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Archive for April 2010

Ready for the Call

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010 by

As Alan Kennedy walks into the room it is impossible not to be impressed. Not simply because of his honours list - five league titles, four League Cups, three Charity Shields and, most notably, two European Cups - but also because he still looks supremely fit for someone who is in his fifties. "I'm going for a jog later on," he says, explaining why he’s wearing a tracksuit, before adding that he has "to stay fit just in case Rafa Benitez gives me a call!"

It immediately transpires that Kennedy has a talent for putting people at ease. Something of a necessity, you might add, for a man whose visits to Anfield these days are in the role of a corporate hospitality guest. “I need to work to earn a living,” he tells me later.

As if to prove his credentials as an after dinner speaker, he quickly starts firing the sort of anecdotes that fans lap up. “Bob Paisley knew my family as he was from the same village as my mother. In fact, he used to buy his fish and chips from her shop. So he knew that he was signing someone who was coming from a good background and a hard worker,” he says, providing a glimpse back to an era when football business was done in a manner that seems completely alien today.

At the time the £330,000 that Liverpool paid Newcastle made Kennedy the most expensive defenders in the game. It wasn’t exactly Liverpool’s style to splash about that sort of money but Paisley was determined to get him. “In previous years Liverpool had experimented with a number of players at left back but they wanted someone to sort the issue once and for all. When Paisley signed me, he said that if I didn’t become an England player he would jump in the Mersey. Having thought a bit about it Paisley then added: when the tide is out!”

Paisley’s prediction, however, did come true and Kennedy did play for England albeit only twice - Kenny Sansom had made the role his – but his success at a club level more than made up for any disappointment this might have given rise to.

This despite a shaky start. “My debut wasn’t a great debut. In fact it was a terrible debut. Players and fans were probably wondering why the club had spent so much money on me. What happened was that Liverpool had learned this trick of playing the ball nice and easy in little triangles. My philosophy was to get rid of the ball, to send it to the other side for as long as possible. So I would be finding Terry McDermott or David Johnson but everyone would be caught short so it was a waste of time.”

“I hadn’t learned much in the previous four or five days that I’d been at Liverpool and when I came in at half-time against QPR, the manager was fuming. He whispered – he didn’t shout – ‘I think they shot the wrong bloody Kennedy!’ It was said in jest but the message was that I had to improve or I was out. So I learned a lot from that particular game.”

And learn he did, as he nailed down the left-back slot for the coming seven years. “In our first season, we let in sixteen goals,” he says, more matter-of-fact-idly than out of vanity.

“During my time at Anfield we established ourselves as the best team in the country with our traditional 4-4-2. We didn't think too much about our opponents. There was so much self-belief that we always took the field determined to play our own way and our main goal was to push forward and score goals. Football in those days was easier to understand as emphasis was not so much on tactics. The secret behind Liverpool's success was unity in the group. Everyone played for each other and that made us a very difficult team to beat.”

Liverpool’s self belief was also fuelled by their achievements both in England and in Europe. And it was here that Kennedy enjoyed his biggest success. His goal – the winner - against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final is an obvious talking point. “It was at the time,” he answers when I venture that it probably was the high point of his career. “I’d scored in the previous Cup final against West Ham (in the League Cup final) but that hadn’t turned out to be a winner as the game ended in a draw.”

“When Bob Paisley picked the team he picked it on quality and strength. I was lucky enough to be part of it and, in the end, scoring the goal was just a bonus. I didn’t expect to score it, I didn’t expect to be up there but I’d had a couple of shots earlier and in the end I decided to have a go from that acute angle. I shouldn’t have, really but I did and the ball hit the back of the net.”

Three years later he was handed the responsibility of taking Liverpool’s final penalty against Roma. Kennedy confirms with a laugh that he had been terrible when taking penalties during training earlier in the week but that hadn’t deterred him from stepping forward to take the kick, an often undervalued but critical element in such high pressure moments.

Realistically, however, Liverpool had done extremely well to get to that stage. I ask what it was like to take on Roma in their own back yard. “They were confident. In the tunnel beforehand they were sticking their chest out, flicking their hair and giving the message that ‘this is our place’. But we just rolled our sleeves up and said we’re not intimidated. We’ve got our supporters, our family, our friends and we decided to attack them straight away which is exactly what we did.”

“It wasn’t a good game as it was tight and there was pressure on all the time. When the penalties came around the manager was looking around for players to pick. I don’t think anyone was that bothered about volunteering and it was just a quite word. I was really, really surprised when he picked me. I didn’t imagine that he would come up to me and say those words. I was that surprised that I didn’t join the other four lads giving their names to the referee. I didn’t realise that it was now up to me.”

“They say never change your mind during the run up to a penalty, well, I did. I was really thinking to myself ‘put it to the goalkeeper’s left’ but in the end I opened my body up, slightly hesitated and opened my body up and the ball went in. It was a great feeling.”

A year later, Liverpool and Kennedy were once again in the final of the European Cup. Sadly that ended in the tragedy at Heysel, a dark night in the club’s history. One of the sad side-effects of that tragedy is that it completely overshadowed the departure of the long-serving Joe Fagan.

“He was a quite man but he was also a man that we respected because whatever he said, you did. And when he raised his voice you did it even quicker!” is how Kennedy recalls him. “I remember on a number of occasions him whispering to a couple of players ‘sort it out between you’. What that meant was to forget Bob Paisley, to forget Joe Fagan and sort any problems that we had between us on the pitch. And the problem was that we had lost.”

“But once he went to Heysel, there was no way back for Joe. He wasn’t very happy with how things had gone. For me, however, he was always the unsung here, the guy who did the job in the background whilst Bob (Paisley) was the one under the spotlight. Joe was just happy to get on with the job and did it well with Ronnie Moran.”

Kennedy is just as effusive in his praise of Bob Paisley. “He wasn’t the most fluent of talkers; he was very shy. He got on with his job. He didn’t like confrontation. But where he was strong is making decisions and he made decisions on what was best for the football club, not what was best for the individual but what was best for the football club.”

“We all had our problems with the manager sometimes but he was a strong character and he was well supported by Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans, Tom Saunders and Reuben Bennett. His record might not be beaten in terms of what he achieved in such a short space of time: you’re talking from 1977 to 1984.”

Talk turn to the current Liverpool side and I ask what he thinks of the present left-backs. His reply is typically diplomatic. “Since we let John Arne Riise go we’ve had a little bit of problem. Insua is a young player who has come in and what I would encourage him to do is to get forward a little bit more. Defensively he can be better. Aurelio, for me, is probably a better full back because of his experience but his injury problems hold him back.”

“For me Patrice Evra is a good candidate for a left-back: loves to get forward, has pace, and knows how to defend. He’s just how I see a left back as being.”

Given the current dearth of quality left-backs, Kennedy must wonder what might have been had he been playing nowadays. “I don’t think players of yesteryear would have coped with playing today,” is his somewhat surprising answer. “They’d have to change; they’d have to be told how to play the game of football. Nowadays you don’t have to think on the football pitch. Managers, coaches do it for you. I think that it is no longer a game for the spectator; you don’t see that many brilliant games any more. The win is the important side of it now.”

The shortcomings in the tactical approach to the game when he played is something that he mentions throughout the whole interview so I decide to press a bit about whether it really was so laidback. “Yes, yes it was. I think that a lot of players played individually in our day but Liverpool had a team and Bob Paisley always told us to play as a team. In our days there was no strategy. It was just a case to go out there and play better than the opposition.”

This reply indirectly explains a question that had been gnawing at the back of my head: why Kennedy never went into management. “Well, as you can see, I’ve still got my hair and I don’t have any health problems! I didn’t go into management because I didn’t feel that it was the right thing to do; I didn’t feel that I was management material. I might have been wrong but I did have one year as a player-manager and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t for me. No, I was quite happy to be a player. I played until I was forty two in non-league football which is quite an age.”

The final query relates to what the club’s support meant for him. “The supporters were the be-all and end-all. The manager and the chairman used to say that it was all about the supporters. The supporters are very important: we all saw what happened in Istanbul and it was them who got the players back into the game. They can win games for Liverpool.”

With that, he sets off for his jog. It is only at this point that passing comment that he “still want that time again, I still play football” starts to feel that his earlier comment about being ready for a possible call by Rafa Benitez was said only partially in jest.

This article appeared in Issue 1 of the magazine, Well Red.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Burnley]

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Monday, April 26, 2010 by

A sad day for Burnley, one where their hopes of remaining in the Premier League were exhausted, could have been averted had they managed to make their pressure in the first half count. Instead, they left Liverpool alive and when Gerrard scored the opener, you could sense that it was game over. When he scored the second, Liverpool could ease up a bit and ultimately ended up winning with a score that was harsh on them.

Good Game
For all of Burnley's attacking intent, they had very few real chances and Pepe Reina was always more than equal to the task. Jamie Carragher's marshalling of the defence was once again impeccable although merit for this also goes to the nineteen year old Daniel Ayala. Indeed, the Spanish defender who was making his second start for the club, didn't put a foot wrong and certainly wasn't overawed by the situation. Encouraging signs. So to has been Glen Johnson in since coming back from injury as he has added defensive solidity to his game: next season he'll be much better than he was this year.

Daniel Agger once again deputised on the left and had a good game without doing anything particularly spectacular. The same could be said of Javier Mascherano who ended up at right back and actually seemed to enjoy the freedom to move forward that this switch gave him.

Liverpool's best two performances were reserved for the men in the middle of the park. With two goals, Steven Gerrard is the obvious man of the match even if he apart from those two moments of brilliance he didn't do anything particularly of note. It was also a very good game Alberto Aquilani who certainly has the vision to open up play and, despite the occasional misplaced pass, has the intelligence to sense out the best option ahead of him.

At long last Maxi Rodriguez managed to score having been quite unlucky in previous games and he, like Aquilani, is a player who will serve Liverpool well next season. The man who started on the other side of the pitch, Ryan Babel, also got on the scoresheet even though, overall, his was a disappointing game.

Babel ended up in a striking role after Dirk Kuyt went off with a slight injury. Given next Thursday, this looked like a precautionary move but in reality Liverpool lost very little without him on the pitch.

Bad Game
A harsher man might have included both Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt here but given the margin of this win, they're spared on this occasion.

Substitutes
Yossi Benayoun came on for the injured Dirk Kuyt but in reality he never got that involved in the game. Much more of an impact was left by Lucas Leiva who put through the telling pass from which Babel scored the third. Much is expected of Dani Pacheco but in the ten minutes or so that he was on the pitch on this occasion there was ample proof that he still needs working on before he can be considered a player ready enough to paly regularly


Rodriguez Success is a Boost for Liverpool...and Benitez

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010 by

January, it is often said, is no time to bring in new players. Anyone who comes available at that time of year is either going to have his price inflated or else will be someone who causes more trouble than he is worth. Or both. Unless you’re getting some player you want to slowly bring through in the coming four months, the advice goes, it is better to forget making any changes.

Yet, as always, there are exceptions and Maxi Rodriguez is proving to be one of them.
Strangely out of favour at Atletico Madrid, the ₤1.5 million paid to get him is a ridiculously low amount for a player of his abilities with the fee being largely dictated by the absence of a contract tying him to the Madrid side beyond next June.

Whatever the reason, no one is complaining.

Early impressions, however, weren’t that favourable. Indeed, Rodriguez initially looked shocked at the physical nature of the English game and often he failed to hide his amazement when no action was taken after what to him seemed like an obvious foul.

As the games in which he has played have increased, so too has his ability to deal with such situations. The same goes for every aspect of his game. Not a typical winger, he seems to work just as hard as Dirk Kuyt on the right hand side of midfield but with added technique and vision of the game. That he can give the side plenty of options – seeing that he is capable of playing across all midfield – increases his utility in the squad.

Then there is the ability to score goals. Bad luck has so far hindered him opening up his account but he showed what he can do last season when Liverpool played Atletico Madrid in the Champions league and he scored the opener at Anfield.

More goals like that would be welcome, particularly given Liverpool’s paucity from midfield.

Rodriguez’s success is also a significant one for Rafa Benitez. Faith in his ability in the transfer market has slipped since the costly mistakes that saw Andrea Dossena and Robbie Keane arrive, and then quickly depart, from Anfield.

Rodriguez, a low budget transfer but quickly becoming a big success, slightly re-addresses the balance in the manager’s favour.


Good Game Bad Game [vs West Ham]

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010 by

Talking to a couple of West Ham fans before the game, they were firmly of the opinion that their team was in for a defeat. Typical views given their position, I thought, and typical as well for those who follow Liverpool simply by reputation rather than watching them regularly. Given recent performances, this had all the markings of another disappointing game. Instead, their prediction was spot on and West Ham barely gave a fight. The absence of Scott Parker - a player who would be gladly welcome at Liverpool to raise the quality of the squad - really hits them hard and Mark Noble (another quality player) doesn't seem to be the same without him.

Good Game
Pepe Reina only had one save to make when Carlton Cole found space midway in the second half. The West Ham striker should have been flaged off for offside, but Reina still spread himself to block the shot. Impeccable as always. Daniel Agger has excellently filled the gap at left back whilst Glen Johnson excels against team who give him too much space as West Ham did today. Soto Kyrgiakos wasted a brilliant opportunity to score in the first half but he is always a threat from set pieces as he proved when he got that touch which eventually led to the third goal. Not much was seen of Jamie Carragher, given West Ham's reluctance to move forward, but he controlled Carlton Cole well.

The same goes for Lucas Leiva who sat back in a game when, perhaps, he could have been a bit more adventurous. Steven Gerrard, playing beside him, revelled in the space afforded to him as West Ham didn't seem to have anyone willing (or able) to close him down. Yossi Benayoun hasn't been at his best this season and he wasn't particularly brilliant here but he scored the all important first goal so his goes down as a good game.

With every game, Maxi Rodriguez is showing his value and he did so today with his combination of tireless work and excellent technical skills that give Liverpool that added width which is missing without him.

Hard work is also the hallmark of Dirk Kuyt and he showed plenty here but sometimes he's lacking that added bit of class to make the most of his opportunities. David N'Gog showed his potential by scoring a brilliantly well taken goal. For all his critics, N'Gog makes plenty of intelligent runs and works hard for the ball - it was a foul on him that led to the first goal - but he lacks the experience to finish them off. Still, for a twenty year old, he has done very well regardless of what his critics say.

Bad Game
West Ham's lack of effort meant that no one looked bad here.

Substitutions
Was this really a game that need Javier Mascherano with the score at 3-0? Not really. Same goes for Philip Degen as it would have been a lot better to give some experience to someone like Daniel Ayala. The inclusion of Ryan Babel was perhaps the only substitution that made some sense, and he is a player who will come increasingly under the spotlight now that Fernando Torres will be missing: for him this is the ideal opportunity to show his worth.


No Doubts About Best Result Against Chelsea

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Monday, April 19, 2010 by

There seem to be some wondering whether Liverpool would prefer losing to Chelsea, thus denying Manchester United the opportunity of winning their nineteenth title, instead of winning to ensure qualification to Europe next season. They really should be saving themselves the trouble.

Even though it hasn't seemed like it of late, success for Liverpool means winning things not delighting in seeing others not doing so. If beating Chelsea means gifting the league to United, then so be it. Would the men who built this club - people like Bill Shankly or Bob Paisley - ever really contemplate not doing their utmost in any circumstance? Should Liverpool fans really be thinking of giving away their dignity?

The sad truth is that not only do many seem to be thinking about it but they also openly express their desire for it to happen. It is a sign that the small time mentality – that about which others are often taunted – is slowly creeping in this club as well.


Spreading the Word: Liverpool's Best Eleven on a Shirt

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The recent launch of Liverpool’s home kit for next season has caused the usual discussions between those who like it and those who don’t. Not that it really matters, at least not to me. The thing is that I’ve never really seen where the attraction in going around advertising a beer or a bank, hence my reluctance to buy a replica shirt.

It is why I look for alternative shirts such as the brilliant range that are available at Sam Dodds. These provide a classier and more attractive way to express my support of the club which, after all, is why people buy such merchandise.

That said, it isn’t always easy to find good quality and original shirts particularly if they’re not the work of fellow Reds and as such less likely to get a mention. Indeed, it was almost by accident that I stumbled upon the ElevensXI range of shirts.

The concept here is extremely simple: pick the best eleven of a side and make a shirt featuring their names. Liverpool are the latest team to be featured in this range that is the idea of Spurs fan James Greenfield and, whilst the players chosen might cause some debate (is Jamie Carragher better than Tommy Smith, for instance) the execution is spot on.

The Liverpool ElevensXI shirt is available online for ₤16.   This is not a paid advert and A Liverpool Thing received no form of payment for this feature.


The Lad Can Play: Daniel Ayala

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010 by

Strange as this might sound, sometimes getting to a final might seem like a curse. Once you get there, the hype and expectations rise to such a level that nothing other than a win will do. And when you’re Liverpool, those expectations are heightened even further. When the expected victory doesn’t come, however, the backlash is often severe.

It is what happened last year in the FA Youth Cup. In itself, getting to the final was a great result particularly with the political infighting taking place in the background. That mattered very little for those looking in from the outside as this was Liverpool and by right they should at least push Arsenal all the way.

That’s not how it turned out to be as the greater skill, speed and experience in the Arsenal side was too much for a Liverpool team whose main asset was the collective spirit rather than any great combination of talent. Arsenal won 6-2 over the two legs and it could have been even more.

It was nothing short of a nightmare for the Liverpool youths who, if nothing, learned who quickly opinions changed in football. From being pushed forward as potential additions to Rafa Benitez’s first team squad, they suddenly became useless prospects who were something of an embarrassment for the club.

Somewhat inevitably, Daniel Ayala was one of those for whom some of the harshest words were reserved. Not only had he seemed leaden footed at the heart of defence but, having been signed by Benitez himself, he was seen as another player brought in simply to spite the work carried out at the academy.

Many wrote Ayala off at that stage but those who had seen him play throughout the season were of a different opinion. The player who had been brought in as a sixteen year old from Seville, where he had rejected a professional contract, towards the end of 2007 had initially failed to show what Liverpool had seen in him.

As he matured and settled in, however, his qualities started to shine through. Strength was an obvious one as is his ability in the air, something that is to be expected from someone who is 6 ft 3. But there are many players out there with such basic physical qualities. What makes Ayala stand out is the way that he reads the game, his anticipation of moves to block the danger before the need to make desperate tackles arises.

Boosted by his occasional first team game, this has been the season where Ayala has truly excelled. For the reserves he has been infallible, showing with every game that he is far too good for this level. In truth, the same impression had been made in pre-season where Ayala had made the most of the opportunities that he had been given. Indeed, somewhat surprisingly, he was the one who really caught the eye rather than the more experienced and highly rated Mikel San Jose.

Yet all this does not make him ready to play for Liverpool. The gap between reserves and first team is too wide particularly for a position as crucial as the centre of defence. Ayala needs to show what they can do against better and more physical strikers than the boys that he often has to face in the reserves. Only when he does that will he get the opportunity to show that what happened in the FA Youth Cup final was merely another step in his development.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Fulham]

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Monday, April 12, 2010 by

There is a famous banner that make an appearance in the Curva Sud every time AS Roma play at home which simply states 'No Totti, No Party'. It is a banner that could easily be ascribed to Liverpool with one minor adjustment: Torres instead of Totti. That much became apparent - if any further proof was needed - against Fulham, a game where the final hopes of making it into the Champions League died out.

It was a game that Liverpool dominated, didn't play too badly and had a handful of chances. Unfortunately, they didn't have anyone either to make the most of those chances or else to force the Fulham defenders into making a mistake. In other words, there was no Fernando Torres.

This is not meant to be a criticism of David N'Gog. Regardless of the negative comments that will inevitably once again be directed his way, this is a young player who ran, harried and fought for every minute he was on the pitch. My belief remains strong that N'Gog is a promising player who simply lacks experience to be a good backup.  Unfortunately for him, he often finds himself replacing one of the finest palyers in the world so it is unavoidable that by comparison he looks bad.

On Saturday, Rafa Benitez had insisted that he needed more players in the £15 to £20 million bracket in order for Liverpool to really be in a position to challenge. That much is true yet it does bear asking why Benitez opted to take off one such player after sixty-five minutes, especially as that player had been one of the most creative on the pitch. For all the work put in by the rest of the team, once Aquilani went off so too did the flair that had kept the Fulham defenders guessing as to what was coming next. Without him, Liverpool became even more predictable then they had been before and from that point on the result was inevitable.

Good Game / Bad Game
One shot in the dying minutes is all that Fulham could muster throughout the ninety minutes. Even so, Pepe Reina had to be ready to beat Damien Duff's ferocious shot away because otherwise it would have been an even worse result for Liverpool. The physical presence of Bobby Zamora caused some problems but not too much as Jamie Carrager and Sotirios Kyrgiakos comfortably handled what he and Eric Nevland could offer. This does not mean that the two defenders couldn't have done better. Neither one seems to know what to do when they get the ball and they simply want to get rid of it as soon as possible. Kyrgiakos also has to shoulder heading over a glorious opportunity in the second half, one from which a good header of the ball like him should have done much better.

Glen Johnson started the game very brightly and his play in the first half caused Jonathan Greening no end of problems. Faced by Duff in the second half, however, and he began to struggle and rarely did he seem to get the better of him. On the other side, Daniel Agger didn't see as much of the ball. When he did, he always used it well without ever really doing anything special with it.

In midfield, Maxi Rodriguez continued in his good form showing that there are still bargainst out there: this is a player who is worth much more thant the £1.5 million that Liverpool actually paid to get him. He does need to start scoring goals when he gets an opportunity, although lack of luck does play a significant part in his inability to score against Birmingham last week and Fulham this.

On the other side there was Ryan Babel who, like Agger, didn't see too much of the ball and didn't cause too many problems when he did. One shot that forced Schwarzer was forced to save midway through the second half, however, almost made his time on the pitch all the more worthwhile.  The positive thing with Babel is that he no longer looks disinterested as he had done in the past: he now plays like a player who genuinely wants to do his best, even if that doesn't always translate into good games

Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard both did their utmost to find a way through the defence but, ultimately, even these two seemed to conclude that it was futile to keep on believing that Liverpool could win.

That moment came soon after Alberto Aquilani was taken off in what was a surprising move. Now, let's not kid ourselves that Aquilani had some fantastic game but he has the sort of passing and vision that is vital in games like this. In truth, to me Aquilani looks like someone who is looking at Italy, seeing his former side on top of the league and wondering whether he made a mistake leaving when he did. The body might be there and the professional in him sees that he tries his bes but the heart and mind is thinking are still in Rome.

David N'Gog might not have scored yet he tried his best to find a way through. It isn't hs fault that he isn't Fernando Torres.

Substitutes
Yossi Benayoun was thrown in in the hope of him repeating last season's late goal but, unfortunately it didn't work out this time. He, like Dirk Kuyt, ultimately offered very little that was different to Liverpool's play which is what was needed at that stage. It is kind of sad to hear the roar that met Dani Pacheco when he came on not because of Pacheco but as it signaled that Liverpool have come to look at an untried 19 year old to save their game.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Benfica]

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Friday, April 09, 2010 by

It might not be the Champions League in name but you wouldn't have noticed looking at the form that Benfica have been in this season. Dominant in Portugal, they've steamrollered every side they've faced in the Europa League. In David Luiz, Luisao and Angel di Maria they have three players who could play in any top side anywhere in Europe, Pablo Aimar is still a fine player whilst the likes of Sidnei and Ramires are two to look out for. Tactically, they did everything right - including pressurising Liverpool early on to nullify the effect of the home crowd - but were punished for every mistake they made. Make no mistake, therefore, Benfica are a fine team who were made to look very ordinary.

Then again, this is just the sort of game in which Rafael Benitez and his side revel in. How many teams have been dismantled in Europe over the past five years? Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven, Inter...all of them probably thought that Liverpool was a soft draw (remember the headlines before the Real Madrid game last season?) but went away wondering what had hit them.

Next up there's Atletico Madrid. They gave Liverpool a tough time sat season (and probably should have won at Anfield) and have a great forward line-uplate on particularly Diego Forlan, given his past connections.

Good Game
Quite simply, everyone. Jamie Carragher and Sotirios Kyrgiakos were immense in the centre, Glen Johnson proved that he is mor than capable at defending whilst Daniel Agger was brilliant at left-back.  The defending from the team was so good that Pepe Reina had very little to do.

In midfield, Lucas showed that he is Brazilian after all with a fantastically well taken goal. Javier Mascherano ran, tackled and made some great passes. Yossi Benayoun gives solidity on the left hand side of midfield but also added a touch of flair whereas, on the other sdie Dirk Kuyt never stopped running and played a pivotal in most goals.

Fernando Torres scored two incredible goals but Steven Gerrard's running really caught the eye. He more than anyone can appreciate the Europa League and how important it is to win it.

Bad Game
No one.

Substitute
Of the three players brought on very late on, David N'Gog was the pick as he made a number of intelligent. Otherwise, Alberto Aquilani and Nabil El Zhar didn't touch too many balls when they came on.


A Look At: Great Face for Radio

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Thursday, April 08, 2010 by

Book Review: Great Face for Radio by John Anderson

It is hard not to envy John Anderson. For years his job involved travelling all over the world to watch some of the top sporting events of our lifetime: Olympics, World Cups, major championships, big boxing fights, you name it and he probably was there. As I said, it is hard not to envy John Anderson.

Naturally enough, Anderson himself is conscious of that and although he occasionally puts in pieces aimed at highlighting that it isn't always as easy as one might imagine - long hours, bad bosses, malfunctioning equipment - overall, in his book Great Face for Radio, he's just revelling in how lucky he was.

As often happens, Anderson fell into his job almost by accident. He wasn't really enjoying the broadcasting school that he was attending (eventually he dropped out) but perseverance, confidence and the willingness not to stick strictly to the rule book not only got him a job but made him quite good at it.

His big break came when he got a job for the sports department of the Independent Radio News, a company that provided commentary services to independent stations across the country who couldn't afford to send their own staff to cover those events. By pure chance he became their athletics correspondent - his only qualification for that role was knowing who Colin Jackson was - and it was this job that gave him the opportunity to travel all over the world to watch sports.

It is stories from these trips that make up the bulk of the book. Anderson might be a better commentator than he is a writer but he does know how to tell a story which is what he focuses on here. Most of these are funny, some insightful and occasionaly there's a thought provoking argument but generally it is quite light fare.

Where he does get serious, however, is when talking about those running the network. Throughout the latter half of the book, and following a merger with ITV, Anderson constantly criticises the management even if he never really clarifies just what made them so incompetent (or naming any names). The reason for his criticism - or at least part of the bitterness that comes through his words - crystalises in the end when it is revealed that eventually IRN decided to cut its sports service leaving Anderson looking for a job. That he ended up at Sky also helps explains his frequent barbs at the BBC and the number of people that it sent to cover major events.

Ultimately, however, all of that is simply a sidenote to his recollections of sporting events and the glimpse that of what happens after the lights are switched off that this book provides. Those looking for something deep thoughts about journalism will be disappointed - Anderson knows how to get a quote and quickly sumarise the situation but he doesn't seem the type who will dig deep to uncover what is behind the top layers of a story. Accept that at the start and you'll like this book. But if you're looking for something more, it would be better to look elsewhere.

Rating: 3 out of 5.


A Look At: Well Red Magazine

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010 by

I can still recall my fascination when I first came across a copy of When Saturday Comes magazine sometime in the early nineties and saw that it dedicated two pages to listing the contact details of all the fanzines that were around. All clubs had at least one of these home-made magazines that gave a voice to fans who at the time were still considered as little more than a nuisance.

The internet ultimately killed most of them off and there are now only a dozen or so still being published. After all, why should people pay to read the opinions of fans when they can do so for free on a forum.

Well there are still those who believe that there is a market for such publications as Well Red, the magazine published earlier this month proves.

In truth, this is much more than a fanzine. Tony Barrett, Paul Tomkins and Dave Kirby feature among those who contribute in this first edition and there are few better writers of a red persuasion out there. The design is much more polished than that normally associated with fanzines and the whole set-up is infinitely more professional: a digital edition is already available and distribution system is extremely impressive (my copy reached me in Malta the day after it was received in England).

All this, however, would count for very little if the quality of writing didn’t back everything up. Fortunately it does. The debate on whether Liverpool should keep faith in Benitez is thought provoking, as is the criticism of the Liverpool Echo and the interview with Paul Gardner from SOS. There is more than a nod to the past with a number of Action Replay pages as well as interviews with Brian Hall and Alan Kennedy as well as colour pieces such as a team of former Reds who became the object of hate after leaving the club (although the omission of El Hadj Diouf from this is a glaring one).

Of course, there are some criticisms. My admiration for Dave Kirby has already been noted here but replicating half of his chapter from Here We Go Gathering Cups in May – which takes up twelve pages – seems to be a bit too much. The same holds for the look back to the 1983-84 season which, interesting though it is, should probably have been condensed a bit.

My biggest gripe, however, lies with the ‘Eye of the Enemy’ piece that takes a look at Everton. Not because of the writing – I happen to agree with what is said – but rather to the fact that this given the prominence of being featured on the fifth page. Somewhere towards the back of the magazine would be more suitable.

That, however, does not diminish from what is a great first issue. The key now is for Well Red is to build on this and keep the high standards set here. Do that and it will show that there is a market for such publications.

You can win a free copy of Well Red by taking part in our competition.

For further information, visit the Well Red website.  The author of this review is also a contributor of Well Red.


Competition: Win a Copy of Well Red magazine

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The first issue of the independent Liverpool magazine Well Red is now available both in the shops as well as digitally but you have an opportunity to get your hands on a copy for free.


All you have to do is to follow A Liverpool thing on Twitter and then send a Direct Message with the answer to the following question:

Who is the former Liverpool manager who is show on the front cover of the first edition of Well Red?

Closing date is the 14th of April



Good Game Bad Game [vs Birmingham City]

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Monday, April 05, 2010 by

As has often happened this season, Liverpool went away from a match frustrated. The performance wasn't there but enough chances were created to win it. Just as disappointing was the nature of Birmingham's equaliser as Liverpool had defended impeccably until then. Of course much of the focus will go on the substitution of Fernando Torres and the chances missed by David N'Gog. More about this later but the reasons for this draw aren't that simple.

Good Game
Jamie Carragher will probably end up playing at left-back next Thursday but at the heart of the defence he played to his usual standard, never letting Cameron Jerome get the better of him.

Whatever your views of the amount paid to sign him there is little doubting that Glen Johnson adds another dimension to Liverpool's play. His pace and ability to get behind defenders can cause real problems as well as some excitement for us fans. Most of what was good with Liverpool in this game came from his side which surely cannot be a coincidence.

A great goal lifted his game but then Steven Gerrard seemed to be slightly shocked by Fernando Torres' substitution. His passing went off for a few minutes but then he found something of his old self as he drove the side forward in search for that second goal.

One of the few bright spots of this season has been Maxi Rodriguez and the Argentine winger has been slowly getting better as he has grown more used to the physicality of the English game. His vision, passing and running off the ball are slowly turning him into one of the key players of this side. Got himself into some excellent positions and was unlucky not to score.

When a player works as hard as Fernando Torres does, and get you as many free-kicks, it is impossible to say that he had a bad game. But, by his standards, this wasn't a particularly impressive performance as he rarely managed to find space in the box.

Bad Game
Not at fault with the goal, Pepe Reina didn't have as good a game as he usually has failing to hold on to a couple of speculative shots that certainly won't have helped the confidence of his defenders. Played probably in view of next Thursday's game, Soto Kyrgiakos didn't have that bad a game but he was needlessly out of position in the move that led to the Birmingham goal for which he must shoulder a large chunk of blame.

Same goes for Emiliano Insua. Overall, he wasn't bad but should have done better when dealing with James McFadden who was allowed to pick his cross far too easily. The lack of confidence has really bogged down his progess and he is probably the biggest victim of Liverpool's bad seson: Insua looked so much better last season when he came into a side that was playing with such confidence.

Often this season, Lucas Leiva has suffered because he has been playing as a defensive midfielder alongside another such player. Given an opportunity to prove his own worth, however, he was a disappointment. Unable to really close down the Birmingham midfield, he gave away too many free-kicks and, when the ball was at his feet, he often treated it as a burden of which he had to rid himself as quickly as promising.

Another disappointing performance was that of Yossi Benayoun, who never really got into the game. It isn't his fault that he's being asked to play out wide when he truly better suited for a more central role but, even so, he can play much better than this.

Like Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt has often been asked to play out wide when he is really a central striker. Yet he too failed to make much of his opportunity to play in his favoured role. In reality, most of the time it seemed as if he didn't know what position to take up.

Substitutes
So, Liverpool drew because Benitez brought on David N'Gog for Fernando Torres? I take a slightly different view. First of all, N'Gog showed just how strong his character is by not letting the booing of the Birmingham fans get to him. Not too many twenty year olds would be as strong. As for the missed chances, he had done particularly well to find enough room for the first and third one (for which, lest one forget, he controlled the ball beautifully) and it was only the second one that was really a glaring miss. But, whatever the public opinion might be today, this is a talented player who is being forced into a highly pressurised situation whilst lacking the experience to deal with it.

Benitez's comments on the eve of the game weren't too comforting, hinting as he did that Alberto Aquilani's problems were in his head rather than in his feet. It was an accusation that was often levelled at him at Roma and he certainly did himself few favours when he came one seeing that, quite frankly, it looked as if he just didn't feel like playing. Sadly, his biggest contribution was that of blocking Maxi Rodriguez's goalbound shot.

Ryan Babel still has a long way to go before he can be considered as good enough to play for Liverpool on a regular basis but he has certainly showed a lot of determination since almost talking himself into a transfer last January. Coming on for Benayoun, his directness gave Liverpool another dimension and it was one of the reasons why Liverpool did better late on.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Benfica]

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Friday, April 02, 2010 by

I don't often talk about referees - in fact I think this is the first time that I've done so - but it is a subject that is impossible to avoid tonight. Quite simply, Jonas Eriksson's refereeing was obscene.

Ryan Babel's sending off was extremely harsh as was the first penalty and arguably the second one. A less officious referee might have allowed at least one of those accidents to pass yet, ultimately, all decisions where ones you could live with.

 What was unacceptable, however, was the way that he let Benfica get away with practically everything. Luisao, David Luiz and Javi Garcia took turns to kick Fernando Torres every time the ball got near them without anything as serious as a talking to. Similarly, how many times did the Benfica players fall to ground looking for fouls? Doesn't play acting merit a yellow card? If anything, that would at least have put them off trying to con him the next time round. And why did he show a yellow card twice to the same player and keep him on the pitch?

Then there were the fireworks. A couple of years back a Champions League game between Milan and Inter was suspended because the Inter fans threw a flare onto the pitch. Here, it was a signficantly more dangerous fireworks that was throw. The only difference was that the Inter fans had hit Milan's goalkeeper Dida. So, are we to take it that it is ok to throw stuff on to the pitch - even dangerous ones - as long as you don't hit anyone? And can anyone guarantee that the fear of being hit by another firework didn't influece the added referee when it came to pointing out so vivaciously for the two penalties?

Away from the refereing, this was by no means a bad result. The away goal is an advantage and the need for a win means that Liverpool will go out looking to attack. That brings with it a whole set of problems, not least that it opens up Liverpool to the risk of a counter attack which, given the tehcnical ability of Benfica's players, isn't something to be taken lightly.

Benfica, for all their impressive forwards, seemed to relax once they got the equaliser - or perhaps they simply got tired - and it was only thanks to another penalty that they actually won. At the end they knew that they should have gone away from this match with more than a single goal lead and this belief was reflected on the stands where the celebrations were rather muted.

Good Game
On a night like this, it is impossible to point out who played well and who didn't. The truth is that they all played with their hearth and dug deep for this result even if it wasn't pretty to watch. Even the likes of Emiliano Insua had a good game, despite getting beaten on a couple of occasions. This was, after all, a player who didn't have anyone traking back ahead of him (due to Babel's sending off).

 Daniel Agger was immense, Glen Johnson provided a good outlet to ease the pressure, Javier Mascherano cleaning up and filling gaps, Steven Gerrard providing the drive and Fernando Torres the attacking option. My man of the match, if you were to press me to choose one, was probably Dirk Kuyt whose intelligence rely came to the fore here.

In short, everyone did his job extremely well. The hope is that the players hold on to the frustration that they suffered today and unleash it next week when it reaalsy starts to matter.