Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Advantage United As Gerrard Rules Himself Out Of Clash

Liverpool's influential leader Steven Gerrard had been a doubt for the key Premier League visit of League champions Manchester United, but his recent admission limits his chances further.

The international window was seen as the ideal time for Rafa Benitez to sanction a double groin operation for Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool chiefs had hoped their captain would be back to full fitness though in time for Saturday's crucial clash with Manchester United - the new season's first meeting between the 'top four' - but Gerrard has ruled himself out of fixture.

Gerrard is quoted by the Post as saying: "The United game is too soon... I've a decent chance for the Champions League game in Marseille but I've spoken to the manager and told him I'd like to do a certain amount of training before I come back."

"I don't want to go into a big game only having had one session with the boys," he concluded.

Fernando Torres is also a doubt for the United tie due to a hamstring tear. A club spokesperson confirmed one week ago: "A scan confirmed a hamstring tear in Fernando's right leg. He is expected to be out for between two and three weeks."

Rafa's Bootroom: Dave McDonough

Liverpoolfc.tv today continues its series looking at the men behind the Rafalution. Next up is a Kopite whose job it is to file reports on each and every opponent.

It's 6.45pm on February 21, 2007. In an hour's time Gerrard and co will face the best team in Europe in their famous Nou Camp stadium. Both sides are limbering up in the dressing room and the teamsheets have just been handed to referee Kyros Vassaras.

A quick glance at Rafa Benitez's chosen XI reveals his new right-back, Alvaro Arbeloa, is in the team - at left-back. The odd eyebrow is starting to rise.

But fast-forward 150 minutes and once again it's clear that Benitez has pulled off a tactical masterstroke as Lionel Messi, Barcelona's golden boy, walks disconsolately off the pitch having been marked out of the game.

Liverpool were heading back to Merseyside with an unlikely 2-1 advantage and, not for the first time in his Anfield reign, our Spanish boss was being lauded as the most astute tactician in world football.

But those in the know realise Benitez does not work alone.

One man who plays a key role in stopping the likes of Messi is Dave McDonough, head of opponent analysis at Melwood.

Here, in a revealing interview, Dave talks us through the business of being Rafa's mole.

Tell us about your main role here at Melwood?

I do reports for the boss on how the opposition plays. We have scouts who work to me who go to the games. Sometimes I go to the games as well. I then write a detailed report on how the opposition plays and compile video evidence to back it all up. These go to the boss a few days before the game and from there a match strategy will be formed. This will impact upon the training and also the team talk. That's the large part of my job.

Do you write the reports, then let Rafa and co work on a strategy, or are you part of that too?

We'll discuss things over the next few days but the funny thing about my job is that the morning after a game I have to give Rafa the report on our next opponent. I have to stay one game ahead.

So while everyone's thinking about, say, Sunderland, you're thinking about, say, Aston Villa?

Exactly – that's because of the timescales involved. We have two games a week but a report takes three or four days to write.

How much detail do you go into?

You look at individual players but also the squad and how they play collectively. We go into as much detail as we possibly can about strengths and weaknesses. Prior to every game – even if we've already played a team twice in a season – we will watch them three or four times.

How difficult is it to get all the video footage you need?

All the Premier League games are on telly these days. The difficulties come with collecting video evidence for early Champions League games. After the qualifiers it's easier because we can get footage of all the Italian and Spanish games from our sources.

So what do you do if we're playing some distant Bulgarian team?

We'll have them watched by one of our European scouts. As far as getting videos is concerned, it's surprising how easily you can get DVDs if you go through the right channels.

How many scouts do you have watching opponents?

Here in England we have three who are constantly watching games.

It must make your life tough when a new manager is appointed at a club mid-season, like, for example, Kevin Keegan at Newcastle last year?

It doesn't make it more difficult. You have to realise that new managers come in and change the way a team plays. A team can also change dramatically in the transfer window. The thing to remember when you watch a match fresh is to never make assumptions about a team or player – then you can keep on top of any changes.

You mention all the games we play at Liverpool – I imagine that means your job is never ending…

Yes. The missus is very good about it. She understands that football is an 11-month-a-year job, if not longer. The only way of staying at the top is to work all the time. It's a seven-day-a-week job. I normally get to work about 7.30-8am, and I'm here 'til about 7pm. But it's football and I love it.

Your role also includes analysing the players here at Liverpool, doesn't it?

Eighty per cent of the job is opponent analysis but I also analyse our own team and collect images for coaching purposes from our games. I work closely with Angel Vales on that. He is responsible for the written analysis of our team.

What kind of technology do you use – we often hear about Pro-Zone?

We have the AMISCO system. It's one of the products you can use for match analysis. There's several others which I won't bore people with. We use AMISCO and that provides a method of tracking players during a game.

We usually see you in the press box during games – is that what you're doing?

We get the AMISCO analysis within 24 hours, though you can sometimes get things live, so I'm up there watching the game looking for things we'll want to work on or investigate.

I bet you here some rubbish spoken up there, don't you?

I'm usually not listening, to be honest! [Laughs] No, there are plenty of experts up there! You are normally too focused on the game to listen to the chatter, though.

What's your football background – and are you a Liverpool fan?

Yes, I've always been a Liverpool fan. I was a coach for 20-odd years. I have worked at the Academy and the youth set up here at Liverpool since 1997. I also did scouting for the Academy and first-team for many years. I've also done match analysis for a long time. I've been in my current role three years now.

Scouse Ace Eyeing Regular Position

Steven Irwin is hoping to finally nail down a regular position after making the permanent move to Melwood in the summer.

The 17-year-old has played in every single position during his rise through the Liverpool ranks – even in goal.

Last season brought more stability as he split his time between just two areas: right-back and central midfield.

Now the proud Liverpudlian is waiting to see what new boss Gary Ablett has planned for 2008-09.

Irwin, a former captain of the under-18s, told Liverpoolfc.tv: "It can work both ways. If the manager has a few injuries and he needs me to fill in somewhere, then I am capable of doing that. That's a good point.

"But obviously you want to nail down a proper position and make it your place in the team. If you play there week in, week out you are going to improve in that position.

"I think I am settling down in midfield and right-back now – I'm not being moved about too much. I would say central midfield is my best position, just over right-back. But I'm happy to see what happens in the coming months.

"I've played in every single position during my time at Liverpool. I actually played in goal two years ago when we played Wolves. The 'keeper got injured after 10 minutes. I had loads of saves to make so I'll be pushing Pepe Reina soon! But no, even that was an enjoyable experience."

Gerrard Wants More From Reds Attack

Midfielder Steven Gerrard insists Liverpool must show more appetite in attack if they are to defeat Manchester United on Saturday.

The midfielder will not be fit in time for the clash between the two sides on Saturday, after the groin operation that caused him to miss this week's England World Cup qualifiers

"That's a bit too soon," he told The Guardian when asked about a comeback against United.

"I've a decent chance for the Champions League game in Marseille. I've spoken to the manager and told him I'd like to do a certain amount of training before I come back. I don't want to go into a big game only having had one session with the boys."

However, despite missing the game, Gerrard had some words of advice for his teammates.

"Against Chelsea in the cups, we've done them more than they've done us, but in the league we have to be a bit more attack-minded to win.

"Over the last couple of years we've gone into games against United and Chelsea very organised tactically - defensive if you like - and still lost 1-0.

"Have the same sound defence and show more b*****s going forward and it could be 1-0 to us.

"In these matches the first goal is massive; if you concede it, nine times out of 10 you don't get back. It's important a few risks are taken to try to score that goal against these teams because it gives you such a psychological boost."

Finnan: Anfield Exit 'Out Of The Blue'

Republic Of Ireland defender Steve Finnan has admitted that his transfer from Liverpool to Espanyol took him by surprise.

One of the more eye-catching transfers of this season's deadline day saw Irish international Steve Finnan join La Liga stalwarts Espanyol on a two-year deal.

The name of Finnan was added to the transfer that saw Albert Riera move in the opposite direction, after Finnan lost his place in the Liverpool first team.

The 32-year-old had not featured for Liverpool in any competition this season prior to his move, with Rafa Benitez freezing him out of regular action.

Finnan insists that he didn't agitate for a move away from the English giants, and that his first choice was to remain at the club.

The right-back is currently in Germany preparing for Ireland's World Cup qualifier in Montenegro this coming Wednesday and will link-up with his Espanyol team-mates upon his return from international duty.

He spoke to the Liverpool Post, and said: "It [Liverpool exit] was totally out of the blue. It's exciting to be going to a great club in Spain but I didn't want to leave. But it was obvious that I wasn't going to get a game by staying so I didn't really have much choice."

Pellegrino Wary Of Tevez Threat

Liverpool's first-team coach Mauricio Pellegrino believes countryman Carlos Tevez will be Manchester United's danger man in Saturday's clash.

Pellegrino reckons the Argentinian forward will be a more prominent figure in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo.

He told Liverpool's official website: "Cristiano is an important player but it won't make a massive difference to them because they have a lot of good players.

"Carlos is a good player. He is very strong and a fighter. He fights until the end of every game.

"The key in these games is to score goals and play better than them! I think we are ready to do a strong job against them, and we are ready to beat them. I have a lot of confidence in the players."

Sami Hyypia: I‘ll Play My Part

SAMI HYYPIA today admitted his shock and dismay at being dropped from the Reds Champions League squad until the New Year at least – but hopes he still has a significant part to play in Liverpool’s plans this season.

New UEFA regulations mean that eight players from every club’s 25-man Champions League squad must be home grown.

And Hyypia has been the man to make way. When the Reds travel to Marseille next Tuesday, he will be left at home. A new list is not submitted until the knockout stages are reached next year.

Currently on international duty, Hyypia said: “The manager’s decision to leave me out of the squad is a big disappointment for me.

“I understand it’s partly because of the UEFA regulations, but despite that, the news came as a surprise to me and a shock too.

“But the club had a ‘perfect’ timing for this: they didn’t want me to move elsewhere, so that’s why I was told the news of having been left out, just after the transfer window had closed.

“The club went public to say there had been offers for me, but turned them down. So perhaps that means I am still part of the plans for this season.

“I don’t know if I would have wanted to move on, had I heard news about the squad when the window was still open.”

UEFA regulations mean that four players must be ‘association trained’ (ie produced by an English academy) while four must be ‘domestic association trained’ (ie produced by Liverpool’s Academy).

Liverpool’s four ‘domestic’ players are Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Jay Spearing and Stephen Darby, with Robbie Keane, Jermaine Pennant, Steven Irwin and Martin Kelly making up the others.

Spanish international Alvaro Arbeloa is one of the foreign players named in the Champions League squad, and the full-back dismissed speculation over the weekend that he wanted a return to La Liga.

“I don’t know where all the speculation that I am not happy has come from but it is miles from the truth,” Arbeloa declared.

“I am at a massive club.

“I have played in a European Cup semi-final and a final too since I came here. I also broke into the national team through my displays for Liverpool.

“There is competition for places here just the same as there is at any big club. But I know if I play well, play to a really high level, then the manager has confidence in me and will play me in his team.

“I have played anywhere the manager has asked me to play and I will do the same again this season.”