Salif set for Stoke

Senegalese midfielder Salif Diao is widely quoted today as having sorted out a deal to go to Championship side Stoke City on a three-month loan deal. The deal would take him to the January transfer window when he might be looking to secure a longer-term deal somewhere.

Rafa Benítez spoke earlier in the season about how disappointed he was that Diao didn’t take the opportunities he was given this summer for a move away from Anfield, and pointed out that Diao won’t be getting much in the way of chances to put himself in the shop window. Salif had turned down a move to Recreativo and with his contract running out at the end of this season he needs to get some games in. Rafa has made it clear that he’ll only pick Salif for reserve games if there’s no youngsters fit and available ahead of him.

It seems the penny has finally dropped now. Diao’s been widely quoted this weekend as saying: “I need to be playing regular, competitive football and Stoke will give me that chance. I need that to get my sharpness back.”

When Gerard Houllier signed him in the summer of 2002 he was given a very lucrative five-year deal.  It’s best not to think what his wages have been over the five years, plus any signing-on fees. His transfer fee was £4.7m.  In the four years he’s been at the club so far he has made 37 appearances, scoring one goal.  In all, including cup appearances, he made 61 appearances, and his goal tally is a massive 3. Yes, three.

It’s fair to remember though that Salif didn’t pick his transfer fee, and that he would have been daft to turn down the money Houllier was offering him in the spendthrift summer of 2002. He’s not good enough for Liverpool, but it’s not his fault, so good luck to him if he does make it to the Britannia Stadium for the rest of this year.

The background he has come from is literally a world away from the one he finds himself in at Anfield, and as frustrating as it is for Liverpool fans it makes a lot of sense for Diao to sit out his contract and bring in those huge wages. He’ll not get anything close to that kind of money elsewhere, especially not if he’s only interesting clubs at the old Division 2 level.

Continue reading Salif set for Stoke

Kenny linked with Ireland consultancy role

According to reports in Ireland this morning, Liverpool's best-ever player is set to take on a role with the Irish FA as a consultant to manager Steve Staunton. Kenny Dalglish was announced by Liverpool's official site last week as the top choice in a poll to decide the best 100 players of all time but it's his managerial knowledge the FAI want to tap.

Sir Bobby Robson, former England manager, was originally appointed as ex-Red Staunton's “International Consultant” at the same time as Stan got the manager's job, but it's believed now that 73-year-old Robson has been told to quit the job on medical grounds. Sir Bobby had an operation recently to remove a brain tumour.

Staunton failed to appear for a planned press conference yesterday after he saw his team beaten 5-2 in Cyprus on Saturday, a defeat that has caused panic in Ireland. The Sunday morning training session had been cancelled with the team and management opting to have a meeting to thrash out their differences.

Kenny was successful as manager of Liverpool of course, winning the double in 1986 amongst other things, and he ended his time at Anfield with the club still league champions. After some time out of the game the Glaswegian then took Blackburn from what we used to call Division 2 to the league title, collecting the Premiership trophy at Anfield of all places.

This story remains just that for now, but if it does happen it's likely to be well received by some of the Irish fans, if not the Manchester United supporting Irish fans who'll remember Kenny as the man who helped scupper their league chances for so many years in the seventies and eighties.

Stan was represented at the press conference yesterday by his assistant Kevin MacDonald who explained what had happened at that morning's meeting: “There was an open discussion about football matters, about how we want to play and what we did wrong. The players were the main ones to get stuck into it. I saw them walking out after the team meeting and there was determination in their eyes that they were going to prove everyone wrong.”

The talk of Dalglish coming in the help Staunton might go some way to prove all the more that the former Anfield left-back won't quit after the two defeats. MacDonald said Stan is planning to stay and sort things out: “You know Steve Staunton as well as I do. He's a tough man and he won't walk away because he's proud of having played for his country for so long and he's even more proud of being manager. The characteristics of the man will come out in adversity when you have to rebound from a kick in the b——s”.
According to reports in Ireland this morning, Liverpool's best-ever player is set to take on a role with the Irish FA as a consultant to manager Steve Staunton. Kenny Dalglish was announced by Liverpool's official site last week as the top choice in a poll to decide the best 100 players of all time but it's his managerial knowledge the FAI want to tap.

Sir Bobby Robson, former England manager, was originally appointed as ex-Red Staunton's “International Consultant” at the same time as Stan got the manager's job, but it's believed now that 73-year-old Robson has been told to quit the job on medical grounds. Sir Bobby had an operation recently to remove a brain tumour.

Staunton failed to appear for a planned press conference yesterday after he saw his team beaten 5-2 in Cyprus on Saturday, a defeat that has caused panic in Ireland. The Sunday morning training session had been cancelled with the team and management opting to have a meeting to thrash out their differences.

Kenny was successful as manager of Liverpool of course, winning the double in 1986 amongst other things, and he ended his time at Anfield with the club still league champions. After some time out of the game the Glaswegian then took Blackburn from what we used to call Division 2 to the league title, collecting the Premiership trophy at Anfield of all places.

This story remains just that for now, but if it does happen it's likely to be well received by some of the Irish fans, if not the Manchester United supporting Irish fans who'll remember Kenny as the man who helped scupper their league chances for so many years in the seventies and eighties.

Stan was represented at the press conference yesterday by his assistant Kevin MacDonald who explained what had happened at that morning's meeting: “There was an open discussion about football matters, about how we want to play and what we did wrong. The players were the main ones to get stuck into it. I saw them walking out after the team meeting and there was determination in their eyes that they were going to prove everyone wrong.”

The talk of Dalglish coming in the help Staunton might go some way to prove all the more that the former Anfield left-back won't quit after the two defeats. MacDonald said Stan is planning to stay and sort things out: “You know Steve Staunton as well as I do. He's a tough man and he won't walk away because he's proud of having played for his country for so long and he's even more proud of being manager. The characteristics of the man will come out in adversity when you have to rebound from a kick in the b——s”.

Continue reading Kenny linked with Ireland consultancy role

Nothing to smile about for international Reds

After leaving for their international duties still reeling from a 2-0 defeat by Bolton, many of Liverpool's international players have had another miserable weekend, certainly having little to celebrate.

Veteran defender Sami Hyypia was booked for Finland in their goalless draw with Armenia, who were saved by the heroics of their keeper. Sami got a chance to score in the second half but headed wide. Former Red Jari Litmanen also appeared for Finland, who now travel to Kazakhstan in midweek. Finland were top of the group prior to this match but now drop to second.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, Daniel Agger was part of the Danish side held to a goalless draw by Northern Ireland.

Also held to a draw were Dirk Kuyt's Holland, who ended 1-1 in Bulgaria. Kuyt's involvement in the game lasted just sixteen minutes before he had to leave the field with an ankle injury on 16 minutes. Holland haven't sent him home just yet in case he recover in time for Wednesday's next qualifier against Albania, but according to coach Marco Van Basten there's little chance he'll have recovered by then: “Kuyt twisted his ankle and it doesn't look good. It's unlikely he will be fit for Wednesday.”

Yet another draw for Liverpool players came at Old Trafford where Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch played ninety minutes for England against Macedonia. Jamie Carragher was an unused sub. Unfortunately for Gerrard, fortunately for Liverpool, the midfielder was booked in the game and so now misses the next game, Wednesday's visit to Croatia. As a result he'll be back in Liverpool training with his club team mates this week.

Gerrard himself was obviously unhappy at getting the yellow card, and also with German referee Markus Merk's explanation: “I was really disappointed with the referee's decision – I told him I got the ball and he agreed with me but said the momentum took me into the player.” He said of the game he'll miss: “England against Croatia is a great fixture. As a player, you want to be involved in all the big games, so I'm going home really frustrated, not just with not getting three points but also with missing the Croatia game. I will be cheering the boys on from home. Hopefully, they will turn in a good performance and get the result.”

Crouch and Gerrard both had good games for England, with Gerrard coming close with one of his specials. As seems to have been the case all season so far for him though his luck wasn't in and the shot thundered off the bar. He says the bad luck has to end soon: “I need a change of luck. I have already hit the woodwork four or five times this season. I hit the shot well but maybe I hit it a little too well. Sometimes, you mis-hit them and they go in.”

Crouch partnered Wayne Rooney upfront, but with Rooney seemingly in the midst of a dip in form he was far and away the better of the two. Crouch defended Rooney: “I thought myself and Wayne worked well. I like playing with Wayne. He is a top player. It is the first time in a game we have started together so I would definitely say there is more to come from us.

For the other Liverpool players on duty it was much worse. John Arne Riise played the full ninety minutes for Norway as they lost 1-0 to Greece. Spain were beaten 2-0 with coach Luis Aragonés under fire for another defeat. He chose to start with the three Liverpool players on the bench. Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso stayed on the bench, with Luis Garcia getting around 30 minutes of the second half. He did have a chance on goal but ended the game with nothing more than a booking. The coach's head is now being called for in Spain, which isn't surprising considering the country are now fifth out of seven teams in Group F.

Steve Finnan won't want to recall his country's display in Cyprus after they were hammered 5-2. Former Red Steve Staunton is now feeling the pressure, with Ireland joint bottom without a point from their two opening games. Finnan played the full game, unlike team-mate Richard Dunne who was sent off 12 minutes from full time. Staunton was actually banned from the touchline for this game and afterwards said he wasn't going to quit: “I'm not walking away. This job is certainly not beyond me, and I have full faith in myself and in the younger players. Defensively, that's the worst performance I have seen by an Ireland side. Of course, I'm embarrassed.”

Whether Finnan retains his place in the side remains to be seen, but the next game is against a side that beat San Marino 7-0 yesterday: “We now have to pick ourselves up for the game with the Czech Republic on Wednesday and get it right.”

In the same group are Wales, and they too were embarrassed yesterday with a 5-1 defeat, at home to Slovakia. Liverpool's summer signing Craig Bellamy had been given the honour of leading his side out, but was clearly shell-shocked after the game. He puts it down to a lack of experience from most of those players he had under his charge and says they've got their work cut out now to put things right before facing Ireland's victors Cyprus on Wednesday: !We've a few days to lift ourselves for Cyprus, we have to do that quickly. We've always lacked depth as a small nation, but a lot of players out there aren't getting regular club games. You could see that, it's a hard ask to step up to international football.” Like Ireland, Wales are managed by a former Red in John Toshack, who had this to say after the game: “They looked a lot better than they are and we looked a lot worse. We started brightly, moved the ball well, and Slovakia looked apprehensive, but there was no end product. We were sleeping for the first goal and the second was a bad mistake – that was enough to knock the stuffing out of anyone. Gareth Bale got one back, but the third and fourth goals were very poor – you can't afford to do that at this level.” He echoed Bellamy's claims that a lack of experience played a big part in the defeat: “I know where the problems are. We had only two people out there who are playing in the Premiership and no outfield men over the age of 30. But it was a poor result. It's just as well we have another game on Wednesday, I wouldn't want to go for a long time on the back of that.”

In goal for Wales was Paul Jones, an ex-Red in that he spent a couple of weeks on loan for Liverpool, filling in for the Reds during an injury crisis. He was picking up his 50th cap but his experience didn't help him as he was blamed for two of the goals. Tosh said there was little point criticising him: “Paul's experienced enough to know that he could have done better on at least two of the goals, but he's the sort of character who you don't have to tell that sort of thing to.”

Bellamy could find himself playing alongside John Hartson in the next match after he offered his services to his country: “John is the only one who has rung me to say he wants to come out of retirement,” said Tosh, “There have been rumours about Gary Speed but I have not heard from him.”

Continue reading Nothing to smile about for international Reds

Neill still wants Anfield move

Blackburn’s Lucas Neill has spoken this week of his disappointment at missing out on a move to Anfield in the summer, a move that failed despite Liverpool making effort right up until the close of that August 31st deadline.

He of course has to be careful what he says, but it’s no secret that Liverpool wanted to sign the player who had just 12 months left on his contract, but weren’t willing to pay any more than the player was worth. Blackburn wanted Liverpool to include Stephen Warnock in the deal but the Reds refused to entertain that idea. In the end the deadline passed and  Neill stayed at Ewood Park. The Australian international said he’d never have turned down the move to Anfield had it got to the stage where he was allowed to talk to the Reds: “I was linked to Liverpool, and no player in their right mind would not want the opportunity to go to a club like that with so much history and prestige. The deal that was presented to the club at the time from Liverpool was not in Blackburn's best interests, therefore I didn't have a say and I didn't move on.”

Liverpool and Blackburn clash in the league as soon as the international break is over and Neill’s comments could see him getting jeers from his own fans. He’s making it clear that he won’t be staying on at Rovers, and could move in the January window if Blackburn decide that enough’s enough. The player clearly would have preferred to move in August, but he’ll wait if he has to: “It's unfortunate for my career that it didn't go that way, but as a professional I have to move on. Now I'm hopefully in just as good a position when those opportunities present themselves again in January, or if not then, I'll get a free transfer in June.”

Neill is a controversial choice as a signing for Liverpool, given his track record in clashes between the Reds and Rovers. However it’s believed that there is no animosity from the players towards Neill, even Carra who had his leg broken by Neill is said to be unperturbed by the idea of the player joining the Reds.

This weekend Neill gets the honour of leading his country out as captain when the Socceroos play Paraguay, something he’s immensely proud of: “It's a dream come true and I will be fighting hard not to give the armband back.”

Continue reading Neill still wants Anfield move

El Zhar wants to make his name at LFC

Liverpool's latest signing – sort of – says he is ready to make a name for himself at Anfield. Nabil El Zhar was signed by Liverpool prior to the close of the summer transfer window but due to a dispute with his previous club has been kicking his heels for the last couple of months.

The Reds agreed a four-year-deal with the Moroccan youngster which he signed in August. Liverpool and El Zhar were convinced that he was a free agent, but his last club St Etienne said that they were due a fee or some form of compensation. The dispute meant Liverpool weren't allowed to play the striker but now FIFA have given Liverpool permission to do so until the argument is settled.

Twenty-year-old El Zhar played in a friendly against Sunderland last week and was part of the reserve side that lost 4-1 to Newcastle last night. Best we gloss over last night's result, with our only goal coming from Robbie Fowler.

As for the dispute with St Etienne, a spokesman for FIFA would only confirm that a case had been lodged by St Etienne: “There is a case pending with St Etienne claiming the breaking of a contract. We cannot comment any further at this time.”

El Zhar has spoken previously of feeling that St Etienne were not the right club for him: “St Etienne offered me a professional deal but I waited before signing it because I was unconvinced it was in my best interests to stay. When we came back for pre-season training I came back with the seniors, but they weren't really expecting me.”

That's when he decided to leave the French side: “So I preferred to pack my suitcases and go somewhere where I'd have a long-term future, that's to say Liverpool. They are a big club, but I'm convinced I've made the right decision to sign for them. I'm aiming on making a name for myself here. It's my intention to play in the first team eventually. I want to prove myself, make a name for myself and, if I do that, my chances will come here.”

FIFA are expected to set up a tribunal to decide on what fee if any Liverpool should pay for the player.

Continue reading El Zhar wants to make his name at LFC

Evans: Bellamy deserves Welsh captaincy

Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy was awarded the captaincy of Wales by coach Mark Hughes earlier in the week and according to Roy Evans he thoroughly deserves it.

Roy is now the Welsh number two but still has close ties to Anfield after serving for so many years at the club, literally as “man and boy”, ending up as manager. He now wants people to stop harping back to Craig's younger days and the trouble he tended to find himself in, particularly at Newcastle: “Let's not dwell on things from the past. Craig should be remembered as a great player, so it's a little sad that we have to talk about this other business. There is no doubt he did get into some trouble, that's well known, but you cannot hold that against him for the rest of his career.”

Evans is number two at Wales to another of those many names to have served Liverpool so well in the past, John Toshack. Evans says he and Toshack are sure they've got it right by giving him the armband in the absence of Ryan Giggs and his hamstrings: “He has started to do the right things and we believe he will be a good captain for us. Mark Hughes had no problem with him, and neither has John Toshack. If people can't handle a fiery character, then you have a problem. The only thing you must do is make sure they are not disruptive to the squad. But in my time with Wales he has never been a problem.”

Bellamy is renowned as a “moaner” and always has been, but that's not necessarily a problem in itself. He moans on the field because he wants success: “The only thing he wants to do is play and win. He likes a moan but he's not the first player to be partial to one of those. I have no problem with him being captain; it's a prestigious thing to skipper your country.”

Evans says that Bellamy is proud to play for his country and will be even prouder with the job he's now been given: “It's about passion. His passion for Wales is phenomenal, and his passion for playing.”

Roy also confirmed that Bellamy is impressing staff at Anfield with his attitude, proving that any doubts over his temperament weren't necessary: “There is an extra responsibility and he is a much more mature person than he was and I know Liverpool are delighted with him, his attitude in training. Craig is one of the most enthusiastic players you can meet. He is passionate about his country and passionate about his football. The captaincy is a good decision; it's another of John's surprises.”

Continue reading Evans: Bellamy deserves Welsh captaincy

Crouch says he and Rooney can be a hit

The England national team went into the last World Cup with a squad containing only four strikers, two of whom were injured and one who had yet to play in his club’s first team. The other striker was fully fit and had many years of first team experience but he was disliked by the media and the section of England fans who can’t think for themselves. So disliked that one England “fan” and his work colleagues (he’s probably not got any friends) set up a website demanding he be excluded from the squad. The player was so disliked that he had been booed onto the pitch in previous internationals – by his own “fans”.

The player, as always, shrugged off this criticism from people. All his adult life he’s listened to abuse and prejudice because of his height, and as long as those who mattered to him thought he was doing OK he wasn’t going to give up. There was a feeling for some though that the outgoing England manager had also fallen for this hype that the player wasn’t any good, that he had only picked this player along with two crocks and an untried teenager as an attempt to get revenge on the country that had got fed up with him.

If that had been true – and of course it’s highly unlikely – then the plan nearly backfired. The player is of course Liverpool’s Peter Crouch, and he made sure any such plans would not work because he started scoring. In came the robot dance in celebration of goals scored in a friendly and he carried this on. He wasn’t picked for every game in the World Cup (again it adds weight to this “revenge” theory) but whenever he has been picked for club or country he looks like scoring, and in many cases has.

England don’t deserve our Peter for the way they treated him, but with a new manager on board he looks finally to be getting recognition, and the sheep-like sections of the England support might have realised that they ought to think with their own minds. Five goals in three games under that new boss have helped too, taking his overall England total to eleven goals from fourteen appearances.

Wayne Rooney has been suspended for previous England qualifying games for the Euro 2008 finals and is expected to start this Saturday against Macedonia. Now Rooney is the target of  criticism with stats saying he’s not very good all of a sudden and so Crouch has had to speak up for him. The 25-year-old says that if they play up front together it could work to great effect: “If we're given the chance to play as a pair we'll do well. I think we can complement each other; Wayne will be the one to drop off and I'll get myself in the box. If I play as high up the pitch as possible and he plays around me – that really can work.”

Crouch went on: “He's been criticised for not scoring much recently, but even when he doesn't he gives the team so much and it's just a matter of time before he's banging them in.” As with all strikers one goal might just be the confidence boost to get things going for Rooney. At the moment Crouch isn’t lacking any of that, as he says: “Every time I walk out on the pitch for England I feel I'm going to score and do well so confidence-wise I'm doing fine. I just want it to carry on. It's important to win whoever scores, but I'd love to keep the run going.”

Continue reading Crouch says he and Rooney can be a hit

Agger wins PFA player of month award

Congratulations to Reds centre-back Daniel Agger who has been voted the PFA’s Fans’ Player of the Month for September. After signing during the January transfer window for £5.8 million Agger was given time to settle in by boss Rafa Benítez and this along with some slight injury problems saw his appearances limited – until this season.

He has seen himself picked for a lot more games this season as partner mainly to Jamie Carragher. It’s thanks to Rafa’s much-criticised (mainly by non-Reds) rotation policy that Agger has been able to get some experience in the games where the manager felt it was appropriate. With Sami Hyypia getting towards the end of his career Rafa had to let Agger find his feet in the Premiership sooner or later and Danny has found his feet in style. Fellow Dane and one of our all-time greats Jan Molby pointed out that Agger was still something of a rooky even in the Danish league when Rafa brought him to the club. Speaking to the PFA website Molby said: “Daniel had only played first class football in Denmark for 12 months. He's a good talent and I rate him. He's very calm, left-footed, good in the air and a good reader of the game.”

Another former Red, Torben Piechnick, told the PFA website how Agger had now become a huge name back in Denmark where many feel he’s going to be an important part of the Danish national side in the forthcoming years: “In Daniel Agger Liverpool have bought themselves a player who I believe will turn out to be one of the best signings the club has ever made. Everyone in Denmark is really excited about him and delighted he has joined such a big club as Liverpool. He is tall, strong, good in the air and equally adept on the ground. There's no doubt Agger is one of the hottest Danish prospects in years and he has the potential to be the mainstay of our national team for years to come.”

Piechnick admits that he knew nothing about Danny before his promotion to Brondby’s first team, but since then he’s been highly impressed with the player: “His rise to prominence has been a meteoric one. I personally, hadn't heard of him until he broke into the Brondby first team. He just seemed to appear from nowhere but quickly made an impression at club level and it was not long before he was a deservedly called up by his country. At 21 his best years are ahead of him and I can only see him improving at Liverpool.” Piechnick is also impressed with how Rafa let Danny settle in: “I noticed Rafael Benitez didn't throw him into the first team straight away and I think that is the right strategy to adopt.”

Agger was the victim of a recent burglary along with other Liverpool players but police today announced they’d found the goods and made some arrests.

Four men in all were arrested in connection with robberies from the homes of Agger, and Peter Crouch. The police recovered medals and shirts along with expensive audio and video equipment from a house in Tuebrook this morning. Crouch’s home, in Alderley Edge in Cheshire, was ransacked at the same time as he was scoring his two goals in the Champions League at Anfield last Wednesday.

The four arrested are all in their twenties and are all from Liverpool. They were arrested on charges of burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary and handling stolen goods. Speaking about the arrests, Merseyside Police Detective Sergeant Peter Cain said: “This has been the result of hard work and persistence in partnership with our colleagues in Cheshire and while working closely with Liverpool FC. I would like to remind the public that handling stolen goods is a crime and one that Merseyside Police takes very seriously.”

Continue reading Agger wins PFA player of month award

Rafa: Linesman error “annoying”

Many pundits talk about how poor decisions from officials "even out" over the course of a season. If that's true then Liverpool should get a goal they clearly don't deserve thanks to a poorly positioned linesman by the time the season is over.

Whether that goal then turns out to help us win a game is back down to us though. If we play like we did on Saturday we'll probably need to be handed two or more goals in that game to come away with the points. There's no doubt we didn't deserve to go behind when we did, and we did create many chances throughout the game, but we never looked like getting anything from the game. Bolton is now officially Rafa's bogey ground.

Rafa was annoyed after the game, and it's understandable. After spending hours studying videos and trying to work out how best to overcome the physical nature of Bolton's game and the way they use their physical fitness to keep closing down Liverpool when the Reds are on the ball, it pretty much all came down to a linesman's needless error. TV replays showed that the linesman was positioned so poorly that he couldn't possible rule on whether Pepe was outside the box when he left go of the ball – so why did he decide he would judge it? Was it down to his own reaction to the reaction of those in the stands? If so then he needs to be taken off the list of Premiership officials because Bolton isn’t the only ground with vocal home supporters. Whatever it was, it's a pity that there's no workable way of using video evidence during a game to decide these things. Rafa said he knew the linesman had it wrong at the time (although he was even less able to be sure of that from where he was standing) but accepts he’s powerless to do anything about it.

He said afterwards: “It's clear that a mistake has been made. Pepe let go of the ball inside the area and then kicked it outside. The linesman was in a bad position. I knew at the time it was a mistake but what can you do? Every week we can talk about incidents but nothing changes. It's annoying.”

It’s hard to know what can be changed really, but it does seem that the only discussions on whether anything can be done are carried out in the press or on TV. Nobody with any power at either national or international level seems willing to look at some options or to carry out some trials. Talk of having sensors in footballs has stayed as pretty much just that – talk. If such things were introduced then it wouldn’t be too hard to extend their use to situations like what happened on Saturday, but don’t hold your breath.
 
Rafa says that one bad decision turned the game away from Liverpool: “Up until that point we were controlling almost everything, apart from a couple of long throws which you expect here. The first goal changed things and then we conceded the second too soon in the second half.”

That second goal was nobody’s fault other than Liverpool’s, but it heralded the start of desperation football from Liverpool in many ways. And that’s not something Liverpool are very good at really: “In the last twenty minutes we started losing second balls and then playing too many long balls which don't do anything.”

Rafa won’t yet decide if Liverpool’s hopes for a league title are over, which is fair enough because it is still way too early to say such things. However if Liverpool play this way against the teams who treat a visit of Liverpool as a cup final then the Reds have no chance of winning the league. This defeat and the defeat at Goodison, alongside the draw at Sheffield United, are all examples of points lost to teams who were up for what was one of their most important games of the season. One point from nine in those games is going to be costly unless we stop it now. We lost to Chelsea too, but we always looked much closer to getting something out of that game, going down only to a unique goal from Didier Drogba. Rafa wants to wait and see how things go before writing off those league hopes, because he knows things soon change in football: “Maybe if we talk in a couple of weeks time it will be a different situation. We have experience of dealing with these questions. We know what was said when we lost two in a row earlier in the season and then we won two games quickly to change things. Now it is important to be calm and believe it is too soon to make judgements about the title. We can talk now about the problem, but two wins in a row will put us back in a challenging position.”

Of course the other “excuse” or “reason” (depending on how you look at it) that Liverpool have for losing games and dropping points is the international break. Liverpool go into this one with confidence shot to pieces, so Rafa will have hard work on his hands when the players do get back to Melwood: “This is a bad time with an international break now, but afterwards we must keep winning our home games and start to do the same away,” Rafa said.

It’s also of course important to Liverpool that the other clubs also get some bad spells, that they too get linesmen who can’t see properly to make decisions. A few seasons ago the figure six was often bandied about regarding how many games a team could afford to lose. That’s been reduced in the last couple of seasons, but Liverpool haven’t got many lives left in that respect even by those standards. Rafa is aware that other teams’ form could give Liverpool more breathing space: “How many we can lose depends on the other teams. I don't know how many Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are going to lose. It's not easy to say. Eighty-two points last season was a record for Liverpool and we finished third. This season will be different. The difference between the top sides is not as big as before. Now there are also other sides who can beat or take points from the top sides; Bolton here, Aston Villa drawing with Chelsea.”

The press are of course delighted to see Rafa lose after changing his team again, but that’s not why Liverpool lost. Rafa told them so: “I do not accept that rotation and changing the team is the problem.” Some of his changes for this game were made with the way Bolton play in mind: “Every manager who comes here will tell you the same – it's a physical game against a physical team, long balls, second balls, throw-ins, corners. This is the style of football. You are not telling lies.”

As we’re on the subject of reasons / excuses for defeat, Rafa wanted to add one more to the list: “For the players, you cannot play a game like this just two days after a Champions League match. I cannot understand that.”

That’s one problem which also seems won’t ever change. Of course it’s part of the reason why Rafa chooses to rotate his team, the Spaniard trying to ensure he has eleven quality players on the pitch for each game, all as fit as they possibly can be.

Continue reading Rafa: Linesman error “annoying”