Niranjan Kuppan

What is both surprising and unsurprising about Liverpool’s season ahead is that they’d do well to finish fifth, a position they’d have clinched last season had it not been for a downward slide towards the end.


A number that would read marginally better than last season’s finish, but would still fall short of a Champions League place.


A prediction shared by almost all pundits alike, despite promising signs of this season’s squad scoring more, conceding less.


Not top four, therefore, irrelevant.

There were more questions raised, than answers received following Liverpool’s forgettable visit to Stoke City last season. An embarrassing 6-1 score line aside, the infamous Sterling saga, heavy transfer spending, backroom sackings, and a daunting away fixture list constitute a cocktail of issues that are likely to decide Brendan Rodgers’ future if things don’t go as per plan. The long, laundry lists of preseason epitaphs did little to convince doubters that the following season would be better.

On the bright side, Rodgers would argue, Liverpool were still relevant enough to attract the likes of Roberto Firmino, a player who’s ability more than fills in for Sterling’s loss and Nathaniel Clyne, England’s soon-t0-be first choice Right Back.

The transfer window as a whole otherwise, in short, has been a mixed bag. Joe Gomez, following an impressive pre-season looks a bargain at 3 million, whereas the price tag hanging around Benteke’s neck, for no fault of his, would add pressure to a frontline, always in the midst of Sturridge’s fitness rants, that lacked confidence and composure in front of goal last season.

Goals aside, Liverpool’s defence has hardly had the revamp that would match the unparalleled meanness of champions defending their goal. 2013/14 was a season where a poor defence was lost in significance to one of Europe’s best attacking units. 2014/15, after the sale of Suarez, and the loss of Sturridge, for most part, due to injury, bought to surface the issues that had already been perennial during the seasons preceding.

  1. You know you have problems when your captain shouldn’t feature in your Best XI

Controversial as this may sound, let us face it.

Jordan Henderson is a good player. A very good player. He’s an engine that can run for 90 minutes, or 120 minutes. Heck, he’d run from the halfway line to take a penalty if the game goes to the very end.

He makes the occasional incisive pass, presses well. He behaves well both on and off the field. He is level-headed, dedicated, committed, a good student – ticking most of the qualities one would expect in a Liverpool captain.

Henderson, now 25, is the full time captain of Liverpool FC, far away from any distractions surrounding the man he replaced, who is now plying his trade thousands of miles away in a league irrelevant to Europe as baseball is to cricket.

But Steven Gerrard, at the same age, had led Liverpool to Champions League glory in Istanbul, was coveted by Real Madrid and Chelsea for world record transfer fees, whilst being described by Zidane as the most complete midfielder ever.

Henderson, despite making significant strides in improvement, isn’t a name that would offer opposing managers headaches. There isn’t any other midfield in the top 4 of any league he’d walk in to, not to demean his status, but to merely state that being very good doesn’t warrant a place in the XI. This facet, in particular, has more to do with a Liverpool captain, than Henderson himself.

Liverpool's Best XI for 2015/16

Liverpool’s Best XI for 2015/16

Henderson lacks the composure that define great midfielders. His tactical awareness, at best, is average, while his passing under pressure still raises questions. His performances against big clubs (and England) add fuel to this theory.

If Liverpool play a 4 – 3 – 3 or a 4 – 2 – 3 – 1, Milner, Can and Coutinho warrant those three places in midfield ahead of Henderson for the various qualities they possess, as a unit. Henderon’s qualities overlap with that of Milner’s. They are too similar to feature in the same XI.


  1. The Central Defence pairings are two good Center Backs away from being water tight

Before you think why these points spiral towards negativity, it is important to assess if any of Sakho, Lovren or Skrtel would walk in to the XI of any other top 4 club in Europe. Skrtel has been walking the tightrope for a few seasons now, while Lovren has made us wonder what was wrong with Toure at all. Toure’s theatricals at Fulham two seasons ago is now a forgotten memory. Djimi Traore rises to significance in comparison.

Lovren did little during the preseason to convince his doubters wrong. Sakho’s periodic appearances point more towards Rodgers’ lack of trust in the Frenchman, than his own performances. Skrtel still remains the most obvious choice by a distant, despite his many misgivings.

With no defensive midfielder as a reliable shield in front of them, there’s little reassurance that Liverpool won’t ship more goals than their top 4 competitors this season.

Did Liverpool miss a trick in not signing a proven center back (again?)? Or a defensive shield in the mould of Gary Medel? Jamie Carragher was surprised by Liverpool’s lack of intent in signing a defensive midfielder. 

Reports linking Liverpool to Gary Medel was encouraging, and made sense. Medel, like most Chileans, is technically sound, tactically intelligent. He is a destroyer, one who can operate as a Ball Winning Midfielder, or a Ball Playing Center Back.

The moment was right to make a bid for him, especially with Inter signing Kongdobia. That Medel has premier league experience – a solitary season with Cardiff – would have been of immense value. And Medel would have made Lovren and Sakho look better.

  1. Technical, Eye-Catching football at the helm again

The backroom reshuffle, unconvincing as the explanations were early summer, has one stark feature in store: if coached well, Liverpool fans can expect technical, eye-catching football from a squad that has talent in abundance up front.

While Coutinho and Firmino carry Brazilian flair, Adam Lallana, with plenty to prove this season, is probably the most Spanish of English players in the league. When coupled with the raw talents of Ibe and Markovic in the wings and a fit Sturridge upfront, the slick passing and movement that the 2013/14 season showcased could be at display again.

Liverpool’s inability to flourish when put under pressure, in tight spaces, was evident during many a game last season. But the revamped coaching staff, on paper and theory, live by the mantras of tactical training.

Steven Gerrard confesses that he’d become a better player since Gary MacAllister turned up in Liverpool colours at the age of 35. Gary Mac, he says in his autobiography, could stop a training session, offer his opinion and everyone, including the coaches, would be all ears.

As a full time coach, MacAllister can carry a greater influence amongst the younger crop alongside Sean O’Driscoll to exert the style and technique required to exhibit such football.

  1. Remove the deadwood before it turns in to Adebayor. 

Some of the investments made in players during the Rodgers era were plain disaster – some on par with Houllier’s forgettable signings of Diouf, Diao and Cheyrou.

Borini, Balotelli, and Jose Enrique have been told to find other clubs, while the presence of Allen, who has hardly convinced fans, forget sceptics, over three seasons can count himself very, very fortunate to be among those still being rated by Rodgers. His preseason form did little to justify his place in a match day squad, and an injury has only removed any hope of another club availing his services before the window closes.

Letting their contracts runs through the Adebayor way would do the club, nor the player, any favours.

Lucas Leiva was subject to interest from Italy, but with nothing materializing, he is hardly the defensive screen Liverpool need. Fans would argue that statistics mention that Liverpool have performed better with Lucas in the team. Before we make soap boxes out of stats, it is evident Lucas isn’t the force he once was.

His tactical intelligence is of no doubt, his mobility and pace, although, is. Liverpool are in dire need of a midfield presence – one who can break attacks, and in layman terms, do the dirty job. Matic, Coquelin, Fernandinho (to an extent) have shown their influence in the role for their clubs, whereas Liverpool haven’t had a genuine one since the days of Masceranho.

Which resurfaces the Medel miss again.

  1. The need for European nights – even if it is the Europa League

A tame away performance against Besiktas last season saw Liverpool miss out on a chance to progress in a competition where they might have stood a chance to win as long as they’d stayed in it.

There is enough squad cover to compete and put a show in multiple competitions. Liverpool stand a better chance of qualifying to the Champions League by winning the Europa league next season, than finishing in the top 4. One of the Manchester clubs would have to slip to entertain such a thought.


A World Cup that wasn’t

Posted: April 3, 2015 by Niranjan Kuppan in Cricket
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A World Cup that wasn’t

As Australia took back yet another World Cup in a yet another one sided match, it’s hard not to reflect on what has been a “different” (I don’t know how else to put it) World Cup of sorts. The tournament itself was barely engaging that exposed alarming gaps between the teams. Yet neither Australia looked like run away favorites nor did batsmen brush aside bowlers. It’s been a bowler’s tournament powered by Mitchel Starc’s Player of the Series heroics and that’s a good sign. But overall, the ICC Cricket World Cup of 2015 was an average tournament with hardly any close games bar one or two. So how did the teams perform overall?

Australia – Best of the Lot

Australia is still not in the same level as their world beating team of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. This team is still very susceptible against good bowling teams. But powered by an inform Steve Smith and a fired up Mitchel Starc and with a passionate home support (Semifinal was a different story though!) Australia simply did the right things at the right time to bring home the cup. But it remains to be seen how well they progress from now especially outside their home.

 New Zealand – One Man Army

When Mitchel Starc bowled Brendan McCullum in the first over of the World Cup final, how many of you thought “this is it for New Zealand” and how many of you turned off your TV? It was as simple as that. Sure they performed very well overall but the Black Caps rose and fell with their captain who was their biggest threat and a very aggressive captain. Trent Boult was outstanding and so was Corey Anderson while Grant Elliot was Renaissance man. But you knew in your hearts that it was about McCullum and that’s how it turned out to be. It was a great team performance but not worthy of a World Cup win.

South Africa – Choked Again!

I’m sorry to break the little bubble that you all went in after their loss in the semi final but I genuinely felt that South Africa choked yet again. Not just in that heart breaking game at Eden Park but even otherwise. They lost to India and Pakistan in the group stages, had one good game against Sri Lanka and at halfway through in the Semifinals, they had 300 to defend in 43 overs with what was billed as the best bowling line up in the world and a captain like AB DeVilliers. Yet they somehow managed to choke their way back to Johannesburg. Fielding lapses and dropped catches are not something that you associate with them and ABD’s brilliance as a batsman conveniently morphs the fact that he is not a good captain under pressure. It’s like defending 350 in 50 overs. Even Holder would have done it with his eyes closed. The best fast bowler in the world bowls a length ball in the penultimate ball of the match against a “who is this guy again?” batsman who was not a regular for NZ before the World Cup. CHOKED! (Read that a 100 times)

India – Over Achievers

 Despite the beating they got in the preceding CB series and the long Australian summer that would have burned them out, India somehow managed to find reserves both physically and mentally to put in a performance worthy of being the defending champions. 77 wickets in 8 matches and bowling out every opposition except their eventual conquerors and considering Australia and New Zealand played just the one game outside their country, team India’s performance was of the top drawer. Credit to Dhoni for lifting the team up at the right time and the performances of Shikhar Dhawan among batsmen, Ravichandran Ashwin and the three pace bowlers were commendable. It was not a typical Indian performance where wins are buttered with brilliant individual performances but a true team effort where none stood out as exceptional but still got the job done. But for one Steve Smith, #wewontgiveitback and #maukamauka would have been a reality.

Sri Lanka – We Know the Story

Sri Lanka are a below average team outside the sub continent. Need I say more? Oh yeah, just the one thing. Kumar Sangakkara – Take a bow! What a player and what a loss to cricket. I hope he gets into administration after his retirement from test cricket and clean up the mess that is Sri Lanka cricket. There is a lot of passionate following in Sri Lanka and they deserve a much better team to support.

Pakistan – Lads! It’s Pakistan

I really don’t have to say anything more.

West Indies – The (usual) case of what would have been

Plagued by off field player-management tensions, West Indies still managed a decent showing thanks to their young & passionate captain. You can’t but think what would have happened if Bravo, Pollard and Narine played in this team. Whether they are poorly managed or the players have big egos, there is a need for solutions both short team and in the long run. We don’t want to lose a team like West Indies, do we? Remember how the whole of cricketing world rejoiced when they won the T20 World Cup? Need more of those.

Bangladesh – Stupidity and More Stupidity

The way Bangladesh celebrated their entry into Quarterfinals by beating an abject England side said a lot about their overall mind set. They have been a test playing side for 15 years, backed by an over passionate, partisan supports back home and no short of finances or talent. Yet this was termed as an over achievement and an upset. And the way they lost to India and reactions aftermath just goes to show how backward they are as a nation in general. Blaming umpires in a tense finish is one. But blaming them on a absolute battering is complete stupidity. Grow up Bangladesh.

The Minnows – Just Impressions

For UAE it was all about the experience while Scotland impressed with their work ethic. Afghanistan showed why Cricket can be great to a war ravaged nation. Led by the impressive and clam Mohammed Nabi, the Afghans won a lot of heart with their performances. With the right support and backing, they can be great for cricket itself. I expected a whole lot from Ireland than what they achieved at this World Cup. They have got a very good set of players and a case of argument must be made for why they should be playing regular cricket and if they do, they will be a quarterfinalists in the next edition. I can promise you that. It pains me to add Zimbabwe in this group but most of their performances were close to being one. Cast aside Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams and they are no better than UAE. Africa needs more than just South Africa to sustain cricket in that continent. By the way, is Kenyan Cricket still alive?

World Cup XI

Some of you may not agree with at least a couple of my selections but I selected the team base on the quality of their performances than just blind stats.

Brendan McCullum (C & WK), Shikhar Dhawan, Kumar Sangakkara, Steve Smith, AB Devilliers, Glen Maxwell, Corey Anderson, Daniel Vettori, Trent Boult, Wahab Riaz and Mitchel Starc.

Niranjan Kuppan & Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Andy S Grove, Intel’s former CEO, writes in his award winning book Only the Paranoid Survive that “The Person who is the star of the previous era is often the last one to adopt to change, the last one to yield to logic of a strategic inflection point, and tends to fall harder than most”.

A strategic inflection point, he goes on to describe, is “a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end”.

It is fair to say that football clubs, these days, can be looked up on as businesses – ones that thrive on investment, by virtue of which trophies and fans are won. Most football clubs have built their successes based on their past, historical times during which the breath of a club was stronger than its bank balance.

The bank balance of a club, today, plays as much a role in its success as it has always done in a sport like Formula One. Catheram and Marusia, for instance, struggle because they aren’t financially as sound as some of their other competitors, and the entire cycle is influenced as a result of that. If money can buy success these days, it is important to have the right people who put the money in to good use.

Football isn’t very dis-similar. With a plethora of investors throwing their currencies on clubs across Europe, clubs are increasingly becoming aware of the need to spend big, and more importantly, spend wise. Gone are those days where one could point fingers at the likes of Manchester City, or Chelsea, or PSG. Their argument would be simple – they’ve invested the money a lot more wisely than some of the other ‘big’ clubs.

This brings me back to what Andy S Grove stresses, repeatedly, in his book. When a business achieves success, the investment comes in. The leader of the organization is expected to put the money in to good use assessing the business circumstances – market needs, competition, future trends and so on and so forth.

There’s an interesting analogy that leaders use – that a great leader would have a microscope in one eye, and a telescope in the other. Try it and I’ll be surprised if you don’t get a headache. What this means is: a leader is aware of the short term goals that the business needs to achieve, yet aware of the long term vision for the organization.

Out of ideas? A common sight these days with Brendan Rodgers

Out of ideas? A common sight these days with Brendan Rodgers © Daily Mail

In footballing terms, a long term vision could be to improve the standards of a club’s academy thereby nurturing players who would become first team regulars in the long run. Or investing in young talent, through the help of a scouting system, from outside the club before their market value exponentially rises. This would save a lot of costs in the long run because the primary needs are being served by the organization from within.

A short term vision, on the other hand, would be taking the necessary measures to ensure that for the following season, the resources are intact to match the club’s success over the previous year, if not out-perform. These could be players who fill in to address a void due to the loss of a key resource, or coaches that provide valuable back-room addition to improve on aspects where there were noticeable deficiencies.

Let me get to the point. Liverpool FC find themselves at the helm of an inflexion point. The success that the 2013-14 season had bought the club, instead of leap-frogging a desire to reach higher standards, has sent the club on a roller coaster ride, in reverse gear.

I am not seeking an opportunity to blamestorm here, I am a fan, and I will always ride through the highs and lows of the Liverpool family. What bemuses me, though, is a set of aberrant errors made by, understandably, a manager at the start of his career – very young by footballing standards.

So let us begin with the long term vision. Liverpool’s academy has historically been a renowned one that has seen its graduates, to quote a few from the contemporary era, like Owen, Fowler, Gerrard, Carragher and Sterling, albeit through different circumstances, rise to great heights in the footballing circles. There is sufficient evidence to support the fact that the yesteryear managers of Liverpool FC, even until the likes of Houllier and Benitez had a strong team marshalling the academy to churn our first team material graduates.

Although the academy can’t be faulted for its deficiencies, it is clear that Rodger’s inclination towards not using them points our fingers towards two possible explanations: one, that the support system that once existed through the likes of ex-Liverpool players, Steve Heighway and Phil Thompson for instance, has robbed the academy of the passion that otherwise would’ve been driven through men who knew the club best.

The other explanation could be his own reluctance, for reasons he knows best. We aren’t qualified to comment on this, nevertheless, this will rob Rodgers off one of a characteristic that could have otherwise backed him during these turbulent times. Every football fan derives great pleasure from seeing their academy graduates being tested on the biggest arena – regardless of whether they succeed or fail.

There’s still hope on players like Flanagan, Ibe, Wisdom and Rossiter who will be expected by the fans to feature in greater prominence in the seasons ahead. This does not deter fans from questioning some of Rodger’s decisions to invest in the transfer market, heavily, on players who are similar to those graduating from the academy with promise. Joao Carlos Tiexiera and Suso are examples of creative, attacking talent who could have been nurtured, instead of investing for similar roles heavily in the transfer market.

This brings us to the short term vision. Given the ascent to Champions league football, and fuelled ambitions that called for the Premier League title after over two decades worth of wait, there were two concerns that the club had to address: lack of squad depth, and replacing arguably the best player of the Premier League over the course of the 2013-14 season.

Defeat to Crystal Palace left most fans hoping that this would be rock bottom

Defeat to Crystal Palace left most fans hoping that this would be rock bottom © LiverpoolEcho

Metaphorically, Steven Gerrard may be the engine of the team, but the team wouldn’t have run had it not been for Suarez and his extraordinary feats. It would be unfair to question Rodgers tactics of investing heavily around other positions – yes, the squad did need the depth but not without replacing the engine. It hardly matters if an aeroplane has a new landing gear – the engine needs to be new, if not newly overhauled.

Blame it on Liverpool’s recent branding as a second tier footballing city, Rodgers’ experience, rather the lack of it, as a manager of a top football club or the reluctance to spend big on a particular player, the summer transfer window of Liverpool FC resembled that of Spurs last season. Failure to learn from Tottenham’s debacle of trying to replace Bale with an extra team bus had fuelled comparisons sooner than say, at the end of the season.

Rodgers would wish he could eat his words from last year when he’d, arrogantly so, stated that any team that had spent over a 100 million should be competing for the title. He finds himself sailing the same boat, raising more questions than answers to the ever-demanding audience of the Premier League.

Arsene Wenger, despite his record of signing young talents, invested in experienced players who could deliver from day one – over the last few years, names like Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud resonate with this theme.

Balotelli and Lallana came in with proven Premier League Experience. Their starts couldn't have been more contrasting. ©  LiverpoolEcho

Balotelli and Lallana came in with proven Premier League Experience. Their starts couldn’t have been more contrasting. © LiverpoolEcho

Rodgers, on the other hand, barring an unwanted Balotelli, and Lallana, cannot claim to have signed  ‘first team material’. This would beg the question as to why Liverpool were unable to sign a ‘marquee player’ this summer to take over Suarez’s mantle. Whether you blame it on Rodgers ambition, rather the lack of it, or the brand value Liverpool carries today, the manager is answerable.

To sum it up, Rodgers’ failings over the last few months is indicative of a ship that is about to hit an iceberg. What is clear now is that the iceberg is visible, the question is: who is going to steer the ship away from an impending disaster?

Onwards and upwards.

After Liverpool’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Sunday, TCE team catches up with The Chennai Kop – Liverpool FC’s Chennai Supporters Club to get a feel on their perceptions after this very important victory. TCE also picks their brains on the Champions League draw.

Liverpool’s high pressing and quick tempo proved to be the difference between the two sides at the end of the day, a game during which controversial striker Mario Balotelli made his debut for the Red Merseyside club. After missing two glorious chances in the first half, Balotelli, yet, managed to impress through his determination and work-rate, one that City fans would’ve hardly witnessed during his previous spell in the Premier League. Brilliant individual performances from Sterling, Henderson, Sturridge and Lovren ensured that the result went Liverpool’s way.

This comes in as a much needed victory for last season’s title challengers after the weekend saw Arsenal draw 1-1 at Leicester, and rivals Manchester City lose 1-0 to Stoke City at home.

TCE will continue to cover the Premier League, Champions League, and the soon commencing Indian Super League through audio and video podcasts. Watch out for this space!


Senior Journalist, Media Manager and Premier Division coach Ranjan Paranawitana picks Akila Dananjaya as an exciting talent among other things in this freewheeling chat with The CouchExpert.

Video  —  Posted: June 20, 2014 by The CouchExpert in Uncategorized