That time of year has come again, when the season ends and Rafa Benitez has the chance to swing the axe, shuffle his pack, bring out the dead, and usher in the new. An axe: Because some will fall by the wayside. Ruthless: Because Rafa isnt interested in sentiments (like Dudek’s display in the Istanbul penalties or Bellamy’s goal in Barcelona), he deals with cold facts. And good fortune: Because the axe will be clearing a way for players from a bulging purse, that indicates they wont be young hopefuls (Like Patella) or fallen talent (Pennant or Bellamy) but the real thing (like Gerrard or Carragher).
This is my personal assessment of who will stay and who will go. Rafa says he wants every position doubled, and so, I will base this on 24 players, one extra goalie and two extra players (like Garcia) who defy labelling.
Games (Starts): — Goals: — Assists: –, Tendence: up/even/down
Next season: Team/squad/ bordeline/axe
1. Jerzy Dudek
Games: 6 Tendence: down
The hero of Istanbul had the chance to leave the club at the beginning of the season but chose to stay as Reina’s number two. Rafa’s opinion of him will not have changed. Whilst he welcomes the challenge to Reina, his ultimate decision will depend on whether he thinks Carson needs more practice, or is ready to take up the number two position. But Carson has pre empted that in saying he wont be coming back to sit on the bench. Dudek, on the other hand, says he has to move to get his place in the Polish team back. Thanks for everything. An Istanbul legend to rival Grobbelaar. Next season: Axe
25. Pepe Reina
Games: 51 Tendence: up
The breaker of Ray Clemence records, the anchor of the most miserly defence for years, and he is still only 24, which is very young for a goalkeeper. Despite the post world cup blues, I feel he has got better this season. Although he has no assists to his name, he giant kicks and quick throw outs have lead to many goals. Rafa has elevated him from a good national goalie to a very good international goalie. His CL semi final saves against Chelski are right up there with the best, and his best is yet to come… Next season: Team
–. Scott Carson
A young good keeper given the chance of a life time to play for a top team. He was courted by other teams, but he chose to go to a top team as number three. After a year out on loan for Charlton, he has since changed his mind that he is not prepared to be on the bench of a top team but wants to leave to play. Whatever I think of him doesn’t really matter. If he puts his personal progress before the club then he is free to leave. Next season: Axe
30. Daniele Padelli
Games: 1 Tendence: even
Only 21 and a giant of a keeper, the young Italian has filled in the shoes of Carson whilst he is away with Charlton getting more experience. The fans havent seen much of him, and his position seems to have been decided by the departure of Dudek and Carson. Indeed his first action in his first league game was to pick the ball out of the net. I hope that isnt a bad omen! I am sure he will relish this good fortune and take the chance with both hands, and he wuill only leave if Rafa brings in two new keepers which is doubtful. Next season: Squad
2. Alvaro Arbeloa
Games: 12 Goals: 1 Assists: 1 Tendence: up
Thrown into the team in an away game to the reigning European champions and he was like a fish in water. With Finnan having his most impressive season yet as a red, Arbeloa has arrived on the scene with a bang and will give the Irishman a run for his money. Not afraid to venture forward, he already has one goal and one assist to his name. He is also developing a good understanding with Pennant and he is also capable of playing left back and centre half. Next season, with pre season training under his belt should see the 24 year old impress even more.
Next season: Team/Squad
3. Steve Finnan
Games: 46 Goals: 0 Assists: 8 Tendence: up
Our most consistent defender this year according to league statistics and one of the leagues top performers. The 30 year old has had his best premiership season and has become one of the most accomplished right backs in the league. He was superb in the Champions league and kept many right sided attackers unusually quiet. He also roams forward more this year, and can produce a good cross, which is probably where his eight assists come from. Apart from his lack of goals, the only thing against him is that next season he will be the wrong side of 30. He still has a few more seasons left at the top though. Next Season: Team
6.John Arne Riise
Games: 44 Goals: 5 Assists: 1 Tendence: even
Last season, Rafa was so impressed with him, that he gave him a four year contract. This year he has spent most of his time at left back, and has moved into left midfield for difficult away matches. Whilst not having a bad season, he doesnt seem as good as last year. His form seems patchy. I doubt whether Rafa will show him the door, although the golf club affair wont help. His statistics of five goals and one assist says a lot. He can come up with fantastic goals but doesn’t supply many assists which means he isnt giving our attackers much convertible service.
With the kind of money available to Rafa in the next few years, he will have to get back to his best if he wants to keep his place in the team, and even the squad. Next season: Team/Squad
12. Fabio Aurelio
Games: 14 Goals: 0 Assists: 4 Tendence: up/even
Thrown quickly into the team after Risse’s early season injury, he has twice been on the verge of finding his best form when injury has struck (now for the third time). He became one of the best left backs in Spain and won titles with Rafa at Valencia. I am sure, when he gets a good run in the team, he will find his best form, and we will see him defending well, and getting forward and supplying the sort of crosses that have given him four assists in 14 games. He doesn’t score the goals Riise does, but he supplies a better cross and maybe that is more important.
Next Season: Team/Squad
4. Sami Hyypia
Games: 29 Goals: 3 Assists: 1 Tendence: even/down
The rock. The best header of a ball we have. Hyypia was the captain and king pin of our defence for years. At 33 people are begining to write him off. His pace, for one thing, is not what it was. But a player of his status still has a massive amount to do in helping the younger centre halves find their feet in the premiership. 20 games is still a lot. When used sparingly, Hyypia still is a competent substitute for the blossoming pair of Carragher and Agger. With Patella not ready to fill his shoes, and other areas of the team in need of replacement, I believed Sami would be kept for another year, but, with Rafa on the look out for a new centre half, either Sami or Patella will be released: On one side, I can understand him going if he wants first team football, but I can understand Rafa keeping him for experience, but now Agger seems to be fully accomplished’¦ who does he need to teach? I think he will move on, but one thing is for sure he will never be forgotten at Anfield. Next season: Axe
5. Daniel Agger
Games: 39 Goals: 4 Assists: 2 Tendence: up
This has been a massive up year for the 22 year old Dane. After having a year to watch and learn, he has taken the big step into first team football, and as a mark of a good defender: You wouldnt have noticed the change. He has settled into a partnership with Carra, and has been tutored by him and Hyypia, and must be the best centre half of his age. With performances belying his years, three goals (one a scorcher of a shot and one a champions league semi final goal), two assists, the public have been made aware of him, but, with his two feet firmly placed on the ground, and his mind set on success, he wont be going anywhere except into the books of Anfield folklore.
Next season: Team
23. Jamie Carragher
Games: 49 Goals: 1 Assists: 1 Tendence: up
What can anyone write about this man that equates how he plays? A team of Carraghers, the most underrated centre half in the world, the world’s best, so why not England’s? A legend whose defending ability rival the skills of Ronaldinho in attack, and actually surpassed them at the Camp Nou. The unfortunate thing is we only have one of him. Next Season: Team
29. Gabriel Paletta
Games: 5 Goals: 1 Assists: 2 Tendence: up
Signed by Rafa as a very big talent, with comparisons to the best Argentinian centre halfs of all time. I wouldn’t say he has struggled, because he came to us NOT as the finished article. His progress is behind the close doors of daily training, so only Rafa knows how well he is advancing. I am one who doesn’t criticise any defender, in a defence playing together for the first time. I am sure in a year or so, if he is slowly blended into a stable team, as Agger has been, Instead of playing league matches with the ‘œB’ team, he will find his feet. Next season: Squad
20. Javier Mascherano
Games: 7 Goals: 0 Assists: 0 Tendence: up
Like Agger and Arbeloa, he has hit the ground running at Liverpool. At only 22 he has accomplished more in football that most premiership players will in their career. “The monster” has settled into Liverpool very quickly and is currently running the midfield as though he has played for us for seven years, not just seven games. A player that has added to the quality of our central midfield: Who would have believed that at the start of the season? And another young player who has a glittering future in front of him at Liverpool. There isnt enough time to say how big this little guy can become. Let’s hope he tells Tevez how good it is here.
Next season: Team
14. Xabi Alonso
Games: 43 Goals: 4 Assists: 1 Tendence: up
It hasn’t been a surprise that since Rafa made him boss of the midfield, we have won two major trophies and reached the final of a third. When he plays he is the number one danger to most teams, but they don’t always realise. If you don’t tie him down, he runs the midfield. When he clicks the team click. Gerrard can go on his roving runs, the wingers are fed, the strikers get chances. The great thing about this team is that we arent a one man team, but if we were’¦. And that is where the story twists. TIA’s resident Insider says that Rafa is not happy that he is resisting signing a new contract. The arrival of another young central midfielder could be more evidence that the Barcelona rumours arent just smoke.
New season: Team
8.Steven Gerrard MBE
Games: 47 Goals: 11 Assists: 10 Tendence: up
What can you say about Captain Fantastic? He is probably the greatest midfielder in the league. He is a charismatic captain. He has unbelievable skill, he has the unique capacity to turn games with vital contributions, and although we celebrate his successes, we only really know what he means when he doesnt play. With the aid of Rafa, he has moved from a good national player to a very good international one. His bulging trophy cabinet still has one gaping space for the one trophy that eludes him. But, with his leadership, I am sure that he will be the next Liverpool Captain to lift number 19. Next season: Team
22. Momo Sissoko
Games: 25 Goals: 0 Assists: 0 tendence: even
At the start of the season, along with Alonso and Gerrard we had three midfielders to match any other teams. He played vital roles in away matches, especially in Europe. He has been compared to a young Vieira. Again, he suffered a major set back with a second big injury. Since he has been back he hasn’t really reached his hieghts of early season. For me, he is in his element when we are under attack. But when we are more in control and he has to rove forward his limitations are visible.
With the arrival of Mascherano we have a complete player. Sissoko, although good, is not in the class of Mascherano. Since the end of the season Sissoko has openly said he has played and not played and played and not played and is not too happy with rotation. He wants a chat with Rafa. I think Rafa will not be able to offer him any better and I think he will decide himself to leave. I would keep him as a reserve midfielder, but if he wants to go, he must. Next season: Axe
Games: 19 Goals: 0 Assists: 4 tendence: down
Rafa recently named him the Glue in the squad. The man that helps the whole squad to blend and stay in great contact. As the strikers will say about Fowler, just because some players don’t play a lot, doesn’t mean they arent important to the team as a whole. When he has been called upon he hasn’t left us wanting. His displays recently have even prompted Rafa to consider him for inclusion for the CL final. Some would say that was only because Kewell was injured and Gonzales didn’t live up to expectations. Despite his worth, he isnt a first teamer, and his age is against him. Although it is important to have experience in the team, people like Finnan, Crouch or Garca are old enough now to take over in that department, and his place in the squad will be taken by a very good youngster: Maybe the Captain of Brazil (under 21) ?
Next season: Axe
7. Harry Kewell
Games: 0 (3) Goals: 1 Assists: 0 tendence: down
As cheap as this great talent was, he came at a high price in terms of wages that he has never really paid back 100% in games. We have had flashes or the old Harry, rather than the constant flow of vintage Harry that the trainer and his wages demanded. To be fair, his decision to put the team first, grit his teeth and play on injured last year must be taken into account. And this is what we have reaped this year. At the start of next season he will be 29. If purely for financial reasons, Rafa would probably try to get rid of him, but as we are now rich and Gonazles has to be repalced, he will probably stay another season’¦ But then, he will be free to go. Next season: Squad/axe
10. Luis Garcia
Games: 17 Goals: 6 Assists: 5 Tendence: even
Playing in a positon where it is your job to make things happen is a double edged sword. Garcia has scored spectacular goals in the most important matches, but has also been accused of losing the ball too much and maybe not tracking back. Since his injury I think we have seen how much we have missed him. Sometimes we have missed that creative spark. Will he be the same player after such a bad injury? We all hope so. Certainly, six goals and five assists in seventeen goals speaks volumes. Next season: Squad
11. Mark Gonzalez
Games: 20 Goals: 3 Assists: 0 tendence: down
Perhaps the most damning statistic is when a winger, whose job it is to supply balls to strikers, or to supply assists, has an assist rate of zero. Gonzales looked brilliant in Spain, but he has failed to come to terms with the English League, and has not what it takes to get around the average English right back. Next season: Axe
16. Jermaine Pennant
Games: 33 Goals: 1 Assists: 10 tendence: up
In contrast to Gonzales, Pennant has an assist score of ten in thirty three games. This shows the difference between the two. Pennant struggled at the start of the season, but that can be put down to the top players struggling after the world cup and not having a stable team to grow into. Since Christmas has seen his more and more on th right and with more and more confidence. Next season he will probably start at the top of his game and then we will see. Next season: Squad
26. Paul Anderson
Games: 0 Goals: 0 Assists: 0 tendence: even
Rafa brought him to Anfield as a young player with potential. He excelled in his first season, helping the Youth team to their first of two FA youth Cups. His second season has seen him cement a place in the reserves and win even more plaudits. He seem on crash course for the first team, but the usual questions apply: When will it be, and will he master the most difficult step up? Pennant needs another right winger to push him (other that Gerrard). The question is, will it be Anderson or will Rafa’s big purse allow him to buy someone more experienced and better?
Next Season: Squad (first or reserves?)
9. Robbie Fowler
Games: 9 Goals: 5 Assists: 3 Tendence: even
Words cannot describe what this man means or what he has done for Liverpool FC. When the team went walk about, and dissasociated itself from the golden past, and allowed the Mancs to steal a march on us at the top, there was one player who stood out. If we had had a team of ‘œFowlers’ then we wouldn’t still be waiting for number 19. He had the chance to go to any other team in Europe, but he never took it. He stayed with the team he loved. That was not lost on the fans who named him God. How fitting that his last game at the club will be in the Champions league final. Although he wont be here next season, that is more a lose for Liverpool FC than for Robbie Fowler. And he wont be axed. He will be allowed to leave with his head held high. He may stop playing, but God’s don’t die or fade away, and what Fowler has done for LFC will never be forgotten. Next Season: To the hall of all time greats
15. Peter Crouch
Games: 30 Goals: 18 Assists: 9 Tendence: Up
The clubs top scorer with eighteen goals in thirty starts. The impressive record of more than a goal in every two games. Added to that, he is the clubs third best assist provider with nine. There is also his phenominal England goal scoring record, and the interest of other teams, such as Juventus, for his talents. Crouch may have took a time to score his first, but he doesnt look like stopping at the moment. That the latest Liverpool penalty was due to him being dragged to the ground by a panic stricken defender was unusual, not because it happened, but the fact that usually it is ignored by the ref, or given as a striker foul! Crouch is a very useful tool to have to frighten defenders with, he is 26 and coming into his best years. Even his heading has improved dramatically of late. Despite the 20 names of strikers flaoting around, I dont believe he will be one of those sold, but he may have tough opposition for his place. Next season: Team/squad
17. Craig Bellamy
Games: 26 Goals: 8 Assists: 5 tendence: down
For all that he does well, there is just something about him tht tells me he will be on his way. He is very quick, but not a brilliant finisher, he is a hard worker, but a moaner, he has changed, but then the golf club incident may just have tipped the scales. With Fowler making way for one expensive new striker, Bellamy will be the second victim. As strikers are ultimately measured by goals, eight in twenty-eight games is just not enough. Next Season: Axe
18. Dirk Kuyt
Games: 28 Goals: 13 Assists: 4 Tendence: up
They say that Ian Rush was the best defender Liverpool ever had. In that department, Kuyt can match the past master in terms of effort in closing down and chasing back. In front of goal he is not yet in Rush’s league, but then, who is? Without pre-season training his first season at Liverpool was hard. A new league, a tougher league. I think he has done a very good job adapting, and I think his first season will be a spring board to future success. He has found it hard in the tackle sometimes, but he always gives 100%. Barring injury, I think we will see a stronger, fitter, more clinical Dirk Kuyt next season. Next season: Team
Next seasons squad:
Name = Stays
?? = New Signing
? = Possible departure.
LB Riise (?)
CB Hyypia / Paletta
LW Kewell / Leto
DM Alonso (?)
CM Sissoko (?)
Goalkeeper, right winger, left winger, centre back and two strikers.
Left back, left wing (2nd), central midfield.
As for who will fill the spaces in our squad? I think there are enough idiots on the net and in the press doing that, so you don’t really need my opinion! Just check out GBH’s rumours in the rumour mill for a more reliable source of rumour!