Our Rivals – Liverpool

First off hands up I have to admit I am not a big fan of Rafa. I don’t like the whole rotation policy thing, I don’t like the style of play his teams adopt and I don’t like the way he moans about every little decision as opposed to our own Mr.Wenger who is the very picture of grace in defeat.
Anyway just like the July/August time frame brings on the “break into the top four” speech from the Spuds this time of year also brings out Rafa’s “final piece in the jigsaw” waffle. But before we get too deep into this we’ll go back to the back.
Renia is a good keeper, he had a fair few less than spectacular performances last season but he has won the Golden Gloves award I think three times out of the last four years. However I don’t think he is the best in the league. Keeping down the number of goals conceded is of course key for a goalie but more importantly is keeping clean sheets in the top games. I don’t know how well Renia has done against the other three in the top four but Liverpool’s point haul from United, Chelsea and ourselves has consistently been the lowest so questions remain there. The same applies to their defence, they seem to be good but not great. They will give up goals but then again what team doesn’t? Defences don’t win you leagues but a poor defence will certainly lose you a league so it that aspect Liverpool seem to be well covered.
In the middle they have any two from Skrtel, Agger and Carragher with Hypia as a backup. My feeling is that the first two will take the centre places while Carragher will be pushed out to the right back position. Jamie is a very good central defender but only an average right back, a good left winger will cause him problems particularly if he is fast. I would either play him in the middle or drop him to the bench. Assuming that Rafa continues to select Carragher at right back then we can expect Dossenea on the left. I know very little about Dossenea but do know that he is highly rated in Italy and a few clubs over there were looking at him. On top of this they have Aurelio. The main problem with the back line is that Agger, Aurelio and Skrtel all have less than great injury records and their backup players are either past it or unproven at this level. If I’m honest I think that the Golden Gloves award that Renia picks up most seasons is more due to Liverpool’s somewhat negative style of play than individual defensive excellence.
In midfield Liverpool have the same problems that they have had for the last 3-4 years or more; great in the middle but nothing going on out wide. Just why the manager feels that he needs to buy Barry to play in a midfield that already has Gerrard, Alonso and Mash (not even going to try a correct spelling) is really beyond me. Barry is a good player, possibly even a great one but he is not world class and is no real improvement on Alonso who looks like he will be the one to lose out. I think that they would be much better served in playing two of the three they have in the middle of the park and spend the £18 million that Barry will supposedly cost on some good wingers. I spoken to a few Pool fans on this and they pretty much feel the same and I think that Rafa has been swayed on the prospect of a ‘dream partnership’ based on nothing more than a few pointless and lets not forget non-competitive England games. Is he worth that much? We if you base his value on what the Spuds paid for Bentley then there is little doubt that he is but maybe both Spurs and Pool will end up overpaying simply because of their nationality? Time will tell on this one.
Gerard will continue to flick between average and simply awesome. When he is on his game his is an incredible player but I wonder should he have moved to Chelsea or another team two seasons back? He is playing alongside a lot of average players and I do think that he can perform better than he has done over the past few seasons. I have a feeling that he really wants the league and may not be willing to hang around for much longer to get it.
Because Rafa seems to pick his best 11 first and then tries to fit a system around them it looks like he will play 4-3-2-1 with two winger type players supporting a lone striker. You would expect Keane and Babbel to be the two supporting Torres. I think that while this looks like a good system it has serious flaws. For a start Babbel is simply not good enough, now maybe its just because he is not ready yet but I am not sure. I was shocked when they spent that much on him and even more shocked when I saw him play. He is at best a good player, shines against the weaker teams but seems to go missing when the big boys come out to play. He has the talent, there is little doubt about that but he has a lot to do before I am sold.
Then there is Robbie Keane. I’ll be frank with you that when all this Keane to Liverpool talk started up I presumed that it was a wind up. Keane has spent his career half impressing at small clubs, he has a decent strike rate, a decent work rate and a decent assist rate. But that’s all he is ‘decent’. The same Spurs fans that were claiming him to be world class went into a state of delighted shock when Liverpool agreed to pay up to £20.3 million for his services. If Liverpool are serious about closing the gap then they need to sign players that will make it (or would at least seriously challenge) into the team of those about them. Does anyone really think that Keane would make the starting 11 of United, Chelsea or ourselves? Last year Liverpool finished well off the pace and if you had taken a straw poll from their fans as to who would have been the player to make up that gap then Robbie Keane would not even have made the top 20. Just because a player moves to one of the top four it does not suddenly make him a better player. He is not a top player, never is an never will be, his is no Bergkamp or Cantona or Daglish. He is a Spurs level player at that is all.
Torres has fully lived up to his price tag and I expect another bagful of goals from the lightening quick Spaniard this season. Maybe not as much as last season as defenders will get wise to his game but he is still more than good enough to get goals. I didn’t think that he would score as many as he did last season but he constantly impressed me not just with his finishing but also with his work rate and overall play. The back up players Kurt and that Russian porn star bloke are workhorses. They run all day but have appalling technique and Rafa went and sold the unrated Crouch who despite never being first choice managed to have a better than average strike rate. Is the front line strong enough? I would say no, it is the same as last year and it was not good enough then.
Liverpool will continue to be hard to beat but they are I feel still a bit unbalanced. Defensively they will be strong and the back four will be shielded by the effective but limited Mascherano. In the middle of the park they will be more than a match for most teams (assuming that Gerard and either Barry or Alonso play) but out wide they have relatively nothing. Playing 2 wingers supporting a lone striker can leave you open to quick counter-attacks especially from teams who play with attacking fullbacks. Babbel and Keane will not track back to the same extent as Dirk K and Pennant has finally shown to all that he will never live up to the promise that he showed as a 16 year old.
Despite more spending I don’t see this Liverpool team as any better than last years and for that reason I don’t t hink that they will be capable of mounting a serious title challenge. There are still a few pieces missing from that jigsaw that Rafa talks of, failure to land the big one this year may mean that somebody else gets the chance to complete it.
Last Season Prediction: 4th
Actual: 4th
This Season Prediction: 4th

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