EighteenAndFive

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

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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.

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Lucrative Liverpool: Anfield Re-development or Stanley Park Naming Rights?


Liverpool Football Club Managing Director, Ian Ayre, recently confirmed that the senior club hierarchy have held productive and informative talks with ‘several’ global brands with a view to possibly selling the naming rights for the new stadium in Stanley Park, should the decision be taken to move away from current stadium Anfield.

Ayre was at pains to clarify that, as yet, no firm choice has been made on whether to stick or twist with regards to an expanded stadium, although he also admitted that talks relating to the naming rights – significantly, how much prospective sponsors would be willing to shell out – would go some way to determining the outcome of the decision.

So which would be the best way to go for Liverpool?

The stadium debate has dragged on for years now; the infamous “spade in the ground at sixty days” quote has gone way past being a bad joke, but even before the Texan cowboys rode into town back in 2007 a new stadium was something which had been on the agenda for the club for quite some time.

Fans were split then and some remain so; the heritage, history and tradition of Anfield or the custom-designed, sponsor-funded shiny new stadium across the way in Stanley Park?

First of all, lets get the raw numbers out the way. Why do Liverpool need a new stadium? Simply put, Liverpool are falling further behind their competitors such as Arsenal and Manchester United with every home game that passes.

In the most simple and roughest of terms, during a domestic season Anfield, which holds around 45.000 spectators at a time, hosts 19 league matches and perhaps 2 or 3 cup games, depending of course on the draw and how far Liverpool progress. Given that this season just finished Liverpool played 1 away FA Cup match and 1 home League Cup match only (which saw an attendance of just 22.500), we will discount cup matches for these basic figures.

Nineteen home matches, multiplied by an average ticket price of £45 (they ranged from £39 to £48 for 2010/11), multiplied again by an average attendance of 43.000 gives a total ticket income of £36.765.000 per Premier League season, approximately £1.9 m per home match.

Compare this to Arsenal (19 x average ticket price of £60 x average attendance of 60.000) who rake in £68.400.000 per season (£3.6m per home game) and Manchester United (19 x £45 x 75.000) who collect £64.125.000 per season (£3.4 million per home game) and it is clear to see that the Reds have a severe handicap when it comes to spending power – and this is on ticket sales alone. Next season Liverpool will not have any Europa League income to be grateful for either (4 home games x £35 tickets x 38.000 average attendance  = another £5.3 million) while both those clubs will contend Champions League football again next season. Newcastle United and Manchester City also had higher average attendances for the 2010/11 season than Liverpool.

Of course, the numbers are extremely rough – kids’ tickets, disabled seats, away supporters and season ticket price differences are not accounted for in the sums, but even taking that into account, 15.000 or 30.000 more people visiting the club shop, buying half time drinks and pies, doing first scorer scratch cards and making bets and buying match-day programmes all makes a hell of a lot of difference to the overall income of the club.

Should Anfield be increased to 60.000 capacity then over the course of a Premier League season the Reds would have their kitty boosted by up to an extra £14.5 million per season – nothing to sniffed at, especially in the climate of Uefa Financial Fair Play Regulations and ever-increasing player values.

Liverpool have been at pains to improve the so-called Anfield Experience recently under the stewardship of Ian Ayre – the Boot Room cafe and improved product range in the club shop are just two examples of that.

Few Reds would turn down the chance to stay at Anfield if it was a viable option, and if the planning permission can be sought and the physical improvements can be done with little fuss then it could be a great option for the club.

But this is a decision for the next hundred years of Liverpool’s existence; an extra £15 million a year is not the only thing to be kept in mind.

Football stadia worldwide are now used for so many other features; music concerts, community occasions and International matches are just a few of them. Is Anfield capable of hosting those events? Are these other sources of income something that LFC want to look at and rely on? Are the surrounding areas beside Anfield Road and Walton Breck Road – neither exactly Sightseeing Avenue – able to cope with the added demand of between ten and twenty thousand extra pairs of shoes every other week, or indeed more frequently at times? There is no parking in or beside the stadium itself; visitors arrive at the ground on foot having departed buses, trains or cars elsewhere.

The original plans for Anfield, after the building of Stanley Park Stadium, as it was, would have been to regenerate it into Anfield Plaza, with offices, restaurants and the like introduced to renovate the area.

All great, but all more expensive of course.

The Stanley Park Stadium was due to cost around £300 million to complete; doubtless the price will have by now increased somewhat as a result of inflation if nothing else, despite the recent economic downturn.

Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium earned the club £100 million for a fifteen year deal on naming rights – however this included an eight year shirt sponsorship. Given that Liverpool have a four-year deal for shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered worth £20 million per year, it seems that either Ayre and his commercial team have pulled a magnificent rabbit out of a hat by getting so much from the Asia-based bank, or else that Arsenal were short-changed for their double sponsorship income allowance.

In either case, I would certainly expect a payment of at least £5 million per year for naming rights for any new Liverpool FC stadium – and in truth I would hope it to be quite considerably more than that, perhaps around double.

A ten year deal to net the club £100 million for the stadium would go quite some way towards off-setting the construction costs, perhaps as much as a quarter or a third of the total cost – and therefore is absolutely the way to go if a new stadium is the answer.

Of course, nobody wants to be playing at the Tampax Stadium, the Mr. Muscle Bowl or the McDonald’s Arena – but in all honesty, the few corporations who are global enough to want to work with a major football side and profitable enough to pay such high levies for the privilege of having their name adorn the club’s home ground shouldn’t have any real issues with wacky name tags.

Hopefully some time during what is doubtless going to be a hugely busy summer for the Reds – the tour of Asia and the impending signing of Jordan Henderson are two such examples – there will be further news on the final decision to be taken by the Reds, and I can say with no hesitation that I have been impressed enough by Ian Ayre’s leadership and revenue generation so far – even under the despicable duo – that I am confident he and his team will make absolutely the right decision for the long term of the club.

Just don’t promise us anything spade-related.

Can King Kenny Steal 5th Place for Liverpool From Tottenham?


After the Europa League exit at the hands of Braga last week, Liverpool’s sole route back into European football next season must come via a fifth place finish in the Premier League. Though seventh place last season was enough for the Reds to face continental opponents this term such as Napoli and Sparta Prague, Birmingham City’s League Cup triumph and the guarantee of either Stoke City or Bolton Wanderers appearing in the FA Cup Final in May means that England’s top league will this season contribute just one place to the Europa League for the 2011/12 campaign – fifth place, which is currently occupied by Tottenham Hotspur.

Given that even Liverpool spent much of the latter months of 2010 hovering around 15th place in the table under Roy Hodgson – even as late as the end of October the Reds were in the relegation zone – even the prospect of finishing in the top six has to be viewed as some sort of achievement, and is even an improvement on last season’s seventh place finish, all of the credit for which must go to current caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish.

But a sixth place finishing would indicate no European football for Liverpool next season, something which hasn’t been the case since Gerard Houllier’s first full season in sole charge, back in 1999.

So it is possible that King Kenny can take Liverpool one giant step further and sneak the fifth place finish which would at least see the Reds compete in the second-tier of European football again?

Is it even something Liverpool fans want? The Reds are all about challenging for honours and playing the biggest sides in the world. That is where we want to be; that is where we must be. And some have argued that, while admittedly a winnable trophy, the Europa League could provide a distraction from seriously challenging for a top four spot next season; a sort of second League Cup in disguise.

For what it’s worth, personally I would very much want to be in the Europa League next season. I would argue that we should always try to win each trophy we can, and our record in European football – nobody has won more Europa League/UEFA Cups than Liverpool – is something which we should proudly defend, not be irritated by.

Those who think differently should muse on this: as a result of being in the Europa League this season, Liverpool’s European coefficient will have dropped significantly, especially going out at a relatively early stage of the competition. Should we not be in any European competition next season our rating will drop even more alarmingly, quite possibly putting the Reds out of the top seeds should we manage to qualify for the Champions League in a years time.

Might I add further, for any prospective signings this summer – the name of Liverpool FC is and will always be a draw, but might it not be even brighter a light if European football can be offered immediately?

So can we do it? Can King Kenny lead Liverpool to an unlikely fifth place finish? A brief look at the fixtures remaining suggests it is possible, if not probable. Liverpool and Spurs are just four points apart at present, though the London side have a game in hand. Liverpool have to travel to The Emirates to play Arsenal as well as receiving Manchester City and Spurs themselves at Anfield, with the remaining five games against sides in the bottom half and therefore in the large group involved in this season’s relegation battle – just six points separate Newcastle (11th) from Wigan (20th).

Spurs on the other hand face four similarly struggling teams, mid-table Stoke, a home derby against Arsenal and three difficult trips to Chelsea, Manchester City and of course Liverpool.

Given Man City’s involvement in the fixtures between the Reds and Spurs, it is not inconceivable that Roberto Mancini’s inconsistent Citizens could be part of the battle, but they have an extra four points on Spurs and five victories in their final eight matches would almost guarantee them to finish above Liverpool.

Now to take a closer look and see just what the Reds need to do to take fifth place.

The first game in April sees Liverpool travel to West Brom to face the man Dalglish succeeded on the Anfield throne, Roy Hodgson. West Brom are a decent footballing side and showed just last week against Arsenal that they can match the big guns at home, but Liverpool have improved markedly under Dalglish away from home (three wins from five away league games under Dalglish, one win from nine under Hodgson) and if the squad comes through the international break unscathed we should be hopeful of taking all three points. The returns to fitness of Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey, Fabio Aurelio and Martin Kelly may come at different times throughout the month but if any of the four come back for the West Brom game it would boost the Reds’ options considerably.

Spurs meanwhile face Wigan at the DW Stadium. Though Wigan are bottom, they have caused Spurs problems in the past couple of seasons. Then again, Spurs also beat them 9-1 in 2009. In addition, Spurs face Real Madrid in the Champions League just three days later and I fancy they may rest one or two players after the international break and before this big fixture. I’m going for a Wigan victory.

Next up, a home game to Manchester City. This could go either way – the reverse fixture saw City win 3-0 though Liverpool did play well up to a point that day and certainly deserved a goal at least; a three goal defeat was harsh. The lesser-evil-half of Manchester are certainly more functional than spectacular this season, though the returns from injury of Carols Tevez and Adam Johnson will give them a big boost in the attacking areas. A win in this game would be a big boost for the Reds in the run in, and nine days to prepare between the WBA game and this one it is certainly a possibility, but it is a close game to call and I will go with a draw.

Sandwiched between the two legs of the Real Madrid game, Spurs face Stoke. Regardless of resting players, Stoke’s away form is poor – eleven losses this season in the league – and I think Spurs will beat them.

Arsenal away is third in April and is the one game during the last two months of the season which I could see the Reds slipping up in. Arsenal are strong at home and of course one of the best sides in Europe; on their day they can beat any team convincingly. Of course, if Almunia plays in goal for Liverpool there is always a good chance of being gifted a goal…. Nonetheless, I don’t imagine Liverpool will go through the remainder of the season unbeaten so I will elect this game as being a defeat, with the proviso that I will be very happy to be proven otherwise!

Spurs also play Arsenal just a few days later in a midweek North London derby. Arsenal usually beat Spurs late on in these games and though I would like it to be the case again as the Reds seek to overcome the white half of North London, I feel Spurs will win this game. From here on in, Spurs fixtures may be changed or re-arranged depending on their progress in the Champions League.

Liverpool finish April with a home fixture against Birmingham – battling relegation or not, the Reds should win this game at a canter. We have been generally strong at home and barring further injuries most of the squad should be available by this time. Birmingham have struggled for goals this season and I would expect Liverpool to win this game comfortably if they are at their best. As with all the games in April, the Reds will have a full week to prepare for the fixture as a result of being out of the cup competitions.

Roy Hodgson rears his head in this blog again here as he takes his West Brom side to White Hart Lane. Reds supporters know all about Roy’s away form – Tottenham win in this one.

In the final month of the season, Liverpool will first receive Andy Carroll’s old side Newcastle United. Though I hope he has opened his account for the Reds before this game, it would be rather poetic if he was to net the winner in this match, given he cost us three points in the reverse fixture when he was still wearing black and white! Again, at home this is a fixture I would expect Liverpool to win; Newcastle have struggled somewhat under Pardew and few sides can cope with Liverpool in full flow at home.

The day before the Liverpool-Newcastle game, Tottenham face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Another London derby, though less intense, Chelsea will by this time hopefully be in full flight as they storm back to rob Manchester United of the Premiership title! Even if they don’t, only very, very good sides beat them at Stamford Bridge (nudge nudge, wink wink) and I have to choose a loss for Spurs.

The visit to Fulham I also expect Liverpool to win; though they are just three points off the relegation zone at the moment, between now and this fixture Fulham face the likes of Blackpool, Wolves and Sunderland and I expect they may have taken enough points to secure their status for another season, making this fixture something of a dead rubber for them. Hopefully of course Liverpool will still be aiming for fifth place, and I would back Dalglish to outfox an old adversary in Mark Hughes, once a player of Manchester United while Dalglish was the same for Liverpool.

Spurs face Blackpool at home on the same day as Liverpool-Fulham and though the Tangerines are inherently unpredictable, this has to go down as a home banker.

Then Spurs take their extra game in hand – a very difficult trip to Manchester City. The two sides met in a similar fourth/fifth place battle one year and five days previously to when this tie is due to take place – Spurs won that game 1-0 at Eastlands and in doing so won their shot at the Champions League. This season, it is City who have the edge at this moment in time and who will surely be determined not to repeat their mistakes of last season. This game truly could go either way – Spurs are sure to attack and hope to outscore City, similarly to how they approached the game last season, while City’s style is not so rash or gung-ho. With Spurs’ porous defence away from home (24 conceded in 15 games) and City’s strong home record (2 defeats in 15) I’m going for a home win, putting Manchester City in the Champions League in the process.

That takes us to the penultimate game of the season when Spurs visit Anfield in what could prove a crucial fixture in the battle for fifth place. Should the games beforehand go as I have predicted (highly unlikely I know!) at the start of this game Liverpool would have 58 points and Tottenham 61 points – the Reds having made up ground of just 1 point between now and then. With a lot riding on the outcome of this game, and with it being played at Anfield, I have to again go with a Reds win. We have a good record at home against Spurs and I can see this continuing. That puts us level on points with Tottenham – with just one game apiece to play.

At this point of course, goal difference would come into play. At this moment Tottenham have a slight advantage over Liverpool, +7 compared to the Reds’ +5, but if the likelihood of my guesses of match outcomes being all correct are slim then predicting the goals scored and conceded in each one would be mostly futile. But let’s guess anyway. I’d imagine Liverpool could add a further +6 to their goal difference with the 3 wins over Birmingham, Newcastle and Fulham. The draw vs Man City and a win and a defeat against West Brom and Arsenal respectively could easily come out at 0 – leaving the game against Spurs to add another +1, giving a total goal difference of +12 come the end of the Spurs game.

For their part, Spurs could even out the loss vs Wigan with the win vs Stoke, and likewise the loss vs Chelsea and the win vs Arsenal. Home wins over West Brom and Blackpool could easily add +5 to their difference, with defeats to Man City and Liverpool lowering that to +3, giving Tottenham a total of +10.

That would put Liverpool in the final fifth spot, though of course very little attention should be paid to such guesswork for the goals scored for and against.

Whoever had a better goal difference, going into the last day of the season both sides would know that a big victory could seal a Europa League spot, while anything less would mean nothing at all to play for outside of the domestic cup competitions next season – unless of course, Tottenham manage to dispose of Real Madrid, the winners of Barcelona-Shakhtar Donetsk and then vanquish Manchester United, Chelsea, Inter Milan or Schalke in the final of the Champions League. As Reds fans, we should not be hoping for this somewhat improbable outcome – Spurs as holders would go into the Champions League, bumping Man City down to the Europa League, taking the third and final English slot in the process!

Back to the Premiership – Liverpool face Aston Villa at Villa Park, with ex-Reds boss Gerard Houllier presumably still at the helm, while Tottenham have a home game against Villa’s Midlands rivals Birmingham City. Either or both of these clubs could be in relegation trouble come the last game of the season, and my money would be on the Blues. Despite their Carling Cup win Birmingham have been poor in the league and with West Ham’s resurgence, Blackpool’s habit of pulling a victory out at unexpected times and the undeniably qualities of teams such as West Brom and Wolves, the Blues are really going to struggle in my opinion to survive the drop.

What that means in terms of Liverpool is one of two things: either they could already be relegated by the time this clash comes around, resulting in a straight forward win for Spurs, or they have one last chance to win on the last day of the season to stay up, meaning much more of a battle – presumably. In either case, I would have to go with a Tottenham win. Spurs are strong at home and the teams down at the bottom are often down there for a reason.

That leaves the Reds in battle at Villa Park – where I believe they will also win. Villa should have clocked up enough points by then to ensure their own survival and with one or two players possibly moving on come the end of the season, their end of season games could become something of a stroll. Liverpool can afford no such luxury of course, and I would hope the motivation of continental football would be enough to see us home with three points to end the season.

64 points to end the season is far from the best total Liverpool have managed in recent seasons, and indeed only beats last season’s seventh place finish by a single point, but given that we had taken only 25 points from our first 20 games, taking an additional 39 points from the remaining 18 matches would really be an incredible achievement.

To put it into perspective, the 20 games under Hodgson clocked up 1.25 points per game, averaging out at 47.5 points for a full season, good enough for about an 11th place finish over the past five years – the 18 games under Dalglish (would) rack up 2.17 points per game, which if extended over the course of an entire season would amount to no less than 82 points, enough for a third place finish in most Premier League seasons.

Europa League football next season is certainly a possibility for Liverpool. If it actually does come down to goal difference whether Liverpool finish 5th or not, nobody could have asked anything more from Kenny Dalglish – apart from maybe putting his boots back on to knock in a couple of extra goals for us.

We still need favours from other teams to give ourselves a chance of making it – Wigan, Chelsea and Manchester City all took points off Spurs in my thoughts above before the Liverpool match, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out which of those is most unlikely – but it seems clear all the same that the clash at Anfield on May 15th could turn out to be a pivotal one for Liverpool, not just for this season but for the seasons ahead as well.

‘Bosman’ Signings Offer Value for Money in Both Transfer Windows


A few weeks ago I thought of a piece I wanted to write, regarding players who would be available on a free transfer this summer, having come to the end of their contracts with their current clubs.

The idea got put on hold because several of the players I was going to mention upped sticks and found a new club during the recently closed January transfer window, but since the essential point still remains, I guess it is still worth writing about.

For those who are not completely clued up on the ruling, the ‘Bosman’ signing came about as a result of a Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman, who took his club Liege to court because his contract with them had expired and they would not accept an offer from another team, Dunkerque of France, to let him move. The specifics surrounding the EU law can be found in other places – suffice to say that the end result was that the player got his way, meaning any EU player could leave his club for another EU club in a different country without them having to pay a transfer fee. Thus coining the term a ‘Bosman Transfer’.

The earliest most notable player who traded clubs in this way from the Premier League was Liverpool’s Steve McManaman, who left the club for Real Madrid in 1999. Liverpool have, over the years, made use of the system in the opposite direction with the likes of Markus Babbel, Eric Meijer, Andrei Voronin and, only seven months ago, Milan Jovanovic coming in on free transfers.

Other Premier League players who have transferred under the same ruling include Mathieu Flamini (Arsenal to AC Milan), Michael Ballack (FC Bayern to Chelsea), Olof Mellberg (Aston Villa to Juventus) and Claude Makelele (Chelsea to Paris SG). Had they been under contract, it is likely that all of these players would have commanded fees in excess of £5 million. Of course, the reduced cost to the buying club may not turn out to be quite such a considerable saving, given the increased wages the “free” player will ask for, but it certainly must make the negotiating part a lot easier when the selling club is no longer involved.

Back to the current players affected by this ruling, and it came to my attention that a large number of well-known players were approaching the end of their current contracts this season. This was around the beginning of the January window, when not much movement had taken place in terms of transfers, and I was wondering if perhaps teams were saving themselves almost entirely for the longer summer transfer window, when players would immediately be available to move on a free transfer and a lot of money could be saved.

In the end, of course – from a Premiership perspective – a lot of money was spent in the final week or so on players on much longer term contracts, while around Europe in the likes of the Italian and Spanish leagues, several almost-out-of-contract players were snapped up for much lower sums.

Take Ivan Rakitic for example. The Croatian, at 22 years of age, is a very talented ball playing central midfielder. After spending the past three and a half seasons at Schalke in Germany, he has moved on to Spanish outfit Sevilla, who picked him up for around € 1.5 million, perhaps a quarter of what they might have paid for him had his contract not been up in the summer. Of course, Sevilla could have gotten him for nothing in the summer, but they would have run the risk of increased competition from other clubs, especially if Rakitic had gone on to have a good second half of the season. Additionally, as Sevilla also completed the signing of Chilean midfielder Gary Medel in January, the two new-comers will have an extra half a season to bed into their new surroundings and perhaps even form a partnership in the middle of the pitch before launching a full season assault on La Liga and the Europa League – should Sevilla manage to qualify. As they currently sit in seventh position, the talents of Rakitic in the middle of the park, an area lacking in creativity and attacking quality for Sevilla this term, could well be the difference between European qualification and not this season – something which would make the € 1.5 m outlay look all the more of a bargain.

Other players such as Dutch top flight duo Ibrahim Afellay (PSV to Barcelona) and Urby Emanuelson (Ajax to AC Milan) chose to jump ship half a season before their contract expired; or perhaps rather, their clubs decided to cash in on them for what they could, rather than lose them for free in the summer. Both are quality young players with good futures ahead of them; potentially very good business from the two giant clubs who signed them. Nicola Legrottaglie swapped Turin for Milan and Mark van Bommel swapped the Bundesliga for the Calcio; short term measures perhaps for their new clubs, but the low transfer fees will seem to make it worthwhile.

So what about in the summer? Are all the best bargains now gone? Far from it.

The Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 – all will see Bosman departures (and arrivals) come July and August.

In England, experienced campaigners such as Manuel Almunia (Arsenal) and Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Liverpool) are out of contract, as are creative midfielders Seb Larsson (Birmingham) and Zoltan Gera (Fulham). Long-term injury casualties Jonathon Woodgate (Tottenham) and Owen Hargreaves (Manchester United) are also facing an uncertain future, with neither able to play much football over the past couple of seasons.

Valencia stalwarts David Navarro and Vicente are awaiting a new contract offer, while FC Barcelona academy graduate Thiago Alcantara only recently signed pro terms for next season after initially being expected to leave the club. Backup goalkeepers from the two biggest clubs in Spain are also out of contract (Jerzy Dudek and Jose Pinto).

Sylvain Marveaux of Rennes, Danijel Ljuboja of Nice, Lyon’s Cesar Delgado and Auxerre pair Jeremy Berthod and Valter Birsa are just some of the bigger names able to leave France’s top division on a free transfer, while in Italy a whole host of household names face waits to see if they will remain at AC Milan beyond the summer – Marek Jankulovski, Alessandro Nesta and Pippo Inzaghi amongst them. Fiorentina winger Mario Santana and Palermo midfielder Fabio Liverani are both set to depart their clubs in summer as well.

Germany could see Ruud van Nistelrooy depart Hamburg for nothing, as well as the likes of Bayern Munich’s versatile Hamit Altintop.

The likes of Tim de Cler (Feyenoord), Luis Garcia (Panathanaikos), Banel Nicolita (Steaua Bucharest) and Thomas Hubschmann (Shakhtar Donetsk) prove that all over Europe, bargains aplenty are to be found this summer for those teams looking to reconstruct entirely on a shoe-string budget, or to find that extra player to take the team one step further without breaking the bank.

Of course, between now and the end of the season (and the end of those players’ contracts) it is not just all about sitting out the last few months and waiting for the offers to roll in; some players will desperately want to remain with their clubs and will be playing for their futures, some will be putting themselves in that wonderfully metaphorical shop window, while still others will be recovering from injuries or unable to break into the team.

There is always the chance that, free signing or no free signing, some of the elder statesmen of the game may not find the offers forthcoming, at least at the level of the game they wish to play at, and of course the clubs could decide – and no doubt will in several cases – later on in the season to offer players contract extensions.

Whatever players are left, it is almost certain that someone, somewhere, will be convinced they have made the signing of the summer when they snap up that missing piece of the jigsaw – for free.