View from the Kop

Cause for Optimism: New Boys Shine as Old Guard Say Good-Bye

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THERE haven’t been too many occasions at Anfield this season which have given Reds’ fans cause for genuine excitement as to what the future may hold for our great football club, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But Tuesday night’s mauling of F.A. Cup winners and bitter rivals, Chelsea, was certainly one of them.

Yes, after a season of disappointing league results particularly at Anfield, where often good performances haven’t yielded the victories that they’ve deserved and cruel fortune has gone against us so many times, the game against Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues saw the pattern of Liverpool’s campaign finally flipped on its head. Not only did the Reds find the back of the net 4 times, more than in any game all season, they also did so after Ivanovic had rattled the post with a sitter which would’ve put Chelsea in front and changed the course of the game. On top of that Torres hit the bar with a wonderstrike in front of the Kop. It would seem, despite hitting a post and a crossbar ourselves, that Liverpool’s luck may be turning; well, except for Stewart Downing’s.

The 4-1 victory over the team that clung on by their fingertips to lift the F.A. Cup trophy at Wembley last Saturday was significant for a number of reasons, both the result and the manner in which it was achieved. Of course, the Reds managed to exact sweet revenge over the team that had pipped them to the big prize just 72 hours earlier, a feat that ended Chelsea’s hopes of a top four finish whilst, at the same time, giving Liverpool every chance of salvaging some pride from a trying Premier League season, by closing the gap on their neighbours, Everton, to just one point with one game remaining.

The result and what it did for Liverpool in terms of the table, although important, are not the most vital things to emerge from the evening at Anfield, there are several more key points to take from the fixture.

Firstly, looking at the style and the tempo which the home side played with; the intensity and determination to get to the ball first, win the individual battles and, very importantly, press forward quickly, in numbers, was unrecognisable compared to the first 60 minutes at Wembley. What’s more, the belief that seemed present in every player on the pitch, which Reds’ fans have so often seen wane all to quickly if things haven’t gone for them in the early stages of games, was apparent for the entire 90 minutes. Perhaps a sign that the pressure has been released a little and, now maybe, a little more freedom and expression can be allowed to manifest itself within the ranks of those in a Red shirt going into next season.

I think that this may be particularly true of the newer and younger members of the squad, who will be over the moon to get their first season playing in the pressure-cooker atmosphere that is Anfield, for a club with such an auspicious history as Liverpool, under their belts. Next season will bring its own challenges of course, nobody’s saying it’s going to be easy, however, the squad and particularly the afore-mentioned new-boys, can face up to them as true Liverpool players, confident in their own positions at the club and with the full knowledge of what’s expected of them, hopefully, using the weight of expectation as a carrot, rather than the stick that it has been this term.

This brings me on to my next point, which involves the personnel employed in Tuesday night’s performance and how they provided 45,000 fans inside Anfield, together with millions more at home, with real belief in the future. There were four outstanding performances, not taking anything away from the rest of the lads, all from players who have spent less than two full seasons at the club and, all bar one, aged 23 or under.
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Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson were marvellous in central midfield. Not only were they outnumbered 3-2 in that area, but they were also up against two experienced full internationals, in Ramires and Essien, with Romeu making up the third. Shelvey’s link-up play was accomplished, looking like a seasoned pro, he saw plenty of the ball and made things happen more often than not. A little impetuous on occasion when trying to win the ball back, he showed tenacity and determination and capped off a polished display with an unerringly accurate finish from 35 yards, capitalising on a Turnbull mistake.

Henderson, who’s come in for a lot of stick this season, most of it unfairly I have to add, has been steadily improving as the campaign has progressed. Unfortunate in the F.A. Cup final, perhaps guilty of trying a little too hard, the shackles seemed to have been released if Tuesday’s performance is anything to go by. Having played on the right for large parts of the season, something which has undoubtedly benefitted the young midfielder’s all round game, the Wearsider revelled in a deeper lying defensive midfield role, as he has for the U-21s, breaking up the play, distributing wisely and joining up in attack where appropriate. Like Shelvey, he gave more a than accomplished performance, scoring a vital second goal with a classy 20 yard finish, after John Terry’s slip, and giving the Chelsea midfield little respite.

The other two stand-out performers on the night were Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. Liverpool’s front two were fantastic and, although, neither got his name on the score-sheet, both contributed massively to the performance and the result.

Luis Suarez we know about. Since his arrival at the club last January the Uruguayan has been a breath of fresh air and is regarded by many as the most exciting player in the Premier League. He is almost back to his best after a lengthy lay-off earlier in the season and he showed his class again against Chelsea. Suarez was a constant thorn in the side of the Chelsea defence, his skill flummoxed Ivanovic and, in particular, Terry, nutmegging the latter twice in the opening 20 minutes, including on his jinking run which created the opening goal. His general play was superb again, he could and perhaps should have gotten his name on the score-sheet at least once, but once he adds a little bit more composure with his final finish he will unquestionably be one of the World’s very best.

Andy Carroll, well, what can I say? The 6ft 4in Geordie has come in for an unbelievable amount of criticism, mostly from the media but certainly from some fans too, since his move from Newcastle last January. The £35 million price tag has obviously contributed to the spotlight that has been on him and at times it has seemed like a lead weight around his neck, however, in the last two months, we have seen him coming back towards his very best. There can be no doubt that his introduction at Wembley in the F.A. Cup final swung the game emphatically in Liverpool’s direction and, had he started, there are many who feel that the famous trophy would be nestling next to the Carling Cup in the Anfield trophy cabinet right now.

His performance on Tuesday was almost breathtaking; described as “unplayable” by both Kenny Dalglish and Wayne Rooney, the big man not only won absolutely everything in the air, but he also put the fear of God into the Chelsea centre-back pairing. Nutmegging John Terry on the halfway line and drawing a yellow card from the former England Captain, Carroll’s presence in the area was enough to persuade Ivanovic to assault him with a clear elbow, something for which the defender should have received his marching orders.

In central midfield his quick feet and turn of pace to get away from Essien resulted in the Ghanaian launching an awful two footed lunging tackle on him from behind. Essien is no stranger to horror tackles (ask Didi Hamann) and the Chelsea man should, most certainly, have seen red for this latest chapter in his book of leg-breakers. Carroll topped off a masterful display by setting up Daniel Agger to score Liverpool’s third and winning the penalty, from which Stewart Downing should have scored the Reds’ fourth, just before half-time.

So, vintage performances from some of our youngest and most maligned players can fill us with hope and, for me, Tuesday night really did signal a changing of the guard at Anfield. The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one, finally starting to take shape. To add to the performances already mentioned, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger have moved in to firmly assume the mantle of the first-choice centre-back partnership; a job which they will carry out very effectively for years to come and a partnership which can only grow stronger over time. The introduction of Raheem Sterling for the last ten minutes is also a sign of things to come; as Liverpool have invested heavily in their youth programme over the last eight years, the exciting winger is just the tip of the iceberg, with players like Suso and Eccleston poised to make the step-up in the near future.

For a new crop players to thrive, so some older ones must move on. There was respect tinged with no small amount of sorrow in the final ten minutes as Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez, two wonderful servants of the club, said their final good-byes to the Anfield faithful. Both elder statesmen would appear to be moving on to pastures new in the summer, and so it must go, as the last, elder cross-overs from Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side call time on their Anfield careers.

Jamie Carragher played the full ninety minutes and is now just a handful shy of making his 700th appearance in a Red shirt, however, while Carra will be kept at the club for his expertise, he may find that his playing opportunities are severely restricted after this season. The same may be said, although less so, of Steven Gerrard. Captain Fantastic, and still one of the top central midfielder’s in the league when fit, in the last year the talisman has battled serious and niggling injuries and, with little game-time under his belt this season, needs a summer of recuperation to get back to something like his best. A luxury he may not be afforded what with Euro 2012 on the horizon.

It’s been a long hard season of mixed emotions; hope, belief, joy, glory, frustration, anger, disbelief, perhaps sometimes even despair, but we’re almost through it now and it hasn’t killed us. By the old adage then, it must have made us stronger! So we’ll go forward into next season with renewed hope, hunger and belief that with the return of Lucas, a couple of shrewd signings and some hard work, this next generation of Liverpool heroes can take us right back up where we belong and keep us there for years to come.

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1 comment

  • eric says:

    False dawn. we have underperformed all season. Dont take this match as the yardstick as Chelsea did not show up. They made us look good & were playing in ‘second gear’. Sad and disappointed with the team. We need better players than the mediocre ones KD has purchased and put out all season. I think Comoli was the scapegoat for a poor team.

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