31 October 2006

Liverpool 3-0 Bordeaux

I was wrong, and I’m glad to admit it. I’m a little bit surprised that it’s for this game Rafa names his first unchanged side, but a win is a win, and 3-0 certainly is a win.

Garcia opened the scoring with a pretty volley at the back post after a pinpoint cross from Gerrard in the 23rd minute. Liverpool bossed the game for the rest of the half, and despite three good chances in the last 5 minutes, the half ended 1-0.

They almost paid for their profligacy. The visitors came out on fire to start the second. Bordeaux took more shots on goal in the first ten minutes of the half than they did in the rest of the two other games. Reina, who has come under such stick as of late, was the only reason Liverpool kept a clean sheet. It’s as reassuring to see Pepe makes great saves these past two games as it is to see Liverpool score more consistently.

As soon as the game started to settle down, Bordeaux was down to 10 men. The left back, Fernando, headbutted Riise directly in front of the linesman in the 67th minute. It was strange and all too similar to the Zidane incident, with Fernando walking up to JAR away from play and headbutting him in the face, supposedly because Momo Sissoko was tackling too hard. Riise, although bleeding profusely, didn’t hit the floor. Didn’t even flinch. Arjen Robben (yes, I carry grudges that long) would be in hospital until next Friday. One of the many reasons the Kop cheers Riise’s name.

Not long after the sending off, Gerrard put Liverpool 2-0 up, finally opening his season’s scoring account. Typical storming through the defense, running onto Zenden’s pass, and sliding it in. Liverpool’s third, Garcia robbing Jemmali and slotting past the goalkeeper, quickly followed. They were lining up to find the fourth, with Hyypia, Sissoko, and Fowler having chances, but it really was just a matter of time running out the clock.

I have no illusions that this win will quell the mindless prattle over squad rotation. If anything, the media will probably take this as an affirmation of their nattering. ‘Now that Rafa’s named an unchanged side, Liverpool’s come good’ and all that, but they'll be completely wrong. Liverpool is finding its form, evident in the wins at Reading and versus Villa, and the side continued that trend today. Garcia especially has been fantastic lately; a goal and great all-around play against Villa and a brace today. But all of the squad, every single player, is playing better and that’s why Liverpool looks as good as they do.

Hopefully this means that history is repeating itself. It’s the end of October, the usual time of year that the team remembers that the season’s started and it’s time to start playing soccer.

Also, this win, coupled with PSV beating Galatasaray 2-0, means that Liverpool has qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League with two games to spare.

Reading on Saturday.

Noel White gone

Too busy getting hyped up over the Bordeaux game (less than 2 hours!), but this is worth mentioning, and I'll forget to post-match.

White quits after slur on Benitez

Turns out the speculation over the anonymous board member was correct. Word travels fast around Merseyside.

He gives the usual 'I didn't know what I was saying, I didn't mean to cause controversy' speech. No one's buying it. If you're a director at Liverpool for 21 years, you know the Liverpool way.

David Moores (who surprisingly came out of hiding to address the media) said it as best as he can:
"...[T]he board considers that the statements made do not reflect its own views and that this is not the Liverpool way of doing business. The proper place for debate is around the boardroom table.

"He [White] recognised that this made his position on the board quite untenable and he did the honourable thing by resigning."
Don't let the door hit you on the way back to Altrincham.

30 October 2006

Liverpool v Bordeaux 10.31.2006

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

Liverpool won the previous match versus Bordeaux 1-0 in Bordeaux. Bordeaux currently sits 8th in the French Ligue 1, behind Lyon. Marseilles, AS Nancy, Lille, Lens, Toulouse and Sochaux.

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

Goals leaders (Europe):
Liverpool: Crouch 4, Bellamy, Garcia, Gonzalez 1
Bordeaux: Bordeaux qualified directly for the group stage, and has not yet scored in this round.

European History:
Liverpool: European Cup/Champions League 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005; UEFA Cup 1973, 1976, 2001; UEFA Super Cup 1977, 2001, 2005
Bordeaux: UEFA Intertoto Cup 1995

Referee: Markus Merk (GER)

Key players for Bordeaux:
Johan Micoud: Johan Micoud is the biggest name on Bordeaux, and in the game in France, he had Bordeaux’s best chance to score, narrowly putting his header wide. Capable of playing on either flank, as an attacking midfielder, or as a deep-lying second striker, Liverpool will have to keep a careful watch over the former French international.
Julien Faubert: Faubert came on as a sub in the second half against Liverpool, and proved to be hard to handle, as he was able to put in crosses that could have been trouble if Bordeaux had more to offer in attack. After the way he played in the final 30 minutes, I can’t see him not starting tomorrow.
Wendel: The young Brazilian was the supplier of the free kick that Micoud almost scored against Liverpool. Not only was he dangerous from free kicks, as all Brazilians seem to be, but he was very quick up and down the left flank (he’s capable of playing either LM or LB). Signed from Santos over the summer.

It’s still doubtful that former Liverpool player Vladi Smicer will take part.

My guess of a lineup:

Finnan Carragher Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Sissoko Garcia
Crouch Kuyt

Who gets a game off? I don’t mean to sound cavalier, even though it comes off that way, but Liverpool is probably one win away from qualifying for the group stages. With important league games against Reading and Arsenal, along with a cup-tie against Birmingham coming up in the next two weeks, I imagine certain players will be rested. So who’s going to sit?

I doubt the players who still have injury questions, such as Craig Bellamy or Fabio Aurelio, will even be considered. And one would imagine that one out of the midfield trio of Gerrard, Alonso, and Sissoko will be rested. Xabi, Stevie and Momo have all started 15 games so far this season, so it’s not likely that one will be rested over the other due to number of matches. Although Gerrard had one of his better games in a while versus Villa over the weekend, my feeling is he’ll be the one to sit, as Rafa has shown in the past he’s unafraid to play solely Alonso and Sissoko in Europe.

I want to see a little rotation in the defense as possible, though. Last season, while squad rotation was as much of a talking point as it is now, the defense was consistently Finnan-Carra-Hyypia-Riise, and it worked. I have Agger in over Hyypia solely because Sami has played more often than I thought he would recently, and Rafa has shown more of a willingness to bed Agger in at his expense, even though Hyypia's been playing very well of late.

In the last match, despite making hard work of it, Liverpool showed they are far ahead of Bordeaux in ability. As Liverpool is at Anfield, the game should come to them more easily than it did in France. It’s always trouble to look past games, and I’m sure Rafa is making certain that the team is not, but this should be 3 points, and nearly certain qualification into the Champions League knock-out stage.

Champions League, Matchday 4

All games kick off at 2:45 eastern unless noted.

Tuesday October 31
Barcelona v Chelsea (live on ESPN Deportes)
Bayern Munich v Sporting Lisbon (live on ESPN 2)
Levski Sofia v Werder Bremen
PSV v Galatasaray
Roma v Olympiakos (live on Setanta PPV)
Shakhtar Donetsk v Valencia
Spartak Moscow v Inter Milan (12:30pm; live on Setanta Sports and ESPN Deportes)

Wednesday November 1
AC Milan v Anderlecht
AEK Athens v Lille
Arsenal v CSKA Moscow (live on ESPN2)
Benfica v Celtic (live on Setanta PPV)
FC Copenhagen v Manchester Utd (live on Setanta Sports)
Hamburg v FC Porto
Lyon v Dynamo Kiev
Real Madrid v Steaua Bucharest (live on ESPN Deportes)

Surprising that Barca/Chelsea is on ESPN Deportes instead of ESPN2. As usual, ESPN is clueless when it comes to soccer coverage. I would have thought they'd keep it off TV to try and promote their fledging broadband PPV service (which I've heard isn't worth it), but the majority of those who get ESPN2 also get Deportes. By the way, don’t bother writing emails to them or their ombudsman. It doesn’t help.

While Chelsea/Barca is the glamour match, I think the most aesthetically pleasing will be Arsenal/CSKA. Both teams have stylish players (CSKA is chock-full of Brazilians; Vagner Love and Daniel Carvalho are definitely two to watch), and both will come out looking for the win that will probably see them through to qualification. Look for Henry to come out wanting revenge for his disallowed goal in the last match. Gunnerrific, as always, is the place to go for Arsenal talk, especially if you’re an American.

Barca 2-1
Bayern 2-0
Bremen 1-0
PSV 0-0 Gala
Roma 3-2
Valencia 3-0
Inter 2-0
Milan 3-0
AEK 1-1 Lille
Arsenal 2-1
Benfica 0-0 Celtic
Man Utd 3-0
Hamburg 2-2 Porto
Lyon 3-0
Madrid 3-1

Liverpool v Bordeaux preview later this evening.

29 October 2006

The weekend in the Prem 10.29

Sheffield United 0-2 Chelsea: Sheffield United had the ideal chance to surprise Chelsea. After Didier Drogba brought down Claude Davis in the box, up stepped Danny Webber to take the penalty that would put Sheffield up 1-0 at home against the two-time defending champs. But the opportunity got the better of him, and Hilario easily saved the spot kick. Chelsea never looked back, with goals from Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack on either side of halftime. They remain joint leaders with Manchester United.

Arsenal 1-1 Everton: Everton stole an early lead through Tim Cahill’s scrambled goal from a corner (as they are wont to do), and defended furiously with 9 or 10 men behind the ball for the rest of the game. It looked as if they would be the first team to win away at the Emirates Stadium until Robin van Persie’s pretty free kick. Arsenal has been much improved recently (and it shows in the league table), but for most of the game it looked as if they had returned to some old habits, with the Gunners unable to convert their dominance into goals.

Portsmouth 3-1 Reading: Reading never really recovered from a 10th minute own goal, and despite missing a host of chances, Portsmouth easily took all three points. Reading’s strongest quality so far in the Premiership had been how well Steve Coppell had his team drilled; for the first two months they were tough to break down, both home and away. But in the last three games, Reading has let in four goals to Arsenal and three to both Liverpool and Portsmouth. Not a good sign.

Bolton 0-4 Manchester United: Uh-oh. Manchester United was already playing well, having earned 22 points in nine games. And then Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, two who had actually underperformed so far, went and had their best games of the season. Rooney especially reminded us all what he’s capable of, as he was simply unstoppable, scoring a hat trick. Sam Allardyce couldn’t flatter Shrek enough in his post-match remarks, and that says something. It’s not as if Bolton’s in bad form either; they sit in 3rd place and no one had scored at the Reebok Stadium this season until yesterday.

Fulham 0-1 Wigan: Fulham had a chance to improve on a surprising top-10 place, but instead Wigan ended up collecting their first away win of the season. Neither team created a host of chances, with Wigan getting the better opportunities, and it looked as if Denny Landzaat’s missed penalty would ensure the game ending at 0-0. However, Henri Camara (who had a goal not given despite Wigan claims the ball crossed the line) earned Wigan a deserved win with a goal in the 84th minute.

Watford 0-0 Tottenham: It seems every week there’s at least one game where the main talking point is whether or not video replays should be implemented. The conversation starter in this match was Ashley Young’s effort for Watford, which was clearly wrongly ruled out for offside. Both sides had chances, with Watford looking the better outfit. They are still winless so far in the Premier League, but with six draws out of ten games, it will only take a little luck for them to get off the mark.

Newcastle 0-0 Charlton: Charlton delivered a much-improved defensive performance, and it led to their first away point of the season. Newcastle missed their fair share of chances though, Guiseppe Rossi hit the bar, and Damien Duff was twice kept out by Liverpool-loanee Scott Carson, who played his best game in an Addicks shirt. While Charlton looked more cohesive than they were in previous outings, which has to encourage Iain Dowie, it’s hard to tell whether their defense earned them a draw or Newcastle wasted an opportunity for all three points.

West Ham 2-1 Blackburn: This was the first game all season that this year’s West Ham played like last year’s version, and it’s no coincidence that the squad looked a lot like last season’s. George McCartney, making his debut in place of the suspended Paul Konchesky, was the only player who did not feature last year. Mascherano and Tevez were conspicuously omitted, with Carlitos not even on the bench. Teddy Sheringham, making his first start of the season, opened the scoring with a trademark header after nice work from Bobby Zamora and Yossi Benayoun. Benayoun has been far below his standard, but it was a picture-perfect cross into Sheringham, and his all-around game was much improved today. Hayden Mullins scored the second with 10 minutes to go before David Bentley scored a late consolation for Blackburn.

Manchester City hosts Middlesbrough tomorrow at 3pm eastern.

Liverpool v Villa, the day after

Official Site: Match Analysis
Official Site: Rafa reaction
Youtube Highlights of LFC goals
BBC write-up, with video from Benitez and O’Neill
Guardian: Match write-up
The Times: Match write-up
Daily Telegraph: Match write-up
The Independent: Match write-up
Sky Sports: Match write-up
Sky Sports: Player Ratings
RAWK Post-match thread

28 October 2006

Liverpool 3-1 Aston Villa

Kuyt 30'; Crouch 37'; Garcia 43'
Agbonlahor 55'

That’s more like it. So much for Aston Villa’s much heralded unbeaten streak. Finally, Liverpool came out and impressed, and it’s strange having so little to complain about. That was easily the best performance of the season, and it couldn’t have come sooner.

For the first time, Kuyt and Crouch paired up exceedingly well. Unlike previous times playing together, both seemed to have a better idea of their roles, with Crouch dropping deeper and Kuyt doing damage higher up the field. Both strikers got on the score sheet, which is always something to celebrate, but both were also active all over Villa’s half and stretched the defense magnificently.

Liverpool also did a vastly superior job retaining possession, especially in the first half. After Villa went a goal down to Chelsea, they were able to climb back into the game, and ended up having more of the ball than Chelsea did. Liverpool did not let that happen. Sissoko was his usual rampaging self, and did an excellent job breaking up any possible Villa attack. After Momo mopped up, Alonso was there to distribute, which he did in typical picturesque fashion. While Stevie didn’t get his goal, he was much improved, popping up left, right and center during Liverpool’s attacks, and was far more influential than he had been recently.

The only disappointment was the loss of the clean sheet, thanks to Gabriel Agbonlahor’s goal midway through the second half. However, when Liverpool has given up three goals to Reading and two to Manchester United in the last two games, I’ll take simply letting in one. Agbonlahor was Villa’s most dangerous player on the pitch, and limiting him to the one breakaway chance is an improvement in and of itself.

The defense was much improved in all areas. Reina looked more assured, and made an absolutely stunning reflex save to deny Chris Sutton from making it 3-2. Carragher and Hyypia were characteristically reliable, and neither had difficulty in dealing with Villa’s pace (aside from the one goal), which I had feared. Hyypia especially was impressive; not only was he as comfortable in defense as he has been all season, he got forward more often than I can remember, and it was his knock-down that led to Kuyt’s goal. The defending on the flanks, where Liverpool has had problems of late, was vastly improved, with Finnan and Riise getting back well, and the center backs covering the gaps left open when the full backs pushed forward.

This is progress, and this was the perfect reply to the inane talk of boardroom unrest. All in all, it was a fluid team performance, and that’s what they needed. When Liverpool plays like this, you remember why pundits believed they could challenge for the title.

MOM: Dirk Kuyt

27 October 2006

Liverpool v Aston Villa 10.28.06

10am. Available in the US on Fox Soccer Channel.

Liverpool: 11th place; 11 points out of 9 games
Aston Villa: 7th place; 15 points out of 9 games

Last 4 meetings:
3-1 Liverpool (h) April 29 2006
2-0 Liverpool (a) November 5 2005
2-1 Liverpool (h) May 15 2005
1-1 (a) December 4 2004

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 4-3 Reading (h); 0-2 Man United (a); 1-0 Bordeaux (a)
Aston Villa: 3-2 aet Leicester (a); 1-1 Fulham (h); 1-1 Tottenham (h)

Goals Leaders (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 2; Agger, Alonso, Bellamy, Crouch, Fowler, Gonzalez, Riise 1
Aston Villa: Barry 3; Agbonlahor, Angel, Moore 2; Mellberg, Ridgewell 1

Referee: Steve Bennett

The squad I’d like to see:

Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock
Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Riise
Crouch Fowler

Tougher than usual to predict the front line. The official site has been promoting a couple of features with Kuyt, a “big interview” and an article where he speaks about how happy his father is coming to Anfield this Saturday. This would lead me to believe he’s got a role to play in the game, but the BBC is claiming that he’ll miss out due to calf injury, which I hadn’t heard until today. As Bellamy is also out, this would leave Crouch and Fowler to reprise their pairing from Wednesday. It’d be nice to see Robbie get an extended run, because despite his age and fitness, he’ll always be able to find the back of the net, which is exactly what Liverpool needs at the moment, but you have to think he’ll continue to be 4th choice striker.

Think we’ll see Warnock and Riise on the left flank. Liverpool must defend better down the left to prevent Agbonlahor from doing damage. Not only is he capable of running rampant, but the left side has been particularly vulnerable when Gonzalez or Aurelio has been paired with Riise. I think Warnock is a better defensive option, and Riise has played well offensively as of late from the LM position.

Once again, I’m sure there will be questions as to where Gerrard lines up, but I think he’ll stay on the right. The pairing of Alonso and Sissoko seems to be Rafa’s first choice; Liverpool needs the creativity and passing of Alonso, and, as many others have said, we saw Liverpool’s defensive frailties on Wednesday after Sissoko was subbed out. It’s almost a shame that Gerrard is so malleable that he’s forced out of his preferred position, but it’s reassuring to see all the quotes in the news this week about how he’ll play any position for the team, and it’s obvious this is how the manager prefers it. Hopefully, this means they’ll be less sulking and shouting at teammates than there was against Manchester United.

Liverpool will have to start brightly on Saturday. After some of the recent performances, I just want to see them come out looking to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and imposing themselves on the other team. Villa has been playing well as of late, and while they haven’t had the best of luck at Anfield in the past, the longer the game goes scoreless, the more they’ll grow in confidence, and the harder it will be to break them down.

Maybe the hysterics over the turncoat board member will spark something in the team, and Liverpool will come out with a point to prove, because this bad spell isn’t going away until every player starts playing better.

Liverpool boardroom foolishness

So much for a quiet Friday.

Okay, long story short, because I’m still catching up on all the information. Evidently, one of the Liverpool board members anonymously came out with a scathing attack of Rafa Benitez to Martin Lipton of the Daily Mirror. Big clubs have to deal these whispers and smears in the media frequently, it just comes with the territory, but to have a board member come out with comments like these is completely out of the ordinary. Liverpool does not air its dirty laundry in public.

Not to mention the attack is completely idiotic in substance. Les Lawson, of the Liverpool Supporters Club said it best:
"I find it totally unbelievable a member of the Liverpool board would criticise the manager who won the Champions League in his first season, with the worst squad since Bill Shankly arrived at the club.

"He then won the FA Cup in his second season and won more league points in a season for Liverpool since the Premiership began last year.

"Whoever is responsible for these comments is completely out of touch with how Liverpool fans think, and I would have thought he'd be more concerned with working towards attracting the investment which would help Rafa build a team to challenge Chelsea."

The last thing the club needs now is backroom drama. There are enough problems on the pitch, no one wants to see a public hissing match over the state of the club. Not to mention that Rafa should have the support of the board. When Real Madrid and Inter Milan were sniffing around last summer, all the board could do was whisper sweet nothings towards Benitez, and less than 2 months later, someone has the gall to try and undercut him in the press when things are going less than perfect.

It’s not crisis time by any stretch of the imagination, no matter what the media or the unnamed director would have us believe. Liverpool are 2 points behind where they were at this stage the last two seasons. Yes, they are going through a tough stretch, but Rafa is rebuilding the team in his image, and despite things not going the way we want at the moment, Liverpool is progressing. Drama in the media will not solve the on field problems. Firing Benitez certainly won’t solve them. Heads down, back to work, no talking to the media, and get on with improving the team.

Granted, it is the Daily Mirror, which has been known to print utter nonsense on the regular, but the breadth of the quotes from the unnamed board member leads me to believe that they were actually said. Hopefully the club will pursue an internal investigation, and this director will soon be stepping down.

The Mirror hogwash:
"Rough for Rafa"
"How patience is finally wearing thin at Anfield"

Official Site:
Rick Parry/Official Club Statement
Rafa's reply

Liverpool Echo:
Bascombe - "Rafa Knifed in the Back"
Bascombe - "Reds Rocked"

RAWK Thread

News and Notes 10.27.06

• It’s rumor at best, and the sources are sketchy, but supposedly Jurgen Klinsmann has begun talks to become the US National Team manager after months of speculation. The far superior MLS blogs around the internet will have more I’m sure, but let me just say I’m skeptical, and I don’t know if Klinsi really is the best man for the job.

Chris Kirkland signs 3-year deal with Wigan. Well, that’s one goalkeeper off the books. Both Kirkland and Dudek signed on the same day in 2001, and despite Jerzy’s excellent first season, it seemed only a matter of time before Kirkland was the number one keeper for both Liverpool and England. However, he had the absolute worst luck with fitness, with successive injuries to his back, finger, ankle, wrist, and a host of other body parts. He had a decent season out on loan at West Brom last year despite their relegation, and hopefully he’ll remain healthy and first choice for Wigan. It still amuses me that his father and other family bet on him to eventually earn an England cap (at 100/1 odds) when Chris was 11. It was paid off last year, to the tune of £10,000 per bet. Nice move, Kirkland family.

Wisla Krakow defender Nikola Mijailovic was suspended five games by UEFA for racially abusing Blackburn’s Benni McCarthy during last week’s UEFA Cup tie. Nice to see UEFA finally get serious about punishing racism in soccer. Kick it out.

• This weekend’s PL schedule:
Saturday, 28 October 2006
Sheffield Utd v Chelsea, 7:45am (live on Setanta Sports)
Arsenal v Everton 10am (live on Setanta Xtra)
Bolton v Manchester Utd 10am (live on Setanta Sports)
Fulham v Wigan, 10am
Liverpool v Aston Villa, 10am (live on Fox Soccer Channel)
Portsmouth v Reading, 10am
Watford v Tottenham, 10am
Newcastle v Charlton, 12:15pm (live on Fox Soccer Channel)

Sunday, 29 October 2006
West Ham v Blackburn, 11am (live on Fox Soccer Channel)

Monday, 30 October 2006
Man City v Middlesbrough 3pm (live on Fox Soccer Channel)

If you’re not reading Ian Holloway’s weekly column for the BBC yet, you should be.

26 October 2006

Liverpool v Reading, the day after

Official Site: Match Analysis
Official Site: Rafa Interview
Official Site: Rafa on the 4th Round Draw
Youtube Video Highlights of all goals (please don’t sue me, Premier League)
BBC write-up, with link to audio from Benitez
Guardian: Match write-up
The Times: Match write-up
Daily Telegraph: Match write-up
The Independent: Match write-up
Sky Sports: Match write-up
Sky Sports: Fowler reaction
RAWK Post-match thread

Liverpool 4-3 Reading

Why must Liverpool take the luster off their performances on the few occasions they impress? After 50 minutes, it looked done and dusted, and I was thrilled. Although Reading had started as the brighter team, a five-minute period at the end of the half saw Liverpool take a two-goal lead. Fowler scored with a pretty flick over the keeper after a lovely defense-splitting pass by Pennant, and Riise struck soon after as Graham Stack parried his first attempt directly back to him.

Soon after the teams came back out Liverpool added a third, with Gabriel Paletta (on his debut) scoring from a Pennant corner. After losing 4-0 over the weekend, and going down 3-0 to Liverpool at Anfield, it didn’t look likely that Reading would get back into this game. And yet, it turned out to be a nearly carbon copy of the Galatasaray match. Three Reading goals from three instances of sloppy defending, and Liverpool was forced to hang on to preserve a 4-3 win.

While it would have been nice to have a clean sheet after the defending so far this season, Andre Bikey’s goal in the 75th minute seemed to be small consolation for Reading. Crouch’s reply minutes later, with him artfully stepping around the keeper to tap in, put Liverpool back up three with little more than 10 minutes of regular time left. But two quick goals from Leroy Lita and Shane Long made the last few minutes far too nervy.

There are so many positives to take away from this match, and yet all I can think about are the late goals. It’s a win, and Liverpool did score four. The senior players played well; Fowler, Crouch, and Riise scored, and Pennant had two assists. It was probably the best game that both Pennant and Zenden played all season. The youth players didn’t look completely out of depth; Paletta scored his first goal for the club, Lee Peltier put in a battling performance, and both Danny Guthrie and James Smith got run-outs as substitutes.

The goals that Liverpool let in were simply careless though, and that’s troublesome. Bikey out-jumped Riise, who was ball watching, to head in the first from a free kick. Glen Little danced around the penalty box before passing to Lita for the second, with 3 Liverpool players missing tackles in the interim. Finally, Long tallied from a completely free header, as there were more Reading players than Liverpool defenders around him when he scored.

I want to put that 10 minutes of madness down to the fact that the back four were mostly youth players who weren’t all used to playing 90 minutes of soccer at this level, and that they thought the game was finished. It’s not particularly heartening, but it’s better than attributing it to the same malaise that has vexed the back line at times this season.

An unfortunate coincidence has been Pepe Reina though. He hasn’t looked as assured in goal this season, and that continued today. Granted, he had an amazing season last year and there was little room for improvement, he’s 23, and I still believe he’s one of the best keepers around. Goalkeeping has a lot to do with confidence, and Pepe seems to be suffering from the lack of it at the moment. I’m sure he’ll work his way out of it, but it certainly isn’t helping matters at present.

However, that’s more than enough moaning. A win’s a win, and four goals are four goals. The draw’s already taken place, and Liverpool will be traveling to Birmingham for the 4th round. I seem to remember the last trip to St. Andrews for a cup match going fairly well.

Villa on Saturday.

24 October 2006

Liverpool v Reading 10.25.06

3rd round of the Carling Cup. 3pm. Not available on television in the USA.

Liverpool has never played Reading before in any competition.

Having qualified for the Champions League, this is Liverpool’s first game in the Carling Cup. In the last round, Reading beat Darlington 4-2 on penalties after the game ended 3-3.

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Manchester United (a); 1-0 Bordeaux (a); 1-1 Blackburn (h)
Reading: 0-4 Arsenal (h); 0-1 Chelsea (h); 1-0 West Ham (a)

Squad list, according to the BBC:
Liverpool (from): Reina, Peltier, Carragher, Agger, Paletta, Smith, Riise, Luis Garcia, Sissoko, Pennant, Guthrie, Fowler, Crouch, Kuyt, Warnock, Zenden, Martin, Finnan.

Reading (from): Stack, De la Cruz, Halls, Gunnarsson, Bikey, Sodje, Oster, Little, Hunt, Long, Lita, Henry, Joseph-Dubois, Pearce, Hayes, Osano, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Doyle.

Complete guess of a lineup:

Peltier Paletta Agger Warnock
Pennant Sissoko Zenden Riise
Kuyt Fowler

From the looks of the squad list, it appears Benitez will continue with the trend of using mainly youngsters and reserves in the early rounds of the Carling Cup, instead of naming a full-strength line-up in the hopes of putting the weekend as far behind them as possible. Good.

I understand that the team isn’t playing well, and people want to see the first-teamers get back into the swing of things as soon as possible. A home Cup match against a weakened Reading side might appear to be the perfect opportunity for that, but it feels like far too reactionary a measure. Liverpool should be able to do the business with any side they put out from the named squad, and even if they don’t, it’s still the Carling Cup. I write that wanting Liverpool to win every game they play in, whether it’s the Champions League Final, or a friendly match against Vauxhall Motors, and don’t wish to demean the League Cup (that much). It’s just that it is the Carling Cup, and last year, a loss to Crystal Palace at this stage led to the 10+ game winning streak Liverpool went on.

Normally Dudek would play the early rounds of the Carling Cup to give Pepe a rest, but he's still suspended from the Everton reserve game. The reserve team keeper, David Martin, is in the squad, but he was recently injured in a recent reserve game, so Pepe should start.

Despite Reading’s good start to the season, and Liverpool’s lack of form, I still believe the most important part of this game is giving an opportunity to some of the promising youngsters. Both Gabriel Paletta and Lee Peltier have been on the bench for games against Maccabi Haifa and Bordeaux and deserve a start here. I am disappointed and slightly surprised that Paul Anderson, the highly-touted winger signed last season from Hull City, isn’t in the squad at all. From all reports, he’s played very well in the reserve side and was a key player in the team that won last year’s FA Youth Cup.

With these alterations in the line-up, this game shouldn’t be linked to the problems Liverpool has had of late. Nevertheless, if the team does well here, especially the few senior players who will start, it should help the entire squad’s confidence.

• Official Site: Benitez: Robbie will play on Wednesday
• Official Site: Rafa to ring the changes for Cup clash

Chesterfield 2-1 West Ham (plus more hot Carling Cup Action)

Another game, another loss for the Hammers, and it’s the eighth in a row. It is not a good time to be at Upton Park. It may only be October, but there are far too many similarities between this season and the 2002/03 campaign that ended with Glenn Roeder’s firing, West Ham’s relegation, and a bargain basement sale of young English talent. Both teams had the ability (the 02/03 version featured Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick and David James, among others), but 02/03 ended up massively disappointing, and this team seems to be on a similar path.

In their first 9 games in 02/03, West Ham won 2, lost 5, and drew 2. In the 9 games so far this season, West Ham is 1-6-2.

In 02/03, West Ham lost in the 3rd round of the Worthington (now Carling) Cup to Division 2 (now League One) side Oldham Athletic. This season, they’ve now lost in the 3rd round of the Carling Cup to League One side Chesterfield. Incidentally, they beat Chesterfield on penalties in the 2nd round of the Worthington Cup before losing to Oldham in 2002.

In 02/03, the team was plagued by off-field trouble, and this season seems to be no different. Both times, it has centered on the manager. Glenn Roeder was under fire all season long, and he didn’t manage in the final month after a mild stroke sent him to hospital. Thankfully, there’s been no health scares so far this season, but the gaffer is again under fire, as Alan Pardew’s job has been rumored to be in jeopardy. The takeover rumors swirling around the club haven’t helped morale much either.

I was in London in 2003 when West Ham went down, and while I knew far less about the League then, I still knew enough to be saddended to see a club of that stature, with that history, be relegated. Seeing them reestablish themselves in the Premier League last season with fine form and a young English spine was heartening, and I sincerely hope all that hard work isn’t thrown away.

There were few surprises in the rest of the Carling Cup games. Leicester gave Aston Villa a scare, coming back from two goals down to send it to extra time, but Gabriel Agbonlahor gave Villa the win close to the end. Birmingham, despite disappointing in the Championship over the past few weeks, which gotten Steve Bruce in hot water (again), beat Sheffield United 4-2 in Sheffield. League Two Notts County also continued their good run, and upset Southampton 2-0.

The rest of the scores:
Everton 4-0 Luton
Leeds 1-3 Southend
Port Vale 0-0 Norwich (Vale win 3-2 on penalties)
Watford 2-1 Hull City
West Brom 0-2 Arsenal
Wycombe 2-2 Doncaster (Wycombe win 3-2 on penalties)

Carling Cup Round 3

The third round of the Carling Cup is this week, with the majority of games taking place today.

24 October 2006
Chesterfield v West Ham (live on Setanta Sports; 2:30pm eastern)
Leeds v Southend
Leicester v Aston Villa
Notts County v Southampton
Port Vale v Norwich City
Sheffield Utd v Birmingham
Watford v Hull City
West Brom v Arsenal
Wycombe v Doncaster
Everton v Luton Town

25 October 2006
Crewe Alexandria v Man Utd (live on Setanta Sports; 2pm eastern)
MK Dons v Tottenham
Newcastle v Portsmouth
Blackburn v Chelsea
Charlton v Bolton
Liverpool v Reading

There's more than a couple interesting ties, which is unusual this early in the tournament. We have 4 matches between Premier League teams, all taking place Wednesday, with the pick of the litter being Chelsea at Blackburn. This might be the toughest test Mourinho has faced in the early rounds of a domestic cup competition, and it'll be interesting to see how Chelsea reacts.

There are also decent games between PL and Championship sides today. Martin O'Neill returns to Leicester, where he got his start in management, with unbeaten Aston Villa. Not only is this game appealing because of O'Neill's Leicester connections, but Villa has frequently underperformed in tournaments as of late. I know nearly all of the past can be tied to David O'Leary, and that's a valid excuse, but Villa was made to work at Scunthorpe in the 2nd round this season as well. Everton should also be given a decent challenge by Luton Town. Luton gave Liverpool a serious run in the FA Cup last year, with Liverpool needing 4 goals in the second half to advance, and despite losing players, Mike Newell continues to improve that team.

Arsenal at West Brom and Birmingham at Sheffield United should also be compelling fixtures.

A full preview of the Liverpool/Reading match will be up this evening.

22 October 2006

The weekend in the Premiership

Wigan 4-0 Manchester City: The score says it all. City has had periods this season where they’ve been simply terrible, like this game, and this one was lost by the 5th minute. Emile Heskey (!!!) scored after about a minute, and in the 4th minute, City captain Richard Dunne headed the ball into his own net. Wigan added two more in the second half, City looks to be perilously close to a free fall, and Stuart Pearce has to fear for his job. After recent performances, changes obviously have to be made, but I really hope Pearce stays. It’s impossible not to like Psycho, we need more people who speak their mind and wear their heart on their sleeve in the league.

Everton 2-0 Sheffield United: Sheffield had little chance after Everton went up 2-0 around the 30th minute, and they went down to 10 men because of Claude Davis’ sending off. Nonetheless, it’s impressive Sheffield held Everton scoreless for the rest of the game while still looking to attack. Neil Warnock has molded them into a scrappy, fighting team, and if they begin to find the net on a consistent basis, they’ll be a threat to stay up.

Chelsea 2-1 Portsmouth: Honestly, this was much more one-sided than it appears. Calamity James made something like 12 saves; it was one of those games he pulls out of thin air every so often, which means we should be on the lookout for a howler next week. Pompey got a goal through Benjani Mwaruwari in the second half, but Chelsea easily earned their three points. Not thrilled to see Shevchenko and Ballack scoring, both players looked more in tune with the game than they have in previous outings.

Charlton 0-0 Watford: These two teams are currently propping up the bottom of the table, and this game was evidence why. Both teams squandered their opportunities, and both sides had periods in the game where they were on top and really should have gone ahead. Charlton has to be unhappier with the result. Less was expected of recently promoted Watford this season, while Charlton has been established in the Premier League, and was at home. They were booed off the field by their own fans, and Iain Dowie’s job has been rumored to be in jeopardy for a time now. Not a good time in the Valley.

Aston Villa 1-1 Fulham: Villa maintains the only unbeaten streak in the Premiership, and yet I doubt their fans went home happy from this one. Ridgewell, Angel, and Baros missed chances in the first half, and Villa ended up resorting to the long ball to try and break down Fulham in the second. Fulham, on the other hand, most certainly will be pleased. Last season, their away form was dreadful, while this season they’ve already picked up points at Aston Villa, Watford, Tottenham, and Newcastle.

Blackburn 0-1 Bolton: Blackburn versus Bolton is always going to be a low scoring affair, and the hero today was Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, who saved penalties from Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts in the last five minutes. Ivan Campo scored the winner in the 63rd minute, and Kevin Nolan was sent off late on after picking up two yellow cards.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Newcastle: Yakubu spared Boro’s blushes with a goal in the 85th minute and gave them their first back-to-back wins of the season. It was a pretty much standard Northeast derby, mostly a defensive game with few chances between the sides.

Tottenham 1-0 West Ham: Both teams continue to underperform, but both can take some positives out of the game. Tottenham was able to put the ball in the back of the net, with Mido providing the lone goal, and both Defoe and Keane also looked like threatening at times. Lennon’s return from injury, and fine form today, is also a good sign. While West Ham still disappoints, at least they showed fighting spirit today, and it's a start. Highlight of the game was probably the spat between Defoe and Mascherano with both men play-acting, leading to handbags between all 22 players.

Reading 0-4 Arsenal: Reading has not looked out of depth in the Premier League until today, and they've already gone up against both Manchester United and Chelsea. Arsenal put on an absolute clinic, the scoreline should have been even worse than 4-0. Unlike Liverpool, Arsenal look to have put their poor start to the season far behind them, and are going to be very dangerous as the young team starts to gel. Henry scored twice, bringing his total up to 5 for the league. If players like Fabregas, Hleb, van Persie and Walcott continue to develop while Henry's scoring at a clip like this, Arsenal will be up there with United and Chelsea.

Liverpool 0-2 Manchester United

It’s not that Liverpool lost to United that angers me so. It’s the fact that United were mediocre, and Liverpool did absolutely nothing to take advantage of it. Liverpool needs a big win badly, and today was a great opportunity for that. And it did not happen.

Don’t get me wrong, United was better in basically every regard. But they were beatable, if Liverpool wasn’t so disjointed, mistake-prone, and uninspired. Maybe if Kuyt was cleverer with his header in the 30th minute, instead of shooting straight at Van der Sar, the game goes differently. Liverpool had started fairly well. But, Liverpool failed to grasp the opportunity, while United took their chance through Paul Scholes less than 10 minutes later. It’s always difficult to play from behind at Old Trafford, and once Ferdinand put in a second midway through the second half, the game was finished.

Players seem to be questioning themselves and the team, and the last thing Liverpool needs now is a loss of spirit with the form the team’s in. Once again, Stevie proved he’s the heartbeat in a way. Gerrard was noticeably unhappy, and he’s been prone to sulking his way out of games in the past. It was especially evident today when Gonzales was substituted for Pennant, but Stevie stayed out on the right. Even at his worst, he’s one of Liverpool’s best, and his workrate was still very good today. It just doesn’t appear that the captain and the manager are on the same page, despite Benitez’s increased efforts to praise the player in public (which Rafa is not wont to do). I will continue to state that despite what the media will have us believe, Liverpool is not a one-man team dependent solely on Gerrard, but he is the captain, he is the best player, and he needs to be playing to his full potential. It’s no coincidence Liverpool is struggling for goals and Stevie, who had 23 last season, has yet to score.

The lack of goals is also going to lead to questions over why Crouch, who is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer by a mile (mostly because of European goals), did not start, once again, in the league. I understand the decision to play 4-5-1, even if I don’t agree with it, and believe that Kuyt is probably better at playing as the lone striker. But when the team isn’t scoring when Crouch is, questions are going to be asked and rightfully so. Liverpool still hasn’t scored an away goal since August, and hasn’t scored an away goal in open play all season long. It might be different if the defense was playing as well as they did last season, but once again, there were lapses in concentration that led to United’s goals.

Until the team improves, in every single area, they’ll be no more discussions of 'title contenders' and ‘best squad since whenever.’ Early in the season, the league table often lies, but right now, Liverpool is playing like a mid-table side. I still firmly believe there’s loads of talent in the squad, and they can and will be a very good team. They just need to start showing it.

20 October 2006

Change the Champions League?

English Clubs may lose 4th Champions League spot

Michel Platini, one of the greatest players to ever step on a pitch, and one of the candidates vying to replace Lennart Johansson as UEFA President, wants England, Spain, and Italy to lose a qualifying spot in the Champions League. On first glance, I don’t like the idea, primarily because it might make more trouble for Liverpool, but honestly, there’s little in Platini’s argument that I disagree with.

• On face value, four clubs from one country in the preeminent tournament in Europe seems a lot.

• There would be more TV money for the teams that did qualify. Can’t argue with more money.

• Having the 4th placed team in the Champions League dilutes the quality of the tournament. It is called the “Champions League,” and I’ve heard the argument that the old European Cup was more special because the teams that were in it deserved to be there because of the title they won, although I can’t make any claims to have experienced that.

However, Platini’s claim that it would help national champions progress to the final stages more easily is dubious. The last five winners of the CL were Barcelona, Liverpool, Porto, AC Milan, and Real Madrid. Liverpool and Porto were surprises, but Barca and Real won their league the year they won the CL, and while AC Milan was 3rd in Serie A the year they won, they can hardly be called a surprise. It is a knockout tournament. Surprises happen.

I find it hard to believe that this change will take place. One, the G-14 will fight it tooth and nail. The G-14 never takes any potential loss of revenue for their clubs lying down, and I’m sure this case will be no different. Two, fans seem happy with the current format, and Champions League revenue and ratings are up. I find it hard to believe, no matter the ineptness of soccer’s governing bodies at times, that UEFA would try and fix something that isn’t really broken.

Neil Mellor

There is an excellent feature article on Neil Mellor up on the BBC today, and it’s worth reading solely for the memories. But, it’s also nice to see Mellor get the attention. He was a crucial piece of Liverpool’s Champions League puzzle in 2004-05, and had he not suffered knee injury after knee injury, I firmly believe Rafa would have kept him on as the 4th striker. Which, of course, would have prevented Robbie Fowler from coming home last January.

Mellor had, and probably still has (when finally fit), a knack for being in the right place at the right time. While he’ll never be a world-class striker, injuries or not, he was very useful off of the subs bench, and scored goals that Liverpool fans will never forget. Arsenal and Olympiakos were easily the highlights of his Liverpool career, but he was also influential in the Carling Cup run to the final in the same season with the rest of the youngsters, and scored a couple of goals in other Premier League games when the squad was hit hard with injuries.

Long story short, there’s a reason Neil Mellor made the 100 Players who shook the Kop list, and I can’t wait to see him starting banging them in for Preston North End in the Championship. All the best, Neil, no Liverpool fan should wish you anything but.

19 October 2006

Random News and Notes

As always, the day after a Liverpool game, I’ve calmed down somewhat. I’m still not pleased with the performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s worth repeating that a win’s a win, especially away in Europe. Looking at the Champions League tables is also pacifying, as Liverpool and PSV easily sit atop Group C with 7 points while Galatasaray and Bordeaux have 1. Also merits mentioning that two out of the three remaining games in the group stage are at home, while the other is in a stadium where Liverpool has fond, fond memories.

Hopefully, the win will restore some of Liverpool’s confidence for Sunday’s game, which will be one of Liverpool’s most important all season. The Manchester United matches are always one of the biggest fixtures on the calendar, and it’s always a struggle to get points at Old Trafford, but if Liverpool lose this game, they will be 11 points behind United before November. While no gap is too large this early in the season, it will be one tall mountain to climb. As per usual, I’ll do a full preview the day before the game.

Other news:

Champions League Matchday 3 round up:
• Dynamo Kiev 0-3 Lyon
• Steaua Bucharest 1-4 Real Madrid
• Celtic 3-0 Benfica
• Man United 3-0 FC Copenhagen
• CSKA Moscow 1-0 Arsenal
• Porto 4-1 Hamburg
• Lille 3-1 AEK Athens
• Anderlecht 0-1 AC Milan
• Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona
• Werder Bremen 2-0 Levski Sofia
• Inter Milan 2-1 Spartak Moscow
• Sporting Lisbon 0-1 Bayern Munich
• Galatasaray 1-2 PSV
• Valencia 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk
• Olympiakos 0-1 Roma

No FA action will be taken to discipline either Stephen Hunt or Ibrahima Sonko after their challenges on the two Chelsea goalkeepers. Which is a good decision. There’s no way to provide there was malice in either of those challenges from the video evidence, and punishing either player on suspicion alone would be a huge mistake and would set an awful precedent. I’m also hopeful we’ll soon hear the end of complaints that goalkeepers need to be more protected. Goalkeepers are already more than adequately protected by the rules. If referees consistently applied said rules, it would go a lot further than creating more rules that may or may not be followed, depending on if the ref is bothered.

• Four British teams are currently in action in today’s UEFA Cup games. As I write this, Tottenham lead 1-0 through a Hossam Ghaly goal at Besiktas, and Blackburn has already beaten Wisla Krakow in Poland 2-1 after goals from Robbie Savage and David Bentley. Newcastle hosts Fenerbache and Rangers travel to Livorno within the hour.

The rest of today’s UEFA Cup games:
• AZ Alkmaar v Braga
• Austria Magna v Zulte-Waregem
• Basle v Feyenoord
• Club Brugge v Bayer Leverkusen
• Eintracht Frankfurt v Palermo
• Liberec v Sevilla
• Maccabi Haifa v Auxerre
• Odense BK v Parma
• Osasuna v Heerenveen
• Panathinaikos v Hapoel Tel-Aviv
• Rapid Bucuresti v PSG
• Sparta Prague v Espanyol

17 October 2006

Liverpool v Bordeaux 10.18.2006

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

Liverpool has never met Bordeaux before in European competition. Bordeaux currently sit 5th in the French Ligue 1, behind Lyon, Marseilles, AS Nancy, and Toulouse.

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

Goals leaders (Europe):
Liverpool: Crouch 3, Bellamy, Garcia, Gonzalez 1
Bordeaux: Bordeaux qualified directly for the group stage, and has not yet scored in this round.

European History:
Liverpool: European Cup/Champions League 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005; UEFA Cup 1973, 1976, 2001; UEFA Super Cup 1977, 2001, 2005
Bordeaux: UEFA Intertoto Cup 1995

Referee: Tom Henning Øvrebø, Norway

Key players for Bordeaux:

Johan Micoud: Much was expected of the former French international upon his return to Bordeaux, but other than the winning goal in his first match back against Lorient, he has under-impressed. No matter his form or his age (he’s 33), Micoud remains a dangerous playmaker from the middle of the field.
Ulrich Rame: The cornerstone of the Bordeaux defense, Rame has been the #1 goalkeeper at the club since 1997, playing in 353 games.
Vladimir Smicer: Vladi is unlikely to play due to a long-standing hamstring injury, but he’s still worth mentioning. I’m sure every Liverpool supporter would like to see him on the pitch. Smicer never realized his full potential at Anfield due to injuries, difficulty adapting to the English game, and competition for places, but he was a fantastic servant for the club. He’ll never be forgotten due to the goal he scored against AC Milan in Istanbul, but I’ll argue it was more meaningful to see him kiss the badge after his successful spot-kick in the final. It was the most fitting way I can think of for him to end his Liverpool career and quite a touching moment. But let’s not get too sentimental; if he plays, Vladi will be dangerous.

My guess of a lineup:

Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Garcia Alonso Sissoko Zenden
Crouch Bellamy

Steven Gerrard hasn’t made the trip to France (neither have Agger and Fowler) after continuing to struggle with a hamstring injury he picked up over the weekend against Blackburn. In addition, according to the Liverpool Echo, Sissoko has an 80% chance of playing due to the ankle injury he picked up over the international break, but with Gerrard out, I expect to see Momo if it's at all possible.

Dirk Kuyt, on the other hand, is only given a 20% chance of playing. I've said it before (and I hope to continue saying it), I expect great things from Kuyt, and always hope to see his name on the teamsheet. But you cannot argue against Crouch’s goal-scoring form in Europe, or against Bellamy, as he finally got off the mark for Liverpool in the Premier League over the weekend. No matter the injury to Kuyt's injury, I would have expected both to start here, and hope to see Kuyt come on in the second half.

But the whole discussion over strikers might be a moot point. Benitez has not shied away from playing 4-5-1 in Europe, and the fact that Liverpool is away makes that formation more of a possibility. There’s an excellent chance we could see Crouch by himself, supported by Garcia from a deeper position. That Liverpool could be missing both Gerrard and Sissoko seemingly makes this less less likely, as Liverpool will probably need Garcia in midfield, whether it’s on the right or left flank, but one can never be sure with Rafa.

I assume Bordeaux will play a very defensive lineup and will base their attack off of possible counters. One would think they would put out a more attacking side, having failed to score a goal in their previous 2 CL matches, but from what I’ve seen of Bordeaux, I don’t know if they can or will pull it off. I usually end up regretting when I feel confident before a match, but even though it’s an away game in Europe, this is a match Liverpool should expect to win.

News Briefs 10.17.06

CSKA Moscow beat Arsenal 1-0 in Moscow today in the early Champions League match, just having now finished. Daniel Carvalho, who I remember well (too well) from the 2005 Super Cup, scored midway through the first half from a free kick.

The rest of the Matchday 3 Champions League games:

Steaua Bucharest v Real Madrid
Dynamo Kyiv v Lyon
Celtic v Benfica
Manchester United v Copenhagen
Porto v Hamburg
Lille v AEK Athens
Anderlecht v AC Milan

Chelsea v Barcelona
Werder Bremen v Levski Sofia
Inter Milan v Spartak Moscow
Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich
Bordeaux v Liverpool
Galatasaray v PSV
Valencia v Shakhtar Donetsk
Olympiakos v Roma

Full preview of the Liverpool game tonight.

Icelandic businessman Magnusson improves his group’s takeover offer of West Ham. Having gone this far, I will be surprised if all this takeover talk comes to nothing. Well, I guess it’s better than Kia Joorabchian.

Didier Drogba follows Mourinho’s lead and accuses Steven Hunt of trying to injure Petr Cech. I know when I think of sportsmanship, Didier Drogba’s the first name that comes to mind. Meanwhile, Mourinho claims the ambulance took over 30 minutes to arrive for Cech, and in the interim, he feared for Cech’s life. Of course, the NHS immediately refuted this, and blamed the Chelsea doctor for not using the stretcher as well. Overreaction meet Jose, Jose this is overreaction. Oh, you’ve already met? And yes, it does appear that Chelsea is doing all they can to throw away the good will they recieved following the Cech and Cudicini injuries.

15 October 2006

Weekend in the Premiership

Wigan 1-3 Manchester United: Former Liverpool academy player Leighton Baines hammered a stunning free kick past Edwin Van der Sar, and Wigan went into the half up one-nil. And then United went and scored 3 in the second half, and Wayne Rooney played his best game in about seven months. Sometimes life is not fair.

Arsenal 3-0 Watford: Admittedly, it is home against Watford, but Arsenal, despite the injuries and early poor home form, look to be finding their stride. Thierry Henry in particular has been much improved in the last couple of games, but that was only a matter of time. Theo Walcott got playing time as well, and he certainly looks to be something. The English game needs creative young players like Walcott to succeed, and while I don’t wish Arsenal any luck, I hope to see Walcott achieve his potential, because he could be frighteningly good.

Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham: Bad day for Juan Pablo Angel. He missed a penalty after Gabriel Agbonlahor was brought down by Calum Davenport (who was sent off) in the area, and three minutes later headed Jermaine Jenas’ cross into his own net. Good day for Gareth Barry however, who scored an absolutely beautiful goal five minutes after that. While they have drawn five times, Aston Villa continues to be undefeated.

Manchester City 0-0 Sheffield United: Manchester City let Sheffield United get away with all the chances they missed, and I really do hope it doesn’t come back to haunt them at the end of the season. They have been so inconsistent this season that you have to worry about a relegation fight, and a team must get maximum points against fellow strugglers at home.

Middlesbrough 2-1 Everton: Everton’s winning streak comes to an end. And it’s not really a surprise it comes against a side as inconsistent as Boro, as it just summarizes Everton for me. So far, Middlesbrough’s only wins are against previously unbeaten Everton and Chelsea, while they’ve lost to two out of the three recently-promoted teams. That’s pretty much the definition of inconsistency.

Portsmouth 2-0 West Ham: Alan Pardew’s got to start fearing for his job. Which is a pity, as he did such an excellent job last season, and West Ham is awful for so many reasons aside from the manager this season. I don’t mean to diminish Portsmouth, they continue to play very well to start the season, and for the first time since they were promoted, surely look likely to avoid a relegation battle. But it is just so much more astonishing to see West Ham flounder, despite the players they have.

Reading 0-1 Chelsea: Tough day to be a goalkeeper. Petr Cech was stretchered off in the first minute, and his replacement lasted eighty-something minutes longer before succumbing to the same fate. Cudicini’s looked worse (it reminded me of the reverse of the Battiston incident, without the malice), but it turns out that Cech’s injury is far more severe. He’s still in hospital having had surgery on a depressed skull. It’s hard to tell, and I won’t make any judgment, but it appears Steven Hunt lowered his knee into Cech. Oh yeah, and there was a game. Reading played quiet well, but as usual, despite being the weaker side, the evil empire held on for three points.

Newcastle 1-2 Bolton: Newcastle bossed around the first half, scored a penalty after Abdoulaye Faye appeared to have handled the ball, and looked to have Bolton on the ropes. A second goal seemed to be assured. And then Nicolas Anelka woke up and beautifully put Diouf through on goal. Less than 10 minutes later Diouf scored again, and Bolton is leaving Tyneside with 3 points. I find it amazing how Allardyce can make players like Diouf into something worthwhile. He’s still a creep though.

Charlton travels across London for a derby against Fulham on Monday. As usual with these games, it’s on FSC at 3pm.

14 October 2006

Liverpool 1-1 Blackburn

Bollocks. No matter that Liverpool equalized to earn a draw, it was 2 points dropped, not 1 point gained. While it’s only October, Liverpool has dropped enough points as it is. Away games are one thing. While I expect to see improvement in the away form, it is an ongoing process. Home games are a completely different animal, and Liverpool has looked less ruthless and more vulnerable at Anfield this season, which is completely unacceptable for a supposed title contender.

I hope the defense enjoyed wherever they where when Blackburn scored, because they certainly weren’t at the game. Bentley got down Liverpool’s left flank with ease. The cross caught both Finnan and Carra out of position, and to help matters, Reina was off his line. Which makes Liverpool’s struggles all the more discouraging, as the defense carried the team last year, and has been such an utter disappointment so far this. Yes, Reina has been questionable at times this year, but he made some good saves today, and cannot be blamed for all the lapses occurring. I don’t know what it is, but nearly everyone in defense is not as good as than they were last season, and that must change.

It was nice, albeit surprising, to see Liverpool come out with the lineup I thought they would, as it hasn’t happened yet this season. And for the first 25 minutes, it looked to be going to plan. Liverpool hadn’t scored, but Pennant was terrorizing Blackburn down the right wing and getting in crosses to Crouch. Then, the Blackburn goal took the wind out of the sails. Instead of rallying, Liverpool rarely threatened, and Blackburn eased into the half with their lead.

It was better in the second half, substituting Garcia on helped to improve Liverpool going forward, and they created more chances. Bellamy finally got his first Premier League goal for Liverpool after a nice corner from Aurelio. But Liverpool could not break Blackburn down any further, ended up settling for the draw, and here we are discussing whether or not the league campaign’s over in October. It’s rash, it’s probably an overreaction, but it’s a valid question. So far this season, Liverpool has not shown they have the ability to be title contenders. Title-winning sides pick up 3 points, even when they’re outclassed and below par, as Chelsea did today at Reading. And to make matters worse, it’s last season’s strongest quality that is letting Liverpool down.

12 October 2006

News Briefs, etc 10.12.06

And people wonder why I hate international breaks. Kuyt out (ankle), Sissoko out (ankle), Agger out (broken hand). Maybe Dirk will play Saturday, it looks more likely today than it did yesterday, but Momo and Agger are assuredly ruled out. And Liverpool was lucky! Gerrard, Carra, Crouch, Bellamy, Alonso, Reina, Garcia, Finnan, Hyypia and Riise came back healthy! Arsenal lost Ljungberg, Eboue, and Baptista for at least a couple of games, which will affect them more than it should the Reds. But now Liverpool will be without three important players for at least Saturday’s game, and it’s vexing to say the least.

Full preview of the Blackburn game tomorrow.

Other news and notes:

Gerrard, along with Rooney and Lampard, makes the shortlist for FIFA’s World Player of the Year. Chances are it’s not going to be an Englishman though. As it’s a World Cup year, I expect the winner to be Cannavaro, who was clearly the best player throughout the summer (and captain of the winning team), but Henry and Ronaldinho (last year’s winner) are always in contention.

West Brom looks to have captured Tony Mowbray from Hibernian. I predicted that wrong a week or so back, thinking Mowbray would refuse, or already had refused, the job. Looks like he’ll take the first serious route he can find into a Premier League job, thinking he’ll be able to get West Brom back up this season. They have the players to win the Championship, despite their inconsistent form, and I really do think Mowbray is an excellent manager. Like all who come from Scotland to England, people are going to question whether he’ll make the step up, but I think it’s obvious he knows what he’s doing, having forced Hibernian into the mix in the SPL and helping to break up the Old Firm dynasty.

Speculation continues to swirl around a takeover at West Ham. As a Liverpool fan, I’m obviously skeptical of any takeover rumors until something’s concrete, but vultures have been circling around West Ham for some time now, the completely dodgy period only started with the arrival of Tevez and Mascherano. I don’t know who, if any, are trustworthy, whether it’s the head of the Icelandic FA (whose proposal has been reported to be heavily reliant on debt) or the Iranian businessman who had his hands in the transfer of the Argentine lads. I’d be more than cynical if I was a Hammer, I don’t like the smell of this at all.

11 October 2006

England 0-2 Croatia

I don’t care if Croatia has never been beaten at home in a qualifying match. I don’t care if the entire stadium lined up in swastikas, shouted racial epithets, and was the worst place in the entire universe to play soccer, as some tabloids would have you believe. Any time an England manager admits that his entire game plan was to try and sneak a win, he's going to be questioned and rightly so.

Slaven Bilic absolutely out-managed McClaren, and the Croats dominated the game. Didn’t really matter what formation England was playing, as Croatia jumped on top of them, and England pretty much played with nine men back. Any way you want to line it up on paper (and I still firmly believe it was more 5-3-2 than anything), it quickly became very defensive and it looked as if England would be more than satisfied with a 0-0 draw. Only Paul Robinson kept them in the game in the first half, which made his role in the Neville own goal debacle all the more fitting. Other than Rooney’s blast over the bar, I can’t think of any real opportunity England had.

I’m angry, and there’s always going to be a fair amount of overreaction after a loss, but this was an England performance that makes recent England performances look absolutely inspired. I will never wish for the days of Eriksson or Graham Taylor, but McClaren is trying to tempt me. There is no team here, just a collection of individuals who sometimes can be bothered, and the tactics seem dreadfully wrong as well. They fully deserved to lose this game.

I do not understand how England does not have one of the best midfields in the world. The roster, albeit when fit and available, reads like a murderer’s row: Gerrard, Lampard, Cole, Hargreaves, Carrick, Parker, Lennon, Wright-Phillips, even Beckham and a fair supply of youngsters if needed. A midfield of Carrick, Parker and Lampard, supposedly three of the best central midfielders in the Premiership, was unable to control today’s game at all. Maybe I overrate the players because they play in the Premiership, but all three were made to look pedestrian by Croatia. The link up play between the midfield and forwards has been disappointing at best, and nonexistent at worst of late. Yes, Rooney is off-form and Crouch hasn’t scored in two games, but when the service isn’t there, and both strikers are dropping deep to win the ball, what do you expect?

All the usual mollifying remarks, there’s still games to be played, points to be won, and a long way to go all still apply. But the excuses are getting tiresome. Qualification just got a fair amount tougher. With the players on the roster, England should be playing far better than they are. No matter that England has always underachieved. No matter that it’s still early days in Euro qualifying and in McClaren’s reign. No matter that the team doesn’t have enough time to play together because these qualifying games are being played during the league season. No matter the injury and suspension list.

No more excuses. England should be better. End of.

England v Croatia 10.11.06

Rumor has it that England will actually use the 3-5-2 formation versus Croatia this afternoon. The English media has been promoting it for over a week now, since they spied McClaren using it in practice, but the reports today sound much more assured of its use.

According to the BBC, the formation will look like this:

Which is, for all intents and purposes, a 5-3-2. I know Ashley Cole especially likes to get forward from wingback, but there are going to be five defenders on the pitch, and England will be playing away from home. This lineup is going to end up a 5-3-2.

Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Playing Croatia in Croatia is probably England’s toughest game out of all the Euro qualifiers. If England had done the job over Macedonia, and they were sitting on 9 points instead of 7, this game would be a lot less important. When the fixture list was drawn up, I’m sure England would have been satisfied with a point here. A win would be a lot nicer now, given the dropped points on Saturday, but a defensive lineup, with the focus on retaining possession and keeping Croatia out, isn’t a bad idea, and should secure the needed draw.

I still don’t see where the goals are going to come from. From the looks of it, the Rooney/Crouch pairing is tenuous at its best. When Rooney’s off-form, it’s not a pairing that will score you buckets of goals or win you games. Lampard, again, is going to be a key man. It’ll be his job to get shots and be the main threat from midfield, especially with Gerrard ruled out of the game. If Crouch and Rooney aren’t going to threaten, with Gerrard, Lennon, and Joe Cole out, and Wright-Phillips, Downing, Defoe, and Bent on the bench, it’s going to fall to Fat Frank to score. Yikes.

I truly hope McClaren isn't experimenting for experment's sake, simply to prove he isn't Sven Goran Eriksson. This formation might be the strongest versus Croatia, the manager is in a better position than I to decide that, and I can see how he'd come to that conclusion. But it feels similar to other decisions McClaren has made, like dropping Beckham, in that he's doing it for the reaction he'll get from the press instead of doing what's best for the National team. We'll find out today whether McClaren's the master strategist he likes to believe.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict another 0-0 draw. Hopefully, as I expect it to happen, it won’t, as that’s usually how it goes down.

09 October 2006

Top 10 Liverpool Goals Since 2004

Continuing with the Liverpool nostalgia theme, I was thinking yesterday of the best goals of the Benitez era. And after decrying the posting of YouTube videos less than a week ago, I’m going to rely on them here. Enjoy.

10. John Arne Riise v Birmingham 03.21.06

The pick of seven that Liverpool put past Birmingham in the quarter final of the 05/06 FA Cup. Since Benitez’s arrival at Anfield, Riise has become more prolific, with 14 goals since 2004, most of them screamers from outside the box. This goal wins out over other trademark JAR strikes against Chelsea (twice), Tottenham, and Manchester City.

9. Steven Gerrard v Aston Villa 04.29.06

Surprisingly, Stevie’s name appears frequently on this list. This was another game that Gerrard rescued, with two goals in the second half to beat a Villa side that was causing Liverpool more trouble than they should have.

8. Harry Kewell v Tottenham 01.14.06

When he’s been fit, Harry’s put in a couple of nice strikes, and looked last season to be returning to the Kewell of old. This goal against Tottenham was Liverpool’s only goal in a game that looked to be ending 0-0, and edges out Kewell’s superb goal against Everton last season.

7. Neil Mellor v Arsenal 11.28.04

Neil Mellor placed #90 in the “100 Players Who Shook The Kop,” and his piece starts off with Jaime Carragher saying “Oy, Mellor’s on here?” with a smiling surprised look on his face. After banging them in for the reserves, but undergoing numerous operations on his knees, it looked like Mellor was never going to make the first team. But he was instrumental during the Champions League-winning season, where injuries gave him an opportunity. Not only did he score this delightful winner against Arsenal, but he also set up Stevie’s goal against Olympiakos and scored one of his own as a sub in the comeback that saved Liverpool’s Champions League campaign.

6. Steven Gerrard v Middlesbrough 04.30.05

Another Gerrard belter. Similar to the Villa goal in the distance and the swerve on the ball, but the pass leading up to the goal and the touch that Gerrard displays before shooting is just gorgeous.

5. Peter Crouch v Galatasaray 09.27.06

For all the good touches he’s shown, I never thought Crouchy had this goal in him. He’s 6’7”. That’s a bicycle kick. You figure out this goal, I’m awful at physics.

4. Luis Garcia v Juventus 04.05.05

Finnan with a nice touch pass to Le Tallac, who hits it on the volley to Garcia who hits it on the volley into the back of the net from 30 yards curled over about $60,000,000 of goalkeeper. I’m amazed I’m only putting this fourth. This goal put Liverpool up 2-0 over Juve, and ended up being the difference in the aggregate score. Garcia was another essential piece in the Champions League puzzle; however frustrating he can be, he delivers big goals in big games.

3. Xabi Alonso v Newcastle 09.20.06; Xabi Alonso v Luton 01.07.06

A joint choice; both deserve to be on this list, and both with be forever linked. Two goals from behind the halfway line in less than a calendar year. One right-footed, one left-footed. I’m willing to wager that’s not going to happen again soon.

2. Steven Gerrard v West Ham 05.13.06

And we’re into obvious territory. There’s a reason the DVD of this game is sold with the title “The Steven Gerrard Final.” As you hear the injury time announced over the tannoy, Gerrard, who minutes before was laying on the pitch with cramp, pops up with this rocket that Shaka Hislop has no prayer of stopping.

1. Steven Gerrard v Olympiakos 05.25.05

As if there was any other choice. Enough’s been said. We do too much fawning over Stevie Me here as it is.

08 October 2006

100 Players Who Shook The Kop

In honor of Liverpool’s website finishing up the “100 Players Who Shook The Kop” series (in case you couldn’t have guessed, Kenny Dalglish was #1), I figured I’d post not only the top 10 list I submitted for the contest, but also my all-time Liverpool XI. Partly because I find it interesting reading material, partly for posterity’s sake.

In both lists, I’m mainly limited to the 1970s onward. I lived through the 1980s-1990s, and I can claim to have seen a number of the 1970s teams on tape, but I can’t argue the merits of stars like Elisha Scott, Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan and the like. The only old-time player on my list is Billy Liddell, who I can’t leave off even if I’ve never seen him, simply as he was so influential, they named the team after him (Liddellpool) in the 1950s. Without him, Liverpool might be languishing in the third division.

Kenny Dalglish
Ian Rush
Emlyn Hughes
John Barnes
Robbie Fowler
Graeme Souness
Billy Liddell
Steven Gerrard
Michael Owen
Alec Lindsay

Alec Lindsay was the only player I put on the list who didn’t show up in the top 15. I had to include him. I really wanted to see Lindsay make the list, and while #85, behind players like Cisse, Berger, and Smicer is too low, it’s nice to see him in the project. One of the first LFC videos I got was of the FA Cup final versus Newcastle in 1974, and I’ll never forget the goal Lindsay scored that was wrongly disallowed. Pure class.

As for an all-time Liverpool XI, there’s two ways I wrote this up. I used the ‘classic’ 4-4-2, as everyone always seems to, but also want to include a 3-5-2 version, because Liverpool has had some great attackers, and the formation lets me include more of the players I want in the team.

First, the 4-4-2:
Neal Hansen Hughes Kennedy
Heighway Souness Mølby Barnes

Bench: Scott, Lawrenson, Gerrard, Fowler, Keegan


So many players left out. Aside from the bench, I also thought about including McDermott, McManaman, Jones, Case, Smith, and Beardsley. Liverpool certainly has been lucky over the years. Although luck has little to do with it when you have men like Shankly and Paisley guiding the club.

07 October 2006

England 0-0 Macedonia

Now this is more like it. I was getting worried there, what with three wins out of three for Steve McClaren. This is the England I know; the England that underperforms, is inconsistent, fails to impose its will on the game, does little creative, and ends up with a draw. Both teams had chances to score, but 0-0 is far from a surprising or undeserved result. This is a tough Macedonian side, but they are still a team England should be beating at home, end of.

I’d like to lay blame at the feet of Michael Carrick, and by extension McClaren for selecting him over Parker, but it was more than that. But Carrick was taken completely out of the game, and certainly didn’t help matters. Macedonia covered him closely, and his strength, his vision and distribution, was taken away. England didn’t have someone like Hargreaves or Parker to sit deep in the midfield and protect the defense, and Carrick cannot fill that role, so Lampard was taken out of the game as well. He continually dropped back to fetch the ball and help out, and didn’t get into Macedonia’s penalty box nearly enough to be a threat.

You can go down the list and tick off the rest of the boxes. Rooney continues to disappoint. Crouch’s luck in front of goal ran out. Gerrard was substandard, and picked up a yellow card that rules him out of the Croatia game as well. Downing isn’t of international quality yet. Macedonia shut up shop, and once again, England failed to be clever enough to unlock a team that will sit 9 or 10 men behind the ball. Wright-Phillips was an improvement when he came on, and the team clearly misses Aaron Lennon, but more inspiration is essential, whether it’s Wright-Phillips, Lennon or Joe Cole when they’re healthy, Gerrard in the center, whomever. Both Theo Walcott and Wayne Routledge showed more willingness to be inventive and run at defenders in the Under-21 game than anyone did for the senior side today.

Of course it is not the end of the world, and Israel’s draw with Russia still leaves England on top of the group on goal difference, but it is disappointing and worrying nonetheless. Macedonia should have been there for the taking and later on, when England has to play more fancied teams like Israel and Croatia, I hope they don’t rue the dropped points.

Meanwhile, Scotland gets a landmark 1-0 result over the French. That’s right. England drew against the 51st ranked team in the world, at home, while Scotland beat World Cup runners-up France. Enjoy your weekend, England fans.

05 October 2006

News Roundup 10.5.06

Sorry about the light posting recently. Tough workweek, and we’ve stumbled headlong into another international break as well. So it’ll probably continue to be light posting for the next week or so; I’ll probably attempt to do a roundup of all the news that I actually have something to say about at least bi-daily.

Johnson injured; Bent called up

Old news by now, but I jinxed Andy Johnson I guess, who has picked up a hamstring knock. Turns out we won’t be seeing him paired with Rooney, we’ll get Crouch and Rooney with Bent called up from the under 21s. It’ll be interesting to see how they play together. Will their styles overlap too much? Who will drop deep and who will play higher up the field? Will Gerrard, Lampard, and Downing provide enough support in the penalty area from midfield? I’ll have more on this before the game against Macedonia, but I’m skeptical to say the least.

Dempsey named US Player of the Year

There are mountains of other bloggers more qualified than I that cover the ins and outs of the US players, but Dempsey was clearly the standout for me during the World Cup. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he was the only player who really impressed, or at least, lived up to his billing. There’s no other choice this award could have gone to. It’s a pity Dempsey couldn’t negotiate his release from MLS during the summer, he’ll do well in Europe and I really hope he ends up in England.

Stan Collymore thinks he can still play in the Prem

The funniest thing about this, besides Stan the Man’s comprehensive delusions of grandeur, is it has forced Martin O’Neill to come out and deny rumors he’s going to return to Villa. I’m positive the thought had never remotely crossed O’Neill’s mind until Sky Sports phoned him up asking for comment. Collymore hasn’t played since walking out on Real Oviedo in 2001. Another reason why international breaks are awful for the game, the tabloids are forced to make up even more news than usual. I’ll run naked through Goodison Park if Collymore lines up for a PL squad this season, I can’t even see any of the relegation candidates this desperate.

Joey Barton’s ass not going to jail, but will have to pay a visit to the FA

This probably deserved it’s own post, and I’m late to the party anyway, but I’m going to strike a different line than nearly every other commentary I’ve read. I found it funny at the time, and I still find it funny. Joey Barton is a psychopath, and most normal people wouldn’t display their buttocks in the middle of an arena, let alone poke a youth player in the eye with a cigar or punch a teenage Everton fan in Thailand. What Barton did certainly was unprofessional, but he’s getting stick, and he gave them stick back. It’s barely bringing the game into disrepute (the fact that Arjen Robben is allowed to play brings the game into more disrepute), and if Barton’s anything more than fined, it’s a travesty. I just cannot look at his face while he's dropping trousers and not laugh. Maybe it amuses me so because it reminds me of friends from college, which is probably a bad thing, but this is a mountain out of a molehill. Guaranteed, every supporter in that crowd has seen a naked ass before, whether they’re 7 or 79, anyhow.

I’m not the biggest fan of posting YouTube videos unless it’s something I want to remember or really want to be seen, because if someone wants to see the incident, I’m certain they know how, but this needs to be put up in as many places as possible for posterity.