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Archive for February 2009

Good Game Bad Game [vs Real Madrid]

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Thursday, February 26, 2009 by Paul Grech

Aware of the wave of negativity that was bound to follow last Sunday’s draw with Manchester City, I refrained from reading too many match reports. One of the few that I did get to read claimed that Liverpool made City look like Real Madrid. Well, on occasions yesterday evening, Liverpool made Real Madrid look like Manchester City.

Apart from the opening ten minutes and a fifteen minute spell midway through the second half, Liverpool controlled the game. Better composure would have seen them go ahead earlier but we can’t really complain. The tie is not over by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a good position to go into the second leg at Anfield.

A final note about Arjen Robben. It didn’t take long to remember just how arrogant and unpleasant he is. Yet, at the same time, you can’t but appreciate the way that he plays and think just how much Liverpool could do with someone like him.

Good Game
A brilliant save on Robben’s shot was the highlight of Pepe Reina’s evening but he was excellent throughout. So too were the back four of Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio with the Brazilian left-back having the added plus of being so good at free kicks.

This hasn’t been a particularly brilliant season for Javier Mascherano but against Real he was again in top form. The same applies for Xabi Alonso who, despite a couple of unusually errant passes, was at the heart of everything that Liverpool created. That shot that almost caught out Ilker Casilas was particularly brilliant.

Yet the star of Liverpool’s midfield was Yossi Benayoun who continued with the great form that he has shown since the turn of the year. A well taken goal helped make it a memorable night for him but overall, he continually caused problems for Real’s defence. My man of the match.

Up front, there was another brilliant showing by Dirk Kuyt who worked hard and made great use of every ball that came his way. Fernando Torres clearly felt the pressure of playing against Real Madrid and that early injury didn’t help him. Even so, he caused the Real defence some problems.

Bad Game
Albert Riera
almost put the ball past Reina but that was the least of his guilt on this night. Far too often caught ball hogging, his passes were often misplaced and his shooting off form.

Substitutes
This was the perfect opportunity for Ryan Babel to prove his worth but, yet again, he failed to impress. Indeed, an injured Torres did more than a fully fit Babel did. Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva were put on by Benitez purely to eat up time.


What Liverpool Must Do Now

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009 by Paul Grech

So, that’s it then and another year’s title challenge has faded away. Trawling through the message boards, you’ll find many who want a clean sweep which includes getting rid of the manager. It is an understandable, if far fetched reaction, but in reality Liverpool can still take a lot from this season: it is a step in the right direction. One which can be bettered by doing the following things:

Sort out Benitez’s Contract
One of the more unseemly squabbles that have undermined the team’s progress has been the publicly played out issue regarding Benitez’s contract. Whatever the issues might be, the owners have to ask themselves whether they believe that Benitez is the man they want managing the club over the next four years or not. If that is their wish then they have to give in to his requests, whatever they might be.

Sort out Players’ Contracts
Daniel Agger’s is the most high profile case but he’s not the only player whose contract is running out. Again, someone must step up and take responsibility of sorting this mess out. How can Agger fully concentrate on playing for the club when, despite their publicly stated willingness to stay, they keep getting rejected?

Have Fun
Let’s face it, these past few weeks have been quite drab. At least, that’s how I’ve been feeling: living in fear of every game and the potential impact of dropped points. And I’m sure that the players have been feeling it even more. Now that the chance of winning the league has diminished to practically zero, perhaps they can start playing with less anxiety which should help boost results.

Experiment
It would be disrespectful to expect Benitez to install anyone from the reserves into the first team but clearly some of them are good enough to learn from the sidelines. The likes of Pacheco, Spearing, Darby and Kelly would learn a lot simply by watching it at close range. And, who knows, maybe an easy win might prompt someone of them being told to go out and play.


Credit Where It Is Due

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by Paul Grech

When you sell a player like Craig Bellamy, there's always the chance that he will come back to haunt you. He might not have fitted in at Anfield - or Benitez saw it that way - but there's no denying that he is a very good striker. Him scoring a goal against Liverpool certainly wasn't a surprise.


Given how he left Liverpool - unceremonioiusly dumped after just one season - I have to admit that I expected a different reaction when he scored. Perhaps not sheer joy but at least some form of celebration. Instead, Bellamy restrained himself to a mere clap towards the City supporters out of respect for the club he supported as a kid and its fans.

That gesture seems to have gotten forgotten in the whole aftermath of the game, but it was nice to see Bellamy reacting in this manner.


Error Highlights Pressure on Reserves

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Saturday, February 21, 2009 by Paul Grech

A friend of mine yesterday sent me a link to an Italian website that is showing the clip of Martin Hansen's unfortunate error this week in the reserves derby. It seems that this video is spreading out like wildfire and, in truth, it isn't hard to see why because it is quite a spectacular mistake.

At the same time, it is sad that a young goalkeeper should suffer such a traumatic experience. Apart from that slip, Hansen had a pretty decent game and overall he is a good goalkeeper. Unfortunately, he is now likely to be remembered or that mistake. Progressing at Liverpool was always going to be hard for him because David Martin, Dean Bouzanis and Peter Gulacsi all seem like better prospects.

Yet he could have retained hopes of making it elsewhere in England. Such hopes will have diminished following this week's game, not because of the mistake but because of the fallout of the video.

Something that is bound to make the other players think about their situation and how an error could ruin their career. Although I am one of those who loves seeing the reserves play on LFCtv, Hansen's situation does raise questions as to whether too much pressure is being put on those who are still developing their game.


Liverpool Don't Need Voronin

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Thursday, February 19, 2009 by Paul Grech

Andriy Voronin’s brace against Bayern Munich seems to have caught everyone’s imagination, going by the number of people who have queried whether Liverpool could opt to call him back from his loan spell. With Keane gone and N’Gog unconvincing (to choose the more charitable description that is often attributed to him), Liverpool need someone of Voronin’s ability.

Which goes to show just how forgetful some people really are.

Because the general reaction last summer after the Ukranian’s departure had been that of relief (again, I’m being charitable). Not to mention the level criticism to his performances in the latter half of last season. That he had arrived on a Bosman free did him no favours and indeed there were those who took it as a sign of his lack of talent before they had seen him kick a ball. Such opinions are often very hard to shift.

Yet, as if to prove that the grass is always greener on the other side, now that he’s gone there are those claiming that he should be back.

The truth is that Voronin is a decent enough player and indeed one who could be a valuable squad player. That, however, is half the story. For, during his brief stay at Anfield, it was also apparent that he lacked character: a player who would do well when things were fine but also one who would vanish from the pitch if they weren’t. And that’s not taking into account his views of Liverpool as a city.

As for Liverpool, well, Benitez seems to believe that he can handle things with the squad that he has. Ryan Babel can play as a striker – after all, isn’t that what so many (including myself) have been asking for the past months – and there’s also Dirk Kuyt.

So, all the best to Voronin and Hertha Berlin, but he can stay in Germany. The truth is that Liverpool don’t really need him


The Lad Can Play: Dean Bouzanis

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009 by Paul Grech

Never trust first impressions in football just as in life. When Dean Bouzanis joined Liverpool and started getting his first opportunities at reserve team level, there wasn’t much to be impressed about. Weak on high balls and often guilty of costly lapses in concentration, he didn’t look anything special: if anything he seemed like someone out of his depth.

There was certainly very little to suggest that Benitez had been right to label him as the best goalkeeper of his age. A quote made all the more suspicious not simply because Benitez isn’t one that easily spreads out praise like that but also as it was Bouzanis’ agent who relayed it.

Then again, it is probably too much to expect a seventeen year old to move from the other side of the world and easily slot in as if nothing had happened. Indeed, with the passing of months he seemed to gain in confidence and performances improved as a result.

Initially it was his reflexes and ability to pull off exceptional saves that stood out. Then it was his distribution, the speed and accuracy with which he releases the ball. Finally it was his handling of crosses, the ultimate metric with which a goalkeepers’ ability is managed.

In truth, he needs to work on this latter aspect before he can think of anything else. Given the physical nature of senior football, he will have to learn to be more aggressive and determined when coming out to catch the ball. That is even more critical seeing that by looking at his stature it is easy to determine that he isn’t the biggest player on the pitch.

Even so the progress that he has shown so far and the current level that he is playing it are enough to prove his potential. And clearly people within the club agree with rumours coming out that he has been offered an extended contract.

For now those remain simply rumours but what is certain is that, with both Peter Gulacsi and David Martin now away on loan, Bouzanis will be unchallenged as reserve team keeper. A situation that will ensure more games for him which in turn will clearly help him progress. Labeling him the best young keeper around would probably be too biased a comment, yet he’s certainly good enough to keep on progressing.
Interested in reading more about Liverpool's young players? Find many more profiles here.


Oldham Cut Into Liverpool’s Hungary Deal

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Monday, February 16, 2009 by Paul Grech

Two years ago, Liverpool signed an agreement with MTK Hungaria ensuring first option on the Hungarian club’s promising players. It has proven to be a fruitful partnership which has given Liverpool access to a country whose standing in youth football is on the rise.

Now League One side Oldham are trying to get in on the act. Last week, managing director Simon Corney announced that a deal had been reached, also with MTK Hungaria, granting them an option on the Hungarian club’s players.

There’s little to fear for Liverpool however, as Oldham will only be looking at the players that Benitez and his staff decide aren’t good enough.

Talking to the Oldham Evening Chronicle, Corney said “We are looking for a relationship in which they perhaps will be able to send a few players to us. Maybe they will be good enough to get into our first team. I am hoping we will be able to have a pick of the good players . . . . after Liverpool.”
Liverpool’S Hungarian Quartet Peter Gulacsi
Signed last summer after a season on loan – and an excellent European U19 tournament - Gulacsi is highly rated by Gary Ablett and has all the attributes to make it all the way to the top. What he lacks at the moment is experience of first team football – which occasionally results in indecision during games - something that he should gain during a loan spell at Hereford.

Kristian Nemeth
Undoubtedly the most promising of the Hungarian players to have joined Liverpool, Nemeth has been unlucky with injuries in a season where he probably would have gotten his chance in the first team. His talent, however, is undoubted and sooner or later he will get his opportunity.

Lukas Poloksei
Brought in the summer for a season long loan period, Poloksei has been unlucky with injury and he hasn’t made a single appearance for the reserves.

Andras Simon
The other striker brought in from Hungary, Simon missed most of his first season at Anfield through injury and then suffered because of the comparisons with Nemeth. Still barely eighteen, he has shown glimpses of his talent but often lacks the composure to make the most of his chances.


Nothing in Reserve for Cavallieri

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Friday, February 13, 2009 by Paul Grech

Liverpool’s elimination from the FA Cup meant the end for Diego Cavallieri’s season. Provided that Pepe Reina doesn’t get injured (please, please, God, no) there’s very little hope for him to add to the three or so games that he has played in a Liverpool shirt. Rather a meagre return for a player who cost in excess of £3 million.

Then again, that sum could be viewed as insurance money. It is easy to preach of letting a young keeper fill that role, or at least it is until something happens to the regular number one. The fact is that you need someone who is experienced at handling the pressure of playing at this level and capable of doing the job at least in the short term.

Abilities and readiness, however, are two completely separate attributes and any player needs an abundance of both. As far as Cavallieri is concerned, the first is under some discussion after some hesitant showings whilst the second is clearly a liability. It cannot be any other way for someone who has barely played a competitive game all season.

Not that it should be that way because there is the perfect opportunity for him to get some match action: the reserves. Playing there would make even more sense for someone like Cavallieri who is coming from a football league that is completely alien to the English game. Sure, he wouldn’t be under the same kind of pressure in the reserves as he would in the Premiership, but it would give surely make him better prepared.


A Lesson in Making the Wrong Move

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009 by Paul Grech

When Peter Crouch decided that he wanted to leave Liverpool last summer, it was impossible to blame him. With Benitez set on a system spearheaded by Fernando Torres and with Steven Gerrard just behind him, there was no room in the starting line up for Crouch.

Sure, the manager publicly said that he wanted him to stay and that the striker was highly rated at Anfield but the fact remained that at Liverpool he was simply a squad player. Fearful of losing his spot in the England team and increasingly ambitious to achieve more, that was no longer good enough for Crouch.

Portsmouth was a strange choice, albeit one limited by lack of options, yet the club had just won the FA Cup and Harry Redknapp had slowly built up the club around a batch of talented players such as Lassana Diarra and Jermaine Defoe. For Crouch, moving there meant the possibility of helping the club push on as well as fulfill his own ambitions. It was, by general consensus, a good deal for him.

Eight months down the line, however, things aren’t as clear. With Portsmouth now looking for their third manager of the season, practically all of the better players sold and those left set for a battle to stay in the Premiership, it has gone horribly wrong. Rather than a step forward this has been more like a move back in time. After all, Crouch has been through all of this before at Southampton, the club from whom he joined Liverpool and with whom he had been relegated from the Premiership.

All of which raises the question: did he make the right choice? Hindsight, of course, is greatly deceptive yet even last summer there were indications that Portsmouth had overachieved and, with increasingly restless owners, there was little room for improvement. True, no one could have anticipated Redknapp’s departure but little else of what has gone on at Fratton Park has come as a major surprise.

Crouch himself hasn’t been overly impressive. Six league goals – the last one being scored in November – is a meager return for a striker bought for ₤9 million and his lack of form has cost Tony Adams dearly.

Yet last Saturday, Crouch showed that he still has the skill. He troubled Liverpool’s defenders every time a high ball was flung in but, more importantly, it was his quick thinking and awareness that saw him slot the perfect pass for David Nugent to score the first goal.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of what would have happened had he stayed with Liverpool. As Robbie Keane found out, it isn’t easy to slot into Benitez’s plans, so even Torres’ injuries wouldn’t have guaranteed him a starting place.

Then again, it could be argued that even a bit part role in a title chasing team would have been better than a fight against relegation as a regular. Just as Michael Owen before him, Crouch might eventually find himself wondering whether he should have wished for something else.


Andy Scott Doesn't Like Mark Wright

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Monday, February 09, 2009 by Paul Grech


Remember Mark Wright, whose hyped up transfer to Liverpool in the early 1990s initially looked like a bad deal before Roy Evans managed to revitalise him in a three man defence? Well, since retiring he's had a string of jobs at Second Division and Conference level and is currently in his third stint at Chester.

Things aren't looking too rosy for them as they're once again struggling against relegation. A 3-0 loss against Brentford last Saturday certainly didn't help their prospect but even worse for Wright, there was a stinging attack waiting for him in the press conference.

You see, Andy Scott the Brentford manager played under Wright at Oxford and he didn't much appreciate his methods. Here's what he had to say during his press conference.

"For me personally it was nice to get one over on one of my former managers. I didn’t have the best of times under his stewardship at Oxford and that is down to him and what he did to me. So I really enjoyed that win today and wish it could have been five or six.

Well it wasn’t a personal thing but in my opinion he couldn’t manage the players. He ruled his regime with threatening and violent behaviour and none of the players enjoyed it and I certainly didn’t.

To be honest I’ve probably taken a lot out of that managerial regime and done everything the opposite way and that is why it is working for me and not for him.

What goes around comes around and I have been waiting for today, big time. Been waiting for today and I was desperate for us to play well. To play well, win and keep a clean sheet, you know, it is nice.

Makes you realise if you stick to your principles and people enjoy working for you for a reason.

He’s had a lot of jobs in the last five or six years but is not for me to say why.

No, it is just a level of behaviour by a manager to any player that is unacceptable. Whether it is verbal or threatening or just general intimidation, it is not nice to be around and it makes going into work very difficult and as a group as well that is probably why we were third from bottom when he got the sack. But we picked up after that because we had someone able to motivate us.

I learned a lot from that six month spell and how not to do things. That has worked in my favour. It was not a nice six months but I have taken it into my managerial career and it has made me a better person and a better manager.”