31 August 2008

Liverpool 0-0 Aston Villa

Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Dossena
Kuyt Mascherano Lucas Keane

I am not used to Liverpool setting up shop to come away with a point on the road, and I’m not happy about it. Without Gerrard and with Torres going off after 26 minutes thanks to an injury, Liverpool were without invention and rarely looking like getting a goal.

But even before Torres was substituted, Liverpool seemed like they’d be content with a draw. For the first 40 or so minutes, Liverpool played in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Alonso trying to distribute from the back and Keane relegated to the left wing. Keane was often invisible on the flank, Torres was isolated thanks to the five-man midfield, and both teams were unable to break the other down. It took 20 minutes for either side to get a shot off, which Lucas nearly ballooned out of the ground.

Once Torres picked up an injury, clutching his hamstring while chasing down a lost cause (he’ll have a scan on Monday; please don’t let this be serious), Benitez sent on Ngog in his place. I have no idea why Benitez brought the young Frenchman on for his first minutes outside of preseason with Keane struggling in a wide role and Babel (who’s played on the left, and who Liverpool fans desperately want to get a run as a striker) on the bench. Especially in a tough game away from home against an opposition you’re already struggling to break down.

And it continued in the same vein until the 35th, when the legs of Pepe Reina kept Liverpool from going behind after Young got open on the left and cut it back for Carew. Soon after, Keane began playing more centrally with Lucas shifting left, and Liverpool (surprise, surprise!) began to create some chances.

First, Kuyt shot into the side netting after Luke Young’s header fell to him in the 40th. Two minutes later, Keane played a lovely reverse ball to Ngog, who just fired over from the top of the box.

After the break, Liverpool continued to attack more effectively, with the best moment coming in the 52nd after good play between Keane and Lucas led to Alonso getting a shot in space that was deflected over the bar. But aside from one other moment, that would be Liverpool’s last chance at goal. Villa began to see more possession and take the game to the away side. Although the home side still struggled to get shots at goal, Liverpool had to see off a fair few free kicks and corners.

Even though Liverpool were less and less threatening as the half went on, they should have had a penalty in the 73rd. Mascherano put Keane through on goal, but Reo Coker recovered to challenge. It sure looked like Reo Coker caught Keane’s leg when he dove in, causing Keane to mis-hit his shot, but the referee played on and Liverpool were left complaining about a non-call for the second straight game. However, it shouldn’t have gotten to that point; a more confident striker would have buried that chance before Reo Coker could get back.

Although Liverpool had won their last three with late heroics, it was Villa who looked the more likely in the final 10 minutes. Reina had to be aware for Milner’s snap shot in the 83rd, Laursen narrowly missed a header from a free kick in the 85th, and Carragher had to clear another free kick in the six-yard box in the 89th.

Admittedly, a point’s a point, and it’s another point despite a poor performance. This was a game that Liverpool would have lost in previous years. In five matches, the only goal let in was Mido's last weekend, which at least shows some of the defensive improvement we’d hoped for after the last campaign. Thanks to the defense for getting that point, especially Reina, who’s had to make some stellar saves already this season.

But once again, Liverpool’s toothless in attack, even after spending £19.3m on Keane (and relegating him to the left wing for almost an entire half). I can’t think of a shot on target if we’re not counting Alonso’s deflected effort. Not only that, but Liverpool seemed content with a point, which is nowhere near enough ambition for a team with this quality, even when they’re missing key players. And to compound matters, Torres was forced off with an injury early on. Liverpool cannot afford to lose him at a time when they’re struggling for goals.

I still can’t comprehend bringing on Ngog for Torres. I’ve criticized Babel more often than I’d like of late, but he seemingly had to come on there, which would allow him to play in his preferred position or move out to the left to let Keane to play more centrally.

But instead, Benitez chose to blood a player that’s never seen Premiership action, and Babel never even came off the bench. Aurelio came on for Kuyt in the 70th and Benayoun came on for Keane in the 79th. Neither did anything. Meanwhile, Villa brought on two midfielders for defenders in the second half, but there was no one with Babel's speed to attack the Villa back line over the top.

International breaks, especially those early in the season, usually infuriate me. But this one comes at a good time. Hopefully, Gerrard and Torres will both be able to recuperate over the next two weeks, and the team as a whole will be able to get their acts together. It’s a pity so many of the others will be away with their international teams.

29 August 2008

Liverpool at Aston Villa 08.31.08

11am eastern, live on FSC.

Last 4 head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 01.21.08
2-1 Liverpool (a) 06.11.07
0-0 (a) 03.18.07
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.28.06

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Standard (h); 2-1 Boro (h); 1-0 Sunderland (a)
Villa: 1-1 FH Hafnarfjordur (h); 2-3 Stoke (a); 4-2 City (h)

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Mascherano Alonso Benayoun
Torres Keane

Naturally, as soon as the players who starred at the Olympics were ready to return, there’s news that Gerrard’s out for the next 10 days at best. It’ll be a race to see if he can return to fitness before the match against Manchester United on September 13.

Gerrard’s replacement should be whoever’s fitter: Mascherano or Lucas. With their returns, I had hoped we’d see one of the two paired with Alonso and Gerrard further forward, ideally in a 4-2-3-1 with Kuyt, Benayoun or Keane on either side of him. But with the captain out, I imagine we’ll see the same 4-4-2 formation we’ve seen in all the games so far this season, with Masch or Lucas stepping into central midfield with Xabi.

In the post-match write-up following the Boro game, I wondered whether it was by plan that Alonso was getting forward more often than in seasons past. If he’s paired with Mascherano on Sunday, it’ll be essential that continues. Alonso has the ability to influence a game in this manner, and with Mascherano covering in a holding role, Xabi should have license to get forward, distribute the ball in the final third, and launch shots from distance.

Liverpool will still need to get more from the wings, but I honestly don’t know where it’ll come from on Sunday. Like many, I’ve been thrilled with El Zhar’s performances off the bench, but I doubt he’s ready to start (or that Rafa’s confident enough to play him from the start). El Zhar on the flank, with Kuyt or Keane as a supporting striker, has looked good when we’ve seen it though.

Similar goes for Babel, who’s going to have to show more consistency before he becomes a routine starter. And even if the Riera deal is tied up before the weekend, I doubt he’ll play any part before the international break. The only other option is Aurelio, but he’s always more likely to play at left back than in the midfield.

So even though Kuyt and Benayoun haven’t delivered enough on the wings, and Liverpool’s build-up stuttered because one or the other ends up congesting the middle, I imagine they’ll be starters for the 5th game in a row. Which I’m not entirely thrilled about, but it’s the way Benitez wants the team to play.

I’d be very surprised if Martin O’Neill didn’t have the troops fired up for this one. He’s been furious at Liverpool over the Gareth Barry saga all summer (you’re the one that kept it in the media, Martin), ultimately sticking an £18m price tag on the midfielder. While Barry is an outstanding player, that fee’s a laugh.

So it’ll be interesting to see how the Villa players, especially Barry, react. The fans will certainly be fired up. While Barry will probably be a dangerman given the summer drama, I’m most frightened of Ashley Young, who’s an incredibly pacey winger that can also deliver an excellent free kick. Agbonlahor’s speed can also cause a threat on the counter attack.

Villa have improved in each of O’Neill’s seasons, and look likely to cement a place amongst the top 6 or 7 teams in the country. Liverpool may have made hard work of the first four matches, but this should be the toughest, and the fact that it’s at Villa Park makes it even more difficult. Liverpool won this fixture last season thanks to some last second heroics by Gerrard. Who will step up this time?

28 August 2008

08-09 CL Group Stage Draw

Group D:
PSV Eindhoven
Atletico Madrid

It doesn’t seem like much is going to come easy this season. This is without a doubt the hardest group in this year’s draw, and the hardest group Liverpool’s been in since Benitez became manager.

At least Liverpool has experience against both PSV and Marseille, who they’ve met in the Champions League in the past two seasons. Liverpool was matched up against PSV in both the group stage and the knockout round in 06-07, drawing 0-0 in the first meeting before winning the next three 2-0, 3-0 and 1-0. Former Liverpool right back Jan Kromkamp is still at the club, and winger Ibrahim Afellay has grown into one of the hottest young Dutch prospects.

Marseille was in Liverpool’s group last season and won the first match at Anfield 1-0 in one of Liverpool most insipid performances of the last few seasons and thanks to a wonder goal by Valbuena. Liverpool reaped revenge in the next meeting, winning 4-0 in France to assure advancement to the knockout rounds. Cisse’s gone, having been loaned to Sunderland, as is Samir Nasri, but Niang, Kone, and Ben Arfa are all still dangerous attackers.

And hopefully Torres’ eyes lit up at being paired with Atletico, because the Spaniards are clearly the toughest #4 seed. Again, the opposition will field former Liverpudlians, with Luis Garcia and recently-signed striker Sinama Pongolle on the roster. Players like Sergio Aguero, Simao, Raul Garcia, Maniche, and Maxi Rodriguez are all threats. Atletico hasn’t been in the Champions League proper since 1997, and qualified this year by thrashing Schalke 4-1 on aggregate (winning 4-0 in Madrid). To be honest, Atletico frightens me far more than either PSV or Marseille.

Qualification from this group will be a tough task, even as a #1 seed. There are usually two teams clearly favored to advance in each group, and for the most part, the other 7 groups follow that theme. But not here. Any of the four could progress from Group D.

At the least, Liverpool’s familiar with all three teams and there are no long trips to Eastern Europe, but all of three have impressive players, and all can compete with any team on their day. It goes without saying that if Liverpool continues playing as they have in the first four games, it will be exceptionally difficult to advance.

The full draw is listed below.

Group A: Chelsea, AS Roma, Bordeaux, Cluj
Group B: Inter, Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos, Anorthosis
Group C: Barcelona, Sporting, FC Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk
Group D: Liverpool, PSV, Marseille, Atletico Madrid
Group E: Manchester Utd, Villarreal, Celtic, Aalborg
Group F: Lyon, Bayern Munich, Steaua, Fiorentina
Group G: Arsenal, FC Porto, Fenerbahce, Dinamo Kiev
Group H: Real Madrid, Juventus, Zenit, Bate

27 August 2008

Liverpool 1-0 Standard de Liege aet

Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Aurelio
Kuyt Alonso Gerrard Benayoun
Torres Keane

Kuyt 118’

These games are not doing my heart any good. Four games into the season, and the earliest goal Liverpool’s scored has come in the 83rd minute. And Kuyt striking the winner after suffering a ton of stick makes it even sweeter.

Liverpool should have been ready for Standard’s tactics. Liege were content to let the home side have more possession, but did an excellent job pressing the ball whenever Liverpool neared the final third, and looked to counter attack swiftly once they regained possession.

And each time they attacked they looked threatening. Once again, Liverpool owes Pepe Reina a huge debt of gratitude, coming up with two huge saves in the first half. First, he narrowly kept a bolt from the blue by Mbokani out in the 7th minute, and in the 18th, had to make another incredible stop on Fellaini’s effort when the defense was at sea.

For all the possession Liverpool had, Standard had the better chances, especially in the first half. In addition to the two saves Reina had to make, the right back Camazzato's audacious half-volley in the 35th didn't miss by much. Meanwhile, Liverpool rarely tested Espinoza, often unable to get shots on goal under pressure from the defense.

The away side were content to sit deeper in the second half, but were as resolute in defense. Attackers were often crowded out, Liverpool wasn’t getting enough width (or decent crosses) from Kuyt, Benayoun, Babel (who replaced Yossi in the 61st) or the fullbacks, and chances were still at a premium, with the best coming when Torres was able to run at the defense, only to see his shot deflected harmlessly towards the keeper in the 62nd.

Mention must be made of Liege’s central defenders, Onyewu and Sarr. Onyewu was outstanding in the air and both were able to keep Torres and Keane quiet for long stretches. They ate up crosses when Liverpool attempted to go wide, although far too often Liverpool tried to play through a congested middle where Liege didn’t give attackers an inch of space. However, there wasn’t a player in white that had a poor game. Liege had little to lose, and played tremendously in what had to be a huge match for most of the players.

And with Liverpool struggling, there was always the chance to be hit on the counter, especially as the home side got more desperate. In the 90th minute, Liege almost snatched it, with a cross from nowhere narrowly headed wide by Decamargo.

Extra time was more of the same, but Liverpool continued to press, and started to make headway after the break. In the 109th, Liverpool finally got a shot on target when Arbeloa’s screamer from the right channel was well saved. 4 minutes later, Liverpool should have had a cast-iron penalty when El Zhar (who came on for Keane in the 83rd) was clearly tripped by Onyewu in the box. However, the referee, who had been good to that point and had an excellent vantage point, played on.

Penalties seemed certain until Babel (who had failed to make an impact and gave the ball away cheaply far too often) sent an inch-perfect cross in from the left that Kuyt volleyed home at the far post. Once again, Liverpool underperforms, only to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the dying moments.

I can’t remember the last time Liverpool won so many late games in a row. I was impressed by the amount of games where Liverpool scored in the final 15 minutes last season. Winning three out of the first four and scoring all those winners after the 83rd minute is jaw-dropping.

But as written in the run-up, the team’s good fortune cannot last. Hopefully the addition of Riera will add decent width to the side, but I’m far happier about the return of Mascherano. Lucas will help as well, but Mascherano’s defense allows Gerrard to play further up the pitch, where he should be far more influential in attack. The captain’s sat far too deep in Masch’s absence, although he hasn’t been helped by the thigh strain.

In addition, hopefully, this will stop some of the needless Kuyt bashing. Some of the criticism is deserved; he’s not an ideal winger, and in games where Liverpool’s consistently on the attack, his deficiencies show (in contrast to games against more attack-oriented sides, where Liverpool needs to press opposition fullbacks and hassle like Standard did today). But he’s also a big game player, puts in 110%, and scores goals in Europe (7 last season). Even after 120 minutes, he was running the pitch from end-to-end, defending corners and counter-attacks before getting on the end of Babel’s cross.

Now Liverpool can take their eyes off of Europe and focus on the league form. With the full squad finally back and a few days left in the transfer window, we need to start seeing some overall improvement.

26 August 2008

Liverpool v Standard de Liege 08.27.08

3:05pm Eastern Time. Once again, I think US viewers are stuck looking for streams if they don't have lfc.tv's e-season ticket.

0-0 on aggregate.

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Boro (h); 1-0 Sunderland (a); 0-0 Standard (a)
Standard: 3-0 KVC Westerlo (h); 3-1 Dender (a); 0-0 Liverpool (h)

Referee: Massimo Busacca (SUI)

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Benayoun
Keane Torres

Benitez has ruled out both Lucas and Mascherano
, with this game coming too soon after their return from the Olympics, but hopes they’ll be back for Sunday. So unless Babel starts, I doubt we’ll see any changes from the team that beat Boro. Babel always seems more likely to come off the bench, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him in place of Benayoun after the last couple of games.

The Olympics and Rafa’s slimming of the squad have led to a lot less rotation (much to the media’s chagrin, I’m sure). Skrtel, Hyypia and Agger have split time partnering Carragher, and Plessis started the first two matches in place of Gerrard and Alonso respectively, but that’s it. Plessis hasn’t seen time since the first half against Sunderland, and Gerrard starting this time around (having only come off the bench because of a thigh strain in the last leg) will hopefully make a major difference.

If Hyypia’s fully fit (he picked up a hamstring injury at Sunderland, but in the same interview, Benitez said everyone’s available), I think there’s a good chance he’ll start. Even at his age, he’s imperious in the air, which Liverpool needs if the previous meeting set any precedent. Hopefully that would lead to Carragher moving to right back, which I admittedly have been suggesting more and more, but I think we’ll have to wait on that debate.

Standard has won their last two games by a 6-1 margin, and Mbokani, the danger-man in the last meeting (along with Fellaini), scored four of those goals. American defender Oguchi Onyewu should return after serving a suspension, as should Jovanovic, who was left out because of a possible transfer move to PSV that has seemingly fallen through. The last leg showed that the Belgians are no minnows, and Benitez says this is the toughest team Liverpool’s faced in the qualifiers since he became manager. These inclusions should make Liege even better.

It’ll certainly be a different game as it’s at Anfield, but that doesn’t assure victory. Two wins and a draw with the performances in the past three games is a fantastic return, but Liverpool can’t keep relying on guts and luck.

A fluke goal leading to a score draw would mean an exit from the competition, and Liverpool would miss out on the lucrative group stage at a time when money’s tight. I hate that it’s this way, but there’s a reason pretty much everything written about this game mentions Champions League revenue.

It’s not really possible for Liverpool to play as badly as they did in Liege. Yes, there hasn’t been enough progress over the last two matches, but there has been some. Little by little we’re seeing more moments where Torres and Keane click, which is no small matter. And yes, Fortress Anfield on a European night has been a massive advantage in the past.

But stranger things have happened, and it only takes a moment of brilliance or luck to decide a match. This certain match has a greater impact on the rest of the season, and Liverpool’s fortunes as a whole, than most.

Liverpool agree Riera deal

Well, we wanted a winger, especially with Benayoun’s sub-standard performances on the left in the past few games. Now Liverpool’s close to finalizing a deal for Albert Riera, an out-and-out left winger, subject to a medical and agreeing personal terms. The Liverpool Echo reports the fee’s “in excess of £8m,” which is a steal compared to Espanyol’s previous demand that any club meet Riera's buy-out clause, which is £16m.

Riera’s 19 appearances on-loan at Manchester City in 05-06 isn’t a fair judge of how he’ll bed into this Liverpool side and the Premier League in general. One, Pearce’s side started the season well, but absolutely fell apart in the second half and finished in 15th. Not the most stable club to move to at the age of 23 for his first experience in English football. It’s little surprise he didn’t make an impact there.

But more importantly, with Benitez and the Spanish lads at the club, Riera should settle far quicker. I’m not suggesting he’ll adapt as well as, say, Fernando Torres, but there’s certainly a precedent. Mascherano couldn’t get a game at West Ham; look at the impact he’s had at Liverpool.

And finally, let’s take this opportunity to again laugh at Everton, who were pipped to this signing just like they were in the case of Momo Sissoko. And what makes this even funnier is some media reports claim Everton offered a higher fee, only for the player to insist on a move to Merseyside’s better half. It couldn’t have hurt that Espanyol’s sporting director is Paco Herrera, who was a coach at Liverpool from 2004 to 2006.

Riera can’t start out on a much better foot.

Preview for the Liege match up sometime this afternoon or early evening.

23 August 2008

Liverpool 2-1 Middlesbrough

Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Benayoun

Mido 70’
Carragher 85’
Gerrard 90+4’

Wow. Just wow.

We've been privy to some incredible comebacks in the past five or so years. As late ones go, Olympiacos and West Ham obviously top that list, but this was a special last 10 minutes in its own right. Especially when the equalizer is scored by Jamie Carragher in front of the Kop (I don’t care if they credit it to Pogatetz, I’m giving to Carragher now and forever), with the winner coming in the dying seconds thanks to a trademark screamer by Gerrard.

Liverpool were actually decent in the first half, far better than against Liege or Sunderland, but as we’ve seen in the past, were unable to convert that into shots or goals. Turnbull, who was drafted in after Boro’s first-choice keeper was injured in the warm-up, had only one save to make, on Kuyt in the 3rd minute, while Liverpool’s best chance came in the 39th, after Torres’ iffy shot was deflected wide following good work by Robbie Keane, showing what the pairing is capable of.

But it’s not as if Boro sat back and invited the home team on. As promised, Southgate continued to field an attacking side, with two strikers (and Aliadiere on the right). Reina had to make an excellent save on Andrew Taylor’s long shot in the 13th, while Boro consistently looked to counter, especially though Downing on the left.

But the second half was eminently frustrating. Little seemed to come off for Liverpool, passes weren’t finding their target, and play consistently broke down in the final third, while Boro still looked to counter, with Tuncay continuing to be a handful. His star moment was when he excellently turned Carragher (after Mido should have never gotten a cross in) in the 62nd minute, only to shoot straight at Reina from eight yards out.

And what we’d always worried about, especially with Liverpool impotent in attack, finally happened in the 70th minute. Mido got the ball at the top of the box, was given space with Carragher and Skrtel backing off and Alonso unable to get there in time, and he hammered it into the bottom corner.

Liverpool brought on Babel in the 65th, and his performance summed up the game to that point perfectly. He didn’t get his first touch for ten minutes, and when he did, he immediately gave it away.

But Liverpool started getting more pressure on the Boro backline in the last 15 minutes, with El Zhar coming on for Arbeloa in the 83rd (Carragher moved to right back, and got forward) making a difference. It paid off two minutes later. Alonso’s cross was blocked by a Boro defender’s arm, and as Mike Riley was wont to do, nothing was called. But to Liverpool’s good fortune, the ball bounced out to Carragher on the right corner of the box. The defender hammered a shot towards goal, which was deflected into the net by Pogatetz (who had been excellent to that point), and the Kop went absolutely wild.

At that point, no matter how frustrated I was with the performance (and with a draw in the first game at Anfield), the fact that it was Carragher who scored the equalizer would have left me pleased. But Liverpool kept on the pressure, and four minutes were added on because Gary O’Neil decided to waste time feigning an injury in Liverpool’s box. Gerrard forced Turnbull into a good save in the 93rd, and Skrtel missed a free header from the subsequent corner. A minute later, Alonso sent a last-ditch diagonal into the box, and Keane was able to chest it into the path of Gerrard. We all know how it ends after that.

Plus, it’s not as if Boro sat back and defended after going up. That’s not how Southgate has this team set up, and they could have scored a winner of their own in the 88th when Reina strangely ran out to Aliadiere at the edge of the box only to be rounded by the attacker, but Carragher was there to make the tackle. And that’s why he’s Jamie Carragher. And man of the match.

I’m trying not to let Liverpool’s late win paper over the cracks. There’s still something not clicking for the team. Kuyt and Benayoun aren’t good enough on the flanks, although I thought Kuyt was far better today than in his two previous outings (Benayoun was gash though). Until the late heroics, Gerrard looked ambivalent and was nowhere near as influential sitting deeper in a midfield pairing with Alonso (is it just me, or is Xabi making more of an effort to get forward so far this season)? And Alonso, although good at times, was exceptionally erratic in his passing. Plus, his corners were absolutely awful all game long.

But at the end of the day, it’s another three points and more heart-warming late heroics. In addition, Boro truly was good; I’ve clearly underrated them in my predictions, and they will cause some upsets this season. The fact that it was the combination of Gerrard and Carragher to give Liverpool the win in the last 10 minutes makes it even more special.

Standard Liege at Anfield on Wednesday.

22 August 2008

Liverpool v Middlesbrough 08.23.08

10am, live in the US on Setanta.

Last 4 head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.23.08
1-1 (a) 01.12.08
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.18.07
0-0 (a) 11.18.06

Last match:
Liverpool: 1-0 Sunderland (a)
Middlesbrough: 2-1 Spurs (h)

Referee: Mike Riley

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Benayoun

Yes, I know, except for Agger, this would be the same line-up that struggled at Sunderland.

If Lucas and Mascherano were available, I’d guess different. But with those two missing from central midfield, Pennant seemingly cast aside, and Babel probably not ready to start, I don’t see many options.

Admittedly, this is more what I expect to see rather than want to see.

Not even considering Kuyt or Benayoun (it’s not like Liverpool is stacked with options on the flanks, especially if they play with 2 strikers), the one change I’d be tempted to make would be Carra at right back with Agger and Skrtel in the center, if Skrtel’s fit enough. Alvaro disappointed last time out, while Agger and Skrtel have the potential to be Liverpool’s central pairing for the next decade. And Carragher can certainly do a job on the right, although admittedly, you’re not going to get a lot from a right flank of Carra and Dirk in Boro's final third. But Liverpool should still be able to cope.

Any other changes would probably be because of midweek international friendlies, with Benayoun maybe making way for Aurelio, but since most of Liverpool’s first-teamers were in action on Wednesday, I’ve no idea.

Babel returned to Anfield earlier in the week, and while I expect (hope?) he at least makes the bench, I imagine the time difference and lack of preseason preparation will preclude him from starting. But to be honest, Babel was at his best last season coming off the bench anyway. Part of the development we hope to see this season is improvement when he starts, but I think it’ll be a process, just like bedding him into the first team was last season.

Even though Spurs were fairly impotent (like in their first match last season), Boro was impressive a week ago with a 2-1 win at the Riverside. Southgate promised to attack in comments before the match, and attack Boro did, with goals from Wheater and Mido, and Afonso Alves also looking lively.

Spurs may have had more possession, but Boro was good on the counter, and far more lethal than their opponents. Which sounds like how Liverpool games are prone to playing out at times. Liverpool doesn’t have any defenders like Michael Dawson (thankfully), but they can be exposed on the break, and usually have more possession than their opponents even if they’re struggling for shots. That’s part of the reason I suggested Carra as right back earlier in this preview.

Downing has been linked with Liverpool recently. I don’t really put much weight in that, because even if Benitez did want him, I doubt Boro’s selling (and I really doubt they’re selling to Liverpool after the Ziege incident). Downing is Boro’s best player though, and was excellent at Anfield last season. But I believe a flank of Kuyt and Carragher (or Kuyt and Arbeloa for that matter) can keep him quiet, or at least push him centrally where he’ll have far less time and space.

Liverpool have to show more cutting edge and far more incisiveness in the final third in their Anfield debut than they did at the Stadium of Light last weekend. It’s also troublesome coming back from an international break. Torres played over an hour for Spain while Alonso played the second half and Reina got a 15 minute run-out, Gerrard got an hour for England, Kuyt was a sub for the Netherlands, Dossena played the second half against Austria, and Agger, Keane and Benayoun played the full 90 for their countries.

The team (well, Torres) did well to eke a tough win at Sunderland last Saturday, which gave Liverpool the three points to start the season the right way. They have to build on that in their first match at Fortress Anfield.

21 August 2008

Silvestre v Heinze

Alex Ferguson would have rather slit his wrists than sell Gabriel Heinze to Liverpool last summer, but was more than willing to let Mikael Silvestre go to Arsenal yesterday.

I had thought that Arsenal would strengthen their backline over the summer, but it looked as if Wenger had ruled out a new centerback two months ago. It’s not surprising he’s had a change of heart or that he’s bought another Frenchman, but what’s surprising is where the signing came from.

There’s so much fun that can be read into this. Does Ferguson think Silvestre is past it, and can’t hurt his side (or help Arsenal’s)? Does he not even consider Arsenal a threat to his team’s title chances? Or does he just hate Liverpool so much he’d never sell a player to them, whereas Arsenal just doesn’t raise enough enmity?

United hadn’t sold a player to the Arse since Brian Kidd in 1974, while the last player transferred between United and Liverpool was Phil Chisnall ten years before Kidd.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten Silvestre’s brace against Liverpool in Benitez’s first season.

I am very, very curious to see how this turns out. My initial guess is that Ferguson’s just a prick about all things Liverpudlian, but that’s an easy guess.

20 August 2008

England 2-2 Czech Republic

Brown Ferdinand Terry Cole
Beckham Lampard Barry Gerrard

Baros 22’
Brown 45’
Jankulovski 48’
Joe Cole 90’

Yeah, it’s nice to see England eke out a draw even though they didn’t deserve it. It was an okay performance in the first half, less so in the second, but more than anything, it was a run-out against decent opposition. The biggest thing to take away is the fact that England drew level twice with late equalizers in both halves.

Even though it’s only a friendly, to be able to get goals at the death and to come back twice can be a massive confidence booster and a platform to build from. It’s been said innumerable times, but that doesn’t make it any less true: good teams get late goals to get something from a game even when its unwarranted.

England played most of the big guns, and ostensibly started in a 4-4-2, with Gerrard on the left of a midfield with Barry, Lampard and Beckham, and Rooney and Defoe up top. But Barry sat deeper than the rest, and Rooney often dropped into midfield, sometimes further than Gerrard, and also popped up out wide.

All in all, it was a mobile formation, with Gerrard, Barry, Lampard and Rooney shifting around as they saw fit. Sometimes it worked, but more often it didn’t. Gerrard isn’t a left-sided midfielder. If you can get him to stay over there, he can threaten by cutting in and shooting with his right foot, but he often floats trying to get more influence in proceedings, something he’s also prone to when on the right for Liverpool. And it mostly led to a disjointed midfield.

However, that’s the point of friendlies. It was a formation that allowed both Gerrard and Lampard on the pitch, which Capello seems to want, even though Lampard has repeatedly underperformed for England (not like he's the only one, but he's a main culprit).

Although under a new manager, the Czechs were as good as in Euro 2008. They defended well (until the late stages, like against Turkey) and looked to counter-attack whenever allowed, which they did to decent success early on. Barry picked up a yellow scything down a player on the break within 12 minutes, Baros forced James into a save in the 16th, and in the 22nd, the Czechs again got down the field quickly to open the scoring. Sirl found space on the left to receive a throughball, cut inside, and centered for Baros, who turned newly-minted captain John Terry and took a shot that deflected off Ashley Cole and past a sprawling James.

However, the home team started to see more possession, although there still wasn’t enough interplay between the midfield and strikers in the attacking third, and the couple of chances Defore worked out went straight at Cech. But in the 45th minute, Wes Brown’s excellent header from Beckham’s corner leveled matters. Once again, England needs Beckham’s set plays, although it was a very good run around the defender by Brown.

However, England was unable to build on it. They came out second-best after the break, were lucky not to lose a goal after Brown gave the ball away in his half within 90 seconds, and after Barry unnecessarily gave up a free kick on the edge of the box, went behind to Jankulovski’s flawless free kick in the 48th minute.

England made a number of changes in the second, bringing on Heskey, Joe Cole, Woodgate, Downing, Bentley and Jenas for Defoe, Gerrard, Ferdinand, Rooney, Beckham and Lampard, but the substitutions only served to make England more muddled. And no offense to Emile, but I’ve no idea why Capello used him as a lone striker, with Rooney deeper and out on the left even more in the second half before being substituted.

At least the Czechs played more conservatively and at a lower tempo in the second half, launching fewer counter-attacks (although a couple of Calamity James howlers involving Czech sub Sverkos almost gifted the visitors a third). But they still showed the same defensive resilience, which England was unable to break down.

However, in added time, Joe Cole spared England’s blushes at The Home of Football™, and made the scoreline look a lot better than the game actually was. A corner led to goalmouth scramble straight out of the lower leagues, which ended with Cole’s point blank shot going in off a Czech defender’s foot and face.

It may have been an ugly display for long stretches, but I’m not particularly upset with England’s performance. Well, any more so than usual. It’s a friendly, still early days in the Capello era, and the Czechs are perpetually above England in the FIFA ratings. This is England we're talking about. I’m not happy about the disorganized midfield, but that’s an area that’s plagued numerous England managers, and one that Capello’s still sorting out.

World Cup qualification begins in two and a half weeks in Andorra. Hopefully he’ll have more thoughts on the midfield by then.

I get mail

So I know the majority of my readers are American, but I still want to post this email I got from a UK marketing firm. They are raising awareness for youth sporting initiatives in Britain by allowing people to vote for the initiative they want to receive funding.

I’m writing on behalf of Norwich Union who are working to help local sporting initiatives across Britain. We noticed that in the past you’ve written about football in Liverpool in your blog and so thought that you might be interested in helping one lucky initiative win £50,000.

As well as the grand prize of £50,000, each initiative can win at least £1,000: to do this they just need to receive 200 votes from members of the public. We’d be delighted if you’d be able to encourage your readers to go to http://www.joinourteam.com/index/supportinitiative and vote for an initiative that appeals to them.

Initiatives will be using their winnings to further develop and encourage young people to participate in sports, so I’m sure that you’ll agree it’s a really worthy cause.

You can find more information on the fund by following the link below
Admittedly, I haven’t voted, because you have to register and need a UK address to complete the process, but if there are any British readers who want to create an account and pick an organization, I highly encourage doing so. Getting more youth involved in sport, any sport, is obviously an excellent cause.

I should have something on today’s England/Czech Republic friendly, which is on FSC at 3pm, up later.

16 August 2008

Liverpool 1-0 Sunderland

Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Plessis Benayoun
Torres Keane

Torres 83’

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Torres gets one chance, after 83 minutes of play, and makes absolutely no mistake with it. Until that point, it looked like another unconvincing display and draw away from home to start the season.

There’s little to write about the first half. Sunderland started brighter, and was the better side for the first 30 minutes. A mistake by Hyypia nearly put Diouf through in the 5th, only for Carragher to recover well, and Murphy had a free header in the 13th (after Diouf should have never got a cross off), but hit it straight at Reina, who spilled it, but no one was around to capitalize.

Liverpool improved as the half went on, as Gerrard saw more of the ball, but only two moments stood out. Benayoun should have had a penalty in the 34th when Wiley waved play on after Gerrard was fouled, but once Yossi was pushed over in the box, the ref blew for a free kick (which Gerrard sent straight into the wall). In the 43rd minute, we saw some of Keane’s potential when he excellently controlled at the top of the box only to miss narrowly wide with a left-footed shot.

The second half was better, with Alonso on for Plessis at halftime (the Frenchman supposedly picked up a back injury) and Liverpool increasingly in control, but it was still frustrating for long periods. Until the goal, Liverpool’s best chance was foiled when Keane, off all people, prevented Torres from tapping in the rebound after Gordon saved Kuyt’s deflected shot.

But, in an almost carbon copy of Torres’ equalizer at Boro last season, he picked the ball up in the opposition half (after a nice pass from Alonso), strode forward, and unleashed a low rocket into the bottom corner. Once again, Liverpool gets the winner in the last 15 minutes, and once again, it’s Fernando Torres. One chance, one goal.

Torres’ goal will end up obscuring a few things. First and foremost, Liverpool cannot play 4-4-2 with Kuyt and Benayoun on the flanks, especially when a team like Sunderland is content to congest the middle in their own half. Just like on Wednesday, it led to too many long balls hoofed forward and very few chances on goal. Kuyt works best on the right against teams like United and Chelsea where his workrate helps Liverpool break up the opposition. When he’s up against a team that’s happy to defend, he can be a liability. So far, this season is making me miss the 4-2-3-1, but the Olympics haven’t helped that.

Secondly, concerns will be raised over the Torres/Keane pairing, and rightfully so. Neither was winning headers against Nosworthy or Collins, and the incident when they got in each other’s way was an absolute farce. Both are excellent players, and I still think they can form a good partnership, but I also fear that the goal today shows Torres is better as a lone striker.

In addition, I was not happy with Arbeloa. Kuyt’s iffy play on the right didn’t help, but Arbeloa rarely, if ever, provided any overlap, seemed unwilling to go too far forward, and picked up some unnecessary fouls, including a rash yellow card. I did think that Dossena was better on the other flank, especially in his defensive positioning (compared to the match against Standard Liege).

I have to give Torres man of the match simply for the goal, but Alonso was also up there. His entrance was the turning point, even if it took almost 40 more minutes to break the deadlock. Xabi was key to Liverpool being able to keep possession, he looked for diagonal passes instead of long balls simply hoofed forward, set up Torres’ goal, and nearly scored another from his own half when he spotted Gordon off his line. So much for the 'Alonso wants to leave' talk.

I also thought that aside from the error in the 5th minute, Hyypia did well. Benitez used him for his aerial presence, and it paid off in the first half when Sunderland was threatening. It’s nice to see that Sami can still step in and do a job when needed.

For all the complaints, all that matters is the result. Sunderland will continue to be tough to beat at home, and in the end, Liverpool leaves with a win. This should restore some confidence, as was hoped, and was never going to be an easy game. There’s clearly room for progression, and it’s worth noting that Liverpool misses Babel, Lucas and Mascherano. The scintillating football will come. Three points will do for this one.

Next match is a week from today against Boro at Anfield.

15 August 2008

Liverpool at Sunderland 08.16.08

12:30pm, live in the US on FSC

Last 4 meetings:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 02.02.08
2-0 Liverpool (a) 08.25.07
2-0 Liverpool (a) 11.30.05
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.20.05

Referee: Alan Wiley

Guess at a squad
Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Benayoun

Even with the awful display on Wednesday, I expect Gerrard for Plessis to be the only change. And yes, I'm still not sure if this a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1.

Maybe Pennant will start in place of Kuyt to give Liverpool the width they were lacking in the last match. In addition, Aurelio has declared himself fit, but I imagine Benitez will give Dossena his league debut, and the opportunity to get past his performance against Standard. Although Aurelio could also play at left wing, with Yossi possibly moving over to the right.

Finally, the official site says that both Alonso and Benayoun suffered dead legs in Liege, but gives no indication as to whether the knocks would keep either out.

For the fifth straight season, Liverpool opens their Premiership campaign on the road. The team has never been at Anfield for the first league match under Benitez (draw at Spurs, draw at Boro, draw at Sheffield and a win at Villa). It's imperative that Liverpool start well and ideally get an early goal, both to quiet the crowd and get the monkey from the last match off their backs.

Sunderland’s new signings are Pascal Chimbonda, Steed Malbranque and Teemu Tainio from Tottenham and ex-Red (and all-around lovely bloke) El-Hadji Diouf. I still consider Craig Gordon one of the best keepers in the league. While losing Jonny Evans (who returned to the Mancs) won’t help their defense, Nyron Nosworthy did well against Torres in both matches last season. I expect Keane to continue to improve the side, and am still amazed at the job he’s done in his first managerial position.

Admittedly, there could be far worse opening matches. But Sunderland, especially at the Stadium of Light, will be no slouches, looking to build upon and surpass last season’s performance. The squad has improved, and I expect Keane will have them raring to go. Even though this is Sunderland’s second season in the division, I can’t help but remember back to the opening game of 06/07 against Sheffield United, especially after the match against Standard de Liege.

Last season, a last-minute win on the road against Villa boosted expectations and started the campaign on the right foot, even though it didn’t end as hoped. Liverpool will have to replicate that result, because I truly fear a media backlash if the team underperforms for a second-straight game. Hopefully, Wednesday will have been one hell of a wake-up call.

FYI: Also, last chance to join the fantasy league. We've got 14 teams so far. Click on leagues in the sidebar, look for the area to enter a code for a private league. The entry code is 843886-165015.

14 August 2008

08/09 final table prediction

1) Manchester United
2) Chelsea
3) Liverpool
4) Arsenal
5) Tottenham
6) Portsmouth
7) Aston Villa
8) Everton
9) Manchester City
10) Newcastle
11) Sunderland
12) Bolton
13) West Ham
14) Blackburn
15) Middlesbrough
16) Fulham
17) West Brom
18) Wigan
19) Stoke
20) Hull City

I wish I could write different.

I wish I felt confident that this was the year, which I didn’t even believe before last night’s ignominy. I wish I could write that I didn’t think it would be same old, same old at the top of the table. But I can’t see any different.

I do believe this is the strongest Liverpool squad under Benitez. I do believe that if players can stay healthy (especially in defense), Liverpool will be better than last year. Dossena and Agger should improve the backline, which was my biggest concern from last season. Keane adds another dimension to the front line. And the young players such as Insua, Nemeth, Pacheco, Plessis and Spearing look ready for some first-team action.

But Manchester United and Chelsea are still far stronger and more experienced in the title chase. I still don’t know if I trust Chelsea – Scolari’s never done it at club level and they’ve got a packed midfield to accommodate – while Manchester United can’t play as well as they have the last two seasons (can they?), but both teams look head and shoulders have the rest. And unfortunately, I think it’ll be a two-team title race by the spring, with Arsenal, Liverpool and maybe Tottenham or another surprise duking it out for the other CL places.

In addition, and while I don’t put much store by it, yesterday’s game showed that Liverpool’s lacking a winger if they can’t get width from the flanks and the midfield’s congested (not completing any passes doesn’t help though).

I still think Liverpool’s good enough for third, and could even pull a title race out of their asses if pieces fall in the right places, but it’d take a lot of things to go well for that to happen. And regardless of league position (as long as it’s top 4), all I really want to see is progress, the same thing I’ve ask for every season.

For the rest of the table:

Top-half threats:
Tottenham, Pompey, Villa, Everton

Any of these teams could seemingly threaten the top 4. We saw signs of it last season; all keep improving, all keep closing the gap. Everton fans may be upset with a lack of signings so far, but if it ain’t that broke…

I still don’t trust:
Newcastle, Manchester City

No matter the money spent, I don’t know if these two will make the leap forward. Newcastle is Newcastle, while as much as I like Mark Hughes as a manager, I don’t trust Thaksin’s meddling. Jo should bag a bunch of goals once he settles after returning from the Olympics though.

Punchy, but still in the lower half:
Sunderland, Bolton

These will not be fun away games. Keane will continue to improve the Wearsiders, while Megson has a decent replacement for Anelka in Johan Elmander.

Probably on the downswing:
Blackburn, Boro, West Ham

One of these three could easily slip into the next category. I feel bad putting Paul Ince’s side here, but I don’t know if he’s ready to manage at this level, and the losses of Bentley and Friedel will definitely be felt. Sorry, Guv’nor.

In for a relegation fight:
Fulham, Wigan, Stoke, Hull City, West Brom

I thought about combining the last two categories, because I don't think there will be much between 13th and 18th. I always fancy at least two promoted teams to drop back down, and Hull and Stoke seem as likely as Derby, Watford and others who eked promotion. West Brom is probably the strongest of the three and has the best manager in Tony Mowbray. That Wigan barely hung on by fingernails last season makes me think Albion could pip them to 17th.

FYI: I'm not doing the weekly Premiership predictions this season. They were far too embarrassing. Might transfer over to doing the CL once the group stages start, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

13 August 2008

Liverpool 0-0 Standard de Liege

Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Alonso Plessis
Kuyt Keane Benayoun

Let’s hope it can’t go anywhere but up.

I understand it’s the first competitive game of the season. I understand Gerrard was out, that it was Keane and Dossena’s first game, that Plessis is still a youngster, and that Agger is like a new signing. I understand it’s away against a team that won their league last season and is amped up because they’re aggrieved they’re matched up with Liverpool.

But that was the worst performance since last season’s abortion at Anfield against Marseille, a performance I preferred to never see again.

Liverpool can consider themselves lucky they weren’t behind within 12 minutes. In the 7th, Fellaini’s header from a free kick hit the bar and spun backwards on the line, allowing Reina to palm it away at the last second. In the 11th, Dossena was unfairly judged to have handled in the box (it was clearly outside it and arguably incidental, having rolled up off his leg), but Reina saved Dante’s poor penalty.

From there, it was a catalogue of errors and poor displays, although Standard rarely threatened as they did early on. The midfield was congested, Alonso and Plessis were losing out to Defour and DeCamargo, and neither Dossena nor Arbeloa provided the needed width in attack from fullback. It resulted in long balls forward from Carra, Agger, Plessis and Xabi when Liverpool actually had possession, which is clearly the way to take advantage of Torres and Keane’s individual strengths. Liverpool’s best, and probably only “chance” in the first 45 came on Alonso’s speculative free kick from about 35 yards out 37 minutes in.

It didn’t get any better after the break. I don’t remember Torres getting a shot off until somewhere around the hour mark, and again, Liverpool’s best chance was probably from a free kick, when Gerrard didn’t miss the top left corner by much in the 72nd. The captain and Nabil El Zhar came on off the bench (in the 68th for Keane and the 83rd for Kuyt respectively), but it didn’t do much to change matters.

I’m not trying to take credit away from Standard. Aside from getting a goal, they did exactly what they wanted to. They had a game plan, hassled and harried well, and showed why they were angry to be paired with Liverpool in qualification. The midfield was excellent, putting Liverpool’s to shame, and Fellaini was the standout, making excellent runs into the box (and getting headers). And the defense rarely gave Liverpool time and space or either Torres or Keane a sniff of the ball.

At times, Liverpool played in a 4-2-3-1, at others a 4-4-1-1, but Keane was usually behind Torres trying to link play and he didn’t have the space to operate. Liverpool just couldn’t get anything going in attack. Again, some to that was because of Standard’s play, but Liverpool was also sloppy and uncohesive. What’s most frustrating was the long-ball after long-ball, which was a strategy that failed more than it succeeded even when Crouch was in the line-up.

It’s almost easier to list the players who didn’t disappoint rather than those who did. But I was most unhappy with Dossena, Kuyt and Alonso. I understand it was the Italian’s debut (and that Skrtel frightened on his against Havant), but defensive errors combined with not much going forward wasn’t pleasing to see. This was also a game that all the Kuyt-bashers can point to. He was erratic on the right and frequently lost possession. My lone defense is that he tracked back well and cut off a potential break nicely a couple of times, but admittedly that’s not enough of an excuse.

Finally, it was a return to the ‘bad old days’ for Alonso. What I wrote over the summer still stands – he’s a classy player that can bring a ton to the team – but today he was happy to try and ping those long passes even when it wasn’t working, was rash in the tackle (picking up a needless yellow in the 26th), and Liverpool was pushed around in the center of midfield.

0-0 isn’t the end of the world, and it’s almost less frustrating when it’s ‘not a bad result,’ as opposed to when a team simply parks the bus in front of goal and Liverpool go away empty-handed despite something like 25 shots. But now the team needs a win at Anfield. A score draw, let alone a loss, would mean a drop down to the UEFA Cup, and all the financial repercussions that come with it.

I don't need to say that a repeat performance against Sunderland on Saturday would be unacceptable.

12 August 2008

Liverpool at Standard de Liege 08.13.08

3pm Eastern Time. As far as I can tell, it’s not on TV in the States. Last year, the 3rd round of CL qualifying was on GolTV, but they’re showing the Bayern Munich friendly tomorrow.

Referee: Tom Henning Ovrebo (NOR)

As YNWA.tv writes, this is weird, as Overbo was in charge of the friendly at Vålerenga last week.

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Alonso Plessis
Kuyt Keane Benayoun

While Gerrard is with the team, and wouldn’t be ruled out of contention until late today or tomorrow, I’d be very surprised if he started. It’s way too early in the season to be risking Stevie, even if it is just a thigh strain.

Aside from a debate over Plessis versus Spearing, I expect to see the same team that started against Lazio on Friday.

With Gerrard injured and Lucas, Mascherano and Babel at the Olympics, Liverpool is short in central midfield. In the few preseason games I saw, Spearing was more impressive, but I think Plessis is still more likely to start given that he’s got more first-team experience.

And even considering the never-ending Gareth Barry farce, I’ve got no problem with cup-tying Alonso. But if Gerrard’s fit, Alonso may well be kept out for that reason, just in case. Sigh.

The only other twist I can think of would be Darby for Arbeloa, with the young right-back another who stood out in preseason, but that’s probably a bridge too far. Skrtel, Degen and Aurelio are the only players definitely ruled out.

I’m still not sure if this line-up is a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, especially if Gerrard’s not in the picture. But I guess that’s the beauty of it. In theory, the front four, even the front six at times, should be able to attack from any position. Preseason sets no precedent either, as Liverpool played 4-4-2 in every preseason match last season as far as I can remember.

Standard beat Anderlecht 3-1 in the Belgian Supercup over the weekend. They won their league last year with only one loss. Serbian striker Milan Jovanovic was the league's player of the year last season, while Marouane Fellaini and Steven Defour are both highly-rated Belgian youngsters. Defour is Standard’s captain even though he’s only 20, while the team flew Fellaini back from the Olympics to be available for this match. Zaire striker Dieumerci Mbokani was even compared to Didier Drogba in the Liverpool Echo a few days ago. And readers on this side of the pond will recognize Oguchi Onyewu, who went back to Liege after an unsuccessful stint with the Geordies in 2007.

It goes without saying that an away goal is crucial. Yes, Liverpool’s proven they can beat anyone at Anfield if it comes to that, but anything can happen in the Champions League, especially when it’s the first competitive game of the season. Winning tomorrow would not only make qualification for the money-spinning group stage that much more likely, but would also set the team up well for the first Premiership match at Sunderland on Saturday.

Fantasy Premiership

So after a couple of people asked, I'm restarting the fantasy league from last year. Apologizes for the delay, but I reckon it's better late than never. As usual, I use the Premier League's fantasy tournament. Sign in (or create and account), create a team, and then click on "Leagues" in the left sidebar. All you should need is the code for the league.

League name: oh you beauty
Code to join the league: 843886-165015

I will do my utmost to not flake out on this league by early spring like I did last year.

Preview for tomorrow's Standard Liege match up in a few hours.

03 August 2008


I added a rotating quotes column to the sidebar (which took way too long for someone who considers himself fairly knowledgeable in CSS and HTML). There are 23 quotes so far:

• 'The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they don't know the game."
• "If you're in the penalty area and don't know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we'll discuss the options later."
• "Anyone who doesn't learn from Ian Rush needs shooting."
• "Liverpool are magic, Everton are tragic."
• "I'd kick my own brother if necessary... it's what being a professional footballer is all about."
• "Of course I didn't take my wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present, it was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves."
• "If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing."
• "Just go out and drop a few hand grenades all over the place, son."
• "Laddie, I never drop players, I only make changes."
• "At a football club, there's a holy trinity - the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques."
• "If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be."
• "Take that bandage off. And what do you mean about YOUR knee? It's Liverpool's knee!"
• "Remember Grobbelaar and the rubbery legs of 84 - and do the same. Dance, do anything, put them off!"
• "We were sitting in the dressing room and we could clearly hear thousands of fans singing You'll Never Walk Alone. Can you imagine how that felt? We were 3-0 down in the Champions League final and all we could hear were 45,000 people letting us know they still believed in us."
• "Who's bigger than Liverpool?"
• "The problem with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head."
• "I was the best manager in Britain because I was never devious or cheated anyone. I'd break my wife's legs if I played against her, but I\'d never cheat her."
• "Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple."
• "In my time at Anfield we always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside: Liverpool and Liverpool reserves."
• "You son, could start a riot in a graveyard."
• "For a player to be good enough to play for Liverpool, he must be prepared to run through a brick wall for me then come out fighting on the other side."
• "A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing."
• 'Two European Cup finals in three years — not bad for a 'little club.' "

If you can think of any quotes to add (or know how I can edit the font color within the javascript widget and not have to create a variable in the template! figured that one out), please post them in the comments or email me.

Added a few more, and added who said them (as was pointed out to me, some may not recognize all the quotes, even if I do). In adding the names, I noticed there's approximately 18x more from Shankly than anyone else. Oh well; what can I say, the man was quotable.

• "When you need someone to stand up and be counted, to pull an absolute rabbit from a hat, Steven Gerrard has done just that… we know the name, son!" - Martin Tyler
• "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." - Bill Shankly
• "How could I leave after a night like that? It was the greatest night of my life." - Steven Gerrard
• ""Just tell them I completely disagree with everything they say." - Shankly to Italian Journalists

Liverpool 4-0 Rangers

Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Plessis Benayoun
Torres Keane

Agger for Skrtel 46’
Hyypia for Carragher 46’
Ngog for Torres 46’
Darby for Arbeloa 46’
Alonso for Plessis 46’
Nemeth for Keane 59’
Insua for Dossena 59’
Spearing for Gerrard 59’
Reina for Cavalieri
Pennant for Benayoun 72’

Torres 23’
Ngog 56’
Benayoun 60’
Alonso 70’ (pen)

I didn’t end up seeing the whole game until late last evening, so once again this is a bit late. Georger beat me to most of what I have to say in the comments last night, so I’ll make this shorter than usual (I promise, once the season starts, I’ll be better about getting match reviews up).

• This was easily Liverpool’s best preseason performance, and it’s reflected in the scoreline. Benitez sure looks a bit smarter after saying “the goals will come” on the official site Friday. It’s also nice to see that it came hand-in-hand with Liverpool’s strongest team of the preseason. Aside from Cavalieri and Plessis, that’s arguably Liverpool’s best XI.

• But Liverpool played the best in the second half, after the majority of substitutions occurred. Admittedly, it didn’t help that Rangers were a beaten side lacking in confidence by the 60th minute, but to see Liverpool retain possession, continue to create chances, and have players like Alonso and Spearing get forward from central midfield was heartening to say the least.

• Once again, Liverpool played mainly in a 4-4-2, no matter the personnel. Just like last preseason, for what it’s worth.

• It was good to see Torres and Keane paired, and they didn’t disappoint. Keane again looked to bring other players into the attack and showed the intelligence he’s renowned for, while Torres scored a typical poacher’s goal in the 23rd, getting to the ball first after Plessis’ nice long-range effort was parried. Hopefully that'll be the first of many, just like after Torres' first in preseason last year against Shanghai.

• There’s very little to complain about, but I was most impressed with Dossena, Ngog, and Alonso. The Italian had a few nice crosses into the box, but most impressive was how he got back to make a goal-saving tackle in the 45th, preventing Rangers from tallying what looked to be a sure equalizer. Just an absolutely insane piece of defense, although it was aided by Novo dicking around in the box after rounding Cavalieri.

Ngog scored a cracker of a first goal with a left-footed strike from the top of the box after out-working his marker. Of course, I was about to scream at the computer before the goal because the striker had ignored the runs of two players to take the defense on by himself (shades of both Baros and Cisse). However, I’ve got no complaints if he continues to take shots like that. He was more of a threat than against Villareal, and again showed his strength and positional sense (which has been the most reassuring to me).

And Alonso looks to be on form as well. We got to see a lot of the ‘old Xabi:’ getting forward to crack long-distance efforts (that didn’t miss by much), directing traffic, and having a hand in pretty much every build-up. It was his interception and vision that led to Liverpool’s fourth, sliding a pass through to Nemeth that forced Broadfoot into conceding a penalty, which Xabi converted.

• As Georger said, Yossi was also excellent, and will surely be a frequent starter on the left. Like Garcia before him, he provides ‘something different’ (and something very needed) with his cleverness and creatively on the ball and willingness to take on defenders. He will frustrate at times, but in the greater scheme of things, the variety he provides makes it more than worth it.

And again, as Georger wrote, his replacement (Pennant) was shockingly casual. Pennant shows flashes and can still put in a cross, but he can also be a lazy, and sometimes even stupid, player. Those traits had been diminishing in his recent play, but they were on full display for 18 minutes yesterday.

• Mention must be made of Nemeth and the other young players. Nemeth nearly scored with his first touch, and played a big part in both of Liverpool’s goals after he came on. A cross-cum-shot was his first bit of action, and the rebound fell kindly to Benayoun for Liverpool’s third. Ten minutes later, his smart run led to a cast-iron penalty, and it was a bit of shame Alonso didn’t let the youngster take it.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to see players like Insua, Plessis, Spearing and Darby continue to get time in every game, and improvement’s evident in all of their play. Yet another sign of how Rafa's investment in the youth set-up has the potential to pay off in spades. Even if only one or two end up being first-team regulars (and I think it'll be more than that), it'll have been worth it.

• The more Liverpool gels during the preseason, the better the team looks, and the more my hopes are heightened. This team could be very, very good if they continue to settle as they have. Top to bottom, it’s the strongest squad Benitez’s has ever had at Liverpool, and it’s a good mix of players who are hitting their peak or near to it. Carragher, at 30, is two years older than any other regular first-teamer (sorry Sami).

• Two more preseason games, at Valerenga Tuesday and Lazio at Anfield on Friday, before CL qualifying starts in Liege on the 12th or 13th. More of the same, please.