Thursday, 28 August 2008

Liverpool Must Improve - Quickly

Liverpool stumbled into the Champions League Group Stages last night, after an uncomfortable and frustrating 120 minutes of action. In my previous post I suggested Liverpool would have hit their stride by this stage, but this clearly has not yet happened. The team are still labouring through games, seemingly relying on the brilliance of Torres or Gerrard to rescue them. As has been highlighted on more than one occassion, there is a severe lack of width in the side. Which makes it fairly easy for the opposition to set their team up against us. All they have to do is pack the midfield with ballwinners in the knowledge that Liverpool have no threat out wide. Alas, when Benitez finally brought on Babel to play on the left wing, it eventually resulted in a superb goal. I am reminded of a statistic Gordon Strachan once pointed out, which is that about 70% of goals in football are scored as the result of a cross. It amazes me how any top flight manager cannot see the importance of providing width.

In other news, Liverpool appear on the verge of signing the Spaniard, Albert Riera, from Espanyol for £9m. Meanwhile Chelsea look close to tying up a £30m deal for classy Brazilian Robinho from Real Madrid. And this perfectly illustrates why Liverpool will not win the league either this season or any other season in the near future. The Londoners are able to spend big money on established world class internationals with a proven track record of winning championships. Riera had a disastrous spell at Manchester City a few seasons ago and is not considered for the Spanish national squad at present. As I have said before and will say again, money talks in the Premier League (something which Alex Ferguson is very well aware of). As Arsene Wenger has discovered in recent seasons, it is now no longer sufficient to scour the continent for promising young players and develop them into league winners. You simply have to spend big to win the English League title and that is not likely to change any time soon. So while the Merseysiders persist in spending money on decent but hardly world beating players, that 19th League title will continue to elude them.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Sub Standard Liverpool Fail To Impress

Liverpool's promising pre-season form was brought to a grinding halt in Liege last night, as they failed to break down the spirited Belgian Champions. Rafa Benitez will no doubt have been hoping to effectively close out the tie in this first leg ahead of a tough open to the League campaign, but his team were out thought and out muscled virtually from the first whistle. The new first choice pairing of Torres and Keane were left frustrated as the midfield failed to provide any kind of support at all. Such was Liege's dominance of the midfield area, the Liverpool back line were more often than not forced to launch long, hopeful balls into the final third. This is not the Liverpool way and certainly not the type of service Fernando Torres is comfortable with. Olympic gold hopeful Javier Mascherano was sorely missed, while substitute Gerrard was clearly not match fit. Nevertheless there should still have been enough quality in the team to at least take control of the middle areas and provide some organisation. The rookie midfielder and Patrick Vieira-esque Damien Plessis is undoubtedly an exciting prospect for the future who clearly features in Benitez's plans. However he looked a little out of his depth last night and may need to be eased into the team more gradually. It was only thanks to Pepe Reina that we were not severly embarrassed last night.

Overall I think this was a case of Liverpool being caught cold by determined and confident opposition. It should be remembered that this is the first competitive game of the pre season, and with a number of key players either missing or not fully fit, it is harsh to be overly critical. By the time of the return leg at Anfield the Merseysiders should be much sharper and I expect them to win quite comfortably. However, Liege look a well organised side so there is no room for error.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Cod Leaves a Pleasant Taste

Ever wanted to know everything there is to know about cod? As the blurb on the back cover acknowledges, to go out and buy a book on the subject of cod is to invite glances of suspicion. Indeed, I felt a tad self conscious whilst reading the book on public transport and always removed it from my bag rather surreptitiously. But all that stealth has been worth it. Mark Kurlansky's epic proved to be a little gem. He explores the role of cod in almost single handedly helping to develop communities circling the North Atlantic, most notably Newfoundland, Maine, Iceland and Greenland.

The gradual improvements in fishing techniques and their contribution to the establishment of well known brands such as Birdseye are captured in impressive detail, from the discovery of 'long-lining' in the 17th century to the invention of frozen food technology. One the most noticeable aspects of the book is the level of research he has clearly undertaken, which is astonishing. The book is filled with factual, tragic and amusing anecdotes which the author has seemingly dug out in countless libraries ranging from Boston to Copenhagen. Kurlansky even intersperses the main narrative with historical cod recipes at the beginning of each chapter, and a more comprehensive 'cookbook' at the end. The book was even the winner of the Glenfiddich 'Best Food Book' 1998.

Much more than a biography of cod, Kurlansky also adds a political dimension, tracing its role in the age of exploration in the 17th Century, the onset of the slave trade, the American Revolution and, more recently, the bitterly fought 'Cod Wars'. Of course North Atlantic cod is now a threatened species due to over fishing, mainly by the Spanish, British and Canadians. The closing chapters therefore provide a rather sombre counterbalance to the sanguine first half of the book, not just in terms of the startling rate of the decline in fish stocks but also of the difficulties of fishing communities in adapting to new ways of life. Poignantly, Kurlansky quotes William Durant from 'The Lessons of History' :

"The first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. Competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life - peaceful when food abounds, violent when the mouths outrun the food. Animals eat one another without qualm; civilised men consume one another by due process of law"

This was an enjoyable and surprising account of the economic, cultural and political significance of an otherwise unremarkable species, and is recommended to readers looking for something different. Whilst I have no intentions of reducing my cod consumption, I will certainly enjoy my next fish supper just that little bit more.