Don't let the media fool you

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

As Liverpool trudged off the pitch after a bitter 2-1 loss to Tottenham at White Hart Lane, Sky TV were quick to point out how unfortunate the Reds were and how easily they could have collected three points.

"I thought Liverpool played really, really well," added Graeme Souness in the studio.

I'd like to know what game they were watching. In many respects it's hard to blame the manager for this one. Basic errors littered Liverpool's performance. Too many times Liverpool cheaply gave the ball away in the Spurs half in decent positions.

Dirk Kuyt - for all the 'he works hard' love-in, was extremely poor in possession. Fernando Torres - well, doesn't look like he wants to be there. Raul Meireles continues to unimpress me, £11.7m is a lot of money that doesn't seem particulary well spent in my eyes. Sure, he looks OK technically but far too often he's found choosing the wrong option in the final third.

Predictably, the key battles were out wide - Glen Johnson v Gareth Bale and Paul Konchesky v Aaron Lennon. The result, rather inevitably, saw Spurs get the better of the individual confrontations. In fact, it was a fault on Tottenham's part that they didn't utilise Lennon more often, he simply tore Konchesky to shreds. The former Fulham man's positioning for the winner was indescribably poor.

I honestly can't think of a worse full-back Liverpool have had in the Premier League era. Emiliano Insua had his struggles last season but he was young and relatively inexperienced. It's different with Konchesky, we're talking about an established top-level player who's touch, positioning and defending has been appalling so far.

Being a Liverpool supporter at the moment is borderline torture, considering the league is so open this year it's disconcerting to wonder how this season could have panned out with better performances. There are some bright sparks, Lucas Leiva continues to put in some fine displays in the heart of midfield and I honestly believe a Steven Gerrard-Lucas combo in the centre could prove fruitful. Maxi Rodriguez, in spite of his terrible miss in the first half, is showing he can be effective from the left side - it will be interesting to see if Joe Cole jumps straight back into the team or not.

Roy Hodgson was praised for his adventure (lining up with two forwards) pre and post-game but it didn't really help the defensive solidity of the team, we gave Spurs far too many opportunitites. Although I suppose you could argue we wouldn't have created so many ourseleves had David Ngog not partnered Torres. That's probably true, but going offensive against Tottenham (a side who lined up with five 'attacking' players) may have not been the smartest thing to do.

It's difficult to predict where Liverpool are going this season. The league is tight enough that a run of wins would see a top four challenge but that just doesn't seem likely under Roy. Things have improved slightly from the awful start to the campaign but it's hard to imagine that things will improve dramatically. Realistically, Liverpool's playing squad was far too good for the bottom three so an improvement had to come. It has, of sorts. Is it enough to win over the Liverpool support for Hodgson? Probably not.

It's hard to get yourself out of hole when you've dug it so deep.


A NESV start and time to move forward

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Fresh optimism has swept Merseyside today with the news that the New England Sports Ventures have completed their takeover of Liverpool Football Club.

George Gillett and Tom Hicks are officially history and the club as a whole can breathe a sigh of relief and look towards the future. With distractions off the pitch now hopefully behind Roy Hodgson and his team, focus will again shift to how Liverpool perform under the new manager.

Theoretically speaking, the players now have little excuse to continue playing the way they have been so far this campaign. It's been a wretched beginning to 2010/11, but now is the time to put it right.

I leave you with an extract from 'Rafa Benitez by Paco Lloret', the writer talks about the potential pitfalls of being a manager - it certainly reminded me of how it's important to give the current boss a fair crack in the Anfield hotseat.

"Some journalists happily make judgements without sufficient knowledge; they don't bother to check their facts, especially those that don't interest them. Managers are easy targets, they can be attacked to satisfy the public, especially when things aren't going well. Some shamelessly sentence their victims before giving them an opportunity to do their work. Having taken their position they won't change their view, no matter what happens. An easy and populist ploy that goes down well. Fans are fickle. They are moved by passionate impulses. Results affect them, and liking or disliking a manager is directly dependant on this."
Paco Lloret (2005)


The lowest of the low?

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Supporting Liverpool Football Club has always had its highs and lows - as does supporting any football team for that matter.

But never, in my 21 years of living, have I seen my club in this position. For me, and for many others, the performance of my team affects my mood outside of watching football. It's hard for me to switch off. If Liverpool have won at the weekend then I take that feeling of gratification to the rest of my life.

At this point in time this is the lowest I've ever felt as a supporter of this great club. Not only are matters off the pitch a mess, but the debacle of the club ownership has slowly started to filter down to what happens on the pitch.

Make no mistake, the ownership saga shouldn't be an excuse for the players, who collectively this season have been well below par. Top international footballers are chronically under-performing and being outclassed by teams that are vastly inferior.

Roy Hodgson hasn't made the best impression. However, he should not be the one under pressure to leave the club in the immediate future. That honour should be awarded to the two Americans who are sucking this club dry.


In defence of Roy and the legacy of Rafa

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

A number of people appear to slightly misinterpreted my last blog post.

It certainly wasn't a 'Get Hodgson out' plea, simply an observation of his management style since taking charge at Anfield. His comments and the way he has spoken to the media has concerned me a little but that doesn't mean to say I think he's a bad manager. Conversely, his record proves he is a very capable manager.

Wednesday's defeat to League Two Northampton Town was borderline farcical and Roy will inevitably come under scrutiny for his team selection and lack of recognised personnel on the substitutes bench. Nevertheless, the eleven that started the Carling Cup tie should have been more than good enough to see off a side struggling in 17th place in England's fourth tier.

In all, Hodgson's start hasn't been good. Apart from the opening Premier League fixture against Arsenal, it's difficult to pinpoint where the fresh impetus of a new manager has gone. It is customary for new managers to have a 'honeymoon period' so to speak, where players are eager to impress their new boss and are lifted by new ideas. That doesn't seem to have been the case so far.

Granted, the fixture computer wasn't too kind, but performances haven't exactly given supporters reason for optimism either.

Despite all of this, Hodgson deserves time to get things right and Liverpool may need to suffer a baron spell before he can really make his mark. In an age when success is demanded under intensified media coverage and increasing fan pressure, Hodgson must be given sufficient time to implement his philosophy on the team and recruit his own personnel.

According to ex-Liverpool player Jan Molby, who was covering Wednesday's game for Radio 5 live, the Red's embarrassing defeat was mainly indebted to the 'legacy of Rafa Benitez' - an appraisal also carried by Mark Bright (who also added Milan Jovanovic was a Hodgson signing) during the BBC's highlights show.

It's lazy and pathetic punditry at its best and it stinks. How on earth can the Inter Milan coach be responsible for an abject display from a team he no longer manages? Did he pick the team? No. Did he set out the formation? No. Did he motivate the players for the game? No.

So how do we get to the conclusion that Rafa Benitez is culpable for all of this? Perhaps the fact that Hodgson is still seen as a 'media darling' probably means the finger needs to be pointed elsewhere.

Let's just hope Inter Milan don't win the European Cup again this season, because if they do, it will probably be down to Jose Mourinho.


Roy Hodgson has faced a number of niggling criticisms since taking charge of Liverpool. The majority of which are concerned with tactics, formations and player purchases.

One further issue though, which is certainly starting to grate on the nerves of some supporters, is the way Hodgson has spoken in the media. For the moment, Hodgson is still very much the media's darling. An English manager who worked wonders at Fulham and has landed a job at one of the biggest clubs in the country. What Hodgson has to realise though is precisely that - Liverpool are the most decorated club in England and supporters expect that their tradition is respected and the club aim to win every match they play.

Realistically Liverpool won't challenge for the title this season, it would be nieve to think so, but hearing such statements from the man in charge are still deflating.

Rafa Benitez was never a manager to elaborate much. When talking to the press, Benitez firmly held his cards to his chest. One thing he did emphasise though was the importance of trying to win every game. No matter how he felt inside the Spaniard always presented an upbeat front, upholding the tradition that Liverpool would try and win everything they entered, even if sometimes it was never possible.

It's the kind of fighting talk that Roy is lacking at the moment. Life as a Liverpool supporter is grim enough at the moment, but the manager must exhibit some sort of positivity. Take the recent games against West Brom and Birmingham. Here are some of Hodgson's quotes after the repsective matches;

"We had to fight very, very hard for it, all credit to West Brom for doing so well. Also, credit to our lads because these games are very difficult games - luckily the class of Gerrard and Torres won us the game. This is a very good result, if West Brom play like that every week they will get points off quite a few teams."

It's a cliche that there's no easy games in football, but seriously, West Brom at home? The comment about relying on Gerrard and Torres is a painful one. Liverpool have a number of quality international footballers who should be miffed at such a quote - it definitely demeans the rest of the squad.

"I think coming to Birmingham and playing against a team in such good form, 17 games unbeaten at home, we can feel satisfied at least that we won a hard-earned point. It was important to come here today and not lose the game because if we had of done we have Manchester United next and it makes life difficult for you."

Hodgson is right to imply that Birmingham away is potentially a tricky fixture, but to state that it was imperative not to get beat with Manchester United coming next insinuates that he's not exactly hopefuly for the trip to Old Trafford.

Most recently of course, Hodgson has re-affirmed his friendship for Sir Alex Ferguson. Not a good thing to do when you manage Liverpool. Ferguson has had countless swipes at Liverpool down the years and continues to do so. Befriending the opposing manager of your fiercest rivals probably isn't the best way to endear yourself to an Anfield faithful. By all means, Hodgson has a right to be Ferguson's chum, just don't openly state it in public.

The new man in charge must grasp the philosophy of Liverpool football club before supporters become totally disorientated with proceedings. Perhaps managing a club with the ethos of Fulham, a London club forever in the shadow of much bigger sides, has ingrained the way Hodgson talks. 'Little 'Old Fulham' were the underdogs throughout their Europa League campaign but Hodgson is in different waters now and the quicker he realises that the better.


A glance at Roy's transfer dealings

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

The summer transfer window is now closed and Roy Hodgson has to stick with what he has until January.
Roy's buys;
Joe Cole - free from Chelsea
Fabio Aurelio - free
Christian Poulsen - £4.5m from Juventus
Brad Jones - £2.3m from Middlesbrough
Raul Meireles - £10.7m from Porto
Paul Konchesky - £3.5m +Lauri Dalla Valle&Alex Kacaniklic from Fulham

Roy's sales;
Albert Riera - £3.5m to Olympiakos
Diego Cavalieri - £3m to Cesena
Kristian Nemeth - £1m to Olympiakos
Javier Mascherano - £17.25m to Barcelona
Damien Plessis -Undisc. to Panathiniakos
Nabil El Zhar - Loan to PAOK
Emiliano Insua - Loan to Galatasary

Deals made by Rafa;
Jonjo Shelvey - £1.7m from Charlton
Milan Jovanovic - free from Standard Liege
Danny Wilson - £2m from Rangers

Yossi Benayoun - £6m to Chelsea

Was the window a success for Liverpool? It's hard to say right now but two key factors stand out from the latest ins and outs.

Firstly, Liverpool have not managed to sign a striker - despite Hodgson making it a priority and despite ex-manager Rafa Benitez coming under fire for not investing in back-up for Fernando Torres. Ola Toivonen was mentioned but nothing materialised. Perhaps Hodgson has faith in David Ngog to fill the shoes of Torres, or even Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel or Milan Jovanovic.

Secondly, for the fourth window in succession, Liverpool have made a profit. So much for the 'big' investment in the playing squad.

Midfield battle

The biggest change in the squad has come in the centre of midfield. Liverpool have lost Javier Mascherano, a world class defensive midfield player and captain of Argentina. Although there was little Hodgson could do about it, Mascherano's departure signals that Anfield could be losing its appeal. Would Mascherano have left if everything behind the scenes was fine and Benitez was still in charge? Almost certainly not.

Alberto Aquilani has also left the club, returning back to Italy with Juventus on loan. This deal in particular is puzzling. Hodgson insists a year in Aquilani's homeland could help the injury plagued 25-year-old rediscover his best form. However, the purchases of Christian Poulsen and Raul Meireles suggest that even if Aquilani does return, there probably won't be room for him. It's a shame for Aquilani because during the final stages of last season the Italian was starting to show what he could do. In fact against Atletico Madrid he was arguably the best player on the pitch, getting his name on the scoresheet in the process.

On paper it would appear that Mascherano has been replaced by Poulsen and Aquilani by Meireles. The next few months should tell us whether they are adequate alternatives. From what we have seen so far however, Poulsen certainly doesn't look in the same class as Mascherano - nevertheless he must be given time.

Like for like

A number of signings seem to be replacements rather than additions. In truth, Liverpool's squad needs to be strengthend and not merely maintained. Joe Cole is a definite swap for Yossi Benayoun, as is Brad Jones for Diego Cavalieri, Paul Konchesky for Emiliano Insua and Christian Poulsen for Javier Mascherano.

The money available to Hodgson must certainly be a factor but apart from the acquisition of Joe Cole, which was on a free transfer, none of the other deals make you jump off your seat. Even Cole, now 28, can't be expected to produce his best form immediately after a stop-start season with Chelsea.

Finding Cole's best position may also be a challenge. So far, Hodgson has utilised the playmaker in the hole behind the main striker but it's hard to argue that Steven Gerrard isn't better suited to that particular role. One, because he already has a great understanding with Fernando Torres, and two, because he's been playing there week in week out for the past three seasons (earning the PFA player of the year in 08/09).

Although if Cole can fit into the Liverpool side we have an exciting player on our hands who can add a dimensions that were sorely missing last season - movement and creativity.

Selling on young blood

It may concern some Liverpool supporters to see a number of young players leave the club. Roy Hodgson has never been known to stick around long enough at any one club to develop fresh talent. Perhaps the Englishman's hunger for instant success at Anfield means he has had to sell some of Liverpool's most promising youngsters.

Kristian Nemeth, Nabil El Zhar (loan), Damien Plessis, Emiliano Insua (loan), Alex Kacanaklic and Lauri Dalla Valle have all exited. While El Zhar and Plessis have had their respective stints around the first team and not made a great impression, the sales of Nemeth and Dalla Valle could irk certain sectors of support. The duo were both seen as shining lights for the future but leave the club with one first team appearance between them.

How was Liverpool's summer business? Fairly average. But did we expect anything else from a board in turmoil? No, not really. In truth, Hodgson's hands are tied - money is coming from sales and the appeal of the club is not what it was. It's hardly a recipe for success, making Hodgson's first season in charge a tough proposition.


A depressing shift in the times

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

As Roy Hodgson embarks on his first season as Liverpool manager, Monday night's game against Manchester City should give the clearest indication yet that the times are changing in the top order of the Premier League.

Liverpool, once declared as a key member of the "big four", looked pale in comparison to a Manchester City team that is rapidly turning themselves into a force to be reckoned with.

While Hodgson must be given plenty of time to implement his philosophy on the team, his decision to play a rigid and lifeless 4-4-2 at Eastlands backfired. On paper the eleven looked to have some bold intentions with David Ngog paired with Fernando Torres. However, the duo's similarities and lack of support from midfield meant they were far too isolated.

City's strong and imposing back four, ably shielded by Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong, looked on top from the outset. There was little space to manoevuer in City's final third and Liverpool very rarely looked like penetrating the home side's back line. Steven Gerrard, who was expected to be the central midfielder to bomb forward, looked like he was instrcuted to hold the middle of the pitch with Lucas Leiva.

Hodgson's cause wasn't helped by numerous under-performers. Glen Johnson, on his 26th birthday, possibly had his worst game in a red shirt. Widemen Dirk Kuyt and Milan Jovanovic never looked like troubling City's full backs - despite Joleon Lescott looking slightly uncomfortable at left back.

Hodgson, similarly to former manager Rafa Benitez, was famed for the organisation and defensive discipline of his teams. Therefore it was worrying to see Liverpool opened up at regular intervals and comfortably beaten by a side who have a relatively similar level of playing talent available to them.

Liverpool's first defeat of the season probably brings back down to earth any heavy expectations after a promising opener against Arsenal. A challenge for the top four is certainly the most realistic ambition. City - in contrast - will harbour title hopes, and on this evidence it's apparent they're superior to the men from Merseyside.

The depressing situation for Liverpool supporters is the rapid decline in anticipation, expectation and excitement from the end of the 2008/09 season. After being so close to claiming a 19th title, suddenly the holy grail looks further away than ever.


Who is Christian Poulsen?

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Bought from Juventus for £4.5m, Roy Hodgson has tracked the progress of 30-year-old Christian Poulsen ever since he helped him win the Danish domestic title with Copenhagen 10 years ago.

A hard-working and combative midfield player, Poulsen's stock has risen considerably as his career has progressed – although his spell at Turin side Juventus has seen his reputation slightly tinted. The Dane has also never been shy of controversy with his aggressive streak landing him in trouble on a number of occasions.

Poulsen began his life as a footballer with Danish amateur side Holbæk. After a three-year spell with the club and becoming the team captain, Poulsen was offered a trial by Hodgson's Copenhagen.

Hodgson was so impressed that after just a couple of days he demanded the board secure Poulsen's signature immediately. Aiding the club to the 2000/01 league title, Poulsen's impact was soon recognised on the international stage, receiving his first call-up in November 2001.

Poulsen would spend one more season in his homeland before generating interest from some of Europe's most prestigious clubs. The midfielder left Copenhagen with an impressive goal tally of 10 from 45 appearances, but it was his tough tackling that was to catch the eye at his next club, Schalke04.

Off the back of the 2002 World Cup, Poulsen arrived in Germany for €7m, a record sale for a Danish club. Despite initially starting off as a right-back for his new side, Poulsen impressed sufficiently to work his way to the centre of the pitch. It was during his four-year stint at Schalke04 where Poulsen collected the Danish Player of the Year Award in 2005 and 2006 – the only player in history to receive the prize in consecutive years.

During his last season with Die Knappen, Poulsen found himself in hot water with Italian Carlo Ancelotti following a Champions League tie with AC Milan. Poulsen was instructed to man-mark Brazilian playmaker Kaka but Ancelotti was upset at the handling of his star man, insisting the midfield destroyer was a "coward".

"He plays his game when the referee is not watching," said the former Milan boss."He starts swinging kicks, pushing his rivals when the official's back is turned.

"He is a coward and he shouldn't be playing football."

After finishing a four-year deal in Germany, Poulsen signed for Sevilla. His impact was immediate as Spanish newspaper Marca claimed he was the signing of the summer. The 2006/07 was a successful one for Poulsen, helping the Spaniards to a European and domestic cup double. Although it wasn't long before Poulsen was making headlines for the wrong reasons.

In June 2007 during a match between Denmark and Sweden, Poulsen punched opposition striker Marcus Rosenborg in the stomach. The offence was spotted by the assistant referee, resulting in a penalty for Sweden and a sending off for Poulsen. However, when a Danish fan entered the field of play to contest the decision, the referee abandoned the game and awarded a 3-0 win to Sweden.

Poulsen's playing ability wasn't too derided though and a year later he moved to Italian giants Juventus. The club's initial plan was to sign Xabi Alonso from Liverpool but when Rafa Benitez failed to land Aston Villa's Gareth Barry the move broke down. Claudio Ranieri, then manager of Juve, claimed he had landed a much "quicker" player than Alonso and was happy with his acquisition.

After failing to settle in Italy, the manager who had brought Poulsen to Serie A, Ranieri, was sacked and his successor, Ciro Ferrara, made it clear there wasn't room for the experienced international.

A year of failure for the Old Lady in 2009/10, which saw a seventh place finish in Serie A and a humiliation at the hands of Fulham in the Europa League, brought the call for changes.

New Liverpool manager Hodgson was interested and identified the 30-year-old as a possible replacement for Javier Mascherano (although the new boss insists he is purely a useful addition and not an alternative to the Argentinean).

A spectator at Anfield for Liverpool's opener against Arsenal, Poulsen will now be looking to make his mark on the English Premier League - hopefully for the right reasons.


A new season and a fresh start. Under new management, a change of ownership could soon follow suit. The 2010/11 campaign certainly has a different flavour to it.

Somewhat apprehensive before Sunday's opening Premier League game with Arsenal, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I came away cautiously optimistic that this season could yet prove to be a decent one.

Arsenal, a team 12 points better off last season, were contained with relative ease for the majority of the game despite the sending off of Joe Cole in the first half.

There is certainly a freshness about Roy Hodgson's Liverpool. It's difficult to describe, but perhaps the impact of any new manager will always have that initial hallmark. As for the team sheet, Hodgson's first surprise selection of the season was the inclusion of want-away midfielder Javier Mascherano.

Certain Liverpool supporters will have contrasting views on Mascherano's situation. But one thing is for sure – he will always give his best for the red shirt. Sunday was no different. Whether it be his first or last appearance for the club, you felt the performance was always going to feature the exact same intensity the Argentine has trademarked throughout his career.

In fact Mascherano's determination was matched throughout the team as Liverpool battled on with 10 players (at one stage nine). The shape and stability of the defending was pleasing but you probably have to credit Rafa Benitez on that one. The reds did a very similar kind of job on Everton last year when reduced to 10 men after the seeing Soto Kyrgiakos sent off.

Given time Hodgson's influence should grow on the team and will ultimately determine whether this present side can prosper this season.

Disappointing it may have been to lose a goal late on, it's hard to lay any blame with Pepe Reina. The outstanding performer of 2009/10, Reina reminded everyone for 89 minutes what a good goalkeeper he is. Unfortunately the goal was a mistake but you could argue that he was almost 'due' one. Even the top keepers very rarely go through seasons without one or two dodgy moments.

One major plus from the game was the continued form of David Ngog. The French striker seems to be really growing into the lone forward role after a progressive term last time out. Four goals in three games is a great start and a goal in a big game will do wonders for the confidence.

While Liverpool go to Manchester City next (following a Europa League tie) without the suspended Cole, there is reason to be satisfied with the opening day showing and enthused that there could be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

One game doesn't make a season but after the doom and gloom of last season with events both on and off the pitch, it felt good to see the team back in 'proper' action.


Talking points; Rabotnicki v Liverpool

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Roy Hodgson began his first competitive game as Liverpool manager without many of his star names. A gamble, that ultimately paid off as the Reds ran out 2-0 winners against Macedonian side Rabotnicki.

Here are some of the key points I picked up from the game;

1. Keeping the faith in Lucas

Previous manager Rafa Benitez was often vilified for sticking by Lucas Leiva. Hodgson has gone one step further and made the 23-year-old his first captain. Despite the lows of 09/10, the development of Lucas' game was one of the rare highlights.

With a bid from Palermo also rejected in the summer, it's clear Hodgson sees Lucas as a big part of his plans. The armband certainly didn't seem to phase Lucas either with a fine performance in the heart of midfield.

2. Playing with one striker: David Ngog

With a lack of first team strikers available, David Ngog was given his chance and he didn't disappoint. Often deployed as a lone striker when utilised throughout 09/10, it was evident that such experience has paid off.

Seemingly a little bulkier, Ngog's hold-up play was often very good. Hodgson clearly gave the French striker instructions to look for the space in behind the defence and he certainly took advantage of that for his first goal with a cleverly timed run.

3. The pace of David Amoo

It's clear that Hodgson has certainly seen something in David Amoo. The winger has started all three games so far and certainly looks a raw talent. His pace, which comes from his schoolboy days as a sprinter, is without doubt his best attribute. Although a little careless in possession, there were genuine glimpses of quality against Robotnicki.

4. 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1?

Under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool often played a 4-2-3-1 formation with two clearly defined holding players. While Amoo and Milan Jovanovic were pushed on at times to give the team added width, the midfield was more of a straight line of four - leaving Alberto Aquilani in the hole.

In a match that on paper looked potentially tricky with such an inexperienced line-up, Hodgson's tactical setup worked well and Liverpool produced a professional performance. Of course, tougher challenges lie ahead and only then will we see how Hodgson plans to formulate his side.


Roy Hodgson: The right man for LFC?

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

As Roy Hodgson prepares to sign a two-year contract at Anfield, is the former Fulham boss the right man to steer the ‘sinking ship’ in the right direction?

Firstly, it’s important to analyse the 62-year-old’s managerial career, why did Christian Purslow and Kenny Dalglish make Hodgson their number one choice?


Upon signing with Liverpool, Hodgson will be taking over his 17th role as a manager in a profession spanning 34 years since his retirement from playing in the 1970s. A two-year contract doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he will be here for the long-term either. Speculation has it that should Fabio Capello be relieved of his post as England manager, the FA will set their eyes on Hodgson. In 2012, the end of Hodgson’s Anfield contract, England will either be ready for another international tournament or building for the 2014 World Cup.

In 1976, Hodgson took up his first job as a manager, taking charge of Halmstads in Sweden. Later, in 2009, Hodgson would admit his time at Halmstads brought his “greatest ever” achievement. In four years at the club, Hodgson won two league titles (1976 and 1979). Prior to his arrival the club, the team were generally thought of as relegation candidates. But the Englishman’s impact brought about the kind of success the small Swedish club could never have imagined was possible.

His first stint in charge of an English club beckoned and after becoming assistant manager of Bristol City in 1980, he was promoted to the hot seat two years later. However, after trouble with the funds of the club (ring any bells?) Hodgson was forced to leave. He retreated back to Sweden and found even more success, this time at one of Sweden’s bigger clubs, Malmo. His two league championships and two cup victories saw his stock rise in Scandinavia.

After sighting that he wasn’t prepared to be taxed 65 per cent of his wage from the Swedish government, Hodgson moved to Switzerland with Neuchâtel Xamax. Credited for his impressive victories in Europe, with wins against both Real Madrid and Celtic, he was given the job of Swiss national coach.

His time as the Swiss manager is perhaps why the FA are reportedly so interested in him. Hodgson unexpectedly guided Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup, qualifying from a group that contained Italy and Portugal, losing only one game. At the finals, the Swiss progressed out of the group but were stopped in their tracks after losing 3-0 to a talented Spanish side in the last 16.

Hodgson’s impressive qualifying record was maintained as he led his side to the 1996 European Championships. However, Inter Milan were interested and Hodgson stepped down before the tournament to take over at the San Siro.

While Inter Milan presented Hodgson with his first “major” management role, there was one small problem – he didn’t speak Italian. After sighting that his original translator was too “shy” for the position, it got to the stage were an English girlfriend of one of the players had to intervene – not exactly ideal. Inter finished seventh in Hodgson’s first season in charge. After grasping some of the language, his second season was better, finishing in third place and reaching the UEFA Cup final.

In 1997 Hodgson was tempted back to England by Jack Walker and joined Blackburn Rovers, two years previously they had won the title. Although in 1996/97 they had struggled to stay in the division.

His first season was promising, restoring belief back in to the Ewood Park faithful after masterminding a 6th place finish and subsequent UEFA Cup place. However, the 1998/99 saw Hodgson’s reputation in his homeland tarnished, and one that he’d only win back following his decision to join Fulham in 2007. After spending £20m in the summer of 1998, including a £7.5m outlay for Southampton’s Kevin Davies, Hodgson was sacked in November of the same year when his team found themselves rock bottom of the Premier League.

In the two years that followed, Hodgson took in a further four managerial posts, spending time at Inter (caretaker), Grasshopper, Copenhagen and Udinese. His only real success came in Denmark, winning the title in his only season with Copenhagen.

After joining the United Arab Emirates national team in 2002, Hodgson was sacked just two years later after a disappointing spell in charge. Speaking of his time with the UAE, Hodgson has recently admitted: “That was a period where I didn't know where my career was going.”

His career took him back to Scandinavia, this time Norway and Viking FC. Once more, he was to have a positive impact, turning a relegation threatened team into UEFA Cup contenders. In European competition, Hodgson re-connected with his ability to overcome much bigger sides, beating more established names in the form of Monaco and Austria Wien.

His penultimate management role to date took him the Finnish national team in 2006. While his team didn’t manage to qualify for Euro 2008, the side collected 24 points, just three short of a qualification spot and were only beaten twice in a group containing Portugal, Poland, Serbia and Belgium.

Hodgson’s Scandinavian triumphs brought interest from England once more and Fulham called upon Roy to save them from relegation in 2007/08. Against the odds, Fulham survived on the final day and in 2008/09 Fulham finished seventh and qualified for the Europa League. Last season was the biggest in Fulham’s history as they reached the Europa League final, only to be beaten by Liverpool’s semi-final conquerors – Atletico Madrid.

Hodgson's Fulham side beat Shaktar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg as they marched on to the final. Following similar European giant killings with Neuchâtel Xamax and Viking, Hodgson’s forte, it appears, is playing the underdog.

His spell at Fulham has been characterised by his ability to work wonders on a small budget – bringing the best out of Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora, Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera. Perhaps that is why ultimately, Purslow and Dalglish made their decision.

Zonal marking

One of Hodgson’s traits throughout his managerial career has been his supportiveness of zonal marking. In fact, Lars Lagerback, the ex-Sweden coach says that Hodgson was the first person to introduce zonal marking to Scandinavian football.

During his time at Inter Milan, Hodgson’s insistence on zonal marking brought him some unwanted criticism from his players. “I'd been afraid, for example, Beppe Bergomi wouldn't take to my coaching,” explained Hodgson. “He'd won the World Cup and all his life been a man-to-man marker. I wanted him to mark zonally - and play at right-back. But he was very receptive.”

With a number of Liverpool players used to the system employed by Rafa Benitez it’s likely Hodgson could carry on the methods installed by the Spaniard.

Destination Anfield

Of course his first task at Anfield will be keeping hold of Liverpool’s most prized assets. Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano will all attract interest from Europe’s biggest clubs. Hodgson must promise them almost instant success. Torres especially, will be eager to sort out his future. Sighting that he came to Liverpool to win trophies, Hodgson must express his credentials can help turn things around.

The budget (if there is one) for Hodgson to strengthen the current playing squad is likely to be around £5m, although that could increase if Yossi Benayoun’s expected move to Chelsea goes through. While one of Hodgson’s key attributes in attaining the Liverpool post was the ability to deal with a limited source of funds, his Fulham side never had the expectation of a fourth place finish. And that surely must be the expectation of the Liverpool board? Otherwise Rafa Benitez would still be manager.

But is fourth a realistic ambition for Liverpool under Roy Hodgson? Probably not. The growing spending power of Aston Villa, Man City and Spurs (highlighted in detail here), means that while Liverpool could compete for the European places (relying on Torres and Gerrard stay) they shouldn’t be expected to finish in a Champions League place. A realistic fact that won’t exactly put Fernando Torres’ mind at ease.

The right man?

This piece set out to discover whether Roy Hodgson is right for Liverpool FC. In short, it’s difficult to say.

The big problems at the club remain the owners that have plunged the club in to millions of debt. In addition, Christian Purslow and Martin Broughton – two men who were brought (no pun intended) in to sell the club aren’t exactly making any friends. Both have claimed investment was forthcoming and yet the club remains £350m in the red and still under the stewardship of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

With the future of the club uncertain off the pitch, matters on the pitch will inevitably be affected. The decision to cull Benitez for £6m and compensate Fulham £2.5m for the services of Hodgson remains baffling considering the debt hanging over the club.

While many supporters remain angry over the way the club is being run, one thing Hodgson will get though, like Benitez, and any other Liverpool manager before him, is 100 per cent backing from the Kop.

Good luck, Roy.


'Ta Rafa La'

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

So Rafa Benitez has departed and Liverpool begin their search for a new manager.

Firstly I’d like to say that the current state of the club worries me immensely. If there was one person fighting on behalf of the fans in the Liverpool hierarchy it was Benitez, he clearly wasn’t happy at the way the club was being run and ultimately it probably cost him his job.

While the performances last season clearly weren’t up to scratch, and Benitez must take his share of the blame for that, the state of the boardroom inevitably caught up with events on the pitch.

Despite critics in the media that say Benitez was afforded the luxury of a war chest at Anfield, people often forget the Spaniard had to sell in order to buy, and by the time of Benitez’s final season in charge it was clear that Liverpool were looking at the bargain basement for their signings (Kryiakgos and Maxi prime examples).

For a team who supposedly wanted to challenge for the Premier League title it became impossible to compete with not only Chelsea and Manchester United, but also Tottenham and Manchester City, who had both invested heavily in the summer.

Nevertheless, Benitez’s legacy at Liverpool should always be remembered fondly. Rafa helped bring back the good times and made the supporters happy, even if last season somewhat tainted his reign.

People should remember the epic Champions League run of 2005, the FA Cup in 2006, defeating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in three semi-finals, the European Cup final of 2007, the victories in the Nou Camp, the San Siro, the Bernabeu, the demolition of Manchester United at Old Trafford and Liverpool’s greatest ever Premier League finish.

Not to mention bringing some of the World’s finest talents to Anfield. People often focus on the Dossenas and Voronins of Benitez’s time in charge but the 50-year-old also added genuine quality to the Liverpool squad. Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres are players of the highest standard, and all were never guaranteed successes, people even doubted the scoring ability of Torres when Rafa signed him.

Of course Rafa always did things his way, he was never afraid of making big decisions. Perhaps two of the most notable in his time were bringing off Steven Gerrard in the Merseyside Derby and subbing Torres against Birmingham City just a few months back. Of course only one of the above paid off but it is a measure of Benitez that he doesn’t care for star name reputations. While it didn’t always go down particularly well with sections of the Liverpool support, Benitez has to be credited for being his own man, he had his methods and stuck to them.

Where Liverpool go from here is not clear, Christian Purslow and Kenny Dalglish lead the search for a new manager, with the latter apparently in the frame.

What is certainly paramount, in my view, is the swiftness Liverpool must now show to appoint a new man. A manager must be given time to portray his own ideas and methods to the players, and while the budget is limited (rumoured to be £5m), he must also be given the chance to bring in fresh faces.

For these reasons alone it’s important to introduce someone relatively quickly, the club can’t afford many more backward steps. Hesitation will only add to the angst in the dressing room and star players won’t be sticking around and frankly, who would blame them?


Lure of Capello too much for Carra

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Rumour has it that Jamie Carragher has made a sensational return to international football.

Despite the major broadcasters seemingly unwilling to accept the inevitable (Sky and BBC yet to report), Carragher seems set to make Fabio Capello's 30-man preliminary squad that will be announced on Tuesday.

So, just why has the 32-year-old decided to come out of his self-imposed international exodus to play in South Africa?

The decisive factor seems certainly to be the England head coach, Fabio Capello. After rejecting calls for a comeback on two previous occasions (one with McClaren, one with Capello), Carra seems finally have to given into the charms of the Italian.

An Italian with a decorated CV, including several domestic titles with AC Milan, AS Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid. Of course you won't need to tell Carragher that, a true student of the game, you can bet he's done his homework.

In fact Carragher has never been shy in his praise for Capello, "I'd love to work with Capello," he admitted in a recent interview with FourFourTwo.

Capello, likewise, seems an admirer of Carragher's work. While previous England managers have rarely regarded Carragher as a solution to their problems (most notably Sven Goran Eriksson), Capello appears determined to pick Liverpool's vice-captain despite an unspectacular campaign.

Perhaps Capello sees the art of a true Italian defender in Carragher, especially in the manner of how the stalwart reads the game. A defensive game that was developed with the aid of tapes, given to him by Reds boss Rafa Benitez, showing the defensive leadership of Franco Baresi at AC Milan.

For Carragher though, the lure of playing at the pinnacle of world football, for one of the outstanding managers in Europe, was just too great.

Afterall, the defender won't be playing Champions League football again next season and who knows when Liverpool will get back there? At the age of 32 and reaching the twilight of his career, Jamie must certainly realise there won't be many more opportunites like this on offer.


They've done it. Spurs have officially managed to dislodge one of the 'big four' from the their cosy spec at the top of the Premier League tree.

But was it really that inconceivable that Tottenham and Manchester City would finish ahead of Liverpool?

Harry Redknapp will recieve all the plaudits for guiding his Spurs side into Europe's premier competition (pending a play-off), but if you put the numbers together it becomes slightly less of an achievement.

Instead, it's an eventuality of what was always bound to happen considering the financial muscle that both Manchester City and Tottenham can now exert.

Let's take a look at the facts...

  • The Manchester City starting XI that took to the field against Spurs (replacing Fulop with Given) cost £147m.
  • The City subs bench cost a total of £26.5m
Overall cost: £173.5m
  • The Tottenham Hotspur starting XI that took to the field against Man City cost £84m.
  • The Spurs subs bench cost a total of £57m
Overall cost: £141m

Now let's take a look at the valuation of the current Liverpool team...
  • A first XI including Reina,Johnson,Carragher,Agger,Insua,Mascherano,Lucas,Gerrard,Kuyt,Benayoun and Torres costs a total of £79m
  • A subs bench consisting of Cavalieri, Degen, Kyriakgos, Maxi, Babel, Riera and Ngog costs a total of £26m
Overall cost: £105m

Now considering that Fernando Torres has been absent for long spells this season (taking the value of the first XI to £60.5m by replacing with Ngog), it probably isn't too much of a surprise that the likes of City, Spurs et al. have to an extent, caught up, and now overtaken Liverpool.

It says quite something that the cost of the strongest possible Liverpool bench (including idiot Reira) cost less than the purchase of Manchester City's Carlos Tevez. Moreover, it emphasises the competition that Liverpool now face to finish in the top four.

Of course this is merely an observation, but it does demonstrate that people shouldn't be too shocked that Spurs are competing in the higher regions of the Premier League table.

With both Manchester City and Tottenham likely to add to their squads in the summer it's a scary thought for Liverpool supporters that the financial gap between the squads is only likely to increase.


Red and White Blogger: Awards 2009/10

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

It's been a season of disappointment, but that hasn't stopped Red and White Blogger handing out the end of season awards, enjoy...

Best Game - Liverpool 2-0 Man U
Coming off the back of four straight defeats, Liverpool's chances of landing the Premier League crown we’re looking ominous with patchy early season form. But the visit of Manchester United to Anfield brought the best out of an under-performing Liverpool side.

A half-fit Fernando Torres was once again a thorn in United’s defence with a well-taken strike, brushing off Rio Ferdinand to blast the ball into the net.

Substitute David Ngog notched a second late on as United pushed on for an equaliser.

Meanwhile, the return of Michael Owen was greeted was a chorus of boos as the former Kop favourite was goaded with chants of ‘once a manc, never a red’.

Worst game - Wigan 1-0 Liverpool
There were many low points to choose from for this particular category. It didn’t get much worse than the debacle at the DW stadium though.

Without managing a single shot on target all night against a relegation battling Wigan Athletic side, Liverpool succumbed to one of their lamest defeats in years. Dirk Kuyt’s terribly mislaid pass led to Hugo Rodallega tapping in the only goal of the game in what was a horror show for the men in Red.

Biggest disappointment - Ryan Babel
It’s unfortunate to admit that four or five players could have easily fitted into this category. Even skipper Steven Gerrard has had a season to forget with only sporadic moments of inspiration in the whole of 2009/10.

Dutchman Ryan Babel though has yet again failed to deliver performances that match his undoubted talent. It could be argued that Babel hasn’t started enough games to be in the running for this award (12 starts – 09/10), but whenever he has made the first XI his productivity hasn’t really warranted further appearances.

Babel must be one the biggest enigmas across Europe because while once more he has presented glimpses of genuine brilliance, it’s the failure to deliver on a consistent basis that has blighted his career to date.

Most improved - Lucas Leiva
After promising contributions in his opening season (2007/08), last season saw Lucas Leiva slip down the estimations of many supporters with some lacklustre displays.

However, the Brazilian has come back stronger this season with the 23-year-old becoming accustomed to his new role as a defensive midfield player, shown by his presence as one of the top five tacklers in the Premier League (source: Opta).

While many supporters are still yet to be convinced (and probably never will be), 2009/10 has been a good season for Lucas, including several outstanding performances, most notably against Manchester United(home) and Lyon(away).

Best signing - Sotirios Kyrgiakos
In truth this category came down to just two players with Alberto Aquilani and Glen Johnson troubled with injury problems for much of the campaign.

While Maxi Rodriguez is also proving an excellent addition, Sotirios Kyrgiakos has surprised everyone with his solid defensive displays and whacky haircut that have led to a cult status for the Greek.

Bought for around £2m from AEK Athens, Kyrgiakos has proved an invaluable asset to the Liverpool squad with injury problems to both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.

Goal of the season – Ryan Babel v Lyon

It’s an indication of the enigmatic Ryan Babel that he fits into two such diverse categories.

With Liverpool in desperate search of a goal that would see them progress to the Champions League knockout round, substitute Ryan Babel collected a pass from Yossi Benayoun, stepped inside the defender and unleashed a blistering shot into the top corner from around 30 yards out.

A stunning strike that unfortunately, just wasn’t enough to see Liverpool through as Lyon snatched an equaliser in the last minute.

Young player of the year - David Ngog
David Ngog’s development as a straight replacement for Fernando Torres has been reason for encouragement throughout 2009/10.

After fleeting appearances in 2008/09, Ngog’s eight goals in all competitions this season have helped to cover the absence of Torres.

The Frenchman’s strength, skill and movement have made the £1.5m price tag that Liverpool paid PSG look like a shrewd piece of business by Rafa Benitez. While there’s no doubt a more established centre-forward could be on the wish list for 2010/11, it’s important to not write off the impact David Ngog has had this season.

Player of the season - Jose Reina
It’s difficult to articulate just how good Pepe Reina has been this season.

How he didn’t make the PFA team of the year is a mystery in my eyes, and while the Spanish number one jersey is also likely to evade the 27-year-old in South Africa, this season has confirmed Pepe as one of Europe’s best goal keepers.
In Pepe Reina, Liverpool have a goal keeper that they can rely on for many years to come.


Reviewing the season with Chris Mann

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

You can check out an interview with myself over at The Equaliser where I'm asked about the season as a whole and where the club is going in the future.

Please check out the interview, and Chris Mann's other excellent work here!


It might have taken him until the end of April but Alberto Aquilani could finally have made the impression that everyone was waiting for.

Cast aside as a multi-million pound ‘flop’ by the media despite hardly kicking a ball, Aquilani’s display against Atletico Madrid should extinguish any lingering belief that the Italian is simply ‘not good enough’.

On the subject, does anyone know what happened to players from abroad being given time to settle into new surroundings? Patrice Evra, Didier Drogba and Thierry Henry are classic examples of players who never set the World alight when they first joined the Premier League.

It has been known for players to take over a season to reach the top of their game. In that sense, it could take until midway through next season before we really see the ‘best’ of Aquilani.

Regardless, the lad was clearly never a bad player as some may have you believe.

Speaking in August last year, ex-Red John Arne Riise said: “When I first came to Roma, I didn’t know a thing about Aquilani.

“I knew all about Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Philippe Mexes, of course, but Aquilani was the player who surprised me the most in my first months with what he could do.

“He’s really good on the ball, with good passing, good movement, he works hard and is a good professional.

“He likes to have the ball at his feet but not because he likes to dribble, he just wants to keep the team moving. He never stands still, he’s always on the run.”

Riise’s glowing reference looked spot on against Atletico where Aquilani’s goal capped off a fine performance. Impressive as it was, a late-run into the Italian national team for the World Cup probably isn’t out of the question.

Granted, its one game, and while Alberto has showed signs of promise in previous outings (most notably against Portsmouth), it was ever-so more prevalent that on such a grand stage Il Principino swaggered his way into the hearts of an adoring Anfield.

Playing in an advanced position (the role usually occupied by Steven Gerrard) the Italian’s touch, awareness, vision and technique was there for all to see as the Spaniard’s failed to deal with Aquilani’s movement ‘in between the lines’.

Interestingly enough, Aquilani’s best showing prior to Thursday (v Portsmouth) came in a slightly deeper role, perhaps demonstrating that he could be equally adept as a holding player.

While it was apparent that the slightly deeper role certainly nullified the impact of Gerrard, Aquilani gave the kind of performance that the skipper has been expected to deliver for much of the season (not a bash on Gerrard, had a poor season, yes, but still one of the best midfield players in Europe for me).

Linking play between the midfield and forward line, Aquilani’s movement (something Liverpool were sorely lacking earlier in the season) was a joy to behold. If he is able to replicate similar performances in the future there’s no reason why the Italian can’t become an established act in the Liverpool first eleven, equalling the status’ of Reina, Mascherano, Gerrard and Torres.

Of course the down side to Aquilani is his injury record, with constant problems stuttering his career to date. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Rafa Benitez would only have signed such a player if he was extremely talented.

On Thursday, Liverpool supporters got their first real sighting of what the ex-Roma star could be capable of in the long-term. Next season could see Aquilani add further weight to his previously-tarnished reputation.


Reina's deal nothing put positive

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Pepe Reina’s decision to sign a new six-year contract at Anfield is without doubt fantastic news.

Reina has been Liverpool’s best player all season long, and I genuinely dread to think what position we would be in if we’d not had the Spanish stopper in between the sticks.

Despite the turbulent season that the Reds have endured it’s great to see a professional footballer sign a new deal because of their love and affection for the club rather than their instinct for instant success.

Pepe more than anyone will be aware that without any incoming investment it’s unlikely Liverpool will be challenging for the Premier League or Champions League any time shortly. But Reina’s bond with the club, supporters and the city has meant the ‘keeper is eager to stay.

"I'm delighted to sign a new contract. It's probably the best news of my life that I'll be here for the next six years. Me and my family are really happy here.

"To play for Liverpool is very special. I've been here for five years and now I will be here for six more and it's very exciting.

"It's very important that my family love it here as well, as family life is just as important as my career.”

While forthcoming investment looks unlikely at the moment, Liverpool seem like they could certainly keep the foundations of a strong squad at Anfield next season with Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano also voicing their requests to stay.

Surely the presence of such stars will mean Rafa Benitez could find it a lot easier to attract big names to the club in the summer, with or without the lure of Champions League football. The difficulty will be attaining the funds needed to purchase the top class players.


Benfica put to the sword by Rafa's Reds

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Rafa Benitez proved once again last night that there are few better tacticians in Europe as Liverpool marched on in their Europa League adventure.

After being knocked out of the Champions League group stages it was fair to say most supporters weren't particularly bothered about the Europa League (or the Disney Cup), it was looked at as an embarrassment that Liverpool were even competing in the competition.

Nevertheless Liverpool have successfully navigated their way to the semi-finals of the Europa League, and suddenly it's become interesting. Europe's no.2 prize it may be, but with Liverpool trophyless since 2006 there seems to be a renewed incentive around Anfield to lift the title in Hamburg on May 12.

Last night's opponents Benfica are no pushovers, unbeaten in 26 matches prior to the game with only one loss to their name domestically, the 4-1 scoreline should serve as a warning to the rest of Europe that Liverpool are still capable of performing at the highest level.

After an impressive start from the visitors Liverpool took control with two goals to put the Reds ahead in the tie. First Dirk Kuyt's header from Steven Gerrard's corner and then Lucas' composed finish around Julio Cesar made it 2-0 after another assist from the skipper.

From a personal point of view I was so pleased for Lucas. The crowd seemed to finally warm to him, although it was nowhere near his best performance in a red shirt, the goal will definitely serve to win over the doubters. It was fair to say Lucas and Javier Mascherano were not at their best, but their work ethic at continually closing out the Benfica attack was impressive.

While Liverpool have certainly been playing with a greater deal of freedom lately at Anfield, most notably against Sunderland, it was far more controlled performance from the men in red. Acknowledging that Benfica are a top side, Benitez could ill-afford to go all guns blazing against such a talented forward line. Instead the instructions were to half-press the opposition, "when opponents are closed down only as they cross halfway," according to tactics expert, Jonathan Wilson.

This worked perfectly in the second half, the away side never looked like getting back into the game and Liverpool were totally in control. The fourth goal was a great example of how this worked so well, both Mascherano and Lucas went flying in as soon as the Portuguese entered Liverpool's half, ultimately Lucas won the ball back and the Reds went on to score. It's a measure of how well Liverpool have performed against Benfica that all three of the opposition's goals across the two legs have been from set-plays (two penalties and a free-kick).

Rewinding slightly, the third goal on the night was classic counter-attacking at it's very best. Liverpool are often criticised for calling back all their players to defend corners and free-kicks in dangerous positions but there are two sides of the coin to this setup. Firstly and most obviously, there is a better chance of defending the set-play with more men back. Secondly, if Liverpool can break out, they can do so in numbers - all coming from deep-lying positions. The trouble with leaving players up the pitch for set-plays is that they are likely to be closely marked by two or three players, with several players breaking from a deep position it is much harder for the opposition to deal with. That said, executing a counter-attack of such quality is difficult at the best of times and the roles of Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres should all be applauded.

That man Torres simply goes from strength to strength as he continues to break records left, right and centre. The Spaniard is now the only player in Liverpool's illustrious history to score four successive Anfield braces, truely remarkable. His second on the night was simply put; a peach. Such a delicate finish that looks incredibly easy on the outset but yet requires such skill and ability.

It will be a homecoming for darling of the Kop Torres as Liverpool play Atletico Madrid in the semi final. Another difficult tie in what is proving to be a very interesting competition, but one I am sure Rafa Benitez and the players are relishing as they fight to win the club's first trophy in four years.


Fourth spot: an analysis

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

Standing in a pub that is full of people and watching a medium-sized widescreen TV (at best) from about 20 yards away whilst trying to dodge those in front of you who annoyingly keep bobbing up and down while the game is going on (keep still for christ sake!) wasn't exactly the ideal way to consume the weekend's game with Birmingham.

For analytical purposes I can't really comment too much on individual performances, or indeed the team as a whole, as I was too far away to see who was on the ball at times and as a result have decided to look at the race for fourth as it currently stands.

A quick note on the game though; I may not have had the best view of proceedings but what I do know is there was alot of 'oooohhhh', 'aaahhhh' and 'ffffuccckk!' as Liverpool created an abundance of second half chances. I will see the action alot clearer later on during MOTD2 but from where I was standing Liverpool could have won that game comfortably by two or three goals atleast. Rafa Benitez will no doubt be slated for taking off Fernando Torres but in truth Liverpool only looked dangerous when David N'gog was introduced. People will point the finger at 'Torres would have scored them chances!', but Torres never got into the position for a chance in 65 minutes of play while N'gog created several in his short time on the field.

Anyway, moving on. Who will finish in the final Champions League spot? You're guess is about as good as mine at the moment with all four of the contenders doing their best to keep us all hooked, but I will do my best to point the finger at which club should finish there.

Manchester City

Let's start with the club currently holding the coverted fourth spot - Manchester City. You could argue the most pressure is on City to finish fourth. The owners have invested heavily and expect instant success, Mark Hughes was dismissed after a relatively steady beginning. One can only imagine Roberto Mancini will suffer the same fate if City don't finish fourth. After a shock home defeat to Everton Mancini's players have responded excellently with two comfortable wins against Wigan and Burnley, but two they were always expected to get.

The run-in

Four out of the six remaining games for Manchester City are at home, an advantage? Quite possibly as City have only lost one game at Eastlands all campaign with impressive wins against Chelsea and Arsenal (although they were both under Hughes). Twelve points would mean City definitly finish ahead of Liverpool. I can foresee them acheiving 11 points which wouldn't be bad considering they play Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Tottenham. Although their only away game from the quartet is at the Emirates.

Remaining fixtures

Man City v Birmingham
Man City v Man Utd
Arsenal v Man City
Man City v Aston Villa
Man City v Spurs
West Ham v Man City

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs were dislodged from fourth spot over the weekend after a surprise defeat to Sunderland. Unfortunately for Harry Redknapp and co. that game was certainly one of their 'easier' fixtures in the end of season run-in. Tottenham have played some sparkling football at times this season, most notably the 9-1 thrashing of Wigan, but have also failed to deliver in equal measures. Defeats at home to Stoke City and Wolves could prove costly and let's not forget Spurs have been here before and felt the pressure. Remember 2005/06 when a Tottenham win on the last day would have seen them claim Champions League football ahead of rivals Arsenal? Unfortunately for Spurs they buckled - away to West Ham, a team that had nothing to play for.

The run-in

Looking objectively there are only two games that Tottenham must see as 'bankers' in their final six games of the season. Games against Bolton (h) and Burnley (a) are simply must wins if they are to finish fourth. The four remaining games though are stinkers and Tottenham certainly have the toughest run-in of all four clubs involved. Their run-in is such that even nine points would be looked at as an achievement. Even more daunting is that in the reverse fixtures Tottenham lost all three games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Remaining fixtures

Spurs v Arsenal
Spurs v Chelsea
Man Utd v Spurs
Spurs v Bolton
Man City v Spurs
Burnley v Spurs

Aston Villa

Villa's win at Bolton has just edged them into the race again after a disappointing recent spell. It's become cliche of Martin O'Neill's side but evidence shows his Villa team always finish poorly. Perhaps linked to the O'Neill's lack of rotation and squad depth? Two extended cup runs may also be to blame. Expectations are high in Birmingham though and after being defeated by Wigan at home on the opening day they were roundly boo'd off the field. But it's an idication of the terrific job O'Neill has done that the Villa fans expect so much.

The run-in

Despite their obligatory end-of-season fold you could make a case for Villa claiming atleast 15 points in their remaining games. However history tells us not to make too much of a case for the Villans at this stage. Nevertheless if the Villa players truely believe they can reach fourth spot and are unnerved by the prospect they may have an outside chance. Their next game is a big'un, win against Everton and there's reason to be optimistic if you're a Villa fan.

Remaining fixtures

Aston Villa v Everton
Portsmouth v Aston Villa
Hull City v Aston Villa
Aston Villa v Birmingham
Man City v Aston Villa
Aston Villa v Blackburn


The thing that worries me about Liverpool is that we haven't put a consistent run together all season long, a genuine string of wins. Rafa's teams historically finish well but this season has been different to any other I've previously witnessed and it's impossible to tell what could happen next. In our favour of course is Fernando Torres (barring today), who is in scintillating form just as Liverpool need him most.

The run-in

However, among the doom and gloom is Liverpool's remaining fixture list, it couldn't read much healthier. The Reds have struggled away from home all season but the two final games outside of Anfield are at Burnley and Hull City, need I say more? Two of the three remaining home games are against Fulham and West Ham. If there aren't 12 points up for grabs there then please shoot me. With Torres and Steven Gerrard on their game there is no reason to be particularly worried. Chelsea at home is the spanner in the works but I fancy Liverpool for that game behind a roaring Kop.

Remaining fixtures

Liverpool v Fulham
Liverpool v West Ham
Burnley v Liverpool
Liverpool v Chelsea
Hull City v Liverpool

The Verdict

It's impossible to call football, that's what keeps as all watching week in, week out. However, you cannot deny that Manchester City are in a strong position and they have the big name players with egotistical personalities who you feel could well handle the pressure from the expectant owners. I can't really say the same for Villa and Spurs, they've both done well this season but come the cut and thrust of the season I can see them falling at the final hurdle.

Liverpool probably need to win all of their five games, if they do I think they will finish fourth - City and Spurs' run-in is too much for them to win four to five games.

Ultimately I feel Manchester City will probably finish fourth, many believe that could be a cue for an Anfield exodus but I'd be surprised to see that. The main worry, as it has been for a while, will be the financial structure of the club. Without Champions League investment it's unlikely Liverpool are going to significantly strengthen next season unless Hicks and Gillett can finally sell-up to a suitable buyer.


Referee decision boggles the mind

Posted In: . By Red and White Blogger

This season's Europa League has the unique formula of six match officials with two additional referees added to the customary four, it's just a shame none of them can get a correct decision between them.

The decision to send off Ryan Babel by Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson was farcical to say the least, especially considering that Benfica defender Luisao had just ploughed into Fernando Torres and the Brazilian only ended up with a booking - simply baffling.

Anyone remember an incident with Steven N'Zonzi of Blackburn a month or so ago? N'Zonzi put his hand to Lucas' face and proceeded to shove him to the ground with excessive force. Low and behold he recieved just a yellow card, it just stinks of inconsistency.

As for the game itself, Liverpool started brilliantly with a piece of genius straight from the training ground. Daniel Agger has come into great form recently and a goal was always on the cards after spurning numerous chances against Sunderland. It's a great shame Liverpool were unable to exert their gameplan on the match as Babel was sent off after half an hour. Inevitably pressure came from the hosts, buoyed on by a viscivorus crowd, and it was always going to be a major task to keep out a side who have averaged three goals a game this season, even more so with 10 players. Although Torres did have one great chance at one each to put Liverpool ahead which rather uncharacteristically the Spaniard spurned.

It was always going to be a tough game for the Reds though, whether it was 11 v 11 or not. Benfica are highly rated across Europe with only one domestic defeat all season, coming way back in October. In perspective, a 1-2 defeat is by no means a terrible scoreline and one that can be reversed against the backdrop of a vibrant Anfield atmosphere.

Having said that the Portuguese side did come to Anfield in 2006 and win comfortably 2-0 after carrying a slender advantage from the first leg. It all points to what should be a fantastic European tie at Anfield next week, that's as long as the six officials can manage to referee the game properly.


Best 45 of the season?

Posted In: , . By Red and White Blogger

And so the ghost of the beach ball goal is laid to rest - well partially at least. The defeat at the Stadium of Light earlier in the campaign will remain as one of the lowest ebbs of the season but Sunday's performance should go a long way towards banishing the memories of last October.

Liverpool ran riot over Sunderland with a first-half attacking display that Arsenal or Barcelona would have been proud of. It's important to emphasise that is not an exaggeration, Sunderland simply couldn’t cope with Liverpool’s constant waves of pressure in what was a siege towards the Kop end.

Even Black Cats manager Steve Bruce (who still has a big fat head apparently) admitted the home side were just too good for his team - who prior to the game were unbeaten in six. “Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say we couldn’t get near them,” said a complimentary Bruce.

It was 4-4-2 and the message was clear from Rafa Benitez; attack, attack, attack. Liverpool created an abundance of chances and could have easily of had five or six by half time. The visitors simply couldn’t cope; the men in red looked a shadow of the team that have been defeated 10 times this season. Liverpool’s dominance made you wonder why they are in such a precarious position in the first place.

Liverpool got the perfect start just three minutes into the game. Fernando Torres struck at his stunning best, Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon has been in fine form but there was nothing he could do with Torres’ wonder strike. Further goals came from Glen Johnson who added the second after half an hour and Torres made it a brace in the second half with a coolly taken deft finish. The Spaniard now has 40 league goals in 41 games at Anfield, an incredible record.

Skipper Steven Gerrard was back in central midfield and certainly looked all the more content for it. It was the kind of driving display that has been lacking from Gerrard’s game for the majority of the season. The red's number eight inspired those around him and in truth every player in a red shirt had a game to be proud of. The much maligned Emiliano Insua responded perfectly to the critics with arguably his best game of the season (although the Argentine didn’t have much defending to do which could explain why!).

Liverpool’s first 45 minutes against Portsmouth was impressive but Sunday’s effort was surely the best of a troubled season. The passing was crisp, sharp and accurate, something which has been a cause for concern on more than one occasion this term but Liverpool’s ball retention was good as it has been all campaign.

The second half was less of a spectacle but still provided numerous chances on the Mackem’s goal. In the end a 3-0 score line certainly flattered the away side and it could have been embarrassing for the Wearsiders had Liverpool been more clinical. As ever, as cliché as it may sound, it’s important to capitalise on the current run of form Liverpool find themselves on (the performance at Old Trafford wasn’t as bad as people make out). Ultimately Liverpool may need to win five of their last six to achieve fourth place and even then that may not be good enough. But if Benitez’s men continue to play like they have been since the debacle of the DW Stadium there is no reason to suggest why at least 15 points cannot be retrieved.