33 Appearances (as of 3/16/09)
Signed from Espanyol in 2008 for 8 mil
BACKGROUND BEFORE LFC
Albert Riera began his professional career at Real Mallorca, his boyhood club and hometown. He broke through to the first team in 2001, and became one of their most important players in the 2002-2003 season where they won the Copa Del Rey, Spain’s version of the FA Cup. Brief stints followed at Bordeaux and Manchester City, with varying levels of success and popularity, but it was in 2006-2007 with Espanyol where he began to build a positive reputation as an attacking threat up the left flank. His dribbling, crossing, and goalscoring were massive for the Spanish side as they were quite convincing in the UEFA Cup, progressing to the finals to play against fellow Spaniards Sevilla. In the final, Riera managed to score a goal, but it was not enough as they were downed by Sevilla in the penalty shootout. He followed this season with an even better 2007-2008, claimed by many as one of the best players in La Liga.
SIGNING FOR, AND SETTLING INTO, LFC
Towards the end of the transfer window in the summer of 2008, there was much speculation that Albert Riera was indeed on his way to Anfield. Liverpool desperately needed some balance, as any left-sided midfielder we had was either a natural striker (Babel), defender (Fabio Aurelio, Dossena) or even a central midfielder (Benayoun). Many supporters were desperate for David Silva from Valencia, but for about a little under half of that price we were able to pip a player from the same division without the worldwide reputation… but a great reputation from the league itself. Riera instantly wiped out previous misconceptions about his lack of success at Manchester City by being a major threat to Manchester United in his debut at the club. Soon after, he scored his first goal in a 3-2 win at home to Wigan, and Liverpool were winning matches with Riera on the flank. He was providing balance, variety, and an attacking mindset. Riera was now a fixture in a side that was greatly improving.
STYLE OF PLAY
Riera is a more classic winger than we’ve had in years. He hugs the touchline, and is not afraid to cut inside or outside. Riera’s main strength is definitely his dribbling and pace, often times in combination. His variety of play is also an asset, as defenders are unsure exactly what he’ll do. The lack of predictability has been a welcome change from our previous wingers, who often times made the same decisions, forcing our central mdifielders to be more of the creative force at all times. Riera also has a cannon of a left foot, scoring some impressive goals for Liverpool this season, none more special than the one at PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League that he rocketed from a full 30 yards into the top corner.
Definitely his debut against Manchester United. Having been a bit of a flop at Manchester City, Riera was chomping at the bit to prove his doubters wrong, and what better time to do it than against Liverpool’s arch-rivals in a match where we beat them for the first time in YEARS in the Premiership!? His footwork and flat-out abuse of the United defense gave the Kop more than they expected, and Riera was instantly being heralded as a good purchase from Rafa. Other good moments from Riera include the rocket against PSV (as mentioned earlier), his equalizer against Wigan, the opener at home against Bolton, and then “that goal” at Preston in the FA Cup, where he beat the odds to smash in the opener from a strange angle.
Like many players who come to the Premiership, those who settle instantly often find the last few months of the season a bit more challenging. The pitch is no longer perfect, the weather worsens, and it is no longer sunny Spain, but cold and dreary Northwest England. Players begin to find them out, fatigue settles in, and a bit of doubt creeps in about whether or not they can continue to make the impact. At the time of writing, Riera is going through a bit of a spell like this. He isn’t playing badly. Not at all. He just isn’t making an impact like he was during the first 4 months of the season. In the grand scheme of things, though, the balance he has brought to the squad has been of incredible importance, and teams have to face Liverpool differently because of him.
2008-2009 SEASON VERDICT
Riera’s season has gone much better than people expected of him. It was a bit of a doubted signing in many parts, especially outside of Liverpool, but he has proven them wrong by making an impact right away. Though Ryan Babel is perhaps a more popular player, it is Riera who has been more useful to the cause in 08-09. This has been underlined by a vastly improved record against the other members of the big 4, all of which saw Riera making an impression. He has been one of the most important changes to the side over the past 3 seasons, and you have to tip your hat to Rafa for giving him the opportunity.
LFC CAREER VERDICT
Given that this is Riera’s first season, you have to say that his career with us so far has been a decent success. As mentioned in the “tough times” segment, though, he may be in the process of being “found out.” In other words, defenders are learning how to play against him. He is an extremely hard worker, though, and is a vastly superior defender to Babel and works his socks off on both ends of the pitch. As a result, he is often taken out of the match after about 2/3 of the time elapsed… but his fitness levels will rise as he adapts to the Premiership. If I were to give him a grade, I’d say a “B or B+.” Not spectacular, but certainly no El Hadji Diouf or Bruno Cheyrou. He has been worth the money, and I’m happy to have him on board.