Friday, August 15, 2008

EPL Previews: Liverpool, aka "Limperpool FC"

You didn't think some non-Scouse was going to write this, did you?

The Liverpool saga this summer has been like every other tidbit of drama I've endured at Anfield since Rafa and the Yanks began their fraught courtship. A protracted mess of he-said, she-said wrangling that always ends up public, and yet it seems like they fight about something new every week. First it was the need for transfer funds, then it was the Klinsmann debacle, then it was funds again, then it was Rafa's job security, then chairman Rick Parry's job security, and now, funds for Gareth Barry.

It is the definition of "soap opera" through and through: a diverse cast of characters constantly bickering and who never retain any knowledge from week-to-week, so much so that you think you're forever watching the same bloody episode.

Sadly, the product on the pitch is just as much a part of the same soap. Flashes of brilliance and melodrama punctuated by long periods of sitting around and waiting for something to happen. My beloved club are in grave danger of becoming the ultimate paper team: one that matches up well with their opponents in theory, yet routinely underwhelms on the pitch.

It's a tough pill to swallow, and every summer, when we bring in one or two big-name players, my excitement levels rises, the teamsheets look formidable, and then, as we witnessed on Wednesday, it doesn't rise to the occasion.

Looking at this year's squad brings the same salivation. Robbie Keane, although a little pricey at 19 million pounds, brings a verve and inventiveness that Torres will surely benefit from up front. Too often, the Spanish whiz was left to his own devices up front, and while he created and scored a lot of goals, having a good wingman can only be a good thing. Right?

Should the pair find their psychic connection, they'll score a lot of goals, and on paper, they're the best strike pairing in the country. (Lest I forget the exciting intangible that is David N'Gog, a young Frenchman who managed to rebuff the charm and smile of Mr. Wenger)


The midfield is unchanged, as the courtship of Aston Villa's prized midfielder has amounted to nothing but tension and bruised pride. Xabi Alonso was shopped everywhere from Wenger's treehouse to the exotic gates of Juventus, and nothing happened there. Mascherano's been enjoying himself at the Olympics (I hear the refs are a little off?), and Gerrard, besides building his new gymnasium, has struggled with a couple of groin strains. I am not concerned, although I might need words with his WAG should the nagging injury persist much longer.

Babel, Benayoun, Lucas and Damien Plessis serve as willing, largely-inexperienced understudies, although in this day and age, the concept of depth is so coveted that I'm glad to have the quality we do.

Contrast this with Arsenal, who essentially become a JV team beyond their best 15 players.

The biggest shifts have come at the back, with a whole slew of new, unknown faces and names: Andrea Dossena joins from Udinese, and if his first match is any evidence, I'm scared shitless to have him patrolling left-back in Aurelio's absense. Riise is gone, although Hyppia is still lingering should Carragher, Agger or Skrtel need a breather. Arbeloa, another concern at right-back, will share some time with Finnan and the free Swiss transfer Phillipp Degen, a guy I've barely seen in LFC Red yet.

Itandje has been mercifully shipped off, and Diego Cavalieri will provide Pepe with a rest every month or so.

On paper (fuck, there I go again), it's a servicable squad, one that's undergone a few major changes from last season, and one that should score goals. By pre-season standards, the results of these tinkerings and experiments were far from promising, and we're lucky to be level on aggregate with Standard Liege heading into the 2nd leg of the CL qualifying round. (The joke is that if we struggled with Standard Liege, imagine how badly we'd fare against Exceptional Liege, or Amazing Liege, or Premium Liege.)


Although it's not good to handicap the team just one match into the competitive fixture list, I see the same tired hang-dog limp that's plagued us in previous Augusts and that's put us out of the EPL title race by Christmas.

Of course, I drink the Kool Aid willingly, and there's still a dim flicker of hope that I'll wake up tomorrow and Gareth Barry will be a Red. His cup-tied status should lower the price a bit, and given the prevailing joke that Hicks and Gillett have to root under couch cushions these days to come up with transfer fees means that we might still have a chance.

I'm not amused at our desperate haggling over a million pounds and the relative worth of Steve Finnan, but hey, if this were a soap, we're just playing the part of the idiot uncle from out-of-town for a while.

I am thirsty for the season, and ravenous at the prospect of my wonderful paper team. We look good in print, but we also have a tendency to fold like a sheet of A4 on occasions when strength is needed most.

This all adds up to more of the same, in my eyes. I will go above and beyond in saying that I think we can push for third, but it'll take a miracle (and the sudden ability to beat the Wigans and Boltons instead of dropping points) to get us much beyond that.

Third place, and a deep CL run for the lads. I think we have a cup in us, so I'll plump for the FA Cup.

Reading back on that, I'm reminded as to why I love this game so much. All the negatives in the world can't stop me from reaching for the stars, or at least the stars that I think Liverpool are vaguely capable of.

In the end, with no EPL games complete yet, my predictions look wild, absurd, and ultimately, really good on paper.


The NY Kid said...

and the free Swiss transfer Phillipp Degen, a guy I've barely seen in LFC Red yet

Don't worry - when has a Swiss defender named Phil ever not been good?

What? Oh.

Autoglass said...

I think that it's all about sticking Keano between Stevie and Torres. Could work fantastically. Might not.

Third, Fourth or Fifth are the only possible outcomes. Second or Sixth are right out. Third and you're happy, Fifth and you're despondent. Funny game.

Keith said...

I think that by now, if Barry's going to transfer, it'll be in January. Of course, that may depend on where the table stands; he's cup-tied until Feb. for Champs League now, so if Villa look like pressing on to fourth in the Winter window, he may just stick it out and play his CL footy at Villa Park.

Of course, that all also depends on Villa's success in a) The de la Red sweepstakes and b) the Michael Johnson sweepstakes

Kyle said...

My worry is how Rafa handles the deployment of Keane and Gerrard in regards to Torres. That, and the rotation policy rearing it's ugly head leading to draws against "weaker" opposition ala last January.

BerbaBent said...

You are not showing too much confidence as I cant see how you will lose out 3rd to Le Arse. With your squad depth and strikeforce shouldnt you think about hanging with the Top 2 past November?

Lingering Bursitis said...

NY Kid: I take solace that Degen is still, regardless of name, less inept than Senderos.

Autoglass: yep, it's a funny game alright, and definitely contributes to my slow descent into madness. All about the numbers, isn't it!

Keith: I'm not sure what to think about the whole mess. Barry is settled again for now, but it's hard to go back on all that's been said about wanting away over the summer.

It's like dating a girl and saying you like someone else. Once it's out there, the relationship is kinda frayed and on the outs until the inevitable actually happens.

And if being cup-tied does decrease the price tag a bit (as it seems to have done with Arshavin), why would Villa do that to themselves? They've got a bidder who is desperate to take Barry, so why give the discount?

Kyle: the rotation is the biggest thorn in our side. Ultimately, those that rotate in a little too frequently for my liking can't hold a candle to those rested and rotated out. Sad, really.

Berba: perhaps I should show more confidence, but I think I'm finally learning to curb that enthusiasm a bit. 2nd or even 1st are fantasies entertained only when I'm very drunk or very nostalgic. Anything's possible, really

Anonymous said...

Funny, I have the same picture on my MySpace.

I'm just glad to have Agger back. Say we have roughly the same goal output as last season, but don't concede silly late goals like we did the whole month of January... we'd be at least 8 points better.

But, as Ricky Bobby says, if you're not first, you're last.

(which actually makes no sense in the world of CL qualifcation and what-not...)

Mike Georger said...

games like liege show why this team needs a real winger. they were getting bossed around in central midfield and with yossi and kuyt out wide you have a modified striker and a central attacking mid. neither are true wide players, and frankly the only one on the books is pennant and my love handles are better looking out wide than he is.

after athens rafa bitched about not having wingers, so he signs the aforementioned yossi, and babel, who is creative out wide and has great pace but is not a creator, hes a friggin striker. he can bitch about money all he wants but the fact is he probably could have had someone like simao or joaquin if he wanted them. hell even riera would be a big improvement now.

but with mascherano coming back, hopefully they wont ever be getting controlled in the center of play

still, with the huge midseason slump last year all they were away from contending was beating united at home. if they can get two wins out of the six games against the bif four, i honestly think they have a very good shot at the title.

Keith said...

LB< Barry's cup-tied until February; If Pool are still in at that point, they can then use Barry in CL matches . Weird rule, but a rule's a rule.