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Archive for March 2009

Look Within If Agger Opts to Leave

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Monday, March 30, 2009 by

It isn't looking good as far as Daniel Agger is concerned, is it? What at first appeared to be a simple case of a player wanting to be offered a new deal has slowly gotten increasingly more complicated.

The issue revolves around Agger's place in the team or, rather, his inability to force his way through. With Inter and AC Milan all interested in signing him, it is understandable – although you would like to see him show a bit more fight - that he should be thinking about whether he wants to look elsewhere given that the current central defensive partnership seems untouchable.

Which would be massively disappointing for Liverpool not only because of the financial repercussions of selling a player so late in his contract but also because, in hindsight, it is a situation that could have easily been avoided had someone had the foresight (was it really that difficult) to offer him an extension to the current deal earlier. It is, in other words, a stupid situation to allow yourself to get into.

Losing a player of Agger's ability would also hurt the overall quality of Liverpool's squad. For all the bluff that you read on internet forums - comments like 'get rid if he won't sign' - the reality is that players of his talent aren't that easy to spot. Liverpool would have to pay big to find a replacement.

Or would they?

One of the most impressive players in the reserves over the past three months has been Mikel San Jose. His reading of the game, defensive positioning and confidence on the ball all point at a player who could easily be playing at the highest level.

Martin Kelly has been just as good and the cameo appearance in the Champions League against PSV seems to have given him a great boost. Indeed, his performances for the reserves since that game have become increasingly more commanding so much that he has broken into the England U19 set up.

Both these players appear to be ready for the step up or at least could easily be members of the senior squad. With Sami Hyppia staying on for another year (or so it would seem) this could be an ideal opportunity to slowly get them used to Premiership football and give them the experience that they currently lack.

Not that this is a necessity: within his first full game Emiliano Insua had shown just how ready he was for the first team. And Insua is indeed the ideal example to look at should Agger opt to leave. Last summer Benitez rightly decided that he needed a new left back to provide competition for Fabio Aurelio and spent ₤7 million on Andrea Dossena. In reality, he should have gone with Insua.

There’s still a lot that can happen in this whole situation – as it certainly cannot be ruled out that Agger will sign - but the promotion of Kelly and San Jose would certainly appear among the more favourable outcomes.


Spreading the Word: A Cultured Left Foot

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by

Normally, I'm either immediately hooked by a book and don't put it down until I finish it or else I start delaying reading more of it which is a clear indication that it isn't really to my liking.

'A Cultured Left Foot' however, is an anomaly in that it fell somewhere in the middle. Initially, I couldn't really get into the book despite the fact that there wasn't really anything wrong with it. Then, suddenly, it all changed and within a couple of days I had read it.

There was, however, a specific reason for this, a point where the author Musa Okwonga goes off to a tangent to criticise those who labelled Hagi as the Maradona of the Balkans. Not because he didn't deserve the accolades but rather as it was belittleling for a player of his talent to be described as a copy of someone else.

It was this aside - something that the author himself probably won't have given too much notice to - yet it piqued my interest.

And the rest of the book made sure that I kept at it. What author has tried to do here is find out what makes a great player, a huge endeavour but he makes quite a good job of it.

This through a series of eleven elements – such as fun - that he analyses in depth. And by in depth I mean looking at disciplines like ballet to find analogies. If that sounds slightly boring, then I'm doing it all a disservice because author's writing because it is both intelligent and enlightening. It all fell in place when, after doing a bit of research, I discovered that Okwonga is mainly a poet and the flow of his writing here clearly has its roots in that skill.

But this isn't simply a book of author's opinions for he has chosen to validate and build his arguments by talking to a number of high profile personalities from within the sport.

Ironically, from this arises the minor criticism that there is of this book. Far too often, this chats are kept to a minimum. Undoubtedly, this was an editorial decision to keep the focus of the book but the feeling is that it misses out a bit as it is slightly disappointing to see interviews with Steve McManaman last only a few lines.

At the same time, it doesn't really matter because the author's writing is so interesting. An incredibly good book that ultimately looks into what makes watching football so magical.



For more book reviews, you can go here.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Aston Villa]

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Monday, March 23, 2009 by

This month just keeps getting better and better. After the momentuous wins over Real Madrid and Manchester United, the game against Aston Villa was filled with potential problems. Not only has this season been strewn with great wins followed by lacklustre displays, the previous day's defeat by Manchester United at Fulham (thanks, Danny boy) put the pressure on Liverpool.

Any fears of another slip up, however, were ill-placed with another emphatic win that further reduces the gap at the top and at the same time places Liverpool as the best side as far as goal differences are concerned. What's more they did so with a great display of football against a very good side. Liverpool's passing and running into space was impeccable and Benitez is right when he says that more goals could have been scored.

Yet, for all the plus points to come out of this game, the best moment came in the 81st minute when, after a misplaced pass, Albert Riera punched the turf in frustration. That reaction at a point where the game was wrapped up showed how much this set of players cares about the club and the results.

The only negative aspect of this game was the (unnecessary) sending off of Brad Friedel which means that he will miss out against Manchester United. One must also wonder what went through Gareth Barry's mind now that Villa seem to be slipping out of the running for the Champions League. A summer move to Anfield still looks very much like a possibility (or a probability, if you believe the Sunday papers) but this could turn out to be another wasted season for him. It was also interesting to see Emile Heskey back in action, given that rumour was that he was close to moving to Liverpool. I like Heskey but, going by today's game, we can do better than him

Good Game
It was another fantastic afternoon for Pepe Reina who broke Ray Clemences record for achieving one hundred clean sheets with class. After two breath-taking saves from John Carew, he set up a goal with an accurate kick up the pitch: the second time he's done so within a week. At the back, there were classy displays from each one of the back four. Alvaro Arbeloa should have gotten a goal from that mistake off Brad Friedel while Fabio Aurelio routinely picke out the best moments to push forward. In the centre Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel were initially troubled by John Carew but eventually got to grips with him.

In the centre of midfield, Javier Mascherano's drive was incessant - even in the final few minutes with the game wrapped up - as he harried every Villa player with the ball. Perhaps spurred on by the comparison with Barry, Xabi Alonso was excellent and his passing picked the Villa defence to pieces. Dirk Kuyt scored a great opening goal and then dove-tailed nicely with Arbeloa, dropping back to cover when the right back opted to move forward.

For the past few games, Albert Riera has been quite anonymous (verging on the downright bad) but against Villa he was back to his old self. Nigel Reo-Coker must be dreading the possibility of featuring once more at rigth back as the Spanish winger went past him with ease. Scorer of a fantastic goal, Riera was involved in the first and third ones and, for that alone, edges Reina as the game's best player.

This choice might seem strange seeing that Steven Gerrard scored a hat-trick and played another good game. Yet, such are the high standards that Gerrard has set himself that it is hard to say that this was one of his best games. Same goes for Fernando Torres who tried hard without ever really setting the game alight.

Bad Game
How can one possible claim that someone had a bad game during such a performance.

Substitutes
The return of Daniel Agger was a positive one especially if you take in the reminder that he gave of his abilities when moving forward with the ball. Now sign the contract, lad. Lucas Leiva was given another cameo appearance but didn't really do anything of particular note. David N'Gog, the final substitution, worked hard to create something for himself but, sadly for him, he came on at a point where the rest of the team was already satisfied by the result.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Manchester United]

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Sunday, March 15, 2009 by

Life doesn't get any sweeter than this. There were those who belittled the midweek trashing of Real Madrid as a victory against a team in disarray, conveniently forgetting that this is also the same tam that had just won ten games on the trot in La Liga. Yet there will be no excusing this humiliation imposed on Manchester United in their own back yard.

Sadly, it is probably far too late to put Liverpool back in the title race yet it smashes away United's air of invincibility and hopefully other teams will pick up on that.

Good Game
When Jamie Carragher used to play at right back on a regular basis, his biggest virtue was that he didn't let many wingers get the better of him. It was a trait that shone through yesterday when Arbeloa's late withdrawal forced him into playing there once again. Carragher's late switch also meant a recall of Sami Hyppia and once again the Finn responded with a great performance. There are rumours that Liverpool only bought Martin Skrtel because they didn't get Nemanja Vidic. Well, on this showing, it was a lucky escape because the Croatian defender had a nightmare afternoon whilst Skrtel continued to show why he is probably the best central defender in the league.

ON an aternoon where everyone in defence played brillaintly, the pick of the bunch has to be Fabio Aurelio who was simply exceptional. A fantastic goal capped the afternoon's performance but it was his passing and intelligence when moving forward that really caught the eye.

The much maligned Lucas Leiva has a brief spell in the middle of the first half where he gave the ball away far too cheaply. Yet, to his credit, he recovered from that and was a more than capable deputy for Xabi Alonso. His partnership with Javier Mascherano certainly worked well even though it has to be said that the Argentine was too fired up for it to be anything but.

Dirk Kuyt wasn't really that much in the picture but, then again, neither was Patrice Evra and that was thanks to the Dutch midfielder (for he has become that) who limited the left back's opportunities to move forward.

When Benitez complained that Fernando Torres' injuries had cost Liverpool five points he was criticised as trying to find excuses for his own shortcomings. Yet against Real Madrid and Manchester United, Torres showed just how vital he is for Liverpool. Just as telling was a shot soon after Torres was substituted, where he looked completely drained on the substitute's bench. It goes to show just how much effort he put in.

Torres' efforts, and those of Aurelio, were only overshadowed by Steven Gerrard who won Liverpool the penalty and kept United busy all afternoon. It was another great game by the captain and one that he will have relished. My man of the match.

Bad Game
There's something about Manchester United that seems to get to Pepe Reina. The usually dependable keeper starts looking uncertain in his handling and there were a couple of occasions yesterday when he could have allowed United back into the game. There is also something about United that gets to Albert Riera as the Spanish winger has played them three times and won on every occasion. Yesterday, however, he was dismal and a pale shadow of the player who impressed so much early in the season.

Substitutions
It was a surprise to see Ryan Babel kept out of the side after enjoying such a good game against Real yet, to his credit, he looked good once he was finally sent on. So too Andrea Dossena who is slowly achieving cult status. A good goal against Real Madrid and an exquisite one against United show that the player has a good touch. Whether it is good enough to win him a left back slot ahead of Aurelio and Insua is doubtful, yet it proves that he isn't the bad player many had so quickly labeled him to be.

Nabil El Zhar then got a further cameo appearance to put into his scrapbook, even though it was too late for him to show anything.


Memo to Hicks and Gillet

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There is a rumour that Hicks and Gillett both like to ask their PR agencies to trawl the internet in order to gauge the fan' views on them. If that's true, then it must be quite some job typing up that particular report and trying to erase all the swear-words that usually accompany any mention of the two owners.

Yet, if that is true and reading this there is one of those PR guys, then here's a message that you should pass on to your masters about what they should do as soon as possible:

1. Get a blank sheet of paper,
2. Sign it at the bottom,
3. Send it to Rafa Benitez,
4. Tell him to write his own contract for the next four years.

You've made it quite clear that you don't understand enough about football. We do and let us tell you that you don't find managers of his ability too easily. This team that he is building is the best we've had in two decades and not allowing him to carry on with the job or giving him the conditions to do it to the best of his abilities would be plain stupid.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Real Madrid]

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009 by

At times this was almost too easy. Liverpool put Real Madrid under pressure from the first minute and never let them off, with a four goal margin that is almost too little given the way that the team played. If it hadn’t been for Iker Casillas – who made at least six incredible saves – the score line would have been closer to last year’s trashing of Besiktas.

Good Game
As has been his misfortune throughout his career, Pepe Reina was overshadowed by Iker Casillas but he pulled off a number of important saves on the night. The defence handled what Real threw at them reasonably well. Fabio Aurelio clearly loves playing against Spanish teams as he once again excelled whilst Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel covered well for each other. Like the rest of the defence, Alvaro Arbeloa played reasonably well even though it showed that he was coming back from injury.

At long last, Ryan Babel showed a glimpse of his talent tonight as he used his speed to great effect. A great run that led to the third goal was probably the highlight of his game but overall he was very good. So too Xabi Alonso even if he wasn’t at his best. Dirk Kuyt, perhaps the less heralded of all the Dutch players on the pitch, played his usual intelligent game where he worked hard to win the ball and, once he did, he made sure that it got to the best placed player.

The master in midfield, however, was Javier Mascherano who won everything that came near him. To top it off, there was his celebration once the fourth goal went in. My man of the match.

That might seem harsh on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both of whom had a great game and continuously looked out to find each other. At last, there was a glimpse of the form that raised so many hopes towards the end of last season and showed just what Liverpool have been missing this time round.

Bad Game

How can you say that anyone had a bad game on a night like this?

Substitutions
Lucas Leiva did well enough when he came on for Alonso and could perhaps have gotten a goal in the final minute. Whilst the introduction of Lucas was expected, the sight of Jay Spearing limbering up to replace Gerrard was quite a shock but the young midfielder did well enough in the half hour he was given, proving that those who feel that he is ready for the first team might just be right.

Andrea Dossena was given a cameo appearance but he still found the time to score a very good goal. In the long run, the emergence of Emiliano Insua might push him out but his goal celebration showed just how much he cares.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Sunderland]

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009 by

At last, an easy where you could at least sit back and enjoy the final few minutes rather than worry whether Liverpool were going to find a way to let the other team back in. Overall, it was a good performance: nothing special but they did what needed to be done. Liverpool retained possession, put the Sunderland defence constantly under pressure and didn’t stop once they got the first goal. If only they always played like this…

Good Game
Apart from that early chance that fell to Kenwyne Jones, there wasn’t much to trouble Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel. Much of the pre-game talk focused on Javier Mascherano playing at right-back and, even if he wasn’t under much pressure at any point in time, he did well. As expected, defensively he was solid but going forward he was surprisingly effective.

When Emiliano Insua went to play in the South American Under 20 championships, he ran the risk of losing out in a period where he was slowly establishing himself. Fortunately, he’s still very much in the plans and confirmed why with another impressive showing against Sunderland. At this point, it becomes increasingly more mystifying as to why Liverpool spent so much money on Andrea Dossena.

Albert Riera’s form has fizzled out dramatically in recent weeks but against Sunderland he was slightly better. He still blew hot and cold, yet at least he helped set up the first goal. The same, to a certain extent, goes for Steven Gerrard who didn’t have the best of games by his own standards, even if he has the excuse that he’s still recovering from injury.

One player who has certainly hit a rich vein of form is Yossi Benayoun who, once again, was immense. Not only does he run as hard as anyone on the pitch, but he brings to the team that creativity that has far too often been missing. My man of the match.

It was the usual stuff from Dirk Kuyt who gives the impression that he is more determined than anyone else on the pitch to win. His attitude certainly rubbed off on David N’Gog who, apart from the goal, had a very good game. There certainly is talent in the player even if he is still needs to work on a number of areas but it was good to see him play so well if anything to shut up those who are quick to label him as not being good enough.

Bad Game
It might sound like blasphemy but Xabi Alonso looked a bit lost on this occasion. His passing was often off and he didn’t really make much of an impact.

Substitutes
His introduction was greeted by the usual groans but Lucas Leiva ensured that Liverpool retained hold of the midfield and, as a result, of the game. The sight of N’Gog in the starting line-up will hopefully be the wake-up call that Ryan Babel was waiting for. He certainly seemed eager enough when he came on and put in more effort in those few minutes than he has in whole games of late.

Nabil El Zhar came on far too late in the game to be able to say anything about his performance.