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.
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.
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.
Cardiff have beaten Crystal Palace to reach the Carling Cup final after winning 3-1 on penalties at the end of a 1-0 win and a 1-1 aggregate draw tonight.
A seventh minute own goal by Anthony Gardner and the dismissal of Palace captain Paddy McCarthy just over ten minutes from time were the main highlights of the game, watched by new Wales manager Chris Coleman.
However Cardiff were unlucky not to win the match with three shots hitting the woodwork and Speroni pulling off some decent saves. The pick of the efforts was a Kenny Miller swivel and left footed shot in the first half that ricocheted off the post, while Gunnarsson hit the bar from a free header with barely a minute left of the 120 for Cardiff.
Miller blazed a penalty horrendously wide with the first effort and I was beginning to think the £20 I invested in Cardiff to qualify in the second half of extra time was a goner. But Heaton was the hero in the Palace goal with two fine saves.
In truth, Liverpool and Man City won’t be too worried. Palace with the likes of Zaha (see below), Scannell and the right-back who looked really bright (and has been linked with a move to Man Utd) Nathaniel Clyne could have posed a few unforeseen problems and a bit of trickery. Cardiff were better, but will play more into the other semi-final winner’s hands.
I watched to see what to make of Wilfried Zaha, the Palace youngster who’s been linked with Liverpool. He looks handy, strong enough despite getting a kicking, but seems to get his head down too much when looking up and spotting the right ball to play would set him apart from the rest.
He has skill, pace and looked one of the fresher players towards the end despite being at times triple-marked and playing in a side with ten men for almost 40 minutes. Think £10m is a bit steep, but he was brave and could be shaped into a good player.
Again, not sure Anfield is the place for him to do that though. Touch of the Ryan Babel about him in that he probably needs a club who’ll let him play, give him space and a chance to get a regular run of games to show what he can do.
Personally I preferred Clyne at right-back. Looked a real player, current England U-21, and out of contract at the end of the season.
Kenny Dalglish did the only thing he could on Saturday to deflect from the criticism that was bound to come his way following the poor defeat at Bolton.
The buck doesn’t necessarily stop with the manager if players are underperforming, but it does hint at something wrong with man management at the very least.
Dalglish had his finest successes in an era before Wenger, Zola, Cantona even, excluding his efforts at Blackburn. The foreign, modern influx of player that made the Premiership faster, fitter, was a rarity in his 80s glory days with British staples Rush, Barnes and Hansen the main men, but the signings of Carroll, Downing, Adam and Henderson are fast proving the moves of a man who is out of touch.
Dalglish has reverted to the old ‘Boot Room’ philosophy passed down across generations from the time of Shankly to Roy Evans when it fast became apparent that times had changed and that Liverpool needed to bring in a foreign coach in Gerard Houllier to show they were moving on from resting on the laurels of the glory days.
Criticism has been kept in-house. Suarez has been defended, to the detriment of the club’s image around the world. Carroll has been defended despite being criticised to the point of ridicule and regularly finding himself on the bench. Dalglish even went so far as to say Downing is ‘better than he thought’. A real head-scratcher that one.
Mistakes don’t get criticised. It’s all about the team and about Liverpool being the best football club in the world. A fortress. Siege mentality like the one Ferguson built around him to survive in the early 90s and turn into the most successful period in the club’s history.
But that changed at Bolton in an act of unusual outspoken criticism from the Scot. Players like Carroll, Downing and Adam to a slightly lesser extent are surely already worrying about their long-term places at the club. The Suarez incident needs sorting.
How he will fit back into the team and respond to the constant abuse he will receive at the hands of opposition players and fans only he will know. The smart money says it won’t be pretty. Dalglish has a massive battle on his hands keeping morale going at Anfield for the remainder of the season.
Despite that a Wembley final looms with a home semi final and a 1-0 advantage over Man City to come on Wednesday. Then Manchester United on Saturday, when the booing of Evra will bring up more problems in them media. And Liverpool remain within sight of Chelsea in fourth despite a wretched series of performances. The season can be salvaged, but after the performance on Saturday it’ll take one of the greatest feats of King Kenny’s Liverpool career to-date.
Arsenal’s 6-0 win over Braga in tonight’s Champions League gives little clue as to how Arsene Wenger will tackle the likes of Chelsea in three weeks time; Man Utd or Man City or even Real Madrid and Barcelona later in the European competition. However, few teams can play with the style that Arsenal showed in dispatching the Portugese debutants in the Champions League.
Cesc Fabregas was immense, as always. The man should be applauded for his professionalism after the on-off saga with Barcelona. Still, reporters are asking him whether he is committed to Arsenal. Tonight as he spoke of how the games will get a “lot tougher” this year, all the itv reporter wanted to know was whether the Spaniard was happy at Arsenal to which he replied “I’ve always felt fantastic here. I’m very happy to be here” and then lamented not securing his first career hat-trick.
Jack Wilshere is already turning into a top midfielder. No-one is quite sure how Wenger instills so much confidence in his precocious teenage stars but Wilshere shows absolutely no fear and is already starting to dominate games in a way that the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Patrick Vieira or even Roy Keane couldn’t at a similar age. But Fabregas could and did.
Chamakh had a good game tonight as well and having scored at the weekend against Bolton will be gaining in confidence every game meaning Arsenal could have themselves a genuine, ‘old-fashioned’ centre-forward who is strong and dominant on his own up front.
However as always, the real question marks over the Arsenal team will be (a) the defence, including Manuel Almunia and (b) fitness. Arsenal have so-far lost the likes of Van Persie, Nasri, Diaby and Vermaelen to injury. As for the defence, it will take time to gel as new boys Squillaci and Koscielny get used to playing with their Arsenal teammates. Injuries to the central defenders leave Arsenal leaving weak at the back, not to mention the disciplinary record that often lets them down with Koscielny the first to suffer a red card in the opening game against Liverpool.
Up next? Sunderland away on Saturday; Spurs away in the Carling Cup; West Brom (h); Partizan Belgrade (a) and then Chelsea in the big test at Stamford Bridge. All these games will take place within 15 days. It’s been a good start to the season, ten points from 12 and a spanking win in the Champions League opener. Can Arsenal overcome injury problems and keep teams on the back foot? Watch this space.
The draw for the second round of the Carling Cup has been made with several Premiership teams facing tricky opposition. Roy Keane returns to Notts Forest for the first time in a competitive fixture. Quite sad in a way to think that Utd never played Forest in all Keane’s time there, for such a great club it’s brilliant to see some excitement back at the City Ground. They have added the perennial Championship goalscorer Robert Earnshaw to their ranks and he scored twice in their first round win over Morecambe last night.
With the Premiership teams in European action not added until the third round stage, giantkillerswill be lurking to topple some of the clubs who could do with a good cup run.
West Ham reached the FA Cup Final against Liverpool two years ago and would love another crack at Wembley. They host Macclesfield in the second round. Newcastle face a tricky trip to Chris Coleman’s Coventry, for whom new signing Clinton Morrisson got off the mark with a goal last night. Newly promoted Premiership side Hull face a tricky trip to Roberto Martinez’ Swansea while Mark Hughes will kick off Man City’s campaign away to Brighton.
Draw in Full with Premiership teams in Italics….
Ipswich v Colchester
Coventry v Newcastle
Hartlepool v West Brom
West Hamv Macclesfield
Huddersfield v Sheffield United
Cardiff v MK Dons
Swansea v Hull
Rotherham v Wolves
Brighton v Manchester City
Reading v Luton
Wiganv Notts County
Leeds v Crystal Palace
Crewe v Bristol City
Middlesbrough v Yeovil
Fulham v Leicester
QPR v Carlisle
Nottingham Forest v Sunderland
Burnley v Oldham
Southampton v Birmingham
Bolton v Northampton
Watford v Darlington
Preston v Derby
Cheltenham v Stoke
Ties to be played week commencing 25th August
Chelsea meet Tottenham at Wembley today as Juande Ramos and Avram Grant look to earn their first trophy for their respective clubs.
Chelsea are most people’s favourites, however Ramos has a terrific record in cup finals having won the last two UEFA Cups with Sevilla, while Grant has yet to experience that level of pressure in a cup final.
The big debate surrounds whether or not John Terry will start the game. As club captain it would be expected that he would, however Avram Grant has done nothing to quell the rumours of Alex patnering Carvalho at the back for the Blues.
For Spurs, Ledley King is desperate to be fit however his lack of match practise may count against him.
Spurs’ defence is the big question-mark on their chances of winning the cup with Didier Drogba having scored in cup finals against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Despite all this the game is likely to be an entertaining one. Spurs play with a reckless abandon at times, while Chelsea are used to winning and the likes of Anelka and Cole are in great form going into the game. Likewise Keane and Jenas for Spurs, who I just fancy to nick it, possibly in extra-time.
Prediction: Spurs 3 Chelsea 2