Thursday, 10 May 2012

Swansea City v Liverpool, PL, Match Preview


Welcome to the Liberty, where points mean prizes.

At almost £750k per position, the extra 3 points from a win in this fixture has a practical, as well as an historic purpose. In AP+1 (Anno Premerio 1st Year),  it would be not only fiscally rewarding, it has a cultural value too, and is something that future generations will talk about. Do you remember when.............?

So what could be more rewarding than a game against one of the PL's most popular clubs in a game, moreover, that we can simply take in and enjoy, without any of the tension that is likely to be felt by those still struggling to survive and thrive, even?

Not much, so for our sins and successes both, we get to confront Liverpool.

Since Liverpool's sustaining takeover by the Fenway Sports Group last year, from a previous American ownership that almost took this massive club to the wall, a lot has been made of the new owner's penchant for "growing the brand", but within a defined parameter that puts the Moneyball culture at the heart of the debate.

For those of you unfamiliar with this idea, here's a refresher.

Liverpool, as an iconic club in British Football, appealed to a set of owners that had taken a similarly prestigious brand - the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise - from doomed failure to ultimate victory and reward, winning, for the first time since "the Curse of the Bambino " the outright ultimate reward - the World Series.

The American history, whilst intriguing, is not all. Co-incidentally, or not, it almost seems to mirror Liverpool who were, let's not forget, the leading club of the modern age prior to Man Utd and SAF's usurping, and who now find themselves  "needing" the success that has recently eluded.

The suggestion is that just like those pre-successful Red Sox, the club's recent purchases were predicated on that same under-valued but high achieving actuality, although the evidence of their recent season argues against this on two counts.

Firstly, the values paid for acquisitions were anything but "value for money". At an astonishing £35 m, Andy Carroll, for all his game changing qualities in last week's Cup Final v Chelsea, has still to long term convince that he's anything other than that striker we saw for Newcastle last year- a danger and a bruiser, but £35m: WTF as they say on Twitter.

The other big money signings were Stuart Downing, the winger acquired from Villa at £20m +, Jordan Henderson at the eye-watering same price,  Charlie Adam, the MF'er from Blackpool at a cool £7m which seems less profligate, and Jose Enrique, the £7m full back who came from Newcastle.

And that's not all. That's a hell of a lot of money for the level of achievement they've got, and it's something which we'll come back to. Football, eh, bloody hell, it's a funny old game, as SAF is wont to say.

As I begin this piece on Tuesday evening, it's just gone half time and Liverpool are 3-1 up against the Champions League finalists, Chelsea. Who knows where this is going ? Not me, that's for sure.  Well now it's 4-1 and the match is surely over - but that's the secret of this incredible League- you can not predict any particular outcome, and that leads us back to this Saturday.

Liverpool come to us on the back of what has been generally acknowledged for them to have been a disappointing season. They currently stand 8th, on 52pts, so just a couple of wins and draws in advance of us.

More to the point, their estimable Manager, the restored King Kenny Dalglish, has at times this year seemed less like a Liverpool Manager as much as a particularly stubborn non-paying Taxi user- almost glad to have a grouse and gripe with any and all of the TV Interviewers. Ouch.

This club has, of course, been at the top end of English Football for many years, albeit in a secondary sense of late, but it can't be argued that they have a phenomenal record. The lovely scenes where the families of their players joined them on the field at the end of this Chelsea fixture should not detract us from a wish to finish on a similar high this weekend.

Dalglish, believe it or not, is under some pressure.

John Henry, the FSG leader, has commissioned Dalglish to prepare a season-review and an indication of where it's likely to go, and, be assured, this is not some simple "tell me what's gone on" - the Yank wants assurances that it will get significantly better - or else.

Again, this is not, by any means, some sort of "It'll be OK if it comes good , you're  untouchable". The FSG, and John Henry particularly, is not averse to cutting a Club Legend.

Terry "Tito" Francona, the Manager who brought the Red Sox a couple of World Series after all those years, and Theo Epstein, the Senior Manager in charge of him were both cast to the wind when the Team didn't deliver, and without a care.

Kenny, on this basis, has one more season, because if he doesn't come up with the goods he's gone - believe you me.

Damian Comolli, the Director of Football, has paid the price already, and has been summarily dismissed, just as Epstein was in Boston.

The team performed admirably against a much changed Chelsea side, embarrassed as much by their own GK, Ross Turnbull, as anyone, but it did at least show Liverpool in a better light than had been evident in their FA Cup final defeat just 3 days earlier.

Carroll, restored to the side, did as much as anybody to disrupt the Terry/ Ivanovic partnership, and Suarez profited from his muscular assault on the Chelsea CB's by picking up all the loose threads. They are highly likely to want to replicate that against us, but Caulker's aerial and physical contribution has stood the test of other bruisers in this League, and Ash Williams will give Suarez a harder time than he got mid week.

The middle 4 were more lively than of late, and it was made up of Downing, Shelvey, Henderson and Maxi Rodriguez - a far more effective line up than previously.

Stuart Downing, bought from Villa at a premium price of £20m, still contrived to drive a penalty against the post, and has still to score his maiden goal for the club - and that in itself has been a huge disappointment in his first season. He remains a lovely skillful player, but is prone to drift in and out of games.

They were anchored by a contrasting pair - namely Jordan Henderson and Jon-Jo Shelvey. Henderson cost a staggering £20m from Sunderland, and forgive me if I indicate that in my estimation, our very own Joe Allen is not only a similar but some would argue better player. He has very good talent, but £20m?? Somewhat overpriced , methinks.

No wonder Comolli carried the can, since informed opinion is that he was stitched up on every single purchase price he paid - these may well be Dalglish's players, but the DoF signed the cheques (figuratively).

Shelvey, on the other hand, was brought in as a work-in-progress. He had been highly rated at Charlton, but for a mere £1m + add ons, was bought almost as Arsenal got Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey even - someone who would come to the fore some 3/4 years down the line. However, given the team's struggles particularly since losing the influential Lucas Leiva, and the equally experienced Charlie Adam, Dalglish has almost had to turn to him, and the youngster continues to perform better by the game.

The 4th Middleman v the Blues was the cagey and underused Maxi Rodriguez. Signed a couple of seasons ago from Atletico Madrid, the Argentinian's record when in the side this year is superb - when he plays they either win or draw - when he doesn't they lose.

You'd think someone at the Club might have noticed this - but a seeming love-affair for the often preferred Craig Bellamy seems to have gotten in the way. Ah well, that's their problem not ours.

The back 4 was solid, with Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel and Agger used, which left Enrique on the bench.

Glen Johnson remains England's first choice RB, brilliant at going forward, still somewhat shaky when isolated one on one (go Scotty S), and Agger's versatility sent him to LB, allowing the veteran Carragher to partner their best defender, Skrtel, in the middle. The Slovakian (he of no vowels) and the Dane (Agger) are two of the PL's prominent Tattooistas (the Tattoo Twins almost). Take a look at their arms this week- there's a story on every inch I swear!

The wonderful Pepe Reina kept goal. Since signing from Villareal several seasons ago, this Spanish Scoucer has a claim to be the PL's most consistent keeper, although he has been more susceptible this year to the odd error. Not surprising really, even our own Michel Vorm doesn't always walk on water.

Having spent some £100m on acquisitions this year, it's generally been perceived that they haven't delivered, and we haven't as yet even considered the talent they had sitting down last week.

The primary shout, of course, has to be the remarkable Steven Gerrard. Often cited as one of the PL's "brand" players, the complete MF'er has all the talents and skill you'd want in a footballer. Sure to be a mainstay for his Country at the Euro championships, is it just cruel to wish he has a slight hamstring strain this week? No, not really, I'd rather see him play than not - because this is part of the reason that makes us play in this division - to compete against the very best. Shelvey's time will come , no doubt, but could we have Gerrard this week please?

The bench on Tuesday went - 32 Doni, 16 Coates, 34 Kelly, 20 Spearing, 31 Sterling, 18 Kuyt, 39 Bellamy with Alexander Doni being the experienced Brazilian International keeper signed from AS Roma as Reina's understudy.

Sebastian Coates ( pronounced CO-AAH-TEZ) is the gifted Uruguayan youngster signed for the future. I'd love to see him come to us on a season long loan, just as Steven Caulker has done this year from Tottenham, because that's how good he is.Take a look.

The rest of the bench had Martin Kelly, the English CB/FB back on it, plus Jay Spearing, the Academy grad MF'er, plus Raheem Sterling, an exciting winger /forward again from the Academy. Promises to be a good 'un.

Last, but not least, the divine "Bellers", our Cardiff City loving Welshman is having an excellent season, and he was  partnered by Holland's Dirk Kuyt, a World Cup runner up, and the sort of player you want on your team. Talent, skill and effort, all in a sensible temperamental package, the sort of player most Dads would want their daughters to meet.

That covers just the players who took part in that Tuesday encounter with Chelsea, but if you want deeper research, get it here.

As I've hinted previously, Liverpool will come with an agenda. Given Dalglish's necessity to report to the American owners post season on what he sees as their "progress", or not, a defeat to a first year side, albeit one who drew at their patch, would not look good.

Plus, let's be honest, in the last half hour of their painful FA Cup Final loss, and the 4-1 victory over a subdued Chelsea, they have looked half decent, so we can expect a fierce challenge.

All Elvis references aside, wouldn't it be wonderful for this fantastic team of ours to put the tin hat on a terrifically rewarding season with a win against another of the PL's icons? Yes, it would.

No predictions, debates, arguments whatever from me this week on the make up of our team. The fact is I'll be perfectly happy to go with whatever our Manager sees fit, for whatever purpose.

Last week we went to one of the most famous grounds in English Football and with a second half performance on the field, and a magnificent contribution from the JackArmy throughout, did ourselves no harm in attracting the occasional floating fan. For we die-hards, this will always be our only Club, but it's pleasant to hear these increasing numbers of opposing fans suggest that we're the team they most like watching when they can't see their own.

It comes about, of course, from the quality of our football, and that's the most pleasing aspect of it all. Lauded for style, substance, and ethos - life doesn't get much better than this.

It only remains to wish them all the best, and to thank everyone, Elvis included, for a fantastic season. Thank you.

Onward, Swansea City.

Meanwhile, in a twist you couldn't really make up, our smaller cousins along the M4 at Tanfastic City are poised to put a large dollop of custard pie into the face of their long suffering supporters by going red in a "rebranding excercise".

Puts me in mind of the great football philosopher Jorge Valdano's quote about a particularly poor Chelsea v Liverpool game - you know the one that I'm talking about -"a shit hanging from a stick". 
Tee-hee. It was ever thus.

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