Feb 282014
 

The Chihauhaus” of this season’s horse-themed title race according to Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season and now find themselves at the end of their five year period in the doldrums, competing at the business end of the Premier League table once again.

But are they really title contenders? Rodgers himself doesn’t think so (at least not publicly) but the fans are allowing themselves to dream that the 24 year itch may soon be scratched and the long and painful wait for title number nineteen may soon be at an end. It’s a wait that has seen them usurped by their fiercest rivals as the most successful side in English football history.

Liverpool have been phenomenal at times this year, particularly in the past month. The way they tore Arsenal apart at Anfield was a joy to behold for the neutral and for fans of fast-paced attacking football. Even Arsenal fans present at Anfield that afternoon must have known they were witnessing something special. The speed at which Liverpool were able to break from their own defensive third to Arsenal’s penalty area was other-worldly at times. The 4-0 half-time scoreline didn’t flatter them at all. It should have been more.

This same attacking mentality saw them stick four past Everton and five past Swansea in recent weeks and they now have replaced Manchester City as the Premier League’s leading scorers this season. It’s quite possible that both sides could reach the 100-goal mark this season, a feat that’s only been done once before.

Liverpool’s rise this season is largely thanks to the form of their two prolific strikers who have really taken it in turns to bask in the limelight as Liverpool’s main man. Danny Sturridge started the season well scoring in practically every game. Luis Suarez then returned from suspension and duly began scoring in practically every game. Sturridge got injured and missed the entire festive program allowing Suarez to effectively etch his name of the PFA Player of the Year award. Since Sturridge returned, he’s scored in literally every game since whilst Suarez has become more of a creator.

Both strikers have more league goals than starts this season which is a very telling statistic. The strikeforce is undoubtedly of Premier League winning standard, what about the rest of the side?

Rodgers has until recently failed to find a settled starting XI this season. Aside from Henderson (who has found himself playing in several different roles depending on the formation), Gerrard and Mignolet, the starting line-up has been drastically rotated and the formation changed throughout the season. One player who found himself very much on the fringes until about December was Raheem Sterling. He regained a place in the line-up mostly due to the injury to Sturridge and his form has been so impressive since that Rodgers cannot justify leaving him out.

Coutinho and Henderson are two that seem to have found their positions shifted around quite a bit this season. Both have been asked to play wide roles at times despite being more naturally central players.  Lately, with Rodgers incorporating Sterling into the attack, either Suarez or Sturridge has been asked to play a wide role, leaving Coutinho and Henderson to play in the middle with Gerrard behind as an anchor.

Steven Gerrard has been excellent this season and his career-long wait for that elusive Premier League winners medal may be nearing an end. He’s been playing in a new holding role recently allowing Henderson and Coutinho to get forward and support attacks. He’s contributed seven goals this season (mostly penalties) and nine assists from his new deeper role but his average of three tackles per game is where he’s helping to make a bigger difference.

It’s obvious Liverpool’s defence is their weak link. A weak link that has recently cost them four points against Aston Villa and West Brom, exactly the margin between them and the summit at the moment. Winning games 4-3 like they did against Swansea last weekend is fantastic entertainment for the fans but not really sustainable in terms of a title charge.  What happens when Suarez and Sturridge have a relatively off day and don’t score more than one goal between them? Points are virtually guaranteed to be dropped.

Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure, Glen Johnson, Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet to name but a few have not pulled their weight this season. I don’t think Rodgers knows his best back four, I don’t think he can select a settled one and the result is that Liverpool have conceded 35 goals in the Premier League this season, more than West Ham, Hull and Southampton.

So can they win the league? I don’t think they will this year. They have some of the elements in place but never has the side with anything like the 10th best defence in the Premier League found themselves placed 1st at the end of the season. The strikeforce is the best in the country at the moment (Manchester City may take issue), the midfield is finally settled and has an excellent balance to it. The only thing letting them down is their leaky defence and error prone goalkeeper who cost them some valuable points in the big clashes with Chelsea and Manchester City over Christmas.

I think, ultimately, Brendan Rodgers will be the man to bring the league title back to Anfield. How long it takes remains up for discussion. Next year may prove a case of taking one step back before they take another forward. Liverpool’s success this year means they will have the added challenge of Champions League football next campaign, which may hinder their league form. There are steps to be taken and they must begin this summer if Rodgers’s fantastic work so far is to be continued.

What they need:

  • A more reliable keeper. I don’t think Simon Mignolet is solid enough to be first choice for a title winning side.
  • At least two new quality defenders. This may in turn lead to the sale of Martin Skrtel and a few others. Having a squad bloated with sub-standard players is generally not a good thing.
  • A bigger squad. Liverpool have a good first eleven but do not have enough quality in depth to maintain the fight on more than one front next season.
  • Another striker. Aside from the possibility of injury to Suarez and Sturridge whom they depend so heavily on,  they will need some games off from time to time. Rodgers will need at least one more striker to be able to carry the can when they need a rest. When City need to rest Negredo or lately while Aguero has been injured, they can call upon Dzeko or Jovetic who are both dependable for goals.

Right now, Liverpool have the bones of what will be a very good side for years to come, in the attacking department at least. Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling and Sturridge are all still 24 or under.  Suarez is now entering his peak years and they have him tied down to a long term contract. The only are of concern right now is the defence and Rodgers will have to address that in the summer. A man who sat under the learning tree of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea is bound to know a lot about defensive coordination. He will sort it out. Liverpool’s future is looking increasingly bright.

Oct 242013
 

Sir Alex Ferguson’s new autobiography was released this week which details the past 14 years of his Manchester United career. Some of the biggest talking points has been the criticism of former players Roy Keane and David Beckham.

Ferguson talks about what happened in the dressing room when he kicked a boot at Beckham’s head and reveals conversations that were had amongst the players after Keane singled out certain individuals following United’s 4-1 defeat against Middlesbrough in 2005.

Liverpool boss, Brendan Rodgers, has taken exception to Ferguson’s approach and accused Britain’s most successful manager of all time of lacking “old school values”.

“Anyone who’s been in football knows that whatever is said behind closed doors and in the changing room is something you wouldn’t want to hear again,” Rodgers said. “It’s something that’s vitally important. You want to know as a human being that you can speak openly and communication is honest, and hopefully wouldn’t get repeated. You would like to think you would still have some old school values and ethics that whatever is said you take it on the chin and keep it behind closed doors and move on.”

Whilst some might say Rodgers has a point, it’s strange that the comments have come from him, given he invited cameras in to the Liverpool dressing room to film what was said for the documentary on the club, Being Liverpool.

Sep 012013
 

Liverpool vs Manchester United 13:30

 

- David Moyes is well accustomed to high profile clashes with Liverpool , and the match on Sunday will not be any different with both teams desperate to set the tone for the rest of the season.

 

- Tom Cleverley appears to be a player Moyes thinks he can rely on, as he has played every minute in the league for the Red Devils this year. On the back of his performance at the weekend it is easy to see why Moyes rates him so highly, as, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, Cleverley completed 43 passes in the opposition half – more than any other English player.

 

- Wayne Rooney still tops the assists charts with the 2 goals he created against Swansea. Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Gabriel Agbonlahor match him, but all have had at least half an hour more playing time than the Manchester United man.

 

- Wayne Rooney’s hit the headlines for his committed performance against Chelsea on Monday, and he proved to be a thorn in Chelsea’s side throughout the 90 minutes  on Monday – hitting the target 3 times. Only Frazier Campbell and Rickie Lambert registered more shots on target with 4.

 

- Patrice Evra’s position in the Manchester united team has been questioned, but on the back of his attacking prowess his year it would be hard for David Moyes to drop him. Evra is tied second in the number of crosses swung in, with his 4 only bettered by James Ward-Prowse.

 

- Michael Carrick picked up where he left off last week, by producing another stellar defensive performance. Over the course of opening two fixtures he has made 10 interceptions – the second most in the league.

 

- Steven Gerrard has shown how adaptable he can be by playing in a slightly more withdrawn role this season. However, this hasn’t affected his pass completion rate, with the Liverpool skipper completing 84 passes in the opposition half according to EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. The ‘Golden Generation’ are still showing their class, as Frank Lampard is the only Englishman who has completed more.

 

- Gerrard has been at his best at both ends of the pitch, as he’s certainly had an impact in defence too. Liverpool’s talisman has won 7 tackles so far this season, Fabian Delph and Joel Ward are the only Englishmen who have managed more.

 

- The brilliance of Daniel Sturridge and Phillippe Coutinho has made all the headlines for Liverpool so far this season with their dazzling forward play. However Lucas Leiva’s defensive contribution should not be underestimated. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index has shown that the holding midfielder has won 13 tackles so far this season. This is more that any other player in the Premier League.

 

- It was always going to be a tough task for Simon Mignolet to step into the shoes of Pepe Reina, however so far this season he has made a big impression. Both he and Hugo Lloris have each made 8 saves without conceding, no other keeper has made more saves whilst maintaining their 100% defensive record.

Aug 232013
 

March 31st 2011: Willian linked with moves to Chelsea and Barcelona. Both Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola were reportedly keen to sign him after scoring twice in Shakhtar Donetsk’s 3-0 second leg success over Roma in the Champions League last 16 game.

April 13th 2011: “Willian would be perfect for Arsenal,” said Denilson (Arsenal player). “I know him well from the Brazil youth team and he had a real winning mentality then. I’ve heard Chelsea are interested, but his character could improve our team and his style would fit much better at Arsenal. We need match-winners at Arsenal and knowing what he does for Shakhtar and the national team I know he could do the same in England. He has great vision and ability and is one of the best creative players I have played with. I’ve spoken to him and told him that he could be a success with us.”

January 23rd 2012: “Willian is a very interesting player, but he is cup tied in the Champions League,” said Andre Villas-Boas (Chelsea manager). “I don’t think we should go for players who cannot be involved in all the competitions. We are not stressed regarding what we can do in this transfer window. If a good opportunity arises, we could study it, but at the moment, we are very satisfied.”

January 23rd 2012: “We have no burning desire to sell the player, but in football some things are impossible to avoid,” said Sergei Palkin (Shakhtar CEO). “If it weren’t for our good relationship with Chelsea – and Willian does not hide his intention to test himself in one of the best clubs in the English Premier League – we would insist on the £29m release clause written into the player’s contract. It is important to understand that we are talking about Chelsea’s desire to buy Willian, but not Shakhtar’s desire to sell him.”

January 24th 2012: “We have received a bid from Chelsea for Willian valued at €20million, but he is not for sale,” said Palkin.

January 26th 2012: “I wouldn’t have any fears about coming to England because I have played against English sides in the Champions League and studied the English game,” said Willian. “To play in a league that is seen throughout the world would be good for my hopes of playing regularly for Brazil, especially with the World Cup at home in two years’ time. That is my aim. I’ve worked hard for four years to establish myself in the national team. It has taken that long but now I feel I have a good relationship with the coach and I want to keep working hard, so I remain in the side. There are times when you look at your life and realise how lucky you’ve been. I’ve played for a great club in Corinthians and been successful. I moved to Shakhtar and that turned into a great move too. There was talk about Barcelona and Arsenal before but now Chelsea are interested. If the next step of the adventure is England, then I would be excited by that. I have friends in the Brazil side who play for Chelsea, like David and Ramires. All they talk about is the thrill of being in a city like London and playing for a club like Chelsea. I’ve known David since we played together in the Brazil Under-20 side and he talks about what Villas-Boas is trying to build at Chelsea. He and Ramires feel he wants a core of young players who can mature and grow together but also be successful. David says how the coach takes a real interest in all his players, how he can adapt different cultures together and bring the best out of them. Then obviously there is life in London. David and Ramires say there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world – it’s exciting and challenging at the same time.”

July 18th 2012: “I told Willian he can leave, but only if the right offer is made,” said Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu. “He’s a great player. Willian was the biggest investment Shakhtar have made in a young player, we have to respect that. He played only seven or eight games in Brazil. They paid a lot of money for Hazard but are not willing to pay for Willian, even though he’s better in my opinion. Chelsea want to buy Brazilian but made an offer for the eastern European market. They offered €34million but we don’t think that’s his current value.”

July 20th 2012: “I don’t know what the coach said, but the correct value was €25million,” said Willian. “But regardless of the value, of course I really wanted to play for a club like Chelsea, a club that won the Champions League. I’m really annoyed that the board didn’t let me go. It would have been good for me and for the club too. I’d play in a big league and would be able to grow as a player. This is not a message to anyone, everyone knows I want to leave. Chelsea had already reached an agreement regarding Oscar when they made that last offer to sign me. I’m sure it won’t be a problem as we are different kinds of players. He is more like a playmaker and I am more like an attacking midfielder. But it’s a matter of waiting. A lot can still happen.”

August 25th 2012: “I have the offer but it’s complicated because of the board,” said Willian. “Everyone knows that I want to leave. I’ve been here for five years, I’ve won many titles, so I hope they respect my will. I don’t regret having come here, but I regret what’s been going on with this situation. Chelsea tried to sign me, now Tottenham, so I have to rethink.”

August 27th 2012: Shakhtar Donetsk reject a £11.8million bid from Tottenham for Willian.

October 23rd 2012: “Willian was far away from Chelsea,” said Lucescu. “They didn’t even get anywhere near to our requirements, having done nothing to make my promises to Willian come true. Speaking specifically about the amounts, they officially offered the sum for which we had bought him young. I would really like them to highly appreciate his true value and realise that they made a big mistake.”

October 23rd 2012: “There were two offers in the summer,” Willian told Lancenet. “One from Chelsea and one from Tottenham. Choosing between the two clubs would be difficult. I don’t know. I mean, Tottenham is a big club and it has a good person in charge. Andre Villas-Boas wanted to bring me to Chelsea and also tried at Tottenham. He always sends me messages. We are always in touch, and he has become a friend, for sure. And Chelsea is Chelsea. They are a great team, with amazing players and are the champions of Europe. I would love to play for either of those clubs. But my mind remains at Shakhtar, and I’ll do my best to get the win against Chelsea. Everybody knows what my goal is. I’ve clearly stated that I would like to play in a bigger stage, whether it be England, Spain or Italy. I want to come back to the national team, and being in a bigger spotlight would help me get noticed.”

December 20th 2012: “My goal is to play for a bigger club in a high level league. If I tell you that I was happy, I would be lying. My desire was there, with a €25million (£20.3m) offer from a big club like Chelsea. I wanted to pack my things and go, but I can’t do that as I am under contract. It shows how much Shakhtar like me and shows that I am doing a good job, which is why they wanted me to stay. I have tried to convince them many times to let me go. I know that Juventus and Chelsea have made offers to buy me and that motivates me a lot. The club know that I want to leave, everyone knows that. The president has told me that he’ll let me go for €30million (£24.4m) and my intention is to sign for a big club.”

January 31st 2013: Willian signs for Anzhi Makhachkala for €35 million.

February 6th 2013: “Of course I thought about everything, I also took the Champions League into account, but it was the right moment to leave,” said Willian. “In the middle of the year it would make two years I would have been trying to leave without success. It’s indifferent for me that Shakhtar are in the round of 16 of the Champions League and Anzhi are in the Europa League. My objective was to leave from the front door and I think that happened. I don’t feel hurt by anybody.”

August 17th 2013: “There was the Manchester City bid that was turned down,” said Willian. “Now I’m waiting for a new bid to arrive in the next days from a few clubs, like Liverpool. If it’s really Liverpool, then it is surely a great club. I’m hopeful and very calm, just waiting for the best. England is my goal. I like the Premier League very much, I enjoy English football and certainly, if that happens, it will be very good for me and for my image.”

August 22nd 2013: Spurs agree £22m deal for Willian and he passes a medical with the club.

August 23rd: Chelsea also have a bid accepted for Willian.

August 23rd 2013: “I think he’s already made his decision,” said Jose Mourinho. “I don’t like to speak before time because football can be crazy. I know what the player wants, so in this moment we cannot hide. That is a possibility. You have to do the medical before, but the best thing to do is to do the medical in secret. If the player is fine, you can sign him.”

Aug 232013
 

Aston Villa vs Liverpool, Saturday 17:30

Christian Benteke continued where he left off last season with two goals in Villa’s stunning 3-1 win over Arsenal on the opening weekend. Benteke was one of three players to welcome in the new season with a brace, along with Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck

Benteke’s five shots at goal against Arsenal was the most by an away team player in the last round of games. Christian Benteke hit 19 Premier League goals last season, finishing fourth in the race for the golden boot. Most impressively, he had the best shots on target percentage of the Premier League’s top ten goal scorers with 69.5% of this efforts troubling the goalkeeper. His closest rival among the top ten goal scorers is Romelu Lukaku who hit 65.11% on target, while golden boot winner Robin van Persie got just 59.1% on target. Benteke is 33/20 to score at any time and 22/5 to score first with 888sport.com

Fabian Delph impressed with the ball at his feet, completing 6 dribbles against Arsenal, the highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index

Ron Vlaar was the Premier League’s cleanest tackler last season, averaging eleven tackles attempted for every foul conceded, the best in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index

Daniel Sturridge welcomed in the new Premier League season with its first goal, scoring the winner in Liverpool’s game against Stoke last weekend. That goal was one of six shots at goal by Sturridge in the game, a total bettered only by Edin Dzeko in the first round of fixtures

Steve Gerrard showed there’s no sign of him losing quality or drive as the 33 year completed more passes in the opposition half than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with 55

Jordan Henderson has had his critics since joining Liverpool, but the midfielder looked like he is finding his feet in the game against Stoke. Henderson had three shots on target, only Frank Lampard had more among the Premier League’s midfielders

Simon Mignolet capped his Liverpool debut with a clean sheet, making five saves along the way, the third highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Liverpool are 5/2 with 888sport.com to win without conceding a goal.

Lucas Leiva won 8 tackles against Stoke, second only to his opponent last weekend Steven Nzoni, who won 9 in what was a fiercely contested match

Aug 172013
 

He’s leaving, he’s not leaving; he wants to go, he doesn’t want to go; will they, won’t they? – as is the case every year, this year’s transfer window has its share of uncertainty and late surge in excitement with the season kicking off in less than a week. Here’s a look at the three biggest names linked with moves and the impact it will have on their respective clubs.

Luis Suarez

Amidst all the publicised support offered to Luis Suarez by Liverpool FC in the wake of the controversies he was involved in, they seemed to have overlooked the fact that a lot of the current footballers are mercenaries. I’m not condoning Suarez’s recent actions and statements in the media but the fans that supported him despite his flaws in ‘non-footballing matters’ must learn to accept that a player of his skill and quality will have ambitions of performing on the big stage. Sadly for Liverpool, they can’t offer that to Luis Suarez in terms of Champions League football, but Arsenal can.

As for Arsenal, a very expensive and highly controversial player might not be in the mould of a typical Arsene Wenger signing but Suarez is the exact type of player Arsenal needs. The club lacks an attacker who is willing to drop deep to receive the ball and make intelligent runs that drag central defenders out of their position (Van Persie, Henry and Bergkamp did this very well), which would enable other attackers like Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski to run into space and have a goal scoring opportunity.

If Suarez does move to Arsenal , this would be a massive dent to Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification for next season. Given their current roster, it is hard to see where the goals will come from if their top scorer from last season with 30 goals in all competitions was to leave. Brendan Rodgers has to identify a suitable replacement rather than spending all his effort in making Suarez stay.

Wayne Rooney

No one is sure about the truth behind the Wayne Rooney saga. As per Sir Alex Ferguson, Rooney wanted to leave; the player himself has denied handing in a request; and David Moyes refuses to sell him. Many fans have had enough and the general sentiment is that there is enough cover and talent to fill the void that Rooney leaves – with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj (latter having a very good pre-season) who are all capable of playing off the main striker, or in the case of Welbeck, leading the line too. However, the fact is that Rooney clocked 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 league starts last year while there was a combined return of only seven goals from Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverly, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Welbeck.

If Robin Van Persie was to get to injured or suspended, United would need another reliable source of goals. They’d also require a player with energy in the middle of the park, passion, bite and ability to track back. It might not be a healthy relationship but it’s a convenient one and Manchester United will stand to gain if they kept Wayne Rooney.

Gareth Bale

The Welshman was an unstoppable force in the 2012/13 league season. In almost the same number of games (44 in 2012/13), he more than doubled his tally by scoring 26 goals in all competitions as compared to 12 in the season before. £80m (and counting) is a ridiculous sum for any player and Tottenham (or Daniel Levy) will be making the right decision in cashing in on Gareth Bale.

In many instances last season, Bale single-handedly carried Spurs through games. He took matters in his own hands more because of lack of other consistent goal threats. This also probably explains why he only assisted 4 goals in the league last season compared to 10 in 2011/12. Though Spurs posed more steel in defence and the middle of the park last season, they lacked ruthlessness up front, especially when Bale was injured or being man marked. Andre Vilas Boas has further bolstered his side by adding Paulinho and Roberto Soldado. The presence of a proven striker like Soldado should potentially make up for the dearth of goals.

If the sale goes through, the funds can be used to invest in three to four good quality players – wingers and forwards (Angel Di Maria as part of the deal would be a great piece of business) and build strength in depth. Truth be told (and ludicrous it might sound), Spurs can achieve a top 4 finish without Gareth Bale.

Aug 162013
 

The inevitable media hype machine surrounding any new Premier League campaign has been suitably fuelled, revved up and is well and truly in motion. As the big kick off imches ever closer, there isn’t a paper you will open, a TV or Radio broadcast you will hear or… um, a blog you will read that isn’t vying for your attention and demanding that you get excited for the forthcoming season. It’s been the same every summer. It will be the same next summer and for every summer thereafter.

However, at the risk of getting caught up in the hyperbole, there does actually seem to be a unique sense of intrigue about this campaign in particular; intrigue bought about primarily by the fact that the three leading sides in the country have all changed their respective managers. Everybody wants to see how David Moyes will cope having to step into shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson, and whether Manuel Pellegrini will be able to justify the hype. The new men in Manchester will not only have to contend with one another as they duke it out at the top of the table, but also a certain Portuguese making his dramatic return to Stamford Bridge.

Yes, Jose Mourinho is back at Chelsea much to the joy of Blues fans the world over. Having delivered and retained the club’s first league championship for 50 years in 2005, as well as supplementing these titles with two league cups and an FA Cup, there is very little wrong he could do in their eyes. As far as they are concerned, his unexpected departure after just three years following disputes with Roman Abramovich was far too abrupt.

After a spell in Italy and a sojourn in Spain, the self-anointed Special One has gone back to the club where he says he feels ‘loved’. Although the narrative of the Prodigal Son may not have been quite so fondly trotted out had Mourinho not been overlooked for the Manchester United role in favour of Moyes.

Ex-partners. Holidays. Jobs. The temptation is always there to go back and try to relive and recreate the great experiences we once had. Unfortunately, we often find that these experiences are never quite as good the second time around. ‘Going back’ isn’t always the best idea. In English football, two stand-out examples that Mourinho will be hoping not to emulate curiously concern both the Premier League’s Merseyside clubs.

Kendall in the wind

Howard Kendall’s three spells at Everton could not have been more different. It’s safe to say that the six years between 1981 and 1987, when Kendall first took the reins at Goodison Park, is the most successful period in the club’s long history. After an initial slow start, the 1983/84 season saw Kendall lead the Toffees to a respectable 7th place finish. In league terms, no improvement on the previous season but performances in the two domestic cups set the tone for what was to follow. The Blues were narrowly defeated by rivals Liverpool in the League Cup final but bounced back to defeat Watford 2-0 In the FA Cup. Graeme Sharp and a controversial Andy Grey header gifted Kendall his first trophy as a manager as well as ending a 14 year trophy drought for the club.

12 Months later, following an 18 game unbeaten run from December to May which saw only four points dropped, Everton were crowned champions of England finishing a massive 13 points clear of Liverpool in second. An extra time defeat to Manchester United at Wembley meant they were unable to defend the FA Cup but that mattered little a few days later when a 3-1 win over Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam saw Kendall’s side secure their first ever European trophy in the form of the Cup Winner’s Cup. A year on, the Blues narrowly finished second to Liverpool in the league as well as losing 3-1 to their city rivals in the FA Cup final. Kendall and Everton bounced back the following campaign to become champions once more beating Liverpool to the title by 9 points.

Significantly, Everton were never afforded the opportunity to compete in the European Cup thanks to the ban on English clubs following the Heysel tragedy in 1985. It has been said that this played a major part in Kendall’s decision to leave to manage Athletic Bilbao following that second title success in 1987.

In 1990, however, he returned to these shores and after a short spell at Manchester City he inevitably found himself back at Goodison. By Now though, Everton were no longer regular title challengers and found themselves falling further and further away from the summit. If Kendall was expected to reignite the flame of success and bring back the glory days, fans were to be left disappointed. Perhaps it was the club, perhaps it was the manager, perhaps it was both, but Everton seemed to stand still while the vast changes in English football were taking place around them and after three unremarkable mid-table finishes, Kendall resigned for a second time in December 1993 with the club slipping down the table.

Under his replacement Mike Walker, the Toffees survived relegation on the final day that season – something that was to be repeated during Kendall’s unprecedented third spell in charge just three years later. The first half of the 1997-98 season was nothing short of a disaster as Kendall oversaw just four wins and eleven defeats in 20 matches. Going into the final game at home to mid-table Coventry City, Everton occupied the third relegation spot and started the day one point behind Bolton. Despite the fact a win might not even be enough, the Blues laboured to 1-1 draw. Fortunately, they found themselves still in the division only by virtue of goal difference thanks to a 2-0 defeat for Bolton at Chelsea. For a third time, Kendall resigned.

A Dalg-eat-Dalg world

Overlapping and almost intertwined with Kendall’s first spell at Everton was Kenny Dalglish’s first tenure as Liverpool manager. Approaching the tail end of a fantastic playing career, Dalglish was appointed player-manager not long after his 34th birthday in 1985. Joe Fagan’s retirement, the emergence of Everton and the dark clouds of the Heysel aftermath hanging over head suggested the inexperienced Dalglish would have a major job on his hands taking charge of what was widely believed to be the best club in world football at the time. Any doubts soon evaporated as Liverpool immediately won the league – Dalglish scoring the winner against Chelsea in the title clincher – and FA Cup double in 1986.

After surrendering the league title to Everton the following year, 1987-88 saw the reds go on a 29 game unbeaten run from the start of the season, losing just twice overall, as they strolled to the title, finishing 9 points clear of Manchester United in second. A second double was only prevented thanks to a shock defeat by Wimbledon in the FA Cup final.

Kenny’s team were edged out by Arsenal in dramatic circumstances in the league the following season but picked up another FA Cup after defeating Everton 3-2 at Wembley.

Another league title followed in 1990 – the club’s 18th and their last to date – but while in pole position to defend their crown the following year, Dalglish shocked the world by unexpectedly resigning in February 1991. After 6 years, three titles and 2 FA Cups, Dalglish felt that the stress of the job and pressure he was putting on himself to succeed was too much. It may not have been a popular decision, it was one reluctantly accepted by the red half of Merseyside. He may have walked away prematurely, but he walked away a legend.

It is with this in mind that almost exactly 20 years on, following the somewhat calamitous six month tenure of Roy Hodgson, Dalglish was once more put in temporary charge of his beloved reds. This provided the shot in the arm the club needed. A strong initial six month showing saw wins over Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, leading to Dalglish being reappointed on a permanent basis. A decision welcomed with open arms by fans despite the fact he hadn’t been in management since an unsuccessful spell at Newcastle at the end of the 1990s. For the fans at Anfield, Dalglish was back to complete some unfinished business following his hasty departure years earlier.

Unfortunately, the football landscape had shifted monumentally and sadly for Dalglish, he had very much been left behind. Those initial good results masked failings to his management style; failings that would manifest themselves in different ways. There was, of course, the reckless spending on the likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll, whose combined £70million+ transfer fees are still the source of great amusement to all non-scousers to this day.

Dalglish did bring Luis Suarez to the club but as has been well documented, this signing brought its own problems. Not least when the Uruguayan was accused and subsequently found guilty of using racist language in a match against Manchester United. Dalglish’s vehement defence of the player was seen as both misguided and out of touch.

On the pitch, after a promising start, 2011-12 saw Liverpool lose 11 of their 19 league games between January and May to end the season in 8th place – their lowest finish since 1994. Dalglish did win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup final but the dismal league form provided little indication that the glory days of the past would return and he was unceremoniously sacked.

Outside of Merseyside, there are other examples of ill-advised decisions by managers to go back to scenes of past glories. With the greatest of respect to Kevin Keegan, he’s unlikely to make it into anybody’s list of top English managers down the years but having propelled Newcastle from the brink of relegation to the third tier all the way up to touching distance of the Premier League crown during the 90s, he will always be a hero on Tyneside. The less said about his short lived return in 2008, the better. The likes of Mike Walker (Norwich), Gerry Francis (QPR) and Ron Atkinson (Sheff Weds) all also found that things were never quite as rosy second time around.

There are a number of reasons why initial triumphs cannot be repeated. Circumstances at clubs quite often change and nowadays, without a hefty pot of cash, success is remarkably difficult to attain. Then there is the paradox of increased the pressure and expectation to emulate earlier achievements while seemingly being given more slack or leeway due to the good work done previously. Call it complacency or simple blind loyalty, any failings are easily forgiven and, as seen in the examples above, the risk of sleepwalking into mediocrity becomes far greater.

For the manager himself, the fear of failure may well diminish when he has succeeded previously. A feeling of ‘been there, done that’ could well creep in. In Mourinho’s case, last season at Madrid saw him fail to land any silverware for the first time in charge of any club for a full season. Perhaps his powers are waning and he knows that being back at the Bridge where he is ‘loved’ means the fans wont bay for his blood after any perceived failure in the same way the Madridistas did.

It remains to be seen if Jose can buck this trend of managers failing to hit the same heights second time around. Given his resources, and the strength of the team he is taking over, it is difficult to see him ending up like Kendall or Dalglish. Mourinho is still relatively young, smart and talented enough for it not to be an issue, however, examples of the past mean that absolutely nothing should be taken for granted.

Aug 152013
 

Luis Suarez was given a heroes welcome at Anfield recently, despite making it clear he wanted to leave the club, giving numerous interviews over the summer stating his desire to move to Real Madrid.

The reputation of Liverpool FC has been dragged through the mud in recent years, with the players and manager, Kenny Dalglish, opting to wear t-shirts with a picture of Suarez on after he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Suarez then refused to shake hands with Evra when he returned from suspension and played at Old Trafford, much to the embarrassment of the club and manager, but again they stuck by him.

Towards the end of the season he bit Branislav Ivanovic, the second time in his career that he has done such a thing, and again the club stuck by him.

Yet still, despite their constant support, Suarez has thrown it back in their face, preferring to play for last season’s 4th best side. It was surprising that he was then given a hero’s welcome when confronted with the fans for the first time.

After his appearance at Anfield, with Arsenal the only club keen enough to put in a bid for him, the player gave an interview with The Guardian reiterating his desire to swap Liverpool for Arsenal.

Brendan Rodgers was furious, insisting that the player wouldn’t be sold but he had would have to apologise to his team mates before being allowed to play. The press reported that Suarez had no intention of apologising, with him believing the club owed him an apology for not adhering to their agreement from last summer to let him leave if a club in the Champions League made a bid. Rodgers says no such discussion took place.

Much to the relief of Liverpool fans, it was reported yesterday that Suarez had taken it all back and decided to stay at the club.

He was quoted in El Observador as saying: “For now, owing to all the affection of the people, I would be staying.”

Liverpool fans united in their forgiveness of the Uruguayan, far too eager to have their world class player back in the ranks to be bothered by his disgraceful lack of loyalty.

But then later on that evening, having played for Uruguay in a friendly against Japan, Suarez denied making those comments.

“I didn’t say that. Maybe someone else did and the main thing is that I am here now with the national team.”

Ouch.

Jul 312013
 

Having suffered the humiliation of their star player being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, Liverpool have taken precautions against further poor behaviour.

Luis Suarez admitted he used the word “negro” when interviewed by the FA, but claimed he meant it in a friendly way. After footage showed the two players arguing, Suarez kicking Evra in the knee, pinching him and slapping him around the back of the head, an independent commission deemed his defence was a lie.

Following the case, a Liverpool fan at Anfield was caught on camera doing monkey impressions at Evra. When in court, he claimed he was doing a “caveman dance”, and he was also deemed a liar.

Liverpool have spelt out the words they deem to be unacceptable… but for some reason “negro” is missing from the list.

Jul 252013
 
Giggs and RvP

The 2013/14 Premier League season is set to explode back into our consciousness in just three weeks time and what a campaign it promises to be. Fans all over the globe are eagerly rubbing their hands at the prospect of a catalogue of intriguing storylines, controversial incidents, stunning goals and surprise packages over the next nine months whilst teams, managers and players will all be looking to create a new slice of history in what is arguably the most gripping league in the world.

Here’s a look at where the biggest talking points could arise along with a few predictions.

Title Race/Top-4 Contenders

The title race represents a tantalising prospect this upcoming season as it is widely expected to be a compelling contest with as many as six teams in the mix for English football’s top prize. Numerous managerial changes signal a dawn of a new era making for a hugely competitive, yet unpredictable, campaign. Three of last year’s top four teams have made switches in the dugout this summer, with all eyes on David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini inManchester, whilstChelseafans will be hoping that the return of the “Special One” can end the wait for the team’s first title since 2010.

Defending champions Man Utd, along with Man City and Chelsea, will be the main contenders for the top honour, however, a rejuvenated Arsenal will be looking to mount a serious challenge, while the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool – providing they can keep hold off their star players Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez – will be determined to secure a top-4 finish at the very least, which only  adds to the unpredictability at the top.

Everton cannot be ruled out of a place in the top-four either. New boss Roberto Martinez has boldly proclaimed his ambition to propel the Toffees into a prized Champions League spot, but will need to make a couple of astute signings as well as holding onto his star names, in order to achieve this challenging goal.

Top 10 Finish

The other top-flight teams will find it difficult to break into the top-seven, which leaves three remaining places for a creditable top-10 finish. The likes of West Brom andSwanseawill be looking for top-half standings once again, while there is a real sense of optimism on the south coast atSouthampton, with their highly rated boss Mauricio Pochettino setting his sights on a European place.

Meanwhile north east rivals Sunderland andNewcastlewill be eager to make a vast improvement on last season’s relegation battles. Nothing is ever dull with Paolo Di Canio at the helm, while Joe Kinnear’s return to Tyneside is sure to make for an interesting season ahead for Magpies fans.

Elsewhere, Fulham and West Ham together with Aston Villa will be hoping to challenge but they too must show marked signs of improvement on the 2012/2013 campaign.

Relegation Battle

The frantic fight for survival in one of the most competitive leagues in the world is always a thrilling, yet nerve-shredding, affair.Norwichand Stoke endured difficult run-ins last season and could be in danger of losing their top-flight status in 2014, however, as is usually the case, the three promoted clubs have been installed as the favourites to drop straight back down to the Championship.

CrystalPalacehave a woeful record in the Premier League having suffered relegation in all four of their seasons at the top. Under charismatic boss Ian Holloway they will be looking to rip up the history books and cement their place in the top-flight for a second season, which will be easier said than done.

Hull are also expected to struggle, while money-bags Cardiff have the potential to conjure up a surprise or two, providing they splash the cash, although as QPR found out that method can prove chaotic and ultimately costly.

However, if you delve into the recent records you’ll find that between 2001 and 2011, at least one of the three promoted teams has survived the first season in the top flight, while in 2011/12 QPR, Norwich and Swansea all miraculously survived, whereas both Southampton and West Ham avoided an instant return last season. The question therefore is, which ofCardiff,HullandCrystalPalaceare capable of continuing that trend this term?

Top Goalscorer Contenders

As always, the race to win the Premier League Golden Boot will be hotly contested amongst the top flight’s best strikers and last year’s winner Robin Van Persie will be looking to become the first player since Thierry Henry to win the prestigious award for the third time in a row.ManCity’s Sergio Aguero, Tottenham’s Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney are also in contention along with last year’s surprise package, Aston Villa’s Christian Bentake, Daniel Sturridge andManCitynewcomer Álvaro Negredo.

LMA Manager of the Year

Having won it twice in the past three years, Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement opens up the door for another manager to win the prestigious LMA Manger of the year award. Due to the amount of managerial changes, this looks set to be a very competitive and Fergie’s replacement David Moyes and his cross-city rival, Manuel Pelligrini, have to be fancied along with Jose Mourinho, who amazingly never won the gong in his previous three year stint atStamfordBridge.

Surprise winners in recent years include Alan Pardew (2012) and Roy Hodgson (2010), which provides hope for those gaffers outside of the top six and it would be no shock if Mauricio Pochettino, Roberto Martinez, Paolo Di Canio or Steve Clarke emerged victorious next May if they can guide their respective teams to a successful campaign or cup run.

New Signings

There have been a number of exciting new additions to the Premier League so far and there are sure to be some more signings before the transfer window slams shut at the start of September.ManCityfans are looking forward to seeing the hugely talented Jesus Navas and Fernandinho plying their trade in the Premier League, while Tottenham have snapped up Paulinho. There will no doubt be a couple of me marquee signings in the pipeline, with the futures of Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Christian Benteke still yet to be decided.

Goal-line Technology

At long last goal-line technology, in the form of the hawk-eye system, will be employed for the first time next season. In recent years a spate of controversial incidents and referee/linesman howlers have forced the league’s big wigs to finally act. Hopefully we can look forward to a fair and unproblematic process, although there is bound to be an odd contentious moment as is always the case with technology.

Premier League 2013/14 Predictions

Chelseato win the Premier League

Robin Van Persie to win the Golden Boot

Stoke to get relegated

Southamptonto finish in the top 10

November to be the month of first managerial departure

Jul 242013
 

Arsenal fan, Piers Morgan, has been quick to criticise the Premier League’s most unpopular player, Luis Suarez, over the years. “Cheat”, “pathetic”, “cannibal” and “berk” are amongst the names Morgan has used to describe the Liverpool striker. He also claimed he would be “disgusted” if an Arsenal player behaved the way Suarez has.

Then Arsenal put in a £40,000,001 offer in for the player and Morgan changes his tune.

Jul 152013
 

It has been announced that Steven Gerrard has signed a contract extension at Liverpool that will keep him at the club for a further two years.

There have been ongoing talks between Gerrard’s agents and Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre since the end of last season.

The parties are said to have reached an agreement that will see Gerrard stay at Anfield past his 35th birthday.

Brendon Rodgers made the future of the England captain a priority with his earlier contract set to expire at the end of next season.

After signing the contract, Gerrard said “I think everyone knows what it means to me. I’ve been here that long and so to extend, it’s a big day for me and I’m really happy for myself and my family. It’s great news. It lets me know the club thinks an awful lot of me and want me here. I’m glad it’s all done and it’s happened at the right time before the season, so I can just focus on playing as well as I can.”

Gerrard made his senior debut for Liverpool more than 14 years ago and this deal will ensure he spends his career with one club. He’s Premier League career for Liverpool began in a match against Blackburn Rovers on 29 November 1998.

The 33-year-old started 36 of Liverpool’s Premier League games last season, he missed the final two games after bringing forward a shoulder operation.

In 2003 Gerrard succeeded Sami Hyypia as club captain and was Liverpool’s top scorer in 2004-05, 1005-06 and 2008-09. He has scored a total of 159 goals in 630 appearances for the club.

Throughout his career at Anfield, Gerrard has won the Champions League, the Uefa Cup, two FA Cups, three League Cups, two Community Shields and two Super Cups.

Liverpool begin their pre-season tour in Jakarta on Saturday with a game against an Indonesia XI.

The Liverpool squad will then travel to Australia where they will face Melbourne Victory on Wednesday before travelling to Bangkok next Saturday to face Thailand.

Check out Betting News to see how many miles around the world Premier League clubs will be traveling this pre-season.

Jul 102013
 

Both Liverpool and Chelsea have been linked with a move for Xabi Alonso over the past week, with Brendan Rodgers reportedly keen to bring him back to Anfield whilst Jose Mourinho is keen to be reunited with the player he managed at Real Madrid.

Alonso has less than a year remaining on his current deal which is set to expire in June 2014.

Ahead of the Copa del Rey final in May, which Real Madrid lost to Atlético Madrid, a meeting was held between Xabi Alonso’s agent, Iñaki Ibáñez, and Real Madrid CEO, José Ángel Sánchez. In this they discussed the preliminary details regarding the renewal of the player’s contract.

They arragned to meet again in September and it has been reported that they are keen to sign Alonso up on a further two year deal and a pay rise is expected.

Reports from Spain claim that Alonso is not interested in negotiating a deal with any other club and his primary focus right now is recovering from the groin operation he underwent on 8th June.

Jul 062013
 

Reports from Spain this morning claim that David Villa’s transfer from Barcelona isn’t turning out to be as simple as originally expected. Despite the club being open to offers for some time, progress with his transfer has stalled when time has come for definitive action.

As yet Barcelona doesn’t have a formal offer for the player. Many clubs have shown an interest in the striker and may have even discussed figures, but agreement still hasn’t been reached.

Tottenham and Fiorentina are the two clubs that have shown the most interest in the player, and there has also been contact with Arsenal, Liverpool and Atlético de Madrid, but as yet, nobody has made any firm moves to sign him.

Barcelona were hoping to get €15 million, but with having just one year left on his contract, all those interested have even failed to offer the minimum €10 million that would be needed to pay off the resulting share of his €40 million purchase from Valencia three years ago.

Another factor making his transfer more complicated is his contract. Villa has earned €7 million a year for his time at the club so far. However, for this last year of his contract his salary will increase to €11 million. This is a sum that will be difficult for possible buyers to meet.

Towards the end of last season, Andre Villas-Boas confirmed that Villa was a player the club were interested in signing.

“He is one of the world’s best strikers,” he said. “What comes out of speculation at this time at Tottenham is very surreal because you know the club is very active in the last weeks of the transfer window, so you can see that speculation is growing – but at the moment we are focused on trying to get fourth spot.”

In the January transfer window, Arsene Wenger confirmed that they had been trying to sign the striker but Barcelona insisted he wasn’t for sale… yet.

Jun 192013
 

Ibrahim Afellay to Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur

14/10/10 – Afellay: “Playing in the Premier League would be the best for my prestige. I’d like to play for Liverpool or Manchester United – the top level prospect for any player.”

24/10/12 – Afellay: “Arsenal were interested in me in the last few years at PSV and Barcelona. But, finally, it was not possible to close the subject. I believe that money was the difference between the clubs. This match is not personal revenge for me. I do not need to demonstrate anything against Arsenal. But our objective is to leave London without defeat. The scouts of Wenger have always liked my work but have never made the decisive move. But this is not a trauma for me.”

12/11/12 – Afellay: “My aim is to return to Barca. Now when I look back at my time at Barcelona I only have good memories. Training was always great fun. Incredible really. But I also want to enjoy my football at the moment. That is something that I really feel despite what has happened before. Since I arrived at Barcelona I have been growing both in a football sense as well as a mental sense. I think that I have shown that I can battle through despite the adversity.”

7/12/12 – Afellay: “I have two years left on my Barcelona deal next summer. I am actually enjoying my loan spell in the Bundesliga, I like very much being at Schalke. We will see what might happen in the summer. I am sure we will have a few chats come the end of the campaign. I don’t think anyone is able to know what will happen in the future.”

18/6/13 – Rob Jansen, agent: “The Premier League is a very tempting possibility.”

19/6/13 – Reports claim that both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are interested in signing Afellay.

Leroy Fer to Everton

30/1/13 – Everton pull out of an £8.6m deal to buy Fer after a medical reveals a problem with his knee.

30/1/13 – David Moyes, Everton manager: “He’s a really good player, but it was a situation out of our control. We couldn’t make it work. It was frustrating because we are trying to add, we are trying to progress. Unfortunately this one doesn’t look like it’s going to move on – we’ll look to see if there’s anything else we can do.”

11/3/13 – Fer: “It [Everton] is still a fantastic club. But at the moment I am not thinking about it. Only one thing counts right now: ending the season at FC Twente in a good way.”

17/6/13 – Fer: “I haven’t heard about anything but I think my manager did. I think Everton are still interested in me. I would like to go to the Premier League this summer, it’s a very nice competition – but my focus has been the European Championships, afterwards we will see.”

Jun 172013
 

The North West Motorway Police were today guilty of having a pop at Liverpool FC for their lack of silverware.

The Merseyside club, who have seen their title record over taken by Manchester United over the past few season, now winning 20 to Liverpool’s 18, are now a poor relative to their Mancunian rivals. This season, they finished 28 points behind United, and the season before they finished 37 points behind the Manchester clubs.

Liverpool’s last trophy came in 2012, when they beat Championship side Cardiff City on penalties to win the League Cup. Before that, their last trophy was the 2006 FA Cup.