Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the second ever Liverpool Roundtable!
The upcoming weeks are crucial for Liverpool. They currently sit just one point off Manchester United at the top of the table and look in very good form. In addition to this, they take on Chelsea in the Champions League later today.
Who knows, by this time next month they could be within touching distance of a 19th league crown and a sixth European Cup.
What better time, then, to ask some of the Liverpool communities top writers some questions. In this installment, I talk to Jamie Ward, Michelle Alves, and our resident "outsider" this time is Arsenal fan Maire Ofeire!
Bear in mind that these questions were asked a couple of weeks ago, so the answers may seem a bit out of date at times!
Anyway, without further ado, lets get to the questions and answers!
1. What affect will the recent international break have on the title race, if any? Will it break Liverpool's momentum and stop Manchester United's slide or will both teams pick up where they left off?
Jamie Ward - I can see both sides of the argument here, and it would be hard for me to determine either way what will actually happen; being a Liverpool supporter, it's obvious what I would like to happen.
People have been saying the break will benefit United the most, as this will help them catch their breath after a poor run of games. They have also said that Liverpool will lose the momentum from the break and lose their edge slightly.
But I can also see the other possibility happening.
That defeat to Liverpool would have hurt the United players greatly and they would have been really hoping to put it behind them with a convincing display against Fulham and get back to winning ways, regaining that loss of confidence. The unexpected loss to Fulham would have been an even bigger psychological blow to them, and the result for Liverpool would have added even more pressure to that dent in confidence.
The players then left for international duty, where they would have been away from the majority of their team mates and, more importantly, their manager—who would have been there to rebuild that loss of confidence as quickly as possible if they had been able to prepare for their next game straight away and not have nearly two weeks away.
Being left to their own devices, thinking about the recent games—the negative thoughts could have been building up and possibly getting worse, so that when they returned they will either be even more nervous about the next game or come back trying too hard to correct the previous losses—both leading to mistakes.
I guess it all depends on the man management skills of Ferguson and the mentality of the players. A lot of the United players, however, have great experience and mentalities.
The same can be said for some Liverpool players who may become overconfident and again, it's down to the manager and teammates to ensure they stay grounded.
Experience of title run-ins is now crucial, and United certainly have the edge of Liverpool in that respect.
In reality, I don't see it changing things much; United will continue to win games, and Liverpool will probably remain slightly inconsistent.
Michelle Alves - I think the International break has come at a really bad time for Liverpool...and might be an advantage for Man Utd. At this point, things might get a bit frustrating for Liverpool, especially if it leads to them losing momentum, where as United are lucky to get a break after their defeats to Liverpool and Fulham.
It's hard to say, but I’m hoping they’ll pick up from where they left off. So far there doesn’t seem to be any injures, but one error from either one of the teams could lead to them losing the title.
Maire Ofeire - From a Liverpool perspective, you'd have to say the international break came at a terrible time. They are flying at the moment, and the confidence gained from trashing Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Aston Villa must be huge—but now that momentum is stalled by the break.
When you are winning like that, you just want to play a match everyday, everyone wants to take a shot at goal, and everyone wants to have a touch of the ball.
First up after the break for Liverpool are Fulham, who are full of confidence too, following their victory over Manchester United.
So perhaps the international break has taken away some of their momentum, too? Either way, it is a tough away fixture for Liverpool.
As for Manchester United, the international break can be seen as either a good or bad thing.
From a positive perspective, it gives the players a chance to clear their heads, to get away from some of the negativity that must be around the club at the moment.
However, in a negative way, when you are a top club like United, or indeed any club when you have two bad results like that, you want to right it as soon as possible, and the international break may be only prolonging the pain.
Manchester United have Villa up next, which should be an intriguing affair—two clubs who have performed well all season who have been wounded recently.
As for how either club comes back from the international break, who can tell? If Liverpool can get three points at Fulham, no matter how scrappy it may be, well then they keep their momentum and Ferguson is too wily to let this blip continue.
Barney Corkhill - Save for players being tired on their return, as Mascherano was against Fulham, I don't think the international break had a big affect. Manchester United still looked a shadow of their former selves against Aston Villa and, even tonight against Porto, they were sloppy.
Liverpool, on the other hand, don't seem to have missed a beat. The best news for them was that Torres and Gerrard came back free of injury, and should be fit for the run in.
Liverpool's performance against Fulham was another convincing one. They were unlucky not to have been at least 4-0 up at half-time! The record books will say 1-0, but the dominance and attacking instinct showed is up there with the Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Aston Villa matches.
2. With all the talk in the media about the Liverpool owners, particularly George Gillett, thinking of selling up, what would you want to see happen to the Liverpool hierarchy?
Jamie Ward - I have pretty much exactly what I wanted already—Parry to leave and Rafa to commit to another five years. I don't care what any rival supporter or clueless biased Liverpool supporter says; Rafa will bring the title back to Liverpool.
I would just like some consistency from the owners. I think Hicks has learnt his lesson and won't be underestimating Liverpool Football Club and its supporters anymore.
The owners are not here to just pump money into the transfer kitty; they are supposed to take the club forwards, and I believe Hicks and possibly even Gillett have that experience and ability to drive the club into the modern era, which is what we need.
They where very unfortunate with the timing of the stadium and the global economic crisis, and I think they will eventually get it built. It is in their best interests at the end of the day—income.
But that is not a bad thing, because profits will not simply go back into their pockets. They are building a business that needs to make money, and as this is a football club that will include investment in players, managers, and the right people on the board in order to bring success and, in turn, increase revenue. So ultimately, everyone wins.
This is a new era for Liverpool Football Club and, in time, we will have the proper foundations in place to become very successful both on and off the field.
Michelle Alves - George Gillett should sell. I have never liked the attitude of the American owners and ever since they arrived, there's been a sense of uncertainty surrounding Anfield that's effected fans, the manager, and more importantly the team. The sooner he goes, the better.
Maire Ofeire - For the sake of Liverpool Football Club, it needs to be sorted. The co-ownership between Gillett and Hicks isn't working, as evident by them sitting as far away as possible from each other at the ground.
As an "outsider" looking in at the club, I am not over familiar with the board, but I think the best thing that could happen is that either Hicks buys out Gillett. Or better still, they sell the club to new owners who will back the manager and let him get on with running the club. The off-field antics seem to have had an impact on Liverpool this season, particularly the whole Robbie Keane affair—leave the boardroom for the boardroom.
Barney Corkhill - Sell up! Unless they get really serious about Liverpool and start devoting a lot more time and money to the club, then they should sell to someone who is willing to do that.
Of course, they have invested some money. The signings of Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano have been vital for our recent success, but with two billionaires in charge, I would expect more.
Rumour has it that talks with investors from Kuwait are in an advanced stage. If that is true, it could be the best option for Liverpool. Not only will it give them a bit more pull in the transfer market, but it will help with the building of the new stadium as well.
3. Is Rafael Benitez's contract signing good news for Liverpool's hopes of regaining the Premier League in the coming seasons?
Jamie Ward - Without question. I could sit here all night and list the reasons why Rafa is good for this club. But I will be either be preaching to the choir or "talking sh*t with rose-tinted glasses" to the small proportion of Liverpool "supporters" who don't understand football or want the quick fix road to success.
Michelle Alves - Rafa Benitez’s signing is definitely a good thing. From what I can tell, he is liked by the players, and he’s definitely liked by the supporters. Before he took over, our Champions League best was a quarter-final in 01/02.
Since then, we've won it once, been in the final another time, lost in the semis last year, and have at least made it to the quarters again this year.
In my opinion, he’s bettered the team since his arrival. If he makes the right decisions over the course of time, Rafa has a very good chance of bringing home the title.
Maire Ofeire - To be honest, for the last few seasons, I have seen Benitez as a very good cup manager, but also someone who just couldn't put together a consistent run to challenge for the League.
However, on the flip side, maybe he is just putting the finishing touches to a team he feels can challenge for the trophy.
With his new contract, Liverpool have some managerial stability that can be very important to success ,which Manchester United can point to with Alex Ferguson and Arsenal with Arsene Wenger, and I would even point to Everton under David Moyes.
So if Rafa can continue to build and get more consistent, then Liverpool's long wait for another League trophy may come to an end sooner rather than later.
It may not be this season, but if Liverpool can get one or two more players in the summer and pick up where they seem to be leaving off this season, then there is no reason why the trophy cannot come under Benitez.
Barney Corkhill - Definitely. His improvement as the years have gone on is plain to see and is quite similar to that of Alex Ferguson's when he first started at United. In fact, I would argue it is better. I am still fully convinced he is the man to bring the title home.
He has completely rebuilt Gerard Houllier's team, with only Gerrard, Carragher, and Hyypia remaining, and has made Liverpool one of the, if not the best, teams in European competition. He is also making them a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League as well.
With the progress he has been making, the future looks bright for Liverpool with Rafa in charge!
4. Predictions: Where do you think Liverpool will come in a) the Premier League and b) the Champions League?
Jamie Ward - Predictions are hard (obviously) and something I don't always like doing.
Liverpool are more than capable of taking home the Champions League and to me stand as good a chance as any of the others left in the contest.
The league will be a little harder to win. It really is down to United to lose it, but we also have the massive fight from Chelsea, who are easily good enough to win every game left and beat us to second.
But the results before the international break show that none of the teams left in the title race are infallible, and it is still open to any of the top three teams.
Michelle Alves - Right now, I believe that United have a better chance at winning the title, but I’m happy we’ve closed in on them. One slip up from either team could lead to the opposition winning.
Things seem to be going Liverpool’s way lately, having scored 13 goals in three games, Gerrard at his best, Benitez signing a new contract and to top it off, Torres seems to be fit. For once things might go Liverpool’s way in the Premier League.
Although United might have a better chance, I’d say Liverpool want to win this much more, and they just might.
As for the Champions League, It won’t be easy.
Firstly facing Chelsea, then either Bayern or Barcelona, and maybe United or Arsenal in the finals... it’s not going to be easy, but if they make it through and win, this just might be their best and most deserved victory ever.
Maire Ofeire - Ooooh I hate predictions because I have often being left with egg on my face, although at other times I have been spot on.
For the Premier League, I still see it as Manchester United's to lose. They are ahead by a point and have a game in hand. However, United are still in the Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup with the extra game to play, which means on the face of it, they have more games to play than Liverpool which can work to Liverpool's advantage.
So while Manchester United are battling what I'm sure will be a tough game against Everton, Liverpool can have a nice little breather. Coupled with that Manchester United have some players to see out suspensions as well, namely Rooney and Scholes—not something you want when coming to the business end of the season.
Furthermore, Manchester United seemly have a nice tie against Porto in the Champions League, while Liverpool have a real tough test against Chelsea. I feel this can work one of two ways:
1) Manchester United breeze through and score enough in the first leg to put out a weakened team in the second leg, thus helping them in the domestic run in while Liverpool have a real tough battle against Chelsea which leaves them shattered.
2) United still get through against Porto, but Liverpool beat Chelsea in this really tough battle, and the winning mentality overpowers any physical tiredness, leaving Liverpool feeling as if they can take on the world.
Both teams have a tough run in in the Premier League, and there have been so many surprises this season with so-called "weaker" teams beating the big guns, that no one can bet against it happening again, at least once before the season is out.
Also, we can't forget Chelsea in all this. They aren't out of it by any means and have to play both Manchester United and Liverpool yet.
Then of course there is Arsenal, who are unbeaten since November, have to travel to Anfield, bring Chelsea to the Emirates, and what could be a huge race in the outcome of the title race take on Manchester United at Old Trafford in the second last game of the season.
While Arsenal have a "one in a billion chance" (according to Le Boss) of winning the league, you can bet your bottom dollar that Wenger would love to deny Ferguson another title. Ferguson has always tried to knock Liverpool of their effin perch, and Wenger's goal has been to knock Ferguson off his since ever he came to England.
After saying all that, I think Liverpool may just fall short this season, and I see them finishing second or third.
As for the Champions League, Liverpool always have a great chance of winning it, but I am not even going to attempt to call the quarter-final between them and Chelsea. Then, of course, is the semi-final against Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Whoever wins the Champions League this season will thoroughly deserve it, and Liverpool have as a good a chance as any.
Barney Corkhill - I'll probably get a lot of stick for this but...I think we can win both. I said before the Liverpool vs. United match: if Liverpool won, we'd win the league. I stick by that.
Liverpool are looking like a serious attacking threat at the moment, while United are looking far from invincible. It wasn't long ago that their defence was impenetrable. Now, however, it seems like one of the most dodgy in the league! Could they possibly be feeling the pressure?
Their performance against Villa on Sunday and against Porto tonight showed how vulnerable they can be, and most teams will be going after them after seeing that weakness. Everyone wants a win over United.
As for the Champions League, I don't see anyone better in European competition. Sure, Barcelona and Manchester United may have better players. Bayern Munich may have hit 12 goals in their last round, but Liverpool under Rafa Benitez are phenomenal in Europe.
We can beat anyone. We have a tough test against Chelsea first, then, if we manage to get past that, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. If we get to the final, we would have truly taken the hard route. Once we get to the final, who is to say we can't win it for a sixth time?
I'd like to thank Jamie, Michelle, and Mary for taking the time out to answer these questions and giving their expert opinions on the points raised.
The next Liverpool Roundtable will hopefully be out early next month so, until then, good luck Liverpool!