With Howard Webb's inconsistencies, Jamie Carragher's likely contract extension, and finally some news about the next stages of the NextGen Series, there's plenty to talk about that probably doesn't need to devolve into wild screeching about why three at the back against Stoke means Kenny Dalglish should be fired. Which of course is very different from saying that it all won't devolve into wild screeching about why three at the back against Stoke means Kenny Dalglish should be fired. So grab your bourbon and your shotgun, it's time for the news and notes...
* It's been a few weeks since we've had news to update people on when it comes to the NextGen Series, the Champions League-like competition for u19 players at some of the top academies in England and across Europe, but with January well underway, the dates and venues for the quarter-finals have now been announced. For Liverpool, that means a relatively short trip to London to face Spurs at White Hart Lane on February 1st.
Meanwhile, Inter will visit Sporting—the side that handily won Liverpool's group—on January 25th, which will give some measure as to whether Sporting is truly as strong as they looked against Liverpool and further help coaches and fans to judge just where the revamped Liverpool academy stands. Rounding out the action, Marseille will head to Villa Park on the 25th while Ajax makes the trip to Barcelona's Mini Estadi on the 8th of February.
It's good to finally have solid information information on the next round of this intriguing but still evolving tournament, as originally there was talk that the knock-out rounds would be played in quick succession at a neutral venue—possibly somewhere in the Middle East. Continuing play with games at the home stadiums of the higher finishing sides, then, is a welcome development for fans who may now have a better chance to make it to the matches while also keeping the format closer to the senior Champions League. And as always when it comes to youth competition, as much as it would be nice for the players to take home a trophy, further advancement is mostly important for the further experience it allows players like Raheem Sterling, Conor Coady, and Michael Ngoo.
* Following news of Steven Gerrard's contract extension last week that will see the Liverpool captain end his career at his boyhood club, news began to leak out that the club planned similar discussions with defender Jamie Carragher. Given that he was handed a lucrative new contract by Christian Purslow days before John Henry and FSG bought the club it might seem a little soon for renegotiation, but equally it's good to know that in spite of any reservations there might be about Carragher's playing ability at the twilight of his career the club intends there to be some role for him at Liverpool until the day he hangs up his boots. Said Kenny Dalglish of the club's plans for Carragher moving forward:
We will have the same conversation that we had with Steven with Carra, to see what his plans and ambitions are, as it's hugely important for the football club to keep great servants in some way, shape or form. He and Steven are fantastic assets for us, on and off the field.
As for the man himself, he has no plans to pick up his coaching badges and hoof off into the sunset any time soon, instead seeking to keep his entire focus on playing—at least for the time being:
If the manager has mentioned [an ambassador role] I'm sure we will discuss it in the future, but that's not something I want to talk about at the minute. I still want to concentrate on playing. I want to get as much out of my career as I possibly can.
We will speak about something in the future. I'm the same as Steven—we love playing for the club and we just want to help in any way that we can.
Two seasons removed from Carragher leaking to his friends in the press that if Rafa Benitez began to ease him away from the starting eleven he'd agitate for a move elsewhere to finish his career, it's heartening that both the club and player appear to have realised that while his career may be winding down, it's in everybody's best interest for it to wind down at Liverpool.
* Following the Stoke match, there was much gnashing of teeth in some quarters over referee Howard Webb's staunch refusal to grant the home side a penalty that could have won them the game. Given that there were a small handful of penalty shouts that on another day might have gone the other way might have provided reason for fans to ask "what if?" while finding an easy scapegoat in the form of Webb, a man hardly thought well of by Liverpool's supporters, but with none locks and Liverpool failing to create much on their own it was always a stretch to try to blame the referee for Saturday's result. Kenny Dalglish, however, did wonder about why Webb allowed Stoke players to escape with no more than a warning for infractions they had already been warned about:
It is difficult to understand when he talks to the players and explains something to them and then they commit the same crime immediately after it. I think we have stopped trying to work out the logic of referees nowadays.
In the end, though, he rightly shied away from blaming Webb for the outcome:
The responsibility was on us to be more imaginative and to break them down and we didn’t manage to do it. The couple of opportunities we got we didn’t take and in a game like that you have to take them.
We looked pretty solid at the back—they had one shot in the first half and not much more after that—but it is our responsibility to break them down and on the day we just weren’t good enough.
It was a tough loss for many, returning to Anfield days after an ugly but uplifting victory at the Etihad only to see Liverpool's opponents do the same to them as they had to Manchester City during the week, but as much as the fans may not like Webb it was that lack of creativity in the final third and not the referee that decided the match.
We'll be back later with any breaking news. Unless the comments section turns into an excuse for thumbtypers to call for the resignation of Kenny Dalglish in under 140 characters, in which case we know where you live and our brutal retribution may not leave a lot of spare time for getting new content up. So in the meantime…