Archive for May 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 by Paul Grech
Men against boys. A strange way to describe the FA Youth Cup final but that is how it seemed as Liverpool's U18 were outplayed by Arsenal in the 4-1 first leg defeat.
The relative ease with which Arsenal racked up that victory leaves very little hope for today's second leg. And it seems to have killed off much of the hype surrounding Liverpool's current batch of hopefuls.
Indeed, if you look around any one of the major forums you will come across a thread discussing this game. Only that by discussing I mean trashing the players.
Joe Kennedy and Daniel Ayala are both crap, apparently. Dean Bouzanis is mediocre and Adam Wisdom can't pass the ball. That, at least, is some of the wisdom you would get by reading these threads.
Given, Liverpool didn't play well enough on the night. Yet they were up against what is undoubtedly the finest youth side in the country and they were doing so without a vital player like Adam Pepper. Good enough reasons, in my opinion, to cut them some slack.
Yet not many seems to think the same way, given the criticism. The irony is that some of those criticisng the quality of the players are also among those critical o Benitez's lack of faith in young players.
One can only imagine the pressure that there would be on any young player given a chance and what sort of criticism he would come under should not everything go his way.
In reality, there's no need to imagine: you only have to look at how a misplaced pass by Lucas is treated or how the introduction of David N'Gog was met earlier in the season
Friday, May 22, 2009 by Paul Grech
The highest ever Premier league points total, a sustained title challenge that lasted till mid-May, significant wins at both Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge: as this season comes to a close there seems to be much to celebrate.
Only that's not the case.
Barring any convoluted results Liverpool should finish second next Sunday which, for all the undoubted improvement, still isn't good enough for this club. As Bill Shankly once famously said, "first is first, second is nothing."
Which is not to say that there's a need to feel downcast. Clearly this has been a positive year that has witnessed just five defeats across all competitions, one where the team finally matured and started expressing the kind of football that Benitez has been aiming for all along.
Yet that by itself isn't enough to make it a successful season. In a few years' time people will look at the record books and see that Liverpool won nothing. And that is the real marker for success.
So no, when the league season comes to a close on Sunday I don't want to celebrate and much less do I wish to see any of the players looking satisfied with their achievements.
Indeed, I want them to spend the summer months agonising over what went wrong, mulling over the awful feeling that they could have won the league this time round.
That way they'll return to Anfield eager to kick-off the new season and, more pertinently, determined avoid having to spend such a depressing few weeks. Something that they'll only achieve by going out and winning the league.
For the only way that the current season will ever be considered as having been a truly positive one is if everyone - players and coaching staff - learn to avoid the mistakes that have been made and build on the good that has come out of these past ten months.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 by Paul Grech
As rumours of Paul Anderson's possible departure - this time on a permanent basis - continue to increase, so too has the disapprovoal at such a move. A fantastic season at Swansea and solid, if injury hampered, one at Nottingham Forest have seen Anderson being identified by some as a potential Liverpoo squad player for next season.
"As I say, I really like him and would be very happy if we signed him over the summer (rumours suggest both us and Swansea are making bids) - but he's nowhere near the finished article and topping the Premiership is a _long_ way away for him. If he stays with you I can see him just being loaned out for the next two years at least."
So there you have it. Two independent views that seem to mirror each other, with both saying that Paul Anderson isn't good enough for Liverpool. Views that will shatter the myth around the player and, even though he is still young enough to improve, if Liverpool do decide to sell it wouldn't be the inexplicable decision that some are painting it to be.
Monday, May 18, 2009 by Paul Grech
First things first: well done to everyone associated with West Bromwich Albion. This might seem hollow at this point in time, but your support despite relegation earned my respect, for what its worth, and did your club proud.
As for Liverpool, this was something of an anti-climax given that United had already won the league yet the fact that there was a determination to win was nice to see.
Of course, some players were perhaps too determined as Jamie Carragher got involved in that unseemly spat with Alvaro Arbeloa. Whatever the reason, he should have kept a lid on his emotions.
Another clean sheet and a couple of nice saves meant another good afternoon for Pepe Reina. This thanks also to the central defensive partnership of Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher, even if the latter took the desire to keep a clean sheet too far.
The object of his anger, Alvaro Arbeloa had a decent game. Perhaps he wasn't up to the heights of earlier in the season but he was certainly better than he has been over the past couple of weeks.
Same goes for Emiliano Insua who had a solid game, even if his tactical naivety did tell on occasions. Still, this has been a good season for the young Argentine, one that hopefully he will be given the opportunity to build on.
Javier Mascherano, as always, was shielding the defence effectively before his injury. Alongside him, Lucas was tidy and nearly scored a great goal after jinking through the WBA defence. He has had some bad games, yet Lucas remains a player with good potential.
Yossi Benayoun was quiter than he has been of late, yet he gives defenders problems every time he gets the ball. Dirk Kuyt has adapted admirably to playing on the right and scored a great goal.
Upfront, I'm not too convinced that Fernando Torres was really up to this game, physically and mentally. Even so had a couple of good occasions and you could see that the defenders were worried with him.
Thankfully there was Steven Gerrard who opened the scoring and ultinately had a great game. My man of the game
Xabi Alonso came on for Mascherano and did all that can be expected of him. He even tried to score from the half way mark. Ryan Babel seems to be working harder whenever he's come on these past few weeks and tried to do so again today. Had a great chance but he put it wide.
Another late appearance for David N'Gog where he tried hard to impress. I'm really starting to like this player and feel that he has the potential to be really good. Perhaps not up to Fernando Torres standard but a notch below would still be enough.
Saturday, May 16, 2009 by Paul Grech
My future is here.
Slightly forced by Javier Mascherano, but still nice to hear.
It may not be easy to admit it at this end of the M62 but if a team is put under the kind of incredible pressure that United have been on the receiving end of for the past two months and still haven't crumbled then they would have to be seen as worthy champions should their current form continue and allow them to edge across the finishing line first.
As much as it hurts, Tony Barrett is right.
Whatever happens there can be no getting away from the fact that this season has been one of immense progress for Benitez and his players.
The only thing he can improve a little bit is his English.
He even has a sense of humour! Rafa's tongue-in-cheek comment about Sammy Lee.
Now the management team can sit down and work out the small areas where they went wrong. Then next year we'll be going in the right direction to finish first.
Wise words from Kenny Dalglish.
Xabi is a key player for us in the middle.
Is that Rafa's way of saying that he isn't thinking of selling Alonso? Sure hope so.
We will try to win every game next year and win the title.
That's the spirit, Skrtel lad.
Friday, May 15, 2009 by Paul Grech
I'm sure that most of you have followed the story on how Steve Cohen decided to express his version of the truth on the Hillsborough disaster and how he seems affronted at the reaction that has followed. Indeed, this heroic fighter for the freedom of speech has gone public with his disgust at those who have dared mail his show and its backers with their complaints, calling them "Taliban" and "terrorists".
I've been meaning to write about this for quite some time yet, couldn't find a way to properly articulate my thoughts. So I'm pointing you over to this piece on twohundredpercent.net which, I think, sums the whole story up nicely and retains a fair deal of objectivity seeing that it isn't written by a Liverpool fan.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 by Paul Grech
here does the future lie for Adam Hammill? On one end of the scale, there's the new contract that he signed at Liverpool last summer which would indicate that he has a role to play in Rafael Benitez's plans. Yet, at the same time, he has been constantly loaned out to Championship clubs without really making much of an impact.
Or, at least, he hadn't before joining Barnsley for the second half of this season. Despite suffering from injury, he did well enough to win the backing of the home fans and apparently even caught the coaching staff of England's U21 side.
"Adam Hammill was extremely popular with the fans at Barnsley," Mark Stokes, editor of Barnsley fan site Barnsley One, confirms. "He was twice named Man of the Match at Oakwell. His commitment to helping Barnsley avoid the drop drew much praise from the fans. Such was the impression he made over his 14 appearances that the Barnsley supporters are hoping they can get him back for next season on another loan deal. He is an exciting talent and one we would all like to see back at Oakwell next season."
As anyone who had seen him play can confirm, there was never really any doubt that he was a talented player. Yet the rumours when he was still at Liverpool were that he was also self-centred. Perhaps thanks to his experiences on loan, he now seems to have matured a fair bit, drawing praise for his commitment to Barnsley's cause.
Indeed his dedication is something that Mark highlights. "His goal in the final game of the season helped Barnsley to a win and he showed tremendous desire to succeed and it looked as important to Adam that Barnsley stayed in the Championship. Having chatted with him several times he comes across as a great lad who is considerate of the fans and keen to develop a bond with them."
"Like every other Barnsley fan I hope he will be back to play for us in August."
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 by Paul Grech
In news that has left many unimpressed, Herenveen's Croatian winger Daniel Pranjic is being linked with a move to Liverpool. Although signing a twenty-six year old from a small Dutch club might mirror what Gerard Houllier did a decade ago with Sami Hyypia, it isn't something to look forward to especially when other stories are mentioning the likes of Carlos Tevez and David Silva.
Indeed, such is the eagerness to rush into judgement that Pranjic has already been written off as a waste of money. This despite that not only does it remain to be seen whether Liverpool really are interested in him but also the fact that in reality few have seen him play (Youtube doesn't count).
Someone who has seen a fair bit of Pranjic is the Guardian's correspondent on Dutch football Leander Schaerlaeckens and it seems that he's been impressed. Pranjic makes it into his team of the year from the Eredivisie.
Somewhat poetically, he says that "scoring 16 goals with insulting ease, Pranjic and his unassuming majesty led a drab Heerenveen to fifth place."
Interestingly, he chose Luis Suarez - another who has been linked with a move to Liverpool - say that "annoying many along the way, Suárez's star continued to rise and shone more brightly after the departure of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. His craftiness almost redeemed a fetid Ajax front-line – but not quite."
Now, neither of these comments should be taken as scouting reports on the value of the two players. Yet they at least add some insight on players who, in reality, 99% of the people talking about them know little of.
Sunday, May 10, 2009 by Paul Grech
The main thing to come out of this game is hope. Not that Liverpool can win the title - the truth is that this is now highly unlikely - but rather that they've learned how to deal with teams like West Ham.
Luck, of course, played a part but on the whole Liverpool did what they needed to do: they were clinical and came away with the three points. If they can take that forward to next season then we can at least retain hope for the future.
Overall solid, Pepe Reina wasn't really tested by West Ham. One slip aside, even if it could (should?) have resulted in a West Ham goal, and Jamie Carragher had a fairly good game. Same goes for Martin Skrtel even if he and Carragher seem knackered as the pressures for such an intense season start to tell. Again, dealing with this is something that the players will have learned from.
In midfield, Lucas Leiva filled Xabi Alonso's boots reasonably well. Indeed, I think he was one of the better players on the pitch so much that I was tempted to name him as my man of the match. He was run close by Steven Gerrard largely because of his two goals.
The eventual choice as Liverpool's best player thus falls on Javier Mascherano. The Argentine was everywhere and, on this occasion, he was quite adventurous going forward.
Unlike Mascherano, playing against his former club didn't really do Yossi Benayoun too well yet he did well enough to be included here. His skill has been a major influence in the second half of the season, something that he will hopefully build on.
Finally there's Fernando Torres who, still slightly injured didn't play well but still created Gerrard first goal and on whom the penalty was made.
Both Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio looked to be feeling the pressure a bit too much, making a number of misplaced passes and generally not looking up to it.
Putting Emiliano Insua on gave Liverpool more attacking push and helped keep Boa Morte busy. Given a brief opportunity to play in his favoure striker's role, Ryan Babel replied by scoring the third, perhaps a sign that he wants to stay and fight for his place. Andrea Dossena Was introduced more to waste time.
Saturday, May 09, 2009 by Paul Grech
He is a perfect professional. In every single training session and in every single game he gives 100 per cent for the team and he has been a fantastic servant to this club.
Rafa Benitez shares his thoughts on Sami Hyppia.
Benitez is equally determined to keep hold of Xabi Alonso, despite interest from Juventus and Real Madrid, and is likely to revive his move for Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa player, as an alternative to, not a replacement for, the Basque.
We all hope that Rory Smith is right on this count.
Valencia winger David Silva, Almeria striker Alvaro Negredo and Tottenham's Aaron Lennon are all thought to be on Benitez's radar.
Again, according to Mr. Smith. Not a bad line up, even if credibility is dented by Lennon's recent extention to his contract.
Whatever happens this season, it has been one of progress and now we have to make sure we build on it for next year. By now the manager will know which players he would like to bring into the club and will have been working for a few months on identifying his targets. I hope we're able to do our business as soon as possible because I always feel new players benefit from a full pre-season under their belts.
The King always talks sense.
Emiliano (Insua) is young and I have a lot of time for him. I believe he will develop into a great player.
He might not be a Liverpool player for much longer, but Andrea Dossena looks like a decent bloke.
Win the league or not, I'm proud of the virtues of this team: fair play, collective spirit, hard work, refusal to capitulate, and a desire to play football to the best of their ability.
Somewhat defeatist, but still some good sentiments by Paul Tomkins.
The plastic-flag brigade bite the dust
Nice sound bite by Larry Moran.
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Category The Week in Words
Monday, May 04, 2009 by Paul Grech
After ten years at the club, it seems that Sami Hyypia will be leaving Liverpool to join Bayer Leverkusen this summer. The news has been reported on the German club's website and comes as confirmation of what has been rumoured for quite some time.
It will be sad to see the Finn leave as he is a legend at this club but he deserves to be playing more regularly and hopefully he will be back at Anfield on the coaching staff in the future.
Friday, May 01, 2009 by Paul Grech
This hasn't been an easy season for David N'Gog. Not that it could have been any other way. It is often said that it takes a player a season to adjust to the Premiership but that's assuming that he's playing regularly. For someone who, like N'Gog, only gets to play sporadically it is all the more difficult to adapt.
In reality, there was more to it then simple lack of games. For one thing, there was the skepticism that surrounded his arrival. Many viewed N'Gog as another needless gamble by Benitez, a fairly costly punt on a kid who couldn't even get a regular game at Paris St. Germain. Why go for him rather than promote Kristian Nemeth from the reserves, was the question asked at the time? Memories of recent bad experiences with young Frenchmen hardly helped his cause either.
All of Which meant that N'Gog kicked off the season needing to work harder than most to convince people of his worth.
Given such a situation, an indifferent start wasn't advisable. Sadly for N'Gog that's how his early weeks panned out. A heavy touch and the air of someone who couldn't figure out what he was supposed to do didn't inspire much confidence. It didn't take long for the naysayers to write him off.
Thankfully the criticism didn't really get to him and slowly he began to pick up. A couple of goals for the reserves confirmed that he had talent but what made people really start to take notice was his performance against Sunderland at home. N'Gog scored in that game but, more than that, it was the way that he set about leading the front line that really impressed. Showing strength and vision in his link up play, N'Gog was one of the better players on the night as Liverpool laboured to a win.
A few days later,he was at it again although this time for the French U21 side playing against England. Once again, N'Gog proved to be one of the better players on the pitch, giving the England defenders a torid time and helping create the first of France's two goals. Opinions about him suddenly started getting a lot more positive.
Which goes to show how quickly some people change their minds. No doubt, the first time that he has a bad game then the mood will shift once again and the critics will be out in force. Yet this time they will have a much harder time to convince about his lack of ability. He has shown his potential and hinted at just how good a player he could become.
Signing N'Gog might well have been another gamble by Benitez, but it certainly looks like it could be one that pays off well.