A crazy season of football (and not even half way through)…

There have been some very strange, weird and wonderful patterns and moments during the Premier League football season so far.

The biggest change has been at Man United. Faltering after the retirement of possibly the most successful manager to ever manage a football team; the departure of Sir Alex has had a significant impact on the supposed reigning champions. His replacement, David Moyes was certainly my pick as maybe the best British manager in football and a consistently solid professional, finishing above LFC with far more limited resources.

Jose Mourinho back at Chelsea. Another big move and a sign of a shift in power over future seasons. He had achieved everything with Real Madrid and after Ferguson, possibly the next best manager around, now managing at one of the richest clubs in the world.

AVB has been sacked after 7 new players somehow failed to immediately gel as a unit and take the world by storm – no surprises there! A little harsh but after home defeats to West Ham 3-0, Man City 6-0 and lastly Liverpool 5-0, the writing was on the wall in large capital letters.

Arsenal back on top for most of the season, after loosing their opening game with a massive over-reaction by many fans. This had followed a poor ending to the previous season but was not a sign of things to come. The signing of Mezut Ozil from Real for £42 Million has transformed Arsenal from just potential, into real contenders for the title after so many years.

A very slow start by many of the big teams, but a very solid start by Liverpool. After what had been a long transition year the previous season, with some huge performances but also inconsistency, this season has been more consistent.

Suarez-mirror-sport

(image courtesy of: http://www.sportshaze.com/luis-suarez-im-staying)

The many troubles with Mr Suarez had dominated the press and his 10 match ban meant that Liverpool were without his services for the first 7 games of the new season. Some thought this could damage our season but it ended up having a significant benefit – Daniel Sturridge blossomed in attack and a series of 1-0 wins ensured the Reds have been near the top since the start, and since Suarez has returned, the whole team has been transformed.

Suarez has just signed a new 4.5 years deal (£200K a year and the club’s most expensive ever player) which comes during the middle of possibly the hottest streak the Premier League has ever seen. Heh as just become the first Premier League player to score 10 goals in a single month and has propelled LFC to the top of the table.

His 4 goals against Norwich were the best set of goals i’ve ever seen.

Prem table 21.12.13

So, as of 22nd December, LFC have 2.1 points per game over what is nearly half the season. If Arsenal fail to beat Chelsea tomorrow, which is certainly a realistic possibility, Liverpool will be top of the table at Christmas!

LFC are the second highest scoring team in the league with Suarez being the top scorer. Brendan Rodgers has done an amazing job so far. Every press conference he gives now is assured, eloquant and informed. Everything about LFC is confident right now – and that is without the injured Sturridge and Captain Gerrard! Alongside Stevie, Henderson is one of the most improved players in the league, with Coutinho at only age 21, now being a key part of the creative and attacking midfield.

Loving the season so far and can’t wait for the 2nd half. YNWA.

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Reading v Liverpool: another 2 points dropped…

Well, this partly sums up Liverpool’s season, lots of potential, creativity and intent, but the finishing off needs work. Liverpool have scored a lot of goals this season and are only just behind in the charts to Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United. This is a bit distracting because there have been some high scoring games, but also games when just a single goal was needed at the end of long periods of pressure.

Inconsistency has ruled the season and the effectiveness of the team needs a lot of work, particularly in turning possession, creativity and pressure into goals.

The Reading game was so one-sided – they had a few chances on the break but we had 2/3 of the possession, 26 shots (nearly 4 times as many as Reading), 15 shots on target (3 times more) and 9 corners. Great stats but the only stat that matters in the end is the score. This sort of dominance has to be turned into points next season.

It has to be said that their keeper put in an incredible performance with a series of amazing saves. Not the first time this season LFC have been on the end of some inspiring action from an opposition keeper!

Reading v Liverpool13.04.13

The big story since the transfer window has been the early scoring of Sturridge and the creativity and assists of Coutinho. We now have two excellent strikers and more threat from a creative midfield, with Downing and Henderson finally starting to play well. Reina in goal has picked his form up but this is countered by the drop in form of Martin Skrtel.

Overall lots of positives but a couple of signings needed in the summer if LFC are going to be able to convert 7th in the league into 4th.

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Hillsborough tribute…

Having failed to come up with anything original, past what hundreds of others have already done, since the publishing of the independent panels report into the tragic loss of 96 Liverpool fans, I thought pictures would say more than words…

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Liverpool FC progress…?

Ok, rant alert – this doesn’t happen often but sometimes something has to be said : )

A very poor start to the new season, with 7 goals conceded in the first 3 games alone. 1 point from a possible 9. The performance against Man City was very good but a lack of finishing and defensive errors lost us the win.

Raheem Sterling, courtesy of Sky Sports.com

Squad size – now down to 19 players. 11 players have gone out and 7 have come in meaning 4 down from last year – great for a smaller wage bill but not for choice of players or if injuries strike (which they already have in the form of the thigh injury to Lucas)

Carroll, Bellamy, Adam, Maxi, Kuyt, Spearing etc. All experienced players and all gone. The most controversial of these is big Andy Carroll – on loan at West Ham and out of favour before his first match under the new manager. Brendan Rodgers must have been very confident that a replacement was coming in to let him go – now he’s regretting it big time!

It says a lot that one of our best performers so far has been Sterling – the 17 year old fresh face from the Reserves. Lots of promise there but he needs the experienced players to help out more. As for Mr Suarez’s finishing – OMG! We need a new No.9 a quick – Suarez is ideal for the No.10 role of sitting just behind and being the creative force, which he is stunning at.

Although Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s just not acceptable to almost wipe the slate clean and start again – the new squad has to be built up using the existing players first and adding new ones in slowly. Half the regular first team has gone and there will inevitably be at least a season of unbalance and learning before any stability in achieved.

This process is not going to be pleasant but I know it will lead to a better style of playing and better technical players in time – a game based on possession and passing. The main problem will be for Mr Rodgers to try and justify this process and defend things for the whole season while it happens.

YNWA

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Liverpool in the dumps…

With 5 out of 6 defeats in the league, a few people have been wondering what is going wrong? The good news in the ‘storm’ is the League Cup win, the semi-final berth in the FA Cup and the 3-0 against Everton, but the general pattern in the league is not looking positive.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Wednesday, March 21, 2012: Liverpool's goalkeeper Jose Reina looks dejected after Queens Park Rangers' score an injury time winning goal during the Premiership match at Loftus Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So, I went looking to the source of all things LFC – Paul Tomkins @ The Tomkins Times.

Paul is a consistently rationale and intelligent analyser of footy and rarely gets carried away in his observations. He’s a big LFC fan but doesn’t let his emotions control his views, which is really useful if you’re trying to work out what is going wrong! Stepping back from the situation can be so hard in football but he does it and he makes a lot of sense. His books are brilliant and he brought a great deal of insight to the ‘zonal marking v man-marking’ debate, proving that it wasn’t the system which mattered but how the players used each system.

Anyway, his latest blog post was really good and highlighted at least a couple of the things I had considered (and a lot I hadn’t), the main one being the poor recent form being a result of loosing 3 of our best players, in Lucas, Agger and Johnson.

It’s no conicidence that the combination of Suarez, Gerrard and Bellamy are producing goals, but we’re now loosing games because we’re conceeding too many goals, because Lucas is not protecting the defence and our two best defenders are injured. ‘Player of the season’ Lucas hasn’t been effectively replaced with Charlie Adam and Spearing is not looking like a top player.

We’ve gone from the best defence in the football league 4 weeks ago (with a full line-up) to rapidly falling in the defence table.

All this shows that the replacements coming in are not at a high enough level and this needs to be seriously looked at. The summer transfer window is going to be a watershed period for this management.

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The phantom Suarez handshake…

This whole situation just makes me feel sick. The issues between Suarez and Evra have just got way out of hand now. So much bad feeling and negative energy around the two clubs.

The latest news is the triple apology from Suarez, Kenny and Ayre. All hands to the public relations pumps.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/feb/12/luis-suarez-kenny-dalglish-ian-ayre

I have so many mixed feelings about the causes of the issue and how it’s all playing out. The whole thing started (contrary to popular belief) with Evra insulting Suarez’s sister is graphic terms, in Spanish. Evra started this conversation, in Spanish. Suarez then reacted by using the reference ‘negro’ several times. ‘Negro’ in Spanish means ‘black’. He was referring to him by his skin colour, that much is clear. One of the main reasons the official report took so long to bring together was the cultural background of the two players and the use of the word ‘negro’ in Uruguay.

I said in my previous post on this that whatever the cultural background or use of the word ‘black’, a player or person in this country must follow the social codes of this country, diverse as they are. Suarez must have known referring to someone as ‘negro’ or ‘black’ would not be acceptable.

But, I don’t believe he is a racist, and this is where the support from within the club has come from, not as a reaction to what he said, which I believe is not at issue – he said what he said. Also, his Grandad in Uruguay is black and he has many black friends but this doesn’t condone what he said.

But, blind support is not good enough – you have to have the courage to say something is wrong or has gone too far, or that you disagree with something. Supporting a football club can polarise views like nothing else and it can be very hard to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The issue which the thousands of cameras and media people at Old Trafford picked up on is Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand. My feeling on this is that he really really should have shaken his hand. It’s obvious they really don’t like each other but there is far more at stake here than just their own personal feelings. The conduct of these big teams and big players has a huge impact on children and adults alike and the way these ‘professionals’ behave indirectly affects the behaviour of the population, in school playgrounds and workplaces around the country.

The other way to see it is you have to be true to yourself and not be dishonest in your conduct. This would include the choice of Suarez to not shake the hand of someone who he very much dislikes and who has taken many opportunities to heighten the sense of victimisation, such as by officially declaring that Suarez called him a n*gger 10 times.

Whatever the issue, I have to look at the much bigger picture and the consequences of the issue – these guys are role models for millions of children across the world. They have a responsibility to not incite anger, violence and tensions. Their actions have considerable impacts and this whole issue badly needs to be brought to a close before something really serious happens.

The official report was very interesting and the panel of language experts went to considerable lengths to set out the different interpretations from the point of view of the two sides. Their conclusions resulted in the 8-game ban and a large fine for Suarez.

‘But the faults are not all on one side. Evra is an easily roused character and his cavorting in celebration of Saturday’s victory was, as even Ferguson noted, foolishly provocative. Copies of Red Issue, one of the most prominent United fanzines, were confiscated on Saturday when they were found to contain Ku Klux Klan masks emblazoned with the words “Suárez is innocent”. And chants can be heard from the Old Trafford fans in celebration of the death of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough 23 years ago. The poison and the stupidity flow both ways.’ – from an article by Richard Williams http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2012/feb/12/liverpool-apologies-luis-suarez-manchester-united

The match itself was disappointing with Liverpool lacking precision in possession and passing, with their final ball into the box being sloppy. I would rather just settle this issue for good and let everyone look forward to Liverpool’s first Wembley cup final since 1996, coming up on 26th of February. YNWA.

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Bolton – Man City – Man United…

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Bolton, Man City, and Man United. Very different teams with different league positions. The week started very badly, with a pathetic 3-1 loss to Bolton – one of the worst performances since Kenny took over again. His interviews provided some … Continue reading

Bolton v Liverpool…

What a shocker. I can’t remember such a pathetic performance for a long time. I’ve also not seen King Kenny looking so shocked and serious before either. A win here could have jumped us two places above Newcastle and Arsenal. Bolton had been struggling all season and I honestly didn’t think this would happen.

What happened to the defence? It’s like the back four just didn’t turn up for the game. Enrique who has been excellent at left back all season was all over the place. It was like watching a different player. He was getting beaten for pace, his clearances went straight to Bolton players and his positioning at times was well off. That was just one part of the defence!

There was just nothing in attack. Andy Carroll – the last of a generation of big front men – the future is Suarez and players like him – quick, skilful and technical, always moving. Bellamy. He scored our only goal and looked threatening at times but the attacking element of the game was terrible.

The midfield were just over run at times. There was a lack of control and passing accuracy, which led to a lack of possession. This is the key area which desperately needs to be tightened up – firstly to protect the defence and secondly to launch attacks. Adam is having a terrible run of games and Downing just hasn’t become the effective technical player he promised to be.

I’ve had a fundamental concern for a while now about possession and crossing from the wings. Setting up to put wild balls into the box from the wings just isn’t working. If this doesn’t result in a goal (which so far it hasn’t) it concedes possession. Our most effective parts of the season have involved quick, technical passing around the middle or through it. This keeps control of the ball (if you’re good enough to accurately pass the ball that is) and keeps the ball closer to the target (the goal).

The problem is that if the midfield is at present ineffective, this approach won’t work. There is no base upon which to build the creative moves. Individual players can only do so much. So, i’m not going to end this on such a negative note. I’m looking forward to the two cup games coming up, incidentally against the top two English teams! These are the big games which the top players want to be in. I’m convinced that LFC will find a way through this difficult spell – Andy Carroll may even wake up and pick up the pace! Ok, maybe not.

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Blackburn draw & issues…

Another draw at home with loads of chances just not the goals needed. LFC have the (joint) best defence in the whole football league (14 goals against), but defences don’t win you games or get the big points – goals are desperately needed.

Again, there are various patterns.

The teams on the same area of points (between 34 and 30) with Spurs the dark horse and the 2 Manchester clubs out in front. It’s looking like Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool vying for the 4th spot, if Spurs can hold out till the end of the season.

Newcastle at home today – we’ll see if the same pattern of good defending, great chances but little reward occurs… plus an outstanding goal keeping performance from the visiting team!

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Craig Bellamy…

Bellamy…what a signing.

I had my doubts but he is proving everyone wrong. The guy just doesn’t give up. He’s like Dirk Kuyt but with far more aggression. At 32 he is making a mockery of the idea that the 30th birthday is the beginning of the end.

He hand a hand in both the goals against Aston Villa, scoring one from close range and providing the assist for the other. He doesn’t accept anything less than full commitment and is honest. He must be a complete pain in the arse to play against and really put people’s backs up with his combative and argumentative personality! If you’re a Liverpool FC fan, he’s turning into a first choice player; if you’re on the other side, he’s viewed as a bit of a idiot.

Either way, i’m really enjoying watching him play and especially his corner kicks, which are pacy, accurate and consistent, unlike the ones taken by Captain Liverpool, Gerrard, who adds meaning to the word ‘ineffective’.

In other LFC news, how can any football fan have missed the Suarez racism saga? He should absolutely have known better than to use this word in this country and he should know the general ‘rules’ about which words to use, after playing in Holland with Ajax. It’s not like he just stepped off the plane from South America.

You can’t just carry on using the customs which you may have grown up with in your home country because this could be offensive to others in the new country. It’s pretty well-known that this sort of language would be considered racist. Its usage in Uruguay and other South American countries may be more common and have a different meaning, but still not acceptable.

The best summary i’ve read comes from paul Elliott, from his well written article in the Guardian.

‘It may be that Suárez was guilty of a lack of understanding rather than a lack of respect, but that does not mean he bears no guilt at all. It may be that the term he used is not considered offensive in Uruguay, but its use must be considered in context. Patrice Evra is not as I understand it a personal friend, and this incident took place during a heated, competitive match between two clubs who share a fierce rivalry that he must have been aware of. While I have respect for Suárez, and can understand his mitigation to some degree, the use of such industrial language in that context, in that environment, is utterly unacceptable.’

His use of the word ‘Negro’, directed towards Evra of United, has led to a huge 8 game ban, something which i’ve personally never seen before. I would question the length of the ban, especially considering other cases of insulting language. The famous one involved Wayne Rooney. The FA charged Rooney with “use of offensive, insulting and/or abusive language” after he celebrated the penalty that completed his hat-trick at Upton Park by swearing directly into a television camera. For this foul-mouthed rant, he received a 2 match ban. This was watched by more than 2 million people live on Sky Sports.

As a logical way forward, I would suggest this as the best approach, from Steven Friel (complex disputes lawyer). ‘A final point: when I advise clients on whether to commence legal action, the legal merits of their case are only one of a number of factors that I take into account. In a case such as this, Suárez and Liverpool should think long and hard about whether they want this case dragged out. A sensible option may be a contrite statement from Suárez making clear that he is not a racist and that he is gravely sorry for any offence he has caused and that, notwithstanding that he does not agree with the decision, he wants to put the whole episode behind him. The risk for Suárez of taking this further is that he goes down in history as the case that got to grips with racism in high-level football.’

Looking on the bright side, this is a big opportunity for Bellemy and Carroll + Maxi to fill his boots. Suarez is not the only goal scoring option and also not for creativity. This is no different to when Gerrard has been out injured in the past (and present) or recently during the post-Lucas injury. This is an opportunity for a few players to show their true class. Henderson has filled in very well in central midfield, Jon Jo is back and waiting for his chance and the combination of Maxi, Bellemy and Kuyt has already proven to be very effective.

Our defence is now the best in the Premier League (only 13 goals conceeded), with all the back 4 contributing and Skrtel and Agger forming a solid partnership in the centre.

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Reds sink into the Thames…

A possible penalty, a disallowed goal, a red card and Suarez gives the finger!

Richard Williams of the Guardian summed it up as, ‘…any dispassionate audit of the match would end with the conclusion that the visitors were robbed.’

I was listening live to BBC 5 live, which in a way heightens the expeience and creates more suspense, given the imagination is more involved than when seeing the live images.

So, as John Motson on bbc 5 live commentary said, the edge of the box is part of the penalty area and the penalty for the foul on Adam should have been given. Having seen the replays, I would say it was either on the line or just inside.

The other possible penalty incident involving Suarez, was another penalty, given he was blocked and slightly pulled back, while trying to go around the defender. The chants of ‘cheat’ from the Fulham fans were unfair and uncalled for.

The other Suarez incident involved a call of offside for his disallowed goal. He was defo offside so that was a good decision by the ref.

The Spearing sending off: i’ve seen them given before but he cleanly got the ball but his leg did come up a bit on the follow through, but it was a single-footed challenge. Apparently the fact that he got the ball doesn’t matter if the follow through is dangerous. This is a fair point and hopefully he’ll remember this and control his tackles more.

Reina should have done much better for Fulham’s goal and not spilled it to the first avilable Fulham player. This was really disappointing and he’ll be gutted about it. He did make another one on one save and generally had a good game.

So, quite a few positives and many chances being created, but we need more accuracy in front of goal.

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Carling Cup: Chelski v LFC…

What a game…!

‘Chelsea’s young players struggled to provide a tonic and the pressure has been ratcheted up on Villas-Boas. Dalglish’s smile lit up the Bridge.’

Bellamy provides both goals for Maxi and Kelly and probably dedicates the win to the recently departed Garry Speed.

‘Carroll recovered his poise thereafter, his muscular presence putting the anaemic Fernando Torres to shame in the opposing ranks, as Liverpool steadily exposed the hosts’ brittle confidence.

Dalglish described his striker as “brilliant”. “He worked for the team and was fantastic,” said the manager. “But every one of my players can look at his own performance and be delighted.” Chief among them would be Bellamy. These are difficult times, but there was pride to be had in this display.’

From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/nov/29/chelsea-liverpool-carling-cup

5 yellow cards for Chelsea – Maybe 2 other penalties could have been given but Coates tackle and the shove on Carroll weren’t worthy. Romelu Lukaku 44th minute tackle on Lucas – Phil Dowd booked the wrong player!!

Maxi scoring again – the guy is a machine. Technical, quick, strong and great awareness. One of the shortest guys on the pitch but judging modern footballers on height is ridiculous – just look at Barcelona!

Carroll missing penalty(!) but playing well 1st half. he really has to work on his agility and pace and get a bit more creative.

Over the last 3 games, 3 points against Chelsea at the Bridge in the league, a draw against Man City @ Anfield and now a win against Chelsea in the League Cup to go through to the semi-finals! A great run of games and it shows the strength of the squad now. Suarez, Maxi, Bellemy, Lucas and Adam have been immense so far (and they are just the ones who are top of the list) – everyone has worked hard and kept things tight.

Just looking at the bench was the best indication: Skrtel, Adam, Suarez, Downing, Kuyt! The good times are coming back.

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A nightmare turns to a dream…

When I saw the sequence of games over the last couple of weeks, I certainly wasn’t thinking we would come away with two wins at Stamford Bridge and a draw with Man City.

Chelsea (away) 1-2 win

Man City (home) 1-1 draw

Chelsea (away) 0-2 win – played 2 days after the man City game!

The two league games against two of the strongest teams around were a great success and all areas of the team were performing well.

In the process, LFC stopped City’s formiddable run of 7 wins in a row and came out unlucky not to get all 3 points, particulalrly with a series of chances towards the end of the game and some incredible saves from Joe Hart.

Things are starting to fall into place, but there is now another encounter with Man City in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup to look forward to! I think King Kenny has got the approach to these games spot on and he’s picked strong teams for the Carling Cup games, where in the past, Liverpool have put out weak teams and paid for it.

The combination of Suarez, Kuyt, Bellamy and Maxi is incredible, with Lucas and Adam in the middle controlling and breaking up play. The defence of Skrtel and Agger is now looking like a real partnership and the full backs of Johnson and Enrique are both solid, with a preference for forward runs to support the attacks.

Johnson’s winner against Chelsea in the league said everything about his fitness, desire to attack and his reading of the game. He made their defence look frail and shocked!

The reds are on the march again and i’m looking at some progress up the table over the games gainst Fulham, QPR, Villa, Wigan and Blackburn.

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