Solid Foundations

With every league game that passes, be it a good win at Stoke or a lame home draw with Aston Villa, the same issues arise on Twitter and on the Liverpool forums each time.

“This is our best chance for a top four finish in years, and it’ll get harder next year as other teams won’t be as bad again. Suárez will leave if we don’t get into the Champions League too”.

There’s no doubt plenty of truth in statements like that, but at the same time I don’t think the sky will fall in if Liverpool don’t reach UEFA’s promised land this season.

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Kenny Dalglish Should Remain As Manager. Here’s Why…

Having not seen any of the recent defeat to West Bromwich Albion, I’m not best placed to comment on it. However, a look at the stats shows that Liverpool dominated the match, with 63% possession and thirty shots to the Baggies’ nine. On that basis, it seems to be similar to numerous matches from earlier in the campaign when Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal cost them the points that their general play deserved.

But a defeat it was, and to Roy Hodgson of all people; such a result was guaranteed to crank up the ‘Kenny Out’ brigade, and so it has proved. Of course, some people say the match showed why Kenny should remain in charge, in view of the above match statistics and the performance generally. Fans will always be split into optimists and pessimists after all, and I currently find myself in the former of the two camps.

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To Care Or Not To Care? – The Carling Cup

I was fortunate enough to be at Wembley on Sunday to see Liverpool win their first trophy in six seasons. In doing so, they shook a monkey off their backs that has been weighing them down since Steven Gerrard single-handedly foiled West Ham’s efforts to win the 2006 FA Cup.

Granted, its not the 22 year old burden of wanting another league championship that all Kopites yearn to shed, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Isn’t it? Depending on who you ask, perhaps not. It isn’t that any Liverpool fan is disappointed that the club won, but rather that quite a few would gladly trade it in if it meant that 4th place could be secured.

Whilst I can understand the logic due to the financial benefits of Champions League football, I personally think that the trophy win will give the whole squad a lift, meaning that 4th place is still within reach for this season. I also think that it was an invaluable boost for everyone involved with the club:

  • The owners – they have delivered a trophy, and European football within 18 months of taking over.
  • The manager – Kenny Dalglish has become the first ever Liverpool manager to have brought all three domestic trophies to Anfield, and joins Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho in delivering the triple-crown at one club
  • The players – the vast majority of the club’s players have very few medals. Dirk Kuyt, as an example, has played in a World Cup and Champions League final, yet only had one Dutch cup winners medal to show for his career. A lot of the younger players, such as Henderson and Carroll, now have their first major trophy medal, and you can bet they will be hungry for more.
  • The fans – having had to stomach their beloved Reds nearly go into administration, lose several of their best players and spend time in the relegation zone all within the last two seasons, it is great to finally have something to cheer about, however minor it may be in the wider context of the Premier and Champions Leagues.

As for the match itself, it was similar to so many of Liverpool’s games this season (with the possible exception of Stewart Downing winning the man-of-the-match award, as I doubt that has happened previously). The Reds failed to beat a side who weren’t better than them, they were just more clinical when the chances presented themself.

Across the two hours they had a whopping 37 shots, with 17 of them being on target. Compare that with Cardiff, who put just five on target from their nine shots. The Reds’ shots on target ratio of 46% was no disaster (to give that some context, Manchester United lead the way in the Premier League on this, with a figure of 50%), but to only score two goals from all those shots continues the disappointing trend of profligacy seen for so much of this season.

It was similar with the players’ performances; Henderson was anonymous on the right, Adam went from the sublime to the ridiculous, and Skrtel continued his charge towards the player of the season award.

So in that sense, very little was learned about this current Liverpool team on Sunday. Let’s hope the confidence boost they should surely take from this trophy win inspires them to move up a notch in their pursuit of Champions League football.

Whether they manage to or not, I think it’s safe to say that they care about the Carling Cup, and I for one certainly do too.

I think Pepe is under there somewhere! Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.

Does Joe Cole Have A Future At Liverpool?

It would have been very childish of me to have posted that title with simply ‘No’ written underneath, but I was sorely tempted.

And yet. . . .

When Cole signed for Liverpool on a free transfer, I was confident he could do a good job. With Yossi Benayoun having gone the other way for £5m, Cole’s wages were effectively paid for the first year, so it seemed like a virtual no-lose situation, with two similar players effectively exchanged.

A red card on his league debut was a massive disadvantage to Cole. Due to various international breaks combined with his three match suspension, he wasn’t available for selection for a month, until Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford. Rarely a happy hunting ground for the Reds, a defeat followed as was expected by most.

Liverpool were now 16th and struggling. Was this an ideal situation to bring out the best in Joe Cole? Of course not, and especially not in the wooden, antiquated tactics employed by Roy Hodgson.

Once Kenny Dalglish returned and instigated a far more positive brand of football, again I thought Cole may be in with a chance of a resurgence.

However, Dalglish’s lack of use of Joe Cole tells it’s own tale for me:

Premier League starts: 1 out of a possible 18 (5.56%)

Premier League squads selected for: 14 out of a possible 18 (77.78%)

Premier League minutes played: 137 out of a possible 1620 (9.01%)

Cole’s one start was in the final match at Aston Villa, which was as close to a dead-rubber as Liverpool came in the league all season (with Europa League qualification still possible, but out of their hands, and unlikely to happen).

If you take the 68 minutes Cole played at Villa Park off the figures, then he only played 67 minutes across a possible 13 appearances (or a mere 4.38% of the game time).

It strikes me that Kenny had Cole amongst his substitutes because there were few other options. He was obviously ‘fit’ enough to play most of the time,  as he made the bench for virtually every game, though I believe he wasn’t 100% match fit for most of the season in truth.

Was that down to a succession of small, niggly injuries, or down to laziness and/or disinterest on his part? I suspect a little of both, though we’ll never know the truth of course.

If Dalglish didn’t pick him when Liverpool had a poor squad last year, it’s difficult to see him getting many opportunities next season now that Henderson has come in, and with others (Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, whomever) to follow.

Never mind the fact that FSG would surely love his (widely reported) £90,000 a week off the wage bill; as the era of Financial Fair Play approaches, it won’t be lost on the club’s American owner’s that Cole’s salary could probably cover two up-and-coming stars, rather than one has-been.

With Carroll in the team, Liverpool will need quality crossing from midfield. Cole managed to find a team-mate with just two of the 29 crosses he attempted in the league last season, a truly woeful return.

Sorry Joe, thanks but no thanks. London’s in that direction….

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here. Crossing stats were obtained from EPL Index.

Daniel Agger: Retain The Dane

Daniel Agger joined Liverpool in January 2006 for £6m, a bargain price for a top quality centre-back. Over the years since, he has been linked with moves away to clubs such as AC Milan, Juventus and Barcelona (assuming you believe what you read).

In view of his injury record, should Liverpool cash in on him this summer and bring in someone new? In my opinion, no.

Whilst his injury record is a concern, in some cases he has just been unlucky. He only made 5 league starts in 2007/08, but that was down to a metatarsal injury sustained in September of that season, and that could happen to any player.

He has played 1 more league game than Rio Ferdinand in the last 3 seasons, and whilst the England international also faces accusations of being constantly beset by injuries, you don’t hear too many people saying United should ditch him.

He also understands what it means to play for Liverpool, and at very few clubs is it so important to the fans that the players are in tune with them.

Following Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea in January, Agger told Ekstra Bladet (a Danish newspaper):

“It is unacceptable to play for one of Liverpool’s arch rivals. For a Dane, it’s about having respect for the club you play at. I am proud to be able to pull on my Liverpool jersey and will never go to another club in England. I would never go to Manchester United or Everton, for example. It’s about a form of respect for the club”.

On a personal level, Daniel Agger is on a spectacular run of form. Check out his last nine appearances (LFC score listed first):

West Bromwich Albion (A) 1-2 (Subbed off injured after 24 mins)

Sunderland (A) 2-0 (played 90 mins)

Sparta Prague (H) 1-0 (subbed off after 84 mins)

Chelsea (A) 1-0 (played 90 mins)

Stoke City (H) 2-0 (played 90 mins)

Fulham (H) 1-0 (played 90 mins)

Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) 3-0 (played 90 mins)

Everton (H) 2-2 (subbed off at half time)

Blackpool (A) 1-2 (played 90 mins)

The second goal in the Blackpool game was after 69 minutes, both Everton goals were in the second half, and West Brom’s first goal was in the 62nd minute.

Therefore, Daniel Agger is on a personal run of 624 minutes without conceding a goal in all competitions. This won’t have been all down to him of course, but it’s an impressive run, no question.

I think he makes a very good pairing with Jamie Carragher. It’s an obvious analogy, but it really does seem like he is the Scandinavian ice to Carragher’s Scouse fire. In that respect at least, he has taken on Sami Hyypia’s role.

The Dane could also prove invaluable from a tactical point of view. Dalglish showed a willingness to play with three central defenders at times last season, and this formation is ideal for Agger, as the one ball playing centre back that Liverpool currently possess.

It’s also a benefit to have his type of player for home games with lesser opposition, where the visitors defend deeply to deny Liverpool space. By stepping up into the midfield, he pushes the whole team forward, and can thread a good pass to the forward thinking players whilst he’s there for good measure.

Ultimately, his injury record does warrant discussion about whether he should be retained by Liverpool or not. But ask yourself this – with a threadbare squad already in need of a large overhaul, how much would it cost to replace a defender of Daniel Agger’s stature and quality?

A darn sight more than £6m.

 

This piece from 1st April 2012 has updated Agger stats. 

Please check out my other articles, a list of which can be found here.You can follow me on Twitter here.

Rafa’s ‘Rant’ – The Context

Following my recent post regarding the facts that prove that Rafa’s ‘rant’ (always in inverted commas, as it was nothing of the sort) did not cause Liverpool to blow their chance of the 2008-09 title, it was put to me that people perhaps still go on about it as it was at around this point that the lead in the league switched to Manchester United.

I thought I’d take a look to see if this was the case, and indeed it was – once United took the lead in the championship race in mid-January, they never relinquished it properly (once a full set of weekend fixtures had been played then United were always top, though there were times when Liverpool regained the lead by virtue of playing first).

So what is the timeline of ‘rant-gate’?

The ‘rant’ took place on 9th January 2009. At that point, Liverpool were top with 45 points from 20 games, whilst United were 3rd with 38 points from 18 games. Winning their games in hand would have put the Manchester side only a single point behind the Merseysiders anyway.

I think a lot of the furore surrounding the ‘rant’ was because the match that Liverpool played the next day was drawn, 0-0 away at Stoke. Gerrard hit the post in the last minute of the match,  so it could easily have been a win, but two points dropped was the final outcome. Cue tabloid overdrive – “Rafa’s lost it” etc. Had the Reds won that game then it might not have been made into such a big deal.

The following day, United beat Chelsea 3-0 at Old Trafford, putting them five points behind with two matches in hand, and they then also won another home game during the following midweek (1-0 against Wigan). Therefore, within five days of the ‘rant’, Liverpool had only played once, and a tough away game at that, and yet Manchester United had gone from being seven points behind to being two behind with a game in hand thanks to two home wins.

The following weekend United won away at Bolton (1-0) on the Saturday, and Liverpool drew at home to Everton on the Monday (1-1). Ten days after the ‘rant’, and the two teams were now level on points, with Liverpool having played a game more.

The next league matches took place during a midweek (27th and 28th January): United won 5-0 at West Bromwich Albion, and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Wigan. Having played a game more than their fiercest rivals, Liverpool were now two points behind them.

After that small blip, Liverpool went on to win 12 of their last 15 games, but it wasn’t quite enough to reel United in, even allowing for the glorious 4-1 win at Old Trafford.

So it could certainly be argued that the initiative was surrendered around the time of the ‘rant’, but of course it’s impossible to prove cause and effect.

Personally, I think you have to take account of the fixtures that took place during this period.

Liverpool had Stoke away (where few big teams win, and indeed Liverpool have still to win there in the Premier League era), Everton at home (“form-book goes out of the window”, other clichés are available!), and Wigan away (another place where Liverpool don’t win too often, though you could certainly argue perhaps they should be more likely to, so perhaps two points dropped there).

Then look at United – a home match with Chelsea in the final days of Scolari’s reign (still not the easiest of matches, but CFC were clearly in turmoil), Wigan at home (Dave Whelan doesn’t allow his team to try to beat United I don’t think!), Bolton away (not so easy, granted) and West Brom away, the team who finished the season bottom of the league.

So the same outcome in match results for both teams is hugely plausible, ‘rant’ or not.

As with most things in football, it’s fine margins – Gerrard hit the post in the last minute at Stoke, Cahill scored in the 88th minute to snatch a point for Everton, and Wigan scored via an 83rd minute penalty to draw Liverpool’s other match in this period. Any (or maybe all) of these games could easily have been a win. Were any of the teams involved affected by the ‘rant’? It’s hard to believe that this is the case.

Conclusion? It’s unlucky for Rafa that the team had a minor lull (combined with United winning every game) after his ‘rant’, as that made it easier for the tabloids to stick the knife in. All teams lose points, but the timing of a run of three straight draws could definitely have been more favourable for the Spaniard.

Liverpool hit probably the best league run of his whole tenure after this three game period (starting with a 2-0 win over Chelsea at Anfield), averaging an incredible 2.53 points-per-game over the final 15 games of the season, but as with most things surrounding Rafa Benitez, people tend to remember what they want to remember.

I like to remember a manager who took Liverpool very close to winning the league that season. Closer than they have been at any point in the last 21 years. And that’s a fact.

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.