Ahead of this Wednesday’s Liverpool – AC Milan Champion’s League Final and some ill-advised bulletin board material from Ancelotti & Gattuso, I’ve decided that in lieu of another mediocre preview by yours truly, I’d instead query some other Liverpool fans (whose sites/blogs I readily enjoy) about the big game, this past season, and what the future might hold for the mighty Reds.
So, I wrote up a few questions and asked them to weigh in, much like a poor man’s version of the “Spyin’ Kop” found over at RAWK. Basically, let them do the heavy lifting for me. And lift they did. (remember, kids, use your legs not your back)
Introducing my panel of ‘guests’, in their own words…
Nate of Oh You Beauty… is more than happy to grasp any chance to write in the third person. He is a Cancer (astrologically and metaphorically), and spends far too much time thinking about a team on the other side of the ocean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Amanda at You’ll Never Blog Alone just finished her second year of law school. She distracts herself from justiciability doctrines by following Liverpool (and England) and playing in two rec leagues. She would like to be Jamie Carragher when she grows up, but with better boobs.
James from The Red Cauldron a graduate from a local polytechnic in Singapore (yes, in Asia) and is a holder of Diploma for Computer and Communication Engineering. Fell in love with Liverpool watching the Newcastle-Liverpool game back in the late 90s and used to adore Owen. Currently no favourite player on the list but that could change in years to come.
First off, some rather predictable questions:
Your verdict on the season… Was it a success, failure, a step forward, a step backwards or are we treading water? Or is judgement suspended until after Athens?
Nate: Judgment is mainly suspended until Athens, but it’s more treading water than anything else, and that’s still being generous. One thing says it all for me: 82 points last year, 68 this year. Nevermind the fact that Liverpool’s played weakened line-ups in the league for a couple of months, that point total is nowhere near good enough. But with all the new faces if not expected, it’s still not a complete surprise, and next season’s going to be the big ask.
Amanda: I think they’re treading water in the Premiership. Though they finally managed to get a league win over Chelsea, they lost far too many matches we should have won, particularly away and early in the season. It took the defense too long to get its act together, and that really hurt them, especially since you don’t get a lot of chances to make up points in the league. Much better in the Champions League, obviously, though I would have liked to see Liverpool challenge for another trophy as well. I don’t think they’re strong enough yet to do that, and whatever Rafa says, I think they did focus on the Champions League to a large extent this season. Since it seems to have worked, I’m not complaining that much, but I do think that getting to the final makes up for a lot of what would have otherwise been an unremarkable season.
James: I think in a way it wasn’t so much of a success without looking into our CL progress. Our league form hasn’t been good and is woeful right at the beginning. Comparing it to last season, it felt like a step backwards but we often overlooked that there are a lot of new players and also the World Cup in the summer that was quite a disruption for club football. I’m still convinced that we’re on the up and Benitez is bringing us in the right direction. I think give him some time and he’ll bring back the 19th.
Highlight of the season? (not counting a result in Athens)
Amanda: I just rewatched the league victory over Chelsea, so I’ll say that, along with knocking them out of the Champions League (and even though it doesn’t really count, I’ll throw in the Community Shield way back in August). Mourinho is probably my most-hated man in world soccer, and it just amuses me every time Liverpool manage to beat him. Doing it in the league, where they’ve tended to have our number, is even better. The first half of that game was as good a half as Liverpool have played all year. (Runner-up to this: beating Barca in the round of 16. The Chelsea victories just edge it because I love to see John Terry cry.)
James: Beating Chelsea twice, in league and CL, and beating Barcelona.
Nate: I’m tempted to ignore all the Champions League results because if Liverpool doesn’t win the final, will I still feel the same way? However, I just can’t get over the win at Anfield against Chelsea. Jorge Valdano carries no weight here; that was a simply awesome spectacle. If we’re counting CL games, then Barca at Camp Nou has to be runner-up, while the most satisfying league performance was again against Chelsea, the first league win against them since Rafa took over.
Low point of the season? (same parameters)
Nate: 0-3 Everton. Self-explanatory. 0-1 against United at Anfield, 0-0 against Everton at Anfield, and 3-6 and 1-3 against Arsenal in the Cups are up there as well. It’s probably not a good thing that there’s more lows to the season than highs in my eyes. That could easily change after Wednesday night though.
Amanda: No contest, the two cup defeats to Arsenal in the same week, by a combined score of 9-4. There’s no excuse for that, and I stand by everything I said here. I understand wanting to give the reserves a run out, but you have to get the right mix of new players and first-teamers, and they completely failed at that. Also, I don’t care if you’ve promised Dudek the domestic cups, after he lets in three in the FA Cup, you have to drop him for the Carling.
James: The first few league games were mare. Losing to Everton 3-0 is pretty painful and to watch them getting a point at Anfield isn’t good. The 2 cup exits in a week by Arsenal, opening day draw against Sheffield, the last minute goal by O’Shea at Anfield…
Your Player of the Season?
James: Pretty difficult to pick eh, no one actually stands out above the rest (the good ones) but I’ll go with Carragher.
Amanda: I’m going to be really annoying here and name two. Reina had a rough start to the season, but came through it and probably set another record or two in the process. In addition, he continues to be a total stud at penalty shootouts, only letting one of the Chelsea attempts in. So he’s one. The other is Daniel Agger. It can’t be easy to replace Hyypia in Liverpool’s defense, but he made it look pretty simple, taking over that position almost completely by the end of the season. Like Hyypia, he can also score the odd goal, and he’s still in his early twenties, so he’ll hopefully just improve with age. By the return leg of the semifinal, young Mr. Agger had managed to shut Drogba down, and his early goal made the difference in the tie.
Nate: Finnan. Mr. Consistent, and very much missed when out with the neck injury. I’d love to pick Carra or Reina based on recent defensive performances (Agger’s up there too), but the start to the season was far too shaky.
What moves would you like to see Rafa make this summer?
Nate: I’m nowhere near smart enough to guess which players are Benitez’s targets, but what I want to see is a continuation of the building process Rafa’s already started. Far too often, I’m seeing proposed big-money signings as spending for spending’s sake, simply because of the new owners. It’s nice to have more money so Liverpool’s not priced out of moves, but the last thing I want to see is the team going Chelsea’s route. It’s not high up on my list of fears, though.
Amanda: I think that getting rid of Dudek is a couple of seasons too late, but needed to be done. He wasn’t happy there. I’m sad to see Robbie Fowler go, of course, but I think that’s also the right decision. In terms of what needs to be brought in, I think it’s the same answer as it has been for the past couple of seasons (at least): real wingers and at least one traditional striker.
James: Many of us go into the ‘FM’ (sven’s note: ‘Football Manager’) mode when we talk about summer transfers but I won’t keep going about how we should sign Torres, Eto’o and Villa altogether. We should get the right man for the right position and I think Tevez would fit in nicely in place of Bellamy. Maybe one of the 3 names above would be welcomed while the flanks still needs to strengthen, especially down the right. Ricardo Quaresma, Simao or Alves would be ideal while Gamst Pederson on the left wouldn’t hurt.
What’s the missing piece?
Nate: Goals. I think it’s a speedy, ‘fox in the box’ striker (Cisse hasn’t worked, don’t think Bellamy has either), but I could be convinced in regards to an attacking midfielder/left sided winger that chips in with goals and gets better width and crosses from that flank. Hey, that could be Harry Kewell though, right?
Amanda: Like I said, wingers (at least one), and an out-and-out striker. I think the defense is solid, and we’ve got more than enough midfielders, so that’s where I’d like to see Rafa focus in the off-season.
James: A good goal poacher and a world class winger. Oh yes, and a proper left back who can defend!
Any particular players you’d like to see come in?
Amanda: I never thought I’d say this, but Tevez would be great to bring in. I don’t see Shevchenko coming to Liverpool, and I don’t think Rafa wants Michael Owen (even assuming he can get anywhere near his old level). Other possibilities would be Eto’o and Villa, though they’re both maybe out of our price range at the moment. In terms of wingers, I’m not exactly sure who’s out there, but there has to be better than Pennant, really.
James: Eh? Alright, I’d love to see Villa, Daniel Alves, Alex Pato, Eric Abidal and Quaresma. A backup goalkeeper is also needed and I’m not so sure about it…
Nate: See two questions above.
Anybody you’d like to see shipped out? Anybody you want to bad mouth?
James: Craig Bellamy. Just don’t see him as the player to take us into the next level. Can you see a championship winning team with Bellamy inside? I don’t. And maybe Mark Gonzalez….perhaps loan him somewhere because he doesn’t seemed to enjoy the physical side of the English game. And with Lucas coming in, maybe Sissoko? Mascherano is capable in that position and it seemed we have central midfield in abundance. Other than that, I’m alright.
Nate: I certainly don’t want to see him shipped out, but I really do fret over how much longer Alonso will be here, which I started to ramble about on my site last week in regards to the Lucas transfer. It’s probably irrational, but the fact the contract talk’s gone quiet frightens me. I’d never bad mouth the man though, he’s one of my absolute favorites. Such a classy player.
Amanda: I am still skeptical about Pennant; I know he’s only had a season, but I haven’t been impressed. Mark Gonzalez also didn’t have a great season, and by the end, I’d almost forgotten that he existed. I tend to be a little more lenient with players coming from other leagues, though, and I wouldn’t mind keeping him around till January just to see if he adjusts better. Pretty much the same thing applies to Paletta and Aurelio, two other players that I keep forgetting exist. I know every team needs cover, but I have yet to be impressed. I’m confused that Zenden keeps getting starts, too, and I’d like to see him move on.
Now, some more specific questions…
Fancy “a team full of Carraghers”?
Nate: In mindset only. Someone needs to score the goals.
Amanda: Theoretically, yes. However, I envision a lot of 0-0 draws in this team’s future, so maybe not. I would like to see the entire team play with Carra’s commitment and passion, though, especially in the Champions League. Cramp in “both his groins,” and he still plays through. Beautiful.
James: No, not really! I love the man….but no…
Pick your preferred next destination for Robbie Fowler.
Amanda: I haven’t given this much thought, really, but I could actually see him doing well in MLS. His loss of pace over the past few years wouldn’t be nearly as much of a factor, and there’d definitely be a lot less pressure (and no chance of playing Liverpool). Beyond that, I don’t know; maybe a side like Reading?
James: Probably the CC Championship or League One? At least when he’s there it’s easier to track him rather than ending up in some Arab countries nobody heard of.
Nate: Liverpool coaching staff. Please don’t come to MLS, Robbie.
Djibril Cisse: After scoring 19 goals last term for Liverpool (nine in the league, eight in Europe and two in the FA Cup, including the Final), often playing ‘out of position’ on the right wing, and then suffering a second horrific broken leg, it looks as if Marseille will decline the option to buy him when his loan deal expires. So, he’ll return (at least temporarily) to Anfield this summer. Should Rafa bring him back into the fold or should he leave the ‘For Sale’ sign around his neck?
James: I’m never a lover of Cisse and I believe Rafa isn’t either. He’s too enigmatic and unpredictable to be honest and his style doesn’t seemed to suit Liverpool. He has the pace to burn but he doesn’t know how to use it in a right way and what’s the point, really. Maybe Rafa SHOULD give him a chance but I say offload him…
Nate: I will make the “For Sale” sign for him if that helps. I was happy to welcome him when he came after all the hype, and he single-handedly won the Super Cup, but please Djibril, pick your head up. It’s as bad as Baros. Not a Benitez style player at all.
Amanda: I wasn’t impressed with him most of the time he was here, and Rafa certainly doesn’t seem to be a fan. I’d rather sell him on if it’s possible
Where will he end up?
Nate: I still think Marseille at a cut-price, but definitely back in France.
Amanda: Well, Houllier bought him in the first place, so maybe Lyon (if he can deal with Baros, and they hate each other, then why not?). It seems like he’d be happier in a European league, maybe even Spain.
James: Maybe in the French League or even the Spanish League.
If Bellamy is sold, should Cisse be given the chance to play the ‘hang off the last defender’s shoulder’ role that Craig seems to have been asked to fill?
Amanda: The only way I could see him staying, really, is if Bellamy does go; they’re too similar in style for them to be effective together. Even with that, though, I think Bellamy’s a little bit more effective in that role than Cisse has been (though I wouldn’t mind seeing Cisse and Crouch play together in a friendly or two, just to see how that works).
James: As I’ve mentioned, maybe. Rafa seemed to have complained about him being quite unteachable and maybe he won’t be giving him chance. After all, he’s Houllier’s signing.
Nate: Nope. Rather keep Craig then, thanks.
I must admit, I was always partial to Cisse’s eclectic look (probably explaining all these Djibril questions). Do you like the ever-changing hair styles and all the ink?
James: Quite amusing, really. It’s as if every time you switch on the TV for a match, you’re seeing a different player and talk about his hair rather than getting over anxious about the match. There used to be a saying about his tattoes that ‘he let his kids drew all over him’.
Amanda: I don’t really care about the tattoos, though there were several of the hairstyles I was not a fan of, particularly the weird little mohawk thing. Though I could handle all that if he didn’t, you know, hit his wife. That’s the deal-breaker.
Nate: I couldn’t care less what he looks like if he’s producing on the pitch. For all I care, he could dye his skin purple and tattoo Margaret Thatcher’s face on his arse if he was scoring goals and playing for the team.
Bellamy: Stay or go?
James: GO GO GO.
Nate: Bye Craig. I wanted to see it work out, because every squad needs a narky little bastard, but he seemingly hasn’t fit in. Needs a more consistent run of games to hit full form than he’ll get in a Liverpool shirt.
Amanda: My answer to this depends on who they can bring in during the summer. If they can get another striker, I’d rather see him go than Crouch (I know, but I love him) or Kuyt. I don’t think he’s been horrible this season, but he definitely hasn’t been as effective as I had hoped he would be. I wouldn’t shed any tears if he were to go, honestly.
Your starting XI and bench for next year?
Amanda: Starters: Reina; Riise, Carragher, Agger, Finnan; Kewell, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard; Kuyt, Tevez. Bench: whoever our new backup keeper is (Padelli if he stays, perhaps), Arbeloa, Hyypia, Sissoko, Crouch. (All that is assuming Xabi stays, which he better, and Sissoko also stays, which I’d like to see as well. I didn’t include any new wingers, mostly because I’m not sure who we need in theat area, really.)
James: Wow, tough one! Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Abidal; Alves, Gerrard, Mascherano, Simao; Tevez, Crouch; Carson(if he stays), Hyypia, Alonso, Quaresma, Kuyt.
Nate: I can’t pick a consistent starting XI with Benitez as manager. It shifts game-to-game depending on the situation, and for big clubs, I think that’s the right method. I do believe it will be pretty similar to this year, with only a couple of new faces, primarily in attack.
What do you expect to be achieved next season?
Amanda: I’d like to see us take advantage of the cracks that are showing in Chelsea (and Manchester’s aging side) to really challenge for the top spots in the league. Another successful Champions League campaign would also be nice, and we’ve shown that we can do that with a much weaker squad than I hope we’ll have after the summer. The other cups would be nice, but I think everyone would agree they’re not nearly as much of a priority. Really, I want a Premiership title, and that’s it. We’ll need to buy well and be lucky with injuries, but it would be incredible.
Nate: At least 2nd in the league, and in the title hunt all season. None of this poor away form and poor start to the season nonsense.
James: A quadruple. No, kidding! I want us to actually challenge for the title next season and not fizzle out in the first lap of the race. At least go closer to Chelsea/ManYoo while also put up respectable challenges in the various cups. Winning maybe the FA Cup or Mickey Mouse (LC) would be a bonus but ultimately, it’s the league.
Milan: They feature nine players from the side in Istanbul. Is this year’s side better than the 2005 version or just older?
Nate: Better and worse. The defense is probably better, at the least it’s younger with Jankulovski and Oddo, and Kaka’s improved in leaps and bounds every year. But the strike force, lacking Sheva and Crespo, scares me a lot less.
Amanda: I’m not going to underestimate Milan’s side, old as they may be. Most of them have been here before, and some have won it before, too. Where I think they’re significantly weaker, though, is in attack; they didn’t really buy anyone to replace Shevchenko, which leaves them Gilardino and Inzaghi. However, their midfield is essentially unchanged from 2005, and that’s where they were the most effective. Kaka’s only gotten better since then, and Seedorf’s been amazing recently, and Gattuso’s clearly going to be out for blood. The Milan side is definitely older, but I don’t think that necessarily diminishes their effectiveness. On paper, they may not be better, but they’re a solid, experienced side, and I don’t think this will be easy at all.
James: They are more experienced this time round and will have revenge on their mind, no doubt. Personally, I think that upfront, they aren’t as good as 2005 because I would take Crespo is much more clinical than let’s say, Gilardino. Kaka is perhaps better and improved from 2005 and that’ll be something to watch for. The midfield 4 are experienced pros but not so sure whether they still have the legs and also the mentality. Back 4 is ageing yet cannot be overlooked. Jankulovski has one wicked left foot while Oddo is pretty decent. If Maldini plays, he’ll be the colossal figure while Nesta is dependable as ever. In all, I think 2005’s squad is a little better, JUST.
Kaka is the CL’s leading scorer this term and by arguably one of, if not the, most in-form attacking players in the world. So, who’s more dangerous, Kaka or Christiano Ronaldo?
Amanda: I think Kaka’s more dangerous, and may in fact be the best player in the world. Ronaldo’s definitely had a good season, but he’s a lot less consistent, and probably easier to shut down. Kaka’s not only great attacking, he’s a good passer and distributor of the ball as well, which is how they were able to completely demolish us in the first half in 2005.
James: I personally rate Kaka higher than Ronaldo. Although I’d like to think they’re not of exactly the same style of players. I think he doesn’t showboat too much and is more effective, with pace and power at the same time. I think the goals speak for itself. Ronaldo’s temperament and attitude is something of a problem for him, so Kaka for me!
Nate: Kaka, hands down. I truly believe he’s one of, if not the best in the world. I have been and will continue to talk up Ronaldo, but he can be kicked out of the game and tries to do too much on his own at times. With Pirlo, Gattuso, and Seedorf, Kaka can let the game come to him. That’s down to Cristiano’s youth though. He has the potential to be even better, one of the best I’ve ever seen, but he’s not there yet. I will now slit my wrists.
The possibility of Zenden in yet another starting role. Any thoughts? (sven’s note: All answers were received before Bolo showed up on crutches after a training session)
Amanda: *screeches* Seriously, I don’t understand this at all. I guess they’ve been somewhat forced into it through Kewell and Garcia’s injuries. However, I still don’t like it; the best thing he’s done all season is convert that penalty against Chelsea. I tend to trust Rafa, though, and he won it in 2005 with Traore and Baros on the field, so while this isn’t what I’d do myself, I can live with it.
James: Yes, I’m led to believe he will start. Although he seemed a little ‘useless’ (I admit!) at times going forward but thing is that he offers protection to the defence. Also, Rafa said he is a leader and communicator on the pitch and I think he has the experience to be at the biggest stage.
Nate: In Rafa we trust. I wouldn’t start him, but I rarely second guess Benitez, especially in the Champions League.
The winger formerly known as Harry Kewell is back in action. Would you risk bringing him into the squad for Athens?
James: I’d put him on the bench but no way is he going to start despite that performance against Charlton. We’ve seen it time and again what he does in the finals and why waste another substitute? But I believe he should be on the bench to be sort of an impact player and put him on when things aren’t going right.
Nate: In the squad? Absolutely. Starting? I had highly doubted it, but after the Charlton match, I’m coming around. Especially if it’s down to Bolo or Harry.
Amanda: I don’t think I’d start him, but I think he’s done well enough in the past two or three games to earn a sub spot. He’s been really unlucky with injury, but he looks sharp enough recently that I think I’d take the chance. Maybe bring him on for Zenden.
What will Liverpool have to do to overcome this Milan squad?
Nate: Oh boy, I could write a treatise on this, but suffice to say, keep possession, set the tempo, and don’t let Milan play their style of football or we could see the first half in Istanbul all over again.
Amanda: Shut down Kaka. Put Mascherano on him, and don’t let him do anything else. Apparently Mascherano has been able to do this in internationals, so make sure he does it in the final, and that’s about 65% of the job done right there. Other things that they need to do? Work the offside trap (not that this is incredibly necessary with Inzaghi), retain possession, and distribute well. I don’t think it’ll be easy, but it’s definitely doable.
James: First of all, we need to stop Kaka. Maybe give Mascherano/Sissoko the task to man him while I think we should have a go at Andrea Pirlo because I personally think he’s a little vulnerable, especially if he’s isolated. Gattuso will be his usual self running round like a mad dog and we should intimidate him into making stupid challenges, wind him up.
Their defence is ageing and I believe the height of Crouch and the work rate of Kuyt might be a problem for them to deal. And when the time is right, throw on Bellamy to run at tired legs. And yes, let’s hope the players remain focussed and concentrate and not make another 3-3 match.
Name your starting XI and bench.
Finna – Carragher – Agger – Riise
Gerrard – Mascherano – Alonso – Zenden (*screech*)
Crouch – Kuyt
Subs: Dudek, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Sissoko, Kewell, Fowler, Bellamy.
Finnan – Carragher – Agger – Riise
Gerrard – Alonso – Mascherano – Zenden
Crouch – Kuyt
Dudek, Hyypia, Arbeloa, Sissoko, Kewell, Fowler, Pennant
Nate: 4-2-3-1 for me please:
Finnan – Carragher – Agger – Riise
Alonso – Mascherano
Pennant – Gerrard – Kewell
Bench: Dudek, Hyypia, Arbeloa, Sissoko, Zenden, Crouch, Bellamy (sorry Robbie)
Specific plans for watching the Final? Do you have any certain idiosyncrasies or superstitions when you watch a Liverpool match?
Nate: I don’t consider them idiosyncrasies, so I don’t know how to explain them, but others might. Let’s just say I’ll probably be drinking beer and screaming at my television no matter what’s going on.
Amanda: Right now, my plans are to record it and try to stay spoiler-free, since I’ll most likely be at work. If I can finagle a way to get out of this, though, I will probably go to the local faux-Irish bar and have a few while I die of nervousness. As far as idiosyncracies, I have a pair of lucky socks. (Yes, seriously, and yes, I am embarrassed.) They’re actually officially licensed Liverpool paraphernalia, and they’re navy with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on the instep and the crest on the leg. I attribute Liverpool’s success in 2005 to these socks; sadly, they are not effective in the league. Even if I can’t watch live, I will be wearing these on that day. I also try to remain cynical about their chances to avoid being disappointed. After all, this is the team that can beat Barcelona away, but require a last-minute penalty to draw a relegated team. Keep this preventive cynicism in mind when reading my prediction of the result.
James: At my pal’s house. We saw the Liverpool-Chelsea game and made a deal to watch it at his house again. I’m led to believe everytime it rains, Liverpool wins. Not sure if it’s accurate though!
Amanda: Milan are out for revenge, and they have the best player in the world. I think that this will be tight, but I think Milan will win. Score, I have no idea. 1-0 or 2-1.
James: Milan 3-3 Liverpool. Liverpool win on penalties. Okay, just kidding. Maybe 2-1 Liverpool?
Nate: No thanks. I’m stupidly superstitious about predicting Liverpool outcomes.
Anything else to add?
Nate: Ohhhh campione
The one and only
They say our days are numbered, we’re not famous anymore
But Scousers run the country like they’ve always done before
Amanda: Thanks for giving me the chance to do this!
…Again, a special thanks to Amanda, Nate and James for taking the time to respond with such thoughtfulness. I highly recommend checking out each of their sites.