Another season is upon us and I make no apologies for spouting a clichÃ© when I say that this year I really am more excited and hopeful than I have been in a very long time. I know I said this last year and a lot of you will be thinking ‘œhere he goes again spouting his mouth off’; but this time I really feel that this will be a great season.
After years of (let’s be honest) over achieving with a decent but limited squad, I believe that we now have a side capable of being genuine challengers. We have real, solid quality plus strong cover for every position now, except maybe left back. I’m going to examine our squad as it currently stands and where I feel that the quality is in each position. There may still be more decent additions to be made but today I will be identifying who I believe will be the key players this season.
Jose Reina has been a big success; whilst prone to the occasional error (in typical Liverpool style) he has been extremely solid in his first two seasons. He beat Ray Clemence’s clean sheet record that stood for many years and after many years of panicking whenever the opposition attacks it’s nice to feel confidant again. His contribution to our success in cup competitions cannot be underestimated, particularly with his performances in penalty shoot-outs. I can put my hand on my heart and honestly say that I wasn’t even slightly nervous during both of the shoot outs we won against West Ham and Chelsea.
Scott Carson is now back in the squad as understudy to Reina. Jerzy Dudek has now gone to Real Madrid so the reliable and talented Carson has been brought back from a one year loan spell at Charlton Athletic. It’s debatable how long he will stay at the club and be happy as second best because he is a tremendous talent with experience at international level with England. For the time being however, it’s nice to know that if anything happens to Reina we have good cover waiting on the bench.
At left back we have John Arne Riise and Fabio Aurelio. As anybody who has been in my company for any games last season knows, Riise is not a favourite of mine in defence. While he is tremendous going forward I feel that he gets done over by opposition forwards far too often. As frustrating as he can be Riise is actually one of our most consistent defenders with not as many errors leading to goals as I think.
Aurelio has proved that he is a really quality player with some terrific performances last season, especially in the away leg against PSV Eindhoven in the champions League. It was unfortunate for him to suffer the long term injury just as he seemed to be looking the business. Hopefully when he returns to the side he will continue where he left off.
|Carra and Agger – Solid|
Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger have built up a really great partnership in central defence with the still superb Sami Hyypia there to give either player a break when required. Carraghers ability and quality goes without saying, we all know how amazing he is and that really doesn’t need to be analysed by me here. At the start of last season I thought Agger was a talent for the future but he stepped in and made himself virtually undroppable. He was one of the real stars in the side last season with consistently good performances game after game. He reminds me of Alan Hansen in a way because he isn’t afraid to come forward with the ball and I never feel worried that he will give away possession. He also pops up with his share of goals too and can often be in the right place at the right time, the second leg of the Chelsea semi final for example. Hyypia may have lost some pace but this isn’t really that important because his game never relied heavily on pace anyway. There still aren’t many players who can read the game as well as him and his aerial ability is quality too.
At right back we have my personal choice for player of the season last year, Steve Finnan. I was over the moon when he signed a contract extension recently. He may not be a big superstar but Liverpool fans understand just how vital he is to the team. He rarely makes mistakes in defence and going forward his crossing ability is sublime, he is really is a superb player. Alvaro Arbeloa was brought into the side during the transfer window and he can play at either left or right back. I saw enough of him last season to realise his quality and would feel confident if he is put into the side at any stage this season.
On the wings we have some exciting talent who like beating players and have the ability to put in decent crosses. On the left we have Harry Kewell and Ryan Babel. On his day when he is fit Kewell is as good as anyone. He has been terribly unlucky with injuries but has shown on occasions that he can still be an important player for Liverpool. At the moment he is fit and he looked great at the end of last season, considering he’d been injured for almost one year. If he can come out flying this season he may just get a run in the side. Waiting alongside him is our new signing from Ajax, Ryan Babel. I’ve only seen glimpses of him in pre-season but what I’ve seen so far has impressed me. I must confess I’d never seen him play before we bought him but the reports of his ability are extremely encouraging.
|Will we get the much needed flair out wide?|
On the right we have the constantly improving Jermaine Pennant and new signing Yossi Benayoun. Pennant had a slow start last season but from January onwards he was tremendous. He seemed to improve with every game culminating in a world class performance in Athens in the Champions League Final. How he doesn’t make the England team is quite beyond me. In pre-season he seems to have continued where he left off and looks really confident and that is so good to see. Benayoun is a terrific player who was very consistent for his previous club West Ham. He was one of their best players in the 2006 FA Cup Final. In pre-season games he seems to have settled into the club seamlessly and I’m sure he will make his mark in the side this season.
In the centre of midfield we are extremely spoiled and I’m not exaggerating when I say that we have three of the best midfield players in Europe, if not the world in Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Macherano. If we get the Stevie G from 2 seasons ago then we will take a lot of stopping. We certainly aren’t a one man team like certain people in the media might have us think, but it’s definitely true that when Gerrard plays at his best the team is elevated to a different level. Mascherano was a revelation when he came on loan last season. If he had been with us from day one I definitely don’t think we would have lost so many games away from home in the first few months of last season. What an amazing player he is.
Alonso has shown signs in pre-season that he is very much back to his best dictating the play from deep positions and making some of the most accurate passes you’ll see. As if that wasn’t good enough we also have Momo Sissoko and Luca leiva. Sissoko was far from his best in the second half of last season when he came back from injury and in pre-season he has been working hard but still giving the ball away sloppily. Leiva is the Brazil under20’s captain and an amazing prospect for the future.
This is another position in which we are oozing quality this season. Only Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt remain from last season after Craig Bellamy was sold to West Ham Utd and Robbie Fowler was released to Cardiff City on a free transfer. I’m a really big fan of Crouch and he defied his critics by having a great season in 2006/07. He was our overall top scorer and scored some fantastic goals. Two overhead kicks and a hat-trick against Arsenal combined with a great run of goals in the Champions League gave him a terrific season.
Dirk Kuyt also had a good season, he fitted in immediately from his first touch on his debut against West Ham. He was our top scorer in the Premiership and I don’t think any other player worked harder or covered more of the opponents half of the pitch. Joining those guys will be our record 20 million pound signing Fernando Torres and Ukranian Andriy Voronin who arrived on a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen.
Due to an ankle injury and permit issues we haven’t seen too much of Torres so far in pre-season but we’ve seen is extremely encouraging. He appears to have an understanding with Kuyt and some of their moves together have been breathtaking. Torres is able to get into great positions and get shots on goal when they don’t look possible.
|Plenty of options up front for Rafa now|
For me the biggest surprise and biggest enjoyment of the pre-season games has been the performances of Voronin. I will confess that I wasn’t expecting much from him and anticipated him being nothing more than a squad player. However he has been man of the match in the majority of pre-season games I’ve watched and he really has been sensational. The goals he scored were terrific and his movement on the pitch and his teamwork have been superb. I believe he’s definitely given Rafa a real headache now in a good way when it comes to team selection. I still expect Voronin to play mostly in the domestic cup competitions but don’t be surprised if he makes his mark if he gets a chance in any games he plays in.
Is this the best squad we’ve had in years? I think the answer has to be a definite yes. I don’t see any weak links in a variety of starting elevens. With the excellent business Rafa has done in the transfer market as well as the resigning of the key players we already had, we have the best chance of winning number 19 since Kenny Dalglish resigned sixteen years ago. I’m trying not to get carried away but it’s really hard. The opening game against Aston Villa just can’t come soon enough for me and I have a feeling it’s going to be another exciting year for Liverpool fans.