31 December 2006

Predictions and more 01/01/07

Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year’s celebration. I’ll be traveling, so in addition to probably missing the Bolton game, due to time constraints, I’m combining some quick PL predictions with an abbreviated preview of the Liverpool/Bolton Match. Be well.

Manchester City v Everton (10am, FSC): 0-2
Portsmouth v Tottenham (10am, Setanta): 1-1
Reading v West Ham (10am, Setanta Xtra): 1-2
Fulham v Watford (10am): 1-1
Middlesbrough v Sheffield United (10am): 0-0
Wigan v Blackburn (10am): 0-1
Newcastle v Manchester United (12:15pm, FSC): 1-3
Arsenal v Charlton (2:45pm, Tuesday, Setanta): 2-0
Aston Villa v Chelsea (3pm, Tuesday, FSC): 1-2

Liverpool v Bolton
7:45am, Setanta Sports.

Guess of a lineup:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Pennant Gerrard Alonso Gonzalez
Kuyt Bellamy

After a tough game at the Reebok earlier in the season, where an absolute stinker of a decision (Reina handling “outside the box”) helped condemn Liverpool to another early away defeat, the Reds will look to continue their fine home form against a Bolton team that currently sits directly above them in the league.

As usual, the key to playing Bolton will be Liverpool’s ability to match their physicality. Sissoko will be missed as always, but games like Bolton are exactly the type of games he was bought for: breaking up play, matching the other side tackle for tackle, and generally being a nuisance. It will be up to Gerrard and Alonso to break up play and maintain possession even more than usual, and as a result, I imagine both will be sitting deeper than we usually see them.

I expect we’ll see a few players who did not start on Saturday. Not only do I imagine Hyypia will probably get a start, but Pennant should probably return to the side as well, as his crosses will be needed. I wouldn’t mind seeing Garcia get another start, especially given his performance on Saturday, but it seems more likely that Gonzo will return to the lineup, giving Liverpool even more pace on the flanks to hopefully trouble Bolton’s back line. Bellamy may feature (I’m not sure about his hamstring injury from Saturday), and if he’s fit, I hope he plays considering his run of form, but Kuyt and Crouch is a good pairing for how Bolton plays, given their ability to maintain possession.

30 December 2006

Liverpool 1-0 Tottenham

Well, that was nerve-wracking to say the least. Enjoyable to watch to be sure (especially for a game with only one goal in it), and not only because of the victory, but nerve-wracking nonetheless. It was a good advertisement for the English game; the match was close all the way, end-to-end soccer with chances for both sides, and all with the standard inclement (exceptionally inclement) British weather.

Liverpool deserved the win today, but Tottenham must feel hard done by. The first half went well for Liverpool; they bossed possession, had a couple of good chances with Kuyt narrowly shooting wide and Robinson making two saves on Bellamy, and looked fluid despite the conditions. At the stroke of halftime, Zokora gave the ball away, Kuyt flicked on brilliantly to Gerrard, whose mishit ball fell kindly to Garcia.

Partly thanks to a hamstring injury to Bellamy which saw him off right after the restart and partly due to better Tottenham play (mainly inspired by Berbatov coming on as a sub), Liverpool was on the back foot for most of the second half and invited Tottenham on to them. They still looked dangerous on the counter attack until the end, but Tottenham was the better team. The biggest threat to Liverpool’s goal was Berbatov’s smart run and cross that forced Finnan to unknowingly head the ball onto the crossbar, but Hossam Ghaly also missed two decent chances.

Pleased with pretty much everyone’s performance today. Both Kuyt and Bellamy worked hard despite not scoring, threatening the Tottenham back line (which is surprisingly quick) throughout. Garcia was classy the entire game, looking threatening wherever he popped up (left wing, right wing, as a supporting striker after Crouch came on), keeping possession better than expected, and with a very composed finish on his goal. Aurelio, who received his first start since October, never looked out of depth despite this being a difficult game in a new league in conditions not usually experienced by Brazilians. The defense bent but never broke, with Carragher standing out with some excellent last-ditch tackles and winning everything in the air. All in all, there was a lot to be pleased about.

An away win is always welcome. An away win at White Hart Lane, where Tottenham was unbeaten in 12 matches, is even better, any way that you come by it. It was marginally worrying to see Spurs put so much pressure on Liverpool late, but with how difficult it has been to play at White Hart Lane and Liverpool’s difficulty beating good sides away from home, it had to be expected. On paper, this may have been the most difficult away fixture left in the league; Liverpool has already been to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, Goodison Park and Reebok Stadium. That bodes well for the second half of the season.

MOM: Carragher, with Garcia running close

29 December 2006

Liverpool at Tottenham 12.30.06

10am. Available in the US live on Setanta Xtra (Directv only). Delayed on Setanta Sports at 12pm.

Liverpool: 6th place; 34 points out of 20 games
Tottenham: 7th place; 31 points out of 20 games

Last 4 meetings:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 09.23.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 01.14.06
0-0 (a) 09.10.05
2-2 (h) 04.16.05

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 0-1 Blackburn (a); 2-0 Watford (h); 3-0 Charlton (a)
Tottenham: 2-1 Villa (h); 1-3 Newcastle (a); 1-0 Southend (h)

Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Kuyt 6; Bellamy 5; Alonso, Gerrard 3; Crouch, Garcia, Gonzalez 2
Tottenham: Defoe 6; Berbatov 5; Keane, Lennon, Murphy 2

Referee: Mark Halsey

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise
Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Garcia
Kuyt, Bellamy

There are two ways this could go following the result from Tuesday. Liverpool could fall back into old habits away from home and struggle for a result, or they could come out looking to put the midweek far behind them, play as they did at Wigan or Charlton, and go for the jugular. Obviously, I’m hoping it’s the latter.

Please, no 3-5-2 this time out. It’s worked well before, and I do believe both Riise and Finnan are well suited to the wingback roles, but it was somewhat baffling to see Liverpool deploy the formation at Blackburn after finding their form in a 4-4-2 and using it to good success. It’s why I’ve gone for both Pennant and Garcia on the wings; Pennant because he’s played better of late and his crosses are needed, Garcia because although he frequently frustrates away from home, he’s a match winner who scores big goals, and Liverpool certainly needs that right now.

I said my piece on Crouchy in the Blackburn review. I’m not of the opinion that Crouch isn’t good enough; on the contrary, he was a key part of last season’s successes and brings a lot to the team, but it wasn’t coming off midweek, and Liverpool’s front line will need to be firing on all cylinders. Kuyt hasn’t played as well away from home, but he’s looked the handier of the two recently by a country mile.

The defense will have to be at its best. Both Defoe and Berbatov are breaking into stride, as evidenced by Tottenham’s rise up the table and recent goal output. Spurs have played good, attacking soccer, especially at White Hart Lane, and Liverpool will have to be aware. Agger’s included for his pace, and while Tottenham’s had troubles getting the ball wide with Lennon out (both Malbranque and Ghaly are wingers who want to cut inside), I’ve left Aurelio out because it still seems to early in his PL career to start him in a game like this.

This match will be more important than usual for determining the places at the end of the season, more important than a match in late December usually is. If Tottenham can pick up a victory, a 4 horse race for 3rd and 4th position becomes a 5 horse race. Due to Spurs’ excellent form throughout December they now sit only 3 points back of Liverpool and 5 points back of 3rd, after everyone was tempted to write them off in October. If Liverpool wins, not only will the tough away victory boost confidence, it will open up a 6-point gap between the teams.

Liverpool’s use of the chances they get in front of goal will decide this game. As said, White Hart Lane has become a difficult place to play; Liverpool won’t get 20-odd shots as they did at Blackburn. If they can put their chances away, there’s an excellent opportunity to get all three points. Not to mention that a goal usually leads to one or two more in reasonably quick succession. However, if the recurring wastefulness continues, Tottenham is more than capable of making Liverpool pay.

Premiership Predictions 12/30

Charlton v Aston Villa (7:45am, Setanta): Charlton was desperately unlucky to not get the full 3 points from Alan Pardew’s first match in charge, and I imagine they’ll continue to look a better side than they did under Les Reed. At the same time, Villa, while continuing to slide down the league table, has still been very good at grinding out draws on the road. 1-1

Chelsea v Fulham (10am, FSC): Fulham always gives Chelsea a good game; Chelsea was made to work very hard for their 2-0 victory earlier in the season and Fulham shocked Chelsea at Craven Cottage last season. However, I still can’t see Chelsea continuing to drop points, no matter Terry’s injury, and reckon they’ll come out looking to make amends for Tuesday’s draw. Chelsea 3-1

Manchester United v Reading (10am, Setanta): No matter Reading’s continued good play, including their hard-earned draw against Chelsea midweek, United is on an excellent run of form, and it will take a lot to pick up points at Old Trafford. Not to mention United will be looking to avenge the 1-1 draw at Reading earlier in the year. United 2-0

Blackburn v Middlesbrough (10am): If Blackburn plays the way they did against Liverpool, defending well enough, Friedel on a blinder, and converting the few chances they get, they should take the points. Boro defended very well at Everton midweek, despite having been very questionable away from home all season long, but I can’t see that trend continuing. Blackburn 1-0

Bolton v Portsmouth (10am): This will be an excellent test as to how far Pompey’s really come. We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Portsmouth, but it hasn’t happened yet. However, the Reebok Stadium is an extremely difficult place to go and pick up a victory no matter how well Bolton’s playing, and Bolton’s picked up 9 points in the last 3 matches. Bolton 2-1

Everton v Newcastle (10am): This one’s got draw written all over it. Newcastle’s been the better side of late (Glenn Roeder really should be commended), but Everton will be tough to beat at home. If Everton does better in the final third than they did against Boro midweek, they’ll have an excellent chance to win, but I can’t see either team pulling away from or dominating the other. 2-2

Watford v Wigan (10am): Not for the faint of heart. Both teams, as promoted teams are apt to do, defend deeply and defend well. Watford was unlucky not to earn a draw against Arsenal Tuesday, while Wigan had 3 put past them in the second half by United, but both teams should pretty much cancel each other out. 0-0

West Ham v Manchester City (10am): Manchester City on the road, combined with Curbishley having West Ham playing much better as a team. I expect the Hammers to continue to accrue points and get away from the relegation battle. West Ham 2-1

Sheffield United v Arsenal (12:15pm, FSC): Probably will be like Arsenal’s last game at Watford. Arsenal has struggled to break down teams on the road, and Sheffield United has exceeded expectations recently, but Arsenal should be able to beat Paddy Kenny and the Blades’ defense at least once, while I can’t see Sheffield troubling Lehmann. Arsenal 2-0

28 December 2006

Midseason Team of the Season

I’m marginally tardy to the party, but here’s my team so far this season now that we’re 20 games deep into the Premiership campaign.

Goalkeeper: Jussi Jasskelainen
Jasskelainen is up there with Van der Sar and Reina in goals against average and clean sheets, but he’s had much more to do than either of the other two keepers and has done it with the usual expected consistency.

Right Back: Steve Finnan
It’s easy to claim Finnan’s inclusion is because of my heavy bias, but he’s been Liverpool’s most consistent player and consistently one of the best right backs in the league for a couple of years now. One of Liverpool’s leaders in assists and one of the best crossers on the team, Finnan’s had no problems joining the attack, especially when he’s been played as a wingback in a 3-5-2, but also has very few defensive liabilities.

Center Back: Sol Campbell
The lead figure in Pompey’s revival this season. He’s added experience and discipline to Pompey’s backline, and it’s showed not only in Sol’s excellent play, but the improvement in all the defenders around him. Even David James looks to be a different keeper with Campbell in front of him.

Center Back: John Terry
Was very tempted to put Rio Ferdinand here, but Terry’s absence over the past couple of games has shown exactly how important he is to Chelsea. Without him, their defense looks average at best, and Terry has had one of his typically excellent starts to the season, although we’ll see how he returns from back surgery.

Left Back: Gareth Barry
Martin O’Neill lists him as a left back, then so will I. Barry’s easily been Villa’s best player, chipping in with 7 goals (albeit mostly from penalties), going forward to add width to the attack, while dramatically improving defensively.

Right Mid: Cristiano Ronaldo
It’s arguable that Ronaldo is the best player in the Prem this year. Less stepovers, marginally less diving, and an increased reliance and his speed and power to simply embarrass defenders. Mountains of tricks in his locker, an excellent free kick taker, and confidence galore. It’s maddening to no end complementing an annoying git like Ronaldo, but wow has he been good.

Center Mid: Michael Essien
Essien’s been immense this season, typified by his wonder goal against Arsenal, but he’s added much more to his game this year. More influential in midfield (smarter in the tackle and more of a goal threat) when he gets a start there, he’s also been a more than capable right back when called upon.

Center Mid: Cesc Fabregas
Every year Fabregas gets better and better, and he’s not even 20 yet. He’s got everything you’d want in a midfielder: excellent vision, great range of passing, and an increasingly good eye for goal. As he matures, he’ll get better in the tackle as well. Shows how much that Arsenal believes in him as he recently signed an 8-year contract tying him to the club until 2014.

Left Mid: Matty Taylor
Taylor’s having the season of his life. He’s scored something like 4 wonder goals this month (one of which will assuredly be amongst the goals of the season) that have kept Pompey in the top 5 of the Prem. Like Barry, he can play in both midfield and defense, and like Barry, is angling for an England call-up (why Stewart Downing is ahead of either of these players in beyond me).

Striker: Kevin Doyle
Doyle’s goals are the main reason Reading has done so well in the league. Tempting to put Kanu here, as he’s had a great season for Pompey after misfiring for Arsenal and West Brom, but Doyle’s season is slightly more surprising. He’s had absolutely no problem adjusting from the Championship to the Prem, and has been consistently scoring all season, including putting in the penalty that earned Reading a draw against Manchester United.

Striker: Didier Drogba
What needs to be said? 12 league goals this season and now that he’s learned to stay on his feet (well, more so than last season), Drogba’s got everything you want in a striker: pace, strength, a nose for goal, the ability to shoot with either foot, and heading ability. Boy, it would have been nice had he reacted poorly to Sheva joining Chelsea and forcing a transfer (as looked possible right after the deal). Instead, he’s cemented his place as the best striker in the league, by far.

26 December 2006

Liverpool 0-1 Blackburn

This is an easy one to analyze.

All those black dots? Those are Liverpool’s missed attempts at goal. There’s something like 20 of them. Meanwhile, Blackburn, with about half the opportunities, made theirs count.

The game should have been over midway through the first half. But unable to put the ball in the net, Liverpool went into the break tied, and Benni McCarthy made them pay soon after the restart. Tugay beat Gerrard and cleverly played Pedersen out to the left, who crossed in for McCarthy to sweep in from close range. The rest of the game was just as frustrating, with Liverpool putting in the effort, but a combination of excellent goalkeeping, lousy finishing, and the woodwork seeing Blackburn stay in front.

When a team is that wasteful in front of goal, especially away from home, there’s not much else to be said. At the very least, Liverpool should have come away with a draw. Ewood Park is never an easy place to play no matter how Blackburn’s doing in the league, especially for Liverpool. Rovers are one of those teams, like Bolton, against whom Liverpool struggles for results. But today, Liverpool dropped points they should have gotten.

Too many good chances, evidenced by that lovely graphic, went from the box straight to Brad Friedel. Don’t get me wrong, Friedel had an excellent game (as ex-Liverpool keepers are wont to do against the Reds), with an absolutely superb save to deny Xabi Alonso near the death. But too many shots went directly into Friedel’s arms instead of the back of the net, especially from Peter Crouch, who made absolutely no claims for a starting place today. Singling players out, especially after a loss, does little good, and I understand that Peter hasn’t been playing regularly and isn’t the most prolific striker anyway, but today was poor, simple as. Other players disappointed as well, and it certainly seemed as if Blackburn wanted it more, but Crouch’s performance stood out because of Liverpool’s overall profligacy.

The loss sees Liverpool drop to fifth or sixth (depending on Arsenal's result), although league places at the moment (between 3rd and 7th, anyway) mean little right now. There are two clear packs at the top of the table, United/Chelsea, and everyone else. This game hurts, but Liverpool is still in the thick of it and it’s crucial not to lose sight of that. Of course Liverpool fans are disappointed with the result, specifically the finishing, but I’m afraid the moaning is going to go overboard. These games happen. There’s class in this team and class in this strike force. It’s one game. There are more than enough fixtures coming up to earn back the dropped points.

Roll on Spurs.

25 December 2006

Liverpool at Blackburn 12.26.06

10am. Available in the US live on Setanta.

Liverpool: 3rd place; 34 points out of 19 games
Blackburn: 17th place; 19 points out of 18 games

Last 4 meetings:
1-1 (h) 10.14.06
1-0 Liverpool (a) 04.16.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 10.15.05
0-0 (h) 03.16.05

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 2-0 Watford (h); 3-0 Charlton (a); 4-0 Fulham (h)
Blackburn: 2-6 Arsenal (a); 2-1 Reading (a); 1-0 AS Nancy (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 6; Bellamy 5; Alonso, Gerrard 3; Crouch, Garcia, Gonzalez 2; Agger, Carragher, Fowler, Riise 1
Blackburn: McCarthy 6; Nonda 4; Bentley 3; Pedersen 2; Gallagher, Kerimoglu 1

Referee: Rob Styles

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise
Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Gonzalez
Crouch, Bellamy

No real reason to foresee any major changes. It’s becoming clear that there’s a first choice team, and it wasn’t simply rotation for rotation’s sake earlier in the season.

The only likely changes are Gonzalez for Garcia, Hyypia for Agger, and Crouch for Kuyt. But then again, I’ve been picking Crouch to start for a couple of games now and it hasn’t come true yet. Although, Crouch always seems more likely to start away from home.

Blackburn is always a physical game, and I imagine the lineup will reflect that. It’s why I’ve left both Aurelio and Garcia out. As much as Luis pops up with important goals in big games, he still gives the ball away too cheaply, and that will be even more of a liability tomorrow than it usually is. Along the same lines, while Aurelio is now fit and has been an excellent crosser of the ball when he’s been healthy, this doesn’t seem like the type of game where he should be making his first start in over two months. Of course, the last time Fabio started was home against Rovers, where he supplied the corner for Bellamy’s first league goal for Liverpool.

Blackburn’s been inconsistent, and the fact they’ve been underperforming for the majority of the season shows in the league position. However, they always give Liverpool a tough game, and Ewood Park is always a difficult place to go and get a result. Earlier in the season, Blackburn was the better side for the majority of the game at Anfield, and opened the scoring by capitalizing on the defensive lapses that had plagued Liverpool at the time. Recently, Liverpool’s done a far better job at establishing the tempo and style of the game and preventing those silly errors.

This won’t be the same Blackburn side that got massacred by Arsenal 6-2 over the weekend. Not only is Mark Hughes a protégé of Ferguson, so the Blackburn locker room will not have been a pleasant place to be, Blackburn is a different team home than away. And this is always a closely contested game; just look at the scorelines from the last few outings, not to mention the fact that someone always seems to pick up a dreadful injury (knocking furiously on wood). But Liverpool will know what they have to do to win the game, have delivered some excellent away performances recently, and will want to pick up all three points here after dropping two to Rovers at Anfield.

Premiership Predictions 12/26

Merry Christmas everyone, hope the holiday finds you all well. Tomorrow will be a fantastic day, with a mountain of televised games all day long to distract you from friends and family. Enjoy it. Liverpool/Blackburn preview up later today, in between family and enough American sports to shake a stick at.

Tottenham v Aston Villa (8am, FSC): 8 game winless streak for Villa, and despite the tough loss at Newcastle, Spurs have been better of late. Tottenham 2-1

Chelsea v Reading (8am, Setanta): Chelsea's been leaving them late recently, with close wins over Wigan and Everton, but a 2-0 scoreline again looks foreseeable. Chelsea 2-0

West Ham v Portsmouth (8am): Portsmouth’s been tough to beat all season, and if West Ham can pick up a win here, it will show a lot about how well Curbishley will do in turning around the season. West Ham 2-1

Bolton v Newcastle (10am, FSC): Should be a tight and even entertaining affair, with Bolton’s propensity for close wins and Newcastle’s recent run of good form regardless of their long injury list. 2-2

Manchester United v Wigan (10am, Setanta Xtra): Wigan’s struggled for results recently despite decent form, and Manchester United should be able to take advantage. United 2-0

Everton v Middlesbrough (10am): Ugh, Middlesbrough on the road. Plus, Everton’s getting healthier with Arteta back in the squad, and Johnson finally among the goals last week after a long drought. Everton 2-0

Sheffield United v Manchester City (10am): Wouldn’t bet against Sheffield continuing to earn points. 10 in the last 5 games, and they could have picked up more at Portsmouth, where they went head early only to lose. Sheffield 1-0

Watford v Arsenal (12:30pm, FSC): Honestly, I’d imagine this will be a lot like Watford’s game at Liverpool. One team clearly on top, but Watford keeping it closer than it probably should be, mostly thanks to Ben Foster. After last week’s demolishment of Blackburn, Arsenal may well have more goals in them, but Aidy Boothroyd’s team defends desperately. Arse 2-0

Charlton v Fulham (3pm Wednesday, Setanta): The game of musical chairs continues. So Les Reed’s out, and Alan Pardew moves into the job that his replacement at West Ham held last season. Charlton’s preparing for life in the Championship, and it looks likely that Pardew will be the manager for the long haul. He’ll have the season to start to mold the squad in his vision, and if he keeps them up (which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, yet), even better. But next season will be when he completely shapes the team as he wants it, and it will probably be while competing for promotion.

As for tomorrow's game, throw previous form out the window. One, it’s a London derby. Two, there will be the effect of having a new manager. Probably contentious, possibly entertaining, and seemingly destined for a draw. 1-1

23 December 2006

Liverpool 2-0 Watford

It wasn’t as thorough as Fulham or Charlton, but it’s 3 points in the bag, and with fixtures coming fast and thick, 3 points will do no matter how they’re won.

I was a little surprised to see what is pretty much the strongest eleven today. With so much said about rotation and the amount of games coming up, it’s odd that Liverpool went with the exact same starting line-up that went out against Fulham. Having nearly reached the New Year, Rafa may very well have decided upon a first choice XI at home, rotation be damned. Looking at the team’s home record, that can only be a good thing.

The first half was a nervy affair. Liverpool never saw enough possession, never took enough shots on goal, and Watford saw a fair share of the ball. There were a few decent chances: Ben Foster, who was easily Watford’s best player, made good saves on shots from Alonso and Kuyt, and Bellamy tantalizingly cut the ball across the face of goal only for it to go untouched, but Liverpool never did enough to take the lead. At the same time, every now and then Watford looked likely to threaten on the break, with Reina flapping at a couple of balls and Bangura shooting over an open net. Once in a while, there were those recurring fears that there would be a defensive breakdown like those given up earlier in the season, but Watford was never able to take advantage of the few frailties, and the first half ended 0-0.

It was greatly relieving to see the opening goal come so soon after half time. Bellamy, who had continually threatened with his pace and work ethic, had tons of space and time after a Gerrard through ball from a Kuyt flick-on, and accordingly put it past Foster with a clinical finish.

The goal seemed to encourage Liverpool, but for 40 minutes nothing came of it. The second half saw better chances created as Watford was forced to come out of their shell to look for an equalizer every so often. Liverpool was able to put together some slick passing moves and good counter-attacks, which was encouraging after the opening 45 minutes. Gonzalez came on for Pennant midway through the half and nearly headed in from the rebound off of Bellamy’s shot. Soon after, Carragher was unlucky not to score for the second time in three games, forcing Foster into making one of his many excellent saves.

As has happened before, it took until after the 80th minute to seal the win. Not long after Crouch (who again came on as a late substitute) crashed a shot against the post, Alonso finally beat Foster (who got a hand to it) with a swerving shot into the top left corner.

2-0 was more than deserved even though the team was far from their best. Watford was tough to break down, content to sit back and play head tennis, and kept possession away from Liverpool while rarely threatening. Players weren’t at their best today; no one was overly influential, not much was coming off as hoped, but Liverpool still won. With five games coming in a little over two weeks, that will do.

MOM: Bellamy

22 December 2006

Liverpool v Watford 12.23.06

10am. Available in the US live on FSC.

Liverpool: 3rd place; 31 points out of 18 games
Watford: 20th place; 11 points out of 18 games

Last 2 meetings (04-05 League Cup Semis):
1-0 Liverpool (a) 01.11.05
1-0 Liverpool (h) 01.25.05

Liverpool hasn’t played Watford since ‘99-00 due to their relegation from the Prem (before that season, they hadn’t played since Watford was in the old First Division back in ‘88-89). It’s worth a mention that the illustrious John Barnes was purchased from Watford (for £900,000!) in ‘87.

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 3-0 Charlton (a); 4-0 Fulham (h); 2-3 Galatasaray (a)
Watford: 1-2 Newcastle (a); 0-0 Reading (h); 0-0 Man City (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 6; Bellamy 4; Gerrard 3; Alonso, Crouch, Garcia, Gonzalez 2; Agger, Carragher, Fowler, Riise 1
Watford: Bouazza, Young 3; King 2; DeMerit, Francis 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio
Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Gonzalez
Crouch, Bellamy

There’s bound to be some changes rung, particularly with the postponement of the Arsenal game. No offense to Watford, but this should be the easiest match of the festive period.

I’d love to see Aurelio, Gonzalez, and Pennant get a start. All three are new to the squad this season, all three have had injury or form difficulties settling in, but Gonzalez and Pennant have looked better in the last few games, and Aurelio has finally returned to full fitness. All three should greatly benefit from a start, and have the ability to play well versus Watford.

In the same vein, it seems a must that Crouch will start. I can write the same paragraph about the strikers in every preview: Crouch, Bellamy, and Kuyt all deserve to start, all can work well with each other, and all bring different qualities into the mix. Seems unlikely that Crouch will sit on the bench after not starting since Portsmouth, and there’s also an excellent chance Fowler will get a game as well, with Rafa looking to rest players and given the rumor Robbie was due for a start against Arsenal.

Watford looks fairly certain to be relegated. They started well enough, but with the loss of Marlon King for the season, they’ve been unable to score in games they could have won. Ashley Young, Hameur Bouazza, and Jay DeMerit are all players I fancy (DeMerit mainly because he’s an American, but he’s also a fullback who can pop up with a goal), and the thought of Young bursting down the flanks at John Arne Riise frankly frightens me with the ease Riise’s been beaten at times.

I sound confident, especially given Liverpool’s current form, but Watford’s more than capable of getting a goal on the break if given the opportunity, and Aidy Boothroyd will have his team more than up for playing at Anfield. But if Liverpool plays the way there’s capable of playing, even if Watford sticks 10 men behind the ball (which they’re not prone to do), the squad should come away will all three points.

Premiership Predictions 12/23

Fulham v West Ham (7:45am, Setanta): Is Curbs’ a miracle worker or was last week’s 1-0 victory over United a fluke? A little from column A, a little from column B. West Ham will improve under Curbishley (I’ve got the utmost respect for Pardew, but it couldn’t get much worse), even more so after the return of Dean Ashton. This will be a good test of it; Fulham’s played quite well at home, but have steadily descended the table, with 4 losses in the past six games. 1-1

Aston Villa v Manchester United (10am, Setanta): United after a loss, especially a close loss, is frequently a frightening proposition. Villa’s last six games? Draw, draw, loss, draw, draw, loss. United 3-1

Arsenal v Blackburn (10am, Setanta Xtra): I don’t expect Blackburn to replicate last week’s 2-1 win at Reading. Not only have the Rovers not won back-to-back games in the league since the beginning of October, I find it hard to believe Arsenal will drop points at home in successive games. Arse 2-0

Manchester City v Bolton (10am): Not for the faint of heart. Last week’s defeat to Tottenham was City’s first home loss of the season, but Bolton should be more than able to do enough to grind out a victory. Bolton 1-0

Middlesbrough v Charlton (10am): I wouldn’t pick Charlton to beat any team away in the league this week. There’s always a chance they could rally after the loss to Wycombe midweek, but the Addicks have looked utterly demoralized on the field and were booed off the last two times out. Not that Boro’s been smashing, mind you, but they’ve been decent enough at the Riverside. Boro 2-0

Newcastle v Tottenham (10am): Tottenham’s strike force is finally showing promise, with Berbatov and Defoe proving to be the first choice pairing, and they’ve risen up the table accordingly. Meanwhile, Newcastle’s frankly amazed considering their injury list; not counting the two slim defeats to Chelsea, they’re unbeaten for over a month. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a draw, but I’ve got a feeling Newcastle will make good use of home advantage. Newcastle 2-1

Portsmouth v Sheffield United (10am): Portsmouth has been one of the surprises of the season so far, but there’s only so many rabbits Matty Taylor can pull out of his hat, and I think Sheffield could pull off a surprise at Fratton Park. The Blades are on a four-match unbeaten streak, including away wins at Wigan and Watford, and have risen up to 15th from the foot of the table. 1-1

Reading v Everton (10am): Everton was unlucky not to come away from the Chelsea match with at least a point if not all three, but the team’s been pretty poor away from Goodison while sliding down the table since September. At the same time, Reading’s done everything needed so far to stay in the Premiership after achieving promotion. 1-1

Wigan v Chelsea (12:15pm, FSC): In this corresponding fixture last year, the first game of the season, newly-promoted Wigan announced their intentions, sticking with Chelsea for the whole match until a Crespo injury time goal. Granted, it doesn’t mean much here. Paul Jewell’s team always comes out ready to play, but I see no reason to go against my long standing tradition of predicting 2-0 Chelsea wins, especially with them beginning to breath down United’s neck. Chelsea 2-0

Liverpool plays Watford 10am on FSC.

20 December 2006

Thinking too much about the Carling Cup

3 out of 4 quarterfinal Carling Cup games in the books. All three were 1-0 wins; Wycombe over a dejected Charlton yesterday, Chelsea over Newcastle (1-0 for the second time in a week) and Tottenham over Southend (after extra-time) today.

Knowing the way the luck has run, chances are the draw for the next round (taking place on Saturday) will look like:

Chelsea v Liverpool/Arse
Tottenham v Wycombe

The League Cup has never been the most prestigious tournament; most European leagues have only one domestic cup competition. The FA Cup has always been the more significant, with over 130 years of history compared to less than 50. Many big clubs use the reserves for this tournament until the trophy’s in sight, and it’s why mid-table and lower division sides frequently do better than in the FA Cup.

Last 5 Winners and runners-up, with final League position in parentheses:
2002: Blackburn (10th), Tottenham (9th)
2003: Liverpool (5th), United (1st)
2004: Boro (11th), Bolton (8th)
2005: Chelsea (1st), Liverpool (5th)
2006: Man Utd (2nd), Wigan (10th)

The more things change the more they stay the same. Any way you slice it, there’s a bit of history repeating itself.

We've had big upsets (Southend over United for one), but there's always big upsets (Chelsea went out in the 3rd round last year, as did Liverpool).

There’s the lower division side on the run of the season. This year, Wycombe was lucky enough to face Charlton at the worst possible time, and they’ve made it a round farther than Doncaster did last year, but certainly can't expect any more.

There’s the requited mid-table side in the mix, who goes on to win every couple of years. I know Tottenham expected and deserved more so far this season, and have worked their way up to 7th, only 3 points behind 3rd, but their play for most of the season so far can justifiably be called mid-table. They may well prove that label wrong, there’s still more than half the league to be played, but it's where they currently sit.

There’s the underachievers who’ll use this for redemption. Arsenal and Liverpool, while they’ve clawed up to third and fourth respectively and look to continue to improve, do still seem to fit nicely here, as does Tottenham. Unfortunately, it was also the case for Liverpool in both ‘03 and ‘05.

Also merits a mention that the last two times Liverpool has reached the final, it was against the team that won the League. Let’s not focus on that they finished 5th both times.

I may be forcing a couple of circular pegs into square holes, but I can’t help notice similarities. There’s a narrative in here somewhere. Once we see the draw, and after the Liverpool/Arsenal match, we’ll see the media run with it.

I can’t really complain about predictability. The themes may recur, but the clubs differ season to season. And there’s been a fair few excellent games and surprising upsets so far this tournament.

It just amuses me to no end there seem to be the same storylines every year. Must be fate.

January 9th, 2007

The Liverpool/Arse Carling Cup quarterfinal's rescheduled for 1/9/07. 3 days after the two teams are to meet in the FA Cup 3rd round. And it will be Liverpool's fifth game in 14 days.

Here's the upcoming run of fixtures: Watford (H; 12/23), Blackburn (A; 12/26), Tottenham (A; 12/30), Bolton (H; 1/1), Arsenal (H; 1/6), Arsenal (H; 1/9)

This may limit the squad options. From the looks of it, I was completely wrong on the lineup prediction for yesterday; Liverpool seemingly would have run out with a heavy mixture of reserves and youth. I find it hard to believe that will be the case this time around; the majority of those players will feature in the FA Cup match days earlier, and it seems quite unlikely they'll play both games.

Martin Atkinson's not on my Christmas card list this year.

19 December 2006


I sit down, just getting in, ready for the game I've been waiting all day for, only to find out it's been called off due to heavy fog.


Both managers are not happy with the referee's decision, and as of right now, there's no confirmed date for the replay. And I don't know when they'll get the chance to, with the busy festive fixtures coming up.


18 December 2006

Liverpool v Arsenal 12.19.06

Quarterfinal round of the Carling Cup, 2:45pm Setanta.

Carling Cup results:
Liverpool: 1-0 Birmingham (a); 4-3 Reading (h)
Arsenal: 1-0 Everton (a); 2-0 West Brom (a)

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Charlton (a); 4-0 Fulham (h); 2-3 Galatasaray (a)
Arsenal: 2-2 Portsmouth (h); 1-0 Wigan (a); 1-1 Chelsea (a)

Goalscorers (league cup):
Liverpool: Agger, Crouch, Fowler, Paletta, Riise 1
Arsenal: Aliadere 2; Adebayor 1

Squad list, according to the BBC:
Liverpool (from): Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Riise, Aurelio, Luis Garcia, Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Gonzalez, Crouch, Fowler, Bellamy, Kuyt, Dudek, Paletta, Peltier.

Arsenal (from): Almunia, Poom, Hoyte, Lauren, Senderos, Djourou, Flamini, Walcott, Song, Denilson, Randall, Traore, Aliadiere, Connolly, Garry, Perez.

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a lineup:
Finnan Carragher Agger Riise
Pennant Gerrard Alonso Garcia
Crouch Bellamy

So much for using the League Cup for kids and reserves. Now the fun starts. The BBC preview may claim that there will be a fair amount of changes from the weekend, but I’d be surprised to see the lineup that different from the one that went out at Charlton.

Much like against Manchester United in the 5th round of the FA Cup last year, Liverpool will be looking for cup revenge after a tough league loss. Unlike against United last year, Arsenal absolutely stuffed Liverpool in October. But home matches are far different than away matches, and cup games are far different than the league.

I firmly believe Garcia was rested over the weekend with an eye on this game. Not only is Little Luis known as a big game player, he’s had some fun times against the Arse. There’s a chance Garcia’ll pop up on the right, with Gonzo again on the left, but Pennant’s played well recently, and I’d be surprised to see him omitted. The fact that this game is against his old team does worry me though. Pennant’s tried too hard at times, becoming easily frustrated and easily put-off. I fear he’ll push to flatter versus Arsenal, but it’s not enough of a worry to keep him out of the team.

Again, picking a front line is a guessing game. Kuyt and Bellamy look to be the preferred pairing, and every game they’ve worked increasingly well together, but Crouch’s omission continues to confuse me. He’s still one of the players of last season with one of the team’s best strike records over the past year. Long story short, Bellamy and Crouch should start, but the only thing that seems clear is that with Bellers is on a run, it’d be silly if he sat. But then again, the Carling Cup has been Fowler's tournament so far this year.

On the flip side, Arsenal looks certain to make changes. Wenger appears to be treating this like any old Carling Cup game, and the squad is full of youngsters and reserves. No matter. I’d still prefer Liverpool play to their strengths and take advantage of this opportunity. Continue to cement a first XI, continue to gel as a unit, and continue to play better footie. Granted, it is still the League Cup, and with a big run of fixtures coming up through the holidays, there’s a temptation to rest players any opportunity you can get. But every game is a chance to improve and increase confidence, and a win over Arsenal, even a chopped and changed Arsenal, would do wonders for morale. This is no time for complacency, with the team finally playing like we hoped earlier in the season, and there is much more to be gained by playing a strong team than there is to be lost.

16 December 2006

Liverpool 3-0 Charlton

This could have been worse than Tottenham’s 5-1 battering of the Addicks. Seriously. Stop laughing. The two goals in the last 10 minutes made the scoreline a closer reflection of the game, and two or three more honestly wouldn’t have flattered Liverpool.

For once, the early goal failed to set the right tone. Pennant was brought down in the box by Djimi Traore (Cheers Djimi!) and Alonso stuck it away. As an aside, Liverpool would do well to settle on a penalty taker. There was little wrong with Xabi’s effort straight down the middle, but with both his and Stevie’s reticence to take spot kicks on record, I’d have thought Kuyt would be in with a shout.

The Charlton defense was at sixes and sevens for the majority of the first half. Luke Young and Traore (marginally making up for the peno) both had to clear shots off the line. They were very lucky not to concede more, but at the same time, Liverpool needed to have a better final touch, and I’m certain Benitez’s halftime talk centered on that.

Charlton’s best player of the first half, Andy Reid, was forced to come off at halftime due to a hamstring problem for Darren Ambrose, but it didn’t do much to change the tone or the theme of the game. Liverpool continued to boss left, right and center, with absolutely nothing to show for it.

Kuyt missed a couple of very good chances early in the second half in addition to those in the first. He really could have had 5 or so himself. I hate singling out players, especially one I fancy as much as Kuyt; every player has off games (and for strikers at this club, they seem to come more frequently), and Dirk’s quality is obvious. Give him more time, and we'll see him banging in away goals (his sole so far was against Wigan) as regularly as at Anfield.

Charlton had two chances to undeservedly snatch a draw around the 75th minute, which spurred Liverpool into action (although bringing Garcia, Aurelio, and Crouch on helped as well). First, Ambrose missed a sitter, which was Charlton’s first shot of the half, and less than 4 minutes later, Darren Bent, unmarked at the back post, pushed a serious opportunity wide. Up until that point, I couldn’t have imagined Charlton getting anything out of this game, but those two chances show how close soccer can be.

In the 82nd minute, Bellamy (who had another excellent game) scored a lovely volley from a very tight angle, and Stevie finished it off with a strike soon after. Gorgeous goal by Gerrard to be sure, but after Bellamy’s, Charlton’s heads dropped knowing they’d lost what little chance they had, and Stevie’s shot was pretty much uncontested.

A few other scattered thoughts. Thrilled to see Gonzales get 70 minutes, and am certain with more time and experience that he’ll be key part of the team. He adds so much with his pace and gives the team more natural width on the left. Also, and similarly, it was great to see Aurelio get in. He’s missed the last two months with unspecified niggling injuries (which was frequently the case when he was at Valencia as well), but his return only adds to Rafa’s “possibilities.” Finally, we're finally seeing Pennant settling in and playing better. He was one of those in for some serious stick when things weren’t going right, but he’s played a key role in the last couple of games and certainly shown improvement.

In the last three league games, Liverpool has scored 11 and conceded none, two of those games away from Anfield. I don’t care who they were up against, you can’t ask for much more than that.

Alonso for man of the match, but it easily could be Bellers or Pennant as well.

15 December 2006

Liverpool at Charlton 12.16.06

7:45am. Available in the US live on Setanta Sports.

Liverpool: 5th place; 28 points out of 17 games
Charlton: 19th place; 12 points out of 17 games

Last 4 meetings:
0-0 (h) 03.04.06
0-2 Charlton (a) 02.08.06
2-1 Liverpool (a) 02.01.05
2-0 Liverpool (a) 10.23.04

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 4-0 Fulham (h); 2-3 Galatasaray (a); 4-0 Wigan (a)
Charlton: 1-5 Tottenham (a); 1-0 Blackburn (h); 1-2 Sheffield Utd (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 6; Bellamy 3; Crouch, Garcia, Gerrard, Gonzalez 2; Agger, Alonso, Carragher, Fowler, Riise 1
Charlton: Bent 6; Reid 2; M Bent, El Karkouri, Hasselbaink 1

Referee: Howard Webb

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise
Garcia, Gerrard, Alonso, Gonzalez
Crouch, Bellamy

I’m pretty sure that as of the terms of his loan, Scott Carson can’t play for Charlton. Pity for them, he’s been their best player. Neither that fact nor Charlton’s form should mean that this game is taken for granted, however. Neither of last year’s fixtures gave Liverpool any joy; Charlton deservedly won at the Valley and the game at Anfield was exhibit A of Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal.

I’ve gone with Crouchy up front instead of Kuyt because he’s been out of the team for what seems to be a while now and Kuyt probably could use a break, despite being rested away at Galatasaray. As always though, picking from the three forwards is a crapshoot when they’re all healthy, and all have assets (Bellamy’s pace, Crouch’s height, Kuyt’s never-say-die attitude) that could trouble the Addicks’ shaky backline.

Seeing Gonzo return as a sub against Fulham was quite reassuring; his absence, along with Aurelio and Kewell’s, has left Liverpool light on the left. The stunning free kick in the 90th minute last match was icing on the cake; I’ll be content to see him continue to adjust to the English game while giving Liverpool increased width, and hope that he gets a start. My major and really only concern is that his need to improve his crossing while he’s running at pace, because far too often this season we’ve seen those passes end up in row Z.

Hopefully Charlton’s need for points, coupled with Les Reed’s promise to play more attacking footie, will mean that Charlton will actually come out of their own half and Liverpool won’t be forced to play against 10 men behind the ball. It’s getting annoying to be repetitive, but Liverpool still must prove they have what it takes to break teams down in this situation, especially on the road. And as always, the earlier the goal, the better for the team; there’s no better example than the last game. Once Liverpool put one past Fulham, they got two more in less than 10 minutes, and another to close the half. A repeat of that would certainly be welcomed.

Champions League Knockout Draw

Porto v Chelsea
Celtic v AC Milan
PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal
Lille v Manchester United
Roma v Lyon
Barcelona v Liverpool
Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Inter Milan v Valencia

Well, Liverpool’s drawn Barcelona. Can’t claim to be surprised, but certainly am disappointed. Along with Real Madrid, Barca was the toughest ask of all the second-place teams, and Liverpool will rue not avoiding a trip to Spain.

However, it’s not as if Rafa is unfamiliar with Spanish teams, and 2004-05 proved that Liverpool can beat any European team on their day. European competition has been far different from the play in the Prem, but Liverpool will have to play solid defense for 180 minutes. No silly mistakes, or Barca will surely profit.

But I do firmly believe Liverpool has enough in the locker to take Barcelona head on. It will take two excellent performances, but they will travel to Catalonia thinking a draw will suffice knowing how strong the team is at Anfield.

I just can’t get the UEFA Cup semifinal from 2001 out of my head, when Houllier’s defensive (ugly, negative, pick your derogatory synonym) style got Liverpool the requited 0-0 at the Nou Camp before a 1-0 win at Anfield.

The other English teams got off slightly easier. United returns to one of the many scenes of the crime from last season, having lost at Lille in the group stages of last year’s Champions League (also, the game at Old Trafford ended 0-0). It’s just like United to draw the team most consider the easiest opponent of the round, but hopefully, the French side can repeat last year’s efforts.

Chelsea will face a side they’re fairly familiar with, Jose Mourinho’s old team, Porto. Granted, there’s been player turnover since the Special One managed them to the CL Final, as Deco and others have moved on, but Mourinho will have his side ready and motivated to play in Portugal, and they have to be favorites to progress.

Arsenal should match up well against PSV. They should have the time on the ball that they like to have to pass and move, and I don’t know if PSV has enough up front to trouble Toure et al.

Celtic will have a tough go of it against AC Milan. The two sides were matched up against each other in the group stages of the CL than Liverpool won, when Milan won 3-0 at home and battled to a 0-0 draw in Glasgow. Celtic will have to make good use of the first leg, at Parkhead, where their European form has been excellent, if they want to have any chance when the tie moves to Italy.

Aside from Liverpool/Barca, which I’d think was the pick of the round whether or not I rooted for Liverpool, Real v Bayern and Roma v Lyon are also tasty looking match-ups. Lyon may be the favorites due to league and European form (it is still very hard to write that about a Houllier-managed team), but do not sleep on Bayern. I have a feeling their matches against Real will be quality, and that we’ll see Bayern move on, where they'll be a tough out for any of the remaining teams.

Ties will take place at the end of February and the beginning of March. The team listed first above, as second place in their group, will host the first leg. Closer to the matches, I’ll probably do predictions for all matches, save Liverpool naturally.

14 December 2006

Prem Prediction Party 12/16-12/18

Early predictions for lack of material to write about today, and more than enough (CL draw, Liverpool preview) tomorrow.

Arsenal v Portsmouth (10am, Setanta): Sol Campbell’s first game against the Arse since his free transfer over the summer, and his first visit to the Emirates period. Campbell and the rest of Pompey’s overachieving backline will have to continue their excellent form if they hope to pick up any points here. Arsenal rested Fabregas, van Persie, and Hleb midweek with an eye on this game, and I've little doubt they'll be more potent than they were at Wigan. Arse 3-1

Wigan v Sheffield United (10am, FSC): Insert standard FSC complaint here. Surprised they aren’t even showing the Reading game, to satisfy the two or three people stateside who watch to see how the Americans are doing. This is probably the least attractive game in this time slot. Wigan’s lost two straight at home, albeit to Liverpool and (barely) Arsenal while Sheffield’s on a three match unbeaten streak that’s seen them climb out of the bottom three. Despite the recent win-loss record (Wigan’s far better than it shows and I still think Sheffield will struggle to stay up), this is a match the home side should be winning. Wigan 2-1

Newcastle v Watford (10am, Setanta Xtra): Add N’Zogbia to the list with Owen, Duff, Parker, Dyer, Bramble, Solano, Ameobi, Carr, and more I’m sure. And yet Newcastle was unbeaten for over a month until Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Chelsea, which could easily have ended in a draw. Meanwhile, Watford’s desperately missing Marlon King’s goals and is currently propping up the table. Newcastle 1-0

Reading v Blackburn (10am): Reading will continue to be compared to Wigan of last season as this season's promoted surprise. They currently sit in 7th and have picked up 13 points out of their last 6 games. Whereas Blackburn, after finishing among the European places last year, sits 2 points out of the relegation zone. It’s a sign of how well respected Mark Hughes is (and how underperforming his talented side has been) that he hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as Dowie and Pardew, who were eventually axed. Reading 1-0

Aston Villa v Bolton (12:15pm, FSC): Think I’ll continue the trend of predicting Bolton to win on a smash-and-grab goal, only to see them romp to a victory. It’s worked against West Ham and Arsenal so far. Villa’s continued their slide back to reality, drawing Sheffield 2-2 last time out when they really should have put them game out of question by the end of the first half. Bolton 1-0

Everton v Chelsea (8:45am, Sunday, Setanta): Feels weird taking the mickey out of Everton after September’s abomination of a match, but they aren’t the same team as the one that sat in 3rd a couple of months back. They sincerely miss Arteta and Cahill, and Andy Johnson hasn’t scored since the end of September. I’ll take the usual 2-0 Chelsea prediction even though they haven’t scored 2 goals in a league match in over a month. Chelsea 2-0

Manchester City v Tottenham (10am, Sunday): Tottenham's 5-1 win was a fluke. Granted, they’re better than they’ve shown for most of this season, but 5-1 flattered them and what progress they have made. They're getting better and starting to replicate their excellent European form, but still nowhere near the side they were predicted to be (why does that sound familiar?). Despite sitting 12th, City is still unbeaten at home, while Tottenham hasn’t won on the road all year in the league. 1-1

West Ham v Manchester United (11am, Sunday, FSC): Welcome to West Ham, Curbs, here have a go at the league leaders. Yikes. Teams frequently get up for a first game under a new gaffer, but how much can that help here, with West Ham’s difficulty in deciding on the best 11 and United’s away form? United 2-0

Fulham v Middlesbrough (3pm, Monday, FSC): Fulham were better than the 4 goals shipped in the 2nd half of their last match let on. And they should have less defensive liabilities at Craven Cottage, where they’ve only let in 4 goals total since hosting Chelsea in mid-September. Fulham 1-0

For those who haven't seen the memo, I don’t predict the scores for Liverpool games. I’ve found that it’s egregiously bad luck, even if I happen to be confident, which is infrequent anyway. A full preview of Saturday’s game at Charlton (7:45am, Setanta) should be up midday tomorrow.

13 December 2006

Morning news and notes

Curbs will be announced as Hammers gaffer at 3pm today. Shocking. That didn't take long, Alan must be getting fairly sick of gardening.

• In addition, Reo-Coker seems to be laying the groundwork for leaving West Ham. He was Pardew’s man through and through, with the gaffer making him the youngest captain in the Premier League and in West Ham’s history. He was rumored to make a big money move last off-season (with Arsenal the most likely candidates), and it appears Nigel’s making sure no one has forgotten about him.

Lord Stevens given a second extension to complete the inquiry into illegal transfers. The presentation was made to the Premier League board yesterday, and will be made public next week. A previous extension was given a little over two months ago to further investigate 38 dealings. They’re really digging deep to try and find some examples of shady dealings, and the results of this inquiry are going to be the lasting reminders on BBC’s exceptionally silly Panorama exposé. That, and ingraining the word "bung" into our subconscious. Thanks.

• Two PL games this afternoon:
Chelsea v Newcastle (3pm, FSC): Newcastle may have rallied round the flag, delivering decent results the past couple of weeks despite the rash of injuries plaguing the club, but this is Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and Chelsea the game after a disappointing draw against the Arsenal. As per usual, every expected Chelsea win’s predicted to be 2-0, which is when Mourinho usually shuts them down. Chelsea 2-0
Wigan v Arsenal (3pm, Setanta): Despite the fact that Liverpool and Man United are the only two clubs to leave the JJB with all three points, I’m expecting a traditional Arsenal footballing display. Wigan is 1-2-2 in their last five outings, and will miss Paul Scharner through suspension, although Chris Kirkland looks to return to the team following his injury at Boro. For the Arse, Kolo Toure comes back from suspension, which will send Djourou or Senderos (hopefully Senderos) back to the bench. Arse 3-1

12 December 2006

Whoa, they make trades in MLS?

Freddy Adu’s on his way to Real Salt Lake. Well done to all parties involved, because this came completely out of left field, which is a rarity thanks to the pervasiveness of the media these days.

With DC United not getting a ton for Freddy, it’s readily apparent he’s expected to go to Europe sooner rather than later. Adu, along with keeper Nick Rimando, was traded for future considerations (a portion of Adu’s transfer fee, no doubt), a major player allocation, backup keeper Jay Nolly, and a conditional draft pick. On face value, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot, and it isn’t. But it’s a trade that DC United wanted and needed to make, especially to please Adu, and it’s not surprising this is what they’ve gotten.

Still, with the trade having been made, you can expect Adu to stick around MLS for at least one more season. Which he probably would have anyway, considering he doesn’t turn 18 until June, but this cements it.

Having lived in DC when Adu was drafted, I was lucky enough to see his first few games, and continue to have a soft spot for DC United. And despite the best intentions of both sides, Adu in DC hasn’t quite worked out. It’s easy to blame Nowak, as Freddy doesn’t fit into his style and is up against more established players in his position, but Peter Nowak is Peter Nowak. You know everything he does is because he thinks it’s in the best interests of his team, and it's done his way. Unlike in DC, Real Salt Lake, which in Utah is absolutely crying out for a marketable player, will completely build around him. He will fortify the franchise on the field and off (new stadium, please). Not to mention that RSL’s coach was also Adu’s gaffer for the Under-17s.

Granted, I don’t have any dog in this fight save wanting to see the best for Freddy, so I’m pleased about this. This is pretty much the situation I wrote about earlier, with him furthering his development stateside and seeing as much first team action as possible before moving on. Now he’s in a situation where he’ll start every game. He’ll be the man, and he’ll have to adjust to having this weight on his shoulders. But, and no offense meant, it will be a ton less pressure simply because it’s MLS. It will give him more time to grow as a person and a player before being baptized by fire across the pond.

Good for Adu, good for RSL, good for MLS, and good for the US MNT. Whether or not it’s good for DC United depends on how they use the allocation and draft pick.

11 December 2006

Pardew, part deux

If this is the way that Eggert Magnusson is going to run West Ham, then maybe Hammers fans should worry. Firing a gaffer who's achieved promotion, kept the team in the Premier League when they were predicted to go down, and reached the FA Cup final in the same year is, well, for lack of a better term, insane. It may have taken Pardew until the playoffs in 2005 to be fully accepted and appreciated by Hammers fans, as rumors swirled around his job from when he was hired until West Ham were promoted, but there's little to argue with in his record during the second attempt at the playoffs or in his first season as a Premiership manager.

It's now all set up nicely for Alan Curbishley to take over, and you can't help but wonder if that wasn't Magnusson's plan from the get-go. Ever since questions were first asked of Pardew during the woes to begin the season, Curbishley's name has come up. And Curbs has kept his name out of discussions for any other jobs, whether it was Villa before O'Neill was hired or Charlton after Dowie was sacked.

Curbs is known for his ability to make a relegation candidate into a mid-table side; look at how Charlton has fared since he left. However, West Ham's major problem this season has been bedding in new players like Tevez and Mascherano, while trying to deal with the drop in form of last season's main stars, such as Reo-Coker, Zamora, and Benayoun (as well as the injury to Dean Ashton, which can't be underestimated). I do not think they would be relegation candidates under normal circumstances, which this season certainly hasn't been.

I just don't see how Curbs, or any other candidate for that matter, will have more success with this endeavor than Pardew did. His job this season has been a throughly thankless task. First, the loss of Ashton. Subsequently, the takeover speculation. Then the Tevez/Mascherano ordeal, blending them in at the same time the rest of the squad is going through growing pains. Finally, most of that seems to be sorted; Magnusson buys West Ham, Tevez (but not Mascherano) is starting to settle, and the team, slowly but surely, is getting back to normal. Results haven't gotten that much better, with 3 straight losses, including a 4-0 battering they took at Bolton since winning their first game under Magnusson's watch. But looking at the talent, looking how players are slowly returning to form, knowing Ashton will soon return, and seeing Tevez slowly fit in, I would have thought that Pardew would have them out of the relegation battle by the end of January at the latest.

I don't blame Pardew for the whole Argentinean saga. Commentators so far today have claimed that Tevez and Mascherano's arrival was the beginning of his end, but bringing the boys to West Ham was completely Kia Joorabchian's idea. It was thought that he'd be the one to buy the club, and he wanted the two big-name players his consortium owned there as well. Pardew was, for all intents and purposes, forced to take and forced to play the lads. Mascherano hasn't been able to cut it at all yet, which is why Hayden Mullins has reclaimed his starting place, but Tevez is certainly starting to look handy. Not to mention it's completely unfair to expect two South Americans, of their age, to settle into the pace and style of the Premiership in less than half a season. The time scale, whether it's for managers to turn a team around or for players to settle in, is absolutely utterly out of whack and expectations must to be softened.

West Ham has never been known for firing managers quickly, especially not mid-season. It looks very, very bad when the first major act of a new owner is to fire a manager as beloved as Pardew, and after he's already claimed Pardew's job was safe.


Pardew out

Pardew sacked as West Ham manager

I'll have much more to say on this later today when I get more of a chance. I just wanted to put the news up as soon as I heard it, because not only is it huge and surprising, I think it's an unbearably dumb decision.

For now, see Knees Up Mother Brown for more info.

10 December 2006

What have we learned today?

With Arsenal and Chelsea battling to a stalemate at the Bridge, there are a few conclusions that can be drawn about the rest of season.

• The best defense against Chelsea is a good offense. This game may be Exhibit A, but Boro’s home win, and both of Liverpool’s games versus the Blues this season are also excellent examples. When you let Chelsea set the pace and the tone, put as many men behind the ball as possible, and invite them on, as many smaller clubs do, they will take advantage. Unlike Liverpool in that situation, with Chelsea, it’s only a matter of time before they break you down.

• The title is United’s to lose. An eight-point advantage (with Chelsea still possessing a game in hand) is nowhere near insurmountable, but with the way United has played for 4 months, it is quite a gap. No offense to the chasing pack (which at this point is pretty much just Chelsea), but injuries and their own form are Manchester’s two main opponents.

• Chelsea’s starting line-up is not their best. The addition of Shevchenko and Ballack has prompted Chelsea to line-up with no natural width. With Sheva and Drobga up top, and Lampard, Ballack, Essien, and Makalele in midfield, there’s no room for Joe Cole, Robben, or Wright-Phillips (who honestly was poor today). Once Sheva and Geremi came off, with Essien moving to RB and Chelsea shifting into a more familiar 4-3-3 formation, they were miles more dangerous. It not only got them the equalizer, but with some of the chances in the last 15 minutes, they could and should have won.

• Petr Cech’s injury may have cost Chelsea the full 3 points. I can’t speak for Cudicini, who let in a similar dipping shot to Riise in the Community Shield, but Cech, who has possibly the strongest set of hands in goalkeeping, could have pushed Flamini’s shot around the post when all Hilario could do was direct it into the net.

• Arsenal will be title contenders sooner rather than later. I don’t know what Thierry Henry is on about. There are a ton of young players, and couple who are out of their depth (I’m looking at you, Senderos), but the potential is off the charts. Eboue, Flamini, Fabregas, Hleb, and to a lesser extent Djourou, Clichy, and van Persie showed what they can do today. If they continue their progress over the second half of the campaign, they'll surely be title contenders come 07-08.

• And while it’s incidental to the performance of the two teams or to the rest of the season, I want to make one other point. There could easily have been two red cards today but for sensible refereeing. If Alan Wiley went straight by the letter of the law, both Drogba and Jens Lehmann would have been sent off for raising their arms. And the rest of the game, which was one of the most entertaining of the season, would have been dramatically changed. But Wiley acted sanely, consulted his linesman, spoke to both players, cooled the incident off, and gave just yellows. Well played.

Liverpool v Fulham, the day after

Official Site: Match Analysis
Official Site: Rafa reaction
BBC write-up, with video from Benitez and Coleman
Guardian: Match write-up
The Times: Match write-up
Daily Telegraph: Match write-up
The Independent: Match write-up
Eurosport stats and match commentary
Youtube Liverpool goals
Sky Sports: Match write-up
Sky Sports: Player Ratings
RAWK: Post-match thread

09 December 2006

Liverpool 4-0 Fulham

Second straight 4-0 win in the league. Certainly cannot have any complaints with that.

Everything seemed to go according to script. The first half saw Liverpool dominate both possession and chances, but go into the half 0-0, as has been a frequent occurrence. There were three solid opportunities, with the best two a Kuyt miss after a nice centering pass by Pennant, and a clear-cut handball that wasn’t called (one of two possible penalty shouts).

But in the second half, everything went Liverpool’s way. It started with Uriah Rennie finally getting one right, and actually seeing Ian Pearce’s handball on Kuyt’s goal-bound shot. Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty, which was easily saved, but it fortuitously bounced back into his path, and the second chance was coolly slotted home.

As frequently happens, the first goal opened the floodgates. Liverpool had been the better team throughout the game, but after the goal they were simply dominant. A second soon followed, from Jamie Carragher (!!!) of all people, smashing home Agger’s flick-on from Gerrard’s corner. Garcia added the third with a header reminiscent of Gerrard’s against Milan, with Agger again tallying the assist. I firmly believe Luis is the best header on the team, at all of 5’7” (see also: Anderlecht).

After the third, Liverpool was content to take the foot off the gas. Gonzalez, Crouch, and Fowler all came on (for Kuyt, Bellamy, and Garcia respectively), and it looked as if they were content to see the game out. In the last minute of stoppage time, Liverpool earned a free kick at the top of the box, and Gonzalez curled a stunning left footed free kick into the near post, giving the keeper no chance. Nice to have two South Americans (whenever Aurelio returns) who can pop up with goals like that, just a thing of beauty.

I can’t decide if the scoreline flatters Liverpool or not. They certainly deserved to win, and were the superior team the entire game. But 4-0, after going scoreless for 50 minutes, seems a little much. Bouba Diop’s injury, and subsequent substitution early in the second, opened up a lot more space for Liverpool to operate, and they took advantage. And credit to Fulham, they may not have offered a lot in attack, but they never sat everyone behind the ball, and came out in the second half looking to score right away.

It’s nice to literally have zero complaints; I’m absolutely delighted with the second half performance. No one had a bad game; Kuyt and Garcia were more wasteful than usual in the first half, but both played important parts later on. Pennant had another excellent game, showing much more willingness to take defenders on, and with greater success. Agger gets my man of the match, with his assists, ability going forward, and clearing headers from Fulham’s few corners, but it easily could be Jermaine as well. Reina was challenged twice all match, and made two fine saves, and the defense was sound throughout. Even Carra got in on the scoring, which completely makes my weekend. I hate to repeat myself, as I ended the Wigan match on the same note, but long may it continue.

Roll on Charlton.

08 December 2006

Liverpool v Fulham 12.9.06

10am. Available in the US live on Setanta Sports.

Liverpool: 5th place; 25 points out of 16 games
Fulham: 13th place; 20 points out of 13 games

Last 4 meetings:
5-1 Liverpool (h) 03.15.06
2-0 Fulham (a) 10.22.05
3-1 Liverpool (h) 02.05.05
4-2 Liverpool (a) 10.16.04

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 2-3 Galatasaray (a); 4-0 Wigan (a); 0-0 Portsmouth (h)
Fulham: 0-2 Blackburn (a); 2-1 Arsenal (h); 0-1 Reading (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 6; Bellamy 3; Crouch 2; Agger, Alonso, Fowler, Garcia, Gerrard, Gonzalez, Riise 1
Fulham: McBride 4; Bullard, Jensen 2; Bocanegra, Helguson, John, Knight, Radzinski, Volz 1

Referee: Uriah Rennie (get ready for at least one laugher, and hope it goes your way)

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise
Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Garcia
Kuyt, Bellamy

The four players that stayed home mid-week (Gerrard, Hyypia, Reina, and Finnan) should all come back into the side. Kuyt, who was also rested midweek, and Bellamy, who’s the on-song striker following the last couple of games, will probably play up top. I believe Crouch is still bothered by the back injury that ruled him out at Wigan, but, honestly, despite being the top goalscorer this season with 9 (2 in the league, however, and yes, I know he's featured there far less), I would have imagined Liverpool going for Kuyt/Bellamy here no matter what.

I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of seeing a similar line-up to that which went out at Wigan, though. Carragher again may see time in midfield, keeping out either Pennant or Garcia (more than likely Pennant if it does happen). I’m still of the belief that Liverpool’s played it’s best when it’s lined up (even if only nominally) 4-4-2, especially at Anfield.

Two games ago, Fulham picked up their biggest win of the season, beating Arsenal 2-1 at Craven Cottage. They’ve also been far better on the road this season than last (where they registered only one win), winning at Newcastle and picking up draws at Spurs, Villa, and Pompey. However, the last two times away, they’ve lost at Manchester City and Reading, and have slowly slid down the table following their start to the campaign.

As such, Fulham, like many other teams before them, will probably to Anfield and park the bus in front of the goal. Liverpool must find a way to break down their defense, or it could be a repeat of the Portsmouth game. I don’t think Fulham’s back line is as strong as Pompey’s, or Manchester City’s for that matter, and reckon that Bellamy could cause Ian Pearce and/or Zat Knight a lot of problems with his pace.

Once again, Liverpool’s ability to carve out a goal when the opposition has everyone behind the ball will probably decide whether they take one or three points. They haven’t demonstrated that ability enough this campaign, and it shows in their position in the league. If the ascent up the table is to continue, it’s going to have to happen tomorrow.

Premership Predictions 12/9-12/11

Manchester United v Manchester City (7:45am, FSC): If this were at the City of Manchester Stadium, I’d be tempted to go with a shock result. City has a tendency to take points off of United in derby games; last year, Robbie Fowler sealed a 3-1 victory and then held up 5 fingers at the United fans (can’t imagine why). But United at Old Trafford has been a different story all season long. United 2-0

Tottenham v Charlton (10am, FSC): Tottenham will miss Keane and Jenas through injury, and Zokora through suspension following the fracas versus Boro; Spurs’ midfield is starting to look very light. But I still don’t know if Charlton have enough to beat them in this London derby, despite the fact that Les Reed (surprisingly enough) has them playing more attractive football. By the way, I am still waiting (and will continue waiting) for Berbatov to really start making his mark; I fully believe he can and will be a top-class striker in the league. Tottenham 2-1

Blackburn v Newcastle (10am, Setanta Xtra): I really would not want to be in Blackburn’s locker room this season. Mark Hughes cannot be happy with the way his team has underperformed all season long. Glenn Roeder, meanwhile, can’t complain about anything other than injuries; it’s remarkable Newcastle still has enough players to field a side. 0-0

Middlesbrough v Wigan (10am): Inconsistency was the hallmark of Boro for the majority of this season, but they’ve seemingly settled down. 0-0 v Liverpool, 1-1 v Villa, and two hard fought losses to United and Spurs in the past 4 games. I will continue to talk up Paul Jewell and his Wigan side, as I believe Jewell’s probably the best English manager around, but this feels like one of those games where Boro plays to their full capabilities at the Riverside Boro 2-1

Portsmouth v Everton (10am): In addition to Cahill and Arteta, Osman’s now been ruled out through injury. Pretty much all of Everton’s goals from midfield are sitting on the sideline, and Johnson, Beattie, and McFadden must shoulder the load. Not that Pompey’s been free and clear of injuries, mind, but Everton will certainly rue the absence of those three players. 1-1

Watford v Reading (10am): When the fixtures list came out, both teams will have looked at this as a must-win game against a probable fellow relegation candidate. However, with Reading as this season’s Wigan, they currently sit 6th in the table, equal on points with 3rd place Arsenal. Still think this game will look like a match between two-promoted teams: hard-fought and close until the end, and with Watford at Vicarage Road, I think they’ll be able to earn at least a draw. 1-1

Bolton v West Ham (12:15pm, FSC): West Ham needs to turn around their season soon, or the New Year will see them mired in a relegation battle, and who knows how the new Icelandic owner will respond to that. Bolton’s had trouble continuing the good run of form they began the season with, but I imagine they’ll keep West Ham from playing the type of footie the Hammers want to, and will nick the necessary goal in true Bolton fashion. Bolton 1-0

Chelsea v Arsenal (11am Sunday, FSC): This one would be even more fun if William Gallas was healthy. Arsenal’s away fans will have to content themselves with heckling Ashley Cole until they’re blue in the face (*rimshot*, sorry couldn't help myself). Arsenal silenced a lot of speculation over a poor start with a win over Manchester United in September, and a win versus Chelsea would further establish them as one of the top teams in the league and go a long way towards the battle for 3rd. Chelsea needs full points as well to keep pace with United, who are 6 points up having played one more game. I think the Blues will get a close win, and I’m hoping the game will fulfill its potential to be high-scoring and end-to-end. Chelsea 3-2

Sheffield United v Aston Villa (3pm Monday, FSC): I’ve been really impressed with Sheffield over the past two games. Granted, the wins have come against Watford and Charlton, but they’ve been hard-fought and Neil Warnock’s team has they requited never-say-die attitude. Meanwhile, Martin O’Neill's team has fallen back (as O’Neill himself predicted) over the past couple of weeks, going winless over the past four games. Wouldn’t surprise me to see both trends continue here. 1-1

blah blah blah Liverpool v Fulham (10am Saturday, Setanta) preview blah blah blah later.

07 December 2006

No Jurgen for US

Klinsmann withdraws candidacy as U.S. Coach

I pretty sure I'm in the minority here, but this doesn't bother me. Don't get me wrong, Klinsmann wouldn't have been a bad option, but I don't think he would have been the best either. Something just didn't seem right; absolutely everything seemed to fall into place for him with the German side at the World Cup.

I think his man-management and his ability to bring the German team and the country together for the World Cup were qualities far more important than his tactical nous. I don't want to play down the changes he made to the national team, updating the training methods and bringing more youth players along, but neither is a major problem for the U.S. team. I also think that much of Germany's success had to do with the fact that they were the home team, as seems to happen every World Cup. Klinsmann has stellar playing credentials but the fact remains, the German job is his sole coaching experience. I can't help but think he's been overrated by success in one tournament (albeit the biggest tournament in the game).

The US manager needs two main qualities as far as I'm concerned. One, familiarity with the MLS, as for the foreseeable future a lot of players, specifically young players, will come from the national league. Two, international experience. Playing, managing, whatever. The manager needs to be familiar with styles abroad, specifically European teams, because I think that's the major competition. Klinsi seemingly has both qualities, being based in California and considering his playing career. I just cannot get it out my head he's been plumped up far too much.

Who do I think should be national team coach? Stevie Nicol.

I know, I know, I will get a lot of stick for this, thinking I've gone for him solely based on Liverpool connections. Believe me, that's nowhere near the sole reason, but it certainly doesn't hurt; I find it hard to believe it would hinder a manager to have played under Paisley, Fagan, and Dalglish.

My main sticking point is that we know he knows the MLS. A former MLS Coach of the Year, and he's taken the New England Revolution to the MLS Cup finals the past two seasons. But it's not as if he's unfamiliar with the European game. He played for both Scotland and for League and European Cup-winning Liverpool sides, and played recently enough to have seen the Prem. He's got the familiarity with both the US and European games needed in the next manager.

I know Klinsi has a lot of the qualities that I see in Nicol, but Nicol's experience with MLS and the youth set-up, plus his additional coaching experience, even if it isn't on the international level, wins out for me. I don't like all "big names," like Jose Pekerman, Bruno Metsu, or Gerard Houllier (not going there) that have been tossed out, simply because I don't know if they're familiar enough with the players over here. And on the flip side, does Bob Bradley, who looks to be named interim manager, have enough international experience?

Plus, you just don't argue with a international-class Scottish defender. Doesn't happen. Another of my favorite qualities in a gaffer, striking fear into both the opposition and his own players.

06 December 2006

Onto the next round...

Group stage of the Champions League is done. For the first time in recent memory, all the British sides in the round will advance.

Group Winners, Runners-up:
Chelsea, Barcelona (A)
Bayern Munich, Inter Milan (B)
Liverpool, PSV (C)
Valencia, Roma (D)
Lyon, Real Madrid (E)
Manchester United, Celtic (F)
Arsenal, Porto (G)
AC Milan, Lille (H)

Every single team qualifying is the #1 or #2 team from their group. No real surprises in the knockout round at all, save maybe the fact that Barca and Real finished second, but looking at it that way only detracts from how well Chelsea and Lyon played them head-to-head. In addition, Spartak Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk were the only #4 seeds to qualify for the UEFA Cup; all six others were the third seeds.

I couldn’t really tell you whether or not it’s a coincidence or if the Champions League really is that much more predictable this go around. It seemed there were a number of surprising results during the group stage: Copenhagen and Celtic over United, Bremen pushing Barcelona until the last match, Eastern Europe teams (specifically CSKA, Shakhtar, and Spartak) playing better (and getting wins) against established European sides. But at the end of the day, all the big teams are through. And Michel Platini was complaining about how the teams who win their country league are having a hard go of the CL…

The draw for the knockout phase takes place Friday the 15th. Group winners will be drawn against runners-ups, and teams from the same country or same group cannot play each other. Liverpool's possible opponents are Barca, Inter, Roma, Real, Celtic, Porto, or Lille.

Liverpool v Gala, the day after

Official Site: Match Analysis
Official Site: Rafa reaction
Youtube Liverpool goals and interviews
BBC write-up, with audio from Benitez
Guardian: Match write-up
The Times: Match write-up
Daily Telegraph: Match write-up
The Independent: Match write-up
Eurosport stats and match commentary
Sky Sports: Match write-up
Sky Sports: Player Ratings
RAWK: Post-match thread

05 December 2006

Liverpool 2-3 Galatasaray

I honestly don’t know how to feel after that.

Obviously, I’m disappointed in the loss. But Liverpool was second best, and I’m not entirely surprised with the result following that line-up and formation. I think many wanted to see reserves and youth players get runs out and senior players rested (I know I did), and when the squad is changed like this, in a venue like Istanbul in the Champions League to boot, these games happen.

I don’t want to take anything away from Gala; they rested players, were without Arda Turan through suspension and Sukur through injury, and could have (should have) won by more. The pick of the litter was Okan’s volleyed goal, Gala’s second, as he absolutely smacked Agger’s clearing header inside the post from 30+ yards out.

It’s not as if there weren’t positives to take away. It’s always nice to see Fowler get goals, and his two today were his first goals in the Champions League proper. The first of which he scored with his thigh, with Bellamy proving the cross from a similar position as Crouch’s goal versus Chelsea in the Community Shield. The second came after a good run (beating the defender!) and cross from Pennant. Despite the perpetual grief he gets, I thought Pennant played fairly well today. Yes, his corners frequently hit the first man (and that needs to stop), but he looked better in open play, and did most of the work for the second goal. Bellamy also put in another good game, looking industrious and running hard the entire time on the pitch.

Granted, there were negatives as well. Two of the goals were partly Liverpool’s own doing; Alonso’s misplayed pass for Gala’s first and Riise’s stumble/poor tackling on the third were errors frustrating from senior players. While it was good to see Paletta and Peltier get starts, neither had games to write home over. Paletta in particular seemed unsure of himself, especially considering his good performances in the Carling Cup. All said, the backline looked shaky and had moments of madness similar to troubles early in the season, but it’s not as worrying when it’s not the first string, or a quartet that infrequently plays together. In general, it felt like some players weren’t completely up for the game, and while it’s not completely surprising given the circumstances, it’s never heartening to see.

But at the end of the day, it still seems that this was no more than a friendly match in the middle of the season. As requested, everyone’s coming back injury-free, and Paletta, Peltier, and Guthrie (along with Miki Roque off the bench) made full debuts in European competition. The focus can be on the League for the next month (aside from the Arse League Cup match in two weeks, of course) and hopefully we shall see subsequent progress in form.

Roll on Fulham.

04 December 2006

Liverpool at Galatasaray 12.05.2006

2:45pm. Available in the US on Setanta Sports.

Galatasaray is currently 2nd in the Turkish league

Champions League Group Stage results:
Liverpool: 2-0 PSV (h); 3-0 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Bordeaux (a); 3-2 Galatasaray (h); 0-0 PSV (a)
Galatasaray: 1-3 Bordeaux (a); 0-2 PSV (a); 1-2 PSV (h); 2-3 Liverpool (a); 0-0 Bordeaux (h)

Goal scorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Crouch 5; Garcia 3; Gerrard 2; Bellamy, Gonzalez 1
Galatasaray: Ilic, Karan, Turan 2; Inamoto, Sabri, Sas, Sukur 1

European History:
Liverpool: European Cup/Champions League 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005; UEFA Cup 1973, 1976, 2001; UEFA Super Cup 1977, 2001, 2005
Galatasaray: UEFA Cup 2000; UEFA Super Cup 2000

Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR)

Key players for Gala:
Umit Karan: With Hasan Sukur likely out due to a cracked rib, Turkish international Karan will be the most dangerous striker. Karan was a key part in Gala’s near comeback at Anfield in September, scoring the two second-half goals from headers. He has 7 goals in the Turkish league this year.
Rigobert Song: The former Leeds defender also happened to make 33 appearances for Liverpool from 1999 to 2000. He and Sabri Sarıoglu are the only players to have played every minute of Gala’s Champions League campaign.
Sasa Ilic: Much of Gala’s offense will go through Ilic, an attacking central midfielder with an eye for goal (8 goals in the league, Gala's top scorer), and a member of the Serbian national team.

My guess of a lineup:
Peltier, Paletta, Agger, Riise
Pennant, Guthrie, Alonso, Garcia
Fowler, Crouch

Having already qualified first in the group, there’s a lot less pressure going into this game, and it shows in the squad selection. It's nice to see so many youth players chosen: Stephen Darby, David Martin, Paul Anderson, and Miki Roque, in addition to Paletta, Peltier and Guthrie. In addition, Gerrard, Finnan, Reina and Hyypia haven’t made the trip.

I’m a bit surprised Gerrard was left out. Liverpool certainly could do with resting a few players, Stevie included, but with the team light in central midfield, and Alonso just returning from injury, I would have thought that Xabi would be the one staying home.

I hope to see as many youth players feature as possible. Playing in the Champions League, in Istanbul of all places, would be some way to make a debut, and I don’t believe that any of the youth players mentioned have gotten a run out in Europe. We’ve seen Paletta, Peltier, and Guthrie in the Carling Cup and league, but I hope that Paul Anderson features as well. There’s been a lot of hype around him in the reserves, and he scored a lovely goal in pre-season, but from what I’ve read, he hasn’t played as well this year as last.

All four strikers are in the team. I imagine Fowler will captain the squad, as Carragher will probably be on the bench, but who will partner him seems less certain. My guess, and it’s no more than that, is it will be Crouch, simply because he didn’t play on Saturday, but I haven’t seen any news on the back problem that ruled him out against Wigan.

Everyone comes home without injuries (knocking on wood furiously), and the youth players play (and don’t look out of depth), and this game has to be considered a success. It’s a credit to the team, and the hard work over the past 5 games in Europe that they’re in this position.