Leading up to this weekend's critical (aren't they all?) match at Anfield I had the pleasure of chatting with Sam Fels. Sam is a fellow Blackhawks fan and prominent blogger who is kind enough to indulge my insane ramblings from time to time. He also writes about Liverpool over at Anfield Asylum. We talked about our favorite clubs and flung dirt at each other for a nice change of pace. Here is our conversation.
Sam: So, hovering above the relegation zone. That must be fun.
Andrew: It's not fun but it is temporary unless you're asking Robbie Savage in which case you're a shit for brains. It's hard to grasp for a lot of fans, even Villa fans, that Paul Lambert has a very difficult task on his hands. He's had to undo the negative atmosphere around the club that came with Alex McLeish as well as restock a squad that just doesn't have enough senior players on it. He's getting the players to believe in themselves and work hard and the quality is starting to show. If McLeish couldn't get them sent down, no one can.
Liverpool sit mid table. Think that's where they'll end up? Higher? Lower?
Sam: Higher. While we're all getting a little dizzy at the sudden proximity to 4th, the squad's thinness and inconsistency are going to make that pretty damn difficult. But barring a major injury or media-influenced ban on Suarez, anywhere from 4th to 6th sounds about right.
So your lot couldn't score backstage at a zeppelin show with a bag full of coke.
Andrew: Not in the league, no. That's a real problem. If they can figure out how to score the way they have in the Capital One Cup (13 goals in 4 matches) that'd be swell. And before you say well who did they play? Yes, they played Swindon Town and Tranmere but 8 of those 13 goals were against Manchester City and Norwich away, both top flight clubs. So the talent is there. It's consistency they need to find. I believe they will find it.
Liverpool seems like they rely an awful lot on Luis Suarez. He's a complete scumbag but he's really good. What happens if he goes down? Before Darren Bent pulled his hamstring yesterday I would have bet that Liverpool would come calling in January. It's hard to imagine they won't go looking for a goal scorer. What would you like to see them do?
Sam: I kind of love how a lot of Liverpool supporters say to just go get a goal-scorer. Like you can just pick one off somewhere. Obviously it would be ideal to get someone who'll stick the chances Liverpool create consistently, but if they were so good at doing that why are they for sale at a price Liverpool can afford? I feel like Liverpool are just going to end up with a different version of Fabio Borini.
But in reality, they just need warm bodies who can play anywhere along the front three competently. Sterling can't play this many games at 18, Suarez is going to pass out at some point, and Suso's even more raw than Sterling. That leaves Downing, Cole, and Assaidi getting time, and no one wants that.
Darren Bent's touch probably will see him never considered by Rodgers. Otherwise he'd probably just recall Carroll.
So this Benteke looks a pretty tasty character...
Andrew: He is. When Villa bought him the experts said he was too raw for England. They have been proven wrong. He's been arguably the best Villa player and the 8 million or so pounds he was bought for seem like a pittance. He's getting all the attention and rightfully so. The guy who seems to deserve a lot more attention is Ashley Westwood. Lambert brought him in from Crewe Alexandra and he's so good at making the right pass and taking care of the ball in midfield. Make sure to watch him - he's young and could end up being pretty special.
I know you've got our old lady-punching buddy Stewart Downing now and we like to make jokes about him because he's a prick but how do you all feel about him? Were you surprised when Jonjo Shelvey escaped from Dr. Moreau's island and turned into a decent player? What players have surprised you this season and who should we look out for?
Sam: Most everyone hates Downing, and that has to do with his price-tag. As you know, I never blame a player for what he costs or makes, because he didn't hold a gun to anyone's head. But Downing's just been "there" most games. He doesn't do much in either direction and is on his way out anyway. He was bought to cross for Andy Carroll under Dalglish, and neither is around nor a tactic now.
I've always liked Jonathan Joseph Shelvey, at first because he was a midfielder who wasn't afraid to get into the box. There's always been a very raw diamond waiting to be carved, and Rodgers has been the one to do it. He's got a nose for goal, makes all the right runs, and can be more creative than you think. His tackling might be worse than Scholes, but we can work on that.
I don't think he'll play at the weekend, but I'm really high on Suso. He's had to play in the front three most of the season but really belongs in the sharp end of midfield. His touch is just immaculate, he's unafraid of taking on defenders, and really imaginative with his movement and passing. He's a genuine #10, which Liverpool just never really have had (and since when did we start only referring to positions by number?) Give him another year or two and he's going to be a genuine star.
Last one: You're not really going to flirt with relegation, right? Prediction for Saturday?
Andrew: I think looking at the teams it's really difficult to think that QPR and Reading are going to stay up. That leaves one more spot. Will Sunderland snap out of it? Probably to a degree. Southampton doesn't scream 'safety' to me, either. We can assume Wigan has a good run of form coming in March. I wouldn't be surprised if the three teams on the bottom end up there but who knows. Lambert will be able to add players in January and a winger would do us a world of good. I think we'll be fine.
As for a prediction, a draw seems likely for me. Villa haven't been conceding and if they roll out their brand new Rolls Royce that is the 3-5-2 and get some health back with Bennett and Vlaar it could take Liverpool a bit by surprise. It's a lot of fun to watch and Lambert's formation flexibility is a wonderful attribute he can use to keep teams off guard. Charles N'Zogbia was great in his return vs. Norwich so look to see if he gets to start. I'll go ahead and say 1-1.
What's an acceptable endgame for Liverpool this season? Champions League or bust? Will Rodgers make it to next August? And a prediction please.
Sam: Acceptable? I think if Liverpool compete for 4th spot, and show signs of progress (which they already do), most fans will be happy. They don't have to get 4th, but they at last have to make a run at it to prove they've moved forward from the past couple years.
Unless something goes completely haywire, Rodgers will be here next August and many more after that. The point of hiring a young manager was to get one they could leave alone and let him build. He's already showed no fear in blooding young players, and Wisdom, Suso, and Sterling are the better for it. Shelvey's, Henderson's, Enrique's, and Johnson's game have greatly improved under him. He's shown flexibility tactically and formation-wise. It's all encouraging.
Sadly for you, Saturday will see a fresh Luis Suarez. That means a dangerous Luis Suarez, which means Liverpool almost certainly won't lose. They could miss the target dozens of times as is their wont and give away a stupid set-piece goal to draw. But I'm not seeing it. 3-1 to the Reds.