Category Archives: Liverpool

All Liverpool-related posts.

Why Javi Martinez Is the Transfer Signing Liverpool Need to Win a Title

Now that Luis Suarez’s transfer to Barcelona has been confirmed (via BBC Sport), Liverpool fans, players and management alike are eager to secure a big-name signing to keep spirits up at Anfield ahead of the 2014/15 Premier League season.

With Alexis Sanchez moving to Arsenal instead of Liverpool as part of a deal for Suarez, perhaps one of the more attainable potential world-class targets has escaped from Brendan Rodgers’ clutch, leaving the Reds manager to set his sights elsewhere on a replacement for the Uruguayan striker.

Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony (per the Mirror) and Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez (per the Daily Mail) have recently surfaced as potential reinforcements up front. But instead of trying to replace the 30-plus goals that Suarez invariably brings a season, Liverpool should be looking to strengthen their defence.

To be sure, Rodgers has already been linked with moves for Southampton’s Dejan Lovren (per the Standard) and Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno (per the Daily Star), but there is another name out there that has been floated as a possible Liverpool target, and would instantly improve their defensive setup.

Step up Javi Martinez.

The Bayern Munich man has already been linked to the Reds in the off-season by the Mirror, and while any pursuit for Martinez would be difficult and likely expensive to bear fruit, he might just prove to be the transfer signing Liverpool need to win a Premier League title.

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

 

Javi Martinez: The Complete Midfielder

Let’s start off with considering Javi Martinez as a defensive midfielder, the position he started his senior career in with Athletic Bilbao.

At 6’3”, Martinez represents a fearsome physical package at the base of the midfield, but also an accomplished passer of the ball and tactically and positionally excellent, with accurate and timely tackles a hallmark of his game.

His excellent defensive skills have propelled him to become one of the premier midfielders in Europe, while his complete technical base also allows him to switch from a specialist defensive midfielder into a dominant box-to-box player when needed.

Indeed, Pep Guardiola deployed him as a box-to-box attacker on occasion for Bayern last season, which offers much more of a tactical option to any team.

ESPN’s Graham Hunter once wrote, when Martinez was still at Bilbao, that his abilities “put him in the same class as [Patrick] Vieira as well as Roy Keane, Fernando Redondo, Edgar Davids and the much-underestimated Rino Gattuso (Daniele De Rossi, too).”

Both on paper and on the pitch, then, Martinez would be the ideal world-class option to anchor the Liverpool midfield.

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

 

Potential First-Choice Central Defender?

As if a versatile midfield option in the mould of the imperious YayaToure weren’t enough, Javi Martinez also boasts the awareness and positional sense to allow him to excel as a center-back.

Guardiola has proved as much already, having played Martinez in that position to great effect at club level. And per Bundesliga.com, Paco Garcia-Caridad, the head of sports station Radio Marca, called for Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque to field Martinez as a central defender in place of the hapless Gerard Pique as recently as in the aftermath of Spain’s disastrous 1-5 defeat to the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup.

Another Bundesliga.com editorial even claimed that Martinez is leading a football revolution with his reinvention of the much-vaunted libero role in Guardiola’s team, recalling the masterful Lothar Matthaus and the legendary Franz Beckenbauer.

While Martinez, at 25 years of age, is evidently yet to match the levels and legacy of the two German greats, his understanding of the game and defensive intelligence allow him to excel all throughout the central core of the defence and midfield.

Considering Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for tactical innovations, he may well experiment with alternate formations outside of his favored 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2—which Rodgers has used prominently—would see a libero/sweeper role become one of the team’s most important positions.

Martinez might even usurp the likes of Martin Skrtel into become Rodgers’ first-choice center-back and marshall a three-man defence featuring the precocious Mamadou Sakho.

 

 

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

 

A Statement of Intent

Lastly, away from what Martinez would bring to Anfield on a football level—which is a whole lot, and most importantly a unique package that Liverpool currently don’t have—he also brings the weight and stature in the game that would instantly reflect the Reds’ ambitions.

And in the aftermath of Suarez’s departure, the club may feel that they are in need of a big-name signing to both placate unsettled fans and show their intent on competing on all fronts to prospective player signings.

With Bayer Leverkusen’s Emre Can already secured as a potential long-term replacement for club captain Steven Gerrard this summer, Martinez would be a signing who would be able to hit the ground running and establish himself at Anfield.

And who knows—Javi Martinez may well be the ideal heir to Gerrard’s legendary No. 8 shirt. After all, he’s already wearing it for Bayern Munich.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Strengthening Defence More Important for Liverpool Than Replacing Luis Suarez

So after a good few weeks of speculation, it’s finally official: Luis Suarez has left Liverpool to sign for Barcelona, as confirmed by BBC Sport, for a fee of about £75 million.

As Liverpool fans across the world start to come to terms with the news that one of their greatest-ever players has left after leading the Reds to within a whisker of the Premier League title last season, they might be feeling just a little apprehensive about the coming 2014/15 campaign.

And who could blame them? After all, it’s not just any ordinary forward who has left Anfield: Suarez left at the peak of his powers, having matured from a profligate finisher to a world-class forward, setting scoring records in the Premier League last season despite missing his first five league games of the season.

Yet—unbelievable as it may be—it’s not all doom and gloom for the Reds. Sure, it will be a tough ask replacing the 30-plus goals Suarez now guarantees a season, but there should be other priorities in Brendan Rodgers’ mind even now.

He must focus on strengthening his defence.

 

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

 

 

Defence a Red Achilles’ Heel

By the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season, when Manchester City had finally usurped Liverpool as champions-elect, it was too little, too late to realize where Liverpool had lost the title.

Perhaps Steven Gerrard will forever shoulder much of the blame for his fatal slip against Chelsea, when he mistakenly put Demba Ba through on goal. And perhaps it was the throwing away of a three-goal lead at Selhurst Park that confirmed their fate.

But throughout the whole campaign, it was Liverpool’s defence that let them down. A total of 50 goals conceded—the second highest among the top eight, just a solitary goal behind sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur—said it all about a shaky defensive unit that frequently had to rely on an admittedly all-star attack to bail them out.

Suarez’s departure will add more pressure to his ex-strike partners to come close to the astonishing 101-goal haul last season, but it will also place the spotlight on a leaky defence that has to get better.

There are always two sides to the same coin and two contrasting ways to look at a trend: Namely, that Liverpool showed both strength in character and mentality to secure comebacks and outscore their opponents by one goal to get the three points—but equally, Rodgers’ back four weren’t exactly a reassuring presence when they needed to be.

Of course, it didn’t help that due to injury, Rodgers was deprived of his first-choice back four for most of the season—though that was the opportunity that Jon Flanagan took with both hands to resurrect his career at Anfield—but the time has come now to address these problems.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

 

Upgrades Are Needed

It seems strange to see Liverpool building bright young midfield and forward lines, especially with the signing of Emre Can and the blossoming of Raheem Sterling, on a foundation provided by an increasingly erratic Glen Johnson, an inconsistent Martin Skrtel, a hesitant Daniel Agger and a perpetually injured Jose Enrique.

Though Johnson seemed to have rediscovered his form at times toward the end of the season, it is telling that he has yet to sign a contract extension. As things stand, he will be a free agent next summer.

As prolific as Skrtel was last season, scoring seven league goals in 36 games, he was also responsible for four own goals, and his concentration and leadership have yet to truly convince.

Vice-captain Agger is a curious case. As one of the Reds’ most loyal servants in the group, he seems to have lost the faith of Rodgers, with Mamadou Sakho often preferred as the starting left-sided center back, and he is even linked with a summer exit from Liverpool, according to Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo (h/t Vaishali Bhardwaj of Metro).

Finally, Enrique’s brand of physical and brazen football doesn’t fit in well with Rodgers’ preference for intelligent tactical play; even Flanagan’s displays seemed to have worked better in his system.

Given the high-profile links with Southampton’s Dejan Lovren, per Gary Jones of the Daily Star, it seems evident that Liverpool have identified center back as a priority position, but the reality is that upgrades are needed all across the back four.

And we haven’t yet touched on the hotly debated position that is goalkeeper.

 

Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

 

An Unlikely Smokescreen Would Be Nice

Yet for all of the strengthening that Liverpool’s defence need, the rumor market is still in a frenzy linking the Reds with a forward to replace the goals of Suarez.

Now that Alexis Sanchez, previously a candidate either to play with Suarez at Anfield or to replace him as part of the deal taking the Uruguayan to Camp Nou, has joined Arsenal, the seemingly most adequate successor has slipped out of Rodgers’ grasp.

Cue the rumors linking the Reds with a move for Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, via Sam Cunningham of the Daily Mail, and the apparently imminent double deal for Divock Origi and Lazar Markovic, via BBC Sport‘s Ben Smith.

All well and good, except they seem to hint that the club are preoccupied with filling the Suarez-shaped void up front and neglecting the obvious issues at the back.

Besides Lovren, Liverpool have not been seriously linked with any central defender, while an on-again, off-again approach for Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno seems to be their only lead in the full-back areas.

Which leaves arguably more than half of all the defensive positions in need of upgrading, if we include Simon Mignolet’s position between the Anfield posts.

Shave away Suarez’s 31 league goals from Liverpool’s total tally, and they would have scored just one fewer than Chelsea. Contrast Liverpool’s 50 goals conceded with Manchester City’s 37 and Chelsea’s 27—even Arsenal’s 41—and we arrive at the root of the Reds’ failure to win the league.

There are big issues to address at the back for Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool fans should be hoping that the incessant and never-ending striker rumors are but a smokescreen for the real revolution that needs to take place in defence.

Otherwise—Suarez’s goals or not—they’ll be in for a rough ride.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Things Liverpool Learned from the 2013/14 Premier League Season

Perhaps it was just a touch too far for Liverpool in the end. Their fans harbored the hope and the romanticism, but Manchester City’s ruthless efficiency meant that as soon as Liverpool handed first place in the Premier League back into City’s hands, it was always going to be a tall order for the Reds.

On Liverpool’s part, it could’ve been a poetic end to the season on the final day. Steven Gerrard providing two set-piece assists to go clear in the Premier League assist charts, a goal from Daniel Agger on possibly his last-ever appearance for the Reds, and a goal for the understated Daniel Sturridge—all after Newcastle United took the lead through some dodgy Liverpool defending.

West Ham United—Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole et al—just couldn’t play their supposed part against City on Sunday.

But while the conciliatory and congratulatory messages will be sent from the red half of Merseyside to the blue half of Manchester amid disappointment—“devastation,” Gerrard told Sky Sports (h/t Fox Sports)—at a lost chance to win a title, the overriding mood at Anfield after the final whistle on Sunday was a celebratory one.

For while City’s two goals in a clean sheet sealed their second title in three years, the Liverpool fans preferred to bask in the knowledge that their team had stormed their way back into the top four ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ schedule and preferred to acknowledge the brave but valiant efforts of their heroes.

And why not? It’s been an exciting campaign for Liverpool, and here are 10 things we learned from their 2013/14 Premier League season. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Attack Wins Games…

Attack Wins Games…Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Having scored 101 goals in 38 league games this season—just one short of Manchester City’s haul—Liverpool have been one of English football’s great entertainers over the past 10 months.

Without taking any penalties and having missed his first five games of the season, Luis Suarez equaled the 38-game-season Premier League goal-scoring tally of 31, while Daniel Sturridge added 21 goals and Steven Gerrard 13.

The blitzing of Tottenham Hotspur (both home and away), Everton and Arsenal—all considered rivals at the start of the season—will be remembered for years to come, as the Reds hit three or more goals in a remarkable 21 out of their 38 games. The thrilling 11-game winning streak that rocketed Brendan Rodgers’ men to the top of the table with a few games to go was especially memorable.

Rodgers has instilled flexibility, directness and dynamism into his team, who are now capable of changing tactical formations from game to game and during matches. They can score goals from a variety of approaches—counterattacks, direct free kicks and other set pieces. The interchanging of his electric forward line has added to their aesthetic appeal, which has won them fans up and down the country and around the world.

From 71 goals last season to 101 this term—a 30-goal swing over a 38-game span—it has been a remarkable improvement in attacking form from by and large the same group of players, and Rodgers deserves as much credit as his charges.

Liverpool fan or not, this has been a season to savor.

 

…But Defence Wins Championships

…But Defence Wins ChampionshipsMichael Regan/Getty Images

Yet a simple comparison of goal difference between City and Liverpool shows everything about how the season has panned out: City, who scored just one more goal in total, finished with a goal difference of plus-65, compared with Liverpool’s plus-51.

Somehow it seemed fitting that Martin Skrtel’s own goal was Newcastle’s opener on Sunday—he is the highest-scoring defender in the Premier League with seven goals this season, yet his four own goals this season set a Premier League record.

Defence has proved to be Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel, and the main reason behind their failure to win the title.

Inevitable off days notwithstanding, there were fixtures and results that hinted at their defence being susceptible and potentially damaging to their cause. Hard-fought wins over Stoke City (5-3), Fulham (3-2), Swansea City (4-3) and Norwich City (3-2) always featured three goals or more scored, but required resolute defending to hold onto their slender lead.

So as much as it was anticlimactic from Liverpool’s point of view, the draw at Crystal Palace in the penultimate match of the season was actually arguably a long time coming, considering their weaknesses in defence and tendency to commit costly mistakes.

Liverpool finished the season just two points behind Manchester City. If they had been able to turn one loss into one win or two draws into two wins, they would’ve ended on top. Their attack is near-complete; it’s now the defence that needs major work.

 

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…Clive Rose/Getty Images

In this season’s title race, we saw it all from Steven Gerrard: the “crazy eyes” after his opener in the 4-0 rout over Everton, a shirt-flinging celebration after a last-gasp penalty winner over Fulham, a kiss for the camera after his second penalty at Manchester United and even emotional tears after the thrilling win over Manchester City.

And if those celebrations weren’t enough to confirm just how desperate Gerrard was to win his first-ever Premier League title, surely the team talk that he gave on the pitch after the City match did.

So it was a cruel twist of fate—and to some an inevitable turn of events—that Gerrard was the one who committed the fatal error to let Demba Ba through, allowing Chelsea an opening goal deep into first-half stoppage time and hand the impetus back to City.

From then on, we rarely saw the Reds’ nerves settle.

Instead of playing it patiently and build attacks through Suarez, Liverpool opted to cross aimlessly into the box against Chelsea’s bus-parked box while notching their highest tally of crosses in a single game over the course of the season. A draw would’ve done just fine.

Instead of holding a three-goal lead and maximizing the points return at Palace, Rodgers opted to take off Raheem Sterling, one of his best defensive players this season, and decided to leave his experienced defenders on the bench in a bid to rack up the goals. A simple three points, which they were on the way to achieving, would’ve done just fine.

An 11-match winning run was what started making the Kop dream—but conversely it was the belief and dreams that led them to a calamitous collapse in the crucial moment of the season. The five dropped points made the difference in the end.

 

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing Maturity

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing MaturityAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Eleven wins on the bounce is no mean feat, and in the context of the entire season—and considering the lack of squad depth and strength at Rodgers’ disposal—the Reds, by and large, carried and managed themselves well.

There were the nervy wins brought about by the hesitant defence and the prolific attack, and there were moments that showed Liverpool’s increasing maturity.

Holding onto a one-goal lead when the tide had turned and the momentum had shifted to their opponents was a sure sign of mental progress on the part of Rodgers’ men. In April when they held their nerve against relegation-fighting Norwich City after Philippe Coutinho’s second-half winner over Manchester City, Liverpool fans started to believe.

No two players can exhibit finer physical and mental development this season than the excellent Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, who got their chances to impress and took them in their own hands beyond any reasonable belief.

As we consider the close-season anticlimax, a good context to keep in mind is that one of the league’s youngest squads repeatedly held their nerve to secure a second-placed finish.

It will be of some comfort that reported targets Adam Lallana and Steven Caulker are currently the club captains of their respective clubs (Southampton and Cardiff City). Leadership is being targeted.

 

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Players and fans alike have lauded the fervent atmosphere of Anfield this season, especially during the final few weeks of the season when the Kop roared on in full voice every match and Liverpool fans lined the streets of the city to inspire the players.

The atmosphere has frequently been compared with that of Champions League nights at Anfield, and now the Reds finally have that to savor next season.

This title race even evoked memories of the miraculous Champions League final turnaround in Istanbul almost nine years ago—and Martin Tyler’s remark that the Reds had been the “most wonderful underdogs” over the course of the tournament that season surely applied to their Premier League title challenge this time around.

A young squad playing scintillating attacking football with the charismatic Rodgers and the elder statesman that is Gerrard helming the side—Liverpool’s title challenge was inconceivable but widely welcomed and supported.

For most of the season, they played with no fear and without shackles. Chelsea and Manchester City were the big spenders with big-name players and managers, while Arsenal’s fall from top of the league to fourth place, Everton’s top-four challenge, Tottenham Hotspur’s wild inconsistencies under Tim Sherwood and Manchester United’s spectacular demise captured all the headlines.

As they have proved over the years, especially in Europe under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool are at their most dangerous when the underdog tag is applied.

 

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The question now is whether or not the Reds can live with a “favorites” tag.

To expect a thin squad and a poor bench to sustain a top performance level over the course of a season and outcompete world-class teams proved too much this season. While their lack of European football has been claimed by many to provide them with a sense of regularity, the fact that Liverpool didn’t even qualify for Europe last season says it all about their status as underdogs.

When the pressure was well and truly on and they were expected to see out the season in first place, they buckled.

Whether it was because of Gerrard’s unfortunate slip, Rodgers’ decision to go for the jugular against Chelsea when a draw would’ve done or the naivety that they could make up for the gigantic goal difference by continuing to pile forward with a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace, Liverpool seemed to make the wrong decisions at the wrong time.

And after providing a surprise element and a breath of fresh air this season, Liverpool will be considered favorites for the top four again next year, and another title challenge—especially in anticipation of their transfer activity this summer—has already been mooted.

It’s not just about managing expectations anymore; it’s about managing themselves so they can unlock their potential, but also get results over the line when they most need them.

 

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Where would Liverpool be this May without Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard?

Together, the No. 7 and No. 8 contributed 44 goals and 25 assists, over 68 per cent of Liverpool’s whopping total of 101 goals over the campaign—and that’s including Suarez’s five-game suspension at the start of the season and Gerrard’s midseason injury layoff.

When Liverpool fans look back in years to come, their likely conclusion will be that keeping Suarez away from the clutches of Arsenal in the summer of 2013 might just have proved their most pivotal decision in recent years.

And Rodgers moving Gerrard into a withdrawn playmaking role has unlocked the best out of the captain, possibly even extending his playing career.

Suarez has added even more to his arsenal (ha): Not only has he evolved into a fearsome finisher, but he has also become prolific at direct free kicks and also ranks second in the Premier League assist charts.

Likewise Gerrard, who has taken to his new position smoothly and has been able to unlock defences through his unerring through balls and long passes. His dead-ball deliveries have been a big component of Liverpool’s league-leading set-piece goal tally.

 

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But despite Suarez and Gerrard taking first and second place in the Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, their supporting cast have been equally important and threatened to steal the show.

There is no need to elaborate on the maturation of Jordan Henderson, nor the meteoric rise of Raheem Sterling—likewise with the resurgence of Jon Flanagan, the consistency of Daniel Sturridge and the mercurial talent of Philippe Coutinho.

What has been made abundantly clear is that Rodgers, himself a young coach, has prized talent development and made youth a centerpiece of his Liverpool side. In taking such a young team to within a whisker of the Premier League title takes vision and guts and deserves credit.

That Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have risen from pure potential to potentially starting alongside their club captain in Roy Hodgson’s England lineup in the World Cup this summer is a testament to their own hard work and Rodgers’ tutelage.

Add a few more quality players with at least a few top years ahead of them this summer, and Anfield could witness not just a new generation of blossoming talent, but a golden era in itself.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

 

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

To realize their potential, however, Liverpool must continue their encouraging momentum and take full advantage of a first genuinely exciting summer transfer window ahead of them.

For the first time in a few years, the Reds have the Champions League and a title challenge to offer—with the money that comes on the back of such developments—and can use them to attract the players that will keep them there.

Too many transfer windows have come and gone without real progress. Even last summer, after almost six months of tantalizing attacking football following the excellent additions of Sturridge and Coutinho, the Anfield club wasted a good opportunity.

Eight players were signed, but only Simon Mignolet has managed to make himself a mainstay in Rodgers’ team. Pepe Reina left on loan to Napoli, leaving the Belgian as the only realistic choice as No. 1.

The excuse that has often been offered is that squad strengthening was the priority last summer, but a quick look at the Liverpool bench shows that even that objective was not realized.

They must not repeat the same mistakes again, not in the least because their rivals will no doubt be spending big to boost their own squads this summer.

 

…But the Belief Is Back

…But the Belief Is Back

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

At the core of it all, though, this season has been about the triumphant return of belief, of lofty ideals and of giddy daydreaming for Liverpool Football Club—whether it be in the stands, on the Kop, on the Anfield pitch or in newspaper headlines around England and the world.

As we close out the season and look ahead to the World Cup—less so the inevitable circus that is the summer transfer window—we prefer not to focus on the possibility that this was perhaps Liverpool’s best shot at the title for many years to come.

We prefer not to focus on the calamitous slip that lost them their sure footing en route to winning a first-ever Premier League title.

Why focus on the negatives, when Liverpool have just finished ahead of schedule, not only in the Champions League places, but just two points short of the title outright?

While they have done so while breaking the three-digit mark in terms of goals scored, just one short from one of the most expensive squads in world sport? And with one of the youngest top-ranked teams in all of European football?

The anxiety and apprehension at how next season will pan out should come right as the Premier League resumes again in August—not now.

The anxiety and apprehension will only come about because Liverpool have made it possible to dream again anyway.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Film Focus: Previewing Liverpool vs. Newcastle United Ahead of Anfield Clash

Liverpool host Newcastle United at Anfield on the final day of the 2013/14 Premier League season, with the Reds needing a win to have any chance of clinching a first league title in 24 years.

This fixture has been one of the most entertaining and exciting in Premier League history, with goals almost always guaranteed and both teams fond of playing attacking football. The reverse fixture at St James’ Park back in October ended in a 2-2 stalemate, while Liverpool fans will remember clearly their 6-0 drubbing of Newcastle towards the end of last season.

Since then, both teams have experienced contrasting fortunes: Brendan Rodgers has led his team from a seventh-place finish to being within reach of the title, while Alan Pardew has seen his future publicly questioned by the Geordie faithful.

And while the Liverpool fans at Anfield will be looking to give their heroes a much-deserved ovation during the post-match lap of honor, they will also be keeping a keen eye on developments at the Etihad Stadium, where a West Ham United win over Manchester City could mean that Liverpool wrest the title back if they do the business at Anfield.

As we continue our preview series in the buildup to this pivotal final-day clash—click here for our Liverpool lineup for the match—let’s take a closer look at a few scenarios that may decide how Sunday’s game will pan out.

 

A Tale of Set Pieces

Since the departure of Yohan Cabaye over the January transfer window, Newcastle United have desperately lacked a talisman and game-changer from set pieces.

And this has been a big enough issue to catch the attention of The Chronicle’s Neil Cameron, who highlighted that only Hull City, Norwich City and Cardiff City have scored fewer times from a set piece than Newcastle have this season.

By contrast, Liverpool have been the most prolific from dead-ball situations. Steven Gerrard, due to his unerring corners and free-kicks, has racked up a joint league-high assist count (12, alongside fellow teammate Luis Suarez), while Martin Skrtel has scored seven goals this season.

In their ultimately calamitous collapse against Crystal Palace last Monday (more on that later), the Reds took the lead from an 18th-minute corner from an unlikely source: Joe Allen.

 

Sky SportsGranted, this goal was as much down to Liverpool’s movement on set pieces as it was to Crystal Palace’s lackluster marking—not a Tony Pulis hallmark—but Allen’s shuffle from the front post to the back post (white circle and white arrow) could have taken his marker Joe Ledley (blue circle and blue arrow) by surprise.

It was that simple front-to-back-post run that caused trouble in the Eagles’ penalty area, especially because Palace captain Mile Jedinak’s tussle with Luis Suarez in front of Julian Speroni (yellow circle) actually became an obstacle to Ledley’s belated defensive adjustment, leaving an entire area unmarked for Allen to place his header (red box).

Gerrard’s deliveries have caused Liverpool’s opponents endless trouble this season. Newcastle have been warned.

 

The Suarez-Sturridge Connection

For our second film analysis, let’s revisit October’s 2-2 draw at St James’ Park and look at the last goal of the contest, a Daniel Sturridge equalizer that showcased the best of the electrifying SAS partnership (Raheem Sterling hadn’t returned to the Liverpool first team yet, which shows just how impressive his turnaround has been this season).

This graphic looks a bit more complicated, given that it comes two moves before the actual goal, but bear with us here.

 

BBC Match of the DayVictor Moses was on the ball on the Liverpool left flank, with Suarez bursting through the center of the pitch (white circle and white arrow) to get into an entire 20-yard area vacated for him (red box). The dotted red line indicates the first pass that set off this move, as Moses found an inch-perfect ball into Suarez’s stride.

Occupying the Newcastle defence’s attention, however, was more than Suarez’s run. Sturridge embarked on an almost parallel run to Suarez’s, charging into the box at the same time as his partner in crime (blue circle and blue arrow).

As Suarez found space and controlled the ball after evading the home defenders, he put in a lofted ball into Sturridge‘s path for an easy header into the back of Tim Krul’s net. It was a move that displayed not only the creative and attacking force that SAS have represented this season but also how devastating their individual movement can be to the opposing defence.

 

Newcastle’s High Defensive Line

Chelsea and Jose Mourinho received plenty of criticism for the way the Blues sat back and defended during their 2-0 away win at Anfield a couple of weeks ago, but in hindsight, sitting deep and absorbing pressure from Liverpool was perhaps one of the only ways to deal with the Reds’ electrifying attack.

As we show in our third scenario, perhaps Newcastle and AlanPardew could’ve done with some useful tips from Mourinho when they hosted Liverpool in October.

We now look back to Liverpool’s first equalizer at St James’ Park, after Yohan Cabaye‘s blistering strike from range had opened the account for Newcastle. To be exact, we look at the passage of play that led to the penalty that Luis Suarez won, which was subsequently scored by Steven Gerrard for his 100th league goal for Liverpool.

 

BBC Match of the DayOne of the defining characteristics of the SAS partnership is that both are not conventional center-forwards, but rather dovetail creatively and unpredictably, with one dropping deep and one bursting forward.

On this occasion, Daniel Sturridge was the one who dropped back to receive the ball in the midfield. He turned to look for Suarez making a run into the Newcastle area (white circle and white arrow).

Sturridge‘s ball (dotted red line) found Suarez impeccably, and the No. 7’s run into the Newcastle area (red box) was essentially unchallenged until Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa caught up with him (blue circle and blue arrow)—albeit too late, as the Frenchman pulled Suarez down, leading to a penalty and a red card.

But the defining aspect of this shot was the curved yellow arc, which indicates the defensive line that Newcastle held in the buildup to this goal. With a turn and run, Suarez left the entire Newcastle defence for dead. Essentially, Alan Pardew was taking a major risk operating so far forward when his opponents had two of the best forwards in the Premier League against him.

 

Liverpool’s Own Defensive Woes

We said we would touch on Liverpool’s collapse against Crystal Palace, so Liverpool fans may want to look away now at this last point.

Hard as it might be, Brendan Rodgers and his team must look back on the match and rue how easily they gave up their three-goal advantage. Of course, Tony Pulis must be afforded a lot of the credit with his attacking substitutions while 0-3 down, but the ease with which the Eagles brushed the Reds aside will have been concerning for Liverpool.

 

Sky Sports
The picture above is a freeze frame of the immediate buildup to Dwight Gayle’s equalizer in the 88th minute. Joel Ward delivered a simple long ball over the top (dotted red line) to Glenn Murray, who chested the ball into Gayle’s path before a cool finish past Simon Mignolet.

The problem came in the marking and defensive positioning displayed by Liverpool’s defenders, as Martin Skrtel (yellow circle) is at fault.

Skrtel, who was supposed to occupy himself with an out-and-out striker (in this case Gayle), found himself with two immediate opponents for him to consider marking. Would he stick with Gayle, who was darting into the box, or would he move to Murray and try to clear the ball by winning a header?

Meanwhile, Glen Johnson (yellow circle), who had turned in an impressive attacking performance in the first half of the contest but found his defensive game severely questioned in the second, found himself in no man’s land as he tried to belatedly match Gayle’s run into the box.

Skrtel’s attempt at winning the header clearly failed, as he didn’t even come close to Murray. The result of this shambolic positioning and decision-making was an equalizer that led to Suarez’s tears at the final whistle.

Fix this kind of defensive shakiness, and Suarez and Co. may be weeping tears of joy in seasons to come.

Liverpool Transfer Rumors: Why Reds Should Go All-Out for Everton’s Ross Barkley

With Liverpool having all but secured a place in next year’s Champions League, the Reds have been linked with potential summer signings right, left and center. Everton’s wonderkid midfielder, Ross Barkley, has been rumored as a shock £38 million target, according to Chris McKenna of the Daily Star.

Having made a splash in his debut season in the Premier League, Barkley has already been tipped as one of the finest talents of his generation—even a dark-horse option to make Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup this summer.

Which means that, even though Blues boss Roberto Martinez has already vehemently denied, via Paul Collins of the Daily Mailthe possibility of a first player move across Stanley Park since Abel Xavier in 2002, Liverpool fans will be dreaming at the prospect of Barkley turning out for them every week next season.

And for good reason. While not an ever-present in Martinez’s starting XI—not surprising given the amount of options at his disposal—Barkley has shown enough promise to suggest that he will be a Premier League force for many years to come. He might just have the potential to go down as one of its all-time greats.

Which is why, remote as the possibility may be, Brendan Rodgers should go all-out for Barkley.

 

Playing Attributes

At just 20 years of age, Barkley appears to already have the full set of attributes to succeed in the Premier League.

Blessed with pace and quick feet, Barkley is more than capable of taking on and dribbling past his man, while his physical power means that he is hard to shrug off, difficult to defend against and a forceful presence in the midfield.

A powerful left foot and a love for the spectacular mean that the Everton No. 20 is no stranger to long-range screamers; indeed, his goal this season against Norwich City was a prime example of him pulling the trigger and scoring with power, while given just a tight space to work with.

He has also exhibited composure in his finishing. A wonderful solo goal against Newcastle United a couple of weeks ago, in which he took the ball in his own half and proceeded to run past a few defenders before unleashing a shot into the top corner, will go down as one of the season’s finest efforts.

In the next few years, Barkley will no doubt be looking to improve his defensive and all-round contributions, while also developing the maturity that sees him make use of his technical and physical attributes to the best effect.

On raw potential alone, however, Barkley has all the tools to succeed Steven Gerrard as the pre-eminent attacking midfielder in the English game.

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesBig-Game Mentality

While we’re on the topic of Gerrard, a lot has been written this season about his status in the Liverpool dressing room and his importance in the Reds’ impressive title run, both as a player and as a talismanic leader.

Without going as far as to say that Barkley will be England’s next captain and go down as one of the country’s greatest-ever players so early on in his career, all the signs so far suggest that he has the same big-game mentality as the current Liverpool and England captain.

Barkley has claimed, via McKenna, that big games bring out his best and that he likes “getting the chance to step up and show what [he is] capable of.”

His attacking play exudes confidence in abundance, while his unabashed attitude on the pitch perfectly complements his direct style and penchant for a long-range stunner.

As Liverpool can increasingly look forward to participating in Europe’s pre-eminent club competition next year, they could do with a few more match-winners and on-pitch leaders to add to their current swagger.

Rodgers would be hard-pressed to find a better option on the block than Barkley.

 

 

Michael Steele/Getty ImagesRodgers’ Young British Revolution

Not only would Barkley bring a rare and complete set of playing attributes and a commendable mentality, but he would also fit right into Rodgers’ young British revolution at Anfield.

His table-topping Liverpool side is one of the youngest in the Premier League, with Daniel SturridgeRaheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson—and increasingly, Joe Allen and Jon Flanagan—all playing prominent roles in their exciting charge toward the top of the league this season.

Two common characteristics of these all-star youngsters are technical proficiency and mental application, both of which Barkley has in his locker. His brand of physical and direct attacking midfield play would be an interesting alternative to Philippe Coutinho’s silky dribbling and outrageous through balls, though the all-round midfield play of the Brazilian, himself only 21 years old, has matured spectacularly in recent months.

Add in the fact that the likes of Luis Suarez, Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet will be entering their prime years in the short to medium term, and Barkley would be walking into an accomplished Liverpool team still with much potential to fulfill.

Rodgers’ accomplished man management has worked wonders on his young charges in his two seasons at Anfield, and he would no doubt be able to unlock even more from Barkley’s game if he does cross Stanley Park.

The key is for Liverpool to follow up on their interest with a substantial bid to tempt Champions League-chasing Everton into letting their prized asset go, which won’t be easy. Then, there’s the whole stumbling block of Barkley being a boyhood Evertonian.

But just imagine a Liverpool attack next season featuring Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Barkley and Henderson on the break at pace.

Simply irresistible.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Capitulation

A calamitous 12 second-half minutes saw Liverpool concede a three-goal lead at Crystal Palace on Monday, after two Dwight Gayle goals completed an impressive Premier League comeback from Tony Pulis‘ men.

It started so well for the Reds, who stormed into a commanding lead courtesy of Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Their basic requirement, to get the three points needed to keep the pressure on Manchester City, turned into a call for more goals in an attempt to reduce the goal-difference deficit.

But as they piled their numbers forward, suddenly their defence started to look shaky, and all it took was a deflected Damien Delaney strike on 79 minutes to kick-start a remarkable comeback for Palace.

As it stands, Liverpool have returned to the summit of the Premier League with 81 points, a point ahead of City, whose game in hand will be played at home against Aston Villa on Wednesday.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s capitulation on Monday.

 

Naivety Cost Liverpool the Title…and Probably the Title

Naivety Cost Liverpool the Game...and Probably the TitleJamie McDonald/Getty Images

It was a bullish Brendan Rodgers who suggested before the match that the title race wasn’t over, and that Liverpool had goals in them to chase City on goal difference, per The Guardian.

True to his word, his team exhibited the attacking flair and strength they’ve shown all season—but when they went 3-0 up, they decided to go for broke to challenge City’s goal-difference domination, which ended up handing Palace the impetus in the game.

Only Rodgers will know why he decided to replace Raheem Sterling (and not Lucas Leiva) with Philippe Coutinho right before Delaney’s goal, and only he will know why it was Victor Moses who was sent on for Sturridge, and not Daniel Agger.

Only Martin Skrtel will know how he was dragged so far out for Gayle’s equalizer, and only Glen Johnson will know why he failed to close down on both Delaney and Yannick Bolasie in the build-up to Palace’s goals.

Far from pinpointing any individual scapegoat, Liverpool need to address some serious “game management” issues this summer. Youth, energy and passion will take you a long way, but experience and cool heads need to prevail.

 

Squad Depth Issues Highlighted

Squad Depth Issues Highlighted

Clive Rose/Getty Images 

 

We mentioned in the previous slide the abject performances of Lucas and Moses, but they don’t touch on the root of the problem: Liverpool simply don’t have a strong enough squad to win a Premier League title.

A look at Manchester City and Chelsea‘s substitutes benches, along with a quick comparison with Liverpool’s, shows just how far the Reds are in terms of squad depth and strength, and their misery was compounded by Moses’ miss at the death.

We suggested a few weeks ago in the aftermath of the hard-fought win over Norwich City that Jordan Henderson’s last-gasp red card against City could prove to be costly in the title run-in. A couple of weeks on, we can’t help but think whether his presence on the Selhurst Park pitch on Monday could’ve helped stem Palace’s midfield momentum and plugged Liverpool’s gaps in the middle.

All the same, just as Rodgers was forced to bring on Iago Aspas against Chelsea, he didn’t have a single match-winner on the bench save for Coutinho.

The reality is that for a squad as shallow as Liverpool’s, they have done extremely well to find themselves top of the league on the second-to-last matchday of the season.

 

Transfer Failures Will Need to Be Rectified This Summer

Transfer Failures Will Need to Be Rectified This SummerClive Rose/Getty Images

Was a failed January transfer window, during which Liverpool failed to strengthen at all, the reason behind this late-season loss of momentum? Or were the seeds already sown last September?

With the obvious benefit of hindsight, we’ve seen that Liverpool’s shallow squad has been a big reason behind their failure to close down games or to put themselves out of sight when they’ve needed to.

Compared to the winter of 2013, when they signed Coutinho and Sturridge, this January was a major disappointment, but the warning signs were there after what has proved to be a weak summer of 2013.

Out of eight summer arrivals last year, which included the hapless Aspas, Moses and Aly Cissokho (to name but three), only Simon Mignolet and Mamadou Sakho have managed to make themselves regular first-team options.

While the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa and Willian didn’t end up arriving at Anfield last summer due to the lack of Champions League football, Liverpool now have that on offer for next season.

With their competitors likely to splash the cash to bring in reinforcements of their own, the Reds face a pivotal summer ahead if they want to continue challenging at the top of the table for the foreseeable future.

 

Was This Liverpool’s Best Chance at a League Title?

Was This Liverpool's Best Chance at a League Title?

Clive Rose/Getty Images

It is perhaps because of the strange nature of this season, where seemingly most big teams faced a transitional year, that the Premier League has played out to be such an open and exciting competition.

But it is also that same reason that might result in major strengthening by all of Liverpool’s rivals ahead of next season, and they may well face keener competition by the time the new season starts in August, especially with the financial might of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

In hindsight, will this have been Liverpool’s best chance at a league title for many years to come? There are those who argue that Rodgers has already done an excellent job with the limited resources he has and that the only way for the Reds is up, but the nature of this season will also surely have been a factor in their lofty position.

Mathematically speaking, it’s still possible for Steven Gerrard to lift the Premier League trophy this Sunday, but that would require major favors from Aston Villa and West Ham United, both of whom are to visit the Etihad Stadium.

The tears and general despondence shown by Suarez and Co. when Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle on Monday showed that the players themselves might be thinking the same.

 

Tony Pulis Will Surely Now Win Manager of the Year

Tony Pulis Will Surely Now Win Manager of the Year

 Clive Rose/Getty Images

One of the side narratives leading up to the match was the battle between Rodgers and Pulis for the Manager of the Year award.

After Suarez scooped both the Players’ Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Player of the Year accolades, all the attention on individual prizes turned to Selhurst Park.

For 78 minutes, it looked as if Rodgers would win on the day, putting the pressure back on Manchester City and reigniting Liverpool’s hopes for the title. Then in 12 minutes, Pulis wrestled the match back in his grasp, in the process changing the title race and the destiny of the Manager of the Year award.

For so long branded as a negative manager, Pulis deserves credit for bringing on Gayle, Glenn Murray and Thomas Ince in a bid to turn the match around when he would’ve been forgiven for throwing on defensive additions.

Pulis‘ transformation of Palace’s fortunes and securing of their Premier League status have rightly attracted many plaudits—but Rodgers’ taking of Liverpool from seventh to title challengers needs to be recognized as well.

 

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

 Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If Liverpool fans are despondent about losing the league title already, however, a quick glance at the Premier League table suggests that there is still some hope.

They will be requiring help from Aston Villa or West Ham United if they are to salvage the title, but the reality is that Manchester City still have two matches to play to confirm a title win.

If the Reds beat Newcastle United at Anfield next week, who knows what could happen…

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Scouting Reported Liverpool Transfer Target Alexandre Lacazette

Having secured Champions League football next season, Liverpool are now aiming to finish the Premier League season as champions. But this hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from going into overdrive, and the latest player linked with a move to Anfield is Olympique Lyonnais striker Alexandre Lacazette, per the Daily Mail.

Despite boasting the Premier League’s most lethal strike duo in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool have found their bench relatively thin this season, and 17-goal scorer Lacazette has apparently caught the attention of their scouts, as well as those of Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle United and Juventus.

With two high-profile moves for attacking midfielders Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka falling through in the January transfer window, manager Brendan Rodgers is reportedly still on the lookout for a quality forward.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Lacazette’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Liverpool.

 

Pros

With his exciting dribbling and goal-scoring ability, it’s no surprise Lacazette, after a couple of strong seasons in the Lyon youth team, was promoted to their first-team squad at the age of 19, making his professional debut against Auxerre in May 2010.

Prior to his first-team exploits, however, Lacazette scored the winner for France in a 2-1 comeback win over Spain in the UEFA Under-19 championships, which then saw the young striker become a star for his country’s Under-20 and Under-21 national teams.

After making his breakthrough with the Lyon first team in the 2011-12 Ligue 1 season, scoring six goals in all competitions, he has now matured into an all-rounded striker spearheading the Lyon attack. Fifteen league goals and three assists in 31 starts this season shows his development over just a few short years.

Blessed with searing pace, impressive technique, a blistering long shot and a composed finish, Lacazette excels in one-on-one situations and regularly beats his man with a silky first touch and scintillating turn with shades of a certain No. 7 at Anfield.

His array of skills renders him a formidable option on the counterattack, while his pressing on opposition defenders also make him a nuisance to defend against and a valuable asset for any team set up to take the front foot in a match.

 

Cons

Liverpool’s potentially damaging 0-2 defeat to Chelsea at Anfield last Sunday renewed calls for a bigger presence in the penalty box, and at 5’9”, Lacazette doesn’t exactly provide the most dominant physical frame they might need.

His lack of experience at the highest level—he has only ever made two appearances for the France senior team—and with Lyon not the European force it was a few years back, he doesn’t represent the most experienced option in terms of the Champions League.

Finally, according to the Mirror, Lyon are reportedly in contract renewal talks with Lacazette. Given that his current deal runs out in 2016 and Lyon’s seeming reluctance to let go of their prized asset, Lacazette might not come cheap, which would be far from ideal for interested clubs.

 

 

EuroFootball/Getty ImagesPotential Role at Liverpool

With his pace, all-round ability and off-the-ball work rate, Lacazette seems to have all the tools required to succeed in Rodgers’ young and dynamic Liverpool team.

Having exhibited his potential on the Ligue 1 stage, he could be ready for a move toward a Liverpool side looking to challenge on all four fronts next season, after a campaign that has surprised many onlookers with their enterprising brand of attacking football.

Lacazette’s array of skills means he would be a perfect fit in Liverpool’s dominant style of play, while he would also flourish in their devastating counterattacks. His pressing from the front will likely impress Rodgers in his bid for a regular first-team place.

That he will be working with three quality forwards in Suarez,Sturridge and Raheem Sterling every week suggests his development curve will only continue going upward, and under Rodgers’ famed man-management skills, Lacazette may well find himself flourishing at Anfield.

With the Reds competing in four competitions next season, they need depth in reserve and rotation, and Lacazette would provide an impact from the bench and also do a more than effective job as a first-team starter.

 

Conclusion

It comes as no surprise a number of clubs around Europe are reportedly interested in Lacazette: His strengths are there for all to see, and he has the potential to become one of the continent’s leading forwards.

That he would add to almost any Premier League team is also a given considering his skill set and capabilities on the ball. His playing style would see him slot seamlessly into Rodgers’ Liverpool team.

So on paper, he would be an excellent choice for the Reds in the quest for an alternative forward option this summer.

Our main concern would thus be price—if Lyon refuse to do business for a reasonable price, Liverpool should look in the market for other viable squad options in their bid to build a rotatable forward line.

If Lacazette is available for a decent fee, however, Liverpool should strongly consider bringing him to Anfield. He might just surprise a few people.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Anfield Redevelopment Underlines Liverpool’s Financial Rejuvenation Under FSG

Ahead of a crucial Premier League title decider against Chelsea this Sunday, Liverpool this week announced their expansion plans for Anfield, while managing director Ian Ayre today credited, via the Telegraph, the role of current owners John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group in their financial rejuvenation.

Both the Anfield redevelopment announcement and the revelations behind the dire financial situation at Liverpool have not only boosted the feel-good factor around the club, who are five points clear in the Premier League and poised to win their first league title in 24 years, but also highlighted just how important FSG have been in their resurrection.

The Reds now seem a stark contrast to what they were just a few years ago, when Tom Hicks and George Gillett were in constant internal battles with then-manager Rafael Benitez and released plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park that got nowhere, a symbol of their failed reign that disillusioned supporters.

John W. Henry led FSG’s takeover in 2010, which saved the club from administration and that has subsequently transformed Liverpool’s fortunes on and off the pitch.

As Ayre claims that “the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now,” let’s look at just how Liverpool have been rejuvenated financially under the reign of Henry and FSG—and whether this can be sustained going forward.

 

 

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesCorporatization of Liverpool as a Global Business

It’s easy to say we were 10 years into a stadium move and it’s about time we are back in the Champions League, but if you think about where we were financially, just because you’re Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there. There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners, so it’s an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are today. That is testament to the people who invested in it and worked on getting us back there.

Ian Ayre’s proud proclamations of the FSG-led transformation, dipped in bitter memories of the Hicks and Gillett reign, will reverberate around Anfield as a resounding endorsement of the way John W. Henry has run his sports empire.

Joshua Green of Bloomberg.com has encapsulated Henry’s reign at Major League Baseball club Boston Red Sox in a wonderfully revealing article on their baseball dynasty, and similar principles from Henry’s financial and business background have been applied to Liverpool.

The inevitable truth in the sports world these days is that it is becoming more and more of a global business, and Liverpool have, in many aspects, finally caught on.

When looking at models for sustainable growth in world football, perhaps Arsenal is always the go-to club given the building of their new Emirates Stadium and the well-known financial management of Arsene Wenger, but it’s no surprise that Ian Herbert’s column for the Independent draws comparisons with “the kind of machine that the Glazer family have developed at Old Trafford.”

That Manchester United have set up offices around the globe to push their marketing and sponsorship efforts is indicative of their aggressive expansion as a corporation; Herbert writes that their “far-sighted establishment of regional and global corporate sponsorship deals began well over a decade ago.”

This has only recently surfaced at Anfield—though, of course, it is a case of better late than never—with all kinds of backroom appointments boasting titles we would otherwise associate with financial organizations and the business world in general.

Liverpool, who have for years been in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League rankings despite missing out on the Champions League, have finally gotten in the sponsorship act and have begun raking in the millions as a result of the commercial push. Their announcement this week of a partnership with US restaurant chain Subway, per the Liverpool Echo, is only the latest chapter in their fast-growing business empire.

 

 

Liverpool FC/Getty ImagesAnfield Redevelopment: Finally Done Right?

When looking to expand the financial income of football clubs, the issue of stadiums will always come into the equation.

After all, gate receipts was the reason behind Arsenal’s decision to move from Highbury to a new stadium, and Manchester United, having expanded Old Trafford over the years, have been raking in a minimum of £3 million every home match since its capacity has come close to 76,000, per ESPNFC.

So it’s no surprise that much has been made over Liverpool’s next step in terms of their stadium: The question was always whether to develop the iconic Anfield, which would have a capacity ceiling due to construction constraints, or to move into their neighboring Stanley Park, which would require massive payments that might hamper their other financial activity, much as Arsene Wenger has experienced.

This Mirror Football article, in light of the new stadium redevelopment announcements, revisited the failed and widely mocked plans for a 60,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park, which were first suggested in 2002 and then revisited in the Hicks and Gillett reign. They promised a “spade in the ground” within 60 days of their 2007 acquisition of Liverpool, but proved unable to finance the construction project.

By contrast, the £150 million redevelopment currently mooted will cost less than a third of the Stanley Park plans, and will likely eventually take the total seating capacity to 58,000 after expanding two main stands, according to Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.

Surrounding all the recent fanfare has been the club’s shady policy of “buying up houses around the stadium and leaving them empty, driving the local area into dreadful decline” since the 1990s, which David Conn has uncovered in his revealing Guardian column.

The club apparently “used an agency to approach some residents, while some houses were bought by third parties then sold on quickly to the club. That left residents with the belief…that Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low,” a tactic that has not gone down well with local residents.

But as Ayre and the club have published their plans publicly and also apparently been in dialogue with the local councils and residents with their Anfield redevelopment plans, the chance is there for FSG and the current hierarchy to redeem errors made in years past and commit to a bright future for the local area and the local community.

The public consultation of fans’ opinions on the Anfield redevelopment, through a public online survey on their official website, is a good start. The right opportunity has finally arrived for FSG to leave a positive legacy in the city of Liverpool, far beyond just bringing the football club back in the green.

 

 

Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesLooking Ahead to a Promising Future

This week’s announcement of the Subway partnership is the latest sponsorship arrangement Liverpool Football Club have landed in 2014 alone: The likes of Vauxhall and Dunkin’ Donuts all joined the Liverpool corporate partner list this calendar year.

Following the money-spinning and multi-year deals with Standard Chartered Bank and Garuda Indonesia, an airline, Liverpool may even solicit financing for the expansion of the Main Stand via a “lucrative naming rights deal with a major sponsor,” according to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. Following Macron’s naming-rights announcement with Championship club Bolton Wanderers, announced this week as well via BBC Sport, naming rights may well and truly have entered the English football mainstream—Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium are but two famous examples.

For Liverpool, it’s been a story of financial rejuvenation, underlined by Ayre’s comments regarding the long and difficult journey of infrastructure-building at the club since FSG’s takeover:

When I came here seven or eight years ago, there were all these stories of the club shop being closed the day after the [2005] Champions League final [win over AC Milan in Istanbul], and only having a couple of sponsors. Over a long period of time, we have been trying to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure that services a great club like Liverpool.

As the club look to cash in on their successes in the Premier League this season—they confirmed, with their win over Norwich City last Sunday, a lucrative return to the Champions League next season—and continue to bear the fruits of their commercial exploits, their highest-ever annual turnover of £206.1 million this past year will surely be eclipsed considerably in a year’s time.

Add to that the image of the club as a young and energetic force, spearheaded by a visionary young manager in Brendan Rodgers and featuring a host of young stars in the team, as well as the rejuvenated Anfield stadium and surrounding area—confirmed to go through this time—and you have, for the first time in many a season, a healthy outlook for Liverpool Football Club for years to come.

To think that the Reds were “seconds from disaster” before John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group swooped in for their rescue act.

What a roller coaster it’s been—and long may it continue.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Reasons Brendan Rodgers Could Become Liverpool’s Very Own Sir Alex Ferguson

With three Premier League matches to go, Liverpool are well-placed to win their first league title in 24 years.

Brendan Rodgers has rightly received many plaudits for his work with the Reds this season, having succeeded Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish almost two years ago.

Contrast that with the fortunes of Manchester United, who this week dispensed with David Moyes after a disastrous 10 months at the helm of the Old Trafford club. Moyes’ troubles were not helped by the constant presence of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager he replaced at the Red Devils.

The pendulum has seemingly swung back to Liverpool after Ferguson established a Manchester United dynasty, with a 51-point swing between England’s two most historically successful football clubs a damning indictment of Moyes’ disastrous reign.

Meanwhile, at Anfield, Rodgers is quietly going about his task with aplomb and could very well become Liverpool’s very own Sir Alex. Here are 10 reasons why.

 

Roots and Origins

Roots and Origins
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty ImagesIn terms of playing career, Brendan Rodgers and Sir Alex Ferguson experienced contrasting fortunes: The former had his career curtailed by a genetic knee condition, while the latter made over 300 appearances in Scottish football as a forward.

Rodgers started his management career in youth football before graduating to senior-level football with Reading and Watford, then found true success with Swansea City. Ferguson, on the other hand, started at East Stirlingshire and St. Mirren before landing an ultimately successful gig at Aberdeen.

It was at Swansea and Aberdeen, respectively, where the two managers found their first tremendous successes: Rodgers brought a Welsh club into the Premier League for the first time ever, while Ferguson gatecrashed the Old Firm duopoly by winning the Scottish league.

Those jobs proved to be stepping stones toward two of the world’s most storied football clubs.

 

Status of Club

Status of Club
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesWhich brings us to our next comparison: the respective sizes, statures and reputations of their clubs.

That Liverpool and Manchester United are far and away the most successful clubs in English football is evident, though both clubs have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years.

Ferguson was the man to famously “knock Liverpool off their perch,” per Graeme Yorke of The Daily Mail, while Rodgers could be the manager to take advantage of David Moyes’ troubles at United to bring the Reds back to the top of the English game once again.

 

Home Record

Home Record
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesThat Moyes has been criticized so roundly for his poor home record this season is a testament to the stunning successes of Sir Alex, who was responsible for turning Old Trafford into a fortress and “Theatre of Dreams” most seasons.

Rodgers has based his success this season on his record at Anfield, where Liverpool have only drawn once and lost once in 17 league games. They’ve scored 51 goals, an average of more than three per victory.

No wonder they’re calling it “Fortress Anfield” once again.

 

Man Management

Man Management
Sang TanPerhaps one of the most admirable traits Sir Alex showed during his time at the Old Trafford helm was his man-management technique. He was a no-nonsense manager who didn’t tolerate bad behavior but was also able to contain the personalities and egos of world-class stars.

He dealt with his players with consummate ease, with the underlying principle being that none of his charges could ever be bigger than himself or Manchester United, an approach that Rodgers perhaps referenced when he navigated the Luis Suarez transfer saga last summer.

Rodgers has also made a name for himself as an excellent man-manager and motivator: He has been able to coax improved performances out of Stewart Downing and Jon Flanagan, while Jordan Henderson has become a shining example of how Rodgers can help players develop.

 

Youth Development

Youth Development
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesIn the same vein, Rodgers has proven to be equally adept and eager to blood promising youngsters from the Liverpool academy. Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom broke onto the scene last season, while his current league-topping team is one of the Premier League’s youngest.

Sterling in particular has blossomed into one of England’s most exciting wingers, while Rodgers has unlocked Suarez’s potential and turned him into a 30-goal-a-season striker this year.

Ferguson was, of course, famous for his youth development as well, with his famous Class of ’92 one of the most well-known stories in the modern game. His coaching of Cristiano Ronaldo was a highlight of his reign.

 

Footballing Identity

Footballing Identity
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesWhile the tactical approaches of Rodgers and Ferguson are quite different, the footballing identities that their clubs have adopted during their reigns have been equally notable.

Ferguson’s iconic successes in the 1990s came from a classic wing-heavy 4-4-2 formation, while his triumphs in the 2000s featured more flexible approaches, but devastating wing play and exciting counterattacks have become synonymous with Manchester United.

His ability to move with the times on the pitch was reflected by his evolving tactical approaches while staying true to an underlying footballing philosophy.

In the same vein, Rodgers has returned Liverpool to their famous pass-and-move roots and instituted a destructive attacking game as well. Not only are the Reds threatening on the counter, but they also keep possession intelligently and can build play patiently.

Rodgers has also shown tactical flexibility in shaping his team according to the strengths of his players, who are now comfortable in a variety of tactical formations as necessary.

 

Influence over the Media

Influence over the Media
Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty ImagesA glaring difference noticed at Old Trafford this season is the way David Moyes carried out his press conferences—his defeatist and pessimistic attitude were a marked contrast to the bullishness of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson was a master manipulator of the media; his success and longevity in the English game demanded respect and attention. He spoke with authority and arguably even held considerable sway over the Premier League officials.

Rodgers’ approach during his time at Liverpool hasn’t been nearly as controversial or confrontational as Ferguson’s was at United, but his authoritative stance and constant calmness in interviews and press conferences has been a refreshing departure from the at-times outlandish outbursts of Kenny Dalglish.

If Liverpool remain successful, Rodgers will be well on his way to becoming one of Europe’s most esteemed and respected managers as he develops his career at Anfield.

 

Dealing with Pressure

Dealing with Pressure
Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesGreat responsibility and power come with the managerial positions of England’s most successful football clubs, and the pressure that finds its way to their managers can be overwhelming.

Sir Alex dealt with the pressure most of the time in the best way possible: by winning trophies and continuing his impressive record. But he also knew how to manage his players and the media to cast the spotlight on whichever party he thought deserved it at the time. Hindsight tells us that he was by and large very successful.

Rodgers hasn’t even completed two full seasons at Anfield yet, but the trials and tribulations he’s had to go through, especially in his first half-year, showed his calmness and composure in dealing with pressure.

Of course, in an unexpected but exhilarating title run this season, the Liverpool boss has managed to keep the pressure off his players by insisting that they have already overachieved this season—in the process making it Manchester City and Chelsea’s title to lose.

 

Synonymy with Club

Synonymy with Club
Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesOver the years, due to his longevity and success at Manchester United, Ferguson made himself synonymous with the club, in the process making the club’s identity his and vice versa.

He was the one who implemented the attacking football for which United have become famous, as well as all other values, such as the importance the club treat their youth academy.

Rodgers has grown into his role in the Liverpool hot seat to the extent that Reds fans consider him as an embodiment of the “Liverpool way.” His championing of the Hillsborough Justice cause has made him a perfect ambassador for the club, while his well-spoken ways have made him an ideal spokesperson.

 

Start of a New Era?

Start of a New Era?
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesWhen Sir Alex Ferguson took charge at Old Trafford in 1986, Liverpool were the dominant force in English football. It took him four years to win his first piece of silverware at United.

What followed was a legendary period of success in which he defined Manchester United and left behind a lasting legacy both at the club and in the league.

Sir Alex won his last title at United in his last season, which happened to be Brendan Rodgers’ first at Liverpool.

And now, with United having dropped dramatically this season and the Reds poised to win the title in May, what an interesting coincidence it would be if Rodgers put in place the start of a new era at Anfield…

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Norwich vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Nervy Win

A brace from Raheem Sterling and a close-range finish from Luis Suarez were enough to hand Premier League title-chasing Liverpool a victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City, who put up a valiant effort and scored via Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass in a 3-2 thriller at Carrow Road on Sunday.
Sterling opened the scoring after just a few minutes into the match with a peach of a long-range strike, before his cross was perfectly placed to find Suarez, who finished for his 12th Premier League goal against the Canaries.
Hooper pounced on an unconvincing piece of goalkeeping from Simon Mignolet to give the hosts a deserved goal after a period of sustained pressure in the second half, before Sterling ran the length of the field to score a second, albeit via a deflection.

Snodgrass’ emphatic header gave Norwich renewed hope, but the final whistle sounded with the Reds notching an 11th straight victory to go five points above second-placed Chelsea and nine above Manchester City, who have two games in hand.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s nervy but important win on Sunday. Enjoy and have your say in the comments below.

 

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesLiverpool’s victory on Sunday was all about Raheem Sterling: He scored two goals—the first a sumptuous moment of brilliance, the second a result of perseverance—and provided a telling cross for Luis Suarez.

Sterling’s brace brought him to nine goals this Premier League season, his first full season in senior-level football—if this even counts as a “full” season, given his irregular game time at the beginning of the campaign.Getting to double figures for the season is a reflection of just one of the many areas that he has massively improved in the past few months. Add his strength on the ball and admirable defensive tenacity, and Liverpool have one of the most complete wingers in all of England.

To think that he is still 19 years old. If he continues in the same vein, Sterling could go down as one of Liverpool’s best ever.

 

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

When Liverpool surged two goals up in the first half, their fans, and even their players, could have been forgiven for thinking that this would turn out to be another multi-goal rout—and perhaps Suarez would be able to extend his hat-trick record against Norwich.

Not so. Liverpool’s own defending caused themselves so much trouble in the end.Credit must be given to Norwich for coming out of their half-time team talk reinvigorated, and they went at the visitors with a sense of renewed purpose and confidence.

But Simon Mignolet’s punch was far from convincing, which led to Gary Hooper’s goal. Meanwhile, Jon Flanagan should have done way better as a defender who was tasked with marking Robert Snodgrass, a winger, on a routine header from a cross.

Norwich’s pressing also forced Liverpool into numerous hesitant clearances from the back, which put the Reds’ back line under necessary pressure.

 

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesWhen Brendan Rodgers sent on Daniel Agger for Joe Allen late in the second half, it might be looked back upon as a key milestone in his career as Liverpool boss.

Long known for his philosophical and visionary approach to football, he changed tack and sent on an extra body in defence, looking to stifle Norwich’s growing momentum rather than pushing his team forward.Norwich wrestled the game back from Liverpool’s hands, eventually dominating the corner count, overtaking the visitors in terms of shots and even challenging the possession count, after a first half that saw Liverpool play like they were the home team.

But make no mistake: Rodgers will be delighted with the three points from Carrow Road and might even discard everything else. His newfound pragmatism is a sure sign that Liverpool are challenging for top honors right at the business end of the season.

 

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesThat Rodgers turned to Agger to shore up his defence late on against Norwich—a team Liverpool have recently enjoyed a stellar record against—showed everything about how the Canaries played on Sunday.

While their first-half display was far from convincing, they came out of the dressing room after half-time full of energy, confidence and attacking verve and took the game to Liverpool every opportunity they had.

Having spent last summer shelling out for new and highly rated acquisitions like Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer, Norwich City were supposed to finish more toward the mid-table places than toward the foot of the Premier League table.

Instead, they have struggled to find any sort of consistency all season, which has led to their current precarious position and the recent sacking of Chris Hughton.

Their effort against Liverpool was commendable, but with four mammoth fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United to finish off their season, Norwich might have found their energy a little too late in the campaign.

 

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted
Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesYet again, this result might be yet another hard-fought performance that title winners “need to grind out despite not playing well,” as the cliche goes, but also yet again, this result highlights just how shallow Liverpool’s squad depth actually is.

Without Daniel Sturridge, they relied on Raheem Sterling to provide an attacking thrust and a driving edge, and while the No. 31 provided the match-winning moments for the Reds, late substitute Victor Moses offered nothing to show that he was once considered one of the best attacking prospects in all of England.Without Jordan Henderson, Liverpool lacked a meaningful and forceful presence in the final third of the pitch—a midfield runner who could transition their play into attack and make useful runs into the box.

In his place, Lucas offered nothing of note besides a few clumsy fouls and a shocking miss at the end of the match after Luis Suarez set up him with a golden chance to bring the visitors 4-2 up.

While Suarez has proved that he has the quality to lead the line as Liverpool’s lone striker, it might turn out that Henderson will be their biggest miss due to his suspension.

 

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

Saturday’s monumental result at Stamford Bridge, where Gus Poyet’s Sunderland delivered a landmark 2-1 away win (which might yet impact Norwich’s survival status this season), cast the spotlight squarely on Liverpool, who responded accordingly (if not at all emphatically).

Five points separate Chelsea and Liverpool with three matches left to play, while the Reds lead third-placed Manchester City by nine points—though Manuel Pellegrini’s side have two matches in hand.Steven Gerrard said in his post-match interview after the breathless victory over Manchester City that Norwich City would be Liverpool’s biggest game of the season.

While the Liverpool hierarchy will carry the same narrative through the remaining three games, Chelsea’s visit to Anfield next weekend is undoubtedly the match of the season.

It will set the tone for the rest of the title race, and while Liverpool have plenty to look forward to at Anfield and on the back of a stellar winning run, Jose Mourinho has enjoyed an excellent record against the Reds in the league over the years—and his midfield will pose a considerable threat to a Henderson-less Liverpool.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.