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Archive for April 2008

Solving the Riise Dilemma

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by Paul Grech

It might not be a problem that Rafael Benitez would have envisaged taking up much of his time in the run-up to the Champions League semi-final return leg but deciding who he plays at left-back against Chelsea has suddenly become a serious issue.

It all stems from Riise’s unfortunate, if not unpredictable, own goal. For the past two season his performances have been slowly getting worse. The rest of the Premiership simply knows too well how to deal with him: force him to use his right foot and he’s rendered ineffective.

The wake-up calls that the arrival of Fabio Aurelia and the deployment at left back of the right footed Alvaro Arbeloa have gone unheeded partly because it was all to evident that sooner or later Riise would find his way back in the side.

It is what happened last week when Aurelio – who up till that point had been playing excellently as he always seems to do in Europe – suffered yet another injury. With Arbeloa playing in his natural role, it was up to Riise to help bring the game home. Instead he made a mistake that could ultimately decide the tie.

True, Liverpool should have closed the game down when they got that late corner and Chelsea should never have been allowed to put that cross in. Once it reached Riise so close to goal, however, and the danger was obvious, even if it should have been a fairly routine ball to clear.

Instead, he inexplicably tried to head it. A strange decision but one that was probably borne of another defining moment in his season: the own goal against Luton. There he had lunged in to clear and had ended up putting the ball past Itandje.

To what extent the latest own goal will play on his mind is what Benitez will want to assess.

On Saturday, Riise was played at left-back in an obvious attempt by Benitez to gauge how the Norwegian was reacting. The prognosis wasn’t too comforting with Riise visibly putting in a lot of effort yet failing to make any sort of impact. If anything, the harder he tried the less progress he seemed to be able to make.

Making matters worse, within ten minutes of coming on Emiliano Insua had shown more ability moving forward than Riise has shown all season. To the extent that there are those calling for his inclusion against Wednesday.

That is a non-starter not least because of the player’s inexperience. Yet relying on Riise hardly seems an option forcing Benitez to call on Arbeloa with either Carragher or else Finnan at right-back. It might not be the optimal solution but it is probably the best alternative in the situation.


Nothing Good Comes For Free

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Monday, April 28, 2008 by Paul Grech

He’s not yet a Liverpool player – and he may never be on if his recent comments hold any truth – but Philip Degen has already split the fans into two.


Well, the split is actually 70 – 30 with the majority unable to shake off the feeling that Deggen has been targeted not really because he is anything special but rather since he is available for free. Call it the Andriy Voronin syndrome, if you want.

That of the Ukranian striker is indeed a powerful argument and few would dispute that he isn’t good enough to be playing for Liverpool. He is an average striker who adds nothing to the squad except for numbers. That he didn’t think twice to bad-mouth Liverpool as a city certainly hasn’t helped.

Then again, Voronin is arguably fourth in ranking as far as forwards are concerned something that would not be acceptable for anyone who is any better. Liverpool didn’t pay anything for him, would probably get a transfer fee should they opt to sell him and in the meantime have a striker who is reasonably good against the smaller teams in the league.

There you have the alternative position, the one that states that Benitez wants to get Deggen in order to strengthen his options. At 33, it is hard to see Steve Finnan playing on for much longer at the level required by Liverpool and at times during the season Alvaro Arbeloa has showed that he is good enough to be his long term replacement.

Getting Deggen in will ensure that there is competition for places. He is a Swiss international, someone who has experience at playing in a top league and the sort of player who would have easily eaten away into Benitez’s restricted budget had his contract not run up.

The real major flaw in any of these arguments is that few of those making any sort of claim have seen Deggen play and, if they have, it is often a one off game where it is impossible to make any sort of judgement.

It is why a look at what Borussia Dortmund fans have to say can be revealing albeit not too comforting.

“As far as Degen is concerned most experts and supporters are happy with his decision to leave the club,” says Dominic Ponattu, a Dortmund fan and one of the writers on the club’s fanzine Schwatz Gelb. “Though he is a highly talented right wing back - he has a fine technique and is quite fast as well - he did not play out these strengths in Dortmund.”

It gets worse. “In a lot of matches, he was even an uncertainty factor in the defence as he unnecessarily caused penalties and stood too far away from his opponents. He has clear deficits in the defence.”

There is however, some hope. “Degen shows good performances as Swiss national, especially in the offence. But still many say that his performances there are quite inconsistent as well.”

“I think that Liverpool can only benefit from Degen if they are making him work hard on his deficits in the defence and force him to play out his qualities which clearly lie in the offensive game play.”

All of which swings the argument largely in favour of those who are against the transfer. Sort of, because the feeling is that Benitez sees the need for a fast right-back comfortable with moving forward and helping the attack: it is what his long time targets Daniel Alves and Rafinha have in common.

Like it or not, the club’s financial reality dictates that neither of those players is likely to make it to Anfield so instead Benitez has gone looking for someone who has the potential to be as good as them – or at least offer the same tactical advantage – but has failed to fully exploit his potential.

By most accounts, Deggen has that ability. How well he can use it is now Benitez’s call.


What They Said This Week

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Sunday, April 20, 2008 by Paul Grech

Black-humoured hacks call it a “cracked badge week”. That’s when a football club is deemed to be so deep in crisis that the editor prints a picture of the club’s insignia with a fracture line down the middle.
The Times’ Jonathan Northcroft describes the situation at Anfield

There have now been so many 'cracked-badge weeks' at Anfield this season, however, that the players have become immune to the squabbles in the boardroom. If anything, Benitez's team has been energised by the turmoil judging by their progression to the semi-finals of the Champions League and success in recent weeks at moving clear of Everton in the race for fourth place.
Mark Ogden on the Telegraph picks up the analogy

Can you be a bargain at £20.2 million? I don't know.
Alan Smith is still undecided

"Yeah, he's a good player"
Steven Gerrard masters the art of understatements with his description of Fernando Torres

Along with Benitez's infuriating rotation policy, the main hindrances to Liverpool's title aspirations this season have been the incessant squabbling between Hicks and Gillett, the inappropriate sounding out of Jurgen Klinsmann for a job that wasn't vacant, and persistent links with DIC.
A sample of the cliché fest served by Phil Holland on ESPN

Has it ever worked having two people running an organisation like a football club?
Ian St. John asks a very good question a year too late.

We have lots of supporters who travel over from Ireland and they will have booked flights and bought tickets".
Surely that cannot be, Mr. Moyes!

If George doesn’t sell — because I am not going to sell — I guess we stay in this position we are in. It’s complicated but it’s going to happen although I can’t force George to accept.
Plenty to look forward for Tom Hicks.

I just want to do my best for the club
It is not only Tom Hicks who has a couple of suggestions for Rick Parry on how to achieve his target.

Here we are, a few days away from a vital Champions League semi-final match and Tom has once again created turmoil with his public comments
George Gillet, the man who spoke of the breakdown in relationship between the two owners days before the crucial games with Arsenal, seems blissfully of the word irony.

He talks good English but he is not English
Rafael Benitez kicks off an internet frenzy


Good Game Bad Game [vs Fulham]

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by Paul Grech

In what many thought would be a difficult game, Liverpool eased through without ever really pushing themselves. For a side that is battling against relegation, Fulham did very little and once it became clear that Plan A – launching high balls in the direction of Brian McBride – was going to be easily snuffed out by Skrtel and Hyppia, then they just seemed to give up.

A point of mention must go to the Liverpool fans who made the trip to London: throughout the ninety minutes they were the ones whose singing was heard for the whole game and the extended ovation for Danny Murphy a nice touch.


Good Game
He’s been criticized in recent weeks, yet Pepe Reina seemed back to his best against Fulham. He decision making at crosses was excellent, with Reina catching most of them and opting to punch on few occasions. Given Fulham’s game-plan, it was crucial for Liverpool that he did so.

Equally brilliant were the central defenders with Sami Hyppia and Martin Skrtel both easily dealing with what Fulham managed to throw at them. Steve Finnan was just as solid and when he started to push forward more late in the second half, he started causing Fulham problems.

Intelligent running and sharp passing under pressure marked Lucas’ game, one where he set up the first goal and played a part in the second. He isn’t the finished product yet but he’s developing nicely. My man of the match.

That is saying something given that Javier Mascherano gave another immense display in the centre of the pitch. He covering and link up play was simply something else. It is equally harsh on Jermaine Pennant who scored a good goal and set up the second. Having disappointed when handed a chance against Arsenal, the winger had a lot to prove and he did so against Fulham.

I’m struggling to get over his recent comments about the city but have to admit that Andriy Voronin played the link player role well. Still think he should go in the summer especially if that helps keep Peter Crouch at Anfield. Another good goal yesterday proves just how valuable he can be.

Bad Game
Liverpool were weak on the left hand side with both John Arne Riise and Yossi Benayoun playing well below their abilities.

Substitutes
Jamie Carragher came on for Hyppia at half-time and picked up where the Finn left off. Xabi Alonso struggled to maintain Mascherano’s tempo but his job was simply to see that no stupid mistakes were made late on. Fabio Aurelio was put on simply to eat up some seconds late in the game.


Reds on Loan: Frustration Marks Hobbs’ Season

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Thursday, April 17, 2008 by Paul Grech

Frustrating. If there’s one word to describe Jack Hobbs’ season then that surely is it.

Yet it had all started off so positively for him. Injuries to both Daniel Agger and Sami Hyppia seemingly opened up his path to Benitez’s starting eleven, presenting him with the ideal opportunity to prove his worth.

Sadly, the only thing he proved was that he needed more time to fully develop and mature. He may not have been at fault at any of the goals but a 3-1 defeat to Reading was Liverpool’s first in the season. Benitez, wary of the criticism that normally tends to follow a bad display by a young player, quickly decided to revert to the more experienced Alvaro Arbeloa.

All that was left for Hobbs was a return to the reserves yet not even that was good enough. So instead a hastily arranged loan deal with Scunthorpe followed where, despite the club’s lowly placing in the table, were confident of pulling through.

Initially, Hobbs started getting games and was soon being hailed as a pivotal transfer. Then, inexplicably, Hobbs was relegated to the substitutes’ bench.

Matt Blanchard of the Scunthorpe site www.iron-bru.net helps explain what’s happened. “When he first arrived, he was thrown straight in at Burnley and although reports elsewhere said he had a shaky debut I thought he was terrific. “

“Unfortunately he has been played out of position at right back for the best part of his loan, because Andy Crosby our captain has always been at centre back.”

That said, Blanchard believes that he could play at a higher level. “He has been hampered with niggling injuries and illness and I’m sure he wouldn’t really class the experience as successful. I think if he wanted to sit on the bench and in the stands he'd rather have been in and around Liverpool's first team rather than not making ours”

“He has always given 100%, and when playing centre back he looks a class act. I think he'll be a definite one for the future.”


A Must See

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 by Paul Grech

Caught the special on Hillsborough yesterday on LFCtv and must say that it made for compelling viewing. Great interviews, hard-hitting and not afraid to criticse those responsible for the disaster - I was worried that it might be watered down version - it was certainly the ideal way to remember that the fight for justice goes on.

On the whole, there's still a long way to go for Liverpool's TV channel as seeing endless repeats or the same people stating their opinion can become tedious after a while. Yet it is in such documentaries - the ones for Carragher, Bob Paisley and the Inter game of 1965 were just as good - that the station comes into its own.

If there is more stuff of that quality then LFCtv would really become a must see for Liverpool fans


Always in Our Thoughts

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008 by Paul Grech



The Justice Bell
by Dave Kirby

A schoolboy holds a leather ball
in a photograph on a bedroom wall
the bed is made, the curtains drawn
as silence greets the break of dawn.

The dusk gives way to morning light
revealing shades of red and white
which hang from posters locked in time
of the Liverpool team of 89.

Upon a pale white quilted sheet
a football kit is folded neat
with a yellow scarf, trimmed with red
and some football boots beside the bed.

In hope, the room awakes each day
to see the boy who used to play
but once again it wakes alone
for this young boy's not coming home.

Outside, the springtime fills the air
the smell of life is everywhere
viola's bloom and tulips grow
while daffodils dance heel to toe.

These should have been such special times
for a boy who'd now be in his prime
but spring forever turned to grey
in theYorkshire sun, one April day.

The clock was locked on 3.06
as sun shone down upon the pitch
lighting up faces etched in pain
as death descended on Leppings Lane.

Between the bars an arm is raised
amidst a human tidal wave
a young hand yearning to be saved
grows weak inside this deathly cage.

A boy not barely in his teens
is lost amongst the dying screams
a body too frail to fight for breath
is drowned below a sea of death

His outstretched arm then disappears
to signal fourteen years of tears
as 96 souls of those who fell
await the toll of the justice bell.

Ever since that disastrous day
a vision often comes my way
I reach and grab his outstretched arm
then pull him up away from harm.

We both embrace with tear-filled eyes
I then awake to realise
its the same old dream I have each week
as I quietly cry myself to sleep.

On April the 15th every year
when all is calm and skies are clear
beneath a glowing Yorkshire moon
a lone scots piper plays a tune.

The tune rings out the justice cause
then blows due west across the moors
it passes by the eternal flame
then engulfs a young boys picture frame.

His room is as it was that day
for thirteen years its stayed that way
untouched and frozen forever in time
since that tragic day in 89.

And as it plays its haunting sound
tears are heard from miles around
they're tears from families of those who fell
awaiting the toll of the justice bell.


Diryt War That's Hurting Liverpool

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Friday, April 11, 2008 by Paul Grech

Perhaps he thought that it wouldn't be noticed amidst the euphoria of beating Arsenal. Or else he hoped that the success on the pitch had overshadowed the farce going on off it. Whatever the reason, Tom Hicks saw it fit to demand the resignation of Rick Parry less than two days after one of the most memorable nights in the club's history.

Little thought seems to have gone into the implications of such a request and how this would be once again dragging down the club's reputation. It will surely deflate players at a moment when things on the pitch are going well and some momentum can be built.

Whilst it is hard to feel for Parry since he was the one who recommended that the club be sold to Hicks and Gillet, at this stage that is besides the point. Given how Hicks operates, he is hardly likely to have someone else with the required experience lined up to take over the position something that would blow away any deals - either in extending staff contracts or in buying new players - that are currently being negotiated. After all it was Hicks himself who ordered that any transfers had to be handled by Parry rather than Benitez.

It would also mean that the man on whom Benitez relies most to get information on what is going on would be gone. Even though the relationship between the two is fraught, it would still leave a vacuum at a critical stage of the season.

The dismissal of Parry in itself is not really an issue. If anything, if the reasons for this really are the club's disappointing commercial performance and his handling of transfers, then most fans would be in agreement. It is the timing and the fact that Hicks has once again managed to put the club in the news for the wrong reasons that really rankles.

There is, however, a different angle to this. Hicks easily lends himself to being the villain of the piece but the reality is that someone within Anfield has decided to publicise the contents of the letter. The reality is that the letter has been used as another weapon in the dirty war going on for the control of power at Anfield.

One where both sides are showing little regard for what really benefits the club.


The Lad Can Play: Mikel San Jose

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Thursday, April 10, 2008 by Paul Grech

Much of the attention surrounding Liverpool’s reserve team has centred around the side’s attacking players. It is the likes of Kristian Nemeth, Jay Spearing and Damien Plessis. Any interest in the back line has normally focused on Emiliano Insua, the Argentine left-back that many feel is ready for Premier League football.

Yet this is a team that hasn’t conceded in seven games and which has only let in five goals in the whole season: the defenders are doing their job as well.

Those statistics are all the more remarkable considering that Miki Roque and Jack Hobbs, the regular central defensive pairing of last season, never got going this time round with Roque going on loan to Xerex and Hobbs eventually moving to Scunthorpe.

In their absence, the choice has fallen on Ronald Huth and Mikel San Jose Donimguez both of whom have been impressive. The Paraguayan has improved immeasurably since joining Liverpool last season but sadly for him too often he has been eclipsed by San Jose.

The young Spaniard’s reputation was already quite high when he joined in the summer fresh from having won the European Under 19 Championship. Those positive reports were confirmed as soon as he started playing where it immediately became apparent that he was a modern defender, one who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and not only when he has to stop others from playing.

Gary Ablett, often so reluctant to talk about his players, was quite gushing in his praise of the defender. “He has an eye for a pass, good composure on the ball, he's physically stronger and can compete against the more robust forwards. He can also use his brain to deal with the smaller, quicker ones, so he's another one who is going to be a very good player.”

Injuries forced Rafael Benitez to add San Jose to Liverpool’s squad for the league trip to Chelsea and although the Spanish youngster didn’t get on Benitez said that had the defender been needed he wouldn’t have hesitated in playing him.

Such comments are bound to boost a young defender’s morale and enhance motivation. Perhaps more importantly than that, it should ensure that San Jose is ready for the call whenever it comes.

Interested in reading more about Liverpool's young players? Find many more profiles here.


The Lad Can Play: Krisztian Nemeth

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Monday, April 07, 2008 by Paul Grech

It has been the recurrent theme of Liverpool’s reserve season, the question asked after each game: is Krisztian Nemeth ready to play for the first team?

The Hungarian striker has certainly made an impact since his arrival from MTK Hungaria in the summer. Exceptional with the ball at his feet, great awareness of what is going on around him and, above all, an innate scoring ability have often made him the stand-out player in a side that contains a number of players who look capable of making it at the highest level.

An outstanding goal scoring trail for his national youth sides – which included seven goals in three matches for the U19s in a mini-tournament in Cyprus – sounded promising but was viewed with a degree of suspicion: Hungary hasn’t produced too many talents in the last fifty years so there was always going to be some doubt about Nemeth’s true value.

Two goals on his reserve team debut and a further three in the following two games promptly proved that he was as good as had been made out to be. Inevitably, they also led to the constant calls to see him included in the first team set-up.

Countering such claims about his readiness for Premiership football, however, is the overall level at which he has played up to now. Far from being a place where out of favour first-teamers maintain their fitness or get back from injury that it used to be, the reserves league effectively pits boys against boys. Only rarely has Nemeth come across any player he would face in the first team.

Given how Liverpool are playing at the moment, with just one main striker, it makes it all the more difficult for Nemeth. That player needs to have a certain degree of experience to play the role well and handle the role that it brings with it. Regardless of how talented he is, there’s no way that Nemeth is ready for that just yet.

That does not hold, however, for the support roles normally filled by Ryan Babbel and Dirk Kuyt on either side. Having played largely played as a second striker alongside the less mobile Jordy Brouwer, it is a role into which Nemeth seems to be fitting in well increasing the probability that it is there that he will initially get his opportunity.

And that is a question of when, not if for there is no doubt that he will eventually make it into Benitez’s starting eleven.

Interested in reading more about Liverpool's young players? Find many more profiles here.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Arsenal]

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Sunday, April 06, 2008 by Paul Grech

If Rafael Benitez was looking for answers from his second choices, then in most parts he go the. Of the team that faced Arsenal today, only three will be confident to be in the starting line up next Tuesday but, for most of the rest there is at least the conviction that they will do excellently should they be called upon.

Good Game
A return to the centre of defence after a couple of games at right back saw Jamie Carragher prove yet again what he offers Liverpool: solidity and reliability. He will be frustrated by conceeding yet another goal from free kick because otherwise he was always there to ensure that nothing that Arsenal threw would get through. The same applies to Martin Skrtel, despite a couple of late uncertainities, who improves with every game.

Steve Finnan returned to the side and probably played his best game of the season, crowned with a superb tackle to avoid what looked like a certain goal. Alvaro Arbeloa was also solid throughout with his speed being particularly helpful against Arsenal's fast wingers.

David Usher of Liverpool Way has called it the best debut since Rob Jones and he has a point because I don't think that Damien Plessis barely misplaced a pass and always seem to have all the time in the world when it came to playing the ball. Highly impressive. So too was Lucas who might not get too many mentions but is slowly starting to show his real potential.

Yossi Benayoun can be frustrating by running into blind alleys or misplacing simple passes but he certainly knows what to do with the ball and can be a great creative outlet. Shut as he has by Fernando Torres, it has been difficult for Peter Crouch but today he served a timely reminder of his abilities. Apart from the grat goal, he put in a majestic performance where anything he tried seem to come off.
Bad Game
I don't think that I've ever included Jose Reina in the bad game category and to be fair he didn't do too badly. Yet to conceed a goal from set piece that was really his territory and should have gone out to clear the danger.

In the past, I've often stuck up for Jermaine Pennant but have to say that his attitude on this occasion stank the whole place out. No one can accuse John Arne Riise of not trying enough: the problem is that the end product was incredibly frustrating.

Substitutes
Personally, I wouldn't have risked either Steven Gerrard or Fernando Torres but that was probably Benitez's way of safeguarding a point by putting in people who could worry Arenal. Had either one of the two been more alert, Liverpool might have won although the one substitute who really could have made a differencewas Andrei Vornonin. Unfortunately he flapped the chances that came his way.


It's Wonderful. It's Marvelous. It's...

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008 by Paul Grech

3-3. On the eve of the Arsenal game, what better way to prepare than to re-listen to Radio City's commentary to the Istanbul final?