Red Review: September 06

Liverpool FC Monthly Review September 2006

One minute past midnight and we’re into September, the transfer window has just closed and we say goodbye to one last member of the Anfield playing staff as Jan Kromkamp heads back to PSV. Rafa tried his best to replace Kromkamp with Lucas Neill from Blackburn, but with Mark Hughes wanting our homegrown left back Stephen Warnock as part of the deal, Rafa conceded defeat to ensure Warnick stayed a Red. Not quite sure about Rafa’s maths though – we now have 3 recognised Left Full Backs, but no real cover for Stevie Finnan on the right. Carragher could play there, he has done so in the past, but we all know centre back is where he’s best deployed!

Anyway, a new month to look forward to. The start of our Champions League campaign proper, the second meeting in a month with Chelsea, Newcastle, Spurs, Bolton and the first of this seasons Derby matches with Everton. Ooo, mouthwatering matches ahead indeed!

At the start of the month though, Rafa’s training schedules were severly disrupted by poorly timed international matches. The European Championship Qualifiers. Not one Premier League manager could have been happy with the timing but they had to be played. England started off against Andorra – a dead cert if ever there was one! Peter Crouch and former Liverpool target Jermain Defoe got two each while Stevie G got the the other in a comprehensive 5-0 win for Steve McClaren’s England.

Of our other international players, Luis Garcia netted in Spains 4-0 win over Liechtenstein, in which Xabi Alonso also played, Dirk Kuyt starred in Hollands 1-0 win over Luxembourg and Steve Finnan played as the Republic of Ireland went down to Germany. Sami Hyypia also got one up on long term Liverpool team mate Jerzy Dudek as Finland beat Poland 3-1!

Peter CrouchHaving scored 10 in 10 for England, Crouch is everybodies darling at the moment, everybody is salivating over how good Peter Crouch actually is and Gerrard even reckons he could beat the great Bobby Charltons England record at the rate he’s going. Crouch only needs another 39 goals but you never know….

Midweek, and England played the second of their opening 2 qualifiers against a Macedonia side who should provide a sterner test than Andorra (although, will they?! Andorra’s only win in International football was against…you guessed it – Macedonia!). Gerrard celebrated his 50th cap in this match, a great milestone, and he still has years ahead of him. A scrappy match produced only the one goal by man of the moment, Peter Crouch! England 1-0 Macedonia. 11 goals in 11 games for England – watch out Sir Bobby, Peter’s coming!

Back at Anfield, everyone was gearing up for the first leg of this season’s Mersyside Cup! Away to Everton, Carragher, Risse and Sissoko were all back in contention after injury and Kuyt could be about to make his first start of the season. There are plenty of derby debutants, including Agger, Aurelio, Pennant, Gonzalez, Kuyt and Bellamy but Rafa was confident that all would handle the match with no problem and the boss was confident of the win. As it turned out, the blues turned us over 3-0, with some terrible defensive errors on our part, a disallowed penalty claim when Kuyt’s shot was handled in the area and their last goal coming from a bit of a comedic attempt at a save by Reina and Andy Johnson nodding the ball over the line from all of 2 yards. Never mind, we still have the upcoming Champions League match against PSV to look forward to, right?

In the days leading up to the PSV match, Bolo Zenden went on record warning of the dangers of his old club, Dirk Kuyt went on record remenicsing about his previous meetings with PSV in his time at Feyenoord and Stephen Done, curator of Liverpool FC’s museum, went on record with some of the best matches we’ve played down the years in the yellow away kit, asking just how lucky is yellow for us!

Reina earned a reprieve for the match, but it was all change up front as Bellamy and Kuyt were paired together in what proved to be the first of many matches this month! Neither started at Goodison and Rafa wanted them to unleash their derby frustration looking for an instant return to form. Rafa made six changes. Captain Steven Gerrard started on the bench, as did Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Peter Crouch and Luis Garcia.

Bolo Zenden, Daniel Agger, Stephen Warnock, Jermaine Pennant, Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy all started. It didn’t quite happen for the Reds in the end as the two teams played out a not particularly inspiring 0-0 draw. But no worries, we’ve got our first point of the 2006/7 Champions League campaign. Next up, Chelsea!

In the days following, the greatest Bill Shankly event ever was announced, to be held, where else, in the Bill Shankly Suite at Liverpool FC. To launch a book written by Karen Gill, Shanks’ grand-daughter, the event was to take place on 29th September, the 25th anniversary of the great mans death.

Jose MourinhoIn the run up to the Chelsea match, the press again made a lot of the supposed feud between Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez. Jose was moaning to the journalists again (surprise surprise) about the hype created and the lack of a hand shake between the pair the last time the two clubs met. He said he would only shake hands in the privacy of the tunnel and not in front of the cameras. But that’s what happened after the match – Rafa and Jose shook hands, in front of the watching TV cameras. Ironic really!

The match, incidentally, was again on Sky (how many of our matches are they showing this season anyway??!!). We were no way inferior to Chelsea during the match, except for a wonder goal from Didier Drogba just before half time, and we hit the bar so often in this and other recent matches that Rafa must have been left wondering if he was managing an AA meeting instead of a football team. Ballack got himself sent off for a horror challenge on Sissoko, which even Jose had no complaints about, but he questioned how Sissoko was still on the field for Ballack to make his challenge in the first place, saying he should have had a second yellow earlier in the game. 1-0 to Chelsea.

Our title chances have, for the time being put on the back burner with just one win from the opening 4 matches, although some were writing us off altogether, mentioning no names, Mr A Grey of Sky TV. But they do so at their peril! Three away matches and not a win in site. Oh how the team were relishing a midweek return to Anfield.

The youth team weren’t doing much better, having lost to Sunderland and Barnsley in the past week, leaving the Academy under 18’s still searching for their first win of the season. Gary Ablett’s reserves were struggling too – not a good couple of weeks all round really.

Much was being made of Rafa’s rotation policy in the run up to the Newcastle match – 90 odd games without an unchanged side, 18 months since the same 11 played blah blah blah. It’s a team game these days. The game has moved on. In the 60’s, when Shankly was asked what team he’d picked, his simple reply was “the same as last week son, and the week before that”. With bigger squads and more matches in the modern day game, thats just not possible. The same 11 cannot play 60 or so games. So Rafa is using the rotation policy which worked so well for him at Valencia (it must have done, he won 2 titles and broke the stranglehold of Barcalona and Real Madrid!).

Dirk KuytAnd so Newcastle came to Anfield. Kuyt and Bellamy again starting up front, with the latter relishing the visit of his former employers. It ended up as a 2-0 win for us with Kuyt getting his first Liverpool goal and Alonso’s second a long range lob from well inside our own half, 65-70 yards at least. Amazing! Who cares if Newcastle‘s ‘keeper slipped over, that was a great goal and early goal of the season contender! Our first win of the season put smiles on the fans faces and keeps the critics quiet for a while.

News on Harry ‘Sicknote’ Kewell emerged from the club too. We still don’t know when he’ll be back, fancy that! Club spokesman Ian Cotton said: “Harry has had a follow-up opinion and unfortunately requires further surgery on the foot problem he suffered during the World Cup.

“Again, contrary to some media reports Harry does not have and has never suffered from gout. This suggestion originally came from one of his own Australian team-mates during the tournament in Germany and is totally incorrect.

“On his return to Liverpool following the World Cup, Harry was actually diagnosed as having Septic Arthritis – a bacterial infection in the joints of his left foot. A primary procedure to drain the infection was performed in July but it will require further surgery to address his subsequent problems. The second operation will take place this week in Australia and only after that will we have an accurate idea on the length of his rehabilitation period.” Get well soon Harry.

Gerard Houllier’s record of signing only the crap French players was confirmed when Thierry Henry said in a press interview that if he wasn’t playing for Arsenal, he’d have loved to have joined Liverpool! Thanks for nothing Ged. Not that I’m bitter about us not signing one of the greatest players in recent memory of course, never, not in a million years!

Arsenal‘s North London rivals Tottenham were the next visitors to Anfield. Gonzales came in for Garcia, Hyypia and Riise returned to the squad while Rafa again put his faith in Kuyt and Bellamy up front. After a hard fought first half ended in a stalemate, the second half was much livlier. Jermain Jenas missed a sitter from 3 yards after being set up by Edgar Davids, which brought a counter attack from the Reds. Bellamy hit the woodwork, but Gonzales was there for the follow-up to put us 1 up. 2 more goals, one from Kuyt and a 30-yard rocket from Riise gave Liverpool a comfortable 3-0 win.

The draw for the Carling Cup was made, and we drew Premier League new boys Reading. Liverpool’s impressive performances against Newcastle and Tottenham were backed up by the Actim Index – the Official Player Ratings of the Barclays Premiership – with seven Reds’ players being named in the Actim Team of the Week. After a slow start to the season, Steve Finnan, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Mark Gonzalez, Jose Reina, Luis Garcia and Daniel Agger all showed their true colours, with Finnan the top Premiership performer of the week.

The Republic of Ireland defender, ranked 47th overall, won seven tackles, made three clearances, two blocks, 84 passes and put in 11 crosses. This tops off a brilliant week for the Reds! Bring on Galatasaray.

Peter CrouchPeter Crouch had a point to prove in this match after being left on the bench for the past 5 games, and boy did he prove it! Crouch’s double led Liverpool to this Group C win but we were given a huge scare by Galatasaray. Liverpool were two up after 14 minutes thanks to Crouch’s close-range volley and Luis Garcia’s well-placed header. Early in the second half Crouch got his second, when with his back to goal, he scored with a wonderful scissors kick. But two headers from substitute Umit Karan ensured a tense finale. 3-2 to Liverpool the final score to put us top of Group C.

Two other significant bits of news came out the next day – the date was set for our Carling Cup tie with Reading, 25th October. £9million worth of funding for the new stadium project was also announced to great joy from everyone associated with the club.

The anniversary of Bill Shankly‘s death was apon us. A sad time indeed, but also a time to rejoice in the memory of the great man. Liverpool’s messiah, and did him great justice with all their tributes, and the poems by Nigel Shaw and Ken Bushnell just have to be read!

Shanks would have blown his top I think, had he still been alive, at what transpired in our next match though. Bolton, away. Kuyt and Bellamy preferred up front again (what more does Crouchy have to do??!!). The last day of the month, the last match of the month, and we go down 2-0. It could have been oh so differant if Reina hadn’t been wrongly penalised but I guess that’s football. October ahoy!

Simon Pearce

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