debut. Really, no defender stood out as poor, and Hyypia and Arbeloa were actually quite good, but still. Nonetheless, having seen Liverpool play Benitez’s offside trap over the last three seasons, I can’t say I’m that worried.

The second half was even more encouraging. The pace remained standard for a mid-July match, but Liverpool was even less under threat for the majority of the half, despite one moment of insanity where Bremen looked to have scored a fluky second in the 71st minute, only to have it rightly chalked off 4 minutes later (was Graham Poll the 4th official?). Regardless of that “goal,” and the actual second that Bremen ended up scoring, Liverpool was still dominant. Alonso and Sissoko, Sissoko especially, ate up everything in the middle of the park. Kuyt combined well with Voronin, although I was surprised to see that Kuyt was the one who played deeper in the pairing. Voronin’s second goal was even better than his first, with a great shot from a tight angle that he curled around the keeper after getting into space. And, yes, there were Torres, Babel, and Benayoun.

With Torres’ ankle knock, and Babel and Benayoun supposedly to get their first outings against Auxerre on Friday as they signed less than a week ago, it was surprising to see all three play. But I'm sure glad that all three did. All had chances for a dream debut, none could get that goal, but there certainly was nothing to be disappointed about either.

In Fernando Torres, Liverpool looks to have finally bought a truly game-changing player. He’ll be questioned until he does it in the Premiership, and rightfully so, but his class was on display with some jaw-dropping moments. Out of the three new big names, he was the most impressive and came the closest to scoring. There were a couple of moments that stood out for me, once where he worked incredibly hard to earn a free kick out of nothing and a couple of cheeky backheels that just barely missed finding their intended target, and his unselfishness was demonstrated in trying to set up both Kuyt and Babel at times as well. In the dying minutes of the match, he was twice unlucky not to score, once when Kuyt’s dipping shot was parried and Torres was the first to get there, only to see the keeper get in place to make an excellent save, and when he just chipped wide seconds later, lucky to even get a shot off under pressure from the center back and keeper.

Babel and Benayoun showed glimpses too. Both had moments where they linked up well with teammates and looked dangerous, and both will probably have key roles to play this season. Benayoun showed that he’ll be more than serviceable on the right wing and didn't seemed out of place at all, although we know he’ll be able to fill more than just that position. I’m still a little hesitant over Babel, who’s young and will have to improve to fulfill his potential in the Premiership, but the potential is clearly there, and there was one moment where you saw just how good he could be. Some very fancy footwork at the top of the box, when he was surrounded by defenders, gave him space for a shot out of complete nothing, even though it unfortunately ended up to be a tame effort.

I’ve said it far too many times already, but I feel the need to continue to hedge my bets. This is still the preseason, and a friendly game in Switzerland against an under-strength and demonstrably tired Werder Bremen is far different than, say, Goodison in October or Old Trafford in March. But I’m really pleased with today’s performance, despite the few flaws and despite the date. I’m probably going to jinx it, and maybe it’s just a symptom of the money spent or the fact that thanks to this blog I’m thinking about Liverpool more than ever, but I can truly say I’m looking forward to and more hopeful about this season than anytime this decade. And I was pretty hopeful to start last season.

The next match is Auxerre, 9am EST Friday morning, and it’s on Setanta. Again.

16 July 2007

Bits and Pieces

Crushed for time recently, and it’s come as a bit of a surprise, so apologies for lack of a friendly write-up over the weekend (Liverpool won 3-0, Voronin looked handy, Putterill and Peltier scored their first goals for the club, and it’s still a pre-season friendly) as well as other content. Coverage of tomorrow’s friendly, which should see Torres’ first game for Liverpool, should be a different story.

In lieu, I’d like to point you to a few things I’ve seen sailing through the tubes on this “internet.”

- First, Being Sven, which should be utterly required reading for American Reds, has a great post on all of Rafa’s youth buys and the system they’ve created at Liverpool over the past couple of seasons.

- Harry Kewell continues his fine form in fairly meaningless games in which he’s not playing for Liverpool, scoring Australia’s 4th in a 4-0 win over Thailand. Coming on a sub around the 60th minute, Kewell, along with the completely detestable Tim Cahill, opened up the game and Australia managed to put three past the Thais after their entrance. The win sees Australia move on to the quarterfinals, where they’ll most likely lose to Japan. Taking shots at Kewell is a pastime for all Liverpool fans, but I will continue to reiterate that I’m still of the belief that his presence would have greatly benefited Liverpool last season, and he’s also got a key part to play for the Reds in the future.

- Brazil whomped Argentina yesterday in the Copa America final, despite Rafa’s best wishes for Mascherano, who scored his first two goals for the national team earlier in the tournament. Brazil played Dunga’s style of football -- tough-nosed, compact defense, very little space in the midfield, and blazing counter attacks -- to a tee, and the introduction of Dani Alves off the bench as a right midfielder (stunningly, where Benitez wanted to play him…) sealed the win.

- Meanwhile, in more international action yesterday, Emiliano Insua’s Argentinean Under-20s advanced to the semi-finals after beating Mexico 1-0. Despite my crush on Insua beginning last season, I’ve been unable to catch any of Argentina in this tournament (naturally, my digital cable package is adding ESPNU at the end of the month), but I’ll go out of a limb and guess that Insua’s been great, as I usually think he is. With Aurelio out for at least another month, possibly more, and Liverpool yet to purchase a back-up for Riise outside of Arbeloa, Insua's going to have a bigger role to play in '07-08.

- YNBA, along with Footie Girl, have done their second annual end-of-the-season awards.

- And finally, even though it’s not Liverpool, I’d like to highlight the blog “Culture of Soccer.” It’s one of my favorite reads throughout the entire blogosphere that’s developed, as it combines politics, sociology, and football, three of my most frequent discussion topics. You should be reading it regardless, but the reason I bring this up is in the hopes of possibly helping out. The author is going on a cross-country road trip, and is looking for possible stories to be explored. I wish I had some ideas, but since I don’t, hopefully that’s where you guys come in.

The friendly tomorrow versus Werder Bremen is on Setenta at 2:15pm, and barring any unforeseen nonsense, I should have a review up soon after, ideally like after matches last season. Which reminds me, I’ve yet to see how Liverpool’s new deal with Setanta will affect American coverage, specifically for those of us unlucky enough to watch via ITVN, but hopefully actually having a friendly on the air is the start of what this deal will bring for us Yanks.

13 July 2007

Next Year's Roster

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around all the ways Liverpool will be able to line-up next season. It’s still an ongoing process; I feel fairly secure in saying that if you thought last year’s squad was chopped and changed with little rhyme or reason, next year’s going to be a tough one for you.

I haven’t been able to figure out a good way to graphically demonstrate the different formations Liverpool could go with, but I want to throw this up, just to get people thinking. Hopefully, it’ll help me as well seeing this written out.

2 players for each position may very well be a thing of the past with the depth of this squad and the versatility of all the players in the team.

If Liverpool gets into a rhythm, if the new players settle and everyone understands their role and the job asked of them, they will strike fear into the hearts of the opposition on a weekly basis. And I don’t say that lightly.

Strikers – Torres, Kuyt, Crouch, Voronin, (Babel)
CM – Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Sissoko, Leiva
   DM – Alonso, Mascherano, Sissoko
   “Box to Box” – Gerrard, Sissoko, Leiva
LM – Babel, Kewell, Riise, Aurelio, (Voronin)
RM – Pennant, Gerrard, Benayoun
“In the Hole” – Kewell, Benayoun, Babel, Voronin, (Kuyt/Gerrard)
CB – Carragher, Agger, Hyypia, Paletta
LB – Riise, Insua, Arbeloa, Aurelio
RB – Finnan, Arbeloa
GK – Reina, Carson, Mihaylov

11 July 2007

On Benayoun and Babel

Benayoun’s signed, and Liverpool is in talks with Ryan Babel.

That progressed quickly. Well, the Babel move has progressed quickly (and out of nowhere); Benayoun has been an open secret all summer long.

As I’ve said before, I’m pleased with Benayoun’s signing, especially for £4 or 5m, which is miles below what he would have cost after 05-06. I’d rather not have lost Garcia, but I still am doing my utmost not to think of Yossi as Luis’ replacement. He’s similar in that he can play on the left or right and 'in the hole,' but he is a better passer, especially short, defense-splitting passes, and can be less erratic. Supposedly, Rafa’s had his eye on the player since he was at Racing Santander. We know Benayoun can perform in the Premiership, and his “decline” last season was understandable given West Ham’s troubles and adjusting to a new manager. With Mascherano, Liverpool proved they can make use of the Hammers' talented malcontents. Also, I think he’ll fill a similar role as a “squad player” to that of Zenden, and Yossi’s a clear improvement over Zenden.

I’m less gung ho about Babel, but that’s mainly due to unfamiliarity with the player. Yes, he’s not an out-and-out left winger, which Liverpool looks to need, but he can play in that position. His versatility will be a plus if/when he signs; I actually think it’s the key point. All of the players Rafa’s gone for this summer are versatile and can adapt to different positions in the course of the same game. The fact Babel’s so highly rated as a 20-year-old, and had been chased by Arsenal for the past year or more is also heartening; that Liverpool’s entered the race for his signature basically out of the blue (compared to Arsenal’s long courtship) shows that maybe some transfers can still be conducted without the tabloids getting a scent. Even if Babel doesn't have a huge impact on next season, that he's only 20 will be an enormous boon. He'll have time to adjust to England, settle at the club, and find his preferred position. And he will get playing time, that I'm sure of.

I would not be surprised if this was the extent of Liverpool’s major summer spending, obviously not counting youngsters, whom Benitez will continue to buy like they’re going out of style. The addition of Torres, Benayoun, Lucas, Voronin, and Babel should more than compensate for the players sold or released. A month or so ago when folks feared that Liverpool didn’t have the money to sign big names or make a mark in the transfer market seems ages away now.

All these players will offer different possibilities than Liverpool had last season, and I truly think that Liverpool will have one of the deepest and most varied squads in the Prem. I really am getting way too excited about the upcoming season.

I will say this, though. If I thought forecasting a lineup in the match previews was hard last season, I’m going to be completely out of my depth for the next. With this personnel, Liverpool should be able to switch between 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, or 3-5-2 depending on the opposition and players available. Yikes.

10 July 2007

Gaillard can go sit and spin

Remember when UEFA lackey William Gaillard tried to use the Football Supporters Federation as a crutch, saying that Liverpool fans had criticized their own to the federation? Well, in contrast to UEFA, the FSF went about collecting evidence and collating a 200-page dossier on the events surrounding the Champions League final.

Uefa gets blame for nightmare in Athens

A DAMNING report criticising governing body Uefa for the chaos at the Champions League final in Athens is to be released.

Well then. Oh, and it gets better.

But the FSF study pinpoints serious failings on the part of the governing body including:

Infrastructure problems with difficulties accessing the stadium, with no turnstiles or counters to stop those with rogue tickets.

Uefa’s paltry ticket allocation of 17,000 to fans of Liverpool and AC Milan.

Transport mayhem with angry fans facing cancelled flights on the way home and hours of delays.

The actions of police who used tear-gas and beat fans with batons.

So when is Gaillard handing in his resignation or is fired? And when is this report getting the same coverage that the “Worst fans in Europe” story received? The only news outlets I’ve seen making any mention of this report are the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post. Granted, the full report hasn’t been published yet, but that didn’t stop the media from commenting before.

Just another day in the life for UEFA.

Do one.

09 July 2007

Summer 2007 Transfers

Similar to what I attempted to do in January, below is a list of all of Liverpool's transfers for this summer with links to confirmations. It will be updated as necessary (I imagine Bellamy will be added sooner than later), and I've probably missed one or two of the many youngsters that Benitez has brought in. The official site has been fairly awful about keeping up with the youth/reserve signings, and I've resorted to stories from BBC/Sky Sports that announce that the transfer has been finalized. I don't like it any more than you do.

Mihail Alexandrov
David Amoo
Ryan Babel
Yossi Benayoun
Dean Bouzanis
Ryan Crowther
Peter Gulacsi
Charles Itandje
Alexander Kacaniklic
Lucas Leiva
Gary Mackay Steven
Nikolay Mihaylov
Krisztián Németh
Dani Pacheco
Damien Plessi
Marvin Pourie
Ben Robinson
Mikel San Jose Dominguez
András Simon
Fernando Torres
Andriy Voronin

Paul Anderson (loan)
Godwin Antwi (loan)
Craig Bellamy
Scott Carson (loan)
Djibril Cisse
Jerzy Dudek (released)
Robbie Fowler (released)
Luis Garcia

Mark Gonzalez
Danny Guthrie (loan)
Adam Hammill (loan)
Besian Idrizaj (loan)
Nikolay Mihaylov (loan)
Danny O’Donnell

Daniele Padelli
Gabriel Paletta
Lee Peltier (loan)
Miki Roque (loan)
Florent Sinama Pongolle
Bolo Zenden

08 July 2007

Welcome back

So I picked a good week to go on vacation. Where to start…

- Right, I should start with that lovely gentleman, Liverpool’s new #9, even though it seemed fairly certain he’d sign before I left. And as I wrote earlier, I’m thrilled about this. Thrilled. Torres is strong enough, quick enough, and skilled enough to make a huge impact in the Premiership. He is still only 23, after being the captain of his club since he was 19. I believe he can play with either Kuyt or Crouch or as a lone striker, giving Rafa the ‘possibilities’ he so desires. Obviously, it’s never a given that a player will settle, especially when they’ve played abroad for their entire career, but I truly feel very good about El Nino. You wanted a world class signing? This is a world class signing.

Seriously, the only striker rumored I’d rather have seen come to Liverpool would be Eto’o, as I hinted at before, and was almost certainly a pipe dream. And yes, that includes Tevez. The news about him possibly joining Manchester United (ugh – where are they getting all this money from?) proves what I had thought. Whereas Torres says things like "The Liverpool offer arrived and I told the club to listen to that offer as that is the team I wanted to play for," Tevez seems likely to prove what I feared all along: he’s a complete mercenary. Have fun with the Mancs, and I’m curious to see how he, Rooney, and the two new boys (Anderson and Nani) actually play together.

To sum up, I fully endorse this article with quotes from former Atletico manager Raddy Antic. It’s music to my ears.

- Going in the opposite direction are Bellamy, Cisse, and Zenden, all of which always seemed likely to happen. Cisse to Marseille isn’t a surprise in the slightest, while Zenden will join Djibril in southern France, where he should do well. Bellamy going to West Ham isn’t a shock either. Once Darren Bent said no to West Ham, Bellamy was the best British striker with Premiership experience in the Hammers’ price range. When signed last summer, I had hoped Craig would prove to be a missing piece for Liverpool, and I love narky players to boot (I actually was more worried about Pennant than Bellamy, which again shows what little I know), but it was fairly obvious he didn’t work out. And Liverpool was able to sell him at a better price than was paid, which is always a plus. No matter what happened this past season, I wish him well, as long as it doesn’t come back to bite Liverpool in the rear.

- Liverpool played their first friendly of the season yesterday, with Besian Idrizaj scoring a first half hat trick and Jermaine Pennant giving the best performance of the few senior players (Finnan, Arbeloa, and Sissoko were involved as well). Obviously, it’s only a friendly, against Wrexham and in the first week of July, but I was thrilled to see Rafa’s comments challenging Bes to earn a first team spot this season. That shows how highly Benitez rates the lad, and that’s nothing but good news. Plus, now I’ve got the first taste of the 2007-08 season, and I can’t wait for the real thing. August can’t come soon enough.

There’s probably a lot more I’m missing, and I could expound on each of these topics for their own posts, but I still have far too much catching up to do. We should be back in the full groove very soon, hopefully tomorrow. Promise.

03 July 2007

Gone Fishin'

Time for some deserved summer holidays. Normal service will resume next week.

Of course, I’m leaving the day Torres is to take his medical for Liverpool. Naturally.

With that kind of luck, by the time I’m back, Liverpool will have sorted out one of two more targets, and all will be raring to go for pre-season starting the 9th.

Everyone play nice.

02 July 2007

On Luis Garcia (for probably the last time...)

With Garcia set for a move back to Atletico Madrid, I can’t help but reminisce. I’ve been humming “You are my Sunshine,” the tune of Garcia’s song, all day long, and I imagine it’ll pop into my head more over the next couple of days. He truly will be missed. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Yes, Luis frustrated, Luis could be inconsistent, Luis gave the ball away too often, and Luis had the tendency to drift in and out of games. But very few have scored more meaningful or impressive goals, and very few fulfilled the niche for Liverpool that Garcia has over the past three seasons. 30 goals in 121 appearances is nothing to scoff at, especially considering his injury spells and the fact he’s often used as a sub. He’s probably been Liverpool’s most dangerous player in European competition in each of Benitez’ seasons. And without him it’s unlikely Liverpool lifts either the Champions League trophy or FA Cup.

But we must always give our goodbyes at some time. I don’t like looking at this as ‘in comes Torres, out goes Garcia.’ Obviously, the transfers are related, and Garcia’s move to Atletico should end up knocking a few million pounds off of Torres’ price, but at this stage, it looks like the deals are independent, seeing as Liverpool’s willing to let Garcia go before Torres officially signs. God forbid something happens and Torres doesn’t arrive (I fail to believe this will happen. It cannot happen.), I still imagine Garcia will depart.

He seems to want a move back to Spain, specifically Atletico, where he had a good spell in 2002-03. He’s 29, and will soon sign what will probably be his last big contract. Despite my affection for the player, and my belief that Liverpool needs the sort of creative spark Garcia brings, I can’t begrudge this move, and can do nothing but wish him all the best.

And in memory, here are my five favorite goals by Luis. All the best in Spain…

Juventus (2005 Champions League QF)

Chelsea (2006 FA Cup Semifinal)

Everton (03.25.06)

Charlton (10.23.04)

Arsenal (02.14.06)