In-depth and Intelligent Views on Liverpool FC & Football in General

Eighteen And Five is Moving Home, Visit My New Site!

Well, technically 18and5 isn’t going anywhere.

However, I am ending the updates of this blog as I have started a new one with a fellow writer and Liverpool FC supporter— theliverpoolword.com—and I will be continuing my articles there in future.

I’d like to say thanks to everybody who has read or contributed in any way to 18and5 along the way, it has been a fun year but hopefully the structure will be put in place on TheLiverpoolWord to be far more successful and reach far more people on a much more regular basis, so everybody wins!

I have decided to leave this page open so that old articles can be accessed and read, but the site will no longer be updated. Nor will the mobile app.

Feel free to contact me by email (karl at bluesearesorts dot net) or on Twitter for further details of the new site.

Thanks and goodbye, for now!


Fernando Torres vs. Luis Suarez: Which Forward saw the Best First Year at Liverpool?

Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez; which majestic forward had the most impressive opening 12 months after signing for Liverpool?

A No. 9 and a No. 7, both brought in with expectation and anticipation, and for massive fees well in excess of £20 million.

When the Spanish striker Torres arrived at Liverpool in the summer of 2007, he was a talented yet perhaps a little raw forward who thrived on open spaces behind defences where he could utilise his explosive pace to its full potential. Aged just 23, he had yet to develop completely in a tactical sense, though he would make huge strides to perfecting this within his first season.

Luis Suarez, for his part, arrived at Anfield shortly after his 24th birthday and though he had originally been targeted as a forward partner for Torres, never got the chance to play with him as Torres departed Liverpool the same day as Suarez signed. For his previous club Ajax, Suarez had been a prolific scorer in the defensively-weaker Dutch Eredivisie, though his position had altered between a true central forward and a wider support attacker.

Below we examine the main statistics and talking points from each player and also look at more detail into what they achieved during their first year with the club, along with how they were perceived.

*Technically Suarez has yet to finish an entire year with the club, having signed at the very end of January 2011, though since part of Torres’ own first year included two preseasons, it seems a reasonable enough comparison to try and judge who fared best at this point, especially since Suarez will take no further competitive part for Liverpool during what remains of his first year at the club.

As ever it would be interesting to hear your thoughts—leave your comments below and don’t forget to vote!

Fernando Torres

After signing in early July 2007, Torres joined Liverpool on a pre-season visit to Asia, getting around a month to settle into his new surroundings before making his competitive debut for Liverpool against Aston Villa in the first game of the new Premier League season.

‘Nando netted his first competitive Reds goal in his first home match, scoring against Chelsea at Anfield in a 1-1 draw. He followed this up with a home brace against Derby in September as well as netting his first Reds hat-trick in the same month, notching three goals in a League Cup tie against Reading, his first Liverpool goals away from Anfield.

At the end of November Torres scored his long-awaited first Champions League goals, scoring twice in a superb 4-1 rout of Porto to help put the Reds within a single victory of a place in the next round, despite only having taken a single point from their first three group games. However injuries had started to hit in this month and he missed a couple of games while recovering, including a frustrating 0-0 against Blackburn Rovers which saw a host of chances wasted.

A busy December saw a return of five goals from seven games as El Niño really started to get to grips with the English game. New Year strikes against Wigan and Middlesbrough took Torres’ total to a terrific 17 goals in his first 22 games in a Red jersey, despite the few knocks along the way he had taken which had seen him miss out on both Premier and Champions League matches.

Back-to-back Anfield Premier League hat-tricks in February and March against Middlesbrough and West Ham United saw ‘Nando surge past the 20-goal mark in his debut season, while he also netted against Newcastle United, Inter Milan, Reading and Merseyside rivals Everton made it a fantastic March. Two goals in the last two games of the Premier League season saw Fernando Torres finish on 24 league goals for the season—in doing so setting a new Premier League record for the highest number of goals for a foreign newcomer’s first season.

The campaign ended trophy-less after the Reds were knocked out of the Champions League in the semi-final by Chelsea, though a fourth-placed Premiership finish ensured there would be more European nights to follow the next season.

Torres ended his first campaign as Liverpool’s No. 9 with a hugely impressive 33 goals in 46 games, an average of 0.72 goals per game.

His all-round game had noticeably improved and his traits were becoming abundantly clear to fans and opposition players alike—those runs into the channels, the slowing up in possession before the burst of pace took him clear, the feint to shoot before turning inside when closing in on goal—but that didn’t appear to have made him any easier to stop.

‘Nando had achieved hero-worship status in his first year at Anfield after becoming the first player since the legendary Robbie Fowler in 1996-97 to reach the 30-goal mark in all competitions.

Injuries had been fleeting concerns at different points throughout the season, but this was largely attributed to his adjusting to the more physical demands of the Premier League, and the lack of a winter break that he was used to in Spain. In hindsight, perhaps those initial injuries are viewed now more as a sign of what was to come in the following seasons.

One other highly noticeable trait about Torres during his first campaign on Merseyside was how hard he was prepared to work for the benefit of the team. As much as another well-taken goal would lead to the Torres “bounce,” fans all over Anfield were encouraged and would applaud to see the No. 9 racing back to make a sliding tackle behind the half-way line, even if he had not originally lost the ball.

Luis Suarez

In signing on deadline day of the January transfer window of 2011, Luis Suarez became the first major signing of the new owners NESV and immediately took over the vacant No. 7 jersey, made famous before him by the likes of Kevin Keegan and, coincidentally, his new boss—Kenny Dalglish.

The transfer was something of a drawn-out process, with initial reports of a bid from the Reds coming as far as three weeks prior to the conclusion of the deal, and by the end of it the Uruguayan was somewhat overshadowed by the arrival of Andy Carroll for a British transfer record.

Upon arrival, perhaps unlike Torres, Luis already had a great appreciation of space and how best to exploit it against different defenders, be it the brute-force kind or the more technical, balanced type. He would come across both in his opening months on Merseyside and flourish.

Suarez did not have long to wait to make his Liverpool debut, appearing off the bench against Stoke City at Anfield just after the hour mark. His immediate willingness to run at defenders with the ball got supporters excited straight away—and only a quarter of an hour after beginning life as a Red, Suarez got his first goal, taking on the ‘keeper and finding the net via a scruffy finish off the defender and near post.

After sitting out the next game (vs Chelsea) as an unused sub, Suarez made his first start two weeks after arriving in a 1-1 draw against Wigan Athletic, before creating the only Reds goal of the game in a 3-1 defeat to West Ham United.

Already it was hugely apparent that Liverpool had signed an immensely talented player capable of great things in and around the penalty box; in a very different way to Fernando Torres but every bit as dangerous. His skill on the ball and speed of turn was already causing Premier League defenders great problems, and though he had only scored once in his first three matches he had shown himself anything but afraid to shoot.

The following performance, against Manchester United at Anfield, was arguably the best individual display the Premier League witnessed during the 2010-11 season.

Suarez single-handedly tore United’s defence to shreds, occupying three and four players at once on numerous occasions, and coming out on top. His sublime run and close control on the left side of the area led to Dirk Kuyt opening the scoring, and the Dutchman would go on to complete his hat-trick after following in a Suarez free-kick which had been parried.

Three goals for Kuyt, but the entire watching world was in no doubt as to who the top performer was.

The assists were not Suarez’s first for the Reds, and he was proving himself a great all-round forward who’s trickery and agility would provide as many chances for his team-mates as himself.

Ineligible for Europa League matches as a result of his participation in Europe with former club Ajax, Suarez missed the double-header against Sporting Club Braga before notching his second goal for the Reds against Sunderland, with an audacious effort inside the near post after more bewildering skill on the touchline which was fast becoming a Suarez trademark.

Another trait, similar to Fernando Torres in fact after his arrival, was Suarez’s complete dedication to the cause, tracking back runners and harrying defenders, giving them no time on the ball to play their way out of defence.

While goals were not forthcoming for the forward in the following month, his performances continued to be of the highest order as he played a major part in wins over Manchester City and Birmingham.

Into the final month of the season and Luis scored twice in two games against Newcastle and Fulham, showing predatory instincts to notch in both cases, as Liverpool chased a Europa League spot, which was in the end out of reach after successive defeats to end the campaign.

With his country Uruguay in summer action with the Copa America, there was no great rest for the talismanic forward as he went all the way to Final glory with his nation, earning the Best Player accolade and scoring four goals along the path.

An extended and enforced break before the 2011-12 campaign got up and running meant Suarez played no part in the preseason preparations of the club, and there were concerns that Kenny Dalglish would have to nurse him through the early part of the season to prevent over-tiredness and injuries.

Three goals and a missed penalty in the first four games of the season allied any of those fears as Suarez continued his blistering and eventful form of the previous campaign and, naturally, fans rose El Pistolero onto a pedestal as the face of the latest Champions League-places charge.

The now-famous “I just can’t get enough” tune began to ring out with huge frequency every match from the Kop, at home or away fixtures, and was soon adopted and adapted by other teams’ fans for their own favourite players.

Early season link-up play between Suarez and a new forward signing, Craig Bellamy, gave fans plenty of hope that a fast-paced forward line would be the order of the day, after they seemed to gel instantly against Brighton in a tricky-looking League Cup tie.

Defeats to Spurs and Stoke brought out the frustrated side of Suarez as he was booked in both games, while substitutions of the player against Wolves and Brighton—both of whom he scored against—also drew frustrated reactions from an immensely competitive individual.

October brought a very mixed bag for Suarez. A first Merseyside derby for the Uruguayan saw him fouled by Jack Rodwell, who was harshly sent off, despite it still being a foul, and the beginnings of a media portrayal that Suarez dived at every opportunity.

While he was certainly used to going to ground when defenders were in close attendance behind him, Suarez was targeted thereafter at every opportunity by mind-numbing, parrot-like pundits who, instead of examining what was actually happening, chose to merely voice the popular opinion of the day.

The same fixture against Everton brought another goal and a 2-0 win, before controversy was sparked in a match against rivals Manchester United.

A 1-1 draw in the match itself after Suarez had again terrorised the Red Devils backline was put in the shade after allegations of racist comments were made by United defender Patrice Evra. After much delay Suarez was eventually charged with the same offence by the FA, and a drawn-out decision making process was begun, which would not conclude until late December.

Norwich City were the next visitors and after a 1-1 draw was all Liverpool could take against another promoted side, questions were asked of Suarez’s finishing prowess; to this point he had notched five goals for the season from one of the highest numbers of shots out of any player in the Premier League, and the feeling from some quarters was that Suarez—and Liverpool in general—were not being clinical enough. Those questions were temporarily put to bed as, in the very next game, Suarez scored twice away to Stoke in the League Cup with very different goals to drag Liverpool from a losing point to victory, the first being a quite spectacular piece of skill and finishing.

Suarez encountered a barren run of form in goal-scoring terms during November as he failed to score in any of the four games, though performances in general were still pleasing. Luis’ skill and movement made him a real thorn in defenders’ sides and always made him the go-to man for the Reds’ attack.

Six games without a goal came to an end at home to QPR in December, though it looked for a while as though it would be a case of the same old story as Suarez spurned chances to put Liverpool ahead before heading the only goal of the game in the second half, his eighth of the season in all competitions.

Liverpool saw out 2011 unbeaten from that point on, but Suarez did not score again and missed the final match against Newcastle due to suspension for a post-match incident against Fulham.

Having been served with an eight-match ban and £40,000 fine by the FA’s panel for the incident involving Patrice Evra, prior to the first match of 2012 Suarez and Liverpool decided not to appeal the ‘guilty’ verdict, despite continuing to deny the allegation entirely. As a result, Suarez will play no further part in Liverpool’s season until Feb. 6th at the earliest—which would mark one year and four days since his Reds goalscoring debut.

His current Liverpool records stands at 12 goals in 34 appearances, 0.35 goals per game—half the rate that Torres scored at, though were it not for the six occasions he has struck the woodwork during this term, it could be considerably higher.

Have your say below on who you think was the best during the opening twelve months with Liverpool and why—and don’t forget to vote!

Liverpool FC: Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez Partnership Starting to Provide Goals

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez of Liverpool look dejected after a missed chance during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at The Hawthorns on April 2, 2011 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Liverpool romped to a comfortable 2-0 win to register their fifth victory in their last seven matches last weekend against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League with goals from Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll, but it is the front-line partnership of Carroll and Luis Suarez, finally starting to click, which may provide the best news of all to Kenny Dalglish and his team.

While Luis Suarez has quickly become a fans’ favourite and has wowed the general watching Premiership with a series of impetuous and talented displays, Carroll has taken more time to find both his form and a regular starting spot in Liverpool’s team after injuries, lack of fitness and a loss of form have stopped him reproducing his true abilities in Red.

As a result, Suarez has often been paired with Dirk Kuyt or deployed as a lone front man with Carroll forced to look on from the sidelines or the bench as Liverpool’s new No. 7 struck up an understanding with his new teammates in instant fashion.

Against West Brom, however, there were definite positive signs that the partnership between the two was starting to bear real, deliberate fruit.

Suarez: by far the more mobile, the outrageously talented, the constant threat.

Carroll: the powerful, the hard, the aerial threat and the juggernaut moving forward.

A classic “little man-big man” front two isn’t enough for Liverpool. The demands of winning games in the Premier League on a regular basis as to enter the top four requires more from the front men than merely outjumping and outrunning the defence.

Suarez has already proven that he can bring plenty to the table with his quick feet, improbable switching of direction in an instant and narky, irrepressible menacing of the back line.

Carroll now is starting to show exactly why Liverpool splashed out a record fee on him.

He has plenty more to do still, true; his movement and anticipation in and around the 6-yard box is way below what it needs to be, and he is taking a longer-than-hoped-for time to get his body back to full sharpness.

But he is on his way, and in the last two matches, has shown as much.

Against Stoke City in the League Cup, he showed flashes of determination and ability which will be seen more often as time goes on, and again against West Brom, the increment of improvement was clearly visible.

Most importantly of all, the link up between both players, lacking in many games until now, started to show real signs in last weekend’s game that it could be one which works well for Liverpool over the long term.

The most obvious example of all was Carroll’s goal—Suarez’s first time pass released Carroll, who finished well despite a slightly suspect first touch, though it was a relatively straight forward piece of combination play thanks to some awful West Brom defending.

Several other times during the course of the match though, both players linked up neatly between the halfway line and the edge of the penalty box.

Suarez himself scored a goal—correctly disallowed for offside—after latching onto a flick-on from Carroll, while some neat interplay and one-touch approach work was evident in both halves.

The Uruguayan hit-man has gotten frustrated in previous games with his English teammate’s lack of anticipation, but there were several signs in the West Brom game that the duo are getting to be on the same wavelength.

Carroll has begun to understand that Suarez will be looking to get on the end of, and give in return, first-time passes in the area between the midfield zone and penalty box; the more they continue to work at it, the more likely it is that such combinations will lead to goalscoring chances.

Eleven goals for Suarez, five for Carroll—those totals (goals scored for Liverpool since joining in January 2011) are not entirely impressive for either player when looked at on their own, but eight goals have been scored by the pair between the two when starting up front with each other—in just ten games.

There is much more to come from this pair up front for Liverpool in the games to come, and Andy Carroll is just getting towards his optimum match sharpness; it is clear that he will never be as swift and agile in his movements as his shorter colleague Suarez—but it is equally clear where Carroll’s own strengths lie.

Not only is he a potent aerial force, but Carroll’s best play comes when he is facing goal and driving towards the area from around the 25-30 yard mark.

His powerful presence and forward motion makes stopping him risky for defenders, by fair means or foul, and he can deliver a wonderful driven shot from around the edge of the penalty area—as evidenced by another moment of link-up play in the second half of the West Brom game when Suarez teed up his partner for a driven shot with a neat piece of hold-up work.

The duo have started Liverpool’s last two games in tandem, and between them, they have scored three goals in those matches—both away from home.

If they continue to work on playing together and continue to get the opportunity to do so in league matches on a consistent basis, Liverpool fans can rest assured that we haven’t even begun to see what amount of havoc these two boys can wreak on Premiership defences yet.

Everton vs. Liverpool: Ranking the 12 Best Bits of Premier League Merseyside Derby Matches

Glasgow, Buenos Aires, Manchester and the North-East can keep theirs—for me, Liverpool vs. Everton, the Merseyside derby, is the best in the world. I love when the time rolls around each season for the derby match; the massive build-up all week when Red and Blue mix and clash and talk and claim that this is their best-prepared side in years and that victory will be theirs, all the while dreading inside what will happen if they actually lose.

It’s huge, it’s massive, it’s right there in front of us, next week.

Everton play at home in the first derby of this season and the match at Goodison Park will be one Liverpool will be desperate to win having not won either of the clashes last season—Everton won comfortably 2-0 at home before an entertaining 2-2 draw was fought out at Anfield soon after Kenny Dalglish took up the reins.

Sit back, enjoy and roll on next week!

12. Red Cards

You just know that someone is going to get one.

Since the Premier League started, no league fixture has seen more sendings off than the Merseyside derby. Fiery tackles, high-octane high-tempo matches and massive pressure sometimes gets the better of players.

And sometimes, Tim Cahill is just a dirty little bastard.

20 red cards have been shown for players to receive their marching orders in this fixture since 1992-93, eight for Liverpool and 12 for Everton.

Here’s the full list:

Robbie Fowler, David Unsworth, Sander Westerveld, Steven Gerrard x2, Francis Jeffers, Thomas Graveson, Igor Biscan, David Weir, Gary Naysmith, Milan Baros, Mikel Arteta, Phil Neville x2, Andy van der Meyde, Tony Hibbert, Tim Cahill, Lucas Leiva, Soto Kyrgiakos and Steven Pienaar.

11. Predicting the Starting Eleven

You buy your match-day programme and replica merchandise around the ground, you load up your computer stream, you head to the local pub or you turn on Sky Sports.

Whatever your match-day routine, one thing never changes—at some point in the build-up, you turn your mind to what the starting line-up will be for your team, and maybe even for the Blue Shite.

Who would have thought that for Rafa Benitez, in his first derby as Liverpool manager would drop Xabi Alonso in favour of Salif Diao? Or that in 1997-98 in Roy Evans’ last derby in sole charge of the first team, Aussie midfielder Nicky Rizzo, who never made a first team appearance for Liverpool, would suddenly make the bench for a derby match?

Derbies are unpredictable occasions and that goes for the managers sometimes just as much as events on the field during the game itself.

10. Knock-out Cup Fixtures

Unfortunately there haven’t been too many cup ties involving Liverpool and Everton since the inception of the Premier League and for that reason only, this item is a little lower down on the list than might be expected.

May 1989:  Ian Rush (centre) of Liverpool beats goalkeeper Neville Southall of Everton to score their second goal during the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London. Liverpool won the match 3-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Simon  Bruty/Allsport

In fact, since 1992-93 there has only been one occasion when the sides met; in an FA Cup fourth round tie three seasons ago they met at Anfield and fought out a 1-1 draw with Steven Gerrard and Joleon Lescott on the score-sheet. Everton won the replay with a late-in-extra-time Dan Gosling goal.

Prior to the early ’90s though, all-Merseyside cup ties were a relatively regular occurrence; none more poignant or memorable of course than the 1989 FA Cup final (pictured) where the Reds triumphed 3-2 after extra time on a day which was about so much more than just the football.The replay at Goodison Park ended up 1-0 to Everton after extra time with Lucas seeing red for Liverpool and Dan Gosling netting the late winner.

Kenny Dalglish’s first stint as Liverpool manager indeed effectively came to an end in the midst of a three-match cup replay marathon in 1991; after a 0-0 Anfield stalemate and a 4-4 Goodison Park thriller, the Toffees eventually triumphed 1-0 in the second replay.

9. Winding Up Work Colleagues, Family, Friends and Random People You Know

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 20:  Liverpool fans make fun of the Everton fans by showing Tescos carrier bags during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool  at Goodison Park on October 20, 2007 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo

We all do it, because we’re so glad it’s not us on the receiving end!

Whether it’s the score-line, the performance or an off-field matter; whether by way of a text message, a joke, a picture or a banner held in the crowd, winding up the opposition fans that you know is a way to show your team is best and you know it, they know it and everybody in football knows it.

Until the next time you get beaten, obviously.

8. Match Day Atmosphere

During the game itself, the Merseyside derby match atmosphere can be anything from loud and passionate to some way past fiery and hate-filled these days.

Before kick-off, however, it’s all about the songs—backing your team, lifting yourselves and the players and trying to intimidate the opposition through a huge show of Red strength.

7. League Table Satisfaction

For a few short hours a season, the entire Premier League table doesn’t matter.

Whether you’re top four or relegation zone, middle of the table or a point off the top, it doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that you are above the Bitters.

A win for Liverpool on Saturday will leave them at least four places above Everton and six points clear.

An Everton victory means the teams will be level on points and the Blues will be above the Reds on goal difference.

6. Regular Derby Day Heroes 

It takes a fearless kinda guy to stand up and be counted in a Merseyside derby, again and again and again.

Not only is that player likely to be hugely adored by his own fans (at least for a while) but they will also be enormously detested by half the city they live in.

But sometimes it just so happens that a particular match brings out the best attributes in a goalscorer and the Merseyside derby definitely does that to some people.

The great Ian Rush scored a huge 25 goals for Liverpool against Everton, including a famous four in one game which has been immortalised in song on the Kop.

Of the current crop of players, Everton’s Tim Cahill has netted five times in these fixtures (and without a goal since halfway through last season, wouldn’t it be typical for him to end that barren run on Saturday?), while the same number has been scored by Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard.

5. Bringing Through the Local Pride

Over the years some of the finest pieces of action in Merseyside derbies have been given by local players who have come through the ranks of both sides.LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16:  Marouane Fellaini of Everton is challenged by Jay Spearing of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on January 16, 2011 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey /

Last season Jay Spearing was given a massive boost by being thrown straight into the team by new boss Kenny Dalglish for the derby against Everton and produced a good performance which led to him becoming a fixture in the team over the last month or two of the season.

Before him, obviously Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have had a huge impact—at both ends of the scale—in these matches for years, while Everton have fielded a succession of local players such as Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman (born in Wigan but an Everton youth player) and more recently Jack Rodwell. Other home-grown produced players such as Jose Baxter and Ross Barkley could go on to join the list in the future.

Liverpool have seen the likes of Stephen Warnock, Robbie Fowler and Neil Mellor (again, not Liverpool-born but certainly raised) take part in derbies and this season could add Martin Kelly to that line of players.

For these lads it can be an extra special occasion, at times even more so because members of their families could support both teams, and a debut Merseyside derby is really an event to remember and savour.

4. Really Battering Your Closest Rivals

Any kind of win in a local derby is a special feeling, but there is a certain kind of satisfaction which comes when you absolutely and completely play them off the park.

Last season Liverpool got that handed to them in the first derby game of the season but since it came under the, ahem, stewardship of Hodgson we can discount that as a lesson well learned.

The two games in 2005-06 which finished 3-1 at both Anfield (Gerrard and van der Meyde sent off) and Goodison Park (Arteta and Neville sent off) were both classics from a Red point of view where the scoreline could have been doubled with ease.

A 3-0 in 03-04 was similarly fantastic, while Liverpool were well off the pace and soundly beaten in 06-07 by the same scoreline at Goodison Park when Reina had a bit of a ‘mare.

Here’s hoping for a 6-0 away win on Saturday.

3. Great Derby Day Goals

Smashing a 25-yarder into the far corner of the net is a special feeling whenever you do it—down the park, in your back garden, on the school playing field or on FIFA12, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a great goal.

So what must it feel like to score one of those in a derby match?!

Enjoy ten of the best Merseyside derby goals from recent times.

2. Last Minute Salvation


LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 20:  Dirk Kuyt of Liverpool celebrates scoring  the first goal from the penalty spot  during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool  at Goodison Park on October 20, 2007 in Liverpool, England.

Goodison Park.

90th minute.






Dirk Kuyt!!



1. That Derby Day Victory Feeling

You’ve put in the graft, you’ve sweated your… well, all parts of your body off, you’ve been through the mixer of emotions and you’ve got the bruises to prove it.

And that’s just the fans!

Take a step back and appreciate the work and tackles the players get through in a derby match and just…. remember….after everything that’s come before it…. that full-time feeling when YOU’VE WON.

Liverpool Reborn Under Kenny Dalglish: What a Difference a Year Makes

As referee Lee Probert called time on the game at Anfield on Saturday, Liverpoolmoved back to the top of the—admittedly ridiculously early—Premier League table for the first time since the late title charge in May 2009.

The Reds, now under the stewardship of Kenny Dalglish, clinched a convincing 3-1 win over Bolton Wanderers at the weekend, showing signs of some sumptuous play all over the field during the entire 90 minutes, a throwback to the very best of the action seen under King Kenny the first time around.

An opening day draw against Sunderland, a win against top-four rivals Arsenal and a hammering of the much-praised side of Owen Coyle have given Liverpool their best start to a season since 1994, when the club won all of their first three matches.

Contrast that to last season when, after the same number of games at the end of August, the Reds—”guided” by Roy Hodgson—had drawn with the Gunners, were heavily beaten against Manchester City and laboured to a barely-deserved 1-0 home win over West Brom, leaving them in an uninspiring 13th place, with a minus-two goal difference. Liverpool’s current goal difference is four in credit—last season, it took until February for the statistic to stop being a negative figure.

Even this early on in the season a year ago, Liverpool were already showing signs of not being all-well, as a static looking system was being put in place with ill-fitting personnel; not to mention the transfer shenanigans which saw Christian Poulsen come in to the club to all-round misgivings and Paul Konchesky arrive to downright dismay.

At the same time, midfield enforcer Javier Mascherano was refusing to play against Manchester City in an attempt to force through a move to Barcelona, which he managed shortly afterwards.

Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina were persuaded to stay for another season, supposedly, with the insertion of release fee clauses in their contracts, but it was far from pretty viewing on the pitch, and few could have imagined that Hodgson was the man to turn things around, even at that early stage.

Indeed, it was to be another half a dozen league matches and almost two full months before Hodgson would guide the Reds to another victory, during which time the likes of Sunderland, Northampton and Blackpool all visited Anfield and left without being beaten, or even particularly troubled at times.

On the 17th October, Liverpool were soundly beaten by local rivals Everton, a result which left the Reds in the utterly embarrassing position of 19th in the Premier League, only off the bottom on goal difference. The sounds of discontent were audible on the club forums, in the stands and in every pub and social gathering place up and down the country where Kopites could be found.

The malaise continued for another two months before enough was enough; Hodgson was dismissed after an abysmal defeat at Ewood Park left Liverpool back in 13th, only four points above the drop zone and a massive 20 points behind the league leaders Manchester City after little more than half the season.

Then, in came Kenny Dalglish.

The turnaround was not, as some would like to imagine, immediate. It took until Dalglish’s fourth match in charge to record his first victory, but from then on, it was almost plain sailing until the end of the season. No doubt helped by a perceived lack of pressure on the club, as it was almost impossible to qualify for European competition, the team played with a freedom and attacking intent which was refreshing to the point of being shocking after the turgid, unimaginative and linear nonsense which was given by the same set of players under the previous manager.

The big test, everybody said, would come in the summer and during the new campaign.

Could Dalglish bring in the right players, spend money wisely and mould another Liverpool team to grace Anfield and bring pleasure to the fans?

It’s three games into the season.

We’ll make no judgements at this point on what Kenny and Liverpool can or cannot achieve this season, but if the start is anything to go by, then Liverpool have a great chance of at least breaking their way back into the top four; surely the main aim of everyone in the club for this term and something which seemed impossible to imagine this time a year ago.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool—generally seen as the six challengers to battle it out between themselves for the top four places.

Given the transfer market activity and start to the season that both Manchester teams have had, it seems fair to accept they will both be in the running for honours come the end of the season, while Chelsea, given their array of attacking talent, should definitely be up there even with a new manager.

North London? We’ve seen today what work both teams have on to get themselves going, but neither can be ruled out.

But early on in the season, and Liverpool already have a significant lead on both teams: six points ahead of Arsenal and seven ahead of Tottenham, albeit they have a game in hand.

Though it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things at this stage, we have heard season after season how Liverpool are playing catch-up with the top sides from early on in the season—this time, it is the other way round, and it can only benefit the team from Merseyside.

Liverpool have seven points after three games; last season, it took NINE league matches to reach the same tally despite playing five matches at home in that time, including two newly promoted sides.

Whether the good start can be maintained and players can give performances to compare with that of Saturday over the entire season remains to be seen.

But for what he’s already done in his short time back at the club, and especially when compared to what came before him, Kenny Dalglish deserves every ounce of leeway, respect and backing that supporters can give him in terms of team selections, transfers and tactics.

Liverpool are in the top four already, only a month into the new Premier League season.

If in nine months’ time, they are still there, Dalglish will have completed one of the most impressive turnarounds in fortune that the Premier League will have seen in years—and Liverpool can begin planning again on how best to compete with the very best in Europe.

Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard: Which Position Best Suits Both Player and Team?

Three games into the new 2011-12 season and Kenny Dalglish has fielded eight midfielders already—nine if you count Dirk Kuyt—as Liverpool’s new-bought squad depth shows early signs of paying dividends, allowing for several changes in personnel and tactics without sacrificing strength, balance or quality.

But someone has been missing off the list of midfielders who have had game time already—and I don’t mean Christian Poulsen.

Liverpool club captain Steven Gerrard, out of action since early March after having groin operations and suffering a setback because of infection, should now be just a matter of weeks away from making a competitive return to wearing the Red shirt.

Already in light training and integrating with the squad, Gerrard will be taking a keen interest on both new signings and first team veterans; sizing up who is having a good impact and who needs to step up to the mark.

Looking, perhaps, to see where he will fit back into the team.

Throughout his career Gerrard has played in almost every position for Liverpool except in goal—I think centre back might be missing from the list too, but that’s about it.

But which position brings out the best in Steven Gerrard?

And, more importantly, will that position also best benefit the team?

We take a look here at where Gerrard could fit back into the side, whose place he is most likely to take and how he will set about lifting the rest of the players to higher performance levels.

Position: Central Midfield

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1 and variations

Player Most Likely to Replace: Charlie Adam

Gerrard is traditionally “seen” as a central midfielder, though in truth has only started around a third of his total career matches in this position.

Though early on in his Reds’ career he was a great box-to-box player with his range of passing, shooting, tackling and physical levels, Gerrard has gradually moved further forward as he has gotten older and never really—either through lack of training/game time or of aptitude—developed the necessary skills to be a true top-class central midfielder such as positioning in the defensive third and being able to track late opposition runs from deep.

He’s certainly more than capable of holding his own in the position as all the above traits still more than apply, but is sure to need a full-on defensive midfielder alongside him such as Lucas Leiva.

He can be a great threat for the Reds from deep positions, but against good opponents must remain wary of his defensive responsibilities if he is to regularly play this position. For this reason in a true 4:4:2 I remain sceptical of Gerrard’s worth in central midfield; with nobody else to link up play between midfield and defence he would be straining to get forward to fulfil that role, which at the same time would leave his partner in the middle open to counter attacks and overloading.

Position: Right Wing

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1, 4:4:2

Player Most Likely to Replace: Dirk Kuyt/Jordan Henderson

With Stewart Downing having seemingly sewn up one spot of any attacking quartet, and with Luis Suarez likely to have another one at every available chance, Henderson and Kuyt have, in the early part of the season, looked in more or less direct competition with each other for a starting berth.

Both played against Arsenal but once Gerrard comes back it will likely be one or the other—at the most.

Gerrard enjoyed his most prolific spell in a Liverpool shirt when playing from the right side of the midfield and, while not his preferred choice of position, he can still offer certain attributes which will prove valuable to others in the team.

From a wide position in a 4:2:3:1 he will have ample time to roam infield, leaving the likes of Martin Kelly or Glen Johnson to overlap into the spaces he leaves, while his delivery from the channels has always been exemplary, something which would no doubt appeal to whoever starts up front for the Reds.

However, is this the position which makes the best use of him? Gerrard does not have the trickery or acceleration to beat players on the flank; he is fast but not lightning fast in tight spaces and uses power and audacity to beat opponents in the middle of the park. From a wide position Gerrard finds himself on the margins of the game at times and, becoming frustrated, looks to come infield more often than Dalglish might like, narrowing the game considerably.

In a 4:4:2 this would become more problematic as he could conceivably leave his right-back behind him without any adequate cover.

Many people would prefer to put Gerrard out wide to allow as many other strong attackers from the squad into the team as possible—but personally speaking, I’m not one of them.

Position: Left Wing

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1, 4:4:2

Player Most Likely to Replace: Dirk Kuyt/Jordan Henderson

Playing from the opposite flank, Gerrard is still likely to take either Kuyt or Henderson’s place as Downing would simply switch to the right, allowing both players to cut in on their favoured foot.

Gerrard has played this role occasionally for both club and country, but again the obvious tendency is to drift infield as he will naturally face that direction to be able to receive the ball to his right foot.

Cutting in from the left Gerrard would pose a severe threat to any opposition goal, but it is unlikely we will see too much of him in this position.

Position: Second Striker

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1 and variations

Player Most Likely to Replace: Jordan Henderson/Raul Meireles/Andy Carroll

A natural goal threat, Gerrard excels at getting beyond the striker and providing excellent support in and around the penalty box. A good finisher and aggressive in attacking positions, Gerrard almost looks like a centre forward at times.

He does have a tendency to neglect his back-tracking duties when playing this role and can leave the team a little weak in midfield at times, but the obvious benefits he brings to the team when in this role are huge.

Whether Kuyt, Carroll or Suarez are playing as the striker, Gerrard can link well with all of them and allow others to come into the game with his range of passing and willingness to get involved in combination plays.

He suffered in this role during the poor 2009-10 season as a result of lack of service to himself and Fernando Torres; a huge burden of play will fall on the shoulders of Charlie Adam should Gerrard play this position with regularity.

Personal Preference:

I have little doubt; I prefer to see Gerrard centrally.

An advanced role is where I hope to see him most—dead centre in a 4:2:3:1 is the ideal position for Steven Gerrard and, assuming the supply line to him remains open, where he is most devastating.

Against weaker opposition or at home where Liverpool intends on going for more goals, a central midfield role is certainly not out of the question assuming, as mentioned previously, Lucas or someone similar is in there as well.

A front four of Downing, Gerrard, Suarez and Carroll certainly appeals to me—as would swapping in any of Kuyt, Meireles or (when in form) Maxi or Henderson for any of those players.

One thing is for sure: wherever he ends up playing, Steven Gerrard will remain one of the most important and best players lining up in Red each week.

Karl Matchett offers live Premier League text commentary; next match: Chelsea vs. Norwich City (Saturday 27th August, 3pm UK/10am ET) plus updates of every Saturday match.
Also live text commentary and analysis of Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City (Sunday 28th August, 1:30pm UK/8:30am ET).
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Arsenal vs Liverpool: Five Key Battles for Saturday’s Big Premier League Match

Arsenal and Liverpool will do battle this weekend on Saturday in the first of the big clashes in this season’s Premier League. Last season these two teams fought out an exciting battle that culminated in two late penalties—the second of which came in the 98th minute, an equaliser from Dirk Kuyt after Robin van Persie scored a few minutes earlier—and a 1-1 draw.

Since then, both sides have had something of an eventful summer, for differing reasons.

While Liverpool have embarked on a spending spree to bring in the likes of Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique; Arsenal have seen their captain, Cesc Fabregas, depart for Barcelona and playmaker Samir Nasri is likely to follow suit in exiting forManchester City, the landing point of Gael Clichy.

Forward Gervinho has been brought in, but will be suspended for the match on Saturday, as will midfielder Alex Song. Defenders Johan Djourou and Keiran Gibbs departed the mid-week fixture injured, leaving the Gunners with a real shortage at the back.

Liverpool, for their part, will be missing right-back Glen Johnson and long-term absentee Steven Gerrard, but everybody else has recovered from their knocks and Dalglish has an almost full squad to choose from.

Here we take a look at the five key battles on the pitch that will have a big say on the outcome of the game.


1: Andy Carroll vs. Laurent Koscielny

After a difficult start to his career where he was sent off on his Arsenal debut (against Liverpool, ironically), Laurent Koscielny proved to be a decent acquisition for the Gunners. He excelled in leading the defence to press high up the pitch, something which could not be said for fellow centre-back signing Squillaci.

However, he is not dominant aerially and is also prone to standing off physical players—something Andy Carroll took full advantage of when playing against the Frenchman for old club Newcastle.

Recovering from injury last season when the Reds took on Arsenal, he did not have the impact he would have liked. Expect something very different this time around as Liverpool will look to press the advantage of having the powerful threat of Carroll to hold the ball up.

With any set pieces, Carroll is likely to try to attach himself near to Koscielny in an attempt to beat him in the air.


2: Aaron Ramsey vs. Lucas Leiva

Following the departure of Cesc Fabregas, the suspension of Alex Song and the likely absence of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey is likely to be the focal central midfielder for the Gunners again.

Possessing a good range of passing and an energetic style of play, Ramsey is more than just a promising midfielder at this stage. He is far more likely than either Wilshere or Cesc to get involved in play inside the opposition penalty area and try to score as well as contribute to the link-up play for which the Gunners have become renowned.

For this reason above all others, Lucas Leiva will be a key player for Liverpool against Arsenal; he is the one player capable of tracking opponents’ runs through midfield, is a good tackler and is an expert at positioning himself well to pick up second-balls.


3: Arsenal Left-Back vs. Liverpool Right Midfield

Probably the one area for either team which could be filled by different people at this point; most of the starting eleven for Arsenal and Liverpool could probably be predicted but the left-back slot for the Gunners and the right side of Liverpool’s midfield/attack is very much up for grabs.

Following Clichy’s departure Keiran Gibbs stepped up last weekend to start the season at left-back but suffered an injury against Udinesein mid-week, leading to Thomas Vermaelen switching to that position from the centre. However after Djourou was almost immediately replaced after himself replacing Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson came on for his Arsenal debut after joining the club from Charlton in the summer. The youngster is a highly rated prospect but is untested in the Premier League until now and Arsene Wenger needs to decide if he is to be risked in such a big game. Of course, Liverpool faced a similar situation last season in this fixture and came up trumps after Jack Robinson replaced Fabio Aurelio to such good effect.

Armand Traore is the other left back on the Arsenal books at present.

For Liverpool, the right midfielder could be seen as a key player regardless of who is picked for Arsenal at left back; Jenkinson’s inexperience, Vermaelen being out of his primary position or Traore’s relative lack of game time for the Gunners recently could all mean that the Reds have an opportunity to exploit that area of the pitch.

Jordan Henderson started on the right against Sunderland on the opening day but was replaced around the hour mark by regular right-sider Dirk Kuyt. Henderson obviously offers good delivery and stamina on that side of the pitch but is certain to drift inside to a more central position too, while Kuyt will offer perhaps a little more width and better service in terms of getting into the Arsenal box to link up with the front men.

A third option—one which is perhaps likely to be seen at some point during the game even if not from the beginning—is to stick Stewart Downing out on the right flank and let him run at the Arsenal left-back as often as possible, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.


4: Robin van Persie vs. Pepe Reina

As always, Arsenal’s main goal threat is highly likely to come in the form of newly-installed official skipper Robin van Persie.

Last season he beat Reina from the penalty spot while in the reverse fixture Reina spilled an apparently straight-forward catch into his own net.

On his day van Persie is a world-beater and his strike rate in the second half of last season was one of the few bright spots for the Gunners as their season collapsed around them. Regardless of who is paired at centre back for Liverpool—Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger should be again after the latter recovered from a knock—it is likely that the Dutchman will get at least one opportunity on goal and it is then that Pepe Reina will be called upon.

As consistent and excellent a performer as can be found between the sticks in the Premier League, Reina is hugely important for Liverpool and is adept in his shot-stopping as he is in his organisation of the defence.

Thwarting van Persie for ninety minutes will go a long way towards helping Liverpool to three big points.


5: Jose Enrique vs. Theo Walcott

Liverpool’s newest recruit, Spanish left-back Jose Enrique, started against Sunderland last week just hours after signing from Newcastle United and put in an encouraging performance on his debut.

On Saturday he is likely to start again and will come up against Theo Walcott who should come into the starting eleven in place of the suspended Gervinho.

Walcott will of course offer a whole load of pace and will look to get forward and into the area at every opportunity, something which Jose Enrique will have to try to turn on its head to have his best impact for the club.

If Liverpool can have possession and Jose Enrique can get forward himself Walcott will be forced backwards to cover and be kept away from goal, something which will benefit Liverpool immensely.

Another advantage that Jose Enrique should offer Liverpool is his great pace which should nullify that of even Walcott who will usually use that attribute above all others to gain an edge over his opponents.


Predicting the Outcome:

You have to go all the way back to 1999-2000 season and a Titi Camara winner for the last time Liverpool managed to beat Arsenal on their home ground in the league—Highbury, as it was then—but the Reds will surely feel they have a massive chance to put an end to that run this weekend.

Arsenal are weakened through suspension, injury and having sold or nearly sold two key players; some fans are far from giving their unconditional support to a manager they feel has failed to strengthen the team in key areas and the Gunners are really going to come under scrutiny this season—rightly or wrongly, its going to happen—every time they fail to win a game, mainly as they are seen as the ‘easiest’ team to knock out of the top four spots.

Liverpool on the other hand are by-and-large happy with their summer dealings and in full backing of their manager and will take a decent travelling support to the Emirates Stadium.

They also have one other wild-card who wasn’t mentioned in the key battles: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan magician will look to move in and out of spaces between Arsenal’s midfield and defence and it is here that the absence of Alex Song will be felt most keenly for Arsenal.

Despite all their apparent weaknesses however, Arsenal are never an easy fixture and if they start well and get into their passing game without Liverpool pressing them quickly they have the pace, movement and fire-power in Rosicky, van Persie, Walcott and Arshavin to really test the Liverpool defence who will still be getting put together one piece at time; Kelly and Flanagan will likely battle it out for the right back spot and Glen Johnson has yet to return.

It is sure to be an eventful game and will throw up some fascinating tactical battles all over the pitch—but I am firmly backing Liverpool to end an eleven-and-a-half year winless streak and take all three points.


If you can’t watch the match this weekend you can follow my live text commentary and analysis of the Premier League game between Arsenal and Liverpool this weekend, along with every other Premiership fixture on that day, on Bleacher Report. Become my fan now to easily find the commentary on Saturday from 12:30pm UK / 7:30am ET.

Liverpool Under 19’s Gear Up for NextGen Series; European Test Awaits Youngsters

In less than two weeks, Liverpool and fifteen other teams kick off their NextGen Series tournaments with the first round of fixtures in the new European under-19 tournament, with its Champions League-style format.

For Liverpool this represents another step up for the highly acclaimed Academy set up which has been overseen for the last couple of seasons by Frank McParland (Director), Pep Segura (Technical Director), Rodolfo Borrell (under-18 coach) and Mike Marsh (under-16 coach). This summer saw something of a change to the coaching set-up as Marsh took over the under-18 side and Borrell moved up to lead the reserve team, which functions mainly as an under-21 side for Liverpool these days.

Great strides have been made by the youngsters at the club and those directing them over the past couple of seasons, exemplified by the appearances and performances in the second half of 2010-11 of first Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing (though at 22, he has been more a reserve team product over the same time period than an under 18/academy player, despite obviously coming through the academy system long-term) and later in the season full back pair Jack Robinson and John Flanagan.

Robinson and Flanagan will no doubt feature further for Liverpool’s first team in the coming 2011-12 season but with senior players having now returned from injuries (such as Fabio Aurelio and Glen Johnson) they may find games not quite as regularly forthcoming as at the back end of last term, at least in the near future.

Both of those players, however, at just 17 and 18 years of age respectively are still eligible to take part in Liverpool’s NextGen Series side, despite featuring heavily in the first team’s pre-season campaign.

As well as the talented full-back duo, budding central midfielder Conor Coady played and scored for the first team while out on the tour of Asia last month, as well as featuring against Hull City and Galatasary.

Andre Wisdom, a powerful and composed on the ball defender who has featured for England’s youth sides regularly, came off the bench in Liverpool’s first four pre-season friendlies this summer and was involved in two first team squads last season, as well as training with the first team during the campaign.

Much spoken-about Raheem Sterling made a cameo appearance for Liverpool against Norwegian outfit Valerenga and also represented England at the recent under 17 tournament, while defender Stephen Sama also made his first team bow in the fixture against the Norwegians.

Such exposure at a young age – Sterling is still only 16 while Coady, Sama and Wisdom are all 18 – does not necessarily translate to future success in a Red shirt, but certainly serves to indicate the relative position of strength of the academy and reserve sides at present and perhaps shows that in such a high-profile tournament these players may get a taste of what could be to come should they continue to improve and challenge for a senior place in the coming months and years.

The Reds will face strong competition from Molde and Wolfsburg but arguably the toughest part of the draw – in terms of reputation at least – will come from the impressive youth outfit of Sporting Lisbon, heralded as one of the most prolific and consistent production lines on the continent and the side against who Liverpool’s youngsters will make their debut in the competition.

Whether Liverpool do well, win the tournament or get knocked out at the group stage is at this point almost irrelevant, certainly at least it is secondary to preparing the young players for the challenges that lie ahead.

A minimum of six mouth-watering clashes against some of the continent’s finest representatives of this age group could give a real indication of exactly where the promising youngsters are in their development – and impressive showings in the NextGen Series will certainly do their chances no harm at all of joining up with the senior squad again in the near future.

Robinson, Flanagan, Spearing and Kelly all made big strides last season under Kenny Dalglish; Rodolfo Borrell’s next wave of young charges will hope to emulate them this coming season and the upcoming tournament is a great platform for them to show just why each of them should be next.

Liverpool Pre-Season: Why Fans Shouldn’t Worry About Conceding Too Many Goals

Five games, fifteen goals conceded.

Whatever way you look at it and regardless of the standard of opposition, that is not a welcome statistic, nor one which would usually be associated with Liverpool Football Club.

It’s just a couple of weeks before the 2011-12 Premier League season kicks off and Liverpool appear to still have more than just one or two creases to iron out within the side.

Often during a period of change for a club, on-the-field performances can take a hit as a result of new faces, changing targets and fan expectancy. However, none of this really should be affecting the Reds.

Liverpool’s target this season is what it has always been – finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, so that hasn’t changed. Don’t confuse ‘targets’ with ‘aims’ – the eventual aim is of course to win the league, but the minimum requirement, the target, is to break back into the top four.

Fan expectancy can fluctuate wildly, but again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to people that Liverpool fans expect success; that is what we have been brought up on and that is what we aspire to get back to. In the main part, fans realise that success is not an instant reward and that there is a long process to get through, though of course some demand immediate returns in the form of constant silverware.

And changing faces? Well, unlike previous summers, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the back of too many people who we wouldn’t really want to be rid of, Alberto Aquilani potentially aside. The new players, Henderson, Adam, Downing and Doni, have settled in well and quickly and have arguably been some of the most consistent players during this pre-season, so that doesn’t appear to be much of a factor either.

So why is it that Liverpool have conceded three goals every match this summer?

Sunray Cave, Malaysia XI, Hull City, Galatasary, Valerenga; probably not a list of teams which have an awful lot in common with each other. Each of those five sides have put three past the red (and grey, and white) of Liverpool this pre-season. Valencia await in the final friendly and with the likes of Soldado, Mata and Aduriz providing the ammunition there is every chance that the nets at the Kop and Anfield Road ends will bulge again for the away side.

A week later Liverpool face Sunderland at home – the beginning of the new season and the first full term in charge for Kenny Dalglish since his return.

Will the Reds be ready in defence? Will they find their resolute performances which saw four clean sheets in February, three in four games in March, and three more in four games in April and May?

If they will be, why can’t they do it now, only a week or two before hand?

Let’s look at this objectively:

In five friendly matches, Liverpool have fielded five goalkeepers. Peter Gulacsi, Brad Jones, Martin Hansen, Alexander Doni and, finally last night, Pepe Reina.

The constant changing of a goalkeeper behind a defence – any defence – will always have a degenerative effect on the organisation of the team. We all know Reina excels at commanding the players in front of him and ensures that areas are properly monitored at set pieces. Brad Jones is the opposite of that, preferring to remain rooted inside his six yard area letting a more deep-lying defence do its job before he has to.

Hansen and Gulacsi are untested at first team level and nerves will no doubt have played a part in them attempting to direct the more experienced players in front of them – certainly Hansen’s spill on the Asian tour betrayed hints of that inexperience.

Then Doni, the new arrival from Roma, was only making his debut against Hull City. I don’t know how good his command of English is but I’m sure that after only a couple of training sessions he isn’t quite yet up to speed with how Dalglish and Steve Clarke like to organise the defence, where they hold the line, how they mark and many other facets of the defensive system.

Pepe Reina only returned to the fold against Valerenga after sitting out all summer recovering from a double hernia operation. He’s a great ‘keeper but even the best might take more than twenty minutes into their first game back to shake off the rustiness, even in something as automatic as communication.

Next we can look at the defenders who have played.

How many defenders would you expect to feature during the league campaign in a run of five matches? Just four, repeated each match? Throw in a few subs and make it six? An injury, maybe seven?

In these five matches no less than TWELVE defenders have featured at various times; John Flanagan, Jamie Carragher, Danny Wilson, Jack Robinson, Martin Kelly, Danny Agger, Soto Kyrgiakos, Andre Wisdom, Emiliano Insua, Dani Ayala, Glen Johnson and Stephen Sama have all played in different defensive roles, while outcast Philipp Degen also played, though in midfield.

While you could argue that the full backs have the same role regardless of who plays left or right, some of them have played on both sides. They have all played next to different team mates and with alternating players ahead of them in midfield. They have played different amounts of minutes and some, such as Johnson, have only just returned from injury. Fabio Aurelio, arguably the first choice left back at present when he can keep himself fit for more than five minutes at a time, hasn’t even made the pitch yet this summer.

Centrally, last season’s ever-present Martin Skrtel has yet to play as he recovers from a calf injury. The pairing in the middle has been asvaried and mixed up as a lucky dip fantasy football team. Kelly and Wilson barely played in the centre at all between them last season and have both been asked to feature there in the pre-season.

Throw in the added fact that ahead of the defence, the first choice organiser, water-carrier, ball-winner and loose-ball-picker-upper has been absent all summer through international commitments (along with the energy and determination that Lucas Leiva brings to the side) and it is clear that there are more than enough circumstances surrounding the defence at present that we shouldn’t be surprised that goals are being conceded.

Look also at the times that lots of the goals have been conceded: vs Malaysia, goals went in after 79 and 80 minutes; against Sunray on 90 and 91, Galatasary scored one after 83 minutes and Valerenga equalised last night three minutes into stoppage time.

Six goals out of the fifteen scored in or around the last ten minutes of the game.

This is pre-season; aside from the fact that the games mean nothing, the players are having to get through an awful lot of fitness and conditioning work prior to and after matches. Late on in essentially meaningless games there is a high chance that due to tiredness, lack of concentration or just that small edge of sharpness which comes as standard in Premier League games is missing – leading to goals needlessly conceded.

Of course we shouldn’t be happy that the Reds are conceding a lot of goals, nor should we ignore the fact. But it also shouldn’t be made to be a bigger issue than it is.

Its not an elephant in the room that nobody wants to see – Reina, Kuyt and Dalglish himself have already all alluded to the need to improve and I’m sure that the whole squad will get a thorough work out in the finer points of defending back at Melwood this week.

There are more than four weeks left of the transfer window and it is still possible that defensive reinforcements will arrive. But even if they don’t, it is not that big a deal.

Come Saturday 13th August, Reina will be in goal, Carragher and (presuming he stays injury-free) Agger will play in the centre and Glen Johnson will man one full back area with Dalglish likely to choose between Kelly, Flanagan and Robinson for the other, assuming nobody new arrives before then.

Lucas will be back, the formation and playing system will be decided upon, set and practised endlessly and the Kop will be so busy roaring Kuyt, Carroll et al on to score goals that the defending will take care of itself as Liverpool seek to start the season with a win. Hopefully there won’t even be that much to be done as Sunderland will have their own problems in integrating an entire new XI to play together.

Personally speaking, I am more concerned with Liverpool stepping things up with their movement, ball retention and energy, as well as getting more support to Carroll so things don’t have to be fired towards his head every time, rather than worrying about conceding goals and bringing in a new centre back. If Agger is fit he is better than anybody else we can bring in so I’m not bothered about arguing over Dann, Shawcross or anyone else.

But if you still aren’t convinced and think that stemming the flow of incoming goals before the match against Valencia is definitely, absolutely, can’t-possibly-be-anything-more-important-to-focus-on more essential, then ponder on this:

In the summer of 2006, Liverpool’s last friendly was against lowly German opposition Mainz. They battered us 5-0.

Later that season, we went all the way to the Champions League final in Athens.

So do pre-season issues and problems reflect on how the season is going to pan out? Not a chance. Just look at Bruno Cheyrou’s heroics before the serious games started.

So don’t worry about it. Don’t panic. Don’t criticise and write off the experienced stars and the promising youngsters, just because a bunch of players you’ve never heard of scored a few goals one month against us.

After all… it’s only pre-season.

Henderson, Adam & Downing – How Right are They for the Reds?

Alright, so I haven’t written anything on 18and5 for a while because, frankly, there hasn’t been anything compelling enough to write about. The signing by Liverpool of Jordan Henderson caused a fair bit of debate, mainly over the price tag I suppose, but all in all the completion of a transfer so early in the Summer was enough to assuage anybody’s doubts that it was the right thing to do, and things looked rosy. Then we had a quiet spell before the Charlie Adam deal was finally wrapped up, and again the odd voice was heard over whether he was the right signing for the club. Again though, things quietened down fairly quickly and it seemed most people agreed that the price (presumed around £8 million) was pretty good, considering Blackpool wanted £10 million or more just six months ago.

But now the Reds are on the verge of adding a third British player in Stewart Downing, for a fee rumoured to be between £18 – 20 million, and there seems to be a bit of a divide as to whether this approach to players is the right way to go.

edit – Alexander Doni has been signed by Liverpool since I started writing this, but as a second choice goalkeeper he doesn’t really affect any part of this argument!

There are several angles I want to answer this question from; or at least give my answer to it.

Firstly – the perceived ‘unspectacularness’ of the signings. Secondly – why these players have been targeted. And thirdly – how can they fit in and be the right signings for Liverpool?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Late into the transfer window in January, the Reds sell two forwards (Babel and Torres) and sign two forwards (Carroll and Suarez). Much rejoicing was to follow when Torres looked like Sean Dundee playing for Chelsea, and Suarez proved every bit as good as any newcomer we have seen over the past few seasons – probably since Torres himself came in and smacked 24 league goals in his debut season, in fact.

From then on, people seemed to think that all the new signings for Liverpool were going to be equally spectacular, equally mind-blowing in their impact, equally expensive as well probably. It was (rightly) pointed out that NESV/FSG had roughly broken even in January, with the two outgoing sales compensating for the two signings, and the management went right ahead and told us there would be spending in the summer, as long as the right deals were there.

So many names were thrown around – Phil Jones, Blackburn’s new kid on the block ‘destined’ for great things (so were Jamie Cassidy and Anthony Le Tallec I will add); Juan Mata, Valencia’s Spanish creative forward; Ashley Young of Aston Villa, Ezequiel Lavezzi, a hundred different others – that it seemed the home-based and household names of Downing and Adam held little interest for some supporters any more, especially as they were ‘old news’ as the club was linked with a move for both in the January window.

Now those two (well Downing hasn’t officially signed at the time of writing but it seems a mere formality given Aston Villa have accepted LFC’s bid) and Henderson have joined the club it seems that there is a slight feeling of anti-climax about Liverpool’s transfer dealings, despite the fact (or perhaps, for some people, because of it?) that Liverpool have spent somewhere between £42 million and £50 million this summer, recouping only around £1.5 million in return for the sale of Paul Konchesky to Leicester City.

Let’s stop and take stock there for a second. Fifty million quid spent, next to nothing brought back in.

Think back a year; the Reds brought in two Bosman signings (Cole and Jovanovic), a back-up ‘keeper (Jones), re-signed Aurelio for free, brought in Shelvey and Wilson on pre-arranged deals which though could rise significantly only initially laid out around £3 million in total for both, splashed out ten million on Raul Meireles and wasted about ten million and two youth players on Poulsen and Konchesky.

A total outlay of about £25 million… recouped in large part by the single sale of Javier Mascherano to Barcelona.

Oh, and Liverpool also sold Damien Plessis, Diego Cavalieri, Yossi Benayoun, Miki San Jose, Albert Riera, Krisztian Nemeth and Nikolay Mihaylov, all of whom brought in transfer fees. Aquilani, Degen, Insua and El Zhar were also loaned out to remove them (at least partly) from the wage bill.

This was nothing new – several transfer windows in a row Liverpool brought in more money than they spent. Is it any wonder we spiralled down the table? Now look back at our current spend: £50 million – so far. Is that not reason enough to be happy? Is it not better to have spent this money within six weeks on Premier League players rather than servicing two years’ worth of debt interest with it? Regardless of every single Liverpool fans’ opinion on these three players, should we not simply be pleased that we are once again in a position to do business rather than be forced to sell to cover the mismanagement of the club?

Henderson, Adam, Downing.

Not spectacular names. But names nonetheless, names who have or will agree to come to Liverpool to try their hardest, to play for Kenny Dalglish, to win trophies. That’s good enough for me for starters.

The second and third parts of my argument – why these three players and also how will they fit in to the squad? – link together somewhat, but let’s see first why the trio were targeted.

The Reds have a large number of midfielders now; Gerrard, Lucas, Meireles, Spearing, Maxi, Poulsen, Shelvey, Cole and Jovanovic (if you include him as a wide midfielder, though not his actual position he did play there mostly for the Reds) from last season and now the return of Aquilani plus Downing, Henderson and Adam. Lots of players for three or four positions, but we’ll get there in a moment.

I won’t go into the statistics too much at this point; they have been covered in many articles already by many blogs or writers and I’m sure most people reading this will probably have heard them already, especially the one about the three new boys combined having created enough chances between them last season at their old clubs to account for 56% of the total chances Liverpool as a whole created during 2010-11. If you didn’t know that one already, now you do!

But what precisely is it that they bring to the club? Henderson signed first, so let’s consider him. He can play out on the flank on the right as well as in his more favoured central role; he can play very much a box-to-box type of role or be much more the focal point of attack through the middle; he can pass well, has a very good cross on him and has pace and stamina to spare. Above all, it is perhaps the potential of the player that Liverpool have signed; at 21 years of age he is the youngest player to be signed for the first team for some time and he has yet the capability to get better at everything.

He already though offers an attacking presence, endless running and no shortage of creativity and flair in the centre. Saying that, I envisage that he will find more playing time, at the beginning of this season at least, out on the right flank – I’ll explain why a bit more in part three, though of course his crossing ability and pace stand out as immediate advantages.

Charlie Adam, well we can already see what he will bring to the club. The first thing is his set piece delivery, which Liverpool have been less-than-excellent at for some time. With Carroll, Kyrgiakos, Agger and Kuyt (and Gerrard, if he is not taking them now) awaiting set piece deliveries we should be a much more potent side than we have been from corners and free kicks. Suddenly we have gone from perhaps two alternately good and poor takers in Gerrard and Aurelio to both those two, plus all three new signings took various types of set pieces at their former clubs. Jonjo Shelvey, should he play more of a part in the first team this season, will also want to get a look in.

Other than that, Adam brings a certain balance to the midfield by being left footed. It might not sound like a big deal, but it can have an effect on game situations – how many times have we seen the ball move from the left side across the centre, then across again, and again, and again until it reaches the right flank, merely because Maxi-to-Lucas-to-Meireles-to-Gerrard-to-Kuyt involves all predominantly right footed players who prefer to shift the ball across themselves before making the pass, giving the opposition defence an extra half a second to narrow the angle, close a player down or mark a free runner. Mixing a left footed player in there gives the option of an inside-of-the-foot first time pass while the ball is travelling left to right, as well as a cross from deep without needing to check back inside first. I don’t know how long it will be before Adam puts a cross on the head of Carroll from a similar sort of distance and area of the pitch to that of Meireles for Carroll’s second goal against Man City last season, but I bet it’s not long – a chance which otherwise might not have been taken while one of the other midfielders switched the ball to their right foot.

Adam can also feature when needed further wide as a left midfielder, and presumably will have no trouble playing as either a deep lying player ahead of the back line (though I don’t expect him to need to play that role often) or in the ‘Steven Gerrard’ role behind one forward. However, I am fairly sure he will be the ‘second’ midfielder, the on-the-ball midfielder who gets our attacks going and probes the opposition midfield and defence with alternating long and short passes. That is the other thing Adam brings; a range of passing which the likes of Suarez, Gerrard and Downing eventually will thrive on with their excellent movement.

And so on to Stewart Downing. Why Downing is needed is fairly obvious; we have no left footed, left sided midfielder and haven’t had since Albert Riera effectively threw himself overboard mid 2009-10 season with his Rafa Benitez comments. Before that, a succession of failed Sebastian Leto’s, Mark Gonzalez’s and Harry Kewell’s have failed to consistently deliver from that side.

Left footed crossing from the left seems to be fading out somewhat in the Premiership as teams more and more often try the ole’ “switch the flanks” routine, having right footed players cut in from the left and vice versa. Great, and effective at times, but variation is the key to a successful attack and even as someone who does not, generally speaking, like wingers I can accept and indeed encourage the fact we need someone in the squad who is going to hug the flank at times, stretch the play, beat a defender and get a cross over.

I’ve heard the arguments about Mata over Downing and yes, he is undoubtedly a better player but he is also not the same type of player. Nor is Santi Cazorla, for whoever it was saying we should have signed him instead of Downing. He’s also not left footed.

I also read a complaint of sorts that Downing “just pushes the ball past the defender” to beat him and cross, presumably being a moan that he doesn’t do several step-overs first or some kind of Brazilian skill move which ends in -o. Erm, so what? Surely the whole point of having a wide player in the team – and the reason I don’t like them much – is receiving end product? If Downing has a way of providing that then that is what we need, no matter how it is delivered.

He can, of course, play right the way across the midfield having spent a spell in the centre of the park after James Milner’s departure, and frequently featured on the right flank for both club and country last term and before.

Downing is a good crosser, has a fair shot on him from around the edge of the area and does carry a set piece threat, though perhaps not on par with Adam. His right foot is not exceptionally strong but he isn’t afraid to use it, which is more than can be said for a lot of players on the Liverpool squad list. We know he will work hard, put in a shift and get through a lot of selfless running and will, in my opinion, be an asset to the club.

Could we have got a faster winger? Yes. Could we have got a cheaper winger? Definitely. Could we have got one who was faster, cheaper and provided the same number of chances that Downing will create next season? We’ll never know, but I would argue probably not. As for the people who think the transfers have been geared towards throwing the ball up towards Andy Carroll’s disturbingly hairy head, either have a word with yourself – this is a Kenny Dalglish side we’re talking about – or else just rest easily in the knowledge you are happily wrong.

Not that we’ll never do that; if you have a Rory Delap throw in, you use it; and if you have a hairy cannon-ball header of the ball, you use it.

And one other important offering from all three players. For far too long, Liverpool have been reliant on a few match-winners who, when missing, the team struggles to replace. I’m not just talking about goalscoring, but all areas of winning matches. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, obviously. Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and previously Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Luis Garcia and Yossi Benayoun. Aside from Mascherano’s final (full) season and Alonso’s second season, all of those ‘match winners’ who have left the club suffered significant injury problems and missed at times fair chunks of almost each season. Gerrard last season only played slightly more than half the league games, while the normally reliable Kuyt also missed half a dozen games through injury. In fact, aside from Martin Skrtel, no outfield player managed more than 32 starts for Liverpool in last season’s Premier League. Go back even further – Kewell, Smicer, Berger, Owen, Fowler – all match winners who battled injury time and time again for the Reds until they were replaced.

I am not suggesting that the three new lads will immediately (or ever, if compared to Gerrard and Fowler) have a match-winning ability on the scale of these other names, but they do have their talents which can help the Reds win games. And last season Adam played 35 of Blackpool’s 38 league games. The season before, 43 from 46. Jordan Henderson played 37 of 38 last year and in his first full season played 33. Downing last season played all 38 games. He suffered an injury in 2009-10 but in 08-09 played 37 of 38. The year before, the full 38 again. The year before, 34. These three new signings have a track record of being fit and available for their teams, and that amongst all their other traits is also something to be admired; something which will benefit Liverpool a thousand times more than Kewell being injured even if you liked how he beat a man better than Downing; more than Berger being injured even if he had a harder left footed shot than Adam and more than Jamie Redknapp being injured for two and a half years even if he was club captain and Jordan Henderson never will be.

And so now to how these players can fit in to the squad, and why are they right for Liverpool.

This last part is a bit more tricky and involves a certain few assumptions on my part, but hopefully fairly safe ones.

My first assumption is that Dalglish is focussing on playing some variation of a 4:3:3 system at most times this season. It’s the only formation which makes sense to me really; whether that be a 4:2:3:1 or a 4:5:1 or a true 4:3:3. They are all very small variations of the same essential system. One striker, 2 supporting players in differing positions, 3 central players. We also saw a 3:4:3 (3:6:1, whatever you want to call it) a few times last season which is also adaptable from the 4:3:3 I propose that we will play.

Based on this, let us discount for now from the squad list all goalkeepers, defenders and the holding midfielders, which is a very specialised position and for which we have Lucas Leiva, Jay Spearing and if he stays Christian Poulsen. Conor Coady as a prospect looks like he may get game time in this position in a cup competition this season perhaps.

That leaves us with five positions to fill (two central midfield and the front three) from currently the remaining 10 midfielders – Gerrard, Meireles, Maxi, Shelvey, Cole, Jovanovic, Aquilani, Downing, Henderson and Adam – plus Kuyt, Suarez, Carroll, Pacheco and Ngog – fifteen players. Three per position is obviously too many in a season where we will play between 40 and 51 matches, compared to our usual 50 or more in a European campaign with at least moderate success in the domestic cups.

Milan Jovanovic is almost certain to leave shortly, while it seems likely that at least one of Maxi Rodriguez and Joe Cole will depart. It seemed sure after last season that Maxi would go after claiming he wanted to return to Argentina but his new squad number (11) seems to indicate that he will stay. The latest rumours for Cole have Aston Villa chasing him, though I am still tempted to keep hold of him for now. Ngog can leave if a team offers the right money for him, while Pacheco is likely to have another loan spell.

With Jovanovic, Pacheco and Ngog taken out of the equation we have 12 players for five positions. This is probably about the number we need to have – the argument will be whether the 12 players are the right 12 we need.

For me, Gerrard and Adam offer good compatibility with each other while Meireles and Aquilani, two more of who it has been argued that one could/should leave, offer great depth as alternatives for or alongside either player. That leaves Shelvey as a fifth, who has already shown his versatility playing both at right midfield and left back – though clearly has a future as a central player.

A front three of Suarez-Carroll-Kuyt is intriguing but simplistic; Downing and Henderson offer excellent potential on either side of that triumvirate for varying the method of attack. Quite clearly we want Suarez to start as many games as possible and he can play right the way across that 3 as well as being a ‘second’ striker if we alter the plan. Kuyt is similarly versatile, if entirely different in style.

Downing as mentioned already can play both sides of that system, offering regular delivery and width in an otherwise possibly predictable line-up. Please note, I say predictable, not stoppable. We know Luis will love to pick the ball up in the left channel and drive in towards the goal; which is not to say that defenders will be able to stop him. Downing however will offer an alternative option and allows Suarez to play more centrally at times, or else he will offer a direct goal threat cutting in off the right side onto his left foot, a la Adam Johnson for Manchester City.

Henderson on the right side of a three is an option which really interests me. I know Kuyt is the main man, and will likely continue to be so, but he can also play centrally and Henderson will certainly get plenty of chances, even if it is off the bench to begin with. But with his drive and pace and willingness to run at defenders I truly think he can be a massive part of the Liverpool attack this season. His crossing is very intelligent; not just curling a high ball in or flashing a driven effort across the box but actively searching out runners, high and low, something which both our January deadline-day buys will appreciate.

The former Sunderland man is also exceedingly capable of scoring a good few goals for the Reds from that position in my opinion; he can get in the box to provide great support very quickly and has a decent shot on him. I am particularly looking forward to seeing him in this kind of role for the Reds, even if long-term he might be being thought about within the club as a central player.

That leaves us with Maxi and Cole. Two different kinds of players, both who play from out wide on either side, neither of which are a ‘winger’. Maxi relies on movement and quick passing to be effective; Cole on technique and trying the unexpected. It didn’t work out for Cole last season but, and I fully appreciate I stand to be shot down somewhat here, I still would give him another chance, at least until January. I understand the wages could be prohibitive and if there is a buyer who will offer him first team action he might want to go, but I have always admired how Cole came back from criticism in the past (see as a young captain at West Ham, and later his work rate issues under Mourinho) and would like to see him do it at Anfield and deliver what he is really capable of.

And, I might add, this system with wide runners, good off-the-ball movement from any of them, cutting inside or staying wide, is another big reason for the signing of Charlie Adam, and why I think we will play a 4:3:3. His long range passes have been well highlighted, sometimes for good arguments (great passer) and sometimes for bad (comparatively poor pass completion rate), but with runners such as Downing, Suarez, Maxi or Henderson I think we will see the best of Adam from this second central position, right in the middle of the park with one (e.g. Lucas or Spearing) behind him tidying up and one (e.g. Gerrard or Meireles) taking up more aggressive positions in the final third. He can pick out the runners and the players at Liverpool are generally speaking more technically and tactically savvy.

Maxi I can take or leave; seven goals in three games was great but for eighteen months he has been alternatively good and anonymous and I would not look on with an enormous amount of regret – though with fondness, don’t get me wrong – if he was to eventually depart the club this summer.

Something else I’d like to bring up at this point; I have mentioned the duos of Meireles-Aquilani and Downing-Henderson ‘second’ when talking about players for each position. This doesn’t mean I see any of them playing a back up role. Fans need to understand now that there is not a ‘first eleven’ any more; there is not a first teamer and a back up for each position. There are back ups, no doubt about it, Poulsen will be proof of one if he doesn’t move on this summer and the recently arrived Doni will be one for Reina, but in key areas of the outfield team we need more first teamers than there are positions – and this is something which has held Liverpool back for far too long.

In central midfield, for example, teams don’t need two (4:4:2) or three (4:3:3) first teamers and two or three back ups, a top side playing three in the middle need four or arguably even five first pick central midfielders, as well as another one or two floating about spare.

There’s no list of “Centre mids: Lucas and Gerrard, then Meireles and Adam; right side, Kuyt then Henderson; up front, Carroll and Suarez, then Ngog.” No. Henderson will play right, and centre, and possibly left. Downing the same. Gerrard possibly even the same. Dirk will play right and up front, and in behind. Luis will play all over the show.

Dalglish is building a side capable of playing from one set formation, many systems – that’s the way it must be done. And therefore, players need to be able to play several positions if necessary; the more they can, the more chance of getting game time they have. Downing and Henderson in particular offer Kenny that.

Of course, if Kenny is going for a 4:4:2 then this ‘list’ goes out the window somewhat and we can expect another attacker to be on the way, along with at least one of the named central midfielders departing, but somehow I just don’t see it at this stage.

The eleven players who take the pitch on any given match day don’t alter the fact that it is a squad game now and we need so many more than 12, 13 or 14 players who can play well and often, which is what we’ve had before. I have to admit, though I still want a left back to come in, if we sign no other player after that I will be more than satisfied with the summer’s work by the club.

Were Henderson, Adam and Downing my first choice signings at the beginning of summer for the Reds? No. Do I think therefore that they are bad signings, or wrong signings now? Only time will tell, but I am confident they won’t be. They have been signed with a plan in mind, and if Kenny is the designer then we can’t go too far wrong. Players can get better playing with better team mates and all three players have stepped up a level in moving to Anfield. It is also a fact, long proven over time, that Kenny Dalglish improves players and can get better performances out of them over a season.

Maybe not spectacular signings, maybe not earth-shattering signings, maybe even one or two overpriced signings – but if they are the right signings for Liverpool Football Club, that is perfectly fine with me.