Tuesday 16 January 2018

Babb and McAteer both worried about ambitious Toffees

Irish soccer legends Phil Babb, left, and Jason McAteer welcomed guests into Dublin’s newest interactive sports bar, Buskers On The Ball, at the Temple Bar Hotel yesterday
Irish soccer legends Phil Babb, left, and Jason McAteer welcomed guests into Dublin’s newest interactive sports bar, Buskers On The Ball, at the Temple Bar Hotel yesterday

Jurgen Klopp refused to allow Liverpool's first training session in front of the new stand at Anfield to begin until a bit of housekeeping had been done.

Builders applying finishing touches forgot one very important fixture which used to sit proudly on the wall above the narrow stepped corridor to the pitch.

'This is Anfield', the iconic sign which made footballers shiver with delight or fear depending on the shirt they wore, is back where it belongs.

"They're still finishing the job," said Jason McAteer. "He wouldn't let anything happen on the pitch until they put the sign back."

Everything is changing rapidly on Merseyside and both clubs are on the rise. Phil Babb and McAteer realise that Liverpool face stern competition to be the best in their own town, never mind the Premier League.

"Everton are certainly moving in the right direction and with more investment to come," said McAteer.


"Everton are going to get better and better under Koeman this season," said Babb, echoing the sentiment and underlining how fragile Klopp's project really is.

McAteer was in town with his old pal to help launch Buskers Sports Bar, an Aladdin's cave of indoor sporting pursuits which is best described as a youth club with pints on tap. How bad?

No surprise to see Babb and McAteer trading shots on a pool table at midday. Never less than game for a lark, they picked the right men to promote the venue.

But Babb and McAteer are more sober now than they used to be and as analysts of Klopp and Liverpool, there are few better positioned.

McAteer, in particular, has emerged as a pundit of substance and his view of tonight's tussle with Chelsea is filtered through a firm belief that Klopp's biggest problem is at the back.

"There's vulnerability at the back and there's an argument that he needs a defensive midfielder. But once he sorts the left-back position and nails down two centre-halves, he can get a consistency of selection," he said.

"Liverpool have been brilliant going forward at times but this game will be won by keeping Chelsea's front four quiet. I think Klopp would be happy with a draw," he said.

Babb feels that Emre Can will eventually fill one of the missing pieces in Klopp's midfield jigsaw.

"Emre Can can do the job. He's still a pup. A good coach can see his physical side. Loads of energy, loads of strength and he wants to pick up the ball," he said.

If Klopp does go into the market for a defensive midfielder, McAteer reckons that his transfer business this summer means he can be trusted with Liverpool's cash.

"Listen, the money bandied about was ridiculous. There was £90m for Pogba and I just don't get that," he said.

"Klopp was very good in his acquisitions. Mane was a fantastic signing and this was the first good window in a long time for Liverpool."

Babb chips in with a financial fact: "Liverpool were the only club coming out in the black. We made money this summer and that's rare.

"Joel Matip is finding his way and it will take time but he has shown confidence and assurance in the games he's played," said Babb.

An assessment of where Liverpool will finish this season is appropriate even this early given the fact that they have beaten two Top Four finishers, Arsenal and Leicester and drawn with a third, Spurs, away from home and face Chelsea tonight.

Babb is painfully realistic: "You've got to look at how good the others are and how well they recruited.

"Liverpool are dear to our hearts and we want them to finish as high as possible but they've got stiff opposition.

"The two Manchester clubs, one of them is going to be champions. Chelsea now have Conte and there's always Arsenal there or thereabouts. Spurs, Everton - realistically, you're looking at sixth or seventh but of course I'd love them to get in the top four this season.

Like everyone else, Babb was impressed with Antonio Conte during Euro 2016 and even more taken by the way he has taken hold of Chelsea. "He's got Hazard playing again and Kosta scoring. Whatever he's done , if you can bottle it you could make a fortune. His message is clear. Mess with me your out," he said.


In this season of big name managers, Babb and McAteer see a common theme.

"Pep left out key senior players, sold Hart. He's saying I'm the boss," said Babb.

"Mourinho makes big statements," said McAteer, one of which could mean the end for Wayne Rooney.

"I think eventually Rooney will suffer. Maybe by Christmas. He's been fantastic but there's better than Wayne Rooney and Mourinho is not afraid to make the call."

"Conte dropped Fabregas," said Babb. "Again, not afraid to make the call."

Babb would relish the prospect of a tussle with Chelsea's danger man Diego Costa

"He wouldn't get under my skin. You know what he's about and he will be trying to ruffle you and get in your face.

"He will get more frustrated if he's not frustrating you," he added.

"Niggle him? You always do. A little knee in the back of the knee or a toe down his heel but Costa will antagonise the referee and pick up yellow cards all season long so you don't even have to niggle him.

"Maybe with the discipline Conte has instilled in him he might be a different player. Maybe he just wants to focus on scoring goals," he added.

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