Power Ranking the 2014 FIFA World Cup Stadiums

With the World Cup just around the corner, excitement is well and truly brewing. Construction workers in Brazil are frantically putting the finishing touches to a stellar lineup of stadiums ready to host fans the world over for a month.

There have been many obstacles along the way, notably the well-publicized construction delays that have led to criticism directly from FIFA, but it looks as if the construction will be carried over the line in time for the tournament—just.

Here we rank the 12 World Cup stadiums this summer, based on a number of criteria: geographical location, game significance, structural features and importance to the community.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

All stadium information provided by the World Cup Portal, the official Brazilian Federal Government website on the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

Jose Medeiros/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal is last on our list, and its geographical location is a major reason behind its low ranking: There is no team in the state that plays in Brazil’s top football division, making this 41,390-seater a likely candidate to become a white elephant after the World Cup.

After the tournament, the arena will “turn into a new leisure venue for locals,” according to the World Cup Portal, which goes to show just how unimportant this stadium location was in the first place.

 

Game Significance

That the ground will only host four group stage matches doesn’t help its ranking on our list either.

While Chile-Australia, Russia-South Korea, Nigeria-Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan-Colombia are all interesting matchups in their own right, the fact that none of the big boys will be on show in the Arena Pantanal says it all about its significance.

 

Structural Features

Since it is a brand-new stadium for the World Cup, modern architectural features and fan-friendly accessibility factors do redeem the Arena Pantanal somewhat.

It has 90,000 square meters of promenade surrounding it, while 20 entrances, 79 turnstiles, 20 staircases and 12 elevators will provide fans a spacious environment to enter and exit the stadium.

There are also 32 food kiosks, three restaurants, 97 boxes and 66 lavatories, making it a fan-centric modern structure.

 

Importance to the Community

Legacy inside and outside of football is very much part of FIFA’s lexicon when it comes to hosting World Cups across the world.

In the Arena Pantanal’s case, since there is no local first-tier team that will be able to make use of such a grandiose new construction project, there is no choice but for the stadium to turn into a multi-purpose venue after the tournament.

Whether that is “important” to the local community or simply a convenient reason for Cuiaba to be a host city is entirely up to you.

 

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

Jose Zamith/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Arena da Amazonia is another stadium whose geographical location just doesn’t help itself.

Sure, you can argue that hosting a World Cup match so close to the Amazon makes for an exotic experience, but the traffic and the climate there—not to the mention the sheer distance from everywhere else—makes Manaus a royal pain of a venue.

There’s a local adage that goes: “There are two seasons in Manaus—summer and hell.” And there’s a whole article on CBS News (and other various news outlets) on just how challenging the Manaus location is.

 

Game Significance

The most high-profile match here is Group D’s clash between England and Italy—not that Roy Hodgson and his team will enjoy traveling such a long distance for an already tough match on paper.

Manaus was never going to host more than the standard four group-stage games: It would have presented too much of a logistical challenge otherwise.

 

Structural Features

What you can’t deny is the spectacle that the Arena da Amazonia is as an architectural feat. The 45,500-seater takes inspiration from an “indigenous straw basket, full of Brazilian fruit,” according to the World Cup Portal, which is its most distinct feature.

Seven colors in various tones of yellow, orange and red are represented in the stadium seats, while the stadium facade itself looks like a basket from the X-shaped metal modules. (We considered moving it up our rankings because of these unique features.)

 

Importance to the Community

Yet for all of its vibrant colors, the Manaus area really doesn’t have a pressing need for a state-of-the-art new football stadium, not least because of the transportation problems the city will likely encounter for its matches.

Here‘s a revealing statement from the Telegraph that shows just how “important” the stadium will be:

There has been some speculation that it might be used as a prison after the World Cup to relieve overcrowding elsewhere.

Legacy indeed.

 

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

Alexandre Carnieri/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Outside of sports, Curitiba has long been recognized for its central role in Brazilian economics; indeed, it was awarded the Global Sustainable City Award in 2010, which recognized the city’s sustainable urban development.

The Arena da Baixada finds itself in one of the most desirable cities in Brazil.

 

Game Significance

Despite its ideal location, the Arena da Baixada plays host to a disappointing four matches this summer, and none of the fixtures on show in Curitiba is a mouthwatering clash.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 43,000, the Arena da Baixada is a respectable arena that is also the home stadium of Atletico Paranaense, who also own and operate it.

Rising like a concrete box in the middle of the city, the Arena is a structurally impressive stadium: Its ground facade is almost see-through, meaning that people outside of the stadium are able to look inside towards the ground.

The 48 kiosks and four restaurants for food, as well as the 884 underground indoor parking spaces, make it a strong contender in the accessibility category.

 

Importance to the Community

Construction delays and failure to meet the agreed FIFA timeline is one of the reasons the Arena da Baixada ranks so low here. As of May 15, it was one of three World Cup stadiums yet to be completed, according to Yahoo!, while a test match in mid-May saw bulldozers parked outside with construction material piled up.

Curitiba was nearly excluded from the tournament outright because of “chronic delays that were caused mostly by financial shortcomings.” Certainly not encouraging.

 

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

Gabriel Heusi/Associated Press

Geographical Location

In terms of location, the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre is arguably one of the most fitting venues in Brazil to hold World Cup matches. The city features one of the most intense cross-town rivalries in Brazilian football—Internacional and Gremio.

It is also the southernmost stadium out of all 12, which means that colder temperatures are likely.

 

Game Significance

With five matches to host, the Estadio Beira-Rio slightly outperforms its predecessors on this list. France, the Netherlands and Argentina are among the high-profile teams to play their group stages matches in Porto Alegre, while it is also set to host a round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

Unlike the stadiums at Cuiaba and Manaus, the Estadio Beira-Rio is not a completely new structure; rather, the redeveloped design accentuates the already striking facade to present one of the most memorable out of the 12.

It also hosts a respectable 50,000 seats, and after redevelopment, the stands have been moved closer to the pitch for a better fan experience. The 22 bars and snack bars and the 44 shops will add to a few good days out in Porto Alegre.

 

Importance to the Community

With football such a prominent part of the Porto Alegre community, the Estadio Beira-Rio commands an even more premium location, on the banks of the Guaiba River and extremely accessible from the main hotels and the airport.

The only major piece of negative news is that as recently as this March, its mayor claimed that it might drop out of the World Cup because of insufficient funding (via the BBC). For such a football-mad city, that is quite unbelievable.

 

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

David Campbell/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Known as the capital of happiness in Brazil, Salvador is host to the annual Central do Carnaval, and it seems natural to bring the World Cup to a city with a party atmosphere.

Situated close to the seaside, the Arena Fonte Nova enjoys a spectacular view and stands out as a space-age construction amid buildings of modest height in a bustling city.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Fonte Nova will host six matches this summer, with four group matches (featuring such heavyweights as Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and France), a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 55,000, Salvador’s stadium is one of the most impressive constructions to feature this summer. Having been constructed for the Confederations Cup, the Arena Fonte Nova has a distinctive “horseshoe” area that will support 5,000 removable seats for the tournament only.

Perhaps worth noting is the fact that it was the first to secure a naming rights agreement among the 12 World Cup stadiums, with the Brazilian brewery Itaipava signing a sponsorship deal worth $100 million lasting until 2023.

Construction faults led to blind spots from several areas inside the stadium during its inaugural match, however, while heavy rain caused a section of the roof to collapse in May 2013, affecting this otherwise remarkable stadium’s ranking on our list due to safety issues.

 

Importance to the Community

Salvador’s central role in Brazilian entertainment will likely have been a big factor behind the decision to host World Cup matches in the city, while there are already longer-term plans for the stadium after this summer: It will be one of the venues used for the football competition in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

Fabio Lima/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Fortazela is one of three major cities in Brazil’s north-east alongside Recife and Salvador, both of which are also World Cup host cities this summer.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Castelao will play host to six matches this summer, including four group-stage matches, a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

Besides featuring crowd favorites such as Uruguay, Germany and Ivory Coast, Fortaleza will also see the Brazilian national team play on home soil in a Group A game against Mexico, which is sure to be a spectacle.

 

Structural Features

The Arena Castelao seats an impressive 63,903 people and has been refurbished to make the World Cup this summer.

An interesting architectural feature is its glass skin, which reduces heat inside the stadium. Its huge roof is also coated with a material that “allows for the circulation of air in the stadium,” and “provides soundproofing and ideal shade for television broadcasting.”

 

Importance to the Community

Surprisingly, the Arena Castelao has hosted two large-scale and high-profile religious events. In 1980, Pope John Paul II brought 120,000 followers to the celebrations of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress at the stadium.

In 1995, 50,000 followers gathered for the farewell of Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, the archbishop of Fortaleza, confirming the stadium (then yet to be redeveloped) as an important center-piece in its citizens’ lives.

 

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

Ana Araujo/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Itaipava Arena Pernambuco is situated in the western suburbs of the Recife metropolitan area, one of the most important geographic locations in all of Brazil.

Recife itself is known as the Brazilian Venice, what with the rivers, small islands and more than 50 bridges found in its city center. Its famous 8km Boa Viagem Beach adds to its overall allure as an important cultural and leisure destination.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Pernambuco’s fixture list isn’t terribly impressive: Apart from four group-stage games that may throw up a few interesting twists in the World Cup, it will only host an additional round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

The seating capacity of the Arena is 46,000 and it’s a standard modern stadium designed to be accessible and convertible. There are plans for it to be used as a venue for concerts, conventions and other events after the World Cup.

The strong emphasis on sustainability impressed us. A solar power plant implemented in the stadium will generate 1MW of installed capacity and will be able to meet the average consumption of 6,000 people when the venue is not filled. Impressive.

 

Importance to the Community

One of the things that attracted us to Recife was its potential for a strong and positive legacy after the World Cup. According to the World Cup Portal, the Pernambuco represents the beginning of a new urban center named the “World Cup City,” a 242-hectare area that “aims to bring together housing, offices, educational institutions and leisure areas.”

The completed area will include a university campus, a hotel and convention center with other commercial, residential and entertainment complexes, and is predicted to generated 10,000 direct jobs until 2024. A noble effort if it ends up going through.

 

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

Jobson Galdino/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Natal is well-known for its tourist attractions, with its natural scenic landscapes, beaches, historical monuments and the famous Carnatal, giving the city a unique aura.

The Arena das Dunas finished construction in January 2014, replacing the old Machadao football stadium that was demolished in 2011 to make way for the new project.

 

Game Significance

For a stadium of such breathtaking beauty, it is a travesty that it will only host one truly high-profile match (Italy vs. Uruguay in Group D) among its slated lineup of four group-stage matches.

 

Structural Features

Probably one of the most striking and visually stunning stadiums in World Cup history, the 42,000-seat Arena das Dunas features a facade and roof made up of 20 petal-shaped modules, “designed to be higher on one of the stadium’s side, giving the impression that sand dunes—common in the region—are moving,” according to the World Cup Portal.

Sustainability, now a key element in all stadium construction, also plays an important role in Natal’s World Cup stadium: Its roof captures rainwater, up to 3,000 cubic meters of which may be reused in its lavatories and for pitch irrigation.

 

Importance to the Community

Just like Recife project, the Arena das Dunas is planned to be the center of an exciting new district, featuring a shopping center, commercial buildings, world-class hotels and even an artificial lake.

 

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

Tomas Faquini/Associated Press

Geographical Location

There aren’t many locations more high profile than a capital city, and that’s exactly what Brasilia is. A relatively recently planned and developed city, Brasilia provided a more central location for a capital city than Rio de Janeiro.

Given its political importance, Brasilia naturally pays less attention to football. Yet the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is still a force to be reckoned with.

 

Game Significance

The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha will live up to its capital-city billing and play host to seven matches this summer: four group-stage games, in addition to a round-of-16 match, a quarterfinal and the third-place match.

Out of the four group-stage matches, Colombia vs. Ivory Coast and Portugal vs. Ghana will provide two interesting spectacles.

 

Structural Features

Named after legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha, the stadium is one of the most easily recognizable in Brazil and hosts a remarkable 71,000 people, making it the perfect venue for high-profile matches in the World Cup this summer.

Its distinctive UFO-like design, which looks like a narrow bowl supported by a multitude of columns around the side, adds to the myth that surrounds one of the most iconic venues in world football.

 

Importance to the Community

Unfortunately, this is where the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha loses out. Not only will football continue to play second fiddle to politics, but the stadium itself will court controversy due to the sheer amount of money invested in it.

According to this AP story, fraudulent billing has led to a huge increase in building cost: At $900 million, it is now the second-most expensive stadium in the world, despite there being no major professional team in Brasilia. Authorities will need to navigate the political minefield or risk having the first major demonstrations start right under their noses.

 

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

Marcus Desimoni/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Estadio Mineirao is the largest football stadium in the state of Minas Gerais, where Belo Horizonte is its most populous city.

Its bustling activity makes it one of the most important cities in the south-eastern region of Brazil, while its urban planning—inspired by that of Washington, D.C.—has won international accolades for urban revitalization and food security.

 

Game Significance

Now we’re getting right into the thick of the action. Besides hosting four group games, Belo Horizonte will also feature a round-of-16 match and a semifinal, making it one of the most high-profile venues in the World Cup.

 

Structural Features

The Estadio Mineirao first opened back in 1965, making it one of Brazil’s most iconic football stadiums in its long and illustrious history. Its post-refurbishment 62,160 seats make it one of the continent’s largest, while its distinctive circular, Coliseum-like structure make it one of the most recognizable venues in South America.

Once again, sustainability is the hip word of the moment: 90 percent of the rubble produced by the building site was reused, according to the World Cup Portal, while a rooftop solar power plant converts enough energy to cater to the demand of 1,200 medium-sized households. Not a bad feat at all.

 

Importance to the Community

By way of sheer longevity, the Estadio Mineirao has become an institution in the minds of the Brazilian football public.

The promenade area outside the stadium itself will be used as a social space to host events alongside leisure, cultural and sporting events staged inside the arena.

 

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

Mauricio Simonetti/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The home stadium of Brazilian powerhouse Corinthians will be called Arena de Sao Paulo during the World Cup.

The city of Sao Paulo itself is well-known: It is the largest city in Brazil and plays a huge role in the country’s commercial, financial and entertainment activity.

 

Game Significance

Probably the second-most important stadium in terms of game significance this summer, the Arena de Sao Paulo will host four group games, including the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, as well as other heavy-hitters such as Uruguay vs. England, the Netherlands vs. Chile and South Korea vs. Belgium.

It will also host a round-of-16 match, as well as a semifinal.

 

Structural Features

For a stadium of such high profile and importance, the Arena de Sao Paulo actually has a surprisingly low standard capacity. It was only to meet the FIFA requirements for an opening-match stadium that 21,200 removable seats were added to form the current 68,000-seat capacity.

Structurally, it is one of the most impressive World Cup stadiums on show this summer. The stadium complex will feature a pedestrian mall as well as other spectacles such as a performance fountain and large gardens.

Stadium acoustics were also a key consideration during the planning and building of the stadium—it will duplicate the current noise level supporters create during games—while, as in several other host stadiums, rainwater reusability is a key sustainability feature.

The Sao Paulo project was awarded the Best Commercial Project and the Best Overall Project awards in the 2011 Grande Premio de Arquitetura Corporativa.

 

Importance to the Community

Public accessibility and capacity management are two of the most impressive features of the Arena de Sao Paulo.

Express trains will connect to the stadium during the World Cup, linking it to the city center in just 20 minutes, according to FIFA.com, while the metro and train stations have the capacity to handle 100,000 passengers an hour.

 

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio de Janeiro)

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio De Janeiro)

Daniel Basil/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Is it any surprise that the most high-profile stadium in Brazil will host the most-profile match in the World Cup this summer in its most high-profile city?

Rio de Janeiro is arguably Brazil’s most famous city—and deservedly so, given its iconic status in both tourism and popular culture. It’s known for its natural settings and historical monuments, while its beaches and carnival atmosphere only add to the cultural significance of the city.

 

Game Significance

You can’t get any bigger than this. Forget that the titular Group B clash between Spain and Chile will take place at the Estadio do Maracana; forget that six other matches will take place; the Maracana will host the final, which might very well feature the home nation.

 

Structural Features

Having first opened in 1950, the Maracana is probably the arena most steeped in Brazilian football tradition out of all the 12 World Cup stadiums, making it the perfect choice to host the showpiece event of the whole tournament.

A major reconstruction project was undertaken to prepare for the 2014 World Cup: A new one-tier seating bowl, featuring yellow, blue and white seats alongside the green pitch make up the Brazilian national colors, while a new fiberglass roof was installed.

 

Importance to the Community

To see the cultural importance of the Maracana to the Brazilian public, see the number of non-World Cup events that take place at the stadium.

Besides the record-breaking concerts put on by the likes of Paul McCartney and Madonna, the Maracana will also host both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

How Brazil Hopes to Get Rich off the 2014 World Cup

With less than two weeks left before the World Cup kicks off this summer in Brazil, all the attention has understandably been on the football side of things, with all participants playing warm-up friendlies to ready their squad for the tournament.

For the Brazilian government and footballing authorities, who have attracted criticism for repeatedly missing construction deadlines for the World Cup stadiums, perhaps the recent attention to the friendlies makes for a welcome respite.

After all, most of the coverage in the past year or so (this is an example from The Washington Post) has focused on the state of the host nation. (I wrote an article on that only a few months ago.)

But the public protests in Brazil have not gone unnoticed. In fact, the demonstrations that started during last year’s Confederations Cup have provided a controversial backdrop to the upcoming World Cup: How will officials be held accountable for the massive overspending they have committed in their preparations for the tournament?

It is imperative that there is an answer to how Brazil and its citizens stand to benefit from hosting a glamour tournament like a World Cup—not just from glory and hype alone.

Let’s take a look at how the 2014 host nation hopes to make money off the latest installment of the World Cup—but as we see, not all the hopes and proclamations may ring true.

 

Jobs and the Local Economy

 

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

 

Brazil’s tourism minister, Vinicius Lages, told AFP, via Yahoo: “The Cup is not an economic panacea but a catalyst for Brazilian development. It was a key factor behind Brazil finally overhauling its infrastructure.”

The World Cup, he predicted, would add about $13.6 billion to the Brazilian economy—already the world’s seventh largest—in 2014 alone.

It doesn’t stop there.

report by Ernst & Young Terco on the social and economic impacts of the 2014 World Cup concluded that the tournament “should generate 3.63 million jobs/year and R$63.48 billion income for the population in the period 2010-2014, besides an additional R$18.13 billion in tax collections.”

EY’s projected impact on the national production of goods and services stood at R$112.79 billion, while the sectors most benefiting from the event—defined as economic activities with major increased output—were civil construction, food and beverage, business services, utilities, information services, and tourism and hospitality.

All of which sounds glamorous and sexy, but there have been contrasting reports on the actual long-term gains as a result of hosting the World Cup—and they aren’t quite as pretty.

Moody’s report on the impact of the tournament on different industry sectors concluded that “the 32-day event will provide short-lived sales increases that are unlikely to materially affect earnings and disruptions associated with traffic, crowding and lost work days will take a toll on business.”

Then there is the very real possibility that the “World Cup effect”—defined by IBTimes.com as the phenomenon of countries being more harmed economically from hosting the event, as seen from South Africa 2010—may take hold in Brazil.

Four years on, the same uncertain material benefits from a World Cup are still yet to be transparent. As cited in the IBTimes.com article,University of Maryland professor Dennis Coates noted that even the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.—claimed as one of the most successful and transformational ever—ended in an income reduction of $712 million for the average host city relative to predictions.

 

The Tourism Industry

 

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

 

Vinicius Lummertz, Brazil’s national secretary of public policies, toldThe Rio Times last November of his optimism that Brazil’s tourism industry would stand to gain enormously from the World Cup:

We hope tourism in Brazil rises to a new level after the World Cup. With infrastructure improvements that increase the competitiveness of Brazil as a tourist destination, and the high exposure of the country abroad, I expect to see a significant increase in foreign tourists—but mainly more Brazilians traveling through Brazil.

The Tourism Ministry predicted that tourists home and abroad would spend R$25 billion during the tournament, when 600,000 foreign and three million Brazilian travelers are estimated to visit the country.

The massive spending on infrastructure by the Brazilian government in recent years in preparation for the World Cup has likely been to maximize the revenue the country can make during the tournament—and with an eye on the future as well.

The EY study quoted above addressed such needs for investment in order for tourism income to be realized:

Once the actions that are required to enable the country to capitalize on the opportunities generated by the World Cup are completed, the event may result in an increase of up to 79% in the international tourist inflow to Brazil in 2014, with even possibly higher impacts in subsequent years. In the period 2010-2014, that figure should be as high as 2.98 million additional visitors.

The tourist inflow directly and indirectly induced by the World Cup is expected to account for additional income up to R$5.94 billion for Brazilian companies.

Yet before Brazil can throw a metaphorical carnival to celebrate their upcoming economic benefits, a few sobering updates on the tourism front may dampen the mood.

According to Claire Rive of The Rio Times, “The tourism sector in Brazil has had to adjust their inflated estimates concerning the expected influx of tourists…leading to big discounts on local and international flights and accommodation during the tournament.”

The reduction in projected tourist numbers has led to discounts on airfare prices and package tours, while demand for accommodation has “substantially decreased and prices have decreased.”

 

And, of Course, Corruption

 

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

 

That a World Cup involves staggering amounts of money and an opportunity for businessmen and government officials to make a quick buck is no surprise—and Christopher Gaffney, professor at Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University, agrees strongly.

“There’s collusion of the Brazilian governmental elite with the business elite, and the game is rigged in their favor,” Gaffney said(via Yahoo). “This was an opportunity to make a lot of money and that’s what’s happened.”

But adding to the depressing reality that corruption will form a huge proportion of Brazil’s money made from the World Cup is the astonishingly public manner in which the embezzlement has been carried out.

See the case of the lead builder of Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha Stadium, already the world’s second-most expensive football stadium.

The Associated Press ran a story this May alleging that Andrade Gutierrez, a construction conglomerate, and Via Engenharia, an engineering firm, made up a construction consortium that billed the government $1.5 million for the transportation of prefabricated grandstands for the Brasilia stadium—a fee that was initially thought to cost just $4,700.

Auditors pointed out that “wasteful cutting practices or poor planning added $28 million in costs,” while “$16 million was lost when Brasilia’s government inexplicably failed to enforce a fine against Andrade Gutierrez for a five-month delay in completion of the main portion of the stadium.”

According to Al Jazeera, the same firm made political contributions totaling $37.1 million after confirmation of which cities would be hosting tournament matches, and after it was awarded stakes in contracts totaling “nearly one-fourth of the World Cup’s total price tag,” four years after it contributed a measly $73,180 in municipal elections, a 500-fold increase.

Moreover, auditors found $275 million in alleged price gouging with just three-fourths of the $900 million Mane Garrincha Stadium project.

The most damning part?

“Funding for Brasilia’s stadium relies solely on financing from the federal district’s coffers, meaning every cent comes from taxpayers.”

What comes around, goes around.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Top Summer Transfer Need for Every Premier League Club

As we eagerly await the start of the Brazil World Cup in a few weeks, the transfer rumour mill has gone into frenzy after the Premier League season ended earlier this month.

Every day we see new links between players and clubs, new tantrums thrown by agents and new bullish proclamations by managers and owners. But which of those rumors carelessly thrown about actually have some legs to them?

Here’s a guide on the top summer transfer need for every Premier league club. Let us know your picks in the comments below.

 

Arsenal: Defensive Midfielder

A thrilling FA Cup win over Hull City finally gave Arsenal a piece of silverware to cheer about and overshadow another fourth-place finish in the Premier League.

It wasn’t for a lack of leadership in defence: Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny formed an excellent partnership. Nor for a lack of creativity and productivity in attack, either; with an attack comprising Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud, how could any team be found wanting up front?

With Aaron Ramsey storming back to form after his injury layoff and Theo Walcott still to return—their absences made a major impact on the Gunners’ season—it is the core of the midfield that needs strengthening.

Without steel and leadership at the base of a young and attack-minded midfield, Arsenal at times looked soft last season and were cruelly exposed by teams pushing through the middle. The lack of a world-class enforcer and a leader by example—Mikel Arteta, sadly, isn’t either—has cost Arsene Wenger’s side in the league.

Arsenal will probably look to add to their defence and attack this summer, but if they finish the transfer window without having brought in a defensive midfielder, they could be contemplating another season without lasting the title race.

 

Aston Villa: Striker

It wasn’t quite an example of “second-season syndrome” by Christian Benteke—he still hit 10 league goals. But perhaps it was a case of all immediate competitors strengthening well, making Aston Villa look poor in comparison.

When Benteke sustained his long injury layoff and would miss the end of the season, we saw how hard Villa had to graft in order to secure results.

Sure, Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor (who was also sidelined through injury) provided pace and width, while Fabian Delph supplied drive and power through the middle, but in an otherwise well-balanced team, Villa have lacked options up front.

With owner Randy Lerner putting the club up for sale and manager Paul Lambert’s future up in the air, turbulent times lie ahead. They can’t start the season with just Benteke as their only senior striker, and Darren Bent’s return from a dismal loan spell at Fulham won’t add much to the equation.

 

Burnley: Central Midfielder

On paper, Burnley probably go into the summer with the worst squad in the Premier League. Yet this is a team that scored 72 goals in the Championship last season—the fourth most in the league—and conceded just 37—the league’s best defensive record.

So perhaps, even with well-known Premier League names few and far between in defence and up front, Burnley can be spared premature criticism—but that doesn’t mean that their midfield is close to ready for the top flight.

An already lightweight midfield has been further weakened after the end of Michael Kightly’s loan from Stoke City. As Sean Dyche’s side will find out, the Premier League is a whole different environment than the Championship.

If they don’t strengthen their midfield core, they won’t enjoy their battles in the centre of the pitch next season.

 

Chelsea: Striker

When it comes to Chelsea, the answer is easy: striker.

Jose Mourinho has a world-class team at his disposal, from their dual option of Petr Cech and the returning Thibaut Courtois in goal right up to the brilliant attacking midfield line of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian et al. What he lacked all of last season was a world-class striker to lead the line.

Hence the rumors of Diego Costa and Mario Mandzukic moving to Stamford Bridge this summer. The Blues will be prepared to spend on a big-name striker to deliver the goals when they need to grind out a result next season.

Oh, and Didier Drogba is available on a free.

 

Crystal Palace: Striker

It wasn’t as if he lit Selhurst Park on fire last season, but when Crystal Palace confirmed that Marouane Chamakh may leave when his one-year contract at the club expires at the end of next month, it became patently clear that Tony Pulis has lots to do to strengthen his attack.

Dwight Gayle showed in his last couple of games that he might just have the ability to be a Premier League player—despite costing a hefty amount when he signed last summer—but he alone won’t be able to lead Palace to two consecutive seasons in the top flight.

Pulis’ teams are known for their rugged defence, while Mile Jedinak has led a disciplined midfield this season. Both areas will need improvements, but the Eagles only have two recognized senior strikers in their first-team squad—Gayle and Glenn Murray—if they do not reach an agreement with Chamakh, or a deal with loanee Cameron Jerome.

They might not be relegation favourites next season, such is the influence of Pulis, but Palace will have to bring in reinforcements if they are to compete.

 

Everton: Striker

In Roberto Martinez’s hands, Everton appear to have a bright future. Their young and energetic team turned heads with their exciting style last season, while Martinez’s eagerness to promote youth can only be a good thing for the Premier League.

Yet it would be foolish to disagree completely with those jibes that they wouldn’t have achieved their fifth-place finish without their loan players—Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku played huge parts in Everton’s season.

While Barry might end up returning to Goodison Park on a permanent transfer—the Blues have also been linked with fellow Manchester City reject (and former old boy) Jack Rodwell—the issue of striking options remains a tricky one.

Lukaku may set his sights on becoming a first-team player for Chelsea or become involved in a deal for a big-name striker. Steven Naismith, while a useful and hardworking option, doesn’t have the required quality for a top-four push, and Arouna Kone, injured or not, is getting on.

Get in a genuinely exciting striker, and Everton can really look to push on next season.

 

Hull City: Central Midfielder

At the start of last season, quite a few of us had Hull City as relegation favorites. Their squad just didn’t seem up to the task for a long and challenging Premier League campaign.

But Steve Bruce has proved to be a reliable Premier League manager over the years, and so it proved again. Hull surprised many onlookers with their defensive strength, led by the impressive Curtis Davies, and the KC Stadium became a tricky place for teams to visit.

A previously toothless attack, especially after Robbie Brady’s injury, was augmented with the additions of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long in January—a Premier League-level strikeforce, at last.

What’s left now is to add in the centre. Jake Livermore’s impact after signing on a season-long loan from Tottenhm Hotspur will likely lead to Bruce going all out to secure his permanent transfer this summer, and reunite him with Tom Huddlestone.

Hull would do well to strengthen their central core. They might need more than Livermore.

 

Leicester City: Striker

The runaway champions in England’s second tier, Leicester City, will bring a decent squad to the Premier League next season, with an experienced defence strengthened by the free transfer signing of Matthew Upson.

A midfield lacking Premier League experience has just been significantly improved by the arrival of Marc Albrighton, who had been released by Aston Villa (per BBC Sport).

While David Nugent is a 20-goal Championship striker, he has shown to be out of depth at the Premier League level, while 16-goal Jamie Vardy isn’t likely to strike fear into his opponents’ hearts next season.

Nigel Pearson will be acutely aware of his team’s deficiencies up front as Leicester approach their summer transfer activity.

 

Liverpool: Central Defender

By now, it’s well-known that Liverpool’s title challenge last season fell short because of their leaky defence. A goals-conceded tally of 50 proved too much to make up for, even with a forward line as prolific as theirs.

As the season went on, it appeared that Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho cemented themselves as Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice central defensive partnership. Summer addition Kolo Toure proved to be a shaky option, while Daniel Agger appeared to have failed to convince the Liverpool manager.

Yet Skrtel and Sakho themselves proved defensive liabilities as well, not least with their errant positioning and erratic concentration. The lack of leadership at the back was evident all season, but made especially clear in their capitulation against Crystal Palace in the penultimate game of the season.

For a side that finished two points behind the eventual winners, Liverpool still have plenty to do on the transfer front; their current squad will take lots of strengthening if they are to sustain their level of performances through till next season, given their Champions League commitments.

But central defence trumps all other positions in terms of transfer need. Urgent transfer need.

 

Manchester City: Central Defender

In the end, the best team always wins the league. Manchester City might have spent the fewest days at the top of the tree out of the top four over the course of the season, but their squad proved most able to last the title charge and deservedly lifted the Premier League trophy.

You’d be hard pressed to find a weakness in Manuel Pellegrini’s side, such is the quality throughout the entire team and across all positions.

If there’s one area that needs strengthening, it’d be at the centre of their defence. Despite Vincent Kompany’s nomination into the Team of the Year, his performances didn’t match the consistency and excellence of previous campaigns, while Martin Demichelis only came into his own in the last couple of months.

To handle the attacking threat of the strongest teams in Europe, an upgrade is needed, especially on the left side of the central defence. Matija Nastasic was unable to sustain his debut-season form due to injury and City may need to look elsewhere to strengthen.

 

Manchester United: Central Defender

How the mood at a club can change because of a new manager. It seems like it’s been an age since David Moyes was managing Manchester United, and now that Louis van Gaal is on board, United might have a manager whose clout they badly needed in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Not that this changes anything in terms of the United squad though; besides an all-star selection of attacking players, they have plenty to do in the midfield and defence.

Though Van Gaal needs to upgrade on Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand leaving, his most urgent need is to strengthen his central defence. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have yet to develop into the centre-back partnership that Ferguson thought they would.

Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra remain a defensive liability, but without a reliable and solid centre-back, United are left easily exposed by better forward lines—we only have to look at Moyes’ defensive record at Old Trafford this season as a harrowing example.

 

Newcastle United: Striker

Out of the 43 goals Newcastle United scored this season, Loic Remy, on loan from Queens Park Rangers, scored 14 and Yohan Cabaye, now at Paris Saint-Germain, scored 7. That’s almost half the total tally.

Besides that? Yoan Gouffran netted six and Moussa Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa netted three apiece Most alarmingly, Shola Ameobi, whose contract has now expired, and Papiss Cisse, he who enjoyed that single half-season of scoring form, both registered a paltry total of two.

Forget their needs in defence and midfield, this summer is all about finding a striker for Newcastle. If they don’t manage to bring in a quality option to replace Remy up front by the start of September, they could be looking at a long, hard few months before January comes around.

And that wouldn’t be fun for anyone.

 

Queens Park Rangers: Central Defender

Considering that Queens Park Rangers’ wage bill was higher than Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid last season (per the Guardian), it’s perhaps no surprise that QPR ultimately won promotion back to the Premier League.

In their ranks are a whole host of players with extensive Premier League experience, as well as international stars, some of them remnants of their failed battle against relegation in the 2012/13 season.

Having completed the Championship campaign with Richard Dunne and Clint Hill as their defensive mainstays—as well as a group of underwhelming Premier League players—QPR are most in need of reinforcements in the center of their defence.

The creaking legs of Dunne and Hill won’t be pretty to watch against the top flight’s young and sprightly forward lines.

 

Southampton: Striker

After a successful season and a half at the Saints helm, Mauricio Pochettino and his young charges are reportedly the subject of intense interest from elsewhere in the Premier League, and Southampton may end up selling some of their most important players this summer.

From Adam Lallana to Luke Shaw, from Jay Rodriguez to Dejan Lovren—not to mention Pochettino himself—the stars of the Saints’ campaign may be moving on. Make no mistake, this will be a defining few months for Southampton’s short- to medium-term future.

It’s a good thing that they have a stellar youth academy to fall back on. Callum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse are but two of the hot prospects ready to step up in case of departures, though the potential exits of Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Rodriguez could have big ramifications on Southampton’s upcoming campaign.

Even if they start next season with their full squad intact, it looks as if central striker may be their most pressing transfer need. With Rickie Lambert not getting any younger, Rodriguez’s absence towards the end of the season severely dented the Saints’ firepower.

Daniel Osvaldo didn’t work out and they need another striking option to deliver the goals and to take over Lambert’s mantle when the time comes—and hope that the majority of the current crop are still around to ease that transition.

 

Stoke City: Striker

Mark Hughes’ Stoke City proved to be a well-rounded team in terms of goals scored—their goals last season were shared among a sizeable number of their squad, which explains their ninth-place finish.

Leading the way was Peter Crouch with eight, and their second striker on the list was Peter Odemwingie with five, followed by Marko Arnautovic, who played more on the flanks, with four. With Hannover striker Mame Biram Diouf apparently nearing a move to the Britannia Stadium, according to ESPNFC, it might come as a surprise that our tip for their biggest transfer need is up front.

But with a decent Premier League-level midfield capable of scoring goals and a notoriously rugged defence, it’s their attack that most needs a shot in the arm in terms of goal return.

Diouf will add to the squad but does not provide the instant upgrade up front. Crouch isn’t getting any younger and Arnautovic needs to turn his quality and creativity into goal-getting productivity. We’d be surprised if Diouf was the Potters’ only striking addition this summer.

 

Sunderland: Central Midfielder

Yes, we are suggesting that Sunderland—having lost Fabio Borini back to Liverpool and who go into the summer with just Connor Wickham and Jozy Altidore as their established strikers—should place their transfer priorities in central midfield and not up front.

Because we’ve seen the style of play that Gus Poyet wants to impose in his Black Cats: an aesthetically pleasing, passing-heavy, attacking side. That means that the midfield is arguably their most important position on the pitch.

It doesn’t help that both Jack Colback and Sebastian Larsson are out of contract this summer. While Liam Bridcutt was an interesting signing who provided plenty of glimpses of his composure and quality on the ball, the loan return of Ki Sung-yueng back to Swansea City does not bode well for Sunderland.

Ki’s passing and vision—not to mention the odd goal or two from midfield—were crucial to the Black Cats’ survival last season and will undoubtedly be missed. His role at the base of the midfield, playing simple passes to spread play and alleviate pressure off his midfield colleagues, will need to be reprised next year, and Poyet doesn’t have anyone of Ki’s ilk in his current squad.

 

Swansea City: Central Defender

With 54 goals scored and 54 goals conceded, Swansea City were the only side to finish the season with a goal difference of zero. A testament to their attacking ability—they were joint-eighth in terms of goals scored—but an indication of their defensive vulnerability as well.

Jonjo Shelvey proved to be an inspired signing last summer, while Wilfried Bony—who, after his exploits last season, will surely be on the shopping list of many a club looking for a powerful line-leading striker—will resume his telepathic partnership with Michu if both stay fit and remain at the club.

So that’s the attack sorted, and given Garry Monk’s fondness for attacking football, he will no doubt be on the lookout for attacking reinforcements as well.

But the position they most urgently need an upgrade in is at centre-back, where Chico Flores regressed considerably and became a defensive liability with his lapses in concentration and penchant for the bizarre.

For much of the season, Swansea spent their campaign worrying about a possible drop back into the Championship. They need a more reliable defensive partnership to ensure that doesn’t happen next term—goals or no goals.

 

Tottenham Hotspur: Full-Back

With the squad that they have, and the money that they spent building it, perhaps Tottenham Hotspur were the real underachievers of last season.

There is quality all across the team. Even if Roberto Soldado proved to be a flop in his first season, perhaps there could be a way to make a partnership with Emmanuel Adebayor work. Then there’s the small matter of a quality midfield.

Despite a relative weakness at the back, their most pressing need is on both flanks in defence. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose showed glimpses of their promise but failed to deliver regularly, while Kyle Naughton is simply not up to Premier League standard.

Instead of starting Naughton (or Ezekiel Freyers) as a back-up or shunting Jan Vertonghen out as a makeshift left-back, what Spurs should do is invest in an upgrade in their full-back positions.

 

West Bromwich Albion: Striker

It is a curiosity that West Bromwich Albion, given the squad they possess, had to wait until the penultimate game of the season (let’s face it—Norwich City were as good as relegated by then) to secure their Premier League status.

On paper, they have a good goalkeeper, a decent defence, and a strong midfield core. What’s left is a forward line capable of scoring goals and adding points on the board.

Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino were tied as top scorers for the Baggies last season with just five, while their second most prolific scorer was midfielder Morgan Amalfitano, who is now back at Marseille after his loan spell at the Hawthorns.

Regardless of the burgeoning interest in Berahino, West Brom badly need a more threatening presence alongside him up front: Victor Anichebe might bring the hulk and power, but he is far from an established Premier League-level marksman.

 

West Ham United: Full-Back

Despite reports that West Ham United will bring in a new attacking coach next season to save Hammers fans from the dour, predictable style of football of Sam Allardyce (per BBC Sport), their attacking style will still centre heavily around target man Andy Carroll and the onrushing Kevin Nolan.

We saw last season that when both players are fit and on form—presumably, Carroll will be next season with a summer off and a full pre-season schedule under his belt after returning from injury—their understanding and partnership can actually be quite fruitful.

West Ham are well set up to service these two key men, with delivery from wide from Stewart Downing, Matt Jarvis and Matthew Taylor, while Mohamed Diame and Ravel Morrison—if they can hold onto him—provide pace, power and drive through the middle. Add the trademark rugged central defence, and it’s actually a quite decent Hammers squad.

But they need to upgrade their full-backs. Guy Demel is clumsy and doesn’t offer much going forward, while Allardyce is short of a starting full-back after Pablo Armero’s loan from Napoli finished and George McCartney’s release.

Imagine what two full-backs capable of bombing down the flanks, putting in good crosses and dovetailing with the wingers in front of them could do to West Ham’s attack. Is that too much to ask for?

 

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.

Liverpool, English Premier League, Football Business