Archive for June 2007
Saturday, June 30, 2007 by Paul Grech
New Liverpool midfielder Lucas will miss the World U20 Championships due to start today in Canada because of an injury that is expected to keep him out for three weeks.
The Brazilian midfielder had just returned from two months out injured, which had forced him to sit out most of the Copa Libertadores final that his side Gremio lost 5-0 on aggregate to Boca Juniors, seems to have picked up a knock during the last session of training forcing coach Nelson Rodriguez to drop his captain from the squad, picking Marcone of Vitoria Bahia instead.
Lucas is highly rated in Brazil and was expected to be one of the stars of this World U20 Championships having hugely impressed in the South American championships a couple of months back.
Monday, June 25, 2007 by Paul Grech
His job could get even harder next season if a player who had, so far, been on the fringes of the squad starts to prove that he is good enough for inclusion.
For that is what Danny Guthrie will do during his year long spell on loan at Bolton. Last season he enjoyed a similar experience at Southampton whom he joined as an emergency back-up but ended up as a regular in the side that lost in the play-off semi-final.
Those three months proved just what a talent Guthrie really is. He had already shown glimpses of his ability when handed the occasional opportunity by Benitez to play.
One of the things that to look out for when a young player gets the chance to play with the senior side is his attitude. Some players tend to fade away, almost afraid of getting the ball. Others rise up to the opportunity and, when Guthrie was asked to play, that is what he did. Irrespective of whether asked to play in his favoured central position or elsewhere he was instantly confident and at ease. That he immediately started looking for the ball – and always knew what to do with it – was equally impressing.
At Southampton he kept up that attitude, playing with an Alonso-like confidence that his passes were going to find the intended recipient on most occasions and, whilst lacking the ability to make that mazy dribble, his vision can put defences under pressure.
Having overcome the challenge of Championship football with relative ease, a taste of Premiership football was the logical next step. At Bolton he will initially start as a squad member, just as at Southampton, with the objective of forcing Sammy Lee into playing him on a regular basis. And, at the same time, forcing Rafael Benitez into acknowledging that his problems on who to choose to play in midfield are about to increase.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 by Paul Grech
Never before have Liverpool fans waited so anxiously for the end of the Spanish football season. With the daily rumours of interest in La Liga based players came the realisation that no transfer could go ahead before the 2006-07 season came to an end.
And with the joy for Real Madrid’s victory (increased probability of Fabio Capello staying means less chances of another attempt for Rafael Benitez) and the disappointment for Real Sociedad’s relegation (Xabi Alonso’s home side) attention now turns on to who Benitez will actually make a more for.
Spare a thought, however, for Antonio Nunez who had to endure the hearthbreak of relegation on the final day of the season.
The man who came to Merseyside as part of the deal that took Michael Owen to Real Madrid lasted only one season at Anfield. Although Benitez genuinely thought that Nunez had the potential to do well, a couple of unfortunate injuries did it for the Spanish winger although he did manage to score in the League Cup final and can still say that he formed part of a Champions League winning squad.
On his return to Spain with newly promoted Celta Vigo, Nunez started to show just what Benitez had seen in him as he was one of the stars in the club’s excellent season that saw them surprisinly finish sixth. This season, they did well enough in the UEFA Cup reaching the last sixteen before elimination at the hands of Werder Bremen but a collapse in the second half of the season saw them lose their top flight status despite a last day win over Getafe.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 by Paul Grech
Vincenco Iaquinta, Amauri, Giorgio Chiellini, Mancini, Juan Manuel Vargas: the list of Serie A based players being linked to Liverpool is increasing at a rate that makes it hard to believe that all these rumours are simply spurious. Add to these the loan transfer of Daniele Padelli and a pattern starts to emerge.
One that leads to Mauro Pederzoli. The one time Brescia and Cagliari technical director - who in Italy have total control on who the club buys - befriended Rafael Benitez when he was still managing Extremadura some fifteen years back.
Over the past two seasons, Pederzoli has been Liverpool’s chief scout in Italy, working closely with Eduardo Macia looking at players not only in the top flight but also lower down the league structure. When Chris Bascombe said that Macia “can be sure his dependency on the same Italian agents will be monitored if the signings aren’t good enough.” in the Echo some time back, he was unwittingly referring to Pederzoli who, it transpires, is not an agent but actually a Liverpool employee. And whilst his initial deal – Padelli - might not have been the best calling card possible, Benitez values his input highly.
In an interview with Il Giornale , Pederzoli recalls how the two met whilst he was representing the then Albacete boss Gigi Maifredi "common friends introduced us and he asked me to become his 'eyes' in Italy. We both said that it would be nice to work together one day and we're finally capable of doing so."
The interview also offers an interesting insight on Benitez's character. "The Benitez that I first met is very similar to how he is at the moment: he thinks about football twenty four hours a day."
Pederzoli also reveals Benitez's fascination with Italian football. "He describes Arrigo Sacchi as the greatest manager of the modern era. Rafa often came to Italy to meet him, to study his methods. They both have a lot of things in common: their attention to detail, the importance that they put closing down space and how they choose their players."
In fact, it is drummed into all of the club's scouts that Benirez does not want flashy players but instead disciplines ones who are physically imposing. "He does not judge a striker simply by the number of goals that he scores. He wants players who are fair and tough. That is why Liverpool didn't have player sent off in the league.
Saturday, June 09, 2007 by Paul Grech
Daniel Agger: 7.5
Last summer, Four Four Two foolishly branded Agger one of Rafael Benitez’s misses in the transfer market. The Danish defender had joined the previous January and had hardly been given enough chances to impress. This season was different. After Sami Hyppia got caught out by Andy Johnson in the 3-0 derby defeat, Agger took his place and never let go. His ability at shooting from distance is an additional asset,
Xabi Alonso: 6
Given the high standards he had set in previous years, Alonso struggled to impose himself this season. A fantastic goal from his own half against Newcastle has to rank as the high point but otherwise his tendency to misplace passes and give away free kicks in dangerous positions proved costly.
Alvaro Arbeloa: 6
Signed in January only because Liverpool got the sell on from Milan Baros’ move to Lyon, Arbeloa quickly proved his worth by marking Lionel Messi out of the game against Barcelona. Eventually, however, his standards started to drop and he ended the season rather flatly. Still, he has shown enough promise to indicate that he could eventually take over from Steve Finnan.
Fabio Aurelio: 5.5
Just when he was starting to justify Benitez’s claims of being a better passer than Xabi Alonso, Aurelio got himself injured (for the second time in the season) forcing him to miss the rest of the campaign. If he could stay fit, Aurelio would really add depth to the squad. Sadly, it looks as if he’s too injury prone to add any value.
Craig Bellamy 5.5
One of the major disappointments of the season, Bellamy never adapted to Benitez’s rotation policy or to Liverpool’s playing style. The high point of his season was the equaliser scored against Barcelona that partially erased memories of the worst moment being his fight with John Arne Riise.
Jamie Carragher: 8
The emergence of Daniel Agger shifted the spotlight off Carragher yet he remains one of Europe’s finest defenders and a rock in Liverpool’s back line. Rarely put a foot wrong throughout the season and a great leader. My player of the season.
Peter Crouch: 6.5
This was a strange season for Crouch where, having apparently convinced the rest of the nation about his abilities, he suddenly found out that his own manager wasn’t that convinced any more. Or at least that was how it seemed going by Benitez’ team choices. That Crouch couldn’t score open coming on as substitute also hindered his chances.
Jerzy Dudek: 4
Sadly for the hero of Istanbul, his farewell season couldn’t have been much worse. Some shambolic errors against Arsenal and Galatasaray as well as ill-timed comments of Benitez treating him like a slave slightly soured relationships towards the end of his stay.
Nabil El Zhar: No Rating
When Steve Heighway declared that none of his young players would be allowed to make an impact, he probably had El Zhar in mind. It would be unfair to rate the young Moroccan who only played a handful of minutes but he hardly got a touch of the ball whenever he played and in any case looks too lightweight.
Steve Finnan: 8
The unheralded hero in Liverpools’ side, Finnan’s consistency both in defence and in attack marks him out as a one of Europe’s greatest.
Robbie Fowler: 6
When he signed there was the slight fear that, if not played, he would start complaining. Instead he always accepted Benitez’s choices and acted like the utmost professional. Pity that he couldn’t have signed off with a Champions League win.
Steven Gerrard: 7
By Steven Gerrard’s standards, this was a quite season and I’m struggling to recall a Gerrard moment: that single moment of brilliance that lifts the whole team. Being sidelined to the right of midfield didn’t help and, in all honesty, he’s been given half a point simply because of who he is.
Mark Gonzalez: 4
Hyped so much before he signed, it is safe to say that Gonzalez was a complete disappointment. He rarely showed the speed for which he was so famous for and struggled to adapt to English football. After scoring a goal just seconds after coming on, everything went downhill.
Danny Guthrie: 7
One of the things that I look out for when a young player comes in is his attitude and when Guthrie was given a chance he was immediately comfortable irrespective of whether he was asked to play in his favoured central position or elsewhere. That he immediately started for the ball – and always knew what to do with it – was equally impressing. Having seen quite a lot of him at Southampton where he spent the final couple of months of the season, I’m in no doubt that he is good enough for the Premiership.
Sami Hyypia: 7
Once his lack of pace had been brutally exposed by Andy Johnson in the derby and Daniel Agger slotted in so easily in the side, it was clear that Hyppia’s days as a regular were over. Yet he’s still an extremely important player, coming in whenever needed and playing as well as he ever has. Not good enough to displace Daniel Agger – but that is also due to the Dane’s great season – but certainly good enough to hold on to.
Emiliano Insua: 6.5
Another young Argentine who came in midway through the season and was given some games in the final few matches. He did enough to indicate that he’s got the potential to feature more regularly in the future.
Harry Kewell: No Rating
Anyone who had forgotten Harry Kewell’s talent got a reminder in his impressive cameo appearance on the final day against Charlton. Unfortunately, he spends too much time injured – and costs too much – to keep him if a good offer comes through.
Dirk Kuyt: 6.5
There’s no other player in the world who works as hard as Kuyt and it is always encouraging to see him plugging away. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to replicate anything like the goal scoring form that he showed at Feyenoord for the past years.
Luis Garcia: 6
Not always the most appreciated of players thanks to his frustrating inconsistency but when he’s on form, Garcia is just the kind of player you love to watch. Has great skill and perhaps the only player in the squad who can add that bit of flair.
Javier Mascherano: 7.5
There must be a reason why two of the brightest English managers opted not to use Javier Mascherano. But, whatever it may be, it is pretty hard to see why they would opt to forgo using a player as talented as the one who graced Anfield in the latter half of the season.
Daniele Padelli: No Rating
There have been few worse debuts than the one enjoyed by Padelli. He may be excused for letting a soft first goal because it was deflected but he was fully at fault for the second one and never looked like good enough to play top flight football.
Gabriel Paletta: 4
The Argentine defender struggled in pre-season but that was largely put down to him getting to grips with a new way of playing. However, he struggled terribly whenever called up and will require huge improvements if he is to make the grade.
Lee Peltier: No Rating
Peltier was solid, if unspectacular, during his couple of appearances in the League Cup. Doesn’t look as if he will make it at Anfield although is good enough to make it elsewhere.
Jermaine Pennant: 6.5
Pennant’s first few months at Anfield saw him struggle to meet expectations and shed off the feeling that he was Benitez’s second or third choice. On the pitch, performances were disappointing with him often struggling to get wide and deliver the crosses he had been signed for. Then, after scoring a goal against Chelsea, he seemed to find the belief that had been lacking earlier and ended the season in fine form, ending as one of Liverpool’s best players in the Champions League final.
Jose ‘Pepe’ Reina: 7
The goalkeeper’s start to the season was erratic but he quickly found his form breaking all sort of clean-sheet records. Showed his real worth in the Champions League semi-final games against Chelsea where he pulled off a string of excellent saves that were as important as any other player’s contribution.
John Arne Riise: 6
The questions around Riise remain the same: is he a left-back or a left-midfielder? The truth is that he is good at both without excelling at either. Personal problems probably contributed to a season where he was often below par although Riise can never be accused of lack of determination or commitment.
Momo Sissoko: 6
After a tremendous game away at Barcelona, Sissoko was hailed as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe but that was to be one of the rare highlights of his season. An injury in the League Cup had hindered his season and then lack of confidence – probably compounded by Javier Mascherano’s fine form – set in. Defensively there are few better players but Sissoko has to improve on his passing which is often erratic at best.
Bolo Zenden: 5
Zenden, as with other players in this Liverpool squad, tries hard and is committed. Sadly, the quality was too often lacking so it is no surprise that he is being allowed to leave.
Thursday, June 07, 2007 by Paul Grech
A season that promised so much but which ultimately ended in disappointment. That is how Liverpool’s 2006-07 campaign will be remembered given that, for the first time since Rafael Benitez took over, they ended the season without winning anything.
Actually, that’s not quite true for they did win the Charity Shield back in August. That game, a fantastic effort that made Chelsea look distinctly pedestrian, underlined just why Liverpool were considered as genuine title contenders. Once the league season started, however, those hopes were quickly swept away.
The root cause of the problems was an inability to win outside Anfield. Out of their first seven away games they only managed to get two points with the first win on their travels coming as late as December (4-0 at Wigan). That they were drawn to play against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Bolton within the first couple of months didn’t help either especially with new players coming in and needing time to settle.
Those new players were another problematic issue. Rafael Benitez wouldn’t say as much – although he eventually did after the Champions League final – but of last summer’s three major transfers only one (Dirk Kuyt) had been his first choice. For the right side of midfield he wanted Daniel Alves whereas upfront he’d have liked someone less controversial than Craig Bellamy.
It was lack of transfer funds that forced his hand and, ultimately, he got what he paid for. Bellamy never really got to grips with Benitez’s constant rotation and the Spanish manager appeared to give up on him midway through the season. Jermaine Pennant fared slightly better, especially in the latter part of the season where he consistently got better to the point where he was arguably Liverpool’s best player in the Champions League final
Not that Benitez can be absolved of all blame where transfers are concerned. For the previous twelve months he had been bigging up Mark Gonzalez as a player capable of taking the Premiership by storm. The winger’s application for a work permit had initially been turned down but a highly successful loan period at Real Sociedad had seen the decision reconsidered. The Chilean promptly scored on his debut (an all important winner against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League qualifiers) but then did little else during the rest of the campaign.
The same, to a lesser extent, can be said of Gabriel Palleta. In some very weak pre-season games, the young Argentine defender had looked very much out of place but that was put down to a young player still getting to grips with his surroundings. Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case as his occasional forays in the first team led to similarly disjointed performances. His worst game came in the humiliating 6-3 defeat at the hands of Arsenal in the League Cup quarter final where he managed the impossible in making Jeremie Alladiare look good. He’s still young enough to develop, but a tendency to try and hack his way through a game justifiably raises doubts.
Other new players, did decidedly better. Daniel Agger’s had spent the latter half of the previous campaign getting to terms with English football so when the new season started he quickly bedded in, taking Sami Hyppia’s place in the side with ease.
Javier Mascherano, a mid-season arrival from West Ham where he had struggled to get on the bench, did the same. The Argentine’s class quickly shone through and he was so good that by the time the Champions League final came around, most of the talk was about whether Xabi Alonso would get to play: there was never any doubt that Mascherano would start.
Once again, therefore, Liverpool had to turn to Europe for their fulfillment. Benitez once again proved his total mastery of continental football as his side made their way impressively past Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven before overcoming arch rivals Chelsea on penalties.
Hopes, therefore, were justifiably high of number six making its way to Merseyside. It wasn’t to be. Ironically, and opposed to two years back, Liverpool were the better team in the final but this time Milan had all the luck. When Andrea Pirlo’s free kick hit Pippo Inzaghi and went in on the stroke of half-time, it was clear that this time the gods were siding with AC Milan.
The Champions League had also ushered in new owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks, whose first game was the home defeat to Barcelona. The atmosphere at that game, and the subsequent semi-final against Chelsea apparently taught the American duo just what a special club they had bought.
Their success in doing so had been a surprise. Up till December, the DIC had been apparently given the go ahead to formalize an agreement to buy the club. Eventually, however, the deal would crumble in the space of 48 hours after owner David Moores had a rethink. In cam Gillet and Hicks with their promise to build a new stadium and finance Benitez’s team building.
The Spanish manger would take to heart that promise, and would publicly remind the Americans moments after the end of the Champions League final. It was the second time that he had gone public about his concerns – the first time was when he had complained that he had yet to meet with the new owners to discuss their plans – and it highlighted a certain degree of unrest at the club.
During the same press conference, Benitez had made thinly veiled criticism of the club’s CEO Rick Parry, with accusations that the club was too slow in signing new players. Indeed, Parry must have more reasons than most to try and forget the final, what with the controversy about the club’s ticketing allocations.
There were other, minor but significant issues that helped sour the season’s end. Frank McParland, one of the main scouts and a man highly valued by Benitez, decided to move to Bolton where he’ll be Sammy Lee’s general manager.
All of this paints a very drab picture. In reality, however, the nucleus for a title winning squad is there. Yet whether season 2006-07 will in future be considered as a season of further consolidation or the year where everything started to unravel depends on what happens over the next couple of weeks.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007 by Paul Grech
It was a reaction borne of two years trying to compete at the highest level without having sufficient funds available. It’s not as if Benitez has been forced to scrounge around for bargains but too often he’s had to settle for second or third choice.
Not this summer though, or at least that’s what he’s demanding. He’s been promised all the financial backing that he needs and intends to use it.
First of all, he’ll have to sort out who will be the backup to Pepe Reina. The Spanish keeper has been offered an extension to his contract which basically confirms him as the long time first choice for the club.
This will probably force out Scott Carson who is unlikely to be willing to spend time on the bench and who, if a big enough offer comes in, will be on his way. Jerzy Dudek has already left on a free whilst Danieli Padelli’s nightmare debut against Charlton will mean a quick return back to Italy. Fourth choice David Martin had an excellent spell on loan at Accrington Stanley but it is probably too young for such responsibility.
In defence, Benitez is determined to have a quality central defender capable of taking some of the load off Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, regardless of whether Sami Hyppia stays or not. That player he has in mind seems to be the Argentine Gabriel Milito whilst another Argentine by the same forename, Gabriel Palleta, should probably leave Liverpool after a series of horrendous displays.
Left back is another area that Benitez might be looking to improve: it is telling that in the latter half of the season he relied on right back Alvaro Arbeloa to do the job there. John Arne Riise hasn’t had the best of years whereas Fabio Aurelio, so impressive midway through the season, seems too injury prone to be relied on as the automatic choice.
Going by the rumours, left of midfield has been identified as a priority position. Already Mark Gonzalez and Boudewijn Zenden are confirmed departures with Harry Kewell also on his way out should a decent enough offer come in. Young Argentine Sebastian Leto joined last year from Lanus but will be making the trip to Liverpool this summer. There is also Adam Hammill, back from a successful loan period at Dunfermline who he helped to the Scottish FA Cup final.
The player that Benitez has earmarked for this role, however, is Florent Malouda from Lyon. He was apparently one of the two players that the manager had wanted ‘signed within a week’ although at this stage it doesn’t look as if that will happen. Should that deal fall through, another possibility is Valencia’s David Silva.
On the other side of midfield interest in Daniel Alves has apparently receeded although not the same seems to apply to Simao Sabrosa. This despite the good form shown by Jermaine Pennant towards the latter half of the season as well as in the Champions League final.
In the middle of the park, Javier Mascherano’s form and the imminent arrival of Lucas means that Momo Sissoko is no longer guaranteed a place in the team. So much that he could be allowed to leave especially if Juventus really do come up with a £10 million offer.
That money would go to finance Liverpool’s biggest need: an efficient goal scorer. So far, Robbie Fowler has gone whilst Craig Bellamy won’t be a Liverpool player for longer. That leaves Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt, with the impression being that the former could be sacrificed should a big enough offer come in.
That would leave Benitez looking for two more strikers as Andrei Voronin (pictured), the unheralded Ukranian striker, will be joining on a free from Bayer Leverkusen. The list of linked players is too long and full of improbables to be warrant anything more than mention here.
Someone like Samuel Eto’o would suit Liverpool fine although he won’t come cheap. Time, therefore, for Hicks and Gillett to show how ready they are to back Benitez. Unless the feel the need to test how much it will take for his frustration to boil over indefinitely.
Sunday, June 03, 2007 by Paul Grech
In an interiew with www.abc.es, the man chosen to replace Paco Herrera last summer, admitted that whilst the club had been interested in the player last summer, he is not in their plans this time round.
"We've dropped our interest," Macia is quoted as saying. "Will he end up joining us? In football you can never say never but at the moment we're not interested. Instead of him we signed (Jermaine) Pennant. Okay, so he's a winger but Alves plays very high up the pitch. We've also got (Alvaro) Arbeloa who can play in that position."
Macia, who was chosen by Benitez to replace Paco Herrera who last summer left for Espanyol, is credited in the same article as being the man who discovered Valencia's David Silva and that he is in charge of around 70 scouts who handle a database of around 10,000 players. However, recently he was critised in the Liverpool Echo for relying too heavily on Italian agents, which perhaps explains Daniele Padelli's (hopefully) brief stay on Merseyside.
The original interview in Spanish can be read here. Special mention to the the guys on the transfer forum at RAWK who were the first to come across this story.