Sunday, April 13, 2008

Premier League Preview: LiverpooL vs. Blackburn

What a month it has been for Liverpool Football Club. When given the tough task of facing Manchester United, Everton and then Arsenal three times in a row within a short space of time, Reds fans must really have feared for their misfiring side.

And with the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United with Mascherano’s sending off ringing in their ears, the team went into the Everton game knowing that only a win would do in order to stay in pole position for that vitally important fourth and final Champions League spot.

Having managed to beat their local rivals, Benitez’s heroes approached the trilogy of Arsenal games in quite confident yet cautious fashion. A 1-1 away draw for the first leg in the Champions League tilted the fixture in Liverpool’s side, especially with Dirk Kuyt’s away goal. Yet now, both sides then had to battle it out again, this time for Premier League points.

The League game was also at the Emirates and many will have expected Arsenal to give it more of a go, seeing as Liverpool would be encouraged to have both eyes on the Champions League. However, Benitez shuffled his pack, gave a debut to Damien Plessis and even started the lanky forward Peter Crouch.

With so many changes and much confusion, the England forward managed to give Liverpool the lead with an impressive goal, to add to the hat-trick he scored against Wenger’s side last year. Arsenal did equalize, but any hopes of winning the title were now fading away. With this in mind, it would be sensible to say the Champions League game would now be the most important fixture in both sides season. After all, neither of these clubs were now realistically going to win the league. With the tie poised at 1-1, battle was ready to commence once again at Anfield.

It must be said, the third game between these sides was a real treat, and possibly the best I have witnessed for a long time. Arsenal started the better, with fluent passing and good build-up. Little surprise then to see them score the first goal, Diaby the man to slot the ball past a troubled Pepe Reina.

All of a sudden, the tie was in Arsenal’s favour. Rubbish defending at the back produced a Liverpool equalizer. Sami Hyypia showing why he is still an important member of the side, with a powerful header into the corner of the net. At half time it seemed, this game was going to extra time.

You may wonder why Fernando Torres has not been mentioned thus far? Well, as with all exceptional players, many of them have reasonably rotten games, but one moment of magic gives them all the glory. This was the case with ‘El Nino’ as they call him.

Just on the side of the box, he turned and shot all in one split-second. Almunia was helpless, the Reds seemed to be going through. Arsenal knew that a second goal from them would see them through to the semis on away goals, and Theo Walcott produced a dashing run from his own half to set up another world-class player Adebayor, to easily poke the ball into the back of Liverpool’s net.

With seven minutes to go, it was time for the Anfield crowd to have it’s say. Enter the scene Ryan Babel, a young Dutchman who promises to be so good in the future. When he dashed forward and was brought down in the box, the whole of the Kop screamed ‘penalty’ and it was given.

Very similar to the spot-kick that should have been awarded against the Reds only a week ago, captain marvel Steven Gerrard banged the ball in the back of the net to mark yet another incredible night at Anfield. And when it seemed all over, Ryan Babel sprinted forward, out-muscled Fabregas and scored another goal to send the Reds through 5-3 on aggregate.
The game was a beauty and ensures that Liverpool will meet Chelsea yet again in the semi finals of the competition for the third time in four years. Could it be third time lucky for the Blues, or can Anfield’s magic send Liverpool in search of a sixth Champions League crown? All remains to be seen.

But for now, there is a battle for fourth spot in the league still taking place. Liverpool may be three points ahead of Everton and have a much better goal difference, but a little slip-up could have major consequences. With Blackburn up against the Reds, they will have to work their socks off in order to get any sort of result.

Rovers dream of entering UEFA Cup football next season via the Intertoto competition could well be ended with defeat here. Mark Hughes' men are five points behind sixth-placed Pompey and have only five games to narrow that points gap. Rovers began the season well, just like Liverpool to some extent. But then they slipped and have never really got back to their best since.

We have seen the best of Bentley and Santa Cruz at times this year but the rest of the team aren’t shining as much as they need to in order to deserve a place in Europe. For one, the defence is blighted by injuries and suspensions. With such a problem, no wonder Rovers have started to concede more goals. Blackburn are quite a strong, aggressive, physical side and indeed this does help them to beat fluent, attacking teams; however this is not their only aspect to their game.

Hughes has built a squad full of his own players with attacking flair and on their day, the likes of Pedersen and McCarthy can really hit top gear and out-play sides. Such a performance will be needed against the confident Kopites.

Realistically, Rovers' aim for this season will probably have been to finish in the top six as well as go on a good run in the cup competitions. None of this has happened so it is quite a disappointing campaign for Blackburn. But a last gasp sixth spot finish could ensure that the mood remains positive around Ewood Park. One thing is for sure, Rovers will have to beat Liverpool if they want to achieve this goal.



Apr 8 v Arsenal (H) WON 4-2 (CL QF 2L)

Apr 5 v Arsenal (A) DRAW 1-1 (Prem)

Apr 2 v Arsenal (A) DRAW 1-1 (CL QF 1L)

Mar 30 v Everton (H) WON 1-0 (Prem)

Mar 23 v Man Utd (A) LOST 3-0 (Prem)

Mar 15 v Reading (H) WON 2-1 (Prem)

Blackburn Rovers

Apr 5 v Tottenham (H) DRAW 1-1 (Prem)

Mar 29 v Reading (A) DRAW 0-0 (Prem)

Mar 22 v Wigan (H) WON 3-1 (Prem)

Mar 15 v West Ham (A) LOST 2-1 (Prem)



Anchorman Javier Mascherano is missing from the Reds squad due to increased suspension. The Argentinian did appeal against his lengthened ban however failed and will miss his third and final game. Long-term injuries include Dane Daniel Agger, the young centre-back will not appear again until next season, however his position is covered with Hyypia, Carragher and Skrtel all ready to step in. Wingers Kewell and Pennant both have hamstring problems, but the rest of the squad should be fine. Benitez is likely to convert back to his favourable 4-2-3-1 formation given the success it has brought him in the past couple of months.

Liverpool squad: Reina, Arbeloa, Finnan, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Riise, Aurelio, Babel, Benayoun, Alonso, Gerrard, Lucas, Crouch, Torres, Voronin, Kuyt, Itandje.


Rovers pair Dunn and Roberts will have late fitness tests to confirm whether they can take part in this crunch clash. Steven Reid should retain his place despite being substituted against Spurs with cramp last time out.

Blackburn squad: Friedel, Emerton, Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Khizanishvili, Warnock, Bentley, Reid, Dunn, Pedersen, Santa Cruz, Roberts, McCarthy, Derbyshire, Vogel, Mokoena, Tugay, Brown.


Lucas may not be the obvious choice for a player to watch in Liverpool’s squad, especially with the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard around. However, the Brazilian midfielder can easily slip into Mascherano’s role and his distribution is excellent. He is one for the future, but his thinking is quite ahead of the rest of the opposition and he could perhaps change the game here.

David Bentley has come out about gambling problems which nearly ruined his football career, speaking earlier this week. His mind is fully on football now though and the England international is in sparkling form for Blackburn. He is the biggest threat in the side and Liverpool will be keeping tabs on him.

Hicks Slams 'Arrogant' Parry

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has explained his decision to call for chief executive Rick Parry's resignation, slamming his 'arrogance' and 'inability to manage an organisation'.

The Anfield club has found itself in the headlines for the wrong reasons again in recent days, as the conflict between co-owners Hicks and George Gillett escalates.

The latest twist to the boardroom wrangling came on Thursday when Hicks issued a letter to Parry calling for him to step down.

And in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the American businessman has hit out at Parry's tenure, while outlining his plans to install a replacement as early as next month.

Hicks said: "Rick Parry has been Liverpool's CEO for 10 years and we haven't won a league championship under his leadership.

"Our commercial revenues have not kept up with other top clubs during that time, which has made it very difficult to compete for the Premier League.

"After watching him operate, I came to the conclusion it was time to ask him to resign, due to his inability to manage an organisation, his seemingly arrogant attitude to our supporters and his lack of communication with [manager] Rafa (Benitez).

"I reached my decision a few weeks ago but waited until after the games against Everton and Arsenal. It is important to try to have a new CEO in place by May so we can begin working with Rafa on player transfers."

But Parry has strongly defended his work on Merseyside, saying: "I stand by my track record in English football and as chief executive of Liverpool Football club.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on these allegations - that should be a matter for the Liverpool board.

"In fact, I would welcome an opportunity to discuss these matters with our co-owners and board colleagues.

"This continuous airing of issues in the media is clearly not helpful at this crucial stage of our season."

Hicks Leaked Info To Klinsmann, Rafa Furious

Rafa Benitez will reportedly confront Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks after it came to light that the American has maintained contact with Jurgen Klinsmann.

It is believed that Klinsmann’s representatives contacted Liverpool in order to warn them that the ex-Germany striker had got wind of Benitez’s transfer schemes.

The Merseyside club were shocked when they discovered that someone had supposedly sought Klinsmann’s opinion regarding at least one possible target they had been tracking.

This information will surely infuriate Rafa Benitez, who has been alerting Hicks via private emails of his transfer plans as Liverpool prepare to launch into the summer market, and he will want an explanation as to why the former Tottenham star had been contacted at all.

Klinsmann was interviewed in November as a candidate to succeed Benitez, who was in the midst of a public dispute with Hicks and his policies at the time.

Now Klinsmann is in line to take the reigns from Ottmar Hitzfeld next season at Bayern Munich, and information of this sort being leaked to one of Liverpool’s stronger competitors in the transfer market could be very damaging to the Reds’ hopes of securing their preferred targets this summer.

It has been a turbulent week at Anfield, after Hicks asked Liverpool CEO Rick Parry to resign, sending shockwaves through Merseyside amid the celebrations of Tuesday’s thrilling Champions League victory over Arsenal.

This is just the latest development in Hicks’ attempt to secure sole executive control of the club, following his falling out with co-owner George Gillett and his deflections of Dubai Investment Capital’s efforts to mount a takeover bid.

Benitez refused to comment on the matter ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League clash with Blackburn Rovers at Anfield today.

Despite a substandard patch of league form that sees his side occupying fourth spot in the table, Benitez has won over many sceptical fans in recent months due to Liverpool’s continued dominance in Europe, as they prepare to face Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals in two weeks’ time.

Many of Rafa’s supporters are adamant that he should distance himself from Hicks’ regime, as most Liverpool fans seem to prefer the prospect of Gillett selling his majority stake in the club to DIC.

Liverpool Needs To Be Run By The Fans

Liverpool Football Club was once the very model of how a club should be run. It was fierce, secretive and pure - like a cross between the KGB and a nunnery - generous with its friends, implacable with its opponents. It delivered winning teams with a minimum of fuss, and its driving ambition forced it on to become (as it remains) the most successful club in the history of English football.

Now it looks more like an episode of Coronation Street. Those within the club bicker openly like garrulous fishwives on a pavement. With ownership split between two Americans who, we understand, no longer speak to each other except through lawyers, the plot is acted out in a kind of schizoid fantasy land.

All this in the few days following another epic European Championship victory at Anfield, as Liverpool defeated Arsenal to qualify for the semi-final of the most prestigious club competition in the world.

Clubs like Liverpool - and there are many others - feel like family to those who love and support them. The biggest may have 'international brands', which accounts for their attraction to multinational investors; but at heart the 'brand' is their fans and the history of their club. It can never really belong to anyone else.

It was that fundamental recognition of where true ownership lies that drove me to launch the Share Liverpool FC project. It struck me that the 'social sporting' club ownership model, made famous by clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, would be eminently appropriate for a club like LFC.

Why not encourage the fans to buy the club? It has a huge fan base, sustained by one of the most intense relationships in the game. You only had to witness what happened at Anfield last Tuesday night to realise that this is a truly 'special relationship' between team and crowd. Why not at least ask the question: 'Is anyone out there interested?'

I asked friends at a design company called NavyBlue to put a website together quickly and held a press conference to announce the scheme. The sheer number of hits crashed the website in seven minutes, at a thousand hits per second. It became clear very quickly that there is a huge appetite out there for this idea.

It's fairly simple in structure. Become a member/single shareholder of Share Liverpool FC with the purchase of a one-off £5,000 share. We'll all put our money together and buy the club. We probably need around 100,000 members out of the estimated 20 million Liverpool fans at home and abroad. Within a month, over 20,000 fans indicated their enthusiasm for the project. Our aim is to take over the club and elect an executive board to run it for a four-year term.

If they're no good, you vote them out next time. There will also be a 'fan parliament' of 100 representatives, also elected by the members, which will act as a sounding board for the executive - just as a similar assembly does at Barcelona. Then we can get on with running a successful football club with a real 'community' commitment. The fee for this column has gone to the Marie Curie Hospice in Woolton, Liverpool.

Babel: I Want To Be The New Henry

Ryan Babel is hopeful that he will one day emulate Thierry Henry and make a permanent transition from winger to feared centred forward.

The Holland international admits he studied the Frenchman's style of play from an early age and is confident he can continue to improve to his game to the sort of level that saw Henry establish a reputation as one the best strikers in the world.

"Henry is an idol for me," said Babel.

"I used to watch a lot of him on TV because he plays upfront and I like to look at how he plays and what kind of decisions he makes at key moments.

"Like me, he started also as a winger before he joined Arsenal and it was unfortunate he left for Spain the year I arrived.

"Benitez knows I like to play upfront, though, and hopefully one day he will give me the chance to play there and for me to focus on my favourite position.

"I'm trying to do the same as Henry by moving from winger to play inside. I try to improve my game so hopefully one day I'll be the same or maybe even better than the level Henry reached.

"I hope to give the manager another choice upfront and even after training I spend half an hour practising something extra such as my finishing or control to reach that level."

Babel made a stunning impact when he appeared as a late substitute in the 4-2 Champions League win over Arsenal in midweek and admits that while the Reds are determined to finish in the top four, the chance to conquer Europe remains their number one goal.

"Our focus is on the Champions League," he continued. "The title's not possible and we must try to end up in the top four instead. It's disappointing as a lot of people expected a great deal of Liverpool this year but we haven't improved on the last few years.

"If we win the Champions League though, then for a lot of fans the season would be good. But if at the end we have nothing it would be very disappointing."