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Mid-term Report; Liverpool


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So why have Liverpool not lived up to the plaudits' early expectations?


In my opinion it is not about tinkering or Gerrard on the right, after all these two policies have served well in the past, but


1. Erratic Reina. The sudden dip of form on Reina is unexpected. For a team playing high defensive line, or seeper keeper, the keeper's error would be even more pronounced. He is also not helped by the declining performance of Hyppia and Carragher.


2. Early season blue. For two seasons in a row Liverpool have done poorly in the beginning of the season. However this time the hangover seems to be longer.


3. Impotence of the forward. Bellamy, Kuyt, Crouch, Fowler. The latter two were never reliable, and Kuyt has done reasonably well. So who is at fault? Bellamy has been dissapointing so far, despite the recent surge of form.


What are your opnions?



Mid-term Report; Liverpool


Rewind to early August. A time when every football fan was brimming with the blind optimism which strikes these unfortunate souls before the start of every season.


Suffering the most were Liverpool fans who, despite not actually saying it very often themselves, had to endure every pundit, commentator, analyst and pub tactician predicting big things for their club. After winning the Champions League and the FA Cup in his first two years in charge, Rafa Benitez would finally launch a serious assault on the Premiership title. The Spaniard’s side would be the most likely candidates to end the cash-soaked domination of Chelsea. Or so the theory went.


It was difficult for Liverpool fans not to get caught up in the hype. Their longing for a Premiership title is something akin to Lembit Opik’s yearning for a Cheeky Girl. The Reds have not been crowned kings of England for 16 years, a time when John Barnes was a football genius rather than a rabbit-in-headlights presenter, when Alan Hansen concentrated on his own defending, and when Kenny Dalglish was indisputably the number one manager in the country. So much time had passed since those halcyon days that while many Reds fans remained sceptical, they dared to dream.


It didn’t take long for those dreams to unravel. Five away defeats by the middle of November all but ruled the Merseysiders out of contention for the Premiership crown. An opening day draw at Sheffield United was seen as a only a mild disappointment, but what was to follow bordered on the catastrophic. Defeats at Everton, Chelsea, Bolton Wanderers, Manchester United and Arsenal had Liverpool fans up and down the country arguing about just why it had all gone so badly Janice Long.


Confusing the issue further was the meddling of Benitez. Whether deliberately, knowingly or by pure accident, the former Valencia boss failed to select an unchanged team for 99 consecutive games. When all and sundry tipped him to make it a century, he stuck with the same line-up for the visit of Bordeaux in the Champions League on Halloween night. This merely added to the cynicism, with many suggesting that the Anfield boss was playing Mouinho-esque mind games with the press and his opponents. Either way, it did little to soften the criticism aimed at Benitez in the midst of such poor away form.


A first away win in the Premiership came at the beginning of December, when Wigan Athletic were trounced 4-0 at the JJB Stadium. All four goals came in the first half, with Craig Bellamy on the mark twice following an uncertain start to his Anfield career. Since then, Benitez seems to have settled on Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt as his preferred starting duo up front. That’s worrying for all those who still attach sentimental value to Peter Crouch, but comes as something of a relief to anyone who has a certain idea of what a Liverpool player should look and move like.


It wasn’t only concerning his selections up front where Benitez was taking a fearful hiding from the hacks. Captain Steven Gerrard was shunted into a wide midfield role for large parts of their depressing away day run, and when Bolo Zenden was preferred in a central role for the visit to Arsenal all Hell broke loose. Zenden’s subsequent injury and that of the unfortunate Momo Sissoko (injured in a Carling Cup win over Birmingham City) has allowed Gerrard to drift back into his favoured position. Even the most rabid of Benitez supporters must accept that the England man has flourished ever since, and that his partnership with Xabi Alonso in that area makes Liverpool markedly easier on the eye. If you are going to fall short, you might aswell do it with a bit of style.


Through all of their travel sickness Liverpool have remained solid at home. Only Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth have come away from Anfield with so much as a point regardless of tactics and personnel changes by the coach. West Ham United, Newcastle United, Reading, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Fulham have all been routinely dismissed by a team unrecognisable in its approach to that which hits the road in the league. All of which adds up to Liverpool’s presence in third in the division, albeit a distant 13 points behind leaders Manchester United.


While that much sought after Premiership title will have to wait another year at least, there is hope of more silverware for Benitez elsewhere. Liverpool breezed through a Champions League group including PSV Eindhoven, Bordeaux and Galatasaray, winning the group with a game to spare after a home win over the Dutch outfit. The quirks of the draw have seen that achievement possibly go against them, with European champions Barcelona awaiting them in the last 16 after finishing runners-up to Chelsea in their section. Yet it is perhaps not the Barcelona of a season ago, and hopes will be high that the tactically shrewd Benitez can find the right formula against the Catalans.


Victories over Reading and Birmingham City have crafted a route through to the last eight of the Carling Cup, with the Reds expected to overcome a youthful Arsenal when their postponed quarter-final takes place on January 9. Three days earlier, Liverpool face what will be a stronger looking Arsenal side in the FA Cup, another game which will have a big say in defining the Anfield side’s season.


That glorious triumph in Istanbul in 2005 will give Benitez time at the Liverpool helm regardless of what happens to them this season, yet there is every possibility that he could pick up his third trophy in as many seasons with the club. It would be a record not to be sniffed at, but there are still many Reds fans who will turn up their noses until they see a genuine tilt at Chelsea’s domestic crown.


By Stephen Orford


20 December 2006

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I've always felt the thing surrounding Gerrard on the right at the start of the season was a total lot of rubbish as he played there a lot last season and was firing on all cylinders so I've always felt that argument was flawed. They still lack a cutting edge so to speak, some sort of natural goalscorer as Kuyt has never been a natural goalscorer despite his high number of goals in the Dutch league as he does like to drop deep and does a lot of unselfish work outside the box and likes to bring others into play.

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