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English Premier League

Why British isn’t best for Liverpool

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After a disappointing summer of recruitment in 2014, Liverpool have started the 2015 transfer window by signing James Milner from Manchester City and Danny Ings from Burnley, two players with previous Premier League experience. However, is this the right direction to go?

Former players often comment on how it is hard to adapt to the English game and it often takes a season for foreign imports to settle in. This suggests buying proven Premier League players is a sensible strategy and one that should reap rewards for the Reds in the coming months. Liverpool’s recent transfer success appears to suggest differently though.

The 2014 window saw Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli head to Merseyside. Two were English players (Lambert and Lallana) having always plied their trade in England whilst two more (Lovren and Balloteli) had previous Premier League experience. Lallana had a steady first season whilst the other three were undoubtedly disappointments. The four who had never previously played in the UK (Can, Moreno, Manquillo and Markovic) were all under 22 so could expect to be given time to adapt. Instead, Can and Moreno were immediately thrust into the limelight, playing 27 and 28 league games respectively throughout the season and arguably being Liverpool’s two most successful signings. It appears that Liverpool transfers just don’t fit the modern trend.

This is not a one season phenomenon for Liverpool either; it is a tendency that has occurred since the turn of the century. During Rafael Benitez’s reign, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina arrived, none of whom had previous Premier League experience, all of whom starred as Liverpool came runners up to Manchester United in 2009, the closet they had come to reclaiming the League title since 1990. In fact, the only members of that 08/09 squad who had been bought from another Premier League club were Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun (both West Ham) and Robbie Keane (Spurs). Mascherano had only played 5 games in an ill-fated 6 month period at West Ham whilst Keane only managed that long at Liverpool.

Roy Hodgson’s signings were all a disaster but Kenny Dalglish payed 22.7m for Luis Suarez, another never to have played in England and 35m for Andy Carroll, someone who had, within days of each other. Carroll lasted 18 months before leaving for West Ham, initially on loan, having had a disrupted Liverpool career. Suarez went on to win the European golden shoe as he came tantalisingly close to helping Liverpool to their first Premier League crown in 2013/2014. Further Dalglish signings such as Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique also struggled to adapt to Liverpool’s way despite playing in England’s top flight prior to their Liverpool move.

Philippe Coutinho has been Brendan Rodgers most successful signing to date, while Adam Lallana still has plenty left to prove.

2014 wasn’t a new trend under Brendan Rodgers either. The Ulsterman’s most successful signing has been Phillippe Coutinho, arriving from Inter Milan in January 2013 at the tender age of 20 but adapting to the league since. In comparison, the 2014 strugglers have added to a list including Joe Allen and Simon Mignolet who have received heavy criticism on Merseyside despite arriving from Swansea and Sunderland respectively. Fabio Borini had played in the Championship for Swansea under Rodgers and played a handful of games for Chelsea but has struggled to even get a game for Liverpool despite a successful loan spell at Sunderland last season.

The main problem for British players arriving at Liverpool appears to be their mentality. Many have been top performers at a mid-table side, earning their opportunity with one of the country’s big clubs. However, performing well at a mid-table side with limited expectations allows for ‘off-weeks’ and many games where the opposition are expected to win so pressure is reduced. At Liverpool this isn’t the case, every game is seen as winnable and many are games the club are expected to win. Sturridge had a similar experience at Chelsea, so in the past 15 years only Jordan Henderson has been able to come to Liverpool from a lower English club and cement a place in the team on a regular basis.

On the other hand, those coming from abroad may have had the experience of high expectations, even if in a slightly inferior league to the Premiership. Luis Suarez, for example, was used to the pressure of needing to win from Ajax whilst Torres was made Atletico Madrid captain at 19, a huge responsibility. In recent seasons only Lallana has had such expectations having captained Southampton for two seasons suggesting he still could go on to be a success at Liverpool and add his name to a pitifully small list of successful Englishmen at the club since 2000.

In fact Liverpool’s best English players in recent years have been Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, both of whom have gone through the club’s academy. Comparing incoming players to two Premier League greats may be harsh, but at Liverpool only the best is acceptable. Another English talent shining at Liverpool is Raheem Sterling, or at least until his contract shenanigans of recent months, and is another who has come through the club’s youth system. Whilst Sterling arrived on Merseyside from QPR he had no experience of first team games prior to Liverpool and still matured through the club’s academy. Other young English players including John Flanagan, Andre Wisdom and Jordan Ibe have made good impacts under Rodgers as well, suggesting the youth systems at the club are in a healthy state.

Liverpool starlet Raheem Sterling faces an uncertain future at Anfield.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. Numerous foreign stars have been brought in and struggled, particularly during Benetiz’s reign, and the first half of Rodgers’. Additionally, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, when fit, have been two of Liverpool’s best performers in recent seasons. However, there is a strong case to suggest a large majority of Liverpool’s British based signings have been failures at the club whilst overseas imports have seen a much greater hit rate.

Therefore, Liverpool’s transfer policy needs to be addressed and quickly. The last 15 years have shown foreign imports complemented with academy graduates have provided the most successful players and team. Buying British may seem like a safe bet, but for Liverpool, safe doesn’t appear to be successful.  Therefore the future looks bleak for Milner and Ings, although the former could draw inspiration from Daniel Sturridge having had experience at a top club by playing for Manchester City.

Rodgers has shown his ability to promote youth players, giving them both the confidence and opportunity to perform. He now needs help from his scouts to find players from around the continent that will push Liverpool onto the next level and challenging for the Champions League places again on a regular basis.

The club need to be ambitious and risk their finances on foreign imports. This may be against Liverpool’s long proud history where a British core has always existed, but football has moved on and Liverpool need to catch up. Although, when big money moves for Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing have failed so spectacularly in recent season, maybe only recruiting from abroad isn’t a risk but the only sensible strategy.

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I'm a recent University of Bath graduate and was a regular contributor to the university newspaper including being Sports Editor in my final year. A Liverpool season ticket holder with ambitions of becoming a Sports journalist.

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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