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?