Posts Tagged ‘Liverpool FC’


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.

Fifth.

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

Fifth.

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

Fifth.

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.

 

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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!

 


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

In some way, this is a narrative of a crisis foretold. The Fenway Sports Group claims to have made its decision based on ‘footballing reasons’, contrasting to those made by Hodgson as to the exclusion of Rio Ferdinand from the England squad. They’ve decided to take matters to their own hands for the problem, as obvious as it is in prospect now, is that Liverpool, presently, lacks some of the key attributes that other successful clubs have.

Primarily, FSG needs to address the central problem of the 2011-12 season debacles: a handful of players had cost so much money that they should not be allowed to fail, lest the perennial problems will sustain – lack of goals, and lack of imagination. A few pessimists, half way through the season, had already begun lamenting that the owners weren’t bolder – that a club like Liverpool simply couldn’t afford to wait and watch.

What makes FSG’s emphasis even more compelling is that it is part of a vision that draws on their (ill-fated) experience in managing the Boston Red Sox – a team that finds itself several rungs below where it once was. They didn’t even make it to the playoffs last time around – as one journalist had put it: ‘a far greater failure than Liverpool’s inability to make it to the Champions League.’

Happier Days: John Henry’s belief that Dalglish would turn around things didn’t work out as expected.  © NewsRT

Under Kenny’s leadership, FSG did have belief that a turn-around was possible, for disappointments are common in football. Disasters are the ones that are rare, and during a time when the club seemed to be heading for a feared collision course, it was commendable for a club legend like Kenny, who’d had nothing more to prove, to step up and assist a club he loved. Although, in hindsight, to finish eight in the league, and below arch rivals Everton, is disastrous.

The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing heavy-price-tagged signings being the root cause behind Kenny’s downfall. Even back then, no one in their right senses would’ve paid an amount so high to acquire the services of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and, to an extent, Stewart Downing (although he was voted Aston Villa’s player of the season and looked every bit as exciting as wingers the club had never had). Their episodes of improvement towards the end of the season weren’t enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and it ultimately cost their manager his job, albeit the owners stating that even a Cup Double wouldn’t have changed their minds.

I’m not totally sure that the FSG’s new theme would shake up things at Anfield, but certainly this is the closest that any owner has come to sacking a club legend in order to diagnose the real problems at the heart of Liverpool’s performances. Kenny is to Liverpool what Tendulkar is to the Indians, and not to forget that no rational path forward has been proposed yet.

The pool of candidates being short-listed for the job don’t exactly send shivers down your spine – with the exception of Pep Guardiola, but this would be addressed if we prefix the word ‘candidates’ with ‘realistic’. A few theorists mention Villas-Boas as a top contender, and argue that the blemish on his CV (spelt Chelsea) is more due to the impatience of his ex-Russian boss.

Are they looking at me? AVB would love the opportunity to set his credentials right in the EPL.  © TheFootballReviews

Sure, AVB would find company in the form of Jamie Carragher if he chose to fly in football’s cerebral stratosphere. But given his proclaimed track-record on being a micro manager, he’s likely to fall out of favor with most – unless he’s mended his mentality over the un-opted sabbatical. His methods are believed to be so relentless (and rigid) that it might prove too heavy a dosage for those who’re getting used to seeing the newer teams play successful, attacking football. Players might agree to his theories, but they’re not likely to buy them.

The owners are also believed to be flirting with the thoughts of approaching managers lesser known outside the BPL fan following base: Martinez, Rodgers and Lambert – in that very order. AVB’s Chelsea stint, in itself, had dispelled the case for a young, talented (and inexperienced) manager to be thrown into a gauntlet of fire and expectations. Although, in fairness to the Portuguese, his case proliferates the notion that no one would’ve stood a chance against Roman and his over-optimistic ambitions.

Coming back to the case of three managers under the microscope, it isn’t rocket science to understand and admit that they’ve had their sides carrying more payload than they can handle. Which is good because no one would hate to see new / lesser-known sides do well against the Goliaths – remember FC Rubin Kazan doing a ‘David’ against the mighty Barcelona?

But an awful truth that became apparent when Liverpool had appointed Roy Hodgson as manager a couple of seasons ago was that one simply couldn’t bank on the results they’ve amassed with lesser teams. Roy, current England boss, has built a reputation of being one who can make lesser mortals push above their own weights – something English fans would hope that he does at the Euros.

Surely, the FSG wouldn’t be willing to take a risk along these lines – especially at the aftermath of sacking a legend. Like how the EU is a byword for failed economic policies these days, a post-Roy era still sees the club suffering from slow growth, if not decline. In simple words, the club has already conducted a dress-rehearsal for a crisis that would persist if such a move were to be made again. The worst part is that such a tenet would seem so unfair on these three managers, whose true potential to handle such enormous expectations we will never know unless such a step is taken.

It is a near certainty that the restructured management must have names that would partially, if not entirely, overshadow the Dalglish episode. And that the new manager must bring in, and instill, a philosophy that preaches attacking, attractive football. Kenny, incidentally, was quoted a number of times saying that Liverpool were pleasing to the eye, but darn unlucky with the woodwork, among others. The real challenge is that there isn’t too much money to spend for the new boss, and some of the existing players don’t look a bunch that promises fluid football.

The limited transfer kitty needs to be used to address three primary areas of concern: a poacher, a tricky winger, and a creative central midfielder. Not too long ago, Liverpool were in possession of players that had addressed two of these three areas – Torres and Xabi Alonso. Albert Riera was a good winger, but never world class. The real challenge today, however, is to attract names purely on the basis of Liverpool FC being a brand, for the club doesn’t promise Champions League football for potential targets.

Such a fate would’ve been considered unthinkable, for the same reasons that we thought for Greece leaving the Euro being impossible. But when you’ve ruled out everything else, few options are left.

The REDS must never panic

Posted: August 16, 2011 by couchragers in Barclays Premier League, Football
Tags: ,

 Mayank Gupta

Football Analyst – The Couch Expert

August 16 2011

Recent reviews and rants of the RED fans on public forum, media critics slandering Carroll and questions being raised on every newspaper in the British media should hardly worry RED fans. Agreed, we dropped two points, however, one must remember this team never played together as a unit. Thus, they could not play at each other’s pace and were unaware of each other’s movements.

On the contrary, the first 40 minutes of the game showed a true glimpse of the team the King has at his disposal. The movements were slick, the passing was good and the pace of the players was fast. It was only towards the last 5 minutes in the half when the pace dropped and sloppiness crept into the team which flowed through the team collectively resulting in bad passing.

In defense of the team’s second half performance, Enrique only completed his tranfer on Friday and played on Saturday. Can anyone imagine the stress of such a transfer and still his statistics of the game show that he won every challenge in the air and in tackles. It is only time when his understanding with Downing develops and they can be the best left flank players in the league as both have pace and youth on their side.

In regards to Downing, one must remember the number of positions he played. He was deployed all over the midfield by KD during the game and he was absolutely comfortable everywhere. His run for almost 2/3 lengths of the pitch was only deprived of its praise by the cross bar. Carroll and Suarez got more deliveries to them in one game than for many games combined together last season.

Carroll and Suarez seemed so natural playing off each other. Those deft touches by Suarez and running around in circles with Carroll laying the ball in his path is just the sign of an incipient partnership that could wreak havoc in the future once both are upto match fitness. Suarez was only back on Monday and Carroll still is lacking his pace. Carroll and Suarez are team players who like to play for each other. This is the ‘mantra’  always for a successful partnership of two forwards. Other teams have many world class forwards but do they have the attitude to see an assist against their name rather than a goal?

For the first quarter hour of the game everything was normal, Carroll no.9 and Suarez no. 10 but somehow, things changed so smoothly and Carroll was playing pretty deep to allow Suarez to surge forward and play no. 9 leaving the defenders surprised. Especially, Richardson who was marking Carroll so deep in their own half without the knowledge of Suarez lying behind him. It is these small movements and understanding between the two in their very first game which shows sign of a great season ahead. With balls being sprayed from the midfield like cannons, it is no time before both will be shooting goals for fun.

The conundrum of Liverpool midfield remains a puzzle but with fewer questions to be answered. As I posted in my previous post, Adam cannot be employed in a defensive midfield role as he is slow. This is evident with the no. of tackles he missed and was booked for one such tackle. This limited the already constrained advances of Lucas allowing the Sunderland midfiled to trap LFC in their own half by sitting right on the toes of Adam and Lucas. This cramped the passing and movement of the ball limiting the supply to the forwards in the second half. Lucas was restricted to float around and mark their playmaker by their DM cattermole who is a champion of such markings.

Added to this was the lacklustre performance of Henderson whose movement at the flank became restricted due to Flannagan’s inexperience. Henderson was cautious in going forward as Flannagan was leaving his marker alone time and again. It was a wise decision by Henderson but however, he could not avoid the doom even with such caution. This should not be such a worry once Glen Johnson is back who we will watch overlapping Henderson for fun and pleasure.

To summarize the performance, it was a game of two halves but not due to inadequacy in Liverpool squad and majorly due to lack of fitness. As the season progresses, training sessions will be more, passing will be crisp and fitness will be sublime to take us to where we are. With Stevie back in September, it would be nice to see him play in the midfield as he can muster the courage to go forward with one of those marauding runs and change the game in a whisker.

As a RED, we should be proud of the performance in the first game. We will dazzle and challenge even the best of the best in the future.