By Andy Yates
Liverpool return to Champions League football tonight, with a trip to FC Basel in what promises to be Brendan Rodgers first real challenge at this elite European level.
Despite being taking all the way against the relative unknown minnows of Ludogrets, Basel will pose a sterner threat than the Bulgarians, having pulled off some shock results against the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich over the last few seasons.
Liverpool will be hoping to get back to winning ways after a faltering start in the Premier League. Victory and three points in the Merseyside Derby looked to be theirs up until Phil Jagielka scored a 30 yard half volley in the 92nd minute, but what is now vital is that Liverpool maintains a focus against a team who are arguably seen as their direct rivals to qualify from Group B.
They will most certainly need their stand out players from last season to make a case in Switzerland. With Daniel Sturrudge still out injured, Mamadou Sakho not travelling due to disciplinary action as well as Joe Allen, Jon Flanagan and Emre Can all out injured, the responsibility on the players who came so close to winning the Premier League last season is a heavy one.
Liverpool’s stuttering start has been well publicised of late, their run of form see’s them well off the pace of the front runners domestically. Much has been made of the new signings and their impact, whilst the older guard have also found themselves in the firing line, winning just 2 out of a possible 6 games scoring just 8 goals in the process.
Should Liverpool want all three points from their tricky tie in Switzerland, certain players will need a huge performance, and below are three key players who can bring victory for the Reds tonight.
The young Brazilian starlet had a fantastic pre-season and was one of the key players in the title run in back in April and May, scoring the winning goal against Manchester City at Anfield. His start to the new season has mirrored that of Liverpool in general, frustrating. He was simply scintillating during Liverpool’s 4-0 rout of Dortmund before the league opener to Southampton, and barring a few good moments in that game and during Tottenham away, he hasn’t quite found that exciting rhythm he has that mesmerises the opposition and the hoards watching him.
His substitute appearance against Everton gave fans some hope that his form and confidence is returning. The blues started the second half a little better than Liverpool, but on Coutinho’s arrival the balance swung once again, and all Liverpool’s play was going through young Philippe, his deft touch and cheeky through balls creating opening for Liverpool left and right.
There are no two ways about it, when Philippe Coutinho is on form, the rest of the teams dances to his beat. His passes change games and his calmness, which at times boarders on the ridiculous, has been a welcome asset in the chaos Liverpool have the ability to create.
Liverpool should expect no different than a hostile atmosphere on what should be a ‘proper European night’, and when they’re looking for options, whether that be from the bench or from the off, Coutinho may be that player who can take them a step further towards last 16 qualification and kick start what has been a frustrating domestic season so far.
For as long as I can remember, Liverpool’s defence has always been that of one solid unit, with strong and powerful players attacking from the back, their presence as frightening from the stands as it is when standing next to them.
During Rafa Benitez’s time at Liverpool, the defence were arguably the reason behind some of Liverpool’s most famous victories. If you cast your mind back to Juventus in 2005 during the quarter final, the away leg in particular was won by a defensive game plan so well thought out that it is often never given the credit it deserved.
The defensive foursome of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise were immense during Liverpool’s run to European glory, and they faced off (and won) in battles against the very best. Despite Liverpool’s lack of attacking threat back then (Milan Baros and Djibril Cisse have Champions League medals remember), it was the defence that controlled and sustained during games were defences would otherwise be torn apart.
Dejan Lovren’s Liverpool hasn’t hit the ground running as many were expecting. As with Coutinho, he started off against Borussia Dortmund in pre-season with a goal and composed performance. Granted it was pre season and Dortmund didn’t have their strongest 11 out, but in the moments of quiet in the Anfield crowd, his voice was the sole voice, just as Carragher’s was for many years at the heart of the Liverpool defence.
His best game arguably came during the Merseyside derby, and despite conceding, Liverpool showed assurance on the ball and a defensive stability which is vital in such games. It bodes well going in to the Basel clash, but they will need to be on point for 90 minutes, the Swiss side currently sit top of their domestic league having scored 23 goals already this season.
Lovren most certainly has the abilities to be a stalwart at the heart of the Liverpool defence for years to come, yet it is obvious he is feeling the pressure which greeted him on day one. He may will find himself at the centre of it all tomorrow, so it is most definitely his biggest game yet in a red shirt with Champions League football being new to him. If Liverpool can get things right at the back, they may arrive back on Merseyside with a point or three, and the fans will have a new wave of confidence in their defence going forward for the rest of the season.
Run boy run. And my word does he… Henderson is the stand-out player for Liverpool this season, his tireless displays have brought him plaudits who once laughed at his £16 million price tag. It has also seen him promoted to Vice Captain at Liverpool, with the future looking set to see the Sunderland lad become one of Liverpool’s own when he takes the reins from Steven Gerrard.
Not only is his work rate admirable, other aspects of his game have significantly improved. His ball retention is second to none, his willingness to drive forward a vital component in a Liverpool team which expects to attack and score goals. His eye for a through ball has impressed many, a part of his game which was perhaps overlooked previously. He is tenacious in the tackle, demanding in his instructions to his teammates, and has become an immoveable object in Rodgers’ system over the last two years.
Many expect the key to a victory over Basel in Switzerland lays in the midfield, so a fit and fighting Henderson is key to breaking down a team which has shown its stubbornness in this competition of late.
His boundless energy and growing creativity alongside an ever improving Adam Lallana is the key link between defence and attack for Liverpool. With Raheem Sterling continuing his rise at the elite level and Mario Ballotelli settling into Liverpool life week by week, there is a sense of optimism that this exciting attacking line up can thrive, with Jordan Henderson the catalyst of it all. Tonight in Basel may give the fans creed that the future looks bright for Liverpool.
Still many games to play in the season however, try some online football betting you will never know.
By Mark Chrystal
Before the season began I published an article on this site that suggested that Liverpool would be under pressure by October, due to the deficiencies and changes in their squad. As a life long red, it was a painful prediction to make and even more so to see come true now. The reality is that Liverpool have not picked up enough points from their first 6 matches for us to expect that they can now achieve Champions League qualification. I will explain this point, but please note that my desire is not to fuel negativity about the team. My objective is to inform Liverpool supporters about the likelihood of qualification from this starting point, for us all to be realistic about the prospects, and to back the team to the hilt anyway.
The Remaining Points Per Match Issue
Only once since 95/96, when the 38-match format began, have Liverpool qualified for the Champions League when they had 7 points at this point in the season. The year was 05/06 and they had 7 points from 6 matches, which comprised W1, D4, L1. Following this start, with a team that boasted Gerrard, Alonso, Hyppia, Agger, Reina, Cisse and Garcia all in their prime performance years, Liverpool went on to win 24, draw 3, and lose 5 of their remaining 32 matches. As a reminder, this was the season that was memorably capped by the “Gerrard-Final” vs West Ham. In fact, Liverpool have delivered 7 points or more after 6 matches and failed to finish in the top 4 on 6 occasions, but only on this one occasion have they started so poorly and still qualified.
So, only once in 20 years has Liverpool gone from 7 points after six matches and still qualified. In the Premier League era they have never finished in the top 4 with less points after six matches. Liverpool have qualified for the Champions League 13 times in the last 20 years, 12 of which came from top 4 finishes. Over the last 5 years it has taken an average of 72 points to qualify. This means that Liverpool would need to pick up 2.03 points/match for the balance of the season at a minimum; a performance pace that would require 20 wins, 5 draws and 6 loses. On the face of it, it doesn’t look so unreasonable right? Yet, a pace of 2.03 points per match has only been achieved once in the last 5 seasons, and that was last year. In 12/13 they achieved 1.60 points/match, and a rate of 1.75 from the last 32 matches. In 11/12 they achieved 1.37 points/match, and a rate of 1.31 points from the last 32 matches. In 10/11 the average pace was 1.53 and in 09/10 it was 1.66 points/match. In 08/09 they did achieve 2.25 points/match from the last 32 matches, but they began the season achieving 2.33 points/match. This is an important point where, aside from 05/06, Liverpool in the Premier League era have never achieved more than 2 points/match for the last 32 matches when they didn’t exceed that performance pace in the first 6 matches. When you consider that Liverpool are still yet to play 4 of the current top 7 on a home and away basis, having already lost 2 out of 3 to the remaining teams, the challenge to repeat 05/06 looks quite steep.
Even if they go on to perform like they did last season for the remaining 32 matches, it would give them a total of 77 points, which was only good enough for 5th place last season; albeit, that it would have qualified them in the prior 4 seasons. Yet, last season was characterized by having the two highest goal scorers in the league in the team, an achievement that looks very unlikely this season. Looking at the points per match achieved over the last 5 years, it is more likely that Liverpool can expect to finish in the range of 5th to 7th, unless a remarkable turn-around can be achieved.
The Squad and Tactical Consistency Issue
Compounding the problems associated with Liverpool’s ability to turn the season around is the current state of the squad and the tactics being employed. When any business organization undergoes significant change in personnel it takes considerable time to regain its cultural identity and operating efficiency. I would argue that this is also true, perhaps more so, for a football team. This is certainly the case when coupled with the loss of the world’s most creative talent. Consider that fully 50% of the players that played in the match against Everton were not in the squad last season, this includes 55% of the starting line-up and 60% of the defensive component of the team being new. This statistic is a really important one when you recognize that of the Premier League matches that Liverpool have won this season (2), the team’s starting line-up has only consisted of 3 new players on average. Whereas when Liverpool have dropped points (in 4 matches) the number of new players starting those matches averages close to 5.
Further exacerbating the ability of the new players to adapt into the team is Rodger’s desire to continually change the tactics and players. Given the need to get the new players to adapt to Liverpool’s system, and the need for the existing players to learn how to play with the new, there needs to be a strong level of consistency in all other regards. Consistent change in personnel and tactics does not allow a new team to develop the understanding required to perform at a peak level. While injuries to key players have certainly been a factor, it seems imperative that Rodger’s pick a more stable path. He must either stick with 11 to 13 players in a similar tactical pattern for a significant run of games, or he must go back to using players who understand the system from last season and keep the new players to just 3 of the starting 11. Without making these adjustments, I would argue that Liverpool have little chance of repeating the turn-around achieved in 05/06.
The Bottom Line
As a consequence of the above statistics relative to the current point tally and points dropped with new players, it looks to me that a top 4 finish in the Premier League is highly improbable. Winning the Champions League is possible, but also unlikely, and as such I am now predicting that Liverpool will not achieve qualification this season. This is a prediction I certainly hope does not come true, but I think it is important to assume that this has now become a transition year for the new team, and as fans I think we need to give them room to do so. However it is always worth putting a few quid on Liverpool, you never know, check out the sports betting guide by SportsbookNavigator.com.
Follow me on twitter: @mkjchrystal
Liverpool fans around the world again unite to help 1-year-old Kopite in his battle against leukaemia.
Little Bartus Waracki from Bielsk Podlaski, Poland was born on the 22nd July 2013 and he was healthy. However couple of weeks later on 9th September Bartus had to come back to the hospital. Doctors’ diagnosis was leukaemia.
Eight months in hospital and chemotherapy devastated Bartus’s health system. The boy’s lucky day came on 1st May 2014 when he finally came back home, but the fear is still with Waracki’s family.
– We have to wait around 5 years to be sure if Bartus have beaten the leukaemia – said Ewelina Waracka, mother of Bartus.
– Our brave boy has a small victory, but we still don’t know if he will be able to defeat leukaemia.
Bartus still needs help and LFC 2014 Fan of the Year Rado Chmiel and his friend Magdalena Spratek decided to help their fellow supporter by creating an English version of Facebook fanpage where they post all the updates about Bartus’s fight against leukaemia.
– Bartus still needs help with treatment and rehabilitation – says Rado.
– Transport to the hospital for regular checks, disinfection stuff costs lots of money and despite Bartus parents effort they are not able to cover all the costs of treatment.
– That’s why we created the Paypal account and English version of his Facebook page to aware the people and put all the recent updates about his health condition – added Magdalena.
– We are also in the middle of organising the charity music event in Liverpool where all the funds from the tickets and charity auctions of football memorabilia will be donated to Bartus and his family. All the details about the event will be on his Facebook page – added Rado.
For more information on Bartus story and how to donate
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Liverpools-little-fighter-Bartus/395319900616820?fref=ts