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Masch Headed to Barca, Kuyt Staying, and Europa League Draw

A couple of fairly big pieces of news this morning.

Goodbye Javier, I Liked You Most of the Time

The first is the confirmation that we've all known was coming---Javier Mascherano will be headed to Barcelona after the clubs agreed on a fee that's rumored to be in the neighborhood of £17.25m with the possibility of incentives to follow. It's still slightly below Liverpool's valuation, which was in the £25m range, but it's an end to a saga that's been ongoing for over a year.

The circumstances under which Mascherano leaves are less than ideal, and it's left many supporters with a bitter taste in their mouths. We found out last summer that he had his sights set elsewhere---there were rumors that he and his family were unhappy with life in England, and he had already targeted Barcelona as his desired destination. He stuck around for the entire 2009-2010 campaign, putting together a solid, if not relatively unremarkable, season.

Once the World Cup ended this summer, it became clear that he was once again engineering for a move away from the club---when he finally did return from vacation, he immediately put in his transfer request and made no bones about wanting away quickly. Week-by-week we heard different stories---he was headed to Inter, he was headed to Barca, he wasn't going anywhere, he would only be sold at the right price, etc. etc.

The breaking point came this past weekend, though, as he reportedly refused to be a part of the squad that traveled to the Eastlands to face Manchester City. Hodgson did nothing to deny these allegations, only commenting that Barca had "turned his head" and that he "wasn't in the right mind" to be playing for Liverpool.

When these rumors started we had a pretty healthy discussion about the impact that it's had on Masch's Liverpool legacy (if you can have a legacy after four seasons). Right now, it's awfully hard for me to see past the circus that he's created around his exit---refusing to play, drawing in his international teammates to assist with the move (not that they needed much prompting, eh Martin?)'s all a bit souring. For me, a player's loyalty, dignity, and grace extends beyond what they do in the shirt, and at the current moment I wouldn't say I rate Masch too highly in any of those categories. Yes, that comes off as bitter, and it disregards the very real issue of prioritizing family over sport, which should always be the case. It's just a bad time for all of this to go down, and whether it's the media narrative or me just being butthurt, I'm not feeling too understanding at the present moment.

At best, maybe this removes the bad juju that Arsenal fans have put on Pepe Reina because of that whole Cesc Fabregas soap opera. See, we got ours, now back the f*** off.

By Contrast, Dirk Kuyt is Walking on Water

He never wanted to leave! He loves Liverpool! He wants to be buried in a Reds shirt!

Maybe a bit unfair to Javier Mascherano (but f*** that guy), but the news about Kuyt's commitment to the club makes the departing midfielder look even worse. I know the family angle looms large for the Argentine, but both players had relatively big-money moves on their horizons and chances to move to clubs that, at the current moment, are in a much better place than Liverpool. And we're not just talking about climate.

So after a performance in which he was decidedly average but still managed to net the goal that capped the 2-1 win, it was refreshing to hear Kuyt deny the reports that he's on his way to Inter. As usual, I have no idea how much veracity there was in the news that had his agent accepting the Italian club's advances, but it was more than enough to be cause for concern. Given the current state of Liverpool, it wouldn't have been entirely shocking.

For me it's good news---I know there's still mixed, and even polarized, opinions on where he fits in Liverpool's best eleven, and his last two displays haven't helped his case much. I'd still argue that too much was asked of him on Sunday at City, and I don't think we can tether that performance too strongly to yesterday's. Plus, as he's so often done for the club, he found a big goal when they needed it. Regardless of where or how he fits, I think he's a great one to have around.

Europa League Group Draw

A little less pomp and circumstance involved in today's draw, which apparently took place at about 7:00am EST and likely didn't involve most on Inter's starting eleven. The twelve different groups were settled, though, and you'd have to say that Liverpool didn't come away with a walk in the park:

Group K

Steaua Bucharest

Liverpool start with Steaua at Anfield on September 16, and then proceed to play their next two matches on the road before returning home for two of the final three matches. The final match of the group stage against Utrecht is scheduled for December 15.

Once again, Liverpool are tasked with facing continental opponents about which I know very little. We all know that Andrea Dossena moved to Napoli in the summer, and at face value I'd say the Italian side are the toughest challenge in the group. That's not meant to underestimate Steaua or Utrecht, both of whom will likely present a healthy challenge for the Reds.

It'll be interesting to see how Hodgson and company approach these matches---Liverpool's play in league is always going to take precedence, and the first match comes just four days before United visit Anfield. So far nothing has indicated that the Europa League could or should displace the league campaign as the top priority, but given Liverpool's draw, there's potential for the club to get punished in a group that's plenty difficult.

Enjoy your Friday, folks---preview for Sunday's match with West Brom up tomorrow.

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