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Archive for November 2007

Good Game Bad Game [vs Newcastle]

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Sunday, November 25, 2007 by Paul Grech

Have Liverpool had easier games than this? Derby and Besiktas are the ones that spring to mind yet those two were at Anfield where you sort of expect teams to feel the pressure. This was Newcastle, a team that has always spent heavily – even if not wisely – and who have lofty ambitions.

By today’s evidence, it is hard to see how they aren’t lower in the table. Apart from Shay Given, none of their players seemed to be good enough for this level.

That their fans decided to boo Steven Gerrard for most of the game, presumably because of England’s elimination, was somewhat surreal given that they don’t have anyone who even comes close to his talent. His goal was the perfect way to shut up these idiots.

Seeing Sam Allardyce being told that he doesn’t know what he’s doing was, on the other hand, enjoyable. The man has got such an inflated opinion of himself, and an irrational dislike of Benitez, that seeing him squirm as his side was swept off the park was well worth it

Good Game
Newcastle were so poor that, apart from Alan Smith’s shot in the first half I don’t think that they ever came close to troubling Pepe Reina. Most of the merit for this must go to the central defensive pairing of Hyppia and Carragher.

Absolutely nothing got past Sami Hyppia today. The big Finn had Oba Martins in his pocket all afternoon and even found the time to flick on Gerrard’s corner for the second goal. A couple of weeks back he was really struggling but has suddenly rediscovered his best form so much that it will be harsh to drop him when Agger finally regains full fitness.

Jamie Carragher was less in evidence, but he still handled Mark Viduka well although the Australian’s tendency to stray offside made his job much easier.

It wasn’t the best of games for Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa: both easily contained anything that Newcastle threw at them – which admittedly was very little – but very rarely ventured forward.

Momo Sissoko
started the game in his usual fashion with a number of farcically misplaced passes. Eventually, however, he started to settle and by the end of the game he looked back to his old self. Tenacious and excellent in winning the ball, if he can build on this game perhaps Benitez will play him as often as the Mali midfielder seems to want.

It was a similar story for Lucas Leiva who started the game tentatively. He too settled down after the first fifteen minutes and put in a highly accomplished performance. As with Alonso, most of his work isn’t spectacular yet it is efficient and what the side needs.

Newcastle fans chose to boo him from the first minute, yet Steve Gerrard didn’t seem to care that much. Personally, I wouldn’t have played him such was his disappointment after Wednesday and I have the suspicion that Benitez would have done exactly that had either Mascherano or Alonso been in a better condition. Ultimately, however, those worries were unfounded as Gerrard put in a man of the match performance.

People will point to Fernando Torres’ series of bad misses but that would be overlooking the simple fact that those chances came about purely because of his speed and intelligence. So frustrated was Habibe Beye with Torres’ movement that by the end of the game he opted to clatter him. In fact, this happens every game and the punishment he gets from defenders is incredible. Yet he simply gets on with it. Class.

There’s no avoiding that Dirk Kuyt’s goal was fortuitous but he works hard to get in space so more than deserved it. The Dutchman hasn’t been playing as well as he can lately – and hasn’t been scoring that many either – so hopefully this will change all that.

Bad Game
It is hard to criticize anyone on days like this but Harry Kewell was a bit of a disappointment. Terribly slow, the game with Australia probably took its toll.

Substitutes
I’ll keep on saying that Ryan Babbel doesn’t look like a winger and today he took his goal like a true striker. He has, however, been showing signs of settling into this position and is increasingly looking like a star in the making. Both John Arne Riise and Peter Crouch came on too late in the game for them to have the opportunity to influence matters.


15 of the Best: Liverpool’s Finest Imports (Part III)

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Friday, November 23, 2007 by Paul Grech

Choosing Liverpool’s best fifteen players has been hard and it was tough to leave some out. There will be those who might feel that the likes of Titi Camara, Karl Heinz Riedle and even Erik Meijer deserve inclusion but this is a completely subjective list so I make no excuse for my choices. What I can admit to, however, is that initially I wanted to list the top twenty five players but eventually couldn’t justify so many. A dilemma that anyone compiling such a list five years down the line, or perhaps earlier, might not have given that most new players are coming from overseas nowadays. Even so, I garner that most of the players I’ve chosen here would still feature.

5 Xabi Alonso
A player strongly wanted by Benitez when he first joined, Alonso has proven to be invaluable in his three and a half years at Anfield. An incredible passer of the ball, calm, determined and passionate about the club, he smashes all the stereotypes about Spanish players and despite the competition, a regular at the heart of midfield when fit.

4 Jerzy Dudek
A choice that is largely influenced by what happened on the 25th May 2005, Dudek was a good keeper who suffered the occasional lapses that rarely go unpunished at the highest level. Yet what he managed to do in Istanbul, puts him near the top. Not simply the penalty saves but also those two stops from Andriy Shevchenko near the end that kept Liverpool in the game.

3 Jan Molby
Picked up on the cheap from Ajax, Molby has gone on to become a legend at the club. Despite a somewhat bulky physique, his passing was simply something else and made his lack of mobility more a question of style than a problem. That he eventually adopted a Scouse accent was obviously a major plus.

2 Bruce Grobbelaar
If Jerzy Dudek managed to put off Milan’s strikers, it was largely because of Grobbelaar’s actions years earlier. Not a conventional keeper, he efficiently took over from a legend like Ray Clemence and went on to prove on of the best players ever to put on the red shirt.

1 Sami Hyppia
A virtual unknown when Gerard Houllier signed him from Willem II, Hyppia has been the most consistent performer for the past eight seasons. Not the fastest, but with great anticipation and a great man marker, he has made the transition to Benitez’s zonal marking with relative ease and has remained a key figure. A great whichever way you look at him, of this list he’d probably be the only on with a shout of making Liverpool’s finest team ever. With Liverpool he has won everything bar the Premier League title: let’s hope he gets to add that title before he gets to retire.


15 of the Best: Liverpool’s Finest Imports (Part II)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007 by Paul Grech

The first five players chosen revealed a prevalence of defenders but there have been some very good foreign midfielders to play for Liverpool as well, some of whom appears in this second part of the feature on Liverpool’s best imports.

10 Patrick Berger
Whilst it was immediately obvious that Patrick Berger was a particular talent, his lack of first team opportunities under Roy Evans verged on the criminal. So much that Berger was on the verge of moving to AS Roma before Gerard Houllier came in and convinced him to stay. Under the Frenchman, he seemed to play more within the overall tactics employed.

9 Ronnie Rosenthal
People seem to remember Rosenthal for some horrific misses, particularly that one at Villa Park, but the Israeli international was a class act who scored some vital goals whilst on loan from Standard Liege to help Liverpool clinch the title in 1990. He never won a regular first team spot, but was still a very valuable player to bring off the bench.

8 Didi Hamann
Liverpool’s Scouse German, Hamann’s unerring ability from the penalty spot was often priceless as he set off Liverpool on the right path in penalty shoot-outs. But that wasn’t Hamann’s only attribute as he gave an order to the midfield that had been missing since the days of Steve McMahon.

7 Craig Johnston
More than talent, Johston had plenty of determination. Brought up in Australia, he had written to all English clubs asking for a trial. Middlesbrough accepted and, despite not being particularly rated by the then manager Jack Charlton, he eventually made the grade for them before joining Liverpool. He was never a regular in the side but his versatility and unrelenting running made him a crowd favourite.

6 Luis Garcia
Only upon his departure did people start to wake up to Luis Garcia’s talent. Frustratingly erratic in his passes, his ability to shine in big games and score important goals far outweighed any shortcomings that he might have had. A brilliantly inventive talent, he had the ability to turn games and entertain the crowd.

The top 5 foreign players will be revealed next Friday: tomorrow we'll have the worst foreign players ever to play for Liverpool.


The (Unfulfilled) Promise of Youth

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007 by Paul Grech

The recent addition of Lauri Della Valle to Liverpool’s youth ranks means that over the past five months some eight players from seven different countries have arrived at Liverpool with the sole intention of boosting the academy sides. It is a drastic move from the previous policy and one that will unavoidably see players return home disappointed.

Yet signing young players who subsequently fail to fulfill their potential won’t be a new experience as this list proves.

5 Frode Kippe

A Norwegian central defender signed by Roy Evans – who else – Kippe was at the centre of a controversy when an unspecified Liverpool player let it pass to the media that he was the worst player he had ever seen. This was more than a bit harsh on the ₤700,000 signing who had impressed for the reserves yet probably marked his career at Anfield. Loan spells at Stoke City proved that he had talent yet ultimately it was back to Norway with Lillestrom without making a single league appearance for Liverpool. That he has eventually gone on to play for the senior national side shows that perhaps he wasn’t as bad as had been made believe.

4 Antonio Barragan
Within weeks of joining Liverpool, Antonio Barragan made his first team debut in the Champions League and became the youngest ever foreigner to play for the club. Predictably expectations were high yet he failed to advance as expected despite doing quite well for the reserves. Eventually, it emerged that he was homesick and a transfer deal taking him to Deportivo La Coruna was struck. Even so, Liverpool held the option to buy him back, although this was waived when Alvaro Arbeloa moved to Anfield last January.

3 Gabriel Paletta
Sometimes, the pundits do get it right. Following his ₤2million move to Anfield, the BBC’s South America correspondent Tim Vickery wrote a piece arguing that this was a bad move for Palleta and how he would have done better to join one of Argentina’s big clubs like Boca Juniors or River Plate. His argument was that Palleta was trying to take in too much by moving from a mid-table Argentine side to one of England’s top four, that the gap in quality would be too much for him. Looking back it is hard to fault his verdict: Palleta’s Liverpool appearances were error strewn. Sold to Boca during the summer, he has been playing quite regularly and has been one of their better players.

2 Mark Gonzalez
One of the most hyped signings ever, Liverpool spent two years trying to get Gonzalez a work permit after signing him for ₤4.5 million. During one of these, he spent some months on loan at Real Sociedad and almost single handedly kept them up. A great goal against Real Madrid raised expectations and when he made his Liverpool debut with a goal it looked as if a star had been born. However, it was too early to judge as Gonzalez subsequently failed to convince – despite his speed and strong shot – and by the end of his first season Benitez decided to offload him to Real Betis.

1 Antony Le Tallec & Florent Sinama Pongolle
When the pair signed for ₤6 million, it was seen as a major coup. Both had excelled in the U17 World Cup and they were clearly destined for better things. Yet not everyone saw it that way. The then French U21 manager Raymond Domenech argued publicly that the two were wasting their careers in Liverpool’s reserves when they needed to be playing regularly at a higher level of competition. Again, in hindsight it looks as if he was correct. Le Tallec struggled to find a side following last year’s loan experience at St. Etienne whilst Pongolle is Recreativo Huelva’s main striker.


15 of the Best: Liverpool’s Finest Imports

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Monday, November 19, 2007 by Paul Grech

There’s been a lot of controversy this week regarding the influence of foreign players on the English game which is rather ironic given the recent fuss around football against racism.

The truth is that, whilst limiting foreign players might ensure that more local players make it, these have helped improve the overall level. Over the course of these next few days, I’ll be taking a look at the best fifteen foreign players to have put on the Liverpool shirt.

The rules are simple: players who have been at Liverpool more than a year have been considered and no British or Irish players have been included.

15 Glen Hysen
Many feel that Hysen was a bad buy, blaming him for Liverpool’s eventual decline yet the truth is that in his second season at the club he lacked a good quality defender beside him. Indeed, in his first season he was excellent alongside Alan Hansen as Liverpool swept away to the League Title and were knocked out of the FA Cup in the semi-final. Following Hansen’s injury forced absence, however, he struggled to reach the same levels and upon Graeme Souness’ appointment as manager he went back to Sweden where he saw out his career at GAIS. If anything, he should be remember for rejecting the opportunity to join Manchester United in order to move to Liverpool.

14 Stephane Henchoz
Another defender who was a revelation after joining Liverpool from relegated Blackburn. Partnered by Houllier alongside Sami Hyppia, the two immediately formed an excellent understanding. Despite Henchoz’ lack of pace or skill on the ball, he was a resolute defender and very few people got past him. His two saves against Arsenal in the FA Cup final will long be remembered.

13 Marcus Babbel
It is an incredible pity that sickness robbed Liverpool of Babbel’s talents after just one season. Even so, during that year he had been impeccable combining good defensive approach with the ability of joining attacks whilst scoring some important goals, not least in the UEFA Cup Final against Alaves.

12 John Arne Riise
Where people once sang that horrid ‘ooh ahh’ song every time Riise touched the ball, they are now more likely to groan every time they witness his inclusion in the side. This transformation is quite remarkable especially as, despite being below par for quite a while, Riise remains an extremely versatile player who has been an excellent servant at the club.

11 Pepe Reina
Virtually unknown and given the task of replacing Jerzy Dudek after the Pole’s heroics in the Champions League final, he quickly settled in to the task emerging as Liverpool’s finest keeper since Bruce Grobbelaar. Fantastic concentration and reflexes, he is excellent at penalties with the only fault occasionally being his erratic distribution. Never receives the plaudits he deserves but he is on par with Peter Cech as the best in the Premiership and one of the finest in Europe. Should rapidly move up the list if this form continues.

Positions 6 to 10 will be revealed next Wednesday but look out for a surprise list tomorrow.


How's That for a Bargain Buy?

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Friday, November 16, 2007 by Paul Grech

Rafael Benitez is often criticised for wasting too much money on the likes of Josemi, Fernando Morientes and Jan Kromkamp yet the imminent sale of Scott Carson to Aston Villa should be his perfect risposte.

The young keeper was signed for a mere ₤750,000 from Leeds United in January 2005 but should now fetch around ₤8 million: more than ten times the original price. Even allowing for the wages paid over the past couple of years and the paying off of the sell on clause to Leeds, it will still mean a huge profit for Liverpool.

Aware of his potential as the best English keeper of his generation, few Liverpool fans would willingly sell Carson.

Fewer still, however, would be those ready to venture that he could break into the side. Pepe Reina is proving to be an exceptional goalkeeper - certainly on par with Peter Cech as the best in the league - and for all of Carson's ability he is unlikely to displace him.


Signing Midfielder a Question of When, not If

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007 by Paul Grech

There was no real surprise in Rafael Benitez’s admission that he would like Javier Mascherano to stay at Anfield. After all this is the man who, if the story is to be believed, went to Mascherano’s house unannounced and spent some three hours explaining to him how he saw him fitting into his team so as to convince him to join Liverpool.

At the time, Benitez was one of the few to believe in Mascherano. Stranded at West Ham with a manager who preferred Nigel Quashie to the Argentine international, his career was going nowhere and moving to England was turning out into a disaster.

Yet this was the same player who a few months earlier had been one of the most impressive midfielders on show in the World Cup. A player who, if reports were to be believed, was wanted by most of Europe’s elite clubs just before the decision for him to move to London had been made.

Mascherano had learnt at his own cost how fickle football can be. Fortunately for, Benitez still believed in his ability and despite the complications to agree a loan move, he still persisted and the deal went through.

Even so, most fans were under whelmed. Liverpool needed a striker, not a defensive midfielder a position where they already had a surplus of players.

Those views quickly changed, however. Mascherano put in a series of immaculate performances culminating in the Champions League final where he impressively managed to shackle Kaka, rendering the Brazilian a peripheral figure for most of the game.

This season he was expected to kick on from there. Yet that hasn’t happened. Whereas the tenacity was there his passing was often atrocious and he ended up giving the ball away almost as much as soon as he won it. It was only over the past couple of weeks that he has been showing the kind of form that he put on show last season.

In all probability, it was all a psychological issue. Apart from the Champions League, Mascherno had also lost the Copa America final against Brazil and these setbacks do have a huge impact on a player’s form.

Players are sometimes expected to shrug off such demoralising defeats but it doesn’t work that way. They will keep tormenting themselves on what they could have done differently to avoid losing. For Mascherano it was even worse: not only did he have less time to rest than the other players, he also had less time to deal with the aftermath of those defeats.

Now that his form has started to pick up, speculation is starting to kick in. Already, Barcelona have made it public that they want the player to join them once the current loan period which took him to Anfield comes to an end.

That both the player and the manager have expressed their desire for him to stay with Liverpool, that shouldn’t be a problem. The sticking point is likely to be the transfer fee that MSI, the agency that holds the rights to the player, is asking for the player.

This asking price currently stands at ₤17 million: quite a figure for a defensive midfielder who isn’t going to be a regular given Liverpool’s riches in the centre of the park.

The other side of the coin isn’t whether Liverpool can afford him but rather if they can do without him. Despite the overall quality of the squad having risen, the number of truly world class players is limited. Mascherano is one such player and there aren’t many to be found in circulation.

As Rafael Benitez continues to mould his team, Mascherano is increasingly being shifted to an important role. If Mascherano were to be allowed to leave, someone to replace him would still be required and given the way the transfer market is going, it is unlikely they would find someone of equal abilities.

The reality is that not exercising that option might prove to be false economy.


Tabloid Doom and Gloom

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007 by Paul Grech

Why is it that we are never allowed to enjoy a win? Every time Liverpool seem to find their feet, someone comes up with a news story that will have us worried once more.


This time it concerns the rumours about a possible rift between George Gillet and Tom Hicks. Apparently the two disagree about how the stadium should be built or, more specifically, on how much should be spent on it.

Of course, by the News of the World we know that this probably means Chris Bascombe. Which is worrying. The former Liverpool Echo writer has good contacts at Anfield so it cannot be simply waived off as another tabloid rumour.

That said, earlier this summer he had hinted that the American owners weren't that willing to back Rafael Benitez financially something that had many fans up in arms. Eventually, Liverpool signed Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel within the space of a few days and the story died a natural death. Many were, however, more than happy to point out repeatedly that Bascombe had been wrong as those two transfers went through.

This could be the reason why he hasn't had a positive article about Liverpool since leaving the Echo: keep repeating the same story, but with slightly different and eventually one might give you the opportunity to claim that you were right all along. Or it could also be that, at a tabloid he has to come up with stories that will cause sensation and nothing does that more than tales of doom and gloom. Particularly when Liverpool are concerned.

All of which cannot disguise the fact that having two owners is a worrying situation, one that might lead to problems unless both are comfortable with the situation. There are bound to be differences of opinions but the same is true to any business relationship and many are eventually ironed out without any major fallout.

It is equally true that this arrangement can also lead to highly speculative stories that cannot really be proven to be untrue. Hopefully, just as in the summer, that proves to be the case this time round as well.


Liverpool Return not an Option for Keeper

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Sunday, November 11, 2007 by Paul Grech

Under any other circumstances, Scott Carson would be preparing to play for England this coming weekend. With one full Premiership season behind his back and another one going fine, he is proving that he has the consistence needed to play at the highest level.

What’s keeping him out at the moment isn’t his form but others’ psychological well being. McLaren knows that dropping Paul Robinson would break his morale and put him in big danger of accelerating his spiral downwards. That situation is unlikely to change, at least, until the qualification games for the European Championship are out of the way.

Afterwards McLaren – or whoever is in charge – would have the freedom change and prepare for the future. It is unlikely that anyone would stick with Robinson given his recent form whilst David James is enjoying a fine season yet is too old to build any side around him for such a long term target.

That leaves two alternatives: Carson and Robert Green. The latter is at a disadvantage because he missed most of the last season and he hasn’t caught up this year. West Ham are doing pretty well this season and that is partly due to Green’s form. Yet his poor performances at Norwich when they were in the Premiership, however, remain what he is remembered for most.

It will take him time to remove that notion.

This leaves Carson who, given his form both last season and this year, already seems to be the best candidate for the job. Clean sheets have been the order of the day this season for Aston Villa and even in other games, Carson has rarely been to blame.

Admittedly, there is one area where any cautiousness around his elevation to first team is justified: his club.

Carson’s deal at Aston Villa lasts till the end of the season but afterwards it is up to Benitez to decide about the player.

With his games being given increased prominence, his potential is coming more to the fore, few Liverpool fans would willingly sell Carson. .

Fewer still, however, would venture if he could potentially break into the side. Pepe Reina was unknown when he came three seasons ago yet has broken a series of records during his stay and there aren’t many who would do better.

Carson had to move out of Reina’s shadow – even though he was never up against him in the first place – if he really is to progress to the national side or fulfil his potential. The deal apparently already agreed between the two clubs should see that this happens sooner rather than later.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Fulham]

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by Paul Grech

The memory of the 8-0 trashing of Besiktas quickly evaporated as Liverpool struggled to break down a resolute and well organized Fulham side. Having camped in the opposing half for the majority of eighty minutes, the game looked set to wind down to another disappointing goal. But then popped up Fernando Torres to score a great goal and give Liverpool the win that they deserved.

Frustratingly, the international break will see Benitez lose most of his players just as soon as they were finally regaining their form.

Good Game
Untroubled for long stretches, Pepe Reina had to be alert to make two reflex saves denying Fulham from taking an undeserved lead. Rumours are that Scott Carson is on his way to Aston Villa and today’s showing by Reina shows why there is no room for the young English keeper.

Jamie Carragher was his usual calm self today, although the tendency to hack the ball away has to be addressed, but he was more than overshadowed by his partner Sami Hyppia. I’ve been critical of him lately, yet on this occasion he was excellent and he needed to be. Despite being happy with a draw, Fulham were always quick to break forward but too often their moves fizzled out at the feet of the big Finn. Man of the Match.

It was another very good game for Alvaro Arbeloa who allies good defensive skills – I lost count of the number of perfectly timed tackles to win the ball when a Fulham player looked set to break through – and the ability to cause damage up front.

For Fabio Aurelio, it was another quite game as he gets back his match sharpness. His fantastic free kick midway through the half deserved to go in.

Javier Masscherano did a lot of tidying up in midfield but also his fair share of prompting attacks. So did Yossi Benayoun who has already shown that, creatively, he is a more than adequate replacement for Luis Garcia without giving the ball away half as much as the Spaniard did.

Almost frightened by the thought to dropping further points Steven Gerrard at times tried to win this on his own. His drive and pure talent is, however, what gives Liverpool class in midfield.

It wasn’t an excellent game by Peter Crouch, yet he played fairly well hitting the crossbar and winning the penalty that sealed the result. Andriy Voronin wanted to score a goal for his new born son something that he failed to on this occasion but, even so, his enterprise and effort marks this as another good game.

Bad Game
It pains to have to chose John Arne Riise again but he was lethargic again against Fulham failing to make any headway on the left.

Substitutes

That is why you pay ₤23 million. Fernando Torres came on and promptly scored a great goal. What more can you ask for. Ryan Babbel once again showed flashes of his talent and set Crouch on his way to win the penalty. Frustratingly, however, he has a tendency to run into opposing defenders


Liverpool Finally Sign Finnish Talent

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Thursday, November 08, 2007 by Paul Grech

According to the Finnish newspaper IS Urheilu, Liverpool have finally manged to sign talented 16 year old Lauri Della Valle.

The club has been tracking the highly rated midfield for over a year with Academy Head of Recruitment Malcolm Elias making several trips to convince him.

Chelsea were reportedly interested and offered him a huge salary whilst he also had a spell at Inter before returning to Finland because of homesickness, it seems that he has opted for Liverpool and will join at the start of January.

Story spotted on the RAWK forum.


Football Obituary: Nils Liedholm

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by Paul Grech

Nils Liedholm died earlier this week. The manager of the AS Roma side beaten by Liverpool in the Champions Cup final in 1985, he was a real gent very much reminiscent of Bob Paisley.


For years, Nils Liedholm was a semi-permanent fixture on the Sunday night football talk shows that populate Italian television. With his ready smile and unmistakable accent, he cut the figure of a much loved uncle whose words were greatly respected and rarely contradicted.

Respect that stemmed largely from the realization that he was someone who truly understood the game.

As a player, Liedholm enjoyed a phenomenal career. Twice league champion in Sweden, he eventually moved to AC Milan in 1949 where he formed part of the legendary gre-no-li strike trio alongside fellow Swedes Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl. In Italy he won a further four league titles in a side that dominated the fifties. Milan legend has it that he never misplaced a pass in his first two years at the club and, when he finally did, he was given a standing ovation by the supporters.

That success was nowhere nearly matched by his results for the Sweden who failed to select him for the 1950 and 1954 World Cups because they wouldn’t play professional players. He did, however, win the gold medal in the 1948 Olympics and, aged 36, he helped them reach the World Cup final and even put Sweden 1-0 front.

Sweden ultimately lost 5-2 to a Pele inspired Brazil, yet Liedholm often picked that as the best game in his career. When someone once pointed out that Brazil still won the game, he replied that “I know but when I went off we were still 1-0 up.”

Yet it is as a coach that he really made an indelible mark. Described in Italy as the first democratic manager, he treated his players like men and always listened to their ideas.

Not that Liedholm needed much prompting, such was his knowledge of the game and the handling of players. He was a great believer of the zonal marketing system – one of the first to do so in a catenaccio dominated era – claiming that it was easier to switch players based on a system rather than on their qualities, something that forced you to react to the opposition rather than impose yourself.

He was also always hammering into his players the importance on retaining possession. His teams loved t keep the ball, waiting for the opposing team to make a mistake. Fargli addormentare – get them to sleep – was the thinking. It wasn’t too exciting to watch and was criticized for being boring yet it got results and ultimately his approach inspired a whole range of coaches, including Arrigo Sacchi and Rafael Benitez.

With Milan, he won a league title before moving on to AS Roma, whom he guided to another league win and a European Cup final loss to Liverpool. He also managed Fiorentina, Varese and Hellas Verona helping the latter two to promotion. Juventus wanted to make him manager but he refused “together we would have been too strong” he said.

In 1997 he returned to manage AS Roma for the final seven games of the season in what was his swansong in football.

Nils Liedholm 1922 -1997


Good Game Bad Game [vs Besiktas]

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007 by Paul Grech

What else can you say about a game that finished in an 8-0 win: it was a brilliant performance and which could have ended up with a higher number of goals. All of Besiktas’ faults were exposed – and there were many – making the defeat of two weeks ago all the more bitter to take.

Good Game
Everyone played an excellent game even though Pepe Reina was barely used and will hardly ever be as quite as today. Alvaro Arbeloa has been out of the side in recent weeks yet today showed that he can more than fill in for Steve Finnan. Both Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyppia easily dealt with what Besiktas threw at them with Hyppia even taking the ball out of defence on a couple of occasion.

Steven Gerrard was everywhere in midfield with Yossi Benayoun scoring three, creating a number of chances and proving once more that he is a class act. Javier Mascherano won an immense number of balls and allowed Gerrard to move forward. Peter Crouch finally scored a goal this season but most of the running was done by Andriy Voronin who is this game’s man of the match.

Bad Game
It is hard to fault anyone after such a game yet the left side of midfield didn’t work as well as it could have. John Arne Riise simply isn’t a threat when asked to start on the left hand side of midfield whilst Fabio Aurelio is still slowly recovering.

Substitutes
After a good return against Blackburn, Harry Kewell continued his road to recovery with another second half appearance showing flashes of creativity that have been sorely missing. Finally played up front, Ryan Babel scored twice hinting to Benitez that perhaps this is where he can get the best out of him.


Don’t Blame it All On Rotation

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Sunday, November 04, 2007 by Paul Grech

It is an unlikely source, given his placid demanour, but Stephen Warnock has just joined the anti-rotation brigade pointing his finger to the inability to get games on a regualar and consistent basis for his failure to establish himself at Liverpool

In an interview with the Times, Warnock said that “even if you’d played really well one week, you never thought you would play the next. People were being rested in September and October and I just think that’s crazy. You don’t want to be rested at that stage of the season. I thought I needed to play week in, week out to improve myself as a player.”

Words that reflect what most fans think but which don’t tell the whole story.

The truth is that he suffered injuries at key stages – practically every time he looked like getting some games – but, more significantly, he just wasn’t good enough. Even in his current form, John Arne Riise looks a better player as is Fabio Aurelio despite his inability to stay fit. At Liverpool, Warnock had some good games and even got into the England squad on the back of them but he never proved that he is anything other than a decent player.

Warnock's lack of positional awareness and his inability to create anything when going forward yesterday was proof enough of this.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Blackburn]

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by Paul Grech


Frustration. No other word can better capture the over-riding emotion at the end of a game that Liverpool should have won.

Not that this looked likely for most of the game. In the first seventy minutes, Liverpool enjoyed possession but very little incisiveness with the central midfield pairing of Javier Mascherano and Momo Sissoko keeping Blackburn largely quite but incapable of creating anything going forward. Up front on his own, Dirk Kuyt looked forlorn and cut-off.

Then came the two substitutions and almost instantly Liverpool were all over Blackburn where, but for the excellence of Brad Friedle and the profligacy of Kuyt, it would have been a much happier trip back home. Put quite simply, you just cannot afford to miss so many chances.

Still, there’s the positive that this was a much better performance than last season’s game where Liverpool were simply run over by Blackburn’s physical game. Apart from that shot by Dunn and a moment of invention by the otherwise disappointing David Bentley, they were rarely under any pressure.

Good Game
It’s a cliché but safe as houses really describes Pepe Reina. Well beaten by David Dunn’s shot that came off the crossbar, he never really looked troubled. After a poor run of form, Steve Finnan seems to be getting better. He kept the highly rated Morst Gamst Pedersen in check for most of the game and put in some excellent crosses when he moved forward.

Visibly annoyed for most of the game, Jamie Carragher hacked a number of clearances opting to put the ball in touch rather than do anything pretty with it on a number of occasions. Has had to work overtime ever since Agger’s absence.

Steven Gerrard had another very good game in midfield – and he’s been improving since that substitution in the derby – but was overshadowed by Javier Mascherano who was excellent in doing what he does best: closing down player and winning the ball. My man of the match.

Yossi Benayoun might feel unlucky to be taken off - it certainly lookeed as he felt that way - as he was always incisive whenever he got the ball yet often unable to do anything with it due to lack of support.

Bad Game
I’ve been saying it for the past few games now but Sami Hyppia is really struggling and was caught out on a number of occasions yesterday. So too is John Arne Riise who would probably lose his spot were Fabio Aurelio ever to get rid of his injury niggles.

It wasn’t that Ryan Babel had a terrible game but he failed to do what Benitez expected of him: beat people and create chances. This is all a learning experience for him but needs to develop quickly before the pressure starts to build.



In midweek, Momo Sissoko admitted that against Marseilles he was ‘very, very s**t’. Well, if he could remove one of the very-ies than that would be a fair assessment of his latest game.

We all know that Dirk Kuyt is a worker and appreciate him for it, yet he must start to put some goals away. His miss late on was atrocious but equally appaling was the fluffed chance earlier in the half when he tried to pass to Gerrard rather than try at goal.

Substitutes
The game’s turning point came when first Harry Kewell and then Peter Crouch came off. The ease with which Kewell beat his man was a delight especially after the complete dearth of any creativity that the rest of the side has shown for the past two months. Crouch too looked good, getting people in the game and going alone when needed. If fit, both must start on Tuesday.