Liverpool win but it’s not enough

Champions LeagueResult

Debrecen 0 Liverpool 1

David Ngog’s early goal was enough for Liverpool to have done their bit on the night – but events in Italy meant it was all academic. Liverpool are now looking forward to playing in the Europa Cup after Christmas, their earlier games in the group putting them there.

The disappointment is massive for Liverpool. To be playing for what used to be called the UEFA Cup is something Liverpool have not done for a long time, and something they have never done under Rafa Benítez.

It means playing on Thursday nights, it means league games getting postponed until the Sunday, it means we aren’t where we want to be. But for those who harp on about how important it is for Liverpool to win trophies, it means they go from struggling outsiders in this competition to, already, favourites in the other one.

The danger in dwelling on the disappointment is that the critics will grumble into the night about this game. But looking at this game alone Liverpool actually won. It might ‘only’ be Debrecen, it might be with the strongest side they’ve had available in some time, but it’s still a win, the start of a winning run if the players’ heads can be lifted in time for the weekend.

From the first league game when Carragher and Skrtel clashed heads until the draw on Saturday when Agger and Babel were off injured early on in the game Liverpool have had an injury curse hanging over them. When injuries weren’t decimating the squad viruses were and even tonight Liverpool still couldn’t put their strongest line-up out, Fernando Torres the biggest missing name.

But Liverpool did win. They did the job they set out to do on the night tonight. Ngog got the only goal, and Debrecen rarely threatened. As time ticked down Rafa clearly felt it was time to protect his lead, substitutions aimed more at wasting a bit of time than creating goals.

If Liverpool can draw a line between Sunday’s draw and tonight’s win, they can label the part before the line as “the bad times”.

Injuries and illness can’t be blamed for all the poor results. But they have played a massive part.

That can still be addressed to some extent, maybe some of those injuries are down to players coming back too soon or being risked too long. Players need to be honest about their condition – especially when away on international duty.

And with so many players getting a chance to roll their sleeves up and fight it will be easier to identify which players just didn’t bother.

We’ll never concede a goal to a beachball again, but we do need to find out why we don’t turn pressure into goals often enough. Even after mentioning the fact Torres and Gerrard have rarely played together, even after mentioning that Ngog is still learning and Aquilani has yet to play more than a cameo, even after just mentioning Voronin, it’s clear Liverpool need to find more goals.

Scoring goals is of course vital, which is why the other side always try so hard to do so. All through Rafa’s most stubborn periods of squad rotation he avoided too many changes to the back four, especially the centre-backs, but this season he has had no choice at all.

But it’s not always down to the defenders when the defending isn’t working. A settled back-four will help, but the whole team need to make sure they know their responsibilities.

Off the field it’s time some progress was made on the new stadium, or on new investment, because despite the critics telling us all how much Rafa has spent, over the last two season he’s only spent what he raised in sales. In fact he’s made a slight profit.

And in January Liverpool need to do all they can to strengthen a squad that still has too many weaknesses. Money needs to be found, in particular the last two season’s transfer budgets. And if improved deals for a handful of players have cost the club £40m – on top of their existing wages – we might just be paying them too much.

It’s important to pay players well, and new deals will eat into the transfer budget – but not to the extent they seem to have done.

It’s time to stop mentioning the impact of the absence of Xabi Alonso. He wanted to leave, and if his absence is so big a factor then what about the absence of Torres, Gerrard and so many others game after game this season?

Liverpool are not too far removed from the side that finished second in the table last season – when everyone is available.

And despite the disappointment tonight’s result in Italy caused, there is still a lot of season to come, still a lot of excitement possible.

Next up is the derby, always a difficult tie – but one we can win if we fight for it.

Debrecen: 1 Poleksic, 10 Bodnar, 17 Meszaros, 21 Fodor (Dombi 78), 24 Mijadinoski, 25 Szelesi, 30 Kiss, 55 Szakaly (Coulibaly 62),77 Czvitkovics, 86 Laczko, 14 Rudolf
Subs: 12 Pantic, 16 Komlosi, 6 Ramos, 7 Dombi, 22 Bernath, 33 Varga, 39 Coulibaly
Booked: Szelesi

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 Johnson, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 22 Insua, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 12 Aurelio (Dossena 89), 8 Gerrard (Aquilani 90+2), 18 Kuyt, 24 Ngog (Benayoun 77)
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 16 Kyrgiakos, 37 Skrtel, 38 Dossena, 4 Aquilani, 15 Benayoun, 26 Spearing
Goal: Ngog 4

Attendance: 15,000

14 thoughts on “Liverpool win but it’s not enough”

  1. I can’t believe how badly they played 2nite.Usual passing back/across ..they look like 3rd div.
    no moving foreward /no shankly triangle these are professional footballers but seem to have no skills..or tactics to go forward.
    Just look at Arsenal…and moves FORWARD.
    Bin supporter since 1946..but this is’s got to be Rafas tactics telling to be careful but we can’t go on like this.

  2. What can you say but just when you think you have hit rockbottom as a Liverpool fan it turns out that we are still in freefall with no end in sight to our woes.

    Everyone knows by now i dont blame Rafa for the entirety of our woes at the club. He has made mistakes but as ive said before i believe he has done enough good at the club over previous seasons to be allowed turn things around and continue to carry out the work he started here back in 2004.

    My reason for posting tonight is to pick up on something Mr Purslow has said and for me it is a comment that makes me question just how competitive / uncompetitive we may be going forward.

    Purslow talking to Sky Sports has said benitezs job is safe, something personally im glad to hear.

    However he then goes on to say that financially we are fine Hicks and Gilette have budgeted for going out of the Champions League. The monetary impact will be limited as long as we have a decent run in the Europa Cup then financially we will be neutral for the year.

    These are comments that have me worried. Financially neutral isnt good enough. Last season when we finished second in the league and reached the champions league quarter final yet we only had 20 million to spend. With the big hitter City taking spending in the league to new heights, with Abramoviches billions, Uniteds 76000 seater stadium 20 million didnt prove sufficient backing to transform us from runners up in the league to champions elect.

    So how do Hicks and Gilette expect 20 million to be enough to overhaul the squad come seasons end. Hicks and Gilette are financially and sportingly out of their depth at Liverpool and they seem intent on continuing to make every fan suffer by letting us fade in to mediocrity.

    The decline has been constant under the Hicks and Gilette tenureship and it scares me to think how far they will let Liverpool fall before they sell the club to custodians who can compete

  3. @Juan: If you add up the ins and outs of our transfer spending for the last two seasons, we turned a slight profit. Robbie Keane cost £19m – but was sold for £16m. Xabi went for £30m (plus addons) Aquilani cost £17m (plus addons). Peter Crouch went for £11m – some of which went towards Glen Johnson for £17m. That’s not an exhaustive list, but for the last two seasons the totals work out as:

    2008-09: Spent £35m Recouped: £36.5m Total: £1.5m profit
    2009-10: Spent £37m Recouped: £36.75m Total: £0.75m spend

    So over the last two seasons that a £750k profit. What happened to us getting a so-called normal £20m per season on top of sales? That’s about £40m we’re missing over those two seasons.

    We can balance that out by saying that sometimes we don’t really know how much we got in or spent in our transfers, but these figures are likely to have come with the help of some reliable contacts (Tony Barrett put the details in a graphic accompanying the recent Tony Evans piece in the Times, see it here:

    We can also add that some wage increases were awarded in the summer. If you give a player a £20k-a-week rise that’s a million a year onto the wage bill. But you don’t give them five years’ worth of pay-rises in one year, and you already had the other part of their wages in your existing budget. And we’ve never included wage rises in previous discussion about transfer fees – so unless someone is willing to provide figures for past years we need to stick to transfer fees only for comparisons.

    The article with transfer spending in it shows Rafa’s spent £80.2m all told since he arrived. £226m in / £145.8 out.

    It also shows how much has come in from prize money and TV money over that time. We’ve – until this season – always got into the latter stages of the Champions League, and TV money for the Premier League shot up at one point. All told over £280m came in over the past five seasons – compare that to the £80m he has spent on transfers. Again, wages have to be thought of and so on, but where has that £200m gone?

    And that’s of course before we start getting into the improved commercial deals the club has struck.

    I need to listen again to what he said about us being financially neutral, but from what I remember last time I looked at this the biggest part of the prize money from the Champions League comes from getting into it in the first place. We shouldn’t be too far below the £72m we brought in each of the last two seasons.

    And next season we’ll start seeing the money from that £20m a year deal with Standard Chartered.

    Financially neutral? Perhaps Mr Purslow is showing some discretion, saying what needs to be said to the audience in front of him, i.e. the whole world last night.

    I can’t help but think that the money is there for us, masses of it, but it’s been going on cutting the debt instead of buying new players. And that’s what will happen now probably, if we bring in £5m less than other seasons it’s just £5m less towards paying off the debt.

    If we’re paying every spare penny towards knocking down the debt, it means we’ll always be financially neutral. Avoid buying players, cut the wage bill, work out what you’ve got left, and instead of counting that as profit just pay it off the debt.

  4. My two cents is that I find it very distressing the amount of times Insua gives the ball away high up the pitch in attack. In general I find his decision making poor and at worst simple-minded.

    Granted he’s young and I see potential in the lad but…..FFS, GET THE BASICS RIGHT!!!

    On a lighter note the highlight of the match for me last night was: Unless I’m mistaken Gary Mc Allister said Agger was “dancin’…” after he’d rounded two defenders with the ball. Priceless!

  5. Jim,

    With your contacts in the club I hope you can shed some light on why Aquilani only came on for the last minute last night.

    I was really annoyed at Rafa for not mixing things up earlier. If the lad is not match fit how on earth is he going to become so if he doesn’t play matches? By putting him on in the 89th minute it proves he was fit so why didn’t Rafa give him 30 minutes when it was obvious we didn’t need Lucas and Masch – two defensive midfielders against such a weak side?

    It seems to me that Rafa has a real obstinate streak and won’t drop Lucas. So where does Aquilani fit in? Surely he won’t drop Masch?

    My other complaint about him is that he never makes a tactical change before 60 mins. He’s almost robotic in his decision-making. That has to change. If it’s clear after 30 mins that you haven’t got your tactics right then change things. Don’t wait until there’s only 25 mins left as it’s not fair on the players on the pitch.

    In fact this is time for a wake-up call. I’m not advocating him being sacked but he has to take a long hard look at his tactics and start making some changes. I’d love to see Kelly play at RB when he’s fit and for Johnson to move further forward. You could then rest Kuyt occasionally.

    But the most pressing need is for a second striker in January. Ngog is doing okay but he’s still raw and he needs time to develop. We don’t have the luxury of time. We need someone in soon to help score goals should Torres get injured.

    The core of the side is good enough to finish 4th or higher. What’s needed now are a few tweaks to help us score more goals and then the confidence will return. These edgy 1-0 wins are not inspiring confidence. That must change soon or disaster looms.

  6. I agree (Ray)
    Everyone on the planet could see back in January that we needed a “Good” striker to back up Torres. Ngog isnt ready for the top flight yet .
    Also why not play Aquilani from the start .? Show some desire ! and win the game by halftime. – Then Benitez could go defensive and swap him for Lucas if need be.
    The opposition was weak last night so it wouldnt have been much of a risk.

  7. Ray, we got the result that we needed and that’s all that mattered.

    I’m sure if we’d been 3 nil up and cruising, we may have seen Aquilani earlier.

    Anyway Rafa is more than aware of the match fitness / playing games dilemma with Aquilani. He said as much in the interview last night.

  8. Edward,

    Did you see the game and how close Debrenica came to getting an equaliser? Pepe’s knee saved our bacon! It wasn’t a good performance. I don’t care what the stats say.

    So are you really telling me that Aquilani is incapable of 20 mins? I doubt that very much. Rafa just has this thing in his bonnet about Lucas and poor old Alberto is the patsy!

    I’ll tell you this – if Alberto doesn’t either start on Sunday or come on for the last 30 minutes then serious questions must be asked about Rafa. This guy showed in 15 mins against Arsenal he has real quality and we need a win on Sunday really badly. I don’t think Lucas is the answer.

  9. As far as I could see Aquilani only came on to waste some time, as did Dossena. In my view Rafa saw last night as a must-win game, there was no room to gamble – we’d be devastated if we’d lost and Lyon had done us a favour.

    I don’t think he’s fit to start the game, and once we’d scored that early goal we weren’t going to take too many risks. Lucas and Mascherano was a safer option if we wanted to keep our lead.

    I know that made for a boring game, with a nagging worry we’d let one in anyway, but it was job done last night. Just a pity that the previous games made it all pointless in the end.

    And even though Debrecen seem week, they’ve knocked plenty goals in themselves. I don’t really fancy us to knock many in at the moment, so it was safer to go for the clean sheet and the win.

    Aquilani missed the game following his debut because of a virus. When we played Birmingham and Man City we had problems with players needing to go off injured, so Rafa didn’t have the luxury of making tactical subsitutions. Last night the priority was to win, not bed him in. But against Everton – surely he’s got to play a significant amount of the game.

    I hope that’s the last of the injuries now, give or take a normal amount of knocks, and maybe then Kelly will get a chance to show that performance against Lyon wasn’t a one off. It would be interesting to see Johnson further forward.

    We’ve not got the money for a second striker in January either, not a decent one anyway, unless something changes.

    We’ve got to look at last night as a win, a clean sheet, a chance to start a winning run.

  10. Jim,

    Thanks for the post. Rafa does seem to have gone back into his overly cautious shell after briefly leting the players off the reins last season starting with the Real Madrid game.

    One thing that’s very noticeable with Liverpool games compared to Chelsea, Man U and Arsenal is the pace of our attacks. It’s so slow with too many square passes. I’m watching the shower from the other end of the East Lancs Road and their pace is lightning. They pass into space where a player is running into. We pass to a man stood still most of the time.

    When we changed our system last season and speeded things up is it a coincidence that it coincided with better results? I hate this slow pedantic build up that allows the opposition to get everyone behind the ball. At some point Rafa has to revert to that system and let’s see how it goes. It’s basically the same personnel as last season so why wouldn’t it work? Confidence probably but if you don’t try it you’ll never get the confidence back!

  11. Good reading
    Written by Tetteh Otuteye

    Let me first begin with a brief history lesson:

    Cast your mind back to 1992 (if you were old enough) and think what United did after finishing 2nd to Leeds. Having bought Schmeichel (keeper of the season in the 91/92) and following recent big investments in McLair, Pallister, Ince, Irwin and co, and the emergence of Giggs, Beckham etc, Ferguson realised his team needed a striker. He had failed to sign David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier and Brian Deane, and went out and bought Cantona from Leeds (after rejecting Leeds’ bid to buy Irwin). Cantona provided the spark for their team and the won their first title in 26 years. The next season he went out and again set the transfer record to buy Roy Keane. They then won the double.

    If you’re old enough, cast your mind now back a bit further to the early 1970’s (or if like me you weren’t quite around then, turn the pages back). Shankly’s team of the 60s was ageing and he new he had to rebuild. In 69/70 we finished 15 points behind the winners, having to “settle” for a UEFA cup place. Rather than wait for his team to fall even further behind their rivals, he went shopping. Having bought Larry Lloyd in 1969 and nurtured Ray Clemence up through the ranks until he broke into the 1st team in ‘70, he signed Steve Heighway and splashed the cash on big John Toshack. In 70/71 we again finished in 5th place, 14 points adrift. Shankly kept on shopping and signed Kevin Keegan in the summer of ‘71. Keegan and Toshack helped fire us up to 3rd place in 71/72 (still settling for the UEFA cup), and still not satisfied with his team, Shankly splashed even more cash on Scotland international Peter Cormack, who would go on and play an integral part in the double winning team that season.

    What’s the point of this history lesson then, you ask? You don’t win things without investing in the team – and you don’t stop investing until you win. And even then, you don’t stop investing if you want to keep winning. No team has ever won the title having to sell to buy. That’s not how Shankly did it, it’s not how Paisley did it. We all know it wasn’t how King Kenny did it (the Beardsley, Aldridge, Barnes and Houghton signings weren’t exactly cheap).

    But now at Liverpool we do things differently. We must sell to buy, despite promises of Snoogy Doogy and plans for a new stadium to bring in big cash receding faster than Rafa’s hairline. To sign Torres we sell Garcia, Bellamy and others, to sign Mascherano we sell Sissoko, to sign Johnson we sell Crouch and Arbeloa, and we could only afford Aquilani because we sold Alonso. Now when we finish 2nd, instead of building on what we have and allowing our manager to go strengthen his hand, his “transfer budget” is used to renew contracts – as if signing existing team members constitutes a transfer!

    Who are we kidding?

    Photo from fOTOGLIF
    What bothers me in all this isn’t just the owners lack of funds – I’m getting used to that. It’s the lack of ambition that I sensed when Christian Purslow (managing director, pictured right) was explaining that the club had indeed invested in the team by renewing contracts, as we’re not supposed to know the difference between extending contracts and buying new players. Yes, we must live in the constraints around us. But how can we then expect to overhaul United and keep out new competition that actually is spending like drunken sailors? How can we complain when our squad isn’t deep enough to handle major injury crises like the one we’re facing without bad results, when we’ve had to sell players to buy new ones, rather than relegate 1st teamers to squad status to deepen the squad as we sign new and better players?

    There seems to be a dichotomy between the ambition of the club as shown in our transfer activity, and the expectations of fans as shown in our disgust at ending up in the UEFA cup or our anger that we’re in 7th place struggling to cope with several injuries to 1st team players.

    And I know I’m not the only one at a loss as to what to make of this Purslow fellow. He’s certainly a smooth talker, saying the right things soon after his arrival (but then his employers are known for talking the talk, if not walking the walk). But his recent comments about “budgeting wisely” got me thinking:


    “If we have three home games in the UEFA Cup we are equivalent to what we budget for in the Champions League. We’re very disappointed but we could have played one home leg, one away leg in the knockout stage and been out of this competition anyway,” he said.
    “I like to think we’ll be taking 40,000-50,000 to Hamburg in May and if we get halfway to doing that we will make more money than we would from one round in the Champions League.
    “It’s a missed opportunity financially but it has no effect on budgeted performance, and that’s the key thing. Budget prudently and then you don’t get negative surprises if the football doesn’t go the right way.”

    Indeed, much of that is sensible, and pinning the club’s financial hopes on winning the Champions League or the title is not the way to go, as any Leeds fan will tell you. But his comments got me wondering whether this shrewd “low expectation” budgeting has come along with low expectations from the owners. It’s no secret that the owners’ number one priority is turning a profit on the sale of our club (which is pretty much a guarantee since most of the cost of purchase was through loans, a good chunk of which are on the club’s books now). And because I used to think the way to achieve financial success in sports was through on-the-field success, I was comforted by thinking that even if they were only focused on the bottom line, they’re goals and ours would be aligned since they’d need football success to generate financial profits. Alas, apparently this is not the case. It may be the best way to get rich through the business of sports, but it is not the only way. The leveraged buyout has them in the position where any buyer who can see the growth potential and revenue potential of the club (underscored by Purslow’s shrewd overseeing of our new sponsorship deal), could give them the profit they seek, even if the club does not win anything between now and then.

    Photo from fOTOGLIF

    Rafa’s critics seem to think the only reason he has not been fired for our poor results is because of his new contract which would cost our owners £20M to break. While this is no doubt a factor, I suspect they are also reluctant to put the club into further instability and uncertainty as this would throw some doubt into any potential buyer’s minds. Add to that the fact that Rafa in his dedication to the club seems determined to succeed despite the uncertainty and instability at boardroom level, and the owners must surely now realise that they have a manager who will do his best to keep things steady, even as they try to offload the club for a profit.

    Rafa’s critics also believe Liverpool will not win anything with him in charge – and even if that were true (which I doubt), frankly, I think our owners wouldn’t be bothered one bit. I do not believe they are particularly motivated by us winning the title. Regular qualification for the Champions’ League, decent cup runs and a top 4 place, and these “low expectations” will provide a steady enough revenue stream to ensure they can attract a buyer with the promise of better merchandising and international marketing and a greater future revenue stream once the stadium is built. Winning silverware does not factor into it one iota.

    Frankly, my doubts are not over Rafa. My doubts are whether ANY manager will be able to win any silverware with the lack of ambition shown in the transfer budget we’ve had over the years, and the penny pinching decision to take the costs of contract renewals out of the limited transfer budget. No team – from Shankly’s to Dalglish’s to Ferguson’s to Wenger’s to Jose’s – has ever won a title while having to sell in order to buy. No manager has managed to do it, and certainly not while his rivals are spending steadily and investing in their teams and deepening their squads all around him.

    So while others are eager for Rafa to be fired to bring in some new messiah who will work miracles in this penny pinching climate, I’m very skeptical over such optimism. As I said elsewhere, sacking a quality manager in the midst of such turmoil would usher in a period of uncertainty and instability that would shine a tragic light on the unfortunate situation that our owners have put us in: no real investment to suggest they are bothered about winning anything, mounting debt, constantly regressing stadium plans, a “transfer budget” that is used only to renew contracts, and constant boardroom squabbles while attempting to hawk the club off for a profit.

    Frankly, I give Rafa credit for getting us where we were at the end of last season in the midst of all that over the last 5 years, and I credit him with us not falling away from the top since the owners arrived. Should Rafa quit now or worse, be sacked, I can see us heading into steady decline. I say this because I doubt there are many managers who would do as well as Rafa has done in this environment, and fewer managers who would be able to repair the chaos and instability that sacking him would cause, especially not on the “transfer” budget our owners would provide, even if most of our squad remained intact.

  12. Its been reported that Valencia are ready to sell Villa and Torress has previously stated his wish to have Villa along side of him. There is no doubt that the owners have the money from the sale of their USA assets and this would be a huge help to the attacking line of LFC. However, I would put my shirt on the owners not being prepared to part with a cent of their own money. Their policy is now clear borrow all that is needed to buy the club, plus other borrowing which nobody seems to know where the money went and then let the club pay for all interest, bank charges and capital repayment WHICH ALL ADDS TO THEM GETTING THE CLUB FOR NOTHING. Their promises are pure fiction their sole am is to suck the “FRANCHISE” for all they can get out of it.

  13. Bang on again Ken, Hicks & Gillett ‘s interest in Liverpool FC is purely for their own financial gain and all the evidence indicates that they have no intention of selling their stake save for a significant profit (some hope).
    So we are lumbered with them. I hope I am very wrong but the signs are that the much feared rot could be setting in. The club has no sense of direction whatsoever in the boardroom and morale is patently at rock bottom.

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