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This week’s Monday Verdict compares Liverpool’s 2018 and 2005 teams, assesses Harry Kane’s future and looks at Man Utd’s future.
WHO COMES OUT ON TOP BETWEEN LIVERPOOL’S 2018 SIDE VS 2005 ISTANBUL HEROES?
Robbie Fowler, one of Liverpool’s greatest-ever goal-grabbers, made quite the claim over the weekend when he suggested Jurgen Klopp’s current crop are a better side than the one that tasted Champions League glory under Rafa Benitez in 2005.
“I think, with all due respect, this team is better. I know that sounds stupid because we are sitting here talking about European champions,” Fowler said.
“But potentially this team can cause a few upsets in Europe.
“Obviously the ambition and the aim is to get into the top four as well.
“Jurgen I think is building something special, we have been saying that for a while.”
And while there’s no doubting we took a lot of pleasure from seeing Liverpool dismantle Porto 5-0 in their Champions League last-16 tie in Portugal last week, this still presents quite the claim from Fowler.
So, we decided to put Fowler’s theory to the test and squared up the two sides, player for player.For arguments sake, we’ve pitted Liverpool’s XI that beat Porto vs the Reds XI that triumphed on that famous night against Milan in 2005 and while the formations are different (Liverpool won with a 4-5-1 in 2005) we’ve still pitted each XI against one another…
Jerzy Dudek v Loris Karius: There’s no doubting the German has improved massively in recent weeks, but we’re still a long way from being convinced he’s Liverpool’s long-term No 1. Dudek, too, of course had his flaws, but in this instance, the Pole takes a narrow victory. Verdict: Dudek
Steve Finnan v Trent Alexander-Arnold: This is one tough battle because the Liverpool youngster has really impressed us of late and looks a safe bet to one day become England’s future right-back. But Mr Consistency Finnan was vastly underrated at once again marginally comes out on top. Verdict: Finnan
Sami Hyypia v Dejan Lovren: Simply no contest here – big Dejan (kidding, Sami, really!!) all the way. Verdict: Hyypia
Jamie Carragher v Virgil van Dijk: The latter has all the qualities to become a Liverpool great, but there’s no getting around that Carragher, for all he did at Liverpool, wins this battle. Verdict: Carragher
Djimi Traore v Andy Robertson: Traore is often cruelly tagged the worst player ever to win a Champions League medal, and while the tag is slightly harsh, there’s no doubting he did have plenty of vulnerabilities at Liverpool. Robertson has adapted well, meanwhile, after a slow start at Liverpool and looks more and more at home in their Red (and orange) shirts. For those that don’t know, by the way, Malian Traore is currently the assistant coach at MLS side Seattle Sounders – good to know he’s still appreciated somewhere. Verdict: Robertson
John Arne Riise v Gini Wijaldum: Although two very different performers with two very different attributes, the two both operated on the inside left of a midfield three. We do like Wijnaldum’s honest endeavours, but the hammer shot of Riise wins the day for us all day long. Verdict: Riise
Steven Gerrard v Jordan Henderson: Let’s not waste anyone’s time comparing these two. It’s not Henderson’s fault, but Gerrard remains and always will be, one of the greatest players to ever wear the red shirt. Verdict: Gerrard
Xabi Alonso v James Milner: Two brilliant players, again with very different attributes, but only one can claim greatness. (And no, we still haven’t forgiven Rafa for trying to sign Gareth Barry and forcing Alonso out!) Verdict: Alonso
Harry Kewell v Mohamed Salah: Harry Kewell scored 15 goals for Liverpool over his five seasons at the club; Mo Salah has already doubled that tally in half a season. Verdict: Salah
Luis Garcia v Sadio Mane: Garcia is a cult figure in Anfield folklore thanks to the Ghost Goal that sank Chelsea; however, Mane is the more talented and dangerous player of the two, despite his inconsistencies this season. Verdict: Mane
Milan Baros v Roberto Firmino: A limited striker, Baros always seemed to flatter to deceive at Liverpool, despite him always doing a solid job for the side. Firmino too likes to put in a similar shift, but the major difference is the Brazilian’s goals output. Another easy choice. Verdict: Firmino
Liverpool 2005: 7
Liverpool 2018: 4
Overrall, Liverpool’s 2005 side seemed to excel in the areas that the current crop don’t – and vice-versa – so comparisons will always be hard to call. Player for player, however, the side that Rafa lead to Champions League glory in 2005 just about edges it, primarily thanks to the brilliance of Hyypia, Carragher, Alonso and Gerrard.
But let’s not take anything away from Liverpool’s front three right now, who stand, quite simply, alongside the world’s best attacking triumvirates right now. If they can stay fit, and if they can find a way to keep it tight at the back, this current crop could go close to matching the achievements of their 2005 peers, but until they do, it’s hard to label Klopp’s 2018 bunch a better side than their 2005 counterparts.
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KANE FACES BIG DECISION OVER TOTTENHAM FUTURE
This year looks like being the biggest one yet in the ever-blossoming career of Harry Kane.
With a World Cup on the horizon and with Tottenham well poised to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, 2018 could yet prove the landmark year in Kane’s career.
But while many will feel Tottenham may have to win a trophy to keep Kane happy, for me, failure to do so will be forgiven for now if the club secures a place in the Champions League again next season.
Failure to do so, will leave the player facing a massive decision on his future, especially amid heightening claims that a move to Real Madrid has already been agreed.
Does the player stay at Tottenham and continue to hunt down Alan Shearer’s Premier League goals record? Or does he move to arguably the world’s biggest club in Real Madrid, more than double his wages and, most importantly, give himself a stronger chance of trophy success?
There’s a theory bandied around that Kane wants to emulate the likes of Francesco Totti and Matt Le Tissier (two players whose undoubted talents could have earned them bigger and better moves during their careers) and stay at Spurs for the duration of his career. Do that, and the Premier League goals record looks within sight. He might just win the odd trophy too, which would be nice….
There’s a lot of ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ being bandied about, but if Spurs finish in the top four (or better yet, shock everyone and win the damn Champions League…. dream on, Spurs fans…!), there’s no decision to be made.
But should Spurs fail to finish in the top four and he’s presented with a return to the Europa League, supporters may have every right to feel nervous about their star man’s future.
A big decision in what could be a very big year, awaits….
CONTE SHOULD HAVE SHOWN MORE FAITH IN BATSHUAYI
When Michy Batshuayi joined Borussia Dortmund on deadline day last month it’s fair to say there weren’t too many Chelsea fans crying into their insanely expensive King’s Road pints.
Seven goals in 32 Premier League appearances doesn’t exactly spell success but since moving to the Bundesliga, the Belgium star has found the net again on a regular basis and it begs the question: Was Conte wrong in not trusting Batshuayi more?
Summer signing Alvaro Morata had a bright start to life in west London but has since been hampered by injury issues, leaving Conte to turn to his next available central option in Batshuayi. Only he didn’t, sometimes preferring to go with Eden Hazard as a ‘false No. 9’ instead.
But having bagged a brace, and potentially some momentum, in a 3-0 FA Cup win over Newcastle on January 28, Conte chose to offload Batshuayi to Germany and sign Olivier Giroud from Arsenal instead.
Now, on his day, Giroud is a fine player but he is also incredibly similar to Morata, with the pair not particularly that mobile or quick – two boxes that you can tick for Batshuayi.
Would Chelsea not have been better served keeping an option like that around rather signing another like-for-like in Giroud?
Indeed since heading to the Bundesliga, Batshuayi scored a brace on his debut – he would have had a hat-trick if not for VAR – while he also scored in a win over a Hamburg and then notched two more in the Europa League against Atalanta.
Chelsea do seem to have a habit of bringing in players for big money and then not giving them enough time to settle in London, making fairly snap judgements that have so far cost them Kevin de Bruyne and Mo Salah to name just two.
At least Batshuayi is only on loan at Dortmund and Chelsea could end up with a better player on their hands when he returns, but IF Conte is still in charge he might be better making his plans elsewhere.
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IS THE FUTURE BRIGHT FOR UNITED’S YOUTH?
Manchester United’s matchday squad for their FA Cup fifth round clash against Huddersfield Town had somewhat of a youthful look on the face of it.
Yes, there was no shortage of senior presence either, with the likes of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young complementing the starting XI.
However, also present in the starting line-up was Scott McTominay, while the bench had Joel Pereira, Angel Gomes and Ethan Hamilton. The latter two are still teenagers.
But what does the future hold for United’s next batch of young guns?
Well, Jose Mourinho was pretty frank in his assessment of Ethan Hamilton’s chances as the 19-year-old took Paul Pogba’s spot on the bench: “I think it’s a beautiful moment for him.
“I’m not going to play Hamilton, but I would prefer to have him and I’m pretty sure he’s happy to be here.”
Hamilton even revealed who helped him settle in with the first team squad when he first broke through: “Darren Fletcher was brilliant with me from day one. He used to chat to me a lot when I was younger. In the canteen, he’d see me about and come over.
“No matter how difficult it is to make it at Manchester United, you need to have the belief that you can do it.”
But will any of the aforementioned players truly become a United star? Is there a Darren Fletcher in the current squad who can aid the transition for aspiring young players?
The debate continues to rumble on about Chelsea’s youth policy and the fact that every season they seem to have over 50 players out on loan. Is it really the best thing for young players?
Axel Tuanzebe (RB) vs. Fulham:
8/8 aerial duels
1 blocked shot
1 key pass
Solid performance from him, and hopefully he keeps getting minutes and manages to get into José’s plans for next season. pic.twitter.com/3wb3SGW11H
— Henry. (@UtdHenry) February 17, 2018
One talented player that United have loaned out is Axel Tuanzebe, who made his Aston Villa debut on Saturday against Fulham and was apparently very impressive. Will he be another case of a player too good for the Championship but never makes it at Manchester United?
Perhaps it’s too early to tell, but do players such as Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have a good chance of being consistent first teamers?
Tahith Chong is another teenager from the Red Devils’ system who has had no shortage of hype, while Lee O’Connor, George Tanner and Ro-Shaun Williams all stood out in United’s recent U19 UEFA Youth League win.
According to the MEN, Williams – and striker Joshua Bohui – have ‘already trained with the seniors at Carrington under Mourinho’ and will hope impressing on the European stage will lead to more opportunities.
As reference by the Daily Mail, Manchester United have included a home-grown player in their first team squad for 81 years. This is perhaps indicative of the club’s identity and the ‘United Way’, the same philosophy that has seen Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard flourish since their emergence in the first team.
But, for those players who emerge, there could be an equal number (or possibly even greater) that it simply never falls into place for.
Take McTominay for example – a player who Jose Mourinho has publicly waxed lyrical about since he came into the fold.
“I think maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said.
“Last season he was almost leaving the club to go somewhere, who knows where, who knows in which division he would be playing now.
“He has now played already, I don’t know, seven or eight 90 minutes – he’s not playing five or 10 minutes – in every competition: Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, Capital One Cup.
“I think the kid deserves a little bit more (recognition).
“And because it looks like England is missing him, if I was Alex McLeish the first thing I would do would be to [makes phone gesture] come to me.”
As glowing a report as that is, Mourinho – and McTominay – will know that he will need to be good enough to displace both Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba if he is to nail down a midfield spot. Will that happen any time soon? Instinct says no.
Yes, perhaps his c