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Liverpool – The season so far

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Manager

It would seem that the feel-good factor that surrounded the club following Kenny Dalglish’s succession of Roy Hodgson has started to melt away. I wrote in the pre-season that I didn’t think Dalglish had shown through his transfer dealings that he was equipped to mount a modern day title challenge, and I still maintain that.

Given the ailments of our national team, surely the logical conclusion has to be that a concentration of English players anywhere tends to be a bad thing – and Liverpool is the living and breathing proof of that right now. There’s only so long that you can tolerate either the ‘Roy Hodgson damaged the club’ or the ‘Rafa Benitez left a legacy of sub-standard players’ arguments as mitigating circumstances for Dalglish’s record.

Since when is seventh place good enough for a team of Liverpool’s stature? The scaling-down of ambition must be particular galling for fans, as talk of mounting title-challenges has been replaced by ‘progressing steadily back to the Champions League’. That’s fine as an attitude – if you’re a team embedded within the league’s second-tier. Not for Liverpool, not when so much money has been spent.

Another worry has, obviously, to be the team’s home form. As traditional a weakness as this has become, Dalglish has to pick-up some of the blame. Strange tactical decisions, failure to adjust to an alternate approach in games, and naive team selections – that’s the manager’s domain, and simply blaming a string of exceptional visiting goalkeeper’s for a lack of points at Anfield is insufficient.

I like Kenny Dalglish, I like what he stands for and what he represents; he’s a window into the game’s past, and he’s a three-dimensional character in an increasingly 2D sport. The problem is though, that as much as we all love the ‘old guy coming back to rescue his old club’ fairytale, this isn’t going to end well. Nobody wants to see legacies tarnished, and Dalglish is a good man, so he needs to give some serious thought to his future at the end of this season – you suspect that John Henry wouldn’t really have the balls to make that decision for him.

Squad

Meh. It’s all very British and underwhelming. Too much has already been said about Andy Carroll, but Charlie Adam? Stewart Downing? Jordan Henderson? No – those are top 6 players at best, they’re not elite calibre and never will be. Jose Enrique is an outstanding left-back, and the defence does look a whole lot more secure without Jamie Carragher in it – and Glenn Johnson will do for the time being.

I like Craig Bellamy, Maxi is under-used, and and Jose Reina is still on the Mount Rushmore of Premier League goalkeepers, but outside of that there’s not an awful lot that’s fueling any optimism.

I know that this is a team that has beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge two years in a row, but that’s the exceptional to the rule – there aren’t enough match-winners at Liverpool, the kind of players that are capable of jolting their team out of a malaise against a Stoke/Sunderland/Norwich. Luis Suarez is one of those, but obviously he’s not really relevant at the moment. Steven Gerrard is another, but question marks now have to exist over his durability.

It’s all very ordinary at Anfield.

Overview

The club feels like it’s plateaud. There was the slide under Benitez, the free-fall under Hodgson, and then the initial resurgence under Dalglish. But now they don’t seem to be progressing. If, as we’re led to believe, funds do exist for transfer activity this month, then why is nothing happening? It’s quite clear, that without investment – and without shunting a couple of under-performers through the exit door – Liverpool are going to be stuck in the Europa League at best next season. That will not do.

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Esteban Granero’s agent dropping Liverpool hints

Ah, agents – you have to love their enthusiasm for talking to the press don’t you?

Here are some quotes from Teo Lazaro, Esteban Granero’s representative:

“He’s finding his chances limited at Real.

If he can’t play at Madrid, then he’ll play somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.

He’s keen for a move away – possibly to Liverpool.”

Be wary of this Liverpool fans, because this is an example of how an agent drums up interest in a player. Mention that your man has a grievance with his club’s selection policy, make sure it’s clear that he’d welcome a move, and then drop a well-known and sizeable club into the equation. All of a sudden, your mobile might start ringing.

I don’t think anyone doubts that Granero is available, he’s tactically the odd-man-out in Real Madrid’s talented midfield – and he’s only made 39 appearances in 3 years.

Could Liverpool be interested? Who knows, Granero would offer them something they lack at the moment – i.e. someone adept at anchoring the midfield in Lucas Leiva’s absence – but I’d be surprised if Kenny Dalglish was chasing another midfielder, given the expenditure that’s already gone into that area.

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Premier League Moments: Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler ‘does’ the lines at Anfield

April 1999.

Regardless of the sinister aspect to it, this is still probably one of the most original goal celebrations the Premier League has seen. Yes, yes, it’s about drugs so it’s ‘bad’, and ‘irresponsible’ and whatever else, but it was also ‘funny’.

If you’ve read Robbie Fowler’s book – which is actually more entertaining than you’d think – you’ll know quite how much junkie-themed abuse Fowler took from the Everton fans over the years. What’s more, you’ll know quite how fiercely anti-drugs he is.

With the chants of ‘smackhead’ ringing in his ears, it followed naturally that on converting a penalty at Anfield in the Merseyside derby of the spring of 1999, that Fowler would get to his knees in front of the away fans and ‘snort’ the white goal-line. Obviously.

In amongst the goal-scoring exploits, Fowler’s career was spiced with incidents like this – and actually, rather than making him dislikeable, it made him more human and easy to relate to. One of the last ‘local boys made good’ that the game in this country saw – even if he did occasionally come with an ‘explicit content’ sticker across his nose.

“Robbie, the FA’s on the phone…”

Liverpool rumoured to be targeting Jackson Martinez

Bold stuff from the Daily Mail this morning, as they claim that Liverpool are already in the process of holding discussions with the representatives of 25-year-old Colombian forward Jackson Martinez.

It’s a strange one this, but it’s very specific – and if the £8.5m asking price that Martinez’s club Jaguares have set is to be believed, then that would represent better value than much of what’s available in Europe.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen him play – but from the video below he seems a little leggy, even if he does score a lot of goals. Still, Liverpool do need something different up top, and Martinez is averaging roughly a goal every two games for both club(21 in 43) and country(5 in 10).

Liverpool and Arsenal target Georginio Wijnaldum

This is a name that has started creeping into gossip columns lately; PSV’s 21-year-old winger Georginio Wijnaldum.

In fact, those who were playing Football Manager circa 2006 may remember him as an absurdly-talented teenager that you could poach from the Feyenoord’s academy.

Both Liverpool and Arsenal have been linked with the player, and you can see why – he would fill a gap that exists in both sides. An attacking-midfielder that can play on both flanks as well as through the middle, he possesses that combination of creativity and goal-threat that both sides could benefit from. After a season of 10 goals and 5 assists in the Eredivisie, he’s now a full Dutch international, so anybody that wants to bring him to England will be paying a comfortable eight figures for his talents – plus, he only joined PSV in July, so the club would probably need an un-refusable offer to give-up the player.

He’s only 5ft6, so the predictable questions about his ability to exist in the Premier League remain unanswered, but his undoubted class – as well as his versatility – might prompt somebody to take a risk. Everybody knows that Arsene Wenger hates spending money in January, but Kenny Dalglish is quite the opposite – and actually he would provide the natural right-footed width that Liverpool are missing at the moment.

We’ll see.

Manchester City vs Liverpool: Preview

Tuesday 8pm, Etihad Stadium

Manchester City 1.83 Draw 3.50 Liverpool 4.50

No new injury concerns for either side, as Mario Balotelli returns to the City squad, and Steven Gerrard(f/g) and Luis Suarez(f/g) will both likely start for Liverpool.

As angry as Roberto Mancini was about the Sunderland result, those are just ‘things that happen’ in football sometimes – on another day, City have that game won within an hour. It shouldn’t be a factor coming into this fixture.

Liverpool have never really got going this season, good results seem invariably to be followed by underwhelming performances. The win against Newcastle was about as good as they’ve been at Anfield at home this term, but to build any momentum off the back of it would require their best away performance of the season so far.

Luis Suarez returning is an obvious boost, but Liverpool are still being short-changed by several of their other starters. Stewart Downing has been average so far, Jordan Henderson largely anonymous, and Charlie Adam hasn’t had the kind of influence on games that he was bought to provide. Depending on which of those players start, more is needed. Hopefully Craig Bellamy(f/g) will be given a chance on the big stage again, his pace, movement and energy will go along way to unsettling the City backline.

Expect City to revert to type. David Silva(f/g) will come back into the starting line-up, as well Sergio Aguero(f/g), Micah Richards and Gael Clichy. Yaya Toure will be key here, because he potentially gives City the midfield weight to strangle Liverpool’s presence in the game. If Jay Spearing starts for the visitors, that would be a concern for Liverpool – he’s a capable player, but one that doesn’t really belong in this type of fixture. It’s possible that Steven Gerrard might be preferred in that role to nullify the Silva threat, because the little Spaniard would surely be favoured in any Spearing match-up.

City win this 2-0.

Best bet: Liverpool not to score at 2.50

Still troubled by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez T-Shirts

It’s one of those issues that is truly divisive, and there don’t seem to be many fence-sitters regarding Liverpool’s support of Luis Suarez at Wigan on Wednesday night.

I understand Kenny Dalglish’s desire to support his player, much as I do the Liverpool players’ unity in the face of adversity – but this was the wrong gesture at the wrong time. Liverpool, as a club, are and always will be bigger than an individual player, yet the decision to warm-up in those T-shirts almost created a question mark against the club as a whole rather than just against Suarez. Obviously that’s just a perception, but it shows how poorly thought-out this public relations exercise really was.

On what grounds were the rest of the squad convinced that such solidarity was a good idea? Presumably because they ‘know’ and ‘like’ Luis Suarez, and think that he ‘isn’t a racist’. Well, I don’t think anybody really thinks that the Uruguayan is actually a racist – he’s charged with making racially-inappropriate comments. He can be innocent of one and guilty of the other – and remember, all the Liverpool players have already admitted to not having heard the exchange between Evra and Suarez.

The FA’s penalty may well seem harsh to Liverpool, and that’s presumably because there remains so much uncertainty about what actually happened in that Anfield penalty area – but then equally, if that grey area does exist, how can Liverpool make such a definitive statement about the player’s innocence.

What will happen if something else comes out of this; a previously unheard detail that further incriminates Suarez? If the published judgement further stains the South American’s character, how do Liverpool back-track through Dalglish comments and those T-shirts? Wouldn’t the club then face the embarrassing reality of forever being tied to this incident?

This has all become too tribal. Liverpool fans think Suarez is being harshly-treated, most others disagree. That’s fine, because that’s the nature of the support that has grown around the game. But that shouldn’t extend to the club, it’s a business – removed from supporter passion, and should have reserved judgement until a complete explanation for the verdict had been received from the FA.

Without dumbing this down to a ‘no smoke without fire’ debate, eight game bans are not just handed-out for no reason. The FA works without prejudice, and with the aim of protecting the interests of the game in this country, and so there must be something within this case that they believe warrants the suspension handed-down.

The FA had no choice over the punishment for Liverpool’s Suarez

The moment that the FA decided to charge Luis Suarez, they created a no-win situation for themselves. Liverpool will rage about the eight-game ban that’s been handed down, but it was really the only course of action once the player was found guilty.

I’m not debating the Uruguayan’s guilt or innocence, merely the action that’s resulted from the verdict.

If the FA had given him a lesser punishment – three games for example – then they would have faced the much more serious allegation of being ‘soft on racism’. As angry as Liverpool fans may be, that ire pales into significance to what could have happened if they’d let Suarez off with a perceived ‘slap on the wrist’. In this day and age, if you’re not seen to take a very aggressive stance against racial elements in the game, then that’s seen as almost as serious as the crimes themselves. Rightly so too, because it has no place in the game and those in authority need to demonstrate that from the highest and most visible level.

Once Suarez was judged as guilty, the FA had to hammer him. They had no choice. It’s not draconian, it sends absolutely the right message. If he’s later found to be innocent of these charges the great, but until that moment it’s right for him to be made an example of.

The statement Liverpool issued last night surprised me. The need to refute these charges is clear, but it was over-emotional and that overshadowed its logic. The ‘what about punishing Patrice Evra too’ paragraph was a bit silly, because that’s a matter for the FA and Manchester United – it sounded like something a fan would write, and that’s not a good thing. Football clubs are businesses, and they need to retain an appropriate level of professionalism – not snipe like mothers over their children’s behaviour in the playground.

Everybody needs to take a step-back now and wait for the written verdict to be published, and then pick apart the detail as appropriate. This is an incident that needs to be judged on what actually happened at Anfield, and not on Luis Suarez’s ethnic background, how many black team-mates he’s had, or whether he captained a side with a ‘proud multi-cultural profile’.

Liverpool to beat Wigan? 4/7 with Paddy Power.

New Liverpool forward Jordan Ibe – Video

Exactly as it says on the tin; highlights of Liverpool’s new signing Jordan Ibe – who will join the club in the Summer of 2012. Liverpool will pay an initial £500,000, rising in undisclosed increments based on appearance and goals in the Premier League.

Irked by the criticism of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez’s gesture to the Fulham fans was wrong, we all know that – but I wish supporters would stop being quite as precious. This is not a new discussion point, but there has to be more of a compromise between what supporters are willing to shout and what they can tolerate hearing.

Rules exist about these kind of gestures because there’s a need to protect the more impressionable and younger members of the crowd. Fine, I get that – but surely if you’re concerned with what your child is exposed to, then how can you justify taking him to the football at all. The language, the gestures – he or she is at risk just from being in the stadium.

It’s not that I think that Luis Suarez shouldn’t be punished – because he should, Suarez knows what he did was wrong – I just think there should be more equality when dishing out the punishments. Either that, or we just have to accept that the back and forward between the fans and players is part of the game. It’s not a perfect scenario, but you can’t expect a player to show no reaction at all regardless of what he hears – it’s unrealistic. Players are human, and I wish the FA would show a little more common sense.

The logistics of punishing individual members of the crowd are clearly too complex to be considered, but there must be some mitigating circumstances here – it’s extreme provocation. You really can’t have parts of the crowd complaining about what a player did or did not do – because don’t try and tell me that what goes on in the stands isn’t worse. Where are the complaints against the fat bald men screaming obscenities about a player’s wife? Or does this just extend to opposition players that you have a special distaste for?

This is different to, say, the Wayne Rooney incident at Upton Park last season. Rooney’s was a crude, and very public assault on TV viewers inside their own homes – there’s a clear disparity between the two.

There’s no solution here, it just bothers me that crowds are so often, en masse, treated as the innocent bystanders – or that we’re led to believe that player reaction is so utterly unacceptable. Where are the efforts to curb crowd abuse? Why is this so one-sided?