Liverpool's opposition view
With another Wembley trip on the horizon, Lloyd Reddin jumped over to Vital Liverpool to ask their editor, Gavin Day some questions before the Budweiser F.A. Cup Quarter final at Anfield on Sunday. (18th March 2012)
What were your expectations for this season? And have they now changed?
Given the money we spent and our decent form towards the end of last season I fully expected a top four finish this year. Therefore the season has been rather disappointing as a whole although of course the Carling Cup success was great. We`ve certainly made progress however and are playing a much more attractive brand of football under Kenny than was the case with Roy Hodgson and Rafa Benitez. Poor finishing, bad luck and the loss of Lucas have ultimately conspired against us so far but we still have the FA Cup and a large number of league points to play for.
Who would you say is your danger man?
Unsurprisingly Steven Gerrard! Just when you think you`ve seen and read it all about our talismanic captain he adds another impressive chapter to the story. The performance against Everton, especially given his on-going injury problems this season, was absolutely immense. A lot has been made of the trials and tribulations of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez but when Gerrard is in the team they look much more effective and dangerous. He raises the performance of those around him as well as the fans. Gerrard is truly inspirational to everyone connected with the club.
What would you say are your strengths as a team?
Defensively we are very secure and have a lot of strength in depth. Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson have both impressed this season but the moment they got injured recently, Jamie Carragher and Martin Kelly seamlessly stepped into the team. Add to that the calming influence of Pepe Reina, the increasingly important and consistent Martin Skrtel and one of the signings of the season in Jose Enrique and we have a defensive unit second to none.
What would you say are your weaknesses as a team?
Putting the ball in the back of the net! The fact that we have hit the woodwork more times than any other team in the league and also have the worse conversion rate of chances to goals, says everything about why we find ourselves languishing in 7th place. On paper we have top players in Suarez, Carroll, Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt but for whatever reason it just hasn`t clicked up top this season. Expect a new striker in the summer.
Sounds a lot like us last season, especially with the woodwork but this week, a record of Mr Dalglish`s last 17 games were shown in the media & the results showed that Roy Hodgson`s record was better, surely it`s time for your fans to be calling for his head?
Certainly the recent run of results has been disappointing for all concerned. Fortunately for Kenny, the fans idolize him and therefore he will automatically be given more time and leeway than other managers. As mentioned earlier we have made progress under him, especially off the field, so everyone hopes for a strong end to the season. Let`s not forget we have won our first silverware in six years this season.
With the stats in mind from the previous question, how do you see King Kenny`s dabbles into the transfer market?
Very mixed. Enrique has been a fantastic signing especially given the relatively low cost involved (£5m). Left-back is a position we have struggled in over the last few years with the likes of Andrea Dossena, Paul Konchesky and Emiliano Insúa coming and going. Elsewhere Bellamy has been great given his advancing years. Unfortunately the more expensive signings have been the ones to struggle. Stewart Downing has been very inconsistent and Jordan Henderson appears to lack the technique and composure to fit into our quick passing style of play. Charlie Adam has done ok but it seems increasingly unlikely that he and Gerrard can play alongside each other without a defensive midfielder in the line-up. The jury is still out of Sebastian Coates but he looks a promising defender for the future.
F.A. cup fever has once again hit the city of Stoke-on-Trent with us selling out our allocation for your tie (with a little help from our club) What`s the atmosphere around Merseyside & what kind of crowd are you expecting?
The atmosphere is very positive now because of the midweek derby success. Following the 1-0 defeat to Sunderland rumblings of discontent were starting to be heard but little can beat a win over your big local rivals. As always with cup games, the atmosphere should be a good one especially as the opposition usually gets a larger allocation than for league fixtures. With a semi-final at Wembley at stake the crowd should be a loud and passionate one.
Which player (s) do you fear from the Stoke City side?
Peter Crouch. The much maligned beanpole became a cult hero for Reds fans during his successful period at Liverpool and everyone at the club has a lot of respect for him. His record for England is amazing - something like 22 goals in 42 games and even though he`s not been prolific so far for Stoke he is always awkward and dangerous to play against.
Is there any Stoke players you would like to add to your squad?
Perhaps Salif Diao could come back for a second spell… Seriously though and without wishing to sound rude, probably not. Stoke do have a number of decent players and I still personally feel Jermaine Pennant is an immense talent who should have made much more of his career. We`ve had problems over the years with natural width and wingers who could accurately cross the ball, which are exactly the qualities he possesses. Unfortunately he was just too inconsistent whilst on Merseyside, although he did play in a Champions League final during his time at the club.
Well I think you should keep your hands off our midfield "rock" Salif Diao! Anyways, how do you think Stoke will do this season?
I think the Europa League has been a bit of a distraction for Stoke and although an amazing adventure their league form has possibly suffered as a result - Tony Pulis` men are certainly a better side than 13th place in the league suggests. The squad at the Britannia is a solid one and I see Stoke as comfortably being a top-half side most seasons. Given they are only a point behind 7th they could easily still achieve this during the current campaign but the goal difference (-12) is very disappointing for a normally very well organised and tough to beat team.
With this being just one game from a possible return to Wembley for you what is your likely line-up for the match?
Although we played in midweek and have another midweek fixture a few days after this game I expect Kenny to pick a strong side similar to the one which faced Everton. Hopefully Gerrard will be fit after struggling at times with injury against Everton, but Charlie Adam is not a bad replacement if not. Other players who could come into the reckoning are Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez but my probable team would be: Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique, Kuyt, Gerrard, Spearing, Downing, Carroll, Suarez.
Finally, what`s your score prediction for the match?
I`ve gone for a 2-1 win for Liverpool but as the previous three encounters this season have shown, I doubt there will be much between the sides.
Thanks for your time Gavin, some interesting points and views you have thrown out there. Good luck on Sunday but I hope it`s me and not you organising a return trip to Wembley on Monday.
For more of Gavin Day`s preview to the match, head over to Vital Liverpool.