Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Make or break for Liverpool

This appears in the Monday, September 1, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

Make or break for Liverpool
by rick olivares

Going into the 2014-15 English Premier League season, there were several questions surrounding Liverpool Football Club.

Who will they tab to replace Luis Suarez up front?

Will they finally be able to lift the Premier League trophy?

Are teams onto their style of play?

How will they fare in Europe?

The problem with pre-season prognostications is more often than not, no room is made for new signings especially the last minute additions. I’ve done lots of pre-season previews across most major sports but I have always subscribed to how esteemed American publication Sports Illustrated does its previews for the NBA…. right when the season starts.

That way, it’s all in.

Who will they tab to replace Luis Suarez up front?
The answer to the Luis Suarez question for was hoping that Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling can hold the fort until the addition of a world-class striker. More so after two matches – one win against Southampton and one loss against Man City – it is not the start Liverpool wants.

So enter Mario Balotelli who has tantalized and frustrated his three previous clubs in Internazionale, Man City, and Milan. He scored 66 goals in 156 matches. That’s a goal for roughly every 2.3 matches. It is no secret that for all his talent, he has been a distraction with his on and off field actions. And with his streak of honors ended in his last stop at Milan, Balotelli knows that the game is almost up for him. If he does not get his act together his next destination could be in the Middle East, Asia or the United States; far from the top tier clubs and competition.

For sure Balotelli is a huge talent and is much better than the addition of Fabio Borini or Lazar Markovic. I’m liking the addition of Rickie Lambert but… have yet to see something to make me ecstatic. It would be interesting to see his impact when Liverpool plays Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

And further to Balotelli, the onus is on him to make a case for Italian players in the club. For no Italian (that’s Andrea Dossena, Daniele Padelli, Alberto Aquilani, and Fabio Borini) has been a star in Anfield.

Will the Reds finally be able to lift the Premier League trophy?
Historically, LFC has followed up fantastic title pursuits with big time flops. Whether it was inadequate additions or being crushed under the weight of expectations, the succeeding campaigns greatly disappointed and the teams once more fell into mediocrity. So you will pardon me if I am guarded in my optimism that Liverpool can finally get over the hump.

Second place finishes of Liverpool in the Premier League:
LFC record
LFC record next season
18-10-10 (fifth)
18-9-11 (seventh)

In the 2002-03 season, then manager Gerard Houllier added El Hadji Diouf, Bruno Cheyrou, Alou Diarra, and Patrice Luzi none who made an impact with the club.

After the tantalizing 2008-09 season, former manager Rafa Benitez brought in Alberto Aquilani, Glen Johnson, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and Maxi Rodriguez. Save for Aquilani, the other three were able to get some meaningful minutes but it is only Johnson who has since become a first team regular.

On paper this year, they brought in an even better bunch of players in Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Deja Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo, and Balotelli. 

It is difficult to properly gauge a team two weeks into the season. In a few weeks’ time we can properly say what is working and what is not. After all, if you look at Man City’s huge 3-1 win over the Reds last week, they followed that up with an equally stunning 1-nil loss to Stoke City.

If Balotelli can be imperious up front, he will give the team a lot of confidence and that will galvanize this make or break season (while Manchester United is vulnerable and not up to its usual standards).

How manager Brendan Rodgers skillfully manages his players since they will be playing in Europe as well will also greatly tell on the club’s fortunes. They were fortunate they were healthy for the most part of the previous year as they concentrated on the Premiership. That is not the case this year. Rodgers will have to do his best managing.

And yes, they have the pieces to win it.

Are teams on to their style of play?
Let’s establish this first – the possession-based game and the build-up from the back where they make use of the entire field in picking apart foes with a dynamic attack.

I’d say yes. The more you play a team the better an opponent knows their tendencies and their strategies. Now it’s up to additions like Balotelli, Lovren, Manquillo, Lambert and Lallana to add a new dimension to their game with speed, smarts, and support for the defense and forwards.

And lastly, how will they fare in Europe?
Liverpool is group with Spanish side Real Madrid, Swiss Super League champions Basel, and Bulgarian A Group titlists Ludogorets Razgrad. Now way can Rodgers’ side underestimate any of the lesser known squads more so since they have not won anything.

In the last 20 years of Champions League competition, the one time unheralded clubs competed and won the title was in 2004 when a Jose Mourinho-managed Porto side defeated AS Monaco for the title of Europe’s best. Almost every time since and before it has been big clubs with world-class players.

This Liverpool team probably has only one world-class player in Balotelli. I was hoping the club would snatch Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund that would have made it two. If that ever happens it will be in the next off-season.

The Reds will really have to play as a team if they want to reprise their storied 2004-05 run.

It’s an interesting season for Liverpool. Unfortunately, failure to win any bit of silverware will be a massive disappointment.

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