Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Accepting The Inevitable - RAOTL Issue 217

This article first appeared in Issue 217 of Red All Over The Land

I am writing this during one of the turgid international “breaks” that we have become accustomed to. England were outclassed in a friendly by Spain. No one was surprised. No one on the red side of Liverpool cared.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Patience is a virtue

These are strange times. I'm writing this the morning after a disappointing 1 - 1 draw at Anfield against a 10 man Rubin Kazan. 

The unparalleled hype around Klopp's arrival still hasn't died down. No one would have wanted his first game in charge at Anfield to end like last night did but despite the result, hope, support and togetherness still oozed from every emergency exit at Anfield last night. The final whistle was met with huge applause after what on the whole had been a decent atmosphere - especially considering what we have become accustomed to.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

RAOTL Column - Klopp Mania

This article was written for Issue 216 of Red All Over The Land fanzine...

When I sat down to write my column for the issue of Red All Over The Land that you have in your hands there was only one possible subject on which I could out pen to paper, that was of course Jürgen Klopp. In the world of Liverpool Football Club there simply has not been any other news except that of the charismatic German who was appointed Liverpool manager in a whirlwind of excitement and press attention. He is the man 95% of Liverpool fans have wanted for some time – and it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. It felt like a fairy tale coming true. 

I am assuming that by the time this issue has hit the streets Klopp will have undertaken his first game as Liverpool manager, away at Tottenham, and perhaps even his first Anfield appearance with a Europa League tie against Rubin Kazan. You can’t imagine that we won’t see a reaction from the squad in those first few games, and hopefully two wins, but nothing is ever straightforward in football and for all his charisma, managerial quality and track record there are no guarantees. 

Except perhaps one that whatever happens in his tenure, it is going to be one hell of a journey. 
Thousands upon thousands of words have been written and spoken about Klopp’s arrival at our “special club” and I don’t feel there is a huge amount I can add in my lowly little fanzine column that hasn’t already been said. 

So I thought I’d embrace the excitement and mystery around the Klopp legend and think about the 15 things I’d like to see from him over the next 12 months, some football related, some very much not…

1. Be spotted on the K1 in the Krazyhouse thrashing around to Slipknot with an Orange VK in each hand. 

2. Claim to not know who or what Everton is. 

3. Run down the touchline towards the Kop after a late winner. 

4. Visit the HJC shop. 

5. Lead a rendition of Gary Macca in The Albert before The Derby. 

6. Lead a rendition of Gary Macca in The Park, after The Derby. 

7. Be spotted in The Lobster pot at 2am. 

8. Be seen picking Jordan Rossiter up from school with the rest of the mums and dads. 

9. Have Jager poured into his mouth whilst dancing to The Ramones at the bar in MOJO.

10. Be spotted watching a spot of cricket at Aigburth with Didi Hamann. 

11. Drinking Pilsner out of The FA Cup after we’ve beaten Chelsea in the final. 

12. Be pictured on top of Robbie Fowler’s shoulders at Ayre’s house at 4am. 

13. Be seen buying a new gilet in Giancarlo Ricci on Bold Street. 

14. Be spotted having a stein and a chilli dog in Salt Dog Slims. 

15. Giving a Champion’s League press conference. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Guest Post: How a back three can save Brendan Rodgers' job

Since Brendan Rodgers became Liverpool manager we've only looked consistently solid defensively while playing a back three. In between the 2014/15 season-changing games against Manchester United, we conceded only 15 goals in 23 games in all competitions. The only other times we have looked solid defensively for more two games in succession came in the three consecutive 1-0 wins at the start of both this season and 2013/14. Both of these spells, however, were characterised by defending deep and in numbers, and making the clean sheet a priority. Balance was lacking. Our attacking play suffered. The manager's return to playing three at the back in the last two games gives me reason to believe he's not finished yet. He can still turn this around. Here's why.

Martin Skrtel

The big Slovakian has been the mainstay of every Liverpool defence under Brendan Rodgers, seldom finding himself out of the team for any great length of time. Skrtel has a very specific skill set. He is very good at certain aspects of defending, and absolutely abject at others. Those of you with decent memories will remember Rafa Benitez' ill-fated experiment with playing Skrtel as a right back against Sunderland a few years back. He was terrible. It's fair to say he is terrible whenever he finds himself being pulled into a fullback position from centre back too. Take him out of the centre and his positional sense abandons him, along with his confidence. His response when an opposition attacker is able to isolate him and dribble at him with pace is to back off so quickly and to such an extent that he drags the whole team deeper, and puts needless pressure on his goalkeeper. Brendan Rodgers' commitment to having both his fullbacks joining in with attacks has often left Skrtel in this position on the counter attack. This discomfort at 1v1 defending has always made Skrtel seem very unsuited to being a Brendan Rodgers centre back. For this reason I was surprised and disappointed when he was given a new contract in the summer.

However, during the three at the back spell last season, he was immense. Having a centre back either side of him meant he never got isolated 1v1. He was able to stay central except for sweeping up balls played in behind the other centre backs. Having two holding midfielders in front of him meant he rarely had to defend on the front foot. His propensity to back off became a strength rather than a liability when he was deployed as a sweeper. Furthermore, there was little onus on him to start attacks with incisive vertical passes: he was able to leave that to the more capable Can and Sakho.

Rodgers' ideal formation is clearly 4-3-3. His first blueprint for this season was to play this formation, and to mitigate Skrtel's (and Lovren's, who is also more comfortable in a low-lying, compact block) weaknesses by restricting his fullbacks' and central midfielders' attacking movements. This was more from the Mourinho or Pulis school of defending: ensuring the centre backs are rarely left isolated because if one full back gets forward the other stays back, and holding midfielders are constantly ensuring the centre backs don't have to step out of their defensive line. Unfortunately, this predictably detracted from the attacking side of our game. The three 1-0 wins at the start of the season were dull, lifeless affairs (a great 20 minutes at Arsenal aside) in which we rarely got enough players ahead of the ball or into the opposition penalty area.

The return to a back three for the Norwich game hopefully hints towards the manager acknowledging that he cannot maintain a good balance between attack and defence with Skrtel in a back four. If he is determined to play a back four in the long term then Skrtel cannot be part of it. A Gomez-Sakho partnership may well be the future of a Liverpool 4-3-3, but for now there are question marks about the youngster's readiness for such a prominent role. For now, keeping Skrtel in the team but playing to his strengths in a back three seems sensible.

Daniel Sturridge

I have found it quite bizarre just how many Liverpool fans seem to have written off the possibility of Sturridge playing a key role this season. Yes, he has had a year of injury problems, but the noises coming out of the club suggest that they are confident that his operation at the end of last season fixed the underlying problem. He is our best player when fully fit, bar none. We would have finished in the top four last season had it not been for his injury problems, and Rodgers would not be under nearly as much pressure now.

When Sturridge did play last season, it was as a lone striker (Tottenham away aside). He can certainly do a good job in this role, but I feel he is better with a partner. He does some excellent work dropping into the number 10 position, and drifting wide to isolate defenders. I believe it takes something away from his game to ask him to spend more time in the penalty area. The travails of Balotelli, Borini and Lambert meant there were no good options to partner him last season. That has now been rectified, and Benteke, Ings and Firmino could all prove brilliant foils for the prolific Brummie. Of course this has tactical implications too: Rodgers' preferred 4-3-3 is most likely to see Sturridge playing off a main striker in a wider position. The switch to a back three allows us to get our best player in his best position, playing to his strengths.

Alberto Moreno

One of the strangest decisions the club made in the transfer market, given Rodgers' aforementioned blueprint for the season, was not investing in a more defensively sound left back. Moreno is great going forward, has infectious energy and enthusiasm, but has looked a liability at the back. He is precisely the kind of full back that Skrtel and Lovren must have nightmares about: he ensures that the centre backs will be pulled out of position. The decision to start the season with Gomez at left back was certainly designed to help the centre backs, but may have had the added benefit of giving young Alberto a kick up the backside. He looked incredibly motivated against Norwich, and created more chances than anybody. He is a natural wing-back, and will no doubt be praying for the retention of the 3-5-2. If the manager reverts to a back four, he will have to choose between Moreno's defensive deficiencies, and Gomez's inability to go forward on the outside. Neither is the kind of option you expect a top-four club to have. Moreno as a wing back, if the Norwich performance is anything to go by, can be just that.

Emre Can

Surely no-one can doubt Can's potential. In a few years he will be a genuinely world-class player. Brendan Rodgers took a lot of stick last season for refusing to play Can in a central midfield role, but his performances there this season surely explain the thinking behind this. He has looked constantly positionally unsure both with and without the ball, not knowing when to press and when to hold his position, or when to make a forward run or when to drop off for a short pass to feet. Last season, like Skrtel, he was brilliant in the back three, before being exposed when deployed as a right back in a back four. His ability to carry the ball out of defence gives us an extra dimension, and he seems much more comfortable when he can see the whole game ahead of him. I remain of the opinion that this could be a long-term position for him, replicating the sort of job David Alaba does for Bayern Munich. Like Alaba, of course he has the tools to play in central midfield too. But for now let's continue to play him in the one role he has truly excelled in.


Last season was going completely tits-up before the switch to a back three. We suddenly started playing the high-tempo football that had characterised 2013/14, but with more defensive solidity. For 15 games, we were outstanding. Not just Brendan Rodgers post-match interview outstanding, but actually outstanding. The reversion to a back four after the defeat to United was baffling and took us backwards. While the recruitment of Nathaniel Clyne made a back four slightly more sensible this season, it still seemed the only way we could keep a clean sheet in this formation was by throwing numbers at the problem. Let's face it, a team in any formation has a good chance of a clean sheet if they sacrifice attacking intent and keep ten men behind the ball.

Clearly the change in formation will not solve all of our problems overnight. James Milner's form, Phillipe Coutinho's consistency, and Simon Mignolet's command of his area, for example, are equally issues which could define our season. But playing three at the back is the way to restore defensive solidity without sacrificing our attacking intent, and this could breed the confidence which solves other problems too. It's disappointing that it has taken this long for Rodgers to bring back the system which saved our season last year. If it can bring the best out of Skrtel, Sturridge, Moreno and Can, it may just save his job too.'

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Brendan Rodgers and my inner turmoil

You hear the phrases "his head's gone" or "he's mentally scrambled" a lot in sport and when it comes to Liverpool and specifically Brendan Rodgers... my head's gone. I don't know what to think.

In truth I've probably been suffering an inner turmoil when it comes to the manager since we started last season so poorly and somehow ended up having to play Rickie Lambert or Balotelli upfront on their own.

Since then I've had a near daily mental struggle with myself over whether I have faith in Rodgers... whether I genuinely think we are going to improve... whether or not the players we've bought are actually any good. It's tiring. I wish I could just relax and enjoy it. 

But let's face it, so far this season it's not been enjoyable. Supporting Liverpool seems to have become engulfed in tension, negativity and worry. A constant, painful yearning to be successful again, a bitter jealousy at seeing the likes of Man City gracing the biggest stages in Europe and an ongoing sadness about not being able to compete with Chelsea. A horrible fear that Man Utd will pull away from us again.

The start to this season was unspectacular but there was some hope. We were grinding out results... "players would take time to gel" was a sensible observation. Only two defeats later and that hope appears to have completely evaporated. Is that just the idiotically knee jerk nature of modern football? Should we be patient? In a few games time when we've won 5 on the bounce it'll all be smiles again? Or are the underlying concerns about Rodgers and our future founded?

It's not just morons on twitter who want Rodgers gone... genuinely passionate and intelligent supporters are starting to lose faith. I still don't know if I'm one of them. I'm worried I might be.

I think my desire to back Rodgers, be patient and give things time to develop comes more from my nature as a fan. I love Liverpool FC and I've always found it difficult to criticise any manager or player who is doing their best for the club (apart from Hodgson obviously.) I never wanted Houllier gone, I certainly didn't want Rafa out and I think I genuinely want Rodgers to succeed, but only because I want Liverpool to succeed...  not because I have any particular loyalty to Rodgers.

If you offered me Klopp tomorrow I'd probably bite your hand off and I suppose that says it all.

There is no guarantee Klopp would do any better, but it's hard to resist his allure, he feels like he'd fit.

Rodgers is starting to feel like an unwelcome guest at an already crap party. 

But I'm the sort of guy who still talks to them, out of pity. I don't want to have to pity the manager of Liverpool FC.

While Rodgers is manager I will get behind him and more importantly the team. But oh please, please for the love of God let's win a few games and score a few goals. Then everything will feel better. 

I can't take much more of this.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Liverpool 0 West Ham 3 - Reaction

Having let the dust settle on yesterday's result and my first trip to Anfield this season, I was going to sit down and reflect on the game having given it 24 hours.

Then I heard that Dejan Lovren has received death threats and I thought... fuck this. It's only football. You gang of cunts.

The anthropology of the modern football fan is hugely depressing and increasingly so of my beloved Liverpool Football Club.

I even saw someone suggest that him closing his Instagram account due to the threats simply underlined his lack of steel. Christ.

So I'm going to close the laptop and go and do something else. In a bit.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Why we should be positive about the Europa League

Today saw the draw for the group stages of the UEFA Europa League and Liverpool draw which consisted of Rubin Kazan of Russia, Bordeaux of France and FC Sion of Switzerland was met with a mixed reaction amongst our support.

From a footballing point of view I think most would agree that the draw was kind. There are some big sides in the competition this year including Ajax, Dortmund, Villarreal and Monaco to name a few and you would like to think that on the pitch alone we should be able to navigate comfortably though our group. However we do face many miles of travel, including a lengthy away trip to Russia as well as the prospect of several Sunday 4 o'clock starts something which defying any reason seems to affect sides. Almost since its conception the prospect of competition in the Europa League has met with nothing short of contempt from the support of many English sides, including Liverpool fans.

There is a collective agreement that the number of games a side has to play in the competition, coupled with some of the travelling incurred can take a real toll on the squad and seriously effect the team's performance in the domestic league or cup competitions. There are many Liverpool fans that would share that view and see the Europa as nothing but a distraction and something we should treat as such by fielding a youth side.

However, I'd beg to differ. Sat watching the draw today I couldn't help feel excited. European football, of any level, is what Liverpool Football Club is all about. And as a supporter, especially one of who has yet to get to a proper european away game there is something exhilirating about watching the draw as exoctic and unknown names appear next to some of Europe's finest and forgotten. Some of the best nights of my life have been at European nights at Anfield and that includes UEFA Cup games as much as our famous Champion's League run. Being there when Houllier returned to the dugout against Roma; seeing Gerrard dispatch Napoli after their Ultras caused a lot of needle around the city; watching us nearly claw back a heavy aggregate deficit against Zenit amongst one of the best atmospheres there has been in recent years; as well as watching some of the more obscure European sides come to Anfield including Olimpija Ljubljana, Gomel and Anji.

But it's not just my romanticism as a supporter that I think gives us reason to be positive about the Europa League, there are football reasons too. For a start we are Liverpool Football Club and we should look to start every competition with the aim of winning it. I don't want to live in a world where finishing 4th is considered winning something; we want silverware, it's what we live for as a club. Add to that the fact that Rodgers is yet to win any and you would think he would like to take it seriously. Finally there is the added benefit of the winners qualifying for the Champion's League of course.

Now I understand the argument that we don't want to compromise our league campaign and that challenging for the title and subsequently champion's league qualification is our absolute priority but as a manager of the club the size of Liverpool Rodgers and his team will have to get used to managing a squad that can compete on multiple fronts in a variety of competitions.

Something else which I think is worth remembering as well is that Rodgers and his staff are still extremely inexperienced in Europe. We saw that from our Champion's League campaign last year. If we are going to get back into the big time next year then Rodgers could do with gaining some vital experience during the Europa campaign this year. There are some big sides in the competition that he can pit his wits against - even if he does it with a so called "B Team."

So we'll see, but I for one hope that we approach the Europa League looking to win it - if that means rotation, so be it, it's a modern skill that needs to be mastered by the manager.  The age old cliche is true, winning breeds winning.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Lucas Leiva Situation

Only one game into Liverpool's season it is very difficult and far too early to read into a lot of things. I got a little tired of just how much our win at Stoke was analysed and poured over by both the professional press, unofficial bloggers, podcasts and on social media. I could understand it though, we've all been so desperate for the season to start, we're all so full of hope, we want to know that the signs are good. For me it was difficult to gauge much from our hard fought win at Stoke, other than we are naturally still a work in progress (hard not to be in the first game of the season) and that Coutinho is going to be absolutely vital for us again. 

However, something which we could see from the opening day with some certainty are which players are in favour and which aren't. We all knew Borini, Enrique and Balotelli were out in the cold, but the omission of the likes of Sakho, Markovic and Lucas from the match day 18 was very telling. 

Yes it is a long and busy season, particularly for us with the Europa League to contend with and a large squad is essential for any top side. But this opening game was as important as it gets and you would have to assume that Rodgers started the season with a match day squad made up of those he rated the highest and trusted the most. 

We have rejected a loan for Sakho which suggests that we are looking to keep him, and rightly so considering we aren't flooded with quality centre backs. You would like to think that Sakho will still play a big part in our season. Markovic is still very young and Rodgers has openly said that he will definitely be needed (perhaps largely  in Europe). It is the omission of Lucas which both concerns me and intrigues me the most. 

I've lost count of the number of times Lucas has had to prove himself at Liverpool, and each time he has done it emphatically, but to be left out again feels like one time too many for the Brazilian enforcer to come back from the brink. Carragher has spoken out to say that he expects him to leave - he knows him well, and confirms what we all assumed; Lucas is a top professional, a good man and a guy who wants to play football. He feels he is more than good enough to be starting for Liverpool, and if he isn't, he will have to look elsewhere for regular football. 

I don't think anyone would bemoan him for taking that view. He is a high quality payer who deserves regular football at a top club. Many would say, and perhaps rightly, that the pace of the Italian league may suit him better for the remainder of his playing career. But the thought of Lucas leaving still leaves me with some nagging concerns and worries. 

It worries me because I still think our best periods of what was a pretty awful season last season were when he was in the side. Ok we have made some good looking signings and it all feels very different from last time out,  but we're still yet to find out. Ok, Emre Can has a season under his belt and more experience and perhaps he is ready to step into a dominant midfield role. He's younger and quicker than Lucas, but very much unproven still. Ok, Joe Allen can do a job defensively and again is very dynamic, but you wouldn't say he was an out and out DM who can shield a back four. 

What worries me most is the idea that Rodgers simply doesn't see the benefit of a truly defensive midfielder. I would love to see the return to our full flowing attacking football as much as anyone. We nearly won the league with that approach (and a truly world class forward in our side) but ultimately we didn't win the league and that was down to some very poor defending at times. We don't have Suarez any more and although I'm confident we'll score more goals this season, we also need players with the guile, grit and experience to close a game down, to make it ugly. Lucas has all those qualities. 

I've already mentioned our busy season and the need for a large squad, and the brilliance of a large squad is that it can contain a variety of players with a variety of qualities. Were Lucas to leave I would worry that we would be left with no players who have the true ability to shield a back four, break play up and grab the momentum of a game back. 

I would also be worried that we are losing a great professional with a lot of experience who can really help our young players develop - we all know we've lost a fair few of them already. 

Time will tell whether my concerns are well founded, and I truly hope I'm wrong if Lucas does go, but I'm afraid although Rodgers has my backing, he still hasn't quite retained my trust. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

RAOTL Column - Liverpool you got me dreaming...

This article was first published in Issue 214 of Liverpool Fanzine Red All Over The Land - pick up a copy at the Bournemouth game or subscribe now. 

A colleague of mine is a massive Derby fan and a real football connoisseur who enjoys a good football podcast. I pointed him in the direction of The Anfield Wrap knowing that despite not being a Liverpool fan he’d appreciate the quality of footballing knowledge and insight as well more than the odd mention of Jordan Ibe who Derby fans still pine over.

About a week later he came over to me and said “I’ve been listening to Liverpool fans talk about Liverpool for a week, and now I’m convinced that you’re going to win the league.” “I know the feeling” I replied.

And that’s what football is all about - hope. Supporters of all clubs must get it, but I think Liverpool fans more than most; that pre-season feeling of hope… the feeling that this year will be our year. The plethora of new signings look the business, we’ve just battered some Thai XI 4-0 or something… the players are talking about unity and a great team spirit… what could possibly go wrong? We’re going to win the league!

But as in life in general, where would we be without hope?  It’s what keeps us going and this pre-season is no different. Every summer since I can remember (so about 1993) I have started the season thinking we are going to win the league. And we never have. But this summer is no different. Because if you don’t believe? What is the point?

Last summer we had just come as close as we have for years to winning the league, as the players did their lap of honour round Anfield the place was full of excitement and hope for the future - some of our summer business looked a bit strange, but in Brendan we trusted. As we all know… that hope couldn’t have turned to despair fast enough. This summer we were wondering who would be in charge come the 8th of August let alone whether we’d have any chance of challenging for the league.

Yet as ever I am excited about the season ahead… I have real hope. After FSG decided to stick with their man and give him a rare 2nd chance the club have done some very swift and what looks like shrewd work in the transfer market. Of course it’s easy for transfers to look good in pre-season and as we know from last summer, the proof is in the pudding, but when you look at what went wrong last season it appears that we have looked to address those problems and with some good personnel.

Despite what some people thought of him we have lost an experienced right back in Glen Johnson but replaced him with an extremely capable young English player in Nathaniel Clyne. He looks confident and assured in his pre-season displays and excitingly a defender first and foremost. But that is not to say he doesn’t like to get up the pitch and join in attacks.

Replacing Steven Gerrard is impossible, but in James Milner we have bought a hugely experienced footballer, a great professional and a player who is a lot more talented than perhaps some people give him credit for. Quitely people are talking about this signature being one of the deals of the summer. He also possesses something that is so hard to get hold of - he knows how to win. It’s something our young squad lacks - the experience of winning things and his knowledge and presence both on and off the pitch could prove invaluable.

We all know one of the biggest issues we had last season was a lack of goals and we certainly look to have tried to do something about that. Benteke, Firmino, Ings and let’s not forget Origi have all come in. Again there are differing opinions on all of them, but you certainly can’t accuse us of lacking options up top. Everyone seems naturally most excited about Firmino purely because he’s Brazilian and a bit of an unknown - the YouTubers out there would have you believe he will be the next Suarez. I think it’s unfair to expect that much of him before he’s barely kicked a ball, but his record in German is strong and he sounds like the sort of player we will love, skillful, hard working and he scores goals. Let’s just hope he can adapt quickly to Liverpool and the Premier League.

The Benteke signing has been lamented by some and I find that strange. Of all our signings I think he is one of the safest bets. He is proven in the Premier League and his goals to game record is right up there with some of the Premier League’s recent greats. It is nonsense to suggest that he is just a big target man in the ilk of Balotelli and that he won’t suit our style of play. Yes he is big and strong, good in the air and able to hold play up. But he is also fast, skillful, a good finisher and possesses intelligent movement.

Ings is a good young English player and it’s always important to have those in your squad. He works hard and doesn’t mind a good press, which we all know Brendan loves. I do think he has some work to do to prove that he is capable at the very highest level, but I’m pleased that we haven’t bought him to be our first line striker and that he will have the opportunity to develop. He scored a decent number of goals in a very poor Burnley side and that can’t be ignored.

Origi, like Ings is a prospect and no more than that. There is talk that during pre-season he hasn’t looked ready for the highest level, but that’s ok, time will tell and we have the luxury of being able to give him time. Again I am just pleased that we have brought the likes of Benteke in and we’re not pinning all our hopes on a young, unproven kid.

Perhaps what is most exciting is that it almost feels as if we’ve forgotten all about Sturridge, imagine if he manages to get fit and back to his best for the majority of the season? It’ll feel like another signing.

There should also be a mention in dispatches for Joe Gomez, the youngster has impressed so much during pre-season that Rodgers how now ruled out a loan move for him, which looked inevitable when he first signed. He has looked comfortable at left back, ironically probably his least favoured position across the back four. Again we shouldn’t lump too much hope on the kid, but it’s encouraging to have a young defender who looks so comfortable and confident at the club already.

There isn’t much to say about Bogdan, except that he is probably just about an upgrade on Brad Jones.

There is talk that we are still looking for a left back to challenge Moreno and a few other rumours float around, but it very much feels as if our business is pretty much complete and I am very pleased with it.

This year, like every year Liverpool, you’ve got me dreaming. And why not - after all isn’t hope what it’s all about? 

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Uncertainty - RAOTL End of Season Article

I am writing after Liverpool have just drawn 0 – 0 at West Brom, remaining in 5th place with 5 games left of the 2014 – 15 Premier League Campaign. I’ve yet to see any of the game, but by all accounts we could easily have come out of it with 3 points or equally with none. It is a result which isn’t going to affect much of what I’m about to say.

You’ll be reading this towards the end of the season in RAOTL’s end of season special, and who knows what sort of position Liverpool will be in by then. And that is what I am not enjoying about supporting Liverpool at the moment, the uncertainty.

At the end of last season there was uncertainty… but it was an exhilarating uncertainty. Ok there was huge disappointment that we hadn’t quite made it to our first league title in over 20 years, but there was also a huge sense of excitement about the next season. What’s next? How good can this team and this manager be? 

This article was published in the end of season edition of Liverpool Fanzine Red All Over The Land - to read it in full, pick up a copy at the Crystal Palace game or subscribe.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Remembering the 96 and the ongoing fight for Justice

I've taken my time to put some thoughts down about what is an extremely emotive and difficult time for the families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster.

I think it can be easy to appear trite when registering your recognition or remembrance of the Hillsborough disaster and the lengthy and horrifically tough fight for justice that continues for the families. I don't want to doubt the sincerity of anyone who recognises the disaster (and our social media accounts posted tribute posts on the 15th of April to recognise the day so you could accuse me of hypocrisy) but it does feel that somehow a hashtag or throwaway post of JFT96 almost trivialises the sheer enormity of injustice that we are dealing with. The reports of people attending the memorial service to take photos and chant the name of players makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, angry and sad.

I'm an unashamed out of towner, born with no connection to Liverpool and too young to remember the disaster itself, only to decide upon Liverpool FC as my club of choice as a youngster. There was no reason other than a naive attraction towards certain players and a club that seemed different.
So my first awareness of the Hillsborough disaster was from the internet and the early days of Liverpool message boards and chat rooms. At school I read "Hillsborough - The Truth" by Phil Scraton and became immediately immersed in the horrendous injustice and horror of what happened to Liverpool fans and their families not just that day but for years after. An injustice which still remains.

Only over the last couple of years has the incredible injustice begun to be uncovered and a slow realisation is creeping across the wider country. Unfortunately I worry that irreparable damage has been done by the horrific and undeniable smear campaign of blame against the people of Liverpool by the establishment, Thatcher's government, a right wing press and the police.

Having lived in Liverpool for 10 years after University I am now back down south and have to endure the lazy stereotyping of Liverpool on a weekly basis. My colleagues at work or people I come across are perfectly nice and well meaning but I tire of baseless and lazy comments around Liverpool as a place and specifically the Hillsborough disaster. Comments along the lines of "why are people still banging on about it" and "yeah maybe the police messed up, but I bet the fans weren't angels" shows just how deeply the lies and smears have penetrated our modern society.

I will use the word again - injustice. The scale of which is almost incomprehensible. A government in power, supposedly there to represent democracy and us; a police force supposedly there to protect us; a supposedly free and ethical media all conspired to lie and heap misery and pain on families who had suffered horrifically. They conspired to categorically discredit a whole region and turn the rest of the country against them.

I don't want to preach to anyone, but whether you are connected to Liverpool or not, if that injustice doesn’t anger you and make your blood boil then you are a vacuous and cold being that I don't want to know.

The fight for justice isn't over and it must continue alongside a respectful and compassionate understanding of what the families and survivors have been through. They need our support, they need our help, but more than anything they deserve our respect.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Just Enjoy It

It's a bright and sunny Thursday morning. Last night Liverpool booked their place at Wembley for an FA Cup semi final after beating Blackburn 1-0 in the replay. It was a solid, professional performance.
After back to back defeats to Man Utd and Arsenal, leaving our Top 4 hopes hanging by a thread,  you could have been forgiven for thinking over the last week that we were facing relegation.

I don't know if it is a modern day malaise or it has always been like this, but you do feel that knee jerk over reaction, shameful criticism, abuse and fickleness from a significant set of so called supporters, whether that be Liverpool ones or any other club is a symptom of the modern world and modern game.

Twitter gives any old moron a voice, hundreds of soulless and trite blogs littered with gambling adverts and affiliate links vie for clicks and views with regurgitated and sensationalist clap trap.
Sky Sports News trundles along 24/7 peddling rumours and gossip leaked by unscrupulous agents and "sources" about training ground disputes or crisis meetings.

It's all rather depressing.

It's worth remembering what we're in this for. We're in it because for whatever reason we love football and we love OUR club.

Aside from perhaps my criticism of Lovren (who played really well by the way) I've always struggled with the idea of venomously criticising and slating the club, manager or players that are meant to be our own. I have never booed a Liverpool side, and I never will. Obviously you get frustrated, and there have been dark days where you could legitimately see that the club was in the wrong hands. Hicks, Gillet. I'm looking at you. You cunts. Hodgson I'm looking at you. Paul Konchesky,  I'm looking at you.

But we are a far cry from those days at the moment. We have owners who albeit are clearly money men (who isn't in football these days?) are money men with some values and a long term plan. I don't believe in the rampant commercialism going on at the club, but they are also making good decisions. Like the redevelopment of Anfield.

We have a manager who lives and breathes football, who relishes and understands the magnitude of being Liverpool manager and also happens to be one of the best young managers in the world.
We have an exciting, young and talented crop of players who genuinely seem to love playing for Liverpool and have a real togetherness. You only need to watch the celebration after the Blackburn goal to see that. They are, in the words of Neil Atkinson from TAW "a great bunch of lads."

I have listened to a lot of talk on The Anfield Wrap and read a lot of articles in fanzines recently bemoaning modern football. I am one who bemoans it more than most. But there have also been voices, commonly of lads from TAW who have lept to the defence of the some of the "tourists" and people who are supposedly the problem and looked at the rest of us and gone "yeah we know lads, it's not quite the game as we'd like it, but stop moaning and just enjoy it eh?"

If some of us, myself very much included put as much effort into bemoaning modern football as we did to trying to change it and just enjoying it along the way, we'd all be in a better place.

That goes for you; moronic twitterati. What do you want from all this? To be sat in your armchair as Liverpool win the league year after year and your accas keep rolling in? I bet you'd still find something to moan about. Get angry that we weren't as good as Real Madrid. Why don't you just go and support Chelsea?

Life isn't perfect. That's why it's enjoyable.

Tell you what, put your iPhone down.  Get off TheSportsBible. Get off Lucas' back and go the game. Get a couple of lads together. Even if you're not sat together.... make sure you meet an hour before for a pint. Have a laugh. Talk to human beings. Don't go in the fucking "fun zone." Go in The Flat Iron.

Make a banner. Make a flag. Get a bit pissed before the game and have a bit of a sing. Honestly, it's a laugh. Try it.

And if we lose, yeh moan and swear to your mates. Over a pint. Even post some semi pissed vacuous tweet if you must. But understand that Rodgers or Kolo or Gerrard haven't done it to piss you off deliberately. They're fuming too, you know. And you hurling abuse at them isn't going to help anyone.

I tell you what, supporting Liverpool is more of a laugh than supporting some sides. But do you know what? Lads supporting Luton... or Leyton Orient or Leeds probably have more of a laugh than we do. Because they let themselves enjoy it.

I am of the era that I can't remember the last time we won the league. Fowler is my hero. But I have seen us win a frigging European Cup. FA Cups. The UEFA Cup. Ask my mate who supports Swindon what he has seen them win? Then ask him how much he has enjoyed watching them this season. They play some magic football you know. No, of course you don't.

So yeh.. we beat Blackburn. Felt good didn't it? We're going to Wembley. That's alright isn't it?

Let's enjoy it.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Swansea 0 - Liverpool 1 - Reaction

If there was ever a game that epitomised the cliché "play badly and win" it was this one. Winning ugly.... grinding out results... the sign of a good team. The clichés just keep coming after this result. But win ugly we did and a good side we are.

Perhaps ugly is perhaps a little harsh. Functional would be more accurate. You have to feel sorry for Swansea, they were much the better side in the first half and Mignolet had to make a couple of decent saves. But on the other hand, in a way that it becoming increasingly heartening, we still looked relatively comfortable in defence. You could look at the first half an hour as a decent side simply handling a good spell from a good side, at home.

We improved markedly in the 2nd half and Swansea began to wane. Worrying we still didn't create a great deal and it was a huge amount of fortune that brought about our goal. But here come the clichés again.... you make your own luck. Or perhaps more accurately, Brendan Rodgers makes our own luck. It was a shrewd tactical move from him to bring Gerrard on and lie him deep where he could both shield the back four, pull the strings and allow Henderson and Allen to push a bit further forward. Had that happened, it's not as likely that Henderson would have made the run that he did for the goal.

You also have to feel that had we not got that luck we would have created something to get the goal before the end. Sterling and Sturridge improved as every minute of the 2nd half passed. It was a shame that Sturridge's clever little effort at the end bounced back off the post.

I'm not going to go through and rate each player individually. On the whole I think everyone ranged from a 4 to a 7... maybe a 7.5 with mentions in dispatches for Mignolet, Skrtel, Sakho and Allen at the top end of that scale. Lallana and Can very much at the other end.

Gerrard's contribution is worthy of mention - you'd expect nothing less from a player of his experience and quality.

It sets up this Sunday's game with Utd perfectly. There is no doubt that it is a behemoth of a game... but strangely enough a point probably wouldn't be a bad result. Utd have an incredibly hard run in compared to us.

But we can't go into it looking for anything other than a convincing win and I'd like to think everyone has been saving their 8s and 9s for this one...

Tweet @AnfieldShrine

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Liverpool 2 - Man City 1 - Reaction

After crashing out of the Europa League in midweek.... or indeed late midweek (if that is a thing) a lot of pre-match talk was around the idiocy of having to kick off against City at noon on Sunday. Now no longer living in Liverpool, it also meant a 5am alarm clock for me in order to ensure we made kick off comfortably.

Arriving in a windy but beautifully sunny Liverpool I was struck by just how much I miss the place. Putting that slight melancholy aside it was up to the ground and into Home Baked Anfield for what is becoming an obligatory pre match coffee. I can't enthuse enough about Home Baked Anfield, it represents everything I love about Liverpool... an industrious and creative social enterprise doing genuinely brilliant work for the community without any insincere, patronising millionaires talking about a "big society" in sight. I also took the opportunity to buy copies of We Are Liverpool and RAOTL fanzines which are stocked in there. As you will have probably seen from previous posts, independent print fanzines are struggling to survive in the environment of modern football and they too should be supported. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of 'fans' sporting a half 'n' half scarf outnumbered those buying a fanzine and that is a truly depressing thought.

The malaise of modern football is a topic that troubles me constantly, and one that seemingly does so for a lot of other football fans. Short of turning our backs on going to the match completely, I don't know what the answer is and it is a complex debate. I'll be penning some thoughts on modern football exclusively in issue 212 of RAOTL which is out some time late March... so pick up a copy, but for now I put those frustrations behind me and looked to enjoy the game.

Usually in the kop, me and my old man were position in the slightly unorthodox spec of block 128 of the Anny Road (which is in fact on the Centenary Stand side). It's not a horrific spec in itself, but it is virtually impossible to see the corner under the scoreboard. Anyway... by all accounts lots of fans had 'lost their shit' as the kids say about Rodgers team selection and a lack of a "recognised" striker in the starting 11. I admit I was surprised not to see Sturridge starting, but are we all not agreed that Sterling has now become a striker...if not a recognised one? Confusing. Anyway, Rodgers must feel that Sturridge is still finding his feet after the lengthy lay off. Whatever the reason, no one was thinking about it 10 minutes in when Henderson produced an absolute cracking strike to put us 1 up. The opening sparring had been pretty even and both sides looked like they would threaten, but the fact that we have players starting to produce goals like that for us is extremely encouraging. The loss of Gerrard at the end of the season is starting to look a little less concerning as Henderson seems to grow into his leadership role with every game.

Although I felt Liverpool were well worthy of our lead it wasn't a huge surprise to see City equalise just before the half an hour mark. Just like the same game last season, we were going to do very well to get away with City not scoring as despite what anyone says about them they are a very, very good side. The goal was a good move and completely opened up our otherwise pretty solid defence and so it looked as if we were heading for a really tight 50 - 60 minutes.

I had said before the game that I would happily have taken a point out of this game, and this thought crossed my mind again after they equalised. I don't think it was an overly negative thought, considering how poor we were before Christmas in our push for 4th spot I really felt like a point today might prove pretty good value.

Clearly Liverpool had different ideas to me, and am I glad about that. In the second half despite City having plenty of intent, we actually defended pretty resolutely and limited them to just one short on target. On 75 minutes the "little magician" that is Coutinho produced his 2nd "worldie" in as many weeks. We all knew he needed to add goals to his game, and in truly Brazilian fashion, he's decided to add not just goals, but incredible goals. It wasn't just his strike that was so pleasing though, his all round game today was an absolute pleasure to watch, We are blessed to have him at the club... and let's just hope like so many of our youngsters, the rest of the football fraternity and the Spanish giants in particular continue to "underrate" him completely.

It was always going to be a nervy and tense last ten minutes but these days I am a lot more confident about our ability to hold on to leads. A couple of substitutions and stoppages took the sting out of the game and it's something which I think we are becoming increasingly good at... what the modern day football people would call "game management." Or I suppose more traditionally what we would call "seeing a game out." So saw the game out we did and on reflection as we darted down the Walton Breck Road it was 3 points that, on balance, I think we very much deserved.

The blueshite failed to us any sort us favour in the immediate aftermath... but no change there then. We're not a side to rely on others though and on we march after our blip in Europe. Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool... are we on our way to glory?

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Liverpool's Europa League Exit - Reaction

Hours before Liverpool crashed out of the Europa League in Turkey, I had written a guest blog for Liverpool menswear institution Giancarlo Ricci discussing the rest of the season and how much glory we might have in store. I also pondered the question of what would qualify as a successful season. 

Well  on Thursday evening one scenario was answered and we now know that there will be no European glory and one of our routes into the Champion's League next season has now been closed off. 

Due to the 6pm kick off I missed the first half on TV and was reduced to following the game on my commute home via the Sky Sports app, and by the sounds of it I missed by far the best of the game from Liverpool's point of view. In the 2nd half we retreated further and further into our own half, looking to see out a nil nil draw and what could have been lauded as a 'typical' and brilliant European away defensive performance if things had turned out differently. Playing a back 5 for most of the 2nd half as opposed to a back 3, despite being camped in our own half, defensively we looked relatively comfortable. We reduced Besiktas to pot shots from range. However, the more and more pot shots a team has, the greater the risk that one will go in. 

The bigger problem for us seemed to be the fact we were becoming increasingly overrun in midfield and seemed incapable of putting together any sort of threatening attack on the break. You can be as good defensively as you like... but eventually that sort of pressure and scenario will end badly. And so it did. 

Considering our recent turnaround in form, it is hard to criticise Rodgers too heavily for his tactics, but in Europe he does seem to struggle more than domestically, it is almost the reverse of Benitez. It seemed glaringly obvious to everyone that a change needed to be made to get a better control of midfield and bringing Manquillo on for Ibe wasn't very effective. I should imagine that he felt that we needed a better defensive player for the remainder of the game on the right side than Ibe, but Ibe has done his defensive work very well recently. I would argue that when you are under the cosh like we were to have the attacking threat of Ibe was a greater defensive asset than Manquillo himself who hasn't had minutes on the pitch for some time. 

Anyway... their goal came and then we saw the game out clearly hoping we'd win the penalty shoot out. The rest we know, and I'm not going to dwell on Lovren's miss. Everyone knows I have been a big critic of his, but he obvious had the balls to put his hand up for a pen and he can't be blamed for us losing a game in what we all know is a lottery when really we should have done a much better job of seeing the tie off in 90 minutes. 

What I really want to comment on is the reaction of some Liverpool fans to our exit. The usual idiocy around Lovren's miss aside, there was a lot of talk from generally sensible headed Liverpool fans about the fact that going out was a "blessing in disguise" and that the Europa League is shit anyway. Granted it's not the European Competition that we all really want to be in, but this sort of attitude and reaction disappointed me. 

I was even amazed to hear one of the Anfield Wrap lads, who are usually a bastion of sense, indicate that when Ba hit the bar he had almost wished it had gone in so we could have just got off and got home. I completely understand the worry around playing 120 minutes, in Turkey, when we have Man City at noon on Sunday, but I just simply cannot bring myself to 'not be arsed' when Liverpool go out of a competition in Europe. Especially when we are not that far off the final and by winning it we could qualify for the Champion's League. Liverpool FC are about winning games and winning trophies. 

Would we all have been happy enough if Houllier and the lads had sacked of the UEFA Cup and League Cup in 2001 just to ensure we finished 4th? How much momentum did that treble winning season have because of the fact we kept on winning silverware. 

To me it strikes me as a bit of the malaise of modern football that has crept in where it's not just about the game in front of you any more but it's about squads, stats, rotation, qualifying money, kick off times and whether one trophy is better than the other. 

Whatever happened to wanting to win? 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Will Mario ever be super at Liverpool?

It's been a little while since I penned anything and funnily enough me not rambling on about stuff on The Anfield Shrine or in Red All Over The Land has coincided with a sustained resurgence in Liverpool's form. There is a lot I could write about how our season has turned around... how praise should be plentiful for all concerned; specifically Rodgers and some of our younger stars, like Emre Can. Instead I thought I'd focus on someone who we all know gets too much attention as it is... Mario Balotelli.

I will confess that I was one of those fans who was extremely excited about Balotelli arriving at Anfield. I am one of those people who loves a maverick, loves someone who dares to be a bit different, loves what is commonly termed in football these days 'a character.' It wasn't just that Balotelli was entertaining because of the various on and off field antics that we had heard about over the years but that I genuinely considered him to be a fascinating person as much as a footballer. There is clearly a lot going on behind those intense, almost mournful eyes of his. He has suffered a troublesome up bringing, faced horrific racist abuse, rejection and seems to be someone who is just not that at ease with the world or himself and I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

I was really hoping that in Liverpool, Mario might finally find his home. So what now? After the initial burst of hysteria around his arrival it became quickly apparent that it wasn't going to be easy for him to make his mark at the club. There is no escaping the fact that from a purely footballing point of view, he hasn't been good enough. But why are any of us that surprised? Firstly, to be fair to him, we do not naturally play a game or system that suits his style of play. Secondly he could not have been more different to the sort of footballer that Rodgers likes... humble, hard working, and willing to press high up the pitch. Balotelli is an enigma, capable of brilliance but someone who is caught up in his own head, not purely out of arrogance, just simply confusion and insecurity - that's how I see it anyway.

Off the pitch, as it happens, things have been very quiet. This is something about the whole affair so far that I see some real encouragement in. Everyone (including myself) was hoping for a bit of pantomime off the pitch, Mario turning up at the Liverpool Student's Union and inviting the fittest girls back for a house party, or driving down Queen's Drive in some super car lashing cash out of the window. But unfortunately for the tabloid hacks and Twitterati he has actually been pretty hardworking by all accounts and kept his head down, genuinely looking to do well. He seems pretty well liked by his team mates and that is something that has been said of him before. He's a kind hearted soul and a good laugh from what you can gather.

So this is all very nice... but what does the future hold for him at Liverpool? There is talk of a corner being turned after he popped up with the winner (and his first league goal) against Spurs, followed by an encouraging display in the cup against Palace. There is no doubt he looks more comfortable around a player like Sturridge and despite what some people say he is putting a shift in at times. I do believe has something to offer, Rodgers spoke after the Palace game about his undoubted quality but as always it is simply his mindset that is the barrier to succeeding. But that quality (which you outweighs the likeable and hardworking Lambert's considerably) counts for something and with Sturridge around he might just yet play a part in our season.

However, despite desperately wanting to believe that this isn't the case... long term I just can't see it working. I'm not sure that long term it can work anywhere for Balotelli - he seems a troubled and lost soul who will struggle to ever find contentment in the world of modern football.

Having said that, if there was ever a place for a maverick or weirdo to find their home, it's Liverpool FC. We are a club like no other and a city that knows a thing or two about being maligned and neglected. I'd love nothing more than for Mario to become the Super Mario at Liverpool that he has the potential to be - but the truth is, no one knows what will happen next when it comes to Mario Balotelli and that, in a nutshell, is the fascination.

Tweet @AnfieldShrine

Monday, 12 January 2015

DEATH OF THE ZINE SCENE - Statement from Red All Over The Land

As you know here at The Anfield Shrine we are regular contributors to the Liverpool fanzine Red All Over The Land and in general a supporter and advocate for independent fanzines and their importance in the support of our club and keeping football ours as opposed to the prompted of the corporate money men. However, fanzines and RAOTL specifically have been finding it harder and harder to survive... the recent death of a Utd fanzine no less, promoted this statement from Red All Over The Land...

The Manchester United Fanzine ‘RED ISSUE’ has decided to call it a day after 26-years and 295 Issues.  They’re not citing declining sales but simply, because it ‘can’t stand the stench’ of football any longer.  In their final issue that went on sale outside Old Trafford at the game against Southampton they said: “The game we’ve been clinging onto is gone.  Football now is happy-clappy families, half-and-half scarves, tourists and selfie sticks; there’s no point trying to fight that.”

‘RED ISSUE’ didn’t give Liverpool, Liverpool players or Liverpool supporters an easy time; just the opposite but even so, ‘RED ISSUE’ stood against the tidal wave of modernism in football especially amongst their own.  They didn’t care who they upset and a lot of the time they said what many of us were thinking when it came to modern football.  I never really took offence at what they said or did because they said what they wanted to say.  They were a Fanzine.

If we’ve had anything in common it’s the contempt we feel for the modern game but whereas they apparently still sold enough copies to make the effort of producing a Fanzine a viable venture I’m afraid that’s not really the case for Liverpool Fanzines.  I can’t speak for Dave from ‘The Liverpool Way' nor Neil from ‘We Are Liverpool’ but I’m sure they’d agree that this season has been more toil than pleasure and not just because of the lousy weather we’ve often encountered.  A couple of seasons ago this Fanzine encountered a lot of problems that were beyond anybody’s such as flooding and damage to a PC causing data to be lost and problems aplenty.  However, we still got the Fanzine out and because sales were pretty good we stayed afloat.  This season we’re sinking fast.

I’ve received well meaning comments about the clubs poor form this time around affecting sales; well that’s not necessarily the case.  During Rafa’s final season and the few months of Hodgson’s reign sales weren’t too bad at all and after Kenny came home they picked up further.  In fact during times of trouble [if you like] supporters would take a Fanzine to read the real thoughts rather than the ones that were in the official publications and although the local press would voice critical opinions they had to draw the line at some of what they printed.  Fanzines didn’t have that problem.

Over the last season or two we’ve seen growing numbers of overseas visitors to Anfield and I’ve nothing against them but they’re not going to buy something that’s obviously unofficial and printed in English.  Add to this the huge number of others that now arrive and who definitely fit into the ‘happy-clappy families, half-and-half scarves, tourists and selfie sticks’ group.  They are happy to pay an extortionate amount of money for their ticket and all the trashy tack that gets sold in the club shop, pay well over the odds for food and drink inside the ground but don’t give Fanzines a second glance.  To them football is the circus.  They are what the clubs want and win, lose or draw they go home happy with their bag of goodies and selfie pics.  They feel that being part of the famous Anfield atmosphere is to stand up and shout, “Who R Ya” at the noisier away support.

We've tried hard to work with the club but the club rarely, if ever, now respond to an email, that in itself is disappointing.

I’d ask you all to rally round and help spread the word about Fanzines but is there any real point; you are the converted or whatever.  Since August this Fanzine has lost between 25 and 30 subscribers.  Match day sales on the first day of sale have dropped by around a third.  The time spent putting it together is hardly worth the effort if I’m honest but I actually love doing a Fanzine.  We’ve never had a huge audience if that’s the right way of putting it and even in what I’d call our better era we’d sell only to around 3% of the Anfield crowd.  However, that was good enough.  Now it’s less than .5% so it’s hard to justify carrying on.  I can join the exodus of the old time supporters and maybe go to a non-league game or stay at home and watch telly.  Or I can trundle on hoping that there’s a light somewhere in the tunnel.

We've tried special offers, special deals competitions and everything.   At a loss now as to what to do next.  

Its toss a coin time.  My first thought on hearing Red Issue had thrown in the towel was to think, well if they can’t beat the apathy how the hell can we?  The next few weeks will determine that.
JJP (RAOTL Editor)

Visit to subscribe or pick up Issue 209 at the Bolton game. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1 - Reaction

Whether it was a general malaise or a football specific one, but I woke up on the morning of Saturday 10th of January feeling pretty pessimistic. The transfer window has been open a few days now and the usual plethora of rumours have emerged, but nothing concrete and glaringly nothing at either end of the pitch in either a keeper or a striker. Contradicting what is in the press, Rodgers has insinuated that there will be very little activity from the club this window.

In contrast, Utd have snapped up Valdes on a free... a hugely experienced keeper, who on a free seemed happy to join us a few weeks ago. Now no one knows what goes on behind the scenes, and I'm not doubting that Valdes isn't the player he used to be, but it couldn't help feel like we had been usurped by our biggest rivals again.

So it was with this pessimism that I looked forward to the Sunderland game, expressing on Twitter that it was going to take a look to cheer me up... specifically 3 points, a clean sheet and a performance.

Well I certainly do feel a bit more optimistic now - I'd say I got 2.5 out of 3. The performance was impressive without being outstanding but we kept a clean sheet and got a vital 3 points and all with Sterling sunning himself in Jamaica.

We were very good in the first half, although it is fair to say Sunderland were atrocious. But we should have had a penalty within the first 5 minutes and then we got our reward from some nice play from Gerrard and Borini before Markovic finished neatly through the keeper's legs after a positive run into the box. Any sensible football person knew that any early criticism of Markovic was hugely unfair, the lad is still only 20 and I would defy anyone to settle quickly in a foreign country at one of the world's biggest clubs. Now I think we are starting to see his talent shine through and he certainly looks a lot more confident. He very nearly scored a wonder goal a while later, volleying a ball that popped out of the Sunderland defence with incredible technique only to see it crash against the ball.

We were in complete control of the first half and Borini missed a great chance just before the break, which you couldn't help worry might come back to haunt us. Gerrard was replaced by Lovren at half time, supposedly as a precaution as he was feeling a tight hamstring and as a result Can moved higher up the pitch and into the right wing back position with Markovic moving inside. Instantly our fluidity from the first half felt a little compromised, but as it often does Sunderland going down to 10 men seemed to galvanise them as opposed to help us.

I couldn't help feeling sorry for Birdcutt, the two yellow cards he received were pretty soft, albeit you could argue professional fouls. But regardless, the numerical advantage didn't seem to assist us as much as you'd have liked and in the end we saw out the 2nd half and the collection of 3 points as opposed to killing the game off.

There were many positives to be taken, I felt every player on the pitch had a decent game with no one having a shocker. Some shone more than others, Coutinho again was magically and really kept our game running. Markovic obviously was very impressive and although he tailed off in the 2nd half looked much more confident and could have had more than one. The back three looked fairly solid and a bit of game time for Lovren won't do him any harm... even if he did continue to look a little rash at times. Lucas was again outstanding. He has started 11 out of the last 12 games and we didn't lose any of those 11 games. The game he didn't play, against Utd, we lost 3-0. That has to tell you something and it is imperative that we keep him. Mignolet also had a good game, he looked more confident and caught and punched a couple of crosses well, especially considering the wind. The usual idiots on Twitter have decided to focus on him losing sight of the shot from Johnson as opposed to all the good things he did and considering how good Johnson's strike was and how much it moved in the air I don't think any keeper would have dealt with it very well. I think we're all still unconvinced as to whether is he good enough long term and he needs his confidence and form to seriously improve but that is why not bringing in an experienced keeper seems even more puzzling. Surely someone like Valdes would not only have challenged him for his place but also perhaps helped him developer. I suppose we'll see what the rest of January brings.

So suddenly the pessimism has definitely lifted, we're still in all 3 cup competitions, we're only 4 points off fourth and Sturridge is still to return. Even so, I'd like to see us strengthen this January with a keeper and perhaps another striker if we can.

Tweet @anfieldshrine with your thoughts.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Gerrard Tribute

So Gerrard has ended all speculation and announced that he will be leaving his lifelong club at the end of this season.

Where do you start in a tribute to Steven Gerrard?

The tributes are already pouring in from fans, players and pundits and over the next few days thousands upon thousands of words will be written about him by far more accomplished journalists and writers than myself. But I couldn't let this moment pass without penning a few words.

Terms like legend get bandied about far too much these days, but there is absolutely no doubt that Steven Gerrard is a legend, not just of Liverpool Football Club but the modern world game. You only need to look at some of the plaudits he has received from players like Kaka, Totti and Zidane to know that.

For me he is the greatest Liverpool player to have ever played for the club. Now I know that many will point towards Dalglish, Rush and Liddell and that is understandable but for me and my generation, no one comes close to Gerrard as being the best player I have ever seen at Anfield. He may not have won what Dalglish, Rush and others of that generation have won but at times he has single handedly dragged Liverpool Football Club through some of the worst periods in our recent history and won countless games for us on his own. The fact that he will never win a league medal for Liverpool is one of the most upsetting things to have to deal with as a Liverpool fan, but no one can ever take away what he has won... especially the European Cup, of which the story we all know so well. Add to that the FA Cup winners medal in 2006 with which he won with perhaps his greatest ever goal.

Trying to pick out his best moments is almost impossible... there are genuinely so many to mention, Olympiakos... Istanbul... the 4-1 at Utd... the West Ham Cup Final... scoring countless brilliant Derby goals.

Some of the talk around Gerrard being past it of late has been moronic, we have all known that he is nearing the end of the career but the modern game and support breeds such inane knee jerk opinion which makes you utterly depressed about not just football in the modern era but society itself. Gerrard has shown again this season that he is still a class above the majority of players in Europe. You only need to remind yourself of the Basle free kick or his inability to miss from the penalty spot to see that. He is still playing passes that most players could only dream of playing at 24, let alone 34, Gerard Houllier summed him up in one word - class. It is almost the perfect word for him. He is a class act on and off the pitch. Considering some of the horrific abuse and threats he has had to endure in the past and more recently, he has always remained 100% professional, calm and dignified. He is a true inspiration not only to young footballers today, but to all of us.

I am honest terrified at the prospect of Liverpool without him, forget what he does on the pitch I think his influence off it and in and around the dressing room will be missed just as keenly. We are now entering an era where loyalty means nothing in football, where no player is likely to ever play their whole career at one club again, where local, home grown talent is dying out.

It is virtually impossible to articulate what Steven Gerrard means to Liverpool and what he means to me. Quite simply there will never be a player or a man like him again in football.