Ahead of Sunday’s match at Anfield, Jamie Kanwar from Liverpool Kop has given a few minutes of his time to answer some of my questions.
Scott the Red: What do you make of the beachball fiasco at the Stadium of Light?
Jamie Kanwar: It was a very unfortunate incident, and according to the laws of the game, the goal should not have stood. However, every team suffers bad luck and dodgy refereeing decisions, and this incident should not be used an excuse for losing the game. As Rafa Benitez rightly admitted out after the game, Liverpool were just not good enough on the day.
STR: How do you feel about your captain in light of his drunken bar brawl?
JK: Gerrard was cleared, which was great, but he brought the situation on himself. After the initial rebuffal, did Gerrard need to approach McGhee a second time to ‘question’ him? No. If Gerrard had just kept away, the whole mess could’ve been avoided. The whole situation spiraled out of control as a direct result of Gerrard’s refusal to let things go. I think Gerrard will learn from the situation, and the hope is it will make him a better captain. I am one of Gerrard’s biggest critics but we have to appreciate that he is only human, and occasionally he will make mistakes.
STR: What did you think about the lack of attention or punishment dished out to Craig Bellamy for punching a restrained fan on the pitch during the Manchester derby?
JK: I feel the same way about that as I do about Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick and Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt: you reap what you sow. Who knows what the fan might have done if he’d been allowed to get to whoever he was going after? He was probably a terrace thug, and in my view, football thugs deserve everything that’s coming to them.
STR: Where does your 4-1 victory over us last season rank amongst your favourite Liverpool games?
JK: It was a great victory but it is not even my top 20 favourite Liverpool games. Unlike previous Liverpool-United encounters, it is not a game I can watch over and over. It was exciting to win, but the manner of the victory was not that exciting – the game was won as a result of mistakes, set-pieces and a penalty. Give me Liverpool’s 4-0 Anfield hammering of United in 1990 any day; or the 2 games from the 95-95 season, in which Robbie Fowlers scored 2 at old Trafford and 2 at Anfield.
STR: Which playing positions do you think Liverpool are superior to United?
JK: Goalkeeper: Reina over Van Der Sar/Foster any day.
Central midfield: Gerrard over Anderson/Scholes/Fletcher/O’Shea etc.
Up front: Torres over Rooney/Berbatov.
Right back: Johnson over Brown/Neville
Right midfield; Purely in terms of specific. Measurable impact on the team, Dirk Kuyt is more effective than any of United’s right midfielders in terms of goals/assists etc.
STR: How badly will Liverpool miss Alonso this season?
JK: Liverpool have undoubtedly missed Alonso this season, but only because he was not properly replaced from day 1 of the season. Rafa Benitez made the fatal mistake of signing Alberto Aquilani, who is still waiting to make his debut 2 and half months into the season. I do not doubt that Aquilani is good player, but Alonso needed to be replaced with a player of comparable quality right from the start of the season. If that had happened, the Spaniard’s absence may not have been so keenly felt.
The impact of Alonso’s absence has also been exacerbated by Benitez’s pig-headed refusal to consistently play Steven Gerrard in central midfield as a way of compensating for Aquilani’s absence. The facts are simple: Gerrard + Torres this season = 4 defeats (Spurs, Villa, Fiorentina + Chelsea). Gerrard in midfield = 5 wins. Lucas in midfield = 6 defeats. It is absolutely incomprehensible that despite this, Benitez STILL persists with the Brazilian in midfield.
Now, unlike many Liverpool fans, I don’t have a problem with Lucas; I think he has potential and will develop into an effective player. it is not his fault Benitez keeps playing him in central midfield. However, at this stage, the only question that needs to be answered here is this: who is the better central midfielder: Gerrard or Lucas? There is only one answer, and when the chips are down , it has to be aces in their places.
STR: How highly do you rate the chances of Rafa being sacked/walking out this season?
JK: Rafa will not be sacked, nor should he be. Liverpool have never sacked a manager mid-season and the club is not going to start now, especially after last season’s 2nd place finish. On top of that, the club cannot afford to sack Benitez, who recently signed a new long-term contract.
There is a slight possibility that if Liverpool’s run continues to get worse that Benitez might choose to step down, but given his stubbornness, I think it’s highly unlikely. That might change though if he senses the fans turning against him, which is definitely possible if he continues to make the same mistakes over and over again.
STR: Is this Liverpool’s year?
JK: At this stage, the answer would have to be no. Having said that, winning the title after losing 4 of the first 9 league games is not unheard of. Indeed, Bill Shankly’s Liverpool achieved such a feat in the 1963/64 season – 4 of the first 9 leagues were lost but the club still went on to win the title. Football has obviously changed since then, but the current Liverpool team and fan base should take heart from that fantastic achievement as it symbolizes everything that is great about Liverpool.
If Liverpool beat United this Sunday and the team then goes on a run similar to Shankly’s 63-64 side (23 games won/2 games drawn in the next 30 games), then everything will be wide open.
The above may seem laughable right now but this is Liverpool – write us off at your peril. The club’s magical spirit and absolute winning mentality may be in hibernation at the moment, but it is always there, and it will return. And when it does…watch out.
STR: How important do you think the return of Fernando Torres will be to you getting a result against us at the weekend?
JK: Torres is undoubtedly one of the world’s top strikers, so he will be essential to Liverpool’s chances at the weekend. He has 8 goals and 1 assist from 8 games this
season so far, which illustrates just how important he is to the team. Having said that, the media loves to perpetuate the myth that Liverpool is a 2-man team; the stats prove that this is nonsense. Last season, the club beat Man United at Anfield without both Gerrard and Torres, and despite the recent setbacks against Sunderland and Lyon, the team has the ability to do get positive results without Torres, Gerrard or both; and previous history categorically proves this.
STR: Predictions for the weekend?
JK: Liverpool will beat United. It’s almost guaranteed if you ask me. The current slump has to end somewhere and defeat AT HOME to United is unthinkable for all sorts of reasons. Liverpool’s current run is already the worst the club has endured for 22 years; another defeat and it becomes even worse than that. A defeat will also eliminate Liverpool from this season’s premiership race; that cannot be allowed to happen, and I am sure it will not be allowed to happen. United were beaten at Anfield last season without Gerrard and Torres; there is no reason the same result cannot be achieved again.