Tag Archives: Liverpool

The crazy Christmas schedule needs to end

southampton-v-tottenham-hotspur-premier-league

Southampton have a crazy Christmas schedule that has shown it’s toughness in the last two games. Source: The Mirror

Southampton play Everton today at 3pm.

They lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in the 3pm kick-offs on New Year’s Eve. They played three nights before that in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45pm.

Then the Saints go marching into Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the FA Cup before a midweek League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the 11th. Burnely are then their foes at Turf Moor on the 14th of the first month of 2017.

6 games in seventeen days. A game every 2.8 days. Doesn’t that sound a little absurd to you?

Many will cry out that Christmas football is sacred and cannot be touched. Some will say that English football is a tough man’s game and doesn’t need the siesta seen by those less worthy on the continent.

When you a see a schedule like that for a team, it can’t be excused. In fact, every single team in the Premier League has at least an extra day’s rest than Southampton over the three games this week, a distinct disadvantage both for the now and for the future.

richard-scudamore

Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore doesn’t care as long as that truck of money doesn’t stop pulling up at his house. Source: chelseafootballnews.com

That goes for any team in the top flight who could have faced this kind of issue. To those that want to win the Premier League to those fighting to stay in it, they want to play at their full potential each game and that simply isn’t possible with so many games over a short period of time.

This also has a detrimental effect to the product you are watching. Is it any wonder that there will be a few lethargic, uninspiring displays and some terrible mental errors that could cost any team valuable points when they simply could have played them further apart?

What is even more absurd is how spread the games are this year through the period. There isn’t one day where every team is playing, all bowing to the whims of the ever-powerful TV deals that force them to move to their will to cater for their viewing public.

Injuries occur more often when playing in such a short space of time, which must put a real panic in teams that are already short-handed. Fatigue could also set in towards March, when regular internationals have been playing week-in, week-out since August or even since the summer for some, which is only amplified for those from South America who have had long flights on top of that.

Then there’s also the blame that this affects English players in major tournaments. With most of the national squad playing in the Premier League, the tiredness and lack of mental strength shown in the summer at least on the surface looks like it could be down to a long, arduous season, especially with most playing for a Tottenham Hotspur side that had to fight tooth and nail until the very end.

convo-england-master768

Can a break really help the international side as well? Or is that just more hope than anything? Source: nytimes.com

So, what is the real answer to fixing the clogging of games at this time of year? Lifting the 3pm kick-off ban so that we can have more teams play on one day without a fuss? Or take a few weeks off either after the traditional Boxing Day fixture or after New Year’s Day to refresh the batteries?

I’d actually like for some real hard evidence to be conducted to prove how much it can affect a player and how important a short-term midseason break can be. It’s easy to point at international tournaments and the fact there’s been no English side in the Champions League final for four years, but before then there was at least one representative on eight out of nine occasions.

It’s true that the players and coaches would absolutely welcome a break, which for many on the continent actually means a week off then more preparation for the restart rather than three weeks dossing. It will give them a chance to restart themselves, for coaches to work their ideas into their teams and get ready for the second half of the season.

Whether it will happen any time in the future is the real question. With the TV companies and the Premier League big-wigs probably seeing it as a great opportunity to take advantage of no overseas competition, it would be difficult to see it coming to fruition any time soon.

But seriously, Southampton’s schedule over the next month is a joke. That can and should be changed next year, it’s isn’t fair in the slightest.

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The slow growth of the Europa League

It's great to see the competition finally get a little more recognition.  Source: YouTube

It’s great to see the competition finally get a little more recognition. Source: YouTube

Lambasted for years as being a punishment for teams who dropped out of the Champions League and a burden for those who had to play on a Thursday night but in the last year or so, the Europa League has really grown into an interesting and stronger competition.

The real change has been the reward for winning, with the victors gaining an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League. It’s an added incentive not just to those who qualify for the Europa League but to those who fall out of the main competition too, knowing that winning isn’t just a trophy but a place back at the big table for next season.

The quality of teams entering the competition has also gone up as teams across Europe become a little more competitive. The likes of Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Lazio, Fiorentina, Valencia, Villarreal, Marseille, Monaco, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux, Schalke, Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, Besiktas and Fenerbahce were all in the first round and some even failed to qualify for the knockout stages.

Then you also look at the sides that failed to make the next round last night. Teams such as Galatasaray, FC Porto and Napoli, who all fell from the Champions League, lost out on a place in the next round along with a number of strong sides.

It’s then highlighted by the good games we shall see in the Last 16. Liverpool against Manchester United, Spurs versus Dortmund, Villarreal facing Bayer Leverkusen, Athletic Bilbao opposite Valencia all showcase the strength that the Europa League has started to boast.

Admittedly, it still doesn’t compete with the might of the Champions League’s teams but at the same time, there are plenty of prestigious clubs that all would like to lift the trophy at the end. Some, like Liverpool or United, could see this as their best opportunity of reaching next season’s Champions League and adding some silverware to that is enough incentive for teams to play stronger teams.

As the competition keeps going, it will hopefully become something a little more than it has been. Less of playing youth products, more a place to use the strength of a good squad or simply to use as momentum like teams had used European competitions in the past.

If anything, it’s great to watch a good competition full of teams that always come up with a little surprise. Seeing a player like Pione Sisto for FC Midtjylland step up against good competition is excellent to see and for any obsessive football fan, the fact they get to see more talent from different corners of Europe is only a good thing.

It will never fully step out of the shadow of the Champions League but at the same time, it doesn’t have to. What is good is that it’s starting to gain more respect, more viewership and probably the most important thing, more teams want to win it.

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What do Manchester City’s rivals do to react to Pep Guardiola’s arrival?

Now that Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City has been announced, what do his opponents have to do to match his clout? How do they deny the Spaniard from gaining glory in his first season? Here’s a look at their main competition (yes, for the time being, I’m excluding Leicester City) and what they need to improve.

Manchester United

Will it be Van Gaal? Or Giggs? Or even Mourinho?   Source: The Guardian

Will it be Van Gaal? Or Giggs? Or even Mourinho? Source: The Guardian

Old Trafford will have eyes on them all summer as they could go in a number of directions but the best advice is to go one way as soon as possible and back them to the hills.

If Louis van Gaal remains, which is the most unlikely outcome it seems, allow him to complete the process and build a very strong team for next year. If it’s Jose Mourinho, give him the funds to make the moves needed and allow him to have some control as to not restrict him completely and hinder any positives he could make.

Should Ryan Giggs be promoted, which should be their manner of thinking, give him the keys. Allow him to express his tactical ideals, allow his passion for the club to come out in every game and watch the squad quickly rally around him. From then, improve the youth set-up again to match City’s and while it’s a risk, if Giggs performs well, it could set up a great city rivalry for years to come.

Chelsea

Hiddink will likely not stay, his successor is a vital decision.  Source: Sky Sports

Hiddink will likely not stay, his successor is a vital decision. Source: Sky Sports

It is vital for Chelsea to find the right man to succeed Jose Mourinho, back him to make the right moves and get them back on track.

Whether that be Guus Hiddink, someone like Antonio Conte or a Diego Simeone, they need to make sure he has enough clout to get this team back to where it should be. Some will need to be moved on, there will be a need for another defender as well as potentially a centre midfielder and even an extra attacker.

Get him in place early so he can plan out, which is a worry if Conte is the choice as he has Euro 2016 to deal with. Bring through some of their interesting youth talent, get the squad playing football again and get back to challenging for Champions League football at a very minimum. They have the financial ability to compete with City, they just need to bring through their own players to get a little ahead.

Arsenal

Wenger will need to spend a little and make up a lot.  Source: UEFA

Wenger will need to spend a little and make up a lot. Source: UEFA

This one is maybe the toughest to judge but with a few key players, they should be able to challenge Guardiola’s City.

Wenger can’t sit down on this one and not buy an outfield player again. They desperately need a quality defensive midfielder with the ability to begin attacks, someone like William Carvalho would be ideal but there are a few more out there.

Buy a more reliable partner next to Laurent Koscielny as well as an extra young forward behind Olivier Giroud and they should contend again. He then simply needs to keep them running all season long, fix some injury issues and make sure they can stay the course. They have more in place than anyone, therefore they should be the one’s able to compete on the pitch the quickest.

Liverpool

Klopp needs to geggenpress the club into backing him and him alone.  Source: The Telegraph

Klopp needs to geggenpress the club into backing him and him alone. Source: The Telegraph

The Anfield club need to back Jurgen Klopp all the way in the summer to make the squad fully competitive next season.

It has been pretty clear since the German’s arrival that the squad does not have enough quality or depth to really challenge on a number of fronts. A cup victory will give them European football but should they miss out at all, it could give them another false image of a squad just about good enough to cope.

Back his ideas, allow him and only him to clear the squad while bringing in what he needs to make Liverpool at least challenge for the top four again. From there, if he has a nice solid base, he could certainly challenge for the Premier League and be a real threat to Guardiola’s Manchester City, we could be in for some exciting encounters between the two again. Don’t expect too much too soon, Klopp needs the time to turn the ship around.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs, hold on to this man. Tightly.  Source: ibtimes.com

Spurs, hold on to this man. Tightly. Source: ibtimes.com

The memo for Tottenham should be hold on to everything you have as the vultures will begin to circle in the summer.

There is no doubt that they have a quality manager, who looks likely to stay unless a Spanish giant has a vacancy, a good first-team squad that actually has a surprising amount of depth. They have some very good young, English players mixed with some solid foreign exports with Premier League experience, which is invaluable.

Unfortunately for them, that means that other clubs will be looking, especially with the home grown quota in mind. The likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier are not only quality players but big commodities that those struggling to meet them on their own will pay a tidy price for them. Keep them if they can, or at least get plenty for them, but regardless of that, keep searching and growing until they don’t struggle to hold onto that calibre of player, because they can compete.

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A look at Liverpool’s transfer committee

The transfer committee, eventually, helped sink Rodgers but he agreed to it.  Source: Sky Sports

The transfer committee, eventually, helped sink Rodgers but he agreed to it. Source: Sky Sports

While I’ve wrote in the past about the benefits of a director of football, it’s too tempting not to have a look into a different style that one team in England has gone with for quite a while, Liverpool’s “transfer committee”.

To summarise what we have been told, a group of higher-ups at the Anfield club write up a shortlist of who they will look to obtain. According to their former manager Brendan Rodgers, this is paraphrasing, if they did not get their top target, they would get one of their 20 or so names on that list.

They would tend to prioritise young players, aiming at 24 or younger, with the view that they could add value to them and if needed, sell them for a profit. Obviously there would be exceptions and the option to veto but every single transfer came through a similar kind of process.

Balotelli may always be the poster boy for it not working.  Source: 101greatgoals.com

Balotelli may always be the poster boy for it not working. Source: 101greatgoals.com

Before getting into the negatives, there are certainly some positives. Both Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho were signed after the scheme was implemented in 2012 and the likes of Emre Can, along with Roberto Firmino, are showing enough promise that the system may be worth it.

However, there have been some poor mistakes. Even Rodgers admitted that the Mario Balotelli experiment was a huge risk as he didn’t fit their system but the board saw it as someone they could potentially make a huge profit on.

There’s a number of signings they have made that just never worked out. Iago Aspas looked, and still does back at Celta Vigo, that he would fit perfectly but since he was probably just another name on a shortlist, he never saw the time on the field to adjust and therefore was doomed to fail.

Of course, we should remind ourselves that these two were also bought under the regime.  Source: vavel.com

Of course, we should remind ourselves that these two were also bought under the regime. Source: vavel.com

You can argue that Rodgers still got what he wanted in most cases, as highlighted by the signings of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, but neither lit the world alight. None of them have quite adjusted to the level required at a club of that size and it makes it seem like it’s too much of a scattered approach to signing players.

The worry begins when you hear that Rodgers felt that he had Alexis Sanchez in the bag. That somehow did not happen, it would have been perfect for the club  and in the end, they brought in nowhere near the same quality he thought they had sealed early. That killed the momentum they had from the previous season and the team still hasn’t recovered yet under Jurgen Klopp.

In the end, I feel that this method feels like it’s too many cooks spoiling the broth. You can say that the manager would always get someone on the list, therefore justifying a transfer, but when you go into the shop for a chocolate bar and come out with mint imperials, it can be still be good but just not what you needed.

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A closer look at some Premier League additions

After the Premier League has started purging European countries for their talent, here’s a quick look at a few recent additions and what they are likely to bring.

 

Roberto Firmino

Firmino is an exciting prospect to add to the attacking talent at Liverpool.  Source: express.co.uk

Firmino is an exciting prospect to add to the attacking talent at Liverpool. Source: express.co.uk

The 23-year-old Brazillian has always had talent but in the last two seasons he has really blossomed. Fitting perfectly in Hoffenheim’s gung-ho style, Firmino managed seven goals and 10 assists this past season, following on from his 16 goal/12 assists the year before.

Able to play either out wide, behind the striker or even as a false nine, Firmino has an attack-first mind and consistently looks to run at defenders with the ball. He’s curbed his former selfishness, adding an eye for an assist along with his confidence in front of goal.

He’s really been impressing with the Brazil national team recently but he really shone in his final game for Hoffenheim against Hertha Berlin. A sublime assist to set up Anthony Modeste for the first goal, arrowing it over the defence before showing his poaching ability late on, grabbing the winner after the goalkeeper palmed it out to his feet.

It’s a superb signing for Liverpool, considering his age and his ability, especially when you add that he can cover so many positions in the final third. He’s exactly the kind of player they needed to replace Luis Suarez with last summer and should he repeat his exploits from the Bundesliga, he’ll push the Reds much closer to those Champions League places should he stay fit.

 

Christian Fuchs

Cambiasso proved to be a great addition, Fuchs could be another excellent, experienced head to add to the dressing room.  Source: UEFA.com

Cambiasso proved to be a great addition, Fuchs could be another excellent, experienced head to add to the dressing room. Source: UEFA.com

An Austrian international, 29-year-old Christian Fuchs should finally bring some solid stability to Leicester City’s ever-changing left-back conundrum. Having made almost 100 appearances with Schalke 04, he’ll bring another dose of experience to the Foxes’ squad along with a touch of extra class.

Fuchs is good but not spectacular at getting both forward and back, he has a lovely left-foot that can swing in a cross or even curl in a free-kick. He had another decent season in a poor Schalke side, scoring three goals whilst having five assists and even played a few games on the wing when needed.

He showcased his ability on the big occasions too, scoring a volley and creating another in Schalke’s 4-3 win against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in the Champions League. That kind of experience his difficult for any club to find and they’ll know that in the important matches, Fuchs will certainly turn up.

Richie De Laet never quite impressed enough and Jeffrey Schlupp’s future hopefully lying further forward, Fuchs is a really good addition on a free transfer. He should form a stronger defensive line that’ll help Leicester not need such an amazing escape this upcoming season.

 

Juanmi

Juanmi could be very good but will need time to settle in.  Source: Marca

Juanmi could be very good but will need time to settle in. Source: Marca

Bought for around £5 million by Southampton, Juanmi has had a spectacular rise over the past 12 months. The Malaga starlet scored eight goals in 34 appearances last season, which might sound poultry for a club looking at European football in the Saints, but the 22-year-old has shown on a number of occasions that he’s got ability,

To score at both the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou in one season is some feat and the youngster also received a call-up to the Spanish national team. He’s quick, good with the ball at his feet and is surprisingly good in the air despite his 5″7 frame.

There are plenty of worries, he tends to score goals in gluts and would rather play next to or behind another striker than lead the line. He’s not strong enough to out-muscle defenders but will cause them problems in behind, which means he could be used out wide more often than up top, despite Ronald Koeman’s men needing an out-and-out forward to compete with Graziano Pelle.

He will need a bit of time to adapt, so don’t expect fireworks early on. Juanmi will most likely be used sparingly this season to adapt unless there’s an injury crisis but if you look at Malaga fan’s reaction to the loss, Southampton fans should have a lot to look forward to in the future.

 

Joselu

Joselu is a boom-or-bust pick-up but after Hughes' last two transfers of that nature in Bojan and Diouf, he could be on to a winner.  Source: Bild

Joselu is a boom-or-bust pick-up but after Hughes’ last two transfers of that nature in Bojan and Diouf, he could be on to a winner. Source: Bild

The former Real Madrid man has signed for Stoke City for a deal believed to be around £5.75 million, a number balked at by many. Joselu has had a few solid seasons in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover 96 but he’s never really set the world alight.

The 25-year-old stands at 6″3 and is incredibly strong in the air, an asset that Stoke teams in the past have valued highly. However, he’s also very good with the ball to feet, much like Hughes’ style, and it’s that added quality that’s convinced the Potters to shell out the money.

With 14 goals whilst on loan at Frankfurt in 33 games and 10 in 32 at Hannover last season, he’s shown some quality in front of goal but at times can be wasteful with good opportunities. His three assists is a positive too, especially if Bojan or Diouf is working off him, and he could be a solid addition to the Stoke squad.

In the end, this is a solid signing that really could go either way. Should he show the quality that made Real Madrid sign him in the past, he’ll be a steal but at the same time it’s just as likely that he’ll not quite add the quality they need.

 

Shinji Okazaki

Okazaki could be a real hit and will be desperate to impress as soon as possible.  Source: Bleacher Report

Okazaki could be a real hit and will be desperate to impress as soon as possible. Source: Bleacher Report

Leicester City really struggled for a prolific forward last season and by signing 29-year-old Japanese international Shinji Okazaki, they should call off the search. The former Mainz man is the most prolific active Japanese footballer with 43 goals for his national side but until recently, he’s not been prolific at club level.

Okazaki joined Stuttgart back in 2011 and managed just 10 goals in 63 appearances, of which most came from the bench, but he earned a move to Mainz in 2013 that really revitilised his career. His first season was excellent, 15 goals in 33 Bundesliga games really showed how good he can be on his day.

He didn’t disappoint too much last season, 12 goals in 32 games was a solid return and Okazaki will be a player that Leicester City fans will love. He’s an exceptionally hard worker, always looking to be that poacher in the six yard box and moving constantly, much to the annoyance of defenders.

It’s exactly the kind of player they needed, someone who wouldn’t be static when going forward and someone who can find and exploit space. He’s a consistent 10-15 goals now he’s reached his peak and should he be employed the same way by the Foxes, he’ll be a very welcome addition.

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Footballers are humans, too

Sterling's dismal performance against the Republic of  Ireland summed up his last three months.  Source: Sky Sports

Sterling’s dismal performance against the Republic of Ireland summed up his last three months. Source: Sky Sports

It’s a strange thing to say but what sometimes seems to be lost in the modern day reporting an even discussion in football is that the names we talk about are human beings. We talk about transfers, contract situations and even a player’s form almost as if there can’t be external issues off the field of play that could be pulling them away.

This has come up recently with Raheem Sterling, who has even been vocal in his disappointment that his contract talks with Liverpool have come out. Unsurprisngly, his form declined at the end of the season and whilst some would point to fatigue, which could also be a factor, it’s clear from numerous performances that his trademark swagger has left him.It was what made him so distinctive and exciting, he showed no fear and looking at WhoScored’s ratings you can see the dip he’s gone through.

Up until his two-assist performance in the 2-1 win against Manchester City at the start of March, he’d put in a string of excellent performances and whilst his form was erratic at times, he’d regularly hit over 7.5 on their scale. After that point, he made just one more goal and assist, scoring over 7.5 twice in the final 14 games whilst finishing below 7 in all of his last seven games.

Di Maria's concern for his family's well-being hindered his form.  Source: Sky Sports

Di Maria’s concern for his family’s well-being hindered his form. Source: Sky Sports

It’s clear from that whilst the actual situation with his contract isn’t affecting his play, the ire from the wider public that he’s received and the increased attention has. It’s a process he’ll certainly learn from and will likely grow a thicker skin, it’s interesting to see how the psyche can change a player’s form on the field.

It’s not just Sterling that’s been affected, Angel Di Maria has also had a pretty poor season for his lofty expectations and it’s almost obvious that the break-in at his home had a detrimental on his on-field exploits.

He would give the ball away, try to do a little too much and his own frustration at his inability to rediscover his form led to the petulance seen during the FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal where he was sent off. Sometimes it’s just a break that a player needs to find his feet again and now the season is over, hopefully both can return to their former glories.

De Gea's happiness is forthright, no amount of Manchester United's money will change that.  Source: Express

De Gea’s happiness is forthright, no amount of Manchester United’s money will change that. Source: Express

However, we should also take a player’s off-the-field happiness into consideration during transfers too. Some don’t join clubs because they don’t fancy the area, because they don’t want to learn a new language or they want to leave because it’ll make their lives a little easier.

A perfect example is David De Gea, who looks almost certain to join Real Madrid not simply because it’s a huge club but because it’s a lot easier on his family. His girlfriend much prefers Spain, his family hasn’t got to travel as far (especially with his father’s fear of flying)  and that’s a really big factor in a player’s decision, sometimes even more so than money.

Sometimes we lose a little bit of thinking, analysing numbers on a screen and thinking of players much like they are within the realms of FIFA 15 of Football Manager but after all, they aren’t far removed from ourselves. It’s almost impossible to see the roadblocks in someone’s mind and we never will but it’s something that teams, players and even the media will get better with the more we learn.

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Raheem Sterling and the balance of power

Sterling will decide his future in this player-power era.  Source: Sky Sports

Sterling will decide his future in this player-power era. Source: Sky Sports

It was revealed last night that Raheem Sterling plans to leave Liverpool in the near future, rejecting their contract offer believed to be around £100k a week to move to a club with better title prospects. Reports from Sky Sports say he has felt “bullied” by the club in signing a new deal and that he’s not been protected by the club from headlines in the media.

Many Liverpool legends have come out against this, from Jamie Carragher to John Barnes to Phil Thompson, with all of them defending the strength of Liverpool Football Club and the absurdity of a 20-year-old holding the club to ransom. However, it also shows the significant shift in modern football that player power is absolutely everything.

It does seem wrong that he’s demanding such a contract, the pay is good for a 20-year-old who’s proven he’s got ability but has yet to show that he’s absolutely world class. The ambition he’s showing, however, shouldn’t be in question and the pressure he’s putting on Liverpool to improve as a whole should not be ignored.

It actually reminds me of a situation with Wayne Rooney in the past, where he’s demanded better terms and better players surrounding to maintain title challenges and the club buckled in the end. They convinced him to stay, for the better of the team and paid the amount he felt he was owed.

What kind of message does this send out to the likes of Jordon Ibe?  Source: The Guardian

What kind of message does this send out to the likes of Jordon Ibe? Source: The Guardian

The fact that Sterling isn’t looking likely to sign a deal sends a message to other youngsters in the team that they better play ball with Liverpool or they will be wanting to leave too. In this day and age, that’s a very dangerous game to play where you begin to become the selling team rather than the destination for top talent and that can see you struggle quickly.

It’s pivotal for a club like Liverpool, with a big fanbase and big expectations, that they keep their best players when they can and do it as early as possible. It was almost a formality that Luis Suarez was going and in all honesty, they didn’t have a hope in keeping him in this player power-centric era but when someone like Sterling, who looks like your future, can’t be retained then big questions must be asked.

In my personal opinion, contreversial as it is, they should give Sterling what they want. Clubs do have to operate on a budget but at the same time, they aren’t restricted by rules in any way so why not pay him whatever he wants? He could be a focal point of your club for years to come, a gem that other teams will be jealous of and that your own team can build around. That’s always lost when thinking about the attitude and the money.

It’s a difficult thing to hear but in the balance of power, players hold all the cards. They can hold clubs to ransom because having top quality talent is the only way to win and whilst clubs try to be stubborn, it tends to lead to issues like this, where there seems to be no way back. It might not be the end of Liverpool’s troubles should this kind of negotiation tactic continue and whilst they should have kept him, their only option is to sell and re-invest. And then hope that works out a lot better than it did last summer.

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