Tag Archives: English Premier League

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

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

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

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

 

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star

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

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

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

 

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

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

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

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

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

 

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?

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

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

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

 

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted

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

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

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

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

 

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season

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

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

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

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

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

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Is a European Super League an Inevitable Next Step in World Football?

The past couple of weeks in European football have thrown up some interesting scenarios, perhaps unthinkable just a few years ago, which have thrown into question the competitiveness and balance even in the leading domestic leagues around Europe.

When Chelsea loaned Thibaut Courtois, then one of the hottest goalkeeping talents in the world, almost three years ago to Atletico Madrid, surely they didn’t expect to have to waive a contract clause at the prospect of facing their loanee in the Champions League semifinal.

When Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga and upset the status quo just a few years ago, surely they didn’t expect that a comprehensive 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in the league would mean as little as it just did, given that Pep Guardiola’s side had just become the quickest team ever to win the German championship.

These are but two incidents that have reflected the reality of European football these days (and there are many more—think Bayern’s ruthless snapping up of Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund, supposedly their closest rivals).

And the reality is that, while the top-tier leagues, especially in England with the Premier League, have started to break away from their lesser domestic competitions, those cream-of-the-crop clubs at the top of the European game have begun to form a mini exclusive club of their own.

Perhaps it’s time to consider not whether a European Super League would be a fun and interesting side project for club owners to think about, but whether it is actually an inevitable next step in world football.

 

Kerstin Joensson

 

Booming broadcast and television revenues

It’s hard to point a finger at a definitive starting point for this spiraling breakaway of the European elite, but BT Sport’s staggering £897 million three-year exclusive deal to broadcast live Champions League and Europa League games starting from 2015, announced last November via BBC Sport, is a good start.

Given the amount of money involved in the European game, it’s no surprise that the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool have made qualifying for the Champions League essentially a barometer of their season-to-season success in the Premier League.

Of course, it’s a cyclical game—perhaps even a snowball effect—in which money drives commercialization and encourages clubs and league administrators to package the sport as a “consumer product,” which focuses on entertainment value in the form of stadiums, overall team play and individual superstars, which boosts widespread interest and thus potential income, and so on.

But it’s not as if those involved in the beautiful game at the top level are trying their level best to keep the game devoid of any adverse effects from the money involved. Far from it.

Just this January, the Telegraph reported that the Premier League wanted to bring forth the next “auction” of football broadcasting rights by six months, which sources allegedly claimed was a show of “opportunism” from the league in “attempting to exploit the fierce competition between BSkyB and BT, and the resulting increase in the value of sports rights.”

As the game of football evolves at the top level and clubs become ever more like global corporations, even the ordinary football fan has evolved into being a consumer from their clubs’ point of view.

And how do businesses engage with their consumers? By providing high-quality goods (in this case, high-quality performances with a dose of superstardom, delivered at every broadcast opportunity across every possible channel).

A further case illustrating the financial explosion of the modern game once again focuses on the aggressive increase of Premier League prize money: A Telegraph report in May 2013 mentioned that Manchester United’s £60.8 million in TV money, a record sum for a Premier League champion, would be eclipsed the following season by the club that finishes bottom of the league because of new broadcasting deals.

 

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

 

Exponential inflation of player valuations

The sheer amount of money involved in top-level football highlights the indispensability of the sport to TV networks and channels, which in turn drives up their bids to carry these matches.

But from both the clubs’ and the fans’ points of view, this is merely a reflection of an ever-increasing and ever-vociferous demand for the sport—especially as clubs and leagues are becoming more business-savvy and expanding into markets never previously thought lucrative or even possible.

Which means that top-level footballers and top-level coaches, who turn top-level footballers into top-level teams on the pitch, gradually become a premium commodity to be traded to those willing to shell out a fortune in anticipation of the potential upsides.

And so we have eye-watering deals like Gareth Bale’s world record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, who themselves set the previous record by signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. And vastly inflated contracts like Wayne Rooney’s new extension at Old Trafford, which reportedly will land him a mammoth £300,000 a week, per BBC Sport.

Suddenly, the prevalence of money in the modern game has made it an essential part of both player decisions and transfer strategies. Players appoint ruthless agents to extract the best deal for themselves and their clients, while clubs head towards the murky waters of outbidding each other for star names.

The supply line has just shot up in value.

And those organizations who can afford to shell out the big bucks to procure such mercurial and overpriced talent—some through the generosity of a well-off benefactor—become the most important players in the financial game of football.

It’s no surprise, then, that Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski put forth in Soccernomics that football clubs in capital cities are best positioned to dominate the European game in the future: Take the financial “capital” in the cities and you instantly have the most powerful hybrids of money, geography and power across football clubs in Europe.

 

Marc Mueller

 

A whole new, exclusive playing field

Where does this bring us?

On the one hand, the growing demand of top-level football means that there will only ever be greater sums of money spent by fans and reflected in megadeals between leagues, clubs and broadcasters.

On the other hand, the explosion of player valuations means that agents will continue to grow in prominence and importance, while player power will entrench itself as an institutional concept in modern football—and only a handful of football clubs are even equipped to handle such major deals.

Which essentially means that the footballing world is their oyster.

As players vie to get into those clubs as a sign of their ability and ambition and as clubs strive to either maintain their place in that elite group or try their utmost to break into the oligarchy, a whole new, exclusive playing field has taken form for the big boys up top.

La Liga has traditionally been the easiest and most glaring example of a “top two” league, with Barcelona and Real Madrid maintaining a hegemony on proceedings in Spain until Atletico burst onto the scene this season, while recently Bayern Munich has become a textbook example of just how far a first-placed team can pull away from its closest challenger.

Sooner or later, as egos, ambitions and competitiveness are wont to trump all in sport, these big players will yearn for a platform where they can pit their wits against each other on a regular basis, to claim a title that will truly prove their dynasties.

The concept of a European Super League suddenly doesn’t sound so far-fetched after all. In fact, it almost sounds as if it’s going to be the next big evolution in world football.

And just as TV networks have continued to scramble for big broadcasting deals just to get a slice of the ever-growing pie, football clubs not yet in the “Super League” category will fight tooth and nail, and spend an arm and a leg to try to get there.

There will be plenty of new entertainment for football fans—and plenty of inadvertent and unfortunate financial casualties as well.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Comparing Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho with Aguero, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri

A few things have changed since Premier League fans were debating between three of its all-star strike partnerships this season: David Moyes has failed to unlock the potential of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Alvaro Negredo has seen his starting place usurped at times by Edin Dzeko and we’ve come to recognise the brilliance of entire forward lines, not just that of two strikers.

And so these days, instead of choosing between Manchester United’s Van Persie and Rooney, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, we’re now left to pick between the all-star attacking quartets of Liverpool and City.

Specifically: Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho versus Aguero, Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

As we look ahead to Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield—billed as a title decider—we’re not just considering the impact of the result on the title race, we’re also looking forward to seeing the league’s two most prolific attacks going at each other in what promises to be an open, exciting and pulsating match.

Here, we’ve compiled a fun comparison between the two forward lines across five categories—investment, potency, creativity, consistency and potential—before we arrive at our own conclusion on which is the better strike force. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Investment

Investment

Michael Steele/Getty Images

First, let’s compare how the strike forces were assembled and for what price.

 

Liverpool

Luis Suarez: £22.8 million, from Ajax Amsterdam.
Daniel Sturridge: £12 million, from Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling: £600,000 (potentially £5 million, depending on performances), from Queens Park Rangers.
Philippe Coutinho: £8.5 million, from Internazionale.

Total: £43.9 million (potentially £48.3 million).

 

Manchester City

Sergio Aguero: £38 million, from Atletico Madrid.
Edin Dzeko: £27 million, from Wolfsburg.
David Silva: £24 million, from Valencia.
Samir Nasri: £25 million, from Arsenal.

Total: £114 million.

 

Summary

In signing undervalued players with potential—Raheem Sterling is the standout purchase here, having signed for Liverpool aged just 15—Liverpool have made some shrewd acquisitions who have blossomed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

Coutinho and Sturridge in particular were players on the sidelines at their previous clubs who are starting to realise their full potential. Indeed, both players have transformed the club’s attacking fortunes since arriving at Anfield just over a year ago.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have opted to sign big, established names from leagues around Europe, fighting off stiff competition from top clubs to land their targets. In doing so, besides the initial outlay in terms of the transfer fees, all four players are on stellar wage packages, making them even more expensive as an overall financial investment.

That said, it’s hard to argue with their success at City—for it was Dzeko and Aguero who scored the two goals in injury time that won the club their first ever Premier League title in 2012.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

When it comes to initial investment, however, there was only ever going to be one clear winner here, a conclusion that might not have needed the above breakdown as justification. Liverpool win this round hands down.

 

Potency

Potency

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Attackers need to score goals. This category is all about league goals scored, and how important they are to their respective teams going forward.

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 29 goals in 28 games.
Sturridge: 20 goals in 25 games.
Sterling: Six goals in 28 games.
Coutinho: Four goals in 28 games.

Total: 59 goals this season.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: 15 goals in 17 games.
Dzeko: 11 goals in 24 games.
Silva: Six goals in 22 games.
Nasri: Five goals in 27 games.

Total: 37 goals this season.

 

Summary

In terms of just goal-scoring output this season, the above comparison might be a bit surprising for some, considering Liverpool and Manchester City are both flying high in the Premier League “goals for” column.

The combined total of 59 goals from Liverpool’s attacking quartet, out of their staggering total of 90, means that almost two-thirds of all the club’s goals have come from these four players. Add Steven Gerrard’s 13 to the mix and you have 80 per cent of all goals coming from five players.

Contrast that with City’s foursome, who have contributed just 37 goals out of their 84-goal total. Yaya Toure, who mainly operates as a central, box-to-box midfielder, is a glaring omission with his club-high haul of 18, while Alvaro Negredo has contributed a respectable return of nine thus far. Still, that’s just 76 per cent of all goals coming from six key players.

Injuries and squad options have had a large say as well—barring Daniel Sturridge’s mid-season injury, which deprived him of some game time, all of the Reds’ forwards have notched their goals in a 28-game season thus far. A quick glance at City’s shows the fewer games they have managed, in particular Sergio Aguero, who is still an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

All of which means that, yes, Liverpool’s four forwards have the more impressive goal return, in terms of numbers and percentage of their club’s overall goals scored. It also means, however, that City have more options spread across the squad—which may yet be a deciding factor in where the Premier League trophy lands this May.

 

Creativity

Creativity

Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Now let’s see how they stack up in terms of creativity, which we’ll simplify into two categories: assists and chances created. (All statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.)

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 11 assists, 77 chances created.
Sturridge: Seven assists, 27 chances created.
Sterling: Three assists, 38 chances created.
Coutinho: Six assists, 51 chances created.

Total: 27 assists, 193 chances created.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: Five assists, 27 chances created.
Dzeko: One assist, 14 chances created.
Silva: Nine assists, 77 chances created.
Nasri: Five assists, 55 chances created.

Total: 20 assists, 173 chances created.

 

Summary

A close match, especially adjusting for the number of games played by each member here.

Suarez is the clear standout, both with the highest number of outright assists and with a chance creation record similar to that of a world-class playmaker like David Silva—which goes great lengths to show the phenomenal season that the Uruguayan striker is having.

When it comes to the supporting attackers, however, the numbers become more interesting. Despite having more games between them, Sterling and Coutinho only combine for 89 chances created, while Silva and Nasri have an impressive total of 132, which explains the dominant position City have held for most of the season in terms of total goals scored, and hints at what could have been for them had Aguero stayed fit for most of it.

 

Verdict: Tie

We had a hard time choosing a winner here, so we’re going for the easy option—a tie. If Aguero had stayed fit for the majority of the season and played in as many games as the rest of his attacking partners, City could well have won this category by a mile.

As it stands, though, both sides seem to have creativity bursting at the seams, which can only be a good thing ahead of Sunday’s match.

 

Consistency

Consistency

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Now for a category that is much harder to be backed purely by numbers and statistics. In evaluating consistency, we look for the contributions by the forwards on a week-to-week basis over the course of the season thus far.

 

Liverpool

It’s been an exhilarating campaign for the Reds, by almost all measures. At the base of it, their current first-placed position in the league table says it all—Liverpool have already overachieved this season.

Crucial to this excellent league performance has been Luis Suarez’s outstanding consistency. Despite missing his first five matches of the season through suspension, he has been an ever-present and even set a new record for league goals scored in one calendar month back in December. Daniel Sturridge carried the team on his back during Suarez’s early-season absence and stormed back to action after an injury layoff by scoring in eight matches in a row.

By the high standards he set for himself in the second half of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Coutinho has not quite performed to them this season. In contrast, this has very much been a breakout campaign for Raheem Sterling, who has cemented his place in the first team after a series of strong and mature displays since December.

 

Manchester City

Just as Suarez has set the bar for consistent excellence this year, Aguero has disappointed with his injury troubles. A league campaign that threatened to feature two genuinely world-class strikers running away in the scoring charts—much like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do in La Liga—has now resulted in a one-sided affair.

That Manuel Pellegrini has rotated between Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko means that there hasn’t been much consistency in terms of Aguero’s strike partner—Negredo’s skill set clearly complements Aguero well, but in Aguero’s absence, Negredo and Dzeko have yet to set the league on fire.

The same applies for David Silva, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season and is rediscovering a good patch of form of late, but has also been beset by injuries. Samir Nasri is the flag-bearer for consistency in the City forward line this year, having shown a massive improvement in both attitude and attacking contribution since Roberto Mancini’s departure.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

Suarez’s performance levels this season are arguably enough to make Liverpool winners in this category on his own. Aguero might have run him close, given his outstanding record when fit at the start of the season, but his injuries have robbed City of any chance of coming close to the Reds here.

 

Potential

Potential

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since there isn’t a set formula to calculate potential return—both in terms of attacking contribution over the coming years and indeed in the amount of money the clubs could receive if they decide to sell these players—we’ll simply consider the current age and go from there.

 

Liverpool

One of the many things that has stood out from Brendan Rodgers’ achievements this season is how young his squad currently is. The attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho has an average age of just 22.75 years, which is both supremely encouraging from the club’s standpoint and also extremely exciting for the Premier League.

That Rodgers has gotten such a young team—don’t forget the relative youth of Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson—to fire their way to the top of the Premier League is a big testament to his philosophy and vision at Anfield.

 

Manchester City

With an average age of 26.75 years, City’s forward line can be rightly regarded as entering its prime. That Aguero, aged just 25, has, when fit, run 27-year-old Suarez so close speaks volumes of the potential of the Argentinian striker, who still has a few years to go at the top level just yet.

The same can be said of Silva and Nasri, who have exhibited the tenacity to show that they can still perform at peak level for a few years still, but Dzeko’s status as the oldest among all contenders here, and the fact that his future at the club is still up in the air adds an element of instability.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

The four-year difference in average age is so considerable, it’s almost shocking to think what this Liverpool attack will be capable of in a few years’ time, when they collectively arrive at City’s level. That Liverpool signed all four of their forwards at prices arguably lower than market value also makes their potential resale value much higher than City’s from a profit margin standpoint.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From our verdicts across five categories here, Liverpool emerge as the clear winners in an attack-against-attack comparison with Manchester City.

They’ve signed their forwards at a relatively younger age, meaning that both the initial investment and the potential return are much higher, while their output and consistency are no doubt the more impressive of the two.

City come close in creativity, hinting that their season has been dampened by a very significant factor—the ongoing injury troubles of Sergio Aguero.

It’s intriguing to think how City would shape up here if Aguero had remained fit to complete a whole season—perhaps Pellegrini’s men would really be out of sight in the “goals for” column in the Premier League.

As it stands, however, it’s the 90-goal Reds hosting the 84-goal Blues at Anfield this Sunday. The imminent return of Sergio Aguero (per the Mirror), however, makes it that bit more interesting.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Scouting Reported Liverpool Transfer Target Lazar Markovic

With Champions League football almost secured for next season, Liverpool have set their sights on an outright title challenge. With this newfound status among the upper echelons of the Premier League, the Reds have found themselves linked with a host of transfer targets this summer.

Among the latest names in the rumor mill is Benfica’s Lazar Markovic, who is reportedly the subject of a £20 million bidding war between Liverpool and Chelsea, according to Alan Nixon of the Mirror.

Having seen two high-profile moves for attacking midfielders Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka fall through in January, Brendan Rodgers is still rumored to be in the market for reinforcements up front, and Markovic certainly falls into that category.

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

 

Armando Franca

 

Pros

With his exciting dribbling and goal-scoring ability from midfield, it’s no surprise that Markovic made his senior debut for Partizan at the tender age of 17.

In fact, so impressive was his first season in Partizan’s colors that he was voted their Player of the Year on the club’s website back in 2011.

An encouraging performance in the Europa League against Internazionale in 2012 prompted then-Nerazzurri boss Andrea Stramaccioni to publicly praise the Serbian, according to Goal.com, saying, “He is a player with exceptional qualities. He possesses a very impressive acceleration and has a bright future ahead of him.”

Besides a quick turn of pace and a bag of tricks in his locker, Markovic is also composed in the finish and has a penchant for the unpredictable, much like a certain Luis Suarez at Anfield.

Having started his career as more of a conventional attacking midfielder, he has often been played in a striking or wing role since moving to Benfica, making use of his speed and dribbling to bamboozle opposition defences.

In that respect, he seems to combine the lightness of feet and quick-thinking creativity of Philippe Coutinho with the confidence and unpredictability of Suarez and would be comfortable playing across the front three.

 

Cons

Despite having a set of skills that make him a formidable opponent on paper, Markovic has yet to cement a place in Jorge Jesus’ starting XI, suggesting that he hasn’t found the consistency and maturity required to start week in, week out in a top-tier European league.

Standing at 5’9”, Markovic is relatively slight in frame and would only add to a Liverpool team that is not generally known for its physical and aerial dominance—though a low center of gravity compensates for that immeasurably.

A key point to note is the rumor of a release clause put in place by Benfica and Chelsea that suggests that the Stamford Bridge club would be able to sign him for a cheaper £12.5 million fee, according to Jonny Singer of the Daily Mail.

 

EuroFootball/Getty Images

 

Potential Role at Liverpool

With his pace, trickery, first touch and finishing, Lazar Markovic seems to have all the tools required to succeed in Brendan Rodgers’ young and dynamic Liverpool team.

Rodgers’ man management skills have been publicly lauded by many of his players this season, and Markovic will only need to look at the impressive development of the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson to know that if he does end up at Anfield, his future will be in good hands.

However, he is still a relative novice on the international stage and is very much a raw gem rather than the finished product, which does not necessarily represent the best option for Liverpool at the moment, especially if they head into next season having secured a top-three place and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage.

And if the rumors of a potential release clause for Chelsea are true—or a first option, as reported by Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail—the Reds might end up having to pay a fee much larger than £12.5 million, which wouldn’t be ideal for the Anfield club.

Given Markovic’s similarity to Coutinho and Suarez, shelling out for him would have to be a careful consideration—or a huge endorsement of his raw potential.

 

Conclusion

That Markovic is one of Europe’s hottest attacking talents should be established. His frequent links with both Chelsea and Liverpool are well-deserved given his scintillating displays over the past few years with both Partizan and Benfica.

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 Liverpool’s enterprising and relentlessly attacking brand of football.

But given what Liverpool need this summer, the amount of money it would cost them to bring him to Anfield and the presence of Coutinho, Suarez and a few other exciting young attacking talents, the transfer funds that would be put to Markovic’s transfer would be better used to address other deficiencies in the Liverpool squad—or toward a signing that would instantly upgrade their first team.

Markovic, for now, should be a luxury option to be targeted only if the rest of the squad has been upgraded.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Tense Win

Two Steven Gerrard penalties were enough to give Liverpool a precious win over West Ham United at Upton Park on Sunday, as the Reds climbed back to the top of the Premier League table with five matches to go.

James Tomkins’ handball against Luis Suarez and Hammers goalkeeper Adrian’s foul on Jon Flanagan gave Gerrard the opportunity to notch a brace from the spot, while Liverpool’s goals were sandwiched by a Guy Demel finish as Andy Carroll’s foul on Simon Mignolet went unnoticed.

It was a cagey affair, with Sam Allardyce’s men displaying yet again their infamous physical style of football in a valiant attempt to stifle the creativity and fluidity of Brendan Rodgers’ side. But the visitors did enough to hold on for all three points.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s tense win over West Ham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not every match this season can be a four-goal demolition like Liverpool’s emphatic win over Tottenham Hotspur just a week ago, but it’s not the first time the Reds have ground out a much-needed win.

Away victories against the likes of Fulham and Stoke City come to mind, and Brendan Rodgers can rightly feel proud of his charges after another battling display at a traditionally difficult ground to visit.

It was far from vintage Liverpool, as West Ham’s closing down and clearing of their lines were enough to stifle the visitors’ attack. But Liverpool’s patience and insistence at finding the right moment and space to break through the Hammers defence yielded the two all-important penalties.

Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho—starting in place of the injured Daniel Agger—put on a show of commanding defending against the expected aerial bombardment of West Ham, and together with substitute Kolo Toure, they held on despite a nervy ending at Upton Park.

 

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

After all these years, where, still, would Liverpool be without Steven Gerrard?

His brace from the spot made it double digits for the Reds skipper this season from penalties alone, and they also took him past Kenny Dalglish in the Liverpool all-time scoring charts.

Besides the composure he displayed in dispatching two excellently clinical penalties, Gerrard also showed an ever-increasing ease in his newfound holding midfield role, as he dictated play from deep within the Liverpool half.

It was his sumptuous cross-field pass, of course, that set Luis Suarez on his way to winning the visitors’ first penalty. But it was all down to Gerrard after that to make sure they took their chances.

As usual, he delivered with aplomb.

 

Contrasting Fortunes for ‘SAS’

Contrasting Fortunes for 'SAS'

Julian Finney/Getty Images

It’s a testament to Luis Suarez’s brilliant form this season that his performance on Sunday could be considered disappointing, despite him winning Liverpool’s first penalty and hitting the crossbar twice.

But by the standards of any Premier League striker, Suarez already put in a blinder of a shift up front for Liverpool on Sunday, and his two audacious efforts—both of which hit the Hammers crossbar—deserved to go in from the sheer brilliance of his improvisation.

By contrast, Daniel Sturridge’s quiet form has continued for a second week running. A subdued performance against Tottenham last weekend was followed by an uninspiring display on Sunday, featuring a few hurried shots that he would normally have buried.

While a fit and firing Suarez should be more than enough for Premier League defences to deal with—especially with a confident and ever-developing Raheem Sterling alongside him—Brendan Rodgers could do with a resurgent Daniel Sturridge for the end-of-season run-in.

Starting with the titular clash against Manchester City next week.

 

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not for the first time this season, the match referee has grabbed the spotlight in a Liverpool match.

On this occasion, it was Anthony Taylor, who appeared to have overruled his linesman and awarded Guy Demel’s goal right on the stroke of half-time.

Andy Carroll’s flagrant punch at Simon Mignolet’s head was apparently spotted by the linesman, who seemed to have flagged right away for an infringement of the goalkeeper, but Taylor ruled the goal to be legitimate, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.

Ultimately, it didn’t make too much of a difference to the end result, but it could’ve been a decision to derail the Reds’ title challenge.

And that’s not even mentioning a contentious decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Adrian’s challenge on Jon Flanagan.

 

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

Julian Finney/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, Upton Park rang out in boos despite West Ham beating Hull City 2-1, which was met with derision by Sam Allardyce, as reported by BBC Sport.

It was alleged at the time, according to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, that the Hammers supporters were fed up with Allardyce’s direct and physical playing style, and on current evidence, perhaps the West Ham faithful have a point.

With the backs-to-the-wall defending that they employed in a home fixture and the rough playing style they adopted against the Liverpool defence, West Ham’s performance certainly didn’t make for any entertaining viewing.

For the self-styled “Academy of Football,” West Ham’s current approach doesn’t seem in line with their history and traditions—but they’ve practically secured their all-important Premier League status for another season.

 

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With five matches to go, Liverpool find themselves back at the top of the table after a Premier League weekend that saw both Manchester City and Chelsea notch convincing wins.

Liverpool are currently on 74 points—two ahead of second-placed Chelsea—and on a nine-match winning run, which makes next Sunday’s match against Manchester City all the more pivotal to either side’s title hopes this season.

That Liverpool have discovered a newfound mental strength and resoluteness has been a tried and tested theory this season, but they will need to display the kind of rearguard action that they did this Sunday for the rest of the campaign if they are to come out on top.

The underlying narrative doesn’t change, though: Win all their remaining games, and Liverpool will win the league.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Liverpool 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned from Anfield Rout

A Younes Kaboul own goal and goals from Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson handed Liverpool an impressive 4-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday, which saw the Reds climb back to the top of the Premier League once again.

Another flying start by Brendan Rodgers’ side saw Raheem Sterling combine well with Glen Johnson down the Liverpool right, forcing Kaboul to turn the ball into his own net. Suarez’s excellent left-footed finish after putting Michael Dawson under pressure deservedly doubled the Reds’ lead on 25 minutes.

Coutinho’s excellent low drive from range further extended the hosts’ dominance on 55 minutes, before Henderson’s free kick from the left flank evaded everyone in the Spurs box and sealed another Liverpool rout over Tottenham, following their five-goal demolition job at White Hart Lane back in December.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s excellent win. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts below.

 

Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds

Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds

Jon Super

Take your pick from two well-worn cliches in the sports world: “The best defence is offence” or “Defence wins championships.”

Whichever your preference—and while Sunday’s result by no means confirmed anything in terms of the Premier League title race just yet—Liverpool showed both offensive drive and defensive steel against Tottenham, much like the reverse fixture in December.

Jon Flanagan bounced back from a quiet couple of weeks with a performance full of heart, commitment and excellently timed tackles, while Glen Johnson put in an admirable defensive shift, albeit against a toothless Spurs left.

Simon Mignolet was on hand to make a few crucial but routine stops—including an excellent left-handed parry of Christian Eriksen’s deflected shot in the dying minutes—to keep what was a rare clean sheet for Liverpool this season.

Martin Skrtel had one of his almost flawless performances featuring a few blockbuster last-ditch blocks. Even Daniel Agger, normally in the “cool, calm and collected” school of defending, saw fit to put in a few flying blocks of his own.

The clean defensive performance, which was admittedly due to a disappointing Spurs display, will be one of the key points stressed by Brendan Rodgers to replicate in the end-of-season run-in.

 

Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League

Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But enough about the defence: Besides keeping a second successive clean sheet against Tottenham this season, Liverpool have again hit four goals with no reply in the Premier League this season, making it 11 matches this season where they have scored at least four goals.

Even more encouraging for both Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike will be Glen Johnson’s return to fitness—and, it seems, to a level almost touching his flying best. It was Johnson’s run behind the Spurs defence that led to Liverpool’s early opening goal and one that fully illustrated his valuable contributions to the Reds attack.

And in reverting to his tried and trusted 4-3-3, Brendan Rodgers started Raheem Sterling on the right, which paid dividends both in the final third and also on the defensive end. The young winger, who by now must surely be on the plane to Brazil this summer, was a constant menace to the Tottenham defence, while a physical duel with Mousa Dembele before his substitution—which he won—was a sign of his growing confidence and maturity.

Johnson’s dovetailing with Sterling down the right made it once again Liverpool’s preferred attacking outlet, even while the hapless Kyle Naughton started as right-back on the opposite side of the pitch.

Pablo Zabaleta and Seamus Coleman, step aside—if Johnson and Sterling keep up their performances on both ends of the pitch, they’ll comfortably win any award for the Premier League’s best right flank.

 

Familiarity Breeds Success

Familiarity Breeds Success

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When Mamadou Sakho’s return from injury was announced, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for wanting him to go straight back into the starting XI, with Daniel Agger not being at his domineering best this season.

When Lucas made a first-team comeback as well, many wanted him to return as the midfield anchor, releasing Steven Gerrard of his holding and controlling duties at the base of the Reds midfield and allowing the captain to push further up the park.

Instead, Rodgers has chosen to stick by and large with a starting lineup that has served him so well, if not entirely in defensive solidity then at least in results, only sacrificing Joe Allen for Sterling.

Besides the Allen/Sterling change, this was the same lineup that started Liverpool’s previous few victories, allowing them to have built up a winning momentum and a growing sense of confidence, which was increasingly apparent as the match wore on.

In sticking with a winning team, despite having other strong contenders on the bench, Rodgers has gone with familiarity, both as a sign of his confidence in his team and as a reward to those players who have served him well amidst the previous injury problems.

 

Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark

Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It was the Allen/Sterling change, though, that reflected a return to the 4-3-3 formation that had been used to such excellent effect at times this season. (Lest we forget, the 4-4-2 diamond was, of course, a formation ushered in partly out of desperation.)

Liverpool played like they’d never even thought about veering away from their original 4-3-3, such was the fluency in their build-up and possession play, while Coutinho once again impressed as the most advanced member of the midfield trio.

Not that they played the entire match as a 4-3-3, though: Rodgers’ two substitutions between the 64th and 70th minutes meant that Allen and Lucas did come on to replace Coutinho and Gerrard, and Sterling was pushed back into the middle to revert to the 4-4-2 diamond.

In doing so, the home side displayed yet another trait it’s developed this season: a tactical flexibility that has allowed it to approach different opponents in different ways.

The Liverpool players have become so comfortable with each other and with Rodgers’ possession-based attacking philosophy that they’ve taken every formation change almost like a duck to water, and this can only bode well for the rest of their title-chasing season.

And it paid off spectacularly.

 

Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo

Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Spare a thought for Tottenham Hotspur, as not only did their players not seem to have a game plan in mind, but their head coach also seemed to have lost his fiery passion for which he’s been so famous.

A 60th-minute double substitution aside, Tim Sherwood didn’t appear to take any initiative to improve his side’s fortunes, and he cut a lone figure in the Spurs director’s box as the match wilted away from a Tottenham point of view.

According to BBC Sport, Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal is reportedly on his way to White Hart Lane as Spurs’ new manager after this summer’s World Cup. Judging from Sherwood’s demeanor, he might well feel like a dead man walking, with his opportunity to impress at the Spurs helm limited in the end to less than a full season.

In the meantime, however, a host of Tottenham players have been frozen out—the likes of Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho have been left out in favor of the youngster Nabil Bentaleb—and the lack of cohesion on the Anfield pitch on Sunday will have made for some jarring watching for Spurs fans.

Having spent in excess of £100 million in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure, Tottenham were supposed to mount at least a strong challenge for fourth. Instead, they’ve lost all their league matches against the Premier League top four this season (barring a home draw against Chelsea in late September) and their season is well and truly unraveling.

Plenty of work to be done in the summer.

 

It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now

It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now

Jon Super

By notching their 22nd win of the Premier League season, Liverpool return to the top of the table in emphatic fashion, two points above Chelsea after the Blues’ shocking loss at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

While Manchester City have two games in hand and would yet reclaim the top spot with two wins out of two, the reality remains that Liverpool’s fortunes for the season are entirely in their own hands now.

From this point forward, if the Reds win all six of the remaining fixtures on their schedule, they will be crowned Premier League champions since both Chelsea and City have yet to visit Anfield.

For the first time in many a season, Liverpool only have themselves to worry about, without having to hope for rivals dropping points before they can look to capitalize.

Brendan Rodgers will know that this is a key advantage for his team in the run-in, but as usual, he will be stressing the need to keep calm and focus on the next game.

Bring on West Ham United.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

The True Financial Cost of Manchester United Missing out on the Champions League

The gulf in class on the Old Trafford pitch was evident on Tuesday night as Manchester United succumbed to another 3-0 home defeat to a major rival, but David Moyes added more insult to injury as he claimed that Manchester City’s standard and level were something to “aspire” to, per Sky Sports.

For Red Devils fans, who had been used to seeing years of Premier League dominance and a true winning dynasty under Sir Alex Ferguson, this statement—that United were now, suddenly, looking up to their “noisy neighbours”—will have irked, much more than their overall lethargic play has already this season.

It hurts, not just because it was United’s sixth home defeat in the league this season—their most ever in the Premier League—but also because a glance away from the scoreboard and at the league table shows just how far they’ve fallen from their supreme title-winning season last year.

As we approach the final weeks of the 2013-14 Premier League season, Manchester United are left staring up rather than down, contemplating what exactly a failure to qualify for next year’s Champions League—and they are on the brink—would mean to the future of the club.

But what exactly would it mean? Here’s a brief study on the true financial cost of Manchester United missing out on the Champions League—and it doesn’t look too rosy.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesPremier League Payouts

Qualifying for the Champions League requires a minimum of a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League, so let’s go from there.

It’s a well-known fact that the Premier League provides payments to its competing clubs at the end of every season—and it’s because of the league’s astonishing financial successes that those in England’s top tier receive huge amounts of revenue from television rights and so on.

While we won’t know the exact payouts each club receives for the season until late May, after the season will have officially finished, our benchmark will be from last season, where the fourth- and fifth-placed clubs were Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

For their efforts last season, Arsenal received a total end-of-season payment of £57.1 million, £12.8 million of which were “merit payments” from the Premier League based on position, according to the league’s official announcement. Spurs, on the other hand, received £55.9 million and £12.1 million in merit payments.

It’s easy to calculate the difference just in merit payments as a reflection on the gap between the fourth- and fifth-placed Premier League clubs, but the other components of the payout—the “facility fees,” given each time a club’s matches are shown on TV in the UK, and “overseas TV” costs—are also tied intricately into their performances in the league and in European competition.

So the difference in overall payments is likely a more reliable indicator on the gap. In this case, it’s £1.2 million.

Not too significant as a lump sum, but when it comes to Manchester United, the fact that they were so successful in the league last season means that the hurt will be inevitable—and more considerable.

United finished the season as runaway champions, netting a league-high £60.8 million in payouts, which is a full £4.9 million difference from Tottenham’s eventual payout. And it doesn’t stop there: United’s current seventh place was where arch-rivals Liverpoolfinished last year, and the Merseysiders received £54.8 million.

If the Red Devils drop from first place and finish seventh come May, they will have missed out on at least £6 million just in league payouts—and we haven’t even adjusted for the inevitable league-wide increase yet.

 

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesChampions League Payouts

Then there are the official payouts from the Champions League, which, if United do miss out on the competition itself, they will naturally not be entitled to next season.

For all their domestic woes this season, United’s run to the quarter-finals this season has by and large been smooth, barring a first-leg shock against Olympiakos in the round of 16. Their easy win of Group A was secured on the back of four wins, two draws and no losses—but this is also why an exit from Europe’s elite cup competition will hurt all the more.

According to the official UEFA website, the Champions League paid a minimum base fee of €8.6 million to each participant in the group stage last season.

An additional €1 million was awarded for each win and €500,000 for each draw, meaning that on their group stage form this season, United netted at least €13.6 million just from the group stage alone.

All clubs competing in the round of 16 received a €3.5 million payout, whereas each quarter-finalist received €3.9 million each.

Added on to the group stage payments, that’s at least a €21 million total that they will earn from this season’s Champions League run—and, again, that’s not adjusted for the inevitable competition-wide increase yet.

And who knows—if David Moyes manages to mastermind a famous victory over two legs against the fearsome and record-breaking Bayern Munich of Pep Guardiola, there could be further payments yet.

Translated into pound sterling, the Champions League prize money from this season is at least £17.5 million (and counting), which puts the total opportunity cost at £23.5 million.

Just exactly the amount Marouane Fellaini would’ve cost last summer—if Moyes submitted his bid before the Belgian’s release clause expired on July 31, 2013, according to BBC Sport.

 

Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesThe Intangibles

If only the cost of missing out on the Champions League was just £23.5 million.

Just ask Liverpool, perennial arch-rivals to Manchester United, who slipped into several years of mediocrity—including a couple through financial difficulty—after finishing seventh in what turned out to be Rafael Benitez’s last season at Anfield.

Whether it was down to the personal draw of the managers that succeeded Benitez, or due to the lack of top-quality competition that Liverpool were to be involved in, we may never know, but the truth remains that Liverpool’s signings since that exhilarating title challenge in the 2008-09 season had dropped down several notches—and only resurfaced in the past year or so.

In many ways, Manchester United’s current situation and Liverpool’s back then are similar, especially since both clubs are two of the most prestigious in England (and the world), two of the most historically successful and two built on pride and tradition more so than pure financial muscle.

To lose out on what has traditionally been a key part of the United brand—namely their winning tradition and stature in Europe—would be a huge blow to Manchester United’s appeal to prospective players.

David Moyes stressed in January that “the amount of big players wanting to join United is incredible. It’s because of the club and what it stands for in world terms. Players are not looking at the share price. They are looking at the football club,” per ESPN FC.

A Manchester United without the Champions League simply does not provide the same attraction and a scan at Liverpool’s reported missed signings over the years is testament to that.

Far more than the £23.5 million base loss, which less than half a season under the terms of their kit deal extension with Nike can already recuperate, via the Mirror, this might well be the true cost to Manchester United missing out on the Champions League.

Unless, of course, they change tack and throw their financial weight in to compensate for the lack of European competition, in which case the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain become their main competitors.

And they’ve all got Champions League football.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

How Much Is Liverpool Forward Luis Suarez Worth Based on Form in 2014?

Nine matches to go in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign, and Liverpool are still on course for a top-four finish, which would see them return to the Champions League next season—and still in with a shout for the league title outright.

None of this would be possible without the contributions of Luis Suarez, who, despite all the proclamations of the Reds being a dynamic and interchanging team these days, remains one of their most important players.

After 25 goals and 10 assists—making him the leader of both charts in the Premier League—in 24 matches and a contract signed in December, Suarez has once again proven himself as indispensable and invaluable to the Anfield club.

Perhaps even more so than in previous campaign.

Back in December, we embarked on a challenging but interesting attempt to calculate Suarez’s worth in the transfer market then.

In light of Liverpool’s recently released financial results for the 2012-2013 financial year, let’s revisit this subject and try to work out how much Luis Suarez is now worth based on his current form—without any kind of insider access to the boardroom.

 

Transfer Fee and Wage Estimates

To get us started off, let’s return to our estimates in December regarding Luis Suarez’s transfer fee.

Assuming a basic financial amortization of his initial £22.7 million transfer fee (per BBC Sport) over the course of five-and-a-half years, which was the initial length of his contract signed in 2011, we arrive at an approximate annual cost of £4.13 million.

For the purposes of simpler calculation, let’s consider Suarez has been at Liverpool for 3.2 years, which means the as yet “unpaid” total amortization cost would be updated to £4.13 multiplied by 2.3, or £9.5 million.

Onto his wages, which we will only discuss in the present and future tenses, after his December extension.

Our wage calculations following his new contract in December 2013 are based on this BBC Sport article that claims Suarez is earning £160,000 a week until the end of the current season, and then £200,000 a week for the next four years. Simple arithmetic gets us to a total of £43.06 million over the rest of his new contract.

Our baseline estimated value of Luis Suarez, from just his transfer fee and wages, is thus £9.5 million plus £43.06 million, which gives us £52.56 million.

 

Possible Champions League Qualification

As it stands, Liverpool are placed second in the Premier League, and they look in ominous form as they approach the final couple of months of the season.

Our key underlying assumption is that the Reds will indeed finish in the top four, qualifying for Champions League football next term, which should also be the assumption behind Luis Suarez staying at Anfield in the first place.

Champions League qualification is known to have a wide range of commercial benefits, and this is an area where we will take the roughest of estimates of player bonuses based on club performance in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

Our best benchmark in terms of Premier League end-of-season payouts, assuming a fourth-place finish by Liverpool this May, is Arsenal’s from the 2012/13 season. According to the official Premier League website, Arsenal’s league payout for finishing fourth last season was £57.1 million.

A further assumption that Liverpool, having secured Champions League qualification, will make it into the group stages of next year’s competition, will take us to calculate possible payouts from participating in the group stages.

According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, all participants who made it into the Champions League proper were entitled to a minimum of €8.6 million, which translates to about £7.2 million.

As we noted in our December calculations, a minimum total of £64.3 million will probably arrive in Liverpool’s coffers just for making the Champions League group stages.

 

Liverpool’s Business and Commercial Performance

Our December estimates only took into account the potential sum that would come with making the Champions League group stages, and used it as a base to calculate a 5 percent performance bonus for Luis Suarez, one of Liverpool’s most important players.

This time around, however, we’re going to be a bit more ambitious, especially since the Liverpool Echo have also released the 2013 accounts Liverpool submitted to Companies House.

The increase in revenue from all sources is impressive, but for the purposes of calculations in the “current” context, we will exclude media and matchday revenues, since the 2012-13 financial year featured Europa League football, which Liverpool haven’t even been involved with this season.

The growth in commercial revenue, however, was staggering, and with the announcement of new sponsorship deals in the past few months, will only continue. Commercial revenue for the year ended May 31, 2013, was £97.7 million, more than a 50 percent increase over the previous 10 months, which landed £63.9 million. Spread the 10-month average over a period of 12 months, and the increase can be adjusted to roughly 27 percent, still a significant growth factor.

Our final assumption is if Liverpool continue in their current attacking style of football, coupled with the increased exposure of Champions League football, they will generate more interest off the field, which will lead to benefits both in terms of commercial sponsorships, as well as merchandise and image rights-related sales and advertising revenue.

Applying the same 27 percent year-on-year growth factor onto our performance bonus of 5 percent, to ensure that all staff are adequately compensated for their role in helping grow the Liverpool brand, we get a 6.35 percent bonus from the previously calculated Champions League-related payouts.

This gives Suarez 6.35 percent of £64.3 million, which amounts to £4.08 million.

 

Conclusion: £56.64 Million

Adding this performance bonus to our transfer and wages baseline, we get a total valuation of £56.64 million, which, compared with our December estimate of £56.1 million, is perhaps disappointingly close.

However, considering that it’s only been three months since our previous calculation and that our estimate has already gone up by half a million pounds, this kind of growth rate could yet translate itself into bigger margins given another year or two.

It wasn’t so long ago—last summer, in fact—that Arsenal submitted a high-profile (and now widely mocked) £40-million-plus-£1 bid for Luis Suarez, which was derided at the time by Liverpool owner John W. Henry.

Back then, £40 million plus £1 was seen as a derisory amount for a player like Suarez. Three quarters of a season onward, perhaps £56.64 million will be considered shockingly low for such an important player to the Reds cause.

But of course, this is just a purely financial valuation of Luis Suarez, based on assumptions that might not ring true in the Liverpool boardroom.

Last time John W. Henry checked, football contracts “don’t seem to hold, and [Liverpool] took the position that [they’re] just not selling” (per the Guardian).

We have a sneaking suspicion that they will be holding this position for quite some time.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Film Focus: Breaking Down Liverpool’s Impressive 3-0 Win over Manchester United

Two Steven Gerrard penalties and a Luis Suarez finish handed Liverpool an impressive 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. And it could’ve been much more.

Besides Steven Gerrard’s performance, which, despite missing his third penalty of the night, was more than enough to see him awarded the Man of the Match, there were a number of interesting talking points from the match.

First was, of course, the sheer number of penalty kicks that referee Mark Clatternburg could have called over the 90 minutes. Marouane Fellaini’s first-half trip on Luis Suarez was let go, while Michael Carrick’s second-half swipe of Daniel Sturridge’s feet after Gerrard’s missed penalty was also not called.

Then there were the decisions that Liverpool perhaps got away with, namely the lack of contact over the visitors’ third penalty, which saw Nemanja Vidic sent off for a fourth time in this fixture for a tackle that didn’t actually connect—and a Glen Johnson handball inside the Liverpool box.

And then, there was David Moyes’ curious decision-making. It wasn’t limited to just deploying record signing and specialist No. 10 Juan Mata on the wings again. It was the lack of instant reaction from the United manager that saw his first substitutions take place on 76 minutes, a full half-hour after the hosts went 2-0 down.

Away from these three general observations, we felt there were four instances that symbolized the match and its eventual outcome. Let’s take a more detailed look at four scenarios that occurred throughout the match.

 

Robin van Persie, deep-lying playmaker?

That Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have spectacularly failed to strike up a useful and threatening strike partnership this season has not gone unnoticed—but their lack of interplay on Sunday will have been very disappointing for Manchester United fans.

More alarming, however, was the manner in which van Persie and Rooney tried to link up with each other (or at least make it seem like they were).

So isolated was van Persie up front that he often drifted out to the left wing in pursuit of the ball, depriving United of any forward presence up front and in theory allowing the supporting midfielders—and Rooney—to charge forward.

But after so many jokes at the Red Devils’ expense in recent months about their crossing-only attacking play, Sunday was yet another exhibition of why their incessant crossing is so unfruitful.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this first-half shot, van Persie has come so deep that he’s literally on the halfway line (yellow circle on the left). Rooney’s charge forward (yellow circle on the right) brings him level with the last man in the Liverpool defence—Daniel Agger—and there are a full three United players between van Persie and Rooney that the former can look to go through.

Instead, his next move is to play a cross-field ball that ends up cleared away all too easily by the Liverpool rearguard. Not a very inspiring attacking approach.

The sad thing was, this was only one of the many times this sequence occurred.

 

Manchester United’s undisciplined defending

By our count, Liverpool could’ve easily had five penalties called on Sunday—a remarkable stat given that their first, after Rafael da Silva’s handball against Luis Suarez, was the first penalty conceded at Old Trafford in the Premier League since December 2011.

While Rafael’s handball was all down to individual carelessness (and he could arguably have been issued a second yellow card), the second penalty was very much down to a collective lack of discipline in the United defence.

In the immediate buildup to the penalty, Jordan Henderson deserves much of the credit for spotting an excellent Joe Allen run into the box and then producing an exquisite flick over the top to find his fellow midfielder. Allen’s use of the body allows him to take control of the ball, which puts the United defence under pressure.

But let’s take a look at the positional errors that the hosts have committed in this single piece of defensive play.

 

BBC Match of the DayThis freeze frame, taken right as Henderson is about to release the ball to Allen, comes on the back of a long ball over the top towards Raheem Sterling on the right side of the penalty box, where he is only tracked by Nemanja Vidic.

United left-back Patrice Evra (blue circle on the left) arrives late on the scene and is dragged back by the ball, while Marouane Fellaini (blue circle on the right) also follows the ball into a zone very much out of his own. Evra and Fellaini have almost switched positions here—bear in mind that Evra should have been tracking Sterling and Fellaini, as the defensive midfielder, should have picked up Henderson or Allen.

These positional errors leave centre-backs Phil Jones and Vidic exposed and under pressure from Allen’s run, as Vidic (yellow circle on the right) is also dragged toward the ball and thus behind Allen’s run (white arrow).

Jones’ disadvantageous starting point (yellow circle on the left) means that he could’ve left Vidic come into Allen’s path (red box) and tackled on his right foot, but the former’s rash movement bundles Allen over and concedes the penalty.

2-0 to the visitors.

 

The movement and magic of Suarez and Sturridge

It’s a testament to how badly United fared that Liverpool didn’t even really get out of their first gear over the 90 minutes and still came away with a comprehensive win.

Arguably the most impressive (and productive) piece of forward play from the Reds’ league-leading strike force came when Luis Suarez took advantage of a Daniel Sturridge mishit and finished with aplomb past David de Gea to take the score to 3-0.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this freeze frame, the dotted red line represents the path Sturridge would undoubtedly have wanted his shot to have taken. If that shot would’ve gone through, David de Gea, who had just forced the corner from which this play started after a brilliant stop from Luis Suarez at point-blank range, could’ve been equal to it, or perhaps parried it out for another corner.

Instead it hits Phil Jones and lands at Suarez’s feet, who controls and finishes it with his left foot past de Gea.

That this play started from a corner was instrumental in the buildup to the goal. Martin Skrtel had stayed forward after the corner and made his presence felt in the penalty area: Jones (yellow circle) has his attentions occupied by Skrtel.

Patrice Evra (blue circle) is once again in no-man’s land as he is woefully out of position once more, while none of United’s players tracked the brilliant run that Suarez timed to perfection. As a result, Jones is caught in two minds, and by the time the ball arrives at Suarez’s feet, Jones and all of his defensive colleagues are nowhere near Liverpool’s No. 7, who couldn’t miss from there.

While the goal ultimately came about in a fortuitous manner, with the ball ricocheting off Jones’ legs to find Suarez, the manner of the runs and the positioning in the buildup suggest that this goal could very easily have been conjured deliberately.

If Sturridge had spotted Suarez’s run and decided to play him in with a deft pass, Suarez would still have been in with an easy finish. More importantly, while Sturridge inadvertently turned creator here, it’s not difficult at all to envision a role reversal here, with Suarez pulling the strings and feeding Sturridge through with an exquisite pass.

The fact that both of Liverpool’s strikers could have played either part in this goal shows exactly why the Reds are increasingly far and away the most prolific scorers in the Premier League.

 

Liverpool still have a midfield problem

With all this said, however, we will also pick one scenario that focuses on the deficiencies that Liverpool still have, even if it wasn’t at all exploited during the game. It’s just as food for thought and a note of caution for Reds fans.

 

BBC Match of the DayThe scene shown here is a Manchester United attack—their only shot on target during the entire 90 minutes—toward the end of the first half, from which Wayne Rooney forced a good reactive save from Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Toward the bottom of the screen, Rafael is on the charge with the ball on the right flank. Right before this scene, Rafael’s good combination play with Adnan Januzaj leaves Jon Flanagan for dead, and the Liverpool defender is now forced to chase back after missing his initial tackle (blue circle and arrow).

As Daniel Agger is drawn out of position to mark the supporting Januzaj and Martin Skrtel is trying to maintain a presence in the penalty box, it’s now left to Steven Gerrard to track back and cover for Flanagan’s positional mishap (yellow circle and arrow).

However, Gerrard’s run toward United’s right means that his customary central defensive midfield zone has been left vacant, leaving a huge gap in the middle (red box) for Wayne Rooney (white circle) to storm into.

Rafael does subsequently find Rooney on the edge of the area, and the United forward unleashes a shot that Mignolet parries.

Fortunately for Liverpool, they held out to end the half 1-0 up and scored immediately after the second half.

From there on out, it was just a matter of wrapping up the three points. But as convincing as Liverpool looked on Sunday, they still have some work to do on the training ground.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool Transfers: Scouting Report on Reported Reds Target Juan Manuel Iturbe

Liverpool’s high-flying and top-scoring attack this season hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield this summer is Hellas Verona winger Juan Manuel Iturbe.

Jamie Sanderson of the Metro has credited Liverpool with an interest in the Argentine winger, who is currently enjoying an impressive campaign in Serie A on loan from FC Porto.

With five goals and two assists in 20 starts, Iturbe has attracted the attentions of many clubs around Europe—including Hellas, who are keen to make the loan switch permanent this summer.

Starting his career at Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno, he moved to the Portuguese giants in 2010, aged just 17. Prior to his season-long loan at Hellas, he spent six months on loan at Argentine club River Plate.

Just as we’ve done with Micah Richards and Isco earlier, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Juan Manuel Iturbe’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

 

Pros

Juan Manuel Iturbe has long been highly rated in South America. In fact, he earned his first senior cap for Paraguay as early as 2009, when he was just 16 years of age—but he has since declared his national allegiance to Argentina, given that his international debut didn’t count as a competitive match.

With a low centre of gravity, dangerous acceleration, skilful close control, deadly free-kick accuracy and a cool finish, Iturbe has been dubbed the “new Lionel Messi” for obvious reasons.

His pace and strength on the ball are excellent complements to his superb left foot, which has seen him fire in long-range rockets and spectacular finishes for Hellas this term. Another Messi-like trait is his tendency to pick up the ball from deep and run at opposition defences.

Still aged just 20, Iturbe has his best years ahead of him and would be an exciting addition to any squad looking for an explosive winger capable of conjuring moments of match-winning magic.

And if the Metro are to be believed and Iturbe is indeed valued at £15 million, he would most definitely be considered a good deal.

 

Cons

One of the most damning—and condescending—questions leveled Messi’s way is “can he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night at Stoke?”

Iturbe, who has yet to establish himself at the top level in Europe and is only spending his first full campaign on European soil, will certainly need time to adapt to English football.

His diminutive stature—he’s just 5’6.5″—means that he will be at an instant physical disadvantage in the Premier League, though his stocky frame will go some way in making up for it.

His one-footedness also limits his attacking play to go via his left side, which makes his tendencies to cut in from the right wing slightly predictable. His preference for the spectacular means that he can be selfish on the ball and in the dribble, which makes him a frustrating individualist rather than a total team player.

 

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty ImagesPotential Role at Liverpool

With their high-profile (and ultimately unfruitful) pursuits of Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka in the January transfer window, it’s clear that Liverpool are still on the lookout for a goal-scoring winger.

Juan Manuel Iturbe will certainly provide pace, attacking thrust and goals from the wing, and he would slot into a young and exciting Liverpool attack that has already been firing on all cylinders this season.

Brendan Rodgers would still need to instill in Iturbe a work ethic that has been evident in the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling this season. Besides making his eye-catching contributions in attack, he would need to put his physicality to use as a first line of defence, harrying his opponents from the front.

In addition, in a team where collective play and responsibility reign king, Iturbe would need to shelve his selfish tendencies and improve his decision-making in the final third.

With Coutinho and Sterling forming a scintillating line behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, however, Rodgers would need to evaluate how he should best blood Iturbe in and not hamper the former duo’s impressive development at the same time.

 

Conclusion

On the face of it, Juan Manuel Iturbe would be a brilliant signing for Liverpool: If Rodgers can unlock his full potential, he would be an excellent addition to a side ready to challenge for Premier League honours and looking to make a splash in Europe again.

Anfield would also be the perfect platform for Iturbe to launch himself into the European spotlight and working with Brendan Rodgers, who is now widely renowned for his man management, will only improve his game.

But from Liverpool’s perspective, with a cohesive attacking unit in such fearsome form this season, Iturbe’s “rough diamond” status would add more inexperience to a forward line already young at its core, and his style of play may need extensive coaching to adapt to a team-first, pass-and-move approach.

As such, Liverpool should only consider Iturbe if Porto are indeed ready to let him go at a reasonable price—and they’re not known for selling their best prospects on the cheap.

Perhaps the money that they’d splash on Iturbe would be better served strengthening other areas of the squad for now—unless Rodgers can find a way to fit him into an already stacked Liverpool attack.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.