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Carling Cup final (Liverpool V Cardiff) thoughts:

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Liverpool finals are entertaining, as a general rule. The exception, in recent history, being the last time they reached a final at Wembley when their cream suits and Eric Cantona left people smiling, not in a nice way. In a ‘Liverpool are shit’ way.

But now, 16 years later, people no longer expect Liverpool to realistically challenge for titles, so neutrals probably prefer the thought of a cup final with Liverpool, than Chelsea or Manchester United.

Liverpool players invited Michael Owen back to celebrate the win (pic from http://www.liverpoolfc.tv)

With Liverpool, there’s invariably a chance they could lose, and at the very least there’ll be a game that’s evenly-matched with whichever lower league or ‘weaker’ opposition (West Ham, Bolton, Birmingham and Cardiff in the past two decades since the ‘glory days’) they face likely to believe they might have a shot at winning.

Cardiff deserved the win over 90 minutes yesterday. Johnson’s shot off the bar apart, Liverpool created little for their expected dominance in possession. Kenny Miller played well, and is unfortunate to have to remember the final for a missed penalty and chance to win the game in the final minutes of normal time.

For many Liverpool players this should be the end of the road. The situation with Carragher is an interesting one. Having suffered lengthy setbacks when he was younger, he spent a lot of time resting when others were straining themselves to break into Premiership teams.

He could well play for another four years. That may end up being away from Liverpool. While he would be an invaluable squad member, his defensive response to Andy Burton’s question on Sky as to whether this was ‘farewell’ showed a man who is contemplating a future away from Anfield.

The most batshit crazy face award goes to....

Given a regular run of games with the backing of their manager, Skrtel (my man of the match yesterday) and Agger have excelled. Question marks over Agger’s fitness will remain, but the two could be a first choice pairing for years to come, with big things hoped for from Seb Coates leaving little room for Carra.

Her may stay, tempted to move into a part-time coaching capacity. But his eagerness to be second in line to lift the trophy behind Gerrard betrayed the actions of a man who may cause problems should he stay past his sell-by date. Will Skrtel and Agger appreciate being bossed around by Carragher for much longer?

His experience is huge, and he’s a player to admire. But if he’s not first choice it becomes harder for surrounding players to bite their tongue.

He’ll also be a big wage earner. A chance to cut that from the wage bill for a man who would most probably move for lesser wages if it meant a regular game, could be tempting.

Dirk Kuyt should go this summer. Although his goalscoring potential never quite materialised at Merseyside, he has been deployed as a workhorse midfielder rather than a striker for most of his career and should be remembered fondly for that.

Big games often proved his making and winners over Everton and a hat-trick in the 4-1 demolition of Man Utd will ensure he is remembered fondly. But he carries too little threat when it’s 0-0 with 70 minutes gone and Liverpool are trying to break down a stubborn defence.

Wingers and pace are crucial and given that Liverpool’s full-backs are good going forward, but neither particularly pacy, the ball is too often slowed down when Kuyt finds it on the right.

As for the newbies, Henderson was poor, Carroll was average and Downing was bright (albeit once again against lower league opposition). Henderson is young, England U-21 captain and I think will be a good player. A year bedding in with a team of which much is expected in a different style of play has proved difficult. But he is also struggling to find his best position.

Carroll has shown enough in recent weeks to suggest his best has yet to come. He will never be worth £35m. Never. But he may well be worth keeping hold of. Downing remains the most disappointing signing of the season and needs a strong finish to the season now he has no excuse not to be confident.

Bellamy was a sub, but his post-match comments were worth the wait alone. He clearly buys into the ethos Dalglish is trying to set at the club by welcoming a new trophy, but insisting it’s the least Liverpool should aim for. And he’s right. The return of a trophy is important (ask Arsenal would they like one) but the club needs more changes and to finish a rotten season on a positive note.

A win against Arsenal on Saturday is crucial and well within the grasp of this team. And an FA Cup not an impossibility. Could be a decent return from a season that resembled a car crash this time a month ago.

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2 X 6-pointers = Title decider?

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

If Manchester City beat Spurs and Arsenal beat Manchester United the title will be switching sides in for once in a blue moon.

That opening statement is a little controversial, but hear me out. The loss of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva in recent weeks, coupled with a tough, and strange, run of fixtures that saw City play twice in 48 hours at one point and then once in nine days afterwards, has left them in a rocky patch.

Image

The linesman wondered why Platt and Mancini were singing opera – Pic from Daily Mirror

Don’t mind what Mancini or the players say. They have lost to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester Utd in recent weeks. That can’t do anything but leave a niggling doubt as to their ability to consistently beat the big boys. Now it’s time for Spurs. This is a crucial game.

Adebayor is a massive loss for Spurs, despite Defoe’s better goal tally in spite of fewer games. Kompany’s absence would leave City vulnerable to Adebayor’s strengths and in particular his new-found attitude to playing for the team, from which Spurs have gained considerable reward this season.

Defoe is Defoe no matter who’s in defence. Might smack one in from 30 yards. Might smack six wide and keep on trying his luck…Savic will be happier competing against the man linked with a move away from White Hart Lane. His struggles against Carroll in the Carling Cup against Liverpool were washed away by a capable performance against trickier customers at Wigan in Rodallega and Moses.

So if City were to win on Sunday, in the earlier kick-off, piling the pressure on Manchester Utd as they travel to the Emirates, it would be a crucial result without their captain and would bring his league suspension to an end, before Everton the following Saturday with the Carling Cup second leg in between.

Man City V Spurs. 1.30. Sky Sports 1
Arsenal V Man Utd. 4pm. Sky Sports 1

And in other news…

(1): Manchester United’s trip to Arsenal fills me with a sense of foreboding for gunners fans. Maybe it’s because the last time these two teams met Ferguson’s troops racked up almost a goal a minute. Kind of. And Arsenal don’t have a defence to speak of.

(2) Joey Barton on Twitter (Jan 20):

“If I talked about Neil, he’d do well to get another job. Twitter cost him his job???? I can think of a million other things! #shutitwarnock

And: “Lost his job and the guy is blaming everyone but himself! Embarrassing, time to look in the mirror mate. Last thing we need right. Big week.”

And: “Not a big fan of people that try to make scapegoats out of others. If u live by the sword, u die by it.”

QPR manager Neil Warnock on Barton’s arrival (August 26)

“We’ve got a very, very good player on our hands, he’s very enthusiastic. People will say one or two things about him, but they’ve said stuff about me in the past too, so I won’t worry about that.”

Warnock on QPR chairman Tony Fernandes (Aug 27)

“I’ve been speaking to him (Fernandes) most evenings, I’ve never had that kind of support anywhere. I’ve given him the names and he’s said go for it – you can’t have any more than that as a manager.”

For the record Neil Warnock will be appearing on BBC’s football focus tomorrow.

———-

(3): Carlos Tevez. I’ll give you a fiver to piss off.

Cesc Fabregas and kissing the badge

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Much has been made today of Cesc Fabregas kissing Barcelona’s crest as he was unveiled in the Catalan shirt for the first time today, or for the first time since Puyol covered him in the famous strip after Spain’s World Cup success last year.

Fabregas gives photographers the money shot

So is kissing the badge something to get riled up over or not? In this case potentially. Fabregas and Fernando Torres for example were different breeds. For a start, though Cesc was a Barcelona lad, he left the club at 16 and has played all his senior years as a footballer for the red and white of Arsenal.

In that time he has been unlucky not to have won more trophies, but has been part of massive success as a Spanish squad member, played in a Champions League final and been involved in a team that has played some of the best football on the planet.

Without rose-tinted glasses, Liverpool fans will have realised that Torres never supported Liverpool, but loved the club not only for the way he was treated, but presumably for the fact he settled so well. A striker scoring goals is more likely to feel loved and strike up a rapport with fans. In his last season Torres was struggling for form and fitness and the disenchantment grew.

Speaking after being unveiled at Chelsea, Torres said: “I never once kissed the Liverpool badge. Never. And I never kissed the Atletico Madrid badge, even though I was one of their biggest fans.

Torres kisses, er, bites the Liverpool badge

“Some players do it within five minutes of joining a new club. That’s their way. But it’s not mine. Football is different these days. Players come and go. That is why, for me, much of the romance has gone out of the game. So no kissing from me.

All of which is fair. He came to Liverpool, played well, scored goals, but saw it as a job, a job in which as a prized employee he deserved to be recognised with the appropriate recognition, or in this case silverware.

Meanwhile Fabregas apologised to fans today: “I’m disappointed and upset about it because I have had a great relationship with the fans over the years. It took time to build this and I’m disappointed I could lose some of them.

“All I have are words of gratitude. I’ll never forget what they have done for me, I gave absolutely everything to the club and I think they know that but it was the right time to come back here.”

And to be fair he probably means it. If, as he says, he has been denied the chance to talk about leaving, then it must be tough not to say goodbye to the fans who have helped support him for eight years and for whom he captained the club. But then the manner in which he appears to have courted the move, means it’s unfair to criticise Arsenal for forbidding him to speak about leaving before a contract was signed.

But as for kissing the badge on day one, it was probably something he was cajoled into doing by photographers. So maybe it doesn’t mean anything. But you have to wonder how Barcelona fans feel. This was, after all, a player who left them at 16 for a foreign country and for whom they are having to pay up to £40m for just to have him back, for a team that in all honesty doesn’t need him.

So kissing the badge counts for little. Perhaps if you’re born in a city and play out your days there. In the Premiership era players like Gerrard, Neville, Shearer are rarities and should be embraced for keeping a sense of the local feel about a club. For them the shirt matters most, but who cares as long as you’re winning?

Liverpool 1 Sunderland 1

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

All the debate post match here has been about the yellow card shown to Kieran Richardson for the last-man foul on Suarez early in the game.

Suarez missed a penalty but scored minutes later

Dalglish got it right at the start when he talked about how no-one wants to see a guy given a red card that early in the game (season) and in truth it makes a sort of sense. Had Suarez buried the penalty Liverpool could have strolled it and there would not have been a reason to look at the incident as a talking point.

Personally feel that Suarez, unlike Steve Bruce’s claim, had timed his run around the keeper perfectly, would have scored and was thus denied a legitimate goalscoring position by the foul. Did Richardson know what he was doing with the foul? Probably, but the slightest contact at full tilt was always going to send Suarez to ground, legitimately, as a tangle of legs ensues once one foot stops doing what it’s supposed to with a trip.

 

(Courtesy of Sky Sports. Video from YouTube)

That said, a yellow card and a penalty is probably the right call for the good of the game, depending on how blatant it is. Had Richardson taken Suarez  down nearer to the half way line with a clear run on goal looming ahead of the Uruguayan a red would have been justified. However Richardson did attempt to match him for pace, and did reasonably well. Once the keeper closes the striker down and the defender is back far enough to make a difference, the incident gets downplayed to a yellow in my opinion.

The £16 million pound question

The rest of the game was both satisfying and worrying for Liverpool fans. Downing and Adam looked bright, and perhaps more of a talking point was Carroll’s strike being wrongly ruled out for a push that was barely evident. How Jordan Henderson fits into the team is more of a question mark. This is a player who was called up for England in the first half of last season before being dropped by Steve Bruce when his performances dipped. He’s also not had a full summer break, having played for England u-21s in their Euro 2011 tournament, where he failed to shine.

Gerrard will (presumably) eventually return to full fitness, while Raul Meireles, if he stays at Anfield, will expect a place and generate more of a threat going forward. Once again it seemed as if Liverpool were in decent control of the game with few Sunderland chances, but it is breaking teams down as Ashley Young just did for Manchester United that will prove crucial.

Dirk Kuyt ended the season in good goalscoring form but is not a right-winger and Dalglish seems to realise that pace is needed for Liverpool when going forward. Kuyt will have a role, potentially in more defensive formations against the bigger teams, but Meireles and Gerrard may be needed to break down weaker opponents at the expense of Henderson and Adam.

Chelsea and Arsenal both drew, getting Liverpool off the hook slightly, but both had away games. This should have been a banker for a strong Liverpool team aside from Gerrard, Johnson and Skrtel being absent. Arsenal next week shouldn’t be a crucial game but is, as the Gunners are struggling for morale and will be missing key players with Gervinho and Song expected to miss out through Joey Barton (or suspension as the FA will no doubt call it).

Expect a similarly attack-minded Liverpool team but fitness and the possible appearance of some new Arsenal players will no doubt have a bearing….

Jack Wilshere: The new Paul Scholes?

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Arsenal fans and a delighted manager Arsene Wenger got a look at the future of the club and the English national side last night – Jack Wilshere.

The young midfielder, sent off at the weekend and arrested recently after a nightclub fracas (during which he is believed to have acted as a peacemaker and was not charged with an offence), is raw and prone to controversy already, but if Arsene Wenger can keep him focused on football and becoming a proper professional, the 18-year-old has all the attributes to become what the England team has missed so dearly since he retired at the age of just 28 from the national side, the new Paul Scholes.

Wilshere is believed to be teetotal, meaning that alcohol will hopefully not set him on a road towards a miserable Paul Gascoigne ending and instead could lead to the evergreen Paul Scholes, still dictating games at 36 and with his club struggling to replace him after 18 years at the top.

Last night Arsenal paired Wilshere with their captain, talisman and one of the top midfielders in the world Cesc Fabregas against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk. While the Spaniard is unlikely to be at Arsenal next year due to Barcelona coveting him openly and persistently, Wilshere has all the attributes to ensure Gunners fans have a ready-made replacement.

The English man, who made his international debut against Hungary in August, would do well to look at Fabregas as a role model. The Spaniard’s commitment to the club on the pitch since his dream Barcelona move fell through has been admirable. You only need to look at similar situations involving Javier Mascherano at Liverpool and now Wayne Rooney at Manchester United to appreciate the level of professionalism of the club captain.

But Wilshere has certainly learned from Fabregas in a footballing sense. Not only is he prone to the occasional dodgy tackle (witnessed again last night for a challenge which somehow failed to earn him a card) as shown with his late red card against Birmingham on Saturday, but he has an amazing ability to languidly stroke a ball through a opposition defence as though he were attempting it in the park with his friends on a Saturday lunchtime.

Last night’s performance showed every facet of Wilshere that needs to be encouraged and changed at the same time. With Arsenal leading 5-0, Wilshere was often their furthest forward player having started a move before looking to add to his solitary goal. This showed a slight immaturity, in that he lost his position leaving Shakhtar open to attack Arsenal and eventually capitalise (as they did through former Gunners striker Eduardo).

However his goal was a majestic finish, belying his years, showing all the cool of an experienced striker. What he seems to lack in pace he makes up for in balance and touch. Like Scholes, he is unlikely to dribble round five players before chipping the keeper. But he is certainly capable of using his footballing brain to get into positions in the box where he will inevitably profit from Arsenal’s creativity in midfield.

Like Scholes, who used to regularly ghost into the box unchallenged to score for club and country, Wilshere can spot a move before most of those around him on the pitch. And this is at the age of 18.

Arsene Wenger told reporters after the game that Wilshere was ready to be a regular performer for England already. While the Gunners boss has never been shy in this sense, perhaps causing more harm than good by recommending 17-year-old Theo Walcott to Sven Goran Eriksson in 2006, his words will be met with nods of approval across the country following England’s drab scoreless draw with Montenegro last week.

The only disappointing element of Wilshere’s progress this season after his successful loan spell at Bolton last year was his red card on Saturday. Not only because it was rash and dangerous, but it means he will serve a three-game ban and will see his tackling come under scrutiny from referees when he returns.

The young star needs to learn to avoid tackles similar to the one that saw him dismissed against Birmingham

Paul Scholes is a woeful tackler at the best of times, and one of the most-booked players in Premiership history, but is one of, if not the best English players of the Premiership era. Wilshere has all the elements to become a terrific product of Arsenal’s youth team and to lead the next generation of English players, while entertaining fans at the Emirates each Saturday afternoon.

Why Roy Hodgson needs to adapt his approach to get results.

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Torres looks to the gods for inspiration. They say to try Lucas.

Another game, another disappointing performance from Liverpool. That a 0-0 draw away to Utrecht is being hailed by Roy Hodgson as a “good point” is an indication of Liverpool’s expectations for the season.

That Hodgson put out the strongest team available to him is an indication of the pressure he is facing at Liverpool this early in his career as manager.

Hodgson knew that defeat would mean further dissent among the media and fans but cannot have conceived of such a disjointed Liverpool performance against a team who while no pushovers, seemed a little shocked that they were going to be given such an easy ride. Indeed FC Utrecht looked far more dangerous in attack, and manager Ton du Chatinier summed the game up nicely when he said: “They had a lot of the ball in midfield but we saw in the second half against Manchester United they have problems when they play against attackers.”

Hodgson has called games badly with his tactics so far in his Liverpool campaign. Only when Ngog came on for Liverpool against Manchester United did they begin to look dangerous with Meireles in a more central position. Likewise the game against Birmingham the team were clueless as to their positions. Kuyt was poor tonight but didn’t seem to have a position and is not a player who thrives in a free role as he poses no danger from long-range shots and doesn’t have the vision to pick out passes. Meireles was once again deployed on the right-wing and didn’t have a clue.

Lucas looks to the gods for inspiration. They don't answer.

When Meireles and Cole were in midfield they combined neatly and Cole at least looked full of energy and attempted to make Liverpool move the ball quicker. But with Poulsen and Lucas sitting behind the duo, it left Liverpool with Kuyt and Torres effectively being swarmed with defenders. No width whatsoever – Johnson has clearly been warned about his defensive positioning and looks less eager to bomb forward – and a lack of pace meant Utrecht’s defence had a comfortable night for the most part.

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Poll: Can Arsenal win a major trophy this season?

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment