Back in Premiership action tonight having done our bit for the nation, and the football “feel good factor” by perpetuating the FA Cup’s reputation as The Cup of Romance!
Through drawing Barnsley in the next round we’ve avoided the big three. A visit to, or from, The Mancs, Arsenal or Chelsea is not a tie we would have wanted given our current form. With only two other Premiership clubs left in the competition a good run is possible assuming the balls in the velvet bag, or whatever it is these days, are kind to us? Incidentally I have a “claim to fame” relating to this. At work I helped recruit the daughter of the man who was a chippy at the BBC. Turns out he built the contraption that held, and mixed up the balls, for the FA Cup draws in the mid 1990s!
Meanwhile despite advice from all sorts of quarters to keep quiet and, in the words of The Who’s My Generation, “f-fade away”, Tom Hicks saw fit to give an interview on Five Live. He really is the Graham Poll of Premiership club owners!
Is it significant that Hicks refused to talk about the debt aspect of the financial restructuring deal preferring to concentrate on the stadium which he claimed would be the “best in the world”. How the level of debt, and the resulting annual interest payments which are reported to be £30m, squares with his hesitant comment that “absolutely” we are able to sign Mascherano and other players remains to be seen. In fact a lot remains to be seen. The role of George Gillett, who has been quiet of late, the role DIC (are the two linked?) who despite last week’s announcement still lurk in the background like some understudy desperately eyeing up the main part, and the role of Hicks himself even though he expects to remain as owner for the next five years! Presumably enough time to get the stadium built, establish income streams and then sell at a huge profit!
If Hicks thought his interview would go some way to quell discussion and unrest and quote, “keep me out of the papers and the blogs” he is wrong. Every move will be watched and scrutinised. Meanwhile it’s ironic that Derby County’s new American owners have said that they won’t make the same mistakes as ours. Could they? Even if they tried?
On to tonight’s game. There is a burning need not to be as accommodating to West Ham’s attack as we were with Havent’s Saturday. It could be argued that because of our poor 2008 form the Premiership priorities have now changed. Talk about the title is just that. Win our game in hand, which is also against West Ham, and we are still eleven points behind the leaders. Quite frankly it will be a miracle if Arsenal, The Mancs and Chelsea all play so badly as to allow us to gain on one of them let alone all three!
So the priority is to secure the fourth Champions League spot and with Everton, Villa, Man City, Blackburn and Portsmouth all with a chance, it just shows how much we have slipped back into the pack lately. West Ham present us with difficult opposition but wouldn’t most teams given our form of late? Time to shake off the malaise and really concentrate where it matters, on the pitch.
Who will Rafa pick? Ryan Babel thinks it should be him.
“I would obviously relish more playing time. I am ambitious and want to play. I am sometimes a bit disappointed not to play but I appreciate Benitez’s ideas. He adopts a rotation policy, I knew that beforehand.”
I think on current and past form there is a case for starting Babel more regularly. I can understand Rafa wanting to nurture him and use him sparingly until he gets used to things but he is 21 years old and therefore on a par with many regular first team players in the Premiership. Ronaldo for example is the same age as is Gabriel Agbonlahor. Wayne Rooney is only a year older. Putting it bluntly who is more likely to score these days Crouch, Voronin , Kuyt or Babel? Babel, Kuyt and Crouch have seven goals each this season but how may minutes has Babel played? He also has one attribute that all the other three are sadly lacking, pace. Presumably questions will also be asked at the end of the season if we underachieve and Babel, at £13m, continues to remain on the bench?
One player who will not be lining up tonight is Momo Sissoko who completed his move to Juventus yesterday. At £8.5m this represents a fair profit for us but also underlines the risk of operating a rotation policy and a big squad. When he first arrived Momo was close to becoming a key player filling the unfashionably, but vital, combative midfielder role. However, the arrival of the superior Mascherano changed that and his chances, only six games so far this season, were limited. As Momo philosophically put it…
“..I like the fans, I like Anfield, I like everybody in Liverpool. I am just disappointed about my position in Liverpool. But this is football,”
For tonight I would expect Gerrard, Reina, Torres and Carragher to return whilst Yossi Benayoun visits to Upon Park for the time since his transfer last summer. What reception will he get? Fortunately we will be spared the ego of Craig Bellamy, who went in the opposite direction, as he is injured.
Prediction? Does it matter at the moment? Let’s just get the points?
Enjoy the game!