There's big news and number crunching and behind the scenes insights to get to in a crowded news and notes today, so without further ado let's get right to it...
* Potentially huge news in the ongoing Hillsborough fight surfaced yesterday when the government was ordered by the Information Commissioner to release Margaret Thatcher's private files on the disaster. That it's taken the government more than two years to reach this point, with the Commissioner singling out the Cabinet Office for criticism due to their efforts in delaying his ruling on the freedom of information application originally made by the BBC, will inevitably leave some in a cynical mood. In theory, though, the information set to be released should give a great deal of insight into exactly what the government of the day was told about the disaster early on, as well as if there was any kind of coordinated effort to cover up the role failure and incompetence by the police played in the disaster.
* Meanwhile over on Arsenal blog A Cultured Left Foot, there's an intriguing breakdown of results vs. net spend (HT: SouthAfricanRed) over the past six season that attempts to compare Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester City. The long and the short of it as far as the numbers are concerned is that Liverpool's done about as well as could be expected based on wages and transfer spending, perhaps even overachieving slightly. And while it's no surprise that Chelsea and Manchester City are by far the worst when it comes for getting a return on their investment, it is initially surprising just how much Manchester United appears to have overachieved from a point per pound standpoint—and that's not even getting into the trophies they've won.
There are mitigating factors that most Liverpool fans will be well aware of, though. The biggest being that United began the six year stretch being examined with an exceptionally strong squad full of their own golden generation, something that has allowed them to spend less over time than those who started in a weaker position and needed to play catch-up. Arsenal also started off that run with a rather strong squad, given that the year previous they were represented by their invincibles. Both sides are listed as the strongest overachievers compared to financial outlay in the past six seasons, and while there's certainly something to be said for their achievement, it must also come with a fairly large asterisk given their relative starting positions.
More interesting from a Liverpool standpoint is that despite starting out with a much weaker squad than Arsenal and United, and despite being heavily outspent by the underperforming (at least from a point per pound standpoint) City and Chelsea, they've managed to mostly keep themselves in the thick of things near the top of the English Premier League. Chelsea and City have been playing catch-up, and it clearly shows. Liverpool's been playing catch-up, and it doesn't. And that's either an argument for Liverpool having actually overachieved relative to their starting position when you move beyond context-free numbers, or it's an argument that Liverpool needs to be spending more to finally close the gap—something that under FSG it appears may finally be taking place.
* Finally, a must-watch video for anybody interested in what goes on behind the scenes at training popped up on SI.com the other day, when head of fitness and conditioning Darren Burgess sat down for an extended interview. From training methods and tracking players with the GPS harnesses that can be seen in almost every picture these days to his distress at discovering that out of ten players polled, none of them had heard of Pearl Jam, it covers a lot of ground from the serious to the light-hearted. There's also some solid information for people wondering about the state of the players, both those with the squad and the ones returning from international duty.
When it comes to the latter, Lucas will return next week and likely be ready for the season, while Suarez will be back eight days before the season starts. Burgess hints that the Uruguayan might even be ready for some kind of involvement in that first match against Sunderland—the bigger problem for the training staff will be ensuring his fitness further down the line if he does feature heavily early on without having a full preseason regimen to prepare his body.
Meanwhile it turns out that Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles are the fittest players on the squad. Kuyt having that distinction won't be news to anybody, and though some who have recently bought into the idea that Raul Meireles mustn't be all that fit since he was almost always subbed off during last season's campaign will be surprised, regular readers will remember that as of mid-April he was leading the league in miles covered per match at 8.1.
Other interesting tidbits include that new signing Stewart Downing is the quickest in the squad, while Kyrgiakos usually finishes last in the speed tests. Elsewhere, Andy Carroll's training is specially tailored to focus on short bursts of running, often with a ball at his feet and pointed towards a goal, as that's when all the measurables they're recording suggest he puts in the most effort in training.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of information when it comes to what should be expected over the duration of the season, though, comes when Burgess talks about the dangers of overplaying—and even over-practicing—young players. Some like to spout the tired cliché that "If he's good enough, he's old enough," but the training staff seem keenly aware of the damage overplaying can do later in a player's career even if they may seem talented enough to be full time participants right away. As such, anybody hoping for the likes of Flanagan, Coady, and Robinson to feature heavily with the first team while also getting needed experience in Europe participating in the NextGen Series may want to readjust those expectations.
We'll get to previewing Thursday's friendly against Galatasaray later on today (or early tomorrow morning, depending on where you find yourself on the globe), so in the meantime, for Darren Burgess...