Discussing Gerrard’s involvement at EURO 2012 is pointless

Steven Gerrard
With England’s place at EURO 2012 confirmed after an unbeaten qualification campaign, the inevitable, hypothetical 23-man squad selection process has begun.

Manager Fabio Capello has a plethora of players available to him, with around 40 seemingly in with a chance of getting on the plane to Poland/Ukraine.
The midfield, particularly, gives Capello some positive problems; there may not be a lot of supreme talent but at least there are now a lot of options, something that England haven’t had in the past. Players like Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere could be replaced by Gareth Barry and James Milner – a slight drop in quality maybe but the players are more than capable of filling in.
One of the major talking points in these selections has involved Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, currently recovering from an ankle infection and not set to return for some time. The midfielder played 90 minutes against Manchester United and Norwichin October after being eased back into the side following groin surgery.
Gerrard’s last appearance before his injury woes was the 1-0 loss away at United in January, his last international appearance coming almost a year ago in the 2-1 friendly defeat to France. In short: it is a long time since we have seen Steven Gerrard at his pulsating best, or even at a level even vaguely similar to that.
It seems slightly incongruous, then, for Gerrard himself to label EURO 2012 his “last chance”. Gerrard is no longer a mainstay in the England side. He’s not as vital to England’s hopes as he perhaps once was. So for Gerrard to even politely assume that he’s going to be selected for a tournament after barely playing for the past eleven months is a bit egotistical.
A similar criticism could be had of anyone who argues that Gerrard should go to EURO 2012 over X, Y or Z: how can you make that decision when he’s done very little – a Giggs-aided freekick aside – this year?
The point here, though, is that you can’t say he shouldn’t go to the Euros and you can’t say he should – because no one knows if Gerrard will return from injury in time to build up some form ready for the summer and nobody knows whether he’ll be at his explosive best when he does return. So what’s the point in even discussing it, other than filling column inches?
Many would argue that it is pointless discussing the squads now anyway because anything could happen between now and June, be it with injuries or form. The fact that England don’t know their best eleven, or know who is going to be in the squad is irrelevant at the moment.
The England side should (and the word ‘should’ is in italics for a reason there) be picked based on form; who are the best players going into the tournament and how can Capello fit them into one cohesive team? The side – or the squad – should not be picked on reputation.
And that, right now, is the only way Gerrard is getting into these hypothetical squads: his reputation.  
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Liverpool squad rotation options


The long-running saga that is Charlie Adam’s transfer to Liverpool appears to be all-but completed which has led many to wonder how Kenny Dalglish is going to fit all of his midfielders into one starting eleven and still have room for strikers and defenders, and maybe even a goalkeeper.

Clearly, the answer to that question is that Dalglish isn’t going to play every single one of his midfielders – he’s bought Jordan Henderson because he’s an exciting prospect for the future; Lucas Leiva has become a vital part of the team; Jay Spearing is also an exciting talent and is an added option in midfield; Adamis a fine creator of chances and had a good season with Blackpool in the Premier League last year; and Steven Gerrard is.. well, Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool have also been linked with a variety of wingers, most predominately Aston Villa’s Stewart Downing, Juan Mata of Valencia and Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia. The latest buzz, though, is that the Anfield club have had two bids for Downing rejected by his club – the second one amounting to around £18 million – which could lead the club to focus their attention on highly-rated Mata, also a target for Arsenal.
On their way out of Liverpool – because the Reds are allowing other clubs to own midfielders – are, apparently, Raul Meireles, Joe Cole, Alberto Aqualini and Christian Paulsen, although I, personally, would keep Meireles because a) he was one of their best players last season, mainly under Dalglish, and b) because it’s an extra option in midfield; he can play defensively but bursts forward too.
Even if the Portuguese midfielder does leave, though, Liverpool will have plenty of opportunities to rotate their squad, which can only be a good thing – as long as they keep the players happy, of course.
Last season, Dalglish preferred to play four in defence, although he did experiment with three at the back against Stoke (2-0 win), Chelsea (1-0 win) and West Ham (3-1 loss). For now, we’ll consider the following as the preferred back-line:


This could obviously change, i.e. Martin Skrtel could come in for either Jamie Carragher or Daniel Agger, while Fabio Aurelio could be the preferred choice at left-back (although, that’s doubtful, and Liverpool are being linked with Newcastle’s left-back Jose Enrique, which would be a decent acquisition.) Agger would probably prefer to play on the left side on central defence but the above is just a rough idea.
Here, Dalglish has a few options; he could play two defensive midfielders with three attacking players ahead and then one striker up front: 


In this kind of formation, Luis Suarez is more likely to play out wide, possibly cutting in to support Andy Carroll, with Martin Kelly bombing on down the right flank from defence. If neither Downing nor Mata – or N’Zogbia – are signed, then Argentinean winger Maxi could be another option, if indeed he stays at the club.
This formation could have many variations; for instance Adam could push up a little more to act as a link between the attacking side of midfield (Gerrard) and the defensive side (Lucas). The two wingers – whoever they may be – could also push up further, creating a 4-3-3 formation.
This is of course assuming that Gerrard will be fit for next season and will play a major role for Liverpool; it isn’t too ludicrous to suggest that Gerrard could struggle to get into the side if Adam, Lucas and possibly Jay Spearing, Meireles or even Henderson perform well in the middle of the park and, with Meireles and Henderson – and to a certain extent Adam – looking to burst forward, an out-and-out attacking midfielder may not be needed.
Henderson and Gerrard could be used in an almost box-to-box sense here, with Lucas covering and the two wingers supporting Carroll:

An ever-so-slightly more conservative approach would be to play one defensive midfielder, three across the midfield and then two up front:



Either Gerrard or Lucas could be replaced by Adam here, depending on how attacking Dalglish wants to be, while Henderson could also play on the right side of midfield.

Dalglish could also play a slightly more basic 4-4-2, which could see Suarez play in behind Carroll or, as above, alongside him:

Again, Downing can be replaced by any winger, and maybe Adam could come in instead of Lucas for a more attacking approach. Many people have questioned Dalglish for spending around £28 million on midfielders who could well spend most of their time on the bench. Firstly, transfer fees are meaningless, especially to a club (or, owner) with so much money and secondly, to reiterate – it’s another set of options and it’s another couple of players to help Liverpool compete in the various competitions they’ll be involved in this season and, hopefully more, next season, as a European spot must surely be the aim for the coming season.
A kind of 5-4-1 formation could also be utilised by Liverpool this term, with three centre-backs, two ‘wing-backs’ and wingers, with Carroll again the ‘lone’ – but actually with plenty of support – man up front:


Here, Kuyt and Suarez could switch wings or even play a little more centrally, i.e. just off Carroll. Aurelio would probably be the best option for a left wing-back (although Johnson would be more than adequate in this position, despite being right-footed). Obviously any potential purchase – Enrique – could also be used here.
Liverpool could probably do with an extra centre-back, perhaps one with pace and they have been linked with Christian Zapata and Stefan Savic in recent weeks (both of whom appear to have snubbed a move to Anfield), as Carragher, Agger and Skrtel could struggle in this area but, with Kelly and the left-back doing their jobs, as well as Lucas tracking back, Liverpool should have plenty of cover defensively. This formation would also allow for great counter-attacking, especially from the wings.
Dalglish could actually take out the wingers from this set-up and play with more central midfielders but still have the wing-backs bombing on ahead, which would probably work better for the wing-backs in an attacking sense (leaving them plenty of space to run into):


Here, Gerrard would have something of a ‘free role’, with Jay Spearing – or Meireles – doing the defensive work along with Lucas, while Adam again links attack and defence. This could leave Carroll a little isolated at times if the wing-backs fail to get forward but, if this is the case, Spearing could be replaced by Henderson, a more attack-minded player. Lucas would have to do a lot of cover work but that is something he would thrive at.
These line-ups could, of course, all have slight variations; Dani Pacheco is another option up front; Pepe Reina could leave the club but Brazilian Doni is a target, while Brad Jones is another choice; Sotirios Kyrgiakos was recently given a one-year extension to his contract so could feature at the back.
These are only rough – i.e. not precise and by no means complete given that Liverpool seem to be linked with a new player every day – guidelines for Liverpool’s system next season. It is clear that Liverpool have lots of options, with not only different formations available to Dalglish but also multiple players available to play in the same position.
The only problem will be keeping certain players happy as they are forced to take a seat on the bench – but Dalglish is renowned for his people skills. Liverpool’s rotation policy is going to be fascinating to watch, as an outsider, next season.
Images from This11.com.

Revenge will be sweet for Roy Hodgson & Blackpool in trouble

West Brom vs. Liverpool: Revenge will be sweet for Hodgson

Hodgson will look to get one over on Liverpool this weekend

Roy Hodgson meets his former employers this weekend and, not only is it a big game for Hodgson himself, it’s a huge a game for West Brom.



Most think that he wasn’t given enough time at Liverpool. Many believe that Liverpool just wasn’t the right club for him; that he couldn’t handle the pressure of managing a ‘big club’. What is for certain, though, is that Roy Hodgson, in the time that he was given at Anfield, failed as manager of Liverpool Football Club.

Hodgson was given just over six months to stabilise a club in free-fall after a combination of poor management, poor ownership and all-round poor decisions left England’s most successful football club of the twentieth century in dire straits.
Earlier this week two Anfield talisman spoke out about Hodgson’s time with the club, saying that the sixty-three-year-old wasn’t to blame for the failure of Anfield. Captain Steven Gerrard stated that, “as players we didn’t perform consistently for him”, with centre-back Jamie Carragher adding: “it’s not as if Roy was there for two years and didn’t do well so as a group of players you have to ask are we doing well enough.”

Of course, Kop legend Kenny Dalglish took over from Hodgson in January, with Liverpool sitting 12thin the League. They now sit 6th, just four points away from Tottenham. The turn-around has been quite staggering.
Everyone has their own opinion: did the players not perform under Hodgson but are now finding their feet with Dalglish at the helm? Are Dalglish’s tactics simply more suited to the Liverpool players? Or is (or, was) Hodgson simply tactically inept and didn’t understand what it meant to be manager of Liverpool?
Hodgson is now manager of West Brom. Many tipped them for the drop when the former-Inter Milan, Blackburn Rovers and Finland manager was appointed West Brom head coach in February, after Roberto Di Matteo was sacked.
Many Baggies fans were unhappy with the departure of Di Matteo as he was seen as a young, likeable manager, as well as being a good coach with fantastic man-management skills. He was seen as the future of the club, a future that was then cast in doubt as Hodgson was brought in with less than four months left in the season and with a relegation fight on their hands.
West Brom are currently 16th in the Premier League and just one point above the relegation zone, but the fact that Hodgson has organised the team into a well-oiled machine as well as actually playing players in their preferred positions (as Di Matteo was criticised for doing the opposite) has delighted fans at The Hawthorns.
This weekend, though, sees a match that has set many tongues wagging. Liverpool visit West Brom on Saturday meaning that Hodgson faces his old employers for the first time since his exit.
Dalglish, though, had some positive words to say about the man who will be in the opposite dug-out this weekend: “Roy hasn’t got anything to prove to anybody. If you say he has extra motivation then you are doubting the man’s integrity and implying he never had enough motivation before”, Dalglish told The Telegraph.

“I have great respect for him as I said when I came in here and that isn’t going to change now that we are playing against each other.”

What is for sure, though, is that Hodgson will be looking to get one over on his former employers come Saturday, 3pm. West Brom’s Premier League status is not yet safe and a win against Liverpool could set them on their way to a fine run-in.

Hodgson has stated today that he already has targets in mind for the summer transfer window; he expects to be at West Brom for the foreseeable future but knows he needs time to build. On Saturday, he’ll come up against the side that wouldn’t allow him that time, in a game that could spark the surge away from relegation.

The time is now for Blackpool
EPL: Blackpool are in danger of relegation
In 2011, they’ve won just two games. They’re in the middle of an intense relegation battle. Blackpool’s form is relegation form.
The English Premier League relegation battle is always a gripping story that unfolds over the course of thirty-eight games. Usually, by the time April comes around, the relegation contenders have been whittled down to around five teams.
This time last season, Portsmouth were propping up the table on thirteen points, with Burnley above them on twenty-four – Championship football was already on the cards for these two sides. Between eighth placed Fulham and Hull City (18thand in the relegation zone) there were eleven points. Realistically though, Wigan and West Ham were the only other relegation concerns. Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth were demoted at the end of the season.
This season, it is not so clear-cut. There are eight points between the bottom club and 7th placed Bolton. West Ham, West Brom, Blackpool, Aston Villa and Blackburn are all in serious danger of dropping into a relegation zone currently featuring Wolves, Birmingham and Wigan. With eight games to go, no one is safe.
Blackpool, in particular, have seen a horrific fall in form. A 4-0 win away at Wigan sent them to the top of the Premier League table after the first game. A 6-0 thrashing from Arsenal didn’t exactly dampen their spirits as, by 28thDecember, they were sitting eighth in the table.
And then came the turn of the year. In 2011, The Tangerines have won two games (against Liverpool and Tottenham). They’ve lost vital games against their relegation rivals: Birmingham, West Brom, West Ham and Wolves. In their last six games, they’ve conceded sixteen goals. To put it bluntly, their current form is relegation form.
Charlie Adam, Blackpool’s star player this season, was, somewhat expectedly, completely outclassed on Sunday as Scotland were defeated 2-0 by a Neymar-inspired Brazil. The midfielder suffered a knock at The Emirates and, although he has stated that he’ll be ready for this weekend’s clash with Fulham, manager Ian Holloway will need a fully-fit Adam to inspire his team through the rest of the season.
After Fulham this Sunday, Blackpool face a struggling Arsenal who will surely be looking to re-state their claim for the Premier League title. Following that, three bottom-half teams visit Bloomfield Road. Blackpool cannot afford to lose to Wigan, Newcastle or Stoke, especially when their final three fixtures put them up against Tottenham, Bolton and Manchester United.
If Blackpool are to stay up this season, their form is going to have to drastically change instantly. A win against Fulham would certainly set them on their way and, to steer clear of the drop, they’re going to need to be tactically shrewd and adopt a win-at-all-costs attitude.
Blackpool have played some brilliant football this season which is remarkable baring in mind that, at the beginning of the season, everyone was writing them off. Gary Taylor-Smith, DJ Campbell and Luke Varney have played above and beyond themselves and have contributed to Blackpool scoring forty-five goals this season. Their defence, though, is a completely different matter.
The game against Manchester United in January pretty much sums up Blackpool as a team. In the first half, Holloway’s side battered United, taking a 2-0 lead into half-time after attacking with great fluidity. In the second half, United came back in roaring fashion, scoring three goals in sixteen minutes to destroy a helpless Blackpool.
Blackpool might not have the best squad on paper but, when it comes to actually playing on the pitch, in a unit, they are fantastic to watch and have been a revelation this season. They’re stuck in the middle of some woeful form but form can change. A win against Fulham won’t save their season, but it could set them on their way to survival.

These articles were originally published on Sports Haze. 

Liverpool reject huge Chelsea bid for Torres


Chelsea’s attempts to sign Spanish striker Fernando Torres have been dashed again after Liverpool announced last night that they had rejected another bid.

 

A spokesman for the club stated yesterday that the forward, who has scored nine goals this season, is “not for sale”.
“Chelsea have made a bid for Fernando which has been turned down,” he told The Times.
The Blues reportedly had an offer for Torres turned down back in May but the striker remained at Anfield for this season, with Liverpool now struggling in seventh place in the Premier League after their worst start to a campaign since 1953/54.
With Kenny Dalglish now manager of Liverpool it looked as if Torres had transformed his season with two goals against Wolves recently and a goal against Bolton before that.
But with the news of this offer, and the reports of a £50 million buy-out clause in Torres’ contract, the 26-year-old’s future at Liverpool is certainly unclear.
Despite Torres’ drop in form this season, which was also apparent in the World Cup in South Africa, many fans will be unhappy to see El Nino leave the club because of the sheer lack of quality in forward positions at Liverpool.
Torres’ 81 goals in 141 Liverpool appearances have helped to propel The Reds up the table in recent years but his tally of just nine goals in twenty-five games this season has been a huge factor in the Anfield club’s demise in 2010/11.
While the news of rejecting a huge offer such as this one will come as a somewhat-pleasant surprise to Liverpool fans, Chelsea will be disheartened to hear that yet another multi-million-pound offer for a player has been rejected.
This week it has emerged that Chelsea had a £52 million double bid for Atletico Madrid stars Sergio Aguero and Diego Godin turned down, although the club deny that they have made this offer. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are also allegedly talking to Benfica defender David Luiz after the two clubs agreed a transfer fee of around £21 million.
It is thought that Chelsea are looking for a replacement for Didier Drogba who, while he has netted ten times for the Stamford Bridge club this season, the Ivory Coast international is 32-years-old and has struggled for form this recently.
Torres and Aguero were strike partners at Atletico Madrid and it looks as if Chelsea are willing to pay whatever it takes to get them to come to the club as they try and resurrect their season, with Ancelotti’s team currently lying fourth in the Premier League, ten points behind leaders Manchester United.

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze but is now unavailable due to the site closing down.
Picture from Mat Jam

Liverpool edge past Turkish side

A Ryan Babel strike was enough to give Liverpool the win in a tight match in the Europa League play-off stage.

The Dutch forward finished well after Joe Cole had slotted him in, while Cole himself had the chance to score as he missed a penalty in the second half.
Liverpool, though, were disappointing against a Trabzonspor side that they really should be beating.
A decent performance against Arsenal at the weekend meant that the Reds were in good stead for this match. A late error from Pepe Reina gifted Arsenal a point in that Premier League match while David N’Gog continued his impressive goal scoring form of late as he fired past Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal. The French striker, though, started on the bench for Liverpool as Ryan Babel got his chance to show what he’s got. New signing Christian Poulsen started alongside Lucas Leiva in defensive midfield, while Cole, who got sent off against Arsenal, was available to play in this match.
After defeating Macedonian side Rabotnicki in the previous round Roy Hodgson’s men were sure to face a much sterner test against the Turkish side Trabzonspor. The Maroon-Blues won the Turkish Super Cup last season after defeating Fenerbahce 3-1 in the final and their manager, Senol Gunes, led Turkey to a famous third place finish in the 2002 World Cup finals. The side did have threats up front with Teofilo Gutierrez and Umut Bulut lining up in a striking partnership.
Striker Fernando Torres was left on the bench as the Spaniard continued his recovery from the injury he picked up in the World Cup, while Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson did not feature in the Liverpool side at all as Hodgson rested a few players as he looked towards the Manchester City game at the weekend.
The game had a rather dull first half although it looked bright for Liverpool early on as Sotirios Kyrgiakos had a header well saved after a Maxi Rodriguez corner. A Fabio Aurelio free kick, which sailed over the bar, and a Burak Yilmaz effort from a freekick for Trabzonspor were pretty much the only actions of note in the first half, until the final minute of the first forty-five.
After a mix—up between two Trabzonspor players Cole raced clear and, after enduring a frustrating first half whereby the opposition stopped the Englishman from playing, the former Chelsea midfielder placed a perfect through ball to Babel, who expertly finished, giving Liverpool the lead at half time.
It was to be Babel’s last action of the match, though, as Hodgson replaced him at half time with Torres. The striker went straight into the thick of the action as forced the ‘keeper into a fine save and the Scouse side seemed to be lifted by Torres’ arrival as, from the resulting corner, Lucas showed why many Premier League followers doubt his quality in such a top side. The Brazilian midfielder headed wide after getting into a great position, unmarked.
Lucas soon made up for that glaring miss, though, as he was brought down by Serkan Balci in the area, giving Liverpool the chance to double their lead. Cole stepped up to attempt to score his first goal for his new club but he hit a poor shot and the ‘keeper saved relatively easily in front of the Kop.
Milan Jovanovic has impressed in the short time that he has been at the Anfield club and the winger nearly set up Torres for his first goal of the season. After a clever flick from Cole found the Serbian winger a cross was put in to Torres who, from the edge of the area, powered a header towards goal, only for the ‘keeper to save it.
Aurelio seems to have taken up free kick responsibilities for Liverpool, when Gerrard is not playing, and the Brazilian tried, on many occasions, to score from acute angles. The left-back, though, was not hugely successful, with the best effort forcing goalkeeper Onur Recep Kivrak into a save that was pushed out, straight into the path of Cole. The winger picked up the pieces and fired the ball back across goal but the Trabzonspor defence, who were pretty solid and kept Liverpool at bay for most of the night, cleared easily.
The game was definitely not one of Cole’s better matches with the Englishman disappointing on the whole, firing a shot wide of the mark with twenty minutes to go which summed up his evening. There was a little bit of controversy towards the end, with Cole involved, as Poulsen looked to have scored on his debut but the referee deemed that either Cole or the defensive midfielder, who were stood in the goal mouth as a scramble transpired, had fouled the goalkeeper after a Lucas header was saved.
Liverpool did not play well against the Turkish side and the away team will definitely be the happier as the score line could have been heavier if Liverpool had taken their chances. Trabzonspor will now be hoping that, with the hostile environment of a Turkish home game, as well as some frustrating tactics, they can overcome Liverpool to reach the Europa League proper.
Liverpool 1 – 0 Trabzonspor
Babel 45

Premier League sides miss out on French striker

Nice striker Loic Remy looks to have snubbed a move to the Premier League as French side Marseille claim that they have agreed a deal with the player.

Remy is understood to be having a medical today and will complete the transfer, which is reported to have the fee of around £12.4 million.
Tottenham, Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham were all reported to have been interested in the forward, who scored twenty-six times in sixty-eight appearances for Nice. The twenty-three-year-old plays in the leading role up front but can also operate on either wing.
Remy has been capped twice by France but is yet to score for his country. The 6ft tall striker will be presented to the press today upon completion of the deal.
A Marseille statement read: “OM and OGC Nice have reached an agreement in principle for the transfer of striker Loic Remy. The 23-year-old player will arrive in Marseille this afternoon and will then undergo the customary medical examination prior to the signing of his contract. He will then be presented to the press.”
Remy has been subject to intense media speculation after a host of clubs were chasing his signature. It looks as if Remy, though, is staying in his native France.
In other news:

Premier League Preview: Liverpool

My Premier League previews continue with, this time, the reformed Liverpool in the spotlight. Manager Roy Hodgson will definitely be looking to re-build the side and start afresh now that the era of Rafa Benitez is over.

There are many theories for where it went wrong for Liverpool but one thing is for certain; Hodgson needs to turn it around and, if possible, bring a long-awaited trophy to Anfield. Liverpool last won the title of the English top-flight in 1989-90 and things have changed quite a bit since then. The Reds recently cruised past Macedonian side FK Rabotnicki in the third qualifying round of the Europa League to set up a match with Turkish side Trabzonspor. A sign of how Liverpool’s state has worsened over the past few years.
            Before Benitez left the club he did polish off some good singings for the Reds. Danny Wilson joined from Rangers for £2 million while Jonjo Shelvey joined from Charlton for £1.7 million, with both transfers being overseen by Benitez. Both Shelvey and Wilson are players for the future which, as the Premier League have brought in the new “home grown”, 25-man squad rule, could be important for the club. Milan Jovanovic has also signed and has put in some good performances in pre-season, especially in the before-mentioned Europa League qualifier. Surely, though, Liverpool’s best signing, and possibly the Premier League signing of the summer, is that of Joe Cole. The midfielder has joined from Chelsea on a free transfer after falling out of favour with manager Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti. The former West Ham player, who was also shunned at the World Cup by England manager Fabio Capello, will now look to start again and try and bring some much needed silverware to Anfield. Cole looked sharp in his debut against Rabotnicki, linking up well with Steven Gerrard and even managing the odd showboat here and there. The natural ability of Cole, though, is something that could really unlock defences for Liverpool next season. After Chelsea paid £5 million for Yossi Benayoun just weeks before the Cole arrival, Liverpool have basically bagged the money and a better player. Winger Albert Riera has also left the club, joining Greek side Olympiacos for a fee over nearly £4 million. Liverpool, though, are certainly not lacking in wingers.
                Jovanovic looked quick and comfortable on the wings for Liverpool against the Macedonian minnows, as did Daniel Pacheco, the young Spanish midfielder who starred at the recent Under-19 European Championships. It looks as if Cole is going to be given a more centralised role under Hodgson, which is what he wanted whilst with Chelsea, meaning that he and England teammate Gerrard can push forward through the middle at every opportunity. Lucas Leiva can, at times, look out-of-sorts in the Premier League but he maybe just needs more time to settle into the English game, as does Alberto Aqualini, who will be looking to improve on last season, with the Italian struggling through injury for the most of it. Maxi Rodriquez adds more pace to the Liverpool flanks; the Argentinean looks to be getting used to the speed of the English game after his transfer in January. With the imminent departure of Javier Mascherano the Reds have been quick to look for a replacement, with Juventus midfielder Christian Poulson rumoured to be about to join the Anfield side. In the English Shelvey they have a young, attacking player with lots of ambition and who, with the right coaching, could become a top player for the club, as could Jay Spearing. The young Englishman may well look forward to more first team action this season as Hodgson turns to the youth to take Liverpool forward. The middle of the pitch is where Liverpool are certainly at their strongest.
                England flop Jamie Carragher may have retired from England duty for the second time after a dismal World Cup in South Africa but the Scouser shows no signs of slowing down as he prepares for yet another strong season in the top flight. The solidity of Carragher and Martin Skrtel at the back is crucial as Glen Johnson can go bombing forward to aid with the attacks. The left side of defence is a problem for Liverpool though, with Emiliano Insua the only natural left-back. The Brazilian may lack a little experience, and possibly even Premier League quality, and so Hodgson would do well to buy a quality left-back.
                The one to watch for Liverpool this season is Martin Kelly. The centre-back moved across to left-back against Rabotnicki and impressed immensely as he not only looked solid at the back but also was not afraid to go forward with the attacks. The twenty-year-old may struggle to break into the first team with two experienced defenders in front of him in the pecking order, but the English defender could well see a lot of first team action this season.
            Another problem-area for Liverpool is the forward area. Fernando Torres recently committed his future to the club which means that Liverpool have a world-class striker on their books. If the Reds are going to one up front then there is no problem; Torres can easily do that job and Gerrard and Cole will always be up there to support him. However, if Liverpool need more than one striker, or if Torres gets injured or even doesn’t perform, a problem could arise. David N’Gog has been scoring in pre-season but the Frenchman still lacks real composure in front of goal; he misses a handful of chances each game and they are chances that Torres would take with open arms. Dirk Kuyt, for all his hard work, is not a goal scorer and the rest of the Liverpool forwards are youngsters from oversees that Benitez brought in. If Liverpool are to get back into the top four this season they may need to invest in another decent striker.
           
Where will they finish?: 6th
Official title odds: 14/1 (Victor Chandler)
Star man: Steven Gerrard
One to watch: Martin Kelly
Main weakness: Left-back position is a problem, while goals could be hard to come by if Torres is not available.