Prior to Monday night’s game between Manchester City and Liverpool , I got some thoughts from Jack Harte, contributor for the excellent Liverpool blog/website/TV station The Redmen TV. This is what he had to say….
Sorry to start with a delicate subject, but have you recovered from last season yet? Did you genuinely believe the title was in the bag?
I think I’d started to believe, at least privately, quite early on during our impressive run through spring. That feeling as we were 2-0 up against you at Anfield in April was euphoric but the next twenty minutes would prove deflating as you fought back. The swing of Philippe Coutinho’s right boot, towards a ball broken free in the box, instilled firm belief in everybody though – the title was ours to lose with four games remaining. The Norwich match, the following weekend, came with no shortage of stress but we got the 3 points. Then, of course, the defeat to Chelsea and the draw away to Palace. Brendan Rodgers gets a bit of stick for trying to win a game against Chelsea that we didn’t, strictly speaking, need to win – we were doing fine right up until Steven Gerrard’s slip, however, and Jose Mourinho made Chelsea typically tight from there on in and caught us again on the break late on. I don’t really think blame can be attributed to any individual. We were doing all we could do against Palace before possibly thinking of your goal difference advantage and leaving ourselves open – our well-known defensive frailties were clear to see that night. Devastating. We came back from behind to win on the final day against Newcastle, in a lacklustre performance, but Big Sam couldn’t do us a favour in Manchester and that was that.
Manuel Pellegrini managed you well last season and Edin Dzeko, in particular, was fantastic during the run-in.
I feel as though the off-season, then the World Cup, then pre-season and all the transfer intrigue has passed really quickly and we’re straight back into the season – in some ways it’s as though I’ve not had time to reflect too much on how it all played out in April/May and perhaps that’s for the best! That run through February, March, and April provided some of the best football I’ve seen us play, and certainly the best run of results I’ve seen, and the increasing belief than ran through the whole fanbase created such a buzz. I attended Nicky Allt’s ‘YNWA – The History of Liverpool Football Club’ in late March, learning of Arsenal holding you for to draw whilst queuing – the atmosphere in the Royal Court that night was fantastic and you could sense the growing belief in our title challenge.
Importantly, I believe we’ve got a bigger and better squad, and that our leading players and manager are another season wiser and more mature. I want that feeling that I had back in spring back again this season – we’re starting from a stronger position this season, I believe, so there’s already a bedrock of belief there.
Luis Suarez. As much as he will be a loss to the team now that he has gone, did you ever feel his actions tarnished the image of your club? Did you feel the club handled the various controversies in the right manner? Or was he harshly done by?
I’m sure there could be a thousand different answers here! The thing that I’ve always believed obvious but overlooked is that Luis Suarez’s biggest enemy was himself – any actions that landed him or the Club in trouble were foolish, never malicious. The incidents with Branislav Ivanovic and, for Uruguay, with Giorgio Chiellini (about which a blog can be found here) came out of momentary idiocy rather than calculated malice but the unusual nature, the repeat offence, and the profile of the player exacerbated the situation. I was actually surprised that the recent appeal wasn’t looked upon a little more favourably. I believe Suarez needed supporting back in 2011, but that we went about it in the wrong way. I actually think that we could have been more supportive in 2013 – that ban was unprecedented and out of step with similar offences. We then handled the Real Madrid/Arsenal thing very well last summer and to get the season we did out of Suarez, after his clear desire to leave, suggests that the scenario and the player were managed fantastically well.
I thoroughly enjoyed having Luis Suarez as a Red for three and a half seasons – we had a genuine claim to having the world’s best player in our team last season. It may prove that the timing is right to part company, however – we’ve a young squad seemingly ready to flourish and I’m optimistic without Suarez, just as I would have been with him.
Will his loss damage your title aspirations this season, or do you think other players can take up the slack? Where do you see the team finishing this season?
Losing Suarez would inflict damage upon any team and any squad – what he gave us isn’t something we can buy-in to replace. That said, there seems a sense that the timing was right for all and I’m optimistic about our ability to challenge again this season and into the future. Jordan Henderson, Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling are already key players and all can be expected to give more to us this season. Dejan Lovren, even after just a friendly and a debut against his former club, looks likely to emerge as a defensive leader and our new full-backs will hopefully improve our options compared to last season. In Emre Can, Adam Lallana, and Lazar Markovic, we’ve strengthened both in terms of quality and quantity – the idea is that all will be challenging for high numbers of appearances this season but we’re fortunate that the team is strong enough to ease the pressure that often immediately burdens expensive new acquisitions.
For me, we ended last season with a team stronger than that of 2008-09 (previously the strongest of ours that I can recall) and I’m pretty confident in saying this is the strongest squad of ours that I’ve seen in my years. I believe we’ll be competing with Chelsea and yourselves again by early April – and I think that last season (as just one example!) demonstrates that it’s folly to speculate beyond that point of the campaign!
Linked to that: Any areas of the team that need strengthening before the transfer window slams shut?
Presuming that the transfer of Mario Balotelli goes through as expected, I think we’re a very happy fanbase. Lucas has taken a lot of flak for struggling to regain his 2009-2012 form and many also feel we need a challenger for Simon Mignolet, rather than just a back up. I can support the argument for another senior goalkeeper coming in but I’m very happy otherwise – I’d be keeping Lucas but, if we were to move him on, I’d hope that we’d move to bring in a replacement as I don’t see anybody beyond Lucas and Steven Gerrard in the squad who can play in that deep position alone.
And expectations in the Champions League? Good to be back?
Fantastic to be back – can’t wait for it to get going (though it’ll play havoc with Redmen TV scheduling and organising Match Previews!). It feels like it’s been a lifetime since we were eliminated from the 2009-10 Group Stage but, given the way the club was run by the previous owners, it’s remarkable that we’re back so soon really. I’m hoping we get drawn against the two best possible sides from the first two pots and (caution setting in) the very ‘worst’ from the fourth pot. It’ll be a big test of Brendan Rodgers and our players – I’m confident they’ll give more than a good account of themselves and that we’ll be enjoying European football in February.
With Sterling carrying on where he left off last season, are there many other youth players we should be looking out for?
Looking at the composition of the squad, it’s difficult to identify anybody outside obvious picks who’s likely to get much of a chance this season – even with European football and, hopefully, longer runs in the domestic cups. Of those already established, we all expect more significant progression and impact from Henderson, Coutinho, and Sterling, and we’ll be looking for good showings from our new Spanish full-backs, Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno. Jordon Ibe and Suso aside, our most promising youngsters have gone out on loan (Andre Wisdom, Joao Teixeira, and Tiago Ilori), whilst Divock Origi has stayed on at Lille for another season. Emre Can is extremely highly-regarded back in Germany and looks to have all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League – I reckon he could establish himself a lot quicker than many expect.
Has Brendan Rodgers surpassed your expectations?
That’s hard to answer truthfully. Time under the previous ownership regime, and the appointment of Hodgson, was just miserable and I don’t really think that Kenny Dalglish would have stayed beyond three or four seasons at the most, so there was a ‘year zero’ feel in 2012. Rodgers, in the most part, was enthusiastically welcomed and afforded a lot of slack – I guess I, like many, was optimistic and hopeful without necessary letting that become too much of a weighty belief/expectation. We played some good stuff at the back end of 2012/13 and I think we were all pleased with our expectations to be fighting it out with Arsenal and Spurs for 4th last season, and yet we went on to challenge for the title. In hindsight, you’d think that last season would be the one where we expected to challenge for a top four slot and this season would be the one where we’d have established a firm belief in ourselves as favourites to break into the Champions League qualification positions – so, if you’ll excuse the paradox, I think we had already surpassed expectations that didn’t exist and we’ve continued to accelerate beyond that point!
United’s recent troubles must have hit you hard?! (smiley face)
Ferguson’s last title looks very impressive in hindsight, doesn’t it (albeit your title defence was meagre at best!)? Observing David Moyes’ tenure held obvious amusement but it is and was clear that the rot was long established in that squad. Reality appears to have hit hard this summer with supporters’ expectations from the market proving largely unattainable – though we wait and see what happens in the coming days, of course. There’s an awful lot of work to be done on the United squad and the pundits’ nearly unanimous agreement that they’d immediately return to the top four would seem to be based more on hope than belief.
Your thoughts on Mario Balotelli possibly signing for Liverpool?
It’s clear that we’ve needed another forward to come in – we’ve plenty who could potentially play the support role (similar to Arjen Robben at the World Cup) in a pairing, in the absence of either Daniel Sturridge or Rickie Lambert, but all are untried after late/disrupted pre-seasons. There was a bit of desperation creeping in last week – after the Moreno deal had been wrapped up the feeling was that we’d completed what we’d originally planned for our summer business but not moved on to the second phase…replacing our departing forward! To suddenly see supporters weighing up the comparative merits of Balotelli and Radamel Falcao on Wednesday night felt bizarre and since then everything points to the Italian being confirmed in the coming days.
I’m excited for his arrival – had you asked me on Wednesday, I’d have been leaning towards Falcao but the deal is increasingly making sense to me and I can’t wait for Balotelli to arrive now! Despite his obvious talent, I expect he’s still got a fair bit of developing to do as a player and there’s much more in terms of goals and dependability that can be brought out of him – I’m hoping that we’re the club where it finally all falls into place. People will obviously talk about Balotelli’s personality being a concern and possibly a disruptive influence but I’m not worried about that – I think we’ll provide a good environment for him. Comments by Jonathan Northcroft suggesting that he’s always been popular with teammates and isn’t considered disruptive, and Andrea Pirlo, talking about how he’s matured at Milan, offer further encouragement. Can’t wait for him to pull on the shirt next weekend!
Are you confident about Liverpool’s future, on and off the pitch?
Yes – very much so. We’ve got a fantastic young manager who sets his teams out to play attractive and effective football, our captain has decided to focus his footballing efforts solely on the Club, and we’ve got one of the game’s best youngsters in our ranks. We’ve assembled a highly talented squad brimming with further potential and there’s a belief that this summer will banish any lingering questions that remain about the ‘transfer committee’s’ market prowess. Perhaps most significantly, work has now commenced behind/on our Main Stand – we’re staying, long-term, at a refurbished and extended Anfield…that makes sense in both heads and hearts.
Finally, your score predictions for Monday’s game.
2-1 away victory. Sturridge to give us a lead, Kompany to pull one back, and Gerrard to give us the win from the spot!
Thanks to Jack for those answers. The Redmen TV builf-up show for the match can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6Jzve-tirY
Jack can be found on Twitter at @hartejack and you can find the Redmen gang at @TheRedmenTV