Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Rival Lines: "Arter's a better player than Wilshere," Anfield Wrap

Rival Lines
Match Preview
Liverpool v AFCB
Blogger Interview: The Anfield Wrap
Twitter: @anfieldwrap

I had a promise to keep with the Anfield Wrap as they had asked me to do some work for them last time AFCB played Liverpool and I was unable to take them up on their offer. So getting back in touch with Neil Atkinson was a chance to catch up on his opinions about the season Liverpool are having and wondering if he had got over the 4-3 game at Dean Court earlier in the season. I fear revenge could be on its way!

CC: Can you feel the pressure of the top four finish mounting on Liverpool?

AW: That pressure has been there all season. It's clearly the target on the side. Liverpool showed far more composure than Everton in the Merseyside Derby, but the path to top four becomes clearer and clearer as we get closer to the end of the campaign. I think it's very much in the club's hands at this stage – 17 points from the remaining 8 games should be enough to get what we need.

CC: Adam Lallana is going to miss some games, but do Liverpool fans only value him when they see how the team plays without him?

AW: Not anymore. Lallana has had an excellent season and Liverpool supporters in general value him very highly now. He has had a strange Liverpool career but the hope is that he is now coming into his prime. He doesn't have pace to lose and gets smarter and smarter month by month. He's so good technically. I hope he at least stays on this level for the next 2 seasons, if not even to improve.

CC: Are all the injuries now starting to hinder Liverpool?

AW: Yes. The short answer. Yes. How couldn't they? Injuries hinder every side. Liverpool will face Bournemouth short of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane. That is three of Liverpool's first choice front six. Each will be missed in a different way. Henderson primarily for his ability to set the pace, Lallana for his guile, Mane for his pace and goals.


CC: Has the keeper situation settled down at the club and is Joe Hart a realistic target this summer for Liverpool?

AW: I would be hugely surprised if we went after Joe Hart. I just don't see Jurgen Klopp spending that much – wages and fee – on a goalkeeper. I think the whole situation remains in flux. Had Simon Mignolet been a new signing in December people would be happy with him – one error against Chelsea aside. But he hasn't been and he still has all of that memory (as does everyone else) of not quite being reliable enough. Karius appears to be very much second choice. Danny Ward is doing very well at Huddersfield.

I have no idea what happens next.

CC: Is it fair to criticise Jurgen Klopp seeing how close Liverpool were to Chelsea before Christmas and now looking at the gap to Chelsea?

AW: In general, no. On a game by game basis Liverpool could have been a bit better and overall I think Liverpool could have both planned to be and actually been better in January. However we're talking here about being perfect. He has had a good season.

Instead he found themselves one attacker and possibly one midfielder light while dealing with a lot of games – the manager and club could have addressed that last summer. The gap is 10 points. There is every chance the season ends and it is about seven points given the nature of remaining fixtures; Chelsea have had one great run and been consistent since that run, and sometimes a side is just too good.

CC: Going out of the FA Cup to Wolves was no doubt disappointing but has it given Liverpool a better chance of getting in that top four?

AW: That the FA Cup Semi Finals are all other sides aiming to finish in the top four would suggest not. But the focus could be helpful. I think not getting to the semi-final in the EFL Cup but getting to the semi final in the FA Cup would have been more useful in terms of keeping the league momentum going.

CC: Liverpool have a good run-in with no top six sides to play but are there any fixtures that you see as the most likely to be a banana skin?

AW: All of them and none of them simultaneously. They are all games Liverpool should get three points from. That they won't get 24 points goes without saying, and so they will slip up somewhere. It's hard to know at this stage of this season who is fighting for their lives and who isn't. I thought Bournemouth had done enough to stay up, but Hull's resurgence suggests they still need to find a couple of wins and I expect them to make it extremely difficult at Anfield. Across the last two seasons there has been a massive amount of fight and togetherness about Bournemouth.

CC: Have the fans fallen out of love with Daniel Sturridge?

AW: The extent to which they were in love with him is up for grabs. I very much was. He's a ridiculously talented goalscorer but his fitness has become so difficult to manage. He won't be playing his football at Liverpool next season and that is a massive shame but that is best for him, best for the club and best for whichever club is lucky enough to have him.

CC: Are you at all surprised that Jordan Ibe and Brad Smith have found it hard to get a regular starting places in the Bournemouth team?

AW: Not at all. Brad Smith is very much one of those players who could well end up looking too good for the Championship and not quite good enough for the Premier League.

Ibe is more interesting. He clearly has a lot of the tools to be a good player but can't quite put it together. I wonder if he needs a positional shift. He did well at Anfield at right wingback but may well be worth looking at as a candidate as an attacking right back. He does his best work with space to move into.

CC: Is Jack Wilshere a player that Liverpool should be interested in making a move for over the summer?

AW: Very much not. One tick on Liverpool's criteria for summer signings has to be with reference to fitness record. Liverpool have too many players too prone to injury and before even getting in on the level of the player Liverpool need to make some harsh choices.

I also think Harry Arter is a better player than him and if Liverpool were looking for a squad option in midfield they could do a lot worse, but players where possible should play and Arter would be best served by running Bournemouth's midfield.

Adam Smith seems to have slightly gone off the boil watching from afar. I liked him last season. Josh King has recently been banging the goals in. Again, a player who needs to play though. It's boring but most players should probably stay where they are and especially working with a manager like Eddie Howe.

CC: What are your views about Eddie Howe - some see him as overrated while others see him as a future England manager?

AW: I think he has shown he is clearly very good at coaching, organising and motivating a group of players and that he has his way of playing football. He deserves enormous credit for the job he has done, especially as it is fair to say Bournemouth's recruitment hasn't been great last summer. I think his path is slightly complicated in terms of what job he does next, but I don't think that should be at the forefront of his mind. Bournemouth need a good summer and to aim to break 50 points next season. I think they are capable of that.

CC: Bournemouth have only done the double over one club in the Premier League - Swansea. Do you expect Liverpool to avoid adding to this statistic?

AW: I do but I expect a very hard game for The Reds. Patience will be key. It could well become attritional from here, the top four chase and Liverpool will need to get ahead and see the game out on Wednesday night. I would predict 2-1 Liverpool and a nervy last 10 for The Reds.

CC: There were some excellent points made by Neil there and the thought of breaking 50 points in a season seems like gold to an AFCB fan like me. Still AFCB have to aspire to do even better and while the Cherries are trying to move on from just thinking about staying in the league, Liverpool fans such as Neil are dreaming of a top four finish which I think they can get this season. Whether Liverpool give the chasers such as Man Utd and Arsenal a sniff though is down to games like this one against AFCB and the Cherries have usually performed well at Anfield so I'm also expecting a tight game.

Catch up with The Anfield Wrap which has a good diagnostic of whether redemption for the early season defeat to Bournemouth is on or not. Let's hope NOT!

Premier Talk - Pressure back on the Cherries

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