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5 Liverpool Players with a Make or Break Season Ahead

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In what was a largely disappointing campaign last season, there was no shortage of Liverpool players who failed to impress. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances to consider in many cases, but there is no doubt that some of the big-money signings under Brendan Rodgers are now under huge pressure to perform at the level expected of them. Whilst recent acquisitions such as Clyne and Firmino will also surely feel this weight of expectation too, their presence in new surroundings should grant them the time of at least another season after this one. The expected departure of Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and José Enrique from Merseyside is the cause for the absence of these players who would otherwise have been included. As such, I have picked out the five Liverpool players who I feel have their Anfield fate riding on a knife edge over the coming months.

Joe Allen

The Welsh string-puller was Brendan Rodgers’ first acquisition as Liverpool manager in the summer of 2012. Having worked with him at Swansea, the Northern Irishman was intent on retaining that relationship and made it evident that Allen was the man he wanted above any other, eventually securing his signature for £15 million. Quite a way to put pressure on the diminutive midfielder who; whilst receiving praise for his passing proficiency and overall game intelligence in Swansea’s first Premier League season, had a long way to go to be up to the standards required for a regular slot in Liverpool’s first team.

Amassing 72 appearances in the three years since, it is fair to say that Allen’s career at Anfield has not been a complete flop but there have certainly been some rough patches which looked at the time to signal his exit from Merseyside. Intermittent periods of regular first-team action have served to fill fans with hope that a permanent corner has been turned but whether through injury or loss of form, he soon found himself side-lined once more.

It must be said that Allen is not completely to blame for his lack of consistency at Anfield. Rodgers does seem intent on setting up some of his players out of position; sometimes inexplicably, and the 25 year old Welsh midfielder suffers from this more than others. His attributes lie firmly in the technical aspects of the game rather than physical prowess and so when deployed incorrectly, he can appear to let the match pass him by. Allen has the rather odd and also highly frustrating knack of either being quietly outstanding or acutely awful. Either way, the result is very rarely receiving any praise at Liverpool, whether deserved or not.

For him to prolong his career in the red shirt for longer than one more year, Rodgers must play his part and allow Allen to display the characteristics that justified his transfer in the first place. With equal measures of hard work and fortune, I can see the former Swansea midfielder adding the required variation to the otherwise energetic midfield axis of Henderson and Milner.

Dejan Lovren

Heralded as the young dominant centre half to be the long-term partner at the back with Mamadou Sakho for years to come, Dejan Lovren suffered a pretty awful opening year to his life at Liverpool. The Croatian caught the eye of many admirers when plying his trade at Olympique Lyonnais in Ligue 1 and when Southampton became the club to initially bring him to English shores it was seen as something of a coup. His performances for the South coast club only served to add further weight to this opinion. The fact that only a few eyebrows were raised at the magnitude of his £20 million transfer fee is now sharply juxtaposed with the current viewing of the 26 year old.

Lovren started off fairly well, with his relative comfort in possession of the ball proving a stark contrast to the nervy Sakho. So much so in fact, that some seemed to be happy initially to overlook a couple of positional errors in defence leading to goals being conceded. However, when his confidence began to plummet and Liverpool’s results followed a matching trend, even his prior quality on the ball could not shadow the now apparent defensive frailties.

Perhaps one of the more damning assessments of his first season at Anfield was the prolonged presence of Emre Can in the Liverpool team as a right-sided centre half of the three at the heart of the defence. As impressive as the young German powerhouse was for much of the latter half of the campaign, it remains a damning assessment on Lovren’s fortunes.

If one individual incident was to sum up the Croatian’s first season on Merseyside, one need not look any further than Liverpool’s exit from the Europa League at the hands of Besiktas. With the match having gone to penalties, The Reds needed to score to stay in the competition when the responsibility was handed to Dejan Lovren. The inevitable script could not have been followed more closely as his effort from 12 yards was blazed hopelessly over the crossbar.

As Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers continue to strengthen significantly in attacking areas of the pitch, there has not been much guaranteed quality added to the spine of their defence. Is this a demonstration of faith to those who performed well below par here last season; namely Lovren, and will he be given one more chance to recapture the form that secured him a move to Anfield in the first place? It seems so and hopefully; as confidence builds up around him from strong characters such as Skrtel, Sakho and Mignolet, Dejan Lovren can bask in the reflected glaze of newly found confidence and rescue his fledgling Liverpool career.

Crushing blow. Can Dejan Lovren overcome the disappointment of last season to be a success at Anfield?

Crushing blow. Can Dejan Lovren overcome the disappointment of last season to be a success at Anfield?

Lazar Markovic

The still youthful Lazar Markovic had a difficult first season in English football, with opportunities to impress in the first team not overly frequent but even so, he did not generally blow anyone away with performances to demand a sustained run in the side. In fact, it was not until a cold Tuesday night in December at Anfield that many fans saw even a glimpse of what the Serbian star had been signed for. Coming on at half time into what was turning into a miserable match for Liverpool, Markovic was able to perform in a brief cameo before a harsh dismissal halted the excitement and belief that he had brought to the occasion.

Although it had been brought to a disappointing and premature end, Markovic’s experience in Europe that night seemed to give him the surge of confidence that proved all-important. For a run of several games in the league and domestic cup after this, he finally appeared to be the real deal. The winger showed a refreshing willingness to take the opposing full-back on. His improved form was epitomised by an extravagant volley in the form of a kung-fu kick against Sunderland where he was only the thickness of a cross-bar away from adding to his opening goal in the game. For whatever reason, whether it was the necessary intensity of English football or something more ingrained, Markovic failed to maintain this level of belief in what seems to be his natural game.

The opening game of this summer’s pre-season campaign for the Merseyside club did provide reason to be optimistic for the 21 year old’s fortunes for the months ahead. Although the match in question was only against the relatively lowly opposition making the validity of his display difficult to judge, Markovic did look to be a real live wire during the first 45 minutes against the Thai Premier League All Stars. The Serbian grabbed a well-taken early goal and generally looking dangerous throughout. Interestingly he was deployed in a nominally more central role behind a pair of front-men and given freedom to roam across the line. Whilst this decision by Rodgers’ may have been dictated by other circumstances such as the availability of players in other positions, it may provide an intriguing experiment to see how well he can operate here in the Premier League.

He has been seen previously as almost exclusively an out-and-out wide player whether off the left or right, but never really considered as a rival for the position of Coutinho and now possibly Firmino too. I don’t see him displacing either of these Brazilian wizards in the first team any time soon, so hopefully he can translate the fleeting patches of exciting form into a more consistently dangerous role on the flanks. There is a great deal of competition in attacking areas of the pitch for Liverpool given the recent influx of acquisitions in these roles and so the Serbian flyer will not have an easy ride to earn a fixed first team place. Nevertheless, I believe that he has demonstrated the raw talent that he possesses both in his first year at Anfield and previously at Benfica and so should be retained for the future regardless of immediate impact.

Adam Lallana

Brought in to Anfield as just one of the incoming onslaught from St. Mary’s, Adam Lallana suffered something of a stop-start first season at Liverpool. He initially suffered the misfortune of picking up an injury in the opening weeks of pre-season, clearly hampering not only his short-term prospects but also leaving him in a continual state of catch-up. This is increasingly unhelpful for a new recruit at a club as they try to acclimatise to new surroundings. It was not to be the only niggle that the former Southampton midfielder suffered last season, each seeming to come at moments where he was just starting to establish himself as a permanent starter for Brendan Rodgers.

Following another summer of upheaval for the red half of Merseyside, it looks as though Lallana faces a serious fight to achieve his ambition of regular first team football. Whilst he no longer has to overcome Raheem Sterling, the multi-million addition of new number eleven Roberto Firmino is likely to close off one spot in the side. Rodgers would surely have not paid such a fee for a player he intends for the bench. Of course, there is the now talismanic Philippe Coutinho who made the role behind the striker his own during the course of the last campaign. Furthermore, squad members such as Ibe and Markovic provide stiff competition should Liverpool’s manager decide to employ tactics with wide players tasked with crossing from the by-line.

It seems as though Lallana is acutely aware of the recently reinforced necessity to perform. Liverpool’s number 20 has been in fairly scintillating form for The Reds in front of goal on their pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia. With a successful strike in each of the first two matches, Lallana has demonstrated the presence of a refined cutting edge which one new he possessed from his excellence at Southampton but may have feared had deserted him in a Liverpool shirt. Both goals were surprisingly similar to one another and displayed the basis of Lallana’s primary attributes.

Awareness and game intelligence were employed to achieve the pocket of space in the build-up play. Receiving a sharp pass into feet, his consistently top quality touch killed the pace of the ball immediately. Fine balance and the ability to drop his shoulder to send the defender the wrong way granted him the required yard of space in-field that crucially allowed the time to pick his spot past the despairing dive of the goalkeeper. Translating these attributes to the pressure cooker that is Premier League football at a club rich in heritage such as Liverpool is the true test but it has to be said that the signs so far are promising. In contrast to the last campaign, a complete and productive pre-season should pay dividends for his fortunes in the coming months.

Adam Lallana doesn't want to look back on last season, but he still has great potential to become pivotal for Liverpool.

Adam Lallana doesn’t want to look back on last season, but he still has great potential to become pivotal for Liverpool.

Alberto Moreno

When the pocket rocket was purchased from Sevilla for £12 million, it was hoped that Alberto Moreno would finally be the man to solve Liverpool’s left-back crisis that has been all too apparent since the decline of John Arne Riise. An extended period of courting before finally securing their man represented the faith that Brendan Rodgers and his transfer committee placed in the young Spaniard.

Early matches provided glimpses of the multiple skills in the armoury of Liverpool’s number 18. The most notable of these would widely be considered to be his marauding run from his own half against Tottenham Hotspur before powering a strike past the goalkeeper’s desperate grasp. However, in many of the subsequent games, defensive frailties and indecision at vital moments began to override the benefits he brought to the side. This opinion did seem to be reflected by Rodgers’ tactical choices during games. An all too common trend was his withdrawal from the action when the Northern Irishman needed to sacrifice someone in order to bring on an attacker to chase a goal.

In the preparation time for this upcoming season, the ex-Sevilla youngster has seen a surprising and somewhat disturbing lack of action. Youth team left-back Joe Maguire and right-sided defenders supposedly below him in the pecking order; Joe Gomez and Andre Wisdom, have been granted more minutes than the young Spaniard. Rodgers has since claimed that this was in fact down to an injury which Moreno was recovering from whilst on tour with the rest of the squad. This would be more reassuring had the timing not coincided with fairly widespread rumours of interest from Italian side A.S. Roma.

I hope that these suggestions of an £8 million transfer to the Serie A team do not materialise and Alberto Moreno can cement a role in Liverpool’s first team. Strengthening the current weaker aspects of his arsenal can help contribute to an offensive danger on the flank and an improved stability in defence.


Of these five players, who do you think is in most desperate of a successful season ahead? Or do you think that there is another in the first team picture whose Anfield future is at greater risk? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .

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I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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