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Liverpool may fall short in title tilt

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Phil McNulty | 11:24 UK time, Thursday, 14 August 2008

Liverpool fans are indulging in a familiar August pastime - namely pondering all the permutations to work out whether they will finally win the title for the first time since 1990.

Earlier in the summer I made a written promise to Liverpool fans who accused me of forever running down their chances of winning the Premier League.

I said I would return to the subject on the eve of the new campaign, study the summer's events and assess whether this season would be any different from the last 18 years in title terms.

Liverpool's summer has been decidedly mixed. Robbie Keane will prove to be an outstanding capture from Spurs, albeit at the truly exorbitant price of £20m.

But Rafael Benitez's pursuit of Gareth Barry has been embarrassing in its execution and acrimonious in the extreme as Aston Villa stood firm on their £18m price tag.

The fall-out has even scratched at the surface of the uneasy truce between Benitez and Liverpool's owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who clearly do not share their manager's view of Barry's worth.

There are two sides to this argument and both have a certain merit.

Barry is worth nowhere near £18m, but it drives at the heart of the manager's judgement to deprive him of his major transfer target.

It is clear the failure to land Barry has irked Benitez, a manager with a history of being easily irked by his own club's power-brokers.

Benitez has been active elsewhere, bringing in Italian defender Andrea Dossena and Switzerland international Philipp Degen.

So with his business done, Barry notwithstanding, will Benitez finally fulfil Liverpool's dream and bring the title back to Anfield?

Benitez's reign has been built on progress in cup competitions, but he has yet to put together any serious sustained title challenge.

Liverpool will undoubtedly be contenders. They may finish higher than last season's fourth place, but I have my doubts about whether they will push Manchester United and Chelsea for the title.

Robbie Keane

This is a crucial campaign for Benitez. The Spaniard is tactically astute, but Liverpool's early momentum last term was killed off by his tendency to meddle needlessly, inexplicably leaving Fernando Torres out of eminently winnable games at home to Birmingham and away to Portsmouth.

He also needs to remember he is a coach not a politician. Benitez has had enough money to spend over recent seasons for Liverpool's hierarchy to demand he delivers a serious title challenge this time around. No excuses.

Liverpool pulled off a genuine coup in landing Keane from Spurs to pair with the brilliant Torres. This is a partnership potentially filled with goals and a spearhead to compare with any in the Premier League.

The only question mark surrounds how Liverpool will accommodate Keane in their formation. He will presumably play just behind Torres, but Steven Gerrard filled that role in outstanding fashion in the second half of last season.

Keane's arrival probably means Gerrard's burgeoning partnership with Torres will be placed on the back-burner and the Liverpool captain will figure in a more orthodox central midfield role.

They have a reliable keeper in Pepe Reina and the return of Daniel Agger in central defence after a season wrecked by injury is a welcome strengthening on those resources, which were boosted by the addition of Martin Skrtel in January.

Liverpool are well-blessed in central midfield when Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva return from the Olympics to team up with Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, who appears to have survived the cut and with it effectively killed off Benitez's hopes of landing Barry.

They are not so strong down the flanks, and Benitez will need big contributions from his new full-backs as well as Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun to provide crucial balance.

Jermaine Pennant is also on the margins of the squad, but in reality he is not a player who will win Liverpool a title - indeed he has barely won them a match since his arrival from Birmingham two seasons ago.

It is a strong squad with world-class talent in the shape of Torres and Gerrard - but it does not, in my opinion, match the all-round strength of Manchester United and Chelsea.

Liverpool have also failed to match that pair's consistency, so this will be another part of the equation Benitez must solve.

Keane's arrival will give Liverpool an extra dimension, but it is one I believe makes them more likely winners of a cup competition than the Premier League. They may rise to third place, but I do not see them as champions.

Manchester United and Chelsea will regard them as dangerous league rivals, but not the team to derail their title challenge.

Of course I know there will be plenty of Liverpool fans out there ready to argue with me. Some may even agree. Let's hear from you.

Third place and a cup - but another year without the title for Liverpool.


Page 1 of 4

  • Comment number 1.

    Accommodating Robbie Keane in the current formation as well as Stevie G is a problem which on the evidence of last night, Rafa hasn't solved himself, as he swapped them over.
    Not sure whether Rafa would change the system, but perhaps by sacrificing one of the two wide men in midfield and bringing them inside to work as a second deep lying striker or linkman. The obvious victim would be Kuyt.
    Robbie and Steven both acting in support of Torres is something which might work, but they'd have to be careful about copying each other's runs.
    The remaining three in midfield would be a tighter, narrower unit and the fullbacks would have to push on better

    I suppose, in effect, it would be adopting a Christmas Tree formation, with Torres at the apex.

    However, would Rafa abandon his 4-5-1 that he used so effectively last season remains to be seen.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good first post. Dirk Kuyt is an honest trier, who did an excellent job for Liverpool in an unaccustomed position last season.

    Not sure he is the quality wide man needed though.

    He is certainly serviceable, however, and Liverpool's left-flank looks a more pressing problem.

    I would hesitate to jump to conclusions after only a couple of games, but I would take a fit Fabio Aurelio ahead of Andrea Dossena.

    Liverpool fans and Benitez will hope Dossena is simply bedding down and will be ready for the real business on Saturday.

    What about the defending on free-kicks? A problem for years and one Benitez has yet to successfully address.

  • Comment number 3.

    I just don't think that Robbie Keane is as good as some commentators and observers judge him to be. Is he really that talented a player that you change a successful formation to 'accommodate' him? I'm not so sure about that.

    That position that many are saying Keane likes to play, in the hole behind a striker, is also the position that Gerrard likes the most. It gives him the absolute freedom to pick the passes he wants, make the runs he wants, and be in range for more shots at goal. Gerrard doesn't want to play deep. And if Liverpool were to switch to 4-4-2, they don't even have top quality wingers in my view, to protect the full backs, provide creativity and make that work. Pennant and Benayoun are just too inconsistent.

    Benitez has talked about playing Robbie Keane in wide areas. So why didn't he just sign a winger?

    In my opinion, Liverpool would have been better off signing two top quality wingers, playing Gerrard off Torres and keeping their policy of two defensive central midfielders, rather than spending £20m on Robbie Keane.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sigh.....Torres was not "rotated"for B'ham and Portsmouth. He was on the bench because he was coming back from injury on both occasions.

    So actually it was not 'needless' meddling, but hey, everyone's an expert

  • Comment number 5.

    A balanced article Phil.

    Keane is a great addittion. You only have to look at the likes of Kuyt and Voronin to know that he was an essential purchase.

    But I quite agree, its down the flanks that Liverpool have the problems. I think they will adopt a formation similar to Man Utd's last year. Essentially a forward 3. Torres at the sharp end and Gerrard and Keane behind him getting down the wider positions. This neatly means they avoid playing the likes of Pennant who clearly are not title-winning quality.

  • Comment number 6.

    I thought it was widely acknowledged that Benitez has a formation he wishes to play - and that is the 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders (Masc and Barry ideally), one pinnacle of the attached (Torres) and three attacking midfielders. Gerrard obviously was the central of those three last season.

    Is it not fairly obvious the Keane will go into where Gerrard was last season, and presumably Gerrard will be tucked wide (right). Benitez made it clear years ago that he didn't trust/rate Gerrard down the centre.

    Having said that, I think also the point of Keane being signed is to add fluidity of movement to the forward line at the likely expense of the more regimented Kuyt. Expect to see Gerrard and Keane swapping positions a lot.

  • Comment number 7.

    On the evidence of last night, Liverpool will win nothing this season. I disagree about Dossena - I think he's better going forward than Aurelio judging by the other pre-season games I've seen. But with no decent wide players it will be a struggle. Kuyt isn't up to it, Benayoun is a good player but he's not a left winger. Maybe Benitez can continue to be the mirror image of Wenger by turning strikers into wide midfielders and Babel will profit from being played on the left, but I can't see it. I hope I'm wrong, but I think Liverpool are at least two quality players short of a real title challenge this year.

  • Comment number 8.

    totally agree, think they still just fall slighty short compared to man utd and chelski, but they are more than capable of winning the champs league or another cup i feel..

    chelski have bought quite well deco is brilliant and with ballack and lampard still on board the posses a quite formidable midfield and attack...

    man utd will be just as tought with nani looking better and bettter and of course ronaldo, rooney and tevez,

    just dont think liverpool have those type of players

    torres and gerrard are in that league but the others i feel are way short...of giggs scholes, lampard, cole, carrick, hargreaves, ballack, deco,

    as far as 20 million on keane and 18 million, just shows you how crazy the market in england has gone with player like that comanding that price tag, even man utd 18 million each roughly for carrick and wonder kaka is priced at 78 million !!

    still will be good to watch !

  • Comment number 9.

    I've never seen Robbie Keane play wide in my life. He's only ever operated in central areas. If people think at the age of 28 he can be converted into a forward-winger, they're dreaming.

    If Benitez wanted a winger, why the heck didn't he bid for someone like Quaresma.

    Keane's not even that good. He's not a great finisher, he's not creative, he's not technically gifted. He's a trier with pace and energy.

    Bellamy was better than Kuyt, Voronin and Keane.

  • Comment number 10.

    Do not see Robbie Keane as a wide man. It would be folly for Benitez to spend £20m on Keane then play him out of position.

    Do not agree about Bellamy. Liverpool was simply too big for him and take a look at his appearance record in the last 12 months - constantly injured.

  • Comment number 11.

    Agree Phil. I think however that we may well grab second place. I am on record as predicting Manu for the 2nd successive season (3rd in all) to win the Pl and I think Liverpool will get 2nd from an ageing and (also) wingless Chelsea. When are Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea going to wake up to the fact you need width and quality width at that. Manu have that and the others dont.I think we will get 2nd or at least 3rd and perhaps mount serious challenge in 09/10.

  • Comment number 12.

    Im an honest LFC fan and i dont think we have the players to win the league this year. I also dont think we will ever win the league with Rafa the Rotata in charge. Slaven Bilic pointed out that Englands downfall was because they didnt play 4-4-2. Liverpools failures are because we havent adopted this formation.

    yes we were successful with the 4-2-3-1 but we had Kuyt and Babel out wide who are strikers therefore they were able to make up the second striker when Gerrard was rampaging through the centre.

    I think we need to look at the side and realistically say that if we played 4-4-2 then Gerrard and not Kuyt would be our wide right man. He would not be wasted out there and can have a similar freedom to that of C Ronaldo of Man United.

    They say that when you go on a date, first impressions count so im sure the same applies for a football match. What worries me is that Dossena isnt going to be a top left back and that Degen is a waste of money ( i know it was a free but his wages!). I would have kept Riise for one more season and told him to make it his best and fight for the shirt. As it is, he has gone. Therefore my first XI would be when everyone is back and fighting fit


    Play 4-4-2, mascherano can do the holding job, alonso can supply the passes, Gerrards energy is endless and Babel youth will be amazing. Keane and Torres can play link up and main striker. The defence is solid plus we have the number 1 keeper in the premier league.

    We dont need Barry, he isnt worth £8 million let alone £18m!

  • Comment number 13.

    Good article Phil.

    I think Keane will be a good addition to the Liverpool set up, he is the type of player who will help Torres continue to flourish. Smart around the edge of the box and works the line very well creating spaces.

    However, I also cant see Liverpool mounting a serious challenge to United or Chelsea. Their best 11 will give anyone a game but the strength in depth is not quite there. Bringing on players like Pennant and Voronin is not going to change many games in an instant, they are good players but not massive impact players like those at the disposal of messers ferguson and Scolari.

    The flanks has been a constant problem during Rafa's reign, and I think this was highlighted again last night. They looked too narrow and exposed when Standard did spread the play and make use of the full width of the pitch.

    I agree with Phil that they will probably take some silverware this season, but I very much doubt it will be the much sought after Premiership.

    And as a slight reposte to some of the other comments, just how successful was this 4-5-1 you seem to enjoy so much?

    I wouldnt consider last season to be any sort of success for a club of Liverpools stature and maybe making some changes to the fundamentals might not be a bad idea??

  • Comment number 14.

    Liverpool will not win the league and will probably not mount that serious a title challenge for the following reason.
    It is a draw in a dour match , the team are not playing well and you turn to look at your world class match winners to pull something out the bag. You have Torres and Gerrard just like last .
    Also think Benitez is not that good a manager IMHO - he does seem to rotate for the sake of it rather than to kepe players fresh.

  • Comment number 15.

    My concern about Deggen was that he was not first choice in a decidedly average Switzerland side at Euro 2008.

    I know some Liverpool fans have expressed early doubts about Keane, but the only question I have on that deal is the price.

    He has proved his quality over several years with Spurs. There is no problem there.

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree, we just don't have enough players to frighten other teams...Torres, Gerrard...and now, maybe Keane is great but Ronaldo, Tevez, Nani, Rooney, Giggs, Scholes, Anderson is a little more frightening.

    Would've been nice to see Rafa spending the summer chasing someone like Quaresma or David Silva than Gareth Barry (who I don't think is better than Alonso). We need a quality winger!! No, we need two! ...And another left back, Dossena looked terrible against Liege.

    As for this season, I think we'll be okay, providing Rafa doesn't rotate so much and plays our strongest possible team. I think we should go for a 4-3-3 with Gerrard, Mascherano and Alonso in midfield with Keane and Babel supporting Torres.

    One more transfer request...bring back Luis Garcia!

  • Comment number 17.

    We may have been 4th last year, but if we'd beaten the top three, we'd have been top by several points. We need to have more confidence against the big clubs to make a difference this year.

  • Comment number 18.

    To secretscouse. I am not a huge fan of Alonso, but it was interesting to hear the reaction of Liverpool's supporters against Lazio.

    They clearly doubt the merit of selling Alonso and bringing in Gareth Barry.

    Tough to see where Alonso will go now to raise cash after playing in the Champions League.

    Glad to see it was not just me about Dossena!

  • Comment number 19.

    I was really disapointed by alst night but i'm going to put it down to poor mentality rather than poor players, inexcusable though it is they though they would walk it.

    The Keane, Gerrard problem for me is not a hard one to solve. when Raffa has said that Keane can play on the right or left people seem to presume it means as a winger. If you look at most top teams nowadays none of them have out and out wingers, even ronaldo isn't a winger anymore he's not a get to the byline and deliver the cross type player. I expect to see torress supported but Gerrard, Keane and one fo Kuty/babel for most of the season. Two of them won't be asked to play wide right or left but rather in the right and left channel, using pace and movement to creat space.

    As to where will we finish this season.. Last season for all our supposed woefulness we finished with 76 points that included playing the reserves when we where safe in 4th last year. We dropped too many points in stupid 0-0 draws when we needed to wrap it up. I think Keane could help us maybe get 10 extra points in those situations. If we finished this year on 86 points i would be very happy, will that win us the title something tells me not but who knows

  • Comment number 20.

    Im sorry, but I just cant see Liverpool finishing in the top 3, last season either one of United, Chelsea and Arsenal could have won the league, Liverpool came nowhere near, and what makes them have a better chance now, Robbie Keane?! Keane is a very good player and was a large reason why Berbatov was so successful at Spurs, but their are still so many areas within the Liverpool team that need strengthening. Benitez constantly seems to ignore your blatant need for 2 wingers, instead playing strikers and central midfielders wide (Kuyt, Gerrard and Babbel who you may think is a winger but was always played as a striker in Holland in a similar role to Henry). Also, you still dont seem to have fully solved your full back problems, last season you were supposedly interested in Daniel Alves, but instead youve bought Andrea Dossena and Philipp Degen, neither of which seem to be of a quality needed to win titles. And finally the overall squad of Liverpool is very poor compared to United and Chelsea, apart from central midfield you clearly do not have sufficient cover for you other areas.

    Benitez's problem, much like Houllier before is that he wants to buy far too many very average players that will never improve the team, since last summer Benitez has bought 26 players!

  • Comment number 21.

    BTW...IF we're in touching distance come Christmas, we'll win it...I did say if....

  • Comment number 22.

    Good Blog my problem with the latest signings by Rafa is that he sold a good forward who offered variety when things were going wrong with the favoured style of play,Crouch.To be replaced by someone in the mould of the Rafa style thus leaving it all 1 dimensional.There is no opportunity to change the style now.This could be the problem ,plus of course outside of the 1st 11 the squad is not as strong as either Man U or Chelsea.

  • Comment number 23.

    Also, another thing that bugs me about delusional Liverppol fans is how they keep going on about if they'd beaten the top teams they would have won the league, you didnt, and you came nowhere near winning these matches, not just last season, but every season Benitez has been in charge he has had a terrible record against the top 3, so saying if you had won those matches is completely irrelevant, its as relevant as saying if Derby had won all their matches they would have won the league, they didnt and where nowhere near doing so.

  • Comment number 24.

    I completely disagree with subtarranean when he says Keane is just a trier with pace. He set up a fair few goals for Berbatov last season and some of his finishes show real technical ability.

    Another point I disagree with is that he can't play as a wide player of an attacking 3 behind the striker. Yes he is certainly not a conventional winger but when you are part of an attacking 3 with 2 defensive midfielders behind you there is alot more freedom and I expect there aren't set postions for the 3 attacking players and they will interchange regularly. Keane did play on the left for Spurs on occasions.

    Also, this idea that you can't do well without good wingers depends on the way you play. If your game is all about getting the ball wide and into the box then yes, it is correct. However, many teams base their games on central play such as Chelsea last year, who apart from Joe Cole (when fit) had no conventional quality wide player.


    Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena

    Mascherano Alonso

    Keane Gerrard Babel


  • Comment number 25.

    One game down and the season is over. Isn't this the same set of shallow comments we hear all the time?

    Rotation, zonal defending, blah, blah, blah.

    Let's face it, Barry is not worth £18m. Rafa rotates to the same level as ManU and Chelsea. Zonal defending is just as effective as man marking (but no-one calls for man marking to be scrapped when it leads to a goal).

    Last night Liverpool were awful. Didn't close down players, passing and movement were non-existent and Yossi, Keane and Kuyt were a liability for the first half. We were well and truly off the pace and Liege were well up for it (and played very well). As the first competitive game of the season, this sometimes happens.

    I'll reserve judgement until we are well into the season and we have everyone back.

    Good on you Phil for keeping your promise to write this article. For me, I want us to compete and, if we win the Prem, great. As long as we are competing, I'm happy. At the minute, it is way too early to judge anything.

  • Comment number 26.

    ManUtd82 Liverpool were robbed at Anfield after outplaying United as has been the case several times in recent years. Losing that game is 6 points difference from winning, which at an early stage in the season has a big say in the title race.

    They also should have beaten Chelsea (1-1)but an incorrect pen decision cost them, and Arsenal they drew 1-1 against.

    Yes they were comprehensively beaten at Old Trafford but apart from that you have no valid point

  • Comment number 27.

    The reason why Benitez is so keen to sign Barry at any cost is that he believes he can cover 3 positions, so comparing him to Carrick's fee is unwise. Perhaps this is also why Villa have placed such a high fee on him.

    Personally I wouldn't spend the money on him though as I think Alonso is vastly underrated and as Barry won't get in ahead of Mascherano or Gerrard, signing a probable left-back for £18 million isn't money well spent

  • Comment number 28.

    Can Liverpool challenge for the title? No. End of.

    It will end the week after Hansen and Lawrenson wet themselves after a routine Anfield rout and proclaim "They can do it!"

    Cue nil-nil away to also-rans.

  • Comment number 29.

    I believe the only way they can make it work is by changing the formation to a 4-1-2-2-1

    GK - Reina
    LD - Dossena/Aurelio
    CB - Skrtel and Agger
    RB - Carragher
    DM - Alonso/Mascherano
    LW - Babel
    RW - Kuyt
    AM - Gerrard and Keane (running into the box)
    ST - Torres

    That way will provide passes by Gerrard and Keane for Torres to latch onto as well as allowing them both to go for goal theirself. Although I do believe Liverpool need to bring in new wingers.

    Or the manager could play Keane as a second striker.

    Babel is one for the future but needs to work on his delivery.
    Kuyt is good but hasn't hit his potential in the Prem and doesn't provide the decent crosses needed.

    Either Barry or Downing should be brought into play on the left flank and either David Silva or another gifted right winger.

    That will provide the attacking potency need and will enable Alonso to help the defence.

    That will also solve the problem that Liverpool had last night. Also Liverpool will also need to bring in a new attacking mid to cover for Gerrard when he is unavailable. Liverpool cannot perform without Gerrard and you need a similar player to him to help the team. A younger player may be ideal, a 22yr old perhaps?

  • Comment number 30.

    dowyboy you didnt beat the top 3 last year though did you. It wasnt confidence that stopped you but quality. The 2 games against United I dont remember a shot from Liverpool. Your game against Chelsea in January / February was easily one the worst games I have ever seen you had the ability to cancel them out but not to go on and beat them.

    Keane may improve thatand I think that he will form a gnuine partnership with Torres but will he be enough to win the league because the others that have been brought in certainly dont look like they will be.

  • Comment number 31.

    All he brings in is mediocre after mediocre after mediocre.

    The odd quality player who actually improves the team is brought in far too inconsistently.

    Benyoun for Luis Garcia. Keane for Crouch. Vornin for Bellamy. Barry for Alonso. Dossenna for Riise. Babel. Arbeloa. Kuyt. Pennant. Deggan. I could go on.

    The squad should be improving every year. It should be packed with QUALITY. Instead he asks for money to blow on more mediocre.

  • Comment number 32.

    I actually do think the squad is improving in quality - the arrivals of Torres last summer, Mascherano during the season and Keane recently prove that.

    The issue is whether it has the quality, strength or consistency to threat Chelsea and Manchester United and do not think it does.

    Benitez's transfer record is certainly mixed, but he has had funds and the argument about lack of backing from the board wears thin.

  • Comment number 33.

    I'm not saying we should have beaten the top three last season, although we should have done better, at least against Arsenal. I'm saying that's the difference between a league winning performance and a runners up spot. If we can compete more against those three, then we're in with a chance.

  • Comment number 34.

    I wouln't say Keane is mediocre, last year he had a better record than Bellamy in the League.

    Barry doesn't always have to take the place of Alonso in the squad as he can play as a winger (Barry). Some of you that watched his performances with England playing along side Gerrard, seemed consistant and they both played well together, all it takes is to keep that partnership in Liverpool.

  • Comment number 35.

    Completely agree Phil, they have no chance! Good goalkeeper, Two average full backs, lack pace down the middle, very good in central midfield, awful down the wings, Torres is class, Keane? Over priced and very over rated, doesn't sound like a championship winning formula to me... Champions? 19 years is just round the corner.

  • Comment number 36.

    Phil had to write this column because so many Liverpool fans give him grief.

    I'm sure he knows just as well as any other unbiased fan that Liverpool are nowhere near good enough to win the Premiership. Its not even worth discussing.

    Everyone talks about "the top four", but in reality Everton, Spurs or Villa are much closer to Liverpool/Arsenal, than either of those are to Chelsea/Man U.

    There's a top 2 in England, not a top 4.

  • Comment number 37.

    Good article Phil!
    And as a liverpool supporter I have to agree that you have been fair in your analysis.
    But what bugs me is that you neglected the fact that the difference in points between LFC and the top two team last season was a matter of 2 games lost to ManUtd!
    We were robbed in the 1st Chelski game as well!
    So eventually it is not all about consistency after all!
    Getting the results agaisnt title contenders counts a hell lot these days!

  • Comment number 38.

    I just can't see Liverpool as champions as long as Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal still play in the Premier League. I can't even see them being third.

    Man Utd are just too good all around to not be in the top three, Chelsea are too rich to drop anywhere lower than third and Arsenal have the skill to shine when they have to. Liverpool have Torres and Gerard. That's about it.

    The emphasis on one player over many is rife with Liverpool. Barry for 18mil? That's one player for the cost of two (three or four if you're Arsene Wenger) and Keane for 20?

    Benitez seems to know good players when he sees them but he doesn't see many.

  • Comment number 39.

    Firstly, the question over Degen not starting for Switzerland - he was coming back from an injury. Secondly, Keane - amazing but but 20m is steep. He could be our ace in the hole - more accustomed to playing in this position than Gerrard who only started playing there regularly last season. I'd keep the formation from last season, play Gerrard on the right of the midfield/forward 3. As we saw with Kuyt last season, the player can get central and contribute or stay wide.As for title chances, the fan in me says yes, the realist says 2nd at best.





  • Comment number 40.

    Although Liverpools form did falter in the mid season when he started to rotate the squad abit too much.

  • Comment number 41.

    It appears that the biggest problem for Liverpool, and indeed Arsenal over the last few years, is the fact that both managers are focused on buying a player and then making them play in another position.

    Now I'm all for versatility and I think the majority of English players needs that aspect of their game improved. But you can't do so at the expense of your team. Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea need wingers if they are going to play with wide-men. Players who love to be out wide, who understand the tricks of the trade of getting the ball at the white line and either running into the park or getting it to the byline for a deadly cross.

    If you're going to play with wingers, buy a winger. I'm not worried about Liverpool (or Arsenal) pushing United for the title this year, in fact I think it's ours to lose. Keane may be a good buy, but I doubt he'll be a great one.

  • Comment number 42.

    i sortof agree ... i am a lfc fan through and through but we dont have anywhere near the quality needed..To start

    1, rotation...we should have a consistent team...Rafa said he will have the players fit to mount a challenge on the title when every1 else is tired..but Utd and Chelsea didnt get tired and they played a more or less consistent team all season long.

    2, signings... Taking what other people have said...Why keane...He doesnt play wide and he doesnt score loads of goals. he scored 13 goals in the league last season..which is okay... but will he play 38 league games to score that and will he play in a striking role..or will he get in gerrards way??. We should have bought Rafinha from schalke-who is actually a decent full back and defender-.2 quality wingers, with silva announcing he wants to stay in spain-who in my opinion is a bit overrated and light-weight for the league...he'll get bossed around too often- who else can rafa go for...Quaresma would have been a brilliant signing..he can actually cross a ball and score.and rafa might have been able to get him for 15 million.3 mill less than barry and 5 mill less than keane.

    3, Finances... The board must get out of liverpool b4 it all comes tumbling down in debt. if they can sanction a 20 million move for keane, How ever much they paid for the other signings who look to be average not good enough..(going back to previous point), and allegedly sanctioning an 18 million move for barry( they have since announced they will not be paying the way over priced 18 mill for barry).
    20 million plus 18 million equals 2 average player we dnt need.If we bought barry we would have 5 central midfielders and would be forced to sell alonso.(3 times the player of barry and 1 of the best passers in the game)Whats the point!.
    20 mill from keane transfer and 18 from barry could have paid for david villa.3 times the player of both of them.even though villa has revealed he wants to stay at valencia(or in spain).But 38 million couldve paid for sergio aguero of atletico madrid. Who is a rising star and a player with bags of quality and goals.He is 1 for the future...if liverpool nutured him or even loaned him out to barça or atletico for a season...he could end up being a deadly attacker like ...Messi.

    Going back to finances, Liverpools owners are at loggerheads with each other...not a stable environment for a manager...(just look at mark hughes) and they are going into debt whereas DIC would have more money..wouldnt be in so much debt and mite allow benitez to go for better players like villa and silva and so on.

    I doubt liverpool will ever win the league under benitez but he has been a good servant to liverpool with the difficult times behind the scenes...others would have been close to leaving the door or even getting the boot.
    A second point is if liverpool let rafa go for another manager, There would be a huge exodus of players leaving.Like torres and Reina who have stood up for benitez and have stated that if rafa left the club than they would follow him...Some of our best players saying that...If they left We would go Right back to square1 again!

  • Comment number 43.

    IOM_RAM, I think your missing the point of how games are won and lost, you didnt beat United at Anfield because you didnt have the quailty to score and United had quality all around. In that game you may have shown alot of effort but their was no end product, United had very few chances and put 1 away, thats clinical finishing that comes with being a great side and is often how teams play away from home, its not luck. You didnt score because of bad luck, but because United have arguably the best defence in the world and Rio had Torres in his pocket, also Gerrard was completely owned by Anderson that game.

    I agree you were robbed with your home game with Chelsea, but again at home you didnt really show enough quality to win, like United and Arsenal did against Chelsea, and your away match was just pathetic excuse of a game from both teams.

    Finally your 2 games with Arsenal, the first at Anfield, Arsenal made you look like a very very average team, lacking any ideas and although you managed to get a draw, had Arsenal shown a little more composure in front of goal could have won by quite a few, while the other match was just before youre meeting in the CL and had no real importance to either team.

    So I dont really understand your excuse that if you had won all those games you would have won the league, at most their was 1 game (home to chelsea) where you were unlucky not to get a win, other than that, you got exactly what you deserved, if not more.

  • Comment number 44.

    Can we have no more mentions of Craig Bellamy when discussing Robbie Keane.

    Liverpool have never needed to mourn the loss of Bellamy and should not start now - Keane is superior in terms of temperament, goals and consistency.

    This is where that argument ends.

  • Comment number 45.

    You speak wise words there Phil. Keane is alot better than Bellamy.

  • Comment number 46.

    I had to stop reading after "inexplicably leaving Torres out". Same tired nonsense that proves no actual thought was put into the article.

  • Comment number 47.

    Sigh.....Torres was not "rotated"for B'ham and Portsmouth. He was on the bench because he was coming back from injury on both occasions.

    So actually it was not 'needless' meddling, but hey, everyone's an expert
    Agreed! It's lazy isn't it, we should call him Phil 'Jamie Redknapp' McNulty.

  • Comment number 48.

    Firstly less of the 'you', I am not a Liverpool fan (given away by my name).

    You say clinical finishing won United their game at Anfield? Hardly, a tap in from Tevez won it. Are you saying Liverpool don't have a clinical finisher, only Torres is the most clinical in the league.

    My point is that Liverpool played well but were unlucky not to win these games early in the season, thus putting themselves too far behind and thus out of the title race early on.

    The key for them is to mount a challenge whereby they are in touch with a couple of months to go, I agree they have little chance of actually winning it.

  • Comment number 49.

    I think in Reina, Agger, Carragher, Mascherano, Gerrard, Keane and Torres we have an excellent spine to our side, Match that with Alonso, Lucas, Skrtl, babel, Benny and Kuyt we have good back-up.

    What we Lack, and have lacked for a long time is wingers. Natural width in the team. Two quality wingers(Right and Left of course!) and you have a great team, and a team that can challange.

    But Rafa still does not seem to want to buy a proper, natural winger, and has never wanted too.

    So in Short I think 3rd, maybe 2nd if we are lucky and Chelsea and Arsenal are unlucky!

    A cup is possible though.

  • Comment number 50.

    To my mind, Keane is a great signing for when Liverpool is playing 4-4-2. In that formation, their ideal formation is probably


    The weak spot there is Pennant, who needs replacing with a proper winger.

    In 4-2-3-1, which was their stronger formation last season, I figure it's


    Which is to say, Keane isn't part of the 4-2-3-1 for the most part. He can go in place of Gerrard, or even possibly Kuyt, but I don't think he's starting XI in that formation. In 4-2-3-1, to my mind, Barry was wanted to go in where Alonso is. Which is why Alonso is surplus to requirements - he's an attacking central midfielder in a team that has Gerrard. Yes, he's a good second choice for Gerrard in 4-4-2, but at the end of the day, you can pull Keane back or put Benayoun there. Not great in 4-4-2, but both are fine replacements for him in 4-2-3-1. Alonso is a great midfielder, but he doesn't have a clear place in Liverpool as it stands.

    Personally, I think 20 mil and 18 mil are too much for players that only have a clear role in one of two formations, and I'm baffled by the willingness to lose a player like Riise (who could play wing in 4-4-2 fine) or Crouch (who was a fine partner for Torres) in order to pay too much for such a player. In particular, I don't get why a striker was pursued when a winger is the more obvious hole.

    I still think Liverpool can challenge for the title. I think they could have done it last year, save for a poorly timed slump. Addressing why the slump happened is the more significant problem than patching non-existent holes.

  • Comment number 51.

    Robbie Keane is undoubtedly a brilliant player and so is Torres. Remains to be seen if the dream partnership on paper can put it into practice on the field. He had Lennon and Berbatov alongside him at Spurs who seemed pretty unselfish
    and willing to provide for him.

  • Comment number 52.

    I think Benitez has bought a winger in Pennant - he just isn't good enough for Liverpool.

    Yossi Benayoun is clearly talented, but he did not get a lot of opportunities last season. If there are doubts about Benayoun, it is that he occasionally looks lightweight.

    There is, I admit, an argument for saying that Benitez should have used the £20m spent on Keane on a world-class wide man.

    I still think Keane will be a success, however.

  • Comment number 53.

    Had enough of Liverpool playing so boringly. I like Benitez when Liverpool plays like the way they played against Milan when we won the Champions League. But this is very rare. Time for Benitez to leave. Rijkaard would be a great attacking minded manager that Liverpool fans need

  • Comment number 54.

    Liverpool are still a million miles away from Man U and Chelsea and even Arsenal in my opinion.

    But you can't tell Liverpool fans this because for some reason they're unique as a club in having a stupid insular attitude whereby they take any one who mildly criticises anything about Liverpool as being part of some grand London conspiracy out to get them.

    Rafa Benitez is a large part of the problem. Don't be fooled by his cup success, anyone who wins a European Cup, Man U or Barcelona or whoever, needs some luck to get to the final and even more to win. The league is the only barometer of what makes a great team, this is why Brian Clough said he'd happily swap his two European Cups for two more league titles. But while Benitez was concentrating on getting to his second European Cup final his team finished closer, points-wise, to Middlesborough in 12th than Man U in first that season.

    Benitez has wasted a large amount of money due to his obsession with squad depth, with the money used to buy Kuyt and Pennant, Liverpool could have signed a truly world class player, or even Robbie Keane, a season or two earlier. His baffling tactics let his team down time and again.

    This isn't deisgned to attack Liverpool for no reason, as a neutral its incredibly frustrating or me to see such a huge amount of potential wasted, I'd love a true title race between four competitive clubs but this just isn't going to happen and whats most annoying of all about is that Liverpool fans don't seem to care or want to do anything about it.

    All the Liverpool fans I know constantly tell me that Carragher is better than Terry, and Finnan better than Wes Brown, and Reina is the best goalie in the league, and how great Kuyt is and that Xabi is the best passer in the world etc etc. Boys this really can't be true can it or you wouldn't be so far behind in the title race would you? Stop taking every suggestion that you need to improve as some sort of personal insult to the scouse nation and look critically at your team and manager its the only way you will ever get back to the top.

  • Comment number 55.

    Don't be hasty to kick Benitez out... granted it has been three years and no titles but if he should go, then it should be at the end of the season.

  • Comment number 56.

    I think Keane is a good signing - just not at 20m. He's a great choice to partner Torres in 4-4-2. Better than Crouch, but I can't see him as 9m better than Crouch to begin with, and even less so given that I don't think Keane has a clear place in the 4-2-3-1 that Liverpool plays much of the time now.

    To my mind, in both 4-2-3-1 (with Kuyt) and in 4-4-2 (with Pennant) Liverpool has the problem of playing a sub-par winger. That's a worse problem than they had playing Alonso as a defensive midfielder in 4-2-3-1, and a much worse problem than they had playing Crouch in 4-4-2.

    I'd have gone for a CDM (though either for cheaper or younger than Barry) and a winger in the transfer season once the back four was sorted out (which it seems to be). But then, I haven't won the Champions League lately, and Benitez has, so there could well be something I'm missing. :)

  • Comment number 57.

    While I don't disagree with the general conclusion that third place and a cup are the most realistic goals for Liverpool this season, I do take issue with two points in the blog. Firstly, "Barry is worth nowhere near £18m". For this comment to make any sense whatsoever, we must clearly read it as meaning "in the current market". Now I want to ask Phil why Barry is worth nowhere near £18m in the current market? Here we have an experienced, versatile, left footed international who has a proven ability to work well with Gerrard. Was Hargreaves worth £17m last season? Carrick £18m the season before? You might argue that Carrick was two years younger then, but we probably won't see the best of him in a United shirt until this season at the earliest. Has he been worth £18m so far? Questionable in my mind. And the other point is, Man Utd and Liverpool are not 'selling' clubs. When you pay that kind of money for a player you do not do so in order to make a profit a few years down the line. Barry is wanted for the contribution he can make now, and he is certainly worth the same as Darren Bent, or £6m cheaper than Shaun Wright-Phillips, if you ask me.
    The second point I take great issue with is Phil's comment that Benitez has had enough money to spend in recent seasons for the hierarchy to demand a title challenge. This is nonsense. Before this time last year, Benitez' most expensive signing was Alonso for £10.5m. Since then Torres, Mascherano and Keane have been brought, but Man Utd and Chelsea have been spending this kind of money consistently for close to a decade now. Why should Benitez be expected to mount a title challenge any more than Martin Jol was? Liverpool have 3 players who cost over £12m (Torres, Masch, Keane). Man Utd have 8 (Ferdinand, Carrick, Hargreaves, Anderson, Nani, Ronaldo, Rooney, Saha) or 9 if you include the inevitable cost of Tevez, or 10 if Berbatov comes. Chelsea have 11(Ferreira, Bosingwa, Carvalho, Essien, Malouda, Wright-Phillips, Mikel, Sheva, Anelka, Drogba, Kalou). Why should benitez be expected to challenge when he has spent so much lass than his main rivals?? It's beyond me.

  • Comment number 58.

    IOM_RAM, are you a Derby fan, its not that obvious, sorry to call you a Liverpool fan, I know Torres is clinical, probably the best striker in the world last year, but you cant rely on 1 man (yes Ronaldo did score 42 goals), when Torres is marked out of the game like against United, you need other players to take over, and apart from Gerrard, Liverpool dont have that.

    Im just not having this whole unlucky nonsense, if you score a legit goal that is dissallowed that is unlucky, not being able to win a match even if you have 100% possession and 50 shots on goal (just an extreme example) is not unlucky, it means your not very good at winning games. Its similar to the Chelsea fans saying they were unlucky against United in the CL final becuae they hit the post twice and Terry slipped up, since when did hitting a post count as a goal, if you hit the post it means your shot was off target, if you slip up on a penalty that could win you the CL youre an idiot.

  • Comment number 59.

    Benitez has been backed in the market. He has bought Torres, Babel, Mascherano and Keane in the last 12 months - all big-money buys.

    He has had to sell to buy, but that is part of trading in the modern market.

    I just do not think Barry is worth £18m as a player. He is also 28 years of age and there is little sell-on value.

    You may say he paid £20m for Keane, but I also think he was wildly over-priced - despite being a proven talent.

  • Comment number 60.

    I am a Liverpool supporter - but I have to agree with you. We will not win the premiership this season.

    We needed more firepower up front, though at the cost of £20m for someone of Keane's capability is questionable.

    I'm glad we never signed Barry, a waste of money since we have many capable midfielders - we simply do not need another one - especially one that is so overpriced again.

    We are strong in the middle like usual, and I was hoping that Benitez would see some wisdom and sign two or three quality wide-men this summer. As it goes the past 5 seasons or so, it never materialised - as every Liverpool boss has had an obsession with signing more strikers or midfielders than we actually need. I suppose we can take solace that a few new CB's have come in recently - which have also been wanting for a while.

    We have a strong squad, which I agree - is more than capable for a Cup win, whether in Europe or domestic. We just don't have the right kind of players to win a league again. We are missing world-class creative wide-men that are match winners in stubborn games for us. Just take a look at last night - I was struggling to look for any creative impetus. I saw a side that is missing the icing on the top.

  • Comment number 61.

    Does anyone think Rafa may go to 3 at the back? Use more or a wing back system...

    Something like this:


    Carragher Agger Skrtel

    Deggan Alonso Mascherano Dossena

    Gerrard Keane


    This would accomodate both Keane and Gerrard.

  • Comment number 62.

    Every Liverpool fan knows we need wingers. Hope the Americans will get us a potential world class start this season just like they helped to finance Torres last season. I would love to have Milner, Downing, or City's Petrov in Liverpool team. They would make quality wingers and don't need time to bed in. Finnan and Pennant can be the bargaining chip for financing these transfers. The young strikers namely Nemeth, Ngog and Pachecho seem much much better than Voronin. Pennant and Vorronin definitely need to leave. Benitez also needs to give the youngsters like Nemeth, Ngog, Pachecho, Spearing etc more first team opportunities or use them as super sub. It gives every team a huge boost when a youngster comes in and does well. Just take Arsenal and Man U as examples and even ourselves when Owen and Gerarrd were coming through.

  • Comment number 63.

    Liverpool will not challenge. They have a manager who is too cautious and until he changes his '0-0 is a good away result' mentality (good for the Champions League, useless in the EPL) they will never be able to live with Man U and Chelsea, especially the former who go out to win every game, home or away.

    Benitez is an extremely over-rated manager, too many of the players he has been bought have been very average and an insult to the famous red jersey, and despite his complaints he hasn't had a shortage of cash - certainly a lot more than Wenger has got at Arsenal in the last 4-5 years. Additionally, Benitez's record against Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal is shocking - it is not even competitive (their two celebrated successes against Chelsea came on pens and they got their comeuppance when outclassed by Chelsea last season after robbing Arsenal in the QFs)

    Even this pre-season, with the exception of Keane, their signings wouldn't get anywhere near Man U or Chelsea's matchday squad nevermind the first team - and it will take a lot more than Robbie Keane to make them serious contenders.

    Liverpool are at least three or four players short of what is required the take on Man U and Chelsea, and even if they got those I think it is seriously doubtful the so-called tactically astute (see ultra-defensive) Benitez could lead them to the title.

  • Comment number 64.

    Matt_Esskay - For what it's worth, I'm hard pressed to say Carragher is better than Terry - I rate them about equal, but I have a grimmer assessment of Terry than is quite mainstream.

    The low number of goals conceded that Liverpool sports does speak to the quality of their defense, however.

    I like Kuyt in the same way I like Hargreaves for Man U - you can drop him in and he'll work the position as hard as can be. There won't be any real flashes of style, but the position will always be completely and competently covered. But Kuyt is a lousy striker, and I'd trade him out for a better winger in a heartbeat - unlike Hargreaves, he lacks the versatility to be played in multiple positions.

    Alonso is good, but has little place in Liverpool these days.

    I think that Liverpool has as good a central midfield pair as any team in the league, a great defensive line, and a great striker. The problem is that their wings are weak, and they have the wrong central midfield for their preferred formation of 4-2-3-1. It's not a huge problem. But it's large enough to keep them from being able to grind out better than a draw consistently against the world class teams. In a two-legged tie that can go to penalties Benitez can carry it through by dint of tactics, but in the league it's not quite enough to overcome Man U, Chelsea, or Arsenal.

  • Comment number 65.

    radiskilly - Carrick and Hargreaves were both reasonably priced, but I remain puzzled why Man U wanted both. Hargreaves at least has the versatility to alleviate the redundancy, and were at least bought a bit younger than Barry. I rate Barry a bit weaker than both, personally, and so have a hard time justifying 18m in comparison to them.

    Similarly, comparing to Bent is nuts. Nobody thinks Bent was worth 16m. Bent included, I suspect.

  • Comment number 66.

    "You say clinical finishing won United their game at Anfield? Hardly, a tap in from Tevez won it. Are you saying Liverpool don't have a clinical finisher, only Torres is the most clinical in the league."

    No he is saying that you were not good enough to create chances! And he is right.
    Other than home game against Chelsea you didn't deserve anything more against other big teams.

    At any rate I disagree with the premises that results against other big 4 teams are what cost Liverpool. In fact games between big 4 are cagey and usually unpredictable. Two years ago Man U took 2 points in 4 games against Chelsea, and Arsenal top the table of big 4 teams, but Man U won the championship and Arsenal finished 4th.

  • Comment number 67.

    radiskilly the point about Liverppols spending is a tad misleading. Yes United have spent £18M on Carrick (2 league titles and a champions league in 2 seasons) and Anderson Nani Ronaldo Ferdinand Rooney etc. Liverpool have also spent money (and lots of it) on players but instead of spending it on top quality have tended to go never mind the quality feel the width (excepting of course that they have bought no width).
    We have all seen the figures that show Liverpool have spent nearly as much as United and Chelsea over the last few years but they seem to have had a scattergun approach to buying players rather than a targeted approach to bring in players that are needed and will improve what was there.
    What was surprising about Liverpool buying Torres last summer wasnt that he was a good player and they wanted him but that they bought him instead of investing in 3 lesser players.
    If they had Liverpool fans would still say that they hadnt had the money to spend not that it had been spent unwisely

  • Comment number 68.

    Perhaps too much is being considered here, it is afterall Liverpools first competitive game of the season. Also, Pool haven't really been a team in recent years that entertains the fans so last night was to be expected.

  • Comment number 69.

    The Chief Architect....To be fair to posters, I don't think people are basing their views on the game against Standard Liege.

    There have been lots of considered opinions taking in all the issues surrounding Liverpool.

    Not too many of you out there think Liverpool will be title contenders - that does surprise me slightly given the optimism (some might say over-optimism) that usually exists at Anfield.

  • Comment number 70.

    Am i the only person who thinks Pennant is actually pretty decent? He's never had a run in the side due to injuries and Rafa's tinkering, i think given a chance out wide on the right for 4+ games he would produce the goods. I'd much prefer him hugging that right touchline than Kuyt being out there.

  • Comment number 71.

    I think that Benitez has done the right think In bringing in Robbie Keane, However. I Have To Say that the old formation Liverpool Used for the Second Half of the season worked(a very european formation) With the 2 holding midfeilder players. But Now That the teams have sussed out that. They know How To Break it down. I Think liverpool should opt for this the old 4-4-2 Diamond

    Carragher(right-back it my take some time but we should give it a go)
    Agger, Skrtel

    Alonso, Babel
    Gerrard(Given a free role)

    Keane( Just off Torres)

    That wouls Liverpool At this moment in time, As there will obviously won't be any funds for a new signing (Who ever that mat be)

    I'd Also like to mention LFC youngters, And that Plessis and Nemeth Look Great For 2 new Forwards

    And A Speciall note to David Ngog. I wouldn't be suprised to see him on the team sheet instead of Keane sometimes

  • Comment number 72.

    I am a Liverpool supporter and I approach the season with trepidation. I agree with Phil - we are behind Man U and Chelski in terms of squad depth, quality and technical ability. I was shocked by our long ball game against Liege - we sell Crouch (rightly so) only to then pump long balls forward to players who like it on the ground!!

    Even the ability to make simple 10 yard passes seems to have gone. It was like watching the old Wimbledon play though even they didn't play so many long balls!

    I simply cannot see us even challenging for the title - I am a big Rafa fan however I fear his time may soon be up as such poor showings cannot go on. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

  • Comment number 73.

    I have been a frustrated Liverpool fan for many years; hoping each year that we'll finally make a decent challenge for the title but yet again watching the game last night we'll be lucky to win the Carling cup. It doesn't matter which players are on the pitch we seem to struggle to put a few decent passes together, last night we looked tired and out of sync with each other. I know that new players need to have time to settle into a new team but there were players out that know how we play and yet they seemed to struggle. Alonso is a good midfield player but why can't he kick a ball from a dead ball situation? Arbeloa, is he the best we've got? Kuyt does alot of running but he doesn't get anywhere. Until we get a settled team and that means a team that isn't swapped around week in week out we are not going to win the title, the other big teams don't tinker with there starting line week in week out, they put out the best they have. I hope I am proved wrong but only time will tell.

  • Comment number 74.

    I cant Say i disagree , however i believe that this year they will be a lot closer than people will think they are. they may not have the class that Man Utd and Chelsea have , however they do have players that are willing to go the extra mile for that title ..
    I believe that Keane and Gerrard will both play supporting strikers in matches.
    What is different about this Liverpool Team is the amount of attacking options they have , in their starting eleven.
    My only concern for this season is the amount of goals they will concede, when they go forward.
    This year is more or less make or break for Rafa . which will motivate many of the players who want to play for him and whats different is that there were not a lot of spinal changes this year , it is more or less the same team , which might improve consistency ...
    another thing that would help them , is that i don't believe that Man Utd and Chelsea will play as good as they have the past two season . so that could help too .

  • Comment number 75.

    As a Liverpool fan I was frustrated last night to watch how they performed. Liege are the winners of their domestic league and still had to go through the qualifying round to get to the group stages, this in itself shows the strength of Belgian domestic football and yet Liege ran Liverpool in every department last night. I accept that Liverpool haven't played as many competitive games as Liverpool but I think the class that Liverpool have should have come through. I honestly can't remember a single Liverpool strike on goal other then Alonso and Gerrard free kicks. What Liverpool need is a steady team of 442, none of this lark of playing people out of position (Kuyt on the right wing). Play people to their strengths and paly them regularly so that they grow and develop an understanding of eachothers movements and habits. Rafas problem is is that he's not fully sure of what his best team is and that was evident when he replaced Keane with Gerard. With this being his fifth season at the helm that is a worrying scenario...Look at Chelsea (Czech, Terry, Lampard, Drogba) United (Van de Saar, Ferdinand, Vidic, Carrick, Rooney, Ronaldo) Arsenal (Gallas, Toure, Fabregas, Adebayor) this is the kind of consistency that Liverpool lack and unless Rafa addresses this problem they will draw too many games to give themselves a chance of competing for the title. In my opinion defend man for man and none of this zonal marking and play 442
    Not sure what anyone else thinks, but as someone once said footballers are creatures of habit!!

  • Comment number 76.

    Very good article and i agree with your prediction, they may hit 3rd but they will not win the title!

    They have no quality out wide and the left back doesn't look very promising to me!

  • Comment number 77.

    Liverpools title assault relies totally on the transfer of Barry!
    The team assembled works perfectly except for the forward running of Dossena!
    Rafa wants both full backs overlapping and providing the width and had outlined the gap behind Dossena as a potential problem, this is where he requires Barry!
    It is too much to ask Mascherano to cover fr both full backs and Alonso just doesn't have the defencive qualities to do the job.
    Barry is perfect for this role. He can provide width, link up play, take set pieces and when the defenders overlap he can fill the hole created!
    If Liverpool don't mount a challenge then it is the owners who need to eamine their own intervention in the "Barry saga" and not question Rafa's!

    I honestly believe Barry will win us the league!

  • Comment number 78.

    Why do we have to listen to the same old Liverpool hype year in/year out??

    As a Man Utd supporter for 35 years I sat through the dominant years of great Liverpool teams and I really did admire their football and great tradition of this great club

    To all Liverpool fans I know it hurts but face the facts, apart from Torres and Gerrard the rest of the squad are simply not good enough. You can juggle players and formations, but over 38 games the end result will be the same - 3rd or 4th place at best. There is no substitute for Quality and Liverpool do not have enough of it.

    The structure and politics of the club have been wrong for the past 15 years and until it is put right Liverpool will never dominate again.

    Rafa is a good man but he plays a rubbish brand of football. I am sure Shankly and Paisley are looking down in horror at their great club.... Neither of these 2 men would have allowed Pennant or Voronin to carry the water bottles.....

    The fans need to buy out (like Barcelona) and start fresh again

  • Comment number 79.

    When I see Liverpool, I see a pretty good team with no strength in depth at all. Look at Chelsea or Manchester United - they have quality players to come on and make an impact.

    The partnership between Keane and Torres (who I believe is Liverpool's best player by far) could prove crucial in my opinion. If they can gel quickly, they might have a chance. If their Champions League qualifier is anything to go by, the initial signs are not good.

    This could very well be the season either Arsenal or Liverpool stumble out of the top four and are replace by someone like Tottenham or Villa.

  • Comment number 80.

    Nice 1 Phil...but i want 2 remind u tht liverpool were Highest goal scoring team in Pl last season..lost only 4 .....Torres....cant play all 60 odd mathes throughout the comes keane kyut ....dont forget about Babel.he was outstanding in second half last year...didint get too many starts though....the only thing which is off a problem is one on left wing......thts it....ths why barry was so inclusion of Barry into the squad...he coud have played an old school 4-1-2-1-2.....Thts all Liverpool have quality in all the areas except that left flank...still couple weeks to go in this transfer window....u never know in comes Silva or Barry...... For me this is the best crop of players Rafa has got in his whole tenure at anfeild.

  • Comment number 81.

    Nice One Phil.But remember tht liverpool were Highest goal scoring team in Pl last season.lost only 4.Torres cant play all 60 odd mathes throughout the season,in comes keane kyut dont forget about Babel.He was outstanding in second half last year ,didint get too many starts though.The only thing which is off a problem is one on left wing and thts it.Ths why barry was so inclusion of Barry into the squad he could have played an old school 4-1-2-1-2. Where gerrad could hav played upahead or on the wing. Liverpool have quality in all the areas except that left flank.Still couple weeks to go in this transfer window,you never know in comes Silva or Barry. For me this is the best crop of players Rafa has got in his whole tenure at anfeild.

  • Comment number 82.

    IstampoolTIM - I'm not sure what position you're playing Barry in here. 4-2-3-1? I agree that Barry is a better choice than Alonso for that, but I don't see how he's worth 18m to do it. Barry doesn't have a place in 4-4-2 for Liverpool. Mascherano is clearly the better choice for a defensive midfielder in a 4-4-2.

    I agree that, given their fondness for 4-2-3-1, they need another defensive midfielder. But I don't see it as a larger issue than a winger, and I don't see an 18m Barry as the best choice for it.

    jgpl001 - I share your enthusiasm for Man U, but you're a fair bit harsh on Liverpool. Mascherano and Reina belong on anybody's list of great players in the EPL. I'd probably take Van der Sar as best goalie in the Prem, but my Prem XI would definitely have Mascherano, Gerrard, and Torres in it, and I'd put Reina on the bench in a heartbeat.

  • Comment number 83.

    I think the Keane signing is a good one. He is a decent all round player with pace, fair technical ability, and a good eye for goal. He is consistent enough to get 15 goals a season and that's what Liverpool need.

    That said Liverpool have no chance at all of winning the title. The arguement about the matches against the top 3 come down to this:
    Liverpool played well in tight games, but fundamentally don't have enough match winner to break through these tough games. Gerrard and Torres that's it (Maybe Alonso).
    United have:
    Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, Giggs, Scholes, Nani, Anderson
    Chelsea have:
    Ballack, Lampard, Cole, SWP, Drogba, Anelka

    This is the main difference between good premiership sides and the top two. Look at Everton, Villa, Portsmouth... good teams but lacking in players who can turn a match.

    Barry would have been a good signing for Liverpool. Although I wouldn't count him as an out and out match winner, I think he's the type of player who gets the best out of your best players and as such is worth the money. As Villa didn't want or need to sell him the price represented his value to them, not the value to the open market. If they needed to sell him to fund another transfer he'd have gone for something in the region of £12M.

    This season Liverpool will move away from the chasing pack (positions 5+) and will battle with Arsenal for 3rd.

  • Comment number 84.

    First off, good article. Hopefully there can be a good (realistic) discussion in the comments before things descend into inevitable trolling.

    I actually agree with you for the most part (besides the point about Torres being rested, which has been addressed). Last night was just One Of Those Nights, I think-- Liverpool wasn't nearly so woeful in the preseason and they played (amongst others) Villareal, who aren't too shabby. (That ended in a slightly undeserved 1-0 win, but it was more of a boring match than an actively awful one for Liverpool.) That being said, it was a rubbish display and should've been able to at least give Standard Liege a bit of a go, with or without Steven Gerrard.

    Anyway, the width's the thing. It appears that Benitez wants to get it from the fullbacks. Haven't seen much of Degen this year, and Dossena I don't think is rubbish, so much as not yet used to the tempo he'll need to be at for PL games. I'd chalk it down to having played in a slightly slower Serie A, but I wouldn't write him off yet. I would also take a fit Aurelio (bit of an oxymoron there!) over him at until he gets used to the league.
    Arbeloa I never quite rated-- in a perfect world Liverpool would have Dani Alves, and that problem would be solved. But 8m in 2006 was apparently far too much for David Moores, while 7m was fine. Whatever.

    What I would also hope to happen is that Liverpool as a team believes they can challenge, and that the supporters get behind them at every single game. If winning the league were simply down to squad strength, Chelsea would've walked it since 2004. I think strength of mind will be the hardest thing to address this year for Liverpool, and the boardroom will not make that any easier for the team. A great atmosphere at every league game, whether it's WBA away or Man United at home, would also give an extra boost.

  • Comment number 85.

    Having supported Liverpool since 1964, I naturally HOPE and BELIEVE LFC will win the EPL every year, however I am fairly CERTAIN they will not unless a world class winger and a solid right back are transferred in before 31.08.08.

    A few comments about Rafa Benitez. In short, I do not think he can win the EPL because he simply does not understand the english game. More important,I would question his judgement momentarily.

    Firstly, I find it difficult to understand why he signs Degen(free transfer), who was ill most of last season at Dortmund and leaves two other swiss internationals, Lichtsteiner(2-3 million) and Behrami(4-5 million) out of the equation. The latter are quality players, certainly far better than Degen.

    Secondly, it is incomprehensible that he wants to sign Barry. Defensive midfield is not where Liverpool is lacking. Most would agree that CREATIVITY in offensive play, especially on the flanks is where the club falls short.

    The man is stubborn and many faithful Liverpool supporters have fallen for it. This stubborness reminds many of Bill Shankly and is seen as a strength as are his cryptical interviews which would not even excite an exegete.

    Stubbordness is not a bad thing at times but not when former players, neutral experts and many Liverpool supporters have been crying out for over two years now that at least one world class winger is needed. Perhaps Rafa now believes he has sorted this out with Roy Keane!

    Please excuse the last remark, it was somewhat cynical. I am sorry but ever since the Reading match last year when Liverpool were trailing 1-3 and Benitez substituted Torres and Gerrard with 25 minutes to go I have become so. NEVER in the history of Liverpool Football Club can I recall a manager conceding a game that could still be turned around.

    Liverpool supporters argue that Benitez has a proven record: I say he does not regarding the title we all want most, a title of which LFC will no longer be the record holder as long as Rafa Benitez stays at the club.

  • Comment number 86.

    The problem for liverpool is simply the lack of match changers in their squad, eg man utd have several, rooney, ronaldo, scholes,tevez whereas liverpool only have torres and gerrard

  • Comment number 87.

    ukctstrider - Again, a bit harsh. If you're taking Anelka, Nani, Wright-Phillips, and Anderson as match-winners, you've got to have Babel, Keane, and certainly Alonso on the list. (Nani and Anderson could make their way to a class above those players, but they aren't there yet)

  • Comment number 88.

    I think Liverpool rely too much on Gerrard for creativity without him in the team Liverpool always lack ideas of how to break teams down, the type of player i wanted Liverpool to sign was a creative midfielder someone like luka modric i think he will be a great signing for Spurs, its ok having world class strikers but you need supply from midfield, i think Liverpool will be even more defensively strong this year we have looked superb at the back especially with excellent cover from the new Brasilian goalkeeper. So to conclude I think Liverpool still need this type of player whether it be cole, barry or silva i think we will push for the title with this one extra player, and only Benitez knows who that player is. outta here!

  • Comment number 89.

    Your write-up pretty much hits the nail on the head, but I disagree about last year's momentum being lost because Torres was left out of a couple of games. Torres can't play in every game and will be rested from time to time - as he was late in the season with little ill effect. It's the quality of his replacement in those games that needs to be addresed and I think Keane goes some way to fulfill that. Besides, the poorest run of the season, in January, had Torres ever present. Yet, Keane wasn't bought to seat on the bench either so Rafa needs to figure out how he wants to line up. I don't think Liverpool will win the title this year either, but you can't deny that the squad is that much stronger this year than it's ever been. I know Rafa's been at this for a few years now but consider that a good number of his first team core have only been in the team for 1 or 2 years (Torres, Mascherano, Babel, Skrtel, Benayoun). Last season wasn't a disaster - only four losses, but you need consistency to challenge and I'll expect Liverpool to be closer this year. But they are still a few players behind Man Utd and Chelsea.

  • Comment number 90.

    I have to agree with some of the sentiments made in Phil's blog, usually I would be critical for his bashing of Liverpool in the past.

    The point for me as a Liverpool fan this season is to make a title challenge, not neccsarily win it but show that we are capable of winning it the season after next. There is a big gap to bridge 11 points, we got it down from 20 plus points gap last season to the year before.

    But again Phil you are been influenced by the "rotation-zonal marking" brigade orchesterated by fellow colleagues in the media.

    Your comment;

    "Liverpool's early momentum last term was killed off by his tendency to meddle needlessly, inexplicably leaving Fernando Torres out of eminently winnable games at home to Birmingham and away to Portsmouth."

    In regards to Torres, he played 33 out of 38 Premier League games last season. He got injured on Internation duty twice and missed 4 of the games due to this. He was rotated against Pompey which was only 4 or 5 games in. If you check the facts Liverpool went unbeaten in the League till December. Liverpool were not too far behind at that stage in terms of points to Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea who were the top 3 at the time. From the time we lost for the first time in the League away to Reading on the 8th December till January 31st which accounted for 9 games. Liverpool managed to get out of 27 points only 10. In the previous games before that we managed 30 points out of a possible 42 which was very respectable. So the rotation myth, there is no facts to back it up why it doesn't work because clearly in the first half of last season by meaning 14 games we managed a good total in compared to previous years our start to the seasons have been awful.

    Consistency throughout the season is important only for those 9 games if Liverpool had managed to get a result against Utd even a draw incorporated with not dropping the points at home to Villa and Wigan during that period we would have been right up there with Utd. The fact we didn't lose to Chelsea or Arsenal in the League last season and we should have beaten Chelsea twice in fact. Was an improvement on previous years where we always lost away to all of the other big three and in some cases at home too Utd and Chelsea since Rafa has arrived.

    On the last nights performance, it was very poor. Surely we can't play as bad as that again during the course of the season. It seemed to me Liege wanted it more than our players except Pepe Reina of course.

    Liverpool will not only challenge this year but they will also be ahead of Chelsea. Scolari, although a great manager at International level has come into a what I would call a "poison chalice" hotseat. A few bad results as we seen with Mourinho who did a lot for Chelsea got sacked. Scolari on the other hand has a lot too prove. Starting with Harry Redknapp and Pompey this Sunday. Will be interesting to see how he fares.

  • Comment number 91.

    even as a liverpool fan i don't believe that the title will be fought outside old trafford and stamford bridge. chelsea are full of world class players, in every position. their attacking options are vast due to their strength in cech, terry, carvalho and essien. for chelsea to falter cech needs to break and then another of their other world class players has to miss long periods of the season. even if this were to happen, scolari seems to have put belief back into chelsea. the commitment of lampard and others including drogba compare to the boat shakers at old trafford and the emirates. they had the best form in the premier league, despite giving united a 3 point lead after one game, under grant last season. but chelsea lacked belief, something scolari has given teams at international level.

    united are a fantastic premiership squad, like chelsea. they have a world class goalie with two world class centre backs and will not lose many games as a result, again like chelsea. their recent lack of forward potency without rooney and ronaldo shows united's weakness. but sir alex will get someone in, and they will be good. last year ronaldo was the best player in the world. his dad died, he grieved, then became a man and realised his potential. became the player his ability allowed him to be. (unlike lamps) however, he may become the boy of old again and fergie may suffer as a result. this and injuries at the back are all that will prevent a title challenge.

    and finally liverpool. at last they have gone back to the boot room to promote staff, bringing back the liverpool way instead of the spanish armada that hes been mooted of late. this style of setup can only inspire the likes of gerrard, who i believe may replace the liver bird on liverpool's crest upon retirement.he can only play behind torres in benitez's mind but hopefully with babel away, keane will got to the left. find his form and then be able to play with torres when babel returns and then pop gerrard a little deeper, scholes '96-'00 would be nice. keane has to be used as a sheringham or beitez will filter his squads talent once again. but if luck evades united and chelsea and big things go bad, liverpool may be there or there abouts to challenge, but i don't think it's our season yet.

  • Comment number 92.

    Addendum: I'm really, really, really, really sick of the Barry transfer, but not enough to point out that there were faults on both sides regarding the Barry transfer. MON first stood firm in his decision not to sell Barry, and then stood firm on his 18m valuation of him, and then stood firm on his club's decision to stick by an arbitrary deadline to make a bid, and then stood firm in his declaration that Liverpool had until August 31, like any other team, to make a bid.

    Enough of that. 3rd place, Chelsea will probably win it this year. But we'll have the Champions League (I can be optimistic, can't I?!)

  • Comment number 93.

    "Again, a bit harsh. If you're taking Anelka, Nani, Wright-Phillips, and Anderson as match-winners, you've got to have Babel, Keane, and certainly Alonso on the list."

    I didn't include Keane because I was talking about last seasons matches and he was signed in the closed season. He'd certainly make the list. You're probably right about Alonso but he's never stood out for me. Babel has been shockingly poor in every match I've seen him play in.

    The addition of Keane is what will further the gap from the rest of the pack but it's not enough to gain ground on the top two.

  • Comment number 94.

    jgpl001 - usual MU claptrap.

    If yer really a fan of 35 years then you know a season's a long time...and anything can happen. I don't try to predict the housing prices a year from now and nor should you.

    Your comments lack any real insight. "Rubbish brand" - no explanation as to why, no details...
    "The structure and politics of the club have been wrong" - you'd have to be working within Anfield to know that - and I don't think you have, have you?

    What I hope happens is that all this shortsightedness (author included) will come back to bite your behinds...because the Scousers are right to point out here that Torres was never "dropped" or "rested"...same stock comments from people not reseraching just repeating.

    The really strange thing is that a lot of games I've seen against the Big 4 - we play well enough to win and then don't (only happened once against Utd last year - for a change!) - and yes that dodgy Malouda pen cost us 2 pts against CFC - EVERYTIME this happens - I look across at a pal who supports Utd or CFC and say "yer lucky to take the 3 pts there" - they come out with the same remarkable delusions...and I say "were we watching the same game!!?" - perhaps this is genuinely indicative of the average footy fan. Blinkered.

    In short, the margins are much tighter than people think - and that's probbaly because they read articles like this one and believe every word!!

    Not saying we'll win (wouldn't want to sum it all up in August like most people seem to want to here - somehow!)...

    Liverpool will be close. Closer than, no doubt, YOU think. Watch out!

  • Comment number 95.

    Balanced article Phil.

    It's stunning to see a Robbie Keane command such a price tag. The truth is i don't just see what Keane has done to deserve such a price tag. I would rather be happier if an Ade of Arsenal was given his demanded pay rise(though he still does not deserve it) than see a Robbie cart away with that huge price. Anyway it's one of those reasons why a ronaldo would want to leave man U.

    I do not expect any title challenge from liverpool of course, neither do i see them conquerors of europe, i'll rather favour chelsea for both but u never know, football could be magical at times that a Hull city team (bbbbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr) could win it!!!!!!!!!!! (In another planet i guess).

  • Comment number 96.

    romanteek - I think you're falling to the same misconception that Chelsea seems to have - that the solution to all problems is more central attacking midfielders. Just as it's unclear how, exactly, Chelsea would want Kaka when they have Lampard, Ballack, and Deco, I am unable to figure out why what Liverpool needs is an attacking midfielder to sub for Gerrard when they have with Alonso, Keane, and Benayoun.

  • Comment number 97.

    Abolutely disagree. you looking things from a last years perspective. Banitez has always been too complex for that.
    Here is the deal. first of all it will be a different formation that will be as fluid as last seasons and that formation will be something like between 5-3-2, 3-4-1-1-2 and 3-2-3-2. notice that i am not saying we will be playing one of these formations. i am saying all in one. those who were at stambul will probly know what i am talking about
    the first one will be be when we are on defendong, second one our nutural and third atacking.
    this formation acomodates the attacking full backs and Keane (now you see the logic behing buying them and then keane). whilst Gerrard retains his prefered possition which is play-nay-where-you-like.
    and just for the record, I am fully behind the rotation policy and suggestiong that liverpool didnt challenge last season because we didn't play (or risk to be exact) torres for two games is as crazy as claiming Nevelle won the tittle for UNTD last season.

    I can smell the title and two cups a minimum

  • Comment number 98.

    Babel shockingly poor?

    You really haven't watched him have you.

  • Comment number 99.

    Liverpool have not made any significant progress, losing Crouch to gain Keane is not the 10 points needed to overhaul Manu and Chelsea. Benitez has not made the signings neccesary to make significant progress. There are no super-talented youngsters and there have been no world class signings other than Torres. Why not Villa? Eto'o? Arsharvin? All of these could have been gotten with close to the 20m spent on Keane.

  • Comment number 100.

    ukctstrider - I was very impressed with Babel against Arsenal in the CL, and have generally liked the pace he brings in on the wing. I think he needs to be better balanced on the other wing, but I've been very pleased with him as a signing. 10 goals in 48 games is a fine record for a very young winger - on par with Joe Cole's league record, for instance.


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