Liverpool 2016/17 season review

Expectations are always high at the beginning of the season.  This was especially so after Klopp had led Liverpool to the League  and Europa cup finals in the 2015/16 season.

The omens also looked good.  At the beginning of the 1987/88 season Liverpool played Arsenal away on the opening day and just like that year there was a delay.  This time it was due to the completion of the new main stand rather than a collapsed sewer under the Kop.  Nevertheless it could be seen as a positive omen.

Being a season ticket holder in the new main stand it certainly lived up to expectations.  Although high up the view was excellent especially as the seat is on the half way line.  It gave the advantage of being able to see better the teams shape and build up than my previous seat in the Kop.  There was also the novelty of leg room and the acoustics of the stand was spot on as the noise can carry when the fans are in full voice.

Without European football for that season it was wondered whether the benefit of playing no mid-week games would have the same effect as it did for the 2013/14 season.  Liverpool of course narrowly missing out on the league to Manchester City.  Certainly Liverpool got off to a flier beating Arsenal 4-3 a dramatic game whilst the first home game of the season a 5.30pm kickoff against Leicester saw the champions thrashed 4-1.

The football was a game of intense high pressing with teams unable to cope against Liverpool’s attack.  Mane the new signing from Southampton looked scintillating in attack whilst the likes of Lallana and Firmino came on in leaps and bounds.  Previously they had been inconsistent and only showed flashes of what they could do achieve.  This season they were not only consistent but players that Liverpool relied on.

A brief surge to the top made fans dream but unlike the 87/88 team the defence and overall quality was not as good and consistent that it needs to be.  With injuries to key players at certain points in the season and Mane unavailable due to the African cup of nations there was not the depth in squad to cover.  Furthermore the opposition had learnt to stifle Liverpool by playing deep, restricting space and making use of Liverpool’s vulnerability at set-pieces to score.  The bench also offered no real options in terms of changing things tactically on the pitch.

Indeed Liverpool’s record against the other top six clubs was impressive.  Mainly because with the likes of Spurs and Arsenal who were more open benefitted Liverpool who with their pressing game were able to exploit the spaces left open.

The realistic hope of course was that Liverpool would win one of the domestic trophies and finish within the top four.  Liverpool disappointingly were beaten 2-1 at home against  Wolves in the fourth round of the FA cup.  It appeared that Klopp had overestimated the quality of the overall squad as they struggled to get the better of the Championship side.  In the league cup Southampton beat Liverpool 2-0 over both legs which just left the pursuit for a top four spot.

Despite a few stumbles Liverpool managed to make it over the line although if they had not dropped points against the likes of Southampton, Palace, and Bournemouth they may have just finished third and avoid the Champions league qualifier.

Nevertheless for a fourth placed finish it was still achieved with a high points total of seventy-six that would have won Liverpool the league twenty years ago.  Although not spectacular it is an improvement in the league.   Prior to the season you would expect Liverpool to finish between fourth and six if you were judging on what was spent.

There have been highlights namely the back to back wins against Arsenal, beating Leicester, and Everton.  Then of course there is Emre Can’s spectacular goal against Watford.

Mane has deservedly won the Liverpool player of the year and has been sorely missed when he has been absent.  It is also worth noting that Simon Mignolet has improved significantly this season after temporally being dislodged by Karius.  Unless a keeper of the quality of Pepe Reina becomes available then a goalkeeper is no longer the priority that it once was last year.

The only negatives this season from me has been the atmosphere at games.  It is unfortunately one of the changing facets of football that the ordinary fan is being priced out.  There are more corporate tickets and with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal it is more being seen at the event rather than love for the team or even the sport.

When you have the likes of two middle-aged men in front of you more intent on showing each other pictures on their mobiles than watching Liverpool play Manchester City it is going to affect the atmosphere.  Then there is the panic if Liverpool are not one up within ten minutes that shows up the sense of entitlement some fans feel.  Silly comments are thrown about before going down to get a pint five minutes before half time and then sodding off in the 85th minute.

Of course you want Liverpool to win but there has to be a sense of realism.  This after all is not 1984 even if the outside world seems to portray Orwell’s dystopian novel.  Getting behind the team is crucial and again can help the team to snatch a result.  The sound of seats slamming as Palace scored the second rather than the sound of Liverpool fans roaring the team to grab an equalizer in the last ten minutes is galling.

Unbelievably there were a few idiots that booed after the draw against Southampton.  Was it frustrating?  Of course it was but the team had given everything and it just didn’t happen on the day.  We had a limited squad with a lack of options on the bench.  You can only do so much and Klopp has got the best out of the team.

For next season and certainly with European football the squad does have to be strengthened.  The defence certainly needs to be improved.  At times they seem shaky and certainly at set pieces seem more vulnerable in conceding a goal.  The team does need to learn to defend as it breeds that confidence with a solid defence.  A centre-half and left back are certainly required.

Another midfielder preferably someone with a bit of pace and guile, and another forward have to be priorities.  Besides this we also need more options to choose from the bench especially when it is difficult breaking teams down.

I am certainly not expecting a marquee signing as this isn’t the way the Fenway group do business but I certainly expect some activity as the defence and size of the squad were issues that became apparent during the season.

This season has seen Liverpool move in the right direction.  If they can keep hold of Coutinho and get Emre Can to extend his contract then it will be beneficial.  Can of course holds divisive opinions but I would say that he does has the ability to be one of the top midfielders in the game.  Critics seem to forget that he is only young.  He can at times be sloppy but he never hides and always tries to make the correct pass or make something happen.  If Can leaves Liverpool I certainly don’t want to regret watching his talent benefit another club.

With European football back and hopefully champions league it will be an exciting season which will hopefully see Liverpool win a trophy.  Above all though I want to enjoy the thrill that the likes of last season’s Europa cup run, the title tilt of 2013/14 and certainly wouldn’t say no to a similar season in the Champions league of 2004/05.

Football can be frustrating and bring despair.  At times you question your own sanity watching a dull 0-0 on a cold January night but games like Istanbul and last season’s game against Dortmund make it all worth while.  Sometimes you have to suffer a bit of misery to appreciate the joy.  That is after all what football is to the majority of supporters.

Above all though I just want to enjoy watching the mighty reds and hopefully experience another rollercoaster journey that Liverpool are good at doing.

The countdown begins to the 2017/18 season!





Liverpool v C. Palace and why top four is still up for grabs

P170423-039-Liverpool_Crystal_Palace-e1492967314296Credit where its due even if it is through gritted teeth, Allardyce got his tactics spot on last Sunday as Palace beat Liverpool for the third year running at Anfield.  It was a game that was always going to be difficult given the erratic performances and results against the so-called lesser lights.  Even so with the finishing line and a top four spot in sight it was a home game that Liverpool needed to make it count.

Palace though were well organised and it was a yellow wall as they played deep and ensured that any space in the middle of the park was restricted.  With Mane unavailable due to injury there was no one to test the Palace defence with skill and pace.   Coutinho and Firmino may have  the guile and skill they were unable to find a way through the brickwall that was Palace’s defence.  Granted Origi is a player who has pace but he too found it hard to get into space.

It meant that the only options to Liverpool was to go wide but with the lack of height and a mass of yellow shirts, Palace were easily able to defend from set-pieces as you would expect from a Sam Allardyce side.

Despite this Liverpool managed to take the lead from a fantastic free kick from Coutinho.  This should have been the catalyst for Liverpool to kick on or at the very least hold onto the goal lead.  Palace would need to push further up the pitch and  leave more space for Liverpool to take hold of the game.

The Liverpool defence this season has been fragile and at times resembles a punch drunk boxer attempting to last the final round.  With only three minutes before half time Liverpool should have had the nous to keep it tight and simple.  Instead Lovren failed to react quickly to the ball as Cabaye gained posession as he raced down the right to play a ball for Benteke to score and equalise for Palace.

Once again there was frustration at Liverpool’s inability to defend and not tightening their hold on the match to ensure they got the result required.

The second half was reverting back to type for Palace who again ensured that Liverpool were not given any space to cause problems.  Another lapse at a set piece from a corner saw Benteke grab his second with a diving header.  With the lack of options on the bench Liverpool were unable to put anyone who could change the game.  Alexander-Arnold, Grujic, and Moreno were thrown on but it was more in the hope of fresh legs rather than any tactical acumen.

Liverpool didn’t look capable of breaking down Palace and despite the six minutes of injury time were unable to snatch a point.  It was a disappointing result following the two excellent away wins against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.

There have been a few moans that Liverpool have blown it especially with Man Utd winning 2-0 away to Burnley.  At present that is simply not the case.  Yes Liverpool have made it difficult for themselves but with Manchester United due to play Manchester City this Thursday at the Etihad they also have games against Tottenham and Arsenal.  City themselves also have to play Palace.

Looking at those fixtures there are still difficult games that United could drop points.  Added to which they have injuries to major players such as Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, and Smalling.  With the distraction of the Europa cup semi-final against Celta Vigo it is not a given that United will not drop points in their remaining games.

Of course Liverpool themselves are now walking a tight rope and cannot afford to drop any more points.  The remaining games though are not as bad compared to other teams.

There also has to be a dose of realism regarding the situation for Liverpool at the moment.  The squad is light which isn’t helped with major injuries to key players.  Consequently there are not many options that Klopp can turn to.  Liverpool have the fifth highest paid squad in the Premier league and it could be argued are roughly where you expect them to be.

The crowd itself also needs to help in times  of when things are not going well.  Without sounding all ‘member berry,’ (This refers to South Park and its take on nostalgia)

there was a time when following a stunned silence at the opposition somehow managing to score that there would be a roar encouraging the team to get back into the game.  Instead the only noise you can hear are the sounds of seats as the mass exodus starts.

That is more or less waving the white flag rather than screaming encouragement for Liverpool to push forward and salvage something.  It is amazing what the players can do with the support urging them forward that at the very least they can make it as uncomfortable for Palace in the dying minutes.

Jurgen Klopp talked about everyone from the cleaners, coaches, players, fans and anyone associated with the club to be all pulling together and doing their bit.  Which is what some Liverpool fans need to do rather than making the early dart.

There is still a big job ahead for Klopp no matter whether they finish top four or not.  Defensively they need improving not just in terms of buying defenders but in terms of defending as a team.  All season they have looked shaky but just as it is important to attack as a team it is equally the same when defending.  All the good teams know how to take the sting out of the game and show the resilience in coping with any pressure.  Liverpool do not have that ability at present.

Added to which the depth of the squad needs improving especially if they qualify for the Champions league.  Looking at the bench this season shows how limited Liverpool are on who they can bring on to help change the game.

All said and done though the race for the remaining top four places (Chelsea and Tottenham are nailed on for first and second) is pretty much on.  City and United have been inconsistent this season even if the latter have been on a good run of form.  Liverpool despite the setbacks and problems they have faced this season still have a good chance of finishing within the top four and claiming a Champions league spot.  There does though need to be a dose of reality with what Klopp has to work with and the fact that some teams at present are ahead of Liverpool.

We need to talk about Arsene

There are little signs that spring is around the corner. It’s staying lighter longer, the first buds of leaves are starting to sprout and Arsenal are out of the Champions league with the league title already blown as well.  Inevitably come the usual moans from fans demanding that Wenger steps down.  However it has now come to the point that the critics may start to have a point.

With football unless you are consistently winning major titles then fans at the very least expect to see progress.  Despite Wenger ensuring that Arsenal have consistently finished in the top four and competed in the Champions league since its recent incarnation progress has been a flatline.  Some fans believe that a new approach is needed with fresh ideas and a new boldness that Wenger had when he first joined Arsenal and won the double in his first full season in charge.

There are of course fans who still believe in Wenger and that the goal posts have changed in football.  With the money involved in the game it is getting harder to compete and that there has to be some realism.  It takes time to re-build a team and patience is required.

The problem though is that none of the potential such as Walcott, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Ozil to name a few have made that impact required to win the title or champions league.  ‘Good, but not good enough,’ as Roy Walker on catchphrase used to say.  Patience has been urged but there is only so long that you can be promised about ‘jam tomorrow,’ without wondering if it ever will come.

Critics argue that it has been a flatline since 2008 after the awful challenge on Eduardo at Birmingham saw Arsenal slip down the table.  They have of course still been in the Champions league but have got nowhere close since being beaten 2-1 in the final at Paris against Barcelona in 2006.

That though is partly were the problem lies.  Familiarity and frustration of the potential failing to deliver.  Critics cannot see the current Arsenal side making that extra step towards winning the big honours like the league and European cup which is why they think it is time for Wenger to step aside.  A new coach would at least bring  some excitement and optimism for the future.

Supporters of Wenger would state that the goal posts have changed with the money and the rich backing that have been pumped into Manchester City and Chelsea.  They would cite that the move to the Emirates has had an impact on their spending as the club strive to get themselves on a financial level.  Wenger has always ensured Arsenal a top four finish and a place in the Champions league.

It is reasonable and indeed a strong argument on whether a new man could do any better with the same resources.  ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ is commonly stated with many citing the disastrous brief reign of David Moyes at Manchester United.  Yet when you see the likes of Guardiola, Klopp, and Mourinho taking charge of their rivals you can see why some fans feel that they have missed the boat.

Besides whether a team has enjoyed a trophy haul that would put a Viking raid to shame or battling to get out of the arse end of the table a new manager is always going to be a risk.  The problem is whether fans feel the club is stagnating.  Yes Wenger was an innovator at the time he signed for Arsenal  but whereas the players like Vieira, Henry, Pires, Overmars, and Anelka to name but a few were of the quality to win titles the current crop fall short of the standard required.  Furthermore the question is whether Wenger can deliver those type of players especially as the years fly by.

For the board though Wenger has ensured that Arsenal finish in the top four and meets the minimum demands.  With finance being the big demand of the Premier league era why would the board risk a change of manager that might see the team fall out of the top four?

That though is the gamble that the anti-Wenger brigade would have to take.  The team could take an almighty tumble that they may not even finish in a spot to guarantee Europa league football.  Some fans may be willing to take that chance for at least the chance of new optimism and sense of a new adventure that a manager brings.

The problem with Arsenal is that it is the familiarity and lack of progress that is making many Arsenal fans question on whether Wenger should stay on. At the moment though it appears that so long as Wenger finishes within the top four it is still his shout as to when he decides to hang up his manager’s coat.



The shadow of the FA Cup

Despite hype from the BBC and BT sports there was a time when the third round of the FA Cup was genuinely something that people got excited about.  For starters it was a trophy that was worth winning.  On a sunny May morning everybody would tune in from breakfast with the two finalists right up to the final whistle and presentation of the Cup.  There would even be street parties in the cities or towns that reached the Cup final.

The third round was a chance for clubs who perhaps had not made the best of starts to the season and could rescue it with a good cup run.  There was excited talk of ‘whose name was on the trophy,’ which would refer to those teams that somehow scraped through via a last-minute equaliser for a replay and to win the replayed tie with a bobbled goal on a muddy pitch.

Giant killing was something that was always discussed as lower league clubs got a chance to host and possibly knock out one of the top dogs.  It was a chance to be forever remembered like Hereford’s Ronnie Radford’s winning goal that knocked out Newcastle United.  Then of course there is Mickey Thomas’s winning goal for  fourth division Wrexham against Arsenal in 1992.

Gradually though and certainly after the Premier league had started the FA cup started to lose its allure.  Most point to the FA allowing Manchester United to abstain from the 1999-00 competition in order to allow United to compete in the World Club cup.  Although it was a nail in the coffin for the FA cup it wasn’t just that moment.  It could be argued that it was already building up to the FA cup losing its sparkle but it certainly speeded up the process with the FA voluntarily undermining their own competition.

As always it is a culmination of events that saw the FA cup become a competition that became less attractive.  With the newly formed Premier league formed in 1992 it became apparent that money was the big appeal.   Thanks to the mammoth TV money of Sky that was pumped into the Premier league the gulf in finances between those football clubs that were unlucky not to be in the ‘big,’ league grew with those playing in the elite league more interested in bank balances with the Premier league the be all and end all.

During this period UEFA decided to revamp their club competitions in order to placate the big clubs who felt the current set up did not suit their needs.  To avoid the threat of a breakaway European Super league or even an alternative European cup, UEFA made significant changes to the European Champions cup.

You didn’t need to be the actual champion of your league you could finish second for what would now be called the Champions league.  Eventually for the main leagues the top three places would guarantee you a spot with the fourth placed team being able to take part providing they could get through a two-legged qualifier.

Once in you now played the first proper stage in eight groups of four teams with the top two qualifying for the knock out stages of the last sixteen.  There was none of those risky two-legged affairs were a bad result meant that you were out.  Furthermore there was a guaranteed income as huge money was also pumped into the Champions league.  The UEFA cup became the poor relative and rebranded as the Europa league.   It now became a competition so long-winded with the financial reward nothing compared to the Champions league that a lot of clubs saw it as more of a hindrance.  Incidentally the Cup winners cup became defunct.

It now meant that for clubs the priorities changed.  Whether it was staying in the Premier league or trying to finish in the top four the FA cup became less of a priority.  As more and more money was being pumped into the Premier and Champions league it made supporters accountants.  Incredibly fans would be talking about a good season being finishing in the top four over a good run and possibly winning the FA cup.  Slowly the romance and excitement of the FA cup was eroding as there would be a shrug of the shoulders if their team was knocked out.  The Premier league was all that mattered rather than the glory of a Cup win.

Slowly over time football clubs started to play weaker teams citing that the Premier league took priority.  Previously this would have caused uproar but again there are the nods of the head from some fans who believe it to be the right thing to do.  This season’s third round for example Bournemouth played with a different and weaker XI to their previous league game.  None of it makes sense especially as Bournemouth look comfortable in the league that you would think they would give the FA cup a serious go and a chance of winning a trophy.

Football is about the memories, the day outs and the drama if you go all the way.  Which supporter honestly remembers a season of mediocrity by finishing tenth?  Instead its the trips, and last-minute winners that stick long in the mind.  But again the money of the Premier league overrules any romance.

Another attraction of the FA cup was getting to Wembley.  To see your team play amongst the white towers and to play on that beautiful lawn of a pitch.  It made all those earlier rounds of scraping through on farm fields of a pitch more worthwhile.  Furthermore it made you feel exclusive that your club was one of the few that had the chance of playing at one of the cathedrals of football which was Wembley.

Money though inevitably talks that the semi-finals were no longer played at neutral club grounds like Old Trafford or Villa Park they would all be played at Wembley.  Once again the FA undermined their own competition and upped it by changing the kick off time for the final to five o’clock simply to satisfy TV companies.

The FA cup is only just above the league cup in terms of prestige and that’s only because of its history.  Even then some clubs see it as an inconvenience and only start to take it seriously if they get to the semi-finals.

Money has been one of the major factors on why the FA cup is not as prestigious as it once was.  It certainly hasn’t been helped by the FA who have undermined the Cup.

Winning the FA cup was something major.  It made the headlines and legends were made.  Liverpool for example despite winning league championships only felt that they became part of the elite after beating Leeds United in the 1965 FA cup final.  Then there is the Stanley Matthews final of 1953 or what about second division Sunderland in one of the big cup upsets as they beat Leeds 1-0?  Coventry beating Spurs 3-2 is one of the great cup finals and then Wimbledon preventing Liverpool winning a double with a Sanchez header to claim the Cup.

The competition it was said also saved Alex Ferguson from being sacked as the Manchester United Manager in 1990.  Mark Robins goal against Nottingham Forest in the third round being credited as the goal that saved him.  You only have to see the picture of Alex Ferguson lovingly cradling the FA cup after United beat Crystal Palace in a replay to see how much it meant to him.  Ironically winning the FA cup was not enough to save Louis Van Gaal’s job as Man Utd manager last season.

It’s hard to see if the FA cup will ever regain its former glory especially as it is seen as the poor relative.  At present money seems to talk but as previously stated the FA has not done enough to protect or promote its competition.

Maybe there will be a time when supporters will demand that their clubs take the FA cup serious and see a good cup run as a distraction from a poor season like it did in the past.  After all nobody dreams of scoring a goal to secure fourth place but of a rocket goal in the last-minute that dramatically wins your club the FA cup.

Brian Benjamin


Joe Hart & why reputations count for nothing in football

Glancing at the football headlines a manager drops his goalkeeper and makes it clear that he wants a new number one.  It appears that his current keeper can’t play with his feet and therefore does not fit in with the style of football that he wants his side to play.  Of course it is big news in the sense that it relates to the England international Joe Hart but hardly unexpected considering that the manager is Pep Guardiola who sees his goalkeeper as being a fifth defender who acts as a sweeper.  Furthermore as the new coach of Manchester City it is way too early to question his judgement considering the success that Guardiola has enjoyed at Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Consequently it is a surprise at the euphoria and the hysteria that Guardiola has decided that Joe Hart is not his first choice.  Joey Barton declares that his former teammate deserves to be treated better and given a chance whilst a caller to five live believes that due to being an international and having spent most of his professional career at City that this should be taken into consideration.

What is forgotten and certainly would be expected from any top manager is that sentiment or a player’s reputation should never be allowed to interfere with a decision in making the team selection.  All the top manager’s from Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Clough, Busby, Stein and Ferguson never allowed sentiment to cloud their judgement.  It was never ever an easy decision to tell a player that he was no longer part of their plans but was made for the sake of the team.  After all that was their job and it was never personal.  Football is an unforgiving sport that can brutally brush aside those who have dreams and aspirations to be a professional footballer to the journeyman pro who fails to be given or find a new contract.  Why therefore should Joe Hart be treated any differently?

Furthermore Hart’s form has been erratic to put it mildly with some high-profile gaffe’s in the European Championships most notably the defeat against Iceland.  There is always a feeling that there is a mistake waiting to happen within Hart even before his performance at the Euro’s.

This may not have played a major decision in Guardiola’s to opt to buy Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo’s in preference to Joe Hart but it would have been something to have been considered.  Nevertheless it seems that Guardiola after watching Hart in various training sessions did not think he could play well with his feet.  As previously stated this seems to be a requirement of any goalkeeper that wants to play under Guardiola.

In many ways the defence is expected to build up from the back and in some respects it could be argued that Guardiola has changed the perception and expectations of a defender.  Whereas previously a centre-half was expected to be robust, good in the air and hard in the tackle, Guardiola expects his defenders to be good on the ball and to quickly bring it out to support the attack.

Some Evertonian’s criticised John Stones inability to defend off set pieces yet in many ways Stones is a typical Pep Guardiola centre-half.  Of course defending is a requirement but it will be his skill on the ball and moving it swiftly that he will be judged on.

It shouldn’t really come as a shock that Joe Hart is now not seen as Manchester City’s first choice goalkeeper.  Neither should it be a surprise that Guardiola does not allow reputations or sentiment to influence his decision.  All one has to do is look at his ruthlessness when first taking charge of the Barcelona team for the 2008-09 season.  Ronaldinho who had previously dazzled the Nou Camp and been applauded off the pitch by arch rivals Real Madrid was shown the door as he seemed more intent on partying than training.  This was the same with Deco and other high-profile player’s that were considered either unprofessional or too disruptive in the changing rooms.

Joe Hart despite his faults is still a good goalkeeper but just simply doesn’t fit into how Guardiola wants his team to play.  Only time will judge whether it was correct but Guardiola’s track record would suggest that he will.

Why questions have to be raised over Liverpool’s Fenway transfer committee

Aside from the eternal optimist nobody really expected Liverpool to go that one step further and win the league but did expect a better challenge to stay within the top four.

In short this so called transfer committee need to be asked questions as well as the personal ambitions that the Fenway group have for Liverpool.  During the past three or four years the business model seems to be pretty similar to Tottenham’s strategy.    Hire a young enthusiastic manager, buy youthful potential players which you believe can help you challenge for a top four position, and hope to sell one of them for a vast profit.

Tottenham did this with Gareth whilst Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona last season.  Much as it is prudent to try and develop a young team there has to be a balance in terms of signing experienced player’s who you know have a good chance of hitting the ground running.

Liverpool’s transfer committee did not seem to learn from when Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea for £50 million.  Most of that money was wasted on the likes of Steward Downing, Andy Carroll, and Charlie Adam.  Yes Luis Suarez was an instant success and Henderson has finally come into his own but certain areas of the team that needed improving was not.

After last season’s unexpected tilt at the title it was a chance for Liverpool to ensure that they had the player’s in place to cement a place in the top four.  With the Suarez money it should have been a case of buying at least two quality players with Champion’s league experience to ensure Liverpool would keep within the top four.

Quite clearly the club value youth and potential and although this is laudable a balance needs to be struck with experience.

The signings of this summer have not been great.  Emre Can is the only one who looks promising and even then he is not being played in the position that I think we can get the best out of him.  Instead he has been doing a good job as the third centre half.

Markovic does not look good enough to justify the £20 million spent on him, Lallana has been injury prone this season and although there have been glimpses it is hard to judge him.  Lovren looks a bad buy whilst the Ricky Lambert signing still looks puzzling.

That’s before we come on to Mario Ballotelli.  A player who has been described as ‘unmanageable,’ by Jose Mourinho.  He hasn’t performed whatsoever with a goal ratio that can be counted on one hand.

A deal with Barcelona for Luis Suarez would have been agreed early last year.  By and large they are not deals done at the last minute.  Indeed before going official it appears Liverpool were already spending the money as they fully knew that clubs would hike the prices up, if they were aware Liverpool had a big fat cheque burning a hole in their pocket.

Why Liverpool could not have earmarked a potential replacement for Suarez much earlier only the transfer committee can answer that.  The Balotelli deal smacked of a panic buy with the transfer window closing, they didn’t want to be in a situation a couple of years ago when they had to sign Sturridge in the January window due to being left short in the summer of 2012.

Nobody seemed to think about whether Balotelli would suit Liverpool’s style of play or whether his performances merited taking a chance.  In short it didn’t.  However Liverpool did seem happy with the sales of Liverpool shirt’s with Balotelli’s name splashed all over them.

The actual start to the season wasn’t great.  Opponents knew how to stop Liverpool playing with the red’s looking lethargic and slow in the build up.

Rodger’s it seemed didn’t know how to stop the rot and at one point in the season when the pressure was on him it could be argued that his confidence went.  The brief foray in the Champions League is definitely a case in point.

When the draw was made it looked like a group that Liverpool could and let’s be honest should have qualified from.  Real Madrid aside they should have had enough nous and ability to get the results required against Basle and Ludogorets.

Instead they floundered with Rodger’s nerve going as he played a weakened team against Real Madrid and thus writing off the match completely.  A strange decision considering Liverpool’s rich heritage in European competition.  Either way it was a gamble that did not pay off.

Despite some poor results and performances, Liverpool somehow found themselves needing a win at home against Basle in the final game.  You would think that the team would be more offensive but it wasn’t.  With a midfield of Lucas and Allen it seemed to be more of a team set up to be defensive.  They might not have been beaten but a draw was enough to send Basle through who did deserve to go through.

The pressure was certainly on Brendan Rodgers and despite a 3-0 defeat away to Manchester United it seemed that this was the turning point.  After changing the line up to three at the back with wing backs and Coutinho playing just behind the lone striker, Liverpool’s form picked up.

At this stage Balotelli and Lovren were dropped with the hope that when Sturridge regained fitness he would chip in with the much needed goals.  Somehow Liverpool managed to get themselves back into contention but again they messed up in the big games that matter.

Beskitas was a tie in the Europa Cup that again Liverpool should have done enough to get through after winning the first leg 1-0.  Instead they went out on penalties after losing 1-0.

Still there was a chance of a top four finish and with the games quickly evaporating it was a crunch game against Manchester United at home.  These are the matches that you have to win if you want to meet your objective.  It’s a chance to go past your rivals which not only put you ahead but give you a psychological boost.

Liverpool once again blew it as they allowed Manchester United to control the midfield with Rodgers seemingly unable to change things.  Yes Gerrard’s sending off was a blow but they were hardly at the races in the first half as they ended up losing 2-1.

There was still another chance to somehow keep within touching distances as they played Arsenal away.  Again they were blown away and with it any chance of finishing within the top four.

Once again the pressure will be back on Rodgers and Liverpool.  With an FA Cup replay away to Blackburn there will be more rumblings of discontent if Liverpool do not go through.

In short the major problem has been the new signings.  Any team would miss the goals of Suarez and with Sturridge also out for a long period that certainly hasn’t helped.  However if the right signings had been made then things would maybe have been a bit easier.

Certainly there is concern that the goals are not shared out throughout the team.  It was why there was such a huge cheer when Sturridge came on against West Ham and incidentally scored as he knows how to finish. Sterling’s finishing is erratic but apart from him and Gerrard who is leaving in the summer, there is no one else in the team who can chip in with the goals.

In tight games being able to take that one chance is the difference between taking the three points or getting nothing.  Of course Liverpool have not got the money to match Chelsea or Manchester City but the fee received from Suarez could have been spent on proven players.

With Liverpool just missing out on the league title it could have been used to attract the quality player’s needed to keep within the top four and actually get out to the knock out stages.  Instead they have tried their hand with unproven players and have suffered as a consequence.

That’s not to say that this Liverpool team is poor but it’s currently at the level that it is at.  Namely knocking on the door of the top four but more likely to finish fifth or sixth.

The question now is where Liverpool go from here.  Rivals like Arsenal, Manchester United, even Tottenham are going to try and stay one step ahead with signings.  It’s going to be a big summer for Liverpool in more ways than one.  There will be more scrutiny and pressure on not just Rodgers but the Fenway group.

Currently this Liverpool team isn’t good enough and changes are going to be needed if they wish to get back into the top four.  The only difference this time around it is going to be difficult to entice the player’s required.

People are already talking about attitude and whether this current crop of Liverpool player’s are just simply too nice.  I personally think that we are not clinical and unable to press and move forward quickly enough.

I know it’s a cliché to go back to Guardiola’s Barcelona but they are the template to follow in terms of not just pressing and exploiting space but in harrying opponents when the ball is lost.  Something this Liverpool team is unable to do.

With regards to Mignolet it has been a season to forget for him.  However he is not good enough and has always been a liability since Mignolet signed for Liverpool.  For starter’s his positioning and command of the defence is poor.  Then there is his distribution which is shockingly bad.  Time and time again he is too slow to get the ball out or he makes the poor option of rolling the ball out to a teammate in no space and pressurised into having to find a red shirt without losing it to the opposition.

Defensively Liverpool has still got problems with the £20 million Lovren now being a regular on the bench.  In the midfield Gerrard needs replacing and I believe we need at least another one or preferably two midfielder’s that have pace and the creativity needed to press quickly.  Plus as stated before someone who can chip in with the goals.

Whether the transfer committee representing the Fenway group realise experienced quality is needed remains to be seen.  As far as they are concerned they might be privately be happy with the way Liverpool are going.  They might believe that their plan will see Liverpool break into the top four next season.

Either way they need to be honest with fans and explain what they really want for Liverpool.  Is it for a team to be just on the fringes of a Champions League spot or actually attempting to challenge with the big teams.

At the moment I think it is hard to blame Rodger’s entirely for the disappointment this season in the league.  Yes it was a poor showing in Europe but you can only work with the player’s that were brought in.  This season still might see an FA cup win (hopefully) but once again Liverpool find themselves at the crossroads.  Next season will be a big one not just for Rodger’s tenure but the direction Liverpool is going.

For me it is the Fenway group who should be answering why they have messed up in the transfers and what exactly do they want and how do they set out obtaining what they want from Liverpool.

The cost of football is squeezing the ordinary fan out


Liverpool’s Spion Kop 1960’s

The new supporter is nothing more than a paying extra    

Remember when watching football was just that.  You would go the match were it would only cost a couple of quid as a kid to watch top flight football.  For me it would be the Liverpool team of the late 1980’s with John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge terrorising defences with their fast free flowing football.   Of course they were highly paid but not on the astronomical amounts that players are on today.

Back then the clubs relied on the turnstiles for their main source of income.  Indeed some visiting teams used to look forward to playing at Anfield simply because they had a decent share of the match day revenue.   The big clubs at the time (Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Man Utd, and Spurs) didn’t take kindly to this and pushed forward for what we now know as the Premier League.  It meant more money was given to the big clubs and with Sky willing to pay big money for the ‘best league in the world,’ it transformed football forever with the avalanche of cash that suddenly swirled around top flight football.

This all tied in with football  becoming popular when England were a penalty kick from reaching the 1990 World Cup Final.  Ticket prices started to increase with the excuse at the time that it was to pay for the all seater stadiums as instructed by the Taylor report.   This though hasn’t stopped the clubs over the past twenty years later to keep on hiking up the amounts that a report in the Guardian last year stated that paying to watch football since 1990 has gone up to a thousand percent.  It cites how in 1990 it would cost £4 (£7.09 with inflation) to watch Liverpool whereas now it is £45, an increase of 1,025 percent.   That incidentally is not counting the cost of having a cup of tea or a hot chocolate at Anfield which is £2.50.  Unlike Leaf in Bold street who specialise in fancy tea’s (incidentally they are also cheaper) it is a Typhoo teabag with a bit of hot water.

Gone are the days when as a kid I would go down the match with friends on the day for a couple of quid.  Now it’s paying sky high prices and having to arrange tickets on a military scale.   For those not lucky enough to have a season ticket (or the money I would also like to add) you have to pay £20 for a membership card and get this you are not guaranteed a ticket but given an opportunity to apply for tickets.  That’s if you have been to enough games previously.

Ordinary people and certainly some of the fans that went when gates were low pre 1990 are being priced out of going the game.  Certainly in this economic climate with wages being low and the cost of living escalating going to watch football is to take a back burner.

Football and certainly the Premier League is now more about marketing and hyping the product.  Supporters are seen as commodities and it is about selling the experience.  Everything is hyped with every comment or action scrutinised.   You only have to turn on a sports show on the radio as they encourage listeners to contact the station.   The more eccentric or stupid the comment the better as this in turn encourages more outraged listeners to contact the station.  This is also true of newspapers as they hope it helps boost sales.   Transfer deadline day on Sky Sports news is treated as a major event with reporters outside every top flight club.  As the day draws to an end the hysteria blows up to a climatic end as though it was the ending of an action blockbuster film.

Football in the Premiership is about marketing and trying to  make the game an experience.  Take for instance the handshake before the kickoff and the Premier league anthem.  It isn’t about promoting gamesmanship but making it an occasion for the casual match goer or tourist visiting.   Kickoff times are scheduled around television’s convenience.  It certainly isn’t for fans that somehow have to make it to the other end of country for a 12:45 start for a game.

The much mooted 39 game shows the direction that the Premier League wishes to take.  Never mind that it would unbalance the competition it’s all about the money that they can make by franchising games abroad as well as the revenue to be made through television deals.  The fans who actually go the game their views don’t come into it.  As far as they are concerned you are just a willing paying extra for this great enterprise.   Regular football goers are like addicts were despite the moans and the continual hiking of prices will do everything to get their fix.  However you can only push people so far.  These are the supporters who somehow manage to find the time and put themselves into debt just so that they can follow their team.

Nevertheless it appears that football clubs just see supporters as a walking pound note.  When a club like Liverpool can actually charge people a fiver for wanting to stay on a season ticket waiting list, who cares if a few say no more and spew their season ticket.  There is always someone else willing to take their place.   Besides the money is to be made from the tourists who will spend money in the club shop, buy the food and drink inside the ground unlike the fan that has been going for over thirty years, who will have a pint at one of the local pubs and go straight the match.

Everything is about squeezing every last bit of money out of the supporter. Liverpool’s return to the Champions League this season saw the match day programmes cost £5 from the usual £3 on match day to commemorate being back amongst European’s elite.  Incidentally there is nothing extra in the programme except it being bigger in size.

Some fans are protesting and there have been protests this season from the Spirit of Shankly group at games this season.  No doubt the club probably snigger that they are still paying the £45 to stick up a flag saying that they are not prepared to pay.  Indeed the best way of protesting would be to boycott a televised game and let Sky or BT film the ‘world’s greatest league,’ in an empty stadium.   That though seems unlikely as people still want to get their fix of live football.  Yet even when attendances are low such as the Aston Villa and Southampton game which drew a 25,311 crowd on a Monday night game before Christmas the supporters still get it in the neck.

Never mind that Villa have been poor, never mind that Southampton fans were expected to travel and find the time off from work to travel to the midlands, never mind that it was £40 for a ticket before Christmas, never mind people in this dire economy would rather save their money and either watch it at home or have a couple of pints at the pub, the fans are derided as being disloyal.

Of course it’s a bit hard for Sky to sell the experience of Premiership football at an empty stadium.  Rather than question that the football clubs ought to reconsider their ticket prices  may be the reason why people decided not to buy a ticket the fans get the brunt of the blame for being disloyal.   This was also true when Manchester City failed to sell out for their Champions League game against Roma earlier on in the season.  Again rather than question whether it is reasonable to be charging £40 for a ticket, City fans were sneered at on social media for voting with their feet.

What really takes the biscuit is when you have multi-millionaire footballers such as Rio Ferdinand sneering at the supporters who decided not to go by tweeting that City fans would rather be at home watching Ramsey’s kitchen.’

The Premier League like to use the big crowds and the atmosphere to sell to the world of being part of this loud, bright experience yet clubs milk their regular supporters for all they are worth.  Indeed these supporters are seen as the extras to sell their product.  The audience across the globe are sold on the atmosphere as well as the blood and thunder of the English league.

Football is certainly not the working man’s game anymore and unless someone decides to make ticket prices more reasonable it will come to the point that regular supporters will spew it. By then though it will be too late and going the match will be like going the theatre rather than supporting the team.

Maybe it is time to take a stand and start boycotting games.  Let Sky broadcast a big match at a empty stadium.  Maybe the clubs may sit up and take notice.  After all clubs earn most of their money from television and sponsorship deals.  The money from the turnstiles is no longer the main source of income.

B. Benjamin