Quick! Name the team that’s been the most pleasant surprise of the Premier League season? If you answered Tottenham, you’d be wrong. Most figured they were on the cusp of breaking into the top four or five in the league. No, the team that’s shocked people more than any other this year has to be Birmingham City.
The Blues, who were plying their trade in the Championship just last year, now find themselves squarely ensconced in the Premier League table. Currently sitting in ninth, they’re only four points behind Everton, a spot I’m sure many Blues supporters would have considered a pipe dream coming into the campaign.
Alex McLeish’s side is the feel-good story of the season. That’s something that can’t be said for Liverpool, who currently find themselves mired in a fourth-place dog fight with Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa. It’s a far cry from the season Rafa Benitez and the Reds had last year, when the club hauled in a club record 86 points, only to fall just four shy of Manchester United in the league race. My how things can change in just one season.
To understand the hope that’s currently springing eternal at St Andrews and the pain that Reds supporters are feeling on Merseyside, you really need to go right to the source: the supporters. No offense to the talking heads and the pundits, but the fans are the heartbeat of the club. They truly understand what’s going on from week-to-week.
Here’s an excerpt from their discussion:
Russell – AnfieldRed
What are your thoughts on Rafa as a manager? Does he have what what it take to take the Liverpool to the very top?
I was wondering if this was going to be a question! I could go on for days and days about Rafa, but I’ll keep it short for your readers. If you’re asking me if Rafa has the class to take Liverpool to the top, I would say yes. I think he’s a brilliant manager, but sometimes he really needs to get out of his own way.
Case-in-point: Our strong run of form in the league has been aided by the change from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. It’s literally made all the difference in the world. Instead of using that same formation we used against Lille during the mid-week Europa clash, he decided to go back to a defensive 4-2-3-1 against Man United and we looked just awful.
He’s very particular about his players and their positions on the pitch, but again, I don’t think being a perfectionist is a bad thing. I really believe if Rafa would take a few more chances and go with the in-form players more often, we’d be better off.
Even still, I think he’s the man to lead us to the top. He’s biggest hurdle will be dealing with current ownership for the longhaul. It’s not shock that they just don’t get on with each other.
What are your best and worst memories of any previous meetings between Liverpool and Birmingham?
I haven’t been around for very long (I’m only 25), so I’d have to say the best memory for me would be the 2001 League Cup Final. I still remember going absolutely ballistic when Martin O’Connor was brought down by Stéphane Henchoz in the 90th minute. It was an obvious penalty, but I was already celebrating with a few of my mates before the final whistle. Was just glad to see us win it 5-4 on penalties!
Worst defeat I reckon would be the record thrashing you put on us at St Andrews in 1954. Beat us 9-1 on that cold day. Glad I wasn’t around to see that one in person!
What sort of line-up will be put out against us?
I’m hoping Rafa will deploy the 4-4-2 that worked against Sunderland, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him revert back to the 4-2-3-1 against a more defensive side. Playing to Birmingham’s greatest strength makes no sense with our European hopes on the line.
We’d essentially be cancelling you out, and that has boring draw written all over it.
Kevin – Birmingham City
Given the success the squad has had so far this year, are supporters already considering this season a complete success?
I think so yes!!!
Although it’s interesting isn’t it. As we have done so well, we are feeling disappointed that we are 9th. It’s funny how quickly football fans change their expectations! The cup run was also great, although we were very disappointed the way we went out against a poor Portsmouth side.
Who do you think has been your most important player(s) so far this season?
Clearly our defensive record has laid the foundation of our success, so Joe Hart has been awesome. The two new centre halfs Dann and Johnson have also been immense. They have played like they have played for years. The other two defenders Carr and Ridgewell have been brilliant too.
However, my man of the season has been Barry Ferguson. I think he has been fantastic. His vision, the time he creates and his distribution has been brilliant.
And the one(s) you’ve been least impressed by?
Hmm, this is difficult. All have played their part over all at different times, but Seb Larsson has been the one I’ve been the most disappointed in.
What are your thoughts on Alex McLeish as a manager? Does he have what what it takes to take the Birmingham to the next level?
Alex is a gent. I love the way he is the same in victory or defeat. He is usually gracious to the opposition and doesn’t slag of anyone. There were doubts, however a 15 match unbeaten run isn’t easy to come by especially for a newly promoted side. For me he has completed phase 1 of building a “team.” The next challenge is, can he take us further – it’ll depend who he buys I think. I have to say I think he is a very good manager.