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Liverpool, Champions Of Pre-Season

You know our friends down the M62: every summer, they find the missing piece of the jigsaw... Did they really do it this time?

Liverpool are always going to win the league during the close season, it's now a tradition as it's been going on since... 1990, I suppose. However, they are usually out of the title race by October and this unmitigated failure is explained by a number of excuses but mostly, the-last-piece-of-the-jigsaw-theory is cited.

Once upon a time, Liverpool needed a tough defensive midfielder, then had to sort out their defense and now, for the last three years, they've been looking for a 20-goal-a-season striker.

They were supposed to find it last season in Dirk Kuyt but he failed to be nearly as prolific as he had been in Holland while Craig Bellamy proved he's not very good at football anymore. He's been promptly sold at the end of the season, sighs of relief followed him from Anfield.

Andriy Voronin from Leverkusen might be the new Berbatov but he's more likely to be another squad player in the world of bloated squads. The star of the show would be Fernando Torres - at least, that's what they wish.

A lot of pundits and fans expect Torres to be the man who finally hits 20 goals for Liverpool but I must point out two things. First, he's never done that at Atletico Madrid where everything was arranged to satisfy him, where he was the greatest hero. Surpassing his best ever haul in his first season in England might be too much to ask.

Secondly, I really can't understand the pundits going on about how every title-winning side need a goalscorer who can score 20+ goals in the league. Neither of last 3 seasons' champions boasted such a man, in fact, Chelsea's top scorer were Frank Lampard in 2005 and 2006, too, while ours was of course Cristiano Ronaldo - so two midfielders were the most prolific at both teams.

But, for the sake of our argument, let's accept that Liverpool indeed need a 20-goal striker. But who will create chances for him?

Of course, one would say that options are aplenty. Apart from Chelsea, they have the strongest central midfield collection - but is there enough creativity? Well, on paper there is. Xabi Alonso and Gerrard are supposed to be wonderful players who should supply tons of opportunities for the forwards - the thing is, they didn't do that last season. I would not go into the 'should Gerrard be used on the right or in the centre'-debate because he did not perform outstandingly in neither position.

The problem is, I think, Liverpool's attitude. Too rarely they try a killer pass and too often go for the safety option - surely you can recall any match when their players were passing the ball around the penalty area for five minutes before swinging in a hopeless cross or shooting from 40 yards? The sale of Luis Garcia deprived them further from the chance of conjuring up something unexpected. So it seems they could revert to hopeless crosses and shooting from distance (I think that's the reason why Liverpool always have the most shots on goal in the Prem) again.

And while we are at crosses: lack of quality wide players is the next missing jigsaw, it seems. Yossi Benayoun is meant to fill the void on the right wing and he should add creativity, too. But he must prove he's a player who win you titles because outstanding though he's been at West Ham, performing at Liverpool is quite different. But of course he will do better than Jermaine Pennant.

On the other wing, Riise, Fabio Aurelio and Kewell all failed to offer permanent solution so step forward Ryan Babel. He did not have a very good season at Ajax but impressed during the European U21 Championships. He can play as a striker and as a winger and it remains to be seen which is his best position. The same applies to him that to Torres, though: you can't expect him, especially at his age, to set the world alight in his first season in the Premiership. He can't be expected to be one of the main men in Liverpool's title challenge.

Their defense is very strong: the Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise backfour is as strong as you can hope for but they lack cover in this area. Fabio Aurelio is another Riise in the sense that his strongest suit is not defending but attacking. I suppose this is why Benitez is so desperate to sign Heinze - though I still don't understand why it's better to be Riise's understudy at Liverpool than Evra's at the Champions. Of course, one might say that Benitez wants to strengthen his team's defending even further - so Riise off, Heinze on, another attacking option cancelled, even fewer goals scored for Liverpool. Would suit me fine, of course.

If they have a slow start, they are doomed: the fear of failure will be there again and they will never win the league if they must play catch-up with us and Chelsea. But will they win the league anyway?

I think that the quality of their players, especially their central midfielders, is enough to overpower most teams at Anfield. But unless they are ready to take more risks, especially away from home, they will suffer again. They do not create enough chances away from Anfield and even there, they often have problems - they dominated us but had no more than three real scoring opportunities, and that's not much.

But this could be solved, as I said, with a little less cautious approach and if Benayoun and Babel both prove a hit. My point is, though, that it's unlikely to be enough. It's simple: though Liverpool have a quality squad now, United's and Chelsea's are better. In order to mount a title challenge, Liverpool need to perform with hitherto unseen consistency AND pray that Chelsea and United both perform below par. That is possible, of course, but unlikely. Why? I'll explain.

Liverpool had achieved their highest points total in the Premiership in 2006: they had amassed 82 points. Benitez won two Spanish league titles with Valencia: his team (just as cautious and often short of creativity as Liverpool) collected 77 and 75 points in these two seasons. That's not enough in England. Even the 82 is not enough. So they must surpass themselves and achieve drastic improvement to have any chance at all.

I say third place again.

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The Journalist

Writer: Zae Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday August 10 2007

Time: 8:58AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
I'm a Liverpool supporter. I reckon that you are on the money about most things in your article. However, I really do feel that we now have a good enough squad of first and second teamers to do the business this year. We have options up front in 4 very different types of striker, which we haven't had before. Gerard will play in the middle which will help with the teams consistancy. Agger has had a decent run at the back and will improve this year. I'm very happy with our purchases this season also, we've bought well. I really think that we are in with a very good chance. Good luck this season!
Report Abuse
10/08/2007 09:24:00

A fairly balanced account I suppose. Although knocking Torres because he wouldn't sign for Utd is a little disingenuous. At AM he had to do most of the work himself because the rest of the team were quite poor, at Liverpool he'll have better players around him and should do better once he's settled. I agree with the 20 goal a year striker not being a necessity and would be much happier to see more goals spread around the team - less reliance on one man's form that way. As for our chances, I admit winning it may be a bit much this season but we'll be a hell of a lot closer than the last 2. Chelsea have the ACoN which will cause problems and I think out of your signings only Tevez will improve your squad this season, a couple of key injuries could swing things in our favour. Here's to a much closer Premiership this season, don't want it to get too boring do we?
Report Abuse
10/08/2007 09:28:00

Makes a nice change to read a balanced article from a rival. I'd say that most of what you say is at the back of all liverpool fans' minds but pre-season is the time for dreaming. United's chances didn't look too hot this time last year so you never know...
Report Abuse
10/08/2007 12:01:00

He didn't say Torres was bad, just that he'll need time to fulfil the expectations. And you must admit he's a gamble. Might prove pretty good but could be another Morientes, we'll see. And I'd say Hargreaves improved our squad as well as Tevez.
Report Abuse
10/08/2007 12:02:00

Suggesting he'll never surpass his best total in La Liga inferred he doesn't think the player is good enough. Any player is a gamble but that's life unfortunately and we haven't done too well at buying attackers for conservative prices. I'd suggest Hargreaves is no better than Carrick and is definitely worse than Scholes - one of them has to make way for him to play ergo no improvement. Maybe he's better than Fletcher or O'Shea but that's not saying much.
Report Abuse
10/08/2007 13:24:00

Where does the article say he'll NEVER surpass his best ever total? It suggests that it might be too much to ask in his FIRST season. Hargreaves is different to Carrick and Scholes, he gives us another option. And we can play all three of them at times.
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10/08/2007 14:45:00


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