Friday, 16 September 2011

Pre-match interview with Roy Henderson

Prior to competitive matches, I ask a Liverpool supporter a handful of questions regarding current topics of discussion at the club.

Ahead of the league game at Tottenham Hotspur, Roy Henderson (@royhendo) played the role of interviewee. Roy is a writer and illustrator for Level 3 Football, as well as a contributor to the likes of Well Red magazine, RAWK and The Anfield Wrap. Here's what he had to say.

Liverpool fell to their first defeat of the season at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as they were beaten 1-0 by Stoke City. How did you feel about the game?
I felt positive really. We have a few issues to address, the most glaring of which is Carragher's decline, but there aren't many sides that can go to the Britannia Stadium and dominate in the way that we did.

Fair enough, they play a different sport, but I felt that we coped as well as I've seen anybody cope there in recent seasons. 73% possession and decent quality possession in the areas that were likely to hurt Stoke. 24 attempts on goal to their three - it just wasn't Liverpool's day.

The squad that Dalglish and Commoli has assembled genuinely excites me, and one bad result away to Stoke City doesn't change that. We're playing some of the best football that we've played in decades. It just needs to bed in.

What is this squad capable of achieving in 2011/12?
In the league, I think that a top four finish is feasible, even top three if Chelsea have a wobble. I think that we'll have a decent tilt at the cups, but who knows on that front? Luck will determine our fate there as much as anything else.

We're seeing a different approach now - yes, we might lose the odd game, but we're not playing as if we're afraid of doing so. This was something that you sometimes levelled at Liverpool in the last decade or so. Such an approach tends to yield more points in the league, and I think that we'll reap the benefits of it.

The thing is, the players have yet to blend as a group (properly at least). That'll come, and when it does, it'll be a joy to behold.

Kenny Dalglish's comments after the match (particularly on the performance of officials) made for an interesting read. What's your take on this?
I'm amazed at the media's reaction really. A few recognised it for what it was, but a few of the younger hacks fastened on to it as if it was some kind of breakdown. 'Cuddly Kenny loses his cool' or whatever. All it proved is that they don't know Dalglish, and they don't have much depth of experience related to management and its wiley ways.

Kenny learnt his early trade under Jock Stein, as did Alex Ferguson, so it's no surprise that both men are masters in the art of dictating the agenda. The next time that Liverpool are faced with a 50:50 decision, the referee will, on some level, be under the kind of pressure that he faces when Manchester United are in a similar position.

We like our managers to win. It's not a popularity contest.

Jamie Carragher's current ability has been the provocation of much debate over the weekend. Is his departure from regular football imminent?
I think that he'll make a graceful retreat over the coming season or two. However, when we play a deeper line (as is sometimes the case), he can still play a role.

I've felt Carragher's inclusion as a double-edged sword for some time now. The worst was away at West Ham, when Carlton Cole gave him a torrid time. After that, you got the feeling that strikers were rubbing their hands when imagining the prospect of being put through one-on-one with him.

It's a physical decline though. Jamie's never really much in terms of our own build-up and, if anything, the side's been set up to compensate for his limitations for years. People always criticised Benitez for sitting two men relatively deep in the midfield, but a big part of that was the need to make sure that Carragher wasn't exposed. This allowed his strengths to emerge; last ditch, close contact defending in the box. He's a lion on that front and it hasn't changed - it's just getting harder to cover up the flaws.

Coates and Wilson are very capable defenders who offer more in a footballing sense, not to mention the likes of Kelly and Andre Wisdom (who looks a great prospect). So yeah, his time's limited you'd think. I just hope that he bows out gracefully.

Andy Carroll is struggling to work his way into a starting place. Should we be concerned?
I don't think so. It's weird. We became so used to scrimping and saving and selling to buy under Hicks and Gillett, that we're pre-occupied with prices, even under our new ownership. It would appear that player purchases are funded entirely from operating income nowadays - we're no longer in the realms of hardcore debt, and we can put our accounting books back in the loft for a while.

It was a strange purchase, but the fact remains that when he gets back to the level that was at for Newcastle, we have a monster of a player on our hands. Of course, if in the short term, Suarez and Bellamy are in better form than him, then it's only right that he doesn't start.

I still think that he'll be a great player for Liverpool, but if the owners' tenure at the Red Sox is to tell us anything about them, it's that they won't muck around if Kenny decides that something isn't working. As long as the manager's happy, then we can probably feel relaxed about it.

Despite an impressive win at Molyneux on Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur have experienced a forgettable start to the season, both on and off the pitch. Do you believe that we're playing a good side at the right time?
You just never know with Spurs, do you? I think it comes down to how we perform in the midfield. Sulk or no sulk, Modric is still potentially awesome for them. Parker is Parker - we know what to expect, and he'll add structure to their football. Lucas and Adam will need to be bang on their game in order to get the upper hand against that pairing. You wonder whether their opening run of games will have steeled them a little.

It'll be tight, and they'll take heart from that result at Wolves, but we have more than enough in order to deal with them.

If you were in charge, who would you be starting with and how would you set up the selected in order to defeat Redknapp's side?
It it was me, I'd go with Reina in goal, with Skrtel and Agger at the back, and Johnson and Enrique tasked with dominating their flanks and pinning Bale/Assou-Ekotto and Krancjar/Walker back. In the midfield, I'd have Lucas holding with Adam left and ahead of him. Ahead of them, we'll hopefully have a relatively fluid set-up, with Henderson and Downing wide, Suarez and possibly Kuyt up top. You'd see it tagged as a 4-4-2, but with every game that we start nowadays, I hope that the movement's fluid. It's the most heartening development in our play.

And finally, what's your prediction for the next match?
For me, it feels like a 2-1 win for Liverpool. It'll definitely be tight. I can't see us losing though.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Match report: Stoke City 1-0 Liverpool

Liverpool's unbeaten start to the 2011-12 season was ended at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as they were beaten 1-0 by Stoke City.

The only goal of an exciting Premier League contest arrived in the 21st minute, as Jonathan Walters thundered home a penalty to give Tony Pulis' team the victory.

Kenny Dalglish decided to make just one change to the side that comfortably beat Bolton Wanderers last time out, with Martin Skrtel replacing the injured Martin Kelly. Sebastian Coates and Craig Bellamy, two signings that were made late in the summer's transfer window, were named amongst the substitutes.

Stoke, a team that is plying its trade in the Europa League this season, were able to give Peter Crouch (formerly of Liverpool) his first start since moving to the club on 'deadline day'. Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome, who have also only recently arrived at the club, were named in the matchday squad for the first time.

The game started aggressively, with Luis Suarez going close twice in the opening five minutes. The Uruguayan struck narrowly over from the edge of the box, before only just failing to connect with a Charlie Adam corner.

The visitors threatened with chances and dominated the opening exchanges, but they were behind midway through the first half.

Mark Clattenburg, the referee of the match, awarded Stoke a penalty after Jamie Carragher was adjudged to have hauled down Walters in the box. The winger stepped up to take the kick himself and finished with minimal fuss.

The Reds' response to going behind was available just moments after the restart, with Suarez almost punishing Asmir Begovic for some suspect goalkeeping. However, the Copa America winner's half volley was impressively kept out by a committed Ryan Shawcross on the line.

Before the interval, Dalglish's side probably should have capitalised on poor defending, as a low centre from Suarez was allowed to find its way to an incoming Skrtel. The Slovakian defender, who was filling in at right-back, couldn't keep his shot down.

Liverpool picked up were they left off in the second half, with Lucas Leiva's shot being deflected behind by Matthew Upson. The resulting corner came to nothing, but it was clear that the hosts were in for a difficult 45 minutes.

On the hour mark, the match should have been all square. A Jose Enrique pass sent Jordan Henderson through on goal. With only the goalkeeper to beat, the former Sunderland midfielder saw three poor efforts kept out, before Charlie Adam picked up the loose ball and attempted to force home the equaliser. The stubborn qualities of Stoke's defence were epitomised in and amongst this fracas, as both Marc Wilson and Begovic thwarted the Scotland international.

Dalglish made a double substitution as the game creeped into the final quarter, with Andy Carroll and Bellamy replacing Dirk Kuyt and Henderson respectively.

Despite having a lot of the ball and spending the majority of the last 20 minutes in the opposition half, Liverpool could only fashion two more clear chances. Stewart Downing was guilty of wasting a good opportunity, lashing wide after a tidy exchange with Suarez, before Suarez himself somehow failed to hit the target after Begovic flapped at a high ball in injury time.