Dalglish should try Dirk Kuyt as Lucas replacement for Liverpool

Dirk Kuyt should be Lucas' replacement; photo by Danny Molyneux

The news that Lucas Leiva has been lost for the season with a torn ACL (something with which I can empathize as I am five weeks out from surgery to repair my own torn ACL, it sucks – best wishes to Lucas) will really test Liverpool’s squad as there is not a natural replacement for the Brazilian. The importance of the defense midfielder is one of the tactical evolutions of the last fifteen years. Charlie Adam is too slow, Jordan Henderson and the also injured Steven Gerrard are too attack minded, and Jay Spearing (who will probably get the job) has yet to prove himself. But Liverpool have a player with all the qualities you want in a defensive midfielder – quickness, energy, endeavor, discipline, and  the willingness to put in tackle after tackle – he just isn’t thought of for this position because he’s nominally a striker: Dirk Kuyt. 

It’s hard for me to say this, as I have long been down on Lucas – even last season when he was named the team’s player of the year, but Lucas has really come into his own and is one of the main reasons that Liverpool enter this weekend as the joint best-defense in the Premier League. He learned from a master when Javier Mascherano was at the club, and Lucas can now be seen breaking up play from sideline to sideline. He still struggles with his distribution, especially going forward, and he at times can get caught ahead of the ball. But there is no question that Lucas has emerged as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league and his presence in the Liverpool XI will be missed. Continue reading


Can Spurs keep it going to capitalize on City wobble?

Redknapp's Spurs keep pressure on City; photo by James Boyes

Manchester City have looked like Champions-elect since their strong start to the season was capped with the 6-1 destruction of the holders Manchester United at Old Trafford. But with Liverpool giving City their first real domestic contest after another disapointing outing in the Champions League, a Spurs team which has quietly taken 28 from its last 30 available points must keep their amazing run going as City deal with adversity for the first time. The Premier League title may not just be a Manchester preserve this season.

City had dropped only two points all year, an improbable give-away at Craven Cottage after dominating the game and even going two ahead against Fulham. But their form in Europe has been indifferent–two wins, two losses, and a draw–and they look likely to drop out of the Champions League at the group stage. But earlier European disappointments, even when coupled with controversy in the shape of Carlos Tevez, had not spilled over into their league form. Yet Liverpool really took it to City at Anfield on Sunday, capitalizing on a tiring City squad that hardly threatened in attack and can thank Joe Hart for several world class saves to keep it level. Continue reading

Its awesome when you’re right

Finally, Aquilani plays in his best position

I know it was only Portsmouth at home, but after many, many painful displays of inept and disgraceful soccer, Liverpool finally put together a strong outing in yesterday’s 4-1 win. Scoring four goals against the Premier League’s bottom team that is in administration and definitely going down is not any great achievement in itself. But far more than the scoreline, its was the players and formation that manager Rafa Benitez put on the pitch at Anfield that is giving Liverpool fans reason for hope. Finally, we got to see big money summer signing Alberto Aquilani play in an advanced midfield role with both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. The big question now is with Lille at home in the Europa League on Thursday and a trip to Old Trafford on the weekend, will Benitez stick with it or revert to form and use both Dirk Kuyt and Lucas. Continue reading

Arsenal and Liverpool Yawn

The Arsenal-Liverpool game today was a big fat yawn. Both teams are very poor compared to the sides of previous years and both could conceivably drop out of the top 4 if City, Spurs, and Villa get their acts together.

The difference in this game was Jamie Carragher, or more accurately his forced absence due to injury and the presence of Philipp Degen. Degen seemed to think he was playing as a winger instead of a fullback and decided not to follow Diaby in the box on the goal. Carragher would have won the header. Also Fabregas should have been sent off in the final seconds for a blatant handball. No surprise it was Howard Webb officiating.

A couple thoughts on the two teams:

First, on Arsenal. For all their beautiful play they are dependent on a dominant #9 center forward. Any title hopes were quashed this season not with predictable defeats to United and Chelsea but when Van Persie went down. Van Persie gave them the thing they hadn’t had since Henry a guy who didn’t try and pass the ball into the net but someone who would just freaking shot. The Arsenal mentality was encapsulated when Bendtner break trhough one-on-one with the keeper and his shot went just over the bar – but there was Cesc Fabregas yelling at Bendtner to pass him but Cesc was A. in a worse shooting position and B. had a defender on his back. A pass would have been a waste, yet it described the Arsenal approach. They are just too predictable and both Chelsea and United exposed that. Liverpool did as well, but well…

And on to Liverpool. Despite styming the Gunners defensively, they just pack no offensive punch whatsoever. They effectively play with two players that simply should not be on a top 4 side. First Ngog, he may became a good player but right now he looks awkward as if he is in the midst of puberity. Bringing on Babel was a revelation and his physicality and speed, as well as his willingness to shoot, would seem to make him a better Torres replacement than Ngog. To be fair he did some decent things, but he is anything but threatening. Second, Lucas – he offers nothing. I don’t have much to offer on top of what Ken has said, but I just don’t understand why he is playing for Liverpool and not Portsmouth. I think Benitez has a clear record of success – something the British press don’t give him credit for but his refusal to use players that Liverpool has spent 20 million pounds on is really baffling.

Some thoughts on Liverpool v. Spurs

This was a game much more pivotal to Liverpool than it was to Spurs. Anything less than a win at home would have added to the sense of despair at Anfield and fueled crisis talks. A win by the Reds would bolt them right back into the mix, putting them just a point back from Spurs. For Tottenham, it was all about not losing – so as to not give a major top 4 rival any boost. That’s why it was so weird that team’s approaches were exactly opposite. Liverpool in the end out worked Spurs, but were very fortunate to get an early goal to put that game plan into effect. Spurs were also hard done to have a perfectly good goal disallowed – something that would have forced Liverpool to open up and change tactics. The race for top four just got more exciting after this one

Liverpool played like Stoke – little flash all heart. The crowd showed tremendous support for Benitez and that energy clearly lifted the players. But tactically Liverpool also adopted a Stoke-like approach. They started the game playing a 4-5-1, but the personnel was really 5 defenders and 5 midfielders. This was really a 4-6 at times with everyone defending. While Liverpool had some chances late in the game, this was a side that didn’t really seem to have a goal in it. What they did have is hustle and an early well-taken – yet flukish – goal by Kuyt off a clearance from Reina, allowed them to sit back and scrap and defend. They at times had all 11 players behind the ball, which greatly frustrated Spurs passing attack.

Spurs really missed Lennon and Huddelstone. Yes Liverpool clearly missed Lennon has been Spurs most important and valuable player this year, as his pace and improving crossing ability has been the largest contributor to Spurs’ goals. But what also became clear is how important Tom Huddelstone is to Tottenham. He has become to Tottenham what Xavi Alonso was to Liverpool – in fact he would have been a good replacement for Alonso at Liverpool and far cheaper than Aquilani. Huddelstone plays deep and pings the ball around the field to great effect. He also reduces the need for Palacios to be a creative player. Yesterday Jenas and Palacios struggled to take hold of the midfield. With Jenas playing further up field, Palacios was forced to play the role of distributer which is just not his strong suit. Jenas played well at times and is more effective at getting forward into the box then Hudd, but Spurs clearly missed his ability to control the flow of the game.
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Who are you and what have you done with Steven Gerrard?

Did Abramovitch have Gerrard kidnapped? Photo by Wonker

After enduring the entire 90 minutes of Liverpool v Portsmouth on Saturday, I have just been too depressed to write about either Liverpool or soccer. Some distance from that wretched display has allowed me to think a little more clearly about what ails the Reds this season. They have many problems, but I have focused on two main culprits for their poor play: Benitez’s favored 4-2-3-1 system falls apart without a midfield player to orchestrate the attack; and Steven Gerrard has been complete crap (or absolute pants for our British readers) for the last three months.

I’ll have more on the missing playmaker in another post, but today it’s about Gerrard and whether he was kidnapped by the Russian mafia in Florence in late September and replaced by an imposter. Continue reading

Liverpool v Arsenal preview: Will Benitez go for it?

Benitez can't get out of his own way with the media, can he do it on the team sheet?

Arsenal journey to Anfield to face Liverpool in the Premier League’s only Sunday match up and a critical game for both sides. Liverpool are under siege after a poor first half of the season was underlined by their meek Champions League exit on Wednesday. They are, however, getting healthy at just the right time.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are ravaged by injuries and could be forced to play without a recognized striker. Despite all the goals they’ve scored this season, no front man is a problem for a team that has struggled to find goals since Robin Van Persie went down. The big question for me, though, will be whether the under-fire Benitez stays conservative or goes for it. Aquilani anyone? Continue reading

Why did Benitez buy Aquilani?

Benitez blundered in buying Aquilani if he's not going to play him; photo by A. Mieszczak

As regular readers of this blog know, I have preached relative patience with Manager Rafa Benitez even as Liverpool’s struggles continued to mount. Cruel fate has intervened and all of Liverpool’s woes can’t be placed at Benitez’s feet. But that doesn’t immunize him from criticism of the moves that he has made or the things he hasn’t done that could affect Liverpool’s chances of moving up the table. And that brings us to the 0-0 draw at Blackburn Saturday and the fundamental question of why did Benitez spend £20 million on Alberto Aquilani if he isn’t going to play him?

While the departure of Xabi Alonso was not totally unforeseen, it certainly threw a wrench in Benitez’s summer transfer plans. Funds that he was expecting were not forthcoming, further hampering Benitez’s attempts to position the side for a title run. Once the season began, injuries wreaked havoc on the side, knocking out the two most important players and keeping Aquilani on the sidelines for longer than expected. And then there’s the beach ball incident… Continue reading

Heavy December schedule likely to take toll on some Premier League pretenders

Can Tevez save City during brutal December?; photo by Dull Hunk

It’s far too early to give the title to Chelsea, but their remarkably simple win over Arsenal on Sunday certainly puts them in the driver’s seat. But it’s a few notches down the table where the race for the last few Champions League places is getting very tight that could see the most turnover in the packed holiday fixture list. Just four points separates currently third-placed Tottenham from seventh Manchester City, and it seems likely that at least one Premier League pretender will be exposed by the time the calendar reaches 2010.

Five straight wins, including two over big rivals Man U and Arsenal, have opened up some space at the top of the table for Chelsea. The Blues lead Man U by five and it’s a further five points down to third place Spurs. Chelsea appear hard to beat at the moment (although they have fallen to Villa and Wigan), but champions aren’t crowned in November. Man U were seven points adrift of Liverpool at this time last year and still won the title by four. Chelsea are sure to go through a rough patch, the question is whether any of their pursuers will be in position to pounce. Continue reading

Liverpool’s defense most at fault; But Lucas not good enough to keep Aquilani on the bench

Lucas Leiva is not the only problem, but he is not the answer

Liverpool struggled to their second consecutive 2-2 draw at Anfield against Machester City yesterday, not a disastrous result given their respective league positions. But that’s four dropped points at home for Manager Rafa Benitez’s men, who have little margin for error after so many early loses. Injuries have ravaged the squad, but the main culprit for these results is some pretty shoddy marking at the back. Even so, the play of Lucas Leiva in the midfield has left a lot to be desired, and after a very poor outing against City, there can be no excuse for him keeping Alberto Aquilani out of the starting XI. Continue reading