EighteenAndFive

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

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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.

‘Fortress Anfield’ Returning as Reds Take Home Advantage


Liverpool brushed aside League Cup winners Birmingham City on Saturday with a thumping five-nil victory at Anfield, as the Reds continued their excellent league form under Kenny Dalglish and closed the gap on fifth-placed Tottenham to just three points, though Spurs do have a game in hand.

Under ‘King’ Kenny, Liverpool have now taken a highly impressive 17 points from a possible 21 at home in the league, with the home form of the team really proving the building blocks for the club’s resurgence since the turn of the year.

Draws against Everton and Wigan remain the only time Dalglish has dropped points at home, while Fulham, Stoke City, Manchester United, Manchester City and now Birmingham have all been sent packing with nothing to show for their efforts, giving the Reds an average of 2.4 points per game. Should Liverpool go on and win their remaining two home matches this season (vs Newcastle and Tottenham) Dalglish would claim an average of 2.6 points per home game in his half-season at the helm.

Compared with 6 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the first half of the season at home (average of 2 points per game) and it is clear that Liverpool have improved quite considerably when playing at Anfield since Dalglish took over in January.

However it is not just the results that have improved – though of course, at the end of the day that is what is clearly most important in terms of league placings.

But the manner in which Liverpool are now disposing of visitors, almost casually batting them aside with a confidence and surety which has been missing for far too long at the famous old stadium of Anfield, is the real major difference which Kenny Dalglish has affected.

Current league leaders Manchester United were overwhelmed, out-fought and out-thought by wave upon wave of Red attacks; Kuyt scoring a hattrick but being just one of a collection of impressive performers. Then Manchester City, so expensively assembled and fighting for Champions League qualification were consummately swiped aside in a first half of verve and fire.

Today Birmingham were beaten with much less fuss than was required for either of the Manchester clubs – unsurprisingly, given their lowly league position – but even more emphatically, Maxi Rodriguez’s hattrick just reward for his part in Liverpool’s tactically astute counter-attacking game in the second half.

Considering that these results are being garnered without such first team automatic picks such as club captain Steven Gerrard, £17 million full-back Glen Johnson, the stylish Daniel Agger, full backs Martin Kelly and Fabio Aurelio and, today, record signing Andy Carroll, only goes to underline what a terrific job Dalglish is doing – and indeed what a lot Liverpool supporters should have to look forward to next season once those players are back and the expected summer arrivals are finalised.

Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing have absolutely dominated the midfield against recent opposition, including Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, while young full backs John Flanagan and Jack Robinson again proved their substantial promise with an assured display against a side which will be competing in Europe next season. Conor Coady, named on the bench today though not used, will surely also see his time come before long.

Lots remains to be confirmed of course – not least of all Dalglish’s permanent position at the club – but if the home form and swagger of play from Liverpool continues, one thing which is clear is that the club will enjoy many profitable afternoons at Anfield next season – which could go a long way towards helping propel the club back into the upper echelons of the Premier League, as well as towards major European competitions and domestic cup success .

Full Back Injury Crisis at Liverpool: Will Kenny Turn to Youth Again?


Liverpool’s weekend defeat to West Brom was a bad day all round for the Reds; the loss of three points obviously being the biggest problem, not to mention losing to the man who wasn’t good enough to manage us, going ahead only to lose the match and generally not playing very well, but perhaps the most important issue in terms of the remaining Premier League games was the fact that Liverpool lost another two defenders to injury during the game – in fact inside the opening half hour.

First, the only senior full back still available, Glen Johnson, succumbed to what looked like a hamstring strain as he chased a long ball over the top of the Liverpool defence, before Daniel Agger, who switched to left back after Soto Kyrgiakos replaced Johnson, also fell foul of injury with suspected ligament damage behind his knee.

That now leaves Liverpool with just four fit senior defenders: Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Soto Kyrgiakos and Danny Wilson, all of whom are centre backs by trade. Despite having no less than seven senior specialised full-backs on the club’s books, not a single one is currently available for selection – Emiliano Insua, Philipp Degen, Stephen Darby and Paul Konchesky are all out on loan and Martin Kelly, Fabio Aurelio and now Glen Johnson are all injured.

Though Carragher, Agger and more recently Wilson have all filled in at right and left back when needed, and have at times performed admirably, there is something quite clearly missing when these naturally more conservative-minded players have to play in what has become an incredibly important position, even more so for a team like Liverpool which lacks natural width further up the field.

Against West Brom, and not for the first time this season, a lack of thrust and pace was blatantly apparent in the wide areas of the pitch when the Reds had possession and, though the overall play of the team was not good and cannot be completely blamed on the make-shift full backs, this obviously had an impact on Liverpool’s style of play and absence of pressure on the opposition higher up the pitch.

The Reds’ next game is against Manchester City at Anfield on Monday 11th April – and it is highly unlikely that any of the three injured full backs will have recovered by then. What then will Kenny Dalglish do to overcome the problems in the wide areas of defence?

Perhaps the most simple, and safe, solution would be to leave the back four as it finished the West Brom game – Carragher right side, Wilson left, Skrtel and Kyrgiakos in the centre. However, as mentioned, this leaves the Reds with problems in possession when trying to attack and as City’s own full backs – likely Zabaleta and Kolarov – like to get forward, it would make sense to try to exploit the space behind them whenever possible.

What other options, then, are open to Dalglish?

A return to the three man defensive system could be on the cards – the Reds certainly have the depth in central defence – but with no full backs available this would mean Danny Wilson would be deployed at wing-back and while comfortable and composed on the ball the young Scot has not shown the same aptitude nor inclination to get forward as, for example, Martin Kelly has when given the chance. This roving, attacking intent is even more important when playing with wing-backs of course as they must double-up as wide midfielders when the team is in possession.

And on the right side? Dirk Kuyt might be the most logical choice, given his work rate, stamina and sense of tactical responsibility, but he is no defender and truly no genuine winger. Even with Carragher on his shoulder telling him where to be, it would be a big ask of the Dutchman to perform this type of game against an attack as good and varied as Manchester City’s. Dirk also lacks the pace to get forward in support at a moment’s notice and also likes to float inside at times – as a wide midfielder this is fine when he has, for example, Glen Johnson on the outside of him to keep the width but if he is the only wide player in the team he would need to stay outside for most of the game, not something which comes natural to Kuyt.

Perhaps, therefore, the logical choice would be to promote from within. In Jack Robinson and John Flanagan Liverpool have two young full backs who have been in great form at reserve level for the whole season and have been involved with the first team squad on a number of occasions over the past few months.

Robinson, Liverpool’s youngest ever player having appeared at just 16 years of age on the final day of last season, is a fast and adventurous left sided defender; a naturally attack-minded full back who can beat a man with pace and put over a decent cross. He has been on the bench for Liverpool this season, though has yet to add to his cameo debut appearance, and though has struggled with injury of late for the Reds’ second string he did feature for the whole game against Everton in the mini-derby at the end of last month.

Flanagan, a right back who holds the number 38 shirt, has yet to make his debut for the Reds but has travelled with the first team squad as the “19th man” on a number of occasions recently and manager Dalglish himself has said that the young Scouser is pressing for first team action. Uncompromising in the challenge and a good reader of the game, Flanagan is perhaps less of a spectacular attacker than Robinson but no worse a player for it; he has made great strides over the past two seasons and is one of several young players who travelled with the Reds to a recent European away fixture.

With the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Jay Spearing, Kelly and Wilson having all made impacts on the first team over the past couple of months, perhaps it is not so surprising that two of the younger members of the side might be called upon in such a big game. True, Spearing had played Cup games and had started a Premiership game the year before, but earlier this season Dalglish started him in the Merseyside derby when he played only a few minutes of league football this season before that – evidence indeed that Kenny trusts to the quality of the younger lads in even the very biggest of matches. Indeed, we might also point out that a centre-back could even be called up to the first team from the reserves as substitute, should all four seniors be picked. Conor Coady, who has already been on the bench for the first team this season, would fancy his chances of inclusion in that case.

After the defeat to West Brom, the challenge for fifth place is perhaps all but gone now; Spurs hold a five point advantage and have a game in hand. Perhaps this is a perfect time to integrate the kids into the team and give them their chance; with still a sizeable gap between Liverpool and the 7th place team in the league, even in the worst case scenario we wouldn’t drop any further in the table were the idea not to pan out.

City’s attack is often centre-heavy and reliant on clever movement by the likes of Tevez; perhaps, just as against Chelsea, deploying a three man defence of Carragher, Skrtel and Kyrgiakos would work very well in Liverpool’s favour? So often City attackers, even the wider players such as Silva and Johnson, prefer to cut in rather than work the flanks; bottle-necking the centre of the Reds’ defensive zone could negate the opposition attack to a huge extent.

Robinson and Flanagan both of course will have lots to learn in terms of defending – and indeed playing – at Premier League level, but that is certainly not to say they are not good enough. Look at the effect Martin Kelly had on the team; he is young and will make mistakes, likely ones that will cost the Reds a goal or two at some time. But he’s good enough to play, and has a consistently good effect on the team which undoubtedly outweighs the possibility that he could err from time to time.

Given the chance, Robinson and Flanagan could provide similar performances.

Playing with three defenders between these two youngsters significantly minimises the chance that their inexperience could give the opposition a scoring opportunity, while their need to make an impact and youthful energy would be a welcome addition to the side both in defence and further forward.

Even if Kenny chooses to stick with a back four for the City game, I would be highly in favour of perhaps Robinson starting on the left, with Carragher remaining at right back. A true attacking full-back adds so much to teams’ play and I feel it imperative that Liverpool try to incorporate this against Manchester City.

But with complete honesty and no rose-tinted, youth-exaggerating, trumpet-blowing biased point of view in sight, I would very much, tactically, technically and ‘long-term-edly’, like to see both Robinson and Flanagan given a chance next Monday night.

Careers are made, sometimes, by the chances taken when others fall foul of injury. Martin Kelly looks to be the next great example of just such a case – and there is every possibility that these other two local boys might just get their first big chance at Anfield in a few days time.

Preferred Reds side vs Man City (presuming no new injuries or returns from injury):

Reina
Skrtel    Carragher    Kyrgiakos
Flanagan                                                             Robinson
Lucas
Kuyt                       Meireles
Suarez
Carroll

Subs: Gulacsi, Wilson, Spearing, Ngog, Cole, Maxi, Poulsen.

or

Reina
Carragher    Skrtel    Kyrgiakos    Robinson
Spearing     Lucas
Kuyt        Meireles        Suarez
Carroll

Subs: Gulacsi, Wilson, Flanagan, Poulsen, Maxi, Cole, Ngog.

Soto and Sami: In Praise of the Old Guard of Liverpool FC


At Anfield on Sunday 6th March, 2011, new heroes were sewn into Liverpool folklore: Luis Suarez for his magnificent skills and endless taunting of the Premier League’s top side’s defence and Dirk Kuyt for his first LFC hattrick and match winning goal-poaching. Liverpool beat their old foes by three goals to one with a fantastic display full of invention and determination and the goal-scorer and -creator named above have rightly taken a lot of acclaim.

But spare a thought for another, less heralded but every bit as important performer on the day; one who played slightly over an hour for the home side: Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Named on the bench at the start of the game, Soto made his entrance after 24 minutes as a replacement for the hamstrung Fabio Aurelio. For a defender to enter the fray at any point as a substitute requires great powers of concentration and adaptation; for one to enter unexpectedly early in a game of such magnitude as Liverpool versus Manchester United requires something more – our big Greek needed to call on all his years of experience and his first-rate game mentality to get up to speed instantaneously, and given that he went on to give neither Rooney nor Berbatov the slightest sniff in the game deserves great credit for doing so.

He was, as always, a tower of strength in the air; all United’s crosses were ably dealt with by Soto and his partner in crime Martin Skrtel, while the ground-based duels were a similar story, with neither forward able to get a run on goal from either in front of or behind Kyrgiakos at any point. In the second half, with Liverpool leading and as they sat back looking to hit United on the break, the defensive line dropped deeper and the away side enjoyed longer spells of possession. But Kyrgiakos and his defensive cohorts remained unfazed and, save for the odd corner which needed Meireles to clear off the line, remained largely untroubled for the entire game.

It speaks volumes for Kyrgiakos’ professional attitude and winners mentality that he was able to step up in such a big game without any problems of ‘feeling his way into the match’ or making any early mistakes.

To me, it evoked memories of a similar game and similarly experienced Anfield defender; the man who Soto came in to replace no less. Sami Hyypia.

Almost two years to the day earlier, Alvaro Arbeloa was due to line up at right-back for Liverpool at Old Trafford against the same opposition, Manchester United. In the warm-up, however, Arbeloa suffered an injury and our great Finn Hyypia was drafted in as a late starter, given only a few minutes warm up time and asked to stop the (again) current league leaders from breaching the Reds’ goal. Liverpool turned in a masterclass performance that day too, winning 4-1 in Manchester and owing much to the outstanding performance of Hyypia who, like Kyrgiakos this Sunday past, showed great professionalism (and no shortage of ability) to come in unexpectedly and turn in a stellar performance for his team.

Sami and Soto carry some similar traits as defenders; both of course are exceptional in the air and commanding in the tackle and while neither are blessed with pace they are more than adept at reading the game and positioning themselves accordingly. Sami was perhaps more of an organiser and comfortable with the ball at either foot, and will for both his length of time spent at the club and the number of trophies he won while here be forever remembered as far more of an icon than Kyrgiakos is likely to achieve, but the playing similarities between the two are evident; testament of course to the fact that one came in to replace the other.

Kuyt and Suarez will take the plaudits for Sunday’s victory, and against the biggest opposition the attacking players who make the difference will usually be the most noticed. That is why teams pay such big fees for forwards.

But in Sami Hyypia and Sotirios Kyrgiakos Liverpool have been fortunate to have two defenders who, quite aside from popping up with the odd headed bullet of a goal, are consistently and quietly excellent in defence when it matters most; players who do not blow their own trumpet or kick up a fuss when left out of the team and retain the quality and mentality to switch it on at a moment’s notice when their team turns to them suddenly in a time of great need.

Two of those occasions recently have come against one of our biggest enemies of all, and Liverpool supporters everywhere should be grateful that we were able to turn to such giants; the old guard of the Liverpool defence, and players who we know will never let us down.

Liverpool Summer Transfer Wishlist: Part 1 – Player Sales


After the recent turbulent times the club has been through, much hope rests now that the club can return to its former state – namely, that of progression and togetherness and most importantly winning trophies. For that to happen, this pre-season could see Liverpool delve heavily into the transfer markets in both directions, in an attempt to restructure the squad and add further top quality players to compliment the recent arrivals of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

And, in turn, it stands to reason that a number of familiar faces could depart Anfield for pastures new, to leave behind (for some at least) memories of great games and faithful supporters.

So which players leave, and which ones stay? How does a team plan for a new generation when so many star names are at the club?When some areas of the pitch have good depth and others fall woefully short?

The truth is, as supporters, we can only guess who is on the club’s short-list and especially at this time since we don’t even yet know who will be the permanent manager come summer. In the most part we probably all think and want it to be Kenny Dalglish, who along with Sammy Lee and Steve Clarke have done so much good work in such a short time, but it could yet be another new man.

But for the meantime, the wondering and waiting must go on and so I will turn my attention to the matter in the only way I know how; by putting forward my candidates for transfers in and out of the club, and my reasons why.

At this point I would like to make a few things clear before naming names; I have no insight to club matters or player transfer valuations, I have no idea if players have been targeted outside the ‘media knowledge’ thus far and I certainly have no idea what formations or system the yet-to-be-decided manager will turn to in the new season.

And for that last reason, my ‘incoming transfers’ will be based on Dalglish remaining boss, and the 3:4:2:1 system (3 centre backs, 2 wing-backs, 2 central midfielders and 2 players in behind and either side of 1 centre forward) being the dominant formation. Largely because it is my favoured one, and partly because we have employed it to great effect recently and I hope it continues. Of course, no formation is so foolproof, and no great manager is so foolhardy, that one single system would be used in every game of a season, so the pool of players in the squad must be capable of switching to a 4:2:3:1 or a 4:4:2, for example.

But the incoming transfers are for the next article. This one is concerned with those to leave the club.

The players I would have to leave fall into three categories: players who I don’t believe are of the quality to play for the club, players who have contributed to the first team but who I believe need to be moved on for the betterment of the team, and players who might have to be moved on depending on a variety of factors.

Perhaps the casual observer might say the easiest group is the first one, but the truth is, fans will always be divided over what players are of the right ‘quality’ for Liverpool FC.

For me it is relatively straight forward though. Without meaning any disrespect to players who have worn the famous Red of Liverpool, something I will never do (other than replica shirts of course!), there are players who clearly belong to this list.

Loanees Nabil El Zhar and Philipp Degen head the names. El Zhar never made the impact at the club that his first few substitute appearances hinted at, and as a free transfer arrival he was more of a speculative signing than one Rafa Benitez really believed would be a key piece of the jigsaw. Degen had what can be described as a torrid time in England; his first season was blighted by injury and even in the second season when he made something more of an impact on the first team, his physical attributes were largely negated by the fact he couldn’t tackle, regularly failed to mark his opponent and rarely managed to last the full ninety minutes.

Both players are likely to leave on free transfers in the summer, or as close to it as to make the fees ‘nominal’.

A third player on loan is also likely to leave permanently in summer – Paul Konchesky. The unsuitability of the English left back to the Anfield club are well-documented and as I do not intend to use this piece as a place to make any player a scapegoat, I will merely say that he should never have been signed and we all know it. His Premiership experience and English nationality means there will likely be no shortage of takers for the ex-Fulham man, and though we will not claim anything like the £4-5 million we paid for him (plus youngsters Dalla Valle and Kacaniklic) we could expect to recoup perhaps £2-3 million.

Christian Poulsen could fit into either of the first two categories, given that he has had a long and reasonably distinguished career, but the bottom line is he hasn’t been good for the Reds, so he goes into the ‘not good enough’ section. Again, we are not likely to recoup the £4 million we spent on him, but a return of around £2-3 million could be expected.

Finally, a host of youngsters will as is usual depart the club. For me those who I would not expect to remain beyond July/August are Stephen Darby, Gerardo Bruna, Martin Hansen, Nikola Saric, Stephen Irwin, Deale Chamberlain and David Amoo. Darby with six appearances has made the most impact at first team level, while Bruna and Amoo may fetch six-figure sums each. I would be surprised if the total fees garnered from young players leaving the club surpassed the £1 million mark, but one of those two could fetch that in add-ons and future payments.

Onto the second group. These players have contributed to the club in various ways, but should in my opinion be allowed to move on as we seek to improve the squad.

Maxi Rodriguez would be my first name on this list. Maxi is a clever player and has produced some good performances, but all too often goes missing for large parts of games. Statistics put Maxi high on the list of productive players – his pass completion ratio, for example, is usually very high – but this doesn’t give a full measure of his performance. Maxi is one of those who is relatively frequently caught in possession and therefore loses the ball without actually making a pass; this wouldn’t be picked up in a statistic but certainly impacts on Liverpool’s game on the field of play. While the Argentine was signed on a free transfer, his large wages mean we would be unlikely to rake in any larger kind of fee for him; I suspect a fee of around £1 million might be payable to release him from his contract but a buying club would be unlikely to fork out more initially as they would probably have to match his Anfield wages.

Fabio Aurelio is next. Though he has been at the club for approaching five years, he has never enjoyed a season-long run in the first team on account of his terrible luck with injuries. He was re-signed in the summer after initially being released, so I suspect he may be granted a free transfer if any club is interested in taking him. If not, again the Reds may bring in a small amount, but don’t expect it to be large.

Back up goalkeeper Brad Jones is my third player in this category. Doubts about him surfaced when he joined, but he has proven an able deputy to Pepe Reina in his few appearances. However, he is never going to replace Reina as number 1 and given that we have a talented young stopper in Peter Gulacsi on the books, who Dalglish has entrusted with the ‘keeper’s bench spot even since the return of Jones from International duty, I would not be surprised to see the Aussie leave. Gulacsi has gained enough experience through loan moves to cope with being our second choice goalkeeper and selling Jones may bring in another £2 million or so, similar to the fee we paid for him last summer.

Another summer arrival, Milan Jovanovic, would also be allowed to leave. ‘Jova’ started well at the club but has been unable to force his way regularly into the team and given that he would have a significantly larger resale value than most players so far (perhaps around the £4 million region) I would be inclined to let him go. There would be no shortage of takers, having been on the shortlist of many teams before leaving Standard Liege, and Milan does not really fit into a system that I would like to see the Reds employ regularly.

A player who seems to split opinion next; David Ngog. Some say he’s nowhere near good enough, others say he doesn’t get enough credit. I am somewhere in the middle; he’s certainly not a bad player but I feel he will always struggle to become a regular at the club. That, combined with his probably resale value, makes him an asset the club can afford to cash in on this summer. A £6 million fee was mooted last summer with WBA interested, so if he is rated at around the same value in July, or possibly slightly more, I would take the offer. Carroll and Suarez each have a certain way of playing and while I agree we need to have as many options as possible in attack, I think Ngog is the least compatible of our forwards with the other players. A player signed for only £1.5 million; Ngog would represent a good profit and would allow funds to be directed towards more suitable players.

Now finally onto two defenders, Dani Ayala and Martin Skrtel. Ayala is a competent defender and has performed well on loan this season in the Championship, but I believe both Kelly and Wilson are far superior at this time and will only get better. Add in Daniel Agger, Carragher and Soto Kyrgiakos and Ayala is already quite far down the pecking order. He would likely command a fee in excess of £2 million, perhaps double that in time, and I would take this as a good offer. Skrtel has been something of a mainstay of the team for a number of seasons now, but in that time has not progressed from a good defender to a great one, or even a very reliable good one.

His faults in each game are repetitive and predictable, and he does not give confidence in dealing with the ball in the way that Carragher and Agger do. His mis-timed challenges on forwards when the ball is clearly un-winnable often lead to dangerous free kicks, his aerial prowess is poor and he is neither a commander nor an organiser of the defence. He is however a great tackler, a good marker (though perhaps less so from set-pieces) and is rarely injured, plus he has a very good reputation, especially around Europe. Skrtel could comfortably command a fee in excess of £5 million and perhaps as much as £7 m. As Liverpool rebuild their team, the defence must be spot on and Skrtel is the first real “first teamer” who needs replacing.

That pretty much concludes the list of who I want to see offloaded this summer. But there is, as I said, one other smaller group of players who I would not exactly want to sell, but would accept the sale of in the interest of improving the side further.

First and easiest is on-loan midfielder Alberto Aquilani. I like Aquilani – he’s a great passer of the ball, has wonderful vision and, as he proved in the last months of last season, knows where the goal is. We’ve been crying out for a player of his type at times this season and I would certainly welcome him back into the fold next season. However, Juventus do have a purchase option written into his loan contract, which I am led to believe is around the £13.5 million mark. Should they match it, there would not be a lot Liverpool could do now to stop him leaving. However the Italian side do not appear to have the funds to spend on Alberto; rumours in the media have circulated of them trying to lower the agreed price further. For my part, if they can’t pay that fee, I wouldn’t sell him. If Aquilani is keen on a permanent move back to Italy, and another buyer is interested, then I would certainly hope that the Reds hold out for offers in excess of £12-14 million; after all, this was a signing which would have cost Liverpool in excess of £20 million all told.

Emiliano Insua, also on loan this season, is another in a similar boat. The left-back was all set to depart permanently last summer after Liverpool accepted an offer from Fiorentina for him (around £4 million) but they were unable to match Insua’s wages at Liverpool, and so instead he left on a temporary deal for Galatasary. The Argentine has not been a regular in Turkey though, starting just eight times in the league so far, and is unlikely to stay there long term. Thus, if a bid around the same amount came in this summer it might prove worthwhile offloading him, but if he was to stay at the club, again, I would not be disappointed. Indeed, with his attacking instincts and crossing ability Insua might indeed be a great option for Liverpool as a left wing-back.

Next up is a defender out of contract in the summer – big Greek Soto Kyrgiakos. His two year deal expires in the summer and while it would be understandable if he was allowed to move on – he is our fourth choice centre back and his age will be 32 when his deal expires – but he is a usually solid and dependable player and his experience has proven vital for the club already, and no doubt would do again. His contract does include the option to extend for a further year and I would like to think the club will exercise this option; quite aside from his playing abilities, it certainly does the younger defenders at the club such as Coady, Wisdom and Mavinga no harm at all to learn off a rugged and fearless player like Soto as much as a cultured and classy one like Agger.

Finally, two key first team players make this section. Players who for years have divided fan loyalties, only to prove time and time again that they are players for the big occasion, players who can make a difference and players who at the end of the day can win the team points.

So why do I include them in a list to possibly sell? Simply because, part of rebuilding a club involves removing some well-worn and hard-working parts of the first team to make way for fresher faces, new ideas and different problems for opposition to work out.

And so, step forward Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt. Lucas has been Liverpool’s most consistent player over the past season and a half, and I say with no hesitation that I would be pleased if he was in a Red shirt next season. The only two reasons that I would contemplate selling him are because 1) his resale value would be fairly high, perhaps in the region of £5-8 million and 2) because I believe the players I have in mind as replacements would serve the club even better than Lucas can.

For Dirk, we all know his strengths – not just his hard work, but his selflessness, his ability to score a goal at important times, his sense of tactical responsibility and his record-breaking number of sales as the face of the official club calender. Alright, maybe not that last one.

Come the end of the season, Kuyt would have one year left on his contract and at 31 years of age in the summer his resale value would probably be at only around £3 million, despite his qualities. For that reason, I imagine Dirk is the least likely to leave of the players on this list. At the time of writing, he is thought to be in discussions over a new contract at the club. For my part, as mentioned, I won’t be disappointed to see him stay at the club but I do believe we need alternatives in attack to continually playing the same faces. Kuyt needs to be pushed as much as any other player and I would like to see him play more in a central attacking role than out on the right side. In my preferred formation, Kuyt would be one of our options to play as one of the two behind the centre forward, or as the centre forward himself.

And so we end the list. In pure number terms it seems like a lot – 18 who I want or expect to see leave the club, plus another 5 who could go either way. But in reality, only Maxi, Ngog, Poulsen and Skrtel are first team members out of the 18 – the rest are on loan, reserves or players who contribute so little to the first team as to make no difference – back up ‘keeper Jones, perpetually injured Aurelio and out-of-favour Jovanovic have made just eight league starts in all and total less than 900 minutes of Premiership game time between them.

Those eighteen players would bring in an estimated £25 – £29 million which should be comfortably enough to replace three or four first team players with. The key with “selling to buy” is to use the money brought in to sign (hopefully) ‘better’ players without denting the squad depth – selling/releasing eighteen players doesn’t mean eighteen more have to come in because as shown above, only a handful contribute to the ‘real’ depth of the squad. Even if Jovanovic (for example) needed to be replaced as well as the four ‘first teamers’ mentioned, an average of £5-6 million per player is not a bad amount to have to spend, especially with Bosman transfer bargains (see this article for more detail) a possibility and the hope that the new scouting and recruitment effort coordinated by Damien Comolli pays dividends.

In addition, if Aquilani, Insua and Lucas all left the club, a substantial £20 – £25 million could be recouped by the club which would effectively only need to go towards replacing Lucas in the squad.

Perhaps the numbers still seem too large; perhaps it seems like overkill. After all, I myself have argued that the quality of the squad is still there and that this similar group of players finished second in the league only twenty months ago. And I have no doubt that almost everyone on the list will have a supporter prepared to argue in their favour, and probably rightly so.

But if this is to be a brave new era for Liverpool Football Club, it seems right to me that we begin it as we mean to go on – by filtering out that which can be improved upon, and not being afraid to sell on genuinely good players when it is for the overall betterment of the team.

In my opinion, the sale of the names above would be the way to do just that.

Next up soon, the replacements….

Left Backs for Liverpool: Problem Position Up For Grabs


Deadline day, January 2011. Liverpool complete the signings of Ajax and Uruguay forward Luis Suarez and Newcastle and one-time England cap Andy Carroll. In addition, Fernando Torres departed for the plastic-themed surroundings of West London.

And there was one other outgoing transfer, albeit on loan, which – understandably – didn’t cause quite as much excitement around the club. In fact it was more one of relief in some quarters, while in others an ironic and muted lack of surprise.

Over the past couple of weeks, despite the January transfer window for the Premier League closing, the number of “exclusives” surrounding new-comers to Liverpool FC has barely diminished at all. In fact, perhaps borne of the large sums spent on Suarez and Carroll on deadline day, the rumour mills have furiously cranked up their valuations of all players being linked with the club, taking FSG’s willingness to splash the cash as a sign that every transfer will be of a similar scale in the summer.

It won’t be that way, of course. In the summer Liverpool may indeed make a signing or two for big money. But lets not forget the net outlay of the club in January, despite breaking their own transfer record twice in a matter of hours, was around the £2 million mark. The sales of Ryan Babel and Torres almost totally paid for their replacements, and senior figures within the club effectively admitted that the asking price for Carroll would determine that of Torres, to ensure Liverpool were as close to breaking even as possible.

The other factor to consider, in terms of team re-building and probable targets, is that the permanent position of manager has not yet been filled. Of course, most fans now will want ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish to stay at the helm, which is the danger the owners knew they faced when they asked him to step up last month, but if results and performances continue improving as they have done thus far, it would be on merit that Dalglish was a contender, not merely because of fans’ wishes – but that is a debate for another place.

Besides, to some extent the appointment of Damien Comolli as Director of Football Strategy will alleviate those transition periods, as the club will already have been targeting potential signings and will be able to hand over a list to choose from to any new first team coach.

And so back to that other outgoing transfer on deadline day.

Paul Konchesky, the man who became the unwitting figurehead of the Roy Hodgson era at Liverpool, left on loan to Championship side Nottingham Forest. The former Fulham, Spurs and West Ham full back was brought in by the former boss and – like the man who signed him – very rarely looked comfortable or capable of stepping up to the required level.

His departure means Liverpool are left with just one recognised left sided defender in the senior squad, Fabio Aurelio, and even he has been playing in the centre of midfield of late. Glen Johnson and Danny Wilson have played (well) at left back over the past six weeks for the Reds, while young prospect Jack Robinson continues to impress at reserve level and was included in the travelling party for the first leg of Liverpool’s Europa League game in Prague.

But it is an area where, quite clearly, Liverpool still need to find a player with the ability and consistency to play regularly and contribute to both attacking and defensive sides of the team. It is an area of the team where, arguably, the Reds have been looking to find the right man for for over a decade.

John Arne Riise made the position his own for several seasons and for the first three years of his time on Anfield was irreplaceable, but his form declined rapidly towards the end of his stint at the club. His last meaningful contribution in Red, an own goal against Chelsea in the Champions League, was symptomatic of that.

A year and a month ago, Liverpool had no less than three left backs, all of which had their own qualities but none of which had that extra something special which made them stand out. Emiliano Insua, loaned out to Turkish side Galatasary this season, seemed to have made the position his own for much of the campaign but, as is normal with young defenders, was caught out of position after his regular forays forward too often to be regarded as the immediate answer. Andrea Dossena shortly afterwards departed for Napoli where his defensive proficiencies are somewhat negated and his physical abilities stand out in his preferred wing-back role – ironically a system Liverpool recently implemented to great effect – while Fabio Aurelio missed most of last season, again, with a succession of frustrating injuries.

Before them came a line of tried and untrusted players: European Cup winner and perpetual scapegoat Djimi Traore; the great nearly-man Gregory Vignal; the shoe-in for greatness Christian Ziege; and Stephen Warnock, linked with a loan move back to the club in January and who is to date, until Martin Kelly surely overtakes him at least, the man with the most appearances to his name (67) after graduating from the club’s academy since Steven Gerrard’s breakthrough.

Speaking of Kelly, there is of course now an argument for keeping him on the right side and England’s international right back, Glen Johnson, on the left side of our defence – but even in that case, Liverpool require a recognised left sided defender who can put pressure on Johnson, or any other team mate, to claim that position as his own and really offer Liverpool something special in attack and rock-solid in defence.

This week alone, Liverpool have been linked in various newspaper columns with Newcastle United’s Jose Enrique, a talented and calm-headed player who is yet to be recognised at full International level by Spain, and Celtic’s Honduran Emilio Izaguirre – the Mirror stated that Dalglish had specifically travelled to the Old Firm game on Sunday to watch him in action. If that was the case, Izaguirre certainly did his cause no harm, keeping a clean sheet and setting up the second of Celtic’s three goals with a typical raid down the left side and early low cross to the back post.

Though I rate Enrique as a good player, there are certainly others I would love the club to be looking at as possible additions for the role. Here are a few of them:

Aly Cissokho. The Lyon and one-time France left back; Cissokho combines huge athleticism with a natural inclination to get forward and provide attacking width. A good crosser of the ball and sure with the ball at his feet, Cissokho’s age (23) also makes him an attractive investment for a club looking to rebuild somewhat. A potential downside may be his fee; Lyon paid 15 € million for him and he still has three years left on his contract after the current season ends. Also not a goalscorer; has only netted one league goal in his professional career to date.

Benoit Tremoulinas. Another French defender; Tremoulinas is a constant supply of crosses for current club Bordeaux. In the 2009/10 season he was the top assisting defender with an impressive 7 from his 34 appearances, now-Arsenal forward Marouane Chamakh being one of the key beneficiaries of his deliveries. Though he has yet to be capped by France, Tremoulinas has been included in squads for the national side and is perhaps unfortunate that players like Clichy, Evra and Sakho are also vying for similar roles.

Mauricio Isla. The Chilean wing-back is a versatile performer, who can operate on either side – something which would appeal if Johnson was to continue on the left perhaps? – as well as further forward as a wide attacker. His pace and stamina lends itself to his obvious technical gifts; he is comfortable with the ball at either foot and can give good delivery from wide areas. Currently playing for Udinese in Italy; a work permit should not be too much of an issue given he has been a regular in the national side over the past year.

Fabio Coentrao. A name on everybody’s lips since his performances at the World Cup in 2010, but a name which before then probably not many people who don’t get to see too much European football knew of. His attacking instincts are obvious and, aside from his crossing and passing ability, he is more than comfortable coming infield and targeting a shot at goal. Another who is capable of playing in a more advanced position; Coentrao is perhaps the least solid in defence on this list, but the most spectacular in attack. A player made for a three-man defence, perhaps?

Jeremy Mathieu. A third Frenchman on the list; and another one rarely seen in International squads. The burly Valencia full back does not look as though he should be possessed of blistering pace and an ability to get past opposing defenders with ease, but he is and he does. At 27 years of age he is older than others on this list, but with young Jack Robinson in the wings perhaps that might be what is required? Often targets the byline to reach before pulling back crosses into the near post, and is as strong as an ox in the tackle. Rarely lets crosses beat him when at his best.

Other names such as Atletico Madrid’s Felipe – if he could stay injury free – would be welcomed as targets; Real Madrid’s Marcelo may become available if Los Merengues are indeed targeting a new left back of their own as has been reported, while Sampdoria’s Reto Ziegler has long been linked with a move to Liverpool.

While no definitive answer is likely to be forthcoming until, at the earliest, June or July and once the permanent manager has been appointed, Liverpool’s plethora of scouts around the globe will almost certainly have “find a new left back” somewhere near the top of their to-do lists.

Of course, it may just be that Jack Robinson makes the breakthrough to the first team during the second half of the season, Dalglish is appointed boss and believes him good enough to stay in the team from then on, in which case Liverpool can happily divert several million from the transfer kitty in other directions!

But until, and indeed even if, he does, an absolute necessity for the Reds is to find a player who can do the job in the meantime – and I would say they could do much worse than starting with any one of the five names on the list above.