Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Wind Of Change Is Blowing Through Liverpool FC

Apparently they name hurricanes using men and women’s names, working their way sequentially through the alphabet.

After Irene left a trail of havoc up the eastern seaboard of America, I don’t know what happened to Jose but there’s no mistaking that Hurricane Kenny swept through Anfield in the last fortnight, carrying away lots of dead wood and depositing things in unlikely settings.

Not many people would have expected to find Craig Bellamy on their doorstep once the dust settled, and a giant Uruguayan made a welcome change to the hordes of Spanish donkeys which have landed in previous violent cyclones.

Inevitably, some inhabitants have chosen to move on, putting the wreckage of their Anfield careers behind them, and start again somewhere in a less demanding environment.

When they survey the aftermath of the last two transfer windows, most fans will be pretty happy that most of their boxes have been ticked.

Left-back who can tackle as well as career blindly up the wing? Check.

Left-winger who slings in crosses that don’t end up in Row Z? Check.

Stop paying ridiculous wages to average players just because they were free transfers? Check.

Only time will tell, but the squad looks of higher quality and better balance than before Kenny returned, if only because having a left foot seems no longer regarded as the modern equivalent of the Black Spot.

We missed out on the likes of Jones, Young and Mata, maybe, but that’s going to be our lot until we get back into the Champions’ League I’m afraid.

But Kenny has strengthened the squad to the point where we’re starting to discuss how he will fit them all in, and who’ll play where, which is a much better place to be than looking in despair at the bench when we’re 1-0 down and wondering who will make a difference.

As always, some of the new players will hit the ground running and others will need a bit of time to settle in. Adam, Downing and Enrique seem to be coming on nicely while Henderson might need some patience before we see the best of him, though he showed encouraging signs against Bolton.

Suarez of course lit up the Premier League from almost his first touch, while the focus is now starting to fall on Andy Carroll and how he might fit into the pass-and-move style that Kenny is reintroducing. Some fans are beginning to question his worth after an indifferent start, but this is surely wildly premature.

Two parallels from the late 80s spring to mind.

When Kenny signed Barnes and Beardsley, Barnes was an instant success but Beardsley took his time to settle before producing some sparkling stuff. And in that same side John Aldridge flourished despite having to bear the brunt of pompous criticism that he was not on the same level as the rest of the side.

There’s no shame in being the big bloke who smacks it into the net when others have done all the pretty stuff.

Fabio Capello’s resurrection of Carroll’s ‘lifestyle’ and fitness issues are timely reminders to Andy that he still has plenty to do to fulfil his undoubted promise. It’ll be a great shame if a lack of application costs him. He only has to look at one of his new colleagues to see how a potentially brilliant career can be undermined by a fiery temperament and indiscipline.

'Something Big Is Happening At Liverpool'

Phil Thompson believes that "something big" is happening at Liverpool following their splurge during the summer transfer window.

The Reds brought in Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy, Sebastian Coates, Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique, Jordan Henderson and Alexander Doni during the summer, and have started the season brightly.

The Merseysiders are currently in third place in the Premier League after three games, and have already defeated Arsenal away from home.

"I like the way the transfer business has been done, going back to January as well," Thompson told the club's official website.

"A lot of business has been conducted without too much press interference or people knowing too much about it. It's been done in a very Liverpool-like way and I'm extremely pleased for Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli for what they've achieved. You have to take your hats off to Fenway Sports Group as well who have dug deep.

"I am very excited. You've got Stewart Downing on the left and also Jose Enrique, someone who had a difficult first season at Newcastle but who settled, got to know the game and became a very good defender who is good going forward.

"With Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson in the midfield there's a 'Britishness' about the team and I think that's because we lost a lot of the lesser games last year. We could always match the top teams but we had to rectify it against the lesser sides."

Thompson believes the return of Bellamy will prove to be an excellent move, and compared his signing to Rafael Benitez's surprise swoop for Robbie Fowler in 2006.

"I see Bellamy as being the same as when Robbie Fowler came back," he said. "He came back for nothing, the salary is easily manageable because of what's gone out. It's a no-brainer. It's great to have - and he'll hate me for saying this - that maverick, someone who can come on and change a game.

"He'll be saying 'I want to be playing' and that's what you want from someone. He will add so much to this squad that we will all be drooling."

Thompson added: "If you look at the squad now I think something big is happening, but we have been there and had our false dawns before.

"We are a little more guarded now and rightly so, but as we've seen, since the change in ownership we all feel much more content and we're happy with what we're seeing from within the football club. Now we need it to be right on the pitch.

"The big games didn't worry me last year, it was the lesser ones and if we can get them right I think we're in for a great season."

Returning Liverpool Superstar Heralds Dalglish’s Dealings

Following a drawn-out recuperation process following a groin injury, Steven Gerrard is to re-join his Liverpool teammates in full training this week.

Speaking to the Mirror Football website, the Reds skipper expressed his excitement about returning to the fold after what has been a very exciting start to the season at Anfield.

Gerrard reserved special praise for the deals that manager Kenny Dalglish managed to finalize before the transfer window closed last week, offloading players that will not be required, such as Joe Cole, and bringing in others, like former Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing, who have brought a spark to the Merseyside club.

“There’s a real positivity around the place and that has come from the very top,” he explained.

“The owners have been superb and backed Kenny really well, and he has been a very smooth operator in the transfer market alongside Damien Comolli.

“What is really important is that they’ve shifted a lot of players who were no longer involved and sitting on good contracts.

“I’m really happy with the shape and the numbers we have in the squad and I’m excited about this season. You want to play with good players and I just can’t wait to get back and lead the lads out.”

Liverpool To Make January Move For England Midfielder

Liverpool is expected to make a January move for Manchester City midfielder Adam Johnson.

After failing with a last ditch £15 million bid for the England international, Kenny Dalglish is expected to return with a renewed offer when the transfer window reopens in the winter.

Johnson has fallen down the pecking order at Eastlands and will face increased competition from the likes of David Silva, Samir Nasri and James Milner.

With the wide-man harbouring hopes to be included in Fabio Capello's Euro 2012 squad, Johnson knows that he needs to find first team football.

Although City boss Roberto Mancini would like to keep hold of the ex-Middlesbrough man, he admits that it is difficult to find a place for the 24-year-old in his team.

After a summer of rebuilding, Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish seems keen to land one more midfielder to complement the wing work of Stewart Downing. With Joe Cole on a season-long loan at OSC Lille and Dirk Kuyt only a make-shift wideman, Liverpool seemingly need a more natural winger.

Europe's Leading Clubs Want Cut In International Games

Europe's leading clubs have demanded a drastic cut in the number of international fixtures and a greater say in how the game is run.

The current calendar provides for 12 games a year but the European Club Association (ECA) wants a 50% cut.

"We would prefer six double dates over a two-year qualifying period," said ECA board member and Manchester United chief executive David Gill.

With the existing agreement running out in 2014, Fifa has proposed 17 games.

That proposal provoked fury from Europe's top clubs when it emerged last year.

Gill, who also sits on the Football Association board, said the clubs were determined to trim international fixtures and that the "single date" friendlies in June and August should be the first to go.

Last month England's friendly against the Netherlands was called off because of riots in London but the summer friendlies remain a bone of contention with the clubs, particularly in southern Europe, where league football starts towards the end of August.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge - Gill's counterpart at Bayern Munich and the ECA president - went further than the United chief executive, describing the summer friendlies as "nonsense".

"They are added to make money, nothing else. It's got to stop," said Rummenigge. "The clubs are the most important stakeholders in football - without us you have no business - and yet we have no voice."

Rummenigge has been outspoken in his criticism of Fifa and Uefa in recent months but was more conciliatory in Geneva.

"Our goal is not to break away - we know we have to release our players to the international teams - but we want good governance, democracy and transparency," he said.

The former Bayern, Inter and Germany star pointed out that clubs had agreed to ditch the second group stage of the Champions League in 2004 in order to give the players more rest, but those dates have been filled by international games.

"When I played in the 1980s, for example, only eight teams made the European Championship finals, now it is 16 and in 2016 [in France] it will be 24. So it has tripled," added Rummenigge.

"It is the same with the World Cup: it was 16 teams, now it is 32. And then you have the qualifying games too."

The plan proposed by the ECA - the successor body to the G-14 group which represented Europe's most powerful clubs - would see the European World Cup qualifying phase reduced to 13 groups of four, with only the winners progressing.

The clubs are also furious about what they see as the pittance they receive in compensation for releasing players to compete in international competitions.

The issue of insurance is also a long-standing complaint, with England being an exception in providing cover to clubs for players injured on international duty.

The most recent World Cup in South Africa produced revenues for Fifa of $3.7bn (£2.3bn) but only $40m (£25m) was passed on to the clubs.

This works out at about $100,000 (£63,000) per club: a small price, they say, for providing the talent.

ECA board member and AC Milan director Umberto Gandini said that Uefa is selling the next round of TV rights for the European Championships on a central basis.

And he suggested the clubs should be given a percentage, as opposed to the capped amount they have been receiving.

Uefa itself takes 25% of the Champions League money, Gandini observed.

Rummenigge revealed he met Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Uefa boss Michel Platini separately in Zurich last month and discussed the ECA calls for fewer games and more money.

He said he was "not pessimistic" that a deal could be reached and added that Platini was especially keen to compromise.

Downing Stars For England

Stewart Downing was in fine form as England beat Wales 1-0 at Wembley to put themselves on the brink of qualification for Euro 2012.

The Liverpool winger capped a lively display by setting up Ashley Young's 35th minute winner.

Meanwhile, Anfield teammate Andy Carroll was introduced as a late substitute for the Three Lions.

Elsewhere in qualifying, Dirk Kuyt went the distance in Holland's 2-0 win in Finland, while Daniel Agger helped Denmark to a 2-0 triumph against Norway in Copenhagen.

There was disappointment for Martin Skrtel, however, who played the entire 90 minutes as Slovakia crashed to a 4-0 defeat at home to Armenia.

Injury Relief For Martin Kelly

Liverpool defender Martin Kelly admitted his relief after his latest injury proved not to be too serious.

The right-back lasted just half-an-hour of the 3-1 win over Bolton before he had to limp off with a hamstring injury.

The 21-year-old missed the final three months of last season with a torn hamstring and feared he may have to endure a similar lay-off.

But he told the official Liverpool website: "We had a scan and it was good news - it was only a slight strain. I'll build up training this week.

"I could have maybe played on but it was important to get it right, with the history of hamstring trouble I had last season. I've done quite a lot of work over the last six months. Touch wood this will be the last.

"It's all part of football. You're going to get injuries. This is just a slight injury - no more than two weeks. It should be fine after that, injuries won't trouble me. It's just an unlucky time in the game for me."

Preview & Matchday: Liverpool U19s v. Molde FK U19s

Liverpool’s youngsters continue to carry the club’s flag in Europe for the season, travelling to Molde in hopes of getting their first points of the inaugural NextGen Series after a disappointing opener. The young Reds started well but failed to get on the scoresheet after periods of sustained pressure and chances created against Sporting Club, and the visitors converted two first-half chances en route to an impressive 3-0 victory.

Tonight’s opponents experienced much of their success late in the 3-1 win over Wolfsburg—two injury time goals sealed the result after the two sides traded goals earlier in the second half to see the match leveled at 1-1. As with many of the opponents in the competition, information beyond the who’s and what’s is difficult to come by; your best bet is the official NextGen Series club page, which fills us in that three of the academy’s players (Krister Wemberg, Magnus Stamnestrø and Simon Markeng) have made appearances for the first team, and includes the following from Academy Director Arve Lervik:

“We are a small club in the tournament, relying on local players, operating a long-term effort to develop them onto the next level. Nevertheless we believe that we have the ability to challenge the teams we are meeting.”

Also worth noting that Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær started with the club and has returned to take the helm of the senior squad, who’s currently atop the Tippeligaen after finishing eleventh last season. That’s not really insight for tonight, but you know, worthless knowledge and everything.

We’re much more well-versed on Liverpool’s squad—last time out saw a very strong Liverpool eleven, with familiar names Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson, Conor Coady, Jonjo Shelvey, Raheem Sterling, and Adam Morgan getting the nod. Wisdom made the trip north after making his debut for the U21s, and we can piece together a good chunk of the squad based on notes from Steve Hunter’s traveling blog on the Kop—Sterling, Toni Silva, Tyrell Bedford, and Krisztian Adjorjan all pop up, and you’d expect more than a few of the names from last match to feature again. I’d doubt if Shelvey made the trip with Wisdom; they both played the first half in the 4-1 win over Israel on Monday, but the departure of Raul Meireles and fitness concerns for Charlie Adam might see the young midfielder back in the mix for the senior squad.

As you’d expect at this level, one of the biggest challenges for Borrell’s squad will be finding consistency and converting chances. The result against Sporting at Anfield was disappointing, but the performance had more than a few glimpses of promise scattered throughout. For those involved it’s likely a hollow mantra, but every match in the competition is less about the result and more about development. Even if that means Damien Comolli following your every move with his toothy grin and piercing eyes.

What's Going On Ear?

Lots of Liverpool fans have been asking why the players are often photographed flicking each other's ears in training, so we got one of Kenny Dalglish's first-team stars to reveal all.

Martin Kelly kindly explained what is going on in the picture above during an interview with earlier this week.

He said: "It's a game we play and having your ears flicked is the forfeit you have if you are in the box when the whistle blows. You don't want to be in the box. There are two in the box against the people outside who are trying to keep the ball from you.
"It's a mixture of the young lads who get their ears flicked. We get a bit stitched up sometimes. You don't see many of the senior players getting stitched up.

"Put it this way - Carragher's never getting his ears flicked!

"There's not necessarily something going on but it's usually some of the young lads - maybe they just bottle it at the last minute!

"I've not had many flickings, luckily. I usually pass it to the person next to me just before the whistle goes.

"Training is enjoyable. Most days now training finishes and we're asking to stay out a bit more to do shooting. We don't want to go home. Sometimes the manager has to settle us down a little bit because we're enjoying it that much out there.

"It's definitely bringing us together as a team and when we do the formation work, we concentrate hard. We have to take that into a game and we understand that."