30 September 2006

Liverpool 0-2 Bolton

I sure love when referee mistakes seemingly cost Liverpool the game. Granted, Liverpool deserved nothing out of this game by the end of it – after 90 minutes, they were thoroughly beaten - but in the 30th minute it was still up in the air and until then, Liverpool had been the better side. But Reina was adjudged to have handled outside the box, even though on replay he clearly released the ball before leaving the area, and Gary Speed nailed the free kick. The linesman should be embarrassed and should be disciplined, but that’s soccer.

Then Bolton did what Bolton does best. They tightened up, put 9 or 10 men behind the ball, and shut up shop. Liverpool was frustrated out of the game, and once Campo got Bolton a second, it was over. Full credit to Bolton, they did exactly what they set out to do.

I hate to question Benitez’s line-ups or tactics. Not only has Rafa repeatedly proved himself, it’s easy to be smart in hindsight. But I do not understand leaving out Crouch, and I'm saying that after all the touting of Kuyt I've done. Maybe Rafa was afraid it would lead to too much hit-and-hope route 1 football, but Liverpool ended up going in that direction in the second half anyway. Maybe there was the fear that Crouch would pick up a lot of fouls battling with Bolton’s back line, which is a justified concern. But he is the in-form striker. I want to see Kuyt and Bellamy succeed as a pairing as much as anyone, but I do not understand how Crouch is left on the bench here. And I think Liverpool paid for it.

I am concerned about the midfield as well. For some reason, it feels far more unsettled than it was last season. Maybe it’s due to bedding in the new players; Aurelio and Gonzalez are still getting used to English football and Pennant has been disappointingly inconsistent. But last year, Gerrard, Alonso, and Sissoko knew their roles, blended well, and played nearly every game. Now, Gerrard’s been played on the left at times, Alonso’s still finding his best form, Zenden is getting games in central midfield despite being substandard, and the left wing is a question mark.

Liverpool had chances to score in this game, mostly in the first half. Alonso hit the post and Jaaskelainen made excellent saves on Gerrard and Kuyt. But once again, they were too ineffective on attack. I don’t know whether it’s down to Bolton’s defense or a regression to two weeks ago. I’m inclined to believe it’s a little bit of both, more from column A than column B, but more importantly, if results don’t improve Liverpool could be out of title race by November. That’s not an overreaction to a tough loss, it’s the reality of the modern Premiership. I’m not one to stand and shout that the emperor has no clothes, especially when the emperor’s in a much better position than I am to judge his attire, but something doesn’t seem right.

29 September 2006

Liverpool at Bolton 9.30.2006

7:45am. Available in the US on Setenta Sports.

Liverpool: 7th place; 10 points out of 6 games
Bolton: 6th place; 11 points out of 6 games

Last 4 meetings (league):
1-0 Liverpool (h) April 9 2006
2-2 (a) January 2 2006
1-0 Liverpool (h) April 2 2005
0-1 Bolton (a) August 29 2004

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 3-2 Galatasaray (h); 3-0 Tottenham (h); 2-0 Newcastle (h)
Bolton: 1-0 Portsmouth (a); 3-1 Walsall (a); 0-0 Middlesbrough (h)

Goals Leaders (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 2, Agger, Alonso, Crouch, Fowler, Gonzalez, Riise 1
Bolton: Campo, Davies, Diouf, Nolan, Speed 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

The squad I’d like to see:

Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise
Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Aurelio
Crouch, Bellamy

Okay, Liverpool’s traveling to the Reebok. So, this is obviously going to be a high-paced and aesthetically pleasing match, and the line-up should reflect that.

Because of the style and spirit of the game, Sissoko is going to be even more important than usual. Yes, he will have to play the hard-man role and break up play in midfield. But as play will probably get bogged down in the center, good passes, especially short passes, are going to be essential. Momo has the tendency to give the ball away cheaply, and that’s something that cannot be done at the Reebok. He will need to have a good game for Liverpool to do well.

Putting Aurelio at LM means we can keep his crosses without worrying as much about his defensive liabilities. He and Riise seemed to overlap well against Sheffield United, before Riise was injured. Aurelio was supposedly bought to play both LM and LB, and this seems to be the sort of game where he’d be more suited in midfield.

I can’t see how Crouch can be left out after Wednesday’s game, and I still reckon that Kuyt could use a rest, even though he started nearly every game he played for Feyenoord. I’d like Bellamy to start as well; not only is this the sort of hardnosed game he thrives in, but he needs to get off the mark in the league, and I can see it happening here.

Bolton played well last time out against Portsmouth; Allardyce was able to get them to ignore the Panorama allegations, they nicked a goal on the road, and defended very well against an in-form Pompey. They aren’t scoring a ton of goals, but then again, they never do.

Will be a bit of history in Saturday’s game, as Bolton will bring Nicolas Anelka and El-Hadji Diouf back to Anfield. Where I’m sure they’ll be given a warm welcome. This’ll be Anelka’s first visit to Anfield since signing with Bolton, but he had a good scoring record against Liverpool while he was with Manchester City. And it’s always fun to come up against Diouf. Hope he doesn’t spit on anyone.

England names squad for October Euro Qualifying

McClaren’s named his England squad for the Euro qualifiers in October against Macedonia and Croatia. Not too many surprises, but with the injury list the national team has had, we’ve learned a little about the gaffer’s thought process. And I have to say that I’m fairly pleased.

First and foremost is the inclusion of Scott Parker. Sure, it seemed like a no-brainer with Hargreaves out with a broken leg, but you can never be sure. This is the move McClaren had to make. It will be such a relief if Parker assumes the holding role. Carrick is still in the squad (as is Jenas...), and I still fear that Carrick will start, simply because of the name recognition and the fact he now plays for Manchester United. And while I like Carrick as a player, it would be the absolute wrong decision.

Primarily, Carrick is not a holding midfielder. He is the quarterback of the team, a poor man’s Xabi Alonso or Jan Mølby if we’re being generous. He’s an outstanding passer, but his tackling is atrocious and his defensive positioning is appalling too. Also, Carrick, like Molby and Alonso, plays at a slow pace, controlling the tempo and staying fairly close to the center circle. Which is not what England needs at all.

Parker is a true box-to-box midfielder. He’s excellent in the tackle, and will cover the entire field attempting to disrupt play. But he’ll push forward as well. He’s scored twice for Newcastle this season, with a header and a long-range shot. He has no real problem supporting the attack, but with Gerrard and Lampard in the team, he’ll have no real need to. I really am hoping Parker starts. Please have some guts, Steve.

It’s good to see Defoe and Johnson get the nod over Bent as well. Bent has not impressed at the national level when he’s been given the chance, and even though he’s still scoring in the Prem, he’s under-impressed so far this year. Andy Johnson has been the best striker in the league so far this season, and I still believe that Defoe is a better prospect that Bent, and should be included even if the entire Tottenham squad is misfiring.

Rooney’s return to fitness should prevent Crouch from starting, which is a shame given him recent form for England, but I really want to see a partnership of Rooney and Johnson, as it feels as if it would be fairly productive. Plus, it’ll give the bitter Evertonians something to ponder over when they wonder what could have been if Shrek really believed that once a blue, always a blue.

Full England Squad:
Robinson (Tottenham), Foster (Man Utd), Kirkland (Wigan)

G Neville (Man Utd), P Neville (Everton), Brown (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Carragher (Liverpool), King (Tottenham), A Cole (Chelsea), Bridge (Chelsea)

Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Jenas (Tottenham), Carrick (Man Utd), Richardson (Man Utd), Downing (Middlesbrough), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Parker (Newcastle)

Rooney (Man Utd), Crouch (Liverpool), Johnson (Everton), Defoe (Spurs)

28 September 2006

News Briefs 9.28.06

A bunch of things happened today, but nothing that really deserves to be its own post.

Liverpool secures £9m European Union grant. Promising, very promising. More in-depth thoughts on the stadium are here, but this is another good sign. The fact that the EU has confirmed the grant, which is to only be used for the revitalization of the surrounding area, not the stadium, means that Liverpool must have shown something akin to concrete proof of funding for the entire project. Not only would the EU have had to seen something substantial, but there’s no way the club would have let this much out and gotten this much press if they weren’t convinced they could pull it off. It still could be that Parry’s decided to rely on loans instead of outside investment, but I have to believe they’ve done due diligence either way, and I’m excited to see it go forward.

DC United and MLS furiously deny speculation linking Freddy Adu with Reading. Supposedly a six-month loan signing, with a view towards a £5m permanent move in January. I know, MLS shouldn’t sell their stars if they want to be taken seriously as a league, but I’m of a firm belief that if America wants its national team to succeed, its star players should be playing in Europe. And Manchester United and Chelsea have both been trawling after Adu before. But going to a big club, where Adu will toil on the bench or in the reserves is an awful idea. However, Reading doesn’t make much sense either. I understand both Convey and Hahnemann are there, and they would be crucial in helping him settle. And it’s a good size club for Adu, and in the Premier League. But I just don’t really see where he fits into a team with a midfield of Ki-Hyeon, Sidwell, Harper, and Convey, with other attacking players like Doyle, Kitson, and Lita. Adu would add both skill and credibility, but Reading needs help defensively. Plus, and no offense meant, I’d love to see them stay up, but it’s Reading, and Adu is supposedly the best US prospect we’ve had in generations.

No one wants to be West Brom’s manager. After firing Bryan Robson, who surprisingly saved them from the drop in 04-05, but couldn’t last year and had struggled this year, everyone seems to be running away from the position. Coventry won’t allow the Baggies to speak to Micky Adams (not that he wants the job anyway, mind you, says the club), Alan Curbishley’s refuted absolutely all conjecture that he’d be interested, Steve Round (Boro asst.) removed his name from consideration, and Tony Mowbray (Hibernian), Steve Cotterill (Burnley), and Dave Jones (Cardiff) are all mystified as to how their names came up. Not a good sign.

• UEFA Cup Round-up
- AS Nancy (Fra) 3-1 Schalke 04 (Ger). AS Nancy wins 3-2 on aggregate.
- Ajax (Ned) 4-0 IK Start (Nor). Ajax wins 9-2 on agg.
- Austria Magna (Aus) 1-0 Legia Warsaw (Pol). Magna wins 2-1 on agg.
- Auxerre (Fra) 3-1 Dinamo Zagreb (Cro). Auxerre wins 5-2 on agg.
- Bayer Leverkusen (Ger) 3-1 FC Sion (Swz). Bayer wins 3-1 on agg.
- Blackburn (Eng) 2-0 SV Red Bull Salzburg (Aus). Blackburn wins 4-2 on agg.
- Brondby (Den) 2-2 Eintracht Frankfurt (Ger). Frankfurt wins 6-2 on agg.
- CSKA Sofia (Bul) 2-2 Besiktas (Tur). Besiktas wins 4-2 on agg. after extra time
- Celta Vigo (Spa) 3-0 Standard Liege (Bel). Celta wins 4-0 on agg.
- Chievo (Ita) 2-2 Braga (Por). Braga wins 3-2 on agg. after extra time.
- Club Brugge (Bel) 1-1 SCP Ruzomberok (Slo). Brugge wins 2-1 on agg.
- Crvena Zvezda (Ser) 1-2 Liberec (Cze). Liberec wins 4-1 on agg.
- Dinamo Bucuresti (Rom) 4-1 FC Xanthi (Gre). Dinamo wins 8-4 on agg.
- Espanyol (Spa) 3-1 Artmedia Bratislava (Slo). Espanyol wins 5-3 on agg.
- FC Groningen (Ned) 1-0 Partizan Belgrade (Ser). Partizan wins 4-3 on agg.
- FC Superfund (Aus) 0-1 Livorno (Ita). Livorno wins 3-0 on agg.
- Feyenoord (Ned) 0-0 Lokomotiv Sofia (Bul). 2-2 on agg, Feyenoord wins on away goals.
- Grasshoppers (Swz) 5-0 Atvidabergs FF (Swe). Grasshoppers wins 8-0 on agg.
- Hapoel Tel-Aviv (Isr) 3-1 Chornomorets (Ukr). Hapoel wins 4-1 on agg.
- Heerenveen (Ned) 0-0 Vitoria Setubal (Por). Heerenveen wins 3-0 on agg.
- Iraklis (Gre) 0-2 Wisla Krakow (Pol). Wisla wins 2-1 on agg. after extra time.
- Kayserispor (Tur) 1-1 AZ Alkmaar (Ned). AZ wins 4-3 on agg.
- Lens (Fra) 3-1 Ethnikos Achnas (Cyprus). Lens wins 3-1 on agg.
- Liteks Lovetch (Bul) 1-3 Maccabi Haifa (Isr). Haifa wins 4-2 on agg.
- Metallurg Zaporizhzhya (Ukr) 0-1 Panathinaikos (Gre). Panathinaikos wins 2-1 on agg.
- Mlada Boleslav (Cze) 4-2 Marseille (Fra). Mlada wins 4-3 on agg.
- Nacional (Por) 1-2 Rapid Bucuresti (Rom). Rapid wins 3-1 on agg. after extra time.
- Newcastle (Eng) 2-1 Levadia Tallinn (Est). Newcastle wins 3-1 on agg.
- Odense BK (Den) 1-0 Hertha Berlin (Ger). Odense wins 3-2 on agg.
- Osasuna (Spa) 0-0 Trabzonspor (Tur). 2-2 on agg, Osasuna wins on away goals.
- PSG (Fra) 2-0 Derry City (Ire). PSG wins 2-0 on agg.
- Palermo (Ita) 3-0 West Ham (Eng). Palermo wins 4-0 on agg.
- Parma (Ita) 1-0 Rubin Kazan (Rus). Parma wins 2-0 on agg.
- Rabotnicki Kometal (Mac) 0-1 Basle (Swz). Basle wins 7-2 on agg.
- Randers FC (Den) 0-3 Fenerbahce (Tur). Fenerbache wins 5-1 on agg.
- Rangers (Sco) 2-0 Molde (Nor). Rangers wins 2-0 on agg.
- Sevilla (Spa) 4-0 Atromitos (Gre). Sevilla wins 6-1 on agg.
- Sparta Prague (Cze) 0-0 Hearts (Sco). Sparta Prague wins 2-0 on agg.
- Tottenham (Eng) 1-0 Slavia Prague (Cze). Tottenham wins 2-0 on agg.
- Zulte-Waregem (Bel) 2-0 Lokomotiv Moscow (Rus). Zulte wins 3-2 on agg.

27 September 2006

Liverpool 3-2 Galatasaray

Hmm. Well, it was an eventful game, to say the least.

Liverpool came out on fire. Galatasaray was hesitant, and possibly awed as the fans were in excellent voice. Liverpool had a corner within a minute, three or four good attempts at goal in the first five minutes, and two goals in the back of the net by 15 minutes. Both Crouch and Garcia’s goals were well taken, with good build-up from Aurelio and Pennant respectively, but I believe it was Gerrard marauding forward from the center of midfield, drawing defenders, which allowed Liverpool so much space.

But after going up two, Liverpool seemed to be happy to sit on their two goals, and stopped pushing forward as hard. They created a couple of chances in the rest of the half, but did not have the impetus they started with, and Galatasaray grew into the game. Galatasaray made two changes at the half, bringing on two strikers for a midfielder and defender, but they weren’t immediately effective. Liverpool came out much like they did in the first half, and scored after seven minutes through Crouch’s absolutely picture perfect bicycle kick. Seriously, he’s tried similar shots before, but I did not think he had that goal in him. Liverpool has really been putting in some wonder strikes lately.

And then, once again, Liverpool seemed happy with their lead. They again took their foot off of the gas, and invited Galatasaray onto them. And within 10 minutes, Galatasaray had pulled the score to 3-2 through two excellent headers by substitute Umit Karan. The first goal allowed Gala back into the game, and was down to lazy defending. The ball should have been cleared before it came to Arda on the wing, who crossed it in perfectly to Karan.

But Liverpool was resolute, and defended adequately for the rest of the game. They held on under severe pressure, and that in and of itself is an accomplishment. But it should have never come to that point. 3-0 at home in the second half is done and dusted. While it’s great they held on, it’s embarrassing it came to last-ditch defending.

While it feels like I’m criticizing the team’s performance, I was mostly pleased with the players. What more can you say about Crouchy; he scored two great goals after being on the bench for four games, looking like he hasn’t missed a beat. His pairing with Kuyt concerns me though. I was afraid they’d play too similar a role, and Kuyt seemed to be forced out onto the wing too often, and much was less effective than he had been recently. It’s going to be interesting to see how Rafa juggles them.

Garcia was very good offensively today; when he plays, Liverpool always looks more likely to score. But he is also infuriating. His defense today was particularly atrocious. Aurelio is not familiar enough with the team to be forced to cover for Garcia going too far forward, cutting inside, and not dropping back to defend. Garcia’s ball-watching on defense almost led to two goals in the first half. But, boy was he influential on attack. And that’s what you get with little Luis.

Liverpool did and didn’t miss Sissoko today. Gerrard is such an excellent midfielder when he plays centrally, and he was fantastic yet again this game even though he missed an excellent chance in the second half. But when Liverpool did sit back and let Galatasaray play, they certainly missed Sissoko. If Momo was in there breaking up play, Gala would have never gotten two goals back. But I don’t know if Liverpool would have gotten three either.

I hope Rafa is getting answers to his queries, because while the past three games have been very promising with three straight wins, I only see more questions and possibilities for the rest of the season. I really am curious to see the line-up he’s going to settle on, and it feels like he’s getting closer to that point.

26 September 2006

Liverpool v Galatasaray 9.27.2006

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

Liverpool previously played Galatasaray in the Champions League group stage in 2001-2002. The two sides drew 0-0 at Anfield, and 1-1 in Istanbul.

Champions League results:
Liverpool: 0-0 PSV (a); 1-1 Maccabi Haifa (a); 2-1 Maccabi Haifa (h)
Galatasaray: 0-0 Bordeaux (h); 1-1 Mlada Boleslav (a); 5-2 Mlada Boleslav (h)

Goals leaders (Europe):
Liverpool: Crouch, Bellamy, Gonzalez 1
Galatasaray: Arda 2; Ilic, Sukur, Sabri, Sas 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: Luis Medina, Spain

Key players for Galatasaray:

Arda Turan: An up and coming midfielder who scored twice in the qualifying rounds, and has been Galatasaray’s best player recently despite being only 19 and this being his first year with the first team.
Sasa Ilic: Creative midfield playmaker for the Serbian national team. Ilic scored 12 goals for Galatasaray last season.
Hakan Sukur: Sukur seems like he’s been around forever, consistently scoring goals at the top levels since the mid-90s. He was the key player in Turkey’s 3rd place finish in the 2002 World Cup. True story: I saw Sukur score a brace against Fulham while he played for Blackburn at Loftus Road in March 2003. He and Damien Duff absolutely tore Fulham apart that day.

It’s still unclear whether former Liverpool and Leeds defender Rigobert Song will play due to a hamstring injury.

My guess of a line-up:

Finnan Carragher Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Sissoko Aurelio
Crouch Bellamy

It’s a complete crapshoot picking a Liverpool team with this squad as it is, but they could line up against Galatasaray so many different ways. The 4-4-2 has become the settled formation, and since Liverpool’s home as well, I don’t expect to see a five-man midfield, but it also wouldn’t surprise me given Rafa’s European tendencies. Moreover, I fear that Galatasaray’s going to come out looking to do some kicking at ankles, and I expect this game to be smash-mouth, so I’m not bothered leaving Gerrard on the bench. Much like PSV, he’ll be available for the second half if Liverpool needs to go searching for a goal, but otherwise rested for the Premier League.

You would also have to think that Kuyt gets a game off and Crouch starts here. Kuyt looked absolutely knackered by the end of the Spurs match and Crouchy hasn’t started since West Ham. Also, it seems Rafa likes to play Crouch against European competition, as they don’t often come up against a 6’7” striker with the sort of touch that Peter has. It could be Bellamy he lines up with, it could be Garcia playing off him deeper, but I have to believe that Crouch will start.

Champions League, Matchday 2

Predictions in parentheses

Tuesday’s games:
Real Madrid v Dynamo Kyiv (2-0)
Steaua v Lyon (0-3)
Benfica v Man. United (1-2)
Celtic v København (1-0)
CSKA Moskva v Hamburg (1-1)
Arsenal v Porto (2-1)
AEK Athens v Anderlecht (0-0)
Lille v AC Milan (0-3)

Wednesday’s games:
Levski Sofia v Chelsea (0-2)
Werder Bremen v Barcelona (1-3)
Spartak Moskva v Sporting Lisbon (0-0)
Internazionale v Bayern Munich (2-2)
Bordeaux v PSV (0-0)
Shakhtar v Olympiacos (0-1)
Valencia v Roma (2-1)
Liverpool v Galatasaray (full preview tonight or tomorrow)

24 September 2006

This weekend in the EPL...

Aston Villa 2-0 Charlton: Aston Villa continues their good run of form, although admittedly against a Charlton side that’s been dreadful and are quickly becoming relegation favorites. Both Agbonlahor and Luke Moore had excellent games for Villa; aside from installing a team spirit, Martin O’Neill has done an excellent job bringing the young players along, these two especially. You saw flashes of brilliance last season from both, but this year they’ve become consistent starters, are contributing goals and assists, and are keeping a now-fit Milan Baros out of the team.

Man City 2-0 West Ham: Bit of a surprising result here. But you knew City would play better this week after the abomination that was the midweek Carling Cup tie. I’m sure Stuart Pearce screamed the paint off the wall both after Wednesday’s game and before Saturday’s, and the players responded. West Ham still hasn’t adapted with the new Argentinean boys; they haven’t settled yet (granted, it’s still really early), and they’ve made a cohesive dressing room far less stable. And it certainly doesn’t help that Yossi Benayoun has been a shadow of the player he was last season.

Arsenal 3-0 Sheffield United: A vastly improved second half against Sheffield helps Arsenal build on the victory over United last Sunday. Arsenal looked to have the same problems as earlier in the season, with a large amount of possession and shots leading to no goals, but much like Liverpool, they put in three in the final half-hour. Henry looked handy returning from injury, involved in the build-up to Gallas’s goal, whipping in the cross for the own-goal, and scoring a header late on.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Blackburn: And Boro wonders why the fail to draw crowds at half of their games, this one sounds as if it was visual Valium. Boro failed to create any real chances, and they left the field at halftime to a chorus of boos. Which is guess is better than last year when a fan stormed the field and ripped up his season ticket in front of then-manager Steve McClaren.

Fulham 0-2 Chelsea: Pity for Fulham. Papa Bouba Diop (it’s even more fun to say than it is to write) should have scored for Fulham, and Chelsea followed up with a Fat Frank penalty and a second from Lampard on the counter-attack. Fulham’s been a bogey team in the past for Chelski, and they again looked vulnerable. And yet, Chelsea’s top of the table with this win.

Wigan 1-1 Watford: Henri Camara (Wigan) and Hamuer Bouazza (Watford) scored. Evidently it was a fairly entertaining match. Both will still end up being relegation candidates, and will rue that neither got three points from this game. I expected Wigan would fall into a sophomore slump, but they should be beating Watford at home, no matter the enjoyable soccer Watford’s played so far.

Reading 1-1 Manchester United: I guess United deserved their equalizer through Cristiano Ronaldo, but Reading had done an excellent job keeping them at bay after scoring. It was a dubious penalty, Gary Neville knew little about that ball hitting his arm, but Reading continues to impress, and looks the mostly likely of the promoted teams to stay up. Still, damn you Ronaldo.

Newcastle 1-1 Everton: I’m sure David Moyes is a very unhappy man right now. Newcastle’s goal should have never stood, Ameobi was clearly offside, but I certainly enjoyed seeing it. Yet I couldn’t complain when Everton tied the match, they deserved the draw if not the win. They look a far better side with Andy Johnson, who continued to play well even without scoring. Steve Bennett did his best to make the game unwatchable, with 6 yellows and 2 red cards in a game that wasn’t ill-tempered, but it was a back and forth match, especially when both sides went down to 10 men.

Tomorrow Bolton travels to Portsmouth, with the game on at 3pm EST on Fox Soccer Channel.

23 September 2006

Liverpool 3-0 Tottenham

It’s funny how a game can turn on a single incident. If Jermaine Jenas scored in the 63rd minute, as he well should have, I’d be writing a very different match report. But Jenas shot wide on an absolute sitter after Edgar Davids made a great run, and Liverpool went on to score three in the next 25 minutes. Gonzalez slotting in after Bellamy hit the post, Kuyt in the box after a Garcia pass, and a trademark Riise rocket (it’s great he’s back this soon, by the way) from 40 yards. You can’t complain about that sort of output, but you have to wonder if any of them would have come if Jenas hadn’t missed.

Don’t get me wrong, Liverpool certainly deserved to win the match. But the first half was fairly dreary, and going into halftime I had visions of the last few games against Tottenham, with very few chances and too many draws. There were some oppportunities; Chimbonda’s almost own-goal, Xabi shooting wide, and a penalty appeal, but you never felt like Liverpool had the goal in them. However, in the second half, Liverpool played the best soccer I’d seen them put out this season. But until Jenas missed, and Liverpool scored right away, it still felt like the last Chelsea game where Liverpool bossed possession but still lost out to a nicked goal.

After halftime Liverpool was able to put more pressure on Tottenham mostly because Gerrard saw more of the ball. Granted, the entire team pressed forward harder after the break, and Liverpool made better use of their possession, but I really believe Gerrard was the key. After being fairly quiet throughout the first half, he was involved in more and more of the play leading up to the three chances. It was his pass to Bellamy that led to Gonzalez’s goal, and he was involved in the build-up to Kuyt’s as well. He spent more time in the center, and Finnan compensated by playing more like a wingback when it became obvious Tottenham wasn’t going to offer much down the left flank. Garcia’s entrance also allowed Stevie more time in the center of the park, which only helped Liverpool kill off the game.

I also still really fancy Dirk Kuyt. He looks to be a great one. It was nice to see him get off the mark against Newcastle, and even better to see him continue on here. Robinson had no chance of stopping Kuyt’s shot; if he had gotten a hand to it, that hand would be broken right now. It is obvious Rafa really rates Kuyt as well, as he’s kept Crouch out of the team for four games now, which is very surprising seeing how much Liverpool has played to Crouch’s talents in the past.

Much like Newcastle, Tottenham did not offer much, and it’s still hard to tell how much this team is progressing. There are a number of good signs besides the 5 goals and 6 points; for the most part, the new signings are settling in nicely, we are starting to see a cohesive first team without as much rotation, Liverpool has had more possession, and is getting more useful with their possession, and has kept two straight clean sheets. 10 points from 6 games is a lot better than 3 points from 4 games, that’s for sure.

22 September 2006

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur 9.23.2006

7:45am. Available in the US on Setenta Sports.

Liverpool: 9th place; 7 points out of 5 games
Tottenham: 16th place; 4 points out of 5 games

Last 4 meetings (league):
1-0 Liverpool (h) January 14 2006
0-0 (a) September 10 2005
2-2 (h) April 16 2005
1-1 (a) August 14 2004

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 2-0 Newcastle (h); 0-1 Chelsea (a); 0-0 PSV Eindhoven (a)
Tottenham: 0-0 Fulham (h); 1-0 Slavia Prague (a); 0-1 Manchester United (a)

Goals Leaders (league):
Liverpool: Agger, Alonso, Crouch, Fowler, Kuyt 1
Tottenham: Berbatov, Jenas 1

Referee: Howard Webb

The squad I’d like to see:

Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock
Pennant, Alonso, Sissoko, Gonzales
Crouch, Kuyt

Well, we’re smack in the middle of a quick run of games having played last Sunday and Wednesday, and the rotation policy still has everyone confused. Will Rafa continue with Kuyt and Bellamy for the 4th consecutive game? What happened to Crouchy, Fowler, and Gonzales? How consistently is Pennant going to play? Some changes are going to be made.

With the 4-4-2 line-up working well against Newcastle on Wednesday, Liverpool at home, and Tottenham having problems scoring goals, I imagine we’ll see a similar line up. I think Stevie might get a rest here; it’s hard to drop Alonso after the Newcastle game, and Sissoko is fresher than Gerrard having had the entire summer off. I also want to see Liverpool play with both Pennant and Gonzales, even though Pennant is questionable after picking up a knock before Wednesday's match. So much pace on both sides of the field it’d be scary.

After being on the bench for a couple of games, Crouch seemingly has to play. I’d like to see Kuyt and Crouch paired up top, though it seems they work in a similar manner even if they aren’t similar players. Crouch has his height and seems to be cleverer with his flicks and passes; Kuyt is better running with the ball, is quicker, and has a stronger shot with greater range. But both are deep lying strikers who will show up all over the pitch, run constantly, and look to set up play. For some reason though, I think the pairing has potential.

I’ve complained about Liverpool’s start, but Tottenham have seen an even worse run of form. Held scoreless in every league game except against Sheffield United, they’re in a similar predicament as Liverpool, only worse, with a talented (and expensive) strike force of Keane, Defoe, Berbatov, and Mido unable to find the net. Berbatov, who looked promising in the preseason, is still going to be out through injury.

Tottenham miss Michael Carrick more than I thought they would. He was twice as influential for Tottenham than he’ll ever be for United; Carrick completely set the tone of their attack. While Zokora has adapted well to the Premiership so far, it’s nowhere near the same. And it doesn’t help that Edgar Davids seems to have dramatically fallen off over the summer.

I don’t expect Tottenham to continue at the level they’ve been playing at; they’re a far better team with a far better manager than that. But I don’t expect their improvement to begin this game either.

Let's get ready to litigate!

Liverpool ponder BBC legal action

Good. Along with Allardyce, Bond, Redknapp, and whomever else. They all pretty much have cases aside from the star of our show, Peter Harrison.

I finally got a chance to see the BBC documentary, and I was underwhelmed at best. Like many, if I lived in the UK, I’d be pissed my license fee went to that too. We learned nothing new. Corruption exists, and some agents are scumbags. Most agents just like to grease the wheels, which really is standard fare. Allardyce and his kid have some issues (we knew this back when the Nakata and Ben Haim transfers happened). Chelsea will tap up any youngster they can get their hands on (ask Ken Bates). Yawn. Don't get me wrong, my last post on this subject still stands. There's corruption in this sport (which doesn't make it different from any other sport) and it should be eradicated for the good of the game. But still. Yawn.

And the Liverpool segment was bogus beyond belief. Harrison’s out shopping the kid, and Liverpool gives him a meeting with Frank McParland, the Chief Scout, and Paco Herrera, a former assistant who worked with the reserves and scouting. The documentary never shows that the meeting was scheduled specifically to talk about Porritt, the kid in question. For all we know, the scouting department just took a meeting with an agent who does a lot of business in England, which of course, is an infrequent occurance. Harrison is the one who is shown bringing up the player and Liverpool commits to nothing. The best the BBC can show is McParland saying they’d offer him a contract when he turned pro at 17. When he’s of the age to sign his first pro contract and would be completely legal. Both Paco and McParland had such uneasy looks on their faces the entire time, especially when Harrison brings up he’s the one going around Boro’s back, you have to believe this wasn’t what they thought they were getting into.

You get the feeling the BBC put it in just so they could throw Liverpool under the same bus that rightfully hit Chelsea, just to get another name in the picture. And the Scousers have a bit of a right to claim London media bias. Hope someone wins a case against the Beeb here and gets them away from the trash journalism best left to Rupert Murdoch and The ***.

21 September 2006

Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle

Right then. Three points, two goals, and a clean sheet. That’ll do.

The headline of the match, and rightfully so, is Xabi Alonso scoring from him own half, again. Left foot against Luton last year, right foot against the Toon this year. It really was a thing of beauty. And let’s not kid ourselves; even if Harper didn’t slip, that ball was going in. He was way off his line and too far to his right. This was better than Luton, better than Beckham’s against Wimbledon, better than Pedro Mendes’ that should have counted against United. Alonso made a really smart tackle, steered around a Newcastle player and the referee, looked up for the pass but saw the keeper off his line, and put an unerring shot in the corner from 65 yards away.

All in all, Xabi completely proved me wrong. He hadn’t been playing well, and I thought he’d be left out for added width. But not only did he score THAT goal, it was his inch-perfect through ball that set up Kuyt’s goal, he tackled better, he passed better, he was more influential, and he was easily man of the match. Yet he’s still not back to the Xabi Alonso that destroyed Everton last year when they were a man up for most of the game. Credit where due, I think one of the members on RAWK is right when he says since Xabi’s not the natural athlete players like Gerrard and Sissoko are, he needs more time to work himself into form early in the season. Which means this might bode well.

It’s nice to see Kuyt get off the mark as well, and with the sort of goal that Liverpool should be scoring more often. Xabi carves the defense with a pass through to Finnan on the right, who beats his man and gets a dangerous cross in along the ground, where Kuyt is smart enough to get into the space to beat both the defender and the goalie. All too often, Liverpool has had similar possession go to waste, either through poor crossing, whether it’s to a defender or the stands, poor shooting, or the strikers not getting open. Liverpool’s lost possession right when they should be scoring too frequently so far this year. They put themselves in the right position and it goes to waste. It still happened a number of times against Newcastle; I can remember a few crosses by Aurelio, and other touches by Sissoko and Garcia, in the final third that were wasteful at best. But Kuyt’s goal gives me hope, as does his overall play, but I’ve raved enough about him before.

I’m sure Newcastle’s convinced the game was decided by the penalties that weren’t called. If I was a Geordie, I’d be pissed too, they had three honest shouts for spot kicks. But I still think they only deserved one, Carragher’s first alleged handball. Yeah, it did look like his arm moved into Ameobi’s goal bound shot. When Agger appeared to trip Ameobi, Newcastle was clearly offside, and the second alleged handball was pretty obviously incidental contact on the replay. And let’s not forget when Babayaro all but caught the ball in his own box and nothing was given. The non-calls evened themselves out, and overall I think Mark Halsey did a pretty good job of letting the game flow. Even though he just about swallowed his whistle, the game never got out of hand.

I want to put this game down to an improving team instead of a poor Newcastle side in which only Scott Parker really stood out. Liverpool did what they set out to do; scored two goals, kept a clean sheet and controlled possession. Other than the PK shouts, Newcastle had no real opportunities, while Kuyt could have had two more, Bellamy should have scored, and Harper made some good saves. You can only beat the team you’re up against, and Liverpool did that fairly convincingly.

Roll on Spurs.

20 September 2006

Carling Cup Round 2, Day 2

And now I look silly, as three Premiership teams lose to lightweights in today’s Carling Cup games. So much for yesterday’s results. I really should know better, good sides always go out at this stage without fail. Manchester City (2nd year in a row going out this round) loses to League One Chesterfield, Fulham loses to League Two Wycombe, and Middlesbrough (04-05 winners of this tournament) goes out to League Two Notts County.

Ouch. Wish I could say I was surprised, but these are the teams you’d expect to go out at this stage. All three look as if they may be involved in a relegation fight, so their priority is obviously on the Premiership. All three are woefully inconsistent, especially Boro, who under Gareth Southgate can go from beating Chelsea 2-1, to losing to Portsmouth 4-0. It’s nice to see some things haven’t changed even though Steve McClaren’s moved on.

Third round draw is this Saturday morning. Liverpool/Newcastle review later on. FYI: Xabi Alonso will be heavily involved.

Liverpool v Newcastle 9.20.2006

3:00pm. Available in the US on Setenta Sports.

Liverpool: 15th place; 4 points out of 4 games
Newcastle: 9th place; 6 points out of 4 games

Last 4 meetings:
3-1 Liverpool (a) March 19 2006
2-0 Liverpool (h) December 26 2005
0-1 Newcastle (a) March 5 2005
3-1 Liverpool (h) December 19 2004

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 0-1 Chelsea (a); 0-0 PSV Eindhoven (a); 0-3 Everton (a)
Newcastle: 2-0 West Ham (a); 1-0 Levadia Tallinn (a); 1-2 Fulham (h)

Goals Leaders (league):
Liverpool: Agger 1; Crouch 1; Fowler 1
Newcastle: Parker 2; Ameobi, Duff, Martins 1

Referee: Mark Halsey

The squad I’d like to see:

Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio
Pennant, Gerrard, Sissoko, Gonzales
Crouch, Kuyt

Shay Given’s out, and even without Boumsong, Newcastle’s defense is questionable at best. Liverpool’s at home. I want goals, and a line-up that declares they’re out looking for them. Liverpool hasn’t scored since West Ham. The last time Liverpool played Newcastle, they scored three and it was at the beginning of the hot streak that included five against Fulham, three against Everton, and seven against the Brummies.

Newcastle is a better side this year though, Roeder’s done alright for himself. Parker, Emre, Duff and Martins are all class. Solano’s a dangerous player too, but I believe he’ll be out for another couple of weeks. But I still think they’re prone to defensive lapses, and while Martins improves the strike force, they still seem short up front. But then, Liverpool has only scored three goals in four league games and I guess I’m not one to talk.

According to various news outlets, Benitez is pondering using the same squad that lined up against Chelsea over the weekend. It’s undoubtedly one of Liverpool’s strongest line-ups, but I can’t really see it. The key to the Chelsea game was retaining possession; this game it seems the focus would be on attack-mindedness, pace, and crossing ability. Also, not only would it be the first time Rafa’s kept the same squad two games in a row, but this is a busy point in the season and players are still fatigued from the World Cup. I expect to see at least some rotation in the squad.

Due to the rotation, I can’t see both Kuyt and Bellamy starting or Crouch on the bench. Still think Kuyt looks promising, still expecting him to get that first goal any game now. Bellamy will probably come on, if needed, 15 minutes or so in the second half. I also want to see Speedy get the start and try to beat Carr up and down the wing, whipping in crosses to Crouchy and Dirk. I think Sissoko and Gerrard can handle the center by themselves, and Xabi can get a rest here, with Gerrard going forward and Sissoko shadowing Parker, and to a lesser extent, Emre. It’s weird leaving Hyypia out, even though Agger has played the last few games. But not only is Agger on a run of good form, but he offers more going forward.

A is for Allardyce, B is for Bungs...

The big story today is the bribery allegations put forth by the BBC last night. Of course, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to show Benny Hill reruns on BBC America in lieu of the documentary, so I’m relying on the pandemonium promulgated in the papers this morning for information.

Surprise, surprise, the big names being reported are Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp. I am stunned. Stunned. While there’s a ton of innuendo and hearsay, there doesn’t seem to be anything concrete here. Sure, Bolton and Portsmouth come away looking less than lilywhite, but there’s nothing here that’s going to lead to any convictions. Worst case scenario, besides the media fury that’ll continue for a spell, is Craig Allardyce (Fat Sam’s son) is going to be a persona non grata in Bolton. Maybe just maybe, Sam will have to step down, but that’ll only improve the quality of soccer played in the EPL.

And then there’s the revelations about Chelsea, and to a lesser extent, Liverpool. It appears the agent for a Boro youth player is shopping his client around quite enthusiastically. Liverpool did nothing wrong, only shown saying they’d sign the player to a professional contract once he turned 17, but Chelsea’s sporting director, Frank Arnesen (who cannot keep him name out of the papers), appears to try to tap-up the player, offering him £150,000 over 3 years to join the academy. And of course, the FA considers this tapping up different from the tapping up of Ashley Cole, and it won’t activate the suspended points deduction from that saga. Pity. Just further proof how deep the FA’s in Chelsea’s pocket (Hi Peter Kenyon!), and how low they’ll go to maintain their status.

Mike Newell has got to be a happy scouser this morning. The fact that the BBC ran with this undercover expose, which appears to be leading to investigations by the FA and the League Managers Association, at least validates his claims and almost makes up for all the stick he took last winter when he suggested what we all knew, that European soccer is as corrupt as we all suspected.

Mmmm the delicious smell of money in the morning…

Update: Both Allardyce and Kevin Bond (former assistant to Redknapp at Pompey and current assistant at Newcastle) are denying all charges. Allardyce says he's got his lawyers on the case and Bond's already threatening to sue the BBC. This is going to be a blast.

19 September 2006

League Cup 2nd Round

Today was the second round of the Carling Cup, the first stage of the tournament where Premiership teams enter the draw. There’s usually at least one shock upset in the early rounds, but nothing too fun today. Last year at this stage, Tottenham lost to Grimsby, Manchester City lost on penalties to Doncaster, and Gillingham beat Portsmouth.

This year, the only real surprise is Crewe Alexandria winning two-nil over Wigan, last year’s runners up. Which really isn’t that much of a surprise. Last season, Wigan’s excellent campaign was highlighted by their excellent run in the league cup. This year, you had to expect a sophomore slump, both in the league and the tournaments.

Two of the newly-promoted teams had interesting games as well against League Two sides. Watford held on to beat Accrington Stanley on penalties, and Reading had to come back just to get to penalties against Darlington. Birmingham’s game against Wrexham also went to extra time, where the Brummies proceeded to put 3 goals past Wrexham in 15 or so minutes. It was also nice to see the Posh give Everton a run for their money, but of course that shadow boxing imbecile Tim Cahill had to pop up with a late winner.

The Premiership teams playing in Europe will go into the draw for the third round.

Carling Cup 2nd Round results in full:

Hull City 0 - 0 Hartlepool (aet; Hull win on penalties)
Port Vale 3 - 2 QPR
Birmingham 4 - 1 Wrexham (aet)
Walsall 1 - 3 Bolton
Sheffield Utd 1 - 0 Bury
Crewe 2 - 0 Wigan
Southend 3 - 2 Brighton
Peterborough 1 - 2 Everton
Leeds 3 - 1 Barnet
Watford 0 - 0 Accrington Stanley (aet; Watford win on penalties)
Brentford 0 - 3 Luton
Barnsley 1 - 2 MK Dons FC
West Brom 3 - 1 Cheltenham
Rotherham 2 - 4 Norwich
Mansfield 1 - 2 Portsmouth
Millwall 0 - 4 Southampton
Hereford 1 - 3 Leicester
Charlton 1 - 0 Carlisle
Reading 3 - 3 Darlington (aet; Reading win on penalties)

17 September 2006

The weekend in the Premiership

Charlton 0-1 Portsmouth - Pompey continues it’s run of unbeaten games while keeping clean sheets. I know it’s five games in, and against weak opposition, but Harry Redknapp has this team playing very good soccer. The fact that a back line of Glen Johnson – Linvoy Primus – Sol Campbell – Dejan Stefanovic has kept five straight clean sheets is mindboggling.

Bolton 0-0 Middlesbrough – Surprise, surprise. The sad thing is, this is the game that Fox Soccer Channel decided to show in the States in this timeslot. This was going to be a 0-0 draw since the FA made the fixture list. Bolton is Bolton, rough and rugged, then hit and hope and frankly, Middlesbrough just about out-Boltoned Bolton . One would hope that Nicolas Anelka would change this, but it’s becoming obvious he’s going to have to adapt to their system, instead of vice versa.

Everton 2-2 Wigan – Your guess is as good as mine as how Everton can wallop Liverpool 3-0 one week and then give up two equalizers to Paul Scharner the next. Either Everton is inconsistent as usual, Wigan has more fight than I give them credit for, or Liverpool is more impotent in front of goal than I’d imagined. Let’s not consider the possibilities.

Sheffield United 1-2 Reading – Reading still looks to be the one promoted team that could avoid relegation. Sheffield and Watford will continue to be tough to beat at home, but Reading looks like they will be able to surprise people and take points where they shouldn’t. Leroy Lita is a Premiership class striker, and hopefully his recent arrest won’t impact his current run of good form. Not to mention Bobby Convey, Steve Sidwell, Kevin Doyle, or Dave Kitson.

Watford 0-0 Aston Villa – Villa again looked good, but once again Watford proved they will be a tough team to beat. I’m really starting to respect Aidy Boothroyd and the spirit he’s put into his team, and Marlon King will score goals at this level. Villa should have done better. They had chances, and Moore, Petrov, and Agbonlahor played well, but Watford’s offside trap was on, and both goalkeepers played a blinder.

Blackburn 4-2 Manchester City – Surprisingly, a goal fest. It sounds like comical defending led to a boatload of chances. Blackburn has been unimpressive so far this season and both they and Man City will have to improve on current form to make the top 10.

Tottenham 0-0 Fulham – Either Fulham is playing far better away from home this season, or Tottenham is really off-form. Or both. I understand Berbatov is injured, but a front line of Defoe, Mido, and Keane really should be able to put at least one goal past Fulham at home. Once again, Fulham displays the spine that Chris Coleman has imbued in this squad.
I firmly believe he's a manager that should get more respect.

West Ham 0-2 Newcastle – Surprising result here. Obafemi Martins opens his account for Newcastle and West Ham is shocking defensively at home. Other than a free kick, Tevez disappoints, and Mascherano keeps Benayoun, who has consistently been West Ham’s best player, on the bench. This experiment is going to be interesting. It’s still early, but I’m going to suggest they might have been a better team before having to wedge the Argentinean boys into the squad.

Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal – The result of the weekend. Not an impressive performance at all until Adebayor broke the deadlock, but a fun game to watch. It was a correctly given penalty, but a very weak shot by Gilberto Silva and was an easy save for Kuszczak. And for the next 80 minutes, not a very remarkable game. As with other games this season, Arsenal was wasteful with their final ball after slowly building up possession, and today United’s stars (Rooney, Ronaldo, Saha) had quiet games. Fantastic result for Arsenal though; after disappointing for the first few games, they beat the league leaders and one of their biggest rivals, without Thierry Henry to boot. And it keeps United from getting farther away from the rest of the league, which is fantastic in and of itself.

Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

Since I started this blog, I haven’t been able to do a review of a Liverpool win. This streak is probably my fault.

Today wasn’t much different from the last few meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool in the league. Liverpool was the dominant team for the majority of the first half. They were doing all the things I had hoped in my preview: Stevie, Momo, and Xabi were in control of the midfield, Kuyt was up top (and he played very well, again, without scoring a goal), Liverpool had the majority of possession, and Chelsea had no width, while Liverpool was getting the ball outside through Pennant. And then Chelsea goes and nicks a goal out of nowhere. Although fair credit to Drogba, that was a hell of a goal.

That usually sets us up for a second half where Liverpool is forced to open up, and Chelsea ends up picking up another goal (or 3) on the counter. This didn’t happen thanks to Ballack’s rashness, but Liverpool’s inability to take advantage of the situation is worrisome. Although, Chelsea handled the dismissal well; bringing Robben on allowed them an outlet to hoof the ball out to and he could run and keep possession, all while they lost nothing defensively. Ballack was having a poor game anyway, and he’s been wholly underwhelming since his transfer. £130,000 per week well spent, Roman.

As usual, Mike Riley was ineffectual and erratic. Yes, Ballack was a straight red, even Mourinho admitted it post-match. As much as I seem to come away from every Chelsea match complaining about possible penalties, Lampard clearly pushed Gerrard over in the box. Bellamy was flagged for a couple of offsides that weren’t offsides, but that’s Riley’s crew’s fault. And he was inconsistent with his yellows and fouls; Warnock’s wasn’t even a foul (in the 4th minute to boot!), Momo didn’t deserve his first, but definitely did for his second tackle that would have sent him off, Bolo could have seen yellow in the second half, Cech’s was marginal for time-wasting (I’ve seen much worse without punishment), but Boulahrouz and Drogba deserved theirs.

What ended up deciding the match was Liverpool’s inability to break Chelsea down even though they were a man up. Not only was Liverpool wasteful in the final third, Chelsea defended very well. Pennant got open well and beat his defender effectively, but his poor crossing killed potential moves numerous times today. The final ball, regardless of who it came from, was disappointing today. But Liverpool had chances too. Kuyt was unlucky to hit the bar with a rocket, Stevie should have finished past Cech, Crouch headed right at Cech, and Kuyt skied a late chance into Row Z.

There are positives, and there is a team here to build from, but they are of little consolation at the moment. Aside from a wonder striker from Drogba, Chelsea had few chances, and I have no complaints about the defense. Carra’s coming back to form, Warnock and Finnan were steady (Finnan overlapped with Pennant very well too), and Agger continues to impress with every outing. Liverpool played well in the middle of the park; Xabi’s still misplaying more passes than usual, but he, Gerrard, and Sissoko broke up play, controlled the ball, and were quite effective in the middle. Kuyt and Bellamy continue to improve as a pairing, although it feels like were getting near a drought of Crouch-like proportions (yes, I realize it’s been 3 games). But the finishing has to get better, right now Liverpool does not score nearly enough to be considered a true title contender. This is starting to feel way too much like last season, and with the money that’s been spent and the additional experience, progress has to be made this season.

15 September 2006

Liverpool at Chelsea 9.17.2006

Oh boy, another game against Chelsea. What’s this, the 12th game in the three seasons since Benitez and Mourinho took over? ‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ and all that…

8:30am. Available in the US on Setenta Sports.

Liverpool: 10th place; 4 points out of 3 games
Chelsea: 4th place; 9 points out of 4 games

Last 4 meetings:
2-1 Liverpool (Community Shield) August 13 2006
2-1 Liverpool (FA Cup Semifinal) April 22 2006
0-2 Chelsea (a) February 2 2006
0-0 (a; Champions League Group Stage) December 6 2005

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 0-0 PSV Eindhoven (a); 0-3 Everton (a); 2-1 West Ham (h)
Chelsea: 2-0 Werder Bremen (h); 2-1 Charlton (h); 2-0 Blackburn (a)

Goals Leaders (league):
Liverpool: Agger 1; Crouch 1; Fowler 1
Chelsea: Drogba 3; Lampard 2; Shevchenko, Carvalho, Terry 1

Referee: Mike Riley
mike f'n riley
Let’s try and have a better game than the last Liverpool/Chelsea fixture you refereed, shall we Mr. Riley?

The squad I’d like to see:

Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Aurelio
Pennant, Gerrard, Sissoko, Alonso, Garcia

Wouldn’t be surprised to see Crouch up top instead of Kuyt, but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Dirk in his 3 appearances so far and the more games he plays, especially games like this, the quicker he'll adapt to the league. He needs to get a goal and we’ll be off to the races.

I expect to see a five-man midfield, and a squad that looks to retain possession and boss the center of the park. I’m anticipating that Chelsea will play a line-up similar to that versus Werder Bremen, with little width and Ballack, Lampard, Makalele and Essien all in the middle of the park, but I’m more afraid of a team with Cole, Wright-Phillips, or Robben (who I believe is out injured) that has width, tricks, and pace. Robben and Cole especially have given Liverpool fits over the past 2-3 seasons.

It’s a pity Riise will be out for this game, he’s played very well against Chelsea pretty much every time he’s been in the squad against them. Don’t know whether Liverpool will go with Aurelio or Warnock. Aurelio offers more offensively, and looked fine against Chelsea when he came on in the Community Shield, but he’s looked shaky in defense at times. Warnock is more familiar with these sorts of tough English games, and he looked very good against PSV. Still, I think Aurelio will be the pick.

This will be one of the toughest games of the season, and I’d be happy with a draw at Stamford Bridge. But a win would do wonders for morale after the derby and go a long way towards setting the right tone for the rest of the year.

Can you win the League in September?

I know I am putting too much emphasis on the early season games; it’s not even October, and I’ve repeatedly worried about Liverpool’s chances vis-à-vis Chelsea, United, and the rest. But for some reason this year the FA has scheduled two very big games that will go a long way in deciding the course of this season, and some teams haven’t even played five games yet.

Manchester United v Arsenal has been one of the defining fixtures of the season for going on five years. From the late 90s until Chelski’s sudden financial windfall, these were the two top teams in England. Manchester United and Arsenal finished #1 or #2 every year from 1998 until 2003, save 2001. Their first meeting this season couldn't come at a worse time for Arsenal. As early as it is, Arsenal needs this game simply to keep pace with the rest of the league. A poor start has seen them fail to win a game in their first three outings, and they currently sit in 17th place. Manchester United has taken 4 out of 4, but has beaten powerhouses such as Fulham, Watford, and Charlton, and failed to convince in a 1-0 win at Tottenham.

These games are always fun. There’s the pizza throwing incident, the penalty spot incident, Wenger v Fergie, Keane v Vieira. This game will have a slightly different look to it, as Keane and Vieira have moved on, Giggs will miss the game due to injury, as might Thierry Henry. We haven’t heard any spittle-flecked drunken ramblings from Slur Alex or any snide French asides from Wenger, and the BBC hasn’t manufactured any pseudo-drama between the two teams, but make no mistake about it, this will be a very important and very hard fought game.

Liverpool v Chelsea (full preview later) is the teams’ 12th meeting in the past three years. Liverpool has stifled Chelsea in nearly every tournament game, save the 2005 Carling Cup Final, but Chelsea has owned Liverpool in the league, winning the last four on the trot. Benitez and Mourinho have become full-on rivals, with lovely tête-à-têtes, refusals of handshakes, and out and out mind games that became so popular between Fergie and Wenger in their heyday. Liverpool/Chelsea has turned into a sort of rivalry; it’s not Liverpool/United or Liverpool/Everton, but it’s a game that brings the fans out, and one that Liverpool will want to win at any cost.

These two games will go a long way in setting the tone for the campaign. If both Arsenal and Liverpool lose, there’s an excellent chance Chelsea and United will get away, and both Arsenal and Liverpool will be forced to rely on them dropping points to other teams. It’s a pity for both Liverpool and Arsenal that these are away games, as it’s always easier to be the underdog at home, but you must play the hand you are dealt. At least a draw for both teams is close to essential; a loss, and both managers will be forced to answer questions about the quality of their squad for the next month or more, and make changes before the season really gets away.

14 September 2006

Eriksson: "I want you to want me, I need you to need me"

Eriksson eyeing top English club

I hate to even comment on news possibly made up by the paper that shall not be named (don't worry, I'm certainly not linking them), but this is just too good to pass up.

"I need to get back into coaching," Eriksson told The ***.

"Arsenal? Liverpool? Manchester? They are all big clubs, but I don't have any ambitions for a particular side. Any of those would be good.”

Sven thinks he can walk right into a top job in the Premier League? Where, pray tell? Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham all have managers that seem to be sticking around for a while. Besides, I can’t see any of these clubs hiring Eriksson even if the unimaginable happens, and Mourinho, Benitez, Wenger, or Jol leaves. Any of them would have their choice of managers to cherry pick from smaller clubs. Who knows how long Ferguson will last, my guess is it won’t be that much longer (relatively speaking…), but I'm pretty sure even the Glazers aren't dumb enough to hire Sven.

Let's go through the rest of list, just for kicks:
Aston Villa (Martin O'Neill), Blackburn (Mark Hughes), Bolton (Sam Allardyce), Charlton (Iain Dowie), Everton (David Moyes), Fulham (Chris Coleman), Man City (Stuart Pearce), Middlesbrough (Gareth Southgate), Newcastle (Glenn Roeder), Portsmouth (Harry Redknapp), Reading (Steve Coppell); Sheffield United (Neil Warnock); Watford (Aidy Boothroyd); West Ham (Alan Pardew), Wigan (Paul Jewell).

Not considering the awful, awful performances that England put in under SGE. Not considering the atrocious tactician he is, or the fact that his name is in the papers, and not in the sports section, more than his players. Not even considering he’s currently a laughing stock in England, end of. There are maybe two jobs available to him even if he were a qualified candidate.

This is a weird season for the sack race. There aren’t really any good contenders. Last year, people were falling over themselves to bet on Souness getting axed from Newcastle, and it took until February to happen. This year, other than Chris Coleman and maybe Glenn Roeder, there's really no one. Would you take Eriksson over Pardew, Moyes, Hughes, Allardyce, Pearce or O’Neill? Or even any of the managers at the smaller clubs?

Newcastle is a pseudo-big club. They have an enormous and rabid fan base, and Shepard’s willing to throw money at any problem in the hopes of fixing it. While Fulham has historically struggled, has recently been perennial relegation candidates, and can't even be considered a big club, Fayed has the resources if he desired to spend them, and Fulham is in London. But I’m utterly positive neither are what Sven meant when he said “big club.”

I don’t think Roeder will be fired, as he’s righted the ship on Tyneside, is rehabilitating his reputation, is getting results, and Shepard went to the mat for him this off-season when the League Managers Association tried to prevent him getting hired, as he doesn’t have his UEFA badges. I hope Chris Coleman isn’t fired; he’s done wonders keeping Fulham up the past two seasons on a shoestring budget, and I have a soft spot for him and Fulham, as it was the closest team to where I lived in London, and I saw a few games when they were ground-sharing at Loftus Road. Hopefully both will stay far far away from Svennis.

Needless to say, Eriksson's is a pipe dream, and one I hope is embarrassingly played out in public. I want to continue to see him beg and plead for a club job, and continue to be denied, until he’s forced to take a job as manager of Djibouti or somewhere similarly far-flung and futile. That's how much I resent the past five years, and the squandering of an incredible generation of talent.

12 September 2006

Liverpool 0-0 PSV

Blah. Most times, I’d be happy with an away draw in Europe, especially when Liverpool’s fielding a team with an eye on this weekend’s match at Chelsea. But this game was there for the taking, and other than some promising play between Kuyt and Bellamy and a Gerrard rocket that ricocheted off the post, no real offense. Neither team carved out that many chances, and the game really was a rather lackluster affair.

Ultimately, the midfield hindered Liverpool’s chances today. Possession was 63% PSV to 37% Liverpool; I can’t remember the last time a team kept the ball away from Liverpool that much. Sissoko was every bit the destructive force he usually is, but he still doesn’t offer a lot offensively, and his passing was not good this game. It was his miscue that led to PSV’s best chance, and the crossbar was the only thing that kept Kone from scoring. Zenden seemed lightweight today; he was buzzing about for the first 15-20 minutes, and then was mostly anonymous. He needed to provide more on the attack, and the difference was evident when Gerrard came on. I will continue to argue that Liverpool’s not the one-man team the London media makes them out to be, but Gerrard not only sparked Liverpool for the last 20 minutes, but also created the best chance and was unlucky not to score.

Of course, it’s nowhere near the end of the world. It’s an away draw against the second seed while the other group game ended 0-0 as well. Plus, there were positives to take away. Even though they failed to score, I was fairly pleased with the pairing of Kuyt and Bellamy. Once Kuyt gets onto the scoresheet, he’s going to be a real menace. He is absolutely everywhere in attack, has pace, a thundering shot, and not only looks for goal but wants to get others involved. The way he looked to set up Bellamy especially, with flick-ons, dummies, and nice diagonal balls attempted in the first half. When that starts coming off, we’re going to see some goals flying in from those two.

First clean sheet of the season, too. The defense was solid the whole game; I was especially pleased with Warnock and Agger. Carra (looking far healthier than I expected) and Finnan were their reliable selves, but Warnock and Agger have both prompted questions in the past. Agger’s looked the part in all his starts this season and was easily man of the match for Liverpool. It’s great to see Warnock, who’s a local lad and has gone through hell with injuries, look so useful when he gets a game.

So they didn’t do themselves any damage, didn’t look all that bad, and rested the players (Gerrard, Alonso, Crouch, Garcia) who need to have big games on Sunday. I guess I can’t really complain then, but we need to start seeing more cohesive soccer with a better finishing touch soon or the season’s going to get away.

11 September 2006

Liverpool at PSV Eindhoven 9.12.2006

2:45pm. Available in the US on espn2.

Group C     Pld   Pts
Bordeaux        0       0
Galatasaray   0       0
Liverpool        0       0
PSV                  0       0

Liverpool has never played PSV in European competition.

Champions League qualifying games:
Liverpool v Maccabi Haifa 2-1 (h), 1-1 (a)
As winners of the Dutch league, PSV qualified directly for the group stage.

Liverpool goalscorers in Europe: Crouch 1; Bellamy 1; Gonzalez 1

European History:
Liverpool: European Cup/Champions League 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005; UEFA Cup 1973, 1976, 2001; UEFA Super Cup 1977, 2001, 2005
PSV: European Cup/Champions League 1988; UEFA Cup 1978

Referee: Massimo Busacca, Switzerland

Probable team for PSV, according to UEFA.com:

It will be very interesting if Kromkamp plays. I didn’t think he had a bad time at Liverpool; he frequently looked out of his depth, but he played hard and wasn’t a bad squad player. I’m not surprised he left during the transfer window, but I wasn’t certain he’d be leaving like some were either. I’m sure he’ll have a better time back in the Netherlands, but seeing his name on the team sheet certainly doesn’t strike the fear of God into me.

Farfan and Kone are both dangerous quick strikers who like the ball at their feet and can score goals out of nothing. Liverpool’s back line has been shaky as of late, and it’ll be absolutely essential not to let these two break away on the counter attack, which is where PSV will be the most dangerous.

Philip Cocu is suspended for the match, and it appears Patrick Kluivert will be out due to injury. While both are getting up there in years, they remain quality players, and it can only be good they’ll probably be out.

The lineup I’d like to see:

The derby showed Carra needs more time to recuperate, and with Chelsea coming up on Sunday, I think he gets rested here. Pennant and Gonzalez give Liverpool loads of pace up and down the wings. I’m hesitant to say it, but I think Xabi could use a game off due to his recent form, and the aforementioned Chelsea game. No one on the team knows the Dutch league better than Kuyt, and he’s in line for his first start after two good sub appearances in the last two games. Bellamy sat out the the derby, is due for a start, and I would like to see him get games with Kuyt to see if Liverpool’s ~£16m worth of strikers can be the first choice pairing.

On Aston Villa

Aston Villa's improvement in just 4 games under Martin O’Neill is nothing short of amazing. This Villa squad is completely unrecognizable when compared to last year’s version of underperforming misfits and malcontents. The removal of David O’Leary and Doug Ellis seems to be a catalyst for something special in the West Midlands, and the addition of the best manager on the market isn't going to hurt.

Aston Villa is one of those clubs whose fans don’t deserve the hand they’ve been dealt in recent years, as with Newcastle, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and others. These are “big clubs,” clubs that have won league championships, FA cups, and European cups. And yet, due to awful chairmen, managers, and players, they’ve become at best struggling mid-table sides, and at worst, relegated to the lower leagues.

Now, Villa has a manager and chairman apparently fitting of its history. Removing the specter of Ellis will do wonders for the morale of the club and the supporters by itself; bringing in a low-key behind-the scenes billionaire willing to shell out for players and facilities without raising ticket prices through the roof and defiling the club’s soul will help even more. It’s little matter he’s an American, as on face value, he’s the anti-Malcolm Glazer. I'm not one usually to trust a foreign CEO who comes in and buys up all the shares, but he hasn't done wrong by the Cleveland Browns and is saying all the right things so far.

Sunday’s game versus West Ham was the first chance I've had to see a full Villa game this season, and it prompted this. A draw seemed to be a little unfair to Villa, despite how hard West Ham pressed in the second half. Villa could easily have scored 3 or 4 goals if not for last-ditch defending and the crossbar. O’Neill has done a tremendous job creating a cohesive unit when last season was characterized by infighting and poor team play. It is not easy to stifle West Ham; they attack with flair and always seem to nick a goal. But Villa defended immensely. They were almost always able to get players behind the ball while still creating chances at the other end, and Mellberg, Laursen, and Ridgewell all had excellent games.

Don’t misinterpret this paean to Villa; I hope they don’t get relegated, but other than that, I don’t care other than looking forward to Liverpool thumping them twice. I’m just pleased that they’ve gotten rid of O’Dreary (for god’s sake, will teams please stop hiring him?) and Ellis for aesthetic reasons, and amazed at how much better they look so far this season. With O’Leary, I had them tipped for relegation, and under O’Neill, I expected an improved side that could finish anywhere from 9-14. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them competing for a European place. That’s simply stunning, and whether it’s due to O’Neill or purging the old regime, it’s quite an accomplishment.

09 September 2006

Well, today sucked

Still too angry to sit back and actually write about the game so here’s some random mutterings:

- Liverpool played rubbish. 3-0 is unacceptable, especially for the derby. The score line flatters Everton, but Liverpool didn’t deserve any points for sure.

- Two clear penalty decisions, when Hyypia was fouled in the box and Hibbert’s handball, weren’t given. Fowler also had a penalty shout. Thanks, Graham.

- Cahill clearly fouled Alonso in the build up to the second goal. Thanks, Graham.

- Riise was definitely rushed back. Carragher probably was, but when Carra says he’s fit for the derby, you nod, smile, and put his name on the team sheet.

- I simply do not understand the decision to bring Riise on. Not only is he a health concern, but you’re also putting on a left-winger/defender on for a striker when you’re two goals down. Simply baffling.

- Both Hyypia and Carra were at fault for the second goal. Not one or the other.

- After last season I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I’m getting really frightened Pepe is turning into Dudek part II. Great first season, then increasingly mistake prone. I hope I’m overreacting.

- Sissoko was man of the match, not that it's saying much. He is simply fun to watch.

- Kuyt sure looks handy.

- Haven’t kept a clean sheet yet this season after keeping 30+ last season.

- Something is up with Xabi Alonso. He hasn’t been out of sorts enough to consider dropping him, but he’s been nowhere near his best since the World Cup.

- It’s still only the third game of the league. Liverpool’s not the only big team looking shaky at the moment. Arsenal and Tottenham are far off form, and Chelsea’s looked vulnerable. We’ll learn a lot more versus Chelsea on the 17th than we did today.

Roll on PSV.

08 September 2006

Liverpool at Everton 9.9.2006

7:45am. Available in the US on Setenta Sports.

Liverpool: 7th place; 4 points out of 2 games
Everton: 4th place; 7 points out of 3 games

Last 4 meetings:
3-1 Liverpool (h) March 25 2006
3-1 Liverpool (a) December 28 2005
2-1 Liverpool (h) March 20 2005
0-1 Everton (a) December 11 2004

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 2-1 West Ham (h); 1-1 Maccabi Haifa (a); 1-1 Sheffield United (a)
Everton: 2-0 Tottenham (a); 1-1 Blackburn (a); 2-1 Watford (h)

Goals Leaders (league):
Liverpool: Agger 1; Crouch 1; Fowler 1
Everton: Johnson 2; Arteta 1; Cahill 1

Referee: Graham Poll

The lineup I’d play:

--------------- Reina -------------------
Finnan - Agger - Hyypia - Warnock
Gerrard - Sissoko - Alonso - Gonzalez
---------- Fowler – Bellamy ---------

Obviously, this is assuming Carragher and Riise aren’t fit. The possibility of either playing looks far better than it did earlier in the week, as they both resumed training on Thursday, but I’m still skeptical. Of course, if they’re healthy, they’re two of the first names on the team sheet.

If it lines up like this, I think we’ll see Kuyt for Fowler fairly early in the second half. I’m tempted to go with a 5-man midfield, adding Pennant and starting just Kuyt upfront, but I’m of a firm belief that the derby is no place for a player’s first start. I almost left out Gonzalez for Garcia or Zenden, and Warnock is in over Aurelio, for reasons along the same lines. The fact that Robbie knows all about the derby, not to mention he’s been the only first team striker in training for the past two weeks thanks to the internationals, means I imagine he’ll get a start. And Bellamy’s just the narky little twat who thrives in games like this.

Of course, it’s always difficult to pick the formation Rafa’ll play, let alone the players who will start. I want to see two strikers because I know it means Liverpool will take the game to Everton, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lone striker and a five in midfield by any means. Everton had been using a five man midfield, but with the sale of Kilbane and McFadden's injury, I wouldn't be surprised to see both Johnson and Beattie starting. Hopefully both teams will come out looking to attack, but it'll probably go the opposite way and we'll end up seeing the ball trapped in the middle of the park.

If you build it, will they come?

The Liverpool City Council’s approved the new stadium plans. If the financing is confirmed by the end of the month, the European Union grants will kick in, and construction could start by January.

It feels weird commenting on Liverpool’s proposed stadium, as I’m not a Scouser, I don’t live in Liverpool (let alone England). I can’t really comment on the proposed regeneration of the Stanley Park area, which is one of the main aspects of the move, other than selfishly stating that I’m sure it’ll be beneficial for tourism. I’ve been to Anfield once, and wasn’t even able to see a game (I guess I do have first-hand experience how hard it is to get tickets), just the museum and stadium tour. I’m familiar with the out-of-towners, woolyback, keep flags scouse, etc debate, and I want to be sympathetic to that. I’m a fan of Liverpool thanks to the globalization of the game, but more than a few Liverpudlians resent this aspect of sport and you have to be considerate of that. Yet, I feel the need to comment, as it’s obviously a move that has an enormous impact on the future of the club I support.

Being an American, I’m more than familiar with the corporate aspects of sport, and the need to make as much money as humanly possible. I’ve seen numerous stadium debates in all the major sports; there’s far too much similarity in the debates over Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and “new Anfield.” Not only are fans worried about cookie-cutter stadiums with no soul (and believe me, far too many arenas this side of the pond have this problem), but there’s years of history tied into the stadiums left behind. Nowhere more so than Anfield.

Liverpool wouldn’t be Liverpool without its fanatical attachment to the history of the club. Anfield is a major part of that; the Spion Kop is synonymous with Liverpool. “This is Anfield” is more than a slogan, it’s the belief that Liverpool’s home is a fortress and teams must fear playing there. It’s too bad it’s not possible to renovate Anfield, but it’s logistically impossible and completely cost-inefficient. And something has to be done. More modern facilities are needed. 45,000 seats in nowhere near enough for a club the size of Liverpool. More importantly to the directors, the corporate hospitality suites, where the majority of ticket revenue is to be had, are shocking underutilized, and a new stadium with modern suites would be a major boon to the club.

The news in recent days leads me to believe that Parry and the board are more secure about the financing than ever before. Moores’ reticence to dilute his shareholdings for less than the exorbitant fee he was asking has led to questions over investment, and even the possibility of building a new stadium, for going on 3 years now. Either the supposed investment discussions occurring over the summer are farther along that anyone’s reckoned or the club has taken a look at the shirt/stadium naming deals (and debt…) that Arsenal’s acquired from Emirates Stadium and has decided to move forward regardless. The club really has no choice but to push on now, or risk losing up to £15m in EU funding, but any way you slice it, this is a very good sign that there will be progress.

Plus, there’s good news for the bitter half of the Mersey. You’ll now be even closer to a real football club.

More info:
Liverpool Echo and Daily Post coverage of the move
RAWK’s Stadium Debate Forum
Liverpool get go-ahead on stadium

07 September 2006

Gratuitous bashing of Sepp Blatter part XXXIV

Clash averted over FIFA's 18-club leagues plan

The perpetual internecine squabbling between FIFA and the national leagues would be amusing if it didn’t have such a damaging impact on the game. They bicker over the fixture list and the number of international dates, over injury compensation, over releasing players for national team duty. Over so many subjects it can only be described as laughable if the subjects weren't so important to European soccer.

Seems it has been ages since Sepp Blatter and his mob of suits first tried to get the EPL, Serie A, etc to slim down from 20 teams to 18. Primarily so we have more cracking games like England versus Andorra, but also because of FIFA’s overwhelming concern for the players’ welfare (wink wink, nudge nudge), as they play too many games you know. Of course it’s the leagues’ fault there’s such a cluttered calendar; it has nothing to do with the fact that teams like Germany are thumping San Marino 13-0 while qualifying for a tournament that’s two years away.

Slimming the leagues is an especially popular proposal with the clubs, as they’re in love with the notion that two of them will be playing a division lower, and all of them will be losing the revenue from two home games. This proposal would also necessitate a complete revamp of the lower leagues in the countries affected; all the lower divisions will have to be reorganized to compensate for the addition of two teams.

It comes down to the idea that FIFA believes they have the power to tell the national associations how to run their own leagues. I have an idea. FIFA can only make unilateral declarations on issues that solely impact the international game. How is that hard? Actually, I have two ideas; the other is firing Sepp Blatter. Please. Thankfully, this fight seems to be over for now, but the article clearly states that FIFA considers the discussion open and ongoing. I don’t believe for a second that Blatter’s FIFA will cede this argument so easily.

06 September 2006

England 1, Macedonia 0

I refuse to pay $20 for the privilege of watching England flounder past Macedonia as the television rights for soccer in the states are flagrantly idiotic, so I have to go by BBC Radio Five Live’s version of the game and match write-ups, but it certainly sounded like I didn’t miss much. England as usual, you know the drill. Plodding first half, nick a goal, then sit back and invite pressure for a nail-biting finish. Still sounded like an improvement over Sven, but that’s no surprise. Credit where due though, this was a tricky away fixture, and well done to the boys for getting the win and keeping a clean sheet. Sounded like, and score line shows, that Terry and Ferdinand had excellent games. Ferdinand especially, he has looked more confident and been more consistent so far this season. Hope it doesn’t last. Most importantly, Crouchy now has 11 goals in his last 10 matches for England and Gerrard is playing his best football for England in ages, having been freed from Sven’s shackles and the defensive ineptitude of Fat Frank. So good on you, Steve McClaren.

Today’s Germany v San Marino game perfectly demonstrated why teams like Andorra, San Marino, Faroe Islands, etc. have little business going directly into Euro qualifying group stages. 13-0. That’s embarrassing; I’ve never seen such an imbalanced score. That’s a football (American) score line. Chris Waddle is right, if the population of your country is less than the capacity of the stadiums you will be going to, you should probably have to go through a pre-qualifying tournament similar to the Champions League. Also, it amuses me this game took place on the same day it came out that Gibraltar’s applying for membership to UEFA, and the right to play delightful fixtures such as this. There are more than enough games on the calendar as it is. 13-0 games, even 6-0 or 5-0, are frankly a waste of time and energy. Plus, I’m still quite resentful that Liverpool plays 7 games in the next 3 weeks (including the derby, Chelsea, and two Champions League games), and Gerrard, Crouch, Alonso, Garcia, Reina, Kuyt, Bellamy, Hyypia, Agger, Finnan, and Dudek were all away from the team and away from training for this inane international break.

Momo is Boss

Sissoko fit for derby day

It is excellent news that Momo Sissoko will be fit for Saturday’s game against the bitters. It’s especially fun as Liverpool basically hijacked his signing after Everton had agreed a fee, but Momo has become an essential part of our midfield. Not only is he a tireless workhorse, breaking up play as few others do, but he allows Alonso and Gerrard to play their own games. Momo runs and tackles and runs some more, Alonso sets the tempo with his vision and distribution, and Gerrard is given creative license to attack from wherever he pleases. They all have their roles, and it all fits together quite nicely.

Sissoko’s development as a player over the past year has been nothing short of fantastic. Yes, he is still rash at times, and his passing, short and long, leaves something to be desired, but he’s improved these elements as well. It is no coincidence that Liverpool’s slip in form in late February/ early March of last season took place while Sissoko was out with that frightening eye injury.

The depth in the squad that Benitez has finally achieved this season is designed to allow Liverpool to lose a key player like Sissoko (and Carragher, and Riise...) and carry on, unlike Rafa’s first season where injuries doomed the league campaign. So far it’s worked, but thankfully, we haven’t had to see much of it. Having Momo back in the squad, especially for a game as unrelenting as the Everton game undoubtedly will be, is very reassuring.

05 September 2006

"The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they don't know the game." - Bill Shankly

And your referee for the Liverpool/Everton derby this week, one of the more contentious fixtures in recent years (pity too, because it used to be the "friendly derby") is... Graham Poll, who never met a card he wasn't fond of flashing.

The same Graham Poll who handed out two red cards (Phil Neville, Mikel Arteta) and six yellow cards when he refereed this fixture last year?

The same Graham Poll who made an utter disaster out of the Australia/Croatia World Cup game, culminating with booking the same player 3 times, and leading to his retirement from the international game?

The same. Fantastic.

Although, now that I think about it, the bitter bluenoses are probably more upset about it than I am. Not only did he send off two of their players last year, but he was also the ref in the derby back in 2000 or 2001 that disallowed the freak goal Everton scored because he blew the whistle for full-time too soon. They think they have a case for bias, I just think Poll's a moron.

Five-a-Side Jamboree

Your club's best five-a-side team?

Who ate all the Pies? asks who you'd pick if you had to stage a five-a-side with your favorite team. I'll bite.

Pepe Reina
Steven Gerrard
Xabi Alonso
Luis Garcia
Robbie Fowler

It was a close one between Garcia and Harry Kewell. Both creative and capable of running with the ball at their feet and whipping in crosses. Garcia shades it as he's on form and we've been getting used to seeing Liverpool without Kewell. Gerrard and Alonso can cover the entire pitch, and along with Pepe Reina, will more than make up the lack of a defender, as much as it hurts to leave Jamie Carragher's name off of any team sheet. Fowler is the trickiest forward out there (see: Brann Bergen), it's impossible to leave him out of this.

Just for kicks, how I'd play the rest of the big 4:

Joe Cole

Man United
Van der Sar

Gilberto Silva
Van Persie

04 September 2006

Where There's Smoke, There's Pini Zahavi

Elite English clubs rejected Argentina duo over contracts
“But this summer several big European clubs, including Manchester United, baulked at the price for one or both of the players. David Gill, the United chief executive, confirmed that yesterday. Arsenal, Chelsea, Seville and Roma were also reportedly among those not interested.

Instead MSI was left desperately seeking a club that would act as a "surrogate mother" for the players, on several conditions, including a contractual obligation to play them in every match, and a contractual obligation to let them be sold for profits - for MSI to pocket - at a time of MSI's choosing. Portsmouth were unwilling to take the players under such conditions, and neither were Manchester United willing to take Mascherano as part of such a deal. Gill said United were never interested in Tevez.”
'I brokered West Ham deal,' says Zahavi
“According to Pini Zahavi - a friend of Joorabchian and the agent who brokered the players' move to West Ham - Tevez and Mascherano have each signed five-year deals, and were advised to do so by him. West Ham paid no transfer fees.

"I'm the one who told them to go to West Ham," Zahavi told The Independent. "It's the best thing for them at this stage of their career, for them to stay together and play for the same team and not to have the pressure of being at a big club. Foreign players need time to adjust and are not always well treated.

“Secondly West Ham play good, attacking football and the crowd will love the two players. They will be heroes. They will be looked after, they will be made to feel welcome.” ”
The same Pini Zahavi that helped broker Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea, Alexandre Gaymarak’s purchase of Portsmouth, the transfer of Rio Ferdinand and Juan Veron to United, and whose fingerprints were all over the Ashley Cole saga. Fantastic.

I stand by my belief that Manchester United needs a player like Mascherano, but the more that comes out about the Tevez/Mascherano transfer, the worse it looks for West Ham. The Independent stories reiterate all the claims that have come out since the transfer: MSI retains all rights to the players, no transfer fees involved but MSI sells them when they want to whom they want. If Zahavi is right about the contracts, if it doesn’t work out, West Ham’s still locked into five-year deals with both. And they have to play them every game? That’s completely pulling the rug out from under the club and I can’t believe that Alan Pardew’s gone along with that.

Zahavi is right about one thing, though. West Ham isn’t a bad club for them to develop at. They are clearly on the up and have reestablished themselves in the Premier League far quicker than I imagined. They have a fantastic history of developing young players: Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand among others. They do play attractive football. And Alan Pardew is one of the better young English managers. But the fact remains this is a major gamble for the club both on and off the pitch, as well yet another reminder of the increasing corporatization of the league by less than reputable entities.