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Archive for December 2009

Well Read: Top Books from 2009

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Thursday, December 31, 2009 by Paul Grech

As the year comes to a close, it is appropriate to think of what has gone on during the previous twelve months. There are many others out there analysing Liverpool's best game of 2009, the most spectacular goal as well as the highs (and, undoubtedly, the lows) of the year so I won't bother you all by going over those matters.


What I will do, however, is to take a look at the top books that I've come across during the year. Those who follow ALiverpoolThing.com with any regularity know that book reviews are a staple of this blog which is why, come year end, I like to share very personal list of favourites.

First on the list are three books that are very similar in that they aren't really books you read but rather ones that you dip into and lose yourself among the pictures or brief text. These are 'When Football Was Football' by Peter Hooton, 'Liverpool Player by Player' by Ivan Ponting and 'Genius Does as it Must - Liverpool FC Banners' Compiled by Chris McLoughlin and Adam Oldfield.

The development of players in England is something that Chris Green tackled in his book 'Every Boy's Dream'. Now, Green is a good friend of mine and I like his style of writing so for the sake of partiality I have to admit all that beforehand. Even so, the way that he tackles this subject, the length that he goes to in order to get as wide a range of views as possible and his willingness to criticise where need be can't but make this one of my favourites.

'The Rivals Game' by Douglas Beattie seems to have fallen below the radar but it is a book that I greatly enjoyed. The fact that the concept - taking two clubs where there's a derby and look at what makes games between them particularly fierce - was already familiar to me as it is a regular feature on Four Four Two magazine obviously helped but this book cannot fail to light up your desire to go and witness football in as many different countries as possible.

Two books that are wholly dedicated to Liverpool FC are next up. First off there's Red Race which is Paul Tomkins' latest offering. Once again, Tomkins does what he does best: he that most of the most widely flaunted criticisms of the club don't really have a solid foundation particularly when you look at statistics and figures to back them up.

The second book, and the one that I have to admit I personally enjoyed the most from all the Liverpool themed books I read, is Simon Hughes' biography of Geoff Twentyman 'The Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout'. Hughes didn't have anything bar two of Twentyman's notebooks to start with but thanks to a whole range of interviews he managed to piece together the man's life and his amazing contribution to Liverpool's rise and continued success.

One book that has been on top of most people's must read lists for the year is Soccernomics but, whilst this is an interesting book, it still pales in the shadow of Feet of the Chamaleon which is a detailed look at African football. I've only just finished reading this
book so a full review of it should appear in the coming days but it is an exceptional book that bears comparison to the likes of Morbo and Tor.
Finaly a brief look into 2010.

Next on my shelf to read is 'From Where I Was Standing: A Liverpool Supporter's View on the Heysel Tragedy' by Chris Rowland and 'A Different Corner: Exploring Spanish Football' by Richard Brentnall although I have to admit that I have to finish reading Haruki Murakami’s 'What I Think About When I Think About Running' first (talking of non-football books, Born To Run by Christopher McDougall and The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton are two must reads).

Then there is a whole list of books that I've made a mental note that I must buy which is topped by Englischer Fussball by Ralph Honigstein, At the End of the Storm: The Remarkable Story of Liverpool FC's Greatest Ever League Title Triumph - 1946/47 by Mark Platt & Gary Shaw and Get Her Off the Pitch by Lynne Truss. All of which means that you'll have plenty of reviews coming your way in the coming months.

One final note: thanks to all the publishers who have supported me during the year by being kind enough to send me review copies of their books. I, and my bank account, greatly appreciate it.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Portsmouth]

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Sunday, December 20, 2009 by Paul Grech

This will be a quick one. You can point at the early missed chances, you can point at Mascherano's red card and you can point at the slices of fortune in Portsmouth's goals: the truth is that Liverpool were extremely poor.

What's more, there was absolutely no belief in them when Liverpool went behind. The minimum you would have expected was for the players to show some fight but that never happened.

Is it time up for Benitez then? I don't know about that but, for someone with a reputation built around his tactical acumen, surely he must be aware that Liverpool can't keep playing the same way.

This system worked with Alonso pulling the strings but with both Lucas and Mascherano in the centre there is no creativity.

He must also show that he can fire up the players. There is no belief and fight in them, which is perhaps the most worrying aspect.

Oh, and he must learn to give up on Andrea Dossena. He's not good enough to be Liverpool's left back and he certainly isn't anywhere near good enough to be starting in left midfield.

One other thing that is certain is that although Liverpool fans are more patient than most, we have been through this before with Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier and in both the faith was misplaced. Benitez must realise that he must turn the situation round quickly if he wants to avoid that patience running out.

As for the players against Portsmouth, there were some absolutely attrocious performances - Glen Johnson and Dirk Kuyt above all - and only the two central defenders bordered decent. It is easy to blame Rafa but the players must take a hard look at themselves and decide whether they really want to be playing for this club. If they do then they would better start showing it because from the stands it looks as if most of them aren't fit to wear the shirt.


A Sense of Perspective

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by Paul Grech

The longer the season progresses, the harder it is to defend Rafael Benitez. Actually, the truth is that an increasing number of fans have given up and are starting to turn to writing lists on who his potential successors could be.


Among these there are the usual suspects - Guus Hiddink, Kenny Dalglish, Jose Mourinho - but a surprisingly number are also putting in the name of Roy Hodgson. Some are doing so in jest but I suspect that others are actually serious about it.

Now, there is no doubting that Hodgson is a good manager but those who are actually thinking of him as potential Liverpool material should try to track what has happened to Alan Curbishely who was on the final shortlist to replace Gerard Houllier.

The lesson here is that doing well at a small club with minimal expectations is one thing, succeeding at Liverpool another.


All of Liverpool's Players

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Friday, December 18, 2009 by Paul Grech

Book Review: Player by Player by Ivan Ponting

Some years ago, I accepted to write some Liverpool player profiles for a site, foolishly thinking that this was going to be an easy job. After all, how difficult could it be to write a couple of hundred words about players you knew inside out? Well, as it turned out, it was quite difficult. Putting your thoughts and views on players - particularly those who have won everything that there is to win like so many in Liverpool's history - in coherent sentences isn't easy especially when you're limited with the number of words you have to use. You find yourself unconsciously turning to those cliches with which you have been bombarded over the years and whom you had sworn never to use.

It is for this reason that I have the utmost respect for Ivan Ponting. I had received an earlier edition of his Liverpool: Player by Player book some years back as a present and it turned out to be not only an extremely useful reference book but also a highly enjoyable book in its own right. Ponting, you see, has turned the job of profile writing into an art form: within the confined spaces that he has to write in he manages to capture the essence of each player providing not just the basic information but also real insight on each player.

Never does he sound repetitive which, for a book that deals with hundreds of players (280 in total, apparently), is the best compliment that I can think of.

Having written about players from the glory years in the previous edition that was published nineteen years ago, this latest version of Liverpool: Player by Player - which, as you might have latched on to by now, is a collection of profiles on every player to have put on Liverpool's red shirt since Bill Shankly's arrival - must have been extremely difficult for him to write given the mediocrity of some of those players.

But, even here, Ponting excels by delivering sharp criticism of each player that deserves it without ever going overboard. How does he conclude his profile of Josemi - whom he had earlier flagged for his aimless distribution - for instance? By mentioning that his arrival probably spurred Steve Finnan into finally starting to prove his worth.


It is this balanced look that makes each profile relevant and the whole book so priceless.


Remembering Bill Shankly

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by Paul Grech

Much has been said and done to celebrate the achievements of Bill Shankly on the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival in Liverpool, which is how it should be given that he was the one to make the club great again.


Indeed Shankly is rightly remembered among the greatest of football managers. What is often forgotten, however, is that between building his two great sides there were six seasons during which Liverpool won nothing. Despite this, he retained the faith of the supporters throughout, something of which he wouldn't be guaranteed today.

Given how many fans are turning on Benitez in the first truly bad season that there has been since he took over it is safe to assume that, had Shankly been working today, it would have been difficult even for him to keep his job after so many years without winning anything.

Some of the best stuff on the net about Bill Shankly can be found on Click Liverpool where Richard Buxton has done a truly wonderful job of remembering the great man.

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Good Game Bad Game [vs Wigan Athletic]

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Thursday, December 17, 2009 by Paul Grech

For forty-five minutes, Liverpool seemed hell-bent on repeating the trend of this season whereby after going ahead they seemed to be more than willing to let Wigan get level. Fortunately, Wigan lacked the quality, not to mention the good fortune, to do so but Liverpool's quality of play in the first half was for long stretches woeful.

Thankfully, things greatly improved in the second period where some of the confidence of old seemed to return. Fernando Torres put Liverpool further ahead and, despite N'Zogbia late goal and the crossbar that Jason Scotland had struck earlier, the reality is that this could easily have turned out to be a four or five nil win. Hopefully,it is a win that will give the players added confidence ahead of two very win-able games against Portsmouth and Wolves.

Good Game
He might have messed up when coming out for the cross that eventually ended on Scotland's feet and then the crossbar (although it seemed as if he had been fouled in the process) but Pepe Reina had his usual good game where he was a commanding presence in the penalty area. Returning to the side, Martin Skrtel seemed eager to prove his worth not only defensively but also by making occasional moves forward. That,however, is the speciality of Daniel Agger and the Dane really looks a class act with the ball at his feet. Some of his passing was simply breath-taking but, perhaps more importantly, he is doing the bread and butter stuff for every defender - keeping strikers quite - exceedingly well.

Perhaps it is down to being dropped last Sunday against Arsenal but Emiliano Insua was much more solid than he has of late. Defending wise he didn't give much room to N'Zogbia and when he did move forward his crossing was spot on and never wasted. That he had someone like Fabio Aurelio ahead of him helped and, although the Brazilian didn't do much that was special, he layed up the first goal which counts for a lot.

Strangely lethargic in the first half, Steven Gerrard then came to life in the second half where, freed from a purely central midfield position, he was able to look for space and angles that could hurt Wigan. In the first half, that job had fallen to Yossi Benayoun who had done it quite well although the feeling is that he still isn't up to last season's form. That said, his intelligence and vision alone make him a must-start player for Liverpool.

Rafael Benitez seems to consider Dirk Kuyt in that category as well even though he has been visibly off form this season. On this occasion, however, he was quite better and even took the two half chances he had well only to see Chris Kirkland make fantastic saves.

For all the undoubted pleasure of seeing Fernando Torres back on the pitch, there was a sense of injustice in the substitution of David N'Gog. The young Frenchman had scored a very good goal and, overall, played a very good game where everything the touched seemed to come off. Indeed, he would have probably been my player of the game if it hadn't been for the brilliance of Javier Mascherano who won countless balls in midfield and with his constant harrying ensured that Wigan could never really capitalise on the ball-posession that they had.

Bad Game
It isn't his fault that he was asked to play at right-back but, tactically, having Jamie Carragher to replace Glen Johnson really messed up Liverpool's system. There were countless occasions when the midfielders looked up to give the ball into the space where Johnson usually sits only to see Carragher still within the back-line. Rumour has it that Carragher has implied that he doesn't want to be played in this position and, on this showing, it isn't difficult to see why.

Substitutes
The entry of Lucas to replace Fabio Aurelio was a strange one but also probably dictated by tactics and Wigan's change in formation midway through the second half. As per much of this season, he didn't do too badly and even got lively on a couple of occasions when Liverpool moved forward. There is little to say about Fernando Torres other than that he came on and scored the winning goal. He isn't considered to be a modern legend for nothing. Torres' second goal gave Benitez the liberty to give Alberto Aquilani a full ten minutes during which he once again showed some nice touches but, more impressively, the desire to get stuck into tackles.


When Football Was Football

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009 by Paul Grech

Book Review: When Football Was Football by Peter Hooton

This was love at first sight seeing that on the back cover there is reproduced one of my favourite Liverpool images. It does not show a famous game or triumph but simply Bob Paisley sat down sharing a joke with some of his old friends and with the Champions Cup in front of them. More than anything else, that image captures both his humility and how Liverpool never let success get to them.

That pictures easily sets the tone for the rest of the book which, with a title like 'When Football was Football' is only going to be nostalgia-fest. And, to be honest, we do need a bit of reminiscing of when Liverpool were great if we are to forget the mess that the current season is turning out to be.

There is, however, more to this book than that. Peter Hooton, the former front-man of The Farm and a well known red, has chosen from the thousands of photos that make up the archive of the Daily Mirror and has put together a collection of real gems.

As expected there isn't much to read here but, with the quality and choice of photos, you won't really mind. For this is a book to be enjoyed slowly, turning each page and then taking in the beauty of each shot in a manner that you never would with words.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Arsenal]

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Monday, December 14, 2009 by Paul Grech

One of the biggest headaches of Liverpool being in the Europa League is that this will mean an increased number of Sunday afternoon games which are quite difficult to get to watch because that is usually exclusively family time.

Of course, as with most other fans, I normally plan ahead to make sure that I get to watch the games but on this occasion I had to miss the first thirty five minutes which, therefore, would make it unfair for me to do the usual distinction between who had a good or a bad game.

Therefore, on this occasion I will simply resort to my impressions from the two thirds of the game that I did manage to see.

Of course, the defeat was difficult to take especially given how it came about. Arsenal only played some football for ten minutes during which they scored twice and, even so, one of them was a fortuitous own goal.

Then again, Liverpool didn’t exactly create too much in the second half. For all the huff, there was very little going on. Then again, the goals had totally deflated the players and they couldn’t really lift themselves up afterwards.

At least this game provided another opportunity to see what Alberto Aquilani can do and the overall impression is that he played really well. It is plainly evident that he isn’t fully fit as yet and the pace of the game seemed to surprise him a bit but, overall, he has the vision that Liverpool have been lacking from midfield.

The sickening part of the defeat is that, given yesterday’s results, this was the perfect opportunity to get back into the mix for fourth place. Thankfully, there is another side to that argument which goes that with results elsewhere this defeat didn’t do too much damage.

Yesterday, Benitez said that Liverpool’s season starts now with a fully fit squad at his disposal. If that is the case then the start wasn’t as good as it had been hoped but the most important thing now is to win the next game. Do that and hopefully the confidence that has been missing of late will start to return and Liverpool can embark into the sort of winning streak that they need if they are to take anything from this season.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Fiorentina]

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Thursday, December 10, 2009 by Paul Grech

The big fear before the start of this game was that Liverpool, with nothing to gain, would take this game lightly and in doing so give Fiorentina an opportunity to subject them to a trashing.


Despite the defeat, that didn't happen but Liverpool's lack of enthusiasm for this game was mirrored by Yossi Benayoun's lack of celebration upon scoring his goal. There is no doubting that Liverpool didn't deserve to get past this round yet, at the same time, it is hard not to mention the three goals conceded in the final minute of as many games that cost them five points which would have made a complete difference in the final outcome of the group.

As for this game, it was another one which highlighted Liverpool's apparent lack of confidence and inspiration that has dogged much of this season. For all the belief that there exists that fourth place will be achieved, the time has come for the team to start playing like a side that can actually get to that position because, in reality, it has been some time since they showed anything like good form.

Good Game
Given the presence and continued excellence of Pepe Reina, it is unlikely that Diego Cavallieri will get too many opportunities. He was given a chance here, however, and replied with a series of fine stops and an overall very good display. My man of the match.

Apart from a short back-pass in the first half and an excrutiating miss in the second, Daniel Agger had a very good game against a player - Alberto Gilardino - who is very much in form. In reality, neither he nor Martin Skrtel - who also was very good in his return to the side - could do anything to prevent either of Fiorentina's goals.

Rather anonymous in the first half, Yossi Benayoun then came to life by scoring Liverpool's goal which seemed to boost him during the second half when he was much more alive. He still seems short of the level he achieved in the latter half of last season yet there aren't many players in the Liverpool squad with his ability to create things. The hopes are that Alberto Aquilani could be the one to help out Benayoun in the creativity department and showed what he can do in flashes this evening. With the game lacking slightly in intensity, he never really got going but, overall, this was an encouraging debut.

The disappointment on Steven Gerrard's face at the end of this game said everything about his feeling both after this defeat and the elimination from the group. He tried as hard as anyone to get things going but still managed very little.

Bad Game
This might seem harsh on Steven Darby but the right-back, making his first Liverpool start, committed a grave mistake in the final minutes letting in Juan Vargas who eventually had all the time he needed to set Gilardino up for the winner. Darby is a decent player and he showed that on this occasion, yet it is doubtful as to whether he is good enough for this stage of football. The contrast with Martin Kelly, the young defender who made an excellent debut against Lyon, couldn't have been greater.

Before the game, Benitez hinted that he was willing to give Emiliano Insua break and, by the looks of it, he should have. The player clearly needs a rest both physically and mentally (his confidence sems to have taken a bit of a battering lately) and he struggled to hang on against Fiorentina. Javier Mascherano has been in great for of late but against Fiorentina it looked on occasions that he could really bben otheres.

It could be argued that Andrea Dossena did a lot of running and harrying, when you analyse it, his actual contribution was minimal and he failed to track back enough to help out Insua.

A damning statistic flashed across the screen at the end of the first half stating that Dirk Kuyt, playing as Liverpool's lone striker, had had zero shots. That's not shots on target: he simply hadn't had a shot in the general direction of the goal. That says everything about how poor - and he was very, very poor - Kuyt was.

Substitutes
The sight of Fernando Torres coming on boosted everyone at Anfield and in the few minutes that he was on the pitch he showed exactly why that was the case with a couple of moves that left the Fiorentina defenders wondering where he had gone.

The same goes for Daniel Pacheco who announced his arrival in the first team with a ferocious shot that could have easily gone in. Other than that chance, there was enough movement and enough incisive passive to confirm that this lad has a future in the side. If there was a bright spot to pick from this game, then his cameo was it.

Fabio Aurelio was on for far too little to give an opinion on him.


The Lad Can Play: David Amoo

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009 by Paul Grech

Perhaps the most striking outcome of last season’s FA Youth Cup final was just how stronger Arsenal’s players were when compared to Liverpool’s. It was, almost quite literally, men against boys and this played a huge part in the ease with which Arsenal won both legs of the final.

One of the few Liverpool players who did stand up to the physical test was David Amoo. For him, just as for the rest of the players, it was a hugely disappointing end to a fantastic tournament yet at least he can draw some comfort from the knowledge that he played nearly as well as he had throughout the competition.

And indeed Amoo had played exceptionally well en route to the final. At times his strength, pace and trickery made him impossible to play against; the type of winger who can create just as much as he can score them.

It was, therefore, hardly surprising that during the summer he was elavated to the reserves team where he has become a fixture in the side. The step up in level has certainly provided him with an additional challenge yet it is one that he has overcome with a certain degree of ease. He still seems to be a bit far off from being ready for the Premier league but the fact that he has been playing so well for the reserves certainly hints that there is ample room for him to keep developing.

Already the eighteen year old who only joined Liverpool from Millwall two season ago has come a long way. Initially used as a striker, it soon became apparent that he was just built to play out wide. That is where he plays most of his football these days and where he can best exploit his explosiveness.

What he lacks at this stage is the maturity to know which option he should take during games. But that is something that comes from experience; the important thing at the moment is for him to keep on progressing and striving to improve. If he does that, then there is little doubt that he will eventually make it to the Premiership.

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Icelandic Midfielder Set to Join

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Monday, December 07, 2009 by Paul Grech

Sixteen year old midfielder Kristjan Gauti Emilsson is to join Liverpool in the first weeks of December, according to the Icelandic website fotbolti.net. The attacking midfielder who is already six feet four, currently plays for Icelandic champions FH Hafnarfjordur - he has already made his senior debut for them - had a trial at Melwood during which he impressed enough for Liverpool to make an offer. Last August there had been some rumours that Manchester United might be making a move for him whilst a host of clubs including Dutch giants Ajax were thought to be monitoring his progress.


The player himself hadn't been thinking of moving from Iceland just yet but couldn't turn down a club like Liverpool. "My plan was to remain at home for another year, but then this offer came I could not refuse it. There are excelent conditions there and I think I will be able to become a great footballer at the club."

"Kristjan is very promising player and very mature for his age," the Hafnarfjordur coach Heimir Gudjonsson said recently. "I took him with the team last winter and it is not often that you see sixteen-year boy who is as good as him."

"I believe that he will stand out. He gets good help from their parents and now gets three years to prove himself. I'm certain that he can meet all the demands of playing for Liverpool. "

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Good Game Bad Game [vs Blackburn Rovers]

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Sunday, December 06, 2009 by Paul Grech

Let's start with the positives: this was the third clean sheet in a row hinting that the defensive problems of earlier in the season might now be solved. Other than that, there was nothing to take back from this game. Liverpool were, quite simply, pathetic as they were intimidated by Blackburn's physicality in the first half and then failed to capitalise on their obvious fatigue in the second half. As has happened so often this season, Liverpool have failed to build on a good result which, coupled with the wins that all those in the surrounding spots managed to register, makes it all the more frustrating. The time has come for the players to realise that this isn't acceptable any longer.

Good Game
Pepe Reina wasn't tested too much but he did well to get down quickly to stop Franco Di Santo's snap shot in the second half. The return of Daniel Agger seems to be what Liverpool needed as he, together with Jamie Carragher, did enough to fend off Blackburn's attacks. Emiliano Insua was solid if unspectacular although he had very few opportunities to advance and exploit that side of his game. The same applied in the first half for Glen Johnson who missed the presence of Dirk Kuyt just ahead of him. That changed in the second half where he was Liverpool's best attacking influence and set up that glorious opportunity for David N'Gog.

Javier Mascherano was as consistent and as effective as he has been these past two months, regularly stemming Blackburn's attacking flow. The only midfielder who was good enough on this occasion.

This was Steven Gerrard's five hundredth game for Liverpool and, perhaps, it was fitting that the team was so lethargic seeing that this is how it has been for a good part of those games. He is still not back to his best but during the second half he worked as much as anyone to try and get Liverpool the lead. My man of the match.

Bad Game
This might seem slight harsh as he didn't do much wrong yet, at the same time, Lucas should have put Blackburn under muchmore pressure than he did. It is a dimension to his game that he needs to add if his career is to develop further. That Benitez opted to substitute Albert Riera after fifty minutes - he usually reserves that first substitution for the sixty fifth minute - says a lot on how bad he was.

Yossi Benayoun still hasn't hit the heights of last season and, in a game where Liverpool greatly needed his creative skills he didn't do as much as was expected. Dirk Kuyt was asked to spearhead the attack but he didn't manage to do a great deal.

Substitutes
It might be easy to focus on the crossbar that he hit when, in all fairness, he should have scored but David N'Gog showed much more endavour in the second half than Kuyt had in the first half and was one of the main reasons why Liverpool were much closer to scoring. It is understandable that Benitez feels that Alberto Aquilani isn't match fit as yet but, if that is the case, how is it that Nabil El Zhar can be considered match fit seeing that he hasn't played a single second this season? Be it as it may, after a bright start, he disappeared and what attacking initiative there was seemed to disappear with him.

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