Archive for February 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010 by Paul Grech
When Unireal Urczeni scored early on, it was impossible not to be uncomfortable especially as they seemed capable of scoring from every set piece. Eventually, Liverpool’s superior class ensured a 3-1 victory even if this was no vintage performance.
Even when all around him are floundering, Pepe Reina continuous to excel. A brilliant save in the second half ensured that Liverpool maintained their two goal lead and proved yet again that there are few around who are at his level.
When Ryan Babel is on the pitch, Emiliano Insua has to focus more on the defensive aspect of his game and he did that well enough against the Romanians. The same goes for Jamie Carragher who still seems uncomfortable at right back but still carries out one half of his job – the defensive one – extremely well.
Having been critical of him over the weekend, Javier Mascherano was impeccable this time round and not only because he scored Liverpool’s equaliser which, effectively, killed the tie off. Just as good was Lucas Leiva as the two South Americans dominated the midfield. Even so, was this a game that needed two defensive midfielders? Wouldn’t it have been good to give Alberto Aquilani at least fifteen minutes on the pitch?
Before the match, Yossi Benayoun had promised that he would be the one to add a bit of creativity to Liverpool’s game and that is exactly what he provided on the night. The third goal was purely down to him as he played the sort of game that made him look so special last season.
As other teams have tried to do of late, Unireal devoted one or even two players to trying to stop Steven Gerrard from having an influence on the game. That he still managed to score and frequently lose his markers says everything about his quality on the night. My man of the match.
Even so, perhaps the brightest display on the night came from Ryan Babel as the Dutchman showed the kind of application and focus that is needed to be a success at a club like Liverpool. His goal was extremely well taken and, overall, he had a very good game on which, hopefully, he will build.
Martin Skrtel set the tone early on with a couple of rushed clearances that went straight back to the Unireal players and from then on he never looked at ease. Daniel Agger didn’t look as flustered but he didn’t excel either.
It was a tough night for David N’Gog who never really had anything good to work with. That has often been the case this season but, on the night, he didn’t look, as energetic as he has on other occasions and as a result was almost completely anonymous.
This was a night for welcome returns as youngster Martin Kelly made his return from injury and Sotirios Kyrgiakos had the opportunity to play again after his domestic suspension. Both of them came on when Liverpool’s passage to the next round was effectively guaranteed so neither one had much pressure. The same applies to Fabio Aurelio who was brought on later on in order to give Liverpool more solidity.
Monday, February 22, 2010 by Paul Grech
Friday, February 19, 2010 by Paul Grech
At least we won. That this was the over-riding emotion coming out of a game that in all honesty Liverpool should have buried says it all really. Unirea came with a plan that, unsurprisingly, involved putting as many men behind the ball as possible and did their job extremely well. Even so, Liverpool should have had enough guile to find a way through. Sadly, as has often happened this season (Wolves, Blackburn, Reading, Debrecen...), that wasn't the case. Which is why there were some many sighs of relief when N'Gog finally got the goal.
Thursday, February 18, 2010 by Paul Grech
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 by Paul Grech
Everyone loves a trier. Or do they? Because, whilst that truism holds when things are going well, as soon as they take a turn for the worse that trier becomes a stupid incompetent who cannot do what he’s paid for.
It is a situation that David N’Gog will be all too familiar with. Every time he plays, Liverpool are guaranteed that he will chase every loose ball there is and harry any defender with the ball at his feet. Yet with every game his reputation seems to be regressing. particularly when he contrives to miss an opportunity like the one that presented itself at the Emirates.
Football fans, for the majority, have a very selective memory and will easily forget whatever effort was put in whilst recalling in great detail any mistake, particularly when they’re in the mood for a moan after a bad result. When that mistake is a game changing one – as N’Gog’s was at Arsenal – then the criticism is all the more intense not to mention more personal: what starts being questioned is the player’s ability rather than incident itself.
Whatever these trigger happy critics might think, however, the problem with N’Gog isn’t that he’s not good enough but rather that he’s being forced to play with a regularity that he can’t handle as yet. There are few twenty year old strikers out there who are talented enough to start every game for Liverpool and N’Gog isn’t one of them.
Which isn’t the same as saying that N’Gog isn’t talented enough to play for Liverpool.
Whilst it is often said that young players need to play in order to improve, N’Gog’s development would be better served by playing less. Last season, he was getting fifteen minutes here and there, coming on when the team was cruising and confidence running high which is how it should be. Playing those fragments of games gave him an opportunity to learn and at the same time boost his own morale with a number of late goals.
This season has been totally different and what is happening at the moment is that he is bearing all the pressure of a lopsided squad in which there aren’t any strikers other than Fernando Torres. The risk is that he burns out particularly if the criticism continues to mount. This is, after all, a twenty year old. One can only imagine how he must feel to play in front such a large and demanding public.
Not that he has ever let his age show on the pitch. For all the mistakes that he makes, N’Gog never lets it get to him, he never goes into hiding. Instead he keeps on making the runs and looking for the ball in the belief that the next time a chance comes his way he will be able to take it.
That mental fortitude is one of his less noticed strengths. Because don’t let the criticism into fooling you that this is a player who doesn’t have any talent. His brief cameo against Tottenham showed just how good he can be, particularly when he spun free of a defender and forced Gomes into a brilliant save.
It is such instances that prove what he is capable of doing. The mistakes are to be expected from a young player and are, to a degree, acceptable provided that he learns from them. Meaning that he should be encouraged to keep on trying because given that the talent is there eventually he will start getting it right.
Category David N'Gog
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 by Paul Grech
Those who have only been following football only over the past two decades will find it hard to believe, such is the hype around the game, but there was a time when it was significantly harder to follow your team. Football fans were treated as louts whose working class background automatically meant little or no intellectual faculties.
It is with this attitude as a backdrop that fanzines started popping up. These home-made magazines – initially most were made up of photocopied pages stapled up together – gave a voice to those fans that didn’t have an outlet before and, indirectly, helped showcase their talent. What emerged was a generation of writers with wit, insight and sarcasm that changed the face of the game.
Such was the popularity of fanzines that every club had at least one going. Indeed, in each issue the magazine When Saturday Comes – itself born as a fanzine – used to print two whole pages with the names of details of all fanzines in existence and the finest of prints had to be used in order to fit them all in.
The internet, with its immediacy, has killed off practically all of these fanzines (even if the excellent The Liverpool Way survives till this day whilst The Kop and the official publication are the lone survivors as far as magazines are concerned). Who needs to read a month old piece when there are blogs, message boards and social networks that are being updated every second?
Yet, despite all of that, there is still a need for the printed paper: people still find it more evocative or simply more practical to grab a magazine and have a read whilst they’re winding down or on their way to work. That, at least, will probably be what Gareth Roberts is hoping for. In April, Roberts will be launching ‘Well Red’ a magazine that, as its website claims, is by Liverpool fans for Liverpool fans. We met up with him last week to see how his work was coming along and get a feel as to why fans should be buying his magazine.
What's your background both as a fan and in writing?
I've been a Liverpool fan all my life (I'm 33) and I've been going the match since 1990. As for the writing, like Liverpool FC, it's something I've been into since a very early age. I produced a Liverpool fanzine once in school as a project for English. It was called 'Any Spares?'. It wasn't the best to be fair, Well Red will be much, much better! I've been a journalist now for 12 years.
Where did the idea for the magazine come about?
It's something I've wanted to do for a long time but for one reason and another, I just never got around to it. It was always my aim to try and make a living out of writing about Liverpool. That hasn't happened, so the magazine is my attempt to live the dream! Seriously though, I've had a lot of good feedback about my blog which I launched two years, so I thought, why not?
What will be the difference between your magazine and others that are out there?
It's independent. So there's no agenda or company line to toe. If something needs to be said, it will be said. Pretty much every other Liverpool publication has an official connection to the club. Clearly, they are unlikely to criticise or question the club, which of course sometimes is necessary. Well Red is written by the fans, for the fans. So if there's a subject that's on fans' minds - be that ticket prices or the owners - we will write about it without having to seek the approval of the powers that be at the club.
Does it worry you that so many fanzines as well as magazines have folded in recent years?
Of course it's a consideration. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. The only way of knowing if it is sustainable in the long term is by launching it and seeing what happens. I've got every confidence that it is a good read and it will do well. I think the death of print media is greatly exaggerated - there's still a place for it and there's plenty of Liverpool fans out there who never go near a computer. It's just about identifying the right niche and catering to its needs. With a bit of luck, that's exactly what Well Red will do.
What access will you have to players for interviews? And, in general, what has been the reaction of the club so far?
I haven't approached the club about interviewing players and I wouldn't expect it to sanction them. They have their own weekly publication featuring exclusive interviews with current players - we're looking to offer something different. One of the big things about the mag will be features on our history and ex-players. We'll also be interviewing fans about their memories as well as offering guest columns to fans who are good writers - and there are plenty of them about. For instance in the first edition we have contributions from Tony Barrett from The Times and Paul Tomkins, author of eight bestselling books about Liverpool. As I said earlier, it's very much a fans' publication - almost like When Saturday Comes, but just about Liverpool.
How would you like the magazine to progress? What are your plans?
Well the first edition will only be available to buy in and around Merseyside, in North Wales and in Ireland, as well of course via the internet. But should it do well, I'd hope to extend that sale nationwide. Long term, I'd like to build a web presence to complement the magazine. Hopefully it will quickly gain a reputation as a place for quality opinion, detailed analysis and agenda-free, fan focused assessment of all things Red.
Finally, how can people get the magazine?
The first edition will hit all major newsagents in the areas mentioned in April. But fans from anywhere in the world can order a copy via paypal on the website: www.wellredmag.co.uk
Pre-orders are sent direct from the printers and will arrive before the magazine is in the shops. The first edition has a limited print run while we test the water and when they're gone, they're gone! So people should order as soon as possible if they want to guarantee receiving issue one.
Friday, February 12, 2010 by Paul Grech
Despite Gerard Houllier stocking so many of them, Liverpool haven’t really had much luck with French players irrespective of whether they were club record buys (Djibril Cisse) or players brought in with an eye for the future (too many to mention).
Whisper it, however, but that might be changing.
Already there is David N’Gog who, for all his detractors, remains a highly promising prospect that is maturing and improving with every game. That he is playing so regularly not only means that there is greater pressure on him but also that his every mistake is likely to be magnified. This has led to many forming a negative opinion of him yet the talent is there and, allied with his determination and willingness to work hard, he is destined to become a very good player.
The same applies to Chris Mavinga. Brought in during the summer from Paris St. Germain – who must be sick of Liverpool seeing that it was the same club from whom N’Gog had been bought twelve months earlier – the initial reports were that he was ready to slot into the first team squad.
That particular prediction has proven to be incorrect but that does not mean that the accounts that had him as a very good prospect were similarly wide of the mark.
This despite him not playing in what was supposed to be his natural position, that of left back, but rather in the centre of defence. Not that the change in position has fazed him: if anything he indicated that this might actually be his best spot particularly given that his physical presence and pace mark him out as someone with a natural talent for this role. That he's shown that he knows how to handle himself when the going gets rough cannot but be seen as a plus.
For all of the favourable impressions, the long term plan still seems to be that of having Mavinga on the left hand side of defence. It is where he has been playing since the turn of the year and where John McMahon has hinted that his future might lie.
Career wise, it would probably be better that way for him. Whilst there are four top class players ahead of him vying for the two spots at the heart of the defence – not to mention Benitez’s reluctance to play someone so young in that position – the lack of news about a contract renewal for Fabio Aurelio means that by the summer Emiliano Insua could end up as being the only other specialist left back at the club.
Realistically, however, it is unlikely that Benitez would allow that to happen. For one thing, Mavinga’s qualities are still largely unknown. So far he has withstood anything that has been thrown at him but, at reserve level, that isn’t much. There can be no comparison between playing against strikers fresh out of the academy to trying to handle the quality of those who play in the Premiership.
Regardless of everything Mavinga remains someone who has done extremely well in the handful of months that he has been at the club. Equally that is a great starting point and offers him a great platform on which to build. Yet it is also a point that for many before has proven to be the end game due to their inability to progress any further.
Only if Mavinga manages to avoid doing that would he truly be on his way to making his mark at the club and erase the memory of all of his compatriots who failed to live up to their expectations.
Sunday, February 07, 2010 by Paul Grech
There was a lot of talk before the game whether this fixture might be regaining the 'friendly' tag of old but, if that were the case, then the players surely didn't notice. Both sets were eager to make their physical presence count and, thanks to a weak referee, this resulted in a series of dangerous tackles.
Sotirios Kyrgiakos ended up being sent off for one of these but in truth there could easily have been two or three more sending offs.
Shorn of the Greek defender, who has been such a huge presence in recent weeks, Liverpool might have been expected to struggle but in reality they did not. Apart from the goal there was the bar that Steven Gerrard hit in the first half that can be noted down as a clear cut chance but even posession wise it was Liverpool who held control despite missing a man.
I have to admit that I have a lot of respect for David Moyes - he has built a good team on a very tight budget - but on this occasion his limitations were exposed. With Everton a goal down and a man up, he couldn't come up with a different tactic other than lumping the ball into the box. Their hope seemed to be Liverpool's defence messing up or crumbling under the pressure. To be fair, that has happened on a number of occasions this season but not on this day. So the end result of all that was two real threats on goal (Cahill's header and Yakubu's shot) throughout the ninety minutes.
He flapped at one cross but otherwise Pepe Reina was impeccalbe, with that last gasp save on Yakubu proving to be the pick of the bunch. Daniel Agger's return to the side was something of a surprise given that Martin Skrtel had been playing decently well in recent weeks. Still, it was a decision that worked as he effectively took hold of defence.
He started the afternoon at right-back but then Jamie Carragher was forced to go into the centre because of Kyrgiakos' dismissal. Not that he had been troubled too much before but once back into his more natulral position he grew in stature.
Skinned once by Landon Donovan and then surprised by Victor Anichebe's strength: that is what will go on Emiliano Insua's sin card for an afternoon where he was very good once more. The worst seems behind him and, with his confidence picking up, he is looking more like his old self with every game.
The sending off of Kyrgiakos meant that Javier Mascherano had to drop back into the right-back slot where he did a fantastic job. My man of the match.
Scorer of the only goal and a veritable Duracell bunny on the right, Dirk Kuyt exemplified all that was missing from Everton's display: commitment, determination and belief.
Not exceptional but this was still a good display by Steven Gerrard who on occasions was pivotal as Liverpool tried to catch Everton on the backfoot in the second half.
He has his detractors but yet again this was a very positive display by David N'Gog. Ever willing to run, his control of the ball has improved tremendously and gives defenders a constant headache. His biggest fault, ironically, lies in not being able to do the simple things well enough but every mistake he makes seems to fuel his desire to improve. Not to mention that it was a corner that he brought about from which Liverpool scored the winner.
It could be argued that Maroune Fellaini stamped on him with the sole purpose of hurting him, yet the fact remain that it was a bad tackle by Sotirios Kyrgikos which left his teammates with will over a half playing with ten men.
His inclusion was something of a surprise but whatever tactical benefit Benitez wanted to exploit from including Maxi Rodriguez from the start didn't work. Indeed, the Argentine looked lost most of the time.
At the time, Ryan Babel's instroduction made sense as his added speed could help unsettle Everton's defence. Unfortunately, he showed nothing of the commitment that N'Gog had been before him and ended up wasting what was a wonderful opportunity to re-establish himself inthe team
Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio were last minute additions aimed exclusively at winding down the clock.
Friday, February 05, 2010 by Paul Grech
"A disgrace if true". "This decision will come back to bite us". "Simply disgusting." Of the reactions from across the internet which greeted the sale of young German left-back Christopher Buchtmann to Fulham, those were among the more presentable and even they had to be doctored a little. Most simply threw out expletives, aiming them either on Rafael Benitez or the American owners with the choice of target being largely down to personal opinions on either one.
Such a response was hardly unexpected. A member of the German side that won the European Under 17 championships - a tournament during which he was among the best players - Buchtmann had shown signs of genuine promise not least in the FA Youth Cup final when he was one of the few to emerge with any credit. Those two games against Arsenal hinted that he was ready for a tougher challenge which is what he got when he was promoted to train at Melwood rather than the academy. It wouldn't take him long to nail down a spot on the reserves team, was the general opinion, but instead all he got was a transfer.
The surprise and the resulting expression of displeasure were therefore understandable. Yet this does not mean that Buchtmann will turn out to be as good as some of those who have spoken about him these past few days are expecting him to be. Just as there is no guarantee that any other young player will be as good as his early promise indicates that he will be.
A look at recent history should be enough to prove that. Twelve months ago, Marvin Pourie was sold to Schalke 04 in a move that generated a similar reaction to that of Buchtmann. Pourie had been one of the academy's leading scorers with goals figures that brought about easy comparisons with the likes of Robbie Folwer. Then suddenly he was sold.
It was a move that Liverpool would live to regret, or so was the public verdict. A year down the line, however, and that prediction doen't look like coming true. Pourie has spent most of that time on loan, twice going to 1860 Munich and then to TuS Koblenz. But that's not all: his second spell at 1860 Munich ended abruptly due to indiscipline whilst in his current loan he will be playing for the Under 19s. Hardly the actions of someone who was supposed to be so good.
Still not convinced? Well, there's more. In the same week that Liverpool were selling Buchtmann to Fulham, Nathan Porritt saw his contract at Middlesbrough being cancelled. Having never played for Liverpool, not even the youth sides, it isn't surprising if his name means little to you. Yet three years back, Porritt was at the centre of a controversy when a BBC Panorama's programme "Undercover: Football's Dirty Secrets" revealed that a number of clubs - one of which was alleged to be Liverpool - had made an illegal move to sign the then fifteen year old Porritt.
Whether those revelations were true or not (and the fact that they were never followed up would indicate that they weren't), what is most relevant to the argument being made here is that a player who at fifteen looked so good that so many high profile clubs risked getting sanctioned by the FA to try and get him is considered not to be good enough for a Championship side three years later.
Of course, all of this doesn't mean that Buchtmann isn't a good enough footballer and his career won't get anywhere. Liverpool could indeed end up regretting letting him go, and doing it so cheaply, but much of that depends as much on what happens next as it does on his talent. It could be that at Fulham he ends up playing in the Premier league earlier and under much less pressure than he would have at Liverpool. It is, after all, what happened to Stephen Warnock who had the luxury of playing away from the limelight at Blackburn and is now showing that he is a decent player at Aston Villa.
Talk of Warnock in a piece like this is inevitable for he, more than anyone else, has been used as an example of players let go to soon and for far too little. Yet, without going into whether he is good enough to be a regular starter for Liverpool, the fact of the matter is that Warnock has developed as he has precisely because he was allowed to leave. Had Benitez insisted on keeping him at Anfield as a squad player, then the likelihood is that he would have regressed than gone on to make the left-back slot his own.
It is such considerations that a manager has to take in when deciding on the future of a player. Talent is an important part of the equation but then there are other factors like attitude, tactical awareness and development that have to be considered. And not all of these factors will be as clearly evident to those watching games as they are to those who see the players train on a daily basis.
Sometimes it isn't easy to make a decision and on other occasions you might end up making the wrong one - let's not forget that Liverpool once had a young Scot by the name of Kenny Dalglish on trial but decided that he wouldn't be good enough - but they are decisions that have to be taken nevertheless. The fact that there are so few instances of players who turn out to have been sold prematurely, however, is as good enough an indication that most of the time the decision made is the right one.
Monday, February 01, 2010 by Paul Grech
After the ineptitude of midweek came a game where Liverpool showed the kind of conviction and determination that is to be expected from them every time they play. Bolton did occasionally cause some problems - none more so than when Lee waltzed through the defence - but overall they were no match for Liverpool in every aspect of the game. True, both goals were quite lucky, but no one could deny that Liverpool deserved to win. It was not only the ideal result but also the best possible performance ahead of three very tough games that have to be won.
Didn't really have much to do but Pepe Reina handled Bolton's crosses with relative ease and rarely did they overly trouble him. This was largely due to another excellent performance by the central defensive pairing of Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. His distribution still seems to be haphazard when he is pressurized but Skrtel is nearing last season's level of performance and this was probably his best game all season.
AS for Kyrgiakos, he was simply immense, providing Liverpool with the physical presence to repel Bolton's approach. Every time the ball came near him, he gobbled it up in his third consecutive impressive performance, one where the highlight was that ball cleared off the line. My man of the match.
Another player who, like Skrtel, seemed to have suffered a massive crisis of confidence was Emiliano Insua. But he too bounced back on this occasion as he linked up well with Albert Riera and provided the kind of crosses that had been missing from him throughout the season.
On the right, Jamie Carragher looked as uncomfortable as ever in that position but at least he did push forward more than he had done at Wolves in mid-week and took a significantly more positive approach.
Javier Mascherano did his usual mopping up service with extreme efficiency but he was also more confident with the ball at his feet and always seemed to know what to do with it. Something that hasn't been too apparent this season.
Having been so ineffective in midweek, this was much better from Steven Gerrard who seemed to be back to his old self without this having any negative impact on the rest of the team in the form of over dependence on him. That said, he must stop taking every corner and free-kick that Liverpool get.
There were those who thought that Albert Riera was terrible against Bolton but, personally, I though that he had a good game where, despite clearly not being fully match sharp. His crossing and skills provide Liverpool with a creative bite that is missing elsewhere.
Lucky to see his goal go in, Dirk Kuyt provided the graft that the side needs. Not an exceptional game from him, but he did his job well.
THAT miss in the second half will probably what most will take away from David N’Gog’s game which is quite unfair on him considering how much he ran. Every time there was a loose ball you could bet that he would be going down to chase and pressurize the Bolton’s defenders. Not only that but his link up play was often very good: what he lacks is the experience and coolness to put away any chance that comes his way.
There was little surprise when Alberto Aquilani was taken off after sixty five minutes because the Italian's game had only been marked by a series of sloppy passes and gifted posession. The only positive that can be taken from this game is that he seems to be willing to get stuck into tackles, a clear sign that his injury has left no psychological scar.
Had anyone else other than Lucas delivered the pinpoint cross-field pass that he did minutes after coming on, then everyone would be talking about it. With the Brazilian, however, it is a completely different story where most refuse to admit that he has improved dramatically. Given a slightly freer role than usual, it was nice to see his attacking drive and runs into the box that could easily have resulted in a goal.
Maxi Rodriguez doesn’t really look comfortable out left but at least he is starting to get to grips with the physical nature of the English game. Seeing that it now looks certain that he’s going to stay at Liverpool till the end of the season, it was only apt that Ryan Babel should be given a chance even though the few minutes that he was on the pitch were in reality too little for him to make a mark