Free Friday & LFC News, Media and Transfer Roundup – March 17th, 2023
Football is Finished, Emotional Rollercoasters & A Week to Remember
Free Friday will cover our work across The Tomkins Times’ Substack network, with it running via an opt-in or opt-out newsletter on The Main Hub (where almost all of the community commenting takes place), but covering TTT’s four sub-Substacks, or spokes.
Also make sure you check out Daniel Zambartas’ media round-up, which will be added to best of TTT from the previous week.
Best Comment of the Week
Tony’s fourth appearance for comment of the week, and this time it relates to the corruption going on at Barcelona over the years with regards them paying officials.
Is football finished, in as much as, what's the point?
I noted Pique came out to suggest that Barcelona were innocent because why would you pay a vice president of a referee committee? If corruption were to be the case, it is easy as "giving an envelope," he says. Really? I had to re-read. Blimey, and he thinks he is making it better?
By contradiction, it seems almost certain that Barca paid out 6m over a 20 year period. An act of self-defence, apparently. Wow, just wow. This ... this from the greatest team/club in the world, during our life times. So, what is the point?
Currently, they sit top of their league, despite accused of financial unfairness again. Nothing has happened to them, as a result. Ditto for City: I repeat, all has gone quiet there.
Anyhow, therein lies the solution for all of us. Just give Anthony Taylor an envelope next time he refs our game. I mean, honesty, fair play and decency are hardly going to level any playing field.
TTT Main Hub
First up is Andrew Beasley reacting to the Bournemouth defeat in the post-match analysis and how the Reds’ goals scored and conceded is so inconsistent:
I was just looking at Liverpool's last handful of results.
At Brighton in the Cup, they took the lead. However, they then conceded the next five goals which occurred in their games (lost 2-1 there, then 3-0 Wolves).
Fortunately, they then scored the next six (Everton, Newcastle, Real), only to then concede five in 46 minutes against Madrid.
They then bagged the next nine, but the run ended yesterday with a goal conceded and a loss.
I can't recall a team ever swinging back and forth to this extent.
Next up is a deep dive by Paul: Liverpool's Newer Players and Younger Players Have Improved the Reds, But Been More 'Unlucky'.
What's clear is that the more time teams spend together, usually up to four years (based on all the research I've shared countless times), teams get better together.
Yet there are limits.
If you put a team of 30-year-olds together, they won't be better when they're all 34. Once you’re past the peak average age, it gets tougher.
I've also shown that, between the ages of 18 and 22, players make absolutely huge strides (sometimes literally), so anyone 18 or 19 now could naturally make huge strides by the time they're 22/23, and then there's potentially for further speed (peak speeds are 25-28 on average), strength and stamina (can peak as late as early 30s). Experience is also something that can only be gained, not lost, albeit some experiences can be detrimental (Loris Karius is a prime example).
The average age of the 'newer' XIs comes out at 26.9, albeit the youngest actual XIs have been mid-20s, when five of the newer players have been in the team, and the team has included both Bajcetic and Elliott. (In the cup win at Wolves, Bajcetic, Elliott and Carvalho all started.)
The generally poor results for the older Liverpool XIs in the nine league selections this season suggest the melt-zone for them as a collective, but the team that beat Man City was 29.1, so one of the oldest.
However, only three of these nine games were won, and that includes beating Leicester via two own goals (although it was a 2-1 win on xG too – but felt like a lucky win in other senses).
The other win was at Aston Villa, and the starting age was 29.4 – but of course, the victory was secured late on with a third goal, by Bajcetic, who came on as a sub for Henderson, with Keïta also on for Thiago, and Elliott on for Oxlade-Chamberlain (the other sub, Joe Gomez, is only slightly older than the man he replaced, Alexander-Arnold).
Chris’ trip down memory lane was definitely a season to remember, and as he mentions below, a hell of week to finish the 2000/01 season.
And I can't recall a better week as a Liverpool fan than the final week of that season: Cardiff to see Michael Owen rob the FA Cup off Arsenal; Dortmund in midweek for the Golden Goal UEFA Cup final against Alaves; then down to Charlton on Sunday to see the Reds qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
If I kept a diary, it would have recorded:
Left home Friday lunchtime, train to Cardiff for FA Cup final, stayed in Cardiff Friday and Saturday nights, back home on Sunday, day at work on Monday, pack, flew to Dusseldorf on Tuesday, train to Dortmund for UEFA Cup final, stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights, train and flight back home on Thursday, work on Friday, travelled to London on Sunday for Charlton. The best (and most expensive!) week I’ve ever had following Liverpool since I began in 1968!
There’s a paradox here; a contradiction that goes right to the heart of Gerard Houllier’s management and legacy of the Liverpool team. An achievement that will probably never be repeated and yet within a few years the memory had been somewhat soured by a combination of heightened expectations, a damaged aorta and a disastrous 2002 recruitment policy. Moreover, the surreal events of Istanbul and Rafa’s impact probably overshadowed the treble season to a degree. The events of that momentous spring and early summer, the drama, the goals, the heroics, the return to the top table that we see as our place; it could be argued that rather than peer back at them through a rose coloured prism, we have all done the opposite and not given the team, or Houllier, the credit that is deserved. Though it's undeniable that this treble cup-winning season did not prove to be the springboard that we hoped it would be.
The Zen Den
Paul reflects on how the current team might develop and places it in a context going back to when Klopp was building his first great side.
We are essentially back in 2017. Or if you want to be more optimistic, 2018 – when things began to click, but where there was only close but no cigar (yet).
Jürgen Klopp is not relatively new to Liverpool now, of course, but back then he was being doubted.
Quite a lot, actually; especially in the autumn, when his record, after two years, was gleefully pointed out by some as being the same as Brendan Rodgers' fairly mediocre win-rate, with the same lack of trophies. The Reds got mauled at Spurs. People were going losing their shit.
The thing is, pieces were in place; but not all the pieces.
Things were developing, but not at breakneck speed.
Some good players were on their way out.
Progress was being made, but it's never linear; there were setbacks.
The team could be great, but it was inconsistent.
And inconsistency is even more confusing and maddening in the modern age, where every good result signals brilliance and every loss a disaster. The immediacy of all media means recency bias is even more prominent; and negativity and fear spreads faster than hope.
The time-consuming middle-ground of steady improvement, with setbacks, is hard to track on the emotional rollercoaster – but hitting a few more highs, with a bit more regularity, can easily be missed amongst the despair of defeats.
The Transfer Hub
And finally, Mizgan’s analytical eye is focused on a potential target for the Reds in the summer - Mason Mount.
Since his first full season at the club, he has always been top five in the team in racking up the most percentage of minutes in a campaign. If we add the last two games he missed due to a knock, that’s just eight games and counting that he has missed for Chelsea since the start of the 2019/20 season. Add in 2141 international minutes in that time.
After doing so well in the last three seasons and playing a high volume of minutes - a season of dip was bound to happen. Hence, we are seeing the 24-year-old not at his best this time around.
Last three seasons - 30 goals and 31 assists in 160 appearances (goal contribution average of 0.38 per game).
Current season - three goals and six assists in 32 appearances (goal contribution average of 0.28 per game).
His expected offensive value addition (xOVA) per 90 has dropped to 0.14 this season (compared to 0.28 averaged in the last two seasons) [Soccerment].
xOVA is defined as the quality of the selection of those shots and passes is reflected in the sum of Expected Goals and Expected Assists
So, while the availability is such a good trait to have, managers need to use it in the best possible way as well. At 24, Mount is still a young player who has played a lot of football. He could probably do with a long summer break before the pre-season and then getting back to his best.
Daniel Zambartas’ LFC News, Media & Transfer Round-Up
Liverpool FC News, Media and Transfer Roundup
Klopp on Madrid defeat
“You need a special performance, and we didn't show a special performance tonight. It was, in moments, a good performance, but Real Madrid were, for the whole game, the team in control of the game. They had the better chances, Ali had to make two sensational saves to keep us in the game and that's the reason. Again, if you want to go through you need to be outstanding; if you want to win the game, you need to be really good. In the end, Madrid were the better team and that's why the right team went through to the next round.
“I was not angry after the game, but I was disappointed. I would be angry if we would have played better and it was close and then they win because of a penalty which was not a penalty or stuff like this. But in the end that all didn't happen. Real Madrid were just the better side and I am long enough in the business to respect that.
“When we come back from the international break we have a proper football week ahead of us, I would say, with three games: City, Chelsea and Arsenal, which will then probably define what we get out of it. People might say we lost it in Bournemouth, but I think this week is a pretty decisive one, so we have to hope now the boys come back healthy, early enough, in the right shape and then we will try it.”
On his second-half substitutions: “For Diogo, it was clear that he should not play extremely long because he is still coming back from a long, long injury. You could see the game got harder and harder for him, little fouls there, one, two, three, and he is not a player who is usually fouling so perhaps he came in a bit late.
“Darwin looked like he was not on the absolute top level as well and then we need to defend that side as well because conceding a goal is not helpful in that situation.”
Virgil van Dijk on Madrid defeat
“The first half was quite even. It's always going to be a very difficult task to come here and turn it all around. But you try not to look ahead, you try to win obviously. In my time at Liverpool with the games we've played against Real Madrid, I've never won against them, so it's always something that we wanted to do – we wanted to win.
“It was tough, but I think the damage was done in Liverpool and that's the most disappointing thing.
“They never get fazed, [not even] a little bit. Even when you put them under pressure, even if they have difficult moments, they try to stay calm and obviously they have the players, if you look at Modric, Benzema – they're difference-makers and especially when they're under pressure. But still, I think in the first half we could have scored and it could be a totally different game.”
James Milner on Madrid defeat
“We had chances and moments in the game where we didn’t quite get it over the line and maybe other situations we didn’t take advantage of. A goal maybe changes it. But I think over tonight and the first game we had spells where we played well, and I don’t think spells are enough obviously against a team as experienced and with the quality they have.
“It’s down to us that we have to finish the season very strongly. We’ve obviously got an international break now. Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing? Only time will tell. Three big games when we come back.
“They’re all big games now, we have to go into each game and hopefully keep performing the way we want to, in the spells – we need to perform like that more often and be a bit more solid. It’d be nice to get a few more players back as well and hopefully can finish the season strongly and on a high.”
Paul Joyce questions whether Liverpool should put all their eggs in the Bellingham basket (The Times)
“Borussia Dortmund’s teenage tyro remains the apple of Klopp’s eye and the Liverpool manager will believe that with the 19-year-old on board, what has appeared at times as a chasm would narrow overnight. He considers Bellingham a transformative figure and that is a vision that Klopp would be keen to share with the England midfielder.
“The price of such a deal would be eye-wateringly expensive, though. For every rumour that suggests Bellingham will eventually arrive — and there are plenty of those swirling around Merseyside — there is someone else who is prepared to exercise more caution.
“They wonder if spending more than £100 million on a single player is the equivalent of putting too many eggs in one basket for a club who need two midfield additions to go straight into the starting line-up next season.
“There is an train of thought that one player is not going to fix the issues in Klopp’s engine room.
“A long list of names is being surveyed to ensure money is spent in the best way possible. What is clear is the willingness of Liverpool’s owner, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), to oversee the strategic signings that it believes can restore the club’s standing.
“Neither FSG — nor perhaps Klopp, despite his disappointment at this season — would accept the portrayal of Liverpool as a crumbling, ageing team who need a complete rebuild. Roberto Firmino is a confirmed departure, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will follow, while Milner is also out of contract.
“Meanwhile, Ibrahima Konaté, Darwin Núñez, Gakpo, Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajcetic have all been recruited in recent seasons in the knowledge that a period of transition was looming. There remains plenty of talent in the starting line-up too.
“What also appears apparent from the way Klopp has been talking is that FSG’s commitment this summer is independent of its search for extra investment in the club, a process which was formalised in November and is continuing.”
Henry Winter in The Times on Madrid defeat
“Liverpool can recover, of course, and return to a competition they love and have won six times; the quality of last night’s setting and opposition simply highlighted how important and alluring the Champions League is. The memory of the Bernabéu, the sights and sounds, will focus Liverpool thoughts in their final 12 games of the season.
“Fighting back is in Liverpool’s DNA. Jürgen Klopp is a warrior. He’s a builder of teams and improver of players. He has some exceptional talent to work with. Defeat would have been more severe here but for Ibrahima Konaté’s interceptions and Alisson’s reflexes. Liverpool have the huge potential of Harvey Elliott, who came on, and Stefan Bajcetic, who was missing through the injury.
“The versatile Cody Gakpo, who played in midfield and attack here, and the raw, rapid Darwin Núñez offer so much attacking promise for the future. So as the inquests intensify into Liverpool’s season, dropping from quadruple chasers a year ago, some perspective is required but that squad needs urgent strengthening. The contrast with Real was painful at times.”
Neil Atkinson of The Anfield Wrap criticises Liverpool’s performances against ‘weaker’ opposition
“Crystal Palace 0 Liverpool 0. Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Liverpool 0. Nottingham Forest 1 Liverpool 0. Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 0.
“Throw Liverpool 1 Leeds 2 in, if you like.
“These games have a great deal in common — the one I can’t shake off as I sit here is this: In none of them is the opposition goalkeeper the man of the match.
“Having lived seasons like this habitually through many a year supporting Liverpool, there has often been a Jurgen Macho or a David de Gea around the corner. That happens, you chalk it up as one which has happened and you get on with your life from there.
“You often get beat away from home against a side in danger of relegation and they crawl off the pitch, battered, bruised, muddied and bloodied and you chalk that one up too. Happens. Can happen to anyone from time to time.
“That hasn’t happened either. Not been a hint of it.
Liverpool have spent a season on the road against relegation candidates planning for the best, hoping for the best, working for the best, while so rarely acknowledging the way things are. Without allowing for the possibility that for a while something like the worst could happen, that the ingredients for the worst may well be in the vicinity.
“There has been a lot of understandable chat about the personnel. There has been chat about fitness levels. There has been chat about hangovers. All of the above is understandable and it may have merit.
“In the games against Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth, Liverpool are the better side for a period. You can throw Palace at home in that shakeup too. Then, suddenly, the ingredients for the worst present themselves and Liverpool take those ingredients and seemingly help the opponents make the best possible dish.
“They don’t adapt, don’t allow, get hurt and once they have been hurt, they never truly look like putting it behind them.
“Liverpool will invest in personnel in the summer. Liverpool will do so smartly, I suspect. They’ll not have a hangover from a season where they could have won it all. They’ll not have Paris in the rear-view mirror. They’ll not have a bad pre-season and hopefully not have issues with injuries.
“But they need to wrestle with the fact that they are going to come up against sides who have pace, a plan and an appreciation of space. Those sides are all over the division.”
Paul Cope from The Anfield Wrap on Liverpool’s psychological issues this season
“What I have discovered following years of studying human behaviour, psychology and emotions, though, is that confidence is only the surface level issue. It’s why, following two wins against tricky opposition, Liverpool’s players were still fragile going into their game against Real Madrid rather than being back to their self-assured best.
“If you believe that the magic ingredient to a footballer’s performance is confidence, it’s worth questioning why Manchester United’s players crumbled at 2-0 down at Anfield when they had come into the game as confident as they could possibly be having won their first trophy in several years only a week before, and being talked about as possible quadruple winners.
“Or why, a week after their confidence-boosting demolition of that same United team, Liverpool’s players were back to the versions of themselves that seems to leave everyone dumbfounded.
“The reality is that surface level confidence is not the answer we thought it once was. What’s going on under the surface is the true root cause of all of the problems the players are facing.
“We’ve seen it with Liverpool players in recent weeks, and the clearest example of it might be Bruno Fernandes in the 7-0 demolition of Manchester United.
“The reason it looks like a different player is that it is a different player. Or, more accurately, a different part, character or persona of the same player we’ve watched perform at the highest level for weeks, months or years.
“The problem is that all of these characters inhabit the same physical body, so to the outside world it looks like the same person when the reality is someone new is in control. The player doesn’t actually lose their head, but they do have someone else inhabit their head without them realising or wanting it to happen.
“Collapses in one-off games can be explained by a sudden, unexpected traumatic event such as going three goals down to an opponent you expect to beat, triggering a subconscious character to take control of a player’s system as it goes into survival mode.
“It amazes me that people have talked about the likes of Fabinho as though he was a spent force, before realising he’s only 29 years old and Luka Modric is still running midfields at 37.
“I would guess that if you put the likes of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk through physical fitness tests they would show that there isn’t any physical problem. They can physically run as far and as fast as they ever could.
“The problem with an underperforming player often isn’t in their physical bodies, it’s in their onboard computer systems.”
Simon Brundish on Liverpool’s injuries this season
See also: this table in The Times showing PL games missed through injury for each club
Charlie Adam says Jurgen Klopp is “too loyal” to his players
“Former Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam says Jurgen Klopp has "possibly been too loyal to some of his players" compared to Pep Guardiola who has let some big names leave Manchester City.
"I think Klopp possibly has been too loyal to some of his players, if you look what Pep Guardiola has done people with Joao Cancelo or Raheem Sterling, he has got rid of them as he wants to move on quickly," Adam told the Football Daily podcast.
"He wants to keep moving on quickly and move to the next level with the players that he has in bringing new players in. I think as a manager as well you have to respect what these players have done for you. That is the decision you make as a coach or as a group or staff that you stick with what you have.
"Like City, can Liverpool go and spend £100m on the midfielder they want? I don’t know, they have done it previously for Van Dijk and the goalkeeper so they are obviously looking for investment, but I believe Champions League football will be key to that.
"Signing these top players in the summer like Jude Bellingham they have to be in the Champions League. At the moment it is going to be very difficult to attract these quality types of players."
Stefan Bajcetic ruled out for the rest of the season
“The midfielder was ruled out of the Champions League last-16 second leg, with Jürgen Klopp explaining his absence was due to a stress response around his adductor.
On Thursday, Bajcetic posted on Instagram: “Unfortunately I’ve picked up an injury that will keep me out until the end of the season.
“It’s very sad to say goodbye to this amazing season for me but I understand this is part of football and will only make me stronger physically and mentally.
“I would also like to say thank you to you Reds for all the support through the season and I assure you I will do my best to be back stronger than ever.”
LFC loan watch
“In the Championship, Tyler Morton aided Blackburn Rovers' fightback as a second-half substitute, though they fell to a narrow 3-2 defeat at Stoke City.
“In the division below, Jarell Quansah helped Bristol Rovers to a 3-1 victory over Forest Green Rovers, while Conor Bradley featured in Bolton Wanderers' 2-0 loss to Ipswich Town.”
Ben Doak suffers head collision during UEFA Youth League quarter-final
“Ben Doak was substituted after suffering a head collision during his side’s UEFA Youth League quarter-final game against Sporting CP
“He was seen holding his head, stumbling, and eventually falling to the floor.
“Doak was immediately attended to by Liverpool medics, who treated him for around two minutes. Despite being able to return to his feet, he was eventually substituted.
The club said on Doak’s injury: “Ben reported feeling dizzy on the pitch but passed all pitch side assessments and was able to walk off.
“Was on the pitch at the end with the team and is now on the coach back to the airport.
“Ben is feeling well now but we are following standard FA concussion protocol.”
Liverpool’s under-19s went on to lose to Sporting 1-0.
Liverpool announce Anfield ticket price increase for first time in eight years
“Liverpool have ended their eight-year freeze on ticket prices by announcing a two per cent increase for most seats at Anfield next season.
“The move has been criticised by the club’s Supporters’ Board who branded the hike “cruel and unreasonable”.
A club statement read: “LFC carefully considered all aspects of these ticketing changes and didn’t take the decision lightly to increase prices.
“The rise is a result of significant rising costs across the club. In the past five years, annual operating costs for Anfield have increased by nearly 40 per cent, and utility costs have gone up by 100 per cent this season.”
The elected members of the Supporters’ Board made it clear during discussions with the club that they were unanimously opposed to any increase in ticket prices but they didn’t have the authority to block the plans.
“To implement any price increase during this cost of living crisis is cruel, unjust, unreasonable and unfair,” their statement read.
“These increases also come at a time when LFC is reporting record revenues, increased sponsorship income and significant increases from success on the pitch.
“Support for your football team stems from loyalty and that loyalty is two way. Fans cannot switch allegiance from one club to another yet it is their pockets which are being hit.”
Egyptian police recover medal stolen from Mo Salah’s Cairo home
“Police have recovered stolen goods including an Africa Cup of Nations runners-up medal and arrested two men following a burglary at the Cairo home of Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.
“Egypt's Ministry of Interior said a former security guard at the residential complex was one of those arrested over the alleged break-in.
“Goods stolen in the burglary earlier this month included football boots.”
LFC transfer news
The Athletic on Liverpool target Josko Gvardiol
“The Croatia international only signed a new contract at RB Leipzig in September — a deal that, in theory, ties him to the Bundesliga club until 2027 — but few expect him to see it out.
“Gvardiol’s deal contains a release clause set at £97million but does not become active before the summer of 2024.
“Despite Leipzig’s high valuation and strong contractual position, the 21-year-old, who underlined his status as one of Europe’s most promising centre-halves when helping Croatia finish third at the World Cup in Qatar, can expect a scramble to secure his signature this summer, with most of the continent’s leading clubs expected to form a pretty disorderly queue.
“Gvardiol is admired by senior recruitment figures at Liverpool, who have closely tracked his development. They also have a good relationship with Leipzig having bought Naby Keita and Ibrahima Konate from them.
“However, Liverpool have bigger transfer priorities than centre-back. Their focus this summer is on strengthening their midfield department. Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, the club’s top target, would command a fee higher than £100million. Liverpool also retain an interest in Wolves’ Matheus Nunes and Chelsea’s Mason Mount.
“Matip will enter the final year of his contract this summer and Phillips is expected to leave in search of regular game time, so Liverpool may well need to bring in another centre-back as cover but given the competition for his signature and the size of the fee that will be required to secure his services, it’s unlikely to be Gvardiol.”
Liverpool keeping an eye on Barcelona midfielder Gavi (The Times)
“Liverpool and Manchester City are keeping an eye on an increasingly messy situation surrounding the Barcelona midfielder Gavi, who could become available on a free transfer because of a dispute over whether the Spanish club can afford to register the 18-year-old.
“Gavi is one of the world’s most talented young players and is seen by Barcelona as essential to the future as they continue to rebuild under Xavi Hernández after a number of high-profile departures.
“Liverpool and City have admired Gavi for a while although the chances of tempting him away from Barcelona have always seemed remote. However, interested clubs have been encouraged by a disagreement between the Catalans and La Liga over Gavi’s contract, which has echoes of Lionel Messi’s shock departure in 2021.
“An increasingly chaotic dispute has alerted Liverpool and City. Liverpool want to sign two midfielders in the summer, with Gavi on a shortlist that includes Jude Bellingham at Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea’s Mason Mount, as well as Matheus Nunes at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“Liverpool have inquired about signing Gavi before, including last summer, when Barcelona’s pursuit of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva appeared to threaten the teenager’s place in the team. However, Silva stayed at City and Barcelona agreed a new contract with Gavi.”
Liverpool interested in Alexis Mac Allister
“Alexis Mac Allister is ready to leave Brighton & Hove Albion in the summer, 90min understands, with a whole host of Premier League sides interested in the Argentine.
“Mac Allister signed a new contract before his successful World Cup campaign to commit himself to Brighton until 2025, while the club also have the option to extend that deal by a further 12 months.
“In the Premier League, the Argentine's situation is being monitored by Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea.
“Mac Allister's father has previously confirmed the midfielder is enjoying life in England, but the likes of Atletico Madrid, Inter, Juventus and RB Leipzig are all keen to take the 24-year-old overseas.
“Brighton are braced for yet another transfer window full of intense interest in their top stars but 90min understands the Seagulls have no desire to part ways with their top talents as they seek to cement their place among the Premier League's top sides.”
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