Ahead of the second half of the Merseyside Derby on Saturday; we reached out to our fellow SB Nation Blog, The Liverpool Offside for a friendly Q&A. Conor Dowley was kind enough to field some of our questions. Click here to read the corresponding piece we did for their site.
RBM: Let's start with the elephant in the room. This will be Steven Gerrard's last Merseyside derby before departing for the LA Galaxy next season. What's the sentiment with the fan base? A little bit of sadness or is there a feeling that it was time to move one?
LO: The feeling is a bit mixed. The initial announcement of Gerrard's impending departure definitely hit the fanbase like a hammer, with shock and, in some cases, horror spreading like a plague. I think most fans have reached varying stages of acceptance, though that acceptance is taking many forms; some acknowledge that, while it hurts to see Gerrard leave the club, this was probably the best move for him if he wants to start most matches given his decline in recent years. Others are furious with the club and Brendan Rodgers for allowing his contract to run down and not finding ways to keep him happy and in Liverpool. In the end, though, we're all dreading the end of the season and watching Gerrard pull on the red shirt for the last time. That will be a sad day to a degree that I don't think any of us are remotely ready for or are yet able to comprehend.
RBM: Similar to Everton, Liverpool was not very active in the transfer window. Where there any highly anticipated deals that just didn't get done? Was there anyone that you feel should have left the club during the window?
LO: I run a little bit against the typical Liverpool fan grain on this one, but I'm really not disappointed with this transfer window. I wouldn't have minded seeing them going out and getting a good goalkeeper in the winter window, but good goalkeepers are hard to come by mid-season, and when they are available they tend to be rather costly. I don't think Liverpool had the funds available to make the big, splashy move that fans wanted thanks to the spending caps in Financial Fair Play, though that certainly didn't stop them from being linked to seemingly every big-name striker under the sun. I maybe would have liked to see them find a way to bring Divock Origi back from his loan at Lille given the struggles both he and that squad as a whole have gone through this season, but Lille's requirement for Liverpool to pay them a significant fee to cancel the loan meant that was never going to happen. As far as departures, I think it wouldn't have been the worst thing if Mario Balotelli had left the club. That's not because I think he's a bad player - quite the contrary, I think he's fantastic with the right setup. I just don't think he's a good fit for Liverpool, and both he and the club need to end this relationship as soon as possible for the good of everyone involved.
RBM: Brendan Rogers has recently stated that Liverpool's best football is still ahead of them this season despite being knocked out of the League Cup and currently sitting in seventh place. Do his statements ring true or are they merely midseason coach-speak?
LO: There's certainly an element of coach-speak to Rodgers' words, but there's a lot of truth to them as well. Liverpool's form over the past five or six weeks has been far better than we've seen from the club the rest of the season, and of late they keep playing better. Yes, they got knocked out of the League Cup, but it took a very good Chelsea side right up to the finish to earn that win. Particularly with Daniel Sturridge finally returning to health, this is a club that can beat anyone else in the Premier League on their day; the trick this season has been getting them to play well, and that's been the case more and more often of late.
RBM: One of the future stars of Liverpool looks to be Philippe Coutinho; particularly after his recent play against Bolton in the FA Cup. How do you see his near-term future playing out with the club?
LO: Coutinho has really been a fantastic player for Liverpool of late. He's actually been frequently fantastic for Liverpool since he joined the club two years ago, but the key over the last couple of months is that he's found a consistency to his game that he had previously lacked. His ability to pick a pass to just about anywhere on the pitch is invaluable, especially in the 3-4-2-1 the side has been running of late. It might be nice if he figured out how to get his shots on target more often, but hey, nobody's perfect.
RBM: Finally, what is your prediction for this weekend's derby? Are there any key players on either side that stand out to you as needing to bring their very best?
LO: Especially since the match is at Goodison, I think this one will go right down to the wire. If it's not a draw, which feels more likely at the moment, I think the win goes to whoever scores last, and we'll likely see at least a couple equalizers and lead changes as the match goes on. It may sound trite and cliche'd as far as pre-match analysis goes, but whoever wins the midfield battle will have the upper hand in this match in a big way, so this should be a big chance for Jordan Henderson or Gareth Barry to really shine.
Thanks to Conor and The Liverpool Offise for the Q&A. Enjoy the match and COYB!