Monday, 27 May 2013

Suarez to Real - Deal or no Deal?

NOTE: Suarez saga number 2 is written about here:

In the 2012/13 season, our best player has been Luis Suarez. He has been prolific in front of goal, and terrorised defences with his superb on-the-ball skills. Naturally, he is attracting a lot of interest from other clubs, and the club that looks most keen to sign him is Real Madrid. At this stage there are only rumours, but it has been suggested that Madrid are looking to do a swap deal whereby Liverpool get Benzema and Di Maria in return for Suarez.

This swap could be great for Liverpool. Angel Di Maria would be an excellent signing, as he is a proven talent and we could do with another winger. Stewart Downing has improved vastly this season, but is still not up to the standards of the rest of our attacking line. Di Maria has assisted 16 goals in all competitions this season, which is extremely impressive. He has also netted 9, which isn’t a bad tally for a wide player. If both he and Benzema were able to make the transition to English football, the attacking partnership of Di Maria, Benzema, Sturridge and Coutinho has the potential to be formidable, one of the best in the Premier League.

Also, Suarez brings a lot of controversy. He picked up a 7-match ban last season for racism, and is currently serving a 10-match ban for biting Ivanovic, meaning he will miss the first six games of next season. This prompts a question: Is he worth it? Benzema has scored 19 goals for Real Madrid this season, and has assisted 20! For a forward, that is a ridiculously high amount of assists. We also know he can be extremely deadly in front of goal (he netted 32 times for Madrid in the 2011/12 season). This sort of return for goals and assists is on a par with Suarez’s (arguably even better), and Benzema doesn’t bring with him the excess baggage of controversy. If he could carry his form from Madrid over to Liverpool, he would arguably be even better for us than Suarez has been. Getting Di Maria on top of this would be an added bonus, and if Madrid were to offer this deal we would be foolish not to at least consider it.

On paper at least, this looks like an extremely tempting offer. However, things have the potential to go very wrong. We know that Suarez fits in at Liverpool, and he has proven his ability to score goals for us on numerous occasions. Benzema is a very talented striker, but has never played in English football. It is more physical than La Liga, and if he failed to make the transition Liverpool would be in trouble. Without a suitable replacement for Suarez, we would be hugely reliant on Sturridge to get us goals, and his form is much too hit-and-miss to warrant the role of main striker. Di Maria could also prove a bad signing. Despite his relatively high goals and assists return, he does have a tendency to squander chances by going for ambitious long shots or trying fancy passes. We need a winger who can consistently provide chances, not one who throws them away.

All this uncertainty makes me think that it wouldn’t be worth taking the risk. Without Suarez we would have had an absolutely awful season, and if we’re going to get rid of him the price has to be right. However, were more to be offered, I think that it could be a good deal. If Real were to offer some money as well as the two players, we would at least have a safety blanket that allows us to sign others if Di Maria and Benzema backfire. Another name that has been mentioned a couple of times in relation to this deal is Diego Lopez. If Madrid were to offer him as well as Di Maria and Benzema in return for Suarez, Liverpool should definitely do it. Lopez has been keeping Casillas out of the first team recently in La Liga, and with Reina seemingly on his way out I cannot think of a better replacement. If Madrid were to make this offer (which is admittedly unlikely), we would be extremely foolish not to take it.

To sum up, it will have to be a pretty special offer from Madrid to make it worth getting rid of Suarez. Although Benzema and Di Maria are great in La Liga, they have never played in the Premier League, and may struggle. Suarez is a proven talent at Liverpool. However, were money or Diego Lopez to be offered alongside Di Maria and Benzema, it would make it a good trade, and I think Liverpool should go for it. If everything went well, we could end up with one of the best ‘keepers in the Premier League as well as one of the best attacking line-ups. Suddenly Suarez is starting to seem like a small price to pay.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 20 May 2013

Carra’s final game- Liverpool 1 QPR 0

As I walked up towards Anfield before the match yesterday, it was clear something was different; this was no ordinary match day. All around me were Liverpool fans with Carragher shirts, scarves and flags. Thousands of people had come to bid the club legend goodbye, and the usual pre-game excitement was tinged with sadness, but also with gratitude towards our great centre-back. Liverpool got the victory, but more poignantly kept a clean sheet, Jamie Carragher’s 200th and last for the club, the game finishing 1-0.

We were treated to some wonderful attacking football right from the off, with Glen Johnson looking extremely threatening as well as Coutinho lighting up the stadium with his skill. We deserved a goal for our incredibly bright start, and it seemed as if Coutinho had provided it after just two minutes, heading the ball into the net from a corner. From my seat in the Main Stand I had an uninterrupted view of the goal-line, and at the time I was convinced the ball had crossed. Having seen replays since, I can see that I was not wrong, and indeed the goal should have stood.

The team were not disheartened. 17-year old debutant Jordan Ibe was making some very promising runs down the left, although he was often outmuscled and dispossessed too easily. Although Ibe is a winger and Carragher is a defender, there was certainly an element of ‘the passing of the baton’, and the symmetry of a promising academy youngster making his debut in Carragher’s final game was excellent. It was Ibe himself who assisted Liverpool’s goal when it eventually came, laying it off to Coutinho who guided it powerfully and expertly into the bottom corner. As it went in I looked up at the match clock in the corner of the stadium, and saw that it had been scored in the 23rd minute. This was as good a tribute to our exceptional number 23 as any of the ones planned by the club.

The team as a whole played very nicely throughout the game, but Sturridge simply wasn’t at the races. This is why we need to ensure we buy a new striker in the summer; Borini is frankly not good enough, Suarez is suspended and Sturridge is brilliant on his day but some weeks just doesn’t turn up. Yesterday was one of his poor games, and consequently Coutinho didn’t have as much of a chance to show his excellent through-ball ability (although he still demonstrated his all-round talents). It was immensely frustrating to watch, as Sturridge has tremendous pace, but seemingly couldn’t be bothered to use it. In his demeanour and playing style he strikes me as similar to Berbatov, slouching around and not making many runs, but being absolutely deadly when the chances come his way. At first I was sceptical about the idea of buying Loic Remy in the transfer window, but now I see that his willingness to make off-the-ball runs could be very useful to us, and fully utilise Coutinho’s immense passing skills.

One of the highlights of the match was Jamie Carragher striking the woodwork with a screamer of a shot from outside the box. Yes, you did read that correctly! Whenever he got the ball the crowd were urging him to shoot, and on one occasion he did. It was struck with a huge amount of power, and would have easily beaten Rob Green. Unfortunately it was marginally too high, and Carragher was not able to sign off with an unlikely wonder goal. He was given a standing ovation when he was substituted in the last 10 minutes. Credit to the QPR fans here, a large majority of whom joined in with the applause as a footballing legend left the field having played his final game.

QPR made a couple of half-chances, but never looked like scoring. In the end the action of the game was overshadowed by the occasion, Carragher’s farewell. Coutinho scored a brilliant goal, once again showing that he is a brilliant signing and may well play a key part in Liverpool’s push for the top four next season, but the man of the hour was Jamie Carragher. After the match he came back on to the pitch, making a short speech. Unsurprisingly, there were no Beckham-esque tears from the born and bred scouser, but you could sense that he was sad to have played his last. He then joined the team in a final lap of honour. Luis Suarez also participated in this, as did Steven Gerrard, who had his arm in a sling. He then left the pitch to tumultuous applause from the Liverpool fans, nearly all of whom had stayed in the ground for this tribute after the final whistle. The great defensive stalwart will be missed, not only for his defensive prowess but for his leadership, passion and love of the club. He has been at Liverpool since before I was born, and has walked through many a storm, but also been part of many glorious ‘golden skies’, most notably the 2005 Istanbul Champions League Final where he threw his body on the line despite serious cramp. He will be missed.
Thanks Carra.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013                                    

Monday, 13 May 2013

Sturridge Show at Craven Cottage

PictureOn Sunday 12th May, Liverpool faced Fulham at Craven Cottage. Despite going 1-0 down, Liverpool romped on to a 3-1 victory, and frankly it could (and probably should) have been a lot more.

Unusually, Liverpool weren’t able to get off to a quick start. They saw more of the ball early on, but weren’t being at all incisive, and struggled to create any real chances. Fulham were also struggling to come up with any decent attacks. However, on 31 minutes, Sascha Reither put in a lovely cross, which allowed Berbatov to head home from close range. It was obviously disappointing to go behind, but in my opinion we weren’t positive enough in possession, and consequently were asking to be caught out by a one-off attack.

Fortunately, Fulham’s goal acted as the stimulation Liverpool needed. They came alive, and just 3 minutes after Berbatov’s strike we equalised through Daniel Sturridge. The striker was picked out in the box and looked to have dwelled too long on the ball, but then showed a quick burst of pace to get past his defender, then blasted high into the net, past a helpless Schwarzer. Despite a couple more chances for Liverpool, the teams went in level.

Liverpool came out strongly in the second half, as they should have done in the first. Fulham were pinned back, and both Phillippe Coutinho and Glen Johnson had goal-scoring opportunities. They didn’t convert, but eventually the LFC pressure paid off,  Sturridge latching on to Coutinho’s deflected shot and guiding it smartly round the keeper. This effectively killed off Fulham, and despite being only a goal behind, they never showed any signs of being able to salvage anything from the game. Liverpool then created a plethora of chances, but somehow failed to add another until five minutes from time, where Sturridge completed his hat-trick with a lovely chip over the oncoming Mark Schwarzer.

Daniel Sturridge played brilliantly, and is so far proving to be an excellent signing. He certainly made the difference in this game. However, his form is slightly hit and miss, and he does have a tendency to be too selfish. Had he passed a little more yesterday instead of desperately trying to complete his hat-trick it may well have been 5 or 6! On the whole though, he has the makings of a potential key player in Liverpool’s upcoming seasons, as he is the potent goal threat that (other than Luis Suarez) we have been lacking recently.  With two clinical strikers (once Suarez returns from his ban), Liverpool will hopefully no longer have the issue with wasting chances that they had at the start of this season. If we are able to make a couple more quality additions to our squad over the summer, there’s no reason why we can’t push for the top 4, or potentially even higher, next season.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Liverpool vs Everton- Dull Derby ends in Deadlock

PictureToday (Sunday 5th May), Liverpool played local rivals Everton at Anfield. Neither side created many chances, and the game ended goalless. The only real talking point was a goal from Sylvain Distin that was disallowed.

After our game against Everton earlier in the season Gerrard accused the Blues of being too direct, but it was he who was playing the long passes in the early exchanges of this game. They were working well; he set Sturridge away a couple of times, whose pace got him in behind the defence. However, he wasn’t able to provide the finish on either occasion. Everton also created a couple of chances in the first half, but weren’t able to get any shots on target. Coutinho looked lively, playing some brilliant passes and showing some nice on the ball skill. Henderson also played quite well, combining nicely with Sturridge and Coutinho on a few occasions.

Liverpool started the second half brightly, and it looked like it was going to be a better 45 minutes of football than the first. 3 minutes in, Coutinho played an absolutely sublime through-ball towards Daniel Sturridge. It put the striker clean through on goal, but he couldn’t round Tim Howard, and ended up putting the ball into the side netting. Two minutes later Enrique created a decent chance, drilling a cross low into the box. Unfortunately nobody could get on the end of it, and Howard claimed the ball.

The most controversial incident of the game happened on 56 minutes. Leighton Baines whipped in a great corner, which was headed powerfully home by Sylvain Distin. However, the referee had blown his whistle very soon after the corner came in, and gave a free kick to Liverpool. It was unclear what Michael Oliver had spotted, but the replays showed Distin to be climbing slightly on his marker, Jamie Carragher. All the same, it was a soft free kick, and in all honesty the goal probably should have stood. Still, as Jamie Carragher rightly pointed out after the game, it makes up for the reverse fixture earlier this season, where Luis Suarez had what would have been a late winner incorrectly disallowed for offside!

The game then died down a little, and to try and rectify this Brendan Rodgers took off Jordan Henderson, replacing him with Fabio Borini. In my opinion, this was a frankly awful substitution. Henderson had been one of our best players, and Fabio Borini has thus far not proved himself to be an asset in any way, especially not grabbing goals! The Italian did not help Liverpool’s attack, and they were penned into their own half for the next fifteen minutes. However, Everton still failed to test Reina. In the last few minutes the game opened up a little, and the Liverpool ‘keeper was finally called into action on 87 minutes, beating away a hugely deflected shot from Victor Anichebe. This turned out to be the last real action of the game, and this wholly uneventful derby ended 0-0.

The goalless draw was probably a fair result. Neither side posed a real goal threat, and Sturridge in particular was simply not at the races. The stand-out players for me were Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho, both of whom showed passing prowess. Gerrard excelled in the long cross-field balls, whilst Coutinho carved open the Everton defence multiple times with some glorious through-balls.

Coutinho has played a key role in most of Liverpool’s games since his arrival from Inter in January, and is fast becoming an integral part of the Liverpool team. If he carries the form he has shown this year into next season and we are able to buy one or two decent strikers in the summer (as our finishing was poor today, and we will have to play the first six games without Luis Suarez), I think we could mount a genuine challenge on the top 4, potentially even the top 3. It was a dull derby on the day, but it did serve to highlight both our strengths and the areas that need improving before the next campaign.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013