Saturday, September 04, 2010

Master Tactician Looking To Work His Magic On Merseyside

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson seems to have made a stuttering start to his time on Merseyside, picking up 4 points in his first 3 league games. Although its very much early days and a lot could happy in the next 35 gamers, if Hodgson is to take Liverpool back to where they belong in the coveted top four of the Premier League, how will he best utilize the players at his disposal to ensure he gets the best results?

Some years ago as part of a Uefa training program, Hodgson gave an insight into what he believes are the pros and cons for different formation set ups, with some very interesting ideas. However although his knowledge gained through years of managerial experience in many different countries has allowed the former Fulham boss to build up a great understanding of the intricacies of football and the best way to be successful, which of these formations would best suit Liverpool this coming season?

Through Hodgson’s comments in the past and team selections during his time in England with Blackburn, Fulham and now Liverpool, it would seem that Hodgson very much prefers having, like most clubs in England, a 4 man defensive line. This enables a side like Liverpool to provide enough defensive cover for Pepe Reina with the likes of Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher sitting in the centre, while similarly enabling the likes of Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger to work the flanks and give extra numbers in attack when they are needed.

With Liverpool struggling at the moment for two strikers who would get goals in both the Premier League and in Europe on a regular basis, it seems that Roy has begun to favour playing Fernando Torres as the lone striker, anchoring the attack and allowing the players in midfield to move up in support when the Reds go on the attack.

This 4-5-1 formation I believe is one which would best suit Liverpool’s style of play. The four at the back and possibly one defensive midfielder in Lucas sitting in the centre of the park, provides enough defensive options that should ensure the club are more than capable to keep most teams at bay.

This solidity at the back allows Liverpool to build from their defence with the likes of Dirk Kuyt, Joe Cole, new signing Raul Meireles who joined the club from Porto and of course Steven Gerrard pushing forward to support Fernando Torres, with Gerrard effectively becoming a second striker playing off the Spaniard when the side are going forward.

The beauty about the 4-5-1 formation is its ability to change slightly to alter a team’s way of playing considerably. Many may see having the likes of Cole, Jovanovic, Kuyt and Gerrard in midfield as a bit too attack minded, especially for some away encounters away from home, leading the Reds to possibly get caught on the break when pushing forward.

The introduction of Christian Poulsen for one of the midfielders easily solves this problem. Placing him in the side along with Lucas allows Liverpool to play with two defensive midfielders, while still keeping two wingers and if possible allows Steven Gerrard to play with even more attacking freedom because he knows that they is adequate cover both in the defence and in midfield.

It would seem that with the players at his disposal, both Liverpool and Hodgson favour the 4-5-1 as the formation, which they believe is going to allow them to finish the season once again in the top four. However, the season is very much in its infancy and with a long way to go, we could see Hodgson tinker with the set up at Anfield, possibly trying 4-3-3 or even a 3-5-2 in an attempt to find the right formula at Liverpool which would allow the team to be successful in the future.

Carling Cup Provides Liverpool With An Ideal Opportunity For Silverware This Season

Five games from Wembley. When you say that sentence again and again, the more straightforward the task seems.

While its fiercest critics continue to treat the competition with scorn and deride its place in the English football calendar, the Carling Cup provides the most simple, straightforward task for a club to enjoy a red-letter day.

Perhaps the time has come, then, for Liverpool to become reacquainted with a tournament they once called their own; flick through the history books and you will see no team can come close to matching the Reds’ tally of seven wins.

What’s more, their tally of 10 appearances in the final is also a record but, since that galling defeat to Chelsea in 2005, you get the feeling mention of it has elicited a degree of indifference around certain parts of Anfield.

That cannot be the case this year. For a club with a past that is littered with pictures of its captains hoisting silver trophies triumphantly aloft, it is vitally important the glorious album gets freshened up with some new entries.

Last week’s draw for the third round, could hardly have been kinder and a date with Northampton Town at Anfield is likely to be seen by many as a bye through to the fourth round.

Roy Hodgson or his players would never be so arrogant to presume that will be the case – who remembers the fright Chesterfield provided in 1992? – but, all things being equal, it would be a shock of almighty proportions if they fell at the first hurdle.

Should, as expected, they progress, Liverpool will then find the draw opens up considerably, as while they were being paired with Northampton from League Two, five all Premier League ties were drawn out of the hat.

Among them was a showdown between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, which inevitably means one of the favourites to go all the way will find their interest in the tournament ended before the clocks go back.

How many occasions in the last few years have you watched a tournament unfold without Liverpool’s involvement only to have a sense of ‘what if’ gnaw away, as you reflect on an early exit?

Barnsley in the 2008 FA Cup is probably the best example of missing a chance that was there for the taking – the sight of the Tykes, West Brom, Cardiff and Portsmouth contesting the semi-finals was a source of dismay – and all regrets need banishing.

Aside from that, a prolonged run in the Carling Cup is hardly putting an enormous demand on the squad; while some have given the perception that the Europa League is an unhelpful hindrance, chances to win a trophy cannot be thrown away so lightly.

If you were to ask Fernando Torres how he felt seeing Atletico Madrid supplement their Europa League triumph in the European Super Cup last Friday, it’s fair to say he will have been envious.

His medal collection might include the World Cup and European Championship but there is nothing at club level yet and he would jump at the opportunity to score a winner for Liverpool at Wembley, if given a chance.

What about Dirk Kuyt? He has been a top player for the Reds since arriving in 2006 but does not have anything to show for the service he has provided – would he turn his noses up at a big day out? No chance.

Pepe Reina may have been the hero of the 2006 FA Cup final and was thrilled to share in the success of the Community Shield triumph which followed later that summer but he is aching to find room in his trophy cabinet.

Then there is Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher; their most enjoyable seasons have been when Liverpool play games every four days and both have a special place in their heart for the Carling Cup.

“Don’t get me wrong, if we won the Carling Cup and did nothing else this year, I don’t think anybody would say we’d had a really successful season,” said Gerrard, who still looks back on the medals he won in 2001 and 2003 with great fondness.

“But, equally, I’ve had some brilliant times in that competition and nothing would give me more satisfaction than to lead this team to silverware. That is always the aim and I’m desperate to do that again.”

Five games from Wembley, six from a massive celebration; the Carling Cup provides a big opportunity – it’s not one Liverpool can treat lightly.

Dr Peter Brukner: Fernando Torres Will Be Back To His Best Within The Next Four Weeks

Liverpool's head of sports medicine and sports science, Dr Peter Brukner, has revealed that Fernando Torres is ahead of schedule in his recovery from an abductor injury.

The Spaniard has struggled with his fitness for a while now and it looked as if his latest injury, sustained during Spain's triumphant World Cup, might disrupt this season as well.

However, Torres scored the only goal of the game against West Bromwich Albion last week and Dr Brukner — who only joined the club during the summer — has been impressed with the player's progress.

"He's actually slightly ahead of schedule - he played a game earlier than we thought," Brukner told the club's official website.

"He started off with a few minutes, then a few more minutes and then started the last couple of [Premier League] games. But for the kick on the shin against West Brom he would have played the whole game.

"We're now at the stage where he can play the whole game. He's still not at his physical peak, that will take another three or four weeks, but I think you can see in every game he's played he's improving.

"I don't think it will be too long before the old Fernando Torres is back - and I'm looking forward to that."

Brukner also confirmed that the Spaniard's rehabilitation program had been carefully planned by the club's medical and coaching staff in consultation with the player.

"Obviously Fernando had a bad run with injuries last season and through the World Cup," the Australian added.

"That was a challenge. We sat down with Fernando and we had a program that would bring him up slowly, which really didn't involve playing too much in the first couple of games because there wasn't enough time.

"He came back to us 12 days before the first game having not done anything since the World Cup. He got injured in the final and had struggled through the whole World Cup, really.

"We were determined not to push him too hard because we didn't want him breaking down again, but on the other hand he is such an important asset and we wanted to get him back as quickly as possible.

"So we had to find a balance between wanting to get him out there [on the pitch] and a gradual progression.

"Again, we sat down with the physios, the fitness staff, the manager and Fernando and worked out a program."

Steven Gerrard Wants More Of The Same For Euro 2012 Qualifiers As England Beat Bulgaria 4-0

Steven Gerrard today demanded more of the same after England got their bid to qualify for Euro 2012 off to the perfect start.

Liverpool’s captain was a key figure in England’s 4-0 dispatching of Bulgaria at Wembley last night, playing with great elegance and control as Fabio Capello’s men seized control of Group G.

But with the memory of such shoddy effort at the World Cup finals still fresh in the mind, Gerrard was quick to put a lid on expectations as he pointed out England have not redeemed themselves yet.

It might be a slightly different story if they follow with a victory in Switzerland on Tuesday and Gerrard believes the players owe it to Capello to produce a similar display to the one last night.

“The manager has taken a lot of criticism but he has been around for a long time and he has got a lot of experience,” said Gerrard. “He will take everything on the chin and he is handling things very well. It is up to the players to put in the performances that will ease that kind of pressure. We have got to try and build on this in Switzerland. They are a good team and we know it is going to be tough but we go there with confidence and believe we can get the right result.”

Though it was difficult to ever see England losing once hat-trick hero Jermain Defoe had fired them in to an early lead, Capello was indebted to a couple of smart stops from Joe Hart.

One such save on the hour was the catalyst for Gerrard to lead a rapier counterattack which led to Defoe doubling his and England’s tally and from there they never looked back.

“It was exactly what the manager wanted,” said Gerrard, who is hoping to play in Jamie Carragher’s testimonial this afternoon. “We put in a good performance and were difficult to beat.

“I always thought that if we kept a clean sheet then we’d win the game. We had some exciting players out there and getting the early goal was the key. We went on from there and it boosted everyone’s confidence. Joe made a couple of good saves but that is what we expect from him. I experienced what he could do first hand a few weeks ago.

“When he is in this kind of form, he is unbeatable.”

Liverpool Youngster Jonjo Shelvey Delighted After Landmark Week

Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is hoping that the week he has just enjoyed will set the tone for the rest of his season.

The former Charlton Atheltic man netted a goal on his debut for England Under-19s in their 2-0 win over Slovakia on Thursday evening, the same day as his sister gave birth. Shelvey hopes such highs are a sign of more good times to come.

"Words can't describe it today. We did really well and my sister has just had a baby as well, so this just topped it off," the youngster told the Reds' official website.

"It's the first time I've been an uncle, so I can't wait to go home now and see the baby.

"It's been a great day for my family and to lead the team out as captain, it's a big day for me."

The midfielder was proud of his first appearance in an England U-19 shirt, hailing the overall team display.

"It was a great performance all the way through, from the goalkeeper to the centre-forward, and to play for your country in a performance like that is good," he added.

"Everyone has got on well since we met up. The younger lads have obviously got that winning mentality from the summer and the lads my age have got it as well. There are some good players in this squad.

"We could have scored more too. I missed a few chances myself, but I thought we opened them up quite well and our defensive shape was superb, so it was a good game for the crowd to watch."

Having already represented England at U16 and U17 level, Shelvey is aiming to one day take his international education up at least one more notch.

"It's been proved with Jack Wilshere that if you're good enough you can go into the U21s and seniors," he said.

"And that's where I'm looking to go, to keep pushing on."

Torres Brace Helps Spain To Liechtenstein Win

Fernando Torres scored twice to help world and European champions Spain to a 4-0 away win over Liechtenstein on Friday in their Euro 2012 Group I qualifier.

Torres, who struggled for form and failed to score at the World Cup where he was recovering from knee surgery, opened the visitors' account with a delicate chip in the 18th minute.

Liverpool coach Roy Hodgson had said that he wanted Torres to miss the game but Spain paid no attention and he was on target again in the 54th minute before being substituted. David Villa and substitute David Silva scored the other goals.

Villa, who hit the crossbar in stoppage time, took his international tally to 43 goals, one short of Raul's record, amid some confusion.

The Spanish federation's website listed his total before the match as 43 but a spokesman and Spanish media said it was one fewer.

The tiny Rheinpark stadium with its capacity of just over 6,000, enough to accommodate roughly one sixth of Liechtenstein's population, was a world away from Soccer City in Johannesburg, where Spain won the World Cup just under two months ago.

But if it felt like an anti-climax, the world champions did not show it. Andres Iniesta forced a superb save from Peter Jehle after only three minutes as they quickly got into their stride.

There was a minor scare when Sandro Wieser floated a long free kick over Iker Casillas' crossbar but, with Liechtenstein ranked 141st in the world and without a win in nearly three years, the gulf was far too great for any real hopes of an upset.

Torres opened the scoring in the 18th minute after Iniesta had slipped the ball through to him on the break.

He was denied by Jehle from a similar position shortly afterwards but Villa added the second in the 26th minute when he collected the ball just outside the area and, despite being surrounded by defenders, managed to turn and rifle a right-foot shot past Jehle .

Spain's intricate passing moves often resembled futsal as they weaved their way through the home defence, with Jehle coming to the rescue several times.

Jehle could do nothing, however, when substitute Cesc Fabregas slipped the ball to Torres, who fired inside his near post in the 54th minute.

David Silva added the fourth in the 62nd minute and Jehle, who plays for Swiss second division FC Vaduz, prevented further embarrassment with some more fine saves.

I Will Carra On Just Like Ryan

Jamie Carragher aims to carry on playing for three more years after being inspired by Manchester United's old-timers.

The Liverpool centre-back, 33 in January, admits he is prepared to leave Anfield if he is no longer wanted.

But having watched the likes of Ryan Giggs, 36, and Paul Scholes, 35, he feels it is possible. He stresses his testimonial against an Everton XI today to mark 14 years with the Reds is not a sign he is close to quitting.

He said: "I've always had it in my head you finish at 35 but the way people look after themselves you could get another year out of it.

"Some of the Manchester United lads give you inspiration to keep going. I want to play until I'm about 35 or 36 but if the end was before that I'd obviously have to go somewhere else - I would not stop playing football."

Carragher would like to stay at Anfield when he does call it a day. He added: "I would find it very hard not to have football in my life.

"Here would be great. But Liverpool always has top managers and you would have to earn your stripes."

Barcelona's Javier Mascherano 'Let Himself Down Badly' With Handling Of Liverpool Exit - Jamie Carragher

Liverpool's Jamie Carragher believes that Javier Mascherano let himself down badly by refusing to play in the club's away game at Manchester City before his move to Barcelona.

The Argentina captain left Anfield under a cloud after refusing to feature for Roy Hodgson's side at the City of Manchester Stadium, as he angled for a move to the Spanish champions.

Eventually Mascherano got his wish with a €21 million (£17.5m) move to the Nou Camp, but Carragher believes that the midfielder has ruined his relationship with the Liverpool fans and that is something the Argentine will come to regret.

"Mascherano was great for Liverpool for three or four years and it was a privilege to play with them," Carragher told talkSPORT.

"But he let himself down badly and that left a bad taste in the mouth.

"If he'd played in that match he would have got a great send-off and it all would have been fine.

"But he ruined that and I think he'll regret it."

Carragher Blasts For Souness Reign

Jamie Carragher admits he has nothing but admiration for Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Fabio Capello but the Liverpool defender is critical of Graeme Souness' tenure at Anfield.

The 32-year-old will today enjoy his testimonial with the likes of Michael Owen, Danny Murphy, Jerzy Dudek, Luis Garcia and Emile Heskey all set to turn out while former manager Gerard Houllier will also be at Anfield.

The Bootle-born player has made 635 appearances for Liverpool since making his debut in January 1997, three years into Roy Evans' spell as manager after he had replaced Souness.

Carragher readily admits he would love to learn from the likes of Ferguson, Mourinho and Capello, who persuaded the defender to come out of international retirement and represent England in their disastrous World Cup campaign.

He told the Daily Mail: "The likes of Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, I could talk to them all day and that's one reason I answered the call from Fabio Capello to go to the World Cup. I wanted to see him at close quarters.

"I wasn't disappointed and got on great with him. He used to make me laugh every day. It was just the way he was - no messing. I loved that."

The Reds stalwart then settled on Ferguson as the manager he would most like to interview and added: "What would I ask him? How long have you got? All day?

"If I was in his company, I would also tell him first off, that Manchester United never knocked Liverpool off their perch as he put it.

"That's nonsense. Graeme Souness did that.

"When United were going for their first title under Ferguson in 1992-93 they were competing with Norwich and Aston Villa. They weren't competing with Liverpool, were they?"