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Saturday, April 14, 2012


Liverpool needs return on investment

LONDON — Before Liverpool's Premier League game against Blackburn last Tuesday, the joke doing the rounds was that the Reds were fielding a weakened side because Andy Carroll was playing.

Christopher Davies

The striker, famous for hardly ever scoring since his £35 million move from Newcastle 15 months ago, had the last laugh by heading the winner.

Yet as Liverpool prepares for Saturday's F.A. Cup semifinal against Everton, it is its goalkeeper rather than its goal-shy attack (relegation-threatened Blackburn has scored five more goals — 40) that is the center of attention.

Pepe Reina's red card against Newcastle for butting James Perch ruled him out of the Wembley clash, and then the Spaniard's replacement, Doni, was red carded against Blackburn.

Enter Brad Jones, who will make his first start for Liverpool in 19 months at Wembley.

Jamie Carragher put on a brave face and said: "I don't think it's a big thing . . . at least he had some experience before the semifinal."

But going into an F.A. Cup semifinal with your third-choice goalkeeper is a big thing and Liverpool would love Everton to be in the same predicament. Nerves will be raw, emotions running high, adrenaline pumping and the atmosphere red hot as Merseyside comes to Wembley.

True, Jones has played in a League Cup and UEFA Cup final for Middlesbrough eight and six years ago, respectively, but Wembley will be a different story.

If the Liverpool goalkeeping red card habit continues Saturday, next in line is Peter Gulacsi or Peter Who? as he has been referred to this week.

The Hungarian has been with Hull on loan but has not played this year because of injury.

While many would find it amusing should Liverpool's goalkeeper rotation continue, an F.A. Cup semifinal is not the stage for a rookie stopper making his Reds debut after 3½ months on the sidelines.

Everton, meanwhile, has no such problems. Manager David Moyes rested half his Wembley team against Sunderland on Monday but the so-called second string side still won 4-0.

Captain Phil Neville said the side will have failed if it does not win a major trophy "because the side is good enough to win something."

Under Moyes, Everton, which has spent loose change in comparison to its neighbors, has consistently overachieved and the January arrival of striker Nikica Jelovic (from Rangers) and the return of midfielder Steven Pienaar (from Spurs) has given the Blues an added edge in attack.

Kenny Dalglish has spent the last few weeks trying to convince everyone that winning the League Cup was "a step forward," but when a club has invested more than £100 million since January 2011 the owners do not expect the side to be 33 points behind the leaders with five games to go. Twelve wins in 33 league matches, including two in the last 14, including a run of six straight defeats represents "the worst run" Dalglish can remember.

Luis Suarez (£22.8 million), Carroll (£35 million), Jordan Henderson (£16 million), Charlie Adam (£8 million), Stewart Downing (£20 million), Jose Enrique (£5 million), Sebastian Coates (£6 million) represent an outlay of £112.8 million and only Adam and Jose Enrique have truly justified their fees.

If Liverpool has a match-winner, it is likely to be Steven Gerrard, an Anfield legend who cost the club nothing and has inspired it to victory time after time.

Gerrard insisted the blame for Liverpool's inconsistency lies with all the players, not just the recent recruits.

He said: "The simple facts are our league campaign hasn't been good enough. We are all frustrated. The players have under-delivered in the league. All of us. Not just the new signings, not just certain individuals, all of us have under-delivered the league. We had three targets at the start of the season. One was top four. We haven't delivered it."

Don't be surprised if this one goes to penalties.

On Sunday, Chelsea plays Tottenham and if form is a guide the Blues will win. Chelsea, which hosts Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal on Wednesday, has won eight of its last 11 games, while Spurs have won only one of their last seven in the league.

Manager Roberto di Matteo has steadied the Chelsea ship and he knows it has a better chance of beating Spurs in one match than Barcelona over two legs.

He must field his strongest side at Wembley, which means a midfield of Ramieres, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Saloman Kalou and John Obi Mikel, with Fernando Torres getting the nod ahead of Didier Drogba.

Spurs need their big game players — Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart — to dominate if they are to win. The trio has gone off the boil lately as Spurs have taken just 14 points from their last 13 league games.

Chelsea has been grinding out victories, but the team has looked tired, while the return from injury of Aaron Lennon has allowed Modric to play a more central role where he is more dangerous.

Lennon and Bale give Spurs width and pace that few teams possess and could be the key to an extra-time win.

* * *

ONE OF THE more unusual statistics to come out this week was that Jose Mourinho has missed 43 news conferences during his two seasons as coach of Real Madrid. Not through illness but because he just chose on 43 occasions not to carry out the expected media duties of a coach.

When a coach refuses to speak to the media, for whatever reason, he is effectively snubbing the supporters, because the media is the only link between a club and the fans.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

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