Time for LFC to Upgrade: Bring Klopp to the Kop

Many moons ago (roughly ten), last season ended in glorious failure, of sorts, for Liverpool Football Club and its fans. That failure (to get a point against Chelsea/to keep a lead against Palace) was however, very much tempered by the fact that nobody had truly expected us to ever have been in the position which would have made such a heart-wrenchingly tragic collapse possible. Yes, we were buoyed, despite not winning the title; kept afloat by the fact we’d come so close, playing such an exciting (if kamikaze) brand of attacking football; enthused with the self belief that battering all our main rivals (bar one) brings. Unfortunately, that optimism, belief and confidence wasn’t to last, and now here we stand, amongst the shredded tatters of our dreams once again; disillusioned, deflated and, yet again, divided.

Klopp to Kop

Rumours of dressing room unrest are taken with a pinch of salt to begin with; however, when the whispers persist, and performance level drops, leading to poor results, over a sustained period, people begin to pay attention. On the pitch the team look jaded, the focus absent; individual players flummoxed by the positions the manager is asking them to take up. Tim Sherwood said that Villa bamboozled Liverpool during his side’s 2-1 victory at Wembley; I’ve got news for Tim: they didn’t. The reason why? They didn’t have to, Liverpool had been bamboozled long before they sniffed Timmy’s inflated sense of self worth.

The reality: after Saturday’s tediously blunt final third performance, against a team that had shipped seven in their previous two home games, was one semi-decent performance in six, and that against a Newcastle side that’s an outrage to the city and the footballing tradition it represents. Last night’s embarrassing, but in no way surprising, surrender at Hull means Rodgers’s Reds have netted just five goals in the last nine games, in all competitions, and have just three wins from those fixtures.  On top of that, we’ve now handed Hull four points this season, doing our bit to keep Steve Bruce’s ugly pus in the Premier League for another year – sigh.

Fans, who’ve had the excruciating misfortune of witnessing this drama-cum-tragicom, have inevitably become involved; pitted against each other, as the game of “he said she said” is all too familiarly played out in the press. Liverpool appear to be no further on, on the pitch, than when Brendan Rodgers took the job. Three years on, the cup runs and poor league results; lack of goals and invention in the final third, it’s like last season was dream that’s becoming crueller by the week; every so often hazily intoxicating the mind, just for a moment, only to come round to the numbing realisation that any, and all, progress made then, has been utterly and fatally eroded now; vanished even. So, as farce threatens to engulf the club, not for the first time in recent years, the owners stand with a managerial decision to make – one which splits opinion, but one which must be taken.

Brendan Rodgers’s first mistake of this campaign actually came before last season had ended. The capitulation at Selhurst Park has already been mentioned, and I don’t like to dwell, however, when Sakho was highlighted, ahead of Skrtel and Johnson, in Brendan’s mind as the reason for the side’s desperate concession of three goals in ten minutes; when he was made a scapegoat, and dropped from the following game, that was a harbinger of things to come, and where this season’s problems began in earnest.

This mental, and later verbal, assertion led Rodgers to abandon any thought of signing a right centre-back, which was desperately needed to partner Sakho – our best centre-half. Instead he opted to look for a replacement for the €20m former PSG and France captain that the club had just signed. Now misidentifying an area in need of strengthening is one thing; however, identifying a player as poor as Lovren to be your main “marquee” defensive signing is another.

Rodgers receives no sympathy whatsoever for this cock-up of gargantuan proportions. Those who say “but Lovren had a great year at Southampton”, ostensibly perhaps, but even a superficial glance into the defender’s past would have exposed his catastrophic shortcomings. A man paid millions to know, check, listen to advice, be an expert in this field, simply has no recourse for getting it so wrong.

Signings have been an area of incendiary debate since Rodgers took over (an example of how he uses the media to muddy the waters), but it has become clear in the last two weeks that Rodgers provided the list of first team transfer targets last summer; that he named targets, and that those targets were pursued and, in most cases, landed. There are those that point to the investment levels at United, Chelsea and Arsenal being higher than our own, and that we “lost” Suarez, as being reasons for the shocking decline in quality this year, and even as a way of excusing poor signings; I’d like to put these arguments to bed now, if I may?

The club knew, as did Brendan Rodgers, that Luis Suarez would be leaving Anfield last summer. Suarez himself has said that Gerrard persuaded him to stay for one “last” season, and that he’d be free to move on the following year – which he did. The new contract, complete with cast-iron, get-out clauses, ensured that (barring self-delusion) nobody should have been operating under any false hope of persuading the precociously talented, former Ajax star, to stay. That known, and said, means that Rodgers and the rest of the committee knew the very real likelihood of Suarez’s departure a full 9/10 months before his actual departure, and did very little to find a replacement; even less to secure the services of one. All the talk of Lallana and Lambert “making sense with Suarez still there”, is shown up to be preposterous when considered in this light.

We know for fact that on the question of Lallana, Suarez wasn’t an issue to consider; we’d already officially agreed to sell him, by the time we’d had our collective arm broken by Southampton’s outrageous demands, and Brendan’s desperation to splash the income on “his man”. What about all the smoke and mirrors with Balotelli? Balotelli was a Brendan Rodgers signing by all accounts – he’s said as much himself, although he’s contradicted himself on that too (quelle surprise). So three signings for the first team Lovren, Lallana, Balotelli at the cost of around €75m, all Brendan’s choices (so we’re reliably informed) and none have made a significant impact.

“Fair enough”, some may say, “every manager makes mistakes in the market.” One who makes such spectacular errors, actually fundamentally misjudging the type of player that the club needs, after having demanded control of the club’s transfer targets, deserves to be shown little mercy. To have surrendered such a position of strength by throwing away such a large amount, on such poorly considered signings is almost criminal; it’s certainly devastating, as a fan.

As for the other signings, mostly squad players and youngsters, they appear to be of a generally high standard. Obviously, Emre Can looks the most able at the moment; a player for whom Rodgers did eventually find a position, although an unfamiliar one (RCB) and now a berth that’s completely alien (right-back). Markovic is another who, despite showing flashes of brilliance in his more natural forward positions, has been unrelentingly played out of position in order to accommodate the likes of Lallana. Moreno’s been thrown under the bus to cover for Lovren’s complete ineptitude at times, as well as being given a position which often leaves him hopelessly exposed. As for Manquillo, who looks a very promising young right-back, he’s been left to tumble without trace.

New signings haven’t been the only ones shunted around the pitch to accommodate lesser players. Raheem Sterling’s played in 4 different positions this season, at least, including at right wing-back, receiving little thanks from fans for his effort, due to the way the narrative’s been turned against him in the press.  That leads me on to my next point, another worrying trend which has returned intensified this year: vitriol towards players.

When the team is doing badly, it’s the manager who should take the blame. He is the leader; they are his disciples – the manager should never hang players out to dry. This manager is only too happy to let the press have their scapegoats, and if they haven’t found one that particular day, to point one out for them. Balotelli, Sterling, Sakho, Moreno, Markovic and others have all been singled out by the manager to the press; he even has “friendly journalists” briefing against certain players and talking up others (notably Lovren and Lallana).

That we are now at the end of a season, which started so badly due to the system and personnel the manager was using, and we’ve come full circle so that manager is using the same failed system and the same tired, used up players (I don’t need to name them), is a damning indictment of where this manager and team are now. Viewing Rodgers’s tenure holistically, up to this point, it becomes fairly clear that last year was the anomaly, not the norm, and that the way that peak was reached (with baseball scores) was never going to be sustainable.

The two seasons which sandwich 2013/14 bear more of a resemblance to one another, in terms of points, goals scored and numbers of games lost. That we began this season “challenging for the title” in the manager’s words, and now we’re being told that “progress in the domestic cups” was the aim all along, is a stunning display of how unwilling or unable to self assess effectively, or face up to failure, Rodgers has shown himself to be; however, his consistent repetition of the same mistakes over the course of the season, had already given us insight into this particular flaw.

In conclusion, Liverpool Football Club is too great an institution and too big of an entity to be beholden to anything less than greatness any longer. There have been high points in Rodgers’ reign, and he is a good manager; however, he has a ceiling and will never breach it if unwilling to evaluate and learn from his mistakes, or accept that he cannot possibly know all there is to know. Sadly for him, it seems that such a time certainly hasn’t come yet.

Jürgen Klopp is available, and would be an ideal fit for LFC; a perfect replacement for Rodgers. In Klopp you have a coach who is young, dynamic, has an attacking, high octane,pressing philosophy, has worked in a proper structure, is happy to just coach, is humble and hard-working and, above all else, is proven at the highest level – both domestically and in Europe. To those who question whether Klopp would be “much of an upgrade”, BVB was busy beating Bayern Munich last night, while LFC was …… .The time has come to upgrade, come on FSG: bring Klopp to the Kop.

This article was first published on Anfield Index


You can follow Neil on Twitter @Neil1980

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Go Fourth and Qualify

The Monday after another three point display at for Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool, and this week fans of the Mersey Reds have got more than a Premier League victory to celebrate. Seemingly, at times, built from crystal, Daniel Sturridge’s goalscoring return made it abundantly clear to the home crowd, and millions of football fans worldwide, exactly the kind of potency in front of goal that the Reds had been missing since August.

Sturridge had to wait until past the 70 minute mark at Anfield for his re-introduction before his adoring public; once on the pitch however, the wait for fans was minimal. The goal, twelve minutes after his entrance, was Sturridge at his clinical best: one touch with his left to control, a second, with his right, to fire the ball between Adrian and his near post – game over.

Go Fourth Qualify

The goal was greeted with a joyous cacophony of sound, reverberating not only around the immediate vicinity, but across the globe as happiness, hope, relief and, above all, belief, rolled themselves into one deafening explosion of emotion, exclaimed by fans in unison. Sturridge is back (if not yet quite match fit), and that changes everything.

The season  provides one real priority for Liverpool Football Club and Brendan Rodgers: a Champions League place. The two avenues which lead to participation in Europe’s elite club competition, and the riches which accompany it, are: to win the Europa League, or to finish the season in the top four of the Premier League.

The former, whilst it may look easier on paper – less games to play, two legged matches etc – is nevertheless fraught with danger. Brendan Rodgers is at an elementary stage as far as his education in European competition is concerned, and his relatively poor showings as LFC manager, in both the Europa and Champions’ Leagues, suggest he’s a little way off guiding Liverpool to a major European trophy of any description. Add to this relative lack of know-how, the stature and quality of some of the other remaining sides in said competition – Roma, Sevilla, Ajax, Zenit, among others – and you’ve got a very tall order indeed.

That leaves a top four finish as the most viable route to the top table; a big ask for a team currently in seventh, but certainly not an impossible task. Saturday’s win, coupled with Southampton’s shock defeat to Swansea, (cheers Jonjo!) has left Liverpool just four points off fourth place, five behind United in third, in what is a relatively low (point) scoring league from third down.

This time last year, Liverpool were 4th on 46 points; four points higher than Southampton’s current total, whilst Chelsea were third, seven points clear of United’s current tally. Bearing in mind that Arsenal’s total of 79 last year was a record high and, given the current points totals and fixture list, it seems safe to assume that this season will see a return to roughly a 70 point threshold, with the Reds in firm contention.

A target of 70 points makes the maths rather simple for Liverpool; a fraction over Brendan’s holy grail of two points per game, from the remaining fifteen, should just about be enough to send the Reds to the ball. The course of the season to date, has run far from smoothly for the dry-lipped Northern Irishman and his charges. A few poor transfer dealings, questionable team selections and a plethora of injuries, have played their part in providing the Reds with a 1.65 PPG ratio. It is worth noting however, that since (and including) the Stoke home game on November 29th, this Liverpool side’s ratio has improved significantly. Over those 11 games, Liverpool have taken 24 points, making their average 2.18 per game, and all, predominantly, without Sturridge.

According to Who Scored, last season LFCs PPG average was 1.4 when Sturridge didn’t feature, compared to a 2 point average when he started – a significant improvement to, hopefully, add to the marked betterment witnessed over the last two months. One other encouraging point, statistically speaking, is the fact that the Reds’ goals against per game average has fallen significantly – 0.81 over the 11 game period from November 29, compared to 1.55 per game in the previous 11 game sample. It could be argued that the quality of opposition was weaker in the more recent sample, however games against Manchester United, Arsenal, West Ham and Swansea were included in the second sample – all teams that were above Liverpool at the time of the fixture (and in some cases still are).

Apart from accruing the requisite points total, it’s imperative, in order to secure a Champions’ League place, to stop three of Southampton, United, Arsenal and Spurs from amassing more. It goes without saying that that won’t be easy; however, there is assistance in the form of fixtures. Liverpool have to play each of the teams with whom they’re vying, Spurs and United at Anfield too! Winning these home games, and not losing any of the four, would go quite a distance towards making fourth place a reality come May.

The fixture list, in general, is fairly similar for all five teams, in terms of difficulty; nearly all teams still have to face each other, and the two above, for the second time this season. Liverpool fans and players can take heart from the fact that they’re the only Premier League side yet to lose a league game in 2015; that, and the memory of this time last season, when that breathtaking sequence of victories began. The circumstances may be somewhat different; but ,on current form, a run of similar, if not quite such epic proportions, isn’t an altogether outrageous contemplation.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about LFC emerging from transition at potentially, just the right time. Having witnessed the performances which have followed; the energy, the desire, the defensive solidity, the spirit and togetherness, the quality in the side  (Coutinho and Sterling especially) and now the re-introduction of Sturridge, I can’t say that I’ve changed my mind. Provided we can keep our key players fit, we’re set up and ready to go; in the slipstream and ready to slingshot. Over to you lads, go forth and qualify!


This post was originally published on Anfield Index on 03/02/15 http://anfieldindex.com/12678/liverpool-fc-go-fourth-qualify.html

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Adidas Trainer Competition!

To all readers of It’s All in the Game, our friends over at Mainline Menswear are running a great competition. Up for grabs are a year’s supply of Adidas Originals, that’s 12 pairs, one for each month.

To enter, simply follow the link, and fill in your details. Good luck!


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The Sturridge Effect

Selhurst Park hadn’t been a welcoming theatre for Liverpool FC for the best part of twenty years, before Saturday night. The last Liverpool player to score a goal, for a winning side, at the home of Crystal Palace was none other than Oyvind Leonhardson, way back in December of 1997. Perhaps, therefore, there may well have been some justification for a gloomy sense of deja vu, sweeping the away fans, when Frazer Campbell slid in a rather fortuitous opener after 15 minutes, albeit against the run of play.

Sturridge Effect

Palace, those who’d finally crushed Liverpool hearts last season, who’d twisted the dagger cruelly earlier in this, by tearing a wretchedly insecure LFC limb from limb in Neil Warnock’s last win before , again, being banished from yet another Premier League side, had drawn first blood again. Before Christmas, cup match or not, Liverpool may well have buckled, but thankfully, no longer. In fact, even after going behind, and notwithstanding the very odd scare, the Reds always appeared confident in eventual victory.

There were times last season, particularly after Christmas – the Swansea game at Anfield springs to mind – when there was a sense, a feeling, that regardless of how the game unfolded, Liverpool would find a way to win it. That sense, though gradually building over recent games, was completely apparent on Saturday night: The final result never appeared in doubt.

Many factors can be said to have contributed to this massive shift: away from the fragility the team displayed in the Autumn, back to the confidence and resilience which was so visible last season, and revealed itself again at the weekend. Brendan Rodgers has to take a huge chunk of credit for re-invoking the spirit of last year, also for changing the system and, by hook or by crook, reinvigorating some players.

Simon Mignolet comes into that category; his form has been exceptional in the last month especially, and he was immense again against Palace. Then there’s the confidence collected from putting together results, from grinding out points, from becoming hard to beat, and building form on the back of results. The whole team, the back five and the manager in particular, need take the plaudits for that.

There was something about the assured nature of the performance against Palace however, something which has only been evident on a few occasions this season, but was displayed with much more frequency last – for obvious reasons. It’s difficult to put a name on were such surety comes from, but if pushed, one might call it : The Sturridge Effect.

Sturridge is (crossing fingers and toes) back and beginning to return to something like match sharpness. He won’t be at his best for another few weeks or so, but the effect he’s had already is hugely significant. A goalscorer within 12 minutes of his re-introduction against West Ham, Sturridge was involved in two goals against Spurs, and scored the crucial equaliser against Palace.

Goals are vital, of course, but that’s just one of the cards he brings to the table: the fear he instils in defenders; the way he stretches the play, and creates space; his sheer pace, but also the confidence he instils in his teammates, the likes of Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling; the partnerships he has with them, and vice-versa. Without question, Daniel Sturridge makes a huge difference to the way Liverpool play and how successful the team is; the stats bear it out.

Since making his league debut as a substitute against Manchester United, in a game Liverpoool lost 2-1, Daniel Sturridge has featured in forty-nine Premier League games for Brendan Rodgers’s side. Including that match, in which he scored LFC’s goal, Liverpool have lost just six times – meaning that the Reds lose just once every 8.16 games when Sturridge plays some part. In forty league starts for the Reds, Sturridge has been on the losing side just four times; four! Meaning, that when he starts, Liverpool lose just one game in ten – that’s title winning form. When Sturridge is absent however, and plays no part, that stat slides drastically, with Liverpool losing one in three of the thirty games he’s missed – that’s mid-table form at best.

The impact of the man doesn’t end there. In the league alone, Sturridge has 33 goals in 49 appearances, as well as eleven assists. In his first season and a half he averaged a goal every 108 minutes – the feat for which Sergio Aguero is currently being lauded- and it’s still up at a goal every 114 mins, better than all except the City front-man.

There had been a perception that Sturridge was underrated by Liverpool fans, and that might have been true, to some extent at least, when the majestic Luis Suarez wore the number seven shirt. The England man’s absence however, has taught even the least appreciative of LFC fans how vital the striker is to Rodgers’s team. Whilst the mainstream pundits out there have been concerning themselves with the Harry Kane roadshow, Sturridge’s return should end all debate over the identity of England’s number one goalscorer.

Suarez got a mention there, and it’s only right as he formed part of the deadliest strike duo the league had ever seen. Too many, however, wrote off Sturridge’s contribution as merely an aside to the Uruguayan’s own, thinking perhaps he was but a bit part player; not so! Liverpool have lost just once in the league when Daniel Sturridge has scored, that was on his league debut against United when he came on and scored, again within twelve minutes. LFC were 1-0 down at the break; the second half was drawn. Since then, the Reds have been undefeated in the Premier League when Sturridge has registered.

The Sturridge Effect can yet have a massive impact on Liverpool’s season. Aspirations at the start of the year were high; they’ve had to be reassessed, however a place in the top four and two pieces of silverware are still very much up for grabs. The reds have won 31 and drawn 12 of the 49 games in which Sturridge has featured – a win percentage of 63.3; when absent that drops to 46.6, whilst the loss percentage increases sharply. Those figures and the others highlighted in this piece, as well as what can be judged by the naked eye, clarify exactly how imperative Sturridge is to this Liverpool team, and its chances of success. If he can be kept fit, it could yet be a great season.

This post was originally published on AnfieldIndex


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Sterling Qualities!

In just over a fortnight, the Premier League season will be upon us once again. Weekends will assume a deeper meaning, and thoughts of summer holidays and World Cups in far flung lands, will fade hazily into the memory banks, perhaps retrieved and discussed at some later date, when other matters appear less pressing.

Liverpool begin their campaign on Sunday August 17th, against what will become: Ronald Koeman’s “new look” Southampton team – a situation forced on the Dutchman by the mass exodus of last year’s team from St. Mary’s – but will the Reds start ready? Pulling out of the Loic Remy deal, albeit for the right reasons, has pushed many fans into a fretful mood. Worried about a lack of options up front, some point to the loss of Luis Suarez and the signing of Rickie Lambert as massive cause for concern, particularly in the goals department.


Today, it can appear that the club only have three strikers on the books; in the shape of Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert. If you were to look at those names in a vacuum, you may well have a mild cause for concern, however, there’s more to it than that.

Consider another name to add to that trio, a fouth member of the quartet, who can add 15-20 league goals this season, and ten assists to go with them. Reus? Benzema? No, not a “marquee signing”, a player who has performed already at the club; someone who knows the systems, and the styles the manager wants to play; someone with pace, tactical cleverness, and a killer instinct. Consider, Raheem Sterling.

Raheem Sterling has all the attributes to become a world star, and to do so playing for Liverpool. The development shown by the young man during his twentieth year, can be described as nothing less than stratospheric – from a troubled youngster with potential, to a core component of the most potent attacking trio in the league. That Sterling transformed himself from a lad who most fans wanted to send out on loan, to being the best player on the pitch in many games in the second half of Liverpool’s season, could be regarded as inconceivable; it may be unfathomable, given the company he was in (not just on his own team); nevertheless, it occurred.

The stats confirm just quite what a remarkable trajectory Sterling’s season took last year. Having not started a game in the league until Palace at home on 15th October, Sterling played just 174 minutes of Premier League football before making his second start of the campaign away at Hull on December 1st – a game in which he played poorly. Subbed off on 65, he started and scored in the next match – a 5-1 demolition of Norwich at Anfield (Luis Suarez bagging the other four)- and never looked back, starting 21 of the final 24 games and scoring eight more goals.

Given that he only played half a season last year, we can expect nothing but more improvement from the 19 year old in terms of numbers. Sterling’s stats last season show a goals per 90 min ratio of 0.37 – better than Eriksen, David Silva, Oscar, Barkley, Lallana and Wilshere – all players who primarily play in the number 10 or from wide, like Sterling. His shooting accuracy also compares well, better than all of the above, bar Eriksen, with whom he ties on 67%. Whilst his key passes, and chances created stats lag a little behind Silva and Eriksen, his successful take ons, interceptions, and percentage of total duels won, have him either first or second in the same company of six.

As mentioned above, Sterling was mainly deployed as either a wide forward or at the tip of the diamond in a number ten role. It seems likely that he’ll be used in these positions again; however, given his pace, shooting accuracy, tactical awareness and eye for goal, I’d have no reservations playing him as a support striker with Sturridge or Lambert, should Rodgers go for two up top, especially given the strength in depth, and the options available in the positions behind. We’ve already seen, with his goal against Olympiacos (scored inside 10 minutes of his first pre-season game), just how potent he can be. I’ve said on record before that I can see Sterling having as big an influence as Michael Owen did; for his pace, age and the impact he can have on the league, and my opinion has strengthened in that regard, as he has more to his all round game than Owen ever had.

My gut feeling tells me that Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, and even FSG, want another striker, and are likely to bring one in. Whether they do or not remains to be seen. Whatever happens, wherever Sterling plays, I’ll tell you right now – I see him scoring twenty goals this season, starring for Liverpool, and winning Young Player of the Year. Why? Simply put: because he can!

Stats from http://www.squawka.com

This post was originally written for and published on Anfield Index 30/7/14


Neil Patterson

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Write-Off Liverpool FC at Your Peril

Football has returned, finally! Club football I mean, the good stuff, the stuff that matters. Yes, the Premier League kicked off its new season last Saturday and, by now, all 20 clubs involved have played their opening two matches. The biggest game of the season so far took place on Monday night, when last year’s Champions, Manchester City, took on and defeated the runners up in 2013/14, Liverpool FC.

Write Off LFC

When evaluating how the final league standings might appear come the end of May, many look, understandably, at the course the previous campaign took, and where the teams finally came to rest, before predicting how the current season may take shape. Pundits, journalists, broadcasters & fans, each has his or her opinion, based on a variety of criteria – some scientific, others not so logical. In this article, I’ll concentrate on pundits/broadcasters and journalists predictions for the top four, with particular reference (of course) to LFC.

@AngryOfN5 has compiled a table of predictions, which can be found on the blog angryofislington.com. The table contains predictions from 60 recognised sports journalists, broadcasters and pundits, of their picks for the final top four standings for 2014/15 (two have only picked their top 2, and one her first place only).

There is no great surprise, when looking at the compilation, that Manchester City features very prominently on the list. The twice Champions and holders of the Premier League trophy feature in 83% of participants’ first two places. The slight surprise comes however, in the fact that only 25%, or 15 of those asked, have Pelligrini’s men first. This may be down to a number of factors, including a perceived lack of hunger (having won the league last year), and a possible shift in focus to the Champions League.

The main factor though, arguably, is the perceived strength of the other moneybags club in the mix – Chelsea. The plaything of a Russian billionaire, an oligarch of questionable ethics, the West London club have once again dipped into their bottomless well of cash to bring Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Felipe Luis to Stamford Bridge. These additions to a squad that performed well last year in finishing third, plus the know-how of Jose Mourinho at the helm, have made the Blues many “experts” favourites for the title this year. Two thirds (66.6%) have Chelsea as their Champions for this season, with a staggering 93% tipping them to finish in the top two.

Alright, these estimated finishing positions cause little bewilderment. Both teams hold, by far, the most cash in the division; both finished in the top 3 last year, and both have strengthened. However, when we begin to look at the picks for third and fourth position things become a little weirder.

Arsenal features prominently in the running for third place. Just over 56%, or 32 of the 57 respondents, chose Arsenal as their third place team. In and of itself, this leads to little shock – Arsenal finish in the top four recurrently, and the additions of Debuchy, Chambers and in particular Alexis, perceptibly make them stronger. The peculiarity in the list comes from the other team that appears at regular intervals in the third placed column; that of Manchester United. Almost 16% of predictors have made Louis van Gaal’s team their third placed finishers; fairly baffling, given their form last season. If you add that number to those who misguidedly have the Red Devils finishing even higher, you arrive at a figure of 20.5% who expect United to finish third or above in 2014/5. Mad eh?

Things get crazier still when you consider that only 5 out of 57 selectors nominated Liverpool as their third placed team – less than 10% – and just 10.25% have the Anfield Reds in their top three. It doesn’t end there. 26 out of 57 pundits, journalists and broadcasters (the repetition is warranted to drive home that those involved, supposedly, have a deep knowledge of the subject) have Manchester United finishing fourth, whilst only one third have Brendan Rodgers’s side fourth. An eye-watering 65% (almost two thirds) of those whose predictions were recorded in this table, have decided that Manchester United will finish in the top four this season, with just 43% tipping Liverpool to make it.

This seems to me to be highly bizarre. I find it very difficult to understand on what criteria these “experts” base their predictions. Manchester United have signed three players to date, whilst Liverpool have signed nine (including Balotelli). Manchester United have failed (so far) to cover the positions that needed reinforcement, Liverpool have not. Manchester United are starting life under another new boss (the third different boss in three seasons), meaning a period of acclimatisation for all concerned is bound to follow, Liverpool are under the guidance of a manager who has already served two full seasons, and has the complete confidence and understanding of his players. It has been widely recognised that Manchester United need serious surgery; the squad looks thin and short of quality in many areas, the youth cupboard, seemingly bare.

That Liverpool have been written off, surprises me less than how much Manchester United have been overrated. Most who look from a distance, imprudently attribute Liverpool’s success last year, solely, to Luis Suarez. Those who possess a touch more wisdom will remember that in Luis Suarez’s previous two full seasons at Anfield, the club finished 8th and 7th respectively. The player undoubtedly improved last year, but, quite clearly, so did the players and the team around him. Suarez’s move to Barcelona will have a bearing on the Reds, the style of play may be more measured, or at least less frenetic, and his individual brilliance will obviously be missed; but those who believe his departure signals Liverpool’s demise, will be rudely awakened as the season progresses. For what it’s worth, this writer believes that Liverpool will finish third or higher this season.

In conclusion, I’d like to share a couple of pieces of information, which further highlight the preposterous nature of the afore-mentioned “expert” predictions. Since 2004/5, ten full seasons ago, and the year that Liverpool won its fifth European Cup/Champions League, only twice has the team finishing in second position, dropped out of the top four the following year – Liverpool in 09/10 (amidst the Hicks and Gillette debacle) and Chelsea in 11/12 – going back further, Newcastle were the previous team to accomplish that embarrassing feat way back in 1998. And as for going from seventh to first, that’s never happened – John Motson and Dion Dublin take note- NEVER! In fact, the team finishing seventh has only ever breached the top four in the proceeding year twice in Premier League history. On both occasions, the same team managed to accomplish this; the instances occurred in 2000 and 2014; the club concerned? Liverpool!


Neil Patterson


This post was originally written for and published on AnfieldIndex.com  Aug 27th


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Liverpool Set Up to Deliver Knock-Out Blow in Title Fight

As the Barclay’s Premier League roars down the home straight in 2013/14, two of the three title contenders come face to face on Sunday in a duel which will have an immense impact on the final destination of this year’s Premier League crown.

Manchester City will arrive at Anfield second in the table knowing, in this unprecedentedly open and somewhat bizarre campaign, that a loss against Brendan Rodgers’s inspired Reds could spell the end of their title hopes. In Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge at the Etihad, City will enter the arena in the unenviable position of being favourites to win the league, yet underdogs in the match betting.

That Liverpool are narrrow favourites to win this crucial clash is a testament to the performance of Brendan Rodgers’s team over the course of the season, particularly at home. Liverpool have lost just once at Anfield in 2013/14, winning 15 of their 17 games to date. Unbeaten home and away in 2014, the Reds have racked up 19 goals in their last five home games against the likes of Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham, whilst conceding just five in reply.

Manchester City’s away form has improved in recent weeks, after a poor start to the campaign. Kompany and co. won once in their first six attempts on their travels, losing four. That trend has been reversed somewhat, as Pelligrini’s side have been unbeaten away since November 10th, however two draws in the last four (against Norwich and Arsenal) are bound to have sewn a few seeds of doubt in the minds of the champions of two years ago.

Liverpool were beaten 1-2 in the reverse fixture in late December, however it was widely recognised that the Reds were the better team by some distance. Poor officiating and an unfortunate Mignolet error were costly that night, whilst the absences of Steven Gerrrard and Daniel Sturridge from the squad hardly helped matters. At Anfield though, there are no such injury worries and, in fact, the shoe may well be on the other foot. Sergio Aguero, whose been out for some time, only has a 75% chance of starting, with Fernandinho also a major doubt for the vital encounter.

The latter would be a major loss for City, should he be ruled out. The screening and protection that Fernandinho provides the back four is key to the way Pelligrini’s side plays, and Javi Garcia, his likely replacement, whilst being a top player, doesn’t have the same mobility or energy as his Brazilian counterpart. With Liverpool’s relentless high pressing game likely being carried out by Sterling, Henderson and Allen (if not Coutinho), whoever plays in the defensive midfield position for City on Sunday is sure to come under immense and often sustained pressure. This is likely to be the key area of the game, and if Liverpool can pressure City and nick the ball back high up the pitch, then the pace and quality of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling could cut City’s back four to ribbons.

Liverpool should have no fear going into this game. Of course, it’s a huge match which could determine the outcome of the Premier League race this year, but the Reds are under absolutely no pressure. Unlike City, who’ve spent hundreds of millions over the last couple of seasons in the specific aim of becoming the Premier League’s (and Europe’s) dominant force, Liverpool have already achieved their aim for this season. By ensuring a top four finish and achieving Champions League football, the primary target has been hit, and at a canter too. Unlike Manchester City’s, the Liverpool players have already vastly exceeded most fans’ expectations and can make an assault on the title from a position of relative freedom, the freedom that has made them such a joy to watch this season.

Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City

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